Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, Volume 4 My Girls, etc.
"Promise that I may make the flowers you wear on your wedding-day," whispered Lizzie, kissing the kind hand held out to help her rise—PAGE 85.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN OMNIBUS.—Page 187.
AUNT JO's SCRAP-BAG.
MY GIRLS, ETC.
BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT,
AUTHOR OF "LITTLE WOMEN," "AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL," "LITTLE MEN,"
"HOSPITAL SKETCHES," "EIGHT COUSINS," ETC.
BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT.
Press of John Wilson & Son.
I. My Girls
II. Lost in a London Fog
III. The Boys' Joke, and who got the best of it
IV. Roses and Forget-me-nots
V. Old Major
VI. What the Girls did
VII. Little Neighbors
VIII. Marjorie's Three Gifts
IX. Patty's Place
X. The Autobiography of an Omnibus
XI. Red Tulips
XII. A Happy Birthday
AUNT JO'S SCRAP-BAG.
Once upon a time I wrote a little account ofsome of the agreeable boys I had known,whereupon the damsels reproached me with partiality,and begged me to write about them. I ownedthe soft impeachment, and promised that I wouldnot forget them if I could find any thing worthrecording.
That was six years ago, and since then I have beenstudying girls whenever I had an opportunity, andhave been both pleased and surprised to see howmuch they are doing for themselves now that theirday has come.
Poor girls always had my sympathy and respect,for necessity soon makes brave women of them ifthey have any strength or talent in them; but thewell-to-do girls usually seemed to me like prettybutterflies, leading easy, aimless lives when theworld was full of work which ought to be done.
Making a call in New York, I got a little lesson,which caused me to change my opinion, and furtherinvestigation proved that the rising generation waswide awake, and bound to use the new freedomwell. Several young girls, handsomely dressed,were in the room, and I thought, of course, that theybelonged to the butterfly species; but on asking oneof them what she was about now school was over, Iwas much amazed to hear her reply, "I am readinglaw with my uncle." Another said, "I am studyingmedicine;" a third, "I devote myself to music,"and the fourth was giving time, money, and heartto some of the best charities of the great city.
So my pretty butterflies proved to be industriousbees, making real honey, and I shook hands withsincere respect, though they did wear jaunty hats;my good opinion being much increased by the factthat not one was silly enough to ask for an autograph.
Since then I have talked with many girls, findingnearly all intent on some noble end, and as someof them have already won the battle, it may becheering to those still in the thick of the fight, orjust putting on their armor, to hear how these sistersprospered in their different ways.
Several of them are girls no longer; but as theyare still unmarried, I like to call them by their oldname, because they are so young at heart, and have sobeautifully fulfilled the promise of their youth, notonly by doing, but being excellent and admirablewomen.
A is one in whom I take especial pride. Well-born,pretty, and bright, she, after a year or two ofsociety, felt the need of something more satisfactory,and, following her taste, decided to study medicine.Fortunately she had a father who did not thinkmarriage the only thing a woman was created for,but was ready to help his daughter in the work shehad chosen, merely desiring her to study asfaithfully and thoroughly as a man, if she undertook theprofession that she might be an honor to it. A wasin earnest, and studied four years, visiting thehospitals of London, Paris, and Prussia; being able tocommand private lessons when the doors of publicinstitutions were shut in her face because she wasa woman. More study and work at home, and thenshe had the right to accept the post of residentphysician in a hospital for women. Here she was sosuccessful that her outside practice increased rapidly,and she left the hospital to devote herself to patientsof all sorts, beloved and valued for the womanlysympathy and cheerfulness that went hand in handwith the physician's skill and courage.
When I see this woman, young still, yet soindependent, successful, and contented, I am very proudof her; not only because she has her own house, witha little adopted daughter to make it home-like, herwell-earned reputation, and a handsome income, butbecause she has so quietly and persistently carriedout the plan of her life, undaunted by prejudice,hard work, or the solitary lot she chose. She maywell be satisfied; for few women receive so muchlove and confidence, few mothers have so manychildren to care for, few physicians are more heartilywelcomed and trusted, few men lead a freer, noblerlife, than this happy woman, who lives for others andnever thinks of any fame but that which is the bestworth having, a place in the hearts of all whoknow her.
B is another of my successful girls; but her taskhas been a harder one than A's, because she was aspoor as she was ambitious. B is an artist, lovingbeauty more than any thing else in the world;ready to go cold and hungry, shabby and lonely, ifshe can only see, study, and try to create theloveliness she worships. It was so even as a child; forflowers and fairies grew on her slate when she shouldhave been doing sums, painted birds and butterfliesperched on her book-covers, Flaxman's designs, andfamiliar faces appeared on the walls of her littleroom, and clay gods and goddesses were set uponthe rough altar of her moulding board, to be toiledover and adored till they were smashed in the"divine despair" all true artists feel.
But winged things will fly sooner or later, andpatient waiting, persistent effort, only give sweetnessto the song and strength to the flight when the doorof the cage opens at last. So, after years of hardwork with pencil and crayon, plaster and clay, oil andwater colors, the happy hour came for B when thedream of her life was realized; for one fine springday, with a thousand dollars in her pocket and a littletrunk holding more art materials than clothes, shesailed away, alone, but brave and beaming, for ayear in England.
She knew now what she wanted and where to findit, and "a heavenly year" followed, though to manyit would have seemed a very dull one. All day andevery day but the seventh was spent in theNational Gallery, copying Turner's pictures in oil andwater colors. So busy, so happy, so wrapt up indelightsome work, that food and sleep seemedimpertinencies, friends were forgotten, pleasuring hadno charms, society no claims, and life was onejoyful progress from the blue Giudecca to the goldenSol de Venezia, or the red glow of the old Temeraire."Van Tromp entering the mouth of the Texel" wasmore interesting to her than any political eventtranspiring in the world without; ancient Romeeclipsed modern London, and the roar of a great citycould not disturb the "Datur Hora Quieti" whichsoftly grew into beauty under her happy brush.
A spring-tide trip to Stratford, Warwick, andKenilworth was the only holiday she allowed herself;and even this was turned to profit; for, lodgingcheaply at the Shakespearian baker's, she roamedabout, portfolio in hand, booking every lovely bit shesaw, regardless of sun or rain, and bringing away apictorial diary of that week's trip which charmedthose who beheld it, and put money in her purse.
When the year was out, home came the artist,with half her little fortune still unspent, and the onetrunk nearly as empty as it went, but there weretwo great boxes of pictures, and a golden saint in acoffin five feet long, which caused much interest atthe Custom House, but was passed duty-free afterits owner had displayed it with enthusiasticexplanations of its charms.
"They are only attempts and studies, you know,and I dare say you'll all laugh at them; but I feelthat I can in time do something, so my year hasnot been wasted," said the modest damsel, as she setforth her work, glorifying all the house withVenetian color, English verdure, and, what was betterstill, the sunshine of a happy heart.
But to B's great surprise and delight, people didnot laugh; they praised and bought, and orderedmore, till, before she knew it, several thousanddollars were at her command, and the way clear to theartist-life she loved.
To some who watched her, the sweetest pictureshe created was the free art-school which B openedin a very humble way; giving her books, copies,casts, time, and teaching to all who cared to come.For with her, as with most who earn their goodthings, the generous desire to share them with othersis so strong it is sure to blossom out in some way,blessing as it has been blessed. Slowly, but surely,success comes to the patient worker, and B, beingagain abroad for more lessons, paints one day a littlestill life study so well that her master says she "doeshim honor," and her mates advise her to send it tothe Salon. Never dreaming that it will be accepted,B, for the joke of it, puts her study in a plain frame,and sends it, with the eight thousand others, onlytwo thousand of which are received.
To her amazement the little picture is accepted,hung "on the line" and noticed in the report. Noris that all, the Committee asked leave to exhibit itat another place, and desired an autobiographicalsketch of the artist. A more deeply gratified youngwoman it would be hard to find than B, as she nowplans the studio she is to open soon, and the happyindependent life she hopes to lead in it, for she hasearned her place, and, after years of earnest labor, isabout to enter in and joyfully possess it.
There was C,—alas, that I must write was! beautiful,gifted, young, and full of the lovelypossibilities which give some girls such an indescribablecharm. Placed where it would have been naturalfor her to have made herself a young queen ofsociety, she preferred something infinitely better,and so quietly devoted herself to the chosen workthat very few guessed she had any.
I had known her for some years before I found itout, and then only by accident; but I never shallforget the impression it made upon me. I hadcalled to get a book, and something led me to speakof the sad case of a poor girl lately made known tome, when C, with a sudden brightening of her wholeface, said, warmly, "I wish I had known it, I couldhave helped her."
"You? what can a happy creature like you knowabout such things?" I answered, surprised.
"That is my work." And in a few words whichwent to my heart, the beautiful girl, sitting in herown pretty room, told me how, for a long time, sheand others had stepped out of their safe, sunshinyhomes to help and save the most forlorn of oursister women. So quietly, so tenderly, that only thosesaved knew who did it, and such loyal silence kept,that, even among the friends, the names of theseunfortunates were not given, that the after life mightbe untroubled by even a look of reproach orrecognition.
"Do not speak of this," she said. "Not that I amashamed; but we are able to work better in a privateway, and want no thanks for what we do."
I kept silence till her share of the womanly laborof