“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。
“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。
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。
“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。
“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。
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。
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。
“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。
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。“
"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 laidupon the sofa in an unusual state of exhaustion, while Beth tookoff her dusty boots, and Amy made lemonade for the refreshmentof 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 shehad, I should have felt as if I ought to do it, but Plumfield isabout 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 everytime she spoke to me, for I was in such a hurry to be through thatI was uncommonly helpful and sweet, and feared she'd find itimpossible to part from me. I quaked till she was fairly in thecarriage, and had a final fright, for as it drove of, she poppedout her head, saying, `Josyphine, won't you--?' I didn't hear anymore, for I basely turned and fled. I did actually run, andwhisked round the corner whee 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'stoo warm to be particular about one's parts of speech," murmuredJo.
"What shall you do all your vacation?" asked Amy, changingthe subject with tact.
"I shall lie abed late, and do nothing," replied Meg, fromthe depths of the rocking chair. "I've been routed up early allwinter and had to spend my days working for other people, so nowI'm going to rest and revel to my heart's content."
"No," said Jo, "that dozy way wouldn't suit me. I've laidin a heap of books, and I'm going to improve my shining hoursreading on my perch in the old apple tree, when I'm not havingl..."
"Don't say `larks!'" implored Amy, as a return snub for thesamphire' correction.
"I'll say `nightingales' then, with Laurie. That's properand appropriate, since he's a warbler."
"Don't let us do any lessons, Beth, for a while, but playall the time and rest, as the girls mean to," proposed Amy.
"Well, I will, if Mother doesn't mind. I want to learn somenew songs, and my children need fitting up for the summer. Theyare dreadfully out of order and really suffering for clothes."
"May we, Mother?" asked Meg, turning to Mrs. March, whosat sewing in what they called `Marmee's corner'."You may try your experiment for a week and see how you likeit. I think by Saturday night you will find that all play and nowork is as bad as all work and no play."
"Oh, dear, no! It will be delicious, I'm sure," said Megcomplacently.
"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 bylounging for the rest of the day. Next morning, Meg did notappear till ten o'clock. Her solitary breakfast did not tastenice, and the room seemed lonely and untidy, for Jo had notfilled the vases, Beth had not dusted, and Amy's books layscattered about. Nothing was neat and pleasant but `Marmee'scorner', which looked as usual. And there Meg sat, to `rest andread', which meant to yawn and imagine what pretty summer dressesshe would get with her salary. Jo spent the morning on the riverwith Laurie and the afternoon reading and crying over The Wide,Wide World, up in the apple tree. Beth began by rummaging everythingout of the big closet where her family resided, but gettingtired before half done, she left her establishment topsy-turvyand went to her music, rejoicing that she had no dishes to wash.Amy arranged her bower, put on her best white frock, smoothed hercurls, and sat down to draw under the honeysuckle, hoping someonewould see and inquire who the young artist was. As no one appearedbut 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 hadbeen a delightful, though unusually long day. Meg, who went shoppingin the afternoon and got a `sweet blue muslin, had discovered,after she had cut the breadths off, that it wouldn't wash, whichmishap made her slightly cross. Jo had burned the skin off hernose boating, and got a raging headache by reading too long. Bethwas worried by the confusion of her closet and the difficulty oflearning three or four songs at once, and Amy deeply regretted thedamage done her frock, for Katy Brown's party was to be the nextday and now like Flora McFlimsey, she had `nothing to wear'. Butthese were mere trifles, and they assured their mother that theexperiment was working finely. She smiled, said nothing, and withHannah's help did their neglected work, keeping home pleasant andthe domestic machinery running smoothly. It was astonishing whata peculiar and uncomfortable state of things was produced by the`resting and reveling' process. The days kept getting longer andlonger, the weather was unusually variable and so were tempers, andunsettled feeling possessed everyone, and Satan found plenty ofmischief for the idle hands to do. As the height of luxury, Megput out some of her sewing, and then found time hang so heavily thatshe fell to snipping and spoiling her clothes in her attempts tofurbish them up a`la Moffat. Jo read till her eyes gave out andshe was sick of books, got so fidgety that even good-natured Lauriehad a quarrel with her, and so reduced in spirits that she desperatelywished she had gone with Aunt March. Beth got on pretty well,for she was constantly forgetting that it was to be all play andno work, and fell back into her old ways now and then. But somethingin the air affected her, and more than once her tranquility was muchdisturbed, so much so that on one occasion she actually shook poordear 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 amuseherself, she soon found that accomplished and important little selfa great burden. She didn't like dolls, fairy tales were childish,and one couldn't draw all the time. Tea parties didn't amount tomuch neither did picnics unless very well conducted. "If one couldhave a fine house, full of nice girls, or go traveling, the summerwould be delightful, but to stay at home with three selfish sistersand 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, butby Friday night each acknowledged to herself that she was glad theweek was nearly done. Hoping to impress the lesson more deeply,Mrs. March, who had a good deal of humor, resolved to finish offthe trial in an appropriate manner, so she gave Hannah a holiday andlet the girls enjoy the full effect of the play system.
When they got up on Saturday morning, there was no fire inthe kitchen, no breakfast in the dining room, and no motheranywhere to be seen.
"Mercy on us! What has happened?" cried Jo, staring abouther in dismay.
Meg ran upstairs and soon came back again, looking relievedbut rather bewildered, and a little ashamed.
"Mother isn't sick, only very tired, and she says she isgoing to stay quietly in her room all day and let us do the bestwe can. It's a very queer thing for her to do, she doesn't acta bit like herself. But she says it has been a hard week forher, so we mustn't grumble but take care of ourselves."
"That's easy enough, and I like the idea, I'm aching forsomething to do, that is, some new amusement, you know," addedJo quickly.
In fact it was an immense relief to them all to have a littlework, and they took hold with a will, but soon realized the truthof Hannah's saying, "Housekeeping ain't no joke." There was plentyof food in the larder, and while Beth and Amy set the table, Meg andJo got breakfast, wondering as they did why servants ever talkedabout hard work.
"I shall take some up to Mother, though she said we were notto think of her, for she'd take care of herself," said Meg, whopresided and felt quite matronly behind the teapot.
So a tray was fitted out before anyone began, and taken upwith the cook's compliments. The boiled tea was very bitter, theomelet scorched, and the biscuits speckled with saleratus, butMrs. March received her repast with thanks and laughed heartilyover 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 providedherself, and disposing of the bad breakfast, so that theirfeelings might not be hurt, a motherly little deception for whichthey were grateful.
Many were the complaints below, and great the chagrin ofthe head cook at her failures. "Never mind, I'll get the dinnerand be servant, you be mistress, keep your hands nice, seecompany, and give orders," said Jo, who knew still less than Meg,about culinary affairs.
This obliging offer was gladly accepted, and Margaret retiredto the parlor, which she hastily put in order by whisking thelitter under the sofa and shutting the blinds to save the troubleof dusting. Jo, with perfect faith in her own powers and afriendly desire to make up the quarrel, immediately put a note inthe office, inviting Laurie to dinner.
"You'd better see what you have got before you think of havingcompany," said Meg, when informed of the hospitable but rash act.
"Oh, there's corned beef and plenty of poatoes, and I shallget 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 thebook tells. I'll have blancmange 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 anythingbut gingerbread and molasses candy fit to eat. I wash my handsof the dinner party, and since you have asked Laurie on your ownresponsibility, you may just take care of him."
"I don't want you to do anything but be civil to him and helpto 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 fewtrifles. You had better ask Mother's leave before you orderanything," returned Meg prudently.
"Of course I shall. I'm not a fool." And Jo went off in ahuff at the doubts expressed of her powers.
"Get what you like, and don't disturb me. I'm going out todinner and can't worry about things at home," said Mrs. March, whenJo spoke to her. "I never enjoyed housekeeping, and I'm going totake a vacation today, and read, write, go visiting, and amuse myself."
The unusual spectacle of her busy mother rocking comfortablyand reading early in the morning made Jo feel as if some unnaturalphenomenon had occurred, for an eclipse, an earthquake, or avolcanic 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 thatsomething is wrong in this family. If Amy is bothering, I'llshake her."
Feeling very much out of sorts herself, Jo hurried into theparlor to find Beth sobbing over Pip, the canary, who lay dead inthe cage with his little claws pathetically extended, as ifimploring the food for want of which he had died.
"It's all my fault, I forgot him, there isn't a seed or adrop left. Oh, Pip! Oh, Pip! How could I be so cruel to you?"cried Beth, taking the poor thing in her hands and trying torestore him.
Jo peeped into his half-open eye, felt his little heart, andfinding him stiff and cold, shook her head, and offered her dominobox for a coffin.
"Put him in the oven, and maybe his will get warm and revive,"said Amy hopefully.
"He's been starved, and he shan't be baked now he's dead. I'llmake him a shroud, and he shall be buried in the garden, and I'llnever have another bird, never, my Pip! For I am too bad to ownone," murmured Beth, sitting on the floor with her pet folded inher 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, andlay him in my box, and after the dinner party, we'll have a nicelittle funeral," said Jo, beginning to feel as if she had undertakena good deal.
Leaving the others to console Beth, she departed to the kitchen,which was in a most discouraging state of confusion. Putting on abig apron, she fell to work and got the dishes piled up ready forwashing, when she discovered that the fire was out.
"Here's a sweet prospect!" muttered Jo, slamming the stovedoor open, and poking vigorously among the cinders.
Having rekindled the fire, she thought she would go to marketwhile the water heated. The walk revived her spirits, and flatteringherself that she had made good bargins, she trudged home again, afterbuying a very young lobster, some very old asparagus, and two boxesof acid strawberries. By the time she got cleared up, the dinnerarrived and the stove was red-hot. Hannah had left a pan of breadto rise, Meg had worked it up early, set it on the hearth for asecond rising, and forgotten it. Meg was entertaining SallieGardiner 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 eyebrowsas high as they would go, which caused the apparition to vanish andput the sour bread into the oven without further delay. Mrs. Marchwent out, after peeping here and there to see how matters went, alsosaying a word of comfort to Beth, who sat making a winding sheet,while the dear departed lay in state in the domino box. A strangesense of helplessness fell upon the girls as the gray bonnetvanished round the corner, and despair seized them when a few minuteslater Miss Crocker appeared, and said she'd come to dinner. Nowthis lady was a thin, yellow spinster, with a sharp nose andinquisitive eyes, who saw everything and gossiped about all she saw.They disliked her, but had been taught to be kind to her, simplybecause she was old and poor and had few friends. So Meg gave herthe easy chair and tried to entertain her, while she asked questions,critsized everything, and told stories of the people whom she knew.
Language cannot describe the anxieties, experiences, and exertionswhich Jo underwent that morning, and the dinner she served up became astanding joke. Fearing to ask any more advice, she did her best alone,and discovered that something more than energy and good will isnecessary to make a cook. She boiled the asparagus for an hour and wasgrieved to find the heads cooked off and the stalks harder than ever.The bread burned black, for the salad dressing so aggravated her thatshe could not make it fit to ear. The lobster was a scarlet mystery toher, but she hammered and poked till it was unshelled and its meagerproportions concealed in a grove of lettuce leaves. The potatoes hadto be hurried, not to keep the asparagus waiting, and were not doneat the last. The blancmange was lumpy, and the strawberries not asripe as they looked, having been skilfully `deaconed'.
"Well, they can eat beef and bread and butter, if they arehungry, only it's mortifying to have to spend your whole morning fornothing," thought Jo, as she rang the bell half an hour later thanusual, and stood, hot, tired, and dispirited, surveying the feastspread before Laurie, accustomed to all sorts of elegance, and MissCrocker, whose tattling tongue would report them far and wide.
Poor Jo would gladly have gone under the table, as one thingafter another was tasted and left, while Amy giggled, Meg lookeddistressed, Miss Crocker pursed her lips, and Laurie talked andlaughed with all his might to give a cheerful tone to the festivescene. Jo's one strong point was the fruit, for she had sugared itwell, and had a pitcher of rich cream to eat with it. Her hot cheekscooled a trifle, and she drew a long breath as the pretty glassplates went round, and everyone looked graciously at the little rosyislands floating in a sea of cream. Miss Crocker tasted first, madea wry face, and drank some water hastily. Jo, who refused, thinkingthere might not be enough, for they dwindled sadly after the pickingover, glanced at Laurie, but he was eating away manfully, though therewas a slight pucker about his mouth and he kept his eye fixed on hisplate. 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 Megwith a tragic gesture.
Jo uttered a groan and fell back in her chair, remembering thatshe had given a last hasty powdering to the berries out of one ofthe two boxes on the kitchen table, and had neglected to put themilk in the refrigerator. She turned scarlet and was on the vergeof crying, when she met Laurie's eyes, which would look merry inspite of his heroic efforts. The comical side of the affair suddenlystruck her, and she laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks. Sodid everyone else, even `Croaker' as the girls called the old lady,and the unfortunate dinner ended gaily, with bread and butter, olivesand fun.
"I haven't strength of mind enough to clear up now, so we willsober ourselves with a funeral," said Jo, as they rose, and MissCrocker made ready to go, being eager to tell the new story atanother friend's dinner table.
They did sober themselves for Beth's sake. Laurie dug a graveunder the ferns in the grove, little Pip was laid in, with many tearsby his tender-hearted mistress, and covered with moss, while a wreathof 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 assuagedby beating up the pillows and putting things in order. Meg helpedJo clear away the remains of the feast, which took half the afternoonand left them so tired that they agreed to be contented with tea andtoast for supper.
Laurie took Amy to drive, which was a deed of charity, for thesour 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 themiddle of the afternoon, and a glance at the closet gave her an ideaof the success of one part of the experiment.
Before the housewives could rest, several people called, andthere 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 untilthe last minute. As twilight fell, dewy and still, one by one theygathered 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 firstto 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 wantanother week of it?" she asked, as Beth nestled up to her and therest turned toward her with brightening faces, as flowers turntoward 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 andlive 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, laughinginaudibly at the recollection of Jo's dinner party, for she hadmet Miss Crocker and heard her account of it.
"Mother, did you go away and let everything be, just to see howwe'd get on?" cried Meg, who had had suspicions all day.
"Yes, I wanted you to see how the comfort of all depends oneach doing her share faithfully. While Hannah and I did your work,you got on pretty well, though I don't think you were very happyor amiable. So I thought, as a little lesson, I would show youwhat happens when everyone thinks only of herself. Don't you feelthat it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily dutieswhich 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, andlighten as we learn to carry them. Work is wholesome, and thereis plenty for everyone. It keeps us from ennui and mischief, isgood for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power andindependence 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 thedinner party I have shall be a success."
"I'll make the set of shirts for father, instead of lettingyou 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 plentynice enough as they are." said Meg.
"I'll do my lessons every day, and not spend so much time withmy music and dolls. I am a stupid thing, and ought to be studying,not playing," was Beth's resolution, while Amy followed their exampleby heroically declaring, "I shall learn to make buttonholes, andattend to my parts of speech."
"Very good! Then I am quite satisfied with the experiment, andfancy that we shall not have to repeat it, only don't go to the otherextreme and delve like slaves. Have regular hours for work and play,make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understandthe worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful,old age will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success, inspite of poverty."
"We'll remember, Mother!" And they did.