Little women, p.13
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       Little Women, p.13

         Part #1 of Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott
 

  “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 harder than ever.

  “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 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 or 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 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 hea
rt. 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.

  9

  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 tarlatan.”aw

  “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 box, 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 tarlatan 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,”ax 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 tarlatan, 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 had 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 “Daisy,” 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 someone 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 a 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.”

 
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