“Silence a la mort,” replied Laurie, with a melodramatic flourish, as he went away.
This little bit of byplay excited Annie’s curiosity, but Meg was too tired for gossip and went to bed, feeling as if she had been to a masquerade and hadn’t enjoyed herself as much as she expected. She was sick all the next day, and on Saturday went home, quite used up with her fortnight’s fun and feeling that she had ‘sat in the lap of luxury’ long enough.
“It does seem pleasant to be quiet, and not have company manners on all the time. Home is a nice place, though it isn’t splendid,” said Meg, looking about her with a restful expression, as she sat with her mother and Jo on the Sunday evening.
“I’m glad to hear you say so, dear, for I was afraid home would seem dull and poor to you after your fine quarters,” replied her mother, who had given her many anxious looks that day. For motherly eyes are quick to see any change in children’s faces.
Meg had told her adventures gayly and said over and over what a charming time she had had, but something still seemed to weigh upon her spirits, and when the younger girls were gone to bed, she sat thoughtfully staring at the fire, saying little and looking worried. As the clock struck nine and Jo proposed bed, Meg suddenly left her chair and, taking Beth’s stool, leaned her elbows on her mother’s knee, saying bravely…
“Marmee, I want to ‘fess’.”
“I thought so. What is it, dear?”
“Shall I go away?” asked Jo discreetly.
“Of course not. Don’t I always tell you everything? I was ashamed to speak of it before the younger children, but I want you to know all the dreadful things I did at the Moffats’.”
“We are prepared,” said Mrs. March, smiling but looking a little anxious.
“I told you they dressed me up, but I didn’t tell you that they powdered and squeezed and frizzled, and made me look like a fashion-plate. Laurie thought I wasn’t proper. I know he did, though he didn’t say so, and one man called me ‘a doll’. I knew it was silly, but they flattered me and said I was a beauty, and quantities of nonsense, so I let them make a fool of me.”
“Is that all?” asked Jo, as Mrs. March looked silently at the downcast face of her pretty daughter, and could not find it in her heart to blame her little follies.
“No, I drank champagne and romped and tried to flirt, and was altogether abominable,” said Meg self-reproachfully.
“There is something more, I think.” And Mrs. March smoothed the soft cheek, which suddenly grew rosy as Meg answered slowly…
“Yes. It’s very silly, but I want to tell it, because I hate to have people say and think such things about us and Laurie.”
Then she told the various bits of gossip she had heard at the Moffats’, and as she spoke, Jo saw her mother fold her lips tightly, as if ill pleased that such ideas should be put into Meg’s innocent mind.
“Well, if that isn’t the greatest rubbish I ever heard,” cried Jo indignantly. “Why didn’t you pop out and tell them so on the spot?”