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194
LITTLE WOMEN.

were very thin, and the hands seemed too feeble to hold even the rosy little shells they had been gathering. It came to her then more bitterly than ever that Beth was slowly drifting away from her, and her arms instinctively tightened their hold upon the dearest treasure she possessed. For a minute her eyes were too dim for seeing, and, when they cleared, Beth was looking up at her so tenderly, that there was hardly any need for her to say,—

"Jo, dear, I'm glad you know it. I've tried to tell you, but I couldn't."

There was no answer except her sister's cheek against her own,—not even tears,—for when most deeply moved Jo did not cry. She was the weaker then, and Beth tried to comfort and sustain her with her arms about her, and the soothing words she whispered in her ear.

"I've known it for a good while, dear, and now I'm used to it, it isn't hard to think of or to bear. Try to see it so, and don't be troubled about me, because it's best; indeed it is."

"Is this what made you so unhappy in the autumn, Beth? You did not feel it then, and keep it to yourself so long, did you?" asked Jo, refusing to see or say that it was best, but glad to know that Laurie had no part in Beth's trouble.

"Yes; I gave up hoping then, but I didn't like to own it; I tried to think it was a sick fancy, and would not let it trouble any one. But when I saw you all so well, and strong, and full of happy plans, it was hard to feel that I could never be like you,—and then I was miserable, Jo."

"Oh, Beth, and you didn't tell me,—didn't let