Little Women HTML version

Beth's Secret
When Jo came home that spring, she had been struck with the change in Beth. No one
spoke of it or seemed aware of it, for it had come too gradually to startle those who saw
her daily, but to eyes sharpened by absence, it was very plain and a heavy weight fell on
Jo's heart as she saw her sister's face. It was no paler and but littler thinner than in the
autumn, yet there was a strange, transparent look about it, as if the mortal was being
slowly refined away, and the immortal shining through the frail flesh with an
indescribably pathetic beauty. Jo saw and felt it, but said nothing at the time, and soon the
first impression lost much of its power, for Beth seemed happy, no one appeared to doubt
that she was better, and presently in other cares Jo for a time forgot her fear.
But when Laurie was gone, and peace prevailed again, the vague anxiety returned and
haunted her. She had confessed her sins and been forgiven, but when she showed her
savings and proposed a mountain trip, Beth had thanked her heartily, but begged not to
go so far away from home. Another little visit to the seashore would suit her better, and
as Grandma could not be prevailed upon to leave the babies, Jo took Beth down to the
quiet place, where she could live much in the open air, and let the fresh sea breezes blow
a little color into her pale cheeks.
It was not a fashionable place, but even among the pleasant people there, the girls made
few friends, preferring to live for one another. Beth was too shy to enjoy society, and Jo
too wrapped up in her to care for anyone else. So they were all in all to each other, and
came and went, quite unconscious of the interest they exited in those about them, who
watched with sympathetic eyes the strong sister and the feeble one, always together, as if
they felt instinctively that a long separation was not far away.
They did feel it, yet neither spoke of it, for often between ourselves and those nearest and
dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very hard to overcome. Jo felt as if a veil
had fallen between her heart and Beth's, but when she put out her hand to lift it up, there
seemed something sacred in the silence, and she waited for Beth to speak. She wondered,
and was thankful also, that her parents did not seem to see what she saw, and during the
quiet weeks when the shadows grew so plain to her, she said nothing of it to those at
home, believing that it would tell itself when Beth came back no better. She wondered
still more if her sister really guessed the hard truth, and what thoughts were passing
through her mind during the long hours when she lay on the warm rocks with her head in
Jo's lap, while the winds blew healthfully over her and the sea made music at her feet.
One day Beth told her. Jo thought she was asleep, she lay so still, and putting down her
book, sat looking at her with wistful eyes, trying to see signs of hope in the faint color on
Beth's cheeks. But she could not find enough to satisfy her, for the cheeks were very thin,
and the hands seemed too feeble to hold even the rosy little shells they had been
collecting. It came to her then more bitterly than ever that Beth was slowly drifting away
form her, and her arms instinctively tightened their hold upon the dearest treasure she
possessed. For a minute her eyes were too dim for seeing, and when they cleared, Beth
was looking up at her so tenderly that there was hardly any need for her to say, "Jo, dear,
I'm glad you know it. I've tried to tell you, but I couldn't."
There was no answer except her sister's cheek against her own, not even tears, for when
most deeply moved, Jo did not cry. She was the weaker then, land Beth tried to comfort
and sustain her, with her arms about her and the soothing words she whispered in her ear.