‘You can,’ he said. And he took Meg’s small hand in his and looked at her lovingly.
‘Oh, please don’t,’ she said, looking frightened.
‘I only want to know if you love me a little, Meg,’ he said gently. ‘I love you so much.’
This was the moment to repeat the words she had told Jo, but Meg forgot them all. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, so softly that John had to move closer to hear her reply.
He smiled gratefully. ‘Will you try to find out?’
‘I’m too young,’ she said, hesitating but feeling her heart beating rather fast.
‘I’ll wait while you learn to like me,’ he said. ‘Will it be very difficult?’
‘Not if I choose to learn,’ she said.
‘Please choose, Meg. I love to teach, and this is easier than German,’ said John, taking her other hand.
She looked at him and saw that he was smiling. He seemed so sure of success that Meg became a little annoyed. She felt excited and strange, and taking her hands away from his, she said, ‘I don’t choose. Please go away!’
Poor Mr Brooke looked shocked. ‘Do you mean that?’
‘Yes,’ she said, rather enjoying the game she was playing. ‘I don’t want to think about these things. It’s too soon.’
‘I’ll wait until you’ve had more time,’ he said, and looked so unhappy that Meg began to feel sorry for him.
It was at this moment that Aunt March came in. She had come to see Mr March and was hoping to surprise the family. She did surprise two of them. Meg, with her face bright red, just stared at her aunt, while Mr Brooke hurried into another room.
‘Goodness me, what’s all this?’ cried Aunt March.
‘It’s Father’s friend,’ said Meg hurriedly. ‘I’m so surprised to see you, Aunt March.’
‘I can see that,’ said Aunt March, sitting down. ‘What has he said to make your face turn pink?’
‘Mr Brooke and I were just… talking,’ said Meg.
‘Brooke? The boy’s tutor? I understand now. I know all about it because I made Jo tell me. You haven’t promised to marry him have you, Meg? If you have, you won’t get one bit of my money, do you hear?’
It was exactly the wrong thing to say. When Meg was ordered not to marry John Brooke, she immediately decided that she would. ‘I’ll marry whoever I want to. Aunt March, and you can give your money to anyone you like!’ she said.
‘You’ll be sorry!’ said Aunt March. ‘Why don’t you marry a rich man to help your family?’
‘Father and Mother like John, although he is poor,’ said Meg.
‘Be sensible, Meg,’ said her aunt. ‘He knows I have money, and that’s why he likes you, I suspect.’
‘Don’t say that!’ said Meg. ‘My John wouldn’t marry for money any more than I would! We’ll work and wait and I’ll be happy with him because he loves me, and-‘
Meg stopped as she remembered that she had told ‘her John’ to go away.
Aunt March was very angry. ‘Just don’t expect anything from me when you are married!’ she said. And she went out of the room, banging the door behind her.
Meg didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Before she could decide, Mr Brooke came back in from the next room and put his arms around her. ‘Oh Meg, I could hear your voices,’ he said. ‘Thank you for proving that you do love me a little.’
‘I didn’t know how much until she said those things about you,’ said Meg.
‘So I can stay, and be happy?’ he said.
‘Yes, John,’ she whispered, and hid her face on John’s chest.
Jo returned and found them like that. Meg jumped and turned round, but John Brooke laughed and kissed the shocked Jo, saying, ‘Sister Jo. Wish us luck!’
Jo ran upstairs to find her parents. ‘Go down quickly!’ she said. ‘John Brooke is behaving terribly and Meg likes it!’
Mr and Mrs March left the room in a hurry, while Jo threw herself on the bed and told the awful news to Beth and Amy. But the little girls thought it was all most interesting and delightful.
Nobody knew what was said that afternoon, but a lot of talking was done. The quiet Mr Brooke managed to persuade his friends that his plans were good and sensible, then he proudly took Meg in to supper. Everyone looked so happy that Jo tried to look pleased too.
After supper, Laurie arrived with some flowers for ‘Mrs John Brooke’, then he followed Jo into the corner of the room while the others went to welcome old Mr Laurence.
‘What’s the matter, Jo?’ said Laurie. ‘You don’t look very happy.’
‘Nothing will ever be the same again,’ said Jo sadly. ‘I’ve lost my dearest friend.’
‘You’ve got me,’ said Laurie. ‘I’m not good for much, but I promise I’ll always be your friend, Jo.’
‘I know you will,’ answered Jo, gratefully.
‘Then don’t be sad,’ he said. ‘I’ll be back from college in three years’ time, and then we’ll go abroad, or on a nice trip somewhere. Wouldn’t that cheer you up?’
‘Anything can happen in three years,’ said Jo.
‘That’s true,’ said Laurie. ‘Don’t you wish you knew what was going to happen?’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Jo. ‘It may be something sad, and everyone looks so happy now.’ As she spoke, she looked round the room, and her face brightened at the sight.
Father and Mother sat happily together. Amy was drawing a picture of Meg and John, who were looking lovingly at each other. Beth lay on the floor, talking to her old friend, Mr Laurence. Jo sat in her favourite chair with a serious, quiet look on her face. Laurie smiled at her in the long mirror that was opposite them both. And Jo smiled back.