Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 23 Under the Umbrella

  • While Laurie and Amy were taking conjugal strolls over velvet carpets, as the_et their house in order, and planned a blissful future, Mr. Bhaer and Jo wer_njoying promenades of a different sort, along muddy roads and sodden fields.
  • "I always do take a walk toward evening, and I don't know why I should give i_p, just because I happen to meet the Professor on his way out," said Jo t_erself, after two or three encounters, for though there were two paths t_eg's whichever one she took she was sure to meet him, either going o_eturning. He was always walking rapidly, and never seemed to see her unti_uite close, when he would look as if his short-sighted eyes had failed t_ecognize the approaching lady till that moment. Then, if she was going t_eg's he always had something for the babies. If her face was turned homeward, he had merely strolled down to see the river, and was just returning, unles_hey were tired of his frequent calls.
  • Under the circumstances, what could Jo do but greet him civilly, and invit_im in? If she was tired of his visits, she concealed her weariness wit_erfect skill, and took care that there should be coffee for supper, "a_riedrich—I mean Mr. Bhaer—doesn't like tea."
  • By the second week, everyone knew perfectly well what was going on, ye_veryone tried to look as if they were stone-blind to the changes in Jo'_ace. They never asked why she sang about her work, did up her hair thre_imes a day, and got so blooming with her evening exercise. And no one seeme_o have the slightest suspicion that Professor Bhaer, while talking philosoph_ith the father, was giving the daughter lessons in love.
  • Jo couldn't even lose her heart in a decorous manner, but sternly tried t_uench her feelings, and failing to do so, led a somewhat agitated life. Sh_as mortally afraid of being laughed at for surrendering, after her many an_ehement declarations of independence. Laurie was her especial dread, bu_hanks to the new manager, he behaved with praiseworthy propriety, neve_alled Mr. Bhaer 'a capital old fellow' in public, never alluded, in th_emotest manner, to Jo's improved appearance, or expressed the least surpris_t seeing the Professor's hat on the Marches' table nearly every evening. Bu_e exulted in private and longed for the time to come when he could give Jo _iece of plate, with a bear and a ragged staff on it as an appropriate coat o_rms.
  • For a fortnight, the Professor came and went with lover-like regularity. The_e stayed away for three whole days, and made no sign, a proceeding whic_aused everybody to look sober, and Jo to become pensive, at first, an_hen—alas for romance—very cross.
  • "Disgusted, I dare say, and gone home as suddenly as he came. It's nothing t_e, of course, but I should think he would have come and bid us goodbye like _entleman," she said to herself, with a despairing look at the gate, as sh_ut on her things for the customary walk one dull afternoon.
  • "You'd better take the little umbrella, dear. It looks like rain," said he_other, observing that she had on her new bonnet, but not alluding to th_act.
  • "Yes, Marmee, do you want anything in town? I've got to run in and get som_aper," returned Jo, pulling out the bow under her chin before the glass as a_xcuse for not looking at her mother.
  • "Yes, I want some twilled silesia, a paper of number nine needles, and tw_ards of narrow lavender ribbon. Have you got your thick boots on, an_omething warm under your cloak?"
  • "I believe so," answered Jo absently.
  • "If you happen to meet Mr. Bhaer, bring him home to tea. I quite long to se_he dear man," added Mrs. March.
  • Jo heard that, but made no answer, except to kiss her mother, and walk rapidl_way, thinking with a glow of gratitude, in spite of her heartache, "How goo_he is to me! What do girls do who haven't any mothers to help them throug_heir troubles?"
  • The dry-goods stores were not down among the counting-houses, banks, an_holesale warerooms, where gentlemen most do congregate, but Jo found hersel_n that part of the city before she did a single errand, loitering along as i_aiting for someone, examining engineering instruments in one window an_amples of wool in another, with most unfeminine interest, tumbling ove_arrels, being half-smothered by descending bales, and hustled unceremoniousl_y busy men who looked as if they wondered 'how the deuce she got there'. _rop of rain on her cheek recalled her thoughts from baffled hopes to ruine_ibbons. For the drops continued to fall, and being a woman as well as _over, she felt that, though it was too late to save her heart, she might he_onnet. Now she remembered the little umbrella, which she had forgotten t_ake in her hurry to be off, but regret was unavailing, and nothing could b_one but borrow one or submit to a drenching. She looked up at the lowerin_ky, down at the crimson bow already flecked with black, forward along th_uddy street, then one long, lingering look behind, at a certain grim_arehouse, with 'Hoffmann, Swartz, & Co.' over the door, and said to herself, with a sternly reproachful air…
  • "It serves me right! what business had I to put on all my best things and com_hilandering down here, hoping to see the Professor? Jo, I'm ashamed of you!
  • No, you shall not go there to borrow an umbrella, or find out where he is, from his friends. You shall trudge away, and do your errands in the rain, an_f you catch your death and ruin your bonnet, it's no more than you deserve.
  • Now then!"
  • With that she rushed across the street so impetuously that she narrowl_scaped annihilation from a passing truck, and precipitated herself into th_rms of a stately old gentleman, who said, "I beg pardon, ma'am," and looke_ortally offended. Somewhat daunted, Jo righted herself, spread he_andkerchief over the devoted ribbons, and putting temptation behind her, hurried on, with increasing dampness about the ankles, and much clashing o_mbrellas overhead. The fact that a somewhat dilapidated blue one remaine_tationary above the unprotected bonnet attracted her attention, and lookin_p, she saw Mr. Bhaer looking down.
  • "I feel to know the strong-minded lady who goes so bravely under many hors_oses, and so fast through much mud. What do you down here, my friend?"
  • "I'm shopping."
  • Mr. Bhaer smiled, as he glanced from the pickle factory on one side to th_holesale hide and leather concern on the other, but he only said politely,
  • "You haf no umbrella. May I go also, and take for you the bundles?"
  • "Yes, thank you."
  • Jo's cheeks were as red as her ribbon, and she wondered what he thought o_er, but she didn't care, for in a minute she found herself walking away ar_n arm with her Professor, feeling as if the sun had suddenly burst out wit_ncommon brilliancy, that the world was all right again, and that on_horoughly happy woman was paddling through the wet that day.
  • "We thought you had gone," said Jo hastily, for she knew he was looking a_er. Her bonnet wasn't big enough to hide her face, and she feared he migh_hink the joy it betrayed unmaidenly.
  • "Did you believe that I should go with no farewell to those who haf been s_eavenly kind to me?" he asked so reproachfully that she felt as if she ha_nsulted him by the suggestion, and answered heartily…
  • "No, I didn't. I knew you were busy about your own affairs, but we rathe_issed you, Father and Mother especially."
  • "And you?"
  • "I'm always glad to see you, sir."
  • In her anxiety to keep her voice quite calm, Jo made it rather cool, and th_rosty little monosyllable at the end seemed to chill the Professor, for hi_mile vanished, as he said gravely…
  • "I thank you, and come one more time before I go."
  • "You are going, then?"
  • "I haf no longer any business here, it is done."
  • "Successfully, I hope?" said Jo, for the bitterness of disappointment was i_hat short reply of his.
  • "I ought to think so, for I haf a way opened to me by which I can make m_read and gif my Junglings much help."
  • "Tell me, please! I like to know all about the—the boys," said Jo eagerly.
  • "That is so kind, I gladly tell you. My friends find for me a place in _ollege, where I teach as at home, and earn enough to make the way smooth fo_ranz and Emil. For this I should be grateful, should I not?"
  • "Indeed you should. How splendid it will be to have you doing what you like, and be able to see you often, and the boys!" cried Jo, clinging to the lads a_n excuse for the satisfaction she could not help betraying.
  • "Ah! But we shall not meet often, I fear, this place is at the West."
  • "So far away!" and Jo left her skirts to their fate, as if it didn't matte_ow what became of her clothes or herself.
  • Mr. Bhaer could read several languages, but he had not learned to read wome_et. He flattered himself that he knew Jo pretty well, and was, therefore, much amazed by the contradictions of voice, face, and manner, which she showe_im in rapid succession that day, for she was in half a dozen different mood_n the course of half an hour. When she met him she looked surprised, thoug_t was impossible to help suspecting that she had come for that expres_urpose. When he offered her his arm, she took it with a look that filled hi_ith delight, but when he asked if she missed him, she gave such a chilly, formal reply that despair fell upon him. On learning his good fortune sh_lmost clapped her hands. Was the joy all for the boys? Then on hearing hi_estination, she said, "So far away!" in a tone of despair that lifted him o_o a pinnacle of hope, but the next minute she tumbled him down again b_bserving, like one entirely absorbed in the matter…
  • "Here's the place for my errands. Will you come in? It won't take long."
  • Jo rather prided herself upon her shopping capabilities, and particularl_ished to impress her escort with the neatness and dispatch with which sh_ould accomplish the business. But owing to the flutter she was in, everythin_ent amiss. She upset the tray of needles, forgot the silesia was to be
  • 'twilled' till it was cut off, gave the wrong change, and covered herself wit_onfusion by asking for lavender ribbon at the calico counter. Mr. Bhaer stoo_y, watching her blush and blunder, and as he watched, his own bewildermen_eemed to subside, for he was beginning to see that on some occasions, women, like dreams, go by contraries.
  • When they came out, he put the parcel under his arm with a more cheerfu_spect, and splashed through the puddles as if he rather enjoyed it on th_hole.
  • "Should we no do a little what you call shopping for the babies, and haf _arewell feast tonight if I go for my last call at your so pleasant home?" h_sked, stopping before a window full of fruit and flowers.
  • "What will we buy?" asked Jo, ignoring the latter part of his speech, an_niffing the mingled odors with an affectation of delight as they went in.
  • "May they haf oranges and figs?" asked Mr. Bhaer, with a paternal air.
  • "They eat them when they can get them."
  • "Do you care for nuts?"
  • "Like a squirrel."
  • "Hamburg grapes. Yes, we shall drink to the Fatherland in those?"
  • Jo frowned upon that piece of extravagance, and asked why he didn't buy _rail of dates, a cask of raisins, and a bag of almonds, and be done with it?
  • Whereat Mr. Bhaer confiscated her purse, produced his own, and finished th_arketing by buying several pounds of grapes, a pot of rosy daisies, and _retty jar of honey, to be regarded in the light of a demijohn. The_istorting his pockets with knobby bundles, and giving her the flowers t_old, he put up the old umbrella, and they traveled on again.
  • "Miss Marsch, I haf a great favor to ask of you," began the Professor, after _oist promenade of half a block.
  • "Yes, sir?" and Jo's heart began to beat so hard she was afraid he would hea_t.
  • "I am bold to say it in spite of the rain, because so short a time remains t_e."
  • "Yes, sir," and Jo nearly crushed the small flowerpot with the sudden squeez_he gave it.
  • "I wish to get a little dress for my Tina, and I am too stupid to go alone.
  • Will you kindly gif me a word of taste and help?"
  • "Yes, sir," and Jo felt as calm and cool all of a sudden as if she had steppe_nto a refrigerator.
  • "Perhaps also a shawl for Tina's mother, she is so poor and sick, and th_usband is such a care. Yes, yes, a thick, warm shawl would be a friendl_hing to take the little mother."
  • "I'll do it with pleasure, Mr. Bhaer." "I'm going very fast, and he's gettin_earer every minute," added Jo to herself, then with a mental shake sh_ntered into the business with an energy that was pleasant to behold.
  • Mr. Bhaer left it all to her, so she chose a pretty gown for Tina, and the_rdered out the shawls. The clerk, being a married man, condescended to tak_n interest in the couple, who appeared to be shopping for their family.
  • "Your lady may prefer this. It's a superior article, a most desirable color, quite chaste and genteel," he said, shaking out a comfortable gray shawl, an_hrowing it over Jo's shoulders.
  • "Does this suit you, Mr. Bhaer?" she asked, turning her back to him, an_eeling deeply grateful for the chance of hiding her face.
  • "Excellently well, we will haf it," answered the Professor, smiling to himsel_s he paid for it, while Jo continued to rummage the counters like a confirme_argain-hunter.
  • "Now shall we go home?" he asked, as if the words were very pleasant to him.
  • "Yes, it's late, and I'm  _so_  tired." Jo's voice was more pathetic than sh_new. For now the sun seemed to have gone in as suddenly as it came out, an_he world grew muddy and miserable again, and for the first time sh_iscovered that her feet were cold, her head ached, and that her heart wa_older than the former, fuller of pain than the latter. Mr. Bhaer was goin_way, he only cared for her as a friend, it was all a mistake, and the soone_t was over the better. With this idea in her head, she hailed an approachin_mnibus with such a hasty gesture that the daisies flew out of the pot an_ere badly damaged.
  • "This is not our omniboos," said the Professor, waving the loaded vehicl_way, and stopping to pick up the poor little flowers.
  • "I beg your pardon. I didn't see the name distinctly. Never mind, I can walk.
  • I'm used to plodding in the mud," returned Jo, winking hard, because she woul_ave died rather than openly wipe her eyes.
  • Mr. Bhaer saw the drops on her cheeks, though she turned her head away. Th_ight seemed to touch him very much, for suddenly stooping down, he asked in _one that meant a great deal, "Heart's dearest, why do you cry?"
  • Now, if Jo had not been new to this sort of thing she would have said sh_asn't crying, had a cold in her head, or told any other feminine fib prope_o the occasion. Instead of which, that undignified creature answered, with a_rrepressible sob, "Because you are going away."
  • "Ach, mein Gott, that is so good!" cried Mr. Bhaer, managing to clasp hi_ands in spite of the umbrella and the bundles, "Jo, I haf nothing but muc_ove to gif you. I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to b_ure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a littl_lace in your heart for old Fritz?" he added, all in one breath.
  • "Oh, yes!" said Jo, and he was quite satisfied, for she folded both hands ove_is arm, and looked up at him with an expression that plainly showed how happ_he would be to walk through life beside him, even though she had no bette_helter than the old umbrella, if he carried it.
  • It was certainly proposing under difficulties, for even if he had desired t_o so, Mr. Bhaer could not go down upon his knees, on account of the mud.
  • Neither could he offer Jo his hand, except figuratively, for both were full.
  • Much less could he indulge in tender remonstrations in the open street, thoug_e was near it. So the only way in which he could express his rapture was t_ook at her, with an expression which glorified his face to such a degree tha_here actually seemed to be little rainbows in the drops that sparkled on hi_eard. If he had not loved Jo very much, I don't think he could have done i_hen, for she looked far from lovely, with her skirts in a deplorable state, her rubber boots splashed to the ankle, and her bonnet a ruin. Fortunately, Mr. Bhaer considered her the most beautiful woman living, and she found hi_ore "Jove-like" than ever, though his hatbrim was quite limp with the littl_ills trickling thence upon his shoulders (for he held the umbrella all ove_o), and every finger of his gloves needed mending.
  • Passers-by probably thought them a pair of harmless lunatics, for the_ntirely forgot to hail a bus, and strolled leisurely along, oblivious o_eepening dusk and fog. Little they cared what anybody thought, for they wer_njoying the happy hour that seldom comes but once in any life, the magica_oment which bestows youth on the old, beauty on the plain, wealth on th_oor, and gives human hearts a foretaste of heaven. The Professor looked as i_e had conquered a kingdom, and the world had nothing more to offer him in th_ay of bliss. While Jo trudged beside him, feeling as if her place had alway_een there, and wondering how she ever could have chosen any other lot. O_ourse, she was the first to speak—intelligibly, I mean, for the emotiona_emarks which followed her impetuous "Oh, yes!" were not of a coherent o_eportable character.
  • "Friedrich, why didn't you… "
  • "Ah, heaven, she gifs me the name that no one speaks since Minna died!" crie_he Professor, pausing in a puddle to regard her with grateful delight.
  • "I always call you so to myself—I forgot, but I won't unless you like it."
  • "Like it? It is more sweet to me than I can tell. Say 'thou', also, and _hall say your language is almost as beautiful as mine."
  • "Isn't 'thou' a little sentimental?" asked Jo, privately thinking it a lovel_onosyllable.
  • "Sentimental? Yes. Thank Gott, we Germans believe in sentiment, and kee_urselves young mit it. Your English 'you' is so cold, say 'thou', heart'_earest, it means so much to me," pleaded Mr. Bhaer, more like a romanti_tudent than a grave professor.
  • "Well, then, why didn't thou tell me all this sooner?" asked Jo bashfully.
  • "Now I shall haf to show thee all my heart, and I so gladly will, because tho_ust take care of it hereafter. See, then, my Jo—ah, the dear, funny littl_ame—I had a wish to tell something the day I said goodbye in New York, but _hought the handsome friend was betrothed to thee, and so I spoke not. Woulds_hou have said 'Yes', then, if I had spoken?"
  • "I don't know. I'm afraid not, for I didn't have any heart just then."
  • "Prut! That I do not believe. It was asleep till the fairy prince came throug_he wood, and waked it up. Ah, well, 'Die erste Liebe ist die beste', but tha_ should not expect."
  • "Yes, the first love is the best, but be so contented, for I never ha_nother. Teddy was only a boy, and soon got over his little fancy," said Jo, anxious to correct the Professor's mistake.
  • "Good! Then I shall rest happy, and be sure that thou givest me all. I ha_aited so long, I am grown selfish, as thou wilt find, Professorin."
  • "I like that," cried Jo, delighted with her new name. "Now tell me wha_rought you, at last, just when I wanted you?"
  • "This," and Mr. Bhaer took a little worn paper out of his waistcoat pocket.
  • Jo unfolded it, and looked much abashed, for it was one of her ow_ontributions to a paper that paid for poetry, which accounted for her sendin_t an occasional attempt.
  • "How could that bring you?" she asked, wondering what he meant.
  • "I found it by chance. I knew it by the names and the initials, and in i_here was one little verse that seemed to call me. Read and find him. I wil_ee that you go not in the wet."
  • > IN THE GARRET
  • >
  • > Four little chests all in a row, > Dim with dust, and worn by time, > All fashioned and filled, long ago, > By children now in their prime.
  • > Four little keys hung side by side, > With faded ribbons, brave and gay > When fastened there, with childish pride, > Long ago, on a rainy day.
  • > Four little names, one on each lid, > Carved out by a boyish hand, > And underneath there lieth hid > Histories of the happy band > Once playing here, and pausing oft > To hear the sweet refrain, > That came and went on the roof aloft, > In the falling summer rain.
  • >
  • > "Meg" on the first lid, smooth and fair.
  • > I look in with loving eyes, > For folded here, with well-known care, > A goodly gathering lies, > The record of a peaceful life— > Gifts to gentle child and girl, > A bridal gown, lines to a wife, > A tiny shoe, a baby curl.
  • > No toys in this first chest remain, > For all are carried away, > In their old age, to join again > In another small Meg's play.
  • > Ah, happy mother! Well I know > You hear, like a sweet refrain, > Lullabies ever soft and low > In the falling summer rain.
  • >
  • > "Jo" on the next lid, scratched and worn, > And within a motley store > Of headless dolls, of schoolbooks torn, > Birds and beasts that speak no more, > Spoils brought home from the fairy ground > Only trod by youthful feet, > Dreams of a future never found, > Memories of a past still sweet, > Half-writ poems, stories wild, > April letters, warm and cold, > Diaries of a wilful child, > Hints of a woman early old, > A woman in a lonely home, > Hearing, like a sad refrain— > "Be worthy, love, and love will come,"
  • > In the falling summer rain.
  • >
  • > My Beth! the dust is always swept > From the lid that bears your name, > As if by loving eyes that wept, > By careful hands that often came.
  • > Death canonized for us one saint, > Ever less human than divine, > And still we lay, with tender plaint, > Relics in this household shrine— > The silver bell, so seldom rung, > The little cap which last she wore, > The fair, dead Catherine that hung > By angels borne above her door.
  • > The songs she sang, without lament, > In her prison-house of pain, > Forever are they sweetly blent > With the falling summer rain.
  • >
  • > Upon the last lid's polished field— > Legend now both fair and true > A gallant knight bears on his shield, > "Amy" in letters gold and blue.
  • > Within lie snoods that bound her hair, > Slippers that have danced their last, > Faded flowers laid by with care, > Fans whose airy toils are past, > Gay valentines, all ardent flames, > Trifles that have borne their part > In girlish hopes and fears and shames, > The record of a maiden heart > Now learning fairer, truer spells, > Hearing, like a blithe refrain, > The silver sound of bridal bells > In the falling summer rain.
  • >
  • > Four little chests all in a row, > Dim with dust, and worn by time, > Four women, taught by weal and woe > To love and labor in their prime.
  • > Four sisters, parted for an hour, > None lost, one only gone before, > Made by love's immortal power, > Nearest and dearest evermore.
  • > Oh, when these hidden stores of ours > Lie open to the Father's sight, > May they be rich in golden hours, > Deeds that show fairer for the light, > Lives whose brave music long shall ring, > Like a spirit-stirring strain, > Souls that shall gladly soar and sing > In the long sunshine after rain.
  • "It's very bad poetry, but I felt it when I wrote it, one day when I was ver_onely, and had a good cry on a rag bag. I never thought it would go where i_ould tell tales," said Jo, tearing up the verses the Professor had treasure_o long.
  • "Let it go, it has done its duty, and I will haf a fresh one when I read al_he brown book in which she keeps her little secrets," said Mr. Bhaer with _mile as he watched the fragments fly away on the wind. "Yes," he adde_arnestly, "I read that, and I think to myself, She has a sorrow, she i_onely, she would find comfort in true love. I haf a heart full, full for her.
  • Shall I not go and say, 'If this is not too poor a thing to gif for what _hall hope to receive, take it in Gott's name?'"
  • "And so you came to find that it was not too poor, but the one precious thin_ needed," whispered Jo.
  • "I had no courage to think that at first, heavenly kind as was your welcome t_e. But soon I began to hope, and then I said, 'I will haf her if I die fo_t,' and so I will!" cried Mr. Bhaer, with a defiant nod, as if the walls o_ist closing round them were barriers which he was to surmount or valiantl_nock down.
  • Jo thought that was splendid, and resolved to be worthy of her knight, thoug_e did not come prancing on a charger in gorgeous array.
  • "What made you stay away so long?" she asked presently, finding it so pleasan_o ask confidential questions and get delightful answers that she could no_eep silent.
  • "It was not easy, but I could not find the heart to take you from that s_appy home until I could haf a prospect of one to gif you, after much time, perhaps, and hard work. How could I ask you to gif up so much for a poor ol_ellow, who has no fortune but a little learning?"
  • "I'm glad you are poor. I couldn't bear a rich husband," said Jo decidedly, adding in a softer tone, "Don't fear poverty. I've known it long enough t_ose my dread and be happy working for those I love, and don't call yoursel_ld—forty is the prime of life. I couldn't help loving you if you wer_eventy!"
  • The Professor found that so touching that he would have been glad of hi_andkerchief, if he could have got at it. As he couldn't, Jo wiped his eye_or him, and said, laughing, as she took away a bundle or two…
  • "I may be strong-minded, but no one can say I'm out of my sphere now, fo_oman's special mission is supposed to be drying tears and bearing burdens.
  • I'm to carry my share, Friedrich, and help to earn the home. Make up your min_o that, or I'll never go," she added resolutely, as he tried to reclaim hi_oad.
  • "We shall see. Haf you patience to wait a long time, Jo? I must go away and d_y work alone. I must help my boys first, because, even for you, I may no_reak my word to Minna. Can you forgif that, and be happy while we hope an_ait?"
  • "Yes, I know I can, for we love one another, and that makes all the rest eas_o bear. I have my duty, also, and my work. I couldn't enjoy myself if _eglected them even for you, so there's no need of hurry or impatience. Yo_an do your part out West, I can do mine here, and both be happy hoping fo_he best, and leaving the future to be as God wills."
  • "Ah! Thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing to gif back but _ull heart and these empty hands," cried the Professor, quite overcome.
  • Jo never, never would learn to be proper, for when he said that as they stoo_pon the steps, she just put both hands into his, whispering tenderly, "No_mpty now," and stooping down, kissed her Friedrich under the umbrella. It wa_readful, but she would have done it if the flock of draggle-tailed sparrow_n the hedge had been human beings, for she was very far gone indeed, an_uite regardless of everything but her own happiness. Though it came in such _ery simple guise, that was the crowning moment of both their lives, when, turning from the night and storm and loneliness to the household light an_armth and peace waiting to receive them, with a glad "Welcome home!" Jo le_er lover in, and shut the door.