我 认为我找不到任何词语来描述她们母女重逢的情形；这种温馨、美好的时光是难以用笔墨来形容的，我只好把它留给我的读者们去想象，只能说屋子里洋溢着真正的 快乐，梅格美好的心愿也成为现实；因为贝思睡了长长一觉醒来，她第一眼看到的正是那朵小玫瑰花和母亲慈爱的面孔。因身体仍极度虚弱，她没有气力发出惊叹， 只是露出微笑，紧紧依偎在母亲慈爱的臂膀中，那种感觉就像久旱的禾苗终于盼到了甘露。然后她又睡了过去，姐妹俩则熬夜守候在母亲身边，因为母亲不愿放弃女 儿沉睡中依然紧紧攥着她的瘦削的手。
罕娜一时找不到其他方法来排解自己的兴奋心情，便为远道归来的亲人"装盘上菜"地上了一顿丰盛的早餐；梅格和乔像恪守职责的幼鹳一样喂母亲进餐，一 面听她轻声讲述父亲的情况，以及布鲁克先生如何答应留下来照顾父亲，她在回家的路上被暴风雪耽搁了时间，到站的时候，忧心如焚，又冷又累，是劳里充满希望 的面孔使她得到了难以言喻的安慰。
这一天是多么奇特，多么喜气洋洋！屋外阳光灿烂，到处洋溢着欢声笑语，人们似乎全都走了出来，迎接这场初雪；屋里却无声无息，一片宁静，大家因一夜 未眠，此刻全都进入了梦乡，屋子里静得连针尖落地的声音也能听到。罕娜打着瞌睡在门边守护，梅格和乔仿佛卸下了一身重担，也都双双合上疲倦的眼睛躺下来休 息，就像两只小船，经过风吹浪打后，终于安全泊进了平静的港湾。马奇太太不愿离开贝思身边，便坐在大椅子上休息，不时醒来看一看、摸一摸自己的孩子，看着 贝思发一会儿呆，其神态就像一个重新找回了自己财宝的吝啬鬼。
同时劳里匆匆赶去安慰艾美，他讲故事讲得十分成功，马奇婶婶听了竟"从鼻子里头笑了一声"，而且没有再说"我早就告诉过你"。艾美这回显得十分坚 强，看来她在小教堂里下的功夫开始开花结果了。她很快就把泪水擦干，按捺住要见母亲的急切心情，当劳里说她表现得"像个卓尔不凡的小妇人"，而老太太也由 衷地表示赞同时，她竟没有想到那个绿松石戒指，甚至鹦哥也似乎对她大加赞赏，因为它叫她"好姑娘"，请上帝保佑她，并用极其友好的声调求她"来散个步，亲 爱的“。她本来很想出去高高兴兴地在阳光明媚的雪地里玩个痛快，但发现劳里尽管男子气地装着没什么，但他的身子困得直往下倒，便劝他在沙发上躺躺，自己则 给母亲写封信。
过了一会，她们开始想他要睡到晚上才能醒来了，如果不是艾美看见母亲发出的欢叫声把他惊醒，我肯定他会一直睡下去的。那天，城里城外可能有许许多多 幸福的小姑娘，但依我看艾美要算是最最幸福的一个，她坐在母亲的膝头上诉说自己是怎样熬过这段日子的，母亲则报以赞赏的微笑和百般爱抚。两人一起来到小教 堂，艾美解释了它的来龙去脉，母亲听后并不反对。
“相反。我很喜欢它呢，亲爱的。“她把眼光从沾满灰尘的念珠移到翻得卷了毛边的小册子和点缀着长青树花环的漂亮图画上。“当我们身处逆境，烦恼悲伤 时，能找个地方清静一下是件大好事。人生的道路充满了坎坷，但只要我们正确寻求帮助，就能克服困难。我想我的小女儿正在领悟这个道理呢。““是的，妈妈， 回家后我打算在大房间的一角放上我的书和我画的那幅图画的摹本。圣母的面孔画得不好--她太美了，我画不来--但那婴儿还画得不错，我很喜欢它。我喜欢想 他也曾经是个小孩，这样我似乎就离'他'更近了，这样一想，心里就好受了。“艾美指指笑着坐在圣母膝上的圣婴，马奇太太看到她举着的手戴着一样东西，不觉 微微一笑。她没有说什么，但艾美明白了她的眼神，迟疑了一会后，她郑重其事地说：“我原来要把这事告诉你的，但一时忘了。婶婶今天把这个戒指送给我；她叫 我走到她跟前。吻了我一下，把它戴在我的手指上，说我替她增了光，她愿意把我永远留在身边。因为绿松石戒指太大，她便把这有趣的护圈给我戴上。我想戴着它 们，妈妈，可以吗？““它们很浇亮，不过我认为你年龄尚小，不大适宜戴这种饰物，艾美。“马奇太太看着那只胖嘟嘟的小手，它的食指上戴着一圈天蓝色宝石和 一个由两个金色小箍扣在一起组成的古怪护圈。
“我最近常常反省自己的'一大堆毛病'，发现其中最大的一项是自私；我要尽最大的努力克服这个缺点。贝思就不自私，所以大家都爱她，一想到要失去她 就那么伤心。如果我病了，大家就远远不会这么伤心，我也不配让他们这样；不过我很希望能有许许多多的朋友爱我、怀念我，所以我要努力向贝思学习。只是我常 常忘了自己的决心，如果有什么东西在身边提醒我，我想就会好一点。我这样做行吗？““当然，不过我倒是对你的小册子和祈祷更有信心。戴着戒指吧，亲爱的， 尽力而为。我相信你会有长进的，因为决心向善便是成功的一半。现在我得回去看贝思了。振作精神，小女儿，我们很快就会接你回家的。“那天晚上，梅格正在给 父亲写信，告知母亲已平安到家，乔悄悄溜上楼，走进贝思的房间。看到坐在老地方的母亲，她用手指揪着头发，呆站了一会，神色焦虑。
“没有，如果他来，我一定让他吃闭门羹，“乔说着在地板上挨着母亲脚边坐下来，“去年夏天梅格在劳伦斯家丢了一双手套，后来只还回来一只。我们已经 把这事忘了，但一天特迪告诉我另一只在布鲁克先生手里。他把它收在马甲衣袋里，一次它掉了出来，特迪便打趣他，布鲁克先生承认自己喜欢梅格，但不敢说出 来，因为她还这样年轻，而自己又这样穷。您看，这不是糟糕透顶了吗？““你觉得梅格在乎他吗？“马奇太太焦虑地问道。
“上帝！我对情呀爱呀这些荒唐事一无所知！“乔叫道，显得既感兴趣又鄙夷，神情十分滑稽，“在小说里，害相思病的姑娘们不是一会吓一惊，一会红了 脸，就是昏过去、瘦下去，一举一动都像个傻瓜。但梅格并没有这些举动：她照吃照喝照睡，跟平常没什么两样，我谈起那个男人时，她也正眼望着我，只有当特迪 拿那些多情男女开玩笑时，她才红一下脸。
“亲爱的，别生气，我告诉你是怎么一回事。约翰奉劳伦斯先生之命陪我一起去医院，他对重病缠身的父亲照顾得十分周到，我们怎能不喜欢他呢？他并没有 隐瞒对梅格的感情，开诚布公地告诉我们他爱她，但要等赚够成家立室的钱后才向她求婚。他只希望我们允许他爱她并为她效劳，尽一切努力博取她的爱情，如果他 有这个本事的话。我们不能拒绝他的诚意，他确实是个人品出众的年轻人，不过我不同意让梅格这么年轻就订婚。““当然不能同意；那其不是愚蠢之极！我早就知 道这里头有文章，我有直觉，不过现在它比我想象的更糟。我真想自己来娶梅格，让她安全留在家里。“这一古怪的安排令马奇太太笑了起来，但她严肃地说： “乔，我把事情全告诉你，你可别跟梅格说什么。等约翰回来，他们两人在一起时，我就能更好地判断她对他的感情了。““她会被她说的那对漂亮的眼睛迷惑住， 那时就一切都完了。她心肠最软，如果有人含情脉脉地看着她，她的心就会像阳光下的牛油一样化掉。她读他寄来的病情报告比读你的信还多，我说她两句她就来拧 我，她喜欢棕色的眼睛，而且不认为约翰是个难听的名字，她会掉进爱河，那我们在一起的那种宁静、欢乐、温馨的日子必将一去不返。我全料到了！
他们会在屋子附近谈情说爱，我们不得不东躲西避；梅格一定会爱得神魂颠倒，不再对我好了；布鲁克也会筹集到一笔血汗钱，将她娶走，把我们一家拆散； 而我就会伤透了心，那时一切都会变得令人讨厌。啊，天啊！我们为什么全都不是男孩子，那样可以免遭多少烦恼！“乔无可奈何地把下巴靠在膝头上，对那位该死 的约翰猛挥拳头。马奇太太叹了一口气，乔抬起头来，如释重负地舒了一口气。
“你不喜欢这样吧，妈妈？这真叫我高兴。我们把他赶走，半个字也不要告诉梅格，一家人还跟原来一样一起快乐生活。““刚才叹气是我不对，乔，你们日 后各自另立新家是自然不过的事情，也很应该如此，但我何尝不想我的女儿们在我身边多留几年；我很遗憾这件事来得这么快，因为梅格只有十七岁，而约翰也要过 好几年才有能力成家立室。我和你父亲的意见是，二十岁前她不能订下任何盟誓，也不能结婚。如果她和约翰相爱，他们可以等，这样也可以考验他们的爱情。
“金钱是一种很有用处的好东西，乔，我不希望我的女儿穷困潦倒，也不希望她们过于受金钱的诱惑。我希望约翰有份稳定的好职业，其收入足以维持家庭开 支，使梅格生活舒适。我并不奢求我的女儿嫁入名门望族，大富大贵。如果地位和金钱是建立在爱情和品行的基础上，我感激地接受，并分享你们的幸福；但根据经 验，我知道普通的小户人家虽然每天都要为生活操劳，却可以拥有真正的幸福，他们的生活虽然清贫，却不失甜蜜温馨。看到梅格从低微起步，我也心满意足，如果 我没有看错的话，约翰是个好男人，她将因拥有他的心而变得富有，而这比金钱更为宝贵。““我明白，妈妈，也很赞同，但我可以说对梅格十分失望，我一向计划 让她日后嫁给特迪，一生享尽荣华富贵。那不好吗？“乔仰头问道。脸色明朗了一点。
“他比她年纪小，你知道。“马奇太太刚说了一句，乔便打断她--“只是小一点儿，他老成持重，个子又高，如果他喜欢，他的言谈举止可以十足像个大 人。再说他富有、慷慨、人品好，而且爱我们全家。这计划成了泡影，我感到十分惋惜。““我恐怕劳里对梅格来说像个小弟弟，而且谁也不知道他以后会怎样，现 在怎么能指望他呢？别多操心，乔，让时间和他们自己的心来成就你的朋友们，干预这种事情很可能弄巧成拙，我们还是不要去'臭浪漫'，正如你所说，免得我们 的友谊因此尽毁。““嗯，那自然，但我痛恨看到本来可以弄好的事情变得乱七八糟、纠缠不清。如果可以不长大，就是头上压一把熨斗我也愿意。可恨花蕾终要绽 开，小猫咪终要长成大猫--总之令人烦恼！““你们谈什么熨斗啊猫儿的？“梅格手持写好了的信静静走入房间，问道。
I don't think I have any words in which to tell the meetingof the mother and daughters. Such hours are beautiful to live,but very hard to describe, so I will leave it to the imaginationof my readers, merely saying that the house was full of genuinehappiness, and that Meg's tender hope was realized, for when Bethwoke from that long, healing sleep, the first objects on whichher eyes fell were the little rose and Mother's face. Too weakto wonder at anything, she only smiled and nestled close in theloving arms about her, feeling that the hungry longing wassatisfied at last. Then she slept again, and the girls waited upontheir mother, for she would not unclasp the thin hand whichclung to hers even in sleep.
Hannah had `dished up' and astonishing breakfast for thetraveler, finding it impossible to vent her excitement in anyother way, and Meg and Jo fed their mother like dutiful youngstorks, while they listened to her whispered account of Father'sstate, Mr. Brooke's promise to stay and nurse him, the delayswhich the storm occasioned on the homeward journey, and theunspeakable comfort Laurie's hopeful face had given her when shearrived, worn out with fatigue, anxiety, and cold.
What a strange yet pleasant day that was. So brilliant andgay without, for all the world seemed abroad to welcome the firstsnow. So quiet and reposeful within, for everyone slept, spentwith watching, and a Sabbath stillness reigned through the house,while nodding Hannah mounted guard at the door. With a blissfulsense of burdens lifted off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes,and lay at rest, like storm-beaten boats safe at anchor in aquiet harbor. Mrs. March would not leave Beth's side, but restedin the big chair, waking often to look at, touch, and brood overher child, like a miser over some recovered treasure.
Laurie meanwhile posted off to comfort Amy, and told hisstory so well that Aunt March actually `sniffed' herself, andnever once said "I told you so". Amy came out so strong onthis occasion that I think the good thoughts in the little chapelreally began to bear fruit. She dried her tears quickly,restrained her impatience to see her mother, and never even thoughtof the turquoise ring, when the old lady heartily agreed in Laurie'sopinion, that she behaved `like a capital little woman'. EvenPolly seemed impressed, for he called her a good girl, blessedher buttons, and begged her to "come and take a walk, dear", inhis most affable tone. She would very gladly have gone out toenjoy the bright wintry weather, but discovering that Lauriewas dropping with sleep in spite of manful efforts to concealthe fact, she persuaded him to rest on the sofa, while she wrotea note to her mother. She was a long time about it, and when shereturned, he was stretched out with both arms under his head,sound asleep, while Aunt March had pulled down the curtains andsat doing nothing in an unusual fit of benignity.
After a while, they began to think he was not going to wakeup till night, and I'm not sure that he would, had he not beeneffectually roused by Amy's cry of joy at sight of her mother.There probably were a good many happy little girls in and aboutthe city that day, but it is my private opinion that Amy was thehappiest of all, when she sat in her mother's lap and told hertrials, receiving consolation and compensation in the shape ofapproving smiles and fond caresses. They were alone togetherin the chapel, to which her mother did not object when itspurpose was explained to her.
"On the contrary, I like it very much, dear," looking fromthe dusty rosary to the well-worn little book, and the lovelypicture with its garland of evergreen. "It is an excellent planto have some place where we can go to be quiet, when things vexor grieve us. There are a good many hard times in this life ofours, but we can always bear them if we ask help in the rightway. I think my little girl is learning this."
"Yes, Mother, and when I go home I mean to have a cornerin the big closet to put my books and the copy of that picturewhich I've tried to make. The woman's face is not good, it'stoo beautiful for me to draw, but the baby is done better, andI love it very much. I like to think He was a little child once,for then I don't seem so far away, and that helps me."
As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ child on his Mother'sknee, Mrs. March saw something on the lifted hand that made hersmile. She said nothing, but Amy understood the look, and aftera minute's pause, she added gravely, "I wanted to speak to youabout this, but I forgot it. Aunt gave me the ring today. Shecalled me to her and kissed me, and put it on my finger, andsaid I was a credit to her, and she'd like to keep me always.She gave that funny guard to keep the turquoise on, as it's toobig. I'd like to wear them Mother, can I?"
"They are very pretty, but I think you're rather too youngfor such ornaments, Amy," said Mrs. March, looking at the plumplittle hand, with the band of sky-blue stones on the forefinger,and the quaint guard formed of two tiny golden hands claspedtogether.
"I'll try not to be vain," said Amy. "I don't think I likeit only because it's so pretty, but I want to wear it as the girlin the story wore her bracelet, to remind me of something."
"Do you mean Aunt March?" asked her mother, laughing.
"No, to remind me not to be selfish." Amy looked soearnest and sincere about it that her mother stopped laughing,and listened respectfully to the little plan.
"I've thought a great deal lately about my `bundle ofnaughties', and being selfish is the largest one in it, so I'mgoing to try hard to cure it, if I can. Beth isn't selfish, andthat's the reason everyone loves her and feels so bad at thethoughts of losing her. People wouldn't feel so bat about meif I was sick, and I don't deserve to have them, but I'd liketo be loved and missed by a great many friends, so I'm goingto try and be like Beth all I can. I'm apt to forget myresolutions, but if I had something always about me to remind me,I guess I should do better. May we try this way?"
"Yes, but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet.Wear your ring, dear, and do your best. I think you will prosper,for the sincere wish to be good is half the battle. Now I mustgo back to Beth. Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we willsoon have you home again."
That evening while Meg was writing to her father to reportthe traveler's safe arrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beth's room,and finding her mother in her usual place, stood a minute twistingher fingers in her hair, with a worried gesture and an undecidedlook.
"What is it, deary?' asked Mrs. March, holding out her hand,with a face which invited confidence.
"I want to tell you something, Mother."
"How quickly you guessed! Yes, it's about her, and thoughit's a little thing, it fidgets me."
"Beth is asleep. Speak low, and tell me all about it. ThatMoffat hasn't been here, I hope?" asked Mrs. March rather sharply.
"No. I should have shut the door in his face if he had,"said Jo, settling herself on the floor at her mother's feet. "Lastsummer Meg left a pair of gloves over at the Laurences' and onlyone was returned. We forgot about it, till Teddy told me that Mr.Brooke owned that he liked Meg but didn't dare say so, she was soyoung and he so poor. Now, isn't it a dreadful state of things?"
"Do you think Meg cares for him?" asked Mrs. March, with ananxious look.
"Mercy me! I don't know anything about love and suchnonsense!" cried Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt."In novels, the girls show it by starting and blushing, faintingaway, growing thin, and acting like fools. Now Meg does not doanything of the sort. She eats and drinks and sleeps like asensible creature, she looks straight in my face when I talkabout that man, and only blushes a little bit when Teddy jokesabout lovers. I forbid him to do it, but he doesn't mind me ashe ought."
"Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?'
"Who?" cried Jo, staring.
"Mr. Brooke. I call him `John' now. We fell into the wayof doing so at the hospital, and he likes it."
"Oh, dear! I know you'll take his part. He's been good toFather, and you won't send him away, but let Meg marry him, ifshe wants to. Mean thing! To go petting Papa and helping you,just to wheedle you into liking him." And Jo pulled her hairagain with a wrathful tweak.
"My dear, don't get angry about it, and I will tell you howit happened. John went with me at Mr. Laurence's request, andwas so devoted to poor Father that we couldn't help getting fondof him. He was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for hetold us he loved her, but would earn a comfortable home beforehe asked her to marry him. He only wanted our leave to love herand work for her, and the right to make her love him if he could.He is a truly excellent young man, and we could not refuse tolisten to him, but I will not consent to Meg's engaging herselfso young."
"Of course not. It would be idiotic! I knew there wasmischief brewing. I felt it, and now it's worse than I imagined.I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in thefamily."
This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she saidgravely, "Jo, I confide in you and don't wish you to say anythingto Meg yet. When John comes back, and I see them together, I canjudge better of her feelings toward him."
"She'll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, andthen it will be all up with her. She's got such a soft heart,it will melt like butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentllyat her. She read the short reports he sent more than she didyour letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes browneyes, and doesn't think John an ugly name, and she'll go and fallin love, and there's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together.I see it all! They'll go lovering around the house, and we shallhave to dodge. Meg will be absorbed and no good to me any more.Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off,and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, andeverything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Whyweren't we all boys, then there wouldn't be any bother."
Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitudeand shook her fist at the reprehensible John. Mrs. March sighed,and Jo looked up with an air of relief.
"You don't like it, Mother? I'm glad of it. Let's send himabout his business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all behappy together as we always have been."
"I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you shouldall go to homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girlsas long as I can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, forMeg is only seventeen and it will be some years before John canmake a home for her. Your father and I have agreed that she shallnot bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty. Ifshe and John love one another, they can wait, and test the loveby doing so. She is conscientious, and I have no fear of hertreating him unkindly. My pretty, tender hearted girl! I hopethings will go happily with her."
"Hadn't you rather have her marry a rich man?" asked Jo, asher mother's voice faltered a little over the last words.
"Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girlswill never feel the need of it too bitterly not be tempted bytoo much. I should like to know that John was firmly establishedin some good business, which gave him an income large enough tokeep free from debt and make Meg comfortable. I'm not ambitiousfor a splendid fortune, a fashionable position, or a great namefor my girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also,I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune, butI know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had ina plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and someprivations give sweetness to the few pleasures. I am content tosee Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be richin the possession of a good man's heart, and that is better thana fortune."
"I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I'm disappointedabout Meg, for I'd planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by andsit in the lap of luxury all her days. Wouldn't it be nice?"asked Jo, looking up with a brighter face.
"He is younger than she, you know," began Mrs. March, but Jobroke in...
"Only a little, he's old for his age, and tall, and can bequite grown-up in his manners if he likes. Then he's rich andgenerous and good, and loves us all, and I say it's a pity myplan is spoiled."
"I'm afraid Laurie is hardly grown-up enough for Meg, andaltogether too much of a weathercock just now for anyone todepend on. Don't make plans, Jo, but let time and their ownhearts mate your friends. We can't meddle safely in suchmatters, and had better not get `romantic rubbish' as youcall it, into our heads, lest it spoil our friendship."
"Well, I won't, but I hate to see things going all crisscrossand getting snarled up, when a pull her and a snip therewould straighten it out. I wish wearing flatirons on our headswould keep us from growing up. But buds will be roses, andkittens cats, more's the pity!"
"What's that about flatirons and cats?" asked Meg, as shecrept into the room with the finished letter in her hand.
"Only one of my stupid speeches. I'm going to bed. Come,Peggy," said Jo, unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.
"Quite right, and beautifully written. Please add that Isend my love to John," said Mrs. March, as she glanced overthe letter and gave it back.
"Do you call him `John'?" asked Meg, smiling, with herinnocent eyes looking down into her mother's.
"Yes, he has been like a son to us, and we are very fond of him,"replied Mrs. March, returning the look with a keen one.
"I'm glad of that, he is so lonely. Good night, Mother,dear. It is so inexpressibly comfortable to have you here,"was Meg's answer.
The kiss her mother gave her was a very tender one, andas she went away, Mrs. March said, with a mixture of satisfactionand regret, "She does not love John yet, but will soon learn to.