像大多数别的年轻主妇 一样，梅格带着当个模范管家的决心，开始了她的婚姻生活。应该让约翰感到家像伊甸园，看到妻子笑脸常开，日子过得豪华舒适，若是衣服上的钮扣掉了，就及时 钉上，决不让他察觉。梅格对家务倾注了无数的爱心、精力与诚心，因此，尽管遇到了一些困难，她必然还是会成功。她的伊甸园并不宁静，因为小妇人过分急于讨 丈夫欢心。她像个真正的马大，忙忙碌碌，为家事拖累着。有时，她累得甚至笑不出来—-吃了美味佳肴，约翰反弄得消化不良，忘恩负义地要求吃清淡饭菜。至于 钮扣，她不久就学会惊叹它们又掉到哪儿去了，然后摇头说男人粗心，威胁要让他自己钉，看看他钉的扣子是否更能经得住他笨手笨脚的急扯乱拽。
他们非常幸福，即便后来发现光有爱情不能过活。梅格隔着平常的咖啡壶向丈夫微笑。约翰发现妻子姿色未减。梅格也能从日常的分别中领略到浪漫柔情。丈 夫吻过她便柔声轻问：“亲爱的，晚餐要小牛肉还是要羊肉？“小屋不再是华居，而成了过日子的处所，年轻的夫妇不久就认识到这是好的变化。开始，他们做着过 家家的游戏，孩子般地嬉戏着。后来，约翰作为一家之主感到肩膀上责任重大，稳步经起商来。
趁着对烹调的热衷，她读完了科尼利厄斯夫人的《菜品》，耐心细致地解决烹饪疑难，好像那是数学作业。有时，成功了她便邀请全家人过来帮忙吃掉丰盛的 宴席，失败了便私下派洛蒂将食物送给小赫梅尔们去吃，以便掩人耳目。晚间和约翰一起结算家庭收支，这常使她的烹调热情一度止歇，接下来过一阵子节俭日子， 那可怜的人儿只能吃到面包布盯大杂烩，喝再加热的咖啡，令她大伤脑筋，尽管他坚毅的忍受力值得称道。可是不久，梅格虽没找到持家的"中庸之道"，却又为家 庭财产添了件年轻夫妇非有不可的东西--家用腌坛。
带着主妇燃烧的热情，为了贮藏室存满家制食品，梅格着手腌制栗果冻。她让约翰定购一打左右的小坛子，另外买些糖，因为，他们自家的醋栗已经成熟，需 要立即处理。约翰坚信"我的妻无所不能"，自然也为她的技艺自豪，他决意满足妻子的愿望，让他们唯一的果实以最悦人的形态贮存起来预备冬用。于是，四打可 爱的小坛子、半桶糖给运回来了，还带回个小男孩帮她摘醋栗。年轻的主妇将漂亮的头发束进一顶小帽里，袖子挽到胳膊，系上条格子花围裙，开始了工作。她这条 围裙虽说有围嘴，看上去还挺俏。她对成功深信不疑，难道不是见过罕娜做过上百次吗？开始，那一排坛子着实使她吃了一惊，不过约翰非常喜欢吃果冻，橱子顶层 放一排可爱的小坛子，看上去也不错。因此，梅格打算把所有的坛子都装满。她花了一整天时间，摘呀，煮呀，滤呀，忙着制她的果冻。她竭尽了全力，向科尼利厄 斯夫人的书本讨教，绞尽脑汁想回忆起她没做好的地方罕娜是怎么做的。她重复，重新加糖，重新过滤，然而，那讨厌的东西就是"不结冻“。
她真想就这样系着围裙跑回家求妈帮忙。可是她和约翰曾商定决不让他的小家的烦恼、试验、争吵去烦扰家人。争吵一词当时使她们发笑，好像这个词包含的 意思荒唐可笑。她们履行了决议，尽量自己解决问题，也没人干预他们，因为这个计划是由马奇太太提议的。梅格只好在那个酷热的复日，与不好对付的蜜饯孤军奋 战。到了五点，她坐在乱七八糟的厨房里，绞着一双弄脏了的手，放声大哭起来。
梅格刚开始令人兴奋异常的新生活时，总说：“只要他高兴，我丈夫什么时候都可以带朋友来家，我会随时都准备好，不会忙乱，不会责怪他，也不会让他感 到不舒服。他会看到一个整洁的屋子，一个愉快的妻子，和一顿丰盛的晚餐。约翰，亲爱的，别等着我批准，想请谁就请谁。他们肯定能得到我的欢迎。“的确，那 是多么诱人！听到这么说，约翰得意洋洋，有这样优秀的妻子真是福气。然而，尽管他们经常有客人，可是客人们从来没有不期而至，到目前为止，梅格根本就没有 机会表现。现实世界总是有这种情况发生，而且不可避免，我们只能惊诧、懊恼，并尽力忍受。
他来到鸽房，大失所望。前门通常是好客地敞开着，现在不仅关着，而且锁上了。台阶上昨日踩上的污泥犹在，客厅的窗户紧团，窗帘拉着，游廊里见不着他 身穿白衣、头戴迷人小蝴蝶结、手是做着针线活的漂亮妻子，也见不着眼睛明亮的女主人羞怯地笑迎客人。没有那回事，除了一个粗野小子在醋栗丛下睡觉，屋里没 一个人影。
“就这些？把它们都扔到窗外，别再烦心了，你想要果冻我给你买上几夸脱，看在老天的分上，别这样发作了，我带了杰克·斯科特来吃晚饭，而且--"约 翰没说下去，因为梅格一把推开了他，拍着手做了个悲惨的手势，坐进了椅子，用混合着愤怒、责备、沮丧的语调高声叫道--“带人来吃饭，到处乱七八糟！约 翰·布鲁克，你怎么能做出这种事？““嘘，他就在花园里！我把这倒霉的果冻给忘了，可现在没法子了。“约翰焦急地看着眼前的这一切。
“我承认，是有点麻烦，可是，如果你愿意助一臂之力，我们会克服困难招待好客人，还会很开心的。别哭了，亲爱的，加点儿劲，为我们做些吃的。给我们 吃冷肉、面包、奶酪，我们不会要果冻的。“他是想开个善意的玩笑，可那个字眼决定了他的命运。梅格认为，暗示她悲惨的失败太残酷了。他这样一说，梅格忍无 可忍了。
“你自己想办法解决麻烦吧，我一点儿力气都没有，不能为任何人'加劲'了，这就等于用骨头、粗制面包和奶酪招待客人，我们家不能有这种事情，把那个 斯科特带到妈那儿去，和他说我不在家，病了，死了--随你怎么说。我不要见他，你们俩尽可以笑话我，笑话我的果冻，想怎么笑就怎么笑。在这里你们什么也别 想吃到。“梅格一口气说完这些具有挑衅味儿的话，扔掉围裙，匆匆撤离阵地，回到卧室独自伤心去了。
她不在期间那两个做了些什么，她无从知晓，只是斯科特先生并未给"带到妈那儿去"。他们走后，梅格从楼上下来，发现杯盘狼藉，使她不寒而栗。洛蒂报 告他们吃了"很多东西，大笑着，主人让她扔掉所有的甜玩意儿，把坛子收起来。“梅格真想去告诉妈妈，可是，对自己错误的羞耻感，以及对约翰的忠心阻止她这 么做。“约翰是有些残酷，可不能让别人知道。“她简单地收拾了一下屋子，打扮得漂漂亮亮，坐下来等待约翰来求她原谅。
不幸的是，约翰没来，他没这样看待这件事，和斯科特在一起时他将之视为玩笑，尽可能原谅他的小妻子。他这个主人当得热情周到，结果，他的朋友很欣赏 这个即席晚餐，答应以后再来。约翰其实很生气，虽然没有表现出来。他认为是梅格使他陷入了麻烦，然后在他需要帮助时丢弃了他。“让人家随时随地带人回家， 相信她的话这样做吧，又发起怒来，责怪人，将人家丢于危难中不顾，让别人嘲笑、可怜。这样不公平，不！确实不公平！梅格得明白这一点。“吃饭时，他怒火中 烧。可是送走斯科特，踱步回家时，内心风暴已经平息，一阵温情袭上心头。“可怜的小东西！她尽心尽意想让我高兴，那样做让她难堪。当然，是她错了，可是她 太年轻，我得耐心些，教教她。“他希望她没有回娘家--他讨厌闲话和别人的干涉。有那么一会儿，一想到这些他又来了气，接着，又担心梅格会哭坏身子，心就 软了下来。他加快了步子，决心平静地、友好地、坚定地、相当坚定地向她指出，她身为妻子错在哪里。
“约翰是个好人，可也有他的缺点。你得学会发现它们，容忍它们，记住你自己也有缺点。他个性很强，但绝不会固执己见，只需你友善地和他讲道理，不要 急躁地反对他。他处事顶真，尤其讲求事实，这种性格不坏，尽管你说他'爱小题大作'。梅格，千万别在言语行动上冲撞他，他会给你应有的信任和你所需要的支 持。他有脾气，但不像我们那样--一阵火发完，然后烟消云散--他那种沉寂的怒火极少发作，可是势头凶猛，一旦点燃，很难扑灭。小心点，要非常小心，不要 引火烧身。太平幸福的生活取决于你对他的尊重、注意，假如你俩都犯了错，你要首先请求原谅，提防不要误解，这些往往导致更大的痛苦与悔恨。“梅格坐在夕阳 下做着针线，回想着妈妈的这些话，尤起是后面的话。这是他们的第一次严重分岐。她回忆起自己脱口而出的话，现在听起来又愚蠢，又不友好，她的怒气也是那样 孩子气。想到可怜的约翰回家后碰上这么个场面，她心软了。她含着眼泪瞥了他一眼，可是他没有感觉。她放下针线活站起身来，想着：“我来第一个说'原谅我 '。“可是他似乎没听见。她慢慢地穿过屋子，自尊心难咽这口气呀。她站到他身旁，可是他头也不转。有一刻她感到她好像真没法这样做，随后又想：“这是开 始，我尽我的责任，这样就没有什么可怪自己的了。“于是，她俯下身，轻轻地在丈夫额上吻了吻。当然，一切都解决了，这悔悟的吻胜过千言万语，约翰马上将她 搂在膝上，温柔地说：“笑话那些可怜的果冻小坛子太不好了，原谅我，亲爱的，我再也不了。“然而，他还是笑话了，啧啧，是的，笑了上百回。梅格也笑了，两 个人却笑说那是他们做的最甜的果冻。因为，那个小小的家用腌坛保住了家庭的和气。
到了秋天，梅格又有了新的考验的经历。萨莉·莫法特和她恢复了友谊，常跑到小屋来闲谈，或者，邀请"那可怜的人儿"去大房子玩。这使人愉快，因为在 天气阴暗的日子，梅格常感到孤独。家人都很忙，约翰到夜里才回来，她自己除了做针线，读书，或者出去逛逛，没多少事可做。结果梅格自然而然地养成了和她的 朋友闲谈、闲逛的习惯。她看到萨莉的一些好东西，渴望也能拥有它们，并为自己得不到而感到可怜。萨莉很友好，常提出送给她一些她想要的小玩意儿，可是梅格 谢绝了，她知道这样约翰会不高兴。后来，这个傻乎乎的小妇人做了件让约翰更不高兴的事。
她知道丈夫的收入，她喜欢这种感觉，丈夫不仅将自己的幸福交付于她，而且将一些男人更看重的东西--钱，也交给了她。她知道钱放在哪儿，可以随意去 拿。他只要求她将花出去的每一分钱都记个帐，每月交一次帐单，记住她是个穷人的妻子。到目前为止，她干得不错，精打细算，小帐本记得清清楚楚，每月都毫不 担心地拿给他看。然而，那一个秋天，蟒蛇溜进了梅格的伊甸园，像诱惑许多现代夏娃一样诱惑了她，不是用苹果，而是用衣服。梅格不愿被人可怜，也不愿因之顾 影自怜。这使她恼火，但又羞于承认这一点，所以她时不时买些可爱的玩意儿，这样萨莉就不会认为她得节约，她以此自慰。买过这些东西后她总是感到不道德，因 为这些可爱的玩意儿极少是必需品。可是它们花的钱很少，不值得担心。就这样，不知不觉这些小玩意儿增多了。游览商店时，她也不再是被动的旁观者了。
然而，小玩意花费的钱超过了人们的想象。月底结帐时支出总数使她吓坏了。那个月约翰事忙，将帐单丢给了她。第二个月约翰不在家。第三个月约翰做了次 季度大结算，那一次梅格永远都忘不了。就在这次结算前几天，梅格做了件可怕的事，这件事重重压在心头，让她良心不安。萨莉一直在买绸衣，梅格渴望有一件新 的--只要件淡色的、端庄的、舞会时穿的。她的黑绸衣太普通了，晚上穿的薄绸只适合女孩子穿，每逢过新年，马奇婶婶总是给组妹们每人二十五美元作为礼物。 这只要等一个月，而这里有一段可爱的紫罗兰色丝绸线卖，她有买它的钱，只要她敢拿。约翰总是说他的钱也就是她的。可是，不光花掉还未到手的二十五美元，还 要从家庭资金里再抽出二十五美元来，约翰会认为对吗？这是个问题。萨莉怂恿她买，提出借给她钱。她的好意诱惑了梅格，使她失去了自制力。在那受诱的关头， 那商贩举起了可爱的，熠熠生辉的绸布卷，说道：“卖得便宜，我保证，夫人。“她答道：“我买。“这样，料子扯了，钱付了，萨莉欢跃起来，梅格也笑着，好像 这没有什么了不起，然后坐车离开，心里感到像偷了什么东西，警察在后面追着她。
她回到家中，将那可爱的丝绸展开，想以此减轻那一阵阵悔恨的痛苦。可是，这段料子看上去不如先前光鲜了，而且也不适合她了。毕竟，“五十美元"这几 个字像一个图案刻在布料的每一道条纹上。她收起布料，脑中却挥之不去，不像一件新衣服那样想起来使她愉快，却像个摆脱不了的蠢头蠢脑的幽灵，令人恐怖。那 天晚上，当约翰拿出帐本时，梅格的心往下一沉，结婚以来第一次害怕起丈夫来。那双和善的棕色眼睛看上去似乎会变严厉的，尽管他情绪非常好。她想象他已经发 觉她干的事，只是不打算让她知道。家庭开支帐单都付清了，帐本理齐了。约翰称赞了她，又准备打开他们称之为"银行"的旧笔记本，梅格知道那里已没有多少钱 了，便按住他的手，紧张地说--“你还没看过我自己的开销帐单呢。“约翰从来就没要看过，但她总是坚持让他看。他看到女人们要的古怪东西时，惊诧不已，她 欣赏这种神情。她让她猜"滚边"是什么东西，逼问他"抱紧我"是干什么用的，或者引他惊叹，三个玫瑰花蕾、一块丝绒，再加两条细绳组成的东西竟能成为一顶 帽子，而且值五六美元。那天晚上，他一如往常，瞧起来很乐于检查她的开销数字，假装被她的挥霍所吓倒，因为他为他节俭的妻子感到特别的自豪。
小帐本慢慢地拿出来，放在他面前。梅格借口为他抚平额头上疲倦的皱纹站到了他椅子的后面。她站在那里说起来，越说越发慌--“约翰，亲爱的，我不好 意思让你看帐本，因为我最近挥霍过度，你知道，我常出门，我得有些东西，萨莉建议我买，我就买了。我新年得到的钱将补上一半的开销。我买过便后悔了，我知 道你会觉得我做错事了。“约翰笑了起来，他将她搂过身边，温和地说：“别走开去躲着我，你要是买了双挤脚的靴子我也不会揍你的。我为我妻子的脚相当自豪， 要是靴子不错，就是花了八九美元也别在乎。“那是她最近花钱买的一件“玩意儿"，约翰一边说着，眼睛落在它上面。“哦，他看到那该死的五十美元会怎么说 呢？“梅格思忖着，有些胆战。
“唔，亲爱的，像曼塔里尼先生说的，'该死的总数'是多少？“这可不像约翰说的话，梅格心中明白。他抬头直视着她，在这之前，她总能随时坦率地正视 他的目光。她翻开帐本，同时转过头来，指着那一笔数字，不算那五十美元，数字已经够大的了，加上它，更十分触目惊心。好一阵子，屋里寂静无声，然后约翰慢 慢说道--梅格能感到约翰在努力控制着自己，不显出不快来--“哦，我搞不清五十美元买件衣服是不是贵了，而且还要花钱买现时流行的裙饰、小玩意儿才能做 成成衣。““还没有做，没装饰呢，“梅格嗫嚅着说。她突然想起料子做成衣服还得花钱，有些不知所措了。
“我知道你生气了，约翰，可是我忍不祝我不是有意浪费你的钱，我看萨莉想买什么就买什么，我不能买她便可怜我，我受不了。我试图知足，可是太难了。 我厌倦了贫困。“她最后一句话说得很轻，她以为他没听见，可是他听见了，并被深深地刺痛了。为了梅格的缘故，他放弃了许多享乐。她话一出口，恨不能咬掉舌 头。约翰推开帐本站起来，声音微微发颤地说道：“我就担心这个。我尽力吧，梅格。“即便他责骂她，甚至揍她，也不会像这几句话那样使她这样伤心。她跑过来 紧紧抱住他，带着悔恨的泪水哭叫着：“哦，约翰，我亲爱的人儿，你那么宽厚、勤勉。我不是那个意思。我太邪恶、太虚伪、太忘恩负义了。我怎么说出那样的 话，哦，我怎能那样说！“约翰非常宽厚，当即原谅了她，没说一句责备的话。可是，梅格知道她的所作所为不会很快被忘记的，尽管他再也没提起过。她曾经保证 无论如何都会爱他，可是，她作为他的妻子，不在乎地花了他的钱后，却指责他贫穷，太可怕了！
最糟糕的是打那以后约翰变得沉默起来，好像什么也没发生，只是在镇上呆的时间更长了，晚上也出去工作，留下梅格一个人哭着入眠。一个星期的悔恨几乎 把梅格弄病了。她又发现约翰取消了他新大衣的定货，这使她陷于绝望，那种景象让人看着心酸。她吃惊地问起约翰为什么改变主意，约翰仅仅说了句：“我买不 起，亲爱的。“梅格没再说什么。几分钟后，约翰发现她在大厅里将脸埋在那件旧大衣里，哭得心都要碎了。
第二天，梅格收起自尊心，来到萨莉家，告诉了她实情，请她帮个忙买下那段丝绸。脾气好的莫法特太太欣然应允，并考虑周到地答应不马上就将料子当礼物 送回她。然后，梅格买回了大衣。约翰回来时，她穿上大衣，询问约翰可喜欢她的新丝袍。可以想象，约翰是怎样回答的，怎样接受这个礼物的，随后又发生了些什 么美妙的事情。约翰回家早了，梅格不再闲逛了。早上，大衣被幸福之至的丈夫穿上，晚上，被忠心耿耿的小妇人脱下。就这样，日子一天天过去了。到了仲夏，梅 格有了新的经历--女人一生中印象最深、最充满柔情的经历。
Like most other young matrons, Meg began her married lifewith the determination to be a model housekeeper. John shouldfind home a paradise, he should always see a smiling face,should fare sumptuously every day, and never know the loss ofa button. She brought so much love, energy, and cheerfulnessto the work that she could not but succeed, in spite of someobstacles. Her paradise was not a tranquil one, for the littlewoman fussed, was over-anxious to please, and bustled about likea true Martha, cumbered with many cares. She was too tired, sometimes,even to smile, John grew dyspeptic after a course of daintydishes and ungratefully demanded plain fare. As for buttons,she soon learned to wonder where they went, to shake her head overthe carelessness of men, and to threaten to make him sew themon himself, and see if his work would stand impatient and clumsyfingers any better than hers.
They were very happy, even after they discovered that theycouldn't live on love alone. John did not find Meg's beauty diminished,though she beamed at him from behind the familiar coffee pot.Nor did Meg miss any of the romance from the daily parting, when herhusband followed up his kiss with the tender inquiry, "Shall I sendsome veal or mutton for dinner, darling?" The little house ceasedto be a glorified bower, but it became a home, and the young couplesoon felt that it was a change for the better. At first they playedkeep-house, and frolicked over it like children. Then John tooksteadily to business, feeling the cares of the head of a family uponhis shoulders, and Meg laid by her cambric wrappers, put on a big apron,and fell to work, as before said, with more energy than discretion.
While the cooking mania lasted she went through Mrs. Cornelius'sReceipt Book as if it were a mathematical exercise, working out theproblems with patience and care. Sometimes her family were invitedin to help eat up a too bounteous feast of successes, or Lotty wouldbe privately dispatched with a batch of failures, which were to beconcealed from all eyes in the convenient stomachs of the littleHummels. An evening with John over the account books usually produceda temporary lull in the culinary enthusiasm, and a frugal fitwould ensue, during which the poor man was put through a course ofbread pudding, hash, and warmed-over coffee, which tried his soul,although he bore it with praiseworthy fortitude. Before the goldenmean was found, however, Meg added to her domestic possessions whatyoung couples seldom get on long without, a family jar.
Fired a with housewifely wish to see her storeroom stocked withhomemade preserves, she undertook to put up her own currant jelly.John was requested to order home a dozen or so of little pots and anextra quantity of sugar, for their own currants were ripe and wereto be attended to at once. As John firmly believed that `my wife'was equal to anything, and took a natural pride in her skill, heresolved that she should be gratified, and their only crop of fruitlaid by in a most pleasing form for winter use. Home came fourdozen delightful little pots, half a barrel of sugar, and a smallboy to pick the currants for her. With her pretty hair tucked intoa little cap, arms bared to the elbow, and a checked apron whichhad a coquettish look in spite of the bib, the young housewife fellto work, feeling no doubts about her success, for hadn't she seenHannah do it hundreds of times? The array of pots rather amazed herat first, but John was so fond of jelly, and the nice little jarswould look so well on the top shelf, that Meg resolved to fill themall, and spend a long day picking, boiling, straining, and fussingover her jelly. She did her best, she asked advice of Mrs. Cornelius,she racked her brain to remember what Hannah did that she leftundone, she reboiled, resugared, and restrained, but that dreadfulstuff wouldn't `jell'.
She longed to run home, bib and all, and ask Mother to lend hera hand, but John and she had agreed that they would never annoy anyonewith their private worries, experiments, or quarrels. They hadlaughed over that last word as if the idea it suggested was a mostpreposterous one, but they had held to their resolve, and wheneverthey could get on without help they did so, and no one interfered,for Mrs. March had advised the plan. So Meg wrestled alone with therefractory sweetmeats all that hot summer day, and at five o'clocksat down in her topsy-turvey kitchen, wrung her bedaubed hands,lifted up her voice and wept.
Now, in the first flush of the new life, she had often said,"My husband shall always feel free to bring a friend home wheneverhe likes. I shall always be prepared. There shall be no flurry, noscolding, no discomfort, but a neat house, a cheerful wife, and agood dinner. John, dear, never stop to ask my leave, invite whomyou please, and be sure of a welcome from me."
How charming that was, to be sure! John quite glowed withpride to hear her say it, and felt what a blessed thing it was tohave a superior wife. But, although they had had company from timeto time, it never happened to be unexpected, and Meg had never hadan opportunity to distinguish herself till now. It always happensso in this vale of tears, there is an inevitability about such thingswhich we can only wonder at, deplore, and bear as we best can.
If John had not forgotten all about the jelly, it really wouldhave been unpardonable in him to choose that day, of all the days inthe year, to bring a friend home to dinner unexpectedly. Congratulatinghimself that a handsome repast had been ordered that morning,feeling sure that it would be ready to the minute, and indulging inpleasant anticipations of the charming effect it would produce, whenhis pretty wife came running out to meet him, he escorted his friendto his mansion, with the irrepressible satisfaction of a young host and husband.
It is a world of disappointments, as John discovered when hereached the Dovecote. the front door usually stood hospitably open.Now it was not only shut, but locked, and yesterday's mud stilladorned the steps. The parlor windows were closed and curtained,no picture of the pretty wife sewing on the piazza, in white, witha distracting little bow in her hair, or a bright-eyed hostess,smiling a shy welcome as she greeted her guest. Nothing of the sort,for not a soul appeared but a sanginary-looking boy asleep under thecurrent bushes.
"I'm afraid something has happened. Step into the garden, Scott,while I look up Mrs. Brooke," said John, alarmed at the silence andsolitude.
Round the house he hurried, led by a pungent smell of burnedsugar, and Mr. Scott strolled after him, with a queer look on hisface. He paused discreetly at a distance when Brooke disappeared,but he could both see and hear, and being a bachelor, enjoyed theprospect mightily.
In the kitchen reigned confusion and despair. One edition ofjelly was trickled from pot to pot, another lay upon the floor,and a third was burning gaily on the stove. Lotty, with Teutonicphlegm, was calmly eating bread and currant wine, for the jelly wasstill in a hopelessly liquid state, while Mrs. Brooke, with her apronover her head, sat sobbing dismally.
"My dearest girl, what is the matter?" cried John, rushing in,with awful visions of scalded hands, sudden news of affliction, andsecret consternation at the thought of the guest in the garden.
"Oh, John, I am so tired and hot and cross and worried! I'vebeen at it till I'm all worn out. Do come and help me or I shalldie!" And the exhausted housewife cast herself upon his breast,giving him a sweet welcome in every sense of the word, for herpinafore had been baptized at the same time as the floor.
"What worries you dear? Has anything dreadful happened?"asked the anxious John, tenderly kissing the crown of the littlecap, which was all askew.
"Yes," sobbed Meg despairingly.
"Tell me quick, then. Don't cry. I can bear anything betterthan that. Out with it, love."
"The...The jelly won't jell and I don't know what to do!"
John Brooke laughed then as he never dared to laugh afterward,and the derisive Scott smiled involuntarily as he heard the heartypeal, which put the finishing stroke to poor Meg's woe.
"Is that all? Fling it out of the window, and don't bother anymore about it. I'll buy you quarts if you want it, but for heaven'ssake don't have hysterics, for I've brought Jack Scott home to dinner,and..."
John got no further, for Meg cast him off, and clasped her handswith a tragic gesture as she fell into a chair, exclaiming in a toneof mingled indignation, reproach, and dismay...
"A man to dinner, and everything in a mess! John Brooke, howcould you do such a thing?"
"Hush, he's in the garden! I forgot the confounded jelly, butit can't be helped now," said John, surveying the prospect with ananxious eye.
"You ought to have sent word, or told me this morning, and youought to have remembered how busy I was," continued Meg petulantly,for even turtledoves will peck when ruffled.
"I didn't know it this morning, and there was no time to sendword, for I met him on the way out. I never thought of asking leave,when you have always told me to do as I liked. I never tried it before,and hang me if I ever do again!" added John, with an aggrieved air.
"I should hope not! Take him away at once. I can't see him,and there isn't any dinner."
"Well, I like that! Where's the beef and vegetables I senthome, and the pudding you promised?" cried John, rushing to thelarder.
"I hadn't time to cook anything. I meant to dine at Mother's.I'm sorry, but I was so busy," and Meg's tears began again.
John was a mild man, but he was human, and after a long day'swork to come home tired, hungry, and hopeful, to find a chaotichouse, an empty table, and a cross wife was not exactly conductiveto repose of mind or manner. He restrained himself however, and thelittle squall would have blown over, but for one unlucky word.
"It's a scrape, I acknowledge, but if you will lend a hand,we'll pull through and have a good time yet. Don't cry, dear, butjust exert yourself a bit, and fix us up something to eat. We'reboth as hungry as hunters, so we shan't mind what it is. Give usthe cold meat, and bread and cheese. We won't ask for jelly."
He meant it to be a good-natured joke, but that one word sealedhis fate. Meg thought it was too cruel to hint about her sad failure,and the last atom of patience vanished as he spoke.
"You must get yourself out of the scrape as you can. I'm tooused up to `exert' myself for anyone. It's like a man to proposea bone and vulgar bread and cheese for company. I won't have anythingof the sort in my house. Take that Scott up to Mother's, andtell him I'm away, sick, dead, anything. I won't see him, and youtwo can laugh at me and my jelly as much as you like. You won'thave anything else here." And having delivered her defiance allon one breath, Meg cast away her pinafore and precipitately left thefield to bemoan herself in her own room.
What those two creatures did in her absence, she never knew,but Mr. scott was not taken `up to Mother's', and when Meg descended,after they had strolled away together, she found traces of a promiscuouslunch which filled her with horror. Lotty reported that they had eaten"a much, and greatly laughed, and the master bid her throw away allthe sweet stuff, and hide the pots."
Meg longed to go and tell Mother, but a sense of shame at her ownshort comings, of loyalty to John, "who might be cruel, but nobodyshould know it," restrained her, and after a summary cleaning up,she dressed herself prettily, and sat down to wait for John tocome and be forgiven.
Unfortunately, John didn't come, not seeing the matter in thatlight. He had carried it off as a good joke with Scott, excused hislittle wife as well as he could, and played the host so hospitablythat his friend enjoyed the impromptu dinner, and promised to comeagain, but John was angry, though he did not show it, he felt thatMeg had deserted him in his hour of need. "It wasn't fair to tella man to bring folks home any time, with perfect freedom, and whenhe took you at your word, to flame up and blame him, and leave himin the lurch, to be laughed at or pitied. No, by George, it wasn't!And Meg must know it."
He had fumed inwardly during the feast, but when the flurry wasover and he strolled home after seeing Scott off, a milder mood cameover him. "Poor little thing! It was hard upon her when she tried soheartily to please me. She was wrong, of course, but then she wasyoung. I must be patient and teach her." He hoped she had not gonehome--he hated gossip and interference. For a minute he was ruffledagain at the mere thought of it, and then the fear that Meg would cryherself sick softened his heart, and sent him on at a quicker pace,resolving to be calm and kind, but firm, quite firm, and show herwhere she had failed in her duty to her spouse.
Meg likewise resolved to be `calm and kind, but firm', and showhim his duty. She longed to run to meet him, and beg pardon, and bekissed and comforted, as she was sure of being, but, of course, shedid nothing of the sort, and when she saw John coming, began to humquite naturally, as she rocked and sewed, like a lady of leisure inher best parlor.
John was a little disappointed not to find a tender Niobe, butfeeling that his dignity demanded the first apology, he made none,only came leisurely in and laid himself upon the sofa with the singularlyrelevant remark, "We are going to have a new moon, my dear."
"I've no objection," was Meg's equally soothing remark. A fewother topics of general interest were introduced by Mr. Brooke andwet-blanketed by Mrs. Brooke, and conversation languished. Johnwent to one window, unfolded his paper, and wrapped himself in it,figuratively speaking. Meg went to the other window, and sewed asif new rosettes for slippers were among the necessaries of life.Neither spoke. Both looked quite `calm and firm', and both feltdesperately uncomfortable.
"Oh, dear," thought Meg, "married life is very trying, anddoes need infinite patience as well as love, as Mother says." Theword `Mother' suggested other maternal counsels given long ago, andreceived with unbelieving protests.
"John is a good man, but he has his faults, and you must learnto see and bear with them, remembering your own. He is very decided,but never will be obstinate, if you reason kindly, not oppose impatiently.He is very accurate, and particular about the truth--a goodtrait, though you call him `fussy'. Never deceive him by look orword, Meg, and he will give you the confidence you deserve, thesupport you need. He has a temper, not like ours--one flash and thenall over--but the white, still anger that is seldom stirred, butonce kindled is hard to quench. Be careful, be very careful, not towake his anger against yourself, for peace and happiness depend onkeeping his respect. Watch yourself, be the first to ask pardon ifyou both err, and guard against the little piques, misunderstandings,and hasty words that often pave the way for bitter sorrow and regret."
These words came back to Meg, as she sat sewing in the sunset,especially the last. This was the first serious disagreement, herown hasty speeches sounded both silly and unkind, as she recalledthem, her own anger looked childish now, and thoughts of poor Johncoming home to such a scene quite melted her heart. She glanced athim with tears in her eyes, but he did not see them. She put downher work and got up, thinking, "I will be the first to say,`Forgive me', but he did not seem to hear her. She went very slowlyacross the room, for pride was hard to swallow, and stood by him,but he did not turn his head. For a minute she felt as if shereally couldn't do it, then came the thought, This is the beginning.I'll do my part, and have nothing to reproach myself with,"and stooping sown, she softly kissed her husband on the forehead.Of course that settled it. The penitent kiss was better than aworld of words, and John had her on his knee in a minute, sayingtenderly...
"It was too bad to laugh at the poor little jelly pots.Forgive me, dear. I never will again!"
But he did, oh bless you, yes, hundreds of times, and so didMeg, both declaring that it was the sweetest jelly they ever made,for family peace was preserved in that little family jar.
After this, Meg had Mr. Scott to dinner by special invitation,and served him up a pleasant feast without a cooked wife for thefirst course, on which occasion she was so gay and gracious, andmade everything go off so charmingly, that Mr. Scott told John hewas a lucky fellow, and shook his head over the hardships of bachelorhoodall the way home.
In the autumn, new trials and experiences came to Meg. SallieMoffat renewed her friendship, was always running out for a dish ofgossip at the little house, or inviting `that poor dear' to come inand spend the day at the big house. It was pleasant, for in dullweather Meg often felt lonely. All were busy at home, John absenttill night, and nothing to do but sew, or read, or potter about. Soit naturally fell out that Meg got into the way of gadding and gossipingwith her friend. Seeing Sallie's pretty things made her long forsuch, and pity herself because she had not got them. Sallie was verykind, and often offered her the coveted trifles, but Meg declinedthem, knowing that John wouldn't like it, and then this foolish littlewoman went and did what John disliked even worse.
She knew her husband's income, and she loved to feel that hetrusted her, not only with his happiness, but what some men seem tovalue more--his money. She knew where it was, was free to take whatshe liked, and all he asked was that she should keep account of everypenny, pay bills once a month, and remember that she was a poor man'swife. Till now she had done well, been prudent and exact, kept herlittle account books neatly, and showed them to him monthly withoutfear. But that autumn the serpent got into Meg's paradise, and temptedher like many a modern Eve, not with apples, but with dress. Megdidn't like to be pitied and made to feel poor. It irritated her,but she was ashamed to confess it, and now and then she tried to consoleherself by buying something pretty, so that Sallie needn't thinkshe had to economize. She always felt wicked after it, for the prettythings were seldom necessaries, but then they cost so little, it wasn'tworth worrying about, so the trifles increased unconsciously, and inthe shopping excursions she was no longer a passive looker-on.
But the trifles cost more than one would imagine, and when shecast up her accounts at the end of the month the sum total ratherscared her. John was busy that month and left the bills to her, thenext month he was absent, but the third he had a grand quarterlysettling up, and Meg never forgot it. A few days before she had donea dreadful thing, and it weighed upon her conscience. Sallie hadbeen buying silks, and Meg longed for a new one, just a handsome lightone for parties, her black silk was so common, and thin things forevening wear were only proper for girls. Aunt March usually gave thesisters a present of twenty-five dollars apiece at New Year's. Thatwas only a month to wait, and here was a lovely violet silk going ata bargain, and she had the money, if she only dared to take it. Johnalways said what was his was hers, but would he think it right tospend not only the prospective five-and-twenty, but anotherfive-and-twenty out of the household fund? That was the question.Sallie had urged her to do it, had offered to lend the money, and withthe best intentions in life had tempted Meg beyond her strength.In an evil moment the shopman held up the lovely, shimmering folds,and said, "A bargain, I assure, you, ma'am." She answered, "I'll takeit," and it was cut off and paid for, and Sallie had exulted, and shehad laughed as if it were a thing of no consequence, and driven away,feeling as if she had stolen something, and the police were after her.
When she got home, she tried to assuage the pangs of remorseby spreading forth the lovely silk, but it looked less silvery now,didn't become her, after all, and the words `fifty dollars' seemedstamped like a pattern down each breadth. She put it away, but ithaunted her, not delightfully as a new dress should, but dreadfullylike the ghost of a folly that was not easily laid. When John gotout his books that night, Meg's heart sank, and for the first timein her married life, she was afraid of her husband. The kind, browneyes looked as if they could be stern, and though he was unusuallymerry, she fancied he had found her out, but didn't mean to let herknow it. The house bills were all paid, the books all in order.John had praised her, and was undoing the old pocketbook which theycalled the `bank', when Meg, knowing that it was quite empty, stoppedhis hand, saying nervously...
"You haven't seen my private expense book yet."
John never asked to see it, but she always insisted on his doingso, and used to enjoy his masculine amazement at the queer things womenwanted, and made him guess what piping was, demand fiercely the meaningof a hug-me-tight, or wonder how a little thing composed of threerosebuds, a bit of velvet, and a pair of strings, could possibly bea bonnet, and cost six dollars. That night he looked as if he wouldlike the fun of quizzing her figures and pretending to be horrifiedat her extravagance, as he often did, being particularly proud ofhis prudent wife.
The little book was brought slowly out and laid down before him.Meg got behind his chair under pretense of smoothing the wrinklesout of his tired forehead, and standing there, she said, with herpanic increasing with every word . ..
"John, dear, I'm ashamed to show you my book, for I've reallybeen dreadfully extravagant lately. I go about so much I must havethings, you know, and Sallie advised my getting it, so I did, andmy New Year's money will partly pay for it, but I was sorry afterI had done it, for I knew you'd think it wrong in me."
John laughed, and drew her round beside him, saying goodhumoredly,"Don't go and hide. I won't beat you if you have gota pair of killing boots. I'm rather proud of my wife's feet, anddon't mind if she does pay eight or nine dollars for her boots, ifthey are good ones."
That had been one of her last `trifles', and John's eye hadfallen on it as he spoke. "Oh, what will he say when he comes tothat awful fifty dollars!" thought Meg, with a shiver.
"It's worse than boots, it's a silk dress," she said, with thecalmness of desperation, for she wanted the worst over.
"Well, dear, what is the `dem'd total', as Mr. Mantalini says?"
That didn't sound like John, and she knew he was looking up ather with the straightforward look that she had always been ready tomeet and answer with one as frank till now. She turned the page andher head at the same time, pointing to the sum which would have beenbad enough without the fifty, but which was appalling to her withthat added. For a minute the room was very still, then John saidslowly--but she could feel it cost him an effort to express nodispleasure--. . .
"Well, I don't know that fifty is much for a dress, with all thefurbelows and notions you have to have to finish it off these days."
"It isn't made or trimmed," sighed Meg, faintly, for a suddenrecollection of the cost still to be incurred quite overwhelmed her.
"Twenty-five yards of silk seems a good deal to cover one smallwoman, but I've no doubt my wife will look as fine as Ned Moffat'swhen she gets it on," said John dryly.
"I know you are angry, John, but I can't help it. I don't meanto waste your money, and I didn't think those little things wouldcount up so. I can't resist them when I see Sallie buying all shewants, and pitying me because I don't. I try to be contented, butit is hard, and I'm tired of being poor."
The last words were spoken so low she thought he did not hearthem, but he did, and they wounded him deeply, for he had deniedhimself many pleasures for Meg's sake. She could have bitten hertongue out the minute she had said it, for John pushed the booksaway and got up, saying with a little quiver in his voice, "I wasafraid of this. I do my best, Meg." If he had scolded her, oreven shaken her, it would not have broken her heart like those fewwords. She ran to him and held him close, crying, with repentanttears, "Oh, John, my dear, kind, hard-working boy. I didn't meanit! It was so wicked, so untrue and ungrateful, how could I say it!Oh, how could I say it!"
He was very kind, forgave her readily, and did not utter onereproach, but Meg knew that she had done and said a thing whichwould not be forgotten soon, although he might never allude to itagain. She had promised to love him for better or worse, and thenshe, his wife, had reproached him with his poverty, after spendinghis earnings recklessly. It was dreadful, and the worst of it wasJohn went on so quietly afterward, just as if nothing had happened,except that he stayed in town later, and worked at night when shehad gone to cry herself to sleep. A week or remorse nearly madeMeg sick, and the discovery that John had countermanded the orderfor his new greatcoat reduced her to a state of despair which waspathetic to behold. He had simply said, in answer to her surprisedinquiries as to the change, "I can't afford it, my dear."
Meg said no more, but a few minutes after he found her in thehall with her face buried in the old greatcoat, crying as if herheart would break.
They had a long talk that night, and Meg learned to love herhusband better for his poverty, because it seemed to have made aman of him, given him the strength and courage to fight his own way,and taught him a tender patience with which to bear and comfortthe natural longings and failures of those he loved.
Next day she put her pride in her pocket, went to Sallie, toldthe truth, and asked her to buy the silk as a favor. The good-natured Mrs. Moffat willingly did so, and had the delicacy not tomake her a present of it immediately afterward. Then Meg orderedhome the greatcoat, and when John arrived, she put it on, and askedhim how he liked her new silk gown. One can imagine what answer hemade, how he received his present, and what a blissful state ofthings ensued. John came home early, Meg gadded no more, and thatgreatcoat was put on in the morning by a very happy husband, andtaken off at night by a most devoted little wife. So the yearrolled round, and at midsummer there came to Meg a new experience,the deepest and tenderest of a woman's life.
Laurie came sneaking into the kitchen of the Dovecote oneSaturday, with an excited face, and was received with the clashof cymbals, for Hannah clapped her hands with a saucepan in oneand the cover in the other.
"How's the little mamma? Where is everybody? Why didn'tyou tell me before I came home?" began Laurie in a loud whisper.
"Happy as a queen, the dear! Every soul of `em is upstairsa worshipin'. We didn't want no hurrycanes round. Now you gointo the parlor, and I'll send `em down to you," with whichsomewhat involved reply Hannah vanished, chuckling ecstatically.
Presently Jo appeared, proudly bearing a flannel bundle laidforth upon a large pillow. Jo's face was very sober, but her eyestwinkled, and there was an odd sound in her voice of repressedemotion of some sort.
"Shut your eyes and hold out your arms," she said invitingly.
Laurie backed precipitately into a corner, and put his handsbehind him with an imploring gesture. "No, thank you. I'd rathernot. I shall drop it or smash it, as sure as fate."
"Then you shan't see your nevvy," said Jo decidedly, turningas if to go.
"I will, I will! Only you must be responsible for damages."And obeying orders, Laurie heroically shut his eyes while somethingwas put into his arms. A peal of laughter from Jo, Amy,Mrs. March, Hannah, and John caused him to open them the nextminute, to find himself invested with two babies instead of one.
No wonder they laughed, for the expression of his face wasdroll enough to convulse a Quaker, as he stood and stared wildlyfrom the unconscious innocents to the hilarious spectators withsuch dismay that Jo sat down on the floor and screamed.
"Twins, by Jupiter!" was all he said for a minute, thenturning to the women with an appealing look that was comicallypiteous, he added, "Take `em quick, somebody! I'm going tolaugh, and I shall drop `em."
Jo rescued his babies, and marched up and down, with oneon each are, as if already initiated into the mysteries of babytending,while Laurie laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.
"It's the best joke of the season, isn't it? I wouldn't havetold you, for I set my heart on surprising you, and I flattermyself I've done it," said Jo, when she got her breath.
"I never was more staggered in my life. Isn't it fun? Are they boys?What are you going to name them? Let's have another look. Hold me up,Jo, for upon my life it's one too many for me," returned Laurie,regarding the infants with the air of a big, benevolent Newfoundlandlooking at a pair of infantile kittens.
"Boy and girl. Aren't they beauties?" said the proud papa,beaming upon the little red squirmers as if they were unfledged angels.
"Most remarkable children I ever saw. Which is which?" andLaurie bent like a well-sweep to examine the prodigies.
"Amy put a blue ribbon on the boy and a pink on the girl,French fashion, so you can always tell. Besides, one has blueeyes and one brown. Kiss them, Uncle Teddy," said wicked Jo.
"I'm afraid they mightn't like it," began Laurie, with unusualtimidity in such matters.
"Of course they will, they are used to it now. Do it thisminute, sir!" commanded Jo, fearing he might propose a proxy.
Laurie screwed up his face and obeyed with a gingerly peckat each little cheek that produced another laugh, and made thebabies squeal.
"There, I knew they didn't like it! That's the boy, seehim kick, he hits out with his fists like a good one. Now then,young Brooke, pitch into a man of your own size, will you?" criedLaurie, delighted with a poke in the face from a tiny fist, flappingaimlessly about.
"He's to be named John Laurence, and the girl Margaret, aftermother and grandmother. We shall call her Daisey, so as not tohave two Megs, and I suppose the mannie will be Jack, unless wefind a better name," said Amy, with aunt-like interest.
"Name him Demijohn, and call him Demi for short," said Laurie
"Daisy and Demi, just the thing! I knew Teddy would do it,"cried Jo clapping her hands.
Teddy certainly had done it that time, for the babies were`Daisy' and `Demi' to the end of the chapter.