天方蒙蒙亮，姐妹们便 冒着严寒，点亮灯，以前所未有的热诚阅读她们的小册子，因为一项真正的麻烦已经降临到她们身上，而这些小书当中随处可以寻到帮助和宽慰。穿衣的时候，她们 约定要高高兴兴地跟母亲道别、不流泪、不诉苦，让她轻松上路。她们走下楼时一切都似乎变得十分陌生--外头天色灰暗、鸦雀无声，里头却灯火透亮、一片忙 乱。
这么早便吃早餐显得有点古里古怪，罕娜戴着睡帽在厨房里跑上跑下，那张熟识的面孔也好像与往日不同。大行李箱已在大厅里放好，母亲的外套和帽子摆在 沙发上。母亲坐在那里，正吃力地把早点咽下去，因昨晚忧思劳神、一夜无眠，脸色显得十分苍白憔悴，姑娘们见状几乎把持不祝梅格忍不住泪如雨下，乔不得不三 番四次地躲到厨房的碾子后面抹眼泪，两个小妹妹也神情严肃，愁眉不展，仿佛悲伤对于她们来说是一种新体验。
大家都没有怎么说话，出发的时间就要到了，大家坐着在等马车，姑娘们围着母亲忙忙碌碌，一个替她叠围巾，一个把她的帽带弄起，一个为她穿上套鞋，一 个为她系好行李袋。马奇太太对她们说--“孩子们，我把你们交给罕娜和劳伦斯先生照顾。罕娜一向忠心耿耿，我们的好邻居劳伦斯先生也会把你们当作自己的女 儿一样看待，这些我都不担心，我只希望你们要正确对待这次变故。我走后你们不要烦恼悲伤，也不要慵慵懒懒，或者试图忘记现实，以为这样就能安慰自己。要照 常工作，因为工作就是最大的安慰。怀抱希望，不要偷闲，无论发生什么事情，都要记着，你们决不会失去父亲的。““是，妈妈。““梅格，好孩子，谨慎行事， 带好几个妹妹，凡事与罕娜商量，遇到困难时请教劳伦斯先生。要忍耐，乔，不要灰心泄气、鲁莽行事，多写信给我，要做个勇敢的好姑娘，帮助鼓舞大家。贝思， 好好弹琴，有时间帮忙做好家务。你呢，艾美，尽能力帮忙，乖乖听话，不要惹祸。““我们会的，妈妈！““我们会的！“这时传来嘎嗒嘎嗒的马车声，大家跳起 来侧耳细听。痛苦的时刻到了，但姑娘们强忍悲伤：她们让母亲转达对父亲的问候，虽然她们想到这些话或许已经太迟。没有人哭泣，没有人躲避，也没有叹息，虽 然她们心里都感到沉甸甸的；大家轻轻吻别母亲，然后目送着马车离去，强作欢颜，挥手告别。
父亲方面传来的消息使姑娘们大感欣慰。尽管病情严重，在医院经过精心的医护理后，他已逐渐康复。布鲁克先生每天都寄来一份病情报告。梅格身为一家之 长，每次都坚持自己来读。随着时间的推移，信中的消息越来越令人振奋。起初四姐妹都争着写信，写好后，由其中一人小心翼翼地把厚厚的信封塞进邮筒，大家都 郑重其事地看待这些华盛顿通信。
信中有几封皮具代表性，我们不妨截下来读一读：我亲爱的妈妈：读了您的来信后，我们的喜悦心情简直没法形容，您捎来的大好消息令我们高兴得又笑又 哭。布鲁克先生不愧是菩萨心肠，由于劳伦斯先生生意上的缘故，他能在你们身边陪伴多时，并悉心照顾，实乃万幸，因为他对你和父亲来说是那么有用。妹妹们个 个乖巧听话。乔帮我干针线活，还坚持要做各种最难做的工夫。幸亏我知道她的"道德冲动"有如昙花一现，才不至于担心她操劳过度。贝思尽忠职守，从不忘记您 告诉她的话，她思虑爸爸，终日心事重重，只有坐在她的小钢琴边时才显得轻松开怀。艾美很听我的话，我也十分细心地照顾她。她自己梳头，我正教她开钮孔和缝 补袜子。她干得很起劲，您回来的时候一定会对她的进步感到满意。劳伦斯先生像老母鸡一样照看我们--这是乔说的话，劳里待我们也十分热情友好。你们远在他 方，我们有时悒悒不乐，觉得自己像个孤儿，是劳里和乔使我们快乐起来。罕娜是个大圣人；她从不骂人，总是称我为"玛格丽特小姐"，这称呼十分体面，您知 道，而且待我十分尊重。我们人人安好，个个忙碌，只是日夜盼望你们回来。请转达我对爸爸最诚挚的爱。永远属于您的梅格和这张字迹秀丽的香笺形成鲜明对照 的，是下面这张潦潦草草地写在薄信纸上、墨迹斑斑、龙飞凤舞的大纸条：我亲爱的妈咪：为亲爱的爸爸欢呼三声！布鲁克一待爸爸身体好转便飞速电告我们，堪称 好人。收到信时我冲上阁楼，试图感谢上帝对我们的厚爱，但却只哭着说：“我好高兴！我好高兴！“这不也跟真正的祈祷一样吗？因为我心中充满了感激之情。我 们的日子过得有滋有味；我已经开始享受这种生活了，因为大家互爱互助，家里就像一个无比温暖的雀巢。若您看到梅格坐在首席，努力做个好妈妈的模样，一定会 忍俊不禁。她越来越漂亮了，有时候我竟爱上她了。
两个妹妹是名符其实的天使，我呢--嗯，我就是我，我是乔。哦，我得告诉您我差点和劳里吵了一架。我对一桩小事直言不讳地批评了几句，他便恼了。我 并没有错，只是说话过火了点儿，他便径直走回家，说除非我先认错他才会再来。我宣布我不会求他原谅，我气疯了，整整一天都心神恍惚，十分希望您就在我的身 边。我和劳里自尊心都特别强，很难放下面子认错，但我以为他会来向我赔不是的，因为我是对的。他没有来，晚上我想起艾美掉进河那遭您跟我说的话，又读了我 的小册子，心里受用了一点，决定不能因一时之怒而不分好歹，于是便跑过去向劳里道歉。谁知就在门口遇到了他，也是跑来向我道歉的。我们都笑起来，于是互相 说过对不起，又和好如初了。
我仅有地方送上我的挚爱和我一直保存在屋里留待爸爸观赏的三色堇标本。我每天早上读书，白天努力工作，晚间哼着爸爸的曲子入睡。我现在不能唱"天国 之歌"，因为它使我感极而泣。大家都和睦共处，日子过得还算相当愉快，艾美要我把下面的地方留给她，因此我得搁笔了。我没有忘记盖好架子，每天都打扫房 间，给时钟上发条。
我们都很好我老做功课从不和姐姐们合着（作）--梅格说我的意思是驳策（斥）所以我把两个词都写上等你来挑眩梅格待我棒极了每晚进茶点时都让我吃果 子冻乔说这东西对我很有好处因为它使我脾气温和。劳里对人不够尊重现在我已差不多十岁出头了，他还管我叫"黄毛丫头"，当我像海蒂·金一样说Ｍｅｒｃｉ或 者Ｂｏｎｊｏｕｒ的时候他就说很快的法语来伤我的心。我那条蓝套裙的袖子全磨破了，梅格换了一对新的，但前面却换错了颜色变得比裙子还要蓝。我心里不好受 但没有着恼我经得起波折但我真希望罕娜把我的围裙浆硬一点并每天做荞麦。她不可以吗？我的问号画得够漂亮吧？梅格说我的标点付（符）号和拚写很不雅我很感 屈侮（辱），但是哎呀我有这么多事情要做，有什么办法。
我只写几句话告诉你我们过得蛮好。姑娘们又聪明又勤快。梅格小姐很快就能成为一个顶好的管家；她对这方面有兴趣，而且很快就能掌握里头的窍门儿。乔 样样都走在头里，你永远不会知道她下一步会出什么花样。她星期一洗了一桶衣服，但是还没绞干就给上了浆，还把一条粉红色的印花裙儿弄成蓝色，把我差一点笑 死了。这班小家伙要数贝思最乖，她又节俭又可靠，是我的好帮手。她什么都努力去学，小小年纪就上市场买菜了；还在我的指点下记帐，很像回事呢。我们一直都 俭省，按照您的意思，我每周只让姑娘们喝一次咖啡，给她们吃简单又健康的主食。艾美有好衣服穿，有甜品吃，也不发牢骚了。劳里还是那么淘气，常把屋子折腾 得翻天覆地；不过他能使姑娘们心情振作，所以我任他们胡闹去。那位老先生送来好多东西，简直有点让人厌烦了，不过他是出于好心，我做下人的也不该说三道 四。向马奇先生致敬，祝愿他不会再患肺炎。
In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and readtheir chapter with an earnestness never felt before. For nowthe shadow of a real trouble had come, the little books were fullof help and comfort, and as they dressed, they agreed to say goodbyecheerfully and hopefully, and send their mother on her anxiousjourney unsaddened by tears or complaints from them. Everythingseemed very strange when they went down, so dim and still outside,so full of light and bustle within. Breakfast at that early hourseemed odd, and even Hannah's familiar face looked unnatural as sheflew about her kitchen with her nightcap on. The big trunk stoodready in the hall, Mother's cloak and bonnet lay on the sofa, andMother herself sat trying to eat, but looking so pale and wornwith sleeplessness and anxiety that the girls found it very hardto keep their resolution. Meg's eyes kept filling in spite ofherself, Jo was obliged to hide her face in the kitchen rollermore than once, ant the little girls wore a grave, troubledexpression, as if sorrow was a new experience to them.
Nobody talked much, but as the time drew very near and theysat waiting for the carriage, Mrs. March said to the girls, whowere all busied about her, one folding her shawl, another smoothingout the strings of her bonnet, a third putting on her overshoes,and a forth fastening up her travelling bag...
"Children, I leave you to Hannah's care and Mr. Laurence'sprotection. Hannah is faithfulness itself, and our good neighborwill guard you as if you were his own. I have no fears for you,yet I am anxious that you should take this trouble rightly. Don'tgrieve and fret when I am gone, or think that you can be idle andcomfort yourselves by being idle and trying to forget. Go on withyour work as usual, for work is a blessed solace. Hope and keep busy,and whatever happens, remember that you never can be fatherless."
"Meg, dear, be prudent, watch over your sisters, consultHannah, and in any perplexity, go to Mr. Laurence. Be patient, Jo,don't get despondent or do rash things, write to me often, and bemy brave girl, ready to help and cheer all. Beth, comfort yourselfwith your music, and be faithful to the little home duties, and YouAmy, help all you can, be obedient, and keep happy safe at home."
"We will, Mother! We will!"
The rattle of an approaching carriage made them all start andlisten. That was the hard minute, but the girls stood it well. Noone cried, no one ran away or uttered a lamentation, though theirhearts were very heavy as they sent loving messages to Father,remembering, as they spoke that it might be too late to deliver them.They kissed their mother quietly, clung about her tenderly, andtried to wave their hands cheerfully when she drove away.
Laurie and his grandfather came over to see her off, and Mr.Brooke looked so strong and sensible and kind that the girlschristened him `Mr. Greatheart' on the spot.
"Goodby, my darlings! God bless and keep us all!" whisperedMrs. March, as she kissed one dear little face after the other,and hurried into the carriage.
As she rolled away, the sun came out, and looking back, shesaw it shining on the group at the gate like a good omen. Theysaw it also, and smiled and waved their hands, and the last thingshe beheld as she turned the corner was the four bright faces, andbehind them like a bodyguard, old Mr. Laurence, faithful Hannah,and devoted Laurie.
"How kind everyone is to us!" she said, turning to find freshproof of it in the respectful sympathy of the young man's face.
"I don't see how they can help it," returned Mr. Brooke,laughing so infectiously that Mrs. March could not help smiling.And so the journey began with the good omens of sunshine, smiles,and cheerful words.
"I feel as if there had been an earthquake," said Jo, as theirneighbors went home to breakfast, leaving them to rest and refreshthemselves.
"It seems as if half the house was gone," added Meg forlornly.
Beth opened her lips to say something, but could only point tothe pile of nicely mended hose which lay on Mother's table, showingthat even in her last hurried moments she had thought and workedfor them. It was a little thing, but it went straight to theirhearts, and in spite of their brave resolutions, they all brokedown and cried bitterly.
Hannah wisely allowed them to relieve their feelings, andwhen the shower showed signs of clearing up, she came to therescue, armed with a coffeepot.
"Now, ny dear young ladies, remember what your ma said, anddon't fret. Come and have a cup of coffee all round, and thenlet's fall to work and be a credit to the family."
Coffee was a treat, and Hannah showed great tact in making itthat morning. No one could resist her persuasive nods, or thefragrant invitation issuing from the nose of the coffee pot. Theydrew up to the table, exchanged their handkerchiefs for napkins,and in ten minutes were all right again.
"`Hope and keep busy', that's the motto for us, so let's seewho will remember it best. I shall go to Aunt March, as usual.Oh, won't she lecture though!" said Jo, as she sipped withreturning spirit.
"I shall go to my Kings, though I'd much rather stay at homeand attend to things here," said Meg, wishing she hadn't made hereyes so red.
"No need of that. Beth and I can keep house perfectly well,"put in Amy, with an important air.
"Hannah will tell us what to do, and we'll have everythingnice when you come home," added Beth, getting out her mop and dishtub without delay.
"I think anxiety is very interesting," observed Amy, eatingsugar pensively.
The girls couldn't help laughing, and felt better for it,though Meg shook her head at the young lady who could findconsolation in a sugar bowl.
The sight of the turnovers made Jo sober again, and when thetwo went out to their daily tasks, they looked sorrowfully backat the window where they were accustomed to see their mother'sface. It was gone, but Beth had remembered the little householdceremony, and there she was, nodding away at them like arosyfaced mandarin.
"That's so like my Beth!" said Jo, waving her hat, with agrateful face. "Goodbye, Meggy, I hope the Kings won't straintoday. Don't fret about Father, dear," she added, as they parted.
"And I hope Aunt March won't croak. Your hair is becoming,and it looks very boyish and nice," returned Meg, trying not tosmile at the curly head, which looked comically small on her tallsister's shoulders.
"That's my only comfort." And, touching her hat a` la Laurie,away went Jo, feeling like a shorn sheep on a wintry day.
News from their father comforted the girls very much, forthough dangerously ill, the presence of the best and tenderest ofnurses had already done him good. Mr. Brooke sent a bulletin everyday, and as the head of the family, Meg insisted on reading thedispatches, which grew more cheerful as the week passed. At first,everyone was eager to write, and plump envelopes were carefullypoked into the letter box by one or other of the sisters, who feltrather important with their Washington correspondence. As one ofthese packets contained characteristic notes from the party, we willrob an imaginary mail, and read them.
My dearest Mother:
It is impossible to tell you how happy your last letter madeus, for the news was so good we couldn't help laughing and cryingover it. How very kind Mr. Brooke is, and how fortunate that Mr.Laurence's business detains him near you so long, since he is souseful to you and Father. The girls are all as good as gold. Johelps me with the sewing, and insists on doing all sorts of hardjobs. I should be afraid she might overdo, if I didn't know her`moral fit' wouldn't last long. Beth is as regular about her tasksas a clock, and never forgets what you told her. She grieves aboutFather, and looks sober except when she is at her little piano. Amyminds me nicely, and I take great care of her. She does her ownhair, and I am teaching her to make buttonholes and mend her stockings.She tries very hard, and I know you will be pleased with herimprovement when you come. Mr. Laurence watches over us like amotherly old hen, as Jo says, and Laurie is very kind and neighborly.He and Jo keep us merry, for we get pretty blue sometimes, and feellike orphans, with you so far away. Hannah is a perfect saint. Shedoes not scold at all, and always calls me Miss Margaret, which isquite proper, you know, and treats me with respect. We are allwell and busy, but we long, day and night, to have you back. Givemy dearest love to Father, and believe me, ever your own...
This note, prettily written on scented paper, was a greatcontrast to the next, which was scribbled on a big sheet of thinforeign paper, ornamented with blots and all manner of flourishesand curly-tailed letters.
My precious Marmee:
Three cheers for dear Father! Brooke was a trump to telegraphright off, and let us know the minute he was better. I rushed upgarret when the letter came, and tried to thank god for being sogood to us, but I could only cry, and say, "I'm glad! I'm glad!"Didn't that do as well as a regular prayer? For I felt a greatmany in my heart. We have such funny times, and now I can enjoythem, for everyone is so desperately good, it's like living in anest of turtledoves. You'd laugh to see Meg head the table andtry to be motherish. She gets prettier every day, and I'm in lovewith her sometimes. The children are regular archangels, and I--well, I'm Jo, and never shall be anything else. Oh, I must tellyou that I came near having a quarrel with Laurie. I freed my mindabout a silly little thing, and he was offended. I was right, butdidn't speak as I ought, and he marched home, saying he wouldn'tcome again till I begged pardon. I declared I wouldn't and got mad.It lasted all day. I felt bad and wanted you very much. Laurie andI are both so proud, it's hard to beg pardon. But I thought he'dcome to it, for I was in the right. He didn't come, and just atnight I remembered what you said when Amy fell into the river. Iread my little book, felt better, resolved not to let the sun seton my anger, and ran over to tell Laurie I was sorry. I met himat the gate, coming for the same thing. We both laughed, beggedeach other's pardon, and felt all good and comfortable again.
I made a `pome' yesterday, when I was helping Hannah wash,and as Father likes my silly little things, I put it in to amusehim. Give him my lovingest hug that ever was, and kiss yourselfa dozen times for your...
A SONG FROM THE SUDS
Queen of my tub, I merrily sing,
While the white foam rises high,
And sturdily wash and rinse and wring,And fasten the clothes to dry.
Then out in the free fresh air they swing,Under the sunny sky.
I wish we could wash from out hearts and soulsThe stains of the week away,
And let water and air by their magic makeOurselves as pure as they.
Then on the earth there would be indeed,A glorious washing day!
Along the path of a useful life,
Will heartsease ever bloom.
The busy mind has no time to think
Of sorrow or care or gloom.
And anxious thoughts may be swept away,As we bravely wield a broom.
I am glad a task to me is given,
To labor at day by day,
For it brings me health and strength and hope,And I cheerfully learn to say,
"Head, you may think, Heart, you may feel,But, Hand, you shall work alway!"
There is only room for me to send my love, and some pressedpansies from the root I have been keeping safe in the house forFather to see. I read every morning, try to be good all day, andsing myself to sleep with Father's tune. I can't sing `LAND OFTHE LEAL' now, it makes me cry. Everyone is very kind, and we areas happy as we can be without you. Amy wants the rest of the page,so I must stop. I didn't forget to cover the holders, and I windthe clock and air the rooms every day.
Kiss dear Father on the cheek he calls mine. Oh, do come soonto your loving . ..
Ma Chere Mamma,
We are all well I do my lessons always and never corroberatethe girls--Meg says I mean contradick so I put in both words andyou can take the properest. Meg is a great comfort to me and letsme have jelly every night at tea its so good for me Jo says becauseit keeps me sweet tempered. Laurie is not as respeckful as he oughtto be now I am almost in my teens, he calls me Chick and hurts myfeelings by talking French to me very fast when I say Merci or Bonjour as Hattie King does. The sleeves of my blue dress were allworn out, and Meg put in new ones, but the full front came wrongand they are more blue than the dress. I felt bad but did not fretI bear my troubles well but I do wish Hannah would put more starchin my aprons and have buckwheats every day. Can't she? Didn't Imake that interrigation point nice? Meg says my punchtuation andspelling are disgraceful and I am mortyfied but dear me I have somany things to do, I can't stop. Adieu, I send heaps of love toPapa. Your affectionate daughter . ..
AMY CURTIS MARCH
Dear Mis March,
I jes drop a line to say we git on fust rate. The girls isclever and fly round right smart. Miss Meg is going to make aproper good housekeeper. She hes the liking for it, and gits thehang of things surprisin quick. Jo doos beat all for goin ahead,but she don't stop to cal'k'late fust, and you never know whereshe's like to bring up. She done out a tub of clothes on Monday,but she starched 'em afore they was wrenched, and blued a pinkcalico dress till I thought I should a died a laughin. Beth is thebest of little creeters, and a sight of help to me, bein soforehanded and dependable. She tries to learn everything, and reallygoes to market beyond her years, likewise keeps accounts, with myhelp, quite wonderful. We have got on very economical so fur. Idon't let the girls hev coffee only once a week, accordin to yourwish, and keep em on plain wholesome vittles. Amy does wellwithout frettin, wearin her best clothes and eatin sweet stuff.Mr. Laurie is as full of didoes as usual, and turns the house upsidedown frequent, but he heartens the girls, so I let em hev fullswing. The old gentleman send heaps of things, and is ratherwearin, but means wal, and it aint my place to say nothin. Mybread is riz, so no more at this time. I send my duty to Mr.March, and hope he's seen the last of his Pewmonia.
Head Nurse of Ward No. 2,
All serene on the Rappahannock, troops in fine condition,commisary department well conducted, the Home Guard under ColonelTeddy always on duty, Commander in Chief General Laurence reviewsthe army daily, Quartermaster Mullet keeps order in camp, and MajorLion does picket duty at night. A salute of twenty-four guns wasfired on reciept of good news from Washington, and a dress paradetook place at headquarters. Commander in chief sends best wishes,in which he is heartily joined by...
The little girls are all well. Beth and my boy report daily.Hannah is a model servant, and guards pretty Meg like a dragon.Glad the fine weather holds. Pray make Brooke useful, and drawon me for funds if expenses exceed your estimate. Don't let yourhusband want anything. Thank God he is mending.
Your sincere friend and servant,