“Upon my word, I didn’t move it. It rolled a bit, perhaps, but that is allowed. So, stand off please, and let me have a go at the stake.”
“We don’t cheat in America, but you can, if you choose,” said Jo angrily.
“Yankees are a deal the most tricky, everybody knows. There you go!” returned Fred, croqueting her ball far away.
Jo opened her lips to say something rude, but checked herself in time, colored up to her forehead and stood a minute, hammering down a wicket with all her might, while Fred hit the stake and declared himself out with much exultation. She went off to get her ball, and was a long time finding it among the bushes, but she came back, looking cool and quiet, and waited her turn patiently. It took several strokes to regain the place she had lost, and when she got there, the other side had nearly won, for Kate’s ball was the last but one and lay near the stake.
“By George, it’s all up with us! Goodbye, Kate. Miss Jo owes me one, so you are finished,” cried Fred excitedly, as they all drew near to see the finish.
“Yankees have a trick of being generous to their enemies,” said Jo, with a look that made the lad redden, “especially when they beat them,” she added, as, leaving Kate’s ball untouched, she won the game by a clever stroke.
Laurie threw up his hat, then remembered that it wouldn’t do to exult over the defeat of his guests, and stopped in the middle of the cheer to whisper to his friend, “Good for you, Jo! He did cheat, I saw him. We can’t tell him so, but he won’t do it again, take my word for it.”
Meg drew her aside, under pretense of pinning up a loose braid, and said approvingly, “It was dreadfully provoking, but you kept your temper, and I’m so glad, Jo.”
“Don’t praise me, Meg, for I could box his ears this minute. I should certainly have boiled over if I hadn’t stayed among the nettles till I got my rage under control enough to hold my tongue. It’s simmering now, so I hope he’ll keep out of my way,” returned Jo, biting her lips as she glowered at Fred from under her big hat.
“Time for lunch,” said Mr. Brooke, looking at his watch. “Commissary general, will you make the fire and get water, while Miss March, Miss Sallie, and I spread the table? Who can make good coffee?”
“Jo can,” said Meg, glad to recommend her sister. So Jo, feeling that her late lessons in cookery were to do her honor, went to preside over the coffeepot, while the children collected dry sticks, and the boys made a fire and got water from a spring near by. Miss Kate sketched and Frank talked to Beth, who was making little mats of braided rushes to serve as plates.
The commander in chief and his aides soon spread the tablecloth with an inviting array of eatables and drinkables, prettily decorated with green leaves. Jo announced that the coffee was ready, and everyone settled themselves to a hearty meal, for youth is seldom dyspeptic, and exercise develops wholesome appetites. A very merry lunch it was, for everything seemed fresh and funny, and frequent peals of laughter startled a venerable horse who fed near by. There was a pleasing inequality in the table, which produced many mishaps to cups and plates, acorns dropped in the milk, little black ants partook of the refreshments without being invited, and fuzzy caterpillars swung down from the tree to see what was going on. Three white-headed children peeped over the fence, and an objectionable dog barked at them from the other side of the river with all his might and main.
“There’s salt here,” said Laurie, as he handed Jo a saucer of berries.
“Thank you, I prefer spiders,” she replied, fishing up two unwary little ones who had gone to a creamy death. “How dare you remind me of that horrid dinner party, when yours is so nice in every way?” added Jo, as they both laughed and ate out of one plate, the china having run short.
“I had an uncommonly good time that day, and haven’t got over it yet. This is no credit to me, you know, I don’t do anything. It’s you and Meg and Brooke who make it all go, and I’m no end obliged to you. What shall we do when we can’t eat anymore?” asked Laurie, feeling that his trump card had been played when lunch was over.
“Have games till it’s cooler. I brought Authors, and I dare say Miss Kate knows something new and nice. Go and ask her. She’s company, and you ought to stay with her more.”
“Aren’t you company too? I thought she’d suit Brooke, but he keeps talking to Meg, and Kate just stares at them through that ridiculous glass of hers. I’m going, so you needn’t try to preach propriety, for you can’t do it, Jo.”
Miss Kate did know several new games, and as the girls would not, and the boys could not, eat any more, they all adjourned to the drawing room to play Rig-marole.