For a year Jo and her Professor worked and waited, hoped and loved, met
occasionally, and wrote such voluminous letters that the rise in the
price of paper was accounted for, Laurie said. The second year began
rather soberly, for their prospects did not brighten, and Aunt March
died suddenly. But when their first sorrow was over—for they loved
the old lady in spite of her sharp tongue—they found they had cause
for rejoicing, for she had left Plumfield to Jo, which made all sorts
of joyful things possible.
"It's a fine old place, and will bring a handsome sum, for of course
you intend to sell it," said Laurie, as they were all talking the
matter over some weeks later.
"No, I don't," was Jo's decided answer, as she petted the fat poodle,
whom she had adopted, out of respect to his former mistress.
"You don't mean to live there?"
"Yes, I do."
"But, my dear girl, it's an immense house, and will take a power of
money to keep it in order. The garden and orchard alone need two or
three men, and farming isn't in Bhaer's line, I take it."
"He'll try his hand at it there, if I propose it."
"And you expect to live on the produce of the place? Well, that sounds
paradisiacal, but you'll find it desperate hard work."
"The crop we are going to raise is a profitable one," and Jo laughed.
"Of what is this fine crop to consist, ma'am?"
"Boys. I want to open a school for little lads—a good, happy,
homelike school, with me to take care of them and Fritz to teach them."
"That's a truly Joian plan for you! Isn't that just like her?" cried
Laurie, appealing to the family, who looked as much surprised as he.
"I like it," said Mrs. March decidedly.
"So do I," added her husband, who welcomed the thought of a chance for
trying the Socratic method of education on modern youth.
"It will be an immense care for Jo," said Meg, stroking the head of her
one all-absorbing son.
"Jo can do it, and be happy in it. It's a splendid idea. Tell us all
about it," cried Mr. Laurence, who had been longing to lend the lovers
a hand, but knew that they would refuse his help.
"I knew you'd stand by me, sir. Amy does too—I see it in her eyes,
though she prudently waits to turn it over in her mind before she
speaks. Now, my dear people," continued Jo earnestly, "just understand
that this isn't a new idea of mine, but a long cherished plan. Before
my Fritz came, I used to think how, when I'd made my fortune, and no
one needed me at home, I'd hire a big house, and pick up some poor,
forlorn little lads who hadn't any mothers, and take care of them, and
make life jolly for them before it was too late. I see so many going
to ruin for want of help at the right minute, I love so to do anything
for them, I seem to feel their wants, and sympathize with their
troubles, and oh, I should so like to be a mother to them!"
Mrs. March held out her hand to Jo, who took it, smiling, with tears in
her eyes, and went on in the old enthusiastic way, which they had not
seen for a long while.
"I told my plan to Fritz once, and he said it was just what he would
like, and agreed to try it when we got rich. Bless his dear heart,
he's been doing it all his life—helping poor boys, I mean, not getting
rich, that he'll never be. Money doesn't stay in his pocket long
enough to lay up any. But now, thanks to my good old aunt, who loved
me better than I ever deserved, I'm rich, at least I feel so, and we
can live at Plumfield perfectly well, if we have a flourishing school.
It's just the place for boys, the house is big, and the furniture
strong and plain. There's plenty of room for dozens inside, and
splendid grounds outside. They could help in the garden and orchard.
Such work is healthy, isn't it, sir? Then Fritz could train and teach
in his own way, and Father will help him. I can feed and nurse and pet
and scold them, and Mother will be my stand-by. I've always longed for
lots of boys, and never had enough, now I can fill the house full and
revel in the little dears to my heart's content. Think what luxury—
Plumfield my own, and a wilderness of boys to enjoy it with me."
As Jo waved her hands and gave a sigh of rapture, the family went off
into a gale of merriment, and Mr. Laurence laughed till they thought
he'd have an apoplectic fit.
"I don't see anything funny," she said gravely, when she could be
heard. "Nothing could be more natural and proper than for my Professor
to open a school, and for me to prefer to reside in my own estate."
"She is putting on airs already," said Laurie, who regarded the idea in
the light of a capital joke. "But may I inquire how you intend to
support the establishment? If all the pupils are little ragamuffins,
I'm afraid your crop won't be profitable in a worldly sense, Mrs.
"Now don't be a wet-blanket, Teddy. Of course I shall have rich
pupils, also—perhaps begin with such altogether. Then, when I've got
a start, I can take in a ragamuffin or two, just for a relish. Rich
people's children often need care and comfort, as well as poor. I've
seen unfortunate little creatures left to servants, or backward ones
pushed forward, when it's real cruelty. Some are naughty through
mismanagment or neglect, and some lose their mothers. Besides, the best
have to get through the hobbledehoy age, and that's the very time they
need most patience and kindness. People laugh at them, and hustle them
about, try to keep them out of sight, and expect them to turn all at
once from pretty children into fine young men. They don't complain
much—plucky little souls—but they feel it. I've been through
something of it, and I know all about it. I've a special interest in
such young bears, and like to show them that I see the warm, honest,
well-meaning boys' hearts, in spite of the clumsy arms and legs and the
topsy-turvy heads. I've had experience, too, for haven't I brought up
one boy to be a pride and honor to his family?"
"I'll testify that you tried to do it," said Laurie with a grateful
"And I've succeeded beyond my hopes, for here you are, a steady,
sensible businessman, doing heaps of good with your money, and laying
up the blessings of the poor, instead of dollars. But you are not
merely a businessman, you love good and beautiful things, enjoy them
yourself, and let others go halves, as you always did in the old times.
I am proud of you, Teddy, for you get better every year, and everyone
feels it, though you won't let them say so. Yes, and when I have my
flock, I'll just point to you, and say 'There's your model, my lads'."
Poor Laurie didn't know where to look, for, man though he was,
something of the old bashfulness came over him as this burst of praise
made all faces turn approvingly upon him.
"I say, Jo, that's rather too much," he began, just in his old boyish
way. "You have all done more for me than I can ever thank you for,
except by doing my best not to disappoint you. You have rather cast me
off lately, Jo, but I've had the best of help, nevertheless. So, if
I've got on at all, you may thank these two for it," and he laid one
hand gently on his grandfather's head, and the other on Amy's golden
one, for the three were never far apart.
"I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the
world!" burst out Jo, who was in an unusually up-lifted frame of mind
just then. "When I have one of my own, I hope it will be as happy as
the three I know and love the best. If John and my Fritz were only
here, it would be quite a little heaven on earth," she added more
quietly. And that night when she went to her room after a blissful
evening of family counsels, hopes, and plans, her heart was so full of
happiness that she could only calm it by kneeling beside the empty bed
always near her own, and thinking tender thoughts of Beth.
It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemed to happen
in an unusually rapid and delightful manner. Almost before she knew
where she was, Jo found herself married and settled at Plumfield. Then
a family of six or seven boys sprung up like mushrooms, and flourished
surprisingly, poor boys as well as rich, for Mr. Laurence was
continually finding some touching case of destitution, and begging the
Bhaers to take pity on the child, and he would gladly pay a trifle for
its support. In this way, the sly old gentleman got round proud Jo,
and furnished her with the style of boy in which she most delighted.
Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queer mistakes, but
the wise Professor steered her safely into calmer waters, and the most
rampant ragamuffin was conquered in the end. How Jo did enjoy her
'wilderness of boys', and how poor, dear Aunt March would have lamented
had she been there to see the sacred precincts of prim, well-ordered
Plumfield overrun with Toms, Dicks, and Harrys! There was a sort of
poetic justice about it, after all, for the old lady had been the
terror of the boys for miles around, and now the exiles feasted freely
on forbidden plums, kicked up the gravel with profane boots unreproved,
and played cricket in the big field where the irritable 'cow with a
crumpled horn' used to invite rash youths to come and be tossed. It
became a sort of boys' paradise, and Laurie suggested that it should be
called the 'Bhaer-garten', as a compliment to its master and
appropriate to its inhabitants.
It never was a fashionable school, and the Professor did not lay up a
fortune, but it was just what Jo intended it to be—'a happy, homelike
place for boys, who needed teaching, care, and kindness'. Every room
in the big house was soon full. Every little plot in the garden soon
had its owner. A regular menagerie appeared in barn and shed, for pet
animals were allowed. And three times a day, Jo smiled at her Fritz
from the head of a long table lined on either side with rows of happy
young faces, which all turned to her with affectionate eyes, confiding
words, and grateful hearts, full of love for 'Mother Bhaer'. She had
boys enough now, and did not tire of them, though they were not angels,
by any means, and some of them caused both Professor and Professorin
much trouble and anxiety. But her faith in the good spot which exists
in the heart of the naughtiest, sauciest, most tantalizing little
ragamuffin gave her patience, skill, and in time success, for no mortal
boy could hold out long with Father Bhaer shining on him as
benevolently as the sun, and Mother Bhaer forgiving him seventy times
seven. Very precious to Jo was the friendship of the lads, their
penitent sniffs and whispers after wrongdoing, their droll or touching
little confidences, their pleasant enthusiasms, hopes, and plans, even
their misfortunes, for they only endeared them to her all the more.
There were slow boys and bashful boys, feeble boys and riotous boys,
boys that lisped and boys that stuttered, one or two lame ones, and a
merry little quadroon, who could not be taken in elsewhere, but who was
welcome to the 'Bhaer-garten', though some people predicted that his
admission would ruin the school.
Yes, Jo was a very happy woman there, in spite of hard work, much
anxiety, and a perpetual racket. She enjoyed it heartily and found the
applause of her boys more satisfying than any praise of the world, for
now she told no stories except to her flock of enthusiastic believers
and admirers. As the years went on, two little lads of her own came to
increase her happiness—Rob, named for Grandpa, and Teddy, a
happy-go-lucky baby, who seemed to have inherited his papa's sunshiny
temper as well as his mother's lively spirit. How they ever grew up
alive in that whirlpool of boys was a mystery to their grandma and
aunts, but they flourished like dandelions in spring, and their rough
nurses loved and served them well.
There were a great many holidays at Plumfield, and one of the most
delightful was the yearly apple-picking. For then the Marches,
Laurences, Brookes and Bhaers turned out in full force and made a day
of it. Five years after Jo's wedding, one of these fruitful festivals
occurred, a mellow October day, when the air was full of an
exhilarating freshness which made the spirits rise and the blood dance
healthily in the veins. The old orchard wore its holiday attire.
Goldenrod and asters fringed the mossy walls. Grasshoppers skipped
briskly in the sere grass, and crickets chirped like fairy pipers at a
feast. Squirrels were busy with their small harvesting. Birds
twittered their adieux from the alders in the lane, and every tree
stood ready to send down its shower of red or yellow apples at the
first shake. Everybody was there. Everybody laughed and sang, climbed
up and tumbled down. Everybody declared that there never had been such
a perfect day or such a jolly set to enjoy it, and everyone gave
themselves up to the simple pleasures of the hour as freely as if there
were no such things as care or sorrow in the world.
Mr. March strolled placidly about, quoting Tusser, Cowley, and
Columella to Mr. Laurence, while enjoying...
The gentle apple's winey juice.
The Professor charged up and down the green aisles like a stout
Teutonic knight, with a pole for a lance, leading on the boys, who made
a hook and ladder company of themselves, and performed wonders in the
way of ground and lofty tumbling. Laurie devoted himself to the little
ones, rode his small daughter in a bushel-basket, took Daisy up among
the bird's nests, and kept adventurous Rob from breaking his neck.
Mrs. March and Meg sat among the apple piles like a pair of Pomonas,
sorting the contributions that kept pouring in, while Amy with a
beautiful motherly expression in her face sketched the various groups,
and watched over one pale lad, who sat adoring her with his little
crutch beside him.
Jo was in her element that day, and rushed about, with her gown pinned
up, and her hat anywhere but on her head, and her baby tucked under her
arm, ready for any lively adventure which might turn up. Little Teddy
bore a charmed life, for nothing ever happened to him, and Jo never
felt any anxiety when he was whisked up into a tree by one lad,
galloped off on the back of another, or supplied with sour russets by
his indulgent papa, who labored under the Germanic delusion that babies
could digest anything, from pickled cabbage to buttons, nails, and
their own small shoes. She knew that little Ted would turn up again in
time, safe and rosy, dirty and serene, and she always received him back
with a hearty welcome, for Jo loved her babies tenderly.
At four o'clock a lull took place, and baskets remained empty, while
the apple pickers rested and compared rents and bruises. Then Jo and
Meg, with a detachment of the bigger boys, set forth the supper on the
grass, for an out-of-door tea was always the crowning joy of the day.
The land literally flowed with milk and honey on such occasions, for
the lads were not required to sit at table, but allowed to partake of
refreshment as they liked—freedom being the sauce best beloved by the
boyish soul. They availed themselves of the rare privilege to the
fullest extent, for some tried the pleasing experiment of drinking milk
while standing on their heads, others lent a charm to leapfrog by
eating pie in the pauses of the game, cookies were sown broadcast over
the field, and apple turnovers roosted in the trees like a new style of
bird. The little girls had a private tea party, and Ted roved among
the edibles at his own sweet will.
When no one could eat any more, the Professor proposed the first
regular toast, which was always drunk at such times—"Aunt March, God
bless her!" A toast heartily given by the good man, who never forgot
how much he owed her, and quietly drunk by the boys, who had been
taught to keep her memory green.
"Now, Grandma's sixtieth birthday! Long life to her, with three times
That was given with a will, as you may well believe, and the cheering
once begun, it was hard to stop it. Everybody's health was proposed,
from Mr. Laurence, who was considered their special patron, to the
astonished guinea pig, who had strayed from its proper sphere in search
of its young master. Demi, as the oldest grandchild, then presented
the queen of the day with various gifts, so numerous that they were
transported to the festive scene in a wheelbarrow. Funny presents,
some of them, but what would have been defects to other eyes were
ornaments to Grandma's—for the children's gifts were all their own.
Every stitch Daisy's patient little fingers had put into the
handkerchiefs she hemmed was better than embroidery to Mrs. March.
Demi's miracle of mechanical skill, though the cover wouldn't shut,
Rob's footstool had a wiggle in its uneven legs that she declared was
soothing, and no page of the costly book Amy's child gave her was so
fair as that on which appeared in tipsy capitals, the words—"To dear
Grandma, from her little Beth."
During the ceremony the boys had mysteriously disappeared, and when
Mrs. March had tried to thank her children, and broken down, while
Teddy wiped her eyes on his pinafore, the Professor suddenly began to
sing. Then, from above him, voice after voice took up the words, and
from tree to tree echoed the music of the unseen choir, as the boys
sang with all their hearts the little song that Jo had written, Laurie
set to music, and the Professor trained his lads to give with the best
effect. This was something altogether new, and it proved a grand
success, for Mrs. March couldn't get over her surprise, and insisted on
shaking hands with every one of the featherless birds, from tall Franz
and Emil to the little quadroon, who had the sweetest voice of all.
After this, the boys dispersed for a final lark, leaving Mrs. March and
her daughters under the festival tree.
"I don't think I ever ought to call myself 'unlucky Jo' again, when my
greatest wish has been so beautifully gratified," said Mrs. Bhaer,
taking Teddy's little fist out of the milk pitcher, in which he was
"And yet your life is very different from the one you pictured so long
ago. Do you remember our castles in the air?" asked Amy, smiling as
she watched Laurie and John playing cricket with the boys.
"Dear fellows! It does my heart good to see them forget business and
frolic for a day," answered Jo, who now spoke in a maternal way of all
mankind. "Yes, I remember, but the life I wanted then seems selfish,
lonely, and cold to me now. I haven't given up the hope that I may
write a good book yet, but I can wait, and I'm sure it will be all the
better for such experiences and illustrations as these," and Jo pointed
from the lively lads in the distance to her father, leaning on the
Professor's arm, as they walked to and fro in the sunshine, deep in one
of the conversations which both enjoyed so much, and then to her
mother, sitting enthroned among her daughters, with their children in
her lap and at her feet, as if all found help and happiness in the face
which never could grow old to them.
"My castle was the most nearly realized of all. I asked for splendid
things, to be sure, but in my heart I knew I should be satisfied, if I
had a little home, and John, and some dear children like these. I've
got them all, thank God, and am the happiest woman in the world," and
Meg laid her hand on her tall boy's head, with a face full of tender
and devout content.
"My castle is very different from what I planned, but I would not alter
it, though, like Jo, I don't relinquish all my artistic hopes, or
confine myself to helping others fulfill their dreams of beauty. I've
begun to model a figure of baby, and Laurie says it is the best thing
I've ever done. I think so, myself, and mean to do it in marble, so
that, whatever happens, I may at least keep the image of my little
As Amy spoke, a great tear dropped on the golden hair of the sleeping
child in her arms, for her one well-beloved daughter was a frail little
creature and the dread of losing her was the shadow over Amy's
sunshine. This cross was doing much for both father and mother, for
one love and sorrow bound them closely together. Amy's nature was
growing sweeter, deeper, and more tender. Laurie was growing more
serious, strong, and firm, and both were learning that beauty, youth,
good fortune, even love itself, cannot keep care and pain, loss and
sorrow, from the most blessed for ...
Into each life some rain must fall,<BR>
Some days must be dark and sad and dreary.<BR>
"She is growing better, I am sure of it, my dear. Don't despond, but
hope and keep happy," said Mrs. March, as tenderhearted Daisy stooped
from her knee to lay her rosy cheek against her little cousin's pale
"I never ought to, while I have you to cheer me up, Marmee, and Laurie
to take more than half of every burden," replied Amy warmly. "He never
lets me see his anxiety, but is so sweet and patient with me, so
devoted to Beth, and such a stay and comfort to me always that I can't
love him enough. So, in spite of my one cross, I can say with Meg,
'Thank God, I'm a happy woman.'"
"There's no need for me to say it, for everyone can see that I'm far
happier than I deserve," added Jo, glancing from her good husband to
her chubby children, tumbling on the grass beside her. "Fritz is
getting gray and stout. I'm growing as thin as a shadow, and am
thirty. We never shall be rich, and Plumfield may burn up any night,
for that incorrigible Tommy Bangs will smoke sweet-fern cigars under
the bed-clothes, though he's set himself afire three times already.
But in spite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing to complain of,
and never was so jolly in my life. Excuse the remark, but living among
boys, I can't help using their expressions now and then."
"Yes, Jo, I think your harvest will be a good one," began Mrs. March,
frightening away a big black cricket that was staring Teddy out of
"Not half so good as yours, Mother. Here it is, and we never can thank
you enough for the patient sowing and reaping you have done," cried Jo,
with the loving impetuosity which she never would outgrow.
"I hope there will be more wheat and fewer tares every year," said Amy
"A large sheaf, but I know there's room in your heart for it, Marmee
dear," added Meg's tender voice.
Touched to the heart, Mrs. March could only stretch out her arms, as if
to gather children and grandchildren to herself, and say, with face and
voice full of motherly love, gratitude, and humility...
"Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a
greater happiness than this!"
End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott