Chapter 1: Paris
She’d known he was going to do it.
A proposal was, after all, the expected continuation of a courtship between a gentleman and a young lady. It was only right that Fred Vaughn should propose after however many months of carriage rides and dances and gifts and chaste kisses, and only right that Amy, in return, should accept.
And Amy March was no fool.
Of course it’s not something one said - “Oh yes, we’re here in Paris so that I may take painting lessons and also find a rich husband so that my family might not become utterly destitute” - but it was the truth nonetheless.
The fact of the matter was simply that until recently, this hadn’t exactly bothered Amy.
She liked Paris.
She liked carriage rides through the long, tree-lined Haussmannian boulevards, the cafes and shops and houses all perfectly ordered with their perfect wrought iron balconies and perfect tall windows. She liked attending balls in beautiful dresses, and partaking in witty conversation with a delicate coupe glass of champagne in her hand and a full dance card hanging off her wrist. And she liked the beautiful gifts that Fred brought her - fox fur stoles and kid skin gloves, ribboned hats and painted lace fans - things she’d never had but had admired so fervently as a child.
Most of all, she liked being somewhere where it was not thought vulgar to appreciate beauty - nor a crime to like nice things, or to want them. Her sisters had always thought her something of a snob - shallow, they might have said behind her back. Or in front of it, had it been Jo.
Amy could admit it now - her silliness and vanity as a child. But weren’t all children afforded such weaknesses of character? The rest of her sisters had hardly been angels - excepting Beth, of course, who had always been perfectly lovely, and sweet, and good.
But that silly, vain girl who had kept books full of drawings of noses and thrown temper tantrums and dreamed of high society, had grown into an altogether charming, genteel, and mature young woman, ready and willing to do her duty and secure a rich husband to assist her family in the only way she could.
Fred Vaughn was perfectly acceptable in every way. He was kind hearted, good looking, and richer even than Aunt March could have hoped for. Did he stir any great passion in her when his eyes swept over her décolletage, or his hand lingered on her waist? Did she feel that particularly delicious sort of thrill when his kisses became longer than perhaps she should have allowed, or when they strayed, as they did every so often, to the sensitive, pale skin of her neck?
She did not.
But this was hardly poor Fred’s fault, as the only person who could have done those things had been head over heels in love with her older sister Jo for as long as Amy could remember. Indeed, they had hardly spent two minutes alone together in each others’ company since they had first become acquainted, so many years ago.
Yes, Theodore Lawrence with his perfect nose and his riotous brown curls and his endless love and affection for her family had indeed been the greatest - and only - love of Amy March’s life. She had spent many hours ruminating on the sorry state of the whole thing, wallowing, as she was wont to do as a child, in self pity that he hardly looked at or paid notice to her.
For so long it had been such a fixture in her life - her preoccupation with him. She’d wake up and think on what she might wear that day, in case he should come by the house. Or what she might say to him if he should speak to her. She’d used up countless scraps of paper on little sketches of him, his angular face the preferred shape her pen would take when nothing else inspired her. And - didn’t it make sense that she should harbour such feelings? With him looking as he did and being who he was with his ease and humour and joie de vivre? And with all those times he’d come to her aid - bringing her into his grand old house and consoling her after the incident with Mr. Davis, helping to wrap her wound and letting her look through all the fine books in his library? Or when he’d acted so quickly to save her life after she’d carelessly walked out on the ice and fallen through? It was only natural, Amy thought, that she should admire such a heroic and chivalrous figure from her childhood.
What seemed so unnatural (and so deeply unfair) was that Laurie should be in love with Jo, who didn’t even want him!
It wasn’t that Jo wasn’t worthy of his love - Amy had admired her older sister her whole life, and had only ever sought to tag along on all of Jo’s adventures and be included in all her schemes and intrigues. Jo, who was witty and fiery and rebellious and electric and so sure of herself every minute of the day, was the perfect foil for Laurie’s easy going and indulgent nature. And they made a fine pair, the two of them - both tall and lithe and constantly entangled. But as attuned as Amy was to Laurie’s love lorn gaze that followed Jo everywhere, she was even more aware of Jo’s own detachment from it. Jo never longed for Laurie - she never sighed after him or sneaked glances at him when his head was turned, hoping to catch just another second of him before she had to turn away. She never blushed over him or stammered or became aggravated when the others would rib her over him. There was never any sense of tension on her part - it was all easy and natural and perfectly normal for them to be as close as they were, two sides of the exact same coin, in the purest expression of fraternal and brotherly affection. Jo, who was always Jo and never Josephine, with her tomboyish ways and her love of swearing and pipes and roughhousing, treated Laurie like the cherished brother they’d never had.
And something about that made the whole situation so much worse.
It would have been one thing if Laurie had been in love with Jo who had loved him back with all her heart. The sweetness and romance of it would have been something that not even she, with all her own secret and yearning affection, could have resisted. But for Laurie to love Jo so ardently and have it wasted! It seemed a cruel trick that Jo could throw away so easily what Amy wanted so desperately.
But life went on.
And Amy March, the baby of the family, did as all others eventually do - She grew up.
Other preoccupations came into her life. Beth’s illness, her own removal to the grand and cold home of Aunt March, and of course, her singular opportunity for advancement and education and a life away from their own small American town, in Paris. And it was a sort of heroism of her own, she thought, to be the one boldly adventuring in a foreign land, learning new things and meeting new people, on a quest for self-fulfillment and to secure the future of her family at the same time. After all, they couldn’t all be soldiers and swashbucklers and radicals like Jo - some of them had to go about life another way.
She’d put her love for Laurie in a gilded box in her mind, a beautiful memory she could take out and look at when she needed it, and put it back, safely, when other things became more important. Over time that box had slowly become dusted over, opened less and less, until one day, hardly at all.
But of course - life does play tricks, doesn’t it?
One fine Parisian afternoon, all the feelings Amy had thought she’d forgotten came rushing back again, upon seeing Theodore Laurence strolling somberly along the Parc du Champ de Mars.
It had seemed like something right out of one of Jo’s plays, (the hero enters: stage left) an occurrence so unexpected and unlikely that it could only be brought about by the playwright’s own hand. Amy had reacted to this sighting of him in much in the same way she’d imagine one would if they’d been struck by lightning, or hit in the face with an opening door. That is to say - she’d been momentarily struck both deaf and dumb, before frantically yelling his name while jumping out of the (practically still moving) carriage.
Laurie, Laurie, Laurie, Laurie!
They’d received a letter from him informing them of his trip to Paris and his desire to meet them at their hotel - this type of missive was de rigeur considering their families’ attachment. Amy had received the news of his impending arrival with the sort of removed happiness that she’d schooled herself to have, keeping that gilded box firmly shut away. And she had been right to, hadn’t she? For he hadn’t ended up coming to see them after all, and what an emotional debacle it would have been if she’d allowed herself that indulgence.
But to just see him, out of the blue? No amount of previous emotional quashing could have tamped down her unbridled joy at the sight of him. The lid on the gilded box wobbled precariously.
He was handsome, as always, and charming, as always - Well maybe I didn’t recognize you because you’re so beautiful now! - he’d said, and how proud she was of her own reply! - Oh, stop it - even though upon hearing it she’d felt like a flock of birds had taken up residence in her stomach.
But - he was sad, too. She’d heard, of course, of Jo’s refusal - Meg had sent word some time ago, in her careful way:
And something which we had long anticipated did indeed happen, Amy, but Jo has decided against it -
Laurie, we think, will go to Europe with his grandfather. The whole thing has caused quite a stir but is perhaps for the best…
A funny sort of pensiveness had overtaken Amy upon the reading of it. She’d turned the letter over and over in her hands, sitting quietly for a long while. Proposals were supposed to be a beginning, but this one had been an ending. And, she could admit to herself - an ungracious thorniness had sprung up in her, just for a moment. Good, she’d thought maliciously, for him to feel the same kind of bitter desperation she’d felt for so long at being ignored and looked over.
But holding him at arms length in front her, she’d expressed her rather more true regret for him. I’m so sorry, she’d said, genuinely. I couldn’t believe Jo turned you down.
Don’t be, Amy, he’d replied. I’m not.
The slump of his shoulders and the crispness of his tone said differently though, she’d thought, getting back into the carriage and chancing one last, wistful look at him as he walked away.
And she’d been right, after all.
The New Years Party had been a complete disaster, starting from the quick. This time she had allowed herself the indulgence of opening the gilded box as she decided on which dress (which dress would Laurie like? ), and which earrings (which ones would Laurie like? ) and which hair style (would Laurie like it? ). She’d smiled secretly to herself as her maid had whipped her golden hair into a shining arrangement, and helped her into the beautiful black and gold gown she’d chosen.
She’d thought of what he would say upon seeing her in the beautiful lobby of their hotel. Perhaps My lady, you are a vision! even bowing as he was wont to be dramatic; Or, Why Miss March, not even a painting in the Louvre could compare! ; or even just Amy, you look beautiful. Shall we go?
And then the minutes began to tick on. I’m sure he’s adjusting his cravat perfectly, she’d thought, with a good natured roll of her eyes at his vanity. Another ten minutes passed, and she’d convinced herself he had stopped to bring her a rose, or some other ridiculous frippery that she’d graciously allow him to pin to her bodice while teasing him - Laurie, it’s completely unnecessary, really - but since you went to the trouble…
At a half hour, she began to worry. Perhaps something had happened to the carriage? But as the hour closed in, she’d realized the truth. For whatever reason, he simply wasn’t coming and he’d left her there on her own. Picking herself up off the velvet settee she’d perched on, she’d walked regally to the concierge and requested a carriage, not letting one ounce of the humiliation she was feeling show.
She’d used that carriage ride to steel herself against her anger and disappointment - after all, the one she should really be mad at was herself. This was why that gilded box was there, and why it stayed closed - because whenever she allowed herself to open it, reality came rushing back in. And the reality was that she was an absolute idiot, the stupidest girl in France, pining over someone who was not only still in love with someone else, but who also apparently cared so little for her that he was willing to abandon her in a Parisian hotel!
You will be the most charming, delightful, and beguiling guest at this ball, she told herself. Everyone will love you, especially Fred Vaughn who you will allow multiple dances, and a kiss at midnight.
Then he had shown up, drunk, with two women hanging off of him, and she’d watched as he’d thrown himself onto a sofa and draped himself over one of their laps, his glass wobbling and his cravat (which was beautiful, damn him) in a shambles.
I waited an hour for you, she’d said calmly, steel in her voice.
And she’d proceeded to let him have it, deriding him soundly for his laziness and self-pity, his selfishness and oafishness, and for his all around wastefulness. Especially considering his talent, health, and beauty - which of course he had to single out and which she knew she’d blushed at mentioning, which was both mortifying and infuriating.
I’ll be good for you Saint Amy, I’ll be good! he’d mocked, grabbing her hand roughly in a parody of fealty.
That ring is ridiculous, she’d parried back - knowing that it would sting, as she knew where it had come from. Sure enough, it hit the mark. Jo gave me this ring, he’d answered, some degree of solemness and self-pity making its way into his voice.
She’d wrenched her hand away and looked at him then - really looked at him, at his glassy eyes and sallow complexion. I feel sorry for you, I really do, she’d said. I just wish you bore it better.
You don’t have to feel sorry for me, Amy, he’d thrown back. You’ll feel the same way one day.
How ironic! She’d have laughed, if she hadn’t been so angry. How dare he take his sadness and flaunt around Europe with it as if he was the only one in the world who’d suffered such a blow? Why couldn’t he bear it with dignity as she had borne it all these years?
No, she’d said, the weight of her own miserable love for him making her words heavy. I’d be respected if I couldn’t be loved.
He’d thrown one last humiliating jibe in her direction about spending Fred Vaughn’s fortune before taking his leave and leaving her to pick up the pieces.
She’d gone home that night after pacifying Fred - who’d not been angry but just very confused - and, after being helped out of her dress, sat in her room alone, slowly undoing herself. She took out each pin, one by one, and wiped off all the powder from her cheeks. She sat there for a long time, staring at herself quietly in the mirror. She was pretty, she thought - even if she would never like her nose. She was pretty, and smart, and funny, and she would make a good wife to sweet Fred Vaughn.
She put the lid back on the gilded box. She secured it with nails made of diamonds, and twine made of finely dyed silk. And she crawled into bed, and went to sleep.
The next time she saw him, she was calm, composed, and cooly disinterested. I don’t want to see you, she’d said to him as he’d loped into the room she used for her painting lessons, begging her forgiveness. Oh, Amy, I’m so sorry for how I behaved, he’d demurred, the notes of an inexpensive vintage following along as he drew closer to her.
Why are you being so hard on me? He’d asked.
Someone has to do it, she’d replied.
In truth, Amy had already come to the conclusion that her own artistic merits were not enough to make her out to be anything other than a painter of cheap imitations, and the realization of her own shortcomings after such a tightly held dream had taken its toll somewhat on her pride. It would have been a shame, she thought, for the same to happen to Laurie out of sheer apathy and indolence. He, at least, could make something of himself. And all her anger could not dispel the fondness that, even still, permeated her every thought of him.
That’s quite a statement to make at twenty, he’d said at her reveal of this decision. Then he made her laugh as effortlessly he always could, by hopping up on the portrait stage to demand that her last portrait be of him.
What a picture he’d made that day, she thought - with his fine clothes and mischievous, energetic expression. The scene would make a fine portrait, but she’d drawn him so many times, both on paper and in her mind, that she hardly needed him in front of her to achieve his likeness.
All right, she’d laughed, knowing of course, that she never would.
He’d asked then about Fred, with mocking in his tone; Don’t be mean she’d chastised, not able to bear his laughter at her expense. I only said his name! he teased back, and she realized he had not meant to cut - only to scratch, perhaps.
You are not engaged, I hope? A funny question, in her opinion.
But you will be, he continued, if he…goes down properly on one knee?
…Most likely, yes, she’d answered, wanting desperately to know why he was even asking such questions and what he hoped to glean from her responses. She felt - compelled, then, to add on a justification for her decision. He’s rich, she all but blurted out. Richer than you, even.
And how easy it was for him to deride her for this! He, who had lived his whole life with money and had never once worried where his supper might come from, or spent hours mending and re-mending skirts that had been mended thrice already, or woken up on Christmas morning with no presents, or seen their sibling sell their own hair to afford a train ticket.
It does sound odd, he’d said, coming from one of your mothers’ girls.
And what, she wanted to ask, could you possibly know about my mother and her dreams?
Instead, she parried. She had always known she would marry rich - why should she be ashamed of it?
There is nothing to be ashamed of, he’d answered quickly, as long as you love him.
Ah, love. He couldn’t know, of course, that love was a luxury few could afford; least of all Amy, the hope of her family. And how horribly ironic, to be having this conversation with him, of all people!
I believe we have some power over who we love, she’d answered carefully, her voice smooth and calm and not in danger of breaking at all. It isn’t something that just happens to a person.
I think the poets might disagree, he’d replied.
She’d smiled, then, just a little. it wasn’t as if he was wrong, after all. But she wasn’t a poet, was she? She was just a woman, trying to make her way in this world built for men. And what a hard way it was.
Perhaps he hadn’t expected such a speech from her, as he looked startled and sheepish after she finished speaking. Good, she’d thought smugly.
And then the very subject of their conversation had pulled up in his carriage, and she’d turned around so that he might help her with her apron.
He had been close enough that she could feel each exhale on the back of her neck, his long fingers exerting just the slightest pressure as they removed button from hook, and ribbon from bow. How funny it was, she thought. In her youth she had dreamed whole days away on scenarios just like this. In her dreams he wouldn’t have let her go - he would have kept his hands on her waist, and turned her around to face him, and kissed her like he’d been thinking about it for ages and ages and ages
In real life, Fred Vaughn was waiting outside, and Amy was still not a poet. So she drew away, thanking him, and, turning back one last time before running outside, asked him a question.
How do I look?
You look beautiful, he’d answered, with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. You are beautiful.
He’d stood there at the door, staring out at her as she’d run up to Fred, kissing both his cheeks, before settling into his beautiful carriage.
Was that Laurie? Fred had asked politely, gathering up the reins. How is the old boy?
She glanced back at him, still standing there on the threshold, an odd expression on his face. it seemed to be her lot in life, she thought, to be always staring back at him as she moved further and further away.
He’s fine, she’d said quietly, before brightening. What wonderful adventures have you been having in London? Drinking and gambling and flirting, I suppose, she’d teased.
Oh Amy, Fred had demurred shyly, a ruddy blush staining his cheeks. You know I wouldn’t.
In fact, she did know. Fred would never have done such a thing, and it endeared him endlessly to her. He was so good, and sweet, and kind, and she hardly deserved him.
Not for the first time, she thought what a shame it was that she did not love him.
For the first time, it bothered her.
Fred was away again in London on business, and it would be a longer trip as he was going to spend time with his family.
I’ve some…things I must discuss with Mother and Father he’d told her, that same ruddy blush giving him away.
She’d known then that he was going to ask for the ring.
She’d given him a kiss as he’d left on his way to Calais, and forced herself to stand there, staring after him in his carriage until he was out of sight.
It - wasn’t that she wasn’t happy, exactly. It was more that she thought she’d be happier.
In any case, it was all such a relief, wasn’t it? Everything had gone exactly to plan because Fred Vaughn was, indeed, going to make her his wife.
Amy stubbornly ignored the churning of her stomach whenever she thought on this, and preoccupied herself with the only other person she knew well in Paris, which was Laurie.
She saw him many times over the next few weeks. He even came for tea twice with Aunt March and insisted on kissing her on the cheek each time, which was endlessly entertaining for all involved except Aunt March.
They walked along the Ile de la Cité, and to her surprise Laurie brought a pad and charcoals with him for her to sketch Notre Dame. We’ll be here all afternoon, Laurie! she’d admonished, more pleased than she ought to be at his thoughtfulness. You’ll be bored in twenty minutes, she’d insisted.
Why should I be? he’d replied, smiling, stretching out along the bench they were sat on. I’m not likely to find something better to do than sit here with you, am I? Come now, Raphaella, he’d cajoled. Teach me everything I don’t know about the French gothic.
He’d sat dutifully at her side the whole time, breaking only to persuade a waiter from the cafe down the street to bring them some wine and cheese and a bit of bread and paté for their lunch.
As she drew, they’d named all the gargoyles they could see and wondered at whether Quasimodo was up there in his tower, staring down at them. She’d felt uncharacteristically shy in showing her finished drawing to him, but her fears abated as he’d declared it beautiful and noted how well she’d rendered the flying buttresses on the sides of the cathedral.
They took a carriage ride out to the Bois de Boulogne and walked through it, visiting the newly formed Jardin d’Acclimatation with its exotic plants and zoo and great aviary. They walked through the grounds of the massive metal structure shaped like a birdcage, where the peacocks, kings of the aviary, wandered freely. Amy saw a gentleman handling beautiful rainbow coloured parrots with long feathered tails, and Laurie noticed her interest.
Shall we go over, Miss March?
The gentleman offered for her to hold one of the birds and she’d looked to Laurie for a moment - seeking, she supposed, his approval at this unorthodoxy. He only nodded excitedly, and stood close to her as the parrot with his long beautiful feathers was placed on her arm. The bird flapped its large wings unexpectedly and then settled, but not before Laurie had placed his own hand under hers to help support the weight of the beast.
They took tea at fashionable pátisseries and marvelled at the dozens of beautiful pastries that looked too perfect to eat. One day as they were leaving, Laurie had her wait outside as he ran back in to make a purchase. Just wait, oh impatient one! he’d teased. You’ll see what the fuss is about in a minute. So she had waited there, only for him to re-emerge moments later with a box of perfectly regular looking chocolates. Out of the whole shop, these are what you so desperately needed? She’d asked skeptically, one delicate eyebrow raised.
See for yourself, he’d said, holding up one of the little balls for her to taste.
For a moment she’d thought he’d meant for her to take it by mouth from his hand, the mental image of which would have caused a riotous blush if she’d not been so skilled at managing such things. She'd tugged off one glove and took it gently from his fingers, keeping a look of skepticism on her face until the very moment she'd bit into it and - oh!
Her eyes had widened in delight as Laurie had laughed, satisfied indeed with her reaction - they were filled with champagne!
Well? Were they worth your waiting? He’d teased as they’d eaten the rest of them on their way back to her hotel, where, upon arrival, she’d had to take an uncharacteristic afternoon nap and blamed it on the weather.
It had all been completely harmless, she had reasoned. They were childhood friends and their families had been acquainted for years. Why shouldn’t she enjoy herself with an old friend before her engagement began and her life would change forever? And if she felt any particular sense of anticipation or eagerness for his company in particular, it was only due to the fact of their childhood knowledge of each other and ease in each others’ company. After all - she was going to marry Fred, and she was delighted in the fact that she was going to marry Fred. The nails and twine that kept the gilded box closed were still firmly in place. There was no reason for worry, she had said to herself - She was perfectly in control.
Two days later, she’d received a letter from Fred. He was happy to tell her that he was almost finished with his business in London and that his visit with his family had gone especially well. He would be back in two weeks, and could he call on her and her Aunt March upon his arrival?
The next day, she and Laurie had sat on the grounds of the hotel estate, a blanket spread under them and a picnic lunch between them. He’d been bothering her for days about that portrait she’d promised him, and had declared that their lunch today would be the perfect opportunity for it. So, he’d lain on his side before her, chatting idly while she’d sketched him distractedly, Fred’s letter colouring everything in her minds eye like a pair of coloured glasses.
When are you going back to your Grandfather? She’d asked, in an inexplicably sour mood since she’d woken that morning.
He’d answered her with the same kind of careless triviality she was used to, and Amy could feel her aggravation building. He expects you, she’d carried on, so why don’t you do it?
Natural depravity, I suppose, he had answered, before Amy had quickly corrected him - Natural Indolence, you mean - her churlish mood on full display.
I’ll only plague him if I go, so I might as well stay and plague you a little longer, he’d said, reaching out one finely boned hand to lightly take hold of her chin. You can bear it, he’d said, grinning - In fact, I think it agrees with you.
She’d batted his hand away, not at all in the mood for his teasing. Stop it, she’d said sternly. Stop.
What are you doing? She’d asked him slowly.
I’m looking at you, he’d answered, that same facetious smile still on his face.
She had humphed out a breath, at that. No. I mean what do you intend to do.
With life? he’d asked, and at her nod, began to joke again - I’ve been writing an Opera, I’d be the central figure -
-that’s a waste of time, she’d interrupted, and he’d been quiet for a moment.
What would you have me do? he’d asked, indulging her mood as he lay back down, smiling at her.
Go back and work for your Grandfather and make something of yourself, she’d replied, at which point he'd risen, complaining with a sigh that she was not playing fair.
After a moment she had stood as well, and, feeling as though she was standing on a precipice, handed him her drawing palette - Here - before walking away.
A surprised chuckle left him as he viewed the drawing. That’s very good, he’d said, before picking up the paper to study it more closely and seeing another, much older drawing underneath. Slowly Amy watched him lift it, confusion on his face, and her stomach somersaulted. It had been a stupid, emotional decision to bring the drawing, let alone show it to him.
When did you do this one? he’d asked, turning the paper so she could see.
She’d managed a small smile, her voice quiet. That day at the beach, she’d said. The first time I met Fred.
That’s right, he’d answered slowly, before walking to her and handing her back the palette with the sketches.
What’s he doing? Laurie had asked then, and she had looked up at him, confused for a second, before realizing he was asking about Fred.
He’s in London on business, she’d answered quietly, embarrassed somehow and aggravated by it. He’ll be back in a few weeks.
A moment passed.
And then he’d said it.
Don’t marry him.
Her head had snapped up, the same blankness that had overtaken her months ago when she’d first seen him walking through the park suddenly back, like an unwanted friend.
Don’t marry him, he’d repeated, walking towards her.
Why? He’d parroted back, even closer now. You know why.
And that was the problem, wasn’t it? Amy did know why. He’d even said it himself, a few moments earlier - I’ll only plague him if I go, so I might as well stay and plague you a little longer.
It must have seemed a perfectly natural thing to him - that he should flee to Europe to escape his utter devastation over Jo’s rejection and find another pretty March girl waiting there to entertain him. What a cruel twist of fate it was indeed, that she should love him so desperately, and that he should view her as simply a good enough replacement for the sister who had stolen his own heart so many years ago.
And she was half to blame, wasn’t she? Oh, she’d thought herself so wise! - so careful and clever, believing that she could spend time with him every day and not be so in love with him that it poured out of her like water from a fountain. How very agreeable it must have made her, how very sweet and gay! What an utter fool she’d been. Standing there, she recalled another instance of her own foolishness - the night of Fred Vaughn’s ball. The stupidest girl in France, she’d declared herself then. It would have been hard to believe, in that moment, that the disappointment she’d felt then at his absence could have been dwarfed by anything, but -
life had always played tricks, hadn’t it?
It would have been better not to meet again at all, she thought. Better to have him forget her than to have him want her, but not love her. How did he think she would bear it? Perhaps he thought it would be easy for her - after all, she’d been perfectly willing to marry Fred Vaughn, hadn’t she?
I’d be respected if I couldn’t be loved, she’d once said to him. She’d meant it then, and still meant it, even now. Even more, now, when all she had left, perhaps, was this. Was her dignity.
And so - she’d said no.
You’re being mean, she’d told him, batting his hand away from where he’d tried to lay it on her cheek.
Why - how am I being mean? he’d asked, somehow managing to make it worse.
I have been second to Jo my whole life, in everything , she’d started, and I will not be the person you settle for just because you cannot have her. I won’t - I won’t do it. I won’t - and her voice had broken here, for which she would never, ever forgive herself - not when I’ve spent my entire life loving you!
It was over.
It was over and there was nothing else to be done for it except to walk away.
And so she did.
She refused to sulk.
She refused to sulk because she did not deserve the satisfaction of sulking - not when her own stupidity had played such a starring role in what had happened.
And so she got up every morning, and put on one of her fine dresses, and had her hair coiffed to perfection, and began her day. She rode in their fine carriage and took tea, and read her books, and sat quietly as Aunt March entertained visitors, and she thought about screaming the entire time.
She’d known he was going to do it.
Fred returned the next week, and for the second time in as many weeks, Amy March refused a man.
The ring was beautiful - a series of diamonds set in an ornate circle that sparkled in the afternoon light.
“Is it - Is it Laurie?” he asked, hesitantly, which caused her head to shoot up and her cheeks to blaze in embarrassment, and, inexplicably - shame
“No”, she said, almost gasping with it. “It’s not him, or - or anyone else. I just - I don’t love you as I should, Fred, and I’m sorry for that. I wish this hadn’t happened and that I hadn’t hurt you, but I did, and I’m so sorry for it.
You’re going to find someone else, Fred,” she continued, her voice wobbling. “Someone else - a better woman than me - to wear that ring. I know it.”
And as she began to cry, Fred Vaughn proved once and for all that he was perhaps the most decent man in the world, as he came close to her and held her, and procured his fine silk handkerchief to dry her eyes.
“I see,” Aunt March said slowly, at her news about Fred. “Well…this does change things, doesn’t it?” She paused. “I suppose it’s this Laurence boy, then?”
Amy almost snorted in incredulity at her bad luck - of course she’d get the same question from both Fred and Aunt March, and the only explanation was that there was no justice in the world and that she was cursed.
“No, it isn’t the Lawrence boy” she said lowly, at last giving in to some measure of the pity she felt for herself. “In any case, he’s gone to London just as you said, so what does it matter? I’m sure we’ll not see him again.”
Aunt March regarded her for a long time before speaking. “I’m not so sure of that,” she said carefully, her quizzing glass tipped just so, before looking back down to the bible verse she was studying in her hand.
“I suppose we will need to start packing, as we can hardly stay now that news of your refusal will be making its way around. A disappointment, to be sure…but - perhaps…it has not been a complete waste,” she finished, those shrewd, dark eyes boring into Amy as if the older woman knew something she did not and did not deign to share the news.
And then, in the midst of their packing and planning to return to Massachusetts, something else happened that Amy did not expect.
Marmee’s letter arrived to the hotel postmarked ‘urgent’, and Amy had anticipated the worst news upon seeing it. But opening the folded paper had brought with it the most wonderful news - Beth was well!!
By the Grace of God our sweet Beth has recovered from her fever at long last,
thanks to all our efforts, especially dear Jo who has nursed her day and night.
She is not fully well and perhaps will never be - we believe she will require the use
of a wheeled chair to help preserve her strength throughout the days to come. We
know not for how long we may have her with us still, and - even though dear Beth
felt so strongly about not interrupting your trip, I do not think she would argue this
point now…sweet Amy, come home to us!
“Oh god,” Amy breathed out, tears rapidly clouding her vision. “Oh - god!” she repeated, louder this time, laughing and crying and scrambling to share the news. “Aunt March! AUNT MARCH!!”
She found the older woman in her rooms, directing a maid on how to properly negotiate pleats on a gown while stuffing it into a traveling case. She must have looked an absolute sight, barging in and banging the door wide open, crying and yelling!
“What is it, girl??” Aunt March demanded, shocked at the outburst.
“Oh, god, Aunt March - there’s - Marmee sent news. Beth is well!” she had fallen by this point - onto the floor, in front of her Aunts long skirts. She sniffled, holding out the letter for he to read. “Beth is well and she wants us to come home!”
Aunt March read the letter, slowly, through the lens of her quizzing glass, and upon finishing it, she hmmed. “It seems providence has had a hand in this, as in all other worldly dispensations. A relief, I’m sure, to your poor, long-suffering Mother.” She handed the letter back. “Alright then, Alright,” the older woman murmured, not unkindly, as Amy continued to cry. “There now girl, we must compose ourselves, mustn’t we.” Amy nodded and sniffled, inelegantly wiping her nose on her sleeve and patting her own cheeks to calm down.
“There we are,” Aunt March continued. “Save your tears for something else, my girl - the Atlantic is an unforgiving mistress and we may well be crying out of sheer misery before our journey is through!” Even though it was not meant to cheer her, Amy laughed at this truly Aunt March-ian display of hyperbole, and threw her arms around her Aunt before being pushed off to continue packing.
In truth, their trip back to Concord was not so bad as Aunt March had feared; the comfort and opulence of their first class rooms aboard the steamship were, in Amy’s opinion, not so very different from their rented rooms in Paris - albeit smaller, and with a different view.
Months and months ago, Amy had used her time on the massive steamer as an opportunity to acquaint herself with those other members of high society who were traveling back to Europe. She’d met members of the peerage - so foreign and exotic to her American understanding; she’d taken supper with oil barons and esteemed lawyers and doctors, and even rich tradesmen - and all of their wives, of course! Beautiful, sparkling women in gowns of white satin, with orange blossoms and roses pinned in their braided hair, and the candle-light of the supper hour reflecting in their jewels. How long ago it all seemed, Amy mused, sitting on deck in her cape and blanket - another life completely. How many mistakes she’d made since then! How much she’d learned, and failed to learn. How much older she was - in body, but mostly in spirit.
Heartbreak did have a tendency to age a person, she thought wryly, smoothing down the folds and ripples of the wooden blanket sat atop her lap and staring out at the wide ocean. Once the elation of Beth’s recovery had worn off some, an air of bleakness had fallen over her which she tried hard to dispel. She didn’t wan’t to think about Laurie, and of the utter mess she’d made, but this was of course, completely impossible. Especially since, as Aunt March abhorred sea travel and spent most of her time in bed on principle, Amy was left alone to reckon with her thoughts most hours of the day.
How ironic and unfortunate, she thought, that she should be years older and still wrestling with the same feelings for the same boy! Was she doomed to spend the rest of her life thinking about Theodore Laurence?
That gilded box she had constructed to house her feelings for him so many years ago was in tatters now, but it didn’t mean that she should allow her feelings to run amok and spiral her into melancholia. What she needed to learn, she thought, was to let those feelings come and go without flinching, as opposed to boxing them away in the darkness. Perhaps that was where she’d gone wrong, before.
Even though the good lord had spared her with the providence of his going to London, Amy could hardly live the rest of her life without hearing about him - he lived next door! And surely Jo would speak about him, or Meg, or sweet Beth, who was the favourite of the elder Mr. Laurence who doted on her.
“Mr. Laurence has heard from Laurie,” one of them might say; “He has been arrested in London for public drunkenness and spent the evening in care of a constable-”
No- that was uncharitable, she admitted. It was more likely to be this:
“Mr. Laurence has heard from Laurie - he has been doing well in London and sends his love and regards for all the Marches…”, or “Laurie has sent word from London about all his adventures there, and hopes to be home for Christmas and see us all,” or even, “Laurie has written to tell us of his happy engagement to some fine girl with beautiful auburn hair and her own stunning fortune, and that the wedding shall be here, in Concord, as soon as the weather permits…”
Any one - or all - of those scenarios was a likely occurrence, Amy thought. She resolved that until the day the steamer pulled into the busy and bustling port of Boston, she would allow herself the comfort of her self-pity. There was little harm in it here, she supposed, where she had no responsibilities and no one to care if she spent all day sitting by her lonesome, lost in her own thoughts.
And every day, she would practice. She would practice receiving the news they might get of him, and she’d practice the conferring of her christian charity upon him, and hope for his continued health and happiness. He’d gone to London to…well, ostensibly to make something of himself, as she’d suggested that day in her churlish mood. With all his good fortune and talent - and beauty , she recalled from that one disastrous conversation at the New Years Party - she was sure he’d succeed, and succeed well.
Amy March sat, and pondered, and watched the ocean rise up and calm itself; rise up again, and calm itself once more. If it can be done by the vast sea, she thought, it can be done by Amy March.
Boston was mild and beautiful in its springtime when the steamer docked in Port. The trip back to Concord would be done by private coach, and privately Amy thought that this would be the most arduous leg of the trip, never mind that they’d just crossed the great Atlantic.
But all in all it was not too bad, and she was comforted more than she’d expected by the scenery and smells and sounds as they rode along through Somerville and Medford and North Cambridge, and on further to the streets and sweet fields of home.
They stopped first at Meg’s little house, who, upon hearing the wheels of the carriage outside, swung open the front door and was overcome with emotion. Dear, sweet Meg, who was more beautiful in her simple dress with her joy shining out of her eyes and glowing cheeks than a hundred society girls done up in pomade and powder, who kissed both her cheeks and held her tightly, and laughed brightly when Daisy and Demi threw themselves at Amy’s skirts and, in their excitement, almost toppled her!
“Oh, Amy,” Meg said, her lovely hands cupping her cheeks, “You are such a sight for sore eyes! Look at you - so beautiful and fine! Paris must have been a delight and you must miss it so - but I don’t feel guilty at all in saying I’m so glad you’re home with us.”
Amy embraced her. “Don’t be sad on my account, Meg,” she said, hugging her tightly. “It was wonderful, but not even the Champs Élysée could compare to the sight of your faces - and the news of Beth’s recovery is a sweeter thing to me than all the chocolate in Paris.”
Meg smiled, before sobering a little. “You…didn’t say in your letter,” she asked delicately, “but we thought…maybe we’d see you accompanied by Fred Vaughn..?”
Of course - how could she have forgotten? Amy hadn’t written about her news at all in the letter she’d sent home informing her family of their impending return.
“No, Meg, we - we aren’t engaged,” she said, feeling rather foolish and small.
Surprise and concern coloured Meg’s face. “Did he not…?” she trailed off, her meaning implied - he’d been so attentive to Amy during her travels that his proposal had been almost guaranteed. It would have been considered quite the slight for him not to.
“No, he did, Meg, and he was lovely - the loveliest, really. I just….” she sighed, weary of it all. “I just…couldn’t”.
Meg nodded, concern still staining her features, but she let it drop and hugged her comfortingly. “Well, it’s no matter now, my sweet girl - we can talk about it later, can’t we? Here I am accosting you and you look about ready to drop! I’m sure you’re eager to get to the house and see Beth.”
She was eager, and she told Aunt March that she’d prefer to walk the distance rather than go to Plumfield in the carriage and onto the house from there. So she left Meg’s and began to walk, the route as familiar to her as the back of her hand, up the road to Orchard House.
She’d still been a child, the last time she walked this path, Amy thought. But she was hardly a child now - a woman grown, really, with all a woman’s secrets and longings and dreams and disappointments.
The sun was low in the sky when she saw the house again for the first time, its familiar frame silhouetted in shades of gold and amber. A feeling of completeness and the most bittersweet nostalgia overcame her as she stood there, all her memories rushing up to meet her at once. It’s the feeling, she thought, of not knowing something is even missing, and then upon seeing it again, wondering how you could have possibly lived without it, for even one day.
Suddenly there was movement at the door, which opened to reveal, all at once -
Jo, who stood there at the threshold, silent, her long hair ablaze in the low sunlight, and wearing a terribly ugly blue checked dress.
For a moment they neither of them moved, until - at last, a smile split Jo’s features, and - a whooping laugh! And she ran towards Amy, arms wide, and Amy herself began to laugh, and cry too.
She hugged Jo to her as they collided, laughing and crying both, and she watched as Beth - their sweet darling Beth - appeared also in the doorway, wrapped in one of Marmee’s quilts and smiling like the happiest girl in the world.
“Welcome home!” Jo whispered, kissing her cheek.
Suddenly Meg came up behind them, flushed from her own hurried walk, and they embraced all three, and walked to the door and gathered Beth, whose sweet laugh sounded out like a bell on a cold day.
What a life they had built, Amy thought, carved out of so much sorrow and ache, so much heartbreak and waiting. But, somehow, full of sweetness still.
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm! - she thought, borrowing from Shakespeare. The bard himself - now he had been a true genius. But as she was bundled into the house, her family all around her, Amy thought to add one thing he had forgotten -
Chapter 2: Concord
Wowwwweee here we are! Thank you everyone for the lovely lovely comments on the first chapter - I'm so pleased you all liked it and I hope you'll like this one as well. I feel like there's one more fic potentially in store for these two, but I don't want to promise anything lol. We'll see!
As always, historical notes (there are a lot for this chapter lol) are at the end.
*update: some small edits were done on grammatical errors and one sequence which felt a bit clunky to me in the re-read.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Amy March awoke to the sound of birdsong.
She blinked, focusing her gaze outside the sheer curtains at a blue sky already so familiar again, and smiled. Summer had indeed come to Concord with all its languor and heat and honeysuckle.
A month had passed quickly since her return from Paris.
She lived still with Aunt March at Plumfield as her companion, which suited her fine. And how funny that this should be so, considering her initial despair at being relegated to the cold house away from her family!
But the independence that she had enjoyed in Paris had agreed with her, and Amy was glad of the opportunity to continue it here at home. Aunt March had taken a turn for the worse after their return from Paris, and Amy was happy that she could approach Aunt March’s more concentrated need for care with not only duty, but also affection.
Sweet Beth was, as Marmee had described, quite weak from her most recent bout of fever. It was likely that she would never regain that robust quality which separated the healthy from the sick, and that the wheeled chair she now used would likely be a constant companion until the end of her life. The chair could not be wheeled by her alone - Amy had seen prototypes of such new, fantastic devices dreamed up by doctors after the end of the Civil war, but they were mostly one of a kind and not yet available to the general public. The chair they had for Amy was the best that could be bought however, with new hollow rubber wheels like one might have seen on a bicycle. It made it much easier and lighter for the second person to push, and even had a collapsible canopy on the back, which could be extended so the sitter could stay outside, even in the rain.
Mr. Laurence - that gentleman who in her youth had seemed so cold and cantankerous, but in reality was the sweetest, most genial man - had purchased it for Beth without telling a single soul. He had even travelled to Boston himself to procure it! Amy became used to the sight of him and Beth circling the grounds of his great estate Belmont in the early mornings, or of him in their small, cozy sitting room at Orchard House, listening - on good days - while Beth played the piano.
After he had brought the chair for Beth, Amy - who had not been moved by artistic inspiration since they left Paris - drew a quick sketch of her for Mr. Laurence as a thank you. A little piece, done only in charcoal, it nevertheless possessed an immediacy and sensitivity that rendered Beth with a true sense of her character.
She’d brought it by the house and watched as Mr. Laurence had opened it, almost speechless.
“This is….” he managed, his voice tight with unshed tears, “Very fine, Miss March. Very fine indeed.”
“I’m glad you like it,” she responded, her hand on his arm. “We are all so grateful to you for your concern over Beth and your sweet way with her.” He blushed, which made the white of his hair very white indeed! Amy felt an irrepressible fondness for the older man.
“In any case I am glad to have an Amy March original to call my own,” he said, brightening. “Laurie wrote often of your talent while he was in Paris, and I must say I agree wholeheartedly with his estimation.”
The now familiar flock of birds that took up residence in her stomach at any mention of Laurie threatened to force a stammer, but Amy was glad of the way she resisted.
“That was…very good of Laurie to say so,” she said, digging the sharp of her thumb nail into the soft flesh of her index finger. “But my work was hardly worthy of such praise, I’m afraid. I don’t…have any real plan to continue my artistic education now that I’m home.”
Mr. Laurence held the sketch tenderly as he considered her words. “Well - if it is to be one of your only pieces, I shall have it framed then, to commemorate the occasion. Will the artist do me the honour of signing her work?” he said, holding it out to her.
“I - well…yes, I suppose I would be glad to,” Amy had answered, more pleased than she would admit at his reaction and praise. After signing the bottom corner she stood to take her leave. “You must come by the house more often,” Mr. Laurence said, walking her to the door. “I would like to hear more about your time in Paris, if you are willing to entertain an old man with such tales.”
“I promise I will come as often as I can manage,” she said, and fought a happy smile all the way back to Plumfield.
All along the journey home, Amy had worried over what she would do, now that she was home as a still unmarried woman. How would she make money? Of course she would continue acting as Aunt March’s companion, but there was hardly a future in that.
She’d once said to Laurie that she would dedicate herself to becoming an ornament to society, and while she’d been speaking somewhat facetiously, this was, in truth, her greatest asset.
Amy found there was a growing appetite amongst their own little society for her stories about Paris, and for information on the art, fashion, politics, and philosophy of the second republic and other European capitals.
She’d been invited to dozens of dinner parties upon their arrival home (which, not for nothing, greatly pleased Aunt March) and was happy to realize that her ability to tell stories and play the role of charming hostess was not confined only to the ballrooms of Paris; that perhaps it could play a role in her life even here, a continent away. Maybe Aunt March had been right - maybe Paris hadn’t been a complete waste of time after all.
“I have an idea,” she said one day to Jo, who’d been working furiously on a secret project these last weeks, spending most of her time up in their attic sanctuary alone.
Jo hmmed her response without looking up, her mouth settling into a frown as she noisily scratched out a line she’d just written.
Amy rolled her eyes. “Jo!”
At the outburst, Jo blinked, startled. “There’s no need to shout Amy, I’m sitting right here,” she said indignantly, brushing off a stray drop of ink that had settled on the corner of her paper.
“Jo, I’m being serious,” she said. “I have an idea and I want you to tell me whether it has any merit or not, and please be honest.” It wasn’t like Amy to be so unsure, especially not in front of Jo, and this made Jo put her mass of papers and pen aside.
“What is it?”
And so Amy explained her plan - to start a kind of literary society of arts and letters - a salon - right here in Concord. They’d solicit donations and use the money to pay for the travel and attendance of visiting luminaries and artists, and it could be hosted at Plumfield.
“It is a good idea, Amy - and you’re the perfect sort of person to host it. But what do you think Aunt March would say?” Jo asked, skeptical that the older woman would give her approval.
“I think I can manage her,” Amy said confidently. “After all, I’m still an unmarried young woman with exceptional talents, ready to find a good husband - why shouldn’t he be right here in New England, waiting to come to one of our parties?
More pressing than that though,” Amy went on, “Is we’d need to invite people to come and speak. We’re lucky to have such an abundance of intellectuals and artists right here in New England, but we’d need new members - scholars, artists - to keep things interesting. You didn’t happen to meet anyone, did you? In New York? I thought you’d said the boarding house there was full of people like that.”
Jo reacted somewhat unusually to this comment, which Amy noticed right away.
“What is it?” She asked, narrowing her eyes.
“Well - it’s nothing,” Jo answered, fidgety and downcast. “I - that is to say, yes, I did meet people like that and would be happy to send some letters to that effect. There was one in particular, um - he…well, he was a Professor, very learned and talented, but…” she trailed off, playing with the edge of her papers.
“…But what?” Amy prompted.
Jo sat silently before tssking in aggravation, throwing her papers to the side with a sigh. “Oh, but - nothing! We were friends of a sort before I ruined it all with my disastrous temper and I’ll probably never speak to him again and that’s that.”
Amy couldn’t help the smile that began to creep up her face. She was all too familiar with reactions of this sort - but never before from Jo!
“What happened?” She asked, not unkindly, and Jo looked at her with a doleful and sheepish expression.
“I…became cross with him after he told me he didn’t like my work-”
“No, he was right, he was - it was utter tripe that I’d been writing, just to sell to the gossip magazines and make some money off of it. But I…I wanted to think it was good, and I was very sore about it when he brought me down to reality with his criticism.”
Amy watched Jo, so aggrieved by the telling of the tale and in distress about it, and chanced something.
“Well - he sounds downright mean, to me,” She said slyly, waiting for what Jo would say.
The older girl sighed. “I know it must seem like that, but really he - he isn’t like that at all. It was a kindness of him to say so - to take me seriously. And I behaved terribly badly over it, I’m afraid. In any case - I’ve no idea where he is now. He probably left New York.”
“You never know,” Amy said carefully, not wanting to appear overly interested in case Jo shut down about it. “What was his name?”
Jo, who’d begun to gather her papers once again and return to her work, stopped to answer Amy.
“Friedrich,” she said. “Friedrich Bhaer.”
Amy hmmed. “A fine, German name,” she teased, and was happy to see a little smile appear on Jo’s face. “Well, perhaps he - or another one of those visionaries you broke bread with every day - might be worth writing to sometime,” she finished breezily, and took her leave of Jo.
As she left Orchard House on her way back to Plumfield, Amy pondered Jo’s distress over the mysterious German professor. What sort of man was he, she wondered, who had so obviously captured her sisters’ heart? It wasn’t your every day sort of person who could go toe-to-toe with Josephine March, that was for certain. Amy had the feeling he might have been older - or perhaps that was just the German in him. She was reminded of the sort of comments Aunt March used to make about Laurie’s indolence and the Italian in him that was apparently to blame.
Had her feelings for him been as plain as Jo’s were for her German professor? She’d done an excellent job she thought, at keeping the whole debacle under wraps once she’d gotten home.
Some things, no matter how hard one tried, couldn’t be hidden.
Sitting with them at all their old, familiar table the night she’d returned home, Amy had explained what had happened with Fred. He had asked her, she’d told them - going down properly on one knee - and she had wanted to say yes, but in the end she had known that it wouldn’t have been right. Fred deserved someone who would love him well and truly, she’d said.
They’d all been so accommodating and kind about it - especially Marmee, who, in her infinite gentleness, commended her on making the right, moral decision.
And then, of course, they’d asked about Laurie.
“He wrote about you all the time,” Jo had said, munching inelegantly on a piece of bread. “It was honestly a relief to hear it because at least it seemed to cheer him up! The poor boy - he was so upset after…well - you know” she’d said pointedly, “And I felt so guilty about it! He didn’t even speak to me before he left. He’d already been in Europe for some time before we got his first letter, and to our surprise it was all about you! From your letters Amy we might not have known the two of you had even seen each other!”
This was true, as Amy had studiously avoided any mention of Laurie in her letters, not wanting to give anything away accidentally or cause suspicion.
“Well, I suppose it makes sense that he’d write about me since the only other things he did were drink and gamble and flirt with every pretty french creature who walked by!” she’d laughed, the collar of her dress feeling suddenly very tight. “I was - preoccupied with Fred, you understand,” she’d said, begging off in what she’d hoped was a believable lie.
“We were proud to hear that he’d gone to London to start working with Mr. Laurence there,” Meg had added, and the whole table had nodded.
“Yes, I - he had come to the hotel to tell us he was leaving, but I had just missed him, I’m afraid. I’m sure he’ll do well there,” she’d said, glad of the slightly safer direction the conversation had taken.
“I’m sure he heard from Fred about what happened between you two,” Jo had said, prompting Amy to think she had spoken too soon. She'd swallowed hard before adopting a placid expression.
“Oh, well - I don’t know, really - Fred went back to London on business so I suppose so-”
“-Fred’s been one of his closest friends for years,” Jo cut in mulishly, “Of course he’d know! And good thing too, since we know Laurie wouldn’t let any sort of gossip spread.”
“Fred wouldn’t do that,” Amy had said softly, not having to lie. “He’s a true gentleman, and he’ll make some sweet girl very happy one day.”
“Laurie told us all about your paintings and drawings, Amy,” Beth had said smiling, her hands holding a cup of tea. “Of course we already knew how talented you were, but with all your lessons you must be just wonderful now. Didn’t you bring any back with you?”
The truth was she hadn’t, which was an irony; she’d been excited beyond belief for those lessons, and by the time she was set to leave, they - and the work she’d created - were the absolute last things on her mind.
Perhaps the thing she’d been most sad about, although it pained her to admit it, was the loss of the old, yellowed sketch of Laurie on the beach that day, done so many years ago. She’d kept it for so long, after all, and it really had been a good likeness of him. She hadn’t realized in her distress over their conversation that she’d left it when she’d thrown her palette down, and by the time she’d returned the next morning, it had been gone. Thrown away, she’d supposed, or blown off by the wind.
“I’m so sorry, Beth, I didn’t even think to pack them! When I got Marmee’s letter I was in such a rush to get home I would have jumped on the ship with only the clothes I was wearing, if I could have,” she’d apologized, reaching out to take Beth’s hand.
“I’m afraid Laurie has endorsed my skills too highly and I’m set to disappoint you all - I’ve abandoned my artistic dreams due to mediocrity,” she’d said with panache to a rousing chorus of disappointment, which did make her laugh.
“See! What did I tell you. He’s set me up for failure, that boy, and I shall never forgive him for it,” she’d finished imperiously, channeling all her gumption to end on a bright note.
“Now - what’s all this I hear about Jo’s furious scribbling at all hours of the night?” She’d deflected, turning the tables’ attention to Jo, who was now already fighting off comments from the group demanding to see what she’d been writing.
That evening before Amy was set to return to Plumfield, she’d walked Beth back to her room and busied herself by turning down the bed for her. After seeing her tucked safely in, Beth had bade her to come sit on the bed for a moment.
“You seem so sad, Amy,” Beth had said quietly, holding Amy’s hands in her own. Trust Beth to see right through all her bravado and find the truth..
She’d sighed, and squeezed her older sisters’ cold hands. “I’m….I’m not really, Beth,” she’d said, not wanting to worry her too much. “Just a little. But I’ll be alright.”
Beth beheld her with those clear eyes that seemed to stare right down into Amy’s soul. “I don’t think…it’s Fred, that’s made you so sad,” she said softly, and Amy huffed out a watery smile.
“You’re the cleverest of us all, I’d wager,” she’d said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “I was upset about Fred - if only because I felt so guilty - but…no. That isn’t it.”
“Every woman must have some secrets,” Beth had said wisely, “And I think you must keep this one for now. but I’m here, when you want to talk about it.”
How silly it was that Beth should be the one comforting her - But oh! How much Amy had needed it in that moment.
“Thank you, Beth,” Amy had whispered, and had let her sister hold her for a long while.
Amy continued to be consumed by thoughts of her Literary Society. She knew it could be a success, if only she was given the opportunity!
One blindingly hot August afternoon, she went to see Aunt March about the use of Plumfield.
Amy was so nervous that her palms actually sweat - she didn’t think she’d ever been quite so nervous asking for anything in her life! The prospect of the crushing disappointment of failure did mean there was rather a lot on the line.
In a particularly clever turn of preparation, she even dusted some pork rind from the larder on her skirt so that Popper, the horrendously spoiled little dog beloved by Aunt March and hated by all others, would come and sit on her lap in a charming display as she explained the concept.
Aunt March looked at her through narrow eyes. “Sounds like a room full of Bohemians to me,” she murmured, her tone as imperious as ever despite her declining health.
Amy rolled her eyes good naturedly, and laughed. “It will be a room full of well to do members of New England high society, all interested in the art of fine conversation and the refinement of taste. People like the Moffats, and the Gardiners.”
The older woman interjected with an indelicate hmph! “And what about these visiting…intellectuals?”
“Aunt March, Ralph Waldo Emerson is hardly a bohemian!”
Aunt March sniffled, seemingly unimpressed, and Amy drove ahead with one more tactic.
“In any case, it will be a fabulous opportunity to meet eligible bachelors right here in New England, and impress them with my wit and charm. And how impressed they will all be with you, Aunt March, the esteemed patroness of such stimulating events!”
“Don’t think I can’t see through that in a minute, Amy March,” her Aunt began, eyes as thin as slits. “You’ve been spending all together too much time with Jo now that you’ve been home and that girls deviousness will rub off on you if you aren’t more careful. But I suppose…” she trailed off, making a show of it as she played with the hassled edge of her bedspread, “I suppose you may have your little parties.”
It took all her good manners not to break out in a squeal right then and there, but in deference to her Aunt who abhorred such displays, she simply smiled widely. “You will be glad of it, Aunt March, I promise,” she said, rising to take her leave.
“Hmph! Promises. ‘All promise outruns performance’,” the older woman muttered from the bed. “I expect results from these gatherings Amy March - of the matrimonial variety.”
Holding onto a smile, Amy turned back to her. “You none more so than I, Aunt March,” she affirmed, before adding, “And I will be sure to ask Emerson for his continued thoughts on the nature of promises if he attends one of our little parties - that is him you’ve quoted just now, is it not?”
Amy started small.
She hosted a number of gatherings at Plumfield on subjects like transcendentalism, the abolitionist movement, and Women’s Suffrage.
Members of the wealthiest class in Concord and Boston, like the Moffats and the Gardiners, made up some of the group - so too did poets, artists, writers, philosophers, and even some political hopefuls. These smaller meetings not only raised funds for both future meetings and for charitable donations, but which also affirmed Amy’s confidence in her role as Salonnière.
The role was not merely ornamental, but one of considerable influence - she selected the guests and decided the subjects of the meetings, acted as mediator and regulator, and helped to direct discussion. Her ability to soothe tempers and inject humour into those moments of tension or hiatus were regularly commented on by attendees.
Somewhat surprising to Amy however, was Jo’s triumph at the meetings. She had initially expected that Jo’s tendency towards brusqueness in conversation might ruffle feathers, especially considering her usual castigation of (and discomfort in) high society. However, as the meetings provided an opportunity for more spirited debate than was generally acceptable at society gatherings, Jo’s witty and cutting brand of political discourse found a home and admirers. It did not hurt either that during one meeting, Jo revealed herself as the author of those particularly sensational articles published in Atlantic Monthly, which had found a popular (if somewhat sheepish) audience among the New England elite!
Her first major success came in September, when Plumfield was visited by the artist Winslow Homer, whom Amy had met and come to know during her time in Paris. Born in Boston and mostly self-taught, Homer had found major success working as an illustrator for the popular periodical Harper’s Weekly. His work with Harper’s had sent him to the front lines of the civil war, and his experiences there had inspired a number of war-related paintings, including Prisoners From the Front, which had been exhibited in Paris at the Exposition Universelle shortly before Amy’s arrival there. Amy had formed something of a kinship with Homer, as they both preferred a realist style over the impressionism that was rapidly sweeping the French art world.
She had sent a letter to him earlier in the summer hardly daring for a response, and had been ecstatic to receive his letter back affirming his participation. In it he wrote,
My dear Miss March,
A lovely surprise to hear from you indeed!
I recall our conversations in Paris on Millet and the benefit of plein air with fondness
a nd am not at all surprised to learn of this literary society you have wrought in Concord.
I would be happy to attend a meeting in September late, as I will be on my way to Philadelphia
with a number of works to be exhibited there. I would be happy for them to be displayed at
P lumfield during my stay.
I have tended towards reclusively of late and seldom find myself a part of urban social life,
but perhaps you will lend me some of the refinement you seem to possess in spades and
in order so that I may not be found so boorish by your companions…
With great regard etc etc,
But any fears of boorishness on the artists’ part were unfounded - he retained an excellent sense of humour despite any tendency towards hermitry, and the group found excellent discussion on his experiences at the front during the civil war, his time in Paris, his association with the other American artists enjoying popularity at the current moment, and his upcoming exhibition in Philadelphia.
There were many visitors to Plumfield over those few days to view the works on display, and the group received a mention in The Boston Globe as ‘The Concord Society of Arts and Letters’ for the impromptu exhibition.
Meg had been the one to spot the mention and had screamed so loud in her kittle kitchen that poor Daisy and Demi had both immediately starting crying.
Amy clipped the mention from the paper and sat for a long time that night, simply holding it, hardly imagining that such a thing was possible.
A week or so later the March family received a letter.
She and Beth were sat in the garden, attempting to adorn the wheels of Beth’s chair with a pile of white wildflowers Daisy had picked for them, when Marmee appeared on the path from town.
“How goes the flower garlanding?” She asked them with a smile, wiping the back of her hand across her forehead as she caught her breath from the heat.
Amy frowned. “Slowly,” she said. “We underestimated how many we’d need, I think. We’ve used almost all of what we have just on one wheel!”
“But it does look beautiful, Amy,” Beth said kindly, a pile of the flowers in her lap as she helped the ready the stems. “Even one wheel is a triumph.”
Marmee smiled at them. “Well, could I persuade you both to abandon your task for a moment and come inside? Look what I’ve brought back from the post office,” she said, brandishing a letter from her satchel.
If Amy hadn’t already been sitting, she might have wobbled precariously, she thought. She’d recognize that loping script anywhere.
“Oh,” Beth cried excitedly. “It’s from Laurie!”
“Here Beth, you can come in with me,” Marmee said, helping Beth out of her chair and slinging her arm around her back as they walked slowly to the door. She called out behind her. “Amy will you be along?”
If Amy had been a slightly more inelegant person, she might have thrown her head back and loudly groaned. No Marmee, actually I’m just going to stay here and dig a pit in this garden and throw myself in if that’s alright with-
“Yes, I’m coming!” she called back instead, busying herself with arranging her shawl over the pile of wildflowers on Beth’s chair so they would not blow away while they were inside.
What would he say? Would he ask how she was settling back into life at Plumfield and if she was enjoying Concord high society, as if they were only good friends as ever before and nothing had changed or passed between them? How mortifying that would be! It would only confirm of course that whatever feelings he’d played at having towards her were no more than a lightly passing fancy, as she’d suspected.
Had he met someone? Some daughter of a duke, or a viscount? Was he writing with the happy news of an engagement? It was hard for Amy not to let her mind run circles around itself at the possibilities - especially as all of them were unpleasant.
But a letter was bound to happen, she thought, as she made her way to the house. It was no use standing outside and stewing in self pity. She was made of sterner stuff than that, surely!
Marmee was sitting by the window, letter opener in hand, with Beth arranged on the couch. Jo, who’d galloped her way down the stairs, came up behind Amy. “Whatever will he talk about now that he does not have you and all your fancy manners and perfect talents to describe to us!” she teased, completely unaware of her younger sisters’ inner turmoil.
Amy huffed a laugh, only a little nervously. “I’m sure it couldn’t have been that bad,” she said, resisting every urge to start wringing her hands.
“Not that bad!” Jo exclaimed, rolling her eyes dramatically. “Every letter - Amy this and Amy that, and what lovely pictures she paints and what a success she was at so and so’s party - it was absolutely ghastly the way he went on about it!”
“Well, you were always so overly focused on my faults that I can see why that would have been hard for you, Jo,” she shot back, rather pleased at the steadiness of her voice and of how Jo laughed, not noticing that anything was amiss as Marmee began to read.
My Dear Marches,
Fondest greetings to you all from London! It is Summertime here although you’d hardly know it -
sometimes the weather is so cold and wet that one might think Easter had not even arrived! I must
admit though, that it does seem to suit these serious, reserved folk with their fog, and gas-lights,
and fine, grey homes.
Grandfather sent word via telegram of Beth’s recovery, but even in this age of instant correspondence
there is no replacement for a jubilant letter penned by one so full of happiness and tenderness.
I received Jo’s letter of it and am unashamed to say that I came to tears right at my desk and
keep it in my breast pocket.
Dear Beth, how loved you are by all of us and how well and truly good it is that we will have many
more mornings and afternoons and evenings with you! You must promise me that you will make
some scandalously outrageous demands of Grandfather, for I know he thinks of you as if you
were his own, and would deny you nothing.
I have been doing well and behaving well too, although I know you will scarcely believe it. I’ve come
to work as a clerk in grandfather’s counting house here, and enjoy it more than I thought I would.
My musical education has proved useful after all, as the reading of music and counting of notes is
not so very different from the type of arithmetic done day in and day out in this great building on
Meg, you must instruct John not to denigrate the composing of Operas in the education of
Demi and Daisy - for look where it has led me!
I will say that I experienced some reserve from the other fellows when I first arrived, expecting some
loudmouth American no doubt - I’m sure they imagined the young master Laurence would loaf around,
content to give orders while not lifting a finger. In truth I could have come in higher up, but I found it
a point of personal pride to earn their approval, and I have learned much by it and made many honest friends.
What else can I write other than I miss you all, in quite a simple, desperate human way, and that I hope
to be home soon to give you my love in person.
With all my affection,
It took everything in Amy to keep the placid expression on her face as her stomach dropped to her feet. She’d been so stupidly concerned over what he might write that she hadn’t even considered he might not mention her at all.
And how much worse it was!!
It really was all over, then.
Somehow she’d still thought - well, she wasn’t sure what exactly, but there might have been, at the very back of her mind, some tiny kernel of moonstruck foolish hoping that he would…
But it didn’t matter now.
He’d written and in doing so had made it clear that whatever he’d thought between them was, just as she’d expected, already forgotten.
He might have at least said hello, she thought rather sullenly, just to be polite - but she forced both that thought and her own self-pity away in the next second, determined to feel glad and happy for him and not bitter or resentful. At least their meeting in Paris had engendered one positive thing - it was clear that her reproachfulness of him had spurred him onto purpose and enterprise, which was at least something she could feel proud of.
But Amy was not the only one surprised by the letter.
“May I see the letter?” Jo asked, a puzzled expression on her face.
Marmee handed it over to her. “What is it, Jo?”
Jo scanned the page. “It’s just strange that he didn’t ask about Amy at all.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t even know I’m home, Jo,” Amy said, a hot blush threatening. She did not want to spend the rest of her afternoon in a flurry over him .
“He does know, I wrote to him about it!” Jo insisted, indignant on Amy’s behalf. “I just think it a bit rude that he spent all the past months prattling on about you every chance he got and now won’t even deign to mention-”
But she stopped, suddenly, and stared at Amy.
Then looked back at the letter.
Then back at Amy.
Then back at the letter.
And then - a knowing look dawned across her face.
I feel caught Laurie had said that night at Fred’s party as she’d stared down at him on the sofa, and how eerily it seemed to match her exact feeling at this moment! That particularly uncomfortable sensation of being found out came over her as she waited for Jo to force the whole thing to the surface or make some crack.
But instead of asking her about it in front of Beth and Marmee, Jo handed their mother the letter back. “I suppose we can’t fault the poor boy for forgetting, what with all the hard work he’s doing in London,” she said definitively. “He must be desperately tired every night after doing an honest days work!” she teased.
Amy could tell nothing by Marmee’s face which was calm but inscrutable after witnessing the little scene between her and Jo. “I’m sure that’s it, Amy,” she said carefully. “I hope you won’t be upset or take it as a slight.”
“Not at all,” she answered, altogether more brightly than she felt. “I’m happy that he’s found his way into the fullness of maturity at last. I’m sure it suits him.”
“I hope he will come back and visit us soon,” Beth said. “I have missed him while he’s been away - there’s always such a lightness to things when we’re all together again.”
“I’m sure we’ll see him again before too long,” Marmee mused, looking at Amy thoughtfully. .
Amy, who’d been thoroughly investigating a worn patch on the apron she wore over her dress, rose from the sofa. “Well,” she said, “I think I’ll see if Daisy has any more flowers for us, Beth.”
But Jo moved to intercept her.
“Actually Amy, do you think you could help me with something?” she asked, her tone cheery on the surface but with a steel underneath that Amy understood all too well.
“I really should get to Meg’s-”
“-It really would be helpful though,” Jo interrupted with a deliberate look, “if you could spare just a few minutes.” Seeing Amy about to protest again, she stepped close to her face. “If you don’t come upstairs with me this minute Amy March I will say it right here in this room!”
Not knowing what Jo thought she did - or didn’t - know, Amy considered her options. On the one hand, talking it out with Jo would be mortifying. On the other hand, Amy would have rather cut off her own arm than have the whole family know how much of a fool she’d made of herself with Laurie.
She rose her chin in that particular way she was wont to do when aggravated. “Fine Jo, I suppose a few minutes couldn’t hurt. Beth, I’ll be down soon,” she said, sending a clear message to Jo - the clock is ticking so talk fast!
The two sisters walked through the house and up the stairs to the attic in a tense facsimile of normalcy.
“Jo, you are being ridiculous!” Amy hissed as they made their way up the stairs.
“I’m being ridiculous? I can’t believe you wouldn’t tell me!” Jo scoffed loudly.
“Tell you what?”
Jo snorted loudly. “Oh please Amy, it’s so obvious.”
Amy raised her chin and adopted a regal air as she paced the familiar attic room. “I don’t know what you’re implying, Jo-”
“I’m talking about THIS you absolute goose!!” Jo shouted, holding the letter up. “You and Teddy - I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! All of his letters, going on and on about how talented you are and what a success you are in fine society, and about all of your adventures - that’s very like a boy in love. And I should have known from your notes, when you didn’t mention him at all, that something was obviously going on! Were you - is that why you turned down Fred Vaughn? But I don’t understand what happened - now Teddy won’t mention you at all and you act like you’re barely aware of his existence. Did you quarrel?”
Amy stared at her, guilt and anxiousness and disappointment all churning in her stomach. “It’s not why I turned down Fred,” she said quietly. “And I don’t know what - I don’t know what you think was happening between us but there was nothing. There was - there was-” Amy’s voice hitched, in a wobble. “There was ab-absolutely…nothing!” she finished, and promptly broke into tears.
Sensing Amy’s true distress, Jo calmed at once. “Oh, Amy - you poor thing - here, come here,” she said, and gathered her into her arms. “There there, try and calm down- you’ll give yourself an apoplexy-”
“Oh - don’t joke about that Jo!” Amy cried, her hands over her face.
Jo rolled her eyes. “Alright, I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to make you upset, I just - well, not for nothing but I know you’ve always felt for him, Amy -”
Amy’s head snapped up, ready to deny it-
“And don’t deny it! I used to find your scribbles of him all around the house, you know. Remember when you tried to make a mold of your foot for him?” she asked, and Amy sniffled.
“Yes, and I got stuck,” she said dejectedly, which broke Jo out in a laugh.
“You poor creature! I can’t imagine it was easy for you watching the two of us muck about everywhere, and I’m sorry for that. But really - you’re perfect for Teddy. I’ve always thought you two would suit, and I’ve even told Beth as much before. I told him once that what he needed was some lovely, accomplished girl to help rule his life for him, and why shouldn’t it be you?” she asked kindly, smoothing the hair off Amy’s now red and blotchy forehead.
“It shouldn’t be me because he’s not in love with me, Jo,” Amy said quietly.
“Why do you say that?” Jo asked. “What happened between you before you left Paris? Was there some sort of misunderstanding?”
Amy laughed bitterly, wiping her face with her hands. “Yes, there was a misunderstanding. The misunderstanding was that I’m in love with him and he’s in love with you, but he still thought I might make a nice consolation prize.”
“Oh, Amy…” Jo trailed off. “Surely he didn’t say that?”
Amy sniffled, composing herself. “No, not in so many words, but…the meaning was implied.”
“I don’t think that could possibly be true, Amy,” Jo said with conviction. “As soon as he met you in Paris, the letters started coming. After I hadn’t heard from him in months! And not a single one of them seemed anything like they were written by a heartbroken boy trying desperately to move on from an unrequited affection.”
Amy looked down at her dress, fiddling with the button hole on her bodice which needed mending thanks to the calamity of Jo’s hair. “That’s sweet of you to say, Jo,” she said, “but I was obviously right - he’s gone to London and forgotten all about me and any affection he thought he might have had for me. But I was just a - a stand in, of sorts, for how upset he was over you turning him down. He could have at least written a hello, just out of politeness,” she sniffed, her sense of good manners affected on principle by the slight.
“Honestly, I just…I just want to put it behind me. And I’m happy for him, I really am - I can say that truthfully and with good feeling. I just - I have to focus on here, and now. I must learn to sail my ship,” she finished.
Jo smiled, and slung an arm around her shoulders. “Oh Amy. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine it’s true what you’re saying - that he’s forgotten you or any of those things - but I don’t want you to be upset about it. And you’re doing so much good work here, with or without Teddy.” she said, rubbing her hands on Amy’s arms soothingly, before pulling her into a hug.
“It might be rough seas now, but you’ll get through. Just say the word and I’ll be your first mate, Captain,” Jo whispered, and Amy laughed.
Yes, she thought. She would get through.
It was a brisk day in mid-October, and Amy had much to do.
She had received exciting confirmation from the artist John Singer-Sargent, currently completing his first solo exhibition at the St. Botolph club in Boston, that he would be attending a meeting of the Concord society as a guest later that month. As the confirmation had come rather late, she had a number of decisions that now had to be made regarding the guest list so that invitations could be sent out today.
Some type of blight had affected most of the floral arrangements at Plumfield, and needed to be replaced.
She had a fitting for a new gown which had already been rescheduled three times, and would not be rescheduled again if Amy had anything to say about it.
She had also promised Meg that she would fish out her old watercolour supplies and bring them over to the house for Daisy, who had taken something of an interest in the practice.
She took her break-fast with Aunt March, who was in a particularly fine mood thanks to a bouquet of beautiful Asiatic Lillies that had been delivered for Amy. They’d been courtesy of a wealthy Boston sea merchant named John Perkins Cushing, a guest at their most recent Concord society meeting on classical liberalism, and old enough to be her father.
“You’ll write that gentleman a thank you, won’t you Amy?” the older woman said pointedly, cracking the skin off her soft boiled egg.
“I certainly will,” Amy replied, having absolutely no intention of doing so. She wiped her mouth with her napkin. “In fact, I’ll do so right after I return from my errands.”
Aunt March nodded, pleased. “Very good my girl - an esteemed gentleman like that is not anything to turn up one’s nose at. Take care to hurry along then,” she continued, as rose to leave, and even offered her cheek for a quick kiss.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can!” she called over her shoulder.
If Amy had not been so rushed, she might have noticed through the window the familiar stately horse and carriage from Belmont house making an unusual mid-morning trip into town.
Amy made her way to the post office, where there had been an incredibly long line and she waited almost three quarters of an hour before making it to the front to send her letters special delivery.
She then made her way to the florist, where the blooms she was meant to pick up were the entirely wrong colour thanks to a spilled cup of tea on the note she’d left in the florists shop.
Afterwards, and already running late, she ran to the seamstress where Amy wasted another hour having a polite disagreement with the seamstress who had interpreted Amy’s ideas for her new evening dress in completely the wrong way.
By the time she made it back to Plumfield she was completely exhausted and ready to just beg off Meg’s request for the watercolour supplies for another day, but the thought of sweet Daisy’s disappointed face forced her to her feet once more, and over to Orchard House where she would rummage through the attic.
If she’d been a little less tired and not so distracted, Amy might have noticed the commotion and excited voices coming from the house before she walked in.
As she did not, she walked in completely unprepared for what greeted her.
Sitting there in their parlour room, surrounded by her mother and father and all her sisters, was Laurie.
He stood suddenly upon seeing her, and as he did the whole feeling in the room changed, the way it happens when a glass is unexpectedly shattered on the floor.
“Hello Amy,” he said rigidly.
He did look very well she thought, in an elegant oxblood coloured suit and vest with his meticulously starched collar and matching bow tie. He looked like some young fine young Lord, grown into himself somehow. A moment ago he must have been totally at ease within the circle of her family, but he appeared stiff and uncomfortable now that she’d arrived.
She felt all the eyes of the room on her as she kept her voice steady and attempted an air of nonchalance.
“Hello Laurie,” she replied.
Neither of them made any effort to approach or embrace the other, and if it hadn’t been clear to the rest of the March clan the day they’d received Laurie's letter that something unusual was going on, the strange tenseness of the current moment could hardly be mistaken.
“I - How are you?” he asked, his speech cut off and halting.
She blinked. “Yes, I’m - well I’m fine, thank you.”
“Oh? Well that’s - that’s wonderful,” he breathed out in a rush, nodding his head quickly.
“Yes,” she answered, before realizing she ought to say something else. “And how’ve you been?”
“Me?” he asked stupidly, and if Amy had been looking away from Laurie she would have seen Jo roll her eyes as she failed to hold in an audible groan.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Yes, I’m - well I’m fine also.”
“Yes,” he said, seemingly at a loss for how to keep the conversation going.
"How wonderful that you're home so soon after we received your letter," she went on, trying to salvage the unmitigated disaster that was this interaction. "You must have been glad to get away, with all the work you've been putting in."
"Yes, it's - it's good to be home, to...see all of you," he managed out, before seemingly buoying himself back up to go on. "Actually, I was hoping, Amy-" he began, but feeling like she might be overtaken by a panic, Amy interrupted him.
“I’ve - I’ve just come over to find my old paints, actually - for Daisy,” she said loudly, looking to Meg.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that now,” Meg said, looking between her and Laurie whose gaze was still fixed on Amy. “Why don’t you sit with us and-”
“-No it’s alright,” Amy cut in. “I’ve been meaning to get them to her for ages and I know how much she’s been wanting them.”
She swallowed. “So I suppose I’ll - I’ll just go do that, then,” she finished, and made her way upstairs as the rest of the group stared after her.
When she reached the first landing out of sight from the rest of the house, Amy stopped and clutched at the bannister. She could hear hushed voices in the room she’d just left. Her heart was beating so hard she could feel it in the palms of her hands.
That’s good she’d said to him, but everything was not good, it was terrible and awkward and just awful! They could barely exist in the same room together without all of the mess of the whole thing rearing up for all to see! She had hoped that moving forward they might at least regain some semblance of civility, but that was apparently not to be the case as he seemed almost incapable of even speaking to her.
It really was terribly rude, she thought, that he would act in such a way and leave the whole thing up to her to be salvaged so as to prevent gossip and chattering.
She was not going to allow herself to be made a fool of, she resolved. She’d been startled in seeing him at first, but she would not make that same mistake again. She would go downstairs and be all things gracious and sociable, even if he could not bring himself to the task.
So up to the attic she went, rummaging around in old boxes and bins and cabinets, until the little watercolour painting set she’d put away so many years ago appeared. It was dusty and a bit dirty, and the paints of course were dry and the colour violet had cracked in half, but all was easily fixed with a bit of water. Yes, she thought. Still good.
Some more rummaging found a bundle of scrap paper that, in contrast, did look like it had seen better days, but would still be suitable enough for Daisy to practice on.
Bundling it all up, she took a deep breath and went downstairs.
On the way down she head the loud smack of a hand meeting fabric, and an accompanying “Ow, Jo!!” from Laurie. She rolled her eyes. Would some things never change?
In rejoining the group the hushed conversation that had been taking place suddenly stopped as they all turned to look at her.
“I’ll just…” Amy began, well aware that they’d all been talking about her, “take this over to Daisy, Meg-”
“Why don’t you let Meg take that, Amy?” Marmee suggested gently.
Amy protested. “Oh, no, that’s alright-”
But Meg stepped forward, nodding her head. “Yes, I’ll bring it home with me - I’ve got wash on the line anyway that needs taking down, so I really should go.”
Calm, Gracious, sociable; Calm, gracious sociable.
“Yes, alright Meg,” she said, handing the watercolour box and paper over and seeing red. “Tell Daisy I’ll be there to help her soon.”
“Of course I will,” Meg said, stepping forward to hug her. She turned then to Laurie. “So good to see you home!” she said, giving his cheek a kiss and hugging him briefly, before leaving.
Now without a buffer, Amy steeled herself and turned to Laurie.
“What are your plans for the evening?” she asked brightly. “You must be exhausted from the journey, I know I was,” she finished.
“Well I - I was hoping, Amy-”
“I’ll go then and let you catch up with Jo,” she interrupted with a smile. “I’m sure you two have plenty to get caught up on! I’ve got so much to do at Plumfield anyhow that I really ought to get going,” she said, the excuse of the next meeting of the Literary Society a welcome one.
“Oh, but - won’t you stay, Amy?” Jo asked, urging her with her eyes in a way that Amy was all too happy to ignore.
“I really can’t Jo,” she said, trying for an apologetic tone. “Next week’s meeting is coming up so quickly and I’m terribly behind.”
“Well I’ll walk with you then,” Laurie broke in, which was not at all what she’d been hoping for. There wasn’t any good reason for her to refuse him, which meant she’d now have to be in his company all the way back to Plumfield.
“That’s a wonderful idea, Laurie,” Marmee interjected, and Amy resisted the urge to throw back her head and groan loudly.
“Yes, wonderful,” she said instead, pasting a smile on her face. “Shall we go?”
And so they began the walk from Orchard House to Plumfield, Laurie beside her.
“Your family said you don’t paint much anymore,” he said, his hands in his pockets as they walked.
Amy looked out across the green. “No, not at all, really,” she answered, playing with one of the buttons on her sleeve.
“You did a piece for Grandfather, though,” he pointed out. “It’s wonderful - you captured Beth perfectly. I saw he has it framed in his study.”
I forgot about that she thought with a furrowed brow. “Oh…yes - well…that was just a little drawing. And it was a gift - a thank you for Beth’s chair,” she explained. “But otherwise, no - I haven’t kept it up.”
Laurie hmmed disappointedly. “Well, I was sad to hear it,” he said. “You have a real gift. It seems a pity to waste it.”
Amy bit back a sigh, a little annoyed at his needling. “Well, I have many other things on my plate to keep me busy at the moment - it’s hardly as if I’ve got all the time in the world to dedicate to my art as I did in Paris.”
“Yes, I heard about your Literary Society,” he said, looking at her. “Grandfather and Jo both sent word that it’d been mentioned in the paper! That’s quite a feat.”
She chanced a glance at him and smiled a little. “Yes - it’s quite a lot of work but very rewarding. We’ll have John Singer Sargent joining us in a few weeks - It’s very exciting,” she finished, pleased for herself and pleased that she’d done something of note - something that even he took notice of and respected.
“I’m glad for you,” he said. “I knew you’d be a success. You’ll be our very own Madame Recamier in no time, I know it,” he teased lightly.
“Well..I don’t know about that,” she answered, and they were silent again.
He slowed his walk beside her, and looked apprehensive before speaking. “I…heard about you and Fred,” he said.
She stopped, in front of him, turning back to face him.
“Yes, I…I supposed you would,” she said. “Did Fred tell you?”
“Yes,” he nodded.
She breathed deeply and let it out, feeling weary and tired. “Well - you certainly don’t have to say anything, or…do anything. I just…I didn’t love him as I should and Fred deserved better than that.”
“And you?” he asked.
She furrowed her brow at him. “And me…what?”
“Didn’t you deserve better?
“Better than what?”
“Better than being with someone you didn’t love?"
How dare he! She thought, in an absolutely irate mood now thanks to his censure. She turned the tables back on him.
“Marmee read out your letter from London,” she said tensely, changing the subject. “It sounds as if you’ve been doing well there.”
To his credit, a red stain appeared high on his cheeks. “Yes,” he answered, sheepishly. “Who would have thought, hmm? And I have you to thank entirely for it.” He shot her an apprehensive look before continuing. “Amy, I…I wanted to write to you, but-”
“When do you go back?” She interrupted, more loudly than was needed for their close conversation.
“Oh - uh…In two weeks,” he said, a bit startled. “It’s not much time but it was my first chance to get away and…I needed to come, you see.”
“Is something wrong? Not your grandfather I hope.”
“No - nothing like that. I -”
“Hopefully your work is not in jeopardy.”
“Hm? Oh, no - no, nothing like that. Amy-”
“We must have all have a family dinner, while you’re home,” she went on shrilly, aware of how she was rambling and not letting him speak, but not willing to spend another minute on this path with him. “Perhaps at Belmont, or - I’m sure we’d be happy to host it at Plumfield-”
He began to look a bit flustered. “Yes, that - I’m sure that would be lovely, but-”
“I’ll take care of all the details, then,” she said, starting to walk away from him. “And we can - i'll be in touch with your Grandfather.”
He took a step forward. “Amy, please - will you just- will you listen to me?”
She kept moving.
“It’ll be a lovely evening before you go back to London-”
“Amy,” he said again, more firmly, reaching out for her.
“No, Laurie-” she started, not at all wanting to hear what he had to say because the whole thing was entirely too painful and just desperately, desperately sad-
“Amy - Amy, stop,” Laurie said rather sternly - but let him be stern with her she thought, who was she to care!-
- until she found herself abruptly jerked around to face him.
They were both breathing heavily she noted somewhat belatedly, her own heart beating like a painted drum. She hadn’t even noticed. She was confronted by the steely expression on his face, and of course - oh - all of the freckles on his fine nose, which more than anything threatened to do her in.
“You are going to stand there and listen to me, Amy March,” he began in exasperation, his hands holding her tightly around her arms, “if I have to hold you there myself to do it!”
Well! she thought, one eyebrow raising archly. They stared at each other heatedly for a moment more, until, like a balloon losing its air, he became the chagrined Laurie she knew so well once again.
“I came back here to tell you that you were right. You were right about me,” he said, rather more softly this time.
“You were right that I had become a moody dissolute, happy to waste any god given talents I might possess, few as they might be, on liquor, and gambling, and boredom,” he finished, an air of contriteness and embarrassment about it. “But you were wrong about something too.”
He took a breath.
“I ran off to Europe thinking that I’d…lost the great love of my life, after Jo refused to have me,” he said, and Amy felt the most curious sensation of being both unwilling to stay and also somehow totally unable to leave.
“But it took my leaving- and my meeting you again - for me to realize that loving someone and being in love with them are two very different things.” One of his hands came down to her forearm and held it, his thumb rubbing the patterned cotton there.
“Jo…is dear to me,” he said slowly, as if not to spook her. “And I do love her- and always will -”
The flock of birds in Amy’s stomach all suddenly died, creating a great, heavy mass in her stomach -
“- but as a brother loves a sister, Amy.”
As a brother….loves…?
“And I, being a fool,” he went on, “took all my self-pity and injured pride along with me and wore it like so much armour, until you managed to cut it down in one fell swoop at Fred’s party that night,” he said.
I feel sorry for you, I really do. I just wish you bore it better.
I’d be respected if I couldn’t be loved.
“But the truth is,” he said, looking down, and then back up at her with so much earnestness, “that whatever ache I’d felt from Jo’s refusal had already healed - I just hadn’t admitted it to myself.
And then…there you were. And I couldn’t look away from you.”
She was vaguely aware that she had begun to cry.
“It isn’t thoughts of Jo that fill my mind all day. It’s memories of - that day we spent at Notre Dame, do you remember? Or all those times we walked through Montparnasse and you laughed at my poetry - or the look on your face when you bit into that chocolate, with the champagne. Or the way you laughed that day on the lake when I dropped the oar and how you drenched your sleeve up to the elbow to help me get it out-” Amy laughed, in spite of the tears that were already flowing freely.
“I think about how beautiful you looked that day in the studio and how much I wished I’d kissed you then, instead of letting you go to Fred,” he said quietly, his gaze dropping heavily to her lips before searching out her eyes once more.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t see you for so long, and I’m sorry that I hurt you, because I know that I did,” he said, being terribly, heartbreakingly kind. “I’m sorry that I didn’t mention you in my letter but everything I wrote was so hopelessly inadequate and I couldn’t find any of the words I needed to tell you anything of value. And I know that I wasn’t worthy of you then. But - I am now, I think - worthy enough at least to hope that - that you might have me, because I am desperately in love with you, Amy March,” he finished tremulously.
“Tell me… tell me I’m not too late.”
What are you doing?
I’m looking at you.
Don’t marry him.
What - why?
Why? You know why.
You know why.
You know why.
“Will you - will you say something - please?” Laurie asked, sounding on the verge of desperation.
“Well I’m - I’m sure you expect me to just - cry hysterically,” she began, her words hiccuping out around her tears like stones skipping across a lake, “and fall into your arms and - and - that we’ll just live some happy life together, is that it?” she asked, some of her old petulance creeping into her tone - and hadn’t she deserved it?
The most beautiful smile she’d ever seen dawned across his face. “Yes,” he nodded, bringing up his hands to cup her cheeks and wipe away the tears there. “Yes, to everything. Except you don’t have to cry hysterically,” he said.
“Oh, yes I do-” she began but could not finish, because Laurie was kissing her.
In some way, Amy supposed, a kiss from one ought to be the same as a kiss from another. After all, one pair of lips was not so drastically different from another pair. Fred’s kisses had perfectly serviceable things - technically proficient in every way - and yet always, somehow, lacking.
Kissing Laurie though…kissing him was the same as seeing Orchard House again for the first time. It was realizing that you’d gone without something for so long and hardly thought anything missing, but now that you had it you could hardly believe you’d lived even one minute without it.
Kissing him was like coming home - it was like all the birds and bees and butterflies in the world were in her stomach again, flying around at speeds hitherto unknown to man.
Kissing him was the feel of his hands on her face, and then her waist, pulling her closer to him.
Kissing him was the way he poured his whole self into it, the way one kiss had barely ended before another was beginning, and beginning again, and beginning again.
Kissing him was the way each meeting of their lips was tinged with desperation - as if they were each speaking a silent language. Yes, I love you. Yes, I’ve missed you. Yes, I refuse to be without you.
Kissing him was the sound he made when she bit down entirely by accident on the soft flesh of his lower lip.
It shot a bolt of heat straight through Amy accompanied by an urgent need to get closer closer more there yes that she’d absolutely not ever experienced with Fred.
If Fred had ever responded to such a sound the way that Laurie did, which was to move the hand at her waist ever just lower to bring her closer into his own body, she probably would have slapped him or called him a cad. As it was Laurie however, she did neither of those things and was instead supremely disappointed when a moment later he drew back, breathless, his forehead against hers.
“Amy, I - we have to stop,” he panted.
She nodded against his forehead. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right,” she said sensibly, before reaching up on her tiptoes to bring him down for another kiss.
He kissed her soundly for another moment before pulling back, this time separating himself bodily from her. He breathed heavily.
“I’m not - I’m…” he began, unsure of his words. “I’m in a very delicate state, Amy,” he went on, looking entirely awestruck and overwhelmed, “and I can’t possibly kiss you again until I know that you’ll marry me.”
“Yes,” she said at once, but he continued on as if he’d not heard her.
“Because the thing is, I know I’m an absolute fool and I don’t deserve you at all, but I’ll be damned if I let you go and marry someone else-”
“Laurie, I said yes,” she repeated, but still he seemed not to hear.
“-because I do not intend to give you up so easily, Amy March, and if it takes me spending the next seven years wooing you with every-…what?” he asked, blinking at her.
What an outrageous amount of affection she felt for this boy! She thought, laughing. “I said yes I’ll marry you, you goose.”
That same smile began to break over his face again. “You - you will?” he said, laughing himself with the incredulity of it.
“Yes I will, Of course I wi-hmmph!”
As she was interrupted by another bruising kiss, Amy realized she was signing up for a life of interruptions via kissing.
She found this to be utterly, perfectly, acceptable.
*The prototype wheelchairs Amy speaks about had in reality just been invented and would be on the market in the next few years.
*Amy tells Jo not to joke about ‘giving yourself an apoplexy’ - this is how Louisa May Alcott actually died.
*John Perkins Cushing is the real life Boston sea Merchant I used as a model for Laurie’s profession.He is also the stand in for the merchant who sends Amy flowers. He sends Asiatic Lillies as a nod to his importance in the trade between the US and China at that time. His real life estate was named Belmont, which I used as the name of the Laurence’s home. In reality he died in 1862 so he would not have been able to attend Amy’s salon.
*The line, “I miss you, in quite a simple desperate human way,” is from a beautiful letter written to Virginia Woolf from her lover, Vita Sackville-West.
*Winslow Homer was an American painter from Boston who was well known at that time. All the information given on Homer is accurate, except he would already have left Paris after his exhibition by the time Amy arrived there. He really was a hermit.
*Amy’s idea of opening a Literary Society (or a salon ) is inspired by the books - after they’ve married, Laurie teases Amy that she’ll become a socialite like Madame Recamier, who was an incredibly famous socialite and salonnière in the 19th century.
*In Laurie’s recounting of memories from Paris, he mentions their walks through Montparnasse, and their adventure on the lake. These are both inspired by the books: In the novels Amy and Laurie name their home Parnassus - I thought it would be nice to tie it back to the Parisian neighbourhood there called Montparnasse, which, about fifty years before Amy and Laurie would have been there, was famous for poetry being read all throughout the streets. I fudged the timeline because I thought Laurie would try his own and Amy would definitely laugh at him! The scene in the boat is a reference to the proposal scene in the novel, which also happens in a boat on a lake - in the book the lake is in Switzerland and Laurie doesn’t drop his oar - as far as we know!
*Amy’s quote about learning to sail her ship is paraphrased from her actual line in the novel: “i’m not afraid of storms, for i’m learning how to sail my ship”.
*The topics of Amy’s first salons - transcendentalism, abolitionism, and women’s suffrage, were huge parts of Alcott’s life. Alcott’s parents were major transcendentalists and she was raised as a transcendentalist although has mixed opinions on it herself. They were also abolitionists - their home was a stop on the underground railroad and they did host at least one black family escaping from slavery for at least a week. Lastly, they were supporters of women’s suffrage. The movement was just beginning then, with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton forming the National Woman Suffrage Association that same year in 1869. I think all the March girls would be Suffragettes, and Laurie and Bhaer would be staunch allies. Fun fact - Louisa’s mother Abby Alcott once drafted a petition demanding equal political rights for women in Massachusetts. She once said: ‘I am seventy-three, but I mean to go to the polls before I die, even if my daughters have to carry me’.” She sadly never got the chance, but in 1880, Louisa May Alcott was part of the first group of women in Concord to cast a ballot, for school committee.
*Special Delivery was not introduced in America until 1885, meaning Amy actually would have needed to wait another 15 years to send her letters express!
*John Singer Sargent was a famous American painter. Sargent is the artist that I took inspiration from, for what Amy’s own charcoal portraits would have looked like. He did have his first solo exhibition in Boston at the St. Botolph club, but it didn’t take place in real life until 1888.
*Ralph Waldo Emerson was an actual acquaintance of Louisa May Alcott’s in Concord - in fact there were so many famous intellectuals and authors living there in the mid to late half of the 19th century, that the author Henry James called Concord "the biggest little place in America.” Aunt March quotes him in her little speech on promises.
*The Atlantic Monthly was the actual magazine that Louisa May Alcott wrote her own fiery stories in, under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard.
*The Boston Globe is a real paper but was not actually created until 1872. The paper had the largest circulation in new England at the end of the 19th century.
*The bit in the confession/kiss scene where Amy says that Laurie expects her to just ‘fall into his arms and cry hysterically’ is paraphrased from the 1998 movie (and seminal classic!) The Parent Trap.