人 们花很长时间才能区分天赋和天才，有抱负的年轻男女尤其如此。艾美经过许多磨难才知道两者的区别。她误将热情当作灵感，带着年轻人的冒险心理尝试了各门艺 术。有好长一段时间她的"泥饼"作坊停业了。她全身心地投入到极精细的钢笔画习作中，在这门艺术中展露出鉴赏力与技巧。
在她进行工作品间，全家人始终害怕会有大火灾，因为屋子里整天弥漫着燃烧的木头气味，烟不时从阁楼、棚屋窜出来。地上乱放着烧红的拨火棍。罕娜睡觉 前总是准备好一桶水，门边放好用餐铃，以防万一失火。拉斐尔的头像被醒目地烙在擀面板下面。酒神巴克斯给画在了脾酒桶盖上。一个唱歌的小天使装饰着糖罐。 绘制罗密欧与朱丽叶的尝试，使燃烧持续了一段时间。
手指灼痛了，从火到油彩便成了自然的转折。艾美热情丝毫不减地投入到绘画中。一个艺术家朋友用他废弃的调色板、刷子、水彩将艾美装备起来，艾美便开 始涂抹，画出陆上海上从来见不到的田园风光、海洋景色。她画的牛群丑陋怪异，永远不要指望它们能在农市上获奖；她画的船只危险地颠簸，对一个最懂得航海的 观众来说，第一眼看到这张全然不顾造船及帆缆准则的画幅，若不是笑得前仰后合，便会晕起船来。黝黑的男孩和黑眼睛的圣母从画室的一角凝视着你，暗示出牟利 罗的风格；面孔上油腻的棕色阴影带着错位的俗艳条纹，这是伦勃朗的画法；丰满的妇女和浮肿的婴孩，则是鲁本斯的笔致；透纳的画风出现在描绘暴风雨的画面 中：蓝色的雷、桔色的电、棕色的雨、紫色的云，中间飘洒着西红柿颜色的一块，可能是太阳或救生圈，也可能是海员的衬衫或国王的长袍，欣赏者爱怎么理解都 行。
紧接着，艾美又回头摆弄起粘土和石膏。艾美熟人们的模型幽灵般地出没于屋子的角角落落，要不便从壁橱架掉下来砸在人们头上。孩子们被诱来当模特，后 来他们支离破碎地描述艾美神秘的做法，听起来她仿佛是个小女妖似的。可是一场不愉快的事故突然终止了她在这方面的努力，同时也熄灭了她的热情，有一度她制 作其他模型失败了，便开始制作自己美丽的脚。一天，全家人被一种可怕的撞击声和叫声弄得惊恐万状，大家跑过来救援，发现年轻的艺术狂在棚屋里乱蹦乱跳，一 只脚紧紧粘在满满一盆石膏里，石膏出人意料地那么快就变硬了。大家费力地、危险地将她挖了出来，因为乔挖掘时，笑得太厉害，刀子挖得太深，伤了那只可怜的 脚，像艾美的艺术尝试一样，给艾美留下了永久的纪念。
在这方面，她较为成功。她是那种生性乐天的人，那种人广交朋友，不用费力便可讨人喜欢，他们生活得优雅轻松，致使一些运气不佳的人认为他们是在幸运 星照耀下降临人世的。艾美本能地知道做什么既讨人喜欢又恰如其分。她总是见什么人说什么话，而且会相机行事。她沉着冷静，姐姐们总是说：“即使艾美事先毫 无准备，走上法庭她也完全知道怎样去做。“艾美的一个弱点是渴望打进"上流社会"。其实她并不确定到底什么是上流。在她看来，钱、地位、时髦的才艺、优雅 的风度是最需要的。她喜欢和拥有这一切的人们来往，往往错将假的当成真的，赞美不该赞美的。她从未忘记她生来就是一个淑女，只因家道清贫而没有地位，于是 她培养着贵族趣味和感情，随时准备打入上流社会。
“下星期我们绘画班放假，姑娘们将离开学校回家过暑假。我想在这之前邀请她们来我们家玩一天。她们很想看看这里的河，画下那座断桥，临摹我画册里的 那些东西，她们对那些很欣赏。在很多方面她们对我都很好，我感激她们，因为她们都很富有，也知道我贫穷，但她们并没有对我另眼相待。““她们怎么会这样 呢？“妈妈带着姑娘们称之为"玛丽亚·特蕾西亚的神气"提出了问题。
马奇太太笑起来，她按下做母亲的自尊心问道：“那么，我的天鹅，你打算怎样？““我想下星期请姑娘们过来吃饭，带她们坐车去她们想看的地方，也可能 去划船，为她们开一个艺术游园会。““听起来能行。你准备用什么作午宴？得有蛋糕、三明治、水果和咖啡，是吧？““噢，不，亲爱的！我们得吃冷舌肉、鸡、 法国巧克力，还要冰淇淋。那些女孩们习惯吃这些东西。虽然我不过在挣钱糊口，我还是希望我的午宴优雅得体。““有多少姑娘？“妈妈问，态度认真起来。
这样，我只要租部旅行汽车，再借上劳伦斯先生的'樱木弹跳车'。“（罕娜就是这么念敞篷大马车的。）"这会花掉许多钱的，艾美。““不太多，我已算 过帐，我自己出钱。““亲爱的，你可想过，这些女孩已习惯了这一切。我们尽力做到的对她们毫无新意。也许简单点的计划会更令她们满意。比方来点变化，尝试 一种违反时尚的风格，这样，那些我们不需要的东西，就用不着去买呀借呀，对我们也许更好。““要是不能按我的心意去办，我就根本不想办了。我晓得，假如你 和姐姐们能帮一点忙，我会操办得很好。我不懂干嘛我自己愿意出钱还不能办，“艾美语气坚决地说，反对意见使她固执起来。
“我没有献媚，而且我和你一样也讨厌受人恩惠，“艾美气愤地反驳。这两姐妹一碰到这种问题，还是要吵。“那些女孩就是喜欢我，我也喜欢她们。即便你 胡说她们时髦不好，但她们非常友善，头脑清楚，又有天赋。你不在乎培养风度、情趣，进入上流社会，让别人喜欢你，可我在乎。我是说我要充分利用每一个到来 的机会。要是愿意，你尽可过贫穷清高的日子，说那是自立，我不会那样。“一旦艾美磨快了舌锋，放开了思路，总是她占上风。她这一边总是合乎常理，而乔喜欢 自由，讨厌习俗，争吵中又走极端，结果总是输。艾美给乔的自立观下的定义恰如其分，两个人都哈哈大笑起来。争论也转而温和了些。最后，乔完全违反了自己的 意愿，同意放弃一天时间不去格伦迪夫人那儿，帮妹妹干完她认为"毫无意义的事情"。
罕娜不太高兴，因为她一周的工作给打乱了。她预言：“要是衣服不能按时洗、熨，所有事儿都会搅成一团糟。“家庭机器运转的这一关键处要是出了故障， 可要令大家焦虑的。但是，艾美的格言是"决不绝望"，既然她抱定了主意这么做，就开始着手排除障碍干起来。首先，罕娜的烹调不能令人满意：鸡烧老了，舌肉 太咸了，巧克力做得不对劲。接着，蛋糕和冰淇淋的花费超出了艾美的预算。马车和各种其他费用也是如此。开初算来似乎数目不大，结果算下来数字惊人。贝思感 冒了卧床休息。梅格来的客人多出往日，出不了门。乔情绪对立，结果失手摔坏东西，引起事故，出的错又多又大，令人难堪。
那个星期一假如天气不好，小姑娘们就星期二来--这样的安排让乔和罕娜恼火到极点。星期一早上，天气反复无常，比持续下雨更让人烦心。下了一点毛毛 雨，出了会太阳，又刮了点风，等到稳定下来时，再作决定已为时过晚。艾美天刚亮就起床了，她逼着家人也早早起床，吃完早饭，这样好将屋子收拾得井井有条。 她突然觉得客厅太破烂不堪了，顾不上为她缺少的东西叹息，便很有技巧地充分利用起她所拥有的东西。她在地毯的破旧处安放些椅子，用常春藤镶边的画儿遮着墙 上的污迹，用自制的雕像填充空荡的屋角。乔将插着鲜花的花瓶四处乱放着，这一来，屋子里有了一种艺术格调。
她审视了准备好的午餐，看上去不错。她由衷希望吃起来味道也好，希望能安安全全地将借用的杯子、瓷器、银餐具拿回去。车子有了着落，梅格和妈妈都准 备好效劳，贝思可以在厨房帮罕娜，乔答应像没事儿似地做出愉快可亲的样子，她坚决反对这让人头痛的一切，可总还得迁就她。艾美一边疲倦地打扮着，一边企盼 着幸福的时刻。顺利地用毕午餐后，她将领着朋友们坐车去过一下艺术瘾：那"樱木弹跳车"和断桥是她值得炫耀的东西。想到这些，艾美情绪又好了起来。
她披上厚面纱，拎着个时髦的旅行篮子出发了，心下想着乘车凉快一下能平息怒气，也好应付今天的劳作。耽搁了一些时候，要买的都买了，还买了一瓶调味 品，以防家里没有又再浪费时间。她坐上回程的车，为她的先见之明庆幸。旅行车里另外只有一个打着盹的老太太。艾美将面纱放进口袋，试着核算出钱都花到哪里 去了，以打发沉闷的旅途时光。她手持划满复杂数字的卡片，忙得不亦乐乎，竟没注意又上来了旅客。这个人没喊停车。艾美只听到一个男性的声音：“早上好，马 奇小姐。“她抬头见是劳里的一个最文雅的大学朋友。
回到家她没有提起这场相遇（虽然她发现因为篮子翻了，调味汁顺着衣服曲曲弯弯流到裙子上，把新衣服给毁了）。她做着各种准备，现在这些准备工作似乎 更令人厌倦了。十二点，一切就绪。艾美感到邻居们对她的行动产生了兴趣，因此极希望今天能大获成功，以抹去昨天失败的记忆。她叫来了"樱木弹跳车"，昂然 驶去载接客人们赴宴。
艾美进来了，她相当镇定，极快乐地热情招待这个唯一遵守诺言的客人。家庭其他成员都有戏剧表演的才能，因此各自的角色都扮演得很好。埃利奥特小姐发 现这一家人很有趣，洋溢在他们身上的欢乐情绪无法抑制。愉快地用完调整过的午餐，看过画室与花园，热烈地讨论了艺术，艾美叫了部双轮轻便马车（哎呀，可惜 了，那豪华的樱木弹跳车！），带着朋友静静地观赏周围景色，直到日落时分，这时"大队人马退场"。
“我确实满意了。我已做了我答应做的事。聊以自慰的是，失败不是我的错，“艾美声音有点发颤地说，“非常感谢大家的帮助，可要是你们不再提起这事， 我更感谢你们，一个月，至少。“有好几个月没人提起这件事。但是，一说到"招待会"这个字眼，大家都会笑起来。劳里送给艾美的生日礼物是一个挂表链的装饰 品--小珊瑚龙虾。
It takes people a long time to learn the difference betweentalent and genius, especially ambitious young men and women.Amy was learning this distinction through much tribulation, formistaking enthusiasm for inspiration, she attempted every branch ofart with youthful audacity. For a long time there was a lull inthe `mud-pie' business, and she devoted herself to the finestpen-and-ink drawing, in which she showed such taste and skill thather graceful handiwork proved both pleasant and profitable. Butover-strained eyes caused pen and ink to be laid aside for a boldattempt at poker sketching.
While this attack lasted, the family lived in constant fearof a conflagration, for the odor of burning wood pervaded thehouse at all hours, smoke issued from attic and shed withalarming frequency, red-hot pokers lay about promiscuously, and Hannahnever went to bed without a pail of water and the dinner bell ather door in case of fire. Raphael's face was found boldly executedon the underside of the moulding board, and Bacchus on the head of abeer barrel. A chanting cherub adorned the cover of the sugar bucket,and attempts to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied kindling for some time.
From fire to oil was a natural transition for burned fingers,and Amy fell to painting with undiminished ardor. An artist friendfitted her out with his castoff palettes, brushes, and colors, andshe daubed away, producing pastoral and marine views such as werenever seen on land or sea. Her monstrosities in the way of cattlewould have taken prizes at an agricultural fair, and the perilouspitching of her vessels would have produced seasickness in the mostnautical observer, if the utter disregard to all known rules ofshipbuilding and rigging had not convulsed him with laughter at thefirst glance. Swarthy boys and dark-eyed Madonnas, staring at youfrom one corner of the studio, suggested Murillo. Oily brown shadowsof faces with a lurid streak in the wrong place, meant Rembrandt.Buxom ladies and dropiscal infants, Rubens, and Turner appeared intempests of blue thunder, orange lightning, brown rain, and purpleclouds, with a tomato-colored splash in the middle, which might bethe sun or a bouy, a sailor's shirt or a king's robe, as thespectator pleased.
Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in arow, looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coalbin.Softened into crayon sketches, they did better, for the likenesseswere good, and Amy's hair, Jo's nose, Meg's mouth, and Laurie'seyes were pronounced `wonderfully fine'. A return to clay andplaster followed, and ghostly casts of her acquaintances hauntedcorners of the house, or tumbled off closet shelves onto people'sheads. Children were enticed in as models, till their incoherentaccounts of her mysterious doings caused Miss Amy to be regarded inthe light of a young ogress. Her efforts in this line, however,were brought to an abrupt close by an untoward accident, whichquenched her ardor. Other models failing her for a time, sheundertook to cast her own pretty foot, and the family were one dayalarmed by an unearthly bumping and screaming and running to the rescue,found the young enthusiast hopping wildly about the shed with herfoot held fast in a pan full of plaster, which had hardened withunexpected rapidity. With much difficulty and some danger she wasdug out, for Jo was so overcome with laughter while she excavatedthat her knife went too far, cut the poor foot, and left a lastingmemorial of one artistic attempt, at least.
After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from natureset her to haunting river, field, and wood, for picturesque studies,and sighing for ruins to copy. She caught endless colds sitting ondamp grass to book `delicious bit', composed of a stone, a stump, onemushroom, and a broken mullein stalk, or `a heavenly mass of clouds',that looked like a choice display of featherbeds when done. Shesacrificed her complexion floating on the river in the midsummer sun tostudy light and shade, and got a wrinkle over her nose trying after`points of sight', or whatever the squint-and-string performance is called.
If `genius is eternal patience', as Michelangelo affirms, Amyhad some claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spiteof all obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believingthat in time she should do something worthy to be called `high art'.
She was learning, doing, and enjoying other things, meanwhile,for she had resolved to be an attractive and accomplished woman,even if she never became a great artist. Here she succeeded better,for she was one of those happily created beings who please withouteffort, make friends everywhere, and take life so gracefully andeasily that less fortunate souls are tempted to believe that suchare born under a lucky star. Everybody liked her, for among hergood gifts was tact. She had an instinctive sense of what waspleasing and proper, always said the right thing to the right person,did just what suited the time and place, and was so self-possessedthat her sisters used to say, "If Amy went to court without anyrehearsal beforehand, she'd know exactly what to do."
One of her weaknesses was a desire to move in `our best society',without being quite sure what the best really was. Money, position,fashionable accomplishments, and elegant manners were most desirablethings in her eyes, and she liked to associate with those whopossessed them, often mistaking the false for the true, and admiring whatwas not admirable. Never forgetting that by birth she was a gentlewoman,she cultivated her aristocratic tastes and feelings, so that whenthe opportunity came she might be ready to take the place fromwhich poverty now excluded her.
"My lady," as her friends called her, sincerely desired to bea genuine lady, and was so at heart, but had yet to learn that moneycannot buy refinement of nature, that rank does not always confernobility, and that true breeding makes itself felt in spite ofexternal drawbacks.
"I want to ask a favor of you, Mamma," Amy said, coming inwith an important air one day.
"Well, little girl, what is it?" replied her mother, in whoseeyes the stately young lady still remained `the baby'.
"Our drawing class breaks up next week, and before the girlsseparate for the summer, I want to ask them out here for a day. Theyare wild to see the river, sketch the broken bridge, and copy someof the things they admire in my book. They have been very kind tome in many ways, and I am grateful, for they are all rich and I knowI am poor, yet they never made any difference."
"Why should they?" And Mrs. March put the question with whatthe girls called her `Maria Theresa air'.
"You know as well as I that it does make a difference withnearly everyone, so don't ruffle up like a dear, motherly hen, whenyour chickens get pecked by smarter birds. The ugly duckling turnedout a swan, you know." And Amy smiled without bitterness, for shepossessed a happy temper and hopeful spirit.
Mrs. March laughed, and smoothed down her maternal pride asshe asked, "Well, my swan, what is your plan?"
"I should like to ask the girls out to lunch next week, to takethem for a drive to the places they want to see, a row on the river,perhaps, and make a little artistic fete for them."
"That looks feasible. What do you want for lunch? Cake,sandwiches, fruit, and coffee will be all that is necessary, I suppose?"
"Oh, dear, no! We must have cold tongue and chicken, Frenchchocolate and ice cream, besides. The girls are used to such things,and I want my lunch to be proper and elegant, though I do work formy living."
"How many young ladies are there?" asked her mother, beginningto look sober.
"Twelve or fourteen in the class, but I dare say they won't all come."
"Bless me, child, you will have to charter an omnibus to carrythem about."
"Why, Mother, how can you think of such a thing? Not more thansix or eight will probably come, so I shall hire a beach wagon andborrow Mr. Laurence's cherry-bounce." (Hannah's pronunciation ofcharabanc.)
"All of this will be expensive, Amy."
"Not very. I've calculated the cost, and I'll pay for it myself."
"Don't you think, dear, that as these girls are used to suchthings, and the best we can do will be nothing new, that some simplerplan would be pleasanter to them, as a change if nothing more, andmuch better for us than buying or borrowing what we don't need, andattempting a style not in keeping with our circumstances?"
"If I can't have it as I like, I don't care to have it at all.I know that I can carry it out perfectly well, if you and the girlswill help a little, and I don't see why I can't if I'm willing to payfor it," said Amy, with the decision which opposition was apt tochange into obstinacy.
Mrs. March knew that experience was an excellent teacher, andwhen it was possible she left her children to learn alone the lessonswhich she would gladly have made easier, if they had not objected totaking advice as much as they did salts and senna.
"Very well, Amy, if your heart is set upon it, and you see yourway through without too great an outlay of money, time, and temper,I'll say no more. Talk it over with the girls, and whichever wayyou decide, I'll do my best to help you."
"Thanks, Mother, you are always so kind." And away went Amy tolay her plan before her sisters.
Meg agreed at once, and promised to her aid, gladly offeringanything she possessed, from her little house itself to her verybest saltspoons. But Jo frowned upon the whole project and wouldhave nothing to do with it at first.
"Why in the world should you spend your money, worry your family,and turn the house upside down for a parcel of girls who don't care asixpence for you? I thought you had too much pride and sense totruckle to any mortal woman just because she wears French boots andrides in a coupe," said Jo, who, being called from the tragic climaxof her novel, was not in the best mood for social enterprises.
"I don't truckle, and I hate being patronized as much as you do!"returned Amy indignantly, for the two still jangled when suchquestions arose. "The girls do care for me, and I for them, and there's agreat deal of kindness and sense and talent among them, in spite ofwhat you call fashionable nonsense. You don't care to make peoplelike you, to go into good society, and cultivate your manners andtastes. I do, and I mean to make the most of every chance that comes.You can go through the world with your elbows out and your nose in theair, and call it independence, if you like. That's not my way."
When Amy had whetted her tongue and freed her mind she usuallygot the best of it, for she seldom failed to have common sense on herside, while Jo carried her love of liberty and hate of conventionalitiesto such an unlimited extent that she naturally found herselfworsted in an argument. Amy's definition of Jo's idea of independencewas such a good hit that both burst out laughing, and the discussiontook a more amiable turn. Much against her will, Jo at lengthconsented to sacrifice a day to Mrs. Grundy, and help her sisterthrough what she regarded as `a nonsensical business'.
The invitations were sent, nearly all accepted, and the followingMonday was set apart for the grand event. Hannah was out of humorbecause her week's work was deranged, and prophesied that "ef thewashin' and ironin' warn't done reg'lar, nothin' would go wellanywheres". This hitch in the mainspring of the domestic machineryhad a bad effect upon the whole concern, but Amy's motto was `Nildesperandum', and having made up her mind what to do, she proceededto do it in spite of all obstacles. To begin with, Hannah's cookingdidn't turn out well. The chicken was tough, the tongue too salt,and the chocolate wouldn't froth properly. Then the cake and ice costmore than Amy expected, so did the wagon, and various other expenses,which seemed trifling at the outset, counted up rather alarminglyafterward. Beth got a cold and took to her bed. Meg had an unusualnumber of callers to keep her at home, and Jo was in such a dividedstate of mind that her breakages, accidents, and mistakes wereuncommonly numerous, serious, and trying.
It it was not fair on Monday, the young ladies were to come onTuesday, and arrangement which aggravated Jo and Hannah to the lastdegree. On Monday morning the weather was in that undecided statewhich is more exasperating than a steady pour. It drizzled a little,shone a little, blew a little, and didn't make up its mind till itwas too late for anyone else to make up theirs. Amy was up at dawn,hustling people out of their beds and through their breakfasts, thatthe house might be got in order. The parlor struck her as lookinguncommonly shabby, but without stopping to sigh for what she had not,she skillfully made the best of what she had, arranging chairs overthe worn places in the carpet, covering stains on the walls withhomemade statuary, which gave an artistic air to the room, as did thelovely vases of flowers Jo scattered about.
The lunch looked charming, and as she surveyed it, she sincerelyhoped it would taste well, and that the borrowed glass, china, andsilver would get safely home again. The carriages were promised, Megand Mother were all ready to do the honors, Beth was able to helpHannah behind the scenes, Jo had engaged to be as lively and amiableas an absent mind, and aching head, and a very decided disapproval ofeverybody and everything would allow, and as she wearily dressed, Amycheered herself with anticipations of the happy moment when, lunchsafely over, she should drive away with her friends for an afternoonof artistic delights, for the `cherry bounce' and the broken bridgewere her strong points.
Then came the hours of suspense, during which she vibrated fromparlor to porch, while public opinion varied like the weathercock. Asmart shower at eleven had evidently quenched the enthusiasm of theyoung ladies who were to arrive at twelve, for nobody came, and at twothe exhausted family sat down in a blaze of sunshine to consume theperishable portions of the feast, that nothing might be lost.
"No doubt about the weather today, they will certainly come, sowe must fly round and be ready for them," said Amy, as the sun wokeher next morning. She spoke briskly, but in her secret soul she wishedshe had said nothing about Tuesday, for her interest like her cake wasgetting a little stale.
"I can't get any lobsters, so you will have to do without saladtoday," said Mr. March, coming in half an hour later, with anexpression of placid despair.
"Use the chicken then, the toughness won't matter in a salad,"advised his wife.
"Hannah left it on the kitchen table a minute, and the kittens got at it.I'm very sorry, amy," added Beth, who was still a patroness of cats.
"Then I must have a lobster, for tongue alone won't do," said Amy decidedly.
"Shall I rush into town and demand one?" asked Jo, with themagnanimity of a martyr.
"You'd come bringing it home under your arm without any paper,just to try me. I'll go myself," answered Amy, whose temper wasbeginning to fail.
Shrouded in a thick veil and armed with a genteel traveling basket,she departed, feeling that a cool drive would soothe her ruffled spiritand fit her for the labors of the day. After some delay, the object ofher desire was procured, likewise a bottle of dressing to preventfurther loss of time at home, and off she drove again, well pleased withher own forethought.
As the omnibus contained only one other passenger, a sleepy oldlady, Amy pocketed her veil and beguiled the tedium of the way bytrying to find out where all her money had gone to. So busy was shewith her card full of refractory figures that she did not observe anewcomer, who entered without stopping the vehicle, till a masculinevoice said, "Good morning, Miss March," and, looking up, she beheldone of Laurie's most elegant college friends. Fervently hoping thathe would get out before she did, Amy utterly ignored the basket at herfeet, and congratulating herself that she had on her new travelingdress, returned the young man's greeting with her usual suavity andspirit.
They got on excellently, for Amy's chief care was soon set atrest by learning that the gentleman would leave first, and she waschatting away in a peculiarly lofty strain, when the old lady got out.In stumbling to the door, she upset the basket, and--oh horror!--thelobster, in all its vulgar size and brilliancy, was revealed to thehighborn eyes of a Tudor.
"By Jove, she's forgotten her dinner!" cried the unconsciousyouth, poking the scarlet monster into its place with his cane, andpreparing to hand out the basket after the old lady.
"Please don't--it's--it's mine," murmured Amy, with a face nearlyas red as her fish.
"Oh, really, I beg pardon. It's an uncommonly fine one, isn't it?"said Tudor, with great presence of mind, and an air of sober interestthat did credit to his breeding.
Amy recovered herself in a breath, set her basket boldly on theseat, and said, laughing, "Don't you wish you were to have some of thesalad he's going to make, and to see the charming young ladies who areto eat it?"
Now that was tact, for two of the ruling foibles of the masculinemind were touched. The lobster was instantly surrounded by a halo ofpleasing reminiscences, and curiosity about `the charming young ladies'diverted his mind from the comical mishap.
"I suppose he'll laugh and joke over it with Laurie, but I shan'tsee them, that's a comfort," thought Amy, as Tudor bowed and departed.
She did not mention this meeting at home (though she discoveredthat, thanks to the upset, her new dress was much damaged by therivulets of dressing that meandered down the skirt), but went throughwith the preparations which now seemed more irksome than before, andat twelve o'clock all was ready again. feeling that the neighborswere interested in her movements, she wished to efface the memory ofyesterday's failure by a grand success today, so she ordered the`cherry bounce', and drove away in state to meet and escort her gueststo the banquet.
"There's the rumble, they're coming! I'll go onto the porch andmeet them. It looks hospitable, and I want the poor child to have agood time after all her trouble," said Mrs. March, suiting the actionto the word. But after one glance, she retired, with an indescribableexpression, for looking quite lost in the big carriage, sat Amy andone young lady.
"Run, Beth, and help Hannah clear half the things off the table.It will be too absurd to put a luncheon for twelve before a singlegirl," cried Jo, hurrying away to the lower regions, too excited tostop even for a laugh.
In came Amy, quite calm and delightfully cordial to the oneguest who had kept her promise. The rest of the family, being ofa dramatic turn, played their parts equally well, and Miss Eliottfound them a most hilarious set, for it was impossible to controlentirely the merriment which possessed them. The remodeled lunchbeing gaily partaken of, the studio and garden visited, and artdiscussed with enthusiasm, Amy ordered a buggy (alas for the elegantcherry-bounce), and drove her friend quietly about the neighborhoodtill sunset, when `the party went out'.
As she came walking in, looking very tired but as composed asever, she observed that every vestige of the unfortunate fete haddisappeared, except a suspicious pucker about the corners of Jo'smouth.
"You've had a loverly afternoon for your drive, dear," saidher mother, as respectfully as if the whole twelve had come.
"Miss Eliott is a very sweet girl, and seemed to enjoy herself,I thought," observed Beth, with unusual warmth.
"Could you spare me some of your cake? I really need some, Ihave so much company, and I can't make such delicious stuff as yours,"asked Meg soberly.
"Take it all. I'm the only one here who likes sweet things, andit will mold before I can dispose of it," answered Amy, thinking witha sigh of the generous store she had laid in for such an end as this.
"It's a pity Laurie isn't here to help us," began Jo, as they satdown to ice cream and salad for the second time in two days.
A warning look from her mother checked any further remarks, andthe whole family ate in heroic silence, till Mr. March mildly observed,"salad was one of the favorite dishes of the ancients, and Evelyn..."Here a general explosion of laughter cut short the `history of salads',to the great surprise of the learned gentleman.
"Bundle everything into a basket and send it to the Hummels. Germanslike messes. I'm sick of the sight of this, and there's no reason youshould all die of a surfeit because I've been a fool," cried Amy, wipingher eyes.
"I thought I should have died when I saw you two girls rattlingabout in the what-you-call-it, like two little kernels in a very bignutshell, and Mother waiting in state to receive the throng," sighedJo, quite spent with laughter.
"I'm very sorry you were disappointed, dear, but we all did ourbest to satisfy you," said Mrs. March, in a tone full of motherlyregret.
"I am satisfied. I've done what I undertook, and it's not myfault that it failed. I comfort myself with that," said Amy with alittle quiver in her voice. "I thank you all very much for helpingme, and I'll thank you still more if you won't allude to it for amonth, at least."
No one did for several months, but the word `fete' always produceda general smile, and Laurie's birthday gift to Amy was a tinycoral lobster in the shape of a charm for her watch guard.