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Jo's Boys

Jo's Boys

Author:Louisa May Alcott


'If anyone had told me what wonderful changes were to take place here in ten years, I wouldn't have believed it,' said Mrs Jo to Mrs Meg, as they sat on the piazza at Plumfield one summer day, looking about them with faces full of pride and pleasure...
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  'If anyone had told me what wonderful changes were to take place here inten years, I wouldn't have believed it,' said Mrs Jo to Mrs Meg, as theysat on the piazza at Plumfield one summer day, looking about them withfaces full of pride and pleasure.

  'This is the sort of magic that money and kind hearts can work. I amsure Mr Laurence could have no nobler monument than the college he sogenerously endowed; and a home like this will keep Aunt March's memorygreen as long as it lasts,' answered Mrs Meg, always glad to praise theabsent.

  'We used to believe in fairies, you remember, and plan what we'd askfor if we could have three wishes. Doesn't it seem as if mine had beenreally granted at last? Money, fame, and plenty of the work I love,'said Mrs Jo, carelessly rumpling up her hair as she clasped her handsover her head just as she used to do when a girl.

  'I have had mine, and Amy is enjoying hers to her heart's content. Ifdear Marmee, John, and Beth were here, it would be quite perfect,' addedMeg, with a tender quiver in her voice; for Marmee's place was emptynow.

  Jo put her hand on her sister's, and both sat silent for a little while,surveying the pleasant scene before them with mingled sad and happythoughts.

  It certainly did look as if magic had been at work, for quiet Plumfieldwas transformed into a busy little world. The house seemed morehospitable than ever, refreshed now with new paint, added wings,well-kept lawn and garden, and a prosperous air it had not worn whenriotous boys swarmed everywhere and it was rather difficult for theBhaers to make both ends meet. On the hill, where kites used to beflown, stood the fine college which Mr Laurence's munificent legacy hadbuilt. Busy students were going to and fro along the paths once troddenby childish feet, and many young men and women were enjoying all theadvantages that wealth, wisdom, and benevolence could give them.

  Just inside the gates of Plumfield a pretty brown cottage, very likethe Dovecote, nestled among the trees, and on the green slope westwardLaurie's white-pillared mansion glittered in the sunshine; for when therapid growth of the city shut in the old house, spoilt Meg's nest, anddared to put a soap-factory under Mr Laurence's indignant nose, ourfriends emigrated to Plumfield, and the great changes began.

  These were the pleasant ones; and the loss of the dear old people wassweetened by the blessings they left behind; so all prospered now in thelittle community, and Mr Bhaer as president, and Mr March as chaplainof the college, saw their long-cherished dream beautifully realized. Thesisters divided the care of the young people among them, each takingthe part that suited her best. Meg was the motherly friend of the youngwomen, Jo the confidante and defender of all the youths, and Amy thelady Bountiful who delicately smoothed the way for needy students, andentertained them all so cordially that it was no wonder they named herlovely home Mount Parnassus, so full was it of music, beauty, and theculture hungry young hearts and fancies long for.

  The original twelve boys had of course scattered far and wide duringthese years, but all that lived still remembered old Plumfield, and camewandering back from the four quarters of the earth to tell their variousexperiences, laugh over the pleasures of the past, and face the dutiesof the present with fresh courage; for such home-comings keep heartstender and hands helpful with the memories of young and happy days. Afew words will tell the history of each, and then we can go on with thenew chapter of their lives.

  Franz was with a merchant kinsman in Hamburg, a man of twenty-six now,and doing well. Emil was the jolliest tar that ever 'sailed the oceanblue'. His uncle sent him on a long voyage to disgust him with thisadventurous life; but he came home so delighted with it that it wasplain this was his profession, and the German kinsman gave him a goodchance in his ships; so the lad was happy. Dan was a wanderer still; forafter the geological researches in South America he tried sheep-farmingin Australia, and was now in California looking up mines. Nat was busywith music at the Conservatory, preparing for a year or two in Germanyto finish him off. Tom was studying medicine and trying to like it.Jack was in business with his father, bent on getting rich. Dolly was incollege with Stuffy and Ned reading law. Poor little Dick was dead, sowas Billy; and no one could mourn for them, since life would never behappy, afflicted as they were in mind and body.

  Rob and Teddy were called the 'Lion and the Lamb'; for the latter wasas rampant as the king of beasts, and the former as gentle as any sheepthat ever baaed. Mrs Jo called him 'my daughter', and found him themost dutiful of children, with plenty of manliness underlying the quietmanners and tender nature. But in Ted she seemed to see all the faults,whims, aspirations, and fun of her own youth in a new shape. With histawny locks always in wild confusion, his long legs and arms, loudvoice, and continual activity, Ted was a prominent figure at Plumfield.He had his moods of gloom, and fell into the Slough of Despond aboutonce a week, to be hoisted out by patient Rob or his mother, whounderstood when to let him alone and when to shake him up. He was herpride and joy as well as torment, being a very bright lad for his age,and so full of all sorts of budding talent, that her maternal mind wasmuch exercised as to what this remarkable boy would become.

  Demi had gone through College with honour, and Mrs Meg had set her hearton his being a minister--picturing in her fond fancy the first sermonher dignified young parson would preach, as well as the long, useful,and honoured life he was to lead. But John, as she called him now,firmly declined the divinity school, saying he had had enough of books,and needed to know more of men and the world, and caused the dear womanmuch disappointment by deciding to try a journalist's career. It wasa blow; but she knew that young minds cannot be driven, and thatexperience is the best teacher; so she let him follow his owninclinations, still hoping to see him in the pulpit. Aunt Jo raged whenshe found that there was to be a reporter in the family, and called him'Jenkins' on the spot. She liked his literary tendencies, but had reasonto detest official Paul Prys, as we shall see later. Demi knew his ownmind, however, and tranquilly carried out his plans, unmoved by thetongues of the anxious mammas or the jokes of his mates. Uncle Teddyencouraged him, and painted a splendid career, mentioning Dickens andother celebrities who began as reporters and ended as famous novelistsor newspaper men.

  The girls were all flourishing. Daisy, as sweet and domestic as ever,was her mother's comfort and companion. Josie at fourteen was a mostoriginal young person, full of pranks and peculiarities, the latest ofwhich was a passion for the stage, which caused her quiet mother andsister much anxiety as well as amusement. Bess had grown into a tall,beautiful girl looking several years older than she was, with the samegraceful ways and dainty tastes which the little Princess had, and arich inheritance of both the father's and mother's gifts, fostered byevery aid love and money could give. But the pride of the communitywas naughty Nan; for, like so many restless, wilful children, shewas growing into a woman full of the energy and promise that suddenlyblossoms when the ambitious seeker finds the work she is fitted to dowell. Nan began to study medicine at sixteen, and at twenty was gettingon bravely; for now, thanks to other intelligent women, colleges andhospitals were open to her. She had never wavered in her purpose fromthe childish days when she shocked Daisy in the old willow by saying: 'Idon't want any family to fuss over. I shall have an office, with bottlesand pestle things in it, and drive round and cure folks.' The futureforetold by the little girl the young woman was rapidly bringing topass, and finding so much happiness in it that nothing could win herfrom the chosen work. Several worthy young gentlemen had tried to makeher change her mind and choose, as Daisy did, 'a nice little house andfamily to take care of'. But Nan only laughed, and routed the loversby proposing to look at the tongue which spoke of adoration, orprofessionally felt the pulse in the manly hand offered for heracceptance. So all departed but one persistent youth, who was such adevoted Traddles it was impossible to quench him.

  This was Tom, who was as faithful to his child sweetheart as she toher 'pestle things', and gave a proof of fidelity that touched her verymuch. He studied medicine for her sake alone, having no taste for it,and a decided fancy for a mercantile life. But Nan was firm, andTom stoutly kept on, devoutly hoping he might not kill many of hisfellow-beings when he came to practise. They were excellent friends,however, and caused much amusement to their comrades, by thevicissitudes of this merry love-chase.

  Both were approaching Plumfield on the afternoon when Mrs Meg and MrsJo were talking on the piazza. Not together; for Nan was walking brisklyalong the pleasant road alone, thinking over a case that interested her,and Tom was pegging on behind to overtake her, as if by accident, whenthe suburbs of the city were past--a little way of his, which was partof the joke.

  Nan was a handsome girl, with a fresh colour, clear eye, quick smile,and the self-poised look young women with a purpose always have. She wassimply and sensibly dressed, walked easily, and seemed full of vigour,with her broad shoulders well back, arms swinging freely, and theelasticity of youth and health in every motion. The few people she metturned to look at her, as if it was a pleasant sight to see a hearty,happy girl walking countryward that lovely day; and the red-faced youngman steaming along behind, hat off and every tight curl wagging withimpatience, evidently agreed with them.

  Presently a mild 'Hallo!' was borne upon the breeze, and pausing, withan effort to look surprised that was an utter failure, Nan said affably:

  'Oh, is that you, Tom?'

  'Looks like it. Thought you might be walking out today'; and Tom'sjovial face beamed with pleasure.

  'You knew it. How is your throat?' asked Nan in her professional tone,which was always a quencher to undue raptures.

  'Throat? Oh, ah! yes, I remember. It is well. The effect of thatprescription was wonderful. I'll never call homoeopathy a humbug again.'

  'You were the humbug this time, and so were the unmedicated pelletsI gave you. If sugar or milk can cure diphtheria in this remarkablemanner, I'll make a note of it. O Tom, Tom, will you never be doneplaying tricks?'

  'O Nan, Nan, will you never be done getting the better of me?' And themerry pair laughed at one another just as they did in the old times,which always came back freshly when they went to Plumfield.

  'Well, I knew I shouldn't see you for a week if I didn't scare up someexcuse for a call at the office. You are so desperately busy all thetime I never get a word,' explained Tom.

  'You ought to be busy too, and above such nonsense. Really, Tom, if youdon't give your mind to your lectures, you'll never get on,' said Nansoberly.

  'I have quite enough of them as it is,' answered Tom with an air ofdisgust. 'A fellow must lark a bit after dissecting corpuses all day.I can't stand it long at a time, though some people seem to enjoy itimmensely.'

  'Then why not leave it, and do what suits you better? I always thoughtit a foolish thing, you know,' said Nan, with a trace of anxiety in thekeen eyes that searched for signs of illness in a face as ruddy as aBaldwin apple.

  'You know why I chose it, and why I shall stick to it if it kills me.I may not look delicate, but I've a deep-seated heart complaint, and itwill carry me off sooner or later; for only one doctor in the world cancure it, and she won't.'

  There was an air of pensive resignation about Tom that was both comicand pathetic; for he was in earnest, and kept on giving hints of thissort, without the least encouragement.

  Nan frowned; but she was used to it, and knew how to treat him.

  'She is curing it in the best and only way; but a more refractorypatient never lived. Did you go to that ball, as I directed?'

  'I did.'

  'And devote yourself to pretty Miss West?'

  'Danced with her the whole evening.'

  'No impression made on that susceptible organ of yours?'

  'Not the slightest. I gaped in her face once, forgot to feed her, andgave a sigh of relief when I handed her over to her mamma.'

  'Repeat the dose as often as possible, and note the symptoms. I predictthat you'll “cry for it” by and by.'

  'Never! I'm sure it doesn't suit my constitution.'

  'We shall see. Obey orders!' sternly.

  'Yes, Doctor,' meekly.

  Silence reigned for a moment; then, as if the bone of contention wasforgotten in the pleasant recollections called up by familiar objects,Nan said suddenly:

  'What fun we used to have in that wood! Do you remember how you tumbledout of the big nut-tree and nearly broke your collar-bones?'

  'Don't I! and how you steeped me in wormwood till I was a fine mahoganycolour, and Aunt Jo wailed over my spoilt jacket,' laughed Tom, a boyagain in a minute.

  'And how you set the house afire?'

  'And you ran off for your band-box?'

  'Do you ever say “Thunder-turtles” now?'

  'Do people ever call you “Giddy-gaddy”?'

  'Daisy does. Dear thing, I haven't seen her for a week.'

  'I saw Demi this morning, and he said she was keeping house for MotherBhaer.'

  'She always does when Aunt Jo gets into a vortex. Daisy is a modelhousekeeper; and you couldn't do better than make your bow to her, ifyou can't go to work and wait till you are grown up before you beginlovering.'

  'Nat would break his fiddle over my head if I suggested such a thing.No, thank you. Another name is engraved upon my heart as indeliblyas the blue anchor on my arm. “Hope” is my motto, and “No surrender”,yours; see who will hold out longest.'

  'You silly boys think we must pair off as we did when children; but weshall do nothing of the kind. How well Parnassus looks from here!' saidNan, abruptly changing the conversation again.

  'It is a fine house; but I love old Plum best. Wouldn't Aunt March stareif she could see the changes here?' answered Tom, as they both paused atthe great gate to look at the pleasant landscape before them.

  A sudden whoop startled them, as a long boy with a wild yellow head cameleaping over a hedge like a kangaroo, followed by a slender girl, whostuck in the hawthorn, and sat there laughing like a witch. A prettylittle lass she was, with curly dark hair, bright eyes, and a veryexpressive face. Her hat was at her back, and her skirts a good deal theworse for the brooks she had crossed, the trees she had climbed, and thelast leap, which added several fine rents.

  'Take me down, Nan, please. Tom, hold Ted; he's got my book, and Iwill have it,' called Josie from her perch, not at all daunted by theappearance of her friends.

  Tom promptly collared the thief, while Nan picked Josie from among thethorns and set her on her feet without a word of reproof; for havingbeen a romp in her own girlhood, she was very indulgent to like tastesin others. 'What's the matter, dear?' she asked, pinning up the longestrip, while Josie examined the scratches on her hands. 'I was studying mypart in the willow, and Ted came slyly up and poked the book out of myhands with his rod. It fell in the brook, and before I could scrabbledown he was off. You wretch, give it back this moment or I'll box yourears,' cried Josie, laughing and scolding in the same breath.

  Escaping from Tom, Ted struck a sentimental attitude, and with tenderglances at the wet, torn young person before him, delivered ClaudeMelnotte's famous speech in a lackadaisical way that was irresistiblyfunny, ending with 'Dost like the picture, love?' as he made an objectof himself by tying his long legs in a knot and distorting his facehorribly.

  The sound of applause from the piazza put a stop to these antics, andthe young folks went up the avenue together very much in the old stylewhen Tom drove four in hand and Nan was the best horse in the team.Rosy, breathless, and merry, they greeted the ladies and sat down onthe steps to rest, Aunt Meg sewing up her daughter's rags while MrsJo smoothed the Lion's mane, and rescued the book. Daisy appeared in amoment to greet her friend, and all began to talk.

  'Muffins for tea; better stay and eat 'em; Daisy's never fail,' said Tedhospitably.

  'He's a judge; he ate nine last time. That's why he's so fat,' addedJosie, with a withering glance at her cousin, who was as thin as a lath.

  'I must go and see Lucy Dove. She has a whitlow, and it's time to lanceit. I'll tea at college,' answered Nan, feeling in her pocket to be sureshe had not forgotten her case of instruments.

  'Thanks, I'm going there also. Tom Merryweather has granulated lids,and I promised to touch them up for him. Save a doctor's fee and be goodpractice for me. I'm clumsy with my thumbs,' said Tom, bound to be nearhis idol while he could.

  'Hush! Daisy doesn't like to hear you saw-bones talk of your work.Muffins suit us better'; and Ted grinned sweetly, with a view to futurefavours in the eating line.

  'Any news of the Commodore?' asked Tom.

  'He is on his way home, and Dan hopes to come soon. I long to see myboys together, and have begged the wanderers to come to Thanksgiving, ifnot before,' answered Mrs Jo, beaming at the thought.

  'They'll come, every man of them, if they can. Even Jack will risklosing a dollar for the sake of one of our jolly old dinners,' laughedTom.

  'There's the turkey fattening for the feast. I never chase him now, butfeed him well; and he's “swellin' wisibly”, bless his drumsticks!' saidTed, pointing out the doomed fowl proudly parading in a neighbouringfield.

  'If Nat goes the last of the month we shall want a farewell frolic forhim. I suppose the dear old Chirper will come home a second Ole Bull,'said Nan to her friend.

  A pretty colour came into Daisy's cheek, and the folds of muslin on herbreast rose and fell with a quick breath; but she answered placidly:'Uncle Laurie says he has real talent, and after the training he willget abroad he can command a good living here, though he may never befamous.'

  'Young people seldom turn out as one predicts, so it is of little useto expect anything,' said Mrs Meg with a sigh. 'If our children are goodand useful men and women, we should be satisfied; yet it's very naturalto wish them to be brilliant and successful.'

  'They are like my chickens, mighty uncertain. Now, that fine-lookingcockerel of mine is the stupidest one of the lot, and the ugly,long-legged chap is the king of the yard, he's so smart; crows loudenough to wake the Seven Sleepers; but the handsome one croaks, and isno end of a coward. I get snubbed; but you wait till I grow up, andthen see'; and Ted looked so like his own long-legged pet that everyonelaughed at his modest prediction.

  'I want to see Dan settled somewhere. “A rolling stone gathers no moss”,and at twenty-five he is still roaming about the world without a tie tohold him, except this'; and Mrs Meg nodded towards her sister.

  'Dan will find his place at last, and experience is his best teacher.He is rough still, but each time he comes home I see a change for thebetter, and never lose my faith in him. He may never do anything great,or get rich; but if the wild boy makes an honest man, I'm satisfied,'said Mrs Jo, who always defended the black sheep of her flock.

  'That's right, mother, stand by Dan! He's worth a dozen Jacks and Nedsbragging about money and trying to be swells. You see if he doesn't dosomething to be proud of and take the wind out of their sails,'added Ted, whose love for his 'Danny' was now strengthened by a boy'sadmiration for the bold, adventurous man.

  'Hope so, I'm sure. He's just the fellow to do rash things and cometo glory--climbing the Matterhorn, taking a “header” into Niagara, orfinding a big nugget. That's his way of sowing wild oats, and perhapsit's better than ours,' said Tom thoughtfully; for he had gained a gooddeal of experience in that sort of agriculture since he became a medicalstudent.

  'Much better!' said Mrs Jo emphatically. 'I'd rather send my boys offto see the world in that way than leave them alone in a city full oftemptations, with nothing to do but waste time, money, and health, asso many are left. Dan has to work his way, and that teaches him courage,patience, and self-reliance. I don't worry about him as much as I doabout George and Dolly at college, no more fit than two babies to takecare of themselves.'

  'How about John? He's knocking round town as a newspaper man, reportingall sorts of things, from sermons to prize-fights,' asked Tom, whothought that sort of life would be much more to his own taste thanmedical lectures and hospital wards.

  'Demi has three safeguards--good principles, refined tastes, and a wisemother. He won't come to harm, and these experiences will be useful tohim when he begins to write, as I'm sure he will in time,' began MrsJo in her prophetic tone; for she was anxious to have some of her geeseturn out swans.

  'Speak of Jenkins, and you'll hear the rustling of his paper,' criedTom, as a fresh-faced, brown-eyed young man came up the avenue, waving anewspaper over his head.

  'Here's your Evening Tattler! Latest Edition! Awful murder! Bank clerkabsconded! Powder-mill explosion, and great strike of the Latin Schoolboys!' roared Ted, going to meet his cousin with the graceful gait of ayoung giraffe.

  'The Commodore is in, and will cut his cable and run before the windas soon as he can get off,' called Demi, with 'a nice derangement ofnautical epitaphs', as he came up smiling over his good news.

  Everyone talked together for a moment, and the paper passed from hand tohand that each eye might rest on the pleasant fact that the Brenda, fromHamburg, was safe in port.

  'He'll come lurching out by tomorrow with his usual collection of marinemonsters and lively yarns. I saw him, jolly and tarry and brown as acoffee-berry. Had a good run, and hopes to be second mate, as the otherchap is laid up with a broken leg,' added Demi.

  'Wish I had the setting of it,' said Nan to herself, with a professionaltwist of her hand.

  'How's Franz?' asked Mrs Jo.

  'He's going to be married! There's news for you. The first of theflock, Aunty, so say good-bye to him. Her name is Ludmilla HeldegardBlumenthal; good family, well-off, pretty, and of course an angel. Thedear old boy wants Uncle's consent, and then he will settle down to be ahappy and an honest burgher. Long life to him!'

  'I'm glad to hear it. I do so like to settle my boys with a good wifeand a nice little home. Now, if all is right, I shall feel as if Franzwas off my mind,' said Mrs Jo, folding her hands contentedly; for sheoften felt like a distracted hen with a large brood of mixed chickensand ducks upon her hands.

  'So do I,' sighed Tom, with a sly glance at Nan. 'That's what a fellowneeds to keep him steady; and it's the duty of nice girls to marry assoon as possible, isn't it, Demi?'

  'If there are enough nice fellows to go round. The female populationexceeds the male, you know, especially in New England; which accountsfor the high state of culture we are in, perhaps,' answered John, whowas leaning over his mother's chair, telling his day's experiences in awhisper.

  'It is a merciful provision, my dears; for it takes three or four womento get each man into, through, and out of the world. You are costlycreatures, boys; and it is well that mothers, sisters, wives, anddaughters love their duty and do it so well, or you would perish off theface of the earth,' said Mrs Jo solemnly, as she took up a basket filledwith dilapidated hose; for the good Professor was still hard on hissocks, and his sons resembled him in that respect.

  'Such being the case, there is plenty for the “superfluous women” to do,in taking care of these helpless men and their families. I see that moreclearly every day, and am very glad and grateful that my profession willmake me a useful, happy, and independent spinster.'

  Nan's emphasis on the last word caused Tom to groan, and the rest tolaugh.

  'I take great pride and solid satisfaction in you, Nan, and hope tosee you very successful; for we do need just such helpful women in theworld. I sometimes feel as if I've missed my vocation and ought tohave remained single; but my duty seemed to point this way, and I don'tregret it,' said Mrs Jo, folding a large and very ragged blue sock toher bosom.

  'Neither do I. What should I ever have done without my dearest Mum?'added Ted, with a filial hug which caused both to disappear behind thenewspaper in which he had been mercifully absorbed for a few minutes.

  'My darling boy, if you would wash your hands semi-occasionally, fondcaresses would be less disastrous to my collar. Never mind, my precioustouslehead, better grass stains and dirt than no cuddlings at all'; andMrs Jo emerged from that brief eclipse looking much refreshed, thoughher back hair was caught in Ted's buttons and her collar under one ear.

  Here Josie, who had been studying her part at the other end of thepiazza, suddenly burst forth with a smothered shriek, and gave Juliet'sspeech in the tomb so effectively that the boys applauded, Daisyshivered, and Nan murmured: 'Too much cerebral excitement for one of herage.'

  'I'm afraid you'll have to make up your mind to it, Meg. That child isa born actress. We never did anything so well, not even the Witch'sCurse,' said Mrs Jo, casting a bouquet of many-coloured socks at thefeet of her flushed and panting niece, when she fell gracefully upon thedoor-mat.

  'It is a sort of judgement upon me for my passion for the stage when agirl. Now I know how dear Marmee felt when I begged to be an actress. Inever can consent, and yet I may be obliged to give up my wishes, hopes,and plans again.'

  There was an accent of reproach in his mother's voice, which made Demipick up his sister with a gentle shake, and the stern command to 'dropthat nonsense in public'.

  'Drop me, Minion, or I'll give you the Maniac Bride, with my bestHa-ha!' cried Josie, glaring at him like an offended kitten. Being seton her feet, she made a splendid courtesy, and dramatically proclaiming,'Mrs Woffington's carriage waits,' swept down the steps and round thecorner, trailing Daisy's scarlet shawl majestically behind her.

  'Isn't she great fun? I couldn't stop in this dull place if I hadn'tthat child to make it lively for me. If ever she turns prim, I'm off; somind how you nip her in the bud,' said Teddy, frowning at Demi, who wasnow writing out shorthand notes on the steps.

  'You two are a team, and it takes a strong hand to drive you, but Irather like it. Josie ought to have been my child, and Rob yours, Meg.Then your house would have been all peace and mine all Bedlam. Now Imust go and tell Laurie the news. Come with me, Meg, a little strollwill do us good'; and sticking Ted's straw hat on her head, Mrs Jowalked off with her sister, leaving Daisy to attend to the muffins, Tedto appease Josie, and Tom and Nan to give their respective patients avery bad quarter of an hour.