Welcome to the second episode of the first of The Mark Steyn Club's festive Tales for Our Time this Christmas. This weekend's entertainment is a seasonal sampling of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Elizabeth Lorenz, a First-Day Founding Member from Massachusetts, adds a Little Women vignette all of her own:
Thank you so much for reading this story! The Orchard House where Louisa wrote this story is not far from where I live. My only daughter spent the years from 8 to around 16 volunteering there then learned to give tours and spent a few more years at that job. During the Christmas season the girls who volunteer and some of the ladies who give tours all dress in their hoop skirts and mid 19th century attire for the tours which take a trip back in time to the Christmas at the beginning of this story.
One night when my daughter was around 12 or 13 and a very practical and level headed girl she was helping to close up the house at the end of the Christmas tours for that day. The only other person in the house was the woman who was closing up the gift shop in the back of the house. She asked Lily, my daughter, to go around the empty house and make sure there was no one else there. My daughter dutifully went from room to room looking in every corner to make sure the rooms were empty. She went up the back stairs near the kitchen and dining room, looked through all the rooms in the upstairs, and came down the front stairs to the entryway where she turned around, turning slowly. As she glanced into the parlor she could clearly see Louisa sitting on the love seat, her legs stretched out before her, looking steadily at my daughter. When I asked Lily if she was afraid she replied that there was nothing frightening about Louisa, she was just there as if she belonged there. Lily had been turning her head as she looked. When she glanced back Louisa was gone.
Thank you, Elizabeth. There are Christmas ghosts hovering throughout much of Little Women. In Part Two of our three-part Yuletide in Civil War Boston, the four March sisters wake up on an almost entirely present-less Christmas to find even breakfast is to be forsworn:
'Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?'
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously,—
'I'm so glad you came before we began!'
'May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?' asked Beth, eagerly.
'I shall take the cream and the muffins,' added Amy, heroically giving up the articles she most liked.
Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread into one big plate.
'I thought you'd do it,' said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. 'You shall all go and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinner-time.'
The house call upon the poor is drawn from Louisa May Alcott's own life, where her beloved sister Lizzie made such a visit, contracted scarlet fever, and never recovered. Louisa's tale will be likewise freighted by the toll of good works.
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