needed and I must go prepared for nursing. Hospital stores are not always good. Beth, go and ask Mr. Laurence for a couple of bottles of old wine. I’m not too proud to beg for Father. He shall have the best of everything. Amy, tell Hannah to get down the black trunk, and Meg, come and help me find my things, for I’m half bewildered.”
Writing, thinking, and directing all at once might well bewilder the poor lady, and Meg begged her to sit quietly in her room for a little while, and let them work. Everyone scattered like leaves before a gust of wind, and the quiet, happy household was broken up as suddenly as if the paper had been an evil spell.
Mr. Laurence came hurrying back with Beth, bringing every comfort the kind old gentleman could think of for the invalid, and friendliest promises of protection for the girls during the mother’s absence, which comforted her very much. There was nothing he didn’t offer, from his own dressing gown to himself as escort. But the last was impossible. Mrs. March would not hear of the old gentleman’s undertaking the long journey, yet an expression of relief was visible when he spoke of it, for anxiety ill fits one for traveling. He saw the look, knit his heavy eyebrows, rubbed his hands, and marched abruptly away, saying he’d be back directly. No one had time to think of him again till, as Meg ran through the entry, with a pair of rubbers in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, she came suddenly upon Mr. Brooke.
“I’m very sorry to hear of this, Miss March,” he said, in the kind, quiet tone which sounded very pleasantly to her perturbed spirit. “I came to offer myself as escort to your mother. Mr. Laurence has commissions for me in Washington, and it will give me real satisfaction to be of service to her there.”
Down dropped the rubbers, and the tea was very near following, as Meg put out her hand, with a face so full of gratitude that Mr. Brooke would have felt repaid for a much greater sacrifice than the trifling one of time and comfort which he was about to take.
“How kind you all are! Mother will accept, I’m sure, and it will be such a relief to know that she has someone to take care of her. Thank you very, very much!”
Meg spoke earnestly, and forgot herself entirely till something in the brown eyes looking down at her made her remember the cooling tea, and lead the way into the parlor, saying she would call her mother.
Everything was arranged by the time Laurie returned with a note from Aunt March, enclosing the desired sum, and a few lines repeating what she had often said before, that she had always told them it was absurd for March to go into the army, always predicted that no good would come of it, and she hoped they would take her advice the next time. Mrs. March put the note in the fire, the money in her purse, and went on with her preparations, with her lips folded tightly in a way which Jo would have understood if she had been there.
The short afternoon wore away. All other errands were done, and Meg and her mother busy at some necessary needlework, while Beth and Amy got tea, and Hannah finished her ironing with what she called a ‘slap and a bang’, but still Jo did not come. They began to get anxious, and Laurie went off to find her, for no one knew what freak Jo might take into her head. He missed her, however, and she came walking in with a very queer expression of countenance, for there was a mixture of fun and fear, satisfaction and regret in it, which puzzled the family as much as did the roll of bills she laid before her mother, saying with a little choke in her voice, “That’s my contribution toward making Father comfortable and bringing him home!”
“My dear, where did you get it? Twenty-five dollars! Jo, I hope you haven’t done anything rash?”
“No, it’s mine honestly. I didn’t beg, borrow, or steal it. I earned it, and I don’t think you’ll blame me, for I only sold what was my own.”
As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose, for all her abundant hair was cut short.
“Your hair! Your beautiful hair!” “Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one beauty.” “My dear girl, there was no need of this.” “She doesn’t look like my Jo any more, but I love her dearly for it!”
As everyone exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly, Jo assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive anyone a particle, and said, rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked it, “It doesn’t affect the fate of the nation, so don’t wail, Beth. It will be good for my vanity, I was getting too proud of my wig. It will do my brains good to have that mop taken off. My head feels deliciously light and cool, and the barber said I could soon have a curly crop, which will be boyish, becoming, and easy to keep in order. I’m satisfied, so please take the money and let’s have supper.”
“Tell me all about it, Jo. I am not quite satisfied, but I can’t blame you, for I know how willingly you sacrificed your vanity, as you call it, to your love. But, my dear, it was not necessary, and I’m afraid you will regret it one of these days,” said Mrs. March.
“No, I won’t!” returned Jo stoutly, feeling much relieved that her prank was not entirely condemned.
“What made you do it?” asked Amy, who would as soon have thought of cutting off her head as her pretty hair.
“Well, I was wild to do something for Father,” replied Jo, as they gathered about the table, for healthy young people can eat even in the midst of trouble. “I hate to borrow as much as Mother does, and I knew Aunt March would croak, she always does, if you ask for a ninepence. Meg gave all her quarterly salary toward the rent, and I only got some clothes with mine, so I felt wicked, and was bound to have some money, if I sold the nose off my face to get it.”
“You needn’t feel wicked, my child! You had no winter things and got the simplest with your own hard earnings,” said Mrs. March with a look that warmed Jo’s heart.
“I hadn’t the least idea of selling my hair at first, but as I went along I kept thinking what I could do, and feeling as if I’d like to dive into some of the rich stores and help myself. In a barber’s window I saw tails of hair with the prices marked, and one black tail, not so thick as mine, was forty dollars. It came to me all of a sudden that I had one thing to make money out of, and without stopping to think, I walked in, asked if they bought hair, and what they would