"Jo, I'm anxious about Beth."
"Why, Mother, she has seemed unusually well since the
"It's not her health that troubles me now, it's her spirits.
I'm sure there is something on her mind, and I want you to discover
what it is."
"What makes you think so, Mother?"
"She sits alone a good deal, and doesn't talk to her father
as much as she used. I found her crying over the babies the
other day. When she sings, the songs are always sad ones, and
now and then I see a look in her face that I don't understand.
This isn't like Beth, and it worries me."
"Have you asked her about it?"
"I have tried once or twice, but she either evaded my
questions or looked so distressed that I stopped. I never
force my children's confidence, and I seldom have to wait
Mrs. March glanced at Jo as she spoke, but the face
opposite seemed quite unconscious of any secret disquietude
but Beth's, and after sewing thoughtfully for a minute, Jo
said, "I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams,
and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or
being able to explain them. Why, Mother, Beth's eighteen, but
we don't realize it, and treat her like a child, forgetting
she's a woman."
"So she is. Dear heart, how fast you do grow up," returned
her mother with a sigh and a smile.
"Can't be helped, Marmee, so you must resign yourself to
all sorts of worries, and let your birds hop out of the nest,
one by one. I promise never to hop very far, if that is any
comfort to you."
"It's a great comfort, Jo. I always feel strong when you
are at home, now Meg is gone. Beth is too feeble and Amy too
young to depend upon, but when the tug comes, you are always
"Why, you know I don't mind hard jobs much, and there
must always be one scrub in a family. Amy is splendid in fine
works and I'm not, but I feel in my element when all the carpets
are to be taken up, or half the family fall sick at once.
Amy is distinguishing herself abroad, but if anything is amiss
at home, I'm your man."
"I leave Beth to your hands, then, for she will open her
tender little heart to her Jo sooner than to anyone else. Be
very kind, and don't let her think anyone watches or talks
about her. If she only would get quite strong and cheerful
again, I shouldn't have a wish in the world."
"Happy woman! I've got heaps."
"My dear, what are they?"
"I'll settle Bethy's troubles, and then I'll tell you mine.
They are not very wearing, so they'll keep." and Jo stitched away,
with a wise nod which set her mother's heart at rest about her for
the present at least.
While apparently absorbed in her own affairs, Jo watched
Beth, and after many conflicting conjectures, finally settled
upon one which seemed to explain the change in her. A slight
incident gave Jo the clue to the mystery, she thought, and
lively fancy, loving heart did the rest. She was affecting
to write busily one Saturday afternoon, when she and Beth were
alone together. Yet as she scribbled, she kept her eye on her
sister, who seemed unusually quiet. Sitting at the window, Beth's
work often dropped into her lap, and she leaned her head upon her
hand, in a dejected attitude, while her eyes rested on the dull,
autumnal landscape. Suddenly some one passed below, whistling
like an operatic blackbird, and a voice called out, "All serene!
Coming in tonight."
Beth started, leaned forward, smiled and nodded, watched the
passer-by till his quick tramp died away, then said softly as if
to herself, "How strong and well and happy that dear boy looks."
"Hum!" said Jo, still intent upon her sister's face, for the
bright color faded as quickly as it came, the smile vanished, and
presently a tear lay shining on the window ledge. Beth whisked
it off, and in her half-averted face read a tender sorrow that
made her own eyes fill. Fearing to betray herself, she slipped
away, murmuring something about needing more paper.
"Mercy on me, Beth loves Laurie!" she said, sitting down in
her own room, pale with the shock of the discovery which she
believed she had just made. "I never dreamed of such a thing.
What will Mother say? I wonder if her…" there Jo stopped
and turned scarlet with a sudden thought. "If he shouldn't love
back again, how dreadful it would be. He must. I'll make him!"
and she shook her head threateningly at the picture of the
mischievous-looking boy laughing at her from the wall. "Oh dear,
we are growing up with a vengeance. Here's Meg married and a
mamma, Amy flourishing away at Paris, and Beth in love. I'm the
only one that has sense enough to keep out of mischief." Jo
thought intently for a minute with her eyes fixed on the picture,
then she smoothed out her wrinkled forehead and said, with a
decided nod at the face opposite, "No thank you, sir, you're very
charming, but you've no more stability than a weathercock. So you
needn't write touching notes and smile in that insinuating way,
for it won't do a bit of good, and I won't have it."
Then she sighed, and fell into a reverie from which she
did not wake till the early twilight sent her down to take new
observations, which only confirmed her suspicion. Though
Laurie flirted with Amy and joked with Jo, his manner to Beth
had always been peculiarly kind and gentle, but so was everybody's.
Therefore, no one thought of imagining that he cared more
for her than for the others. Indeed, a general impression
had prevailed in the family of late that 'our boy' was getting
fonder than ever of Jo, who, however, wouldn't hear a word upon
the subject and scolded violently if anyone dared to suggest it.
If they had known the various tender passages which had been
nipped in the bud, they would have had the immense satisfaction
of saying, "I told you so." But Jo hated 'philandering', and
wouldn't allow it, always having a joke or a smile ready at the
least sign of impending danger.
When Laurie first went to college, he fell in love about
once a month, but these small flames were as brief as ardent,
did no damage, and much amused Jo, who took great interest in
the alternations of hope, despair, and resignation, which were
confided to her in their weekly conferences. But there came a
time when Laurie ceased to worship at many shrines, hinted
darkly at one all-absorbing passion, and indulged occasionally
in Byronic fits of gloom. Then he avoided the tender subject
altogether, wrote philosophical notes to Jo, turned studious,
and gave out that he was going to 'dig', intending to graduate
in a blaze of glory. This suited the young lady better than
twilight confidences, tender pressures of the hand, and
eloquent glances of the eye, for with Jo, brain developed
earlier than heart, and she preferred imaginary heroes to
real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be
shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter
were less manageable.
Things were in this state when the grand discovery was
made, and Jo watched Laurie that night as she had never done
before. If she had not got the new idea into her head, she
would have seen nothing unusual in the fact that Beth was
very quiet, and Laurie very kind to her. But having given the
rein to her lively fancy, it galloped away with her at a great
pace, and common sense, being rather weakened by a long course
of romance writing, did not come to the rescue. As usual Beth
lay on the sofa and Laurie sat in a low chair close by, amusing
her with all sorts of gossip, for she depended on her weekly
'spin', and he never disappointed her. But that evening Jo
fancied that Beth's eyes rested on the lively, dark face
beside her with peculiar pleasure, and that she listened with
intense interest to an account of some exciting cricket match,
though the phrases, 'caught off a tice', 'stumped off his ground',
and 'the leg hit for three', were as intelligible to her as
Sanskrit. She also fancied, having set her heart upon seeing it,
that she saw a certain increase of gentleness in Laurie's manner,
that he dropped his voice now and then, laughed less than usual,
was a little absent-minded, and settled the afghan over Beth's
feet with an assiduity that was really almost tender.
"Who knows? Stranger things have happened," thought Jo,
as she fussed about the room. "She will make quite an angel
of him, and he will make life delightfully easy and pleasant
for the dear, if they only love each other. I don't see how he
can help it, and I do believe he would if the rest of us were out of
As everyone was out of the way but herself, Jo began to
feel that she ought to dispose of herself with all speed. But
where should she go? And burning to lay herself upon the shrine
of sisterly devotion, she sat down to settle that point.
Now, the old sofa was a regular patriarch of a sofa—long,
broad, well-cushioned, and low, a trifle shabby, as well it might
be, for the girls had slept and sprawled on it as babies,
fished over the back, rode on the arms, and had menageries
under it as children, and rested tired heads, dreamed dreams,
and listened to tender talk on it as young women. They all loved
it, for it was a family refuge, and one corner had always been
Jo's favorite lounging place. Among the many pillows that adorned
the venerable couch was one, hard, round, covered with prickly
horsehair, and furnished with a knobby button at each end. This
repulsive pillow was her especial property, being used as a weapon
of defense, a barricade, or a stern preventive of too much slumber.
Laurie knew this pillow well, and had cause to regard it with
deep aversion, having been unmercifully pummeled with it in former
days when romping was allowed, and now frequently debarred by it
from the seat he most coveted next to Jo in the sofa corner. If
'the sausage' as they called it, stood on end, it was a sign that
he might approach and repose, but if it lay flat across the sofa,
woe to man, woman, or child who dared disturb it! That evening
Jo forgot to barricade her corner, and had not been in her seat
five minutes, before a massive form appeared beside her, and with
both arms spread over the sofa back, both long legs stretched out
before him, Laurie exclaimed, with a sigh of satisfaction…
"Now, this is filling at the price."
"No slang," snapped Jo, slamming down the pillow. But it was
too late, there was no room for it, and coasting onto the floor,
it disappeared in a most mysterious manner.
"Come, Jo, don't be thorny. After studying himself to a
skeleton all the week, a fellow deserves petting and ought to get
"Beth will pet you. I'm busy."
"No, she's not to be bothered with me, but you like that sort
of thing, unless you've suddenly lost your taste for it. Have you?
Do you hate your boy, and want to fire pillows at him?"
Anything more wheedlesome than that touching appeal was seldom
heard, but Jo quenched 'her boy' by turning on him with a stern
query, "How many bouquets have you sent Miss Randal this week?"
"Not one, upon my word. She's engaged. Now then."
"I'm glad of it, that's one of your foolish extravagances,
sending flowers and things to girls for whom you don't care two
pins," continued Jo reprovingly.
"Sensible girls for whom I do care whole papers of pins won't let me
send them 'flowers and things', so what can I do? My feelings need a
"Mother doesn't approve of flirting even in fun, and you do
flirt desperately, Teddy."
"I'd give anything if I could answer, 'So do you'. As I can't,
I'll merely say that I don't see any harm in that pleasant little
game, if all parties understand that it's only play."
"Well, it does look pleasant, but I can't learn how it's done.
I've tried, because one feels awkward in company not to do as
everybody else is doing, but I don't seem to get on", said Jo,
forgetting to play mentor.
"Take lessons of Amy, she has a regular talent for it."
"Yes, she does it very prettily, and never seems to go too
far. I suppose it's natural to some people to please without
trying, and others to always say and do the wrong thing in the
"I'm glad you can't flirt. It's really refreshing to see a
sensible, straightforward girl, who can be jolly and kind without
making a fool of herself. Between ourselves, Jo, some of the
girls I know really do go on at such a rate I'm ashamed of them.
They don't mean any harm, I'm sure, but if they knew how we
fellows talked about them afterward, they'd mend their ways, I
"They do the same, and as their tongues are the sharpest,
you fellows get the worst of it, for you are as silly as they,
every bit. If you behaved properly, they would, but knowing
you like their nonsense, they keep it up, and then you blame
"Much you know about it, ma'am," said Laurie in a superior tone.
"We don't like romps and flirts, though we may act as if
we did sometimes. The pretty, modest girls are never
talked about, except respectfully, among gentleman.
Bless your innocent soul! If you could be in my place
for a month you'd see things that would astonish you a trifle.
Upon my word, when I see one of those harum-scarum girls,
I always want to say with our friend Cock Robin…
"Out upon you, fie upon you,
It was impossible to help laughing at the funny conflict
between Laurie's chivalrous reluctance to speak ill of womankind,
and his very natural dislike of the unfeminine folly of
which fashionable society showed him many samples. Jo knew
that 'young Laurence' was regarded as a most eligible parti
by worldly mamas, was much smiled upon by their daughters,
and flattered enough by ladies of all ages to make a coxcomb
of him, so she watched him rather jealously, fearing
he would be spoiled, and rejoiced more than she confessed
to find that he still believed in modest girls. Returning
suddenly to her admonitory tone, she said, dropping her
voice, "If you must have a 'vent', Teddy, go and devote
yourself to one of the 'pretty, modest girls' whom you do
respect, and not waste your time with the silly ones."
"You really advise it?" and Laurie looked at her with
an odd mixture of anxiety and merriment in his face.
"Yes, I do, but you'd better wait till you are through
college, on the whole, and be fitting yourself for the place
meantime. You're not half good enough for—well, whoever
the modest girl may be." and Jo looked a little queer likewise,
for a name had almost escaped her.
"That I'm not!" acquiesced Laurie, with an expression of
humility quite new to him, as he dropped his eyes and absently
wound Jo's apron tassel round his finger.
"Mercy on us, this will never do," thought Jo, adding
aloud, "Go and sing to me. I'm dying for some music, and
always like yours."
"I'd rather stay here, thank you."
"Well, you can't, there isn't room. Go and make yourself
useful, since you are too big to be ornamental. I thought you
hated to be tied to a woman's apron string?" retorted Jo,
quoting certain rebellious words of his own.
"Ah, that depends on who wears the apron!" and Laurie
gave an audacious tweak at the tassel.
"Are you going?" demanded Jo, diving for the pillow.
He fled at once, and the minute it was well, "Up with the
bonnets of bonnie Dundee," she slipped away to return no more
till the young gentleman departed in high dudgeon.
Jo lay long awake that night, and was just dropping off
when the sound of a stifled sob made her fly to Beth's bedside,
with the anxious inquiry, "What is it, dear?"
"I thought you were asleep," sobbed Beth.
"Is it the old pain, my precious?"
"No, it's a new one, but I can bear it," and Beth tried
to check her tears.
"Tell me all about it, and let me cure it as I often did
"You can't, there is no cure." There Beth's voice gave
way, and clinging to her sister, she cried so despairingly
that Jo was frightened.
"Where is it? Shall I call Mother?"
"No, no, don't call her, don't tell her. I shall be
better soon. Lie down here and 'poor' my head. I'll be
quiet and go to sleep, indeed I will."
Jo obeyed, but as her hand went softly to and fro across
Beth's hot forehead and wet eyelids, her heart was very full
and she longed to speak. But young as she was, Jo had learned
that hearts, like flowers, cannot be rudely handled, but must
open naturally, so though she believed she knew the cause of
Beth's new pain, she only said, in her tenderest tone, "Does
anything trouble you, deary?"
"Yes, Jo," after a long pause.
"Wouldn't it comfort you to tell me what it is?"
"Not now, not yet."
"Then I won't ask, but remember, Bethy, that Mother and
Jo are always glad to hear and help you, if they can."
"I know it. I'll tell you by-and-by."
"Is the pain better now?"
"Oh, yes, much better, you are so comfortable, Jo."
"Go to sleep, dear. I'll stay with you."
So cheek to cheek they fell asleep, and on the morrow
Beth seemed quite herself again, for at eighteen neither heads
nor hearts ache long, and a loving word can medicine most ills.
But Jo had made up her mind, and after pondering over a
project for some days, she confided it to her mother.
"You asked me the other day what my wishes were. I'll
tell you one of them, Marmee," she began, as they sat along
together. "I want to go away somewhere this winter for a
"Why, Jo?" and her mother looked up quickly, as if the
words suggested a double meaning.
With her eyes on her work Jo answered soberly, "I want
something new. I feel restless and anxious to be seeing,
doing, and learning more than I am. I brood too much over
my own small affairs, and need stirring up, so as I can be
spared this winter, I'd like to hop a little way and try my
"Where will you hop?"
"To New York. I had a bright idea yesterday, and this is
it. You know Mrs. Kirke wrote to you for some respectable
young person to teach her children and sew. It's rather hard
to find just the thing, but I think I should suit if I tried."
"My dear, go out to service in that great boarding house!"
and Mrs. March looked surprised, but not displeased.
"It's not exactly going out to service, for Mrs. Kirke is
your friend—the kindest soul that ever lived—and would make
things pleasant for me, I know. Her family is separate from
the rest, and no one knows me there. Don't care if they do.
It's honest work, and I'm not ashamed of it."
"Nor I. But your writing?"
"All the better for the change. I shall see and hear new
things, get new ideas, and even if I haven't much time there,
I shall bring home quantities of material for my rubbish."
"I have no doubt of it, but are these your only reasons for
this sudden fancy?"
"May I know the others?"
Jo looked up and Jo looked down, then said slowly, with
sudden color in her cheeks. "It may be vain and wrong to
say it, but—I'm afraid—Laurie is getting too fond of me."
"Then you don't care for him in the way it is evident he
begins to care for you?" and Mrs. March looked anxious as she
put the question.
"Mercy, no! I love the dear boy, as I always have, and
am immensely proud of him, but as for anything more, it's out
of the question."
"I'm glad of that, Jo."
"Because, dear, I don't think you suited to one another. As
friends you are very happy, and your frequent quarrels soon blow
over, but I fear you would both rebel if you were mated for life.
You are too much alike and too fond of freedom, not to mention
hot tempers and strong wills, to get on happily together, in a
relation which needs infinite patience and forbearance, as well
"That's just the feeling I had, though I couldn't express it.
I'm glad you think he is only beginning to care for me. It would
trouble me sadly to make him unhappy, for I couldn't fall in love
with the dear old fellow merely out of gratitude, could I?"
"You are sure of his feeling for you?"
The color deepened in Jo's cheeks as she answered, with
the look of mingled pleasure, pride, and pain which young
girls wear when speaking of first lovers, "I'm afraid it is
so, Mother. He hasn't said anything, but he looks a great deal.
I think I had better go away before it comes to anything."
"I agree with you, and if it can be managed you shall go."
Jo looked relieved, and after a pause, said, smiling, "How
Mrs. Moffat would wonder at your want of management, if she
knew, and how she will rejoice that Annie may still hope."
"Ah, Jo, mothers may differ in their management, but the
hope is the same in all—the desire to see their children happy.
Meg is so, and I am content with her success. You I leave to
enjoy your liberty till you tire of it, for only then will you
find that there is something sweeter. Amy is my chief care
now, but her good sense will help her. For Beth, I indulge
no hopes except that she may be well. By the way, she seems
brighter this last day or two. Have you spoken to her?'
"Yes, she owned she had a trouble, and promised to tell
me by-and-by. I said no more, for I think I know it," and
Jo told her little story.
Mrs. March shook her head, and did not take so romantic
a view of the case, but looked grave, and repeated her opinion
that for Laurie's sake Jo should go away for a time.
"Let us say nothing about it to him till the plan is settled,
then I'll run away before he can collect his wits and be tragic.
Beth must think I'm going to please myself, as I am, for I can't
talk about Laurie to her. But she can pet and comfort him after
I'm gone, and so cure him of this romantic notion. He's been
through so many little trials of the sort, he's used to it, and
will soon get over his lovelornity."
Jo spoke hopefully, but could not rid herself of the foreboding
fear that this 'little trial' would be harder than the others,
and that Laurie would not get over his 'lovelornity' as easily
The plan was talked over in a family council and agreed
upon, for Mrs. Kirke gladly accepted Jo, and promised to
make a pleasant home for her. The teaching would render
her independent, and such leisure as she got might be made
profitable by writing, while the new scenes and society would
be both useful and agreeable. Jo liked the prospect and was
eager to be gone, for the home nest was growing too narrow
for her restless nature and adventurous spirit. When all was
settled, with fear and trembling she told Laurie, but to her
surprise he took it very quietly. He had been graver than
usual of late, but very pleasant, and when jokingly accused
of turning over a new leaf, he answered soberly, "So I am,
and I mean this one shall stay turned."
Jo was very much relieved that one of his virtuous fits
should come on just then, and made her preparations with a
lightened heart, for Beth seemed more cheerful, and hoped
she was doing the best for all.
"One thing I leave in your especial care," she said, the
night before she left.
"You mean your papers?" asked Beth.
"No, my boy. Be very good to him, won't you?"
"Of course I will, but I can't fill your place, and he'll
miss you sadly."
"It won't hurt him, so remember, I leave him in your
charge, to plague, pet, and keep in order."
"I'll do my best, for your sake," promised Beth, wondering
why Jo looked at her so queerly.
When Laurie said good-by, he whispered significantly, "It
won't do a bit of good, Jo. My eye is on you, so mind what you
do, or I'll come and bring you home."