“毕竟我们没有这个福气，还是别发牢骚，挑起担子，像妈妈一样乐观地向前走吧。我肯定马奇婶婶就是我的冤家对头，但我想只要我学会忍受，不去埋怨， 她就会被丢到脑后，或者变得微不足道。“这主意让乔觉得挺好玩，心情也愉快起来，但梅格却不是很高兴，因为她的担子--四个宠坏了的孩子--现在显得异常 沉重。她甚至没有心情像往常一样在领口打上蓝丝，也没有心绪对镜理妆。
“一天到晚都对着几个小捣蛋鬼，我打扮得这么漂亮有谁来看？又有谁来理会我漂亮不漂亮？“她咕哝道，把抽屉猛地一推关上，“我将终生劳碌，只能偶尔 得到一点乐趣，逐渐变老变丑，变得尖酸刻薄，就因为我穷，不能像其他女孩子一样享受生活。这是个耻辱！“梅格说完走下去，脸上带着一种受伤的表情，吃早餐 时也全无心绪。大家似乎都有点不对劲，个个脸上阴霾满布。贝思头痛，躺在沙发上，试图在那只大猫和三只小猫之中寻找安慰；艾美烦躁不安，因为她没有弄懂功 课，而且找不到胶擦；乔真想大吹一声口哨；马奇太太正赶着写一封急信；罕娜因为不喜欢大家晚起，不停地抱怨。
众人一时安静下来，这时罕娜大步走进来，把两个热气腾腾的卷饼放在桌子上，又大步走出去。这两个卷饼是家里的惯例，姑娘们称之为"手笼"，因为她们 发觉寒冷的早上手里笼着个热饼挺暖和，罕娜无论多么忙多么牢骚满腹也不会忘记做上两个，因为路远天寒，两个可怜的姑娘常要在两点以后才回到家里，卷饼便是 她们的午饭。
“你爱怎么叫自己就怎么叫吧，我可不是坏蛋，也不是混帐，也不愿意人家这么叫我。““你是个伤心落魄人，今天这么怒气冲天是因为你不能整天置身于花 团锦簇之中。可怜的宝贝，等着吧，等我赚到钱，你就可以享受马车、雪糕、高跟鞋、花束，并和红发小伙子一起跳舞了。““乔，你真荒唐！“梅格不由被这荒唐 话逗笑了。
“幸亏是我呢！如果我也像你一样垂头丧气一副忧郁相，我们可都成了什么样子？谢天谢地，我总可以找到一些有趣的东西来令自己振作。别再发牢骚了，高 高兴兴地回家吧，这就对了。“分手时，乔鼓励地拍拍姐姐的肩膀。两人分头而去，各自揣着自己暖烘烘的小卷饼，都想尽量让心情愉快起来，尽管寒风刺骨、工作 辛劳，尽管一颗年轻、热爱幸福的心没有得到满足。
当马奇先生为帮助一位不幸的朋友而失去财产时，他的两个大女儿请求让她们出去干点活，这样她们至少可以负担自己的生活。考虑到应该早点培养她们的进 取精神和自立能力，父母便同意了。姐妹带着美好的心愿投入工作，相信尽管困难重重，最后一定会取得成功。玛格丽特找到的职业是幼儿家庭教师，薪酬虽少，对 她来说却是一笔大数目。正如她自己所说，她"向往奢华"，她的主要烦恼便是贫穷。由于她还记得华屋美服、轻松快乐、无忧无虑的好时光，她比起他姐妹更难接 受现实。她也试图知足、试图不嫉妒别人，但年青姑娘爱美、爱交朋友、希望成功和过幸福生活却是天性使然。在金斯家里，她天天都看到她想要的东西，因为孩子 们的几个姐姐刚开始参加社交活动。梅格不时看到精致的舞会礼服和漂亮的花束，听到她们热烈地谈论戏剧、音乐会、雪橇比赛等各种娱乐活动，看到她们花钱如流 水，随意挥霍。可怜的梅格虽然极少抱怨，但一股不平之气却令她有时对每个人都怀有恨意。她还不明白她其实是多么富有，因为祝福本身就能令人过上幸福的生 活。
乔刚好被马奇婶婶看中了。马奇婶婶跛了腿，需要找一个勤快的人来侍候。刚跛腿时这位无儿无女的老太太曾向马奇夫妇提出要收一个姑娘为养女，却被婉言 拒绝了，心里老大不高兴。一些朋友告诉马奇夫妇说他们错失了被列入这位阔太太遗嘱继承人的机会，但超尘脱俗的马奇夫妇只是说--"我们不能为钱财而放弃女 儿。不论贫富，我们都要厮守一起，共享天伦之乐。“老太太有一段时间都不愿跟他们说话，但一次在朋友家里偶然见到了乔。乔言谈风趣，举止直率，十分合老太 太的心意，她便提出让乔跟她作个伴。乔并不乐意，但她找不到更好的差事，便答应下来。出人意料的是，她跟这位性情暴躁的亲戚相处得非常好。但偶尔也会遇到 狂风骤雨，一次乔便气得跑回了家，宣布自己忍无可忍；但马奇婶婶总是很快收拾残局，急匆匆地派人请她回去，令她不便拒绝。其实，她内心对这位火辣辣的老太 太也颇有好感。
我猜想真正吸引乔的是一个装满了漂亮图书的大藏书室，这个房间自马奇叔叔去世后便积满了灰尘和蜘蛛网。乔记得那位和蔼的老绅士常常让她用大字典堆起 铁道桥梁，跟她讲拉丁语书中那些古怪插图的故事，在街上碰到她时给她买姜饼。藏书室光线暗淡，灰尘满布，还有舒适的椅子、精致的地球仪，最妙的是，几个半 身人像从书架上俯视地下，书籍凌乱地堆放着，乔可以毫无顾忌地随处走动翻阅，这一切使藏书室成了乔的天堂。每当马奇婶婶打盹儿或顾着跟人闲聊时，乔便匆匆 走进这个平静之处，像名符其实的蛀书虫一样大嚼诗歌、浪漫故事、游记、漫画书等等。不过这种令人陶醉的享受却总是不能持久；每当她看得入神，读到精彩之 处，必定会传来一声尖叫：“约瑟--芬！约瑟--芬！“这时她便不得不离开自己的天堂，出去绕纱线，给卷毛狗洗澡，或者朗读波尔沙的《随笔》，忙个不停。
乔的理想是做一番宏伟的事业，但这番事业究竟是什么她却一直毫无头绪，也并不急于知道；她觉得自己最大的痛苦是不能尽兴读书、跑步和骑马。她是个急 性子，言语尖刻，内心躁动不安，经常把自己推入困境，因此她的生活经历悲喜交集，甜酸苦辣，五味俱全。不过，她在马奇婶婶家里受到的锻炼正是她所需要的， 而一想到这样工作可以自立，她就无比高兴，即使是马奇婶婶那没完没了的"约瑟--芬！“也变得微不足道了。
贝思因性格太羞怯而没有上学；她也曾进过学堂，但感到极度痛苦，只得辍学在家，跟着父亲读书。父亲走后，母亲也被派去为"战士援助会"服务，贝思仍 忠实不移，坚持尽自己的最大努力自学。她是个贤妻良母型的小姑娘，帮罕娜为工人们把家里打理得整洁舒适，从不乞求报偿，只要被人爱着便心满意足。她静悄悄 地度过漫漫长日，从不孤独，从不懒散，因为她的小天地不乏虚构出来的朋友，而她天生就是个勤劳的小蜜蜂。每天一早贝思都要给六个玩具宝宝穿衣装扮，因为她 还是个孩子，仍然喜欢宠物。她的小宝贝原来都是弃儿，个个残缺不全，都是两个姐姐长大后不要而传给她的，因为这样又旧又丑的东西艾美是不会要的。正因为如 此，贝思对它们呵护有加，专为这些摇摇摆摆的小宝贝设了间医院。她给这些布娃娃一丝不苟地打针，给它们喂饭、穿衣、护理，从不打骂它们，并不忘奉上深情的 一吻，即使是最丑陋的玩偶也不会被忽略。一个残缺不堪的"宝宝“原是乔的旧物，经过暴风骤雨的生活洗礼后，四肢不全，五官不整，被弃置在一个破袋子里头， 贝思把它从那破旧的包袱里解救出来放到她的避难所。因为头顶不见了，她便扎上一顶雅致的小帽，四肢没有了，便把它裹在毯子里，把缺陷掩盖起来，并把最好的 床让给这位长期病员。如果有人知道她是如何细致入微地照料这个玩具娃娃，我想他们即使发笑，也一定会深受感动。她给它送花、读书，把它裹在她的大衣里，带 它出去呼吸新鲜空气，给它唱摇篮曲，睡觉前总要吻吻那脏脸孔，并柔声细语：“祝你晚安，可怜的宝贝。“贝思像她的姐妹一样也有自己的烦恼，她并非什么天 使，也是个食人间烟火的小姑娘。用乔的话来说，她常常"哭鼻子"，因为不能去上音乐课，因为家里没有一架好钢琴。她酷爱音乐，学得异常用功，并极有耐心地 用那架丁当作响的钢琴练习弹奏，似乎真该有人（并非暗指马奇婶婶）来帮她一把。然而没有人帮她，也没有人看到她悄悄把落在五音不全的黄色琴键上的眼泪抹 掉。她像只小云雀般为自己的工作歌唱，为妈咪和姐妹们伴奏，永不言累，每天都满怀希望地对自己说：“我知道有一天我一定会学好音乐，只要我乖。“世界上有 许许多多个贝思，腼腆平静，默默居于一角，需要时才挺身而出，乐于为别人而牺牲自己。人们只看到她们脸上的笑容，却没有意识到她们所作出的牺牲，直到炉边 的小蟋蟀停止了吟唱，和美的阳光消逝而去，空剩下一片寂静和黑暗。
如果有人问艾美生活中最大的痛苦是什么，她会立即回答：“我的鼻子。“当她还是婴孩时，乔一次不小心把她摔落在煤斗里头。艾美认定那次意外永远毁掉 了她的鼻子。她的鼻子既不大也不红，只是有点扁。无论怎样捏怎样夹也弄不出个贵族式的鼻尖儿，除了她自己外，并没有人在意，而且鼻子的长势也极好，但艾美 总认为自己的鼻梁不够直，便画了一大堆美鼻画儿聊以自慰。
她最大的幸福莫过于摹绘鲜花、设计小仙女，或用古怪的艺术形象说明故事。她的老师抱怨说她的写字板不是用来做算术，而是画满了动物，地图册上的空白 版面被她摹满了地图，她的书本一不小心便会弄出许多荒唐滑稽的漫画。她的学习成绩就个人能力而言已属不俗，其行为举止也被大家视为楷模，并因此而逃过数次 惩戒。她脾性随和，深谙取悦别人之道，因此在学校深得人心。她姿态略有点做作，但多才多艺，除绘画外，还会弹十二首曲子，善钩织，读法文时读错的字不超过 三分之二，令人十分羡慕。她说"爸爸有钱的那个时候我们如何如何"这句话时，悲哀婉转，令人感动，她拖长了的发音也被姑娘们视为"绝顶优雅"。
艾美差不多被大家宠坏了，她的虚荣和自私也成正比例增长。然而有一件事却刺伤了她的虚荣心：她得穿表姐的衣服。由于表姐弗洛伦斯的母亲毫无品味，艾 美大受其苦，帽子该配蓝色的却配了红色，衣服与她很不协调，而围裙又过分讲究。其实这些衣物全都不错，做工精细，磨损极少，但艾美的艺术眼光却不能忍受， 尤其是这个冬天，她穿的暗紫色校服布满黄点还没有饰边。
“我唯一的安慰，“她对梅格说，眼中泪光闪闪，“是妈妈不像玛莉亚·帕克的妈妈，她在我淘气玩耍时也不会把我的裙子卷起来。哎呀，那真是糟糕透了。 有时玛莉亚的长裙子被卷到了膝头上面，不能来上学，当我想到这种屈辱时，我觉得我的扁鼻梁和那件黄火球紫色衣服也可以忍受了。“梅格是艾美的知己和监护 人，也许是一种性格上的异性相吸吧，乔和温柔的贝思又是一对。腼腆的贝思独独跟乔倾诉心事；通过这位高大、冒失的姐姐她不知不觉对全家形成举足轻重的影 响。两个姐姐互相之间十分要好，但都各以自己的方式照管着一个妹妹--她们称之为“扮妈妈"--并出于一种小妇人的母性对两个妹妹呵护有加。
“今天我和婶婶之间有个不寻常的插曲，因为我占了上风，所以讲给你们听，“极爱讲故事的乔首先说道，“我像往常一样用既单调又沉闷的声调读永远读不 完的波尔沙，婶婶很快就被我打发入梦乡，我趁此机会拿出一本好书，如饥似渴地看起来，她醒来的时候我已觉得困了。她问我为什么把嘴巴张得这么大，足可以把 整本书一口吞进去。
“她对我的劣行好一顿训斥，并叫我在她'养养神'那一会功夫认真思过。她很快又进入梦乡，头上的帽子像朵头重脚轻的大丽花一样摇摇摆摆。见此情景， 我马上从口袋里抽出《威克菲尔德牧师传》读起来，一只眼看书，一只眼留意婶婶。刚刚读到书中人物全都跌入水中时，我一时忘情，笑出了声。婶婶醒过来，心情 颇佳，叫我读一点听听，看这本书究竟如何轻薄，竟敢把她那本富有教育意义的宝书波尔沙比下去。我尽力而为，她听得津津有味，但却说--“'我不明白这本书 说的是什么。从头再读一次，孩子。'“我从头再读，并尽量读得有声有色。读到扣人心弦之处，我故意停下来低声说：'我担心你会厌烦呢，夫人；要不要停下 来？'“她把刚才从手中掉落的编织活计拿起，透过眼镜片狠狠瞪我一眼，用她一贯简洁的口吻说：“把这章读完，不得无礼，小姐。'““她承认她喜欢这本书 吗？“梅格问。
“我也想起一件事来，“梅格说，“这虽不如乔的故事有趣，但它让我回家想了很久。今天我发现金斯家里的人个个都慌慌张张，一个孩子说她大哥犯了件大 事，爸爷把他赶走了。我听到金太太在哭，金先生在大骂，格莱丝和艾伦走过我身边时也别过脸，免得眼睛红红的让我看到。当然我什么也没有问，但我很替他们难 过，同时很庆幸自己没有这样可恶的兄弟，令家里人蒙受耻辱。““坏男孩固然可恨，但在学校蒙受耻辱则更加令人难受，“艾美摇着脑袋说，似乎已经历尽沧桑， “苏茜·巴金斯今天戴着一枚精致的红玉戒指上学，我羡慕得不得了，恨不得也有一个。嘿，她给戴维斯先生画了一幅漫画，怪鼻子，驼背，嘴里还吐出一串话：' 年轻女士们，我的眼睛在盯着你们！'我们正在大笑，不料他的眼睛果真盯上了我们。他命令苏茜把画板带上去。她吓瘫了，但还是走上去。噢，你们猜他怎么着？ 他揪着她的耳朵--耳朵！想想这多恐怖！--把她揪到背书台上让她在那里站了半个小时，举着画板让大家看。““姑娘们有没有笑那幅画？“乔问，回味着那尴 尬的局面。
“我今早看到一件我喜欢的事情，吃饭时要说的，却给忘了，“贝思一边说一边整理乔乱七八糟的篮子，“我去为罕娜买些鲜蚝，看到劳伦斯先生也在鱼店 里，但他没看到我，因为我站在一个水桶后面，他又忙着跟觓e夫卡特先生说话。一个穷苦女人拿着桶和刷子走进来，问卡特先生能否让她干些洗刮鱼鳞的活儿，因 为她的孩子们都饿着肚子，她自己又揽不到活干。卡特先生正忙着，毫不客气地说了声'不'；这个又饥饿又难过的女人正要走开，劳伦斯先生用自己的手杖弯柄勾 起一条大鱼递到她面前。她又惊又喜，把鱼抱在怀里，一再道谢。他叫她趁鲜赶快回去把鱼煮了吧，她便高高兴兴地匆匆走开了。劳伦斯先生真是个好心人！噢，她 当时的模样也真逗人，抱着滑溜溜的大鱼，口里祝愿劳伦斯先生在天堂的大床'虚虚（舒舒）服服'。“大家听到贝思的故事全笑起来，又请母亲也来一个。母亲略 想一想，严肃地说：“今天我在工作间里裁剪蓝色天鹅绒大衣时，非常挂念父亲，我想如果万一他遇到什么不测的话，我们将多么孤独无援。这样想很傻，但我不能 自已。这时一个老人走进来交给我一张衣服订单。他在我旁边坐下，我看他模样像个穷苦人家，显得既疲倦又焦虑，便和他攀谈起来。
“'理应如此，夫人。如果用得上我的话，我也会去的；既然用不上，我就献上我的孩子，无偿地献上。'“他声调愉快，神情恳切，似乎奉献自己的一切是 一大乐事，我不禁暗自惭愧。我献出一个人便思前想后，他献出了四个却毫无怨言。我在家里有四个好女儿来安慰我，他唯一能见到的儿子却远在数英里之外，可能 等着跟他道永别！想到上帝赐给我的恩典，我觉得自己已经很富足，也很幸福。我于是给他打了个漂亮的包裹，给他一些钱，并由衷地感谢他给我上了一课。““再 讲一个，妈妈--讲个带哲理的，就像这个一样。我喜欢听完后再回味一遍，如果故事真实可信，说教味道又不浓的话，“乔沉默了一会后说。
“这些姑娘们都想做个好孩子，并作了许多宏图大计，但总是不能持久。她们老说：'如果我们有这些东西就好了。'或'如果我们能够这样多好。'完全忘 记了自己已身处福中。于是她们问一位老妇人有什么魔法可以使她们幸福。老妇人说：'当你们感到不满足时，想想自己所拥有的东西，并为此而心存感激。'" （这时乔马上抬起头来，似乎有话要说，但想到故事尚未结束，便把话咽了回去。）“姑娘们是聪明人，决定采纳这个建议，不久便惊奇地发现她们是多么富有。一 个姑娘发现，金钱并不能使有钱人家免受羞辱和痛苦；另一个发现虽然自己没有钱，但却拥有青春活力和健康的身体，远比愁眉苦脸、年老体弱、不会享受生活乐趣 的人幸福；第三个发现下厨做饭虽然不是件快事，但被迫去讨饭的滋味更难接受；第四个发现良好的品行比红玉戒指更加珍贵。于是她们不再牢骚满腹，而是尽情享 受已经拥有的一切，并力图报答天恩，唯恐失去而不是更多地享受它们。我相信她们没有后悔接受了老妇人的建议。““呀，妈咪，你好狡猾，用我们自己的故事来 对付我们，不讲故事，却跟我们讲起大道理来了！“梅格嚷道。
"Oh, dear, how hard it does seem to take up our packsand go on," sighed Meg the morning after the party, for nowthe holidays were over, the week of merrymaking did not fither for going on easily with the task she never liked.
"I wish it was Christmas or New Year's all the time.Wouldn't it be fun?" answered Jo, yawning dismally.
"We shouldn't enjoy ourselves half so much as we do now.But it does seem so nice to have little suppers and bouquets,and go to parties, and drive home, and read and rest, and notwork. It's like other people, you know, and I always envygirls who do such things, I'm so fond of luxury," said Meg,trying to decide which of two shabby gowns was the leastshabby.
"Well, we can't have it, so don't let us grumble butshoulder our bundles and trudge along as cheerfully asMarmee does. I'm sure Aunt March is a regular Old Man ofthe Sea to me, but I suppose when I've learned to carry herwithout complaining, she will tumble off, or get so lightthat I shan't mind her."
This idea tickled Jo's fancy and put her in good spirits,but Meg didn't brighten, for her burden, consistingof four spoiled children, seemed heavier than ever.She had not heart enough even to make herself prettyas usual by putting on a blue neck ribbon and dressingher hair in the most becoming way.
"Where's the use of looking nice, when no one sees mebut those cross midgets, and no one cares whether I'm prettyor not?" she muttered, shutting her drawer with a jerk. "Ishall have to toil and moil all my days, with only littlebits of fun now and then, and get old and ugly and sour,because I'm poor and can't enjoy my life as other girls do.It's a shame!"
So Meg went down, wearing an injured look, and wasn't atall agreeable at breakfast time. Everyone seemed rather outof sorts and inclined to croak.
Beth had a headache and lay on the sofa, trying to comfortherself with the cat and three kittens. Amy was frettingbecause her lessons were not learned, and she couldn'tfind her rubbers. Jo would whistle and make a great racketgetting ready.
Mrs. March was very busy trying to finish a letter,which must go at once, and Hannah had the grumps, for beingup late didn't suit her.
"There never was such a cross family!" cried Jo, losingher temper when she had upset an inkstand, broken both bootlacings, and sat down upon her hat.
"You're the crossest person in it!" returned Amy, washingout the sum that was all wrong with the tears that hadfallen on her slate.
"Beth, if you don't keep these horrid cats down cellarI'll have them drowned," exclaimed Meg angrily as she triedto get rid of the kitten which had scrambled up her back andstuck like a burr just out of reach.
Jo laughed, Meg scolded, Beth implored, and Amy wailedbecause she couldn't remember how much nine times twelve was.
"Girls, girls, do be quiet one minute! I must get thisoff by the early mail, and you drive me distracted with yourworry," cried Mrs. March, crossing out the third spoiled sentencein her letter.
There was a momentary lull, broken by Hannah, who stalked in,laid two hot turnovers on the table, and stalked out again.These turnovers were an institution, and the girls calledthem `muffs', for they had no others and found the hotpies very comforting to their hands on cold mornings.
Hannah never forgot to make them, no matter how busy orgrumpy she might be, for the walk was long and bleak.The poor things got no other lunch and were seldom homebefore two.
"Cuddle your cats and get over your headache, Bethy.Goodbye, Marmee. We are a set of rascals this morning, butwe'll come home regular angels. Now then, Meg!" And Jotramped away, feeling that the pilgrims were not setting outas they ought to do.
They always looked back before turning the corner, fortheir mother was always at the window to nod and smile, andwave her hand to them. Somehow it seemed as if they couldn'thave got through the day without that, for whatever theirmood might be, the last glimpse of that motherly face wassure to affect them like sunshine.
"If Marmee shook her fist instead of kissing her handto us, it would serve us right, for more ungrateful wretchesthan we are were never seen," cried Jo, taking a remorsefulsatisfaction in the snowy walk and bitter wind."Don't use such dreadful expressions," replied Meg fromthe depths of the veil in which she had shrouded herselflike a nun sick of the world.
"I like good strong words that mean something," repliedJo, catching her hat as it took a leap off her headpreparatory to flying away altogether.
"Call yourself any names you like, but I am neither arascal nor a wretch and I don't choose to be called so."
"You're a blighted being, and decidedly cross today becauseyou can't sit in the lap of luxury all the time. Poor dear,just wait till I make my fortune, and you shall revelin carriages and ice cream and high-heeled slippers,and posies, and red-headed boys to dance with."
"How ridiculous you are, Jo!" But Meg laughed at thenonsense and felt better in spite of herself.
"Lucky for you I am, for if I put on crushed airs andtried to be dismal, as you do, we should be in a nice state.Thank goodness, I can always find something funny to keep meup. Don't croak any more, but come home jolly, there's a dear."
Jo gave her sister an encouraging pat on the shoulderas they parted for the day, each going a different way, eachhugging her little warm turnover, and each trying to becheerful in spite of wintry weather, hard work, and theunsatisfied desires of pleasure-loving youth.
When Mr. March lost his property in trying to help anunfortunate friend, the two oldest girls begged to be allowedto do something toward their own support, at least. Believingthat they could not begin too early to cultivate energy,industry, and independence, their parents consented, andboth fell to work with the hearty good will which in spiteof all obstacles is sure to succeed at last.
Margaret found a place as nursery governess and feltrich with her small salary. As she said, she was `fond ofluxury', and her chief trouble was poverty. She found itharder to bear than the others because she could remember atime when home was beautiful, life full of ease and pleasure,and want of any kind unknown. She tried not to be enviousor discontented, but it was very natural that the young girlshould long for pretty things, gay friends, accomplishments,and a happy life. At the Kings' she daily saw all she wanted,for the children's older sisters were just out, and Megcaught frequent glimpses of dainty ball dresses and bouquets,heard lively gossip about theaters, concerts, sleighing parties,and merrymakings of all kinds, and saw money lavishedon trifles which would have been so precious to her. PoorMeg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feelbitter toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learnedto know how rich she was in the blessings which alone canmake life happy.
Jo happened to suit Aunt March, who was lame and neededan active person to wait upon her. The childless old ladyhad offered to adopt one of the girls when the troubles came,and was much offended because her offer was declined. Otherfriends told the Marches that they had lost all chance ofbeing remembered in the rich old lady's will, but theunworldly Marches only said...
"We can't give up our girls for a dozen fortunes. Richor poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another."
The old lady wouldn't speak to them for a time, but happeningto meet Jo at at a friend's, something in her comical faceand blunt manners struck the old lady's fancy, and sheproposed to take her for a companion. This did not suit Joat all, but she accepted the place since nothing betterappeared and, to every one's surprise, got on remarkably wellwith her irascible relative. There was an occasional tempest,and once Jo marched home, declaring she couldn't bearit longer, but Aunt March always cleared up quickly, andsent for her to come back again with such urgency that shecould not refuse, for in her heart she rather liked thepeppery old lady.
I suspect that the real attraction was a large libraryof fine books, which was left to dust and spiders sinceUncle March died. Jo remembered the kind old gentleman, whoused to let her build railroads and bridges with his bigdictionaries, tell her stories about queer pictures in hisLatin books, and buy her cards of gingerbread whenever hemet her in the street. The dim, dusty room, with the bustsstaring down from the tall bookcases, the cozy chairs, theglobes, and best of all, the wilderness of books in whichshe could wander where she liked, made the library a regionof bliss to her.
The moment Aunt March took her nap, or was busy withcompany, Jo hurried to this quiet place, and curling herselfup in the easy chair, devoured poetry, romance, history,travels, and pictures like a regular bookworm. But, likeall happiness, it did not last long, for as sure as she hadjust reached the heart of the story, the sweetest verse ofa song, or the most perilous adventure of her traveler, ashrill voice called, "Josy-phine! Josy-phine! and she hadto leave her paradise to wind yarn, wash the poodle, orread Belsham's Essays by the hour together.
Jo's ambition was to do something very splendid. Whatit was, she had no idea as yet, but left it for time to tellher, and meanwhile, found her greatest affliction in thefact that she couldn't read, run, and ride as much as sheliked. A quick temper, sharp tongue, and restless spiritwere always getting her into scrapes, and her life was aseries of ups and downs, which were both comic and pathetic.But the training she received at Aunt March's was just whatshe needed, and the thought that she was doing something tosupport herself made her happy in spite of the perpetual"Josy-phine!"
Beth was too bashful to go to school.It had been tried,but she suffered so much that it was given up, and she didher lessons at home with her father. Even when he went away,and her mother was called to devote her skill and energy toSoldiers' Aid Societies, Beth went faithfully on by herselfand did the best she could. She was a housewifely littlecreature, and helped Hannah keep home neat and comfortablefor the workers, never thinking of any reward but to beloved. Long, quiet days she spent, not lonely nor idle, forher little world was peopled with imaginary friends, and shewas by nature a busy bee. There were six dolls to be takenup and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child stilland and loved her pets as well as ever. Not one whole orhandsome one among them, all were outcasts till Beth tookthem in, for when her sisters outgrew these idols, theypassed to her because Amy would have nothing old or ugly.Beth cherished them all the more tenderly for that veryreason, and set up a hospital for infirm dolls. No pinswere ever stuck into their cotton vitals, no harsh words orblows were ever given them, no neglect ever saddened theheart or the most repulsive, but all were fed and clothed,nursed and caressed with an affection which never failed.One forlorn fragment of dollanity had belonged to Jo and,having led a tempestuous life, was left a wreck in the ragbag, from which dreary poorhouse it was rescued by Bethand taken to her refuge. Having no top to its head, shetied on a neat little cap, and as both arms and legs weregone, she hid these deficiencies by folding it in a blanketand devoting her best bed to this chronic invalid. If anyonehad known the care lavished on that dolly, I think itwould have touched their hearts, even while they laughed.She brought it bits of bouquets, she read to it, took itout to breathe fresh air, hidden under her coat, she sangit lullabies and never went to be without kissing its dirtyface and whispering tenderly, "I hope you'll have a goodnight, my poor dear."
Beth had her troubles as well as the others, and notbeing an angel but a very human little girl, she often `wepta little weep' as Jo said, because she couldn't take musiclessons and have a fine piano. She loved music so dearly,tried so hard to learn, and practiced away so patiently atthe jingling old instrument, that it did seem as if someone(not to hint Aunt March) ought to help her. Nobody did,however, and nobody saw Beth wipe the tears off the yellowkeys, that wouldn't keep in tune, when she was all alone.She sang like a little lark about her work, never was tootired for Marmee and the girls, and day after day saidhopefully to herself," I know I'll get my music some time,if I'm good."
There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sittingin corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfullythat no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket onthe hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presencevanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.
If anybody had asked Amy what the greatest trial of herlife was, she would have answered at once, "My nose." Whenshe was a baby, Jo had accidently dropped her into the coal hod,and Amy insisted that the fall had ruined her nose forever. Itwas not big nor red, like poor `Petrea's', it was only ratherflat, and all the pinching in the world could not give it anaristocratic point. No one minded it but herself, and it wasdoing its best to grow, but Amy felt deeply the want of aGrecian nose, and drew whole sheets of handsome ones to consoleherself.
"Little Raphael," as her sisters called her, had a decidedtalent for drawing, and was never so happy as when copyingflowers, designing fairies, or illustrating stories with queerspecimens of art. Her teachers complained that instead ofdoing her sums she covered her slate with animals, the blankpages of her atlas were used to copy maps on, and caricaturesof the most ludicrous description came fluttering out of allher books at unlucky moments. She got through her lessons aswell as she could, and managed to escape reprimands by beinga model of deportment. She was a great favorite with her mates,being good-tempered and possessing the happy art of pleasingwithout effort. Her little airs and graces were much admired,so were her accomplishments, for besides her drawing, she couldplay twelve tunes, crochet, and read French without mispronouncingmore than two-thirds of the words. She had a plaintiveway of saying, "When Papa was rich we did so-and-so," whichwas very touching, and her long words were considered `perfectlyelegant' by the girls.
Amy was in a fair way to be spoiled, for everyone pettedher, and her small vanities and selfishnesses were growing nicely.One thing, however, rather quenched the vanities. She had to wearher cousin's clothes. Now Florence's mama hadn't a particle oftaste, and Amy suffered deeply at having to wear a red instead ofa blue bonnet, unbecoming gowns, and fussy aprons that did notfit. Everything was good, well made, and little worn, but Amy'sartistic eyes were much afflicted, especially this winter, whenher school dress was a dull purple with yellow dots and notrimming.
"My only comfort," she said to Meg, with tears in her eyes,"is that Mother doesn't take tucks in my dresses whenever I'mnaughty, as Maria Parks's mother does. My dear, it's reallydreadful, for sometimes she is so bad her frock is up to herknees, and she can't come to school. When I think of thisdeggerredation, I fell that I can bear even my flat nose andpurple gown with yellow skyrockets on it."
Meg was Amy's confidante and monitor, and by some strangeattraction of opposites Jo was gentle Beth's. To Jo alone didthe shy child tell her thoughts, and over her big harum-scarumsister Beth unconsciously exercised more influence than anyonein the family. The two older girls were a great deal to oneanother, but each took one of the younger sisters into herkeeping and watched over her in her own way, `playing mother'they called it, and put their sisters in the places ofdiscarded dolls with the maternal instinct of litte women.
"Has anybody got anything to tell? It's been such a dismalday I'm really dying for some amusement," said Meg, as they satsewing together that evening.
"I had a queer time with Aunt today, and, as I got the bestof it, I'll tell you about it," began Jo, who dearly loved to tellstories. "I was reading that everlasting Belsham, and droningaway as I always do, for Aunt soon drops off, and then I take outsome nice book, and read like fury till she wakes up. I actuallymade myself sleepy, and before she began to nod, I gave such agape that she asked me what I meant by opening my mouth wideenough to take the whole book in at once.
"I wish I could, and be done with it," said I, trying not tobe saucy.
"Then she gave me a long lecture on my sins, and told me tosit and think them over while she just `lost' herself for a moment.She never finds herself very soon, so the minute her cap began tobob like a top-heavy dahlia, I whipped the VICAR OF WAKEFIELD outof my pocket, and read away, with one eye on him and one on Aunt.I'd just got to where they all tumbled into the water when Iforgot and laughed out loud. Aunt woke up and, being moregood-natured after her nap, told me to read a bit and show whatfrivolous work I preferred to the worthy and instructive Belsham.I did my very best, and she liked it, though she only said...
"I don't understand what it's all about. Go back and beginit, child."
"Back I went, and made the Primroses as interesting as ever Icould. Once I was wicked enough to stop in a thrilling place, andsay meekly, "I'm afraid it tires you, ma'am. Shan't I stop now?"
"She caught up her knitting, which had dropped out of herhands, gave me a sharp look through her specs, and said, in hershort way, `Finish the chapter, and don't be impertinent, miss'."
"Did she own she liked it?" asked Meg.
"Oh, bless you, no! But she let old Belsham rest, and when Iran back after my gloves this afternoon, there she was, so hard atthe Vicar that she didn't hear me laugh as I danced a jig in the hallbecause of the good time coming. What a pleasant life she might haveif only she chose! I don't envy her much, in spite of her money, forafter all rich people have about as many worries as poor ones, Ithink," added Jo.
"That reminds me," said Meg, "that I've got something to tell.It isn't funny, like Jo's story, but I thought about it a good dealas I came home. At the Kings' today I found everybody in a flurry,and one of the children said that her oldest brother had donesomething dreadful, and Papa had sent him away. I heard Mrs. Kingcrying and Mr. King talking very loud, and Grace and Ellen turnedaway their faces when they passed me, so I shouldn't see how red andswollen their eyes were. I didn't ask any questions, of course, butI felt so sorry for them and was rather glad I hadn't any wildbrothers to do wicked things and disgrace the family."
"I think being disgraced in school is a great deal tryingerthan anything bad boys can do," said Amy, shaking her head, as ifher experience of life had been a deep one. "Susie Perkins cameto school today with a lovely red carnelian ring. I wanted itdreadfully, and wished I was her with all my might. Well, shedrew a picture of Mr. Davis, with a monstrous nose and a hump,and the words, `Young ladies, my eye is upon you!' coming out ofhis mouth in a balloon thing. We were laughing over it when allof a sudden his eye was on us, and he ordered Susie to bring upher slate. She was parrylized with fright, but she went, and oh,what do you think he did? He took her by the ear--the ear! Justfancy how horrid!--and led her to the recitation platform, andmade her stand there half and hour, holding the slate so everyonecould see."
"Didn't the girls laugh at the picture?" asked Jo, whorelished the scrape.
"Laugh? Not one! They sat still as mice, and Susie criedquarts, I know she did. I didn't envy her then, for I felt thatmillions of carnelian rings wouldn't have made me happy after that.I never, never should have got over such a agonizing mortification."And Amy went on with her work, in the proud consciousness of virtueand the successful utterance of two long words in a breath.
"I saw something I liked this morning, and I meant to tell itat dinner, but I forgot," said Beth, putting Jo's topsy-turvy basketin order as she talked. "When I went to get some oysters for Hannah,Mr. Laurence was in the fish shop, but he didn't see me, for I keptbehind the fish barrel, and he was busy with Mr. Cutter the fishman.A poor woman came in with a pail a mop, and asked Mr. Cutter if hewould let her do some scrubbing for a bit of fish, because shehadn't any dinner for her children, and had been disappointed of aday's work. Mr. Cutter was in a hurry and said `No', rathercrossly, so she was going away, looking hungry and sorry, when Mr.Laurence hooked up a big fish with the crooked end of his cane andheld it out to her. She was so glad and surprised she took itright into her arms, and thanked him over and over. He told her to`go along and cook it', and she hurried off, so happy! Wasn't itgood of him? Oh, she did look so funny, hugging the big, slipperyfish, and hoping Mr. Laurence's bed in heaven would be `aisy'."
When they had laughed at Beth's story, they asked their motherfor one, and after a moments thought, she said soberly, "As I satcutting out blue flannel jackets today at the rooms, I felt veryanxious about Father, and thought how lonely and helpless we shouldbe , if anything happened to him. It was not a wise thing to do,but I kept on worrying till an old man came in with an order for someclothes. He sat down near me, and I began to talk to him, for helooked poor and tired and anxious.
"`Have you sons in the army?' I asked, for the note he broughtwas not to me.
"Yes, ma'am. I had four, but two were killed, one is a prisoner,and I'm going to the other, who is very sick in a Washington hospital.'he answered quietly.
"`You have done a great deal for your country, sir, ' I said,feeling respect now, instead of pity.
"`Not a mite more than I ought, ma'am. I'd go myself, if I wasany use. As I ain't, I give my boys, and give 'em free.'
"He spoke so cheerfully, looked so sincere, and seemed so gladto give his all, that I was ashamed of myself. I'd given one man andthought it too much, while he gave four without grudging them. I hadall my girls to comfort me at home, and his last son was waiting,miles away, to say good-by to him, perhaps! I felt so rich, so happythinking of my blessings, that I made him a nice bundle, gave himsome money, and thanked him heartily for the lesson he had taught me."
"Tell another story, Mother, one with a moral to it, like this.I like to think about them afterward, if they are real and not toopreachy," said Jo, after a minute's silence.
Mrs. March smiled and began at once, for she had told stories tothis little audience for many years, and knew how to please them.
"Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eatand drink and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friendsand parents who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented."(Here the listeners stole sly looks at one another, and began to sew diligently.) "These girls wereanxious to be good and made many
excellent resolutions, but they did not keep them very well, and wereconstantly saying, `If only we had this, ' or `If we could only dothat, ' quite forgetting how much they already had, and how manythings they actually could do. So they asked an old woman what spellthey could use to make them happy, and she said, `When you feeldiscontented, think over your blessings, and be grateful.'" (Here Jolooked up quickly, as if about to speak, but changed her mind, seeingthat the story was not done yet.)
"Being sensible girls, they decided to try her advice, and soonwere surprised to see how well off they were. One discovered thatmoney couldn't keep shame and sorrow out of rich people's houses,another that, though she was poor, she was a great deal happier, withher youth, health, and good spirits, than a certain fretful, feebleold lady who couldn't enjoy her comforts, a third that, disagreeableas it was to help get dinner, it was harder still to go begging forit and the fourth, that even carnelian rings were not so valuable asgood behavior. So they agreed to stop complaining, to enjoy theblessings already possessed, and try to deserve them, lest theyshould be taken away entirely, instead of increased, and I believethey were never disappointed or sorry that they took the old woman'sadvice."
"Now, Marmee, that is very cunning of you to turn our ownstories against us, and give us a sermon instead of a romance!"cried Meg.
"I like that kind of sermon. It's the sort Father used to tellus," said Beth thoughtfully, putting the needles straight on Jo'scushion.
"I don't complain near as much as the others do, and I shall bemore careful than ever now, for I've had warning from Susies's downfall,"said Amy morally.
"We needed that lesson, and we won't forget it. If we do so,you just say to us, as old Chloe did in UNCLE TOM, `Tink ob yermarcies, chillen! `Tink ob yer marcies!'" added Jo, who could not,for the life of her, help getting a morsel of fun out of the littlesermon, though she took it to heart as much as any of them.