当自己的注意力全部倾 注于另一个人身上，身心受到一个美好榜样的净化时，答应克己是件容易事。可是当那诚诫之声静默了，每天的课程结束了，亲爱的人儿逝去了，留下的只有孤独与 悲伤时，乔发现很难遵守她的诺言。她自己心痛欲裂，无尽地思念妹妹，怎么转去“安慰爸爸妈妈“呢？贝思离开老家去了新家，一切光明、温暖、美好的东西似乎 都随她而去，她又怎能"使家庭愉快"呢？她到底在哪里能"找到些有益、快乐的事情去做"，来代替那满怀爱心照顾妹妹的工作呢？照顾妹妹这件事本身就是一种 报偿。她盲目、无助地试图履行职责，内心始终暗暗反抗着，因为她辛勤劳作着，不多的欢乐被减少了，精神负荷更重了，生活越来越难以忍受。这似乎让人心理难 以平衡。有的人似乎总是得到阳光，而另一些人却总是处在阴影中。这不公平。她比艾美作出的努力更大，想做个好姑娘，可是从来得不到奖赏，只得到失望、烦恼 与沉重的工作。
可怜的乔，对她来说这是些黑暗的日子。她想到自己将在那安静的房子里度过一生，投身于单调无聊的家务事、一些小小的快乐，以及似乎根本不会变得轻松 的责任中。想到这些，一种类似绝望的情绪攫住了她。“我干不了，我生来不是过这种生活的。我知道，要是没人来帮我，我会挣脱开做出不顾一切的事情的，“她 自言自语。她最初的努力失败了，便陷入一种忧郁痛苦的心情中。坚强的意志不得不屈服于无可奈何。企图逃避命运时往往会产生这样的心境。
然而真的有人来帮她了，虽然乔没有立即认出那些善良的天使们。因为他们以熟悉的形象出现，用简单的符咒解救可怜的人类。夜里她常惊跳起来，以为是贝 思叫她。可是看到那张空荡荡的小床，她便带着遏制不住的痛苦伤心地哭起来：“哦，贝思，回来吧！回来吧！“她渴望地伸出胳膊，这并非徒劳，因为，就像妹妹 发出最微弱的低语她马上就能听见一样，一听到她的呜咽，妈妈就过来安慰她。不光光用言语，还用带有耐心的温柔、触摸与眼泪来抚慰她。这些都无声地提醒她， 妈妈的悲哀更大。还有那断断续续的低语，这比祈祷更有说服力，那是带着希望的顺从和挥之不去的痛苦浑然毕至。夜深人静时，心贴心的交流使痛苦转化为幸福， 它驱逐了悲伤，增强了爱的力量。这是些神圣的时刻，乔感受到了它。安全地偎在妈妈的臂弯，她看到她的负担似乎比较容易忍受了，责任变得甜蜜些了，生活也似 乎较能容忍了。
当发疼的心得到些许安慰时，苦恼的精神同样找到了帮助。一天，乔来到了书房。爸爸抬起头，平静地笑迎着她。她靠在那个善良的灰色脑袋上，非常谦恭地 说：“爸爸，就像你对贝思那样和我谈谈吧。我比她更需要，我感到一切都不对劲了。““亲爱的，没什么比这更让我感到安慰了，“他颤声回答，伸出双臂抱住了 她，好像他也需要帮助，并敢于要求帮助。
于是，靠近爸爸坐在贝思的小椅子上，乔倾诉了她的烦恼--失去贝思令人悲愤的痛苦，无效果的种种努力令她泄气，缺乏信仰使生活暗淡无光，还有所有那 些我们称为绝望的悲哀的困惑。她完全信任爸爸，而爸爸也给了她所需要的帮助。父女俩都从对方找到了安慰。这时，他们能在一起谈着话，不仅以父亲和女儿的身 份，而且也作为男人和女人。他们能够也乐于以互爱互怜之心为对方尽力。在那老书房度过的时刻使人感到幸福、亲切。乔把书房叫做"一人教堂"，从那里出来 时，她便有了新的勇气，她情绪有所好转，态度更加柔顺。她的父母曾经教过一个孩子无畏地面对死亡，现在他们试图教另一个孩子不消沉、不带疑惑地接受生命， 并且心存感激地尽力利用生命提供的美好机会。
乔还得到了其他的帮助--卑微却有价值的责任以及起他有意义的事情。这些肯定对她不无裨益。她慢慢学会发现并珍视它们。扫帚和洗碗布不再像以前那样 令人生厌了，因为贝思曾掌管过这两件东西她的家庭主妇精神中有某种东西，还保留在这块小抹布和旧扫把上，所以乔决不扔掉这两样东西。乔用着它们时，发现自 己哼着贝思常哼的小调，模仿着贝思干活井井有条的方式，这里擦一下，那里扫一把，使一切保持干净、舒适。这是使家庭幸福的第一步。她没有意识到这些，直到 罕娜嬷嬷赞许地捏着她的手说--“你这个姑娘想得真周到。要是你能干，就打定主意不让我们想念那可爱的宝贝。我们没说出来，可是看到了。上帝会保佑你的， 肯定会的。“
你就像一个带壳的栗子，外面多刺，内里却光滑柔软。要是有人能接近，还有个甜果仁。将来有一天，爱情会使你表露心迹的，那时你的壳便脱落了。““夫 人，严霜会冻开栗壳，使劲摇会摇下栗子。男孩子们好采栗子。可是，我不喜欢让他们用口袋装着，“乔答道。她在继续粘着风筝。这个风筝无论刮什么风都上不了 天，因为黛西把自己当作风筝尾巴系在了上面。
梅格笑了。她高兴地看到了一点乔的老脾气。但是她觉得，用她所能想到的全部论据来坚持她的观点，这是她的责任。姐妹俩的谈话没有白费，特别是因为梅 格两个最有说服力的论据是孩子们，乔温柔地爱着他们。乔几乎做好准备被装进口袋了：还需要照些阳光，使栗子成熟。然后，不是被男孩焦躁地摇落，而是一个男 人的手伸上去，轻轻地剥开壳，就会发现果仁成熟甜美。假使她曾怀疑到这一点，她会紧紧封闭起来的，会比以前更刺人，所幸的是她没有想到自己。所以时间一 到，她这个栗子便掉落下来了。
要说乔是道德故事书中的女主人公的话，那么，在她生活的这一时起，她应该变得十分圣洁，应该退隐，应该口袋里装着宗教传单，戴着清心寡欲的帽子，四 处去做善事。可是，要知道，乔不是一个女主人公。像成百上千的其他姑娘一样她只是个挣扎着的凡人。所以，她依着性子行事。她悲哀、焦躁、不安，或者精神饱 满，随心境而定。我们要做好人，这样说非常有道德，可是我们不可能立马就做得到。需要有人长期的引导、有力的引导，还要大家同心协力去帮助，我们中有些人 甚至才能正确起步。到目前为止，乔起步不错。
她学着尽自己的责任，尽不到责便会感到不快乐。可是心甘情愿地去做--哦，这是另一码事了！她常说要做些出色的事，不管那有多难。现在她实现了愿 望。因为，一生奉献给爸爸妈妈，努力使他们感到家庭幸福，就像他们让她感到的那样，有什么比这件事更美好的呢？这样一个焦躁不安、雄心勃勃的姑娘，放弃了 自己的希望、计划和意愿，无怨无悔地为别人活着。假如需要用困难来增加努力的美妙之处的话，还有什么比这更难做到的呢？
一小时以后，妈妈朝屋里瞥了一眼，乔就坐在那里。她围着黑围裙，全神贯注，不停地涂写着。马奇太太为她的建议奏效感到高兴，她笑着悄悄走开了。乔一 点也不知道这是怎么发生的。某种东西夹进了故事，打动了读者。当她的家人读着故事又哭又笑时，爸爸将它寄给了一家通俗杂志，这是完全违反她的意愿的。使她 大吃一惊的是，杂志社不仅付了她稿酬，而且还要求她再写些故事。这个小故事登出来后，她收到了一些人的来信，这些人的赞扬是种荣誉。报纸也转载了这个故 事。朋友们及陌生的人们都赞赏它。对这样的一个小东西来说，这是巨大的成功。以前乔的小说同时遭人褒贬，现在她比那时更为感到惊讶。
“故事里有真实的东西，乔，这就是秘密。幽默与悲哀使故事生动。你终于找到了自己的风格。你没有想着名誉和金钱，而是在用心写作，我的女儿。你尝过 了痛苦，现在有了甜蜜。你要尽力去做，像我们一样，为你的成功快乐起来吧。“假如我写的东西里当真有什么好的、真实的东西，那不是我的功劳。这一切都得归 于您和妈妈，还有贝思，“乔说。
艾美和劳里写来信，告知他们已订婚。马奇太太担心乔会难以为此高兴，可是不久她便放了心。虽然乔一开始神色严肃，她还是默默地接受了这件事。她为 “两个孩子"心中充满了希望与计划，然后把信又读了一遍。这是一种书信二重奏，信中两个人都以情人的语调赞美着对方。读着让人感动，想起来令人欣慰，因为 家里面谁也没有反对意见。
“喜欢，自打艾美写信来说她拒绝了弗雷德，我就期望事情会是这样的。那时我确信，她产生了某种念头，这种念头与你所讲的'唯利是图'不是一回事。她 的来信字里行间的暗示使我猜测，她的爱情将使她和劳里连结在一起。““妈咪，你多么敏锐，又多么保守！你从来没和我们说起一个字。““当母亲们有女儿要照 管时，她们需要敏锐的眼睛和谨慎的舌头。我不太敢让你知道这个想法，生怕你会在事情定下来之前就写信祝贺他们。““我不像以前那样轻率浮躁了。你可以相信 我。现在我比较清醒、明智，足以当任何人的知心朋友。““是这样的，亲爱的。我本来应该让你当我的知心朋友。
只是我想，要是知道你的特迪爱上了别人，你会痛苦的。““哎呀，妈，你真的以为我会这么愚蠢，这么自私？他的爱即使不适合我，我仍以为那是纯洁的。 我自己拒绝了他的爱，会在乎他娶艾美吗？““我知道你那时是真心拒绝他的，乔。可是近来我想到，假如他回来再向你求爱，也许你会做出不同的回答。原谅我， 亲爱的，我不由自主地发现你很孤独，有时你的眼里露出一种渴望的神色，直钻进我的心里。所以我想，假如你那男孩再试试，他会填补你内心的空缺。““不，妈 妈，现在这样更好。我很高兴艾美学会了爱他。
你会从和爸爸、妈妈、姐妹兄弟、朋友们和孩子们在一起中获得亲情的满足，直到最合适的爱人来给你补偿。““妈妈是世界上最好的爱人。可是我不在乎对 妈咪轻轻说我想起味各种爱。很奇怪，我越是想满足于各种自然的感情，就越有缺失感。我不知道内心能容纳那么多东西。我的心总那么翕张着，感到从未装满过， 而我过去非常满足于家庭的。
“像劳里爱我那样被人爱着是多么美妙。他不是感情用事，没说很多话，但是从他的一言一行我看出来了，也感受到了。他使我感到这么幸福，这么卑微，我 似乎不再是以前那同一个女孩了。现在我才知道，他是多么善良、慷慨、温柔。他让我看他的内心世界，我发现那里充满了高尚的冲力、希望和目标。我知道那颗心 属于我，我多么自豪。他说他感到好像'现在有我在船上当大副，有许多爱当压舱物，他便能驾船顺利航行了’。我祈愿他能这样。我要让自己趋于完善，一如他所 期待、信赖于我的那样，因为，我以整个生命爱着我勇敢的船长。只要上帝让我们在一起，我决不会丢其他。哦，妈妈，我以前真不知道，当两个人互相爱着，只为 对方活着时，这个世界多么像天堂！““那是我们冷静、保守、世俗的艾美？真的，爱情产生了奇迹。他们肯定非常、非常地幸福！“乔小心翼翼地把沙沙作响的信 纸放到了一起，就像合上了本可爱的浪漫故事，这个故事紧紧地抓住了读者，直到结局。这时，读者发现自己孤零零地又回到了尘世。
过了一会儿，乔漫步回到了楼上房间，因为在下雨，无法散步。一种不安的心绪攫住了她。那种老感受又回来了，不是像以前那样的抱怨，而是无怨的感叹和 纳闷。为什么妹妹能得到她要的一切，而她什么也得不到？这并不真实，她知道并试图丢开不去想它，可是对爱的自然渴求又是那么强烈，艾美的幸福使她的渴望之 情觉醒了，她渴望有个人让她"全心全意去爱，去依恋，只要上帝让他们在一起"。
乔朝一个个箱子里看着，她来到自己的箱子前，将下巴搁在箱子的边缘，心不在焉地凝视着里面零乱的收集起。猛地，一捆旧练习本吸引了她的目光。她把它 们掏出来翻看着，在和善的柯克太太家度过的那个愉快的冬天又再现在眼前。她先是笑着，继而若有所思，接着又悲哀起来。当她看到一张小纸条上教授的笔迹时， 嘴唇开始颤抖，膝上的书本都滑落下去了。她坐在那看着这友好的语句，好像它们产生了新的意义，触及了她心中较为敏感的部位。
“等着我，朋友，我可能来得晚一点，可是我肯定会来的。““哦，但愿他会来！我亲爱的弗里茨，他对我总是那么客气、友好、那么有耐心。和他在一起 时，我对他不够尊重，现在我多么想见到他啊！似乎所有的人都要离开我了，我感到多么孤独。“乔紧紧握着这张小纸头，好像这是个还未履行的诺言。她将头舒适 地放在一个装着破布的袋子上，哭了起来，仿佛对抗着拍打屋顶的雨点。
It was easy to promise self-abnegation when self waswrapped up in another, and heart and soul were purified by asweet example. But when the helpful voice was silent, thedaily lesson over, the beloved presence gone, and nothing remainedbut lonliness and grief, then Jo found her promise veryhard to keep. How could she `comfort Father and Mother' whenher own heart ached with a ceaseless longing for her sister,how could she `make the house cheerful' when all its light andwarmth and beauty seemed to have deserted it when Beth left theold home for the new, and where in all the world could she `findsome useful, happy work to do', that would take the place of theloving service which had been its own reward? She tried in ablind, hopeless way to do her duty, secretly rebelling againstit all the while, for it seemed unjust that her few joys shouldbe lessened, her burdens made heavier, and life get harder andharder as she toiled along. Some people seemed to get all sunshine,and some all shadow. It was not fair, for she tried morethan Amy to be good, but never got any reward, only disappointment,trouble and hard work.
Poor Jo, these were dark days to her, for something likedespair came over her when she thought of spending all her lifein that quiet house, devoted to humdrum cares, a few small pleasures,and the duty that never seemed to grow any easier. "I can't do it.I wasn't meant for a life like this, and I know I shall break awayand do something desperate if somebody doesn't come and help me,"she said to herself, when her first efforts failed and she fellinto the moody, miserable state of mind which often comes whenstrong wills have to yield to the inevitable.
But someone did come and help her, though Jo did not recognizeher good angels at once because they wore familiar shapes and usedthe simple spells best fitted to poor humanity. Often she startedup at night, thinking Beth called her, and when the sight of thelittle empty bed made her cry with the bitter cry of unsubmissivesorrow, "Oh, Beth, come back! Come back!" she did not stretch outher yearning arms in vain. For, as quick to hear her sobbing asshe had been to hear her sister's faintest whisper, her mother cameto comfort her, not with words only, but the patient tendernessthat soothes by a touch, tears that were mute reminders of a greatergrief than Jo's, and broken whispers, more eloquent than prayers,because hopeful resignation went hand-in-hand with natural sorrow.Sacred moments, when heart talked to heart in the silence of thenight, turning affliction to a blessing, which chastened grief andstrengthned love. Feeling this, Jo's burden seemed easier to bear,duty grew sweeter, and life looked more endurable, seen from thesafe shelter of her mother's arms.
When aching heart was a little comforted, troubled mind likewisefound help, for one day she went to the study, and leaningover the good gray head lifted to welcome her with a tranquil smile,she said very humbly, "Father, talk to me as you did to Beth. Ineed it more than she did, for I'm all wrong."
"My dear, nothing can comfort me like this," he answered,with a falter in his voice, and both arms round her, as if he too,needed help, and did not fear to ask for it.
Then, sitting in Beth's little chair close beside him, Jo toldher troubles, the resentful sorrow for her loss, the fruitlessefforts that discouraged her, the want of faith that made life lookso dark, and all the sad bewilderment which we call despair. Shegave him entire confidence, he gave her the help she needed, andboth found consolation in the act. For the time had come when theycould talk together not only as father and daughter, but as man andwoman, able and glad to serve each other with mutual sympathy as wellas mutual love. Happy, thoughtful times there in the old study whichJo called `the church of one member', and from which she came withfresh courage, recovered cheerfulness, and a more submissive spirit.For the parents who had taught one child to meet death without fear,were trying now to teach another to accept life without despondencyor distrust, and to use its beautiful opportunities with gratitudeand power.
Other helps had Jo--humble, wholesome duties and delights thatwould not be denied their part in serving her, and which she slowlylearned to see and value. Brooms and dishcloths never couldbe as distasteful as they once had been, for Beth had presidedover both, and something of her housewifely spirit seemed tolinger around the little mop and the old brush, never thrownaway. As she used them, Jo found herself humming the songsBeth used to hum, imitating Beth's orderly ways, and giving thelittle touches here and there that kept everything fresh andcozy, which was the first step toward making home happy, thoughshe didn't know it till Hannah said with an approving squeezeof the hand...
"You thoughtful creeter, you're determined we shan't missthat dear lamb ef you can help it. We don't say much, but wesee it, and the Lord will bless you for't, see ef He don't."
As they sat sewing together, Jo discovered how much improvedher sister Meg was, how well she could talk, how much she knewabout good, womanly impulses, thoughts, and feelings, how happyshe was in husband and children, and how much they were all doingfor each other.
"Marriage is an excellent thing, after all. I wonder if Ishould blossom out half as well as you have, if I tried it?" saidJo, as she constructed a kite for Demi in the topsy-turvy nursery.
"It's just what you need to bring out the tender womanly halfof your nature, Jo. You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside,but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernal, if one can only get atit. Love will make you show your heart one day, and then the roughburr will fall off."
"Frost opens chestnut burrs, ma`am, and it takes a good shaketo bring them down. Boys go nutting, and I don't care to be baggedby them," returned Jo, pasting away at the kite which no wind thatblows would ever carry up, for Daisy had tied herself on as a bob.
Meg laughed, for she was glad to see a glimmer of Jo's oldspirit, but she felt it her duty to enforce her opinion by everyargument in her power, and the sisterly chats were not wasted, especiallyas two of Meg's most effective arguments were the babies,whom Jo loved tenderly. Grief is the best opener of some hearts,and Jo's was nearly ready for the bag. A little more sunshine toripen the nut, then, not a boy's impatient shake, but a man's handreached up to pick it gently from the burr, and find the kernalsound and sweet. If she suspected this, she would have shut uptight, and been more prickly than ever, fortunately she wasn'tthinking about herself, so when the time came, down she dropped.
Now, if she had been the heroine of a moral storybook, sheought at this period of her life to have become quite saintly,renounced the world, and gone about doing good in a mortifiedbonnet, with tracts in her pocket. But, you see, Jo wasn't aheroine, she was only a struggling human girl like hundreds ofothers, and she just acted out her nature, being sad, cross, listless,or energetic, as the mood suggested. It's highly virtuousto say we'll be good, but we can't do it all at once, and it takesa long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together before someof us even get our feet set in the right way. Jo had got so far,she was learning to do her duty, and to feel unhappy if she didnot, but to do it cheerfully, ah, that was another thing! Shehad often said she wanted to do something splendid, no matter howhard, and now she had her wish, for what could be more beautifulthan to devote her life to Father and Mother, trying to make homeas happy to them as they had to her? And if difficulties werenecessary to increase the splendor of the effort, what could beharder for a restless, ambitious girl than to give up her ownhopes, plans, and desires, and cheerfully live for others?
Providence had taken her at her word. Here was the task, notwhat she had expected, but better because self had no part in it.Now, could she do it? She decided that she would try, and in herfirst attempt she found the helps I have suggested. Still anotherwas given her, and she took it, not as a reward, but as a comfort,as Christian took the refreshment afforded by the little arborwhere he rested, as he climbed the hill called Difficulty.
"Why don't you write? That always used to make you happy,"said her mother once, when the desponding fit over-shadowed Jo.
"I've no heart to write, and if I had, nobody cares for mythings."
"We do. Write something for us, and never mind the rest ofthe world. Try it, dear. I'm sure it would do you good, andplease us very much."
"Don't believe I can." But Jo got out her desk and began tooverhaul her half-finished manuscripts.
An hour afterward her mother peeped in and there she was,scratching away, with her black pinafore on, and an absorbed expression,which caused Mrs. March to smile and slip away, well pleasedwith the success of her suggestion. Jo never knew how ithappened, but something got into that story that went straight tothe hearts of those who read it, for when her family had laughedand cried over it, her father sent it, much against her will, toone of the popular magazines, and to her utter surprise, it wasnot only paid for, but others requested. Letters from severalpersons, whose praise was honor, followed the appearance of thelittle story, newspapers copied it, and strangers as well as friends,admired it. For a small thing it was a great success, and Jo wasmore astonished than when her novel was commended and condemnedall at once.
"I don't understand it. What can there be in a simple littlestory like that to make people praise it so?" she said, quite bewildered.
"There is truth in it, Jo, that's the secret. Humor and pathosmake it alive, and you have found your style at last. You wrotewith not thoughts of fame and money, and put your heart into it,my daughter. You have had the bitter, now comes the sweet. Doyour best, and grow as happy as we are in your success."
"If there is anything good or true in what I write, it isn'tmine. I owe it all to you and Mother and Beth," said Jo, moretouched by her father's words than by any amount of praise fromthe world.
So taught by love and sorrow, Jo wrote her little stories,and sent them away to make friends for themselves and her, findingit a very charitable world to such humble wanderers, for they werekindly welcomed, and sent home comfortable tokens to their mother,like dutiful children whom good fortune overtakes.
When Amy and Laurie wrote of their engagement, Mrs. Marchfeared that Jo would find it difficult to rejoice over it, buther fears were soon set at rest, for thought Jo looked grave atfirst, she took it very quietly, and was full of hopes and plansfor `the children' before she read the letter twice. It was asort of written duet, wherein each glorified the other in loverlikefashion, very pleasant to read and satisfactory to think of,for no one had any objection to make.
"You like it, Mother?" said Jo, as they laid down the closelywritten sheets and looked at one another.
"Yes, I hoped it would be so, ever since Amy wrote that shehad refused Fred. I felt sure then that something better thanwhat you call the `mercenary spirit' had come over her, and ahint here and there in her letters made me suspect that loveand Laurie would win the day."
"How sharp you are, Marmee, and how silent! You never saida worked to me."
"Mothers have need of sharp eyes and discreet tongues whenthey have girls to manage. I was half afraid to put the ideainto your head, lest you should write and congratulate them beforethe thing was settled."
"I'm not the scatterbrain I was. You may trust me. I'msober and sensible enough for anyone's confidante now."
"So you are, my dear, and I should have made you mine,only I fancied it might pain you to learn that your Teddy lovedsomeone else."
"Now, Mother, did you really think I could be so silly andselfish, after I'd refused his love, when it was freshest, if notbest?"
"I knew you were sincere then, Jo, but lately I have thoughtthat if he came back, and asked again, you might perhaps, feel likegiving another answer. Forgive me, dear, I can't help seeing thatyou are very lonely, and sometimes there is a hungry look in youreyes that goes to my heart. So I fancied that your boy might fillthe empty place if he tried now."
"No, Mother, it is better as it ia, and I'm glad Amy has learnedto love him. But you are right in one thing. I am lonely, and perhapsif Teddy had tried again, I might have said `Yes', not becauseI love him any more, but because I care more to be loved than whenhe went away."
"I'm glad of that, Jo, for it shows that you are getting on.There are plenty to love you, so try to be satisfied with Fatherand Mother, sisters and brothers, friends and babies, till thebest lover of all comes to give you your reward."
"Mothers are the best lovers in the world, but I don't mindwhispering to Marmee that I'd like to try all kinds. It's verycurious, but the more I try to satisfy myself with all sorts ofnatural affections, the more I seem to want. I'd no idea heartscould take in so many. Mine is so elastic, it never seems fullnow, and I used to be quite contented with my family. I don'tunderstand it."
"I do." And Mrs. March smiled her wise smile, as Jo turnedback the leaves to read what Amy said of Laurie.
"It is so beautiful to be loved as Laurie loves me. He isn'tsentimental, doesn't say much about it, but I see and feel it inall he says and does, and it makes me so happy and so humble thatI don't seem to be the same girl I was. I never knew how good andgenerous and tender he was till now, for he lets me read his heart,and I find it full of noble impulses and hopes and purposes, andam so proud to know it's mine. He says he feels as if he `couldmake a prosperous voyage now with me aboard as mate, and lots oflove for ballast'. I pray he may, and try to be all he believesme, for I love my gallant captain with all my heart and soul andmight, and never will desert him, while God lets us be together.Oh, Mother, I never knew how much like heaven this world could be,when two people love and live for one another!"
"And that's our cool, reserved, and worldly Amy! Truly, lovedoes work miracles. How very, very happy they must be!" And Jolaid the rustling sheets together with a careful hand, as onemight shut the covers of a lovely romance, which holds the readerfast till the end comes, and he finds himself alone in the workadayworld again.
By-and-by Jo roamed away upstairs, for it was rainy, and shecould not walk. A restless spirit possessed her, and the oldfeeling came again, not bitter as it once was, but a sorrowfullypatient wonder why one sister should have all she asked, the othernothing. It was not true, she knew that and tried to put it away,but the natural craving for affection was strong, and Amy's happinesswoke the hungry longing for someone to `love with heartand soul, and cling to while God let them be together'.Up in the garret, where Jo's unquiet wanderings ended stoodfour little wooden chests in a row, each marked with its ownersname, and each filled with relics of the childhood and girlhoodended now for all. Jo glanced into them, and when she came toher own, leaned her chin on the edge, and stared absently at thechaotic collection, till a bundle of old exercise books caughther eye. She drew them out, turned them over, and relived thatpleasant winter at kind Mrs. Kirke's. She had smiled at first,then she looked thoughtful, next sad, and when she came to alittle message written in the Professor's hand, her lips beganto tremble, the books slid out of her lap, and she sat lookingat the friendly words, as they took a new meaning, and toucheda tender spot in her heart.
"Wait for me, my friend. I may be a little late, but I shallsurely come."
"Oh, if he only would! So kine, so good, so patient with mealways, my dear old Fritz. I didn't value him half enough when Ihad him, but now how I should love to see him, for everyone seemsgoing away from me, and I'm all alone."
And holding the little paper fast, as if it were a promiseyet to be fulfilled, Jo laid her head down on a comfortable ragbag, and cried, as if in opposition to the rain pattering on theroof.
Was it all self-pity, loneliness, or low spirits? Or was itthe waking up of a sentiment which had bided its time as patientlyas its inspirer? Who shall say?