Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott

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Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
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Title: Shawl-Straps A Second Series of Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag
Author: Louisa M. Alcott
Release Date: July 9, 2007 [EBook #22022]
Language: English
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SHAWL-STRAPS.
A Second Series
OF
1Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
2
AUNT JO’S SCRAP-BAG.
BY
LOUISA M. ALCOTT,
AUTHOR OF ‘LITTLE WOMEN,’ ‘AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL,’ ‘LITTLE MEN,’ ‘HOSPITAL
SKETCHES.’
LONDON: SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON & COMPANY LIMITED, St. Dunstan’s House, FETTER LANE,
FLEET STREET, E.C.
1895.
All rights reserved.
LOW’S STANDARD SERIES OF BOOKS BY POPULAR WRITERS.
Small crown 8vo. cloth gilt, 2s.; gilt edges, 2s. 6d. each
1. ALCOTT, L. M. Little Men. 2. WHITNEY, Mrs. Hitherto. 3. SAMUELS. Forecastle to Cabin. Illustrated.
4. ROBINSON, P. In my Indian Garden. 5. ALCOTT, L. M. Little Women and Little Women Wedded. 6.
WHITNEY, Mrs. We Girls. 7. —- The other Girls: a Sequel. 8. ALDEN, W. L. Jimmy Brown. 9. ALCOTT,
L. M. Under the Lilacs. Illustrated. 10. —- Jimmy’s Cruise. 11. ROBINSON, PHIL. Under the Punkah. 12.
ALCOTT, L. M. An Old-Fashioned Girl. 13. —- A Rose in Bloom. 14. —- Eight Cousins. Illustrated. 15. —-
Jack and Jill. 16. —- Lulu’s Library. Illustrated. 17. —- Silver Pitchers. 18. —- Work and Beginning Again.
19. WHITNEY, Mrs. Leslie Goldthwaite. 20. —- Faith Gartney’s Girlhood. 21. —- Real Folks. 22. STOWE,
Mrs. Dred. 23. —- My Wife and I. 24. DE WITT, Madame. An Only Sister. 25. ALCOTT, L. M. Aunt Jo’s
Scrap Bag. 26. —- Shawl Straps. 27. STOWE, Mrs. Ghost in the Mill. 28. BUNYAN, JOHN. Pilgrim’s
Progress (Extra volume), gilt, 2s. 29. STOWE, Mrs. We and Our Neighbours. 30. SAINTINE. Picciola. 31.
HOLM, SAXE. Draxy Miller’s Dowry. 32. SANDEAU, JULES. Seagull Rock. 33. WARNER, C. D. In the
Wilderness. 34. —- My Summer in a Garden. 35. ALCOTT, L. M. Spinning-wheel Stories. 36. ALDEN, W.
L. Trying to find Europe. 37. WHITNEY, Mrs. The Gayworthys. 38. TOOLEY, Mrs. Life of Mrs. Stowe. 39.
ROE, E. P. Nature’s Serial Story. 40. ALCOTT. Recollections. 41. STOWE, H. B. Minister’s Wooing.
* * * A New Illustrated List of Books for Boys and Girls, with Portraits of Celebrated Authors, sent post free
on application.
London: SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON & COMPANY, LTD., St. Dunstan’s House, Fetter Lane, Fleet Street,
E.C.
PREFACE.
There is a sort of fate about writing books of travel which it is impossible to escape. It is vain to declare that
no inducement will bribe one to do it, that there is nothing new to tell, and that nobody wants to read the
worn-out story: sooner or later the deed is done, and not till the book is safely shelved does peace descend
upon the victim of this mysterious doom.
The only way in which this affliction may be lightened to a long-suffering public is to make the work as
cheerful and as short as possible. With this hope the undersigned bore has abstained from giving the
dimensions of any church, the population of any city, or description of famous places, as far as in her lay; but
confined herself to the personal haps and mishaps, adventures and experiences, of her wanderers.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
3
To explain the undue prominence given to Miss Lavinia, it should be stated that she is an old and intimate
friend of the compiler of this frivolous work; and therefore her views on all subjects, though less valuable,
were easier to obtain than those of the younger and more interesting shawl-strappists.
L. M. A. November 1872.
CONTENTS.
PAGE I. OFF 1
II. BRITTANY 24
III. FRANCE 92
IV. SWITZERLAND 175
V. ITALY 205
VI. LONDON 265
SHAWL-STRAPS.
I.
OFF.
‘On the first day of February we three will sail from Boston for Messina, in the little fruit-ship “Wasp.” We
shall probably be a month going, unless we cross in a gale as I did, splitting sails every night, and standing on
our heads most of the way,’ said Amanda, folding up her maps with an air of calm decision.
‘Hurrah! what fun!’ cried Matilda, waving a half-finished dressing-case over her head.
But Lavinia, with one sepulchral groan, fell flat upon her bed, and lay there, dumb with the horrors of such a
voyage.
‘Just the thing for you, my poor old dear. Think of the balmy airs of Sicily, the oranges, the flowers. Then a
delicious month or two at Sorrento, with no east winds, no slush, no spring cleaning. We shall be as merry as
grigs, and get as buxom as dairy-maids in a month,’ said the sprightly Amanda.
‘You promised to go, and if you back out we are lost, for we must have a duenna. You can lie round in Europe
just as well as here, and I have no doubt it will do you a world of good,’ added Matilda.
‘I shall keep my word; but you will bury me in the Atlantic, so make up your minds to it. Do you suppose that
I, a poor, used-up old invalid, who can’t look at a sail-boat without a qualm, can survive thirty days of
standing on my head, and thirty nights of sail-splitting, as we go slamming and lurching across two or three
awful oceans?’ demanded Lavinia, with the energy of despair.
Before anyone could reply, Amanda’s little Mercury appeared with a note.
‘The “Wasp” will not take passengers, and no other fruit-ship sails this spring,’ read Amanda.
‘Oh dear!’ sighed Matilda.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
4
‘Saved!’ cried Lavinia.
‘Be calm: we shall go, sooner or later, if I buy a ship and sail her myself;’ with which indomitable remark
Amanda went forth to grapple with and conquer untoward circumstances.
A month of plans, vicissitudes, and suspense followed, during which Amanda strove manfully; Matilda
suffered agonies of hope and fear; and Lavinia remained a passive shuttlecock, waiting to be tossed wherever
Fate’s battledore chose to send her.
‘Exactly two weeks from to-day, we sail with a party of friends in the French steamer “Lafayette,” from New
York for Brest. Will you be ready?’ demanded Amanda, after a protracted wrestle with aforesaid adverse
circumstances.
‘But that is exactly what we didn’t mean to do. It’s expensive and fashionable; France and not Italy, north and
not south.’
‘That’s because I’m in the party. If you take a Jonah nothing will go well. Leave me behind, and you will have
a charming trip,’ said Lavinia, who had an oyster-like objection to being torn from her bed.
‘No matter, we are going, live or die, sink or swim; and I shall expect to meet you, all booted and spurred and
fit for the fight, April first,’ said the unwavering Amanda.
‘A most appropriate day for three lone women to start off on a wild-goose chase after health and pleasure,’
groaned Lavinia from among her pillows.
‘Very well, then; I leave you now, and shall expect to meet on the appointed day?’
‘If I’m spared,’ answered the sufferer.
‘I’ll bring her, never fear,’ added the sanguine Mat, as she rattled the trays out of an immense trunk.
How they ever did it no one knows; but in a week everything was ready, and the sisters had nothing left to do
but to sit and receive the presents that showered upon them from all quarters. How kind everyone was, to be
sure! Six fine dressing-cases arrived, and were hung upon the walls; four smelling-bottles–one for each
nostril; bed-socks, rigolettes, afghans, lunch-baskets, pocket-flasks, guide-books, needle-cases, bouquets in
stacks, and a great cake with their names on top in red and blue letters three inches long.
Friendly fingers sewed for them; even the gentlemen of the house–and there were eight–had a ‘bee,’ and
hemmed handkerchiefs for Mat, marked towels; and one noble being actually took off his coat and packed the
trunks in layers of mosaic-work wonderful to behold. A supper celebrated the last evening; and even the
doleful Lavinia, touched by such kindness, emerged from her slough of despond and electrified the ball by
dancing a jig with great spirit and grace.
Devoted beings were up at dawn to share the early breakfast, lug trunks, fly up and down with last messages,
cheer heartily as the carriage drove off, and then adjourn en masse to the station, there to shake hands all
round once more, and wave and wring handkerchiefs as the train at last bore the jocund Mat and the resigned
Lavinia toward the trysting-place and Amanda.
All along the route more friends kept bursting into the cars as they stopped at different places; more gifts,
more hand-shakes and kisses, more good wishes and kind prophecies, till at last in a chaos of smiles, tears,
smelling-bottles, luncheon, cloaks, books, and foot-warmers, the travellers left the last friendly face behind
and steamed away to New York.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
5
‘How de-licious this is!’ cried the untravelled Matilda, as they stepped upon the deck of the ‘Lafayette,’ and she
sniffed the shippy fragrance that caused Lavinia to gasp and answer darkly,–
‘Wait till to-morrow.’
While Mat surveyed the steamer under the care of Devoted Being No. 10, who appeared to see them off,
Lavinia arranged the stateroom, stowing away all useless gear and laying forth dressing-gowns, slippers,
pocket-handkerchiefs, with an anguished smile. She had crossed the ocean twice, and was a wiser, sadder
woman for it. At eight she turned in, and ten minutes later Amanda came aboard with a flock of gay friends.
But no temptations of the flesh could lure the wary spinster from her den; for the night was rough and cold,
and the steamer a Babel of confusion.
‘It’s perfectly delightful! I wish you’d been there, Livy. We had supper, and songs, and funny stories, and all
sorts of larks. There are quantities of nice people aboard, and we shall have a perfectly splendid trip. I shall be
up bright and early, put on my scarlet stockings, my new boots, and pretty sea-suit, and go in for a jolly day,’
said the ardent Matilda, as she came skipping down at midnight and fell asleep full of rosy visions of the joys
of a
Life on the ocean wave.
‘Deluded child!’ sighed Lavinia, closing her dizzy eyes upon the swaying garments on the wall, and feebly
wishing she had hung herself along with them.
In the gray dawn she was awakened by sounds of woe, and peering forth beheld the festive Matilda with one
red stocking on and one off, her blonde locks wildly dishevelled, her face of a pale green, and her hands
clasping lemons, cologne, and salts, as she lay with her brow upon the cool marble of the toilet-table.
‘How do you like it, dear?’ asked the unfeeling Lavinia.
‘Oh, what is it? I feel as if I was dying. If somebody would only stop the swing one minute. Is it sea-sickness?
It’s awful, but it will do me good. Oh, yes! I hope so. I’ve tried everything, and feel worse and worse. Hold
me! save me! Oh, I wish I hadn’t come!’
‘Shipmates ahoy! how are you, my loves?’ and Amanda appeared, rosy, calm, and gay, with her pea-jacket on,
skirts close reefed, hat well to windward, and everything taut and ship-shape; for she was a fine sailor, and
never missed a meal.
Wails greeted her, and faint inquiries as to the state of things in the upper world.
‘Blowing a gale; rain, hail, and snow,–very dirty weather; and we are flying off the coast in fine style,’ was the
cheerful reply.
‘Have we split any sails?’ asked Lavinia, not daring to open her eyes.
‘Dozens, I dare say. Shipping seas every five minutes. All the passengers ill but me, and every prospect of a
north-easter all the way over,’ continued the lively Amanda, lurching briskly about the passage with her hands
in her pockets.
Matilda dropped her lemons and her bottles to wring her hands, and Lavinia softly murmured–
‘Lord, what fools we mortals be, That we ever go to sea!’Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
6
‘Breakfast, ladies?’ cried the pretty French stewardess, prancing in with tea-cups, bowls of gruel, and piles of
toast balanced in some miraculous manner all over her arms.
‘Oh, take it away! I shall never eat again,’ moaned Matilda, clinging frantically to the marble, as the
water-pitcher went down the middle with a hair-brush, and all the boots and shoes had a grand promenade
round the room.
‘Don’t speak to me; don’t look at me; don’t even think of me for three days at least. Go and enjoy yourself, and
leave us to our doom;’ with which tragical remark Lavinia drew her curtains, and was seen no more.
Great heavens, what a week that was! Rain, wind, fog; creak, pitch, toss; noise, smells, cold. Broken sleep by
day, woe in every variety by night; food and drink a delusion and a snare; society an affliction; life a burden;
death a far-off blessing not to be had at any price. Slowly, slowly the victims emerge from the lower depths of
gloom, feebly smile, faintly joke, pick fearfully but wistfully at once-rejected dishes; talk about getting up, but
don’t do it; read a little, look at their sallow countenances in hand-glasses, and speculate upon the good effects
of travel upon the constitution. Then they suddenly become daring, gay, and social; rise, adorn themselves,
pervade the cabins, sniff the odours of engine and kitchen without qualms, play games, go to table; and, just
as the voyage is over, begin to enjoy it.
Alas for poor Lavinia! no such resurrection was possible for her. Long after Mat had bravely donned the
scarlet hose, cocked up her beaver and gone forth to festive scenes, her shipmate remained below in chrysalis
state, fed by faithful Marie, visited by the ever-cheerful Amanda, and enlivened by notes and messages from
fellow-sufferers in far-off cells.
Mr. and Mrs. Harry Walmars, jun., called, and had private theatricals in the passage. Dried-ginger parties
were held about the invalid’s berth, poems were composed, and conundrums circulated. A little newspaper
was concocted, replete with wit and spirit, by these secluded ladies, and called the ‘Sherald,’ to distinguish it
from the ‘Herald,’ got up by sundry gentlemen whose shining hours were devoted to flirtation, cards, and wine.
‘Perfect gentlemen, I assure you, my dear; for, drunk or sober, they wear yellow kids from morning till night,
smoke the best cigars, and dance divinely,’ as Mrs. Twaddle said, sitting erect in the saloon, shrouded in fur
and velvet, with five diamond-rings well displayed, as she recounted the diseases she had enjoyed, and did the
honours of a remarkable work-basket, containing eight different sorts of scissors.
‘We shall be in to-morrow, so you’d better be digging up the treasures you have buried, you old magpie,’ said
Mat, appearing to the pensive Livy on the eleventh day.
‘The sun is out; come on deck, and help us get up the last edition of our paper. How will this do? Query–If
steamers are named the “Asia,” the “Russia,” and the “Scotia,” why not call one the “Nausea?”‘ added
Amanda, popping her head into the den. Lavinia threw a pillow at her, but the undaunted joker continued–
‘Also this: Financial–This being a feminine paper, gold is no longer at Pa, but at Ma.’
‘Good! Add this: Argument in favour of the Superiority of Women–The sluggard was not told to go to his
uncle.’
‘Thank you,’ and Amanda departed to twine with her forty-third bosom friend, while Lavinia disinterred, from
holes and corners of her berth, money, nuts, and raisins; books, biscuits, and literary efforts much the worse
for deluges of soap and daubs of butter.
The cry of ‘Land!’ on the morrow caused passengers unseen before to appear like worms after a shower; all
heroically did up their back hair, put on their best suits, and walked forth with the delusive hope that no oneShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
7
would know how ill they had been.
A French Marquis, with a sickly little son, whose diet of fried potatoes and sour wine accounted for his having
the temper of a young fiend, appeared, and were made much of by dear, title-loving Americans.
A Spanish opera-singer, stout, saffron-coloured, and imperious, likewise emerged from obscurity, with a meek
little husband, who waited on her like a servant, and a big bald parrot, who swore like a trooper.
Several nuns languished in corners of the saloon, surveying the vanities of life with interest, and telling their
beads devoutly when they saw anyone looking at them.
A mysterious lady in green velvet with many diamonds, and a shabby, speechless companion, sailed about the
ship, regardless of the rumours told of her–deserted husbands, stolen jewellery, lovers waiting on the other
side, and many equally pleasant little tales.
The gentlemen with orange gloves and copper-coloured noses got themselves up in the most superb style,
though few were going to land at Brest, and took tender farewells of such ladies as did, each professing
desolation and despair at the termination of a twelve days’ flirtation.
‘I am not fond of dirt, but I could kneel down and kiss this mud, so grateful am I to feel solid ground under my
feet, after leading the life of a fly for so long,’ said Lavinia with emotion, as the three trudged up the wharf at
Brest into a sort of barn which served for a custom-house.
‘Now let each sit upon her luggage and clamour till some one comes and examines it, else it will get whisked
away heaven only knows where,’ ordered Amanda, who was the leader in right of her knowledge of tongues.
Each perched accordingly on her one big trunk, and tried to ‘clamour.’ But nothing came of it save loss of time
and temper, for no one paid the slightest heed to them; and it was maddening to see trunk after trunk passed
and sent off, followed by its rejoicing owner. Especially hard to bear was the sight of the green-velvet sinner,
who, with a smile or two, won the sternest official to pass her five trunks without turning a key, and sailed
away with a scornful glance at the virtuous Three planted on their property and feebly beckoning for help.
‘I shall bear this no longer. Mat, sit there and guard the small things, while you and I, Livy, charge boldly
among these imbeciles and drag them to their duty;’ and Amanda marched away to clutch a cockaded victim
by the shoulder with an awe-inspiring countenance.
Lavinia picked out a feeble, gray officer, and dogged him like an Indian, smiling affably, and pointing to her
luggage with a persistent mildness that nearly drove the poor man mad.
No matter where he went, or what he did; no matter how thick the crowd about him, or how loud the din; still,
like a relentless ghost, that mild old lady was ever at his side, mutely pointing and affably smiling. Of course
he gave in, lifted one tray, saw much flannel, nearly blew his venerable nose off sniffing at one suspicious
bottle, and slamming down the lid, scrawled a mysterious cross, bowed and fled.
Proudly returning to Amanda, the victorious one found her friend in a high state of indignation; for no officer
there would touch her trunk because some American Express had put little leaden stamps here and there for
some unknown purpose. Not even in her best French could the irate lady make the thick-headed men
understand that it was not a high crime against the nation to undo a strap till some superior officer arrived to
take the responsibility of so rash a step.
If they had comprehended the dire threats, the personal remarks, and unmitigated scorn of those three fair
travellers, the blue-coated imbeciles would have been reduced to submission. Fortunately the great man cameShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
8
in time to save them from utter rout; for the ladies were just trying to decide whether to go and leave the
luggage to its fate, or to haul it forth and depart vi et armis, when a stout old party came, saw, said, ‘It is
nothing; pass the trunk; a thousand pardons, Madame,’ and peace was restored.
Instantly the porters, who till then had stood back, eyeing the innocent, black ark, as if it was an infernal
machine liable to explode at a touch, threw themselves upon it, bore it forth, and heaving it atop of an
omnibus, returned to demand vast sums for having waited so long.
Then was Amanda sublime; then did her comrades for the first time learn the magnitude of her powers, and
realise the treasure they possessed. Stowing Matilda and the smaller traps in the bus, and saying to Lavinia,
‘Stand by me,’ this dauntless maid faced one dozen blue-bloused, black-bearded, vociferous, demonstrative
Frenchmen; and, calmly offering the proper sum, refused to add one sou more.
Vainly the drivers perjured themselves in behalf of the porters; vainly the guard looked on, with imposing
uniforms, and impertinent observations; vainly Mat cried imploringly, ‘Pay anything, and let us get off before
there is a mob’–still the indomitable Amanda held forth the honest franc; and, when no one would take it, laid
it on the post, and entering the omnibus, drove calmly away.
‘What should we do without you?’ sighed Lavinia, with fervent gratitude.
‘Be cheated right and left, and never know it, dear,’ responded Amanda, preparing for another fight with the
omnibus-driver.
And she had it; for, unwarned by the fate of the porters, this short-sighted man insisted on carrying the ladies
to a dirty little hotel to dine, though expressly ordered to go at once to the station. Nothing would induce them
to alight, though the landlord came out in person and begged them to do so; and, after a protracted struggle
and a drive all over the town, they finally reached the depôt.
Here another demand for double fare was promptly quenched by an appeal to the chef de station, who, finding
that Mademoiselle was wide awake, crushed the driver and saw justice done.
Exhausted but triumphant, the three at length found themselves rolling slowly towards Morlaix through a
green and blooming country, so unlike the New England they had left behind, that they rejoiced like
butterflies in the sunshine.
II.
BRITTANY.
After a late dinner, at which their appetites were pretty effectually taken away by seeing dishes of snails
passed round and eaten like nuts, with large pins to pick out the squirming meat; a night’s rest somewhat
disturbed by the incessant clatter of sabots in the market-place, and a breakfast rendered merry by being
served by a garçon whom Dickens would have immortalised, our travellers went on to Caulnes-Dinan.
Here began their adventures, properly speaking. They were obliged to drive fourteen miles to Dinan in a
ram-shackle carriage drawn by three fierce little horses, with their tails done up in braided chignons, and
driven by a humpback. This elegant equipage was likewise occupied by a sleepy old priest, who smoked his
pipe without stopping the whole way; also by a large, loquacious, beery man, who talked incessantly,
informing the company that he was a friend of Victor Hugo, a child of nature aged sixty, and obliged to drink
much ale because it went to his head and gave him commercial ideas.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
9
If it had given him no others it would have done well; but, after each draught, and he took many, this child of
nature became so friendly that even the free and easy Americans were abashed. Matilda quailed before the
languishing glances he gave her, and tied her head up like a bundle in a thick veil. The scandalised Lavinia,
informing him that she did not understand French, assumed the demeanour of a griffin, and glared stonily into
space, when she was not dislocating her neck trying to see if the top-heavy luggage had not tumbled off
behind.
Poor Amanda was thus left a prey to the beery one; for, having at first courteously responded to his paternal
remarks and expressed an interest in the state of France, she could not drop the conversation all at once, even
when the friend of Victor Hugo became so disagreeable that it is to be hoped the poet has not many such. He
recited poems, he sung songs, he made tender confidences, and finished by pressing the hand of Mademoiselle
to his lips. On being told that such demonstrations were not permitted to strangers in America, he beat his
breast and cried out, ‘My God, so beautiful and so cold! You do not comprehend that I am but a child. Pardon,
and smile again I conjure you.’
But Mademoiselle would not smile; and, folding her hands in her cloak, appeared to slumber. Whereat the
gray-headed infant groaned pathetically, cast his eyes heavenward, and drank more ale, muttering to himself,
and shaking his head as if his emotions could not be entirely suppressed.
These proceedings caused Lavinia to keep her eye on him, being prepared for any outbreak, from a bullet all
round to proposals to both her charges at once.
With this smouldering bomb-shell inside, and the firm conviction that one if not all the trunks were lying in
the dust some miles behind, it may be inferred that duenna Livy did not enjoy that break-neck drive, lurching
and bumping up hill and down, with nothing between them and destruction apparently but the little
humpback, who drove recklessly.
In this style they rattled up to the Porte de Brest, feeling that they had reached Dinan ‘only by the grace of
God,’ as the beery man expressed it, when he bowed and vanished, still oppressed with the gloomy discovery
that American women did not appreciate him.
While Amanda made inquiries at an office, and Matilda had raptures over the massive archway crowned with
yellow flowers, Lavinia was edified by a new example of woman’s right to labour.
Close by was a clean, rosy old woman, whose unusual occupation attracted our spinster’s attention. Whisking
off the wheels of a diligence, the old lady greased them one by one, and put them on again with the skill and
speed of a regular blacksmith, and then began to pile many parcels into a char apparently waiting for them.
She was a brisk, cheery old soul, with the colour of a winter-apple in her face, plenty of fire in her quick black
eyes, and a mouthful of fine teeth, though she must have been sixty. She was dressed in the costume of the
place: a linen cap with several sharp gables to it, a gay kerchief over her shoulders, a blue woollen gown short
enough to display a pair of sturdy feet and legs in neat shoes with bunches of ribbons on the instep and black
hose. A gray apron, with pockets and a bib, finished her off; making a very sensible as well as picturesque
costume.
She was still hard at it when a big boy appeared, and began to heave the trunks into another char; but gave out
at the second, which was large. Instantly the brisk old woman put him aside, hoisted in the big boxes without
help, and, catching up the shafts of the heavily laden cart, trotted away with it at a pace which caused the
Americans (who prided themselves on their muscle) to stare after her in blank amazement.
When next seen she was toiling up a steep street, still ahead of the lazy boy, who slowly followed with the
lighter load. It did not suit Lavinia’s ideas of the fitness of things to have an old woman trundle three heavyShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
10
trunks while she herself carried nothing but a parasol, and she would certainly have lent a hand if the vigorous
creature had not gone at such a pace that it was impossible to overtake her till she backed her cart up before a
door in most scientific style, and with a bow, a smile, and a courteous wave of the hand, informed them that
‘here the ladies would behold the excellent Madame C.’
They did behold and also receive a most cordial welcome from the good lady, who not only embraced them
with effusion, but turned her house upside down for their accommodation, merely because they came
recommended to her hospitality by a former lodger who had won her kind old heart.
While she purred over them, the luggage was being bumped upstairs, the old woman shouldering trunk after
trunk, and trudging up two steep flights in the most marvellous way. But best of all was her surprise and
gratitude on receiving a larger fee than usual, for the ladies were much interested in this dear old Hercules in a
cap of seven gables.
When she had blessed them all round, and trotted briskly away with her carts, Madame C. informed the
new-comers that the worthy soul was a widow with many children, whom she brought up excellently,
supporting them by acting as porter at the hotel. Her strength was wonderful, and she was very proud of
it–finding no work too hard, yet always neat, cheery, and active; asking no help, and literally earning her
daily bread by the sweat of her brow. The ladies often saw her afterward, always trotting and tugging, smiling
and content, as if some unseen hands kept well greased the wheels of her own diligence, which carried such a
heavy load and never broke down.
Miss Lavinia being interested in Woman’s Rights and Wrongs, was much impressed by the new revelations of
the capabilities of her sex, and soon ceased to be surprised at any demonstration of feminine strength, skill,
and independence, for everywhere the women took the lead.
They not only kept house, reared children, and knit every imaginable garment the human frame can wear, but
kept the shops and the markets, tilled the gardens, cleaned the streets, and bought and sold cattle, leaving the
men free to enjoy the only pursuits they seemed inclined to follow–breaking horses, mending roads, and
getting drunk.
The markets seemed entirely in the hands of the women, and lively scenes they presented to unaccustomed
eyes, especially the pig-market, held every week, in the square before Madame C.’s house. At dawn the
squealing began, and was kept up till sunset. The carts came in from all the neighbouring hamlets, with tubs
full of infant pigs, over which the women watched with maternal care till they were safely deposited among
the rows of tubs that stood along the walk facing Anne of Bretaigne’s grey old tower, and the pleasant
promenade which was once the fosse about the city walls.
Here Madame would seat herself and knit briskly till a purchaser applied, when she would drop her work, dive
among the pink innocents, and hold one up by its unhappy leg, undisturbed by its doleful cries, while she
settled its price with a blue-gowned, white-capped neighbour as sharp-witted and shrill-tongued as herself. If
the bargain was struck, they slapped their hands together in a peculiar way, and the new owner clapped her
purchase into a meal-bag, slung it over her shoulder, and departed with her squirming, squealing treasure as
calmly as a Boston lady with a satchel full of ribbons and gloves.
More mature pigs came to market on their own legs, and very long, feeble legs they were, for a more
unsightly beast than a Breton pig was never seen out of a toy Noah’s ark. Tall, thin, high-backed, and
sharp-nosed, these porcine victims tottered to their doom, with dismal wailings, and not a vestige of spirit till
the trials and excitement of the day goaded them to rebellion, when their antics furnished fun for the public.
Miss Livy observed that the women could manage the pigs when men failed entirely. The latter hustled,
lugged, or lashed, unmercifully and unsuccessfully; the former, with that fine tact which helps them to lead
nobler animals than pigs, would soothe, sympathise, coax, and gently beguile the poor beasts, or devise waysShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
11
of mitigating their bewilderment and woe, which did honour to the sex, and triumphantly illustrated the power
of moral suasion.
One amiable lady, who had purchased two small pigs and a coop full of fowls, attempted to carry them all on
one donkey. But the piggies rebelled lustily in the bags, the ducks remonstrated against their unquiet
neighbours, and the donkey indignantly refused to stir a step till the unseemly uproar was calmed. But the
Bretonne was equal to the occasion; for, after a pause of meditation, she solved the problem by tying the bags
round the necks of the pigs, so that they could enjoy the prospect. This appeased them at once, and produced a
general lull; for when the pigs stopped squealing, the ducks stopped quacking, the donkey ceased his bray, and
the party moved on in dignified silence, with the youthful pigs, one black, one white, serenely regarding life
from their bags.
Another time, a woman leading a newly-bought cow came through the square, where the noise alarmed the
beast so much that she became unruly, and pranced in a most dangerous manner. Miss Livy hung out of the
window, breathless with interest, and ready to fly with brandy and bandages at a minute’s notice, for it seemed
inevitable that the woman would be tossed up among the lindens before the cow was conquered. The few men
who were lounging about stood with their hands in their pockets, watching the struggle without offering to
help, till the cow scooped the lady up on her horns, ready for a toss. Livy shrieked, but Madame just held on,
kicking so vigorously that the cow was glad to set her down, when, instead of fainting, she coolly informed
the men, who, seeing her danger, had approached, that she ‘could arrange her cow for herself, and did not
want any help,’ which she proved by tying a big blue handkerchief over the animal’s eyes, producing instant
docility, and then she was led away by her flushed but triumphant mistress, who calmly settled her cap, and
took a pinch of snuff to refresh herself, after a scuffle which would have annihilated most women.
When Madame C.’s wood was put in, the new-comers were interested in watching the job, for it was done in a
truly Bretonesque manner. It arrived in several odd carts, each drawn by four great horses, with two men to
each team; and as the carts were clumsy, the horses wild, and the men stupid, the square presented a lively
spectacle. At one time there were three carts, twelve horses, and six men, all in a snarl, while a dozen women
stood at their doors and gave advice. One was washing a lettuce, another dressing her baby, a third twirling
her distaff, and a fourth with her little bowl of soup, which she ate in public while gesticulating so frantically
that her sabots clattered on the stones.
The horses had a free fight, and the men swore and shouted in vain, till the lady with the baby suddenly went
to the rescue. Planting the naked cherub on the door-step, this energetic matron charged in among the rampant
animals, and by some magic touch untangled the teams, quieted the most fractious, a big grey brute, prancing
like a mad elephant; then returned to her baby, who was placidly eating dirt, and with a polite ‘Voilà,
messieurs!’ she whipped little Jean into his shirt, while the men sat down to smoke.
It took two deliberate men nearly a week to split the gnarled logs, and one brisk woman carried them into the
cellar and piled them neatly. The men stopped about once an hour to smoke, drink cider, or rest. The woman
worked steadily from morning till night, only pausing at noon for a bit of bread and the soup good Coste sent
out to her. The men got two francs a day, the woman half a franc; and as nothing was taken out of it for wine
or tobacco, her ten cents probably went further than their forty.
This same capable lady used to come to market with a baby on one arm, a basket of fruit on the other, leading
a pig, driving a donkey, and surrounded by sheep, while her head bore a pannier of vegetables, and her hands
spun busily with a distaff. How she ever got on with these trifling incumbrances was a mystery; but there she
was, busy, placid, and smiling, in the midst of the crowd, and at night went home with her shopping well
content.
The washerwomen were among the happiest of these happy souls, and nowhere were seen prettier pictures
than they made, clustered round the fountains or tanks by the way, scrubbing, slapping, singing, andShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
12
gossiping, as they washed or spread their linen on the green hedges and daisied grass in the bright spring
weather. One envied the cheery faces under the queer caps, the stout arms that scrubbed all day, and were not
too tired to carry home some chubby Jean or little Marie when night came; and, most of all, the contented
hearts in the broad bosoms under the white kerchiefs, for no complaint did one hear from these hard-working,
happy women. The same brave spirit seems to possess them now as that which carried them heroically to their
fate in the Revolution, when hundreds of mothers and children were shot at Nantes and died without a
murmur.
But of all the friends the strangers made among them they liked old Mère Oudon best–a shrivelled leaf of a
woman, who at ninety-two still supported her old husband of ninety-eight. He was nearly helpless, and lay in
bed most of the time, smoking, while she peeled willows at a sou a day, trudged up and down with herbs,
cresses, or any little thing she could find to sell. Very proud was she of her ‘master,’ his great age, his senses
still quite perfect, and most of all his strength, for now and then the old tyrant left his bed to beat her, which
token of conjugal regard she seemed to enjoy as a relic of early days, and a proof that he would long be spared
to her.
She kept him exquisitely neat, and if anyone gave her a plate of food, a little snuff, or any small comfort for
her patient old age, she took it straight to the ‘master,’ and found a double happiness in giving and seeing him
enjoy it.
She had but one eye, her amiable husband having put out the other once on a time as she was leading him
home tipsy from market. The kind soul bore no malice, and always made light of it when forced to tell how
the affliction befell her.
‘My Yvon was so gay in his young days, truly, yes, a fine man, and now most beautiful to see in his clean bed,
with the new pipe that Mademoiselle sent him. Come, then, and behold him, my superb master, who at
ninety-eight has still this strength so wonderful.’
The ladies never cared to see him more than once, but often met the truly beautiful old wife as she toiled to
and fro, finding her faithful love more wonderful than his strength, and feeling sure that when she lies at last
on her ‘clean bed,’ some good angel will repay these ninety-two hard years with the youth and beauty,
happiness and rest, which nothing can destroy.
Not only did the women manage the affairs of this world, but had more influence than men with the good
powers of heaven. A long drought parched France that year, and even fertile Brittany suffered. More than
once processions of women, led by priests, poured through the gates to go to the Croix du Saint Esprit and
pray for rain.
‘Why don’t the men go also?’ Miss Livy asked.
‘Ah! they pray to the Virgin, and she listens best to women,’ was the answer.
She certainly seemed to do so, for gracious showers soon fell, and the little gardens bloomed freshly where the
mothers’ hard hands had planted cabbages, onions, and potatoes to feed the children through the long winter.
Nor were these the only tasks the women did. The good ladies had a hospital, and a neater, cheerier place was
never seen; few invalids, but many old people sitting in the sunny gardens, or at work in the clean rooms. La
Garaye is in ruins now, but the memory of its gentle lady still lives, and is preserved in this benevolent
institution for the sick, the old, and poor.
A school for girls was kept by the good nuns, and the streets at certain hours were full of little damsels, with
round caps on their braided hair, queer long gowns of blue, white aprons and handkerchiefs, who wentShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
13
clattering by in their wooden shoes, bobbing little curtsies to their friends, and readily answering any
questions inquisitive strangers asked them. They learned to read, write, sew, and say the catechism. Also to
sing; for, often as the ladies passed the little chapel of Our Lady, a chorus of sweet young voices came to us,
making the flowery garden behind the church of St. Sauveur a favourite resting-place.
In endeavouring to account for the freedom of the women here, it was decided that it was owing to Anne of
Brittany, the ‘gentle and generous Duchesse,’ to whom her husband Louis XII. allowed the uncontrolled
government of the duchy. Relics of the ‘fière Bretonne,’ as Louis called her, are still treasured everywhere, and
it was pleasant to know not only that she was an accomplished woman, writing tender letters in Latin verse to
her husband, but also a wise and just Princess to her people, ‘showing herself by spirit and independence to be
the most worthy of all her race to wear the ducal crown.’ So three cheers for good Duchesse Anne, and long
life to the hardy, happy women of Brittany!
While Miss Lavinia was making these observations and moralizing upon them, the younger ladies were
enjoying discoveries and experiences more to their tastes.
They had not been in the house half a day before Madame C. informed them that ‘Mademoiselle, the so
charming miss whom they beheld at dinner, was to be married very soon; and they should have the rapture of
witnessing a wedding the most beautiful.’
They welcomed the prospect with pleasure, for Dinan is not a whirl of gaiety at the best of times: and that
spring the drought, rumours of war, and fears of small-pox, cast a shadow upon the sunny little town. So they
surveyed Mademoiselle Pelagie with interest, and longed to behold the happy man who was to be blessed with
the hand of this little, yellow-faced girl, with red eyes, dirty hands, and a frizzled crop, so like a wig they
never could make up their minds that it was not.
Madame, the mamma, a buxom, comely widow, who breakfasted in black moire, with a diadem of glossy
braids on her sleek head, and many jet ornaments rattling and glistening about her person, informed them,
with voluble affability, of the whole affair.
‘My brother, M. le Président, had arranged the marriage. Pelagie was twenty, and beautiful, as you behold. It
was time to establish her. Mon Dieu! yes; though my heart is lacerated to lose my angel, I consent. I conduct
her to a ball, that she may be seen by the young man whose parents desire that he should espouse my infant.
He beholds her. He says: “Great heavens, I adore her! My father, I consent.” He is presented to me; we
converse. She regards him with the angelic modesty of a young girl, but speaks not. I approve, the parents
meet, it is arranged, and Jules is betrothed to my Pelagie. They have not met since; but next week he comes
for the marriage, and he will be permitted to address her in my presence. Ah, yes! your customs are not as
ours, and to us seem of a deplorable freedom. Pardon that I say it.’
On inquiring how Pelagie regarded her future lord, they found that she thought very little about him, but was
absorbed in her trousseau, which she proudly displayed. To those accustomed to see and hear of American
outfits, with their lavish profusion and extravagant elegance, poor little Pelagie’s modest stores were not at all
imposing. Half a dozen pretty dresses from Paris; several amazing hats, all rosebuds, lace, and blue ribbon; a
good deal of embroidery; and a few prophetic caps,–completed the outfit.
One treasure, however, she was never tired of displaying,–a gift from Jules,–a camels’-hair shawl, in a black
walnut case, on which was carved the Clomadoc arms. A set of pearls were also from the bridegroom; but the
shawl was her pride, for married women alone could wear such, and she seemed to think this right of more
importance than any the wedding-ring could confer upon her.
To the young ladies, both of whom had known many of the romantic experiences which befall comely
American girls, the idea of marrying a man whom they had only seen twice seemed horrible; and to have butShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
14
one week of courtship, and that in Mamma’s presence, was simply an insult and a wrong which they would
not bear to think of.
But Pelagie seemed quite content, and brooded over her finery like a true Frenchwoman, showing very little
interest in her Jules, and only anxious for the time to come when she could wear her shawl and be addressed
as Madame.
While waiting for the grand event, the girls amused themselves with Gaston, the brother of the bride-elect. He
was a languid, good-looking youth of three-and-twenty, who assumed blasé airs and attitudinized for their
benefit. Sometimes he was lost in fits of Byronic gloom, when he frowned over his coffee, sighed gustily, and
clutched his brow, regardless of the curls, usually in ambrosial order. The damsels, instead of being impressed
by this display of inward agony, only laughed at him, and soon rallied him out of his heroics. Then he would
try another plan, and become all devotion, presenting green tulips, ancient coins, early fruit, or sketches of his
own, so very small that the design was quite obscure. If these delicate attentions failed to touch the stony
hearts of the blonde Americans, he would air his entire wardrobe, appearing before them one day in full
Breton costume of white cloth, embroidered in gay silks, buckled shoes, and hat adorned with streaming
ribbons and flowers. Quite Arcadian was Gaston in this attire; and very effective on the croquet ground, where
sundry English families disported themselves on certain afternoons. Another time he would get himself up
like a Parisian dandy bound for a ride in the Bois de Boulogne; and, mounting with much difficulty a rampant
horse, he would caracole about the Place St. Louis, to the great delight of the natives.
But this proved a failure; for one of the fair but cruel strangers donned hat and habit, and entirely eclipsed his
glories by galloping about the country like an Amazon. The only time Gaston played escort she was nearly the
death of him, for he seldom did more than amble a mile or two, and a hard trot of some six or eight miles
reduced our Adonis to such a state of exhaustion that he fell into his mother’s arms on dismounting, and was
borne away to bed with much lamentation.
After that he contented himself with coming to show himself in full dress whenever he went to a party; and, as
that was nearly every other evening, they soon got accustomed to hearing a tap at their door, and beholding
the comely youth in all the bravery of glossy broadcloth, a lavish shirt-bosom, miraculous tie, primrose
gloves, varnished shoes, and curls and moustache anointed and perfumed in the most exquisite style. He
would bow and say ‘Bon soir,’ then stand to be admired, with the artless satisfaction of a child; after which he
would smile complacently, wave his crush hat, and depart with a flourish.
Dear, dandified, vain Gaston! His great desire was to go to Paris, and when the war came he had his wish; but
found sterner work to do than to dress and dance and languish at the feet of ladies. I hope it made a man of
him, and fancy it did; for the French fight well and suffer bravely for the country they love in their
melodramatic fashion.
As the day approached for the advent of the bridegroom, great excitement prevailed in the quiet household.
Madame C. and her handmaid, dear old Marie, cackled and bustled like a pair of important hens. Madame F.,
the widow, lived at the milliner’s, so to speak, and had several dress rehearsals for her own satisfaction.
Gaston mounted guard over his sister, lest some enamoured man should rend her from them ere her Jules
could secure the prize. And Pelagie placidly ate and slept, kept her hair in crimping-pins from morning till
night, wore out her old clothes, and whiled away the time munching bonbons and displaying her shawl.
‘Mercy on us! I should feel like a lamb being fattened for the sacrifice if I were in her place,’ cried one of the
freeborn American citizenesses, with an air of unmitigated scorn for French ways of conducting this
interesting ceremony.
‘I should feel like a galley-slave,’ said the other. ‘For she can’t go anywhere without Gaston or Mamma at her
elbow. Only yesterday she went into a shop alone, while Gaston waited at the door. And when she told it atShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
15
home as a great exploit all the ladies shrieked with horror at the idea, and Mamma said, wringing her hands:
“Mon Dieu! but they will think thou art a married woman, for it is inconceivable that any girl should do so
bold a thing.” And Pelagie wept, and implored them not to tell Jules, lest he should discard her.’
Here the Americans all groaned over the pathetic absurdity of the whole affair, and wondered with
unrighteous glee what the decorous ladies below would say to some of their pranks at home. But, fearing that
M. le Président might feel it his duty to eject them from the town as dangerous persons, they shrouded their
past sins in the most discreet silence, and assumed their primmest demeanour in public.
‘He has come! Look quick, girls!’ cried Lavinia, as a carriage stopped at the door, and a rushing sound, as of
many agitated skirts, was heard in the hall. Three heads peeped from the window of the blue parlour, and three
pairs of curious eyes were rewarded by a sight of the bridegroom, as he alighted.
Such a little man! Such a fierce moustache! Such a dignified strut! And such an imposing uniform as he wore!
For Jules Gustave Adolphe Marie Clomadoc was a colonel in some regiment stationed at Boulogne. Out he
skipped; in he marched; and, peeping over the banisters, they saw him salute Madame F. with a stately kiss on
the hand, then escort her up to her salon, bowing loftily, and twisting his tawny moustache with an air that
gave him the effect of being six feet in height, and broad in proportion.
How he greeted his fiancée they knew not, but the murmur of voices came from the room in steady flow for
hours, and Gaston flew in and out with an air of immense importance.
At dinner the strangers were proudly presented to M. le Colonel, and received affable bows from the little
man, who flattered himself that he could talk English, and insisted on speaking an unknown tongue, evidently
wondering at their stupidity in not understanding their own language.
He escorted Madame down, sat between her and Pelagie, but talked only to her; while the girl sat silent and
ate her dinner with an appetite which no emotion could diminish. It was very funny to see the small warrior do
his wooing of the daughter through the mother; and the buxom widow played her part so well that an
unenlightened observer would have said she was the bride-elect. She smiled, she sighed, she discoursed, she
coquetted, and now and then plucked out her handkerchief and wept at the thought of losing the angel, who
was placidly gnawing bones and wiping up the gravy on her plate with bits of bread.
Jules responded with spirit, talked, jested, quoted poetry, paid compliments right and left, and now and then
passed the salt, filled a glass, or offered a napkin to his fiancée with a French shrug and a tender glance.
After dinner Madame F. begged him to recite one of his poems; for it appeared this all-accomplished man was
beloved of the muse, and twanged the lyre as well as wielded the sword. With much persuasion and many
modest apologies, Jules at length consented, took his place upon the rug, thrust one hand into his bosom,
turned up his eyes, and, in a tremendous voice, declaimed a pensive poem of some twenty stanzas, called
‘Adieu to my past.’
The poet’s friends listened with rapt countenances and frequent bursts of emotion or applause; but the
Americans suffered agonies, for the whole thing was so absurdly melodramatic that it was with great
difficulty they kept themselves from explosions of laughter. When the little man dropped his voice to a hoarse
whisper, in bidding adieu to the lost loves of his youth, tender-hearted old C. sobbed in her napkin; while Livy
only saved herself from hysterics by drinking a glass of water, and Pelagie ate sugar, with her round eyes
fixed on her lover’s face, without the slightest expression whatever.
When the poet mourned his blighted hopes, and asked wildly of all the elements if he should live or die,
Gaston cast reproachful glances at the alien charmer who had nipped his passion in the bud; and when Jules
gave a sudden start, slapped his brow, and declared that he would live for his country, old Marie choked in herShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
16
coffee, while Madame F. clapped her fat hands, and cried: ‘It is sublime!’
The poem closed there, and the providential appearance of their donkeys gave the ladies an excuse for retiring
to their room, where they laughed till they could laugh no more.
Each meal was as good as a play, and every glimpse they had of the little pair gave fresh food for mirth.
Everything was so formal and polite, so utterly unlike the free-and-easy customs of their native land, that they
were kept in alternate states of indignation and amusement the whole time. Jules never was alone with his
Pelagie for an instant; such a breach of etiquette would have shocked the entire town. In the walks and drives
which the family took together, Madame was always at the Colonel’s side; while Gaston escorted his sister,
looking as if he was fast reaching a state of mind when he would give her away without a pang. Many guests
came and went, much kissing and bowing, prancing and rustling, went on, up and down stairs. Stately old
gentlemen called, papers were signed, fortunes discussed, and gifts displayed. Pelagie went much to mass;
also to the barber’s and the bath. Agitated milliners flew in and out. A great load of trunks arrived from
Nantes, where Madame formerly lived; and the day before the wedding a whole carriage full of Clomadocs
appeared, and Babel seemed to have come again.
A great supper was given that evening, and the Three were banished to their own rooms; where, however,
they fared sumptuously, for Madame C. and good old Marie ate with them, having no place left them but the
kitchen. Madame C. was much hurt that she had not been asked to the wedding. It seemed the least Madame
F. could do after taking possession of the house, and turning its rightful owner out of every room but the attic.
Madame C. was a gentlewoman; and though a meek old soul, this rudeness hurt her very much. She said
nothing; but Marie fumed and scolded fiercely, and proposed that the neglected ones should all go away on
the wedding-day, and make a fête for themselves somewhere. So they decided to drive to Dinare, enjoy the
fine views of the sea and St. Malo, dine, and return at dusk, leaving the house free for the wedding festivities.
The day was fine, and the ladies were graciously invited to behold the bride before she left for church. She
looked as much like a fashion-plate as it was possible for a living girl to look; and they dutifully kissed her on
both cheeks, paid their compliments and retired, thanking their stars that they were not in her place.
Mamma was gorgeous to behold, in royal purple and black lace. Gaston was so glossy and beruffled and
begemmed, that they gazed with awe upon the French Adonis. But the bridegroom was a sight for gods and
men. In full regimentals with a big sword, so many orders that there was hardly room for them on his little
breast, and a cocked hat, with a forest of feathers, in which he extinguished himself at intervals. How his tiny
boots shone, his tawny moustache bristled with importance, and his golden epaulets glittered as he shrugged
and pranced! His honoured papa and mamma were both tall, portly people, beside whom the manikin looked
like a child. Livy quite longed to see Madame Clomadoc take little Jules on her knee, and amuse him with
bonbons when he got impatient at the delay of the carriage.
The Three peeped out of windows, and over the banisters, and got fine glimpses of the splendours below.
Flocks of elegant ladies went sailing up the narrow stairs. Gentlemen with orders, dandies wonderful to
behold, and a few children (to play with the bridegroom, as Livy wickedly said), adorned the hall and salon.
Every one talked at the top of his or her voice. Shrieks of rapture, groans of despair, greeted a fine toilette or a
torn glove. Peals of laughter from the gentlemen, and shrill cries from the infants, echoed through the once
peaceful halls. As Françoise said ‘It was truly divine.’
At eleven, every one trooped into the carriages again. How they ever got so many full-dressed people into one
carriage is a mystery to this day. But in they piled, regardless of trains, corpulency, or height; and coach after
coach lumbered away to the church.
The bride’s carriage could not be got very near the door. So she tripped out to it, leaning on her uncle’s arm,
while the devoted Gaston bore her train. Mamma sailed after in a purple cloud; and when two young damsels,Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
17
in arsenic green, were packed in, away they went, leaving the bridegroom to follow.
Then came the catastrophe! Stout papa and mamma were safely in; a friend of Jules, some six feet high, shut
himself up like a jack-knife; and with a farewell wave of the cocked hat, the small bridegroom skipped in after
them. The coachman cracked his whip, intending to dash under the arched gateway in fine style. But alas! the
harness was old, the big horses clumsy, and the road half paved. The traces gave way, the beasts reared, the
big coach lurched, and dismal wails arose. Out burst the fierce little hero of the day, and the tall friend
followed by instalments.
Great was the excitement as the natives gathered about the carriage with offers of help, murmurs of sympathy,
and unseemly mirth on the part of the boys. Jules did the swearing; and never were heard such big oaths as fell
from the lips of this irate little man. It really seemed as if he would explode with wrath. He dashed the
impressive cocked hat upon the stones, laid his hand upon his sword, tore his hair, and clutched his moustache
in paroxysms of despair.
His bride was gone, waiting in agitated suspense for him. No other coach could be had, as the resources of the
town had been exhausted. The harness was in a desperate state, the men at their wit’s end how to mend it, and
time flying fast. Maire and priest were waiting, the whole effect of the wedding was being ruined by this
delay, and ‘ten thousand devils’ seemed to possess the awkward coachman.
During the flurry, Papa Clomadoc appeared to slumber tranquilly in the recesses of the carriage. Mamma
endeavoured to soothe her boy with cries of ‘Tranquillize yourself, my cherished son. It is nothing.’ ‘Come,
then, and reassure papa.’ ‘Inhale the odour of my vinaigrette. It will compose your lacerated nerves, my angel.’
But the angel wouldn’t come, and continued to dance and swear, and slap his hat about until the damages were
repaired, when he flung himself, exhausted, into the carriage, and was borne away to his bride.
‘A lively prospect for poor Pelagie.’ ‘What a little fiend he is!’ ‘Spinsters for ever!’
With these remarks, the ladies ordered their own equipage, an infant omnibus, much in vogue in Dinan, where
retired army officers, English or Scotch, drive about with their little families of eighteen or twenty. One
Colonel Newcome, a grave-looking man, used to come to church in a bus of this sort, with nine daughters and
four sons, like a patriarch. The strangers thought it was a boarding-school, till he presented the entire flock,
with paternal pride, as ‘my treasures.’
Madame C., in a large Leghorn bonnet, trembling with yellow bows, led the way with an air of lofty
indifference as to what became of her house that day. Marie bore a big basket, full of cold fowls, salad, and
wines; she also was in a new spring hat of purple, which made her rosy old face look like a china aster.
Lavinia reposed upon the other seat; and the infants insisted on sharing the driver’s seat, up aloft, that they
might enjoy the prospect, which freak caused Flabeau’s boy to beam and blush till his youthful countenance
was a deep scarlet.
They had a pleasant day; for good old Madame soon recovered her temper, and beguiled the time with lively
tales of her mother’s trials during the Revolution.
Marie concocted spiced drinks, salad that was a thing to dream of, not to tell, and produced such edible
treasures that her big basket seemed bottomless.
The frisky damsels explored ruins, ran races on the hard beach, sniffed the salt breezes, and astonished the
natives by swarming up and down ‘precipices,’ as they called the rocks.
That was a fatal day for Flabeau’s boy (they never knew his name); for, as if the wedding had flown to hisShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
18
head, he lost his youthful heart to one of the lively damsels who invaded his perch. Such tender glances as his
China-blue eyes cast upon her; such grins of joy as he gave when she spoke to him; such feats of agility as he
performed, leaping down to gather flowers, or hurling himself over thorny hedges, to point out a dolmen or a
menhir (they never could remember which was which). Alas, alas! for Flabeau’s boy! Deeply was he wounded
that day by the unconscious charmer, who would as soon have thought of inspiring love in the bosom of the
broken-nosed saint by the wayside as in the heart that beat under the blue blouse.
I regret to say that ‘the infants,’ as Madame C. always called Miss Livy’s charges, behaved themselves with
less decorum than could have been wished. But the proud consciousness that they never could be disposed of
as Pelagie had been had such an exhilarating effect upon them that they frisked like the lambs in the field.
One drove the bus in a retired spot and astonished the stout horses by the way in which she bowled them
along the fine, hard road. The other sang college songs, to the intense delight of the old ladies, who admired
the ‘chants Amériques so gay,’ and to the horror of their duenna, who knew what they meant. A shower came
up, and they would remain outside; so the boy put up a leathern hood, and they sat inside in such a merry
mood that the silent youth suddenly caught the infection, and burst forth into a Breton melody, which he
continued to drone till they got home.
The house was a blaze of light when they arrived, and Françoise, the maid, came flying out to report sundry
breakages and mishaps. How the salad had precipitated itself downstairs, dish and all. How Monsieur Gaston
was so gay, so inconceivably gay, that he could hardly stand, and insisted on kissing her clandestinely. That
Mademoiselle Pelagie had wept much because her veil was torn; and Madame F. had made a fresh toilette,
ravishing to behold. Would the dear ladies survey the party, still at table? Regard them from the little window
in the garden, and see if it is not truly a spectacle the most superb!
They did regard them, and saw the bride at the head of the table, eating steadily through the dessert; the
bridegroom reciting poems with tremendous effect; Gaston almost invisible behind a barricade of bottles; and
Madame F., in violet velvet, diamonds, plumes, and lace, more sleek and buxom than ever. The ladies all
talked at once, and the gentlemen drank healths every five minutes. A very French and festive scene it was;
for the room was small, and twenty mortals were stowed therein. One fat lady sat in the fireplace, Papa
Clomadoc leaned his heavy head upon the sideboard, and the plump shoulders of Madame F. were half out of
the front window. ‘But it was genteel. Oh! I assure you, yes,’ as Françoise said.
How long they kept it up the weary trio did not wait to see, but retired to their beds, and slumbered peacefully,
waking only when Gaston was borne up to his room, chanting the ‘Marseillaise’ at the top of his voice.
Next day M. and Madame Clomadoc, Jr., made calls, and Pelagie had the joy of wearing her shawl. For three
days she astonished the natives by promenading with her lord in a fresh toilette each day. On the fourth they
all piled into a big carriage, and went away to make a round of visits, before the young people settled down at
Boulogne.
The Americans never thought to hear any more of Pelagie; but, as dear old Madame C. wrote to them several
times after they left, the little story may be finished here, though the sequel did not actually come till a year
later.
Many were the sage predictions of the Three as to the success of this marriage–Amanda approving of that
style of thing, Matilda objecting fiercely to the entire affair, and Lavinia firmly believing in the good old
doctrine of love as your only firm basis for so solemn a bargain.
Wagers were laid that the fiery little Colonel would shoot some one in a jealous fit, or that Pelagie would
elope, or both charcoal themselves to death, as the best way out of the predicament. But none of them guessed
how tragically it would really end.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
19
Late in the following spring came a letter from Madame C., telling them that Jules had gone to the war, and
been shot in his first battle; that Pelagie was with her mother again, comforting herself for her loss with a still
smaller Jules, who never saw his father, and, it is to be hoped, did not resemble him. So little Pelagie’s brief
romance ended; and one would fancy that the experiences of that year would make her quite content to remain
under mamma’s wing, with no lord and master but the little son, to whom she was a very tender mother.
Pleasant days those were in quaint old Dinan; for spring’s soft magic glorified earth and sky, and a delicious
sense of rest and freedom gave a charm to that quiet life. Legends of romance and chivalry hung about the
ruins of castle and château, as green and golden as the ivy and bright wall-flowers that tapestried the
crumbling walls, and waved like banners from the turret tops. Lovely walks into woods, starred with pale
primroses, and fragrant with wild hyacinths; down green lanes, leading to quaint cottages, or over wide
meadows full of pink-tipped daisies and dear familiar buttercups, the same all the world over.
Sometimes they took gay donkey-drives to visit a solemn dolmen in a gloomy pine-wood, with mistletoe
hanging from the trees, and the ghosts of ancient Druids haunting the spot. The cavalcade on such occasions
was an imposing spectacle. Matilda being fond of horses likewise affected donkeys (or thought she did, till
she tried to drive one), and usually went first in a small vehicle like a chair on wheels, drawn by an animal
who looked about the size of a mouse, when the stately Mat in full array, yellow parasol, long whip,
camp-stool, and sketch-book, sat bolt upright on her perch, driving in the most approved manner.
The small beast, after much whipping, would break into a trot, and go pattering over the hard, white road, with
his long ears wagging, and his tiny hoofs raising a great dust for the benefit of the other turnout just behind.
In a double chair sat Lavinia, bundled up as usual, and the amiable Amanda, both flushed with constant
pokings and thrashings of their steed. A venerable ass, so like an old whity-brown hair trunk as to his body,
and Nick Bottom’s mask as to his head, that he was a constant source of mirth to the ladies. Mild and
venerable as he looked, however, he was a most incorrigible beast, and it took two immortal souls, and four
arms, to get the ancient donkey along.
Vain all the appeals to his conscience, pity, or pride: nothing but a sharp poke among his ribs, a steady shower
of blows on his fuzzy old back, and frequent ‘yanks’ of the reins produced any effect. It was impossible to turn
out for anything, and the ladies resigned themselves to the ignominy of sitting still, in the middle of the road,
and letting other carriages drive over or round them.
On rare occasions the beast would bolt into the ditch as a vehicle drew near; but usually he paused abruptly,
put his head down, and apparently went to sleep.
Matilda got on better, because little Bernard Du Guesclin, as she named her mouse, was so very small, that
she could take him up, and turn him round bodily, when other means failed, or pull him half into the chair if
danger threatened in front. He was a sprightly little fellow, and had not yet lost all the ardour of youth, or
developed the fiendish obstinacy of his kind; so he frequently ran little races–now and then pranced, and was
not quite dead to the emotion of gratitude in return for bits of bread.
Truly, yes; the fair Mat with her five feet seven inches, and little Bernard, whose longest ear, when most erect,
did not reach much above her waist, were a sweet pair of friends, and caused her mates great amusement.
‘I must have some one to play with, for I can’t improve my mind all the time as ‘Mandy does, or cuddle and
doze like Livy. I’ve had experience with young donkeys of all sorts, and I give you my word little Bernie is
much better fun than some I’ve known with shorter ears and fewer legs.’
Thus Matilda, regardless of the jeers of her friends, when they proposed having the small beast into the salon
to beguile the tedium of a rainy day.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
20
As the summer came on, picnics were introduced, and gay parties would pile into and on to Flabeau’s small
omnibus, and drive off to Hunandaye, Coétquën, La Bellière, Guingamp, or some other unpronounceable but
most charming spot, for a day of sunshine and merrymaking.
The hospitable English came out strong on these occasions, with ”ampers of ‘am-sandwiches, bottled porter
and so on, don’t you know?’ all in fine style. Even the stout doctor donned his knickerbockers and grey hose,
unfurled his Japanese umbrella, and, with a pretty niece on either arm, disported himself like a boy.
But pleasantest of all were the daily strolls through the little town and its environs, getting glimpses of Breton
manners and customs.
The houses were usually composed of one room, where, near the open fire, and fixed against the wall, stands
the bedstead or lit clos, of old oak, shut in by carved sliding panels, often bearing an inscription or some
sacred symbol. The mattresses and feather-beds are so piled up, that there is hardly room to creep in. Before it
is the big chest containing the family wardrobe, answering the double purpose of a seat and a step by which to
ascend the lofty bed. Cupboards on each side often have wide shelves, where the children sleep. Settles and a
long table complete the furniture; the latter often has little wells hollowed out in the top to hold the soup
instead of plates. Over the table, suspended by pulleys, are two indispensable articles in a Breton house,–a
large round basket to cover the bread, and a wooden frame to hold the spoons. Festoons of sausages, hams,
candles, onions, horse-shoes, harness, and tools, all hang from the ceiling. The floor is of beaten earth. One
narrow window lets in the light. There are no out-houses, and pigs and poultry mingle freely with the family.
The gardens are well kept, and produce quantities of fruit and vegetables. The chief food of the poorer class is
bread or porridge of buckwheat, with cabbage soup, made by pouring hot water over cabbage leaves and
adding a bit of butter.
They are a home-loving people, and pine like the Swiss, if forced to leave their native land. They are brave
soldiers and good sailors. ‘Their vices,’ as a Breton writer says, ‘are avarice, contempt for women, and
drunkenness; their virtues, love of home and country, resignation to the will of God, loyalty to each other, and
hospitality.’ Their motto is, ‘En tout chemin loyauté.’
They are very superstitious, and some of their customs are curious. At New Year pieces of bread and butter
are thrown into the fountains, and from the way in which they swim the future is foretold. If the buttered side
turns under, it forebodes death; if two pieces adhere together, it is a sign of sickness; and if a piece floats
properly, it is an assurance of long life and prosperity.
Girls throw pins into the fountain of Saloun to tell, by their manner of sinking, when they will be married. If
the pin goes down head-foremost, there is little hope; but, if the point goes first, it is a sure sign of being
married that year.
Their veneration for healing-springs is very great, and, though at times forbidden by the Church, is still felt.
Pounded snails, worn in a bag on the neck, is believed to be a cure for fever; and a certain holy bell rung over
the head, a cure for head-ache. ‘If we believe in that last remedy, what a ceaseless tingling that bell would
keep up in America!’ said Lavinia, when these facts were mentioned to her.
In some towns they have, in the cemetery, a bone-house or reliquary. It is the custom, after a certain time, to
dig up the bones of the dead, and preserve the skulls in little square boxes like bird-houses, with a
heart-shaped opening, to show the relic within. The names and dates of the deceased are inscribed outside.
Saint Ives or Yves is a favourite saint, and images of him are in all churches and over many doors. He was one
of the remarkable characters of the thirteenth century. He studied law in Paris, and devoted his talents to
defending the poor; hence, he was called ‘the poor man’s advocate:’ and so great is the confidence placed in hisShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
21
justice, that, even now, when a debtor falsely denies his debt, a peasant will pay twenty sous for a mass to St.
Ives, sure that the Saint will cause the faithless creditor to die within the year or pay up.
His truthfulness was such that he was called ‘St. Yves de vérité.’ He was the special patron of lawyers, but he
does not seem to be their model.
The early monks taught the people to work, and their motto was ‘The Cross and the plough, labour and
prayer.’ They introduced apples, now the principal fruit of Brittany. Much cider is made and drank; and in old
times they got their wine from France in exchange for wax and honey, as they were famous bee-keepers.
Great fields of buck-wheat still afford food for the ‘yellow-breeched philosophers,’ and in many cottage
gardens a row of queerly shaped hives stand in sunny nooks.
These monks were the model farmers of those days, and their abbeys were fine farms. One had twenty
piggeries, of three hundred pigs each, in its forests. The monks also reared sheep and horses, and bred fish in
their ponds.
Many were also brewers, weavers, carpenters, and so on. Evidently they lived up to their motto and laboured
quite as much as they prayed, and doubtless were saved by works as well as by faith.
The little Place Du Guesclin, with a stumpy statue of the famous knight in the middle and chestnut trees all
around, was a favourite resting-place of the ladies–especially when the weekly fair was held and booths of all
sorts were raised at one end. Here Amanda bought a remarkable jack-knife, which would cut nothing but her
fingers: Matilda speculated in curious kinds of cake; one sort being made into gigantic jumbles so light that
they did excellently for grace-hoops; another sort being used by these vandals as catch-alls, so deep and tough
were they. Lavinia examined the various fabrics, and got bits of linen as samples, also queer earthen pots and
pans impossible to carry away.
The church of St. Sauveur, a dim and ancient little place with Du Guesclin’s heart buried by the side of his
wife, was another haunt. The castle, now a prison, contained the arm-chair in which Duchess Anne sat, and
the dungeons where were crammed two thousand English prisoners of war in the last century. The view from
the platform of the keep was magnificent, extending to Mont Dol and the distant sea.
The sunny promenade on the fosse, that goes half round the town, was very charming, with the old grey walls
on one side, and, on the other, the green valley with its luxuriant gardens, and leafy lanes, winding up to the
ruined château, or the undulating hills with picturesque windmills whirling on the heights.
On the other side of the town, from the high gardens of the church, one looked down into the deeper valley of
the Rance, with the airy viaduct striding from hill to hill, and the old part of the town nestling at its base.
Soft and summery, fertile and reposeful, was the scene; and the busy peasants at their work added to the
charm. Pretty English children with Breton nurses, each in the costume of her native town, played under the
lindens all abloom with odorous flowers and alive with bees. Workmen came to these green places to eat the
black bread and drink the thin wine that was all their dinner. Invalids strolled here after their baths at the little
house in the rose-garden below. Pretty girls walked there in the twilight with long-haired lovers in knee
breeches and round hats. Nuns in their grey gowns went to and fro from hospital and the insane asylum or
charity school; and the beautiful old priest sometimes went feebly by, smiling paternally on his flock, who
rose and uncovered reverently as he passed.
Flowers were everywhere,–in the gardens of the rich, at the windows of the poor. The stalls in the market
were gay with plumy lilacs, splendid tulips, roses of every shade, and hyacinths heavy with odour. All along
the borders of the river waved the blossoming grass; every green bank about the mills at Lehon was yellow
with dandelions, and the sunny heads of little children welcoming the flower of the poor. Even the neglectedShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
22
churchyard of the ruined abbey, where the tombs of the stately Beaumanoirs still stand, was bright with
cheerful daisies and blue-eyed forget-me-nots.
The willows in the valley were covered with fragrant tassels, and the old women and children sat all day on
door-stones and by the wayside stripping the long, white wands for basket-making. Flax fields were blooming
in the meadows, and acres of buckwheat, with its rosy stems and snowy blossoms, whitened the uplands with
a fair prophecy of bread for all.
So, garlanded about with early flowers and painted in spring’s softest, freshest colours, Brittany remains for
ever a pleasant picture in the memory of those who have been welcomed to its hospitable homes, and found
friends among its brave and loyal people.
III.
FRANCE.
‘Girls, I have had a scintillation in the night: listen and approve!’ said Amanda, coming into the room where
her comrades sat upon the floor, in the first stages of despair, at the impossibility of getting the accumulated
rubbish of three months’ travel into a couple of immense trunks.
‘Blessed girl! you always bring a ray of light just at the darkest moment,’ returned Lavinia, with a sigh of
relief, while Matilda looked over a barricade of sketch-books bristling with paint-brushes, and added
anxiously,–
‘If you could suggest how I am to work this miracle, you will be a public benefactor.’
‘Behold the amendment I propose,’ began Amanda, perching herself on one of the arks. ‘We have decided to
travel slowly and comfortably through France to Switzerland, stopping where we like, and staying as long as
we please at any place we fancy, being as free as air, and having all the world before us where to choose, as it
were.’
‘The route you have laid out is a charming one, and I don’t see how you can improve it,’ said Lavinia, who,
though she was supposed to be the matron, guide, and protector of the younger girls, was in reality nothing
but a dummy, used for Mrs. Grundy’s sake, and let the girls do just as they pleased, only claiming the right to
groan and moan as much as she liked when neuralgia, her familiar demon, claimed her for its own.
‘One improvement remains to be made. Are these trunks a burden, a vexation of spirit, a curse?’ demanded
Amanda, tapping one with her carefully cherished finger-tips.
‘They are! they are!’ groaned the others, regarding the monsters with abhorrence.
‘Then let us get rid of them, and set out with no luggage but a few necessaries in a shawl-strap.’
‘We will! we will!’ returned the chorus.
‘Shall we burn up our rubbish, or give it away?’ asked Lavinia, who liked energetic measures, and was ready
to cast her garments to the four winds of heaven, to save herself from the agonies of packing.
‘I shall never give up my pictures, nor my boots!’ cried Matilda, gathering her idols to her breast in a
promiscuous heap.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
23
‘Be calm and listen,’ returned the scintillator. ‘Pack away all but the merest necessaries, and we will send the
trunk by express to Lyons. Then with our travelling-bags and bundles, we can follow at our leisure.’
”Tis well! ’tis well!’ replied the chorus, and they all returned to their packing, which was performed in the
most characteristic manner.
Amanda never seemed to have any clothes, yet was always well and appropriately dressed; so it did not take
her long to lay a few garments, a book or two, a box of Roman-coin lockets, scarabæ brooches, and
cinque-cento rings, likewise a swell hat and habit, into her vast trunk; then lock and label it in the most
business-like and thorough manner.
Matilda found much difficulty in reconciling paint-pots and silk gowns, blue hats and statuary, French boots
and Yankee notions. But order was at length produced from chaos, and the young lady refreshed her weary
soul by painting large red M’s all over the trunk to mark it for her own.
Miss Lavinia packed and repacked four or five times, forgetting needfuls, which, of course, were always at the
very bottom. At the fifth plunge into the depths her patience gave out, and with a vow to be a slave no longer
to her treacherous memory, she tumbled every thing in, performed a solemn jig on the lid till it locked, then
pasted large, but illegible placards in every available spot, and rested from her labours with every nerve in a
throbbing condition.
Shawl-straps of the largest, strongest sort were next procured, and the three bundles made up with much
discussion and merriment.
Into Amanda’s went a volume of Shakspeare of great size and weight, but as indispensable as a tooth-brush to
its owner; toilette-articles tied up in a handkerchief, a few necessary garments, and much paper,–for Amanda
was inspired with poetic fire at unexpected moments, also had five hundred bosom friends, in answering
whose epistolary gushings much stationery was consumed. A pistol, a massive crust of bread, and an oval box
containing all the dainty appliances for the culture, preservation, and ornamentation of the finger-nails, made
up her store.
Matilda’s bundle consisted of sketch-books, a trifle of haberdashery, a curling-stick that was always tumbling
out at inopportune moments, yards of blue ribbon, and a camp-stool strapped outside in company with a
Japanese umbrella, a gift from the stout doctor, destined to be cursed in many languages by the unhappy
beings into whose backs, eyes, and stomachs it was poked before its wanderings ended.
Lavinia confined herself to a choice collection of bottles and pill-boxes, fur boots, a grey cloud, and several
French novels,–the solace of wakeful nights. A scarlet army blanket, with U. S. in big black letters on it,
enveloped her travelling medicine-chest, and lent a cheerful air to the sombre spinster, whose black attire and
hoarse voice made the sobriquet of Raven most appropriate.
With these imposing bundles in one hand, little pouches slung over the shoulder, plain travelling-suits,
subdued hats, and resolute but benign countenances, our three errant damsels set forth one bright June day, to
wander through France at their own sweet will. Not a fear assailed them; for all men were civil, all women
friendly, and the world wore its sunniest aspect. Not a doubt perplexed them; for the gifted Amanda spoke
many tongues, understood all sorts of money, could grapple successfully with Murray and Bradshaw, and
never got into the wrong corporation when she traced a route with unerring accuracy through the mysteries of
an Indicator. No lord and master, in the shape of brother, spouse, or courier, ordered their outgoings and
incomings; but liberty the most entire was theirs, and they enjoyed it heartily. Wisely and well too; for, though
off the grand route, they behaved themselves in public as decorously as if the eyes of all prim Boston were
upon them, and proved by their triumphant success, that the unprotected might go where they liked, if they
conducted themselves with the courtesy and discretion of gentlewomen.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
24
How pleasant were the early sail down the Ranee from Dinan to St. Malo, the comfortable breakfast in the
flowery little court of Hôtel Franklin, and the stroll afterward about the quaint old town, looking at the
churches, buying fruit, and stoutly resisting the temptations of antique jewelry displayed in the dingy shops!
Lavinia never forgave herself, however, for not securing a remarkable watch, and Amanda sighed months
afterward for a Breton collar and cross of charming antiquity and ugliness.
Matilda boldly planted her camp-stool, unfurled her umbrella, and, undaunted by the crowd of round-capped,
blue-bloused, wooden-shoed children about her, began to draw the church.
‘I intend to study architecture, and to sketch all the cathedrals we see,’ said the ardent art-student, struggling
manfully with the unruly umbrella, the unsavoury odours from the gutter, and the garrulous crowd leaning
over her shoulder, peering under her hat-brim, and examining all her belongings with a confiding freedom
rather embarrassing.
‘Do you know what impertinent things these little scamps are saying to you?’ asked Amanda, pausing in a
lecture on surface drainage which she was delivering to Lavinia, who was vainly struggling to cram a fat wine
bottle, a cabbage leaf of strawberries, and some remarkable cakes into the lunch-basket.
‘No: I don’t; and that is the advantage of not knowing any language but my own,’ complacently replied
Matilda, who considered all study but that of art as time wasted, and made her small store of French answer
admirably by talking very loud and fast, and saying, ‘Oui, oui, oui,’ on all occasions with much gesticulation,
and bows and smiles of great suavity and sweetness.
‘Clear out this rabble, or come back to the hotel and wait for the bus. We shall have the whole town round us
soon, and I can’t stand it,’ said Amanda, who had no romantic admiration for the Great Unwashed.
‘You think I can’t do it? Voilà!’ and, rising suddenly to an unexpected height, Matilda waved the umbrella like
a bâton, cried ‘Allez!’ in a stern voice, and the children fled like chaff before the wind.
‘You see how little is needed, so don’t vex me with learning your old verbs any more!’ and Matilda closed her
book with an air of calm satisfaction.
‘Come home and rest. It is so warm here I am fairly melted,’ prayed Lavinia, who had been longing for
summer, and of course was not suited when she got it.
‘Now, do remember one thing: don’t let us be gregarious. We never know who we may pick up if we talk to
people; and stray acquaintances are sad bores sometimes. Granny is such a cross old dear she won’t say a
word to any one if she can help it; but you, Mat, can’t be trusted if we meet any one who talks English. So be
on your guard, or the peace of this party is lost,’ said Amanda, impressively.
‘We are not likely to meet any but natives in this wilderness; so don’t excite yourself, Mandy, dear,’ replied
Matilda, who, being of a social turn and an attractive presence, was continually making friends, to the great
annoyance of her more prudent comrades.
In the flowery courtyard sat the group that one meets everywhere on the Continent,–even in the wilds of
Brittany. The father and mother stout, tired, and rather subdued by the newness of things; the son, Young
America personified, loud, important, and inquisitive; the daughter, pretty, affected, and over-dressed; all on
the lookout for adventures and titles, fellow-countrymen to impress, and foreigners eager to get the better of
them.
Seeing the peril from afar, Amanda buried herself in Murray, to read up the tomb of Chateaubriand, the tides,
population, and any other useful bit of history; for Amanda was a thrifty soul, andShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
25
‘Gathered honey all the day From every opening flower.’
Lavinia, finding the court damp, shrouded herself in the grey cloud, put her feet on the red bundle, and
fortified herself with a Turner’s pill.
But Matilda, guileless girl, roamed to and fro, patted the horses at the gate, picked flowers that no French
hand would have dared to touch, and studied the effect of light and shade on the red head of the garçon, who
gazed sentimentally at ‘the blonde “Mees,”‘ as he artlessly watered the wine for dinner.
The Americans had their eye upon her, and felt that, though the others might be forbidding English women,
this one could be made to talk. So they pounced upon their prey, to the dismay of her mates, and proceeded to
ask fifty questions to the minute. Poor Mat, glad to hear the sound of her native tongue, fell into the snare, and
grew more confiding every moment.
‘She is telling the family history,’ whispered Lavinia, in a tone of despair.
‘Now they are asking where we came from,’ added Amanda, casting down her book in agony.
‘Wink at her,’ sighed Lavinia.
‘Call to her,’ groaned Amanda, as they heard their treasured secret betrayed, and the enemy clamouring for
further information about this charming trip.
‘Matilda, bring me my shawl,’ commanded the Dowager.
‘Come and see if you don’t think we had better go direct to Tours,’ said the wary Amanda, hoping to put the
enemy off the track.
The victim came, and vials of wrath were poured upon her head in one unceasing flow till the omnibus
started, and the ladies were appeased by finding that the enemy did not follow.
‘Promise that you won’t talk to any but natives, or I decline to lead this expedition,’ said Amanda firmly.
‘I promise,’ returned Mat, with penitent meekness.
‘Now we’ve got her!’ croaked the Raven; ‘for she will have to learn French or hold her tongue.’
‘The language of the eye remains to me, and I am a proficient in that, ma’am,’ said Mat, roused by these efforts
to deny her the right of free speech.
‘You are welcome to it, dear;’ and Amanda departed to buy tickets and despatch the trunks, with secret
misgivings that they would never be found again.
‘Now we are fairly started, with no more weighing of luggage, fussing over checks, or packing of traps to
afflict us. What a heavenly sense of freedom it gives one, to have nothing but an independent shawl-strap!’
said Matilda, as they settled themselves in a vacant car, and stowed away the bundles.
What a jolly day that was, to be sure! Whether it was the air, the good coffee, or the liberty, certain it is that
three merrier maids never travelled from St. Malo to Le Mans on a summer’s day. Even the Raven forgot her
woes, and became so exhilarated that she smashed her bromide bottle out of the window, declaring herself
cured, and tried to sing ‘Hail Columbia,’ in a voice like an asthmatic bagpipe.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
26
Mat amused herself and her comrades by picking up the different articles that kept tumbling down on her head
from her badly built bundle; while Amanda scintillated to such an extent that the others laughed themselves
into hysterics, and lay exhausted, prone upon the seats.
They ate, drank, sung, gossiped, slept, read, and revelled, till another passenger got in, when propriety clothed
them as with a garment, and the mirthful damsels became three studious statues.
The new-comer was a little priest; so rosy and young that they called him the ‘Reverend Boy.’ He seemed
rather dismayed at first; but, finding the ladies silent and demure, he took heart, and read diligently in a dingy
little prayer-book, stealing shy glances now and then from under his broad-brimmed hat at Amanda’s white
hands, or Matilda’s yellow locks, as if these vanities of the flesh had not quite lost their charms for him. By
and by he fell asleep, and leaned in his corner, making quite a pretty picture; for the ugly hat was off, his
boyish face as placid as a child’s, his buckled shoes and neat black-stockinged legs stretched comfortably out,
his plump hands folded over the dingy book, and the little bands lay peacefully on his breast.
He was quite at their mercy now; so the three women looked as much as they liked, wondering if the poor
dear boy was satisfied with the life he had chosen, and getting tenderly pitiful over the losses he might learn to
regret when it was too late. His dreams seemed to be pleasant ones, however; for once he laughed a blithe,
boyish laugh, good to hear; and when he woke, he rubbed his blue eyes and stared about, smiling like a newly
roused baby.
He got out all too soon, was joined by several other clerical youths, and disappeared with much touching of
big beavers, and wafting of cassocks.
Innocent, reverend little boy! I wonder what became of him, and hope his sleep is as quiet now as then,–his
awakening as happy as it seemed that summer day.
Six o’clock saw our damsels at Le Mans; and, after dinner, a sunset walk took them to the grand old cathedral,
where they wandered till moonrise. Pure Gothic of the twelfth century, rich in stained glass, carved screens,
tombs of kings and queens, dim little chapels, where devout souls told their beads before shadowy pictures of
saints and martyrs, while over all the wonderful arches seemed to soar, one above the other, light and graceful
as the natural curves of drooping branches, or the rise and fall of some great fountain.
‘We shall not see anything finer than this, I’m sure. It’s a perfect revelation to me,’ said Matilda, in a calm
rapture at the beauty all about her.
‘This is a pious-feeling church, and I could say my prayers here with all my soul; for it seems as if the religion
of centuries had got built into it,’ added Lavinia, thinking of the ugly imitations at home.
‘You will both turn Catholic before we get through,’ prophesied Amanda, retiring to study the tomb of
Berengaria, Coeur de Lion’s wife.
The square before the hotel was gay with a market, many soldiers lounging about, and flocks of people eating
ices before the cafés. The ladies enjoyed it from the balcony, and then slumbered peacefully in a great room
with three alcoves, much muslin drapery, and a bowl and pitcher like a good-sized cup and saucer.
Another look at the cathedral in the early morning, and then away to Tours, which place they found a big,
clean, handsome city, all astir for the Fête-Dieu.
‘We will stay over Sunday and see it,’ was the general vote as the trio headed for the great church, and,
catching sight of it, they subsided into a seat by the fountain opposite, and sat looking silently at the
magnificent pile.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
27
How strangely impressive and eloquent it was! The evening red touched its grey towers with a mellow light,
like sunshine on a venerable head. Lower down, flights of rooks circled round the fretted niches, quaint
windows, and grotesque gargoyles, while the great steps below swarmed with priests and soldiers, gay
strangers and black-robed nuns, children and beggars.
For an hour our pilgrims sat and studied the wonderful façade, or walked round the outside, examining the
rich carvings that covered every inch of the walls. Twilight fell before they had thought of entering, and
feeling that they had seen enough for that night, they went thoughtfully home to dream of solemn shadows
and saintly faces, for the cathedral haunted them still.
Next day was spent in viewing Charlemagne’s Tower, and seeing the grand procession in honour of the day.
The streets were hung with garlands, gay tapestries and banners, strewn with fresh boughs, and lined with
people in festival array. As the procession passed, women ran out and scattered rose-leaves before it, and one
young mother set her blooming baby on a heap of greenery in the middle of the street, leaving it there, that the
Holy Ghost under its canopy might pass over it. A pretty sight, the rosy little creature smiling in the sunshine
as it sat playing with its own blue shoes, while the golden pageant went by; the chanting priests stepping
carefully, and looking down with sudden benignity in their tired faces as the holy shadow fell on the bright
head, making baby blessed, and saved for ever in its pious mother’s eyes.
A great band played finely, scarlet soldiers followed, then the banners of patron saints were borne by children.
Saint Agnes and her lamb led a troop of pretty little girls carrying tall white lilies, filling the air with their
sweetness. Mary, Our Mother, was followed by many orphans with black ribbons crossed over the young
hearts that had lost so much. Saint Martin led the charity boys in purple suits of just the colour of the mantle
he was dividing with the beggar on the banner. A pleasant emblem of the charitable cloak that covers so
many.
Priests in full splendour paced solemnly along with censers swinging, candles flickering, sweet-voiced boys
singing, and hundreds kneeling as they passed. Most impressive figures, unless one caught a glimpse of
something comically human to disturb the effect of the heavenly pageant. Lavinia had an eye for the ludicrous
and though she dropped a tear over the orphans, and with difficulty resisted a strong desire to catch and kiss
the pretty baby, she scandalized her neighbours by laughing outright the next minute. A particularly portly,
pious-looking priest, who was marching with superb dignity, and chanting like a devout bumble-bee, suddenly
mislaid his temper, and injured the effect by boxing a charity boy’s ears with his gilded missal, and then
capped the climax by taking a pinch of snuff with a sonorous satisfaction that convulsed the heretic.
The afternoon was spent in the church, wandering to and fro, each alone to study and enjoy in her own way.
Matilda lost her head entirely, and had silent raptures over the old pictures. Amanda said her prayers, looked
up her dates, and imparted her facts in a proper and decorous manner, while Lavinia went up and down,
finding for herself little pictures not painted by hands, and reading histories more interesting to her than those
of saints and martyrs.
In one dim chapel, with a single candle lighting up the divine sorrow of the Mater Dolorosa, knelt a woman in
deep black, weeping and praying all alone. In another flowery nook dedicated to the Infant Jesus, a peasant
girl was telling her beads over the baby asleep in her lap; her sunburnt face refined and beautiful by the
tenderness of mother-love. In a third chapel a pale, wasted old man sat propped in a chair, while his rosy old
wife prayed heartily to St. Gratien, the patron saint of the church, for the recovery of her John Anderson. And
most striking of all was a dark, handsome young man, well-dressed and elegant, who was waiting at the door
of a confessional with some great trouble in his face, as he muttered and crossed himself, while his haggard
eyes were fixed on the benignant figure of St. Francis, as if asking himself if it were possible for him also to
put away the pleasant sins and follies of the world, and lead a life like that which embalms the memory of that
good man.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
28
‘If we don’t go away to-morrow we never shall, for this church will bewitch us, and make it impossible to
leave,’ said Amanda, when at length they tore themselves away.
‘I give up trying to sketch cathedrals. It can’t be done, and seems impious to try,’ said Matilda, quite exhausted
by something deeper than pleasure.
‘I think the “Reminiscences of a Rook” would make a capital story. They are long-lived birds, and could tell
tales of the past that would entirely eclipse our modern rubbish,’ said Lavinia, taking a last look at the solemn
towers, and the shadowy birds that had haunted them for ages.
The ladies agreed to be off early in the morning, that they might reach Amboise in time for the eleven o’clock
breakfast. Amanda was to pay the bill, and to make certain enquiries at the office; Mat to fly out and do a
trifle of shopping; while Lavinia packed up the bundles and mounted guard over them. They separated, but in
half-an-hour all met again, not in their room according to agreement, but before the cathedral, which all had
decided not to revisit on any account.
Matilda was there first, and as each of the others came stealing round the corner, she greeted them with a
laugh, in which all joined after the first surprise was over.
‘I told you it would bewitch us,’ said Amanda; and then all took a farewell look, which lasted so long that they
had to rush back to the hotel in most unseemly haste.
‘Now to fresh châteaux and churches new,’ sang Lavinia, as they rolled away on the fourth stage of their
summer journey. A very short stage it was, and soon they were in an entirely new scene, for Amboise was a
little, old-time village on the banks of the Loire, looking as if it had been asleep for a hundred years. The Lion
d’Or was a quaint place, so like the inns described in French novels, that one kept expecting to see some of
Dumas’ heroes come dashing up, all boots, plumes, and pistols, with a love-letter for some court beauty in the
castle on the hill beyond.
Queer galleries and stairs led up outside the house to the rooms above. The salle-à-manger was across a court,
and every dish came from a kitchen round the corner. The garçon, a beaming, ubiquitous creature, trotted
perpetually, diving down steps, darting into dark corners, or skipping up ladders, producing needfuls from
most unexpected places. The bread came from the stable, soup from the cellar, coffee out of a meal-chest, and
napkins from the housetop, apparently, for Adolphe went up among the weather-cocks to get them.
‘No one knows us, no one can speak a word of English, and if we happen to die here it will never be known.
How romantic and nice it is!’ exclaimed Mat, in good spirits, for the people treated the ladies as if they were
duchesses in disguise, and the young women liked it.
‘I’m not so sure that the romance is all it looks. We should be in a sweet quandary if anything happened to our
sheet-anchor here. Just remember, in any danger, save Amanda first, then she will save us. But if she is lost,
all is lost,’ replied Lavinia, darkly, for she always took tragical views of life when her bones ached.
Up the hill they went after breakfast; and balm was found for the old lady’s woes in the sight of many Angora
cats, of great size and beauty. White as snow, with tails like plumes, and mild, yellow eyes, were these
charmers. At every window sat one; on every door-step sprawled a bunch of down; and frequently the eye of
the tabby-loving spinster was gladdened by the touching spectacle of a blonde mamma in the bosom of her
young family.
‘If I could only carry it, I’d have one of those dears, no matter what it cost!’ cried Lavinia, more captivated by
a live cat than by all the dead Huguenots that Catherine de Medicis hung over the castle walls on a certain
memorable occasion.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
29
‘Well, you can’t, so come on and improve your mind with some good, useful history,’ said Amanda, leading
them forward. ‘You must remember that Charles VII. was born here in 1470–that Anne of Brittany married
him for her first husband, and that he bumped his head against a low door in the garden here above, as he was
running through to play bowls with his Anne, and it killed him.’
‘Which? the bump or the bowls?’ asked Mat, who liked to have things clearly stated.
‘Don’t be frivolous, child. Here Margaret of Anjou and her son were reconciled to Warwick. Abd-el Kader and
his family were kept prisoners here, and in the garden is a tomb with a crescent on it; likewise a “pleached
walk,” and a winding drive inside the great tower, up which lords and ladies used to ride straight into the hall,’
continued the sage Amanda, who yearned to enlighten the darkness of her careless friends.
A brisk old woman did the honours of the castle, showing them mouldy chapels, sepulchral halls, rickety
stairs, grubby cells, and pitch-dark passages, till even the romantic Matilda was glad to see the light of day,
and repose in the pleasant gardens while removing the cobwebs from her countenance and the dust from her
raiment.
A lovely view gladdened their eyes as they stood on the balcony whence the amiable Catherine surveyed the
walls hung thick, and the river choked up with the dead. Below, the broad Loire rolled slowly by between its
green banks. Little boys, in the costume of Cupid, were riding great horses in to bathe after the day’s work.
The grey roofs of the town nestled to the hillside, and far away stretched the summer landscape, full of vague
suggestions of new scenes and pleasures to the pilgrims.
‘We start for Chenonceaux at seven in the morning; so, ladies, I beg that you will be ready punctually,’ was the
command issued by Amanda, as they went to their rooms, after a festive dinner of what Lavinia called
‘earth-worms and cacti,’ not being fond of stewed brains, baked eels, or thistles and pigweed chopped up in
oil.
Such a droll night as the wanderers spent! No locks on the doors and no bells. Stairs leading straight up the
gallery from the courtyard, carts going and coming, soft footsteps stealing up and down, whispers that
sounded suspicious (though they were only orders to kill chickens and pick salad for the morrow), and a
ghostly whistle that disturbed Lavinia so much, she at last draped herself in the green coverlet, and went
boldly forth upon the balcony to see what it meant.
She intended to demand silence in French that would strike terror to the soul of the bravest native. But when
she saw that poor, dear, hard-worked garçon blacking boots by the light of the moon, her heart melted with
pity; and, resolving to give him an extra fee, she silently retired to her stone-floored bower, and fell asleep in a
stuffy little bed, whose orange curtains filled her dreams with volcanic eruptions and conflagrations of the
most lurid description.
At seven, an open carriage with a stout pair of horses and a sleepy driver rolled out of the court-yard of the
Lion d’Or. Within it sat three ladies, who gazed at one another with cheerful countenances, and surveyed the
world with an air of bland content, beautiful to behold.
‘I am fairly faint with happiness,’ sighed Matilda, as they drove through fields scarlet with poppies, starred
with daisies, or yellow with buttercups, while birds piped gaily, and trees wore their early green.
‘You did not eat any breakfast. That accounts for it. Have a crust, do,’ said Amanda, who seldom stirred
without a good, sweet crust or two; for they were easy to carry, wholesome to chew, and always ready at a
moment’s notice.
‘Let us save our “entusymusy” till we get to the château, and enjoy this lovely drive in a peaceful manner,’Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
30
said Lavinia, still a little sleepy after her adventures in the glimpses of the moon.
So, for an hour or two, they rolled along the smooth road, luxuriating in the summer sights and sounds about
them; the wayside cottages, with women working in the gardens; villages clustered round some tiny,
picturesque church; windmills whirling on the distant hill-tops; vineyards full of peasants tying up the young
vines, or trudging by with baskets on their backs, heaped with green cuttings for the goats at home. Old men,
breaking stone by the roadside, touched their red caps to the pilgrims, jolly boys shouted at them from the
cherry trees, and little children peeped from behind the rose-bushes blooming everywhere.
Soon, glimpses of the winding Cher began to appear, then an avenue of stately trees, and then, standing
directly in the river, rose the lovely château built for Diane de Poictiers by her royal lover. Leaving the
carriage at the lodge, our sight-seers crossed the moat, and, led by a wooden-faced girl with a lisp, entered the
famous pleasure-house, which its present owner (a pensive man in black velvet, who played fitfully on a
French-horn in a pepper-pot tower) is carefully restoring to its former splendour.
The great picture-gallery was the chief attraction; and beginning with Diane herself–a tall, simpering
baggage, with a bow, hounds, crescent, and a blue sash for drapery–they were led through a rapid review of
all sorts of worthies and unworthies, relics and rubbish, without end. Portraits are always interesting. Even
Lavinia, who ‘had no soul for Art,’ as Mat said, looked with real pleasure at a bass-relief of Agnes of Sorel,
and pictures of Montaigne, Rabelais, Ninon d’Enclos, Madame de Sévigné, and miniatures of La Fayette and
Ben Franklin. The latter gentleman looked rather out of place in such society; but, perhaps, his good old face
preached the Dianes and Ninons a silent sermon. His plain suit certainly was a relief to the eye, wearied with
periwigged sages and bejewelled sinners.
Here was the little theatre where Rousseau’s plays were acted. Here were the gilded chairs in which kings had
sat, swords heroes had held, books philosophers had pored over, mirrors that had reflected famous beauties,
and painted walls that had looked down on royal revels long ago.
The old kitchen had a fireplace big enough for a dozen cooks to have spoiled gallons of broth in, queer pots
and pans, and a handy little window, out of which they could fish at any moment, for the river ran below.
The chapel, chambers, balconies, and terraces were all being repaired; for, thanks to George Sand’s
grandmother, who owned the place in the time of the Revolution, it was spared out of respect to her, and is
still a charming relic of the past.
The ladies went down the mossy steps, leading from the gallery to the further shore, and, lying under the oaks,
whiled away the noon-time by re-peopling the spot with the shapes that used to inhabit it. A very happy hour
it was, dreaming there by the little river, with the scent of new-mown hay in the fresh wind, and before them
the airy towers and gables of the old château rising from the stream like a vision of departed splendour, love,
and romance.
Having seen every thing, and bought photographs ad libitum of the wooden-faced lisper, who cheated awfully,
the pilgrims drove away, satiated with relics, royalty, and ‘regardez.’
Another night in the stony-hearted, orange-coloured rooms, with the sleepless garçon sweeping and
murmuring outside like a Banshee, while the hens roosted sociably in the gallery, the horses seemed to be
champing directly under the bed, and the dead Huguenots bumping down upon the roof from the castle-walls.
Another curious meal wafted from the bowels of the earth and cooled by all the airs that blow,–then the
shawl-straps were girded anew, the carriage (a half-grown omnibus with the jaundice) mounted, the farewell
bows and adieux received, and forth rumbled the duchesses en route for Blois.
‘My heart is rent at leaving that lovely château,’ said Mat, as they crossed the bridge.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
31
‘I mourn the earth-worms, the cacti, and the tireless “gossoon,”‘ added Amanda, who appreciated French
cookery and had enjoyed confidences with Adolphe.
‘The cats, the cats, the cats! I could die happy if I had one,’ murmured Lavinia; and with these laments they
left the town behind them.
Any thing hotter than Blois, with its half dried-up river, dusty boulevards, and baked streets, can hardly be
imagined. But these indomitable women ‘did’ the church and the castle without flinching. The former was
pronounced a failure, but the latter was entirely satisfactory. The Emperor was having it restored in the most
splendid manner. The interior seemed rather fresh and gay when contrasted with the time-worn exterior, but
the stamped leathern hangings, tiled floors, emblazoned beams, and carved fireplaces were quite correct.
Dragons and crowns, porcupines and salamanders, monograms and flowers, shone everywhere in a maze of
scarlet and gold, brown and silver, purple and white.
Here the historical Amanda revelled, and quenched the meek old guide with a burst of information which
caused him to stare humbly at ‘the mad English.’
‘Regardez, my dears, the chamber and oratory of Catherine de Medicis, who here plotted the death of the Duc
de Guise. This is the cabinet of her son, Henri III., where he gave the daggers to the gentlemen who were to
rid him of his enemy, the hero of the barricades. This is the Salle des Gardes, where Guise was leaning on the
chimney-piece when summoned to the king. This is the little room at the entrance of which he was set upon in
the act of lifting the drapery, and stabbed with forty wounds.’
‘Oh! how horrid!’ gasped Matilda, staring about as if she saw the sanguinary gentlemen approaching.
‘So interesting! Do go on!’ cried Lavinia, who was fond of woe, and enjoyed horrors.
‘This is the hall where the body lay for two hours, covered with a cloak and a cross of straw on the breast,’ cut
in Amanda, as the guide opened his mouth. ‘Here the king came to look upon the corpse of the once mighty
Henri le Balafré, and spurned it with his foot, saying, I shall not translate it for you, Mat,–“Je ne le croyais
pas aussi grand” and then ordered it to be burnt, and the ashes cast into the river. Remember the date, I
implore you, December 23, 1588.’
As Amanda paused for breath the little man took the word, and rattled off a jumble of facts and fictions about
the window from which Marie de Medicis lowered herself when imprisoned here by her dutiful son, Louis
XIII.
‘I wish the entire lot had been tossed out after her, for I do think kings and queens are a set of rascals,’ cried
Mat, scandalized by the royal iniquities to which she had been listening, till the hair stood erect upon her
innocent head.
The Salle des États was being prepared for the trial of the men who had lately attempted the Emperor’s life,
and a most theatrical display of justice was to be presented to the public. The richly carved stair-case, with
Francis the First’s salamanders squirming up and down it, was a relic worth seeing; but the parched pilgrims
found the little pots of clotted cream quite as interesting, and much more refreshing, when they were served
up at lunch (the pots, not the pilgrims), each covered with a fresh vine-leaf, and delicately flavoured with
butter-cups and clover.
Amanda won the favour of the stately garçon by praising them warmly, and he kept bringing in fresh relays,
and urging her to eat a third, a fourth, with a persuasive dignity hard to resist.
‘But yes, Mademoiselle, one more, for nowhere else can crême de St. Gervais be achieved. They are desired,Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
32
ardently desired, in Paris; but, alas! it is impossible to convey them so far, such is their exquisite delicacy.’
How many the appreciative ladies consumed, the muse saith not; but the susceptible heart of the great garçon
was deeply touched, and it was with difficulty that they finally escaped from his attentions.
On being presented with a cast-off camp-stool, and a pair of old boots to dispose of, he instantly appropriated
them as graceful souvenirs, and clasping his hands, declared with effusion that he would seat his infant upon
the so-useful stool, and offer the charming boots to Madame my wife, who would weep for joy at this
touching tableau.
With this melodramatic valedictory, he suffered the guests to depart, and the last they saw of him, he was still
waving a dirty napkin as he stood at the gate, big, bland, and devoted to the end, though the drops stood thick
upon his manly brow, and the sun glared fiercely on his uncovered head.
‘I shall write an article on garçons when I get home,’ said Lavinia, who was always planning great works and
never executing them. ‘We have known such a nice variety, and all have been so good to us that we owe them
a tribute. You remember the dear, tow-headed one at Morlaix, who insisted on handing us dishes of snails, and
papers of pins with which to pick out the repulsive delicacy?’
‘Yes, and the gloomy one with black linen sleeves who glowered at us, sighed gustily in our ears, and anointed
us with gravy as he waited at table,’ added Amanda.
‘Don’t forget the dark one with languid, Spanish eyes and curly hair, on the boat going down the Rance. How
picturesque and polite he was, to be sure, as he kept picking up our beer-bottles when they rolled about the
deck!’ put in Mat, who had the dark youth safely in her sketch-book, with eyes as big and black as blots.
‘The solemn one at Tours, who squirted seltzer-water out of window at the beggars, without a smile, was very
funny. So was the little one with grubby hands, who tottered under the big dishes, but insisted on carrying the
heaviest.’
‘The fast-trotter at Amboise won my heart, he was so supernaturally lively, and so full of hurried amiability. A
very dear garçon indeed.’
‘Be sure you remember the superb being at Brest, whose eyes threatened to fall out of his head at exciting
moments. Also, Flabot’s chubby boy who adored Mat, and languished at her, over the onions, like a Cupid in a
blue blouse.’
‘I will do justice to everyone,’ and Lavinia took copious notes on the spot.
Orleans was a prim, tidy town, and after taking a look at the fine statue of the Maid, and laughing at some
funny little soldiers drumming wildly in the Place, our travellers went on to Bourges.
‘This, now, is a nice, dingy old place, and we will take our walks abroad directly, for it looks like rain, and we
must make the most of our time and money,’ said Amanda;
‘For, though on pleasure she was bent, She had a frugal mind.’
Forth they went, as soon as dinner was over, and found the waters all abroad also; for every man was playing
away with a hose, every woman scrubbing her door-steps, and the children gaily playing leap-frog in the
puddles.
‘Nasty, damp place!’ croaked the Raven, obscuring her disgusted countenance behind the inevitable greyShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
33
cloud, and gathering her garments about her, as they hopped painfully over the wet stones, for sidewalks there
were none.
‘I find it refreshing after the dust and heat. Please detach Mat from that shop window, and come on, or we
shall see nothing before dark,’ replied the ever amiable Amanda.
Matilda would glue herself to every jeweller’s window, and remain fascinated by the richness there displayed,
till led away by force. On this occasion, however, her mania led to good results; for, at the ninth window, as
her keepers were about to drag her away, a ring of peculiar antiquity caught their eyes simultaneously, and, to
Mat’s amazement, both plunged into the little shop, clamouring to see it. A pale emerald, surrounded by
diamond chippings set in silver, with a wide gold band cut in a leafy pattern, composed this gem of price.
‘A Francis First ring, sold by a noble but impoverished family, and only a hundred francs, Madame,’ said the
man, politely anxious to cheat the fair foreigners out of four times its value.
‘Can’t afford it,’ and Lavinia retired. But the shrewd Amanda, with inimitable shrugs and pensive sighs,
regretted that it was so costly. ‘A sweet ring; but, alas! forty francs is all I have to give.’
The man was desolated to think that eighty francs was the lowest he was permitted to receive. Would Madame
call again, and perhaps it might be arranged?
Ah, no! Madame is forced to depart early, to return no more.
Mon Dieu! how afflicting! In that case, sixty would be possible for so rare a relic.
Madame is abîmé, but it is not to be. Forty is the utmost; therefore Merci, and Bonjour.
‘Hold! Where shall it be sent?’ cries the man, giving in, but not confessing it, with awkward frankness.
A thousand thanks! Madame will pay for it at once; and laying down the money, she sweetly bows herself
away, with the ring upon her finger.
‘What a people!’ ejaculated Lavinia, who always felt like a fly in a cobweb when she attempted to deal with
the French, in her blunt, confiding way.
‘It is great fun,’ answered Amanda, flashing her ring with satisfaction after the skirmish. ‘Will Madame kindly
direct me to the house of Jacques Coeur?’ she added, addressing an old woman clattering by in sabots.
‘Allez toujours à droit en vous appuyant sur la gauche,’ replied the native, beaming and bowing till the
streamers of her cap waved in the wind.
They followed these directions, but failed to find the place, and applied to another old woman eating soup on
her door-step.
‘Suivez le chemin droit en tombant à gauche’ was the reply, with a wave of the spoon to all the points of the
compass.
‘Great heavens, what a language!’ cried Lavinia, who had been vainly endeavouring to ‘support’ herself, as she
‘fell’ in every direction over and into the full gutters.
The house was found at last, an ancient, mysterious place, with a very curious window, carved to look as if the
shutters were half open, and from behind one peeped a man’s head, from the other a woman’s, both so life-likeShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
34
that it quite startled the strangers. Murray informed the observers that these servants are supposed to be
looking anxiously for their master’s return, Jacques having suddenly disappeared, after lending much money
to the king, who took that mediæval way of paying his debts.
Service was being held in the church, and the ladies went in to rest and listen, for the music was fine. Much
red and white drapery gave the sanctuary the appearance of a gay drawing-room, and the profane Lavinia
compared the officiating clergy to a set of red furniture. The biggest priest was the sofa, four deacons the
arm-chairs, and three little boys the foot-stools, all upholstered in crimson silk, and neatly covered with lace
tidies.
As if to rebuke her frivolity, a lovely fresh voice from the hidden choir suddenly soared up like a lark, singing
so wonderfully that a great stillness fell on the listeners, and while it lasted the tawdry church and its
mummery were quite forgotten, as the ear led the heart up that ladder of sweet sounds to heaven. Even when
the others joined in, one could still hear that child-voice soaring and singing far above the rest, as if some little
angel were playing with the echoes among the arches of the roof.
A proud native informed the strangers that it was a poor boy whose exquisite voice was the pride of the town,
and would in time make his fortune. As the choir-boys came racing down stairs after service, pulling off their
dingy robes as they ran, Lavinia tried to pick out the little angel, but gave it up in despair, for a more
uninteresting set of bullet-headed, copper-coloured sprigs she never saw.
Rain drove the wanderers back to the hotel, and there they made a night of it. Ordering a fire in the largest of
the three stuffy little cells which they occupied, they set about being comfortable, for it had turned chilly, and
a furious wind disported itself in and out through numberless crevices. Lavinia was inspired to mull some
wine, and brewed a mild jorum that cheered, but did not inebriate. Amanda produced her Shakspeare, and
read aloud while the simmering and sipping went on. Matilda sketched the noble commander as she lay upon
the sofa, with her Egyptian profile in fine relief, and her aristocratic red slippers gracefully visible. A large
grey cat of a social turn joined the party, and added much to the domesticity of the scene by sitting on the
hearth in a cosy bunch and purring blissfully.
‘Now it is your turn to propose something for the general amusement, Mandy,’ said Mat, when the beakers
were drained dry and the Montagues and Capulets comfortably buried.
‘Let us attend to the culture of our nails,’ replied Amanda, producing her polissoir, powder, and knife.
Three cups of tepid water were produced, and the company sat eagerly soaking their finger tips for a time,
after which much pruning and polishing went on, to the great bewilderment of Puss, who poked her own paws
into the cups, as if trying to test the advantages of this remarkable American custom.
‘What would our blessed mother say if she saw us now?’ said Mat, proudly examining ten pointed pink nails at
the tips of her long fingers.
‘People told us we should get demoralised if we came abroad, and this is the first step on the downward road,’
returned Lavinia, shaking her head over her own backslidings.
‘No: it’s the second step. We ate calves’ brains for dinner, and what I’m sure were frogs’ legs with mushrooms.
You know we vowed we wouldn’t touch their horrid messes, but I really begin to like them,’ confessed Mat,
who had pronounced every dish at dinner ‘De-licious!’
‘Ha! I will write a poem!’ cried Amanda, and leaping from the sofa she grasped her pen, flung open her
portfolio, and in a few brief moments produced these inspired stanzas.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
35
THE DOWNWARD ROAD.
Two Yankee maids of simple mien, And earnest, high endeavour, Come sailing to the land of France, To
escape the winter weather. When first they reached that vicious shore They scorned the native ways, Refused
to eat the native grub, Or ride in native shays. ‘Oh, for the puddings of our home! Oh, for some simple food!
These horrid, greasy, unknown things, How can you think them good?’ Thus to Amanda did they say, An
uncomplaining maid, Who ate in peace and answered not Until one day they said– How can you eat this
garbage vile Against all nature’s laws? How can you eat your nails in points, Until they look like claws?’ Then
patiently Amanda said, ‘My loves, just wait a while, The time will come you will not think The nails or
victuals vile.’ A month has passed, and now we see That prophecy fulfilled; The ardour of those carping maids
Is most completely chilled. Matilda was the first to fall, Lured by the dark gossoon, In awful dishes one by
one She dipped her timid spoon. She promised for one little week To let her nails grow long, But added in a
saving clause She thought it very wrong. Thus did she take the fatal plunge, Did compromise with sin, Then
all was lost; from that day forth French ways were sure to win. Lavinia followed in her train, And ran the
self-same road, Ate sweet-bread first, then chopped-up brains, Eels, mushrooms, pickled toad. She cries, ‘How
flat the home cuisine After this luscious food! Puddings and brutal joints of meat, That once we fancied good!’
And now in all their leisure hours One resource never fails, Morning and noon and night they sit And polish
up their nails. Then if in one short fatal month A change like this appears, Oh, what will be the next result
When they have stayed for years?
Tremendous applause greeted this masterly effort, and other poems were produced with the rapidity of genius
by Amanda and Lavinia, each writing the alternate verse, à la Beaumont and Fletcher, which gave a peculiar
charm to these effusions.
When Matilda was called upon for a festive suggestion, she promptly replied, with a graceful yawn:–
‘Let’s go to bed.’
The meeting, therefore, broke up, and the younger ladies retired to their cells in good order. But the Raven,
excited by the jocund hour, continued to rustle and patter about the warm room in a state of inexpressible
hilarity, most exasperating to the others, who desired to sleep. Not content with upsetting the fire-irons
occasionally, singing to the cat, and slamming the furniture about, this restless bird kept appearing first at one
cell door with a conundrum, then at the other with a joke, or insisted on telling funny stories in her den, till the
exhausted victims implored her to take an opium pill and subside before they became furious. She obeyed,
and after a few relapses into wandering and joking, finally slumbered.
Then occurred the one thrilling adventure of this happy journey. In the darkest hour before dawn Mat awoke,
heard a suspicious noise in the middle room, and asked if Lavinia was on the rampage again. No reply, and,
listening, a low, rasping, rustling sound was heard.
‘Thieves, of course. Our watches and purses are on the table, and Lavinia has probably forgotten to lock the
door. I must attend to this.’ And up rose the dauntless Matilda, who feared neither man nor ghost.
Grasping her dagger, hitherto used as a paper cutter, but always eager to be steeped in the gore of brigands,
robbers, or beasts of prey, she crept to the door and peeped in. The pale glow of the fire showed her a dark
figure crouching in the opposite door-way. The click of a pistol caught her ear, but dodging quickly, the
heroic girl cried sternly from the shelter of Lavinia’s bed-curtain,–
‘Come out, or I’ll fire!’
‘Mio Dio! is it only you?’ answered a familiar voice, as Amanda, shrouded in a waterproof, sprang up and lit a
match.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
36
‘What are you prowling about for?’ demanded Mat.
‘To blow your brains out, apparently,’ answered Mandy, lowering her arms. ‘Why are you abroad?’
‘To stab you, I fancy,’ and Mat sheathed her dagger balked of its prey.
‘I heard a noise.’
‘So did I.’
‘Let’s see what it is,’ and lighting a candle, the fair Amazons looked boldly about the shadowy room.
Lavinia lay wrapt in slumber, with only the end of her sarcastic nose visible beyond the misty cloud that
enveloped her venerable countenance. The outer door was fast, and the shutters closed. No booted feet
appeared below the curtains, no living eyes rolled awfully in the portrait of the salmon-coloured saint upon the
wall. Yet the rustling and rasping went on, and with one impulse the defenders of sleeping innocence made for
the table in the corner.
There was the midnight robber at his fell work!–the big cat peacefully gnawing the cold chicken, and
knocking about the treasured crusts dragged from the luncheon-basket carefully packed for an early start.
‘Wake and behold the ruin your pet has made!’
‘We might be murdered or carried off a dozen times over without her knowing it. Here’s a nice duenna!’
And the indignant ladies shook, pinched, and shouted till the hapless sleeper opened one eye, and wrathfully
demanded what the matter was.
They told her with eloquent brevity, but instead of praising their prowess, and thanking them with fervour, the
ungrateful woman shut her eye again, merely saying with drowsy irascibility,–
‘You told me to go to sleep, and I went; next time fight it out among yourselves, but don’t wake me.’
‘Throw the cat out of window and go to bed, Mat,’ and Amanda uncocked her pistol with the resignation of
one who had learned not to expect gratitude in this world.
‘Touch a hair of that dear creature and I’ll raise the house!’ cried Lavinia, roused at once.
Puss, who had viewed the fray sitting bolt upright on the table, now settled the vexed question by skipping
into Lavinia’s arms, feeling with the instinct of her race that her surest refuge was there. Mat retired in silent
disgust, and the Raven fell asleep soothed by the grateful purring of her furry friend.
‘Last night’s experiences have given me a longing for adventures,’ said Mat, as they journeyed on next
morning.
‘I’ve had quite enough of that sort,’ growled Lavinia.
‘Let us read our papers, and wait for time to send us something in the way of a lark,’ and Amanda obscured
herself in a grove of damp newspapers.
Lavinia also took one and read bits aloud to Mat, who was mending her gloves, bright yellow, four-buttoned,
and very dirty.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
37
‘Translate as you go along–I do so hate that gabble,’ begged Mat, who would not improve her mind.
So Lavinia gave her a free translation which convulsed Amanda behind her paper. Coming to this passage,
‘Plusieurs faits graves sont arrivés,’ the reader rendered it, ‘Several made graves have arrived,’ adding, ‘Dear
me, what singular customs the French have, to be sure!’ A little farther on she read, ‘Un portrait de feu
Monsieur mon père,’ adding, ‘A fire portrait means a poker sketch, I suppose.’
Here a smothered giggle from Amanda caused the old lady to say ‘Bless you!’ thinking the dear girl had
sneezed.
‘I must have some blue cotton to mend my dress with. Remind me to get some at Moulins. By the way, how
do you ask for it in French?’ said Mat, surveying a rent in her skirts.
‘Oh, just go in and say, “Avez-vous le fils bleu?”‘ replied Lavinia, with a superior air.
‘A blue son! My precious granny, what will you say next?’ murmured Amanda, faint with suppressed laughter.
‘What are you muttering about?’ asked Granny, sharply.
‘Trying to recall those fine lines in “Wilhelm Meister;” don’t you remember? “Wer nie sein Brod mit Thränen
ass,”‘ replied Amanda, polite even at the last gasp.
‘I read my Goethe in decent English, and don’t know anything about training asses,’ returned Lavinia, severely.
That was too much! Amanda cast her paper down, and had her laugh out, as the only means of saving herself
from suffocation. The others gazed upon her in blank amazement, till she found breath enough to enlighten
them, when such peals of merriment arose, that the guard popped his head in to see if he had not unwittingly
shipped a load of lunatics.
‘That was splendid! But now we must sober down, for a gorgeous being is about to get in,’ said Amanda, as
they stopped at a station.
The gorgeous being entered, and found three demure ladies rapt in newspapers. They apparently saw nothing
but the words before them; yet every one of them knew that the handsome young man had bowed in the most
superior manner; also, that he was dressed in brown velvet, long gaiters, buttoned to the knee, a ravishing blue
tie, buff gloves, and pouch and powder-horn slung over his shoulder. Also, that a servant with two dogs and a
gun had touched his hat and said, ‘Oui, monsieur le comte,’ as he shut the door.
A slight thrill pervaded the statues as this fact was made known, and each began to wonder how the elegant
aristocrat would behave. To say that he stared, feebly expresses the fixity of his noble gaze, as it rested in turn
upon the three faces opposite. When satisfied, he also produced a paper and began to read. But Matilda caught
a big, black eye peering over the sheet more than once, as she peered over the top of her own.
‘I don’t like him. Remember, we don’t speak French,’ whispered the discreet Amanda.
‘I can swear that I don’t,’ said Lavinia, with an irrepressible smile, as she remembered the ‘blue son.’
‘The language of the eye is not forbidden me, and I can’t sit baking under a newspaper all the way,’ returned
Matilda, whose blond curls had evidently met with the great creature’s approval.
A slight pucker about the Comte’s lips caused a thrill of horror to pervade the ladies, as Amanda murmured
under her breath,–Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
38
‘He may understand English!’
‘Then we are lost!’ returned the tragic Raven.
‘Wish he did. I really pine for a little attention. It gives such a relish to life,’ said Matilda, thinking regretfully
of the devoted beings left behind.
The prudent Amanda and the stern Lavinia steeled their hearts, and iced their countenances to the comely
gentleman. But the social Matilda could not refrain from responding to his polite advances, with a modest
‘Merci, Monsieur,’ as he drew the curtain for her, a smile when he picked up the unruly curling-stick, and her
best bow as he offered his paper with a soft glance of the black eyes.
In vain Amanda tried to appal her with awful frowns; in vain Lavinia trod warningly upon her foot: she paid
no heed, and left them no hope but the saving remembrance that she couldn’t talk French.
‘If the man don’t get out soon, I’ll tie her up in my shawl, and tell him she is mad,’ resolved Lavinia, whose
spinster soul was always scandalised at the faintest approach to a flirtation.
‘If the man does speak English, Mat will have it all her own way,’ thought Amanda, remembering the vow
imposed upon the reckless girl.
Alas, alas for the anxious twain! The man did not get out soon, the man did speak English, and in ten minutes
Matilda was off, like a colt without a halter. The anguish of her keepers added zest to the fun, and finding that
the gentleman evidently thought her the lady of the party (owing to the yellow gloves, smartest hat, and
irreproachable boots), and the others in sober gray and black, were maid and duenna, this reprehensible girl
kept up the joke, put on airs, and enjoyed that flirtatious hour to her heart’s content.
As if to punish the others for their distrust, and to reward Mat’s interest in him, M. le Comte devoted himself
to Mademoiselle, telling her about his hunting, his estate, and finished by inviting her and her party to call and
view his château, if they ever paused at the town, which had the honour of being his summer residence. Mat
responded to all these courtesies with confiding sweetness, and when at length he was desolated at being
obliged to tear himself away, she
‘Gave sigh for sigh,’
as he retired with a superb bow, a gallant ‘Bon voyage, mesdames,’ and a wicked twinkle of the black eyes as
they rested on the faces of the frozen ladies.
‘I got rather the best of the joke in that little affair: didn’t I?’ said Mat, gayly, as the brown velvet Adonis
vanished.
‘You are a disgrace to your party and your nation,’ sternly responded Amanda.
Lavinia spoke not, but shook her little sister till the hat flew off her head, and she had only breath enough left
to declare with unquenched ardour that she would do it again the very next chance she got.
Lectures, laughter, and longings for ‘my Comte’ beguiled the remainder of the way, and Moulang (as Mat
pronounced Moulins) was reached after a pleasant trip through a green country, picturesque with the white
cattle of Berri. There was not much to see, but the town was so quaint and quiet, that Amanda was seized with
one of her remarkable projects.
‘Let us find a little house somewhere and stay a week or two. I fain would rest and ruminate among the whiteShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
39
cows for a while; have a little washing done, and slowly prepare to emerge into the world again. Lyons is our
next point, and there we must bid adieu to freedom and shawl-straps.’
‘Very well, dear,’ responded Lavinia, with resignation, having learned that the best way to curb these
aberrations of genius was to give in, and let circumstances prove their impracticability.
So Amanda inquired of the landlady if such a rustic cot could be found. Whereupon the dingy little woman
clasped her dingy little hands, and declared that she had exactly the charming retreat desired. Truly yes, and
she would at once make her toilette, order out the carriage, and display this lovely villa to the dear ladies.
With many misgivings the three squeezed themselves into a square clothes-basket on wheels, drawn by an
immense, bony, white horse, driven by a striped boy, and adorned by Madame, in a towering bonnet, laden
with amazing fruit, flowers, and vegetables. Lavinia counted three tomatoes, a bunch of grapes, poppies and
pansies, wheat ears and blackberry-vines, a red, red rose, and one small lettuce, with glass dewdrops and
green grubs lavishly sprinkled over it. A truly superb chapeau and a memorable one.
Away they trundled through stony streets, dusty roads, waste grounds, marshy meadows, and tumbled-down
pleasure-gardens, till the clothes-basket turned down a lane, and the bony horse stopped at length before a
door in a high red wall.
‘Behold!’ cried madame, leading them with much clanking of keys, into a cabbage-garden. A small tool-house
stood among the garden-stuff, with brick floors, very dirty windows, and the atmosphere of a tomb. Bags of
seed, wheel-barrows, onions, and dust cumbered the ground. Empty bottles stood on the old table, cigar ends
lay thick upon the hearth, and a trifle of gay crockery adorned the mantel-piece.
‘See, then, here is a salon, so cool, so calm. Above is a room with beds, and around the garden where the
ladies can sit all day. A maid can achieve the breakfast here, and my carriage can come for them to dine at the
hotel. Is it not charmingly arranged?
‘It is simply awful,’ said Mat, aghast at the prospect.
‘Settle it as you like, dear, only I’m afraid I couldn’t stay very long on account of the dampness,’ observed
Lavinia, cheerfully, as she put a hoe-handle under her feet and wiped the blue mould from a three-legged
chair.
‘It won’t do, so I’ll tell her you are an invalid and very particular,’ said Amanda, with another inspiration, as
she led the landlady forth to break the blow tenderly.
‘My neuralgia is useful if it isn’t ornamental; and what a comfort that is!’ said Lavinia, as she lightly threw a
large cockroach out of window, dodged a wasp, and crushed a fat spider.
And so it was in many ways. If the party wanted a car to themselves, Granny was ordered to lie down and
groan dismally, which caused other travellers to shun the poor invalid. If rooms did not suit, suffering
Madame must have sun or perish. Late lunches, easy carriages, extra blankets, every sort of comfort was for
her, whether she wanted them or not.
‘Shall I be sick or well?’ was always the first question when an invitation came, for ‘my sister’s delicate health’
was the standing excuse when parties palled, or best gowns were not get-at-able.
While Amanda conferred with the hostess among the cabbages, Mat discovered that the picturesque white
cattle in the field close by were extremely fierce and unsocial; that there was no house in sight, and the
venerable horse and shay would never sustain many trips to and fro to dinner at the hotel. Lavinia poked aboutShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
40
the house, and soon satisfied herself that it abounded in every species of what Fanny Kemble calls
‘entomological inconvenience,’ and an atmosphere admirably calculated to introduce cholera to the inhabitants
of Moulins.
‘It is all settled; let us return,’ said Amanda, appearing at last with an air of triumph, having appeased the old
lady by eating green currants, and admiring an earwiggy arbour, commanding a fine view of a marsh where
frogs were piping and cool mists rising as the sun set.
The chickens were tough at dinner, the wine bitter, the bread sour, but no one reproached Amanda as the
cause of this change. And when the hostess bowed them out, next day, without a smile, they drove away,
conscious only of deep gratitude that they were saved from leaving their bones to moulder among the
cabbages of Moulins.
‘Now we return to civilisation, good clothes, and Christian food,’ said Lavinia, as they surveyed their fine
rooms at the Grand Hotel, Lyons.
‘Likewise letters and luggage,’ added Amanda, as the maid brought in a bundle of letters, and two porters
came bumping up with the trunks.
‘Well, I’ve enjoyed the trip immensely, though nothing very remarkable has happened,’ said Mat, diving into
her private ark with satisfaction.
‘I should like to wander in the wilderness for years, if I could hear from my family at intervals,’ said Lavinia,
briskly breaking open the plump, travel-worn letters.
‘Then you consider our trip a success?’ asked Amanda, pausing in the act of removing the dust from her noble
countenance.
‘A perfect success! We have done what we planned, had no mishaps, seen and enjoyed much, quarrelled not at
all, laughed a great deal, and been altogether festive, thanks to you. I shall hang my shawl-strap on the castle
wall as a trophy of the prowess of my Amanda, and the success of the last Declaration of American
Independence,’ replied Lavinia.
‘I, also,’ said Mat, opening her bundle for the one hundreth and last time.
‘You do me proud; I humbly thank you,’ and with a superb curtsy the commander-in-chief modestly retired
behind the towel.
IV.
SWITZERLAND.
‘My children, listen to the words of wisdom ere it is too late,’ began Lavinia, as the three sat about in
dressing-gowns after a busy day in Geneva.
‘We listen, go on, Granny,’ replied the irreverent girls.
‘If we stay here a week longer, we are ruined. Firstly, this Metropole is an expensive hotel; also noisy and full
of fashionable people, whom I hate. Secondly, the allurements of the jewellers’ shops are too much for us, and
we had better flee before we spend all our money. Thirdly, if war does break out along the Rhine, as rumour
now predicts, Geneva will be crammed with people whose plans, like ours, are upset; therefore we had better
skip across the lake, and secure a comfortable place for ourselves at Vevey or Montreaux, for we shallShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
41
probably have to winter there.’
‘Hear, hear! we will do it, and if Italy doesn’t get over her revolution in time for us to go to Rome, we must
content ourselves with some nook in this refuge for all wanderers on the face of the continent,’ said Amanda.
‘But I like Geneva so much. It’s such fun to watch the splendid waiters file in at dinner, looking like young
gentlemen ready for a ball; the house is so gay, and the shops!–never did I dream of such richness before. Do
stay another week and buy a few more things,’ prayed Matilda, who spent most of her time gloating over the
jewelry, and tempting her sister to buy all manner of useless gauds.
‘No: we will go to-morrow. I know of several good pensions at Vevey, so we are sure of getting in
somewhere. Pack at once, and let us flee,’ returned Lavinia, who, having bought a watch, a ring, and a locket,
felt that it was time to go.
And go they did, settling for a month at Bex, a little town up the valley of the Rhone, remarkable for its heat,
its dirt, its lovely scenery, and the remarkable perfection to which its inhabitants had brought the goître, nearly
every one being blessed with an unsightly bunch upon the neck, which they decorated with ribbons and
proudly displayed to the disgusted traveller.
Here in the rambling old Hôtel des Bains, with its balconies, gardens, and little rooms, the wanderers reposed
for a time. A Polish countess, with her lover, daughter, and governess, conferred distinction upon the house.
An old Hungarian count, who laboured under the delusion that he descended in a direct line from Zenobia,
also adorned the scene. An artist with two pretty boys, named Alfred Constable Landseer Reynolds and
Allston West Cuyp Vandyke, afforded Matilda much satisfaction.
English mammas with prim daughters of thirty or so still tied to their apron-strings were to be found, of
course, for they are everywhere; also wandering French folk raving about the war one minute and tearing their
hair over bad coffee the next.
Amanda read newspapers and talked politics with the old count; while Lavinia, with a paper bag of apricots
under one arm and a volume of Disraeli’s novels under the other, spent her shining hours wandering from
balcony to garden, enjoying the heat, which gave her a short respite from her woes.
While here Matilda, in company with a kindred soul, made the ascent of Mount St. Bernard with the pleasing
accompaniments of wind, rain, thunder, and lightning. But the irrepressible Americans went on in spite of
warnings from more prudent travellers who stopped half-way. With one mule and a guide for escort, the two
enthusiasts waded swollen streams with ice-cold water up to their knees, climbed slippery roads, faced what
seemed a whirlwind at that height, and, undaunted by the uproar of the elements, pressed on to the Hospice, to
the great admiration of Moritz, the guide, who told them he had seldom taken men up in such a storm, never
ladies.
At the Hospice the dripping lasses found a hospitable welcome from the handsome monk who does the
honours there. Being provided with dry garments, and having much fun over the tall Matilda draped in skirts
of many colours in the attempt to get any long enough, they were fed and warmed by the engaging monk, who
entertained them as they sat about a roaring fire while the storm raged without, with thrilling tales of the
travellers they had saved, the wild adventures they had known in the dreadful winter time, and the gifts
bestowed upon them by grateful travellers or generous guests.
The Prince of Wales had sent them a piano, and many fine pictures ornamented the walls from famous
persons. An old English lady who spends her summers up there seemed much amused at the prank of the girls,
and evidently wondered what their guardians were about.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
42
A merry and memorable evening; and when, on going to their cells, they found the beds nicely warmed,
Matilda exclaimed,–
‘This is the most delightful of the romantic and the comfortable I ever saw. Alps and warming-pans taken
“jintly” are delicious!’
At five next morning they were wakened by the chanting of the invisible brotherhood, and went down to the
chapel for mass. On going out for a clamber on the rocks, seven or eight great dogs came baying and leaping
about them, licking their hands and smelling their garments to see if they were hurt. Looking into their bright,
benevolent eyes, one could well believe the wonderful tales told of their courage and sagacity. Though so
powerful and large they were gentle as kittens, and the dog-loving girls were proud to receive and return the
caresses of these four-footed heroes.
Leaving a grateful souvenir in the box intended to receive whatever guests choose to leave, the girls
descended in the morning sunshine, finding it a very different experience from the ascent. All was clear and
calm now,–beautiful and grand; and only pausing at M. to send back a fine engraving to the comely priest,
who had made a deep impression on their romantic hearts, the enfants returned to their anxious friends,
mildewed, rumpled, and weary, but full of enthusiastic delight over their successful ascent of St. Bernard.
War broke out, and Alexandre, the all-accomplished head-waiter, dropped his napkin, shouldered his gun, and
marched away, leaving the Hôtel des Bains desolate. Being pretty thoroughly baked, and very weary of the
little town, our trio departed to Vevey, and settled down in the best pension that ever received the weary
traveller.
Standing in its own pretty grounds, and looking out upon the lake, Pension Paradis deserves its name. Clean
and cosy within, a good table, a kindly hostess, and the jolliest old host ever seen! what more could the human
heart desire?
Vevey was swarming with refugees. Don Carlos, or the Duke de Madrid, as he was called, was there with his
Duchess and court, plotting heaven knows what up at his villa, with the grave, shabby men who haunted the
town.
Queen Isabella reigned at one hotel, and Spanish grandees pervaded the place. There were several at Pension
Paradis, and no one guessed what great creatures they were till a fête day arrived, and the grim, gray men
blossomed out into counts, marquises, and generals covered with orders, stars, and crosses splendid to behold.
One particularly silent, shabby little man with a shaven head and fine black eyes, who was never seen to
smile, became an object of interest on that occasion by appearing in a gorgeous uniform with a great gilt
grasshopper hanging down his back from a broad green ribbon. Who was he? What did the grasshopper
mean? Where did he go to in a fine carriage, and what was he plotting with the other Carlists, who dodged in
and out of his room at all hours?
No one ever knew, and all the artful questions put to the young Spaniard, who played croquet with the girls,
were unavailing. Nothing was discovered, except that little Mirandola had a title, and might be sent back to
Spain any day to lose his life or liberty in some rash plot, which circumstance made the black-eyed boy
doubly interesting to the free-born Americans. Lavinia bewailed his hard lot, Amanda taught him whist and
told his fortune, and Matilda put him in her sketch-book done in the blackest India-ink. It is also to be
recorded that the doomed little Don was never seen to laugh but once, and that was when the girls taught him
the classical game of Muggins. The name struck him; he went about saying it to himself, and on the first
occasion of his being ‘mugginsed,’ he was so tickled that he indulged in a hearty boy’s laugh; but immediately
recovered himself, and never smiled again, as if in penance for so forgetting his dignity.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
43
A bashful Russian, who wore remarkably fine broadcloth and had perfect manners, was likewise received into
the good graces of the ladies, who taught him English, called him ‘the Baron’ in private, and covered him with
confusion in public by making him talk at table.
But the most amusing of all the family was Madame A., a handsome widow from Lyons, with two ugly
children and a stout old mamma, who wore orange stockings and a curious edifice of black lace encircled with
large purple asters. The widow had married an Italian artist, who was mortally jealous of his wife, whose
blonde beauty attracted much attention at Rome. In some quarrel with a model the husband was stabbed, and
the handsome widow left in peace.
A tall, fair lady, with a profile like Marie Antoinette; she dressed in white with violet ribbons, and wore much
ancient jewelry. A loud-voiced, energetic woman, who bewailed the sack of her house at Lyons, scolded her
children, and cursed the Germans with equal volubility and spirit. When silent she was the picture of a
patrician beauty; but, alas! her voice destroyed the charm, and her manners–great heavens, what things that
woman did! Picking her pearly teeth with a hair-pin, and knocking her darlings into their chairs with one
sweep of her elbow when they annoyed her at table, were the least of the horrors she perpetrated.
But she talked well, devoted herself to her family, and took misfortune bravely; so much may be pardoned
her.
Her infants were only remarkable for their ugliness and curious costumes. The little girl usually wore soiled
silk gowns, and had her hair tied up with bits of twine. The boy appeared in a suit of yellow calico spotted
with black, looking very much like a canary bird who had fallen into an inkstand. On festival occasions he
wore white cloth raiment, with red ribbons stuck here and there, and high red boots.
But, on the whole, the old mamma was the queerest of the set; for she spent most of her time lumbering up
and down stairs, which amusement kept the orange hose constantly before the public. When not disporting
herself in this way, she dozed in the salon, or consumed much food at table with a devotion that caused her to
suck her fingers, on every one of which shone an antique ring of price. Her head-gear was a perpetual puzzle
to the observing Lavinia, who could never discover whether it was a cap, a bonnet, or a natural production, for
it was never off. Madame walked out in it, wore it all day, and very likely slept in it. At least Lavinia firmly
believed so, and often beguiled the watches of the night, imagining the old soul placidly slumbering with the
perennial asters encircling her aged brow like a halo.
One other party there was who much amused the rest of the household. An American lady with a sickly
daughter, who would have been pretty but for her affectation and sentimentality. The girl was engaged to a
fierce, dissipated little Russian, who presented her with a big bouquet every morning, followed her about all
day like a dog, and glared wrathfully at any man who cast an eye upon the languishing damsel in white muslin
and flowing curls ‘bedropt with pearls,’ as a romantic lady expressed it.
It was evident that the Russian without any vowels in his name was going to marry Mademoiselle for her
money, and the weak Mamma was full of satisfaction at the prospect. To others it seemed a doubtful bargain,
and much pity was felt for the feeble girl doomed to go to Russia with a husband who had ‘tyrant’ written in
every line of his bad, blasé little face and figure. French polish could not hide the brute, nor any quantity of
flowers conceal the chain by which he was leading his new serf away to bondage in St. Petersburg.
Into the midst of this select society came a countryman of our three,–a jocund youth fresh from Algiers, with
relics, adventures, and tales that utterly eclipsed the ‘Arabian Nights.’ Festive times followed, for the ‘Peri’ (the
pet name of aforesaid youth) gave them the fruits of his long wanderings, sung whole operas heard in Paris,
danced ballets seen in Berlin, recounted perils among the Moors, served up gossip from the four corners of the
globe, and conversed with each member of the household in his or her own language.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
44
A cheerful comrade was the ‘Peri,’ and a great addition to the party, who now spent most of their time sitting
about the town, eating grapes, and listening to the pranks of this sprightly M.D., who seemed to be studying
his profession by wandering over Europe with a guitar à la troubadour.
Sounding the lungs of a veiled princess in Morocco was the least of his adventures, and the treasures he had
collected supplied Lavinia with materials for unlimited romances: cuff-buttons made from bits of marble
picked up among the ruins of Carthage; diamond crescents and ear-rings bought in Toledo, so antique and
splendid that relic-loving Amanda raved about them; photographs of the belles of Constantinople, Moorish
coins and pipes, bits of curious Indian embroidery; and, best of all, the power of telling how each thing was
found in so graphic a manner that Eastern bazaars, ruins, and palaces seemed to rise before the listeners as in
the time of the magic story-tellers. But all too soon he packed his knapsack, and promising to bring each of
his friends the nose or ear of one of the shattered saints from the great cathedral at Strasbourg, the ‘Peri’
vanished from Paradis, and left them all lamenting.
The little flurry in Italy ending peacefully, our travellers after much discussion resolved to cross the Alps and
spend the winter in Rome, if possible. So with tragic farewells from those they left behind them, who, hoping
to keep them longer, predicted all manner of misfortunes, the three strong-minded ladies rumbled away in the
coupé of a diligence to Brieg.
A lovely day’s journey up the valley of the Rhone, and a short night’s rest in the queer little town at the foot of
the mountains.
Before light the next morning they were called, and, after a hurried breakfast in a stony hall, went shivering
out into the darkness, and, stumbling through the narrow street, came to the starting-point. Lanterns were
dancing about the square, two great diligences loomed up before them, horses were tramping, men shouting,
and eager travellers scrambling for places. In the dimly lighted office, people were clamouring for tickets,
scolding at the delay, or grimly biding their time in corners, with one eye asleep, and the other sharply
watching the conductor.
‘Isn’t it romantic?’ cried Matilda, wide awake, and in a twitter of excitement.
‘It is frightfully cold; and I don’t see how we are going, for both those caravans are brimful,’ croaked Lavinia,
chafing her purple nose, and wishing it had occurred to her to buy a muff before going to sunny Italy.
‘I have got through tickets, and some one is bound to see us over these snow-banks, so “trust in Providence
and the other man,” and we shall come out right, I assure you,’ replied the energetic Amanda, who had
conferred with a spectral being in the darkness, and blindly put her faith in him.
Away lumbered one diligence after the other, the first drawn by seven horses, the second by five, while the
carrier’s little cart with one brought up the rear. But still three muffled ladies sat upon a cool stone in the dark
square, waiting for the spectre to keep his promise.
He did like a man; for suddenly the doors of an old stable flew open, and out rattled a comfortable carriage
with a pair of stout little horses jingling their bells, and a brisk driver, whose voice was pleasant, as he
touched his hat and invited the ladies to enter, assuring them that they would soon overtake and pass the heavy
diligences before them.
‘Never again will I doubt you, my Amanda,’ cried the Raven, packing herself into the dowager’s corner with a
grateful heart.
‘I hope the top of this carriage opens, for I must see everything,’ cried Matilda, prancing about on the front seat
in a chaos of wraps, books, bottles, and lunch-baskets.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
45
‘Of course it does, and when there is anything to see we will see it. It is dark and cold now, so we’d better all
go to sleep again.’
With which sage remark, Amanda burrowed into her cloaks and slumbered. But not the other two. Matilda
stuck her head out of one window, uttering little cries of wonder and delight at all she saw; while Livy
watched the solemn stars pale one by one as the sky brightened, and felt as if she were climbing up, out of a
dark valley of weariness and pain, into a new world full of grand repose.
Slowly winding higher and higher through the damp pine forest, softly stirring in the morning wind, they saw
the sky warm from its cold gray to a rosy glow, making ready for the sun to rise as they never saw it rise
before.
‘Full many a glorious morning have I seen, Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,’
but never more wonderfully than on that day. Long after the distant peaks flamed in the ruddy light, they rode
in shadow; but turning suddenly round a corner, the sun came dazzling through a great gorge, startling them
with the splendour it brought.
Down went the carriage-top, and standing bolt upright, three pairs of eager eyes drank in the grandeur and the
beauty that makes the crossing of the Simplon an experience to live for ever in the memory. Peak after peak of
the Bernese Oberland rose behind them, silver white against a wonderful blue sky. Before them Monte Rosa,
touched with the morning red, and all around great glaciers glittering in the sunshine, awful gorges with
torrents thundering from the heights above, relics of land-slides and avalanches still visible in uprooted trees,
boulders tumbled here and there, and ruins of shepherds’ huts in solitary nooks where sheep now feed.
The road crept in and out, over frail bridges, spanning chasms that made one dizzy to look into, through
tunnels of solid rock, or galleries with windows over which poured waterfalls from the treacherous glaciers
above. This road is a miracle in itself, for all nature seems to protest against it, and the elements never tire of
trying to destroy it. Only a Napoleon would have had the audacity to dream of such a path, and it is truly a
royal road into a lovely land.
Passing the diligences the little carriage went rapidly on, and soon the three were almost alone. Out leaped
Lavinia and Matilda, and walked along the level way that curved round a great gorge.
‘Go on and let me be. It is all so magnificent it almost takes my breath away. I must just sit a minute, like a
passive bucket, and let it pour into me,’ said Lavinia, in a solemn tone.
Mat understood; for her own heart and soul were full, and with a silent kiss of sympathy, walked on, leaving
her sister to enjoy that early mass in a grander cathedral than any built with hands.
In spite of the sunshine it was very cold, and when the three met again their noses looked like the eldest Miss
Pecksniff’s, ‘as if Aurora had nipped and tweaked it with her rosy fingers.’ Subsiding into their places with
pale, excited faces, they went silently on for a long time, with no sound but the chime of the bells on the
horses who were covered with a light hoar-frost. Wrapped up to their eyes, like Egyptian women, sat Livy and
Amanda; while Matilda, having tried to sketch Monte Rosa, and given it up, made a capital caricature of them
as they ate cold chicken, and drank wine, in a primitive manner, out of the bottle.
It was a sudden descent from the sublime to the ridiculous; but the feeble human mind cannot bear too much
glory at once, and is saved by the claims of the prosaic body, that will get tired and hungry even atop of the
everlasting hills. So the enthusiasts picked their chicken bones, sipped their wine, and felt less exhausted and
hysterical. A good laugh over the carrier’s little boy, who sniffed the banquet afar off, and came running to
offer a handful of pale Alpine flowers, with wistful glances at the lunch, did them more good still: for the littleShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
46
chap caught and bolted the morsels they gave him with such dexterous rapidity, it was as good as juggling.
Refuges and the Hospice came in sight one after the other, and while waiting to change horses one had time to
wonder how the people living there managed to be such a stolid, dirty, thriftless-looking set. Mountaineers
should be intelligent, active, and hardy; but these men were a most ungainly crew, and Lavinia’s theories got a
sad blow.
A bad dinner at Simplon would have been an affliction at any other time; but with the Valley of Gondo for
dessert, no one cared for other food. Following the wild stream that had worn its way between the immense
cliffs, they drove rapidly down towards Italy, feeling that this was a fit gateway to the promised land.
At Iselle, on the frontier, they enacted a little farce for the benefit of the custom-house officers. Lavinia and
Amanda had old passports, and had been told they would be needed. Mat had none, so she was ordered to try
the rôle of maid. Before they arrived, she took out her ear-rings, tied up her curls under a dingy veil, put on a
waterproof, and tried to assume the demure air of an Abigail.
When they alighted, she was left to guard the wraps in the carriage while the others went with the luggage,
expecting to have much trouble; for all manner of hindrances had been predicted owing to the unsettled state
of the country. Nothing could be simpler, however; no passports were demanded, a very careless search of
luggage, and it was all over. So Matilda threw off her disguise, and ascended the diligence in her own
character, for here, alas! they left the cozy little carriage with the affable driver and the jingling bells.
Only two places could be found in the crowded diligences, and great was the fuss till Amanda was invited up
aloft by a friendly gentleman who had a perch behind, large enough for two. There they discussed theology
and politics to their hearts’ content, and at parting the worthy man cut his book in two, and gave Amanda half
that she might refresh herself with a portion of some delightfully dry work on Druidical Remains, Protoplasm,
or the state of the church before the flood.
The force of contrast makes the charm of this entry into Italy; for, after the grandeur of the Alps and the
gloomy wildness of Gondo, the smiling scene is doubly lovely as one drives down to Domo d’Ossola.
Weariness, hunger, and sleep were quite forgotten; and when our travellers came to Lago Maggiore,
glimmering in the moonlight, they could only sigh for happiness, and look and look and look.
‘Victory has perched upon our banners so far, I am sure, for never was a trip more delightful. It is not every
stranger who is fortunate enough to see sunrise, noonday, sunset, and moonlight in crossing the Alps,’ said
Matilda, as she fell into her bed quite exhausted by the excitement of the day.
‘I feel a richer, better woman for it, and don’t believe I shall ever see anything more satisfactory if I stay in
Italy ten years,’ responded Lavinia, wrapping the red army-blanket
‘Like a martial cloak around her.’
‘Wait till the spell of Rome is upon you, and then see what you will feel, my Granny’ predicted Amanda, who
had felt the spell, and had not yet escaped from it.
‘Don’t believe it will suit me half so well,’ persisted Livy, who would prefer nature to art, much to Amanda’s
disgust.
‘We shall see,’ observed Amanda, with the exasperating mildness of superior knowledge.
‘We shall!’ and Livy tied her cap in a hard knot as if to settle the matter.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
47
V.
ITALY.
Sleep as deep, dreamless, and refreshing as if the beneficent spirit of Carlo Borromeo still haunted the
enchanted lake, prepared the three for a day of calm delights. The morning was spent floating over the lake in
a luxuriously cushioned boat with a gay awning and a picturesque rower, to visit Isola Bella. Everyone knows
what a little Paradise has been made to blossom on that rock; so raptures over the flowers, the marbles, the
panniers of lovely fruit, and the dirty, pretty children who offered them, are unnecessary.
In the afternoon, having despatched the luggage to Florence, our travellers sailed away to Luini, catching last
glimpses of Monte Rosa, and enjoying the glories of an Italian sunset on an Italian lake. At Luini the girls
caused much excitement by insisting on sitting up with the driver instead of sharing the coupé with their
decorous duenna. ‘We must see the lovely views and the moonlight,’ said Amanda, and up she went.
‘To sit aloft with a brigandish driver dressed in a scarlet and black uniform, with a curly horn slung over his
shoulder, and to go tearing up hill and down with four frisky horses, is irresistible,’ and up skipped Matilda.
‘You will both catch your death of cold, if you don’t break your necks, so it will be well to have some one to
nurse or bury you,’ and Lavinia, finding commands and entreaties vain, entered the coupé with mournful
dignity.
With a toot of the horn, and cheers from the crowd, which the girls gracefully acknowledged, away rumbled
the diligence, with at least two very happy occupants. How lovely it was! First, the soft twilight wrapping
everything in mysterious shadow, and then the slow uprising of a glorious full moon, touching the commonest
object with its magical light. Cries of rapture from the girls atop were answered by exclamations from Livy,
hanging half out of the coupé regardless of night air, or raps on the head from overhanging boughs, as they
went climbing up woody hills, or dashing down steep roads that wound so sharply round corners, it was a
wonder the airy passengers did not fly off at every lurch. Rattling into quiet little towns with a grand
‘tootle-te-too’ of the horn was an especial delight, and to see the people gather so quickly that they seemed to
spring from the ground. A moment’s chatter, a drink for the horses, a soft ‘Felice notte,’ another toot, and away
thundered the diligence for miles more of moonlight, summer air, and the ecstasy of rapid motion.
What that dear, brown driver with the red vest, the bobtailed, buttony coat, and the big yellow tassels dancing
from his hat brim, thought of those two American damsels we shall never know. But it may be imagined that,
after his first bewilderment, he enjoyed himself; for Amanda aired her Italian and asked many questions.
Matilda invited him to perform national airs on all occasions, and both admired him as openly as if he had
been a pretty child.
Lavinia always cherished a dark suspicion that she narrowly escaped destruction on that eventful night; for,
judging from the frequent melody, and the speed of the horses, she was sure that either Amanda tooted and
Matilda drove, or that both so bewildered the brigand that he lost his head. However, it was all so delightful
that even Granny felt the charm, and was sure that if they did upset in some romantic spot, a Doctor Antonio
would spring up as quickly as a mushroom, and mend their bones, marry one of her giddy charges, and end
the affair in the most appropriate manner.
Nothing happened, fortunately, and by nine o’clock they were safely at Lugano, and, tearing themselves from
the dear brigand, were taken possession of by a shadowy being, who fed them in a marble hall with statues ten
feet high glaring at them as they ate, then led them to a bower which had pale green doors, a red carpet, blue
walls, and yellow bed covers,–all so gay it was like sleeping in a rainbow.
As if another lovely lake under the windows, and moonlight ad libitum, was not enough, they had music also.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
48
Lavinia scorned the idea of sleep, and went prowling about the rooms, hanging over the balconies, and doing
the romantic in a style that was a disgrace to her years. She it was who made the superb discovery that the
music they heard came from across the way, and that by opening a closet window they could look into a
theatre and see the stage.
All rushed at once and beheld an opera in full blast, heartily enjoying the unusual advantages of their position;
for not only could they hear the warblers, but see them when the curtain was down. What a thing it was to see
Donna Anna do up her black hair, Don Giovanni dance a jig, and stately Ottavio imbibe refreshment out of a
black bottle, and the ghostly Commander prance like a Punchinello as they got him into position.
The others soon succumbed to sleep; but, till long after midnight, old Livy wandered like a ghost from the
front balcony, with the lovely lake, to the closet window and its dramatic joys, feeling that no moment of that
memorable night should be lost, for what other traveller could boast that she ever went to the opera wrapped
in a yellow bedquilt?
On the morrow a few pictures of Luini before breakfast, and then more sailing over lakes, and more driving in
festive diligences to Menaggio, where a boat like a market waggon without wheels bore them genteelly to
Cadenabbia, and a week of repose on the banks of Lago Como.
Their palace did not ‘lift its marble walls to eternal summer’ by any means; for it rained much, and was so cold
that some took to their beds for warmth, stone floors looking like castile-soap not being just the thing for
rheumatism. Hand-organs, dancing-bears, two hotels, one villa, no road but the lake, and an insinuating
boatman with one eye who lay in wait among the willows, and popped out to grab a passenger when anyone
ventured forth, are all that remains in the memory regarding Cadenabbia.
A few extracts from Lavinia’s note-book may be found useful at this point, both as a speedy way of getting
our travellers to Rome, and for the bold criticisms on famous places and pictures which they contain:–
‘Milan.–Cathedral like a big wedding-cake. “Last Supper” in the barracks–did not “thrill;” tried to, but
couldn’t, as the picture is so dim it can hardly be seen. Ambrosian Library.–Lock of L. Borgia’s hair;
tea-coloured and coarse. Don’t believe in it a bit. Jolly old books, but couldn’t touch ‘em. Fine window to
Dante. Saw cathedral illuminated; very theatrical, and much howling of people over the deputies from Rome.
Don’t know why they illuminated or why they howled; didn’t ask. Men here handsome, but rude. Women wear
veils and no bonnets,–fat and ugly. Gloves very good.–Arch of Peace.–More peace and less arch would be
better for Italy.
‘Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin.–Stiff and stupid. Can’t like Raphael. Dear, pious, simple, old Fra Angelico
suits me better.
‘To the Public Garden with A.; saw a black ostrich with long pink legs, who pranced and looked so like an
opera dancer that we sat on the fence and shrieked with laughter.
‘Pavia.–To the Certosa to see the old Carthusian Convent founded in 1396; cloisters, gardens, and twenty-four
little dwellings, with chapel, bedroom, parlour, and yard for each monk, who is never to speak, and comes out
but once a week. A nice way for lazy men to spend their lives when there is so much work to be done for the
Lord and his poor! Wanted to shake them all round, though they did look well in their gowns and cowls
gliding about the dim cloisters and church. Perhaps they are kept for that purpose.
‘Parma.–Dome of church frescoed by Correggio. All heaven upsidedown; fat angels turning somersaults,
saints like butchers, and martyrs simpering feebly. Like C.’s babies much better. Heaven can’t be painted, and
they’d better not try. Madonna, by Girolamo, was lovely. Room of the Abbess, with rosy children peeping
through the lattice, very charming. Madonna della Scodella–the boy Christ very charming. The old FarneseShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
49
Theatre most interesting; got a scrap of canvas from a mouldy scene. Dead old place is Parma.
‘Bologna.–Drove in a pelting rain to the Academy, and saw many pictures. A Pietà, by Guido, was very
striking. The desolate mother, with her dead son on her knees, haunted me long afterwards. St. Jerome and the
infant Christ, by Elizabeth Sirani, I liked. Raphael won’t suit yet. Sad for me, but I cannot admire Madonnas
with faces like fashion-plates, or dropsical babies with no baby sweetness about them.
‘Florence.–Bought furs. Nice climate to bring invalids into. Always did think Italy a humbug, and I begin to
see I was right. Acres of pictures. Like about six out of the lot. Can’t bear the Venus, or Titian’s famous hussy
hanging over it. Like his portraits much. Busts of Roman emperors great fun. Such bad heads! The Julias,
Faustinas, and Agrippinas, with hair dressed like a big sponge on the brow, were so comical I was never tired
of looking at them. I see now where the present bedlamite style of coiffure comes from.
‘The philosophers, &c., were very interesting. Cicero so like Wendell Phillips that I could hardly help
clapping my hands and saying, “Hear! hear!”
‘Gave A. a sad blow by saying the Campanile looked like an inlaid work-box. Did not admire it half so much
as I did a magnificent stone pine. Best of all, saw in the old Monastery of St. Marco many works of Fra
Angelico. I love his pictures, for he put his pious heart into them, and one sees and feels it, and I don’t care if
his saints do have six joints to their fingers and impossible noses. A very dear picture of “Providenza,”–poor
monks at an empty table and angels bringing bread.
‘Angelico’s picture of heaven was more to my mind than any I have seen. No stern, avenging God, no silly
Madonna, but happy souls playing like children, or singing and piping with devout energy.
‘Relics of Savonarola,–his cell, bust, beads, hair-cloth shirt, and a bit of wood from the pile on which they
burnt him. I like relics of one man who really lived, worked, and suffered, better than armies of angels, or
acres of gods and goddesses.
‘Pleasant drives. Saw artists, Casa Guidi windows, and a model baby house with dolly’s name on the door, and
steps modelled by hands that have made famous statues. “Papa’s baby house” was best of all his works to me.
A nice little earthquake and a trifle of snow to enhance the charms of this sweet spot.
‘Visited Parker’s grave, and was afflicted to find it in such an unlovely, crowded cemetery. It does not matter
after all: his best monument is in the hearts that love him and the souls he fed. As I stood there a little brown
bird hopped among the vines that covered the grave, pecked its breakfast from a dry seed-pod, perched on the
head-stone with a grateful twitter, as grace after meat, and flew away, leaving me comforted by the little
sermon it had preached.’
‘I don’t wish to hurt your feelings, dear, but if this is Rome I must say it is a very nasty place,’ began Lavinia,
as they went stumbling through the mud and confusion of a big, unfinished station on their arrival at the
eternal city.
‘People of sense don’t judge a place at ten o’clock of a pitch-dark, rainy night, especially if they are hungry,
tired, and, excuse me, love, rather cross,’ returned Amanda, severely, as they piled into a carriage and drove to
Piazzi di Spagna.
‘I see a divine fountain! A splendid palace! Now it’s a statue of some sort! I do believe that dark figure was a
monk! I know I shall like it in spite of everything,’ cried Matilda excitedly, flattening her nose against the
window.
She had been much disappointed at not being able to enter Rome by daylight, so that she might clasp herShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
50
hands and cry aloud, half-stifled with the overpowering emotions of the moment, ‘Roma! Roma! the eternal
city, bursts upon my view!’ That was the proper thing to do, and it was a blow to make so commonplace and
ignoble an entry into the city of her dreams.
Early next morning, Livy was roused from slumber by cries of delight, and, starting up, beheld her artist sister
wrapped in a dressing-gown, with dishevelled hair, staring out of the window, and murmuring incoherently,–
‘Spanish Steps, that’s where the models sit. Propaganda, famous Jesuit school. Hope I shall see the little
students in their funny hats and gowns. That’s the great monument thing put up to settle the Immaculate
Conception fuss. Very fine, but the apostles look desperately tired of holding it up. Dear old houses! Heavens!
there’s a trattoria man with somebody’s breakfast on his head! Don’t see any costumes. Where are the
sheepskin suits? the red skirts and white head-cloths? Girl with flowers. Oh, how lovely! Mercy on us, there’s
an officer staring up here, and I never saw him!’
In came the blond head, and the blue dressing-gown vanished from the eyes of the handsome soldier who had
been attitudinizing with his high boots, gray and scarlet cloak, jingling sword, and becoming barrette cap, for
the especial benefit of the enraptured stranger.
‘Livy, it is just superb! Get up and come out at once. It is clouding up, and I must have one look or lose my
mind,’ said Matilda, flying about with unusual energy.
‘You will have to get used to rain if you stay here long, my child,’ returned the Raven.
And she was right. It poured steadily for two months, with occasional flurries of snow, also thunder, likewise
hurricanes, the tramontàna, the sirocco, and all the other charming features of an Italian winter. That nothing
might be wanting, a nice little inundation was got up for their benefit, December 28th.
Sitting peacefully at breakfast on the morning of that day, in their cosey apartment, with a fire of cones and
olive-wood cheerily burning on the hearth, Jokerella, the big cat, purring on the rug, the little coffee-pot
proudly perched among bread and butter, eggs and fruit, while the ladies, in dressing-gowns and slippers,
lounged luxuriously in arm-chairs, one red, one blue, one yellow; they (the ladies, not the chairs) were started
by Agrippina, the maid, who burst into the room like a bomb-shell, announcing, all in one breath, that the
Tiber had risen, inundated the whole city, and instant death was to be the doom of all.
Rushing to the window to see if the flood had quite covered the steps, and cut off all retreat, the friends were
comforted to observe no signs of water, except that half-frozen in the basin of the fountain above which
leaned their favourite old Triton, with an icicle on the end of his nose.
‘I must go and attend to this. The poor will suffer; we may be able to help,’ said Livy, forgetting her bones,
and beginning to scramble on her fur boots as if the safety of the city depended on her.
The others followed suit, and leaving Jokerella to ravage the table, they hurried forth to see what Father Tiber
was up to. A most reprehensible prank, apparently, for the lower parts of the city were under water, and many
of the great streets already as full of boats as Venice.
The Corso was a deep and rapid stream, and the shopkeepers were disconsolately paddling about, trying to
rescue their property.
‘Our dresses, our beautiful new dresses, where are they now!’ wailed the girls, surveying Mazzoni’s grand
store, with water up to the balcony, where many milliners wrung their hands, lamenting.
The Piazza del Popolo was a lake, with the four stone lions just visible, and still spouting water, though it wasShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
51
a drug in the market. In at the open gate rolled a muddy stream, bearing hay-stacks, brushwood, and drowned
animals along the Corso. People stood on their balconies wondering what they should do, many breakfastless;
for how could the trattoria boys safely waft their coffee-pots across such canals of water? Carriages splashed
about in shallower parts with agitated loads, hurrying to drier quarters; many were coming down ladders into
boats, and crowds stood waiting their turn with bundles of valuables in their hands.
The soldiers were out in full force, working gallantly to save life and property; making rafts, carrying people
on their backs, and going through the inundated streets with boat-loads of food for the hungry, shut up in their
ill-provided houses. Usually at such times the priests did this work; but now they stood idly looking on, and
saying it was a judgment on the people for their treatment of the Pope. The people were troubled because the
priests refused to pray for them: but otherwise they snapped their fingers at the sullen old gentlemen in the
Vatican; and the brisk, brave troops worked for the city quite as well (the heretics thought better) than the
snuffy priests.
In the Ghetto the disaster was truly terrible, for the flood came so suddenly that the whole quarter was under
water in an hour. The scene was pitiful; for here the Jews live packed like sardines in a box, and being washed
out with no warning, were utterly destitute. In one street a man and woman were seen wading up to their
waists in water, pushing an old mattress before them, on which were three little children, all they had saved.
Later in the day, as boats of provisions came along, women and children swarmed at the windows, crying,
‘Bread! bread!’ and their wants could not be supplied in spite of the care of the city authorities. One old
woman who had lost everything besought the rescuers to bring her a little snuff for the love of heaven; which
was very characteristic of the race. One poor man, in trying to save a sick wife and his little ones in a cart,
upset them, and the babies were drowned at their own door. Comedy and tragedy side by side.
Outside the city, houses were carried off, people lost, and bridges swept away, so sudden and violent was the
flood. The heavy rains and warm winds melted the snow on the mountains, and swelled the river till it rose
higher than at any time since 1805.
Many strangers, who came to Rome for the Christmas holidays, sat in their fine apartments without food, fire,
light, or company, till taken off in boats or supplied by hoisting stores in at the windows.
‘We can hold out some time, as we live on a hill, and Pina has laid in provisions for several days. But if the
flood lasts, we shall come to want; for the wood-yards are under water, the railroads down, and the peasants
can’t get into the city to bring supplies, unless the donkeys swim,’ said Amanda, reviewing the situation.
‘Never mind; it’s so exciting; only we must not forget that we engaged to go and see the Roastpig Aurora
to-day,’ answered Matilda, who insisted on pronouncing Rospigliosi in that improper manner.
‘I like this infinitely better than any of your picturesque refrigerators, and it thrills me more to watch one of
those dear, dirty soldiers save women and babies than to see a dozen “Dying Gladiators” gasping for centuries
in immortal marble,’ added Lavinia, who had shocked her artistic friends by sniffing at the famous statue, and
wishing the man would die and done with it, and not lie squirming there.
‘Come away, Mat: she has no soul for art, and it is all in vain to try and breathe one into her,’ said Amanda,
with the calm pity of one who had read up every great picture, studied up every famous statue, and knew what
to admire, when to thrill, and just where the various emotions should come in.
So they left the outcast perched on a wall, waving her muff at them, and calling out, ‘Nater for ever!’ to the
great horror of an English lady, who would have seen all Rome upset without any unseemly excitement.
That night the gas gave out, and mysterious orders were left at houses for lamps to be kept burning tillShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
52
morning. Thieves abounded, and the ladies prepared their arms–one pistol, one dagger, and a large
umbrella–then slept peacefully, undisturbed by the commotion in the kitchen, where cats, live chickens, and
Pina’s five grandmothers, all lived together, rent free.
Amanda’s last prediction was, that they would find themselves gently floating out at the Porta Pia about
midnight. Mat wailed for a submerged gallery in which she had hoped to ice herself on the morrow, and Livy
indulged the sinful hope that the Pope would get his pontifical petticoats very wet, be a little drowned, and
terribly scared by the flood, because he spoilt the Christmas festivities, and shut up all the cardinals’ red
coaches.
Next day the water began to abate, and people made up their minds that the end of the world was not yet.
Gentlemen paid visits on the backs of stout soldiers, ladies went shopping in boats, and family dinners were
handed in at two-story windows without causing any remark, so quickly do people adapt themselves to the
inevitable.
Hardly had the watery excitement subsided when a new event set the city in an uproar.
The King was not expected till the tenth of January; but the kind soul could not wait, and, as soon as the road
was passable, he came with 300,000 francs in his hands to see what he could do for his poor Romans. He
arrived at 4 A.M., and though unexpected, the news flew through the city, and a crowd turned out with torches
to escort him to the Quirinal.
Again did the explosive Pina burst in upon her mistresses with the news, this time in tears of joy, for the
people began to think the King would never come, and therefore were especially touched by this prompt visit
in the midst of their trouble. The handsome damsel was a spectacle herself, so dramatic was she as she shook
her fist at the Pope, and cheered for the King, with a ladle in one hand, an artichoke in the other, her fine eyes
flashing, and her mellow voice trembling, while she talked regardless of the polenta going to destruction in
the frying-pan.
On went the bonnets, out flew the ladies, and rushed up to the Quirinal, where stood a great crowd waiting
eagerly for a sight of the King.
There was a great bustle among the officials, and splendid creatures, in new uniforms, ran about in all
directions. Grand carriages arrived, bringing the high and mighty, gaping but loyal, to greet their lord. General
Marmora–a thin, shabby, energetic man–was everywhere; for the new order of things seemed a little hitchy.
Dorias and Colonnas gladdened plebeian eyes, and the people cheered every thing, from the
Commander-in-Chief to somebody’s breakfast, borne through the crowd by a stately ‘Jeames’ in livery, who
graciously acknowledged the homage.
For one mortal hour our ladies stood in a pelting rain, and then retired, feeling that the sacrifice of their best
hats was all that could reasonably be expected of free-born Americans. They consoled themselves by putting
out Pina’s fine Italian banner (made in secret, and kept ready for her King, for the padrona was papalino), and
supporting it by two little American flags, the stars and stripes of which much perplexed the boys and donkeys
disporting themselves in the Piazza Barberini.
But the excitement was so infectious that the girls could not resist another run after royalty; so, while Livy
consoled herself with the fire and the cat, they took a carriage and chased the King till they caught him at the
Capitol. They had a fine view of him as he came down the long steps, almost alone, and at the peril of his life,
through a mass of people cheering frantically, and whitening the streets with waving handkerchiefs.
The enthusiastic damsels mounted up beside the driver, and hurrahed with all their hearts and voices, as well
they might, for it certainly was a sight to see. The courage of the King, in trusting himself in a city full ofShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
53
enemies, touched the people quite as much as the kindly motive that brought him there, and kept him sacred in
their eyes.
The girls had a second view of him on the balcony of the Quirinal; for the populace clamoured so for another
sight of ‘Il Rè,’ that the Pope’s best velvet hangings were hastily spread, and Victor Emmanuel came out and
bowed to his people, ‘who stood on their heads with joy,’ as Amanda expressed it.
He was in citizen’s dress, and looked like a stout, brown, soldierly man, not so ugly as the pictures of him, but
not an Apollo by any means.
Hating ceremony and splendour, he would not have the fine apartments prepared for him, but chose a plain
room, saying, ‘Keep the finery for my son, if you like; I prefer this.’
He drove through the Ghetto, and all the desolated parts of the city, to see with his own eyes the ruin made;
and then desired the city fathers to give to the poor the money they had set apart to make a splendid welcome
for him.
He only spent one day, and returned to Florence at night. All Rome was at the station to see him off: ladies
with carriages full of flowers, troops of soldiers, and throngs of poor people blessing him like a saint; for this
kingly sympathy of his had won all hearts.
‘When he does make his grand entry, we will decorate our balcony, and have our six windows packed with
loyal Yankees who will hurrah their best for “the honest man,” as they call Victor Emmanuel–and that is high
praise for a king.’
So said the three, and while waiting for the event (which did not occur in their day, however,) they indulged in
all the pastimes modern Rome afforded. They shivered through endless galleries, getting ‘cricks’ in their necks
staring at frescoes, and injuring their optic nerves poring over pictures so old that often nothing was visible
but a mahogany-coloured leg, an oily face, or the dim outline of a green saint in a whirlwind of pink angels.
They grubbed in catacombs and came up mouldy. They picnicked in the tomb of Cæcelia Metella, flirted in
the palace of the Cæsars–not in the classical manner, however,–got cold by moonlight in the Colosseum, and
went sketching in the Baths of Caracalla, which last amusement generally ended in the gentlemen and ladies
drawing each other, and returning delighted with the study of art in ‘dear Rome.’
They went to fancy parties, where artists got themselves up like their own statues and pictures, and set
mediæval fashions which it was a pity the rest of the world did not follow. They drank much social tea with
titled beings, as thick as blackberries, and, better still, men and women who had earned noble names for
themselves with pencil, pen, or chisel. They paid visits in palaces where the horses lived in the basement, rich
foreigners on the first floor, artists next, and princes in the attic.
They went to the hunt, and saw scarlet coats, fine horses, bad riding, many hounds, and no foxes.
As a change they got up game parties à la Little Athens in their own small salon, introduced the Potatoe
Pantomime, had charades, and enacted the immortal Jarley’s waxworks on one of the Seven Hills.
A true Yankee breakfast of fish-balls, johnny-cake, and dip-toast, was given in their honour, and its delights
much enhanced by its being eaten in a lovely room with reeds and rushes on the pale-green walls,
shell-shaped chairs, and coral mirror-frames. What a thing it was to consume those familiar viands in a
famous palace, with Guido’s Cenci downstairs, a great sculptor next door, three lovely boys as waiters, and
‘Titian T.’ to head the feast, and follow it up with dates from the Nile, and Egyptian sketches that caused the
company to vote a speedy adjournment to the land ‘of corkendills’ and pyramids.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
54
These and many other joys they tasted, and when all else palled upon them they drove on the Campagna and
were happy.
It is sad to be obliged to record that these quiet drives were the especial delight of the unsocial Lavinia, whose
ill-regulated mind soon wearied of swell society, classical remains, and artistic revelry. Ancient Rome would
have suited her excellently, she thought; but modern Rome was such a chaos of frivolity and fanaticism,
poverty and splendour, dirt and devilry, dead grandeur and living ignorance, that she felt as if shut up in a
magnificent tomb, the bad air of which was poisoning both body and soul.
Her only consolation was the new freedom, that seemed to blow over Rome like a wholesome wind. Old
residents lamented the loss of the priestly pageants, fêtes, and ceremonies; but this republican spinster
preferred to see Rome guarded by her own troops, and governed by her own King, who ordered streets to be
cleaned, fountains filled, schools opened, and all good institutions made possible, rather than any amount of
Papal purple covering poverty, ignorance, and superstition. Better than the sight of all the red coaches that
ever rumbled was the spectacle of many boys quitting the Jesuit college and demanding admittance into the
free schools; and sweeter than the music of all the silver trumpets that ever blew were the voices of happy
men and women singing once forbidden songs of liberty in the streets of Rome.
These sentiments, and others equally unfashionable, were only breathed into the ear of sister Matilda when the
two retired to the Campagna to confide to one another the secrets of their souls–a process necessary about
once a week; for after visiting studios, going to parties, and telling polite fibs about everything they saw, it
was impossible to exist without finding a vent of some sort. Once out among the aqueducts, Matilda could
freely own that she thought genius a rare article in the studios, where she expected to learn so much; and
Lavinia could make the awful avowal that parties at which the order of performance was gossip, tea,
music–then music, tea, and gossip, all together–were not her idea of intellectual society. Their criticisms on
pictures and statues cannot be recorded without covering their humble names with infamy; and why the sky
did not fall upon, or the stones rise up and smite these Vandals, is a mystery to this day.
They did enjoy much in their own improper manner, but poor Amanda’s sufferings can better be imagined
than described. So when Lavinia, early in March, proposed to flee to the mountains before they became quite
demoralized, and learned to steal and stab, as well as lie and lounge, she readily assented, and they retired to
Albano.
‘The decline and fall of the Roman Empire was nothing to this, and never have I seen such unappreciative
women as you two,’ sighed Amanda, as they rolled away from Numero Due Piazza Barberini, leaving
Agrippina sobbing at the top of the stairs and the padrona bobbing little curtsies at the bottom.
‘I am sure the Cenci will haunt me all my days, and so will many other famous things,’ said Matilda, while her
eye roved fondly from a very brown Capuchin monk to a squad of Bersaglieri trotting by with jaunty cocks’
feathers dancing in the wind, muskets gleaming, and trim boots skipping through the mud with martial
regularity.
‘When I get the contents of my head sorted out, I shall doubtless rejoice that I have seen Rome; but just now
all that I can clearly recall are the three facts that the Pope had a fit, our dear man Romeo got very tipsy one
night, and that we went to see the Sistine Chapel the day the eclipse made it as dark as a pocket. Yes,’
continued Lavinia, with an air of decision, ‘I am glad to have seen this classical cesspool, and still more glad
to have got out of it alive,’ she added, sniffing the air from the mountains, as if the odour of sanctity which
pervaded the holy city did not suit her.
It blew great guns up at Albano, and the society consisted chiefly of donkeys. But the ladies enjoyed
themselves nevertheless, and felt better and better every day; for early hours, much exercise, and no æsthetic
tea, soon set them up after the dissipation of the winter.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
55
Three pleasing events diversified their stay. The first happened the day after they arrived. The girls went forth
early to look about them, and to see if they could find a little apartment where all could be more comfortable
than in the breezy rooms at the hotel. Following the grassy road that winds down the valley below the viaduct,
they came to a lovely garden, and, finding the gate open, went in. A queer old villa was perched on the hill
above, and a manly form was observed to be leaning from a balcony, as if enjoying the fine view from the
height.
‘I fancied that house was empty, or we wouldn’t have come in. Never mind: we won’t go back now; and if any
one comes after us, we will apologize and say we lost our way going to Ajaccio,’ said Amanda, as they went
calmly forward among the posy-beds that lay blooming on the hill-side.
It was well they prepared themselves, for the manly form suddenly disappeared from the balcony, and a
moment afterwards came swiftly towards them through the shrubs.
A comely young gentleman, who greeted them with Italian grace, accepted their apology smiling, and begged
them to walk in his garden whenever they liked. It was always open, he said, and the peasants often used that
path, admiring but never hurting a leaf. Hearing that they were in search of an apartment, he instantly begged
them to come up and look at some rooms in the villa. His father was a refugee from France, and desired to let
a part of his house. Come and behold these delightful rooms.
So charming was the interest he took in the errant damsels that they could not resist, and after rolling up their
eyes at one another to express their enjoyment of the adventure, they graciously followed the handsome youth
into the villa.
With confiding hospitality he took them everywhere–into his mother’s room, the kitchen, and nursery. In the
latter place they found two small boys, who bore such a striking resemblance to Napoleon I. that the girls
spoke of it, and were enraptured at the reply they received.
‘Truly yes: we belong to the family. My mother is a Buonaparte, my father Count —-‘
‘Here’s richness and romance!’ ‘What will Livy say?’ whispered the girls to one another, as their guide left
them in the salon and went to find his father.
‘She will scold us for coming here,’ said Amanda, remembering her own lectures on the proprieties.
‘Yes; but she will forgive us the minute we say Napoleon, for that bad little man is one of her heroes,’ added
Mat, pretending to be admiring the view, while she privately examined a lady in a bower below–a stout, dark
lady, with all the family traits so strongly marked that there could be no doubt of the young man’s assertion.
Presently he came back with an affable old gentleman, who evidently had an eye to the main chance; for, in
spite of his elegance and affability, he asked a great price for his rooms, and felt that any untitled stranger
should be glad to pay well for the honour of living under the roof of a Buonaparte.
Amanda left the decision to her invisible duenna, and with a profusion of compliments and thanks, they got
away, being gallantly escorted to the gate by the young count, who filled their hands with flowers, and gazed
pensively after them, as if he found the society of two bright American girls very agreeable after that of his
lofty parents, or the peasantry of the town.
Home they ran and bounced in upon Livy, blooming and breathless, to pour out their tale, and suggest an
immediate departure to the blissful spot where counts and crocuses flourished with Italian luxuriance.
But after the first excitement had subsided, Lavinia put a wet blanket on the entire plan by declaring that sheShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
56
would never board with any grasping old patrician, who would charge for every bow, and fall back on his
ancestors if he was found cheating. She would go and look at the place, but not enter it, nor be beholden to the
resident Apollo for so much as a dandelion.
So the mourning damsels led the griffin over the viaduct, through the dirty little town, by the villa on its least
attractive side. Up at the window were the two little Napoleonic heads, with big, black eyes, strong chins, and
dark hair streaked across wide, olive-coloured foreheads. A vision of papa was visible in the garden pruning a
vine with gloves on his aristocratic hands, and a shabby velvet coat on his highly connected back. Also, afar
off on the balcony–oh, sight to touch a maiden’s heart!–was the young count gazing wistfully towards
Albano. He did not see the charmers as they crept down the rough road close to the garden wall, and went
sadly home, along the blooming path, to the ‘Tomb of the Four Thimbles,’ as Livy irreverently called the ruin
which has an ornament at each of its corners like a gigantic thimble of stone.
A note in Amanda’s most elegant French, declining the apartments in the name of Madame Duenna, closed the
door of this Eden upon the wandering peris, who entered never more. Now and then, as they went clattering
by on their donkeys to Lake Nemi, or some other picturesque spot,
They saw again the crocus bloom, And, leaning from that lofty room, Sir Launcelot with face of gloom Look
down to Camelot. Up flew their veils and floated wide, But Livy pinned them to her side, ‘The curse has come
upon us!’ cried The ladies of Shalott.
The second adventure befell Amanda alone, and in this wise.
Going one day to Rome, on business, she found herself shut up in a car with a gorgeous officer and a meek
young man, who read papers all the way. The tall soldier, in his gray and silver uniform, with a furred,
frogged, and braided jacket, not to mention the high boots or the becoming cap, was so very polite to the lone
lady that she could not remain dumb without positive rudeness. So Amanda conversed in her most charming
manner, finding inspiration doubtless in the dark eyes and musical voice of her handsome vis-à-vis, for the
officers from Turin are things of beauty and joys for ever to those who love to look on manly men.
Among other things, the two had a little joke about the Baron Rothschild, who rode about Albano on a tiny
donkey with two servants behind him; also the Baroness, a painfully plain woman, with an ugly dog the image
of herself.
When they arrived at Rome, however, their joke was turned against them, by the discovery that the meek man
was the Baron’s secretary, who would doubtless repeat their chat at head-quarters. To see the handsome man
slap his brow, and then laugh like a boy at the fun, was worth a longer journey, Amanda thought, as he put her
into a carriage, gave her his best martial salute, and went clanking away about his own affairs.
Amanda returned at 4 P.M., and her emotions may be imagined when the dark face of her officer peered in at
the car window, and the melodious voice asked if he might be permitted to enter. Of course he might; and, as
no secretary now spoilt the tête-à-tête, Mars became delightfully confidential, and poured his woes into the
sympathising bosom of Amanda.
It had been a great affliction to him that his regiment was quartered at Albano for some months. Mio Dio! so
dull was it, life had already become a burden; but now, if the Signorina was to be there, if she permitted him
to make himself known to her party, what joys were in store for him. The Signorina loved to ride. Behold he
had superb horses languishing in the stables, that henceforth were dedicated to her use. His fellow officers
were gentlemen of good family, brave as lions, and dying of ennui; if they might be presented to the ladies,
life would be worth having, and Albano a paradise, &c.
To all this devotion the prudent Amanda listened with pleasure, but promised nothing till Signore Mars hadShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
57
made the acquaintance of certain American gentleman and married ladies, then it would be possible to enjoy
the delights of which he spoke. The Colonel vowed he would instantly devote himself to this task, and thus
they came to the lonely little station at Albano.
Amanda had ordered the carriage to meet her; but it was not there, and she was forced to wait till all her
fellow-passengers were gone. All but the gallant officer, who decorously remained outside, marching to and
fro as if on guard, till his servant came with his horse. Then he begged to be allowed to see why the carriage
did not come, and Amanda consented, for night was falling, and two miles of mud lay between her and home.
Away dashed the servant, but his master did not follow: standing in the doorway, he declared that he must
remain as the Signorina’s protector, for no trains were due for hours; the dépôt man was gone, and it was too
late for any lady to stay there alone. Again Amanda gratefully consented, wondering what would be the end of
her adventure; and again the stately Colonel resumed his march outside, singing as he tramped, and evidently
enjoying the escort duty that gave him so good an opportunity of displaying not only his gallantry, but his fine
voice and handsome figure.
Down rattled the carriage at last, accompanied, to Amanda’s dismay, by three of the Colonel’s friends, who
had evidently received a hint of the affair, and had come to have a hand in it.
With much bowing of the gentlemen, and much prancing of their fine horses, Amanda was handed to her seat,
and went lumbering back to the hotel with her splendid escort careering about her, to the great edification of
the town.
When the rescued damsel told the tale to her mates, Matilda tore her hair and lamented that she had not been
there. Even the stern Livy had no lecture for the erring lamb, but was as full of interest as either of the girls,
for anything in the shape of a soldier was dear to her heart.
When the ladies rode forth next day, three elegant St. Georges in full rig saluted as these modern Unas ambled
by on their meek donkeys–a performance punctually executed ever afterward whenever the three blue veils
appeared. Much curvetting went on before the hotel door; much clanking of spurs and sabres was heard in the
little lane on to which the apartment of the ladies looked, and splendid officers seemed to spring up like
violets in secluded spots where maidens love to stroll.
It was all very nice; and the girls were beginning to feel that the charms of Albano rivalled those of Rome,
when a sad blow upset their castles in the air, and desolated the knights over the way.
The highly respectable Americans who were to serve as the link between the soldiers and the ladies decidedly
declined the office, objecting to the martial gentleman as being altogether too dangerous to bring into the
dove-cot. So the poor dears sighed in vain, and the longing damsels never rode the fine horses that were
temptingly paraded before them on all occasions.
They did their best; but it was soon evident to Lavinia that in some unguarded moment the impetuous Mat
would yield to the spell and go gambading away for a ride sans duenna, sans habit, sans propriety, sans
everything. Amanda likewise seemed losing her head, and permitted the dark-eyed Colonel to talk to her when
they met; only a moment–but what a perilous moment it was!–when this six-foot Mars leaned over a green
hedge and talked about the weather in the softest Italian that ever melted a woman’s heart.
‘I’m going to Venice next week; so you may as well make up your minds to it, girls. I cannot bear this awful
responsibility any longer; for I am very sure you will both be off to Turin with those handsome rascals if we
stay much longer. My mind is made up, and I won’t hear a word.’
Thus Lavinia, with a stern countenance; for the romantic old lady felt the charm as much as the girls did, andShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
58
decided that discretion was the better part of valour for the whole party.
‘I should never dare to go home and tell my honoured parents that Mat had run away with a man as handsome
as Jove, and as poor as Job. Amanda’s indignant relatives would rise up and stone me if I let her canter into
matrimony with the fascinating Colonel, who may have a wife and ten children in Turin, for all we know.
They must be torn away at once, or my character as duenna is lost for ever.’
Having made up her mind, Livy steeled her heart to all appeals, and wrote letters, packed trunks, and watched
her little flock like a vigilant sheep-dog.
How she would ever have got them through that last week is very uncertain, if a providential picnic had not
helped her.
A fair was held in the town, and a delightful surprise-party was got up among the artists of Rome.
Twenty-five came driving over in a big carriage, with four gaily decorated horses, postilions, hampers of
lunch, flutes and horns, and much jollity bottled up for the occasion.
A very festive spectacle they made as they drove through the narrow streets with flowers and streamers in
their hats, singing and joking in true artistic style.
They meant to have lunched in the open air; but, as it was cloudy, decided to spread the feast at the hotel.
Such a delightful revel as followed! A scene from the ‘Decameron,’ modernised, would give some idea of it;
for after the banquet all adjourned to the gardens of the Doria Villa, and there disported themselves as merrily
as if all the plagues of life were quite forgotten, and death itself among the lost arts. Flirting and dancing,
charades and singing, stories and statues, poems and pictures, gossip and gambols, absorbed the hours as
pleasantly as in the olden time. And if the costumes were not as picturesque as those in Vedder’s fine picture,
the ladies were as lovely, the gentlemen as gallant, and all much better behaved than those of Boccaccio’s
party.
A few drops of rain quenched the fun at its height, and sent the revellers home as fast as four horses could
take them, leaving the town gaping after them, and our ladies much enlivened by the delights of the day.
This third and last event pleasantly ended their sojourn at Albano; for a day or two later they vanished, leaving
the dear officers disconsolate till the next batch of travelling ladies came to comfort their despair.
A week was spent in Venice, floating about all day from one delightful old church to another, or paying visits
to Titians and Tintorettos; buying little turtles, photographs, or Venetian glass; eating candied fruit and seeing
the doves fed in the square of San Marco; visiting shops full of dusty antiquities, or searching the stalls on the
Rialto for Moor’s-head rings; being rowed to the Lido by Giacomo in a red sash; and lulled to sleep at night by
the songs of a chorus that floated under the windows in the moonlight.
Lavinia never could get used to seeing the butcher, the baker, and the postman go their rounds in boats.
Matilda was in bliss, with a gondola all to herself, where she sat surrounded with water-colours, trying to
paint everything she saw; for here the energy she had lost at Rome seemed to return to her. Amanda haunted a
certain shop, trying to make the man take a reasonable sum for a very ancient and ugly bit of jewellery, which
she called ‘a sprigalario,’ for want of a better name; and after each failure she went off to compose herself with
a visit to the Doges.
Of course they all saw the Bridge of Sighs and the dungeons below, with their many horrors; likewise a Mass
at St. Mark’s, where the Patriarch was a fat old soul in red silk, even to his shoes and holy
pocket-handkerchief; and the service appeared to consist in six purple priests dressing and undressing him like
an old doll, while a dozen white-gowned boys droned up in a gold cock-loft, and many beggars whined on theShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
59
dirty floor below.
Do other travellers eat locusts, I wonder, as ours did one sunny day, sitting on church steps, and discover that
the food of the Apostle was not the insect whose ‘zeeing’ foretells hot weather; but the long, dry pods of the
locust-tree, sweet to the taste, but rather ‘dry fodder,’ as the impious Livy remarked after choking herself with
a quarter of a yard of it.
When the week was up Mat implored to be left behind with Angela, the maid, and Brio, a big poodle
possessed of the devil. But she was torn away, and only consoled by the promise of many new gloves, with as
many buttons as she pleased, when they got to Munich.
‘The lakes are the proper entrance into Italy, and Venice a lovely exit. One soon tires of it, and is ready to
leave, which is an excellent arrangement, though I should prefer to depart in some more cheerful vehicle than
a hearse,’ observed Lavinia, as they left the long, black gondola at the steps of the station.
‘Haven’t you a sigh for those lovely lakes, a tear for Albano, a pang of regret for Rome?’ asked Amanda,
hoping to wring one moan for Italy from the old lady.
‘Not a sigh, not a tear, not a regret. I find I like them all better the farther I get from them, and by the time I am
at home I may be able to say “I adore them,” but I doubt it,’ returned the incorrigible Livy, and from that
moment Amanda regarded her Granny as one dead to all the dear delusions of antiquity.
VI.
LONDON.
‘From this moment I cease to be the commander-in-chief. Livy adores England, can speak the language,
understands the money, and knows all about London; so she shall be leader, and I will repose after my long
labour.’ With this remark Amanda retired from office covered with glory, and her mates voted to erect a statue
in her honour as a token of their undying gratitude.
Lavinia took the lead from the moment they landed at St. Catherine’s Warf; and though somewhat
demoralized by a rough passage of eighteen hours from Antwerp, was equal to the occasion. She did love
England, and thought London the most delightful city in the world, next to Boston. Its mud and fog were dear
to her; its beef and beer were nectar and ambrosia, after the continental slops and messes; its steady-going,
respectable citizens, beautiful in her eyes, and the words ‘home’ and’ comfort’ were not an idle mockery here.
Therefore the old lady joyfully sniffed the smoky air, gazed with tenderness on the grimy houses, and cast
herself, metaphorically speaking, into the arms of a stout, ruddy-faced porter, as if at last she had found a man
and a brother.
Nobly did the burly Briton repay her confidence and earn the shilling which in England makes all things
possible. He bore them to the station, got tickets, checked luggage, put the ladies in a first-class compartment,
gave them all necessary directions about the hotel they were after, and when the bell rang touched his cap with
a smile upon his dear, red face, which caused Lavinia to add a sixpence to the shilling she gave him with a
mental blessing.
‘This is truly a decent country. See how well one is cared for, how civil everybody is, how honest, how
manly,’ began Livy, as she mounted her hobby, and prepared for a canter over the prejudices of her friend; for
Amanda detested England because she knew nothing of it.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
60
‘The cabman cheated us, asking double fares,’ replied the dear girl, wrapping herself in many cloaks and
refusing to admire the fog.
‘Not at all,’ cried Livy; ‘the trunks were immense, and you’ll find we shall have to pay extra for them
everywhere. It is the same as having them weighed and paying for the pounds, only this saves much time and
trouble. Look at the handsome guard in his silver-plated harness. How much nicer he is than a gabbling
Italian, or a Frenchman who compliments you one minute and behaves like a brute the next! It does my soul
good to see the clean, rosy faces, and hear good English instead of gibberish.’
‘Never in my life have I seen such tall, fine-looking men, only they are all fair, which isn’t my style,’ observed
Matilda, with a secret sigh for the dark-eyed heroes from Turin.
Thus conversing, they soon came to the G—- Hotel just at the end of the railway, and without going out of the
station found themselves settled in comfortable rooms.
‘Regard, if you please, these toilette arrangements–two sorts of bath-pan, two cans of cold water, one of hot,
two big pitchers, much soap, and six towels about the size of table-cloths. I call that an improvement on the
continental cup, saucer, and napkin accommodation,’ said Lavinia, proudly displaying a wash-stand that
looked like a dinner-table laid for a dozen, such was the display of glass, china, and napery.
‘The English certainly are a clean people,’ replied Amanda, softening a little as she remembered her fruitless
efforts to find a bath-pan in Brittany, where the people said the drought was caused by the English using so
much water.
‘They need more appliances for cleanliness than any other race, because they live in such a dirty country,’
began Matilda, removing the soot from her face in flakes.
What more she might have said is unknown; for Livy closed her mouth with a big sponge, and all retired to
repose after the trials of the past night.
‘Now, my dears, you shall have food fit for Christian women to eat. No weak soup, no sour wine, no veal
stewed with raisins, nor greasy salad made of all the weeds that grow. Beef that will make you feel like giants,
and beer that will cheer the cockles of your hearts; not to mention cheese which will make you wink, and
bread with a little round button atop of the loaf like the grand Panjandrum in the old story.’
Thus Lavinia enthusiastically, as she led her flock of two into the eating-room at luncheon time. Being seated
at a little table by one of the great windows, the old lady continued to sing the praises of Britannia while
wafting for the repast.
‘Isn’t this better than a stone-floored café with nine clocks all wrong, seven mirrors all cracked, much drapery
all dirty, a flock of garçons who fly about like lunatics, and food which I shudder to think of? Look at this
lofty room; this grave thick carpet; that cheerful coal-fire; these neat little tables; these large, clean windows;
these quiet, ministerial waiters, who seem to take a paternal interest in your wants, and best of all in this
simple, wholesome, well-cooked food.’
Here the arrival of a glorified beefsteak and a shining pint-pot of foaming ale give an appropriate finish to
Livy’s lecture. She fell upon her lunch like a famished woman, and was speechless till much meat had
vanished, and the ale was low in the pot.
‘It is good,’ admitted Amanda, who took to her beer like a born Englishwoman, and swallowed some of her
prejudices with her delicious beef.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
61
‘It’s such a comfort to know that I am not eating a calf’s brains or a pig’s feet, that I can enjoy it with a free
mind, and the sight of those two beautiful old gentlemen gives it an added relish,’ said Matilda, who had been
watching a pair of hale old fellows eat their lunch in a solid, leisurely way that would have been impossible to
an American.
‘It is so restful to see people take things calmly, and not bolt their meals, or rush about like runaway
steam-engines. It is this moderation that keeps Englishmen so hearty, jolly, and long-lived. They don’t tear
themselves to pieces as we do, but take time for rest, exercise, food, and recreation, like sensible people as
they are. It is like reposing on a feather-bed to live here, and my tired nerves rejoice in it,’ said Lavinia, eating
bread and cheese as if that was her mission in life.
‘A slight amount of haste will be advisable, my Granny, unless we intend to spend all our substance on these
restful comforts of yours. This hotel is delightfully cosy, but expensive; so the quicker we go into lodgings the
better for us,’ suggested the thrifty Amanda, seeing that Livy was too infatuated to care for cost.
‘I’ll go the first thing to-morrow and look at the rooms Mrs. Blank recommended to us. This afternoon we will
rest and write letters, unless some one comes to call,’ said Livy, leading her girls to the reading-room, where
sleep-inviting chairs, tables supplied with writing-materials, and groves of newspapers, wooed the stranger to
repose.
Hardly were they seated, however, than Jeames brought in the card of a friend who had been told when they
would arrive, and hastened at once to meet them. How pleasant is the first familiar face one sees in a strange
land! Doubly pleasant was Mr. C.’s, because he brought hospitable invitations from other friends, kind
welcomes, and tickets to several of the art exhibitions then open.
Hardly had he gone, after a half-hour’s chat, than another card was handed, and the name it bore caused a
slight flutter in the dove-cot. A friend of Miss Livy’s, in Boston, had sent orders to his brother in London to
devote himself to the wandering ladies when they came. They had never met; the poor man didn’t care to have
his quiet invaded by strange women, and to do the honours of London is no small task: yet this heroic
gentleman obeyed orders without a murmur; and, leaving his artistic seclusion, shouldered his burden with the
silent courage of a Spartan.
A grave, dark, little man, with fine eyes, quiet manners, and a straight-forward way with him that suited blunt
Livy excellently. How he dared to face the three unknown women so calmly, listen to their impossible
suggestions so politely, and offer himself as a slave so cheerfully, will for ever remain a mystery to those
grateful souls.
His first service was to pack them into a cab and bear them safely to the bankers for letters and money; and
this he followed up by several weeks of servitude, which must have been worse than Egyptian bondage.
Two more large ladies joined the party after they were settled in lodgings at Kensington; but, undaunted by
the fact, this long-suffering man escorted the whole five to galleries and theatres, trips into the city, and
picnics in the country; went shopping with them, lugged parcels, ran errands, paid bills, and was in fact the
sheet-anchor of the whole party. Imagine the emotions of one shy man when called upon to lead a flock of
somewhat imposing ladies everywhere; to have two cabs full on all occasions; to be obliged to support the
invalids to follow the caprices of the giddy, to gratify the demands of the curious, and to hear the gabble of the
whole five day after day.
Bürger’s Brave Man was a coward compared to him; for he not only gave his days, but his evenings also,
joining in endless games of whist, drinking much weak tea, and listening to any amount of twaddle on all
subjects.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
62
The society was not such as intelligent men enjoy, being composed of two Egyptian boys and three fussy old
ladies. One of them was immensely stout, wore a bright green cap, with half-a-pint of scarlet cherries bobbing
on her brow. She talked on all subjects, and handed round an album full of her own poems on all occasions.
The second must have been a sister of ‘Mr. T.’s Aunt,’ so grim and incoherent was she. Sitting in the corner,
she stared at the world around her with an utterly expressionless countenance, and when least expected broke
out with some startling remark, such as, ‘If that fence had been painted green we should get to heaven sooner,’
or ‘Before I had fits my memory was as good as anybody’s, but my daughter married a clergyman, and took it
with her.’
The third antiquity was the hostess, a buxom lady, much given to gay attire and reminiscences of past glory,
‘Before me ‘usband went into public life.’ The strangers innocently supposed the departed Mr. K. to have been
an M.P. at least, and were rather taken aback on learning that he had been a pawnbroker.
The Egyptian youths were handsome, dark lads, with melodious voices, lustrous eyes, and such fiery tempers
that one never knew whether they were going to pass the bread or stab one with the carving-knife.
As a slight mitigation of this slow society, the Russian from Pension Paradis appeared with his broadcloth
more resplendent than ever. The ladies had seen him in Rome; but the fever scared him away, and he was now
fleeing from another lodging-house, where the hostess evidently intended to marry him to her daughter, in the
MacStinger fashion.
In this varied circle did the devoted being afore-mentioned pass many hours after the day’s hard labour was
happily over, and when anyone pitied him for leading the life of a galley-slave, he hid his anguish and
answered with a smile,–
‘My brother told me to do it, and I never disobey Tom. In fact, I find I rather like it.’
That last fib was truly sublime, and the name of Cassabianca pales before that of one who obeyed fraternal
commands to the letter, and tried to love his duty, heavy as it was. If, as has been sometimes predicted,
England had gone under just then, it might truly have been said,–
Though prince and peer and poet rare Were sunk among the piles, The noblest man who perished there Was
faithful W. N—-s.
The sight-seeing fever raged fiercely at first, and the flock of Americans went from Windsor Castle to the
Tower of London, from Westminster Abbey to Madame Taussaud’s Waxwork Show, with a vigour that
appalled the natives. They would visit two or three galleries in the morning, lunch at Dolly’s (the dark little
chop-house which Johnson, Goldsmith, and the other worthies used to frequent in the good old times), go to
Richmond in the afternoon and dine at the ‘Star and Garter,’ or to Greenwich and eat ‘white baits fish,’ as the
Russian called that celebrated dish, and finish off the evening at some theatre, getting home at midnight, in a
procession of two cabs and a hansom.
When the first excitement was over, Lavinia and Matilda took a turn at society, having friends in London.
Amanda could not conquer her prejudices sufficiently to accompany them, and, falling back on the climate as
her excuse, stayed at home and improved her mind.
‘I feel now like girls in novels. You are the Duchess of Devonshire and I am Lady Maud Plantagenet, going to
a ball at Buckingham Palace. I know that I was made to sit in the lap of luxury: it agrees with me so well,’ said
Matilda, as the two rolled away to Aubrey House in a brougham, all lamps, glass, and satin. Her long blue
train lay piled up before her, the light flashed on her best Roman ear-rings, her curls were in their most
picturesque array, and–crowning joy of all–cream-coloured gloves, with six buttons, covered her arms, and
filled her soul with happiness, because they were so elegant and cost so little, being bought in Rome just afterShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
63
the flood.
Dowager Livy responded gravely from the depths of her silver-grey silk, enlivened with pink azaleas,–
‘My child, thank your stars that you are a free-born Yankee, and have no great name or state to keep up.
Buckingham Palace is all very well, and I shouldn’t mind calling on Mrs. Guelph, or Saxe Coburg, whichever
it is, but I much prefer to be going to the house of a Radical M.P., who is lending a hand to all good works.
Mrs. T. is a far more interesting woman to me than Victoria, for her life is spent in helping her
fellow-creatures. I consider her a model Englishwoman–simple, sincere, and accomplished; full of good
sense, intelligence, and energy. Her house is open to all, friend and stranger, black and white, rich and poor.
Great men and earnest women meet there; Mazzini and Frances Power Cobbe, John Bright and Jean Ingelow,
Rossetti the poet, and Elizabeth Garrett the brave little doctor. Though wealthy and living in an historical
mansion, the host is the most unassuming man in it, and the hostess the simplest dressed lady. Their money
goes in other ways, and the chief ornament of that lovely spot is a school, where poor girls may get an
education. Mrs. T. gave a piece of her own garden for it, and teaches there herself, aided by her friends, who
serve the poor girls like mothers and sisters, and help to lift them up from the slough of despond in which so
many sink. That beats anything you’ll find in Buckingham Palace, sister Mat.’
‘If they want a drawing-teacher I’ll offer myself, for I think that is regularly splendid,’ said Matilda warmly, as
Livy paused for breath after her harangue.
With these new ideas in her head, Lady Maud enjoyed her party, while the Duchess revelled in radicals to her
heart’s content; for Aubrey House was their head-quarters, and all were out in full force. It was cheering to our
spinster to find that things had moved a good deal since a former visit, five or six years before, when Mill had
carried into the House of Commons a Woman’s Rights petition that filled both arms. People laughed then, and
the stout-hearted women laughed also, but said, ‘Our next petition shall be so big it will have to go in a
wheel-barrow.’ Now the same people talked over the question soberly, and began to think something besides
fun might come of it. The pioneers rejoiced over several hard-won battles, and the scoffers came to see that
the truest glory was won by those who did the hard work, and stood by a good cause when most unpopular;
not by those who kept out of the field till the fight was over, and then came in to wave the flags and beat the
drums over victories they had not helped to win.
‘It seems to me that these Englishwomen make less noise and do more work than we Americans. I shouldn’t
dare to say so in public; but their quiet, orderly ways suits me better than the more demonstrative
performances of my friends at home. Slow coaches as we call them, I should not be surprised if they got the
suffrage before we did, as the tortoise won in the fable,’ was Lavinia’s secret thought as they drove away, after
a very charming evening.
Perhaps the fact that reforms of all sorts had been poured into her ears till her head was like a hive of bees,
may account for this unpatriotic thought. Or it may be the pleasant effect of the healthful aspect of these
English workers. Old or young, all seemed to have cheerful, well-balanced minds, in strong, healthy bodies.
No one complained of her nerves, or let them unconsciously put a sharp edge to her tongue, give a blue tinge
to the world, or sour the milk of human kindness in her heart. Less quick and bright, perhaps, than the ladies
over the sea, but more womanly, and full of a quiet tenacity of purpose better than eloquence.
Miss Livy’s tastes being of a peculiar sort, and pictures having palled upon her to such a degree that she
couldn’t even look at an ornamental sign-board without disgust, she often left her more artistic friends and
went forth on excursions of her own. As she never used either map or guide book, it was a wonder how she
found her way; and the infants were often on the point of sending for the city crier, if there is such a
functionary, to find the lost duenna. But old Livy always turned up at last, mud to the eyes, tired out, and
more deeply impressed than ever with the charms of London.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
64
One day she set forth to hear Spurgeon. Being told that Lambeth was a wretched quarter of the city, that the
Tabernacle was two or three miles away, and very difficult to enter when found, only added zest to the thing,
and she departed, sure of finding adventures, if not Spurgeon.
If an omnibus conductor had not befriended her, she would probably have found herself at Hampstead or
Chelsea, for London busses are as bewildering as London streets. Thanks to this amiable man, who evidently
felt that the stranger in his gates needed all his care, the old lady safely reached the Elephant and Castle, and
was dismissed with a moss rose-bud from the lips of her friend, a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and a
paternal ”Ere yer are, my dear,’ which unexpected attentions caused her to depart with speed.
There certainly was need of a Tabernacle in that quarter, for the poverty and wickedness were very dreadful.
Boys not yet in their teens staggered by half-tipsy, or lounged at the doors of gin-shops. Bonnetless girls
roamed about singing and squabbling. Forlorn babies played in the gutter, and men and women in every stage
of raggedness and degradation marred the beauty of that fair Sunday morning.
Crowds were swarming into the Tabernacle: but, thanks to the order a friend had given her, Miss Livy was
handed to a comfortable seat, with a haggard Magdalen on one side and a palsy-stricken old man on the other.
Staring about her, she saw an immense building with two galleries extending round three sides, and a double
sort of platform behind and below the pulpit, which was a little pen lifted high that all might see and hear.
Every seat, aisle, window-ledge, step, and door-way, was packed with a strange congregation; all nations, all
colours, all ages, and nearly all bearing the sad marks of poverty or sin. They all sung, cried out if anything
affected or pleased them in the sermon, and listened with interest to the plain yet fervent words of the man
who has gathered together this flock of black sheep and is so faithful a shepherd to them.
Every one knows how Spurgeon looks in pictures, but in the pulpit he reminded Livy of Martin Luther. A
square, florid face, stout figure, a fine keen eye, and a natural, decided manner, very impressive. A strong,
clear voice of much dramatic power, and a way of walking the pulpit like Father Taylor.
His sermon was on ‘Small Temptations,’ and he illustrated it by facts and examples taken from real life,
pointing out several of his congregation, and calling them by name, which original proceeding seemed to find
favour with his people. He used no notes, but talked rather than preached; and leaning over the railing, urged,
argued, prayed, and sang with a hearty eloquence, very effective, and decidedly refreshing after High Church
mummery abroad, and drowsy Unitarianism at home. Now and then he stopped to give directions for the
comfort of his flock in a free and easy manner, which called up irresistible smiles on the faces of strangers.
‘Mrs. Flacker, you’d better take that child into the ante-room: he’s tired.’ ‘Come this way, friends: there’s plenty
of room.’ ‘Open all the windows, Manning: it’s very warm.’ And when a sad sort of cry interrupted him, he
looked down at an old woman shaking with epilepsy, and mildly remarked, ‘Don’t be troubled, brethren: our
sister is subject to fits,’ and preached tranquilly on.
For two hours he held that great gathering, in spite of heat, discomfort, and other afflictions of the flesh, and
ended by saying, in a paternal way,–
‘Now remember what I’ve said through the week, and next Sunday show me that I haven’t talked in vain.’
He read a list of meetings for every night in the week. One especially struck Livy, as it was for mothers to
meet and talk over with him the best ways of teaching and training their children. Spurgeon evidently does not
spare his own time and strength; and whatever his creed may be, he is a good Christian in loving his
neighbour better than himself, and doing the work his hand finds to do with all his might.
‘That is a better church than most of those I enter where respectable saints have the best seats, and there is noShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
65
place for sinners,’ said Livy when she got home. ‘Spurgeon’s congregation preached more eloquently to me
than he did. The Magdalen cried as if her heart was broken, and I am sure those tears washed some of her sins
away. The feeble old man looked as if he had found a staff for his trembling hands to lay hold upon, and the
forlorn souls all about me, for a time at least, laid down their burdens and found rest and comfort in their
Father’s house. It did me more good than the preaching of all the bishops in London, or the finest pageant at
St. Paul’s; and I am truly glad I went, though the saucy conductor did smirk at me over the rosebud.’
In contrast to this serious expedition, the old lady had a very jolly one not long afterward. A certain congenial
Professor asked her one day what person, place, or thing in London she most desired to see.
Clasping her hands with the energy of deep emotion, she replied,–
‘The home of the immortal Sairy Gamp. Long ago I made a vow, if I ever came to London I’d visit that spot.
Let me keep my vow.’
‘You shall!’ responded the Professor with a responsive ardour, which caused Livy to dive into her waterproof
without another word.
Away they went in a pouring rain, and what people thought of the damp but enthusiastic couple who pervaded
the city that day I can’t say; I only know a merrier pair of pilgrims never visited those grimy shrines. They met
several old friends, and passed several familiar spots by the way. Major Bagstock and Cousin Phenix stared at
them from a club-house window. Tigg Montague’s cab dashed by them in Regent Street, more gorgeous than
ever. The brothers Cheeryble went trotting cityward arm in arm, with a smile and ha’penny for all the beggars
they met; and the Micawber family passed them in a bus, going, I suppose, to accompany the blighted Wilkins
to gaol.
In a certain grimly genteel street they paused to stare up at a row of grimly respectable houses; for, though the
name wasn’t on any of the doors, they were sure Mr. Dombey still lived there. A rough dog lay on one of the
doorsteps, and a curtain fluttered at an open upper window. Poor Di was growling in his sleep, and above
there little Paul was watching for the golden water on the wall, while faithful Florence sung to him, and Susan
Nipper put away derisive sniffs and winks in closets and behind doors for the benefit of ‘them Pipchinses.’
Coming to a poorer part of the city, they met Tiny Tim tapping along on his little crutch, passed Toby Veck at
a windy street-corner, and saw all the little Tetterbys playing in the mud.
‘Come down this street, and take a glimpse at St. Giles’s, the worst part of London,’ said the Professor; and,
following, Livy saw misery enough in five minutes to make her heart ache for the day. A policeman kept near
them, saying it wasn’t safe to go far there alone.
Vice, poverty, dirt, and suffering reigned supreme within a stone’s throw of one of the great thoroughfares,
and made Alsatia dangerous ground for respectable feet. Here, too, they saw familiar phantoms: poor Jo,
perpetually moving on; and little Oliver led by Nancy, with a shawl over her head and a black eye; Bill Sykes,
lounging in a doorway, looking more ruffianly than ever; and the Artful Dodger, who kept his eye on them as
two hopeful ‘plants’ with profitable pockets ready for him.
They soon had enough of this, and hurried on along High Holborn, till they came to Kingsgate Street, so like
the description that I am sure Dickens must have been there and taken notes. They knew the house in a
moment: there were the two dingy windows over the bird-shop; the checked curtains were drawn, but of
course the bottomless bandboxes, the wooden pippins, green umbrella, and portrait of Miss Harris were all
behind them. It seemed so real that they quite expected to see a red, snuffy old face appear, and to hear a
drowsy voice exclaim: ‘Drat that bell: I’m a coming. Don’t tell me it’s Mrs. Wilkins, without even a pincushion
prepared.’Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
66
While Livy stood gazing in silent satisfaction (merely regretting that the name on the door was Pendergast,
not Sweedle-pipes), the Professor turned to a woman, and asked with admirable gravity, ‘Can you tell me
where Mrs. Gamp lives?’
‘What’s her business?’ demanded the matron, with interest.
‘A nurse, ma’am.’
‘Is she a little fat woman?’
‘Fat, decidedly, and old,’ returned the Professor, without a smile on his somewhat cherubic countenance.
‘Well, she lives No. 5, round the corner.’
On receiving this unexpected reply, they looked at one another in comic dismay; but would certainly have
gone to No. 5, and taken a look at the modern Sairy, if the woman hadn’t called out as they moved on–
‘I b’lieve that nuss’s name is Britiain, not Gamp; but you can ask.’
Murmuring a hasty ‘thank you,’ they fled precipitately round the corner, and there enjoyed a glorious laugh
under an umbrella, to the great amazement of all beholders.
Being on a Dickens pilgrimage, they went to Furnival’s Inn, where he wrote ‘Pickwick’ in a three-story room,
and read it to the old porter. The same old porter told them all about it, and quite revelled in the remembrance.
It did one’s heart good to see the stiff, dried-up old fellow thaw and glow with the recollection of the
handsome young man who was kind to him long ago, before the world had found him out.
‘Did you think the book would be famous when he read it to you in 1834, as you say?’ asked the Professor,
beaming at him in a way that would have melted the heart of the stiff-tailed lion of the Northumberlands, if
he’d possessed such an organ.
‘O dear, yes, sir; I felt sure it would be summat good, it made me laugh so. He didn’t think much of it; but I
know a good thing when I see it;’ and the old man gave an important nod, as if all the credit of the blessed
‘Pickwick’ belonged to him. ‘He married Miss Hogarth while livin’ here; and you can see the room, if you like,’
he added, with a burst of hospitality, as the almighty sixpence touched his palm.
Up they went, over the worn stairs; and, finding the door locked, solemnly touched the brass knob, read the
name ‘Ed Peck’ on the plate, and wiped their feet on a very dirty mat. It was ridiculous, of course; but
hero-worship is not the worst of modern follies, and when one’s hero has won from the world some of its
heartiest smiles and tears, one may be forgiven for a little sentiment in a dark entry.
Next they went to the Saracen’s Head, where Mr. Squeers stopped when in London. The odd old place looked
as if it hadn’t changed a particle. There was the wooden gallery outside, where the chamber-maids stood to see
the coach off; the archway under which poor Nicholas drove that cold morning; the office, or bar, where the
miserable little boys shivered while they took alternate sips out of one mug, and bolted hunches of bread and
butter as Squeers ‘nagged’ them in private and talked to them like a father in public. Livy was tempted to bring
away a little porter-pot hanging outside the door, as a trophy; but fearing Squeers’s squint eye was upon her,
she refrained, and took a muddy pebble instead.
They took a peep at the Temple and its garden. The fountain was not playing, but it looked very pleasant,
nevertheless; and as they stood there the sun came out, as if anxious that they should see it at its best. It was
all very well to know that Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ was played in Middle Temple Hall, that the York andShawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
67
Lancaster roses grew here, that Dr. Johnson lived No. 1 Inner Temple Lane, and that Goldsmith died No. 2
Brick Court, Middle Temple; these actual events and people seemed far less real than the scenes between
Pendennis and Fanny, John Westlock and little Ruth Pinch. For their sakes Livy went to see the place; and for
their sakes she still remembers that green spot in the heart of London, with the June sunshine falling on it as it
fell that day.
The pilgrimage ended with a breathless climb up the Monument, whence they got a fine view of London, and
better still of Todgerses. Livy found the house by instinct; and saw Cherry Pecksniff, now a sharp-nosed old
woman, sitting at the back window. A gaunt, anxious-looking lady, in a massive bonnet, crossed the yard,
with a basket in her hand; and the Professor said at once, ‘That’s Mrs. Todgers, and the amount of gravy single
gentlemen eat is still weighing heavy on her mind.’ As if to make the thing quite perfect, they discovered fitful
glimpses of a tousled-looking boy, cleaning knives or boots, in a cellar-kitchen; and all the lawyers in London
couldn’t have argued them out of their firm belief that it was young Bailey, undergoing his daily torment in
company with the black beetles and the mouldy bottles.
That nothing might be wanting to finish off the rainy-day ramble in an appropriate manner, when Livy’s
companion asked what she’d have for lunch, she boldly replied,–
‘Weal pie and a pot of porter.’
As she was not fond of either, it was a sure proof of the sincerity of her regard for the persons who have made
them immortal. They went into an eating-house, and ordered the lunch, finding themselves objects of interest
to the other guests. But, though a walking doormat in point of mud, and somewhat flushed and excited by the
hustling, climbing, and adoring, it is certain there wasn’t a happier spinster in this ‘Piljin Projess of a wale,’
than the one who partook of ‘weal pie’ in memory of Sam Weller, and drank ‘a modest quencher’ to the health
of Dick Swiveller at the end of that delightful Dickens day.
Much might be written about the domestic pleasures of English people, but as the compiler of this interesting
work believes in the sacredness of private life, and has a holy horror of the dreadful people who outrage
hospitality by basely reporting all they have seen and heard, she will practise what she preaches, and firmly
resist the temptation to describe the delights of country strolls with poets, cosey five-o’clock teas in famous
drawing-rooms, and interviews with persons whose names are household words.
This virtuous reticence leaves the best untold, and brings the story of two of our travellers to a speedy end.
Matilda decided to remain and study art, spending her days copying Turner at the National Gallery, and her
evenings in the society of the eight agreeable gentlemen who adorned the house where she abode.
Amanda hurried home with friends to enjoy a festive summer among the verdant plains of Cape Cod. With
deep regret did her mates bid her adieu, and nothing but the certainty of soon embracing her again would have
reconciled Livy to the parting; for in Amanda she had found that rare and precious treasure, a friend.
‘Addio, my beloved Granny; take care of your dear bones and come home soon,’ said Amanda, in the little
back entry, while her luggage was being precipitated downstairs.
‘Heaven bless and keep you safe, my own Possum. I shall not stay long because I can’t possibly get on without
you,’ moaned Livy, clinging to the departing treasure as Diogenes might have clung to his honest man, if he
ever found him; for, with better luck than the old philosopher, Livy had searched long years for a friend to her
mind, and got one at last.
‘Don’t be sentimental, girls’ said Matilda, with tears in her eyes, as she hugged her Mandy, and bore her to the
cab.Shawl-Straps, by Louisa M. Alcott
68
‘Rome and Raphael for ever!’ cried Amanda, as a cheerful parting salute.
‘London and Turner!’ shouted Matilda with her answering war-cry.
‘Boston and Emerson!’ sobbed Lavinia, true to her idols even in the deepest woe.
Then three damp pocket-handkerchiefs waved wildly till the dingy cab with the dear Egyptian nose at the
window, and the little bath-pan clattering frantically up aloft, vanished round the corner, leaving a void behind
that all Europe could not fill.
A few weeks later Livy followed, leaving Mat to enjoy the liberty with which American girls may be trusted
when they have a purpose or a profession to keep them steady. And so ended the travels of the trio, travels
which had filled a year with valuable experiences, memorable days, and that culture which a larger knowledge
of the world, our fellow-men, and ourselves gives to the fortunate souls to whom this pleasure is permitted.
One point was satisfactorily proved by the successful issue of this partnership; for, in spite of many
prophecies to the contrary, three women, utterly unlike in every respect, had lived happily together for twelve
long months, had travelled unprotected safely over land and sea, had experienced two revolutions, an
earthquake, an eclipse, and a flood, yet met with no loss, no mishap, no quarrel, and no disappointment worth
mentioning.
With this triumphant statement as a moral to our tale, we would respectfully advise all timid sisters now
lingering doubtfully on the shore, to strap up their bundles in light marching order, and push boldly off. They
will need no protector but their own courage, no guide but their own good sense and Yankee wit, and no
interpreter, if that woman’s best gift, the tongue, has a little French polish on it.
Dear Amandas, Matildas, and Lavinias, why delay? Wait on no man, but take your little store and invest it in
something far better than Paris finery, Geneva jewellery, or Roman relics. Bring home empty trunks, if you
will, but heads full of new and larger ideas, hearts richer in the sympathy that makes the whole world kin,
hands readier to help on the great work God gives humanity, and souls elevated by the wonders of art and the
diviner miracles of Nature.
Leave ennui and discontent, frivolity and feebleness, among the ruins of the Old World, and bring home to the
New the grace, the culture, and the health which will make American women what now they just fail of being,
the bravest, brightest, happiest, and handsomest women in the world.
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