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Chapter 31 – Our Foreign Correspondent

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

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London

Dearest People,
Here I really sit at a front window of the Bath Hotel,
Piccadilly. It’s not a fashionable place, but Uncle stopped
here years ago, and won’t go anywhere else. However, we don’t
mean to stay long, so it’s no great matter. Oh, I can’t begin
to tell you how I enjoy it all! I never can, so I’ll only give
you bits out of my notebook, for I’ve done nothing but sketch
and scribble since I started.

I sent a line from Halifax, when I felt pretty miserable,
but after that I got on delightfully, seldom ill, on deck all
day, with plenty of pleasant people to amuse me. Everyone was
very kind to me, especially the officers. Don’t laugh, Jo,
gentlemen really are very necessary aboard ship, to hold on to,
or to wait upon one, and as they have nothing to do, it’s a mercy
to make them useful, otherwise they would smoke themselves to death,
I’m afraid.

Aunt and Flo were poorly all the way, and liked to be let
alone, so when I had done what I could for them, I went and
enjoyed myself. Such walks on deck, such sunsets, such splendid
air and waves! It was almost as exciting as riding a fast horse,
when we went rushing on so grandly. I wish Beth could have come,
it would have done her so much good. As for Jo, she would have
gone up and sat on the maintop jib, or whatever the high thing
is called, made friends with the engineers, and tooted on the
captain’s speaking trumpet, she’d have been in such a state of
rapture.

It was all heavenly, but I was glad to see the Irish coast,
and found it very lovely, so green and sunny, with brown cabins
here and there, ruins on some of the hills, and gentlemen’s
countryseats in the valleys, with deer feeding in the parks.
It was early in the morning, but I didn’t regret getting up to
see it, for the bay was full of little boats, the shore so picturesque,
and a rosy sky overhead. I never shall forget it.

At Queenstown one of my new acquaintances left us, Mr.
Lennox, and when I said something about the Lakes of Killarney,
he sighed, and sung, with a look at me . . .

"Oh, have you e’er heard of Kate Kearney?

She lives on the banks of Killarney;

From the glance of her eye,

Shun danger and fly,

For fatal’s the glance of Kate Kearney."

Wasn’t that nonsensical?

We only stopped at Liverpool a few hours. It’s a dirty,
noisy place, and I was glad to leave it. Uncle rushed out and
bought a pair of dogskin gloves, some ugly, thick shoes, and an
umbrella, and got shaved ‘a la mutton chop, the first thing.
Then he flattered himself that he looked like a true Briton,
but the first time he had the mud cleaned off his shoes, the
little bootblack knew that an American stood in them, and said,
with a grin, "There yer har, sir. I’ve given ’em the latest
Yankee shine." It amused Uncle immensely. Oh, I must tell you
what that absurd Lennox did! He got his friend Ward, who came
on with us, to order a bouquet for me, and the first thing I
saw in my room was a lovely one, with "Robert Lennox’s compliments,"
on the card. Wasn’t that fun, girls? I like traveling.

I never shall get to London if I don’t hurry. The trip was
like riding through a long picture gallery, full of lovely landscapes.
The farmhouses were my delight, with thatched roofs,
ivy up to the eaves, latticed windows, and stout women with rosy
children at the doors. The very cattle looked more tranquil
than ours, as they stood knee-deep in clover, and the hens had
a contented cluck, as if they never got nervous like Yankee
biddies. Such perfect color I never saw, the grass so green, sky
so blue, grain so yellow, woods so dark, I was in a rapture all
the way. So was Flo, and we kept bouncing from one side to the
other, trying to see everything while we were whisking along at
the rate of sixty miles an hour. Aunt was tired and went to sleep,
but Uncle read his guidebook, and wouldn’t be astonished at anything.
This is the way we went on. Amy, flying up – "Oh, that
must be Kenilworth, that gray place among the trees!" Flo, darting
to my window – "How sweet! We must go there sometime, won’t we
Papa?" Uncle, calmly admiring his boots – "No, my dear, not unless
you want beer, that’s a brewery."

A pause – then Flo cried out, "Bless me, there’s a gallows and
a man going up." "Where, where?" shrieks Amy, staring out at two
tall posts with a crossbeam and some dangling chains. "A colliery,"
remarks Uncle, with a twinkle of the eye. "Here’s a lovely flock
of lambs all lying down," says Amy. "See, Papa, aren’t they
pretty?" added Flo sentimentally. "Geese, young ladies," returns
Uncle, in a tone that keeps us quiet till Flo settles down to
enjoy the Flirtations of Captain Cavendish, and I have the scenery
all to myself.

Of course it rained when we got to London, and there was
nothing to be seen but fog and umbrellas. We rested, unpacked,
and shopped a little between the showers. Aunt Mary got me some
new things, for I came off in such a hurry I wasn’t half ready.
A white hat and blue feather, a muslin dress to match, and the
loveliest mantle you ever saw. Shopping in Regent Street is
perfectly splendid. Things seem so cheap, nice ribbons only
sixpence a yard. I laid in a stock, but shall get my gloves
in Paris. Doesn’t that sound sort of elegant and rich?

Flo and I, for the fun of it, ordered a hansom cab, while
Aunt and Uncle were out, and went for a drive, though we learned
afterward that it wasn’t the thing for young ladies to ride in
them alone. It was so droll! For when we were shut in by the
wooden apron, the man drove so fast that Flo was frightened, and
told me to stop him, but he was up outside behind somewhere,
and I couldn’t get at him. He didn’t hear me call, nor see me
flap my parasol in front, and there we were, quite helpless,
rattling away, and whirling around corners at a breakneck pace.
At last, in my despair, I saw a little door in the roof, and on
poking it open, a red eye appeared, and a beery voice said . . .

"Now, then, mum?"

I gave my order as soberly as I could, and slamming down
the door, with an "Aye, aye, mum," the man made his horse walk,
as if going to a funeral. I poked again and said, "A little
faster," then off he went, helter-skelter as before, and we
resigned ourselves to our fate.

Today was fair, and we went to Hyde Park, close by, for we
are more aristocratic than we look. The Duke of Devonshire lives
near. I often see his footmen lounging at the back gate, and
the Duke of Wellington’s house is not far off. Such sights as I
saw, my dear! It was as good as Punch, for there were fat dowagers
rolling about in their red and yellow coaches, with gorgeous
Jeameses in silk stockings and velvet coats, up behind, and powdered
coachmen in front. Smart maids, with the rosiest children
I ever saw, handsome girls, looking half asleep, dandies in queer
English hats and lavender kids lounging about, and tall soldiers,
in short red jackets and muffin caps stuck on one side, looking
so funny I longed to sketch them.

Rotten Row means ‘Route de Roi’, or the king’s way, but
now it’s more like a riding school than anything else. The
horses are splendid, and the men, especially the grooms, ride
well, but the women are stiff, and bounce, which isn’t according
to our rules. I longed to show them a tearing American
gallop, for they trotted solemnly up and down, in their scant
habits and high hats, looking like the women in a toy Noah’s
Ark. Everyone rides – old men, stout ladies, little children –
and the young folks do a deal of flirting here, I saw a pair
exchange rose buds, for it’s the thing to wear one in the
button-hole, and I thought it rather a nice little idea.

In the P.M. to Westminster Abbey, but don’t expect me to describe
it, that’s impossible, so I’ll only say it was sublime! This evening
we are going to see Fechter, which will be an appropriate end to the
happiest day of my life.

It’s very late, but I can’t let my letter go in the morning
without telling you what happened last evening. Who do
you think came in, as we were at tea? Laurie’s English friends,
Fred and Frank Vaughn! I was so surprised, for I shouldn’t have
known them but for the cards. Both are tall fellows with whiskers,
Fred handsome in the English style, and Frank much better,
for he only limps slightly, and uses no crutches. They had heard
from Laurie where we were to be, and came to ask us to their
house, but Uncle won’t go, so we shall return the call, and see
them as we can. They went to the theater with us, and we did
have such a good time, for Frank devoted himself to Flo, and
Fred and I talked over past, present, and future fun as if we
had known each other all our days. Tell Beth Frank asked for her,
and was sorry to hear of her ill health. Fred laughed when I
spoke of Jo, and sent his ‘respectful compliments to the big hat’.
Neither of them had forgotten Camp Laurence, or the fun we had
there. What ages ago it seems, doesn’t it?

Aunt is tapping on the wall for the third time, so I must
stop. I really feel like a dissipated London fine lady, writing
here so late, with my room full of pretty things, and my head
a jumble of parks, theaters, new gowns, and gallant creatures
who say "Ah!" and twirl their blond mustaches with the true
English lordliness. I long to see you all, and in spite of my
nonsense am, as ever, your loving . . .

AMY

PARIS

Dear girls,

In my last I told you about our London visit, how kind the
Vaughns were, and what pleasant parties they made for us. I enjoyed
the trips to Hampton Court and the Kensington Museum more than
anything else, for at Hampton I saw Raphael’s cartoons, and
at the Museum, rooms full of pictures by Turner, Lawrence, Reynolds,
Hogarth, and the other great creatures. The day in Richmond
Park was charming, for we had a regular English picnic, and
I had more splendid oaks and groups of deer than I could copy,
also heard a nightingale, and saw larks go up. We ‘did’ London
to our heart’s content, thanks to Fred and Frank, and were sorry
to go away, for though English people are slow to take you in,
when they once make up their minds to do it they cannot be outdone
in hospitality, I think. The Vaughns hope to meet us in
Rome next winter, and I shall be dreadfully disappointed if they
don’t, for Grace and I are great friends, and the boys very
nice fellows, especially Fred.

Well, we were hardly settled here, when he turned up again,
saying he had come for a holiday, and was going to Switzerland.
Aunt looked sober at first, but he was so cool about it she
couldn’t say a word. And now we get on nicely, and are very
glad he came, for he speaks French like a native, and I don’t
know what we should do without him. Uncle doesn’t know ten
words, and insists on talking English very loud, as if it
would make people understand him. Aunt’s pronunciation is
old-fashioned, and Flo and I, though we flattered ourselves
that we knew a good deal, find we don’t, and are very grateful
to have Fred do the ‘parley vooing‘, as Uncle calls it.

Such delightful times as we are having! Sight-seeing from
morning till night, stopping for nice lunches in the gay cafes,
and meeting with all sorts of droll adventures. Rainy days I
spend in the Louvre, revelling in pictures. Jo would turn up
her naughty nose at some of the finest, because she has no
soul for art, but I have, and I’m cultivating eye and taste
as fast as I can. She would like the relics of great people
better, for I’ve seen her Napoleon’s cocked hat and gray
coat, his baby’s cradle and his old toothbrush, also Marie
Antoinette’s little shoe, the ring of Saint Denis, Charlemagne’s
sword, and many other interesting things. I’ll talk for hours
about them when I come, but haven’t time to write.

The Palais Royale is a heavenly place, so full of bijouterie
and lovely things that I’m nearly distracted because I can’t
buy them. Fred wanted to get me some, but of course I didn’t
allow it. Then the Bois and Champs Elysees are tres magnifique.
I’ve seen the imperial family several times, the emperor an ugly,
hard-looking man, the empress pale and pretty, but dressed in
bad taste, I thought – purple dress, green hat, and yellow gloves.
Little Nap is a handsome boy, who sits chatting to his tutor,
and kisses his hand to the people as he passes in his four-horse
barouche, with postilions in red satin jackets and a mounted
guard before and behind.

We often walk in the Tuileries Gardens, for they are
lovely, though the antique Luxembourg Gardens suit me better.
Pere la Chaise is very curious, for many of the tombs are
like small rooms, and looking in, one sees a table, with
images or pictures of the dead, and chairs for the mourners
to sit in when they come to lament. That is so Frenchy.

Our rooms are on the Rue de Rivoli, and sitting on the
balcony, we look up and down the long, brilliant street. It
is so pleasant that we spend our evenings talking there when
too tired with our day’s work to go out. Fred is very entertaining,
and is altogether the most agreeable young man I ever knew –
except Laurie, whose manners are more charming. I wish Fred
was dark, for I don’t fancy light men, however, the Vaughns
are very rich and come of an excellent family, so I won’t
find fault with their yellow hair, as my own is yellower.

Next week we are off to Germany and Switzerland, and as
we shall travel fast, I shall only be able to give you hasty
letters. I keep my diary, and try to ‘remember correctly and
describe clearly all that I see and admire’, as Father advised.
It is good practice for me, and with my sketchbook will give
you a better idea of my tour than these scribbles.

Adieu, I embrace you tenderly.
"Votre Amie.""

HEIDELBERG

My dear Mamma,

Having a quiet hour before we leave for Berne, I’ll try to
tell you what has happened, for some of it is very important,
as you will see.

The sail up the Rhine was perfect, and I just sat and enjoyed
it with all my might. Get Father’s old guidebooks and
read about it. I haven’t words beautiful enough to describe it.
At Coblentz we had a lovely time, for some students from Bonn,
with whom Fred got acquainted on the boat, gave us a serenade.
It was a moonlight night, and about one o’clock Flo and I were
waked by the most delicious music under our windows. We flew up,
and hid behind the curtains, but sly peeps showed us Fred and
the students singing away down below. It was the most romantic
thing I ever saw – the river, the bridge of boats, the great fortress
opposite, moonlight everywhere, and music fit to melt a heart of stone.

When they were done we threw down some flowers, and saw
them scramble for them, kiss their hands to the invisible ladies,
and go laughing away, to smoke and drink beer, I suppose. Next
morning Fred showed me one of the crumpled flowers in his vest
pocket, and looked very sentimental. I laughed at him, and said
I didn’t throw it, but Flo, which seemed to disgust him, for he
tossed it out of the window, and turned sensible again. I’m
afraid I’m going to have trouble with that boy, it begins to
look like it.

The baths at Nassau were very gay, so was Baden-Baden,
where Fred lost some money, and I scolded him. He needs someone
to look after him when Frank is not with him. Kate said
once she hoped he’d marry soon, and I quite agree with her
that it would be well for him. Frankfurt was delightful. I
saw Goethe’s house, Schiller’s statue, and Dannecker’s famous
‘Ariadne.’ It was very lovely, but I should have enjoyed it
more if I had known the story better. I didn’t like to ask, as
everyone knew it or pretended they did. I wish Jo would tell
me all about it. I ought to have read more, for I find I don’t
know anything, and it mortifies me.

Now comes the serious part, for it happened here, and Fred
has just gone. He has been so kind and jolly that we all got
quite fond of him. I never thought of anything but a traveling
friendship till the serenade night. Since then I’ve begun to
feel that the moonlight walks, balcony talks, and daily adventures
were something more to him than fun. I haven’t flirted,
Mother, truly, but remembered what you said to me, and have done
my very best. I can’t help it if people like me. I don’t try to
make them, and it worries me if I don’t care for them, though Jo
says I haven’t got any heart. Now I know Mother will shake her
head, and the girls say, "Oh, the mercenary little wretch!", but
I’ve made up my mind, and if Fred asks me, I shall accept him,
though I’m not madly in love. I like him, and we get on comfortably
together. He is handsome, young, clever enough, and very
rich – ever so much richer than the Laurences. I don’t think his
family would object, and I should be very happy, for they are all
kind, well-bred, generous people, and they like me. Fred, as the
eldest twin, will have the estate, I suppose, and such a splendid
one it is! A city house in a fashionable street, not so showy
as our big houses, but twice as comfortable and full of solid
luxury, such as English people believe in. I like it, for it’s
genuine. I’ve seen the plate, the family jewels, the old servants,
and pictures of the country place, with its park, great house,
lovely grounds, and fine horses. Oh, it would be all I should
ask! And I’d rather have it than any title such as girls snap
up so readily, and find nothing behind. I may be mercenary,
but I hate poverty, and don’t mean to bear it a minute longer
than I can help. One of us must marry well. Meg didn’t, Jo
won’t, Beth can’t yet, so I shall, and make everything okay all
round. I wouldn’t marry a man I hated or despised. You may be
sure of that, and though Fred is not my model hero, he does very
well, and in time I should get fond enough of him if he was very
fond of me, and let me do just as I liked. So I’ve been turning
the matter over in my mind the last week, for it was impossible to
help seeing that Fred liked me. He said nothing, but little things
showed it. He never goes with Flo, always gets on my side of the
carriage, table, or promenade, looks sentimental when we are alone,
and frowns at anyone else who ventures to speak to me. Yesterday
at dinner, when an Austrian officer stared at us and then said
something to his friend, a rakish-looking baron, about ‘_ein
wonderschones Blondchen’_, Fred looked as fierce as a lion, and
cut his meat so savagely it nearly flew off his plate. He isn’t
one of the cool, stiff Englishmen, but is rather peppery, for he
has Scotch blood in him, as one might guess from his bonnie blue eyes.

Well, last evening we went up to the castle about sunset, at
least all of us but Fred, who was to meet us there after going to
the Post Restante for letters. We had a charming time poking
about the ruins, the vaults where the monster tun is, and the
beautiful gardens made by the elector long ago for his English
wife. I liked the great terrace best, for the view was divine,
so while the rest went to see the rooms inside, I sat there trying
to sketch the gray stone lion’s head on the wall, with scarlet
woodbine sprays hanging round it. I felt as if I’d got into a
romance, sitting there, watching the Neckar rolling through the
valley, listening to the music of the Austrian band below, and
waiting for my lover, like a real storybook girl. I had a feeling
that something was going to happen and I was ready for it. I
didn’t feel blushy or quakey, but quite cool and only a little
excited.

By-and-by I heard Fred’s voice, and then he came hurrying
through the great arch to find me. He looked so troubled that I
forgot all about myself, and asked what the matter was. He said
he’d just got a letter begging him to come home, for Frank was
very ill. So he was going at once on the night train and only
had time to say good-by. I was very sorry for him, and disappointed
for myself, but only for a minute because he said, as he shook hands,
and said it in a way that I could not mistake, "I shall soon come
back, you won’t forget me, Amy?"

I didn’t promise, but I looked at him, and he seemed satisfied,
and there was no time for anything but messages and good-byes,
for he was off in an hour, and we all miss him very much.
I know he wanted to speak, but I think, from something he once
hinted, that he had promised his father not to do anything of
the sort yet a while, for he is a rash boy, and the old gentleman
dreads a foreign daughter-in-law. We shall soon meet in
Rome, and then, if I don’t change my mind, I’ll say "Yes, thank
you," when he says "Will you, please?"

Of course this is all very private, but I wished you to
know what was going on. Don’t be anxious about me, remember I
am your ‘prudent Amy’, and be sure I will do nothing rashly.
Send me as much advice as you like. I’ll use it if I can. I
wish I could see you for a good talk, Marmee. Love and trust me.

Ever your AMY

 

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