Mrs. Chester's fair was so very elegant and select that it was considered _reat honor by the young ladies of the neighborhood to be invited to take _able, and everyone was much interested in the matter. Amy was asked, but J_as not, which was fortunate for all parties, as her elbows were decidedl_kimbo at this period of her life, and it took a good many hard knocks t_each her how to get on easily. The 'haughty, uninteresting creature' was le_everely alone, but Amy's talent and taste were duly complimented by the offe_f the art table, and she exerted herself to prepare and secure appropriat_nd valuable contributions to it.
Everything went on smoothly till the day before the fair opened, then ther_ccurred one of the little skirmishes which it is almost impossible to avoid, when some five-and-twenty women, old and young, with all their private pique_nd prejudices, try to work together.
May Chester was rather jealous of Amy because the latter was a greate_avorite than herself, and just at this time several trifling circumstance_ccurred to increase the feeling. Amy's dainty pen-and-ink work entirel_clipsed May's painted vases—that was one thorn. Then the all conquering Tudo_ad danced four times with Amy at a late party and only once with May—that wa_horn number two. But the chief grievance that rankled in her soul, and gav_n excuse for her unfriendly conduct, was a rumor which some obliging gossi_ad whispered to her, that the March girls had made fun of her at the Lambs'.
All the blame of this should have fallen upon Jo, for her naughty imitatio_ad been too lifelike to escape detection, and the frolicsome Lambs ha_ermitted the joke to escape. No hint of this had reached the culprits, however, and Amy's dismay can be imagined, when, the very evening before th_air, as she was putting the last touches to her pretty table, Mrs. Chester, who, of course, resented the supposed ridicule of her daughter, said, in _land tone, but with a cold look…
"I find, dear, that there is some feeling among the young ladies about m_iving this table to anyone but my girls. As this is the most prominent, an_ome say the most attractive table of all, and they are the chief getters-u_f the fair, it is thought best for them to take this place. I'm sorry, but _now you are too sincerely interested in the cause to mind a little persona_isappointment, and you shall have another table if you like."
Mrs. Chester fancied beforehand that it would be easy to deliver this littl_peech, but when the time came, she found it rather difficult to utter i_aturally, with Amy's unsuspicious eyes looking straight at her full o_urprise and trouble.
Amy felt that there was something behind this, but could not guess what, an_aid quietly, feeling hurt, and showing that she did, "Perhaps you had rathe_ took no table at all?"
"Now, my dear, don't have any ill feeling, I beg. It's merely a matter o_xpediency, you see, my girls will naturally take the lead, and this table i_onsidered their proper place. I think it very appropriate to you, and fee_ery grateful for your efforts to make it so pretty, but we must give up ou_rivate wishes, of course, and I will see that you have a good plac_lsewhere. Wouldn't you like the flower table? The little girls undertook it, but they are discouraged. You could make a charming thing of it, and th_lower table is always attractive you know."
"Especially to gentlemen," added May, with a look which enlightened Amy as t_ne cause of her sudden fall from favor. She colored angrily, but took n_ther notice of that girlish sarcasm, and answered with unexpected amiability…
"It shall be as you please, Mrs. Chester. I'll give up my place here at once, and attend to the flowers, if you like."
"You can put your own things on your own table, if you prefer," began May, feeling a little conscience-stricken, as she looked at the pretty racks, th_ainted shells, and quaint illuminations Amy had so carefully made and s_racefully arranged. She meant it kindly, but Amy mistook her meaning, an_aid quickly…
"Oh, certainly, if they are in your way," and sweeping her contributions int_er apron, pell-mell, she walked off, feeling that herself and her works o_rt had been insulted past forgiveness.
"Now she's mad. Oh, dear, I wish I hadn't asked you to speak, Mama," said May, looking disconsolately at the empty spaces on her table.
"Girls' quarrels are soon over," returned her mother, feeling a trifle ashame_f her own part in this one, as well she might.
The little girls hailed Amy and her treasures with delight, which cordia_eception somewhat soothed her perturbed spirit, and she fell to work, determined to succeed florally, if she could not artistically. But everythin_eemed against her. It was late, and she was tired. Everyone was too busy wit_heir own affairs to help her, and the little girls were only hindrances, fo_he dears fussed and chattered like so many magpies, making a great deal o_onfusion in their artless efforts to preserve the most perfect order. Th_vergreen arch wouldn't stay firm after she got it up, but wiggled an_hreatened to tumble down on her head when the hanging baskets were filled.
Her best tile got a splash of water, which left a sepia tear on the Cupid'_heek. She bruised her hands with hammering, and got cold working in a draft, which last affliction filled her with apprehensions for the morrow. Any gir_eader who has suffered like afflictions will sympathize with poor Amy an_ish her well through her task.
There was great indignation at home when she told her story that evening. He_other said it was a shame, but told her she had done right. Beth declared sh_ouldn't go to the fair at all, and Jo demanded why she didn't take all he_retty things and leave those mean people to get on without her.
"Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate such things, an_hough I think I've a right to be hurt, I don't intend to show it. They wil_eel that more than angry speeches or huffy actions, won't they, Marmee?"
"That's the right spirit, my dear. A kiss for a blow is always best, thoug_t's not very easy to give it sometimes," said her mother, with the air of on_ho had learned the difference between preaching and practicing.
In spite of various very natural temptations to resent and retaliate, Am_dhered to her resolution all the next day, bent on conquering her enemy b_indness. She began well, thanks to a silent reminder that came to he_nexpectedly, but most opportunely. As she arranged her table that morning, while the little girls were in the anteroom filling the baskets, she took u_er pet production, a little book, the antique cover of which her father ha_ound among his treasures, and in which on leaves of vellum she ha_eautifully illuminated different texts. As she turned the pages rich i_ainty devices with very pardonable pride, her eye fell upon one verse tha_ade her stop and think. Framed in a brilliant scrollwork of scarlet, blue an_old, with little spirits of good will helping one another up and down amon_he thorns and flowers, were the words, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor a_hyself."
"I ought, but I don't," thought Amy, as her eye went from the bright page t_ay's discontented face behind the big vases, that could not hide th_acancies her pretty work had once filled. Amy stood a minute, turning th_eaves in her hand, reading on each some sweet rebuke for all heartburning_nd uncharitableness of spirit. Many wise and true sermons are preached u_very day by unconscious ministers in street, school, office, or home. Even _air table may become a pulpit, if it can offer the good and helpful word_hich are never out of season. Amy's conscience preached her a little sermo_rom that text, then and there, and she did what many of us do not always do, took the sermon to heart, and straightway put it in practice.
A group of girls were standing about May's table, admiring the pretty things, and talking over the change of saleswomen. They dropped their voices, but Am_new they were speaking of her, hearing one side of the story and judgin_ccordingly. It was not pleasant, but a better spirit had come over her, an_resently a chance offered for proving it. She heard May say sorrowfully…
"It's too bad, for there is no time to make other things, and I don't want t_ill up with odds and ends. The table was just complete then. Now it'_poiled."
"I dare say she'd put them back if you asked her," suggested someone.
"How could I after all the fuss?" began May, but she did not finish, for Amy'_oice came across the hall, saying pleasantly…
"You may have them, and welcome, without asking, if you want them. I was jus_hinking I'd offer to put them back, for they belong to your table rather tha_ine. Here they are, please take them, and forgive me if I was hasty i_arrying them away last night."
As she spoke, Amy returned her contribution, with a nod and a smile, an_urried away again, feeling that it was easier to do a friendly thing than i_as to stay and be thanked for it.
"Now, I call that lovely of her, don't you?" cried one girl.
May's answer was inaudible, but another young lady, whose temper was evidentl_ little soured by making lemonade, added, with a disagreeable laugh, "Ver_ovely, for she knew she wouldn't sell them at her own table."
Now, that was hard. When we make little sacrifices we like to have the_ppreciated, at least, and for a minute Amy was sorry she had done it, feelin_hat virtue was not always its own reward. But it is, as she presentl_iscovered, for her spirits began to rise, and her table to blossom under he_killful hands, the girls were very kind, and that one little act seemed t_ave cleared the atmosphere amazingly.
It was a very long day and a hard one for Amy, as she sat behind her table, often quite alone, for the little girls deserted very soon. Few cared to bu_lowers in summer, and her bouquets began to droop long before night.
The art table was the most attractive in the room. There was a crowd about i_ll day long, and the tenders were constantly flying to and fro with importan_aces and rattling money boxes. Amy often looked wistfully across, longing t_e there, where she felt at home and happy, instead of in a corner wit_othing to do. It might seem no hardship to some of us, but to a pretty, blithe young girl, it was not only tedious, but very trying, and the though_f Laurie and his friends made it a real martyrdom.
She did not go home till night, and then she looked so pale and quiet tha_hey knew the day had been a hard one, though she made no complaint, and di_ot even tell what she had done. Her mother gave her an extra cordial cup o_ea. Beth helped her dress, and made a charming little wreath for her hair, while Jo astonished her family by getting herself up with unusual care, an_inting darkly that the tables were about to be turned.
"Don't do anything rude, pray Jo; I won't have any fuss made, so let it al_ass and behave yourself," begged Amy, as she departed early, hoping to find _einforcement of flowers to refresh her poor little table.
"I merely intend to make myself entrancingly agreeable to every one I know, and to keep them in your corner as long as possible. Teddy and his boys wil_end a hand, and we'll have a good time yet." returned Jo, leaning over th_ate to watch for Laurie. Presently the familiar tramp was heard in the dusk, and she ran out to meet him.
"Is that my boy?"
"As sure as this is my girl!" and Laurie tucked her hand under his arm wit_he air of a man whose every wish was gratified.
"Oh, Teddy, such doings!" and Jo told Amy's wrongs with sisterly zeal.
"A flock of our fellows are going to drive over by-and-by, and I'll be hange_f I don't make them buy every flower she's got, and camp down before he_able afterward," said Laurie, espousing her cause with warmth.
"The flowers are not at all nice, Amy says, and the fresh ones may not arriv_n time. I don't wish to be unjust or suspicious, but I shouldn't wonder i_hey never came at all. When people do one mean thing they are very likely t_o another," observed Jo in a disgusted tone.
"Didn't Hayes give you the best out of our gardens? I told him to."
"I didn't know that, he forgot, I suppose, and, as your grandpa was poorly, _idn't like to worry him by asking, though I did want some."
"Now, Jo, how could you think there was any need of asking? They are just a_uch yours as mine. Don't we always go halves in everything?" began Laurie, i_he tone that always made Jo turn thorny.
"Gracious, I hope not! Half of some of your things wouldn't suit me at all.
But we mustn't stand philandering here. I've got to help Amy, so you go an_ake yourself splendid, and if you'll be so very kind as to let Hayes take _ew nice flowers up to the Hall, I'll bless you forever."
"Couldn't you do it now?" asked Laurie, so suggestively that Jo shut the gat_n his face with inhospitable haste, and called through the bars, "Go away, Teddy, I'm busy."
Thanks to the conspirators, the tables were turned that night, for Hayes sen_p a wilderness of flowers, with a loverly basket arranged in his best manne_or a centerpiece. Then the March family turned out en masse, and Jo exerte_erself to some purpose, for people not only came, but stayed, laughing at he_onsense, admiring Amy's taste, and apparently enjoying themselves very much.
Laurie and his friends gallantly threw themselves into the breach, bought u_he bouquets, encamped before the table, and made that corner the livelies_pot in the room. Amy was in her element now, and out of gratitude, if nothin_ore, was as spritely and gracious as possible, coming to the conclusion, about that time, that virtue was its own reward, after all.
Jo behaved herself with exemplary propriety, and when Amy was happil_urrounded by her guard of honor, Jo circulated about the Hall, picking u_arious bits of gossip, which enlightened her upon the subject of the Cheste_hange of base. She reproached herself for her share of the ill feeling an_esolved to exonerate Amy as soon as possible. She also discovered what Am_ad done about the things in the morning, and considered her a model o_agnanimity. As she passed the art table, she glanced over it for her sister'_hings, but saw no sign of them. "Tucked away out of sight, I dare say,"
thought Jo, who could forgive her own wrongs, but hotly resented any insul_ffered her family.
"Good evening, Miss Jo. How does Amy get on?" asked May with a conciliator_ir, for she wanted to show that she also could be generous.
"She has sold everything she had that was worth selling, and now she i_njoying herself. The flower table is always attractive, you know, 'especiall_o gentlemen'." Jo couldn't resist giving that little slap, but May took it s_eekly she regretted it a minute after, and fell to praising the great vases, which still remained unsold.
"Is Amy's illumination anywhere about? I took a fancy to buy that for Father,"
said Jo, very anxious to learn the fate of her sister's work.
"Everything of Amy's sold long ago. I took care that the right people sa_hem, and they made a nice little sum of money for us," returned May, who ha_vercome sundry small temptations, as well as Amy had, that day.
Much gratified, Jo rushed back to tell the good news, and Amy looked bot_ouched and surprised by the report of May's word and manner.
"Now, gentlemen, I want you to go and do your duty by the other tables a_enerously as you have by mine, especially the art table," she said, orderin_ut 'Teddy's own', as the girls called the college friends.
"'Charge, Chester, charge!' is the motto for that table, but do your duty lik_en, and you'll get your money's worth of art in every sense of the word,"
said the irrepressible Jo, as the devoted phalanx prepared to take the field.
"To hear is to obey, but March is fairer far than May," said little Parker, making a frantic effort to be both witty and tender, and getting promptl_uenched by Laurie, who said…
"Very well, my son, for a small boy!" and walked him off, with a paternal pa_n the head.
"Buy the vases," whispered Amy to Laurie, as a final heaping of coals of fir_n her enemy's head.
To May's great delight, Mr. Laurence not only bought the vases, but pervade_he hall with one under each arm. The other gentlemen speculated with equa_ashness in all sorts of frail trifles, and wandered helplessly abou_fterward, burdened with wax flowers, painted fans, filigree portfolios, an_ther useful and appropriate purchases.
Aunt Carrol was there, heard the story, looked pleased, and said something t_rs. March in a corner, which made the latter lady beam with satisfaction, an_atch Amy with a face full of mingled pride and anxiety, though she did no_etray the cause of her pleasure till several days later.
The fair was pronounced a success, and when May bade Amy goodnight, she di_ot gush as usual, but gave her an affectionate kiss, and a look which said
'forgive and forget'. That satisfied Amy, and when she got home she found th_ases paraded on the parlor chimney piece with a great bouquet in each. "Th_eward of merit for a magnanimous March," as Laurie announced with a flourish.
"You've a deal more principle and generosity and nobleness of character than _ver gave you credit for, Amy. You've behaved sweetly, and I respect you wit_ll my heart," said Jo warmly, as they brushed their hair together late tha_ight.
"Yes, we all do, and love her for being so ready to forgive. It must have bee_readfully hard, after working so long and setting your heart on selling you_wn pretty things. I don't believe I could have done it as kindly as you did,"
added Beth from her pillow.
"Why, girls, you needn't praise me so. I only did as I'd be done by. You laug_t me when I say I want to be a lady, but I mean a true gentlewoman in min_nd manners, and I try to do it as far as I know how. I can't explain exactly, but I want to be above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoi_o many women. I'm far from it now, but I do my best, and hope in time to b_hat Mother is."
Amy spoke earnestly, and Jo said, with a cordial hug, "I understand now wha_ou mean, and I'll never laugh at you again. You are getting on faster tha_ou think, and I'll take lessons of you in true politeness, for you've learne_he secret, I believe. Try away, deary, you'll get your reward some day, an_o one will be more delighted than I shall."
A week later Amy did get her reward, and poor Jo found it hard to b_elighted. A letter came from Aunt Carrol, and Mrs. March's face wa_lluminated to such a degree when she read it that Jo and Beth, who were wit_er, demanded what the glad tidings were.
"Aunt Carrol is going abroad next month, and wants… "
"Me to go with her!" burst in Jo, flying out of her chair in an uncontrollabl_apture.
"No, dear, not you. It's Amy."
"Oh, Mother! She's too young, it's my turn first. I've wanted it so long. I_ould do me so much good, and be so altogether splendid. I must go!"
"I'm afraid it's impossible, Jo. Aunt says Amy, decidedly, and it is not fo_s to dictate when she offers such a favor."
"It's always so. Amy has all the fun and I have all the work. It isn't fair, oh, it isn't fair!" cried Jo passionately.
"I'm afraid it's partly your own fault, dear. When Aunt spoke to me the othe_ay, she regretted your blunt manners and too independent spirit, and here sh_rites, as if quoting something you had said—'I planned at first to ask Jo, but as 'favors burden her', and she 'hates French', I think I won't venture t_nvite her. Amy is more docile, will make a good companion for Flo, an_eceive gratefully any help the trip may give her."
"Oh, my tongue, my abominable tongue! Why can't I learn to keep it quiet?"
groaned Jo, remembering words which had been her undoing. When she had hear_he explanation of the quoted phrases, Mrs. March said sorrowfully…
"I wish you could have gone, but there is no hope of it this time, so try t_ear it cheerfully, and don't sadden Amy's pleasure by reproaches or regrets."
"I'll try," said Jo, winking hard as she knelt down to pick up the basket sh_ad joyfully upset. "I'll take a leaf out of her book, and try not only t_eem glad, but to be so, and not grudge her one minute of happiness. But i_on't be easy, for it is a dreadful disappointment," and poor Jo bedewed th_ittle fat pincushion she held with several very bitter tears.
"Jo, dear, I'm very selfish, but I couldn't spare you, and I'm glad you ar_ot going quite yet," whispered Beth, embracing her, basket and all, with suc_ clinging touch and loving face that Jo felt comforted in spite of the shar_egret that made her want to box her own ears, and humbly beg Aunt Carrol t_urden her with this favor, and see how gratefully she would bear it.
By the time Amy came in, Jo was able to take her part in the famil_ubilation, not quite as heartily as usual, perhaps, but without repinings a_my's good fortune. The young lady herself received the news as tidings o_reat joy, went about in a solemn sort of rapture, and began to sort he_olors and pack her pencils that evening, leaving such trifles as clothes, money, and passports to those less absorbed in visions of art than herself.
"It isn't a mere pleasure trip to me, girls," she said impressively, as sh_craped her best palette. "It will decide my career, for if I have any genius, I shall find it out in Rome, and will do something to prove it."
"Suppose you haven't?" said Jo, sewing away, with red eyes, at the new collar_hich were to be handed over to Amy.
"Then I shall come home and teach drawing for my living," replied the aspiran_or fame, with philosophic composure. But she made a wry face at the prospect, and scratched away at her palette as if bent on vigorous measures before sh_ave up her hopes.
"No, you won't. You hate hard work, and you'll marry some rich man, and com_ome to sit in the lap of luxury all your days," said Jo.
"Your predictions sometimes come to pass, but I don't believe that one will.
I'm sure I wish it would, for if I can't be an artist myself, I should like t_e able to help those who are," said Amy, smiling, as if the part of Lad_ountiful would suit her better than that of a poor drawing teacher.
"Hum!" said Jo, with a sigh. "If you wish it you'll have it, for your wishe_re always granted—mine never."
"Would you like to go?" asked Amy, thoughtfully patting her nose with he_nife.
"Well, in a year or two I'll send for you, and we'll dig in the Forum fo_elics, and carry out all the plans we've made so many times."
"Thank you. I'll remind you of your promise when that joyful day comes, if i_ver does," returned Jo, accepting the vague but magnificent offer a_ratefully as she could.
There was not much time for preparation, and the house was in a ferment til_my was off. Jo bore up very well till the last flutter of blue ribbo_anished, when she retired to her refuge, the garret, and cried till sh_ouldn't cry any more. Amy likewise bore up stoutly till the steamer sailed.
Then just as the gangway was about to be withdrawn, it suddenly came over he_hat a whole ocean was soon to roll between her and those who loved her best, and she clung to Laurie, the last lingerer, saying with a sob…
"Oh, take care of them for me, and if anything should happen… "
"I will, dear, I will, and if anything happens, I'll come and comfort you,"
whispered Laurie, little dreaming that he would be called upon to keep hi_ord.
So Amy sailed away to find the Old World, which is always new and beautiful t_oung eyes, while her father and friend watched her from the shore, ferventl_oping that none but gentle fortunes would befall the happy-hearted girl, wh_aved her hand to them till they could see nothing but the summer sunshin_azzling on the sea.