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                       ——  外语解密学习法 逆读法(Reverse Reading Method)   解读法(Decode-Reading Method)训练范文 ——                 

解密目标语言:英语                                解密辅助语言:汉语
              Language to be decoded:  English             Auxiliary Language :  Chinese  

  
       
    

小妇人
—— [美] 路易莎·梅·奥尔柯特

 

  Little Women
by   Louisa May Alcott
iPad版(iPad Version)

 只看汉语(Chinese Only)                英汉对照(English & Chinese)              只看英语(English Only) 

 

Table of Contents

 

目 录

CHAPTER ONE PLAYING PILGRIMS

 

第一章 朝圣

CHAPTER TWO A MERRY CHRISTMAS

 

第二章 圣诞快乐

CHAPTER THREE THE LAURENCE BOY

 

第三章 劳伦斯家的男孩

CHAPTER FOUR BURDENS

 

第四章 负担

CHAPTER FIVE BEING NEIGHBORLY

 

第五章 友邻睦居

CHAPTER SIX BETH FINDS THE PALACE BEAUTIFUL

 

第六章 贝思发现了丽宫

CHAPTER SEVEN AMY'S VALLEY OF HUMILIATION

 

第七章 艾美的耻辱谷

CHAPTER EIGHT JO MEETS APOLLYON

 

第八章 乔遇上了恶魔

CHAPTER NINE MEG GOES TO VANITY FAIR

 

第九章 梅格踏足名利场

CHAPTER TEN THE P.C. AND P.O.

 

第十章 匹克威克社和邮箱

CHAPTER ELEVEN EXPERIMENTS

 

第十一章 试验

CHAPTER TWELVE CAMP LAURENCE

 

第十二章 劳伦斯营地

CHAPTER THIRTEEN CASTLES IN THE AIR

 

第十三章 空中楼阁

CHAPTER FOURTEEN SECRETS

 

第十四章 秘密

CHAPTER FIFTEEN A TELEGRAM

 

第十五章 一封电报

CHAPTER SIXTEEN LETTERS

 

第十六章 书信

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN LITTLE FAITHFUL

 

第十七章 贝思罹病

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN DARK DAYS

 

第十八章 黑暗的日子

CHAPTER NINETEEN AMY'S WILL

 

第十九章 艾美的遗嘱

CHAPTER TWENTY CONFIDENTIAL

 

第二十章 密谈

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE LAURIE MAKES MISCHIEF, AND JO MAKES PEACE

 

第二十一章 劳里恶作剧,乔来讲和

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO PLEASANT MEADOWS

 

第二十二章 怡人的草地

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION

 

第二十三章 马奇婶婶解决问题

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR GOSSIP

 

第二十四章 闲聊

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE THE FIRST WEDDING

 

第二十五章 首次婚礼

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX ARTISTIC ATTEMPTS

 

第二十六章 艺术尝试

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN LITERARY LESSONS

 

第二十七章 文学课

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT DOMESTIC EXPERIENCES

 

第二十八章 家务经验

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE CALLS

 

第二十九章 出访

CHAPTER THIRTY CONSEQUENCES

 

第三十章 后果

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE OUR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

 

第三十一章 海外来鸿

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO TENDER TROUBLES

 

第三十二章 温柔的烦恼

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE JO'S JOURNAL

 

第三十三章 乔的日记

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR FRIEND

 

第三十四章 朋友

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE HEARTACHE

 

第三十五章 伤心

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX BETH'S SECRET

 

第三十六章 贝思的秘密

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN NEW IMPRESSIONS

 

第三十七章 新的印象

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT ON THE SHELF

 

第三十八章 束之高阁

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE LAZY LAURENCE

 

第三十九章 懒散的劳里

CHAPTER FORTY THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

 

第四十章 死荫之谷

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE LEARNING TO FORGET

 

第四十一章 学着忘却

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO ALL ALONE

 

第四十二章 孤独

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE SURPRISES

 

第四十三章 惊喜

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR MY LORD AND LADY

 

第四十四章 我的夫君,我的太太

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE DAISY AND DEMI

 

第四十五章 黛西和德米

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX UNDER THE UMBRELLA

 

第四十六章 在雨伞下

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN HARVEST TIME

 

第四十七章 收获季节







CHAPTER ONE PLAYING PILGRIMS

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

"We've got Father and Mother, and each other," said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, "We haven't got Father, and shall not have him for a long time." She didn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was.

Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone, "You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don't," and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted.

"But I don't think the little we should spend would do any good. We've each got a dollar, and the army wouldn't be much helped by our giving that. I agree not to expect anything from Mother or you, but I do want to buy Undine and Sintran for myself. I've wanted it so long," said Jo, who was a bookworm.

"I planned to spend mine in new music," said Beth, with a little sigh, which no one heard but the hearth brush and kettle-holder.

"I shall get a nice box of Faber's drawing pencils; I really need them," said Amy decidedly.

"Mother didn't say anything about our money, and she won't wish us to give up everything. Let's each buy what we want, and have a little fun; I'm sure we work hard enough to earn it," cried Jo, examining the heels of her shoes in a gentlemanly manner.

"I know I do—teaching those tiresome children nearly all day, when I'm longing to enjoy myself at home," began Meg, in the complaining tone again.

"You don't have half such a hard time as I do," said Jo. "How would you like to be shut up for hours with a nervous, fussy old lady, who keeps you trotting, is never satisfied, and worries you till you're ready to fly out the window or cry?"

"It's naughty to fret, but I do think washing dishes and keeping things tidy is the worst work in the world. It makes me cross, and my hands get so stiff, I can't practice well at all." And Beth looked at her rough hands with a sigh that any one could hear that time.

"I don't believe any of you suffer as I do," cried Amy, "for you don't have to go to school with impertinent girls, who plague you if you don't know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, and label your father if he isn't rich, and insult you when your nose isn't nice."

"If you mean libel, I'd say so, and not talk about labels, as if Papa was a pickle bottle," advised Jo, laughing.

"I know what I mean, and you needn't be statirical about it. It's proper to use good words, and improve your vocabilary," returned Amy, with dignity.

"Don't peck at one another, children. Don't you wish we had the money Papa lost when we were little, Jo? Dear me! How happy and good we'd be, if we had no worries!" said Meg, who could remember better times.

"You said the other day you thought we were a deal happier than the King children, for they were fighting and fretting all the time, in spite of their money."

"So I did, Beth. Well, I think we are. For though we do have to work, we make fun of ourselves, and are a pretty jolly set, as Jo would say."

"Jo does use such slang words!" observed Amy, with a reproving look at the long figure stretched on the rug.

Jo immediately sat up, put her hands in her pockets, and began to whistle.

"Don't, Jo. It's so boyish!"

"That's why I do it."

"I detest rude, unladylike girls!"

"I hate affected, niminy-piminy chits!"

"Birds in their little nests agree," sang Beth, the peacemaker, with such a funny face that both sharp voices softened to a laugh, and the "pecking" ended for that time.

"Really, girls, you are both to be blamed," said Meg, beginning to lecture in her elder-sisterly fashion. "You are old enough to leave off boyish tricks, and to behave better, Josephine. It didn't matter so much when you were a little girl, but now you are so tall, and turn up your hair, you should remember that you are a young lady."

"I'm not! And if turning up my hair makes me one, I'll wear it in two tails till I'm twenty," cried Jo, pulling off her net, and shaking down a chestnut mane. "I hate to think I've got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China Aster! It's bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy's games and work and manners! I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy. And it's worse than ever now, for I'm dying to go and fight with Papa. And I can only stay home and knit, like a poky old woman!"

And Jo shook the blue army sock till the needles rattled like castanets, and her ball bounded across the room.

"Poor Jo! It's too bad, but it can't be helped. So you must try to be contented with making your name boyish, and playing brother to us girls," said Beth, stroking the rough head with a hand that all the dish washing and dusting in the world could not make ungentle in its touch.

"As for you, Amy," continued Meg, "you are altogether too particular and prim. Your airs are funny now, but you'll grow up an affected little goose, if you don't take care. I like your nice manners and refined ways of speaking, when you don't try to be elegant. But your absurd words are as bad as Jo's slang."

"If Jo is a tomboy and Amy a goose, what am I, please?" asked Beth, ready to share the lecture.

"You're a dear, and nothing else," answered Meg warmly, and no one contradicted her, for the 'Mouse' was the pet of the family.

As young readers like to know 'how people look', we will take this moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters, who sat knitting away in the twilight, while the December snow fell quietly without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within. It was a comfortable room, though the carpet was faded and the furniture very plain, for a good picture or two hung on the walls, books filled the recesses, chrysanthemums and Christmas roses bloomed in the windows, and a pleasant atmosphere of home peace pervaded it.

Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn't like it. Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her 'Little Miss Tranquility', and the name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved. Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners. What the characters of the four sisters were we will leave to be found out.

The clock struck six and, having swept up the hearth, Beth put a pair of slippers down to warm. Somehow the sight of the old shoes had a good effect upon the girls, for Mother was coming, and everyone brightened to welcome her. Meg stopped lecturing, and lighted the lamp, Amy got out of the easy chair without being asked, and Jo forgot how tired she was as she sat up to hold the slippers nearer to the blaze.

"They are quite worn out. Marmee must have a new pair."

"I thought I'd get her some with my dollar," said Beth.

"No, I shall!" cried Amy.

"I'm the oldest," began Meg, but Jo cut in with a decided, "I'm the man of the family now Papa is away, and I shall provide the slippers, for he told me to take special care of Mother while he was gone."

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Beth, "let's each get her something for Christmas, and not get anything for ourselves."

"That's like you, dear! What will we get?" exclaimed Jo.

Everyone thought soberly for a minute, then Meg announced, as if the idea was suggested by the sight of her own pretty hands, "I shall give her a nice pair of gloves."

"Army shoes, best to be had," cried Jo.

"Some handkerchiefs, all hemmed," said Beth.

"I'll get a little bottle of cologne. She likes it, and it won't cost much, so I'll have some left to buy my pencils," added Amy.

"How will we give the things?" asked Meg.

"Put them on the table, and bring her in and see her open the bundles. Don't you remember how we used to do on our birthdays?" answered Jo.

"I used to be so frightened when it was my turn to sit in the chair with the crown on, and see you all come marching round to give the presents, with a kiss. I liked the things and the kisses, but it was dreadful to have you sit looking at me while I opened the bundles," said Beth, who was toasting her face and the bread for tea at the same time.

"Let Marmee think we are getting things for ourselves, and then surprise her. We must go shopping tomorrow afternoon, Meg. There is so much to do about the play for Christmas night," said Jo, marching up and down, with her hands behind her back, and her nose in the air.

"I don't mean to act any more after this time. I'm getting too old for such things," observed Meg, who was as much a child as ever about 'dressing-up' frolics.

"You won't stop, I know, as long as you can trail round in a white gown with your hair down, and wear gold-paper jewelry. You are the best actress we've got, and there'll be an end of everything if you quit the boards," said Jo. "We ought to rehearse tonight. Come here, Amy, and do the fainting scene, for you are as stiff as a poker in that."

"I can't help it. I never saw anyone faint, and I don't choose to make myself all black and blue, tumbling flat as you do. If I can go down easily, I'll drop. If I can't, I shall fall into a chair and be graceful. I don't care if Hugo does come at me with a pistol," returned Amy, who was not gifted with dramatic power, but was chosen because she was small enough to be borne out shrieking by the villain of the piece.

"Do it this way. Clasp your hands so, and stagger across the room, crying frantically, 'Roderigo! Save me! Save me!'" and away went Jo, with a melodramatic scream which was truly thrilling.

Amy followed, but she poked her hands out stiffly before her, and jerked herself along as if she went by machinery, and her "Ow!" was more suggestive of pins being run into her than of fear and anguish. Jo gave a despairing groan, and Meg laughed outright, while Beth let her bread burn as she watched the fun with interest. "It's no use! Do the best you can when the time comes, and if the audience laughs, don't blame me. Come on, Meg."

Then things went smoothly, for Don Pedro defied the world in a speech of two pages without a single break. Hagar, the witch, chanted an awful incantation over her kettleful of simmering toads, with weird effect. Roderigo rent his chains asunder manfully, and Hugo died in agonies of remorse and arsenic, with a wild, "Ha! Ha!"

"It's the best we've had yet," said Meg, as the dead villain sat up and rubbed his elbows.

"I don't see how you can write and act such splendid things, Jo. You're a regular Shakespeare!" exclaimed Beth, who firmly believed that her sisters were gifted with wonderful genius in all things.

"Not quite," replied Jo modestly. "I do think The Witches Curse, an Operatic Tragedy is rather a nice thing, but I'd like to try Macbeth, if we only had a trapdoor for Banquo. I always wanted to do the killing part. 'Is that a dagger that I see before me?" muttered Jo, rolling her eyes and clutching at the air, as she had seen a famous tragedian do.

"No, it's the toasting fork, with Mother's shoe on it instead of the bread. Beth's stage-struck!" cried Meg, and the rehearsal ended in a general burst of laughter.

"Glad to find you so merry, my girls," said a cheery voice at the door, and actors and audience turned to welcome a tall, motherly lady with a 'can I help you' look about her which was truly delightful. She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman, and the girls thought the gray cloak and unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid mother in the world.

"Well, dearies, how have you got on today? There was so much to do, getting the boxes ready to go tomorrow, that I didn't come home to dinner. Has anyone called, Beth? How is your cold, Meg? Jo, you look tired to death. Come and kiss me, baby."

While making these maternal inquiries Mrs. March got her wet things off, her warm slippers on, and sitting down in the easy chair, drew Amy to her lap, preparing to enjoy the happiest hour of her busy day. The girls flew about, trying to make things comfortable, each in her own way. Meg arranged the tea table, Jo brought wood and set chairs, dropping, over-turning, and clattering everything she touched. Beth trotted to and fro between parlor kitchen, quiet and busy, while Amy gave directions to everyone, as she sat with her hands folded.

As they gathered about the table, Mrs. March said, with a particularly happy face, "I've got a treat for you after supper."

A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of sunshine. Beth clapped her hands, regardless of the biscuit she held, and Jo tossed up her napkin, crying, "A letter! A letter! Three cheers for Father!"

"Yes, a nice long letter. He is well, and thinks he shall get through the cold season better than we feared. He sends all sorts of loving wishes for Christmas, and an especial message to you girls," said Mrs. March, patting her pocket as if she had got a treasure there.

"Hurry and get done! Don't stop to quirk your little finger and simper over your plate, Amy," cried Jo, choking on her tea and dropping her bread, butter side down, on the carpet in her haste to get at the treat.

Beth ate no more, but crept away to sit in her shadowy corner and brood over the delight to come, till the others were ready.

"I think it was so splendid in Father to go as chaplain when he was too old to be drafted, and not strong enough for a soldier," said Meg warmly.

"Don't I wish I could go as a drummer, a vivan—what's its name? Or a nurse, so I could be near him and help him," exclaimed Jo, with a groan.

"It must be very disagreeable to sleep in a tent, and eat all sorts of bad-tasting things, and drink out of a tin mug," sighed Amy.

"When will he come home, Marmee?" asked Beth, with a little quiver in her voice.

"Not for many months, dear, unless he is sick. He will stay and do his work faithfully as long as he can, and we won't ask for him back a minute sooner than he can be spared. Now come and hear the letter."

They all drew to the fire, Mother in the big chair with Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion if the letter should happen to be touching. Very few letters were written in those hard times that were not touching, especially those which fathers sent home. In this one little was said of the hardships endured, the dangers faced, or the homesickness conquered. It was a cheerful, hopeful letter, full of lively descriptions of camp life, marches, and military news, and only at the end did the writer's heart over-flow with fatherly love and longing for the little girls at home.

"Give them all of my dear love and a kiss. Tell them I think of them by day, pray for them by night, and find my best comfort in their affection at all times. A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women." Everybody sniffed when they came to that part. Jo wasn't ashamed of the great tear that dropped off the end of her nose, and Amy never minded the rumpling of her curls as she hid her face on her mother's shoulder and sobbed out, "I am a selfish girl! But I'll truly try to be better, so he mayn't be disappointed in me by-and-by."

"We all will," cried Meg. "I think too much of my looks and hate to work, but won't any more, if I can help it."

"I'll try and be what he loves to call me, 'a little woman' and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else," said Jo, thinking that keeping her temper at home was a much harder task than facing a rebel or two down South.

Beth said nothing, but wiped away her tears with the blue army sock and began to knit with all her might, losing no time in doing the duty that lay nearest her, while she resolved in her quiet little soul to be all that Father hoped to find her when the year brought round the happy coming home.

Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo's words, by saying in her cheery voice, "Do you remember how you used to play Pilgrims Progress when you were little things? Nothing delighted you more than to have me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens, give you hats and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel through the house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction, up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you could collect to make a Celestial City."

"What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fighting Apollyon, and passing through the valley where the hob-goblins were," said Jo.

"I liked the place where the bundles fell off and tumbled downstairs," said Meg.

"I don't remember much about it, except that I was afraid of the cellar and the dark entry, and always liked the cake and milk we had up at the top. If I wasn't too old for such things, I'd rather like to play it over again," said Amy, who began to talk of renouncing childish things at the mature age of twelve.

"We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City. Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before Father comes home."

"Really, Mother? Where are our bundles?" asked Amy, who was a very literal young lady.

"Each of you told what your burden was just now, except Beth. I rather think she hasn't got any," said her mother.

"Yes, I have. Mine is dishes and dusters, and envying girls with nice pianos, and being afraid of people."

Beth's bundle was such a funny one that everybody wanted to laugh, but nobody did, for it would have hurt her feelings very much.

"Let us do it," said Meg thoughtfully. "It is only another name for trying to be good, and the story may help us, for though we do want to be good, it's hard work and we forget, and don't do our best."

"We were in the Slough of Despond tonight, and Mother came and pulled us out as Help did in the book. We ought to have our roll of directions, like Christian. What shall we do about that?" asked Jo, delighted with the fancy which lent a little romance to the very dull task of doing her duty.

"Look under your pillows Christmas morning, and you will find your guidebook," replied Mrs. March.

They talked over the new plan while old Hannah cleared the table, then out came the four little work baskets, and the needles flew as the girls made sheets for Aunt March. It was uninteresting sewing, but tonight no one grumbled. They adopted Jo's plan of dividing the long seams into four parts, and calling the quarters Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and in that way got on capitally, especially when they talked about the different countries as they stitched their way through them.

At nine they stopped work, and sang, as usual, before they went to bed. No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano, but she had a way of softly touching the yellow keys and making a pleasant accompaniment to the simple songs they sang. Meg had a voice like a flute, and she and her mother led the little choir. Amy chirped like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at her own sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place with a croak or a quaver that spoiled the most pensive tune. They had always done this from the time they could lisp...

Crinkle, crinkle, 'ittle 'tar,

and it had become a household custom, for the mother was a born singer. The first sound in the morning was her voice as she went about the house singing like a lark, and the last sound at night was the same cheery sound, for the girls never grew too old for that familiar lullaby.

 

第一章 朝圣

“没有礼物圣诞节怎么过?”乔躺在小地毯上咕哝。

“贫穷真可怕!”梅格发出一声叹息,低头望着身上的旧衣服。

“有些女孩子拥有荣华富贵,有些却一无所有,我认为这不公平。”艾美鼻子轻轻一哼,三分出于轻蔑,七分出于嫉妒。

“但我们有父母姐妹,”坐在一角的贝思提出抗议。

这句令人愉快的话使炉火映照下的四张年轻的脸庞明亮起来。”我们没有父亲,很长一段时间都将没有,”乔伤心地说。听到这句话,大家的脸又暗淡下去。她虽没说"可能永远没有",但每个人心里都把这句话悄悄说了一遍,同时想起远在战场的父亲。

大家一时无言。一会梅格换了个声调说:“你们知道妈妈为什么建议今年圣诞节不派礼物吗?因为寒冷的冬天就要来了,而我们的男人在军营里受苦受难,我们不应该花钱寻乐。

虽然我们能力有限,但可以在这方面做出一点小小的牺牲,而且应该做得高高兴兴。不过我可并不高兴。”梅格摇摇脑袋。

想到那些梦寐以求的漂亮礼物,她感到遗憾不已。

“我看我们那丁点儿钱也帮不上什么忙。我们每人只得一元钱,献给部队也没多大用处。我们不要期待妈妈给我们什么礼物,不过我真的很想买一本《水中女神》,那本书我早就想买了,”乔说。她是个蛀书虫。

“我本来打算买些新乐谱,”贝思轻轻叹了口气说,声音轻得谁也听不到。

“我要买一盒精致的费伯氏画笔。我真的很需要,”艾美干脆地说。

“妈妈没说过这钱该怎么花,要是看着我们两手空空,她也不会高兴的。我们倒不如各自买点自己喜欢的东西高兴高兴。为挣这些钱,我们花了我多少心血!“乔大声说道,蛮有绅士风度地审视着自己的鞋跟。

“可不是嘛——差不多一天到晚都得教那些讨厌的孩子,现在多想回家轻松一下啊!”梅格又开始抱怨了。

“你何尝赶得上我辛苦呢?”乔说,”想想好几个小时和一个吹毛求疵、神经质的老太太关在一起,被她使唤得团团转,她却永远不会感到满意,把你折腾得真想从这个世界上消失或者干脆大哭一场,你会感觉怎样?”“怨天尤人并不好,但我真的觉得洗碗打扫房子是全世界最痛苦的事情。这让我脾气暴躁不算,双手也变得僵硬,连琴也弹不了。”贝思望着自己粗糙的双手叹一口气,这回每个人都听到了。

“我不相信有谁比我更痛苦,”艾美嚷道,”因为你们都不用去上学。那些女孩子粗俗无礼,如果你不懂功课,她们就让你下不了台,她们笑话你的衣着,爸爸没有钱要被她们标价,鼻子长得不漂亮也要被她们侮辱。”“你是说''讥谤''吧?别念成''标价'',好像爸爸是个腌菜瓶子似的,”乔边笑边纠正。

“我知道我在说什么你对此不必''冷嘲日(热)讽'',用好的字眼没什么不对,这有助于增加''字(词)汇'',”艾美义正辞严地反击。

“别斗嘴了,姑娘们。乔,难道你不希望我们拥有爸爸在我们小时候失去的钱吗?哦,如果我们没有烦恼,那该多幸福啊!”梅格说。她还记得过去的好时光。

“但前几天你说我们比起王孙公子来要幸福多了,因为他们虽然有钱,却一天到晚明争暗斗,烦恼不休。”“我是这么说过,贝思,嗯,现在也还是这么想,因为,虽然我们不得不干活,但我们可以互相嬉戏,而且,如乔所说,是蛮快活的一伙。”“乔就是爱用这些粗俗的字眼!”艾美抨击道,用一种谴责的眼光望着躺在地毯上的长身躯。乔立即坐起来,双手插进衣袋,吹起了口哨。

“别这样,乔,只有男孩子才这样做。”

“所以我才吹。”

“我憎恨粗鲁、没有淑女风度的女孩!”“我讨厌虚假、矫揉造作的毛头妹!“''小巢里的鸟儿一致同意,''"和平使者贝思唱起歌儿,脸上的表情滑稽有趣。尖着嗓门的两人化为一笑,”斗嘴"就此结束。

“我说姑娘们,你们两个都不对,”梅格开始以姐姐的身份说教,”约瑟芬,你已经长大了,不应再玩男孩子的把戏,应该检点一些。你还是小姑娘时这倒没有什么,但你现在已长得这么高,而且网起了头发,就得记住自己是个年轻女士。“我不是!如果网起头发就把我当女士的话,我就梳两条辫子,直到二十岁,”乔大声叫起来。她拉掉发网,披落一头栗色的厚发。”我恨我得长大,得做马奇小姐。我恨穿长礼服,恨故作正经的漂亮小姐。我喜欢男孩子的游戏,男孩子的活儿以及男孩子风度,却偏偏是个女孩子,真是倒霉透了。做不成男孩真让我止不住失望,可现在比以往任何时候都要糟,因为我是那么想跟爸爸一起参加战斗,却只能呆坐在家中做女工,像个死气沉沉的老太太!”乔抖动蓝色的军袜,把里头的针弄得铮铮作响,线团也滚落到一边。

“可怜的乔!真是不幸,但有什么办法呢?你只好把自己的名字改得男子气一些,扮演我们姐妹的哥哥,找点安慰。”贝思一面说,一面用柔软的双手轻轻抚摸着靠在她膝上的头发蓬乱的脑袋。

“至于你,艾美,”梅格接着说,”你过于讲究,过于一本正经。你的神态现在看上去挺有趣,但要是一不小心,长大就会变成个装模作样的小傻瓜。如果不刻意作态,你的言谈举止倒是十分优雅的,不过你那些荒谬的言语和乔的傻话却是半斤对八两。”“如果乔是个假小子,艾美是个小傻瓜,请问,我是什么?”贝思问道。

“你是个乖宝贝,再没别的,”梅格亲热地答道。此话无人反驳,因为这位”小胆鼠"是全家人的宠儿。

由于年轻的读者们喜欢知道“人物样貌",我们趁此机会把坐在黄昏的余辉下做针线活儿的四姐妹概略描述一下。此时屋外的冬雪正轻轻飘落,屋内炉火噼啪欢响。虽然这间旧房子铺着褪了色的地毯,摆设也相当简单,但却显得十分舒适:墙上挂着一两幅雅致的图画,壁凹内堆满了书本,窗台上是绽放的菊花和圣诞花,屋里洋溢着一片宁静、温馨的气氛。

大姐玛格丽特,十六岁,出落得十分标致。她体态丰盈,肌肤洁白,大大的眼睛,甜甜的笑容,一头棕色秀发又浓又厚,双手白皙,这令她颇为自得。十五岁的乔身材修长,皮肤黝黑,见了使人想到一匹小公马,因为她修长的四肢相当碍事,她仿佛总是不知道该如何处置它们。她嘴巴刚毅,鼻子俊俏,灰色的眼睛异常敏锐,似乎能看穿一切,眼神时而炽烈,时而风趣,时而又像在沉思。浓密的长发使她显得特别美丽,但为了方便长发通常被她束入发网。她双肩圆润,大手大脚,穿着又宽又大的衣服。正迅速长成一个成熟的女性,心里却极不愿,因此常常流露出这个阶段的女孩所特有的尴尬神情。伊丽莎白,人称贝思,十三岁,肤色红润,秀发润泽,目如秋波。她举止腼腆,声音羞怯,神情宁静而深远,被父亲称为"小宁静",此名非她莫属,因为她似乎独个生活在自己的伊甸园中,只敢出来会会几个最亲最信任的人。艾美虽然最小,却是个十分重要的人物。至少她自我感觉如此。她生得纤细端庄,肌骨晶莹,一双蓝眼睛,金黄色的头发卷曲披落肩头,言谈举止十足一个讲究风度的年轻女子。四姐妹的性格如何,我们后面分解。

时钟敲响六下,贝思已经扫干净壁炉地面,把一双便鞋放到上面烘干。看到这双旧鞋子,姑娘们想起妈妈就要回家了,心情明朗起来,准备迎接妈妈。梅格停止了训导,点上了灯。艾美不用人说,就离开了安乐椅。乔则坐起来把鞋子挪近火边,一时忘却了疲倦。

“鞋子太破旧了,妈咪得换双新的。”

“我想用自己的钱给她买一双,”贝思说。

“不,我来买!”艾美嚷道。

“我最大,”梅格刚开口,就被乔坚决地打断了——“爸爸不在家,我就是家里的男子汉了,鞋子我来买。因为爸爸跟我说过,他不在家的时候要我好好照顾妈妈。”“依我说应该这么着,”贝思说,”我们各自给妈妈送件圣诞礼物,我们自己什么都别要了。”“那才像你!好妹妹,送什么好呢?”乔嚷道。

大家都认真想了一会,梅格似乎从自己漂亮的双手得到启发,宣布道:“我要给妈妈送一双精致的手套。”“最好送双军鞋,”乔高声说道。

“我要送些镶边小手帕,”贝思说。

“我会送一小瓶古龙香水。因为妈妈喜欢,而且不用太花钱,我还可以省点钱给自己买铅笔,”艾美接着说。

“我们怎么个送法呢?”梅格问。

“把礼物放在桌上,把妈妈带进来,让她在我们面前亲自拆开礼物。你忘记我们是怎样过生日的吗?”乔回答。

“每当我坐在那张大椅子上,头戴花冠,看着你们一个个上前送上礼物,吻我一下时,心里真是慌得很。我喜欢你们的礼物和亲吻,但要在众目睽睽之下把礼物拆开,我就吓得心里直打鼓儿,”贝思说,边烘茶点,边取暖。

“先别告诉妈咪,让她以为我们是为自己准备的,给她一个惊喜。我们明天下午就得去办货,梅格,圣诞夜的话剧还有许多事情要准备呐。”乔说话的时候倒背着手,仰着头,来回踱步。

“演完这回,以后我就不演了。我年岁大,该退出了,”对"化装游戏"一直童心未泯的梅格说。

“你不会停止的,我知道,只要你能够披下头发,戴上金纸做的珠宝,身披白长裙摇曳而行,你就不会的。因为你是我们的最佳演员,如果你退出,那么一切都完了,”乔说,”我们今晚应该排练一下。来,艾美,试演一下晕厥那一场,你演这幕时生硬得像根拨火棍。”“有什么办法!我从来没见过人晕倒,我也不想像你一样直挺挺地摔倒,弄得自己青一块紫一块的。如果我可以轻轻地倒在地上,我就倒下,否则,还不如体面地倒在椅子上。即使雨果真的用枪指着我也是这句话,”艾美回答。她的表演天赋并不高,被选派这一角色是因为她年纪小,碰上歹徒的尖叫声由她发出更可信。

“这样来:两手这样握着,摇摇晃晃地走过房间,发狂般地叫喊:''罗德力戈!救救我!救救我!''"乔做示范,夸张地尖叫一声,令人毛骨悚然。

艾美跟着模仿,但她伸出的双手僵硬无比,发出的尖叫声与情景相差万里。她那一声"啊!”不像是感到恐惧和极度痛苦,倒像是被针戳了一下。乔失望地叹了一声,梅格却放声大笑,贝思看得有趣,把面包也烤糊了。

“不可救药!演出时尽力而为吧,如果观众笑你,别怪我。

来吧,梅格。”

接下来就顺利多了。唐•佩德罗一口气读下两页挑战世界的宣言;女巫黑格把满满一锅蟾蜍放在火里炖,妖里妖气地给它们念一道可怕的咒语;罗德力戈力拔山河地扯断锁链,雨果狂叫着"哈!哈!”在悔恨和砒霜的折磨下死去。

“这是做得最好的一次,”当"死去"的反角坐起来揉擦肘部时,梅格说。

“乔,你能写出这么好的剧本,而且演得这么出色,简直不可思议!你真是莎士比亚再世!”贝思喊道。她坚信姐妹们才华横溢,无所不能。

“过奖了,”乔谦逊地回答,”《女巫的咒语,一个歌剧式的悲剧》是挺不错的,不过我想演《麦克佩斯》,如果我们能给班柯一扇活地板门的话。我一直想演刺客这一角色。''我眼前看到的是一把刀吗?''"乔轻声朗诵,像她所见过的一位著名悲剧演员一样,转动着眼珠,两手抓向空中。

“错了,这是烧烤叉,你放上去的不是面包,而是妈妈的鞋。贝思看入迷了!“梅格叫起来。众姐妹大笑不已,排练也随之结束。

“看到你们这么快活我真高兴,我的女儿们。”门口传来一串愉快的声音,这些演员和观众转过身来,迎接一位高高个儿、充满母性的女士。她神情可亲、令人愉快。她的衣着虽不华丽,但仪态高贵。在姐妹们心目中,这位身披灰色外套,头戴一顶过时无边小圆软帽的女士是普天下最出色的母亲。

“小宝贝们,今天过得怎么样?我事情太多,要准备好明天就得发出的箱子,没能回家吃饭。有人来过吗,贝思?你感冒好点没有,梅格?乔,你看上去累极了,来吻我吧,宝贝。”马奇太太慈爱地一一询问,一面换去湿衣物,穿上暖和的拖鞋,坐在安乐椅中,把艾美拉到膝边,准备享受繁忙的一天中最幸福的时光。姑娘们纷纷行动起来,各显身手,尽量把一切都布置得舒适怡人。梅格摆茶桌,乔搬木柴并放椅子,却把柴丢落一地,把椅子也打翻,弄得咔嗒直响,贝思在客厅和厨房之间匆匆来回穿梭,忙碌而安静,而艾美则袖手旁观,发号施令。

大家都聚到桌边的时候,马奇太太说:“用饭后,我有好东西给你们。”她的脸上有一种异乎寻常的快乐。

姐妹们脸上立即现出如阳光般灿烂的笑容。贝思顾不得手里拿着饼干,拍起了手掌,乔把餐巾一抛,嚷道:“信!信!

爸爸万岁!”

“是的,一封令人愉快的长信。他一切都好,冬季也不会熬得很苦,我们不必担忧。他祝我们圣诞快乐,事事如意,并特别问候你们这些姑娘们,”马奇太太边说边用手摸着衣袋,似乎里头装着珍宝。

“快点吃饭!别停下来弯起你的小手指边吃边傻笑,艾美,”乔嚷道,她因为急不可耐地要听信,被茶噎了一口,涂了奶油的面包也掉落到地毯上。

贝思不再吃了,她悄悄走到幽暗的屋角坐下,默默想着那即将到来的欢乐,直到大家吃完。

“爸爸已超过征兵年龄,身体也不适宜当兵,我认为他去当随军牧师真是太好了,”梅格热切地说。

“我真想当个鼓手,或者当个——什么来着?或者去当个护士,这样我就可以在他身边帮忙,”乔大声说道,一边哼了一声。

“睡帐篷,吃不堪入口的食物,用大锡杯喝水,这一定十分难受,”艾美叹道。

“他什么时候回家,妈妈?”贝思声音微颤地问道。

“不出几个月,亲爱的,除非他病倒。他在部队一天就会尽忠职守一天。我们也不会要求他提早一分钟回来。现在来读信吧!”她们都围近火边,妈妈坐在大椅子上,贝思坐在她脚边,梅格和艾美一边一个靠在椅子扶手上,乔故意倚在背后,这样读到信中感人的地方时别人也不会觉察到她表情的变化。

在那种艰难的日子里,信,尤其是父亲们写回家的信,往往都催人泪下。但这封信却极少谈及受到的艰难险阻和压抑的乡愁,描述的都是些生动的军营生活、行军情况和部队新闻,读了令人心情振奋,只是在信尾才展露出一颗深沉的慈父爱心以及渴望回家和妻女们团聚的愿望。

“给她们献上我所有的爱和吻。告诉她们我天天想念她们,夜夜为她们祈祷,每时每刻都从她们的爱中得到最大的安慰。要见到她们还要等上漫长的一年,但请提醒她们我可以在等待中工作,不虚度这段难忘的日子。我知道她们会牢记我的话,做好孩子,忠实地做她们该做的事,勇敢地生活、战斗,善于自我控制。等我重返家园的时候,我的四个小妇人一定变得更可爱,更令我感到骄傲。”读到这段,每个人都抽泣鼻子,乔任由大滴大滴的泪珠从鼻尖滚落下来,艾美顾不得一头鬈发会被弄乱,把脸埋在妈妈的肩头上,呜呜咽咽地说:“我是个自私的女孩!但我一定努力进取,不让爸爸失望。”“我们都会努力!”梅格哭着说,”我太注重衣着打扮,而且讨厌工作,以后一定尽量改正。”“我会试着做个''小妇人'',就像爸爸总爱这么叫我的那样,改掉粗野的脾气,做好自己的分内事,不再胡思乱想,“乔说,心里明白在家管好自己的脾气比在南方对付两个敌人还要艰难。

贝思没有言语,只是用深蓝色的军袜抹掉眼泪,拼命埋头编织。她不浪费点滴时间,而是从身边的工作做起,并暗下决心,一定让爸爸回来欢聚的时候如愿以偿。

马奇太太用她愉悦的声音打破了乔说话之后的一阵沉默:“你们还记得演《天路历程》的情形吗?那时候你们还都是些小东西。你们最喜欢我把布袋绑到你们背上做担子,再给你们帽、棍子和纸卷,让你们从屋里走到地窖,也就是''毁灭城'',又再往上一直走到屋顶,在那里你们可以得到许多好东西,这就是''天国''了。“那多好玩啊,特别是走过狮子群,大战''地狱魔王'',路过''妖怪谷''时候!”乔说。

“我喜欢包袱掉下来滚落楼梯这个情节,”梅格说。

“我最喜欢的是我们走出来,上到平坦的屋顶,屋顶满是鲜花、乔木和美丽的东西,我们站在那里,在阳光照耀下,放声欢歌,”贝思微微笑着说,好像又重新回到了那美好的时刻。

“我不大记得了,只记得我挺害怕那个地窖和黑漆漆的入口,还有就是挺喜欢吃屋顶上的蛋糕和牛奶。如果不是年龄太大,我倒挺想再演一回。”年仅十二但已显得成熟的艾美开始谈论告别童真了。

“演这出戏永远没有年龄之分,亲爱的,事实上我们一直都在扮演,只是方式不同而已。我们重担在肩,道路就在眼前,追求善美、追求幸福的愿望引导我们跨越无数艰难险阻,最后踏入圣宁之地——真正的''天国''。来吧,往天国进发的小旅客们,再来一次吧。不是做戏,而是真心真意地去做,看看爸爸回来时你们走了多远的路。”“真的吗,妈妈?我们的重担在哪里?”缺乏想像力的年轻女士艾美问道。

“刚才你们各人都把自己的担子说了出来,只有贝思除外。恐怕她没有哩,”母亲答道。

“有呵,我也有。锅、碗、瓶、盆,扫帚抹布,嫉妒有漂亮钢琴的女孩,害怕生人,这些都是我的担子。”贝思的包袱如此有趣,大家直想笑,不过都没有笑出来,因为这样会大大伤害她的自尊心。

“干这些有什么不好呢?”梅格沉思着说,”这其实就是追求善美,只是说法不同而已,而这个故事可以启发我们,因为尽管我们都有追求善美之心,但因为做起来困难,我们便又忘掉了,不去尽力而为。”“我们今晚本来处于''绝望的深渊'',妈妈像书中的''帮助''一样来把我们拉了出去,我们应该像基督教徒一样有几本指导手册。这事怎么办好呢?”乔问,为自己的想像力给沉闷的任务添加了几分浪漫色彩而自鸣得意。

“圣诞节一早看看你们的枕下,就会找到指导手册了,”马奇太太说。

罕娜嬷嬷收拾桌子时,大家开始讨论新计划,然后取出四个装活计的小篮子,姐妹们开始飞针走线,为马奇太太缝制被单。针线活是个沉闷的活儿,不过今天晚上谁也没有抱怨。她们采纳乔的建议,把长长的缝口分为四段,分别称为欧洲、亚洲、非洲和美洲。这样果然缝得快多了。她们一边缝一边谈论针线穿越的不同国家,更觉进展神速。

九点钟的时候大家停下活儿,像平时那样先唱歌再去睡觉。家里有架老掉牙的钢琴,除了贝思,大家都不大会弹。她轻轻触动泛黄的琴键,大家随着悠扬的琴声唱了起来。梅格的嗓音像芦笛一样动听,她和母亲担任这支小演唱队的领唱。

艾美歌声清脆,如蟋蟀的鸣叫,乔则任由歌声在空中飘荡,总是在不适宜的时候冒出个颤音或怪叫声来,把最深沉的曲调给糟蹋掉。打从牙牙学语的时候开始,她们就一直这样唱:小星星,亮晶晶,如今这已成了家里的惯例,因为她们的母亲就是个天生的歌唱家。早上听到的第一个声音就是她在屋子里走动时唱出的云雀般婉转的歌声,晚上,她那轻快的歌声又成了一天的尾声。这支熟识的摇篮曲姑娘们百听不厌。




CHAPTER TWO A MERRY CHRISTMAS

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a "Merry Christmas," and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sisters, especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice was so gently given.

"Girls," said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, "Mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once. We used to be faithful about it, but since Father went away and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can do as you please, but I shall keep my book on the table here and read a little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do me good and help me through the day."

Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo put her arm round her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with the quiet expression so seldom seen on her restless face.

"How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let's do as they do. I'll help you with the hard words, and they'll explain things if we don't understand," whispered Beth, very much impressed by the pretty books and her sisters' example.

"I'm glad mine is blue," said Amy. and then the rooms were very still while the pages were softly turned, and the winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.

"Where is Mother?" asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to thank her for their gifts, half an hour later.

"Goodness only knows. Some poor creeter came a-beggin', and your ma went straight off to see what was needed. There never was such a woman for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes and firin'," replied Hannah, who had lived with the family since Meg was born, and was considered by them all more as a friend than a servant.

"She will be back soon, I think, so fry your cakes, and have everything ready," said Meg, looking over the presents which were collected in a basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be produced at the proper time. "Why, where is Amy's bottle of cologne?" she added, as the little flask did not appear.

"She took it out a minute ago, and went off with it to put a ribbon on it, or some such notion," replied Jo, dancing about the room to take the first stiffness off the new army slippers.

"How nice my handkerchiefs look, don't they? Hannah washed and ironed them for me, and I marked them all myself," said Beth, looking proudly at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost her such labor.

"Bless the child! She's gone and put 'Mother' on them instead of 'M. March'. How funny!" cried Jo, taking one up.

"Isn't that right? I thought it was better to do it so, because Meg's initials are M.M., and I don't want anyone to use these but Marmee," said Beth, looking troubled.

"It's all right, dear, and a very pretty idea, quite sensible too, for no one can ever mistake now. It will please her very much, I know," said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a smile for Beth.

"There's Mother. Hide the basket, quick!" cried Jo, as a door slammed and steps sounded in the hall.

Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw her sisters all waiting for her.

"Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?" asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak, that lazy Amy had been out so early.

"Don't laugh at me, Jo! I didn't mean anyone should know till the time came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a big one, and I gave all my money to get it, and I'm truly trying not to be selfish any more."

As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced the cheap one, and looked so earnest and humble in her little effort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on the spot, and Jo pronounced her 'a trump', while Beth ran to the window, and picked her finest rose to ornament the stately bottle.

"You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking about being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed it the minute I was up, and I'm so glad, for mine is the handsomest now."

Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa, and the girls to the table, eager for breakfast.

"Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books. We read some, and mean to every day," they all cried in chorus.

"Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?"

They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, "I'm so glad you came before we began!"

"May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?" asked Beth eagerly.

"I shall take the cream and the muffings," added Amy, heroically giving up the article she most liked.

Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread into one big plate.

"I thought you'd do it," said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. "You shall all go and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinnertime."

They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately it was early, and they went through back streets, so few people saw them, and no one laughed at the queer party.

A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.

How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in.

"Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!" said the poor woman, crying for joy.

"Funny angels in hoods and mittens," said Jo, and set them to laughing.

In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been at work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and stopped up the broken panes with old hats and her own cloak. Mrs. March gave the mother tea and gruel, and comforted her with promises of help, while she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had been her own. The girls meantime spread the table, set the children round the fire, and fed them like so many hungry birds, laughing, talking, and trying to understand the funny broken English.

"Das ist gut!" "Die Engel-kinder!" cried the poor things as they ate and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze. The girls had never been called angel children before, and thought it very agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considered a 'Sancho' ever since she was born. That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.

"That's loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it," said Meg, as they set out their presents while their mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.

Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of love done up in the few little bundles, and the tall vase of red roses, white chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which stood in the middle, gave quite an elegant air to the table.

"She's coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy! Three cheers for Marmee!" cried Jo, prancing about while Meg went to conduct Mother to the seat of honor.

Beth played her gayest march, Amy threw open the door, and Meg enacted escort with great dignity. Mrs. March was both surprised and touched, and smiled with her eyes full as she examined her presents and read the little notes which accompanied them. The slippers went on at once, a new handkerchief was slipped into her pocket, well scented with Amy's cologne, the rose was fastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were pronounced a perfect fit.

There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining, in the simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals so pleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterward, and then all fell to work.

The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that the rest of the day was devoted to preparations for the evening festivities. Being still too young to go often to the theater, and not rich enough to afford any great outlay for private performances, the girls put their wits to work, and necessity being the mother of invention, made whatever they needed. Very clever were some of their productions, pasteboard guitars, antique lamps made of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper, gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering with tin spangles from a pickle factory, and armor covered with the same useful diamond shaped bits left in sheets when the lids of preserve pots were cut out. The big chamber was the scene of many innocent revels.

No gentleman were admitted, so Jo played male parts to her heart's content and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russet leather boots given her by a friend, who knew a lady who knew an actor. These boots, an old foil, and a slashed doublet once used by an artist for some picture, were Jo's chief treasures and appeared on all occasions. The smallness of the company made it necessary for the two principal actors to take several parts apiece, and they certainly deserved some credit for the hard work they did in learning three or four different parts, whisking in and out of various costumes, and managing the stage besides. It was excellent drill for their memories, a harmless amusement, and employed many hours which otherwise would have been idle, lonely, or spent in less profitable society.

On Christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed which was the dress circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintz curtains in a most flattering state of expectancy. There was a good deal of rustling and whispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lamp smoke, and an occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt to get hysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a bell sounded, the curtains flew apart, and the operatic tragedy began.

"A gloomy wood," according to the one playbill, was represented by a few shrubs in pots, green baize on the floor, and a cave in the distance. This cave was made with a clothes horse for a roof, bureaus for walls, and in it was a small furnace in full blast, with a black pot on it and an old witch bending over it. The stage was dark and the glow of the furnace had a fine effect, especially as real steam issued from the kettle when the witch took off the cover. A moment was allowed for the first thrill to subside, then Hugo, the villain, stalked in with a clanking sword at his side, a slouching hat, black beard, mysterious cloak, and the boots. After pacing to and fro in much agitation, he struck his forehead, and burst out in a wild strain, singing of his hatred for Roderigo, his love for Zara, and his pleasing resolution to kill the one and win the other. The gruff tones of Hugo's voice, with an occasional shout when his feelings overcame him, were very impressive, and the audience applauded the moment he paused for breath. Bowing with the air of one accustomed to public praise, he stole to the cavern and ordered Hagar to come forth with a commanding, "What ho, minion! I need thee!"

Out came Meg, with gray horsehair hanging about her face, a red and black robe, a staff, and cabalistic signs upon her cloak. Hugo demanded a potion to make Zara adore him, and one to destroy Roderigo. Hagar, in a fine dramatic melody, promised both, and proceeded to call up the spirit who would bring the love philter.

Hither, hither, from thy home,
Airy sprite, I bid thee come!
Born of roses, fed on dew,
Charms and potions canst thou brew?
Bring me here, with elfin speed,
The fragrant philter which I need.
Make it sweet and swift and strong,
Spirit, answer now my song!

A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of the cave appeared a little figure in cloudy white, with glittering wings, golden hair, and a garland of roses on its head. Waving a wand, it sang...

Hither I come,
From my airy home,
Afar in the silver moon.
Take the magic spell,
And use it well,
Or its power will vanish soon!

And dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch's feet, the spirit vanished. Another chant from Hagar produced another apparition, not a lovely one, for with a bang an ugly black imp appeared and, having croaked a reply, tossed a dark bottle at Hugo and disappeared with a mocking laugh. Having warbled his thanks and put the potions in his boots, Hugo departed, and Hagar informed the audience that as he had killed a few of her friends in times past, she had cursed him, and intends to thwart his plans, and be revenged on him. Then the curtain fell, and the audience reposed and ate candy while discussing the merits of the play.

A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again, but when it became evident what a masterpiece of stage carpentery had been got up, no one murmured at the delay. It was truly superb. A tower rose to the ceiling, halfway up appeared a window with a lamp burning in it, and behind the white curtain appeared Zara in a lovely blue and silver dress, waiting for Roderigo. He came in gorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut lovelocks, a guitar, and the boots, of course. Kneeling at the foot of the tower, he sang a serenade in melting tones. Zara replied and, after a musical dialogue, consented to fly. Then came the grand effect of the play. Roderigo produced a rope ladder, with five steps to it, threw up one end, and invited Zara to descend. Timidly she crept from her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo's shoulder, and was about to leap gracefully down when "Alas! Alas for Zara!" she forgot her train. It caught in the window, the tower tottered, leaned forward, fell with a crash, and buried the unhappy lovers in the ruins.

A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildly from the wreck and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, "I told you so! I told you so!" With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruel sire, rushed in, dragged out his daughter, with a hasty aside...

"Don't laugh! Act as if it was all right!" and, ordering Roderigo up, banished him from the kingdom with wrath and scorn. Though decidedly shaken by the fall from the tower upon him, Roderigo defied the old gentleman and refused to stir. This dauntless example fired Zara. She also defied her sire, and he ordered them both to the deepest dungeons of the castle. A stout little retainer came in with chains and led them away, looking very much frightened and evidently forgetting the speech he ought to have made.

Act third was the castle hall, and here Hagar appeared, having come to free the lovers and finish Hugo. She hears him coming and hides, sees him put the potions into two cups of wine and bid the timid little servant, "Bear them to the captives in their cells, and tell them I shall come anon." The servant takes Hugo aside to tell him something, and Hagar changes the cups for two others which are harmless. Ferdinando, the 'minion', carries them away, and Hagar puts back the cup which holds the poison meant for Roderigo. Hugo, getting thirsty after a long warble, drinks it, loses his wits, and after a good deal of clutching and stamping, falls flat and dies, while Hagar informs him what she has done in a song of exquisite power and melody.

This was a truly thrilling scene, though some persons might have thought that the sudden tumbling down of a quantity of long red hair rather marred the effect of the villain's death. He was called before the curtain, and with great propriety appeared, leading Hagar, whose singing was considered more wonderful than all the rest of the performance put together.

Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the point of stabbing himself because he has been told that Zara has deserted him. Just as the dagger is at his heart, a lovely song is sung under his window, informing him that Zara is true but in danger, and he can save her if he will. A key is thrown in, which unlocks the door, and in a spasm of rapture he tears off his chains and rushes away to find and rescue his lady love.

Act fifth opened with a stormy scene between Zara and Don Pedro. He wishes her to go into a convent, but she won't hear of it, and after a touching appeal, is about to faint when Roderigo dashes in and demands her hand. Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich. They shout and gesticulate tremendously but cannot agree, and Rodrigo is about to bear away the exhausted Zara, when the timid servant enters with a letter and a bag from Hagar, who has mysteriously disappeared. The latter informs the party that she bequeaths untold wealth to the young pair and an awful doom to Don Pedro, if he doesn't make them happy. The bag is opened, and several quarts of tin money shower down upon the stage till it is quite glorified with the glitter. This entirely softens the stern sire. He consents without a murmur, all join in a joyful chorus, and the curtain falls upon the lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro's blessing in attitudes of the most romantic grace.

Tumultuous applause followed but received an unexpected check, for the cot bed, on which the dress circle was built, suddenly shut up and extinguished the enthusiastic audience. Roderigo and Don Pedro flew to the rescue, and all were taken out unhurt, though many were speechless with laughter. The excitement had hardly subsided when Hannah appeared, with "Mrs. March's compliments, and would the ladies walk down to supper."

This was a surprise even to the actors, and when they saw the table, they looked at one another in rapturous amazement. It was like Marmee to get up a little treat for them, but anything so fine as this was unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There was ice cream, actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and cake and fruit and distracting French bonbons and, in the middle of the table, four great bouquets of hot house flowers.

It quite took their breath away, and they stared first at the table and then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed it immensely.

"Is it fairies?" asked Amy.

"Santa Claus," said Beth.

"Mother did it." And Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite of her gray beard and white eyebrows.

"Aunt March had a good fit and sent the supper," cried Jo, with a sudden inspiration.

"All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it," replied Mrs. March.

"The Laurence boy's grandfather! What in the world put such a thing into his head? We don't know him!" exclaimed Meg.

"Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party. He is an odd old gentleman, but that pleased him. He knew my father years ago, and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying he hoped I would allow him to express his friendly feeling toward my children by sending them a few trifles in honor of the day. I could not refuse, and so you have a little feast at night to make up for the bread-and-milk breakfast."

"That boy put it into his head, I know he did! He's a capital fellow, and I wish we could get acquainted. He looks as if he'd like to know us but he's bashful, and Meg is so prim she won't let me speak to him when we pass," said Jo, as the plates went round, and the ice began to melt out of sight, with ohs and ahs of satisfaction.

"You mean the people who live in the big house next door, don't you?" asked one of the girls. "My mother knows old Mr. Laurence, but says he's very proud and doesn't like to mix with his neighbors. He keeps his grandson shut up, when he isn't riding or walking with his tutor, and makes him study very hard. We invited him to our party, but he didn't come. Mother says he's very nice, though he never speaks to us girls."

"Our cat ran away once, and he brought her back, and we talked over the fence, and were getting on capitally, all about cricket, and so on, when he saw Meg coming, and walked off. I mean to know him some day, for he needs fun, I'm sure he does," said Jo decidedly.

"I like his manners, and he looks like a little gentleman, so I've no objection to your knowing him, if a proper opportunity comes. He brought the flowers himself, and I should have asked him in, if I had been sure what was going on upstairs. He looked so wistful as he went away, hearing the frolic and evidently having none of his own."

"It's a mercy you didn't, Mother!" laughed Jo, looking at her boots. "But we'll have another play sometime that he can see. Perhaps he'll help act. Wouldn't that be jolly?"

"I never had such a fine bouquet before! How pretty it is!" And Meg examined her flowers with great interest.

"They are lovely. But Beth's roses are sweeter to me," said Mrs. March, smelling the half-dead posy in her belt.

Beth nestled up to her, and whispered softly, "I wish I could send my bunch to Father. I'm afraid he isn't having such a merry Christmas as we are."

 

第二章 圣诞快乐

圣诞节一早,天刚蒙蒙亮,乔便第一个醒来。她看到壁炉边没有挂着袜子,一时深感失望。多年前,她的小袜子因为糖果塞得太满而掉落地上,她也曾这样失望过。稍后她想起母亲的诺言,便悄悄把手伸到枕头下面,果然摸出一本菲红色封面的书。她十分熟悉这本书,因为它记载的是历史上最优秀的人物的经典故事。乔觉得这正是一切踏上漫长征途的朝圣者所需要的指导书。她一声"圣诞快乐“把梅格叫醒,叫她看看枕头下面有什么。梅格掏出一本绿色封面、带有相同插图的书,妈妈在上面题了词,使这件礼物倍添珍贵。不一会,贝思和艾美也醒来了,翻寻到各自的小书——一本乳白色,另一本蓝色——四姐妹于是坐着边看边讨论,不觉东方已泛起红霞,新的一天又告开始。

玛格丽特虽然有点爱慕虚荣,但她天性温柔善良,颇得姐妹们敬重,特别是乔,更是深深地爱着自己的姐姐,并对她言听计从,因为她无论说什么都总是轻声细语的。

“姑娘们,”梅格严肃地说,看看身边头发蓬乱的一位,又看看房间另一头戴着睡帽的两个小脑袋,”妈妈希望我们爱惜这些书,读好这些书,我们应该立即行动。虽然我们以前做得挺认真,但自从爸爸离家后,战乱七繁,我们忽略了许多事。你们爱怎样我不管,但我要把书放在这张桌上,每天早上一醒来就读一点,因为我知道,这样会有好处,它将伴我度过每一天。”说完她打开新书读了起来,乔用胳膊拥着她,与她并肩而读,不安分的脸上露出少见的宁静。

“梅格真好!来,艾美,我们也一起读吧。我帮你解释生词,我们不懂的地方就由她们来讲解好了,”贝思轻声说。她被漂亮的小书和两位姐姐全神贯注的模样深深感动了。

“真开心,我的封面是蓝色的,”艾美说。接下来除了轻轻的翻书声外,屋里一片宁静。这时,冬日的阳光悄悄潜入屋内,轻柔地抚摸着她们亮丽的头发和严肃的脸庞,向她们致以圣诞节的问候。

“妈妈哪儿去了?”半个小时后,梅格和乔跑下楼,要找妈妈道谢。

“老天才知道。一些穷人来讨东西,你妈马上就去看他们需要什么。她是天底下最菩萨心肠的女人,”罕娜答道。老嬷嬷自打梅格出生以来就一直和她们一家生活在一起,尽管她是个佣人,大家都拿当朋友。

“我想她很快就会回来,你先煎饼,把东西准备好,”梅格一边说一边把装在篮子里的礼物又看了一遍。礼物藏在沙发下面,准备在适当的时候拿出来。”咦,艾美的那瓶古龙水呢?”她接着又问,因为篮子里没有那个小瓶子。

“她刚刚把它拿走了,要系根丝带或者什么小玩意儿,”乔答道。她正在屋子里蹦来蹦去,要把硬邦邦的军鞋穿软和。

“我的手帕漂亮极了,对吧?罕娜把它们洗得干干净净,还熨过了,上面的字都是我亲手绣的,”贝思说着,骄傲地看着那些她费了许多工夫绣成但又不太工整的字体。

“哎呀!她把''马奇太太''绣成''妈妈''了,真有趣!”乔拿起一条手帕嚷道。

“这样不行吗?我原以为这样会更好,因为梅格的首写字母也是M.M.,而这些手帕我只想让妈妈用。”贝思的神情显得有点不安。

“这样挺好,亲爱的,而且主意不错——相当有理哩,因为这样就不会弄错了。妈妈一定会很高兴的,”梅格说着,对乔皱皱眉,又向贝思一笑。

“妈妈回来了,藏好篮子,快!”乔立即叫起来。门呯地一响,大厅传来了脚步声。

艾美急匆匆地走进来,看到姐姐们都在等她,显得有点不好意思。

“你到哪儿去了,藏在后面的是什么?”梅格问。看到艾美穿戴整齐,她不由诧异这小懒虫竟然这么早就出去了!

“别笑我,乔!我并不是有意要瞒着你们,我只是花掉全部的钱把小瓶的古龙水换成大瓶的,我真的不想再那么自私了。”艾美一边说一边给大家看她用原先的便宜货换回来的大瓶古龙水。她努力克服私利,显得诚恳而谦恭,梅格一把抱住了她,乔宣布她是个"大好人",贝思则跑到窗边摘下一朵美丽的玫瑰花来装饰这个漂亮的大瓶子。

“你们知道,今天早上大家一起读书,又谈到要做好孩子,我为自己的礼物感到羞愧,所以起床后马上跑到附近把它换过来,我真高兴,因为我的礼物现在成了最漂亮的啦。”临街的大门又响了一下,篮子再次藏到沙发下面,姑娘们围坐在桌子边,等着吃早餐。

“圣诞快乐,妈咪!谢谢你送给我们的书。我们读了一点,以后每天都要读,“姐妹们齐声喊道。

“圣诞快乐,小姑娘们!真高兴你们马上就开始学习,可要坚持下去埃不过坐下之前我想说几句话。离这儿不远的地方,躺着一个可怜的妇人和一个刚生下来的婴儿。六个孩子为了不被冻僵挤在一张床上,因为他们没有火取暖。那里没有吃的,最大的孩子来告诉我他们又冷又饿。姑娘们,你们愿意把早餐送给他们做圣诞礼物吗?”她们刚才等了差不多一个小时,现在正饿得慌,有一阵子大家都默不作声——就那么一阵子,只听乔冲口而出道:“我真高兴,早餐还没开始呢!”“我帮着把东西拿给那些可怜的孩子好吗?”贝思热切地问道。

“我来拿奶油和松饼,”艾美接着说,英雄似地放弃了自己最喜欢吃的东西。

梅格已动手把荞麦盖上,把面包堆放到一个大盘子里。

“我早料到你们会这样做,”马奇太太舒心地微笑道,”你们都去帮我,回来后早餐吃点牛奶面包,到正餐的时候再补回来。”大家很快准备妥当,队伍出发了。幸亏时候尚早,她们又打后街穿过,没几个人看到她们,也没人取笑这支奇怪的队伍。

这是一个满目凄凉的贫贱之家,四壁萧然,门窗破败,屋里没有炉火,床上被褥褴褛,病弱的母亲抱着啼哭的婴儿,一群面黄肌瘦、饥肠辘辘的孩子披着一张破被缩成一团。

看见姑娘们走进来,他们惊喜得瞪大眼睛,咧开冻得发紫的嘴唇笑了起来!

“哎呀,老天爷,善良的天使看我们来了!”那个可怜的女人欢喜得叫起来。

“是戴帽子手套的趣怪天使,”乔说道,逗得他们都笑起来。

这情景真让人以为是好心的神灵在显圣呢。罕娜用带来的木柴生起炉火,又用一些旧帽子和自己的斗篷挡住破烂的玻璃窗。马奇太太一边为做母亲的端茶递粥,一边安慰她,让她宽心,又像对待自己的亲生骨肉一样轻柔地为小宝宝穿上衣服。姑娘们摆好桌子,把孩子们安顿到火炉边,像喂一群饥饿的小鸟一样喂他们,并跟他们说笑,尽力想听明白他们有趣而又蹩脚的英语。

“真系(是)好!”“这些天使好心人!”这班可怜的孩子边吃边把发紫的小手伸到温暖的火炉边暖和着。

姑娘们还是第一次被人称作小天使,觉得非常惬意,尤其是乔,她自打娘胎生下来就被大家当作"桑丘",因此更加得意。虽然她们没有吃上一口早餐,心里却感到无比的舒畅。当这四个饥肠辘辘的小姑娘把温暖留给别人,走在回家的路上时,我想合城里再没人能比她们更幸福了。她们在圣诞节早上把最好的早餐送给穷人,自己却宁愿吃面包和牛奶。

“这就是所谓爱别人胜于爱自己,我喜欢这样,”梅格说。

她们趁母亲上楼为贫穷的赫梅尔一家收集衣物时把礼物摆了出来。

这些小礼物并不贵重,但都经过精心的包装,从中可见一片深情。一只高高的花瓶立在桌子中间,里头插着红色的玫瑰和白色的菊花,衬着几缕垂蔓,平添一份雅致。

“她来了!开始演奏,贝思!开门,艾美!为妈妈欢呼三声!”乔欢跃着大声喊叫,梅格则上前去把妈妈接到贵宾席位。

贝思弹起欢快的进行曲,艾美拉开门,梅格俨然是一个护花使者。马奇太太既惊讶又感动,她含笑端详着她的礼物,读着附在上面的小字条,不由眼中噙满泪水地笑了。她当即穿上便鞋,又把一条散发着古龙水香味的手帕放入衣袋,然后她把那朵玫瑰花别在胸前,又称赞别致的手套"绝对合适"。

大家笑着、吻着、解释着,这种简单而又充满爱意的方式增添了家里的节日气氛,其温馨让人永久难忘。然后,大家又投入了工作。

早上的慈善活动和庆典花了不少时间,余下的时间便用来准备晚上的欢庆活动。由于年龄太小,不宜经常上戏院,又因为经济拮据,支付不起业余表演的大笔费用,姑娘们于是充分发挥才智——需要是发明之母——需要什么,她们便做什么。她们的创造品有些还挺见心机——用纸板做的吉它,用旧式牛油瓶裹上锡纸做成的古灯,用旧棉布做的鲜艳夺目的长袍,面上亮晶晶地镶着从一家腌菜厂拿来的小锡片,还有镶有同样的钻石形小锡片的盔甲,这些被派上用场的小锡片是腌菜厂做罐头剩下的边角料。屋子里的家具常常被弄得乱七八糟,大房间就是舞台,姑娘们在台上天真无邪地尽兴表演。

由于不收男士,乔便尽情地扮演男角。她对一双黄褐色的长统皮靴尤为满意。因为靴子是她的一个朋友赠送的,这位朋友认识一位女士,女士又认识一位演员。这双靴子、一把旧钝头剑,还有某个艺术家用来画过几幅画的开衩背心,这些便是乔的主要宝藏,任何场合都得登台亮相。因为剧团小,两个主要演员必须分别扮演几个角色。她们同时学习三四个不同角色的表演,飞快地轮番换上各式各样的戏服,同时还要兼顾幕后工作,其努力精神值得称道。这种有益的娱乐活动可以很好地锻炼她们的记忆力,并可以打发闲暇,排遣寂寞,减少无聊的社交。

圣诞之夜,十二个女孩子挤在花楼——一张床—-的上头,坐在黄蓝二色混合的磨光印花帘幕前面,翘首以盼,焦急地等着看戏。幕后灯光朦胧,不时传来沙沙的响声和悄悄的话语声,偶尔还传来容易激动的艾美在兴奋之中发出的咯咯笑声。不一会铃声响起,帘幕拉开,《歌剧式的悲剧》开始了。

几株盆栽灌木、铺在地板上的绿色厚毛呢,以及远处的一个洞穴构成了节目单上的"阴森森的树林",洞穴用晒衣架做洞顶,衣柜做墙壁,里头有一个熊熊燃烧着的小炉子,一个老巫婆正俯身把弄炉上的一个黑锅。舞台阴森黑暗,熊熊的炉火营造了良好的舞台效果。女巫揭开锅盖,锅里冒出阵阵蒸气,令人叫绝。第一阵高潮过后,歹徒雨果阔步上常他嘴上蓄着黑胡子,头上歪戴着一顶帽子,脚踏长靴,身披神秘外衣,腰间佩一把当啷作响的宝剑。他焦躁不安地来回走了几步,猛然一拍额头,放声高歌,唱他对罗德力戈的恨、对萨拉的爱,以及要杀掉仇人、赢得莎拉的心愿。雨果粗哑的嗓音和感情暴发时偶然发出的一声大喝给观众留下极其深刻的印象,他刚停下要歇口气,大家便报以热烈的掌声。他习以为常地躬身谢过,又轻轻走到洞穴,大模大样地命黑格出来:“呔!奴才!出来!”梅格出来,脸上挂着灰色马鬃,身穿黑红二色长袍,手持拐杖,大衣上画着神秘符号。雨果向他索取两种魔药,一种可以使莎拉爱他,另一种用来毒死罗德力戈。黑格唱起优美的歌儿,答应把两种魔药都给他,接着他把送魔药的小精灵叫出来。戏文唱道:来吧、来吧,空中的小精灵。

我令你从家里过来!

你玫瑰生成,雨露裹腹,

可知道怎样调制魔药?

快速速给我送来,

我要的芳馥药儿,

要调得既浓又甜,药力神速,

快回答我吧,小精灵!

音乐轻柔地奏起来,接着洞穴后面现出一个小身影:金色的头发,一身乳白色的衣裳,两个翅膀闪闪发亮,头上戴着玫瑰花环。它挥舞魔杖唱道:来了,我来了,从我虚无缥渺的家园,那遥远的银色的月亮。

把魔药拿去,

并用在适当的地方,

不然它的魔力就会很快失去!

小精灵把一个金闪闪的小瓶子扔到女巫脚下,随之消失。黑格再次施用魔法唤来另一个幽灵。只听呯的一声,一个丑陋的黑色小魔鬼出来。它用阴森森的声音作了回答,然后把一个黑色瓶子扔向雨果,冷笑一声,消失得无影无踪。雨果用颤抖的嗓音道过谢,把两瓶魔药放进靴子里,转身离去。黑格告诉观众,因为雨果以前曾杀死过她的几个朋友,她给他下了魔咒,准备挫败他的计划,向他复仇。接着帘幕落下,观众们一边休息和吃糖,一边评长论短。

帘幕迟迟没有拉开,里头传来好一阵锤打声。不过当舞台布景终于出现在眼前时,观众们谁都顾不得抱怨刚才耽误了时间,因为布景实在太美了,简直是巧夺天工!只见一座塔楼耸入屋顶,塔楼半空露出一扇亮着灯光的窗户,白色的帘幕后面莎拉身穿一套漂亮的银蓝二色裙子在等待罗德力戈。罗德力戈盛装走进。他一头栗色鬈发,戴一顶插着羽毛的帽子,身披红色外衣,手拿吉它,脚踏长靴。当然啦,他跪在塔下,柔情万分地唱起一支小夜曲。莎拉回答他,用歌声对了几句话后,同意私奔。接下来是话剧的大场面。罗德力戈拿出一张有五个梯级的草绳软梯,把一端抛上去,请莎拉下来。莎拉含羞从花窗格子爬下来,手扶罗德力戈的肩头,正要优雅地往下跳,突然观众叫起来:“哎呀!哎呀!莎拉!”原来一不留神,她的长裙被窗户绊住了。塔楼摇晃着向前倾斜,轰的一声倒下,把这对倒霉的恋人埋在废墟里!

众人尖声大叫,只见黄褐色皮靴伸出废墟使劲乱摇,一个金发脑袋探出来叫道:“我早就告诉过你会这样!我早就告诉过你会这样!”那位冷酷的父亲唐•佩德罗头脑极为冷静,他冲进去拖出自己的女儿,一把拉向身边。

“别笑!继续演,就当什么也没发生过!”他命令罗德力戈站起来,盛怒而轻蔑地将他驱逐出去。虽然被倒下的塔楼砸得不轻,罗德力戈并没有忘掉自己的角色,他不理睬这位老绅士,就是不动身子。这种大无畏的精神启发了莎拉;她也不理睬父亲。唐•佩得罗于是命令两人一起下到城堡最低层的地牢里。一位稍胖的小侍从手持锁链走进来,神色慌张地把他们带走,显然是把讲的台词忘掉了。

第三幕是城堡的大厅,黑格在此出现,准备解救这对恋人并解决雨果。她听到雨果走进来便藏起来,看他把魔药倒进两个酒杯,又听他吩咐那位腼腆的小侍从:“把酒带给地牢里的囚徒,告诉他们我一会就来。”小侍从把雨果带到一边说了几句话,黑格随即把两杯药酒换成两杯没有药性的。”奴才"费迪南多把酒带走了,黑格把原来要给罗德力戈的那杯毒酒放回去。雨果唱完一支冗长的歌后感到口渴,便喝下那杯毒酒,顿时失去神智,拼命挣扎一番后,挺直身子倒地而死。这时黑格用热烈而优美的曲调唱了一首歌,说明自己刚才使了什么手段。

这真是震撼人心的一幕,虽然有些人或许认为突然跌落的一把长发使歹徒之死显得有些失色。歹徒应观众的要求彬彬有礼地领着黑格走到幕前谢幕。黑格的歌声被认为是全场戏的问鼎之作。

第四幕大家看到罗德力戈听说莎拉离弃了他,万分绝望,准备自杀。他刚刚把剑对准心脏,突然听到窗下传来优美的歌声,告诉他莎拉没有变心,但身处险境,如果他愿意可以把她救出来。接着外面扔进一把钥匙。把门锁打开后,他狂喜地挫断锁链冲出门外,去营救心爱的姑娘。

第五幕开场时,莎拉和唐•佩得罗正闹得不可开交。唐•佩得罗要她进修道院,她坚决不从,并伤心欲绝地求他开恩,正要晕倒时,罗德力戈闯入并向她求婚。唐•佩德罗不答应,因为他没有钱。两人大吵大闹一番,依然互不相让。罗德力戈正要把筋疲力尽的莎拉背走,羞怯的小侍从拿着黑格交给她的一封信和一个布袋走进来,黑格此时已神秘地消失。

这封信告诉大家她把一大笔财富赠给这对年轻人,如果唐•佩得罗破坏他们的幸福,必遭厄运。接着布袋打开了,大把大把的锡币洒落下来,堆在台上闪闪发亮,极为壮观。”狠心的父亲"这才软下心肠,一声不响地表示同意。众人于是齐声欢唱,一双恋人以极为优雅浪漫的姿态跪下,接受唐•佩德罗的祝福,帘幕随之降下。

接下来响起了热烈的掌声,正当此时,那座用作花楼的帆布床突然折拢,把热情洋溢的观众压倒。罗德力戈和唐•佩德罗飞身前来抢救,众人虽然毫发无损,但全都笑得说不出话来。大家刚刚恢复神态,罕娜进来说:“马奇太太致以祝贺,并请女士们下来用餐。”大家一阵惊喜,连演员亦不例外。看到桌子上摆着的东西,她们高兴得互相对望,同时都感到十分奇怪。妈妈平时也会弄点吃的款待她们,不过自从告别了宽裕的日子以来,这样的好东西连听都没听说过。桌子上摆着雪糕——而且有两碟,一碟粉红色,一碟白色——还有蛋糕、水果和迷人的法式夹心糖,桌子中间还摆着四束美丽的温室鲜花!

这情景使她们大为惊讶。她们看看饭桌,又看看自己的母亲,母亲也显得非常高兴。

“这是小仙女干的吗?”艾美问。

“是圣诞老人,”贝思说。

“是妈妈干的!”脸上挂着白胡子白眉毛的梅格笑得又甜又美。

“是马奇婶婶心血来潮给我们送来的,”乔灵机一动叫道。

“全都不对,是劳伦斯老先生送来的,”马奇太太答道。

“那男孩的爷爷!他怎么会想到我们的呢?我们和他素不相识呀!”梅格嚷道。

“罕娜把你们早上做的事告诉了他的一个佣人。这位老绅士脾气古怪,但他听后很高兴。他多年前就认识我父亲,今天下午便给我送了张十分客气的字条,说希望我能允许他向我的孩子们表示他的善意,送上一点微不足道的圣诞礼物,我不便拒绝,所以你们晚上就开个小宴会,作为对面包加牛奶早餐的补偿。”“一定是那男孩出的主意,准没错!他是个一流的小伙子,但愿我们可以交朋友。他看来也想认识我们,只是有点怕羞,而梅格又一本正经,我们路过也不让我跟他说句话。”这时碟子传过来,雪糕已开始融化,乔一边说一边呵哈呵哈地吃得津津有味。

“你们说的是住在隔壁那座大房子里的人吗?”一个姑娘问,”我妈妈认识劳伦斯先生,但说他非常高傲,不喜欢与邻里交往。他把自己的孩子关在家里,只让他跟着家庭教师骑马散步,逼他用功读书。我们曾经邀请他参加我们的晚会,但他没来。妈妈说他相当不错,虽然他从不跟我们女孩子说话。”“一次我家的猫儿不见了,是他送回来的。我们隔着篱笆谈了几句,而且相当投机——谈的都是板球一类的东西——他看到梅格走过来,就走开了。我终有一天要认识他的,因为他需要乐趣,我肯定他很需要,”乔自信地说道。

“他举止彬彬有礼,令人喜爱。如果时机适宜,我不反对你们交朋友。他今天亲自把鲜花送过来,我本应该请他进来的,但因为不知道你们在楼上干什么,就没让他进来。他走的时候似乎闷闷不乐,若有所思;他听到你们在玩闹,而显然他自己没什么玩的。”“幸亏没叫他进来,妈妈!”乔望望自己的靴子笑道,”不过以后我们会做一出他可以看的戏。或许他还可以和我们一起演出呢。那岂不更有趣?”“我从未收到过这样漂亮的花束!真是美极了!”梅格饶有兴致地审视着自己那束鲜花。

“花儿是漂亮!不过依我说贝思的玫瑰花更香,”马奇太太闻闻插在腰带上那几近凋零的花朵说道。

贝思依偎到她的身旁,轻身低语道:“我真希望能把我的那束花送给爸爸。我想他圣诞节恐怕过得没有我们这么快乐呢。”




CHAPTER THREE THE LAURENCE BOY

"Jo! Jo! Where are you?" cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.

"Here!" answered a husky voice from above, and, running up, Meg found her sister eating apples and crying over the Heir of Redclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window. This was Jo's favorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn't mind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into his hole. Jo shook the tears off her cheeks and waited to hear the news.

"Such fun! Only see! A regular note of invitation from Mrs. Gardiner for tomorrow night!" cried Meg, waving the precious paper and then proceeding to read it with girlish delight.

"'Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and Miss Josephine at a little dance on New Year's Eve.' Marmee is willing we should go, now what shall we wear?"

"What's the use of asking that, when you know we shall wear our poplins, because we haven't got anything else?" answered Jo with her mouth full.

"If I only had a silk!" sighed Meg. "Mother says I may when I'm eighteen perhaps, but two years is an everlasting time to wait."

"I'm sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough for us. Yours is as good as new, but I forgot the burn and the tear in mine. Whatever shall I do? The burn shows badly, and I can't take any out."

"You must sit still all you can and keep your back out of sight. The front is all right. I shall have a new ribbon for my hair, and Marmee will lend me her little pearl pin, and my new slippers are lovely, and my gloves will do, though they aren't as nice as I'd like."

"Mine are spoiled with lemonade, and I can't get any new ones, so I shall have to go without," said Jo, who never troubled herself much about dress.

"You must have gloves, or I won't go," cried Meg decidedly. "Gloves are more important than anything else. You can't dance without them, and if you don't I should be so mortified."

"Then I'll stay still. I don't care much for company dancing. It's no fun to go sailing round. I like to fly about and cut capers."

"You can't ask Mother for new ones, they are so expensive, and you are so careless. She said when you spoiled the others that she shouldn't get you any more this winter. Can't you make them do?"

"I can hold them crumpled up in my hand, so no one will know how stained they are. That's all I can do. No! I'll tell you how we can manage, each wear one good one and carry a bad one. Don't you see?"

"Your hands are bigger than mine, and you will stretch my glove dreadfully," began Meg, whose gloves were a tender point with her.

"Then I'll go without. I don't care what people say!" cried Jo, taking up her book.

"You may have it, you may! Only don't stain it, and do behave nicely. Don't put your hands behind you, or stare, or say 'Christopher Columbus!' will you?"

"Don't worry about me. I'll be as prim as I can and not get into any scrapes, if I can help it. Now go and answer your note, and let me finish this splendid story."

So Meg went away to 'accept with thanks', look over her dress, and sing blithely as she did up her one real lace frill, while Jo finished her story, her four apples, and had a game of romps with Scrabble.

On New Year's Eve the parlor was deserted, for the two younger girls played dressing maids and the two elder were absorbed in the all-important business of 'getting ready for the party'. Simple as the toilets were, there was a great deal of running up and down, laughing and talking, and at one time a strong smell of burned hair pervaded the house. Meg wanted a few curls about her face, and Jo undertook to pinch the papered locks with a pair of hot tongs.

"Ought they to smoke like that?" asked Beth from her perch on the bed.

"It's the dampness drying," replied Jo.

"What a queer smell! It's like burned feathers," observed Amy, smoothing her own pretty curls with a superior air.

"There, now I'll take off the papers and you'll see a cloud of little ringlets," said Jo, putting down the tongs.

She did take off the papers, but no cloud of ringlets appeared, for the hair came with the papers, and the horrified hairdresser laid a row of little scorched bundles on the bureau before her victim.

"Oh, oh, oh! What have you done? I'm spoiled! I can't go! My hair, oh, my hair!" wailed Meg, looking with despair at the uneven frizzle on her forehead.

"Just my luck! You shouldn't have asked me to do it. I always spoil everything. I'm so sorry, but the tongs were too hot, and so I've made a mess," groaned poor Jo, regarding the little black pancakes with tears of regret.

"It isn't spoiled. Just frizzle it, and tie your ribbon so the ends come on your forehead a bit, and it will look like the last fashion. I've seen many girls do it so," said Amy consolingly.

"Serves me right for trying to be fine. I wish I'd let my hair alone," cried Meg petulantly.

"So do I, it was so smooth and pretty. But it will soon grow out again," said Beth, coming to kiss and comfort the shorn sheep.

After various lesser mishaps, Meg was finished at last, and by the united exertions of the entire family Jo's hair was got up and her dress on. They looked very well in their simple suits, Meg's in silvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills, and the pearl pin. Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen collar, and a white chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament. Each put on one nice light glove, and carried one soiled one, and all pronounced the effect "quite easy and fine". Meg's high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo's nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die.

"Have a good time, dearies!" said Mrs. March, as the sisters went daintily down the walk. "Don't eat much supper, and come away at eleven when I send Hannah for you." As the gate clashed behind them, a voice cried from a window...

"Girls, girls! Have you you both got nice pocket handkerchiefs?"

"Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers," cried Jo, adding with a laugh as they went on, "I do believe Marmee would ask that if we were all running away from an earthquake."

"It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for a real lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief," replied Meg, who had a good many little 'aristocratic tastes' of her own.

"Now don't forget to keep the bad breadth out of sight, Jo. Is my sash right? And does my hair look very bad?" said Meg, as she turned from the glass in Mrs. Gardiner's dressing room after a prolonged prink.

"I know I shall forget. If you see me doing anything wrong, just remind me by a wink, will you?" returned Jo, giving her collar a twitch and her head a hasty brush.

"No, winking isn't ladylike. I'll lift my eyebrows if any thing is wrong, and nod if you are all right. Now hold your shoulder straight, and take short steps, and don't shake hands if you are introduced to anyone. It isn't the thing."

"How do you learn all the proper ways? I never can. Isn't that music gay?"

Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom went to parties, and informal as this little gathering was, it was an event to them. Mrs. Gardiner, a stately old lady, greeted them kindly and handed them over to the eldest of her six daughters. Meg knew Sallie and was at her ease very soon, but Jo, who didn't care much for girls or girlish gossip, stood about, with her back carefully against the wall, and felt as much out of place as a colt in a flower garden. Half a dozen jovial lads were talking about skates in another part of the room, and she longed to go and join them, for skating was one of the joys of her life. She telegraphed her wish to Meg, but the eyebrows went up so alarmingly that she dared not stir. No one came to talk to her, and one by one the group dwindled away till she was left alone. She could not roam about and amuse herself, for the burned breadth would show, so she stared at people rather forlornly till the dancing began. Meg was asked at once, and the tight slippers tripped about so briskly that none would have guessed the pain their wearer suffered smilingly. Jo saw a big red headed youth approaching her corner, and fearing he meant to engage her, she slipped into a curtained recess, intending to peep and enjoy herself in peace. Unfortunately, another bashful person had chosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell behind her, she found herself face to face with the 'Laurence boy'.

"Dear me, I didn't know anyone was here!" stammered Jo, preparing to back out as speedily as she had bounced in.

But the boy laughed and said pleasantly, though he looked a little startled, "Don't mind me, stay if you like."

"Shan't I disturb you?"

"Not a bit. I only came here because I don't know many people and felt rather strange at first, you know."

"So did I. Don't go away, please, unless you'd rather."

The boy sat down again and looked at his pumps, till Jo said, trying to be polite and easy, "I think I've had the pleasure of seeing you before. You live near us, don't you?"

"Next door." And he looked up and laughed outright, for Jo's prim manner was rather funny when he remembered how they had chatted about cricket when he brought the cat home.

That put Jo at her ease and she laughed too, as she said, in her heartiest way, "We did have such a good time over your nice Christmas present."

"Grandpa sent it."

"But you put it into his head, didn't you, now?"

"How is your cat, Miss March?" asked the boy, trying to look sober while his black eyes shone with fun.

"Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence. But I am not Miss March, I'm only Jo," returned the young lady.

"I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie."

"Laurie Laurence, what an odd name."

"My first name is Theodore, but I don't like it, for the fellows called me Dora, so I made them say Laurie instead."

"I hate my name, too, so sentimental! I wish every one would say Jo instead of Josephine. How did you make the boys stop calling you Dora?"

"I thrashed 'em."

"I can't thrash Aunt March, so I suppose I shall have to bear it." And Jo resigned herself with a sigh.

"Don't you like to dance, Miss Jo?" asked Laurie, looking as if he thought the name suited her.

"I like it well enough if there is plenty of room, and everyone is lively. In a place like this I'm sure to upset something, tread on people's toes, or do something dreadful, so I keep out of mischief and let Meg sail about. Don't you dance?"

"Sometimes. You see I've been abroad a good many years, and haven't been into company enough yet to know how you do things here."

"Abroad!" cried Jo. "Oh, tell me about it! I love dearly to hear people describe their travels."

Laurie didn't seem to know where to begin, but Jo's eager questions soon set him going, and he told her how he had been at school in Vevay, where the boys never wore hats and had a fleet of boats on the lake, and for holiday fun went on walking trips about Switzerland with their teachers.

"Don't I wish I'd been there!" cried Jo. "Did you go to Paris?"

"We spent last winter there."

"Can you talk French?"

"We were not allowed to speak anything else at Vevay."

"Do say some! I can read it, but can't pronounce."

"Quel nom a cette jeune demoiselle en les pantoufles jolis?"

"How nicely you do it! Let me see ... you said, 'Who is the young lady in the pretty slippers', didn't you?"

"Oui, mademoiselle."

"It's my sister Margaret, and you knew it was! Do you think she is pretty?"

"Yes, she makes me think of the German girls, she looks so fresh and quiet, and dances like a lady."

Jo quite glowed with pleasure at this boyish praise of her sister, and stored it up to repeat to Meg. Both peeped and criticized and chatted till they felt like old acquaintances. Laurie's bashfulness soon wore off, for Jo's gentlemanly demeanor amused and set him at his ease, and Jo was her merry self again, because her dress was forgotten and nobody lifted their eyebrows at her. She liked the 'Laurence boy' better than ever and took several good looks at him, so that she might describe him to the girls, for they had no brothers, very few male cousins, and boys were almost unknown creatures to them.

"Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes, handsome nose, fine teeth, small hands and feet, taller than I am, very polite, for a boy, and altogether jolly. Wonder how old he is?"

It was on the tip of Jo's tongue to ask, but she checked herself in time and, with unusual tact, tried to find out in a round-about way.

"I suppose you are going to college soon? I see you pegging away at your books, no, I mean studying hard." And Jo blushed at the dreadful 'pegging' which had escaped her.

Laurie smiled but didn't seem shocked, and answered with a shrug. "Not for a year or two. I won't go before seventeen, anyway."

"Aren't you but fifteen?" asked Jo, looking at the tall lad, whom she had imagined seventeen already.

"Sixteen, next month."

"How I wish I was going to college! You don't look as if you liked it."

"I hate it! Nothing but grinding or skylarking. And I don't like the way fellows do either, in this country."

"What do you like?"

"To live in Italy, and to enjoy myself in my own way."

Jo wanted very much to ask what his own way was, but his black brows looked rather threatening as he knit them, so she changed the subject by saying, as her foot kept time, "That's a splendid polka! Why don't you go and try it?"

"If you will come too," he answered, with a gallant little bow.

"I can't, for I told Meg I wouldn't, because..." There Jo stopped, and looked undecided whether to tell or to laugh.

"Because, what?"

"You won't tell?"

"Never!"

"Well, I have a bad trick of standing before the fire, and so I burn my frocks, and I scorched this one, and though it's nicely mended, it shows, and Meg told me to keep still so no one would see it. You may laugh, if you want to. It is funny, I know."

But Laurie didn't laugh. He only looked down a minute, and the expression of his face puzzled Jo when he said very gently, "Never mind that. I'll tell you how we can manage. There's a long hall out there, and we can dance grandly, and no one will see us. Please come."

Jo thanked him and gladly went, wishing she had two neat gloves when she saw the nice, pearl-colored ones her partner wore. The hall was empty, and they had a grand polka, for Laurie danced well, and taught her the German step, which delighted Jo, being full of swing and spring. When the music stopped, they sat down on the stairs to get their breath, and Laurie was in the midst of an account of a students' festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared in search of her sister. She beckoned, and Jo reluctantly followed her into a side room, where she found her on a sofa, holding her foot, and looking pale.

"I've sprained my ankle. That stupid high heel turned and gave me a sad wrench. It aches so, I can hardly stand, and I don't know how I'm ever going to get home," she said, rocking to and fro in pain.

"I knew you'd hurt your feet with those silly shoes. I'm sorry. But I don't see what you can do, except get a carriage, or stay here all night," answered Jo, softly rubbing the poor ankle as she spoke.

"I can't have a carriage without its costing ever so much. I dare say I can't get one at all, for most people come in their own, and it's a long way to the stable, and no one to send."

"I'll go."

"No, indeed! It's past nine, and dark as Egypt. I can't stop here, for the house is full. Sallie has some girls staying with her. I'll rest till Hannah comes, and then do the best I can."

"I'll ask Laurie. He will go," said Jo, looking relieved as the idea occurred to her.

"Mercy, no! Don't ask or tell anyone. Get me my rubbers, and put these slippers with our things. I can't dance anymore, but as soon as supper is over, watch for Hannah and tell me the minute she comes."

"They are going out to supper now. I'll stay with you. I'd rather."

"No, dear, run along, and bring me some coffee. I'm so tired I can't stir."

So Meg reclined, with rubbers well hidden, and Jo went blundering away to the dining room, which she found after going into a china closet, and opening the door of a room where old Mr. Gardiner was taking a little private refreshment. Making a dart at the table, she secured the coffee, which she immediately spilled, thereby making the front of her dress as bad as the back.

"Oh, dear, what a blunderbuss I am!" exclaimed Jo, finishing Meg's glove by scrubbing her gown with it.

"Can I help you?" said a friendly voice. And there was Laurie, with a full cup in one hand and a plate of ice in the other.

"I was trying to get something for Meg, who is very tired, and someone shook me, and here I am in a nice state," answered Jo, glancing dismally from the stained skirt to the coffee-colored glove.

"Too bad! I was looking for someone to give this to. May I take it to your sister?"

"Oh, thank you! I'll show you where she is. I don't offer to take it myself, for I should only get into another scrape if I did."

Jo led the way, and as if used to waiting on ladies, Laurie drew up a little table, brought a second installment of coffee and ice for Jo, and was so obliging that even particular Meg pronounced him a 'nice boy'. They had a merry time over the bonbons and mottoes, and were in the midst of a quiet game of Buzz, with two or three other young people who had strayed in, when Hannah appeared. Meg forgot her foot and rose so quickly that she was forced to catch hold of Jo, with an exclamation of pain.

"Hush! Don't say anything," she whispered, adding aloud, "It's nothing. I turned my foot a little, that's all," and limped upstairs to put her things on.

Hannah scolded, Meg cried, and Jo was at her wits' end, till she decided to take things into her own hands. Slipping out, she ran down and, finding a servant, asked if he could get her a carriage. It happened to be a hired waiter who knew nothing about the neighborhood and Jo was looking round for help when Laurie, who had heard what she said, came up and offered his grandfather's carriage, which had just come for him, he said.

"It's so early! You can't mean to go yet?" began Jo, looking relieved but hesitating to accept the offer.

"I always go early, I do, truly! Please let me take you home. It's all on my way, you know, and it rains, they say."

That settled it, and telling him of Meg's mishap, Jo gratefully accepted and rushed up to bring down the rest of the party. Hannah hated rain as much as a cat does so she made no trouble, and they rolled away in the luxurious close carriage, feeling very festive and elegant. Laurie went on the box so Meg could keep her foot up, and the girls talked over their party in freedom.

"I had a capital time. Did you?" asked Jo, rumpling up her hair, and making herself comfortable.

"Yes, till I hurt myself. Sallie's friend, Annie Moffat, took a fancy to me, and asked me to come and spend a week with her when Sallie does. She is going in the spring when the opera comes, and it will be perfectly splendid, if Mother only lets me go," answered Meg, cheering up at the thought.

"I saw you dancing with the red headed man I ran away from. Was he nice?"

"Oh, very! His hair is auburn, not red, and he was very polite, and I had a delicious redowa with him."

"He looked like a grasshopper in a fit when he did the new step. Laurie and I couldn't help laughing. Did you hear us?"

"No, but it was very rude. What were you about all that time, hidden away there?"

Jo told her adventures, and by the time she had finished they were at home. With many thanks, they said good night and crept in, hoping to disturb no one, but the instant their door creaked, two little nightcaps bobbed up, and two sleepy but eager voices cried out...

"Tell about the party! Tell about the party!"

With what Meg called 'a great want of manners' Jo had saved some bonbons for the little girls, and they soon subsided, after hearing the most thrilling events of the evening.

"I declare, it really seems like being a fine young lady, to come home from the party in a carriage and sit in my dressing gown with a maid to wait on me," said Meg, as Jo bound up her foot with arnica and brushed her hair.

"I don't believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove apiece and tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them." And I think Jo was quite right.

 

第三章 劳伦斯家的男孩

“乔!乔!你在哪里?”梅格站在阁楼楼梯脚下叫道。

“在这里!”上面一个嘶哑的声音应道。梅格跑上去,只见自己的妹妹身上裹着一条羊毛围巾,坐在靠着向阳窗户的一张旧三脚沙发上,一边吃苹果一边抹着眼泪读《莱德克力夫的继承人》。这里是乔最钟爱的避护所;她喜欢带上五六个苹果和一本好书在此逍遥,享受这里的宁静以及和爱鼠作伴的滋味。爱鼠叫做扒扒,住在近处,对她全无顾忌。看到梅格走来,扒扒飞窜入洞。乔抹掉脸颊上的泪珠,看有什么事情。

“多有趣!加德纳夫人正式邀请我们参加明天的晚会。你瞧,这是邀请书!”梅格一边叫一边扬扬那张宝贝字条,以女孩子特有的兴致读起来。

“''加德纳夫人诚邀马奇小姐和约瑟芬小姐参加新年除夕的小舞会。''妈咪也同意我们参加,只是我们穿什么好呢?”“问这个有什么意思?你知道我们除了穿府绸衣裳外,别无选择,”乔嘴里塞得满满的,答道。“如果我有一件丝绸衣裳就好了!”梅格叹息道,”妈妈说我到十八岁时或许会有,但还要等上两年,简直是遥遥无期。”“我敢说我们的府绸衣裳看上去就像丝绸的一样,我们穿上也挺漂亮的。你的就跟新的一样,我倒忘了我那件给烧坏了,而且还裂了个口子。这可该怎么办呢?那块焦痕很明显,而我又拿不出其他衣服来。”“你必须老老实实地坐着不动,不要把背部给人看到;前面是不成问题的。我要用一条新丝带扎头发,妈妈会把她的小珍珠发夹借给我,我的新鞋子很漂亮,手套虽然没有我希望的那么漂亮,但也算可以出出场面。”“我那双被柠檬汁糟蹋了,我又拿不出新的,到时候就不戴了,”乔说。她向来不大注重打扮。

“你一定要戴上手套,否则我就不去,”梅格断然说道,”手套比什么都重要;不戴手套就不能跳舞。如果你不带,我可要羞死了。”“那么我不跳好了。我不大喜欢跟别人跳舞。这么装仪作态地转来转去没趣得很。我喜欢随意走动,轻松谈笑。”“你不能叫妈妈买新的,因为太贵了,而你又这么粗心。

你弄脏了那些手套的时候她就说过今年冬天不该再给你买。

你能让旧的凑合着使吗?”梅格焦虑地问。

“我可以把手套揉成一团握在手里,这样就没有人知道它们有多脏了;我只能做到这样。不!不如这样——我俩各戴上一只好的,拿着一只脏的,你明白吗?”“你的手比我的大,准会把我的手套撑坏,”梅格说道。她视手套如心肝宝贝。

“那么我就不戴好了。我不在乎别人怎么说!”乔一边叫一边拿起书来。

“你可以戴我的,可以!只是别把它弄脏了,而且一定要言行检点。别把手放在身后,不要瞪着眼看人,不要说''我的天哪!''好吗?”“别担心。我会尽量板着面孔,不去闯祸,如果我能做到的话。你现在去给人家回个条吧,让我把这个精彩故事看完。”梅格于是去写她的"万分感谢地接受"等话,把衣裳再过了一次目,又愉快地唱着歌儿把网眼花边镶好。这边乔读完故事,吃掉四个苹果,又和扒扒嬉戏了一番。

除夕,客厅里显得特别的静,两个姐姐在专心致志地做异常重要的事情——"为晚会做准备",两个妹妹则侍候她们化妆。虽然化妆并不复杂,姐妹们还是跑上跑下,又说又笑,有一阵子屋子里弥漫着一股强烈的烧焦头发的异味。梅格想弄几缕卷曲的刘海,乔便将的头发用纸片包起来,再用一把烧热的火钳夹祝"头发会这样冒烟吗?”贝思倚在床上问。

“这是湿气在蒸发哩,”乔答。

“味道真怪!像是烧焦了的羽毛,”艾美一边评论一边自豪地摸摸自己美丽的曲发。

“好了,我把纸片拿开,你们就会看到一堆小鬈发了,”乔说着放下火钳。

她确实拿开了纸片,但却不见那堆小鬈发,因为头发都断送在纸片里了。吓坏了的发型师把一段烧焦的发束放在受害人前面的柜子上。

“噢,噢,噢!你都干了些什么呀?全完了!教我怎么见人!我的头发,噢,我的头发!”梅格绝望地看着额前参差不齐的头发疙瘩,失声痛哭。

“唉,又倒霉了!你本来就不该叫我来弄。我总是把事情弄得一塌糊涂。真对不起,火钳太烫,所以我弄糟了,”可怜的乔哼哼着说。望着那些黑色烧饼,她心中懊悔万分,泪水夺眶而出。

“没有完哩,把头发卷曲起来,上面扎根丝带,靠近额前打个结,这样看上就像是最时髦的发型。我看到很多女孩子都这样打扮,”艾美安慰道。

“真是活该,谁叫自己臭美。如果我不去动自己的头发就没事了,”梅格使着性子哭道。

“我也这样想,可惜了这一头秀发。不过头发很快就会长出来的。”贝思边安慰边走过来亲吻这头剪了毛的小羊。

又经历了一连串小意外后,梅格终于装扮好了,经过家人的一致努力,乔也弄好了头发,穿上衣裳。虽然衣饰简单,她们却显得相当好看——梅格身穿银灰色斜纹布衣裳,配蓝色天鹅绒发网,喱士饰边,珍珠发夹;乔一身栗色衣裳,配一件笔挺的男式亚麻布衣领,身上唯一的点缀是两朵白菊花。

两人各戴一只精致干净的手套,拿一只污手套,众人一致称赞这种效果"既自如又优美"。梅格的高跟鞋太紧,脚被夹得生疼,却又不愿承认;乔的十九个齿的发夹似乎要直插入她的脑袋,令她非常不自在;不过,嘿,不潇洒,毋宁死!

“玩得开开心心,宝贝!”马奇太太对优雅地走下人行道的两姐妹说,”晚饭不要吃得太多,十一点钟就回家,我让罕娜来接你们。”大门在她们身后砰地关上了。这时窗子里又传来了喊声——“姑娘们,姑娘们!都带上漂亮的小手帕了吗?”“带上了,漂亮极啦,梅格的还洒上了古龙香水,”乔大声答道,一头走着又笑了一声,“我相信就算我们遇上地震狼狈逃窜,妈妈也要这样问的。”“这是妈妈的一种高贵品味,而且相当合乎体统,因为真正的淑女可以根据洁净的靴子、手套和手帕看出来,”梅格回答。她本人就颇具这些"高贵品味儿"。

“现在记住不要把烧坏了的一面让别人看到,乔。我的腰带这样行吗?头发看上是不是很糟糕?”梅格在加德纳夫人的梳妆室对镜理妆,好一会才转过身来说道。

“我知道我一定会忘掉的。如果你看到我做错了什么事,就眨眨眼提醒我,好吗?”乔说着把衣领一拉,又匆匆理理头发。

“不行,眨眼并非淑女所为。如果你做错了事我就抬抬眼眉,如果做对了就点点头。现在挺直腰,迈小步。如果把你介绍给别人时,不要握手:那不合规矩。“这些规矩你都是怎样学来的?我就是老学不会。听,音乐多轻快!”姐妹两人略带羞怯地走过去。虽然这只是个非正式的小舞会,对于她们来说却是件盛事。加德纳夫人是位神态庄重的老太太,有六个女儿。她和霭可亲地接待了她们,并把她们交给大女儿莎莉。梅格和莎莉相熟,很快便不再拘束,而乔呢,对女孩子和女孩子的闲言碎语一向不大着意,只得站在那里,小心翼翼地背靠着墙,觉得自己就像一匹关在花园里的小野马,很不得要领。五六个快活的小伙子在房间的另一头大谈溜冰,她心痒难禁,恨不得也走过去参与,因为溜冰是她生活中的一大乐趣。她把心头愿望向梅格流露,但梅格的眉毛抬得老高,令她不敢轻举妄动。没有人过来跟他说话;身边的一群人也渐走渐少,最后只剩下她孤零零一个。因为怕露出烧坏了的衣幅,她不敢四处走动去寻找乐趣,只能可怜巴巴地站在那里盯着别人看。这时舞曲响起,梅格马上被请进了舞池。她步态轻快,笑脸盈盈,没有人会想象得到她双脚正被那双鞋子折磨得生疼。乔看到一个大个子红头发的年轻人向她走来,担心会请她跳舞,便赶快溜进一间挂着帘幕的休息室,准备独自一人偷偷窥视,悄悄欣赏。谁料到另一个害羞的人已先看中了这个庇身之处:当帘幕在身后落下时,乔发现自己正与"劳伦斯家的男孩"面对着面。

“噢,我不知道这里有人!”乔张口结舌,准备转身冲出去。

但男孩笑了,愉快地说:“别管我,你喜欢就呆着吧,”尽管他看上去也有点吃惊。

“我会打扰你吗?”

“一点也不会。我进来是因为这里有很多人我都不认识,你知道一开始总有点陌生感。”“我也一样。请不要走开,除非你真的想这样。”男孩又坐下来,低头望着自己的浅口无带皮鞋。乔尽量用礼貌轻松的口吻说:“我想我曾幸会过阁下。阁下就住在我们附近吧?”“隔壁。”他抬起头笑出声来,因为他想起了把猫送回她家时两人一起谈论板球的情景。相比之下,乔这副一本正经的神态显得十分逗趣。

乔轻松下来,也笑了。她诚挚地说:“你送来的美妙的圣诞礼物真令我们开心极了。”“是爷爷送的。”“但这是你出的主意,没错吧?”“你的猫好吗,马奇小姐?”男孩试图严肃一点,但黑色眼睛里却闪着调皮的光芒。

“很好,谢谢,劳伦斯先生;不过我不是什么马奇小姐,我叫乔,”年轻女士答道。

“我也不是劳伦斯先生,我叫劳里。”

“劳里,劳伦斯,——这名字真怪!”

“我的名字是西奥多,但我不喜欢,因为伙伴们把我叫做多拉,所以我让他们改叫劳里。”“我也不喜欢我的名字——多么伤感!我希望人人都叫我乔,而不叫约瑟芬。你是怎么使那些男孩不再叫你多拉的?”“痛打他们。”“我不可以痛打马奇婶婶,所以我只好随她怎么叫。”乔失望地叹了一口气。

“喜欢跳舞吗,乔小姐?”劳里问,似乎认为这个称呼挺适合她。

“如果场地开阔,大家也都兴高采烈,我倒是挺喜欢的。

但是这样的场合我总会打翻点东西,踩着别人的脚趾头,或者出一些糟糕透顶的洋相,所以我不去胡闹,只由梅格去跳。

你跳舞吗?”

“有时也跳。我在外国生活了好些年,在这里交友尚少,还不大熟悉你们的生活方式。”“外国!”乔叫道,”呵,给我讲讲吧!我最爱听人家谈自己的旅游见闻。”劳里似乎不知道该从哪里说起,但见乔问得热切,便也打开了话匣子,谈他在韦威的学校生活,告诉她那边的男孩从来不戴帽子,而且他们在湖上都有一队小船,休假时大家跟老师们一起走过瑞士等等。

“如果我能去该有多好!”乔叫道,”你去过巴黎吗?”“去年我们在那里过冬。“你能讲法语吗?”“在韦威只许讲法语。”“讲几句吧!我可以读,但不会说。“Quelnomacettejeunedemoiselleenlespantouelesjolis?”劳里友善地说。

“说得好极了!让我想想——你是说:''那位穿着漂亮鞋子的年轻女士是谁'',可对?”“Oui,mademoiselle。”“是我姐姐玛格丽特,你早就知道的!你说她漂亮吗?”“漂亮。她使我想起德国姑娘,她看上去俏丽娴雅,舞姿也很优美。”听到一个男孩子这样夸赞自己的姐姐,乔高兴得脸上放光,忙把这些话记在心中,留待回家转告梅格。他们悄悄看着舞池,一边指点一边交谈,彼此都觉得似乎相知已久。劳里很快便不再害羞,乔的男儿气使他感到十分轻松愉快,乔也倍感快乐,因为她忘掉了自己的衣裳,而且现在没有人对她抬眼眉了。她对“劳伦斯家的男孩"越发感到喜爱,不禁再认真地棒打量了几眼,准备回家把他描述给姐妹们,因为她们没有兄弟,也没有什么表兄弟,对男孩子几乎一无所知。

“卷曲的黑头发,棕色皮肤,黑色的大眼睛,好看的鼻子,牙齿洁白,手脚不大,比我略高,显得温文尔雅,不乏风趣。

只是不知他多大年纪?”

乔正开口要问,却又及时收住,转而机智地换了一种婉转的口吻。

“我想你很快就要念大学了吧?我看到你在啃书本——不,我是指用功读书。“乔为自己冲口说了个不雅的"啃"字而涨红了脸。

劳里并没有在意,他微笑着耸耸肩回答:“这一两年内都不会;要到十七岁我才念大学。”“你才十五岁吗?”乔望着这位高高的小伙子问。她以为他已经十七岁了。

“下个月满十六岁。”

“如果我可以念大学就好了!而你似乎不大喜欢呢。”“我讨厌读文学,一味只是灌输和玩乐。我也不喜欢这个国家的生活方式。”“你喜欢什么呢?”“住在意大利,按自己的方式做事。”乔非常想问问他自己的方式是什么,但他锁起双眉,样子显得极为严肃,乔便一边用脚踏着节拍,一边换了个话题:“这支波尔卡舞曲棒极了!你为什么不去跳?”“如果你也一起来的话,”他说道,并颇有修养地轻轻一躬身子。

“我不能,因为我跟梅格说过我不跳,因为—-"乔欲言又止,思量着是说出来呢还是一笑了之。

“因为什么?”劳里好奇地问。

“你不会说出去吧?”

“绝对不会!”

“是这样,我有个坏习惯,喜欢站在炉火前烘衣服,一次便把这件衣服烧坏了,虽经精心缝补,还是可以看出来。梅格要我别乱动,这样就不会让人看到。你要笑就尽管笑吧。我知道这很好笑。”但劳里没有笑,他低头沉思了一会,带着令乔诧异的神情轻声说:“不要紧,我告诉你一个办法:那边有一个长长的走廊,我们可以尽兴起舞,没有人会看见我们。请来吧。”乔谢过他,高兴地走过去。看到舞伴戴着精致的乳白色手套,她恨不得自己也有两只干净手套。走廊空无一人,他们在那里尽兴地跳了一曲波尔卡舞。劳里跳得很好,他教乔跳德国舞步,这种舞步活泼轻快,乔十分喜欢。音乐停下后,他们坐在楼梯上喘口气,劳里跟乔谈着海德堡的学生庆祝会,梅格过来找妹妹。她招招手,乔不大情愿地跟着她走进一个侧间,却看到她坐在沙发上,手托着脚,脸色苍白。

“我扭伤了脚踝。那只讨厌的高跟鞋一歪,把我狠狠地扭了一下。真痛呵,我几乎都站不稳了,真不知道该怎么走回家,”她一边说一边痛得直摇晃。

“我早就知道那双笨鞋会弄伤你的脚。我很难过。但我想不出什么法子,除非去叫一辆马车,或者在这里过夜,”乔答道,边说边轻轻擦着梅格那受伤的脚踝。

“叫一辆马车要花不少钱,再说根本也叫不到,因为大多数人都是坐自己的马车来的。这里离马厩有好长一段路,也找不着人去叫。”“我去。”“千万别去!已经过九点了,外面黑黢黢一片。我不能呆在这里,因为屋里满是人。莎莉有几个女孩子陪着。我在这里等罕娜来,到时候再尽我所能吧。”“我去叫劳里;他会去的,”乔说。想到这个主意,她松了一口气。

“求求你,不要去!不要让人知道。把我的橡胶套鞋给我,把这对鞋子放到我们带来的包袱里。我不能再跳了。晚饭一吃完就看罕娜来了没有,她一到马上告诉我。”“他们现在出去吃饭了。我陪着你;我宁愿这样。”“不,亲爱的,快到那边给我弄点咖啡。我累得要命,简直不能动了!”梅格说完斜靠在沙发上,把橡胶套鞋藏得恰到好处,乔便跌跌撞撞地朝饭厅跑去。她闯入一个地方,原来是放瓷器的小房间,又推开一扇房门,却发现加德纳先生在那里独自小憩,最后才找到了饭厅。她冲到桌边好不容易倒好咖啡,匆忙中又把它弄溅了,把衣服的前幅弄得跟后幅一样糟糕。

“噢,天呵,我真是个冒失鬼!”乔叫道,忙用梅格的手套擦拭,谁知又赔上了一只手套。

“我可以帮忙吗?”一个友善的声音问道。原来是劳里。他一手拿着装得满满的杯子,一手拿着放有冰块的小盘子。

“我正想弄点咖啡给梅格,她累坏了。不知谁碰了我一下,便成了这付狼狈相,“乔说着沮丧地看看弄脏了的裙子,又看看变成咖啡色的手套。

“真是太糟糕了!不过我手里的东西正要送给人,可以拿给你姐姐吗?”“噢,谢谢你!我来带路。东西还是你拿着吧,我拿着准会闯祸的,”乔说完在前面引路。

劳里似乎惯于侍候女士,他拉过一张小桌子,又再走一趟为乔取来咖啡和冰块,十分殷勤周到,梅格虽然挑剔,也不禁称他为"不错的小伙子"。大家愉快地吃着各式糖果,跟两三个刚进来的年青人安安静静玩一种"霸士"游戏。这时罕娜来了。梅格忘了脚痛,猛站起身,痛得叫了一声,赶紧扶住乔。

“嘘!什么也别说,”她悄悄地说,接着放大嗓门,”没有什么,我的脚稍微扭了一下,小事情。”说完她一瘸一拐地走上楼收拾包袱。

罕娜骂,梅格哭。乔不知所措,最后终于决定亲自收拾残局。她一溜烟跑下去,找到一个佣人,问他是否能帮她叫辆马车。偏巧这位佣人是雇来的侍者,对周围情况一无所知,乔正在东张西望找人,劳里听到她叫车,走过来,告诉她他爷爷的马车刚到,准备接他回家,她们可以用这辆车子。

“时间还早呢!你不是这么快就走了吧?”乔问,她松了一口气,但又犹豫是否该接受这个好意。

“我总是提早走——真的,不骗你!请让我送你们回家。

反正是顺路,你知道。再者,他们说还下着雨呢。”事情就这样定下来了;乔把梅格的灾难告诉他,感激不尽地接受了他的好意,又跑上去把其他人带下来。罕娜跟猫一样痛恨下雨,所以顺顺当当上了车。她们乘着豪华的封闭式四轮马车驶回家,觉得极为高雅,内心十分得意。劳里坐到车夫座位上,腾出位置让梅格把脚架起来,姐妹俩毫无顾忌地谈论刚才的晚会。

“我玩得开心极了。你呢?”乔问,把头发弄乱,使自己舒服一些。

“开心,直到把脚扭伤。莎莉的朋友安妮•莫法特喜欢上我了,请我随莎莉到她家住一个星期。莎莉准备在春天歌剧团来的时候去,如果妈妈让我去就太美了,“梅格答道。想到这里她愉快起来。

“我看到你跟我躲开的那个红头发小伙子跳舞,他人好吗?”“噢,非常好!他的头发是红褐色的,不是红色,他非常有礼貌,我跟他跳了一个漂亮的瑞多瓦呢。”“他学跳新舞步时像个痉挛的草蜢。我和劳里都忍不住笑起来,你听到了吗?“没有,但这样非常无礼。你们一晚上藏在那里头干什么?”乔把自己的经过告诉她,讲完时恰好到家了。她们谢过劳里,又道了晚安,悄悄溜进门去,不想惊动任何人。但随着门吱嘎一声,两个戴着睡帽的小脑袋突然冒出来,两个困乏但热切的声音喊道——“讲讲舞会!讲讲舞会!”尽管梅格认为这样"极无规矩",乔还是为两个妹妹带了几块夹心糖;她们听了晚会最刺激的情节后,很快便安静下来。

“我敢说,晚会后有马车送回家,穿着晨衣坐在家中有女侍侍候,上流社会的年轻女士也不过如此,”梅格边说边让乔在她脚上敷上山金车酊,并给她梳头发。

“虽然我们的头发被烧掉了,衣裳又破又旧,手套也不成双,紧鞋子又扭伤了脚踝,但我相信我们比上流社会的年轻女士玩得开心多了。”我认为乔说得对。




CHAPTER FOUR BURDENS

"Oh, dear, how hard it does seem to take up our packs and go on," sighed Meg the morning after the party, for now the holidays were over, the week of merrymaking did not fit her for going on easily with the task she never liked.

"I wish it was Christmas or New Year's all the time. Wouldn't it be fun?" answered Jo, yawning dismally.

"We shouldn't enjoy ourselves half so much as we do now. But it does seem so nice to have little suppers and bouquets, and go to parties, and drive home, and read and rest, and not work. It's like other people, you know, and I always envy girls who do such things, I'm so fond of luxury," said Meg, trying to decide which of two shabby gowns was the least shabby.

"Well, we can't have it, so don't let us grumble but shoulder our bundles and trudge along as cheerfully as Marmee does. I'm sure Aunt March is a regular Old Man of the Sea to me, but I suppose when I've learned to carry her without complaining, she will tumble off, or get so light that I shan't mind her."

This idea tickled Jo's fancy and put her in good spirits, but Meg didn't brighten, for her burden, consisting of four spoiled children, seemed heavier than ever. She had not heart enough even to make herself pretty as usual by putting on a blue neck ribbon and dressing her hair in the most becoming way.

"Where's the use of looking nice, when no one sees me but those cross midgets, and no one cares whether I'm pretty or not?" she muttered, shutting her drawer with a jerk. "I shall have to toil and moil all my days, with only little bits of fun now and then, and get old and ugly and sour, because I'm poor and can't enjoy my life as other girls do. It's a shame!"

So Meg went down, wearing an injured look, and wasn't at all agreeable at breakfast time. Everyone seemed rather out of sorts and inclined to croak.

Beth had a headache and lay on the sofa, trying to comfort herself with the cat and three kittens. Amy was fretting because her lessons were not learned, and she couldn't find her rubbers. Jo would whistle and make a great racket getting ready.

Mrs. March was very busy trying to finish a letter, which must go at once, and Hannah had the grumps, for being up late didn't suit her.

"There never was such a cross family!" cried Jo, losing her temper when she had upset an inkstand, broken both boot lacings, and sat down upon her hat.

"You're the crossest person in it!" returned Amy, washing out the sum that was all wrong with the tears that had fallen on her slate.

"Beth, if you don't keep these horrid cats down cellar I'll have them drowned," exclaimed Meg angrily as she tried to get rid of the kitten which had scrambled up her back and stuck like a burr just out of reach.

Jo laughed, Meg scolded, Beth implored, and Amy wailed because she couldn't remember how much nine times twelve was.

"Girls, girls, do be quiet one minute! I must get this off by the early mail, and you drive me distracted with your worry," cried Mrs. March, crossing out the third spoiled sentence in her letter.

There was a momentary lull, broken by Hannah, who stalked in, laid two hot turnovers on the table, and stalked out again. These turnovers were an institution, and the girls called them 'muffs', for they had no others and found the hot pies very comforting to their hands on cold mornings.

Hannah never forgot to make them, no matter how busy or grumpy she might be, for the walk was long and bleak. The poor things got no other lunch and were seldom home before two.

"Cuddle your cats and get over your headache, Bethy. Goodbye, Marmee. We are a set of rascals this morning, but we'll come home regular angels. Now then, Meg!" And Jo tramped away, feeling that the pilgrims were not setting out as they ought to do.

They always looked back before turning the corner, for their mother was always at the window to nod and smile, and wave her hand to them. Somehow it seemed as if they couldn't have got through the day without that, for whatever their mood might be, the last glimpse of that motherly face was sure to affect them like sunshine.

"If Marmee shook her fist instead of kissing her hand to us, it would serve us right, for more ungrateful wretches than we are were never seen," cried Jo, taking a remorseful satisfaction in the snowy walk and bitter wind.

"Don't use such dreadful expressions," replied Meg from the depths of the veil in which she had shrouded herself like a nun sick of the world.

"I like good strong words that mean something," replied Jo, catching her hat as it took a leap off her head preparatory to flying away altogether.

"Call yourself any names you like, but I am neither a rascal nor a wretch and I don't choose to be called so."

"You're a blighted being, and decidedly cross today because you can't sit in the lap of luxury all the time. Poor dear, just wait till I make my fortune, and you shall revel in carriages and ice cream and high-heeled slippers, and posies, and red-headed boys to dance with."

"How ridiculous you are, Jo!" But Meg laughed at the nonsense and felt better in spite of herself.

"Lucky for you I am, for if I put on crushed airs and tried to be dismal, as you do, we should be in a nice state. Thank goodness, I can always find something funny to keep me up. Don't croak any more, but come home jolly, there's a dear."

Jo gave her sister an encouraging pat on the shoulder as they parted for the day, each going a different way, each hugging her little warm turnover, and each trying to be cheerful in spite of wintry weather, hard work, and the unsatisfied desires of pleasure-loving youth.

When Mr. March lost his property in trying to help an unfortunate friend, the two oldest girls begged to be allowed to do something toward their own support, at least. Believing that they could not begin too early to cultivate energy, industry, and independence, their parents consented, and both fell to work with the hearty good will which in spite of all obstacles is sure to succeed at last.

Margaret found a place as nursery governess and felt rich with her small salary. As she said, she was 'fond of luxury', and her chief trouble was poverty. She found it harder to bear than the others because she could remember a time when home was beautiful, life full of ease and pleasure, and want of any kind unknown. She tried not to be envious or discontented, but it was very natural that the young girl should long for pretty things, gay friends, accomplishments, and a happy life. At the Kings' she daily saw all she wanted, for the children's older sisters were just out, and Meg caught frequent glimpses of dainty ball dresses and bouquets, heard lively gossip about theaters, concerts, sleighing parties, and merrymakings of all kinds, and saw money lavished on trifles which would have been so precious to her. Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learned to know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can make life happy.

Jo happened to suit Aunt March, who was lame and needed an active person to wait upon her. The childless old lady had offered to adopt one of the girls when the troubles came, and was much offended because her offer was declined. Other friends told the Marches that they had lost all chance of being remembered in the rich old lady's will, but the unworldly Marches only said...

"We can't give up our girls for a dozen fortunes. Rich or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another."

The old lady wouldn't speak to them for a time, but happening to meet Jo at a friend's, something in her comical face and blunt manners struck the old lady's fancy, and she proposed to take her for a companion. This did not suit Jo at all, but she accepted the place since nothing better appeared and, to every one's surprise, got on remarkably well with her irascible relative. There was an occasional tempest, and once Jo marched home, declaring she couldn't bear it longer, but Aunt March always cleared up quickly, and sent for her to come back again with such urgency that she could not refuse, for in her heart she rather liked the peppery old lady.

I suspect that the real attraction was a large library of fine books, which was left to dust and spiders since Uncle March died. Jo remembered the kind old gentleman, who used to let her build railroads and bridges with his big dictionaries, tell her stories about queer pictures in his Latin books, and buy her cards of gingerbread whenever he met her in the street. The dim, dusty room, with the busts staring down from the tall bookcases, the cozy chairs, the globes, and best of all, the wilderness of books in which she could wander where she liked, made the library a region of bliss to her.

The moment Aunt March took her nap, or was busy with company, Jo hurried to this quiet place, and curling herself up in the easy chair, devoured poetry, romance, history, travels, and pictures like a regular bookworm. But, like all happiness, it did not last long, for as sure as she had just reached the heart of the story, the sweetest verse of a song, or the most perilous adventure of her traveler, a shrill voice called, "Josy-phine! Josy-phine!" and she had to leave her paradise to wind yarn, wash the poodle, or read Belsham's Essays by the hour together.

Jo's ambition was to do something very splendid. What it was, she had no idea as yet, but left it for time to tell her, and meanwhile, found her greatest affliction in the fact that she couldn't read, run, and ride as much as she liked. A quick temper, sharp tongue, and restless spirit were always getting her into scrapes, and her life was a series of ups and downs, which were both comic and pathetic. But the training she received at Aunt March's was just what she needed, and the thought that she was doing something to support herself made her happy in spite of the perpetual "Josy-phine!"

Beth was too bashful to go to school. It had been tried, but she suffered so much that it was given up, and she did her lessons at home with her father. Even when he went away, and her mother was called to devote her skill and energy to Soldiers' Aid Societies, Beth went faithfully on by herself and did the best she could. She was a housewifely little creature, and helped Hannah keep home neat and comfortable for the workers, never thinking of any reward but to be loved. Long, quiet days she spent, not lonely nor idle, for her little world was peopled with imaginary friends, and she was by nature a busy bee. There were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child still and loved her pets as well as ever. Not one whole or handsome one among them, all were outcasts till Beth took them in, for when her sisters outgrew these idols, they passed to her because Amy would have nothing old or ugly. Beth cherished them all the more tenderly for that very reason, and set up a hospital for infirm dolls. No pins were ever stuck into their cotton vitals, no harsh words or blows were ever given them, no neglect ever saddened the heart of the most repulsive, but all were fed and clothed, nursed and caressed with an affection which never failed. One forlorn fragment of dollanity had belonged to Jo and, having led a tempestuous life, was left a wreck in the rag bag, from which dreary poorhouse it was rescued by Beth and taken to her refuge. Having no top to its head, she tied on a neat little cap, and as both arms and legs were gone, she hid these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket and devoting her best bed to this chronic invalid. If anyone had known the care lavished on that dolly, I think it would have touched their hearts, even while they laughed. She brought it bits of bouquets, she read to it, took it out to breathe fresh air, hidden under her coat, she sang it lullabies and never went to bed without kissing its dirty face and whispering tenderly, "I hope you'll have a good night, my poor dear."

Beth had her troubles as well as the others, and not being an angel but a very human little girl, she often 'wept a little weep' as Jo said, because she couldn't take music lessons and have a fine piano. She loved music so dearly, tried so hard to learn, and practiced away so patiently at the jingling old instrument, that it did seem as if someone (not to hint Aunt March) ought to help her. Nobody did, however, and nobody saw Beth wipe the tears off the yellow keys, that wouldn't keep in tune, when she was all alone. She sang like a little lark about her work, never was too tired for Marmee and the girls, and day after day said hopefully to herself, "I know I'll get my music some time, if I'm good."

There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.

If anybody had asked Amy what the greatest trial of her life was, she would have answered at once, "My nose." When she was a baby, Jo had accidently dropped her into the coal hod, and Amy insisted that the fall had ruined her nose forever. It was not big nor red, like poor 'Petrea's', it was only rather flat, and all the pinching in the world could not give it an aristocratic point. No one minded it but herself, and it was doing its best to grow, but Amy felt deeply the want of a Grecian nose, and drew whole sheets of handsome ones to console herself.

"Little Raphael," as her sisters called her, had a decided talent for drawing, and was never so happy as when copying flowers, designing fairies, or illustrating stories with queer specimens of art. Her teachers complained that instead of doing her sums she covered her slate with animals, the blank pages of her atlas were used to copy maps on, and caricatures of the most ludicrous description came fluttering out of all her books at unlucky moments. She got through her lessons as well as she could, and managed to escape reprimands by being a model of deportment. She was a great favorite with her mates, being good-tempered and possessing the happy art of pleasing without effort. Her little airs and graces were much admired, so were her accomplishments, for besides her drawing, she could play twelve tunes, crochet, and read French without mispronouncing more than two-thirds of the words. She had a plaintive way of saying, "When Papa was rich we did so-and-so," which was very touching, and her long words were considered 'perfectly elegant' by the girls.

Amy was in a fair way to be spoiled, for everyone petted her, and her small vanities and selfishnesses were growing nicely. One thing, however, rather quenched the vanities. She had to wear her cousin's clothes. Now Florence's mama hadn't a particle of taste, and Amy suffered deeply at having to wear a red instead of a blue bonnet, unbecoming gowns, and fussy aprons that did not fit. Everything was good, well made, and little worn, but Amy's artistic eyes were much afflicted, especially this winter, when her school dress was a dull purple with yellow dots and no trimming.

"My only comfort," she said to Meg, with tears in her eyes, "is that Mother doesn't take tucks in my dresses whenever I'm naughty, as Maria Parks's mother does. My dear, it's really dreadful, for sometimes she is so bad her frock is up to her knees, and she can't come to school. When I think of this deggerredation, I feel that I can bear even my flat nose and purple gown with yellow sky-rockets on it."

Meg was Amy's confidant and monitor, and by some strange attraction of opposites Jo was gentle Beth's. To Jo alone did the shy child tell her thoughts, and over her big harum-scarum sister Beth unconsciously exercised more influence than anyone in the family. The two older girls were a great deal to one another, but each took one of the younger sisters into her keeping and watched over her in her own way, 'playing mother' they called it, and put their sisters in the places of discarded dolls with the maternal instinct of little women.

"Has anybody got anything to tell? It's been such a dismal day I'm really dying for some amusement," said Meg, as they sat sewing together that evening.

"I had a queer time with Aunt today, and, as I got the best of it, I'll tell you about it," began Jo, who dearly loved to tell stories. "I was reading that everlasting Belsham, and droning away as I always do, for Aunt soon drops off, and then I take out some nice book, and read like fury till she wakes up. I actually made myself sleepy, and before she began to nod, I gave such a gape that she asked me what I meant by opening my mouth wide enough to take the whole book in at once."

"I wish I could, and be done with it," said I, trying not to be saucy.

"Then she gave me a long lecture on my sins, and told me to sit and think them over while she just 'lost' herself for a moment. She never finds herself very soon, so the minute her cap began to bob like a top-heavy dahlia, I whipped the Vicar of Wakefield out of my pocket, and read away, with one eye on him and one on Aunt. I'd just got to where they all tumbled into the water when I forgot and laughed out loud. Aunt woke up and, being more good-natured after her nap, told me to read a bit and show what frivolous work I preferred to the worthy and instructive Belsham. I did my very best, and she liked it, though she only said...

"'I don't understand what it's all about. Go back and begin it, child.'"

"Back I went, and made the Primroses as interesting as ever I could. Once I was wicked enough to stop in a thrilling place, and say meekly, 'I'm afraid it tires you, ma'am. Shan't I stop now?'"

"She caught up her knitting, which had dropped out of her hands, gave me a sharp look through her specs, and said, in her short way, 'Finish the chapter, and don't be impertinent, miss'."

"Did she own she liked it?" asked Meg.

"Oh, bless you, no! But she let old Belsham rest, and when I ran back after my gloves this afternoon, there she was, so hard at the Vicar that she didn't hear me laugh as I danced a jig in the hall because of the good time coming. What a pleasant life she might have if only she chose! I don't envy her much, in spite of her money, for after all rich people have about as many worries as poor ones, I think," added Jo.

"That reminds me," said Meg, "that I've got something to tell. It isn't funny, like Jo's story, but I thought about it a good deal as I came home. At the Kings' today I found everybody in a flurry, and one of the children said that her oldest brother had done something dreadful, and Papa had sent him away. I heard Mrs. King crying and Mr. King talking very loud, and Grace and Ellen turned away their faces when they passed me, so I shouldn't see how red and swollen their eyes were. I didn't ask any questions, of course, but I felt so sorry for them and was rather glad I hadn't any wild brothers to do wicked things and disgrace the family."

"I think being disgraced in school is a great deal tryinger than anything bad boys can do," said Amy, shaking her head, as if her experience of life had been a deep one. "Susie Perkins came to school today with a lovely red carnelian ring. I wanted it dreadfully, and wished I was her with all my might. Well, she drew a picture of Mr. Davis, with a monstrous nose and a hump, and the words, 'Young ladies, my eye is upon you!' coming out of his mouth in a balloon thing. We were laughing over it when all of a sudden his eye was on us, and he ordered Susie to bring up her slate. She was parrylized with fright, but she went, and oh, what do you think he did? He took her by the ear—the ear! Just fancy how horrid!—and led her to the recitation platform, and made her stand there half an hour, holding the slate so everyone could see."

"Didn't the girls laugh at the picture?" asked Jo, who relished the scrape.

"Laugh? Not one! They sat still as mice, and Susie cried quarts, I know she did. I didn't envy her then, for I felt that millions of carnelian rings wouldn't have made me happy after that. I never, never should have got over such a agonizing mortification." And Amy went on with her work, in the proud consciousness of virtue and the successful utterance of two long words in a breath.

"I saw something I liked this morning, and I meant to tell it at dinner, but I forgot," said Beth, putting Jo's topsy-turvy basket in order as she talked. "When I went to get some oysters for Hannah, Mr. Laurence was in the fish shop, but he didn't see me, for I kept behind the fish barrel, and he was busy with Mr. Cutter the fish-man. A poor woman came in with a pail and a mop, and asked Mr. Cutter if he would let her do some scrubbing for a bit of fish, because she hadn't any dinner for her children, and had been disappointed of a day's work. Mr. Cutter was in a hurry and said 'No', rather crossly, so she was going away, looking hungry and sorry, when Mr. Laurence hooked up a big fish with the crooked end of his cane and held it out to her. She was so glad and surprised she took it right into her arms, and thanked him over and over. He told her to 'go along and cook it', and she hurried off, so happy! Wasn't it good of him? Oh, she did look so funny, hugging the big, slippery fish, and hoping Mr. Laurence's bed in heaven would be 'aisy'."

When they had laughed at Beth's story, they asked their mother for one, and after a moments thought, she said soberly, "As I sat cutting out blue flannel jackets today at the rooms, I felt very anxious about Father, and thought how lonely and helpless we should be, if anything happened to him. It was not a wise thing to do, but I kept on worrying till an old man came in with an order for some clothes. He sat down near me, and I began to talk to him, for he looked poor and tired and anxious.

"'Have you sons in the army?' I asked, for the note he brought was not to me."

"Yes, ma'am. I had four, but two were killed, one is a prisoner, and I'm going to the other, who is very sick in a Washington hospital.' he answered quietly."

"'You have done a great deal for your country, sir,' I said, feeling respect now, instead of pity."

"'Not a mite more than I ought, ma'am. I'd go myself, if I was any use. As I ain't, I give my boys, and give 'em free.'"

"He spoke so cheerfully, looked so sincere, and seemed so glad to give his all, that I was ashamed of myself. I'd given one man and thought it too much, while he gave four without grudging them. I had all my girls to comfort me at home, and his last son was waiting, miles away, to say good-by to him, perhaps! I felt so rich, so happy thinking of my blessings, that I made him a nice bundle, gave him some money, and thanked him heartily for the lesson he had taught me."

"Tell another story, Mother, one with a moral to it, like this. I like to think about them afterward, if they are real and not too preachy," said Jo, after a minute's silence.

Mrs. March smiled and began at once, for she had told stories to this little audience for many years, and knew how to please them.

"Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eat and drink and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends and parents who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented." (Here the listeners stole sly looks at one another, and began to sew diligently.) "These girls were anxious to be good and made many excellent resolutions, but they did not keep them very well, and were constantly saying, 'If only we had this,' or 'If we could only do that,' quite forgetting how much they already had, and how many things they actually could do. So they asked an old woman what spell they could use to make them happy, and she said, 'When you feel discontented, think over your blessings, and be grateful.'" (Here Jo looked up quickly, as if about to speak, but changed her mind, seeing that the story was not done yet.)

"Being sensible girls, they decided to try her advice, and soon were surprised to see how well off they were. One discovered that money couldn't keep shame and sorrow out of rich people's houses, another that, though she was poor, she was a great deal happier, with her youth, health, and good spirits, than a certain fretful, feeble old lady who couldn't enjoy her comforts, a third that, disagreeable as it was to help get dinner, it was harder still to go begging for it and the fourth, that even carnelian rings were not so valuable as good behavior. So they agreed to stop complaining, to enjoy the blessings already possessed, and try to deserve them, lest they should be taken away entirely, instead of increased, and I believe they were never disappointed or sorry that they took the old woman's advice."

"Now, Marmee, that is very cunning of you to turn our own stories against us, and give us a sermon instead of a romance!" cried Meg.

"I like that kind of sermon. It's the sort Father used to tell us," said Beth thoughtfully, putting the needles straight on Jo's cushion.

"I don't complain near as much as the others do, and I shall be more careful than ever now, for I've had warning from Susie's downfall," said Amy morally.

"We needed that lesson, and we won't forget it. If we do so, you just say to us, as old Chloe did in Uncle Tom, 'Tink ob yer marcies, chillen!' 'Tink ob yer marcies!'" added Jo, who could not, for the life of her, help getting a morsel of fun out of the little sermon, though she took it to heart as much as any of them.

 

第四章 负担

“唉!又得背起担子往前走了,生活真是一种磨难,”晚会的第二天早上梅格这样叹息道。过节玩了一周,现在又要从事不喜欢的工作,她心里相当不情愿。

“我但愿每天都过圣诞节或者过新年,那就好玩了,”乔说着懒洋洋地打了个呵欠。

“我们能过上现在这种日子已经是三生有幸。但是如果能参加一些宴会舞会,有鲜花马车,每天读书休息,不用工作,那该有多么惬意。你知道有些人就有这样的福气,我总是羡慕这些女孩子,我这人就是向往奢华,”梅格说。她正在比较两条破旧不堪的长裙,看哪一条稍好一点。

“毕竟我们没有这个福气,还是别发牢骚,挑起担子,像妈妈一样乐观地向前走吧。我肯定马奇婶婶就是我的冤家对头,但我想只要我学会忍受,不去埋怨,她就会被丢到脑后,或者变得微不足道。”这主意让乔觉得挺好玩,心情也愉快起来,但梅格却不是很高兴,因为她的担子——四个宠坏了的孩子——现在显得异常沉重。她甚至没有心情像往常一样在领口打上蓝丝,也没有心绪对镜理妆。

“一天到晚都对着几个小捣蛋鬼,我打扮得这么漂亮有谁来看?又有谁来理会我漂亮不漂亮?”她咕哝道,把抽屉猛地一推关上,”我将终生劳碌,只能偶尔得到一点乐趣,逐渐变老变丑,变得尖酸刻薄,就因为我穷,不能像其他女孩子一样享受生活。这是个耻辱!”梅格说完走下去,脸上带着一种受伤的表情,吃早餐时也全无心绪。大家似乎都有点不对劲,个个脸上阴霾满布。贝思头痛,躺在沙发上,试图在那只大猫和三只小猫之中寻找安慰;艾美烦躁不安,因为她没有弄懂功课,而且找不到胶擦;乔真想大吹一声口哨;马奇太太正赶着写一封急信;罕娜因为不喜欢大家晚起,不停地抱怨。

“我从来没见过一家人这么火爆!”乔喊道。她打翻了墨水后,弄断了两根靴带,又坐在自己的帽子上,终于发起了脾气。

“你是最火爆的一个!”艾美反击道,用滴落在写字板上的泪水抹去全算错了的数目。

“贝思,如果你不把这些讨厌的猫放到地窖里去,我就把他们淹死,”梅格一面愤怒地高叫,一面力图摆脱一只爬到她背上牢牢粘着不肯走的小猫。

乔大笑着,梅格责备着,贝思央求着,艾美因为想不起九乘十二等于多少而号哭起来。

“姑娘们,姑娘们,安静一会吧!我必须赶在第一个邮班前把信寄出,你们却乱哄哄地闹得我心神不定,”马奇太太叫道,一边划掉信中第三个写错了的句子。

众人一时安静下来,这时罕娜大步走进来,把两个热气腾腾的卷饼放在桌子上,又大步走出去。这两个卷饼是家里的惯例,姑娘们称之为"手笼",因为她们发觉寒冷的早上手里笼着个热饼挺暖和,罕娜无论多么忙多么牢骚满腹也不会忘记做上两个,因为路远天寒,两个可怜的姑娘常要在两点以后才回到家里,卷饼便是她们的午饭。

“抱上你的猫,头痛就会好了,贝思。再见,妈妈。我们今早真是一班小坏蛋,不过我们回家时一定还是平日的小天使。走吧,梅格!”乔迈开步伐,觉得她们的天国之旅从一开始就没有走好。

她们转过拐角之前总要回头望望,因为母亲总是倚在窗前点头微笑,向她们挥手道别。不这样她们这一天就似乎过得不踏实,因为无论她们心情如何,她们最后一起所看到的母亲的脸容无异于缕缕阳光,令她们欢欣鼓舞。

“即使妈咪不向我们挥手吻别,而是挥起拳头,我们也是罪有应得,因为我们是天底下最不知道感恩图报的小混帐,”乔在凄风萧瑟的雪路上大声忏悔。

“不要用这么难听的字眼,”梅格说。她用头巾把自己裹得严严实实,看上去就像一个厌世的尼姑。

“我喜欢强有力而有意义的好字眼,”乔答道,用手抓着几乎被风吹落的帽子。

“你爱怎么叫自己就怎么叫吧,我可不是坏蛋,也不是混帐,也不愿意人家这么叫我。”“你是个伤心落魄人,今天这么怒气冲天是因为你不能整天置身于花团锦簇之中。可怜的宝贝,等着吧,等我赚到钱,你就可以享受马车、雪糕、高跟鞋、花束,并和红发小伙子一起跳舞了。”“乔,你真荒唐!”梅格不由被这荒唐话逗笑了。

“幸亏是我呢!如果我也像你一样垂头丧气一副忧郁相,我们可都成了什么样子?谢天谢地,我总可以找到一些有趣的东西来令自己振作。别再发牢骚了,高高兴兴地回家吧,这就对了。”分手时,乔鼓励地拍拍姐姐的肩膀。两人分头而去,各自揣着自己暖烘烘的小卷饼,都想尽量让心情愉快起来,尽管寒风刺骨、工作辛劳,尽管一颗年轻、热爱幸福的心没有得到满足。

当马奇先生为帮助一位不幸的朋友而失去财产时,他的两个大女儿请求让她们出去干点活,这样她们至少可以负担自己的生活。考虑到应该早点培养她们的进取精神和自立能力,父母便同意了。姐妹带着美好的心愿投入工作,相信尽管困难重重,最后一定会取得成功。玛格丽特找到的职业是幼儿家庭教师,薪酬虽少,对她来说却是一笔大数目。正如她自己所说,她"向往奢华",她的主要烦恼便是贫穷。由于她还记得华屋美服、轻松快乐、无忧无虑的好时光,她比起他姐妹更难接受现实。她也试图知足、试图不嫉妒别人,但年青姑娘爱美、爱交朋友、希望成功和过幸福生活却是天性使然。在金斯家里,她天天都看到她想要的东西,因为孩子们的几个姐姐刚开始参加社交活动。梅格不时看到精致的舞会礼服和漂亮的花束,听到她们热烈地谈论戏剧、音乐会、雪橇比赛等各种娱乐活动,看到她们花钱如流水,随意挥霍。可怜的梅格虽然极少抱怨,但一股不平之气却令她有时对每个人都怀有恨意。她还不明白她其实是多么富有,因为祝福本身就能令人过上幸福的生活。

乔刚好被马奇婶婶看中了。马奇婶婶跛了腿,需要找一个勤快的人来侍候。刚跛腿时这位无儿无女的老太太曾向马奇夫妇提出要收一个姑娘为养女,却被婉言拒绝了,心里老大不高兴。一些朋友告诉马奇夫妇说他们错失了被列入这位阔太太遗嘱继承人的机会,但超尘脱俗的马奇夫妇只是说——"我们不能为钱财而放弃女儿。不论贫富,我们都要厮守一起,共享天伦之乐。”老太太有一段时间都不愿跟他们说话,但一次在朋友家里偶然见到了乔。乔言谈风趣,举止直率,十分合老太太的心意,她便提出让乔跟她作个伴。乔并不乐意,但她找不到更好的差事,便答应下来。出人意料的是,她跟这位性情暴躁的亲戚相处得非常好。但偶尔也会遇到狂风骤雨,一次乔便气得跑回了家,宣布自己忍无可忍;但马奇婶婶总是很快收拾残局,急匆匆地派人请她回去,令她不便拒绝。其实,她内心对这位火辣辣的老太太也颇有好感。

我猜想真正吸引乔的是一个装满了漂亮图书的大藏书室,这个房间自马奇叔叔去世后便积满了灰尘和蜘蛛网。乔记得那位和蔼的老绅士常常让她用大字典堆起铁道桥梁,跟她讲拉丁语书中那些古怪插图的故事,在街上碰到她时给她买姜饼。藏书室光线暗淡,灰尘满布,还有舒适的椅子、精致的地球仪,最妙的是,几个半身人像从书架上俯视地下,书籍凌乱地堆放着,乔可以毫无顾忌地随处走动翻阅,这一切使藏书室成了乔的天堂。每当马奇婶婶打盹儿或顾着跟人闲聊时,乔便匆匆走进这个平静之处,像名符其实的蛀书虫一样大嚼诗歌、浪漫故事、游记、漫画书等等。不过这种令人陶醉的享受却总是不能持久;每当她看得入神,读到精彩之处,必定会传来一声尖叫:“约瑟——芬!约瑟——芬!”这时她便不得不离开自己的天堂,出去绕纱线,给卷毛狗洗澡,或者朗读波尔沙的《随笔》,忙个不停。

乔的理想是做一番宏伟的事业,但这番事业究竟是什么她却一直毫无头绪,也并不急于知道;她觉得自己最大的痛苦是不能尽兴读书、跑步和骑马。她是个急性子,言语尖刻,内心躁动不安,经常把自己推入困境,因此她的生活经历悲喜交集,甜酸苦辣,五味俱全。不过,她在马奇婶婶家里受到的锻炼正是她所需要的,而一想到这样工作可以自立,她就无比高兴,即使是马奇婶婶那没完没了的"约瑟——芬!”也变得微不足道了。

贝思因性格太羞怯而没有上学;她也曾进过学堂,但感到极度痛苦,只得辍学在家,跟着父亲读书。父亲走后,母亲也被派去为"战士援助会"服务,贝思仍忠实不移,坚持尽自己的最大努力自学。她是个贤妻良母型的小姑娘,帮罕娜为工人们把家里打理得整洁舒适,从不乞求报偿,只要被人爱着便心满意足。她静悄悄地度过漫漫长日,从不孤独,从不懒散,因为她的小天地不乏虚构出来的朋友,而她天生就是个勤劳的小蜜蜂。每天一早贝思都要给六个玩具宝宝穿衣装扮,因为她还是个孩子,仍然喜欢宠物。她的小宝贝原来都是弃儿,个个残缺不全,都是两个姐姐长大后不要而传给她的,因为这样又旧又丑的东西艾美是不会要的。正因为如此,贝思对它们呵护有加,专为这些摇摇摆摆的小宝贝设了间医院。她给这些布娃娃一丝不苟地打针,给它们喂饭、穿衣、护理,从不打骂它们,并不忘奉上深情的一吻,即使是最丑陋的玩偶也不会被忽略。一个残缺不堪的"宝宝”原是乔的旧物,经过暴风骤雨的生活洗礼后,四肢不全,五官不整,被弃置在一个破袋子里头,贝思把它从那破旧的包袱里解救出来放到她的避难所。因为头顶不见了,她便扎上一顶雅致的小帽,四肢没有了,便把它裹在毯子里,把缺陷掩盖起来,并把最好的床让给这位长期病员。如果有人知道她是如何细致入微地照料这个玩具娃娃,我想他们即使发笑,也一定会深受感动。她给它送花、读书,把它裹在她的大衣里,带它出去呼吸新鲜空气,给它唱摇篮曲,睡觉前总要吻吻那脏脸孔,并柔声细语:“祝你晚安,可怜的宝贝。”贝思像她的姐妹一样也有自己的烦恼,她并非什么天使,也是个食人间烟火的小姑娘。用乔的话来说,她常常"哭鼻子",因为不能去上音乐课,因为家里没有一架好钢琴。她酷爱音乐,学得异常用功,并极有耐心地用那架丁当作响的钢琴练习弹奏,似乎真该有人(并非暗指马奇婶婶)来帮她一把。然而没有人帮她,也没有人看到她悄悄把落在五音不全的黄色琴键上的眼泪抹掉。她像只小云雀般为自己的工作歌唱,为妈咪和姐妹们伴奏,永不言累,每天都满怀希望地对自己说:“我知道有一天我一定会学好音乐,只要我乖。”世界上有许许多多个贝思,腼腆平静,默默居于一角,需要时才挺身而出,乐于为别人而牺牲自己。人们只看到她们脸上的笑容,却没有意识到她们所作出的牺牲,直到炉边的小蟋蟀停止了吟唱,和美的阳光消逝而去,空剩下一片寂静和黑暗。

如果有人问艾美生活中最大的痛苦是什么,她会立即回答:“我的鼻子。”当她还是婴孩时,乔一次不小心把她摔落在煤斗里头。艾美认定那次意外永远毁掉了她的鼻子。她的鼻子既不大也不红,只是有点扁。无论怎样捏怎样夹也弄不出个贵族式的鼻尖儿,除了她自己外,并没有人在意,而且鼻子的长势也极好,但艾美总认为自己的鼻梁不够直,便画了一大堆美鼻画儿聊以自慰。

“小拉斐尔"正如她的姐姐们所称,无疑极有绘画天分。

她最大的幸福莫过于摹绘鲜花、设计小仙女,或用古怪的艺术形象说明故事。她的老师抱怨说她的写字板不是用来做算术,而是画满了动物,地图册上的空白版面被她摹满了地图,她的书本一不小心便会弄出许多荒唐滑稽的漫画。她的学习成绩就个人能力而言已属不俗,其行为举止也被大家视为楷模,并因此而逃过数次惩戒。她脾性随和,深谙取悦别人之道,因此在学校深得人心。她姿态略有点做作,但多才多艺,除绘画外,还会弹十二首曲子,善钩织,读法文时读错的字不超过三分之二,令人十分羡慕。她说"爸爸有钱的那个时候我们如何如何"这句话时,悲哀婉转,令人感动,她拖长了的发音也被姑娘们视为"绝顶优雅"。

艾美差不多被大家宠坏了,她的虚荣和自私也成正比例增长。然而有一件事却刺伤了她的虚荣心:她得穿表姐的衣服。由于表姐弗洛伦斯的母亲毫无品味,艾美大受其苦,帽子该配蓝色的却配了红色,衣服与她很不协调,而围裙又过分讲究。其实这些衣物全都不错,做工精细,磨损极少,但艾美的艺术眼光却不能忍受,尤其是这个冬天,她穿的暗紫色校服布满黄点还没有饰边。

“我唯一的安慰,”她对梅格说,眼中泪光闪闪,”是妈妈不像玛莉亚•帕克的妈妈,她在我淘气玩耍时也不会把我的裙子卷起来。哎呀,那真是糟糕透了。有时玛莉亚的长裙子被卷到了膝头上面,不能来上学,当我想到这种屈辱时,我觉得我的扁鼻梁和那件黄火球紫色衣服也可以忍受了。”梅格是艾美的知己和监护人,也许是一种性格上的异性相吸吧,乔和温柔的贝思又是一对。腼腆的贝思独独跟乔倾诉心事;通过这位高大、冒失的姐姐她不知不觉对全家形成举足轻重的影响。两个姐姐互相之间十分要好,但都各以自己的方式照管着一个妹妹——她们称之为“扮妈妈"——并出于一种小妇人的母性对两个妹妹呵护有加。

“你们有什么有趣的事吗?今天闷死了,讲点什么轻松一下,”那天晚上她们坐在一起做针线活儿,梅格这样问。

“今天我和婶婶之间有个不寻常的插曲,因为我占了上风,所以讲给你们听,“极爱讲故事的乔首先说道,”我像往常一样用既单调又沉闷的声调读永远读不完的波尔沙,婶婶很快就被我打发入梦乡,我趁此机会拿出一本好书,如饥似渴地看起来,她醒来的时候我已觉得困了。她问我为什么把嘴巴张得这么大,足可以把整本书一口吞进去。

“''真能这样倒是不错,正好把它作个了结,''我说,尽量不冲撞她。

“她对我的劣行好一顿训斥,并叫我在她''养养神''那一会功夫认真思过。她很快又进入梦乡,头上的帽子像朵头重脚轻的大丽花一样摇摇摆摆。见此情景,我马上从口袋里抽出《威克菲尔德牧师传》读起来,一只眼看书,一只眼留意婶婶。刚刚读到书中人物全都跌入水中时,我一时忘情,笑出了声。婶婶醒过来,心情颇佳,叫我读一点听听,看这本书究竟如何轻薄,竟敢把她那本富有教育意义的宝书波尔沙比下去。我尽力而为,她听得津津有味,但却说——“''我不明白这本书说的是什么。从头再读一次,孩子。''“我从头再读,并尽量读得有声有色。读到扣人心弦之处,我故意停下来低声说:''我担心你会厌烦呢,夫人;要不要停下来?''“她把刚才从手中掉落的编织活计拿起,透过眼镜片狠狠瞪我一眼,用她一贯简洁的口吻说:“把这章读完,不得无礼,小姐。''”“她承认她喜欢这本书吗?”梅格问。

“噢,告诉你吧,不承认!但她把波尔沙扔到了一边,我今天下午跑回去拿手套时,看到她正全神贯注地读那本牧师传,我高兴得在大厅里跳起快步舞,并笑出声来,她竟全然不觉。只要她愿意,她可以过多么愉快的生活啊!尽管她有钱,我并不怎么羡慕她。我想穷人有穷人的烦恼,富人也有富人的烦恼,”乔接着说。

“我也想起一件事来,”梅格说,”这虽不如乔的故事有趣,但它让我回家想了很久。今天我发现金斯家里的人个个都慌慌张张,一个孩子说她大哥犯了件大事,爸爷把他赶走了。我听到金太太在哭,金先生在大骂,格莱丝和艾伦走过我身边时也别过脸,免得眼睛红红的让我看到。当然我什么也没有问,但我很替他们难过,同时很庆幸自己没有这样可恶的兄弟,令家里人蒙受耻辱。”“坏男孩固然可恨,但在学校蒙受耻辱则更加令人难受,”艾美摇着脑袋说,似乎已经历尽沧桑,“苏茜•巴金斯今天戴着一枚精致的红玉戒指上学,我羡慕得不得了,恨不得也有一个。嘿,她给戴维斯先生画了一幅漫画,怪鼻子,驼背,嘴里还吐出一串话:''年轻女士们,我的眼睛在盯着你们!''我们正在大笑,不料他的眼睛果真盯上了我们。他命令苏茜把画板带上去。她吓瘫了,但还是走上去。噢,你们猜他怎么着?他揪着她的耳朵——耳朵!想想这多恐怖!——把她揪到背书台上让她在那里站了半个小时,举着画板让大家看。”“姑娘们有没有笑那幅画?”乔问,回味着那尴尬的局面。

“笑?谁敢!她们像老鼠般一声不吱静静地坐着,苏茜泪如雨下,可怜的人。那时我不再羡慕她了,因为我觉得如果这样,即使有千千万万个红玉戒指也不能使我幸福。我永远永远不会忘记这种刻骨铭心的奇耻大辱。”然后艾美继续做她的针线活儿,并为自己的品行和成功地一口气发出两串长长的词组而自鸣得意。

“我今早看到一件我喜欢的事情,吃饭时要说的,却给忘了,”贝思一边说一边整理乔乱七八糟的篮子,”我去为罕娜买些鲜蚝,看到劳伦斯先生也在鱼店里,但他没看到我,因为我站在一个水桶后面,他又忙着跟觓e夫卡特先生说话。一个穷苦女人拿着桶和刷子走进来,问卡特先生能否让她干些洗刮鱼鳞的活儿,因为她的孩子们都饿着肚子,她自己又揽不到活干。卡特先生正忙着,毫不客气地说了声''不'';这个又饥饿又难过的女人正要走开,劳伦斯先生用自己的手杖弯柄勾起一条大鱼递到她面前。她又惊又喜,把鱼抱在怀里,一再道谢。他叫她趁鲜赶快回去把鱼煮了吧,她便高高兴兴地匆匆走开了。劳伦斯先生真是个好心人!噢,她当时的模样也真逗人,抱着滑溜溜的大鱼,口里祝愿劳伦斯先生在天堂的大床''虚虚(舒舒)服服''。”大家听到贝思的故事全笑起来,又请母亲也来一个。母亲略想一想,严肃地说:“今天我在工作间里裁剪蓝色天鹅绒大衣时,非常挂念父亲,我想如果万一他遇到什么不测的话,我们将多么孤独无援。这样想很傻,但我不能自已。这时一个老人走进来交给我一张衣服订单。他在我旁边坐下,我看他模样像个穷苦人家,显得既疲倦又焦虑,便和他攀谈起来。

“''你有儿子在部队吗?''我问,因为他带来的条子不是给我的。

“''有,夫人。有四个,但两个死了,还有一个在监狱,我现在去看另一个,他住在华盛顿医院,病得十分厉害,''他平静地说。

“''你为国家作出了巨大贡献,先生,''我说,这时我对他不再感到怜悯,而是油然起敬。

“''理应如此,夫人。如果用得上我的话,我也会去的;既然用不上,我就献上我的孩子,无偿地献上。''“他声调愉快,神情恳切,似乎奉献自己的一切是一大乐事,我不禁暗自惭愧。我献出一个人便思前想后,他献出了四个却毫无怨言。我在家里有四个好女儿来安慰我,他唯一能见到的儿子却远在数英里之外,可能等着跟他道永别!想到上帝赐给我的恩典,我觉得自己已经很富足,也很幸福。我于是给他打了个漂亮的包裹,给他一些钱,并由衷地感谢他给我上了一课。”“再讲一个,妈妈——讲个带哲理的,就像这个一样。我喜欢听完后再回味一遍,如果故事真实可信,说教味道又不浓的话,”乔沉默了一会后说。

马奇太太笑笑,马上又讲开了。她跟这班小听众讲了多年故事,知道怎样迎合她们。

“从前,有四个姑娘,她们衣食不愁,安逸舒适,有好心的朋友和深深爱着她们的父母,然而她们并不满足。”这时听众们狡黠地互相交换个眼色,又继续飞针走线。

“这些姑娘们都想做个好孩子,并作了许多宏图大计,但总是不能持久。她们老说:''如果我们有这些东西就好了。''或''如果我们能够这样多好。''完全忘记了自己已身处福中。于是她们问一位老妇人有什么魔法可以使她们幸福。老妇人说:''当你们感到不满足时,想想自己所拥有的东西,并为此而心存感激。''"(这时乔马上抬起头来,似乎有话要说,但想到故事尚未结束,便把话咽了回去。)“姑娘们是聪明人,决定采纳这个建议,不久便惊奇地发现她们是多么富有。一个姑娘发现,金钱并不能使有钱人家免受羞辱和痛苦;另一个发现虽然自己没有钱,但却拥有青春活力和健康的身体,远比愁眉苦脸、年老体弱、不会享受生活乐趣的人幸福;第三个发现下厨做饭虽然不是件快事,但被迫去讨饭的滋味更难接受;第四个发现良好的品行比红玉戒指更加珍贵。于是她们不再牢骚满腹,而是尽情享受已经拥有的一切,并力图报答天恩,唯恐失去而不是更多地享受它们。我相信她们没有后悔接受了老妇人的建议。”“呀,妈咪,你好狡猾,用我们自己的故事来对付我们,不讲故事,却跟我们讲起大道理来了!”梅格嚷道。

“我喜欢这种大道理,爸爸以前也经常这样讲的,”贝思沉思着说道,把针插入乔的针垫里。

“我的怨言没有别人那么多,但从今开始也要更加小心,否则苏茜的下场就是个榜样,”艾美颇有哲理地说。

“我们正需要这么个启示,而且将不会忘记。如果我们忘了,你就学《汤姆叔叔的小屋》里的克洛艾那样,冲我们说:''想想上天的恩典吧,孩子们!想想上天的恩典吧!''"乔情不自禁地从这个小布道中发掘出一点乐趣,虽然她也像其他姐妹一样把它记在心中。




CHAPTER FIVE BEING NEIGHBORLY

"What in the world are you going to do now, Jo?" asked Meg one snowy afternoon, as her sister came tramping through the hall, in rubber boots, old sack, and hood, with a broom in one hand and a shovel in the other.

"Going out for exercise," answered Jo with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

"I should think two long walks this morning would have been enough! It's cold and dull out, and I advise you to stay warm and dry by the fire, as I do," said Meg with a shiver.

"Never take advice! Can't keep still all day, and not being a pussycat, I don't like to doze by the fire. I like adventures, and I'm going to find some."

Meg went back to toast her feet and read Ivanhoe, and Jo began to dig paths with great energy. The snow was light, and with her broom she soon swept a path all round the garden, for Beth to walk in when the sun came out and the invalid dolls needed air. Now, the garden separated the Marches' house from that of Mr. Laurence. Both stood in a suburb of the city, which was still country-like, with groves and lawns, large gardens, and quiet streets. A low hedge parted the two estates. On one side was an old, brown house, looking rather bare and shabby, robbed of the vines that in summer covered its walls and the flowers, which then surrounded it. On the other side was a stately stone mansion, plainly betokening every sort of comfort and luxury, from the big coach house and well-kept grounds to the conservatory and the glimpses of lovely things one caught between the rich curtains.

Yet it seemed a lonely, lifeless sort of house, for no children frolicked on the lawn, no motherly face ever smiled at the windows, and few people went in and out, except the old gentleman and his grandson.

To Jo's lively fancy, this fine house seemed a kind of enchanted palace, full of splendors and delights which no one enjoyed. She had long wanted to behold these hidden glories, and to know the Laurence boy, who looked as if he would like to be known, if he only knew how to begin. Since the party, she had been more eager than ever, and had planned many ways of making friends with him, but he had not been seen lately, and Jo began to think he had gone away, when she one day spied a brown face at an upper window, looking wistfully down into their garden, where Beth and Amy were snow-balling one another.

"That boy is suffering for society and fun," she said to herself. "His grandpa does not know what's good for him, and keeps him shut up all alone. He needs a party of jolly boys to play with, or somebody young and lively. I've a great mind to go over and tell the old gentleman so!"

The idea amused Jo, who liked to do daring things and was always scandalizing Meg by her queer performances. The plan of 'going over' was not forgotten. And when the snowy afternoon came, Jo resolved to try what could be done. She saw Mr. Lawrence drive off, and then sallied out to dig her way down to the hedge, where she paused and took a survey. All quiet, curtains down at the lower windows, servants out of sight, and nothing human visible but a curly black head leaning on a thin hand at the upper window.

"There he is," thought Jo, "Poor boy! All alone and sick this dismal day. It's a shame! I'll toss up a snowball and make him look out, and then say a kind word to him."

Up went a handful of soft snow, and the head turned at once, showing a face which lost its listless look in a minute, as the big eyes brightened and the mouth began to smile. Jo nodded and laughed, and flourished her broom as she called out...

"How do you do? Are you sick?"

Laurie opened the window, and croaked out as hoarsely as a raven...

"Better, thank you. I've had a bad cold, and been shut up a week."

"I'm sorry. What do you amuse yourself with?"

"Nothing. It's dull as tombs up here."

"Don't you read?"

"Not much. They won't let me."

"Can't somebody read to you?"

"Grandpa does sometimes, but my books don't interest him, and I hate to ask Brooke all the time."

"Have someone come and see you then."

"There isn't anyone I'd like to see. Boys make such a row, and my head is weak."

"Isn't there some nice girl who'd read and amuse you? Girls are quiet and like to play nurse."

"Don't know any."

"You know us," began Jo, then laughed and stopped.

"So I do! Will you come, please?" cried Laurie.

"I'm not quiet and nice, but I'll come, if Mother will let me. I'll go ask her. Shut the window, like a good boy, and wait till I come."

With that, Jo shouldered her broom and marched into the house, wondering what they would all say to her. Laurie was in a flutter of excitement at the idea of having company, and flew about to get ready, for as Mrs. March said, he was 'a little gentleman', and did honor to the coming guest by brushing his curly pate, putting on a fresh color, and trying to tidy up the room, which in spite of half a dozen servants, was anything but neat. Presently there came a loud ring, than a decided voice, asking for 'Mr. Laurie', and a surprised-looking servant came running up to announce a young lady.

"All right, show her up, it's Miss Jo," said Laurie, going to the door of his little parlor to meet Jo, who appeared, looking rosy and quite at her ease, with a covered dish in one hand and Beth's three kittens in the other.

"Here I am, bag and baggage," she said briskly. "Mother sent her love, and was glad if I could do anything for you. Meg wanted me to bring some of her blanc mange, she makes it very nicely, and Beth thought her cats would be comforting. I knew you'd laugh at them, but I couldn't refuse, she was so anxious to do something."

It so happened that Beth's funny loan was just the thing, for in laughing over the kits, Laurie forgot his bashfulness, and grew sociable at once.

"That looks too pretty to eat," he said, smiling with pleasure, as Jo uncovered the dish, and showed the blanc mange, surrounded by a garland of green leaves, and the scarlet flowers of Amy's pet geranium.

"It isn't anything, only they all felt kindly and wanted to show it. Tell the girl to put it away for your tea. It's so simple you can eat it, and being soft, it will slip down without hurting your sore throat. What a cozy room this is!"

"It might be if it was kept nice, but the maids are lazy, and I don't know how to make them mind. It worries me though."

"I'll right it up in two minutes, for it only needs to have the hearth brushed, so—and the things made straight on the mantelpiece, so—and the books put here, and the bottles there, and your sofa turned from the light, and the pillows plumped up a bit. Now then, you're fixed."

And so he was, for, as she laughed and talked, Jo had whisked things into place and given quite a different air to the room. Laurie watched her in respectful silence, and when she beckoned him to his sofa, he sat down with a sigh of satisfaction, saying gratefully...

"How kind you are! Yes, that's what it wanted. Now please take the big chair and let me do something to amuse my company."

"No, I came to amuse you. Shall I read aloud?" and Jo looked affectionately toward some inviting books near by.

"Thank you! I've read all those, and if you don't mind, I'd rather talk," answered Laurie.

"Not a bit. I'll talk all day if you'll only set me going. Beth says I never know when to stop."

"Is Beth the rosy one, who stays at home good deal and sometimes goes out with a little basket?" asked Laurie with interest.

"Yes, that's Beth. She's my girl, and a regular good one she is, too."

"The pretty one is Meg, and the curly-haired one is Amy, I believe?"

"How did you find that out?"

Laurie colored up, but answered frankly, "Why, you see I often hear you calling to one another, and when I'm alone up here, I can't help looking over at your house, you always seem to be having such good times. I beg your pardon for being so rude, but sometimes you forget to put down the curtain at the window where the flowers are. And when the lamps are lighted, it's like looking at a picture to see the fire, and you all around the table with your mother. Her face is right opposite, and it looks so sweet behind the flowers, I can't help watching it. I haven't got any mother, you know." And Laurie poked the fire to hide a little twitching of the lips that he could not control.

The solitary, hungry look in his eyes went straight to Jo's warm heart. She had been so simply taught that there was no nonsense in her head, and at fifteen she was as innocent and frank as any child. Laurie was sick and lonely, and feeling how rich she was in home and happiness, she gladly tried to share it with him. Her face was very friendly and her sharp voice unusually gentle as she said...

"We'll never draw that curtain any more, and I give you leave to look as much as you like. I just wish, though, instead of peeping, you'd come over and see us. Mother is so splendid, she'd do you heaps of good, and Beth would sing to you if I begged her to, and Amy would dance. Meg and I would make you laugh over our funny stage properties, and we'd have jolly times. Wouldn't your grandpa let you?"

"I think he would, if your mother asked him. He's very kind, though he does not look so, and he lets me do what I like, pretty much, only he's afraid I might be a bother to strangers," began Laurie, brightening more and more.

"We are not strangers, we are neighbors, and you needn't think you'd be a bother. We want to know you, and I've been trying to do it this ever so long. We haven't been here a great while, you know, but we have got acquainted with all our neighbors but you."

"You see, Grandpa lives among his books, and doesn't mind much what happens outside. Mr. Brooke, my tutor, doesn't stay here, you know, and I have no one to go about with me, so I just stop at home and get on as I can."

"That's bad. You ought to make an effort and go visiting everywhere you are asked, then you'll have plenty of friends, and pleasant places to go to. Never mind being bashful. It won't last long if you keep going."

Laurie turned red again, but wasn't offended at being accused of bashfulness, for there was so much good will in Jo it was impossible not to take her blunt speeches as kindly as they were meant.

"Do you like your school?" asked the boy, changing the subject, after a little pause, during which he stared at the fire and Jo looked about her, well pleased.

"Don't go to school, I'm a businessman—girl, I mean. I go to wait on my great-aunt, and a dear, cross old soul she is, too," answered Jo.

Laurie opened his mouth to ask another question, but remembering just in time that it wasn't manners to make too many inquiries into people's affairs, he shut it again, and looked uncomfortable.

Jo liked his good breeding, and didn't mind having a laugh at Aunt March, so she gave him a lively description of the fidgety old lady, her fat poodle, the parrot that talked Spanish, and the library where she reveled.

Laurie enjoyed that immensely, and when she told about the prim old gentleman who came once to woo Aunt March, and in the middle of a fine speech, how Poll had tweaked his wig off to his great dismay, the boy lay back and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks, and a maid popped her head in to see what was the matter.

"Oh! That does me no end of good. Tell on, please," he said, taking his face out of the sofa cushion, red and shining with merriment.

Much elated with her success, Jo did 'tell on', all about their plays and plans, their hopes and fears for Father, and the most interesting events of the little world in which the sisters lived. Then they got to talking about books, and to Jo's delight, she found that Laurie loved them as well as she did, and had read even more than herself.

"If you like them so much, come down and see ours. Grandfather is out, so you needn't be afraid," said Laurie, getting up.

"I'm not afraid of anything," returned Jo, with a toss of the head.

"I don't believe you are!" exclaimed the boy, looking at her with much admiration, though he privately thought she would have good reason to be a trifle afraid of the old gentleman, if she met him in some of his moods.

The atmosphere of the whole house being summerlike, Laurie led the way from room to room, letting Jo stop to examine whatever struck her fancy. And so, at last they came to the library, where she clapped her hands and pranced, as she always did when especially delighted. It was lined with books, and there were pictures and statues, and distracting little cabinets full of coins and curiosities, and Sleepy Hollow chairs, and queer tables, and bronzes, and best of all, a great open fireplace with quaint tiles all round it.

"What richness!" sighed Jo, sinking into the depth of a velour chair and gazing about her with an air of intense satisfaction. "Theodore Laurence, you ought to be the happiest boy in the world," she added impressively.

"A fellow can't live on books," said Laurie, shaking his head as he perched on a table opposite.

Before he could more, a bell rang, and Jo flew up, exclaiming with alarm, "Mercy me! It's your grandpa!"

"Well, what if it is? You are not afraid of anything, you know," returned the boy, looking wicked.

"I think I am a little bit afraid of him, but I don't know why I should be. Marmee said I might come, and I don't think you're any the worse for it," said Jo, composing herself, though she kept her eyes on the door.

"I'm a great deal better for it, and ever so much obliged. I'm only afraid you are very tired of talking to me. It was so pleasant, I couldn't bear to stop," said Laurie gratefully.

"The doctor to see you, sir," and the maid beckoned as she spoke.

"Would you mind if I left you for a minute? I suppose I must see him," said Laurie.

"Don't mind me. I'm happy as a cricket here," answered Jo.

Laurie went away, and his guest amused herself in her own way. She was standing before a fine portrait of the old gentleman when the door opened again, and without turning, she said decidedly, "I'm sure now that I shouldn't be afraid of him, for he's got kind eyes, though his mouth is grim, and he looks as if he had a tremendous will of his own. He isn't as handsome as my grandfather, but I like him."

"Thank you, ma'am," said a gruff voice behind her, and there, to her great dismay, stood old Mr. Laurence.

Poor Jo blushed till she couldn't blush any redder, and her heart began to beat uncomfortably fast as she thought what she had said. For a minute a wild desire to run away possessed her, but that was cowardly, and the girls would laugh at her, so she resolved to stay and get out of the scrape as she could. A second look showed her that the living eyes, under the bushy eyebrows, were kinder even than the painted ones, and there was a sly twinkle in them, which lessened her fear a good deal. The gruff voice was gruffer than ever, as the old gentleman said abruptly, after the dreadful pause, "So you're not afraid of me, hey?"

"Not much, sir."

"And you don't think me as handsome as your grandfather?"

"Not quite, sir."

"And I've got a tremendous will, have I?"

"I only said I thought so."

"But you like me in spite of it?"

"Yes, I do, sir."

That answer pleased the old gentleman. He gave a short laugh, shook hands with her, and, putting his finger under her chin, turned up her face, examined it gravely, and let it go, saying with a nod, "You've got your grandfather's spirit, if you haven't his face. He was a fine man, my dear, but what is better, he was a brave and an honest one, and I was proud to be his friend."

"Thank you, sir," And Jo was quite comfortable after that, for it suited her exactly.

"What have you been doing to this boy of mine, hey?" was the next question, sharply put.

"Only trying to be neighborly, sir." And Jo told how her visit came about.

"You think he needs cheering up a bit, do you?"

"Yes, sir, he seems a little lonely, and young folks would do him good perhaps. We are only girls, but we should be glad to help if we could, for we don't forget the splendid Christmas present you sent us," said Jo eagerly.

"Tut, tut, tut! That was the boy's affair. How is the poor woman?"

"Doing nicely, sir." And off went Jo, talking very fast, as she told all about the Hummels, in whom her mother had interested richer friends than they were.

"Just her father's way of doing good. I shall come and see your mother some fine day. Tell her so. There's the tea bell, we have it early on the boy's account. Come down and go on being neighborly."

"If you'd like to have me, sir."

"Shouldn't ask you, if I didn't." And Mr. Laurence offered her his arm with old-fashioned courtesy.

"What would Meg say to this?" thought Jo, as she was marched away, while her eyes danced with fun as she imagined herself telling the story at home.

"Hey! Why, what the dickens has come to the fellow?" said the old gentleman, as Laurie came running downstairs and brought up with a start of surprise at the astounding sight of Jo arm in arm with his redoubtable grandfather.

"I didn't know you'd come, sir," he began, as Jo gave him a triumphant little glance.

"That's evident, by the way you racket downstairs. Come to your tea, sir, and behave like a gentleman." And having pulled the boy's hair by way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on, while Laurie went through a series of comic evolutions behind their backs, which nearly produced an explosion of laughter from Jo.

The old gentleman did not say much as he drank his four cups of tea, but he watched the young people, who soon chatted away like old friends, and the change in his grandson did not escape him. There was color, light, and life in the boy's face now, vivacity in his manner, and genuine merriment in his laugh.

"She's right, the lad is lonely. I'll see what these little girls can do for him," thought Mr. Laurence, as he looked and listened. He liked Jo, for her odd, blunt ways suited him, and she seemed to understand the boy almost as well as if she had been one herself.

If the Laurences had been what Jo called 'prim and poky', she would not have got on at all, for such people always made her shy and awkward. But finding them free and easy, she was so herself, and made a good impression. When they rose she proposed to go, but Laurie said he had something more to show her, and took her away to the conservatory, which had been lighted for her benefit. It seemed quite fairylike to Jo, as she went up and down the walks, enjoying the blooming walls on either side, the soft light, the damp sweet air, and the wonderful vines and trees that hung about her, while her new friend cut the finest flowers till his hands were full. Then he tied them up, saying, with the happy look Jo liked to see, "Please give these to your mother, and tell her I like the medicine she sent me very much."

They found Mr. Laurence standing before the fire in the great drawing room, but Jo's attention was entirely absorbed by a grand piano, which stood open.

"Do you play?" she asked, turning to Laurie with a respectful expression.

"Sometimes," he answered modestly.

"Please do now. I want to hear it, so I can tell Beth."

"Won't you first?"

"Don't know how. Too stupid to learn, but I love music dearly."

So Laurie played and Jo listened, with her nose luxuriously buried in heliotrope and tea roses. Her respect and regard for the 'Laurence' boy increased very much, for he played remarkably well and didn't put on any airs. She wished Beth could hear him, but she did not say so, only praised him till he was quite abashed, and his grandfather came to his rescue.

"That will do, that will do, young lady. Too many sugarplums are not good for him. His music isn't bad, but I hope he will do as well in more important things. Going? well, I'm much obliged to you, and I hope you'll come again. My respects to your mother. Good night, Doctor Jo."

He shook hands kindly, but looked as if something did not please him. When they got into the hall, Jo asked Laurie if she had said something amiss. He shook his head.

"No, it was me. He doesn't like to hear me play."

"Why not?"

"I'll tell you some day. John is going home with you, as I can't."

"No need of that. I am not a young lady, and it's only a step. Take care of yourself, won't you?"

"Yes, but you will come again, I hope?"

"If you promise to come and see us after you are well."

"I will."

"Good night, Laurie!"

"Good night, Jo, good night!"

When all the afternoon's adventures had been told, the family felt inclined to go visiting in a body, for each found something very attractive in the big house on the other side of the hedge. Mrs. March wanted to talk of her father with the old man who had not forgotten him, Meg longed to walk in the conservatory, Beth sighed for the grand piano, and Amy was eager to see the fine pictures and statues.

"Mother, why didn't Mr. Laurence like to have Laurie play?" asked Jo, who was of an inquiring disposition.

"I am not sure, but I think it was because his son, Laurie's father, married an Italian lady, a musician, which displeased the old man, who is very proud. The lady was good and lovely and accomplished, but he did not like her, and never saw his son after he married. They both died when Laurie was a little child, and then his grandfather took him home. I fancy the boy, who was born in Italy, is not very strong, and the old man is afraid of losing him, which makes him so careful. Laurie comes naturally by his love of music, for he is like his mother, and I dare say his grandfather fears that he may want to be a musician. At any rate, his skill reminds him of the woman he did not like, and so he 'glowered' as Jo said."

"Dear me, how romantic!" exclaimed Meg.

"How silly!" said Jo. "Let him be a musician if he wants to, and not plague his life out sending him to college, when he hates to go."

"That's why he has such handsome black eyes and pretty manners, I suppose. Italians are always nice," said Meg, who was a little sentimental.

"What do you know about his eyes and his manners? You never spoke to him, hardly," cried Jo, who was not sentimental.

"I saw him at the party, and what you tell shows that he knows how to behave. That was a nice little speech about the medicine Mother sent him."

"He meant the blanc mange, I suppose."

"How stupid you are, child! He meant you, of course."

"Did he?" And Jo opened her eyes as if it had never occurred to her before.

"I never saw such a girl! You don't know a compliment when you get it," said Meg, with the air of a young lady who knew all about the matter.

"I think they are great nonsense, and I'll thank you not to be silly and spoil my fun. Laurie's a nice boy and I like him, and I won't have any sentimental stuff about compliments and such rubbish. We'll all be good to him because he hasn't got any mother, and he may come over and see us, mayn't he, Marmee?"

"Yes, Jo, your little friend is very welcome, and I hope Meg will remember that children should be children as long as they can."

"I don't call myself a child, and I'm not in my teens yet," observed Amy. "What do you say, Beth?"

"I was thinking about our 'Pilgrim's Progress'," answered Beth, who had not heard a word. "How we got out of the Slough and through the Wicket Gate by resolving to be good, and up the steep hill by trying, and that maybe the house over there, full of splendid things, is going to be our Palace Beautiful."

"We have got to get by the lions first," said Jo, as if she rather liked the prospect.

 

第五章 友邻睦居

“你究竟是去干什么,乔?”梅格问道。时值午后,雪花起飞,她看到妹妹脚踏胶靴,头戴雪帽,披着旧布袋,一手拿着把扫帚,一手提着个铁锹,正大步走过大厅。

“出去锻炼,”乔答,眼睛调皮地一闪一闪。

“今天早上散了两次步,还不够么?外面又冷又闷,我劝你还是呆在火边暖和暖和,就像我一样,”梅格说着打了个冷颤。

“不接受意见!我不能一整天都安静地呆着,我又不是小猫咪,不喜欢在火炉边打盹儿,我喜欢探险,我这就打算去。”

梅格走回去烤脚,读她的《艾凡赫》,乔则开始使劲挖路。积雪不厚,她很快便用扫帚绕着花园扫出一条小道,这样,太阳出来时,贝思便可以在这里散步,把病娃娃抱出来呼吸新鲜空气。马奇家的屋子和劳伦斯家的只有一园之隔。两座屋子地处市郊,颇富乡村风味,周围是草皮、小树林、大花园,还有静静的街道。一道低矮的树篱把两户人家分隔开来。树篱的一面是一所破旧的棕色房子,显得颓败荒芜,夏天盖在墙上的藤叶和绕屋的鲜花早已凋零。另一面是一栋很有气派的石楼,内设大型马车房和植物温室,地面保持得干干净净,透过华丽的窗帘布,隐约可以看到漂亮精致的家居布置,一望而知里头的主人过着安逸豪华的生活。然而这栋房子似乎孤单寂寞、缺乏生气,草皮上没有孩子在玩耍,窗边见不到母亲的笑脸,门庭冷落,进进出出,只能见到老绅士和他的孙子。

在富有想像力的乔眼里,这栋富丽的楼房就像是一座幻想中的宫殿,流光溢彩,富丽堂皇,但却无人欣赏。她早就想看看里头究竟藏着什么宝物,并结识那位"劳伦斯家的男孩"。他看来也有意想交个朋友,只是不知从何做起。自从那次晚会之后,她这种愿望尤其强烈,心里盘算了许多与他交朋友的方法;但最近他却很少露面,乔正以为他出了远门,一天却突然发现楼上一扇窗边露出一个脸孔,若有所思地往下望着她们的花园,花园里贝思和艾美正在一起玩雪球。

“这个小伙子没有朋友,没有欢乐,”她心里说,”他爷爷不知道他需要什么,总是把他孤零零地关在屋里。其实他很需要一班快乐的小伙子来陪他玩,需要活泼有朝气的年青人作伴。我真想走过去把这些话告诉那位老绅士!”想到这里乔乐了,她是个有胆识的姑娘,常常做出一些出奇不意的事情,令梅格震惊不已。”走过去"这个计划一直在乔的脑海里纠缠;这天下午雪花飘落时,乔决定采取行动。她看到劳伦斯先生坐车出了门,便开始挖路,一直挖到树篱边,这才停下来望望。四处悄无声息——楼下窗户帘幕低垂,佣人也全无踪影,独见楼上窗边露出一个黑色鬈发的脑袋靠在纤薄的手掌上。

“他在上头呢,”乔想,”多可怜的人!这么阴沉沉的日子孤独一人,郁郁不乐。简直,岂有此理!我要抛个雪球上去,引他望过来,再跟他好好说上几句话。“乔抛出一捧软绵绵的雪花,楼上的人马上转过头来,脸上无精打采的神情一扫而光,大眼睛闪闪发亮,嘴角露出笑意。乔点点头笑了,挥舞着手中的扫帚叫道—-“你好吗?是不是病了?”劳里打开窗,像个渡鸦般嘶哑着嗓子答道——“好点了,谢谢你。我得了重感冒,在屋里关了一个星期了。”“真遗憾。有什么消遣吗?”“没有。这里头闷得像个坟墓。”“你不看书吗?”“不大看。他们不让我看。”“没有人念给你听吗?”“爷爷有时念一点,但我的书他不感兴趣,我又不愿意老叫布鲁克来念。”

“那么叫人来看望你吧。”

“我腻烦见人。男孩子吵闹起哄,我头痛受不了。”“不能找个好女孩来跟你念书消遣吗?女孩子天性文静,而且喜欢照顾别人。”“不认识。”“你认识我们,“乔提醒他,然后含笑起来,又赶忙停下。

“可不是吗!能请你过来吗?”劳里叫道。

“我不文静,也并非什么好女孩,但如果妈妈允许的话,我就过来。我去问问她。你乖乖关上窗子,我一会就来。”言毕,乔肩扛扫帚走进屋里,一面思忖大家会怎么说。劳里想到将有人作伴,欣喜不已,四处奔忙做准备;正如马奇太太所说,他是个"小绅士",为对客人的光临表示敬意,他把卷曲的头发梳理一遍,换上一条干净领带,并试着整理房间,虽说有六个佣人,房间仍然零乱不堪。一会,铃声大响,一个沉着的声音请求见"劳里先生",一位满脸疑云的佣人跑上楼来,对劳里说有一位小姐求见。

“好极了,把她带上来,那是乔小姐,”劳里边说边走到他的小客厅门前迎接乔。乔走进来,脸色绯红,亲切可人,一手着个盖着盖的碟子,一手捧着贝思的三只小猫,神态相当自如。

“我来了,带着全部家当,”她爽快地说,”妈妈谨致爱意,若我能为你效劳的话,她深感高兴。梅格要我送上她做的牛奶冻,她做得好极了。贝思认为她的小猫咪可以安慰你。我知道你一定会取笑它们,但我不能拒绝,她是这么想帮助别人。”贝思想得不错,她借出的小猫咪还真管用,劳里被这种有趣的礼物逗得大笑,他顾不得害羞,马上变得活跃起来。

“做得太精美了,叫人舍不得吃。”看着乔揭开碟子上的盖儿,露出牛奶冻,里面围着一圈绿叶和艾美最喜爱的绛红色天竺葵花朵,他快乐地笑了。

“这不值什么,只是她们的好意而已。叫女佣人拿去给你做茶点:区区一物,你不必客气,因为它又软又滑,喉咙酸痛吃下去也不碍事。你这房间真舒服!”“如果打理得当,倒是挺舒服的;但女佣们都懒,我又不知怎样才能让她们用心。这令我挺伤脑筋呢。”“我两分钟就可以把它弄妥,其实只需要扫扫壁炉地面,这么着——把壁炉台上的东西竖起来,这么着——书放在这边,瓶子放那边,你的沙发不要直对光线,枕头鼓满一点。行了,一切妥当。”真的一切妥当;因为谈笑之间,乔已经把东西收拾得有条不紊,并给房间带来一种特别的气氛。劳里恭敬地默默注视着她,当她示意他坐到沙发上时,他坐下来满意地舒了一口气,感激地说道—-“你心地真好!房间是需要这么收拾一下。现在请坐到这张大椅子上,让我为我的客人效劳点什么。”“不,是我来为你效劳。我朗读好吗?”乔热切地望着近处几本诱人的书。

“谢谢你!那些书我都已读过,如果你不介意,我倒宁愿交谈,”劳里回答。

“当然不介意。如果你愿意听,我可以讲上一天。贝思常说我从不懂得适可而止。”“贝思是不是常呆在家里,有时提着个小篮子出来,脸色红润润的那一位?“对了,那就是贝思。十足的乖乖女,我最疼爱她了。”“漂亮的那位是梅格,鬈发的是艾美,对吗?”“你是怎么知道的?”劳里红了脸,不过还是坦白回答:“嗯,你知道,我常听到你们叫唤对方,当我在楼上孤零零一个人时,就忍不住望向你们的屋子,你们似乎总是玩得很开心。请原谅我这样无礼,但有时你们忘记放下摆着鲜花的那扇窗户的帘子,灯亮时简直就像是看一幅画,炉火下你们和母亲绕桌而坐,她的脸刚好对着我,在鲜花的掩映下显得异常甜美,我忍不住要看。我没有妈妈,你知道。”劳里的嘴唇忍不住轻轻抽搐了一下,他捅捅炉火借以掩饰。

劳里孤独、渴望的眼神直刺入乔炽热的心胸。她受到的教育十分单纯,心中全无一丝杂念,年届十五,仍像孩子一样坦诚直率、天真无邪。劳里有病而且孤独,极羡慕她享有家庭温暖和幸福,她也很想与他一同分享。她神情十分友好,尖嗓子也变得非同寻常地轻柔,说——“那个窗的帘幕我们以后不再拉上,你尽可以看个够。不过,我却希望你能过来看望我们,而不只是偷偷观望。妈妈非同凡响,你一定会受益良多;贝思可以唱歌给你听,如果我请求她的话;而艾美则可以为你跳舞,我和梅格可以给你看我们有趣的舞台道具,让你笑一常我们一定会玩得很开心。你爷爷会让你来吗?”“如果你妈妈跟他说,我想会的。他心地最善良,只是不表露出来;可以说他相当纵容我,只不过担心我会妨碍陌生人,”劳里说,神情越发亢奋。

“我们不是陌生人,我们是邻居,你不必见外。我们想认识你,我老早就想这么做了。我们在这里住得不算久,你知道,但我们邻近的人家都认识了,就差你家。”

“爷爷就爱看书,对外面发生的事情不大关心。我的私人教师布鲁克先生又不住在这里,没有人跟我一起玩,所以我只是呆在家里自己过。”“太可惜了。如果有人邀请,你应该多外出拜会,这可以交许多朋友,去许多有趣的地方。别老惦着害羞,你不想它就没事了。”劳里脸又红起来,但却没有生气,虽然乔言语唐突,责备他害羞,但言谈之间那一番真情实意,却令他非常感激。

“你喜欢你的学校吗?”男孩凝视着火光停顿了一会儿,然后换了个话题问道。

乔正四下打量着,显得非常愉快。

“我没有上学,我是个实干家——我的意思是实干女孩。

我侍奉我的叔伯母,一个既可爱又专横的老太太,”乔回答。

劳里刚要张口再问,猛然想到打探太多别人的私事不礼貌,便闭口不语,神态显得颇不自然。乔喜欢他这样有教养,但觉得谈谈马奇婶婶的趣事并无妨,便活灵活现地跟他描绘那位烦躁不安的老太太,她的胖卷毛狗,会讲西班牙语的鹦鹉鹦哥,还有自己最喜爱的藏书室。劳里听得如痴如醉;她说到一次一位庄重的老绅士来向马奇婶婶求婚,正当他甜言蜜语之际,鹦哥扯下了他的假发,令他大为懊丧。劳里听到这儿身子向后一仰,笑得眼泪都流了出来,引得一个女佣探头进来看个究竟。

“啊!真是灵丹妙药,请接着再说,”劳里从沙发上抬起头来,脸上兴奋得红光闪闪地说道。

乔为自己的成功洋洋得意,便"接着再说",谈她们的话剧、计划、她们对父亲的盼望和担心,以及她们姐妹圈中最有趣的事儿。接着他们谈起书,乔高兴地发现劳里跟她一样爱读书,而且读得比她更多。

“如果你这么喜欢书,下来看看我家的吧。爷爷出去了,你不用害怕,”劳里边说边站起来。

“我什么也不怕,”乔答,把头一抬。

“这话我也相信!”男孩叫道,并羡慕不已地望着她,虽然心中暗想如果遇上老人心情不佳,她一定也会有一点害怕。

整座屋里的气氛与夏天无异,劳里领着乔沿房间逐一观赏,遇到乔感兴趣的地方便驻足细看一番;这样走走停停,最后来到藏书室,乔旋即兴奋得手舞足蹈,一如她平日特别高兴时那样。藏书室里头一层一层摆满了书本,放着图画、雕塑、装满了钱币和古玩的引人注目的小橱柜,还有《睡谷传奇》里的椅子、古怪的桌子和青铜器,最令人叫绝的是一个用精致的花砖砌成的敞开式大壁炉。

“你家真富有!”乔赞叹道,身子一歪重重坐在一张天鹅绒椅子上,神情极为满足地凝望周围。”西奥多•劳伦斯,你应该是世界上最幸福的孩子,”她接着说,神态让人难忘。

“人不能光是靠书活着,”劳里摇摇头说,坐在对面一张桌子上。

他正要说下去,门铃响了,乔飞快地站起来,慌张地叫道:“哎呀!是你爷爷!“咦,是他又如何?你不是说什么也不怕吗?”男孩调皮地对她说。

“我想我是有点怕他,但我不明白为什么会这样。妈妈说我可以过来,我也觉得这样对你没有坏处,”乔定定神说,眼睛却一直望着房门。

“你来我精神好多了,真是不胜感激。我只怕你跟我谈话累着了呢;这样交谈令人愉快极了,我简直不想停下来,”劳里感激地说。

“医生要见你,少爷,”女佣招手道。

“我走开一会行吗?看来我得见他,”劳里说。

“别管我。我在这里快乐得像个蟋蟀,”乔答道。

劳里走出去,留下客人独个自娱自乐。她正站在那位老绅士的肖像前,门忽地又打开了,她没有回头,自信地说:“现在我肯定不会怕他。虽然他的嘴唇冷峻,但他有一双善良的眼睛,看样子他很有个性。虽然他不及我外公英俊,但我喜欢他。”“承蒙夸奖,夫人。”一个生硬的声音从她身后传来,原来进来的是劳伦斯老人,乔窘得恨不能找个地缝儿钻进去。

可怜的乔脸色红得不能再红,想到自己方才说的话,心里慌得怦怦乱跳。她一开始很想马上跑掉,但那是懦夫的行为,姐妹们一定会嘲笑她的;于是她决定按兵不动,尽自己的能力摆脱困境。她又望了一眼老人,发现灰白浓眉下面的两只眼睛比起像片上的更加善良,目光中还闪着一丝狡黠,于是心里轻松了许多。突然,老人打破可怕的沉默,用更为生硬的声音问道:“那么说你不怕我,嗯?”“不是很怕,先生。”“你觉得我不如你外公英俊?”“不错,先生。”“我很有个性,对吗?”“我只是说我这么认为。”“但尽管如此,你还喜欢我?”“是的,是这样,先生。”这个回答使老人很高兴,他笑一笑,跟她握手,然后用手指托着她的下巴,把她的脸抬起来,严肃地细看一回,放下手点头说道:“虽然你没有继承你外公的相貌,但你继承了他的精神。他是个好人,孩子;但更难得的是,他勇敢正直。

我为自己是他的朋友而自豪。”

“谢谢您,先生。”乔现在觉得相当舒服了,因为这话说得非常中听。

“你对我这孩子做了什么,嗯?”他接着毫不客气地问道。

“只是尽量做个好邻居而已,先生。”乔接着把来龙去脉说了出来。

“你认为他需要振作一点,对吗?”

“是的,先生,他似乎有点孤独,年轻伙伴可能会对他有好处。我们不过是女孩子,但如果可以帮上忙的话,我们会很高兴,我们可没有忘记您送给我们的圣诞大礼,”乔热切地说。

“啧!啧!啧!那是那孩子做的事。那个可怜的女人过得还好吗?”“过得挺好,先生。”乔接着便一口气介绍了赫梅尔一家的情况,并告诉他母亲已说服了比她们更富有的人来关心此事。

“她父亲也是这么乐善好施。改日我要去登门拜访,把这话告诉她。用茶的铃声响了,为了那孩子的缘故,我们很早就吃茶点。下来继续做好邻居吧。”“如果您喜欢的话,先生。”“如果我不喜欢,就不会请你,”劳伦斯先生说着行旧式礼节,向她伸出手臂。

“不知梅格对此会有何话说?”乔一边走一边揣测,想象到自己在家里讲这个故事的情景,眼睛高兴得直忽闪。

这时劳里跑下楼梯,看到乔居然和他那令人畏惧的爷爷手挽着手,吓得怔住了。”嘿!怎么了,这家伙到底怎么了?”老人问。

“我不知道您会来,先生,”他开口说。乔得意地跟他使个眼色。

“显然如此,看你冲下楼梯的样子就知道。过来吃茶吧,先生,放斯文一点。“劳伦斯先生怜爱地扯扯男孩的头发,又继续向前走,劳里在他们身后傻乎乎地发呆,逗得乔差点忍不住大笑。

老人喝下四杯茶,两个年青人很快就谈得像对老朋友,老人看在眼里,并不多言,他孙子的变化更逃不过他的眼睛。现在男孩的脸上红润生动起来,他神态活泼,笑声充满真正的快乐。

“她说得对,小伙子是太孤单。我倒要看看这小姑娘能为他做什么,”劳伦斯先生一面看他们说话一面想。他喜欢乔,因为她与众不同,她那古怪、率直的方式很合自己的性格,而且她似乎非常理解这孩子,简直好像是他身上的一分子。

假如劳伦斯一家真如乔原来所说的那样"既严肃,又冷漠"的话,乔便不可能和他们相处下去,因为这种人总会使她感到羞怯和尴尬;但她现在却发现他们很随和,和他们在一起,她自己便也轻松下来,谈笑自如,给主人留下了良好的印象。当他们站起来的时候,她提出告辞,但劳里说他还有些东西要给她看,随之把她带到温室。温室里专为她而点亮了灯。乔在走道上徘徊往返,在柔和的灯光下仔细欣赏墙边盛开的鲜花,以及周围千奇百怪的藤蔓灌木,尽情呼吸湿润清新、芬芳怡人的空气,仿佛置身于神仙景界。她的新朋友剪下满满一捧亮丽的鲜花,然后绑起来,带着令她愉快的神情说:“请把它交给你妈妈,就说我很感激她送给我的药。”他们发觉劳伦斯先生站在大客厅的炉火前,但乔的注意力却被一架打开着的大钢琴牢牢吸引住了。

“你弹琴吗?”她望着劳里问道,脸上露出敬佩的神情。

“偶尔弹一点,”他谦虚地回答。

“能弹一首吗?我现在想听听,回去告诉贝思。”“你先请吧。”“不会弹。太笨学不会,但我酷爱音乐。”于是劳里弹琴,乔把鼻子深深埋在天莱花和香水月季里留神细听。劳里弹得妙极了,而且毫不矫揉造作。乔对这位"劳伦斯家的男孩"更添一层敬意。她想如果贝思也来听就好了,但却没有说出来,只是对他赞不绝口,夸得他挺不好意思。爷爷赶忙过来解围:“行了,行了,小姐。甜言蜜语太多他吃不消。他的音乐是不错,但我希望其他更重要的事情他也一样能干好。要回去了?好吧,我非常感谢你,并希望你再来。问候你母亲。晚安,乔医生。”他慈爱地跟她握手,但神色似乎有点不快。当他们走入大厅时,乔问劳里是否自己说错了话,劳里摇摇头。

“没有,原因在我;他不喜欢听我弹琴。”“为什么?”“以后我会告诉你。约翰送你回家,恕我不能送了。”“用不着。我不是娇小姐,而且只有一步之隔。多多保重,好吗?”“好的,但你会再来吧,我希望。”“如果你答应病好后来看望我们的话。”“我会来的。”“晚安,劳里!”“晚安,乔,晚安!”听了乔这个下午的奇遇后,一家人都感到有必要全体作一次访问,因为大家都觉得树篱那边的大房子有一种说不出来的魅力。马奇太太想跟老人谈谈自己的父亲,因为老人还没有忘记他,梅格渴望到温室里走走,贝思为那架大钢琴而叹息不已,艾美则很想看看那些精致的图画和雕塑。

“妈妈,为什么劳伦斯先生不喜欢劳里弹琴?”爱寻根问底的乔问。

“这我不是很清楚,但我想是因为他的儿子,劳里的父亲娶了位意大利女子—-一个音乐家,这事令自尊心极强的老人很不愉快。其实那个女子贤淑可爱,而且多才多艺,但他不喜欢她,他们婚后他便没有再见儿子。劳里还很小的时候,他们便去世了,爷爷把他接回家。那男孩在意大利出生,身子骨不大壮实,我想老人是害怕失去他,因此格外小心。劳里像他母亲,天生热爱音乐。我敢说他爸爸害怕他有当音乐家的念头。不论怎样,他的琴艺使老人想起了自己不喜欢的那个女人,所以他''怒目而视'',就像乔说的那样。”“哎哟,多浪漫!”梅格叫道。

“多傻!”乔说,”如果他想做个音乐家就让他做去,他不喜欢念大学就别把他送进去受折磨。”“我想,正因为这样,他才有一双漂亮的大眼睛和优雅的举止。意大利人总是风度翩翩,”有点多愁善感的梅格说。

“他的眼睛和举止你知道什么?你几乎没跟他说过话,”乔嚷道。她可并不多愁善感。

“我在晚会里见过他,你讲的故事说明了他言谈得体。他说的有关妈妈送给他的药那几句话多有意思。”“我猜他指的是牛奶冻。”“真是个笨姑娘!他指的是你,绝对没错。”“是吗?”乔睁大眼睛,仿佛以前从来没有这样想过。

“我从来没有见过这样的女孩!人家恭维你还不知道,”梅格说,好像她对这种事情无所不知。

“我认为这种事荒唐之极。你别傻,别扫我的兴,我便多谢了。劳里是个好男孩,我喜欢他,我不要听什么情呀意呀之类的废话。我们都要对他好,因为他没有母亲。他也可以过来看我们,您说对吗,妈妈?”“对,乔,非常欢迎你的小朋友,我也希望梅格记住,儿童就应该尽量天真无邪。”“我认为自己不算儿童,我还不到十岁呢,”艾美说,”你说呢,贝思?”“我正在想我们的''天路历程'',”贝思答道。她一句话也没有听进去。”我们怎样下定决心做好孩子,走出''深渊'',穿过''边门’,努力爬上陡坡;也许那边那座装满漂亮东西的屋子便是我们的''丽宫''。”“我们得先走过狮子群,”乔满怀憧憬地说。




CHAPTER SIX BETH FINDS THE PALACE BEAUTIFUL

The big house did prove a Palace Beautiful, though it took some time for all to get in, and Beth found it very hard to pass the lions. Old Mr. Laurence was the biggest one, but after he had called, said something funny or kind to each one of the girls, and talked over old times with their mother, nobody felt much afraid of him, except timid Beth. The other lion was the fact that they were poor and Laurie rich, for this made them shy of accepting favors which they could not return. But, after a while, they found that he considered them the benefactors, and could not do enough to show how grateful he was for Mrs. March's motherly welcome, their cheerful society, and the comfort he took in that humble home of theirs. So they soon forgot their pride and interchanged kindnesses without stopping to think which was the greater.

All sorts of pleasant things happened about that time, for the new friendship flourished like grass in spring. Every one liked Laurie, and he privately informed his tutor that "the Marches were regularly splendid girls." With the delightful enthusiasm of youth, they took the solitary boy into their midst and made much of him, and he found something very charming in the innocent companionship of these simple-hearted girls. Never having known mother or sisters, he was quick to feel the influences they brought about him, and their busy, lively ways made him ashamed of the indolent life he led. He was tired of books, and found people so interesting now that Mr. Brooke was obliged to make very unsatisfactory reports, for Laurie was always playing truant and running over to the Marches'.

"Never mind, let him take a holiday, and make it up afterward," said the old gentleman. "The good lady next door says he is studying too hard and needs young society, amusement, and exercise. I suspect she is right, and that I've been coddling the fellow as if I'd been his grandmother. Let him do what he likes, as long as he is happy. He can't get into mischief in that little nunnery over there, and Mrs. March is doing more for him than we can."

What good times they had, to be sure. Such plays and tableaux, such sleigh rides and skating frolics, such pleasant evenings in the old parlor, and now and then such gay little parties at the great house. Meg could walk in the conservatory whenever she liked and revel in bouquets, Jo browsed over the new library voraciously, and convulsed the old gentleman with her criticisms, Amy copied pictures and enjoyed beauty to her heart's content, and Laurie played 'lord of the manor' in the most delightful style.

But Beth, though yearning for the grand piano, could not pluck up courage to go to the 'Mansion of Bliss', as Meg called it. She went once with Jo, but the old gentleman, not being aware of her infirmity, stared at her so hard from under his heavy eyebrows, and said "Hey!" so loud, that he frightened her so much her 'feet chattered on the floor', she never told her mother, and she ran away, declaring she would never go there any more, not even for the dear piano. No persuasions or enticements could overcome her fear, till, the fact coming to Mr. Laurence's ear in some mysterious way, he set about mending matters. During one of the brief calls he made, he artfully led the conversation to music, and talked away about great singers whom he had seen, fine organs he had heard, and told such charming anecdotes that Beth found it impossible to stay in her distant corner, but crept nearer and nearer, as if fascinated. At the back of his chair she stopped and stood listening, with her great eyes wide open and her cheeks red with excitement of this unusual performance. Taking no more notice of her than if she had been a fly, Mr. Laurence talked on about Laurie's lessons and teachers. And presently, as if the idea had just occurred to him, he said to Mrs. March...

"The boy neglects his music now, and I'm glad of it, for he was getting too fond of it. But the piano suffers for want of use. Wouldn't some of your girls like to run over, and practice on it now and then, just to keep it in tune, you know, ma'am?"

Beth took a step forward, and pressed her hands tightly together to keep from clapping them, for this was an irresistible temptation, and the thought of practicing on that splendid instrument quite took her breath away. Before Mrs. March could reply, Mr. Laurence went on with an odd little nod and smile...

"They needn't see or speak to anyone, but run in at any time. For I'm shut up in my study at the other end of the house, Laurie is out a great deal, and the servants are never near the drawing room after nine o'clock."

Here he rose, as if going, and Beth made up her mind to speak, for that last arrangement left nothing to be desired. "Please, tell the young ladies what I say, and if they don't care to come, why, never mind." Here a little hand slipped into his, and Beth looked up at him with a face full of gratitude, as she said, in her earnest yet timid way...

"Oh sir, they do care, very very much!"

"Are you the musical girl?" he asked, without any startling "Hey!" as he looked down at her very kindly.

"I'm Beth. I love it dearly, and I'll come, if you are quite sure nobody will hear me, and be disturbed," she added, fearing to be rude, and trembling at her own boldness as she spoke.

"Not a soul, my dear. The house is empty half the day, so come and drum away as much as you like, and I shall be obliged to you."

"How kind you are, sir!"

Beth blushed like a rose under the friendly look he wore, but she was not frightened now, and gave the hand a grateful squeeze because she had no words to thank him for the precious gift he had given her. The old gentleman softly stroked the hair off her forehead, and, stooping down, he kissed her, saying, in a tone few people ever heard...

"I had a little girl once, with eyes like these. God bless you, my dear! Good day, madam." And away he went, in a great hurry.

Beth had a rapture with her mother, and then rushed up to impart the glorious news to her family of invalids, as the girls were not home. How blithely she sang that evening, and how they all laughed at her because she woke Amy in the night by playing the piano on her face in her sleep. Next day, having seen both the old and young gentleman out of the house, Beth, after two or three retreats, fairly got in at the side door, and made her way as noiselessly as any mouse to the drawing room where her idol stood. Quite by accident, of course, some pretty, easy music lay on the piano, and with trembling fingers and frequent stops to listen and look about, Beth at last touched the great instrument, and straightway forgot her fear, herself, and everything else but the unspeakable delight which the music gave her, for it was like the voice of a beloved friend.

She stayed till Hannah came to take her home to dinner, but she had no appetite, and could only sit and smile upon everyone in a general state of beatitude.

After that, the little brown hood slipped through the hedge nearly every day, and the great drawing room was haunted by a tuneful spirit that came and went unseen. She never knew that Mr. Laurence opened his study door to hear the old-fashioned airs he liked. She never saw Laurie mount guard in the hall to warn the servants away. She never suspected that the exercise books and new songs which she found in the rack were put there for her especial benefit, and when he talked to her about music at home, she only thought how kind he was to tell things that helped her so much. So she enjoyed herself heartily, and found, what isn't always the case, that her granted wish was all she had hoped. Perhaps it was because she was so grateful for this blessing that a greater was given her. At any rate she deserved both.

"Mother, I'm going to work Mr. Laurence a pair of slippers. He is so kind to me, I must thank him, and I don't know any other way. Can I do it?" asked Beth, a few weeks after that eventful call of his.

"Yes, dear. It will please him very much, and be a nice way of thanking him. The girls will help you about them, and I will pay for the making up," replied Mrs. March, who took peculiar pleasure in granting Beth's requests because she so seldom asked anything for herself.

After many serious discussions with Meg and Jo, the pattern was chosen, the materials bought, and the slippers begun. A cluster of grave yet cheerful pansies on a deeper purple ground was pronounced very appropriate and pretty, and Beth worked away early and late, with occasional lifts over hard parts. She was a nimble little needlewoman, and they were finished before anyone got tired of them. Then she wrote a short, simple note, and with Laurie's help, got them smuggled onto the study table one morning before the old gentleman was up.

When this excitement was over, Beth waited to see what would happen. All day passed and a part of the next before any acknowledgement arrived, and she was beginning to fear she had offended her crochety friend. On the afternoon of the second day, she went out to do an errand, and give poor Joanna, the invalid doll, her daily exercise. As she came up the street, on her return, she saw three, yes, four heads popping in and out of the parlor windows, and the moment they saw her, several hands were waved, and several joyful voices screamed...

"Here's a letter from the old gentleman! Come quick, and read it!"

"Oh, Beth, he's sent you..." began Amy, gesticulating with unseemly energy, but she got no further, for Jo quenched her by slamming down the window.

Beth hurried on in a flutter of suspense. At the door her sisters seized and bore her to the parlor in a triumphal procession, all pointing and all saying at once, "Look there! Look there!" Beth did look, and turned pale with delight and surprise, for there stood a little cabinet piano, with a letter lying on the glossy lid, directed like a sign board to "Miss Elizabeth March."

"For me?" gasped Beth, holding onto Jo and feeling as if she should tumble down, it was such an overwhelming thing altogether.

"Yes, all for you, my precious! Isn't it splendid of him? Don't you think he's the dearest old man in the world? Here's the key in the letter. We didn't open it, but we are dying to know what he says," cried Jo, hugging her sister and offering the note.

"You read it! I can't, I feel so queer! Oh, it is too lovely!" and Beth hid her face in Jo's apron, quite upset by her present.

Jo opened the paper and began to laugh, for the first words she saw were...

"Miss March: "Dear Madam?

"How nice it sounds! I wish someone would write to me so!" said Amy, who thought the old-fashioned address very elegant.

"'I have had many pairs of slippers in my life, but I never had any that suited me so well as yours,'" continues Jo. "'Heart's-ease is my favorite flower, and these will always remind me of the gentle giver. I like to pay my debts, so I know you will allow 'the old gentleman' to send you something which once belonged to the little grand daughter he lost. With hearty thanks and best wishes, I remain "'Your grateful friend and humble servant, 'JAMES LAURENCE'."

"There, Beth, that's an honor to be proud of, I'm sure! Laurie told me how fond Mr. Laurence used to be of the child who died, and how he kept all her little things carefully. Just think, he's given you her piano. That comes of having big blue eyes and loving music," said Jo, trying to soothe Beth, who trembled and looked more excited than she had ever been before.

"See the cunning brackets to hold candles, and the nice green silk, puckered up, with a gold rose in the middle, and the pretty rack and stool, all complete," added Meg, opening the instrument and displaying its beauties.

"'Your humble servant, James Laurence'. Only think of his writing that to you. I'll tell the girls. They'll think it's splendid," said Amy, much impressed by the note.

"Try it, honey. Let's hear the sound of the baby pianny," said Hannah, who always took a share in the family joys and sorrows.

So Beth tried it, and everyone pronounced it the most remarkable piano ever heard. It had evidently been newly tuned and put in apple-pie order, but, perfect as it was, I think the real charm lay in the happiest of all happy faces which leaned over it, as Beth lovingly touched the beautiful black and white keys and pressed the bright pedals.

"You'll have to go and thank him," said Jo, by way of a joke, for the idea of the child's really going never entered her head.

"Yes, I mean to. I guess I'll go now, before I get frightened thinking about it." And, to the utter amazement of the assembled family, Beth walked deliberately down the garden, through the hedge, and in at the Laurences' door.

"Well, I wish I may die if it ain't the queerest thing I ever see! The pianny has turned her head! She'd never have gone in her right mind," cried Hannah, staring after her, while the girls were rendered quite speechless by the miracle.

They would have been still more amazed if they had seen what Beth did afterward. If you will believe me, she went and knocked at the study door before she gave herself time to think, and when a gruff voice called out, "come in!" she did go in, right up to Mr. Laurence, who looked quite taken aback, and held out her hand, saying, with only a small quaver in her voice, "I came to thank you, sir, for..." But she didn't finish, for he looked so friendly that she forgot her speech and, only remembering that he had lost the little girl he loved, she put both arms round his neck and kissed him.

If the roof of the house had suddenly flown off, the old gentleman wouldn't have been more astonished. But he liked it. Oh, dear, yes, he liked it amazingly! And was so touched and pleased by that confiding little kiss that all his crustiness vanished, and he just set her on his knee, and laid his wrinkled cheek against her rosy one, feeling as if he had got his own little granddaughter back again. Beth ceased to fear him from that moment, and sat there talking to him as cozily as if she had known him all her life, for love casts out fear, and gratitude can conquer pride. When she went home, he walked with her to her own gate, shook hands cordially, and touched his hat as he marched back again, looking very stately and erect, like a handsome, soldierly old gentleman, as he was.

When the girls saw that performance, Jo began to dance a jig, by way of expressing her satisfaction, Amy nearly fell out of the window in her surprise, and Meg exclaimed, with up-lifted hands, "Well, I do believe the world is coming to an end."

 

第六章 贝思发现了丽宫

那座大楼确实是个"丽宫",不过众人颇费时日才全部走进去,贝思更是觉得很难走过"狮子群"。劳伦斯老先生就是最大的狮子。不过,自他到她们家拜访,跟众姐妹逐个谈笑一番并和她们母亲交谈旧事后,大家便不再害怕他了,只有腼腆的贝思例外。另一头狮子是两家贫富悬殊这个现实,这使她们不好意思接受她们报答不了的恩惠。不过,后来她们发觉他反把她们视为恩人,他对马奇太太的亲切款待、姐妹们的温馨情意,以及他在那间简陋的屋子里所得到的温暖深表感激。于是她们不再自卑,更加亲热往来,不再理会谁付出的更多。

新的友谊像春草一样茁壮成长,各种美好的事情都在那个时候发生。人人喜欢劳里,他也悄悄告诉他的私人教师"马奇家的姑娘们十分出众"。充满热情的年轻姑娘们把孤独的男孩带进她们的圈子里,对他悉心照顾。她们心地善良而单纯,劳里在这种天真无邪的交往中感到十分陶醉。由于他从小失去母亲,又没有姐妹,因此很快便感受到她们给他带来的影响。她们忙碌、活跃的生活方式使他对自己的懒惰生活感到惭愧。他现在厌倦读书,发现与人交往极有乐趣。布鲁克先生不得不非常不满意地向劳伦斯先生告状,因为劳里常常逃学跑到马奇家去。

“不要紧,让他放个假,以后再补回来,”老人说,”邻居那位好太太说他学习太用功,需要年轻人作伴,需要娱乐活动。我想她说得有道理,我一直溺爱这小子,都像他奶奶了。

只要他快乐,他爱干什么就干什么吧。他在那边的小尼姑庵里不会捣蛋的,马奇太太比我们更能管教他。”这样的时光多么美好!他们一起演戏,一起滑雪,一起在旧客厅度过愉快的夜晚,有时也在大楼举行快乐的小晚会。

梅格可以随意进入温室,采摘大捧大捧的鲜花,乔在新藏书室里贪婪地浏览,向老人发表高见,艾美摹绘图画,尽情地沐浴在美的享受中,劳里则非常可爱地扮演"庄园主"的角色。

而贝思,虽然对大钢琴朝思暮想,却鼓不起勇气走进那间被梅格称为"极乐大厦"的屋子。她也曾随乔去过一次,但老人不知道她天性懦弱,浓眉下的一双眼睛紧紧盯着她,大叫一声"嗨!”吓得她"双脚在地板上乱抖",这是她后来告诉妈妈的;她夺路而逃,并宣布以后永不踏足此地,对大钢琴也忍痛割爱了。大家百般劝哄无效,后来,劳伦斯先生不知从何处听到了这事,亲自着手弥补。在一次短暂的拜访中,他巧妙地把话题扯到音乐,大谈他所见所闻的歌唱家和弦琴珍曲等奇闻趣事。呆在远远一角的贝思听入迷了,忍不住渐渐靠上前来,站在他椅子背后悄悄聆听,眼睛瞪大,脸颊因自己不寻常的举动而羞得通红。劳伦斯先生对她视如不见,继续谈劳里的功课和教师,一会,他似乎突然想起了什么,对马奇太太说——“那孩子现在不大理音乐了,我倒挺高兴,因为他原来喜欢得有点过头。不过钢琴闲置着太可惜,你家姑娘们愿不愿意过来时不时弹弹,免得荒废了。你说呢,夫人?”贝思上前一步,双手紧紧握住才没有拍起掌来。这个诱惑不可抗拒,想到在那架漂亮的钢琴上弹奏,她真是又惊又喜。还没等马奇太太回答,劳伦斯先生古怪地轻轻点点头,微笑道——“她们用不着跟人说,随时都可以跑进来;因为我总呆在屋子另一头的书房里,劳里常常不在家,九点钟后佣人也从不走近客厅。”说到这他站起来,似乎要告辞了。贝思下定决心要讲两句话,因为最后的安排完全乘了她的心愿。”请把我的话转告年轻女士们,如果她们不想来,嘿,那就算了。”这时一只小手塞进他的手里,贝思满脸感激地仰头望着他,诚恳而腼腆地说——“噢,先生,她们想的,非常非常想!”“你就是弹琴的姑娘?”他问道,没有吓人地叫"嗨!”而是非常慈爱地望着她。

“我是贝思。我很喜欢音乐。如果您肯定没有人会听到我弹琴——被我骚扰的话,我会来的,”她接着说,唯恐出言不敬,边说边因自己的勇敢而颤抖。

“不会有人听到,亲爱的。屋子有半天空着;你尽管过来弹吧,非常欢迎你。“您真是菩萨心肠,先生!”贝思被他友善的眼光看得脸红耳赤;不过她现在不再害怕,因为找不到话来感谢他送给自己的珍贵礼物,便感激地把那只大手紧紧攥祝老人轻轻拨开她额上的头发,俯下身来吻了一下,用一种少有的声调说——“我曾经有个小姑娘,眼睛跟你的一模一样。上帝保佑你,亲爱的孩子!再见,夫人,”说毕他匆匆离去。

贝思与母亲狂喜一番后,因为姑娘们不在家,便冲上去把好消息告诉那班残破不堪的布娃娃。那天晚上她高兴得唱个不停,半夜,她睡梦中在艾美脸上弹钢琴,把艾美闹醒,引得姐妹们大笑不已。第二天,贝思看到一老一少两位绅士都出了门,犹豫再三后,从侧门走进去,轻手轻脚地朝搁置着钢琴的客厅走去。碰巧,当然啦,钢琴上摆着几张简单而动听的乐谱,贝思不时四面窥探,终于用颤抖的手指弹响了琴键,旋即便忘掉了恐惧,忘掉了自己和周围的一切,音乐声仿如一位挚友的声音,给她带来难以言喻的快乐。

她一直弹到罕娜过来带她回家吃饭;但她毫无食欲,只是坐在一边,无比快乐地望着大家痴笑。

从此以后,一个戴着棕色小帽的身影几乎每天都溜过树篱,一个静悄悄的音乐精灵常常在那间大客厅出没。她不知道劳伦斯先生经常打开书房门聆听他喜欢的旧曲子;没有看到劳里在大厅放哨,提醒佣人不要走近;也从不怀疑乐器架上的练习书和新歌是特意为她放置的;劳伦斯先生在家里跟她谈论音乐,使她大获裨益,她也只以为他是出于好心而已。

因此她尽情陶醉在音乐的天地中,有时甚至觉得自己已经得偿毕生之愿。也许正因为她对这种恩赐常怀感激之心,更大的恩赐接踵而来,但无论怎样,她都受之无愧。

“妈妈,我想为劳伦斯先生做一双便鞋,他对我这么好,我得感谢他,其他方法我又不会。您说可以吗?”贝思问母亲。

这时距老人那次重要拜访已有好几个星期。

“可以,亲爱的。他会非常高兴,这是感谢他的好办法。

姐妹们会帮你做,缝制费用我来出,”马奇太太答道。她特别乐于答应贝思的要求,因为她极少为自己要求什么。

贝思跟梅格和乔严肃讨论后,选定了图案,接着便购买材料,开始动工。大家一致称紫黑色底衬着一丛庄重而生机勃勃的三色堇非常合适漂亮。贝思夜以继日地缝制,只是难做的部分才偶尔要人帮忙。她做缝纫活儿心灵手巧,众人还未感到厌倦鞋子便完工了。然后她写了一张简单的便条,一天早上趁老人尚未起床,让劳里帮她悄悄把它们捎到书房,放在书桌上。

此后,贝思怀着紧张的心情等着看老人的反应。当天无事发生,第二天中午仍然无声无息,她开始担心自己冒犯了那位怪癖的朋友。下午,她出去办点差事,并带乔安娜,一个残破的洋娃娃,去做日常锻炼。回来走近大街时,她看到三个,对了,是四个人在客厅的窗边探头探脑。看到她走来,她们一起招手,快乐地尖声高叫——“老先生来了一封信!快,快来读吧!”“噢,贝思,他送你——"艾美争先说,笨拙地使劲打着手势,不过她没再往下说,因为乔砰的一声关上窗户,把她的话堵了回去。

贝思悬着一颗心加快了脚步,刚走到门边,姐妹们便将她一把抓住,众星拱月般地把她拥到大厅,一起指着说:“看哪!看哪!”贝思仔细一看,惊喜得脸色发白,原来地上放着一架小巧精致的钢琴,光滑的琴盖上放着一封信,像个招牌一样摆着,上书"致伊丽莎白•马奇小姐"。

“给我的?”贝思气喘吁吁,她扶着乔,觉得自己就要跌倒。这事来得毕竟太突然了,令她难以承受。

“对,就是给你的,我的宝贝!他是不是棒极了?你说他是不是天底下最可爱的老人?这是信里头的钥匙。信我们没拆,但我们都急着想知道他怎么说,”乔喊道,紧紧搂着妹妹,把信递上。

“你念吧!我念不了,我觉得头晕目眩!呵,这太美了!”贝思把脸埋在乔的围裙里,她被这件礼物搅得六神无主。

乔展开信笺,笑出声来,因为首先映入眼帘的几个字是——"马奇小姐:亲爱的女士——”“动听极了!但愿有人会这样跟我写信!”艾美说。她认为旧式称呼非常优雅。

“''我一生中穿过无数双鞋子,但没有一双像你做的那么适合我,''"乔接着往下念,”''三色堇是我最喜欢的花,它将使我永远记住温柔的赠花人。我想报答你的恩惠,我知道你会允许"老绅士"给你送上这件一度属于他失去了的小孙女的礼物。谨致诚挚的谢意及美好的祝愿。

“''衷心感激,并愿效犬马之劳。

“''詹姆士•劳伦斯''

“嘿,贝思,这无疑是件值得骄傲的光彩事儿!劳里跟我说过劳伦斯先生最疼爱那死去的孩子了,他把她用过的东西一一小心保存起来。想想看,他竟把她的铜琴送给了你。那是因为你有一对蓝色的大眼睛,而且热爱音乐,”乔说,试图使兴奋得全身发抖的贝思冷静下来。

“你看这些精致的烛台,这些折叠得漂漂亮亮的绿绸子,中间还镶着一朵金色的玫瑰,再看漂亮的凳子和架构,简直是十全十美,”梅格一面接着说一面打开钢琴向大家展览。

“''愿效犬马之劳,詹姆士•劳伦斯''。多有绅士风度!我要告诉学校的姑娘们,她们一定会赞不绝口,”艾美说。她十分欣赏那封信。

“弹一弹吧,小乖乖。让大家听听这架宝贝钢琴的声音,”罕娜说。她一向和她们一家人甘苦与共。

贝思便弹起来,众人齐称这是有史以来听到过的最美妙的琴声。钢琴显然新近调校了音调,并收拾得十分齐整。贝思脚踩亮油油的踏板,轻抚漂亮的黑白色琴键,众人把头聚拢琴边,脸上洋溢着无限的幸福,此情此景,真动人心弦。

“你得去谢谢他哩,”乔开玩笑地说。她并没有想到贝思会真的去。

“是的,我要去。我想现在就去,再犹豫就会害怕了,”说罢,贝思竟然不慌不忙地走过花园,穿过树篱,从劳伦斯家的门口走进去,令一家人大为惊讶。

“老天爷!我发誓我从没见过这么离奇古怪的事情!小钢琴弄得她神魂颠倒了!她脑子正常的话,绝不会去的,”罕娜喊道,呆呆地目送着她走进去,姐妹三人则惊诧得不能言语。

如果她们看到贝思后来做的事情一定会更加惊异。真的,她径直走到书房门口,毫不思索便叩门。一个生硬的声音叫道:“进来!”她果真走进去,走到大吃一惊的劳伦斯先生面前,伸出手,声音微颤地说道:“我来谢谢您,先生。谢谢你——"一语未毕,劳伦斯先生慈爱友善的目光令她忘记了要说的话,她只记得他失去了最钟爱的小孙女,于是伸出双臂抱住他的颈部,吻了他一下。

即使屋顶突然飞落,老人也不会这么震惊,但他非常欢喜——啊,真的,欢喜得难以言喻!——那流露真情的轻轻一吻使他深深感动、非常愉快,他彻底软化了。他把她放在膝头上,把自己满布皱纹的脸颊贴住她玫瑰色的脸颊,仿佛自己又寻回了自己的小孙女。贝思从那一刻起不再怕他,她坐在那里与他亲密地交谈,仿佛从一生下来就已经认识他一般,因为爱可以驱除恐惧,感激可以征服自尊。她回家时劳伦斯先生把她一直送到家门口,跟她诚挚地握手,往回走时又轻触帽檐向她致意,腰身挺直,神态庄重,活像个英俊勇敢的老绅士,而事实也正是如此。

看到这一幕,乔跳起了快步舞,来表达心里的快慰,艾美惊讶得差一点摔出窗户,梅格则高举双手大叫:“呵,我真相信世界末日到了!”




CHAPTER SEVEN AMY'S VALLEY OF HUMILIATION

"That boy is a perfect cyclops, isn't he?" said Amy one day, as Laurie clattered by on horseback, with a flourish of his whip as he passed.

"How dare you say so, when he's got both his eyes? And very handsome ones they are, too," cried Jo, who resented any slighting remarks about her friend.

"I didn't say anything about his eyes, and I don't see why you need fire up when I admire his riding."

"Oh, my goodness! That little goose means a centaur, and she called him a Cyclops," exclaimed Jo, with a burst of laughter.

"You needn't be so rude, it's only a 'lapse of lingy', as Mr. Davis says," retorted Amy, finishing Jo with her Latin. "I just wish I had a little of the money Laurie spends on that horse," she added, as if to herself, yet hoping her sisters would hear.

"Why?" asked Meg kindly, for Jo had gone off in another laugh at Amy's second blunder.

"I need it so much. I'm dreadfully in debt, and it won't be my turn to have the rag money for a month."

"In debt, Amy? What do you mean?" And Meg looked sober.

"Why, I owe at least a dozen pickled limes, and I can't pay them, you know, till I have money, for Marmee forbade my having anything charged at the shop."

"Tell me all about it. Are limes the fashion now? It used to be pricking bits of rubber to make balls." And Meg tried to keep her countenance, Amy looked so grave and important.

"Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it too. It's nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else, at recess. If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime. If she's mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn't offer even a suck. They treat by turns, and I've had ever so many but haven't returned them, and I ought for they are debts of honor, you know."

"How much will pay them off and restore your credit?" asked Meg, taking out her purse.

"A quarter would more than do it, and leave a few cents over for a treat for you. Don't you like limes?"

"Not much. You may have my share. Here's the money. Make it last as long as you can, for it isn't very plenty, you know."

"Oh, thank you! It must be so nice to have pocket money! I'll have a grand feast, for I haven't tasted a lime this week. I felt delicate about taking any, as I couldn't return them, and I'm actually suffering for one."

Next day Amy was rather late at school, but could not resist the temptation of displaying, with pardonable pride, a moist brown-paper parcel, before she consigned it to the inmost recesses of her desk. During the next few minutes the rumor that Amy March had got twenty-four delicious limes (she ate one on the way) and was going to treat circulated through her 'set', and the attentions of her friends became quite overwhelming. Katy Brown invited her to her next party on the spot. Mary Kinglsey insisted on lending her her watch till recess, and Jenny Snow, a satirical young lady, who had basely twitted Amy upon her limeless state, promptly buried the hatchet and offered to furnish answers to certain appalling sums. But Amy had not forgotten Miss Snow's cutting remarks about 'some persons whose noses were not too flat to smell other people's limes, and stuck-up people who were not too proud to ask for them', and she instantly crushed 'that Snow girl's' hopes by the withering telegram, "You needn't be so polite all of a sudden, for you won't get any."

A distinguished personage happened to visit the school that morning, and Amy's beautifully drawn maps received praise, which honor to her foe rankled in the soul of Miss Snow, and caused Miss March to assume the airs of a studious young peacock. But, alas, alas! Pride goes before a fall, and the revengeful Snow turned the tables with disastrous success. No sooner had the guest paid the usual stale compliments and bowed himself out, than Jenny, under pretense of asking an important question, informed Mr. Davis, the teacher, that Amy March had pickled limes in her desk.

Now Mr. Davis had declared limes a contraband article, and solemnly vowed to publicly ferrule the first person who was found breaking the law. This much-enduring man had succeeded in banishing chewing gum after a long and stormy war, had made a bonfire of the confiscated novels and newspapers, had suppressed a private post office, had forbidden distortions of the face, nicknames, and caricatures, and done all that one man could do to keep half a hundred rebellious girls in order. Boys are trying enough to human patience, goodness knows, but girls are infinitely more so, especially to nervous gentlemen with tyrannical tempers and no more talent for teaching than Dr. Blimber. Mr. Davis knew any quantity of Greek, Latin, algebra, and ologies of all sorts so he was called a fine teacher, and manners, morals, feelings, and examples were not considered of any particular importance. It was a most unfortunate moment for denouncing Amy, and Jenny knew it. Mr. Davis had evidently taken his coffee too strong that morning, there was an east wind, which always affected his neuralgia, and his pupils had not done him the credit which he felt he deserved. Therefore, to use the expressive, if not elegant, language of a schoolgirl, "He was as nervous as a witch and as cross as a bear". The word 'limes' was like fire to powder, his yellow face flushed, and he rapped on his desk with an energy which made Jenny skip to her seat with unusual rapidity.

"Young ladies, attention, if you please!"

At the stern order the buzz ceased, and fifty pairs of blue, black, gray, and brown eyes were obediently fixed upon his awful countenance.

"Miss March, come to the desk."

Amy rose to comply with outward composure, but a secret fear oppressed her, for the limes weighed upon her conscience.

"Bring with you the limes you have in your desk," was the unexpected command which arrested her before she got out of her seat.

"Don't take all." whispered her neighbor, a young lady of great presence of mind.

Amy hastily shook out half a dozen and laid the rest down before Mr. Davis, feeling that any man possessing a human heart would relent when that delicious perfume met his nose. Unfortunately, Mr. Davis particularly detested the odor of the fashionable pickle, and disgust added to his wrath.

"Is that all?"

"Not quite," stammered Amy.

"Bring the rest immediately."

With a despairing glance at her set, she obeyed.

"You are sure there are no more?"

"I never lie, sir."

"So I see. Now take these disgusting things two by two, and throw them out of the window."

There was a simultaneous sigh, which created quite a little gust, as the last hope fled, and the treat was ravished from their longing lips. Scarlet with shame and anger, Amy went to and fro six dreadful times, and as each doomed couple, looking oh, so plump and juicy, fell from her reluctant hands, a shout from the street completed the anguish of the girls, for it told them that their feast was being exulted over by the little Irish children, who were their sworn foes. This—this was too much. All flashed indignant or appealing glances at the inexorable Davis, and one passionate lime lover burst into tears.

As Amy returned from her last trip, Mr. Davis gave a portentous "Hem!" and said, in his most impressive manner...

"Young ladies, you remember what I said to you a week ago. I am sorry this has happened, but I never allow my rules to be infringed, and I never break my word. Miss March, hold out your hand."

Amy started, and put both hands behind her, turning on him an imploring look which pleaded for her better than the words she could not utter. She was rather a favorite with 'old Davis', as, of course, he was called, and it's my private belief that he would have broken his word if the indignation of one irrepressible young lady had not found vent in a hiss. That hiss, faint as it was, irritated the irascible gentleman, and sealed the culprit's fate.

"Your hand, Miss March!" was the only answer her mute appeal received, and too proud to cry or beseech, Amy set her teeth, threw back her head defiantly, and bore without flinching several tingling blows on her little palm. They were neither many nor heavy, but that made no difference to her. For the first time in her life she had been struck, and the disgrace, in her eyes, was as deep as if he had knocked her down.

"You will now stand on the platform till recess," said Mr. Davis, resolved to do the thing thoroughly, since he had begun.

That was dreadful. It would have been bad enough to go to her seat, and see the pitying faces of her friends, or the satisfied ones of her few enemies, but to face the whole school, with that shame fresh upon her, seemed impossible, and for a second she felt as if she could only drop down where she stood, and break her heart with crying. A bitter sense of wrong and the thought of Jenny Snow helped her to bear it, and, taking the ignominious place, she fixed her eyes on the stove funnel above what now seemed a sea of faces, and stood there, so motionless and white that the girls found it hard to study with that pathetic figure before them.

During the fifteen minutes that followed, the proud and sensitive little girl suffered a shame and pain which she never forgot. To others it might seem a ludicrous or trivial affair, but to her it was a hard experience, for during the twelve years of her life she had been governed by love alone, and a blow of that sort had never touched her before. The smart of her hand and the ache of her heart were forgotten in the sting of the thought, "I shall have to tell at home, and they will be so disappointed in me!"

The fifteen minutes seemed an hour, but they came to an end at last, and the word 'Recess!' had never seemed so welcome to her before.

"You can go, Miss March," said Mr. Davis, looking, as he felt, uncomfortable.

He did not soon forget the reproachful glance Amy gave him, as she went, without a word to anyone, straight into the anteroom, snatched her things, and left the place "forever," as she passionately declared to herself. She was in a sad state when she got home, and when the older girls arrived, some time later, an indignation meeting was held at once. Mrs. March did not say much but looked disturbed, and comforted her afflicted little daughter in her tenderest manner. Meg bathed the insulted hand with glycerine and tears, Beth felt that even her beloved kittens would fail as a balm for griefs like this, Jo wrathfully proposed that Mr. Davis be arrested without delay, and Hannah shook her fist at the 'villain' and pounded potatoes for dinner as if she had him under her pestle.

No notice was taken of Amy's flight, except by her mates, but the sharp-eyed demoiselles discovered that Mr. Davis was quite benignant in the afternoon, also unusually nervous. Just before school closed, Jo appeared, wearing a grim expression as she stalked up to the desk, and delivered a letter from her mother, then collected Amy's property, and departed, carefully scraping the mud from her boots on the door mat, as if she shook the dust of the place off her feet.

"Yes, you can have a vacation from school, but I want you to study a little every day with Beth," said Mrs. March that evening. "I don't approve of corporal punishment, especially for girls. I dislike Mr. Davis's manner of teaching and don't think the girls you associate with are doing you any good, so I shall ask your father's advice before I send you anywhere else."

"That's good! I wish all the girls would leave, and spoil his old school. It's perfectly maddening to think of those lovely limes," sighed Amy, with the air of a martyr.

"I am not sorry you lost them, for you broke the rules, and deserved some punishment for disobedience," was the severe reply, which rather disappointed the young lady, who expected nothing but sympathy.

"Do you mean you are glad I was disgraced before the whole school?" cried Amy.

"I should not have chosen that way of mending a fault," replied her mother, "but I'm not sure that it won't do you more good than a bolder method. You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it. You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long, even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty."

"So it is!" cried Laurie, who was playing chess in a corner with Jo. "I knew a girl once, who had a really remarkable talent for music, and she didn't know it, never guessed what sweet little things she composed when she was alone, and wouldn't have believed it if anyone had told her."

"I wish I'd known that nice girl. Maybe she would have helped me, I'm so stupid," said Beth, who stood beside him, listening eagerly.

"You do know her, and she helps you better than anyone else could," answered Laurie, looking at her with such mischievous meaning in his merry black eyes that Beth suddenly turned very red, and hid her face in the sofa cushion, quite overcome by such an unexpected discovery.

Jo let Laurie win the game to pay for that praise of her Beth, who could not be prevailed upon to play for them after her compliment. So Laurie did his best, and sang delightfully, being in a particularly lively humor, for to the Marches he seldom showed the moody side of his character. When he was gone, Amy, who had been pensive all evening, said suddenly, as if busy over some new idea, "Is Laurie an accomplished boy?"

"Yes, he has had an excellent education, and has much talent. He will make a fine man, if not spoiled by petting," replied her mother.

"And he isn't conceited, is he?" asked Amy.

"Not in the least. That is why he is so charming and we all like him so much."

"I see. It's nice to have accomplishments and be elegant, but not to show off or get perked up," said Amy thoughtfully.

"These things are always seen and felt in a person's manner and conversations, if modestly used, but it is not necessary to display them," said Mrs. March.

"Any more than it's proper to wear all your bonnets and gowns and ribbons at once, that folks may know you've got them," added Jo, and the lecture ended in a laugh.

 

第七章 艾美的耻辱谷

“那小伙子真像希腊神话中的独眼巨人,你说呢?”艾美说。这时劳里正骑马得得而行,经过时还把马鞭一扬。

“你怎敢这样说话?他一双眼睛完整无缺,而且漂亮得很哩,”乔叫起来。她容不得人家说她的朋友半点闲话。

“我并没有说他的眼睛怎么了,我也不明白你怎么会火冒三丈,我只是羡慕他的马上功夫而已。”“噢,老天爷!这小傻瓜的意思是骑马高手,却把他叫成了独眼巨人,”乔爆发出一阵大笑,叫道。

“你不用如此无礼,这只是戴维斯先生说的''口吴(误)''而已,”艾美反驳道,用拉丁语把乔镇祝"我真希望我能有一丁点儿劳里花在那骑马上的钱,”她仿佛自言自语,但却希望两个姐姐听到。

“为什么?”梅格好意问道。乔却因艾美第二次用错词而再次大笑起来。

“我负了一身债,急需用钱,但我还要等一个月才能领到钱。”“负债,艾美?怎么回事?”梅格神情严肃地问。

“哦,我至少欠下一打腌酸橙。你知道我得有钱才能清还。

因为妈妈不许我在商店赊帐。”

“把事情详细道来。现在时兴酸橙了吗?以前可是刺橡胶块来做圆球。”梅格尽量不动声色,而艾美则神情庄重,一本正经。

“哦,是这样的。姑娘们成天都买酸橙,你也得跟着买,除非你想别人觉得你小气。现在只有酸橙当红,上课时人人都埋在书桌下咂酸橙,课休时用酸橙交换铅笔、念珠戒指、纸娃娃等物。如果一个女孩喜欢另一个,她就送她一个酸橙;如果她憎恶她,便当着她的面吃一个酸橙,不叫她咂一口。她们轮流做东,我已经得了人家不少,至今没有还礼,我理当偿还,因为那是信用债。”“还差多少钱才能使你恢复信用?”梅格一面问,一面拿出钱包。

“二角五分已经绰绰有余,还可剩几分钱给你买一点。你不喜欢酸橙吗?”“不怎么喜欢,我那份你要吧。给你钱。省着点使,钱不多,你知道。”“噢,好姐姐!有零花钱真是太好了!我要犒赏犒赏自己,这星期还没有尝过酸橙味儿呢。我不好意思再要她们的,因为自己还不起。现在我可想得要疯了。”第二天,艾美回到学校已经不早,但却抵挡不住诱惑,为自得地把一个濡湿的棕色纸包炫耀一番,这才把它放到书桌的最里头。不消几分钟,艾美•马奇带了廿四个美味酸橙(她自己在路上吃了一个)并准备供诸同好的小道消息在她的"同伙"之中不胫而走,朋友们对她刮目相看。凯蒂•布朗当场邀请她参加下次晚会;玛丽•金斯利坚持要把自己的手表借给她戴到下课;珍妮•斯诺,一个曾经粗俗地挖苦过艾美的尖酸刻薄的年轻女子,立即偃旗息鼓,主动提供某些难题的答案。但是艾美并没有忘记斯诺小姐说过的那些刺心话:“有些人鼻子虽扁,却仍然闻得到别人的酸橙味儿;有些人虽然狂妄自大,却仍得求人家的酸橙吃。”她用令人泄气的言辞把那位"斯诺女"的希望当场击得粉碎:“你用不着一下子这么殷勤,因为你半个也捞不着。”那天早上恰巧有一位重要人物访问学校,艾美的地图画得极好,受到了赞扬。斯诺小姐对敌人的这种荣誉怀恨在心,马奇小姐因此更摆出一副自命不凡的架势。不过,唉!骄兵必败!斯诺报仇心切,她反戈一击,打了场完全彻底的漂亮仗。一待客人照例讲究一番陈词滥调的客套话躬身出去后,珍妮立即佯装提问,悄悄告诉老师戴维斯先生,艾美•马奇把腌酸橙藏在书桌里头。

原来戴维斯先生早已宣布酸橙为违禁品,并庄重发誓要把第一个违法者公开绳之以法。这位相当不朽的仁兄曾经发动过一场激烈持久的战争,成功取缔了香口胶糖,烧毁了没收的小说画报,镇压了一所地下邮局,并禁止了做鬼脸、起花名、画漫画等一类事情,竭尽全力要把五十个反叛的姑娘们训导得规规矩矩。老天作证,男孩子已经使人大伤脑筋,但是女孩子更难伺候,这对于脾气粗暴、缺乏教学天才、神经紧张的人来说更是如此。戴维斯先生希腊语、拉丁语、代数以及各门学科无所不通,于是被称为好老师,而言行、道德、情操及表率却被认为无关重要。珍妮心里明白,这种时候告发艾美活该她倒霉。戴维斯先生那天早上显然喝了冲得太浓的咖啡,东风又刺激了他的神经痛。而他的学生竟然在这种时候往他脸上抹黑;用一位女同学虽不优雅但相当贴切的话来形容:“他紧张得像个女巫,粗暴得像一头熊。”“酸橙"两字犹如引爆炸药的火苗。他把黄脸孔憋得通红,使劲敲击讲台,吓得珍妮飞速溜回座位。

“年轻女士们,请你们注意!”

这么厉声一喝,嘁喳声嘎然而止,五十双蓝色、黑色、灰色,以及棕色的眼睛全都乖乖地盯住他那可怖的脸容。

“马奇小姐,到讲台来。”

艾美依令站起来,她虽然外表镇静,内心却是又惊又怕,因为酸橙压得她心里沉甸甸的。

“把书桌里的酸橙带过来!”她尚未走出座位,又收到第二道出乎意料的命令。

“不要全都带去,”坐在她身边的那位女士头脑十分冷静,悄声说道。

艾美匆忙抖出六只,把其余的放在戴维斯先生面前,心想任何铁石心肠的人闻到那股喷香的味道都会软下来。不幸的是,戴维斯先生特别讨厌这种时髦腌果的味道,他越发勃然大怒。

“就这些吗?”

“还有几个,”艾美结结巴巴地说。

“马上把其余的拿来。”

她绝望地望了一眼她那班伙伴,顺从了。

“你肯定再没有了吗?”

“我从不撒谎,先生。”

“那好,现在把这些讨厌的东西两个两个拿起扔出窗外。”眼看着最后一丝希望破灭,到了嘴边的东西被夺走,姑娘们都发出一阵叹息声。艾美又羞又恼,脸色涨得通红,忍辱来回走了足足六趟。每当一对倒霉的酸橙——呵!多么饱满圆润——从她极不情愿的手中落下时,街上便传来一声欢叫。姑娘们简直心碎欲绝,因为叫声告诉大家她们的美食落在了她们不共戴天的敌人爱尔兰小孩的手上,成为他们的美餐,令他们狂喜雀跃。这——这简直不能忍受。众人向冷酷无情的戴维斯投去气愤而恳求的目光,一位热烈的酸橙爱好者忍不住热泪暗流。

当艾美扔掉最后一个酸橙走回来时,戴维斯先生令人颤栗地"哼!”了一声,装腔作势地训斥道——“年轻女士们,你们记得我一星期前说的话吧。发生了这种事我很遗憾,但我绝对不会姑息这种违反纪律的行为,而且决不食言。马奇小姐,伸出手来。”艾美吓了一跳,把双手藏在背后,用祈求的目光望着他,说不出半句话来,其情堪可怜悯。她本来是"老戴维斯",当然啦,如大家所称,颇为得意的门生,如果不是一个姑娘"嘘"了一声以泄怨愤的话,我个人相信,戴维斯先生完全可能破例食言。但那嘘声尽管细若游丝,却激怒了这位脾气暴躁的绅士,并决定了犯规者的命运。

“伸出手,马奇小姐!”这一声便是对她无声恳求的答复;自尊好强的艾美不愿哭求,她咬紧牙关,对抗地把头向后一甩,任由小手掌挨了几下痛笞。虽然打得不重,但这对她来说没什么不同,她平生第一次挨揍,这就像他把她击倒地上一样,是一种奇耻大辱。

“现在站到讲坛上,一直到下课为止,”戴维斯先生说。既然做开了头,他就决心做个彻底。

这实在是太可怕了。走回座位,看朋友们的怜悯目光和个别敌人的痛快脸色已经糟糕透顶,而要面对全班同学,含耻忍辱,她简直做不到。刹那间她觉得自己就要摔倒地上,伤心痛哭。但那种刺心的屈辱感和对珍妮•斯诺的恨使她挺住了。她踏上那个不光彩的位置,下面仿佛成了人的海洋。她两眼死死盯着火炉烟囱管,一动不动地站在那里,面如白纸。

姑娘们面对这么一个心碎欲绝的人物,也再无心思上课。

此后的十五分钟里,这位傲慢敏感的小姑娘尝尽了铭心刻骨的耻辱和痛苦的滋味。别人或许觉得此乃小事一桩,荒唐好笑而已,而她却觉得伤透了心。她有生十二年以来,一直与爱为伴,从未领教过这种打击。而一想到"回到家我不得不把这事说出来,她们一定会对我失望之极!”她连手掌和心上的痛苦也顾不上了。

这十五分钟就像一个小时那么漫长,但最后还是走到了尽头,她终于盼到一声"下课!”的命令。

“你可以走了,马奇小姐,”戴维斯先生说。看得出来,他心里头很不自在。

艾美横了他一眼,眼光充满谴责,令他不敢轻易忘怀。她一声不吱,径直走进前堂,一把抓起自己的东西,心里狠狠发誓,”永远"离开了这个伤心之地。回到家里她仍伤心不已。

不久,姐妹们相继归来。一个义愤填膺的会议随即召开。马奇太太虽然神情激动,但没有多说,只是无限温柔地宽慰自己受了伤的小女儿。梅格边掉泪边用甘油涂洗艾美那遭受凌辱的手掌。贝思觉得即使自己可爱的小猫咪也安慰不了如此深重的痛楚,乔怒发冲冠,提议戴维斯先生应该立即逮捕,罕娜对那"坏蛋"挥起拳头,捣土豆做饭时也敲打得劈啪作响,仿佛那"坏蛋”就躲在她的捣下面。

除了她的几个伙伴外,没有人注意到艾美没来上学;但眼尖的姑娘们发现戴维斯先生下午变得相当宽厚,而且格外紧张。将放学时,乔露面了。她神情严峻,大步走近讲台,把母亲写的一封信交上去,然后收拾起艾美的物品,转身离去,在门垫上狠狠蹭掉靴上的泥土,似乎要把这儿的脏物从脚上抖干净。

“好了,你可以放个假,但我要求你每天都和贝思一起学一点东西,”那天晚上马奇太太说,”我不赞成体罚,尤其不赞成体罚女孩子。我不喜欢戴维斯先生的教学方法,不过你结交的女孩子也不是什么益友。我要先征求你父亲的意思,再把你送到别的学校。”“太好了!我希望姑娘们全走掉,毁掉他的旧学堂。一想到那些令人馋涎欲滴的酸橙,我就气得发疯。”艾美叹息着,神情就像一个殉难者。

“你失去酸橙我并不难过,因为你破坏了纪律,应该受到惩罚,”母亲严厉地回答。一心只想得到同情的年轻女士,听到这话颇为失望。

“您的意思是我当着全体同学的面受侮辱您很高兴了?”艾美喊道。

“我不会选择这种方法来纠正错误,”她的母亲回答,”但我不敢说换一种温和一点的方法你就会从中得到教训。你现在有点过于自大了,亲爱的,很应该着手改正过来。你有很多天赋和优点,但不必摆出来展览,因为自大会把最优秀的天才毁掉。真正的才华或品行不怕被人长期忽视;即使真的无人看到,只要你知道自己拥有它,并妥善用它,你就会感到心满意足。谦虚才能使人充满魅力。”“完全正确!”劳里叫道。他正跟乔在一角下象棋。”我曾认识一个女孩,她音乐天赋极高,却并不自知,她从不知道自己作的小曲有多美,即使别人告诉她,她自己也不会相信。”“我能认识那位好女孩就好了,她或许可以帮助我,我这么笨,“贝思说。她正站在劳里身边认真倾听。

“你确实认识她,她比任何人都更能帮你,”劳里答道,快乐的黑眼睛调皮地望着她,贝思霎时飞红了脸,把脸埋在沙发垫里,被这出乎意料的发现弄得不知所措。

乔让劳里赢了棋,以奖励他称赞了她的贝思。贝思经这么一夸,怎么也不肯出来弹琴了。于是劳里一展身手,他边弹边唱,心情显得特别轻松愉快,因为他在马奇一家人面前极少流露自己的忧郁性格。在他走后,整个晚上一直郁郁寡欢的艾美似乎若有所思,突然问道:“劳里是否称得上多才多艺?”“当然,他接受过优等教育,又富有天赋,如果没有宠坏,他会成为一个出色的人才,”她母亲回答。

“而且他不自大,对吗?”艾美问。

“一点也不。这便是他这么富有魅力的原因,也是我们全都这么喜欢他的原因。“我明白了。多才多艺、举止优雅固然很好,但向人炫耀或翘尾巴就不好了,”艾美若有所思地说。

“如果态度谦虚,这些气质总会在一个人的言谈举止中流露出来,无需向人卖弄,”马奇太太说。

“譬如你一下子把全部帽子、衣服、饰物等都穿戴出来,唯恐别人不知道你有这些东西,这样自然不妥,”乔插言道。

大家随之笑起来,训导于是到此结束。




CHAPTER EIGHT JO MEETS APOLLYON

"Girls, where are you going?" asked Amy, coming into their room one Saturday afternoon, and finding them getting ready to go out with an air of secrecy which excited her curiosity.

"Never mind. Little girls shouldn't ask questions," returned Jo sharply.

Now if there is anything mortifying to our feelings when we are young, it is to be told that, and to be bidden to "run away, dear" is still more trying to us. Amy bridled up at this insult, and determined to find out the secret, if she teased for an hour. Turning to Meg, who never refused her anything very long, she said coaxingly, "Do tell me! I should think you might let me go, too, for Beth is fussing over her piano, and I haven't got anything to do, and am so lonely."

"I can't, dear, because you aren't invited," began Meg, but Jo broke in impatiently, "Now, Meg, be quiet or you will spoil it all. You can't go, Amy, so don't be a baby and whine about it."

"You are going somewhere with Laurie, I know you are. You were whispering and laughing together on the sofa last night, and you stopped when I came in. Aren't you going with him?"

"Yes, we are. Now do be still, and stop bothering."

Amy held her tongue, but used her eyes, and saw Meg slip a fan into her pocket.

"I know! I know! You're going to the theater to see the Seven Castles!" she cried, adding resolutely, "and I shall go, for Mother said I might see it, and I've got my rag money, and it was mean not to tell me in time."

"Just listen to me a minute, and be a good child," said Meg soothingly. "Mother doesn't wish you to go this week, because your eyes are not well enough yet to bear the light of this fairy piece. Next week you can go with Beth and Hannah, and have a nice time."

"I don't like that half as well as going with you and Laurie. Please let me. I've been sick with this cold so long, and shut up, I'm dying for some fun. Do, Meg! I'll be ever so good," pleaded Amy, looking as pathetic as she could.

"Suppose we take her. I don't believe Mother would mind, if we bundle her up well," began Meg.

"If she goes I shan't, and if I don't, Laurie won't like it, and it will be very rude, after he invited only us, to go and drag in Amy. I should think she'd hate to poke herself where she isn't wanted," said Jo crossly, for she disliked the trouble of overseeing a fidgety child when she wanted to enjoy herself.

Her tone and manner angered Amy, who began to put her boots on, saying, in her most aggravating way, "I shall go. Meg says I may, and if I pay for myself, Laurie hasn't anything to do with it."

"You can't sit with us, for our seats are reserved, and you mustn't sit alone, so Laurie will give you his place, and that will spoil our pleasure. Or he'll get another seat for you, and that isn't proper when you weren't asked. You shan't stir a step, so you may just stay where you are," scolded Jo, crosser than ever, having just pricked her finger in her hurry.

Sitting on the floor with one boot on, Amy began to cry and Meg to reason with her, when Laurie called from below, and the two girls hurried down, leaving their sister wailing. For now and then she forgot her grown-up ways and acted like a spoiled child. Just as the party was setting out, Amy called over the banisters in a threatening tone, "You'll be sorry for this, Jo March, see if you ain't."

"Fiddlesticks!" returned Jo, slamming the door.

They had a charming time, for The Seven Castles Of The Diamond Lake was as brilliant and wonderful as heart could wish. But in spite of the comical red imps, sparkling elves, and the gorgeous princes and princesses, Jo's pleasure had a drop of bitterness in it. The fairy queen's yellow curls reminded her of Amy, and between the acts she amused herself with wondering what her sister would do to make her 'sorry for it'. She and Amy had had many lively skirmishes in the course of their lives, for both had quick tempers and were apt to be violent when fairly roused. Amy teased Jo, and Jo irritated Amy, and semioccasional explosions occurred, of which both were much ashamed afterward. Although the oldest, Jo had the least self-control, and had hard times trying to curb the fiery spirit which was continually getting her into trouble. Her anger never lasted long, and having humbly confessed her fault, she sincerely repented and tried to do better. Her sisters used to say that they rather liked to get Jo into a fury because she was such an angel afterward. Poor Jo tried desperately to be good, but her bosom enemy was always ready to flame up and defeat her, and it took years of patient effort to subdue it.

When they got home, they found Amy reading in the parlor. She assumed an injured air as they came in, never lifted her eyes from her book, or asked a single question. Perhaps curiosity might have conquered resentment, if Beth had not been there to inquire and receive a glowing description of the play. On going up to put away her best hat, Jo's first look was toward the bureau, for in their last quarrel Amy had soothed her feelings by turning Jo's top drawer upside down on the floor. Everything was in its place, however, and after a hasty glance into her various closets, bags, and boxes, Jo decided that Amy had forgiven and forgotten her wrongs.

There Jo was mistaken, for next day she made a discovery which produced a tempest. Meg, Beth, and Amy were sitting together, late in the afternoon, when Jo burst into the room, looking excited and demanding breathlessly, "Has anyone taken my book?"

Meg and Beth said, "No." at once, and looked surprised. Amy poked the fire and said nothing. Jo saw her color rise and was down upon her in a minute.

"Amy, you've got it!"

"No, I haven't."

"You know where it is, then!"

"No, I don't."

"That's a fib!" cried Jo, taking her by the shoulders, and looking fierce enough to frighten a much braver child than Amy.

"It isn't. I haven't got it, don't know where it is now, and don't care."

"You know something about it, and you'd better tell at once, or I'll make you." And Jo gave her a slight shake.

"Scold as much as you like, you'll never see your silly old book again," cried Amy, getting excited in her turn.

"Why not?"

"I burned it up."

"What! My little book I was so fond of, and worked over, and meant to finish before Father got home? Have you really burned it?" said Jo, turning very pale, while her eyes kindled and her hands clutched Amy nervously.

"Yes, I did! I told you I'd make you pay for being so cross yesterday, and I have, so..."

Amy got no farther, for Jo's hot temper mastered her, and she shook Amy till her teeth chattered in her head, crying in a passion of grief and anger...

"You wicked, wicked girl! I never can write it again, and I'll never forgive you as long as I live."

Meg flew to rescue Amy, and Beth to pacify Jo, but Jo was quite beside herself, and with a parting box on her sister's ear, she rushed out of the room up to the old sofa in the garret, and finished her fight alone.

The storm cleared up below, for Mrs. March came home, and, having heard the story, soon brought Amy to a sense of the wrong she had done her sister. Jo's book was the pride of her heart, and was regarded by her family as a literary sprout of great promise. It was only half a dozen little fairy tales, but Jo had worked over them patiently, putting her whole heart into her work, hoping to make something good enough to print. She had just copied them with great care, and had destroyed the old manuscript, so that Amy's bonfire had consumed the loving work of several years. It seemed a small loss to others, but to Jo it was a dreadful calamity, and she felt that it never could be made up to her. Beth mourned as for a departed kitten, and Meg refused to defend her pet. Mrs. March looked grave and grieved, and Amy felt that no one would love her till she had asked pardon for the act which she now regretted more than any of them.

When the tea bell rang, Jo appeared, looking so grim and unapproachable that it took all Amy's courage to say meekly...

"Please forgive me, Jo. I'm very, very sorry."

"I never shall forgive you," was Jo's stern answer, and from that moment she ignored Amy entirely.

No one spoke of the great trouble, not even Mrs. March, for all had learned by experience that when Jo was in that mood words were wasted, and the wisest course was to wait till some little accident, or her own generous nature, softened Jo's resentment and healed the breach. It was not a happy evening, for though they sewed as usual, while their mother read aloud from Bremer, Scott, or Edgeworth, something was wanting, and the sweet home peace was disturbed. They felt this most when singing time came, for Beth could only play, Jo stood dumb as a stone, and Amy broke down, so Meg and Mother sang alone. But in spite of their efforts to be as cheery as larks, the flutelike voices did not seem to chord as well as usual, and all felt out of tune.

As Jo received her good-night kiss, Mrs. March whispered gently, "My dear, don't let the sun go down upon your anger. Forgive each other, help each other, and begin again tomorrow."

Jo wanted to lay her head down on that motherly bosom, and cry her grief and anger all away, but tears were an unmanly weakness, and she felt so deeply injured that she really couldn't quite forgive yet. So she winked hard, shook her head, and said gruffly because Amy was listening, "It was an abominable thing, and she doesn't deserve to be forgiven."

With that she marched off to bed, and there was no merry or confidential gossip that night.

Amy was much offended that her overtures of peace had been repulsed, and began to wish she had not humbled herself, to feel more injured than ever, and to plume herself on her superior virtue in a way which was particularly exasperating. Jo still looked like a thunder cloud, and nothing went well all day. It was bitter cold in the morning, she dropped her precious turnover in the gutter, Aunt March had an attack of the fidgets, Meg was sensitive, Beth would look grieved and wistful when she got home, and Amy kept making remarks about people who were always talking about being good and yet wouldn't even try when other people set them a virtuous example.

"Everybody is so hateful, I'll ask Laurie to go skating. He is always kind and jolly, and will put me to rights, I know," said Jo to herself, and off she went.

Amy heard the clash of skates, and looked out with an impatient exclamation.

"There! She promised I should go next time, for this is the last ice we shall have. But it's no use to ask such a crosspatch to take me."

"Don't say that. You were very naughty, and it is hard to forgive the loss of her precious little book, but I think she might do it now, and I guess she will, if you try her at the right minute," said Meg. "Go after them. Don't say anything till Jo has got good-natured with Laurie, than take a quiet minute and just kiss her, or do some kind thing, and I'm sure she'll be friends again with all her heart."

"I'll try," said Amy, for the advice suited her, and after a flurry to get ready, she ran after the friends, who were just disappearing over the hill.

It was not far to the river, but both were ready before Amy reached them. Jo saw her coming, and turned her back. Laurie did not see, for he was carefully skating along the shore, sounding the ice, for a warm spell had preceded the cold snap.

"I'll go on to the first bend, and see if it's all right before we begin to race," Amy heard him say, as he shot away, looking like a young Russian in his fur-trimmed coat and cap.

Jo heard Amy panting after her run, stamping her feet and blowing on her fingers as she tried to put her skates on, but Jo never turned and went slowly zigzagging down the river, taking a bitter, unhappy sort of satisfaction in her sister's troubles. She had cherished her anger till it grew strong and took possession of her, as evil thoughts and feelings always do unless cast out at once. As Laurie turned the bend, he shouted back...

"Keep near the shore. It isn't safe in the middle." Jo heard, but Amy was struggling to her feet and did not catch a word. Jo glanced over her shoulder, and the little demon she was harboring said in her ear...

"No matter whether she heard or not, let her take care of herself."

Laurie had vanished round the bend, Jo was just at the turn, and Amy, far behind, striking out toward the smoother ice in the middle of the river. For a minute Jo stood still with a strange feeling in her heart, then she resolved to go on, but something held and turned her round, just in time to see Amy throw up her hands and go down, with a sudden crash of rotten ice, the splash of water, and a cry that made Jo's heart stand still with fear. She tried to call Laurie, but her voice was gone. She tried to rush forward, but her feet seemed to have no strength in them, and for a second, she could only stand motionless, staring with a terror-stricken face at the little blue hood above the black water. Something rushed swiftly by her, and Laurie's voice cried out...

"Bring a rail. Quick, quick!"

How she did it, she never knew, but for the next few minutes she worked as if possessed, blindly obeying Laurie, who was quite self-possessed, and lying flat, held Amy up by his arm and hockey stick till Jo dragged a rail from the fence, and together they got the child out, more frightened than hurt.

"Now then, we must walk her home as fast as we can. Pile our things on her, while I get off these confounded skates," cried Laurie, wrapping his coat round Amy, and tugging away at the straps which never seemed so intricate before.

Shivering, dripping, and crying, they got Amy home, and after an exciting time of it, she fell asleep, rolled in blankets before a hot fire. During the bustle Jo had scarcely spoken but flown about, looking pale and wild, with her things half off, her dress torn, and her hands cut and bruised by ice and rails and refractory buckles. When Amy was comfortably asleep, the house quiet, and Mrs. March sitting by the bed, she called Jo to her and began to bind up the hurt hands.

"Are you sure she is safe?" whispered Jo, looking remorsefully at the golden head, which might have been swept away from her sight forever under the treacherous ice.

"Quite safe, dear. She is not hurt, and won't even take cold, I think, you were so sensible in covering and getting her home quickly," replied her mother cheerfully.

"Laurie did it all. I only let her go. Mother, if she should die, it would be my fault." And Jo dropped down beside the bed in a passion of penitent tears, telling all that had happened, bitterly condemning her hardness of heart, and sobbing out her gratitude for being spared the heavy punishment which might have come upon her.

"It's my dreadful temper! I try to cure it, I think I have, and then it breaks out worse than ever. Oh, Mother, what shall I do? What shall I do?" cried poor Jo, in despair.

"Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault," said Mrs. March, drawing the blowzy head to her shoulder and kissing the wet cheek so tenderly that Jo cried even harder.

"You don't know, you can't guess how bad it is! It seems as if I could do anything when I'm in a passion. I get so savage, I could hurt anyone and enjoy it. I'm afraid I shall do something dreadful some day, and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me. Oh, Mother, help me, do help me!"

"I will, my child, I will. Don't cry so bitterly, but remember this day, and resolve with all your soul that you will never know another like it. Jo, dear, we all have our temptations, some far greater than yours, and it often takes us all our lives to conquer them. You think your temper is the worst in the world, but mine used to be just like it."

"Yours, Mother? Why, you are never angry!" And for the moment Jo forgot remorse in surprise.

"I've been trying to cure it for forty years, and have only succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so."

The patience and the humility of the face she loved so well was a better lesson to Jo than the wisest lecture, the sharpest reproof. She felt comforted at once by the sympathy and confidence given her. The knowledge that her mother had a fault like hers, and tried to mend it, made her own easier to bear and strengthened her resolution to cure it, though forty years seemed rather a long time to watch and pray to a girl of fifteen.

"Mother, are you angry when you fold your lips tight together and go out of the room sometimes, when Aunt March scolds or people worry you?" asked Jo, feeling nearer and dearer to her mother than ever before.

"Yes, I've learned to check the hasty words that rise to my lips, and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away for a minute, and give myself a little shake for being so weak and wicked," answered Mrs. March with a sigh and a smile, as she smoothed and fastened up Jo's disheveled hair.

"How did you learn to keep still? That is what troubles me, for the sharp words fly out before I know what I'm about, and the more I say the worse I get, till it's a pleasure to hurt people's feelings and say dreadful things. Tell me how you do it, Marmee dear."

"My good mother used to help me..."

"As you do us..." interrupted Jo, with a grateful kiss.

"But I lost her when I was a little older than you are, and for years had to struggle on alone, for I was too proud to confess my weakness to anyone else. I had a hard time, Jo, and shed a good many bitter tears over my failures, for in spite of my efforts I never seemed to get on. Then your father came, and I was so happy that I found it easy to be good. But by-and-by, when I had four little daughters round me and we were poor, then the old trouble began again, for I am not patient by nature, and it tried me very much to see my children wanting anything."

"Poor Mother! What helped you then?"

"Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts or complains, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him. He helped and comforted me, and showed me that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess, for I was their example. It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own. A startled or surprised look from one of you when I spoke sharply rebuked me more than any words could have done, and the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy."

"Oh, Mother, if I'm ever half as good as you, I shall be satisfied," cried Jo, much touched.

"I hope you will be a great deal better, dear, but you must keep watch over your 'bosom enemy', as father calls it, or it may sadden, if not spoil your life. You have had a warning. Remember it, and try with heart and soul to master this quick temper, before it brings you greater sorrow and regret than you have known today."

"I will try, Mother, I truly will. But you must help me, remind me, and keep me from flying out. I used to see Father sometimes put his finger on his lips, and look at you with a very kind but sober face, and you always folded your lips tight and went away. Was he reminding you then?" asked Jo softly.

"Yes. I asked him to help me so, and he never forgot it, but saved me from many a sharp word by that little gesture and kind look."

Jo saw that her mother's eyes filled and her lips trembled as she spoke, and fearing that she had said too much, she whispered anxiously, "Was it wrong to watch you and to speak of it? I didn't mean to be rude, but it's so comfortable to say all I think to you, and feel so safe and happy here."

"My Jo, you may say anything to your mother, for it is my greatest happiness and pride to feel that my girls confide in me and know how much I love them."

"I thought I'd grieved you."

"No, dear, but speaking of Father reminded me how much I miss him, how much I owe him, and how faithfully I should watch and work to keep his little daughters safe and good for him."

"Yet you told him to go, Mother, and didn't cry when he went, and never complain now, or seem as if you needed any help," said Jo, wondering.

"I gave my best to the country I love, and kept my tears till he was gone. Why should I complain, when we both have merely done our duty and will surely be the happier for it in the end? If I don't seem to need help, it is because I have a better friend, even than Father, to comfort and sustain me. My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother."

Jo's only answer was to hold her mother close, and in the silence which followed the sincerest prayer she had ever prayed left her heart without words. For in that sad yet happy hour, she had learned not only the bitterness of remorse and despair, but the sweetness of self-denial and self-control, and led by her mother's hand, she had drawn nearer to the Friend who always welcomes every child with a love stronger than that of any father, tenderer than that of any mother.

Amy stirred and sighed in her sleep, and as if eager to begin at once to mend her fault, Jo looked up with an expression on her face which it had never worn before.

"I let the sun go down on my anger. I wouldn't forgive her, and today, if it hadn't been for Laurie, it might have been too late! How could I be so wicked?" said Jo, half aloud, as she leaned over her sister softly stroking the wet hair scattered on the pillow.

As if she heard, Amy opened her eyes, and held out her arms, with a smile that went straight to Jo's heart. Neither said a word, but they hugged one another close, in spite of the blankets, and everything was forgiven and forgotten in one hearty kiss.

 

第八章 乔遇上了恶魔

“姑娘们,你们上哪儿去?”这是一个星期六的下午,艾美走进房间,发现二位姐姐正准备悄悄溜出去,便好奇地问道。

“别管闲事。小姑娘不应该多嘴,”乔尖薄地回答。

如果有什么东西让我们年轻人伤心,那就是听到这种说话;如果我们听到"走开,亲爱的",那就更加难受。艾美听到这句刺心话发起怒来,决意即使纠缠一个小时也要弄清楚这个秘密。她转向一贯迁就她的梅格撒娇道:“告诉我吧!我知道你们会让我一起去的,因为贝思光顾着弹钢琴,我无事可干,这么孤单。”“不行,亲爱的,因为没有邀请你,”梅格开口了。

但乔不耐烦地打断她:“嘿,梅格,别说了,不然你会把事情弄糟。你不能去,艾美,别像个三岁小孩,嘀嘀咕咕的。”“你们要和劳里一起出去,我知道是这样;你们昨晚在沙发上又说又笑,见我进来就不做声了。你们是不是跟他去?”“对,是跟他去;现在别做声了,不要缠着我们。”艾美住了嘴,但眼睛却在观察,她看到梅格把一把扇子塞进衣袋里。

“我知道了!我知道了!你们要上剧院看《七个城堡》!”她喊道,接着又坚决地说,”我要去,妈妈说这出戏我可以看;再说我也有钱。你们不早点告诉我,可真够卑鄙。”“乖乖听我说吧,”梅格安慰道,”妈妈不想你这个星期去,因为你眼睛还没有完全恢复,不能受这个童话剧的灯光刺激。

下星期你可以跟贝思和罕娜去,玩得痛痛快快。”“那怎么比得上跟你们和劳里一起去有意思。让我去吧。

我感冒病了这么久,老关在家里,想出去玩都想得发疯了。让我去吧,梅格!我一定乖乖听话,”艾美请求道,一副楚楚可怜的样子。

“假如我们带她去,只要帮她穿暖和点,我想妈妈也不会生气,”梅格说。

“如果她去我就不去;如果我不去,劳里就会不高兴;这样很不礼貌,他原只请了我们两人,我们却非要拉上艾美。她该识趣一点,不要涉足自己不受欢迎的地方,”乔生气地说。

她想痛痛快快看场戏,不愿费神看管一个坐立不宁的孩子。

她的声调和神态激怒了艾美,她开始穿上靴子,用最使人恼火的口吻说:“我就是要去,梅格都说我可以去;如果我自个儿付钱,这事就与劳里不相干。”“你不能和我们一起坐,因为我们的座位是预定的。而你又不能一个人坐,那么劳里就会把他的位子让给你,这就扫了大家的兴;要不他就会另外给你找个座位,这也不合适,因为人家原来并没有请你。你一步也别动,好生呆着吧,”乔责备着,匆忙中她把手指扎伤了,更加生气。

艾美穿着一只靴子坐在地上,放声大哭,梅格好言相劝,这时劳里在下面叫她们,两位姑娘赶忙下楼,留下妹妹在那里嚎啕大哭;这位妹妹有时会忘掉自己的大人风度,表现得像个宠坏了的孩子。就在这班人正要出发之际,艾美倚在楼梯扶手上用威胁的声调叫道:“你一定会后悔的,乔•马奇,走着瞧吧!”“废话!“乔回敬道,砰的一声关上门。

《钻石湖的七个城堡》精彩绝伦,那天他们度过了一段十分迷人的时光。不过,尽管红色小魔鬼滑稽趣怪,小精灵熠熠生辉,王子公主羡煞神仙,乔的快乐心情却总是夹杂着一丝歉意:看到美若天仙的王后一头黄色鬈发,她便想到艾美,幕间休息时便猜测艾美会采取什么行动来令她"后悔"。到底会采取什么行动呢?她和艾美在生活中发生过多次小冲突,两人都是急性子,惹急了都会发怒。艾美挑逗乔,乔激怒艾美,凡此种种,纠缠不清,极偶然便会爆发出雷霆风暴,事后两人都追悔不已。乔虽然年长,却最不善于控制自己。她的刚烈性格屡屡使她惹祸上身,她为了驾驭这匹脱缰野马吃了不少苦头,她的怒气总是消得很快,一待乖乖地认了错,她便诚心悔改,努力补偿。她的姐妹们常说她们到挺喜欢把乔逗得勃然大怒,因为狂风骤雨之后她便成了无比温顺的天使。可怜的乔拼尽全力要做个好孩子,但深藏心中的敌人总是随时跳出来,把她打倒。经过数年的耐心努力之后,这匹野马才被征服。

回到家时,她们看到艾美在客厅读书。她们进来的时候她装出一副受伤的神情,看着书眼也不抬,也不问一句话。若非贝思在那里问长问短,听两位姐姐热情洋溢地把话剧描绘一番,艾美也许就会顾不得怨恨,自己也去问个明白了。乔上楼去放她自己最好的帽子时,首先望望衣柜,因为上次吵架后艾美把乔的顶层抽屉底朝天倒翻地上,借以出气。幸好,一切都原封不动。匆匆扫一眼自己各式各样的衣橱、袋子、箱子等物后,乔自信艾美已原谅了自己,忘记了她的过错。

乔这回可想错了。第二天她发现少了一样东西,于是一场狂风骤雨倾然爆发。傍晚时分,梅格、贝思和艾美正坐在一处,乔冲入房间,神情激动,气喘吁吁地问道:“有人拿了我的书没有?”梅格和贝思马上答:“没有,”觉得十分惊讶。艾美捅捅火苗,一言不发。乔发现她马上脸色飞红,好一会才恢复常态。

“艾美,你拿了!”

“不,我没拿。”

“起码你知道书在哪里!”

“不,我不知道。”

“撒谎!”乔嚷道,两手抓住她的肩膀,神态凶猛,足以吓倒一个比艾美更大胆的孩子。

“这不是谎话。我没拿,我不知道它在什么地方,也不想知道。”“你一定心中有数,最好马上讲出来,否则就让你尝尝我的厉害。”乔轻轻摇了她一下。

“你爱骂就骂个够吧,你永远也不会看到你那本无聊的旧书了,”艾美叫道,也激动起来。

“为什么?”

“我把它烧掉了。”

“什么!我最最心爱的小书,我呕心沥血想赶在爸爸回家前写完的小书?你真的把它烧掉了吗?”乔问道,脸色变得灰白,双目炯炯,两手神经质地把艾美抓得紧紧。

“对,烧掉了!你昨天对我发脾气,我说过要让你后悔的,我这样做了,所以——"艾美不敢往下再说,因为乔早已怒发冲冠,她狠劲猛摇艾美,把她弄得牙齿在脑袋里头格格作响,一面悲愤交加地大叫道——“你这个狠心、歹毒的女孩!我再也写不出这样的书来,我这辈子都不会原谅你!”梅格飞身上前营救艾美,贝思则赶忙上来安抚乔,但乔仍然怒不可遏,她给妹妹一记耳光作为临别纪念,冲出房间,跑上阁楼,坐在那张旧沙发上,独个结束这场战斗。

楼下的风暴已开始停息。马奇太太回来听到这事后,三言两语便使艾美认识到自己做了伤害姐姐的错事。乔的书是她心中的骄傲,被一家人视为极有前途的文学萌芽。书里只写了六个神话小故事,但却是乔耐心耕耘所得。她把全身心投入工作,希望写好后能够出版。她刚刚小心翼翼地把故事抄好,并毁掉了草稿,因此艾美的一把火便把她数年的心血毁于一旦。这对于别人来说可能是个小损失,但对乔却是灭顶之灾,她觉得无论怎样补救都无济于事。贝思犹如死掉了一只小猫咪一样沉痛哀悼,梅格拒绝为自己的宠儿说话;马奇太太神情严峻,伤心万分,艾美后悔不迭,心想如果自己不向乔道歉,就再也没有人爱她了。

喝茶的铃声响起时,乔露脸了,冷冰冰地板着脸,不瞅不睬,艾美鼓足勇气,细声细气地说道——“原谅我吧,乔,我非常、非常抱歉。”“我绝不会原谅你!”乔硬邦邦地抛出一句。从那一刻起她完全不再理会艾美。

大家对这件不幸的事情绝口不提——连马奇太太也不例外——因为大家得出一条经验,但凡乔情绪如此低落,说什么都没有用,最明智的办法是等一些偶然的小事或她本身宽容的天性来化解怨恨,治愈创伤。这天晚上虽然她们如常一样做针线活,母亲照样朗读布雷默、司各特、埃奇沃思的文章,但气氛总是不对劲儿,大家毫无心情,原来甜蜜、温馨的家庭生活泛起了波澜。到了唱歌时间,大家的感觉更加难受,贝思只是默默抚琴,乔呆立一旁,活像个石头人,艾美失声痛哭,只剩下梅格和母亲孤军作战。但是,虽然她们力图唱得像云雀一样轻快,银铃般的嗓音已失去往日的和谐,全都走音走调。

当乔接受晚安吻别时,马奇太太柔声低语道:“亲爱的,别让愤怒的乌云遮住了太阳;互相原谅,互相帮助,明天再重新开始。”乔想把头伏在母亲怀里,哭去一切悲伤和愤怒;但男儿有泪不轻弹,而且,她觉得受到的伤害是如此之深,一时实在不能原谅。因此她拼命眨巴着眼睛,摇摇头,因为知道艾美在一旁听着,于是硬绷绷地说:“这种事情卑鄙之极,她罪不可耍"言毕她大步走回寝室。那个晚上姐妹们没有说笑,也没有讲悄悄话。

艾美因自己主动求和而遭严厉拒绝,不禁恼羞成怒,她后悔自己太低声下气,觉得自己受到了前所未有的伤害,于是更故意摆出一副高姿态,令人十分恼火。乔的脸上依然阴云密布,这一天事情全出了岔儿。早晨寒风飕飕;乔把卷饼掉落沟里,马奇婶婶大发脾气,梅格郁郁寡欢,贝思在家里总是一副伤感而心事重重的样子,艾美则大发宏论,批评某些人口里常说要做好孩子,现在人家已为他们树立了榜样了,却又不愿去做。

“这些人个个如此可恨,我要叫劳里溜冰去。他心地善良,幽默风趣,一定会使我恢复情绪的,”乔心里说着,便走了出去。

艾美听到溜冰鞋发出的响声,向外一望,急得大叫起来。

“瞧!她答应过下次带我去,因为这是最后一个冰期了,但叫这么个火爆性子带上我,也等于白说。”“别这样说。你也确实太淘气了。你烧掉了她的宝贝书稿,要她原谅可不那么容易;不过我想现在她或许会这样做的,只要你在适当的时候试探她,我想她会心软的,”梅格说,”跟着他们;什么也别说,单等乔跟劳里玩得情绪好转了,你才静静上前去给她一吻,或是做些什么讨人喜欢的事情。我敢说她会全心全意再做朋友的。”“我一定努力,”艾美说,觉得这个忠告正中下怀。她一阵风似地收拾一番,向他们追出去,两位朋友正渐行渐远,身影逐渐消失在山的那面。

这里离河不远,两人在艾美来到前已做好准备。乔看到她走来,转过身去。劳里却没有看见,他正小心翼翼地沿岸滑行,探测冰块的声音,因为刚才冰川雪地之间袭来一股暖流。

“我去第一个弯口看看情况,没有问题我们再开始竞赛。”艾美听他说完,就见他如离弦之箭飞驰而去,一身毛边大衣和暖帽衬得他活脱脱像个俄罗斯小伙子。

乔听到艾美跑得生气喘吁吁,一面跺脚,一面吹着手指,试图把溜冰鞋穿上去,但乔就是不回头,而是沿河慢慢作之字形行走,心里对妹妹遇到的麻烦感到一种苦涩和不安的快意。

她一腔怒火早窝在胸中,渐积渐深,已使她失去了理智,这好比邪恶的想法和感情一样,如不立即发泄,必成祸患。劳里在弯口转弯时,回头大声喊道——“靠岸边走,中间不安全。”乔听到了,但艾美正使着劲儿穿鞋,一个字也没有听到。

乔转头望了一眼,藏在心里的小魔鬼在她耳边使劲唤道——“不论她有没有听到,让她自己照顾自己吧!”劳里绕过弯口消失了身影,乔来到弯口边,远远跟在后面的艾美正迈步向河中间较为平滑的冰面走去。乔呆立了一会,她心中升起一种奇怪的感觉;接着她决定继续向前走,但一种莫名的感觉使她停下脚步,转过身来,正好看见艾美举起双手,身子往下跌,破裂的冰块突然嘎嚓一响,水花四溅,同时传来一声尖叫,吓得乔心脏都几乎停止了跳动。她想叫劳里,声音却不听使唤;她想冲上前去,但双脚却疲软无力;有一小会儿功夫,她只能一动不动地呆立着,死死盯着黑色冰面上那顶小蓝帽,惊恐得脸上变了颜色。这时,一个身影从她身边疾驰而过,只听劳里大声喊道——“拿根横杆来。快,快!”她不知道自己是怎样做的,但接下来的几分钟她犹如着了魔一样,盲目听从劳里吩咐。劳里相当镇静,他平卧下去,用手臂和曲棍球棒拉起艾美,乔从栅栏拔出一根栏杆,两人齐心合力,把艾美弄了出来。艾美伤势不重,只是这一惊非同小可。

“来吧,我们得赶快把她送回家;把我们的衣服披在她身上,待我把讨厌的溜冰鞋脱掉,”劳里边叫边使劲扯开衣带,用自己的大衣裹住艾美。

两人打着冷颤送艾美回家,水珠儿泪珠儿一起往下滴。一阵手忙脚乱之后,艾美裹着毛毯在暖和的炉火前睡着了。乔由始至终几乎一言不发,只是团团乱转,脸色苍白,衣饰凌乱不堪,裙子撕破了,双手被冰块、栅栏和坚硬的衣扣刮得肿起了青块。当艾美舒舒服服地睡着了,屋里也安静下来之后,马奇太太坐在床边,把乔叫过来,给她包扎弄伤了的双手。

“您肯定她没有事吗?”乔悄声问道,悔恨交加地望着那个险些在惊险的冰层下永远从她视线中消失的金发脑袋。

“没有事,亲爱的。她没有受伤,我想也不会患上感冒,你用衣服包着她,把她立即送回家,十分明智哩,”母亲舒心地答道。

“这些都是劳里做的。我当时只是生死由她。妈妈,如果她会死,那就是我的错。”乔痛悔不已,涕泪交流,重重坐在床边,把事情经过讲述一遍,痛责自己当时心肠太狠,呜呜咽咽地说自己差一点受到严厉的惩罚,幸亏事情化险为夷,着实谢天谢地。

“都怪我的坏性子!我想努力把它改好;我以为已经改好了,谁知发作起来,越发不可收拾。噢,妈妈,我该怎么办?

我该怎么办?”可怜的乔绝望地叫道。

“提防和祈祷吧,亲爱的,千万不要气馁,千万不要以为你的缺点不可征服,“马奇太太说着,把乔头发蓬乱的脑袋靠在自己肩上,无限温柔地吻吻她湿漉漉的脸颊,乔哭得越发伤心。

“您不知道,您想象不出我性子有多坏!我发火时似乎可以无所不为;我变得毫无人性,可以做出伤害别人的事,而且还乐在其中。我担心有一天我会做出可怕的事情,毁掉自己的一生,使天下人都憎恨我。噢,妈妈,帮帮我吧,千万帮帮我!”“我会的,孩子,我会的。别哭得这么伤心,但要记住这一天,并且要痛下决心不再让这种事情重演。乔,亲爱的,我们都会遇到诱惑,有些甚至比这种大得多,我们常常要用一生时间来征服它们。你以为自己的脾气是天下最坏的了,但我的脾气以前就跟你的一模一样。”“您有脾气,妈妈?您从来都不生气啊!”乔惊讶得暂时忘掉了悔恨。

“我努力改了四十年,现在才刚刚控制祝我过去几乎每天都生气,乔,但我学会了不把它表露出来;我还希望学会不把它感觉出来,虽然可能又得花上四十年的功夫。”她深爱的母亲的脸孔流露出一种忍耐和谦卑,乔觉得这比最振振有词的训导和最严厉的斥责都更有说服力。母亲的安慰和信任使她心里好受多了;知道自己的母亲也有照自己一样的缺点,并且努力改正,她觉得自己更要下决心改正过来,虽然四十年对于一个十五岁的少女来说似乎相当漫长。

“妈妈,当马奇婶婶责骂您或有人烦扰您时,您有时紧闭双唇走出屋外,那是不是在生气?”乔问道,觉得自己跟妈妈比以往更加亲近了。

“是的,我学会了收住冲到嘴边的气话,每当我觉得这些话要违背意志冲口而出时,我就走开一会,为自己的暴躁作反省,让心情平伏下来,”马奇太太叹口气,笑了笑,边说边把乔散乱的头发理扎好。

“您是怎样学会保持冷静的?我正是为此饱受折磨——刻薄话总是趁我还没反应过来就飞出嘴巴,说得越多,就越是口不择言,最后终于恶语伤人,方觉痛快。告诉我您是怎样做的,亲爱的妈咪。”“我的好妈妈过去总是帮我——”“就像您帮我们一样——"乔插嘴说道,感激地献上一吻。

“但我在比你稍大一点的时候便失去了她。我自尊心极强,不愿在别人面前暴露弱点,因此多年来只能独自挣扎。我失败过许多次,乔,并为此洒下无数痛苦的泪水,因为尽管我非常努力,但似乎总是毫无进展。后来你父亲出现了,我沉浸在幸福之中,发现做好并非难事。但后来,当我膝下有了四个小女儿,家道中落时,老毛病又犯了,因为我天生缺乏耐性,看到自己的孩子缺衣少食,心里便煎熬得厉害。”“可怜的妈妈!那么是什么帮助了您?”“你父亲,乔。他从不失去耐心——从不怀疑,从不怨天尤人——而是乐观地企盼、工作和等待,我只有向他学习,才不至自惭形秽。他帮助我,安慰我,让我知道如果我想自己的小姑娘拥有高尚的道德,自己就要言传身教,因为我就是她们的榜样。想到为你们努力,而不是为自己,事情就变得简单了;每当我言语粗暴,你们向我投来又惊又骇的目光时,我便感到羞愧难当;我努力以身作则,赢得了自己孩子的爱、尊敬和信任,这就是最美好的报偿。”“呵,妈妈,如果我及得上您一半,就心满意足了,“乔深受感动地说道。

“我希望你会做得比我更好,亲爱的,但你得时时提防你''藏在心中的敌人'',正如你爸爸所说,不然,即使它没有毁掉你一生,也会使你终身痛苦。你已经得到了教训;要把它牢记在心头,竭尽全力控制自己的暴躁脾气,以免酿成更大的悲剧,令自己抱憾终身。”“我一定努力,妈妈,真的。但您得帮助我,提醒我,防止我乱发脾气。我以前看见爸爸有时用手指按住双唇,用异常亲切而严肃的眼光望着您,您便紧咬嘴唇,或是走出门去:他这样是不是在提醒您?”乔轻轻问道。

“是的。我叫他这样帮助我,他也从来没有忘记。看到那个小小的手势和亲切的目光,我的脾气便发不出来了。”乔看到母亲一双眼睛泪水晶莹,讲话时嘴唇轻轻颤动,担心自己说得太多了,便赶紧轻声问道:“我这样望着您,跟您谈这个问题合适吗?我并非有意冒犯您,可是跟您诉说心事我就觉得非常畅快,坐在这里我就感到又安全又幸福。”“我的乔,你可以向母亲倾诉衷肠。我的女儿向我诉说心里话,并明白我是多么爱她们,这对我是最可喜最可骄傲的事情。”“我以为自己使您伤心了呢?”“不,亲爱的;只是谈起父亲,我便想到自己多么想念他,多么感激他,多么应该忠实地为他照看他的四个小女儿,使她们生活得平安幸福。“但是您却叫他上前线去,妈妈,他走时您没掉眼泪,现在也从不埋怨,似乎您从不需要帮助,”乔不解地说。

“我把自己最美好的东西献给我心爱的祖国,一直到他走后才让眼泪流出来。我为何要埋怨呢?我们两人只是为祖国尽了自己应尽的责任而已,而且最终一定会因此而更加幸福。

我似乎不需要帮助,那是因为我有一个比父亲更好的朋友在安慰我,支持我。孩子,你生活中的烦恼和诱惑正开始露头,而且可能还会有许多,但只要你感受到天父的力量和仁爱,正如你感受到你平凡的父爱一样,你就能战胜它们,超越它们。你对天父之爱越深,信任越大,你就觉得与他越接近,受世俗的束缚就越校天父的慈爱和关怀旷日持久,永远与你同在,它是人生和平、幸福和力量的源泉。坚守这个信念,向上帝尽情倾诉自己的种种苦恼、希望、悲伤和罪过吧,就像你向妈妈倾诉一样。”乔紧紧拥抱着母亲,无限热诚地默默祈祷,此后心中一片宁静;在那既悲又喜的时刻,她不但咀嚼到悔恨绝望的痛苦滋味,也尝到了自我否认和自我控制的甜蜜感受;天父对儿童的爱胜似天底下任何父母,在母亲的带领下,她与这位"朋友"靠得更近了。

艾美在睡梦中动了动身子,叹了一口气,乔旋即抬头望去,脸上露出一种从未有过的表情,似乎恨不得马上弥补过错。

“我在气头上让乌云遮住了太阳,不愿原谅她,今天,如果不是劳里,一切都会太迟了!我怎么可以这样邪恶?”乔说出声来,俯身看着妹妹,轻轻抚摸着披散在枕上的湿发。

艾美好像听到了话声,她睁开眼睛,伸出双臂,向乔一笑,令乔铭心刻骨。两人一言不发,只是隔着毯子紧紧拥抱在一起。在衷心一吻之下,所有恩怨全都烟消云散。




CHAPTER NINE MEG GOES TO VANITY FAIR

"I do think it was the most fortunate thing in the world that those children should have the measles just now," said Meg, one April day, as she stood packing the 'go abroady' trunk in her room, surrounded by her sisters.

"And so nice of Annie Moffat not to forget her promise. A whole fortnight of fun will be regularly splendid," replied Jo, looking like a windmill as she folded skirts with her long arms.

"And such lovely weather, I'm so glad of that," added Beth, tidily sorting neck and hair ribbons in her best box, lent for the great occasion.

"I wish I was going to have a fine time and wear all these nice things," said Amy with her mouth full of pins, as she artistically replenished her sister's cushion.

"I wish you were all going, but as you can't, I shall keep my adventures to tell you when I come back. I'm sure it's the least I can do when you have been so kind, lending me things and helping me get ready," said Meg, glancing round the room at the very simple outfit, which seemed nearly perfect in their eyes.

"What did Mother give you out of the treasure box?" asked Amy, who had not been present at the opening of a certain cedar chest in which Mrs. March kept a few relics of past splendor, as gifts for her girls when the proper time came.

"A pair of silk stockings, that pretty carved fan, and a lovely blue sash. I wanted the violet silk, but there isn't time to make it over, so I must be contented with my old tarlaton."

"It will look nice over my new muslin skirt, and the sash will set it off beautifully. I wish I hadn't smashed my coral bracelet, for you might have had it," said Jo, who loved to give and lend, but whose possessions were usually too dilapidated to be of much use.

"There is a lovely old-fashioned pearl set in the treasure chest, but Mother said real flowers were the prettiest ornament for a young girl, and Laurie promised to send me all I want," replied Meg. "Now, let me see, there's my new gray walking suit, just curl up the feather in my hat, Beth, then my poplin for Sunday and the small party, it looks heavy for spring, doesn't it? The violet silk would be so nice. Oh, dear!"

"Never mind, you've got the tarlaton for the big party, and you always look like an angel in white," said Amy, brooding over the little store of finery in which her soul delighted.

"It isn't low-necked, and it doesn't sweep enough, but it will have to do. My blue housedress looks so well, turned and freshly trimmed, that I feel as if I'd got a new one. My silk sacque isn't a bit the fashion, and my bonnet doesn't look like Sallie's. I didn't like to say anything, but I was sadly disappointed in my umbrella. I told Mother black with a white handle, but she forgot and bought a green one with a yellowish handle. It's strong and neat, so I ought not to complain, but I know I shall feel ashamed of it beside Annie's silk one with a gold top," sighed Meg, surveying the little umbrella with great disfavor.

"Change it," advised Jo.

"I won't be so silly, or hurt Marmee's feelings, when she took so much pains to get my things. It's a nonsensical notion of mine, and I'm not going to give up to it. My silk stockings and two pairs of new gloves are my comfort. You are a dear to lend me yours, Jo. I feel so rich and sort of elegant, with two new pairs, and the old ones cleaned up for common." And Meg took a refreshing peep at her glove box.

"Annie Moffat has blue and pink bows on her nightcaps. Would you put some on mine?" she asked, as Beth brought up a pile of snowy muslins, fresh from Hannah's hands.

"No, I wouldn't, for the smart caps won't match the plain gowns without any trimming on them. Poor folks shouldn't rig," said Jo decidedly.

"I wonder if I shall ever be happy enough to have real lace on my clothes and bows on my caps?" said Meg impatiently.

"You said the other day that you'd be perfectly happy if you could only go to Annie Moffat's," observed Beth in her quiet way.

"So I did! Well, I am happy, and I won't fret, but it does seem as if the more one gets the more one wants, doesn't it? There now, the trays are ready, and everything in but my ball dress, which I shall leave for Mother to pack," said Meg, cheering up, as she glanced from the half-filled trunk to the many times pressed and mended white tarlaton, which she called her 'ball dress' with an important air.

The next day was fine, and Meg departed in style for a fortnight of novelty and pleasure. Mrs. March had consented to the visit rather reluctantly, fearing that Margaret would come back more discontented than she went. But she begged so hard, and Sallie had promised to take good care of her, and a little pleasure seemed so delightful after a winter of irksome work that the mother yielded, and the daughter went to take her first taste of fashionable life.

The Moffats were very fashionable, and simple Meg was rather daunted, at first, by the splendor of the house and the elegance of its occupants. But they were kindly people, in spite of the frivolous life they led, and soon put their guest at her ease. Perhaps Meg felt, without understanding why, that they were not particularly cultivated or intelligent people, and that all their gilding could not quite conceal the ordinary material of which they were made. It certainly was agreeable to fare sumptuously, drive in a fine carriage, wear her best frock every day, and do nothing but enjoy herself. It suited her exactly, and soon she began to imitate the manners and conversation of those about her, to put on little airs and graces, use French phrases, crimp her hair, take in her dresses, and talk about the fashions as well as she could. The more she saw of Annie Moffat's pretty things, the more she envied her and sighed to be rich. Home now looked bare and dismal as she thought of it, work grew harder than ever, and she felt that she was a very destitute and much-injured girl, in spite of the new gloves and silk stockings.

She had not much time for repining, however, for the three young girls were busily employed in 'having a good time'. They shopped, walked, rode, and called all day, went to theaters and operas or frolicked at home in the evening, for Annie had many friends and knew how to entertain them. Her older sisters were very fine young ladies, and one was engaged, which was extremely interesting and romantic, Meg thought. Mr. Moffat was a fat, jolly old gentleman, who knew her father, and Mrs. Moffat, a fat, jolly old lady, who took as great a fancy to Meg as her daughter had done. Everyone petted her, and 'Daisey', as they called her, was in a fair way to have her head turned.

When the evening for the small party came, she found that the poplin wouldn't do at all, for the other girls were putting on thin dresses and making themselves very fine indeed. So out came the tarlatan, looking older, limper, and shabbier than ever beside Sallie's crisp new one. Meg saw the girls glance at it and then at one another, and her cheeks began to burn, for with all her gentleness she was very proud. No one said a word about it, but Sallie offered to dress her hair, and Annie to tie her sash, and Belle, the engaged sister, praised her white arms. But in their kindness Meg saw only pity for her poverty, and her heart felt very heavy as she stood by herself, while the others laughed, chattered, and flew about like gauzy butterflies. The hard, bitter feeling was getting pretty bad, when the maid brought in a box of flowers. Before she could speak, Annie had the cover off, and all were exclaiming at the lovely roses, heath, and fern within.

"It's for Belle, of course, George always sends her some, but these are altogether ravishing," cried Annie, with a great sniff.

"They are for Miss March, the man said. And here's a note," put in the maid, holding it to Meg.

"What fun! Who are they from? Didn't know you had a lover," cried the girls, fluttering about Meg in a high state of curiosity and surprise.

"The note is from Mother, and the flowers from Laurie," said Meg simply, yet much gratified that he had not forgotten her.

"Oh, indeed!" said Annie with a funny look, as Meg slipped the note into her pocket as a sort of talisman against envy, vanity, and false pride, for the few loving words had done her good, and the flowers cheered her up by their beauty.

Feeling almost happy again, she laid by a few ferns and roses for herself, and quickly made up the rest in dainty bouquets for the breasts, hair, or skirts of her friends, offering them so prettily that Clara, the elder sister, told her she was 'the sweetest little thing she ever saw', and they looked quite charmed with her small attention. Somehow the kind act finished her despondency, and when all the rest went to show themselves to Mrs. Moffat, she saw a happy, bright-eyed face in the mirror, as she laid her ferns against her rippling hair and fastened the roses in the dress that didn't strike her as so very shabby now.

She enjoyed herself very much that evening, for she danced to her heart's content. Everyone was very kind, and she had three compliments. Annie made her sing, and some one said she had a remarkably fine voice. Major Lincoln asked who 'the fresh little girl with the beautiful eyes' was, and Mr. Moffat insisted on dancing with her because she 'didn't dawdle, but had some spring in her', as he gracefully expressed it. So altogether she had a very nice time, till she overheard a bit of conversation, which disturbed her extremely. She was sitting just inside the conservatory, waiting for her partner to bring her an ice, when she heard a voice ask on the other side of the flowery wall...

"How old is he?"

"Sixteen or seventeen, I should say," replied another voice.

"It would be a grand thing for one of those girls, wouldn't it? Sallie says they are very intimate now, and the old man quite dotes on them."

"Mrs. M. has made her plans, I dare say, and will play her cards well, early as it is. The girl evidently doesn't think of it yet," said Mrs. Moffat.

"She told that fib about her momma, as if she did know, and colored up when the flowers came quite prettily. Poor thing! She'd be so nice if she was only got up in style. Do you think she'd be offended if we offered to lend her a dress for Thursday?" asked another voice.

"She's proud, but I don't believe she'd mind, for that dowdy tarlaton is all she has got. She may tear it tonight, and that will be a good excuse for offering a decent one."

Here Meg's partner appeared, to find her looking much flushed and rather agitated. She was proud, and her pride was useful just then, for it helped her hide her mortification, anger, and disgust at what she had just heard. For, innocent and unsuspicious as she was, she could not help understanding the gossip of her friends. She tried to forget it, but could not, and kept repeating to herself, "Mrs. M. has made her plans," "that fib about her mamma," and "dowdy tarlaton," till she was ready to cry and rush home to tell her troubles and ask for advice. As that was impossible, she did her best to seem gay, and being rather excited, she succeeded so well that no one dreamed what an effort she was making. She was very glad when it was all over and she was quiet in her bed, where she could think and wonder and fume till her head ached and her hot cheeks were cooled by a few natural tears. Those foolish, yet well meant words, had opened a new world to Meg, and much disturbed the peace of the old one in which till now she had lived as happily as a child. Her innocent friendship with Laurie was spoiled by the silly speeches she had overheard. Her faith in her mother was a little shaken by the worldly plans attributed to her by Mrs. Moffat, who judged others by herself, and the sensible resolution to be contented with the simple wardrobe which suited a poor man's daughter was weakened by the unnecessary pity of girls who thought a shabby dress one of the greatest calamities under heaven.

Poor Meg had a restless night, and got up heavy-eyed, unhappy, half resentful toward her friends, and half ashamed of herself for not speaking out frankly and setting everything right. Everybody dawdled that morning, and it was noon before the girls found energy enough even to take up their worsted work. Something in the manner of her friends struck Meg at once. They treated her with more respect, she thought, took quite a tender interest in what she said, and looked at her with eyes that plainly betrayed curiosity. All this surprised and flattered her, though she did not understand it till Miss Belle looked up from her writing, and said, with a sentimental air...

"Daisy, dear, I've sent an invitation to your friend, Mr. Laurence, for Thursday. We should like to know him, and it's only a proper compliment to you."

Meg colored, but a mischievous fancy to tease the girls made her reply demurely, "You are very kind, but I'm afraid he won't come."

"Why not, Cherie?" asked Miss Belle.

"He's too old."

"My child, what do you mean? What is his age, I beg to know!" cried Miss Clara.

"Nearly seventy, I believe," answered Meg, counting stitches to hide the merriment in her eyes.

"You sly creature! Of course we meant the young man," exclaimed Miss Belle, laughing.

"There isn't any, Laurie is only a little boy." And Meg laughed also at the queer look which the sisters exchanged as she thus described her supposed lover.

"About your age," Nan said.

"Nearer my sister Jo's; I am seventeen in August," returned Meg, tossing her head.

"It's very nice of him to send you flowers, isn't it?" said Annie, looking wise about nothing.

"Yes, he often does, to all of us, for their house is full, and we are so fond of them. My mother and old Mr. Laurence are friends, you know, so it is quite natural that we children should play together," and Meg hoped they would say no more.

"It's evident Daisy isn't out yet," said Miss Clara to Belle with a nod.

"Quite a pastoral state of innocence all round," returned Miss Belle with a shrug.

"I'm going out to get some little matters for my girls. Can I do anything for you, young ladies?" asked Mrs. Moffat, lumbering in like an elephant in silk and lace.

"No, thank you, ma'am," replied Sallie. "I've got my new pink silk for Thursday and don't want a thing."

"Nor I..." began Meg, but stopped because it occurred to her that she did want several things and could not have them.

"What shall you wear?" asked Sallie.

"My old white one again, if I can mend it fit to be seen, it got sadly torn last night," said Meg, trying to speak quite easily, but feeling very uncomfortable.

"Why don't you send home for another?" said Sallie, who was not an observing young lady.

"I haven't got any other." It cost Meg an effort to say that, but Sallie did not see it and exclaimed in amiable surprise, "Only that? How funny..." She did not finish her speech, for Belle shook her head at her and broke in, saying kindly...

"Not at all. Where is the use of having a lot of dresses when she isn't out yet? There's no need of sending home, Daisy, even if you had a dozen, for I've got a sweet blue silk laid away, which I've outgrown, and you shall wear it to please me, won't you, dear?"

"You are very kind, but I don't mind my old dress if you don't, it does well enough for a little girl like me," said Meg.

"Now do let me please myself by dressing you up in style. I admire to do it, and you'd be a regular little beauty with a touch here and there. I shan't let anyone see you till you are done, and then we'll burst upon them like Cinderella and her godmother going to the ball," said Belle in her persuasive tone.

Meg couldn't refuse the offer so kindly made, for a desire to see if she would be 'a little beauty' after touching up caused her to accept and forget all her former uncomfortable feelings toward the Moffats.

On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid, and between them they turned Meg into a fine lady. They crimped and curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some fragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve to make them redder, and Hortense would have added 'a soupcon of rouge', if Meg had not rebelled. They laced her into a sky-blue dress, which was so tight she could hardly breathe and so low in the neck that modest Meg blushed at herself in the mirror. A set of silver filagree was added, bracelets, necklace, brooch, and even earrings, for Hortense tied them on with a bit of pink silk which did not show. A cluster of tea-rose buds at the bosom, and a ruche, reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty, white shoulders, and a pair of high-heeled silk boots satisfied the last wish of her heart. A lace handkerchief, a plumy fan, and a bouquet in a shoulder holder finished her off, and Miss Belle surveyed her with the satisfaction of a little girl with a newly dressed doll.

"Mademoiselle is charmante, tres jolie, is she not?" cried Hortense, clasping her hands in an affected rapture.

"Come and show yourself," said Miss Belle, leading the way to the room where the others were waiting.

As Meg went rustling after, with her long skirts trailing, her earrings tinkling, her curls waving, and her heart beating, she felt as if her fun had really begun at last, for the mirror had plainly told her that she was 'a little beauty'. Her friends repeated the pleasing phrase enthusiastically, and for several minutes she stood, like a jackdaw in the fable, enjoying her borrowed plumes, while the rest chattered like a party of magpies.

"While I dress, do you drill her, Nan, in the management of her skirt and those French heels, or she will trip herself up. Take your silver butterfly, and catch up that long curl on the left side of her head, Clara, and don't any of you disturb the charming work of my hands," said Belle, as she hurried away, looking well pleased with her success.

"You don't look a bit like yourself, but you are very nice. I'm nowhere beside you, for Belle has heaps of taste, and you're quite French, I assure you. Let your flowers hang, don't be so careful of them, and be sure you don't trip," returned Sallie, trying not to care that Meg was prettier than herself.

Keeping that warning carefully in mind, Margaret got safely down stairs and sailed into the drawing rooms where the Moffats and a few early guests were assembled. She very soon discovered that there is a charm about fine clothes which attracts a certain class of people and secures their respect. Several young ladies, who had taken no notice of her before, were very affectionate all of a sudden. Several young gentlemen, who had only stared at her at the other party, now not only stared, but asked to be introduced, and said all manner of foolish but agreeable things to her, and several old ladies, who sat on the sofas, and criticized the rest of the party, inquired who she was with an air of interest. She heard Mrs. Moffat reply to one of them...

"Daisy March—father a colonel in the army—one of our first families, but reverses of fortune, you know; intimate friends of the Laurences; sweet creature, I assure you; my Ned is quite wild about her."

"Dear me!" said the old lady, putting up her glass for another observation of Meg, who tried to look as if she had not heard and been rather shocked at Mrs. Moffat's fibs. The 'queer feeling' did not pass away, but she imagined herself acting the new part of fine lady and so got on pretty well, though the tight dress gave her a side-ache, the train kept getting under her feet, and she was in constant fear lest her earrings should fly off and get lost or broken. She was flirting her fan and laughing at the feeble jokes of a young gentleman who tried to be witty, when she suddenly stopped laughing and looked confused, for just opposite, she saw Laurie. He was staring at her with undisguised surprise, and disapproval also, she thought, for though he bowed and smiled, yet something in his honest eyes made her blush and wish she had her old dress on. To complete her confusion, she saw Belle nudge Annie, and both glance from her to Laurie, who, she was happy to see, looked unusually boyish and shy.

"Silly creatures, to put such thoughts into my head. I won't care for it, or let it change me a bit," thought Meg, and rustled across the room to shake hands with her friend.

"I'm glad you came, I was afraid you wouldn't." she said, with her most grown-up air.

"Jo wanted me to come, and tell her how you looked, so I did," answered Laurie, without turning his eyes upon her, though he half smiled at her maternal tone.

"What shall you tell her?" asked Meg, full of curiosity to know his opinion of her, yet feeling ill at ease with him for the first time.

"I shall say I didn't know you, for you look so grown-up and unlike yourself, I'm quite afraid of you," he said, fumbling at his glove button.

"How absurd of you! The girls dressed me up for fun, and I rather like it. Wouldn't Jo stare if she saw me?" said Meg, bent on making him say whether he thought her improved or not.

"Yes, I think she would," returned Laurie gravely.

"Don't you like me so?" asked Meg.

"No, I don't," was the blunt reply.

"Why not?" in an anxious tone.

He glanced at her frizzled head, bare shoulders, and fantastically trimmed dress with an expression that abashed her more than his answer, which had not a particle of his usual politeness in it.

"I don't like fuss and feathers."

That was altogether too much from a lad younger than herself, and Meg walked away, saying petulantly, "You are the rudest boy I ever saw."

Feeling very much ruffled, she went and stood at a quiet window to cool her cheeks, for the tight dress gave her an uncomfortably brilliant color. As she stood there, Major Lincoln passed by, and a minute after she heard him saying to his mother...

"They are making a fool of that little girl. I wanted you to see her, but they have spoiled her entirely. She's nothing but a doll tonight."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Meg. "I wish I'd been sensible and worn my own things, then I should not have disgusted other people, or felt so uncomfortable and ashamed of myself."

She leaned her forehead on the cool pane, and stood half hidden by the curtains, never minding that her favorite waltz had begun, till some one touched her, and turning, she saw Laurie, looking penitent, as he said, with his very best bow and his hand out...

"Please forgive my rudeness, and come and dance with me."

"I'm afraid it will be too disagreeable to you," said Meg, trying to look offended and failing entirely.

"Not a bit of it, I'm dying to do it. Come, I'll be good. I don't like your gown, but I do think you are just splendid." And he waved his hands, as if words failed to express his admiration.

Meg smiled and relented, and whispered as they stood waiting to catch the time, "Take care my skirt doesn't trip you up. It's the plague of my life and I was a goose to wear it."

"Pin it round your neck, and then it will be useful," said Laurie, looking down at the little blue boots, which he evidently approved of.

Away they went fleetly and gracefully, for having practiced at home, they were well matched, and the blithe young couple were a pleasant sight to see, as they twirled merrily round and round, feeling more friendly than ever after their small tiff.

"Laurie, I want you to do me a favor, will you?" said Meg, as he stood fanning her when her breath gave out, which it did very soon though she would not own why.

"Won't I!" said Laurie, with alacrity.

"Please don't tell them at home about my dress tonight. They won't understand the joke, and it will worry Mother."

"Then why did you do it?" said Laurie's eyes, so plainly that Meg hastily added...

"I shall tell them myself all about it, and 'fess' to Mother how silly I've been. But I'd rather do it myself. So you'll not tell, will you?"

"I give you my word I won't, only what shall I say when they ask me?"

"Just say I looked pretty well and was having a good time."

"I'll say the first with all my heart, but how about the other? You don't look as if you were having a good time. Are you?" And Laurie looked at her with an expression which made her answer in a whisper...

"No, not just now. Don't think I'm horrid. I only wanted a little fun, but this sort doesn't pay, I find, and I'm getting tired of it."

"Here comes Ned Moffat. What does he want?" said Laurie, knitting his black brows as if he did not regard his young host in the light of a pleasant addition to the party.

"He put his name down for three dances, and I suppose he's coming for them. What a bore!" said Meg, assuming a languid air which amused Laurie immensely.

He did not speak to her again till suppertime, when he saw her drinking champagne with Ned and his friend Fisher, who were behaving 'like a pair of fools', as Laurie said to himself, for he felt a brotherly sort of right to watch over the Marches and fight their battles whenever a defender was needed.

"You'll have a splitting headache tomorrow, if you drink much of that. I wouldn't, Meg, your mother doesn't like it, you know," he whispered, leaning over her chair, as Ned turned to refill her glass and Fisher stooped to pick up her fan.

"I'm not Meg tonight, I'm 'a doll' who does all sorts of crazy things. Tomorrow I shall put away my 'fuss and feathers' and be desperately good again," she answered with an affected little laugh.

"Wish tomorrow was here, then," muttered Laurie, walking off, ill-pleased at the change he saw in her.

Meg danced and flirted, chattered and giggled, as the other girls did. After supper she undertook the German, and blundered through it, nearly upsetting her partner with her long skirt, and romping in a way that scandalized Laurie, who looked on and meditated a lecture. But he got no chance to deliver it, for Meg kept away from him till he came to say good night.

"Remember!" she said, trying to smile, for the splitting headache had already begun.

"Silence a la mort," replied Laurie, with a melodramatic flourish, as he went away.

This little bit of byplay excited Annie's curiosity, but Meg was too tired for gossip and went to bed, feeling as if she had been to a masquerade and hadn't enjoyed herself as much as she expected. She was sick all the next day, and on Saturday went home, quite used up with her fortnight's fun and feeling that she had 'sat in the lap of luxury' long enough.

"It does seem pleasant to be quiet, and not have company manners on all the time. Home is a nice place, though it isn't splendid," said Meg, looking about her with a restful expression, as she sat with her mother and Jo on the Sunday evening.

"I'm glad to hear you say so, dear, for I was afraid home would seem dull and poor to you after your fine quarters," replied her mother, who had given her many anxious looks that day. For motherly eyes are quick to see any change in children's faces.

Meg had told her adventures gayly and said over and over what a charming time she had had, but something still seemed to weigh upon her spirits, and when the younger girls were gone to bed, she sat thoughtfully staring at the fire, saying little and looking worried. As the clock struck nine and Jo proposed bed, Meg suddenly left her chair and, taking Beth's stool, leaned her elbows on her mother's knee, saying bravely...

"Marmee, I want to 'fess'."

"I thought so. What is it, dear?"

"Shall I go away?" asked Jo discreetly.

"Of course not. Don't I always tell you everything? I was ashamed to speak of it before the younger children, but I want you to know all the dreadful things I did at the Moffats'."

"We are prepared," said Mrs. March, smiling but looking a little anxious.

"I told you they dressed me up, but I didn't tell you that they powdered and squeezed and frizzled, and made me look like a fashion-plate. Laurie thought I wasn't proper. I know he did, though he didn't say so, and one man called me 'a doll'. I knew it was silly, but they flattered me and said I was a beauty, and quantities of nonsense, so I let them make a fool of me."

"Is that all?" asked Jo, as Mrs. March looked silently at the downcast face of her pretty daughter, and could not find it in her heart to blame her little follies.

"No, I drank champagne and romped and tried to flirt, and was altogether abominable," said Meg self-reproachfully.

"There is something more, I think." And Mrs. March smoothed the soft cheek, which suddenly grew rosy as Meg answered slowly...

"Yes. It's very silly, but I want to tell it, because I hate to have people say and think such things about us and Laurie."

Then she told the various bits of gossip she had heard at the Moffats', and as she spoke, Jo saw her mother fold her lips tightly, as if ill pleased that such ideas should be put into Meg's innocent mind.

"Well, if that isn't the greatest rubbish I ever heard," cried Jo indignantly. "Why didn't you pop out and tell them so on the spot?"

"I couldn't, it was so embarrassing for me. I couldn't help hearing at first, and then I was so angry and ashamed, I didn't remember that I ought to go away."

"Just wait till I see Annie Moffat, and I'll show you how to settle such ridiculous stuff. The idea of having 'plans' and being kind to Laurie because he's rich and may marry us by-and-by! Won't he shout when I tell him what those silly things say about us poor children?" And Jo laughed, as if on second thoughts the thing struck her as a good joke.

"If you tell Laurie, I'll never forgive you! She mustn't, must she, Mother?" said Meg, looking distressed.

"No, never repeat that foolish gossip, and forget it as soon as you can," said Mrs. March gravely. "I was very unwise to let you go among people of whom I know so little, kind, I dare say, but worldly, ill-bred, and full of these vulgar ideas about young people. I am more sorry than I can express for the mischief this visit may have done you, Meg."

"Don't be sorry, I won't let it hurt me. I'll forget all the bad and remember only the good, for I did enjoy a great deal, and thank you very much for letting me go. I'll not be sentimental or dissatisfied, Mother. I know I'm a silly little girl, and I'll stay with you till I'm fit to take care of myself. But it is nice to be praised and admired, and I can't help saying I like it," said Meg, looking half ashamed of the confession.

"That is perfectly natural, and quite harmless, if the liking does not become a passion and lead one to do foolish or unmaidenly things. Learn to know and value the praise which is worth having, and to excite the admiration of excellent people by being modest as well as pretty, Meg."

Margaret sat thinking a moment, while Jo stood with her hands behind her, looking both interested and a little perplexed, for it was a new thing to see Meg blushing and talking about admiration, lovers, and things of that sort. And Jo felt as if during that fortnight her sister had grown up amazingly, and was drifting away from her into a world where she could not follow.

"Mother, do you have 'plans', as Mrs. Moffat said?" asked Meg bashfully.

"Yes, my dear, I have a great many, all mothers do, but mine differ somewhat from Mrs. Moffat's, I suspect. I will tell you some of them, for the time has come when a word may set this romantic little head and heart of yours right, on a very serious subject. You are young, Meg, but not too young to understand me, and mothers' lips are the fittest to speak of such things to girls like you. Jo, your turn will come in time, perhaps, so listen to my 'plans' and help me carry them out, if they are good."

Jo went and sat on one arm of the chair, looking as if she thought they were about to join in some very solemn affair. Holding a hand of each, and watching the two young faces wistfully, Mrs. March said, in her serious yet cheery way...

"I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good. To be admired, loved, and respected. To have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman, and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg, right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it, so that when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy. My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world, marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace."

"Poor girls don't stand any chance, Belle says, unless they put themselves forward," sighed Meg.

"Then we'll be old maids," said Jo stoutly.

"Right, Jo. Better be happy old maids than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," said Mrs. March decidedly. "Don't be troubled, Meg, poverty seldom daunts a sincere lover. Some of the best and most honored women I know were poor girls, but so love-worthy that they were not allowed to be old maids. Leave these things to time. Make this home happy, so that you may be fit for homes of your own, if they are offered you, and contented here if they are not. One thing remember, my girls. Mother is always ready to be your confidant, Father to be your friend, and both of us hope and trust that our daughters, whether married or single, will be the pride and comfort of our lives."

"We will, Marmee, we will!" cried both, with all their hearts, as she bade them good night.

 

第九章 梅格踏足名利场

“那班孩子刚好出麻疹,真是最幸运不过了,”梅格说。时值四月,她站在自己房间里往大皮箱装行李,姐妹们围绕在她身边。

“安妮•莫法特没有忘记自己的诺言,这实在太棒了。足足两个星期让你尽情快活,那有多么痛快,”乔一面搭过话儿,一面用长胳膊把几件裙子折起来,形象颇像个风车。

“而且天气晴朗,我真高兴这样,”贝思边说边利索地从自己的宝贝箱子里挑出几条围巾和丝带,供姐姐出席盛会。

“但愿我也能去好好玩玩,把这些漂亮东西全穿戴上,”艾美说。她嘴里衔了满满一口的针,巧妙地插进姐姐的针垫里。

“我真希望大家都能去,既然不能,那就等我回来再跟你们讲遇到的奇闻趣事。你们对我这么好,把东西借给我,帮我收拾行装,我一定尽此绵力,”梅格说着环视房间,眼光落在行装上面。这套行装虽然十分简单,但在她们眼中却几乎十全十美。

“妈妈从那只宝箱里拿出什么给你?”艾美问。马奇太太有个杉木箱子,里头装着几件曾经辉煌一时的旧物,准备在适当的时候送给四个女儿。那天打开箱子时,艾美恰好不在场,故有此一问。

“一对丝袜,一把精致的雕花扇子,还有一条漂亮的蓝色腰带。我原想要那件紫罗兰色的真丝裙子,但却没时间改制了,只好穿我那条旧塔拉丹薄纱裙。”“这比起我的新薄纱裙子还要好看,衬上腰带就更加漂亮了。我真后悔我的珊瑚手镯给砸坏了,不然你便可以戴上它,”乔说。她生性豪爽大方,只是她的财物大都破旧不堪,派不上什么用常"宝箱里有一套漂亮的旧式珍珠首饰,但妈妈说鲜花才是年轻姑娘最美丽的饰物,而劳里答应把我要的全都送来,”梅格回答,”来,让我看看,这是我的新灰色旅行衣——把羽毛卷进我的帽子里,贝思——那是星期天和小型晚会穿的府绸裙子——春天穿显得沉了点,对吧?如果是紫罗兰色的丝绸裙子就好了;唉!”“不要紧,你参加大型晚会还有塔拉丹呢,再说,你穿白衣裳就像个天使,”艾美说道,凝神欣赏着那一小堆漂亮衣饰。

“可它领口太高,拖曳感也不够,但也只好这样应付了。

我那件蓝色家居服倒是挺好,翻了新,并刚刚镶了饰边,和新的一样。我的丝绸外衣一点都不时髦,帽子也不像莎莉那顶;我原不想多说,但我对自己的伞失望极了。我原叫妈妈买一把白柄子的黑伞,她却忘了,带回一把黄柄子的绿桑这把伞结实雅致,因此我不该抱怨,但如果把它跟艾美那把金顶丝绸伞摆在一起,我就要羞死了。”梅格边叹息边极不满意地审视着那把小桑"把它换过来,”乔提议。

“我不会这么傻,妈妈为我花钱已经很不容易了,我不想伤她的心。这只是我的荒唐想法罢了,我不会不分好歹的。幸好我的丝袜和两对新手套可以出出场面。你把自己的借给我,真是好妹妹,乔。我有两对新的,旧的也洗得干干净净,我觉得已经十分气派了。”梅格又朝她放手套的箱子瞄了一眼。

“安妮•莫法特的晚礼帽上头有几个蓝色和粉红色的蝴蝶结;你可以帮我打上几个吗?”她问,这时贝思拿来一堆刚刚从罕娜手中接过的雪白薄纱。

“不,我不想打,因为太醒目的帽子,配没有饰边的素净衣服不好看,”乔断然说道。

“我哪一天才有福气穿上锁有真花边的衣服,戴上打了蝴蝶结的帽子?”梅格不耐烦地说。

“那天你说只要可以去安妮•莫法特家,你就心满意足了,”贝思轻声提醒她。

“我是这样说过!哦,我是很满足,我也不会为此烦恼,不过似乎人得到的越多,野心也就越大,对不?噢,行了,行李装好了,一切齐备,单剩我的舞会礼服了,那要等妈妈来收拾,”梅格说着,眼光从装得半满的行李箱落到熨补过多次、被她郑重其事地称为"舞会礼服"的白色塔拉丹薄纱裙上,心情愉快起来。

第二天天气不错,梅格体面堂皇地辞别大家,准备体验十四天新奇快乐的生活。马奇太太一开始不同意这次出行,担心玛格丽特回来后会比去时更添一层不满。但梅格纠缠不休,莎莉也答应会好好照顾她,而且,干了一个冬天的烦闷工作后,到外面玩玩也是一大乐事,母亲便答应下来,让女儿去一尝上流社会的生活滋味。

莫法特一家确实非常时髦。楼宇富丽堂皇,主人举止优雅,单纯的梅格一开始吃惊不校不过,尽管莫法特一家生活奢华放纵,但他们都是善良的人家,很快便使客人轻松下来。不知为什么,梅格隐隐觉得他们并非特别有教养,也并非特别聪明,虽然他们衣着华丽,其实内中也不过俗人一个而已。生活奢侈,乘坐豪华辇车,每天穿上漂亮衣服,除享乐之外一无所事,这种生活自然十分惬意。这正是梅格所思慕的生活。她很快便模仿身边那些人的言谈举止,摆点小架子,装点腔势,说话时搭上一句半句法语,把头发卷曲,把衣服弄窄,并学着评论流行服式。安妮•莫法特的漂亮东西她见得越多,就越是羡慕不已,自叹不如。如今家在她的心目中已经变得空无一物、沉闷无趣,工作变得比任何时候都要艰苦。她觉得自己是个一贫如洗、受到严重伤害的姑娘,即使有两对新手套和丝袜也无济于事。

不过,她并没有多少时间来烦恼,因为三位年轻姑娘忙于打发"快乐时光"。她们整天逛商店、散步、骑马、探访朋友,晚上则上剧院或留在家里嬉戏,因为安妮结交了不少朋友,熟谙待客之道。她的几个姐姐都是十分漂亮的年轻女子,一个已经订婚,而订婚是极为有趣而浪漫的,梅格想。莫法特先生是个体胖、快活的老绅士,认识她的父亲;莫法特太太,一位体胖、快活的老太太,跟自己的女儿一样十分喜欢梅格。一家人全都宠爱她,”黛茜",如他们所称,被惯得有点头脑发热。

临到"小型晚会"那天晚上,她发现那件府绸裙子根本应付不了场面,因为其他姑娘们全都穿着薄薄的裙子,个个打扮得美若天仙;于是塔拉丹出动了,但跟莎莉簇新的裙子一比,立即相形失色,显得残旧不堪、寒酸落伍。梅格看到姑娘们扫了它一眼后,都互相交换个眼色,双颊顿时烧得通红。她虽然性格温柔,但自尊心极强。大家对此并没有说什么,不过莎莉主动提出跟她梳理头发,安妮帮她扎腰带,贝儿,那位订了婚的姐姐,则称赞她洁白的双臂。虽然大家全出于好意,但梅格看到的只是对贫穷的怜悯而已。她独自站立一旁,心情十分沉重,而姑娘们则又说又笑,像披着薄纱的蝴蝶一样到处跑来跑去。正当梅格心酸难受之际,女佣人突然送进来一箱鲜花。未等她说话,安妮已把盖子打开,众人随即发出一阵惊呼,原来里头装的全是绚丽的玫瑰、杜鹃和绿蕨。

“准是送给贝儿的,乔治常常送她一些,不过这些可真是太美了,”安妮叫道,深深地闻了一下。

“那位先生说,这些花是送给马奇小姐的。这里有张字条,”女佣人插话说,并把字条递给梅格。

“多有趣,是谁送来的?不知道你还有个情人呢,”姑娘们嚷起来,围着梅格转来转去,显得十分好奇和惊讶。

“字条是妈妈写的,鲜花是劳里送的,”梅格简单地回答,暗暗感激劳里没有忘掉自己。

“噢,原来如此!”安妮怪模怪样地说了一句。梅格把字条塞进口袋,把它当作一种抵御妒忌、虚荣和伪自尊的护身符。里头寥寥数语,一片慈爱真情,梅格看后精神为之一振,而美丽动人的鲜花也使她心情好转起来。

梅格几乎恢复了愉快的心情,她拈出几支绿蕨和玫瑰留给自己,随即将其余的分成几把精美的花束,分给朋友们点缀在胸前、头发和衣裙上。

她做得既愉快又得体,大姐卡莱拉不禁称她为"她所见到的最甜美的小东西",众人也十分欣赏她的小心意。这一善举把她的沮丧心情一驱而散。其他人都跑到莫法特太太跟前展览去了,她独个儿把几支绿蕨插在自己的鬈发上,又把几朵玫瑰在裙子上别好,这时裙子在她心目中变得没有那么难看了,临镜一照,看到了一张喜气洋洋双目明亮的脸孔。

那天晚上她尽兴起舞,玩得十分开心;大家都非常友善,她还被人奉承了三次。安妮让她唱歌,有人称赞她声音十分甜美。林肯少校问"那位水灵灵的美目小姑娘"是谁,莫法特先生坚持要和她跳舞,因为她"不躲懒、舞步轻快有力",他很有风度地说。这一切都使她的心情十分愉快,不料,她后来不经意听到了几句闲话,情绪顿时一落千丈。那时她正坐在温室里面,等舞伴给她带冰块过来,突然听到花墙的另一面传来一个声音问道——“她有多大?”“十六七岁吧,我想,”另一个声音答道。

“这将对那些姑娘们的其中一个大有好处,你说是吧?莎莉说他们现在关系很密切,老人挺宠爱他们。”“马奇太太早有计划,我敢说,而且一定马到功成,虽然这事早了一点,那姑娘显然还没有往这方面想过,”莫法特太太说。

“她刚才撒了个小谎,好像真的知道纸条是她妈妈写的;鲜花送进来时还飞红了脸。可怜的人!如果她打扮得时髦一点,一定漂亮极了。你说如果我们提出借条裙子给她星期四穿,她会生气吗?”另一个声音问。

“她是有点傲气,但我不相信她会介意,因为那条邋遢的塔拉丹就是她的一切。她大可今天晚上把它撕破,那就有借口给她送条体面的了。”“走着瞧吧。我要特意为她邀请小劳伦斯,那我就有好戏看了。”这时梅格的舞伴走回来,看到她脸红耳赤,情绪相当激动。她确实是个傲气的姑娘,也幸亏如此,她才忍住了没有发作,虽然她对刚才听到的闲话感到又羞又气、十分厌恶;因为无论她多么天真无邪,也不至于不明白这种闲话的意思。这些话挥之不去,一直在她耳边纠缠:什么"马奇太太早有计划",”撒了个小谎",”邋遢的塔拉丹",等等。她真想大哭一场,冲回家去倾诉苦恼,寻求忠告。无奈这是不可能的事,她只得强装笑脸。由于心情激动,她一点也没有露出破绽,没有人想象得出她心里正在翻江倒海。终于盼到人散灯灭,她静静躺在床上,千思百想,愤愤不平,一直弄得脑袋生痛,又洒下几滴清泪,凉丝丝地落在烧得赤热的脸颊上。那些没有恶意的无聊话为梅格开辟了一个新天地,把她一直以来孩子般生活着的纯真、平静的旧天地搅得涟漪阵阵。她和劳里天真无邪的友谊被无意听来的废话蒙上了一层阴影;她对妈妈的信心也因以小人之心度人的莫法特太太"早有计划"几个字而产生了一点动摇;她原以为自己是穷人家的女儿,衣着简朴乃是无可非议的事情,所以一向知足,岂料这帮姑娘看到旧裙子就如同看到普天之下最大的灾难一样,滥发同情之心,她不禁也对自己的信念产生了一丝怀疑。

可怜的梅格一夜无眠,起床时眼皮沉重,心情极坏。她既怨自己的朋友无事生非,又愧自己不敢坦诚说出真相,以正视听。那天早上姑娘们全都慵慵懒懒,直到中午时分才提起劲头做毛线活。梅格马上意识到她的朋友们神色异常;她们待她更加敬重,对她的言谈十分关注,并且用十分好奇的眼光看着她。这一切令她既惊奇又得意,只是丈二和尚摸不着头脑。最后,贝儿把头从书本里抬起来,嗲声嗲气地说——“黛茜,亲爱的,我给你的朋友劳伦斯先生送了一份请帖,请他星期四过来。我们也想认识认识他,这可是特意为你而请的哟。”梅格红了脸,但她突然想捉弄一下这些姑娘们,于是装作一本正经地回答:“你们的心意我领了,只是我恐怕他不会来。”“为什么,chérie?”贝儿小姐问。

“他太老了。”

“我的孩子,你说什么?他究竟有多大年纪?”卡莱拉小姐嚷道。

“差不多七十吧,我想,”梅格答道,假装数数打了多少针,拼命忍住笑。

“你这狡猾的家伙!我们指的当然是年青的那位,”贝儿小姐笑了,喊道。“哪里有什么年青人!劳里只是个小男孩。”姑娘们听到梅格这样形容自己的所谓“情人",不禁互相使了古怪的眼色,梅格见状也笑了。

“和你年纪相仿,”南妮说。

“和我妹妹乔差不多年纪,我八月份就十七岁了,”梅格把头一仰,答道。

“他真棒,给你送鲜花,对吧?”不识趣的安妮还想试探下去。

“不错,他经常这样做,送给我们全家人,因为他们家里多的是,而我们又这么喜欢鲜花。我妈妈和劳伦斯是朋友,你们知道,两家孩子在一起玩是相当自然的事情。”梅格希望她们能够就此住口。

“显然黛茜还没有参加过社交,”卡莱拉小姐朝贝儿点点头说。

“是天真无邪得可以,”贝儿小姐耸耸肩说道。

“我准备出门给我家姑娘们买点东西;各位小姐要我捎点什么吗?”穿着一身镶边丝绸裙子的莫法特太太像头大笨象一样缓缓走进屋来,问道。

“不用费心了,夫人,”莎莉回答,”我星期四已经有一条粉红色的新丝绸裙子,不想要什么了。”“我也不——"梅格话到嘴边又缩了回去,因为她突然想到自己确实想要几样东西,但是却得不到。

“你那天穿什么?”莎莉问。

“还是那条白色的旧裙子,要是我能把它补得能见人的话,昨晚可惜给撕破了。“梅格想尽量讲得自然一点,但却感到很不自在。

“为什么不捎信回家再要一条?”不善察颜观色的莎莉问。

“我只有这一条,”梅格好不容易才说出这话。

但莎莉仍然没有明白过来,她友好地惊叫起来:“只有那么一条?真好笑——”她的话只说了半截,因为贝儿赶紧朝她摇头,插进来友善地说——“这并没有什么好笑;她又不出去社交,要这么多衣服有什么用?即使你有一打,黛茜,也不必往家里要。我有一条漂亮的蓝色真丝裙子,我穿着嫌小了些,白白搁在一边,倒不如你来穿上,遂遂我的心意,好吗,亲爱的?”“谢谢你的好意,但如果你们不在意,我倒不在乎穿我的旧裙子,像我这样的小姑娘这样穿挺合适,”梅格说。

“请您一定让我把你打扮得气派一点。我喜欢这样做。装点一番后,你准是个标准的小美人。我要把你装扮好才让你见人,然后我们像参加舞会的灰姑娘和仙姑一样突然出现在大家面前,”贝儿用富有说服力的声调说。

梅格无法拒绝如此友好的提议,因为她很想看着自己打扮后是否会变成个"小美人",于是点头同意,把原来对莫法特一家的不满抛诸脑后。

星期四晚上,贝儿把自己和女佣关在房里,两人合力把梅格变成一个绝代佳人。她们把她的头发烫曲,在她的颈脖和胳膊扑上一种香粉,在她的双唇抹上珊瑚色的唇膏,使它们显得更红,如果不是梅格反抗,霍丹斯还会加上"一点点胭脂“。她们把她裹进天蓝色的裙子里,裙子又紧又窄,她几乎透不过起来,领口开得极低,矜持的梅格对着镜子羞得红晕满脸。一套银丝首饰也被戴上了:手镯、项链、胸针、甚至耳环,因为霍丹斯用一条看不出来的粉红色丝线把它们系了起来。一丛点缀胸前的香水月季花蕾和一条花边褶带衬得梅格一双玉肩优美动人,一对高跟蓝色丝靴也使她的最后一道心愿得到满足。一条镶边手帕、一把羽毛扇和一束银枝礼花,终于把她打扮完毕。贝儿小姐满意地审视着自己的杰作,就像一个小姑娘在看一个刚刚打扮好的洋娃娃一样。

“小姐真Charmante,trèsjolie,不是吗?”霍丹斯为做作地拍手欢叫。

“出去让大家看看吧,”贝儿小姐一边说一边领梅格去见在房间里等着的姑娘们。

梅格拖着长裙跟在后面,裙子窸窣有声,耳环一摇一晃,鬈发上下波动,心儿砰砰猛跳。刚才那面镜子已明明白白地告诉她自己是个"小美人",她觉得似乎她的"好戏"真的已经开始了。朋友们热情洋溢,不断地称她为"小美人",她站在那里,好像寓言里的寒鸦,尽情享受着自己借来的羽毛,起他人则像一班喜鹊,叽叽喳喳地叫个不停。

“趁我换衣裳,南妮,你教她怎样走步,别让她被裙子和法式高跟鞋绊倒。卡莱拉,你用银蝴蝶发夹把她左边的那绺长鬈发夹起来。你们谁也别弄糟了我这一手漂亮功夫,”贝儿说着匆匆走开,对自己的成功显得相当得意。

“我不敢走下去,我觉得头晕目眩,身子僵硬,好像只穿了一半衣服,”梅格对莎莉说。此时铃声响起,莫法特太太派人来请年轻女士们立即赴会。

“你完全变了个样子,不过这样很漂亮。我在你身边简直没地方站了,都亏贝儿品味高,当然你也很有法国味。就让你的花儿这么随意挂着,小心不要绊倒,“莎莉回答,努力不去在意梅格比自己漂亮这个事实。

梅格牢牢记着这个教导,安然步下楼梯,款款走进客厅。

莫法特夫妇和几个早到的客人已经聚集在那里。她很快发现华丽的衣服有一种魅力,就是能吸引那么一些人,获得他们的尊敬。几位以前没有正眼瞧过她的年轻小姐突然变得十分亲热;几个上次舞会只是盯着她看的年轻绅士现在不只盯着她看,还要求介绍介绍,而且向她极尽奉承,说了许多愚不可及但十分入耳的话;几位坐在沙发上指指点点的老太太感兴趣地打探她是何方人氏。梅格听到莫法特太太回答其中一个说——“黛茜•马奇——父亲是部队的上校——我们的远亲,可惜时运不济,你知道;劳伦斯家的密友;甜姐儿,告诉你吧;我家内德对她很是着迷哩。”“噢!”那老太太戴上眼镜把梅格又再细看一遍。听到莫法特太太谎话连篇,梅格只装作好像没有听见,也并不震惊。

那种"头晕目眩"的感觉仍然没有消失,但她想象自己正在扮演这一新角色,倒也觉得相当愉快,不过,她的两胁被紧身裙勒得隐隐作痛,双脚不断踩到长裙,还老得提防那对耳环,担心它们突然甩出来,弄丢或摔破了。她正手摇折扇,咯咯笑着听一位卖弄诙谐的年轻人讲并不好笑的笑话,突然止住了笑声,显得手足无措,原来,她看到劳里正站在对面。他紧紧地盯着她,毫不掩饰心中的惊愕,还有不快,她想,因为他虽然躬身致礼,面露微笑,但坦诚的眼睛却流露出一种眼光,令她羞红了脸,只恨没有穿上自己的旧裙子。她看到贝儿用肘子碰碰安妮,两人的目光从她身上扫到劳里身上,更加心乱如麻,幸亏劳里看上去孩子气十足,而且十分害羞,她这才安下心来。

“无聊的东西,把这种念头放进我脑子里。我可不在乎,该怎样做就怎样做。“想到这里,梅格一路窸窸窣窣地响着走到房间对面和她的朋友握手。

“你来了我真高兴,我还担心你不会来呢,”她摆出一副大姐姐的神态说。

“乔希望我来,并告诉她你的情况,我便来了,”劳里回答,他对她那副老成持重的腔调感到有点好笑,但并不正眼看她。

“你会告诉她什么呢?”梅格问。她很想知道劳里对自己的看法,然而却第一次觉得在他面前很不自然。

“我会说我不认识你了,因为你看上去这么成熟,一点都不像你自己,我挺害怕的,”他摸着手套上的钮扣,说道。

“你真荒谬!这些姑娘们把我打扮成这个样子,只是为了好玩,我也挺乐意的。你说乔看到我会不会把眼睛瞪直了呢?”梅格说,想引他说出他是不是觉得自己更好看。

“我想她会,”劳里严肃地回答。

“你不喜欢这个样子吗?”梅格问。

“不,不喜欢!”回答得干脆率直。

“为什么不?”声调甚为着急。

他扫了一眼她那披着鬈发的脑袋、裸露的双肩,以及镶着漂亮花边的裙子,那种神情把她窘得无地自容,接着他的回答也一反往日彬彬有礼的风度。

“我不喜欢轻浮炫耀。”

这话出自一个比自己年轻的小伙子口里,叫梅格如何接受。她转身就走,一面恨恨地说道:“我从来没有见过你这样无礼的男孩子。”她又气又恼地走到一扇窗边,站在无人之处,让自己的双颊凉下来,因为紧身裙箍得她头热脑胀,很不舒服。这么呆站着时,林肯少校从她身边走过,不一会儿,她听到他跟他自己的母亲说道——“他们在愚弄那个小姑娘;我原想让你见见她的,但他们把她全毁了;今天晚上一无是处,只是一个洋娃娃。”“唉,上帝!”梅格叹息道,“如果我理智一点,穿上自己的衣服,就不会令人厌恶,也不会生出这般烦恼,自惭自愧。“她把额头靠在冰凉的窗棂上面,任由窗帘半掩着自己的身影,她最喜欢的华尔兹已经开始,她也仿佛全然不觉。这时,一个人碰碰她;她回过身来,看到了劳里。他一脸悔色,郑重其事地向她鞠了个躬,伸出手来——“请恕我一时无礼,来和我跳个舞吧。”“恐怕这会委屈了你呢。”梅格试图装出一副生气的样子,却一点也装不出来。

“绝对不会,我打心眼里想跟你跳呢。来吧,我不会惹你生气的。我虽然不喜欢你的衣服,但我真的觉得你——反正漂亮极了。”他挥挥手,似乎语言还不足以表达他的仰慕之情。

梅格一笑,心软了下来。当他们站在一起等着和上音乐节拍时,她悄悄说道:“小心我的裙子把你绊倒了;它使我受尽折磨,我穿上它真是个傻瓜。”“把它围着领口别起来就行了,”劳里说着,低头看看那双小蓝靴,显然对它们很满意。

他们敏捷而优雅地迈开舞步,由于在家里练习过,这对活泼的年轻人配合得相当默契,给舞场平添了快乐的气氛。他们欢快地旋转起舞,觉得经历了这次小口角之后,彼此更加接近了。

“劳里,我想你帮我个忙,愿意吗?”梅格说。她刚跳一会便气喘吁吁地停下来,也不解释,劳里便站在一边替她扇扇子。

“那还用说!”劳里欣然回答。

“回到家里千万不要告诉她们我今天晚上的打扮。她们不会明白这个玩笑,妈妈听到会担心的。”“那你为什么这样做?”劳里的眼睛显然是在这样问。梅格急得又说——“我会亲自把一切告诉她们,向妈妈''坦白''我有多傻。

但我宁愿自己来说;你别说,行吗?”

“我向你保证我不会说,只是她们问我时该怎样回答?”“就说我看上去挺好,玩得很开心。”“第一项我会全心全意地说的,只是第二项怎么说?你看上去并不像玩得开心,不是吗?”劳里盯着她,那种神情促使她悄声说道——“是,刚才是不开心。不要以为我那么讨厌。我只是想开个小玩笑,但我发现这种玩笑毫无益处,我已经开始厌倦了。”“内德•莫法特走过来了,他想干什么?”劳里边说边皱起黑色的眉头,仿佛并不欢迎这位年轻主人的到来。

“他认下了三场舞,我想他是来找舞伴的。烦死人!”梅格说完摆出一副倦怠的神情,把劳里也逗乐了。

他一直到晚饭时候才再跟她说上话,当时她正跟内德和他的朋友费希尔一起喝香槟。劳里觉得那两人表现得"十足一对傻瓜",他觉得自己有权像兄弟一样监护马奇姐妹,必要时站出来保护她们。

“如果你喝多了,明天就会头痛得厉害。我可不这样做。

梅格,你妈妈不喜欢这样,你知道,”他在她椅边俯下身来低声说道,此时内德正转身把她的杯子重新斟满,费希尔则弯腰捡起她的扇子。

“今天晚上我不是梅格,而是个轻狂的''洋娃娃''。明天我就会收拾起这副''轻浮炫耀''的嘴脸,重新做个好女孩子,”她佯笑一声答道。

“那么,但愿明天已经到来,”劳里咕哝着,怏怏走开了。

看到她变成这副样子,他心里很不高兴。

梅格一边跳舞一边调情卖俏,嘀嘀咕咕地聊着傻笑着,就像别的姑娘们一样;晚饭后她跳华尔兹舞,由始至终跌跌撞撞,那条长裙子也差点把她的舞伴绊倒。劳里见到她这种轻蹦乱跳的模样心生反感,他一边看着,心里想好了一番忠告,但却没有机会告诉她,因为梅格总是躲着他,一直到他过去道晚安为止。

“记住!”她说道,勉强笑笑,因为剧烈的头痛已经开始了。

“Silenceàlamort,”劳里回答,使劲挥挥手,转身离去。

这小小的一幕激发了安妮的好奇心,但梅格累得不想再扯闲话,她走上床,觉得自己像参加了一场化装舞会,但却玩得并不开心。她第二天整天都昏昏沉沉,星期六就回家了。

两个星期的玩乐弄得她筋疲力尽,她自觉在那"繁华世界"已经呆得太久。

“安安静静,不用整天客套应酬,这才是令人愉快的日子。

家是个好地方,虽然它并不华丽,”星期天晚上梅格跟母亲和乔坐在一起,悠然四顾,说道。

“你这样说我很高兴,亲爱的,我一直担心你经过这番阅历后会把家看得又穷又闷,”妈妈答道。她那天不时担心地望一眼女儿,因为孩子们脸上的任何变化都逃不过母亲的眼睛。

梅格快乐地跟大家讲了她的经历,并一再说她玩得十分痛快,但她的情绪似乎仍然有点不对劲。当两个小妹妹去睡觉之后,她坐在那里若有所思地呆呆盯着炉火,寡言少语,神情焦虑。时钟敲过九下,乔也说要睡觉了,梅格突然离开坐椅,拿起贝思的跪凳,双肘靠在母亲的膝头上,勇敢地说道——"妈咪,我想''坦白''。”“我也料到了,是什么事,亲爱的?”“要我走开吗?”乔知趣地问道。

“当然不要。我什么事情瞒过你了?在两个小妹妹面前我没脸说出口,但我想把我在莫法特家干的那些好事向你们全抖出来。”“说吧,”马奇太太微笑着说,不过神情有点焦虑。

“我说过她们把我打扮一新,但我没告诉你们她们给我涂脂抹粉,烫曲头发,给我穿紧身裙,把我收拾得像个时髦人儿。劳里虽然嘴里没说,但我知道他心里也认为我不像话,有一个人甚至叫我是''洋娃娃''。我知道这样很傻,但她们奉承我,说我是个美人呀什么的,我便任凭她们摆布了。”“就这些吗?”乔问,马奇太太则默默注视着美丽的女儿那张沮丧的脸孔,不忍心责备她干的那些傻事。

“不,我还喝香槟,乱蹦乱跳,学人家调情卖俏,总之丑态百出,”梅格内疚地说。

“还有一些什么吧,我想。”马奇太太抚摸着女儿嫩滑的脸颊。梅格突然涨红了脸,慢慢答道——“是的。这很无聊,但我想说出来,因为我痛恨人家这样猜测和议论我们和劳里之间的关系。”接着她把在莫法特家听到的流言蜚语告诉她们。乔看到母亲一面听一面紧闭双唇,似乎十分气愤,居然有人把这种念头塞进梅格天真无邪的脑子里。

“哎呀,我第一次听到这样无耻的废话!”乔气愤地叫道,”你为什么不当场走出来说个明白?”“我做不到,这太窘了。起初我是无意听到的,但后来我又怒又羞,倒没想起该走开了。”“待我见到安妮•莫法特,你就知道我怎样解决这种荒唐事!什么''早有计划'',什么对劳里好是因为他家有钱,以后会娶我们!如果我告诉他那些无聊东西是怎样谈论我们穷孩子的,他不叫起来才怪!”乔说着笑起来,似乎这种事情想深一层不过是个大笑话而已。

“如果你告诉劳里,我决不原谅你!她不该说出去,对吗,妈妈?”梅格焦虑地说道。

“对,千万不要再重复那种愚昧的闲话,并尽快把它们忘掉,”马奇太太严肃地说,”我让你置身于那些我了解甚少的人们中间,真是很不明智——我敢说,他们心肠不坏,但精于世故,缺乏教养,对年轻人满脑子粗俗念头。我对这次出访可能对你造成的伤害说不出有多么难过,梅格。”“不要难过,我不会因此而受伤害的。我会把坏的全抛诸脑后,只记住好的,因为我确实也玩得很尽兴,很感谢您让我去。我不会因此而伤心,也不会不知足,妈妈。我知道自己是个傻小姑娘,我会留在您身边,直到可以自己照顾自己。

不过,让人家夸赞心里真是美滋滋的。我还是忍不住要说我喜欢哩,”梅格说道,对自己的坦白显得有点不好意思。

“这十分自然,如果这种喜欢不过分,不会导致你去做傻事或去做女孩子不该做的事情,那就一点都没有害处。要学会认识和珍惜有价值的赞美话,用谦虚和美丽来激发优秀的人们对你的敬意,梅格。”玛格丽特坐着想了一会,乔则背手而立,专注的神情带着几分迷惑。她看到梅格红着脸谈论爱慕、情人等诸如此类的东西,觉得十分新鲜。乔觉得自己的姐姐似乎在那两个星期里令人惊奇地长大了,从她身边飘走,飘进一个她不能跟随的世界。

“妈妈,你有没有莫法特太太所说的那类''计划''?”梅格含羞问道。

“有,亲爱的,有很多呢;每个母亲都有自己的计划,但我的恐怕跟莫法特太太所说的有些不同。我会告诉你其中一部分,是到了跟你严肃地谈一谈的时候了,把你小脑袋里的浪漫念头拨到正道上来。你还年轻,梅格,但也不至于不明白我的话。这种话由母亲来跟你们说最合适不过了。乔,也许很快就会轮到你的,也一起来听听我的''计划''吧。如果是好计划,就帮我一起执行。”乔走过来,坐到椅子扶手上,看上去仿佛她以为她们就要参加到什么极其严肃的事情中去一样。马奇太太执着两个女儿的手,若有所思地望着两张年轻的面庞,语调严肃而轻快地说——“我希望我的女儿们美丽善良,多才多艺;受人爱慕,受人敬重;青春幸福,姻缘美满。愿上帝垂爱,使她们尽量无忧无虑,过一种愉快而有意义的生活。被一个好男人爱上并选为妻子是一个女人一生最大的幸福,我热切希望我的姑娘们可以体会到这种美丽的经历。考虑这种事情是很自然的事,梅格,期望和等待也是对的,而明智之举是做好准备,这样,当幸福时刻到来时,你才会觉得自己已准备好承担责任,无愧于这种幸福。我的好女儿,我对你们寄予厚望,但并不是要你们急冲乱撞——仅仅因为有钱人豪门华宅,出手阔绰,便嫁给他们,这些豪宅并不是家,因为里头没有爱情。金钱是必要而且宝贵的东西——如果用之有道,还是一种高贵的东西——但我决不希望你们把它看作是首要的东西或唯一的奋斗目标。我宁愿你们成为拥有爱情、幸福美满的穷人家的妻子,也不愿你们做没有自尊、没有安宁的皇后。”“贝儿说,如果不主动出击,穷人家的姑娘就永远不会有机会,”梅格叹息说。

“那我们就做老处女好了,”乔坚决地说。

“说得好,乔,宁愿做快乐的老处女,也不做伤心的太太或不正经的女孩子,四处乱跑找丈夫,”马奇太太用坚定的口吻说,”不要烦恼,梅格,一个情到深处的恋人是不会轻易被贫穷吓倒的。我所知道的一些最优秀、最高贵的女士原来也是出身寒门,但爱神并没有遗忘这些可爱的女士们。耐心等待吧;让我们的家充满幸福,这样,当你们自己有一个家的时候,才可以承担起责任,如果没有,便在这里知足常乐地过一生。好孩子,记住:妈妈随时随刻都是你们倾诉闺中心事的知己,爸爸是你们的朋友;无论人们结婚还是独身,我们都希望自己的女儿能够成为我们生活中的骄傲和安慰。”“我们一定能!妈妈,一定!”姐妹俩真诚地异口同声叫道。马奇太太说毕和她们道了晚安。




CHAPTER TEN THE P.C. AND P.O.

As spring came on, a new set of amusements became the fashion, and the lengthening days gave long afternoons for work and play of all sorts. The garden had to be put in order, and each sister had a quarter of the little plot to do what she liked with. Hannah used to say, "I'd know which each of them gardings belonged to, ef I see 'em in Chiny," and so she might, for the girls' tastes differed as much as their characters. Meg's had roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree in it. Jo's bed was never alike two seasons, for she was always trying experiments. This year it was to be a plantation of sun flowers, the seeds of which cheerful land aspiring plant were to feed Aunt Cockle-top and her family of chicks. Beth had old-fashioned fragrant flowers in her garden, sweet peas and mignonette, larkspur, pinks, pansies, and southernwood, with chickweed for the birds and catnip for the pussies. Amy had a bower in hers, rather small and earwiggy, but very pretty to look at, with honeysuckle and morning-glories hanging their colored horns and bells in graceful wreaths all over it, tall white lilies, delicate ferns, and as many brilliant, picturesque plants as would consent to blossom there.

Gardening, walks, rows on the river, and flower hunts employed the fine days, and for rainy ones, they had house diversions, some old, some new, all more or less original. One of these was the 'P.C.', for as secret societies were the fashion, it was thought proper to have one, and as all of the girls admired Dickens, they called themselves the Pickwick Club. With a few interruptions, they had kept this up for a year, and met every Saturday evening in the big garret, on which occasions the ceremonies were as follows: Three chairs were arranged in a row before a table on which was a lamp, also four white badges, with a big 'P.C.' in different colors on each, and the weekly newspaper called, The Pickwick Portfolio, to which all contributed something, while Jo, who reveled in pens and ink, was the editor. At seven o'clock, the four members ascended to the clubroom, tied their badges round their heads, and took their seats with great solemnity. Meg, as the eldest, was Samuel Pickwick, Jo, being of a literary turn, Augustus Snodgrass, Beth, because she was round and rosy, Tracy Tupman, and Amy, who was always trying to do what she couldn't, was Nathaniel Winkle. Pickwick, the president, read the paper, which was filled with original tales, poetry, local news, funny advertisements, and hints, in which they good-naturedly reminded each other of their faults and short comings. On one occasion, Mr. Pickwick put on a pair of spectacles without any glass, rapped upon the table, hemmed, and having stared hard at Mr. Snodgrass, who was tilting back in his chair, till he arranged himself properly, began to read:

 

第十章 匹克威克社和邮箱

冬去春来,一套新游戏又盛行起来了,春日渐长,下午也有了更多的时间进行劳作和嬉戏。院子也该打理了,四姐妹各有一小块地皮,可以按自己的心思料理。罕娜常说:“只要我从烟囱一看,就知道哪块地是属于谁的。”她说得不错,因为姐妹们的趣味就像她们的性格一样,各出一辙。梅格的地里种了玫瑰、长春花,还有一棵小橙树。乔喜欢做实验,园圃里每季都必定换个新花样;今年种的是蓬勃向上的向日葵,葵花子送给科克尔托婶婶和她的小鸡吃。贝思的园子则是老花样,种着各式芬芳扑鼻的鲜花——甜蜿豆、木犀草、飞燕草、石竹、三色堇、香蒿,还有给小鸟吃的繁缕。艾美的园子弄了个小花荫,虽然弯弯扭扭,倒也十分好看,上面攀满了一圈圈色彩斑斓的忍冬花和牵牛花,一朵朵、一串串,煞为雅致,还有高高的白百合,娇嫩的草蕨等奇葩异草,临风盛开,争奇斗妍。

天气晴朗时,她们或是浇花培土、散步、到河中划艇,或是出去采花,下雨时则呆在家里玩游戏——一些是旧游戏,一些是新游戏——全都颇具创意。其中一种叫做"匹克威克社",因为时下流行建神秘社团,她们认为也该建一个;又因姐妹们都崇拜狄更斯,便把社命名为"匹克威克社"。虽然偶有几次中断,但这个社坚持了足足一年。每到星期六晚上,她们便来到大阁楼会合,举行社团仪式,平时三张椅子并排摆在一张桌子前面,桌上摆着一盏灯和四个白色会徽,上面各印着不同颜色的"匹克威克"几个大字,还摆着一份名为《匹克威克文逊的周报。四姐妹都是这份社报的撰稿人,编辑大人是酷爱舞文弄墨的乔。七点正,四位社员登上阁楼,把会徽绑在头上,庄严坐下。梅格最大,号称塞缪尔•匹克威克;富有文学才情的乔号为奥古斯都•斯诺格拉斯,胖乎乎、肤色红润的贝思号称特雷西•托曼;做事总是不自量力的艾美号纳撒尼尔•温克尔。主席匹克威克宣读社报。报纸里头写满了匠心独运的故事、诗歌、当地新闻、有趣的广告,以及对各人缺点的好意提示。这天,匹克威克先生戴上一副没有镜片的眼镜,敲一下桌子,清清嗓子,使劲瞪一眼斜靠在椅子上的斯诺格拉斯先生,等他坐正了,这才开始读:




    
_________________________________________________

    "THE PICKWICK PORTFOLIO"



    MAY 20, 18?

    POET'S CORNER

    ANNIVERSARY ODE


    Again we meet to celebrate
    With badge and solemn rite,
    Our fifty-second anniversary,
    In Pickwick Hall, tonight.

    We all are here in perfect health,
    None gone from our small band:
    Again we see each well-known face,
    And press each friendly hand.

    Our Pickwick, always at his post,
    With reverence we greet,
    As, spectacles on nose, he reads
    Our well-filled weekly sheet.

    Although he suffers from a cold,
    We joy to hear him speak,
    For words of wisdom from him fall,
    In spite of croak or squeak.

    Old six-foot Snodgrass looms on high,
    With elephantine grace,
    And beams upon the company,
    With brown and jovial face.

    Poetic fire lights up his eye,
    He struggles 'gainst his lot.
    Behold ambition on his brow,
    And on his nose, a blot.

    Next our peaceful Tupman comes,
    So rosy, plump, and sweet,
    Who chokes with laughter at the puns,
    And tumbles off his seat.

    Prim little Winkle too is here,
    With every hair in place,
    A model of propriety,
    Though he hates to wash his face.

    The year is gone, we still unite
    To joke and laugh and read,
    And tread the path of literature
    That doth to glory lead.

    Long may our paper prosper well,
    Our club unbroken be,
    And coming years their blessings pour
    On the useful, gay 'P.  C.'.
    A.  SNODGRASS

    ________

    THE MASKED MARRIAGE
    (A Tale Of Venice)

    Gondola after gondola swept up to the marble
    steps, and left its lovely load to swell the
    brilliant throng that filled the stately halls of Count
    Adelon.  Knights and ladies, elves and pages, monks
    and flower girls, all mingled gaily in the dance.
    Sweet voices and rich melody filled the air, and so
    with mirth and music the masquerade went on.
    "Has your Highness seen the Lady Viola tonight?"
    asked a gallant troubadour of the fairy queen who
    floated down the hall upon his arm.

    "Yes, is she not lovely, though so sad!  Her
    dress is well chosen, too, for in a week she weds
    Count Antonio, whom she passionately hates."

    "By my faith, I envy him.  Yonder he comes,
    arrayed like a bridegroom, except the black mask.
    When that is off we shall see how he regards the
    fair maid whose heart he cannot win, though her
    stern father bestows her hand," returned the troubadour.

    "Tis whispered that she loves the young English
    artist who haunts her steps, and is spurned by the
    old Count," said the lady, as they joined the dance.
    The revel was at its height when a priest
    appeared, and withdrawing the young pair to an alcove,
    hung with purple velvet, he motioned them to kneel.
    Instant silence fell on the gay throng, and not a
    sound, but the dash of fountains or the rustle of
    orange groves sleeping in the moonlight, broke the
    hush, as Count de Adelon spoke thus:

    "My lords and ladies, pardon the ruse by which
    I have gathered you here to witness the marriage of
    my daughter.  Father, we wait your services."
    All eyes turned toward the bridal party, and a
    murmur of amazement went through the throng, for
    neither bride nor groom removed their masks.  Curiosity
    and wonder possessed all hearts, but respect restrained
    all tongues till the holy rite was over.  Then the
    eager spectators gathered round the count, demanding
    an explanation.

    "Gladly would I give it if I could, but I only
    know that it was the whim of my timid Viola, and I
    yielded to it.  Now, my children, let the play end.
    Unmask and receive my blessing."

    But neither bent the knee, for the young bridegroom
    replied in a tone that startled all listeners
    as the mask fell, disclosing the noble face of Ferdinand
    Devereux, the artist lover, and leaning on the
    breast where now flashed the star of an English earl
    was the lovely Viola, radiant with joy and beauty.

    "My lord, you scornfully bade me claim your
    daughter when I could boast as high a name and vast a
    fortune as the Count Antonio.  I can do more, for even
    your ambitious soul cannot refuse the Earl of Devereux
    and De Vere, when he gives his ancient name and boundless
    wealth in return for the beloved hand of this fair lady,
    now my wife."

    The count stood like one changed to stone, and
    turning to the bewildered crowd, Ferdinand added, with
    a gay smile of triumph, "To you, my gallant friends, I
    can only wish that your wooing may prosper as mine has
    done, and that you may all win as fair a bride as I have
    by this masked marriage."
    S.  PICKWICK


    Why is the P. C. like the Tower of Babel?
    It is full of unruly members.

    ________

    THE HISTORY OF A SQUASH


    Once upon a time a farmer planted a little seed
    in his garden, and after a while it sprouted and became
    a vine and bore many squashes.  One day in October,
    when they were ripe, he picked one and took it
    to market.  A gorcerman bought and put it in his shop.
    That same morning, a little girl in a brown hat
    and blue dress, with a round face and snub nose, went
    and bought it for her mother.  She lugged it home, cut
    it up, and boiled it in the big pot, mashed some of it
    with salt and butter, for dinner.  And to the rest she added
    a pint of milk, two eggs, four spoons of sugar, nutmeg,
    and some crackers, put it in a deep dish, and baked it
    till it was brown and nice, and next day it was eaten
    by a family named March.
    T. TUPMAN

    ________

    Mr. Pickwick, Sir:?
    I address you upon the subject of sin the sinner
    I mean is a man named Winkle who makes trouble in his
    club by laughing and sometimes won't write his piece in
    this fine paper I hope you will pardon his badness and
    let him send a French fable because he can't write out
    of his head as he has so many lessons to do and no brains
    in future I will try to take time by the fetlock and
    prepare some work which will be all commy la fo that
    means all right I am in haste as it is nearly school
    time.
    Yours respectably,
    N. WINKLE

    [The above is a manly and handsome acknowledgment of past
    misdemeanors.  If our young friend studied punctuation, it
    would be well.]

    ________

    A SAD ACCIDENT

    On Friday last, we were startled by a violent shock
    in our basement, followed by cries of distress.
    On rushing in a body to the cellar, we discovered our beloved
    President prostrate upon the floor, having tripped and
    fallen while getting wood for domestic purposes.  A perfect
    scene of ruin met our eyes, for in his fall Mr. Pickwick
    had plunged his head and shoulders into a tub of water,
    upset a keg of soft soap upon his manly form,  and torn
    his garments badly.  On being removed from this perilous
    situation, it was discovered that he had suffered
    no injury but several bruises, and we are happy to add,
    is now doing well.
    ED.

    ________

    THE PUBLIC BEREAVEMENT

    It is our painful duty to record the sudden and
    mysterious disappearance of our cherished friend, Mrs.
    Snowball Pat Paw.  This lovely and beloved cat was the
    pet of a large circle of warm and admiring friends; for
    her beauty attracted all eyes, her graces and virtues
    endeared her to all hearts, and her loss is deeply felt
    by the whole community.

    When last seen, she was sitting at the gate, watching
    the butcher's cart, and it is feared that some villain,
    tempted by her charms, basely stole her.  Weeks have passed,
    but no trace of her has been discovered, and we relinquish
    all hope, tie a black ribbon to her basket, set aside her
    dish, and weep for her as one lost to us forever.

    ________

    A sympathizing friend sends the following gem:


    A LAMENT
    (FOR S. B. PAT PAW)

    We mourn the loss of our little pet,
    And sigh o'er her hapless fate,
    For never more by the fire she'll sit,
    Nor play by the old green gate.

    The little grave where her infant sleeps
    Is 'neath the chestnut tree.
    But o'er her grave we may not weep,
    We know not where it may be.

    Her empty bed, her idle ball,
    Will never see her more;
    No gentle tap, no loving purr
    Is heard at the parlor door.

    Another cat comes after her mice,
    A cat with a dirty face,
    But she does not hunt as our darling did,
    Nor play with her airy grace.

    Her stealthy paws tread the very hall
    Where Snowball used to play,
    But she only spits at the dogs our pet
    So gallantly drove away.

    She is useful and mild, and does her best,
    But she is not fair to see,
    And we cannot give her your place dear,
    Nor worship her as we worship thee.
    A.S.

    ________

    ADVERTISEMENTS

    MISS ORANTHY BLUGGAGE, the accomplished
    strong-minded lecturer, will deliver her
    famous lecture on "WOMAN AND HER POSITION"
    at Pickwick Hall, next Saturday Evening,
    after the usual performances.


    A WEEKLY MEETING will be held at Kitchen
    Place, to teach young ladies how to cook.
    Hannah Brown will preside, and all are
    invited to attend.

    The DUSTPAN SOCIETY will meet on Wednesday
    next, and parade in the upper story of the
    Club House.  All members to appear in uniform
    and shoulder their brooms at nine precisely.

    Mrs. BETH BOUNCER will open her new
    assortment of Doll's Millinery next week.
    The latest Paris fashions have arrived,
    and orders are respectfully solicited.

    A NEW PLAY will appear at the Barnville
    Theatre, in the course of a few weeks, which
    will surpass anything ever seen on the American stage.
    "The Greek Slave, or Constantine the Avenger," is the name
    of this thrilling drama!!!



    HINTS

    If S.P. didn't use so much soap on his hands,
    he wouldn't always be late at breakfast.  A.S.
    is requested not to whistle in the street.  T.T.
    please don't forget Amy's napkin.  N.W.  must
    not fret because his dress has not nine tucks.



    WEEKLY REPORT

    Meg-Good.
    Jo-Bad.
    Beth_Very Good.
    Amy-Middling.

_________________________________________________

 

“匹克威克文选"

18--,5月20日

诗人角

周年纪念颂

今晚,我们再次相聚在匹克威克大堂。

庄严肃穆,头戴徽章,

庆祝我们第五十二个辉煌。

又看到一张张熟悉的面孔,

又握紧了友谊之手;

我们全部到齐,

个个精神抖擞。

我们恭敬地问候,

尽忠职守的匹克威克,

他鼻子上架一副眼镜,

朗读我们精彩的报纸。

虽然感冒使他声音嘶哑,

我们还是听得津津有味,

因为他吐出的字句,

全部充满了智慧。

六尺的斯诺格拉斯高高盘踞,

优雅的姿势透出一股傻气,

棕色的面孔快乐无比,

向伙伴们传送笑意。

诗歌之火燃亮了他的眼睛,

他勇敢地抗争自己的命运。

他眉宇之间写着凌云壮志,

鼻子上却沾了一块墨渍!

接下来是我们文静的托曼,

多么红润、丰满、可爱,

听到俏皮话笑得说不出话来,

还从椅子上滚了下来。

严肃的小温克尔也在这里,

每根头发都摆弄得有条有理,

十足一个礼仪典范,

虽然她最恨洗自己的脸蛋。

岁月无声,一年已逝,

我们仍然团结一致,

欢笑与共,奇文共赏,

在文学殿堂里翱翔。

愿我们的社报长盛不衰,

愿我们的社团永不中断,

愿来年把祝福赐给

朝气蓬勃的匹克威克社。

A.斯诺格拉斯

戴面具的婚礼

威尼斯传奇

船儿一艘接一艘摇过来,停

靠在大理石台阶下,衣着华丽的

人们从船里鱼贯而出,走进阿德

龙伯爵富丽堂皇、宾客如云的大

厅,融会到人海里头,武士、贵

妇人、小精灵、小侍从、僧侣及

卖花女,全都兴高彩烈地随曲起

舞。软语飘荡,妙韵飞扬,化装

舞会正在欢笑声和音乐声中进

行。

“殿下今晚见到维奥拉小姐

了吗?”一位殷勤的行吟诗人问

正靠在他臂膀上在大厅里翩翩

起舞的仙女般的女王。

“见到了,真是绝世佳人,虽

然看上去黯然神伤!她的裙子也

是精心挑选的,因为一个星期后

她就要嫁给安东尼奥伯爵——

一个她恨之入骨的人了。”

“说实话,我嫉妒他。他从那

边走过来了,打扮得像个新郎,

只是戴着黑色面具。摘下面具

后,我们就知道他对那位并不爱

他、但却被严厉的父亲逼着嫁给

他的漂亮姑娘有什么看法了,”

行吟诗人说。

“有消息说她爱上了一个年

轻的英国艺术家,小伙子把她家

的门槛都踏破了,但却遭到老伯

爵的轻蔑拒绝,”女士边舞边说。

当一个牧师出现时舞会达

到了高潮。牧师把这对年轻人带

到挂着紫色天鹅绒帘幕的壁龛

前,示意他们跪下。欢乐的人群

立即安静下来;四面静悄悄一

片,只听到喷泉的洒水声和橙林

在月光下发出的沙沙声。这时阿

德龙伯爵说道:

“各位嘉宾,请原谅我设下

此计请你们来观看我女儿的婚

礼。神父,我们恭候仪式开始。”

众人把眼光一起投向新郎

新娘,人群中响起了一阵惊奇的

低语声,因为两个新人都没有摘

下面具。大家心里异常惊奇,但

出于礼仪都没有做声。一待神圣

的婚礼结束,心急的观众便围着

伯爵追问根由。

“我也是莫明其妙呢,只知

道这是我生性害羞的维奥拉想

出来的怪点子,我也只好由她

了。好了,我的孩子们,游戏到

此为止,摘下面具接受我的祝福

吧。”

但两人并没有跪下来,年轻

的新郎摘下面具,出现在大家面

前的是艺术家情人费迪南德•

德弗罗气质高贵的面孔。他胸佩

一枚闪闪发亮的英国伯爵星徽,

可爱的维奥拉幸福地倚在他的

怀里,艳光四射,神采飞扬。新

郎回答他的口吻震惊四座:

“大人,您轻蔑地叫我等到

和安东尼奥起名并和他一样有

钱的那一天再来娶您的女儿。您

太低估我了,即使您的野心也拒

绝不了德弗罗和德维尔伯爵。他

的姓氏历史悠久,家财富可敌

国,为了和这位漂亮的小姐,也

即我的妻子缔结姻缘,他不惜献

出这一切。”

老伯爵站在那里如泥塑木

雕一般。费迪南德转向迷惑不解

的人群,带着胜利的微笑喜悦地

说道:“勇敢的朋友们,我祝愿你

们求婚也能像我一样马到功成,

祝福你们也能用这种戴面具的

婚礼娶得和我的新娘一样美丽

的姑娘。”

S.匹克威克

为什么匹克威克社像一盆

散沙?因为它的成员们个个都无

规无矩。

南瓜记

从前,有个农夫在自己的园

子里栽了一粒小种子,不久种子

破土而出,长成一株藤蔓,上面

结了许多南瓜。十月的一天,瓜

儿成熟了。他摘下一个带到市

常一个食品杂货商把瓜买下,

放在自己的商店里。这天早上,

一个戴棕色帽子穿蓝色裙子圆

脸扁鼻的小姑娘来替妈妈把瓜

买去。她把瓜拖回家,切好,放

在大锅里煮;把其中一些拌上盐

和牛油捣烂,用作晚餐时吃;

其余的她加上一品脱牛奶、两个鸡

蛋、四调羹糖、肉豆冠和一些饼

干,然后放在盘子里烘焙,直到

色泽金黄、清香扑鼻为止。第二

天,瓜便被名为"马奇"的一家

子吃掉了。

T.托曼

匹克威克先生,阁下:

我与阁下讨论罪行问题,罪

人是个名叫温克尔的小子他发

出笑声给匹社制造麻烦有时甚

至不愿意为这份好报写稿我希

望您能原谅他的恶行让他送上

一则法国寓言因为他笨头笨脑

而且还有许多功课要做所以脑

袋不能使得太尽以后我一定抓

紧时间准备一些Commylaeo

意思是像样的作起来恕我行笔

匆匆因为上课时间又到了。

你尊敬的N.温克尔

[上文对自己以往的劣行供

认不讳,此种男子气概值得嘉

奖。如果我们这位年轻朋友学习

过句读的话,那就更好了。]

一次不幸事故

上星期五,我们被地窖里头

一下强烈的震动声和紧接而至

的痛苦叫声吓得胆战心惊。我们

一起冲进地窖,发现尊敬的主席

大人倒卧地上,原来他在搬木柴

时绊了一跤。我们看到遍地狼

藉,因为匹克威克先生跌倒时把

头和肩膀插入一桶水里,强壮的

身躯带翻了一小桶软皂,衣服也

被撕烂了。把他抬出险境后,我

们发现他并无受伤,只是擦破了

几处皮肤而已;现在,我们可以

高兴地告诉大家他一切正常。

编辑

痛失爱猫

我们有责任把这件事痛苦

地记录下来:我们珍贵的朋友

雪球•帕特•鲍太太突然神秘

失踪。这只漂亮可爱的猫是一

大班仰慕她的热心朋友的宠

儿,她的美丽引人瞩目,她的优

雅姿态和良好品德赢得了大家

的欢心。众人无不为失去她而

深感痛惜。

最后一次见到她时,她正

坐在门边,盯着屠夫的运货马

车;据推测,可能某个歹徒垂诞

于她的美色,卑鄙地把她偷走。

几个星期已经过去,猫儿仍然

无影无踪。我们放弃了一切希

望,在她的篮子系上黑绸带,把

她的盘子放到一边,并为失去

她而痛哭流涕。

一位富有同情心的朋友送

来如下美文:

挽歌

致S.B.帕特•鲍

我们哀悼小猫的失去,

叹息她不幸的命运,

火炉边不再见到她的身影,

门边也没有她淘气的痕迹。

她的孩子气息的小坟,

是栗子树下的一坯净土;

但我们却不能在她坟前洒泪,

因为不知道她魂归何处。

她空着的床,她闲置的球,

再也见不到主人归来;

轻柔的步拍,悦耳的喵叫,

不再从门边传来。

另一只猫来抓老鼠,

那可是个脏面孔;

她不像我们的爱猫机灵,

玩的姿势也比不上她美丽。

她在雪球玩过的大厅,

悄悄溜来溜去。

但她对狗只是呼噜怒叫,

而雪球却勇敢地把它们赶跑。

她温顺尽力,也派得上用场,

但模样却登不上大雅之堂;

你在我们心中的位置,亲爱的,

她怎么能够比上?

A.S。

广告

奥伦丝•布拉格小姐,成功

的独立见解演讲人,将于下周晚

例行活动之后在匹克威克大厅

讲演其著名专题"论妇女及其地

位"。

每周例会将在厨房举行,教

导年轻女士烹调。主讲人罕娜•

布朗,诚邀全体成员参加。

“畚箕协会"将于下周三集

合,列队开进"社屋"顶层。所

有队员需穿工作服,带扫帚,并

于九点正准时会齐。

贝思•邦斯太太将于下周

展览新式玩偶女帽。最新的巴

黎式样现已到货,欢迎订购。

一场新话剧将于数周后在

巴维尔戏剧院举行,该剧将超越

美国舞台上上演过的任何戏剧。

该剧震撼人心,剧名为:“希腊奴

隶,或复仇者康士坦丁"!

提示:

如果S.P.洗手时少用点肥

皂,早餐便不会老是迟到。请A。

S.不要在街上吹口哨。T.T.请

别忘记艾美的手帕。V.W.不

必为裙子上有九道横褶而烦恼。

一周总结

梅格——良。

乔——差。

贝思——优。

艾美——中。




As the President finished reading the paper (which I beg leave to assure my readers is a bona fide copy of one written by bona fide girls once upon a time), a round of applause followed, and then Mr. Snodgrass rose to make a proposition.

"Mr. President and gentlemen," he began, assuming a parliamentary attitude and tone, "I wish to propose the admission of a new member—one who highly deserves the honor, would be deeply grateful for it, and would add immensely to the spirit of the club, the literary value of the paper, and be no end jolly and nice. I propose Mr. Theodore Laurence as an honorary member of the P. C. Come now, do have him."

Jo's sudden change of tone made the girls laugh, but all looked rather anxious, and no one said a word as Snodgrass took his seat.

"We'll put it to a vote," said the President. "All in favor of this motion please to manifest it by saying, 'Aye'."

A loud response from Snodgrass, followed, to everybody's surprise, by a timid one from Beth.

"Contrary-minded say, 'No'."

Meg and Amy were contrary-minded, and Mr. Winkle rose to say with great elegance, "We don't wish any boys, they only joke and bounce about. This is a ladies' club, and we wish to be private and proper."

"I'm afraid he'll laugh at our paper, and make fun of us afterward," observed Pickwick, pulling the little curl on her forehead, as she always did when doubtful.

Up rose Snodgrass, very much in earnest. "Sir, I give you my word as a gentleman, Laurie won't do anything of the sort. He likes to write, and he'll give a tone to our contributions and keep us from being sentimental, don't you see? We can do so little for him, and he does so much for us, I think the least we can do is to offer him a place here, and make him welcome if he comes."

This artful allusion to benefits conferred brought Tupman to his feet, looking as if he had quite made up his mind.

"Yes; we ought to do it, even if we are afraid. I say he may come, and his grandpa, too, if he likes."

This spirited burst from Beth electrified the club, and Jo left her seat to shake hands approvingly. "Now then, vote again. Everybody remember it's our Laurie, and say, 'Aye!'" cried Snodgrass excitedly.

"Aye! Aye! Aye!" replied three voices at once.

"Good! Bless you! Now, as there's nothing like 'taking time by the fetlock', as Winkle characteristically observes, allow me to present the new member." And, to the dismay of the rest of the club, Jo threw open the door of the closet, and displayed Laurie sitting on a rag bag, flushed and twinkling with suppressed laughter.

"You rogue! You traitor! Jo, how could you?" cried the three girls, as Snodgrass led her friend triumphantly forth, and producing both a chair and a badge, installed him in a jiffy.

"The coolness of you two rascals is amazing," began Mr. Pickwick, trying to get up an awful frown and only succeeding in producing an amiable smile. But the new member was equal to the occasion, and rising, with a grateful salutation to the Chair, said in the most engaging manner, "Mr. President and ladies—I beg pardon, gentlemen—allow me to introduce myself as Sam Weller, the very humble servant of the club."

"Good! Good!" cried Jo, pounding with the handle of the old warming pan on which she leaned.

"My faithful friend and noble patron," continued Laurie with a wave of the hand, "who has so flatteringly presented me, is not to be blamed for the base stratagem of tonight. I planned it, and she only gave in after lots of teasing."

"Come now, don't lay it all on yourself. You know I proposed the cupboard," broke in Snodgrass, who was enjoying the joke amazingly.

"Never mind what she says. I'm the wretch that did it, sir," said the new member, with a Welleresque nod to Mr. Pickwick. "But on my honor, I never will do so again, and henceforth devote myself to the interest of this immortal club."

"Hear! Hear!" cried Jo, clashing the lid of the warming pan like a cymbal.

"Go on, go on!" added Winkle and Tupman, while the President bowed benignly.

"I merely wish to say, that as a slight token of my gratitude for the honor done me, and as a means of promoting friendly relations between adjoining nations, I have set up a post office in the hedge in the lower corner of the garden, a fine, spacious building with padlocks on the doors and every convenience for the mails, also the females, if I may be allowed the expression. It's the old martin house, but I've stopped up the door and made the roof open, so it will hold all sorts of things, and save our valuable time. Letters, manuscripts, books, and bundles can be passed in there, and as each nation has a key, it will be uncommonly nice, I fancy. Allow me to present the club key, and with many thanks for your favor, take my seat."

Great applause as Mr. Weller deposited a little key on the table and subsided, the warming pan clashed and waved wildly, and it was some time before order could be restored. A long discussion followed, and everyone came out surprising, for everyone did her best. So it was an unusually lively meeting, and did not adjourn till a late hour, when it broke up with three shrill cheers for the new member.

No one ever regretted the admittance of Sam Weller, for a more devoted, well-behaved, and jovial member no club could have. He certainly did add 'spirit' to the meetings, and 'a tone' to the paper, for his orations convulsed his hearers and his contributions were excellent, being patriotic, classical, comical, or dramatic, but never sentimental. Jo regarded them as worthy of Bacon, Milton, or Shakespeare, and remodeled her own works with good effect, she thought.

The P. O. was a capital little institution, and flourished wonderfully, for nearly as many queer things passed through it as through the real post office. Tragedies and cravats, poetry and pickles, garden seeds and long letters, music and gingerbread, rubbers, invitations, scoldings, and puppies. The old gentleman liked the fun, and amused himself by sending odd bundles, mysterious messages, and funny telegrams, and his gardener, who was smitten with Hannah's charms, actually sent a love letter to Jo's care. How they laughed when the secret came out, never dreaming how many love letters that little post office would hold in the years to come.

 

主席读完报(请读者相信,这是当年一班bona fide的女孩子bona fide写出的报纸),社员发出一轮掌声,接着斯诺格拉斯先生气身提议。

“主席先生,各位先生,”他摆出一副国会议员的架势,郑重其事地说,”我提议接纳一位新成员——一位实至名归、能够将本社精神发扬光大、提高社报的文学价值、快乐有趣的人士。我提议西奥多•劳伦斯先生成为匹克威克社的名誉成员。来吧,欢迎他吧。”看到乔突然改变了语调,姑娘们都笑了起来,但大家都显得有点顾虑,斯诺格拉斯落座的时候大家都不做声。

“我们投票决定吧,”主席说,”赞成这项提议的请说:''同意。''"斯诺格拉斯首先大叫一声,使众人吃惊的是,贝思接着也羞答答地表了态。

“持反对意见的请说:''不。''”

梅格和艾美持反对意见。只见温克尔先生站起来,十分优雅地说道:“我们不想要男孩子,他们只会取笑我们,而且淘气捣蛋。这是个女子社团,我们希望名符其实,不受外人干扰。”“我担心他会笑话我们的报纸,进而取笑我们,”匹克威克扯着额前的一小绺鬈发说道。她拿不定主意的时候便是这副样子。

斯诺格拉斯一跃而起,十分着急。”先生,我以一个绅士的名义向你保证,劳里不会做出这种事情。他喜欢写作,他会使我们的稿子另添一种格调,让我们不用多愁善感,你明白吗?他帮了我们许多忙,我们无以为报。我想我们至少可以为他提供一席之地,欢迎他入社。”这番关于既得好处的巧妙暗示令得托曼站起身来,他似乎下定了决心。

“对,我们应该这样,哪怕我们担心也好。依我说,他可以入社,他爷爷也可以,如果他愿意的话。”贝思充满感情的寥寥数语使社员们个个动容,乔离座赞许地与她握手。”好了,再投一次票。大家记住这是我们的劳里,说:''同意!''"斯诺格拉斯激动地叫道。

“同意!同意!同意!”三姐妹异口同声地回答。

“好极了!主保佑你们!现在,正如温克尔那富有个性的说法,最要紧的是''抓紧时间'',那么,请允许我请出我们的新成员。”众人尚在迷惑不解之中,乔已一把拉开柜门,只见劳里坐在一个破布袋上,脸色通红,强忍住笑,双眼闪闪发亮。

“你这淘气鬼!你这叛徒!乔,你怎么可以这样?”三个姑娘喊道。斯诺格拉斯得意洋洋地把她的朋友带上前来,拿出一把椅子和一个会徽,立即把他安置妥当。

“你们两个坏家伙真是冷血动物,”匹克威克开口说道,试图皱起蛾眉,却化作温柔一笑。

不过,新成员善于临机应变。他站起来,向主席感激地行个礼,风度翩翩地说道:“主席先生和女士们——请原谅,先生们——请允许在下自我介绍:山姆•维勒,愿为各位效犬马之劳。”“好!好!”乔把靠着的旧取暖气把手碰得呼呼作响,叫道。

“我忠实的朋友和高贵的恩人,”劳里挥挥手,接着说,”那位不遗余力地把我介绍给各位的人,不应为今晚的卑鄙行径受到责备。这是我出的主意,经我软磨硬缠她才作了让步。”“算了,别包揽一切了,你知道藏在柜子里头是我出的主意,“斯诺格拉斯打断他的话,觉得这个玩笑十分有趣。

“别尽信她说,我才是罪魁祸首,先生,”新成员向匹克威克先生行了个维勒式的点头礼,说道,”不过我用名誉担保,以后决不故伎重演,从此以后我要为这个不朽的社团竭尽全力。”“听哪!听哪!”乔叫道,把取暖器的盖子当作铙钹乱敲一气。

“往下说,往下说!”温克尔和托曼说道,主席则温厚地一躬身子。

“我只想说,承蒙厚爱,不胜惶恐,为表示感激之情,为加强我们邻里之间的友好关系,我在花园低矮一角的树篱里设了一个邮箱。那是间宽敞漂亮的小屋,各道门都上了挂锁,鱼雁贯通,方便之极。它原是一间旧燕屋,但我已把门堵上,把屋顶打开,这样便可以取各种物件,节省我们的宝贵时间。

那些信件、手稿、书本、包裹等等,都可以在那里传递,我们两家各执一枚钥匙,我相信这样一定妙趣横生。请允许我献上这把社匙,并衷心感谢各位的厚意,并承蒙赐座。”当维勒先生把一枚小钥匙放在桌上退下时,掌声热烈响起,取暖器当当作响、乱晃一气,秩序好一会才恢复过来。接着是长时间的讨论,大家充分发挥,个个的表现都出人意料;会议开得异常活跃,足足开了近一个小时才在为新成员发出的三下欢呼声中结束。对于吸收山姆•维勒入社,大家从不感到后悔,因为他富有献身精神,表现出色,活泼快乐,堪称社员的楷模。他无疑发扬光大了各项会议的"精神",给社报增添了一种"格调",因为他的演说震撼人心,他的文稿格调优美清新,富有爱国热忱,而且幽默生动,从不多愁善感,乔觉得这些文章堪可媲美培根、弥尔顿、莎士比亚的大作,并对自己的文风也有很大影响。

邮箱确实妙不可言,它的业务十分繁荣,其作用足以与真正的邮局媲美,因为各种各样离奇古怪的东西都经那里传递:乐器、姜饼、胶擦、邀请信、训斥信,还有小狗,等等。

连劳伦斯老人都感到有趣,也送一些古怪包裹、神秘字条和滑稽的电报来凑热闹;而他那位拜倒在罕娜石榴裙下的园丁,竟送了一封情书让乔转交。当秘密泄漏时大家笑得前仰后合,绝没有想到这个小小的邮箱日后还会容纳多少情书!




CHAPTER ELEVEN EXPERIMENTS

"The first of June! The Kings are off to the seashore tomorrow, and I'm free. Three months' vacation—how I shall enjoy it!" exclaimed Meg, coming home one warm day to find Jo laid upon the sofa in an unusual state of exhaustion, while Beth took off her dusty boots, and Amy made lemonade for the refreshment of the whole party.

"Aunt March went today, for which, oh, be joyful!" said Jo. "I was mortally afraid she'd ask me to go with her. If she had, I should have felt as if I ought to do it, but Plumfield is about as gay as a churchyard, you know, and I'd rather be excused. We had a flurry getting the old lady off, and I had a fright every time she spoke to me, for I was in such a hurry to be through that I was uncommonly helpful and sweet, and feared she'd find it impossible to part from me. I quaked till she was fairly in the carriage, and had a final fright, for as it drove of, she popped out her head, saying, 'Josyphine, won't you?' I didn't hear any more, for I basely turned and fled. I did actually run, and whisked round the corner where I felt safe."

"Poor old Jo! She came in looking as if bears were after her," said Beth, as she cuddled her sister's feet with a motherly air.

"Aunt March is a regular samphire, is she not?" observed Amy, tasting her mixture critically.

"She means vampire, not seaweed, but it doesn't matter. It's too warm to be particular about one's parts of speech," murmured Jo.

"What shall you do all your vacation?" asked Amy, changing the subject with tact.

"I shall lie abed late, and do nothing," replied Meg, from the depths of the rocking chair. "I've been routed up early all winter and had to spend my days working for other people, so now I'm going to rest and revel to my heart's content."

"No," said Jo, "that dozy way wouldn't suit me. I've laid in a heap of books, and I'm going to improve my shining hours reading on my perch in the old apple tree, when I'm not having l——"

"Don't say 'larks!'" implored Amy, as a return snub for the 'samphire' correction.

"I'll say 'nightingales' then, with Laurie. That's proper and appropriate, since he's a warbler."

"Don't let us do any lessons, Beth, for a while, but play all the time and rest, as the girls mean to," proposed Amy.

"Well, I will, if Mother doesn't mind. I want to learn some new songs, and my children need fitting up for the summer. They are dreadfully out of order and really suffering for clothes."

"May we, Mother?" asked Meg, turning to Mrs. March, who sat sewing in what they called 'Marmee's corner'.

"You may try your experiment for a week and see how you like it. I think by Saturday night you will find that all play and no work is as bad as all work and no play."

"Oh, dear, no! It will be delicious, I'm sure," said Meg complacently.

"I now propose a toast, as my 'friend and pardner, Sairy Gamp', says. Fun forever, and no grubbing!" cried Jo, rising, glass in hand, as the lemonade went round.

They all drank it merrily, and began the experiment by lounging for the rest of the day. Next morning, Meg did not appear till ten o'clock. Her solitary breakfast did not taste good, and the room seemed lonely and untidy, for Jo had not filled the vases, Beth had not dusted, and Amy's books lay scattered about. Nothing was neat and pleasant but 'Marmee's corner', which looked as usual. And there Meg sat, to 'rest and read', which meant to yawn and imagine what pretty summer dresses she would get with her salary. Jo spent the morning on the river with Laurie and the afternoon reading and crying over The Wide, Wide World, up in the apple tree. Beth began by rummaging everything out of the big closet where her family resided, but getting tired before half done, she left her establishment topsy-turvy and went to her music, rejoicing that she had no dishes to wash. Amy arranged her bower, put on her best white frock, smoothed her curls, and sat down to draw under the honeysuckle, hoping someone would see and inquire who the young artist was. As no one appeared but an inquisitive daddy-longlegs, who examined her work with interest, she went to walk, got caught in a shower, and came home dripping.

At teatime they compared notes, and all agreed that it had been a delightful, though unusually long day. Meg, who went shopping in the afternoon and got a 'sweet blue muslin', had discovered, after she had cut the breadths off, that it wouldn't wash, which mishap made her slightly cross. Jo had burned the skin off her nose boating, and got a raging headache by reading too long. Beth was worried by the confusion of her closet and the difficulty of learning three or four songs at once, and Amy deeply regretted the damage done her frock, for Katy Brown's party was to be the next day and now like Flora McFlimsey, she had 'nothing to wear'. But these were mere trifles, and they assured their mother that the experiment was working finely. She smiled, said nothing, and with Hannah's help did their neglected work, keeping home pleasant and the domestic machinery running smoothly. It was astonishing what a peculiar and uncomfortable state of things was produced by the 'resting and reveling' process. The days kept getting longer and longer, the weather was unusually variable and so were tempers; an unsettled feeling possessed everyone, and Satan found plenty of mischief for the idle hands to do. As the height of luxury, Meg put out some of her sewing, and then found time hang so heavily, that she fell to snipping and spoiling her clothes in her attempts to furbish them up a la Moffat. Jo read till her eyes gave out and she was sick of books, got so fidgety that even good-natured Laurie had a quarrel with her, and so reduced in spirits that she desperately wished she had gone with Aunt March. Beth got on pretty well, for she was constantly forgetting that it was to be all play and no work, and fell back into her old ways now and then. But something in the air affected her, and more than once her tranquility was much disturbed, so much so that on one occasion she actually shook poor dear Joanna and told her she was 'a fright'. Amy fared worst of all, for her resources were small, and when her sisters left her to amuse herself, she soon found that accomplished and important little self a great burden. She didn't like dolls, fairy tales were childish, and one couldn't draw all the time. Tea parties didn't amount to much, neither did picnics, unless very well conducted. "If one could have a fine house, full of nice girls, or go traveling, the summer would be delightful, but to stay at home with three selfish sisters and a grown-up boy was enough to try the patience of a Boaz," complained Miss Malaprop, after several days devoted to pleasure, fretting, and ennui.

No one would own that they were tired of the experiment, but by Friday night each acknowledged to herself that she was glad the week was nearly done. Hoping to impress the lesson more deeply, Mrs. March, who had a good deal of humor, resolved to finish off the trial in an appropriate manner, so she gave Hannah a holiday and let the girls enjoy the full effect of the play system.

When they got up on Saturday morning, there was no fire in the kitchen, no breakfast in the dining room, and no mother anywhere to be seen.

"Mercy on us! What has happened?" cried Jo, staring about her in dismay.

Meg ran upstairs and soon came back again, looking relieved but rather bewildered, and a little ashamed.

"Mother isn't sick, only very tired, and she says she is going to stay quietly in her room all day and let us do the best we can. It's a very queer thing for her to do, she doesn't act a bit like herself. But she says it has been a hard week for her, so we mustn't grumble but take care of ourselves."

"That's easy enough, and I like the idea, I'm aching for something to do, that is, some new amusement, you know," added Jo quickly.

In fact it was an immense relief to them all to have a little work, and they took hold with a will, but soon realized the truth of Hannah's saying, "Housekeeping ain't no joke." There was plenty of food in the larder, and while Beth and Amy set the table, Meg and Jo got breakfast, wondering as they did why servants ever talked about hard work.

"I shall take some up to Mother, though she said we were not to think of her, for she'd take care of herself," said Meg, who presided and felt quite matronly behind the teapot.

So a tray was fitted out before anyone began, and taken up with the cook's compliments. The boiled tea was very bitter, the omelet scorched, and the biscuits speckled with saleratus, but Mrs. March received her repast with thanks and laughed heartily over it after Jo was gone.

"Poor little souls, they will have a hard time, I'm afraid, but they won't suffer, and it will do them good," she said, producing the more palatable viands with which she had provided herself, and disposing of the bad breakfast, so that their feelings might not be hurt, a motherly little deception for which they were grateful.

Many were the complaints below, and great the chagrin of the head cook at her failures. "Never mind, I'll get the dinner and be servant, you be mistress, keep your hands nice, see company, and give orders," said Jo, who knew still less than Meg about culinary affairs.

This obliging offer was gladly accepted, and Margaret retired to the parlor, which she hastily put in order by whisking the litter under the sofa and shutting the blinds to save the trouble of dusting. Jo, with perfect faith in her own powers and a friendly desire to make up the quarrel, immediately put a note in the office, inviting Laurie to dinner.

"You'd better see what you have got before you think of having company," said Meg, when informed of the hospitable but rash act.

"Oh, there's corned beef and plenty of potatoes, and I shall get some asparagus and a lobster, 'for a relish', as Hannah says. We'll have lettuce and make a salad. I don't know how, but the book tells. I'll have blanc mange and strawberries for dessert, and coffee too, if you want to be elegant."

"Don't try too many messes, Jo, for you can't make anything but gingerbread and molasses candy fit to eat. I wash my hands of the dinner party, and since you have asked Laurie on your own responsibility, you may just take care of him."

"I don't want you to do anything but be civil to him and help to the pudding. You'll give me your advice if I get in a muddle, won't you?" asked Jo, rather hurt.

"Yes, but I don't know much, except about bread and a few trifles. You had better ask Mother's leave before you order anything," returned Meg prudently.

"Of course I shall. I'm not a fool." And Jo went off in a huff at the doubts expressed of her powers.

"Get what you like, and don't disturb me. I'm going out to dinner and can't worry about things at home," said Mrs. March, when Jo spoke to her. "I never enjoyed housekeeping, and I'm going to take a vacation today, and read, write, go visiting, and amuse myself."

The unusual spectacle of her busy mother rocking comfortably and reading early in the morning made Jo feel as if some unnatural phenomenon had occurred, for an eclipse, an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption would hardly have seemed stranger.

"Everything is out of sorts, somehow," she said to herself, going downstairs. "There's Beth crying, that's a sure sign that something is wrong in this family. If Amy is bothering, I'll shake her."

Feeling very much out of sorts herself, Jo hurried into the parlor to find Beth sobbing over Pip, the canary, who lay dead in the cage with his little claws pathetically extended, as if imploring the food for want of which he had died.

"It's all my fault, I forgot him, there isn't a seed or a drop left. Oh, Pip! Oh, Pip! How could I be so cruel to you?" cried Beth, taking the poor thing in her hands and trying to restore him.

Jo peeped into his half-open eye, felt his little heart, and finding him stiff and cold, shook her head, and offered her domino box for a coffin.

"Put him in the oven, and maybe he will get warm and revive," said Amy hopefully.

"He's been starved, and he shan't be baked now he's dead. I'll make him a shroud, and he shall be buried in the garden, and I'll never have another bird, never, my Pip! for I am too bad to own one," murmured Beth, sitting on the floor with her pet folded in her hands.

"The funeral shall be this afternoon, and we will all go. Now, don't cry, Bethy. It's a pity, but nothing goes right this week, and Pip has had the worst of the experiment. Make the shroud, and lay him in my box, and after the dinner party, we'll have a nice little funeral," said Jo, beginning to feel as if she had undertaken a good deal.

Leaving the others to console Beth, she departed to the kitchen, which was in a most discouraging state of confusion. Putting on a big apron, she fell to work and got the dishes piled up ready for washing, when she discovered that the fire was out.

"Here's a sweet prospect!" muttered Jo, slamming the stove door open, and poking vigorously among the cinders.

Having rekindled the fire, she thought she would go to market while the water heated. The walk revived her spirits, and flattering herself that she had made good bargains, she trudged home again, after buying a very young lobster, some very old asparagus, and two boxes of acid strawberries. By the time she got cleared up, the dinner arrived and the stove was red-hot. Hannah had left a pan of bread to rise, Meg had worked it up early, set it on the hearth for a second rising, and forgotten it. Meg was entertaining Sallie Gardiner in the parlor, when the door flew open and a floury, crocky, flushed, and disheveled figure appeared, demanding tartly...

"I say, isn't bread 'riz' enough when it runs over the pans?"

Sallie began to laugh, but Meg nodded and lifted her eyebrows as high as they would go, which caused the apparition to vanish and put the sour bread into the oven without further delay. Mrs. March went out, after peeping here and there to see how matters went, also saying a word of comfort to Beth, who sat making a winding sheet, while the dear departed lay in state in the domino box. A strange sense of helplessness fell upon the girls as the gray bonnet vanished round the corner, and despair seized them when a few minutes later Miss Crocker appeared, and said she'd come to dinner. Now this lady was a thin, yellow spinster, with a sharp nose and inquisitive eyes, who saw everything and gossiped about all she saw. They disliked her, but had been taught to be kind to her, simply because she was old and poor and had few friends. So Meg gave her the easy chair and tried to entertain her, while she asked questions, criticized everything, and told stories of the people whom she knew.

Language cannot describe the anxieties, experiences, and exertions which Jo underwent that morning, and the dinner she served up became a standing joke. Fearing to ask any more advice, she did her best alone, and discovered that something more than energy and good will is necessary to make a cook. She boiled the asparagus for an hour and was grieved to find the heads cooked off and the stalks harder than ever. The bread burned black; for the salad dressing so aggravated her that she could not make it fit to eat. The lobster was a scarlet mystery to her, but she hammered and poked till it was unshelled and its meager proportions concealed in a grove of lettuce leaves. The potatoes had to be hurried, not to keep the asparagus waiting, and were not done at the last. The blanc mange was lumpy, and the strawberries not as ripe as they looked, having been skilfully 'deaconed'.

"Well, they can eat beef and bread and butter, if they are hungry, only it's mortifying to have to spend your whole morning for nothing," thought Jo, as she rang the bell half an hour later than usual, and stood, hot, tired, and dispirited, surveying the feast spread before Laurie, accustomed to all sorts of elegance, and Miss Crocker, whose tattling tongue would report them far and wide.

Poor Jo would gladly have gone under the table, as one thing after another was tasted and left, while Amy giggled, Meg looked distressed, Miss Crocker pursed her lips, and Laurie talked and laughed with all his might to give a cheerful tone to the festive scene. Jo's one strong point was the fruit, for she had sugared it well, and had a pitcher of rich cream to eat with it. Her hot cheeks cooled a trifle, and she drew a long breath as the pretty glass plates went round, and everyone looked graciously at the little rosy islands floating in a sea of cream. Miss Crocker tasted first, made a wry face, and drank some water hastily. Jo, who refused, thinking there might not be enough, for they dwindled sadly after the picking over, glanced at Laurie, but he was eating away manfully, though there was a slight pucker about his mouth and he kept his eye fixed on his plate. Amy, who was fond of delicate fare, took a heaping spoonful, choked, hid her face in her napkin, and left the table precipitately.

"Oh, what is it?" exclaimed Jo, trembling.

"Salt instead of sugar, and the cream is sour," replied Meg with a tragic gesture.

Jo uttered a groan and fell back in her chair, remembering that she had given a last hasty powdering to the berries out of one of the two boxes on the kitchen table, and had neglected to put the milk in the refrigerator. She turned scarlet and was on the verge of crying, when she met Laurie's eyes, which would look merry in spite of his heroic efforts. The comical side of the affair suddenly struck her, and she laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks. So did everyone else, even 'Croaker' as the girls called the old lady, and the unfortunate dinner ended gaily, with bread and butter, olives and fun.

"I haven't strength of mind enough to clear up now, so we will sober ourselves with a funeral," said Jo, as they rose, and Miss Crocker made ready to go, being eager to tell the new story at another friend's dinner table.

They did sober themselves for Beth's sake. Laurie dug a grave under the ferns in the grove, little Pip was laid in, with many tears by his tender-hearted mistress, and covered with moss, while a wreath of violets and chickweed was hung on the stone which bore his epitaph, composed by Jo while she struggled with the dinner.

Here lies Pip March,
Who died the 7th of June;
Loved and lamented sore,
And not forgotten soon.

At the conclusion of the ceremonies, Beth retired to her room, overcome with emotion and lobster, but there was no place of repose, for the beds were not made, and she found her grief much assuaged by beating up the pillows and putting things in order. Meg helped Jo clear away the remains of the feast, which took half the afternoon and left them so tired that they agreed to be contented with tea and toast for supper.

Laurie took Amy to drive, which was a deed of charity, for the sour cream seemed to have had a bad effect upon her temper. Mrs. March came home to find the three older girls hard at work in the middle of the afternoon, and a glance at the closet gave her an idea of the success of one part of the experiment.

Before the housewives could rest, several people called, and there was a scramble to get ready to see them. Then tea must be got, errands done, and one or two necessary bits of sewing neglected until the last minute. As twilight fell, dewy and still, one by one they gathered on the porch where the June roses were budding beautifully, and each groaned or sighed as she sat down, as if tired or troubled.

"What a dreadful day this has been!" began Jo, usually the first to speak.

"It has seemed shorter than usual, but so uncomfortable," said Meg.

"Not a bit like home," added Amy.

"It can't seem so without Marmee and little Pip," sighed Beth, glancing with full eyes at the empty cage above her head.

"Here's Mother, dear, and you shall have another bird tomorrow, if you want it."

As she spoke, Mrs. March came and took her place among them, looking as if her holiday had not been much pleasanter than theirs.

"Are you satisfied with your experiment, girls, or do you want another week of it?" she asked, as Beth nestled up to her and the rest turned toward her with brightening faces, as flowers turn toward the sun.

"I don't!" cried Jo decidedly.

"Nor I," echoed the others.

"You think then, that it is better to have a few duties and live a little for others, do you?"

"Lounging and larking doesn't pay," observed Jo, shaking her head. "I'm tired of it and mean to go to work at something right off."

"Suppose you learn plain cooking. That's a useful accomplishment, which no woman should be without," said Mrs. March, laughing inaudibly at the recollection of Jo's dinner party, for she had met Miss Crocker and heard her account of it.

"Mother, did you go away and let everything be, just to see how we'd get on?" cried Meg, who had had suspicions all day.

"Yes, I wanted you to see how the comfort of all depends on each doing her share faithfully. While Hannah and I did your work, you got on pretty well, though I don't think you were very happy or amiable. So I thought, as a little lesson, I would show you what happens when everyone thinks only of herself. Don't you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all?"

"We do, Mother, we do!" cried the girls.

"Then let me advise you to take up your little burdens again, for though they seem heavy sometimes, they are good for us, and lighten as we learn to carry them. Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone. It keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion."

"We'll work like bees, and love it too, see if we don't," said Jo. "I'll learn plain cooking for my holiday task, and the next dinner party I have shall be a success."

"I'll make the set of shirts for father, instead of letting you do it, Marmee. I can and I will, though I'm not fond of sewing. That will be better than fussing over my own things, which are plenty nice enough as they are." said Meg.

"I'll do my lessons every day, and not spend so much time with my music and dolls. I am a stupid thing, and ought to be studying, not playing," was Beth's resolution, while Amy followed their example by heroically declaring, "I shall learn to make buttonholes, and attend to my parts of speech."

"Very good! Then I am quite satisfied with the experiment, and fancy that we shall not have to repeat it, only don't go to the other extreme and delve like slaves. Have regular hours for work and play, make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success, in spite of poverty."

"We'll remember, Mother!" and they did.

 

第十一章 试验

“六月一号!明天金斯一家便要到海滩去,我自由了。三个月的假期——我一定玩得很开心!”梅格叫道。这天天气和暖,她回家时发现乔疲倦不堪地躺在沙发上,贝思帮她脱下沾满尘土的靴子,艾美在做柠檬汁为大家提神。

“马奇婶婶今天走了,噢,我可真高兴!”乔说,”我很害怕她会叫我跟她一起去;如果她开口,我就会觉得自己也应该去,但梅园却跟教堂的墓地一样沉闷,你知道,我宁可她放过我。我们慌慌张张地打发老太太起程,每次她开口跟我说话,我心里都打个愣儿,因为我为了早点完事,干得特别卖力特别殷勤,所以怕她反而离不开了。她终于上了马车,我这才松了一口气。谁知车子正要开时,她伸出头来说:''约瑟芬,你能不能——?''这一吓可非同小可,我转身撒腿就逃,下面的话也没听清楚,一直跑到拐角处才放下心来。”“可怜的乔!她进来的样子就像身后有只熊追她似的,”贝思像慈母一样抱着姐姐的双脚说道。

“马奇婶婶真是个海蓬子,对吗?”艾美一边评论一边挑剔地品尝着她的混合饮料。

“她是说吸血鬼,不是海草,不过也无伤大雅;天气这么暖和,不必对修辞太讲究,”乔咕哝道。

“你们这个假期怎么过?”艾美问,巧妙地转开话题。

“我要躺在床上,什么也不做,”梅格从摇椅深处回答,”我这个冬季每天一早就被唤醒,整天为别人操劳,现在我要随心所欲,美美地睡个痛快。”“不成,”乔说,”这种养神功夫不适合我。我搬进了一大堆书,我要躲到那棵苹果树上头充实我的好时光,如果不玩—-”“别说玩耍!”艾美要求道,借以回击"海蓬子"这一箭之仇。

“那我就说''玩唱'';和劳里一起,这词够贴切了,反正他歌唱得好。”“我们别做功课了,贝思,让我们玩个痛快,好好歇歇,女孩子们应该那样,”艾美建议。

“嗯,如果妈妈没意见的话,我就不做了。我想学几首新歌,夏天到了,我的孩子们也要添置点东西;它们衣服短缺,一派混乱。”“行吗,妈妈?”梅格把头转向坐在她们称之为"妈咪角"的地方做针线活的马奇太太,问道。

“你们可以试上一个星期,看看滋味如何。我想到了星期六晚上你们就会发现,光玩不干活和光干活不玩一样难受。”“噢,哎哟,不会的!我肯定这一定会其乐无穷,”梅格美滋滋地说。

“现在我提议大家干一杯。永远快乐,不用辛劳!”这时柠檬汁传过来,乔站起来,举杯在手,叫道。

大家快乐地一饮而尽,于是试验开始,那天的剩余时间便被懒洋洋地打发过去了。第二天早上,梅格直到十点钟才露面。她独个儿吃早餐,却食之无味;由于乔没有在花瓶里插上花,贝思也没有打扫,艾美又把书丢得满地都是,房间显得空空落落,十分零乱,只有"妈咪角"仍然跟平常一样井井有条,令人愉快。梅格便坐在那里,”休息读书",也就是说一面打呵欠一面胡思乱想,盘算着用自己的薪水买什么式样的漂亮夏装。乔在河边和劳里玩了一个早上,下午爬到苹果树上读《大世界》读得泪流满面。贝思从洋娃娃家族居住的大衣柜里头把东西全部翻出来整理,未及一半便倦了,于是把她的大家族横七竖八地躲在一边去弹钢琴,暗暗庆幸自己不用洗碗碟。艾美把花荫收拾一番,穿上漂亮的白色上衣,把鬈发梳理一遍,坐在忍冬花下画画,希望有人看到她,询问这位年轻的艺术家是谁。可惜只来了一只好事的长脚蜘蛛,饶有兴趣地把她的作品审视一番,她只好去散步,却遭大雨淋了一顿,回家时湿得像个落汤鸡。

到了喝茶的时候,她们互相交流心得,一致认为这天过得相当愉快,只是日子似乎格外长。梅格下午上街买了一幅"漂亮的蓝薄纱",把幅面裁开后才发现这种布不经洗,这一小小的不幸令她脾气有点暴躁。乔划船时晒脱了鼻子上的皮,长时间看书又害得她脑袋生疼。贝思因为衣柜混乱不堪而忧心忡忡,一下子学三四首歌又力不从心。艾美淋湿了上衣,后悔不迭,第二天就是凯蒂•布朗的晚会,现在,她就像弗洛拉•麦克弗里姆西一样,”没有衣服穿"。不过,这些都只是小事一桩,她们告诉母亲进展顺利。母亲笑笑,不做声,和罕娜一起把姐妹们丢下的工作接过来,把家操持得整齐舒适,使家庭机构顺利运作。这种"休息和享乐”产生的结果出人意料:大家都有一种奇怪的、极不自在的感觉。日子变得越来越长,天气也跟她们的脾气一样变化无常,大家心里全都无头无绪,空空落落。而魔鬼撒旦可不会让你两手白闲着,他总会找出一些事来让你做。作为最高享受,梅格把一些针线活拿出去让人做,但接着便发现时间十分沉闷,熬不住又操起裁剪活,结果在莫法特家刷新衣服时因为使劲太大而把自己的衣服弄坏了。乔书不离手,一直读得两眼昏花,见书生厌,脾气也变得异常烦躁,连性子极好的劳里也跟她吵了一架,她于是伤心落泪,只恨未能早跟了马奇婶婶去。贝思倒过得相当安稳,因为她常常忘记了这是光玩不工作时间,不时重新操起旧活;但大家的情绪感染了她,性子一向温柔平和的她也变得有几分烦躁不安——一次甚至把可怜的宠儿乔安娜摇了几下,骂她是个"怪物"。最难受的要数艾美,她的娱乐圈子窄,三位姐姐把她丢下,让她自己玩并自己照顾自己,她很快发现自己这个多才多艺、举足轻重的小人儿其实是个大包袱。她不喜欢洋娃娃,童话故事又太幼稚,而人也总不能一天到晚光画画;茶会没什么意思,野餐也不过如此,除非组织得极好。”如果能有一栋漂亮的房子,里头住满了善解人意的姑娘,或者外出旅游,这夏天才会过得开心。但跟三个自私的姐姐和一个大男孩呆在家里,(圣)神人也会发火,”我们的错词小姐心里抱怨道。这几天她充分体验了欢乐、烦恼,继而厌倦无聊的况味。

没有人愿意承认自己对这个试验感到厌倦,但到星期五晚上大家都暗暗松了一口气,窃喜一个星期终于熬到了头。富有幽默感的马奇太太为了加深这个教训的印象,决定用一种恰如其分的方式来结束这个试验。她放罕娜一天假,让姑娘们充分享受光玩不干活的滋味。

星期六早上姐妹们一觉醒来,发现厨房里没有生火,饭厅里没有早餐,母亲也不见了影踪。

“嗳呀!出了什么事?”乔嚷道,惊愕地瞪大眼睛四面看。

梅格跑上楼,很快便折回来,神态不再紧张,但却显得颇为困惑,并有几分惭愧。

“妈妈没生病,只是非常累。她说要在自己房间里静养一天,让我们自己好自为之。这真奇怪,一点都不像她平时的作为;但她说这个星期她干得很辛苦,所以我们别发牢骚,还是自己照顾自己吧。”“那还不容易!这主意正合我的心思,我正愁没事干——意思是,没新玩法,你们知道,”乔飞快地又添了一句。

事实上,此时此刻,做一点工作对她们来说是一种很好的放松。她们决心把活干好,但“做家务可不是闹儿戏”,她们很快便会认识到罕娜这话的实际意义了。食品柜里有很多存货,贝思和艾美摆桌子,梅格和乔做早餐,一面做一面还奇怪为什么佣人说家务难做。

“虽然妈妈说我们不用管她,她会自个照顾自己,我还是要拿一些上去,”梅格说。她站在锅碗瓢盆后面指挥,觉得挺像回事儿。

于是她们先匀出一碟,乔把碟子连同厨师的问候一同送上去。虽然茶烧得又苦又涩,鸡蛋煎得焦糊,饼干也被小苏打弄得斑斑点点,马奇太太还是接过了她的早餐,并表示赞赏和感谢;乔走后,她由衷地笑了。

“可怜的小家伙,恐怕她们会十分扫兴呢,不过这样对她们有益无害。”她取出早已备好的食物,把煮坏了的早餐悄悄丢掉,免得伤害了她们的自尊心——这是一种令她们十分感激的母亲式的小蒙蔽。

下面怨声一片,大厨师面对失败委屈极了。”不要紧。午饭我来弄,我做佣人,你做女主人,别弄脏了手,你陪着客人,发号施令就行了,”对烹饪的认识比梅格还要糟糕的乔说。

玛格丽特高兴地接受了这个恳切的提议,退到客厅,把沙发下面乱七八糟的东西扫掉,把窗帘拉上以省却打扫灰尘的麻烦,三两下子便把客厅收拾干净。乔对自己的能力坚信不疑,她想弥补因吵架而造成的隔阂,于是当即写下一张字条,邀请劳里来吃饭。

“你最好先看看有什么好吃的再请人不迟,”梅格获悉后说道。

“噢,这里有咸牛肉,还有大量土豆,我去买些芦笋,买个大螯虾''换个口味'',正如罕娜所说。我们可以弄些莴苣做色拉,我虽不会做,但有烹调书。再弄些牛奶冻和草莓做甜点。如果你想高雅一点还可以弄点咖啡。”“不要好高鹜远,乔,因为你做的东西只有姜饼和糖块可以吃得下去。这个宴会我是洗手不干的,既然是你要叫劳里,那就你来款待他好了。”“我不要你做什么,你只需招呼客人,帮我做布叮如果我遇到麻烦,你来指教我,怎么样?”乔受到了不小的打击。

“可以,但我除了面包和几种小玩意外,其他都不大会做。

你做之前最好先征得妈妈同意,”梅格谨慎地说。

“那当然,我又不是傻瓜,”乔说罢走开。居然有人怀疑自己的能力,她感到十分不快。

“你们喜欢怎么样就怎么样,别来打扰我。我要出去吃饭,不能为你们分忧,“马奇太太对前来讨教的乔说,”我一向不喜欢家务事,今天我要休个假,读书、写字、串门儿,自个好好乐乐。”看到平常忙碌的母亲一早优游轻松地坐在摇椅上读书,乔觉得就好像发生了什么自然现象,因为即使日食、地震、或者火山爆发也不会比这奇怪多少。

“怎么搞的,事情全都古里古怪,”她一面想一面走下楼梯,”贝思在那边哭,不用说,我们家肯定出了什么事情。如果艾美烦我,我一定狠狠摇她几下。”乔心里很不舒服,她匆匆走进客厅,发现贝思正对着她们的金丝雀呜呜咽咽地哭。小鸟直挺挺地躺在笼子里,显然已经饿死,可怜的小爪向前伸出,似乎正在乞求食物。

“都是我的错——我把它忘了——饲料一粒不剩,水也一滴没有。噢,!噢,!我怎么能对你这么残忍?”贝思哭道,把可怜的小鸟放在手里,试图把它救醒。

乔瞄瞄小鸟半开的眼睛,摸摸它的心脏,发现它早已僵硬冰冷,于是摇摇脑袋,主动提出用自己的衣盒来给它装殓。

“把它放在炉边,或者会暖和苏醒过来,”艾美满怀希望地说。

“它是饿坏的。既然已经死了,就不要再去烤它。我要给它做一件寿衣,把它葬在园子里。我以后再不养鸟了,再不了,我不配,”贝思低声哭诉着,双手捧着宠鸟坐在地板上。

“葬礼今天下午举行,我们都参加。好了,别哭了,贝思;这事大家都不好受,但这星期事情全都乱了套,匹普便是这个试验的最大牺牲品。给它做好寿衣,把它放在我的盒子里,宴会后,我们举行一个隆重的小葬礼。”乔开始尝到了苦头。

她让梅格、艾美留下安慰贝思,自己则走到厨房,里头乱七八糟,一片狼藉。她系上大围裙开始干活,刚堆好碟子准备洗,却发现炉火熄了。

“真是形势大好!”乔咕哝道,砰地打开炉门,使劲捅里头的炉渣。

把炉火重新捅亮后,她想趁烧水的功夫上一趟市常这么一走动,兴致又上来了。她买了一只十分幼小的大螯虾,一些老掉牙的芦笋,还有两盒酸溜溜的草莓。因为做成了几笔廉价交易,她心中十分得意,于是跋涉回家。待她收拾好后,午饭也备齐了,炉子也烧红了。罕姆走前留下一盘要发酵的面包,梅格早早便把面包做好,放在炉边再发酵一次,然后便把它忘掉了。她正在客厅里招呼莎莉•加德纳,门突然飞开,一个身上沾满面粉煤屑、头发蓬乱的怪物露出来,赤红着脸尖叫道——“嘿,面包不沾盘子是不是已经发酵够了?”莎莉被逗笑了,梅格点点头,把眉毛抬得要多高有多高,怪物见状立即消失,赶紧把酸面包放到炉上。贝思坐在一边做寿衣,将心爱的鸟放在衣盒里任人凭吊。马奇太太出来瞅瞅情况,安慰了贝思几句,然后出门而去。当母亲那灰色的帽子消失在拐角处时,姑娘们突然有一种奇怪的孤立无援的感觉。没隔几分钟,克罗克小姐来访,并说是来吃午饭,姑娘们简直陷入了绝望的境地。这位女士是个又黄又瘦的老姑婆,脸上镶着一个尖鼻子和一双好奇的眼睛,她绝不错过任何芝麻绿豆的小事,看到什么都要去绕舌鼓噪一番。她们并不喜欢她,但马奇太太教她们要友善待她,只因她年老家贫,又没有什么朋友。梅格于是把安乐椅给她,并尽量去跟她拉话儿,她则在一边问这问那,指指点点,说西家长,道东家短。

那天早上乔真是被弄得焦头烂额、精疲力尽,其中滋味一言难荆她做的午餐成了一个不折不扣的大笑话。因为不敢再向梅格请教,她独个儿使出浑身解数,发现做个厨师光凭一股劲头和良好的心愿并不够。她把芦笋煮了一个小时,痛苦地发现笋头全都煮掉了,主茎却变得更硬。面包烧得乌黑、因为她做色拉时把味道调得一塌糊涂,一急之下,决定对一切听之任之,直到自信面包已经不能吃为止。大螯虾神秘地变成了猩红色,她捶开虾壳,把里头的肉捅出来,那一丁点儿肉落到莴苣叶堆里便不见了。土豆得快点煮,不能让芦笋等得太久,结果没有煮熟。牛奶冻结成一团一团,草莓被手段高明的小贩弄了假,看上去已经熟透,吃起来却酸溜溜的。

“如果他们肚子饿的话,牛肉、面包和牛油倒也可以吃,只是白白忙活了一整个上午,岂不着死人了,”乔想着拉响开饭铃。这顿饭比平时足足晚了半个小时,乔又热又累,垂头丧气,站在那里审视着为劳里和克罗克小姐准备的盛宴,要知道这两位客人一个是养尊处优惯了的公子,一个是绝不错过任何笑料,专爱搬弄是非的绕舌妇。

菜被一一尝过,然后又被搁置一边,可怜的乔恨不得钻到桌子底下。艾美咯咯直笑,梅格表情悲痛,克罗克小姐噘起嘴,劳里拼命说笑,试图活跃宴席气氛。乔的拿手好戏是水果,因为她放糖放得恰到好处,而且和上了一大罐香喷喷的奶油。当精致的玻璃盘子逐一摆上席面时,乔炽热的脸颊凉了一点,并长长地舒了一口气。大家望着浸在奶油里的呈玫瑰红的小山堆,全都垂涎欲滴。克罗克小姐先尝了一口,做了个鬼脸,急忙喝水。乔看到水果上桌后很快所剩无多,唯恐不够,于是自己不吃,她瞅一眼劳里,见他正勇敢地继续吃下去,但嘴巴却微微噘着,眼睛一直盯着自己的盘子。喜欢美食的艾美满满舀了一调匙,却呛了一口,用餐巾掩着脸,仓促离席。

“噢,怎么回事?”乔颤抖着高声问道。

“你放的是盐,不是糖,奶油也变酸了,”梅格悲痛地打了个手势答道。

乔呻吟了一声,倒在椅子上,方想起最后放糖的时候自己仓促之间把厨房桌上面放着的两个盒子随手拿了一个,匆匆往草莓上一撒了事,牛奶也忘记放冰箱了。她脸色涨得通红,止不住就要哭出来。正在这时,她与劳里恰好四目相对。

虽然劳里努力摆出一副英雄式的样子,但眼神仍透着一股活气劲儿;她突然觉得这件事十分滑稽,于是放声大笑,直笑得眼泪都流了出来。在坐各位,包括被姑娘们称为"呱呱叫"的老小姐也全都笑了起来。大家吃着面包、牛油、橄榄,说说笑笑。这顿不幸的午餐最后在愉快的气氛中结束。

“我现在没有心思洗碗,为了严肃气氛,我们为小鸟举行个葬礼吧,”乔看到大家站起来便说道。克罗克小姐一心赶着要在下一个朋友的餐桌边编派这个新故事,便向大家告辞。

为了贝思,他们全都严肃下来;劳里在丛林里的蕨草下面挖了个墓穴,小匹普被安放在里头,它那柔情万丈的女主人哭得成了个泪人儿。墓穴盖上苔藓,上立一块石碑,碑上挂一个用紫罗兰和繁缕编成的花环,并刻了墓志铭。铭文是乔一面做饭一面想出来的:这里躺着匹普•马奇,它在六月七日死去;黯然断魂,伤心憾事,难忘,难忘记!

仪式一结束,贝思便退回自己的房间,心情十分沉重;但她却找不到地方休息,因为几张床全都没有收拾,她只得把枕头掸拂干净,把各样东西收拾整齐,这样心里倒好受了一些。梅格帮乔收拾碗碟,用了半个下午才洗完。两人都疲倦不堪,于是一致赞成晚饭只吃茶和烤面包。酸奶油似乎对艾美的脾气有种不良的影响,劳里便做好事,把她带出去骑马。

马奇太太回家时发现三个大女儿竟然在午间辛勤工作,再瞅一眼壁橱,便明白实验已经成功了一部分。

几位小主妇未及休息,便有几位客人来访,于是急忙准备招呼客人;接着又得泡茶,跑腿买东西,一两件非做不可的针线活只得放到最后才做。

黄昏带着露珠悄悄降临,姐妹们陆续聚集到门廊,门廊周围开满了六月的玫瑰,花蕾朵朵,十分美丽。大家坐下时或哼哼一声,或叹一口气,似乎筋疲力尽,又似乎烦恼无边。

“今天倒霉透了!”通常第一个说话的乔首先说道。

“日子好像没有平时长,但却很不好过,”梅格说。

“一点都不像个家,”艾美接着说。

“没有妈咪和小匹普,家似乎就不成样子了。”贝思叹口气,深情地望一眼挂在上面的空鸟笼。

“妈妈在这里呢,亲爱的,你明天可以再养一只鸟,如果你想的话。”马奇太太边说边走过来坐在她们中间,看样子,她的假日也并不比她们的愉快多少。

“这个试验你们满意了吗,姑娘们?要不要再试一个星期?”她问。这时贝思依偎到她的身边,共余三姐妹也把头转向她,脸上放光,犹如鲜花朝向太阳。

“我不要!”乔坚决地喊道。

“我也不要,”其他人齐声回答。

“那么,你们的意思是,担负一些责任,替别人着想一下为好,对吧?”“闲混戏耍毫无益处,”乔评论道,摇摇脑袋,”我腻透了,真想现在就做点什么。”“建议你学做饭;这个本事十分有用,女人都得学会,”马奇太太说。想到乔的宴会,她无声地笑了,因为克罗克小姐早就把故事告诉她了。

“妈妈,您走出去什么也不管,是不是故意看我们怎么做?”梅格叫起来。她整天都在怀疑这事。

“是的,我想让你们明白,只有每个人都尽忠职守,大家才能过舒服日子。当我和罕娜替你们工作时,你们过得满不错,但我看你们并不高兴,并不领情;所以我想给你们一个小小的教训,看如果人人都只想着自己时结果会如何。只有彼此帮助,承担日常工作,生活才会更愉快,休闲起来才有意思,宽容忍耐,才会使家庭舒适幸福。你们同意吗?”“同意,妈妈,我们同意!”姑娘们齐声喊道。

“那么我建议你们再一次挑起自己的小担子。虽然有时担子似乎很沉重,但对我们有好处,如果学会了怎么挑,担子就会变轻了。工作是一件好事,而我们每个人都有许多工作要干;它有益于身心健康,使我们不会感到无聊,不会干坏事。比起金钱和时装来,它更能给我们一种能力感和独立感。”“我们会像蜜蜂一样工作,并且热爱工作,看着吧!”乔说,”我要把做饭当作我的假日任务来学,下一次宴会一定会成功。”“我要帮爸爸做衬衣,而不用您来操劳,妈咪。我能做到的,也愿意这样做,虽然我并不喜欢针线活;这样做比成天讲究自己的衣着更有好处,事实上我的衣着也已经很不错了,”梅格说。

“我要每天做功课,不再花这么多时间弹琴和玩洋娃娃。

我天性愚笨,应该多看书学习,而不是玩。”贝思下定了决心。

艾美则学姐姐们的样子大声宣布:“我要学会开钮孔和区分各种词类。”“很好!既然这样,我对这个试验感到很满意,看来我们不必再做一次了,只是不要走到另一极端,劳碌过度。要定时作息,使每一天都过得充实愉快,你们明白时间是无价之宝,那么就更要善于利用时间。这样,即使我们没有钱,青春也会充满快乐,生活也会美满成功,年老的时候也不会有什么遗憾了。”“我们会记住的,妈妈!”她们也确实把话记在了心上。




CHAPTER TWELVE CAMP LAURENCE

Beth was postmistress, for, being most at home, she could attend to it regularly, and dearly liked the daily task of unlocking the little door and distributing the mail. One July day she came in with her hands full, and went about the house leaving letters and parcels like the penny post.

"Here's your posy, Mother! Laurie never forgets that," she said, putting the fresh nosegay in the vase that stood in 'Marmee's corner', and was kept supplied by the affectionate boy.

"Miss Meg March, one letter and a glove," continued Beth, delivering the articles to her sister, who sat near her mother, stitching wristbands.

"Why, I left a pair over there, and here is only one," said Meg, looking at the gray cotton glove. "Didn't you drop the other in the garden?"

"No, I'm sure I didn't, for there was only one in the office."

"I hate to have odd gloves! Never mind, the other may be found. My letter is only a translation of the German song I wanted. I think Mr. Brooke did it, for this isn't Laurie's writing."

Mrs. March glanced at Meg, who was looking very pretty in her gingham morning gown, with the little curls blowing about her forehead, and very womanly, as she sat sewing at her little worktable, full of tidy white rolls, so unconscious of the thought in her mother's mind as she sewed and sang, while her fingers flew and her thoughts were busied with girlish fancies as innocent and fresh as the pansies in her belt, that Mrs. March smiled and was satisfied.

"Two letters for Doctor Jo, a book, and a funny old hat, which covered the whole post office and stuck outside," said Beth, laughing as she went into the study where Jo sat writing.

"What a sly fellow Laurie is! I said I wished bigger hats were the fashion, because I burn my face every hot day. He said, 'Why mind the fashion? Wear a big hat, and be comfortable!' I said I would if I had one, and he has sent me this, to try me. I'll wear it for fun, and show him I don't care for the fashion." And hanging the antique broad-brim on a bust of Plato, Jo read her letters.

One from her mother made her cheeks glow and her eyes fill, for it said to her...


My Dear:

I write a little word to tell you with how much satisfaction I watch your efforts to control your temper. You say nothing about your trials, failures, or successes, and think, perhaps, that no one sees them but the Friend whose help you daily ask, if I may trust the well-worn cover of your guidebook. I, too, have seen them all, and heartily believe in the sincerity of your resolution, since it begins to bear fruit. Go on, dear, patiently and bravely, and always believe that no one sympathizes more tenderly with you than your loving...

Mother


"That does me good! That's worth millions of money and pecks of praise. Oh, Marmee, I do try! I will keep on trying, and not get tired, since I have you to help me."

Laying her head on her arms, Jo wet her little romance with a few happy tears, for she had thought that no one saw and appreciated her efforts to be good, and this assurance was doubly precious, doubly encouraging, because unexpected and from the person whose commendation she most valued. Feeling stronger than ever to meet and subdue her Apollyon, she pinned the note inside her frock, as a shield and a reminder, lest she be taken unaware, and proceeded to open her other letter, quite ready for either good or bad news. In a big, dashing hand, Laurie wrote...

Dear Jo, What ho!

Some English girls and boys are coming to see me tomorrow and I want to have a jolly time. If it's fine, I'm going to pitch my tent in Longmeadow, and row up the whole crew to lunch and croquet—have a fire, make messes, gypsy fashion, and all sorts of larks. They are nice people, and like such things. Brooke will go to keep us boys steady, and Kate Vaughn will play propriety for the girls. I want you all to come, can't let Beth off at any price, and nobody shall worry her. Don't bother about rations, I'll see to that and everything else, only do come, there's a good fellow!

In a tearing hurry, Yours ever, Laurie.

"Here's richness!" cried Jo, flying in to tell the news to Meg.

"Of course we can go, Mother? It will be such a help to Laurie, for I can row, and Meg see to the lunch, and the children be useful in some way."

"I hope the Vaughns are not fine grown-up people. Do you know anything about them, Jo?" asked Meg.

"Only that there are four of them. Kate is older than you, Fred and Frank (twins) about my age, and a little girl (Grace), who is nine or ten. Laurie knew them abroad, and liked the boys. I fancied, from the way he primmed up his mouth in speaking of her, that he didn't admire Kate much."

"I'm so glad my French print is clean, it's just the thing and so becoming!" observed Meg complacently. "Have you anything decent, Jo?"

"Scarlet and gray boating suit, good enough for me. I shall row and tramp about, so I don't want any starch to think of. You'll come, Betty?"

"If you won't let any boys talk to me."

"Not a boy!"

"I like to please Laurie, and I'm not afraid of Mr. Brooke, he is so kind. But I don't want to play, or sing, or say anything. I'll work hard and not trouble anyone, and you'll take care of me, Jo, so I'll go."

"That's my good girl. You do try to fight off your shyness, and I love you for it. Fighting faults isn't easy, as I know, and a cheery word kind of gives a lift. Thank you, Mother," And Jo gave the thin cheek a grateful kiss, more precious to Mrs. March than if it had given back the rosy roundness of her youth.

"I had a box of chocolate drops, and the picture I wanted to copy," said Amy, showing her mail.

"And I got a note from Mr. Laurence, asking me to come over and play to him tonight, before the lamps are lighted, and I shall go," added Beth, whose friendship with the old gentleman prospered finely.

"Now let's fly round, and do double duty today, so that we can play tomorrow with free minds," said Jo, preparing to replace her pen with a broom.

When the sun peeped into the girls' room early next morning to promise them a fine day, he saw a comical sight. Each had made such preparation for the fete as seemed necessary and proper. Meg had an extra row of little curlpapers across her forehead, Jo had copiously anointed her afflicted face with cold cream, Beth had taken Joanna to bed with her to atone for the approaching separation, and Amy had capped the climax by putting a clothespin on her nose to uplift the offending feature. It was one of the kind artists use to hold the paper on their drawing boards, therefore quite appropriate and effective for the purpose it was now being put. This funny spectacle appeared to amuse the sun, for he burst out with such radiance that Jo woke up and roused her sisters by a hearty laugh at Amy's ornament.

Sunshine and laughter were good omens for a pleasure party, and soon a lively bustle began in both houses. Beth, who was ready first, kept reporting what went on next door, and enlivened her sisters' toilets by frequent telegrams from the window.

"There goes the man with the tent! I see Mrs. Barker doing up the lunch in a hamper and a great basket. Now Mr. Laurence is looking up at the sky and the weathercock. I wish he would go too. There's Laurie, looking like a sailor, nice boy! Oh, mercy me! Here's a carriage full of people, a tall lady, a little girl, and two dreadful boys. One is lame, poor thing, he's got a crutch. Laurie didn't tell us that. Be quick, girls! It's getting late. Why, there is Ned Moffat, I do declare. Meg, isn't that the man who bowed to you one day when we were shopping?"

"So it is. How queer that he should come. I thought he was at the mountains. There is Sallie. I'm glad she got back in time. Am I all right, Jo?" cried Meg in a flutter.

"A regular daisy. Hold up your dress and put your hat on straight, it looks sentimental tipped that way and will fly off at the first puff. Now then, come on!"

"Oh, Jo, you are not going to wear that awful hat? It's too absurd! You shall not make a guy of yourself," remonstrated Meg, as Jo tied down with a red ribbon the broad-brimmed, old-fashioned leghorn Laurie had sent for a joke.

"I just will, though, for it's capital, so shady, light, and big. It will make fun, and I don't mind being a guy if I'm comfortable." With that Jo marched straight away and the rest followed, a bright little band of sisters, all looking their best in summer suits, with happy faces under the jaunty hatbrims.

Laurie ran to meet and present them to his friends in the most cordial manner. The lawn was the reception room, and for several minutes a lively scene was enacted there. Meg was grateful to see that Miss Kate, though twenty, was dressed with a simplicity which American girls would do well to imitate, and who was much flattered by Mr. Ned's assurances that he came especially to see her. Jo understood why Laurie 'primmed up his mouth' when speaking of Kate, for that young lady had a standoff-don't-touch-me air, which contrasted strongly with the free and easy demeanor of the other girls. Beth took an observation of the new boys and decided that the lame one was not 'dreadful', but gentle and feeble, and she would be kind to him on that account. Amy found Grace a well-mannered, merry, little person, and after staring dumbly at one another for a few minutes, they suddenly became very good friends.

Tents, lunch, and croquet utensils having been sent on beforehand, the party was soon embarked, and the two boats pushed off together, leaving Mr. Laurence waving his hat on the shore. Laurie and Jo rowed one boat, Mr. Brooke and Ned the other, while Fred Vaughn, the riotous twin, did his best to upset both by paddling about in a wherry like a disturbed water bug. Jo's funny hat deserved a vote of thanks, for it was of general utility. It broke the ice in the beginning by producing a laugh, it created quite a refreshing breeze, flapping to and fro as she rowed, and would make an excellent umbrella for the whole party, if a shower came up, she said. Miss Kate decided that she was 'odd', but rather clever, and smiled upon her from afar.

Meg, in the other boat, was delightfully situated, face to face with the rowers, who both admired the prospect and feathered their oars with uncommon 'skill and dexterity'. Mr. Brooke was a grave, silent young man, with handsome brown eyes and a pleasant voice. Meg liked his quiet manners and considered him a walking encyclopedia of useful knowledge. He never talked to her much, but he looked at her a good deal, and she felt sure that he did not regard her with aversion. Ned, being in college, of course put on all the airs which freshmen think it their bounden duty to assume. He was not very wise, but very good-natured, and altogether an excellent person to carry on a picnic. Sallie Gardiner was absorbed in keeping her white pique dress clean and chattering with the ubiquitous Fred, who kept Beth in constant terror by his pranks.

It was not far to Longmeadow, but the tent was pitched and the wickets down by the time they arrived. A pleasant green field, with three wide-spreading oaks in the middle and a smooth strip of turf for croquet.

"Welcome to Camp Laurence!" said the young host, as they landed with exclamations of delight.

"Brooke is commander in chief, I am commissary general, the other fellows are staff officers, and you, ladies, are company. The tent is for your especial benefit and that oak is your drawing room, this is the messroom and the third is the camp kitchen. Now, let's have a game before it gets hot, and then we'll see about dinner."

Frank, Beth, Amy, and Grace sat down to watch the game played by the other eight. Mr. Brooke chose Meg, Kate, and Fred. Laurie took Sallie, Jo, and Ned. The English played well, but the Americans played better, and contested every inch of the ground as strongly as if the spirit of '76 inspired them. Jo and Fred had several skirmishes and once narrowly escaped high words. Jo was through the last wicket and had missed the stroke, which failure ruffled her a good deal. Fred was close behind her and his turn came before hers. He gave a stroke, his ball hit the wicket, and stopped an inch on the wrong side. No one was very near, and running up to examine, he gave it a sly nudge with his toe, which put it just an inch on the right side.

"I'm through! Now, Miss Jo, I'll settle you, and get in first," cried the young gentleman, swinging his mallet for another blow.

"You pushed it. I saw you. It's my turn now," said Jo sharply.

"Upon my word, I didn't move it. It rolled a bit, perhaps, but that is allowed. So, stand off please, and let me have a go at the stake."

"We don't cheat in America, but you can, if you choose," said Jo angrily.

"Yankees are a deal the most tricky, everybody knows. There you go!" returned Fred, croqueting her ball far away.

Jo opened her lips to say something rude, but checked herself in time, colored up to her forehead and stood a minute, hammering down a wicket with all her might, while Fred hit the stake and declared himself out with much exultation. She went off to get her ball, and was a long time finding it among the bushes, but she came back, looking cool and quiet, and waited her turn patiently. It took several strokes to regain the place she had lost, and when she got there, the other side had nearly won, for Kate's ball was the last but one and lay near the stake.

"By George, it's all up with us! Goodbye, Kate. Miss Jo owes me one, so you are finished," cried Fred excitedly, as they all drew near to see the finish.

"Yankees have a trick of being generous to their enemies," said Jo, with a look that made the lad redden, "especially when they beat them," she added, as, leaving Kate's ball untouched, she won the game by a clever stroke.

Laurie threw up his hat, then remembered that it wouldn't do to exult over the defeat of his guests, and stopped in the middle of the cheer to whisper to his friend, "Good for you, Jo! He did cheat, I saw him. We can't tell him so, but he won't do it again, take my word for it."

Meg drew her aside, under pretense of pinning up a loose braid, and said approvingly, "It was dreadfully provoking, but you kept your temper, and I'm so glad, Jo."

"Don't praise me, Meg, for I could box his ears this minute. I should certainly have boiled over if I hadn't stayed among the nettles till I got my rage under control enough to hold my tongue. It's simmering now, so I hope he'll keep out of my way," returned Jo, biting her lips as she glowered at Fred from under her big hat.

"Time for lunch," said Mr. Brooke, looking at his watch. "Commissary general, will you make the fire and get water, while Miss March, Miss Sallie, and I spread the table? Who can make good coffee?"

"Jo can," said Meg, glad to recommend her sister. So Jo, feeling that her late lessons in cookery were to do her honor, went to preside over the coffeepot, while the children collected dry sticks, and the boys made a fire and got water from a spring near by. Miss Kate sketched and Frank talked to Beth, who was making little mats of braided rushes to serve as plates.

The commander in chief and his aides soon spread the tablecloth with an inviting array of eatables and drinkables, prettily decorated with green leaves. Jo announced that the coffee was ready, and everyone settled themselves to a hearty meal, for youth is seldom dyspeptic, and exercise develops wholesome appetites. A very merry lunch it was, for everything seemed fresh and funny, and frequent peals of laughter startled a venerable horse who fed near by. There was a pleasing inequality in the table, which produced many mishaps to cups and plates, acorns dropped in the milk, little black ants partook of the refreshments without being invited, and fuzzy caterpillars swung down from the tree to see what was going on. Three white-headed children peeped over the fence, and an objectionable dog barked at them from the other side of the river with all his might and main.

"There's salt here," said Laurie, as he handed Jo a saucer of berries.

"Thank you, I prefer spiders," she replied, fishing up two unwary little ones who had gone to a creamy death. "How dare you remind me of that horrid dinner party, when yours is so nice in every way?" added Jo, as they both laughed and ate out of one plate, the china having run short.

"I had an uncommonly good time that day, and haven't got over it yet. This is no credit to me, you know, I don't do anything. It's you and Meg and Brooke who make it all go, and I'm no end obliged to you. What shall we do when we can't eat anymore?" asked Laurie, feeling that his trump card had been played when lunch was over.

"Have games till it's cooler. I brought Authors, and I dare say Miss Kate knows something new and nice. Go and ask her. She's company, and you ought to stay with her more."

"Aren't you company too? I thought she'd suit Brooke, but he keeps talking to Meg, and Kate just stares at them through that ridiculous glass of hers. I'm going, so you needn't try to preach propriety, for you can't do it, Jo."

Miss Kate did know several new games, and as the girls would not, and the boys could not, eat any more, they all adjourned to the drawing room to play Rig-marole.

"One person begins a story, any nonsense you like, and tells as long as he pleases, only taking care to stop short at some exciting point, when the next takes it up and does the same. It's very funny when well done, and makes a perfect jumble of tragical comical stuff to laugh over. Please start it, Mr. Brooke," said Kate, with a commanding air, which surprised Meg, who treated the tutor with as much respect as any other gentleman.

Lying on the grass at the feet of the two young ladies, Mr. Brooke obediently began the story, with the handsome brown eyes steadily fixed upon the sunshiny river.

"Once on a time, a knight went out into the world to seek his fortune, for he had nothing but his sword and his shield. He traveled a long while, nearly eight-and-twenty years, and had a hard time of it, till he came to the palace of a good old king, who had offered a reward to anyone who could tame and train a fine but unbroken colt, of which he was very fond. The knight agreed to try, and got on slowly but surely, for the colt was a gallant fellow, and soon learned to love his new master, though he was freakish and wild. Every day, when he gave his lessons to this pet of the king's, the knight rode him through the city, and as he rode, he looked everywhere for a certain beautiful face, which he had seen many times in his dreams, but never found. One day, as he went prancing down a quiet street, he saw at the window of a ruinous castle the lovely face. He was delighted, inquired who lived in this old castle, and was told that several captive princesses were kept there by a spell, and spun all day to lay up money to buy their liberty. The knight wished intensely that he could free them, but he was poor and could only go by each day, watching for the sweet face and longing to see it out in the sunshine. At last he resolved to get into the castle and ask how he could help them. He went and knocked. The great door flew open, and he beheld..."

"A ravishingly lovely lady, who exclaimed, with a cry of rapture, 'At last! At last!'" continued Kate, who had read French novels, and admired the style. "'Tis she!' cried Count Gustave, and fell at her feet in an ecstasy of joy. 'Oh, rise!' she said, extending a hand of marble fairness. 'Never! Till you tell me how I may rescue you,' swore the knight, still kneeling. 'Alas, my cruel fate condemns me to remain here till my tyrant is destroyed.' 'Where is the villain?' 'In the mauve salon. Go, brave heart, and save me from despair.' 'I obey, and return victorious or dead!' With these thrilling words he rushed away, and flinging open the door of the mauve salon, was about to enter, when he received..."

"A stunning blow from the big Greek lexicon, which an old fellow in a black gown fired at him," said Ned. "Instantly, Sir What's-his-name recovered himself, pitched the tyrant out of the window, and turned to join the lady, victorious, but with a bump on his brow, found the door locked, tore up the curtains, made a rope ladder, got halfway down when the ladder broke, and he went headfirst into the moat, sixty feet below. Could swim like a duck, paddled round the castle till he came to a little door guarded by two stout fellows, knocked their heads together till they cracked like a couple of nuts, then, by a trifling exertion of his prodigious strength, he smashed in the door, went up a pair of stone steps covered with dust a foot thick, toads as big as your fist, and spiders that would frighten you into hysterics, Miss March. At the top of these steps he came plump upon a sight that took his breath away and chilled his blood..."

"A tall figure, all in white with a veil over its face and a lamp in its wasted hand," went on Meg. "It beckoned, gliding noiselessly before him down a corridor as dark and cold as any tomb. Shadowy effigies in armor stood on either side, a dead silence reigned, the lamp burned blue, and the ghostly figure ever and anon turned its face toward him, showing the glitter of awful eyes through its white veil. They reached a curtained door, behind which sounded lovely music. He sprang forward to enter, but the specter plucked him back, and waved threateningly before him a..."

"Snuffbox," said Jo, in a sepulchral tone, which convulsed the audience. "'Thankee,' said the knight politely, as he took a pinch and sneezed seven times so violently that his head fell off. 'Ha! Ha!' laughed the ghost, and having peeped through the keyhole at the princesses spinning away for dear life, the evil spirit picked up her victim and put him in a large tin box, where there were eleven other knights packed together without their heads, like sardines, who all rose and began to..."

"Dance a hornpipe," cut in Fred, as Jo paused for breath, "and, as they danced, the rubbishy old castle turned to a man-of-war in full sail. 'Up with the jib, reef the tops'l halliards, helm hard alee, and man the guns!' roared the captain, as a Portuguese pirate hove in sight, with a flag black as ink flying from her foremast. 'Go in and win, my hearties!' says the captain, and a tremendous fight began. Of course the British beat—they always do."

"No, they don't!" cried Jo, aside.

"Having taken the pirate captain prisoner, sailed slap over the schooner, whose decks were piled high with dead and whose lee scuppers ran blood, for the order had been 'Cutlasses, and die hard!' 'Bosun's mate, take a bight of the flying-jib sheet, and start this villain if he doesn't confess his sins double quick,' said the British captain. The Portuguese held his tongue like a brick, and walked the plank, while the jolly tars cheered like mad. But the sly dog dived, came up under the man-of-war, scuttled her, and down she went, with all sail set, 'To the bottom of the sea, sea, sea' where..."

"Oh, gracious! What shall I say?" cried Sallie, as Fred ended his rigmarole, in which he had jumbled together pell-mell nautical phrases and facts out of one of his favorite books. "Well, they went to the bottom, and a nice mermaid welcomed them, but was much grieved on finding the box of headless knights, and kindly pickled them in brine, hoping to discover the mystery about them, for being a woman, she was curious. By-and-by a diver came down, and the mermaid said, 'I'll give you a box of pearls if you can take it up,' for she wanted to restore the poor things to life, and couldn't raise the heavy load herself. So the diver hoisted it up, and was much disappointed on opening it to find no pearls. He left it in a great lonely field, where it was found by a..."

"Little goose girl, who kept a hundred fat geese in the field," said Amy, when Sallie's invention gave out. "The little girl was sorry for them, and asked an old woman what she should do to help them. 'Your geese will tell you, they know everything.' said the old woman. So she asked what she should use for new heads, since the old ones were lost, and all the geese opened their hundred mouths and screamed..."

"'Cabbages!'" continued Laurie promptly. "'Just the thing,' said the girl, and ran to get twelve fine ones from her garden. She put them on, the knights revived at once, thanked her, and went on their way rejoicing, never knowing the difference, for there were so many other heads like them in the world that no one thought anything of it. The knight in whom I'm interested went back to find the pretty face, and learned that the princesses had spun themselves free and all gone and married, but one. He was in a great state of mind at that, and mounting the colt, who stood by him through thick and thin, rushed to the castle to see which was left. Peeping over the hedge, he saw the queen of his affections picking flowers in her garden. 'Will you give me a rose?' said he. 'You must come and get it. I can't come to you, it isn't proper,' said she, as sweet as honey. He tried to climb over the hedge, but it seemed to grow higher and higher. Then he tried to push through, but it grew thicker and thicker, and he was in despair. So he patiently broke twig after twig till he had made a little hole through which he peeped, saying imploringly, 'Let me in! Let me in!' But the pretty princess did not seem to understand, for she picked her roses quietly, and left him to fight his way in. Whether he did or not, Frank will tell you."

"I can't. I'm not playing, I never do," said Frank, dismayed at the sentimental predicament out of which he was to rescue the absurd couple. Beth had disappeared behind Jo, and Grace was asleep.

"So the poor knight is to be left sticking in the hedge, is he?" asked Mr. Brooke, still watching the river, and playing with the wild rose in his buttonhole.

"I guess the princess gave him a posy, and opened the gate after a while," said Laurie, smiling to himself, as he threw acorns at his tutor.

"What a piece of nonsense we have made! With practice we might do something quite clever. Do you know Truth?"

"I hope so," said Meg soberly.

"The game, I mean?"

"What is it?" said Fred.

"Why, you pile up your hands, choose a number, and draw out in turn, and the person who draws at the number has to answer truly any question put by the rest. It's great fun."

"Let's try it," said Jo, who liked new experiments.

Miss Kate and Mr. Brooke, Meg, and Ned declined, but Fred, Sallie, Jo, and Laurie piled and drew, and the lot fell to Laurie.

"Who are your heroes?" asked Jo.

"Grandfather and Napoleon."

"Which lady here do you think prettiest?" said Sallie.

"Margaret."

"Which do you like best?" from Fred.

"Jo, of course."

"What silly questions you ask!" And Jo gave a disdainful shrug as the rest laughed at Laurie's matter-of-fact tone.

"Try again. Truth isn't a bad game," said Fred.

"It's a very good one for you," retorted Jo in a low voice. Her turn came next.

"What is your greatest fault?" asked Fred, by way of testing in her the virtue he lacked himself.

"A quick temper."

"What do you most wish for?" said Laurie.

"A pair of boot lacings," returned Jo, guessing and defeating his purpose.

"Not a true answer. You must say what you really do want most."

"Genius. Don't you wish you could give it to me, Laurie?" And she slyly smiled in his disappointed face.

"What virtues do you most admire in a man?" asked Sallie.

"Courage and honesty."

"Now my turn," said Fred, as his hand came last.

"Let's give it to him," whispered Laurie to Jo, who nodded and asked at once...

"Didn't you cheat at croquet?"

"Well, yes, a little bit."

"Good! Didn't you take your story out of The Sea Lion?" said Laurie.

"Rather."

"Don't you think the English nation perfect in every respect?" asked Sallie.

"I should be ashamed of myself if I didn't."

"He's a true John Bull. Now, Miss Sallie, you shall have a chance without waiting to draw. I'll harrrow up your feelings first by asking if you don't think you are something of a flirt," said Laurie, as Jo nodded to Fred as a sign that peace was declared.

"You impertinent boy! Of course I'm not," exclaimed Sallie, with an air that proved the contrary.

"What do you hate most?" asked Fred.

"Spiders and rice pudding."

"What do you like best?" asked Jo.

"Dancing and French gloves."

"Well, I think Truth is a very silly play. Let's have a sensible game of Authors to refresh our minds," proposed Jo.

Ned, Frank, and the little girls joined in this, and while it went on, the three elders sat apart, talking. Miss Kate took out her sketch again, and Margaret watched her, while Mr. Brooke lay on the grass with a book, which he did not read.

"How beautifully you do it! I wish I could draw," said Meg, with mingled admiration and regret in her voice.

"Why don't you learn? I should think you had taste and talent for it," replied Miss Kate graciously.

"I haven't time."

"Your mamma prefers other accomplishments, I fancy. So did mine, but I proved to her that I had talent by taking a few lessons privately, and then she was quite willing I should go on. Can't you do the same with your governess?"

"I have none."

"I forgot young ladies in America go to school more than with us. Very fine schools they are, too, Papa says. You go to a private one, I suppose?"

"I don't go at all. I am a governess myself."

"Oh, indeed!" said Miss Kate, but she might as well have said, "Dear me, how dreadful!" for her tone implied it, and something in her face made Meg color, and wish she had not been so frank.

Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, "Young ladies in America love independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired and respected for supporting themselves."

"Oh, yes, of course it's very nice and proper in them to do so. We have many most respectable and worthy young women who do the same and are employed by the nobility, because, being the daughters of gentlemen, they are both well bred and accomplished, you know," said Miss Kate in a patronizing tone that hurt Meg's pride, and made her work seem not only more distasteful, but degrading.

"Did the German song suit, Miss March?" inquired Mr. Brooke, breaking an awkward pause.

"Oh, yes! It was very sweet, and I'm much obliged to whoever translated it for me." And Meg's downcast face brightened as she spoke.

"Don't you read German?" asked Miss Kate with a look of surprise.

"Not very well. My father, who taught me, is away, and I don't get on very fast alone, for I've no one to correct my pronunciation."

"Try a little now. Here is Schiller's Mary Stuart and a tutor who loves to teach." And Mr. Brooke laid his book on her lap with an inviting smile.

"It's so hard I'm afraid to try," said Meg, grateful, but bashful in the presence of the accomplished young lady beside her.

"I'll read a bit to encourage you." And Miss Kate read one of the most beautiful passages in a perfectly correct but perfectly expressionless manner.

Mr. Brooke made no comment as she returned the book to Meg, who said innocently, "I thought it was poetry."

"Some of it is. Try this passage."

There was a queer smile about Mr. Brooke's mouth as he opened at poor Mary's lament.

Meg obediently following the long grass-blade which her new tutor used to point with, read slowly and timidly, unconsciously making poetry of the hard words by the soft intonation of her musical voice. Down the page went the green guide, and presently, forgetting her listener in the beauty of the sad scene, Meg read as if alone, giving a little touch of tragedy to the words of the unhappy queen. If she had seen the brown eyes then, she would have stopped short, but she never looked up, and the lesson was not spoiled for her.

"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Brooke, as she paused, quite ignoring her many mistakes, and looking as if he did indeed love to teach.

Miss Kate put up her glass, and, having taken a survey of the little tableau before her, shut her sketch book, saying with condescension, "You've a nice accent and in time will be a clever reader. I advise you to learn, for German is a valuable accomplishment to teachers. I must look after Grace, she is romping." And Miss Kate strolled away, adding to herself with a shrug, "I didn't come to chaperone a governess, though she is young and pretty. What odd people these Yankees are. I'm afraid Laurie will be quite spoiled among them."

"I forgot that English people rather turn up their noses at governesses and don't treat them as we do," said Meg, looking after the retreating figure with an annoyed expression.

"Tutors also have rather a hard time of it there, as I know to my sorrow. There's no place like America for us workers, Miss Margaret." And Mr. Brooke looked so contented and cheerful that Meg was ashamed to lament her hard lot.

"I'm glad I live in it then. I don't like my work, but I get a good deal of satisfaction out of it after all, so I won't complain. I only wished I liked teaching as you do."

"I think you would if you had Laurie for a pupil. I shall be very sorry to lose him next year," said Mr. Brooke, busily punching holes in the turf.

"Going to college, I suppose?" Meg's lips asked the question, but her eyes added, "And what becomes of you?"

"Yes, it's high time he went, for he is ready, and as soon as he is off, I shall turn soldier. I am needed."

"I am glad of that!" exclaimed Meg. "I should think every young man would want to go, though it is hard for the mothers and sisters who stay at home," she added sorrowfully.

"I have neither, and very few friends to care whether I live or die," said Mr. Brooke rather bitterly as he absently put the dead rose in the hole he had made and covered it up, like a little grave.

"Laurie and his grandfather would care a great deal, and we should all be very sorry to have any harm happen to you," said Meg heartily.

"Thank you, that sounds pleasant," began Mr. Brooke, looking cheerful again, but before he could finish his speech, Ned, mounted on the old horse, came lumbering up to display his equestrian skill before the young ladies, and there was no more quiet that day.

"Don't you love to ride?" asked Grace of Amy, as they stood resting after a race round the field with the others, led by Ned.

"I dote upon it. My sister, Meg, used to ride when Papa was rich, but we don't keep any horses now, except Ellen Tree," added Amy, laughing.

"Tell me about Ellen Tree. Is it a donkey?" asked Grace curiously.

"Why, you see, Jo is crazy about horses and so am I, but we've only got an old sidesaddle and no horse. Out in our garden is an apple tree that has a nice low branch, so Jo put the saddle on it, fixed some reins on the part that turns up, and we bounce away on Ellen Tree whenever we like."

"How funny!" laughed Grace. "I have a pony at home, and ride nearly every day in the park with Fred and Kate. It's very nice, for my friends go too, and the Row is full of ladies and gentlemen."

"Dear, how charming! I hope I shall go abroad some day, but I'd rather go to Rome than the Row," said Amy, who had not the remotest idea what the Row was and wouldn't have asked for the world.

Frank, sitting just behind the little girls, heard what they were saying, and pushed his crutch away from him with an impatient gesture as he watched the active lads going through all sorts of comical gymnastics. Beth, who was collecting the scattered Author cards, looked up and said, in her shy yet friendly way, "I'm afraid you are tired. Can I do anything for you?"

"Talk to me, please. It's dull, sitting by myself," answered Frank, who had evidently been used to being made much of at home.

If he asked her to deliver a Latin oration, it would not have seemed a more impossible task to bashful Beth, but there was no place to run to, no Jo to hide behind now, and the poor boy looked so wistfully at her that she bravely resolved to try.

"What do you like to talk about?" she asked, fumbling over the cards and dropping half as she tried to tie them up.

"Well, I like to hear about cricket and boating and hunting," said Frank, who had not yet learned to suit his amusements to his strength.

My heart! What shall I do? I don't know anything about them, thought Beth, and forgetting the boy's misfortune in her flurry, she said, hoping to make him talk, "I never saw any hunting, but I suppose you know all about it."

"I did once, but I can never hunt again, for I got hurt leaping a confounded five-barred gate, so there are no more horses and hounds for me," said Frank with a sigh that made Beth hate herself for her innocent blunder.

"Your deer are much prettier than our ugly buffaloes," she said, turning to the prairies for help and feeling glad that she had read one of the boys' books in which Jo delighted.

Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory, and in her eagerness to amuse another, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconscious of her sisters' surprise and delight at the unusual spectacle of Beth talking away to one of the dreadful boys, against whom she had begged protection.

"Bless her heart! She pities him, so she is good to him," said Jo, beaming at her from the croquet ground.

"I always said she was a little saint," added Meg, as if there could be no further doubt of it.

"I haven't heard Frank laugh so much for ever so long," said Grace to Amy, as they sat discussing dolls and making tea sets out of the acorn cups.

"My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be," said Amy, well pleased at Beth's success. She meant 'facinating', but as Grace didn't know the exact meaning of either word, fastidious sounded well and made a good impression.

An impromptu circus, fox and geese, and an amicable game of croquet finished the afternoon. At sunset the tent was struck, hampers packed, wickets pulled up, boats loaded, and the whole party floated down the river, singing at the tops of their voices. Ned, getting sentimental, warbled a serenade with the pensive refrain...

Alone, alone, ah! Woe, alone,

and at the lines...

We each are young, we each have a heart,
Oh, why should we stand thus coldly apart?

he looked at Meg with such a lackadiasical expression that she laughed outright and spoiled his song.

"How can you be so cruel to me?" he whispered, under cover of a lively chorus. "You've kept close to that starched-up Englishwoman all day, and now you snub me."

"I didn't mean to, but you looked so funny I really couldn't help it," replied Meg, passing over the first part of his reproach, for it was quite true that she had shunned him, remembering the Moffat party and the talk after it.

Ned was offended and turned to Sallie for consolation, saying to her rather pettishly, "There isn't a bit of flirt in that girl, is there?"

"Not a particle, but she's a dear," returned Sallie, defending her friend even while confessing her shortcomings.

"She's not a stricken deer anyway," said Ned, trying to be witty, and succeeding as well as very young gentlemen usually do.

On the lawn where it had gathered, the little party separated with cordial good nights and good-byes, for the Vaughns were going to Canada. As the four sisters went home through the garden, Miss Kate looked after them, saying, without the patronizing tone in her voice, "In spite of their demonstrative manners, American girls are very nice when one knows them."

"I quite agree with you," said Mr. Brooke.




 

第十二章 劳伦斯营地

贝思是个女邮政局长,因为她在家的时间最多,可以定时收寄邮件,而且她也十分喜欢每天打开那扇小门,分派信件。七月的一天,她双手捧得满满地走进来,像邮递员一样,满屋子派发信件包裹。

“这是您的花,妈妈!劳里总是把这事记在心上,”她边说边把鲜花插进摆在“妈咪角"的花瓶里。那位感情细腻的男孩子每天都要送上一束鲜花供她们插瓶。

“梅格•马奇小姐,一封信和一只手套。”贝思继续把邮件递给坐在妈妈身边缝衣袖口的姐姐。

“咦,我在那边丢了一双,怎么现在只有一只?”梅格望望灰色的棉手套。”你是不是把另一只丢在园子里头了?”“没有,我保证没有,因为邮箱里就只有一只。“我讨厌单只手套!不过不要紧,另一只会找到的,我的信只是我要的一首德语歌的译文。我想是布鲁克写的,因为不是劳里的字迹。”马奇太太瞅一眼梅格,只见她穿着一袭方格花布晨衣,额前的小鬈发随风轻轻飘动,显得美丽动人,娇柔可爱。她坐在堆满整整齐齐的白布匹的小工作台边哼着歌儿飞针走线,脑子里只顾做着五彩斑斓、天真无邪的少女美梦、一点也没有觉察到妈妈的心事。马奇太太笑了,感到十分满意。

“乔博士有两封信,一本书,还有一顶趣怪的旧帽子,把整个邮箱都盖住了,还伸出外面,”贝里边说边笑着走进书房,乔正坐在书房里写作。

“劳里真是个狡猾的家伙。我说如果流行大帽子就好了,因为我每到天热就会把脸晒焦。他说:''何必管它流行不流行?

就戴一顶大帽,别难为了自己!''我说如果我有就会戴,他就送了这顶来试我。我偏要戴上它,跟他闹着玩,让他知道我不在乎流行不流行的。”乔把这顶旧式阔边帽子挂到柏拉图的半身像上,开始读信。

一封是妈妈写的,她读着便飞红了双颊,眼睛也潮湿了,因为信上说——亲爱的:我写几句话告诉你,看到你为控制自己的脾气作出了巨大的努力,我感到多么高兴。你对自己的痛苦、失败、或成功只字不提,可能以为除了那位每天给你帮助的"朋友”外(我敢相信是你那本封面卷了角的指导书),没有人注意到这一切。不过,我也一一看在眼里,而且完全相信你的诚意和决心,因为你的决心已经开始结果了。继续努力吧,亲爱的,耐着性子,鼓足勇气,记住有一个人比任何人都更关心你,更爱护你,他就是你亲爱的妈妈“这些话对我很有好处,这封信抵得上万千金钱和无数溢美之辞。噢,妈咪,我确实是在努力!在您的帮助下,我一定不屈不挠地坚持下去。”乔把头埋在双臂上,为这小小的罗曼史洒下几滴热泪。她原以为没有人看到和欣赏她的努力,现在却意外地受到了母亲的赞扬,她一向最敬重母亲的话,因此这封信显得更加珍贵、更加鼓舞人心。她把纸条当作护身符别在上衣里面,以便时刻提醒自己,更增加了征服困难的信心。她接着打开另一封信,准备接受这个不知是好是坏的消息,展现在眼前的是劳里龙飞凤舞的大字——亲爱的乔,嗬!

几个英国女孩和男孩明天来看望我,我想好好玩玩。如果天气好,我准备在长草坪上搭帐篷,全班人马划船过去吃午饭,玩槌球游戏——点篝火,野餐,自由戏耍,享受天然野趣。布鲁克也一起去,看管我们这班男孩子,凯特•沃恩则看管女孩子。恳请你们各位光临,无论如何不能漏了贝思,没有人会烦扰她的。不用担心野餐食物——一切由我来负责——千万出席这才是好朋友呢!

请恕行笔匆匆。

你永远的劳里

“好消息!”乔叫道,冲进去向梅格报讯。

“我们当然可以去,妈妈,对吧?这样还可以帮劳里的大忙呢,因为我会划船,梅格可以做午饭,两个妹妹也多少可以帮点忙。”“我希望沃恩姐弟不是拘泥古板、成熟老到这一类人。你了解他们吗,乔?”梅格问。

“只知道他们是四姐弟。凯特年纪比你大,弗雷德和弗兰克(双胞胎)年纪跟我差不多,还有个小姑娘(格莱丝)约莫十岁。劳里是在国外认识他们的,他喜欢那两个男孩子;我想,他不怎么赞赏凯特,因为他谈起她便一本正经地抿起嘴巴。”“我真高兴我的法式印花布服装还干干净净,这种场合穿正合适,又好看!“梅格喜滋滋地说,”你有什么出得场面的吗,乔?”“红、灰两色的划艇衣就够好了。我要划船,到处跑动,只想穿随便一点。你也来吧,贝蒂?”“那你得别让那些男孩子跟我说话。”“一个也不让!”“我想让劳里高兴,我也不怕布鲁克先生,他是个大好人;但是我不想玩,不想唱,也不想说话。我会埋头干活,不打扰别人。你来照看我,乔,那我就去。”“这才是我的好妹妹,你在努力克服自己的害羞心理呢,我真高兴。改正缺点并不容易,这我知道,而一句鼓励的话儿就能使人精神一振。谢谢您,妈妈,”乔说着感激地吻了一下母亲瘦削的脸庞,这一吻对于马奇太太来说比任何东西都要宝贵。

“我收到一盒巧克力糖和我想要的图画,”艾美说着把邮件打开给大家看。

“我收到劳伦斯先生一张字条,叫我今晚点灯前过去弹琴给他听,我会去的,“贝思接着说,她跟老人的友谊进展得非常快。

“我们马上行动起来吧,今天干双倍活,明天就可以玩得无忧无虑了,”乔说道,准备放下笔杆,拿起扫帚。

第二天一早,当太阳把头探进姑娘们的闺房向她们预告好天气时,他看到了一幅妙趣横生的景象:姐妹们个个下足功夫,为野营盛会做好充分准备。梅格的前额排列着一排小卷发纸;乔在晒焦了的脸上厚厚地涂了一层冷霜;贝思因为即将和乔安娜分离,把她带到床上共寝以弥补损失;艾美更是令人叫绝,她用衣夹夹住鼻子,试图把令人烦恼的扁鼻梁托高。这种夹子正是艺术家们用来在画板上夹画纸的那种,因此用在这里尤其合适。这幅滑稽图显然把太阳公公逗乐了,他笑得喷出万道金光,把乔照醒。看到艾美这付尊容,她禁不住大笑出声,遂把众姐妹闹醒了。

阳光和笑声是野营盛会的吉兆。两家屋子的人开始活跃忙碌起来。贝思第一个准备停当,她靠在窗前不断报告邻居的新动态,把正在梳妆打扮的三姐妹弄得越发紧张忙碌。

“一个人带着帐篷出来了!我看到巴克太太把午饭放到一个盖箱和大篓里。现在劳伦斯先生仰头望望天空和风标;但愿他也一起去。那是劳里,打扮得像个水手——帅小伙子!噢,啊呀!一整车的人——一个高个女士,一个小姑娘,还有两个可怕的男孩子。一个跛了腿:可怜的人!他拄着支拐杖。劳里没跟我们说过。快点,姑娘们!时间不早了。呀,那是内德•莫法特,没错。瞧,梅格,这不是那天我们上街时向你行礼的那个人吗?”“果然不错。他怎么也来了?我还以为他在山里头呢。那是莎莉;太好了,她回来得正是时候。你看我这样行吗,乔?”梅格焦急地问道。

“漂亮极了。提起裙子,把帽子戴正,这样斜翘着看上去有种感伤情调,而且风一吹便要飞走了。好了,我们出发吧!”“噢,乔,你不是要戴这顶糟帽子去吧?这太荒唐了,你不该把自己弄得像个男人,”梅格规劝道。此时乔正把劳里开玩笑送来的旧式阔边意大利草帽用一根红丝带围系起来。

“我正是要戴着去,它棒极了——又挡荫,又轻,又大。

戴上它更添情趣,再说,只要舒服,我不在乎做个男人,”乔说罢迈步就走,姐妹们紧跟其后——每人穿一身夏装,戴一顶逍遥自在的帽子,春风满脸,十分好看,俨然一支活泼快乐的小队伍。

劳里跑上前来迎接她们,十分热情地把她们介绍给各位朋友。草坪成了会客厅,大家在那里逗留了几分钟,气氛十分活跃。梅格看到凯特小姐虽然年方二十,穿着打扮却相当简扑,心里松了一口气,因为这种风格美国姑娘不费吹灰之力就能学会。她听内德先生一再声明自己特为见她一面而来,心里更加受用。乔终于明白劳里为什么一提到凯特就"一本正经地抿起嘴巴",因为这位女士神态孤高冷傲,不像其他姑娘那样无拘无束、轻松随和。贝思观察了一下新来的男孩子,认为跛足这位并不"可怕",反倒温顺柔弱,她因此想善待他。

艾美觉得格莱丝是个举止优雅、活泼快乐的小人儿,她俩默默对视了几分钟后,马上成了十分要好的朋友。

帐篷、午饭、槌球游戏用具等先行送走后,大家随即登上小艇。两叶轻舟并驾齐驱,岸上只剩下挥着帽子的劳伦斯先生一人。劳里和乔共划一艘艇,布鲁克先生和内德先生划另一艘,而淘气反叛的双胞胎兄弟弗雷德•沃恩则使劲划着一只单人赛艇,像只受了惊的水蝽一样在两叶小舟之间乱冲乱撞。乔那顶风趣的帽子用途十分广泛,值得击掌鸣谢:它一开始便打破隔膜,逗得众人笑一来,她划船时帽子上下摆动,扇出阵阵清风,如果下起雨来它还可以给全班人马当作一把大伞使用,她说。凯特对乔的一举一动都觉得十分新奇,她丢了桨时大叫一声"我的妈哟!”;而劳里就坐时不小心在她脚上绊了一下,他说:“我的好伙伴,弄痛了你没有?”这些更叫她纳罕不已。戴上眼镜把这位奇怪的姑娘审视几遍后,凯特小姐认定乔"古怪,但挺聪明",于是远远对着她微笑起来。

另一只艇上的梅格舒舒服服地坐在两个荡桨手的对面,两个小伙子喜之不尽,各自使出不一般的"技巧和机敏",把艇划得十分稳当。布鲁克先生是个严肃、沉默寡言的年青人,声音悦耳动听,一对棕色的眼睛明亮有神。梅格喜欢他性格沉静,把他看作是一部活百科全书,里头装满了各种有用的知识。他跟她不大说话,但眼光却常常落在她身上,梅格肯定他对自己并不反感。内德是大学新生,当然摆足派头。他并不特别聪明,但性情随和,不失为野营活动的好伙伴。莎莉•加德纳一面打足精神护着自己的白裙子,以免被水平脏,一面和到处乱冲乱撞的弗雷德交谈。弗雷德不断做出各式各样的恶作剧,把贝思吓得心惊胆战。

长草坪相隔并不远,他们到达时帐篷已搭好了,三柱门也支了起来。这是一片令人心旷神怡的绿地,中间挺立着三棵枝繁叶茂的橡树,还有一块玩槌球用的平滑狭长的草坪。

“欢迎光临劳伦斯营地!”大家登上绿地,高兴得发出阵阵赞叹的时候,年轻主人说道。

“布鲁克任总指挥,我任军需官,其他各位男士任参谋官,而你们,女士们,则是陪同。这个帐篷专为你们而搭,那棵橡树是你们的客厅,第二棵是餐室,第三棵是营地厨房。好了,天未热我们先玩个游戏,然后再来做饭。”弗兰克、贝思、艾美和格莱丝坐下观看其他八人玩游戏。

布鲁克选了梅格、凯特和弗雷德;劳里则选了莎莉、乔和内德。英国孩子打得不错,但美国孩子打得更好,而且冲劲十足。乔和弗雷德发生了几次小冲突,一次还几乎吵了起来。乔过最后一道三柱门时失了一球,很是光火。弗雷德紧跟其后,这回先轮到他发球,接着才轮到乔。他把球一击,球打在三柱门上,然后停了下来,离球门仅有一英寸之距。大家离得较远,于是跑上来看个究竟。他狡猾地用脚指头把球轻轻一碰,球便刚好滑进了球门。

“我进了!哈,乔小姐,我要把你击败,第一个进球,”年轻人挥舞着球棍叫道,准备再击一球。

“你推了球,我亲眼看见的;这回轮到我,”乔厉声说。

“我发誓,我没动它;球也许是滚了一点,但这并不犯规;还是请站开一点,让我好好击球吧。”“我们美国人不作弊,但你们可以,如果你们喜欢。”乔十分生气。

“美国佬最有手段,这谁不知道。去你的球吧!”弗雷德回击道,把她的球打出老远。

乔张口要骂,却又忍住了,只觉得热血直冲脑门,她怔了一会,用尽全力把一个三柱门捶倒,而弗雷德则击中目标,狂喜地宣布自己胜出。乔走开去拾球,好一会功夫才在矮树丛里把球找到。但她走回来,神态冷静,一言不发,耐心地等着发球。她打了好几球才追回到原来的位置;当她追上时,对方差不多就要赢了,因为凯特的球是倒数第二个,正停在目标旁边。

大家围上前来观看最后一战,弗雷德紧张地叫道:“啊呀,我们完蛋了!不用打了,凯特。乔小姐欠我一球,因此你完了。”“美国佬的手段是对敌人宽宏大量,“乔说着看了他一眼,小伙子脸上腾地红了起来。”尤其是当他们打败敌人的时候,“她接着说,并不去动凯特的球,而是把自己的球漂亮一击,赢了比赛。

劳里把自己的帽子向空中一扔,却突然想起败方是自己的客人,不可太露轻狂,于是赶紧收住喊出嘴边的喝彩声,悄悄跟自己的朋友说:“做得对,乔!他确实是作弊,我也看到了;但我们不能跟他直说,不过他下回不敢再犯了,相信我吧。”梅格把她拉过一边,假装帮她夹起一绺松脱下来的辫子,赞赏地说:“这事叫人怒不可遏,但你竟忍住了,没有发脾气,我真高兴,乔。”“别夸我,梅格,我这会还想赏他一个耳光呢。我刚才在蓖麻树丛里呆了许久,压下一腔怒火才没有出声,要不,早就火冒三丈了。我的火这会还热着呢,所以他最好离我远点,“乔答道,紧咬双唇,从那顶大帽子下面悻悻地瞪了弗雷德一眼。

“该吃午饭了,”布鲁克先生看看手表说,”军需官,你去生火、打水,我跟马奇小姐、莎莉小姐一起布置饭桌,怎么样?哪位擅长煮咖啡?”“乔会。”梅格高兴地推荐妹妹。乔知道自己新近学会的烹饪技术不会给自己丢脸,便走过去摆弄咖啡壶,两个小姑娘捡来干树枝,男孩子生气火,从附近一个水泉打来清水。凯特小姐写生,贝思编结灯心草小垫子来做盘子,弗兰克在一旁跟她拉话儿。

总指挥和他的助手们很快便在桌布上摆满了各式诱人的食物和饮料,并用绿叶点缀得十分雅致。乔宣布咖啡已经煮好,众人各就各位,坐下饱吃一顿。年青人消化能力强,加上做了运动,所以胃口特别好。这顿午餐吃得十分愉快,一切都似乎新鲜有趣,大家谈笑风生,惊动了在近处吃草的一匹老马。饭桌凹凸不平,常常弄得杯碟东倒西歪,十分逗趣,橡树子掉进牛奶里头,小黑蚂蚁不请自来,一起分享美点,爱管闲事的毛虫从树上晃荡下来,想看看发生了什么事。三个白发小童隔着篱笆探头探脑,一只讨厌的狗在河对面向他们汪汪狂吠。

“这里有盐,要不要来一点?”劳里给乔递上一碟草莓,说。

“多谢了,我倒宁可要蜘蛛,”她答着,挑起两只不小心被奶油淹死了的小蜘蛛。”你还敢提那次糟糕透顶的宴会?你自己的办得有声有色,倒来取笑我?”乔又说,于是两人都笑起来,由于瓷碟不够,便凑着一个碟子一起吃。

“我那天玩得特别开心,至今仍意犹未荆这顿午饭我可不敢贪功,你知道,我什么也没做,都是你和梅格、布鲁克他们做的,我对你们真感激不尽呢。我们吃饱后该干什么?”劳里问。吃罢午饭,他觉得下面没棋了。

“玩游戏,直到天凉下来,我带来了''作者''游戏卡。凯特小姐也一定有些好玩的新花样。去问问她吧;她是客人,你该多陪陪她。”“你就不是客人了?我原以为她和布鲁克合得来,但他却老跟梅格说话,凯特只是透过她那副怪眼镜一个劲地瞪着他们。我去了,你也不用跟我谈什么礼节规矩,因为你自己就做不来,乔。“凯特确实知道几种新游戏,因姑娘们不愿再吃,男孩们又不能再吃,大家便移到“客厅"玩"废话连篇"的游戏。

“一人起个头,给大家讲故事,内容不拘、长短不限,但要注意一到紧要关头便得停下,第二个人立即接上,如法炮制。如果玩得好,这个游戏十分有趣,里头故事杂乱无章,或悲或喜,令人捧腹。请起个头,布鲁克先生,”凯特用一种命令式的语气说。梅格对这位私人教师十分敬重,把他跟其他几位男士一样看待,见状不禁大为惊讶。

草地上,布鲁克先生躺在两位年青小姐的脚边遵命起头,漂亮的棕色眼睛凝视着披满阳光的小河。

“从前,一个武士穷得只剩下一把剑和一张盾,于是出去闯世界。他历尽艰辛,周游了差不多二十八年,最后来到一个好心的老国王的宫殿。老国王有一匹心爱的小马,漂亮无比,但尚未驯服,他颁令如有人把这骑马驯好,将获得一笔丰厚的酬金。武士同意试一试,这匹雄壮骁勇的马儿很快就和新主人建立了感情,虽然它性子暴烈,狂野不羁,但还是慢慢被驯服了。每天训练时武士都骑着国王的宝马穿过闹市,边走边四面寻找一张在他梦中出现过无数次的漂亮脸孔,但一直没有找到。一天,当他策马走过一条寂静无人的街道时,他在一座废弃的城堡的窗口里看到了那张动人的脸孔。他惊喜万分,便询问是谁住在这座旧城堡里头,原来是几个被掳来的公主,她们被施了魔咒,关在里头,夜以继日地纺纱织布,以蓄钱赎取自由。武士非常希望能把她们解救出来,但他一贫如洗,只能每天走到那里,盼望着那张美丽的脸孔能再次出现,期望公主能够出来走到阳光下面。最后他决定闯进城堡,看看怎样才能帮助她们。他走过去敲门,大门马上拉开,他看到了——”“一位绝色佳人,她狂喜地大叫一声,高呼:''盼到啦!盼到啦!''”凯特接上故事,她读过法国小说,喜欢那种风格。

“''是她!潘顾虿艚械溃老踩艨竦毓蛟谒慕畔隆*

''啊,起来!''她伸出纤纤玉手说道。''不!除非你告诉我怎样才能把你救出樊牢,”武士跪在那里发誓。''呵,残酷的命运把我囚在这里,暴君不死,我就没有出头之日。''''恶棍在哪里?''''在紫红色的大厅里。去吧,勇敢的爱人,快把我救出绝境。''''遵命,我一定与他决一死战!''说完这几句豪言壮语后,他冲出去,砰的一声打开紫红色大厅的大门,正要走进去,却遭到——”“一下痛击,一个披黑衣的老家伙向他下了手,”内德说,”某某爵士马上回过神来,把暴君丢出窗外,转身去与佳人相会,顶着眉头上的大包,凯旋而归;但却发现门被锁上了,只好撕破窗帘做成一张绳梯,下到半途绳梯突然断裂,他一头栽进六十英尺下面的护城河。他熟谙水性,涉水绕城堡而行,最后来到一扇有两壮汉守着的小门,把两个脑袋互相对碰,直碰得格格作响,接着,大力士毫不费劲便破门而入,走上一段石阶,上面积满了一英尺厚的灰尘,癞蛤蟆跟你的拳头一样大,蜘蛛准把你吓得歇斯底里尖叫,马奇小姐。在石阶上头,他蓦地看到了一东西,令他大惊失色,毛骨悚然,他看到——”“一个高高的身影,穿着一身白衣服,脸上蒙了0一条脸纱,瘦骨嶙峋的手提着一盏灯,”梅格续上去,”它招招手,无声无息地沿着一条像坟墓一样黑暗冰凉的走廊滑行。披着盔甲的塑像阴森森地站立两边,周围一片死寂,灯火喷出蓝光,鬼影不时向他转过脸来,两只恐怖的眼睛透过白色脸纱发出闪闪幽光。他们走到一扇挂了帘子的门前,门后面突然响起悦耳的音乐;他跳上前要走进去,幽灵把他拽了回来,威胁地在他面前扬着一个——”“鼻烟盒,”乔阴声阴气地说,众人听得毛发倒竖,”''有劳了,''武士礼貌地说,一面拈了一撮儿,随即重重地打了七个大喷嚏,震得脑袋都掉了下来。''哈!哈!''鬼魂发出笑声。

恶鬼透过钥匙孔看到公主们仍在纺线赎取新生,便捡起它的牺牲品,把他放进一个大锡箱子里,箱里头还密密麻麻地塞了十一个无头武士,他们全站起身来,开始——”“跳号笛舞,”弗雷德趁乔停下歇口气时插进来,”他们跳舞时,废旧城堡变成一艘风帆的战船。''向风打三角帆,收紧中桅帆扬帆索,背风转舵,开炮!''船长吼叫道。此时一艘前桅飘着一面黑旗的葡萄牙海盗船正驶入视线。”冲啊,伙伴们!”船长说,于是一场大战开始了。当然是英方打赢罗,他们向来都是赢家。“不对!”乔在一边叫道。

“把海盗船长俘虏后,战船直驶过纵帆船,纵帆船甲板上堆满了尸体,鲜血从下风排水孔流了出来,因为他们的命令是''拼死肉搏!''''副水手长,拿个三角帆帆脚索绳耳来,如果这坏蛋不赶快招供,就把他干掉,''英国舰只的船长说道。

但那葡萄牙人像条好汉一样咬紧牙关,于是让他走跳板。快乐的水手们欢呼若狂。但那狡猾的家伙潜在水中,游到战船下面,把船底凿穿,扬满风帆的船儿沉了下去,''往海底,海,海,''那儿——”“噢,天啊!我该说什么?”莎莉叫道。此时弗雷德收住了他的连篇废话,这些乱七八糟的水手用语和生活描写全取材于他最喜欢的一本书。”唔,他们沉落海底,一条美丽的美人鱼迎接他们,看到装着无头武士的箱子,美人鱼十分伤心,便好心地把他们腌在盐水里,希望能发现他们的秘密,因为她是个女人,好奇心很强。后来,有个人潜水下来,美人鱼便说:''如果你可以把箱子拿上去,我便把这箱珠宝送给你。''她很想这些可怜的武士重获新生,但自己却无力举起这个沉重的箱子。潜水者便把箱子举上来,打开一看,里头并无珠宝,大为失望,便把箱子弃在一片人迹罕至的荒野里,被一个——”“小牧羊女发现了。小姑娘在这片地里养了一百只肥鹅,”艾美在莎莉才思枯竭时接着说,”她很替武士们难过,便请教一位老妇人怎样才能帮助他们。''你的鹅会告诉你的,它们无所不知,''老妇人说。她接着又问旧脑袋掉了应该用什么再装上去做新脑袋,只见那一百只鹅张开嘴巴齐齐尖叫—-”“''卷心菜!''"劳里立即接上去,“''就是它了,''姑娘说道,跑到自己的园子里摘了十二个大卷心菜。她把卷心菜放上去,武士们马上复活了,谢过小牧羊女后,欣喜上路,并不知道自己换了脑袋,因为世界上跟他们一样的脑袋太多了,谁也没想到自己的有什么不同。我感兴趣的那位武士走回去找佳人,得悉公主们已纺纱赎回自由,除了一个外已全部出嫁了。武士听罢心潮起伏难平,跨上一直与他患难与共的小马,冲到城堡,看看留下来的是谁。他隔着树篱偷窥,看到他心爱的公主正在花园里采花。''能给我一朵玫瑰吗?''他问道。''你得自己过来拿。我不能走近你,这样有失体统,''佳人柔声说道。他试图爬过树篱,但它似乎越长越高;然后他想冲破树篱,但它却越长越浓密。他一筹莫展,于是耐心地把细树枝一枝一枝折断,开了一个小洞,从洞里望进去,哀求道:''让我进来吧!让我进来吧!''但美丽的公主似乎并不明白,依然平静地摘她的玫瑰,任由他孤身奋战。他有没有冲进去呢?弗兰克会告诉大家。“我不会,我没有玩,我从来都不玩,”弗兰克说道。他不知道怎样才能把这对荒唐的情人从感情的困境中解救出来。贝思早躲到乔的身后,格莱丝则睡着了。

“那么说可怜的武士就被困在树篱一边了,对吗?”布鲁克先生眼睛仍然凝视着小河,手里把玩着插在钮孔上的野玫瑰,问道。

“我想后来公主给他一束玫瑰,并把门打开,”劳里说,笑着向他的家庭教师扔橡树子。

“看我们凑了篇什么样的废话!多实践的话我们或许能做出点名堂呢?你们知道''真言''吗?”当大家笑过自己作的故事后,莎莉问。

“但愿我知道,”梅格认真地说。

“我的意思是这个游戏。”

“怎么玩?”弗雷德问。

“哦,这样,大家把手叠起来,选一个数字,然后轮流抽出手,抽到这个数字的人得老实回答其他人提出的问题。很好玩的。”“我们试试吧,”喜欢新花样的乔说。

凯特小姐、布鲁克先生、梅格和内德退出了。弗雷德、莎莉、乔和劳里开始玩这个游戏,劳里抽中了。

“谁是你的偶像?”乔问。

“爷爷和拿破仑。”

“你认为这里哪位女士最漂亮?”莎莉问。

“玛格丽特。”

“你最喜欢哪一位?”弗雷德问。

“乔,那还用说。”

劳里说得一本正经,大家全笑起来。乔轻蔑地耸耸肩,说:“你们问得真无聊!“再玩一回;''真言''这个游戏挺不错,”弗雷德说。

“对你来说是个好游戏,”乔低声反驳道。这回轮到她了。

“你最大的缺点是什么?”弗雷德问,借此试探她是否诚实,因为他自己缺乏的正是这种品格。

“品性急躁。”

“你最希望什么?”劳里问。

“一对靴带。”乔一面揣测他的用意,一面挫败了他的目的。

“回答不老实;你必须说出你真正最希望什么。”“智慧;难道你不希望你可以给我吗,劳里?”她望着地那张失望的脸孔狡黠地一笑。

“你最敬慕男士什么品格?”莎莉问。

“勇敢真诚。”

“现在该我了,”弗雷德说道,他最后抽中了。

“我们来问问他,”劳里向乔耳语,乔点点头,立即问——“槌球比赛你有没有作弊?”“嗯,唔,有那么一点点。”“好!你的故事是不是取自《海狮》?”劳里问。

“有些是。”

“你是不是认为英国民族完美无瑕?”莎莉问。

“不这样认为我就惭愧死了。”

“真是条不折不扣的约翰牛。好了,莎莉小姐,该轮到你了,不必等抽签。我要问你一个问题,先折磨一下你的感情。你觉得自己是不是有几分卖弄风情?“劳里说。乔则向弗雷德点点头,表示和解。

“好个鲁莽的小伙子!当然不是,”莎莉叫道,那种做作的神态说明事实恰恰相反。

“你最恨什么?”弗雷德问。

“蜘蛛和稻米布叮”

“你最喜欢什么?”乔问。

“跳舞和法国手套。”

“哦,我看''真言''是个无聊透顶的把戏;不如换个有意思的,我们玩''作者''来提神吧,”乔提议。

内德、弗兰克和小姑娘们也加入这个游戏,三个年长一点的则坐到另一边闲扯。凯特小姐又拿出她的写生本,梅格看着她画,布鲁克先生则躺在草地上,手里拿着一本书,却又不看。

“你画得真棒!真希望我也会画,”梅格说道,声音夹杂着仰慕和遗憾。

“那你为什么不学?我倒认为你有这方面的鉴赏力和才华,”凯特小姐礼貌地回答。

“我没有时间。”

“可能你妈妈希望你别有建树吧,我想,我妈妈也一样,但我悄悄学了几课,把我的才华证明给她看,她便同意我继续学了。你也一样可以跟自己的家庭教师悄悄学啊?”“我没有家庭教师。”“我倒忘了美国姑娘大多都上学堂,跟我们不一样。爸爸说,这些学校都很气派。我猜你上的是私立学校吧?”“我根本不上学。我自己便是个家庭教师。”“噢,是吗!”凯特小姐说,但她倒不如直说:“天啊,真丢人!”因为她的语气分明有这个意思。她脸上的神情使梅格涨红了脸,直懊悔自己刚才太坦诚。

布鲁克先生抬起头,机智地说道:“美国姑娘跟她们的祖先一样热爱独立,她们自食其力,并因此而受到敬重。”“噢,不错,她们这样做当然很好、很正当。我们也有不少体面高尚的年轻女士这样做,受雇于贵族阶层。因为,作为绅士的女儿,她们都很有教养和建树,你知道,”凯特小姐用一种居高临下的腔调说道,这话使梅格的自尊心受到了伤害,使她的工作变得不但更加讨厌,而且更加丢人了。

“德文歌合你的心意吗,马奇小姐?”布鲁克先生打破令人尴尬的沉默,问道。

“哦,当然!那支歌优美极了,我十分感激替我翻译的那个人哩。”梅格阴云满布的脸孔在说话时又有了生气。

“你不会念德文吗?”凯特小姐惊讶地问。

“念得不大好。我父亲原来教我,但现在不在家,我独个儿进展不快,因为没有人纠正我的发音。”“不如现在就念一点;这里有一本席勒的《玛丽•斯图亚特》,还有一位愿意教你的家庭老师。”布鲁克先生把他的书放在她膝上,向她粲然一笑。

“这本书太难,我不敢试,”梅格说道。她十分感激,但在一位多才多艺的年轻女士面前又感到很不好意思。

“我先读几句来鼓励你,”凯特小姐说着把最优美的其中一段朗诵一遍,读得一字不差,但却毫无表情,十分呆板。

布鲁克先生听完后不置评论,凯特小姐把书交回梅格,梅格天真地说道:“我想这是诗歌。”“有些是。读读这段吧。”布鲁克先生把书翻到可怜的玛丽的挽歌一页,嘴角挂着一丝罕见的微笑。

梅格顺着她的新教师用来指点的长草叶羞涩地慢慢读下去。她的声调悦耳轻柔,那些生涩难读的字句不知不觉全变得如诗如歌。绿草叶一路指下去,把梅格带到悲泣哀怨的境界,她旋即忘掉了自己的听众,旁若无人地往下读,读到不幸的女王说的话时,声调带了一点哽咽。假使她当时看到了那对棕色眼睛,她一定会突然停下;但她没有抬头,这堂课于是得以圆满结束。

“精彩之极!”布鲁克先生待她停下来的时候说道。其实她读错了不少单词,但他忽略不提,俨然一副"愿意教"的模样。

凯特小姐带上眼镜,把眼前的小场面研究了一回,然后合上写生本,屈尊说道:“你的口音挺漂亮,日后可以做个伶俐的朗诵者。

我建议你学一学,因为德语对于教师来说是一种很有价值的建树。我得去照看格莱丝,她在乱蹦乱跳呢。”凯蒂小姐说着慢慢走开了。又自言自语地耸耸肩。“我不可是来陪一个女家庭教师的,虽然她确实年轻貌美。这些美国佬真是怪人;劳里跟她们一起兴许会学坏了哩。”“我忘了英国人瞧不起女家庭教师,不像我们那样对待她们,”梅格望着凯特小姐远去的身影懊恼地说道。

“可悲的是,据我所知,男家庭教师在那边日子也不好过。

对于我们这行来说,再没有比美国更好的地方了,玛格丽特小姐。”布鲁克先生的样子显得如此满足如此快乐,梅格也不好意思再哀叹自己命苦了。

“那我真高兴我生活在美国。我不喜欢我的工作,不过我还是从中得到很大的满足,所以我不会抱怨;我只希望我能像你一样喜欢教书。”“如果你有劳里这样的学生,我想你就会喜欢的。可惜我明年就要失去他了,”布鲁克先生边说边在草坪上猛劲戳洞。

“上大学,是吗?”梅格嘴里这样问,眼睛却在说:“那你自己呢?”“是的,该上大学了,因为他已准备好了;他一走,我就参军。部队需要我。”“我真高兴!“梅格叫道,”我也认为每个年青人都应该有这个心愿,虽然留在家里的母亲和姐妹们会感到难过。”她说着伤心起来。

“我没有母亲姐妹,在乎我死活的朋友也寥寥无几,”布鲁克先生有点苦涩地说道。他心不在焉地把蔫玫瑰放到戳好的洞里,把它像座小坟墓似地用土盖上。

“劳里和他爷爷就会十分在乎;如果万一你受了伤,我们也全会很难过的,”梅格真心地说。

“谢谢,听到你这样说我很高兴,”布鲁克先生振作起来,说道。

一语未毕,内德骑着那匹老马笨拙地走过来,在女士们面前炫耀他的骑术,于是天下大乱,这一天再也没有安宁。

“你喜欢骑马吗?”格莱丝问艾美。平时她俩刚刚和大家一起跟着内德绕田野跑一圈,这时站着在歇气。

“爱得不得了;我爸爸有钱那时候我姐姐梅格常常骑,但我们现在没有马了,只有''爱伦树''。”“跟我说说,”爱伦树''是一头驴子吗?”格莱丝好奇地问。

“嘿,你不知道,乔爱马爱得发疯,我也一样,但我们没有马,只有一个旧横鞍。我们园子外头有一棵苹果树,长了一个漂亮的低树丫,乔便把马鞍放上去,在翘起处系上缰绳,我们什么时候来了兴致,便跳上''爱伦树''。”“多有趣!”格莱丝笑了。”我家里有一匹小马,我几乎每天都和弗兰德和凯特一起去公园骑马;这是一种享受,因为我的朋友们也去,整个罗瓦都是绅士淑女们的身影。”“哎呀,多带劲!我希望能有一天到国外走走,但我宁愿去罗马,不去罗瓦,”艾美说。她根本不知道罗瓦是什么,也不愿向人请教。

坐在两个小姑娘后面的弗雷克听到了她们说话。看到生龙活虎般的小伙子们在做各种各样有趣的体操动作,他很不耐烦地一把推开自己的拐杖。贝思正在收拾散乱一地的"作者"卡片,闻声抬起头来,羞怯而友好地问:“我想你累了吧;我能为你效劳吗?”“跟我说说话吧,求求你;一个人枯坐闷死了,”弗兰克回答。显然他在家里被悉心照料惯了。

对于胆小的贝思来说,即使让她发表拉丁语演说也不会比这更难受;但她现在无处可遁,乔不在身边挡驾,可怜的小伙子又眼巴巴地望着她,她于是勇敢地决心试一试。

“谈什么好呢?”她边收拾卡片边问,正要把卡片扎起来,却洒落了一半。

“嗯,我想听听板球、划艇和打猎这类事情,”弗兰克说道。他尚未懂得自己的兴趣应视身体状况而定。

“上帝!我该怎么办?我对这些一无所知,”贝思想,仓皇之间忘记了小伙子的不幸。她想引他说话,便说:“我从来没见过打猎,不过我猜你对它很在行。”“以前是;但我再也不能打猎了,我跳越一道该死的五栅门时弄伤了腿,再也不能骑马放猎狗了,”弗兰克长叹一声说。

贝思见状直恨自己粗心无知,说错了话。

“你们的鹿儿远比我们丑陋的水牛美丽,”她说道,转身望着大草原寻找灵感,很高兴自己曾读过一本乔十分喜欢的男孩子读物。

事实证明水牛具有镇静功能,而且十分中听。贝思一心一意要让弗兰克乐起来,心里早没有了自己。乔、梅格和艾美看到她竟和一个原来躲避不迭的可怕的男孩子谈得滔滔不绝,全都又惊又喜,贝思对此却全然不觉。

“好心的人儿!她怜悯他,所以对他好,”乔说道,从槌球场那边对着她微笑。

“我一向都说她是个小圣人,”梅格用不容置疑的口吻说。

“我很久都没有听弗兰克笑得这样开心了,”格莱丝对艾美说。平时她们正坐在一处,边谈论玩偶,边用橡果壳做茶具。

“我姐姐贝思是个''吹毛求疵''的姑娘,只要她愿意,”艾美对贝思的成功深感满意,说道。她的意思是"富有魅力",不过因为格莱丝也不知道这两个词的确切意思,”吹毛求疵"听起来满入耳,而且留下了良好印象。

下午大家看了一场狐狸野鹅的即兴表演,又举行了一场槌球友谊比赛,不觉红日西沉,于是拆除帐篷,收拾盖篮,卸下三柱门,装上船只,全班人马乘着船儿沿河漂流,一面放声高歌。内德动了情,用柔和的颤音唱起一首小夜曲,只听他唱那忧郁的迭句——孤独,孤独,啊!哦,孤独,又唱歌词——我们正当青春妙龄,各自怀有一颗善感的心,呵,为什么要拉开如此冷漠的距离?

他望着梅格,没精打彩的像个泄了气的皮球,梅格忍不住扑哧一笑,把他的歌打断了。

“你怎能对我这样无情?”他咕哝道,声音湮没在众人活泼的歌声里,”你一整天都和那个正儿八经的英国女人混在一起,这会儿又让我过不去。”“我并非有意,只是你怪模怪样的,我实在忍不住,”梅格答道,把他第一部分的责备略过不提。说真的她整天都在躲他,因为她对莫法特家的晚会以及后来的闲话记忆犹新。

内德生了气,转头向莎莉寻求安慰,他使着小性子说道:“你说这姑娘是不是一点风情也不懂?”“半点也不懂,不过她是个可人儿,”莎莉回答,虽然坦白了朋友的缺点,但却维护了朋友。

“总之不是个中吃的果仁儿。”内德想说句俏皮话,无奈初出茅庐的年青人功力未到,难免弄巧成拙。

这班小队伍齐集在草坪上告别,诚挚地互道晚安,又互相说再见,因为沃恩姐弟们还要去加拿大。当四姐妹穿过花园回家时,凯特小姐在后面望着她们,说:“尽管美国姑娘感情外露,但一旦你了解了她们,便知道她们十分迷人。”这时她已收起了那副居高临下的腔调。

“我完全同意,”布鲁克先生说。




CHAPTER THIRTEEN CASTLES IN THE AIR

Laurie lay luxuriously swinging to and fro in his hammock one warm September afternoon, wondering what his neighbors were about, but too lazy to go and find out. He was in one of his moods, for the day had been both unprofitable and unsatisfactory, and he was wishing he could live it over again. The hot weather made him indolent, and he had shirked his studies, tried Mr. Brooke's patience to the utmost, displeased his grandfather by practicing half the afternoon, frightened the maidservants half out of their wits by mischievously hinting that one of his dogs was going mad, and, after high words with the stableman about some fancied neglect of his horse, he had flung himself into his hammock to fume over the stupidity of the world in general, till the peace of the lovely day quieted him in spite of himself. Staring up into the green gloom of the horse-chestnut trees above him, he dreamed dreams of all sorts, and was just imagining himself tossing on the ocean in a voyage round the world, when the sound of voices brought him ashore in a flash. Peeping through the meshes of the hammock, he saw the Marches coming out, as if bound on some expedition.

"What in the world are those girls about now?" thought Laurie, opening his sleepy eyes to take a good look, for there was something rather peculiar in the appearance of his neighbors. Each wore a large, flapping hat, a brown linen pouch slung over one shoulder, and carried a long staff. Meg had a cushion, Jo a book, Beth a basket, and Amy a portfolio. All walked quietly through the garden, out at the little back gate, and began to climb the hill that lay between the house and river.

"Well, that's cool," said Laurie to himself, "to have a picnic and never ask me! They can't be going in the boat, for they haven't got the key. Perhaps they forgot it. I'll take it to them, and see what's going on."

Though possessed of half a dozen hats, it took him some time to find one, then there was a hunt for the key, which was at last discovered in his pocket, so that the girls were quite out of sight when he leaped the fence and ran after them. Taking the shortest way to the boathouse, he waited for them to appear, but no one came, and he went up the hill to take an observation. A grove of pines covered one part of it, and from the heart of this green spot came a clearer sound than the soft sigh of the pines or the drowsy chirp of the crickets.

"Here's a landscape!" thought Laurie, peeping through the bushes, and looking wide-awake and good-natured already.

It was a rather pretty little picture, for the sisters sat together in the shady nook, with sun and shadow flickering over them, the aromatic wind lifting their hair and cooling their hot cheeks, and all the little wood people going on with their affairs as if these were no strangers but old friends. Meg sat upon her cushion, sewing daintily with her white hands, and looking as fresh and sweet as a rose in her pink dress among the green. Beth was sorting the cones that lay thick under the hemlock near by, for she made pretty things with them. Amy was sketching a group of ferns, and Jo was knitting as she read aloud. A shadow passed over the boy's face as he watched them, feeling that he ought to go away because uninvited; yet lingering because home seemed very lonely and this quiet party in the woods most attractive to his restless spirit. He stood so still that a squirrel, busy with its harvesting, ran down a pine close beside him, saw him suddenly and skipped back, scolding so shrilly that Beth looked up, espied the wistful face behind the birches, and beckoned with a reassuring smile.

"May I come in, please? Or shall I be a bother?" he asked, advancing slowly.

Meg lifted her eyebrows, but Jo scowled at her defiantly and said at once, "Of course you may. We should have asked you before, only we thought you wouldn't care for such a girl's game as this."

"I always like your games, but if Meg doesn't want me, I'll go away."

"I've no objection, if you do something. It's against the rules to be idle here," replied Meg gravely but graciously.

"Much obliged. I'll do anything if you'll let me stop a bit, for it's as dull as the Desert of Sahara down there. Shall I sew, read, cone, draw, or do all at once? Bring on your bears. I'm ready." And Laurie sat down with a submissive expression delightful to behold.

"Finish this story while I set my heel," said Jo, handing him the book.

"Yes'm." was the meek answer, as he began, doing his best to prove his gratitude for the favor of admission into the 'Busy Bee Society'.

The story was not a long one, and when it was finished, he ventured to ask a few questions as a reward of merit.

"Please, ma'am, could I inquire if this highly instructive and charming institution is a new one?"

"Would you tell him?" asked Meg of her sisters.

"He'll laugh," said Amy warningly.

"Who cares?" said Jo.

"I guess he'll like it," added Beth.

"Of course I shall! I give you my word I won't laugh. Tell away, Jo, and don't be afraid."

"The idea of being afraid of you! Well, you see we used to play Pilgrim's Progress, and we have been going on with it in earnest, all winter and summer."

"Yes, I know," said Laurie, nodding wisely.

"Who told you?" demanded Jo.

"Spirits."

"No, I did. I wanted to amuse him one night when you were all away, and he was rather dismal. He did like it, so don't scold, Jo," said Beth meekly.

"You can't keep a secret. Never mind, it saves trouble now."

"Go on, please," said Laurie, as Jo became absorbed in her work, looking a trifle displeased.

"Oh, didn't she tell you about this new plan of ours? Well, we have tried not to waste our holiday, but each has had a task and worked at it with a will. The vacation is nearly over, the stints are all done, and we are ever so glad that we didn't dawdle."

"Yes, I should think so," and Laurie thought regretfully of his own idle days.

"Mother likes to have us out-of-doors as much as possible, so we bring our work here and have nice times. For the fun of it we bring our things in these bags, wear the old hats, use poles to climb the hill, and play pilgrims, as we used to do years ago. We call this hill the Delectable Mountain, for we can look far away and see the country where we hope to live some time."

Jo pointed, and Laurie sat up to examine, for through an opening in the wood one could look cross the wide, blue river, the meadows on the other side, far over the outskirts of the great city, to the green hills that rose to meet the sky. The sun was low, and the heavens glowed with the splendor of an autumn sunset. Gold and purple clouds lay on the hilltops, and rising high into the ruddy light were silvery white peaks that shone like the airy spires of some Celestial City.

"How beautiful that is!" said Laurie softly, for he was quick to see and feel beauty of any kind.

"It's often so, and we like to watch it, for it is never the same, but always splendid," replied Amy, wishing she could paint it.

"Jo talks about the country where we hope to live sometime—the real country, she means, with pigs and chickens and haymaking. It would be nice, but I wish the beautiful country up there was real, and we could ever go to it," said Beth musingly.

"There is a lovelier country even than that, where we shall go, by-and-by, when we are good enough," answered Meg with her sweetest voice.

"It seems so long to wait, so hard to do. I want to fly away at once, as those swallows fly, and go in at that splendid gate."

"You'll get there, Beth, sooner or later, no fear of that," said Jo. "I'm the one that will have to fight and work, and climb and wait, and maybe never get in after all."

"You'll have me for company, if that's any comfort. I shall have to do a deal of traveling before I come in sight of your Celestial City. If I arrive late, you'll say a good word for me, won't you, Beth?"

Something in the boy's face troubled his little friend, but she said cheerfully, with her quiet eyes on the changing clouds, "If people really want to go, and really try all their lives, I think they will get in, for I don't believe there are any locks on that door or any guards at the gate. I always imagine it is as it is in the picture, where the shining ones stretch out their hands to welcome poor Christian as he comes up from the river."

"Wouldn't it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true, and we could live in them?" said Jo, after a little pause.

"I've made such quantities it would be hard to choose which I'd have," said Laurie, lying flat and throwing cones at the squirrel who had betrayed him.

"You'd have to take your favorite one. What is it?" asked Meg.

"If I tell mine, will you tell yours?"

"Yes, if the girls will too."

"We will. Now, Laurie."

"After I'd seen as much of the world as I want to, I'd like to settle in Germany and have just as much music as I choose. I'm to be a famous musician myself, and all creation is to rush to hear me. And I'm never to be bothered about money or business, but just enjoy myself and live for what I like. That's my favorite castle. What's yours, Meg?"

Margaret seemed to find it a little hard to tell hers, and waved a brake before her face, as if to disperse imaginary gnats, while she said slowly, "I should like a lovely house, full of all sorts of luxurious things—nice food, pretty clothes, handsome furniture, pleasant people, and heaps of money. I am to be mistress of it, and manage it as I like, with plenty of servants, so I never need work a bit. How I should enjoy it! For I wouldn't be idle, but do good, and make everyone love me dearly."

"Wouldn't you have a master for your castle in the air?" asked Laurie slyly.

"I said 'pleasant people', you know," and Meg carefully tied up her shoe as she spoke, so that no one saw her face.

"Why don't you say you'd have a splendid, wise, good husband and some angelic little children? You know your castle wouldn't be perfect without," said blunt Jo, who had no tender fancies yet, and rather scorned romance, except in books.

"You'd have nothing but horses, inkstands, and novels in yours," answered Meg petulantly.

"Wouldn't I though? I'd have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled high with books, and I'd write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be as famous as Laurie's music. I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle, something heroic or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous, that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream."

"Mine is to stay at home safe with Father and Mother, and help take care of the family," said Beth contentedly.

"Don't you wish for anything else?" asked Laurie.

"Since I had my little piano, I am perfectly satisfied. I only wish we may all keep well and be together, nothing else."

"I have ever so many wishes, but the pet one is to be an artist, and go to Rome, and do fine pictures, and be the best artist in the whole world," was Amy's modest desire.

"We're an ambitious set, aren't we? Every one of us, but Beth, wants to be rich and famous, and gorgeous in every respect. I do wonder if any of us will ever get our wishes," said Laurie, chewing grass like a meditative calf.

"I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen," observed Jo mysteriously.

"I've got the key to mine, but I'm not allowed to try it. Hang college!" muttered Laurie with an impatient sigh.

"Here's mine!" and Amy waved her pencil.

"I haven't got any," said Meg forlornly.

"Yes, you have," said Laurie at once.

"Where?"

"In your face."

"Nonsense, that's of no use."

"Wait and see if it doesn't bring you something worth having," replied the boy, laughing at the thought of a charming little secret which he fancied he knew.

Meg colored behind the brake, but asked no questions and looked across the river with the same expectant expression which Mr. Brooke had worn when he told the story of the knight.

"If we are all alive ten years hence, let's meet, and see how many of us have got our wishes, or how much nearer we are then than now," said Jo, always ready with a plan.

"Bless me! How old I shall be, twenty-seven!" exclaimed Meg, who felt grown up already, having just reached seventeen.

"You and I will be twenty-six, Teddy, Beth twenty-four, and Amy twenty-two. What a venerable party!" said Jo.

"I hope I shall have done something to be proud of by that time, but I'm such a lazy dog, I'm afraid I shall dawdle, Jo."

"You need a motive, Mother says, and when you get it, she is sure you'll work splendidly."

"Is she? By Jupiter, I will, if I only get the chance!" cried Laurie, sitting up with sudden energy. "I ought to be satisfied to please Grandfather, and I do try, but it's working against the grain, you see, and comes hard. He wants me to be an India merchant, as he was, and I'd rather be shot. I hate tea and silk and spices, and every sort of rubbish his old ships bring, and I don't care how soon they go to the bottom when I own them. Going to college ought to satisfy him, for if I give him four years he ought to let me off from the business. But he's set, and I've got to do just as he did, unless I break away and please myself, as my father did. If there was anyone left to stay with the old gentleman, I'd do it tomorrow."

Laurie spoke excitedly, and looked ready to carry his threat into execution on the slightest provocation, for he was growing up very fast and, in spite of his indolent ways, had a young man's hatred of subjection, a young man's restless longing to try the world for himself.

"I advise you to sail away in one of your ships, and never come home again till you have tried your own way," said Jo, whose imagination was fired by the thought of such a daring exploit, and whose sympathy was excited by what she called 'Teddy's Wrongs'.

"That's not right, Jo. You mustn't talk in that way, and Laurie mustn't take your bad advice. You should do just what your grandfather wishes, my dear boy," said Meg in her most maternal tone. "Do your best at college, and when he sees that you try to please him, I'm sure he won't be hard on you or unjust to you. As you say, there is no one else to stay with and love him, and you'd never forgive yourself if you left him without his permission. Don't be dismal or fret, but do your duty and you'll get your reward, as good Mr. Brooke has, by being respected and loved."

"What do you know about him?" asked Laurie, grateful for the good advice, but objecting to the lecture, and glad to turn the conversation from himself after his unusual outbreak.

"Only what your grandpa told us about him, how he took good care of his own mother till she died, and wouldn't go abroad as tutor to some nice person because he wouldn't leave her. And how he provides now for an old woman who nursed his mother, and never tells anyone, but is just as generous and patient and good as he can be."

"So he is, dear old fellow!" said Laurie heartily, as Meg paused, looking flushed and earnest with her story. "It's like Grandpa to find out all about him without letting him know, and to tell all his goodness to others, so that they might like him. Brooke couldn't understand why your mother was so kind to him, asking him over with me and treating him in her beautiful friendly way. He thought she was just perfect, and talked about it for days and days, and went on about you all in flaming style. If ever I do get my wish, you see what I'll do for Brooke."

"Begin to do something now by not plaguing his life out," said Meg sharply.

"How do you know I do, Miss?"

"I can always tell by his face when he goes away. If you have been good, he looks satisfied and walks briskly. If you have plagued him, he's sober and walks slowly, as if he wanted to go back and do his work better."

"Well, I like that? So you keep an account of my good and bad marks in Brooke's face, do you? I see him bow and smile as he passes your window, but I didn't know you'd got up a telegraph."

"We haven't. Don't be angry, and oh, don't tell him I said anything! It was only to show that I cared how you get on, and what is said here is said in confidence, you know," cried Meg, much alarmed at the thought of what might follow from her careless speech.

"I don't tell tales," replied Laurie, with his 'high and mighty' air, as Jo called a certain expression which he occasionally wore. "Only if Brooke is going to be a thermometer, I must mind and have fair weather for him to report."

"Please don't be offended. I didn't mean to preach or tell tales or be silly. I only thought Jo was encouraging you in a feeling which you'd be sorry for by-and-by. You are so kind to us, we feel as if you were our brother and say just what we think. Forgive me, I meant it kindly." And Meg offered her hand with a gesture both affectionate and timid.

Ashamed of his momentary pique, Laurie squeezed the kind little hand, and said frankly, "I'm the one to be forgiven. I'm cross and have been out of sorts all day. I like to have you tell me my faults and be sisterly, so don't mind if I am grumpy sometimes. I thank you all the same."

Bent on showing that he was not offended, he made himself as agreeable as possible, wound cotton for Meg, recited poetry to please Jo, shook down cones for Beth, and helped Amy with her ferns, proving himself a fit person to belong to the 'Busy Bee Society'. In the midst of an animated discussion on the domestic habits of turtles (one of those amiable creatures having strolled up from the river), the faint sound of a bell warned them that Hannah had put the tea 'to draw', and they would just have time to get home to supper.

"May I come again?" asked Laurie.

"Yes, if you are good, and love your book, as the boys in the primer are told to do," said Meg, smiling.

"I'll try."

"Then you may come, and I'll teach you to knit as the Scotchmen do. There's a demand for socks just now," added Jo, waving hers like a big blue worsted banner as they parted at the gate.

That night, when Beth played to Mr. Laurence in the twilight, Laurie, standing in the shadow of the curtain, listened to the little David, whose simple music always quieted his moody spirit, and watched the old man, who sat with his gray head on his hand, thinking tender thoughts of the dead child he had loved so much. Remembering the conversation of the afternoon, the boy said to himself, with the resolve to make the sacrifice cheerfully, "I'll let my castle go, and stay with the dear old gentleman while he needs me, for I am all he has."

 

第十三章 空中楼阁

一个热烘烘的九月下午,劳里舒舒服服地躺在吊床上摇来晃去,很想知道邻居姐妹们在干什么却又懒得去弄清楚。他正在闹情绪,因为这天过得既无意义又不舒心,他很想从头再来一次。炎热的天气使他懒洋洋的,他书也不读了,惹得布鲁克先生忍无可忍,又花了半个下午弹琴,弄得爷爷很不高兴,还恶作剧地暗示他的一只狗即将发疯,把女佣们吓得几乎神经错乱,接着又毫无根据地指责马夫疏忽了他的马儿,和马夫吵了一架,之后便跳上吊床,怒火中烧,认定世人全都愚不可及。夏日明媚,四处静悄悄一片,他不知不觉安静了下来。盯着头上绿森森的七叶树,他做开了形形式式的白日梦。正想象着自己在海洋上颠簸作环球航行,突然一阵声音传来,转瞬间便把他带回到岸上。透过吊床的网孔一望,他看到马奇姐妹走出来,好像要去进行什么探险似的。

“这个时候那些姑娘们到底要去干什么?”劳里想,一面睁开睡意惺忪的双眼看个究竟,因为他的邻居们打扮相当古怪。每人戴一顶悬垂着边儿的大帽,肩头斜挎一个棕色的亚麻布小袋,手拿一根长棍棒。梅格带着一个垫子,乔拿本书,贝思提个篮子,艾美夹个画夹。她们静静走过花园,出了后院小门,开始攀登位于屋子和小河之间的一座小山丘。

“好啊!”劳里自语道,”去野餐竟然不叫我!她们不会去乘那只艇吧?她们没有钥匙埃或者她们忘了呢;我把钥匙带给她们,看看是怎么回事。”虽然帽子有半打之多,他花了不少功夫才找出一顶;接着又四处翻找钥匙,最后发现原来就在自己的衣袋里。这么一来,当他跃过围栏追过去时,姑娘们已经消失得无影无踪。

他抄近路来到停放小艇的地方,等她们露面,却不见有人过来,便爬到小山丘顶上张望。小山丘的一面被松树林掩映着,绿林深处传来一个声音,其清脆怡人胜似松叶蝉鸣。

“风景这边独好!”劳里暗自说了一句。他从灌木丛中偷偷一看,顿时睡意全无,心神畅快。

这果然是一幅漂亮的小图画,只见四姐妹一起坐在树荫一角,斑驳的日影在她们身上摇曳不定,清风撩起她们的发梢,吹凉她们炽热的脸颊,林子里的几个小孩子全都继续忙着自己的事情,似乎她们是老朋友而不是陌生人。梅格穿着一身粉红色衣裙,坐在她带来的垫子上,用白皙的双手灵巧地穿针引线,林木青青,更显得她像玫瑰花般娇艳。贝思在挑拣铁杉树下堆了厚厚一层的松果,用来做精致的小玩意。艾美对着一丛蕨类植物写生,乔则一面编织一面大声朗读。男孩望着她们,脸上闪过一丝乌云,他觉得自己应该走开,因为人家并没有邀请自己,但却徘徊不去,因为他的家似乎十分孤寂乏味,而林中这个宁静的队伍又牢牢吸引着他那颗不安分的心。他呆呆静立一旁,一只忙着觅食的小松鼠从他身旁的一棵松树上溜下来,突然发现了他,吓得往后一跳,尖声叫了起来。贝思闻声抬起头,看见了白桦树后那张若有所思的脸孔,于是展颜一笑,向他致意。

“请问我可以过来吗?会不会令人讨厌?”他问,慢慢走过来。

梅格抬起眉头,但乔对着她把眼一瞪,随即说道:“当然可以,我们早就应该叫上你,只是我们以为你不会喜欢这种女孩子的游戏。”“我一向喜欢你们的游戏;但如果梅格不愿意我来,那我就走开。”“我不反对,如果你干点活儿的话,懒惰是违反这里的规矩的,”梅格严肃而又不失优雅地回答。

“万分感激。如果你们让我逗留一会,我什么事情都愿意做,因为那边闷得像撒哈拉大沙漠。我该做针线活、朗读、拣松果呢,还是画画?或者通通一起做?请吩咐吧,我恭敬从命。”劳里言毕坐下来,神情毕恭毕敬,令人愉快。

“趁我弄鞋的当儿把这个故事念完吧,”乔说着把书递给他。

“遵命,小姐,”他温顺地回答,一面极其认真地读起来,以证明自己对有幸成为"繁忙的蜜蜂会”的成员而感恩戴德。

故事并不长,读完后,他斗胆提出几个问题,以犒赏犒赏自己。

“请问,女士们,我能否知道这个富有魅力和教育意义的学校是不是个新组织?“你们愿意告诉他吗?”梅格问三个妹妹。

“他会笑的,”艾美警告道。

“管他呢?”乔说。

“我想他会喜欢的,”贝思接着说。

“我当然会喜欢!我保证不会笑你们。说出来吧,乔,别害怕。”“害怕你?哦,你知道我们过去常常玩''天路历程''。我们一直没有中断,整个冬季和夏季都热诚地投入进去。”“是的,我知道,”劳里说,机灵地点点头。

“谁告诉你了?”乔问。

“小精灵。”

“不,是我。那天晚上你们都出去了,他心情不大好,我便告诉了他,跟他解闷。他很喜欢呢,所以别骂,乔,”贝思怯怯地说。

“你守不住秘密。不过算了,现在倒用不着解释了。”“说吧,求你了,”劳里看到乔专心做开了活儿,样子有点不高兴,便说。

“噢,她没告诉你我们这个新计划吗?是这样,为了不虚度假期,我们每人都定下一个任务,并全力执行。假期即将结束,我们定下的工作也全部完成了,我们很高兴自己没有虚度光阴。”“不错,做得不错。”劳里想到自己无所事事地打发日子,十分后悔。

“妈妈喜欢我们多到户外活动,我们便把活计带到这来,过得开开心心。为了使这个活动增添趣味,我们把东西放在这些布袋里头,头戴旧帽子,手持登山用的棍子,扮演香客,就跟我们几年前玩的一样。我们把这座山丘叫做''快乐山'',因为从这里可以远远望到我们日后希望居住的地方。”乔用手指去,劳里坐起来凝神观望。透过林中的空隙之处,可以看到宽阔、碧蓝的河流,隔河那边青青的草地,以及草地之外一望无际的郊野。极目之处,一脉绿色的山脉耸入云霄。时值秋季,夕阳西斜,天边霞光万道,蔚为壮观。山顶祥云缭绕,紫气千条,高高耸入红霞之中的银白色山峰金光灿烂,仿如传说中"天国"的塔尖。

“真美!”劳里轻声赞叹。他对美的感受能力十分敏锐。

“那边的景色常常都这么令人陶畔,我们很喜欢观望,因为它从不雷同,但总是这样迷人壮观,”艾美答,恨不得把这道风景绘下来。

“乔谈到我们日后希望居住的地方——她指的是真正的乡村,里头有猪有鸡,还可以翻晒干草。这自然令人神往,但我倒希望山顶上那个美丽的地方是真的,我们真的可以置身其中,”贝思沉思道。

“还有一个比这更美好的地方,我们什么时候积满了德行,就可以进去,”梅格柔声说道。

“那我们还要走漫漫长路,还要付出巨大的劳动。我真想此刻生一双翅膀,像燕子一样飞呀飞,飞进那扇金碧辉煌的大门。”“你会飞到那里的,贝思,迟早都会,用不着担心,”乔说,”但我却要奋斗、工作,还要攀登、等待,而且可能永远也进不去。”“那我会陪着你,只要你乐意。我还要走许多许多路才能看到你们的''天国''。如果我迟到,你会替我说句好话,是吗,贝思?”小伙子那副郑重其事的神情令他的小朋友心慌意乱,但她用平静的眼睛注视着变幻不定的云彩,兴致勃勃地说:“只要一个人真心想去,而且毕其一生不懈努力,我想他就可以进去。我不相信''天国''之门上了锁,也不相信门口有卫兵把守。我总是把它想象得跟图画里的一样:金光照人的众神伸出双手,迎接从河里上来的可怜的基督徒。”“如果我们营造的空中楼阁都能成真,而且我们可以住进里头,那不是很有趣吗?”沉默一会之后,乔说道。

“我的楼阁多得数也数不清,选一个还真难,”劳里平躺在地上说,一面向暴露了他的那只松鼠扔松果。

“你得选最喜欢的一个。是什么呢?”梅格问。

“如果我说出来,你也会把自己的说出来吗?”“行,只要她们也说。”“我们会的。说吧,劳里。”“等我们世界游览个够后,我想在德国定居下来,尽情欣赏音乐。我自己要做个著名的音乐家,全世界的人都得跑来听我演奏;我不用牵挂什么金钱、生意,而是尽情享受生活,爱怎么活便怎么活。这便是我最喜欢的空中楼阁。你的呢,梅格?”玛格丽特似乎觉得自己的有点不好说,她用一枝蕨在面前扇扇,似乎要赶走并不存在的小昆虫,一边慢吞吞地说:“我想要一栋漂亮的屋子,里面装满了各种各样奢侈的东西——美味的食物、漂亮的衣服、典雅的家具、合心意的人,还有一堆堆钱。我自己是屋子的女主人,可以随意支配一切,还有许多佣人,这样我便什么活也不用干。我一定活得有声有色!我不会闲呆着的,我会做善事,让每个人都深深爱我。”“你的空中楼阁里不要一个男主人么?”劳里狡黠地问。

“我说了''合心意的人'',你知道,”梅格一面说一面十分仔细地绑好鞋带,免得大家看到她的脸孔。

“你为什么不说你要一个既聪明又体贴的丈夫,还要几个天使般的小孩?你明知没有他们你的空中楼阁就不会完美,”直肠直肚的乔说。她尚处于天真蒙昧的阶段,颇看不起儿女之情,除非是在小说里头。

“你就只会要马匹、墨水台和小说,”梅格生气地回击。

“这有何不好?我要一个养满阿拉伯骏马的马厩,还要几间堆满书本的房子,我要用一枝生花妙笔来写作,这样我的作品便可以跟劳里的音乐一样出名。我在走进自己的楼阁前想实现一个伟业——一个崇高美好、可以传世留芳的事业。我不知道这是什么,但我正在酝酿之中,决意将来一鸣惊人。我想我会写书,并因此而致富成名;这挺适合我。这便是我最喜欢的梦想了。”“我的梦想是和爸爸妈妈平安呆在家里,帮忙料理家务,”贝思满足地说。

“你不想要其他什么吗?”劳里问。

“我有自己的小钢琴便已十分满足。我只求我们能够平平安安,常在一起,再没别的。”“我的愿望太多了,不过最大的愿望是做一个艺术家,去罗马,画漂亮的图画,做全世界最出色的艺术家。”这是艾美的小小愿望。

“我们是一班野心勃勃的家伙,不是吗?除贝思外,我们个个都想阔绰有钱、成名成家,样样都称心称意。我倒要看谁能够梦想成真,”劳里嚼着青草说,模样像头正在沉思的小牛。

“我已经有打开空中楼阁的钥匙,但能不能把门打开要等将来才能见分晓,”乔神秘兮兮地说。

“我也有开门的钥匙,但可恨不能自由使用。该死的大学!”劳里不耐烦地叹了一口气,咕哝道。

“这是我的钥匙!”艾美摇摇手中的笔。

“我没有,”梅格可怜巴巴地说。

“不,你有,”劳里随即说道。

“在哪?”

“在你脸上。”

“荒唐,那全无用处。”

“等着瞧吧,它不为你带来好东西才怪呢,”小伙子回答。

他自以为自己知道一个小秘密,想到其中妙处,笑了起来。

梅格躲在蕨后的脸腾地飞红了,但她没有问下去,而是望着河对面,眼睛流露出殷切期待的神情,就像布鲁克先生讲述武士故事时一样。

“如果十年后我们仍然活在世上,我们就相聚一堂,看看有几个人实现了梦想,看看到那时离我们的梦想比现在又近了多少,”乔说。她的点子总是来得特别快。“啊约!我那时都要老掉牙了——二十七岁!”梅格叫起来。她虽然年方十七,却觉得自己已经长大成人。

“我和你是二十六岁,特迪。贝思二十四,艾美二十二。

真是个大团体!”乔说。

“我希望到那时能做出一点引以为荣的成绩,但我是条大懒虫,只怕会''虚郑(掷)光阴''呢,乔。”“你需要一个动力,妈妈说,一旦有了动力,你肯定就会干得十分出色。”“真的?我发誓一定会,但哪里有这样的机会!”劳里叫道,冲动地坐起来,”我很应该讨爷爷的欢心,我也确实尽力而为,但这样做跟我的性格格格不入,你们知道,我因此十分痛苦。他要我做个像他一样的印度商人,这还不如把我杀掉。我痛恨茶叶、丝绸、香料,痛恨他的破船运来的每一种垃圾。这些船只归到我名下后,什么时候沉到海底我都不会在乎。我读大学应该遂了他的心,我献给他四年,他便该放过我,不用我做生意;但他铁定了心,非要我步他的后尘不可,除非我像父亲一样逃离家门,走自己喜欢的路。如果家里有人陪着老人的话,我明天就远走高飞。”劳里言辞激越,似乎一点点小事就能惹得他采取行动。他正处于急飞猛进的发育时期,虽然行动懒懒洋洋,却有一种年轻人的叛逆心理,内心躁动不安,渴望能自由闯荡天下。

“我有个主意,你乘上你家的大船出走,闯荡一番后再回家,”乔说。想到这么大胆的行为,她的想像力一发不可收拾,同情心也被她所谓的"特迪的冤屈"激发起来。

“那样不对,乔,你不能这样说话,劳里也不能接受你的581小坏主意。你应该按照你爷爷的意愿行事,好孩子。”梅格摆出一副大姐姐的口吻。”努力念好大学,当他看到你尽自己的能力来取悦他,我肯定他对你便不会这么强硬,这么不讲理。你也说了,家里再无别人来陪伴他,爱他。如果你擅自把他抛下,你也永不会原谅自己的。不要烦恼消沉,做自己该做的,这样你就能受人敬爱,得到好的报偿,就像好人布鲁克先生一样。”“你知道他些什么?”劳里问。他对这个好建议心存感激,但对这番教诲却不以为然,刚才他不同寻常地发泄了一番,现在很高兴把话题从自己身上转开。

“只知道你爷爷告诉我们的那些——他如何精心照顾自己的母亲,一直到她去世为止。由于不愿抛下母亲,国外很好的人家请他当私人教师他也不去。还有他如何赡养一位照顾过他母亲的老太太,却从不告诉别人,而是尽力而为,慷慨、坚忍、善良。”“说得一点不错,他是个大好人!”劳里由衷地说。而梅格这时沉默不语,双颊通红,神情热切。”我爷爷就是喜欢这样,背地里把人家了解得一清二楚,然后到处宣传他的美德,使大家都喜欢他。布鲁克不会明白为什么你母亲会待他这样好。她请他跟我一同过去,把他敬如上宾,款待得十分亲切周到。他认为她简直十全十美,回来后好些天都把她挂在嘴边,接着又热情如火地谈论你们众姐妹。若我有朝一日梦想成真,一定为布鲁克做点什么。”“不如从现在做起,不要再把他气得七窍生烟,”梅格尖刻地说。

“你怎么知道我让他生气呢,小姐?”

“每次他走的时候看他的脸色就知道了。如果你表现好,他就神采飞扬,脚步轻快;如果你淘气了,他就脸色阴沉,脚步缓慢,仿佛想走回去把工作重新做好。”“啊哈,好啊!这么说来,你通过看布鲁克的脸色就把我的成绩全都记录下来了,对吧?我看到他经过你家窗口时躬身微笑,却不知道你从中收到一封电报呢。”“没有的事。别生气,还有,噢,别告诉他我说了什么!

我这么说不过是关心你而已。我们这里说的全是机密话儿,你知道,”梅格叫起来,想到自己说话一时大意,可能招致的后果心里很是不安。

“我从不搬弄是非,”劳里答道,脸上露出一种他特有的"正义凛然"的神气,乔如此描述他偶然露出的一种表情。

“如果布鲁克要做个温度计,我就得注意让他有准确的天气可报告。”“请别生气。我刚才并非是要说教或搬弄是非,也并非出于无聊。我只是觉得乔这么怂恿你,你日后会后悔的。你对我们这么好,我们把你当作亲兄弟,把心里话儿都跟你说出来。对不起了,我也是一片好心。”梅格热情而又腼腆地打了个手势,伸出手来。

想到自己刚才一时负气,劳里不好意思了,他紧紧握住那只小手,坦诚地说:“说对不起的应该是我。我脾气暴躁,而且今天一整天都心情不好。你们指出我的缺点,像亲姐妹一样待我,我心里不知有多高兴。如果我一时有冲撞无礼之处,请不要放在心上,我还要谢谢你呢。”为了表示自己没有生气,他使出浑身解数来取悦姐妹们——为梅格绕棉线,替乔朗诵诗歌,帮贝思把松果摇下来,帮艾美画蕨类植物,证明自己是名符其实的"繁忙的蜜蜂会"成员。正当他们兴致勃勃地讨论着海龟的驯养习惯的时候(起时一只和善可亲的海龟从河里爬了上来),一阵铃声远远飘过来,通知姐妹们罕娜已把茶泡下,是回家吃晚饭的时候了。

“我可以再来吗?”劳里问。

“可以,但你要听话,并要热爱读书,就像识字课本里要求孩子们所做的那样,“梅格微笑说。

“我一定努力。”

“那么你就来吧,我还要教你像苏格兰男子一样打毛线。

现在正需要袜子呢,”乔接着说,一画使劲扬扬手里的蓝色毛线袜子。大家说着便在大门外分了手。

那天晚上,当贝思在黄昏下为劳伦斯先生弹奏时,劳里站在帘幕暗处倾听。这位小大卫弹出的简单的音乐声总能使他那颗喜怒无常的心平静下来。他细细端详坐在一边的老人,只见他用一只手托着白发斑斑的脑袋,无限柔情地在追忆他那逝去的宝贝小女儿。想到下午的谈话,小伙子决定心甘情愿她作出牺牲。他对自己说:“让我的空中楼阁滚蛋吧。

只要需要,我就和这位亲爱的老人呆在一起,我可是他的唯一所有呵。”




CHAPTER FOURTEEN SECRETS

Jo was very busy in the garret, for the October days began to grow chilly, and the afternoons were short. For two or three hours the sun lay warmly in the high window, showing Jo seated on the old sofa, writing busily, with her papers spread out upon a trunk before her, while Scrabble, the pet rat, promenaded the beams overhead, accompanied by his oldest son, a fine young fellow, who was evidently very proud of his whiskers. Quite absorbed in her work, Jo scribbled away till the last page was filled, when she signed her name with a flourish and threw down her pen, exclaiming...

"There, I've done my best! If this won't suit I shall have to wait till I can do better."

Lying back on the sofa, she read the manuscript carefully through, making dashes here and there, and putting in many exclamation points, which looked like little balloons. Then she tied it up with a smart red ribbon, and sat a minute looking at it with a sober, wistful expression, which plainly showed how earnest her work had been. Jo's desk up here was an old tin kitchen which hung against the wall. In it she kept her papers, and a few books, safely shut away from Scrabble, who, being likewise of a literary turn, was fond of making a circulating library of such books as were left in his way by eating the leaves. From this tin receptacle Jo produced another manuscript, and putting both in her pocket, crept quietly downstairs, leaving her friends to nibble on her pens and taste her ink.

She put on her hat and jacket as noiselessly as possible, and going to the back entry window, got out upon the roof of a low porch, swung herself down to the grassy bank, and took a roundabout way to the road. Once there, she composed herself, hailed a passing omnibus, and rolled away to town, looking very merry and mysterious.

If anyone had been watching her, he would have thought her movements decidedly peculiar, for on alighting, she went off at a great pace till she reached a certain number in a certain busy street. Having found the place with some difficulty, she went into the doorway, looked up the dirty stairs, and after standing stock still a minute, suddenly dived into the street and walked away as rapidly as she came. This maneuver she repeated several times, to the great amusement of a black-eyed young gentleman lounging in the window of a building opposite. On returning for the third time, Jo gave herself a shake, pulled her hat over her eyes, and walked up the stairs, looking as if she were going to have all her teeth out.

There was a dentist's sign, among others, which adorned the entrance, and after staring a moment at the pair of artificial jaws which slowly opened and shut to draw attention to a fine set of teeth, the young gentleman put on his coat, took his hat, and went down to post himself in the opposite doorway, saying with a smile and a shiver, "It's like her to come alone, but if she has a bad time she'll need someone to help her home."

In ten minutes Jo came running downstairs with a very red face and the general appearance of a person who had just passed through a trying ordeal of some sort. When she saw the young gentleman she looked anything but pleased, and passed him with a nod. But he followed, asking with an air of sympathy, "Did you have a bad time?"

"Not very."

"You got through quickly."

"Yes, thank goodness!"

"Why did you go alone?"

"Didn't want anyone to know."

"You're the oddest fellow I ever saw. How many did you have out?"

Jo looked at her friend as if she did not understand him, then began to laugh as if mightily amused at something.

"There are two which I want to have come out, but I must wait a week."

"What are you laughing at? You are up to some mischief, Jo," said Laurie, looking mystified.

"So are you. What were you doing, sir, up in that billiard saloon?"

"Begging your pardon, ma'am, it wasn't a billiard saloon, but a gymnasium, and I was taking a lesson in fencing."

"I'm glad of that."

"Why?"

"You can teach me, and then when we play Hamlet, you can be Laertes, and we'll make a fine thing of the fencing scene."

Laurie burst out with a hearty boy's laugh, which made several passers-by smile in spite of themselves.

"I'll teach you whether we play Hamlet or not. It's grand fun and will straighten you up capitally. But I don't believe that was your only reason for saying 'I'm glad' in that decided way, was it now?"

"No, I was glad that you were not in the saloon, because I hope you never go to such places. Do you?"

"Not often."

"I wish you wouldn't."

"It's no harm, Jo. I have billiards at home, but it's no fun unless you have good players, so, as I'm fond of it, I come sometimes and have a game with Ned Moffat or some of the other fellows."

"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry, for you'll get to liking it better and better, and will waste time and money, and grow like those dreadful boys. I did hope you'd stay respectable and be a satisfaction to your friends," said Jo, shaking her head.

"Can't a fellow take a little innocent amusement now and then without losing his respectability?" asked Laurie, looking nettled.

"That depends upon how and where he takes it. I don't like Ned and his set, and wish you'd keep out of it. Mother won't let us have him at our house, though he wants to come. And if you grow like him she won't be willing to have us frolic together as we do now."

"Won't she?" asked Laurie anxiously.

"No, she can't bear fashionable young men, and she'd shut us all up in bandboxes rather than have us associate with them."

"Well, she needn't get out her bandboxes yet. I'm not a fashionable party and don't mean to be, but I do like harmless larks now and then, don't you?"

"Yes, nobody minds them, so lark away, but don't get wild, will you? Or there will be an end of all our good times."

"I'll be a double distilled saint."

"I can't bear saints. Just be a simple, honest, respectable boy, and we'll never desert you. I don't know what I should do if you acted like Mr. King's son. He had plenty of money, but didn't know how to spend it, and got tipsy and gambled, and ran away, and forged his father's name, I believe, and was altogether horrid."

"You think I'm likely to do the same? Much obliged."

"No, I don't—oh, dear, no!—but I hear people talking about money being such a temptation, and I sometimes wish you were poor. I shouldn't worry then."

"Do you worry about me, Jo?"

"A little, when you look moody and discontented, as you sometimes do, for you've got such a strong will, if you once get started wrong, I'm afraid it would be hard to stop you."

Laurie walked in silence a few minutes, and Jo watched him, wishing she had held her tongue, for his eyes looked angry, though his lips smiled as if at her warnings.

"Are you going to deliver lectures all the way home?" he asked presently.

"Of course not. Why?"

"Because if you are, I'll take a bus. If you're not, I'd like to walk with you and tell you something very interesting."

"I won't preach any more, and I'd like to hear the news immensely."

"Very well, then, come on. It's a secret, and if I tell you, you must tell me yours."

"I haven't got any," began Jo, but stopped suddenly, remembering that she had.

"You know you have—you can't hide anything, so up and 'fess, or I won't tell," cried Laurie.

"Is your secret a nice one?"

"Oh, isn't it! All about people you know, and such fun! You ought to hear it, and I've been aching to tell it this long time. Come, you begin."

"You'll not say anything about it at home, will you?"

"Not a word."

"And you won't tease me in private?"

"I never tease."

"Yes, you do. You get everything you want out of people. I don't know how you do it, but you are a born wheedler."

"Thank you. Fire away."

"Well, I've left two stories with a newspaperman, and he's to give his answer next week," whispered Jo, in her confidant's ear.

"Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress!" cried Laurie, throwing up his hat and catching it again, to the great delight of two ducks, four cats, five hens, and half a dozen Irish children, for they were out of the city now.

"Hush! It won't come to anything, I dare say, but I couldn't rest till I had tried, and I said nothing about it because I didn't want anyone else to be disappointed."

"It won't fail. Why, Jo, your stories are works of Shakespeare compared to half the rubbish that is published every day. Won't it be fun to see them in print, and shan't we feel proud of our authoress?"

Jo's eyes sparkled, for it is always pleasant to be believed in, and a friend's praise is always sweeter than a dozen newspaper puffs.

"Where's your secret? Play fair, Teddy, or I'll never believe you again," she said, trying to extinguish the brilliant hopes that blazed up at a word of encouragement.

"I may get into a scrape for telling, but I didn't promise not to, so I will, for I never feel easy in my mind till I've told you any plummy bit of news I get. I know where Meg's glove is."

"Is that all?" said Jo, looking disappointed, as Laurie nodded and twinkled with a face full of mysterious intelligence.

"It's quite enough for the present, as you'll agree when I tell you where it is."

"Tell, then."

Laurie bent, and whispered three words in Jo's ear, which produced a comical change. She stood and stared at him for a minute, looking both surprised and displeased, then walked on, saying sharply, "How do you know?"

"Saw it."

"Where?"

"Pocket."

"All this time?"

"Yes, isn't that romantic?"

"No, it's horrid."

"Don't you like it?"

"Of course I don't. It's ridiculous, it won't be allowed. My patience! What would Meg say?"

"You are not to tell anyone. Mind that."

"I didn't promise."

"That was understood, and I trusted you."

"Well, I won't for the present, anyway, but I'm disgusted, and wish you hadn't told me."

"I thought you'd be pleased."

"At the idea of anybody coming to take Meg away? No, thank you."

"You'll feel better about it when somebody comes to take you away."

"I'd like to see anyone try it," cried Jo fiercely.

"So should I!" and Laurie chuckled at the idea.

"I don't think secrets agree with me, I feel rumpled up in my mind since you told me that," said Jo rather ungratefully.

"Race down this hill with me, and you'll be all right," suggested Laurie.

No one was in sight, the smooth road sloped invitingly before her, and finding the temptation irresistible, Jo darted away, soon leaving hat and comb behind her and scattering hairpins as she ran. Laurie reached the goal first and was quite satisfied with the success of his treatment, for his Atlanta came panting up with flying hair, bright eyes, ruddy cheeks, and no signs of dissatisfaction in her face.

"I wish I was a horse, then I could run for miles in this splendid air, and not lose my breath. It was capital, but see what a guy it's made me. Go, pick up my things, like a cherub, as you are," said Jo, dropping down under a maple tree, which was carpeting the bank with crimson leaves.

Laurie leisurely departed to recover the lost property, and Jo bundled up her braids, hoping no one would pass by till she was tidy again. But someone did pass, and who should it be but Meg, looking particularly ladylike in her state and festival suit, for she had been making calls.

"What in the world are you doing here?" she asked, regarding her disheveled sister with well-bred surprise.

"Getting leaves," meekly answered Jo, sorting the rosy handful she had just swept up.

"And hairpins," added Laurie, throwing half a dozen into Jo's lap. "They grow on this road, Meg, so do combs and brown straw hats."

"You have been running, Jo. How could you? When will you stop such romping ways?" said Meg reprovingly, as she settled her cuffs and smoothed her hair, with which the wind had taken liberties.

"Never till I'm stiff and old and have to use a crutch. Don't try to make me grow up before my time, Meg. It's hard enough to have you change all of a sudden. Let me be a little girl as long as I can."

As she spoke, Jo bent over the leaves to hide the trembling of her lips, for lately she had felt that Margaret was fast getting to be a woman, and Laurie's secret made her dread the separation which must surely come some time and now seemed very near. He saw the trouble in her face and drew Meg's attention from it by asking quickly, "Where have you been calling, all so fine?"

"At the Gardiners', and Sallie has been telling me all about Belle Moffat's wedding. It was very splendid, and they have gone to spend the winter in Paris. Just think how delightful that must be!"

"Do you envy her, Meg?" said Laurie.

"I'm afraid I do."

"I'm glad of it!" muttered Jo, tying on her hat with a jerk.

"Why?" asked Meg, looking surprised.

"Because if you care much about riches, you will never go and marry a poor man," said Jo, frowning at Laurie, who was mutely warning her to mind what she said.

"I shall never 'go and marry' anyone," observed Meg, walking on with great dignity while the others followed, laughing, whispering, skipping stones, and 'behaving like children', as Meg said to herself, though she might have been tempted to join them if she had not had her best dress on.

For a week or two, Jo behaved so queerly that her sisters were quite bewildered. She rushed to the door when the postman rang, was rude to Mr. Brooke whenever they met, would sit looking at Meg with a woe-begone face, occasionally jumping up to shake and then kiss her in a very mysterious manner. Laurie and she were always making signs to one another, and talking about 'Spread Eagles' till the girls declared they had both lost their wits. On the second Saturday after Jo got out of the window, Meg, as she sat sewing at her window, was scandalized by the sight of Laurie chasing Jo all over the garden and finally capturing her in Amy's bower. What went on there, Meg could not see, but shrieks of laughter were heard, followed by the murmur of voices and a great flapping of newspapers.

"What shall we do with that girl? She never will behave like a young lady," sighed Meg, as she watched the race with a disapproving face.

"I hope she won't. She is so funny and dear as she is," said Beth, who had never betrayed that she was a little hurt at Jo's having secrets with anyone but her.

"It's very trying, but we never can make her commy la fo," added Amy, who sat making some new frills for herself, with her curls tied up in a very becoming way, two agreeable things that made her feel unusually elegant and ladylike.

In a few minutes Jo bounced in, laid herself on the sofa, and affected to read.

"Have you anything interesting there?" asked Meg, with condescension.

"Nothing but a story, won't amount to much, I guess," returned Jo, carefully keeping the name of the paper out of sight.

"You'd better read it aloud. That will amuse us and keep you out of mischief," said Amy in her most grown-up tone.

"What's the name?" asked Beth, wondering why Jo kept her face behind the sheet.

"The Rival Painters."

"That sounds well. Read it," said Meg.

With a loud "Hem!" and a long breath, Jo began to read very fast. The girls listened with interest, for the tale was romantic, and somewhat pathetic, as most of the characters died in the end. "I like that about the splendid picture," was Amy's approving remark, as Jo paused.

"I prefer the lovering part. Viola and Angelo are two of our favorite names, isn't that queer?" said Meg, wiping her eyes, for the lovering part was tragical.

"Who wrote it?" asked Beth, who had caught a glimpse of Jo's face.

The reader suddenly sat up, cast away the paper, displaying a flushed countenance, and with a funny mixture of solemnity and excitement replied in a loud voice, "Your sister."

"You?" cried Meg, dropping her work.

"It's very good," said Amy critically.

"I knew it! I knew it! Oh, my Jo, I am so proud!" and Beth ran to hug her sister and exult over this splendid success.

Dear me, how delighted they all were, to be sure! How Meg wouldn't believe it till she saw the words. "Miss Josephine March," actually printed in the paper. How graciously Amy criticized the artistic parts of the story, and offered hints for a sequel, which unfortunately couldn't be carried out, as the hero and heroine were dead. How Beth got excited, and skipped and sang with joy. How Hannah came in to exclaim, "Sakes alive, well I never!" in great astonishment at 'that Jo's doin's'. How proud Mrs. March was when she knew it. How Jo laughed, with tears in her eyes, as she declared she might as well be a peacock and done with it, and how the 'Spread Eagle' might be said to flap his wings triumphantly over the House of March, as the paper passed from hand to hand.

"Tell us about it." "When did it come?" "How much did you get for it?" "What will Father say?" "Won't Laurie laugh?" cried the family, all in one breath as they clustered about Jo, for these foolish, affectionate people made a jubilee of every little household joy.

"Stop jabbering, girls, and I'll tell you everything," said Jo, wondering if Miss Burney felt any grander over her Evelina than she did over her 'Rival Painters'. Having told how she disposed of her tales, Jo added, "And when I went to get my answer, the man said he liked them both, but didn't pay beginners, only let them print in his paper, and noticed the stories. It was good practice, he said, and when the beginners improved, anyone would pay. So I let him have the two stories, and today this was sent to me, and Laurie caught me with it and insisted on seeing it, so I let him. And he said it was good, and I shall write more, and he's going to get the next paid for, and I am so happy, for in time I may be able to support myself and help the girls."

Jo's breath gave out here, and wrapping her head in the paper, she bedewed her little story with a few natural tears, for to be independent and earn the praise of those she loved were the dearest wishes of her heart, and this seemed to be the first step toward that happy end.

 

第十四章 秘密

乔在阁楼上十分忙碌,因为十月已到,天气开始寒冷,下午也变短了。温煦的阳光从高高的窗子射进来。两三个小时过去了,乔仍然坐在旧沙发上,把稿纸摊在面前的一个大箱子上头,奋笔疾书,她的爱鼠扒扒则在梁上大模大样地蹓跶,乔全神贯注地挥笔疾书,一直写满最后一页,然后龙飞凤舞地签上自己的名字,把笔一丢,大声说——“好啦,我已使足了劲儿!如果这还不行,我只得等到下次啦。”她向后靠在沙发上,把稿子仔细阅读一遍,在这儿那儿划上破折号,又添上许多看上去像小气球一样的感叹号,然后用一根漂亮的红绸带把稿纸扎起来,又严肃地望着它出了一会儿神,可见这篇作品凝聚了她多少心血。乔这上头的书桌是一个挂在墙上的旧锡制碗柜,里头放着她的手稿和几本书,十分安全,只要把柜门一关,同样富有文学才情、见书就啃的扒扒便只能望柜兴叹了。乔从这个锡柜里拿出另一份手镐,把两份稿子放进衣袋,悄悄下了楼梯,任由她的朋友把她的钢笔墨水大啃大喝。

她蹑手蹑脚地戴上帽子,穿好外衣,从后屋窗口出来,站在一个低矮的门廊顶棚上头,悬空一跳,落在一块草地上,然后兜个圈子来到公路边,定定神儿,扬手拦了一辆出租马车,一路驶进城里,脸上的神情快乐而又神秘。

如果这时有人看到她,一定会觉得她的行动希奇古怪。她一下车便快步如飞,一直奔到位于一条繁忙大街的一个门牌前面,这才缓下脚步;颇费一番功夫后,她找到了要找的地方,于是踏进门口,抬头望望肮肮脏脏的楼梯,又站着一动不动地呆了一会,突然一头扎进大街,往回疾走。这样来而复去,几次三番,把对面楼上,凭窗而望的一位黑眼睛年轻人逗得开怀大乐。第三次折回来时,乔使劲摇摇脑袋,把帽沿拉下遮住眼睛,走上楼梯,脸上挂着一副准备把牙统统拔光的表情。

楼门口挂着几面牌子,其中一面是牙医招牌,一对假颌慢慢地开而又合,以吸引人注意里头一副洁白的牙齿。方才那位年轻人盯着假颌看了一会,拿起自己的帽子,穿上大衣,走下楼来站在对面门口,打了个哆嗦,微笑说:“她素爱独来独往,但万一她痛得难受,就要有人送她回家了。”十分钟后乔涨红着脸跑下楼梯,一望而知刚刚经受了一场磨难。当她看到年轻人时,神情一点也不显得高兴,只点个头便走了过去;但他跟上去,同情地问:“刚才是不是很难受?”“有点。”“这么快就好了?”“是,谢天谢地。”“为什么一个人来?”“不想别人知道。”“真是个空前绝后的怪人。你弄出了几个?”乔望着自己的朋友,似乎莫明其妙,接着便笑得乐不可支。

“我想弄出两个来,但得等上一个星期。”“你笑什么?你在淘气,乔,”劳里说,神情显得迷惑不解。

“你也是。你在上面那间桌球室干什么,先生?”“对不起,小姐,那不是桌球室,而是健身房,我刚才在学击剑。”“那我真高兴。”“为什么?”“你可以教我,这样我们演《哈姆雷特》时,你便可以扮累尔提斯,我们演击剑一幕就有好戏做了。”

劳里放声大笑,那由衷的笑声引得几个过路人也不禁笑起来。

“演不演《哈姆雷特》我都会教你,这种娱乐简直妙不可言,令人精神大振。不过,你刚才说''高兴''说得那么一本正经,我想一定另有原因,对吗,嗯?”“对,我真高兴你没有上桌球室,因为我决不希望你去那种地方。你平时去吗?”“不常去。”“我但愿你别去。”“这并无害处,乔,我在家也玩桌球,但如果没有好球手,就不好玩了,因为我喜欢桌球,有时便和内德•莫法特或起他伙伴来比试比试。”“噢,是吗?我真为你感到惋惜,因为你慢慢就会玩上瘾,就会糟蹋时间和金钱,变得跟那些可恶的小子一样。我一直希望你会自尊自爱,不令朋友失望,“乔摇着脑袋说。

“难道男孩子偶尔玩一下无伤大雅的游戏就丧失尊严了吗?”劳里恼火地问。

“那得看他怎么玩和在什么地方玩。我不喜欢内德这帮人,也希望你别粘上他们。妈妈不许我们请他到家玩,虽然他想来,如果你变得像他一样,她便不会让我们再这么一起嬉闹了。”“真的?”劳里焦虑地问。

“当然,她看不惯赶时髦的年青人,她宁愿把我们全都关进硬纸匣里,也不让我们跟他们拉扯上。”“哦,她倒不必拿出她的硬纸匣来,我不是赶时髦的那种人,也不想做那种人,但我有时真喜欢没有害处的玩乐,你不喜欢吗?”“喜欢,没有人反对这样的娱乐,你爱玩便玩吧,只是别玩野了心,好吗?不然,我们的好日子就完了。”“我会做个不折不扣的圣人。”“我可受不了圣人,就做个其实、正派的好小伙吧,我们便永不离弃你。如果你像金斯先生的儿子那样,我可真不知道该怎么办;他有很多饯,但却不知怎么用,反而酗酒聚赌,离家出逃,还盗用他父亲的名字,可谓劣迹斑斑。”“你以为我也会做出这种事?过奖了!”“不,不是——噢,哎呀,不是的!——但我听人说金钱是个蛊惑人心的魔鬼,有时我真希望你没有钱财,那我就不必担心了。”“你担心我吗,乔?”“你有时显得情绪低落,内心不满,这时我便有点儿担心;因为你个性极强,如果一旦走上歪路,我恐怕很难阻挡你。”劳里一言不发,默默而行。乔望着他,暗恨自己快嘴快舌没有遮拦,因为虽然他的嘴唇依旧挂着微笑,似乎在嘲笑她的忠告,一双眼睛却分明含着怒意。

“你是不是打算一路上给我训话?”过了好一会儿他问。

“当然不是。为什么?”

“如果是,我就乘公共汽车回家;如果不是,我就和你一块步行,并告诉你一件顶顶有趣的新闻。”“那我不再说教了,我很想听听你的新闻。”“那很好,不过,这是个秘密,如果我告诉你,你得把你的告诉我。”“我没有什么秘密。”乔一语未毕,又猛然住了口,想起自己还真有一个。

“你知道自己有的——你什么也藏不住,还是乖乖说出来吧,不然我就不说,”劳里叫道。

“你的那个是好消息吗?”

“噢,怎么不是!都和你认识的人有关,简直妙不可言!

你应该听听,我憋了好久了,一直想讲出来。来吧,你先开始。”“你在家一个字也不能提,好吗?”“只字不提。”“你不会私下取笑我?”“我从来不取笑人。“不,你取笑的,你什么都可以从人家嘴里套出来。我不知你是怎么做的,但你天生是个哄人的专家。”“谢谢了,请说吧。”“嗯,我把两篇故事交给了一位报社编辑,他下个星期就答复我,”乔向她的密友耳语道。

“好一个马奇小姐,著名的美国女作家!”劳里叫道,把自己的帽子向空中一抛,然后接祝这时他们已走到城郊,两只鸭、四头猫、五只鸡和六个爱尔兰小童见状全都大乐不已。

“小声!我敢说这不会有什么结果,但我总要试一试才会甘心。我不想让其他人失望,所以只字未提。”“你一定得偿所愿。嘿,乔,现在每天出笼的文章有半数是垃圾,跟它们一比,你的故事堪称是莎士比亚的大作。看到你的大作印在报上该多有意思!我们怎能不为我们的女作家而感到自豪?”乔眼睛闪闪发亮。劳里相信她,她心里感到甜丝丝的,而朋友的赞扬总是比一打报上吹捧自己的文章还要动听。

“你的秘密呢?公平交易,特迪,否则我再不会相信你的,”她说,试图把因劳里的鼓励而燃起的巨大希望打消掉。

“我说出来或者会尴尬,但我并没说要保密,所以我要说,但凡我知道一星半点好消息,如果不告诉你心里就不会舒坦。

我知道梅格的手套在哪儿。”

“仅此而已?”乔失望地说。劳里点点头,高深莫测地眨眨眼睛。

蛊“已经足够了,我说出来后你自然会明白。”“那么,请说吧。”劳里俯下身,在乔耳边悄悄说了几个字,乔神色随即变得十分古怪。她诧异万分地呆站着,忿忿地瞪了他一会儿,又继续往前走,厉声问道:“你怎么知道的?”“看到的。“在哪?”“口袋。”“一直都是?”“对,是不是很浪漫?”“不,叫人恶心。”“你不喜欢吗?”“当然不喜欢。这种事荒唐透顶,是不允许的。啊呀!梅格会怎么说?”“你不能告诉任何人,请注意。”“我并没许诺。”“你早就明白的,而我也相信你。”“嗯,我目前不会说出去,但我恶心死了,宁愿你没告诉我。”“我以为你会高兴呢。”“高兴别人来把梅格夺走?想得真美!”“等到也有人来把你夺走时,你心里就会好受一点了。”“我倒要看看谁敢,”乔恶狠狠地叫道。

“我也一样!”想到这种情景,劳里抿着嘴暗笑。

“我认为悄悄话和我的性格格格不入,听了你的话后我脑蛊子里乱糟糟的,”乔有点忘恩负义地说。

“跟我一起冲下这个山坡,你就没事了,”劳里建议。

路上不见行人,平滑倾斜的公路诱惑地摆在她面前,使她不可抗拒,乔于是直冲而下,不一会便把帽子和梳子跌掉了,发夹也落了一地,劳里先跑到目标,为自己成功地理好了情绪而感到十分满意,只见他的阿特兰特气喘吁吁,乱发齐飞,眼睛闪闪发亮,双颊绯红,脸上的不快之色早已消失得干干净净了。

“我真想变一匹马儿,那我就可以沐浴在这清新的空气中尽情驰骋而不用气喘吁吁了。这么跑步真是太棒了,但看我弄成了什么样子。去,把我的东西捡起来,就像小天使一样,你本来就是嘛,”乔说着坐到河岸边一棵挂满绯红叶子的枫树下面。

劳里慢悠悠地去收拾丢落的东西,乔束起辫子,只望这当儿千万不要有人走过,撞见她这副狼狈样子,但一个人恰恰走过来,此人不是别人,正是梅格。她出门拜访朋友,穿着一身整齐的节日服装,更显得一派淑女的风韵。

“你究竟在这里干什么?”她问,惊讶而不失风度地望着头发蓬乱的妹妹。

“捡树叶,”乔温顺地回答,一面挑选刚刚拢来的一捧红叶。

“还有发夹,”劳里接过话头,把半打发夹丢到乔膝上,蛊“这条路长了发夹,梅格,还长了梳子和棕色的草帽。”“你刚刚跑步来,乔。你怎么能这样?你什么时候才不再胡闹?”梅格责备道,一面理理袖口,又把被风吹起的头发抚平。

“等我老得走不动了,不得不用上拐杖,那时再说吧。别使劲催我提早长人,梅格,看到你一下子变了个人已经够难受了,就让我做个小姑娘吧,能做多久是多久。”乔边说边埋下头,让红叶遮住自己那轻轻抖动的双唇。她最近感觉到玛格丽特正迅速长成一个女人,姐妹分离是一定的事情,但劳里的秘密使这一天变得似乎近在眼前,她心中十分恐惧。劳里看到她满脸悲泣,为了分散梅格的注意力,赶紧问:“你刚才上哪儿去来,穿得这么漂亮。”“加德纳家。莎莉跟我谈了贝儿•莫法特的婚礼。婚礼极尽奢华,一对新人已去巴黎过冬了。想想那该有多么浪漫!”“你是不是嫉妒她,梅格?”劳里问。

“恐怕是吧。”

“谢天谢地!”乔咕哝道,把帽子猛地一拉戴上。

“为什么?”梅格奇怪地问。

“因为如果你看重金钱,就绝不会去嫁一个穷人,”乔说。

劳里赶紧示意她说话小心,她却不悦地对他皱皱眉头。

“我不会''去嫁''什么人,”梅格说罢昂然而去。乔和劳里跟在后面,一面笑一面窃窃私语,还向河中投掷石头。”表现得就像一对小孩子,”梅格心里这样说,不过如果不是穿着最漂亮的衣服,她可能也忍不住和他们一起闹了。

此后的一段日子里,乔行为古怪,令姐妹们个个摸不着蛊头脑。但逢邮递员一按门铃,她便冲到门前,每当见到布鲁克先生,她就粗声粗气,常常坐在一边愁眉苦脸地望着梅格,一会跳起来摇摇她,然后又莫明其妙地亲她一下;劳里和她常常互相打暗号,并谈论什么"展翼鹰"。姐妹们终于断言这对人物全都失了魂儿。在乔从窗子跳出去后的第二个星期六,梅格坐在窗边做针线活,看到劳里满园子追逐乔,最后在艾美的花荫下把乔捉住了,不免心生反感。她看不到两人在里头干什么,只听到一阵尖笑声,随后听到一阵咕咕哝哝的低语声和一声响亮的拍击报纸声。

“我们真拿这姑娘没办法,她就是不肯像个淑女一样文文静静。”梅格一面不悦地望着两人赛跑,一面叹息。

“我倒希望她不肯;她现在这样多风趣可爱,”贝思说。看到乔与别人而不是和自己分享秘密,她心里有点不受用,但却绝不表露出来。

“她这样令人十分难堪,但我们从来都不能使她规矩下来,”艾美接着说。她坐在那里为自己制一些新饰边,一头鬈发漂漂亮亮地扎成两股,十分好看,令她自觉优雅无比,仪态万千。

几分钟后乔冲进来,一头躺在沙发上,假装看报。

“你看到什么有趣的文章吗?”梅格屈尊问道。

“一则故事而已;并非什么大作,我想,”乔答,小心翼翼地不让大家看到报纸的名字。

“你最好把它读出来;这样我们大家高兴,你也不至于胡闹,”艾美用一副大人的腔调说。

“故事是什么题目?”贝思问,一面奇怪乔为什么把脸藏蛊在报纸后面。

“《画家争雄》。”

“挺好听的;念出来吧,”梅格说。

乔重重地咳了一下,吸了一口长气,开始很快地往下念。

故事优美浪漫,而且不乏哀婉动人之处,因为到最后大多数角色都死掉了。姐妹们听得津津有味。

“我喜欢有关漂亮图画的那一节,”乔停下来时艾美满意地说。

“我更喜欢爱情那一节。维奥拉和安吉洛是我最喜欢的两个名字,你们说怪不怪?”梅格擦着眼睛说,因为"爱情那一节"十分凄婉。

“谁写的?”贝思问。她瞥见了乔的脸色。

读报人突然坐起来,扔开报纸,露出一张涨得通红的脸孔,尽力控制着兴奋的心情,强作严肃地高声回答:“你姐姐。”“你!”梅格叫道,手里的活计掉了下来。

“这太好了,”艾美评论道。

“我早就知道会有今天!我早就知道会有今天!噢,我的乔,我是多么骄傲!“贝思跑上去紧紧拥抱姐姐,为这一辉煌成就欢呼雀跃。

哦,姐妹们的兴奋真是难以言状!梅格怎么也不相信这是真的,直到看到"约瑟芬•马奇小姐"白纸黑字印在报上时,这才信了;艾美彬彬有礼地对艺术性章节批评一番,又提供一些写续集的线索,可惜故事不能再续,因为男女主角都死掉了;贝思兴奋不已,高兴得又唱又跳;罕娜进来看到"乔的东西"时惊愕得大喊大叫;马奇太太知道后更是倍感自蛊豪;乔笑得流出了眼泪,宣布自己已出足了风头,就是死也是值得的了;报纸从大家手上传来传去,这份"展翼鹰"就像真正的雄鹰一样在马奇家上空振翅高飞!

“跟我们说说吧,什么时候来的?”“得了多少稿费?”“爸爸会怎么说?劳里一定会很开心吧?”全家人簇拥着乔一口气par叫道。每逢家里有一点什么芝麻大的喜事,这些痴情的人都要兴高采烈地庆祝一番。

“别叽叽喳喳了,姑娘们,听我把事情从头道来,”为自己的《画家争雄》倍感得意的乔说,怀疑伯尼小姐对她的《埃维莉娜》是不是感到更光荣一些。她告诉大家自己如何把两篇故事送出,然后又说:“当我去询问结果时,编辑说两其他都喜欢,但处女作没有稿酬,他们只把作者的名字登在报上,并对故事进行评论。这是一种很好的锻炼,编辑说,处女作作者的水平提高后,谁都愿意付钱。所以我把两篇故事都交由他发表。今天我收到了这一篇,劳里撞见了,一定要看看,我便让他看了;他说写得好,我准备再写一些,他去弄妥下次的稿酬。我真高兴死了,因为不久后我便能够养活自己并帮助各位姐妹。”乔喘了一口气,把头藏在报纸里头,情不自禁地洒下几滴泪珠,把自己的小故事滴湿了;自食其力、赢得所爱的人的称赞是她心头最大的愿望,今天的成功似乎是迈向幸福终点的第一步。




CHAPTER FIFTEEN A TELEGRAM

"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.

"If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a delightful month," said Beth, who took a hopeful view of everything, even November.

"I dare say, but nothing pleasant ever does happen in this family," said Meg, who was out of sorts. "We go grubbing along day after day, without a bit of change, and very little fun. We might as well be in a treadmill."

"My patience, how blue we are!" cried Jo. "I don't much wonder, poor dear, for you see other girls having splendid times, while you grind, grind, year in and year out. Oh, don't I wish I could manage things for you as I do for my heroines! You're pretty enough and good enough already, so I'd have some rich relation leave you a fortune unexpectedly. Then you'd dash out as an heiress, scorn everyone who has slighted you, go abroad, and come home my Lady Something in a blaze of splendor and elegance."

"People don't have fortunes left them in that style nowadays, men have to work and women marry for money. It's a dreadfully unjust world," said Meg bitterly.

"Jo and I are going to make fortunes for you all. Just wait ten years, and see if we don't," said Amy, who sat in a corner making mud pies, as Hannah called her little clay models of birds, fruit, and faces.

"Can't wait, and I'm afraid I haven't much faith in ink and dirt, though I'm grateful for your good intentions."

Meg sighed, and turned to the frostbitten garden again. Jo groaned and leaned both elbows on the table in a despondent attitude, but Amy spatted away energetically, and Beth, who sat at the other window, said, smiling, "Two pleasant things are going to happen right away. Marmee is coming down the street, and Laurie is tramping through the garden as if he had something nice to tell."

In they both came, Mrs. March with her usual question, "Any letter from Father, girls?" and Laurie to say in his persuasive way, "Won't some of you come for a drive? I've been working away at mathematics till my head is in a muddle, and I'm going to freshen my wits by a brisk turn. It's a dull day, but the air isn't bad, and I'm going to take Brooke home, so it will be gay inside, if it isn't out. Come, Jo, you and Beth will go, won't you?"

"Of course we will."

"Much obliged, but I'm busy." And Meg whisked out her workbasket, for she had agreed with her mother that it was best, for her at least, not to drive too often with the young gentleman.

"We three will be ready in a minute," cried Amy, running away to wash her hands.

"Can I do anything for you, Madam Mother?" asked Laurie, leaning over Mrs. March's chair with the affectionate look and tone he always gave her.

"No, thank you, except call at the office, if you'll be so kind, dear. It's our day for a letter, and the postman hasn't been. Father is as regular as the sun, but there's some delay on the way, perhaps."

A sharp ring interrupted her, and a minute after Hannah came in with a letter.

"It's one of them horrid telegraph things, mum," she said, handling it as if she was afraid it would explode and do some damage.

At the word 'telegraph', Mrs. March snatched it, read the two lines it contained, and dropped back into her chair as white as if the little paper had sent a bullet to her heart. Laurie dashed downstairs for water, while Meg and Hannah supported her, and Jo read aloud, in a frightened voice...

Mrs. March:
Your husband is very ill. Come at once.
S. HALE
Blank Hospital, Washington.

How still the room was as they listened breathlessly, how strangely the day darkened outside, and how suddenly the whole world seemed to change, as the girls gathered about their mother, feeling as if all the happiness and support of their lives was about to be taken from them.

Mrs. March was herself again directly, read the message over, and stretched out her arms to her daughters, saying, in a tone they never forgot, "I shall go at once, but it may be too late. Oh, children, children, help me to bear it!"

For several minutes there was nothing but the sound of sobbing in the room, mingled with broken words of comfort, tender assurances of help, and hopeful whispers that died away in tears. Poor Hannah was the first to recover, and with unconscious wisdom she set all the rest a good example, for with her, work was panacea for most afflictions.

"The Lord keep the dear man! I won't waste no time a-cryin', but git your things ready right away, mum," she said heartily, as she wiped her face on her apron, gave her mistress a warm shake of the hand with her own hard one, and went away to work like three women in one.

"She's right, there's no time for tears now. Be calm, girls, and let me think."

They tried to be calm, poor things, as their mother sat up, looking pale but steady, and put away her grief to think and plan for them.

"Where's Laurie?" she asked presently, when she had collected her thoughts and decided on the first duties to be done.

"Here, ma'am. Oh, let me do something!" cried the boy, hurrying from the next room whither he had withdrawn, feeling that their first sorrow was too sacred for even his friendly eyes to see.

"Send a telegram saying I will come at once. The next train goes early in the morning. I'll take that."

"What else? The horses are ready. I can go anywhere, do anything," he said, looking ready to fly to the ends of the earth.

"Leave a note at Aunt March's. Jo, give me that pen and paper."

Tearing off the blank side of one of her newly copied pages, Jo drew the table before her mother, well knowing that money for the long, sad journey must be borrowed, and feeling as if she could do anything to add a little to the sum for her father.

"Now go, dear, but don't kill yourself driving at a desperate pace. There is no need of that."

Mrs. March's warning was evidently thrown away, for five minutes later Laurie tore by the window on his own fleet horse, riding as if for his life.

"Jo, run to the rooms, and tell Mrs. King that I can't come. On the way get these things. I'll put them down, they'll be needed and I must go prepared for nursing. Hospital stores are not always good. Beth, go and ask Mr. Laurence for a couple of bottles of old wine. I'm not too proud to beg for Father. He shall have the best of everything. Amy, tell Hannah to get down the black trunk, and Meg, come and help me find my things, for I'm half bewildered."

Writing, thinking, and directing all at once might well bewilder the poor lady, and Meg begged her to sit quietly in her room for a little while, and let them work. Everyone scattered like leaves before a gust of wind, and the quiet, happy household was broken up as suddenly as if the paper had been an evil spell.

Mr. Laurence came hurrying back with Beth, bringing every comfort the kind old gentleman could think of for the invalid, and friendliest promises of protection for the girls during the mother's absence, which comforted her very much. There was nothing he didn't offer, from his own dressing gown to himself as escort. But the last was impossible. Mrs. March would not hear of the old gentleman's undertaking the long journey, yet an expression of relief was visible when he spoke of it, for anxiety ill fits one for traveling. He saw the look, knit his heavy eyebrows, rubbed his hands, and marched abruptly away, saying he'd be back directly. No one had time to think of him again till, as Meg ran through the entry, with a pair of rubbers in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, she came suddenly upon Mr. Brooke.

"I'm very sorry to hear of this, Miss March," he said, in the kind, quiet tone which sounded very pleasantly to her perturbed spirit. "I came to offer myself as escort to your mother. Mr. Laurence has commissions for me in Washington, and it will give me real satisfaction to be of service to her there."

Down dropped the rubbers, and the tea was very near following, as Meg put out her hand, with a face so full of gratitude that Mr. Brooke would have felt repaid for a much greater sacrifice than the trifling one of time and comfort which he was about to take.

"How kind you all are! Mother will accept, I'm sure, and it will be such a relief to know that she has someone to take care of her. Thank you very, very much!"

Meg spoke earnestly, and forgot herself entirely till something in the brown eyes looking down at her made her remember the cooling tea, and lead the way into the parlor, saying she would call her mother.

Everything was arranged by the time Laurie returned with a note from Aunt March, enclosing the desired sum, and a few lines repeating what she had often said before, that she had always told them it was absurd for March to go into the army, always predicted that no good would come of it, and she hoped they would take her advice the next time. Mrs. March put the note in the fire, the money in her purse, and went on with her preparations, with her lips folded tightly in a way which Jo would have understood if she had been there.

The short afternoon wore away. All other errands were done, and Meg and her mother busy at some necessary needlework, while Beth and Amy got tea, and Hannah finished her ironing with what she called a 'slap and a bang', but still Jo did not come. They began to get anxious, and Laurie went off to find her, for no one knew what freak Jo might take into her head. He missed her, however, and she came walking in with a very queer expression of countenance, for there was a mixture of fun and fear, satisfaction and regret in it, which puzzled the family as much as did the roll of bills she laid before her mother, saying with a little choke in her voice, "That's my contribution toward making Father comfortable and bringing him home!"

"My dear, where did you get it? Twenty-five dollars! Jo, I hope you haven't done anything rash?"

"No, it's mine honestly. I didn't beg, borrow, or steal it. I earned it, and I don't think you'll blame me, for I only sold what was my own."

As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose, for all her abundant hair was cut short.

"Your hair! Your beautiful hair!" "Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one beauty." "My dear girl, there was no need of this." "She doesn't look like my Jo any more, but I love her dearly for it!"

As everyone exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly, Jo assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive anyone a particle, and said, rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked it, "It doesn't affect the fate of the nation, so don't wail, Beth. It will be good for my vanity, I was getting too proud of my wig. It will do my brains good to have that mop taken off. My head feels deliciously light and cool, and the barber said I could soon have a curly crop, which will be boyish, becoming, and easy to keep in order. I'm satisfied, so please take the money and let's have supper."

"Tell me all about it, Jo. I am not quite satisfied, but I can't blame you, for I know how willingly you sacrificed your vanity, as you call it, to your love. But, my dear, it was not necessary, and I'm afraid you will regret it one of these days," said Mrs. March.

"No, I won't!" returned Jo stoutly, feeling much relieved that her prank was not entirely condemned.

"What made you do it?" asked Amy, who would as soon have thought of cutting off her head as her pretty hair.

"Well, I was wild to do something for Father," replied Jo, as they gathered about the table, for healthy young people can eat even in the midst of trouble. "I hate to borrow as much as Mother does, and I knew Aunt March would croak, she always does, if you ask for a ninepence. Meg gave all her quarterly salary toward the rent, and I only got some clothes with mine, so I felt wicked, and was bound to have some money, if I sold the nose off my face to get it."

"You needn't feel wicked, my child! You had no winter things and got the simplest with your own hard earnings," said Mrs. March with a look that warmed Jo's heart.

"I hadn't the least idea of selling my hair at first, but as I went along I kept thinking what I could do, and feeling as if I'd like to dive into some of the rich stores and help myself. In a barber's window I saw tails of hair with the prices marked, and one black tail, not so thick as mine, was forty dollars. It came to me all of a sudden that I had one thing to make money out of, and without stopping to think, I walked in, asked if they bought hair, and what they would give for mine."

"I don't see how you dared to do it," said Beth in a tone of awe.

"Oh, he was a little man who looked as if he merely lived to oil his hair. He rather stared at first, as if he wasn't used to having girls bounce into his shop and ask him to buy their hair. He said he didn't care about mine, it wasn't the fashionable color, and he never paid much for it in the first place. The work put into it made it dear, and so on. It was getting late, and I was afraid if it wasn't done right away that I shouldn't have it done at all, and you know when I start to do a thing, I hate to give it up. So I begged him to take it, and told him why I was in such a hurry. It was silly, I dare say, but it changed his mind, for I got rather excited, and told the story in my topsy-turvy way, and his wife heard, and said so kindly, 'Take it, Thomas, and oblige the young lady. I'd do as much for our Jimmy any day if I had a spire of hair worth selling."

"Who was Jimmy?" asked Amy, who liked to have things explained as they went along.

"Her son, she said, who was in the army. How friendly such things make strangers feel, don't they? She talked away all the time the man clipped, and diverted my mind nicely."

"Didn't you feel dreadfully when the first cut came?" asked Meg, with a shiver.

"I took a last look at my hair while the man got his things, and that was the end of it. I never snivel over trifles like that. I will confess, though, I felt queer when I saw the dear old hair laid out on the table, and felt only the short rough ends of my head. It almost seemed as if I'd an arm or leg off. The woman saw me look at it, and picked out a long lock for me to keep. I'll give it to you, Marmee, just to remember past glories by, for a crop is so comfortable I don't think I shall ever have a mane again."

Mrs. March folded the wavy chestnut lock, and laid it away with a short gray one in her desk. She only said, "Thank you, deary," but something in her face made the girls change the subject, and talk as cheerfully as they could about Mr. Brooke's kindness, the prospect of a fine day tomorrow, and the happy times they would have when Father came home to be nursed.

No one wanted to go to bed when at ten o'clock Mrs. March put by the last finished job, and said, "Come girls." Beth went to the piano and played the father's favorite hymn. All began bravely, but broke down one by one till Beth was left alone, singing with all her heart, for to her music was always a sweet consoler.

"Go to bed and don't talk, for we must be up early and shall need all the sleep we can get. Good night, my darlings," said Mrs. March, as the hymn ended, for no one cared to try another.

They kissed her quietly, and went to bed as silently as if the dear invalid lay in the next room. Beth and Amy soon fell asleep in spite of the great trouble, but Meg lay awake, thinking the most serious thoughts she had ever known in her short life. Jo lay motionless, and her sister fancied that she was asleep, till a stifled sob made her exclaim, as she touched a wet cheek...

"Jo, dear, what is it? Are you crying about father?"

"No, not now."

"What then?"

"My... My hair!" burst out poor Jo, trying vainly to smother her emotion in the pillow.

It did not seem at all comical to Meg, who kissed and caressed the afflicted heroine in the tenderest manner.

"I'm not sorry," protested Jo, with a choke. "I'd do it again tomorrow, if I could. It's only the vain part of me that goes and cries in this silly way. Don't tell anyone, it's all over now. I thought you were asleep, so I just made a little private moan for my one beauty. How came you to be awake?"

"I can't sleep, I'm so anxious," said Meg.

"Think about something pleasant, and you'll soon drop off."

"I tried it, but felt wider awake than ever."

"What did you think of?"

"Handsome faces—eyes particularly," answered Meg, smiling to herself in the dark.

"What color do you like best?"

"Brown, that is, sometimes. Blue are lovely."

Jo laughed, and Meg sharply ordered her not to talk, then amiably promised to make her hair curl, and fell asleep to dream of living in her castle in the air.

The clocks were striking midnight and the rooms were very still as a figure glided quietly from bed to bed, smoothing a coverlet here, settling a pillow there, and pausing to look long and tenderly at each unconscious face, to kiss each with lips that mutely blessed, and to pray the fervent prayers which only mothers utter. As she lifted the curtain to look out into the dreary night, the moon broke suddenly from behind the clouds and shone upon her like a bright, benignant face, which seemed to whisper in the silence, "Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds."




 

第十五章 一封电报

“一年之中就数十一月最讨厌了,”这天下午天气阴沉沉的,梅格站在窗边,看着外面花木萧条的园子说道。

“怪不得我在这个月出生,”乔郁郁不乐地说,全没注意到自己鼻子上沾了墨渍。

“如果这会儿有喜事临门,我们就会觉得这是个好月份了,”贝思说。她对所有事情都持乐观态度,即使对十一月。

“也许吧,但这个家从来都没有什么喜事,”心情欠佳的梅格说,”我们日复一日辛苦操劳,但却没有丝毫变化,生活还是枯燥乏味,这不等于活受罪嘛。”“啊呀,我们真是牢骚满腹!”乔叫道,”我倒不怎么奇怪,可怜的人儿,因为你看到别的姑娘们风光快乐,自己却长年累月辛辛苦苦地干啊干埃噢,我但愿能为你安排命运,就像我为自己笔下的女主人公所做的那样!你天生丽质,更兼心地善良,我要安排某个有钱的亲戚出人意料地给你留下一笔财产;于是你成了女继承人,出人头地,对曾经小看你的人不屑一顾,飘洋出国,最后成了高雅的贵夫人衣锦还乡。”“这种事情,今天是不会再有的了。男人得工作,女人得嫁人,这样才能有钱。这个世界好不公平,”梅格苦涩地说。

蛊“我和乔要为你们大家赚钱;等上十年吧,我们赚不到钱才怪呢,”艾美说。她坐在一角做泥饼——罕娜这样称呼她那些小鸟、水果、脸谱等陶土制的小模型。

“不能等了,再说我对你们的笔墨和泥土也没什么信心,虽然我很感激你们的美意。”梅格叹了一声,又把头转向寒霜满布的园子。乔咕哝着垂头丧气地把双肘支在桌子上,艾美却激动地继续争吵,这时坐在另一面窗边的贝思微笑说:“两桩喜事马上就要临门了:妈咪正从街上走过来;劳里大步穿过园子,好像有好消息要宣布。”两人双双走进来,马奇太太习惯地问道:“爸爸有信来吗,姑娘们?”劳里则邀她们:“你们有谁愿意出去驾车兜风吗?我做数学做得头昏脑涨,想出去兜一圈清醒一下。天气沉闷,不过空气还不坏,我准备接布鲁克回家,所以即使车子外头乏味,里头也是热闹的。来吧,乔,你和贝思都来,好吗?”“我们当然来。“你的心意我领了,但我没空。”梅格赶快拿出篮子,因为她和母亲商定,最好,至少对她来说,不要经常和这位年轻绅士驾车外出。

“我们三个马上就准备好,”艾美叫道,一面跑去洗手。

“我能帮你捎带点什么吗,太太?”劳里在马奇太太椅边俯下身来,用充满感情的神气和声调问道。他跟她说话向来都是这样。

“不用了,谢谢你。不过,请你到邮局看看,亲爱的孩子。

今天应该有信来,但邮递员却没来。爸爸的信是雷打不动的,蛊恐怕是在路上给耽搁了。”一阵尖锐的铃声打断了她的话,不一会,罕娜手持一封信走进来。

“一封讨厌的什么电报,太太。”她小心翼翼地把电报递过来,仿佛担心它会轰然爆炸并造成伤害。

听到"电报"二字,马奇太太把它一把夺过来,看了里头两行字,便一头倒在椅子上,脸如白纸,仿佛这片小小的纸头似利箭穿心。劳里赶紧冲下楼去拿水,梅格和罕娜则扶着她,乔颤抖着声音念道——马奇太太:你丈夫病重。速来。

华盛顿布兰克医院

S.黑尔

大家气平静息地听着,房间一片死寂,外面也奇怪地变得昏昏惨惨,世界好像突然变了个模样,姐妹们围着母亲,只觉得仿佛所有的幸福和她们的生活支柱都要被夺走了。马奇太太旋即恢复了神态,她把电报看了一遍,伸出手臂扶着几个女儿,用一种令她们永远也不会忘记的声调说:“我这就动身,但也可能太迟了。哦,孩子们,孩子们,帮我承受这一切吧!”有好一会儿房间里只听到一片啜齐声,夹杂着断断续续的安慰声和轻柔的宽解声。大家呜呜咽咽,话不成语。可怜的罕娜首先恢复了常态,不知不觉地为大家树立了榜样,因蛊为,对于她来说,工作就是解除痛苦的灵丹妙药。

“上帝保佑好人!我不想流眼泪浪费时间,赶紧收拾行李吧,太太,”她由衷地说道,一面用围裙擦擦脸,用粗糙的手紧紧地握了握女主人的手,转身离去,用一个顶三的劲头干起活来。

“她说得对,现在没时间流眼泪。镇静,姑娘们,让我想想。”可怜的姑娘们努力镇定下来,母亲坐起来,脸色苍白而平静。她强忍着悲痛,思量该怎么办。

“劳里在哪儿?”定下神后,她决定了首先要做的几件事,随即问道。

“在这里,太太。噢,让我干点什么吧!”小伙子赶忙从隔壁房间走出来叫道。他刚才觉得她们的悲哀异常神圣,即使是他友好的眼睛也不能亵渎,于是悄悄退下。

“发封电报,说我马上就来。明天一早有一趟车开出,我就搭这趟车。”“还有什么吩咐吗?马匹已经备好;我无论上哪儿、干什么都行。”看样子他已经准备好飞到天涯海角。

“送张便条给马奇婶婶。乔,把笔和纸给我。”乔从刚刚抄好的稿子里撕下一页空白稿纸,把桌子拉到母亲面前。她很清楚必须筹借一笔钱才能应付这次遥远而悲伤的旅行,她真想不惜牺牲一切,为父亲多筹集哪怕是小小的一笔钱。

“去吧,亲爱的,不过别把车驾得太快摔坏了自己;这没蛊有必要。”马奇太太的警告显然被扔到了九霄云外。五分钟后,劳里驾着自己的骏马,拼了命似地从窗边狂奔而过。

“乔,赶快到寓所告诉金斯夫人我不能来了。顺路把这些东西买来。我把它们写下来,它们会派上用场的,我得做好护理的准备,医院的商店不一定好。贝思,去向劳伦斯先生要两瓶陈年葡萄酒:为父亲我可以放下面子向人乞求,他应该得到最好的东西。艾美,告诉罕娜把黑色行李箱拿下来;梅格,你来帮我找找要用的东西,我脑子乱极了。”既要写字动脑筋,又要发号施令,这样大可以使这可怜的女士头脑昏乱,梅格便请她在自己的房间里静静小坐一会,让她们来干。众人分头散去,就像随风而去的树叶;那封电报犹如一纸恶符,一下子便把宁静温馨的家庭拆散。

劳伦斯先生随贝思匆匆而来,好心的老人给病人带来了他能想到的各种慰问品,并友好地承诺在马奇太太离家期间照顾姑娘们,这使马奇太太倍感欣慰。他更主动施以援手,提供各项帮助,小至自己的晨衣,大至亲自当护驾,等等。当护驾是不可能的了,因为马奇太太不愿让老人长途跋涉。不过,当她听到他这样说时脸上流露出一丝宽慰的神情,因为她忧心如焚确实不适宜孤身上路。老人看到她的神情,浓眉一皱,擦擦双手,突然抬脚就走,口里说这就回来。大家忙乱之中便把他给忘了。不料当梅格一手拿着一对橡皮套鞋,一手拿着一杯茶跑出门口时,却突然碰到了布鲁克先生。

“听到这个消息我万分难过,马奇小姐,”他说,声调亲切轻柔。心乱如麻的梅格觉得这声音十分动听。”我来请求当蛊你妈妈的护驾。劳伦斯先生交代我在华盛顿办点事,能在那边为她效劳将是我一大乐事。”橡皮套鞋落到了地上,茶也差一点就溢了出来,梅格伸出手,脸上充满感激之情,布鲁克先生见状恨不能以身相报,更别说付出一点时间来照顾马奇太太了。

“你们都是菩萨心肠!我肯定妈妈会答应的。知道她有人照顾,我们就放心了。真是非常、非常感谢你!”梅格激动得完全忘掉了自己,布鲁克先生低头望着她,棕色的眼睛流露出一种异样的神情,她这才想起将要凉了的茶水,忙把他带进客厅,一面说她这就去叫母亲。

到劳里回来的时候,一切已安排就绪。他从马奇婶婶处带来一张便条,内附她们所希望的金额和几句她以前常常唠叨的话——她早就再三告诫她们,让马奇参军是桩荒唐事,不会有什么好结果的,她希望她们下次能够听她的劝告。马奇太太看后把纸条放到火炉里,把钱装进钱包,紧闭双唇,继续收拾行装。要是乔在场的话,乔一定能懂得她那副神情。

下午很快就过去了,大小事情已一一办妥,梅格和母亲忙着做一些必需的针线活,贝思和艾美泡茶,罕娜嬷嬷乓乓地,如她所说,熨好衣服,但乔仍没回来。众人开始有点担心,大家都不知道与众不同的乔会起什么念头,劳里便出去找她。他没碰上她,乔却古里古怪地走了进来,神情若喜若悲,似笑似恨,大家正在诧异不解之间,她又把一卷钞票摆在母亲面前,哽哽咽咽地说:“这是我献给爸爸的礼物,让他舒舒服服,平安回家!”“好孩子,这钱是怎么来的?二十五元!乔,你不是干了蛊什么傻事吧?”“不是,这钱千真万确是我的。我没讨,没借,也没偷。

我是自己赚来的,我想你一定不会责备我,我只是卖掉了自己的东西。”乔说着摘下帽子,大家一起惊呼起来,只见一头又浓又密的长发变得短不溜秋。

“你的头发!你那漂亮的头发!”“噢,乔你怎能这样?你秀美的头发!”“好女儿,你没必要这么做。”“她不像我的乔了,但我因此而更深爱她。”在大家的叫声中,贝思把乔剪成平头的脑袋紧紧搂在怀里,乔故意装出一副满不在乎的神态,但却骗不过大家;她用手拨弄一下棕色的短发,以示自己喜欢这种发式,说:“这又不是什么惊天动地的大事,别这么嚎啕大哭了,贝思。这正好可以治治我的虚荣心,我原来对自己的头发也太自鸣得意了点儿。现在剪掉这头乱发,还可以健脑益智,我的脑袋变得又轻便又好使,理发师说短发很快就可以卷曲起来,这样既活泼好看,又容易梳理。我高兴着呢,收起钞票,我们吃饭吧。”“把事情经过告诉我,乔。我并不是十分满意,但我不能责怪你,因为我知道你是多么愿意为自己所爱的人牺牲你所谓的虚荣心。不过,亲爱的,你没必要这样,我怕你有一天会后悔呢,”马奇太太说。

“不,我不会的!”乔坚定地回答。这次胡闹没有遭到严厉谴责,她心里轻松多了。

“是什么促使你这样做的?”艾美问。对于她来说,剪掉蛊一头秀发还不如剪掉她的脑袋。

“嗯,我十分渴望能为爸爸做点事,”乔回答。这时大家已经围在桌边,年青人身体健康,即便遇上烦恼也能照样吃饭。”我像妈妈一样憎恨向人借钱,我知道马奇婶婶又要呱呱乱叫,她向来就是这样,只要你向她借上一文钱。梅格把她这季度的薪水全交了房租,我的却用来买了衣服,我觉得自己很坏,决心无论如何要筹点钱,哪怕是卖掉自己脸上的鼻子。”“你不必为这事而觉得自己很坏,我的孩子。你没有冬衣,用自己辛苦赚来的钱买几件最扑素不过的衣服,这并没有错,“马奇太太说着慈爱地看了乔一眼。

“开始我一点也没想到要卖头发,后来我边走边盘算自己能做点什么,真想窜进富丽堂皇的商店里不问自龋我看到理发店的橱窗摆了几个发辫,都标了价,一个黑色发辫,还不及我的粗,标价四十元。我突然想到我有一样东西可以换钱,于是我顾不上多想便走了进去,问他们要不要头发,我的他们给多少钱。”“我不明白你怎么这样勇敢。”贝思肃然起敬。

“哦。老板是个小个子男人,看他的样子似乎他活着就是为了给他的头发上油。他一开始有点吃惊,看来他不习惯女孩子闯进他的店子里叫他买头发。他说他对我的没什么兴趣,因为颜色并不时髦,首先他不会出高价;这头发要经过加工才值钱,等等。天色将晚,我担心如果我不马上做成这桩买卖,那就根本做不成了,你们也知道我做事不喜欢半途而废;于是我求他把头发买下,并告诉他我为何这样着急。这样做蛊当然很傻,但他听后改变了主意,因为我当时相当激动,话说得语无伦次。他妻子听到了,好心地说:''买下吧,汤姆斯,成全这位小姐吧,如果我有一把值钱的头发,我也会为我们的吉米这样做的。''”“吉米是谁?”逢事喜欢让人解释的艾美问道。

“她的儿子,她说也在军队里头。这种事情使陌生人一见如故,可不是吗?那男人帮我剪发时,她一路跟我拉话儿,分散我的注意力。”“剪刀剪下去的时候你觉得心寒吗?”梅格打了个哆嗦,问。

“趁那男人做准备的当儿,我看了自己的头发最后一眼,仅此而已。我从不为这种小事浪费感情。不过我承认当我看到自己的宝贝头发摆在桌上,摸摸脑袋只剩下又短又粗的发脚时,心里很不自在。这种滋味简直有点像掉了一只手臂一条腿。那女人看到我盯着头发,便捡起一绺长发给我保存。我现在把它交给您,妈妈,以此纪念我昔日的光彩,因为短发舒服极了,我想我以后再也不会留长发了。“马奇太太把卷曲的栗色发绺折起来,把它和一绺灰白色的短发一起放在她的桌子里头,只说了一句:“难为你了,宝贝。”但她脸上的神色、使姑娘们换了个话题。她们强打精神,谈论布鲁克先生是怎样一个好人,又说明天一定天气晴朗,爸爸回来养病的时候大家就可以共享天伦之乐了,等等。

到了十点钟大家仍不愿上床睡觉,马奇太太把刚刚做完的活计搁在一边,说:“来吧,姑娘们。”贝思便走到钢琴前、弹奏父亲最喜欢的圣歌;大家勇敢地唱了起来,但又一个接蛊一个停下了歌声,最后,只剩贝思一人独自纵情歌唱,因为对于她来说,音乐就是心灵最好的慰藉。

“上床睡觉,别讲话,我们得起个大早,要抓紧时间好好休息。晚安,孩子们,“圣歌唱完后马奇太太这样说,因为这时大家都没有心情再唱下去了。

她们静静地亲亲母亲,轻手轻脚地走上床,仿佛生病的父亲就躺在隔壁房间里。尽管挂虑父亲,贝思和艾美还是很快就睡着了,梅格却全无睡意,躺在床上思考她短短的一生以来所遇到的最为严肃的问题。乔躺着也不动,梅格以为她早已入睡,不料却听到一下低低的抽齐声,她一伸手,摸到一张湿漉漉的脸颊,不禁叫起来——“乔,亲爱的,怎么回事?是为爸爸伤心吗?”“不,这会儿不是。”“那是为什么?”“我-—我的头发!”可怜的乔冲口说道。她用枕头死死堵住嘴巴,试图掩住激动的啜齐声,但却徒费功夫。

梅格一点也不觉得好笑,她亲亲这位伤心的女英雄,一边十分温柔地抚摸着她。

“我并不后悔,”乔哽噎了一下声明,”如果可能,我明天还会这样做。这只是我身上的私心在作怪。不要告诉别人,现在好了。我以为你睡着了,所以悄悄为我的一把美发洒几滴眼泪。你怎么也没睡?”“睡不着,我心里很乱,”梅格说。

“想想愉快的事情,就会很快睡着了。”

“我试过了,但反而更清醒。”

蛊“你在想什么?”

“英俊的脸孔——特别是眼睛,”梅格答道,黑暗中自个微笑起来。

“你最喜欢什么颜色?”

“棕色——我的意思是,有时候,不过蓝色也很漂亮。”乔笑了,梅格严厉地命她不许再说,接着又笑着答应替她把头发卷曲,随后便酣然入梦,走进她的空中楼阁去了。

时钟敲响十二点,更深夜静,一个人影在床间悄悄移动,把这边的被角掖好,把那边的枕头摆正,又停下来深情地久久凝视着每张熟睡的面孔,轻轻吻吻她们,然后带着无限的爱意热诚祈祷。当她拉起窗帘,望着沉沉夜色时,月亮穿云破雾,倏忽而出,向她洒下一片祥和的光辉,似乎在静夜中悄悄低语:“别着急,善良的人!守得云开见月明。”




CHAPTER SIXTEEN LETTERS

In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and read their chapter with an earnestness never felt before. For now the shadow of a real trouble had come, the little books were full of help and comfort, and as they dressed, they agreed to say goodbye cheerfully and hopefully, and send their mother on her anxious journey unsaddened by tears or complaints from them. Everything seemed very strange when they went down, so dim and still outside, so full of light and bustle within. Breakfast at that early hour seemed odd, and even Hannah's familiar face looked unnatural as she flew about her kitchen with her nightcap on. The big trunk stood ready in the hall, Mother's cloak and bonnet lay on the sofa, and Mother herself sat trying to eat, but looking so pale and worn with sleeplessness and anxiety that the girls found it very hard to keep their resolution. Meg's eyes kept filling in spite of herself, Jo was obliged to hide her face in the kitchen roller more than once, and the little girls wore a grave, troubled expression, as if sorrow was a new experience to them.

Nobody talked much, but as the time drew very near and they sat waiting for the carriage, Mrs. March said to the girls, who were all busied about her, one folding her shawl, another smoothing out the strings of her bonnet, a third putting on her overshoes, and a fourth fastening up her travelling bag...

"Children, I leave you to Hannah's care and Mr. Laurence's protection. Hannah is faithfulness itself, and our good neighbor will guard you as if you were his own. I have no fears for you, yet I am anxious that you should take this trouble rightly. Don't grieve and fret when I am gone, or think that you can be idle and comfort yourselves by being idle and trying to forget. Go on with your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace. Hope and keep busy, and whatever happens, remember that you never can be fatherless."

"Yes, Mother."

"Meg, dear, be prudent, watch over your sisters, consult Hannah, and in any perplexity, go to Mr. Laurence. Be patient, Jo, don't get despondent or do rash things, write to me often, and be my brave girl, ready to help and cheer all. Beth, comfort yourself with your music, and be faithful to the little home duties, and you, Amy, help all you can, be obedient, and keep happy safe at home."

"We will, Mother! We will!"

The rattle of an approaching carriage made them all start and listen. That was the hard minute, but the girls stood it well. No one cried, no one ran away or uttered a lamentation, though their hearts were very heavy as they sent loving messages to Father, remembering, as they spoke that it might be too late to deliver them. They kissed their mother quietly, clung about her tenderly, and tried to wave their hands cheerfully when she drove away.

Laurie and his grandfather came over to see her off, and Mr. Brooke looked so strong and sensible and kind that the girls christened him 'Mr. Greatheart' on the spot.

"Good-by, my darlings! God bless and keep us all!" whispered Mrs. March, as she kissed one dear little face after the other, and hurried into the carriage.

As she rolled away, the sun came out, and looking back, she saw it shining on the group at the gate like a good omen. They saw it also, and smiled and waved their hands, and the last thing she beheld as she turned the corner was the four bright faces, and behind them like a bodyguard, old Mr. Laurence, faithful Hannah, and devoted Laurie.

"How kind everyone is to us!" she said, turning to find fresh proof of it in the respectful sympathy of the young man's face.

"I don't see how they can help it," returned Mr. Brooke, laughing so infectiously that Mrs. March could not help smiling. And so the journey began with the good omens of sunshine, smiles, and cheerful words.

"I feel as if there had been an earthquake," said Jo, as their neighbors went home to breakfast, leaving them to rest and refresh themselves.

"It seems as if half the house was gone," added Meg forlornly.

Beth opened her lips to say something, but could only point to the pile of nicely mended hose which lay on Mother's table, showing that even in her last hurried moments she had thought and worked for them. It was a little thing, but it went straight to their hearts, and in spite of their brave resolutions, they all broke down and cried bitterly.

Hannah wisely allowed them to relieve their feelings, and when the shower showed signs of clearing up, she came to the rescue, armed with a coffeepot.

"Now, my dear young ladies, remember what your ma said, and don't fret. Come and have a cup of coffee all round, and then let's fall to work and be a credit to the family."

Coffee was a treat, and Hannah showed great tact in making it that morning. No one could resist her persuasive nods, or the fragrant invitation issuing from the nose of the coffee pot. They drew up to the table, exchanged their handkerchiefs for napkins, and in ten minutes were all right again.

"'Hope and keep busy', that's the motto for us, so let's see who will remember it best. I shall go to Aunt March, as usual. Oh, won't she lecture though!" said Jo, as she sipped with returning spirit.

"I shall go to my Kings, though I'd much rather stay at home and attend to things here," said Meg, wishing she hadn't made her eyes so red.

"No need of that. Beth and I can keep house perfectly well," put in Amy, with an important air.

"Hannah will tell us what to do, and we'll have everything nice when you come home," added Beth, getting out her mop and dish tub without delay.

"I think anxiety is very interesting," observed Amy, eating sugar pensively.

The girls couldn't help laughing, and felt better for it, though Meg shook her head at the young lady who could find consolation in a sugar bowl.

The sight of the turnovers made Jo sober again; and when the two went out to their daily tasks, they looked sorrowfully back at the window where they were accustomed to see their mother's face. It was gone, but Beth had remembered the little household ceremony, and there she was, nodding away at them like a rosyfaced mandarin.

"That's so like my Beth!" said Jo, waving her hat, with a grateful face. "Goodbye, Meggy, I hope the Kings won't strain today. Don't fret about Father, dear," she added, as they parted.

"And I hope Aunt March won't croak. Your hair is becoming, and it looks very boyish and nice," returned Meg, trying not to smile at the curly head, which looked comically small on her tall sister's shoulders.

"That's my only comfort." And, touching her hat a la Laurie, away went Jo, feeling like a shorn sheep on a wintry day.

News from their father comforted the girls very much, for though dangerously ill, the presence of the best and tenderest of nurses had already done him good. Mr. Brooke sent a bulletin every day, and as the head of the family, Meg insisted on reading the dispatches, which grew more cheerful as the week passed. At first, everyone was eager to write, and plump envelopes were carefully poked into the letter box by one or other of the sisters, who felt rather important with their Washington correspondence. As one of these packets contained characteristic notes from the party, we will rob an imaginary mail, and read them.

My dearest Mother:

It is impossible to tell you how happy your last letter made us, for the news was so good we couldn't help laughing and crying over it. How very kind Mr. Brooke is, and how fortunate that Mr. Laurence's business detains him near you so long, since he is so useful to you and Father. The girls are all as good as gold. Jo helps me with the sewing, and insists on doing all sorts of hard jobs. I should be afraid she might overdo, if I didn't know her 'moral fit' wouldn't last long. Beth is as regular about her tasks as a clock, and never forgets what you told her. She grieves about Father, and looks sober except when she is at her little piano. Amy minds me nicely, and I take great care of her. She does her own hair, and I am teaching her to make buttonholes and mend her stockings. She tries very hard, and I know you will be pleased with her improvement when you come. Mr. Laurence watches over us like a motherly old hen, as Jo says, and Laurie is very kind and neighborly. He and Jo keep us merry, for we get pretty blue sometimes, and feel like orphans, with you so far away. Hannah is a perfect saint. She does not scold at all, and always calls me Miss Margaret, which is quite proper, you know, and treats me with respect. We are all well and busy, but we long, day and night, to have you back. Give my dearest love to Father, and believe me, ever your own...

MEG

This note, prettily written on scented paper, was a great contrast to the next, which was scribbled on a big sheet of thin foreign paper, ornamented with blots and all manner of flourishes and curly-tailed letters.

My precious Marmee:

Three cheers for dear Father! Brooke was a trump to telegraph right off, and let us know the minute he was better. I rushed up garret when the letter came, and tried to thank god for being so good to us, but I could only cry, and say, "I'm glad! I'm glad!" Didn't that do as well as a regular prayer? For I felt a great many in my heart. We have such funny times, and now I can enjoy them, for everyone is so desperately good, it's like living in a nest of turtledoves. You'd laugh to see Meg head the table and try to be motherish. She gets prettier every day, and I'm in love with her sometimes. The children are regular archangels, and I—well, I'm Jo, and never shall be anything else. Oh, I must tell you that I came near having a quarrel with Laurie. I freed my mind about a silly little thing, and he was offended. I was right, but didn't speak as I ought, and he marched home, saying he wouldn't come again till I begged pardon. I declared I wouldn't and got mad. It lasted all day. I felt bad and wanted you very much. Laurie and I are both so proud, it's hard to beg pardon. But I thought he'd come to it, for I was in the right. He didn't come, and just at night I remembered what you said when Amy fell into the river. I read my little book, felt better, resolved not to let the sun set on my anger, and ran over to tell Laurie I was sorry. I met him at the gate, coming for the same thing. We both laughed, begged each other's pardon, and felt all good and comfortable again.

I made a 'pome' yesterday, when I was helping Hannah wash, and as Father likes my silly little things, I put it in to amuse him. Give him my lovingest hug that ever was, and kiss yourself a dozen times for your...

TOPSY-TURVY JO


A SONG FROM THE SUDS

Queen of my tub, I merrily sing,
While the white foam rises high,
And sturdily wash and rinse and wring,
And fasten the clothes to dry.
Then out in the free fresh air they swing,
Under the sunny sky.

I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls
The stains of the week away,
And let water and air by their magic make
Ourselves as pure as they.
Then on the earth there would be indeed,
A glorious washing day!

Along the path of a useful life,
Will heart's-ease ever bloom.
The busy mind has no time to think
Of sorrow or care or gloom.
And anxious thoughts may be swept away,
As we bravely wield a broom.

I am glad a task to me is given,
To labor at day by day,
For it brings me health and strength and hope,
And I cheerfully learn to say,
"Head, you may think, Heart, you may feel,
But, Hand, you shall work alway!"


Dear Mother,

There is only room for me to send my love, and some pressed pansies from the root I have been keeping safe in the house for Father to see. I read every morning, try to be good all day, and sing myself to sleep with Father's tune. I can't sing 'LAND OF THE LEAL' now, it makes me cry. Everyone is very kind, and we are as happy as we can be without you. Amy wants the rest of the page, so I must stop. I didn't forget to cover the holders, and I wind the clock and air the rooms every day.

Kiss dear Father on the cheek he calls mine. Oh, do come soon to your loving...

LITTLE BETH


Ma Chere Mamma,

We are all well I do my lessons always and never corroberate the girls—Meg says I mean contradick so I put in both words and you can take the properest. Meg is a great comfort to me and lets me have jelly every night at tea its so good for me Jo says because it keeps me sweet tempered. Laurie is not as respeckful as he ought to be now I am almost in my teens, he calls me Chick and hurts my feelings by talking French to me very fast when I say Merci or Bon jour as Hattie King does. The sleeves of my blue dress were all worn out, and Meg put in new ones, but the full front came wrong and they are more blue than the dress. I felt bad but did not fret I bear my troubles well but I do wish Hannah would put more starch in my aprons and have buckwheats every day. Can't she? Didn't I make that interrigation point nice? Meg says my punchtuation and spelling are disgraceful and I am mortyfied but dear me I have so many things to do, I can't stop. Adieu, I send heaps of love to Papa. Your affectionate daughter...

AMY CURTIS MARCH


Dear Mis March,

I jes drop a line to say we git on fust rate. The girls is clever and fly round right smart. Miss Meg is going to make a proper good housekeeper. She hes the liking for it, and gits the hang of things surprisin quick. Jo doos beat all for goin ahead, but she don't stop to cal'k'late fust, and you never know where she's like to bring up. She done out a tub of clothes on Monday, but she starched 'em afore they was wrenched, and blued a pink calico dress till I thought I should a died a laughin. Beth is the best of little creeters, and a sight of help to me, bein so forehanded and dependable. She tries to learn everything, and really goes to market beyond her years, likewise keeps accounts, with my help, quite wonderful. We have got on very economical so fur. I don't let the girls hev coffee only once a week, accordin to your wish, and keep em on plain wholesome vittles. Amy does well without frettin, wearin her best clothes and eatin sweet stuff. Mr. Laurie is as full of didoes as usual, and turns the house upside down frequent, but he heartens the girls, so I let em hev full swing. The old gentleman sends heaps of things, and is rather wearin, but means wal, and it aint my place to say nothin. My bread is riz, so no more at this time. I send my duty to Mr. March, and hope he's seen the last of his Pewmonia.

Yours respectful,
Hannah Mullet

Head Nurse of Ward No. 2,

All serene on the Rappahannock, troops in fine condition, commisary department well conducted, the Home Guard under Colonel Teddy always on duty, Commander in Chief General Laurence reviews the army daily, Quartermaster Mullet keeps order in camp, and Major Lion does picket duty at night. A salute of twenty-four guns was fired on receipt of good news from Washington, and a dress parade took place at headquarters. Commander in chief sends best wishes, in which he is heartily joined by...

COLONEL TEDDY


Dear Madam:

The little girls are all well. Beth and my boy report daily. Hannah is a model servant, and guards pretty Meg like a dragon. Glad the fine weather holds. Pray make Brooke useful, and draw on me for funds if expenses exceed your estimate. Don't let your husband want anything. Thank God he is mending.

Your sincere friend and servant, JAMES LAURENCE

 

第十六章 书信

天方蒙蒙亮,姐妹们便冒着严寒,点亮灯,以前所未有的热诚阅读她们的小册子,因为一项真正的麻烦已经降临到她们身上,而这些小书当中随处可以寻到帮助和宽慰。穿衣的时候,她们约定要高高兴兴地跟母亲道别、不流泪、不诉苦,让她轻松上路。她们走下楼时一切都似乎变得十分陌生——外头天色灰暗、鸦雀无声,里头却灯火透亮、一片忙乱。

这么早便吃早餐显得有点古里古怪,罕娜戴着睡帽在厨房里跑上跑下,那张熟识的面孔也好像与往日不同。大行李箱已在大厅里放好,母亲的外套和帽子摆在沙发上。母亲坐在那里,正吃力地把早点咽下去,因昨晚忧思劳神、一夜无眠,脸色显得十分苍白憔悴,姑娘们见状几乎把持不祝梅格忍不住泪如雨下,乔不得不三番四次地躲到厨房的碾子后面抹眼泪,两个小妹妹也神情严肃,愁眉不展,仿佛悲伤对于她们来说是一种新体验。

大家都没有怎么说话,出发的时间就要到了,大家坐着在等马车,姑娘们围着母亲忙忙碌碌,一个替她叠围巾,一个把她的帽带弄起,一个为她穿上套鞋,一个为她系好行李袋。马奇太太对她们说——“孩子们,我把你们交给罕娜和劳伦斯先生照顾。罕娜一向忠心耿耿,我们的好邻居劳伦斯先生也会把你们当作自己的女儿一样看待,这些我都不担心,我只希望你们要正确对待这次变故。我走后你们不要烦恼悲伤,也不要慵慵懒懒,或者试图忘记现实,以为这样就能安慰自己。要照常工作,因为工作就是最大的安慰。怀抱希望,不要偷闲,无论发生什么事情,都要记着,你们决不会失去父亲的。”“是,妈妈。”“梅格,好孩子,谨慎行事,带好几个妹妹,凡事与罕娜商量,遇到困难时请教劳伦斯先生。要忍耐,乔,不要灰心泄气、鲁莽行事,多写信给我,要做个勇敢的好姑娘,帮助鼓舞大家。贝思,好好弹琴,有时间帮忙做好家务。你呢,艾美,尽能力帮忙,乖乖听话,不要惹祸。”“我们会的,妈妈!”“我们会的!”这时传来嘎嗒嘎嗒的马车声,大家跳起来侧耳细听。痛苦的时刻到了,但姑娘们强忍悲伤:她们让母亲转达对父亲的问候,虽然她们想到这些话或许已经太迟。没有人哭泣,没有人躲避,也没有叹息,虽然她们心里都感到沉甸甸的;大家轻轻吻别母亲,然后目送着马车离去,强作欢颜,挥手告别。

劳里和爷爷也过来送行,布鲁克先生身强力健,和气可亲,更兼善解人意,姑娘们当场赠他一个外号"大好人先生"。

“再见,宝贝们!上帝保佑大家平平安安!”马奇太太轻声说。她在每张小脸上逐一亲亲,然后快步登上马车。

马车缓缓向前移动,此时太阳正冉冉升起。马奇太太回头望去,只见吉祥的朝霞洒在大门口的众人身上。他们也看到了太阳,都微笑着挥起了手;四姐妹面露笑容,身后站着俨然护花使者一般的劳伦斯老人、忠实的罕娜和忠心耿耿的劳里。马车转过街角,这一切都从马奇太太的视线里消失了。

“大家待我们真好!”她说着转头,望着年青人。年青人脸上那种恭敬和同情的神色又一次证明了这句话的正确性。

“他们就是这样的人。”布鲁克先生朗声而笑,那富有感染力的笑声令马奇太太也不禁微笑起来;漫长的旅行于是在祥和的阳光、微笑和欢快的言谈中开始了。

劳里和爷爷回去吃早饭,姑娘们留在家里稍作休息,邻居一走,乔便说:“我觉得好像经历了一场地震。”“屋子也仿佛变得空空荡荡的,”梅格凄凄切切地接着说。

贝思张嘴要说什么,却说不下去,只用手指指母亲桌面上一叠缝补得整整齐齐的长筒袜;母亲在极度紧张忙碌的时刻也没有忘记照料自己的女儿。这虽然只是一件小事,却令她们深受感动;大家都情不自禁地伤心痛哭。

罕娜也不去劝,任由她们尽情地释放自己的感情,看她们昏天黑地哭得差不多了,便手持咖啡壶走过来救驾。

“好了,年轻女士们,记住你们阿妈说过的话,不要伤心。

都来喝杯咖啡,然后动身干活,为这个家争口气。”喝咖啡乃一大乐事,再说罕娜那天早上把咖啡煮得出神入化。她点头相劝,让人不可抗拒,咖啡壶嘴里冒出来的阵阵香气也令人垂涎欲滴。姐妹们凑到饭桌边,用身上的手帕权且充作餐巾,一会儿功夫便都平静下来。

“''怀抱希望,不要偷闲。''这是我们的座右铭,看谁最能记住这句话。我要照常上马奇婶婶那儿去。唉,又得听她训话了!”乔呷着咖啡便来了精神。

“我也要上金斯家去,不过我倒宁愿呆在家里做家务,”梅格说道,很后悔自己把眼睛哭红了。

“用不着。我和贝思可以把家管理得井井有条,”艾美郑重其事地插话说。

贝思赶紧拿出洗碗刷和洗碗盘说:“罕娜会教我们怎样做,你们回来的时候我们会把一切都弄得好好的。”“我觉得忧思挺有趣儿,”艾美沉思着边吃糖边说。

大家全忍不住笑起来,心里也好受多了。梅格则对这位可以在糖碗里找到安慰的年轻小姐摇摇脑袋。

看到卷饼,乔严肃起来,当姐妹两人出门去上班的时候,她们凄凄切切地不断回头向窗口望去,平时母亲一定倚在窗边和她们道别,但此时却人面不再。不过,贝思却没有忘记这个小小的家庭仪式,她站在窗前,向两位姐姐点头致意,像个穿中国衣服的红脸摆头娃娃。

“真是我的好贝思!”乔说,挥挥帽子,露出一脸感激之情。”再见,梅格,我希望金斯兄弟今天不会让你生气。别担忧爸爸,亲爱的,”临分手时她又说。

“我也希望马奇婶婶不会唠唠叨叨,你的头发很好看,又精神又有朝气,”梅格回答。妹妹的脑袋披着短短的鬈发,衬在高高的身架上,显得又小又滑稽,梅格极力忍着不去笑她。

“这是我唯一的安慰。”乔摸摸劳里送她的大帽子,转身而去,觉得自己就像一头在瑟瑟寒风中被剪了毛的羊。

父亲方面传来的消息使姑娘们大感欣慰。尽管病情严重,在医院经过精心的医护理后,他已逐渐康复。布鲁克先生每天都寄来一份病情报告。梅格身为一家之长,每次都坚持自己来读。随着时间的推移,信中的消息越来越令人振奋。起初四姐妹都争着写信,写好后,由其中一人小心翼翼地把厚厚的信封塞进邮筒,大家都郑重其事地看待这些华盛顿通信。

信中有几封皮具代表性,我们不妨截下来读一读:我亲爱的妈妈:读了您的来信后,我们的喜悦心情简直没法形容,您捎来的大好消息令我们高兴得又笑又哭。布鲁克先生不愧是菩萨心肠,由于劳伦斯先生生意上的缘故,他能在你们身边陪伴多时,并悉心照顾,实乃万幸,因为他对你和父亲来说是那么有用。妹妹们个个乖巧听话。乔帮我干针线活,还坚持要做各种最难做的工夫。幸亏我知道她的"道德冲动"有如昙花一现,才不至于担心她操劳过度。贝思尽忠职守,从不忘记您告诉她的话,她思虑爸爸,终日心事重重,只有坐在她的小钢琴边时才显得轻松开怀。艾美很听我的话,我也十分细心地照顾她。她自己梳头,我正教她开钮孔和缝补袜子。她干得很起劲,您回来的时候一定会对她的进步感到满意。劳伦斯先生像老母鸡一样照看我们——这是乔说的话,劳里待我们也十分热情友好。你们远在他方,我们有时悒悒不乐,觉得自己像个孤儿,是劳里和乔使我们快乐起来。罕娜是个大圣人;她从不骂人,总是称我为"玛格丽特小姐",这称呼十分体面,您知道,而且待我十分尊重。我们人人安好,个个忙碌,只是日夜盼望你们回来。请转达我对爸爸最诚挚的爱。永远属于您的梅格和这张字迹秀丽的香笺形成鲜明对照的,是下面这张潦潦草草地写在薄信纸上、墨迹斑斑、龙飞凤舞的大纸条:我亲爱的妈咪:为亲爱的爸爸欢呼三声!布鲁克一待爸爸身体好转便飞速电告我们,堪称好人。收到信时我冲上阁楼,试图感谢上帝对我们的厚爱,但却只哭着说:“我好高兴!我好高兴!”这不也跟真正的祈祷一样吗?因为我心中充满了感激之情。我们的日子过得有滋有味;我已经开始享受这种生活了,因为大家互爱互助,家里就像一个无比温暖的雀巢。若您看到梅格坐在首席,努力做个好妈妈的模样,一定会忍俊不禁。她越来越漂亮了,有时候我竟爱上她了。

两个妹妹是名符其实的天使,我呢——嗯,我就是我,我是乔。哦,我得告诉您我差点和劳里吵了一架。我对一桩小事直言不讳地批评了几句,他便恼了。我并没有错,只是说话过火了点儿,他便径直走回家,说除非我先认错他才会再来。我宣布我不会求他原谅,我气疯了,整整一天都心神恍惚,十分希望您就在我的身边。我和劳里自尊心都特别强,很难放下面子认错,但我以为他会来向我赔不是的,因为我是对的。他没有来,晚上我想起艾美掉进河那遭您跟我说的话,又读了我的小册子,心里受用了一点,决定不能因一时之怒而不分好歹,于是便跑过去向劳里道歉。谁知就在门口遇到了他,也是跑来向我道歉的。我们都笑起来,于是互相说过对不起,又和好如初了。

昨天我帮罕娜洗衣服时诌了一首"侍(诗)";因为爸爸喜欢我这些小玩意,现寄上博他一笑。紧紧拥抱爸爸,也代我好好亲亲您自己。您的"混乱大王"乔洗衣歌洗衣女神哟,你看洁白的泡沫高高泛起,我一面欢歌,一面使劲又洗又搓,拧干后把衣服晾起来,让悠悠清风把它们吹干,天上白云飘飘,阳光灿烂。

我祝愿能把世俗的尘污,

从我们的心灵洗去。

让水和清风施展魔法,

让我们和它们一样纯净。

那么地球上就将有一个

灿烂辉煌的冲洗日!

生活充实,内心平静,

人生路上风雨不惊;

忙碌的脑袋顾不上去想

悲伤、烦恼和忧郁,

每当我们勇敢地挥动扫帚,

忧虑就会离我们远去。

我高高兴兴地肩负

每天劳动的任务;

它使我身体强舰充满希望。

我快乐地学会说——

“头脑用于思考,心灵用于感觉,

但手,你必须永远工作!”

亲爱的妈妈:

我仅有地方送上我的挚爱和我一直保存在屋里留待爸爸观赏的三色堇标本。我每天早上读书,白天努力工作,晚间哼着爸爸的曲子入睡。我现在不能唱"天国之歌",因为它使我感极而泣。大家都和睦共处,日子过得还算相当愉快,艾美要我把下面的地方留给她,因此我得搁笔了。我没有忘记盖好架子,每天都打扫房间,给时钟上发条。

亲亲爸爸的脸颊。噢,务必赶快回到我的身边。

你疼爱的

小贝思

MACHEREMAMMA:

我们都很好我老做功课从不和姐姐们合着(作)——梅格说我的意思是驳策(斥)所以我把两个词都写上等你来挑眩梅格待我棒极了每晚进茶点时都让我吃果子冻乔说这东西对我很有好处因为它使我脾气温和。劳里对人不够尊重现在我已差不多十岁出头了,他还管我叫"黄毛丫头",当我像海蒂•金一样说Merci或者Bonjour的时候他就说很快的法语来伤我的心。我那条蓝套裙的袖子全磨破了,梅格换了一对新的,但前面却换错了颜色变得比裙子还要蓝。我心里不好受但没有着恼我经得起波折但我真希望罕娜把我的围裙浆硬一点并每天做荞麦。她不可以吗?我的问号画得够漂亮吧?梅格说我的标点付(符)号和拚写很不雅我很感屈侮(辱),但是哎呀我有这么多事情要做,有什么办法。

再会,给爸爸送上我无数的爱。

深深爱您的女儿,

艾美•科蒂斯•马奇

亲爱的马奇太太:

我只写几句话告诉你我们过得蛮好。姑娘们又聪明又勤快。梅格小姐很快就能成为一个顶好的管家;她对这方面有兴趣,而且很快就能掌握里头的窍门儿。乔样样都走在头里,你永远不会知道她下一步会出什么花样。她星期一洗了一桶衣服,但是还没绞干就给上了浆,还把一条粉红色的印花裙儿弄成蓝色,把我差一点笑死了。这班小家伙要数贝思最乖,她又节俭又可靠,是我的好帮手。她什么都努力去学,小小年纪就上市场买菜了;还在我的指点下记帐,很像回事呢。我们一直都俭省,按照您的意思,我每周只让姑娘们喝一次咖啡,给她们吃简单又健康的主食。艾美有好衣服穿,有甜品吃,也不发牢骚了。劳里还是那么淘气,常把屋子折腾得翻天覆地;不过他能使姑娘们心情振作,所以我任他们胡闹去。那位老先生送来好多东西,简直有点让人厌烦了,不过他是出于好心,我做下人的也不该说三道四。向马奇先生致敬,祝愿他不会再患肺炎。

罕娜•莫莱特

敬上

2号病房护士长:

营地一切平静,队伍处于良好状态,军需部运转正常,特迪上校手下的家兵一直尽忠职守,总指挥劳伦斯将军每天巡视军部,军需官莫莱特掌管军中秩序,赖昂少校专司晚间巡哨。收到华盛顿方面的佳讯后,我军鸣枪二十四响致敬,并于总部举行阅兵典礼。总指挥致以美好祝愿。

特迪上校

同祝

尊敬的女士:

小姑娘们个个安好;贝思和我孙儿每天都向我汇报;罕娜是个模范仆人,像一条龙一样保护美丽的梅格。所幸天气一直晴好;请尽管使唤布鲁克,如果经费超出预算,请向我支取资金。别让你丈夫短缺什么。感谢上帝他正在康复。

你诚挚的朋友和仆人,

詹姆士•劳伦斯




CHAPTER SEVENTEEN LITTLE FAITHFUL

For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have supplied the neighborhood. It was really amazing, for everyone seemed in a heavenly frame of mind, and self-denial was all the fashion. Relieved of their first anxiety about their father, the girls insensibly relaxed their praiseworthy efforts a little, and began to fall back into old ways. They did not forget their motto, but hoping and keeping busy seemed to grow easier, and after such tremendous exertions, they felt that Endeavor deserved a holiday, and gave it a good many.

Jo caught a bad cold through neglect to cover the shorn head enough, and was ordered to stay at home till she was better, for Aunt March didn't like to hear people read with colds in their heads. Jo liked this, and after an energetic rummage from garret to cellar, subsided on the sofa to nurse her cold with arsenicum and books. Amy found that housework and art did not go well together, and returned to her mud pies. Meg went daily to her pupils, and sewed, or thought she did, at home, but much time was spent in writing long letters to her mother, or reading the Washington dispatches over and over. Beth kept on, with only slight relapses into idleness or grieving.

All the little duties were faithfully done each day, and many of her sisters' also, for they were forgetful, and the house seemed like a clock whose pendulum was gone a-visiting. When her heart got heavy with longings for Mother or fears for Father, she went away into a certain closet, hid her face in the folds of a dear old gown, and made her little moan and prayed her little prayer quietly by herself. Nobody knew what cheered her up after a sober fit, but everyone felt how sweet and helpful Beth was, and fell into a way of going to her for comfort or advice in their small affairs.

All were unconscious that this experience was a test of character, and when the first excitement was over, felt that they had done well and deserved praise. So they did, but their mistake was in ceasing to do well, and they learned this lesson through much anxiety and regret.

"Meg, I wish you'd go and see the Hummels. You know Mother told us not to forget them." said Beth, ten days after Mrs. March's departure.

"I'm too tired to go this afternoon," replied Meg, rocking comfortably as she sewed.

"Can't you, Jo?" asked Beth.

"Too stormy for me with my cold."

"I thought it was almost well."

"It's well enough for me to go out with Laurie, but not well enough to go to the Hummels'," said Jo, laughing, but looking a little ashamed of her inconsistency.

"Why don't you go yourself?" asked Meg.

"I have been every day, but the baby is sick, and I don't know what to do for it. Mrs. Hummel goes away to work, and Lottchen takes care of it. But it gets sicker and sicker, and I think you or Hannah ought to go."

Beth spoke earnestly, and Meg promised she would go tomorrow.

"Ask Hannah for some nice little mess, and take it round, Beth, the air will do you good," said Jo, adding apologetically, "I'd go but I want to finish my writing."

"My head aches and I'm tired, so I thought maybe some of you would go," said Beth.

"Amy will be in presently, and she will run down for us," suggested Meg.

So Beth lay down on the sofa, the others returned to their work, and the Hummels were forgotten. An hour passed. Amy did not come, Meg went to her room to try on a new dress, Jo was absorbed in her story, and Hannah was sound asleep before the kitchen fire, when Beth quietly put on her hood, filled her basket with odds and ends for the poor children, and went out into the chilly air with a heavy head and a grieved look in her patient eyes. It was late when she came back, and no one saw her creep upstairs and shut herself into her mother's room. Half an hour after, Jo went to 'Mother's closet' for something, and there found little Beth sitting on the medicine chest, looking very grave, with red eyes and a camphor bottle in her hand.

"Christopher Columbus! What's the matter?" cried Jo, as Beth put out her hand as if to warn her off, and asked quickly. . .

"You've had the scarlet fever, haven't you?"

"Years ago, when Meg did. Why?"

"Then I'll tell you. Oh, Jo, the baby's dead!"

"What baby?"

"Mrs. Hummel's. It died in my lap before she got home," cried Beth with a sob.

"My poor dear, how dreadful for you! I ought to have gone," said Jo, taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in her mother's big chair, with a remorseful face.

"It wasn't dreadful, Jo, only so sad! I saw in a minute it was sicker, but Lottchen said her mother had gone for a doctor, so I took Baby and let Lotty rest. It seemed asleep, but all of a sudden if gave a little cry and trembled, and then lay very still. I tried to warm its feet, and Lotty gave it some milk, but it didn't stir, and I knew it was dead."

"Don't cry, dear! What did you do?"

"I just sat and held it softly till Mrs. Hummel came with the doctor. He said it was dead, and looked at Heinrich and Minna, who have sore throats. 'Scarlet fever, ma'am. Ought to have called me before,' he said crossly. Mrs. Hummel told him she was poor, and had tried to cure baby herself, but now it was too late, and she could only ask him to help the others and trust to charity for his pay. He smiled then, and was kinder, but it was very sad, and I cried with them till he turned round all of a sudden, and told me to go home and take belladonna right away, or I'd have the fever."

"No, you won't!" cried Jo, hugging her close, with a frightened look. "Oh, Beth, if you should be sick I never could forgive myself! What shall we do?"

"Don't be frightened, I guess I shan't have it badly. I looked in Mother's book, and saw that it begins with headache, sore throat, and queer feelings like mine, so I did take some belladonna, and I feel better," said Beth, laying her cold hands on her hot forehead and trying to look well.

"If Mother was only at home!" exclaimed Jo, seizing the book, and feeling that Washington was an immense way off. She read a page, looked at Beth, felt her head, peeped into her throat, and then said gravely, "You've been over the baby every day for more than a week, and among the others who are going to have it, so I'm afraid you are going to have it, Beth. I'll call Hannah, she knows all about sickness."

"Don't let Amy come. She never had it, and I should hate to give it to her. Can't you and Meg have it over again?" asked Beth, anxiously.

"I guess not. Don't care if I do. Serve me right, selfish pig, to let you go, and stay writing rubbish myself!" muttered Jo, as she went to consult Hannah.

The good soul was wide awake in a minute, and took the lead at once, assuring that there was no need to worry; every one had scarlet fever, and if rightly treated, nobody died, all of which Jo believed, and felt much relieved as they went up to call Meg.

"Now I'll tell you what we'll do," said Hannah, when she had examined and questioned Beth, "we will have Dr. Bangs, just to take a look at you, dear, and see that we start right. Then we'll send Amy off to Aunt March's for a spell, to keep her out of harm's way, and one of you girls can stay at home and amuse Beth for a day or two."

"I shall stay, of course, I'm oldest," began Meg, looking anxious and self-reproachful.

"I shall, because it's my fault she is sick. I told Mother I'd do the errands, and I haven't," said Jo decidedly.

"Which will you have, Beth? There ain't no need of but one," aid Hannah.

"Jo, please." And Beth leaned her head against her sister with a contented look, which effectually settled that point.

"I'll go and tell Amy," said Meg, feeling a little hurt, yet rather relieved on the whole, for she did not like nursing, and Jo did.

Amy rebelled outright, and passionately declared that she had rather have the fever than go to Aunt March. Meg reasoned, pleaded, and commanded, all in vain. Amy protested that she would not go, and Meg left her in despair to ask Hannah what should be done. Before she came back, Laurie walked into the parlor to find Amy sobbing, with her head in the sofa cushions. She told her story, expecting to be consoled, but Laurie only put his hands in his pockets and walked about the room, whistling softly, as he knit his brows in deep thought. Presently he sat down beside her, and said, in his most wheedlesome tone, "Now be a sensible little woman, and do as they say. No, don't cry, but hear what a jolly plan I've got. You go to Aunt March's, and I'll come and take you out every day, driving or walking, and we'll have capital times. Won't that be better than moping here?"

"I don't wish to be sent off as if I was in the way," began Amy, in an injured voice.

"Bless your heart, child, it's to keep you well. You don't want to be sick, do you?"

"No, I'm sure I don't, but I dare say I shall be, for I've been with Beth all the time."

"That's the very reason you ought to go away at once, so that you may escape it. Change of air and care will keep you well, I dare say, or if it does not entirely, you will have the fever more lightly. I advise you to be off as soon as you can, for scarlet fever is no joke, miss."

"But it's dull at Aunt March's, and she is so cross," said Amy, looking rather frightened.

"It won't be dull with me popping in every day to tell you how Beth is, and take you out gallivanting. The old lady likes me, and I'll be as sweet as possible to her, so she won't peck at us, whatever we do."

"Will you take me out in the trotting wagon with Puck?"

"On my honor as a gentleman."

"And come every single day?"

"See if I don't!"

"And bring me back the minute Beth is well?"

"The identical minute."

"And go to the theater, truly?"

"A dozen theaters, if we may."

"Well—I guess I will," said Amy slowly.

"Good girl! Call Meg, and tell her you'll give in," said Laurie, with an approving pat, which annoyed Amy more than the 'giving in'.

Meg and Jo came running down to behold the miracle which had been wrought, and Amy, feeling very precious and self-sacrificing, promised to go, if the doctor said Beth was going to be ill.

"How is the little dear?" asked Laurie, for Beth was his especial pet, and he felt more anxious about her than he liked to show.

"She is lying down on Mother's bed, and feels better. The baby's death troubled her, but I dare say she has only got cold. Hannah says she thinks so, but she looks worried, and that makes me fidgety," answered Meg.

"What a trying world it is!" said Jo, rumpling up her hair in a fretful way. "No sooner do we get out of one trouble than down comes another. There doesn't seem to be anything to hold on to when Mother's gone, so I'm all at sea."

"Well, don't make a porcupine of yourself, it isn't becoming. Settle your wig, Jo, and tell me if I shall telegraph to your mother, or do anything?" asked Laurie, who never had been reconciled to the loss of his friend's one beauty.

"That is what troubles me," said Meg. "I think we ought to tell her if Beth is really ill, but Hannah says we mustn't, for Mother can't leave Father, and it will only make them anxious. Beth won't be sick long, and Hannah knows just what to do, and Mother said we were to mind her, so I suppose we must, but it doesn't seem quite right to me."

"Hum, well, I can't say. Suppose you ask Grandfather after the doctor has been."

"We will. Jo, go and get Dr. Bangs at once," commanded Meg. "We can't decide anything till he has been."

"Stay where you are, Jo. I'm errand boy to this establishment," said Laurie, taking up his cap.

"I'm afraid you are busy," began Meg.

"No, I've done my lessons for the day."

"Do you study in vacation time?" asked Jo.

"I follow the good example my neighbors set me," was Laurie's answer, as he swung himself out of the room.

"I have great hopes for my boy," observed Jo, watching him fly over the fence with an approving smile.

"He does very well, for a boy," was Meg's somewhat ungracious answer, for the subject did not interest her.

Dr. Bangs came, said Beth had symptoms of the fever, but he thought she would have it lightly, though he looked sober over the Hummel story. Amy was ordered off at once, and provided with something to ward off danger, she departed in great state, with Jo and Laurie as escort.

Aunt March received them with her usual hospitality.

"What do you want now?" she asked, looking sharply over her spectacles, while the parrot, sitting on the back of her chair, called out...

"Go away. No boys allowed here."

Laurie retired to the window, and Jo told her story.

"No more than I expected, if you are allowed to go poking about among poor folks. Amy can stay and make herself useful if she isn't sick, which I've no doubt she will be, looks like it now. Don't cry, child, it worries me to hear people sniff."

Amy was on the point of crying, but Laurie slyly pulled the parrot's tail, which caused Polly to utter an astonished croak and call out, "Bless my boots!" in such a funny way, that she laughed instead.

"What do you hear from your mother?" asked the old lady gruffly.

"Father is much better," replied Jo, trying to keep sober.

"Oh, is he? Well, that won't last long, I fancy. March never had any stamina," was the cheerful reply.

"Ha, ha! Never say die, take a pinch of snuff, goodbye, goodbye!" squalled Polly, dancing on her perch, and clawing at the old lady's cap as Laurie tweaked him in the rear.

"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird! And, Jo, you'd better go at once. It isn't proper to be gadding about so late with a rattlepated boy like..."

"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!" cried Polly, tumbling off the chair with a bounce, and running to peck the 'rattlepated' boy, who was shaking with laughter at the last speech.

"I don't think I can bear it, but I'll try," thought Amy, as she was left alone with Aunt March.

"Get along, you fright!" screamed Polly, and at that rude speech Amy could not restrain a sniff.

 

第十七章 贝思罹病

整整一个星期这间旧屋子都洋溢着一股勤勉、谦和之风,其风之盛,足以延及邻里。这颇令人费解,因为大家似乎心情奇佳,个个都自我克制。但当她们思虑父亲的心情得到缓解之后,姑娘们便不知不觉地放松了劲儿,又开始回复到旧日的样子。她们并没有忘记自己的座右铭,只是这种期待、忙碌的日子似乎变得没有那么难熬了,经过了种种劳顿之后,她们觉得应该放个假来犒赏犒赏自己的努力,于是一放便放了许多。

乔因一时大意,没有包好剪了头发的脑袋,得了重感冒,被勒令呆在家里养病,因为马奇婶婶不喜欢听人读书发出塞鼻音。乔喜之不尽,使足了九牛二虎之力翻箱倒柜,从阁楼搜罗到地窖,然后坐到沙发上服药看书,悠悠然地养起病来。

艾美发现家务和艺术原来并不是一回事,便又摆弄她的泥饼去了。梅格天天去教她的学生,在家时便做些针线活,或自以为是在做,却常常拈着针线出神儿,而更多的时候是给妈妈写长信,反复咀嚼来自华盛顿的快信。只有贝思坚持不懈,极少躲懒或悲天悯人。

贝思每天都忠实地做好一切琐碎的家务。因为她的姐妹们都善忘,再兼屋子里群龙无首,她便把许多属于她们的工作也揽了过来。每当她思念父母、心情沉重的时候,她就独自走到一个衣柜边,把脸埋在旧衣服里,悄悄呜咽一阵,轻声祷告几句。没有人知道是什么使她在一阵哭泣之后重新振作起来,但大家都分明感觉到她是多么的温柔可亲、善解人意、乐于助人,于是每逢遇上哪怕是丁点儿的小问题都喜欢找她排解。

大家都没有意识到这次经历是对品格的一种考验。当第一阶段的紧张过后,她们都觉得自己表现良好,值得赞扬。她们也确实表现不俗,但却犯了一个错误,那就是没有再坚持下去。这个错误使她们付出了沉重的代价,令她们忧心如焚,痛悔不已。

“梅格,我想你去看看赫梅尔一家;你知道妈妈吩咐过我们别把他们给忘了,“贝思在马奇太太离别后的第十天这样说。

“今天下午不行,我累得走不了,”梅格答道,一面做针线活一面舒服地坐在椅子里摇着。

“你去行吗,乔?”贝思又问。

“风太大,我感冒不能出去。”

“我以为你已经好了呢。”

“跟劳里出去还可以,但去赫梅尔家就不行。”乔笑一声,想勉强自圆其说,但神情却显得有点惭愧。

“你为什么自己不去?”梅格问。

“我每天都去的,但是婴儿病了,我不知道该怎么办。赫梅尔太太出去上班了,婴儿由洛珊照顾,但他的病越来越重,我想你们或者罕娜应该去看看。”贝思说得十分恳切,梅格答应明天去一趟。

“向罕娜要点好吃的东西带过去,贝思,外面的空气对你有好处,”乔说,又抱歉地加上一句,”我也愿意去,但我想把故事写完。”“我头痛,而且疲倦得很,我想你们哪个能去一趟,”贝思说。

“艾美马上就要回来了,让她代我们跑一趟,”梅格提议。

“那好吧,我歇一歇,等等她。”

贝思说罢在沙发上躺下来,两位姐姐重新操起自己的活儿,赫梅尔一家的事被抛到九霄云外。一个小时过去了;艾美没有回来,梅格走进自己的房间试她的新裙子,乔全神贯注地写她的故事,罕娜对着厨房的炉火酣睡,这时,贝思轻手轻脚地戴上帽子,往篮子里装上一些零碎的东西,带给可怜的孩子们,然后挺着沉重的脑袋,走进了刺骨的寒风中,她那宽容的眼睛中分明有一种伤心的神色。

她回来时天色已晚,她悄悄爬到楼上,把自己独自关在母亲的房间里,没有人注意到她。半小时后,乔到"妈咪角"找东西,这才发现贝思坐在药箱上,神情极为严峻,眼睛哭得通红,手里还拿着一个樟脑瓶。

“我的天哪!出了什么事?”乔叫了起来。贝思伸出手,似要示意她避开,一面快声问道:“你以前得过猩红热,对吗?”“好些年前了,和梅格一同得的。怎么了?”“那我就告诉你。噢,乔,那婴儿死了!”“什么婴儿?”“赫梅尔太太家的;在赫梅尔太太回家之前,他就死在了我膝上,”贝思啜泣道。

“我可怜的宝贝,这对于你来说是多么恐怖!应该是我去的,”乔边说边伸出双臂扶着妹妹在母亲的大椅子上坐下来,露出一脸痛悔之色。

“我不觉得恐怖,乔,只觉得伤心欲绝!我一下子就看出他病得很重了,但洛珊说她妈妈出去找医生了,我便抱过婴儿,让洛蒂歇歇。当时他似乎痉挛起来,然后便一动不动地躺着。我跟他焐脚,洛蒂喂他牛奶,但他却纹丝不动,我知道他死了!”“别哭,亲爱的,那你怎么办呢?”“我坐在那儿轻轻地抱着他,直到赫梅尔太太把医生带来。医生说他已咽了气,接着又瞧瞧患喉咙痛的海因里希和明娜。''猩红热,太太,你应该早一点叫我,''他怒气冲冲地说。赫梅尔太太解释说,她很穷,只好自己替婴儿治病,但现在一切都已经太迟了,她只能求他帮其他几个孩子看看,费用等慈善机构支付。他听后才露出了笑意,态度也亲切了一些。婴儿死得这么惨,我和大家一起伤心痛哭,这时地突然回过头来,叫我马上回家服颠茄叶,不然,我也会得这个病的。”“不,你不会的!”乔叫道,紧紧抱着妹妹,脸上露出恐惧的神色,”噢,贝思,如果你得病,我不会原谅自己!我们该怎么办?”“别害怕,我想我不会病得很重的。我翻了翻妈妈的书,知道这种病开始时感到头痛,喉咙痛,浑身不得劲,就像我现在这样,于是便服了些颠茄叶,现在觉得好点儿了,”贝思说,一面把冰凉的手放在热辣辣的额头上,强装作没事一般。

“如果妈妈在家就好了!”乔叫道,觉得华盛顿是那么的遥远。她一把夺过书,看了一页,望望贝思,摸摸她的额头,又瞄瞄她的喉咙,严肃地说:“你一个多星期以来每天都在婴儿身边,又和其他几个将要发病的孩子们呆一起;我恐怕你也会得这个病,贝思。我去叫罕娜来,她什么病都懂。”“别让艾美来,她没有得过这种病,我不想传染给她。你和梅格不会再一次得病吧?”贝思担心地问。

“我想不会;要是真得了也不要紧;那是活该,自私的蠢猪,让你去,自己却呆在这里写废话!”乔咕哝着去找罕娜商量。

好罕娜一听吓得睡意全无,马上领头就走,一面安慰乔不用焦急;人人都会患猩红热,只要治得当,谁也不会死——乔相信不疑,心里也觉得轻松多了,两人一面说一面上去叫梅格。

“现在我告诉你们该怎么办,”罕娜说。她把贝思检查了一遍,又问了些问题。“我们请邦斯医生来给你看看,亲爱的,让他指点我们该怎么做;然后我们送艾美上马奇婶婶家躲几天,免得她也被传染上。你们姐妹留一个在家,陪贝思一两天。“当然是我留,我最大!”梅格抢先说道,她看上去十分焦急和自责。

“应该我留,因为她得病全是我的错;我跟妈妈说过我来跑差事,但却没有做到,”乔坚定地说。

“你要哪一个呢,贝思?一个就行了,”罕娜说。

“乔吧。”贝思心满意足地把头靠在姐姐身上,问题于是迎刃而解。

“我去告诉艾美,”梅格说。她有点不高兴,但也松了口气,因为她并不喜欢当护理,乔却喜欢。

艾美死不从命,激动地宣布她宁愿得猩红热也不愿去马奇婶婶家。梅格跟她又是商量,又是恳求,又是逼迫,无奈都是白费心机,艾美坚决反抗,就是不肯去。梅格只得绝望地弃下她去找罕娜求救。就在她出去的当儿,劳里走进客厅,看到艾美把头埋在沙发垫里抽抽咽咽哭得好不伤心。她诉出自己的委屈,满心希望能得到一番安慰。但劳里只是把双手插在口袋里,在房间里踱来踱去,一面轻轻吹着口哨,一面拧紧眉头苦苦思索。不一会,他在她身边坐下来,又诱又哄地说道:“做个明事理的小妇人吧,听她们的话。好了,别哭了,我告诉你一条妙计。你去马奇婶婶家,我每天都来接你出去,或是乘车,或是散步,我们玩个痛快。那岂不比闷在这里要好?”“我不想被这么打发走,好像我碍着她们似的,”艾美用一种受伤的口吻说道。

“你怎么能这样想,这都是为你好。你也不想生病吧?”“不想,当然不想;但我敢说我可能也会得病,因为我一直跟贝思在一起。”“那你就更应该马上离开,免得被传染上。换一个环境,小心保养,这样对你的身体更有好处,即使有病,也不至于病得那么严重。我建议你尽早起程,猩红热可不是闹着玩的,小姐。”“但马奇婶婶家那么沉闷,她脾气又这么坏,”艾美面露惧色地说。

“有我每天上那里告诉你贝思的情况,带你出去游逛,你就不会闷了,老太太喜欢我,我多哄哄她,她就会由着我们,不来找我们的茬了。”“你能用那辆小跑车接我出去吗?”“我以绅士的名誉保证。”“每天都来?”“绝无戏言。”“贝思的病一好就带我回来?”“一言为定。”

“真的上戏院?”

“上一打戏院,如果可能的话。”

“嗯——那么——我答应,”艾美慢慢地说。

“好姑娘!叫梅格来,告诉她你服从了。”劳里满意地在艾美身上轻轻一拍,却不知这一拍比方才"服从"二字更令艾美恼火。

梅格和乔跑下楼来观看这一奇迹,艾美自命不凡,觉得自己正在作出自我牺牲,答应如果医生证明贝思真的有病,她就去。

“小贝思情况怎么样?”劳里问。他特别宠爱贝思,因此心中万分焦急,但却不想表露出来。

“她现在躺在妈妈的床上,感到好些了,婴儿的死使她受了刺激,但我敢说她只是患了伤风,罕娜说她是这么认为的,但她显得神不守舍,这就让我担心死了,”梅格回答。

“真是祸不单行!”乔说道,情急之中把头发拨得纷乱,”我们一波未平,一波又起。妈妈不在,我们就像失了主心骨,我一点主意也没有了。”“喂,别把自己弄得像头箭猪,这样并不好看。把头发弄好,乔,告诉我是发封电报给你妈妈呢,还是做点什么?”劳里问。他一直对他的朋友把一头秀发剪掉耿耿于怀。

“我正为这犯难,”梅格说,”如果贝思真的得了病,按理我们应该告诉她,但罕娜说我们不必这样做,因为妈妈不能搁下爸爸,告诉她只能让他们干着急。贝思不会病很久,罕娜知道该怎么做,再说妈妈吩咐过我们要听她的话,所以我想我们还是不要发电报,但我总觉得有点不对劲。”“唔,这个,我也说不清。不如等医生来看过之后你问问爷爷。”“对。乔,快去请邦斯医生,”梅格下达命令,“要等他来了我们才能作出决定。”“你别动,乔。跑腿工夫我来做,”劳里说着拿起帽子。

“我怕会耽搁你的时间呢,”梅格说。

“不会,我已经做好今天的作业了。”

“你假期也学习吗?”乔问。

“我是向我的好邻居学习而已,”劳里答罢一头冲出房间。

“我的好小伙日后必成大器。”乔望着他跃过篱笆,微笑赞叹。

“他干得很不错——对一个男孩子而言,”梅格颇不识趣地回答。她对这个话题不感兴趣。

邦斯医生诊断后,说贝思有猩红热的症状,但不会得什么大玻不过,他听了赫梅尔家的事后,显得十分严肃。艾美被命立即离开,并带上防治猩红热的药用品隆重启程,乔和劳里伴随左右,一路护送而去。

马奇婶婶拿出一贯的待客之道接待他们。”你们现在想怎么样?”她问道,两道锐利的目光从眼镜上框射出来,此时,站在她椅子后头的鹦鹉大声叫道——“走开。男孩子不能进来。”劳里退到窗边,乔道出原委。

“果然不出我所料,一让你们混到穷人堆里就出事了。艾美如果没有得病,可以留下干点活儿,不过我肯定她也会病的——看这模样就像有玻别哭,孩子,一听到人抽鼻子我就心烦。”艾美正要哭出来,劳里狡猾地扯扯鹦鹉的尾巴,鹦哥吓得嘎地叫了一声:“哎呀,完了!”模样十分滑稽,引得艾美破涕为笑。

“你们母亲来信怎么说?”老太太硬邦邦地问道。

“父亲好多了,”乔拚命忍着笑,答道。

“哦,是吗?下过,我看也熬不了多久。马奇一向都没有什么耐力。”老太太的回答确实让人不敢恭维。

“哈,哈!千万别说死,吸一撮鼻烟,再见,再见!”鹦哥尖声高叫,在椅子上跳来跳去,劳里在它的尾部一捏,它便一把抓住了老太太的帽子。

“闭嘴,你这下作的破鸟!嗳,乔,你最好现在就走,这成何体统,这么晚了还跟一个没头没脑的小伙子游荡——”“闭嘴,你这下作的破鸟!”鹦哥高叫道,从椅子上一跃而起,冲过来啄这位"没头没脑"的小伙子,劳里听到最后一句早已笑得身子直颤。

“这种生活我不能忍受,但我要尽量忍着,”孤零零地留在马奇婶婶身边的艾美这样想。

“去你的,丑八怪!”鹦哥尖叫。听到这句粗话,艾美也止不住嗤的一声笑了。




CHAPTER EIGHTEEN DARK DAYS

Beth did have the fever, and was much sicker than anyone but Hannah and the doctor suspected. The girls knew nothing about illness, and Mr. Laurence was not allowed to see her, so Hannah had everything her own way, and busy Dr. Bangs did his best, but left a good deal to the excellent nurse. Meg stayed at home, lest she should infect the Kings, and kept house, feeling very anxious and a little guilty when she wrote letters in which no mention was made of Beth's illness. She could not think it right to deceive her mother, but she had been bidden to mind Hannah, and Hannah wouldn't hear of 'Mrs. March bein' told, and worried just for sech a trifle.'

Jo devoted herself to Beth day and night, not a hard task, for Beth was very patient, and bore her pain uncomplainingly as long as she could control herself. But there came a time when during the fever fits she began to talk in a hoarse, broken voice, to play on the coverlet as if on her beloved little piano, and try to sing with a throat so swollen that there was no music left, a time when she did not know the familiar faces around her, but addressed them by wrong names, and called imploringly for her mother. Then Jo grew frightened, Meg begged to be allowed to write the truth, and even Hannah said she 'would think of it, though there was no danger yet'. A letter from Washington added to their trouble, for Mr. March had had a relapse, and could not think of coming home for a long while.

How dark the days seemed now, how sad and lonely the house, and how heavy were the hearts of the sisters as they worked and waited, while the shadow of death hovered over the once happy home. Then it was that Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often on her work, felt how rich she had been in things more precious than any luxuries money could buy—in love, protection, peace, and health, the real blessings of life. Then it was that Jo, living in the darkened room, with that suffering little sister always before her eyes and that pathetic voice sounding in her ears, learned to see the beauty and the sweetness of Beth's nature, to feel how deep and tender a place she filled in all hearts, and to acknowledge the worth of Beth's unselfish ambition to live for others, and make home happy by that exercise of those simple virtues which all may possess, and which all should love and value more than talent, wealth, or beauty. And Amy, in her exile, longed eagerly to be at home, that she might work for Beth, feeling now that no service would be hard or irksome, and remembering, with regretful grief, how many neglected tasks those willing hands had done for her. Laurie haunted the house like a restless ghost, and Mr. Laurence locked the grand piano, because he could not bear to be reminded of the young neighbor who used to make the twilight pleasant for him. Everyone missed Beth. The milkman, baker, grocer, and butcher inquired how she did, poor Mrs. Hummel came to beg pardon for her thoughtlessness and to get a shroud for Minna, the neighbors sent all sorts of comforts and good wishes, and even those who knew her best were surprised to find how many friends shy little Beth had made.

Meanwhile she lay on her bed with old Joanna at her side, for even in her wanderings she did not forget her forlorn protege. She longed for her cats, but would not have them brought, lest they should get sick, and in her quiet hours she was full of anxiety about Jo. She sent loving messages to Amy, bade them tell her mother that she would write soon, and often begged for pencil and paper to try to say a word, that Father might not think she had neglected him. But soon even these intervals of consciousness ended, and she lay hour after hour, tossing to and fro, with incoherent words on her lips, or sank into a heavy sleep which brought her no refreshment. Dr. Bangs came twice a day, Hannah sat up at night, Meg kept a telegram in her desk all ready to send off at any minute, and Jo never stirred from Beth's side.

The first of December was a wintry day indeed to them, for a bitter wind blew, snow fell fast, and the year seemed getting ready for its death. When Dr. Bangs came that morning, he looked long at Beth, held the hot hand in both his own for a minute, and laid it gently down, saying, in a low voice to Hannah, "If Mrs. March can leave her husband she'd better be sent for."

Hannah nodded without speaking, for her lips twitched nervously, Meg dropped down into a chair as the strength seemed to go out of her limbs at the sound of those words, and Jo, standing with a pale face for a minute, ran to the parlor, snatched up the telegram, and throwing on her things, rushed out into the storm. She was soon back, and while noiselessly taking off her cloak, Laurie came in with a letter, saying that Mr. March was mending again. Jo read it thankfully, but the heavy weight did not seem lifted off her heart, and her face was so full of misery that Laurie asked quickly, "What is it? Is Beth worse?"

"I've sent for Mother," said Jo, tugging at her rubber boots with a tragic expression.

"Good for you, Jo! Did you do it on your own responsibility?" asked Laurie, as he seated her in the hall chair and took off the rebellious boots, seeing how her hands shook.

"No. The doctor told us to."

"Oh, Jo, it's not so bad as that?" cried Laurie, with a startled face.

"Yes, it is. She doesn't know us, she doesn't even talk about the flocks of green doves, as she calls the vine leaves on the wall. She doesn't look like my Beth, and there's nobody to help us bear it. Mother and father both gone, and God seems so far away I can't find Him."

As the tears streamed fast down poor Jo's cheeks, she stretched out her hand in a helpless sort of way, as if groping in the dark, and Laurie took it in his, whispering as well as he could with a lump in his throat, "I'm here. Hold on to me, Jo, dear!"

She could not speak, but she did 'hold on', and the warm grasp of the friendly human hand comforted her sore heart, and seemed to lead her nearer to the Divine arm which alone could uphold her in her trouble.

Laurie longed to say something tender and comfortable, but no fitting words came to him, so he stood silent, gently stroking her bent head as her mother used to do. It was the best thing he could have done, far more soothing than the most eloquent words, for Jo felt the unspoken sympathy, and in the silence learned the sweet solace which affection administers to sorrow. Soon she dried the tears which had relieved her, and looked up with a grateful face.

"Thank you, Teddy, I'm better now. I don't feel so forlorn, and will try to bear it if it comes."

"Keep hoping for the best, that will help you, Jo. Soon your mother will be here, and then everything will be all right."

"I'm so glad Father is better. Now she won't feel so bad about leaving him. Oh, me! It does seem as if all the troubles came in a heap, and I got the heaviest part on my shoulders," sighed Jo, spreading her wet handkerchief over her knees to dry.

"Doesn't Meg pull fair?" asked Laurie, looking indignant.

"Oh, yes, she tries to, but she can't love Bethy as I do, and she won't miss her as I shall. Beth is my conscience, and I can't give her up. I can't! I can't!"

Down went Jo's face into the wet handkerchief, and she cried despairingly, for she had kept up bravely till now and never shed a tear. Laurie drew his hand across his eyes, but could not speak till he had subdued the choky feeling in his throat and steadied his lips. It might be unmanly, but he couldn't help it, and I am glad of it. Presently, as Jo's sobs quieted, he said hopefully, "I don't think she will die. She's so good, and we all love her so much, I don't believe God will take her away yet."

"The good and dear people always do die," groaned Jo, but she stopped crying, for her friend's words cheered her up in spite of her own doubts and fears.

"Poor girl, you're worn out. It isn't like you to be forlorn. Stop a bit. I'll hearten you up in a jiffy."

Laurie went off two stairs at a time, and Jo laid her wearied head down on Beth's little brown hood, which no one had thought of moving from the table where she left it. It must have possessed some magic, for the submissive spirit of its gentle owner seemed to enter into Jo, and when Laurie came running down with a glass of wine, she took it with a smile, and said bravely, "I drink? Health to my Beth! You are a good doctor, Teddy, and such a comfortable friend. How can I ever pay you?" she added, as the wine refreshed her body, as the kind words had done her troubled mind.

"I'll send my bill, by-and-by, and tonight I'll give you something that will warm the cockles of your heart better than quarts of wine," said Laurie, beaming at her with a face of suppressed satisfaction at something.

"What is it?" cried Jo, forgetting her woes for a minute in her wonder.

"I telegraphed to your mother yesterday, and Brooke answered she'd come at once, and she'll be here tonight, and everything will be all right. Aren't you glad I did it?"

Laurie spoke very fast, and turned red and excited all in a minute, for he had kept his plot a secret, for fear of disappointing the girls or harming Beth. Jo grew quite white, flew out of her chair, and the moment he stopped speaking she electrified him by throwing her arms round his neck, and crying out, with a joyful cry, "Oh, Laurie! Oh, Mother! I am so glad!" She did not weep again, but laughed hysterically, and trembled and clung to her friend as if she was a little bewildered by the sudden news.

Laurie, though decidedly amazed, behaved with great presence of mind. He patted her back soothingly, and finding that she was recovering, followed it up by a bashful kiss or two, which brought Jo round at once. Holding on to the banisters, she put him gently away, saying breathlessly, "Oh, don't! I didn't mean to, it was dreadful of me, but you were such a dear to go and do it in spite of Hannah that I couldn't help flying at you. Tell me all about it, and don't give me wine again, it makes me act so."

"I don't mind," laughed Laurie, as he settled his tie. "Why, you see I got fidgety, and so did Grandpa. We thought Hannah was overdoing the authority business, and your mother ought to know. She'd never forgive us if Beth... Well, if anything happened, you know. So I got grandpa to say it was high time we did something, and off I pelted to the office yesterday, for the doctor looked sober, and Hannah most took my head off when I proposed a telegram. I never can bear to be 'lorded over', so that settled my mind, and I did it. Your mother will come, I know, and the late train is in at two A.M. I shall go for her, and you've only got to bottle up your rapture, and keep Beth quiet till that blessed lady gets here."

"Laurie, you're an angel! How shall I ever thank you?"

"Fly at me again. I rather liked it," said Laurie, looking mischievous, a thing he had not done for a fortnight.

"No, thank you. I'll do it by proxy, when your grandpa comes. Don't tease, but go home and rest, for you'll be up half the night. Bless you, Teddy, bless you!"

Jo had backed into a corner, and as she finished her speech, she vanished precipitately into the kitchen, where she sat down upon a dresser and told the assembled cats that she was "happy, oh, so happy!" while Laurie departed, feeling that he had made a rather neat thing of it.

"That's the interferingest chap I ever see, but I forgive him and do hope Mrs. March is coming right away," said Hannah, with an air of relief, when Jo told the good news.

Meg had a quiet rapture, and then brooded over the letter, while Jo set the sickroom in order, and Hannah "knocked up a couple of pies in case of company unexpected". A breath of fresh air seemed to blow through the house, and something better than sunshine brightened the quiet rooms. Everything appeared to feel the hopeful change. Beth's bird began to chirp again, and a half-blown rose was discovered on Amy's bush in the window. The fires seemed to burn with unusual cheeriness, and every time the girls met, their pale faces broke into smiles as they hugged one another, whispering encouragingly, "Mother's coming, dear! Mother's coming!" Every one rejoiced but Beth. She lay in that heavy stupor, alike unconscious of hope and joy, doubt and danger. It was a piteous sight, the once rosy face so changed and vacant, the once busy hands so weak and wasted, the once smiling lips quite dumb, and the once pretty, well-kept hair scattered rough and tangled on the pillow. All day she lay so, only rousing now and then to mutter, "Water!" with lips so parched they could hardly shape the word. All day Jo and Meg hovered over her, watching, waiting, hoping, and trusting in God and Mother, and all day the snow fell, the bitter wind raged, and the hours dragged slowly by. But night came at last, and every time the clock struck, the sisters, still sitting on either side of the bed, looked at each other with brightening eyes, for each hour brought help nearer. The doctor had been in to say that some change, for better or worse, would probably take place about midnight, at which time he would return.

Hannah, quite worn out, lay down on the sofa at the bed's foot and fell fast asleep, Mr. Laurence marched to and fro in the parlor, feeling that he would rather face a rebel battery than Mrs. March's countenance as she entered. Laurie lay on the rug, pretending to rest, but staring into the fire with the thoughtful look which made his black eyes beautifully soft and clear.

The girls never forgot that night, for no sleep came to them as they kept their watch, with that dreadful sense of powerlessness which comes to us in hours like those.

"If God spares Beth, I never will complain again," whispered Meg earnestly.

"If god spares Beth, I'll try to love and serve Him all my life," answered Jo, with equal fervor.

"I wish I had no heart, it aches so," sighed Meg, after a pause.

"If life is often as hard as this, I don't see how we ever shall get through it," added her sister despondently.

Here the clock struck twelve, and both forgot themselves in watching Beth, for they fancied a change passed over her wan face. The house was still as death, and nothing but the wailing of the wind broke the deep hush. Weary Hannah slept on, and no one but the sisters saw the pale shadow which seemed to fall upon the little bed. An hour went by, and nothing happened except Laurie's quiet departure for the station. Another hour, still no one came, and anxious fears of delay in the storm, or accidents by the way, or, worst of all, a great grief at Washington, haunted the girls.

It was past two, when Jo, who stood at the window thinking how dreary the world looked in its winding sheet of snow, heard a movement by the bed, and turning quickly, saw Meg kneeling before their mother's easy chair with her face hidden. A dreadful fear passed coldly over Jo, as she thought, "Beth is dead, and Meg is afraid to tell me."

She was back at her post in an instant, and to her excited eyes a great change seemed to have taken place. The fever flush and the look of pain were gone, and the beloved little face looked so pale and peaceful in its utter repose that Jo felt no desire to weep or to lament. Leaning low over this dearest of her sisters, she kissed the damp forehead with her heart on her lips, and softly whispered, "Good-by, my Beth. Good-by!"

As if awaked by the stir, Hannah started out of her sleep, hurried to the bed, looked at Beth, felt her hands, listened at her lips, and then, throwing her apron over her head, sat down to rock to and fro, exclaiming, under her breath, "The fever's turned, she's sleepin' nat'ral, her skin's damp, and she breathes easy. Praise be given! Oh, my goodness me!"

Before the girls could believe the happy truth, the doctor came to confirm it. He was a homely man, but they thought his face quite heavenly when he smiled and said, with a fatherly look at them, "Yes, my dears, I think the little girl will pull through this time. Keep the house quiet, let her sleep, and when she wakes, give her..."

What they were to give, neither heard, for both crept into the dark hall, and, sitting on the stairs, held each other close, rejoicing with hearts too full for words. When they went back to be kissed and cuddled by faithful Hannah, they found Beth lying, as she used to do, with her cheek pillowed on her hand, the dreadful pallor gone, and breathing quietly, as if just fallen asleep.

"If Mother would only come now!" said Jo, as the winter night began to wane.

"See," said Meg, coming up with a white, half-opened rose, "I thought this would hardly be ready to lay in Beth's hand tomorrow if she—went away from us. But it has blossomed in the night, and now I mean to put it in my vase here, so that when the darling wakes, the first thing she sees will be the little rose, and Mother's face."

Never had the sun risen so beautifully, and never had the world seemed so lovely as it did to the heavy eyes of Meg and Jo, as they looked out in the early morning, when their long, sad vigil was done.

"It looks like a fairy world," said Meg, smiling to herself, as she stood behind the curtain, watching the dazzling sight.

"Hark!" cried Jo, starting to her feet.

Yes, there was a sound of bells at the door below, a cry from Hannah, and then Laurie's voice saying in a joyful whisper, "Girls, she's come! She's come!"

 

第十八章 黑暗的日子

贝思果然得了猩红热,病情比大家估计的要严重得多,但罕娜和医生认为并无大碍。姑娘们对疾病一无所知,劳伦斯先生又因医生的嘱咐不能来看她,于是一切都由罕娜做主,忙碌的邦斯医生也尽力而为,但把许多功夫留给优秀护理乔来做。梅格为避免把病传染给金斯一家而留在家里料理家事,每当她提起笔来写信时,心里就焦虑不安,并有一种负罪感,因为她不能在信中提及贝思的玻她觉得瞒着母亲并不对,但母亲吩咐过要听罕娜的话,而罕娜却不愿"让马奇太太知道,为这么一桩小事而操心"。乔日以继夜地侍候贝思——这任务并不艰巨,因为贝思十分坚强,一声不吭地忍受着身体上的痛苦,只要她能控制住自己。但有一次猩红热发作时,她声音嘶哑地说起了胡话,把床罩当作自己心爱的小钢琴弹起来,并试图唱歌,终因喉咙肿胀而无法唱出来;另一次,她连身边那几张熟悉的面孔也认不出来,竟把亲人叫错了,还一声声地哀叫母亲。乔被吓坏了,梅格也求罕娜让她写信告知真相,甚至罕娜也说:“虽然还没有危险,但同意考虑考虑。”而此时,华盛顿又发来一信,告知她们马奇先生病情恶化了,短期内不可能回家,这更增添了她们的烦恼。

日子变得黯然无光,屋子里满目凄凉,冷冷清清,一度幸福洋溢的家现在笼罩在一片死寂般的阴影下,姐妹们边干边等待,心情是何等沉重!梅格常常独坐一角,一面干活一面掉眼泪。她深深体会到有些宝贵的东西是无法用金钱买到的——爱、平安、健康和真正的人生幸福,自己以前能拥有这一切是多么富足。乔住在阴沉的房间里,亲眼看着妹妹遭受病痛的折磨,听到妹妹因病痛而发出的呻吟声,更体会到贝思的天性是多么善良、美好,她在大家心目中的位置又是多么重要。为他人无私奉献、为家庭创造幸福,每个人都应该把这当作比财富、美貌都更有价值的东西来热爱和珍惜。

寄人篱下的艾美热切地盼望着能够回家为贝思尽点心意,她现在不再觉得家务是件令人烦闷的苦差事了。每当想到贝思自愿为她做的许多被忽略掉的活儿时,她就又是惭愧又是心酸。劳里整日愁眉锁眼,像个不安宁的鬼魂一样在屋子里游转。劳伦斯先生锁上了大钢琴,因为他无法忍受一看到大钢琴就想到他的小邻居曾给他带来多少黄昏的慰藉。大家都惦记着贝思。送奶的、面包师傅、杂货店老板、肉贩都询问她的情况,可怜的赫梅尔太太过来为明娜拿寿衣时请求大家原谅她的愚昧无知,邻居们也纷纷送上各式各样的慰问品和祝福,连最熟悉她的人此刻都诧异,腼腆的小贝思竟然交了这么多朋友。

此时贝思躺在床上,身边是她心爱的乔安娜,即使在神志恍惚之际她也没有忘记这个身世悲惨的玩偶。她也舍不得那几只猫儿,但因担心它们会染上病而没有让人把它们放在身边。病情安定的时候,她总是忧心忡忡,唯恐乔会有个三长两短。她问候艾美,请姐妹们告诉母亲她很快就会写信去,并常常求她们给她纸和笔,勉强写上片言只语,使父亲不至于以为自己忽略了他。但不久这种短暂的清醒状态也结束了,她一卧不起,在床上翻来覆去,语无伦次地说些胡话,有时又昏昏睡去,醒来时仍然气息奄奄。邦斯医生一天来两次,罕娜晚间守夜,梅格写好一封电报放在书桌上,准备随时发出,乔更是不敢从贝思身边移开半步。

十二月一日对她们来说是个名符其实的严冬。这天寒风呼啸、大雪纷飞,似乎预示着这一年气数已荆当邦斯医生这天早上过来的时候,他久久望着贝思,把她那热得烫人的手放在自己双手里紧紧握了一会,然后轻轻放下,声调低沉地对罕娜说:“如果马奇太太能够离开丈夫,最好现在回来一趟。”罕娜点点头,说不出一句话语,只是紧张得双唇不断地抖动;梅格闻听此言,仿佛四肢的力量被抽了个精光,一下跌倒在椅子上;乔脸色煞白地呆了一会,跑到客厅,一把抓起电报,仓皇披上衣帽,一头冲进狂风暴雪之中。她很快便回来了,正轻轻脱下大衣的时候,劳里手持一封信走进来,告诉她马奇先生的病情又好转了。乔激动地把信读了一遍,但心情仍然异常沉重,劳里见她神情悲恸,忙问:“怎么了?贝思的病又重了吗?”“我已经通知了妈妈,”乔说,阴沉着脸使劲脱她的胶靴。

“做得对,乔!是你的主意吗?”劳里问道。他看到乔双手直抖,靴子一时脱不下来,便把她扶到大厅里的椅子上坐下帮她脱。

“不。是医生吩咐的。”

“啊呀,乔,不至于这么糟糕吧?”劳里大吃一惊,叫了起来。

“正是这么糟糕;她已认不出我们,也不谈她的绿鸽子了,她原来一直把爬在墙上的藤叶叫做绿鸽子的。她变得不像我的贝思了。现在没有人能帮助我们,爸爸妈妈都不在,上帝也似乎遥不可及。”泪水顺着乔的双颊大滴大滴滚落,她六神无主地伸出手,仿佛在黑暗中摸索,劳里一把把她的手握住,只觉得喉咙也哽住了,好不容易才轻声说道:“我在这里呢。抓紧我吧,乔,亲爱的!”乔说不出话,但却真的把他"抓紧"了。这样执着劳里温暖友好的手,她又酸又痛的心舒缓了一些,在她遇到困境的时候可以独立支撑她的上帝之手仿佛也离她更近了些。劳里很想说几句贴心的宽慰话,一时却找不到合适的词语,只是一言不发地站着,无限怜爱地轻轻抚摸着她低下来的脑袋。

这种无声的抚慰胜似千言万语。乔感到了这无声的怜爱,在静默之中体会到了这由喜爱加在悲哀中的甜甜的宽慰,心里觉得好受些了,便把眼泪擦干,感激地抬起头来。

“谢谢你,特迪,我现在好些了,也没那么绝望了。万一真的发生什么不测,我也会勇敢面对的。”“保持乐观,那会给你力量的,乔。你妈妈很快就会回来,那时一切都会好起来的。”“幸好爸爸病情好转了;这样妈妈回来也不至于放心不下。噢,老天!怎么灾祸来了一个又一个,我身上的担子比?谁的都重。”乔叹了一口气,把她的湿手绢打开,铺在膝头上风干。

“难道梅格不和你分担吗?”劳里气愤地问。

“噢,分的,她也努力分担,但她不能像我这样爱贝思,也不会像我那么怀念她。贝思是我的心肝,我不能失去她。我不能!我不能!”乔把脸埋在湿手绢里,失声痛哭,刚才她一直坚强地忍着,没有流一滴泪。劳里用手抹抹眼睛,想说点什么,但只觉得嗓子眼被什么东西堵住了,嘴唇也在不停颤抖。这也许没有男子气,但他忍不住,我对此深感高兴。一会儿,待乔的啜平静了下来,他这才满怀希望地说:“我想她不会死的;她这么善良,我们又这么爱她,我不信上帝就这样把她夺走。”“好人总是活不长,”乔咕咕哝哝地说道,不过她止住了哭,因为尽管她心里充满了怀疑和恐惧,但朋友的话却使她精神一振。

“可怜的姑娘,你是累坏了。你不是这么悲观的人。歇口气儿,我这就让你抖擞起来。”劳里两级并作一级跑上楼去,乔把昏沉沉的脑袋伏在贝思那顶棕色小帽上面。这顶小帽子被主人放在桌子上,一直原封未动。大概它拥有一种魔力,因为乔似乎变得跟它的主人一样柔顺。此时劳里捧着一杯酒跑下楼来,她微笑着接过,坚强地说:“我喝——为贝思的身体健康!你是个好医生,特迪,又是个这么善解人意的朋友,我不知道怎样才能报答你?”她又加了一句,这时酒恢复了她的体力,劳里的宽慰话也让她的精神为之一振。

“不消多久我自会向你讨债,不过今晚我想送你一样比酒更能让你心里暖和的东西,”劳里边说边望着她笑,脸上情不自禁地露出得意之色。

“什么东西?”乔惊讶地问,暂时忘记了痛苦。

“我昨天给你妈妈发了一封电报,布鲁克回电说马上回来,今天晚上就能到家,那时一切都好办了。我这样做你喜欢吗?”劳里说得很快,脸色转眼间便因激动而变得通红。由于担心会令姑娘们失望和伤了贝思的心,他一直守着这个秘密。

乔脸色发白地从座椅中一跃而起,待他一住口便直扑过去,用双臂搂紧他的膀子,高兴地又叫又喊:“啊,劳里!啊,妈妈!

我高兴死了!”她不再啜泣,而是歇斯底里地笑起来,一面颤抖一面搂紧她的朋友,仿佛被这突如起来的消息弄得意乱神迷。

劳里大吃了一惊,却表现得相当镇定;他轻轻拍着她的背脊,见她正逐渐恢复过来,便腼腆地在她脸上吻了一两下。

乔刹那间如梦方醒。她扶着楼梯扶手,把他轻轻推开,气喘吁吁地说:“噢,别这样!我刚才昏了头,不是故意要扑向你,你这么听话,竟然不顾罕娜的反对给妈妈发电报,所以我忍不祝把事情经过告诉我吧,别再给我酒喝了,它令我胡作非为。”“这我倒不介意,”劳里笑道,一面理好领带,”是这样,你知道我和爷爷都十分焦急,我们认为罕娜僭越职权,而你妈妈应该知道这事。如果贝思——如果一旦出了事,她永远都不会原谅我们。所以我让爸爸说出该采取行动这话,昨天便飞快赶到邮局,你也知道医生神色严峻,而罕娜一听说发电报就几乎要拧下我的脑袋。我一向不能忍受被人''管制'',于是打定主意,把电报发了。你妈妈就要回来,我知道火车凌晨两点到站,我去接,你只需收敛一下你的狂喜之情,安顿好贝思,专候佳音。”“劳里,你是个天使!我该如何谢你?”“扑向我吧;我真喜欢那样,”劳里调皮地说。他足足两个星期没有露出这种神色了。

“不,谢谢了。我会找个人代理,等你爷爷来再说吧。别取笑我了,回家休息去吧,你半夜还要起来呢。上帝保佑你,特迪,保佑你!”乔退到一角,话方说完便仓促冲进厨房,消失了身影。她坐在食具柜上告诉那群猫儿她"高兴,呵,真高兴!”此时劳里离开了,觉得自己把事情干得相当利索。

“我从来没见过这么好管闲事的家伙,不过我原谅他,希望马奇太太马上就来,“当乔宣布好消息时,罕娜松了一口气,说道。

梅格不露声色地狂喜一番,然后对信沉思;乔整理病房,罕娜则在"赶快做两个饼,免得还有什么人会一起来"。屋子里仿佛吹过了一阵清风,寂静的房间也被什么比阳光还要明亮的东西照得亮堂起来。每种事情都好像感觉到了这充满希望的变化;贝思的小鸟开始重新鸣唱,艾美的花丛里发现了一朵半开的玫瑰;炉火也燃烧得特别欢畅;梅格和乔每次碰面,苍白的脸上都绽出笑容,她们紧紧拥抱,悄声鼓励:“妈妈就要回来了,亲爱的!妈妈就要回来了!”大家都欢欣鼓舞,只有贝思昏迷不醒,躺在床上,无知无觉,无喜无忧。她的形容令人心碎——原来红润的脸庞变得没有一点血色,原来灵巧的双手瘦得只剩下皮包骨头,原来微笑的双唇几乎找不到气息,原来漂亮整齐的头发零乱不堪地散落在枕头上。整整一天她都这么躺着,只是偶尔醒来才含混不清地说一声:“水!”由于唇干舌燥,声音几乎发不出来;乔和梅格整天都在她身边侍候,照看着、等待着、盼望着,相信上帝和母亲能创造奇迹;整整一天大雪纷飞,狂风怒吼,时间过得特别缓慢。最后,黑夜终于降临。姐妹俩仍然各坐在床的一边,每当时钟敲响便互相交换一下眼色,眼睛闪闪发亮,因为时钟每响一下,希望就拉近一步。医生来过,说大约午夜时分病情就可见分晓,或是好转,或是恶化,他届时再来看视。

疲倦不堪的罕娜倒在床脚边的沙发上,呼呼大睡;劳伦斯先生在客厅里踱来踱去,他宁愿面对一个造反的炮兵连,也不愿看到马奇太太进来时焦不安的神色;劳里躺在地毯上,佯作休息,其实是在盯着火苗想心事,那若有所思的神情使他的黑眼睛显得清澈温柔,异常漂亮。

姐妹两人永远不会忘记那个晚上,她们全无睡意地守候着,深深感受到我们在这种时刻都会感受到的无能为力的痛苦。

“如果上帝赐给贝思一条生路,我一定不再抱怨,”梅格虔诚低语。

“如果上帝赐给贝思一条生路,我一定爱他敬他,终生做他的奴仆,”乔同样热诚地回答。

梅格一阵无言,转而叹了一口气:“我宁愿做个无心之人,免遭这种钻心之痛。“如果生活是这样灾难深重,我不知道我们怎样才能熬到出头,”乔沮丧地说。

此时时钟敲响十二下,两人一心守护着贝思,早就忘掉了自己,恍惚间觉得那张状如死灰的脸庞掠过一丝变化。屋里依然一片死寂,只有呼号的狂风打破这深深的寂静。倦极的罕娜仍在酣睡,姐妹两人看到贝思的脸色开始泛白,犹如有一个白色的幽灵在床上作祟。一个小时过去了,情况依旧,只听到劳里的车悄悄往车站去了。又过了一个小时——仍不见有人来,姐妹俩心里开始七上八下,一会儿担心母亲被暴风雪耽搁,一会儿又担心路上发生意外,更害怕华盛顿那边发生什么不测。

已是深夜两点多钟,乔站在窗边,正在感叹这雪花漫卷的世界是多么乏味,突然听到床边什么东西响了一下,赶紧回头一望,只见梅格掩脸跪在母亲的安乐椅前。乔吓得心胆俱裂,浑身发凉,暗暗想道:“贝思去了,梅格不敢告诉我。”她立即走回床前,激动的双眼仿佛看到了惊人的变化。贝思退了烧,痛苦的神情已经消失,仿佛沉沉睡去,那张可爱的小脸显得异常苍白而平静,乔见状竟感觉不到生离死别的痛苦。她弯下身子,注视着这位自己最疼爱的妹妹,在她湿漉漉的额头上深深一吻,轻声说道:“再见!我的贝思,再见!”也许是听到了响动,罕娜蓦然惊醒,三步并作两步走到床前,看看贝思,摸摸她的双手,听一下鼻息,接着把围裙向头上一抛,坐在椅子上摇来摇去,压低声音叫道:“烧热退掉了!她正在熟睡,皮肤汗津津的,气息也平和了。谢天谢地!噢,老天可怜!”姐妹两人尚在半信半疑,医生进来证实了这个喜讯。医生是一个普通的男人,但此刻她们觉得他的面孔简直是超凡卓绝。他用慈父般的眼神看着她们,微笑说:“不错,好孩子,我想小姑娘这次可以闯过难关的。保持房间安静,让她睡去,她醒来的时候,给她——"到底给她什么,两人都没有听到,她们悄悄走进漆黑的大厅,坐在楼梯上,互相紧紧拥抱,心中那份狂喜非笔墨可以形容。当她们走回去接受忠诚的罕娜的吻和拥抱时,她们发现贝思像往常一样,手枕脸颊而睡,原来死灰般的脸色已经变得有了生气,呼吸轻柔,仿佛刚刚进入梦乡。

“如果妈妈现在出现就好了!”乔说。此时冬夜已开始进入尾声。

“看,”梅格手持一朵半开的白玫瑰走过来说道,”我原以为这朵花明天还不能绽开,赶不及放到贝思手中,如果她——离开我们的话。但它竟在夜间开了,我这就把它插到花瓶里供着,摆在这儿,这样等好贝思醒来的时候,她第一眼看见的就是这朵小玫瑰和妈妈的面孔。”痛苦的漫漫长夜终于过去了,第二天一早,不眠不歇地守了整整一夜的乔和梅格睁着疲倦的眼睛向外望去,只见云蒸霞蔚,整个世界显得异常美丽动人。

“真像个童话世界。”梅格站在帘后,观赏着这异彩纷呈的景色,独自微笑起来。

“听!”乔跳起来叫道。

此时,下面门口传来一阵铃声,只听得罕娜叫了一声,接着又听到了劳里欣喜地悄悄说道:“姑娘们,她来了!她来了!”




CHAPTER NINETEEN AMY'S WILL

While these things were happening at home, Amy was having hard times at Aunt March's. She felt her exile deeply, and for the first time in her life, realized how much she was beloved and petted at home. Aunt March never petted any one; she did not approve of it, but she meant to be kind, for the well-behaved little girl pleased her very much, and Aunt March had a soft place in her old heart for her nephew's children, though she didn't think it proper to confess it. She really did her best to make Amy happy, but, dear me, what mistakes she made. Some old people keep young at heart in spite of wrinkles and gray hairs, can sympathize with children's little cares and joys, make them feel at home, and can hide wise lessons under pleasant plays, giving and receiving friendship in the sweetest way. But Aunt March had not this gift, and she worried Amy very much with her rules and orders, her prim ways, and long, prosy talks. Finding the child more docile and amiable than her sister, the old lady felt it her duty to try and counteract, as far as possible, the bad effects of home freedom and indulgence. So she took Amy by the hand, and taught her as she herself had been taught sixty years ago, a process which carried dismay to Amy's soul, and made her feel like a fly in the web of a very strict spider.

She had to wash the cups every morning, and polish up the old-fashioned spoons, the fat silver teapot, and the glasses till they shone. Then she must dust the room, and what a trying job that was. Not a speck escaped Aunt March's eye, and all the furniture had claw legs and much carving, which was never dusted to suit. Then Polly had to be fed, the lap dog combed, and a dozen trips upstairs and down to get things or deliver orders, for the old lady was very lame and seldom left her big chair. After these tiresome labors, she must do her lessons, which was a daily trial of every virtue she possessed. Then she was allowed one hour for exercise or play, and didn't she enjoy it?

Laurie came every day, and wheedled Aunt March till Amy was allowed to go out with him, when they walked and rode and had capital times. After dinner, she had to read aloud, and sit still while the old lady slept, which she usually did for an hour, as she dropped off over the first page. Then patchwork or towels appeared, and Amy sewed with outward meekness and inward rebellion till dusk, when she was allowed to amuse herself as she liked till teatime. The evenings were the worst of all, for Aunt March fell to telling long stories about her youth, which were so unutterably dull that Amy was always ready to go to bed, intending to cry over her hard fate, but usually going to sleep before she had squeezed out more than a tear or two.

If it had not been for Laurie, and old Esther, the maid, she felt that she never could have got through that dreadful time. The parrot alone was enough to drive her distracted, for he soon felt that she did not admire him, and revenged himself by being as mischievous as possible. He pulled her hair whenever she came near him, upset his bread and milk to plague her when she had newly cleaned his cage, made Mop bark by pecking at him while Madam dozed, called her names before company, and behaved in all respects like an reprehensible old bird. Then she could not endure the dog, a fat, cross beast who snarled and yelped at her when she made his toilet, and who lay on his back with all his legs in the air and a most idiotic expression of countenance when he wanted something to eat, which was about a dozen times a day. The cook was bad-tempered, the old coachman was deaf, and Esther the only one who ever took any notice of the young lady.

Esther was a Frenchwoman, who had lived with 'Madame', as she called her mistress, for many years, and who rather tyrannized over the old lady, who could not get along without her. Her real name was Estelle, but Aunt March ordered her to change it, and she obeyed, on condition that she was never asked to change her religion. She took a fancy to Mademoiselle, and amused her very much with odd stories of her life in France, when Amy sat with her while she got up Madame's laces. She also allowed her to roam about the great house, and examine the curious and pretty things stored away in the big wardrobes and the ancient chests, for Aunt March hoarded like a magpie. Amy's chief delight was an Indian cabinet, full of queer drawers, little pigeonholes, and secret places, in which were kept all sorts of ornaments, some precious, some merely curious, all more or less antique. To examine and arrange these things gave Amy great satisfaction, especially the jewel cases, in which on velvet cushions reposed the ornaments which had adorned a belle forty years ago. There was the garnet set which Aunt March wore when she came out, the pearls her father gave her on her wedding day, her lover's diamonds, the jet mourning rings and pins, the queer lockets, with portraits of dead friends and weeping willows made of hair inside, the baby bracelets her one little daughter had worn, Uncle March's big watch, with the red seal so many childish hands had played with, and in a box all by itself lay Aunt March's wedding ring, too small now for her fat finger, but put carefully away like the most precious jewel of them all.

"Which would Mademoiselle choose if she had her will?" asked Esther, who always sat near to watch over and lock up the valuables.

"I like the diamonds best, but there is no necklace among them, and I'm fond of necklaces, they are so becoming. I should choose this if I might," replied Amy, looking with great admiration at a string of gold and ebony beads from which hung a heavy cross of the same.

"I, too, covet that, but not as a necklace. Ah, no! To me it is a rosary, and as such I should use it like a good catholic," said Esther, eyeing the handsome thing wistfully.

"Is it meant to use as you use the string of good-smelling wooden beads hanging over your glass?" asked Amy.

"Truly, yes, to pray with. It would be pleasing to the saints if one used so fine a rosary as this, instead of wearing it as a vain bijou."

"You seem to take a great deal of comfort in your prayers, Esther, and always come down looking quiet and satisfied. I wish I could."

"If Mademoiselle was a Catholic, she would find true comfort, but as that is not to be, it would be well if you went apart each day to meditate and pray, as did the good mistress whom I served before Madame. She had a little chapel, and in it found solacement for much trouble."

"Would it be right for me to do so too?" asked Amy, who in her loneliness felt the need of help of some sort, and found that she was apt to forget her little book, now that Beth was not there to remind her of it.

"It would be excellent and charming, and I shall gladly arrange the little dressing room for you if you like it. Say nothing to Madame, but when she sleeps go you and sit alone a while to think good thoughts, and pray the dear God preserve your sister."

Esther was truly pious, and quite sincere in her advice, for she had an affectionate heart, and felt much for the sisters in their anxiety. Amy liked the idea, and gave her leave to arrange the light closet next her room, hoping it would do her good.

"I wish I knew where all these pretty things would go when Aunt March dies," she said, as she slowly replaced the shining rosary and shut the jewel cases one by one.

"To you and your sisters. I know it, Madame confides in me. I witnessed her will, and it is to be so," whispered Esther smiling.

"How nice! But I wish she'd let us have them now. Procrastination is not agreeable," observed Amy, taking a last look at the diamonds.

"It is too soon yet for the young ladies to wear these things. The first one who is affianced will have the pearls, Madame has said it, and I have a fancy that the little turquoise ring will be given to you when you go, for Madame approves your good behavior and charming manners."

"Do you think so? Oh, I'll be a lamb, if I can only have that lovely ring! It's ever so much prettier than Kitty Bryant's. I do like Aunt March after all." And Amy tried on the blue ring with a delighted face and a firm resolve to earn it.

From that day she was a model of obedience, and the old lady complacently admired the success of her training. Esther fitted up the closet with a little table, placed a footstool before it, and over it a picture taken from one of the shut-up rooms. She thought it was of no great value, but, being appropriate, she borrowed it, well knowing that Madame would never know it, nor care if she did. It was, however, a very valuable copy of one of the famous pictures of the world, and Amy's beauty-loving eyes were never tired of looking up at the sweet face of the Divine Mother, while her tender thoughts of her own were busy at her heart. On the table she laid her little testament and hymnbook, kept a vase always full of the best flowers Laurie brought her, and came every day to 'sit alone' thinking good thoughts, and praying the dear God to preserve her sister. Esther had given her a rosary of black beads with a silver cross, but Amy hung it up and did not use it, feeling doubtful as to its fitness for Protestant prayers.

The little girl was very sincere in all this, for being left alone outside the safe home nest, she felt the need of some kind hand to hold by so sorely that she instinctively turned to the strong and tender Friend, whose fatherly love most closely surrounds His little children. She missed her mother's help to understand and rule herself, but having been taught where to look, she did her best to find the way and walk in it confidingly. But, Amy was a young pilgrim, and just now her burden seemed very heavy. She tried to forget herself, to keep cheerful, and be satisfied with doing right, though no one saw or praised her for it. In her first effort at being very, very good, she decided to make her will, as Aunt March had done, so that if she did fall ill and die, her possessions might be justly and generously divided. It cost her a pang even to think of giving up the little treasures which in her eyes were as precious as the old lady's jewels.

During one of her play hours she wrote out the important document as well as she could, with some help from Esther as to certain legal terms, and when the good-natured Frenchwoman had signed her name, Amy felt relieved and laid it by to show Laurie, whom she wanted as a second witness. As it was a rainy day, she went upstairs to amuse herself in one of the large chambers, and took Polly with her for company. In this room there was a wardrobe full of old-fashioned costumes with which Esther allowed her to play, and it was her favorite amusement to array herself in the faded brocades, and parade up and down before the long mirror, making stately curtsies, and sweeping her train about with a rustle which delighted her ears. So busy was she on this day that she did not hear Laurie's ring nor see his face peeping in at her as she gravely promenaded to and fro, flirting her fan and tossing her head, on which she wore a great pink turban, contrasting oddly with her blue brocade dress and yellow quilted petticoat. She was obliged to walk carefully, for she had on high-heeled shoes, and, as Laurie told Jo afterward, it was a comical sight to see her mince along in her gay suit, with Polly sidling and bridling just behind her, imitating her as well as he could, and occasionally stopping to laugh or exclaim, "Ain't we fine? Get along, you fright! Hold your tongue! Kiss me, dear! Ha! Ha!"

Having with difficulty restrained an explosion of merriment, lest it should offend her majesty, Laurie tapped and was graciously received.

"Sit down and rest while I put these things away, then I want to consult you about a very serious matter," said Amy, when she had shown her splendor and driven Polly into a corner. "That bird is the trial of my life," she continued, removing the pink mountain from her head, while Laurie seated himself astride a chair.

"Yesterday, when Aunt was asleep and I was trying to be as still as a mouse, Polly began to squall and flap about in his cage, so I went to let him out, and found a big spider there. I poked it out, and it ran under the bookcase. Polly marched straight after it, stooped down and peeped under the bookcase, saying, in his funny way, with a cock of his eye, 'Come out and take a walk, my dear.' I couldn't help laughing, which made Poll swear, and Aunt woke up and scolded us both."

"Did the spider accept the old fellow's invitation?" asked Laurie, yawning.

"Yes, out it came, and away ran Polly, frightened to death, and scrambled up on Aunt's chair, calling out, 'Catch her! Catch her! Catch her!' as I chased the spider."

"That's a lie! Oh, lor!" cried the parrot, pecking at Laurie's toes.

"I'd wring your neck if you were mine, you old torment," cried Laurie, shaking his fist at the bird, who put his head on one side and gravely croaked, "Allyluyer! bless your buttons, dear!"

"Now I'm ready," said Amy, shutting the wardrobe and taking a piece of paper out of her pocket. "I want you to read that, please, and tell me if it is legal and right. I felt I ought to do it, for life is uncertain and I don't want any ill feeling over my tomb."

Laurie bit his lips, and turning a little from the pensive speaker, read the following document, with praiseworthy gravity, considering the spelling:

MY LAST WILL AND TESTIMENT

I, Amy Curtis March, being in my sane mind, go give and bequeethe all my earthly property—viz. to wit:—namely

To my father, my best pictures, sketches, maps, and works of art, including frames. Also my $100, to do what he likes with.

To my mother, all my clothes, except the blue apron with pockets—also my likeness, and my medal, with much love.

To my dear sister Margaret, I give my turkquoise ring (if I get it), also my green box with the doves on it, also my piece of real lace for her neck, and my sketch of her as a memorial of her 'little girl'.

To Jo I leave my breastpin, the one mended with sealing wax, also my bronze inkstand—she lost the cover—and my most precious plaster rabbit, because I am sorry I burned up her story.

To Beth (if she lives after me) I give my dolls and the little bureau, my fan, my linen collars and my new slippers if she can wear them being thin when she gets well. And I herewith also leave her my regret that I ever made fun of old Joanna.

To my friend and neighbor Theodore Laurence I bequeethe my paper mashay portfolio, my clay model of a horse though he did say it hadn't any neck. Also in return for his great kindness in the hour of affliction any one of my artistic works he likes, Noter Dame is the best.

To our venerable benefactor Mr. Laurence I leave my purple box with a looking glass in the cover which will be nice for his pens and remind him of the departed girl who thanks him for his favors to her family, especially Beth.

I wish my favorite playmate Kitty Bryant to have the blue silk apron and my gold-bead ring with a kiss.

To Hannah I give the bandbox she wanted and all the patchwork I leave hoping she 'will remember me, when it you see'.

And now having disposed of my most valuable property I hope all will be satisfied and not blame the dead. I forgive everyone, and trust we may all meet when the trump shall sound. Amen.

To this will and testiment I set my hand and seal on this 20th day of Nov. Anni Domino 1861.

Amy Curtis March

Witnesses:

Estelle Valnor, Theodore Laurence.


The last name was written in pencil, and Amy explained that he was to rewrite it in ink and seal it up for her properly.

"What put it into your head? Did anyone tell you about Beth's giving away her things?" asked Laurie soberly, as Amy laid a bit of red tape, with sealing wax, a taper, and a standish before him.

She explained and then asked anxiously, "What about Beth?"

"I'm sorry I spoke, but as I did, I'll tell you. She felt so ill one day that she told Jo she wanted to give her piano to Meg, her cats to you, and the poor old doll to Jo, who would love it for her sake. She was sorry she had so little to give, and left locks of hair to the rest of us, and her best love to Grandpa. She never thought of a will."

Laurie was signing and sealing as he spoke, and did not look up till a great tear dropped on the paper. Amy's face was full of trouble, but she only said, "Don't people put sort of postscripts to their wills, sometimes?"

"Yes, 'codicils', they call them."

"Put one in mine then, that I wish all my curls cut off, and given round to my friends. I forgot it, but I want it done though it will spoil my looks."

Laurie added it, smiling at Amy's last and greatest sacrifice. Then he amused her for an hour, and was much interested in all her trials. But when he came to go, Amy held him back to whisper with trembling lips, "Is there really any danger about Beth?"

"I'm afraid there is, but we must hope for the best, so don't cry, dear." And Laurie put his arm about her with a brotherly gesture which was very comforting.

When he had gone, she went to her little chapel, and sitting in the twilight, prayed for Beth, with streaming tears and an aching heart, feeling that a million turquoise rings would not console her for the loss of her gentle little sister.

 

第十九章 艾美的遗嘱

当家里发生这一连串事情的时候,艾美正在马奇太太家中挨日子。此刻她深深体会到寄人篱下的滋味,第一次认识到自己在家里是如何受到亲人的宠爱。马奇婶婶从不宠爱人,她不赞成这样;当然也是出于好意,因为小姑娘的表现十分讨她的欢心,而老人对侄儿几个孩子心里也未尝不爱,但她认为这种爱不宜表露出来。她的确在竭尽全力要令艾美幸福,但是,老天作证,她的方法却糟糕透顶!一些老人尽管皱纹累累、白发苍苍,心中却仍然充满朝气,能够和孩子们同忧共喜,友好相处,使他们感到无拘无束,并能寓教于乐,以最温柔的方式给予和得到友谊。不幸的是马奇婶婶却没有这个天分,她规矩森严,整日板着一副面孔,说话啰啰嗦嗦,冗长乏味,令艾美吃尽了苦头。发现艾美比她的姐姐更乖巧听话,老太太觉得自己有责任把她从家里带来的娇气和懒气尽量铲除掉。因此她把艾美置于股掌之中,用自己六十年前所接受的教育方法来教导她-其结果只有令艾美越发糊涂,她觉得自己像只落网苍蝇,落到了一个一丝不苟的蜘蛛手上。

她每天早上都得洗净茶杯,把旧式汤匙、一个圆肚银茶壶、几面镜子擦拭得锃光发亮。接着便得打扫房间,这个任务非同小可!几乎没有一粒尘埃可以躲得过马奇婶婶的眼睛,而家具全部都是爪型腿脚,并刻有很多永远打扫不干净的浮雕。然后又得喂鹦哥,给叭儿狗梳毛,还得取东西,传达命令,楼上楼下跑上十多个来回,因为老太太腿疾严重,极少离开自己的大座椅。干完这些累人的活儿后,她还得做一件伤透脑筋的事——做功课。之后她可以自由活动一个小时,这是她最心花怒放的时候。劳里每天都过来,甜言蜜语地哄马奇婶婶,直到她答应让艾美跟他一同外出为止。然后他们一齐散步、骑马,尽兴而归。吃过午饭后,她得大声朗读,并坐着一动不动,老太太则在打瞌睡,常常是一页没听完就睡着了,一睡就是一个小时。接着是缝缀各色布匹或缝制手巾,艾美表面不敢言语,心里却在拼命反抗,就这样一直缝到傍晚,才可以随意玩玩,一直玩到吃茶时间。晚上的时光最为难熬,因为马奇婶婶开始大讲她年青时候的故事,这些故事沉闷不堪,艾美每次都盼着上床睡觉,打算为自己的悲惨命运一哭,但每次都是还没有挤出一星半点眼泪便已睡着了。

如果不是有劳里和女佣人埃丝特老人,这种日子简直是一天也过不下去。单单是那只鹦鹉就足以令她神经错乱,因为它不久便发觉艾美并不喜欢自己,于是做出种种淘气异常的事来,以泄心头之愤。每当她走到跟前,它便抓她的头发,她刚洗净了鸟笼,它便把面包和牛奶打翻,趁夫人打瞌睡又去啄"莫普",把它弄得吠叫不止,还在客人面前叫她的名字,总之一举一动都表现得十足一个该死的破鸟。她也忍受不了那只狗——一只肥胖、无礼的畜牲,每逢给它洗澡它就向她狂吼怒叫,当它想吃东西时,它就以背着地躺倒地上,四脚朝天,脸上一副痴呆的表情,而这样求食一天足有十余次之多。厨师脾气粗暴,年老的马车夫是个聋子,唯一理会她的人只有埃丝特。

埃丝特是个法国女人,她和"夫人",她这样称呼自己的女主人,共同生活了多年,对老太太有一定的操纵权,因为老太太没有她便活不下去。她的真名叫做埃丝特尔,但马奇太太命她更改名字,她遵从了,条件是永远不能要求她改变自己的宗教信仰。她喜欢上了艾美小姐,和她一起坐时常常一边烫"夫人"的花边,一边跟她讲自己在法国遇到的奇闻怪事,令艾美大开眼界。她还允许"小姐"在这间大屋子里头四处游荡,仔细欣赏藏在大衣橱和旧式柜子里的奇珍异宝,因为马奇婶婶藏品极多。艾美最中意的是一个印度木柜,内设许多奇形怪状的抽屉、小分类架和暗格,里头装着各种各样的饰物,有些贵重,有些只是怪异而已,都或多或少有了一些年头。欣赏和摆弄这些东西给予艾美一种巨大的满足感,尤其是那些珠宝箱子,天鹅绒垫子上摆着各式四十年前装点美女的首饰。这里头有一套马奇婶婶出席社交场合戴的石榴石饰物、她出阁时父亲送给她的珠宝、情人的钻石、出席葬礼戴的煤玉戒指和发夹,还有一些怪模怪样的金属小盒子,里头镶着已故朋友的照片、头发制成的垂柳、她一个小女儿戴过的婴儿手镯、马奇叔叔的大挂表和被许多小孩把玩过的红印章。马奇婶婶的结婚戒子大模大样地摆在一个盒子里,因为她的手指长胖了,现在已经戴不进去,于是被当作最最宝贵的珠宝小心翼翼地收藏起来。

“如果她立遗嘱,小姐想选哪一样呢?”埃丝特问。她总是坐在跟前看守着,并把贵重物品锁起来。

“我最爱这些钻石,可惜里头没有项链,而我最喜欢项链,它们漂亮极了,如果可能,我就选这一个,”艾美答道,羡慕不已地望着一串纯金乌木珠链,链子上头沉甸甸地挂着一个用相同材料做成的十字架。

“我也瞄着这个呢,但并非想要来做项链;啊,不!在我眼里它是一串念珠,我要虔诚地持着它诵经祈祷,”埃丝特说道,若有所思地端详着漂亮的首饰。

“你的意思是把它当作挂在你镜子上头的那串香木珠链一样使用吗?”艾美问。

“对,正是这样,用来做祷告。如果我们用这么精美的东西来做念珠,而不是把它当作轻薄的珠宝来佩戴,圣神们一定更高兴。”“你似乎能从自己的祷告中寻找到极大安慰,埃丝特,每次祷告后你都显得平静、满足。但愿我也能这样。”“如果小姐是个天主教徒,就能找到真正的安慰;既然不是,你也不妨每天独处一室,思考并祈祷,我在夫人之前侍候的那位好女主人便是这样。她有个小教堂,在那里她找到了极大的安慰。”“我这样做合适吗?”艾美问。她在孤独寂寞中深感需要一种帮助,由于贝思不在身边提醒自己,她觉得自己都快要把那本小册子给忘掉了。

“那将再好不过,如果你喜欢,我很乐意把化妆室收拾好给你用。不用告诉夫人,她睡觉时你可以进去静坐一会,幽思反省,祈求上帝保佑你姐姐。”埃丝特十分虔诚,真情相劝,因为她心地善良,对艾美姐妹们的处境感同身受。艾美觉得这个主意不错,便同意她把自己房间隔壁一个光线明亮的小密室收拾出来,希望这样能对自己有帮助。

“不知马奇婶婶死后这些好东西流落何方,”她一面说,一面慢腾腾地把光彩照人的念珠放回原处,把珠宝箱逐一关上。

“落到你和你几个姐姐手上。这个我知道,夫人常向我诉说心事。我看过她的遗嘱,不会有错,”埃丝特耳语道,一边微笑。

“好极了!不过我希望她现在就能给我们。拖延时间并非什么好事,”艾美一面评论一面向那些钻石望了最后一眼。

“年青女士佩戴这些首饰为时尚早。谁第一个订婚就可以得到那套珍珠首饰——夫人这样说过。我想你离开时会得到那只小绿松石戒指,因为夫人认为你举止有礼,规矩听话。”“是吗?噢,如果真的能得到那个漂亮戒指,即使做个小羊羔我也是甘心的!它比吉蒂•布莱恩的不知要好看多少倍。

不论怎么说,我还是喜欢马奇婶婶的。”艾美兴冲冲地把那只蓝色戒指戴上试试,下定决心要得到它。

从这天开始她成了驯服听话的典范,老太太看到自己的训练大见成效,喜得心花怒放。埃丝特在小房间里放上一张小桌子,前面摆一张脚凳,上面挂一幅从一间锁着的屋子里拿来的图画。她认为这画没有什么价值,但因合适,便把它借来,心里以为夫人永远不会知道,即使知道了也不会管。殊不知这是一幅价值连城的世界名画。爱美的艾美仰望着圣母亲切温柔的面孔,心里头千丝万缕,百感交集,眼睛从不觉得一点疲倦。她在桌上放上自己的小圣约书和赞美诗集,摆上一个花瓶,每天换上劳里带来的最美丽的花儿,并来"静坐一会,幽思反省,祈求上帝保佑姐姐"。埃丝特送给她一串带银十字架的黑色念珠,但艾美怀疑它是否适合新教徒做祈祷用,只是把它挂在一边。

这小女孩儿做这一切是非常诚挚的。由于离开了安全温暖的家,一个人孤身在外,她强烈地感到需要一双善良的手扶她一把,于是本能地向那位强大而慈悲的"朋友"求助,他父亲般的爱是如此亲近地环抱着他幼小的孩子们。她一度忘记了母亲要独立思考和自我约束的话,但现在有人向她指点了方向,她便努力去寻找道路,并义无反顾地踏上行程。不过艾美是个新香客,此刻她肩上的担子似乎万分沉重。她试图忘掉自己,保持乐观,问心无愧地做人,尽管没有人看到,也没有人为此而赞扬她。为了使自己非常非常地好,她作出的第一个努力是,像马奇婶婶那样立一个遗嘱,这样假使她真的身染沉疴撒手尘寰,她的财产也可以得到公平慷慨的分割。只要一想到跟自己小小的"珍藏"分手,她便心如刀割,因为她把这些小玩意看得跟老太太的珠宝一样珍贵。

她花了一小时娱乐时间绞尽脑汁拟出这份重要文件,埃丝特帮助她纠正某些法律用词。当这位好心的法国女人签上自己的大名后,艾美舒了一口气,把它放在一边,准备拿给圣约是指《圣经》中神与人之间立的誓约,小圣约书指艾美的那本小册24子。

劳里看,她希望他做自己的第二证人。因这天下雨,她走到楼上一间大房子里找点开心的事做,并带上鹦哥作伴。房子里放着满满一衣橱的旧式戏服,埃丝特允许她穿着这些戏服玩,她于是乐此不疲,穿上褪了色的锦缎衣裳,对着全身镜来回检阅,行仪态万千的屈膝礼,穿着长裙摇曳而行,让它发出悦耳的瑟瑟声。这一天她忙得不亦乐乎,连劳里敲门也没有听到。劳里悄悄探头望进去,恰好见到她手摇扇子,摇头摆脑,煞有介事地踱过来踱过去。她头上缠一条巨大的粉红色头巾,与身上穿着的蓝缎子衣裳和胀鼓鼓的黄裙子相映成趣,由于穿着高跟鞋,走路必须十分谨慎,正如劳里事后向乔所述,她穿着鲜艳夺目的服装忸忸怩怩,鹦哥紧跟后面,时而缩头缩脑,时而昂首挺胸,全力模仿她的一举一动,偶尔又停下来笑一声或高叫:“我们不是挺好吗?去你的,丑八怪!闭嘴!亲亲我,宝贝!哈!哈!”其情其景,令人捧腹。

劳里好不容易才忍住了即将爆发出来的笑声,以免惹怒公主殿下。他敲敲门,艾美优雅地把他迎进去。

“坐下歇一会,待我把这些东西卸掉,我有一件十分严肃的事情要跟你商量,“在展示完自己的光彩并把鹦哥赶到一角后,她这样说。”这只鸟真是我命中的克星,”她接着又说,一面摘下头上粉红色的庞然大物。劳里则跨坐在一张椅子上。

“昨天,婶婶睡着了,我正敛息不敢吱一声,鹦哥却在笼子里尖声高叫,乱七乱动;我便过去把它放出来,发现笼子里有一只大蜘蛛,我用火钳把它捅出来,它却溜到书架下面;鹦哥紧追过去,弯低脖子向书架下面瞪直双眼,怪模怪样地说:''出来散个步,宝贝。''我忍不住笑出了声,鹦哥听到叫骂起来,婶婶被吵醒了,把我们两个痛斥一顿。”“蜘蛛接受了那老家伙的邀请吗?”劳里打了个呵欠,问。

“接受了,它走出来,鹦哥却拔脚就跑,吓得半死,它狠命跳到婶婶椅子上,一面看我追蜘蛛一面大叫:''抓住她!抓住她!抓住她!''”“撒谎!呵,上帝!”鹦鹉叫起来,又去啄劳里的脚趾。

“如果你是我养的我就拧断你的脖子,你这孽畜!”劳里向鸟儿晃晃头叫道。鹦哥把头一侧躲过,扯着嗓子庄严地嘎嘎大叫:“阿利路亚!上帝保佑,宝贝!”“好了。”艾美把衣橱门关上,从口袋里掏出一张纸。”我想请你看看这份文件,告诉我它是否合法、妥当。我觉得我应该这样做,因为生命无常,我不想死后引起纷争,令大家不快。”劳里咂咂嘴唇,把眼光从这位悲天悯人的朋友身上移开,微微背转身子,带着颇值嘉许的认真劲头读起了下面这份有错字的文件:我的遗愿和遗属我,艾美•科蒂斯•马奇,在此心智健全之际,把我的全部财产曾(赠)送并遗曾(赠)如下——即,就是——也就是给父亲:我最好的图画、素描、地图及艺术品,包括画框。还有一百美元给他自由支配。

给母亲:诚挚送上我的全部衣服,有口袋的蓝围裙除外——以及我的肖像、奖章。

给亲爱的姐姐玛格丽特:曾(赠)送我的录(绿)松石戒指(如果我能得到),以及装鸽子用的录(绿)色箱子,以及我的上等花边给她戴,还有我给她画的肖像,以纪念她的“小姑娘"。

给乔,我留给她我的胸针,被封蜡补过的那个,以及我的铜墨水台——她弄丢了盖子——还有我最珍爱的塑胶兔子,因为我很后悔烧掉了她的故事。

给贝思(如果我先她而去)我送给她我的玩偶和小衣柜、扇子、亚麻布衣领和我的新鞋子,如果她病好后身体瘦弱可以穿下的话。在此我一并为以前取笑过乔安娜而致歉。

给我的朋友和邻居西奥多•劳伦斯,我遗曾(赠)我的制型纸文件夹,陶土模型马,虽然他说过这马没有颈。以及他喜欢的我的任何一件艺术品,以报答他在我们痛苦之际对我们的大恩大德,最好是《圣母玛利亚》。

给我们尊敬的恩人劳伦斯先生我留给他一面盖子上镶有镜子的紫色盒子,这给他装钢笔用最为漂亮,并可以使他睹物思人,想起那位对他感激涕零的逝去了的姑娘。她感谢他帮助了她一家,尤其是贝思。

我希望我最要好的伙伴吉蒂•布莱恩得到那条28妇人蓝绸缎围裙和我的金殊戒子,连同一吻。

给罕娜我送她想要的硬纸匣和我留下的全部拼凑布匹,希望她“看到它时就会想起我"。

我最有价值的财产现已处理完毕,我希望大家满意,不会责备死者。我原谅所有人,并相信号角响起时我们会再见。阿门。

我于今天公元一八六一年十一月二十日在此遗属(嘱)上签字盖章。

艾美•科蒂斯•马奇

证人:

埃丝特尔•梵尔奈

西奥多•劳伦斯

最后一个名字是用铅笔写上的,艾美解释说他要用墨水笔重写一次。并替她把文件妥善封好。

“你怎么会想出这个主意?有人告诉你贝思要分派自己的东西了吗?”劳里严肃地问。此时艾美在他面前放上一段扎文件用的红带,连同封蜡、一支小蜡烛、一个墨水台。

她于是解释一番,然后焦急地问:“贝思怎么样?”“我本不该说的,但既然说了,我便告诉你。一天她觉得自己已病入膏肓,便告诉乔她想把她的钢琴送给梅格,她的猫儿给你,她可怜的旧玩偶给乔,乔会为她而爱惜这个玩偶的,她很遗憾自己没有更多的东西留给大家,便把自己的头发一人一绺分给我们和其他人、把挚爱留给爷爷。她根本没想到什么遗嘱。”劳里一面说一面签字盖章,久久没有抬起头来,直到一颗硕大的泪珠慢慢滑落到纸上。艾美神色大变;但她只是问道:“人们有时会在遗嘱上加插附言之类的东西吗?”“会的,他们把它叫做''补遗''。”“那么我的也加上一条——我希望把我的鬈发通通剪掉,分送给朋友们留念。我刚才忘了,但我想现在补上,虽然这会毁掉我的相貌。”劳里把这条加上去,为艾美作出这最后一个也是最伟大的一个牺牲而微笑起来。之后他又陪她玩了一个小时,并耐心听她倾吐苦水。当他准备告辞时,艾美把他拉住,颤抖着嘴唇悄声问道:“贝思是不是真会有什么危险?”“恐怕是这样,但我们必须抱最好的希望。别哭,亲爱的。”劳里像哥哥一样伸出手臂护着她,使她感到了莫大的安慰。

劳里走后,她来到自己的小教堂,静坐于蒙蒙暮光之中,为贝思祈祷,一面心酸落泪。假如失去了温柔可爱的小姐姐,即使有一千个一万个绿松石戒指,也不能给她带来安慰埃




CHAPTER TWENTY CONFIDENTIAL

I don't think I have any words in which to tell the meeting of the mother and daughters. Such hours are beautiful to live, but very hard to describe, so I will leave it to the imagination of my readers, merely saying that the house was full of genuine happiness, and that Meg's tender hope was realized, for when Beth woke from that long, healing sleep, the first objects on which her eyes fell were the little rose and Mother's face. Too weak to wonder at anything, she only smiled and nestled close in the loving arms about her, feeling that the hungry longing was satisfied at last. Then she slept again, and the girls waited upon their mother, for she would not unclasp the thin hand which clung to hers even in sleep.

Hannah had 'dished up' an astonishing breakfast for the traveler, finding it impossible to vent her excitement in any other way, and Meg and Jo fed their mother like dutiful young storks, while they listened to her whispered account of Father's state, Mr. Brooke's promise to stay and nurse him, the delays which the storm occasioned on the homeward journey, and the unspeakable comfort Laurie's hopeful face had given her when she arrived, worn out with fatigue, anxiety, and cold.

What a strange yet pleasant day that was. So brilliant and gay without, for all the world seemed abroad to welcome the first snow. So quiet and reposeful within, for everyone slept, spent with watching, and a Sabbath stillness reigned through the house, while nodding Hannah mounted guard at the door. With a blissful sense of burdens lifted off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes, and lay at rest, like storm-beaten boats safe at anchor in a quiet harbor. Mrs. March would not leave Beth's side, but rested in the big chair, waking often to look at, touch, and brood over her child, like a miser over some recovered treasure.

Laurie meanwhile posted off to comfort Amy, and told his story so well that Aunt March actually 'sniffed' herself, and never once said "I told you so". Amy came out so strong on this occasion that I think the good thoughts in the little chapel really began to bear fruit. She dried her tears quickly, restrained her impatience to see her mother, and never even thought of the turquoise ring, when the old lady heartily agreed in Laurie's opinion, that she behaved 'like a capital little woman'. Even Polly seemed impressed, for he called her a good girl, blessed her buttons, and begged her to "come and take a walk, dear", in his most affable tone. She would very gladly have gone out to enjoy the bright wintry weather, but discovering that Laurie was dropping with sleep in spite of manful efforts to conceal the fact, she persuaded him to rest on the sofa, while she wrote a note to her mother. She was a long time about it, and when she returned, he was stretched out with both arms under his head, sound asleep, while Aunt March had pulled down the curtains and sat doing nothing in an unusual fit of benignity.

After a while, they began to think he was not going to wake up till night, and I'm not sure that he would, had he not been effectually roused by Amy's cry of joy at sight of her mother. There probably were a good many happy little girls in and about the city that day, but it is my private opinion that Amy was the happiest of all, when she sat in her mother's lap and told her trials, receiving consolation and compensation in the shape of approving smiles and fond caresses. They were alone together in the chapel, to which her mother did not object when its purpose was explained to her.

"On the contrary, I like it very much, dear," looking from the dusty rosary to the well-worn little book, and the lovely picture with its garland of evergreen. "It is an excellent plan to have some place where we can go to be quiet, when things vex or grieve us. There are a good many hard times in this life of ours, but we can always bear them if we ask help in the right way. I think my little girl is learning this."

"Yes, Mother, and when I go home I mean to have a corner in the big closet to put my books and the copy of that picture which I've tried to make. The woman's face is not good, it's too beautiful for me to draw, but the baby is done better, and I love it very much. I like to think He was a little child once, for then I don't seem so far away, and that helps me."

As Amy pointed to the smiling Christ child on his Mother's knee, Mrs. March saw something on the lifted hand that made her smile. She said nothing, but Amy understood the look, and after a minute's pause, she added gravely, "I wanted to speak to you about this, but I forgot it. Aunt gave me the ring today. She called me to her and kissed me, and put it on my finger, and said I was a credit to her, and she'd like to keep me always. She gave that funny guard to keep the turquoise on, as it's too big. I'd like to wear them Mother, can I?"

"They are very pretty, but I think you're rather too young for such ornaments, Amy," said Mrs. March, looking at the plump little hand, with the band of sky-blue stones on the forefinger, and the quaint guard formed of two tiny golden hands clasped together.

"I'll try not to be vain," said Amy. "I don't think I like it only because it's so pretty, but I want to wear it as the girl in the story wore her bracelet, to remind me of something."

"Do you mean Aunt March?" asked her mother, laughing.

"No, to remind me not to be selfish." Amy looked so earnest and sincere about it that her mother stopped laughing, and listened respectfully to the little plan.

"I've thought a great deal lately about my 'bundle of naughties', and being selfish is the largest one in it, so I'm going to try hard to cure it, if I can. Beth isn't selfish, and that's the reason everyone loves her and feels so bad at the thoughts of losing her. People wouldn't feel so bad about me if I was sick, and I don't deserve to have them, but I'd like to be loved and missed by a great many friends, so I'm going to try and be like Beth all I can. I'm apt to forget my resolutions, but if I had something always about me to remind me, I guess I should do better. May we try this way?"

"Yes, but I have more faith in the corner of the big closet. Wear your ring, dear, and do your best. I think you will prosper, for the sincere wish to be good is half the battle. Now I must go back to Beth. Keep up your heart, little daughter, and we will soon have you home again."

That evening while Meg was writing to her father to report the traveler's safe arrival, Jo slipped upstairs into Beth's room, and finding her mother in her usual place, stood a minute twisting her fingers in her hair, with a worried gesture and an undecided look.

"What is it, deary?" asked Mrs. March, holding out her hand, with a face which invited confidence.

"I want to tell you something, Mother."

"About Meg?"

"How quickly you guessed! Yes, it's about her, and though it's a little thing, it fidgets me."

"Beth is asleep. Speak low, and tell me all about it. That Moffat hasn't been here, I hope?" asked Mrs. March rather sharply.

"No. I should have shut the door in his face if he had," said Jo, settling herself on the floor at her mother's feet. "Last summer Meg left a pair of gloves over at the Laurences' and only one was returned. We forgot about it, till Teddy told me that Mr. Brooke owned that he liked Meg but didn't dare say so, she was so young and he so poor. Now, isn't it a dreadful state of things?"

"Do you think Meg cares for him?" asked Mrs. March, with an anxious look.

"Mercy me! I don't know anything about love and such nonsense!" cried Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt. "In novels, the girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting away, growing thin, and acting like fools. Now Meg does not do anything of the sort. She eats and drinks and sleeps like a sensible creature, she looks straight in my face when I talk about that man, and only blushes a little bit when Teddy jokes about lovers. I forbid him to do it, but he doesn't mind me as he ought."

"Then you fancy that Meg is not interested in John?"

"Who?" cried Jo, staring.

"Mr. Brooke. I call him 'John' now. We fell into the way of doing so at the hospital, and he likes it."

"Oh, dear! I know you'll take his part. He's been good to Father, and you won't send him away, but let Meg marry him, if she wants to. Mean thing! To go petting Papa and helping you, just to wheedle you into liking him." And Jo pulled her hair again with a wrathful tweak.

"My dear, don't get angry about it, and I will tell you how it happened. John went with me at Mr. Laurence's request, and was so devoted to poor Father that we couldn't help getting fond of him. He was perfectly open and honorable about Meg, for he told us he loved her, but would earn a comfortable home before he asked her to marry him. He only wanted our leave to love her and work for her, and the right to make her love him if he could. He is a truly excellent young man, and we could not refuse to listen to him, but I will not consent to Meg's engaging herself so young."

"Of course not. It would be idiotic! I knew there was mischief brewing. I felt it, and now it's worse than I imagined. I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family."

This odd arrangement made Mrs. March smile, but she said gravely, "Jo, I confide in you and don't wish you to say anything to Meg yet. When John comes back, and I see them together, I can judge better of her feelings toward him."

"She'll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and then it will be all up with her. She's got such a soft heart, it will melt like butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentlly at her. She read the short reports he sent more than she did your letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes brown eyes, and doesn't think John an ugly name, and she'll go and fall in love, and there's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together. I see it all! They'll go lovering around the house, and we shall have to dodge. Meg will be absorbed and no good to me any more. Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off, and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, and everything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Why weren't we all boys, then there wouldn't be any bother."

Jo leaned her chin on her knees in a disconsolate attitude and shook her fist at the reprehensible John. Mrs. March sighed, and Jo looked up with an air of relief.

"You don't like it, Mother? I'm glad of it. Let's send him about his business, and not tell Meg a word of it, but all be happy together as we always have been."

"I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you should all go to homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls as long as I can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for Meg is only seventeen and it will be some years before John can make a home for her. Your father and I have agreed that she shall not bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty. If she and John love one another, they can wait, and test the love by doing so. She is conscientious, and I have no fear of her treating him unkindly. My pretty, tender hearted girl! I hope things will go happily with her."

"Hadn't you rather have her marry a rich man?" asked Jo, as her mother's voice faltered a little over the last words.

"Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls will never feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by too much. I should like to know that John was firmly established in some good business, which gave him an income large enough to keep free from debt and make Meg comfortable. I'm not ambitious for a splendid fortune, a fashionable position, or a great name for my girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also, I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune, but I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had in a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures. I am content to see Meg begin humbly, for if I am not mistaken, she will be rich in the possession of a good man's heart, and that is better than a fortune."

"I understand, Mother, and quite agree, but I'm disappointed about Meg, for I'd planned to have her marry Teddy by-and-by and sit in the lap of luxury all her days. Wouldn't it be nice?" asked Jo, looking up with a brighter face.

"He is younger than she, you know," began Mrs. March, but Jo broke in...

"Only a little, he's old for his age, and tall, and can be quite grown-up in his manners if he likes. Then he's rich and generous and good, and loves us all, and I say it's a pity my plan is spoiled."

"I'm afraid Laurie is hardly grown-up enough for Meg, and altogether too much of a weathercock just now for anyone to depend on. Don't make plans, Jo, but let time and their own hearts mate your friends. We can't meddle safely in such matters, and had better not get 'romantic rubbish' as you call it, into our heads, lest it spoil our friendship."

"Well, I won't, but I hate to see things going all crisscross and getting snarled up, when a pull here and a snip there would straighten it out. I wish wearing flatirons on our heads would keep us from growing up. But buds will be roses, and kittens cats, more's the pity!"

"What's that about flatirons and cats?" asked Meg, as she crept into the room with the finished letter in her hand.

"Only one of my stupid speeches. I'm going to bed. Come, Peggy," said Jo, unfolding herself like an animated puzzle.

"Quite right, and beautifully written. Please add that I send my love to John," said Mrs. March, as she glanced over the letter and gave it back.

"Do you call him 'John'?" asked Meg, smiling, with her innocent eyes looking down into her mother's.

"Yes, he has been like a son to us, and we are very fond of him," replied Mrs. March, returning the look with a keen one.

"I'm glad of that, he is so lonely. Good night, Mother, dear. It is so inexpressibly comfortable to have you here," was Meg's answer.

The kiss her mother gave her was a very tender one, and as she went away, Mrs. March said, with a mixture of satisfaction and regret, "She does not love John yet, but will soon learn to."

 

第二十章 密谈

我认为我找不到任何词语来描述她们母女重逢的情形;这种温馨、美好的时光是难以用笔墨来形容的,我只好把它留给我的读者们去想象,只能说屋子里洋溢着真正的快乐,梅格美好的心愿也成为现实;因为贝思睡了长长一觉醒来,她第一眼看到的正是那朵小玫瑰花和母亲慈爱的面孔。因身体仍极度虚弱,她没有气力发出惊叹,只是露出微笑,紧紧依偎在母亲慈爱的臂膀中,那种感觉就像久旱的禾苗终于盼到了甘露。然后她又睡了过去,姐妹俩则熬夜守候在母亲身边,因为母亲不愿放弃女儿沉睡中依然紧紧攥着她的瘦削的手。

罕娜一时找不到其他方法来排解自己的兴奋心情,便为远道归来的亲人"装盘上菜"地上了一顿丰盛的早餐;梅格和乔像恪守职责的幼鹳一样喂母亲进餐,一面听她轻声讲述父亲的情况,以及布鲁克先生如何答应留下来照顾父亲,她在回家的路上被暴风雪耽搁了时间,到站的时候,忧心如焚,又冷又累,是劳里充满希望的面孔使她得到了难以言喻的安慰。

这一天是多么奇特,多么喜气洋洋!屋外阳光灿烂,到处洋溢着欢声笑语,人们似乎全都走了出来,迎接这场初雪;屋里却无声无息,一片宁静,大家因一夜未眠,此刻全都进入了梦乡,屋子里静得连针尖落地的声音也能听到。罕娜打着瞌睡在门边守护,梅格和乔仿佛卸下了一身重担,也都双双合上疲倦的眼睛躺下来休息,就像两只小船,经过风吹浪打后,终于安全泊进了平静的港湾。马奇太太不愿离开贝思身边,便坐在大椅子上休息,不时醒来看一看、摸一摸自己的孩子,看着贝思发一会儿呆,其神态就像一个重新找回了自己财宝的吝啬鬼。

同时劳里匆匆赶去安慰艾美,他讲故事讲得十分成功,马奇婶婶听了竟"从鼻子里头笑了一声",而且没有再说"我早就告诉过你"。艾美这回显得十分坚强,看来她在小教堂里下的功夫开始开花结果了。她很快就把泪水擦干,按捺住要见母亲的急切心情,当劳里说她表现得"像个卓尔不凡的小妇人",而老太太也由衷地表示赞同时,她竟没有想到那个绿松石戒指,甚至鹦哥也似乎对她大加赞赏,因为它叫她"好姑娘",请上帝保佑她,并用极其友好的声调求她"来散个步,亲爱的“。她本来很想出去高高兴兴地在阳光明媚的雪地里玩个痛快,但发现劳里尽管男子气地装着没什么,但他的身子困得直往下倒,便劝他在沙发上躺躺,自己则给母亲写封信。

过了好一会她才把信写完,等她再次来到劳里身边时,劳里头枕双臂,直挺挺地睡得十分香甜。马奇婶婶拉下了窗帘,闲坐在一边,脸上露出一种罕有的慈祥宽厚的神情。

过了一会,她们开始想他要睡到晚上才能醒来了,如果不是艾美看见母亲发出的欢叫声把他惊醒,我肯定他会一直睡下去的。那天,城里城外可能有许许多多幸福的小姑娘,但依我看艾美要算是最最幸福的一个,她坐在母亲的膝头上诉说自己是怎样熬过这段日子的,母亲则报以赞赏的微笑和百般爱抚。两人一起来到小教堂,艾美解释了它的来龙去脉,母亲听后并不反对。

“相反。我很喜欢它呢,亲爱的。”她把眼光从沾满灰尘的念珠移到翻得卷了毛边的小册子和点缀着长青树花环的漂亮图画上。”当我们身处逆境,烦恼悲伤时,能找个地方清静一下是件大好事。人生的道路充满了坎坷,但只要我们正确寻求帮助,就能克服困难。我想我的小女儿正在领悟这个道理呢。”“是的,妈妈,回家后我打算在大房间的一角放上我的书和我画的那幅图画的摹本。圣母的面孔画得不好——她太美了,我画不来——但那婴儿还画得不错,我很喜欢它。我喜欢想他也曾经是个小孩,这样我似乎就离''他''更近了,这样一想,心里就好受了。”艾美指指笑着坐在圣母膝上的圣婴,马奇太太看到她举着的手戴着一样东西,不觉微微一笑。她没有说什么,但艾美明白了她的眼神,迟疑了一会后,她郑重其事地说:“我原来要把这事告诉你的,但一时忘了。婶婶今天把这个戒指送给我;她叫我走到她跟前。吻了我一下,把它戴在我的手指上,说我替她增了光,她愿意把我永远留在身边。因为绿松石戒指太大,她便把这有趣的护圈给我戴上。我想戴着它们,妈妈,可以吗?”“它们很浇亮,不过我认为你年龄尚小,不大适宜戴这种饰物,艾美。”马奇太太看着那只胖嘟嘟的小手,它的食指上戴着一圈天蓝色宝石和一个由两个金色小箍扣在一起组成的古怪护圈。

“我会努力做到不贪慕虚荣的,”艾美说,”我并不只是因为这枚戒指漂亮才喜欢它,我戴上它是因为它能时刻提醒我一些东西,就像故事里的那女孩戴的手镯一样。”“你是指马奇婶婶吗?”母亲笑着问。

“不是,提醒我不要自私。”艾美的神情十分诚恳,母亲不禁止住了笑,严肃地倾听女儿的小计划。

“我最近常常反省自己的''一大堆毛病'',发现其中最大的一项是自私;我要尽最大的努力克服这个缺点。贝思就不自私,所以大家都爱她,一想到要失去她就那么伤心。如果我病了,大家就远远不会这么伤心,我也不配让他们这样;不过我很希望能有许许多多的朋友爱我、怀念我,所以我要努力向贝思学习。只是我常常忘了自己的决心,如果有什么东西在身边提醒我,我想就会好一点。我这样做行吗?”“当然,不过我倒是对你的小册子和祈祷更有信心。戴着戒指吧,亲爱的,尽力而为。我相信你会有长进的,因为决心向善便是成功的一半。现在我得回去看贝思了。振作精神,小女儿,我们很快就会接你回家的。”那天晚上,梅格正在给父亲写信,告知母亲已平安到家,乔悄悄溜上楼,走进贝思的房间。看到坐在老地方的母亲,她用手指揪着头发,呆站了一会,神色焦虑。

“怎么啦,好女儿?”马奇太太问,伸出手来,神情关注,鼓励女儿说出心事。

“我想告诉你一件事,妈妈。”

“和梅格有关吗?”

“你猜得真快!对,和她有关,虽然这只是一件小事,但它令我烦躁不安。“贝思睡着了,小点声把事情全告诉我。莫法特那小子没有来过吧,我希望?”马奇太太单刀直入地问道。

“没有,如果他来,我一定让他吃闭门羹,”乔说着在地板上挨着母亲脚边坐下来,”去年夏天梅格在劳伦斯家丢了一双手套,后来只还回来一只。我们已经把这事忘了,但一天特迪告诉我另一只在布鲁克先生手里。他把它收在马甲衣袋里,一次它掉了出来,特迪便打趣他,布鲁克先生承认自己喜欢梅格,但不敢说出来,因为她还这样年轻,而自己又这样穷。您看,这不是糟糕透顶了吗?”“你觉得梅格在乎他吗?”马奇太太焦虑地问道。

“上帝!我对情呀爱呀这些荒唐事一无所知!”乔叫道,显得既感兴趣又鄙夷,神情十分滑稽,”在小说里,害相思病的姑娘们不是一会吓一惊,一会红了脸,就是昏过去、瘦下去,一举一动都像个傻瓜。但梅格并没有这些举动:她照吃照喝照睡,跟平常没什么两样,我谈起那个男人时,她也正眼望着我,只有当特迪拿那些多情男女开玩笑时,她才红一下脸。

我不许他这样做,但他并不怎么听。”

“那么你觉得梅格对约翰不感兴趣吗?”“谁?”乔双眼圆睁,叫道。

“布鲁克先生。我现在称他约翰;我们在医院里开始这样叫他,他也喜欢这样。“噢,天哪!我知道你们会接受他的:他一直待父亲很好,你们不会把他打发走的,而是让梅格嫁给他,如果她愿意的话。不要脸的东西!去讨好爸爸,帮您的忙,就是要哄得你们的欢心。”乔气得七窍生烟,又揪起自己的头发。

“亲爱的,别生气,我告诉你是怎么一回事。约翰奉劳伦斯先生之命陪我一起去医院,他对重病缠身的父亲照顾得十分周到,我们怎能不喜欢他呢?他并没有隐瞒对梅格的感情,开诚布公地告诉我们他爱她,但要等赚够成家立室的钱后才向她求婚。他只希望我们允许他爱她并为她效劳,尽一切努力博取她的爱情,如果他有这个本事的话。我们不能拒绝他的诚意,他确实是个人品出众的年轻人,不过我不同意让梅格这么年轻就订婚。”“当然不能同意;那其不是愚蠢之极!我早就知道这里头有文章,我有直觉,不过现在它比我想象的更糟。我真想自己来娶梅格,让她安全留在家里。”这一古怪的安排令马奇太太笑了起来,但她严肃地说:“乔,我把事情全告诉你,你可别跟梅格说什么。等约翰回来,他们两人在一起时,我就能更好地判断她对他的感情了。”“她会被她说的那对漂亮的眼睛迷惑住,那时就一切都完了。她心肠最软,如果有人含情脉脉地看着她,她的心就会像阳光下的牛油一样化掉。她读他寄来的病情报告比读你的信还多,我说她两句她就来拧我,她喜欢棕色的眼睛,而且不认为约翰是个难听的名字,她会掉进爱河,那我们在一起的那种宁静、欢乐、温馨的日子必将一去不返。我全料到了!

他们会在屋子附近谈情说爱,我们不得不东躲西避;梅格一定会爱得神魂颠倒,不再对我好了;布鲁克也会筹集到一笔血汗钱,将她娶走,把我们一家拆散;而我就会伤透了心,那时一切都会变得令人讨厌。啊,天啊!我们为什么全都不是男孩子,那样可以免遭多少烦恼!”乔无可奈何地把下巴靠在膝头上,对那位该死的约翰猛挥拳头。马奇太太叹了一口气,乔抬起头来,如释重负地舒了一口气。

“你不喜欢这样吧,妈妈?这真叫我高兴。我们把他赶走,半个字也不要告诉梅格,一家人还跟原来一样一起快乐生活。”“刚才叹气是我不对,乔,你们日后各自另立新家是自然不过的事情,也很应该如此,但我何尝不想我的女儿们在我身边多留几年;我很遗憾这件事来得这么快,因为梅格只有十七岁,而约翰也要过好几年才有能力成家立室。我和你父亲的意见是,二十岁前她不能订下任何盟誓,也不能结婚。如果她和约翰相爱,他们可以等,这样也可以考验他们的爱情。

她并非轻浮浅薄之流。我倒不担心她会待他不好。我美丽、善良的女儿!我希望她姻缘美满。”“您难道不希望她嫁个富家子弟吗?”乔问。说到最后,母亲的声音有些颤抖。

“金钱是一种很有用处的好东西,乔,我不希望我的女儿穷困潦倒,也不希望她们过于受金钱的诱惑。我希望约翰有份稳定的好职业,其收入足以维持家庭开支,使梅格生活舒适。我并不奢求我的女儿嫁入名门望族,大富大贵。如果地位和金钱是建立在爱情和品行的基础上,我感激地接受,并分享你们的幸福;但根据经验,我知道普通的小户人家虽然每天都要为生活操劳,却可以拥有真正的幸福,他们的生活虽然清贫,却不失甜蜜温馨。看到梅格从低微起步,我也心满意足,如果我没有看错的话,约翰是个好男人,她将因拥有他的心而变得富有,而这比金钱更为宝贵。”“我明白,妈妈,也很赞同,但我可以说对梅格十分失望,我一向计划让她日后嫁给特迪,一生享尽荣华富贵。那不好吗?”乔仰头问道。脸色明朗了一点。

“他比她年纪小,你知道。”马奇太太刚说了一句,乔便打断她——“只是小一点儿,他老成持重,个子又高,如果他喜欢,他的言谈举止可以十足像个大人。再说他富有、慷慨、人品好,而且爱我们全家。这计划成了泡影,我感到十分惋惜。”“我恐怕劳里对梅格来说像个小弟弟,而且谁也不知道他以后会怎样,现在怎么能指望他呢?别多操心,乔,让时间和他们自己的心来成就你的朋友们,干预这种事情很可能弄巧成拙,我们还是不要去''臭浪漫'',正如你所说,免得我们的友谊因此尽毁。”“嗯,那自然,但我痛恨看到本来可以弄好的事情变得乱七八糟、纠缠不清。如果可以不长大,就是头上压一把熨斗我也愿意。可恨花蕾终要绽开,小猫咪终要长成大猫——总之令人烦恼!”“你们谈什么熨斗啊猫儿的?”梅格手持写好了的信静静走入房间,问道。

“我在瞎扯而已。我要去睡觉了;来吧,佩吉。”乔的回答无异于一个猜不透的谜。

“写得不错,文笔也优美。请加上一句说我问候约翰。”马奇太太把信扫了一遍后交给梅格。

“您叫他''约翰''吗?”梅格微笑着问道,天真无邪的眼睛直视着母亲。

“对,他就像我们的儿子一样,我们非常喜欢他呢,”马奇太太答道,也紧紧地盯着女儿。

“那我真高兴,他是多么孤独。晚安,妈妈,有您在这里我们便感到无比舒坦,“梅格这样回答。

母亲无限爱怜地给了女儿一吻。梅格走后,马奇太太又满意又遗憾地自语:“她还没有爱上约翰,但很快就会爱上的。”




CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE LAURIE MAKES MISCHIEF, AND JO MAKES PEACE

Jo's face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed upon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious and important. Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself to make inquiries, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo was by the law of contraries, so she felt sure of being told everything if she did not ask. She was rather surprised, therefore, when the silence remained unbroken, and Jo assumed a patronizing air, which decidedly aggravated Meg, who in turn assumed an air of dignified reserve and devoted herself to her mother. This left Jo to her own devices, for Mrs. March had taken her place as nurse, and bade her rest, exercise, and amuse herself after her long confinement. Amy being gone, Laurie was her only refuge, and much as she enjoyed his society, she rather dreaded him just then, for he was an incorrigible tease, and she feared he would coax the secret from her.

She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner suspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led Jo a trying life of it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed, threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprise the truth from her; declared he knew, then that he didn't care; and at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself that it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling indignant that he was not taken into his tutor's confidence, he set his wits to work to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.

Meg meanwhile had apparently forgotten the matter and was absorbed in preparations for her father's return, but all of a sudden a change seemed to come over her, and, for a day or two, she was quite unlike herself. She started when spoken to, blushed when looked at, was very quiet, and sat over her sewing, with a timid, troubled look on her face. To her mother's inquiries she answered that she was quite well, and Jo's she silenced by begging to be let alone.

"She feels it in the air—love, I mean—and she's going very fast. She's got most of the symptoms—is twittery and cross, doesn't eat, lies awake, and mopes in corners. I caught her singing that song he gave her, and once she said 'John', as you do, and then turned as red as a poppy. Whatever shall we do?" said Jo, looking ready for any measures, however violent.

"Nothing but wait. Let her alone, be kind and patient, and Father's coming will settle everything," replied her mother.

"Here's a note to you, Meg, all sealed up. How odd! Teddy never seals mine," said Jo next day, as she distributed the contents of the little post office.

Mrs. March and Jo were deep in their own affairs, when a sound from Meg made them look up to see her staring at her note with a frightened face.

"My child, what is it?" cried her mother, running to her, while Jo tried to take the paper which had done the mischief.

"It's all a mistake, he didn't send it. Oh, Jo, how could you do it?" and Meg hid her face in her hands, crying as if her heart were quite broken.

"Me! I've done nothing! What's she talking about?" cried Jo, bewildered.

Meg's mild eyes kindled with anger as she pulled a crumpled note from her pocket and threw it at Jo, saying reproachfully, "You wrote it, and that bad boy helped you. How could you be so rude, so mean, and cruel to us both?"

Jo hardly heard her, for she and her mother were reading the note, which was written in a peculiar hand.


"My Dearest Margaret,

"I can no longer restrain my passion, and must know my fate before I return. I dare not tell your parents yet, but I think they would consent if they knew that we adored one another. Mr. Laurence will help me to some good place, and then, my sweet girl, you will make me happy. I implore you to say nothing to your family yet, but to send one word of hope through Laurie to,

"Your devoted John."


"Oh, the little villain! That's the way he meant to pay me for keeping my word to Mother. I'll give him a hearty scolding and bring him over to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to execute immediate justice. But her mother held her back, saying, with a look she seldom wore...

"Stop, Jo, you must clear yourself first. You have played so many pranks that I am afraid you have had a hand in this."

"On my word, Mother, I haven't! I never saw that note before, and don't know anything about it, as true as I live!" said Jo, so earnestly that they believed her. "If I had taken part in it I'd have done it better than this, and have written a sensible note. I should think you'd have known Mr. Brooke wouldn't write such stuff as that," she added, scornfully tossing down the paper.

"It's like his writing," faltered Meg, comparing it with the note in her hand.

"Oh, Meg, you didn't answer it?" cried Mrs. March quickly.

"Yes, I did!" and Meg hid her face again, overcome with shame.

"Here's a scrape! Do let me bring that wicked boy over to explain and be lectured. I can't rest till I get hold of him." And Jo made for the door again.

"Hush! Let me handle this, for it is worse than I thought. Margaret, tell me the whole story," commanded Mrs. March, sitting down by Meg, yet keeping hold of Jo, lest she should fly off.

"I received the first letter from Laurie, who didn't look as if he knew anything about it," began Meg, without looking up. "I was worried at first and meant to tell you, then I remembered how you liked Mr. Brooke, so I thought you wouldn't mind if I kept my little secret for a few days. I'm so silly that I liked to think no one knew, and while I was deciding what to say, I felt like the girls in books, who have such things to do. Forgive me, Mother, I'm paid for my silliness now. I never can look him in the face again."

"What did you say to him?" asked Mrs. March.

"I only said I was too young to do anything about it yet, that I didn't wish to have secrets from you, and he must speak to father. I was very grateful for his kindness, and would be his friend, but nothing more, for a long while."

Mrs. March smiled, as if well pleased, and Jo clapped her hands, exclaiming, with a laugh, "You are almost equal to Caroline Percy, who was a pattern of prudence! Tell on, Meg. What did he say to that?"

"He writes in a different way entirely, telling me that he never sent any love letter at all, and is very sorry that my roguish sister, Jo, should take liberties with our names. It's very kind and respectful, but think how dreadful for me!"

Meg leaned against her mother, looking the image of despair, and Jo tramped about the room, calling Laurie names. All of a sudden she stopped, caught up the two notes, and after looking at them closely, said decidedly, "I don't believe Brooke ever saw either of these letters. Teddy wrote both, and keeps yours to crow over me with because I wouldn't tell him my secret."

"Don't have any secrets, Jo. Tell it to Mother and keep out of trouble, as I should have done," said Meg warningly.

"Bless you, child! Mother told me."

"That will do, Jo. I'll comfort Meg while you go and get Laurie. I shall sift the matter to the bottom, and put a stop to such pranks at once."

Away ran Jo, and Mrs. March gently told Meg Mr. Brooke's real feelings. "Now, dear, what are your own? Do you love him enough to wait till he can make a home for you, or will you keep yourself quite free for the present?"

"I've been so scared and worried, I don't want to have anything to do with lovers for a long while, perhaps never," answered Meg petulantly. "If John doesn't know anything about this nonsense, don't tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their tongues. I won't be deceived and plagued and made a fool of. It's a shame!"

Seeing Meg's usually gentle temper was roused and her pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her by promises of entire silence and great discretion for the future. The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Meg fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone. Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn't come, but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and stood twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once. Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The sound of voices in the parlor rose and fell for half an hour, but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.

When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their mother with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg received his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that Brooke knew nothing of the joke.

"I'll never tell him to my dying day, wild horses shan't drag it out of me, so you'll forgive me, Meg, and I'll do anything to show how out-and-out sorry I am," he added, looking very much ashamed of himself.

"I'll try, but it was a very ungentlemanly thing to do, I didn't think you could be so sly and malicious, Laurie," replied Meg, trying to hide her maidenly confusion under a gravely reproachful air.

"It was altogether abominable, and I don't deserve to be spoken to for a month, but you will, though, won't you?" And Laurie folded his hands together with such and imploring gesture, as he spoke in his irresistibly persuasive tone, that it was impossible to frown upon him in spite of his scandalous behavior.

Meg pardoned him, and Mrs. March's grave face relaxed, in spite of her efforts to keep sober, when she heard him declare that he would atone for his sins by all sorts of penances, and abase himself like a worm before the injured damsel.

Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart against him, and succeeding only in primming up her face into an expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at her once or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done with him, when he made her a low bow and walked off without a word.

As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving, and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt lonely and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time, she yielded to the impulse, and armed with a book to return, went over to the big house.

"Is Mr. Laurence in?" asked Jo, of a housemaid, who was coming downstairs.

"Yes, Miss, but I don't believe he's seeable just yet."

"Why not? Is he ill?"

"La, no Miss, but he's had a scene with Mr. Laurie, who is in one of his tantrums about something, which vexes the old gentleman, so I dursn't go nigh him."

"Where is Laurie?"

"Shut up in his room, and he won't answer, though I've been a-tapping. I don't know what's to become of the dinner, for it's ready, and there's no one to eat it."

"I'll go and see what the matter is. I'm not afraid of either of them."

Up went Jo, and knocked smartly on the door of Laurie's little study.

"Stop that, or I'll open the door and make you!" called out the young gentleman in a threatening tone.

Jo immediately knocked again. The door flew open, and in she bounced before Laurie could recover from his surprise. Seeing that he really was out of temper, Jo, who knew how to manage him, assumed a contrite expression, and going artistically down upon her knees, said meekly, "Please forgive me for being so cross. I came to make it up, and can't go away till I have."

"It's all right. Get up, and don't be a goose, Jo," was the cavalier reply to her petition.

"Thank you, I will. Could I ask what's the matter? You don't look exactly easy in your mind."

"I've been shaken, and I won't bear it!" growled Laurie indignantly.

"Who did it?" demanded Jo.

"Grandfather. If it had been anyone else I'd have..." And the injured youth finished his sentence by an energetic gesture of the right arm.

"That's nothing. I often shake you, and you don't mind," said Jo soothingly.

"Pooh! You're a girl, and it's fun, but I'll allow no man to shake me!"

"I don't think anyone would care to try it, if you looked as much like a thundercloud as you do now. Why were you treated so?"

"Just because I wouldn't say what your mother wanted me for. I'd promised not to tell, and of course I wasn't going to break my word."

"Couldn't you satisfy your grandpa in any other way?"

"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I'd have told my part of the scrape, if I could without bringing Meg in. As I couldn't, I held my tongue, and bore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then I bolted, for fear I should forget myself."

"It wasn't nice, but he's sorry, I know, so go down and make up. I'll help you."

"Hanged if I do! I'm not going to be lectured and pummelled by everyone, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg, and begged pardon like a man, but I won't do it again, when I wasn't in the wrong."

"He didn't know that."

"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby. It's no use, Jo, he's got to learn that I'm able to take care of myself, and don't need anyone's apron string to hold on by."

"What pepper pots you are!" sighed Jo. "How do you mean to settle this affair?"

"Well, he ought to beg pardon, and believe me when I say I can't tell him what the fuss's about."

"Bless you! He won't do that."

"I won't go down till he does."

"Now, Teddy, be sensible. Let it pass, and I'll explain what I can. You can't stay here, so what's the use of being melodramatic?"

"I don't intend to stay here long, anyway. I'll slip off and take a journey somewhere, and when Grandpa misses me he'll come round fast enough."

"I dare say, but you ought not to go and worry him."

"Don't preach. I'll go to Washington and see Brooke. It's gay there, and I'll enjoy myself after the troubles."

"What fun you'd have! I wish I could run off too," said Jo, forgetting her part of mentor in lively visions of martial life at the capital.

"Come on, then! Why not? You go and surprise your father, and I'll stir up old Brooke. It would be a glorious joke. Let's do it, Jo. We'll leave a letter saying we are all right, and trot off at once. I've got money enough. It will do you good, and no harm, as you go to your father."

For a moment Jo looked as if she would agree, for wild as the plan was, it just suited her. She was tired of care and confinement, longed for change, and thoughts of her father blended temptingly with the novel charms of camps and hospitals, liberty and fun. Her eyes kindled as they turned wistfully toward the window, but they fell on the old house opposite, and she shook her head with sorrowful decision.

"If I was a boy, we'd run away together, and have a capital time, but as I'm a miserable girl, I must be proper and stop at home. Don't tempt me, Teddy, it's a crazy plan."

"That's the fun of it," began Laurie, who had got a willful fit on him and was possessed to break out of bounds in some way.

"Hold your tongue!" cried Jo, covering her ears. "'Prunes and prisms' are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to it. I came here to moralize, not to hear things that make me skip to think of."

"I know Meg would wet-blanket such a proposal, but I thought you had more spirit," began Laurie insinuatingly.

"Bad boy, be quiet! Sit down and think of your own sins, don't go making me add to mine. If I get your grandpa to apologize for the shaking, will you give up running away?" asked Jo seriously.

"Yes, but you won't do it," answered Laurie, who wished to make up, but felt that his outraged dignity must be appeased first.

"If I can manage the young one, I can the old one," muttered Jo, as she walked away, leaving Laurie bent over a railroad map with his head propped up on both hands.

"Come in!" and Mr. Laurence's gruff voice sounded gruffer than ever, as Jo tapped at his door.

"It's only me, Sir, come to return a book," she said blandly, as she entered.

"Want any more?" asked the old gentleman, looking grim and vexed, but trying not to show it.

"Yes, please. I like old Sam so well, I think I'll try the second volume," returned Jo, hoping to propitiate him by accepting a second dose of Boswell's Johnson, as he had recommended that lively work.

The shaggy eyebrows unbent a little as he rolled the steps toward the shelf where the Johnsonian literature was placed. Jo skipped up, and sitting on the top step, affected to be searching for her book, but was really wondering how best to introduce the dangerous object of her visit. Mr. Laurence seemed to suspect that something was brewing in her mind, for after taking several brisk turns about the room, he faced round on her, speaking so abruptly that Rasselas tumbled face downward on the floor.

"What has that boy been about? Don't try to shield him. I know he has been in mischief by the way he acted when he came home. I can't get a word from him, and when I threatened to shake the truth out of him he bolted upstairs and locked himself into his room."

"He did wrong, but we forgave him, and all promised not to say a word to anyone," began Jo reluctantly.

"That won't do. He shall not shelter himself behind a promise from you softhearted girls. If he's done anything amiss, he shall confess, beg pardon, and be punished. Out with it, Jo. I won't be kept in the dark."

Mr. Laurence looked so alarming and spoke so sharply that Jo would have gladly run away, if she could, but she was perched aloft on the steps, and he stood at the foot, a lion in the path, so she had to stay and brave it out.

"Indeed, Sir, I cannot tell. Mother forbade it. Laurie has confessed, asked pardon, and been punished quite enough. We don't keep silence to shield him, but someone else, and it will make more trouble if you interfere. Please don't. It was partly my fault, but it's all right now. So let's forget it, and talk about the Rambler or something pleasant."

"Hang the Rambler! Come down and give me your word that this harum-scarum boy of mine hasn't done anything ungrateful or impertinent. If he has, after all your kindness to him, I'll thrash him with my own hands."

The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew the irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his grandson, whatever he might say to the contrary. She obediently descended, and made as light of the prank as she could without betraying Meg or forgetting the truth.

"Hum... ha... well, if the boy held his tongue because he promised, and not from obstinacy, I'll forgive him. He's a stubborn fellow and hard to manage," said Mr. Laurence, rubbing up his hair till it looked as if he had been out in a gale, and smoothing the frown from his brow with an air of relief.

"So am I, but a kind word will govern me when all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't," said Jo, trying to say a kind word for her friend, who seemed to get out of one scrape only to fall into another.

"You think I'm not kind to him, hey?" was the sharp answer.

"Oh, dear no, Sir. You are rather too kind sometimes, and then just a trifle hasty when he tries your patience. Don't you think you are?"

Jo was determined to have it out now, and tried to look quite placid, though she quaked a little after her bold speech. To her great relief and surprise, the old gentleman only threw his spectacles onto the table with a rattle and exclaimed frankly, "You're right, girl, I am! I love the boy, but he tries my patience past bearing, and I know how it will end, if we go on so."

"I'll tell you, he'll run away." Jo was sorry for that speech the minute it was made. She meant to warn him that Laurie would not bear much restraint, and hoped he would be more forebearing with the lad.

Mr. Laurence's ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down, with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which hung over his table. It was Laurie's father, who had run away in his youth, and married against the imperious old man's will. Jo fancied he remembered and regretted the past, and she wished she had held her tongue.

"He won't do it unless he is very much worried, and only threatens it sometimes, when he gets tired of studying. I often think I should like to, especially since my hair was cut, so if you ever miss us, you may advertise for two boys and look among the ships bound for India."

She laughed as she spoke, and Mr. Laurence looked relieved, evidently taking the whole as a joke.

"You hussy, how dare you talk in that way? Where's your respect for me, and your proper bringing up? Bless the boys and girls! What torments they are, yet we can't do without them," he said, pinching her cheeks good-humoredly. "Go and bring that boy down to his dinner, tell him it's all right, and advise him not to put on tragedy airs with his grandfather. I won't bear it."

"He won't come, Sir. He feels badly because you didn't believe him when he said he couldn't tell. I think the shaking hurt his feelings very much."

Jo tried to look pathetic but must have failed, for Mr. Laurence began to laugh, and she knew the day was won.

"I'm sorry for that, and ought to thank him for not shaking me, I suppose. What the dickens does the fellow expect?" and the old gentleman looked a trifle ashamed of his own testiness.

"If I were you, I'd write him an apology, Sir. He says he won't come down till he has one, and talks about Washington, and goes on in an absurd way. A formal apology will make him see how foolish he is, and bring him down quite amiable. Try it. He likes fun, and this way is better than talking. I'll carry it up, and teach him his duty."

Mr. Laurence gave her a sharp look, and put on his spectacles, saying slowly, "You're a sly puss, but I don't mind being managed by you and Beth. Here, give me a bit of paper, and let us have done with this nonsense."

The note was written in the terms which one gentleman would use to another after offering some deep insult. Jo dropped a kiss on the top of Mr. Laurence's bald head, and ran up to slip the apology under Laurie's door, advising him through the keyhole to be submissive, decorous, and a few other agreeable impossibilities. Finding the door locked again, she left the note to do its work, and was going quietly away, when the young gentleman slid down the banisters, and waited for her at the bottom, saying, with his most virtuous expression of countenance, "What a good fellow you are, Jo! Did you get blown up?" he added, laughing.

"No, he was pretty mild, on the whole."

"Ah! I got it all round. Even you cast me off over there, and I felt just ready to go to the deuce," he began apologetically.

"Don't talk that way, turn over a new leaf and begin again, Teddy, my son."

"I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copybooks, and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end," he said dolefully.

"Go and eat your dinner, you'll feel better after it. Men always croak when they are hungry," and Jo whisked out at the front door after that.

"That's a 'label' on my 'sect'," answered Laurie, quoting Amy, as he went to partake of humble pie dutifully with his grandfather, who was quite saintly in temper and overwhelmingly respectful in manner all the rest of the day.

Everyone thought the matter ended and the little cloud blown over, but the mischief was done, for though others forgot it, Meg remembered. She never alluded to a certain person, but she thought of him a good deal, dreamed dreams more than ever, and once Jo, rummaging her sister's desk for stamps, found a bit of paper scribbled over with the words, 'Mrs. John Brooke', whereat she groaned tragically and cast it into the fire, feeling that Laurie's prank had hastened the evil day for her.

 

第二十一章 劳里恶作剧,乔来讲和

第二天乔的脸色令人捉摸不透。那个秘密在她心头挥之不去,她很难装得若无其事。梅格觉察到她神秘兮兮,心事重重,但她不忙追问,她知道让乔就范的最好办法是反其道而行之,她肯定只要她不问,乔一定自己把心事全倒出来。令她颇为诧异的是,乔仍然守口如瓶,而且摆出一副傲慢的神态,这可把梅格气坏了,她转而也装出一副凛然不可犯的神气,寡言少语,一应大小事情只和母亲商量。马奇太太此时已接替了乔的护理工作,并嘱久困在家的女儿好好休息,尽兴玩乐,这么一来,乔倒没有人烦她了。艾美又不在家,劳里便成了唯一可以慰藉她的人;她虽然十分喜欢劳里作伴,此刻却有点怕他,因为他有一种不可救药的劣根——爱戏弄别人,她担心他会用甜言蜜语把秘密从她口里套出来。

她果然没有估错,这位爱调皮捣蛋的小伙子发觉乔有点异样,疑心顿起,立即穷追不舍,乔从此开始受苦受难。他诱哄、贿赂、嘲笑、威胁、责备;装漠不关心,以求出其不意地套出真相;宣称他知道,然后又说他不在乎;最后,凭着这般锲而不舍的劲头,他终于满意地相信此事与梅格和布鲁克先生有关。自家私人教师的秘密竟不让他知道,他心中愤愤不平,于是苦苦思索如何好好地出一口怨气。

梅格此时显然已忘记了此事,一心一意为父亲的归来作准备,但突然,似乎发生了一种变化,有一两天变得跟从前判若两人。听到有人叫她便猛吃一惊,人家望她一眼她便脸红耳赤,整日不言不语,做针线活时独坐一边,羞答答的,心事重重。母亲过问时她回答自己一切正常,乔问她时她便求她别管。

“她在空气中感受到这种东西——我的意思是,爱——而且她变得很快。那些症状她几乎全得了——颤抖、暴躁、不吃、不睡,背着人愁眉锁眼。我还发现她唱他给她的那首歌,一次她竟然像您一样说''约翰'',然后又转过身去,脸红得像朵罂粟花。我们到底该怎么办?”乔说。看样子她准备采取任何措施,无论这些措施是多么猛烈。

“只有等待。不要干涉她,要和气耐心,等爸爸回来事情就能解决了,”母亲回答。

“这是你的信,梅格,封得严严实实的。真奇怪!特迪从来不封我的信,”第二天乔分派小邮箱里的邮件时这样说。

马奇太太和乔正全神贯注地于着自己的事情,突然听到梅格叫了一声,两人抬起头来,只见她盯着那封信,一脸惊恐的神色。

“我的儿,出了什么事?”母亲边叫边跑向女儿,乔则伸手去夺那封惹祸的信。

“这全是误会——信不是他寄的。噢,乔,你怎能做出这种事情?”梅格双手掩面,痛哭了起来,仿佛心碎了一般。

“我!我什么也没做!她在说什么?”乔被弄糊涂了,叫道。

梅格温柔的眼睛因愤怒而激动得闪闪发亮,她从衣袋里掏出一张揉皱了的纸条,向乔一把扔去,怒声呵斥:“信是你写的,那坏小子帮着你。你们怎能对我这么卑鄙无礼,这么残酷?”乔没有听她说话,她和母亲忙着读这封字迹怪异的信。

“亲亲玛格丽特——

我再也不能控制自己的感情,务必在我归来前知道自己的命运。我还不敢告诉你父母,但我想如果他们知道我们相爱,他们一定会同意。劳伦斯先生将帮我找到一个好职位,而你,我的宝贝,将令我幸福。我求你先别跟你家里人说什么,只请写上一句知心话交劳里转给衷心爱你的约翰。”“噢,这个小坏蛋!我为妈妈保密,他就这样报复我。我去把他痛骂一顿,带他过来求饶,”乔叫道,恨不得立即把真凶缉拿归案。但母亲拦住她,脸上带着一种少见的神情,说道——“站住,乔,你首先得澄清自己。你一向胡闹惯了,我怀疑这事你也有一手。”“我发誓,妈妈,我没有!我从来没看过这封信,更不知道这是怎么一回事,我绝无虚言!“乔说话时神情极其认真,母亲和梅格相信了她。”如果我参与了这事,我会干得更漂亮一些,写一封合情合理的信。我想你们也知道布鲁克先生不会写出这种东西,”她接着说,轻蔑地把信往地下一抛。

“但这字像是他写的,”梅格结结巴巴地说,把这封信和手中的一封比较。

“哎呀,梅格,你没回信吧?”马奇太太急问。

“我,我回了!”梅格再次掩着脸,羞愧得无地自容。

“那可糟透了!快让我把那可恶的小子带过来教训一顿,让他解释清楚。不把他抓来我决不罢休。”乔又向门口冲去。

“冷静!这事让我来处理,它比我原来想象的更糟。玛格丽特,把这事完完整整地告诉我。”马奇太太一面下令一面在梅格身边坐下,一只手却抓着乔不放,以免她溜脱出去。

“我从劳里那儿收到第一封信,他看上去似乎对这事一无所知,”梅格低着头说,”我一开始的时候感到惶恐不安,打算告诉您,后来想起你们十分喜欢布鲁克先生,我便想,即使我把这件小小的心事藏上几天,你们也不会怪我的。我真傻,以为这事没有人知道,而当我在考虑怎么回答时,我觉得自己就像书里头那些坠入爱河的女孩子。原谅我,妈妈,我做的傻事现在得到了报应;我再也没脸见他了。”“你跟他说了些什么?”马奇太太问。

“我只说我年龄尚小,还不适宜谈这种事情,说我不想瞒着你们,他必须跟父亲说。我对他的心意万分感激,愿做他的朋友,但仅此而已,其他以后再说。”马奇太太听完露出了欣慰的笑容,乔双手一拍,笑着叫道:“你可真是个卡罗琳•珀西。她是谨言慎行的楷模哩!往下说,梅格。他对此怎么说?”“他回了一封风格完全不同的信,告诉我他从来没有写过什么情信,他很遗憾我那淘气捣蛋的妹妹乔竟这样冒用我们的名字。信中言辞委婉,对我十分敬重,但想想我有多尴尬!“梅格靠在母亲身上,哭得成了个泪人儿,乔急得一面叫着劳里的名字,一面在屋子里团团乱转。忽然,她停下来,拿起两张纸条,细细看了一回,断然说道:“我看这两封信没有一封是布鲁克写的,都是特迪写的,他把你的信留着,好向我抖抖威风,因为我不把自己的心事告诉他。”“不要藏什么心事,乔。告诉妈妈,免招灾祸,我本该那么做的,”梅格警告道。

“说得好,梅格!妈妈也这样跟我说过。”“行了,乔。我陪着梅格,你去把劳里找来。我要细细查究此事,立即终止这出恶作剧。”

乔跑出去,马奇太太轻声跟梅格说出布鲁克先生的真实感情。”嗯,亲爱的,你自己的意思呢?你是否爱他?爱得足以等到他有能力为你筑一个爱巢的那一天?或者你宁可暂时无牵无挂、无拘无束?”“我吃够了担惊受怕的苦头,起码很长一段时间内我都不想跟情呀爱的有什么联系了,也许永远都不,”梅格使着性子说道,“如果约翰不知道这桩荒唐事,那就别告诉他,让乔和劳里闭上嘴。我不想被人蒙在鼓里当傻子耍——这是个耻辱!”梅格素来性格温柔,此时却被这个恶作剧气得使上了性子,自尊心也受到了伤害,马奇太太连忙劝慰她,允诺一定万分小心,绝不泄漏秘密。大厅里传来了劳里的脚步声。梅格立即躲入书房,马奇太太独自一人接待这位"罪犯"。乔怕他不来,并没有说明把他叫来的原因,但他一看到马奇太太的脸色就明白了,于是愧疚不安地站着,帽子转过来又转过去,让人一眼就看出他正是罪魁祸首。乔撤出了房间,但却像个看守一样在客厅里大步徘徊,仿佛担心囚犯会逃走似的。

客厅里的声音忽高忽低,持续了半个小时,但两人到底谈了些什么姑娘们却无从知道。

当她们被叫进去时,劳里站在母亲身边,满脸悔意,乔见了心里一软,当场便原谅了他,只是不愿表露出来。劳里低声下气地向梅格赔不是,并安慰她布鲁克先生完全不知道这个玩笑,梅格心里才松了一口气,并接受了他的道歉。

“我到死也不会告诉他——即使严刑拷问也不说;这样你会原谅我了吧,梅格?我真想为你做任何事,来证明我是多么后悔,”他说道,满脸羞愧之色。

“我尽量吧,但这实在不是绅士的作风。我料不到你竟这样狡诈恶毒,劳里,“梅格佯装严厉地责备道,借以掩饰自己的窘态。

“我深知自己罪无可恕,你们一个月不跟我说话我也是罪有应得,但你们不会这样对我的,是吗?”他说话时可怜巴巴地把双手十指交叉叠在一起,他的声调具有不可抗拒的说服力,大家都没法再对他横眉怒目,尽管他犯下了如此恶行。梅格宽恕了他,马奇太太虽然竭力保持严肃,但听他说愿意做牛做马将功折罪,愿意在受到伤害的梅格面前卑躬屈膝,那凝重的脸色也缓和下来。

乔独自走到一边,试图铁起心肠,不吃他这一套,结果成功地把面孔绷得老紧,仿佛对他深恶痛绝。劳里看了她两回,但她全无一点怜悯的意思,他觉得受了伤害,便转身把背脊对着她,一直等母亲和梅格说完了,才向她深深一弯身子,一言不发,径自走出门去。

他一走,乔便后悔自己刚才做得太无情,待梅格和母亲上了楼后,她感到十分孤独,很想见一见特迪。踌躇了半天,她还是向自己的冲动屈服了,于是携了一本书,径直走到那座大房子前。

“劳伦斯先生在家吗?”乔问一位走下楼梯的女佣。

“在的,小姐。但我想他现在不便见客。”“为什么?他病了吗?”“唉,不是,小姐,他和劳里先生当众吵了一架,小先生不知为什么发脾气,惹得老先生火气冲天,所以我这会不敢走近他。”“劳里在哪儿?”“关在自己的房间里,凭我怎样敲门他都不理。我不知道拿这顿饭这么办,饭菜准备好了,却没有人来吃。”“我去看看怎么回事。我不怕他们。”乔走上去,来到劳里的小书房前,使劲敲门。

“别敲!不然我打开门揍你一顿!”年青人大声恫吓道。

乔接着又敲,门突然打开,趁劳里惊讶得一时没有反应过来,乔快步冲了进去。乔知道怎样驾驭他,看到他果然大动肝火,便装出一副幡然悔悟的样子,双膝轻轻跪下,柔声说道:“请恕我一时无礼,我特来讲和,讲不成便不走。”“行了,起来吧,别像个傻瓜,乔。”他态度傲慢地答应了乔的请求。

“谢谢,我起来了。我能问问出了什么事吗?你似乎心里很不畅快。”“我被人摇了肩膀,我忍无可忍!”劳里愤怒地咆吼道。

“谁摇你了?”乔问。

“爷爷。如果换了别人我保准——"这位心灵受创的年青人右手狠狠一挥,把话止祝"那有什么。我也常常摇你,你从不生气,”乔安慰道。

“呸!你是个姑娘家,那样摇摇是一种乐趣。但我不允许男人摇我。”“如果你像现在这样暴跳如雷,被人摇两下也不足为怪。

你爷爷为什么那样对你?”

“就因为我不肯告诉他你妈妈为什么把我叫去。我答应过不说的,当然不能失信。”“你不能换个法儿满足一下他老人家吗?”“不能,他就是要听真相,完完整整的真相,其他一概不听。假如能不拉扯上梅格,我可以告诉他部分真相。既然不能,我便一句话也不说,由他去骂,最后他竟一把抓住我的领口。我气坏了,赶紧脱身溜掉,担心自己气昏了头,会做出什么事来。”“这是他不对,但我知道他后悔了,还是下去和解吧。我来帮你说。”“那我宁可去死,我不过开了一个玩笑,难道便要被你们每个人轮流教训、挨揍不成?我是对不起梅格,也已经堂堂正正地道了歉;但我不会再向谁卑躬屈膝,如果我没有做错。”“但他并不知道埃”“他应该信任我,不要把我当小孩子对待。没有用的,乔,他得明白我能够照顾自己,不需要牵着人家的围裙带子走。”“真是个辣椒罐子!”乔叹道,”你说这事该怎么解决?”“哦。地应该跟我道歉,我说过这事不能告诉他,他应该相信我。”“哎呀!他不会这样做的。”“那我就不下去。”“听我说,特迪,理智一点。让这事过去吧,我会尽我所能解释清楚的。你总不能老呆在这里吧,这样激动有什么用呢?”“我可并不打算在这里久留。我要离家出走,漂泊异乡,当爷爷想我时,他很快就会回心转意了。”“但你恐怕不该这样伤他的心。”“别啰嗦。我要去华盛顿看布鲁克;那地方充满乐趣,我要无忧无虑地痛玩一常”“那有多痛快!我恨不能也跟了去。”乔脑海里展现出一幅幅生动的军人生活画面,不觉忘记了自己现在充当的角色。

“那就一起走吧,嗨!为什么不呢?你给父亲一个惊喜,我给布鲁克一个突然袭击。这个玩笑妙不可言;干吧,乔。我们留一封平安信,然后立即出发。我有足够的钱;这样做对你也有益无害,因为你是去看父亲。”乔似乎就要点头了,因为这个计划虽然轻率,却正适合她的性格。她早已厌倦了的禁闭式的护理生活,渴望改变一下环境,想到父亲,想到新奇、有趣、充满魅力的军营和医院,想到自由自在的生活,她不禁意乱神迷。她憧憬地向窗外望去,一双眼睛闪闪发亮,但她的眼光落到了对面的老屋上面,她摇摇头,伤心地作出了决定。

“假如我是个男孩子,我们就可以一起出走,玩个痛痛快快;但我是个可怜的女孩子,只能规规矩矩守在家里。别引诱我了,特迪,这是个疯狂的计划。”“这正是乐趣之所在,”劳里说。他天生任性固执,一时冲动之下,竟然一心要做出出格的事情。

“别说了!”乔捂着耳朵叫道,”''恪守妇道''就是我的命运。我还是认命吧。我是来感化你的,不是来听你教唆我。”“我知道梅格一定会败我的兴,但我以为你更有胆略呢。”劳里用激将法。

“坏小子,住嘴吧!坐下好好反思自己的罪过,别撺掇得我也罪孽深重。如果我让你爷爷来向你赔个不是,你就不走了吧?”乔严肃地问。

“嗯,但你办不到,”劳里答道,他愿意和解,但觉得必须先平息心头的一股怨气。

“如果我能对付小的,就能对付老的,”乔一面走一面喃喃自语,劳里则留在原地,双手托着头,弯腰看铁路图。

“进来!”乔敲门时,劳伦斯先生的声音听起来越发硬邦邦的。

“是我,先生,来还书,”乔走进门,温和地说道。

“还要再借吗?”老人脸色十分难看,却尽量装得若无起事。

“要的。我迷上了老萨姆,想读读第二部,”乔答道,希望藉再借一本鲍斯威尔的《约翰生》来平息老人的心头之怒,因为他以前推荐过这本生动传神的著作。

他把踏梯推到放约翰生文学的书架前,拧紧的浓眉舒展了一些。乔跳上去,坐在踏梯顶上,假装找书,心里却在盘算怎样开口最好,才能提及她来访的危险的目的。劳伦斯先生似乎猜到了她的心事,他在屋子里快步兜了几圈,然后转头看着她,突然发问,吓得乔把《拉塞勒斯》掉到了地上。

“那小子干了什么?别护着他。看他回家后神不守舍的样子,我就知道他惹了祸。但他一个字也不说,我摇他的领口,想吓他说出真话,地却逃上楼,把自己反锁在房间里。”“他是做错了事,但我们已经原谅了他,而且一致许诺不跟别人说,”乔犹犹豫豫地开口说。

“那不行,不能因为你们姑娘们心肠软,他便可以逍遥法外。如果他干了坏事,就应该承认道歉,并受到惩罚。说出来吧,乔,我不想被蒙在鼓里。”劳伦斯先生形容可怖,声调严厉,乔真想拔腿就跑,但她正坐在高高的踏梯上,而他就站在脚下,俨如一只挡道的狮子,她只好原地不动,鼓足勇气开了口。

“真的,先生,我不能说。妈妈不许说。劳里已经坦白承认了,道了歉,并受到了重罚。我们不说出来并非要护他,而是要护另外一个人,如果你干预,那只会徒添麻烦。请你不要管吧;我也有部分责任,不过现在没事了;我们还是把它忘掉,谈谈《漫游者》或什么令人愉快的东西吧。”“去他的《漫游者》!下来向我保证我那冒冒失失的小子没有做出什么忘恩负义、鲁莽无礼的事情。如果他做了,居然对你们恩将仇报,那我就亲手揍扁他。”此话虽然说得十分严重,却并没有吓倒乔,因为她知道这个脾气暴躁的老绅士绝不会动他的孙子一个指头的,他说的话要反过来听。她依言走下踏梯,把恶作剧尽量轻描淡写地复述一遍,既不把梅格牵涉进去,也不背离事实。

“唔——啊——好吧,如果那小子是因为守诺言才不说,而不是因为执拗,我就原谅他。这家伙是个牛脾气,很难管祝"劳伦斯先生边说边把头发搔得像被大风吹过一样,紧锁的眉头也舒展开来。

“我也一样,一意孤行起来就像脱僵的野马,怎样拉也拉不住,不过,一句好话却能化解我。”乔想替她倒霉的朋友说句好话,而她的朋友却好像接二连三地又陷入了困境。

“你以为我待他不好吗,嗯?”老人敏锐地问。

“噢,哎呀,不是的,先生,其实您有时对他甚至还太宠爱了一点儿,而当他淘气捣蛋时,您又稍微心急了一点儿。您看是不是这样?”乔决定这回把心里话全倒出来,她壮着胆子说完,激动得微微颤抖,但却努力装得十分镇静。出乎意料的是——这也令她舒了一口气——老人只是把自己的眼镜啪的一声扔到桌子上,坦诚地叫道——“你说得对,姑娘,我就是这样!我爱这孩子,但他把我折磨得受不了啦,如果这样下去,我不知道会有什么结果。”“我告诉您,他要离家出走。”话方说出乔便后悔了;她其实是想警告他劳里不能忍受太严格的管制,希望地对小伙子能更宽容一点。

劳伦斯先生红润的脸膛霎时变了颜色,他坐下来,焦虑不安地扫了一眼挂在桌子上方的一幅美男子图像。那是劳里的父亲,他年轻时离家出走,违背老人的旨意结了婚。乔相信他又在追悔痛苦的往事,直希望自己刚才闭着嘴巴。

“除非是逼急了他才会这样做,书读倦了的时候他也会这样恫吓两句。我也常有这个念头呢,尤其是在剪了头发之后,所以如果您想我们了,不妨发个寻人广告,并在开往印度的轮船上查查有没有两个小伙子。”她说着笑起来,劳伦斯先生舒了一口气,显然把这当作是一个玩笑。

“你这莽撞鬼,怎敢这样说话?你眼里头还有没有我,这样没有规矩?这些姑娘小伙子啊!他们真会折磨人,但没有他们我们又活不下去,”他说着愉快地拧拧她的脸颊,”去,把那小子带来吃饭,告诉他没事了,劝他别在他爷爷面前装得愁眉苦脸的,我受不了。”“他不会下来的,先生;他心情很坏,因为当他说他不能告诉你的时候,你不信他的话,我想您这样摇他大大伤害了他的感情。”乔努力装出一副可怜巴巴的样子,但一定没有装好,因为劳伦斯先生笑了,她知道她胜利了。

“我为此道歉,而且还应该感谢他没有反过来摇我呢,我想。那家伙到底想怎么样?”老人显然为自己的暴躁感到有点不好意思。

“如果我是您,我就给他写一封道歉信,先生。他说要您道了歉才下来,还说起华盛顿,而且越说越不像话。一封正式的道歉信可以让他意识到自己是多么愚蠢,并让他心平气和地下来。写吧;他喜欢闹着玩,而这样比当面说更有趣儿。

我把信带上去,跟他摆明道理。”

劳伦斯先生敏锐地盯了她一眼,带上眼镜,一字一句地说:“你是只狡猾的小猫,不过我不介意被你和贝思牵着走。

来,给我一张纸,我们把这桩荒唐事来个了断。”信中所用的措辞诚恳恭敬,表达了一位绅士对伤害了另一位的深深歉意。乔在劳伦斯先生的秃顶上印了一个吻,跑上楼把道歉信从劳里的门缝下面塞进去,透过钥匙孔谆谆告诫他要听话、有涵养,又讲了一些大道理。看到门又锁上了,她便把信留在那儿让劳里看,自己悄悄走开,才走了几步,年青人从楼梯扶手上滑下来,站在下面等她,脸上流露出一种无比圣洁的神情。”你真好,乔!刚才有没有碰得头破血流?”他笑着说。

“没有,总的说来,他相当心平气和呢。”“啊哈!我全想通了,虽说我被你独自遗弃在屋里,精神到了崩溃的边缘,”他内疚地说。

“别这么说,翻过新的一页重新开始,特迪,我的儿。”“我不断翻过新页,又把它们一一毁掉,就像我以前毁掉自己的练习本一样;我开的头太多了,永远不会有结果,”他悲哀地说道。

“去吃你的饭吧,吃饱了你就会好受一些。男人肚子饿的时候喜欢发牢骚。”乔说毕飞步走出,来到前门。

“这是对''我派''的''标价'',”劳里学着艾美的话回答,乖乖地和爷爷一起进餐去了。此后一整天老人心情奇佳,言谈举止也极其谦和恭敬。

人人都以为云开雾散,事情就此结束了,谁知这个恶作剧却带来了严重的后果。因为虽然大家都把它忘得一干二净,梅格却把它记在心里。她虽然在人前只字不提,心里却经常想到那位年青人,而且夜里频频做梦。一次,乔在她姐姐的书桌里头找邮票,居然搜得一张上面涂鸦般写满了"约翰•布鲁克太太"字样的纸片,恨得她咬牙切齿,把纸片投进火中,她知道劳里的玩笑使她又恨又怕的那一天加速到来了。




CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO PLEASANT MEADOWS

Like sunshine after a storm were the peaceful weeks which followed. The invalids improved rapidly, and Mr. March began to talk of returning early in the new year. Beth was soon able to lie on the study sofa all day, amusing herself with the well-beloved cats at first, and in time with doll's sewing, which had fallen sadly behind-hand. Her once active limbs were so stiff and feeble that Jo took her for a daily airing about the house in her strong arms. Meg cheerfully blackened and burned her white hands cooking delicate messes for 'the dear', while Amy, a loyal slave of the ring, celebrated her return by giving away as many of her treasures as she could prevail on her sisters to accept.

As Christmas approached, the usual mysteries began to haunt the house, and Jo frequently convulsed the family by proposing utterly impossible or magnificently absurd ceremonies, in honor of this unusually merry Christmas. Laurie was equally impracticable, and would have had bonfires, skyrockets, and triumphal arches, if he had had his own way. After many skirmishes and snubbings, the ambitious pair were considered effectually quenched and went about with forlorn faces, which were rather belied by explosions of laughter when the two got together.

Several days of unusually mild weather fitly ushered in a splendid Christmas Day. Hannah 'felt in her bones' that it was going to be an unusually fine day, and she proved herself a true prophetess, for everybody and everything seemed bound to produce a grand success. To begin with, Mr. March wrote that he should soon be with them, then Beth felt uncommonly well that morning, and, being dressed in her mother's gift, a soft crimson merino wrapper, was borne in high triumph to the window to behold the offering of Jo and Laurie. The Unquenchables had done their best to be worthy of the name, for like elves they had worked by night and conjured up a comical surprise. Out in the garden stood a stately snow maiden, crowned with holly, bearing a basket of fruit and flowers in one hand, a great roll of music in the other, a perfect rainbow of an Afghan round her chilly shoulders, and a Christmas carol issuing from her lips on a pink paper streamer.

THE JUNGFRAU TO BETH

God bless you, dear Queen Bess!
May nothing you dismay,
But health and peace and happiness
Be yours, this Christmas day.

Here's fruit to feed our busy bee,
And flowers for her nose.
Here's music for her pianee,
An afghan for her toes,

A portrait of Joanna, see,
By Raphael No. 2,
Who laboured with great industry
To make it fair and true.

Accept a ribbon red, I beg,
For Madam Purrer's tail,
And ice cream made by lovely Peg,
A Mont Blanc in a pail.

Their dearest love my makers laid
Within my breast of snow.
Accept it, and the Alpine maid,
From Laurie and from Jo.

How Beth laughed when she saw it, how Laurie ran up and down to bring in the gifts, and what ridiculous speeches Jo made as she presented them.

"I'm so full of happiness, that if Father was only here, I couldn't hold one drop more," said Beth, quite sighing with contentment as Jo carried her off to the study to rest after the excitement, and to refresh herself with some of the delicious grapes the 'Jungfrau' had sent her.

"So am I," added Jo, slapping the pocket wherein reposed the long-desired Undine and Sintram.

"I'm sure I am," echoed Amy, poring over the engraved copy of the Madonna and Child, which her mother had given her in a pretty frame.

"Of course I am!" cried Meg, smoothing the silvery folds of her first silk dress, for Mr. Laurence had insisted on giving it. "How can I be otherwise?" said Mrs. March gratefully, as her eyes went from her husband's letter to Beth's smiling face, and her hand carressed the brooch made of gray and golden, chestnut and dark brown hair, which the girls had just fastened on her breast.

Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is. Half an hour after everyone had said they were so happy they could only hold one drop more, the drop came. Laurie opened the parlor door and popped his head in very quietly. He might just as well have turned a somersault and uttered an Indian war whoop, for his face was so full of suppressed excitement and his voice so treacherously joyful that everyone jumped up, though he only said, in a queer, breathless voice, "Here's another Christmas present for the March family."

Before the words were well out of his mouth, he was whisked away somehow, and in his place appeared a tall man, muffled up to the eyes, leaning on the arm of another tall man, who tried to say something and couldn't. Of course there was a general stampede, and for several minutes everybody seemed to lose their wits, for the strangest things were done, and no one said a word.

Mr. March became invisible in the embrace of four pairs of loving arms. Jo disgraced herself by nearly fainting away, and had to be doctored by Laurie in the china closet. Mr. Brooke kissed Meg entirely by mistake, as he somewhat incoherently explained. And Amy, the dignified, tumbled over a stool, and never stopping to get up, hugged and cried over her father's boots in the most touching manner. Mrs. March was the first to recover herself, and held up her hand with a warning, "Hush! Remember Beth."

But it was too late. The study door flew open, the little red wrapper appeared on the threshold, joy put strength into the feeble limbs, and Beth ran straight into her father's arms. Never mind what happened just after that, for the full hearts overflowed, washing away the bitterness of the past and leaving only the sweetness of the present.

It was not at all romantic, but a hearty laugh set everybody straight again, for Hannah was discovered behind the door, sobbing over the fat turkey, which she had forgotten to put down when she rushed up from the kitchen. As the laugh subsided, Mrs. March began to thank Mr. Brooke for his faithful care of her husband, at which Mr. Brooke suddenly remembered that Mr. March needed rest, and seizing Laurie, he precipitately retired. Then the two invalids were ordered to repose, which they did, by both sitting in one big chair and talking hard.

Mr. March told how he had longed to surprise them, and how, when the fine weather came, he had been allowed by his doctor to take advantage of it, how devoted Brooke had been, and how he was altogether a most estimable and upright young man. Why Mr. March paused a minute just there, and after a glance at Meg, who was violently poking the fire, looked at his wife with an inquiring lift of the eyebrows, I leave you to imagine. Also why Mrs. March gently nodded her head and asked, rather abruptly, if he wouldn't like to have something to eat. Jo saw and understood the look, and she stalked grimly away to get wine and beef tea, muttering to herself as she slammed the door, "I hate estimable young men with brown eyes!"

There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day. The fat turkey was a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up, stuffed, browned, and decorated. So was the plum pudding, which melted in one's mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy reveled like a fly in a honeypot. Everything turned out well, which was a mercy, Hannah said, "For my mind was that flustered, Mum, that it's a merrycle I didn't roast the pudding, and stuff the turkey with raisins, let alone bilin' of it in a cloth."

Mr. Laurence and his grandson dined with them, also Mr. Brooke, at whom Jo glowered darkly, to Laurie's infinite amusement. Two easy chairs stood side by side at the head of the table, in which sat Beth and her father, feasting modestly on chicken and a little fruit. They drank healths, told stories, sang songs, 'reminisced', as the old folks say, and had a thoroughly good time. A sleigh ride had been planned, but the girls would not leave their father, so the guests departed early, and as twilight gathered, the happy family sat together round the fire.

"Just a year ago we were groaning over the dismal Christmas we expected to have. Do you remember?" asked Jo, breaking a short pause which had followed a long conversation about many things.

"Rather a pleasant year on the whole!" said Meg, smiling at the fire, and congratulating herself on having treated Mr. Brooke with dignity.

"I think it's been a pretty hard one," observed Amy, watching the light shine on her ring with thoughtful eyes.

"I'm glad it's over, because we've got you back," whispered Beth, who sat on her father's knee.

"Rather a rough road for you to travel, my little pilgrims, especially the latter part of it. But you have got on bravely, and I think the burdens are in a fair way to tumble off very soon," said Mr. March, looking with fatherly satisfaction at the four young faces gathered round him.

"How do you know? Did Mother tell you?" asked Jo.

"Not much. Straws show which way the wind blows, and I've made several discoveries today."

"Oh, tell us what they are!" cried Meg, who sat beside him.

"Here is one." And taking up the hand which lay on the arm of his chair, he pointed to the roughened forefinger, a burn on the back, and two or three little hard spots on the palm. "I remember a time when this hand was white and smooth, and your first care was to keep it so. It was very pretty then, but to me it is much prettier now, for in this seeming blemishes I read a little history. A burnt offering has been made to vanity, this hardened palm has earned something better than blisters, and I'm sure the sewing done by these pricked fingers will last a long time, so much good will went into the stitches. Meg, my dear, I value the womanly skill which keeps home happy more than white hands or fashionable accomplishments. I'm proud to shake this good, industrious little hand, and hope I shall not soon be asked to give it away."

If Meg had wanted a reward for hours of patient labor, she received it in the hearty pressure of her father's hand and the approving smile he gave her.

"What about Jo? Please say something nice, for she has tried so hard and been so very, very good to me," said Beth in her father's ear.

He laughed and looked across at the tall girl who sat opposite, with an unusually mild expression in her face.

"In spite of the curly crop, I don't see the 'son Jo' whom I left a year ago," said Mr. March. "I see a young lady who pins her collar straight, laces her boots neatly, and neither whistles, talks slang, nor lies on the rug as she used to do. Her face is rather thin and pale just now, with watching and anxiety, but I like to look at it, for it has grown gentler, and her voice is lower. She doesn't bounce, but moves quietly, and takes care of a certain little person in a motherly way which delights me. I rather miss my wild girl, but if I get a strong, helpful, tenderhearted woman in her place, I shall feel quite satisfied. I don't know whether the shearing sobered our black sheep, but I do know that in all Washington I couldn't find anything beautiful enough to be bought with the five-and-twenty dollars my good girl sent me."

Jo's keen eyes were rather dim for a minute, and her thin face grew rosy in the firelight as she received her father's praise, feeling that she did deserve a portion of it.

"Now, Beth," said Amy, longing for her turn, but ready to wait.

"There's so little of her, I'm afraid to say much, for fear she will slip away altogether, though she is not so shy as she used to be," began their father cheerfully. But recollecting how nearly he had lost her, he held her close, saying tenderly, with her cheek against his own, "I've got you safe, my Beth, and I'll keep you so, please God."

After a minute's silence, he looked down at Amy, who sat on the cricket at his feet, and said, with a caress of the shining hair...

"I observed that Amy took drumsticks at dinner, ran errands for her mother all the afternoon, gave Meg her place tonight, and has waited on every one with patience and good humor. I also observe that she does not fret much nor look in the glass, and has not even mentioned a very pretty ring which she wears, so I conclude that she has learned to think of other people more and of herself less, and has decided to try and mold her character as carefully as she molds her little clay figures. I am glad of this, for though I should be very proud of a graceful statue made by her, I shall be infinitely prouder of a lovable daughter with a talent for making life beautiful to herself and others."

"What are you thinking of, Beth?" asked Jo, when Amy had thanked her father and told about her ring.

"I read in Pilgrim's Progress today how, after many troubles, Christian and Hopeful came to a pleasant green meadow where lilies bloomed all year round, and there they rested happily, as we do now, before they went on to their journey's end," answered Beth, adding, as she slipped out of her father's arms and went to the instrument, "It's singing time now, and I want to be in my old place. I'll try to sing the song of the shepherd boy which the Pilgrims heard. I made the music for Father, because he likes the verses."

So, sitting at the dear little piano, Beth softly touched the keys, and in the sweet voice they had never thought to hear again, sang to her own accompaniment the quaint hymn, which was a singularly fitting song for her.


He that is down need fear no fall,
He that is low no pride.
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.

I am content with what I have,
Little be it, or much.
And, Lord! Contentment still I crave,
Because Thou savest such.

Fulness to them a burden is,
That go on pilgrimage.
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age!




 

第二十二章 怡人的草地

所谓雨过天晴,之后的几个星期风平浪静。病人恢复得非常快,马奇先生开始谈到他新年初回家。贝思很快便可以整天躺在书房的沙发上玩乐,起初是跟那几只宠爱的猫儿玩,后来便掂起了洋娃娃活计,吃力地慢慢缝制,让人见了伤心。

她一向灵活的四肢如今变得僵硬无力,乔每天得用力把她抱到屋外呼吸新鲜空气。梅格愉快地为"乖乖女"烹调各式美味伙食,把一双雪白的手熏得黑糊糊的,而艾美,这位姐姐们的忠实仆从,则费尽唇舌地劝说姐姐们接受她的宝藏,以纪念她回家之喜。

圣诞节一天天临近了,屋里开始弥漫着一股神秘的节日气氛。乔为这个不同寻常的"快乐圣诞"频频献计,提出许多完全没有可能或滑天下之大稽的庆祝活动,令全家人捧腹大笑。劳里同样不切合实际,竟然出些点大篝火、放焰火、搭凯旋门的主意。大家唇枪舌剑,各不相让,最后,那对野心勃勃的朋友终于偃旗息鼓,拉长着脸乱兜圈子,大家正以为他们就此罢休了,却又看到两人走到一起,叽叽喳喳,哈哈大笑。

近日来天气异常暖和,恰到好处地带来了一个阳光灿烂的圣诞节。罕娜"从骨子里头感觉到"这一天将会是一个不同寻常的大好日子,事实证明她的预言完全正确,因为似乎一切顺利,人人心想事成。首先,马奇先生来信说他很快就要和她们团聚。然后,那天贝思早上觉得特别精神,她穿着妈妈送给她的礼物——一件柔软的深红色美利奴羊毛晨衣——被背到窗前观赏乔和劳里的献礼。两位誓不罢休者大展身手,为了自己的名声,一夜之间像小精灵一样创造了一个妙趣横生的奇观。只见外面花园里耸立着一个庄严高贵的雪人少女,头戴冬青枝花冠,一只手挽一篮水果鲜花,另一只手执一大卷新乐谱,冰冷的肩膀上披一条彩虹般缤纷的阿富汗披围巾,嘴里吐出一首圣诞颂歌,歌词写在一面粉红色的纸幡上:高山少女致贝思上帝保佑你,亲爱的贝思女王!

愿你永不失望,快乐、平和、健康,

在这喜庆的圣诞。

送上水果给我们勤劳的蜜蜂品尝,

送上鲜花让她闻闻馥郁的芬芳;

送上乐谱让她在小钢琴上弹奏,

送上阿富汗披巾让她翩翩起舞。

送上一幅乔安娜的画像,呀,

这可是拉斐尔第二的作品,

为了画得形神兼备,

她可是下足了功力。

再赠你一条红绸巾,

用来点缀"佩儿小姐"的尾巴;

还有一桶佩格做的冰淇淋——

堆得像勃朗峰一样高耸入云。

我的创造者把他们的挚爱

放进我雪白的心胸:

请从乔和劳里的手中

收下这份爱吧,连同这位高山少女。

贝思看到这份歌词笑得好不开心,劳里跑上跑下把礼物拿进来,乔则语无伦次地向大家发表致词。

兴奋过后,乔把贝思抱到书房休息,贝思吃着"高山少女"送给她的又鲜又甜的菩提子提神,心满意足地叹息道:“我感到太幸福了,可惜爸爸不在这里,否则就十全十美了。”“我也一样,”乔拍拍装着渴望已久的《水中女神》一书的口袋说。

“我当然也一样,”艾思响应道。她正在认真研究母亲镶在精致的画框中送给她的版画“圣母和圣婴”。

“我也是!”梅格叫道。她正在抚平平生第一件丝质衣裳上面的折皱,这件银色丝绸裙子是劳伦斯先生坚持让她收下的。

“我又怎能不是呢?”马奇太太看着丈夫写来的信,又看着贝思的笑脸,轻轻抚摸着那枚刚刚由女儿们别在她胸前,用灰色、金色、栗色和深棕色头发做成的胸针,心中充满感激之情。

真是无巧不成书,这沉闷乏味的俗世有时确实会发生一些令人愉快的巧事,给人带来极大的安慰。半个小时前,大家都还在说只可惜了一件事,否则就十全十美了,哪想到这件事说来就来。劳里打开客厅大门,悄悄地把头伸进来。他刚才也许是翻了个筋斗,或是发了一声印地安战场上的那种呐喊声,因为他脸上露出抑制不住的兴奋之情,声音显得欣喜又神秘,大家禁不住全跳了起来。只听他怪腔怪调、气喘吁吁地说道:“马奇家的又一个圣诞礼物现在到来!”话音未落,他便被轻轻推到一边,取而代之的是一个高个子男人,蒙着脸,只露出一双眼睛,靠在另一个高个子男人的手臂上,那男人想说什么却又说不出来。情形当即大乱,大家一时似乎全都失去了理智,她们不发一言,却做出极起离奇古怪的举动。母女四人一拥而上,动情地把马奇先生紧紧围抱起来,乔几乎晕倒,不得不在瓷器间里接受劳里的救治,大失淑女风度;布鲁克先生亲吻梅格,那是纯属误会,他后来结结巴巴地解释;而艾美,这位高贵小姐,被凳子绊了一跤,也不爬起来,而是就势抱着她父亲的双脚动情大哭。马奇太太第一个恢服了常态,举起手来示意:“嘘!别忘了贝思!”但已经太迟了;书房门猛然打开,穿着红色晨衣的小人儿跨出门槛——欢乐给软弱无力的四肢注入了力量——贝思直扑进父亲的怀中。此后发生了什么已无关重要。洋溢心头的幸福之情已冲走了昨天的痛苦,此时此刻,大家心中只有一片甜蜜,一片温馨。

此时发生一了一件虽不浪漫但却令人捧腹的事情,把大家重新带回到现实生活之中。大家发现罕娜站在门后,捧着肥硕的火鸡抽抽噎噎:原来她从厨房冲出来时忘了把火鸡放下。大家笑过后,马奇太太开始向布鲁克先生道谢,感谢他精心照顾自己的丈夫,布鲁克先生突然想起马奇先生需要休息,赶快拽起劳里仓促撤离。众人命两位病人休息,两人不敢违命,便一同坐在一张大椅子上谈个不停。

马奇先生诉说了自己是如何想让她们惊喜一番,医生是如何让他趁天气暖和出院,布鲁克这年轻人又是如何热心,如何正直有涵养等等。说到这里马奇先生顿一顿,扫了一眼正在捅炉火的梅格,扬起双眉望望妻子,似乎在询问什么,起中深意何在,请读者们自己想象;马奇太太也轻轻点点头,然后颇为突然地问他是否要吃点什么。乔明白这个眼色的意思,便板着面孔去拿牛肉汁和酒,一面把门呼的一声带上,咕咕哝哝地自语道:“我憎恨棕色眼睛有涵养的年轻人!”那天的圣诞晚餐是有史以来最为丰盛的一次。罕娜端上的火鸡又肥又大,里头塞满了填料,烤得赤里透红,而且点缀得十分好看;葡萄干布丁也同样令人垂涎欲滴,放进口里就溶化了;还有令人胃口大开的果子冻,把艾美喜得就像落到了蜜罐里的苍蝇,吃得痛快淋漓。一切都尽如人意,这真是上天可怜,罕娜说:“因为我当时心里头别提有多慌张,太太,我没有错把布丁烤熟,把菩提子干塞到火鸡里头,把火鸡包在布里煮,已经是一个奇迹了。”劳伦斯先生和他的孙子跟他们一起进餐,还有布鲁克先生——乔悻悻地对他怒目而视,令劳里乐不可支。贝思和父亲并排坐在桌子前面的两张安乐椅上,适度地吃一点鸡肉和少许水果。他们为健康干杯,讲故事,唱歌,”话旧",如老人家所说,玩得十分痛快。有人提议滑雪橇,但姑娘们不愿离开父亲;于是客人们早早告辞。夜幕降临之际,幸福的一家人围着炉火团团而坐。

大家谈了许多许多,然后停顿了一会,乔打破沉静,问:“一年前我们在沉闷乏味的圣诞节前夕大发牢骚。你们还记得吗?”“总的来说这一年过得相当愉快!“梅格笑微微地望着火苗说,暗暗庆幸自己刚才在布鲁克先生面前没有失态。

“我认为这一年相当艰苦,”艾美评论道,若有所思地看着手上亮光闪闪的戒指。

“我庆幸这一年已经过去了,因为我们把您盼回来了,”坐在父亲膝上的贝思轻声说道。

“你们走的路确实不平坦,我的小香客们,尤其是后半部分。但你们勇敢地向前走,我想你们肩上的担子很快就能落下来的,”马奇先生慈爱地望着围绕身边的四张年轻面孔,满意地说。

“你怎么知道的?妈妈跟你说了吗?”乔问。

“不多。不过,草动知风向,我今天有几个发现呢。”“噢,告诉我们是哪几个!”坐在他身旁的梅格叫道。

“这便是一个。”他把放在他椅子扶手上的手拿起来,指指变得粗糙的食指、手背上一个灼伤的疤痕,以及手掌上面三个小水泡。”我记得这只手曾经又白又嫩,而你最关心的是怎样把它保养好。它那时确实非常美,但在我眼中它现在变得更美了——因为上面的每一个疤痕都有一个小故事。祭拜神灵不过是一种虚浮的仪式,而这只长满老茧的手给我们带来许多实在的东西,我相信由这些戳满针孔的手指缝制出来的活计一定经久耐用,因为里头一针一线凝聚了多少苦心。梅格,我的好孩子,我认为女红比纤纤玉手和时髦的才艺更为宝贵,因为它能带来家庭幸福。我很荣幸能握紧这只灵巧、勤劳的小手,并希望能握久一些。”父亲紧紧握着梅格的小手,并向她投去赞赏的微笑,如果梅格希望她冗长乏味的工作能获得报酬的话,现在终于如愿以偿了。

“还有乔呢?请夸奖几句吧,她可拚命了,为我操尽了心,”贝思凑到父亲耳边说。

他笑了,望望坐在对面那位身材修长的姑娘,只见她棕色皮肤的脸庞上展现出一种非比寻常的柔情。

“虽然披着一头卷曲的短发,我看到的已经不是一年前我离开时的''乔小子''了,“马奇先生说,”我看到的是一位衣领别得笔挺、靴带系得利索、谈吐斯文,既不吹口哨、也不像以前一样随便躺在地毯上的年轻女士。由于照顾病人,忧虑劳碌,她这会儿面容瘦削苍白,但我喜欢看这张脸,因为它变得更温柔可爱了。她说话的声音也更轻柔了;她不再蹦跳,而是款款而行,并像慈母一样照顾一个小人儿,令我十分快慰。我很怀念我的野姑娘,但如果她变成一个坚强、能帮助人、心地善良的女子,我也该心满意足了。我不知道我们的小黑羊是否因剪了毛而变得严肃庄重,但我知道华盛顿的东西再多再漂亮,也没有一样值得我用好女儿寄来的二十五元钱购买。”听到父亲的夸奖,乔明亮的双眼有点模糊了,瘦削的面孔在炉火映照下升起了两朵红晕,她觉得这话并不是很过分。

“现在轮到贝思。”艾美一心想轮到自己,但准备等下去。

“对于她我不敢多说,担心说多了会把她吓走,虽说她现在没有以前那么害羞了,”父亲笑嘻嘻地说。但想到自己差一点就要失去这个女儿,他把她紧紧抱住,和她脸贴着脸,动情地说:“你平安在我身边,我的贝思,我要你一生平安,上帝保佑你!”他沉默了一会,然后低头望着坐在他脚边垫脚凳上的艾美,吻吻她亮丽的头发,说——“我注意到艾美吃饭时也吃鸡脚了,整个下午都替妈妈打杂,今天晚上又让位给梅格坐,耐心而愉快地帮大家的忙。我还注意到她不再动辄愁眉苦脸,不再照镜子,也不提她戴着一个漂亮戒指;由此我得出一个结论,她已经学会了多想别人,少想自己,并决心像塑造自己的小泥塑人物一样认真塑造自己的性格。我对此感到很高兴,我为女儿拥有艺术才华而感到十分骄傲,但我更为女儿拥有为别人、为自己美化生活的才华而感到无比自豪。”“你在想什么,贝思?“当艾美谢过父亲并介绍了戒指的来历后,乔问。

“今天我读《天路历程》,读到''基督教徒''和''希望''如何排除万难来到一片长年开满百合花的怡人的草地上,在那儿愉快地歇息,如我们现在一样,然后继续向他们的目的地进发,”贝思答道,一面从父亲的臂膀中溜脱出来,慢慢走到钢琴前,又说,”唱歌时间到了,我想做回自己的旧角儿。我来试着唱唱朝圣者们听到的那首牧羊童子唱的歌儿。因为父亲喜欢这首歌的歌词,我特地为他作了曲。”说着,贝思坐到宝贝小钢琴前,轻轻触动琴键,边弹边唱,那种柔和甜美的声音他们从来没有听过。这首古雅的圣歌仿佛专为她而作:位低者无惧跌落,家贫者无需虚骄;谦和者心中自有,万能的上帝引导。

我心长知足,

贫富又何如;

呵,主!我惟求知足常乐,

只因此乐难求。

漫漫人生之旅,

负担使生活充实;

此生微不足道,

来世自有大光明。




CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE AUNT MARCH SETTLES THE QUESTION

Like bees swarming after their queen, mother and daughters hovered about Mr. March the next day, neglecting everything to look at, wait upon, and listen to the new invalid, who was in a fair way to be killed by kindness. As he sat propped up in a big chair by Beth's sofa, with the other three close by, and Hannah popping in her head now and then 'to peek at the dear man', nothing seemed needed to complete their happiness. But something was needed, and the elder ones felt it, though none confessed the fact. Mr. and Mrs. March looked at one another with an anxious expression, as their eyes followed Meg. Jo had sudden fits of sobriety, and was seen to shake her fist at Mr. Brooke's umbrella, which had been left in the hall. Meg was absent-minded, shy, and silent, started when the bell rang, and colored when John's name was mentioned. Amy said, "Everyone seemed waiting for something, and couldn't settle down, which was queer, since Father was safe at home," and Beth innocently wondered why their neighbors didn't run over as usual.

Laurie went by in the afternoon, and seeing Meg at the window, seemed suddenly possessed with a melodramatic fit, for he fell down on one knee in the snow, beat his breast, tore his hair, and clasped his hands imploringly, as if begging some boon. And when Meg told him to behave himself and go away, he wrung imaginary tears out of his handkerchief, and staggered round the corner as if in utter despair.

"What does the goose mean?" said Meg, laughing and trying to look unconscious.

"He's showing you how your John will go on by-and-by. Touching, isn't it?" answered Jo scornfully.

"Don't say my John, it isn't proper or true," but Meg's voice lingered over the words as if they sounded pleasant to her. "Please don't plague me, Jo, I've told you I don't care much about him, and there isn't to be anything said, but we are all to be friendly, and go on as before."

"We can't, for something has been said, and Laurie's mischief has spoiled you for me. I see it, and so does Mother. You are not like your old self a bit, and seem ever so far away from me. I don't mean to plague you and will bear it like a man, but I do wish it was all settled. I hate to wait, so if you mean ever to do it, make haste and have it over quickly," said Jo pettishly.

"I can't say anything till he speaks, and he won't, because Father said I was too young," began Meg, bending over her work with a queer little smile, which suggested that she did not quite agree with her father on that point.

"If he did speak, you wouldn't know what to say, but would cry or blush, or let him have his own way, instead of giving a good, decided no."

"I'm not so silly and weak as you think. I know just what I should say, for I've planned it all, so I needn't be taken unawares. There's no knowing what may happen, and I wished to be prepared."

Jo couldn't help smiling at the important air which Meg had unconsciously assumed and which was as becoming as the pretty color varying in her cheeks.

"Would you mind telling me what you'd say?" asked Jo more respectfully.

"Not at all. You are sixteen now, quite old enough to be my confident, and my experience will be useful to you by-and-by, perhaps, in your own affairs of this sort."

"Don't mean to have any. It's fun to watch other people philander, but I should feel like a fool doing it myself," said Jo, looking alarmed at the thought.

"I think not, if you liked anyone very much, and he liked you." Meg spoke as if to herself, and glanced out at the lane where she had often seen lovers walking together in the summer twilight.

"I thought you were going to tell your speech to that man," said Jo, rudely shortening her sister's little reverie.

"Oh, I should merely say, quite calmly and decidedly, 'Thank you, Mr. Brooke, you are very kind, but I agree with Father that I am too young to enter into any engagement at present, so please say no more, but let us be friends as we were.'"

"Hum, that's stiff and cool enough! I don't believe you'll ever say it, and I know he won't be satisfied if you do. If he goes on like the rejected lovers in books, you'll give in, rather than hurt his feelings."

"No, I won't. I shall tell him I've made up my mind, and shall walk out of the room with dignity."

Meg rose as she spoke, and was just going to rehearse the dignified exit, when a step in the hall made her fly into her seat and begin to sew as fast as if her life depended on finishing that particular seam in a given time. Jo smothered a laugh at the sudden change, and when someone gave a modest tap, opened the door with a grim aspect which was anything but hospitable.

"Good afternoon. I came to get my umbrella, that is, to see how your father finds himself today," said Mr. Brooke, getting a trifle confused as his eyes went from one telltale face to the other.

"It's very well, he's in the rack. I'll get him, and tell it you are here." And having jumbled her father and the umbrella well together in her reply, Jo slipped out of the room to give Meg a chance to make her speech and air her dignity. But the instant she vanished, Meg began to sidle toward the door, murmuring...

"Mother will like to see you. Pray sit down, I'll call her."

"Don't go. Are you afraid of me, Margaret?" and Mr. Brooke looked so hurt that Meg thought she must have done something very rude. She blushed up to the little curls on her forehead, for he had never called her Margaret before, and she was surprised to find how natural and sweet it seemed to hear him say it. Anxious to appear friendly and at her ease, she put out her hand with a confiding gesture, and said gratefully...

"How can I be afraid when you have been so kind to Father? I only wish I could thank you for it."

"Shall I tell you how?" asked Mr. Brooke, holding the small hand fast in both his own, and looking down at Meg with so much love in the brown eyes that her heart began to flutter, and she both longed to run away and to stop and listen.

"Oh no, please don't, I'd rather not," she said, trying to withdraw her hand, and looking frightened in spite of her denial.

"I won't trouble you. I only want to know if you care for me a little, Meg. I love you so much, dear," added Mr. Brooke tenderly.

This was the moment for the calm, proper speech, but Meg didn't make it. She forgot every word of it, hung her head, and answered, "I don't know," so softly that John had to stoop down to catch the foolish little reply.

He seemed to think it was worth the trouble, for he smiled to himself as if quite satisfied, pressed the plump hand gratefully, and said in his most persuasive tone, "Will you try and find out? I want to know so much, for I can't go to work with any heart until I learn whether I am to have my reward in the end or not."

"I'm too young," faltered Meg, wondering why she was so fluttered, yet rather enjoying it.

"I'll wait, and in the meantime, you could be learning to like me. Would it be a very hard lesson, dear?"

"Not if I chose to learn it, but. . ."

"Please choose to learn, Meg. I love to teach, and this is easier than German," broke in John, getting possession of the other hand, so that she had no way of hiding her face as he bent to look into it.

His tone was properly beseeching, but stealing a shy look at him, Meg saw that his eyes were merry as well as tender, and that he wore the satisfied smile of one who had no doubt of his success. This nettled her. Annie Moffat's foolish lessons in coquetry came into her mind, and the love of power, which sleeps in the bosoms of the best of little women, woke up all of a sudden and took possession of her. She felt excited and strange, and not knowing what else to do, followed a capricious impulse, and, withdrawing her hands, said petulantly, "I don't choose. Please go away and let me be!"

Poor Mr. Brooke looked as if his lovely castle in the air was tumbling about his ears, for he had never seen Meg in such a mood before, and it rather bewildered him.

"Do you really mean that?" he asked anxiously, following her as she walked away.

"Yes, I do. I don't want to be worried about such things. Father says I needn't, it's too soon and I'd rather not."

"Mayn't I hope you'll change your mind by-and-by? I'll wait and say nothing till you have had more time. Don't play with me, Meg. I didn't think that of you."

"Don't think of me at all. I'd rather you wouldn't," said Meg, taking a naughty satisfaction in trying her lover's patience and her own power.

He was grave and pale now, and looked decidedly more like the novel heroes whom she admired, but he neither slapped his forehead nor tramped about the room as they did. He just stood looking at her so wistfully, so tenderly, that she found her heart relenting in spite of herself. What would have happened next I cannot say, if Aunt March had not come hobbling in at this interesting minute.

The old lady couldn't resist her longing to see her nephew, for she had met Laurie as she took her airing, and hearing of Mr. March's arrival, drove straight out to see him. The family were all busy in the back part of the house, and she had made her way quietly in, hoping to surprise them. She did surprise two of them so much that Meg started as if she had seen a ghost, and Mr. Brooke vanished into the study.

"Bless me, what's all this?" cried the old lady with a rap of her cane as she glanced from the pale young gentleman to the scarlet young lady.

"It's Father's friend. I'm so surprised to see you!" stammered Meg, feeling that she was in for a lecture now.

"That's evident," returned Aunt March, sitting down. "But what is Father's friend saying to make you look like a peony? There's mischief going on, and I insist upon knowing what it is," with another rap.

"We were only talking. Mr. Brooke came for his umbrella," began Meg, wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely out of the house.

"Brooke? That boy's tutor? Ah! I understand now. I know all about it. Jo blundered into a wrong message in one of your Father's letters, and I made her tell me. You haven't gone and accepted him, child?" cried Aunt March, looking scandalized.

"Hush! He'll hear. Shan't I call Mother?" said Meg, much troubled.

"Not yet. I've something to say to you, and I must free my mind at once. Tell me, do you mean to marry this Cook? If you do, not one penny of my money ever goes to you. Remember that, and be a sensible girl," said the old lady impressively.

Now Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing the spirit of opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed doing it. The best of us have a spice of perversity in us, especially when we are young and in love. If Aunt March had begged Meg to accept John Brooke, she would probably have declared she couldn't think of it, but as she was preemptorily ordered not to like him, she immediately made up her mind that she would. Inclination as well as perversity made the decision easy, and being already much excited, Meg opposed the old lady with unusual spirit.

"I shall marry whom I please, Aunt March, and you can leave your money to anyone you like," she said, nodding her head with a resolute air.

"Highty-tighty! Is that the way you take my advice, Miss? You'll be sorry for it by-and-by, when you've tried love in a cottage and found it a failure."

"It can't be a worse one than some people find in big houses," retorted Meg.

Aunt March put on her glasses and took a look at the girl, for she did not know her in this new mood. Meg hardly knew herself, she felt so brave and independent, so glad to defend John and assert her right to love him, if she liked. Aunt March saw that she had begun wrong, and after a little pause, made a fresh start, saying as mildly as she could, "Now, Meg, my dear, be reasonable and take my advice. I mean it kindly, and don't want you to spoil your whole life by making a mistake at the beginning. You ought to marry well and help your family. It's your duty to make a rich match and it ought to be impressed upon you."

"Father and Mother don't think so. They like John though he is poor."

"Your parents, my dear, have no more worldly wisdom than a pair of babies."

"I'm glad of it," cried Meg stoutly.

Aunt March took no notice, but went on with her lecture. "This Rook is poor and hasn't got any rich relations, has he?"

"No, but he has many warm friends."

"You can't live on friends, try it and see how cool they'll grow. He hasn't any business, has he?"

"Not yet. Mr. Laurence is going to help him."

"That won't last long. James Laurence is a crotchety old fellow and not to be depended on. So you intend to marry a man without money, position, or business, and go on working harder than you do now, when you might be comfortable all your days by minding me and doing better? I thought you had more sense, Meg."

"I couldn't do better if I waited half my life! John is good and wise, he's got heaps of talent, he's willing to work and sure to get on, he's so energetic and brave. Everyone likes and respects him, and I'm proud to think he cares for me, though I'm so poor and young and silly," said Meg, looking prettier than ever in her earnestness.

"He knows you have got rich relations, child. That's the secret of his liking, I suspect."

"Aunt March, how dare you say such a thing? John is above such meanness, and I won't listen to you a minute if you talk so," cried Meg indignantly, forgetting everything but the injustice of the old lady's suspicions. "My John wouldn't marry for money, any more than I would. We are willing to work and we mean to wait. I'm not afraid of being poor, for I've been happy so far, and I know I shall be with him because he loves me, and I..."

Meg stopped there, remembering all of a sudden that she hadn't made up her mind, that she had told 'her John' to go away, and that he might be overhearing her inconsistent remarks.

Aunt March was very angry, for she had set her heart on having her pretty niece make a fine match, and something in the girl's happy young face made the lonely old woman feel both sad and sour.

"Well, I wash my hands of the whole affair! You are a willful child, and you've lost more than you know by this piece of folly. No, I won't stop. I'm disappointed in you, and haven't spirits to see your father now. Don't expect anything from me when you are married. Your Mr. Brooke's friends must take care of you. I'm done with you forever."

And slamming the door in Meg's face, Aunt March drove off in high dudgeon. She seemed to take all the girl's courage with her, for when left alone, Meg stood for a moment, undecided whether to laugh or cry. Before she could make up her mind, she was taken possession of by Mr. Brooke, who said all in one breath, "I couldn't help hearing, Meg. Thank you for defending me, and Aunt March for proving that you do care for me a little bit."

"I didn't know how much till she abused you," began Meg.

"And I needn't go away, but may stay and be happy, may I, dear?"

Here was another fine chance to make the crushing speech and the stately exit, but Meg never thought of doing either, and disgraced herself forever in Jo's eyes by meekly whispering, "Yes, John," and hiding her face on Mr. Brooke's waistcoat.

Fifteen minutes after Aunt March's departure, Jo came softly downstairs, paused an instant at the parlor door, and hearing no sound within, nodded and smiled with a satisfied expression, saying to herself, "She has seen him away as we planned, and that affair is settled. I'll go and hear the fun, and have a good laugh over it."

But poor Jo never got her laugh, for she was transfixed upon the threshold by a spectacle which held her there, staring with her mouth nearly as wide open as her eyes. Going in to exult over a fallen enemy and to praise a strong-minded sister for the banishment of an objectionable lover, it certainly was a shock to behold the aforesaid enemy serenely sitting on the sofa, with the strongminded sister enthroned upon his knee and wearing an expression of the most abject submission. Jo gave a sort of gasp, as if a cold shower bath had suddenly fallen upon her, for such an unexpected turning of the tables actually took her breath away. At the odd sound the lovers turned and saw her. Meg jumped up, looking both proud and shy, but 'that man', as Jo called him, actually laughed and said coolly, as he kissed the astonished newcomer, "Sister Jo, congratulate us!"

That was adding insult to injury, it was altogether too much, and making some wild demonstration with her hands, Jo vanished without a word. Rushing upstairs, she startled the invalids by exclaiming tragically as she burst into the room, "Oh, do somebody go down quick! John Brooke is acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!"

Mr. and Mrs. March left the room with speed, and casting herself upon the bed, Jo cried and scolded tempestuously as she told the awful news to Beth and Amy. The little girls, however, considered it a most agreeable and interesting event, and Jo got little comfort from them, so she went up to her refuge in the garret, and confided her troubles to the rats.

Nobody ever knew what went on in the parlor that afternoon, but a great deal of talking was done, and quiet Mr. Brooke astonished his friends by the eloquence and spirit with which he pleaded his suit, told his plans, and persuaded them to arrange everything just as he wanted it.

The tea bell rang before he had finished describing the paradise which he meant to earn for Meg, and he proudly took her in to supper, both looking so happy that Jo hadn't the heart to be jealous or dismal. Amy was very much impressed by John's devotion and Meg's dignity, Beth beamed at them from a distance, while Mr. and Mrs. March surveyed the young couple with such tender satisfaction that it was perfectly evident Aunt March was right in calling them as 'unworldly as a pair of babies'. No one ate much, but everyone looked very happy, and the old room seemed to brighten up amazingly when the first romance of the family began there.

"You can't say nothing pleasant ever happens now, can you, Meg?" said Amy, trying to decide how she would group the lovers in a sketch she was planning to make.

"No, I'm sure I can't. How much has happened since I said that! It seems a year ago," answered Meg, who was in a blissful dream lifted far above such common things as bread and butter.

"The joys come close upon the sorrows this time, and I rather think the changes have begun," said Mrs. March. "In most families there comes, now and then, a year full of events. This has been such a one, but it ends well, after all."

"Hope the next will end better," muttered Jo, who found it very hard to see Meg absorbed in a stranger before her face, for Jo loved a few persons very dearly and dreaded to have their affection lost or lessened in any way.

"I hope the third year from this will end better. I mean it shall, if I live to work out my plans," said Mr. Brooke, smiling at Meg, as if everything had become possible to him now.

"Doesn't it seem very long to wait?" asked Amy, who was in a hurry for the wedding.

"I've got so much to learn before I shall be ready, it seems a short time to me," answered Meg, with a sweet gravity in her face never seen there before.

"You have only to wait, I am to do the work," said John beginning his labors by picking up Meg's napkin, with an expression which caused Jo to shake her head, and then say to herself with an air of relief as the front door banged, "Here comes Laurie. Now we shall have some sensible conversation."

But Jo was mistaken, for Laurie came prancing in, overflowing with good spirits, bearing a great bridal-looking bouquet for 'Mrs. John Brooke', and evidently laboring under the delusion that the whole affair had been brought about by his excellent management.

"I knew Brooke would have it all his own way, he always does, for when he makes up his mind to accomplish anything, it's done though the sky falls," said Laurie, when he had presented his offering and his congratulations.

"Much obliged for that recommendation. I take it as a good omen for the future and invite you to my wedding on the spot," answered Mr. Brooke, who felt at peace with all mankind, even his mischievous pupil.

"I'll come if I'm at the ends of the earth, for the sight of Jo's face alone on that occasion would be worth a long journey. You don't look festive, ma'am, what's the matter?" asked Laurie, following her into a corner of the parlor, whither all had adjourned to greet Mr. Laurence.

"I don't approve of the match, but I've made up my mind to bear it, and shall not say a word against it," said Jo solemnly. "You can't know how hard it is for me to give up Meg," she continued with a little quiver in her voice.

"You don't give her up. You only go halves," said Laurie consolingly.

"It can never be the same again. I've lost my dearest friend," sighed Jo.

"You've got me, anyhow. I'm not good for much, I know, but I'll stand by you, Jo, all the days of my life. Upon my word I will!" and Laurie meant what he said.

"I know you will, and I'm ever so much obliged. You are always a great comfort to me, Teddy," returned Jo, gratefully shaking hands.

"Well, now, don't be dismal, there's a good fellow. It's all right you see. Meg is happy, Brooke will fly round and get settled immediately, Grandpa will attend to him, and it will be very jolly to see Meg in her own little house. We'll have capital times after she is gone, for I shall be through college before long, and then we'll go abroad on some nice trip or other. Wouldn't that console you?"

"I rather think it would, but there's no knowing what may happen in three years," said Jo thoughtfully.

"That's true. Don't you wish you could take a look forward and see where we shall all be then? I do," returned Laurie.

"I think not, for I might see something sad, and everyone looks so happy now, I don't believe they could be much improved." And Jo's eyes went slowly round the room, brightening as they looked, for the prospect was a pleasant one.

Father and Mother sat together, quietly reliving the first chapter of the romance which for them began some twenty years ago. Amy was drawing the lovers, who sat apart in a beautiful world of their own, the light of which touched their faces with a grace the little artist could not copy. Beth lay on her sofa, talking cheerily with her old friend, who held her little hand as if he felt that it possessed the power to lead him along the peaceful way she walked. Jo lounged in her favorite low seat, with the grave quiet look which best became her, and Laurie, leaning on the back of her chair, his chin on a level with her curly head, smiled with his friendliest aspect, and nodded at her in the long glass which reflected them both.

So the curtain falls upon Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Whether it ever rises again, depends upon the reception given the first act of the domestic drama called Little Women.





 

第二十三章 马奇婶婶解决问题

第二天母亲和女儿们围着马奇先生转来转去,正如蜜蜂围着它们的蜂后转一样,她们把一切置诸脑后,只顾侍候这位新病人,看着他,听他说话,把个马奇先生弄得差点招架不住了。他靠在贝思沙发旁边的一张大椅子上,另外三个女儿围坐身边,罕娜不时探头进来,”偷偷看一眼这位好人",此时此刻,一切都似乎达到了完美的境地。但空气中又似乎有点什么不对劲儿,除了两个妹妹外,大家都感觉到了,只是都不说出来。马奇先生和太太不时看一眼梅格,然后忧心忡忡地互相交换一个眼色。乔有时突然变得十分严肃,大家甚至看到她对布鲁克先生遗落在大厅里的雨伞晃起拳头;梅格像失去了魂儿,腼腆不安,沉默寡言,一听到门铃响便心惊肉跳,一听到约翰的名字便脸红耳热;艾美说:“每个人都似乎在等待什么,显得心神不定,这就奇怪了,因为爸爸已经平安回来了呀。”贝思则天真地猜疑为何邻居们不像以前一样往这边跑。

下午劳里来了,看到梅格坐在窗边,仿佛一下子心血来潮,单膝跪在雪地上,捶胸扯发,还哀求地十指交叉握紧两手,犹如乞讨什么恩典;梅格叫他放尊重一点,命他走开,他又用自己的手帕绞出几滴假泪,然后绕着墙角摇摇晃晃而去,仿佛伤心欲绝。

“那傻子是什么意思?”梅格故作莫明其妙地笑着问。

“他在向你示范你的约翰日后会怎么做。感人吧,哼!”乔奚落道。

“别说我的约翰,这不合适,也并非事实。”但梅格的声音却恋恋不舍地在这四个字上头慢慢拖过,似在品尝其中滋味。”别烦我了,乔,我跟你说过我对他并没有特别的意思,这事也没什么可说的,我们还像以前一样友好来往。”“我们办不到,因为已经说出来了,劳里的恶作剧已毁了你在我心中的形象。我看出来了,妈妈也一样;你完完全全换了一个人,似乎离我那么遥远。我不想烦你,而且会像一个男子汉一样承受此事,但我很想它有个了断。我痛恨等待,所以如果你有意的话,就请快刀斩乱麻,”乔没好气地说。

“除非他开口,否则我没法说或者做什么,但他不会说的,因为爸爸说我还太年轻,”梅格说,一面低着头做活,脸上露出一丝异样的微笑,表明在这一点上他不很赞同父亲的意见。

“如果他真的开口了,你就不知道如何是好,只会哭鼻子,脸红,让他得偿所愿,而不是明智、坚决地说一声''不''。”“我可不是你想象的那么傻,那么软弱。我知道该说什么,因为我已经计划好了,免得措手不及;谁也不知道会发生什么事,我希望自己有备无患。”看到梅格不知不觉摆出一副煞有介事的神气,脸颊上两朵美丽的红晕变幻不定,十分动人,乔禁不住微笑起来。

“能告诉我你会说什么吗?”乔问得尊重些了。

“当然能,你也十六岁了,足可成为我的知己,再说我的经验日后或许会对你在这种事情上有好处。”“不打算涉足;看着别人家谈情说爱倒是挺有趣儿的,但如果换了是自己,我就一定觉得愚不可及,”乔说。想到这,她不觉心头一惊。

“我不这样看,如果你很喜欢一个人,而他也喜欢你的话。”梅格仿佛自言自语,眼光向外面一条小巷望去。她常常看到恋人们在夏日的黄昏下在这条小巷双双散步。

“我想你是准备把这番话告诉那个男人,”乔说,不客气地打断她姐姐的痴想。

“哦,我只会十分沉着十分干脆地说:''谢谢你,布鲁克先生,你的心意我领了,但我和爸爸都认为我还太年轻,暂且不宜订约,此事请不必再提,我们仍如以前一样做朋友。''”“哼!说得真够气派!我不信你会这样说,即使说了他也不会甘心。如果他像小说里头那些遭到拒绝的年青人一样纠缠不休,你就会答应他,而不愿伤害他的感情。”“不,我不会。我会告诉他我主意已定,然后很有尊严地走出房间。”梅格说着站起来,正准备排练那尊严退出的一幕,突然客厅里传来一阵脚步声,她吓得飞身走回座位,赶紧拿起针线活,飞快地缝起来,仿佛她的生命全系于那一针一线之间。

乔见状忍着笑,这时有人轻轻敲了一下门,她没好气地打开门,板着一张脸孔,令人望而生畏。

“下午好。我来拿我的雨伞——顺便,看看你爸爸今天怎么样,”布鲁克先生说。看到姐妹二人神色异常,他感到有点诧异。

“很好,他在搁物架上,我去找他,告诉它你来了。”乔回答时把父亲和雨伞混为一谈,然后溜出房间,给梅格一个显示尊严的说话机会。但她的身影刚一消失,梅格便侧身向门口行去,吞吞吐吐地说——“妈妈一定很高兴见你。请坐下,我去叫她。”“别走。你是不是怕我,玛格丽特?”布鲁克先生显得十分沮丧,梅格以为自己干了什么极端无礼粗鲁的事情。他以前从来没叫过她玛格丽特,现在这话从他口里发出,她不知为何脸涨得红至发根。她急于表明自己的善意和轻松心情,于是做了个信任的姿势,伸出一只手来,感激地说——“你对爸爸这么好,我怎么会怕你呢?感谢你还不及呢。”“要不要我告诉你怎样谢?”布鲁克先生问道,双手紧紧握住那只小手,低头望着梅格,棕色的眼睛流露出无限爱意。

梅格心头怦怦乱跳,既想跑开,又想停下细听。

“噢,不,请不要这样——还是别说好,”她边说边试图把手抽回,脸上忍不住流露出惊慌的神色。

“我不会烦你,我只想知道我在你心里头是不是有一丁点儿的位置,梅格。我是这么爱你,亲爱的,”布鲁克先生温柔地说。

这本来到了镇静自若地说那番漂亮话的时候了,但梅格却没有说;她一个字也记不起来了,只是低垂着头,答:“我不知道。”声音又轻又软,约翰得弯下腰来才勉强听到这句傻气的回答。

他似乎一点也不嫌麻烦,只见他自顾自笑起来,仿佛畅心满意,感激地握紧那只胖胖的小手,诚恳地劝说道:“你能试着弄清楚吗?我很想知道,不弄清楚我最终是否能得偿所愿,我就连工作也没有心情。”“我年龄尚小,”梅格颤抖着声音说,她不明白自己为何抖个不停,但心中颇感到高兴。

“我可以等,在此期间,你可以学着喜欢我。这门课是否太难,亲爱的?”“如果我想学就不难,不过——”“那就学吧,梅格。我乐意教,这可比德语容易,“约翰打断她,把她另一只手也握住,这样她的脸便无处可藏,他可以弯下腰来细看一番了。

他说得情真意切,但梅格含羞偷偷看他一眼,却看到他一双含情脉脉的眼睛藏着喜意,嘴角挂着一丝成功在握的微笑,十分得意,心中不觉着了恼。此时安妮•莫法特教给她的愚蠢的卖俏邀宠之道,闯进了她的脑海,一股潜藏于小妇人内心深处的支配欲在心中突然升起,令她失去自制。由于兴奋激动,她头昏眼花,手足无措,一时冲动,竟把双手抽出,怒声说道:“我不想学。请走开。别烦我!“可怜的布鲁克先生神色大变,仿佛他那漂亮的空中楼阁在身边轰然倒落。他以前从来没见过梅格发这样的大火,心中不觉糊涂起来。

“你真的这样想?”他焦急地问,在后面跟着她走。

“一点不假。我不想为这种事情烦恼。爸爸说我不必,这太早了,我也宁可不去想它。”“你可以慢慢改变主意吗?我愿意默默等待,直到你有更多的时间。不要捉弄我,梅格。我想你不是这种人。”“对我你最好什么也别想,”梅格说。一句话既逞了自己的威风,又使得情人心如火煎,她心中升起一股淘气的快意。

他脸色立时变得阴沉煞白,神态与她所崇拜的小说中的男主人公大有相近之处,但他没有像他们那样拍额头,或迈着沉重的脚步在屋子里乱转,只是呆呆站在那儿,温情脉脉地痴痴看着她,她心里不由得软了下来。如果不是马奇婶婶在这有趣的当儿一瘸一拐地走进来,接下来会发生何事就不得而知了。

老太太在户外散步时碰到了劳里,听说马奇先生已经到家,止不住就要见见自己的侄儿,于是立即驱车而至。此时一家人正在后屋忙乱,她便静静走入,意图给他们一个意外惊喜。她果然令二人大吃一惊:梅格吓得魂飞魄散,如同撞着了鬼,布鲁克先生身子一闪溜入书房。

“啊哟,出了什么事?”老太太早看到了那位面色灰白的年青人。她把手中的藤杖一叩,望着脸红耳赤的梅格叫道。

“他是爸爸的朋友。你让我吓了一跳!”梅格结结巴巴地说,自知这回又有一番教诲好听了。

“显而易见,”马奇婶婶回答,一面坐下,”但你爸爸的朋友说了什么,叫你脸上像搽了生姜一样?一定有什么事情瞒着我,还是老实说出来吧。”又一叩手杖。

“我们只是闲谈而已。布鲁克先生来拿自己的雨伞,”梅格开口说,只盼望布鲁克先生和雨伞已双双安全撤出屋外。

“布鲁克?那孩子的家庭教师?啊!我明白了。这事我全知道。乔一次在读你爸爸的信时说漏了嘴,我让她说出来。你还不至于应承了他吧,孩子?”马奇婶婶愤愤地叫道。

“嘘!他会听到的。我去叫妈妈吧?”梅格说,显得惊慌失措。

“等等。我有话要跟你说,我必须立即把话说明。告诉我,你是不是想嫁给这个傻瓜?如果你这样做,我一分钱也不会留给你。记着这话,做个明事理的姑娘,“老太太一字一句地说。

马奇婶婶可谓专擅于撩起最温柔儒雅的人的逆反心理,而且乐在其中。我们大多数人骨子里头都有一种刚愎任性的意气,尤其是在少不更事和坠入爱河之时。假若马奇婶婶劝梅格接受约翰•布鲁克,她大有可能说一声"不";但她却颐指迫使地命她不要喜欢他,她于是当即决定要反其道而行之。

她本来早有此意,再经马奇婶婶这一激,下此决心便十分容易。在莫名的激动亢奋之下,梅格以非同寻常的脾气一口回绝了老太太。

“我愿意嫁给谁就嫁给谁,马奇太太,而你喜欢把钱留给哪一个我们也悉听尊便,”她点着头坚决地说。

“好有骨气!你就这样对待我的忠告吗,小姐?等你在草棚茅舍里头做你的爱情梦去吧,过不多久你就会尝到失败的滋味,到那一天你一定后悔莫及。”“但有些嫁入豪门的人失败得更惨,”梅格反击。

马奇婶婶从未见过这个姑娘如此动气,于是戴上眼镜把她仔细审视一番。梅格此时几乎不知道自己是谁,只感到勇气十足,毫无羁束——十分高兴能为约翰说话并维护自己爱他的权利,如果她愿意。马奇婶婶发现自己开错了头,寻思了少顷,决定再开一次,于是尽量温和地说:“嗳,梅格,好孩子,懂事,听我的话。我是一片好心,不希望你一开始便走错路,因此一生尽毁。你应该寻头好亲,帮补家庭;你有责任嫁一个有钱人,这话你一定要记祝”“爸爸妈妈可不这么看,虽然约翰穷,他们也一样喜欢他。”“你的父母,好孩子,幼稚得跟两个婴儿一样,根本不懂世故。”“我为此感到高兴,”梅格坚定不移地大声说。

马奇婶婶并不在意,继续说教。”这妻子不但穷,也没有什么有钱的亲戚,对吗?”“对。但他有很多热心的朋友。”“你不能靠朋友生活,有事求他们时你就知道他们会变得多么冷淡。他没有什么生意吧?”“还没有。劳伦斯先生准备帮助他。”“这不会持久。詹姆士•劳伦斯是个怪老头,靠不祝这么说来你是打算嫁给一个没有地位、没有生意的穷小子,干比现在更苦的活儿,而不愿听我一句话,嫁头好亲,过一辈子安乐日子啰?我以为你更有头脑呢,梅格。”“即使我等上半生也不会做得比这更好!约翰善良聪明,才华横溢,他愿意工作,也一定会做出成绩,他是这样勇敢,这样充满活力。大家都喜欢地,尊敬他。他喜欢我,不计较我家道清贫、年幼无知,我感到很自豪,”梅格说,神情因激动而显得异常美丽。

“他知道你的亲戚有钱,孩子;我猜这就是他喜欢你的原因。”“马奇婶婶,你怎么能这样说话?约翰不是这种卑鄙小人,如果你这样说下去,我一分钟都不要再听,”梅格气得叫起来,对老太太的不公正猜测感到十分愤慨,”我不会为钱而嫁,我的约翰更不会为钱而娶。我们愿意自食其力,也打算等待。我不怕穷,因为我一直都很快乐。我知道我会跟他在一起,因为他爱我,而我也——"说到此处梅格止住了,突然想起自己还没有打定主意,而且已经叫"她的约翰"走开,或许他这会正在偷听她这番自相矛盾的话呢。

马奇婶婶勃然大怒。她原来一心想让她的漂亮侄女寻一头上好姻缘,却不料遭此辜负。看到姑娘那张幸福洋溢、充满青春魅力的面孔,孤独的老太太心中不禁升起一股又苦又酸的滋味。

“很好,这事我从此放开不理!你是个一意孤行的孩子,这番傻话将令你蒙受重大损失。不,我还有话说。我对你感到万分失望,现在也没有心情见你父亲了。你结婚时别指望我给你一分钱;等你那位布鲁克先生的朋友们来照顾你吧。我俩从今以后一刀两断。”马奇婶婶当着梅格的面把门砰地一关,怒气冲冲地登上车,绝尘而去。她似乎把姑娘的勇气也全带走了。她一走,梅格便一个人站着发呆,不知是笑好还是哭好。她还没来得及理清头绪,便被布鲁克先生一把抱住,只听他一口气说道:“我忍不住留下来偷听,梅格。感谢你这样维护我,也感谢马奇婶婶证明了你心里确实有我。”“直到她诋毁你时我才知道自己是多么在乎,”梅格说。

“那我不用走开了,可以高高兴兴留下来,是吗,亲爱的?”这本来又是一个发表那篇决定性的讲话,然后堂而皇之地退下的大好机会,但梅格一点也没有这个意思,反而驯服地低声说:“是,约翰。”并把脸埋在布鲁克先生的马甲上,使自己在乔面前永远抬不起头来。

在马奇婶婶离去十五分钟之后,乔轻轻走下楼梯,在大厅门口稍立片刻,听到里头悄然无声,点头满意而笑,自语道:“她已按计划把他打发走了,此事已经了断。让我去听听这个趣话儿,痛痛快快笑一常"不过可怜的乔永远也笑不出来,她刚踏入门口便吓得呆若木鸡,身子牢牢钉在门坎上,嘴巴张得几乎跟圆瞪着的眼睛一样大。只见布鲁克先生沉着地坐在沙发上,而意志坚强的姐姐则高高坐在他的膝上,脸上挂着一副天底下最卑下的百依百顺的神情。她原要进去为击退了敌人而狂欢一番,称赞姐姐意志坚强,终将讨厌的情人逐出门外,不料却见到这番景象,这一惊非同小可。乔猛吸了一口冷气,犹如一盆冷水兜头泼下——绝没料到情形变得如此恶劣,不禁大惊失色。

听到响声,这对恋人回过头来,看到了她。梅格跳起来,神情既骄傲又腼腆,但"那个男人",如乔所称,竟自笑起来,吻了吻惊得目噔口呆的乔,冷静地说道