It was easy to promise self-abnegation when self was wrapped up in another, and heart
and soul were purified by a sweet example. But when the helpful voice was silent, the
daily lesson over, the beloved presence gone, and nothing remained but loneliness and
grief, then Jo found her promise very hard to keep. How could she `comfort Father and
Mother' when her own heart ached with a ceaseless longing for her sister, how could she
`make the house cheerful' when all its light and warmth and beauty seemed to have
deserted it when Beth left the old home for the new, and where in all the world could she
`find some useful, happy work to do', that would take the place of the loving service
which had been its own reward? She tried in a blind, hopeless way to do her duty,
secretly rebelling against it all the while, for it seemed unjust that her few joys should be
lessened, her burdens made heavier, and life get harder and harder as she toiled along.
Some people seemed to get all sunshine, and some all shadow. It was not fair, for she
tried more than Amy to be good, but never got any reward, only disappointment, trouble
and hard work.
Poor Jo, these were dark days to her, for something like despair came over her when she
thought of spending all her life in that quiet house, devoted to humdrum cares, a few
small pleasures, and the duty that never seemed to grow any easier. "I can't do it. I wasn't
meant for a life like this, and I know I shall break away and do something desperate if
somebody doesn't come and help me," she said to herself, when her first efforts failed and
she fell into the moody, miserable state of mind which often comes when strong wills
have to yield to the inevitable.
But someone did come and help her, though Jo did not recognize her good angels at once
because they wore familiar shapes and used the simple spells best fitted to poor
humanity. Often she started up at night, thinking Beth called her, and when the sight of
the little empty bed made her cry with the bitter cry of unsubmissive sorrow, "Oh, Beth,
come back! Come back!" she did not stretch out her yearning arms in vain. For, as quick
to hear her sobbing as she had been to hear her sister's faintest whisper, her mother came
to comfort her, not with words only, but the patient tenderness that soothes by a touch,
tears that were mute reminders of a greater grief than Jo's, and broken whispers, more
eloquent than prayers, because hopeful resignation went hand-in-hand with natural
sorrow. Sacred moments, when heart talked to heart in the silence of the night, turning
affliction to a blessing, which chastened grief and strengthened love. Feeling this, Jo's
burden seemed easier to bear, duty grew sweeter, and life looked more endurable, seen
from the safe shelter of her mother's arms.
When aching heart was a little comforted, troubled mind likewise found help, for one day
she went to the study, and leaning over the good gray head lifted to welcome her with a
tranquil smile, she said very humbly, "Father, talk to me as you did to Beth. I need it
more than she did, for I'm all wrong."
"My dear, nothing can comfort me like this," he answered, with a falter in his voice, and
both arms round her, as if he too, needed help, and did not fear to ask for it.
Then, sitting in Beth's little chair close beside him, Jo told her troubles, the resentful
sorrow for her loss, the fruitless efforts that discouraged her, the want of faith that made
life look so dark, and all the sad bewilderment which we call despair. She gave him entire
confidence, he gave her the help she needed, and both found consolation in the act. For
the time had come when they could talk together not only as father and daughter, but as