“What virtues do you most admire in a man?” asked Sallie.
“Courage and honesty.”
“Now my turn,” said Fred, as his hand came last.
“Let’s give it to him,” whispered Laurie to Jo, who nodded and asked at once…
“Didn’t you cheat at croquet?”
“Well, yes, a little bit.”
“Good! Didn’t you take your story out of The Sea Lion?” said Laurie.
“Don’t you think the English nation perfect in every respect?” asked Sallie.
“I should be ashamed of myself if I didn’t.”
“He’s a true John Bull. Now, Miss Sallie, you shall have a chance without waiting to draw. I’ll harrrow up your feelings first by asking if you don’t think you are something of a flirt,” said Laurie, as Jo nodded to Fred as a sign that peace was declared.
“You impertinent boy! Of course I’m not,” exclaimed Sallie, with an air that proved the contrary.
“What do you hate most?” asked Fred.
“Spiders and rice pudding.”
“What do you like best?” asked Jo.
“Dancing and French gloves.”
“Well, I think Truth is a very silly play. Let’s have a sensible game of Authors to refresh our minds,” proposed Jo.
Ned, Frank, and the little girls joined in this, and while it went on, the three elders sat apart, talking. Miss Kate took out her sketch again, and Margaret watched her, while Mr. Brooke lay on the grass with a book, which he did not read.
“How beautifully you do it! I wish I could draw,” said Meg, with mingled admiration and regret in her voice.
“Why don’t you learn? I should think you had taste and talent for it,” replied Miss Kate graciously.
“I haven’t time.”
“Your mamma prefers other accomplishments, I fancy. So did mine, but I proved to her that I had talent by taking a few lessons privately, and then she was quite willing I should go on. Can’t you do the same with your governess?”
“I have none.”
“I forgot young ladies in America go to school more than with us. Very fine schools they are, too, Papa says. You go to a private one, I suppose?”
“I don’t go at all. I am a governess myself.”
“Oh, indeed!” said Miss Kate, but she might as well have said, “Dear me, how dreadful!” for her tone implied it, and something in her face made Meg color, and wish she had not been so frank.
Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, “Young ladies in America love independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired and respected for supporting themselves.”
“Oh, yes, of course it’s very nice and proper in them to do so. We have many most respectable and worthy young women who do the same and are employed by the nobility, because, being the daughters of gentlemen, they are both well bred and accomplished, you know,” said Miss Kate in a patronizing tone that hurt Meg’s pride, and made her work seem not only more distasteful, but degrading.
“Did the German song suit, Miss March?” inquired Mr. Brooke, breaking an awkward pause.
“Oh, yes! It was very sweet, and I’m much obliged to whoever translated it for me.” And Meg’s downcast face brightened as she spoke.
“Don’t you read German?” asked Miss Kate with a look of surprise.
“Not very well. My father, who taught me, is away, and I don’t get on very fast alone, for I’ve no one to correct my pronunciation.”
“Try a little now. Here is Schiller’s Mary Stuart and a tutor who loves to teach.” And Mr. Brooke laid his book on her lap with an inviting smile.
“It’s so hard I’m afraid to try,” said Meg, grateful, but bashful in the presence of the accomplished young lady beside her.