Christmas Day was very different that year. Beth felt much better and was carried to the window to see the snowman which Jo and Laurie had made. It had a basket of fruit and flowers in one hand and a new piece of music in the other. Laurie ran up and down, bringing in the presents, and Jo sang a funny song.
‘I’m so happy!’ laughed Beth, as Jo carried her back to the other room to rest after the fun. ‘Oh, I do wish that Father was here too!’
Half an hour later, Laurie came to the house and opened the door quietly. ‘Here’s another Christmas present for the March family!’ he called out.
He moved away, and in his place appeared a tall man holding the arm of another tall man, who tried to say something but couldn’t.
‘Father!’ cried Meg and Jo together — and Mr March disappeared under lots of loving arms and kisses. Mr Brooke kissed Meg — by mistake, as he tried to explain.
Suddenly, the door to the other room opened, and there was Beth, running straight into her father’s arms. There were tears of happiness on many faces before all the excitement died down. Then Mrs March thanked Mr Brooke for taking care of her husband, and he and Laurie left the family to themselves.
Mr March and Beth sat in one big armchair, and the others sat around them. ‘I wanted to surprise you all, and the doctor let Mr Brooke bring me home,’ said Mr March. ‘John has been so good to me. He is an excellent young man.’ Mr March looked at Meg, who was staring at the fire, then he smiled at his wife. She smiled back. Jo understood exactly what the smiles were saying, and went out to the kitchen complaining to herself about ‘excellent young men with brown eyes!’
There never was a Christmas dinner like the one they had that day. Mr Laurence and his grandson ate with them, and so did Mr Brooke. Jo gave the tutor many black looks and would not speak to him, which amused Laurie.
The guests left early and the happy family sat together around the fire.
‘A year ago we were complaining about the awful Christmas we expected to have, do you remember?’ said Jo.
‘It’s been quite a good year,’ said Meg, thinking about Mr Brooke.
‘I think it’s been a hard one,’ said Amy.
‘I’m glad it’s over, because we’ve got Father back,’ whispered Beth, who was sitting on his knee.
‘I’ve discovered several things about you young ladies today,’ said Mr March.
‘Oh, tell us what they are!’ cried Meg.
‘Here’s one,’ he said, taking her hand. It had a small bum on the back and two or three little hard places on the front.
‘I remember when this hand was white and smooth. It was pretty then, but to me it’s much prettier now. I’m proud of this hard-working hand, Meg.’
‘What about Jo?’ whispered Beth. ‘She’s tried so hard, and has been very, very good to me.’
He smiled and looked at Jo sitting opposite. ‘Her hair may be short, but I see a young lady now. Her face is thin and white from worrying, but it has grown gentler. Perhaps I’ll miss my wild girl, but I’m sure I’ll love the warm-hearted woman who has taken her place.’
Jo’s face was red in the firelight as she listened.
‘Now Beth,’ said Amy.
‘She’s not as shy as she used to be,’ said her father lovingly, and he held Beth close when he remembered how near they had come to losing her. Then he looked down at Amy by his feet. ‘I’ve noticed today that Amy has helped everyone patiently and with a smile. She’s learned to think more about other people, and less about herself.’
Beth moved out of her father’s arms and went to the piano. She touched the keys softly and began to sing. Soon, the others joined her in a happy Christmas song.
The next afternoon, Jo and Meg were sitting at the window when Laurie went by. When he saw Meg, he fell on one knee in the snow, beat his chest, and put out his arms towards her. When Meg told him to go away, he pretended to cry before walking away looking miserable.
Meg laughed. ‘What was he doing?’ she said.
‘He was showing you how your John will act,’ answered Jo, crossly.
‘Don’t say my John, it isn’t right.’ But Meg said the words again silently inside her head.
‘If he asks you to marry him, you’ll cry or look stupid, instead of saying a loud No,’ said Jo.
‘No, I won’t,’ said Meg. ‘I’ll say, «Thank you, Mr Brooke, you are very kind, but I am too young to marry you. Please let us be friends, as we were.'»
‘I don’t believe it,’ said Jo.
‘It’s true. Then I’ll walk out of the room with my head high.’ Meg got up and pretended to do it — but ran back to her seat when she heard someone knock on the door.
Jo opened it with an angry look.
‘Good afternoon,’ said Mr Brooke. ‘I came to get my umbrella, which I left behind yesterday.’
‘I’ll get it,’ said Jo, pushing past him. ‘Now Meg can tell him,’ she thought.
But Meg was moving to the door. ‘I expect Mother will want to see you,’ she said. ‘I’ll call her.’
‘Don’t go,’ he said. ‘Are you afraid of me, Meg?’
‘How can I be afraid when you’ve been so kind to Father,’ said Meg. ‘I wish I could thank you for it.’