Chapter 3. Jo's Last Scrape
The March family had enjoyed a great many surprises in the course of their varied career, but the greatest of all was when the Ugly Duckling turned out to be, not a swan, but a golden goose, whose literary eggs found such an unexpected market that in ten years Jo's wildest and most cherished dream actually came true. How or why it happened she never clearly understood, but all of a sudden she found herself famous in a small way, and, better still, with a snug little fortune in her pocket to clear away the obstacles of the present and assure the future of her boys.
It began during a bad year when everything went wrong at Plumfield; times were hard, the school dwindled, Jo overworked herself and had a long illness; Laurie and Amy were abroad, and the Bhaers too proud to ask help even of those as near and dear as this generous pair. Confined to her room, Jo got desperate over the state of affairs, till she fell back upon the long-disused pen as the only thing she could do to help fill up the gaps in the income. A book for girls being wanted by a certain publisher, she hastily scribbled a little story describing a few scenes and adventures in the lives of herself and sisters, though boys were more in her line, and with very slight hopes of success sent it out to seek its fortune.
Things always went by contraries with Jo. Her first book, laboured over for years, and launched full of the high hopes and ambitious dreams of youth, foundered on its voyage, though the wreck continued to float long afterward, to the profit of the publisher at least. The hastily written story, sent away with no thought beyond the few dollars it might bring, sailed with a fair wind and a wise pilot at the helm into public favour, and came home heavily laden with an unexpected cargo of gold and glory.
A more astonished woman probably never existed than Josephine Bhaer when her little ship came into port with flags flying, cannon that had been silent before now booming gaily, and, better than all, many kind faces rejoicing with her, many friendly hands grasping hers with cordial congratulations. After that it was plain sailing, and she merely had to load her ships and send them off on prosperous trips, to bring home stores of comfort for all she loved and laboured for.
The fame she never did quite accept; for it takes very little fire to make a great deal of smoke nowadays, and notoriety is not real glory. The fortune she could not doubt, and gratefully received; though it was not half so large a one as a generous world reported it to be. The tide having turned continued to rise, and floated the family comfortably into a snug harbour where the older members could rest secure from storms, and whence the younger ones could launch their boats for the voyage of life.
All manner of happiness, peace, and plenty came in those years to bless the patient waiters, hopeful workers, and devout believers in the wisdom and justice of Him who sends disappointment, poverty, and sorrow to try the love of human hearts and make success the sweeter when it comes. The world saw the prosperity, and kind souls rejoiced over the improved fortunes of the family; but the success Jo valued most, the happiness that nothing could change or take away, few knew much about.
It was the power of making her mother's last years happy and serene; to see the burden of care laid down for ever, the weary hands at rest, the dear face untroubled by any anxiety, and the tender heart free to pour itself out in the wise charity which was its delight. As a girl, Jo's favourite plan had been a room where Marmee could sit in peace and enjoy herself after her hard, heroic life. Now the dream had become a happy fact, and Marmee sat in her pleasant chamber with every comfort and luxury about her, loving daughters to wait on her as infirmities increased, a faithful mate to lean upon, and grand-children to brighten the twilight of life with their dutiful affection. A very precious time to all, for she rejoiced as only mothers can in the good fortunes of their children. She had lived to reap the harvest she sowed; had seen prayers answered, hopes blossom, good gifts bear fruit, peace and prosperity bless the home she had made; and then, like some brave, patient angel, whose work was done, turned her face heavenward, glad to rest.
This was the sweet and sacred side of the change; but it had its droll and thorny one, as all things have in this curious world of ours. After the first surprise, incredulity, and joy, which came to Jo, with the ingratitude of human nature, she soon tired of renown, and began to resent her loss of liberty. For suddenly the admiring public took possession of her and all her affairs, past, present, and to come. Strangers demanded to look at her, question, advise, warn, congratulate, and drive her out of her wits by well-meant but very wearisome attentions. If she declined to open her heart to them, they reproached her; if she refused to endow her pet charities, relieve private wants, or sympathize with every ill and trial known to humanity, she was called hard-hearted, selfish, and haughty; if she found it impossible to answer the piles of letters sent her, she was neglectful of her duty to the admiring public; and if she preferred the privacy of home to the pedestal upon which she was requested to pose, 'the airs of literary people' were freely criticized.
She did her best for the children, they being the public for whom she wrote, and laboured stoutly to supply the demand always in the mouths of voracious youth--'More stories; more right away!' Her family objected to this devotion at their expense, and her health suffered; but for a time she gratefully offered herself up on the altar of juvenile literature, feeling that she owed a good deal to the little friends in whose sight she had found favour after twenty years of effort.
But a time came when her patience gave out; and wearying of being a lion, she became a bear in nature as in name, and returning to her den, growled awfully when ordered out. Her family enjoyed the fun, and had small sympathy with her trials, but Jo came to consider it the worse scrape of her life; for liberty had always been her dearest possession, and it seemed to be fast going from her. Living in a lantern soon loses its charm, and she was too old, too tired, and too busy to like it. She felt that she had done all that could reasonably be required of her when autographs, photographs, and autobiographical sketches had been sown broadcast over the land; when artists had taken her home in all its aspects, and reporters had taken her in the grim one she always assumed on these trying occasions; when a series of enthusiastic boarding-schools had ravaged her grounds for trophies, and a steady stream of amiable pilgrims had worn her doorsteps with their respectful feet; when servants left after a week's trial of the bell that rang all day; when her husband was forced to guard her at meals, and the boys to cover her retreat out of back windows on certain occasions when enterprising guests walked in unannounced at unfortunate moments.
A sketch of one day may perhaps explain the state of things, offer some excuse for the unhappy woman, and give a hint to the autograph-fiend now rampant in the land; for it is a true tale.
'There ought to be a law to protect unfortunate authors,' said Mrs Jo one morning soon after Emil's arrival, when the mail brought her an unusually large and varied assortment of letters. 'To me it is a more vital subject than international copyright; for time is money, peace is health, and I lose both with no return but less respect for my fellow creatures and a wild desire to fly into the wilderness, since I cannot shut my doors even in free America.'
'Lion-hunters are awful when in search of their prey. If they could change places for a while it would do them good; and they'd see what bores they were when they "do themselves the honour of calling to express their admiration of our charming work",' quoted Ted, with a bow to his parent, now frowning over twelve requests for autographs.
'I have made up my mind on one point,' said Mrs Jo with great firmness. 'I will not answer this kind of letter. I've sent at least six to this boy, and he probably sells them. This girl writes from a seminary, and if I send her one all the other girls will at once write for more. All begin by saying they know they intrude, and that I am of course annoyed by these requests; but they venture to ask because I like boys, or they like the books, or it is only one. Emerson and Whittier put these things in the wastepaper-basket; and though only a literary nursery-maid who provides moral pap for the young, I will follow their illustrious example; for I shall have no time to eat or sleep if I try to satisfy these dear unreasonable children'; and Mrs Jo swept away the entire batch with a sigh of relief.
'I'll open the others and let you eat your breakfast in peace, liebe Mutter,' said Rob, who often acted as her secretary. 'Here's one from the South'; and breaking an imposing seal, he read:
'MADAM, As it has pleased Heaven to bless your efforts with a large fortune, I feel no hesitation in asking you to supply funds to purchase a new communion-service for our church. To whatever denomination you belong, you will of course respond with liberality to such a request,
'MRS X.Y. ZAVIER'
'Send a civil refusal, dear. All I have to give must go to feed and clothe the poor at my gates. That is my thank-offering for success. Go on,' answered his mother, with a grateful glance about her happy home.
'A literary youth of eighteen proposes that you put your name to a novel he has written; and after the first edition your name is to be taken off and his put on. There's a cool proposal for you. I guess you won't agree to that, in spite of your soft-heartedness towards most of the young scribblers.'
'Couldn't be done. Tell him so kindly, and don't let him send the manuscript. I have seven on hand now, and barely time to read my own,' said Mrs Jo, pensively fishing a small letter out of the slop-bowl and opening it with care, because the down-hill address suggested that a child wrote it.
'I will answer this myself. A little sick girl wants a book, and she shall have it, but I can't write sequels to all the rest to please her. I should never come to an end if I tried to suit these voracious little Oliver Twists, clamouring for more. What next, Robin?'
'This is short and sweet.
'DEAR MRS BHAER, I am now going to give you my opinion of your works. I have read them all many times, and call them first-rate. Please go ahead.
'Now that is what I like. Billy is a man of sense and a critic worth having, since he had read my works many times before expressing his opinion. He asks for no answer, so send my thanks and regards.'
'Here's a lady in England with seven girls, and she wishes to know your views upon education. Also what careers they shall follow the oldest being twelve. Don't wonder she's worried,' laughed Rob.
'I'll try to answer it. But as I have no girls, my opinion isn't worth much and will probably shock her, as I shall tell her to let them run and play and build up good, stout bodies before she talks about careers. They will soon show what they want, if they are let alone, and not all run in the same mould.'
'Here's a fellow who wants to know what sort of a girl he shall marry, and if you know of any like those in your stories.'
'Give him Nan's address, and see what he'll get,' proposed Ted, privately resolving to do it himself if possible.
'This is from a lady who wants you to adopt her child and lend her money to study art abroad for a few years. Better take it, and try your hand at a girl, mother.'
'No, thank you, I will keep to my own line of business. What is that blotted one? It looks rather awful, to judge by the ink,' asked Mrs Jo, who beguiled her daily task by trying to guess from the outside what was inside her many letters. This proved to be a poem from an insane admirer, to judge by its incoherent style.
'Oh, were I a heliotrope,
I would play poet,
And blow a breeze of fragrance
To you; and none should know it.
'Your form like the stately elm
When Phoebus gilds the morning ray;
Your cheeks like the ocean bed
That blooms a rose in May.
'Your words are wise and bright,
I bequeath them to you a legacy given;
And when your spirit takes its flight,
May it bloom aflower in heaven.
'My tongue in flattering language spoke,
And sweeter silence never broke
in busiest street or loneliest glen.
I take you with the flashes of my pen.
'Consider the lilies, how they grow;
They toil not, yet are fair,
Gems and flowers and Solomon's seal.
The geranium of the world is J. M. Bhaer.
While the boys shouted over this effusion--which is a true one-- their mother read several liberal offers from budding magazines for her to edit them gratis; one long letter from a young girl inconsolable because her favourite hero died, and 'would dear Mrs Bhaer rewrite the tale, and make it end good?' another from an irate boy denied an autograph, who darkly foretold financial ruin and loss of favour if she did not send him and all other fellows who asked autographs, photographs, and auto-biographical sketches; a minister wished to know her religion; and an undecided maiden asked which of her two lovers she should marry. These samples will suffice to show a few of the claims made on a busy woman's time, and make my readers pardon Mrs Jo if she did not carefully reply to all.
'That job is done. Now I will dust a bit, and then go to my work. I'm all behind-hand, and serials can't wait; so deny me to everybody, Mary. I won't see Queen Victoria if she comes today.' And Mrs Bhaer threw down her napkin as if defying all creation.
'I hope the day will go well with thee, my dearest,' answered her husband, who had been busy with his own voluminous correspondence. 'I will dine at college with Professor Plock, who is to visit us today. The Junglings can lunch on Parnassus; so thou shalt have a quiet time.' And smoothing the worried lines out of her forehead with his good-bye kiss, the excellent man marched away, both pockets full of books, an old umbrella in one hand, and a bag of stones for the geology class in the other.
'If all literary women had such thoughtful angels for husbands, they would live longer and write more. Perhaps that wouldn't be a blessing to the world though, as most of us write too much now,' said Mrs Jo, waving her feather duster to her spouse, who responded with flourishes of the umbrella as he went down the avenue.
Rob started for school at the same time, looking so much like him with his books and bag and square shoulders and steady air that his mother laughed as she turned away, saying heartily: 'Bless both my dear professors, for better creatures never lived!'
Emil was already gone to his ship in the city; but Ted lingered to steal the address he wanted, ravage the sugar-bowl, and talk with 'Mum'; for the two had great larks together. Mrs Jo always arranged her own parlour, refilled her vases, and gave the little touches that left it cool and neat for the day. Going to draw down the curtain, she beheld an artist sketching on the lawn, and groaned as she hastily retired to the back window to shake her duster.
At that moment the bell rang and the sound of wheels was heard in the road.
'I'll go; Mary lets 'em in'; and Ted smoothed his hair as he made for the hall.
'Can't see anyone. Give me a chance to fly upstairs,' whispered Mrs Jo, preparing to escape. But before she could do so, a man appeared at the door with a card in his hand. Ted met him with a stern air, and his mother dodged behind the window-curtains to bide her time for escape.
'I am doing a series of articles for the Saturday Tattler, and I called to see Mrs Bhaer the first of all,' began the newcomer in the insinuating tone of his tribe, while his quick eyes were taking in all they could, experience having taught him to make the most of his time, as his visits were usually short ones.
'Mrs Bhaer never sees reporters, sir.'
'But a few moments will be all I ask,' said the man, edging his way farther in.
'You can't see her, for she is out,' replied Teddy, as a backward glance showed him that his unhappy parent had vanished--through the window, he supposed, as she sometimes did when hard bestead.
'Very sorry. I'll call again. Is this her study? Charming room!' And the intruder fell back on the parlour, bound to see something and bag a fact if he died in the attempt. 'It is not,' said Teddy, gently but firmly backing him down the hall, devoutly hoping that his mother had escaped round the corner of the house.
'If you could tell me Mrs Bhaer's age and birthplace, date of marriage, and number of children, I should be much obliged,' continued the unabashed visitor as he tripped over the door-mat.
'She is about sixty, born in Nova Zembla, married just forty years ago today, and has eleven daughters. Anything else, sir?' And Ted's sober face was such a funny contrast to his ridiculous reply that the reporter owned himself routed, and retired laughing just as a lady followed by three beaming girls came up the steps.
'We are all the way from Oshkosh, and couldn't go home without seein' dear Aunt Jo. My girls just admire her works, and lot on gettin' a sight of her. I know it's early; but we are goin' to see Holmes and Longfeller, and the rest of the celebrities, so we ran out here fust thing. Mrs Erastus Kingsbury Parmalee, of Oshkosh, tell her. We don't mind waitin'; we can look round a spell if she ain't ready to see folks yet.'
All this was uttered with such rapidity that Ted could only stand gazing at the buxom damsels, who fixed their six blue eyes upon him so beseechingly that his native gallantry made it impossible to deny them a civil reply at least.
'Mrs Bhaer is not visible today--out just now, I believe; but you can see the house and grounds if you like,' he murmured, falling back as the four pressed in gazing rapturously about them.
'Oh, thank you! Sweet, pretty place I'm sure! That's where she writes, ain't it? Do tell me if that's her picture! Looks just as I imagined her!'
With these remarks the ladies paused before a fine engraving of the Hon. Mrs Norton, with a pen in her hand and a rapt expression of countenance, likewise a diadem and pearl necklace.
Keeping his gravity with an effort, Teddy pointed to a very bad portrait of Mrs Jo, which hung behind the door, and afforded her much amusement, it was so dismal, in spite of a curious effect of light upon the end of the nose and cheeks as red as the chair she sat in.
'This was taken for my mother; but it is not very good,' he said, enjoying the struggles of the girls not to look dismayed at the sad difference between the real and the ideal. The youngest, aged twelve, could not conceal her disappointment, and turned away, feeling as so many of us have felt when we discover that our idols are very ordinary men and women.
'I thought she'd be about sixteen and have her hair braided in two tails down her back. I don't care about seeing her now,' said the honest child, walking off to the hall door, leaving her mother to apologize, and her sisters to declare that the bad portrait was 'perfectly lovely, so speaking and poetic, you know, 'specially about the brow'.
'Come girls, we must be goin', if we want to get through today. You can leave your albums and have them sent when Mrs Bhaer has written a sentiment in 'em. We are a thousand times obliged. Give our best love to your ma, and tell her we are so sorry not to see her.' Just as Mrs. Erastus Kingsbury Parmalee uttered the words her eye fell upon a middle-aged woman in a large checked apron, with a handkerchief tied over her head, busily dusting an end room which looked like a study.
'One peep at her sanctum since she is out,' cried the enthusiastic lady, and swept across the hall with her flock before Teddy could warn his mother, whose retreat had been cut off by the artist in front, the reporter at the back of the house--for he hadn't gone and the ladies in the hall.
'They've got her!' thought Teddy, in comical dismay. 'No use for her to play housemaid since they've seen the portrait.'
Mrs Jo did her best, and being a good actress, would have escaped if the fatal picture had not betrayed her. Mrs Parmalee paused at the desk, and regardless of the meerschaum that lay there, the man's slippers close by, and a pile of letters directed to 'Prof. F. Bhaer', she clasped her hands, exclaiming impressively: 'Girls, this is the spot where she wrote those sweet, those moral tales which have thrilled us to the soul! Could I--ah, could I take one morsel of paper, an old pen, a postage stamp even, as a memento of this gifted woman?'
'Yes'm, help yourselves,' replied the maid, moving away with a glance at the boy, whose eyes were now full of merriment he could not suppress.
The oldest girl saw it, guessed the truth, and a quick look at the woman in the apron confirmed her suspicion. Touching her mother, she whispered: 'Ma, it's Mrs Bhaer herself. I know it is.'
'No? yes? it is! Well, I do declare, how nice that is!' And hastily pursuing the unhappy woman, who was making for the door, Mrs Parmalee cried eagerly:
'Don't mind us! I know you're busy, but just let me take your hand and then we'll go.'
Giving herself up for lost, Mrs Jo turned and presented her hand like a tea-tray, submitting to have it heartily shaken, as the matron said, with somewhat alarming hospitality:
'If ever you come to Oshkosh, your feet won't be allowed to touch the pavement; for you'll be borne in the arms of the populace, we shall be so dreadful glad to see you.'
Mentally resolving never to visit that effusive town, Jo responded as cordially as she could; and having written her name in the albums, provided each visitor with a memento, and kissed them all round, they at last departed, to call on 'Longfeller, Holmes, and the rest'--who were all out, it is devoutly to be hoped.
'You villain, why didn't you give me a chance to whip away? Oh, my dear, what fibs you told that man! I hope we shall be forgiven our sins in this line, but I don't know what is to become of us if we don't dodge. So many against one isn't fair play.' And Mrs Jo hung up her apron in the hall closet, with a groan at the trials of her lot.
'More people coming up the avenue! Better dodge while the coast is clear! I'll head them off!' cried Teddy, looking back from the steps, as he was departing to school.
Mrs Jo flew upstairs, and having locked her door, calmly viewed a young ladies' seminary camp on the lawn, and being denied the house, proceed to enjoy themselves by picking the flowers, doing up their hair, eating lunch, and freely expressing their opinion of the place and its possessors before they went.
A few hours of quiet followed, and she was just settling down to a long afternoon of hard work, when Rob came home to tell her that the Young Men's Christian Union would visit the college, and two or three of the fellows whom she knew wanted to pay their respects to her on the way.
'It is going to rain, so they won't come, I dare say; but father thought you'd like to be ready, in case they do call. You always see the boys, you know, though you harden your heart to the poor girls,' said Rob, who had heard from his brother about the morning visitations.
'Boys don't gush, so I can stand it. The last time I let in a party of girls one fell into my arms and said, "Darling, love me!" I wanted to shake her,' answered Mrs Jo, wiping her pen with energy.
'You may be sure the fellows won't do it, but they will want autographs, so you'd better be prepared with a few dozen,' said Rob, laying out a quire of notepaper, being a hospitable youth and sympathizing with those who admired his mother.
'They can't outdo the girls. At X College I really believe I wrote three hundred during the day I was there, and I left a pile of cards and albums on my table when I came away. It is one of the most absurd and tiresome manias that ever afflicted the world.'
Nevertheless Mrs Jo wrote her name a dozen times, put on her black silk, and resigned herself to the impending call, praying for rain, however, as she returned to her work.
The shower came, and feeling quite secure, she rumpled up her hair, took off her cuffs, and hurried to finish her chapter; for thirty pages a day was her task, and she liked to have it well done before evening. Josie had brought some flowers for the vases, and was just putting the last touches when she saw several umbrellas bobbing down the hill.
'They are coming, Aunty! I see uncle hurrying across the field to receive them,' she called at the stair-foot.
'Keep an eye on them, and let me know when they enter the avenue. It will take but a minute to tidy up and run down,' answered Mrs Jo, scribbling away for dear life, because serials wait for no man, not even the whole Christian Union en masse.
'There are more than two or three. I see half a dozen at least,' called sister Ann from the hall door. 'No! a dozen, I do believe; Aunty, look out; they are all coming! What shall we do?' And Josie quailed at the idea of facing the black throng rapidly approaching.
'Mercy on us, there are hundreds! Run and put a tub in the back entry for their umbrellas to drip into. Tell them to go down the hall and leave them, and pile their hats on the table; the tree won't hold them all. No use to get mats; my poor carpets!' And down went Mrs Jo to prepare for the invasion, while Josie and the maids flew about dismayed at the prospect of so many muddy boots.
On they came, a long line of umbrellas, with splashed legs and flushed faces underneath; for the gentlemen had been having a good time all over the town, undisturbed by the rain. Professor Bhaer met them at the gate, and was making a little speech of welcome, when Mrs Jo, touched by their bedraggled state, appeared at the door, beckoning them in. Leaving their host to orate bareheaded in the wet, the young men hastened up the steps, merry, warm, and eager, clutching off their hats as they came, and struggling with their umbrellas, as the order was passed to march in and stack arms.
Tramp, tramp, tramp, down the hall went seventy-five pairs of boots; soon seventy-five umbrellas dripped sociably in the hospitable tub, while their owners swarmed all over the lower part of the house; and seventy-five hearty hands were shaken by the hostess without a murmur, though some were wet, some very warm, and nearly all bore trophies of the day's ramble. One impetuous party flourished a small turtle as he made his compliments; another had a load of sticks cut from noted spots; and all begged for some memento of Plumfield. A pile of cards mysteriously appeared on the table, with a written request for autographs; and despite her morning vow, Mrs Jo wrote everyone, while her husband and boys did the honours of the house.
Josie fled to the back parlour, but was discovered by exploring youths, and mortally insulted by one of them, who innocently inquired if she was Mrs Bhaer. The reception did not last long, and the end was better than the beginning; for the rain ceased, and a rainbow shone beautifully over them as the good fellows stood upon the lawn singing sweetly for a farewell. A happy omen, that bow of promise arched over the young heads, as if Heaven smiled upon their union, and showed them that above the muddy earth and rainy skies the blessed sun still shone for all. Three cheers, and then away they went, leaving a pleasant recollection of their visit to amuse the family as they scraped the mud off the carpets with shovels and emptied the tub half-full of water.
'Nice, honest, hard-working fellows, and I don't begrudge my half-hour at all; but I must finish, so don't let anyone disturb me till tea-time,' said Mrs Jo, leaving Mary to shut up the house; for papa and the boys had gone off with the guests, and Josie had run home to tell her mother about the fun at Aunt Jo's.
Peace reigned for an hour, then the bell rang and Mary came giggling up to say: 'A queer kind of a lady wants to know if she can catch a grasshopper in the garden.'
'A what?' cried Mrs Jo, dropping her pen with a blot; for of all the odd requests ever made, this was the oddest.
'A grasshopper, ma'am. I said you was busy, and asked what she wanted, and says she: "I've got grasshoppers from the grounds of several famous folks, and I want one from Plumfield to add to my collection." Did you ever?' And Mary giggled again at the idea.
'Tell her to take all there are and welcome. I shall be glad to get rid of them; always bouncing in my face and getting in my dress,' laughed Mrs Jo.
Mary retired, to return in a moment nearly speechless with merriment.
'She's much obliged, ma'am, and she'd like an old gown or a pair of stockings of yours to put in a rug she's making. Got a vest of Emerson's, she says, and a pair of Mr. Holmes's trousers, and a dress of Mrs Stowe's. She must be crazy!'
'Give her that old red shawl, then I shall make a gay show among the great ones in that astonishing rug. Yes, they are all lunatics, these lion-hunters; but this seems to be a harmless maniac, for she doesn't take my time, and gives me a good laugh,' said Mrs Jo, returning to her work after a glance from the window, which showed her a tall, thin lady in rusty black, skipping wildly to and fro on the lawn in pursuit of the lively insect she wanted.
No more interruptions till the light began to fade, then Mary popped her head in to say a gentleman wished to see Mrs Bhaer, and wouldn't take no for an answer.
'He must. I shall not go down. This has been an awful day, and I won't be disturbed again,' replied the harassed authoress, pausing in the midst of the grand finale of her chapter.
'I told him so, ma'am; but he walked right in as bold as brass. I guess he's another crazy one, and I declare I'm 'most afraid of him, he's so big and black, and cool as cucumbers, though I will say he's good-looking,' added Mary, with a simper; for the stranger had evidently found favour in her sight despite his boldness.
'My day has been ruined, and I will have this last half-hour to finish. Tell him to go away; I won't go down,' cried Mrs Jo, fiercely.
Mary went; and listening, in spite of herself, her mistress heard first a murmur of voices, then a cry from Mary, and remembering the ways of reporters, also that her maid was both pretty and timid, Mrs Bhaer flung down her pen and went to the rescue. Descending with her most majestic air she demanded in an awe-inspiring voice, as she paused to survey the somewhat brigandish intruder, who seemed to be storming the staircase which Mary was gallantly defending:
'Who is this person who insists on remaining when I have declined to see him?'
'I'm sure I don't know, ma'am. He won't give no name, and says you'll be sorry if you don't see him,' answered Mary, retiring flushed and indignant from her post.
'Won't you be sorry?' asked the stranger, looking up with a pair of black eyes full of laughter, the flash of white teeth through a long beard, and both hands out as he boldly approached the irate lady.
Mrs Jo gave one keen look, for the voice was familiar; then completed Mary's bewilderment by throwing both arms round the brigand's neck, exclaiming joyfully: 'My dearest boy, where did you come from?'
'California, on purpose to see you, Mother Bhaer. Now won't you be sorry if I go away?' answered Dan, with a hearty kiss.
'To think of my ordering you out of the house when I've been longing to see you for a year,' laughed Mrs Jo, and she went down to have a good talk with her returned wanderer, who enjoyed the joke immensely.