“Going home? Ah, you are happy that you haf a home to go in,” he said, when she told him, and sat silently pulling his beard in the corner, while she held a little levee on that last evening.
She was going early, so she bade them all goodbye overnight, and when his turn came, she said warmly, “Now, Sir, you won’t forget to come and see us, if you ever travel our way, will you? I’ll never forgive you if you do, for I want them all to know my friend.”
“Do you? Shall I come?” he asked, looking down at her with an eager expression which she did not see.
“Yes, come next month. Laurie graduates then, and you’d enjoy commencement as something new.”
“That is your best friend, of whom you speak?” he said in an altered tone.
“Yes, my boy Teddy. I’m very proud of him and should like you to see him.”
Jo looked up then, quite unconscious of anything but her own pleasure in the prospect of showing them to one another. Something in Mr. Bhaer’s face suddenly recalled the fact that she might find Laurie more than a ‘best friend’, and simply because she particularly wished not to look as if anything was the matter, she involuntarily began to blush, and the more she tried not to, the redder she grew. If it had not been for Tina on her knee. She didn’t know what would have become of her. Fortunately the child was moved to hug her, so she managed to hide her face an instant, hoping the Professor did not see it. But he did, and his own changed again from that momentary anxiety to its usual expression, as he said cordially . . .
“I fear I shall not make the time for that, but I wish the friend much success, and you all happiness. Gott bless you!” And with that, he shook hands warmly, shouldered Tina, and went away.
But after the boys were abed, he sat long before his fire with the tired look on his face and the ‘heimweh’, or homesickness, lying heavy at his heart. Once, when he remembered Jo as she sat with the little child in her lap and that new softness in her face, he leaned his head on his hands a minute, and then roamed about the room, as if in search of something that he could not find.
“It is not for me, I must not hope it now,” he said to himself, with a sigh that was almost a groan. Then, as if reproaching himself for the longing that he could not repress, he went and kissed the two tousled heads upon the pillow, took down his seldom-used meerschaum, and opened his Plato.
He did his best and did it manfully, but I don’t think he found that a pair of rampant boys, a pipe, or even the divine Plato, were very satisfactory substitutes for wife and child at home.
Early as it was, he was at the station next morning to see Jo off, and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a bunch of violets to keep her company, and best of all, the happy thought, “Well, the winter’s gone, and I’ve written no books, earned no fortune, but I’ve made a friend worth having and I’ll try to keep him all my life.”