Whatever his motive might have been, Laurie studied to some purpose that year, for he graduated with honor, and gave the Latin oration with the grace of a Phillips and the eloquence of a Demosthenes, so his friends said. They were all there, his grandfather—oh, so proud—Mr. and Mrs. March, John and Meg, Jo and Beth, and all exulted over him with the sincere admiration which boys make light of at the time, but fail to win from the world by any after-triumphs.
“I’ve got to stay for this confounded supper, but I shall be home early tomorrow. You’ll come and meet me as usual, girls?” Laurie said, as he put the sisters into the carriage after the joys of the day were over. He said ‘girls’, but he meant Jo, for she was the only one who kept up the old custom. She had not the heart to refuse her splendid, successful boy anything, and answered warmly . . .
“I’ll come, Teddy, rain or shine, and march before you, playing ‘Hail the conquering hero comes’ on a jew’s-harp.”
Laurie thanked her with a look that made her think in a sudden panic, “Oh, deary me! I know he’ll say something, and then what shall I do?”
Evening meditation and morning work somewhat allayed her fears, and having decided that she wouldn’t be vain enough to think people were going to propose when she had given them every reason to know what her answer would be, she set forth at the appointed time, hoping Teddy wouldn’t do anything to make her hurt his poor feelings. A call at Meg’s, and a refreshing sniff and sip at the Daisy and Demijohn, still further fortified her for the tete-a-tete, but when she saw a stalwart figure looming in the distance, she had a strong desire to turn about and run away.
“Where’s the jew’s-harp, Jo?” cried Laurie, as soon as he was within speaking distance.
“I forgot it.” And Jo took heart again, for that salutation could not be called lover-like.
She always used to take his arm on these occasions, now she did not, and he made no complaint, which was a bad sign, but talked on rapidly about all sorts of faraway subjects, till they turned from the road into the little path that led homeward through the grove. Then he walked more slowly, suddenly lost his fine flow of language, and now and then a dreadful pause occurred. To rescue the conversation from one of the wells of silence into which it kept falling, Jo said hastily, “Now you must have a good long holiday!”
“I intend to.”
Something in his resolute tone made Jo look up quickly to find him looking down at her with an expression that assured her the dreaded moment had come, and made her put out her hand with an imploring, “No, Teddy. Please don’t!”
“I will, and you must hear me. It’s no use, Jo, we’ve got to have it out, and the sooner the better for both of us,” he answered, getting flushed and excited all at once.