When they had laughed at Beth’s story, they asked their mother for one, and after a moments thought, she said soberly, “As I sat cutting out blue flannel jackets today at the rooms, I felt very anxious about Father, and thought how lonely and helpless we should be, if anything happened to him. It was not a wise thing to do, but I kept on worrying till an old man came in with an order for some clothes. He sat down near me, and I began to talk to him, for he looked poor and tired and anxious.
“‘Have you sons in the army?’ I asked, for the note he brought was not to me.”
“Yes, ma’am. I had four, but two were killed, one is a prisoner, and I’m going to the other, who is very sick in a Washington hospital.’ he answered quietly.”
“‘You have done a great deal for your country, sir,’ I said, feeling respect now, instead of pity.”
“‘Not a mite more than I ought, ma’am. I’d go myself, if I was any use. As I ain’t, I give my boys, and give ’em free.'”
“He spoke so cheerfully, looked so sincere, and seemed so glad to give his all, that I was ashamed of myself. I’d given one man and thought it too much, while he gave four without grudging them. I had all my girls to comfort me at home, and his last son was waiting, miles away, to say good-by to him, perhaps! I felt so rich, so happy thinking of my blessings, that I made him a nice bundle, gave him some money, and thanked him heartily for the lesson he had taught me.”
“Tell another story, Mother, one with a moral to it, like this. I like to think about them afterward, if they are real and not too preachy,” said Jo, after a minute’s silence.
Mrs. March smiled and began at once, for she had told stories to this little audience for many years, and knew how to please them.
“Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eat and drink and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends and parents who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented.” (Here the listeners stole sly looks at one another, and began to sew diligently.) “These girls were anxious to be good and made many excellent resolutions, but they did not keep them very well, and were constantly saying, ‘If only we had this,’ or ‘If we could only do that,’ quite forgetting how much they already had, and how many things they actually could do. So they asked an old woman what spell they could use to make them happy, and she said, ‘When you feel discontented, think over your blessings, and be grateful.'” (Here Jo looked up quickly, as if about to speak, but changed her mind, seeing that the story was not done yet.)
“Being sensible girls, they decided to try her advice, and soon were surprised to see how well off they were. One discovered that money couldn’t keep shame and sorrow out of rich people’s houses, another that, though she was poor, she was a great deal happier, with her youth, health, and good spirits, than a certain fretful, feeble old lady who couldn’t enjoy her comforts, a third that, disagreeable as it was to help get dinner, it was harder still to go begging for it and the fourth, that even carnelian rings were not so valuable as good behavior. So they agreed to stop complaining, to enjoy the blessings already possessed, and try to deserve them, lest they should be taken away entirely, instead of increased, and I believe they were never disappointed or sorry that they took the old woman’s advice.”
“Now, Marmee, that is very cunning of you to turn our own stories against us, and give us a sermon instead of a romance!” cried Meg.