WHAT in the world are you going to do now, Jo? asked Meg, one snowy afternoon, as her sister came tramping through the hall, in rubber boots, old sack and hood, with a broom in one hand and a shovel in the other.
Meg went back to toast her feet and read Ivanhoe; and Jo began to dig paths with great energy. The snow was light, and with her broom she soon swept a path all round the garden, for Beth to walk in when the sun came out; and the invalid dolls needed air. Now, the garden separated the Marches house from that of Mr. Laurence. Both stood in a suburb of the city, which was still country-like, with groves and lawns, large gardens, and quiet streets. A low hedge parted the two estates. On one side was an old, brown house, looking rather bare and shabby, robbed of the vines that in summer covered its walls, and the flowers which then surrounded it. On the other side was a stately stone mansion, plainly betokening every sort of comfort and luxury, from the big coach-house and well-kept grounds to the conservatory and the glimpses of lovely things one caught between the rich curtains. Yet it seemed a lonely, lifeless sort of house; for no children frolicked on the lawn, no motherly face ever smiled at the windows, and few people went in and out, except the old gentleman and his grandson.
To Jos lively fancy, this fine house seemed a kind of enchanted palace, full of splendors and delights, which no one enjoyed. She had long wanted to behold these hidden glories, and to know the Laurence boy, who looked as if he would like to be known, if he only knew how to begin. Since the party, she had been more eager than ever, and had planned many ways of making friends with him; but he had not been seen lately, and Jo began to think he had gone away, when she one day spied a brown face at an upper window, looking wistfully down into their garden, where Beth and Amy were snowballing one another.
That boy is suffering for society and fun, she said to herself. His grandpa does not know what s good for him, and keeps him shut up all alone. He needs a party of jolly boys to play with, or somebody young and lively. I ve a great mind to go over and tell the old gentleman so!
The idea amused Jo, who liked to do daring things, and was always scandalizing Meg by her queer performances. The plan of going over was not forgotten; and when the snowy afternoon came, Jo resolved to try what could be done. She saw Mr. Lawrence drive off, and then sallied out to dig her way down to the hedge, where she paused and took a survey. All quiet,curtains down at the lower windows; servants out of sight, and nothing human visible but a curly black head leaning on a thin hand at the upper window.
Up went a handful of soft snow, and the head turned at once, showing a face which lost its listless look in a minute, as the big eyes brightened and the mouth began to smile. Jo nodded and laughed, and flourished her broom as she called out,
With that, Jo shouldered her broom and marched into the house, wondering what they would all say to her. Laurie was in a flutter of excitement at the idea of having company, and flew about to get ready; for, as Mrs. March said, he was a little gentleman, and did honor to the coming guest by brushing his curly pate, putting on a fresh collar, and trying to tidy up the room, which, in spite of half a dozen servants, was anything but neat. Presently there came a loud ring, then a decided voice, asking for Mr. Laurie, and a surprised-looking servant came running up to announce a young lady.
All right, show her up, it s Miss Jo, said Laurie, going to the door of his little parlor to meet Jo, who appeared, looking rosy and kind and quite at her ease, with a covered dish in one hand and Beths three kittens in the other.
Here I am, bag and baggage, she said briskly. Mother sent her love, and was glad if I could do anything for you. Meg wanted me to bring some of her blanc-mange; she makes it very nicely, and Beth thought her cats would be comforting. I knew you d laugh at them, but I could nt refuse, she was so anxious to do something.
That looks too pretty to eat, he said, smiling with pleasure, as Jo uncovered the dish, and showed the blanc-mange, surrounded by a garland of green leaves, and the scarlet flowers of Amys pet geranium.
It is nt anything, only they all felt kindly, and wanted to show it. Tell the girl to put it away for your tea: it s so simple, you can eat it; and, being soft, it will slip down without hurting your sore throat. What a cosey room this is!
I ll right it up in two minutes; for it only needs to have the hearth brushed, so,and the things made straight on the mantel-piece, so,and the books put here, and the bottles there, and your sofa turned from the light, and the pillows plumped up a bit. Now, then, you re fixed.
And so he was; for, as she laughed and talked, Jo had whisked things into place, and given quite a different air to the room. Laurie watched her in respectful silence; and when she beckoned him to his sofa, he sat down with a sigh of satisfaction, saying gratefully,
Laurie colored up, but answered frankly, Why, you see, I often hear you calling to one another, and when I m alone up here, I cant help looking over at your house, you always seem to be having such good times. I beg your pardon for being so rude, but sometimes you forget to put down the curtain at the window where the flowers are; and when the lamps are lighted, it s like looking at a picture to see the fire, and you all round the table with your mother; her face is right opposite, and it looks so sweet behind the flowers, I cant help watching it. I have nt got any mother, you know; and Laurie poked the fire to hide a little twitching of the lips that he could not control.
The solitary, hungry look in his eyes went straight to Jos warm heart. She had been so simply taught that there was no nonsense in her head, and at fifteen she was as innocent and frank as any child. Laurie was sick and lonely; and, feeling how rich she was in home-love and happiness, she gladly tried to share it with him. Her face was very friendly and her sharp voice unusually gentle as she said,
We ll never draw that curtain any more, and I give you leave to look as much as you like. I just wish, though, instead of peeping, you d come over and see us. Mother is so splendid, she d do you heaps of good, and Beth would sing to you if I begged her to, and Amy would dance; Meg and I would make you laugh over our funny stage properties, and we d have jolly times. Would nt your grandpa let you?
I think he would, if your mother asked him. He s very kind, though he does not look so; and he lets me do what I like, pretty much, only he s afraid I might be a bother to strangers, began Laurie, brightening more and more.
We are not strangers, we are neighbors, and you need nt think you d be a bother. We want to know you, and I ve been trying to do it this ever so long. We have nt been here a great while, you know, but we have got acquainted with all our neighbors but you.
You see grandpa lives among his books, and does nt mind much what happens outside. Mr. Brooke, my tutor, does nt stay here, you know, and I have no one to go about with me, so I just stop at home and get on as I can.
That s bad. You ought to make an effort, and go visiting everywhere you are asked; then you ll have plenty of friends, and pleasant places to go to. Never mind being bashful; it wont last long if you keep going.
Laurie opened his mouth to ask another question; but remembering just in time that it was nt manners to make too many inquiries into peoples affairs, he shut it again, and looked uncomfortable. Jo liked his good breeding, and did nt mind having a laugh at Aunt March, so she gave him a lively description of the fidgety old lady, her fat poodle, the parrot that talked Spanish, and the library where she revelled. Laurie enjoyed that immensely; and when she told about the prim old gentleman who came once to woo Aunt March, and, in the middle of a fine speech, how Poll had tweaked his wig off to his great dismay, the boy lay back and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks, and a maid popped her head in to see what was the matter.
Much elated with her success, Jo did tell on, all about their plays and plans, their hopes and fears for father, and the most interesting events of the little world in which the sisters lived. Then they got to talking about books; and to Jos delight, she found that Laurie loved them as well as she did, and had read even more than herself.
I dont believe you are! exclaimed the boy, looking at her with much admiration, though he privately thought she would have good reason to be a trifle afraid of the old gentleman, if she met him in some of his moods.
The atmosphere of the whole house being summer-like, Laurie led the way from room to room, letting Jo stop to examine whatever struck her fancy; and so at last they came to the library, where she clapped her hands, and pranced, as she always did when especially delighted. It was lined with books, and there were pictures and statues, and distracting little cabinets full of coins and curiosities, and sleepy-hollow chairs, and queer tables, and bronzes; and, best of all, a great open fireplace, with quaint tiles all round it.
What richness! sighed Jo, sinking into the depth of a velvet chair, and gazing about her with an air of intense satisfaction. Theodore Laurence, you ought to be the happiest boy in the world, she added impressively.
I think I am a little bit afraid of him, but I dont know why I should be. Marmee said I might come, and I dont think you re any the worse for it, said Jo, composing herself, though she kept her eyes on the door.
Laurie went away, and his guest amused herself in her own way. She was standing before a fine portrait of the old gentleman, when the door opened again, and without turning, she said decidedly, I m sure now that I should nt be afraid of him, for he s got kind eyes, though his mouth is grim, and he looks as if he had a tremendous will of his own. He is nt as handsome as my grandfather, but I like him.
Poor Jo blushed till she could nt blush any redder, and her heart began to beat uncomfortably fast as she thought what she had said. For a minute a wild desire to run away possessed her; but that was cowardly, and the girls would laugh at her: so she resolved to stay, and get out of the scrape as she could. A second look showed her that the living eyes, under the bushy gray eyebrows, were kinder even than the painted ones; and there was a sly twinkle in them, which lessened her fear a good deal. The gruff voice was gruffer than ever, as the old gentleman said abruptly, after that dreadful pause, So you re not afraid of me, hey?
That answer pleased the old gentleman; he gave a short laugh, shook hands with her, and, putting his finger under her chin, turned up her face, examined it gravely, and let it go, saying with a nod, You ve got your grandfathers spirit, if you have nt his face. He was a fine man, my dear; but, what is better, he was a brave and an honest one, and I was proud to be his friend.
Yes, sir; he seems a little lonely, and young folks would do him good perhaps. We are only girls, but we should be glad to help if we could, for we dont forget the splendid Christmas present you sent us, said Jo eagerly.
Just her fathers way of doing good. I shall come and see your mother some fine day. Tell her so. There s the tea-bell; we have it early, on the boys account. Come down, and go on being neighborly.
Hey! Why, what the dickens has come to the fellow? said the old gentleman, as Laurie came running down stairs and brought up with a start of surprise at the astounding sight of Jo arm-in-arm with his redoubtable grandfather.
That s evident, by the way you racket downstairs. Come to your tea, sir, and behave like a gentleman; and having pulled the boys hair by way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on, while Laurie went through a series of comic evolutions behind their backs, which nearly produced an explosion of laughter from Jo.
The old gentleman did not say much as he drank his four cups of tea, but he watched the young people, who soon chatted away like old friends, and the change in his grandson did not escape him. There was color, light, and life in the boys face now, vivacity in his manner, and genuine merriment in his laugh.
She s right; the lad is lonely. I ll see what these little girls can do for him, thought Mr. Laurence, as he looked and listened. He liked Jo, for her odd, blunt ways suited him; and she seemed to understand the boy almost as well as if she had been one herself.
If the Laurences had been what Jo called prim and poky, she would not have got on at all, for such people always made her shy and awkward; but finding them free and easy, she was so herself, and made a good impression. When they rose she proposed to go, but Laurie said he had something more to show her, and took her away to the conservatory, which had been lighted for her benefit. It seemed quite fairylike to Jo, as she went up and down the walks, enjoying the blooming walls on either side, the soft light, the damp sweet air, and the wonderful vines and trees that hung above her,while her new friend cut the finest flowers till his hands were full; then he tied them up, saying, with the happy look Jo liked to see, Please give these to your mother, and tell her I like the medicine she sent me very much.
So Laurie played, and Jo listened, with her nose luxuriously buried in heliotrope and tea-roses. Her respect and regard for the Laurence boy increased very much, for he played remarkably well, and did nt put on any airs. She wished Beth could hear him, but she did not say so; only praised him till he was quite abashed, and his grandfather came to his rescue. That will do, that will do, young lady. Too many sugar-plums are not good for him. His music is nt bad, but I hope he will do as well in more important things. Going? Well, I m much obliged to you, and I hope you ll come again. My respects to your mother. Good-night, Doctor Jo.
When all the afternoons adventures had been told, the family felt inclined to go visiting in a body, for each found something very attractive in the big house on the other side of the hedge. Mrs. March wanted to talk of her father with the old man who had not forgotten him; Meg longed to walk in the conservatory; Beth sighed for the grand piano; and Amy was eager to see the fine pictures and statues.
I am not sure, but I think it was because his son, Lauries father, married an Italian lady, a musician, which displeased the old man, who is very proud. The lady was good and lovely and accomplished, but he did not like her, and never saw his son after he married. They both died when Laurie was a little child, and then his grandfather took him home. I fancy the boy, who was born in Italy, is not very strong, and the old man is afraid of losing him, which makes him so careful. Laurie comes naturally by his love of music, for he is like his mother, and I dare say his grandfather fears that he may want to be a musician; at any rate, his skill reminds him of the woman he did not like, and so he glowered, as Jo said.
I think they are great nonsense, and I ll thank you not to be silly, and spoil my fun. Laurie s a nice boy, and I like him, and I wont have any sentimental stuff about compliments and such rubbish. We ll all be good to him, because he has nt got any mother, and he may come over and see us, may nt he, Marmee?
I was thinking about our Pilgrims Progress, answered Beth, who had not heard a word. How we got out of the Slough and through the Wicket Gate by resolving to be good, and up the steep hill by trying; and that may be the house over there, full of splendid things, is going to be our Palace Beautiful.