然而，通常在家庭的第一个继承人登上宝座之时，年轻的主妇们便逊位了。她们过着归隐的生活，几乎像是在法国的女修道院，却没有那里安静。不管她们是 否愿意，一旦婚姻激动人心的时期过去，事实上她们便被束之高阁。大多数妇女会惊叹，就像前些日子一个非常漂亮的女人所说的：“我和以前一样漂亮，可是仅仅 因为我结了婚，就不再有人注意我了！“梅格不是美女，甚至也不是个时髦女士，所以在她的孩子们长到一岁之前，她都没经受这种痛苦。在她的小世界里，古风习 俗盛行，她感到自己得到的赞赏与爱心比前更多。
现在厨房诸事一应交给一个爱尔兰太太主管，梅格将约翰丢给她，任由她摆布。约翰是个热爱家庭生活的男人，肯定怀念他惯常受到的妻子的照顾。但是他喜 爱他的孩子们，也就愉快地暂时放弃了他的舒适，带着男子的懵然无知推测不久就会恢复安宁。然而，三个月时间过去了，平静没有重返。梅格看上去疲倦紧张，而 那个厨子过日子很有"节制"，总不让他吃饱。早上出门时，他看到家务缠身的妈妈忙着桩桩琐碎小事，感到迷惑不解。晚上兴冲冲地回到家里，急切地想拥抱妻 子，却被妻子止住了：“嘘，他们吵了一天，刚刚睡着。“假如他提议在家里来点娱乐，“不！那样会打扰孩子们。“要是他暗示去听讲座或音乐会，梅格会责备地 看着他，然后断然回答：“丢下孩子们去享乐？决不！“在难以成眠的夜里，他听到孩子们的哭叫声，看到一个幽灵般的身影无声无息地来回走动。吃饭时，只要楼 上小窝里传来轻微响动，主管一切的天才便会奔离餐桌，其他于不顾，这频繁的上上下下打搅了他的进餐。晚上他读报时，德米的疝痛混进了航运表，黛西的跌跤则 影响了股评价格，而布鲁克太太只对家庭的新闻感兴趣。
那可怜的人感到非常不舒服，因为孩子们使他失去了妻子。家只不过是一个托儿所，每当他进入神圣的孩子领地，那不断的"嘘"声使他感到自己像是一个野 蛮的入侵者。他非常耐心地忍受了六个月，情况仍然没有改善的迹象。这时，他像其他被放逐的父亲们一样--试图从别的地方找些小慰藉。斯科特已经结了婚，在 离他们不远的地方居家过日子。约翰便成了习惯，晚上过去玩一两小时，而他自家的客厅空荡荡的，妻子哼着似乎永无终了的催眠曲。斯科特夫人活泼、美丽，她无 事可做，却能让人愉快。她非常成功地完成她的使命。她家的客厅总是明亮、吸引人。棋盘摆好了，钢琴调准了。在这里可以闲聊许多令人开心的事，还有一顿诱人 的小晚餐等着他。
开始时，梅格十分赞同他这种新的安排。约翰玩得很尽兴，他不再在自家的客厅打盹儿，或者在房子里到处乱走，让沉重的脚步声惊醒孩子们。她因此而感到 欣慰。然而不久以后，孩子们出牙期的焦躁结束。宠儿们睡觉守时，妈妈便有了休息的时间。这时她开始想念约翰。约翰没有像过去那样，穿着旧睡衣坐在她的对 面，舒坦地在火炉围栏上烤他的拖鞋，于是她发现针线篮是个乏味的伴儿。她不愿求他呆在家里，但她感到受了伤害，因为她不告诉他，他也就不知道她需要他。
“是的，“梅格朝镜子里看着，总会这么说，“我越来越老了，丑了。约翰不再认为我有趣了，所以他丢下他憔悴的妻子，去见那没有儿女拖累的漂亮邻居 了。好吧，孩子们爱我，即便我消瘦，面色苍白，没时间卷头发，他们也不在乎。他们是我的安慰。总有一天约翰会看到我心甘情愿为他们作出的牺牲，是不是，我 的宝贝们？“听着这种哀切的倾诉，黛西会发出"呀呀"的声音作反应，德米却欢叫着来回答她。这时，梅格便会带着母亲的得意丢开她的悲哀，这暂时抚慰了她的 孤寂。然而，约翰迷上了政治，这一来加深了梅格的痛苦。约翰总是跑过去和斯科特讨论他感兴趣的观点，他根本没意识到梅格想他。可是她一个字也没说，直到有 一天母亲发现梅格在哭。妈妈坚持要她说出是怎么回事，梅格低落的情绪没有逃过妈妈的目光。
男人太自私了，他们中最好的也不例外。““女人们也是这样。看看你自己哪儿错了，再责备约翰。““可是他忽视我，这不可能是对的！““你可忽视了 他？“哎呀，妈妈，我以为你会站在我这一边呢！““就同情而言，是这样的。可是梅格，我认为责任在你！““我看不出怎么在我。““我来告诉你。当你在晚上 他仅有的空余时间里总是陪伴他时，约翰可像你说的那样忽视你？““没有。可是我现在做不到，我有两个孩子要照管。““我想你能够做到的，亲爱的。我想你也 应该这么做。我可以很不客气地说话吗？你愿意记住妈妈是既责备你又同情你的人？“我真的愿意。就像我又成了小梅格那样对我说吧。自从这两个孩子一切都仰仗 我，我常感到好像比以前更需要教导了。“梅格将她的矮椅拖到妈妈的椅子旁边，一边膝上放一个小捣蛋。两个妇人摇着椅子，亲切地谈着话，她们感到母性的纽带 将她们联得越发紧密了。
“你只是犯了大多数年轻妻子们所犯的那种错--因为爱孩子而忘记了对丈夫应尽的责任。这种错非常自然，也是可以原谅的。梅格，你最好是加以补救，而 不要采取别的方式，因为孩子们越来越依恋你，不想和你分开，好像他们都是你的，约翰没份，只能抚养他们。我已经看出来几个星期了，只是没说出来。我想事情 最终会摆正的。““恐怕不会的。要是我求他呆在家里，他会以为我忌妒了。
我不想让他产生这种念头。他看不出我需要他，我不知道怎样不用言语让他明白我的心。““把家里弄得赏心悦目，他就不想出去了，亲爱的。他渴慕自己的 小家，但不是没有你的家。可你总是在育儿室。““我不应该在那里？““不应所有的时间都在那儿，过多的封闭会使你神经紧张，结果干什么都不合适了。而且， 和对孩子们一样，你也欠了约翰的。别为了孩子忽视了丈夫，别把他关在育儿室外面，而要教他怎样帮忙。和你一样，那里也有他的位置，孩子们需要他。让他感到 也有他的一份事儿，他会高兴地克尽职守，这样对你们大家都会更好。““你真的这么认为，妈妈？““梅格，我知道的，我试过。我证实过这个建议的可行性，不 然，我不会给别人建议的。当你和乔还小的时候，我的情况就像你这样，感到要不是整个人交给你们，就没尽到责任。
你可怜的爸爸提出帮助，我一概拒绝，他便沉醉到书本里去，让我独自去做我的试验。我尽力地挣扎着，但是乔太难对付了，我差点宠坏了她。你身体不好， 我为你操心，后来自己也病了。这时，你爸爸过来救援了。他默默地处理着每一件事，他的帮助太大了。我看到了自己的过错，从那以后，没有他我根本不能过活。 这就是我们家庭幸福的秘密所在。他不允许工作将他从影响我们大家的家务小事和责任中脱离开来，我也努力不让家务烦恼破坏我对他工作的兴趣。有许多事情，我 们独自各干各的，可是在家里我们总是一起干活。““是这样的，妈妈。我最大的愿望就是在丈夫和孩子的眼里成为你那样的妻子和母亲。告诉我怎么做，你怎么说 我就怎么做。““你总是我听话的孩子。好吧，亲爱的。我要是你的活，就让约翰多管管德米，因为男孩子需要训练，训练开始得越早越好。你还要做我常向你提议 的事，让罕娜嬷嬷过来帮忙；她是个绝好的保姆，你可以把宝贝孩子托给她照料，自己多做些家务。你需要这份煅炼，罕娜会高高兴兴地干其余的活，而约翰又会找 回他的妻子。多出去些，既要忙碌着，也要保持畅快，因为你是家庭中制造欢乐的人。要是你情绪忧郁，家庭生活也就没有了好天气。你还要试着做到：约翰喜欢什 么，我就对什么感兴趣--去和他谈谈，让他为你读读书，交流思想，以那种方式互相帮助。别因为你是个妇人，就把自己装在纸板盒里，要了解时事，要训练自己 参与世事，因为这些都和你的工作有联系。““约翰那么聪明。我担心要是我问他政治和其他问题，他会认为我笨的。““我想他不会的，爱情能宽容许多过失。除 了他，你还能更直率地问谁呢？试试吧，看他可会发现你的相伴和斯科特的晚餐哪个更好。““我会这么做的。可怜的约翰！我恐怕我已经不幸地忽视了他。我还以 为我是对的呢，他从来不说什么。““他试图不表现出自私，但是我想他已经感到了相当的凄凉。梅格，现在恰是时候。这个时候年轻的夫妻们易于疏远，也最应贴 近，因为结婚最初的柔情蜜意，如不用心维持，很快就会消逝。在小生命们交给他们培育的最初几年里，对父母来说，没有比这更美好、更宝贵的日子了。别让约翰 成为孩子们的陌生人。在这个具有考验与诱惑的世界，孩子们比任何别的东西都更能使他安全、幸福。通过孩子们，你们能够，也应该学着相知相爱。好了，亲爱 的，再见。想想妈妈的训导，要是觉得好就这么做。上帝保佑你们全家。“梅格确实仔细想了一回，觉得妈妈说得不错，也这么做了，虽然第一次尝试并不完全像她 筹划的那样。孩子们当然对她横行霸道。一旦发现蹬腿嚎哭能带来他们所要的东西，他们便统治了屋子。在他们的任性驱驶下，妈妈是个卑贱的奴隶，可是爸爸却不 那么容易征服。有时，爸爸想用父亲的纪律管制任性的儿子时，却使他那软心肠的妻子痛苦。德米继承了他父亲一些坚强的个性--我们不把它叫顽固--当他的小 脑袋打定主意要什么或做什么时，国王的所有人马都改变不了那个不屈不挠的小脑袋产生的念头。妈妈认为小宝贝太小了，还不能叫他克服偏见。可是爸爸相信，学 习服从怎么也不会为时过早。因此德米少爷很早就发现，只要他和"爸贝（爸）““叫（较）量"，他总是大败。然而像美国人那样，孩子尊敬征服了他的人。他爱 爸爸。爸爸严肃的"不、不"比妈妈所有慈爱的鼓励都更使他牢记在心。
和妈妈谈话后又过了几天，梅格决心陪伴约翰一晚上。因此，她准备了一桌像样的晚餐，客厅收拾得井井有条，自己打扮得漂漂亮亮，而且很早就让孩子们上 床睡觉。没什么能够打扰她进行试验了。可不幸的是，德米难以克服的恶习便是反对上床睡觉。那天晚上，他决定要胡搅蛮缠。所以梅格唱啊，摇啊，讲故事，想尽 了哄他入睡的点子，可是一切均告无效。黛西已经睡着很长时间了，他那双大眼睛还是不合上。黛西长得胖胖嘟嘟的，脾气也好。可淘气的德米躺在那里盯着灯看， 脸上的表情十分清醒。令人泄气！
“嗯，真是非常好，又像以前那样了。这个味道不错。亲爱的，为你的健康干杯！“约翰一阵狂喜。他恬然地啜着茶，然而这种情形非常短暂，因为，当他放 下杯子时，门把手神秘地嗒嗒响了起来，只听见一个小小的声音焦躁地说着--“太（开）门，我要见（进）来！““是那个淘气包！我叫他自己去睡，他倒跑到楼 下来了。
“不，还没到早上。你得去睡觉，别烦你可怜的妈妈。这样你就能吃到带糖的小饼饼。““德米爱爸贝。“机灵的小家伙打算爬到爸爸的膝上，参加欢宴，享 受被禁止的乐趣。可是约翰摇着头，对梅格说--“要是你叫他呆在楼上，自己睡觉，那就让他这么做，否则他就再不会在乎你的话了。““当然是这样。过来，德 米。“梅格领走了儿子，她真想揍这小捣蛋的屁股。他在她身旁蹦着，幻想着一进到育儿室就会得到贿赂。
“那孩子不去安稳地睡觉，我们就不得安宁。你做奴隶的时间已经够长了。教训他一下，一切都会结束。把他放到床上，丢开他，梅格。““他不会呆在那儿 的，除非我坐在他身边。““我来对付他。德米，上楼去，像妈妈说的那样上你的床去。“我不！“小叛逆回答。他伸手去拿他垂涎的"饼饼"，然后沉着大胆地吃 了起来。
他公然反抗爸爸，拼命地一路踢着腿，尖叫着上了楼。刚把他放到床上，他就尖叫着滚到另一边，然后朝门口冲去。结果又很失面子地让爸爸抓住小睡袍下襟 提回了床上。这种热闹的场面一直进行着，直到小家伙的力气耗完了。这时他放声大嚎起来。这种发声练习通常总征服了梅格，可是约翰却一动不动地坐在那里，像 个柱子。柱子是公认的聋子，什么也听不见的。没有哄劝，没有糖块，没有催眠曲，也没有故事，甚至灯也给灭了，只有炉火发出的红光为"大大的黑暗“添了点生 气。德米好奇地看着黑暗，反倒不怕了。这种新局面使他憎恶。当愤怒的狂暴平息下去时，被监禁的小霸主想起了他温柔的女奴，便绝望地吼着要起姆妈来。这随着 怒嚎之后发出的痛哭声直扎梅格的心窝，她跑上楼去恳求--"让我和他呆在一起吧。他现在会乖的了，约翰！““不，亲爱的。我已经跟他说过，他必须像你说的 那样去睡觉。只要我晚上在这儿，他非睡不可！““可是，他会哭出病来的，“梅格求道，她责怪自己不该丢弃她的孩子。
可是他并没有睡着。爸爸一过来窥探，德米的眼睛便睁开了，小下巴也开始颤抖。他伸出胳膊，后悔地抽着气说：“现在德米听发（话）了。“梅格坐在门外 的台阶上，弄不清大嚎以后长时间的寂静是怎么回事。她想象着各种各样不可能发生的事故，最后溜进了屋，她要消除疑窦。德米已经睡熟，不是通常那种仰八叉， 而是乖顺地蜷曲着，睡在爸爸的胳膊弯里，紧紧地搂着爸爸，握着爸爸的手指，好像体味到了爸爸的恩威兼施，睡着了看上去像是更悲伤也更懂事了。约翰就这样搂 着他，带着女人般的耐心等那小手松开。可是等待中自己也睡着了，与其说他是和儿子扭打累了，还不如说是一天工作劳累所致。
然后，她又溜了出去，满意地说：“我根本不需要担心约翰会对我的孩子们过分粗暴，他真的知道怎样对付他们。他会是个好帮手，德米太伤我的神了。“约 翰终于下楼来了，他本料想会看到一个郁郁不乐或者要责备他的妻子，结果却又惊又喜地看到梅格心平气和地在修饰一顶帽子，还请求他如果要是不太累的话，就为 她读点有关选举的东西。约翰很快便看出，正在进行某种革命。但是他明智地不加提问，因为他知道，梅格是个非常直率的小妇人，守不住任何秘密，所以不久事情 就会露出端倪。他欣然应允，非常温和地读了一个冗长的辩论，然后十分清楚地解释给她听。梅格装出深感兴趣的样子，想找些聪明的问题来问，尽力阻止脑子从国 家状况漫游到她帽子的状况上。然而，她暗自思忖，认定政治和数学一样让人头疼。政治家们的使命似乎就是互相咒骂。她把这些妇人之见留在心底，当约翰停下来 时，她便摇着头，说出她认为具有外交含糊性的话：“嗯，我真看不出我们解决了什么问题。“约翰笑了起来。他看了她一分钟，她在手里抚弄着一个用丝带和花儿 装饰的小帽儿，兴趣十足地瞅着。他的高谈阔论却没有激起这种兴趣。
“她竟想着好我所好，所以我也要爱她所爱，这才公平！“公道的约翰想着，然后大声补充道：“非常漂亮，这就是你说的那种早餐帽？““我亲爱的丈夫， 这是户外软帽，也是我去音乐会和戏院戴的最好的帽子。““请原谅，它这么小，我自然把它错当成你有时随意穿戴的那种。你怎样让它保持不掉呢？““用这几条 丝带系在下巴下，配上玫瑰花蕾，这样。“梅格戴上帽子，系给他看。她带着一种抵挡不住的、宁静而又满足的神态看着他。
“很高兴你喜欢它，因为我想让你哪天晚上带我去听场新的音乐会。我真的需要音乐使我保持正常状态。好不好？求你了！““当然可以，你已经被困了这么 长时间了。我真想带你出去，去你想去的任何地方。那样会给你带来无穷乐趣。所有的事中，我也最喜欢这件。什么让你想到这点的，小妈妈？““嗯。前些天我和 妈咪谈过。我告诉她，我感到多么紧张、焦躁、情绪不好。她说我需要些变化，少操些心，所以打算让罕娜嬷嬷过来帮忙照看孩子，我就多照管些家务，适时出去调 节一下，免得变成一个性情烦躁、未老先衰的老妇女。约翰，这只不过是个试验，为了你，也为了我自己。我想做这个实验，因为最近我令人羞愧地忽视了你。假如 我能够，我要把家恢复到以前的样子。你不反对，是吧？“别去管约翰说了什么，也别管那顶小帽子是怎样十分侥幸地免于彻底损坏，我们有权利知道的事情便是下 面这些。从这座屋子及起居民们逐渐发生的变化判断，约翰好像并未反对什么。房子当然没有成为伊甸园，然而劳动系统的分工使每个人感到情况更好了。在父亲的 管束下，孩子们茁装成长。
同时，梅格通过大量有益健康的锻炼、一些小小的生活乐趣，以及和聪明的丈夫许多次推心置腹的谈话，恢复了精神，稳定了情绪。家又变得像家了。如果不 带上梅格，约翰也不愿意离开家了。现在斯科特夫妇来布鲁克家作客了。每个人都感到小屋子是个生活胜地，充满欢声笑语、天伦之乐。甚至快活的莎莉·莫法特也 喜欢来这儿了。“你这里总是那么安静，令人愉悦。我老想来，梅格！“她总是这么说，渴慕地四下打量着屋子，仿佛要发现魅力之所在，好在她的大院里也如法炮 制。那所华宅金玉满堂，但却孤寂冷静，因为那里没有吵吵闹闹、活泼快乐的孩子们，内德生活的世界里没有她的容身之地。
这种家庭的幸福不是突然降临的，但是，约翰和梅格找到了开启它的钥匙。婚后的岁月教会他们如何使用这把钥匙，打开真正的家庭之爱与互相帮助的宝库之 门，这些财富最贫穷的人们可以拥有，最富有的人们却买不到。这就是年轻的妻子们和母亲们同意被束在那种高阁的原因。在那上面，她们于世间的不安与焦虑中安 然无恙，在那些依恋她们的幼儿稚女身上找到了忠诚的爱；她们无畏痛苦、贫穷与年岁的增长；她们和一个忠实的朋友携手并进，同甘共苦。这个朋友，那古老优秀 的萨克逊语言的真正意思就是"家庭的保证"。
In France the young girls have a dull time of it till they aremarried, when `Vive la liberte!' becomes their motto. In America,as everyone knows, girls early sign the declaration of independence,and enjoy their freedom with republican zest, but the young matronsusually abdicate with the first heir to the throne and go into aseclusion almost as close as a French nunnery, though by no meansas quiet. Whether they like it or not, they are virtually putupon the shelf as soon as the wedding excitement is over, and mostof them might exclaim, as did a very pretty woman the other day,"I'm as handsome as ever, but no one takes any notice of me becauseI'm married."
Not being a belle or even a fashionable lady, Meg did notexperience this affliction till her babies were a year old,for in her little world primitive customs prevailed, and shefound herself more admired and beloved than ever.
As she was a womanly little woman, the maternal instinctwas very strong, and she was entirely absorbed in her children,to the utter exclusion of everything and everybody else. Dayand night she brooded over them with tireless devotion andanxiety, leaving John to the tender mercies of the help, foran Irish lady now presided over the kitchen department. Beinga domestic man, John decidedly missed the wifely attentions hehad been accustomed to receive, but as he adored his babies, hecheerfully relinquished his comfort for a time, supposing withmasculine ignorance that peace would soon be restored. Butthree months passed, and there was no return of repose. Meglooked worn and nervous, the babies absorbed every minute ofher time, the house was neglected, and Kitty, the cook, who tooklife `aisy', kept him on short commons. When he went out inthe morning he was bewildered by small commissions for the captivemamma, if he came gaily in at night, eager to embrace hisfamily, he was quenched by a "Hush! They are just asleep afterworrying all day." If he proposed a little amusement at home,"No, it would disturb the babies." If he hinted at a lectureor a concert, he was answered with a reproachful look, and adecided "Leave my children for pleasure, never!" His sleep wasbroken by infant wails and visions of a phantom figure pacingnoiselessly to and fro in the watches of the night. His mealswere interrupted by the frequent flight of the presiding genius,who deserted him, half-helped, if a muffled chirp sounded fromthe nest above. And when he read his paper of an evening,Demi's colic got into the shipping list and Daisy's fall affectedthe price of stocks, for Mrs. Brooke was only interested in domestic news.
The poor man was very uncomfortable, for the children hadbereft him of his wife, home was merely a nursery and the perpetual`hushing' made him feel like a brutal intruder wheneverhe entered the sacred precincts of Babyland. He bore it verypatiently for six months, and when no signs of amendment appeared,he did what other paternal exiles do--tried to get a little comfortelsewhere. Scott had married and gone to housekeeping notfar off, and John fell into the way of running over for an houror two of an evening, when his own parlor was empty, and hisown wife singing lullabies that seemed to have no end. Mrs.Scott was a lively, pretty girl, with nothing to do but beagreeable, and she performed her mission most successfully. Theparlor was always bright and attractive, the chessboard ready,the piano in tune, plenty of gay gossip, and a nice little supperset forth in tempting style.
John would have preferred his own fireside if it had notbeen so lonely, but as it was he gratefully took the next bestthing and enjoyed his neighbor's society.
Meg rather approved of the new arrangement at first, andfound it a relief to know that John was having a good timeinstead of dozing in the parlor, or tramping about the houseand waking the children. But by-and-by, when the teethingworry was over and the idols went to sleep at proper hours,leaving Mamma time to rest, she began to miss John, and findher workbasket dull company, when he was not sitting oppositein his old dressing gown, comfortably scorching his slipperson the fender. She would not ask him to stay at home, but feltinjured because he did not know that she wanted him withoutbeing told, entirely forgetting the many evenings he had waitedfor her in vain. She was nervous and worn out with watchingand worry, and in that unreasonable frame of mind which the bestof mothers occasionally experience when domestic cares oppressthem. Want of exercise robs them of cheerfulness, and too muchdevotion to that idol of American women, the teapot, makes themfeel as if they were all nerve and no muscle.
"Yes," she would say, looking in the glass, "I'm gettingold and ugly. John doesn't find me interesting any longer, sohe leaves his faded wife and goes to see his pretty neighbor,who has no incumbrances. Well, the babies love me, they don'tcare if I am thin and pale and haven't time to crimp my hair,they are my comfort, and some day John will see what I'vegladly sacrificed for them, won't he, my precious?"
To which pathetic appeal daisy would answer with a coo,or Demi with a crow, and Meg would put by her lamentations fora maternal revel, which soothed her solitude for the time being.But the pain increased as politics absorbed John, who was alwaysrunning over to discuss interesting points with Scott, quiteunconscious that Meg missed him. Not a word did she say, however,till her mother found her in tears one day, and insistedon knowing what the matter was, for Meg's drooping spirits hadnot escaped her observation.
"I wouldn't tell anyone except you, Mother, but I reallydo need advice, for if John goes on much longer I might as wellbe widowed," replied Mrs. Brooke, drying her tears on Daisy'sbib with an injured air.
"Goes on how, my dear?" asked her mother anxiously.
"He's away all day, and at night when I want to see him,he is continually going over to the Scotts'. It isn't fairthat I should have the hardest work, and never any amusement.Men are very selfish, even the best of them."
"So are women. Don't blame John till you see where youare wrong yourself."
"But it can't be right for him to neglect me."
"Don't you neglect him?"
"Why, Mother, I thought you'd take my part!"
"So I do, as far as sympathizing goes, but I think the faultis yours, Meg."
"I don't see how."
"Let me show you. Did John ever neglect you, as you call it,while you made it a point to give him your society of an evening,his only leisure time?"
"No, but I can't do it now, with two babies to tend."
"I think you could, dear, and I think you ought. May Ispeak quite freely, and will you remember that it's Mother whoblames as well as Mother who sympathizes?"
"Indeed I will! Speak to me as if I were little Meg again.I often feel as if I needed teaching more than ever since thesebabies look to me for everything."
Meg drew her low chair beside her mother's, and with a littleinterruption in either lap, the two women rocked and talked lovinglytogether, feeling that the tie of motherhood made them more onethan ever.
"You have only made the mistake that most young wives make-forgottenyour duty to your husband in your love for your children.A very natural and forgivable mistake, Meg, but one thathad better be remedied before you take to different ways, forchildren should draw you nearer than ever, not separate you, asif they were all yours, and John had nothing to do but supportthem. I've seen it for some weeks, but have not spoken, feelingsure it would come right in time."
"I'm afraid it won't. If I ask him to stay, he'll think I'mjealous, and I wouldn't insult him by such an idea. He doesn'tsee that I want him, and I don't know how to tell him withoutwords."
"Make it so pleasant he won't want to go away. My dear,he's longing for his little home, but it isn't home without you,and you are always in the nursery."
"Oughtn't I to be there?"
"Not all the time, too much confinement makes you nervous,and then you are unfitted for everything. Besides, you owesomething to John as well as to the babies. Don't neglect husbandfor children, don't shut him out of the nursery, but teachhim how to help in it. His place is there as well as yours, andthe children need him. Let him feel that he has a part to do, andhe will do it gladly and faithfully, and it will be better for youall."
"You really think so, Mother?"
"I know it, Meg, for I've tried it, and I seldom give adviceunless I've proved its practicability. When you and Jo were little,I went on just as you are, feeling as if I didn't do my duty unlessI devoted myself wholly to you. Poor Father took to his books,after I had refused all offers of help, and left me to try my experimentalone. I struggled along as well as I could, but Jo wastoo much for me. I nearly spoiled her by indulgence. You werepoorly, and I worried about you till I fell sick myself. ThenFather came to the rescue, quietly managed everything, and madehimself so helpful that I saw my mistake, and never have been ableto got on without him since. That is the secret of our home happiness.He does not let business wean him from the little caresand duties that affect us all, and I try not to let domestic worriesdestroy my interest in his pursuits. Each do our part alone inmany things, but at home we work together, always."
"It is so, Mother, and my great wish is to be to my husbandand children what you have been to yours. Show me how, I'll doanything you say."
"You were always my docile daughter. Well, dear, if I wereyou, I'd let John have more to do with the management of Demi,for the boy needs training, and it's none too soon to begin.Then I'd do what I have often proposed, let Hannah come andhelp you. She is a capital nurse, and you may trust the preciousbabies to her while you do more housework. You need the exercise,Hannah would enjoy the rest, and John would find his wife again.Go out more, keep cheerful as well as busy, for you are thesunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is nofair weather. Then I'd try to take an interest in whatever Johnlikes--talk with him, let him read to you, exchange ideas, andhelp each other in that way. Don't shut yourself up in a bandboxbecause you are a woman, but understand what is going on, andeducate yourself to take your part in the world's work, for itall affects you and yours."
"John is so sensible, I'm afraid he will think I'm stupid ifI ask questions about politics and things."
"I don't believe he would. Love covers a multitude of sins,and of whom could you ask more freely than of him? Try it, andsee if he doesn't find your society far more agreeable than Mrs.Scott's suppers."
"I will. Poor John! I'm afraid I have neglected him sadly,but I thought I was right, and he never said anything."
"He tried not to be selfish, but he has felt rather forlorn,I fancy. This is just the time, Meg, when young married peopleare apt to grow apart, and the very time when they ought to bemost together, for the first tenderness soon wears off, unlesscare is taken to preserve it. And no time is so beautiful andprecious to parents as the first years of the little livesgiven to them to train. Don't let John be a stranger to thebabies, for they will do more to keep him safe and happy inthis world of trial and temptation than anything else, andthrough them you will learn to know and love one another asyou should. Now, dear, good-by. Think over Mother's preachment,act upon it if it seems good, and God bless you all."
Meg did think it over, found it good, and acted upon it,though the first attempt was not made exactly as she plannedto have it. Of course the children tyrannized over her, andruled the house as soon as they found out that kicking andsqualling brought them whatever they wanted. Mamma was anabject slave to their caprices, but Papa was not so easilysubjugated, and occasionally afflicted his tender spouse byan attempt at paternal discipline with his obstreperous son.For Demi inherited a trifle of his sire's firmness of character,we won't call it obstinacy, and when he made up hislittle to have or to do anything, all the king's horses andall the king's men could not change that pertinacious littlemind. Mamma thought the dear too young to be taught to conquerhis prejudices, but Papa believed that it never was toosoon to learn obedience. So Master Demi early discovered thatwhen he undertook to `wrastle' with `Parpar', he always gotthe worst of it, yet like the Englishman, baby respected theman who conquered him, and loved the father whose grave "No,no," was more impressive than all Mamma's love pats.A few days after the talk with her mother, Meg resolvedto try a social evening with John, so she ordered a nicesupper, set the parlor in order, dressed herself prettily, andput the children to bed early, that nothing should interferewith her experiment. But unfortunately Demi's most unconquerableprejudice was against going to bed, and that night he decidedto go on a rampage. So poor Meg sang and rocked,told stories and tried every sleep-prevoking wile she coulddevise, but all in vain, the big eyes wouldn't shut, and longafter Daisy had gone to byelow, like the chubby little bunchof good nature she was, naughty Demi lay staring at the light,with the most discouragingly wide-awake expression of countenance.
"Will Demi lie still like a good boy, while Mamma runsdown and gives poor Papa his tea?" asked Meg, as the halldoor softly closed, and the well-known step went tip-toeinginto the dining room.
"Me has tea!" said Demi, preparing to join in the revel.
"No, but I'll save you some little cakies for breakfast,if you'll go bye-by like Daisy. Will you, lovey?"
"Iss!" and Demi shut his eyes tight, as if to catch sleepand hurry the desired day.
Taking advantage of the propitious moment, Meg slippedaway and ran down to greet her husband with a smiling faceand the little blue bow in her hair which was his especialadmiration. He saw it at once and said with pleased surprise,"Why, little mother, how gay we are tonight. Do you expectcompany?"
"Only you, dear."
"No, I'm tired of being dowdy, so I dressed up as achange. You always make yourself nice for table, no matterhow tired you are, so why shouldn't I when I have the time?'
"I do it out of respect for you, my dear," said old-fashioned John.
"Ditto, ditto, Mr. Brooke," laughed Meg, looking youngand pretty again, as she nodded to him over the teapot.
"Well, it's altogether delightful, and like old times. Thistastes right. I drink your health, dear." And John sipped histea with an air of reposeful rapture, which was of very shortduration however, for as he put down his cup, the door handlerattled mysteriously, and a little voice was heard, saying impatiently...
"Opy doy. Me's tummin!"
"It's that naughty boy. I told him to go to sleep alone,and here he is, downstairs, getting his death a-cold patteringover that canvas," said Meg, answering the call.
"Mornin' now," announced Demi in joyful tone as he entered,with his long nightgown gracefully festooned over his arm andevery curl bobbing gayly as he pranced about the table, eyeingthe `cakies' with loving glances.
"No, it isn't morning yet. You must go to bed, and nottrouble poor Mamma. Then you can have the little cake withsugar on it."
"Me loves Parpar," said the artful one, preparing to climbthe paternal knee and revel in forbidden joys. But John shookhis head, and said to Meg...
"If you told him to stay up there, and go to sleep alone,make him do it, or he will never learn to mind you."
"Yes, of course. Come, Demi." And Meg led her son away,feeling a strong desire to spank the little marplot who hoppedbeside her, laboring under the delusion that the bribe was tobe administered as soon as they reached the nursery.
Nor was he disappointed, for that shortsighted womanactually gave him a lump of sugar, tucked him into his bed,and forbade any more promenades till morning.
"Iss!" said Demi the perjured, blissfully sucking his sugar,and regarding his first attempt as eminently successful.
Meg returned to her place, and supper was progressingpleasantly, when the little ghost walked again and exposedthe maternal delinquencies by boldly demanding, "More sudar,Marmar."
"Now this won't do," said John, hardening his heart againstthe engaging little sinner. "We shall never know any peace tillthat child learns togo to bed properly. You have made a slave ofyourself long enough. Give him one lesson, and then there willbe an end of it. Put him in his bed and leave him, Meg."
"He won't stay there, he never does unless I sit by him."
"I'll manage him. Demi, go upstairs, and get into your bed,as Mamma bids you."
"S'ant!" replied the young rebel, helping himself to thecoveted `cakie', and beginning to eat the same with calm audacity.
"You must never say that to Papa. I shall carry you if youdon't go yourself."
"Go 'way, me don't love Parpar." And Demi retired to hismother's skirts for protection.
But even that refuge proved unavailing, for he was deliveredover to the enemy, with a "Be gentle with him, John,"which struck the culprit with dismay, for when Mamma desertedhim, then the judgment day was at hand. Bereft of his cake,defrauded of his frolic, and borne away by a strong hand tothat detested bed, poor Demi could not restrain his wrath, butopenly defied Papa, and kicked and screamed lustily all theway upstairs. The minute he was put into bed on one side, herolled out on the other, and made for the door, only to beignominiously caught up by the tail of his little toga andput back again, which lively performance was kept up till theyoung man's strength gave out, when he devoted himself toroaring at the top of his voice. This vocal exercise usuallyconquered Meg, but John sat as unmoved as the post which ispopularly believed to be deaf. No coaxing, no sugar, nolullaby, no story, even the light was put out and only thered glow of the fire enlivened the `big dark' which Demiregarded with curiosity rather than fear. This new orderof things disgusted him, and he howled dismally for `Marmar',as his angry passions subsided, and recollections of histender bondwoman returned to the captive autocrat. Theplaintive wail which succeeded the passionate roar went toMeg's heart, and she ran up to say beseechingly...
"Let me stay with him, he'll be good now, John."
"No, my dear. I've told him he must go to sleep, as youbid him, and he must, if I stay here all night."
"But he'll cry himself sick," pleaded Meg, reproaching herselffor deserting her boy.
"No, he won't, he's so tired he will soon drop off and thenthe matter is settled, for he will understand that he has got tomind. Don't interfere, I'll manage him."
"He's my child, and I can't have his spirit broken by harshness."
"He's my child, and I won't have his temper spoiled byindulgence. Go down, my dear, and leave the boy to me."
When John spoke in that masterful tone, Meg always obeyed,and never regretted her docility.
"Please let me kiss him once, John?"
"Certainly. Demi, say good night to Mamma, and let her go and rest,for she is very tired with taking care of you all day."
Meg always insisted upon it that the kiss won the victory,for after it was given, Demi sobbed more quietly, and lay quitestill at the bottom of the bed, whither he had wriggled in hisanguish of mind.
"Poor little man, he's worn out with sleep and crying. I'llcover him up, and then go and set Meg's heart at rest." thoughtJohn, creeping to the bedside, hoping to find his rebelliousheir asleep.
But he wasn't, for the moment his father peeped at him,Demi's eyes opened, his little chin began to quiver, and he putup his arms, saying with a penitent hiccough, "Me's dood, now."
Sitting on the stairs outside Meg wondered at the longsilence which followed the uproar, and after imagining allsorts of impossible accidents, she slipped into the room toset her fears at rest. Demi lay fast asleep, not in his usualspreadeagle attitude, but in a subdued bunch, cuddled close inthe circle of his father's arm and holding his father's finger,as if he felt that justice was tempered with mercy, and hadgone to sleep a sadder and wiser baby. So held, John had waitedwith a womanly patience till the little hand relaxed its hold,and while waiting had fallen asleep, more tired by that tusslewith his son than with his whole day's work.
As Meg stood watching the two faces on the pillow, shesmiled to herself, and then slipped away again, saying in asatisfied tone, "I never need fear that John will be too harshwith my babies. He does know how to manage them, and will bea great help, for Demi is getting too much for me."
When John came down at last, expecting to find a pensiveor reproachful wife, he was agreeably surprised to find Megplacidly trimming a bonnet, and to be greeted with the requestto read something about the election, if he was nottoo tired. John saw in a minute that a revolution of somekind was going on, but wisely asked no questions, knowingthat Meg was such a transparent little person, she couldn'tkeep a secret to save her life, and therefore the clue wouldsoon appear. He read a long debate with the most amiablereadiness and then explained it in his most lucid manner,while Meg tried to look deeply interested, to ask intelligentquestions, and keep her thoughts from wandering from thestate of the nation to the state of her bonnet. In her secretsoul, however, she decided that politics were as bad as mathematics,and the the mission of politicians seemed to be callingeach other names, but she kept these feminine ideas to herself,and when John paused, shook her head and said with what shethought diplomatic ambiguity, "Well, I really don't see whatwe are coming to."
John laughed, and watched her for a minute, as she poiseda pretty little preparation of lace and flowers on her hand,and regarded it with the genuine interest which his haranguehad failed to waken.
"She is trying to like politics for my sake, so I'll try andlike millinery for hers, that's only fair," thought John the Just,adding aloud, "That's very pretty. Is it what you call a breakfast cap?"
"My dear man, it's a bonnet! My very best go-to-concert-and-theater bonnet."
"I beg your pardon, it was so small, I naturally mistookit for one of the flyaway things you sometimes wear.How do you keep it on?"
"These bits of lace are fastened under the chin with a rosebud, so."And Meg illustrated by putting on the bonnet and regardinghim with an air of calm satisfaction that was irresistible.
"It's a love of a bonnet, but I prefer the face inside, forit looks young and happy again." And John kissed the smilingface, to the great detriment of the rosebud under the chin.
"I'm glad you like it, for I want you to take me to oneof the new concerts some night. I really need some music toput me in tune. Will you, please?"
"Of course I will, with all my heart, or anywhere else youlike. You have been shut up so long, it will do you no end ofgood, and I shall enjoy it, of all things. What put it intoyour head, little mother?"
"Well, I had a talk with Marmee the other day, and toldher how nervous and cross and out of sorts I felt, and shesaid I needed change and less care, so Hannah is to help mewith the children, and I'm to see to things about the house more,and now and then have a little fun, just to keep me from gettingto be a fidgety, broken-down old woman before my time. It'sonly an experiment, John, and I want to try it for your sakeas much as for mine, because I've neglected you shamefullylately, and I'm going to make home what it used to be, if Ican. You don't object, I hope?"
Never mind what John said, or what a very narrow escapethe little bonnet had from utter ruin. All that we have anybusiness to know is that John did not appear to object, judgingfrom the changes which gradually took place in the houseand its inmates. It was not all Paradise by any means, buteveryone was better for the division of labor system. Thechildren throve under the paternal rule, for accurate, stedfastJohn brought order and obedience into Babydom, while Megrecovered her spirits and composed her nerves by plenty ofwholesome exercise, a little pleasure, and much confidentialconversation with her sensible husband. Home grew homelikeagain, and John had no wish to leave it, unless he took Megwith him. The Scotts came to the Brookes' now, and everyonefound the little house a cheerful place, full of happiness,content, and family love. Even Sallie Moffatt liked to gothere. "It is always so quiet and pleasant here, it does megood, Meg," she used to say, looking about her with wistfuleyes, as if trying to discover the charm, that she might useit in her great house, full of splendid lonliness, for therewere no riotous, sunny-faced babies there, and Ned lived ina world of lis own, where there was no place for her.
This household happiness did not come all at once, butJohn and Meg had found the key to it, and each year of Marriedlife taught them how to use it, unlocking the treasuriesof real home love and mutual helpfulness, which the poorestmay possess, and the richest cannot buy. This is the sortof shelf on which young wives and mothers may consent to belaid, safe from the restless fret and fever of the world,finding loyal lovers in the little sons and daughters whocling to them, undaunted by sorrow, poverty, or age, walkingside by side, through fair and stormy weather, with a faithfulfriend, who is, in the true sense of the good old Saxon word,the `house-band', and learning, as Meg learned, that a woman'shappiest kingdom is home, her highest honor the art of rulingit not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother.