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Christmas passed in a whirl of food and chaos and undoubtedly a regular Jo March sort of day.
“She's a wild one,” Aunt March arched one eyebrow to look Jo over critically.
Apparently, this was Jo's chance of a lifetime. She pulled on her hugest smile, the teeth-filled-Laurie-Laurence kind. “I'll be the best companion you'll ever meet!”
“I won't even be a bother!”
“I doubt that,” Aunt March chuckled and nodded to Jo's parents. “I'll take her. Granted, I'll live to regret this. But I'll take her. We leave tomorrow.”
And so tomorrow came.
There were sniffles in the hall but Jo March had never been so happier in all her fifteen years. She would miss the village but, oh, to live in New York!
“Oh, my Beth.” Jo sobered a notch, hugging her little sister tightly to her. “I'll be back sooner than you think. Write me often, will you? And send me some of your music?”
Beth sobbed harder and a lump rose in Jo's throat. Leaving was harder than she'd expected. But oh, the future looked as bright as the pennies Aunt March had given them as souvenirs in 1914, just before the last war started. Now, to bristle up and be a good soldier.
Jo hugged Beth one last time, blew kisses to her parents and sisters and their faithful housekeeper, Hannah—and stepped into the waiting cab, clutching her small tattered black leather suitcase.
“Should have put that in the rack with the other luggage,” Aunt March said crisply, adjusting herself in the jolting cab.
“I'd never dream—” Jo stopped. She'd never told anyone but Laurie about her dreams: her writing. What would people think? They thought she was weird as it was. “I just want to hold it, Aunt March.”
Aunt March gave her a pitiful look, said nothing, closed her eyes and appeared to nap.
Jo mentally wrote as they jolted along. The chap with the hand organ was such a nuisance! She'd write him out, if he kept up like that. But the professor would capture any woman's heart under fifty. He did have a streak of silver in his hair. Made him look more celestial, she thought.
Southampton was alive with sailors and traffic—and everything. Jo stared wildly at everything and everyone as the cab came to a halt at the docks.
“Bless my soul, Josephine!” Aunt March squealed with horror. “You'll have a strange man take you captive with that staring.”
“He's absolutely gorgeous though!”
“I was fond of sailors too when I was your age. But, come on. You'll keep the boat waiting and—”
Jo was out of the cab in a flash and the sailor with the gorgeous eyes and dimples soon faded in her mind as she thought of the new adventures waiting for her. “Aunt March, coming?”
Aunt March sent her a frown and Jo laughed as gaily as a parrot in a thunderstorm, looking around at everything again. Her aunt was taking forever. How long did it take to pay a silly cab driver?
“Come back here right now, Josephine March!”
“He looked harmless. I was only saying hello.”
“They always look harmless,” Aunt March stamped her decorative cane with a flourish. “Come along, Josephine. Our boat is waiting!”
“Look, they're all staring at us!”
“And no wonder!”
Jo frowned. “Needn't get so nettled, madam.”
“You are a pretty thing,” Aunt March hooked arms with Jo. “But you must learn a thing or two. First, you don't speak to strange men.”
Jo rolled her eyes.
“Second, you don't stare at strange men.”
Looking didn't hurt.
“Third, you don't go anywhere with strange men. Is that understood, Josephine?”
“I doubt they'd ask. I have a tongue that can clip off Mount Everest, so Hannah says!” Jo laughed.
“Calm down a little. Be on your best behavior, now.” Aunt March smiled pleasantly at the captain of the ship as he strutted by in his full uniform.
The captain nodded and smiled back.
Aunt March sputtered and marched Jo to their cabin, looking as if fire would blaze from her eyes.
“Christopher Columbus!” Jo shouted as the Statue of Liberty came into view. “I can't believe I'm finally here. I feel like singing!”
“Don't—you'll frighten the seagulls.” Aunt March clutched her hat to keep it from flying off in the wind.
Jo croaked out a song anyway. If there was one thing in this world that Josephine March did not do as she was told, it was staying silent. To her, there was so much to say—to think—to write—to be!
“Stop staring, Josephine.”
Jo heard that for the thousandth time. “But Aunt March, weren't you ever young?”
“Bless my soul!” Aunt March looked horrified and tugged Jo's arm. “Come along. We need to get our things before disembarking.”
Jo held her tongue but still stared on. If she didn't look, she couldn't very well write about it without the details, could she? Oh, as soon as her toes touched her room in Aunt March's house, she'd start a new story!
Jo grabbed her things from their cabin and ran off to tell the capital fellow of a sailor—a John Brooks—a cheerful goodbye and to see them in New York when he had the chance. As Aunt March finally caught up with her, the lady was gasping and squealing.
“I wasn't asking him to marry me or anything—you should be grateful for that,” Jo declared practically, frowning back at her aunt who seemed all out of sorts. “He's a fine fellow, Aunt March. You'll see!”
“Bless my soul!” Aunt March mopped her brow with a wrinkled up handkerchief, apparently well used since her sweet little angel of a niece had entered her life. “Oh—bless my soul!”
“It's stopped!” Jo dragged her aunt up the steps and they were out in the fresh windy wind again and it felt wonderful beyond words. “I think I shall fly!”
“Josephine March, one more thing and I'm shipping you off to—”
“I'd love to go!” Jo grinned, knowing too well her aunt would do no such thing. “Come, my dearest aunty. Let's get you home by your own fire and I shall read aloud to you. I love to read aloud! Do you have any new novels I haven't read?”
“I'm sure I do.” Aunt March gave her a patient smile. “Let's put on a smile for the captain, shall we? There's a dear.”
Jo gave her a secretive grin.
“Not a word, young lady.”
The spring March winds were wild with energy as Jo March marched up the gangplank with her aunt in tow. Her hat had tumbled down her back, attached by a stout red ribbon round her neck nearly choking her if she had been paying attention. However, her hair flew round her face splitting with a happy grin and the new sights of a new place filled her imagination with wonderful feelings.
Jo felt a thud and went tumbling to the ground. She grabbed for her suitcase getting trampled by the crowd. “Stop! I want my suitcase!”
Jo stared in horror as her little suitcase popped open and her papers flew everywhere. Desperately, she crawled around and tried to capture them all.
“This is yours, miss, no?” a man with a strange accent handed her a paper.
“Y-yes, thank you.” Jo grabbed the paper and hoped her aunt was not looking now. She'd ask questions—about all these papers. No one understood her. She had to write. It was her way of understanding herself.
The strange man with the strange accent was handing her more papers. “You are a writer too, no?”
“Bless my soul!” Aunt March was upon them.
Jo wanted to scream and fling herself into the river just then, but she put on a casual smile. “N-no, I'm just writing my will. Good day, sir!”
“Of all the times I warned you, Josephine!” Aunt March went on and on. “You were very lucky, young lady.”
Jo sat on the bed, gloomy as the dead. Aunt March had been scolding her for an hour and she had lost a whole page to the masterpiece she'd been creating since she a ten year-old. Oh, why did these things have to happen?
“Are you sorry?”
“Yes—I'm sorry.” Jo felt her insides erupt. “I'm sorry I had to be born!”
“Stop this, child.”
“They should've drowned me in the river!”
“Hush! Come eat your lunch, now.” Aunt March took the tray from the maid. “Sophie, will you run a bath for Miss Josephine?”
“I'll throw it out to the birds!” Jo stared at the open window facing a big tree swarming with birds. She sniffed. “It does smell rather good, aunty.”
Aunt March patted her head awkwardly. “I'll be downstairs, if you need me.”
Feeling refreshed after lunch and a good bath, Jo trotted downstairs to where her aunt was lounging in a big armchair with her knitting.
“I want to learn to play an instrument!” Jo felt heroic just saying it. “I know I'll be a good player.”
“Should've learned how to play the piano with your sisters,” Aunt March eyed her skeptically. “You did try, didn't you?”
“A little.” Jo paced the floor in search of a good thick novel among the shelves of the library. “But I'd like to play an instrument with my mouth. Maybe even the bagpipes!”
“Some piper you'd make!”
Jo gave her aunt a challenging grin. “I'll play a bagpipe then—if that's the last thing I do! Can I read any one of these, aunty? There isn't any ones you don't want handling, do you? I heard about fussy old ladies with their books and I hope you're not one of them.”
“You do have a way of complimenting a person,” Aunt March barked from her chair.
Jo caught her breath. “I wasn't calling you old. I mean, I was...” and Jo rambled on, getting herself into deeper trouble.
Halfway through The Black Avenger, Jo heard a merry whistle coming from the opened window. She poked her head around the pot of flowers to find a familiar-looking face strolling through the graveyard that separated Aunt March's house from the college.
“Laurie!” Jo flung the book on the chair and nearly fell out the window. “Laurie Laurence!”
“Bless my soul, child! Shush!”
“It's Laurie, aunty!” Jo slid down the window and hopped over the well-kept holly bush. “Capital seeing you again! I didn't realize aunty's house was so close to your school.”
Jo and Laurie talked among the gravestones until Aunt March stuck her head out the window, calling for Jo. Jo said a hasty goodbye and remembered to walk into the house properly through a door. Aunt March would never forgive her if she climbed up into a window. “It was so good to see him again!”
“That's evident,” Aunt March led her to the elaborate dining room where all the finest silver was laid out. “Supper is at seven o'clock sharp—every day. See that you arrive to the table promptly and with clean hands.”
Jo folded her hands under the table, just in case. “I'll try to remember, aunty. Smells good! What is it?”
“Food,” Aunt March frowned but with twinkling eyes. “Remember your manners—especially when company comes. You don't want to disgrace the family, do you?”
“I'll try not to—but if I ever did, I'd be truly sorry.” Jo closed her eyes and mouth long enough for Aunt March to pray over the food. “It's so nice in New York, don't you think? The air's warmer and dryer. Everything is so beautiful, I want to cry!”
“Not at the dinner table. Eat your soup. It's going cold. Chicken pie is coming next—and blueberry popovers with hot custard.”
“Popovers!” Jo tapped her feet until the dishes on the table rattled.
Jo meekly finished her food like a good little girl. But the minute she was upstairs and with her little black suitcase opened, she sharpened a pencil and eased herself onto one of the tree limbs hanging near her bedroom window. Oh, the things she would write!
“The wind whispered through the gravestones as sentries doomed to die, its sound wailing like a torrent of despair...” Jo wrote.
Thirty pages later, Jo climbed back inside.
Jo flipped the light switch on, and off, and on again. It was amazing how that confounded little contraption worked. Electricity, they called it. However, in the March's humble abode there was not a light bulb in sight. She liked Aunt March better and better. The lady liked new things—inventions, ideas, etc.
“So you mean you won't tell anyone?” Jo asked her aunt the fifth time. “You won't tell anyone that I write? How'd you find out?”
“I heard every word you were apparently writing,” Aunt March laughed gaily. “I like girls who think. That's why I took you with me to be my companion. You're a girl after my own heart.”
“Christopher Columbus, you're a trump!”
“You'll put my back out of place! Not quite so rough, Josphine. Hug a little less painful.”
“No harm intended, aunty—I'm sorry!”
“No arms left on me,” Aunt March chuckled. “Now, be a good girl and grab me that envelope. Over there—on my writing desk. No, the big thick brown envelope. That's the one.”
Jo watched her aunt pull out a piece of official-looking paper and held her breath.
“You, my dear girl, are going to learn some music. I've decided to spend some of my hard earned money on you getting a music education. You'll be starting Monday—in the same school Laurie goes to.”
“Oh, I never dreamed!” Jo held her arms to herself, afraid she would damage something in the room if left unguarded. “I shall always remember you, aunty, for as long as I live!”
“I'm not dead yet! Now, here's your schedules. Look them over carefully—and remember them. I don't want you to get bad marks for being tardy. Goodness knows how much money will be going into this.”
“Josephines are never tardy!” Jo grinned.
“You're quite right. Your father was the only nephew brave enough to name one of his daughters after me. Which reminds me... My niece is coming tonight.”
“How exciting! For how long?”
“To live. Her miserable husband just died and she has nowhere else to go. He contracted a disease in his lungs from the last war. Poison gas or something.”
“Does she have any children?”
“Thank goodness, no! I have enough on my poor nerves as it is—without little vagabonds tramping underfoot. Bless my soul, I like children, in general—but not in my house. You're bad enough.”
Jo never heard the rest, she was racing out the door and into the windy spring day to tell Laurie the news. She found him walking around on his lunch break and his face lit up when he saw her.
“Oh, Laurie!” Jo gasped, feeling as light as the wind blowing round her. “I'm going to school here—on Monday—to learn music! And my aunt is coming tonight to live with us! I think I'll play the bagpipes—because I've always wanted to go to Scotland. Not for the pipes, entirely, but for the beautiful mountains and streaming rivers flowing through endless grass of the finest green. Is there really a monster in one of their lakes?”
Laurie laughed. “I'm not so sure—but that's capital news! I'm sure you'll learn quickly. Now you can meet the grouchy professor!”
“Is he really such a bear?”
Laurie laughed harder. “That's his last name,Bhaer! Suits him, arrogant immigrant. Thinks he's better than the rest of the professors put together.”
Jo made a face. “I'm glad he teaches foreign languages—so I won't have to suffer his wrath! I know I'd be a blunder from the start and, from what you tell me, he'd scorch me alive with his scoldings.”
“He teaches music, too.”
The blood drained from Jo's face. “No!”
“Got to go now. Catch you later, Jo!”
Jo stuffed her hands into the pockets of her full skirt and wandered around the graveyard aimlessly. What did Monday hold? Disaster? Triumph?
“Did you give him a good burial?” Aunt March sipped her cup of tea.
“Not as much as he deserved.”
“Probably more than he deserved,” Aunt March cleared her throat. “Josephine here is starting her musical lessons on Monday—in that school nextdoor. Probably ask for all sorts afterwards.” She winked at Jo who was looking from aunt to aunt and was actually speechless. “Cat got your tongue, girl?”
“You did, aunty,” Jo was flabbergasted. “Why on earth did you ask Aunt Becky if she gave her husband a good burial? Isn't that a rude question to ask—someone who's just lost their husband?”
“You do ask all sorts, don't you?” Aunt March looked a mite humbled. “Sorry, Becky. The child is right. Do you want to settle in your room now? I'll have Jo help you. She's a friendly thing. She'll soon put a smile on your face. Won't you, child?”
“Bless my soul, aunty, I am not a child!” Jo led Aunt Becky upstairs. “You'll love it here—once you've gotten used to aunty's prickly ways. She's a jolly chap, underneath it all. Do you like apple trees?”
Aunt Becky looked surprised.
“Of course. What a strange question. I only meant I helped aunty pick this room out for you because it overlooks the same apple tree my room does. It's such a beautiful tree! Don't you think?”
“Call me Jo.”
“Jo, thank you for being so nice. You're a treasure to be around.” Aunt Becky hugged her.
Jo felt like she was spinning over the world, she was that happy. A treasure! No one had ever told her that before. She would love her aunt Becky forever.
“Don't let her spoil you,” Aunt March smirked as Jo and Aunt Becky left for an outing on Saturday.
“Are you sure you'll be okay without us?”
Aunt March frowned. “Behave, you two—and come back in one piece. Don't feel like having to come out looking for you.”
“You're not that old yet.”
“I'm not old at all, young snippet! Say sorry or I'll take that money back off you.”
Jo waved the bills with a grin. “Come and get it, aunty!”
“Should've sold you to the Gypsies long ago.”
“I'm sure I would've had loads of fun! Will I be able to meet any here? I've never had the chance—everyone has been so scared of them in the village. Do you think I'll meet a Gypsy one day?”
“You are one, child!”
Jo laughed and stepped out into the beautifully sunshiney spring day with only a light jacket on. The air was getting warmer as each day passed. It was so beautiful in New York. Why could she not have come here sooner? It was like a fairytale. Only she was very much alive in it.
“Aunt Becky, do you believe in fairytales?”
“Life is like one—every one has their happily ever after, for a season. It's good to smile, Jo. There's so much in life to celebrate—even the bad times. They teach us how to be strong and brave and wonderful.”
“And to be capital chaps!” Jo crossed her arms and did a twirl in her brand new red linen skirt. “I love New York! Truly, I miss my family in England. But, as you say, there is so much in life to celebrate—even missing people and places. You learn to appreciate more what you miss, don't you?”
Aunt Becky wiped an eye.
“Did you live long in France?”
“Ten years. Four years before the war started.”
“How did you meet your husband?”
“We fought over the same croissant at a bakery, in fact. In the end, he gave in—because I was too stubborn.” Aunt Becky gave her a secretive grin. “I won ever since. I'll miss my French lad, more than he'll ever know.”
“Does it hurt much, aunty?” Jo grew quiet.
They walked on in silence, arm in arm.
After a capital time in the markets, Jo found herself laughing hysterically over a cat trapped in a wad of yellow yarn. Every time it broke one part of the string, another string wound around it.
“Look! I wish it'd suffocate, the little wretch. Do you like cats, Aunt Becky?”
“Can't say that I do. We always had a bird.”
“I've never had any pets. Of course, it'd probably starve if I had. Which reminds me... I've been thinking lately that I'd absolutely love to have a pet squirrel! Do they sell any in any of the shops?”
Aunt Becky laughed at her apparent enthusiasm. “I'll help you tame one from the yard. All you'll need is a few nuts—and to be very still so they can learn to trust you and not be bothered with your human presence. Squirrels are flighty animals, Jo. Just like you.”
Jo grinned. “We'll get along capital then! I think I shall name him Nutty Jo.”
“John Brooks!” Jo squealed as the young man in a crisp blue uniform smiled with perfect white teeth. “How well you look! How are you?”
“Thank you, madam! Just docked today. How's your aunt?”
“Alive! Did you get to finish your boiler training? It's a good thing—you'd never know when you'd need it on a ship like that. How's your wrist?”
John wiggled his hand. “Still attached to me, I suppose. Didn't feel like a divorce—yet.”
Jo roared with laughter, attracting stares from everywhere. “Aunty, this is a young man I met on the ship over. John, this is my aunt Becky. You'll love her! Why don't you come for supper tonight? I'm sure Aunt March won't mind.”
Aunt Becky gave her a look of warning.
“See you then,” John tipped his hat.
“Madison Square, number 7!” Jo shouted back at him and dragged Aunt Becky along. “We'll get some sweets, won't we? For tonight?”
“Jo, Aunt March is going to kill you.”
“I doubt it. Funerals costs a load of money, these days. Besides, she'll not want to spend the rest of her days in prison—or get hung. Chocolates!”
Jo kept mum about it until suppertime.
“You're talking faster than ever, Josephine. Did you have a nice time out?” Aunt March sat knitting in her armchair with a thin throw over her lap.
“So very!” Jo talked even faster. “I especially loved the tall buildings towering everywhere. They make you feel so little! Do you ever feel little when you're walking under them, aunty?”
“I don't walk under them,” Aunt March frowned. “Don't tell me you tried. Bless my soul!”
“Not this time!” Jo winked with a laugh, and froze. The doorbell was just ringing.
Aunt March stared at the young man when John Brooks arrived wearing his brightest smile. “The sailor on the ship! However did you find us, young man?”
“My intuition, my lady.” John bowed deeply.
Aunt March was in smiles until the entire dinner passed. Jo never felt so relieved. Aunt Becky gave her hand a squeeze under the table.
“Come again any time, Mr. Brooks.” Aunt March followed him to the door with Jo and Aunt Becky trailing close behind. “You are a joy to be around. Next time come earlier. I want to show you my roses. They're the best in the country.”
“I shall look forward to next time,” John bowed again. “Good evening, ladies.”
“Good thing I'm as old as I am—or else I'd be locking him up in the basement until the minister would come. Jo, don't look so surprised. I do have a romantic heart underneath all this fuss and fury.”
Jo shook with laughter. Aunt March locking up poor, unsuspecting John Brooks in the basement—and forcing him to marry her. “I hear some men prefer older women. John might be one of those!”
“Now don't you be giving me any ideas, child!”
“He'd be a perfect match for Meg,” Aunt Becky smiled realistically. “They act so much alike.”
“I've not quite made up my mind about not wanting him, Aunt Becky!”
“He's a little too tame for you, my girl.” Aunt Becky laughed. “You need a good old sailor to sail your reckless ship! Captain, preferably.”
“John is a sailor!” Jo grinned.
“Aye, aye, madam! Oh, where's Laurie? I promised to meet him in the graveyard after supper.”
“Better try to make your mind up about him, too.” Aunt March cackled, returning to her knitting as Jo marched over to the big window facing Laurie's school. “Can't leave them all on a string.”
“But I am a fisherman!” Jo suddenly had a very bright idea. “Where can I borrow a fishing rod, aunty? I think I'd enjoy it very much—catching my own food. I'd be like a red-skinned Indian!”
“Grant you, you're already as wild as one. Don't stay out there too late. You'll catch a cold—or worse!”
Jo was already halfway out the window, climbing over the holly bush. “I'll be back in half an hour!”
Laurie was waiting and laughing when Jo arrived at the old oak tree. “You remind me of a squirrel, Jo.”
“I'm so charmed!”
“Guess who I met today? My old friend from primary school in England.”
“Really? Small world, isn't it?”
“Couldn't forget John Brooks if I tried. Jolly chap and a head full of brains, besides. He promised to help me with my studies. Told him about my troubles.”
Jo froze. John and Laurie were friends—things were getting complicated. However, she was only fifteen and not ready for holy matrimony in the least. “John Brooks! I met him on the ship coming over here—today, too. He came for supper. You'll both have to come over next time. We'll have a jolly good time!”
Laurie grew silent and sober.
“Aunt Becky has already matched him with Meg. Can you believe that? Just as if Meg didn't have a brain in her head. Let me tell you, my sister can make her own choices! As you well know.”
“Don't need to remind me about that,” Laurie frowned darkly.
“She shouldn't have been so hard on you. Why, you're the best thing in the world—next to me, of course. But then, who can compare with me? Queen of drama and dreams and dashing—well, you know.”
“Still writing your dramas, Queen Josephine?” Laurie stood up with a grin. “Should write one called The Mysterious Hand.”
“Ah, The Phantom Hand! Laurie, you are the most clever boy I've ever met. Thank you! How did you know I was writing a story about a girl finding things missing and replaced without a trace?”
“A little bird from the apple tree told me.”
“Don't tell aunty but I climb on a big limb on the apple tree. Write half the time there, too.”
“Don't fall—or we'll all be crying our eyes out atyour funeral. Or laughing.”
“How dare you!”
“You'd look so funny laying in that casket. I know you'd laugh at me. You'd keep saying, 'Laurie, smile a little but not so much teeth'.”
“But you do show so much of your teeth when you smile. Like a raccoon!”
“You're my inspiration!” Laurie mocked, holding one hand across his heart.
Jo and Laurie chatted until the fireflies flew along the gravestones, marking the end of a day.
Monday arrived with a gust of wind flapping Jo's large ugly straw hat round her head like a set of ship sails as she walked briskly to the school to learn her music.
“Now, Josephine March, don't talk too much—or say anything you shouldn't. You'll disgrace yourself!”
“Miss March?” a man with a deep foreign accent cleared his throat behind her.
Jo whirled around. “Oh-h d-dear! It's you!”
“Have you finished writing your will?”
Jo's face burned. “Perfectly! You should read it one day—oh wait, I haven't invited you to the funeral yet. But I'm sure they'll be plenty of time to do so. I'm Jo March. How are you?” she shook his hand firmly.
“I am Professor Bhaer and I am doing well. Allow me to open the door so you do not catch a cold, no?”
“I've never managed to catch a cold before,” Jo entered the paper-smelling place with an appreciative sniff to the air. “It always catches me first. Christopher Columbus, what elegance! Why, this looks like a palace! Oh, Laurie—where are you going?”
Laurie waited until Professor Bhaer had left.
“What did you think of him? He's a monster, isn't he?”
“More like a Bhaer!” Jo laughed. “Where do I go to check in?”
After Jo had settled in the music room, she felt the urge to peek through the heavy draped curtains to see what was lurking behind the grand old organ that covered one corner of the room. She heard a little noise and grew excited. A ghost!
Jo pulled back the curtain and the little furry squirrel scampered away. “Come back here, Nutty Jo!”
© 2017 by Amber Florenza
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05 Feb 2018
Good read, you really kept me engaged in the story.I can hardly wait to hear about Jo's (Josephine) next adventure. Blessings to you as you express your God-given talent.Peace!
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