FictionForest

Chapter 19 – Amy’s Will

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

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While these things were happening at home, Amy was having
hard times at Aunt March’s. She felt her exile deeply, and
for the first time in her life, realized how much she was
beloved and petted at home. Aunt March never petted any one;
she did not approve of it, but she meant to be kind, for the
well-behaved little girl pleased her very much, and Aunt March had
a soft place in her old heart for her nephew’s children, though
she didn’t think it proper to confess it. She really did her
best to make Amy happy, but, dear me, what mistakes she made.
Some old people keep young at heart in spite of wrinkles and
gray hairs, can sympathize with children’s little cares and
joys, make them feel at home, and can hide wise lessons under
pleasant plays, giving and receiving friendship in the sweetest
way. But Aunt March had not this gift, and she worried Amy very
much with her rules and orders, her prim ways, and long, prosy
talks. Finding the child more docile and amiable than her sister,
the old lady felt it her duty to try and counteract, as far as
possible, the bad effects of home freedom and indulgence. So she
took Amy by the hand, and taught her as she herself had been
taught sixty years ago, a process which carried dismay to Amy’s
soul, and made her feel like a fly in the web of a very strict
spider.

She had to wash the cups every morning, and polish up the
old-fashioned spoons, the fat silver teapot, and the glasses till
they shone. Then she must dust the room, and what a trying job
that was. Not a speck escaped Aunt March’s eye, and all the
furniture had claw legs and much carving, which was never dusted
to suit. Then Polly had to be fed, the lap dog combed, and a
dozen trips upstairs and down to get things or deliver orders,
for the old lady was very lame and seldom left her big chair. After
these tiresome labors, she must do her lessons, which was a daily
trial of every virtue she possessed. Then she was allowed one
hour for exercise or play, and didn’t she enjoy it?

Laurie came every day, and wheedled Aunt March till Amy was
allowed to go out with him, when they walked and rode and had
capital times. After dinner, she had to read aloud, and sit still
while the old lady slept, which she usually did for an hour, as
she dropped off over the first page. Then patchwork or towels
appeared, and Amy sewed with outward meekness and inward rebellion
till dusk, when she was allowed to amuse herself as she liked
till teatime. The evenings were the worst of all, for Aunt March
fell to telling long stories about her youth, which were so
unutterably dull that Amy was always ready to go to bed, intending
to cry over her hard fate, but usually going to sleep before
she had squeezed out more than a tear or two.

If it had not been for Laurie, and old Esther, the maid,
she felt that she never could have got through that dreadful
time. The parrot alone was enough to drive her distracted, for
he soon felt that she did not admire him, and revenged himself
by being as mischievous as possible. He pulled her hair
whenever she came near him, upset his bread and milk to plague her
when she had newly cleaned his cage, made Mop bark by pecking
at him while Madam dozed, called her names before company, and
behaved in all respects like an reprehensible old bird. Then she
could not endure the dog, a fat, cross beast who snarled and
yelped at her when she made his toilet, and who lay on his back
with all his legs in the air and a most idiotic expression of
countenance when he wanted something to eat, which was about a
dozen times a day. The cook was bad-tempered, the old coachman
was deaf, and Esther the only one who ever took any notice of
the young lady.

Esther was a Frenchwoman, who had lived with’Madame’, as
she called her mistress, for many years, and who rather
tyrannized over the old lady, who could not get along without her.
Her real name was Estelle, but Aunt March ordered her to change it,
and she obeyed, on condition that she was never asked to change
her religion. She took a fancy to Mademoiselle, and amused her
very much with odd stories of her life in France, when Amy sat
with her while she got up Madame’s laces. She also allowed her
to roam about the great house, and examine the curious and pretty
things stored away in the big wardrobes and the ancient chests,
for Aunt March hoarded like a magpie. Amy’s chief delight was
an Indian cabinet, full of queer drawers, little pigeonholes,
and secret places, in which were kept all sorts of ornaments,
some precious, some merely curious, all more or less antique.
To examine and arrange these things gave Amy great satisfaction,
especially the jewel cases, in which on velvet cushions reposed
the ornaments which had adorned a belle forty years ago. There
was the garnet set which Aunt March wore when she came out, the
pearls her father gave her on her wedding day, her lover’s diamonds,
the jet mourning rings and pins, the queer lockets, with portraits
of dead friends and weeping willows made of hair inside, the baby
bracelets her one little daughter had worn, Uncle March’s big
watch, with the red seal so many childish hands had played with,
and in a box all by itself lay Aunt March’s wedding ring, too small
now for her fat finger, but put carefully away like the most
precious jewel of them all.

"Which would Mademoiselle choose if she had her will?" asked
Esther, who always sat near to watch over and lock up the valuables.

"I like the diamonds best, but there is no necklace among them,
and I’m fond of necklaces, they are so becoming. I should choose
this if I might," replied Amy, looking with great admiration at a
string of gold and ebony beads from which hung a heavy cross of
the same.

"I, too, covet that, but not as a necklace. Ah, no! To me it
is a rosary, and as such I should use it like a good catholic," said
Esther, eyeing the handsome thing wistfully.

"Is it meant to use as you use the string of good-smelling
wooden beads hanging over your glass?" asked Amy.

"Truly, yes, to pray with. It would be pleasing to the saints
if one used so fine a rosary as this, instead of wearing it as a
vain bijou."

"You seem to take a great deal of comfort in your prayers,
Esther, and always come down looking quiet and satisfied. I wish
I could."

"If Mademoiselle was a Catholic, she would find true comfort,
but as that is not to be, it would be well if you went apart each
day to meditate and pray, as did the good mistress whom I served
before Madame. She had a little chapel, and in it found solacement
for much trouble."

"Would it be right for me to do so too?" asked Amy, who in
her loneliness felt the need of help of some sort, and found that
she was apt to forget her little book, now that Beth was not there
to remind her of it.

"It would be excellent and charming, and I shall gladly
arrange the little dressing room for you if you like it. Say
nothing to Madame, but when she sleeps go you and sit alone a
while to think good thoughts, and pray the dear God preserve
your sister."

Esther was truly pious, and quite sincere in her advice, for
she had an affectionate heart, and felt much for the sisters in
their anxiety. Amy liked the idea, and gave her leave to arrange
the light closet next her room, hoping it would do her good.

"I wish I knew where all these pretty things would go when
Aunt March dies," she said, as she slowly replaced the shining
rosary and shut the jewel cases one by one.

"To you and your sisters. I know it, Madame confides in me.
I witnessed her will, and it is to be so," whispered Esther smiling.

"How nice! But I wish she’d let us have them now.
Procrastination is not agreeable," observed Amy, taking a last
look at the diamonds.

"It is too soon yet for the young ladies to wear these things.
The first one who is affianced will have the pearls, Madame has said
it, and I have a fancy that the little turquoise ring will be given
to you when you go, for Madame approves your good behavior and
charming manners."

"Do you think so? Oh, I’ll be a lamb, if I can only have that
lovely ring! It’s ever so much prettier than Kitty Bryant’s. I do
like Aunt March after all." And Amy tried on the blue ring with a
delighted face and a firm resolve to earn it.

From that day she was a model of obedience, and the old lady
complacently admired the success of her training. Esther fitted
up the closet with a little table, placed a footstool before it,
and over it a picture taken from one of the shut-up rooms. She
thought it was of no great value, but, being appropriate, she
borrowed it, well knowing that Madame would never know it, nor
care if she did. It was, however, a very valuable copy of one of
the famous pictures of the world, and Amy’s beauty-loving eyes were
never tired of looking up at the sweet face of the Divine Mother,
while her tender thoughts of her own were busy at her heart. On
the table she laid her little testament and hymnbook, kept a vase
always full of the best flowers Laurie brought her, and came every
day to ‘sit alone’ thinking good thoughts, and praying the dear
God to preserve her sister. Esther had given her a rosary of black
beads with a silver cross, but Amy hung it up and did not use it,
feeling doubtful as to its fitness for Protestant prayers.

The little girl was very sincere in all this, for being left
alone outside the safe home nest, she felt the need of some kind
hand to hold by so sorely that she instinctively turned to the
strong and tender Friend, whose fatherly love most closely
surrounds His little children. She missed her mother’s help to
understand and rule herself, but having been taught where to look,
she did her best to find the way and walk in it confidingly. But,
Amy was a young pilgrim, and just now her burden seemed very heavy.
She tried to forget herself, to keep cheerful, and be satisfied with
doing right, though no one saw or praised her for it. In her first
effort at being very, very good, she decided to make her will, as
Aunt March had done, so that if she did fall ill and die, her
possessions might be justly and generously divided. It cost her a pang
even to think of giving up the little treasures which in her eyes
were as precious as the old lady’s jewels.

During one of her play hours she wrote out the important
document as well as she could, with some help from Esther as
to certain legal terms, and when the good-natured Frenchwoman
had signed her name, Amy felt relieved and laid it by to show
Laurie, whom she wanted as a second witness. As it was a rainy
day, she went upstairs to amuse herself in one of the large
chambers, and took Polly with her for company. In this room
there was a wardrobe full of old-fashioned costumes with which
Esther allowed her to play, and it was her favorite amusement to
array herself in the faded brocades, and parade up and down before
the long mirror, making stately curtsies, and sweeping her train
about with a rustle which delighted her ears. So busy was she on
this day that she did not hear Laurie’s ring nor see his face
peeping in at her as she gravely promenaded to and fro, flirting
her fan and tossing her head, on which she wore a great pink turban,
contrasting oddly with her blue brocade dress and yellow quilted
petticoat. She was obliged to walk carefully, for she had on
highheeled shoes, and, as Laurie told Jo afterward, it was a comical
sight to see her mince along in her gay suit, with Polly sidling
and bridling just behind her, imitating her as well as he could,
and occasionally stopping to laugh or exclaim, "Ain’t we fine?
Get along, you fright! Hold your tongue! Kiss me, dear! Ha! Ha!"

Having with difficulty restrained an explosion of merriment,
lest it should offend her majesty, Laurie tapped and was graciously
received.

"Sit down and rest while I put these things away, then I want
to consult you about a very serious matter," said Amy, when she
had shown her splendor and driven Polly into a corner. "That bird
is the trial of my life," she continued, removing the pink mountain
from her head, while Laurie seated himself astride a chair.

"Yesterday, when Aunt was asleep and I was trying to be as still as a
mouse, Polly began to squall and flap about in his cage, so I went
to let him out, and found a big spider there. I poked it out, and
it ran under the bookcase. Polly marched straight after it, stooped
down and peeped under the bookcase, saying, in his funny way, with a
cock of his eye, ‘Come out and take a walk, my dear.’ I couldn’t help
laughing, which made Poll swear, and Aunt woke up and scolded us both."

"Did the spider accept the old fellow’s invitation?" asked Laurie,
yawning.

"Yes, out it came, and away ran Polly, frightened to death, and
scrambled up on Aunt’s chair, calling out, ‘Catch her! Catch her!
Catch her!’ as I chased the spider."

"That’s a lie! Oh, lor!" cried the parrot, pecking at Laurie’s toes.

"I’d wring your neck if you were mine, you old torment," cried
Laurie, shaking his fist at the bird, who put his head on one side
and gravely croaked, "Allyluyer! bless your buttons, dear!"

"Now I’m ready," said Amy, shutting the wardrobe and taking a
piece of paper out of her pocket. "I want you to read that, please,
and tell me if it is legal and right. I felt I ought to do it, for
life is uncertain and I don’t want any ill feeling over my tomb."

Laurie bit his lips, and turning a little from the pensive
speaker, read the following document, with praiseworthy gravity,
considering the spelling:

MY LAST WILL AND TESTIMENT

I, Amy Curtis March, being in my sane mind, go give and
bequeethe all my earthly property – viz. to wit: – namely

To my father, my best pictures, sketches, maps, and works
of art, including frames. Also my $100, to do what he likes with.

To my mother, all my clothes, except the blue apron with
pockets – also my likeness, and my medal, with much love.

To my dear sister Margaret, I give my turkquoise ring (if I
get it), also my green box with the doves on it, also my piece
of real lace for her neck, and my sketch of her as a memorial of
her ‘little girl’.

To Jo I leave my breastpin, the one mended with sealing wax,
also my bronze inkstand – she lost the cover – and my most precious
plaster rabbit, because I am sorry I burned up her story.

To Beth (if she lives after me) I give my dolls and the
little bureau, my fan, my linen collars and my new slippers if
she can wear them being thin when she gets well. And I herewith
also leave her my regret that I ever made fun of old Joanna.

To my friend and neighbor Theodore Laurence I bequeethe my
paper mashay portfolio, my clay model of a horse though he did
say it hadn’t any neck. Also in return for his great kindness
in the hour of affliction any one of my artistic works he likes,
Noter Dame is the best.

To our venerable benefactor Mr. Laurence I leave my purple
box with a looking glass in the cover which will be nice for
his pens and remind him of the departed girl who thanks him
for his favors to her family, especially Beth.

I wish my favorite playmate Kitty Bryant to have the blue
silk apron and my gold-bead ring with a kiss.

To Hannah I give the bandbox she wanted and all the patchwork
I leave hoping she ‘will remember me, when it you see’.

And now having disposed of my most valuable property I hope
all will be satisfied and not blame the dead. I forgive everyone,
and trust we may all meet when the trump shall sound. Amen.

To this will and testiment I set my hand and seal on this
20th day of Nov. Anni Domino 1861.

Amy Curtis March

Witnesses:

Estelle Valnor,
Theodore Laurence.

The last name was written in pencil, and Amy explained
that he was to rewrite it in ink and seal it up for her properly.

"What put it into your head? Did anyone tell you about Beth’s
giving away her things?" asked Laurie soberly, as Amy laid a bit
of red tape, with sealing wax, a taper, and a standish before him.

She explained and then asked anxiously, "What about Beth?"

"I’m sorry I spoke, but as I did, I’ll tell you. She felt so
ill one day that she told Jo she wanted to give her piano to Meg,
her cats to you, and the poor old doll to Jo, who would love it for
her sake. She was sorry she had so little to give, and left locks
of hair to the rest of us, and her best love to Grandpa. She never
thought of a will."

Laurie was signing and sealing as he spoke, and did not look
up till a great tear dropped on the paper. Amy’s face was full
of trouble, but she only said, "Don’t people put sort of
postscripts to their wills, sometimes?"

"Yes, ‘codicils’, they call them."

"Put one in mine then, that I wish all my curls cut off, and
given round to my friends. I forgot it, but I want it done though
it will spoil my looks."

Laurie added it, smiling at Amy’s last and greatest sacrifice.
Then he amused her for an hour, and was much interested in all her
trials. But when he came to go, Amy held him back to whisper with
trembling lips, "Is there really any danger about Beth?"

"I’m afraid there is, but we must hope for the best, so don’t
cry, dear." And Laurie put his arm about her with a brotherly
gesture which was very comforting.

When he had gone, she went to her little chapel, and sitting
in the twilight, prayed for Beth, with streaming tears and an
aching heart, feeling that a million turquoise rings would not
console her for the loss of her gentle little sister.

 

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