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195
BETH'S SECRET.

me comfort and help you! How could you shut me out, and bear it all alone?"

Jo's voice was full of tender reproach, and her heart ached to think of the solitary struggle that must have gone on while Beth learned to say good-by to health, love, and life, and take up her cross so cheerfully.

"Perhaps it was wrong, but I tried to do right; I wasn't sure, no one said anything, and I hoped I was mistaken. It would have been selfish to frighten you all when Marmee was so anxious about Meg, and Amy away, and you so happy with Laurie,—at least I thought so then."

"And I thought that you loved him, Beth, and I went away because I couldn't," cried Jo,—glad to say all the truth.

Beth looked so amazed at the idea, that Jo smiled in spite of her pain, and added, softly,—

"Then you didn't, deary? I was afraid it was so, and imagined your poor little heart full of love-lornity all that while."

"Why, Jo! how could I, when he was so fond of you?" asked Beth, as innocently as a child. "I do love him dearly; he is so good to me, how can I help it? But he never could be anything to me but my brother. I hope he truly will be, some time."

"Not through me," said Jo, decidedly. "Amy is left for him, and they would suit excellently,—but I have no heart for such things now. I don't care what becomes of anybody but you, Beth. You must get well."

"I want to,—oh, so much! I try, but every day I lose a little, and feel more sure that I shall never gain