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
"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
"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 high-heeled 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,
"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
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,
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
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,
"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.