`That will do, I'll comfort Meg while you go and get Laurie. I shall sift the matter to the bottom, and put a stop to such pranks at once.'
Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brooke's real feelings. `Now, dear, what are your own? Do you love him enough to wait till lie can make a home for you, or will you keep yourself quite free for the present?'
`I've been so scared and worried, I don't want to have anything to do with lovers for a long while - perhaps never,' answered Meg, petulantly. `If John doesn't know anything about this nonsense, don't tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their tongues. I won't be deceived and plagued and made a fool of - it's a shame!'
Seeing that Meg's usually gentle temper was roused, and her pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her by promises of entire silence, and great discretion for the future.
The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Meg fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone. Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn't come; but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and stood twirling his hat, with a guilty air which convicted him at once. Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The sound of voices in the parlour rose and fell for half an hour; but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.
When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their mother, with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg received his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that Brooke knew nothing of the joke.
`I'll never tell him to my dying day - wild horses shan't drag it out of me; so you'll forgive me, Meg, and I'll do anything to show how out-and-out sorry I am,' he added, looking very much ashamed of himself.
`I'll try; but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do. I didn't think you could be so sly and malicious, Laurie, replied Meg, trying to hide her maidenly confusion under a gravely reproachful air.
`It was altogether abominable, and I don't deserve to be spoken to for a month; but you will, though, won't you?' and Laurie folded his hands together with such an imploring gesture, as he spoke in his irresistibly persuasive tone, that it was impossible to frown upon him, in spite of his scandalous behaviour. Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. March's grave face relaxed, in spite of her efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declare that he would atone for his sins by all sorts of penances and abase himself like a worm before the injured damsel. Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart against him, and succeeding only in primming up her face into an expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at her once or twice, but, as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done with him, when he made her a low bow, and walked off without a word.
As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving; and when Meg and her mother went upstairs she felt lonely and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time, she yielded to the impulse and, armed with a book to return, went over to the big house.
`Is Mr. Laurence in?' asked Jo, of a housemaid, who was coming downstairs.
`Yes, miss; but I don't believe he's seeable just yet.'
`Why not? is he ill?'
`La, no, miss, but he's had a scene with Mr. Laurie, who is in one of his tantrums about something, which vexes the old gentleman, so I dursn't go nigh him.'
`Where is Laurie?'
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