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Chapter 16 – Letters

Louisa May AlcottJun 22, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and read
their chapter with an earnestness never felt before. For now
the shadow of a real trouble had come, the little books were full
of help and comfort, and as they dressed, they agreed to say goodbye
cheerfully and hopefully, and send their mother on her anxious
journey unsaddened by tears or complaints from them. Everything
seemed very strange when they went down, so dim and still outside,
so full of light and bustle within. Breakfast at that early hour
seemed odd, and even Hannah’s familiar face looked unnatural as she
flew about her kitchen with her nightcap on. The big trunk stood
ready in the hall, Mother’s cloak and bonnet lay on the sofa, and
Mother herself sat trying to eat, but looking so pale and worn
with sleeplessness and anxiety that the girls found it very hard
to keep their resolution. Meg’s eyes kept filling in spite of
herself, Jo was obliged to hide her face in the kitchen roller
more than once, and the little girls wore a grave, troubled
expression, as if sorrow was a new experience to them.

Nobody talked much, but as the time drew very near and they
sat waiting for the carriage, Mrs. March said to the girls, who
were all busied about her, one folding her shawl, another smoothing
out the strings of her bonnet, a third putting on her overshoes,
and a fourth fastening up her travelling bag . . .

"Children, I leave you to Hannah’s care and Mr. Laurence’s
protection. Hannah is faithfulness itself, and our good neighbor
will guard you as if you were his own. I have no fears for you,
yet I am anxious that you should take this trouble rightly. Don’t
grieve and fret when I am gone, or think that you can be idle and
comfort yourselves by being idle and trying to forget. Go on with
your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace. Hope and keep busy,
and whatever happens, remember that you never can be fatherless."

"Yes, Mother."

"Meg, dear, be prudent, watch over your sisters, consult
Hannah, and in any perplexity, go to Mr. Laurence. Be patient, Jo,
don’t get despondent or do rash things, write to me often, and be
my brave girl, ready to help and cheer all. Beth, comfort yourself
with your music, and be faithful to the little home duties, and you,
Amy, help all you can, be obedient, and keep happy safe at home."

"We will, Mother! We will!"

The rattle of an approaching carriage made them all start and
listen. That was the hard minute, but the girls stood it well. No
one cried, no one ran away or uttered a lamentation, though their
hearts were very heavy as they sent loving messages to Father,
remembering, as they spoke that it might be too late to deliver them.
They kissed their mother quietly, clung about her tenderly, and
tried to wave their hands cheerfully when she drove away.

Laurie and his grandfather came over to see her off, and Mr.
Brooke looked so strong and sensible and kind that the girls
christened him ‘Mr. Greatheart’ on the spot.

"Goodby, my darlings! God bless and keep us all!" whispered
Mrs. March, as she kissed one dear little face after the other,
and hurried into the carriage.

As she rolled away, the sun came out, and looking back, she
saw it shining on the group at the gate like a good omen. They
saw it also, and smiled and waved their hands, and the last thing
she beheld as she turned the corner was the four bright faces, and
behind them like a bodyguard, old Mr. Laurence, faithful Hannah,
and devoted Laurie.

"How kind everyone is to us!" she said, turning to find fresh
proof of it in the respectful sympathy of the young man’s face.

"I don’t see how they can help it," returned Mr. Brooke,
laughing so infectiously that Mrs. March could not help smiling.
And so the journey began with the good omens of sunshine, smiles,
and cheerful words.

"I feel as if there had been an earthquake," said Jo, as their
neighbors went home to breakfast, leaving them to rest and refresh
themselves.

"It seems as if half the house was gone," added Meg forlornly.

Beth opened her lips to say something, but could only point to
the pile of nicely mended hose which lay on Mother’s table, showing
that even in her last hurried moments she had thought and worked
for them. It was a little thing, but it went straight to their
hearts, and in spite of their brave resolutions, they all broke
down and cried bitterly.

Hannah wisely allowed them to relieve their feelings, and
when the shower showed signs of clearing up, she came to the
rescue, armed with a coffeepot.

"Now, my dear young ladies, remember what your ma said, and
don’t fret. Come and have a cup of coffee all round, and then
let’s fall to work and be a credit to the family."

Coffee was a treat, and Hannah showed great tact in making it
that morning. No one could resist her persuasive nods, or the
fragrant invitation issuing from the nose of the coffee pot. They
drew up to the table, exchanged their handkerchiefs for napkins,
and in ten minutes were all right again.

"’Hope and keep busy’, that’s the motto for us, so let’s see
who will remember it best. I shall go to Aunt March, as usual.
Oh, won’t she lecture though!" said Jo, as she sipped with
returning spirit.

"I shall go to my Kings, though I’d much rather stay at home
and attend to things here," said Meg, wishing she hadn’t made her
eyes so red.

"No need of that. Beth and I can keep house perfectly well,"
put in Amy, with an important air.

"Hannah will tell us what to do, and we’ll have everything
nice when you come home," added Beth, getting out her mop and dish
tub without delay.

"I think anxiety is very interesting," observed Amy, eating
sugar pensively.

The girls couldn’t help laughing, and felt better for it,
though Meg shook her head at the young lady who could find
consolation in a sugar bowl.

The sight of the turnovers made Jo sober again; and when the
two went out to their daily tasks, they looked sorrowfully back
at the window where they were accustomed to see their mother’s
face. It was gone, but Beth had remembered the little household
ceremony, and there she was, nodding away at them like a
rosyfaced mandarin.

"That’s so like my Beth!" said Jo, waving her hat, with a
grateful face. "Goodbye, Meggy, I hope the Kings won’t strain
today. Don’t fret about Father, dear," she added, as they parted.

"And I hope Aunt March won’t croak. Your hair is becoming,
and it looks very boyish and nice," returned Meg, trying not to
smile at the curly head, which looked comically small on her tall
sister’s shoulders.

"That’s my only comfort." And, touching her hat a la Laurie,
away went Jo, feeling like a shorn sheep on a wintry day.

News from their father comforted the girls very much, for
though dangerously ill, the presence of the best and tenderest of
nurses had already done him good. Mr. Brooke sent a bulletin every
day, and as the head of the family, Meg insisted on reading the
dispatches, which grew more cheerful as the week passed. At first,
everyone was eager to write, and plump envelopes were carefully
poked into the letter box by one or other of the sisters, who felt
rather important with their Washington correspondence. As one of
these packets contained characteristic notes from the party, we will
rob an imaginary mail, and read them.

My dearest Mother:

It is impossible to tell you how happy your last letter made
us, for the news was so good we couldn’t help laughing and crying
over it. How very kind Mr. Brooke is, and how fortunate that Mr.
Laurence’s business detains him near you so long, since he is so
useful to you and Father. The girls are all as good as gold. Jo
helps me with the sewing, and insists on doing all sorts of hard
jobs. I should be afraid she might overdo, if I didn’t know her
‘moral fit’ wouldn’t last long. Beth is as regular about her tasks
as a clock, and never forgets what you told her. She grieves about
Father, and looks sober except when she is at her little piano. Amy
minds me nicely, and I take great care of her. She does her own
hair, and I am teaching her to make buttonholes and mend her stockings.
She tries very hard, and I know you will be pleased with her
improvement when you come. Mr. Laurence watches over us like a
motherly old hen, as Jo says, and Laurie is very kind and neighborly.
He and Jo keep us merry, for we get pretty blue sometimes, and feel
like orphans, with you so far away. Hannah is a perfect saint. She
does not scold at all, and always calls me Miss Margaret, which is
quite proper, you know, and treats me with respect. We are all
well and busy, but we long, day and night, to have you back. Give
my dearest love to Father, and believe me, ever your own . . .

MEG

This note, prettily written on scented paper, was a great
contrast to the next, which was scribbled on a big sheet of thin
foreign paper, ornamented with blots and all manner of flourishes
and curly-tailed letters.

My precious Marmee:

Three cheers for dear Father! Brooke was a trump to telegraph
right off, and let us know the minute he was better. I rushed up
garret when the letter came, and tried to thank god for being so
good to us, but I could only cry, and say, "I’m glad! I’m glad!"
Didn’t that do as well as a regular prayer? For I felt a great
many in my heart. We have such funny times, and now I can enjoy
them, for everyone is so desperately good, it’s like living in a
nest of turtledoves. You’d laugh to see Meg head the table and
try to be motherish. She gets prettier every day, and I’m in love
with her sometimes. The children are regular archangels, and I –
well, I’m Jo, and never shall be anything else. Oh, I must tell
you that I came near having a quarrel with Laurie. I freed my mind
about a silly little thing, and he was offended. I was right, but
didn’t speak as I ought, and he marched home, saying he wouldn’t
come again till I begged pardon. I declared I wouldn’t and got mad.
It lasted all day. I felt bad and wanted you very much. Laurie and
I are both so proud, it’s hard to beg pardon. But I thought he’d
come to it, for I was in the right. He didn’t come, and just at
night I remembered what you said when Amy fell into the river. I
read my little book, felt better, resolved not to let the sun set
on my anger, and ran over to tell Laurie I was sorry. I met him
at the gate, coming for the same thing. We both laughed, begged
each other’s pardon, and felt all good and comfortable again.

I made a ‘pome’ yesterday, when I was helping Hannah wash,
and as Father likes my silly little things, I put it in to amuse
him. Give him my lovingest hug that ever was, and kiss yourself
a dozen times for your . . .

TOPSY-TURVY JO

A SONG FROM THE SUDS

Queen of my tub, I merrily sing,

While the white foam rises high,

And sturdily wash and rinse and wring,

And fasten the clothes to dry.

Then out in the free fresh air they swing,

Under the sunny sky.

I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls

The stains of the week away,

And let water and air by their magic make

Ourselves as pure as they.

Then on the earth there would be indeed,

A glorious washing day!

Along the path of a useful life,

Will heartsease ever bloom.

The busy mind has no time to think

Of sorrow or care or gloom.

And anxious thoughts may be swept away,

As we bravely wield a broom.

I am glad a task to me is given,

To labor at day by day,

For it brings me health and strength and hope,

And I cheerfully learn to say,

"Head, you may think, Heart, you may feel,

But, Hand, you shall work alway!"

Dear Mother,

There is only room for me to send my love, and some pressed
pansies from the root I have been keeping safe in the house for
Father to see. I read every morning, try to be good all day, and
sing myself to sleep with Father’s tune. I can’t sing ‘LAND OF
THE LEAL’ now, it makes me cry. Everyone is very kind, and we are
as happy as we can be without you. Amy wants the rest of the page,
so I must stop. I didn’t forget to cover the holders, and I wind
the clock and air the rooms every day.

Kiss dear Father on the cheek he calls mine. Oh, do come soon
to your loving . . .

LITTLE BETH

Ma Chere Mamma,

We are all well I do my lessons always and never corroberate
the girls – Meg says I mean contradick so I put in both words and
you can take the properest. Meg is a great comfort to me and lets
me have jelly every night at tea its so good for me Jo says because
it keeps me sweet tempered. Laurie is not as respeckful as he ought
to be now I am almost in my teens, he calls me Chick and hurts my
feelings by talking French to me very fast when I say Merci or Bon
jour as Hattie King does. The sleeves of my blue dress were all
worn out, and Meg put in new ones, but the full front came wrong
and they are more blue than the dress. I felt bad but did not fret
I bear my troubles well but I do wish Hannah would put more starch
in my aprons and have buckwheats every day. Can’t she? Didn’t I
make that interrigation point nice? Meg says my punchtuation and
spelling are disgraceful and I am mortyfied but dear me I have so
many things to do, I can’t stop. Adieu, I send heaps of love to
Papa. Your affectionate daughter . . .

AMY CURTIS MARCH

Dear Mis March,

I jes drop a line to say we git on fust rate. The girls is
clever and fly round right smart. Miss Meg is going to make a
proper good housekeeper. She hes the liking for it, and gits the
hang of things surprisin quick. Jo doos beat all for goin ahead,
but she don’t stop to cal’k’late fust, and you never know where
she’s like to bring up. She done out a tub of clothes on Monday,
but she starched ’em afore they was wrenched, and blued a pink
calico dress till I thought I should a died a laughin. Beth is the
best of little creeters, and a sight of help to me, bein so
forehanded and dependable. She tries to learn everything, and really
goes to market beyond her years, likewise keeps accounts, with my
help, quite wonderful. We have got on very economical so fur. I
don’t let the girls hev coffee only once a week, accordin to your
wish, and keep em on plain wholesome vittles. Amy does well
without frettin, wearin her best clothes and eatin sweet stuff.
Mr. Laurie is as full of didoes as usual, and turns the house upside
down frequent, but he heartens the girls, so I let em hev full
swing. The old gentleman sends heaps of things, and is rather
wearin, but means wal, and it aint my place to say nothin. My
bread is riz, so no more at this time. I send my duty to Mr.
March, and hope he’s seen the last of his Pewmonia.

Yours respectful,

Hannah Mullet

Head Nurse of Ward No. 2,

All serene on the Rappahannock, troops in fine condition,
commisary department well conducted, the Home Guard under Colonel
Teddy always on duty, Commander in Chief General Laurence reviews
the army daily, Quartermaster Mullet keeps order in camp, and Major
Lion does picket duty at night. A salute of twenty-four guns was
fired on reciept of good news from Washington, and a dress parade
took place at headquarters. Commander in chief sends best wishes,
in which he is heartily joined by . . .

COLONEL TEDDY

Dear Madam:

The little girls are all well. Beth and my boy report daily.
Hannah is a model servant, and guards pretty Meg like a dragon.
Glad the fine weather holds. Pray make Brooke useful, and draw
on me for funds if expenses exceed your estimate. Don’t let your
husband want anything. Thank God he is mending.

Your sincere friend and servant,
JAMES LAURENCE

 

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