Amy's lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it till lon_fterward. Men seldom do, for when women are the advisers, the lords o_reation don't take the advice till they have persuaded themselves that it i_ust what they intended to do. Then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it. If it fails, the_enerously give her the whole. Laurie went back to his grandfather, and was s_utifully devoted for several weeks that the old gentleman declared th_limate of Nice had improved him wonderfully, and he had better try it again.
There was nothing the young gentleman would have liked better, but elephant_ould not have dragged him back after the scolding he had received. Prid_orbid, and whenever the longing grew very strong, he fortified his resolutio_y repeating the words that had made the deepest impression—"I despise you."
"Go and do something splendid that will make her love you."
Laurie turned the matter over in his mind so often that he soon brough_imself to confess that he had been selfish and lazy, but then when a man ha_ great sorrow, he should be indulged in all sorts of vagaries till he ha_ived it down. He felt that his blighted affections were quite dead now, an_hough he should never cease to be a faithful mourner, there was no occasio_o wear his weeds ostentatiously. Jo wouldn't love him, but he might make he_espect and admire him by doing something which should prove that a girl's
'No' had not spoiled his life. He had always meant to do something, and Amy'_dvice was quite unnecessary. He had only been waiting till the aforesai_lighted affections were decently interred. That being done, he felt that h_as ready to 'hide his stricken heart, and still toil on'.
As Goethe, when he had a joy or a grief, put it into a song, so Lauri_esolved to embalm his love sorrow in music, and to compose a Requiem whic_hould harrow up Jo's soul and melt the heart of every hearer. Therefore th_ext time the old gentleman found him getting restless and moody and ordere_im off, he went to Vienna, where he had musical friends, and fell to wor_ith the firm determination to distinguish himself. But whether the sorrow wa_oo vast to be embodied in music, or music too ethereal to uplift a morta_oe, he soon discovered that the Requiem was beyond him just at present. I_as evident that his mind was not in working order yet, and his ideas neede_larifying, for often in the middle of a plaintive strain, he would fin_imself humming a dancing tune that vividly recalled the Christmas ball a_ice, especially the stout Frenchman, and put an effectual stop to tragi_omposition for the time being.
Then he tried an opera, for nothing seemed impossible in the beginning, bu_ere again unforeseen difficulties beset him. He wanted Jo for his heroine, and called upon his memory to supply him with tender recollections an_omantic visions of his love. But memory turned traitor, and as if possesse_y the perverse spirit of the girl, would only recall Jo's oddities, faults, and freaks, would only show her in the most unsentimental aspects—beating mat_ith her head tied up in a bandanna, barricading herself with the sofa pillow, or throwing cold water over his passion a la Gummidge—and an irresistabl_augh spoiled the pensive picture he was endeavoring to paint. Jo wouldn't b_ut into the opera at any price, and he had to give her up with a "Bless tha_irl, what a torment she is!" and a clutch at his hair, as became a distracte_omposer.
When he looked about him for another and a less intractable damsel t_mmortalize in melody, memory produced one with the most obliging readiness.
This phantom wore many faces, but it always had golden hair, was enveloped i_ diaphanous cloud, and floated airily before his mind's eye in a pleasin_haos of roses, peacocks, white ponies, and blue ribbons. He did not give th_omplacent wraith any name, but he took her for his heroine and grew quit_ond of her, as well he might, for he gifted her with every gift and grac_nder the sun, and escorted her, unscathed, through trials which would hav_nnihilated any mortal woman.
Thanks to this inspiration, he got on swimmingly for a time, but gradually th_ork lost its charm, and he forgot to compose, while he sat musing, pen i_and, or roamed about the gay city to get some new ideas and refresh his mind, which seemed to be in a somewhat unsettled state that winter. He did not d_uch, but he thought a great deal and was conscious of a change of some sor_oing on in spite of himself. "It's genius simmering, perhaps. I'll let i_immer, and see what comes of it," he said, with a secret suspicion all th_hile that it wasn't genius, but something far more common. Whatever it was, it simmered to some purpose, for he grew more and more discontented with hi_esultory life, began to long for some real and earnest work to go at, sou_nd body, and finally came to the wise conclusion that everyone who love_usic was not a composer. Returning from one of Mozart's grand operas, splendidly performed at the Royal Theatre, he looked over his own, played _ew of the best parts, sat staring at the busts of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, an_ach, who stared benignly back again. Then suddenly he tore up his musi_heets, one by one, and as the last fluttered out of his hand, he said soberl_o himself…
"She is right! Talent isn't genius, and you can't make it so. That music ha_aken the vanity out of me as Rome took it out of her, and I won't be a humbu_ny longer. Now what shall I do?"
That seemed a hard question to answer, and Laurie began to wish he had to wor_or his daily bread. Now if ever, occurred an eligible opportunity for 'goin_o the devil', as he once forcibly expressed it, for he had plenty of mone_nd nothing to do, and Satan is proverbially fond of providing employment fo_ull and idle hands. The poor fellow had temptations enough from without an_rom within, but he withstood them pretty well, for much as he valued liberty, he valued good faith and confidence more, so his promise to his grandfather, and his desire to be able to look honestly into the eyes of the women wh_oved him, and say "All's well," kept him safe and steady.
Very likely some Mrs. Grundy will observe, "I don't believe it, boys will b_oys, young men must sow their wild oats, and women must not expect miracles."
I dare say you don't, Mrs. Grundy, but it's true nevertheless. Women work _ood many miracles, and I have a persuasion that they may perform even that o_aising the standard of manhood by refusing to echo such sayings. Let the boy_e boys, the longer the better, and let the young men sow their wild oats i_hey must. But mothers, sisters, and friends may help to make the crop a smal_ne, and keep many tares from spoiling the harvest, by believing, and showin_hat they believe, in the possibility of loyalty to the virtues which make me_anliest in good women's eyes. If it is a feminine delusion, leave us to enjo_t while we may, for without it half the beauty and the romance of life i_ost, and sorrowful forebodings would embitter all our hopes of the brave, tenderhearted little lads, who still love their mothers better than themselve_nd are not ashamed to own it.
Laurie thought that the task of forgetting his love for Jo would absorb al_is powers for years, but to his great surprise he discovered it grew easie_very day. He refused to believe it at first, got angry with himself, an_ouldn't understand it, but these hearts of ours are curious and contrar_hings, and time and nature work their will in spite of us. Laurie's hear_ouldn't ache. The wound persisted in healing with a rapidity that astonishe_im, and instead of trying to forget, he found himself trying to remember. H_ad not foreseen this turn of affairs, and was not prepared for it. He wa_isgusted with himself, surprised at his own fickleness, and full of a quee_ixture of disappointment and relief that he could recover from such _remendous blow so soon. He carefully stirred up the embers of his lost love, but they refused to burst into a blaze. There was only a comfortable glow tha_armed and did him good without putting him into a fever, and he wa_eluctantly obliged to confess that the boyish passion was slowly subsidin_nto a more tranquil sentiment, very tender, a little sad and resentful still, but that was sure to pass away in time, leaving a brotherly affection whic_ould last unbroken to the end.
As the word 'brotherly' passed through his mind in one of his reveries, h_miled, and glanced up at the picture of Mozart that was before him…
"Well, he was a great man, and when he couldn't have one sister he took th_ther, and was happy."
Laurie did not utter the words, but he thought them, and the next instan_issed the little old ring, saying to himself, "No, I won't! I haven'_orgotten, I never can. I'll try again, and if that fails, why then… "
Leaving his sentence unfinished, he seized pen and paper and wrote to Jo, telling her that he could not settle to anything while there was the leas_ope of her changing her mind. Couldn't she, wouldn't she—and let him com_ome and be happy? While waiting for an answer he did nothing, but he did i_nergetically, for he was in a fever of impatience. It came at last, an_ettled his mind effectually on one point, for Jo decidedly couldn't an_ouldn't. She was wrapped up in Beth, and never wished to hear the word lov_gain. Then she begged him to be happy with somebody else, but always keep _ittle corner of his heart for his loving sister Jo. In a postscript sh_esired him not to tell Amy that Beth was worse, she was coming home in th_pring and there was no need of saddening the remainder of her stay. Tha_ould be time enough, please God, but Laurie must write to her often, and no_et her feel lonely, homesick or anxious.
"So I will, at once. Poor little girl, it will be a sad going home for her, I'm afraid," and Laurie opened his desk, as if writing to Amy had been th_roper conclusion of the sentence left unfinished some weeks before.
But he did not write the letter that day, for as he rummaged out his bes_aper, he came across something which changed his purpose. Tumbling about i_ne part of the desk among bills, passports, and business documents of variou_inds were several of Jo's letters, and in another compartment were thre_otes from Amy, carefully tied up with one of her blue ribbons and sweetl_uggestive of the little dead roses put away inside. With a half-repentant, half-amused expression, Laurie gathered up all Jo's letters, smoothed, folded, and put them neatly into a small drawer of the desk, stood a minute turnin_he ring thoughtfully on his finger, then slowly drew it off, laid it with th_etters, locked the drawer, and went out to hear High Mass at Saint Stefan's, feeling as if there had been a funeral, and though not overwhelmed wit_ffliction, this seemed a more proper way to spend the rest of the day than i_riting letters to charming young ladies.
The letter went very soon, however, and was promptly answered, for Amy wa_omesick, and confessed it in the most delightfully confiding manner. Th_orrespondence flourished famously, and letters flew to and fro with unfailin_egularity all through the early spring. Laurie sold his busts, mad_llumettes of his opera, and went back to Paris, hoping somebody would arriv_efore long. He wanted desperately to go to Nice, but would not till he wa_sked, and Amy would not ask him, for just then she was having littl_xperiences of her own, which made her rather wish to avoid the quizzical eye_f 'our boy'.
Fred Vaughn had returned, and put the question to which she had once decide_o answer, "Yes, thank you," but now she said, "No, thank you," kindly bu_teadily, for when the time came, her courage failed her, and she found tha_omething more than money and position was needed to satisfy the new longin_hat filled her heart so full of tender hopes and fears. The words, "Fred is _ood fellow, but not at all the man I fancied you would ever like," an_aurie's face when he uttered them, kept returning to her as pertinaciously a_er own did when she said in look, if not in words, "I shall marry for money."
It troubled her to remember that now, she wished she could take it back, i_ounded so unwomanly. She didn't want Laurie to think her a heartless, worldl_reature. She didn't care to be a queen of society now half so much as she di_o be a lovable woman. She was so glad he didn't hate her for the dreadfu_hings she said, but took them so beautifully and was kinder than ever. Hi_etters were such a comfort, for the home letters were very irregular and no_alf so satisfactory as his when they did come. It was not only a pleasure, but a duty to answer them, for the poor fellow was forlorn, and neede_etting, since Jo persisted in being stonyhearted. She ought to have made a_ffort and tried to love him. It couldn't be very hard, many people would b_roud and glad to have such a dear boy care for them. But Jo never would ac_ike other girls, so there was nothing to do but be very kind and treat hi_ike a brother.
If all brothers were treated as well as Laurie was at this period, they woul_e a much happier race of beings than they are. Amy never lectured now. Sh_sked his opinion on all subjects, she was interested in everything he did, made charming little presents for him, and sent him two letters a week, ful_f lively gossip, sisterly confidences, and captivating sketches of the lovel_cenes about her. As few brothers are complimented by having their letter_arried about in their sister's pockets, read and reread diligently, crie_ver when short, kissed when long, and treasured carefully, we will not hin_hat Amy did any of these fond and foolish things. But she certainly did gro_ little pale and pensive that spring, lost much of her relish for society, and went out sketching alone a good deal. She never had much to show when sh_ame home, but was studying nature, I dare say, while she sat for hours, wit_er hands folded, on the terrace at Valrosa, or absently sketched any fanc_hat occurred to her, a stalwart knight carved on a tomb, a young man aslee_n the grass, with his hat over his eyes, or a curly haired girl in gorgeou_rray, promenading down a ballroom on the arm of a tall gentleman, both face_eing left a blur according to the last fashion in art, which was safe but no_ltogether satisfactory.
Her aunt thought that she regretted her answer to Fred, and finding denial_seless and explanations impossible, Amy left her to think what she liked, taking care that Laurie should know that Fred had gone to Egypt. That was all, but he understood it, and looked relieved, as he said to himself, with _enerable air…
"I was sure she would think better of it. Poor old fellow! I've been throug_t all, and I can sympathize."
With that he heaved a great sigh, and then, as if he had discharged his dut_o the past, put his feet up on the sofa and enjoyed Amy's letter luxuriously.
While these changes were going on abroad, trouble had come at home. But th_etter telling that Beth was failing never reached Amy, and when the nex_ound her at Vevay, for the heat had driven them from Nice in May, and the_ad travelled slowly to Switzerland, by way of Genoa and the Italian lakes.
She bore it very well, and quietly submitted to the family decree that sh_hould not shorten her visit, for since it was too late to say goodbye t_eth, she had better stay, and let absence soften her sorrow. But her hear_as very heavy, she longed to be at home, and every day looked wistfull_cross the lake, waiting for Laurie to come and comfort her.
He did come very soon, for the same mail brought letters to them both, but h_as in Germany, and it took some days to reach him. The moment he read it, h_acked his knapsack, bade adieu to his fellow pedestrians, and was off to kee_is promise, with a heart full of joy and sorrow, hope and suspense.
He knew Vevay well, and as soon as the boat touched the little quay, h_urried along the shore to La Tour, where the Carrols were living en pension.
The garcon was in despair that the whole family had gone to take a promenad_n the lake, but no, the blonde mademoiselle might be in the chateau garden.
If monsieur would give himself the pain of sitting down, a flash of tim_hould present her. But monsieur could not wait even a 'flash of time', and i_he middle of the speech departed to find mademoiselle himself.
A pleasant old garden on the borders of the lovely lake, with chestnut_ustling overhead, ivy climbing everywhere, and the black shadow of the towe_alling far across the sunny water. At one corner of the wide, low wall was _eat, and here Amy often came to read or work, or console herself with th_eauty all about her. She was sitting here that day, leaning her head on he_and, with a homesick heart and heavy eyes, thinking of Beth and wondering wh_aurie did not come. She did not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor se_im pause in the archway that led from the subterranean path into the garden.
He stood a minute looking at her with new eyes, seeing what no one had eve_een before, the tender side of Amy's character. Everything about her mutel_uggested love and sorrow, the blotted letters in her lap, the black ribbo_hat tied up her hair, the womanly pain and patience in her face, even th_ittle ebony cross at her throat seemed pathetic to Laurie, for he had give_t to her, and she wore it as her only ornament. If he had any doubts abou_he reception she would give him, they were set at rest the minute she looke_p and saw him, for dropping everything, she ran to him, exclaiming in a ton_f unmistakable love and longing…
"Oh, Laurie, Laurie, I knew you'd come to me!"
I think everything was said and settled then, for as they stood together quit_ilent for a moment, with the dark head bent down protectingly over the ligh_ne, Amy felt that no one could comfort and sustain her so well as Laurie, an_aurie decided that Amy was the only woman in the world who could fill Jo'_lace and make him happy. He did not tell her so, but she was no_isappointed, for both felt the truth, were satisfied, and gladly left th_est to silence.
In a minute Amy went back to her place, and while she dried her tears, Lauri_athered up the scattered papers, finding in the sight of sundry well-wor_etters and suggestive sketches good omens for the future. As he sat dow_eside her, Amy felt shy again, and turned rosy red at the recollection of he_mpulsive greeting.
"I couldn't help it, I felt so lonely and sad, and was so very glad to se_ou. It was such a surprise to look up and find you, just as I was beginnin_o fear you wouldn't come," she said, trying in vain to speak quite naturally.
"I came the minute I heard. I wish I could say something to comfort you fo_he loss of dear little Beth, but I can only feel, and… " He could not get an_urther, for he too turned bashful all of a sudden, and did not quite kno_hat to say. He longed to lay Amy's head down on his shoulder, and tell her t_ave a good cry, but he did not dare, so took her hand instead, and gave it _ympathetic squeeze that was better than words.
"You needn't say anything, this comforts me," she said softly. "Beth is wel_nd happy, and I mustn't wish her back, but I dread the going home, much as _ong to see them all. We won't talk about it now, for it makes me cry, and _ant to enjoy you while you stay. You needn't go right back, need you?"
"Not if you want me, dear."
"I do, so much. Aunt and Flo are very kind, but you seem like one of th_amily, and it would be so comfortable to have you for a little while."
Amy spoke and looked so like a homesick child whose heart was full that Lauri_orgot his bashfulness all at once, and gave her just what she wanted—th_etting she was used to and the cheerful conversation she needed.
"Poor little soul, you look as if you'd grieved yourself half sick! I'm goin_o take care of you, so don't cry any more, but come and walk about with me, the wind is too chilly for you to sit still," he said, in the half-caressing, half-commanding way that Amy liked, as he tied on her hat, drew her ar_hrough his, and began to pace up and down the sunny walk under the new-leave_hestnuts. He felt more at ease upon his legs, and Amy found it pleasant t_ave a strong arm to lean upon, a familiar face to smile at her, and a kin_oice to talk delightfully for her alone.
The quaint old garden had sheltered many pairs of lovers, and seemed expressl_ade for them, so sunny and secluded was it, with nothing but the tower t_verlook them, and the wide lake to carry away the echo of their words, as i_ippled by below. For an hour this new pair walked and talked, or rested o_he wall, enjoying the sweet influences which gave such a charm to time an_lace, and when an unromantic dinner bell warned them away, Amy felt as if sh_eft her burden of loneliness and sorrow behind her in the chateau garden.
The moment Mrs. Carrol saw the girl's altered face, she was illuminated with _ew idea, and exclaimed to herself, "Now I understand it all—the child ha_een pining for young Laurence. Bless my heart, I never thought of such _hing!"
With praiseworthy discretion, the good lady said nothing, and betrayed no sig_f enlightenment, but cordially urged Laurie to stay and begged Amy to enjo_is society, for it would do her more good than so much solitude. Amy was _odel of docility, and as her aunt was a good deal occupied with Flo, she wa_eft to entertain her friend, and did it with more than her usual success.
At Nice, Laurie had lounged and Amy had scolded. At Vevay, Laurie was neve_dle, but always walking, riding, boating, or studying in the most energeti_anner, while Amy admired everything he did and followed his example as fa_nd as fast as she could. He said the change was owing to the climate, and sh_id not contradict him, being glad of a like excuse for her own recovere_ealth and spirits.
The invigorating air did them both good, and much exercise worked wholesom_hanges in minds as well as bodies. They seemed to get clearer views of lif_nd duty up there among the everlasting hills. The fresh winds blew awa_esponding doubts, delusive fancies, and moody mists. The warm spring sunshin_rought out all sorts of aspiring ideas, tender hopes, and happy thoughts. Th_ake seemed to wash away the troubles of the past, and the grand old mountain_o look benignly down upon them saying, "Little children, love one another."
In spite of the new sorrow, it was a very happy time, so happy that Lauri_ould not bear to disturb it by a word. It took him a little while to recove_rom his surprise at the cure of his first, and as he had firmly believed, hi_ast and only love. He consoled himself for the seeming disloyalty by th_hought that Jo's sister was almost the same as Jo's self, and the convictio_hat it would have been impossible to love any other woman but Amy so soon an_o well. His first wooing had been of the tempestuous order, and he looke_ack upon it as if through a long vista of years with a feeling of compassio_lended with regret. He was not ashamed of it, but put it away as one of th_itter-sweet experiences of his life, for which he could be grateful when th_ain was over. His second wooing, he resolved, should be as calm and simple a_ossible. There was no need of having a scene, hardly any need of telling Am_hat he loved her, she knew it without words and had given him his answer lon_go. It all came about so naturally that no one could complain, and he kne_hat everybody would be pleased, even Jo. But when our first little passio_as been crushed, we are apt to be wary and slow in making a second trial, s_aurie let the days pass, enjoying every hour, and leaving to chance th_tterance of the word that would put an end to the first and sweetest part o_is new romance.
He had rather imagined that the denoument would take place in the chatea_arden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and decorous manner, but i_urned out exactly the reverse, for the matter was settled on the lake a_oonday in a few blunt words. They had been floating about all the morning, from gloomy St. Gingolf to sunny Montreux, with the Alps of Savoy on one side, Mont St. Bernard and the Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevay in th_alley, and Lausanne upon the hill beyond, a cloudless blue sky overhead, an_he bluer lake below, dotted with the picturesque boats that look like white- winged gulls.
They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past Chillon, and o_ousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he wrote his Heloise. Neithe_ad read it, but they knew it was a love story, and each privately wondered i_t was half as interesting as their own. Amy had been dabbling her hand in th_ater during the little pause that fell between them, and when she looked up, Laurie was leaning on his oars with an expression in his eyes that made he_ay hastily, merely for the sake of saying something…
"You must be tired. Rest a little, and let me row. It will do me good, fo_ince you came I have been altogether lazy and luxurious."
"I'm not tired, but you may take an oar, if you like. There's room enough, though I have to sit nearly in the middle, else the boat won't trim," returne_aurie, as if he rather liked the arrangement.
Feeling that she had not mended matters much, Amy took the offered third of _eat, shook her hair over her face, and accepted an oar. She rowed as well a_he did many other things, and though she used both hands, and Laurie but one, the oars kept time, and the boat went smoothly through the water.
"How well we pull together, don't we?" said Amy, who objected to silence jus_hen.
"So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat. Will you, Amy?"
"Yes, Laurie," very low.
Then they both stopped rowing, and unconsciously added a pretty little tablea_f human love and happiness to the dissolving views reflected in the lake.