切斯特夫人的交易会非 常优雅，用人非常挑剔，邻里的年轻女士们都把能被请去占一张桌子当作荣耀。每个人都对这件事产生了极大的兴趣。艾美被请了去，乔却没有。这对所有参加者来 说是个幸事，因为，她此时正当胳膊叉腰自命不凡的年龄，要吃不少苦头才能学会如何和人融洽相处。于是这位"高傲又令人乏味的家伙"被冷冷撇在一边，而艾美 则凭一张艺术桌子把她的天赋与情趣充分展示出来。艾美尽最大努力张罗着适宜的、有价值的东西装备那张桌子。
梅·切斯特相当妒忌艾美，因为艾美比她更招人喜爱。就在那时，发生了一些琐碎小事增加了她的妒忌感。艾美那雅致的钢笔画作品使梅的着色花瓶黯然失色 --这是第一个苦恼；最近一次舞会上，迷倒所有姑娘的图德和艾美跳了四次舞，只和梅跳了一次--这是第二个苦恼；压在她心头最大的不是传到她耳中的闲言碎 语，说马奇家的女孩们在兰姆家笑话了她，这给了她采取不友好行动的藉口。本来这一切该怪罪乔的，是她活灵活现地模仿梅，谁都能看出来，而那爱闹的兰姆们又 让笑话传了出来。两个罪犯对后来的事一无所知，所以可以想象出艾美听了切斯特夫人一番话的沮丧。切斯特夫人听说女儿被人笑话，当然恼火。交易会的前一天晚 上，艾美正在为她漂亮的桌子做最后的装饰，切斯特夫人不动声色、冷冷地对她说道--“亲爱的，我把这张桌子给了别人而没给我女儿们，我发现年轻女士们有些 看法。这张桌子最显眼，有人说所有桌子中这一张最吸引人。我女儿们是这个会的主要筹备人，所以最好让她们占这张桌子。很抱歉，可是我知道你真心实意热衷这 个会，你不会介意个人的失望。你要是愿意可以占另外一个桌子。“切斯特夫人事先想象这一番话容易说出口，可是，真到要说的时候，却发现很难自自然然地说出 来。艾美不加怀疑地直盯着她，一脸惊奇与困惑。
艾美觉得这件事背后有些蹊跷，可是猜不出原因。她感到受到了伤害，也表示出这一点。她轻轻地说：“也许你一张桌子也不想给我？““不，亲爱的，请你 不要生气。你要知道，这只不过是个权宜之计。我女儿们要领个头。这张桌子自然是她们恰当的位置。我是觉得它对你非常适合，很感激你费了劲把它装饰得这么漂 亮，可是，我们还是得放弃自己的愿望。我负责让你在别的地方占一个好位置。你可喜欢花卉桌？小姑娘们在管着，可是她们弄不好，在那儿灰心丧气呢。你能把它 变得迷人。要知道，花卉桌总是很吸引人的。““对先生们尤其是这样，“梅补充道。她的神情使艾美明白了使她突然失宠的原因。她脸红了，但是她没去理睬那女 孩气的嘲讽，却温和得出人意料地答道--“切斯特夫人，依你的意思做吧。你要是乐意，我马上放弃这个地方，去照管花卉。““你愿意的话，可以把你的东西放 到你自己的桌上去，“梅开了口。她看着艾美如此精心制作、又雅致地摆设着的东西--漂亮的笔架，鲜艳的贝壳，奇妙的灯饰--有点感到良心不安了。她是出于 善意的，可是艾美误解了她的意思，迅即说道—-“噢，当然，如果它们碍事的话。“她匆促地将她的东西扫进围裙，走开了。她觉得她自己连同她的艺术品都受到 了不可原谅的羞辱。
小姑娘们高兴地为艾美和她的宝贝东西欢呼起来。这种热情的接待稍稍抚平了她不安的情绪，她立即着手工作，打定主意，即使不能施展艺术抱负，也一定要 在花卉方面做出成就。可是，似乎一切都和她对着干：开始得太晚了，她也累了，大家都忙着自己的事无法帮她，而小姑娘们碍手碍脚只能帮倒忙。这些可爱的小东 西们，像一群麻雀。叽叽喳喳，忙忙碌碌，毫无技巧地努力想维持桌子最完美的状态，结果造成一片混乱。艾美竖平常春藤拱架，可是拱架立不稳，当上面的吊篮装 进东西时，架子摇摇摆摆，像是要倒下来砸在她头上；她最好的瓷砖画给溅上了水，结果丘比特的脸上留下了一滴黑色泪珠；她用锤子干活却伤了手；在穿堂风中做 事感了冒，这使她为次日忧心忡忡。任何一个有过同样痛苦的女读者都会同情可怜的艾美，祝愿她圆满顺利地完成工作。
尽管有各种自然的诱惑去反抗、报复，艾美第二天整整一天都坚持了自己的决定，一心想用好心征服她的敌人。她的开端良好，这得归功于一个无声之物的提 示，这个东西来得出人意料，但是非常及时。那天早晨，她在布置桌子，小姑娘们在休息室装花篮，她拿起她心爱的摆设品--一本小书。书的封面古色古香，爸爸 把它当作宝贝。上等纸的书页里的文章还绘有美丽的彩饰图案，每一页都有。艾美带着可以原谅的骄傲神情翻着书面。她目光落在一行诗上，这使她不得不停下来思 索。那一行字用鲜艳的红、蓝、黄三色云状花纹勾了边，表达了世人应在荆棘与玫瑰花丛中互相帮助的良好愿望：“汝爱邻人，应如爱己。““我应该这样做，可是 我没做到，“艾美想。她的目光从鲜艳的书页转向大花瓶后面梅不满意的脸上，那些大花瓶填不了她的那些漂亮作品曾经占据的空间。艾美站了一会儿，翻着手中的 书页，每一页都读到一些对记仇、妒忌之心的轻柔指责。每天，我们从街道、学校、办公室以及家庭听到许多明智的、真正的布道，只是没有在意。假如这张交易会 桌子能提出富有教益、决不过时的人生哲理，它也能成为布道讲坛。此时此地，艾美的良知向她宣讲了小书上的道理。她做了我们许多人不大做得到的事--从善如 流，并立即付诸实施。
一群女孩子围站在梅的桌旁，欣赏着漂亮的物品，议论着女售货员的变换。她们压低了声音，可是艾美知道她们在谈论她，她们听了一面之辞并且据之作出判 断。这不太令人愉快，但是她的态度已经有了很大的转变。不一会儿，就来了个机会让她证明这一点。她听到梅难过地说--“太糟了，没有时间做别的东西了。我 不想用乱七八糟的东西填补空缺。刚才这张桌子已布置好了，现在给毁了。““我敢说，要是你求她，她会把东西放回来的，“有人提议。
“这一番过后，我怎么能做到呢？“梅说。然而，她话音未落，艾美动人的声音便从大厅那边传了过来--“你不用求，需要的话，尽管用好啦。我正想着提 议把它们放回去呢。因为，它们属于你那张桌子，而不是这张桌子，给你吧，请收下吧。原谅我昨晚性急地把它们拿走了。“她一边说着，一边点头笑着将她的东西 放了回去。然后她又匆忙走开了，她觉得做一件友好的事要比做完后留下来让人感谢容易些。
梅的答语没人听见。然而，另一个显然被制作柠檬汽车弄得有点发躁的年轻女士令人不愉快地笑了笑，补充道：“非常可爱。因为她知道这些东西在她自己的 桌上卖不出去。“嗳哟，这太过分了。当我们做出些不大的牺牲时，至少希望别人能欣赏。有一会儿，艾美后悔那样做了，她感到美德并不总是有回报的。但还是有 的--正像她很快发觉的--因为，她的情绪开始高涨，她的桌子在她灵巧的双手下开花了，姑娘们非常友好。那个小小的举动似乎令人惊讶地消除了误会。
屋子里，艺术桌是最吸引人的，那儿整天围着一群人，看管人脸上带着自得的表情，手里捧着咔哒着响的钱箱，不断地跑来跑去。艾美常常渴望地看着那边， 极想在那边干，在那边她感到自如、满足。可是她却身处这个角落无事可做。对我们一些人来说，这似乎不是什么难事。但是，对这样一个漂亮、活泼的年轻女孩来 说，却不仅乏味，而且非常难以忍受。一想到她的家人、劳里以及劳里的朋友们晚上会在那里看到她，实在让她感到痛苦。
“天哟，希望不至如此！你一半的东西一点儿也不合我的意。只是我们不能站在这里调笑。我得去帮帮艾美，你去出你的风头吧，要是你能仁慈地让海斯送一 些漂亮鲜花到交易会大厅，我会永远为你祈福的。““你难道不能现在就为我祈福吗？“劳里挑逗地问道，吓得乔很不友好地匆匆关上门，隔着栅栏叫道：“走开， 特迪，我忙着呢！“多亏了这两个共谋者，那天晚上桌子真的翻过来了。因为海斯送过去许多鲜花，花以最佳的方式装饰在一只可爱的篮子里，作为摆在桌子中央的 饰品。马奇一家全体出动。乔相当成功地尽了力。人们不仅过来了，而且停留了下来，笑着听她的废话，赞赏艾美的情趣。他们显然非常开心。劳里和他的朋友们全 都仗义地挺身担当重任。他们买完了花束，逗留在桌前，把那个角落变成了屋子里最热闹的地方。现在艾美如鱼得水，不为别的，只出于感激。她尽可能地做到行动 活泼、举止优雅，大概在那个时刻，她得出结论：美德毕竟还是有回报的。
乔的举止得体，堪为楷模。当艾美幸福地被她的仪仗队包围着的时候，乔在大厅绕着圈听着各种闲话，这些闲话使她明白了切斯特夫人为什么作那样的变化， 她为她引起的那一份敌意自责，决心尽快为艾美开释。她还了解到艾美早上是怎样处理事情的，认为艾美是宽宏大量的典范。她经过艺术桌时，扫了一眼，想找到她 妹妹的东西，但是东西没有踪影。“收起来了不让人看见，我敢说，“乔想。她自己受了委屈可以原谅他人，不去计较，然而对她家人受到的侮辱，她却强烈地感到 愤愤不平。
“哎呀，姑娘们，你们不要这样表扬我。我只是愿意别人怎样待我，我就怎么待人。我说想当个女士，你们笑话我，可我的意思是做一个思想和风度上真正的 女士。我以我所知道的方式试着去做。我做不了确切的解释。我是想避开那些毁了许多妇女的小毛病，如小气、愚笨、挑剔。我做得远远不够。但是我尽力而为，希 望有一天能成为妈妈那样的人。“艾美说得热切认真。乔亲切地拥抱了她一下，说：“现在我懂得你的意思了。我再也不笑话你了。你的进步比你想象的快。我会真 心老老实实地向你学习，我相信，你已经入道了。亲爱的，接着试吧。总有一天你会得到回报的。到那时没有人会比我更高兴。“一个星期后，艾美真的得到了回 报。乔却感到很难高兴起来。她们收到了一封卡罗尔婶婶的信。马奇太太读着信，脸上大放光彩，弄得和她在一起的乔和贝思忙问是什么喜讯。
“我恐怕这件事有一半是你自己的错，亲爱的，前些日子婶婶和我谈话时说到，她为你直率的态度、独立的个性感到遗憾。信上她这么写着，好像是引用了你 的话--开始我打算请乔，可是，由于'恩惠给她负担'，她'讨厌法语'，我想，我不会冒昧地邀请她。艾美要温顺些，她会成为弗洛的好旅伴，她有一颗慧心领 受旅行带给她的每一点馈赠。““哦！我的舌头，我那可恶的舌头！我怎么不能学着保持沉默呢？“乔痛苦地抱怨道。她记起了让她倒霉的那些话。马奇太太听了她 对信中引用的话的解释，难过地说--“我真希望你能去，可是这次没有指望了。还是安然接受现实吧，别让责备、后悔扫了艾美的兴。““我试着做吧，“乔说。 她使劲眨着眼，俯身捡起刚才兴奋时打翻的篮子。“我要模仿她，不仅看上去高兴，而且真的高兴。一分钟也不忌妒她的幸福。但是这不大容易做。我的失望太大 了。“可怜的乔伤心地哭了，眼泪打湿了手中插满针的小针插。
“不，你不会的。你讨厌干重活。你会和某个富人结婚，然后回到家来整天尽享荣华富贵。““你的预言有时会实现的。但是我不相信这个会实现。我肯定是 希望它会实现的。因为，假如我自己当不了艺术家，我希望有能力帮助那些可以成为艺术家的人，“艾美笑着说，仿佛扮演乐善好施的女士比穷绘画教师的角色更适 合她。
乔咬紧牙关坚持得很好，待到那飘动的蓝丝带消失，她退进自己的避难所--阁楼，哭得不能自持。艾美同样勇敢地咬紧牙关坚持着，直到轮船起航。可是就 在要撤舷梯的时候，她突然醒悟到，不多久她和那些深爱她的人将会被这个波涛翻滚的大海隔开。于是，她抱住最后一个送客劳里，抽泣着说--"哦，为我照顾她 们，万一发生了什么事--““我会的，亲爱的，万一有什么，我会来安慰你的，“劳里低声说，他做梦也没想到他后来会被请去履行他的诺言。
Mrs. Chester's fair was so very elegant and select that itwas considered a great honor by the young ladies of the neighborhoodto be invited to take a table, and everyone was much interestin the matter. Amy was asked, but Jo was not, which wasfortunate for all parties, as her elbows were decidedlyakimbo at this period of her life, and it took a good many hardknocks to teach her how to get on easily. The `haughty, uninterestingcreature' was let severely alone, but Amy's talent and taste were dulycomplimented by the offer of the art table, and she exerted herselfto prepare and secure appropriate and valuable contributions to it.
Everything went on smoothly till the day before the fairopened, then there occurred one of the little skirmishes whichit is almost impossible to avoid, when some five-and-twentywomen, old and young, with all their private piques and prejudices,try to work together.
May Chester was rather jealous of Amy because the latterwas a greater favorite than herself, and just at this timeseveral trifling circumstances occurred to increase the feeling.Amy's dainty pen-and-ink work entirely eclipsed May's paintedvases--that was one thorn. Then the all conquering Tudor haddanced four times with Amy at a late party and only once withMay--that was thorn number two. But the chief grievance thatrankled in her soul, and gave an excuse for her unfriendly conduct,was a rumor which some obliging gossip had whispered toher, that the March girls had made fun of her at the Lambs'.All the blame of this should have fallen upon Jo, for hernaughty imitation had been too lifelike to escape detection,and the frolicsome Lambs had permitted the joke to escape. Nohint of this had reached the culprits, however, and Amy's dismaycan be imagined, when, the very evening before the fair, as shewas putting the last touches to her pretty table, Mrs. Chester,who, of course, resented the supposed ridicule of her daughter,said, in a bland tone, but with a cold look...
"I find, dear, that there is some feeling among the youngladies about my giving this table to anyone but my girls. Asthis is the most prominent, and some say the most attractivetable of all, and they are the chief getters-up of the fair, itis thought best for them to take this place. I'm sorry, but Iknow you are too sincerely interested in the cause to mind alittle personal disappointment, and you shall have another tableif you like."
Mrs. Chester fancied beforehand that it would be easy todeliver this little speech, but when the time came, she foundit rather difficult to utter it naturally, with Amy's unsuspiciouseyes looking straight at her full of surprise and trouble.
"Amy felt that there was something behind this, but wouldnot guess what, and said quietly, feeling hurt, and showing thatshe did, "Perhaps you had rather I took no table at all?"
"Now, my dear, don't have any ill feeling, I beg. It'smerely a matter of expediency, you see, my girls will naturallytake the lead, and this table is considered their proper place.I think it very appropriate to you, and feel very grateful foryour efforts to make it so pretty, but we must give up our privatewishes, of course, and I will see that you have a good placeelsewhere. Wouldn't you like the flower table? The little girlsundertook it, but they are discouraged. You could make a charmingthing of it, and the flower table is always attractive you know."
"Especially to gentlemen," added May, with a look which enlightenedAmy as to one cause of her sudden fall from favor. She coloredangrily, but took no other notice of that girlish sarcasm,and answered with unexpected amiability...
"It shall be as you please, Mrs. Chester. I'll give up myplace here at once, and attend to the flowers, if you like."
"You can put your own things on your own table, if youprefer," began May, feeling a little conscience-stricken, as shelooked at the pretty racks, the painted shells, and quaintilluminations Amy had so carefully made and so gracefully arranged.She meant it kindly, but Amy mistook her meaning, and said quickly . ..
"Oh, certainly, if they are in your way," and sweeping hercontributions into her apron, pell-mell, she walked off, feelingthat herself and her works of art had been insulted past forgiveness.
"Now she's mad. Oh, dear, I wish I hadn't asked you to speak, Mama,"said May, looking disconsolately at the empty spaces on her table.
"Girls' quarrels are soon over," returned her mother, feelinga trifle ashamed of her own part in this one, as well she might.
The little girls hailed Amy and her treasures with delight,which cordial reception somewhat soothed her perturbed spirit, andshe fell to work, determined to succeed florally, if she could notartistically. But everything seemed against her. It was late, andshe was tired. Everyone was too busy with their own affairs to helpher, and the little girls were only hindrances, for the dears fussedand chattered like so many magpies, making a great deal of confusionin their artless efforts to preserve the most perfect order. Theevergreen arch wouldn't stay firm after she got it up, but wiggledand threatened to tumble down on her head when the hanging basketswere filled. Her best tile got a splash of water, which left a sephiatear on the Cupid's cheek. She bruised her hands with hammering, andgot cold working in a draft, which last affliction filled her withapprehensions for the morrow. Any girl reader who has suffered likeafflictions will sympathize with poor Amy and wish her well throughher task.
There was great indignation at home when she told her storythat evening. Her mother said it was a shame, but told her shehad done right. Beth declared she wouldn't go to the fair at all,and Jo demanded why she didn't take all her pretty things and leavethose mean people to get on without her.
"Because they are mean is no reason why i should be. I hatesuch things, and though I think I've a right to be hurt, I don'tintend to show it. They will feel that more than angry speechesor huffy actions, won't they, Marmee?"
"That's the right spirit, my dear. A kiss for a blow is alwaysbest, though it's not very easy to give it sometimes," said hermother, with the air of one who had learned the difference betweenpreaching and practicing.
In spite of various very natural temptations to resent andretaliate, Amy adhered to her resolution all the next day, benton conquering her enemy by kindness. She began well, thanks to asilent reminder that came to her unexpectedly, but most opportunely.As she arranged her table that morning, while the little girls werein the anteroom filling the baskets, she took up her pet production,a little book, the antique cover of which her father had found amonghis treasures, and in which on leaves of vellum she had beautifullyilluminated different texts. As she turned the pages rich in daintydevices with very pardonable pride, her eye fell upon one verse thatmade her stop and think. Framed in a brilliant scrollwork of scarlet,blue and gold, with little spirits of good will helping one anotherup and down among the thorns and flowers, were the words, "Thou shaltlove thy neighbor as thyself."
"I ought, but I don't," thought Amy, as her eye went from thebright page to May's discontented face behind the big vases, thatcould not hide the vacancies her pretty work had once filled. Amystood a minute, turning the leaves in her hand, reading on each somesweet rebuke for all heartburnings and uncharitableness of spirit.Many wise and true sermons are preached us every day by unconsciousministers in street, school, office, or home. Even a fair tablemay become a pulpit, if it can offer the good and helpful wordswhich are never out of season. Amy's conscience preached her alittle sermon from that text, then and there, and she did what manyof us do not always do, took the sermon to heart, and straightwayput it in practice.
A group of girls were standing about May's table, admiringthe pretty things, and talking over the change of saleswomen. Theydropped their voices, but Amy knew they were speaking of her, hearingone side of the story and judging accordingly. It was not pleasant,but a better spirit had come over her, and presently a chanceoffered for proving it. She heard May say sorrowfully...
"It's too bad, for there is no time to make other things, andI don't want to fill up with odds and ends. The table was justcomplete then. Now it's spoiled."
"I dare say she'd put them back if you asked her," suggestedsomeone.
"How could I after all the fuss?" began May, but she did notfinish, for Amy's voice came across the hall, saying pleasantly...
"You may have them, and welcome, without asking, if you wantthem. I was just thinking I'd offer to put them back, for theybelong to your table rather than mine. Here they are, please takethem, and forgive me if I was hasty in carrying them away last night."
As she spoke, Amy returned her contribution, with a nod and asmile, and hurried away again, feeling that it was easier to do afriendly thing than it was to stay and be thanked for it.
"Now, I call that lovely of her, don't you?" cried one girl.
May's answer was inaudible, but another young lady, whosetemper was evidently a little soured by making lemonade, added,with a disagreeable laugh, "Very lovely, for she knew she wouldn'tsell them at her own table."
Now, that was hard. When we make little sacrifices we liketo have them appreciated, at least, and for a minute Amy was sorryshe had done it, feeling that virtue was not always its won reward.But it is, as she presently discovered, for her spirits began torise, and her table to blossom under her skillful hands, the girlswere very kind, and that one little act seemed to have cleared theatmosphere amazingly.
It was a very long day and a hard one for Amy, as she sat behindher table, often quite alone, for the little girls desertedvery soon. Few cared to buy flowers in summer, and her bouquetsbegan to droop long before night.
The art table was the most attractive in the room. There wasa crowd about it all day long, and the tenders were constantly flyingto and fro with important faces and rattling money boxes. Amyoften looked wistfully across, longing to be there, where she feltat home and happy, instead of in a corner with nothing to do. Itmight seem no hardship to some of us, but to a pretty, blithe younggirl, it was not only tedious, but very trying, and the thought ofLaurie and his friends made it a real martyrdom.
She did not go home till night, and then she looked so paleand quiet that they knew the day had been a hard one, though shemade no complaint, and did not even tell what she had done. Hermother gave her an extra cordial cup of tea. Beth helped her dress,and made a charming little wreath for her hair, while Jo astonishedher family by getting herself up with unusual care, and hintingdarkly that the tables were about to be turned.
"Don't do anything rude, pray Jo. I won't have any fuss made,so let it all pass and behave yourself," begged Amy, as she departedearly, hoping to find a reinforcement of flowers to refresh her poorlittle table.
"I merely intend to make myself entrancingly agreeable to everone I know, and to keep them in your corner as long as possible.Teddy and his boys will lend a hand, and we'll have a good time yet."returned Jo, leaning over the gate to watch for Laurie. Presentlythe familiar tramp was heard in the dusk, and she ran out to meet him.
"Is that my boy?"
"As sure as this is my girl!" And Laurie tucked her hand underhis arm with the air of a man whose every wish was gratified.
"Oh, teddy, such doings!" And Jo told Amy's wrongs with sisterly zeal.
"A flock of our fellows are going to drive over by-and-by, andI'll be hanged if I don't make them buy every flower she's got, andcamp down before her table afterward," said Laurie, espousing hercause with warmth.
"The flowers are not at all nice, Amy says, and the fresh onesmay not arrive in time. I don't wish to be unjust or suspicious, butI shouldn't wonder if they never came at all. When people do onemean thing they are very likely to do another," observed Jo in adisgusted tone.
"Didn't Hayes give you the best out of our gardens? I told him to."
"I didn't know that, he forgot, I suppose, and, as your grandpa waspoorly, I didn't like to worry him by asking, though I did want some."
"Now, Jo, how could you think there was any need of asking?They are just as much yours as mine. Don't we always go halvesin everything?" began Laurie, in the tone that always made Joturn thorny.
"Gracious, I hope not! Half of some of your things wouldn'tsuit me at all. But we mustn't stand philandering here. I've gotto help Amy, so you go and make yourself splendid, and if you'llbe so very kind as to let Hayes take a few nice flowers up to theHall, I'll bless you forever."
"Couldn't you do it now?" asked Laurie, so suggestively thatJo shut the gate in his face with inhospitable haste, and calledthrough the bars, "Go away, Teddy, I'm busy."
Thanks to the conspirators, the tables were turned that night,for Hayes sent up a wilderness of flowers, with a loverly basketarranged in his best manner for a centerpiece. Then the March familyturned out en masse, and Jo exerted herself to some purpose, forpeople not only came, but stayed, laughing at her nonsense, admiringAmy's taste, and apparently enjoying themselves very much. Laurieand his friends gallantly threw themselves into the breach, boughtup the bouquets, encamped before the table, and made that cornerthe liveliest spot in the room. Amy was in her element now, and outof gratitude, if nothing more, was as spritely and gracious as possible,coming to the conclusion, about that time, that virtue wasit's own reward, after all.
Jo behaved herself with exemplary propriety, and when Amy washappily surrounded by her guard of honor, Jo circulated about thehall, picking up various bits of gossip, which enlightened her uponthe subject of the Chester change of base. She reproached herselffor her share of the ill feeling and resolved to exonerate Amy assoon as possible. She also discovered what Amy had done about thethings in the morning, and considered her a model of magnanimity. Asshe passed the art table, she glanced over it for her sister'sthings, but saw no sign of them. "Tucked away out of sight, I daresay," thought Jo, who could forgiver her own wrongs, but hotly resentedany insult offered her family.
"Good evening, Miss Jo. How does Amy get on?" asked May witha conciliatory air, for she wanted to show that she also could begenerous.
"She has sold everything she had that was worth selling, andnow she is enjoying herself. The flower table is always attractive,you know, `especially to gentlemen'."
Jo couldn't resist giving that little slap, but May took itso meekly she regretted it a minute after, and fell to praisingthe great vases, which still remained unsold.
"Is Amy's illumination anywhere about" I took a fancy tobuy that for Father," said Jo, very anxious to learn the fate ofher sister's work.
"Everything of Amy's sold long ago. I took care that theright people saw them, and they made a nice little sum of moneyfor us," returned May, who had overcome sundry small temptations,as well as Amy had, that day.
Much gratified, Jo rushed back to tell the good news, andAmy looked both touched and surprised by the report of May'sword and manner.
"Now, gentlemen, I want you to go and do your duty by theother tables as generously as you have by mine, especially theart table," she said, ordering out `Teddy's own', as the girlscalled the college friends.
"`Charge, Chester, charge!' is the motto for that table, butdo your duty like men, and you'll get your money's worth of artin every sense of the word," said the irrepressible Jo, as thedevoted phalanx prepared to take the field.
"To hear is to obey, but March is fairer far than May," saidlittle Parker, making a frantic effort to be both witty and tender,and getting promptly quenched by Laurie, who said...
"Very well, my son, for a small boy!" and walked him off, witha paternal pat on the head.
"Buy the vases," whispered Amy to Laurie, as a final heapingof coals of fire on her enemy's head.
To May's great delight, Mr. Laurence not only bought the vases,but pervaded the hall with one under each arm. The other gentlemenspeculated with equal rashness in all sorts of frail trifles, andwandered helplessly about afterward, burdened with wax flowers,painted fans, filigree portfolios, and other useful and appropriatepurchases.
Aunt Carrol was there, heard the story, looked pleased, andsaid something to Mrs. March in a corner, which made the latterlady beam with satisfaction, and watch Amy with a face full ofmingled pride and anxiety, though she did not betray the causeof her pleasure till several days later.
The fair was pronounced a success, and when May bade Amygoodnight, she did not gush as usual, but gave her an affectionatekiss, and a look which said `forgive and forget'. That satisfiedAmy, and when she got home she found the vases paraded onthe parlor chimney piece with a great bouquet in each. "Thereward of merit for a magnanimous March," as Laurie announcedwith a flourish.
"You've a deal more principle and generosity and noblenessof character than I ever gave you credit for, Amy. You've behavedsweetly, and I respect you with all my heart," said Jowarmly, as they brushed their hair together late that night.
"Yes, we all do, and love her for being so ready to forgive.It must have been dreadfully hard, after working so long and settingyour heart on selling your own pretty things. I don't believe I couldhave done it as kindly as you did," added Beth from her pillow.
"Why, girls, you needn't praise me so. I only did as I'dbe done by. You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, butI mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to doit as far as I know how. I can't explain exactly, but I want tobe above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoilso many women. I'm far from it now, but I do my best, and hope intime to be what Mother is."
Amy spoke earnestly, and Jo said, with a cordial hug, "Iunderstand now what you mean, and I'll never laugh at you again.You are getting on faster than you think, and I'll take lessonsof you in true politeness, for you've learned the secret, I believe.Try away, deary, you'll get your reward some day, andno one will be more delighted than I shall."
A week later Amy did get her reward, and poor Jo found ithard to be delighted. A letter came from Aunt Carrol, and Mrs.March's face was illuminated to such a degree when she read itthat Jo and Beth, who were with her, demanded what the gladtiding were.
"Aunt Carrol is going abroad next month, and wants..."
"Me to go with her!" burst in Jo, flying out of her chairin an uncontrollable rapture.
"No, dear, not you. It's Amy."
"Oh, Mother! She's too young, it's my turn first. I'vewanted it so long. It would do me so much good, and be so altogethersplendid. I must go!"
"I'm afraid it's impossible, Jo. Aunt says Amy, decidedly,and it is not for us to dictate when she offers such a favor."
"It's always so. Amy has all the fun and I have all the work.It isn't fair, oh, it isn't fair!" cried Jo passionately.
"I'm afraid it's partly your own fault, dear. When Aunt spoketo me the other day, she regretted your blunt manners and tooindependent spirit, and here she writes, as if quoting something youhad said--`I planned at first to ask Jo, but as `favors burden her',and she `hates French', I think I won't venture to invite her. Amyis more docile, will make a good companion for Flo, and receivegratefully any help the trip may give her."
"Oh, my tongue, my abominable tongue! Why can't I learn tokeep it quiet?' groaned Jo, remembering words which had beenher undoing. When she had heard the explanation of the quotedphrases, Mrs. March said sorrowfully...
"I wish you could have gone, but there is no hope of it thistime, so try to bear it cheerfully, and don't sadden Amy's pleasureby reproaches or regrets."
"I'll try," said Jo, winking hard as she knelt down to pickup the basket she had joyfully upset. "I'll take a leaf out ofher book, and try not only to seem glad, but to be so, and notgrudge her one minute of happiness. But it won't be easy, forit is a dreadful disappointment." And poor Jo bedewed the littlefat pincushion she held with several very bitter tears."Jo, dear, I'm very selfish, but I couldn't spare you, andI'm glad you are not going quite yet," whispered Beth, embracingher, basket and all, with such a clinging touch and loving facethat Jo felt comforted in spite of the sharp regret that made herwant to box her own ears, and humbly beg Aunt Carrol to burdenher with this favor, and see how gratefully she would bear it.
By the time Amy came in, Jo was able to take her part inthe family jubilation, not quite as heartily as usual, perhaps,but without repinings at Amy's good fortune. The young ladyherself received the news as tidings of great joy, went aboutin a solemn sort of rapture, and began to sort her colors andpack her pencils that evening, leaving such trifles as clothes,money, and passports to those less absorbed in visions of artthan herself.
"It isn't a mere pleasure trip to me, girls," she said impressively,as she scraped her best palette. "It will decide my career,for if I have any genius, I shall find it out in Rome,and will do something to prove it."
"Suppose you haven't?" said Jo, sewing away, with red eyes,at the new collars which were to be handed over to Amy.
"Then I shall come home and teach drawing for my living,"replied the aspirant for fame, with philosophic composure.But she made a wry face at the prospect, and scratched awayat her palette as if bent on vigorous measures before shegave up her hopes.
"No, you won't. You hate hard work, and you'll marry somerich man, and come home to sit in the lap of luxury all yourdays," said Jo.
"Your predictions sometimes come to pass, but I don't believethat one will. I'm sure I wish it would, for if I can't bean artist myself, I should like to be able to help those who are,"said Amy, smiling, as if the part of Lady Bountiful would suither better than that of a poor drawing teacher.
"Hum!" said Jo, with a sigh. "If you wish it you'll have it,for your wishes are always granted--mine never."
"Would you like to go?" asked Amy, thoughtfully patting hernose with her knife.
"Well, in a year or two I'll send for you, and we'll dig inthe Forum for relics, and carry out all the plans we've made somany times."
"Thank you. I'll remind you of your promise when that joyfulday comes, if it ever does," returned Jo, accepting the vague butmagnificent offer as gratefully as she could."There was not much time for preparation, and the house wasin a ferment till Amy was off. Jo bore up very well till thelast flutter of blue ribbon vanished, when she retired to herrefuge, the garret, and cried till she couldn't cry any more.Amy likewise bore up stoutly till the steamer sailed. Thenjust as the gangway was about to be withdrawn, it suddenly cameover her that a whole ocean was soon to roll between her andthose who loved her best, and she clung to Laurie, the lastlingerer, saying with a sob...
"Oh, take care of them for me, and if anything shouldhappen... "
"I will, dear, I will, and if anything happens, I'll comeand comfort you," whispered Laurie, little dreaming that he wouldbe called upon to keep his word.
So Amy sailed away to find the Old World, which is alwaysnew and beautiful to young eyes, while her father and friendwatched her from the shore, fervently hoping that none but gentlefortunes would befall the happy-hearted girl, who waved her handto them till they could see nothing but the summer sunshine dazzlingon the sea.