“哦，是这样的。姑娘们成天都买酸橙，你也得跟着买，除非你想别人觉得你小气。现在只有酸橙当红，上课时人人都埋在书桌下咂酸橙，课休时用酸橙交换 铅笔、念珠戒指、纸娃娃等物。如果一个女孩喜欢另一个，她就送她一个酸橙；如果她憎恶她，便当着她的面吃一个酸橙，不叫她咂一口。她们轮流做东，我已经得 了人家不少，至今没有还礼，我理当偿还，因为那是信用债。““还差多少钱才能使你恢复信用？“梅格一面问，一面拿出钱包。
“二角五分已经绰绰有余，还可剩几分钱给你买一点。你不喜欢酸橙吗？““不怎么喜欢，我那份你要吧。给你钱。省着点使，钱不多，你知道。““噢，好 姐姐！有零花钱真是太好了！我要犒赏犒赏自己，这星期还没有尝过酸橙味儿呢。我不好意思再要她们的，因为自己还不起。现在我可想得要疯了。“第二天，艾美 回到学校已经不早，但却抵挡不住诱惑，为自得地把一个濡湿的棕色纸包炫耀一番，这才把它放到书桌的最里头。不消几分钟，艾美·马奇带了廿四个美味酸橙（她 自己在路上吃了一个）并准备供诸同好的小道消息在她的"同伙"之中不胫而走，朋友们对她刮目相看。凯蒂·布朗当场邀请她参加下次晚会；玛丽·金斯利坚持要 把自己的手表借给她戴到下课；珍妮·斯诺，一个曾经粗俗地挖苦过艾美的尖酸刻薄的年轻女子，立即偃旗息鼓，主动提供某些难题的答案。但是艾美并没有忘记斯 诺小姐说过的那些刺心话：“有些人鼻子虽扁，却仍然闻得到别人的酸橙味儿；有些人虽然狂妄自大，却仍得求人家的酸橙吃。“她用令人泄气的言辞把那位"斯诺 女"的希望当场击得粉碎：“你用不着一下子这么殷勤，因为你半个也捞不着。“那天早上恰巧有一位重要人物访问学校，艾美的地图画得极好，受到了赞扬。斯诺 小姐对敌人的这种荣誉怀恨在心，马奇小姐因此更摆出一副自命不凡的架势。不过，唉！骄兵必败！斯诺报仇心切，她反戈一击，打了场完全彻底的漂亮仗。一待客 人照例讲究一番陈词滥调的客套话躬身出去后，珍妮立即佯装提问，悄悄告诉老师戴维斯先生，艾美·马奇把腌酸橙藏在书桌里头。
原来戴维斯先生早已宣布酸橙为违禁品，并庄重发誓要把第一个违法者公开绳之以法。这位相当不朽的仁兄曾经发动过一场激烈持久的战争，成功取缔了香口 胶糖，烧毁了没收的小说画报，镇压了一所地下邮局，并禁止了做鬼脸、起花名、画漫画等一类事情，竭尽全力要把五十个反叛的姑娘们训导得规规矩矩。老天作 证，男孩子已经使人大伤脑筋，但是女孩子更难伺候，这对于脾气粗暴、缺乏教学天才、神经紧张的人来说更是如此。戴维斯先生希腊语、拉丁语、代数以及各门学 科无所不通，于是被称为好老师，而言行、道德、情操及表率却被认为无关重要。珍妮心里明白，这种时候告发艾美活该她倒霉。戴维斯先生那天早上显然喝了冲得 太浓的咖啡，东风又刺激了他的神经痛。而他的学生竟然在这种时候往他脸上抹黑；用一位女同学虽不优雅但相当贴切的话来形容：“他紧张得像个女巫，粗暴得像 一头熊。““酸橙"两字犹如引爆炸药的火苗。他把黄脸孔憋得通红，使劲敲击讲台，吓得珍妮飞速溜回座位。
“那好，现在把这些讨厌的东西两个两个拿起扔出窗外。“眼看着最后一丝希望破灭，到了嘴边的东西被夺走，姑娘们都发出一阵叹息声。艾美又羞又恼，脸 色涨得通红，忍辱来回走了足足六趟。每当一对倒霉的酸橙--呵！多么饱满圆润--从她极不情愿的手中落下时，街上便传来一声欢叫。姑娘们简直心碎欲绝，因 为叫声告诉大家她们的美食落在了她们不共戴天的敌人爱尔兰小孩的手上，成为他们的美餐，令他们狂喜雀跃。这--这简直不能忍受。众人向冷酷无情的戴维斯投 去气愤而恳求的目光，一位热烈的酸橙爱好者忍不住热泪暗流。
当艾美扔掉最后一个酸橙走回来时，戴维斯先生令人颤栗地"哼！“了一声，装腔作势地训斥道--“年轻女士们，你们记得我一星期前说的话吧。发生了这 种事我很遗憾，但我绝对不会姑息这种违反纪律的行为，而且决不食言。马奇小姐，伸出手来。“艾美吓了一跳，把双手藏在背后，用祈求的目光望着他，说不出半 句话来，其情堪可怜悯。她本来是"老戴维斯"，当然啦，如大家所称，颇为得意的门生，如果不是一个姑娘"嘘"了一声以泄怨愤的话，我个人相信，戴维斯先生 完全可能破例食言。但那嘘声尽管细若游丝，却激怒了这位脾气暴躁的绅士，并决定了犯规者的命运。
这实在是太可怕了。走回座位，看朋友们的怜悯目光和个别敌人的痛快脸色已经糟糕透顶，而要面对全班同学，含耻忍辱，她简直做不到。刹那间她觉得自己 就要摔倒地上，伤心痛哭。但那种刺心的屈辱感和对珍妮·斯诺的恨使她挺住了。她踏上那个不光彩的位置，下面仿佛成了人的海洋。她两眼死死盯着火炉烟囱管， 一动不动地站在那里，面如白纸。
不久，姐妹们相继归来。一个义愤填膺的会议随即召开。马奇太太虽然神情激动，但没有多说，只是无限温柔地宽慰自己受了伤的小女儿。梅格边掉泪边用甘 油涂洗艾美那遭受凌辱的手掌。贝思觉得即使自己可爱的小猫咪也安慰不了如此深重的痛楚，乔怒发冲冠，提议戴维斯先生应该立即逮捕，罕娜对那"坏蛋"挥起拳 头，捣土豆做饭时也敲打得劈啪作响，仿佛那"坏蛋“就躲在她的捣下面。
“好了，你可以放个假，但我要求你每天都和贝思一起学一点东西，“那天晚上马奇太太说，“我不赞成体罚，尤其不赞成体罚女孩子。我不喜欢戴维斯先生 的教学方法，不过你结交的女孩子也不是什么益友。我要先征求你父亲的意思，再把你送到别的学校。““太好了！我希望姑娘们全走掉，毁掉他的旧学堂。一想到 那些令人馋涎欲滴的酸橙，我就气得发疯。“艾美叹息着，神情就像一个殉难者。
“我不会选择这种方法来纠正错误，“她的母亲回答，“但我不敢说换一种温和一点的方法你就会从中得到教训。你现在有点过于自大了，亲爱的，很应该着 手改正过来。你有很多天赋和优点，但不必摆出来展览，因为自大会把最优秀的天才毁掉。真正的才华或品行不怕被人长期忽视；即使真的无人看到，只要你知道自 己拥有它，并妥善用它，你就会感到心满意足。谦虚才能使人充满魅力。““完全正确！“劳里叫道。他正跟乔在一角下象棋。“我曾认识一个女孩，她音乐天赋极 高，却并不自知，她从不知道自己作的小曲有多美，即使别人告诉她，她自己也不会相信。““我能认识那位好女孩就好了，她或许可以帮助我，我这么笨，“贝思 说。她正站在劳里身边认真倾听。
乔让劳里赢了棋，以奖励他称赞了她的贝思。贝思经这么一夸，怎么也不肯出来弹琴了。于是劳里一展身手，他边弹边唱，心情显得特别轻松愉快，因为他在 马奇一家人面前极少流露自己的忧郁性格。在他走后，整个晚上一直郁郁寡欢的艾美似乎若有所思，突然问道：“劳里是否称得上多才多艺？““当然，他接受过优 等教育，又富有天赋，如果没有宠坏，他会成为一个出色的人才，“她母亲回答。
"That boy is a perfect cyclops, isn't he?" said Amy one day,as Laurie clattered by on horseback, with a flourish of his whipas he passed.
"How dare you say so, when he's got both his eyes? Andvery handsome ones they are, too," cried Jo, who resented anyslighting remarks about her friend.
"I didn't day anything about his eyes, and I don't see whyyou need fire up when I admire his riding."
"Oh, my goodness! That little goose means a centaur, and shecalled him a Cyclops," exclaimed Jo, with a burst of laughter."You needn't be so rude, it's only a `lapse of lingy', as Mr.Davis says," retorted Amy, finishing Jo with her Latin. "I justwish I had a little of the money Laurie spends on that horse," sheadded, as if to herself, yet hoping her sisters would hear.
"Why?" asked Meg kindly, for Jo had gone off in another laughat Amy's second blunder.
"I need it so much. I'm dreadfully in debt, and it won't bemy turn to have the rag money for a month."
"In debt, Amy? What do you mean?" And Meg looked sober.
"Why, I owe at least a dozen pickled limes, and I can't paythem, you know, till I have money, for Marmee forbade my havinganything charged at the shop."
"Tell me all about it. Are limes the fashion now? It usedto be pricking bits of rubber to make balls." And Meg tried tokeep her countenance, Amy looked so grave and important.
"Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unlessyou want to be thought mean, you must do it too. It's nothingbut limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks inschooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paperdolls, or something else, at recess. If one girl likes another,she gives her a lime. If she's mad with her, she eats one beforeher face, and doesn't offer even a suck. They treat by turns,and I've had ever so many but haven't returned them, and I oughtfor they are debts of honor, you know."
"How much will pay them off and restore your credit?" askedMeg, taking out her purse."
"A quarter would more than do it, and leave a few cents overfor a treat for you. Don't you like limes?"
"Not much. You may have my share. Here's the money. Make itlast as long as you can, for it isn't very plenty, you know."
"Oh, thank you! It must be so nice to have pocket money! I'llhave a grand feast, for I haven't tasted a lime this week. I feltdelicate about taking any, as I couldn't return them, and I'mactually suffering for one."
Next day Amy was rather late at school, but could not resist thetemptation of displaying, with pardonable pride, a moist brown-paperparcel, before she consigned it to the inmost recesses of her desk.During the next few minutes the rumor that Amy March had got twenty-four delicious limes (she ate one on the way) and was going totreat circulated through her `set', and the attentions of her friendsbecame quite overwhelming. Katy Brown invited her to her next partyon the spot. Mary Kinglsey insisted on lending her her watch tillrecess, and Jenny Snow, a satirical young lady, who had basely twittedAmy upon her limeless state, promptly buried the hatchet and offeredto furnish answers to certain appalling sums. But Amy had notforgotten Miss Snow's cutting remarks about `some persons whose noseswere not too flat to smell other people's limes, and stuck-up peoplewho were not too proud to ask for them', and she instantly crushed`that Snow girl's' hopes by the withering telegram, "You needn't beso polite all of a sudden, for you won't get any."
A distinguished personage happened to visit the school thatmorning, and Amy's beautifully drawn maps received praise, whichhonor to her foe rankled in the soul of Miss Snow, and caused MissMarch to assume the airs of a studious young peacock. But, alas,alas! Pride goes before a fall, and the revengeful Snow turned thetables with disastrous success. No sooner had the guest paid theusual stale compliments and bowed himself out, than Jenny, underpretense of asking an important question, informed Mr. Davis, theteacher, that Amy March had pickled limes in her desk.
Now Mr. Davis had declared limes a contraband article, andsolemnly vowed to publicly ferrule the first person who was foundbreaking the law. This much-enduring man had succeeded in banishingchewing gum after a long and stormy war, had made a bonfire of theconfiscated novels and newspapers, had suppressed a private postoffice, had forbidden distortions of the face, nicknames, andcaricatures, and done all that one man could do to keep half a hundredrebellious girls in order. Boys are trying enough to human patience,goodness knows, but girls are infinitely more so, especially tonervous gentlemen with tyrannical tempers and no more talent forteaching than Dr. Blimber. Mr. Davis knew any quantity of Greek,Latin, algebra, and ologies of all sorts so he was called a fineteacher, and manners, morals, feelings, and examples were notconsidered of any particular importance. It was a most unfortunatemoment for denouncing Amy, and Jenny knew it. Mr. Davis hadevidently taken his coffee too strong that morning, there was aneast wind, which always affected his neuralgia, and his pupils hadnot done him the credit which he felt he deserved. Therefore, touse the expressive, if not elegant, language of a schoolgirl, "Hewas as nervous as a witch and as cross as a bear". The word `limes'was like fire to powder, his yellow face flushed, and he rapped onhis desk with an energy which made Jenny skip to her seat withunusual rapidity.
"Young ladies, attention, if you please!"
At the stern order the buzz ceased, and fifty pairs of blue,black, gray, and brown eyes were obediently fixed upon his awfulcountenance.
"Miss March, come to the desk."
Amy rose to comply with outward composure, but a secret fearoppressed her, for the limes weighed upon her conscience.
"Bring with you the limes you have in your desk," was theunexpected command which arrested her before she got out of her seat.
"Don't take all." whispered her neighbor, a young lady of greatpresence of mind.
Amy hastily shook out half a dozen and laid the rest down beforeMr. Davis, feeling that any man possessing a human heart would relentwhen that delicious perfume met his nose. Unfortunately, Mr. Davisparticularly detested the odor of the fashionable pickle, and disgustadded to his wrath.
"Is that all?"
"Not quite," stammered Amy.
"Bring the rest immediately."
With a despairing glance at her set, she obeyed.
"You are sure there are no more?'
"I never lie, sir."
"So I see. Now take these disgusting things two by two, andthrow them out of the window."
There was a simultaneous sigh, which created quite a little gust,as the last hope fled, and the treat was ravished from their longinglips. Scarlet with shame and anger, Amy went to and fro six dreadfultimes, and as each doomed couple, looking oh, so plump and juicy, fellfrom her reluctant hands, a shout from the street completed the anguishof the girls, for it told them that their feast was being exulted overby the little Irish children, who were their sworn foes. This--thiswas too much. All flashed indignant or appealing glances at theinexorable Davis, and one passionate lime lover burst into tears.
As Amy returned from her last trip, Mr. Davis gave a portentous"Hem!" and said, in his most impressive manner...
"Young ladies, you remember what I said to you a week ago. Iam sorry this has happened, but I never allow my rules to be infringed,and I never break my word. Miss March, hold out your hand."
Amy started, and put both hands behind her, turning on him animploring look which pleaded for her better than the words she couldnot utter. She was rather a favorite with `old Davis', as, of course,he was called, and it's my private belief that he would have brokenhis word if the indignation of one irrepressible young lady had notfound vent in a hiss. That hiss, faint as it was, irritated theirascible gentleman, and sealed the culprit's fate.
"Your hand, Miss March!" was the only answer her mute appealreceived, and too proud to cry or beseech, Amy set her teeth, threwbach her head defiantly, and bore without flinching several tinglingblows on her little palm. They were neither many nor heavy, but thatmade no difference to her. For the first time in her life she hadbeen struck, and the disgrace, in her eyes, was as deep as if he hadknocked her down.
"You will now stand on the platform till recess," said Mr. Davis,resolved to do the thing thoroughly, since he had begun.
That was dreadful. It would have been bad enough to go to herseat, and see the pitying faces of her friends, or the satisfiedones of her few enemies, but to face the whole school, with thatshame fresh upon her, seemed impossible, and for a second she feltas if she could only drop down where she stood, and break her heartwith crying. A bitter sense of wrong and the thought of Jenny Snowhelped her to bear it, and, taking the ignominious place, she fixedher eyes on the stove funnel above what now seemed a sea of faces,and stood there, so motionless and white that the girls found ithard to study with that pathetic figure before them.
During the fifteen minutes that followed, the proud and sensitivelittle girl suffered a shame and pain which she never forgot. Toothers it might seem a ludicrous or trivial affair, but to her it wasa hard experience, for during the twelve years of her life she had beengoverned by love alone, and a blow of that sort had never touched herbefore. The smart of her hand and the ache of her heart were forgottenin the sting of the thought, "I shall have to tell at home, and theywill be so disappointed in me!"
The fifteen minutes seemed an hour, but they came to an end atlast, and the word `Recess!' had never seemed so welcome to her before.
"You can go, Miss March," said Mr. Davis, looking, as he felt,uncomfortable.
He did not soon forget the reproachful glance Amy gave him, asshe went, without a word to anyone, straight into the anteroom,snatched her things, and left the place "forever," as she passionatelydeclared to herself. She was in a sad state when she got home, andwhen the older girls arrived, some time later, an indignation meetingwas held at once. Mrs. March did not say much but looked disturbed,and comforted her afflicted little daughter in her tenderest manner.Meg bathed the insulted hand with glycerine and tears, Beth feltthat even her beloved kittens would fail as a balm for griefs likethis, Jo wrathfully proposed that Mr. Davis be arrested without delay,and Hannah shook her fist at the `villain' and pounded potatoes fordinner as if she had him under her pestle.
No notice was taken of Amy's flight, except by her mates, butthe sharp-eyed demoiselles discovered that Mr. Davis was quitebenignant in the afternoon, also unusually nervous. Just beforeschool closed, Jo appeared, wearing a grim expression as shestalked up to the desk, and delivered a letter from her mother,then collected Amy's property, and departed, carefully scrapingthe mud from her boots on the door mat, as if she shook that dustof the place off her feet.
"Yes, you can have a vacation from school, but I want you tostudy a little every day with Beth," said Mrs. March that evening."I don't approve of corporal punishment, especially for girls. Idislike Mr. Davis's manner of teaching and don't think the girlsyou associate with are doing you any good, so I shall ask yourfather's advice before I send you anywhere else."
"That's good! I wish all the girls would leave, and spoilhis old school. It's perfectly maddening to think of those lovelylimes," sighed Amy, with the air of a martyr.
"I am not sorry you lost them, for you broke the rules, anddeserved some punishment for disobedience," was the severe reply,which rather disappointed the young lady, who expected nothing butsympathy.
"Do you mean you are glad I was disgraced before the wholeschool?" cried Amy.
"I should not have chosen that way of mending a fault,"replied her mother, "but I'm not sure that it won't do you moregood than a molder method. You are getting to be rather conceited,my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it. Youhave a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need ofparading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is notmuch danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long,even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it wellshould satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty."
"So it is!" cried Laurie, who was playing chess in a cornerwith Jo. "I knew a girl once, who had a really remarkable talentfor music, and she didn't know it, never guessed what sweet littlethings she composed when she was alone, and wouldn't have believedit if anyone had told her."
"I wish I'd known that nice girl. Maybe she would have helpedme, I'm so stupid," said Beth, who stood beside him, listeningeagerly.
"You do know her, and she helps you better than anyone elsecould," answered Laurie, looking at her with such mischievousmeaning in his merry black eyes that Beth suddenly turned veryred, and hid her face in the sofa cushion, quite overcome by suchan unexpected discovery.
Jo let Laurie win the game to pay for that praise of her Beth,who could not be prevailed upon to play for them after her compliment.So Laurie did his best, and sang delightfully, being in a particularlylively humor, for to the Marches he seldom showed the moody sideof his character. When he was gone, amy, who had been pensiveall evening, said suddenly, as if busy over some new idea,"Is Laurie an accomplished boy?"
"Yes, he has had an excellent education, and has much talent.He will make a fine man, if not spoiled by petting," replied her mother.
"And he isn't conceited, is he?" asked Amy.
"Not in the least. That is why he is so charming and we alllike him so much."
"I see. It's nice to have accomplishments and be elegant, butnot to show off or get perked up," said Amy thoughtfully.
"These things are always seen and felt in a person's mannerand conversations, if modestly used, but it is not necessary todisplay them," said Mrs. March.
"Any more than it's proper to wear all your bonnets and gownsand ribbons at once, that folks may know you've got them," added Jo, and the lecture ended in a laugh.