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Seasons Change

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As the seasons change, so too both sorrow and joy came to Plumfield and its neighbors in turn. Daisy and Nat were married, and old Mr. March lived just long enough to see his great-grandson take his first steps. Bess became engaged to a young man who was everything her parents might wish for her. Young Ted declared his resolution to become a minister and surprised his family mightily by knuckling down to his studies. Laurie was a widower now, Amy having been reunited with Marmee and Beth once more.

Professor Bhaer likewise departed on that last journey which all must take. He was mourned by his wife, his sons and nephews and the many students whose lives he had touched over the years. Although Jo knew she would miss her husband and help-meet greatly, his illness had been of long duration, and all any of the family could do was to give thanks that he was at peace at last. She also had the comfort of her many boys and girls, who persisted in getting into scrapes which only dear Mother Bhaer could solve for them.

In the first days, indeed, there was something of a dwindling of applications for her advice, as her boys chose not to bother her in her grief. But soon each in his own way began to see that Jo needed to be needed, that her life was fullest when it was most useful, and soon they came to her again.

Jo soon busied herself with writing letters of recommendation, worrying about the state of Ted’s collars, soothing bruised hearts and wounded pride, and was happy and grateful to be able to do so. But of all her boys there were two who gave her the most concern.

The first was Dan. He had not managed to return for the funeral, but came as soon as he could to pay his respects. He would have been away again immediately, but that on finding he had no fixed employment to hurry back for, no friends or family waiting for his return, Jo had pressed him to stay. Now she began to wonder whether she had been too hasty and selfish in wishing him to stay. There was a restlessness about him still for which she despaired of finding any cure.

The second was her oldest boy of all. Grief and age had given Laurie’s once-boyish face new lines and a more sombre expression. His one comfort was his daughter, who had deferred her marriage to remain at Parnassus with him even after she had stopped wearing black for her beloved mother, but was now planning for her wedding with all the anticipation that a young bride-to-be ought to exhibit. It seemed right to Jo that Laurie should grieve for her sister, but it pained her too to see him unhappy, unable to find solace in his charitable work or even his music.

*

Between the efforts of Aunt Jo and Aunt Meg and an assortment of cousins and bridesmaids, Bess was married. It had been a matter of some consternation amongst them who ought to speak to Bess about married life in the absence of her mother. Jo feared Meg would be too delicate, while Meg feared Jo would not be delicate enough. In the end the aunts agreed that no-one could be trusted to be both sensible and delicate so well as Alice, and the matter was settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

The wedding was both simple and elegant and nobody present could disapprove of anything. There were smiles and tears in all the right places and the happy couple left for their honeymoon journey to Europe with everybody’s good wishes ringing in their ears.

Josie clutched the bouquet to her chest ecstatically as her mother ushered her back inside, leaving Jo and Laurie the last ones standing on the steps.

“And so my little bird has flown the nest,” Laurie said wistfully.

“As all birds do,” Jo told him. “But often you find that they return to roost nearby.”

“Amy would have been proud of her,” Laurie said.

“She would have been proud of you, too.” Jo said, tucking her arm in his as they followed the rest of the guests back inside.

“Dan looks well,” Laurie said. The wanderer in question was smiling at something Rob was saying, as Josie egged Ted on to dance with her beside them.

“Restless as ever,” Jo told him. She had been rather afraid of Dan’s old fancy, that seeing his Aslauga wed and gone away might plunge him into the slough of despond, but he seemed merry enough that she could detect no alarming symptoms of pining for Bess. “I’ve concocted my own prescription for his cure, though.”

“Oh?”

“A large dose of Nan and her good sense, to start with.”

“I hope you are not in the business of matchmaking, Jo,” Laurie cautioned.

“Goodness me, no,” Jo assured him. “A small dose of Ted, who is still devoted to his friend - for Teddy is best taken in small doses, you know.”

“Of course,” Laurie laughed. “And a dose of Jo, the very best sort of tonic for any ailment.”

“Don’t be gallant, Teddy, it doesn’t suit you,” Jo said, rapping him smartly with her fan. “Lastly a dose of Rob. You might think them an unlikely pair, but I think there’s something in Rob’s gentle nature which does Dan good. They’ve become quite good friends these past few weeks.”

Rob, now nearly twenty and studying at the college on the hill, had grown from a tender-hearted boy to a steady young man, wise beyond his years and always ready to stand up in defense of anyone who needed it. After some time in Teddy’s rather boisterous company, Dan always seemed glad for an hour’s respite to sit and talk with Rob, or to have Rob read aloud to them in the evenings.

“Well let us hope this cure proves effective,” Laurie said.

 

*

Although she had promised to make no attempt at matchmaking, privately Jo thought it would be no bad thing if Nan and Dan could make their minds up to one another. Laurie had offered Jo the use of the carriage for although it was not far, it was late. As Dan handed Nan in, however, she began to wish she had gone ahead with Rob and Ted, rather than playing gooseberry.

“How pretty Bess looked,” Nan observed as they drove off.

“She’s an angel,” was Dan’s prompt response.

“I suppose you think that gallant, but I assure you no woman wishes to be thought of as an angel, but as a rational, thinking creature,” said Nan scolded him. “However fine her dress!”

“I’m afraid I can’t help but agree,” said Jo. “It does no good to put anyone on a pedestal, man or woman. We are none of us angels but only human beings doing the best we can in this life. Far better to discover one another’s faults and help each other overcome them.”

“Ah, but some of us have more faults than others, and not so easily overcome,” Dan said. His tone was light, almost teasing, but there was a melancholy sigh that followed the words which gave Jo a pang of misgiving for her firebrand, as she must always think of him.

“The more faults, the more praise ought to be given. To be faultless would be an easy life indeed, but to recognize our faults and overcome as many as we can, ought to be the model for living. Alas, of course it is never so easy, but here at least you know you will be given credit where it is due.”

“And I am grateful for it,” Dan said, with a bow in her direction.

*

Mrs Jo was not, perhaps, as subtle as she might have liked to believe in her wishes for Dan and Nan. Dan himself had been turning over the idea in his mind for some time. Lately the idea of having someone as a companion, a friend, an equal had begun to acquire a certain charm. Dan’s life was a lonely one, but he had not always been alone. The brief passions he had known had always had something of a hurried, shamed quality to them, and he wanted to strive for something more solid and pure, even if it would never be the love of stories.

Nan, it seemed, would suit him in many ways. She had expressed before an interest in life out West, and would have more opportunities as a married woman than a spinster.

All this he put to Nan one evening when they were walking alone in the grounds of Plumfield.

“Well” said Nan, “that’s not the first proposal I’ve ever received but it’s probably the least romantic.”

Dan hadn’t taken her for a romantic sort of girl, and said so.

“Oh, no, you’re quite right. In fact I think it’s by far the best way to go about things, business like and with no nonsense. But since you’ve been frank with me, I’ll be frank with you, too. I can’t possibly marry you, or anybody else. The fact is, I’m perfectly happy as I am. I’m afraid a husband would only get in the way. To speak plainly, I feel myself particularly unsuited for all that marriage might demand.”

Dan was a man of the world and could not mistake her meaning.

“We could live together as brother and sister” he persisted. “I’d never make any kind of demand that you were uncomfortable with.”

Nan shook her head.

“That would never do, I’m afraid. Don’t you see that there would be something dishonest in it? Besides, I value my independence too much to be tied to anyone.” Nan folded her arms in the sort of unladylike way people had vainly tried to school her out of as a girl. “To be perfectly honest,” she said, “I’d have thought you might feel yourself peculiarly unsuited to marriage, too.”

Dan couldn’t quite meet her eyes. There was a directness to them which seemed to penetrate right through to the darkest secrets of his soul. He crossed his arms, as if in doing so he might be able to prevent her seeing through him.

“It cannot have escaped your notice that I am not what women most desire in a husband.”

“Oh fiddlesticks,” Nan said heartily. “Women frequently exhibit poor judgment in these matters. Many of them marry specimens much worse than yourself,” she informed him. “But I was speaking of what you might desire. Can you see yourself sat by a fireside with a woman knitting beside you? Can you see yourself lying next to her in bed?”

“Nan, really!”

“Oh, Dan, I would have thought you unshockable. Never mind. I don’t require you to be honest with me, you know. But I do implore you to be honest with yourself.”

He had no answer for her, grateful only that dusk had fallen low enough to mask the color in his cheeks, and Nan made her farewells without another word on the subject.

*

That afternoon Rob had taken Dan, with Teddy tagging along as a matter of course, to visit one of his friends, a fellow student at the college, who was speaking on his experiences in fleeing injustices in the south.

No sooner had the three boys left than Nan arrived, in something of a fluster, relieved to find Mother Bhaer alone in her parlor.

“I’m sorry,” Nan said, taking in Jo’s ink-stained fingers, “were you writing? I don’t mean to disturb you.”

“Not at all, it’s only a letter to Emil and Mary,” Jo said. “What brings you here? No patients this afternoon?”

“I’m just returning from a visit to Daisy’s youngest,” Nan explained. “Nothing to alarm, just a touch of colic. But really, I’ve come to ask for your advice.” She hesitated. “I’d rather you didn’t tell him I’ve told you, but Dan asked me to marry me last night.”

Jo sat bolt upright.

“My dear girl!”

“I refused him, of course,” Nan added hastily, and Jo sat back in her chair again.

“Oh Nan, are you sure?”

“I’m quite sure we wouldn’t suit,” Nan said firmly. “I like Dan very much as a friend, but that’s all we’ll ever be to each other. I only hope we can still be friends.”

“It is a hard thing to refuse a man of whom you are fond,” Jo sighed, with all the authority of an intimate knowledge of just such a predicament. “But if you are sure you would not suit, it must be done.”

Nan raised one eyebrow and a little heat came to Jo’s cheeks.

“Oh, it was long before I met Friedrich,” she said fondly. “I have often thought of what would have been if I had accepted him then, but I cannot make it come out any way but a disaster for us both.”

“If you had accepted him then?” Nan pressed gently.

“Oh, well older and wiser we might have made it work.” Jo paused, gazing out of the window at something, although Nan couldn’t see what. “I don’t have any regrets,” she said firmly.

“Nor should you,” Nan said, “if you have lived in a way which is honest and true to yourself. There, I’ve not forgotten all the lessons which you and the Professor taught me.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Jo said with a fond smile.

 

*

“What are you reading?” Dan asked one evening, leaning over Rob’s shoulder as he studied a thick leather bound volume.

“The Iliad,” Rob replied, “I’m making a study of the Ancient Greeks this term.”

“Rob, really, no studying after supper” Jo chided him for her place by the fire. “You’ll strain your eyes not to mention your brain.”

“No more than reading by firelight,” Rob replied.

“I’d rather you did read aloud, it would be more sociable.”

“It’d be more sociable if he didn’t,” snorted Ted, whose diligence in his own studies had its limits, which were almost always reached by suppertime.

“I’d like to hear some,” Dan said. “What is it all about?”

“This part’s about Achilles, the great hero, who refuses to fight. But then his friend Patroclus is killed.”

“Very well then, give us Achilles and Patroclus,” said Dan, who although he did not relish tales of fighting and killing since his unhappy time in prison, could bear to hear them now without betraying himself.

Rob read aloud, his voice low and sonorous. Jo smiled to see how attentive Dan was to this story of love and loyalty between long-ago warriors.

“I liked that very much,” Dan said as Rob drew the story to a close.

“I’m glad,” Rob said, smiling at him, “it’s a favorite of mine.”

Ted sighed impatiently.

“Dan, do come over to Weston’s with me tomorrow and help me look over this horse.”

“Buying a horse?”

“Mother said I might. Please, Dan, no-one knows about horses like you.”

“Very well then. Rob, you could come too.”

“Yes,” said Rob, to his mother’s surprise and his younger brother’s irritation, “I think I’d like that.”

Jo began to feel satisfied that her cure was working.

*

Laurie was not as frequent visitor to Plumfield as Jo would have liked. She feared that she had neglected him, so busy she had been with her other boys. So she made up her mind to call on him at Parnassus and invite him round for dinner.

“A good family dinner,” she declared. “I’ll ask Meg and Demi and Alice and I’m sure Daisy can leave the baby for one night.”

“That sounds delightful,” Laurie said. “And in return, you must all come to the concert I am giving.”

“A concert?” Jo cried. “Oh that’s a marvelous idea. I haven’t heard Nat play in ever such a long time.”

“Well you shall have your opportunity,” Laurie smiled. “I must have some occupation, with Bess gone, and what better than to be championing our bright young musicians. Only a small affair, such as can be rustled up at a week’s notice, but by and by we will have something grander, I’m sure.”

“I’m so pleased, Teddy,” Jo said, shaking his hand spontaneously. “You know I was worried about you rattling around in this big house all by yourself but I see now that I needn’t have been.”

His expression grew serious all at once and Jo regretted having said anything.

!I suppose I have been rattling, rather,” he said a little sadly. “Jo, will you come and play hostess and help me with the preparations next week? I hardly know what to do about ordering refreshments. ”

“Of course I’ll help, Teddy, you know you have only to ask.”

 

*

 

“They’re different to the fellows I’m used to out West,” Dan said, when Nan asked how he got on with the college students. “They’re just so earnest and well, green. It gives me an itch and no mistake.”

“You don’t care for their society?”

“Some of ‘em,” Dan said, gruffly, turning over a curious skeleton on one of Nan’s shelves.

“I’ve a book here I thought might interest you,” Nan said casually.

“You know I’m not much of a reading man,” Dan shrugged, as he took the book, but he leafed through the pages curiously. He frowned at something within and his brows knitted together furiously. “What is this?” he asked, voice dangerously still.

Nan drew herself up.

“Information,” she said.

“I’m not - this isn’t -- how did you --” his protests faltered as he sank down into the chair opposite her, sinking his head into his hands.

“I wanted to show you you’re not alone in this.”

“Well, I knew that much,” he said, a little bitterly. “I haven’t lead a spotless life.”

“I see,” she said.

“Don’t you think -- don’t you know how I’ve struggled with this? If you know what -- if you knew --”

“I know more than you think, and I’m telling you that nobody has to struggle alone.”

“I never should have stayed so long,” Dan said, furious. He shook his head. “I’ll leave by the end of the week,” he said in a voice of steely determination.

“You’re running away?” Nan asked, exasperated, “do you really think that will solve anything?”

“Not for me, perhaps. But for him.”

Everything was still following this anguished outburst.

“I didn’t realize there was someone particular.” Nan rocked back in her chair. “Someone you love?” she asked quietly.

Dan closed his eyes against the word, or against Nan’s quiet understanding.

“Don’t be kind to me, I don’t deserve it.”

“Everyone deserves kindness,” Nan said, as if there could be no argument about it.

“If you knew --” Dan looked at her with haunted eyes. “It’s the worst kind of betrayal, after everything Mother Jo has done for me, to repay her in this way.” He got to his feet, agitated. “You say love but if I had any good or true feelings I would leave at once, before he could even suspect, before any of them could. It’s been nothing but base self-indulgence to stay so long.”

“Dan --” Nan called after him, but he was gone.

*

“I don’t know how I would have got this done without your help,” Laurie admitted as Jo put the finishing touches to the program. “I’m afraid I rather bit off more than I could chew.”

“Well, luckily you had me to help,” Jo said cheerfully, pleased to be useful.

“We make a good team, don’t we?” Laurie said, a note of wistfulness in his voice.

“We do.”

“I was thinking about what you said, last week.”

“What was that?” Jo asked absently, intent on her work.

“About me rattling about in the house all by myself. And I was thinking, I needn’t, not if I had someone to share it with.”

“But who?” Jo asked, perplexed, setting down her pen. “Are you thinking of taking in a foundling? Or a dog, perhaps. I can just see you with a big Newfoundland trotting along at your heels.”

“I was thinking of a companion. A wife.” Laurie seized her hand. “Jo.”

“Oh no. Oh no, Teddy, you can’t mean it.”

“Why not? Why should we both be lonely, when we could be company for one another?”

“We’ve both of us company enough if we choose to invite it,” Jo said, withdrawing her hand, distressed. “Why should anything change? Leave Plumfield and live with you here, for what?”

“For love?” Laurie suggested. Jo’s heart, that traitorous organ, began to beat rapidly.

“Teddy I thought we were done with this long ago.”

“And so we were! I loved Amy, as I know you loved your professor.” Laurie's face grew handsomer as he became more animated. “I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it weren’t for her love and guidance. I am the richer for it. But she is gone, and I don’t think it any betrayal of her memory, their memories, for us to find some comfort in each other now.”

“Teddy, I don’t know what to say,” Jo said, her head muddled and her heart overfull.

“Then don’t say anything,” Laurie said, and leaned in slowly, carefully to kiss her. For a moment she let him, a sweet, heady taste of love like strong wine.

Then suddenly she drew away, scrambling to her feet and fled, running full tilt over the hill and down to Plumfield, as though Laurie’s kiss had made a girl of her again.

 

*

 

Dan had his case packed, a note to Mrs Jo written and sealed inside an envelope, saying only that he had the hunger to wander once more, thanking her for everything and promising to write. He wasn’t sure whether he could keep that promise, but nor was he sure that he could bear not to, to cut himself off from Plumfield forever.

He knew he couldn’t speak to Ted if he wished to slip off quietly, without fuss, and he didn’t know if he had the strength to speak to Rob without betraying something of what he felt, or giving in to the least entreaty to stay. So he paused only for a moment in the doorway, fixing in his mind the tableaux of Rob sitting reading at the table, face made more handsome by the earnestness of his expression, before turning to go.

He might have made a clean break of it, if it hadn’t been for the fact that as he was leaving he crashed, quite literally, into a person running in the opposite direction.

“Mrs Bhaer?” he asked, confused, feeling he had forfeited his right to call her mother. She was out of breath and wild eyed, cap askew. “Whatever is the matter?”

“Nothing,” she said, cheeks flushed with exertion, as he extended a hand to help her to her feet. “Only that I am a foolish old woman.”

“Hardly old,” Dan assured her, and indeed there was a brightness in her eyes that made her seem quite youthful.

“But what is this?” she asked, eyeing his pack and hat. “Dan, you are not running away?”

“Well, maybe I am,” he said. “What you were doing?”

Jo stared at him a full minute, then burst out laughing until her sides ached.

“I suppose I was running away, too. Oh Dan, what a pair we make!”

Somehow after that he could not bring himself to leave, instead he offered her his arm and escorted her back to Plumfield. If either of Jo’s boys noticed his packed bags, they didn’t mention it.

*

It seemed to Jo that it was a topsy-turvy thing that she, a widowed woman of some forty years, should be coming to a young unmarried woman for advice on a proposal, but perhaps such was the way of the world these days. She felt she could hardly ask Meg’s advice, and knew of no-one else so sensible as Nan. After Nan’s steadfast refusals of both Tommy and Dan, she felt that she could trust her to advise her on a robust rebuttal of misplaced affections at least.

Nan was very pleased to see her and offered her tea, while Jo poured out the whole sorry tale.

“I’m not sure,” said Nan when she had finished, “whether you seem crosser at the idea of his asking you to marry him without loving you, or at the idea that he might actually love you!”

“Well,” Jo said, “I’m not sure which is worse. The first is more understandable, but I could never consent to it. There would be no need for us to marry unless it was for love. But can he really love me?”

“He loved you once before.”

Jo sighed.

“I thought at the time that he was just confusing friendship for love, but what if I was wrong? What if it was me who confused love for friendship?”
“Does it matter now?”

“No,” Jo said at last. “No, it wouldn’t change anything. Either way it would never have worked out then. We were too alike, both too headstrong.”

“And now?” Nan prompted.

“Well, now we are different, it’s true. Older and wiser. Up until yesterday I thought wiser, at least.” Jo laughed nervously.

“And older and wiser, could you love him?” Nan asked.

Jo opened her mouth to reply but the answer would not come.

*

 

“I hope you won’t monopolize Dan tonight,” Ted said, scuffing his shoes in a way which was sure to earn him a rebuke from his mother later (although she could never remember her own shoes at sixteen and be entirely serious in her scolding).

“Whatever do you mean, Ted?” Rob said, attempting to look seriously at his younger brother in the same way as their father had been used to do.

“He was my friend first!” Ted said, a hint of petulance in his voice. Rob sighed, reminded of a time when they were small when Ted had had a wooden horse which Rob had loved, simply because he had made more of a demonstration of his affection for it.

“He’s your friend still, Teddy,” Rob said. “Just because I -- just because he’s my friend too now.”

The arrival of their mother cut short their conversation,

“Hurry up, we shall be late and Daisy will never forgive us if we are still shuffling to our places during Nat’s performance!”

The guests were already assembled as the Bhaers arrived. Dan, who had come straight from town, nodded at them from across the room. Jo had been too wrapped up in her own latest scrape to get to the bottom of Dan’s sudden desire to leave, or to notice the way her oldest son’s eyes followed Dan’s handsome profile as he moved about the room.

Jo could see that Laurie was talking to a couple of the young women from the college, musical students. One of them was paying him particular attention, gazing at him with unabashed admiration and it struck Jo that he was still a very handsome man, a very eligible man, and that nobody would think it surprising that he might wish to remarry. She didn’t think that Laurie was the type to fall prey to the flattery of a much younger woman, as some men did, but if she had scorned him, it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t marry somebody else. There was no guarantee that they would be able to go on in the comfortable way they did now.

As if he felt her gaze, Laurie turned, his eyes meeting hers. Jo felt a jolt of something she hadn’t expected to feel again. Almost at once he looked away again, and Jo couldn’t help but feel a little bereft.

They were called to their places, and the music began. Jo took up the program and saw the words in her own hand, but could hardly make sense of the letters as the melancholy violin spun its own tale of love lost and regained, or so she could not help but interpret the melody.

 

*

 

Dan headed out into the coolness of the grounds as soon as the applause was over, more in need of fresh air and solitude than any other kind of refreshment.

He’d tried, Dan told himself, to believe in a sort of platonic ideal of love, a kind of brotherhood. But it was no use. What he felt for Ted was brotherly love. What he felt for Rob was something else entirely.

Dan could no more love someone without wanting to touch them than he could love food without wanting to eat it. It was a part of him, this physical desire, like his wandering feet and restless spirit. Even an hour spent in Rob’s company was enough to make him pace like a caged tiger, yearning for some kind of exercise, some kind of outlet for the feelings which burned beneath his skin. He knew it was not the same for everyone. Perhaps it was not like that for Rob. He was a quiet person, a thinking man. Perhaps he could feel only a spiritual attachment without this burning itch for something more.

Dan let his feelings out by giving the nearest a tree a solid punch, but his knuckles came off worse from the encounter.

“Why whatever did that poor poplar do to you?” came an amused voice. Dan looked up, a little shamefaced to see that Rob had followed him.

The itch only grew stronger. Dan shoved his hands hard into his pockets, lest he do something desperate.

“Do you ever feel,” Dan said recklessly, his tongue running away from him, “that you’ll run mad if you don’t do something?”

“Yes. Right now,” Rob said, looking at him with dark eyes, “I’m thinking I’ll run mad if you don’t touch me.”

Dan started in surprise, sure he had misheard. Rob leaned back against the tree and held out one hand in an unmistakable invitation.

“Rob, you don’t know what you’re asking.”

“Yes, I do.” There was a quiet confidence to his voice which quite undid Dan as he met his gaze unwaveringly. Dan reached for Rob’s hand, pressed his lips roughly to his knuckles. For all the certainty in Rob’s voice, his hand trembled.

“This, we mustn’t,” Dan protested. It was quite unlike with Blair or any of the others. There was a gentleness about Rob which made Dan struggle to rein in the raw passion in his breast. But Rob was strong, too, or he’d never have attracted Dan in the first place.

“Please, Dan,” Rob said, a choked breath, cupping Dan’s jaw in his hand with strength and tenderness at once. Dan was lost, falling upon him, lips at the white column of his throat as Rob gave way beneath him.

 

*

“So there you are.”

Having spoken with everyone he felt he needed to speak to in his role as the bountiful host - musicians, patrons, family, friends - Laurie had retired to a chair in a secluded corner of the terrace to look out across the gardens. Jo had had some trouble in finding him.

“Jo,” he said, startled. “I wasn’t sure you would want to see me.”

“I always want to see you, Teddy,” Jo sighed. “You’re my best friend.”

“And I’m happy to remain your friend for the rest of my days,” Laurie said firmly, “if you will forgive my foolishness the other evening.”

“I’m happy to forgive,” said Jo, sitting down next to him, “but I don’t think I can forget. Teddy, tell me truthfully, were you serious when you said you wanted to marry me? Or was it only a passing fancy because you felt alone?”

“I was entirely serious,” Laurie said, and it was easy to believe him, so grave had he grown lately.

“Oh well that will never do,” Jo said with a sigh. “I think I would find it hard to love an entirely serious man.”

“Jo, please,” he begged, “you were never cruel.”

“And nor do I intend to be. The fact is, Teddy, I love you awfully. And I think we ought to try, to see if we could be happy together.”

“I’m sure we could,” Laurie said, half falling out of his chair to kneel beside hers. “I would spend the rest of my days making sure of it, dear, darling Jo.”

“Ridiculous boy,” Jo said fondly, “you’ve ruined the knees of your suit.”

He kissed her again, and this time there was no drawing back.

 

*

Breakfast had been a torment of sly looks and blushes for Dan and Rob, remembrances of the night before in every half glance. Jo, too, had been giddy and distracted, enough that Teddy had complained that the lot of them were so dull he’d have suspected them all of having been at the wine, if he hadn’t known Uncle Laurie’s house was a temperance household.

It was noon when Dan strode with purpose into the library, relieved to find Rob alone at last.

“I know what you’re going to say,” Rob said, before Dan could so much as open his mouth. His voice was even but there were spots of color high on his cheeks and his hands were not as steady as he’d have liked them to be. “You think that you’ve corrupted me in some way, you feel terribly guilty and vow never to see me again?”

“Well,” Dan said, wrongfooted, rubbing at the scratch of beard on his chin.

“Well let me tell you, that I am quite old enough to know my own mind. Did you think you were the first man I’ve felt drawn to? I’m not a child.” There was a fierceness to his expression that quite robbed Dan of his breath. He took a step towards Dan and ran his thumb over Dan’s lower lip. Dan flinched away, determined not to be turned away from his purpose.

“Robin, you must see why we can’t. Why we mustn’t.”

“Of course,” Rob said simply. “And yet, I find I do not want to give you up, my Achilles.” They shared a look so tender that parting seemed an impossibility.

“Come away with me,” Dan said, impulsively. “We’ll go where no-one knows us.”

“Stay,” Rob countered. “Could you stay? For me?”

“How would we manage it?” Dan asked, despairing.

“We’ll find a way,” Rob said, with all the determination being his mother’s son had given him.

*

As the year drew to a close, Nan joined in with the well-wishers at Jo and Laurie’s wedding. She did not catch the bouquet.

Six months after their marriage, Jo visited Doctor Nan with a stomach complaint. Nan had the happy duty of informing her that her stomach was in no danger, and that she was soon to be a mother once more. In due course Jo presented Laurie with a daughter, christened Nancy in tribute to her devoted godmother.

While the Laurences continued to live at Parnassus, Rob made Plumfield his home. Dan had wandering in his blood and could never entirely be kept in one place, but he came home often and for months at a time, always staying with his good friend the young professor. Rob for his part spent the time between Dan’s visits buried in his books. Neither of them ever married or showed the slightest inclination to do so, and although Dan was observed to have a lock of hair tucked away in his pocket Bible, nobody but the two of them ever knew where it came from.