“一对丝袜，一把精致的雕花扇子，还有一条漂亮的蓝色腰带。我原想要那件紫罗兰色的真丝裙子，但却没时间改制了，只好穿我那条旧塔拉丹薄纱裙。“ “这比起我的新薄纱裙子还要好看，衬上腰带就更加漂亮了。我真后悔我的珊瑚手镯给砸坏了，不然你便可以戴上它，“乔说。她生性豪爽大方，只是她的财物大都 破旧不堪，派不上什么用常"宝箱里有一套漂亮的旧式珍珠首饰，但妈妈说鲜花才是年轻姑娘最美丽的饰物，而劳里答应把我要的全都送来，“梅格回答，“来，让 我看看，这是我的新灰色旅行衣--把羽毛卷进我的帽子里，贝思--那是星期天和小型晚会穿的府绸裙子--春天穿显得沉了点，对吧？如果是紫罗兰色的丝绸裙 子就好了；唉！““不要紧，你参加大型晚会还有塔拉丹呢，再说，你穿白衣裳就像个天使，“艾美说道，凝神欣赏着那一小堆漂亮衣饰。
我那件蓝色家居服倒是挺好，翻了新，并刚刚镶了饰边，和新的一样。我的丝绸外衣一点都不时髦，帽子也不像莎莉那顶；我原不想多说，但我对自己的伞失 望极了。我原叫妈妈买一把白柄子的黑伞，她却忘了，带回一把黄柄子的绿桑这把伞结实雅致，因此我不该抱怨，但如果把它跟艾美那把金顶丝绸伞摆在一起，我就 要羞死了。“梅格边叹息边极不满意地审视着那把小桑"把它换过来，“乔提议。
第二天天气不错，梅格体面堂皇地辞别大家，准备体验十四天新奇快乐的生活。马奇太太一开始不同意这次出行，担心玛格丽特回来后会比去时更添一层不 满。但梅格纠缠不休，莎莉也答应会好好照顾她，而且，干了一个冬天的烦闷工作后，到外面玩玩也是一大乐事，母亲便答应下来，让女儿去一尝上流社会的生活滋 味。
莫法特一家确实非常时髦。楼宇富丽堂皇，主人举止优雅，单纯的梅格一开始吃惊不校不过，尽管莫法特一家生活奢华放纵，但他们都是善良的人家，很快便 使客人轻松下来。不知为什么，梅格隐隐觉得他们并非特别有教养，也并非特别聪明，虽然他们衣着华丽，其实内中也不过俗人一个而已。生活奢侈，乘坐豪华辇 车，每天穿上漂亮衣服，除享乐之外一无所事，这种生活自然十分惬意。这正是梅格所思慕的生活。她很快便模仿身边那些人的言谈举止，摆点小架子，装点腔势， 说话时搭上一句半句法语，把头发卷曲，把衣服弄窄，并学着评论流行服式。安妮·莫法特的漂亮东西她见得越多，就越是羡慕不已，自叹不如。如今家在她的心目 中已经变得空无一物、沉闷无趣，工作变得比任何时候都要艰苦。她觉得自己是个一贫如洗、受到严重伤害的姑娘，即使有两对新手套和丝袜也无济于事。
不过，她并没有多少时间来烦恼，因为三位年轻姑娘忙于打发"快乐时光"。她们整天逛商店、散步、骑马、探访朋友，晚上则上剧院或留在家里嬉戏，因为 安妮结交了不少朋友，熟谙待客之道。她的几个姐姐都是十分漂亮的年轻女子，一个已经订婚，而订婚是极为有趣而浪漫的，梅格想。莫法特先生是个体胖、快活的 老绅士，认识她的父亲；莫法特太太，一位体胖、快活的老太太，跟自己的女儿一样十分喜欢梅格。一家人全都宠爱她，“黛茜"，如他们所称，被惯得有点头脑发 热。
临到"小型晚会"那天晚上，她发现那件府绸裙子根本应付不了场面，因为其他姑娘们全都穿着薄薄的裙子，个个打扮得美若天仙；于是塔拉丹出动了，但跟 莎莉簇新的裙子一比，立即相形失色，显得残旧不堪、寒酸落伍。梅格看到姑娘们扫了它一眼后，都互相交换个眼色，双颊顿时烧得通红。她虽然性格温柔，但自尊 心极强。大家对此并没有说什么，不过莎莉主动提出跟她梳理头发，安妮帮她扎腰带，贝儿，那位订了婚的姐姐，则称赞她洁白的双臂。虽然大家全出于好意，但梅 格看到的只是对贫穷的怜悯而已。她独自站立一旁，心情十分沉重，而姑娘们则又说又笑，像披着薄纱的蝴蝶一样到处跑来跑去。正当梅格心酸难受之际，女佣人突 然送进来一箱鲜花。未等她说话，安妮已把盖子打开，众人随即发出一阵惊呼，原来里头装的全是绚丽的玫瑰、杜鹃和绿蕨。
她做得既愉快又得体，大姐卡莱拉不禁称她为"她所见到的最甜美的小东西"，众人也十分欣赏她的小心意。这一善举把她的沮丧心情一驱而散。其他人都跑 到莫法特太太跟前展览去了，她独个儿把几支绿蕨插在自己的鬈发上，又把几朵玫瑰在裙子上别好，这时裙子在她心目中变得没有那么难看了，临镜一照，看到了一 张喜气洋洋双目明亮的脸孔。
那天晚上她尽兴起舞，玩得十分开心；大家都非常友善，她还被人奉承了三次。安妮让她唱歌，有人称赞她声音十分甜美。林肯少校问"那位水灵灵的美目小 姑娘"是谁，莫法特先生坚持要和她跳舞，因为她"不躲懒、舞步轻快有力"，他很有风度地说。这一切都使她的心情十分愉快，不料，她后来不经意听到了几句闲 话，情绪顿时一落千丈。那时她正坐在温室里面，等舞伴给她带冰块过来，突然听到花墙的另一面传来一个声音问道--“她有多大？““十六七岁吧，我想，“另 一个声音答道。
“她是有点傲气，但我不相信她会介意，因为那条邋遢的塔拉丹就是她的一切。她大可今天晚上把它撕破，那就有借口给她送条体面的了。““走着瞧吧。我 要特意为她邀请小劳伦斯，那我就有好戏看了。“这时梅格的舞伴走回来，看到她脸红耳赤，情绪相当激动。她确实是个傲气的姑娘，也幸亏如此，她才忍住了没有 发作，虽然她对刚才听到的闲话感到又羞又气、十分厌恶；因为无论她多么天真无邪，也不至于不明白这种闲话的意思。这些话挥之不去，一直在她耳边纠缠：什 么"马奇太太早有计划"，“撒了个小谎"，“邋遢的塔拉丹"，等等。她真想大哭一场，冲回家去倾诉苦恼，寻求忠告。无奈这是不可能的事，她只得强装笑脸。 由于心情激动，她一点也没有露出破绽，没有人想象得出她心里正在翻江倒海。终于盼到人散灯灭，她静静躺在床上，千思百想，愤愤不平，一直弄得脑袋生痛，又 洒下几滴清泪，凉丝丝地落在烧得赤热的脸颊上。那些没有恶意的无聊话为梅格开辟了一个新天地，把她一直以来孩子般生活着的纯真、平静的旧天地搅得涟漪阵 阵。她和劳里天真无邪的友谊被无意听来的废话蒙上了一层阴影；她对妈妈的信心也因以小人之心度人的莫法特太太 "早有计划 "几个字而产生了一点动摇；她原以为自己是穷人家的女儿，衣着简朴乃是无可非议的事情，所以一向知足，岂料这帮姑娘看到旧裙子就如同看到普天之下最大的灾 难一样，滥发同情之心，她不禁也对自己的信念产生了一丝怀疑。
可怜的梅格一夜无眠，起床时眼皮沉重，心情极坏。她既怨自己的朋友无事生非，又愧自己不敢坦诚说出真相，以正视听。那天早上姑娘们全都慵慵懒懒，直 到中午时分才提起劲头做毛线活。梅格马上意识到她的朋友们神色异常；她们待她更加敬重，对她的言谈十分关注，并且用十分好奇的眼光看着她。这一切令她既惊 奇又得意，只是丈二和尚摸不着头脑。最后，贝儿把头从书本里抬起来，嗲声嗲气地说--“黛茜，亲爱的，我给你的朋友劳伦斯先生送了一份请帖，请他星期四过 来。我们也想认识认识他，这可是特意为你而请的哟。“梅格红了脸，但她突然想捉弄一下这些姑娘们，于是装作一本正经地回答：“你们的心意我领了，只是我恐 怕他不会来。““为什么，ｃｈéｒｉｅ？“贝儿小姐问。
但莎莉仍然没有明白过来，她友好地惊叫起来：“只有那么一条？真好笑--“她的话只说了半截，因为贝儿赶紧朝她摇头，插进来友善地说--“这并没有 什么好笑；她又不出去社交，要这么多衣服有什么用？即使你有一打，黛茜，也不必往家里要。我有一条漂亮的蓝色真丝裙子，我穿着嫌小了些，白白搁在一边，倒 不如你来穿上，遂遂我的心意，好吗，亲爱的？““谢谢你的好意，但如果你们不在意，我倒不在乎穿我的旧裙子，像我这样的小姑娘这样穿挺合适，“梅格说。
星期四晚上，贝儿把自己和女佣关在房里，两人合力把梅格变成一个绝代佳人。她们把她的头发烫曲，在她的颈脖和胳膊扑上一种香粉，在她的双唇抹上珊瑚 色的唇膏，使它们显得更红，如果不是梅格反抗，霍丹斯还会加上"一点点胭脂“。她们把她裹进天蓝色的裙子里，裙子又紧又窄，她几乎透不过起来，领口开得极 低，矜持的梅格对着镜子羞得红晕满脸。一套银丝首饰也被戴上了：手镯、项链、胸针、甚至耳环，因为霍丹斯用一条看不出来的粉红色丝线把它们系了起来。一丛 点缀胸前的香水月季花蕾和一条花边褶带衬得梅格一双玉肩优美动人，一对高跟蓝色丝靴也使她的最后一道心愿得到满足。一条镶边手帕、一把羽毛扇和一束银枝礼 花，终于把她打扮完毕。贝儿小姐满意地审视着自己的杰作，就像一个小姑娘在看一个刚刚打扮好的洋娃娃一样。
梅格拖着长裙跟在后面，裙子窸窣有声，耳环一摇一晃，鬈发上下波动，心儿砰砰猛跳。刚才那面镜子已明明白白地告诉她自己是个"小美人"，她觉得似乎 她的"好戏"真的已经开始了。朋友们热情洋溢，不断地称她为"小美人"，她站在那里，好像寓言里的寒鸦，尽情享受着自己借来的羽毛，起他人则像一班喜鹊， 叽叽喳喳地叫个不停。
莫法特夫妇和几个早到的客人已经聚集在那里。她很快发现华丽的衣服有一种魅力，就是能吸引那么一些人，获得他们的尊敬。几位以前没有正眼瞧过她的年 轻小姐突然变得十分亲热；几个上次舞会只是盯着她看的年轻绅士现在不只盯着她看，还要求介绍介绍，而且向她极尽奉承，说了许多愚不可及但十分入耳的话；几 位坐在沙发上指指点点的老太太感兴趣地打探她是何方人氏。梅格听到莫法特太太回答其中一个说--“黛茜·马奇--父亲是部队的上校--我们的远亲，可惜时 运不济，你知道；劳伦斯家的密友；甜姐儿，告诉你吧；我家内德对她很是着迷哩。““噢！“那老太太戴上眼镜把梅格又再细看一遍。听到莫法特太太谎话连篇， 梅格只装作好像没有听见，也并不震惊。
那种"头晕目眩"的感觉仍然没有消失，但她想象自己正在扮演这一新角色，倒也觉得相当愉快，不过，她的两胁被紧身裙勒得隐隐作痛，双脚不断踩到长 裙，还老得提防那对耳环，担心它们突然甩出来，弄丢或摔破了。她正手摇折扇，咯咯笑着听一位卖弄诙谐的年轻人讲并不好笑的笑话，突然止住了笑声，显得手足 无措，原来，她看到劳里正站在对面。他紧紧地盯着她，毫不掩饰心中的惊愕，还有不快，她想，因为他虽然躬身致礼，面露微笑，但坦诚的眼睛却流露出一种眼 光，令她羞红了脸，只恨没有穿上自己的旧裙子。她看到贝儿用肘子碰碰安妮，两人的目光从她身上扫到劳里身上，更加心乱如麻，幸亏劳里看上去孩子气十足，而 且十分害羞，她这才安下心来。
这话出自一个比自己年轻的小伙子口里，叫梅格如何接受。她转身就走，一面恨恨地说道：“我从来没有见过你这样无礼的男孩子。“她又气又恼地走到一扇 窗边，站在无人之处，让自己的双颊凉下来，因为紧身裙箍得她头热脑胀，很不舒服。这么呆站着时，林肯少校从她身边走过，不一会儿，她听到他跟他自己的母亲 说道--“他们在愚弄那个小姑娘；我原想让你见见她的，但他们把她全毁了；今天晚上一无是处，只是一个洋娃娃。““唉，上帝！“梅格叹息道，“如果我理智 一点，穿上自己的衣服，就不会令人厌恶，也不会生出这般烦恼，自惭自愧。“她把额头靠在冰凉的窗棂上面，任由窗帘半掩着自己的身影，她最喜欢的华尔兹已经 开始，她也仿佛全然不觉。这时，一个人碰碰她；她回过身来，看到了劳里。他一脸悔色，郑重其事地向她鞠了个躬，伸出手来--“请恕我一时无礼，来和我跳个 舞吧。““恐怕这会委屈了你呢。“梅格试图装出一副生气的样子，却一点也装不出来。
“我向你保证我不会说，只是她们问我时该怎样回答？““就说我看上去挺好，玩得很开心。““第一项我会全心全意地说的，只是第二项怎么说？你看上去 并不像玩得开心，不是吗？“劳里盯着她，那种神情促使她悄声说道--“是，刚才是不开心。不要以为我那么讨厌。我只是想开个小玩笑，但我发现这种玩笑毫无 益处，我已经开始厌倦了。““内德·莫法特走过来了，他想干什么？“劳里边说边皱起黑色的眉头，仿佛并不欢迎这位年轻主人的到来。
梅格快乐地跟大家讲了她的经历，并一再说她玩得十分痛快，但她的情绪似乎仍然有点不对劲。当两个小妹妹去睡觉之后，她坐在那里若有所思地呆呆盯着炉 火，寡言少语，神情焦虑。时钟敲过九下，乔也说要睡觉了，梅格突然离开坐椅，拿起贝思的跪凳，双肘靠在母亲的膝头上，勇敢地说道--"妈咪，我想'坦白 '。““我也料到了，是什么事，亲爱的？““要我走开吗？“乔知趣地问道。
“我说过她们把我打扮一新，但我没告诉你们她们给我涂脂抹粉，烫曲头发，给我穿紧身裙，把我收拾得像个时髦人儿。劳里虽然嘴里没说，但我知道他心里 也认为我不像话，有一个人甚至叫我是'洋娃娃'。我知道这样很傻，但她们奉承我，说我是个美人呀什么的，我便任凭她们摆布了。““就这些吗？“乔问，马奇 太太则默默注视着美丽的女儿那张沮丧的脸孔，不忍心责备她干的那些傻事。
“还有一些什么吧，我想。“马奇太太抚摸着女儿嫩滑的脸颊。梅格突然涨红了脸，慢慢答道--“是的。这很无聊，但我想说出来，因为我痛恨人家这样猜 测和议论我们和劳里之间的关系。“接着她把在莫法特家听到的流言蜚语告诉她们。乔看到母亲一面听一面紧闭双唇，似乎十分气愤，居然有人把这种念头塞进梅格 天真无邪的脑子里。
“哎呀，我第一次听到这样无耻的废话！“乔气愤地叫道，“你为什么不当场走出来说个明白？““我做不到，这太窘了。起初我是无意听到的，但后来我又 怒又羞，倒没想起该走开了。““待我见到安妮·莫法特，你就知道我怎样解决这种荒唐事！什么'早有计划'，什么对劳里好是因为他家有钱，以后会娶我们！如 果我告诉他那些无聊东西是怎样谈论我们穷孩子的，他不叫起来才怪！“乔说着笑起来，似乎这种事情想深一层不过是个大笑话而已。
“对，千万不要再重复那种愚昧的闲话，并尽快把它们忘掉，“马奇太太严肃地说，“我让你置身于那些我了解甚少的人们中间，真是很不明智--我敢说， 他们心肠不坏，但精于世故，缺乏教养，对年轻人满脑子粗俗念头。我对这次出访可能对你造成的伤害说不出有多么难过，梅格。““不要难过，我不会因此而受伤 害的。我会把坏的全抛诸脑后，只记住好的，因为我确实也玩得很尽兴，很感谢您让我去。我不会因此而伤心，也不会不知足，妈妈。我知道自己是个傻小姑娘，我 会留在您身边，直到可以自己照顾自己。
“这十分自然，如果这种喜欢不过分，不会导致你去做傻事或去做女孩子不该做的事情，那就一点都没有害处。要学会认识和珍惜有价值的赞美话，用谦虚和 美丽来激发优秀的人们对你的敬意，梅格。“玛格丽特坐着想了一会，乔则背手而立，专注的神情带着几分迷惑。她看到梅格红着脸谈论爱慕、情人等诸如此类的东 西，觉得十分新鲜。乔觉得自己的姐姐似乎在那两个星期里令人惊奇地长大了，从她身边飘走，飘进一个她不能跟随的世界。
“有，亲爱的，有很多呢；每个母亲都有自己的计划，但我的恐怕跟莫法特太太所说的有些不同。我会告诉你其中一部分，是到了跟你严肃地谈一谈的时候 了，把你小脑袋里的浪漫念头拨到正道上来。你还年轻，梅格，但也不至于不明白我的话。这种话由母亲来跟你们说最合适不过了。乔，也许很快就会轮到你的，也 一起来听听我的'计划'吧。如果是好计划，就帮我一起执行。“乔走过来，坐到椅子扶手上，看上去仿佛她以为她们就要参加到什么极其严肃的事情中去一样。马 奇太太执着两个女儿的手，若有所思地望着两张年轻的面庞，语调严肃而轻快地说--“我希望我的女儿们美丽善良，多才多艺；受人爱慕，受人敬重；青春幸福， 姻缘美满。愿上帝垂爱，使她们尽量无忧无虑，过一种愉快而有意义的生活。被一个好男人爱上并选为妻子是一个女人一生最大的幸福，我热切希望我的姑娘们可以 体会到这种美丽的经历。考虑这种事情是很自然的事，梅格，期望和等待也是对的，而明智之举是做好准备，这样，当幸福时刻到来时，你才会觉得自己已准备好承 担责任，无愧于这种幸福。我的好女儿，我对你们寄予厚望，但并不是要你们急冲乱撞--仅仅因为有钱人豪门华宅，出手阔绰，便嫁给他们，这些豪宅并不是家， 因为里头没有爱情。金钱是必要而且宝贵的东西--如果用之有道，还是一种高贵的东西--但我决不希望你们把它看作是首要的东西或唯一的奋斗目标。我宁愿你 们成为拥有爱情、幸福美满的穷人家的妻子，也不愿你们做没有自尊、没有安宁的皇后。““贝儿说，如果不主动出击，穷人家的姑娘就永远不会有机会，“梅格叹 息说。
“说得好，乔，宁愿做快乐的老处女，也不做伤心的太太或不正经的女孩子，四处乱跑找丈夫，“马奇太太用坚定的口吻说，“不要烦恼，梅格，一个情到深 处的恋人是不会轻易被贫穷吓倒的。我所知道的一些最优秀、最高贵的女士原来也是出身寒门，但爱神并没有遗忘这些可爱的女士们。耐心等待吧；让我们的家充满 幸福，这样，当你们自己有一个家的时候，才可以承担起责任，如果没有，便在这里知足常乐地过一生。好孩子，记住：妈妈随时随刻都是你们倾诉闺中心事的知 己，爸爸是你们的朋友；无论人们结婚还是独身，我们都希望自己的女儿能够成为我们生活中的骄傲和安慰。“
"I do think it was the most fortunate thing in the world thatthose children should have the measles just now," said Meg, oneApril day, as she stood packing the `go abroady' trunk in her room,surrounded by her sisters.
"And so nice of Annie Moffat not to forget her promise. Awhole fortnight of fun will be regularly splendid," replied Jo,looking like a windmill as she folded skirts with her long arms.
"And such lovely weather, I'm so glad of that," added Beth,tidily sorting neck and hair ribbons in her best box, lent forthe great occasion.
"I wish I was going to have a fine time and wear all thesenice things," said Amy with her mouth full of pins, as sheartistically replenished her sister's cushion.
"I wish you were all going, but as you can't, I shall keepmy adventures to tell you when I come back. I'm sure it's theleast I can do when you have been so kind, lending me thingsand helping me get ready," said Meg, glancing round the roomat the very simple outfit, which seemed nearly perfect in theireyes.
"What did Mother give you out of the treasure box?" askedAmy, who had not been present at the opening of a certain cedarchest in which Mrs. March kept a few relics of past splendor, asgifts for her girls when the proper time came.
"A pair of silk stockings, that pretty carved fan, and alovely blue sash. I wanted the violet silk, but there isn'ttime to make it over, so I must be contented with my old tarlatan."
"It will look nice over my new muslin skirt, and the sash willset it off beautifully. I wish I hadn't smashed my coral bracelet,for you might have had it," said Jo, who loved to give and lend,but whose possessions were usually too dilapidated to be of muchuse.
"There is a lovely old-fashioned pearl set in the treasurechest, but Mother said real flowers were the prettiest ornamentfor a young girl, and Laurie promised to send me all I want,"replied Meg. "Now, let me see, there's my new gray walking suit,just curl up the feather in my hat, Beth, then my poplin forSunday and the small party, it looks heavy for spring, doesn'tit? The violet silk would be so nice. Oh, dear!"
"Never mind, you've got the tarlatan for the big party, andyou always look like an angel in white," said Amy, broodingover the little store of finery in which her soul delighted.
"It isn't low-necked, and it doesn't sweep enough, but itwill have to do. My blue housedress looks so well, turned andfreshly trimmed, that I feel as if I'd got a new one. My silksacque isn't a bit the fashion, and my bonnet doesn't look likeSallie's. I didn't like to say anything, but I was sadlydisappointed in my umbrella. I told Mother black with a whitehandle, but she forgot and bought a green one with a yellowishhandle. It's strong and neat, so I ought not to complain, but Iknow I shall feel ashamed of it beside Annie's silk one with agold top," sighed Meg, surveying the little umbrella with greatdisfavor.
"Change it," advised Jo.
"I won't be so silly, or hurt Marmee's feelings, when shetook so much pains to get my things. It's a nonsensical notionof mine, and I'm not going to give up to it. My silk stockingsand two pairs of new gloves are my comfort. You are a dear tolend me yours, Jo. I feel so rich and sort of elegant, withtwo new pairs, and the old ones cleaned up for common." AndMeg took a refreshing peep at her glove box."Annie Moffat has blue and pink bows on her nightcaps.Would you put some on mine?" she asked, as Beth brought up apile of snowy muslins, fresh from Hannah's hands.
"No, I wouldn't, for the smart caps won't match the plaingowns without any trimming on them. Poor folks shouldn't rig,"said Jo decidedly.
"I wonder if I shall ever be happy enough to have real laceon my clothes and bows on my caps?" said Meg impatiently.
"You said the other day that you'd be perfectly happy ifyou could only go to Annie Moffat's," observed Beth in her quietway.
"So I did! Well, I am happy, and I won't fret, but it doesseem as if the more one gets the more one wants, doesn't it? Therenow, the trays are ready, and everything in but my ball dress,which I shall leave for Mother to pack," said Meg, cheering up, asshe glanced from the half-filled trunk to the many times pressedand mended white tarlatan, which she called her `ball dress' withan important air.
The next day was fine, and Meg departed in style for a fortnightof novelty and pleasure. Mrs. March had consented to thevisit rather reluctantly, fearing that Margaret would come backmore discontented than she went. But she begged so hard, andSallie had promised to take good care of her, and a little pleasureseemed so delightful after a winter of irksome work that the motheryielded, and the daughter went to take her first taste of fashionable life.
The Moffats were very fashionable, and simple Meg was ratherdaunted, at first, by the splendor of the house and the eleganceof its occupants. But they were kindly people, in spite of thefrivolous life they led, and soon put their guest at her ease.Perhaps Meg felt, without understanding why, that they were notparticularly cultivated or intelligent people, and that all theirgilding could not quite conceal the ordinary material of whichthey were made. It certainly was agreeable to fare sumptuously,drive in a fine carriage, wear her best frock every day, and donothing but enjoy herself. It suited her exactly, and soon shebegan to imitate the manners and conversation of those about her,to put on little airs and graces, use French phrases, crimp herhair, take in her dresses, and talk about the fashions as well asshe could. The more she saw of Annie Moffat's pretty things, themore she envied her and sighed to be rich. Home now looked bareand dismal as she thought of it, work grew harder than ever, andshe felt that she was a very destitute and much-injured girl, inspite of the new gloves and silk stockings.
She had not much time for repining, however, for the threeyoung girls were busily employed in `having a good time'. Theyshopped, walked, rode, and called all day, went to theaters andoperas or frolicked at home in the evening, for Annie had manyfriends and knew how to entertain them. Her older sisters werevery fine young ladies, and one was engaged, which was extremelyinteresting and romantic, Meg thought. Mr. Moffat was a fat,jolly old gentleman, who knew her father, and Mrs. Moffat, a fat,jolly old lady, who took as great a fancy to Meg as her daughterhad done. Everyone petted her, and `Daisey', as they called her,was in a fair way to have her head turned.
When the evening for the small party came, she found thatthe poplin wouldn't do at all, for the other girls were puttingon thin dresses and making themselves very fine indeed. So outcame the tarlatan, looking older, limper, and shabbier than everbeside Sallie's crisp new one. Meg saw the girls glance at itand then at one another, and her cheeks began to burn, for withall her gentleness she was very proud. No one said a word aboutit, but Sallie offered to dress her hair, and Annie to tie hersash, and Belle, the engaged sister, praised her white arms. Butin their kindness Meg saw only pity for her poverty, and herheart felt very heavy as she stood by herself, while the otherslaughed, chattered, and flew about like gauzy butterflies. Thehard, bitter feeling was getting pretty bad, when the maidbrought in a box of flowers. Before she could speak, Annie hadthe cover off, and all were exclaiming at the lovely roses, heath,and fern within.
"It's for Belle, of course, George always sends her some,but these are altogether ravishing," cried Annie, with a greatsniff.
"They are for Miss March, the man said. And here's a note,"put in the maid, holding it to Meg.
"What fun! Who are they from? Didn't know you had a lover,"cried the girls, fluttering about Meg in a high state of curiosityand surprise.
"The note is from Mother, and the flowers from Laurie," saidMeg simply, yet much gratified that he had not forgotten her.
"Oh, indeed!" said Annie with a funny look, as Meg slippedthe note into her pocket as a sort of talisman against envy,vanity, and false pride, for the few loving words had done hergood, and the flowers cheered her up by their beauty.
Feeling almost happy again, she laid by a few ferns and rosesfor herself, and quickly made up the rest in dainty bouquets forthe breasts, hair, or skirts of her friends, offering them soprettily that Clara, the elder sister, told her she was `thesweetest little thing she ever saw', and they looked quitecharmed with her small attention. Somehow the kind act finishedher despondency, and when all the rest went to show themselvesto Mrs. Moffat, she saw a happy, bright-eyed face in the mirror,as she laid her ferns against her rippling hair and fastenedthe roses in the dress that didn't strike her as so very shabbynow.
She enjoyed herself very much that evening, for she dancedto her heart's content. Everyone was very kind, and she hadthree compliments. Annie made her sing, and some one said shehad a remarkably fine voice. Major Lincoln asked who `the freshlittle girl with the beautiful eyes' was, and Mr. Moffat insistedon dancing with her because she `didn't dawdle, but had some springin her', as he gracefully expressed it. So altogether she had avery nice time, till she overheard a bit of conversation, whichdisturbed her extremely. She was sitting just inside theconservatory, waiting for her partner to bring her an ice, when sheheard a voice ask on the other side of the flowery wall...
"How old is he?"
"Sixteen or seventeen, I should say," replied another voice.
"It would be a grand thing for one of those girls, wouldn'tit? Sallie says they are very intimate now, and the old man quitedotes on them."
"Mrs. M. has made her plans, I dare say, and will play hercards well, early as it is. The girl evidently doesn't think of ityet," said Mrs. Moffat.
"She told that fib about her momma, as if she did know, andcolored up when the flowers came quite prettily. Poor thing!She'd be so nice if she was only got up in style. Do you thinkshe'd be offended if we offered to lend her a dress for Thursday?"asked another voice.
"She's proud, but I don't believe she'd mind, for that dowdytarlatan is all she has got. She may tear it tonight, and thatwill be a good excuse for offering a decent one."
Here Meg's partner appeared, to find her looking much flushedand rather agitated. She was proud, and her pride was usefuljust then, for it helped her hide her mortification, anger, anddisgust at what she had just heard. For, innocent and unsuspiciousas she was, she could not help understanding the gossip of herfriends. She tried to forget it, but could not, and kept repeatingto herself, "Mrs. M. has made her plans," "that fib about hermamma," and 'dowdy tarlatan," till she was ready to cry and rushhome to tell her troubles and ask for advice. As that was impossible,she did her best to seem gay, and being rather excited, shesucceeded so well that no one dreamed what an effort she was making.She was very glad when it was all over and she was quiet in her bed,where she could think and wonder and fume till her head ached andher hot cheeks were cooled by a few natural tears. Those foolish,yet well meant words, had opened a new world to Meg, and muchdisturbed the peace of the old one in which till now she had livedas happily as a child. Her innocent friendship with Laurie wasspoiled by the silly speeches she had overheard. Her faith in hermother was a little shaken by the worldly plans attributed to herby Mrs. Moffat, who judged others by herself, and the sensibleresolution to be contented with the simple wardrobe which suiteda poor man's daughter was weakened by the unnecessary pity ofgirls who thought a shabby dress one of the greatest calamitiesunder heaven.
Poor Meg had a restless night, and got up heavy-eyed, unhappy,half resentful toward her friends, and half ashamed of herself fornot speaking out frankly and setting everything right. Everybodydawdled that morning, and it was noon before the girls foundenergy enough even to take up their worsted work. Something inthe manner of her friends struck Meg at once. They treated herwith more respect, she thought, took quite a tender interest inwhat she said, and looked at her with eyes that plainly betrayedcuriosity. All this surprised and flattered her, though she didnot understand it till Miss Belle looked up from her writing, andsaid, with a sentimental air...
"Daisy, dear, I've sent an invitation to your friend, Mr.Laurence, for Thursday. We should like to know him, and it's onlya proper compliment to you."
Meg colored, but a mischievous fancy to tease the girls madeher reply demurely, "You are very kind, but I'm afraid he won'tcome."
"Why not, Cherie?" asked Miss Belle.
"He's too old."
"My child, what do you mean? What is his age, I beg toknow!" cried Miss Clara.
"Nearly seventy, I believe," answered Meg, counting stitchesto hide the merriment in her eyes.
"You sly creature! Of course we meant the young man,"exclaimed Miss Belle, laughing.
"There isn't any, Laurie is only a little boy." And Meglaughed also at the queer look which the sisters exchanged as shethus described her supposed lover.
"About you age," Nan said.
"Nearer my sister Jo's, I am seventeen in August," returnedMeg, tossing her head.
"It's very nice of him to send you flowers, isn't it?" saidAnnie, looking wise about nothing.
"Yes, he often does, to all of us, for their house is full, andwe are so fond of them. My mother and old Mr. Laurence are friends,you know, so it is quite natural that we children should play together."And Meg hoped they would say no more.
"It's evident Daisy isn't out yet," said Miss Clara to Belle with a nod.
"Quite a pastoral state of innocence all round," returnedMiss Belle with a shrug.
"I'm going out to get some little matters for my girls. CanI do anything for you, young ladies?" asked Mrs. Moffat, lumberingin like an elephant in silk and lace.
"No, thank you, ma'am," replied Sallie. "I've got my newpink silk for Thursday and don't want a thing."
"Nor I..." began Meg, but stopped because it occurred toher that she did want several things and could not have them.
"What shall you wear?" asked Sallie.
"My old white one again, if I can mend it fit to be seen, itgot sadly torn last night," said Meg, trying to speak quite easily,but feeling very uncomfortable.
"Why don't you send home for another?" said Sallie, who wasnot an observing young lady.
"I haven't got any other." It cost Meg an effort to say that,but Sallie did not see it and exclaimed in amiable surprise, "Onlythat?" How funny..." She did not finish her speech, for Belleshook her head at her and broke in, saying kindly...
"Not at all. Where is the use of having a lot of dresseswhen she isn't out yet? There's no need of sending home, Daisy,even if you had a dozen, for I've got a sweet blue silk laid away,which I've outgrown, and you shall wear it to please me, won'tyou, dear?"
"You are very kind, but I don't mind my old dress if youdon't, it does well enough for a little girl like me," said Meg.
"Now do let me please myself by dressing you up in style.I admire to do it, and you'd be a regular little beauty with atouch here and there. I shan't let anyone see you till you aredone, and then we'll burst upon them like Cinderella and hergodmother going to the ball," said Belle in her persuasive tone.
Meg couldn't refuse the offer so kindly made, for a desire tosee if she would be `a little beauty' after touching up causedher to accept and forget all her former uncomfortable feelingstoward the Moffats.
On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid,and between them they turned Meg into a fine lady. They crimpedand curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with somefragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve to makethem redder, and Hortense would have added `a soupcon of rouge',if Meg had not rebelled. They laced her into a sky-blue dress,which was so tight she could hardly breathe and so low in theneck that modest Meg blushed at herself in the mirror. A setof silver filagree was added, bracelets, necklace, brooch, andeven earrings, for Hortense tied them on with a bit of pinksilk which did not show. A cluster of tea-rose buds at thebosom and a ruche, reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty,white shoulders, and a pair of high-heeled silk boots satisfiedthe last wish of her heart. A lace handkerchief, a plumy fan,and a bouquet in a shoulder holder finished her off, and MissBelle surveyed her with the satisfaction of a little girl witha newly dressed doll.
"Mademoiselle is chatmante, tres jolie, is she not?" criedHortense, clasping her hands in an affected rapture.
"Come and show yourself," said Miss Belle, leading the wayto the room where the others were waiting.
As Meg went rustling after, with her long skirts trailing,her earrings tinkling, her curls waving, and her heart beating,she felt as if her fun had really begun at last, for the mirrorhad plainly told her that she was `a little beauty'. Her friendsrepeated the pleasing phrase enthusiastically, and for severalminutes she stood, like a jackdaw in the fable, enjoying herborrowed plumes, while the rest chattered like a party of magpies.
"While I dress, do you drill her, Nan, in the management of herskirt and those French heels, or she will trip herself up. Takeyour silver butterfly, and catch up that long curl on the left sideof her head, Clara, and don't any of you disturb the charming workof my hands," said Belle, as she hurried away, looking well pleasedwith her success.
"You don't look a bit like yourself, but you are very nice.I'm nowhere beside you, for Belle has heaps of taste, and you'requite French, I assure you. Let your flowers hang, don't be socareful of them, and be sure you don't trip," returned Sallie, tryingnot to care that Meg was prettier than herself.
Keeping that warning carefully in mind, Margaret got safelydownstairs and sailed into the drawing rooms where the Moffats anda few early guests were assembled. She very soon discovered thatthere is a charm about fine clothes which attracts a certain classof people and secures their respect. Several young ladies, whohad taken no notice of her before, were very affectionate all ofa sudden. Several young gentlemen, who had only stared at her atthe other party, now not only stared, but asked to be introduced,and said all manner of foolish but agreeable things to her, andseveral old ladies, who sat on the sofas, and criticized the restof the party, inquired who she was with an air of interest. Sheheard Mrs. Moffat reply to one of them...
"Daisy March--father a colonel in the army--one of our firstfamilies, but reverses of fortune, you know; intimate friends ofthe Laurences; sweet creature, I assure you; my Ned is quite wildabout her."
"Dear me!" said the old lady, putting up her glass foranother observation of Meg, who tried to look as if she had notheard and been rather shocked at Mrs. Moffat's fibs.The `queer feeling' did not pass away, but she imaginedherself acting the new part of fine lady and so got on prettywell, though the tight dress gave her a side-ache, the train keptgetting under her feet, and she was in constant fear lest herearrings should fly off and get lost or broken. She was flirtingher fan and laughing at the feeble jokes of a young gentlemanwho tried to be witty, when she suddenly stopped laughing andlooked confused, for just opposite, she saw Laurie. He wasstaring at her with undisguised surprise, and disapproval also,she thought, for though he bowed and smiled, yet something inhis honest eyes made her blush and wish she had her old dress on.To complete her confusion, she saw Belle nudge Annie, and bothglance from her to Laurie, who, she was happy to see, lookedunusually boyish and shy.
"Silly creatures, to put such thoughts into my head. I won'tcare for it, or let it change me a bit," thought Meg, and rustledacross the room to shake hands with her friend.
"I'm glad you came, I was afraid you wouldn't." she said,with her most grown-up air.
"Jo wanted me to come, and tell her how you looked, so Idid," answered Laurie, without turning his eyes upon her, thoughhe half smiled at her maternal tone.
"What shall you tell her?" asked Meg, full of curiosity toknow his opinion of her, yet feeling ill at ease with him for thefirst time.
"I shall say I didn't know you, for you look so grown-up andunlike yourself, I'm quite afraid of you," he said, fumbling athis glove button.
"How absurd of you! The girls dressed me up for fun, and Irather like it. Wouldn't Jo stare if she saw me?" said Meg, benton making him say whether he thought her improved or not."Yes, I think she would," returned Laurie gravely.
"Don't you like me so?' asked Meg.
"No, I don't," was the blunt reply.
"Why not?" in an anxious tone.
He glanced at her frizzled head, bare shoulders, and fantasticallytrimmed dress with an expression that abashed her more thanhis answer, which had not particle of his usual politeness in it.
"I don't like fuss and feathers."
That was altogether too much from a lad younger than herself,and Meg walked away, saying petulantly, "You are the rudest boy Iever saw."
Feeling very much ruffled, she went and stood at a quiet windowto cool her cheeks, for the tight dress gave her an uncomfortablybrilliant color. As she stood there, Major Lincoln passed by, anda minute after she heard him saying to his mother...
"They are making a fool of that little girl. I wanted youto see her, but they have spoiled her entirely. She's nothingbut a doll tonight."
"Oh, dear!" sighed Meg. "I wish I'd been sensible and wornmy own things, then I should not have disgusted other people, orfelt so uncomfortable and ashamed of myself."
She leaned her forehead on the cool pane, and stood halfhidden by the curtains, never minding that her favorite waltzhad begun, till some one touched her, and turning, she sawLaurie, looking penitent, as he said, with his very best bowand his hand out...
"Please forgive my rudeness, and come and dance with me."
"I'm afraid it will be to disagreeable to you," said Meg,trying to look offended and failing entirely.
"Not a bit of it, I'm dying to do it. Come, I'll be good.I don't like your gown, but I do think you are just splendid."And he waved his hands, as if words failed to express hisadmiration.
Meg smiled and relented, and whispered as they stood waitingto catch the time, "Take care my skirt doesn't trip you up. It'sthe plague of my life and I was a goose to wear it."
"Pin it round your neck, and then it will be useful," saidLaurie, looking down at the little blue boots, which he evidentlyapproved of.
Away they went fleetly and gracefully, for having practicedat home, they were well matched, and the blithe young couple werea pleasant sight to see, as they twirled merrily round and round,feeling more friendly than ever after their small tiff.
"Laurie, I want you to do me a favor, will you?' said Meg,as he stood fanning her when her breath gave out, which it didvery soon though she would not own why.
"Won't I!" said Laurie, with alacrity.
"Please don't tell them at home about my dress tonight.They won't understand the joke, and it will worry Mother.'
"Then why did you do it?" said Laurie's eyes, so plainlythat Meg hastily added...
"I shall tell them myself all about it, and `fess' to Motherhow silly I've been. But I'd rather do it myself. So you'll nottell, will you?"
"I give you my word I won't, only what shall I say whenthey ask me?"
"Just say I looked pretty well and was having a good time."
"I'll say the first with all my heart, but how about theother? You don't look as if you were having a good time. Areyou?' And Laurie looked at her with an expression which made heranswer in a whisper...
"No, not just now. Don't think I'm horrid. I only wanteda little fun, but this sort doesn't pay, I find, and I'm gettingtired of it."
"Here comes Ned Moffat. What does he want?" said Laurie,knitting his black brows as if he did not regard his young hostin the light of a pleasant addition to the party.
"He put his name down for three dances, and I suppose he'scoming for them. What a bore!" said Meg, assuming a languid airwhich amused Laurie immensely.
He did not speak to her again till suppertime, when he sawher drinking champagne with Ned and his friend Fisher, who werebehaving `like a pair of fools', as Laurie said to himself, forhe felt a brotherly sort of right to watch over the Marches andfight their battles whenever a defender was needed.
"You'll have a splitting headache tomorrow, if you drinkmuch of that. I wouldn't, Meg, your mother doesn't like it, youknow," he whispered, leaning over her chair, as Ned turned torefill her glass and Fisher stooped to pick up her fan.
"I'm not Meg tonight, I'm `a doll' who does all sorts ofcrazy things. Tomorrow I shall put away my `fuss and feathers'and be desperately good again," se answered with an affectedlittle laugh.
"Wish tomorrow was here, then," muttered Laurie, walking off,ill-pleased at the change he saw in her.
Meg danced and flirted, chattered and giggled, as the othergirls did. After supper she undertook the German, and blunderedthrough it, nearly upsetting her partner with her long skirt, andromping in a way that scandalized Laurie, who looked on and meditateda lecture. But he got no chance to deliver it, for Meg kept awayfrom him till he came to say good night.
"Remember!" she said, trying to smile, for the splittingheadache had already begun.
"Silence a` la mort," replied Laurie, with a melodramaticflourish, as he went away.
This little bit of byplay excited Annie's curiosity, but Megwas too tired for gossip and went to bed, feeling as if she hadbeen to a masquerade and hadn't enjoyed herself as much as sheexpected. She was sick all the next day, and on Saturday went home,quite used up with her fortnight's fun and feeling that she had`sat in the lap of luxury' long enough.
"It does seem pleasant to be quiet, and not have companymanners on all the time. Home is a nice place, though it isn'tsplendid," said Meg, looking about her with a restful expression,as she sat with her mother and Jo on the Sunday evening.
"I'm glad to hear you say so, dear, for I was afraid homewould seem dull and poor to you after your fine quarters," repliedher mother, who had given her many anxious looks that day. Formotherly eyes are quick to see any change in children's faces.
Meg had told her adventures gayly and said over and over whata charming time she had had, but something still seemed to weighupon her spirits, and when the younger girls were gone to bed, shesat thoughtfully staring at the fire, saying little and lookingworried. As the clock struck nine and Jo proposed bed, Megsuddenly left her chair and, taking Beth's stool, leaned her elbowson her mother's knee, saying bravely...
"Marmee, I want to `fess'."
"I thought so. What is it, dear?"
"Shall I go away?" asked Jo discreetly.
"Of course not. Don't I always tell you everything? I wasashamed to speak of it before the younger children, but I want youto know all the dreadful things I did at the Moffats'."
"We are prepared," said Mrs. March, smiling but looking alittle anxious.
"I told you they dressed me up, but I didn't tell you thatthey powdered and squeezed and frizzled, and made me look like afashion plate. Laurie thought I wasn't proper. I know he did,though he didn't say so, and one man called me `a doll'. I knewit was silly, but they flattered me and said I was a beauty, andquantities of nonsense, so I let them make a fool of me."
"Is that all?" asked Jo, as Mrs. March looked silently atthe downcast face of her pretty daughter, and could not find itin her heart to blame her little follies.
"No, I drank champagne and romped and tried to flirt, andwas altogether abominable," said Meg self-reproachfully.
"There is something more, I think." And Mrs. March smoothedthe soft cheek, which suddenly grew rosy as Meg answered slowly...
"Yes. It's very silly, but I want to tell it, because I hateto have people say and think such things about us and Laurie."
Then she told the various bits of gossip she had heard at theMoffats', and as she spoke, Jo saw her mother fold her lips tightly,as if ill pleased that such ideas should be put into Meg's innocentmind.
"Well, if that isn't the greatest rubbish I ever heard," criedJo indignantly. "Why didn't you pop out and tell them so on thespot?'
"I couldn't, it was so embarrassing for me. I couldn't helphearing at first, and then I was so angry and ashamed, I didn'tremember that I ought to go away."
"Just wait till I see Annie Moffat, and I'll show you how tosettle such ridiculous stuff. The idea of having `plans' and beingkind to Laurie because he's rich and may marry us by-and-by! Won'the shout when I tell him what those silly things say about us poorchildren?" And Jo laughed, as if on second thoughts the thingstruck her as a good joke.
"If you tell Laurie, I'll never forgive you! She mustn't,must she, Mother?" said Meg, looking distressed.
"No, never repeat that foolish gossip, and forget it as soonas you can," said Mrs. March gravely. "I was very unwise to letyou go among people of whom I know so little, kind, I dare say,but worldly, ill-bred, and full of these vulgar ideas about youngpeople. I am more sorry than I can express for the mischief thisvisit may have done you, Meg."
"Don't be sorry, I won't let it hurt me. I'll forget all thebad and remember only the good, for I did enjoy a great deal, andthank you very much for letting me go. I'll not be sentimental ordissatisfied, Mother. I know I'm a silly little girl, and I'llstay with you till I'm fit to take care of myself. But it is niceto be praised and admired, and I can't help saying I like it," saidMeg, looking half ashamed of the confession.
"That is perfectly natural, and quite harmless, if the likingdoes not become a passion and lead one to do foolish or unmaidenlythings. Learn to know and value the praise which is worth having,and to excite the admiration of excellent people by being modestas well as pretty, Meg."
Margaret sat thinking a moment, while Jo stood with her handsbehind her, looking both interested and a little perplexed, for itwas a new thing to see Meg blushing and talking about admiration,lovers, and things of that sort. And Jo felt as if during thatfortnight her sister had grown up amazingly, and was drifting awayfrom her into a world where she could not follow.
"Mother, do you have `plans', as Mrs. Moffat said?" asked Megbashfully.
"Yes, my dear, I have a great many, all mothers do, but minediffer somewhat from Mrs. Moffat's, I suspect. I will tell yousome of them, for the time has come when a word may set thisromantic little head and heart of yours right, on a very serioussubject. You are young, Meg, but not too young to understand me,and mothers' lips are the fittest to speak of such things to girlslike you. Jo, your turn will come in time, perhaps, so listen tomy `plans' and help me carry them out, if they are good."
Jo went and sat on one arm of the chair, looking as if shethought they were about to join in some very solemn affair.Holding a hand of each, and watching the two young faces wistfully,Mrs. March said, in her serious yet cheery way...
"I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good.To be admired, loved, and respected. To have a happy youth, tobe well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives,with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send.To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thingwhich can happen to a woman, and I sincerely hope my girls mayknow this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg,right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it, so thatwhen the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties andworthy of the joy. My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but notto have you make a dash in the world, marry rich men merely becausethey are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes becauselove is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, and whenwell used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is thefirst or only prize to strive for. I'd rather see you poor men'swives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones,without self-respect and peace."
"Poor girls don't stand any chance, Belle says, unless theyput themselves forward," sighed Meg.
"Then we'll be old maids," said Jo stoutly."right, Jo. Better be happy old maids than unhappy wives, orunmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," said Mrs. Marchdecidedly. "Don't be troubled, Meg, poverty seldom daunts a sincerelover. Some of the best and most honored women I know were poorgirls, but so love-worthy that they were not allowed to be old maids.Leave these things to time. Make this home happy, so that you maybe fit for homes of your own, if they are offered you, and contentedhere if they are not. One thing remember, my girls. Mother isalways ready to be your confidante, Father to be your friend, andboth of hope and trust that our daughters, whether married or single,will be the pride and comfort of out lives."
"We will, Marmee, we will!" cried both, with all their hearts,as she bade them good night.