MRS. CHESTERS fair was so very elegant and select that it was considered a great honor by the young ladies of the neighborhood to be invited to take a table, and every one was much interested in the matter. Amy was asked, but Jo was not, which was fortunate for all parties, as her elbows were decidedly akimbo at this period of her life, and it took a good many hard knocks to teach her how to get on easily. The haughty, uninteresting creature was let severely alone; but Amys talent and taste were duly complimented by the offer of the art-table, and she exerted herself to prepare and secure appropriate and valuable contributions to it.
Everything went on smoothly till the day before the fair opened; then there occurred 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 piques and prejudices, try to work together.
May Chester was rather jealous of Amy because the latter was a greater favorite than herself; and, just at this time, several trifling circumstances occurred to increase the feeling. Amys dainty pen-and-ink work entirely eclipsed Mays painted vases,that was one thorn; then the all-conquering Tudor had danced four times with Amy, at a late party, and only once with May,that was thorn number two; but the chief grievance that rankled in her soul, and gave an excuse for her unfriendly conduct, was a rumor which some obliging gossip had 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 imitation had been too lifelike to escape detection, and the frolicsome Lambs had permitted the joke to escape. No hint of this had reached the culprits, however, and Amys dismay can be imagined, when, the very evening before the fair, 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 a bland tone, but with a cold look,
I find, dear, that there is some feeling among the young ladies about my giving this table to any one but my girls. As this is the most prominent, and some say the most attractive table of all, and they are the chief getters-up of the fair, it is thought best for them to take this place. I m sorry, but I know you are too sincerely interested in the cause to mind a little personal disappointment, and you shall have another table if you like.
Mrs. Chester fancied beforehand that it would be easy to deliver this little speech; but when the time came, she found it rather difficult to utter it naturally, with Amys unsuspicious eyes looking straight at her, full of surprise and trouble.
Now, my dear, dont have any ill feeling, I beg; it s merely a matter of expediency, you see; my girls will naturally take the lead, and this table is considered their proper place. I think it very appropriate to you, and feel very grateful for your efforts to make it so pretty; but we must give up our private wishes, of course, and I will see that you have a good place elsewhere. Would nt you like the flower-table? The little girls undertook it, but they are discouraged. You could make a charming thing of it, and the flower-table is always attractive, you know.
Especially to gentlemen, added May, with a look which enlightened Amy as to one cause of her sudden fall from favor. She colored angrily, but took no other notice of that girlish sarcasm, and answered, with unexpected amiability,
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, the painted shells, and quaint illuminations Amy had so carefully made and so gracefully arranged. She meant it kindly, but Amy mistook her meaning, and said quickly,
The little girls hailed Amy and her treasures with delight, which cordial reception somewhat soothed her perturbed spirit, and she fell to work, determined to succeed florally, if she could not artistically. But everything seemed against her: it was late, and she was tired; every one was too busy with their own affairs to help her; and the little girls were only hindrances, for the dears fussed and chattered like so many magpies, making a great deal of confusion in their artless efforts to preserve the most perfect order. The evergreen arch would nt stay firm after she got it up, but wiggled and threatened 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 Cupids cheek; she bruised her hands with hammering, and got cold working in a draught, which last affliction filled her with apprehensions for the morrow. Any girl-reader who has suffered like afflictions will sympathize with poor Amy, and wish her well through with her task.
There was great indignation at home when she told her story that evening. Her mother said it was a shame, but told her she had done right; Beth declared she would nt go to the fair at all; and Jo demanded why she did nt take all her pretty 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, and though I think I ve a right to be hurt, I dont intend to show it. They will feel that more than angry speeches or huffy actions, wont they, Marmee?
That s the right spirit, my dear; a kiss for a blow is always best, though it s not very easy to give it sometimes, said her mother, with the air of one who had learned the difference between preaching and practising.
In spite of various very natural temptations to resent and retaliate, Amy adhered to her resolution all the next day, bent on conquering her enemy by kindness. She began well, thanks to a silent reminder that came to her unexpectedly, but most opportunely. As she arranged her table that morning, while the little girls were in the ante-room filling the baskets, she took up her pet production,a little book, the antique cover of which her father had found among his treasures, and in which, on leaves of vellum, she had beautifully illuminated different texts. As she turned the pages, rich in dainty devices, with very pardonable pride, her eye fell upon one verse that made her stop and think. Framed in a brilliant scroll-work of scarlet, blue, and gold, with little spirits of good-will helping one another up and down among the thorns and flowers, were the words, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
I ought, but I dont, thought Amy, as her eye went from the bright page to Mays discontented face behind the big vases, that could not hide the vacancies her pretty work had once filled. Amy stood a minute, turning the leaves in her hand, reading on each some sweet rebuke for all heart-burnings and uncharitableness of spirit. Many wise and true sermons are preached us every day by unconscious ministers in street, school, office, or home; even a fair-table may become a pulpit, if it can offer the good and helpful words which are never out of season. Amys conscience preached her a little sermon from 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 Mays table, admiring the pretty things, and talking over the change of saleswomen. They dropped their voices, but Amy knew they were speaking of her, hearing one side of the story, and judging accordingly. It was not pleasant, but a better spirit had come over her, and presently a chance offered for proving it. She heard May say sorrowfully,
You may have them, and welcome, without asking, if you want them. I was just thinking I d offer to put them back, for they belong to your table rather than mine. Here they are; please take them, and forgive me if I was hasty in carrying them away last night.
Mays answer was inaudible; but another young lady, whose temper was evidently a little soured by making lemonade, added, with a disagreeable laugh, Very lovely; for she knew she would nt sell them at her own table.
Now, that was hard; when we make little sacrifices we like to have them appreciated, at least; and for a minute Amy was sorry she had done it, feeling that virtue was not always its own reward. But it is,as she presently discovered; for her spirits began to rise, and her table to blossom under her skilful hands; the girls were very kind, and that one little act seemed to have 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 buy flowers 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 it all day long, and the tenders were constantly flying to and fro with important faces and rattling money-boxes. Amy often looked wistfully across, longing to be there, where she felt at home and happy, instead of in a corner with nothing 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 thought of being found there in the evening by her family, and Laurie and his friends, made it a real martyrdom.
She did not go home till night, and then she looked so pale and quiet that they knew the day had been a hard one, though she made no complaint, and did not even tell what she had done. Her mother gave her an extra cordial cup of tea, 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, and hinting darkly that the tables were about to be turned.
Dont do anything rude, pray, Jo. I wont have any fuss made, so let it all pass, and behave yourself, begged Amy, as she departed early, hoping to find a reinforcement 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 will lend a hand, and we ll have a good time yet, returned Jo, leaning over the gate to watch for Laurie. Presently the familiar tramp was heard in the dusk, and she ran out to meet him.
A flock of our fellows are going to drive over by and by, and I ll be hanged if I dont make them buy every flower she s got, and camp down before her table afterward, said Laurie, espousing her cause with warmth.
The flowers are not at all nice, Amy says, and the fresh ones may not arrive in time. I dont wish to be unjust or suspicious, but I should nt wonder if they never came at all. When people do one mean thing they are very likely to do another, observed Jo, in a disgusted tone.
Gracious, I hope not! half of some of your things would nt suit me at all. But we must nt stand philandering here; I ve got to help Amy, so you go and make yourself splendid; and if you ll be so very kind as to let Hayes take a few nice flowers up to the Hall, I ll bless you forever.
Thanks to the conspirators, the tables were turned that night; for Hayes sent up a wilderness of flowers, with a lovely basket, arranged in his best manner, for a centrepiece; then the March family turned out en masse, and Jo exerted herself to some purpose, for people not only came, but stayed, laughing at her nonsense, admiring Amys taste, and apparently enjoying themselves very much. Laurie and his friends gallantly threw themselves into the breach, bought up the bouquets, encamped before the table, and made that corner the liveliest spot in the room. Amy was in her element now, and, out of gratitude, if nothing more, was as sprightly 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 happily surrounded by her guard of honor, Jo circulated about the hall, picking up various bits of gossip, which enlightened her upon the subject of the Chester change of base. She reproached herself for her share of the ill-feeling, and resolved to exonerate Amy as soon as possible; she also discovered what Amy had done about the things in the morning, and considered her a model of magnanimity. As she passed the art-table, she glanced over it for her sisters things, 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 insult offered to her family.
Everything of Amys sold long ago; I took care that the right people saw them, and they made a nice little sum of money for us, returned May, who had overcome sundry small temptations, as well as Amy, that day.
Now, gentlemen, I want you to go and do your duty by the other tables as generously as you have by mineespecially the art-table, she said, ordering out Teddys Own, as the girls called the college friends.
Charge, Chester, charge! is the motto for that table; but do your duty like men, and you ll get your moneys 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 promptly quenched by Laurie, who said, Very well, my son, for a small boy! and walked him off, with a paternal pat on the head.
To Mays great delight, Mr. Laurence not only bought the vases, but pervaded the hall with one under each arm. The other gentlemen speculated with equal rashness in all sorts of frail trifles, and wandered helplessly about afterward, burdened with wax flowers, painted fans, filigree portfolios, and other useful and appropriate purchases.
Aunt Carrol was there, heard the story, looked pleased, and said something to Mrs. March in a corner, which made the latter lady beam with satisfaction, and watch Amy with a face full of mingled pride and anxiety, though she did not betray the cause of her pleasure till several days later.
The fair was pronounced a success; and when May bade Amy good night, she did not 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 the vases paraded on the parlor chimney-piece, with a great bouquet in each. The reward 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 I ever gave you credit for, Amy. You ve behaved sweetly, and I respect you with all my heart, said Jo warmly, as they brushed their hair together late that night.
Yes, we all do, and love her for being so ready to forgive. It must have been dreadfully hard, after working so long, and setting your heart on selling your own pretty things. I dont believe I could have done it as kindly as you did, added Beth from her pillow.
Why, girls, you need nt praise me so; I only did as I d be done by. You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but I mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do it as far as I know how. I cant explain exactly, but I want to be above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoil so many women. I m far from it now, but I do my best, and hope in time to be what mother is.
I understand now what you mean, and I ll never laugh at you again. You are getting on faster than you think, and I ll take lessons of you in true politeness, for you ve learned the secret, I believe. Try away, deary; you ll get your reward some day, and no one will be more delighted than I shall.
A week later Amy did get her reward, and poor Jo found it hard to be delighted. A letter came from Aunt Carrol, and Mrs. Marchs face was illuminated to such a degree, when she read it, that Jo and Beth, who were with her, demanded what the glad tidings were.
I m afraid it is partly your own fault, dear. When Aunt spoke to me the other day, she regretted your blunt manners and too independent spirit; and here she writes, 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 wont venture to invite her. Amy is more docile, will make a good companion for Flo, and receive gratefully any help the trip may give her.
Oh, my tongue, my abominable tongue! why cant I learn to keep it quiet? groaned Jo, remembering words which had been her undoing. When she had heard the explanation of the quoted phrases, Mrs. March said sorrowfully,
I ll try, said Jo, winking hard, as she knelt down to pick up the basket she had joyfully upset. I ll take a leaf out of her book, and try not only to seem glad, but to be so, and not grudge her one minute of happiness; but it wont be easy, for it is a dreadful disappointment; and poor Jo bedewed the little fat pincushion she held with several very bitter tears.
Jo, dear, I m very selfish, but I could nt spare you, and I m glad you are not going quite yet, whispered Beth, embracing her, basket and all, with such a clinging touch and loving face, that Jo felt comforted in spite of the sharp regret that made her want to box her own ears, and humbly beg Aunt Carrol to burden 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 family jubilation; not quite as heartily as usual, perhaps, but without repinings at Amys good fortune. The young lady herself received the news as tidings of great joy, went about in a solemn sort of rapture, and began to sort her colors 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 is nt a mere pleasure trip to me, girls, she said impressively, as she scraped 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.
Then I shall come home and teach drawing for my living, replied the aspirant for 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 she gave up her hopes.
Your predictions sometimes come to pass, but I dont believe that one will. I m sure I wish it would, for if I cant be an artist myself, I should like to be able to help those who are, said Amy, smiling, as if the part of Lady Bountiful would suit her better than that of a poor drawing-teacher.
There was not much time for preparation, and the house was in a ferment till Amy was off. Jo bore up very well till the last flutter of blue ribbon vanished, when she retired to her refuge, the garret, and cried till she could nt 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 her that 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,
So Amy sailed away to find the old world, which is always new and beautiful to young eyes, while her father and friend watched her from the shore, fervently hoping that none but gentle fortunes would befall the happy-hearted girl, who waved her hand to them till they could see nothing but the summer sunshine dazzling on the sea.