In their old-fashioned New England home the little women lived with Mrs. March, their brisk and cheery mother, who always had a "can-I-help-you" look about her, and whom her four girls lovingly called "Marmee."
Pretty Meg, the oldest, was sixteen, and already showed domestic tastes and talents, though she detested the drudgery of house-hold work; and, a little vain ofher white hands, longed at heart to be a fine lady. Jo, fifteen, was tall, thin, and coltish, and gloried in an unconcealed scorn of polite conventions. Beth, thirteen, was a lovable little thing, shy, fond of her dolls and devoted to music, which she tried hopefully to pro-duce from the old, jingling tin pan of a piano. Amy, twelve, considered herself the flower of the family. An adorable blonde,she admitted that the trial of her life was her nose. For, when she was a baby, Jo had accidentally dropped her into the coal-hod and permanently flattened that feature, and though poor Amy slept with a patent clothes-pin pinching it, she couldn't attain the Grecian effect she so much desired.
Father March was an army chaplain in the Civil War, and in his absence Jo declared her-self to be theman of the family. To add to their slender income, she went every day to read to Aunt March, a peppery old lady; and Meg, too, earned a small salary as daily nursery governess to a neighbor's children.
In the big house next door to the Marches lived a rich old gentleman, Mr. Laurence, and his grandson, a jolly, chummy boy called Laurie. Though awe-inspiring at first, Mr. Laurence proved bothkindly and generous, and even timid Beth mustered up courage to go over to the "Palace Beautiful" at twilight and play softly on the grand piano there. But, as she confessed to her mother, when she began she was so frightened her feet chattered on the floor!
The night Laurie took the two older girls to the theater, Amy, though not invited, in- sisted on going too. Jo crossly declared shewouldn't go if Amy did, and, furiously scolding her little sister, she slammed the door and went off, as Amy called out: "You'll be sorry for this, Jo March ! See if you ain't!" The child made good her threat by burning up the manuscript of a precious book which Jo had written and on which she had spent three years of hard work. There was a terrible fracas, and, though at her mother's bidding Amy madecontrite apology, Jo re-fused to be pacified. It was only when poor little Amy was nearly drowned by falling through the ice that conscience-stricken Jo forgave her sister and learned a much-needed lesson of self-control.
Meg, too, learned a salutary lesson when she went to visit some fashionable friends and had her first taste of "Vanity Fair." Her sisters gladly lent her all their bestthings, and, as she said to Jo : "You're a dear to lend me your gloves! I feel so rich and elegant with two new pairs and the old ones cleaned up for common!" Yet she soon saw that her wardrobe was sadly inadequate to the environment in which she found herself. Whereupon the rich friends lent her some of their own finery; and, after laughingly applying paint and powder, they laced her into a sky-bluesilk dress, so low that modest Meg blushed at herself in the mirror, and Laurie, who was at the party, openly expressed his surprised disapproval. Chagrin and remorse followed, and it was not until after full confession to Marmee that Meg realized the trumpery value of fashion-able rivalry and the real worth of simplicity and contentment.
All four of the girls had leanings toward a life ofluxury and ease, and when Mrs. March smilingly proposed that they try a whole week of "all play and no work," they agreed eagerly. But the experiment was a miserable failure; and after mortifying scenes at a company luncheon, a canary-bird dead from negleet, several slight illnesses and lost tempers, the girls decided that lounging and larking didn't pay.
Now John Brooke, the tutor of Laurie, was...