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Chapter 29 – Calls

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

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"Come, Jo, it’s time."

"For what?"

"You don’t mean to say you have forgotten that you promised
to make half a dozen calls with me today?"

"I’ve done a good many rash and foolish things in my life,
but I don’t think I ever was mad enough to say I’d make six calls
in one day, when a single one upsets me for a week."

"Yes, you did, it was a bargain between us. I was to finish
the crayon of Beth for you, and you were to go properly with me,
and return our neighbors’ visits."

"If it was fair, that was in the bond, and I stand to the
letter of my bond, Shylock. There is a pile of clouds in the east,
it’s not fair, and I don’t go."

"Now, that’s shirking. It’s a lovely day, no prospect of rain,
and you pride yourself on keeping promises, so be honorable, come
and do your duty, and then be at peace for another six months."

At that minute Jo was particularly absorbed in dressmaking,
for she was mantua-maker general to the family, and took especial
credit to herself because she could use a needle as well as a pen.
It was very provoking to be arrested in the act of a first trying-on,
and ordered out to make calls in her best array on a warm July day.
She hated calls of the formal sort, and never made any till Amy
compelled her with a bargain, bribe, or promise. In the present
instance there was no escape, and having clashed her scissors
rebelliously, while protesting that she smelled thunder, she gave in,
put away her work, and taking up her hat and gloves with an air of
resignation, told Amy the victim was ready.

"Jo March, you are perverse enough to provoke a saint! You don’t
intend to make calls in that state, I hope," cried Amy, surveying
her with amazement.

"Why not? I’m neat and cool and comfortable, quite proper
for a dusty walk on a warm day. If people care more for my
clothes than they do for me, I don’t wish to see them. You can
dress for both, and be as elegant as you please. It pays for
you to be fine. It doesn’t for me, and furbelows only worry me."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Amy, "now she’s in a contrary fit, and
will drive me distracted before I can get her properly ready.
I’m sure it’s no pleasure to me to go today, but it’s a debt we
owe society, and there’s no one to pay it but you and me. I’ll
do anything for you, Jo, if you’ll only dress yourself nicely,
and come and help me do the civil. You can talk so well, look
so aristocratic in your best things, and behave so beautifully,
if you try, that I’m proud of you. I’m afraid to go alone, do
come and take care of me."

"You’re an artful little puss to flatter and wheedle your
cross old sister in that way. The idea of my being aristocratic
and well-bred, and your being afraid to go anywhere alone! I
don’t know which is the most absurd. Well, I’ll go if I must,
and do my best. You shall be commander of the expedition, and
I’ll obey blindly, will that satisfy you?" said Jo, with a sudden
change from perversity to lamblike submission.

"You’re a perfect cherub! Now put on all your best things,
and I’ll tell you how to behave at each place, so that you will
make a good impression. I want people to like you, and they
would if you’d only try to be a little more agreeable. Do your
hair the pretty way, and put the pink rose in your bonnet. It’s
becoming, and you look too sober in your plain suit. Take your
light gloves and the embroidered handkerchief. We’ll stop at
Meg’s, and borrow her white sunshade, and then you can have my
dove-colored one."

While Amy dressed, she issued her orders, and Jo obeyed
them, not without entering her protest, however, for she sighed
as she rustled into her new organdie, frowned darkly at herself
as she tied her bonnet strings in an irreproachable bow,
wrestled viciously with pins as she put on her collar,
wrinkled up her features generally as she shook out the handkerchief,
whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the present mission
was to her feelings, and when she had squeezed her hands into
tight gloves with three buttons and a tassel, as the last touch
of elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression of
countenance, saying meekly . . .

"I’m perfectly miserable, but if you consider me presentable,
I die happy."

"You’re highly satisfactory. Turn slowly round, and let me get a
careful view." Jo revolved, and Amy gave a touch here and there,
then fell back, with her head on one side, observing graciously,
"Yes, you’ll do. Your head is all I could ask, for that white bonnet
with the rose is quite ravishing. Hold back your shoulders, and
carry your hands easily, no matter if your gloves do pinch. There’s
one thing you can do well, Jo, that is, wear a shawl. I can’t, but
it’s very nice to see you, and I’m so glad Aunt March gave you that
lovely one. It’s simple, but handsome, and those folds over the arm
are really artistic. Is the point of my mantle in the middle, and
have I looped my dress evenly? I like to show my boots, for my feet
are pretty, though my nose isn’t."

"You are a thing of beauty and a joy forever," said Jo, looking
through her hand with the air of a connoisseur at the blue feather
against the golden hair. "Am I to drag my best dress through the
dust, or loop it up, please, ma’am?"

"Hold it up when you walk, but drop it in the house. The
sweeping style suits you best, and you must learn to trail your
skirts gracefully. You haven’t half buttoned one cuff, do it at
once. You’ll never look finished if you are not careful about the
little details, for they make up the pleasing whole."

Jo sighed, and proceeded to burst the buttons off her glove,
in doing up her cuff, but at last both were ready, and sailed away,
looking as ‘pretty as picters’, Hannah said, as she hung out of the
upper window to watch them.

"Now, Jo dear, the Chesters consider themselves very elegant
people, so I want you to put on your best deportment. Don’t make
any of your abrupt remarks, or do anything odd, will you? Just be
calm, cool, and quiet, that’s safe and ladylike, and you can easily
do it for fifteen minutes," said Amy, as they approached the first
place, having borrowed the white parasol and been inspected by Meg,
with a baby on each arm.

"Let me see. ‘Calm, cool, and quiet’, yes, I think I can
promise that. I’ve played the part of a prim young lady on the
stage, and I’ll try it off. My powers are great, as you shall see,
so be easy in your mind, my child."

Amy looked relieved, but naughty Jo took her at her word, for
during the first call she sat with every limb gracefully
composed, every fold correctly draped, calm as a summer sea, cool
as a snowbank, and as silent as the sphinx. In vain Mrs. Chester
alluded to her ‘charming novel’, and the Misses Chester
introduced parties, picnics, the opera, and the fashions. Each
and all were answered by a smile, a bow, and a demure "Yes" or
"No" with the chill on. In vain Amy telegraphed the word ‘talk’,
tried to draw her out, and administered covert pokes with her
foot. Jo sat as if blandly unconscious of it all, with deportment
like Maud’s face, ‘icily regular, splendidly null’.

"What a haughty, uninteresting creature that oldest Miss March is!"
was the unfortunately audible remark of one of the ladies, as
the door closed upon their guests. Jo laughed noiselessly all
through the hall, but Amy looked disgusted at the failure of her
instructions, and very naturally laid the blame upon Jo.

"How could you mistake me so? I merely meant you to be properly
dignified and composed, and you made yourself a perfect stock and
stone. Try to be sociable at the Lambs’. Gossip as other girls do,
and be interested in dress and flirtations and whatever nonsense
comes up. They move in the best society, are valuable persons for
us to know, and I wouldn’t fail to make a good impression there for
anything."

"I’ll be agreeable. I’ll gossip and giggle, and have horrors
and raptures over any trifle you like. I rather enjoy this, and
now I’ll imitate what is called ‘a charming girl’. I can do it,
for I have May Chester as a model, and I’ll improve upon her. See if
the Lambs don’t say, ‘What a lively, nice creature that Jo March is!"

Amy felt anxious, as well she might, for when Jo turned freakish
there was no knowing where she would stop. Amy’s face was a
study when she saw her sister skim into the next drawing room, kiss
all the young ladies with effusion, beam graciously upon the young
gentlemen, and join in the chat with a spirit which amazed the beholder.
Amy was taken possession of by Mrs. Lamb, with whom she
was a favorite, and forced to hear a long account of Lucretia’s
last attack, while three delightful young gentlemen hovered near,
waiting for a pause when they might rush in and rescue her. So
situated, she was powerless to check Jo, who seemed possessed by
a spirit of mischief, and talked away as volubly as the lady. A
knot of heads gathered about her, and Amy strained her ears to hear
what was going on, for broken sentences filled her with curiosity,
and frequent peals of laughter made her wild to share the fun. One
may imagine her suffering on overhearing fragments of this sort of
conversation.

"She rides splendidly. Who taught her?"

"No one. She used to practice mounting, holding the reins, and
sitting straight on an old saddle in a tree. Now she rides anything,
for she doesn’t know what fear is, and the stableman lets her have
horses cheap because she trains them to carry ladies so well. She
has such a passion for it, I often tell her if everything else fails,
she can be a horsebreaker, and get her living so."

At this awful speech Amy contained herself with difficulty, for
the impression was being given that she was rather a fast young lady,
which was her especial aversion. But what could she do? For the
old lady was in the middle of her story, and long before it was done,
Jo was off again, making more droll revelations and committing still
more fearful blunders.

"Yes, Amy was in despair that day, for all the good beasts were
gone, and of three left, one was lame, one blind, and the other so
balky that you had to put dirt in his mouth before he would start.
Nice animal for a pleasure party, wasn’t it?"

"Which did she choose?" asked one of the laughing gentlemen,
who enjoyed the subject.

"None of them. She heard of a young horse at the farm house
over the river, and though a lady had never ridden him, she resolved
to try, because he was handsome and spirited. Her struggles
were really pathetic. There was no one to bring the horse to the
saddle, so she took the saddle to the horse. My dear creature, she
actually rowed it over the river, put it on her head, and marched
up to the barn to the utter amazement of the old man!"

"Did she ride the horse?"

"Of course she did, and had a capital time. I expected to see
her brought home in fragments, but she managed him perfectly, and
was the life of the party."

"Well, I call that plucky!" and young Mr. Lamb turned an approving
glance upon Amy, wondering what his mother could be saying to make
the girl look so red and uncomfortable.

She was still redder and more uncomfortable a moment after,
when a sudden turn in the conversation introduced the subject of
dress. One of the young ladies asked Jo where she got the pretty
drab hat she wore to the picnic and stupid Jo, instead of mentioning
the place where it was bought two years ago, must needs answer
with unnecessary frankness, "Oh, Amy painted it. You can’t buy
those soft shades, so we paint ours any color we like. It’s a great
comfort to have an artistic sister."

"Isn’t that an original idea?" cried Miss Lamb, who found Jo great fun.

"That’s nothing compared to some of her brilliant performances.
There’s nothing the child can’t do. Why, she wanted a pair of blue
boots for Sallie’s party, so she just painted her soiled white ones
the loveliest shade of sky blue you ever saw, and they looked
exactly like satin," added Jo, with an air of pride in her sister’s
accomplishments that exasperated Amy till she felt that it would be
a relief to throw her cardcase at her.

"We read a story of yours the other day, and enjoyed it very much,"
observed the elder Miss Lamb, wishing to compliment the literary
lady, who did not look the character just then, it must be confessed.

Any mention of her ‘works’ always had a bad effect upon Jo,
who either grew rigid and looked offended, or changed the subject
with a brusque remark, as now. "Sorry you could find nothing better
to read. I write that rubbish because it sells, and ordinary people
like it. Are you going to New York this winter?"

As Miss Lamb had ‘enjoyed’ the story, this speech was not exactly
grateful or complimentary. The minute it was made Jo saw her
mistake, but fearing to make the matter worse, suddenly remembered
that it was for her to make the first move toward departure, and did
so with an abruptness that left three people with half-finished
sentences in their mouths.

"Amy, we must go. Good-by, dear, do come and see us. We are
pining for a visit. I don’t dare to ask you, Mr. Lamb, but if you
should come, I don’t think I shall have the heart to send you away."

Jo said this with such a droll imitation of May Chester’s
gushing style that Amy got out of the room as rapidly as possible,
feeling a strong desire to laugh and cry at the same time.

"Didn’t I do well?" asked Jo, with a satisfied air as they walked away.

"Nothing could have been worse," was Amy’s crushing reply.
"What possessed you to tell those stories about my saddle, and
the hats and boots, and all the rest of it?"

"Why, it’s funny, and amuses people. They know we are poor,
so it’s no use pretending that we have grooms, buy three or
four hats a season, and have things as easy and fine as they do."

"You needn’t go and tell them all our little shifts, and
expose our poverty in that perfectly unnecessary way. You haven’t
a bit of proper pride, and never will learn when to hold your
tongue and when to speak," said Amy despairingly.

Poor Jo looked abashed, and silently chafed the end of her
nose with the stiff handkerchief, as if performing a penance for
her misdemeanors.

"How shall I behave here?" she asked, as they approached the
third mansion.

"Just as you please. I wash my hands of you," was Amy’s short
answer.

"Then I’ll enjoy myself. The boys are at home, and we’ll have
a comfortable time. Goodness knows I need a little change, for
elegance has a bad effect upon my constitution," returned Jo gruffly,
being disturbed by her failure to suit.

An enthusiastic welcome from three big boys and several pretty
children speedily soothed her ruffled feelings, and leaving Amy to
entertain the hostess and Mr. Tudor, who happened to be calling
likewise, Jo devoted herself to the young folks and found the
change refreshing. She listened to college stories with deep interest,
caressed pointers and poodles without a murmur, agreed heartily
that "Tom Brown was a brick," regardless of the improper form
of praise, and when one lad proposed a visit to his turtle tank,
she went with an alacrity which caused Mamma to smile upon her,
as that motherly lady settled the cap which was left in a ruinous
condition by filial hugs, bearlike but affectionate, and dearer to
her than the most faultless coiffure from the hands of an inspired
Frenchwoman.

Leaving her sister to her own devices, Amy proceeded to enjoy
herself to her heart’s content. Mr. Tudor’s uncle had married an
English lady who was third cousin to a living lord, and Amy regarded
the whole family with great respect, for in spite of her American
birth and breeding, she possessed that reverence for titles which
haunts the best of us – that unacknowledged loyalty to the early
faith in kings which set the most democratic nation under the sun
in ferment at the coming of a royal yellow-haired laddie, some years
ago, and which still has something to do with the love the young
country bears the old, like that of a big son for an imperious little
mother, who held him while she could, and let him go with a farewell
scolding when he rebelled. But even the satisfaction of talking with
a distant connection of the British nobility did not render Amy forgetful
of time, and when the proper number of minutes had passed, she
reluctantly tore herself from this aristocratic society, and looked
about for Jo, fervently hoping that her incorrigible sister would not
be found in any position which should bring disgrace upon the name of
March.

It might have been worse, but Amy considered it bad. For Jo
sat on the grass, with an encampment of boys about her, and a
dirty-footed dog reposing on the skirt of her state and festival dress,
as she related one of Laurie’s pranks to her admiring audience. One
small child was poking turtles with Amy’s cherished parasol, a second
was eating gingerbread over Jo’s best bonnet, and a third playing
ball with her gloves, but all were enjoying themselves, and when Jo
collected her damaged property to go, her escort accompanied her,
begging her to come again, "It was such fun to hear about Laurie’s
larks."

"Capital boys, aren’t they? I feel quite young and brisk again
after that." said Jo, strolling along with her hands behind her,
partly from habit, partly to conceal the bespattered parasol.

"Why do you always avoid Mr. Tudor?" asked Amy, wisely refraining
from any comment upon Jo’s dilapidated appearance.

"Don’t like him, he puts on airs, snubs his sisters, worries
his father, and doesn’t speak respectfully of his mother. Laurie
says he is fast, and I don’t consider him a desirable acquaintance,
so I let him alone."

"You might treat him civilly, at least. You gave him a cool
nod, and just now you bowed and smiled in the politest way to
Tommy Chamberlain, whose father keeps a grocery store. If you
had just reversed the nod and the bow, it would have been right,"
said Amy reprovingly.

"No, it wouldn’t," returned Jo, "I neither like, respect, nor
admire Tudor, though his grandfather’s uncle’s nephew’s niece was
a third cousin to a lord. Tommy is poor and bashful and good and
very clever. I think well of him, and like to show that I do, for
he is a gentleman in spite of the brown paper parcels."

"It’s no use trying to argue with you," began Amy.

"Not the least, my dear," interrupted Jo, "so let us look
amiable, and drop a card here, as the Kings are evidently out,
for which I’m deeply grateful."

The family cardcase having done its duty the girls walked
on, and Jo uttered another thanksgiving on reaching the fifth
house, and being told that the young ladies were engaged.

"Now let us go home, and never mind Aunt March today. We
can run down there any time, and it’s really a pity to trail
through the dust in our best bibs and tuckers, when we are
tired and cross."

"Speak for yourself, if you please. Aunt March likes to have us
pay her the compliment of coming in style, and making a formal call.
It’s a little thing to do, but it gives her pleasure, and I don’t
believe it will hurt your things half so much as letting dirty dogs
and clumping boys spoil them. Stoop down, and let me take the
crumbs off of your bonnet."

"What a good girl you are, Amy!" said Jo, with a repentant
glance from her own damaged costume to that of her sister, which
was fresh and spotless still. "I wish it was as easy for me to do
little things to please people as it is for you. I think of them,
but it takes too much time to do them, so I wait for a chance to
confer a great favor, and let the small ones slip, but they tell
best in the end, I fancy."

Amy smiled and was mollified at once, saying with a maternal
air, "Women should learn to be agreeable, particularly poor ones,
for they have no other way of repaying the kindnesses they receive.
If you’d remember that, and practice it, you’d be better liked
than I am, because there is more of you."

"I’m a crotchety old thing, and always shall be, but I’m
willing to own that you are right, only it’s easier for me to
risk my life for a person than to be pleasant to him when I don’t
feel like it. It’s a great misfortune to have such strong likes
and dislikes, isn’t it?"

"It’s a greater not to be able to hide them. I don’t mind
saying that I don’t approve of Tudor any more than you do, but I’m
not called upon to tell him so. Neither are you, and there is no
use in making yourself disagreeable because he is."

"But I think girls ought to show when they disapprove of
young men, and how can they do it except by their manners?
Preaching does not do any good, as I know to my sorrow, since I’ve
had Teddie to manage. But there are many little ways in which I can
influence him without a word, and I say we ought to do it to others
if we can."

"Teddy is a remarkable boy, and can’t be taken as a sample
of other boys," said Amy, in a tone of solemn conviction, which
would have convulsed the ‘remarkable boy’ if he had heard it. "If
we were belles, or women of wealth and position, we might do something,
perhaps, but for us to frown at one set of young gentlemen because
we don’t approve of them, and smile upon another set because
we do, wouldn’t have a particle of effect, and we should
only be considered odd and puritanical."

"So we are to countenance things and people which we detest,
merely because we are not belles and millionaires, are we?
That’s a nice sort of morality."

"I can’t argue about it, I only know that it’s the way of
the world, and people who set themselves against it only get
laughed at for their pains. I don’t like reformers, and I hope
you never try to be one."

"I do like them, and I shall be one if I can, for in spite of
the laughing the world would never get on without them. We can’t
agree about that, for you belong to the old set, and I to the new.
You will get on the best, but I shall have the liveliest time of it.
I should rather enjoy the brickbats and hooting, I think."

"Well, compose yourself now, and don’t worry Aunt with your
new ideas."

"I’ll try not to, but I’m always possessed to burst out with
some particularly blunt speech or revolutionary sentiment before
her. It’s my doom, and I can’t help it."

They found Aunt Carrol with the old lady, both absorbed in
some very interesting subject, but they dropped it as the girls
came in, with a conscious look which betrayed that they had been
talking about their nieces. Jo was not in a good humor, and the
perverse fit returned, but Amy, who had virtuously done her duty,
kept her temper and pleased everybody, was in a most angelic frame
of mind. This amiable spirit was felt at once, and both aunts ‘my
deared’ her affectionately, looking what they afterward said
emphatically, "That child improves every day."

"Are you going to help about the fair, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol,
as Amy sat down beside her with the confiding air elderly people like
so well in the young.

"Yes, Aunt. Mrs. Chester asked me if I would, and I offered to
tend a table, as I have nothing but my time to give."

"I’m not," put in Jo decidedly. "I hate to be patronized, and
the Chesters think it’s a great favor to allow us to help with their
highly connected fair. I wonder you consented, Amy, they only want
you to work."

"I am willing to work. It’s for the freedmen as well as the
Chesters, and I think it very kind of them to let me share the
labor and the fun. Patronage does not trouble me when it is well
meant."

"Quite right and proper. I like your grateful spirit, my dear.
It’s a pleasure to help people who appreciate our efforts. Some do
not, and that is trying," observed Aunt March, looking over her
spectacles at Jo, who sat apart, rocking herself, with a somewhat
morose expression.

If Jo had only known what a great happiness was wavering in
the balance for one of them, she would have turned dove-like in a
minute, but unfortunately, we don’t have windows in our breasts,
and cannot see what goes on in the minds of our friends. Better
for us that we cannot as a general thing, but now and then it
would be such a comfort, such a saving of time and temper. By her
next speech, Jo deprived herself of several years of pleasure, and
received a timely lesson in the art of holding her tongue.

"I don’t like favors, they oppress and make me feel like a
slave. I’d rather do everything for myself, and be perfectly
independent."

"Ahem!" coughed Aunt Carrol softly, with a look at Aunt March.

"I told you so," said Aunt March, with a decided nod to Aunt Carrol.

Mercifully unconscious of what she had done, Jo sat with her nose in
the air, and a revolutionary aspect which was anything but inviting.

"Do you speak French, dear?" asked Mrs. Carrol, laying a hand on Amy’s.

"Pretty well, thanks to Aunt March, who lets Esther talk to
me as often as I like," replied Amy, with a grateful look, which
caused the old lady to smile affably.

"How are you about languages?" asked Mrs. Carrol of Jo.

"Don’t know a word. I’m very stupid about studying anything,
can’t bear French, it’s such a slippery, silly sort of language,"
was the brusque reply.

Another look passed between the ladies, and Aunt March said
to Amy, "You are quite strong and well now, dear, I believe? Eyes
don’t trouble you any more, do they?"

"Not at all, thank you, ma’am. I’m very well, and mean to do
great things next winter, so that I may be ready for Rome, whenever
that joyful time arrives."

"Good girl! You deserve to go, and I’m sure you will some
day," said Aunt March, with an approving pat on the head, as Amy
picked up her ball for her.

Crosspatch, draw the latch,

Sit by the fire and spin,

squalled Polly, bending down from his perch on the back of her
chair to peep into Jo’s face, with such a comical air of impertinent
inquiry that it was impossible to help laughing.

"Most observing bird," said the old lady.

"Come and take a walk, my dear?" cried Polly, hopping toward
the china closet, with a look suggestive of a lump of sugar.

"Thank you, I will. Come Amy." and Jo brought the visit to
an end, feeling more strongly than ever that calls did have a bad
effect upon her constitution. She shook hands in a gentlemanly
manner, but Amy kissed both the aunts, and the girls departed,
leaving behind them the impression of shadow and sunshine, which
impression caused Aunt March to say, as they vanished . . .

"You’d better do it, Mary. I’ll supply the money." and Aunt
Carrol to reply decidedly, "I certainly will, if her father and
mother consent."

 

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