冬去春来，一套新游戏 又盛行起来了，春日渐长，下午也有了更多的时间进行劳作和嬉戏。院子也该打理了，四姐妹各有一小块地皮，可以按自己的心思料理。罕娜常说：“只要我从烟囱 一看，就知道哪块地是属于谁的。“她说得不错，因为姐妹们的趣味就像她们的性格一样，各出一辙。梅格的地里种了玫瑰、长春花，还有一棵小橙树。乔喜欢做实 验，园圃里每季都必定换个新花样；今年种的是蓬勃向上的向日葵，葵花子送给科克尔托婶婶和她的小鸡吃。贝思的园子则是老花样，种着各式芬芳扑鼻的鲜花-- 甜蜿豆、木犀草、飞燕草、石竹、三色堇、香蒿，还有给小鸟吃的繁缕。艾美的园子弄了个小花荫，虽然弯弯扭扭，倒也十分好看，上面攀满了一圈圈色彩斑斓的忍 冬花和牵牛花，一朵朵、一串串，煞为雅致，还有高高的白百合，娇嫩的草蕨等奇葩异草，临风盛开，争奇斗妍。
天气晴朗时，她们或是浇花培土、散步、到河中划艇，或是出去采花，下雨时则呆在家里玩游戏--一些是旧游戏，一些是新游戏--全都颇具创意。其中一 种叫做"匹克威克社"，因为时下流行建神秘社团，她们认为也该建一个；又因姐妹们都崇拜狄更斯，便把社命名为"匹克威克社"。虽然偶有几次中断，但这个社 坚持了足足一年。每到星期六晚上，她们便来到大阁楼会合，举行社团仪式，平时三张椅子并排摆在一张桌子前面，桌上摆着一盏灯和四个白色会徽，上面各印着不 同颜色的"匹克威克"几个大字，还摆着一份名为《匹克威克文逊的周报。四姐妹都是这份社报的撰稿人，编辑大人是酷爱舞文弄墨的乔。七点正，四位社员登上阁 楼，把会徽绑在头上，庄严坐下。梅格最大，号称塞缪尔·匹克威克；富有文学才情的乔号为奥古斯都·斯诺格拉斯，胖乎乎、肤色红润的贝思号称特雷西·托曼； 做事总是不自量力的艾美号纳撒尼尔·温克尔。主席匹克威克宣读社报。报纸里头写满了匠心独运的故事、诗歌、当地新闻、有趣的广告，以及对各人缺点的好意提 示。这天，匹克威克先生戴上一副没有镜片的眼镜，敲一下桌子，清清嗓子，使劲瞪一眼斜靠在椅子上的斯诺格拉斯先生，等他坐正了，这才开始读：“匹克威克文 选"１８-，５，２０-诗人角-周年纪念颂今晚，我们再次相聚在匹克威克大堂。
“主席先生，各位先生，“他摆出一副国会议员的架势，郑重其事地说，“我提议接纳一位新成员--一位实至名归、能够将本社精神发扬光大、提高社报的 文学价值、快乐有趣的人士。我提议西奥多·劳伦斯先生成为匹克威克社的名誉成员。来吧，欢迎他吧。“看到乔突然改变了语调，姑娘们都笑了起来，但大家都显 得有点顾虑，斯诺格拉斯落座的时候大家都不做声。
斯诺格拉斯一跃而起，十分着急。“先生，我以一个绅士的名义向你保证，劳里不会做出这种事情。他喜欢写作，他会使我们的稿子另添一种格调，让我们不 用多愁善感，你明白吗？他帮了我们许多忙，我们无以为报。我想我们至少可以为他提供一席之地，欢迎他入社。“这番关于既得好处的巧妙暗示令得托曼站起身 来，他似乎下定了决心。
那些信件、手稿、书本、包裹等等，都可以在那里传递，我们两家各执一枚钥匙，我相信这样一定妙趣横生。请允许我献上这把社匙，并衷心感谢各位的厚 意，并承蒙赐座。“当维勒先生把一枚小钥匙放在桌上退下时，掌声热烈响起，取暖器当当作响、乱晃一气，秩序好一会才恢复过来。接着是长时间的讨论，大家充 分发挥，个个的表现都出人意料；会议开得异常活跃，足足开了近一个小时才在为新成员发出的三下欢呼声中结束。对于吸收山姆·维勒入社，大家从不感到后悔， 因为他富有献身精神，表现出色，活泼快乐，堪称社员的楷模。他无疑发扬光大了各项会议的"精神"，给社报增添了一种"格调"，因为他的演说震撼人心，他的 文稿格调优美清新，富有爱国热忱，而且幽默生动，从不多愁善感，乔觉得这些文章堪可媲美培根、弥尔顿、莎士比亚的大作，并对自己的文风也有很大影响。
As spring came on, a new set of amusements became thefashion, and the lengthening days gave long afternoons forwork and play of all sorts. The garden had to be put in order,and each sister had a quarter of the little plot to do what sheliked with. Hannah used to say, "I'd know which each of themgardings belonged to, ef I see 'em in Chiny," and so she might,for the girls' tastes differed as much as their characters. Meg'shad roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree in it.Jo's bed was never alike two seasons, for she was always tryingexperiments. This year it was to be a plantation of sun flowers,the seeds of which cheerful land aspiring plant were to feedAunt Cockle-top and her family of chicks. Beth had old-fashionedfragrant flowers in her garden, sweet peas and mignonette,larkspur, pinks, pansies, and southernwood, with chickweed forthe birds and catnip for the pussies. Amy had a bower in hers,rather small and earwiggy, but very pretty to look at, withhoneysuckle and morning-glories hanging their colored horns andbells in graceful wreaths all over it, tall white lilies, delicateferns, and as many brilliant, picturesque plants as would consentto blossom there.
Gardening, walks, rows on the river, and flower hunts employedthe fine days, and for rainy ones, they had house diversions,some old, some new, all more or less original. One of thesewas the `P.C', for as secret societies were the fashion,it was thought proper to have one, and as all of the girlsadmired Dickens, they called themselves the Pickwick Club. Witha few interruptions, they had kept this up for a year, and metevery Saturday evening in the big garret, on which occasions theceremonies were as follows: Three chairs were arranged in a rowbefore a table on which was a lamp, also four white badges, witha big `P.C.' in different colors on each, and the weeklynewspaper called, The Pickwick Portfolio, to which all contributedsomething, while Jo, who reveled in pens and ink, was the editor.At seven o'clock, the four members ascended to the clubroom,tied their badges round their heads, and took their seats withgreat solemnity. Meg, as the eldest, was Samuel Pickwick, Jo,being of a literary turn, Augustus Snodgrass, Beth, because shewas round and rosy, Tracy Tupman, and Amy, who was always tryingto do what she couldn't, was Nathaniel Winkle. Pickwick, thepresident, read the paper, which was filled with original tales,poetry, local news, funny advertisements, and hints, in whichthey good-naturedly reminded each other of their faults andshort comings. On one occasion, Mr. Pickwick put on a pairof spectacles without any glass, rapped upon the table, hemmed,and having stared hard at Mr. Snodgrass, who was tilting backin his chair, till he arranged himself properly, began to read:
"THE PICKWICK PORTFOLIO"
MAY 20, 18---
Again we meet to celebrate
With badge and solemn rite,
Our fifty-second anniversary,
In Pickwick Hall, tonight.
We all are here in perfect health,None gone from our small band:
Again we see each well-known face,And press each friendly hand.
Our Pickwick, always at his post,
With reverence we greet,
As, spectacles on nose, he reads
Our well-filled weekly sheet.
Although he suffers from a cold,
We joy to hear him speak,
For words of wisdom from him fall,In spite of croak or squeak.
Old six-foot Snodgrass looms on high,With elephantine grace,
And beams upon the company,
With brown and jovial face.
Poetic fire lights up his eye,
He struggles 'gainst his lot.
Behold ambition on his brow,
And on his nose, a blot.
Next our peaceful Tupman comes,
So rosy, plump, and sweet,
Who chokes with laughter at the puns,And tumbles off his seat.
Prim little Winkle too is here,
With every hair in place,
A model of propriety,
Though he hates to wash his face.
The year is gone, we still unite
To joke and laugh and read,
And tread the path of literature
That doth to glory lead.
Long may our paper prosper well,
Our club unbroken be,
And coming years their blessings pourOn the useful, gay `P. C.'.
THE MASKED MARRIAGE
(A Tale Of Venice)
Gondola after gondola swept up to the marblesteps, and left its lovely load to swell thebrilliant throng that filled the stately halls of CountAdelon. Knights and ladies, elves and pages, monksand flower girls, all mingled gaily in the dance.Sweet voices and rich melody filled the air, and sowith mirth and music the masquerade went on."Has your Highness seen the Lady viola tonight?"asked a gallant troubadour of the fairy queen whofloated down the hall upon his arm."Yes, is she not lovely, though so sad! Herdress is well chosen, too, for in a week she wedsCount Antonio, whom she passionately hates."
"By my faith, I envy him. Yonder he comes,arrayed like a bridegroom, except the black mask.When that is off we shall see how he regards thefair maid whose heart he cannot win, though herstern father bestows her hand," returned the troubadour.
"Tis whispered that she loves the young Englishartist who haunts her steps, and is spurned by theold Count," said the lady, as they joined the dance.The revel was at its height when a priestappeared, and withdrawing the young pair to an alcove,hung with purple velvet, he motioned them to kneel.Instant silence fell on the gay throng, and not asound, but he dash of fountains or the rustle oforange groves sleeping in the moonlight, broke thehush, as Count de Adelon spoke thus:
"My lords and ladies, pardon the ruse by whichI have gathered you here to witness the marriage ofmy daughter. Father, we wait your services."All eyes turned toward the bridal party, and amurmur of amazement went through the throng, forneither bride nor groom removed their masks. Curiosityand wonder possessed all hearts, but respect restrainedall tongues till the holy rite was over. Then theeager spectators gathered round the count, demandingan explanation.
"Gladly would I give it if I could, but I onlyknow that it was the whim of my timid Viola, and Iyielded to it. Now, my children, let the play end.Unmask and receive my blessing."
But neither bent the knee, for the young bridegroomreplied in a tone that startled all listenersas the mask fell, disclosing the noble face of FerdinandDevereux, the artist lover, and leaning on thebreast where now flashed the star of an English earlwas the lovely Viola, radiant with joy and beauty.
"My lord, you scornfully bade me claim yourdaughter when I could boast as high a name and vast afortune as the Count antonio. I can do more, for evenyour ambitious soul cannot refuse the Earl of Devereuxand De Vere, when he gives his ancient name and boundlesswealth in return for the beloved hand of this fair lady,now my wife.
The count stood like one changed to stone, andturning to the bewildered crowd, Ferdinand added, witha gay smile of triumph, "To you, my gallant friends, Ican only wish that your wooing may prosper as mine hasdone, and that you may all win as fair a bride as I haveby this masked marriage."
Why is the P. C. like the Tower of Babel?It is full of unruly members.
THE HISTORY OF A SQUASH
Once upon a time a farmer planted a little seed.in his garden, and after a while it sprouted and becamea vine and bore many squashes. One day in October,when they were ripe, he picked one and took itto market. A gorcerman bought and put it in his shop.That same morning, a little girl in a brown hatand blue dress, with a round face and snub nose, wentand bought it for her mother. She lugged it home, cutit up, and boiled it in the big pot, mashed some of itsalt and butter, for dinner. And to the rest she addeda pint of milk, two eggs, four spoons of sugar, nutmeg,and some crackers, put it in a deep dish, and baked ittill it was brown and nice, and next day it was eatenby a family named March.
Mr. Pickwick, Sir:-
I address you upon the subject of sin the sinnerI mean is a man named Winkle who makes trouble in hisclub by laughing and sometimes won't write his piece inthis fine paper I hope you will pardon his badness andlet him send a French fable because he can't write outof his head as he has so many lessons to do and no brainsin future I will try to take time by the fetlock andprepare some work which will be all commy la fo thatmeans all right I am in haste as it is nearly schooltime
[The above is a manly and handsome aknowledgment of pastmisdemeanors. If our young friend studied punctuation, itwould be well.]
A SAD ACCIDENT
On Friday last, we were startled by a violent shockin our basement, followed by cries of distress.On rushing in a body to the cellar, we discovered our belovedPresident prostrate upon the floor, having tripped andfallen while getting wood for domestic purposes. A perfectscene of ruin met our eyes, for in his fall Mr. Pickwickhad plunged his head and shoulders into a tub of water,upset a keg of soft soap upon his manly form, and tornhis garments badly. On being removed from this periloussituation, it was discovered that he had sufferedno injury but several bruises, and we are happy to add,is now doing well.
THE PUBLIC BEREAVEMENT
It is our painful duty to record the sudden andmysterious disappearance of our cherished friend, Mrs.Snowball Pat Paw. This lovely and beloved cat was thepet of a large circle of warm and admiring friends; forher beauty attracted all eyes, her graces and virtuesendeared her to all hearts, and her loss is deeply feltby the whole community.
When last seen, she was sitting at the gate, watchingthe butcher's cart, and it is feared that some villain,tempted by her charms, basely stole her. Weeks have passed,but no trace of her has been discovered, and we relinquishall hope, tie a black ribbon to her basket, set aside herdish, and weep for her as one lost to us forever.
A sympathizing friend sends the following gem:
(FOR S. B. PAT PAW)
We mourn the loss of our little pet,And sigh o'er her hapless fate,
For never more by the fire she'll sit,Nor play by the old green gate.
The little grave where her infant sleepsIs 'neath the chestnut tree.
But o'er her grave we may not weep,We know not where it may be.
Her empty bed, her idle ball,
Will never see her more;
No gentle tap, no loving purr
Is heard at the parlor door.
Another cat comes after her mice,
A cat with a dirty face,
But she does not hunt as our darling did,Nor play with her airy grace.
Her stealthy paws tread the very hallWhere Snowball used to play,
But she only spits at the dogs our petSo gallantly drove away.
She is useful and mild, and does her best,But she is not fair to see,
And we cannot give her your place dear,Nor worship her as we worship thee.A.S.
Miss Oranthy Bluggage, the accomplishedstrong-minded lecturer, will deliver herfamous lecture on "WOMAN AND HER POSITION"at Pickwick Hall, next Saturday Evening,after the usual performances.
A weekly meeting will be held at Kitchenplace, to teach young ladies how to cook.Hannah Brown will preside, and all areinvited to attend.
The DUSTPAN SOCIETY will meet on Wednesdaynext, and parade in the upper story of theClub House. All members to appear in uniformand shoulder their brooms at nine precisely.
Mrs. Beth Bouncer will open her newassortment of Doll's Millinery next week.The latest Paris fashions have arrived,and orders are respectfully solicited.
A new play will appear at the BarnvilleTheatre, in the course of a few weeks, whichwill surpass anything ever seen on the American stage.The Greek Slave, or Constantine the Avenger, is the nameof this thrilling drama.!!!
If S.P. didn't use so much soap on his hands,he wouldn't always be late at breakfast. A.S.is requested not to whistle in the street. T.Tplease don't forget Amy's napkin. N.W. mustnot fret because his dress has not nine tucks.
As the President finished reading the paper (which I begleave to assure my readers is a bona fide copy of one writtenby bona fide girls once upon a time), a round of applausefollowed, and then Mr. Snodgrass rose to make a proposition.
"Mr. President and gentlemen," he began, assuming aparliamentary attitude and tone, "I wish to propose the admissionof a new member--one who highly deserves the honor, would bedeeply grateful for it, and would add immensely to the spiritof the club, the literary value of the paper, and be no endjolly and nice. I propose Mr. Theodore Laurence as an honorarymember of the P. C. Come now, do have him."
Jo's sudden change of tone made the girls laugh, but alllooked rather anxious, and no one said a word as Snodgrasstook his seat.
"We'll put it to a vote," said the President. "All infavor of this motion please to manifest it by saying, `Aye'."
"Contrary-minded say, `No'."
Meg and Amy were contrary-minded, and Mr. Winkle rose tosay with great elegance, "We don't wish any boys, they onlyjoke and bounce about. This is a ladies' club, and we wish tobe private and proper."
"I'm afraid he'll laugh at our paper, and make fun of usafterward," observed Pickwick, pulling the little curl on herforehead, as she always did when doubtful.
Up rose Snodgrass, very much in earnest. "Sir, I give youmy word as a gentleman, Laurie won't do anything of the sort. Helikes to write, and he'll give a tone to our contributions andkeep us from being sentimental, don't you see? We can do so littlefor him, and he does so much for us, I think the least we can dois to offer him a place here, and make him welcome if he comes."
This artful allusion to benefits conferred brought Tupman tohis feet, looking as if he had quite made up his mind.
"Yes, we ought to do it, even if we are afraid. I say he maycome, and his grandpa, too, if he likes."
This spirited burst from Beth electrified the club, and Joleft her seat to shake hands approvingly. "Now then, vote again.Everybody remember it's our Laurie, and say, `Aye!'"cried Snodgrass excitedly.
"Aye! Aye! Aye!" replied three voices at once.
"Good! Bless you! Now, as there's nothing like `taking timeby the fetlock', as Winkle characteristically observes, allow meto present the new member." And, to the dismay of the rest of theclub, Jo threw open the door of the closet, and displayed Lauriesitting on a rag bag, flushed and twinkling with suppressed laughter.
"You rogue! You traitor! Jo, how could you?" cried the threegirls, as Snodgrass led her friend triumphantly forth, and producingboth a chair and a badge, installed him in a jiffy.
"The coolness of you two rascals is amazing," began Mr. Pickwick,trying to get up an awful frown and only succeeding in producingan amiable smile. But the new member was equal to the occasion,and rising, with a grateful salutation to the Chair, saidin the most engaging manner, "Mr. President and ladies--I beg pardon,gentlemen--allow me to introduce myself as Sam Weller, the veryhumble servant of the club."
"Good! Good!" cried Jo, pounding with the handle of the oldwarming pan on which she leaned.
"My faithful friend and noble patron," continued Laurie witha wave of the hand, "who has so flatteringly presented me, is notto be blamed for the base stratagem of tonight. I planned it, andshe only gave in after lots of teasing."
"Come now, don't lay it all on yourself. You know I proposedthe cupboard," broke in Snodgrass, who was enjoying the jokeamazingly.
"Never mind what she says. I'm the wretch that did it, sir,"said the new member, with a Welleresque nod to Mr. Pickwick. "Buton my honor, I never will do so again, and henceforth devote myselfto the interest of this immortal club."
"Hear! Hear!" cried Jo, clashing the lid of the warming panlike a cymbal.
"Go on, go on!" added Winkle and Tupman, while the Presidentbowed benignly.
"I merely wish to say, that as a slight token of my gratitudefor the honor done me, and as a means of promoting friendly relationsbetween adjoining nations, I have set up a post office in the hedgein the lower corner of the garden, a fine, spacious building withpadlocks on the doors and every convenience for the mails, also thefemales, if I may be allowed the expression. It's the old martinhouse, but I've stopped up the door and made the roof open, so itwill hold all sorts of things, and save our valuable time. Letters,manuscripts, books, and bundles can be passed in there, and as eachnation has a key, it will be uncommonly nice, I fancy. Allow me topresent the club key, and with many thanks for your favor, take myseat."
Great applause as Mr. Weller deposited a little key on thetable and subsided, the warming pan clashed and waved wildly, andit was some time before order could be restored. A long discussionfollowed, and everyone came out surprising, for everyone did herbest. So it was an unusually lively meeting, and did not adjourntill a late hour, when it broke up with three shrill cheers for thenew member. No one ever regretted the admittance of Sam Weller, fora more devoted, well-behaved, and jovial member no club could have.He certainly did add `spirit' to the meetings, and `a tone' to thepaper, for his orations convulsed his hearers and his contributionswere excellent, being patriotic, classical, comical, or dramatic,but never sentimental. Jo regarded them as worthy of Bacon, Milton,or Shakespeare, and remodeled her own works with good effect, shethought.
The P. O. was a capital little institution, and flourishedwonderfully, for nearly as many queer things passed through it asthrough the real post office. Tragedies and cravats, poetry andpickles, garden seeds and long letters, music and gingerbread,rubbers, invitations, scoldings, and puppies. The old gentlemanliked the fun, and amused himself by sending odd bundles,mysterious messages, and funny telegrams, and his gardener, who wassmitten with Hannah's charms, actually sent a love letter to Jo'scare. How they laughed when the secret came out, never dreaminghow many love letters that little post office would hold in theyears to come.