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Chapter 8 – Jo Meets Apollyon

Louisa May AlcottJun 22, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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"Girls, where are you going?" asked Amy, coming into their
room one Saturday afternoon, and finding them getting ready to
go out with an air of secrecy which excited her curiosity.

"Never mind. Little girls shouldn’t ask questions," returned
Jo sharply.

Now if there is anything mortifying to our feelings when we
are young, it is to be told that, and to be bidden to "run away,
dear" is still more trying to us. Amy bridled up at this insult,
and determined to find out the secret, if she teased for an hour.
Turning to Meg, who never refused her anything very long, she said
coaxingly, "Do tell me! I should think you might let me go, too,
for Beth is fussing over her piano, and I haven’t got anything to
do, and am so lonely."

"I can’t, dear, because you aren’t invited," began Meg, but
Jo broke in impatiently, "Now, Meg, be quiet or you will spoil it
all. You can’t go, Amy, so don’t be a baby and whine about it."

"You are going somewhere with Laurie, I know you are. You
were whispering and laughing together on the sofa last night, and
you stopped when I came in. Aren’t you going with him?"

"Yes, we are. Now do be still, and stop bothering."

Amy held her tongue, but used her eyes, and saw Meg slip a
fan into her pocket.

"I know! I know! You’re going to the theater to see the
Seven Castles!" she cried, adding resolutely, "and I shall go,
for Mother said I might see it, and I’ve got my rag money, and
it was mean not to tell me in time."

"Just listen to me a minute, and be a good child," said Meg
soothingly. "Mother doesn’t wish you to go this week, because
your eyes are not well enough yet to bear the light of this
fairy piece. Next week you can go with Beth and Hannah, and
have a nice time."

"I don’t like that half as well as going with you and Laurie.
Please let me. I’ve been sick with this cold so long, and shut
up, I’m dying for some fun. Do, Meg! I’ll be ever so good,"
pleaded Amy, looking as pathetic as she could.

"Suppose we take her. I don’t believe Mother would mind,
if we bundle her up well," began Meg.

"If she goes I shan’t, and if I don’t, Laurie won’t like it,
and it will be very rude, after he invited only us, to go and
drag in Amy. I should think she’d hate to poke herself where
she isn’t wanted," said Jo crossly, for she disliked the trouble
of overseeing a fidgety child when she wanted to enjoy herself.

Her tone and manner angered Amy, who began to put her boots
on, saying, in her most aggravating way, "I shall go. Meg says I
may, and if I pay for myself, Laurie hasn’t anything to do with it."

"You can’t sit with us, for our seats are reserved, and you
mustn’t sit alone, so Laurie will give you his place, and that
will spoil our pleasure. Or he’ll get another seat for you, and
that isn’t proper when you weren’t asked. You shan’t stir a
step, so you may just stay where you are," scolded Jo, crosser
than ever, having just pricked her finger in her hurry.

Sitting on the floor with one boot on, Amy began to cry
and Meg to reason with her, when Laurie called from below, and
the two girls hurried down, leaving their sister wailing. For
now and then she forgot her grown-up ways and acted like a
spoiled child. Just as the party was setting out, Amy called
over the banisters in a threatening tone, "You’ll be sorry for
this, Jo March, see if you ain’t."

"Fiddlesticks!" returned Jo, slamming the door.

They had a charming time, for _The Seven Castles Of The
Diamond Lake_ was as brilliant and wonderful as heart could wish.
But in spite of the comical red imps, sparkling elves, and the
gorgeous princes and princesses, Jo’s pleasure had a drop of
bitterness in it. The fairy queen’s yellow curls reminded her
of Amy, and between the acts she amused herself with wondering
what her sister would do to make her ‘sorry for it’. She and
Amy had had many lively skirmishes in the course of their lives,
for both had quick tempers and were apt to be violent when fairly
roused. Amy teased Jo, and Jo irritated Amy, and semioccasional
explosions occurred, of which both were much ashamed afterward.
Although the oldest, Jo had the least self-control, and had hard
times trying to curb the fiery spirit which was continually getting
her into trouble. Her anger never lasted long, and having humbly
confessed her fault, she sincerely repented and tried to do better.
Her sisters used to say that they rather liked to get Jo into a
fury because she was such an angel afterward. Poor Jo tried
desperately to be good, but her bosom enemy was always ready to
flame up and defeat her, and it took years of patient effort to
subdue it.

When they got home, they found Amy reading in the parlor.
She assumed an injured air as they came in, never lifted her eyes
from her book, or asked a single question. Perhaps curiosity
might have conquered resentment, if Beth had not been there to
inquire and receive a glowing description of the play. On going
up to put away her best hat, Jo’s first look was toward the
bureau, for in their last quarrel Amy had soothed her feelings
by turning Jo’s top drawer upside down on the floor. Everything
was in its place, however, and after a hasty glance into her
various closets, bags, and boxes, Jo decided that Amy had
forgiven and forgotten her wrongs.

There Jo was mistaken, for next day she made a discovery
which produced a tempest. Meg, Beth, and Amy were sitting together,
late in the afternoon, when Jo burst into the room, looking excited
and demanding breathlessly, "Has anyone taken my book?"

Meg and Beth said, "No." at once, and looked surprised. Amy
poked the fire and said nothing. Jo saw her color rise and was
down upon her in a minute.

"Amy, you’ve got it!"

"No, I haven’t."

"You know where it is, then!"

"No, I don’t."

"That’s a fib!" cried Jo, taking her by the shoulders, and
looking fierce enough to frighten a much braver child than Amy.

"It isn’t. I haven’t got it, don’t know where it is now, and
don’t care."

"You know something about it, and you’d better tell at once,
or I’ll make you." And Jo gave her a slight shake.

"Scold as much as you like, you’ll never see your silly old
book again," cried Amy, getting excited in her turn.

"Why not?"

"I burned it up."

"What! My little book I was so fond of, and worked over, and
meant to finish before Father got home? Have you really burned it?"
said Jo, turning very pale, while her eyes kindled and her hands
clutched Amy nervously.

"Yes, I did! I told you I’d make you pay for being so cross
yesterday, and I have, so . . ."

Amy got no farther, for Jo’s hot temper mastered her, and
she shook Amy till her teeth chattered in her head, crying in a
passion of grief and anger . . .

"You wicked, wicked girl! I never can write it again, and
I’ll never forgive you as long as I live."

Meg flew to rescue Amy, and Beth to pacify Jo, but Jo was
quite beside herself, and with a parting box on her sister’s ear,
she rushed out of the room up to the old sofa in the garret, and
finished her fight alone.

The storm cleared up below, for Mrs. March came home, and,
having heard the story, soon brought Amy to a sense of the wrong
she had done her sister. Jo’s book was the pride of her heart,
and was regarded by her family as a literary sprout of great
promise. It was only half a dozen little fairy tales, but Jo
had worked over them patiently, putting her whole heart into
her work, hoping to make something good enough to print. She
had just copied them with great care, and had destroyed the old
manuscript, so that Amy’s bonfire had consumed the loving work
of several years. It seemed a small loss to others, but to Jo
it was a dreadful calamity, and she felt that it never could be
made up to her. Beth mourned as for a departed kitten, and Meg
refused to defend her pet. Mrs. March looked grave and grieved,
and Amy felt that no one would love her till she had asked pardon
for the act which she now regretted more than any of them.

When the tea bell rang, Jo appeared, looking so grim and
unapproachable that it took all Amy’s courage to say meekly . . .

"Please forgive me, Jo. I’m very, very sorry."

"I never shall forgive you," was Jo’s stern answer, and
from that moment she ignored Amy entirely.

No one spoke of the great trouble, not even Mrs. March, for
all had learned by experience that when Jo was in that mood words
were wasted, and the wisest course was to wait till some little
accident, or her own generous nature, softened Jo’s resentment
and healed the breach. It was not a happy evening, for though
they sewed as usual, while their mother read aloud from Bremer,
Scott, or Edgeworth, something was wanting, and the sweet home
peace was disturbed. They felt this most when singing time came,
for Beth could only play, Jo stood dumb as a stone, and Amy broke
down, so Meg and Mother sang alone. But in spite of their efforts
to be as cheery as larks, the flutelike voices did not seem to
chord as well as usual, and all felt out of tune.

As Jo received her good-night kiss, Mrs. March whispered gently,
"My dear, don’t let the sun go down upon your anger. Forgive each
other, help each other, and begin again tomorrow."

Jo wanted to lay her head down on that motherly bosom, and
cry her grief and anger all away, but tears were an unmanly
weakness, and she felt so deeply injured that she really couldn’t
quite forgive yet. So she winked hard, shook her head, and said
gruffly because Amy was listening, "It was an abominable thing,
and she doesn’t deserve to be forgiven."

With that she marched off to bed, and there was no merry
or confidential gossip that night.

Amy was much offended that her overtures of peace had been
repulsed, and began to wish she had not humbled herself, to feel
more injured than ever, and to plume herself on her superior
virtue in a way which was particularly exasperating. Jo still
looked like a thunder cloud, and nothing went well all day. It
was bitter cold in the morning, she dropped her precious turnover
in the gutter, Aunt March had an attack of the fidgets, Meg was
sensitive, Beth would look grieved and wistful when she got home,
and Amy kept making remarks about people who were always talking
about being good and yet wouldn’t even try when other people set
them a virtuous example.

"Everybody is so hateful, I’ll ask Laurie to go skating. He
is always kind and jolly, and will put me to rights, I know," said
Jo to herself, and off she went.

Amy heard the clash of skates, and looked out with an impatient
exclamation.

"There! She promised I should go next time, for this is the
last ice we shall have. But it’s no use to ask such a crosspatch
to take me."

"Don’t say that. You were very naughty, and it is hard to
forgive the loss of her precious little book, but I think she
might do it now, and I guess she will, if you try her at the
right minute," said Meg. "Go after them. Don’t say anything till
Jo has got good-natured with Laurie, than take a quiet minute and
just kiss her, or do some kind thing, and I’m sure she’ll be
friends again with all her heart."

"I’ll try," said Amy, for the advice suited her, and after a
flurry to get ready, she ran after the friends, who were just
disappearing over the hill.

It was not far to the river, but both were ready before Amy
reached them. Jo saw her coming, and turned her back. Laurie did
not see, for he was carefully skating along the shore, sounding the
ice, for a warm spell had preceded the cold snap.

"I’ll go on to the first bend, and see if it’s all right before
we begin to race," Amy heard him say, as he shot away, looking like
a young Russian in his fur-trimmed coat and cap.

Jo heard Amy panting after her run, stamping her feet and
blowing on her fingers as she tried to put her skates on, but Jo
never turned and went slowly zigzagging down the river, taking a
bitter, unhappy sort of satisfaction in her sister’s troubles.
She had cherished her anger till it grew strong and took possession
of her, as evil thoughts and feelings always do unless cast out at
once. As Laurie turned the bend, he shouted back . . .

"Keep near the shore. It isn’t safe in the middle."
Jo heard, but Amy was struggling to her feet and did not catch
a word. Jo glanced over her shoulder, and the little demon she was
harboring said in her ear . . .

"No matter whether she heard or not, let her take care of
herself."

Laurie had vanished round the bend, Jo was just at the turn,
and Amy, far behind, striking out toward the smoother ice in
the middle of the river. For a minute Jo stood still with a
strange feeling in her heart, then she resolved to go on, but
something held and turned her round, just in time to see Amy throw
up her hands and go down, with a sudden crash of rotten ice, the
splash of water, and a cry that made Jo’s heart stand still with
fear. She tried to call Laurie, but her voice was gone. She tried
to rush forward, but her feet seemed to have no strength in them,
and for a second, she could only stand motionless, staring with a
terror-stricken face at the little blue hood above the black water.
Something rushed swiftly by her, and Laurie’s voice cried out . . .

"Bring a rail. Quick, quick!"

How she did it, she never knew, but for the next few minutes
she worked as if possessed, blindly obeying Laurie, who was quite
self-possessed, and lying flat, held Amy up by his arm and hockey
stick till Jo dragged a rail from the fence, and together they
got the child out, more frightened than hurt.

"Now then, we must walk her home as fast as we can. Pile our
things on her, while I get off these confounded skates," cried
Laurie, wrapping his coat round Amy, and tugging away at the straps
which never seemed so intricate before.

Shivering, dripping, and crying, they got Amy home, and after an
exciting time of it, she fell asleep, rolled in blankets before a
hot fire. During the bustle Jo had scarcely spoken but flown about,
looking pale and wild, with her things half off, her dress torn, and
her hands cut and bruised by ice and rails and refractory buckles.
When Amy was comfortably asleep, the house quiet, and Mrs. March
sitting by the bed, she called Jo to her and began to bind up the
hurt hands.

"Are you sure she is safe?" whispered Jo, looking remorsefully
at the golden head, which might have been swept away from her sight
forever under the treacherous ice.

"Quite safe, dear. She is not hurt, and won’t even take cold,
I think, you were so sensible in covering and getting her home
quickly," replied her mother cheerfully.

"Laurie did it all. I only let her go. Mother, if she should
die, it would be my fault." And Jo dropped down beside the bed in
a passion of penitent tears, telling all that had happened, bitterly
condemning her hardness of heart, and sobbing out her gratitude for
being spared the heavy punishment which might have come upon her.

"It’s my dreadful temper! I try to cure it, I think I have,
and then it breaks out worse than ever. Oh, Mother, what shall I
do? What shall I do?" cried poor Jo, in despair.

"Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never
think it is impossible to conquer your fault," said Mrs. March,
drawing the blowzy head to her shoulder and kissing the wet cheek
so tenderly that Jo cried even harder.

"You don’t know, you can’t guess how bad it is! It seems as
if I could do anything when I’m in a passion. I get so savage, I
could hurt anyone and enjoy it. I’m afraid I shall do something
dreadful some day, and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me.
Oh, Mother, help me, do help me!"

"I will, my child, I will. Don’t cry so bitterly, but remember
this day, and resolve with all your soul that you will never know
another like it. Jo, dear, we all have our temptations, some far
greater than yours, and it often takes us all our lives to conquer
them. You think your temper is the worst in the world, but mine
used to be just like it."

"Yours, Mother? Why, you are never angry!" And for the
moment Jo forgot remorse in surprise.

"I’ve been trying to cure it for forty years, and have only
succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my
life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope to
learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years
to do so."

The patience and the humility of the face she loved so well
was a better lesson to Jo than the wisest lecture, the sharpest
reproof. She felt comforted at once by the sympathy and confidence
given her. The knowledge that her mother had a fault like
hers, and tried to mend it, made her own easier to bear and
strengthened her resolution to cure it, though forty years seemed
rather a long time to watch and pray to a girl of fifteen.

"Mother, are you angry when you fold your lips tight together
and go out of the room sometimes, when Aunt March scolds or people
worry you?" asked Jo, feeling nearer and dearer to her mother
than ever before.

"Yes, I’ve learned to check the hasty words that rise to my
lips, and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will,
I just go away for a minute, and give myself a little shake for
being so weak and wicked," answered Mrs. March with a sigh and a
smile, as she smoothed and fastened up Jo’s disheveled hair.

"How did you learn to keep still? That is what troubles me,
for the sharp words fly out before I know what I’m about, and the
more I say the worse I get, till it’s a pleasure to hurt people’s
feelings and say dreadful things. Tell me how you do it, Marmee
dear."

"My good mother used to help me . . ."

"As you do us . . ." interrupted Jo, with a grateful kiss.

"But I lost her when I was a little older than you are, and
for years had to struggle on alone, for I was too proud to confess
my weakness to anyone else. I had a hard time, Jo, and shed a good
many bitter tears over my failures, for in spite of my efforts I
never seemed to get on. Then your father came, and I was so happy
that I found it easy to be good. But by-and-by, when I had four
little daughters round me and we were poor, then the old trouble
began again, for I am not patient by nature, and it tried me very
much to see my children wanting anything."

"Poor Mother! What helped you then?"

"Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts or
complains, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully
that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him. He helped and
comforted me, and showed me that I must try to practice all the
virtues I would have my little girls possess, for I was their
example. It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own.
A startled or surprised look from one of you when I spoke sharply
rebuked me more than any words could have done, and the love,
respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I
could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them
copy."

"Oh, Mother, if I’m ever half as good as you, I shall be
satisfied," cried Jo, much touched.

"I hope you will be a great deal better, dear, but you must
keep watch over your ‘bosom enemy’, as father calls it, or it
may sadden, if not spoil your life. You have had a warning.
Remember it, and try with heart and soul to master this quick
temper, before it brings you greater sorrow and regret than you
have known today."

"I will try, Mother, I truly will. But you must help me,
remind me, and keep me from flying out. I used to see Father
sometimes put his finger on his lips, and look at you with a
very kind but sober face, and you always folded your lips tight
and went away. Was he reminding you then?" asked Jo softly.

"Yes. I asked him to help me so, and he never forgot it,
but saved me from many a sharp word by that little gesture
and kind look."

Jo saw that her mother’s eyes filled and her lips trembled
as she spoke, and fearing that she had said too much, she
whispered anxiously, "Was it wrong to watch you and to speak of
it? I didn’t mean to be rude, but it’s so comfortable to say all
I think to you, and feel so safe and happy here."

"My Jo, you may say anything to your mother, for it is my
greatest happiness and pride to feel that my girls confide in me
and know how much I love them."

"I thought I’d grieved you."

"No, dear, but speaking of Father reminded me how much I
miss him, how much I owe him, and how faithfully I should watch
and work to keep his little daughters safe and good for him."

"Yet you told him to go, Mother, and didn’t cry when he
went, and never complain now, or seem as if you needed any help,"
said Jo, wondering.

"I gave my best to the country I love, and kept my tears
till he was gone. Why should I complain, when we both have
merely done our duty and will surely be the happier for it in
the end? If I don’t seem to need help, it is because I have a
better friend, even than Father, to comfort and sustain me. My
child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning
and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if
you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly
Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love
and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you
will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never
tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the
source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this
heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes,
and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to
your mother."

Jo’s only answer was to hold her mother close, and in the
silence which followed the sincerest prayer she had ever prayed
left her heart without words. For in that sad yet happy hour,
she had learned not only the bitterness of remorse and despair,
but the sweetness of self-denial and self-control, and led by
her mother’s hand, she had drawn nearer to the Friend who always
welcomes every child with a love stronger than that of any father,
tenderer than that of any mother.

Amy stirred and sighed in her sleep, and as if eager to begin
at once to mend her fault, Jo looked up with an expression on her
face which it had never worn before.

"I let the sun go down on my anger. I wouldn’t forgive her,
and today, if it hadn’t been for Laurie, it might have been too
late! How could I be so wicked?" said Jo, half aloud, as she
leaned over her sister softly stroking the wet hair scattered on
the pillow.

As if she heard, Amy opened her eyes, and held out her arms,
with a smile that went straight to Jo’s heart. Neither said a
word, but they hugged one another close, in spite of the blankets,
and everything was forgiven and forgotten in one hearty kiss.

 

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