Chapter 1: One
He is twenty-two when he proposes to her for the first time and she refuses him. Twenty-six years will pass before he does it again.
Half a lifetime, almost, filled with love and work, friends and children, sorrow and healing and change. Indeed, that's one of the first lessons he learned from both sisters: that hearts can break and mend again, and be all the richer for their scars.
Not that any such philosophy can bring him comfort when the fever takes his Amy, his merry golden lady, one bleak November day.
So fast - only a week from the first signs until the end, in such pain - the struggle to breathe growing harder, harder still... impossible, at last.
They are all there: Bess, a bride of four months, looking like a lost child as she watches her mother slip away; Meg and Jo, clinging to each other as desperately as they have nursed their sister all week; Laurie himself, turning away from the bed in the dull disbelief which hasn't left him since the doctors admitted there was nothing they could do.
The best doctors. All his money, all his love - not enough. Amy goes into the dark silently, with no word of farewell, not even knowing they are there.
He can't remember walking out, but now he's down the stairs and striding along the hallway, almost at a run. Not to the long parlor, where Fritz has gathered their friends to wait and pray. He should go there at once, to tell them - tell them -
But Laurie's feet take him instead to his wife's studio, as if he'd find her there, well and happy again, absorbed in the work she loved.
Silence greets him, and shadows, and on the work-table there's a block of marble with its transformation barely begun, one corner chipped away. How he'd badgered her - only days ago - about this new masterpiece, demanding to know what it would be, and how teasingly she had kissed away his questions, refusing to spoil the surprise.
He strikes the table with all his strength.
Tools clatter to the floor and the lifeless marble shudders, rocking back and forth. His hand flares with a fierce pain that doesn't matter at all.
When Jo's arms close around him he leans into her embrace, saying only: "Now I'll never know." Tasting the unbearable finality of that never.
Long minutes pass as they stand there, grieving, until he returns to himself enough to feel the strength in her thin arms, see the silent tears soaking into his waistcoat. He sighs and releases her.
She straightens, wiping her eyes. "Go to Bess - she wants you. I'll tell the others."
Slowly he climbs the stairs again, to find Bess weeping, her young husband hovering around her uncertainly.
"Papa, Papa -"
As Laurie holds his daughter, stroking her blonde curls, he knows he'll be going away. Soon, very soon. He'll not stay here, not when every inch of this house reminds him of Amy, and even Bess, even Bess - Her resemblance to her mother had always brought him joy, but now it's a knife in his heart. He has to force himself to keep his arms around her, soothing her, not pulling away at once.
Bess is grown and married, he tells himself, stifling his guilt. She'll be all right.
He sails for Italy two weeks later, alone.
They had returned to Europe many times in their twenty-three years together, and now something drives him to revisit all those familiar places, large and small. He doesn't know why, at first, but then he reaches Nice and it comes to him as he stands silently on a certain terrace at Valrosa.
He's saying goodbye.
It feels right, somehow, to do it here: in Europe Amy's memory is an ache of love and loss, not the tearing grief it had been at home, and he senses a promise of healing at the end of this pilgrimage. Laurie resolves to stay on - for as long as it takes, until he can face his home and his daughter with a spirit calm and whole.
He makes arrangements to take care of some business affairs as he travels, while keeping in touch with his partners. He has left them to train young James, though he'd planned to do it himself. He and Amy had liked James at once, when they met through the Vaughns, the last time Bess had accompanied them abroad. Fine young man, good head on his shoulders, devoted to Bess - enough to leave Scotland and make his home in America for her sake. "Nothing more useless here than the third son of a baronet," he'd said, bonny blue eyes twinkling. "Why shouldn't I try my fortune across the ocean?" So the wedding took place and they brought him home, rejoicing; it was like adopting a son, not losing a daughter.
They had been happy, the four of them... until November.
He journeys alone, never staying in one place for long, and is content to have it so - but three months on, the news of another death arrives.
The telegram finds him as he's setting out from Lausanne to Paris, and he replies:
Deepest sympathy. Returning immediately.
It rouses her enough to fire back another telegram, simply ordering him to stay in Europe. Though she lacks the strength for niceties or explanations, she understands - of course she does - how torn he is, her dearest friend, wishing to come and comfort her as she'd tried to comfort him. And she won't have it, that's all. Won't let him interrupt the journey he needs to make.
There are too many people around her already. Jo wants none of them. She wants only Fritz, who is gone.
Telegrams start pouring in within a day, followed by a deluge of sympathy letters from her readers. Ten times as many reporters as usual keep trying to force their way into Plumfield. All her boys are gathering, she knows, while she sits silently beside her husband's body, refusing to see anyone but her sons and Meg.
"This one's from Emil, Mum," whispers Ted, handing her a telegram dated at Southampton. They speak in hushed tones around her, as if to make up for the incessant babble of voices outside her rooms, outside the house.
She nods, reads the few heartfelt words, places them alongside the telegram from Franz in Hamburg.
The funeral is set for tomorrow.
"We sent word to Montana, but Dan's not there..."
If only the noise would stop. She doesn't know how she'll face the crowds, all expecting their heroine to set an example of strength and dignity in mourning.
"Lie down and rest, dear," Meg urges, but Jo shakes her head fiercely. She'll spend another night in this chair; anything rather than try to sleep in that big bed all alone. She fears she'll break down, and she can't allow herself to do that. They want her, they need her to be Mother Bhaer, or J.M. Bhaer the famous authoress - calm and wise and competent, their rock, their haven.
She's always had to be the strong one. So few, the people who could match her, offer her their strength in return - and most of them are dead. Marmee, first and always. Father. Her sisters. Laurie. Of all the Plumfield boys - only her firebrand, only Dan. And Fritz, oh, Fritz!
There had been no warning. None. He'd risen from the breakfast table and stopped to kiss her forehead, as usual. He'd put on his overcoat, picked up his umbrella, and walked out with Rob into the raw February morning, heading for the College. Just like any other day. Standing at the window, she'd waited for them to look back from the gate, and waved - she'd seen Fritz raise his hand in return, and then... He had touched his chest for an instant, looking quite bewildered, but not afraid. And not in pain, please God. Then he'd crumpled to the ground, right there by the gate.
One heartbeat later, surely no more than that, she had knelt in the mud beside him, still wearing her slippers and wrapper, hair tumbling down - and his eyes had met hers, he'd known her, tried to speak. And he was gone.
Suddenly there's a new sound; Jo lifts her head. Heavy boots on the stairs, a familiar voice: "Get away from that door, damn you! She'll see me."
The door flies open and in he strides, his height and vitality making the room seem smaller at once. He sweeps the broad black hat from his head, pauses by the shrouded body in silent respect, and sinks to his knees beside her chair.
"I was on my way to Washington - got the news there, took the first train." His big hands clasp hers. "Mother Bhaer."
No demands in that title when he uses it; only love and sorrow. She's crying again, but it doesn't matter. "Dan," she says. "My dear Dan."
He clears his throat, pushing emotion aside. "Who are all those people in the garden? Confounded racket! And the reporters on the porch - you don't want them, do you?"
"I can't do much about it - "
"Leave 'em to me. You rest, Mother." He leans forward to kiss her cheek. "It'll be all right."
Comforted, she withdraws into her memories again, away from the murmurs beside her as Dan consults with Meg, Rob, and Ted.
That evening, and her last night with Fritz, are blessedly quiet. And the funeral itself hurts less than she thought it would.
Everyone from Plumfield is there: Meg and Josie, Daisy and Nat, Demi and Alice, Bess and James, Nan, Tom and Dora, Dolly, Stuffy, old Silas, Asia, even Jack and Ned. Almost every student of Laurence College, past and present, along with their teachers and many other friends of good Professor Bhaer. And beyond them, holding back the crowds of strangers, are a number of silent, capable-looking men who seem to have sprung from nowhere. Not a single reporter gets through the church door for the service, or into the churchyard to see Fritz's coffin lowered into the cold ground beside Marmee and Father, Beth and Amy and John.
Jo watches quietly, supported on either side by Rob and Ted, Dan's solid presence at her back. She tries to pay attention as best she can, amidst the memories that consume her, precious and unstoppable.
Everyone comes up to her afterwards, to kiss her and speak sadly of Fritz. She feels their loving concern; wearying as it is, she welcomes it.
"Oh, dearest Aunt Jo..." Bess's kiss is feather-light, her lovely eyes red-rimmed. She kisses her cousins Rob and Ted, then holds out a hand to Dan. "So good to see you again - it's been four years, has it not?"
"Good day, Mrs. MacKenzie." He is guarded. His nod is brief; he doesn't take her hand, doesn't use "Princess" or any other old endearment, and Bess steps back, puzzled by his formality.
"Come on, Mother Bhaer - the carriage is waiting. Let me take you home."
That evening, as Jo steels herself to face the empty bed, Meg is there. "I used to sleep with the baby - those first nights after my John died. I know."
They change into their nightgowns and lie down together, and Meg soothes her sister just as she did that long-ago night after Jo sold her hair.
Next morning she puts on a black dress - years of black dresses stretch ahead of her, but she shrugs off the thought; she's always liked black, anyway. Without needing to be coaxed by Meg, she forces herself downstairs to have breakfast with her sons, who look both surprised and relieved to see her.
Within minutes, the irrepressible Ted is laughing at some story Dan tells him.
"Hush!" says Rob. "It's not respectful - "
Jo sighs. "Boys, don't hold back your laughter now - that's the last thing your father would have wanted."
But Rob looks dangerously close to tears, and she changes the subject hastily. "Can you stay a while, Dan?"
"Yes, do!" Ted pleads, waving his coffee-cup far too enthusiastically. "I'm here for two weeks, before I have to go back - it'd be awful jolly if you stayed too!"
Rob is at Laurence College, having become his father's faithful assistant and shadow there. Ted, wishing to spread his wings and fly farther, is in his freshman year at Harvard.
Dan hesitates, a half-wary look in his eyes - then nods, with the flash of a grin behind the thick black beard. "Might have to run off to Washington for a few days, about that land grant, but yes, I'll stay."
So there are four of them at Plumfield in those first quiet days. Rob and Ted help her to answer letters; it's something to do, but all she really wants is to sit silently where Fritz's presence seems closest - their bedroom, his study. Isn't it odd, Teddy? she writes. You needed to go away, but I need to stay right here, where I can feel him near me. That's the only long letter she writes, the only one telling everything. There's a vast weariness in her, so that even writing, her work and refuge, is a struggle now.
At the end of the week Rob suggests a family dinner: only a few of them, those who are always near. Meg, without Josie, who has gone back to the theater company where she is in training. Daisy, leaving her small daughter for an evening; Nat is away with the orchestra in another town. Demi, still a bachelor, waiting for his Alice. Bess, also alone - James is working very late, she says.
"Oh, do shake hands, Dan! Yes, I'm married now, but why should that make any difference to old friends? How silly!"
Bess wears black, still in mourning for her mother; she looks so much like Amy at twenty that Jo's eyes fill and she turns away quickly.
She feels better for the simple meal, with all the dear faces around her. Rob takes his father's place at the head of the table and talks to Bess about art; Demi questions Dan about his adventures, with Ted hanging on every word; Jo sits with Meg, sharing some tender memories of Amy and listening to Daisy talk of her little Joan.
They don't stay late. Demi kisses Jo's cheek and leaves with his mother and sister; Rob and Ted offer to walk Bess home to Parnassus, Laurie's mansion on the hill, as eagerly as the Plumfield boys once begged to serve their Princess. She laughs, choosing Ted, then beckons Dan to her side as well.
He steps forward slowly, his face a mask, and Jo almost calls him back - but she is so tired. Ted will be there. And Dan is a grown man of thirty, after all.
They gather again the following week, to farewell Ted before his return to college. Nat is with them; Jo appreciates his music all the more that evening, the violin giving voice to his genuine grief for the kind Father Bhaer who changed his life. And Bess walks home on Ted's arm once again, with Dan a protective shadow behind them both.
Plumfield is even quieter when Ted goes away. Jo drifts through the days in a kind of dream, indifferent to almost everything. Letters from her readers pour in; she leaves them to Rob. She still doesn't want to see anyone, although Meg comes often to sit with her, and Daisy or Bess stop in for tea almost every day.
She still can't write, apart from her letters to Laurie.
I'm all at sea, she tells him. I think I hear his voice sometimes, at night. I turn around to tell him something, only to remember he is gone. Dear Rob looks so much like him, it ought to console me, truly; - but sometimes I could almost shake him for it - only because he isn't Fritz and never will be... and then I could shake myself for such a wicked thought. And what if I can never write again?
She sits in Fritz's study and talks to his memory.
She sits with Dan in the bay-window and listens to tales of his work in Montana, warmed by his quiet joy in what he has been able to do there. Still, he makes no mention of leaving just yet, and Jo is selfishly glad of it.
The family dinners on Fridays become a little tradition, the one bright flame in her dull weeks of new widowhood. Meg, Daisy and Demi; Nat joins them whenever he can, and Josie comes once, full of mischief and theater-gossip. James is always too busy to attend with Bess - and Jo wonders if she should write to Laurie about that... but surely James, a young man striving to learn and prove himself, would not thank her for such interference.
"Shall I come tomorrow and bring Joan?" asks Daisy, as Demi helps her into her coat.
Jo kisses her, saying she would love to see the baby, then turns to Meg for a brief, warm embrace.
Beside them, Bess lays a delicate black-gloved hand on Dan's arm and gazes up at him, smiling, as they set out for Parnassus. She looks especially lovely this evening, with a glow that makes Jo wonder if a happy announcement may soon follow - but no, Bess doesn't seem to be expecting - her waist is as slim as ever, though it's been eight months since the wedding.
She dreams of Fritz that night, his arms around her, the low rumble of his voice, the solid warmth of his body. "Heart's dearest," he says softly, and she reaches out for him, and wakes alone.
If anything will drive her stark mad, it's this: the absence of touch, her body and soul longing for it incessantly and in vain. Even the smallest gestures of affection - the brush of their hands in passing, his kiss on her forehead...
Dan's place at breakfast is empty. She finds him on the porch, smoking, clearly in one of his grim moods; but he agrees, with a silent shrug, to drive her into town that morning.
She lays spring flowers on Fritz's grave, and the other graves, one by one.
It comes to her that she might plant something here, make a garden of sorts, and this pleases her - it's the first time in weeks that she has wanted to do anything new, anything that promises life.
As they drive back to Plumfield, he says: "I'll be off tonight."
She glances up, startled, from beneath her black veil.
"Washington. Back in a week. Don't worry."
She worries - but inside the house, the familiar lassitude steals over her again. She sits down at Fritz's desk and is lost, until Daisy's arrival calls her back and Joan's chubby arms around her neck hold her fast.
Here I am in Vienna, Laurie writes, and I cannot play a note. How's that for irony? Did I ever tell you I once tried to write an opera here - it was meant to be about you, but ended up all about her - and frightful trash it was, too... Yet now I wish I hadn't torn it up. The memories are all I have.
He hasn't played the piano since Amy died. He's moving on to Germany within a week, and after that - St. Petersburg, perhaps?
Nat is a welcome addition to their gathering that Friday, full of cheerful plans. He obviously adores his daughter, and still worships Daisy in the old way - and Daisy's heart is in her eyes when she looks at him. The two of them, with Demi and Rob, form a laughing group at one end of the table. The other end is muted, its conversation faltering.
"Is something troubling you, Bess?" asks Meg.
"No, Aunty - it's nothing." Their niece has been toying with her dessert, but now looks up with a swift smile. "Just a painting that isn't quite right."
She does seem out of sorts tonight, somehow. Jo, seated on the other side of Bess, pats her hand. "Doesn't James like it?"
"Oh, no - he hasn't seen - that is, I don't - "
Meg is quick to catch the thought. "You don't show him your work, dear? Whyever not?"
"I don't know... there's no time for it, maybe."
"No time?" says Jo, wondering. "How much time do you spend with him?"
"I don't know," she answers again, in a small voice. "I do see him - most days, I guess."
"Most - ?" Meg's eyebrows rise. "But don't you dine together, breakfast together...?"
"Sometimes... Sundays, of course. Yes, we do."
Jo and Meg exchange a long look over the bowed golden head between them.
"Bess," Jo asks, very gently, "don't you see him each morning when you wake up?"
"Oh, no - he leaves so early, and I sleep late - and I don't go into his room."
"But where do you sleep, dearie?" asks Meg.
"Why, my own room, of course. Like always," says Bess, with a shrug and a slight pout, as if she's tired of being quizzed. Rising gracefully, she gives Nat a lively smile. "Come, shall we play?"
At the piano she is all Laurie's daughter - his talent, his teaching. She and Nat make a splendid end to the evening, and the others sing themselves hoarse, and by the time Bess takes Rob's arm to walk home, not a trace of her low spirits remains.
"Well, small wonder there's no sign of a child," says Meg the next day, over coffee.
Jo nods. "Should we - ?"
"Can we - ? There's no deep trouble yet, I don't think, and she's - "
" - she's sensitive, yes, and modest, but she has her pride, too. Like Teddy - "
"Will you tell him?"
"I might." Jo hesitates, rubbing her chin. "No, I think not - because - well, what do you think?"
"If he thought she was unhappy - he'd come straight back," says Meg with a sigh.
"Just so. Before he's ready. Trying to fix everything up - "
"He can't - "
"No. If there's anything wrong, really wrong - and I'm not saying there is - "
" - even if there is, then it's for Bess and James to 'fix up', as you put it."
Jo leans back in her chair, nodding. "I thought you'd say so, Meg. We'll help as we can, of course, but not like - "
"Oh, Amy and Laurie always did protect that girl from everything under the sun! She needs to learn to live with a husband, that's all - "
"We might arrange a nice long holiday for two, this summer," says Jo, and Meg nods her agreement, pouring more coffee for them both.
The days pass, and Jo talks to Fritz's memory, silently, of the garden she wants to make where he rests. Pansies and mignonette, and poppies, and rosemary... ah, but that is only the start of it. Suddenly impatient to begin, she spends a sunny morning in the churchyard with her tools and returns feeling stronger, refreshed; that afternoon, when Bess comes to tea, it is all they talk of.
"But you have no flowers here, Aunty."
Jo looks around her parlor, surprised. "So I don't! The vases quite slipped my mind today."
"Shall I go and cut some for you?" says Bess with a smile. She has left off her mourning black, and looks as fresh as spring itself in a plain silver-gray dress.
"Yes, do, dear - and then we can - " Jo stops at the sound of wheels outside, and the front door opening.
"Dan!" She steps forward to welcome him with a kiss as he halts in the parlor doorway, dark eyes moving from her to Bess and back again.
There's a brief flurry of words - is he well, did he have a good journey, he must be hungry as a bear! - and Jo sweeps off to the kitchen to order up another tea-tray. When she returns, the room is empty.
She sees them from the window, walking side by side in the garden, with Bess stopping at the flower-beds until her arms are full of daffodils and she looks up, laughing, as if to say she can't possibly carry any more - Dan tosses his hat aside and holds out his hands to help - she steps back, shaking her head playfully - no, no! - and as his own laughter echoes hers, she relents enough to place one golden flower in his hand.
Evil be to him who evil thinks. And I'm an evil-minded old woman, Jo tells herself firmly. My own niece - a fine, virtuous girl, married now to a good man. And poor Dan - whatever his feelings then, he's had four years to make his peace with it: that she can never be anything more to him than a symbol of goodness, and a friend. I'll not insult either of them by saying a word.
And so she does not. But only a few days later, she will wish she had.
That fateful dinner starts like any other - no Nat this week, but the rest of them are there: Meg, Daisy, Demi, Bess, Rob, Dan, and Jo herself.
It is the first of May, a mild evening with a taste of summer. Perhaps it's the balmy air, or simply the healing power of time, but their party is livelier than ever before: everyone is in high good humor, and the conversation flows easily.
Jo catches herself laughing, and wonders that only a few weeks ago she felt like she could never be happy again. She looks at these dear ones around her, and thanks Providence for them all.
Dan is at his best tonight, all his usual reserve quite discarded in this friendly company, his defences down. He talks and laughs with wild, irresistible energy, a natural vigor that could almost set the room ablaze, and would draw all eyes - were it not for the vision seated across the table: Bess, radiant in a gown of sky-blue, her eyes sparkling, color in her cheeks - and something different in her manner, something new.
It's a presentiment - no, only an idle thought, surely - but Jo resolves to talk to Meg as soon as she can. Are they looking at each other? Are they? Is she really married, or only playing at marriage?
As their guests prepare to go home, Jo looks around for Rob, thinking he should escort Bess tonight - but he has gone upstairs, and before she can say a word Bess has donned a long white cloak and walked out the door on Dan's arm, smiling and waving farewell.
Half an hour passes, and Jo is still downstairs, steeling her nerves for what will be a highly unpleasant conversation with Dan - but speak she must. She's almost certain of it now.
There's a movement outside the window. A flash of white.
She finds them in the garden.
She walks toward them across the grass, silently - but she might as well blow a trumpet, for they pay no heed to anything but each other. They stand close, hands clasped, their voices a low murmur. Bright moonlight shines on Bess's sweet face, her look of longing, as she moves closer still.
Dan's voice, a thrill in it - and a word that sounds like "never."
"Oh, no," she says, "I'm not - I'm not!"
And she pulls the pins from her hair, sends it tumbling down to her waist in a rush of moonlit magic, then reaches up to clasp her arms around his neck and draw his mouth to hers.
Never. Light and darkness come together. Never. He holds her like a man starved for life itself. Like a prisoner set free.
Jo's mouth twists; she claps one hand to it, holding back a moan of pain. Not only the shock of seeing them, but the sudden stab of envy that leaves her even more shocked at herself. She'd thought that love and desire were dead in her - forever dead.
Untrue, a new voice whispers.
But no, surely not, when she is so tired, so old -
Untrue, says the revelation. There is passion in you yet, and life, and love.
She bows her head, accepting - then straightens her back and squares her shoulders. All the self-insight in the world can't change what she must do now, nor make it any easier.
"Dan," she says in a clear, cold voice. "Bess!"
The lovers spring apart. Dan turns away, hiding his face - but her business is not with him, not yet. Without another word, she grips Bess's hand, pulls her away. Marches her back to the house, through the kitchen door, slamming it shut behind them.
Silence. She lights a candle and sees the girl standing quite still in the middle of the kitchen, her exquisite features blurred in fury and frustration.
"Bess - why?"
"Because I wanted to - wanted - him - "
Such a defiant look, from Amy's eyes above Laurie's nose and mouth. This is a Bess no one knows - perhaps not even Bess herself. The child of that Laurie who swore he'd go to the devil if he couldn't have what he wanted.
Jo hardens her heart. A bold child, but still a child, playing a dangerous adult game. And now she will take this child apart, with the power of older woman over younger - a quarter-century advantage in knowledge of the mind and soul, used as mercilessly as a surgeon's blade.
"Because he's a man - " The girl has no words to describe what she's feeling, never having felt it before. What of her husband - not a man? A boy? A stranger?
"I was so lonely - " It isn't Dan she wants, not really. Any other attractive man might have had the same effect - or an idea, a cause, a new work of art.
"Because I don't know what to do!" she bursts out, and the tears come. "Nothing's the way it should be, nothing!"
"Bess, look at me." Jo places her hands on the girl's shaking shoulders. "Why did you marry James? Tell me the truth."
"Because he said he'd come home with us... The others - the others who asked me, they wanted me to go live with them - leave Papa and Mamma..."
"And you didn't want to leave them, did you?"
"Oh, no! We were so happy! I just wanted everything to stay like that, forever and ever."
"Bess..." Jo takes a deep, necessary breath. "Dear girl, I know. I remember telling Marmee that I'd like to marry Meg myself, to keep her with us always."
But I was sixteen when I said it, she thinks - by the age of twenty, even I had more sense than that. Oh, curse Amy and Laurie for giving their perfect child a perfect childhood! So perfect, she wants to stay there "forever."
Bess gives a little sobbing laugh. "But we were happy, the four of us, before Mamma died. Like I thought we would be."
"And since then? Now?"
"It's all gone wrong! And I'm all alone and I don't know what to do!" The last words are a shriek, and then she's sobbing on Jo's shoulder. "I want Papa. I want Mamma!"
Jo strokes her niece's spun-silk hair. "I know, dear. I know you do. But since you can't have them now, be a brave girl and think of what you do have."
Bess lifts her head. "What's that?"
"Your husband, Bess. Your work. Your home. Your youth, your health, your talents."
"And it's about time you met your husband properly, I think - but we can talk about that another day, when you are calm and rested. Tonight's lesson is a very simple one: when you're beset by confusion and ennui, don't go playing with another person's heart to divert yourself." Jo gives her a sober look. "You have hurt Dan quite badly, I fear."
"I'm sorry," Bess whispers. "Oh, please don't tell Papa...!"
Jo sighs. "Now I'm going to get you a glass of wine, and you'll drink it down, and Rob will take you home, and you'll go straight to bed."
As soon as Bess is out of the house, Jo goes in search of Dan - but she's too late. He has packed his valise and gone.
Lying on the floor of his room is a faded yellow flower.
She turns away, tears blurring her sight, and stumbles toward Fritz's study, but finds herself at her own desk instead and cries quietly, there in the dark. If only she had spoken sooner - if only she hadn't been so inattentive, lost in her grief -
After a while, she dries her eyes and lights a lamp.
Oh Teddy, how I do miss you! But don't you dare come home until your daughter has grown up a little. Otherwise, I'm afraid she'll hide herself away in her studio and never come out - or become just another rich, idle woman amusing herself with love affairs and costly clothes...
This sheet of paper gets crumpled up and thrown away.
Something has changed. She is tired, but it's only the ordinary tiredness of a late evening, not the deep, constant weariness of the past weeks - no, months, it's over two months now since Fritz died. And for the first time since then, she feels awake and alive and herself.
She sits and thinks about good people doing foolish things. Hurting each other.
Even Fritz was young once, and unwise. Even Marmee. Laurie, Amy - yes, she remembers, the kind and gracious Mrs. Laurence was once an angry little girl who burned her sister's book of stories.
How Jo had cried over that! And how she would have scoffed if anyone had told her she'd burn her own stories, only a few years later.
She remembers flames, then ashes. Just like Laurie, tearing up his opera. And like him, she wishes now that she hadn't done it, hadn't burned those memories. Even though the stories were trash - if she had them still, she could read them and laugh, or wince, and think: This is what I was writing when I first met Fritz... She wishes she had kept every word she has ever written, good or bad, because every single word has made her the writer she is now.
With a surge of joy, she grasps that it's true. She is a writer, still.
And if her gift has returned to her, she may still have a story to tell.
It's not the kind of story that could have been written by the confused young woman in New York who searched newspapers for stories of murder, adultery, rape - then packed them pell-mell into tales that verged on the ridiculous. Neither is it the kind of simple domestic story which has brought J.M. Bhaer fame and fortune in recent years. At long last, she has money and leisure enough to write something that doesn't need to please anyone but herself - and the craft to write it well. Perhaps she also has the wisdom to make it worth reading.
Some parts of her sensation stories would even make sense, if set in the context of a whole lifetime - good and evil intermingling to form a pattern greater than either. Some parts of her domestic stories would be all the richer for a brush with the darker side of life.
A story about good people doing foolish things...
Jo looks into the vortex and sees a book. A very long, complicated, interesting book. She smiles to herself, and picks up a pen.
Chapter 2: Two
She is twenty-one when her best friend asks her to be his wife and she refuses him. Twenty-six years will pass before she faces that choice again.
Half a lifetime of joys and griefs, poverty and prosperity: shaping her from girlhood dreams to the woman she has become, here in what she sees as her autumn. She has borne and raised two fine sons; taught and guided a whole flock of other young lives into maturity. Fame and fortune are hers, old wishes made true by the work she loves. She has shared two decades with the wisest and gentlest of husbands - and buried him, at the last.
In those first weeks of widowhood, she could only think of her life with Fritz; beyond that, nothing. A great emptiness, unimaginable. Now it is all around her, this life after Fritz, and it's by no means empty. A sorrow in itself - that life goes on, full of things she will never share with him.
Her book and her graveyard-garden: they are all she wants this summer. Solitude, or the company of those closest to her.
Her role as Mrs. President of Laurence College is over. The College's turmoil feels remote; although Rob brings her the news of Professor Plock's appointment, it touches her little in the early weeks, and now as the future unfolds there is only a hint that she may be drawn back into College affairs - but not yet.
Only sketches, rough words fumbling for the wholeness she seeks to create, but infinitely absorbing. Her time is her own, for the most part, and often she will look up from her desk to find that a morning has flown by, or that evening has turned to midnight.
She drives into town almost every day, if the weather is fine, to add a seedling or see what else can be done, watching sunlight on the beloved graves give way to shadows from a yew-tree to the west. White roses will bloom on Beth's grave this summer, as they have from the first.
There are some dark days, still. Sometimes she'll sit at Fritz's desk, where everything lies just as he left it in February, and send her thoughts back through the years - the only place she can meet him now. She tries to remember every single time she told him she loved him, and knows only that she didn't say it enough.
What shall I do about Bess? she asks him silently.
Memories answer: tiny Bess, the dainty golden fairy, and what a treat her visits were for the Plumfield boys - and girls. Daisy and Nan playing with her, then looking after her when Bess grew old enough to join them at the school. Almost like sisters, to a girl who would never have a sister or brother of her own. Her mother's struggle to conceive - four barren years, then the difficult birth, the one frail child - and nothing more. For all Amy's hopes, she had never carried a second child to life.
Perhaps this memory is what prompts Jo to consider Bess's health when they meet outside the church that Sunday, two days after the disaster with Dan.
Bess, on her handsome husband's arm, looks pale and subdued. Her own heart aching at that forlorn look, Jo kisses her niece and shakes hands with James MacKenzie, the man Bess married last summer - for better, for worse...
"Do join us this Friday," she urges. "You cannot always be too busy to dine?"
"Well, I've a lot to learn, Mrs. Bhaer! But I will own that I hadn't wished to intrude - in your time of mourning, a stranger..."
"Part of the family now, my boy - you can start by calling me 'Aunt Jo'! - and we should all like to know you better. Please come."
He bows, smiling acceptance and glancing at Bess, who shows no sign of having heard. Jo is struck by the contrast in him then. A strong, confident young man - "courage, character, good head for business," Laurie had written last year - but when he looks at Bess he reminds Jo of the little boys worshipping their Princess, years ago. It's as if she is some infinitely lovely ornament which he fears to break. Not a flesh-and-blood woman, a wife.
She makes an excuse and draws Bess away toward another figure in the small crowd at the church-door. Before seeing what else may be done, it would be sensible to make sure that there's nothing amiss with the girl's health, at least.
Dr. Anne Harding is in her Sunday best, the moss-green dress trimmed with black braid; a tall, striking woman with an air of authority and warm dark eyes.
"Mother Bhaer," she says, greeting Jo with a kiss. "You look so much better today!"
"Thank you, I am... But I wanted to ask you - that is, Bess dear, would you let Nan look you over, just to see that you're quite well? As a favor to me?"
Bess nods, murmuring assent - so listlessly that sharp-eyed Nan draws closer and takes her hand, looking ready to begin the examination at once.
"Why, my precious girl, what's the matter?" She touches Bess's pale cheek lightly with one gloved finger. "I'll come and see you tomorrow - of course I will."
She does, and stops at Plumfield afterward to reassure Jo that nothing is very wrong.
"Fresh air and wholesome exercise, that's my prescription. And I'll bring her a tonic tomorrow - she's been cooped up indoors too long. Don't believe she ever leaves the house, except to see you and Daisy, or to drive into town and buy a new hat. Doesn't she have any women friends? Anyone at the College?"
"No," Jo admits. Bess had always seemed content with her parents and a small circle of loved ones. Always old for her age, not interested in the company of girls who couldn't talk about music and art. Never close to any, save for her cousins Daisy and Josie - and Nan.
"That won't do at all," says Nan briskly. "I'll have to take her out myself."
"Oh, if you would - if it's not too much trouble - "
"Nonsense, I'll enjoy it! And I like to keep busy."
"Not too busy to come to dinner on Friday?"
Jo's impulsive invitation is accepted with delight, although Nan warns that she might have to leave suddenly, should anyone happen to break a leg.
"The telephone - remarkable invention, but the end of all leisure for doctors. Only last Thursday - three o'clock in the morning, that poor woman, three severed fingers..." She shrugs. "I've learned to sleep lightly."
Jo plants sweet peas on all the graves that day, and comes home to write to Dan - hoping the letter will reach him, hoping he's gone back to Montana rather than running off to California or Australia. She tries to write sensibly, not condoning, but reassuring as best she can. If she knows Dan, and she does, he is blaming himself entirely. It hurts to think of him alone with that remorse and shame - if only he had stayed - but he would bolt, of course he would.
She doesn't urge him to return.
After that, it's a great relief to plunge back into drafting another chapter. Fictional people, their fictional troubles.
She doesn't breathe a word about Dan and Bess to anyone, not even Meg. She certainly doesn't write of it to Laurie. She tells him of her novel instead.
It's to have three heroines and two heroes, she writes. And one villain who proves a hero, and one heroine who turns villainess... No, I won't tell you how, since I'm not certain yet myself, and I want you to be at least a little surprised when you read it! (You will read it? Please, Teddy: - if you fail me, I'll not have a reader until it's ready for the publisher. There's no one else who... well, please do say yes.) And there's a murder - two murders, perhaps - and a shipwreck, and quite a lot of flirting, and a little fraud...
Seedlings battle through the soil in the graveyard, green leaves reaching for the sun.
James and Nan come to dinner, and again the next week, and again: welcomed to fill the gap left by Dan, and for themselves. Nan is never at a loss for words, while James proves to have a ready laugh and an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes about everything from sailing to Queen Victoria. The quips and repartee fly as Nan and James engage with Jo and Demi, while the quieter members of the party listen with pleasure.
Dear Lord, please don't let Bess's husband take a fancy to Nan: that truly would be the last straw.
Nan, of course, is thoroughly wedded to her career and more than capable of enjoying clever talk with a pleasant man without danger - but what of James?
Jo talks to him about books, doing her best to draw Bess into the conversation as well. After a number of hesitant pauses and leading questions, she succeeds in establishing that they both prefer Thackeray to Dickens - and considers even this crumb an achievement.
Then she catches a shrewd look from Nan, who proceeds to talk to James lightly about music, while also taking care to include Bess. It's discovered that they both prefer Beethoven to Bach - and Nan exchanges another glance with Jo, as if to say: no, I won't ask, but I see what you are doing, and I'm with you.
Bess kisses Jo silently, hugging her a little too hard, and leaves with James.
"That dear girl wants to sculpt me," says Nan the next week. "She swears I have fine bones."
"And so you do, dear."
"Oh, I do - lots and lots. A whole skeleton hanging in my office!"
Jo laughs. "Will you let her?"
"I said I would, if she'll come out bicycling with me. Do her good."
Color begins to bloom in the graveyard, and Jo spends hours there, kneeling on the grass, her hands in the earth and her mind roaming an imaginary world which grows richer with every day.
Three heroines and a shipwreck? Laurie writes. Wild horses couldn't keep me away from it. May the Muses guide your pen, and let genius burn!
The weeks flow into June, with lilacs giving way to roses, and Nan's gig pulls up at the doors of Parnassus to take Bess out walking or bicycling or rowing on the river in the long warm evenings. Jo never knows what confidences they exchange, but it's clear that something is shared. She makes no further attempt to counsel Bess herself. Indeed, Bess may find it easier to talk to Nan: a loving almost-sister, five years older and willing to listen.
July brings Ted home from college. He has done well in his first year, and now he's torn between pride and sadness that his father isn't there to see it.
Jo kisses her tall yellow-haired son fiercely, holding him close, and tells Fritz's memory: They will always love you, our boys. Even long after I'm gone, they will remember. Aren't they splendid?
The day Nan announces that she's been out rowing with both Bess and James, Jo smiles at Bess and says she hopes they had a good time. Inwardly, she's cheering and dancing a jig.
"Well, James and I rowed at first, while she reclined gracefully and gave us both something lovely to look at - " Nan slips an arm around Bess, her voice turning mock-stern: "Enough of that blushing, dearest, you'll not be ashamed of being so pretty, I won't have it... So we stopped for a rest, and then I made Bess take an oar so James could have his turn at reclining as a vision of delight - and no, you'll not blush at having a handsome husband, either. He is, isn't he?"
Bess murmurs something that might be a "yes." Nan rolls her eyes.
Later, July brings two new visitors: Fritz's nephews, Franz and Emil. A tearful meeting at first, of course, but it is so good to see them after all this time - five years since Franz's last visit, soon after his wedding, and over a year since Emil's ship sailed near them - and they spend all day talking, along with Rob and Ted. Franz presents Jo with a whole album of photographs from Hamburg: his wife Ludmilla and their three children. Emil carries only one photograph, close to his heart: Mary and their little boy. She has stayed in England this time, thinking she might be expecting again.
"We have something special for you, Aunty," Emil says as trunks and boxes are carried in.
Franz turns, opening a box in his hands. "A surprise from Uncle Laurie, for your garden - "
She sees three small rose-plants, packed and wrapped with great care.
"He suggested it when he came to Hamburg in April, so we went ahead and did it: these are from Uncle Fritz's home, the very house where he was born and grew up - but it was all Uncle Laurie's idea - "
I cried all over Franz and Emil, right there, she writes, and again when we went to plant them - so you'll know it was perfect, the very thing - however can I thank you, Teddy dear? One of the plants may not last, but the others seem very strong and none the worse for their voyage. And I should add that Bess was there, bringing flowers for Amy - with Nan, they're quite inseparable these days...
Plumfield seems lively again with three additional young men in residence, and the Friday dinners grow: Jo, Rob, Ted, Franz and Emil, Meg, Josie home for the summer, Daisy and Nat, Bess, James, Nan - and Demi with Alice Heath, talking hopefully of a wedding next year.
The guests linger after dinner, sitting outdoors to swap stories or make music for each other in the balmy evenings. Demi brings his flute, sharing it with Franz; Nat has his violin, as always; Emil has a batch of new songs from the sea, and Josie sings a few songs from the theater, acting the parts at the same time. Nan, Bess, and James entertain them one evening with a spirited rendition of Three Little Maids From School - even though one little maid is a tenor. The audience applauds wildly, and Bess and James are hand in hand as they take a bow, flushed and laughing.
"Shall you have a holiday this year?" Meg asks James at dinner a week later. "The seashore, perhaps?
He shrugs, with an uncertain glance at Bess. "We hadn't - "
"Amy and Laurie always went to a lovely old place at Rocky Nook..."
James takes a deep breath, turning to Bess. "Would you like that? I could arrange it, all of September if you wish - " And, following Bess's gaze, he turns to Nan. "And you'd like it too, you simply must join us - "
"Do," adds Bess. "Oh, please do!"
"Not a month, I couldn't possibly - but - " She looks from Bess to James, eyes dancing. "Two weeks?"
Pansies bloom in the garden, and daisies, and forget-me-nots. Jo tends the new roses, while coaxing her book into order in her mind. It's a little frightening; she has never written anything this long and complicated before. The hours in the garden are spent pulling weeds out of both soil and story, carefully untangling stems and story-threads.
Here I am in Rome, Jo - and what do you think I've been doing? Yesterday I lunched with a voluble young merchant, shook his hand, and gave him a few addresses in New York. Then I went to the theater, which was very fine, and a supper-party, which was deathly dull. - Then I went back to my rooms and slept and saw Amy again: she was sitting in the parlor, in a blue dress, looking very happy. I knocked at the window and shouted for what seemed like an age, but she never heard me. It's always like that: she looks well, she smiles, and I can't reach her. - But this morning I suddenly got up from the breakfast-table, went to the piano, and started playing a sonata... Hanged if I know why, or how, but I did want to tell someone - tell you.
P.S. I'm glad about the roses too.
P.P.S. Can't you have both the railway accident and the earthquake?
Their company shrinks again in September, with Franz and Emil sailing for home, Ted returning to college, Josie to her theater company, Alice to her parents. At one dinner, there are only five of them - but Nan comes back the following week, looking very well after her holiday by the sea.
"Well, how goes it?" Jo asks.
"Swimmingly - in every sense of the word. James is a fish, and a good thing too, or he'd never have kept up with us."
"Has Bess finished sculpting you yet?"
"Not quite. We talked her out of taking the marble to the seashore..."
As the first leaves are falling, the last pieces of the story slip into place in Jo's tall stack of notes and the real writing begins.
It takes her ten days to finish the first chapter - what a difference from writing thirty pages a day - but there is no need for haste now, only a longing to do her very best. She writes out a second copy for Laurie, sends it off, and emerges from her vortex in time to see Bess and James return.
"We could have stayed longer - "
" - but we missed our third wheel," says James, with a nod at Nan beside him, making her and Bess laugh.
Another chapter begun - the days fly past - and ended. The flowers fade, and Jo readies the garden for next spring, talking gently to her memories.
"She's so passionate about things," says Bess, watching Nan grab her coat and hurry out the door. "That's why I like her, I think..."
The telephone has summoned Nan midway through dessert that evening, promising either a cracked skull or a broken arm; the caller is too excited to be certain.
Indeed, she is passionate about many things - women's suffrage, honest government, education, exercise, even the benefits of flannel underclothes and stout shoes - but this will always come first with her: the need to heal, with all her skill and heart.
Another chapter, and with every page the story takes further possession of Jo's soul. She makes it a rule to share two meals with Rob every day, morning and evening, and never misses a Friday dinner - but aside from this, she belongs to the book.
Once, when searching for a phrase, she rises from her desk and goes to the window, stretching her arms above her head. She looks out and sees Bess and Nan walking over the fallen leaves across the lawn, arm in arm, talking quietly together. Bess notices Jo at the window and waves, smiling. She looks rosy and happy again - so different from spring... This very place, Bess with the daffodils.
And no word from Dan in all these long months, no answer to any of Jo's letters.
Nan turns up the collar of Bess's coat against the chill wind, and straightens her hat. They walk on.
The book calls her back.
This is the best work you have ever done, Laurie writes - and she feels the same, but hesitates to say it, or even think it - superstition, perhaps. Yet it warms her heart beyond telling to see those words set down on paper in his bold hand.
Another chapter, and another. Somewhere in that month's vortex is Jo's forty-seventh birthday, and the first anniversary of Amy's death. And then a family dinner doubles as Thanksgiving.
No thanks for the deaths - sister and husband lost in one bitter year... But Fritz, I do give thanks for the garden, and the book. I wish you could read it! I wish you were here. She sits at his desk, lays her head on her arms, and stays there for a long while.
Do you have a title yet? Laurie writes. She does not. So they start calling the book The Vortex - and then she really cannot think of a title, since that one is firmly lodged in her mind. Laurie graciously accepts all blame.
"Only a small party," Bess tells her, between the sixth chapter and the seventh. "Family, friends, a few students who haven't gone home for Christmas - do say you'll come, Aunty!"
Jo promises, unable to resist Bess's smile when she recalls the lost, shattered look of a year ago, and what a dismal Christmas that had been, with Amy dead and Laurie gone. If Bess wants a party now, she shall have one; the book will have to mind itself for an evening.
The long parlor at Parnassus is warm and welcoming that night, decorated with holly and evergreen branches, log fires ablaze.
Displayed in the hall is the new marble bust, completed at last for all to admire: its tilted chin and determined gaze are pronounced very fine, very like. James cannot praise it enough; Bess glows, listening, and hides her blushes against the real Nan's shoulder.
Jo, still uncomfortable with too much society, is content to sit in the music-room with her sister and watch the fun.
"They do look well, don't they?" says Meg. "All of them."
Jo nods, watching James stroll down the hallway with Bess on one arm, Nan on the other: one in white satin and pearls, the other in a gown the color of dark lilacs, amethysts at her neck and wrists.
"Nan's always had a warm heart... always so strong and good, even when she was little Giddy-gaddy at her most impossible. When she loves, she loves deeply..."
They talk of Amy then, sharing tender memories from the early days.
"Is there any sign of Laurie coming home?"
Nan bursts in, looking around wildly. "Mistletoe - right now - oh, bother it!"
There's a bunch hanging in the tall doorway, high above her head; she looks up, and suddenly the elegant young physician in her evening gown is transformed into a ten-year-old hoyden. Only for an instant, but her face is all Naughty Nan as she leaps into the air to secure the coveted plant. Then she smooths her hair, straightens her dress, and sweeps from the room, with a parting nod to her audience.
Meg and Jo look at each other and burst out laughing.
January belongs to The Vortex. Three whole chapters of it.
The chapters fly to Europe, and letters answer them; Laurie is most satisfyingly impatient to know "what happens next," while Jo is equally impatient for his comments, always thoughtful and detailed. They have read each other's work so often over the years - written so many plays and songs and all manner of nonsense together - he knows all her flaws as well as her strengths, and speaks of them plainly. A rare gift, to have such a reader, and she knows how to value it.
One day in February, she writes nothing.
She goes to the graveyard with Rob and Meg, and stands with her head bowed, shivering despite her warmest coat, amidst the slush and mud that cover her garden. She leans on Rob, grieving with him, as they look at the plain headstone and think back to that morning a year ago.
Beloved husband and father of...
It is hard, so very hard, to walk away.
The book is waiting. Another chapter consumes her, and another. The characters talk in her mind, live in her dreams, more vividly than any previous creations; that, in itself, tells her she is doing well. And it feels right - like that first story she wrote after Beth died, so long ago.
The days grow longer. Jo takes up her gardening tools again and sets to work, rejoicing.
And one Friday evening in early April, Bess looks around the dinner table and tells them all that she is with child.
"My dear girl! When...?"
"Late September, Nan says..." Bess looks from Nan to James, and her eyes fill with tears as their hands reach for hers. "Oh, I can't help it - I'm so happy!"
She comes to Jo that evening, before they leave. "Aunty, may I ask a favor? Will you write and tell Papa?"
"Of course, dear - "
"And - and do you think he might - come back, before I..." Bess's voice trembles. "I do miss him so!"
"I'll ask him, Bess. I promise."
"Thank you, Aunty. And - if it's a girl - I'd like to name her for Mamma."
Meg stays behind when the others leave, and the sisters exchange sober looks.
"How much did Amy tell, do you think?"
Jo winces. "Not enough, I fear. I could be wrong - "
Would Amy have told her daughter exactly how difficult Bess's own birth had been? Could Bess be so cheerful, if she knew what might lie ahead of her? Would it be right to tell her, now?
"We can't be certain..."
"Oh yes, we can!" Jo looks up, determined. "We won't tell Bess. But we will tell Nan every ghastly detail either of us can remember. She'll fight like a lioness to keep Bess safe."
My dearest Teddy, she writes. Remember when Rob and Bess were babies, and I bet you a dollar that you'd be a grandparent before me? Well, come home and pay up.
That letter, attached to another chapter of The Vortex, finds him in London. It gives him a sleepless night.
Part of him wants to rush home on the very next ship. Another part seems set to wander forever.
He takes up the new chapter to distract himself, and forgets everything as the story draws him in again. He still can't tell Jo - he lacks the words to tell her how good this is, her Vortex, her masterpiece.
Next morning, he packs up and moves on to Paris again.
It's not such a bad life, being a wealthy traveler in Europe. Everywhere, there are cities he loves - people he knows - amusement, spectacle, conversation, history, art. There is music, always, all the more so since his own gift returned so unexpectedly last summer. There are companions - old friends and new, brief acquaintances and a few fellow-travelers, sometimes. There are women, always - some aiming to marry him, others offering more transient pleasures. He has even accepted some of those invitations over the long months, and would not regret that if it brought genuine healing or release, but it never does. His hollow heart drives him on, and the long farewell never ends.
Even now, he delays. He writes to Bess, sends his love, sends his joy at her news, but makes no mention of a return voyage.
By May he is in Switzerland, haunting the lakes.
My lady, he tells his memories, our daughter is expecting a child herself, and calling for me - I should go. Coward that I am, I cannot. Amy! I can't find you here - and can't face the loss of you there. What shall I do?
He asks this question of the lake at Vevay, under a cloudless sky in June; very like another June, twenty-five years ago, when they made their promises to each other. If he can find her again, anywhere, it should be here.
He plays Mozart for himself that evening, and retires early.
What awakens him is a feather-light kiss, both familiar and strange. He opens his eyes - and she is there, leaning over him with a teasing smile. She looks no more than twenty, as she was when he asked her to marry him.
"Amy!" He looks around, startled - had he fallen asleep on the parlor sofa? It is still light outside, a warm summer evening; the long windows are open, the scent of roses drifting through.
"Shh!" says his wife, a finger to her lips. "I've been working... come and see!"
Still confused, he takes her hand and follows her through this dream - of course, it must be. Her hand is so warm; the last time he touched her, it was cold.
Still smiling, she leads him to her studio and through the door. Now it is the older Amy who faces him, in a plain grey dress and her favorite art-apron. "Look," she says, "it's done! The marble - the surprise for you..."
His dream-hand rises, pulling away the cloth. "It's beautiful," he says.
Amy nods, satisfied. "I think so."
It's Jo. First the woman, as he last saw her - then the marble shifts as he watches, changing her to the talkative tomboy he met all those years ago - and changing back. Older or younger, she wears the half-funny, half-tender expression that tells him when her feelings are most deeply touched.
Amy tidies up her tools and puts them away. She takes off her apron, folds it neatly, and lays it on the table. "I'm done," she says. "I think I'll rest now."
"I tried to find you," he tells her. "I couldn't reach you, ever - "
"I know. You were too unhappy. But that's over..."
He reaches out for her, and she comes into his arms. "I love you, Laurie." She gives him another gentle kiss. "Go home."
Then she steps back, smiles at him, turns, and walks out through the studio door. As it closes behind her, there's a flash of light -
- and he wakes at Vevay, alone.
Next morning, he packs up and leaves for Nice. He will take some roses from there, from Valrosa, when he returns across the sea.