me that Mr. Brooke owned that he liked Meg but didn’t dare say so, she was so young and he so poor. Now, isn’t it a dreadful state of things?”
“Do you think Meg cares for him?” asked Mrs. March, with an anxious look.
“Mercy me! I don’t know anything about love and such nonsense!” cried Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt. “In novels, the girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting away, growing thin, and acting like fools. Now Meg does not do anything of the sort. She eats and drinks and sleeps like a sensible creature, she looks straight in my face when I talk about that man, and only blushes a little bit when Teddy jokes about lovers. I forbid him to do it, but he doesn’t mind me as he ought.”
“Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?”
“Who?” cried Jo, staring.
“Mr. Brooke. I call him ‘John’ now. We fell into the way of doing so at the hospital, and he likes it.”
“Oh, dear! I know you’ll take his part. He’s been good to Father, and you won’t send him away, but let Meg marry him, if she wants to. Mean thing! To go petting Papa and helping you, just to wheedle you into liking him.” And Jo pulled her hair again with a wrathful tweak.
“My dear, don’t get angry about it, and I will tell you how it happened. John went with me at Mr. Laurence’s request, and was so devoted to poor Father that we couldn’t help getting fond of him. He was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for he told us he loved her, but would earn a comfortable home before he asked her to marry him. He only wanted our leave to love her and work for her, and the right to make her love him if he could. He is a truly excellent young man, and we could not refuse to listen to him, but I will not consent to Meg’s engaging herself so young.”
“Of course not. It would be idiotic! I knew there was mischief brewing. I felt it, and now it’s worse than I imagined. I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family.”
This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she said gravely, “Jo, I confide in you and don’t wish you to say anything to Meg yet. When John comes back, and I see them together, I can judge better of her feelings toward him.”
“She’ll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and then it will be all up with her. She’s got such a soft heart, it will melt like butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentlly at her. She read the short reports he sent more than she did your letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes brown eyes, and doesn’t think John an ugly name, and she’ll go and fall in love, and there’s an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together. I see it all! They’ll go lovering around the house, and we shall have to dodge. Meg will be absorbed and no good to me any more. Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off, and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, and everything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Why weren’t we all boys, then there wouldn’t be any bother.”
Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitude and shook her fist at the reprehensible John. Mrs. March sighed, and Jo looked up with an air of relief.
“You don’t like it, Mother? I’m glad of it. Let’s send him about his business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all be happy together as we always have been.”
“I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you should all go to homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls as long as I can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for Meg is only seventeen and it will be some years before John can make a home for her. Your father and I have agreed that she shall not bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty. If she and John love one another, they can wait, and test the love by doing so. She is conscientious, and I have no fear of her treating him unkindly. My pretty, tender hearted girl! I hope things will go happily with her.”
“Hadn’t you rather have her marry a rich man?” asked Jo, as her mother’s voice faltered a little over the last words.
“Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls will never feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by too much. I should like to know that John was firmly established in some good business, which gave him an income large enough to keep free from debt and make Meg comfortable. I’m not ambitious for a splendid fortune, a fashionable position, or a great name for my girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also, I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune, but I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had in a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures. I am content to see Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be rich in the possession of a good man’s heart, and that is better than a fortune.”
“I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I’m disappointed about Meg, for I’d planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by and sit in the lap of luxury all her days. Wouldn’t it be nice?” asked Jo, looking up with a brighter face.
“He is younger than she, you know,” began Mrs. March, but Jo broke in…
“Only a little, he’s old for his age, and tall, and can be quite grown-up in his manners if he likes. Then he’s rich and generous and good, and loves us all, and I say it’s a pity my plan is spoiled.”