Little women, p.57
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       Little Women, p.57

         Part #1 of Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott

  “Should we not do a little what you call shopping for the babies, and haf a farewell feast tonight if I go for my last call at your so pleasant home?” he asked, stopping before a window full of fruit and flowers.

  “What will we buy?” said Jo, ignoring the latter part of his speech, and sniffing the mingled odors with an affectation of delight as they went in.

  “May they haf oranges and figs?” asked Mr. Bhaer, with a paternal air.

  “They eat them when they can get them.”

  “Do you care for nuts?”

  “Like a squirrel.”

  “Hamburg grapes; yes, we shall surely drink to the Fatherland in those?”

  Jo frowned upon that piece of extravagance, and asked why he didn’t buy a frail of dates, a cask of raisins, and a bag of almonds, and done with it? Whereat Mr. Bhaer confiscated her purse, produced his own, and finished the marketing by buying several pounds of grapes, a pot of rosy daisies, and a pretty jar of honey, to be regarded in the light of a demijohn.lq Then, distorting his pockets with the knobby bundles, and giving her the flowers to hold, he put up the old umbrella, and they traveled on again.

  “Miss Marsch, I haf a great favor to ask of you,” began the Professor, after a moist promenade of half a block.

  “Yes, sir.” And Jo’s heart began to beat so hard she was afraid he would hear it.

  “I am bold to say it in spite of the rain, because so short a time remains to me.”

  “Yes, sir.” And Jo nearly crushed the small flowerpot with the sudden squeeze she gave it.

  “I wish to get a little dress for my Tina, and I am too stupid to go alone. Will you kindly gif me a word of taste and help?”

  “Yes, sir.” And Jo felt as calm and cool all of a sudden as if she had stepped into a refrigerator.

  “Perhaps also a shawl for Tina’s mother, she is so poor and sick, and the husband is such a care. Yes, yes, a thick, warm shawl would be a friendly thing to take the little mother.”

  “I’ll do it with pleasure, Mr. Bhaer. I’m going very fast and he’s getting dearer every minute,” added Jo to herself, then with a mental shake she entered into the business with an energy which was pleasant to behold.

  Mr. Bhaer left it all to her, so she chose a pretty gown for Tina, and then ordered out the shawls. The clerk, being a married man, condescended to take an interest in the couple, who appeared to be shopping for their family.

  “Your lady may prefer this; it’s a superior article, a most desirable color, quite chaste and genteel,” he said, shaking out a comfortable gray shawl, and throwing it over Jo’s shoulders.

  “Does this suit you, Mr. Bhaer?” she asked, turning her back to him, and feeling deeply grateful for the chance of hiding her face.

  “Excellently well, we will haf it,” answered the Professor, smiling to himself as he paid for it, while Jo continued to rummage the counters like a confirmed bargain-hunter.

  “Now shall we go home?” he asked, as if the words were very pleasant to him.

  “Yes, it’s late, and I’m so tired.” Jo’s voice was more pathetic than she knew; for now the sun seemed to have gone in as suddenly as it came out, the world grew muddy and miserable again, and for the first time she discovered that her feet were cold, her head ached, and that her heart was colder than the former, fuller of pain than the latter. Mr. Bhaer was going away, he only cared for her as a friend, it was all a mistake, and the sooner it was over the better. With this idea in her head, she hailed an approaching omnibus with such a hasty gesture that the daisies flew out of the pot and were badly damaged.

  “This is not our omniboos,” said the Professor, waving the loaded vehicle away, and stopping to pick up the poor little flowers.

  “I beg your pardon, I didn’t see the name distinctly. Never mind, I can walk. I’m used to plodding in the mud,” returned Jo, winking hard, because she would have died rather than openly wipe her eyes.

  Mr. Bhaer saw the drops on her cheeks, though she turned her head away; the sight seemed to touch him very much, for, suddenly stooping down, he asked in a tone that meant a great deal, “Heart’s dearest, why do you cry?”

  Now, if Jo had not been new to this sort of thing she would have said she wasn’t crying, had a cold in her head, or told any other feminine fib proper to the occasion; instead of which that undignified creature answered, with an irrepressible sob, “Because you are going away.”

  “Ach, mein Gott, that is so good!” cried Mr. Bhaer, managing to clasp his hands in spite of the umbrella and the bundles. “Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you; I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?” he added, all in one breath.

  “Oh, yes!” said Jo; and he was quite satisfied, for she folded both hands over his arm, and looked up at him with an expression that plainly showed how happy she would be to walk through life beside him, even though she had no better shelter than the old umbrella, if he carried it.

  It was certainly proposing under difficulties, for even if he had desired to do so, Mr. Bhaer could not go down upon his knees, on account of the mud; neither could he offer Jo his hand, except figuratively, for both were full; much less could he indulge in tender demonstrations in the open street, though he was near it; so the only way in which he could express his rapture was to look at her, with an expression which glorified his face to such a degree that there actually seemed to be little rainbows in the drops that sparkled on his beard. If he had not loved Jo very much, I don’t think he could have done it then, for she looked far from lovely, with her skirts in a deplorable state, her rubber boots splashed to the ankle, and her bonnet a ruin. Fortunately, Mr. Bhaer considered her the most beautiful woman living, and she found him more “Jove-like” than ever, though his hatbrim was quite limp with the little rills trickling thence upon his shoulders (for he held the umbrella all over Jo), and every finger of his gloves needed mending.

  Passers-by probably thought them a pair of harmless lunatics, for they entirely forgot to hail a bus, and strolled leisurely along, oblivious of deepening dusk and fog. Little they cared what anybody thought, for they were enjoying the happy hour that seldom comes but once in any life, the magical moment which bestows youth on the old, beauty on the plain, wealth on the poor, and gives human hearts a foretaste of heaven. The Professor looked as if he had conquered a kingdom, and the world had nothing more to offer him in the way of bliss; while Jo trudged beside him, feeling as if her place had always been there, and wondering how she ever could have chosen any other lot. Of course, she was the first to speak—intelligibly, I mean, for the emotional remarks which followed her impetuous “Oh, yes!” were not of a coherent or reportable character.

  “Friedrich, why didn’t you—”

  “Ah, heaven, she gifs me the name that no one speaks since Minna died!” cried the Professor, pausing in a puddle to regard her with grateful delight.

  “I always call you so to myself—I forgot; but I won‘t, unless you like it.”

  “Like it? It is more sweet to me than I can tell. Say ‘thou,’ also, and I shall say your language is almost as beautiful as mine.”

  “Isn’t ‘thou’ a little sentimental?” asked Jo, privately thinking it a lovely monosyllable.

  “Sentimental? Yes. Thank Gott, we Germans believe in sentiment, and keep ourselves young mit it. Your English ‘you’ is so cold, say ‘thou,’ heart’s dearest, it means so much to me,” pleaded Mr. Bhaer, more like a romantic student than a grave professor.

  “Well, then, why didn’t thou tell me all this sooner?” asked Jo bashfully.

  “Now I shall haf to show thee all my heart, and I so gladly will, because thou must take care of it hereafter. See, then, my Jo—ah, the dear, funny little name!—I had a wish to tell something the day I said good-by in New York, but I thought the handsome friend was betrothed to thee, and so I spoke not. Wouldst thou have said ‘Yes,’ then, if I had spoken?

  “I don’t know. I’m afraid not, for I didn’t have any heart just then.”

  “Prut! That I do not believe. It was asleep till the fairy prince came through the wood, and waked it up. Ah, well, ‘Die erste Liebe ist die beste,’lr but that I should not expect.”

  “Yes, the first love is the best, so be contented, for I never had another. Teddy was only a boy, and soon got over his little fancy,” said Jo, anxious to correct the Professor’s mistake.

  “Good! Then I shall rest happy, and be sure that thou givest me all. I haf waited so long, I am grown selfish, as thou wilt find, Professorin.”

  “I like that,” cried Jo, delighted with her new name. “Now tell me what brought you, at last, just when I most wanted you?”

  “This.” And Mr. Bhaer took a little worn paper out of his waistcoat pocket.

  Jo unfolded it, and looked much abashed, for it was one of her own contributions to a paper that paid for poetry, which accounted for her sending it an occasional attempt.

  “How could that bring you?” she asked, wondering what he meant.

  “I found it by chance; I knew it by the names and the initials, and in it there was one little verse that seemed to call me. Read and find him; I will see that you go not in the wet.”

  Jo obeyed, and hastily skimmed through the lines which she had christened—


  Four little chests all in a row,

  Dim with dust, and worn by time,

  All fashioned and filled, long ago,

  By children now in their prime.

  Four little keys hung side by side,

  With faded ribbons, brave and gay

  When fastened there, with childish pride,

  Long ago, on a rainy day.

  Four little names, one on each lid,

  Carved out by a boyish hand,

  And underneath there lieth hid

  Histories of the happy band

  Once playing here, and pausing oft

  To hear the sweet refrain,

  That came and went on the roof aloft,

  In the falling summer rain.

  “Meg” on the first lid, smooth and fair.

  I look in with loving eyes,

  For folded here, with well-known care,

  A goodly gathering lies,

  The record of a peaceful life—

  Gifts to gentle child and girl,

  A bridal gown, lines to a wife,

  A tiny shoe, a baby curl.

  No toys in this first chest remain,

  For all are carried away,

  In their old age, to join again

  In another small Meg’s play.

  Ah, happy mother! well I know

  You hear, like a sweet refrain,

  Lullabies ever soft and low

  In the falling summer rain.

  “Jo” on the next lid, scratched and worn,

  And within a motley store

  Of headless dolls, of schoolbooks torn,

  Birds and beasts that speak no more;

  Spoils brought home from the fairy ground

  Only trod by youthful feet,

  Dreams of a future never found,

  Memories of a past still sweet;

  Half-writ poems, stories wild,

  April letters, warm and cold,

  Diaries of a wilful child,

  Hints of a woman early old;

  A woman in a lonely home,

  Hearing, like a sad refrain—

  “Be worthy love, and love will come,”

  In the falling summer rain.

  My Beth! the dust is always swept

  From the lid that bears your name,

  As if by loving eyes that wept,

  By careful hands that often came.

  Death canonized for us one saint,

  Ever less human than divine,

  And still we lay, with tender plaint,

  Relics in this household shrine—

  The silver bell, so seldom rung,

  The little cap which last she wore,

  The fair, dead Catherine that hung

  By angels borne above her door;

  The songs she sang, without lament,

  In her prison-house of pain,

  Forever are they sweetly blent

  With the falling summer rain.

  Upon the last lid’s polished field—

  Legend now both fair and true

  A gallant knight bears on his shield,

  “Amy,” in letters gold and blue.

  Within lie snoods that bound her hair,

  Slippers that have danced their last,

  Faded flowers laid by with care,

  Fans whose airy toils are past;

  Gay valentines, all ardent flames,

  Trifles that have borne their part

  In girlish hopes and fears and shames,

  The record of a maiden heart

  Now learning fairer, truer spells,

  Hearing, like a blithe refrain,

  The silver sound of bridal bells

  In the falling summer rain.

  Four little chests all in a row,

  Dim with dust, and worn by time,

  Four women, taught by weal and woe

  To love and labor in their prime.

  Four sisters, parted for an hour,

  None lost, one only gone before,

  Made by love’s immortal power,

  Nearest and dearest evermore.

  Oh, when these hidden stores of ours

  Lie open to the Father’s sight,

  May they be rich in golden hours,

  Deeds that show fairer for the light,

  Lives whose brave music long shall ring,

  Like a spirit-stirring strain,

  Souls that shall gladly soar and sing

  In the long sunshine after rain.


  “It’s very bad poetry, but I felt it when I wrote it, one day when I was very lonely, and had a good cry on a rag bag. I never thought it would go where it could tell tales,” said Jo, tearing up the verses the Professor had treasured so long.

  “Let it go, it has done its duty, and I will haf a fresh one when I read all the brown book in which she keeps her little secrets,” said Mr. Bhaer with a smile as he watched the fragments fly away on the wind. “Yes,” he added earnestly, “I read that, and I think to myself, She has a sorrow, she is lonely, she would find comfort in true love. I haf a heart full, full for her; shall I not go and say, ‘If this is not too poor a thing to gif for what I shall hope to receive, take it in Gott’s name?’”

  “And so you came to find that it was not too poor, but the one precious thing I needed,” whispered Jo.

  “I had no courage to think that at first, heavenly kind as was your welcome to me. But soon I began to hope, and then I said, ‘I will haf her if I die for it,’ and so I will!” cried Mr. Bhaer, with a defiant nod, as if the walls of mist closing round them were barriers which he was to surmount or valiantly knock down.

  Jo thought that was splendid, and resolved to be worthy of her knight, though he did not come prancing on a charger in gorgeous array.

  “What made you stay away so long?” she asked presently, finding it so pleasant to ask confidential questions and get delightful answers that she could not keep silent.

  “It was not easy, but I could not find the heart to take you from that so happy home until I could haf a prospect of one to give you, after much time, perhaps, and hard work. How could I ask you to gif up so much for a poor old fellow, who has no fortune but a little learning?”

  “I’m glad you are poor; I couldn’t bear a rich husband,” said Jo decidedly, adding, in a softer tone, “Don’t fear poverty. I’ve known it long enough to lose my dread and be happy working for those I love; and don’t call yourself old—forty is the prime of life. I couldn’t help loving you if you were seventy!”

  The Professor found that so touching that he would have been glad of his handkerchief, if he could have got
at it; as he couldn‘t, Jo wiped his eyes for him, and said, laughing, as she took away a bundle or two—

  “I may be strong-minded, but no one can say I’m out of my sphere now, for woman’s special mission is supposed to be drying tears and bearing burdens. I’m to carry my share, Friedrich, and help to earn the home. Make up your mind to that, or I’ll never go,” she added resolutely, as he tried to reclaim his load.

  “We shall see. Haf you patience to wait a long time, Jo? I must go away and do my work alone. I must help my boys first, because, even for you, I may not break my word to Minna. Can you forgif that, and be happy while we hope and wait?”

  “Yes, I know I can, for we love one another, and that makes all the rest easy to bear. I have my duty, also, and my work. I couldn’t enjoy myself if I neglected them even for you, so there’s no need of hurry or impatience. You can do your part out West, I can do mine here, and both be happy hoping for the best, and leaving the future to be as God wills.”

  “Ah! Thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing to gif back but a full heart and these empty hands,” cried the Professor, quite overcome.

  Jo never, never would learn to be proper, for when he said that as they stood upon the steps, she just put both hands into his, whispering tenderly, “Not empty now,” and, stooping down, kissed her Friedrich under the umbrella. It was dreadful, but she would have done it if the flock of draggle-tailed sparrows on the hedge had been human beings, for she was very far gone indeed, and quite regardless of everything but her own happiness. Though it came in such a very simple guise, that was the crowning moment of both their lives, when, turning from the night and storm and loneliness to the household light and warmth and peace waiting to receive them, with a glad “Welcome home!” Jo led her lover in, and shut the door.


  Harvest Time

  For a year Jo and her Professor worked and waited, hoped and loved, met occasionally, and wrote such voluminous letters that the rise in the price of paper was accounted for, Laurie said. The second year began rather soberly, for their prospects did not brighten, and Aunt March died suddenly. But when their first sorrow was over—for they loved the old lady in spite of her sharp tongue—they found they had cause for rejoicing, for she had left Plumfield to Jo, which made all sorts of joyful things possible.

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