Laurie Makes Mischief, and Jo Makes Peace
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Chapter XXI passage: Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women follows the adventures and misadventures of the March sisters growing up during the American Civil War. In this passage, Laurie has played a mean prank on Meg. The Marches have forgiven him, but trouble comes when his grandfather tries to find out what happened. After reading the passage, students will answer questions on the figurative language used and the details of the story.

Topic(s): Realistic Fiction. Skill(s): Summary, Character Traits, Compare & Contrast, Figurative Language. Genre(s): Prose

Click for the passage & questions on one printable PDF.


The four March sisters; Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy; are growing up during the Civil War. They are good friends with their next door neighbors, the wealthy Mr. Laurence and his grandson, called Laurie. In this passage, Laurie has played a mean prank on Meg, and the Marches have found out. They have forgiven him, but Mrs. March has made Laurie and the girls promise never to mention his prank again. However, Mr. Laurence thought something was not right, and tried to get the story out of his grandson. Laurie honored his promise to Mrs. March and refused to say anything. This made his grandfather furious. Jo has come next door to try and make peace between the two.


“Come in!” and Mr. Laurence’s gruff voice sounded gruffer than ever, as Jo tapped at his door.

“It’s only me, sir, come to return a book,” she said blandly, as she entered.

“Want any more?” asked the old gentleman, looking grim and vexed, but trying not to show it.

“Yes, please. I like old Sam so well, I think I’ll try the second volume,” returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him by accepting a second dose of Boswell’s “Johnson,” as he had recommended that lively work.

The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little, as he rolled the steps toward the shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed. Jo skipped up, and, sitting on the top step, affected to be searching for her book, but was really wondering how best to introduce the dangerous object of her visit. Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect that something was brewing in her mind; for, after taking several brisk turns about the room, he faced round on her, speaking so abruptly that “Rasselas” tumbled face downward on the floor.

“What has that boy been about? Don’t try to shield him. I know he has been in mischief by the way he acted when he came home. I can’t get a word from him; and when I threatened to shake the truth out of him he bolted upstairs, and locked himself into his room.”

“He did do wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not to say a word to any one,” began Jo reluctantly.

“That won’t do; he shall not shelter himself behind a promise from you soft-hearted girls. If he’s done anything amiss, he shall confess, beg pardon, and be punished. Out with it, Jo, I won’t be kept in the dark.”

Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jo would have gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched aloft on the steps, and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so she had to stay and brave it out.

“Indeed, sir, I cannot tell; mother forbade it. Laurie has confessed, asked pardon, and been punished quite enough. We don’t keep silence to shield him, but some one else, and it will make more trouble if you interfere. Please don’t; it was partly my fault, but it’s all right now; so let’s forget it, and talk about the ‘Rambler,’ or something pleasant.”

“Hang the ‘Rambler!’ come down and give me your word that this harum-scarum boy of mine hasn’t done anything ungrateful or impertinent. If he has, after all your kindness to him, I’ll thrash him with my own hands.”

The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew the irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his grandson, whatever he might say to the contrary. She obediently descended, and made as light of the prank as she could without betraying Meg or forgetting the truth.

“Hum-ha-well, if the boy held his tongue because he promised, and not from obstinacy, I’ll forgive him. He’s a stubborn fellow, and hard to manage,” said Mr. Laurence, rubbing up his hair till it looked as if he had been out in a gale, and smoothing the frown from his brow with an air of relief.

“So am I; but a kind word will govern me when all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t,” said Jo, trying to say a kind word for her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrape only to fall into another.

“You think I’m not kind to him, hey?” was the sharp answer.

“Oh, dear, no, sir; you are rather too kind sometimes, and then just a trifle hasty when he tries your patience. Don’t you think you are?”

Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to look quite placid, though she quaked a little after her bold speech. To her great relief and surprise, the old gentleman only threw his spectacles on to the table with a rattle, and exclaimed frankly,-

“You’re right, girl, I am! I love the boy, but he tries my patience past bearing, and I don’t know how it will end, if we go on so.”

“I’ll tell you, he’ll run away.” Jo was sorry for that speech the minute it was made; she meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear much restraint, and hoped he would be more forbearing with the lad.

Mr. Laurence’s ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down, with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which hung over his table. It was Laurie’s father, who had run away in his youth, and married against the imperious old man’s will. Jo fancied he remembered and regretted the past, and she wished she had held her tongue.

“He won’t do it unless he is very much worried, and only threatens it sometimes, when he gets tired of studying. I often think I should like to, especially since my hair was cut; so, if you ever miss us, you may advertise for two boys, and look among the ships bound for India.”

She laughed as she spoke, and Mr. Laurence looked relieved, evidently taking the whole as a joke.

Comprehension Questions

Get the passage & questions on one printable PDF.

Interactive Banner 2

Enter description text here.