give for mine.”
“I don’t see how you dared to do it,” said Beth in a tone of awe.
“Oh, he was a little man who looked as if he merely lived to oil his hair. He rather stared at first, as if he wasn’t used to having girls bounce into his shop and ask him to buy their hair. He said he didn’t care about mine, it wasn’t the fashionable color, and he never paid much for it in the first place. The work put into it made it dear, and so on. It was getting late, and I was afraid if it wasn’t done right away that I shouldn’t have it done at all, and you know when I start to do a thing, I hate to give it up. So I begged him to take it, and told him why I was in such a hurry. It was silly, I dare say, but it changed his mind, for I got rather excited, and told the story in my topsy-turvy way, and his wife heard, and said so kindly, ‘Take it, Thomas, and oblige the young lady. I’d do as much for our Jimmy any day if I had a spire of hair worth selling.”
“Who was Jimmy?” asked Amy, who liked to have things explained as they went along.
“Her son, she said, who was in the army. How friendly such things make strangers feel, don’t they? She talked away all the time the man clipped, and diverted my mind nicely.”
“Didn’t you feel dreadfully when the first cut came?” asked Meg, with a shiver.
“I took a last look at my hair while the man got his things, and that was the end of it. I never snivel over trifles like that. I will confess, though, I felt queer when I saw the dear old hair laid out on the table, and felt only the short rough ends of my head. It almost seemed as if I’d an arm or leg off. The woman saw me look at it, and picked out a long lock for me to keep. I’ll give it to you, Marmee, just to remember past glories by, for a crop is so comfortable I don’t think I shall ever have a mane again.”
Mrs. March folded the wavy chestnut lock, and laid it away with a short gray one in her desk. She only said, “Thank you, deary,” but something in her face made the girls change the subject, and talk as cheerfully as they could about Mr. Brooke’s kindness, the prospect of a fine day tomorrow, and the happy times they would have when Father came home to be nursed.
No one wanted to go to bed when at ten o’clock Mrs. March put by the last finished job, and said, “Come girls.” Beth went to the piano and played the father’s favorite hymn. All began bravely, but broke down one by one till Beth was left alone, singing with all her heart, for to her music was always a sweet consoler.
“Go to bed and don’t talk, for we must be up early and shall need all the sleep we can get. Good night, my darlings,” said Mrs. March, as the hymn ended, for no one cared to try another.
They kissed her quietly, and went to bed as silently as if the dear invalid lay in the next room. Beth and Amy soon fell asleep in spite of the great trouble, but Meg lay awake, thinking the most serious thoughts she had ever known in her short life. Jo lay motionless, and her sister fancied that she was asleep, till a stifled sob made her exclaim, as she touched a wet cheek…
“Jo, dear, what is it? Are you crying about father?”
“No, not now.”
“My… My hair!” burst out poor Jo, trying vainly to smother her emotion in the pillow.
It did not seem at all comical to Meg, who kissed and caressed the afflicted heroine in the tenderest manner.
“I’m not sorry,” protested Jo, with a choke. “I’d do it again tomorrow, if I could. It’s only the vain part of me that goes and cries in this silly way. Don’t tell anyone, it’s all over now. I thought you were asleep, so I just made a little private moan for my one beauty. How came you to be awake?”
“I can’t sleep, I’m so anxious,” said Meg.
“Think about something pleasant, and you’ll soon drop off.”
“I tried it, but felt wider awake than ever.”
“What did you think of?”
“Handsome faces—eyes particularly,” answered Meg, smiling to herself in the dark.
“What color do you like best?”
“Brown, that is, sometimes. Blue are lovely.”
Jo laughed, and Meg sharply ordered her not to talk, then amiably promised to make her hair curl, and fell asleep to dream of living in her castle in the air.
The clocks were striking midnight and the rooms were very still as a figure glided quietly from bed to bed, smoothing a coverlet here, settling a pillow there, and pausing to look long and tenderly at each unconscious face, to kiss each with lips that mutely blessed, and to pray the fervent prayers which only mothers utter. As she lifted the curtain to look out into the dreary night, the moon broke suddenly from behind the clouds and shone upon her like a bright, benignant face, which seemed to whisper in the silence, “Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.”
In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and read their chapter with an earnestness never felt before. For now the shadow of a real trouble had come, the little books were full of help and comfort, and as they dressed, they agreed