42. CHAPTER FORTY-TWO
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 lonliness 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
strengthned 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.