Reading Comprehension - Literature: 'Little Women'

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This 1868 coming-of-age novel by Louisa May Alcott follows the lives of the four March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—and details their passage from childhood to womanhood.
1. Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
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2. Little Women
‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’
grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
‘It’s so dreadful to be poor!’ sighed Meg, looking down
at her old dress.
‘I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of
pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,’ added little
Amy, with an injured sniff.
‘We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,’ said
Beth contentedly from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone
brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo
said sadly, ‘We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him
for a long time.’ She didn’t say ‘perhaps never,’ but each
silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the
fighting was.
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an
altered tone, ‘You know the reason Mother proposed not
having any presents this Christmas was because it is going
to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought
not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are
suffering so in the army. We can’t do much, but we can
make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I
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am afraid I don’t.’ And Meg shook her head, as she
thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted.
‘But I don’t think the little we should spend would do
any good. We’ve each got a dollar, and the army wouldn’t
be much helped by our giving that. I agree not to expect
anything from Mother or you, but I do want to buy
UNDINE AND SINTRAM for myself. I’ve wanted it so
long,’ said Jo, who was a bookworm.
‘I planned to spend mine in new music,’ said Beth,
with a little sigh, which no one heard but the hearth brush
and kettle holder.
‘I shall get a nice box of Faber’s drawing pencils. I
really need them,’ said Amy decidedly.
‘Mother didn’t say anything about our money, and she
won’t wish us to give up everything. Let’s each buy what
we want, and have a little fun. I’m sure we work hard
enough to earn it,’ cried Jo, examining the heels of her
shoes in a gentlemanly manner.
‘I know I do—teaching those tiresome children nearly
all day, when I’m longing to enjoy myself at home,’ began
Meg, in the complaining tone again.
‘You don’t have half such a hard time as I do,’ said Jo.
‘How would you like to be shut up for hours with a
nervous, fussy old lady, who keeps you trotting, is never
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satisfied, and worries you till you you’re ready to fly out
the window or cry?’
‘It’s naughty to fret, but I do think washing dishes and
keeping things tidy is the worst work in the world. It
makes me cross, and my hands get so stiff, I can’t practice
well at all.’ And Beth looked at her rough hands with a
sigh that any one could hear that time.
‘I don’t believe any of you suffer as I do,’ cried Amy,
‘for you don’t have to go to school with impertinent girls,
who plague you if you don’t know your lessons, and laugh
at your dresses, and label your father if he isn’t rich, and
insult you when your nose isn’t nice.’
‘If you mean libel, I’d say so, and not talk about labels,
as if Papa was a pickle bottle,’ advised Jo, laughing.
‘I know what I mean, and you needn’t be statirical
about it. It’s proper to use good words, and improve your
vocabilary,’ returned Amy, with dignity.
‘Don’t peck at one another, children. Don’t you wish
we had the money Papa lost when we were little, Jo? Dear
me! How happy and good we’d be, if we had no worries!’
said Meg, who could remember better times.
‘You said the other day you thought we were a deal
happier than the King children, for they were fighting and
fretting all the time, in spite of their money.’
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‘So I did, Beth. Well, I think we are. For though we
do have to work, we make fun of ourselves, and are a
pretty jolly set, as Jo would say.’
‘Jo does use such slang words!’ observed Amy, with a
reproving look at the long figure stretched on the rug.
Jo immediately sat up, put her hands in her pockets,
and began to whistle.
‘Don’t, Jo. It’s so boyish!’
‘That’s why I do it.’
‘I detest rude, unladylike girls!’
‘I hate affected, niminy-piminy chits!’
‘Birds in their little nests agree,’ sang Beth, the
peacemaker, with such a funny face that both sharp voices
softened to a laugh, and the ‘pecking’ ended for that time.
‘Really, girls, you are both to be blamed,’ said Meg,
beginning to lecture in her elder-sisterly fashion.’You are
old enough to leave off boyish tricks, and to behave
better, Josephine. It didn’t matter so much when you were
a little girl, but now you are so tall, and turn up your hair,
you should remember that you are a young lady.’
‘I’m not! And if turning up my hair makes me one, I’ll
wear it in two tails till I’m twenty,’ cried Jo, pulling off
her net, and shaking down a chestnut mane. ‘I hate to
think I’ve got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear
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long gowns, and look as prim as a China Aster! It’s bad
enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy’s games and
work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in
not being a boy. And it’s worse than ever now, for I’m
dying to go and fight with Papa. And I can only stay home
and knit, like a poky old woman!’
And Jo shook the blue army sock till the needles rattled
like castanets, and her ball bounded across the room.
‘Poor Jo! It’s too bad, but it can’t be helped. So you
must try to be contented with making your name boyish,
and playing brother to us girls,’ said Beth, stroking the
rough head with a hand that all the dish washing and
dusting in the world could not make ungentle in its touch.
‘As for you, Amy,’ continued Meg, ‘you are altogether
to particular and prim. Your airs are funny now, but you’ll
grow up an affected little goose, if you don’t take care. I I
like your nice manners and refined ways of speaking,
when you don’t try to be elegant. But your absurd words
are as bad as Jo’s slang.’
‘If Jo is a tomboy and Amy a goose, what am I, please?’
asked Beth, ready to share the lecture.
‘You’re a dear, and nothing else,’ answered Meg
warmly, and no one contradicted her, for the ‘Mouse’ was
the pet of the family.
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As young readers like to know ‘how people look’, we
will take this moment to give them a little sketch of the
four sisters, who sat knitting away in the twilight, while
the December snow fell quietly without, and the fire
crackled cheerfully within. It was a comfortable room,
though the carpet was faded and the furniture very plain,
for a good picture or two hung on the walls, books filled
the recesses, chrysanthemums and Christmas roses
bloomed in the windows, and a pleasant atmosphere of
home peace pervaded it.
Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very
pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft
brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she
was rather vain. Fifteen- year-old Jo was very tall, thin,
and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never
seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which
were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a
comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see
everything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful.
Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually
bundled into a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders
had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes,
and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was
rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn’t like it.
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Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy,
smooth- haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy
manner, a timid voice, and a ;peaceful expression which
was seldom disturbed. Her father called her ‘Little Miss
Tranquility’, and the name suited her excellently, for she
seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only
venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and
loved. Amy, though the youngest, was a most important
person, in her own opinion at least. A regular snow
maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her
shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like
a young lady mindful of her manners. What the characters
of the four sisters were we will leave to be found out.
The clock struck six and, having swept up the hearth,
Beth put a pair of slippers down to warm. Somehow the
sight of the old shoes had a good effect upon the girls, for
Mother was coming, and everyone brightened to welcome
her. Meg stopped lecturing, and lighted the lamp, Amy
got out of the easy chair without being asked, and Jo
forgot how tired she was as she sat up to hold the slippers
nearer to the blaze.
‘They are quite worn out. Marmee must have a new
‘I thought I’d get her some with my dollar,’ said Beth.
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‘No, I shall!’ cried Amy.
‘I’m the oldest,’ began Meg, but Jo cut in with a
decided, ‘I’m the man of the family now Papa is away, and
I shall provide the slippers, for he told me to take special
care of Mother while he was gone.’
‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do,’ said Beth, ‘let’s each get her
something for Christmas, land not get anything for
‘That’s like you, dear! What will we get?’ exclaimed Jo.
Everyone thought soberly for a minute, then Meg
announced, as if the idea was suggested by the sight of her
own pretty hands, ‘I shall give her a nice pair of gloves.’
‘Army shoes, best to be had,’ cried Jo.
‘Some handkerchiefs, all hemmed,’ said Beth.
‘I’ll get a little bottle of cologne. She likes it, and it
won’t cost much, so I’ll have some left to buy my pencils,’
added Amy.
‘How will we give the things?’ asked Meg.
‘Put them on the table, and bring her in and see her
open the bundles. Don’t you remember how we used to
do on our birthdays?’ answered Jo.
‘I used to be so frightened when it was my turn to sit in
the chair with the crown on, and see you all come
marching round to give the presents, with a kiss. I liked
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the things and the kisses, but it was dreadful to have you
sit looking at me while I opened the bundles,’ said Beth,
who was toasting her face and the bread for tea at the same
‘Let Marmee think we are getting things for ourselves,
and then surprise her. We must go shopping tomorrow
afternoon, Meg. There is so much to do about the play for
Christmas night,’ said Jo, marching up and down, with her
hands behind her back, and her nose in the air.
‘I don’t mean to act any more after this time. I’m
getting too old for such things,’ observed Meg, who was
as much a child as ever about ‘dressing-up’ frolics.
‘You won’t stop, I know, as long as you can trail round
in a white gown with your hair down, and wear gold-
paper jewelry. You are the best actress we’ve got, and
there’ll be an end of everything if you quit the boards,’
said Jo. ‘We ought to rehearse tonight. Come here, Amy,
and do the fainting scene, for you are as stiff as a poker in
‘I can’t help it. I never saw anyone faint, and I don’t
choose to make myself all black and blue, tumbling flat as
you do. If I can go down easily, I’ll drop. If I can’t, I shall
fall into a chair and be graceful. I don’t care if Hugo does
come at me with a pistol,’ returned Amy, who was not
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gifted with dramatic power, but was chosen because she
was small enough to be borne out shrieking by the villain
of the piece.
‘Do it this way. Clasp your hands so, and stagger across
the room, crying frantically, ‘Roderigo Save me! Save
me!’ and away went Jo, with a melodramatic scream
which was truly thrilling.
Amy followed, but she poked her hands out stiffly
before her, and jerked herself along as if she went by
machinery, and her ‘Ow!’ was more suggestive of pins
being run into her than of fear and anguish. Jo gave a
despairing groan, and Meg laughed outright, while Beth
let her bread burn as she watched the fun with interest.
‘It’s no use! Do the best you can when the time comes,
and if the audience laughs, don’t blame me. Come on,
‘Then things went smoothly, for Don Pedro defied the
world in a speech of two pages without a single break.
Hagar, the witch, chanted an awful incantation over her
kettleful of simmering toads, with weird effect. Roderigo
rent his chains asunder manfully, and Hugo died in
agonies of remorse and arsenic, with a wild, ‘Ha! Ha!’
‘It’s the best we’ve had yet,’ said Meg, as the dead
villain sat up and rubbed his elbows.
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‘I don’t see how you can write and act such splendid
things, Jo. You’re a regular Shakespeare!’ exclaimed Beth,
who firmly believed that her sisters were gifted with
wonderful genius in all things.
‘Not quite,’ replied Jo modestly. ‘I do think THE
WITCHES CURSE, an Operatic Tragedy is rather a nice
thing, but I’d like to try McBETH, if we only had a
trapdoor for Banquo. I always wanted to do the killing
part. ‘Is that a dagger that I see before me?’ muttered Jo,
rolling her eyes and clutching at the air, as she had seen a
famous tragedian do.
‘No, it’s the toasting fork, with Mother’s shoe on it
instead of the bread. Beth’s stage-struck!’ cried Meg, and
the rehearsal ended in a general burst of laughter.
‘Glad to find you so merry, my girls,’ said a cheery
voice at the door, and actors and audience turned to
welcome a tall, motherly lady with a ‘can I help you’ look
about her which was truly delightful. She was not
elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman, and the
girls thought the gray cloak and unfashionable bonnet
covered the most splendid mother in the world.
‘Well, dearies, how have you got on today? There was
so much to do, getting the boxes ready to go tomorrow,
that I didn’t come home to dinner. Has anyone called,
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Beth? How is your cold, Meg? Jo, you look tired to death.
Come and kiss me, baby.’
While making these maternal inquiries Mrs. March got
her wet things off, her warm slippers on, and sitting down
in the easy chair, drew Amy to her lap, preparing to enjoy
the happiest hour of her busy day. The girls flew about,
trying to make things comfortable, each in her own way.
Meg arranged the tea table, Jo brought wood and set
chairs, dropping, over-turning, and clattering everything
she touched. Beth trotted to and fro between parlor
kitchen, quiet and busy, while Amy gave directions to
everyone, as she sat with her hands folded.
As they gathered about the table, Mrs. March said, with
a particularly happy face, ‘I’ve got a treat for you after
A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of
sunshine. Beth clapped her hands, regardless of the biscuit
she held, and Jo tossed up her napkin, crying, ‘A letter! A
letter! Three cheers for Father!’
‘Yes, a nice long letter. He is well, and thinks he shall
get through the cold season better than we feared. He
sends all sorts of loving wishes for Christmas, and an
especial message to you girls,’ said Mrs. March, patting her
pocket as if she had got a treasure there.
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‘Hurry and get done! Don’t stop to quirk your little
finger and simper over your plate, Amy,’ cried Jo, choking
on her tea and dropping her bread, butter side down, on
the carpet in her haste to get at the treat.
Beth ate no more, but crept away to sit in her shadowy
corner and brood over the delight to come, till the others
were ready.
‘I think it was so splendid in Father to go as chaplain
when he was too old to be drafted, and not strong enough
for a soldier,’ said Meg warmly.
‘Don’t I wish I could go as a drummer, a vivan—what’s
its name? Or a nurse, so I could be near him and help
him,’ exclaimed Jo, with a groan.
‘It must be very disagreeable to sleep in a tent, and eat
all sorts of bad-tasting things, and drink out of a tin mug,’
sighed Amy.
‘When will he come home, Marmee? asked Beth, with
a little quiver in her voice.
‘Not for many months, dear, unless he is sick. He will
stay and do his work faithfully as long as he can, and we
won’t ask for him back a minute sooner than he can be
spared. Now come and hear the letter.’
They all drew to the fire, Mother in the big chair with
Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of
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the chair, and Jo leaning on the back, where no one
would see any sign of emotion if the letter should happen
to be touching. Very few letters were written in those
hard times that were not touching, especially those which
fathers sent home. In this one little was said of the
hardships endured, the dangers faced, or the homesickness
conquered. It was a cheerful, hopeful letter, full of lively
descriptions of camp life, marches, and military news, and
only at the end did the writer’s heart over-flow with
fatherly love and longing for the little girls at home.
‘Give them all of my dear love and a kiss. Tell them I
think of them by day, pray for them by night, and find my
best comfort in their affection at all times. A year seems
very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that
while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days
need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said
to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do
their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely,
and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come
back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of
my little women.’ Everybody sniffed when they came to
that part. Jo wasn’t ashamed of the great tear that dropped
off the end of her nose, and Amy never minded the
rumpling of her curls as she hid her face on her mother’s
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shoulder and sobbed out, ‘I am a selfish girl! But I’ll truly
try to be better, so he mayn’t be disappointed in me by-
We all will,’ cried Meg. ‘I think too much of my looks
and hate to work, but won’t any more, if I can help it.’
‘I’ll try and be what he loves to call me, ‘a little
woman’ and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here
instead of wanting to be somewhere else,’ said Jo, thinking
that keeping her temper at home was a much harder task
than facing a rebel or two down South.
Beth said nothing, but wiped away her tears with the
blue army sock and began to knit with all her might,
losing no time in doing the duty that lay nearest her, while
she resolved in her quiet little soul to be all that Father
hoped to find her when the year brought round the happy
coming home.
Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo’s words,
by saying in her cheery voice, ‘Do you remember how
you used to play Pilgrims Progress when you were little
things? Nothing delighted you more than to have me tie
my piece bags on your backs for burdens, give you hats
and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel through the
house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction,
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up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely
things you could collect to make a Celestial City.’
‘What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fighting
Apollyon, and passing through the valley where the hob-
goblins were,’ said Jo.
‘I liked the place where the bundles fell off and
tumbled downstairs,’ said Meg.
‘I don’t remember much about it, except that I was
afraid of the cellar and the dark entry, and always liked the
cake and milk we had up at the top. If I wasn’t too old for
such things, I’d rather like to play it over again,’ said Amy,
who began to talk of renouncing childish things at the
mature age of twelve.
‘We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a
play we are playing all the time in one way or another.
Out burdens are here, our road is before us, and the
longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads
us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which
is a true Celestial City. Now, my little pilgrims, suppose
you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how
far on you can get before Father comes home.’
‘Really, Mother? Where are our bundles?’ asked Amy,
who was a very literal young lady.
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‘Each of you told what your burden was just now,
except Beth. I rather think she hasn’t got any,’ said her
‘Yes, I have. Mine is dishes and dusters, and envying
girls with nice pianos, and being afraid of people.’
Beth’s bundle was such a funny one that everybody
wanted to laugh, but nobody did, for it would have hurt
her feelings very much.
‘Let us do it,’ said Meg thoughtfully. ‘It is only another
name for trying to be good, and the story may help us, for
though we do want to be good, it’s hard work and we
forget, and don’t do our best.’
‘We were in the Slough of Despond tonight, and
Mother came and pulled us out as Help did in the book.
We ought to have our roll of directions, like Christian.
What shall we do about that?’ asked Jo, delighted with the
fancy which lent a little romance to the very dull task of
doing her duty.
‘Look under your pillows christmas morning, and you
will find your guidebook,’ replied Mrs. March.
They talked over the new plan while old Hannah
cleared the table, then out came the four little work
baskets, and the needles flew as the girls made sheets for
Aunt March. It was uninteresting sewing, but tonight no
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one grumbled. They adopted Jo’s plan of dividing the long
seams into four parts, and calling the quarters Europe,
Asia, Africa, and America, and in that way got on
capitally, especially when they talked about the different
countries as they stitched their way through them.
At nine they stopped work, and sang, as usual, before
they went to bed. No one but Beth could get much music
out of the old piano, but she had a way of softly touching
the yellow keys and making a pleasant accompaniment to
the simple songs they sang. Meg had a voice like a flute,
and she and herr mother led the little choir. Amy chirped
like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at her
own sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place
with a croak or a quaver that spoiled the most pensive
tune. They had always done this from the time they could
Crinkle, crinkle, ‘ittle ‘tar,
and it had become a household custom, for the mother
was a born singer. The first sound in the morning was her
voice as she went about the house singing like a lark, and
the last sound at night was the same cheery sound, for the
girls never grew too old for that familiar lullaby.
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Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas
morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a
moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago,
when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so
full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother’s
promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out
a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for
it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived,
and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim
going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a ‘Merry
Christmas,’ and bade her see what was under her pillow. A
green- covered book appeared, with the same picture
inside, and a few words written by their mother, which
made their one present very precious in their eyes.
Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their
little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all
sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew
rosy with the coming day.
In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and
pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sisters,
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especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her
because her advice was so gently given.
‘Girls,’ said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled
head beside her to the two little night-capped ones in the
room beyond, ‘Mother wants us to read and love and
mind these books, and we must begin at once. We used to
be faithful about it, but since Father went away and all this
war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things.
You can do as you please, but I shall keep my book on the
table here and read a little every morning as soon as I
wake, for I know it will do me good and help me through
the day.’
Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo
put her arm round her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read
also, with the quiet expression so seldom seen on her
restless face.
‘How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let’s do as they do.
I’ll help you with the hard words, and they’’ explain things
if we don’t understand,’ whispered Beth, very much
impressed by the pretty books and her sisters, example.
‘I’m glad mine is blue,’ said Amy. and then the rooms
were very still while the pages were softly turned, and the
winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and
serious faces with a Christmas greeting.
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‘Where is Mother?’ asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down
to thank her for their gifts, half an hour later.
‘Goodness only knows. some poor creeter came a-
beggin’, and your ma went straight off to see what was
needed. There never was such a woman for givin’ away
vittles and drink, clothes and firin’,’ replied Hannah, who
had lived with the family since Meg was born, and was
considered by them all more as a friend than a servant.
‘She will be back soon, I think, so fry your cakes, and
have everything ready,’ said Meg, looking over the
presents which were collected in a basket and kept under
the sofa, ready to be produced at the proper time. ‘why,
where is Amy’s bottle of cologne?’ she added, as the little
flask did not appear.
‘She took it out a minute ago, and went off with it to
put a ribbon on it, or some such notion,’ replied Jo,
dancing about the room to take the first stiffness off the
new army slippers.
‘How nice my handkerchiefs look, don’t they? Hannah
washed and ironed them for me, and I marked them all
myself,’ said Beth, looking proudly at the somewhat
uneven letters which had cost her such labor.
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‘Bless the child! She’s gone and put ‘Mother’ on them
instead of ‘M. March’. How funny!’ cried Jo, taking one
‘Isn’t that right? I thought it was better to do it so,
because Meg’s initials are M.M., and I don’t want anyone
to use these but Marmee,’ said Beth;, looking troubled.
‘It’s all right, dear, and a very pretty idea, quite sensible
too, for no one can ever mistake now. It will please her
very much, I know,’ said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a
smile for Beth.
‘There’s Mother. Hide the basket, quick!’ cried Jo, as a
door slammed and steps sounded in the hall.
Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when
she saw her sisters all waiting for her.
‘Where have you been, and what are you hiding
behind you?’ asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and
cloak, that lazy Amy had been out so early.
‘Don’t laugh at me, Jo! I didn’t mean anyone should
know till the time came. I only meant to change the little
bottle for a big one, and I gave all my money to get it, and
I’m truly trying not to be selfish any more.’
As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which
replaced the cheap one, and looked so earnest and humble
in her little effort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on
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the spot, and Jo pronounced her ‘a trump’, while Beth ran
to the window, and picked her finest rose to ornament the
stately bottle.
‘You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and
talking about being good this morning, so I ran round the
corner and changed it the minute I was up, and I’m so
glad, for mine is the handsomest now.’
Another bang of the street door sent the basket under
the sofa, and the girls to the table, eager for breakfast.
‘Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you
for our books. We read some, and mean to every day,’
they all cried in chorus. ‘Merry Christmas, little daughters!
I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on.
But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far
away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn
baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from
freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat
over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were
suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them
your breakfast as a Christmas present?’
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly
an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute,
for Jo exclaimed impetuously, ‘I’m so glad you came
before we began!’
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‘May I go and help carry the things to the poor little
children?’ asked Beth eagerly.
‘I shall take the cream and the muffings,’ added Amy,
heroically giving up the article she most liked.
Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling
the bread into one big plate.
‘I thought you’d do it,’ said Mrs. March, smiling as if
satisfied. ‘You shall all go and help me, and when we
come back we will have bread and milk for breakfast, and
make it up at dinnertime.’
They were soon ready, and the procession set out.
Fortunately it was early, and they went through back
streets, so few people saw them, and no one laughed at the
queer party.
A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken
windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother,
wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children
cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.
How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the
girls went in.
‘Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!’ said the
poor woman, crying for joy.
‘Funny angels in hoods and mittens,’ said Jo, and set
them to laughing.
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In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had
been at work there. Hannah, who had carried wood,
made a fire, and stopped up the broken panes with old
hats and her own cloak. Mrs. March gave the mother tea
and gruel, and comforted her with promises of help, while
she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had been her
own. The girls meantime spread the table, set the children
round the fire, and fed them like so many hungry birds,
laughing, talking, and trying to understand the funny
broken English.
‘Das ist gut!’ ‘Die Engel-kinder!’ cried the poor things
as they ate and warmed their purple hands at the
comfortable blaze. The girls had never been called angel
children before, and thought it very agreeable, especially
Jo, who had been considered a ‘Sancho’ ever since she was
born. That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn’t
get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort
behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier
people than the hungry little girls who gave away their
breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk
on Christmas morning.
‘That’s loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I
like it,’ said Meg, as they set out their presents while their
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mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor
Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of
love done up in the few little bundles, and the tall vase of
red roses, white chrysanthemums, and trailing vines,
which stood in the middle, gave quite an elegant air to the
‘She’s coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy!
Three cheers for Marmee!’ cried Jo, prancing about while
Meg went to conduct Mother to the seat of honor.
Beth played her gayest march, amy threw open the
door, and Meg enacted escort with great dignity. Mrs.
March was both surprised and touched, and smiled with
her eyes full as she examined her presents and read the
little notes which accompanied them. The slippers went
on at once, a new handkerchief was slipped into her
pocket, well scented with Amy’s cologne, the rose was
fastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were
pronounced a perfect fit.
There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and
explaining, in the simple, loving fashion which makes
these home festivals so pleasant at the time, so sweet to
remember long afterward, and then all fell to work.
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The morning charities and ceremonies took so much
time that the rest of the day was devoted to preparations
for the evening festivities. Being still too young to go
often to the theater, and not rich enough to afford any
great outlay for private performances, the girls put their
wits to work, and necessity being the mother of invention,
made whatever they needed. Very clever were some of
their productions, pasteboard guitars, antique lamps made
of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper,
gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering with tin spangles
from a pickle factory, and armor covered with the same
useful diamond shaped bits left inn sheets when the lids of
preserve pots were cut out. The big chamber was the
scene of many innocent revels.
No gentleman were admitted, so Jo played male parts
to her heart’s content and took immense satisfaction in a
pair of russet leather boots given her by a friend, who
knew a lady who knew an actor. These boots, an old foil,
and a slashed doublet once used by an artist for some
picture, were Jo’s chief treasures and appeared on all
occasions. The smallness of the company made it necessary
for the two principal actors to take several parts apiece,
and they certainly deserved some credit for the hard work
they did in learning three or four different parts, whisking
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in and out of various costumes, and managing the stage
besides. It was excellent drill for their memories, a
harmless amusement, and employed many hours which
otherwise would have been idle, lonely, or spent in less
profitable society.
On christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed
which was the dress circle, and sat before the blue and
yellow chintz curtains in a most flattering state of
expectancy. There was a good deal of rustling and
whispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lamp smoke, and
an occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt to get
hysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a
bell sounded, the curtains flew apart, and the OPERATIC
TRAGEDY began.
‘A gloomy wood,’ according to the one playbill, was
represented by a few shrubs in pots, green baize on the
floor, and a cave in the distance. This cave was made with
a clothes horse for a roof, bureaus for walls, and in it was a
small furnace in full blast, with a black pot on it and an old
witch bending over it. The stage was dark and the glow of
the furnace had a fine effect, especially as real steam issued
from the kettle when the witch took off the cover. A
moment was allowed for the first thrill to subside, then
Hugo, the villain, stalked in with a clanking sword at his
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side, a slouching hat, black beard, mysterious cloak, and
the boots. After pacing to and fro in much agitation, he
struck his forehead, and burst out in a wild strain, singing
of his hatred to Roderigo, his love for Zara, and his
pleasing resolution to kill the one and win the other. The
gruff tones of Hugo’s voice, with an occasional shout
when his feelings overcame him, were very impressive,
and the audience applauded the moment he paused for
breath. bowing with the air of one accustomed to public
praise, he stole to the cavern and ordered Hagar to come
forth with a commanding, ‘What ho, minion! I need
Out came Meg, with gray horsehair hanging about her
face, a red and black robe, a staff, and cabalistic signs upon
her cloak. Hugo demanded a potion to make Zara adore
him, and one destroy Roderigo. Hagar, in a fine dramatic
melody, promised both, and proceeded to call up the spirit
who would bring the love philter.
Hither, hither, from thy home,
Airy sprite, I bid thee come!
Born of roses, fed on dew,
Charms and potions canst thou brew?
Bring me here, with elfin speed,
The fragrant philter which I need.
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Make it sweet and swift and strong,
Spirit, answer now my song!
A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of
the cave appeared a little figure in cloudy white, with
glittering wings, golden hair, and a garland of roses on its
head. Waving a wand, it sang...
Hither I come,
From my airy home,
Afar in the silver moon.
Take the magic spell,
And use it well,
Or its power will vanish soon!
And dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch’s feet,
the spirit vanished. Another chant from Hagar produced
another apparition, not a lovely one, for with a bang an
ugly black imp appeared and, having croaked a reply,
tossed a dark bottle at Hugo and disappeared with a
mocking laugh. Having warbled his thanks and put the
potions in his boots, Hugo departed, and Hagar informed
the audience that as he had killed a few of her friends in
times past, she had cursed him, and intends to thwart his
plans, and be revenged on him. Then the curtain fell, and
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the audience reposed and ate candy while discussing the
merits of the play.
A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain
rose again, but when it became evident what a masterpiece
of stage carpentery had been got up, no one murmured at
the delay. It was truly superb. A tower rose to the ceiling,
halfway up appeared a window with a lamp burning in it,
and behind the white curtain appeared Zara in a lovely
blue and silver dress, waiting for Roderigo. He came in
gorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut
lovelocks, a guitar, and the boots, of course. Kneeling at
the foot of the tower, he sang a serenade in melting tones.
Zara replied and, after a musical dialogue, consented to fly.
Then came the grand effect of the play. Roderigo
produced a rope ladder, with five steps to it, threw up one
end, and invited Zara to descend. Timidly she crept from
her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo’s shoulder, and was
about to leap gracfully down when ‘Alas! Alas for Zara!’
she forgot her train. It caught in the window, the tower
tottered, leaned forward, fell with a crash, and buried the
unhappy lovers in the ruins.
A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved
wildly from the wreck and a golden head emerged,
exclaiming, ‘I told you so! I told you so!’ With wonderful
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presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruel sire, rushed in,
dragged out his daughter, with a hasty aside...
‘Don’t laugh! Act as if it was all right!’ and, ordering
Roderigo up, banished him form the kingdom with wrath
and scorn. Though decidedly shaken by the fall from the
tower upon him, Roderigo defied the old gentleman and
refused to stir. This dauntless example fired Zara. She also
defied her sire, and he ordered them both to the deepest
dungeons of the castle. A stout little retainer came in with
chains and led them away, looking very much frightened
and evidently forgetting the speech he ought to have
Act third was the castle hall, and here Hagar appeared,
having come to free the lovers and finish Hugo. She hears
him coming and hides, sees him put the potions into two
cups of wine and bid the the timid little servant, ‘Bear
them to the captives in their cells, and tell them I shall
come anon.’ The servant takes Hugo aside to tell him
something, and Hagar changes the cups for two others
which are harmless. Ferdinando, the ‘minion’, carries them
away, and Hagar puts back the cup which holds the
poison meant for Roderigo. Hugo, getting thirsty after a
long warble, drinks it, loses his wits, and after a good deal
of clutching and stamping, falls flat and dies, while Hagar
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informs him what she has done in a song of exquisite
power and melody.
This was a truly thrilling scene, though some persons
might have thought that the sudden tumbling down of a
quantity of long red hair rather marred the effect of the
villain’s death. He was called before the curtain, and with
great propriety appeared, leading Hagar, whose singing
was considered more wonderful than all the rest of the
performance put together.
Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the
point of stabbing himself because he has been told that
Zara has deserted him. Just as the dagger is at his heart, a
lovely song is sung under his window, informing him that
Zara is true but in danger, and he can save her if he will. A
key is thrown in, which unlocks the door, and in a spasm
of rapture he tears off his chains and rushes away to find
and rescue his lady love.
Act fifth opened with a stormy scene between Zara and
Don Pedro. He wishes her to go into a convent, but she
won’t hear of it, and after a touching appeal, is about to
faint when Roderigo dashes in and demands her hand.
Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich. They shout and
gesticulate tremendously but cannot agree, and Rodrigo is
about to bear away the exhausted Zara, when the timid
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servant enters with a letter and a bag from Hagar, who has
mysteriously disappeared. The latter informs the party that
she bequeths untold wealth to the young pair and an awful
doom to Don Pedro, if he doesn’t make them happy. The
bag is opened, and several quarts of tin money shower
down upon the stage till it is quite glorified with the
glitter. This entirely softens the stern sire. He consents
without a murmur, all join in a joyful chorus, and the
curtain falls upon the lovers kneeling to receive Don
Pedro’s blessing in attitudes of the most romantic grace.
Tumultuous applause followed but received an
unexpected check, for the cot bed, on which the dress
circle was built, suddenly shut up and extinguished the
enthusiastic audience. Roderigo and Don Pedro flew to
the rescue, and all were taken out unhurt, though many
were speechless with laughter. the excitement had hardly
subsided when Hannah appeared, with ‘Mrs. March’s
compliments, and would the ladies walk down to supper.’
This was a surprise even to the actors, and when they
saw the table, they looked at one another in rapturous
amazement. It was like Marmee to get up a little treat for
them, but anything so fine as this was unheard of since the
departed days of plenty. There was ice cream, actually two
dishes of it, pink and white, and cake and fruit and
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distracting french bonbons and, in the middle of the table,
four great bouquets of hot house flowers.
It quite took their breath away, and they stared first at
the table and then at their mother, who looked as if she
enjoyed it immensely.
‘Is it fairies?’ asked Amy.
‘Santa Claus,’ said Beth.
‘Mother did it.’ And Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite
of her gray beard and white eyebrows.
‘Aunt March had a good fit and sent the supper,’ cried
Jo, with a sudden inspiration.
‘All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it,’ replied Mrs.
‘The Laurence boy’s grandfather! What in the world
put such a thing into his head? We don’t know him!’
exclaimed Meg.
‘Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast
party. He is an odd old gentleman, but that pleased him.
He knew my father years ago, and he sent me a polite
note this afternoon, saying he hoped I would allow him to
express his friendly feeling toward my children by sending
them a few trifles in honor of the day. I could not refuse,
and so you have a little feast at night to make up for the
bread-and-milk breakfast.’
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‘That boy; put it into his head, I know he did! He’s a
capital fellow, and I wish we could get acquainted. He
looks as if he’d like to know us but he’s bashful, and Meg
is so prim she won’t let me speak to him when we pass,’
said Jo, as the plates went round, and the ice began to melt
out of sight, with ohs and ahs of satisfaction.
‘You mean the people who live in the big house next
door, don’t you?’ asked one of the girls. ‘My mother
knows old Mr. Laurence, but says he’s very proud and
doesn’t like to mix with his neighbors. He keeps his
grandson shut up, when he isn’t riding or walking with his
tutor, and makes him study very hard. We invited him to
our party, but he didn’t come. Mother says he’s very nice,
though he never speaks to us girls.’
‘Our cat ran away once, and he brought her back, and
we talked over the fence, and were getting on capitally, all
about cricket, and so on, when he saw Meg coming, and
walked off. I mean to know him some day, for he needs
fun, I’m sure he does,’ said Jo decidedly.
‘I like his manners, and he looks like a little gentleman,
so I’ve no objection to your knowing him, if a proper
opportunity comes. He brought the flowers himself, and I
should have asked him in, if I had been sure what was
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going on upstairs. He looked so wistful as he went away,
hearing the frolic and evidently having none of his own.’
‘It’s a mercy you didn’t , Mother!’ laughed Jo, looking
at her boots. ‘But we’ll have another play sometime that
he can see. Perhaps he’ll help act. Wouldn’t that be jolly?’
‘I never had such a fine bouquet before! How pretty it
is!’ And Meg examined her flowers with great interest.
‘They are lovely. But Beth’s roses are sweeter to me,’
said Mrs. March, smelling the half-dead posy in her belt.
Beth nestled up to her, and whispered softly, ‘I wish I
could send my bunch to Father. I’m afraid he isn’t having
such a merry Christmas as we are.’
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‘Jo! Jo! Where are you?’ cried Meg at the foot of the
garret stairs.
‘Here!’ answered a husky voice from above, and,
running up, Meg found her sister eating apples and crying
over the Heir of Redclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on
an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window. This was
Jo’s favorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a
dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the
society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn’t mind her
a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into his
hole. Jo shook the tears off her cheeks and waited to hear
the news.
‘Such fun! Only see! A regular note of invitation from
Mrs. Gardiner for tomorrow night!’ cried Meg, waving
the precious paper and then proceeding to read it with
girlish delight.
‘‘Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and
Miss Josephine at a little dance on New Year’s Eve.’
Marmee is willing we should go, now what shall we
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‘What’s the use of asking that, when you know we
shall wear our poplins, because we haven’t got anything
else?’ answered Jo with her mouth full.
‘If I only had a silk!’ sighed Meg. ‘Mother says I may
when I’m eighteen perhaps, but two years is an everlasting
time to wait.’
‘I’m sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice
enough for us. Yours is as good as new, but I forgot the
burn and the tear in mine. Whatever shall I do? The burn
shows badly, and I can’t take any out.’
‘You must sit still all you can and keep your back out
of sight. The front is all right. I shall have a new ribbon for
my hair, and Marmee will lend me her little pearl pin, and
my new slippers are lovely, and my gloves will do, though
they aren’t as nice as I’d like.’
‘Mine are spoiled with lemonade, and I can’t get any
new ones, so I shall have to go without,’ said Jo, who
never troubled herself much about dress.
‘You must have gloves, or I won’t go,’ cried Meg
decidedly. ‘Gloves are more important than anything else.
You can’t dance without them, and if you don’t I should
be so mortified.’ ‘Then I’ll stay still. I don’t care much for
company dancing. It’s no fun to go sailing round. I like to
fly about and cut capers.’
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‘You can’t ask Mother for new ones, they are so
expensive, and you are so careless. She said when you
spoiled the others that she shouldn’t get you any more this
winter. Can’t you make them do?’
‘I can hold them crumpled up in my hand, so no one
will know how stained they are. That’s all I can do. No!
I’ll tell you how we can manage, each wear one good one
and carry a bad one. Don’t you see?’
‘Your hands are bigger than mine, and you will stretch
my glove dreadfully,’ began Meg, whose gloves were a
tender point with her.
‘Then I’ll go without. I don’t care what people say!’
cried Jo, taking up her book.
‘You may have it, you may! Only don’t stain it, and do
behave nicely. Don’t put your hands behind you, or stare,
or say ‘Christopher Columbus!’ will you?’
‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be as prim ad I can and not
get into any scrapes, if I can help it. Now go and answer
your note, and let me finish this splendid story.’
So Meg went away to ‘accept with thanks’, look over
her dress, and sing blithely as she did up her one real lace
frill, while Jo finished her story, her four apples, and had a
game of romps with Scrabble.
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On New Year’s Eve the parlor was deserted, for the
two younger girls played dressing maids and the two elder
were absorbed in the all-important business of ‘getting
ready for the party’. Simple as the toilets were, there was a
great deal of running up and down, laughing and talking,
and at one time a strong smell of burned hair pervaded the
house. Meg wanted a few curls about her face, and Jo
undertook to pinch the papered locks with a pair of hot
‘Ought they to smoke like that?’ asked Beth from her
perch on the bed.
‘It’s the dampness drying,’ replied Jo.
‘What a queer smell! It’s like burned feathers,’ observed
Amy, smoothing her own pretty curls with a superior air.
‘There, now I’ll take off the papers and you’ll see a
cloud of little ringlets,’ said Jo, putting down the tongs.
She did take off the papers, but no cloud of ringlets
appeared, for the hair came with the papers, and the
horrified hairdresser laid a row of little scorched bundles
on the bureau before her victim.
‘Oh, oh, oh! What have you done? I’m spoiled! I can’t
go! My hair, oh, my hair!’ wailed Meg, looking with
despair at the uneven frizzle on her forehead.
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‘Just my luck! You shouldn’t have asked me to do it. I
always spoil everything. I’m so sorry, but the tongs were
too hot, and so I’ve made a mess,’ groaned poor Jo,
regarding the little black pancakes with tears of regret.
‘It isn’t spoiled. Just frizzle it, and tie your ribbon so the
ends come on your forehead a bit, and it will look like the
last fashion. I’ve seen many girls do it so,’ said Amy
‘Serves me right for trying to be fine. I wish I’d let my
hair alone,’ cried Meg petulantly.
‘So do I, it was so smooth and pretty. But it will soon
grow out again,’ said Beth, coming to kiss and comfort the
shorn sheep.
After various lesser mishaps, Meg was finished at last,
and by the united exertions of the entire family Jo’s hair
was got up and her dress on. They looked very well in
their simple suits, Meg’s in silvery drab, with a blue velvet
snood, lace frills, and the pearl pin. Jo in maroon, with a
stiff, gentlemanly linen collar, and a white chrysanthemum
or two for her only ornament. Each put on one nice light
glove, and carried one soiled one, and all pronounced the
effect ‘quite easy and fine". Meg’s high-heeled slippers
were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own
it, and Jo’s nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into
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her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear
me, let us be elegant or die.
‘Have a good time, dearies!’ said Mrs. March, as the
sisters went daintily down the walk. ‘Don’t eat much
supper, and come away at eleven when I send Hannah for
you.’ As the gate clashed behind them, a voice cried from
a window...
‘Girls, girls! Have you you both got nice pocket
‘Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers,’
cried Jo, adding with a laugh as they went on, ‘I do
believe Marmee would ask that if we were all running
away from an earthquake.
‘It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for
a real lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and
handkerchief,’ replied Meg, who had a good many little
‘aristocratic tastes’ of her own.
‘Now don’t forget to keep the bad breadth out of sight,
Jo. Is my sash right? And does my hair look very bad?’ said
Meg, as she turned from the glass in Mrs. Gardiner’s
dressing room after a prolonged prink.
‘I know I shall forget. If you see me doing anything
wrong, just remind me by a wink, will you?’ returned Jo,
giving her collar a twitch and her head a hasty brush.
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‘No, winking isn’t ladylike. I’ll lift my eyebrows if any
thing is wrong, and nod if you are all right. Now hold
your shoulder straight, and take short steps, and don’t
shake hands if you are introduced to anyone. It isn’t the
‘How do you learn all the proper ways? I never can.
Isn’t that music gay?’
Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom
went to parties, and informal as this little gathering was, it
was an event to them. Mrs. Gardiner, a stately old lady,
greeted them kindly and handed them over to the eldest of
her six daughters. Meg knew Sallie and was at her ease
very soon, but Jo, who didn’t care much for girls or girlish
gossip, stood about, with her back carefully against the
wall, and felt as much out of place as a colt in a flower
garden. Half a dozen jovial lads were talking about skates
in another part of the room, and she longed to go and join
them, for skating was one of the joys of her life. She
telegraphed her wish to Meg, but the eyebrows went up
so alarmingly that she dared not stir. No one came to talk
to her, and one by one the group dwindled away till she
was left alone. She could not roam about and amuse
herself, for the burned breadth would show, so she stared
at people rather forlornly till the dancing began. Meg was
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asked at once, and the tight slippers tripped about so
briskly that none would have guessed the pain their wearer
suffered smilingly. Jo saw a big red headed youth
approaching her corner, and fearing he meant to engage
her, she slipped into a curtained recess, intending to peep
and enjoy herself in peace. Unfortunately, another bashful
person had chosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell
behind her, she found herself face to face with the
‘Laurence boy’.
‘Dear me, I didn’t know anyone was here!’ stammered
Jo, preparing to back out as speedily as she had bounced
But the boy laughed and said pleasantly, though he
looked a little startled, ‘Don’t mind me, stay if you like.’
‘Shan’t I disturb you?’
‘Not a bit. I only came here because I don’t know
many people and felt rather strange at first, you know.’
‘So did I. Don’t go away, please, unless you’d rather.’
The boy sat down again and looked at his pumps, till Jo
said, trying to be polite and easy, ‘I think I’ve had the
pleasure of seeing you before. You live near us, don’t
‘Next door.’ And he looked up and laughed outright,
for Jo’s prim manner was rather funny when he
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remembered how they had chatted about cricket when he
brought the cat home.
That put Jo at her ease and she laughed too, as she said,
in her heartiest way, ‘We did have such a good time over
your nice Christmas present.’
‘Grandpa sent it.’
‘But you put it into his head, didn’t you, now?’
‘How is your cat, Miss March?’ asked the boy, trying to
look sober while his black eyes shone with fun.
‘Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence. But I am not Miss
March, I’m only Jo,’ returned the young lady.
‘I’m not Mr. Laurence, I’m only Laurie.’
‘Laurie Laurence, what an odd name.’
‘My first name is theodore, but I don’t like it, for the
fellows called me Dora, so I made the say Laurie instead.’
‘I hate my name, too, so sentimental! I wish every one
would say Jo instead of Josephine. How did you make the
boys stop calling you Dora?’
‘I thrashed ‘em.’
‘I can’t thrash Aunt March, so I suppose I shall have to
bear it.’ And Jo resigned herself with a sigh.
‘Don’t you like to dance, Miss Jo?’ asked Laurie,
looking as if he thought the name suited her.
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‘I like it well enough if there is plenty of room, and
everyone is lively. In a place like this I’m sure to upset
something, tread on people’s toes, or do something
dreadful, so I keep out of mischief and let Meg sail about.
Don’t you dance?’
‘Sometimes. You see I’ve been abroad a good many
years, and haven’t been into company enough yet to
know how you do things here.’
‘Abroad!.’ cried Jo. ‘Oh, tell me about it! I love dearly
to hear people describe their travels.’
Laurie didn’t seem to know where to begin, but Jo’s
eager questions soon set him going, and he told her how
he had been at school in Vevay, where the boys never
wore hats and had a fleet of boats on the lake, and for
holiday fun went on walking trips about Switzerland with
their teachers.
‘Don’t I wish I’d been there!’ cried Jo. ‘Did you go to
‘We spent last winter there.’
‘Can you talk French?’
‘We were not allowed to speak anything else at Vevay.’
‘Do say some! I can read it, but can’t pronounce.’
‘Quel nom a cetter jeune demoiselle en les pantoulles
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‘How nicely you do it! Let me said, ‘Who is
the young lady in the pretty slippers’, didn’t you?’
‘Oui, mademoiselle.’
‘It’s my sister Margaret, and you knew it was! Do you
think she is pretty?’
‘Yes, she makes me think of the German girls, she
looks so fresh and quiet, and dances like a lady.’
Jo quite glowed with pleasure at this boyish praise of
her sister, and stored it up to repeat to Meg. Both peeped
and critisized and chatted till they felt like old
acquaintances. Laurie’s bashfulness soon wore off, for Jo’s
gentlemanly demeanor amused and set him at his ease, and
Jo was her merry self again, because her dress was
forgotten and nobody lifted their eyebrows at her. She
liked the ‘Laurence boy’ better than ever and took several
good looks at him, so that she might describe him to the
girls, for they had no brothers, very few male cousins, and
boys were almost unknown creatures to them.
‘Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes,
handsome nose, fine teeth, small hands and feet, taller than
I am, very polite, for a boy, and altogether jolly. Wonder
how old he is?’
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It was on the tip of Jo’s tongue to ask, but she checked
herself in time and, with unusual tact, tried to find out in a
round-about way.
‘I suppose you are going to college soon? I see you
pegging away at your books, no, I mean studying hard.’
And Jo blushed at the dreadful ‘pegging’ which had
escaped her.
Laurie smiled but didn’t seem shocked, and answered
with a shrug. ‘Not for a year or two. I won’t go before
seventeen, anyway.’
‘Aren’t you but fifteen?’ asked Jo, looking at the tall
lad, whom she had imagined seventeen already.
‘Sixteen, next month.’
‘How I wish I was going to college! You don’t look as
if you liked it.’
‘I hate it! Nothing but grinding or skylarking. And I
don’t like the way fellows do either, in this country.’
‘What do you like?’
‘To live in Italy, and to enjoy myself in my own way.’
Jo wanted very much to ask what his own way was, but
his black brows looked rather threatening as he knit them,
so she changed the subject by saying, as her foot kept
time, ‘That’s a splendid polka! Why don’t you go and try
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‘If you will come too,’ he answered, with a gallant little
‘I can’t, for I told meg I wouldn’t, because...’ There Jo
stopped, and looked undecided whether to tell or to
‘Because, what?’
‘You won’t tell?’
‘Well, I have a bad trick of standing before the fire, and
so I burn my frocks, and I scorched this one, and though
it’s nicely mended, it shows, and Meg told me to keep still
so no one would see it. You may laugh, if you want to. It
is funny, I know.’
But Laurie didn’t laugh. He only looked dawn a
minute, and the expression of his face puzzled Jo when he
said very gently, ‘Never mind that. I’ll tell you how we
can manage. There’s a long hall out there, and we can
dance grandly, and no one will see us. Please come.’
Jo thanked him and gladly went, wishing she had two
neat gloves when she saw the nice, pearl-colored ones her
partner wore. The hall was empty, and they had a grand
polka, for Laurie danced well, and taught her the German
step, which delighted Jo, being full of swing and spring.
When the music stopped, they sat down on the stairs to
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get their breath, and Laurie was in the midst of an account
of a students’ festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared in
search of her sister. She beckoned, and Jo reluctantly
followed her into a side room, where she found her on a
sofa, holding her foot, and looking pale.
‘I’ve sprained my ankle. That stupid high heel turned
and gave me a sad wrench. It aches so, I can hardly stand,
and I don’t know how I’m ever going to get home,’ she
said, rocking to and fro in pain.
‘I knew you’d hurt your feet with those silly shoes. I’m
sorry. But I don’t see what you can do, except get a
carriage, or stay here all night,’ answered Jo, softly rubbing
the poor ankle as she spoke.
‘I can’t have a carriage without its costing ever so
much. I dare say I can’t get one at all, for most people
come in their own, and it’s a long way to the stable, and
no one to send.’ ‘I’ll go.’
‘No, indeed! It’s past nine, and dark as Egypt. I can’t
stop here, for the house is full. Sallie has some girls staying
with her. I’ll rest till Hannah comes, and then do the best I
‘I’ll ask Laurie. He will go,’ said Jo,’ looking relieved as
the idea occurred to her.
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‘Mercy, no! Don’t ask or tell anyone. Get me my
rubbers, and put these slippers with our things. I can’t
dance anymore, but as soon as supper is over, watch for
Hannah and tell me the minute she comes.’
‘They are going out to supper now. I’ll stay with you.
I’d rather.’
‘No, dear, run along, and bring me some coffee. I’m so
tired I can’t stir.’
So Meg reclined, with rubbers well hidden, and Jo
went blundering away to the dining room, which she
found after going into a china closet, and opening the
door of a room where old Mr. Gardiner was taking a little
private refreshment. Making a dart at the table, she
secured the coffee, which she immediately spilled, thereby
making the front of her dress as bad as the back.
‘Oh, dear, what a blunderbuss I am!’ exclaimed Jo,
finishing Meg’s glove by scrubbing her gown with it.
‘Can I help you?’ said a friendly voice. And there was
Laurie, with a full cup in one hand and a plate of ice in
the other.
‘I was trying to get something for Meg, who is very
tired, and someone shook me, and here I am in a nice
state,’ answered Jo, glancing dismally from the stained skirt
to the coffee-colored glove.
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‘Too bad! I was looking for someone to give this to.
May I take it to your sister?’
‘Oh, thank you! I’ll show you where she is. I don’t
offer to take it myself, for I should only get into another
scrape if I did.’
Jo led the way, and as if used to waiting on ladies,
Laurie drew up a little table, brought a second installment
of coffee and ice for Jo, and was so obliging that even
particular Meg pronounced him a ‘nice boy’. They had a
merry time over the bonbons and mottoes, and were in
the midst of a quiet game of BUZZ, with two or three
other young people who had strayed in, when Hannah
appeared. Meg forgot her foot and rose so quickly that she
was forced to catch hold of Jo, with an exclamation of
‘Hush! Don’t say anything,’ she whispered, adding
aloud, ‘It’s nothing. I turned my foot a little, that’s all,’
and limped upstairs to put her things on. Hannah scolded,
Meg cried, and Jo was at her wits’ end, till se decided to
take things into her own hands. Slipping out, she ran
down and, finding a servant, asked if he could get her a
carriage. It happened to be a hired waiter who knew
nothing about the neighborhood and Jo was looking
round for help when Laurie, who had heard what she said,
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came up and offered his grandfather’s carriage, which had
just come for him, he said.
‘It’s so early! You can’t mean to go yet?’ began Jo.
looking relieved but hesitating to accept the offer.
‘I always go early, I do, truly! Please let me take you
home. It’s all on my way, you know, and it rains, they
That settled it, and telling him of Meg’s mishap, Jo
gratefully accepted and rushed up to bring down the rest
of the party. Hannah hated rain as much as a cat does so
she made no trouble, and they rolled away in the
luxurious close carriage, feeling very festive and elegant.
Laurie went on the box so Meg could keep her foot up,
and the girls talked over their party in freedom.
‘I had a capital time. Did you?’ asked Jo, rumpling up
her hair, and making herself comfortable.
‘Yes, till I hurt myself. Sallie’s friend, Annie Moffat,
took a fancy to me, and asked me to come and spend a
week with her when Sallie does. She is going in the spring
when the opera comes, and it will be perfectly splendid, if
Mother only lets me go,’ answered Meg, cheering up at
the thought.
‘I saw you dancing with the red headed man I ran away
from. Was he nice?’
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‘Oh. very! His hair is auburn, not red, and he was very
polite, and I had a delicious redowa with him.’
‘He looked like a grasshopper in a fit when he did the
new step. Laurie and I couldn’t help laughing. Did you
hear us?’
‘No, but it was very rude. What were you about all
that time, hidden away there?’
Jo told her adventures, and by the time she had finished
they were at home. With many thanks, they said good
night and crept in, hoping to disturb no one, but the
instant their door creaked, two little nightcaps bobbed up,
and two sleepy but eager voices cried out...
‘Tell about the party! Tell about the party!’
With what Meg called ‘a great want of manners’ Jo had
saved some bonbons for the little girls, and they soon
subsided, after hearing the most thrilling events of the
‘I declare, it really seems like being a fine young lady,
to come home from the party in a carriage and sit in my
dressing gown wit a maid to wait on me,’ said Meg, as Jo
bound up her foot with arnica and brushed her hair.
‘I don’t believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit
more than we do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns,
one glove apiece and tight slippers that sprain our ankles
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when we are silly enough to wear them,’ And I think Jo
was quite right.
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‘Oh, dear, how hard it does seem to take up our packs
and go on,’ sighed Meg the morning after the party, for
now the holidays were over, the week of merrymaking
did not fit her for going on easily with the task she never
‘I wish it was Christmas or New Year’s all the time.
Wouldn’t it be fun?’ answered Jo, yawning dismally.
‘We shouldn’t enjoy ourselves half so much as we do
now. But it does seem so nice to have little suppers and
bouquets, and go to parties, and drive home, and read and
rest, and not work. It’s like other people, you know, and I
always envy girls who do such things, I’m so fond of
luxury,’ said Meg, trying to decide which of two shabby
gowns was the least shabby.
‘Well, we can’t have it, so don’t let us grumble but
shoulder our bundles and trudge along as cheerfully as
Marmee does. I’m sure Aunt March is a regular Old Man
of the Sea to me, but I suppose when I’ve learned to carry
her without complaining, she will tumble off, or get so
light that I shan’t mind her.’
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This idea tickled Jo’s fancy and put her in good spirits,
but Meg didn’t brighten, for her burden, consisting of four
spoiled children, seemed heavier than ever. She had not
heart enough even to make herself pretty as usual by
putting on a blue neck ribbon and dressing her hair in the
most becoming way.
‘Where’s the use of looking nice, when no one sees me
but those cross midgets, and no one cares whether I’m
pretty or not?’ she muttered, shutting her drawer with a
jerk. ‘I shall have to toil and moil all my days, with only
little bits of fun now and then, and get old and ugly and
sour, because I’m poor and can’t enjoy my life as other
girls do. It’s a shame!’
So Meg went down, wearing an injured look, and
wasn’t at all agreeable at breakfast time. Everyone seemed
rather out of sorts and inclined to croak.
Beth had a headache and lay on the sofa, trying to
comfort herself with the cat and three kittens. Amy was
fretting because her lessons were not learned, and she
couldn’t find her rubbers. Jo would whistle and make a
great racket getting ready.
Mrs. March was very busy trying to finish a letter,
which must go at once, and Hannah had the grumps, for
being up late didn’t suit her.
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‘There never was such a cross family!’ cried Jo, losing
her temper when she had upset an inkstand, broken both
boot lacings, and sat down upon her hat.
‘You’re the crossest person in it!’ returned Amy,
washing out the sum that was all wrong with the tears that
had fallen on her slate.
‘Beth, if you don’t keep these horrid cats down cellar
I’ll have them drowned,’ exclaimed Meg angrily as she
tried to get rid of the kitten which had scrambled up her
back and stuck like a burr just out of reach.
Jo laughed, Meg scolded, Beth implored, and Amy
wailed because she couldn’t remember how much nine
times twelve was.
‘Girls, girls, do be quiet one minute! I must get this off
by the early mail, and you drive me distracted with your
worry,’ cried Mrs. March, crossing out the third spoiled
sentence in her letter.
There was a momentary lull, broken by Hannah, who
stalked in, laid two hot turnovers on the table, and stalked
out again. These turnovers were an institution, and the
girls called them ‘muffs’, for they had no others and found
the hot pies very comforting to their hands on cold
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Hannah never forgot to make them, no matter how
busy or grumpy she might be, for the walk was long and
bleak. The poor things got no other lunch and were
seldom home before two.
‘Cuddle your cats and get over your headache, Bethy.
Goodbye, Marmee. We are a set of rascals this morning,
but we’ll come home regular angels. Now then, Meg!’
And Jo tramped away, feeling that the pilgrims were not
setting out as they ought to do.
They always looked back before turning the corner, for
their mother was always at the window to nod and smile,
and wave her hand to them. Somehow it seemed as if they
couldn’t have got through the day without that, for
whatever their mood might be, the last glimpse of that
motherly face was sure to affect them like sunshine.
‘If Marmee shook her fist instead of kissing her hand to
us, it would serve us right, for more ungrateful wretches
than we are were never seen,’ cried Jo, taking a remorseful
satisfaction in the snowy walk and bitter wind. ‘Don’t use
such dreadful expressions,’ replied Meg from the depths of
the veil in which she had shrouded herself like a nun sick
of the world.
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‘I like good strong words that mean something,’ replied
Jo, catching her hat as it took a leap off her head
preparatory to flying away altogether.
‘Call yourself any names you like, but I am neither a
rascal nor a wretch and I don’t choose to be called so.’
‘You’re a blighted being, and decidedly cross today
because you can’t sit in the lap of luxury all the time. Poor
dear, just wait till I make my fortune, and you shall revel
in carriages and ice cream and high-heeled slippers, and
posies, and red-headed boys to dance with.’
‘How ridiculous you are, Jo!’ But Meg laughed at the
nonsense and felt better in spite of herself.
‘Lucky for you I am, for if I put on crushed airs and
tried to be dismal, as you do, we should be in a nice state.
Thank goodness, I can always find something funny to
keep me up. Don’t croak any more, but come home jolly,
there’s a dear.’
Jo gave her sister an encouraging pat on the shoulder as
they parted for the day, each going a different way, each
hugging her little warm turnover, and each trying to be
cheerful in spite of wintry weather, hard work, and the
unsatisfied desires of pleasure-loving youth.
When Mr. March lost his property in trying to help an
unfortunate friend, the two oldest girls begged to be
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allowed to do something toward their own support, at
least. Believing that they could not begin too early to
cultivate energy, industry, and independence, their parents
consented, and both fell to work with the hearty good will
which in spite of all obstacles is sure to succeed at last.
Margaret found a place as nursery governess and felt
rich with her small salary. As she said, she was ‘fond of
luxury’, and her chief trouble was poverty. She found it
harder to bear than the others because she could
remember a time when home was beautiful, life full of
ease and pleasure, and want of any kind unknown. She
tried not to be envious or discontented, but it was very
natural that the young girl should long for pretty things,
gay friends, accomplishments, and a happy life. At the
Kings’ she daily saw all she wanted, for the children’s older
sisters were just out, and Meg caught frequent glimpses of
dainty ball dresses and bouquets, heard lively gossip about
theaters, concerts, sleighing parties, and merrymakings of
all kinds, and saw money lavished on trifles which would
have been so precious to her. Poor Meg seldom
complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter
toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learned to
know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can
make life happy.
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Jo happened to suit Aunt March, who was lame and
needed an active person to wait upon her. The childless
old lady had offered to adopt one of the girls when the
troubles came, and was much offended because her offer
was declined. Other friends told the Marches that they had
lost all chance of being remembered in the rich old lady’s
will, but the unworldly Marches only said...
‘We can’t give up our girls for a dozen fortunes. Rich
or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one
The old lady wouldn’t speak to them for a time, but
happening to meet Jo at at a friend’s, something in her
comical face and blunt manners struck the old lady’s fancy,
and she proposed to take her for a companion. This did
not suit Jo at all, but she accepted the place since nothing
better appeared and, to every one’s surprise, got on
remarkably well with her irascible relative. There was an
occasional tempest, and once Jo marched home, declaring
she couldn’t bear it longer, but Aunt March always cleared
up quickly, and sent for her to come back again with such
urgency that she could not refuse, for in her heart she
rather liked the peppery old lady.
I suspect that the real attraction was a large library of
fine books, which was left to dust and spiders since Uncle
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March died. Jo remembered the kind old gentleman, who
used to let her build railroads and bridges with his big
dictionaries, tell her stories about queer pictures in his
Latin books, and buy her cards of gingerbread whenever
he met her in the street. The dim, dusty room, with the
busts staring down from the tall bookcases, the cozy chairs,
the globes, and best of all, the wilderness of books in
which she could wander where she liked, made the library
a region of bliss to her.
The moment Aunt March took her nap, or was busy
with company, Jo hurried to this quiet place, and curling
herself up in the easy chair, devoured poetry, romance,
history, travels, and pictures like a regular bookworm. But,
like all happiness, it did not last long, for as sure as she had
just reached the heart of the story, the sweetest verse of a
song, or the most perilous adventure of her traveler, a
shrill voice called, ‘Josy-phine! Josy-phine! and she had to
leave her paradise to wind yarn, wash the poodle, or read
Belsham’s Essays by the hour together.
Jo’s ambition was to do something very splendid. What
it was, she had no idea as yet, but left it for time to tell
her, and meanwhile, found her greatest affliction in the
fact that she couldn’t read, run, and ride as much as she
liked. A quick temper, sharp tongue, and restless spirit
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were always getting her into scrapes, and her life was a
series of ups and downs, which were both comic and
pathetic. But the training she received at Aunt March’s
was just what she needed, and the thought that she was
doing something to support herself made her happy in
spite of the perpetual ‘Josy-phine!’
Beth was too bashful to go to school.It had been tried,
but she suffered so much that it was given up, and she did
her lessons at home with her father. Even when he went
away, and her mother was called to devote her skill and
energy to Soldiers’ Aid Societies, Beth went faithfully on
by herself and did the best she could. She was a
housewifely little creature, and helped Hannah keep home
neat and comfortable for the workers, never thinking of
any reward but to be loved. Long, quiet days she spent,
not lonely nor idle, for her little world was peopled with
imaginary friends, and she was by nature a busy bee. There
were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning,
for Beth was a child still and and loved her pets as well as
ever. Not one whole or handsome one among them, all
were outcasts till Beth took them in, for when her sisters
outgrew these idols, they passed to her because Amy
would have nothing old or ugly. Beth cherished them all
the more tenderly for that very reason, and set up a
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hospital for infirm dolls. No pins were ever stuck into
their cotton vitals, no harsh words or blows were ever
given them, no neglect ever saddened the heart or the
most repulsive, but all were fed and clothed, nursed and
caressed with an affection which never failed. One forlorn
fragment of dollanity had belonged to Jo and, having led a
tempestuous life, was left a wreck in the rag bag, from
which dreary poorhouse it was rescued by Beth and taken
to her refuge. Having no top to its head, she tied on a neat
little cap, and as both arms and legs were gone, she hid
these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket and devoting
her best bed to this chronic invalid. If anyone had known
the care lavished on that dolly, I think it would have
touched their hearts, even while they laughed. She
brought it bits of bouquets, she read to it, took it out to
breathe fresh air, hidden under her coat, she sang it
lullabies and never went to be without kissing its dirty face
and whispering tenderly, ‘I hope you’ll have a good night,
my poor dear.’
Beth had her troubles as well as the others, and not
being an angel but a very human little girl, she often ‘wept
a little weep’ as Jo said, because she couldn’t take music
lessons and have a fine piano. She loved music so dearly,
tried so hard to learn, and practiced away so patiently at
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the jingling old instrument, that it did seem as if someone
(not to hint Aunt March) ought to help her. Nobody did,
however, and nobody saw Beth wipe the tears off the
yellow keys, that wouldn’t keep in tune, when she was all
alone. She sang like a little lark about her work, never was
too tired for Marmee and the girls, and day after day said
hopefully to herself,’ I know I’ll get my music some time,
if I’m good.’
There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet,
sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so
cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little
cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet,
sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow
If anybody had asked Amy what the greatest trial of her
life was, she would have answered at once, ‘My nose.’
When she was a baby, Jo had accidently dropped her into
the coal hod, and Amy insisted that the fall had ruined her
nose forever. It was not big nor red, like poor ‘Petrea’s’, it
was only rather flat, and all the pinching in the world
could not give it an aristocratic point. No one minded it
but herself, and it was doing its best to grow, but Amy felt
deeply the want of a Grecian nose, and drew whole sheets
of handsome ones to console herself.
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‘Little Raphael,’ as her sisters called her, had a decided
talent for drawing, and was never so happy as when
copying flowers, designing fairies, or illustrating stories
with queer specimens of art. Her teachers complained that
instead of doing her sums she covered her slate with
animals, the blank pages of her atlas were used to copy
maps on, and caricatures of the most ludicrous description
came fluttering out of all her books at unlucky moments.
She got through her lessons as well as she could, and
managed to escape reprimands by being a model of
deportment. She was a great favorite with her mates, being
good-tempered and possessing the happy art of pleasing
without effort. Her little airs and graces were much
admired, so were her accomplishments, for besides her
drawing, she could play twelve tunes, crochet, and read
French without mispronouncing more than two-thirds of
the words. She had a plaintive way of saying, ‘When Papa
was rich we did so-and-so,’ which was very touching, and
her long words were considered ‘perfectly elegant’ by the
Amy was in a fair way to be spoiled, for everyone
petted her, and her small vanities and selfishnesses were
growing nicely. One thing, however, rather quenched the
vanities. She had to wear her cousin’s clothes. Now
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Florence’s mama hadn’t a particle of taste, and Amy
suffered deeply at having to wear a red instead of a blue
bonnet, unbecoming gowns, and fussy aprons that did not
fit. Everything was good, well made, and little worn, but
Amy’s artistic eyes were much afflicted, especially this
winter, when her school dress was a dull purple with
yellow dots and no trimming.
‘My only comfort,’ she said to Meg, with tears in her
eyes, ‘is that Mother doesn’t take tucks in my dresses
whenever I’m naughty, as Maria Parks’s mother does. My
dear, it’s really dreadful, for sometimes she is so bad her
frock is up to her knees, and she can’t come to school.
When I think of this deggerredation, I fell that I can bear
even my flat nose and purple gown with yellow skyrockets
on it.’
Meg was Amy’s confidante and monitor, and by some
strange attraction of opposites Jo was gentle Beth’s. To Jo
alone did the shy child tell her thoughts, and over her big
harum-scarum sister Beth unconsciously exercised more
influence than anyone in the family. The two older girls
were a great deal to one another, but each took one of the
younger sisters into her keeping and watched over her in
her own way, ‘playing mother’ they called it, and put their
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sisters in the places of discarded dolls with the maternal
instinct of litte women.
‘Has anybody got anything to tell? It’s been such a
dismal day I’m really dying for some amusement,’ said
Meg, as they sat sewing together that evening.
‘I had a queer time with Aunt today, and, as I got the
best of it, I’ll tell you about it,’ began Jo, who dearly loved
to tell stories. ‘I was reading that everlasting Belsham, and
droning away as I always do, for Aunt soon drops off, and
then I take out some nice book, and read like fury till she
wakes up. I actually made myself sleepy, and before she
began to nod, I gave such a gape that she asked me what I
meant by opening my mouth wide enough to take the
whole book in at once.
‘I wish I could, and be done with it,’ said I, trying not
to be saucy.
‘Then she gave me a long lecture on my sins, and told
me to sit and think them over while she just ‘lost’ herself
for a moment. She never finds herself very soon, so the
minute her cap began to bob like a top-heavy dahlia, I
whipped the VICAR OF WAKEFIELD out of my
pocket, and read away, with one eye on him and one on
Aunt. I’d just got to where they all tumbled into the water
when I forgot and laughed out loud. Aunt woke up and,
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being more good-natured after her nap, told me to read a
bit and show what frivolous work I preferred to the
worthy and instructive Belsham. I did my very best, and
she liked it, though she only said...
‘I don’t understand what it’s all about. Go back and
begin it, child.’
‘Back I went, and made the Primroses as interesting as
ever I could. Once I was wicked enough to stop in a
thrilling place, and say meekly, ‘I’m afraid it tires you,
ma’am. Shan’t I stop now?’
‘She caught up her knitting, which had dropped out of
her hands, gave me a sharp look through her specs, and
said, in her short way, ‘Finish the chapter, and don’t be
impertinent, miss’.’
‘Did she own she liked it?’ asked Meg.
‘Oh, bless you, no! But she let old Belsham rest, and
when I ran back after my gloves this afternoon, there she
was, so hard at the Vicar that she didn’t hear me laugh as I
danced a jig in the hall because of the good time coming.
What a pleasant life she might have if only she chose! I
don’t envy her much, in spite of her money, for after all
rich people have about as many worries as poor ones, I
think,’ added Jo.
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‘That reminds me,’ said Meg, ‘that I’ve got something
to tell. It isn’t funny, like Jo’s story, but I thought about it
a good deal as I came home. At the Kings’ today I found
everybody in a flurry, and one of the children said that her
oldest brother had done something dreadful, and Papa had
sent him away. I heard Mrs. King crying and Mr. King
talking very loud, and Grace and Ellen turned away their
faces when they passed me, so I shouldn’t see how red and
swollen their eyes were. I didn’t ask any questions, of
course, but I felt so sorry for them and was rather glad I
hadn’t any wild brothers to do wicked things and disgrace
the family.’
‘I think being disgraced in school is a great deal tryinger
than anything bad boys can do,’ said Amy, shaking her
head, as if her experience of life had been a deep one.
‘Susie Perkins came to school today with a lovely red
carnelian ring. I wanted it dreadfully, and wished I was her
with all my might. Well, she drew a picture of Mr. Davis,
with a monstrous nose and a hump, and the words,
‘Young ladies, my eye is upon you!’ coming out of his
mouth in a balloon thing. We were laughing over it when
all of a sudden his eye was on us, and he ordered Susie to
bring up her slate. She was parrylized with fright, but she
went, and oh, what do you think he did? He took her by
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the ear—the ear! Just fancy how horrid!—and led her to
the recitation platform, and made her stand there half and
hour, holding the slate so everyone could see.’
‘Didn’t the girls laugh at the picture?’ asked Jo, who
relished the scrape.
‘Laugh? Not one! They sat still as mice, and Susie cried
quarts, I know she did. I didn’t envy her then, for I felt
that millions of carnelian rings wouldn’t have made me
happy after that. I never, never should have got over such
a agonizing mortification.’ And Amy went on with her
work, in the proud consciousness of virtue and the
successful utterance of two long words in a breath.
‘I saw something I liked this morning, and I meant to
tell it at dinner, but I forgot,’ said Beth, putting Jo’s topsy-
turvy basket in order as she talked. ‘When I went to get
some oysters for Hannah, Mr. Laurence was in the fish
shop, but he didn’t see me, for I kept behind the fish
barrel, and he was busy with Mr. Cutter the fishman. A
poor woman came in with a pail a mop, and asked Mr.
Cutter if he would let her do some scrubbing for a bit of
fish, because she hadn’t any dinner for her
children, and had been disappointed of a day’s work. Mr.
Cutter was in a hurry and said ‘No’, rather crossly, so she
was going away, looking hungry and sorry, when Mr.
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Laurence hooked up a big fish with the crooked end of his
cane and held it out to her. She was so glad and surprised
she took it right into her arms, and thanked him over and
over. He told her to ‘go along and cook it’, and she
hurried off, so happy! Wasn’t it good of him? Oh, she did
look so funny, hugging the big, slippery fish, and hoping
Mr. Laurence’s bed in heaven would be ‘aisy’.’
When they had laughed at Beth’s story, they asked
their mother for one, and after a moments thought, she
said soberly, ‘As I sat cutting out blue flannel jackets today
at the rooms, I felt very anxious about Father, and thought
how lonely and helpless we should be , if anything
happened to him. It was not a wise thing to do, but I kept
on worrying till an old man came in with an order for
some clothes. He sat down near me, and I began to talk to
him, for he looked poor and tired and anxious.
‘‘Have you sons in the army?’ I asked, for the note he
brought was not to me. ‘Yes, ma’am. I had four, but two
were killed, one is a prisoner, and I’m going to the other,
who is very sick in a Washington hospital.’ he answered
‘‘You have done a great deal for your country, sir, ‘ I
said, feeling respect now, instead of pity.
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‘‘Not a mite more than I ought, ma’am. I’d go myself,
if I was any use. As I ain’t, I give my boys, and give ‘em
‘He spoke so cheerfully, looked so sincere, and seemed
so glad to give his all, that I was ashamed of myself. I’d
given one man and thought it too much, while he gave
four without grudging them. I had all my girls to comfort
me at home, and his last son was waiting, miles away, to
say good-by to him, perhaps! I felt so rich, so happy
thinking of my blessings, that I made him a nice bundle,
gave him some money, and thanked him heartily for the
lesson he had taught me.’
‘Tell another story, Mother, one with a moral to it, like
this. I like to think about them afterward, if they are real
and not too preachy,’ said Jo, after a minute’s silence.
Mrs. March smiled and began at once, for she had told
stories to this little audience for many years, and knew
how to please them.
‘Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had
enough to eat and drink and wear, a good many comforts
and pleasures, kind friends and parents who loved them
dearly, and yet they were not contented.’ (Here the
listeners stole sly looks at one another, and began to sew
diligently.) ‘These girls were anxious to be good and made
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many excellent resolutions, but they did not keep them
very well, and were constantly saying, ‘If only we had this,
‘ or ‘If we could only do that, ‘ quite forgetting how
much they already had, and how many things they actually
could do. So they asked an old woman what spell they
could use to make them happy, and she said, ‘When you
feel discontented, think over your blessings, and be
grateful.’’ (Here Jo looked up quickly, as if about to speak,
but changed her mind, seeing that the story was not done
‘Being sensible girls, they decided to try her advice, and
soon were surprised to see how well off they were. One
discovered that money couldn’t keep shame and sorrow
out of rich people’s houses, another that, though she was
poor, she was a great deal happier, with her youth, health,
and good spirits, than a certain fretful, feeble old lady who
couldn’t enjoy her comforts, a third that, disagreeable as it
was to help get dinner, it was harder still to go begging for
it and the fourth, that even carnelian rings were not so
valuable as good behavior. So they agreed to stop
complaining, to enjoy the blessings already possessed, and
try to deserve them, lest they should be taken away
entirely, instead of increased, and I believe they were
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never disappointed or sorry that they took the old
woman’s advice.’
‘Now, Marmee, that is very cunning of you to turn our
own stories against us, and give us a sermon instead of a
romance!’ cried Meg. ‘I like that kind of sermon. It’s the
sort Father used to tell us,’ said Beth thoughtfully, putting
the needles straight on Jo’s cushion.
‘I don’t complain near as much as the others do, and I
shall be more careful than ever now, for I’ve had warning
from Susies’s downfall,’ said Amy morally.
‘We needed that lesson, and we won’t forget it. If we
do so, you just say to us, as old Chloe did in UNCLE
TOM, ‘Tink ob yer marcies, chillen! ‘Tink ob yer
marcies!’’ added Jo, who could not, for the life of her,
help getting a morsel of fun out of the little sermon,
though she took it to heart as much as any of them.
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‘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.
‘Going out for exercise,’ answered Jo with a
mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
‘I should think two long walks this morning would
have been enough! It’s cold and dull out, and I advise you
to stay warm and dry by the fire, as I do,’ said Meg with a
‘Never take advice! Can’t keep still all day, and not
being a pussycat, I don’t like to doze by the fire. I like
adventures, and I’m going to find some.’
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
countrylike, with groves and lawns, large gardens, and
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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
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 Jo’s 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
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