His tone was properly beseeching; but, stealing a shy look at him, Meg saw that his eyes were merry as well as tender, and that he wore the satisfied smile of one who had no doubt of his success. This nettled her; Annie Moffat's foolish lessons in coquetry came into her mind, and the love of power, which sleeps in the bosoms of the best of little women, woke up all of a sudden and took possession of her. She felt excited and strange, and, not knowing what to do, followed a capricious impulse, and, withdrawing her hands, said petulantly, `I don't choose. Please go away and let me be!'
Poor Mr. Brooke looked as if his lovely castle in the air was tumbling about his ears, for he had never seen Meg in such a mood before, and it rather bewildered him.
`Do you really mean that?' he asked anxiously, following her as she walked away.
`Yes, I do; I don't want to be worried about such things. Father says I needn't; it's too soon and I'd rather not.'
`Mayn't I hope you'll change your mind by-and-by? I'll wait, and say nothing till you have had more time. Don't play with me, Meg. I didn't think that of you.'
`Don't think of me at all. I'd rather you wouldn't,' said Meg, taking a naughty satisfaction in trying her lover's patience and her own power. He was grave and silent now; and looked decidedly more like the novel heroes whom she admired; but he neither slapped his forehead nor tramped about the room, as they did; he just stood looking at her so wistfully, so tenderly, that she found her heart relenting in spite of her. What would have happened next I cannot say, if Aunt March had not come hobbling in at this interesting minute.
The old lady couldn't resist her longing to see her nephew; for she had met Laurie as she took her airing, and, hearing of Mr. March's arrival, drove straight out to see him. The family were all busy in the back part of the house, and she had made her way quietly in, hoping to surprise them. She did surprise two of them so much that Meg started as if she had seen a ghost, and Mr. Brooke vanished into the study.
`Bless me, what's all this?' cried the old lady, with a rap of her cane, as she glanced from the pale young gentleman to the scarlet young lady.
`It's Father's friend. I'm so surprised to see you!' stammered Meg, feeling that she was in for a lecture now.
`That's evident,' returned Aunt March, sitting down. `But what is Father's friend saying to make you look like a peony? There's mischief going on, and I insist upon knowing what it is,' with another rap.
`We were merely talking. Mr. Brooke came for his umbrella,' began Meg, wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely out of the house.
`Brooke? That boy's tutor? Ah! I understand now. I know all about it. Jo blundered into a wrong message in one of your father's letters, and I made her tell me. You haven't gone and accepted him, child?' cried Aunt March, looking scandalized.
`Hush! he'll hear. Shan't I call Mother?' said Meg, much troubled.
`Not yet. I've something to say to you, and I must free my mind at once. Tell me, do you mean to marry this Cook? If you do, not one penny of my money ever goes to you. Remember that, and be a sensible girl,' said the old lady, impressively.
Now Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing the spirit of opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed doing it. The best of us have a spice of perversity in us, especially when we are young and in love. If Aunt March had begged Meg to accept John Brooke, she would probably have declared she couldn't think of it; but as she was peremptorily ordered not to like him, she immediately made up her
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