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Chapter 13 Beth’s Secret

  • When Jo came home that spring, she had been struck with the change in Beth. N_ne spoke of it or seemed aware of it, for it had come too gradually t_tartle those who saw her daily, but to eyes sharpened by absence, it was ver_lain and a heavy weight fell on Jo's heart as she saw her sister's face. I_as no paler and but littler thinner than in the autumn, yet there was _trange, transparent look about it, as if the mortal was being slowly refine_way, and the immortal shining through the frail flesh with an indescribabl_athetic beauty. Jo saw and felt it, but said nothing at the time, and soo_he first impression lost much of its power, for Beth seemed happy, no on_ppeared to doubt that she was better, and presently in other cares Jo for _ime forgot her fear.
  • But when Laurie was gone, and peace prevailed again, the vague anxiet_eturned and haunted her. She had confessed her sins and been forgiven, bu_hen she showed her savings and proposed a mountain trip, Beth had thanked he_eartily, but begged not to go so far away from home. Another little visit t_he seashore would suit her better, and as Grandma could not be prevailed upo_o leave the babies, Jo took Beth down to the quiet place, where she coul_ive much in the open air, and let the fresh sea breezes blow a little colo_nto her pale cheeks.
  • It was not a fashionable place, but even among the pleasant people there, th_irls made few friends, preferring to live for one another. Beth was too sh_o enjoy society, and Jo too wrapped up in her to care for anyone else. S_hey were all in all to each other, and came and went, quite unconscious o_he interest they exited in those about them, who watched with sympatheti_yes the strong sister and the feeble one, always together, as if they fel_nstinctively that a long separation was not far away.
  • They did feel it, yet neither spoke of it, for often between ourselves an_hose nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very har_o overcome. Jo felt as if a veil had fallen between her heart and Beth's, bu_hen she put out her hand to lift it up, there seemed something sacred in th_ilence, and she waited for Beth to speak. She wondered, and was thankfu_lso, that her parents did not seem to see what she saw, and during the quie_eeks when the shadows grew so plain to her, she said nothing of it to thos_t home, believing that it would tell itself when Beth came back no better.
  • She wondered still more if her sister really guessed the hard truth, and wha_houghts were passing through her mind during the long hours when she lay o_he warm rocks with her head in Jo's lap, while the winds blew healthfull_ver her and the sea made music at her feet.
  • One day Beth told her. Jo thought she was asleep, she lay so still, an_utting down her book, sat looking at her with wistful eyes, trying to se_igns of hope in the faint color on Beth's cheeks. But she could not fin_nough to satisfy her, for the cheeks were very thin, and the hands seemed to_eeble to hold even the rosy little shells they had been collecting. It cam_o her then more bitterly than ever that Beth was slowly drifting away fro_er, and her arms instinctively tightened their hold upon the dearest treasur_he possessed. For a minute her eyes were too dim for seeing, and when the_leared, Beth was looking up at her so tenderly that there was hardly any nee_or her to say, "Jo, dear, I'm glad you know it. I've tried to tell you, but _ouldn't."
  • There was no answer except her sister's cheek against her own, not even tears,
  • for when most deeply moved, Jo did not cry. She was the weaker then, and Bet_ried to comfort and sustain her, with her arms about her and the soothin_ords she whispered in her ear.
  • "I've known it for a good while, dear, and now I'm used to it, it isn't har_o think of or to bear. Try to see it so and don't be troubled about me,
  • because it's best, indeed it is."
  • "Is this what made you so unhappy in the autumn, Beth? You did not feel i_hen, and keep it to yourself so long, did you?" asked Jo, refusing to see o_ay that it was best, but glad to know that Laurie had no part in Beth'_rouble.
  • "Yes, I gave up hoping then, but I didn't like to own it. I tried to think i_as a sick fancy, and would not let it trouble anyone. But when I saw you al_o well and strong and full of happy plans, it was hard to feel that I coul_ever be like you, and then I was miserable, Jo."
  • "Oh, Beth, and you didn't tell me, didn't let me comfort and help you? Ho_ould you shut me out, bear it all alone?"
  • Jo's voice was full of tender reproach, and her heart ached to think of th_olitary struggle that must have gone on while Beth learned to say goodbye t_ealth, love, and life, and take up her cross so cheerfully.
  • "Perhaps it was wrong, but I tried to do right. I wasn't sure, no one sai_nything, and I hoped I was mistaken. It would have been selfish to frighte_ou all when Marmee was so anxious about Meg, and Amy away, and you so happ_ith Laurie—at least I thought so then."
  • "And I thought you loved him, Beth, and I went away because I couldn't," crie_o, glad to say all the truth.
  • Beth looked so amazed at the idea that Jo smiled in spite of her pain, an_dded softly, "Then you didn't, dearie? I was afraid it was so, and imagine_our poor little heart full of lovelornity all that while."
  • "Why, Jo, how could I, when he was so fond of you?" asked Beth, as innocentl_s a child. "I do love him dearly. He is so good to me, how can I help It? Bu_e could never be anything to me but my brother. I hope he truly will be,
  • sometime."
  • "Not through me," said Jo decidedly. "Amy is left for him, and they would sui_xcellently, but I have no heart for such things, now. I don't care wha_ecomes of anybody but you, Beth. You must get well."
  • "I want to, oh, so much! I try, but every day I lose a little, and feel mor_ure that I shall never gain it back. It's like the tide, Jo, when it turns,
  • it goes slowly, but it can't be stopped."
  • "It shall be stopped, your tide must not turn so soon, nineteen is too young,
  • Beth. I can't let you go. I'll work and pray and fight against it. I'll kee_ou in spite of everything. There must be ways, it can't be too late. Go_on't be so cruel as to take you from me," cried poor Jo rebelliously, for he_pirit was far less piously submissive than Beth's.
  • Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety. It shows itself i_cts rather than in words, and has more influence than homilies o_rotestations. Beth could not reason upon or explain the faith that gave he_ourage and patience to give up life, and cheerfully wait for death. Like _onfiding child, she asked no questions, but left everything to God an_ature, Father and Mother of us all, feeling sure that they, and they only,
  • could teach and strengthen heart and spirit for this life and the life t_ome. She did not rebuke Jo with saintly speeches, only loved her better fo_er passionate affection, and clung more closely to the dear human love, fro_hich our Father never means us to be weaned, but through which He draws u_loser to Himself. She could not say, "I'm glad to go," for life was ver_weet for her. She could only sob out, "I try to be willing," while she hel_ast to Jo, as the first bitter wave of this great sorrow broke over the_ogether.
  • By and by Beth said, with recovered serenity, "You'll tell them this when w_o home?"
  • "I think they will see it without words," sighed Jo, for now it seemed to he_hat Beth changed every day.
  • "Perhaps not. I've heard that the people who love best are often blindest t_uch things. If they don't see it, you will tell them for me. I don't want an_ecrets, and it's kinder to prepare them. Meg has John and the babies t_omfort her, but you must stand by Father and Mother, won't you Jo?"
  • "If I can. But, Beth, I don't give up yet. I'm going to believe that it is _ick fancy, and not let you think it's true." said Jo, trying to spea_heerfully.
  • Beth lay a minute thinking, and then said in her quiet way, "I don't know ho_o express myself, and shouldn't try to anyone but you, because I can't spea_ut except to my Jo. I only mean to say that I have a feeling that it neve_as intended I should live long. I'm not like the rest of you. I never mad_ny plans about what I'd do when I grew up. I never thought of being married,
  • as you all did. I couldn't seem to imagine myself anything but stupid littl_eth, trotting about at home, of no use anywhere but there. I never wanted t_o away, and the hard part now is the leaving you all. I'm not afraid, but i_eems as if I should be homesick for you even in heaven."
  • Jo could not speak, and for several minutes there was no sound but the sigh o_he wind and the lapping of the tide. A white-winged gull flew by, with th_lash of sunshine on its silvery breast. Beth watched it till it vanished, an_er eyes were full of sadness. A little gray-coated sand bird came trippin_ver the beach 'peeping' softly to itself, as if enjoying the sun and sea. I_ame quite close to Beth, and looked at her with a friendly eye and sat upon _arm stone, dressing its wet feathers, quite at home. Beth smiled and fel_omforted, for the tiny thing seemed to offer its small friendship and remin_er that a pleasant world was still to be enjoyed.
  • "Dear little bird! See, Jo, how tame it is. I like peeps better than th_ulls. They are not so wild and handsome, but they seem happy, confidin_ittle things. I used to call them my birds last summer, and Mother said the_eminded her of me—busy, quaker-colored creatures, always near the shore, an_lways chirping that contented little song of theirs. You are the gull, Jo,
  • strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, an_appy all alone. Meg is the turtledove, and Amy is like the lark she write_bout, trying to get up among the clouds, but always dropping down into it_est again. Dear little girl! She's so ambitious, but her heart is good an_ender, and no matter how high she flies, she never will forget home. I hope _hall see her again, but she seems so far away."
  • "She is coming in the spring, and I mean that you shall be all ready to se_nd enjoy her. I'm going to have you well and rosy by that time," began Jo,
  • feeling that of all the changes in Beth, the talking change was the greatest,
  • for it seemed to cost no effort now, and she thought aloud in a way quit_nlike bashful Beth.
  • "Jo, dear, don't hope any more. It won't do any good. I'm sure of that. W_on't be miserable, but enjoy being together while we wait. We'll have happ_imes, for I don't suffer much, and I think the tide will go out easily, i_ou help me."
  • Jo leaned down to kiss the tranquil face, and with that silent kiss, sh_edicated herself soul and body to Beth.
  • She was right. There was no need of any words when they got home, for Fathe_nd Mother saw plainly now what they had prayed to be saved from seeing. Tire_ith her short journey, Beth went at once to bed, saying how glad she was t_e home, and when Jo went down, she found that she would be spared the har_ask of telling Beth's secret. Her father stood leaning his head on th_antelpiece and did not turn as she came in, but her mother stretched out he_rms as if for help, and Jo went to comfort her without a word.