and, while Beth and Amy set the table, Meg and Jo got breakfast, wondering, as they did so, why servants ever talked about hard work.
`I shall take some up to Mother, though she said we were not to think of her, for she'd take care of herself,' said Meg, who presided, and felt quite matronly behind the teapot.
So a tray was fitted out before anyone began, and taken up with the cook's compliments. The boiled tea was very bitter, the omelette scorched, and the biscuits speckled with saleratus; but Mrs. March received her repast with thanks, and laughed heartily over it after Jo was gone.
`Poor little souls, they will have a hard time, I'm afraid; but they won't suffer, and it will do them good,' she said, producing the more palatable viands with which she had provided herself, and disposing of the bad breakfast, so that their feelings might not be hurt - a motherly little deception for which they were grateful.
Many were the complaints below, and great the chagrin of the head cook at her failures. `Never mind, I'll get the dinner and be servant; you be mistress, keep your hands nice, see company, and give orders,' said Jo, who knew still less than Meg about culinary affairs.
This obliging offer was gladly accepted; and Margaret retired to the parlour, which she hastily put in order by whisking the litter under the sofa, and shutting the blinds, to save the trouble of dusting. Jo, with perfect faith in her own powers, and a friendly desire to make up the quarrel, immediately put a note in the office, inviting Laurie to dinner.
`You'd better see what you have got before you think about having company,' said Meg, when informed of the hospitable but rash act.
`Oh, there's corned beef and plenty of potatoes; and I shall get some asparagus, and a lobster, "for a relish", as Hannah says. We'll have lettuce, and make a salad. I don't know how, but the book tells. I'll have blancmange and strawberries for dessert; and coffee, too, if you want to be elegant.'
`Don't try too many messes, Jo, for you can't make anything but gingerbread and molasses candy fit to eat. I wash my hands of the dinner-party; and since you have asked Laurie on your own responsibility, you may just take care of him.'
`I don't want you to do anything but be civil to him, and help with the pudding. You'll give me your advice if I get in a muddle, won't you?' asked Jo, rather hurt.
`Yes; but I don't know much, except about bread, and a few trifles. You had better ask Mother's leave before you order anything,' returned Meg, prudently.
`Of course I shall; I'm not a fool,' and Jo went off in a huff at the doubts expressed of her powers.
`Get what you like, and don't disturb me; I'm going out to dinner, and can't worry about things at home,' said Mrs. March, when Jo spoke to her.
`I never enjoyed housekeeping, and I'm going to take a vacation today, and read, and write, go visiting, and amuse myself.'
The unusual spectacle of her busy mother rocking comfortably and reading, early in the morning, made Jo feel as if some natural phenomenon had occurred; for an eclipse, an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption would hardly have seemed stranger.
`Everything is out of sorts somehow,' she said to herself, going downstairs. `There's Beth crying; that's a sure sign that something is wrong with this family. If Amy is bothering, I'll shake her.'
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