死荫之谷 The Valley of the Shadow
Excerpt of Little Women
when the first bitterness was over, the family ac-cepted 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 1)worktable, and the beloved 2)pussies. Father’s best books found their way there, Mother’s easy chair, Jo’s desk, Amy’s finest sketches.
Here, cherished like a household saint in its 3)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 4)to and fro, to drop a pair of 5)mittens from her window for a pair of purple hands, a 6)needlebook for some small mother of many dolls, penwipers for young penmen 7)toiling through forests of 8)pothooks, 9)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 that always turned up to her window, with nods and smiles, and the 10)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 11)crowing on the floor, mother and sisters working near, and father reading, in his pleasant voice, the wise old books which seemed rich in good and comfortable words.
By-and-by, Beth said the needle was “so heavy”, and put it down forever. Talking 12)wearied her, faces troubled her, pain claimed her for its own, and her tranquil spirit was sorrowfully perturbed by the ills that 13)vexed her feeble flesh. Those who loved her best were forced to see the thin hands stretched out to them 14)beseechingly, to hear the bitter cry, “Help me, help me!” and to feel that there was no help. 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.
Jo never left her for an hour since Beth had said “I feel stronger when you are here.” She slept on a couch in the room, waking often to renew the fire, to feed and lift. Precious and helpful hours to Jo, for now her heart received the teaching that it needed. Lessons in patience were so sweetly taught her that she could not fail to learn them, charity for all, the lovely spirit that can forgive and truly forget unkindness, the loyalty to duty that makes the hardest easy, and the sincere faith that fears nothing, but trusts undoubtingly.
Often when she woke, Jo found Beth reading in her well-worn little book, heard her singing softly, to 15)beguile the sleepless night, or saw her lean her face upon her hands, while slow tears dropped through the fingers, and Jo would lie watching her.
Seeing this did more for Jo than the wisest sermons, the saintliest hymns, the most 16)fervent prayers that any voice could utter. For with eyes made clear by many tears, and a heart softened by the tenderest sorrow, she recognized the beauty of her sister’s life—uneventful, 17)unambitious, yet full of the genuine virtues which “smell sweet, and blossom in the dust.”
“Oh, Beth, so much, so much!” And Jo’s head went down upon the pillow beside her sister's.
“Then I don't feel as if I'd wasted my life. I have tried to do right. And now, when it's too late to begin even to do better, it's such a comfort to know that someone loves me so much, and feels as if I’d helped them.”
“More than any one in the world, Beth. I used to think I couldn’t let you go, but I’m learning to feel that I don’t lose you, that you’ll be more to me than ever, and death can’t part us, though it seems to.”
“I know it cannot, and I don’t fear it any longer, for I’m sure I shall be your Beth still, to love and help you more than ever. You must take my place, Jo, and be everything to Father and Mother when I’m gone. They will turn to you, don’t fail them, and if it’s hard to work alone, remember that I don’t forget you, and that you’ll be happier in doing that than writing splendid books or seeing all the world, for love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the go easy.”
“I’ll try, Beth.” And then and there Jo 18)renounced her old ambition, pledged herself to a new and better one, acknowledging the poverty of other desires, and feeling the blessed 19)solace of a belief in the immortality of love.
So the spring days came and went, the sky grew clearer, the earth greener, the flowers were up fairly early, and the birds came back in time to say goodbye to Beth.
Seldom except in books do the dying utter memorable words, see visions, or depart with 20)beatified 21)coun-tenances, and those who have sped many parting souls know that to most the end comes as naturally and simply as sleep. As Beth had hoped, the “tide went out easily”, and in the dark hour before dawn, on the bosom where she had drawn her first breath, she quietly drew her last, with no farewell but one loving look, one little sigh.
When morning came, for the first time in many months the fire was out, Jo’s place was empty, and the room was very still. But a bird sang 22)blithely on a 23)budding 24)bough, close by, the 25)snowdrops blossomed freshly at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a 26)benediction over the 27)placid face upon the pillow, a face so full of painless peace that those who loved it best smiled through their tears.