如果有什么东西让我们年轻人伤心，那就是听到这种说话；如果我们听到"走开，亲爱的"，那就更加难受。艾美听到这句刺心话发起怒来，决意即使纠缠一 个小时也要弄清楚这个秘密。她转向一贯迁就她的梅格撒娇道：“告诉我吧！我知道你们会让我一起去的，因为贝思光顾着弹钢琴，我无事可干，这么孤单。““不 行，亲爱的，因为没有邀请你，“梅格开口了。
但乔不耐烦地打断她：“嘿，梅格，别说了，不然你会把事情弄糟。你不能去，艾美，别像个三岁小孩，嘀嘀咕咕的。““你们要和劳里一起出去，我知道是 这样；你们昨晚在沙发上又说又笑，见我进来就不做声了。你们是不是跟他去？““对，是跟他去；现在别做声了，不要缠着我们。“艾美住了嘴，但眼睛却在观 察，她看到梅格把一把扇子塞进衣袋里。
她的声调和神态激怒了艾美，她开始穿上靴子，用最使人恼火的口吻说：“我就是要去，梅格都说我可以去；如果我自个儿付钱，这事就与劳里不相干。“ “你不能和我们一起坐，因为我们的座位是预定的。而你又不能一个人坐，那么劳里就会把他的位子让给你，这就扫了大家的兴；要不他就会另外给你找个座位，这 也不合适，因为人家原来并没有请你。你一步也别动，好生呆着吧，“乔责备着，匆忙中她把手指扎伤了，更加生气。
艾美穿着一只靴子坐在地上，放声大哭，梅格好言相劝，这时劳里在下面叫她们，两位姑娘赶忙下楼，留下妹妹在那里嚎啕大哭；这位妹妹有时会忘掉自己的 大人风度，表现得像个宠坏了的孩子。就在这班人正要出发之际，艾美倚在楼梯扶手上用威胁的声调叫道：“你一定会后悔的，乔·马奇，走着瞧吧！““废话！ “乔回敬道，砰的一声关上门。
《钻石湖的七个城堡》精彩绝伦，那天他们度过了一段十分迷人的时光。不过，尽管红色小魔鬼滑稽趣怪，小精灵熠熠生辉，王子公主羡煞神仙，乔的快乐心 情却总是夹杂着一丝歉意：看到美若天仙的王后一头黄色鬈发，她便想到艾美，幕间休息时便猜测艾美会采取什么行动来令她"后悔"。到底会采取什么行动呢？她 和艾美在生活中发生过多次小冲突，两人都是急性子，惹急了都会发怒。艾美挑逗乔，乔激怒艾美，凡此种种，纠缠不清，极偶然便会爆发出雷霆风暴，事后两人都 追悔不已。乔虽然年长，却最不善于控制自己。她的刚烈性格屡屡使她惹祸上身，她为了驾驭这匹脱缰野马吃了不少苦头，她的怒气总是消得很快，一待乖乖地认了 错，她便诚心悔改，努力补偿。她的姐妹们常说她们到挺喜欢把乔逗得勃然大怒，因为狂风骤雨之后她便成了无比温顺的天使。可怜的乔拼尽全力要做个好孩子，但 深藏心中的敌人总是随时跳出来，把她打倒。经过数年的耐心努力之后，这匹野马才被征服。
回到家时，她们看到艾美在客厅读书。她们进来的时候她装出一副受伤的神情，看着书眼也不抬，也不问一句话。若非贝思在那里问长问短，听两位姐姐热情 洋溢地把话剧描绘一番，艾美也许就会顾不得怨恨，自己也去问个明白了。乔上楼去放她自己最好的帽子时，首先望望衣柜，因为上次吵架后艾美把乔的顶层抽屉底 朝天倒翻地上，借以出气。幸好，一切都原封不动。匆匆扫一眼自己各式各样的衣橱、袋子、箱子等物后，乔自信艾美已原谅了自己，忘记了她的过错。
“对，烧掉了！你昨天对我发脾气，我说过要让你后悔的，我这样做了，所以--"艾美不敢往下再说，因为乔早已怒发冲冠，她狠劲猛摇艾美，把她弄得牙 齿在脑袋里头格格作响，一面悲愤交加地大叫道--“你这个狠心、歹毒的女孩！我再也写不出这样的书来，我这辈子都不会原谅你！“梅格飞身上前营救艾美，贝 思则赶忙上来安抚乔，但乔仍然怒不可遏，她给妹妹一记耳光作为临别纪念，冲出房间，跑上阁楼，坐在那张旧沙发上，独个结束这场战斗。
楼下的风暴已开始停息。马奇太太回来听到这事后，三言两语便使艾美认识到自己做了伤害姐姐的错事。乔的书是她心中的骄傲，被一家人视为极有前途的文 学萌芽。书里只写了六个神话小故事，但却是乔耐心耕耘所得。她把全身心投入工作，希望写好后能够出版。她刚刚小心翼翼地把故事抄好，并毁掉了草稿，因此艾 美的一把火便把她数年的心血毁于一旦。这对于别人来说可能是个小损失，但对乔却是灭顶之灾，她觉得无论怎样补救都无济于事。贝思犹如死掉了一只小猫咪一样 沉痛哀悼，梅格拒绝为自己的宠儿说话；马奇太太神情严峻，伤心万分，艾美后悔不迭，心想如果自己不向乔道歉，就再也没有人爱她了。
大家对这件不幸的事情绝口不提--连马奇太太也不例外--因为大家得出一条经验，但凡乔情绪如此低落，说什么都没有用，最明智的办法是等一些偶然的 小事或她本身宽容的天性来化解怨恨，治愈创伤。这天晚上虽然她们如常一样做针线活，母亲照样朗读布雷默、司各特、埃奇沃思的文章，但气氛总是不对劲儿，大 家毫无心情，原来甜蜜、温馨的家庭生活泛起了波澜。到了唱歌时间，大家的感觉更加难受，贝思只是默默抚琴，乔呆立一旁，活像个石头人，艾美失声痛哭，只剩 下梅格和母亲孤军作战。但是，虽然她们力图唱得像云雀一样轻快，银铃般的嗓音已失去往日的和谐，全都走音走调。
当乔接受晚安吻别时，马奇太太柔声低语道：“亲爱的，别让愤怒的乌云遮住了太阳；互相原谅，互相帮助，明天再重新开始。“乔想把头伏在母亲怀里，哭 去一切悲伤和愤怒；但男儿有泪不轻弹，而且，她觉得受到的伤害是如此之深，一时实在不能原谅。因此她拼命眨巴着眼睛，摇摇头，因为知道艾美在一旁听着，于 是硬绷绷地说：“这种事情卑鄙之极，她罪不可耍"言毕她大步走回寝室。那个晚上姐妹们没有说笑，也没有讲悄悄话。
艾美因自己主动求和而遭严厉拒绝，不禁恼羞成怒，她后悔自己太低声下气，觉得自己受到了前所未有的伤害，于是更故意摆出一副高姿态，令人十分恼火。 乔的脸上依然阴云密布，这一天事情全出了岔儿。早晨寒风飕飕；乔把卷饼掉落沟里，马奇婶婶大发脾气，梅格郁郁寡欢，贝思在家里总是一副伤感而心事重重的样 子，艾美则大发宏论，批评某些人口里常说要做好孩子，现在人家已为他们树立了榜样了，却又不愿去做。
“瞧！她答应过下次带我去，因为这是最后一个冰期了，但叫这么个火爆性子带上我，也等于白说。““别这样说。你也确实太淘气了。你烧掉了她的宝贝书 稿，要她原谅可不那么容易；不过我想现在她或许会这样做的，只要你在适当的时候试探她，我想她会心软的，“梅格说，“跟着他们；什么也别说，单等乔跟劳里 玩得情绪好转了，你才静静上前去给她一吻，或是做些什么讨人喜欢的事情。我敢说她会全心全意再做朋友的。““我一定努力，“艾美说，觉得这个忠告正中下 怀。她一阵风似地收拾一番，向他们追出去，两位朋友正渐行渐远，身影逐渐消失在山的那面。
乔转头望了一眼，藏在心里的小魔鬼在她耳边使劲唤道--“不论她有没有听到，让她自己照顾自己吧！“劳里绕过弯口消失了身影，乔来到弯口边，远远跟 在后面的艾美正迈步向河中间较为平滑的冰面走去。乔呆立了一会，她心中升起一种奇怪的感觉；接着她决定继续向前走，但一种莫名的感觉使她停下脚步，转过身 来，正好看见艾美举起双手，身子往下跌，破裂的冰块突然嘎嚓一响，水花四溅，同时传来一声尖叫，吓得乔心脏都几乎停止了跳动。她想叫劳里，声音却不听使 唤；她想冲上前去，但双脚却疲软无力；有一小会儿功夫，她只能一动不动地呆立着，死死盯着黑色冰面上那顶小蓝帽，惊恐得脸上变了颜色。这时，一个身影从她 身边疾驰而过，只听劳里大声喊道--“拿根横杆来。快，快！“她不知道自己是怎样做的，但接下来的几分钟她犹如着了魔一样，盲目听从劳里吩咐。劳里相当镇 静，他平卧下去，用手臂和曲棍球棒拉起艾美，乔从栅栏拔出一根栏杆，两人齐心合力，把艾美弄了出来。艾美伤势不重，只是这一惊非同小可。
两人打着冷颤送艾美回家，水珠儿泪珠儿一起往下滴。一阵手忙脚乱之后，艾美裹着毛毯在暖和的炉火前睡着了。乔由始至终几乎一言不发，只是团团乱转， 脸色苍白，衣饰凌乱不堪，裙子撕破了，双手被冰块、栅栏和坚硬的衣扣刮得肿起了青块。当艾美舒舒服服地睡着了，屋里也安静下来之后，马奇太太坐在床边，把 乔叫过来，给她包扎弄伤了的双手。
“您不知道，您想象不出我性子有多坏！我发火时似乎可以无所不为；我变得毫无人性，可以做出伤害别人的事，而且还乐在其中。我担心有一天我会做出可 怕的事情，毁掉自己的一生，使天下人都憎恨我。噢，妈妈，帮帮我吧，千万帮帮我！““我会的，孩子，我会的。别哭得这么伤心，但要记住这一天，并且要痛下 决心不再让这种事情重演。乔，亲爱的，我们都会遇到诱惑，有些甚至比这种大得多，我们常常要用一生时间来征服它们。你以为自己的脾气是天下最坏的了，但我 的脾气以前就跟你的一模一样。““您有脾气，妈妈？您从来都不生气啊！“乔惊讶得暂时忘掉了悔恨。
“我努力改了四十年，现在才刚刚控制祝我过去几乎每天都生气，乔，但我学会了不把它表露出来；我还希望学会不把它感觉出来，虽然可能又得花上四十年 的功夫。“她深爱的母亲的脸孔流露出一种忍耐和谦卑，乔觉得这比最振振有词的训导和最严厉的斥责都更有说服力。母亲的安慰和信任使她心里好受多了；知道自 己的母亲也有照自己一样的缺点，并且努力改正，她觉得自己更要下决心改正过来，虽然四十年对于一个十五岁的少女来说似乎相当漫长。
“但我在比你稍大一点的时候便失去了她。我自尊心极强，不愿在别人面前暴露弱点，因此多年来只能独自挣扎。我失败过许多次，乔，并为此洒下无数痛苦 的泪水，因为尽管我非常努力，但似乎总是毫无进展。后来你父亲出现了，我沉浸在幸福之中，发现做好并非难事。但后来，当我膝下有了四个小女儿，家道中落 时，老毛病又犯了，因为我天生缺乏耐性，看到自己的孩子缺衣少食，心里便煎熬得厉害。““可怜的妈妈！那么是什么帮助了您？““你父亲，乔。他从不失去耐 心--从不怀疑，从不怨天尤人--而是乐观地企盼、工作和等待，我只有向他学习，才不至自惭形秽。他帮助我，安慰我，让我知道如果我想自己的小姑娘拥有高 尚的道德，自己就要言传身教，因为我就是她们的榜样。想到为你们努力，而不是为自己，事情就变得简单了；每当我言语粗暴，你们向我投来又惊又骇的目光时， 我便感到羞愧难当；我努力以身作则，赢得了自己孩子的爱、尊敬和信任，这就是最美好的报偿。““呵，妈妈，如果我及得上您一半，就心满意足了，“乔深受感 动地说道。
“我希望你会做得比我更好，亲爱的，但你得时时提防你'藏在心中的敌人'，正如你爸爸所说，不然，即使它没有毁掉你一生，也会使你终身痛苦。你已经 得到了教训；要把它牢记在心头，竭尽全力控制自己的暴躁脾气，以免酿成更大的悲剧，令自己抱憾终身。““我一定努力，妈妈，真的。但您得帮助我，提醒我， 防止我乱发脾气。我以前看见爸爸有时用手指按住双唇，用异常亲切而严肃的眼光望着您，您便紧咬嘴唇，或是走出门去：他这样是不是在提醒您？“乔轻轻问道。
“是的。我叫他这样帮助我，他也从来没有忘记。看到那个小小的手势和亲切的目光，我的脾气便发不出来了。“乔看到母亲一双眼睛泪水晶莹，讲话时嘴唇 轻轻颤动，担心自己说得太多了，便赶紧轻声问道：“我这样望着您，跟您谈这个问题合适吗？我并非有意冒犯您，可是跟您诉说心事我就觉得非常畅快，坐在这里 我就感到又安全又幸福。““我的乔，你可以向母亲倾诉衷肠。我的女儿向我诉说心里话，并明白我是多么爱她们，这对我是最可喜最可骄傲的事情。““我以为自 己使您伤心了呢？““不，亲爱的；只是谈起父亲，我便想到自己多么想念他，多么感激他，多么应该忠实地为他照看他的四个小女儿，使她们生活得平安幸福。 “但是您却叫他上前线去，妈妈，他走时您没掉眼泪，现在也从不埋怨，似乎您从不需要帮助，“乔不解地说。
我似乎不需要帮助，那是因为我有一个比父亲更好的朋友在安慰我，支持我。孩子，你生活中的烦恼和诱惑正开始露头，而且可能还会有许多，但只要你感受 到天父的力量和仁爱，正如你感受到你平凡的父爱一样，你就能战胜它们，超越它们。你对天父之爱越深，信任越大，你就觉得与他越接近，受世俗的束缚就越校天 父的慈爱和关怀旷日持久，永远与你同在，它是人生和平、幸福和力量的源泉。坚守这个信念，向上帝尽情倾诉自己的种种苦恼、希望、悲伤和罪过吧，就像你向妈 妈倾诉一样。“乔紧紧拥抱着母亲，无限热诚地默默祈祷，此后心中一片宁静；在那既悲又喜的时刻，她不但咀嚼到悔恨绝望的痛苦滋味，也尝到了自我否认和自我 控制的甜蜜感受；天父对儿童的爱胜似天底下任何父母，在母亲的带领下，她与这位"朋友"靠得更近了。
"Girls, where are you going?" asked Amy, coming into theirroom one Saturday afternoon, and finding them getting ready togo out with an air of secrecy which excited her curiosity.
"Never mind. Little girls shouldn't ask questions," returnedJo sharply.
Now if there is anything mortifying to out feelings when weare young, it is to be told that, and to be bidden to "run away,dear" is still more trying to us. Amy bridled up at this insult,and determined to find out the secret, if she teased for an hour.Turning to Meg, who never refused her anything very long, she saidcoaxingly, "Do tell me! I should think you might let me go, too,for Beth is fussing over her piano, and I haven't got anything todo, and am so lonely."
"I can't, dear, because you aren't invited," began Meg, butJo broke in impatiently, "Now, Meg, be quiet or you will spoil itall. You can't go, Amy, so don't be a baby and whine about it."
"You are going somewhere with Laurie, I know you are. Youwere whispering and laughing together on the sofa last night, andyou stopped when I came in. Aren't you going with him?"
"Yes, we are. Now do be still, and stop bothering."
Amy held her tongue, but used her eyes, and saw Meg slip afan into her pocket.
"I know! I know! You're going to the theater to see theSEVEN CASTLES!" she cried, adding resolutely, "and I shall go,for Mother said I might see it, and I've got my rag money, andit was mean not to tell me in time."
"Just listen to me a minute, and be a good child," said Megsoothingly. "Mother doesn't wish you to go this week, becauseyour eyes are not well enough yet to bear the light of thisfairy piece. Next week you can go with Beth and Hannah, andhave a nice time."
"I don't like that half as well as going with you and Laurie.Please let me. I've been sick with this cold so long, and shutup, I'm dying for some fun. Do, Meg! I'll be ever so good,"pleaded Amy, looking as pathetic as she could.
"Suppose we take her. I don't believe Mother would mind,if we bundle her up well," began Meg.
"If she goes I shan't, and if I don't, Laurie won't like it,and it will be very rude, after he invited only us, to go anddrag in Amy. I should think she'd hate to poke herself whereshe isn't wanted," said Jo crossly, for she disliked the troubleof overseeing a fidgety child when she wanted to enjoy herself.
Her tone and manner angered Amy, who began to put her bootson, saying, in her most aggravating way, "I shall go. Meg says Imay, and if I pay for myself, Laurie hasn't anything to do with it."
"You can't sit with us, for our seats are reserved, and youmustn't sit alone, so Laurie will give you his place, and thatwill spoil our pleasure. Or he'll get another seat for you, andthat isn't proper when you weren't asked. You shan't stir astep, so you may just stay where you are," scolded Jo, crosserthan ever, having just pricked her finger in her hurry.
Sitting on the floor with one boot on, Amy began to cryand Meg to reason with her, when Laurie called from below, andthe two girls hurried down, leaving their sister wailing. Fornow and then she forgot her grown-up ways and acted like aspoiled child. Just as the party was setting out, Amy calledover the banisters in a threatening tone, "You'll be sorry forthis, Jo March, see if you ain't."
"Fiddlesticks!" returned Jo, slamming the door.
They had a charming time, for THE SEVEN CASTLES OF THEDIAMOND LAKE was as brilliant and wonderful as heart could wish.But in spite of the comical red imps, sparkling elves, and thegorgeous princes and princesses, Jo's pleasure had a drop ofbitterness in it. The fairy queen's yellow curls reminded herof Amy, and between the acts she amused herself with wonderingwhat her sister would do to make her `sorry for it'. She andAmy had had many lively skirmishes in the course of their lives,for both had quick tempers and were apt to be violent when fairlyroused. Amy teased Jo, and Jo irritated Amy, and semioccasionalexplosions occurred, of which both were much ashamed afterward.Although the oldest, Jo had the least self-control, and had hardtimes trying to curb the fiery spirit which was continually gettingher into trouble. Her anger never lasted long, and having humblyconfessed her fault, she sincerely repented and tried to do better.Her sisters used to say that they rather liked to get Jo into afury because she was such an angel afterward. Poor Jo trieddesperately to be good, but her bosom enemy was always ready toflame up and defeat her, and it took years of patient effort tosubdue it.
When they got home, they found amy reading in the parlor.She assumed an injured air as they came in, never lifted her eyesfrom her book, or asked a single question. Perhaps curiositymight have conquered resentment, if Beth had not been there toinquire and receive a glowing description of the play. On goingup to put away her best hat, Jo's first look was toward thebureau, for in their last quarrel Amy had soothed her feelingsby turning Jo's top drawer upside down on the floor. Everythingwas in its place, however, and after a hasty glance into hervarious closets, bags, and boxes, Jo decided that Amy hadforgiven and forgotten her wrongs.
There Jo was mistaken, for next day she made a discoverywhich produced a tempest. Meg, Beth, and Amy were sitting together,late in the afternoon, when Jo burst into the room, looking excitedand demanding breathlessly, "Has anyone taken my book?"
Meg and Beth said, "No." at once, and looked surprised. Amypoked the fire and said nothing. Jo saw her color rise and wasdown upon her in a minute.
"Amy, you've got it!"
"No, I haven't."
"You know where it is, then!"
"No, I don't."
"That's a fib!" cried Jo, taking her by the shoulders, andlooking fierce enough to frighten a much braver child than Amy.
"It isn't. I haven't got it, don't know where it is now, anddon't care."
"You know something about it, and you'd better tell at once,or I'll make you." And Jo gave her a slight shake.
"Scold as much as you like, you'll never see your silly oldbook again," cried Amy, getting excited in her turn.
"I burned it up."
"What! My little book I was so fond of, and worked over, andmeant to finish before Father got home? Have you really burned it?"said Jo, turning very pale, while her eyes kindled and her handsclutched Amy nervously.
"Yes, I did! I told you I'd make you pay for being so crossyesterday, and I have, so..."
Amy got no farther, for Jo's hot temper mastered her, andshe shook Amy till her teeth chattered in her head, crying in apassion of grief and anger...
"You wicked, wicked girl! I never can write it again, andI'll never forgive you as long as I live."
Meg flew to rescue Amy, and Beth to pacify Jo, but Jo wasquite beside herself, and with a parting box on her sister's ear,she rushed out of the room up to the old sofa in the garret, andfinished her fight alone.
The storm cleared up below, for Mrs. March came home, and,having heard the story, soon brought Amy to a sense of the wrongshe had done her sister. Jo's book was the pride of her heart,and was regarded by her family as a literary sprout of greatpromise. It was only half a dozen little fairy tales, but Johad worked over them patiently, putting her whole heart intoher work, hoping to make something good enough to print. Shehad just copied them with great care, and had destroyed the oldmanuscript, so that Amy's bonfire had consumed the loving workof several years. It seemed a small loss to others, but to Joit was a dreadful calamity, and she felt that it never could bemade up to her. Beth mourned as for a departed kitten, and Megrefused to defend her pet. Mrs. March looked grave and grieved,and Amy felt that no one would love her till she had asked pardonfor the act which she now regretted more than any of them.
When the tea bell rang, Jo appeared, looking so grim andunapproachable that it took all Amy's courage to say meekly...
"Please forgive me, Jo. I'm very, very sorry."
"I never shall forgive you," was Jo's stern answer, andfrom that moment she ignored Amy entirely.
No one spoke of the great trouble, not even Mrs. March, forall had learned by experience that when Jo was in that mood wordswere wasted, and the wisest course was to wait till some littleaccident, or her own generous nature, softened Jo's resentmentand healed the breach. It was not a happy evening, for thoughthey sewed as usual, while their mother read aloud from Bremer,Scott, or Edgeworth, something was wanting, and the sweet homepeace was disturbed. They felt this most when singing time came,for Beth could only play, Jo stood dumb as a stone, and Amy brokedown, so Meg and Mother sang alone. But in spite of their effortsto be as cheery as larks, the flutelike voices did not seem tochord as well as usual, and all felt out of tune.
As Jo received her good-night kiss, Mrs. March whispered gently,"My dear, don't let the sun go down upon your anger. Forgive eachother, help each other, and begin again tomorrow."
Jo wanted to lay her head down on that motherly bosom, andcry her grief and anger all away, but tears were an unmanlyweakness, and she felt so deeply injured that she really couldn'tquite forgive yet. So she winked hard, shook her head, and saidgruffly because Amy was listening, "It was an abominable thing,and she doesn't deserve to be forgiven."
With that she marched off to bed, and there was no merryor confidential gossip that night.
Amy was much offended that her overtures of peace had beenrepulsed, and began to wish she had not humbled herself, to feelmore injured than ever, and to plume herself on her superiorvirtue in a way which was particularly exasperating. Jo stilllooked like a thunder cloud, and nothing went well all day. Itwas bitter cold in the morning, she dropped her precious turnoverin the gutter, Aunt March had an attack of the fidgets, Meg wassensitive, Beth would look grieved and wistful when she got home,and Amy kept making remarks about people who were always talkingabout being good and yet wouldn't even try when other people setthem a virtuous example.
"Everybody is so hateful, I'll ask Laurie to go skating. Heis always kind and jolly, and will put me to rights, I know," saidJo to herself, and off she went.
Amy heard the clash of skates, and looked out with an impatientexclamation.
"There! She promised I should go next time, for this is thelast ice we shall have. But it's no use to ask such a crosspatchto take me."
"Don't say that. You were very naughty, and it is hard toforgive the loss of her precious little book, but I think shemight do it now, and I guess she will, if you try her at theright minute," said Meg. "Go after them. Don't say anything tillJo has got good-natured with Laurie, than take a quiet minute andjust kiss her, or do some kind thing, and I'm sure she'll befriends again with all her heart."
"I'll try," said Amy, for the advice suited her, and after aflurry to get ready, she ran after the friends, who were justdisappearing over the hill.
It was not far to the river, but both were ready before Amyreached them. Jo saw her coming, and turned her back. Laurie didnot see, for he was carefully skating along the shore, sounding theice, for a warm spell had preceded the cold snap.
"I'll go on to the first bend, and see if it's all right beforewe begin to race," Amy heard him say, as he shot away, looking likea young Russian in his fur-trimmed coat and cap.
Jo heard Amy panting after her run, stamping her feet andblowing on her fingers as she tried to put her skates on, but Jonever turned and went slowly zigzagging down the river, taking abitter, unhappy sort of satisfaction in her sister's troubles.She had cherished her anger till it grew strong and took possessionof her, as evil thoughts and feelings always do unless cast out atonce. As Laurie turned the bend, he shouted back...
"Keep near the shore. It isn't safe in the middle."Jo heard, but Amy was struggling to her feet and did not catcha word. Jo glanced over her shoulder, and the little demon she washarboring said in her ear...
"No matter whether she heard or not, let her take care ofherself."
Laurie had vanished round the bend, Jo was just at the turn,and Amy, far behind, striking out toward the the smoother ice inthe middle of the river. For a minute Jo stood still with astrange feeling in her heart, then she resolved to go on, butsomething held and turned her round, just in time to see Amy throwup her hands and go down, with a sudden crash of rotten ice, thesplash of water, and a cry that made Jo's heart stand still withfear. She tried to call Laurie, but her voice was gone. She triedto rush forward, but her feet seemed to have no strength in them,and for a second, she could only stand motionless, staring with aterror-stricken face at the little blue hood above the black water.Something rushed swiftly by her, and Laurie's voice cried out...
"Bring a rail. Quick, quick!"
How she did it, she never knew, but for the next few minutesshe worked as if possessed, blindly obeying Laurie, who was quiteself-possessed, and lying flat, held Amy up by his arm and hockeystick till Jo dragged a rail from the fence, and together theygot the child out, more frightened than hurt.
"Now then, we must walk her home as fast as we can. Pile ourthings on her, while I get off these confounded skates," criedLaurie, wrapping his coat round Amy, and tugging away at the strapswhich never seemed so intricate before.
Shivering, dripping, and crying, they got Amy home, and afteran exciting time of it, she fell asleep, rolled in blankets beforea hot fire. During the bustle Jo had scarcely spoken but flownabout, looking pale and wild, with her things half off, her dress torn,and her hands cut and bruised by ice and rails and refractory buckles.When Amy was comfortably asleep, the house quiet, and Mrs. March sittingby the bed, she called Jo to her and began to bind up the hurt hands.
"Are you sure she is safe?" whispered Jo, looking remorsefullyat the golden head, which might have been swept away from her sightforever under the treacherous ice.
"Quite safe, dear. she is not hurt, and won't even take cold,I think, you were so sensible in covering and getting her homequickly," replied her mother cheerfully.
"Laurie did it all. I only let her go. Mother, if she shoulddie, it would be my fault." And Jo dropped down beside the bed ina passion of penitent tears, telling all that had happened, bitterlycondemning her hardness of heart, and sobbing out her gratitude forbeing spared the heavy punishment which might have come upon her."It's my dreadful temper! I try to cure it, I think I have,and then it breaks out worse than ever. OH, Mother, what shall Ido? What shall I do?" cried poor Jo, in despair.
"Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and neverthink it is impossible to conquer your fault," said Mrs. March,drawing the blowzy head to her shoulder and kissing the wet cheekso tenderly that Jo cried even harder.
"You don't know, you can't guess how bad it is! It seems asif I could do anything when I'm in a passion. I get so savage, Icould hurt anyone and enjoy it. I'm afraid I shall do somethingdreadful some day, and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me.Oh, Mother, help me, do help me!"
"I will, my child, I will. Don't cry so bitterly, but rememberthis day, and resolve with all your soul that you will never knowanother like it. Jo, dear, we all have our temptations, some fargreater than yours, and it often takes us all our lives to conquerthem. You think your temper is the worst in the world, but mineused to be just like it."
"Yours, Mother? Why, you are never angry!" And for themoment Jo forgot remorse in surprise.
"I've been trying to cure it for forty years, and have onlysucceeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of mylife, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope tolearn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty yearsto do so."
The patience and the humility of the face she loved so wellwas a better lesson to Jo than the wisest lecture, the sharpestreproof. She felt comforted at once by the sympathy and confidencegiven her. The knowledge that her mother had a fault likehers, and tried to mend it, made her own easier to bear andstrengthened her resolution to cure it, though forty years seemedrather a long time to watch and pray to a girl of fifteen.
"Mother, are you angry when you fold your lips tight togetherand go out of the room sometimes, when Aunt March scolds or peopleworry you?" asked Jo, feeling nearer and dearer to her motherthan ever before.
"Yes, I've learned to check the hasty words that rise to mylips, and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will,I just go away for a minute, and give myself a little shake forbeing so weak and wicked," answered Mrs. March with a sigh and asmile, as she smoothed and fastened up Jo's disheveled hair.
"How did you learn to keep still? That is what troubles me,for the sharp words fly out before I know what I'm about, and themore I say the worse I get, till it's a pleasure to hurt people'sfeelings and say dreadful things. Tell me how you do it, Marmeedear."
"My good mother used to help me..."
"As you do us..." interrupted Jo, with a grateful kiss.
"But I lost her when I was a little older than you are, andfor years had to struggle on alone, for I was too proud to confessmy weakness to anyone else. I had a hard time, Jo, and shed a goodmany bitter tears over my failures, for in spite of my efforts Inever seemed to get on. Then your father came, and I was so happythat i found it easy to be good. But by-and-by, when I had fourlittle daughters round me and we were poor, then the old troublebegan again, for I am not patient by nature, and it tried me verymuch to see my children wanting anything."
"Poor Mother! What helped you then?"
"Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts orcomplains, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfullythat one is ashamed to do otherwise before him. He helped andcomforted me, and showed me that I must try to practice all thevirtues I would have my little girls possess, for I was theirexample. It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own.A startled or surprised look from one of you when I spoke sharplyrebuked me more than any words could have done, and the love,respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward Icould receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have themcopy."
"Oh, Mother, if I'm ever half as good as you, I shall besatisfied," cried Jo, much touched.
"I hope you will be a great deal better, dear, but you mustkeep watch over your `bosom enemy', as father calls it, or itmay sadden, if not spoil your life. You have had a warning.Remember it, and try with heart and soul to master this quicktemper, before it brings you greater sorrow and regret than youhave known today."
"I will try, Mother, I truly will. But you must help me,remind me, and keep me from flying out. I used to see Fathersometimes put his finger on his lips, and look at you with avery kind but sober face, and you always folded your lips tightand went away. Was he reminding you then?" asked Jo softly.
"Yes. I asked him to help me so, and he never forgot it,but saved me from many a sharp word by that little gestureand kind look."
Jo saw that her mother's eyes filled and her lips trembledas she spoke, and fearing that she had said too much, shewhispered anxiously, "Was it wrong to watch you and to speak ofit? I didn't mean to be rude, but it's so comfortable to say allI think to you, and feel so safe and happy here."
"Mu Jo, you may say anything to your mother, for it is mygreatest happiness and pride to feel that my girls confide in meand know how much I love them."
"I thought I'd grieved you."
"No, dear, but speaking of Father reminded me how much Imiss him, how much I owe him, and how faithfully I should watchand work to keep his little daughters safe and good for him."
"Yet you told him to go, Mother, and didn't cry when hewent, and never complain now, or seem as if you needed any help,"said Jo, wondering.
"I gave my best to the country I love, and kept my tearstill he was gone. Why should I complain, when we both havemerely done our duty and will surely be the happier for it inthe end? If I don't seem to need help, it is because I have abetter friend, even than Father, to comfort and sustain me. Mychild, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginningand may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all ifyou learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your HeavenlyFather as you do that of your earthly one. The more you loveand trust Him, and the less you will depend on human power andwisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never betaken from you, but my become the source of lifelong peace,happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to Godwith all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, asfreely and confidingly as you come to your mother."
Jo's only answer was to hold her mother close, and in thesilence which followed the sincerest prayer she had ever prayedleft her heart without words. For in that sad yet happy hour,she had learned not only the bitterness of remorse and despair,but the sweetness of self-denial and self-control, and led byher mother's hand, she had drawn nearer to the Friend who alwayswelcomes every child with a love stronger than that of any father,tenderer than that of any mother.
Amy stirred and sighed in her sleep, and as if eager to beginat once to mend her fault, l Jo looked up with an expression on herface which it had never worn before.
"I let the sun go down on my anger. I wouldn't forgive her,and today, if it hadn't been for Laurie, it might have been toolate! How could I be so wicked?" said Jo, half aloud, as sheleaned over her sister softly stroking the wet hair scattered onthe pillow.
As if she heard, Amy opened her eyes, and held out her arms,with a smile that went straight to Jo's heart. Neither said aword, but they hugged one another close, in spite of the blankets,and everything was forgiven and forgotten in one hearty kiss.