“你答应今天和我一起走访六家人的，你不会忘了吧？““我这一生是做过许多鲁莽的傻事，可我不会发神经，说我要一天拜访六户人家吧。访一家都让我烦 一个星期。““是的，你是说过。那是我俩的协议。我替你完成贝思的铅笔画像，你好好地和我一起去邻居家回访。““假如天气好--协议中有这一条，我严格遵 守协议，夏洛克。东边有一大块乌云，天气不好，所以我不去。““你这是偷懒。天气不错，不会下雨的，你不是以守约自豪吗？讲点信用吧，去尽你的义务，然后 你又可以安心过六个月。“那一时刻，乔正特别沉迷于缝制衣服。她为全家人做大衣并居功自傲，因为她的针使得和笔一样好。可她正在首次试穿她缝的新衣就给抓 差，受命在七月的热天里盛装出访，真叫人光火。她讨厌任何正式的出访，除非艾美和她订协议，贿赂她，或者许愿，如此这般胁她，否则她决不会干的。眼下这种 情形是逃脱不掉的了。她恨恨地将剪刀弄出响声，声辩她觉察到了雷雨的迹象，可还是投降了。她收起针线，拿起帽子、手套，告诉艾美她这个遭难者已做好准备。
“怎么不行？我觉得齐整、凉爽、舒适。热天里尘土飞扬的，这样穿戴很合适。要是人们更在乎我的衣服而不是我这个人，我就不愿见他们。你可以尽心尽意 打扮得优雅，让人们喜欢你，喜欢你的衣服。你觉得这样挺值，我却不然，裙饰只能让我烦。““哦，天哪！“艾美叹了口气。“她现在处于逆反情绪中，不等我把 她弄妥贴，她会让我发狂的。今天出门肯定不会是件好差事。可是，我们欠了社交债呀。除了你我，家里没人去还这笔债。乔，你只需好好打扮一下，帮我回礼，我 会为你做任何事的。你很会说话，打扮起来很有贵族气质，举止也很潇洒，只要你乐意。我会为你骄傲的。我害怕一个人去，你一定要和我一起去，照顾我。“你这 个小姑娘真有手腕。那样子甜言蜜语哄骗你脾气坏的姐姐。真想得出来，我有贵族气，有教养，你一个人哪也不敢去！真不知哪一个更荒唐。好啦，既然我非得去就 去吧，我尽力而为。你来当这次远征的统帅吧，我绝对服从，满意了吗？“乔说，她的态度由倔强突然转变为绵羊似的顺从。
“你真是个天使！现在，去穿上你最好的衣服，我会教你做到举止得体的，这样你就会给人留下好印象。我希望别人喜欢你，而你只要试着随和一点，就能让 人喜欢，头发弄漂亮点，帽子上放一朵粉红色玫瑰。你穿着素净衣服看上去太严肃了，这样相称些。带上你的淡黄手套和绣花手绢。我们在梅格家停一下，把她的白 阳伞借来，这样，你就可以用我那把鸽灰色阳伞了。“艾美一边打扮，一边发着命令，乔不无抗议地服从着。她叹着气，窸窸窣窣地穿上她的新玻璃纱衣，皱着眉， 将帽带系成个无可挑剔的结。她手忙脚乱地弄着别针，戴上领结，扯出手绢时，全身衣服都给扯皱了。手绢上的刺绣让她鼻子很不舒服，就像眼前的出访使命让她一 样难受。作为优雅打扮的最后装饰，她将手挤进了那双有三个钮扣和流苏的手套。她转向艾美，脸上带着憨憨的表情，谦恭地说--“我太痛苦了，可你要是觉得我 这样能拿得出去，我死而无憾。““你太让人满意了。慢慢转过来，让我仔细瞧瞧。“乔转了个身，艾美这里修一下，那里补一下，然后后退一步，歪着头宽厚地打 量着她。“行，能行。你的头打扮得最合我意。
红玫瑰点缀着白帽子真是迷人。挺起肩来，别管手套是不是挤手，手放自如些。你再加件东西会更好，乔。也就是，围条披肩--我围着不好，你围合适。真 高兴，马奇婶婶把那条可爱的披肩给你了。它虽然朴素，可是很好看，落在胳膊上的褶子真是风雅。你看我斗篷上的针绣花边在不在中间？我衣服可扣整齐了？我想 让人看看我的靴子，因为，我的脚确实很美，尽管我的鼻子不理想。““你是个美丽的小东西，永远快乐，“乔说。她带着权威的神气透过手看着艾美插在金发上的 蓝色羽饰。“请问夫人，我是把好衣服放下来扫着尘地，还是卷起来？““走路的时候就卷起来，进了屋子就放下来。裙褶拖曳的风格最适合你，你得学着优雅地拖 着裙裾。你一只袖口没全扣上，赶快扣上。要是不注意这些细节，你根本不会完美的，悦人的整体形象就是由细节组成的。“乔叹了口气，开始扣袖子，手套上的扣 子差点给绷掉。两个人终于打扮完毕上路了。罕娜从楼上窗户探出身子看着她们，说她俩"漂亮得像图中人"。
“哎，乔，亲爱的，切斯特一家以为她们非常优雅，所以，我想让你拿出最好的风度来。别说你那些粗暴的话，别做怪事，好不好？只要沉着、冷静、镇定 --那样保险，又有女士风度，你很容易在十五分钟内做到这些的，“艾美说。她们已去过梅格家，借了白阳桑梅格一手抱一个孩子检查了她们的装扮。现在她们已 到了要访问的第一家。
“我想想。'沉着、冷静、镇定'--好的，我想可以答应你。我在舞台上扮演过一个古板的年轻女士，我来试试。你会看到，我很有能耐的。脑子放松一 些，我的孩子。“艾美松了口气。调皮的乔奉行了她的话。在第一家，她坐在那儿，四肢放得优雅舒适，裙褶垂到恰到好处。她平静得像夏天的海，冷得像大雪堆， 沉默得像狮身人面像。切斯特夫人提到她的"动人的小说"，切斯特小姐们挑起话头，谈舞会、野餐、歌剧以及服装款式，均告无效。乔要么笑笑，要么点点头，再 不就严肃地说声"是"、"不"，以此回答所有的问题，让人扫兴。艾美向她传去"说话“的指令，试图把她从这种状态中拖出来，还用脚偷偷踹她，还是不起作 用。乔无动于衷地坐在那里好像什么也不知道，举止如同莫德的脸：“匀称却冷冰冰，没有表情却光彩照人。““马奇家大小姐多么高傲又令人乏味啊！“送走客人 关上门，一个小姐评论道，不幸给客人听见了。乔无声地笑着穿过大厅，可是艾美为她的指挥失误怄着气，自然怪罪起来乔来。
“你怎么能这样误解我的意思？我只是要你表现得端庄、稳重，可你整个儿一个木头疙瘩。到兰姆家可要随和些了。你要像别的女孩们那样闲聊，对服装、调 笑、管它什么废话都要表现出兴趣。她们出入于上流社会，认识她们对我们很有用。我无论如何都要给她们留下好印象。““我会放随和些的，我会闲聊，傻笑，听 到你喜欢的任何琐事都惊叹狂呼。我很喜欢那样。现在，我得模仿所谓的'迷人的女孩'，有梅·切斯特做样板，我再改进些，是能做好的。等着瞧，兰姆一家会 说：'乔·马奇多么可爱、迷人呀！'"艾美完全有理由着急，因为一旦乔异想天开起来，不知道她什么时候才能收得祝艾美看着她姐姐轻快地走进下一个客厅，热 情奔放地亲吻了所有的年轻女士，优雅地朝年轻先生们微笑，兴致勃勃地加入了闲聊，这种情绪使艾美这个旁观者大为惊讶，她一脸困惑。兰姆太太占住了艾美。她 很喜欢艾美，迫使艾美听她长篇大论地讲述卢克丽霞的最后反抗，同时，三个愉快的年轻先生守候在近处，等着兰姆太太一住口，就冲上去救艾美出来。在这种情形 下，艾美无力制止乔。乔似乎被淘气的精灵缠住了，她像兰姆老太一样滔滔不绝，说个不停。好几个脑袋围着她，艾美竖起耳朵想听听她在说什么，因为断断续续的 话语使她充满疑惧，圆睁的眼睛和上举的手折磨着她的好奇心，不断的笑声使她极想分享乐趣。听听这种谈话的评断，我们可以想像出艾美的痛苦。
“没人教。她过去常在安在一棵树上的旧马鞍上练习上马、握缰、骑马。现在，她什么都敢骑，她不知道什么叫害怕。马夫给她马骑，要价便宜，因为她把马 驯得服服贴贴，让女士骑没问题。她骑马的热情太大，我常对她说，假如她做别的事不成，可以当个驯马师来谋生。“听到这种糟糕的话，艾美很难克制住自己了， 因为，这种话给人留下她是荡妇的印象，而这又是她特别讨厌的。可是，她能怎么办呢？老太太故事刚说了一半。就在故事还远远没结束的时候，乔又开始了，讲出 更可笑的秘密，出现了更可怕的错。
“一匹也没眩她听说河对面农家有一匹好马，又精神又漂亮，虽然还没有女士骑过它，艾美决定一试。那场斗争真是悲壮，没人给马上鞍，她自己上。我的天 哪！她竟然带着马划过了河，给马上鞍，来到谷仓，使老头大大吃了一惊。““她骑那马了吗？““当然。她玩得非常开心。我还以为她会给弄得残缺不全地送回来 呢。可是她完全制服了那马，成了游园会的中心人物。““嗯，那真叫有胆量！“小兰姆先生赞许地瞥了一眼艾美，奇怪她妈妈说些什么，把那女孩羞得满脸通红， 浑身不自在。
过了一会儿，谈话突然转了向，谈到衣服问题，艾美的脸更红了，也更不自在了。一个年轻女士询问乔，她去野餐时戴的那顶淡褐色帽子是在哪里买的。傻乎 乎的乔不提两年前买帽子的地方，而是毫无必要地坦诚相告：“噢，是艾美涂上去的。买不到那些柔和颜色的，所以我们想要什么颜色就涂什么颜色。有一个懂艺术 的妹妹是个很大的安慰。““这主意真是新奇！“兰姆小姐叫起来，她发现乔很有趣。
一提及她的"作品"，总会对乔产生不好的影响，她要么严肃起来，像是谁冒犯了她，要么唐突地转变话题，现在就是这样。“真遗憾你们找不到更好的东西 来读，我写那废话是因为它有销路。普通老百姓才喜欢它。今年冬天你去纽约吗？“因为兰姆小姐"喜欢"这故事，所以乔的话显得不太文雅，也不客气。话一出 口，乔便意识到了自己的错误。可是，由于担心把事情弄得更糟，她突然记起该先提出告辞，于是贸然提出要走，使得其他三个人话没说完，噎在了喉咙。
“没有比这更糟的人，“艾美的回答斩钉截铁，“你让什么迷住了，竟说起那些故事来？什么马鞍、帽子、靴子的，还有其他那些？““哎呀，那些好玩，逗 人笑。他们知道我们穷，没有必要假装我们有马夫，一季买三四顶帽子，还能像他们那样轻而易举地得到好东西。““你也不必把我们的小计谋告诉他们呀，也没必 要那样暴露我们的贫穷。你一点儿正当的自尊都没有，从来不知道什么时候该闭口，什么时候该出言，“艾美绝望地说。
三个大男孩和几个可爱的小孩子热情地欢迎她，这迅速扫除了她的不快。她由着艾美去和女主人及碰巧同样来访的图德先生应酬，自己则和年轻人们打成了一 片。她发现这样的变化使人精神振奋。她怀着极大的兴趣倾听着大学生的故事，一声不吭地抚摸着猎狗和长卷毛狗，完全赞同"汤姆·布朗是条好汉"，也不管这种 赞许的不恰当。当一个小伙子提议去看看他的鱼池时，乔欣然从命。她笨拙却充满柔情地拥抱了一下慈爱的夫人，把帽子弄毁了。这顶帽子对她来说非常亲切，有灵 感的法国女人做出的头饰也不及它。夫人一边为她整理着帽子，一边不由笑起她来。
艾美让乔自行其事，开始自己尽情寻欢了。图德先生的叔叔娶了个英国女士，这位女士是一个还在世的勋爵相隔三代的表妹。艾美非常尊敬这一家人，因为， 尽管她生于美国，有着美国的教养，她对爵位还是怀着崇敬之心，这种崇敬萦绕着我们中间优秀分子的脑际--那是一种未被认可的、早先信仰国王的忠诚。几年 前，一位皇室的金发女士一踏上这太阳底下最民主的国度，这种忠诚便使得这个国家骚动起来。
这个年轻的国家对那些古老的国家所怀有的热爱仍然与这种忠诚相关，如同一个大儿子对一个专横的小妈妈的爱，小妈妈有能力时，拢着儿子，儿子反抗了便 责骂着放行。然而，即使心满意足地和英国贵族的远亲攀谈也没能使艾美忘掉时间。她极不情愿地抽身离开这贵族社会，到处寻找乔。她热切希望不会发现她那不可 救药的姐姐又处于使马奇姓氏蒙羞的局面。
情况本可以说更糟，不过艾美觉得还能接受。乔坐在草地上，身边围了一群男孩，一只爪子脏兮兮的狗横卧在她那条华丽的、节日才穿的裙子上。她正对那群 面带羡慕之情的听众叙述劳里的一个恶作剧。一个小孩子用艾美珍爱的阳伞捣弄着乌龟们，另一个把姜饼放在乔最好的帽子上大嚼，还有一个戴着她的手套在玩球。 所有的人都很开心。乔收拾起她那些弄毁的财产准备走时，她的护卫送着她，恳求她再来做客：“听劳里的玩笑太有趣了。““这些男孩子太棒了，是不是？和他们 待过后，我又觉得相当年轻、活泼了，“乔说。她将手放在背后信步走着，一半是习惯使然，另一半是想藏起被溅污的阳桑"你为什么老躲着图德先生？“艾美问。 她明智地克制着不评论乔损毁了的形象。
“我不喜欢他。他摆架子，斥责他的妹妹们，烦他爸爸，说话不尊重他妈妈。劳里说他放荡。我看他不是个理想的熟人，所以不睬他。““至少，你该待他礼 貌些吧。你只对他冷冷地点点头，而刚才你那样彬彬有礼地向汤米·张伯伦弯腰微笑，他爸只是个开杂货店的。你只要把这点头和弯腰掉个个儿，就对了，“艾美责 怪道。
“现在让我们回家吧，今天别去管马奇婶婶了。我们什么时候都能跑到她家去。现在又累又躁，还要拖着最好的一套衣服在泥地里走，真是太遗憾了。““你 愿意的话就这样想吧。婶婶喜欢我们打扮入时地正式拜访她，向她表示敬意。这是小事一桩，但却让她快乐。我相信，这不会像那些脏狗和那群男孩子那样弄脏你的 衣服，一点也不会。弯下腰来，我替你拿掉帽子上的碎屑。““艾美，你真是个好姑娘！“乔说。她懊恼地瞥了一眼自己弄糟了的衣服，又瞥了一下妹妹的，那衣服 依旧干干净净、一尘不染。“我希望我能像你一样轻而易举地做些小事让人喜欢。我想过，但做那些太费时间，所以，我等待机会施舍大恩惠，小事就由它过去了。 不过我想，最终还是小事最有效果。“艾美笑了，即刻软了下来，带着母亲般的神情说道：“妇女应该学会与人相处，特别是穷妇人，因为没有别的办法来回报别人 给你的好处。如果你愿意记住这一点，练习练习，你会比我更惹人喜爱，因为你的好气质更多。““我是个有怪癖的老东西，将来还会是这样，但是我愿意承认你是 对的，只是我可以为一个人冒生命危险，但要我违心地讨好一个人我却办不到。我这样强烈地爱憎分明，真是不幸，是不是？““要是不能隐瞒这种感情就更不幸 了。我不在乎说出来，和你一样我也不赞成图德，但是，没人请我把这告诉图德，也没人请你。没有必要因为他讨人厌便把自己弄得不受欢迎。““可是我认为，姑 娘们在不喜欢某个年轻人的时候应该表露出来。除了用态度还能用什么表露呢？很遗憾，如我所知，说教是无益的，就像我对待特迪那样。但是我有许多小办法，可 以用来不加言语地影响他。我说，如果可以的话，我们对其他人也应该这样。“特迪是个出众的男孩，不能用作其他男孩的榜样。“艾美的语调严肃认真、深信不 疑。如果那"出众的男孩"听见这句话，一定会大笑不止。“假如我们是美女，或者是有钱有势的女人，也许能做些什么。可是对我们来说，因为不赞成那一帮年轻 先生就对他们皱着眉，一点效果也没有。我们只能被人家看作古怪、拘谨。“所以我们就鼓励那些我们讨厌的东西和人，仅仅因为我们不是美女，不是百万富翁，是 吗？这种说教真不错。““我辩不了，我只知道这是处世方式。违背它的人反而白白让人嘲笑。我不喜欢改革家，希望你也不要去当改革家。““我就是喜欢改革 家，要是能够，我愿当一个改革家。因为尽管受人嘲笑，这世界没有改革家就不能运转。我们俩观点达不成一致。你属于旧派，我属于新派。你按你的方式会过得很 好，但我也能过得非常愉快。我想，我倒是欣赏那些指责与呵斥。““好了，安静下来吧。别用你那些新念头去烦婶婶。““我尽量不烦她。可是，在她面前，我总 是鬼迷心窍地说出一些特别直率的话，或者生出标新立异的念头。这是我的命，我逃不了。“她们发现卡罗尔婶婶和老太太在一起，两个人正一门心思地谈论着什么 非常有趣的事。姑娘们一进门，她们便停下话头，脸上的表情明显表明她们一直在谈论着她们的侄女们。
乔心情不好，犟劲又上来了，而艾美善良地尽了自己的责任，忍着气讨大家的欢心。她完全处于一种天使般的心境中，而这种温和可爱的性情马上感染了大 家。两个婶婶慈爱地唤她"我亲爱的"，一边用眼色表示她们后来强调的：“那孩子每天都有长进。““你要去为交易会帮忙吗，亲爱的？“卡罗尔太太回。艾美带 着信任的神情在她身旁坐下，老年人非常喜欢年轻人的这种神情。
“是的，婶婶，切斯特夫人问我可愿帮忙。我提出照看一张桌子，因为除了时间，我没什么东西可以给人了。““我可不去，“乔断然插了嘴，“我讨厌受人 恩惠。切斯特家人以为，让我们为他们那与上流社会有联系的交易会帮忙是个了不起的恩惠。我不知道你答应了，艾美，他们只想要你干活。““我愿意干活。交易 会是为切斯特家办的，也是为自由民的。我觉得他们太客气了，让我也分担工作，分享乐趣。恩惠只要是善意的，就不会烦扰我。““相当正确、恰当。亲爱的，我 喜欢你感恩的精神。帮助那些欣赏我们努力的人是件愉快的事，而有些人不欣赏，令人气愤，“马奇婶婶从眼镜上看着乔，评论道。乔皱着眉头坐在摇椅里摇着。
两个老太太又交换了一个眼色。马奇婶婶对艾美说：“你现在身体相当不错，是吗？眼睛不再难受了，对不对？““一点也不难受了。谢谢您，夫人。我很 好。我打算明年冬天干些大事。这样，什么时候那令人高兴的时刻来临，我就可以做好去罗马的准备。““好姑娘！你配去那里，我肯定有一天你能去成的，“马奇 婶婶赞许地拍着她的头说，艾美为她拾起了线团。
"Come, Jo, it's time."
"You don't mean to say you have forgotten that you promisedto make half a dozen calls with me today?"
"I've done a good many rash and foolish things in my life,but I don't think I ever was mad enough to say I'd make six callsin one day, when a single one upsets me for a week."
"Yes, you did, it was a bargain between us. I was to finishthe crayon of Beth for you, and you were to go properly with me,and return our neighbors' visits."
"If it was fair, that was in the bond, and I stand to theletter of my bond, Shylock. There is a pile of clouds in the east,it's not fair, and I don't go."
"Now, that's shirking. It's a lovely day, no prospect of rain,and you pride yourself on keeping; promises, so be honorable, comeand do your duty, and then be at peace for another six months."
At that minute Jo was particularly absorbed in dressmaking,for she was mantua-maker general to the family, and took especialcredit to herself because she could use a needle as well as a pen.It was very provoking to be arrested in the act of a first tryingon,and ordered out to make calls in her best array on a warm July day.She hated calls of the formal sort, and never made any till Amycompelled her with a bargain, bribe, or promise. In the presentinstance there was no escape, and having clashed her scissorsrebelliously, while protesting that she smelled thunder, she gave in,put away her work, and taking up her hat and gloves with an air ofresignation, told Amy the victim was ready.
"Jo March, you are perverse enough to provoke a saint! You don'tintend to make calls in that state, I hope," cried Amy, surveyingher with amazement.
"Why not? I'm neat and cool and comfortable, quite properfor a dusty walk on a warm day. If people care more for myclothes than they do for me, I don't wish to see them. You candress for both, and be as elegant as you please. It pays foryou to be fine. It doesn't for me, and furbelows only worry me."
"Oh, dear!" sighed Amy, "now she's in a contrary fit, andwill drive me distracted before I can get her properly ready.I'm sure it's no pleasure to me to go today, but it's a debt weowe society, and there's no one to pay it but you and me. I'lldo anything for you, Jo, if you'll only dress yourself nicely,and come and help me do the civil. You can talk so well, lookso aristocratic in your best things, and behave so beautifully,if you try, that I'm proud of you. I'm afraid to go alone, docome and take care of me."
"You're an artful little puss to flatter and wheedle yourcross old sister in that way. The idea of my being aristocraticand well-bred, and your being afraid to go anywhere alone! Idon't know which is the most absurd. Well, I'll go if I must,and do my best. You shall be commander of the expedition, andI'll obey blindly, will that satisfy you?" said Jo, with a suddenchange from perversity to lamblike submission.
"You're a perfect cherub! Now put on all your best things,and I'll tell you how to behave at each place, so that you willmake a good impression. I want people to like you, and theywould if you'd only try to be a little more agreeable. Do yourhair the pretty way, and put the pink rose in your bonnet. It'sbecoming, and you look too sober in your plain suit. Take yourlight gloves and the embroidered handkerchief. We'll stop atMeg's, and borrow her white sunshade, and then you can have mydove-colored one."
While Amy dressed, she issued her orders, and Jo obeyedthem, not without entering her protest, however, for she sighedas she rustled into her new organdie, frowned darkly at herselfas she tied her bonnet strings in an irreproachable bow,wrestled viciously with pins as she put on her collar,wrinkled up her features generally as she shook out the handkerchief,whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the present missionwas to her feelings, and when she had squeezed her hands intotight gloves with three buttons and a tassel, as the last touchof elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression ofcountenance, saying meekly...
"I'm perfectly miserable, but if you consider me presentable,I die happy."
"You're highly satisfactory. turn slowly round, and let meget a careful view." Jo revolved, and Amy gave a touch here andthere, then fell back, with her head on one side, observing graciously,"Yes, you'll do. Your head is all I could ask, for thatwhite bonnet with the rose is quite ravishing. Hold back yourshoulders, and carry your hands easily, no matter if your glovesdo pinch. There's one thing you can do well, Jo, that is, wear ashawl. I can't, but it's very nice to see you, and I'm so gladAunt March gave you that lovely one. It's simple, but handsome,and those folds over the arm are really artistic. Is the point ofmy mantle in the middle, and have I looped my dress evenly? I liketo show my boots, for my feet are pretty, though my nose isn't."
"You are a thing of beauty and a joy forever," said Jo, lookingthrough her hand with the air of a connoisseur at the blue featheragainst the golden hair. "Am I to drag my best dress through thedust, or loop it up, please, ma'am?"
"Hold it yup when you walk, but drop it in the house. Thesweeping style suits you best, and you must learn to trail yourskirts gracefully. You haven't half buttoned one cuff, do it atonce. You'll never look finished if you are not careful about thelittle details, for they make yup the pleasing whole."
Jo sighed, and proceeded to burst the buttons off her glove,in doing up her cuff, but at last both were ready, and sailed away,looking as `pretty as picters', Hannah said, as she hung out of theupper window to watch them.
"Now, Jo dear, the Chesters consider themselves very elegantpeople, so I want you to put on your best deportment. Don't makeany of your abrupt remarks, or do anything odd, will you? Just becalm, cool, and quiet, that's safe and ladylike, and you can easilydo it for fifteen minutes," said Amy, as they approached the firstplace, having borrowed the white parasol and been inspected by Meg,with a baby on each arm.
"Let me see. `Calm, cool, and quiet', yes, I think I canpromise that. I've played the part of a prim young lady on thestage, and I'll try it off. My powers are great, as you shall see,so be easy in your mind, my child."
Amy looked relieved, but naughty Jo took her at her word, forduring the first call she sat with every limb gracefully composed,every fold correctly draped, calm as a summer sea, cool as a snowbank,and as silent as the sphinx. In vain Mrs. Chester alluded toher `charming novel', and the Misses Chester introduced parties,picnics, the opera, and the fashions. Each and all were answeredby a smile, a bow, and a demure "Yes" or "No" with the chill on.In vain Amy telegraphed the word `talk', tried to draw her out, andadministered covert pokes with her foot. Jo sat as if blandly unconciousof it all, with deportment like Maud's face, `icily regular, splendidly null'.
"What a haughty, uninteresting creature that oldest Miss March is!"was the unfortunately audible remark of one of the ladies, asthe door closed upon their guests. Jo laughed noiselessly allthrough the hall, but Amy looked disgusted at the failure of herinstructions, and very naturally laid the blame upon Jo.
"How could you mistake me so? I merely meant you to be properlydignified and composed, and you made yourself a perfect stock andstone. Try to be sociable at the Lamb's'. Gossip as other girls do,and be interested in dress and flirtations and whatever nonsensecomes up. They move in the best society, are valuable persons forus to know, and I wouldn't fail to make a good impression there foranything."
"I'll be agreeable. I'll gossip and giggle, and have horrorsand raptures over any trifle you like. I rather enjoy this, andnow I'll imitate what is called `a charming girl'. I can do it,for I have May Chester as a model, and I'll improve upon her. See ifthe Lambs don't say, `What a lively, nice creature that Jo March is!"
Amy felt anxious, as well she might, for when Jo turned freakishthere was no knowing where she would stop. Amy's face was astudy when she saw her sister skim into the next drawing room, kissall the young ladies with effusion, beam graciously upon the younggentlemen, and join in the chat with a spirit which amazed the beholder.Amy was taken possession of by Mrs. Lamb, with whom shewas a favorite, and forced to hear a long account of Lucretia'slast attack, while three delightful young gentlemen hovered near,waiting for a pause when they might rush in and rescue her. Sosituated, she was powerless to check Jo, who seemed possessed bya spirit of mischief, and talked away as volubly as the lady. Aknot of heads gathered about her, and Amy strained her ears to hearwhat was going on, for broken sentences filled her with curiosity,and frequent peals of laughter made her wild to share the fun. Onemay imagine her suffering on overhearing fragments of this sort ofconversation.
"She rides splendidly. who taught her?"
"No one. She used to practice mounting, holding the reins, andsitting straight on an old saddle in a tree. Now she rides anything,for she doesn't know what fear is, and the stableman lets her havehorses cheap because she trains them to carry ladies so well. Shehas such a passion for it, I often tell her if everything else fails,she can be a horsebreaker, and get her living so."
At this awful speech Amy contained herself with difficulty, forthe impression was being given that she was rather a fast young lady,which was her especial aversion. But what could she do? For theold lady was in the middle of her story, and long before it was done,Jo was off again, make more droll revelations and committing stillmore fearful blunders.
"Yes, Amy was in despair that day, for all the good beasts weregone, and of three left, one was lame, one blind, and the other sobalky that you had to put dirt in his mouth before he would start.Nice animal for a pleasure party, wasn't it?"
"Which did she choose?" asked one of the laughing gentlemen,who enjoyed the subject.
"None of them. She heard of a young horse at the farm houseover the river, and though a lady had never ridden him, she resolvedto try, because he was handsome and spirited. Her struggleswere really pathetic. There was no one to bring the horse to thesaddle, so she took the saddle to the horse. My dear creature, sheactually rowed it over the river, put it on her head, and marchedup to the barn to the utter amazement of the old man!"
"Did she ride the horse?'
"Of course she did, and had a capital time. I expected to seeher brought home in fragments, but she managed him perfectly, andwas the life of the party."
"Well, I call that plucky!" And young Mr. Lamb turned an approvingglance upon Amy, wondering what his mother could be saying to makethe girl look so red and uncomfortable.
She was still redder and more uncomfortable a moment after,when a sudden turn in the conversation introduced the subject ofdress. One of the young ladies asked Jo where she got the prettydrab hat she wore to the picnic and stupid Jo, instead of mentioningthe place where it was bought two years ago, must needs answerwith unnecessary frankness, "Oh, Amy painted it. You can't buythose soft shades, so we paint ours any color we like. It's a greatcomfort to have an artistic sister."
"Isn't that an original idea?" cried Miss Lamb, who found Jo great fun.
"That's nothing compared to some of her brilliant performances.There's nothing the child can't do. Why, she wanted a pair of blueboots for Sallie's party, so she just painted her soiled white onesthe loveliest shade of sky blue you ever saw, and they looked exactlylike satin," added Jo, with an air of pride in her sister's accomplishmentsthat exasperated Amy till she felt that it would be a relief to throw hercardcase at her.
"We read a story of yours the other day, and enjoyed it very much,"observed the elder Miss Lamb, wishing to compliment the literarylady, who did not look the character just then, it must be confessed.
Any mention of her `works' always had a bad effect upon Jo,who either grew rigid and looked offended, or changed the subjectwith a brusque remark, as now. "Sorry you could find nothing betterto read. I write that rubbish because it sells, and ordinary peoplelike it. Are you going to New York this winter?'
As Miss Lamb had `enjoyed' the story, this speech was notexactly grateful or complimentary. The minute it was made Jo sawher mistake, but fearing to make the matter worse, suddenly rememberedthat it was for her to make the first move toward departure,and did so with an abruptness that left three people with half-finished sentences in their mouths.
"Amy, we must go. Good-by, dear, do come and see us. We arepining for a visit. I don't dare to ask you, Mr. Lamb, but if youshould come, I don't think I shall have the heart to send you away."
Jo said this with such a droll imitation of May Chester'sgushing style that Amy got out of the room as rapidly as possible,feeling a strong desire to laugh and cry at the same time.
"Didn't I do well?" asked Jo, with a satisfied air as they walked away.
"Nothing could have been worse," was Amy's crushing reply."What possessed you to tell those stories about my saddle, andthe hats and boots, and all the rest of it?"
"Why, it's funny, and amuses people. They know we are poor,so it's no use pretending that we have grooms, buy three orfour hats a season, and have things as easy and fine as they do."
"You needn't go and tell them all our little shifts, andexpose our; poverty in that perfectly unnecessary way. You haven'ta bit of proper pride, and never will learn when to hold yourtongue and when to speak," said Amy despairingly.
Poor Jo looked abashed, and silently chafed the end of hernose with the stiff handkerchief, as if performing a penance forher misdemeanors.
"How shall I behave here?" she asked, as they approached thethird mansion.
"Just as you please. I wash my hands of you," was Amy's shortanswer.
"Then I'll enjoy myself. The boys are at home, and we'll havea comfortable time. Goodness knows I need a little change, forelegance has a bad effect upon my constitution," returned Jo gruffly,being disturbed by her failure to suit.
An enthusiastic welcome from three big boys and several prettychildren speedily soothed her ruffled feelings, and leaving Amy toentertain the hostess and Mr. Tudor, who happened to be callinglikewise, Jo devoted herself to the young folks and found thechange refreshing. She listened to college stories with deep interest,caressed pointers and poodles without a murmur, agreed heartilythat "Tom Brown was a brick," regardless of the improper formof praise, and when one lad proposed a visit to his turtle tank,she went with an alacrity which caused Mamma to smile upon her,as that motherly lady settled the cap which was left in a ruinouscondition by filial hugs, bearlike but affectionate, and dearer toher than the most faultless coiffure from the hands of an inspiredFrenchwoman.
Leaving her sister to her own devices, Amy proceeded to enjoyherself to her heart's content. Mr. Tudor's uncle had married anEnglish lady who was third cousin to a living lord, and Amy regardedthe whole family with great respect, for in spite of her Americanbirth and breeding, she possessed that reverence for titles whichhaunts the best of us--that unacknowledged loyalty to the earlyfaith in kings which set the most democratic nation under the sunin ferment at the coming of a royal yellow-haired laddie, some yearsago, and which still has something to do with the love the youngcountry bears the old, like that of a big son for an imperious littlemother, who held him while she could, and let him go with a farewellscolding when he rebelled. But even the satisfaction of talking witha distant connection of the British nobility did not render Amy forgetfulof time, and when the proper number of minutes had passed, shereluctantly tore herself from this aristocratic society, and lookedabout for Jo, fervently hoping that her incorrigible sister would notbe found in any position which should bring disgrace upon the name of March.
It might have been worse, but Amy considered it bad. For Josat on the grass, with an encampment of boys about her, and adirty-footed dog reposing on the skirt of her state and festival dress,as she related one of Laurie's pranks to her admiring audience. Onesmall child was poking turtles with Amy's cherished parasol, a secondwas eating gingerbread over Jo's best bonnet, and a third playingball with her gloves. but all were enjoying themselves, and when Jocollected her damaged property to go, her escort accompanied her,begging her to come again, "It was such fun to hear about Laurie's larks."
"Capital boys, aren't they? I feel quite young and brisk againafter that." said Jo, strolling along with her hands behind her,partly from habit, partly to conceal the bespattered parasol.
"Why do you always avoid Mr. Tudor?" asked Amy, wisely refrainingfrom any comment upon Jo's dilapidated appearance.
"Don't like him, he puts on airs, snubs his sisters, worrieshis father, a nd doesn't speak respectfully of his mother. Lauriesays he is fast, and I don't consider him a desirable acquaintance,so I let him alone."
"You might treat him civilly, at least. You gave him a coolnod, and just now you bowed and smiled in the politest way toTommy Chamberlain, whose father keeps a grocery store. If youhad just reversed the nod and the bow, it would have been right,"said Amy reprovingly.
"No, it wouldn't," returned Jo, "I neither like, respect, noradmire Tudor, though his grandfather's uncle's nephew's niece wasa third cousin to a lord. Tommy is poor and bashful and good andvery clever. I think well of him, and like to show that I do, forhe is a gentleman in spite of the brown paper parcels."
"It's no use trying to argue with you," began Amy.
"Not the least, my dear," interrupted Jo, "so let us lookamiable, and drop a card here, as the Kings are evidently out,for which I'm deeply grateful."
The family cardcase having done its duty the girls walkedon, and Jo uttered another thanksgiving on reaching the fifthhouse, and being told that the young ladies were engaged.
"now let us go home, and never mind Aunt March today. Wecan run down there any time, and it's really a pity to trailthrough the dust in our best bibs and tuckers, when we aretired and cross."
"Speak for yourself, if you please. Aunt March likes to have uspay her the compliment of coming in style, and making a formal call.It's a little thing to do, but it gives her pleasure, and I don'tbelieve it will hurt your things half so much as letting dirty dogsand clumping boys spoil them. Stoop down, and let me take thecrumbs off of your bonnet."
"What a good girl you are, Amy!" said Jo, with a repentantglance from her own damaged costume to that of her sister, whichwas fresh and spotless still. "I wish it was as easy for me to dolittle things to please people as it is for you. I think of them,but it takes too much time to do them, so I wait for a chance toconfer a great favor, and let the small ones slip, but they tellbest in the end, I fancy."
Amy smiled and was mollified at once, saying with a maternalair, "Women should learn to be agreeable, particularly poor ones,for they have no other way of repaying the kindnesses they receive.If you'd remember that, and practice it, you'd be better likedthan I am, because there is more of you."
"I'm a crotchety old thing, and always shall be, but I'mwilling to own that you are right, only it's easier for me torisk my life for a person than to be pleasant to him when I don'tfeel like it. It's a great misfortune to have such strong likesand dislikes, isn't it?"
"It's a greater not to be able to hide them. I don't mindsaying that I don't approve of Tudor any more than you do, but I'mnot called upon to tell him so. Neither are you, and there is nouse in making yourself disagreeable because he is."
"But I think girls ought to show when they disapprove ofyoung men, and how can they do it except by their manners?Preaching does not do any good, as I know to my sorrow, since I'vehad Teddie to manage. But there are many little ways in which I caninfluence him without a word, and I say we ought to do it to othersif we can."
"Teddy is a remarkable boy, and can't be taken as a sampleof other boys," said Amy, in a tone of solemn conviction, whichwould have convulsed the `remarkable boy' if he had heard it. "Ifwe were belles, or women of wealth and position, we might do something,perhaps, but for us to frown at one set of young gentlemen becausewe don't approve of them, and smile upon another set becausewe do, wouldn't have a particle of effect, and we shouldonly be considered odd and puritanical."
"So we are to countenance things and people which we detest,merely because we are not belles and millionaires, are we?That's a nice sort of morality."
"I can't argue about it, I only know that it's the way ofthe world, and people who set themselves against it only getlaughed at for their pains. I don't like reformers, and I hopeyou never try to be one."
"I do like them, and I shall be one if I can, for in spite ofthe laughing the world would never get on without them. We can'tagree about that. for you belong to the old set, and I to the new.You will get on the best, but I shall have the liveliest time of it.I should rather enjoy the brickbats and hooting, I think."
"Well, compose yourself now, and don't worry Aunt with yournew ideas."
"I'll try not to, but I'm always possessed to burst out withsome particularly blunt speech or revolutionary sentiment beforeher. It's my doom, and I can't help it."
They found Aunt Carrol with the old lady, both absorbed insome very interesting subject, but they dropped it as the girlscame in, with a conscious look which betrayed that they had beentalking about their nieces. Jo was not in a good humor, and theperverse fit returned, but Amy, who had virtuously done her duty,kept her temper and pleased everybody, was in a most angelic frameof mind. This amiable spirit was felt at once, and both aunts `mydeared' her affectionately, looking what they afterward said emphatically,"That child improves every day."
"Are you going to help about the fair, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol,as Amy sat down beside her with the confiding air elderly people likeso well in the young.
"Yes, Aunt. Mrs. Chester asked me if I would, and I offered totend a table, as I have nothing but my time to give."
"I'm not," put in Jo decidedly. "I hate to be patronized, andthe Chesters think it's a great favor to allow us to help with theirhighly connected fair. I wonder you consented, Amy, they only wantyou to work."
"I am willing to work. It's for the freedmen as well as theChesters, and I think it very kind of them to let me share thelabor and the fun. Patronage does not trouble me when it is wellmeant."
"Quite right and proper. I like your grateful spirit, my dear.It's a pleasure to help people who appreciate our efforts. Some donot, and that is trying," observed Aunt March, looking over herspectacles at Jo, who sat apart, rocking herself, with a somewhatmorose expression.
If Jo had only known what a great happiness was wavering inthe balance for one of them, she would have turned dove-like in aminute, but unfortunately, we don't have windows in our breasts,and cannot see what goes on in the minds of our friends. Betterfor us that we cannot as a general thing, but now and then itwould be such a comfort, such a saving of time and temper. By hernext speech, Jo deprived herself of several years of pleasure, andreceived a timely lesson in the art of holding her tongue.
"I don't like favors, they oppress and make me feel like aslave. I'd rather do everything for myself, and be perfectlyindependent."
"Ahem!" coughed Aunt Carrol softly, with a look at Aunt March.
"I told you so," said Aunt March, with a decided nod to Aunt Carrol.
Mercifully unconscious of what she had done, Jo sat with her nose inthe air, and a revolutionary aspect which was anything but inviting.
"Do you speak French, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol, laying a hand on Amy's.
"Pretty well, thanks to Aunt March, who lets Esther talk tome as often as I like," replied amy, with a grateful look, whichcaused the old lady to smile affably.
"How are you about languages?" asked Mrs. Carrol of JO.
"Don't know a word. I'm very stupid about studying anything,can't bear French, it's such a slippery, silly sort of language,"was the brusque reply.
Another look passed between the ladies, and Aunt March saidto Amy, 'You are quite strong and well no, dear, I believe? Eyesdon't trouble you any more, do they?"
"Not at all, thank you, ma'am. I'm very well, and mean to dogreat things next winter, so that I may be ready for Rome, wheneverthat joyful time arrives."
"Good girl! You deserve to go, and I'm sure you will someday," said Aunt March, with an approving; pat on the head, as Amypicked up her ball for her.
Crosspatch, draw the latch,
Sit by the fire and spin,
squalled Polly, bending down from his perch on the back of herchair to peep into Jo's face, with such a comical air of impertinentinquiry that it was impossible to help laughing.
"Most observing bird," said the old lady.
"Come and take a walk, my dear?" cried Polly, hopping towardthe china closet, with a look suggestive of a lump of sugar.
"Thank you, I will. Come Amy." And Jo brought the visit toan end, feeling more strongly than ever that calls did have a badeffect upon her constitution. She shook hands in a gentlemanlymanner, but Amy kissed both the aunts, and the girls departed,leaving behind them the impression of shadow and sunshine, whichimpression caused Aunt March to say, as they vanished...
"You'd better do it, Mary. I'll supply the money. And AuntCarrol to reply decidedly, "I certainly will, if her father andmother consent."