LEARNING TO FORGET
Amy's lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it
till long afterward. Men seldom do, for when women are the advisers,
the lords of creation don't take the advice till they have persuaded
themselves that it is just what they intended to do. Then they act
upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the
credit of it. If it fails, they generously give her the whole. Laurie
went back to his grandfather, and was so dutifully devoted for several
weeks that the old gentleman declared the climate of Nice had improved
him wonderfully, and he had better try it again. There was nothing the
young gentleman would have liked better, but elephants could not have
dragged him back after the scolding he had received. Pride forbid, and
whenever the longing grew very strong, he fortified his resolution by
repeating the words that had made the deepest impression—"I despise
you." "Go and do something splendid that will make her love you."
Laurie turned the matter over in his mind so often that he soon brought
himself to confess that he had been selfish and lazy, but then when a
man has a great sorrow, he should be indulged in all sorts of vagaries
till he has lived it down. He felt that his blighted affections were
quite dead now, and though he should never cease to be a faithful
mourner, there was no occasion to wear his weeds ostentatiously. Jo
wouldn't love him, but he might make her respect and admire him by
doing something which should prove that a girl's 'No' had not spoiled
his life. He had always meant to do something, and Amy's advice was
quite unnecessary. He had only been waiting till the aforesaid
blighted affections were decently interred. That being done, he felt
that he was ready to 'hide his stricken heart, and still toil on'.
As Goethe, when he had a joy or a grief, put it into a song, so Laurie
resolved to embalm his love sorrow in music, and to compose a Requiem
which should harrow up Jo's soul and melt the heart of every hearer.
Therefore the next time the old gentleman found him getting restless
and moody and ordered him off, he went to Vienna, where he had musical
friends, and fell to work with the firm determination to distinguish
himself. But whether the sorrow was too vast to be embodied in music,
or music too ethereal to uplift a mortal woe, he soon discovered that
the Requiem was beyond him just at present. It was evident that his
mind was not in working order yet, and his ideas needed clarifying, for
often in the middle of a plaintive strain, he would find himself
humming a dancing tune that vividly recalled the Christmas ball at
Nice, especially the stout Frenchman, and put an effectual stop to
tragic composition for the time being.
Then he tried an opera, for nothing seemed impossible in the beginning,
but here again unforeseen difficulties beset him. He wanted Jo for his
heroine, and called upon his memory to supply him with tender
recollections and romantic visions of his love. But memory turned
traitor, and as if possessed by the perverse spirit of the girl, would
only recall Jo's oddities, faults, and freaks, would only show her in
the most unsentimental aspects—beating mats with her head tied up in a
bandanna, barricading herself with the sofa pillow, or throwing cold
water over his passion a la Gummidge—and an irresistable laugh spoiled
the pensive picture he was endeavoring to paint. Jo wouldn't be put
into the opera at any price, and he had to give her up with a "Bless
that girl, what a torment she is!" and a clutch at his hair, as became
a distracted composer.
When he looked about him for another and a less intractable damsel to
immortalize in melody, memory produced one with the most obliging
readiness. This phantom wore many faces, but it always had golden
hair, was enveloped in a diaphanous cloud, and floated airily before
his mind's eye in a pleasing chaos of roses, peacocks, white ponies,
and blue ribbons. He did not give the complacent wraith any name, but
he took her for his heroine and grew quite fond of her, as well he
might, for he gifted her with every gift and grace under the sun, and
escorted her, unscathed, through trials which would have annihilated
any mortal woman.
Thanks to this inspiration, he got on swimmingly for a time, but
gradually the work lost its charm, and he forgot to compose, while he
sat musing, pen in hand, or roamed about the gay city to get some new
ideas and refresh his mind, which seemed to be in a somewhat unsettled
state that winter. He did not do much, but he thought a great deal and
was conscious of a change of some sort going on in spite of himself.
"It's genius simmering, perhaps. I'll let it simmer, and see what
comes of it," he said, with a secret suspicion all the while that it
wasn't genius, but something far more common. Whatever it was, it
simmered to some purpose, for he grew more and more discontented with
his desultory life, began to long for some real and earnest work to go
at, soul and body, and finally came to the wise conclusion that
everyone who loved music was not a composer. Returning from one of
Mozart's grand operas, splendidly performed at the Royal Theatre, he
looked over his own, played a few of the best parts, sat staring at the
busts of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Bach, who stared benignly back
again. Then suddenly he tore up his music sheets, one by one, and as
the last fluttered out of his hand, he said soberly to himself...
"She is right! Talent isn't genius, and you can't make it so. That
music has taken the vanity out of me as Rome took it out of her, and I
won't be a humbug any longer. Now what shall I do?"
That seemed a hard question to answer, and Laurie began to wish he had
to work for his daily bread. Now if ever, occurred an eligible
opportunity for 'going to the devil', as he once forcibly expressed it,
for he had plenty of money and nothing to do, and Satan is proverbially
fond of providing employment for full and idle hands. The poor fellow
had temptations enough from without and from within, but he withstood
them pretty well, for much as he valued liberty, he valued good faith
and confidence more, so his promise to his grandfather, and his desire
to be able to look honestly into the eyes of the women who loved him,
and say "All's well," kept him safe and steady.
Very likely some Mrs. Grundy will observe, "I don't believe it, boys
will be boys, young men must sow their wild oats, and women must not
expect miracles." I dare say you don't, Mrs. Grundy, but it's true
nevertheless. Women work a good many miracles, and I have a persuasion
that they may perform even that of raising the standard of manhood by
refusing to echo such sayings. Let the boys be boys, the longer the
better, and let the young men sow their wild oats if they must. But
mothers, sisters, and friends may help to make the crop a small one,
and keep many tares from spoiling the harvest, by believing, and
showing that they believe, in the possibility of loyalty to the virtues
which make men manliest in good women's eyes. If it is a feminine
delusion, leave us to enjoy it while we may, for without it half the
beauty and the romance of life is lost, and sorrowful forebodings would
embitter all our hopes of the brave, tenderhearted little lads, who
still love their mothers better than themselves and are not ashamed to
Laurie thought that the task of forgetting his love for Jo would absorb
all his powers for years, but to his great surprise he discovered it
grew easier every day. He refused to believe it at first, got angry
with himself, and couldn't understand it, but these hearts of ours are
curious and contrary things, and time and nature work their will in
spite of us. Laurie's heart wouldn't ache. The wound persisted in
healing with a rapidity that astonished him, and instead of trying to
forget, he found himself trying to remember. He had not foreseen this
turn of affairs, and was not prepared for it. He was disgusted with
himself, surprised at his own fickleness, and full of a queer mixture
of disappointment and relief that he could recover from such a
tremendous blow so soon. He carefully stirred up the embers of his
lost love, but they refused to burst into a blaze. There was only a
comfortable glow that warmed and did him good without putting him into
a fever, and he was reluctantly obliged to confess that the boyish
passion was slowly subsiding into a more tranquil sentiment, very
tender, a little sad and resentful still, but that was sure to pass
away in time, leaving a brotherly affection which would last unbroken
to the end.
As the word 'brotherly' passed through his mind in one of his reveries,
he smiled, and glanced up at the picture of Mozart that was before
"Well, he was a great man, and when he couldn't have one sister he took
the other, and was happy."
Laurie did not utter the words, but he thought them, and the next
instant kissed the little old ring, saying to himself, "No, I won't! I
haven't forgotten, I never can. I'll try again, and if that fails, why
Leaving his sentence unfinished, he seized pen and paper and wrote to
Jo, telling her that he could not settle to anything while there was
the least hope of her changing her mind. Couldn't she, wouldn't
she—and let him come home and be happy? While waiting for an answer he
did nothing, but he did it energetically, for he was in a fever of
impatience. It came at last, and settled his mind effectually on one
point, for Jo decidedly couldn't and wouldn't. She was wrapped up in
Beth, and never wished to hear the word love again. Then she begged
him to be happy with somebody else, but always keep a little corner of
his heart for his loving sister Jo. In a postscript she desired him
not to tell Amy that Beth was worse, she was coming home in the spring
and there was no need of saddening the remainder of her stay. That
would be time enough, please God, but Laurie must write to her often,
and not let her feel lonely, homesick or anxious.
"So I will, at once. Poor little girl, it will be a sad going home for
her, I'm afraid," and Laurie opened his desk, as if writing to Amy had
been the proper conclusion of the sentence left unfinished some weeks
But he did not write the letter that day, for as he rummaged out his
best paper, he came across something which changed his purpose.
Tumbling about in one part of the desk among bills, passports, and
business documents of various kinds were several of Jo's letters, and
in another compartment were three notes from Amy, carefully tied up
with one of her blue ribbons and sweetly suggestive of the little dead
roses put away inside. With a half-repentant, half-amused expression,
Laurie gathered up all Jo's letters, smoothed, folded, and put them
neatly into a small drawer of the desk, stood a minute turning the ring
thoughtfully on his finger, then slowly drew it off, laid it with the
letters, locked the drawer, and went out to hear High Mass at Saint
Stefan's, feeling as if there had been a funeral, and though not
overwhelmed with affliction, this seemed a more proper way to spend the
rest of the day than in writing letters to charming young ladies.
The letter went very soon, however, and was promptly answered, for Amy
was homesick, and confessed it in the most delightfully confiding
manner. The correspondence flourished famously, and letters flew to
and fro with unfailing regularity all through the early spring. Laurie
sold his busts, made allumettes of his opera, and went back to Paris,
hoping somebody would arrive before long. He wanted desperately to go
to Nice, but would not till he was asked, and Amy would not ask him,
for just then she was having little experiences of her own, which made
her rather wish to avoid the quizzical eyes of 'our boy'.
Fred Vaughn had returned, and put the question to which she had once
decided to answer, "Yes, thank you," but now she said, "No, thank you,"
kindly but steadily, for when the time came, her courage failed her,
and she found that something more than money and position was needed to
satisfy the new longing that filled her heart so full of tender hopes
and fears. The words, "Fred is a good fellow, but not at all the man I
fancied you would ever like," and Laurie's face when he uttered them,
kept returning to her as pertinaciously as her own did when she said in
look, if not in words, "I shall marry for money." It troubled her to
remember that now, she wished she could take it back, it sounded so
unwomanly. She didn't want Laurie to think her a heartless, worldly
creature. She didn't care to be a queen of society now half so much as
she did to be a lovable woman. She was so glad he didn't hate her for
the dreadful things she said, but took them so beautifully and was
kinder than ever. His letters were such a comfort, for the home
letters were very irregular and not half so satisfactory as his when
they did come. It was not only a pleasure, but a duty to answer them,
for the poor fellow was forlorn, and needed petting, since Jo persisted
in being stonyhearted. She ought to have made an effort and tried to
love him. It couldn't be very hard, many people would be proud and
glad to have such a dear boy care for them. But Jo never would act
like other girls, so there was nothing to do but be very kind and treat
him like a brother.
If all brothers were treated as well as Laurie was at this period, they
would be a much happier race of beings than they are. Amy never
lectured now. She asked his opinion on all subjects, she was
interested in everything he did, made charming little presents for him,
and sent him two letters a week, full of lively gossip, sisterly
confidences, and captivating sketches of the lovely scenes about her.
As few brothers are complimented by having their letters carried about
in their sister's pockets, read and reread diligently, cried over when
short, kissed when long, and treasured carefully, we will not hint that
Amy did any of these fond and foolish things. But she certainly did
grow a little pale and pensive that spring, lost much of her relish for
society, and went out sketching alone a good deal. She never had much
to show when she came home, but was studying nature, I dare say, while
she sat for hours, with her hands folded, on the terrace at Valrosa, or
absently sketched any fancy that occurred to her, a stalwart knight
carved on a tomb, a young man asleep in the grass, with his hat over
his eyes, or a curly haired girl in gorgeous array, promenading down a
ballroom on the arm of a tall gentleman, both faces being left a blur
according to the last fashion in art, which was safe but not altogether
Her aunt thought that she regretted her answer to Fred, and finding
denials useless and explanations impossible, Amy left her to think what
she liked, taking care that Laurie should know that Fred had gone to
Egypt. That was all, but he understood it, and looked relieved, as he
said to himself, with a venerable air...
"I was sure she would think better of it. Poor old fellow! I've been
through it all, and I can sympathize."
With that he heaved a great sigh, and then, as if he had discharged his
duty to the past, put his feet up on the sofa and enjoyed Amy's letter
While these changes were going on abroad, trouble had come at home.
But the letter telling that Beth was failing never reached Amy, and
when the next found her at Vevay, for the heat had driven them from
Nice in May, and they had travelled slowly to Switzerland, by way of
Genoa and the Italian lakes. She bore it very well, and quietly
submitted to the family decree that she should not shorten her visit,
for since it was too late to say goodbye to Beth, she had better stay,
and let absence soften her sorrow. But her heart was very heavy, she
longed to be at home, and every day looked wistfully across the lake,
waiting for Laurie to come and comfort her.
He did come very soon, for the same mail brought letters to them both,
but he was in Germany, and it took some days to reach him. The moment
he read it, he packed his knapsack, bade adieu to his fellow
pedestrians, and was off to keep his promise, with a heart full of joy
and sorrow, hope and suspense.
He knew Vevay well, and as soon as the boat touched the little quay, he
hurried along the shore to La Tour, where the Carrols were living en
pension. The garcon was in despair that the whole family had gone to
take a promenade on the lake, but no, the blonde mademoiselle might be
in the chateau garden. If monsieur would give himself the pain of
sitting down, a flash of time should present her. But monsieur could
not wait even a 'flash of time', and in the middle of the speech
departed to find mademoiselle himself.
A pleasant old garden on the borders of the lovely lake, with chestnuts
rustling overhead, ivy climbing everywhere, and the black shadow of the
tower falling far across the sunny water. At one corner of the wide,
low wall was a seat, and here Amy often came to read or work, or
console herself with the beauty all about her. She was sitting here
that day, leaning her head on her hand, with a homesick heart and heavy
eyes, thinking of Beth and wondering why Laurie did not come. She did
not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor see him pause in the
archway that led from the subterranean path into the garden. He stood
a minute looking at her with new eyes, seeing what no one had ever seen
before, the tender side of Amy's character. Everything about her mutely
suggested love and sorrow, the blotted letters in her lap, the black
ribbon that tied up her hair, the womanly pain and patience in her
face, even the little ebony cross at her throat seemed pathetic to
Laurie, for he had given it to her, and she wore it as her only
ornament. If he had any doubts about the reception she would give him,
they were set at rest the minute she looked up and saw him, for
dropping everything, she ran to him, exclaiming in a tone of
unmistakable love and longing...
"Oh, Laurie, Laurie, I knew you'd come to me!"
I think everything was said and settled then, for as they stood
together quite silent for a moment, with the dark head bent down
protectingly over the light one, Amy felt that no one could comfort and
sustain her so well as Laurie, and Laurie decided that Amy was the only
woman in the world who could fill Jo's place and make him happy. He
did not tell her so, but she was not disappointed, for both felt the
truth, were satisfied, and gladly left the rest to silence.
In a minute Amy went back to her place, and while she dried her tears,
Laurie gathered up the scattered papers, finding in the sight of sundry
well-worn letters and suggestive sketches good omens for the future.
As he sat down beside her, Amy felt shy again, and turned rosy red at
the recollection of her impulsive greeting.
"I couldn't help it, I felt so lonely and sad, and was so very glad to
see you. It was such a surprise to look up and find you, just as I was
beginning to fear you wouldn't come," she said, trying in vain to speak
"I came the minute I heard. I wish I could say something to comfort
you for the loss of dear little Beth, but I can only feel, and..." He
could not get any further, for he too turned bashful all of a sudden,
and did not quite know what to say. He longed to lay Amy's head down
on his shoulder, and tell her to have a good cry, but he did not dare,
so took her hand instead, and gave it a sympathetic squeeze that was
better than words.
"You needn't say anything, this comforts me," she said softly. "Beth
is well and happy, and I mustn't wish her back, but I dread the going
home, much as I long to see them all. We won't talk about it now, for
it makes me cry, and I want to enjoy you while you stay. You needn't
go right back, need you?"
"Not if you want me, dear."
"I do, so much. Aunt and Flo are very kind, but you seem like one of
the family, and it would be so comfortable to have you for a little
Amy spoke and looked so like a homesick child whose heart was full that
Laurie forgot his bashfulness all at once, and gave her just what she
wanted—the petting she was used to and the cheerful conversation she
"Poor little soul, you look as if you'd grieved yourself half sick!
I'm going to take care of you, so don't cry any more, but come and walk
about with me, the wind is too chilly for you to sit still," he said,
in the half-caressing, half-commanding way that Amy liked, as he tied
on her hat, drew her arm through his, and began to pace up and down the
sunny walk under the new-leaved chestnuts. He felt more at ease upon
his legs, and Amy found it pleasant to have a strong arm to lean upon,
a familiar face to smile at her, and a kind voice to talk delightfully
for her alone.
The quaint old garden had sheltered many pairs of lovers, and seemed
expressly made for them, so sunny and secluded was it, with nothing but
the tower to overlook them, and the wide lake to carry away the echo of
their words, as it rippled by below. For an hour this new pair walked
and talked, or rested on the wall, enjoying the sweet influences which
gave such a charm to time and place, and when an unromantic dinner bell
warned them away, Amy felt as if she left her burden of loneliness and
sorrow behind her in the chateau garden.
The moment Mrs. Carrol saw the girl's altered face, she was illuminated
with a new idea, and exclaimed to herself, "Now I understand it
all—the child has been pining for young Laurence. Bless my heart, I
never thought of such a thing!"
With praiseworthy discretion, the good lady said nothing, and betrayed
no sign of enlightenment, but cordially urged Laurie to stay and begged
Amy to enjoy his society, for it would do her more good than so much
solitude. Amy was a model of docility, and as her aunt was a good deal
occupied with Flo, she was left to entertain her friend, and did it
with more than her usual success.
At Nice, Laurie had lounged and Amy had scolded. At Vevay, Laurie was
never idle, but always walking, riding, boating, or studying in the
most energetic manner, while Amy admired everything he did and followed
his example as far and as fast as she could. He said the change was
owing to the climate, and she did not contradict him, being glad of a
like excuse for her own recovered health and spirits.
The invigorating air did them both good, and much exercise worked
wholesome changes in minds as well as bodies. They seemed to get
clearer views of life and duty up there among the everlasting hills.
The fresh winds blew away desponding doubts, delusive fancies, and
moody mists. The warm spring sunshine brought out all sorts of
aspiring ideas, tender hopes, and happy thoughts. The lake seemed to
wash away the troubles of the past, and the grand old mountains to look
benignly down upon them saying, "Little children, love one another."
In spite of the new sorrow, it was a very happy time, so happy that
Laurie could not bear to disturb it by a word. It took him a little
while to recover from his surprise at the cure of his first, and as he
had firmly believed, his last and only love. He consoled himself for
the seeming disloyalty by the thought that Jo's sister was almost the
same as Jo's self, and the conviction that it would have been
impossible to love any other woman but Amy so soon and so well. His
first wooing had been of the tempestuous order, and he looked back upon
it as if through a long vista of years with a feeling of compassion
blended with regret. He was not ashamed of it, but put it away as one
of the bitter-sweet experiences of his life, for which he could be
grateful when the pain was over. His second wooing, he resolved, should
be as calm and simple as possible. There was no need of having a
scene, hardly any need of telling Amy that he loved her, she knew it
without words and had given him his answer long ago. It all came about
so naturally that no one could complain, and he knew that everybody
would be pleased, even Jo. But when our first little passion has been
crushed, we are apt to be wary and slow in making a second trial, so
Laurie let the days pass, enjoying every hour, and leaving to chance
the utterance of the word that would put an end to the first and
sweetest part of his new romance.
He had rather imagined that the denoument would take place in the
chateau garden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and decorous
manner, but it turned out exactly the reverse, for the matter was
settled on the lake at noonday in a few blunt words. They had been
floating about all the morning, from gloomy St. Gingolf to sunny
Montreux, with the Alps of Savoy on one side, Mont St. Bernard and the
Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevay in the valley, and Lausanne
upon the hill beyond, a cloudless blue sky overhead, and the bluer lake
below, dotted with the picturesque boats that look like white-winged
They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past Chillon, and of
Rousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he wrote his Heloise.
Neither had read it, but they knew it was a love story, and each
privately wondered if it was half as interesting as their own. Amy had
been dabbling her hand in the water during the little pause that fell
between them, and when she looked up, Laurie was leaning on his oars
with an expression in his eyes that made her say hastily, merely for
the sake of saying something...
"You must be tired. Rest a little, and let me row. It will do me
good, for since you came I have been altogether lazy and luxurious."
"I'm not tired, but you may take an oar, if you like. There's room
enough, though I have to sit nearly in the middle, else the boat won't
trim," returned Laurie, as if he rather liked the arrangement.
Feeling that she had not mended matters much, Amy took the offered
third of a seat, shook her hair over her face, and accepted an oar.
She rowed as well as she did many other things, and though she used
both hands, and Laurie but one, the oars kept time, and the boat went
smoothly through the water.
"How well we pull together, don't we?" said Amy, who objected to
silence just then.
"So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat. Will you,
Amy?" very tenderly.
"Yes, Laurie," very low.
Then they both stopped rowing, and unconsciously added a pretty little
tableau of human love and happiness to the dissolving views reflected
in the lake.