Little Women HTML version

The Valley of the Shadow
When the first bitterness was over, the family accepted the inevitable, and tried to bear it
cheerfully, helping one another by the increased affection which comes to bind
households tenderly together in times of trouble. They put away their grief, and each did
his or her part toward making that last year a happy one.
The pleasantest room in the house was set apart for Beth, and in it was gathered
everything that she most loved, flowers, pictures, her piano, the little worktable, and the
beloved pussies. Father's best books found their way there, Mother's easy chair, Jo's desk,
Amy's finest sketches, and every day Meg brought her babies on a loving pilgrimage, to
make sunshine for Aunty Beth. John quietly set apart a little sum, that he might enjoy the
pleasure of keeping the invalid supplied with the fruit she loved and longed for. Old
Hannah never wearied of concocting dainty dishes to tempt a capricious appetite,
dropping tears as she worked, and from across the sea came little gifts and cheerful
letters, seeming to bring breaths of warmth and fragrance from lands that know no winter.
Here, cherished like a household saint in its shrine, sat Beth, tranquil and busy as ever,
for nothing could change the sweet, unselfish nature, and even while preparing to leave
life, she tried to make it happier for those who should remain behind. The feeble fingers
were never idle, and one of her pleasures was to make little things for the school children
daily passing to and fro, to drop a pair of mittens from her window for a pair of purple
hands, a needle-book for some small mother of many dolls, pen-wipers for young
penmen toiling through forests of pothooks, scrapbooks for picture-loving eyes, and all
manner of pleasant devices, till the reluctant climbers of the ladder of learning found their
way strewn with flowers, as it were, and came to regard the gentle giver as a sort of fairy
godmother, who sat above there, and showered down gifts miraculously suited to their
tastes and needs. If Beth had wanted any reward, she found it in the bright little faces
always turned up to her window, with nods and smiles, and the droll little letters which
came to her, full of blots and gratitude.
The first few months were very happy ones, and Beth often used to look round, and say
"How beautiful this is!" as they all sat together in her sunny room, the babies kicking and
crowing on the floor, mother and sisters working near, and father reading, in his pleasant
voice, from the wise old books which seemed rich in good and comfortable words, as
applicable now as when written centuries ago, a little chapel, where a paternal priest
taught his flock the hard lessons all must learn, trying to show them that hope can
comfort love, and faith make resignation possible. Simple sermons, that went straight to
the souls of those who listened, for the father's heart was in the minister's religion, and
the frequent falter in the voice gave a double eloquence to the words he spoke or read.
It was well for all that this peaceful time was given them as preparation for the sad hours
to come, for by-and-by, Beth said the needle was `so heavy', and put it down forever.
Talking wearied her, faces troubled her, pain claimed her for its own, and her tranquil
spirit was sorrowfully perturbed by the ills that vexed her feeble flesh. Ah me! Such
heavy days, such long, long nights, such aching hearts and imploring prayers, when those
who loved her best were forced to see the thin hands stretched out to them beseechingly,
to hear the bitter cry, "Help me, help me!" and to feel that there was no help. A sad
eclipse of the serene soul, a sharp struggle of the young life with death, but both were
mercifully brief, and then the natural rebellion over, the old peace returned more
beautiful than ever. With the wreck of her frail body, Beth's soul grew strong, and though
she said little, those about her felt that she was ready, saw that the first pilgrim called was