The tea bell rang before he had finished describing the paradise which he meant to earn for Meg, and he proudly took her in to supper, both looking so happy that Jo hadn’t the heart to be jealous or dismal. Amy was very much impressed by John’s devotion and Meg’s dignity, Beth beamed at them from a distance, while Mr. and Mrs. March surveyed the young couple with such tender satisfaction that it was perfectly evident Aunt March was right in calling them as ‘unworldly as a pair of babies’. No one ate much, but everyone looked very happy, and the old room seemed to brighten up amazingly when the first romance of the family began there.
“You can’t say nothing pleasant ever happens now, can you, Meg?” said Amy, trying to decide how she would group the lovers in a sketch she was planning to make.
“No, I’m sure I can’t. How much has happened since I said that! It seems a year ago,” answered Meg, who was in a blissful dream lifted far above such common things as bread and butter.
“The joys come close upon the sorrows this time, and I rather think the changes have begun,” said Mrs. March. “In most families there comes, now and then, a year full of events. This has been such a one, but it ends well, after all.”
“Hope the next will end better,” muttered Jo, who found it very hard to see Meg absorbed in a stranger before her face, for Jo loved a few persons very dearly and dreaded to have their affection lost or lessened in any way.
“I hope the third year from this will end better. I mean it shall, if I live to work out my plans,” said Mr. Brooke, smiling at Meg, as if everything had become possible to him now.
“Doesn’t it seem very long to wait?” asked Amy, who was in a hurry for the wedding.
“I’ve got so much to learn before I shall be ready, it seems a short time to me,” answered Meg, with a sweet gravity in her face never seen there before.
“You have only to wait, I am to do the work,” said John beginning his labors by picking up Meg’s napkin, with an expression which caused Jo to shake her head, and then say to herself with an air of relief as the front door banged, “Here comes Laurie. Now we shall have some sensible conversation.”
But Jo was mistaken, for Laurie came prancing in, overflowing with good spirits, bearing a great bridal-looking bouquet for ‘Mrs. John Brooke’, and evidently laboring under the delusion that the whole affair had been brought about by his excellent management.
“I knew Brooke would have it all his own way, he always does, for when he makes up his mind to accomplish anything, it’s done though the sky falls,” said Laurie, when he had presented his offering and his congratulations.
“Much obliged for that recommendation. I take it as a good omen for the future and invite you to my wedding on the spot,” answered Mr. Brooke, who felt at peace with all mankind, even his mischievous pupil.
“I’ll come if I’m at the ends of the earth, for the sight of Jo’s face alone on that occasion would be worth a long journey. You don’t look festive, ma’am, what’s the matter?” asked Laurie, following her into a corner of the parlor, whither all had adjourned to greet Mr. Laurence.
“I don’t approve of the match, but I’ve made up my mind to bear it, and shall not say a word against it,” said Jo solemnly. “You can’t know how hard it is for me to give up Meg,” she continued with a little quiver in her voice.
“You don’t give her up. You only go halves,” said Laurie consolingly.
kicked up the gravel with profane boots unreproved, and played cricket in the big field where the irritable ‘cow with a crumpled horn’ used to invite rash youths to come and be tossed. It became a sort of boys’ paradise, and Laurie suggested that it should be called the ‘Bhaer-garten’, as a compliment to its master and appropriate to its inhabitants.
It never was a fashionable school, and the Professor did not lay up a fortune, but it was just what Jo intended it to be—’a happy, homelike place for boys, who needed teaching, care, and kindness’. Every room in the big house was soon full. Every little plot in the garden soon had its owner. A regular menagerie appeared in barn and shed, for pet animals were allowed. And three times a day, Jo smiled at her Fritz from the head of a long table lined on either side with rows of happy young faces, which all turned to her with affectionate eyes, confiding words, and grateful hearts, full of love for ‘Mother Bhaer’. She had boys enough now, and did not tire of them, though they were not angels, by any means, and some of them caused both Professor and Professorin much trouble and anxiety. But her faith in the good spot which exists in the heart of the naughtiest, sauciest, most tantalizing little ragamuffin gave her patience, skill, and in time success, for no mortal boy could hold out long with Father Bhaer shining on him as benevolently as the sun, and Mother Bhaer forgiving him seventy times seven. Very precious to Jo was the friendship of the lads, their penitent sniffs and whispers after wrongdoing, their droll or touching little confidences, their pleasant enthusiasms, hopes, and plans, even their misfortunes, for they only endeared them to her all the more. There were slow boys and bashful boys, feeble boys and riotous boys, boys that lisped and boys that stuttered, one or two lame ones, and a merry little quadroon, who could not be taken in elsewhere, but who was welcome to the ‘Bhaer-garten’, though some people predicted that his admission would ruin the school.
Yes, Jo was a very happy woman there, in spite of hard work, much anxiety, and a perpetual racket. She enjoyed it heartily and found the applause of her boys more satisfying than any praise of the world, for now she told no stories except to her flock of enthusiastic believers and admirers. As the years went on, two little lads of her own came to increase her happiness—Rob, named for Grandpa, and Teddy, a happy-go-lucky baby, who seemed to have inherited his papa’s sunshiny temper as well as his mother’s lively spirit. How they ever grew up alive in that whirlpool of boys was a mystery to their grandma and aunts, but they flourished like dandelions in spring, and their rough nurses loved and served them well.
There were a great many holidays at Plumfield, and one of the most delightful was the yearly apple-picking. For then the Marches, Laurences, Brookes and Bhaers turned out in full force and made a day of it. Five years after Jo’s wedding, one of these fruitful festivals occurred, a mellow October day, when the air was full of an exhilarating freshness which made the spirits rise and the blood dance healthily in the veins. The old orchard wore its holiday attire. Goldenrod and asters fringed the mossy walls. Grasshoppers skipped briskly in the sere grass, and crickets chirped like fairy pipers at a feast. Squirrels were busy with their small harvesting. Birds twittered their adieux from the alders in the lane, and every tree stood ready to send down its shower of red or yellow apples at the first shake. Everybody was there. Everybody laughed and sang, climbed up and tumbled down. Everybody declared that there never had been such a perfect day or such a jolly set to enjoy it, and everyone gave themselves up to the simple pleasures of the hour as freely as if there were no such things as care or sorrow in the world.
Mr. March strolled placidly about, quoting Tusser, Cowley, and Columella to Mr. Laurence, while enjoying…
The gentle apple’s winey juice.
The Professor charged up and down the green aisles like a stout Teutonic knight, with a pole for a lance, leading on the boys, who made a hook and ladder company of themselves, and performed wonders in the way of ground and lofty tumbling. Laurie devoted himself to the little ones, rode his small daughter in a bushel-basket, took Daisy up among the bird’s nests, and kept adventurous Rob from breaking his neck. Mrs. March and Meg sat among the apple piles like a pair of Pomonas, sorting the contributions that kept pouring in, while Amy with a beautiful motherly expression in her face sketched the various groups, and watched over one pale lad, who sat adoring her with his little crutch beside him.
Jo was in her element that day, and rushed about, with her gown pinned up, and her hat anywhere but on her head, and her baby tucked under her arm, ready for any lively adventure which might turn up. Little Teddy bore a charmed life, for nothing ever happened to him, and Jo never felt any anxiety when he was whisked up into a tree by one lad, galloped off on the back of another, or supplied with sour russets by his indulgent papa, who labored under the Germanic delusion that babies could digest anything, from pickled cabbage to buttons, nails, and their own small shoes. She knew that little Ted would turn up again in time, safe and rosy, dirty and serene, and she always received him back with a hearty welcome, for Jo loved her babies tenderly.
At four o’clock a lull took place, and baskets remained empty, while the apple pickers rested and compared rents and bruises. Then Jo and Meg, with a detachment of the bigger boys, set forth the supper on the grass, for an out-of-door