Little women, p.32
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       Little Women, p.32

         Part #1 of Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott
 

  All three wore suits of thin silver gray (their best gowns for the summer), with blush roses in hair and bosom; and all three looked just what they were—fresh-faced, happy-hearted girls, pausing a moment in their busy lives to read with wistful eyes the sweetest chapter in the romance of womanhood.

  There were to be no ceremonious performances, everything was to be as natural and homelike as possible, so when Aunt March arrived, she was scandalized to see the bride come running to welcome and lead her in, to find the bridegroom fastening up a garland that had fallen down, and to catch a glimpse of the paternal minister marching upstairs with a grave countenance and a wine bottle under each arm.

  “Upon my word, here’s a state of things!” cried the old lady. taking the seat of honor prepared for her, and settling the folds of her lavender moiréeb with a great rustle. “You oughtn’t to be seen till the last minute, child. ”

  “I’m not a show. Aunty. and no one is coming to stare at me. to criticize my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon. I’m too happy to care what anyone says or thinks, and I’m going to have my little wedding just as I like it. John, dear, here’s your hammer.” And away went Meg to help “that man” in his highly improper employment.

  Mr. Brooke didn’t even say, “Thank you,” but as he stooped for the unromantic tool, he kissed his little bride behind the folding door, with a look that made Aunt March whisk out her pocket handkerchief with a sudden dew in her sharp old eyes.

  A crash, a cry, and a laugh from Laurie, accompanied by the indecorous exclamation, “Jupiter Ammon!ec Jo’s upset the cake again!” caused a momentary flurry, which was hardly over when a flock of cousins arrived, and “the party came in,” as Beth used to say when a child.

  “Don’t let that young giant come near me, he worries me worse than mosquitoes,” whispered the old lady to Amy, as the rooms filled and Laurie’s black head towered above the rest.

  “He has promised to be very good today, and he can be perfectly elegant if he likes,” returned Amy, gliding away to warn Herculesed to beware of the dragon, which warning caused him to haunt the old lady with a devotion that nearly distracted her.

  There was no bridal procession, but a sudden silence fell upon the room as Mr. March and the young pair took their places under the green arch. Mother and sisters gathered close, as if loath to give Meg up; the fatherly voice broke more than once, which only seemed to make the service more beautiful and solemn; the bridegroom’s hand trembled visibly, and no one heard his replies; but Meg looked straight up in her husband’s eyes, and said, “I will!” with such tender trust in her own face and voice that her mother’s heart rejoiced and Aunt March sniffed audibly.

  Jo did not cry, though she was very near it once, and was only saved from a demonstration by the consciousness that Laurie was staring fixedly at her, with a comical mixture of merriment and emotion in his wicked black eyes. Beth kept her face hidden on her mother’s shoulder, but Amy stood like a graceful statue, with a most becoming ray of sunshine touching her white forehead and the flower in her hair.

  It wasn’t at all the thing, I’m afraid, but the minute she was fairly married, Meg cried, “The first kiss for Marmee!” and, turning, gave it with her heart on her lips. During the next fifteen minutes she looked more like a rose than ever, for everyone availed themselves of their privileges to the fullest extent, from Mr. Laurence to old Hannah, who, adorned with a headdress fearfully and wonderfully made, fell upon her in the hall, crying with a sob and a chuckle, “Bless you, deary, a hundred times! The cake ain’t hurt a mite, and everything looks lovely.”

  Everybody cleared up after that, and said something brilliant, or tried to, which did just as well, for laughter is ready when hearts are light. There was no display of gifts, for they were already in the little house, nor was there an elaborate breakfast, but a plentiful lunch of cake and fruit, dressed with flowers. Mr. Laurence and Aunt March shrugged and smiled at one another when water, lemonade, and coffee were found to be the only sorts of nectar which the three Hebesee carried round. No one said anything, however, till Laurie, who insisted on serving the bride, appeared before her, with a loaded salver in his hand and a puzzled expression on his face.

  “Has Jo smashed all the bottles by accident?” he whispered, “or am I merely laboring under a delusion that I saw some lying about loose this morning?”

  “No, your grandfather kindly offered us his best, and Aunt March actually sent some, but Father put away a little for Beth, and dispatched the rest to the Soldiers’ Home. You know he thinks that wine should be used only in illness, and Mother says that neither she nor her daughters will ever offer it to any young man under her roof.”

  Meg spoke seriously and expected to see Laurie frown or laugh, but he did neither, for after a quick look at her, he said, in his impetuous way, “I like that! For I’ve seen enough harm done to wish other women would think as you do.”

  “You are not made wise by experience, I hope?” And there was an anxious accent in Meg’s voice.

  “No, I give you my word for it. Don’t think too well of me, either, this is not one of my temptations. Being brought up where wine is as common as water and almost as harmless, I don’t care for it, but when a pretty girl offers it, one doesn’t like to refuse, you see.”

  “But you will, for the sake of others, if not for your own. Come, Laurie, promise, and give me one more reason to call this the happiest day of my life.”

  A demand so sudden and so serious made the young man hesitate a moment, for ridicule is often harder to bear than self-denial. Meg knew that if he gave the promise he would keep it at all costs, and feeling her power, used it as a woman may for her friend’s good. She did not speak, but she looked up at him with a face made very eloquent by happiness, and a smile which said, “No one can refuse me anything today.” Laurie certainly could not, and with an answering smile, he gave her his hand, saying heartily, “I promise, Mrs. Brooke!”

  “I thank you, very, very much.”

  “And I drink ‘long life to your resolution,’ Teddy,” cried Jo, baptizing him with a splash of lemonade, as she waved her glass and beamed approvingly upon him.

  So the toast was drunk, the pledge made and loyally kept in spite of many temptations, for with instinctive wisdom, the girls had seized a happy moment to do their friend a service, for which he thanked them all his life.

  After lunch, people strolled about, by twos and threes, through house and garden, enjoying the sunshine without and within. Meg and John happened to be standing together in the middle of the grassplot, when Laurie was seized with an inspiration which put the finishing touch to this unfashionable wedding.

  “All the married people take hands and dance round the new-made husband and wife, as the Germans do, while we bachelors and spinsters prance in couples outside!” cried Laurie, promenading down the path with Amy, with such infectious spirit and skill that everyone else followed their example without a murmur. Mr. and Mrs. March, Aunt and Uncle Carrol began it, others rapidly joined in, even Sallie Moffat, after a moment’s hesitation, threw her train over her arm and whisked Ned into the ring. But the crowning joke was Mr. Laurence and Aunt March, for when the stately old gentleman chassédef solemnly up to the old lady, she just tucked her cane under arm, and hopped briskly away to join hands with the rest and dance about the bridal pair, while the young folks pervaded the garden like butterflies on a midsummer day.

  Want of breath brought the impromptu ball to a close, and then people began to go.

  “I wish you well, my dear, I heartily wish you well; but I think you’ll be sorry for it,” said Aunt March to Meg, adding to the bridegroom, as he led her to the carriage, “You’ve got a treasure, young man, see that you deserve it.”

  “That is the prettiest wedding I’ve been to for an age, Ned, and I don’t see why, for there wasn’t a bit of style about it,” observed Mrs. Moffat to her husband, as they drove away.

  “Laurie, my lad, if you ever want to indulge in this so
rt of thing, get one of those little girls to help you, and I shall be perfectly satisfied,” said Mr. Laurence, settling himself in his easy chair to rest after the excitement of the morning.

  “I’ll do my best to gratify you, sir,” was Laurie’s unusually dutiful reply, as he carefully unpinned the posy Jo had put in his buttonhole.

  The little house was not far away, and the only bridal journey Meg had was the quiet walk with John from the old home to the new. When she came down, looking like a pretty Quakeress in her dove-colored suit and straw bonnet tied with white, they all gathered about her to say good-by, as tenderly as if she had been going to make the grand tour.

  “Don’t feel that I am separated from you, Marmee dear, or that I love you any the less for loving John so much,” she said, clinging to her mother, with full eyes for a moment. “I shall come every day, Father, and expect to keep my old place in all your hearts, though I am married. Beth is going to be with me a great deal, and the other girls will drop in now and then to laugh at my housekeeping struggles. Thank you all for my happy wedding day. Good-by, good-by!”

  They stood watching her, with faces full of love and hope and tender pride as she walked away, leaning on her husband’s arm, with her hands full of flowers and the June sunshine brightening her happy face—and so Meg’s married life began.

  26

  Artistic Attempts

  It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius, especially ambitious young men and women. Amy was learning this distinction through much tribulation, for mistaking enthusiasm for inspiration, she attempted every branch of art with youthful audacity. For a long time there was a lull in the “mud-pie” business, and she devoted herself to the finest pen-and-ink drawing, in which she showed such taste and skill that her graceful handiwork proved both pleasant and profitable. But overstrained eyes soon caused pen and ink to be laid aside for a bold attempt at poker sketching.eg

  While this attack lasted, the family lived in constant fear of a conflagration, for the odor of burning wood pervaded the house at all hours, smoke issued from attic and shed with alarming frequency, red-hot pokers lay about promiscuously, and Hannah never went to bed without a pail of water and the dinner bell at her door in case of fire. Raphael’s face was found boldly executed on the underside of the moulding board, and Bacchuseh on the head of a beer barrel; a chanting cherub adorned the cover of the sugar bucket, and attempts to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied kindlings for some time.

  From fire to oil was a natural transition for burned fingers, and Amy fell to painting with undiminished ardor. An artist friend fitted her out with his castoff palettes, brushes, and colors, and she daubed away, producing pastoral and marine views such as were never seen on land or sea. Her monstrosities in the way of cattle would have taken prizes at an agricultural fair, and the perilous pitching of her vessels would have produced seasickness in the most nautical observer, if the utter disregard to all known rules of shipbuilding and rigging had not convulsed him with laughter at the first glance. Swarthy boys and dark-eyed Madonnas, staring at you from one corner of the studio, suggested Murillo; oily-brown shadows of faces with a lurid streak in the wrong place, meant Rembrandt; buxom ladies and dropsical infants, Rubens; and Turner8 appeared in tempests of blue thunder, orange lightning, brown rain, and purple clouds, with a tomato-colored splash in the middle, which might be the sun or a buoy, a sailor’s shirt or a king’s robe, as the spectator pleased.

  Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in a row, looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coalbin. Softened into crayon sketches, they did better, for the likenesses were good, and Amy’s hair, Jo’s nose, Meg’s mouth, and Laurie’s eyes were pronounced “wonderfully fine.” A return to clay and plaster followed, and ghostly casts of her acquaintances haunted corners of the house, or tumbled off closet shelves onto people’s heads. Children were enticed in as models, till their incoherent accounts of her mysterious doings caused Miss Amy to be regarded in the light of a young ogress. Her efforts in this line, however, were brought to an abrupt close by an untoward accident, which quenched her ardor. Other models failing her for a time, she undertook to cast her own pretty foot, and the family were one day alarmed by an unearthly bumping and screaming and running to the rescue, found the young enthusiast hopping wildly about the shed with her foot held fast in a pan full of plaster, which had hardened with unexpected rapidity. With much difficulty and some danger she was dug out, for Jo was so overcome with laughter while she excavated that her knife went too far, cut the poor foot, and left a lasting memorial of one artistic attempt, at least.

  After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from nature set her to haunting river, field, and wood, for picturesque studies, and sighing for ruins to copy. She caught endless colds sitting on damp grass to book “a delicious bit,” composed of a stone, a stump, one mushroom, and a broken mulleinei stalk, or “a heavenly mass of clouds,” that looked like a choice display of featherbeds when done. She sacrificed her complexion floating on the river in the midsummer sun to study light and shade, and got a wrinkle over her nose trying after “points of sight,” or whatever the squint-and-string performance is called.ej

  If “genius is eternal patience,” as Michelangeloek affirms, Amy had some claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spite of all obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believing that in time she should do something worthy to be called “high art.”

  She was learning, doing, and enjoying other things, meanwhile, for she had resolved to be an attractive and accomplished woman, even if she never became a great artist. Here she succeeded better, for she was one of those happily created beings who please without effort, make friends everywhere, and take life so gracefully and easily that less fortunate souls are tempted to believe that such are born under a lucky star. Everybody liked her, for among her good gifts was tact. She had an instinctive sense of what was pleasing and proper, always said the right thing to the right person, did just what suited the time and place, and was so self-possessed that her sisters used to say, “If Amy went to court without any rehearsal beforehand, she’d know exactly what to do.”

  One of her weaknesses was a desire to move in “our best society,” without being quite sure what the best really was. Money, position, fashionable accomplishments, and elegant manners were most desirable things in her eyes, and she liked to associate with those who possessed them, often mistaking the false for the true, and admiring what was not admirable. Never forgetting that by birth she was a gentlewoman, she cultivated her aristocratic tastes and feelings, so that when the opportunity came she might be ready to take the place from which poverty now excluded her.

  “My lady,” as her friends called her, sincerely desired to be a genuine lady, and was so at heart, but had yet to learn that money cannot buy refinement of nature, that rank does not always confer nobility, and that true breeding makes itself felt in spite of external drawbacks.

  “I want to ask a favor of you, Mamma,” Amy said, coming in with an important air one day.

  “Well, little girl, what is it?” replied her mother, in whose eyes the stately young lady still remained “the baby.”

  “Our drawing class breaks up next week, and before the girls separate for the summer, I want to ask them out here for a day. They are wild to see the river, sketch the broken bridge, and copy some of the things they admire in my book. They have been very kind to me in many ways, and I am grateful, for they are all rich and know I am poor, yet they never made any difference.”

  “Why should they?” And Mrs. March put the question with what the girls called her “Maria Theresa air.”el

  “You know as well as I that it does make a difference with nearly everyone, so don’t ruffle up like a dear, motherly hen, when your chickens get pecked by smarter birds; the ugly duckling turned out a swan, you know.” And Amy smiled without bitterness, for she possessed a happy temper and hopeful spirit.

>   Mrs. March laughed, and smoothed down her maternal pride as she asked, “Well, my swan, what is your plan?”

  “I should like to ask the girls out to lunch next week, to take them a drive to the places they want to see, a row on the river, perhaps, and make a little artistic fete for them.”

  “That looks feasible. What do you want for lunch? Cake, sandwiches, fruit, and coffee will be all that is necessary, I suppose?”

  “Oh dear, no! We must have cold tongue and chicken, French chocolate and ice cream, besides. The girls are used to such things, and I want my lunch to be proper and elegant, though I do work for my living.”

  “How many young ladies are there?” asked her mother, beginning to look sober.

  “Twelve or fourteen in the class, but I dare say they won’t all come.”

  “Bless me, child, you will have to charter an omnibus to carry them about.”

  “Why, Mother, how can you think of such a thing? Not more than six or eight will probably come, so I shall hire a beach wagon and borrow Mr. Laurence’s cherry-bounce.” (Hannah’s pronunciation of charàbanc.)em

  “All this will be expensive, Amy.”

  “Not very. I’ve calculated the cost, and I’ll pay for it myself.”

  “Don’t you think, dear, that as these girls are used to such things, and the best we can do will be nothing new, that some simpler plan would be pleasanter to them, as a change if nothing more, and much better for us than buying or borrowing what we don’t need, and attempting a style not in keeping with our circumstances?”

  “If I can’t have it as I like, I don’t care to have it at all. I know that I can carry it out perfectly well, if you and the girls will help a little, and I don’t see why I can’t if I’m willing to pay for it,” said Amy, with the decision which opposition was apt to change into obstinacy.

  Mrs. March knew that experience was an excellent teacher, and when it was possible she left her children to learn alone the lessons which she would gladly have made easier, if they had not objected to taking advice as much as they did salts and senna.en

 
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