圣诞节一天天临近了，屋里开始弥漫着一股神秘的节日气氛。乔为这个不同寻常的"快乐圣诞"频频献计，提出许多完全没有可能或滑天下之大稽的庆祝活 动，令全家人捧腹大笑。劳里同样不切合实际，竟然出些点大篝火、放焰火、搭凯旋门的主意。大家唇枪舌剑，各不相让，最后，那对野心勃勃的朋友终于偃旗息 鼓，拉长着脸乱兜圈子，大家正以为他们就此罢休了，却又看到两人走到一起，叽叽喳喳，哈哈大笑。
近日来天气异常暖和，恰到好处地带来了一个阳光灿烂的圣诞节。罕娜"从骨子里头感觉到"这一天将会是一个不同寻常的大好日子，事实证明她的预言完全 正确，因为似乎一切顺利，人人心想事成。首先，马奇先生来信说他很快就要和她们团聚。然后，那天贝思早上觉得特别精神，她穿着妈妈送给她的礼物--一件柔 软的深红色美利奴羊毛晨衣--被背到窗前观赏乔和劳里的献礼。两位誓不罢休者大展身手，为了自己的名声，一夜之间像小精灵一样创造了一个妙趣横生的奇观。 只见外面花园里耸立着一个庄严高贵的雪人少女，头戴冬青枝花冠，一只手挽一篮水果鲜花，另一只手执一大卷新乐谱，冰冷的肩膀上披一条彩虹般缤纷的阿富汗披 围巾，嘴里吐出一首圣诞颂歌，歌词写在一面粉红色的纸幡上：高山少女致贝思上帝保佑你，亲爱的贝思女王！
真是无巧不成书，这沉闷乏味的俗世有时确实会发生一些令人愉快的巧事，给人带来极大的安慰。半个小时前，大家都还在说只可惜了一件事，否则就十全十 美了，哪想到这件事说来就来。劳里打开客厅大门，悄悄地把头伸进来。他刚才也许是翻了个筋斗，或是发了一声印地安战场上的那种呐喊声，因为他脸上露出抑制 不住的兴奋之情，声音显得欣喜又神秘，大家禁不住全跳了起来。只听他怪腔怪调、气喘吁吁地说道：“马奇家的又一个圣诞礼物现在到来！“话音未落，他便被轻 轻推到一边，取而代之的是一个高个子男人，蒙着脸，只露出一双眼睛，靠在另一个高个子男人的手臂上，那男人想说什么却又说不出来。情形当即大乱，大家一时 似乎全都失去了理智，她们不发一言，却做出极起离奇古怪的举动。母女四人一拥而上，动情地把马奇先生紧紧围抱起来，乔几乎晕倒，不得不在瓷器间里接受劳里 的救治，大失淑女风度；布鲁克先生亲吻梅格，那是纯属误会，他后来结结巴巴地解释；而艾美，这位高贵小姐，被凳子绊了一跤，也不爬起来，而是就势抱着她父 亲的双脚动情大哭。马奇太太第一个恢服了常态，举起手来示意：“嘘！别忘了贝思！“但已经太迟了；书房门猛然打开，穿着红色晨衣的小人儿跨出门槛--欢乐 给软弱无力的四肢注入了力量--贝思直扑进父亲的怀中。此后发生了什么已无关重要。洋溢心头的幸福之情已冲走了昨天的痛苦，此时此刻，大家心中只有一片甜 蜜，一片温馨。
此时发生一了一件虽不浪漫但却令人捧腹的事情，把大家重新带回到现实生活之中。大家发现罕娜站在门后，捧着肥硕的火鸡抽抽噎噎：原来她从厨房冲出来 时忘了把火鸡放下。大家笑过后，马奇太太开始向布鲁克先生道谢，感谢他精心照顾自己的丈夫，布鲁克先生突然想起马奇先生需要休息，赶快拽起劳里仓促撤离。 众人命两位病人休息，两人不敢违命，便一同坐在一张大椅子上谈个不停。
马奇先生诉说了自己是如何想让她们惊喜一番，医生是如何让他趁天气暖和出院，布鲁克这年轻人又是如何热心，如何正直有涵养等等。说到这里马奇先生顿 一顿，扫了一眼正在捅炉火的梅格，扬起双眉望望妻子，似乎在询问什么，起中深意何在，请读者们自己想象；马奇太太也轻轻点点头，然后颇为突然地问他是否要 吃点什么。乔明白这个眼色的意思，便板着面孔去拿牛肉汁和酒，一面把门呼的一声带上，咕咕哝哝地自语道：“我憎恨棕色眼睛有涵养的年轻人！“那天的圣诞晚 餐是有史以来最为丰盛的一次。罕娜端上的火鸡又肥又大，里头塞满了填料，烤得赤里透红，而且点缀得十分好看；葡萄干布丁也同样令人垂涎欲滴，放进口里就溶 化了；还有令人胃口大开的果子冻，把艾美喜得就像落到了蜜罐里的苍蝇，吃得痛快淋漓。一切都尽如人意，这真是上天可怜，罕娜说：“因为我当时心里头别提有 多慌张，太太，我没有错把布丁烤熟，把菩提子干塞到火鸡里头，把火鸡包在布里煮，已经是一个奇迹了。“劳伦斯先生和他的孙子跟他们一起进餐，还有布鲁克先 生--乔悻悻地对他怒目而视，令劳里乐不可支。贝思和父亲并排坐在桌子前面的两张安乐椅上，适度地吃一点鸡肉和少许水果。他们为健康干杯，讲故事，唱 歌，“话旧"，如老人家所说，玩得十分痛快。有人提议滑雪橇，但姑娘们不愿离开父亲；于是客人们早早告辞。夜幕降临之际，幸福的一家人围着炉火团团而坐。
“这便是一个。“他把放在他椅子扶手上的手拿起来，指指变得粗糙的食指、手背上一个灼伤的疤痕，以及手掌上面三个小水泡。“我记得这只手曾经又白又 嫩，而你最关心的是怎样把它保养好。它那时确实非常美，但在我眼中它现在变得更美了--因为上面的每一个疤痕都有一个小故事。祭拜神灵不过是一种虚浮的仪 式，而这只长满老茧的手给我们带来许多实在的东西，我相信由这些戳满针孔的手指缝制出来的活计一定经久耐用，因为里头一针一线凝聚了多少苦心。梅格，我的 好孩子，我认为女红比纤纤玉手和时髦的才艺更为宝贵，因为它能带来家庭幸福。我很荣幸能握紧这只灵巧、勤劳的小手，并希望能握久一些。“父亲紧紧握着梅格 的小手，并向她投去赞赏的微笑，如果梅格希望她冗长乏味的工作能获得报酬的话，现在终于如愿以偿了。
“虽然披着一头卷曲的短发，我看到的已经不是一年前我离开时的'乔小子'了，“马奇先生说，“我看到的是一位衣领别得笔挺、靴带系得利索、谈吐斯 文，既不吹口哨、也不像以前一样随便躺在地毯上的年轻女士。由于照顾病人，忧虑劳碌，她这会儿面容瘦削苍白，但我喜欢看这张脸，因为它变得更温柔可爱了。 她说话的声音也更轻柔了；她不再蹦跳，而是款款而行，并像慈母一样照顾一个小人儿，令我十分快慰。我很怀念我的野姑娘，但如果她变成一个坚强、能帮助人、 心地善良的女子，我也该心满意足了。我不知道我们的小黑羊是否因剪了毛而变得严肃庄重，但我知道华盛顿的东西再多再漂亮，也没有一样值得我用好女儿寄来的 二十五元钱购买。“听到父亲的夸奖，乔明亮的双眼有点模糊了，瘦削的面孔在炉火映照下升起了两朵红晕，她觉得这话并不是很过分。
“对于她我不敢多说，担心说多了会把她吓走，虽说她现在没有以前那么害羞了，“父亲笑嘻嘻地说。但想到自己差一点就要失去这个女儿，他把她紧紧抱 住，和她脸贴着脸，动情地说：“你平安在我身边，我的贝思，我要你一生平安，上帝保佑你！“他沉默了一会，然后低头望着坐在他脚边垫脚凳上的艾美，吻吻她 亮丽的头发，说--“我注意到艾美吃饭时也吃鸡脚了，整个下午都替妈妈打杂，今天晚上又让位给梅格坐，耐心而愉快地帮大家的忙。我还注意到她不再动辄愁眉 苦脸，不再照镜子，也不提她戴着一个漂亮戒指；由此我得出一个结论，她已经学会了多想别人，少想自己，并决心像塑造自己的小泥塑人物一样认真塑造自己的性 格。我对此感到很高兴，我为女儿拥有艺术才华而感到十分骄傲，但我更为女儿拥有为别人、为自己美化生活的才华而感到无比自豪。““你在想什么，贝思？“当 艾美谢过父亲并介绍了戒指的来历后，乔问。
“今天我读《天路历程》，读到'基督教徒'和'希望'如何排除万难来到一片长年开满百合花的怡人的草地上，在那儿愉快地歇息，如我们现在一样，然后 继续向他们的目的地进发，“贝思答道，一面从父亲的臂膀中溜脱出来，慢慢走到钢琴前，又说，“唱歌时间到了，我想做回自己的旧角儿。我来试着唱唱朝圣者们 听到的那首牧羊童子唱的歌儿。因为父亲喜欢这首歌的歌词，我特地为他作了曲。“说着，贝思坐到宝贝小钢琴前，轻轻触动琴键，边弹边唱，那种柔和甜美的声音 他们从来没有听过。这首古雅的圣歌仿佛专为她而作：位低者无惧跌落，家贫者无需虚骄；谦和者心中自有，万能的上帝引导。
Like sunshine after a storm were the peaceful weeks whichfollowed. The invalids improved rapidly, and Mr. March beganto talk or returning early in the new year. Beth was soon ableto lie on the study sofa all day, amusing herself with thewell-beloved cats at first, and in time with doll's sewing, which hadfallen sadly behindhand. Her once active limbs were so stiffand feeble that Jo took her for a daily airing about the housein her strong arms. Meg cheerfully blackened and burned herwhite hands cooking delicate messes for `the dear', while Amy,a loyal slave of the ring, celebrated her return by giving away asmany of her treasures as she could prevail on her sisters to accept.
As Christmas approached, the usual mysteries began to hauntthe house, and Jo frequently convulsed the family by proposingutterly impossible or magnificently absurd ceremonies, in honorof this unusually merry Christmas. Laurie was equally impracticable,and would have had bonfires, skyrockets, and triumphal arches,if he had had his own way. After many skirmishes and snubbings,the ambitious pair were considered effectually quenchedand went about with forlorn faces, which were rather beliedby explosions of laughter when the two got together.
Several days of unusually mild weather fitly ushered in asplendid Christmas Day. Hannah `felt in her bones' that it wasgoing to be an unusually fine day, and she proved herself atrue prophetess, for everybody and everything seemed bound toproduce a grand success. To begin with, Mr. March wrote thathe should soon be with them, then Beth felt uncommonly wellthat morning, and, being dressed in her mother's gift, a softcrimson merino wrapper, was borne in high triumph to the windowto behold the offering of Jo and Laurie. The Unquenchables haddone their best to be worthy of the name, for like elves theyhad worked by night and conjured up a comical surprise. Out inthe garden stood a stately snow maiden, crowned with holly,bearing a basket of fruit and flowers in one hand, a great rollof music in the other, a perfect rainbow of an Afghan round herchilly shoulders, and a Christmas carol issuing from her lipson a pink paper streamer.
THE JUNGFRAU TO BETH
God bless you, dear Queen Bess!
May nothing you dismay,
But health and peace and happiness
Be yours, this Christmas day.
Here's fruit to feed our busy bee,And flowers for her nose.
Here's music for her pianee,
An afghan for her toes,
A portrait of Joanna, see,
By Raphael No. 2,
Who laboured with great industry
To make it fair and true.
Accept a ribbon red, I beg,
For Madam Purrer's tail,
And ice cream made by lovely Peg,
A Mont Blanc in a pail.
Their dearest love my makers laid
Within my breast of snow.
Accept it, and the Alpine maid,
From Laurie and from Jo.
How Beth laughed when she saw it, how Laurie ran up anddown to bring in the gifts, and what ridiculous speeches Jomade as she presented them.
"I'm so full of happiness, that if Father was only here, Icouldn't hold one drop more," said Beth, quite sighing withcontentment as Jo carried her off to the study to rest after theexcitement, and to refresh herself with some of the deliciousgrapes the `Jungfrau' had sent her.
"So am I," added Jo, slapping the pocket wherein reposedthe long-desired UNDINE AND SINTRAM.
"I'm sure I am," echoed Amy, poring over the engraved copyof the Madonna and Child, which her mother had given her in apretty frame.
"Of course I am!" cried Meg, smoothing the silvery folds ofher first sild dress, for Mr. Laurence had insisted on giving it."How can I be otherwise?" said Mrs. March gratefully, as hereyes went from her husband's letter to Beth's smiling face, andher hand carressed the brooch made of gray and golden, chestnutand dark brown hair, which the girls had just fastened on herbreast.
Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen inthe delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is. Halfan hour after everyone had said they were so happy they couldonly hold one drop more, the drop came. Laurie opened the parlordoor and popped his head in very quietly. He might just as wellhave turned a somersault and uttered an Indian war whoop, for hisface was so full of suppressed excitement and his voice sotreacherously joyful that everyone jumped up, though he only said,in a queer, breathless voice, "Here's another Christmas presentfor the March family."
Before the words were well out of his mouth, he was whiskedaway somehow, and in his place appeared a tall man, muffled up tothe eyes, leaning on the arm of another tall man, who tried to saysomething and couldn't. Of course there was a general stampede,and for several minutes everybody seemed to lose their wits, forthe strangest things were done, and no one said a word.
Mr. March became invisible in the embrace of four pairs ofloving arms. Jo disgraced herself by nearly fainting away, andhad to be doctored by Laurie in the china closet. Mr. Brookekissed Meg entirely by mistake, as he somewhat incoherentlyexplained. And Amy, the dignified, tumbled over a stool, and neverstopping to get up, hugged and cried over her father's boots inthe most touching manner. Mrs. March was the first to recoverherself, and held up her hand with a warning, "Hush! Remember Beth."
But it was too late. The study door flew open, the littlered wrapper appeared on the threshold, joy put strength into thefeeble limbs, and Beth ran straight into her father's arms. Nevermind what happened just after that, for the full hearts overflowed,washing away the bitterness of the past and leaving only thesweetness of the present.
It was not at all romantic, but a hearty laugh set everybodystraight again, for Hannah was discovered behind the door, sobbingover the fat turkey, which she had forgotten to put down when sherushed up from the kitchen. As the laugh subsided, Mrs. March beganto thank Mr. Brooke for his faithful care of her husband, at whichMr. Brooke suddenly remembered that Mr. March needed rest, andseizing Laurie, he precipitately retired. Then the two invalidswere ordered to repose, which they did, by both sitting in onebig chair and talking hard.
Mr. March told how he had longed to surprise them, and how,when the fine weather came, he had been allowed by his doctor, totake advantage of it, how devoted Brooke had been, and how he wasaltogether a most estimable and upright young man. Why Mr. Marchpaused a minute just there, and after a glance at Meg, who wasviolently poking the fire, looked at his wife with an inquiringlift of the eyebrows, I leave you to imagine. Also why Mrs.March gently nodded her head and asked, rather abruptly, if hewouldn't like to have something to eat. Jo saw and understoodthe look, and she stalked grimly away to get wine and beef tea,muttering to herself as she slammed the door, "I hate estimableyoung men with brown eyes!"
There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day.The fat turkey was a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up,stuffed, browned, and decorated. So was the plum pudding, whichmelted in one's mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy reveledlike a fly in a honeypot. Everything turned out well, which wasa mercy, Hannah said, "For my mind was that flustered, Mum, thatit's a merrycle I didn't roast the pudding, and stuff the turkeywith raisins, let alone bilin' of it in a cloth."
Mr. Laurence and his grandson dined with them, also Mr.Brooke, at whom Jo glowered darkly, to Laurie's infinite amusement.Two easy chairs stood side by side at the head of the table, inwhich sat Beth and her father, feasting modestly on chicken and alittle fruit. They drank healths, told stories, sang songs,`reminisced', as the old folks say, and had a thoroughly good time.A sleigh ride had been planned, but the girls would not leave theirfather, so the guests departed early, and as twilight gathered, thehappy family sat together round the fire.
"Just a year ago we were groaning over the dismal Christmas weexpected to have. Do you remember?" asked Jo, breaking a shortpause which had followed a long conversation about many things.
"Rather a pleasant year on the whole!" said Meg, smiling atthe fire, and congratulating herself on having treated Mr. Brookewith dignity.
"I think it's been a pretty hard one," observed Amy, watchingthe light shine on her ring with thoughtful eyes.
"i'm glad it's over, because we've got you back," whisperedBeth, who sat on her father's knee.
"Rather a rough road for you to travel, my little pilgrims,especially the latter part of it. But you have got on bravely,and I think the burdens are in a fair way to tumble off very soon,"said Mr. March, looking with fatherly satisfaction at the fouryoung faces gathered round him.
"How do you know? Did Mother tell you?' asked Jo.
"Not much. Straws show which way the wind blows, and I'vemade several discoveries today."
"Oh, tell us what they are!" cried Meg, who sat beside him.
"Here is one." And taking up the hand which lay on the armof his chair, he pointed to the roughened forefinger, a burn onthe back, and two or three little hard spots on the palm. "Iremember a time when this hand was white and smooth, and yourfirst care was to keep it so. It was very pretty then, but tome it is much prettier now, for in this seeming blemishes I reada little history. A burnt offering has been made to vanity, thishardened palm has earned something better than blisters, and I'msure the sewing done by these pricked fingers will last a longtime, so much good will went into the stitches. Meg, my dear,I value the womanly skill which keeps home happy more than whitehands or fashionable accomplishments. I'm proud to shake thisgood, industrious little hand, and hope I shall not soon beasked to give it away."
If Meg had wanted a reward for hours of patient labor, shereceived it in the hearty pressure of her father's hand and theapproving smile he gave her.
"What about Jo? Please say something nice, for she has triedso hard and been so very, very good to me," said Beth in her father'sear.
He laughed and looked across at the tall girl who sat opposite,with and unusually mild expression in her face.
"In spite of the curly crop, I don't see the `son Jo' whom Ileft a year ago," said Mr. March. "I see a young lady who pinsher collar straight, laces her boots neatly, and neither whistles,talks slang, nor lies on the rug as she used to do. Her face israther thin and pale just now, with watching and anxiety, but Ilike to look at it, for it has grown gentler, and her voice islower. She doesn't bounce, but moves quietly, and takes care ofa certain little person in a motherly way which delights me. Irather miss my wild girl, but if I get a strong, helpful,tenderhearted woman in her place, I shall feel quite satisfied.I don't know whether the shearing sobered our black sheep, but I doknow that in all Washington I couldn't find anything beautiful enoughto be bought with the five-and-twenty dollars my good girl sent me."
Jo's keen eyes were rather dim for a minute, and her thinface grew rosy in the firelight as she received her father's praise,feeling that she did deserve a portion of it.
"Now, Beth," said Amy, longing for her turn, but ready to wait.
"There's so little of her, I'm afraid to say much, for fearshe will slip away altogether, though she is not so shy as she usedto be," began their father cheerfully. But recollecting how nearlyhe had lost her, he held her close, saying tenderly, with her cheekagainst his own, "I've got you safe, my Beth, and I'll keep you so,please God."
After a minute's silence, he looked down at Amy, who sat onthe cricket at his feet, and said, with a caress of the shininghair...
"I observed that Amy took drumsticks at dinner, ran errandsfor her mother all the afternoon, gave Meg her place tonight, andhas waited on every on with patience and good humor. I alsoobserve that she does not fret much nor look in the glass, and hasnot even mentioned a very pretty ring which she wears, so Iconclude that she has learned to think of other people more and ofherself less, and has decided to try and mold her character ascarefully as she molds her little clay figures. I am glad ofthis, for though I should be very proud of a graceful statue madeby her, I shall be infinitely prouder of a lovable daughter witha talent for making life beautiful to herself and others."
"What are you thinking of, Beth?" asked Jo, when Amy hadthanked her father and told about her ring.
"I read in PILGRIM'S PROGRESS today how, after many troubles,christian and Hopeful came to a pleasant green meadow where liliesbloomed all year round, and there they rested happily, as we donow, before they went on to their journey's end," answered Beth,adding, as she slipped out of her father's arms and went to theinstrument, "It's singing time now, and I want to be in my oldplace. I'll try to sing the song of the shepherd boy which thePilgrims heard. I made the music for Father, because he likesthe verses."
So, sitting at the dear little piano, Beth softly touched thekeys, and in the sweet voice they had never thought to hear again,sang to her own accompaniment the quaint hymn, which was asingularly fitting song for her.
He that is down need fear no fall,He that is low no pride.
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it, or much.
And, Lord! Contentment still I crave,Because Thou savest such.
Fulness to them a burden is,
That go on pilgrimage.
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age!