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Little Vampire Women

The classic novel of love and family in the nineteenth century has grown some fangs! An uproarious retelling of Little Women that will leave readers craving the bloodthirsty drama on every page.Readers will be agog and aghast at the hilarity of the March sisters' vampire transformation – especially now that Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy have (much) longer lives and (much) more ravenous appetites.When a classic is perfect, there is only one thing that can make it better: folding in a breed of monsters! With vampires thrown in the mix, readers will love the darkly hilarious twist on the beloved story of the March girls.
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Little Vampire Women


   LITTLE Vampire WOMEN LOUISA MAY ALCOTT AND LYNN MESSINA

   

HarperCollins Children’s Books

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   “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any corpses,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

   “It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

   “I don’t think it’s fair for some vampires to have plenty of pretty squirming things, and other vampires nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

   Being so poor, the Marches customarily dined on quarts of pig’s blood, goat’s blood, and, on very special occasions, cow’s blood, but they rarely had the luxury of a living, breathing animal to feast on, and when they did, it was usually a small creature hardly more than a snack. Most of their meals had to be warmed over the fire to be brought up to the proper temperature, which was particularly humiliating for the young girls. Gone were the days when they could sink their fangs into a wiggling beaver, let alone a writhing cow. A human had never been on the menu, even when the family was wealthy and lived in a large, well-appointed house, for the Marches were humanitarians who believed the consumption of humans unworthy of the modern vampire. Humans were an inferior species in many ways, but they deserved to be pitied, not consumed.

   “We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner. She was the shy, domestically inclined sister.

   “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time,” Jo said sadly. She didn’t say “perhaps never”, but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was.

   The war was the reason they were to be denied even a field mouse this Christmas. It was going to be a hard winter for all humans, and their mother thought they ought not spend money for pleasure, when so many were suffering in the army. That the suffering was limited to mortal men did not concern Mother, for her commitment to the human race was steadfast, despite the criticism of her neighbours, who found both the Marches’ beliefs and behaviour baffling. Typically, vampires didn’t concern themselves with the petty wars of humans. They had roamed the earth long before people and would continue to roam it long after they were gone.

   “We can’t do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don’t,” and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty corpses she wouldn’t get to eat.

   “But I don’t think the little we should spend would do any good. We’ve each got a dollar, and the army wouldn’t be much helped by our giving that. I agree not to expect any gifts from Mother or you, but I do want to buy Mr Bloody Wobblestone’s Scientifical Method for Tracking, Catching and Destroying Vampire Slayers. I’ve wanted it so long,” said Jo, who yearned to join the league of defenders, brave and gallant vampires who protected their fellow creatures from those humans who would destroy them by any means possible. In the last century, the noble profession had undergone a vast change, adopting modern techniques to battle an ancient threat. Relying on one’s instincts, which had always been an imperfect process at best and a guessing game at worst, had been supplanted by steadfast science. Now, instead of spending three months learning the antiquated art of filtering out the smothering scent of garlic, one simply could put on an allium mask, which accomplished the task for you.

   “I planned to spend my dollar in new music,” said Beth, who loved to play music on the Marches’ very old, poorly tuned piano. Mrs March believed in a liberal education and strove to cultivate an interest in the arts in all her children.

   “I shall get a nice box of Faber’s fang enhancements,” said Amy decidedly. Her fangs, though long, were blunt and did not come to an aristocratic point like her sisters’. No one minded the dullness save herself, but Amy felt deeply the want of a pair of killer-looking fangs.

   “Mother didn’t say anything about our money, and she won’t wish us to give up everything. Let’s each buy what we want, and have a little fun; I’m sure we work hard enough to earn it,” cried Jo.

   “I know I do—teaching those tiresome children nearly all night, when I’m longing to enjoy myself at home,” began Meg, in the complaining tone again.

   “You don’t have half such a hard time as I do,” said Jo, who served as companion and protector to their 427-year-old aunt. “How would you like to be shut up for hours with a nervous, fussy old lady who’s convinced every tradesman who comes to the door is there to slay her?”

   “It’s naughty to fret, but I do think washing dishes and keeping things tidy is the worst work in the world. It makes me cross,” Beth said.

   “I don’t believe any of you suffer as I do,” cried Amy, “for you don’t have to go to school with impertinent girls who plague you if you don’t know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, and label your father if he isn’t rich, and insult you when your fangs aren’t nice.”

   “If you mean libel, I’d say so, and not talk about labels, as if Papa was a pickle bottle,” advised Jo, laughing.

   As young readers like to know “how people look”, we will take this moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters, who sat knitting away in the near dawn, while the December snow fell quietly without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within. It was a comfortable room, though the carpet was faded and the furniture very plain, for a good picture or two hung on the walls, books filled the recesses, chrysanthemums and Christmas roses bloomed in the windows, and a pleasant atmosphere of home peace pervaded it.

   Margaret, the eldest of the four, looked to be about sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. A year younger, Jo was very tall, thin and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose and sharp, grey eyes, which appeared to see everything and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn’t like it. (Although her transformation to vampire brought an abrupt end to the growth spurt, the awkwardness of her appearance remained a permanent fixture.) Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, appeared to be an ashen-faced, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her “Little Miss Tranquillity”, and the name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved. Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young vampire lady mindful of her manners.

   Each girl looked as if she’d been alive for scarcely more than a decade, especially Amy, whose pallid complexion could do little to mute her youthful energy, but they had all undergone the Great Change thirty-two years previously, which made them vampires of some experience. However, they were still considered adolescents, for vampires lived very long lives indeed and thirty-odd years was scarcely a fraction of it. Therefore, in all the ways that mattered, the March girls, although chronologically older than their mortal counterparts, were perched just as precariously on the edge of womanhood.

   The clock struck six. Mother was coming, and everyone brightened to welcome her.

   “I’ll tell you what we should do,” said Beth, “let’s each get Marmee something for Christmas, and not get anything for ourselves.”

   “That’s like you, dear! What will we get?” exclaimed Jo.

   Everyone thought soberly for a minute, then Meg announced, “I shall get her a rabbit to feed on.”

   “A squirrel,” cried Jo.

   “A bunny,” said Beth.

   “I’ll get a little mouse. It won’t cost much, so I’ll have some left to buy my fang enhancements,” added Amy.

   “How will we give the things?” asked Meg.

   “Put them on the table, and bring her in and see her open the bundles. Don’t you remember how we used to do on our birthdays?” answered Jo.

   Having decided how to present their gifts, the girls discussed where to buy them, for the only store on Main Street that sold small animals was a pet shop and they didn’t know how Mr Lewis would feel about providing tasty delicacies for their mother. Concord was an integrated town, where vampires could live peacefully in the open, but there were still moments when reminders of a vampire’s particular lifestyle could make the locals uncomfortable.

   Though they were eager to buy presents, they had to stay indoors, for the sun was about to rise. Jo suggested they practise hunting vampire slayers, her favourite occupation, and the girls complied reluctantly, for they didn’t share Jo’s passion. Meg was the slayer and Jo tracked her to the attic closet, where her quarry had already chopped the heads off Beth’s poor, blameless doll. Beth protested the unfair abuse and attached a neat little cap to the poor invalid’s neck. As both arms and legs had been removed during a previous field exercise, she had to wrap the deformed doll in a blanket.

   Her sisters laughed at the makeshift hospital ward she assembled.

   “Glad to find you so merry, my girls,” said a cheery voice at the door, and the girls turned to welcome a tall, motherly lady with a “Can I help you” look about her, which was truly delightful. She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman of forty biological years, and the girls thought the grey cloak and unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid mother in the world.

   “Well, dearies, how have you got on tonight? There was so much to do that I didn’t come home to dinner. Has anyone called, Beth? How is your cold, Meg? Jo, you look tired to death. Come and kiss me, baby.”

   While making these maternal enquiries, Mrs March took off her artificial teeth to reveal her well-appointed fangs. Some vampire ladies in the community thought it was just the thing to walk around with their teeth hanging out, but Marmee thought naked fangs were an indecency on a par with naked ankles.

   As they gathered about the table, Mrs March said, with a particularly happy face, her fangs gleaming white in the firelight, “I’ve got a treat for you.”

   A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of moonshine. Beth clapped her hands, and Jo cried, “A letter! A letter! Three cheers for Father!”

   “Yes, a nice long letter. He is well, and thinks he shall get through the cold season better than we feared. He sends all sorts of loving wishes for Christmas, and an especial message to you girls,” said Mrs March.

   “I think it was so splendid of Father to go at all when the war has nothing to do with vampires,” said Meg warmly.

   The War Between the States was over the moral issue of slavery, which was indeed of little interest to vampires. However, slave quarters were verdant feeding grounds for vampires south of the Mason-Dixon Line, for their inhabitants were often too tired from days of backbreaking, abusive labour to put up a fight, and the slaves who disappeared were often mistakenly assumed to have fled north with the help of abolitionists. Being an ethical vampire with implacable morals, Mr March felt he should do his part to help win the war his kind had unintentionally started by making it seem as though the North was interfering extensively in private Southern business.

   “Don’t I wish I could go as a drummer, a vivan—what’s its name? Or a nurse, so I could be near him and help him,” exclaimed Jo, who would rather do anything than work for her awful aunt March.

   “When will he come home, Marmee?” asked Beth, with a little quiver in her voice.

   “Not for many months, dear. He will stay and do his work faithfully as long as he can, and we won’t ask for him back a minute sooner than he can be spared. Now come and hear the letter.”

   They all drew to the fire, Mother in the big chair with Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion if the letter should happen to be touching.

   Very few human letters were written in those hard times that were not touching, especially those which fathers sent home, and this vampire letter was no different. In it little was said of the hardships endured, the dangers faced, or the homesickness conquered. It was a cheerful, hopeful letter, full of the comical lengths Mr March often had to go to in order to avoid sunshine. He’d joined the army as a chaplain and tried very hard to stay inside his tent during daylight hours, but this was not always practical, as war followed no schedule. Only at the end did the writer’s heart overflow with fatherly love and longing for the little vampire girls at home.

   “Give them all of my dear love and a kiss. Tell them I think of them by night, pray for them by day, and find my best comfort in their affection at all times. A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully and fight their bosom enemy bravely,” he said, referring to the demon beast that lived inside them all. It was a daily challenge to overcome their vampire natures, but Mr March knew his girls could do it and from afar he urged them to “conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little vampire women”. Everybody sniffed when they came to that part. Jo wasn’t ashamed of the great bloody tear that dropped off the end of her nose and landed in a bright red splatter on her otherwise pristine dress, and Amy never minded the rumpling of her curls as she hid her face on her mother’s shoulder and sobbed out, “I am a selfish girl! But I’ll truly try to be better, so he mayn’t be disappointed in me by-and-by.”

   “We all will,” cried Meg. “I think too much of drinking cow and deer blood and wearing beautiful silk gloves, but I won’t any more, if I can help it.”

   “I’ll try and be what he loves to call me, ‘a little vampire woman’, and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else,” said Jo, thinking that keeping her temper at home was a much harder task than facing a rebel or two down South.

   Beth said nothing, but wiped away tears with the blue army sock and began to knit with all her might, losing no time in doing the duty that lay nearest her, while she resolved in her quiet little soul to be all that Father hoped to find her when the year brought round the happy coming home.

   Mrs March broke the silence that followed Jo’s words, by saying in her cheery voice, “Do you remember how you used to play Vilgrim’s Progress when you were young things? Nothing delighted you more than to have me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens, give you hats and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel through the house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction, up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you could collect to make a Celestial City.”

   “What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fighting Apollyon, and passing through the valley where the hobgoblins were,” said Jo, for all the challenges that poor Vilgrim, the vampire pilgrim, had to overcome in his quest for heaven greatly resembled a course for the training of vampire defenders.

   “I liked the place where the bundles fell off and tumbled downstairs,” said Meg.

   “I don’t remember much about it, except that I was afraid of the sunlight that poured into the attic. If I wasn’t too old for such things, I’d rather like to play it over again,” said Amy, who really was too old for childish games despite her persistently youthful appearance.

   “We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness is the guide that leads us through many troubles, mistakes and uncontrollable feeding frenzies to inner peace, which is the true Celestial City. Now, my little vilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before Father comes home,” Marmee suggested, concerned now, as always, with the preservation of her daughters’ souls, for it had not been that many years past since vampires were thought to have no soul at all. For centuries, they were considered minions of the devil and were forced to hide in shadow, fearful that any seemingly harmless gathering of people would quickly become an angry, stake-bearing mob. But thanks to the Camp Moldoveneascâ Accords that was all in the past.

   “Really, Mother? Where are our bundles?” asked Amy, who was a very literal vampire.

   “Each of you told what your burden was just now, except Beth. I rather think she hasn’t got any,” said her mother.

   “Yes, I have. Mine is dishes and dusters, and envying vampires with nice pianos, and being afraid of people.”

   Beth’s bundle was such a funny one that everybody wanted to laugh, but nobody did, for it would have hurt her feelings very much.

   “Let us do it,” said Meg thoughtfully. “It is only another name for trying to be good, and the story may help us, for though we don’t want to feed on humans, it’s hard work resisting our basic demon natures.”

   They talked over the new plan while old Hannah cleared the table, then out came the four little work baskets, and the needles flew as the girls made blackout curtains for Aunt March, who didn’t trust the store-bought article to keep out the light. At nine, they stopped work and went to their coffins.

    Bestselling how-to that introduced the so-called scientifical method of slayer hunting, by Clifford Farmer (b. 1685).

    Invented by Willis Whipetten (1750-1954) for his son, John, who suffered from dysgeusia garlisima, a chemosensory disorder that makes everything smell like garlic.

    Paulson Dillywither (1834-1897) argues convincingly in Vampire Habits and Customs: The Beastly True Nature of Nature’s True Beast that lacrimal haemoglobin emissions, also known as blood tears, are caused by an infiltration of blood into the nasolacrimal duct.

    Seminal text that first suggested vampires were children of God and therefore worthy of entrance into heaven; by William Swinton (1321-1569). Swinton cited the gift of immortality as proof of God’s preference for vampires over their mortal counterparts and even hinted that humanity itself might be damned. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is largely thought to be an almost verbatim rip-off of the book, although defenders have argued it is a pastiche.

    The international meeting held in 1767 that officially established vampires as naturalised citizens of heaven and granted them full inalienable rights. Out of the Accords came the groundbreaking Swift Nourishment Act, which reclassified the vampiric method of attaining sustenance as commerce, thereby making the consumption of humans who fell below the poverty level a safe and legal option for hungry vampires, as long as said vampires met the asking price and filled out the appropriate paperwork. Named after Jonathan Swift, who first proposed the arrangement in his famous 1729 essay “A Modest Proposal”, in which he recommended that Ireland’s poor solve their economic woes by selling their children for food.

   Jo was the first to wake in the grey twilight of Christmas night. No little creatures hung at the fireplace squirming, and for a moment she felt disappointed. Then she remembered her promise to her mother and resolved not to mind a corpse-free holiday.

   “Where is Mother?” asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down a half an hour later.

   “Goodness only knows,” replied Hannah, who had lived with the family since the girls were sired, and was considered by them all more as a friend than a servant.

   “She will be back soon, I’m sure, warm the blood and have everything ready,” said Meg.

   Meg counted the gift bundles in the basket under the sofa and noticed Amy’s was missing. A moment later, the youngest March came into the house and looked rather abashed when she saw her sisters all waiting for her.

   “Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?” asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak, that lazy Amy had been out so early.

   “Don’t laugh at me, Jo! I didn’t mean anyone should know till the time came. I only meant to change the little mouse for a big rat, and I gave all my money to get it, even though I had to break into the shop, for the store was closed on account of the holiday, and I’m truly trying not to be selfish any more.”

   As she spoke, Amy showed the plump rat which replaced the slight mouse, and looked so earnest and humble in her little effort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on the spot, and Jo pronounced her “a trump”, while Beth ran to the window, and picked her finest rose to ornament the stately vermin.

   “You see I felt ashamed of my present, so I ran to the shop and changed it the minute I was up, and I’m so glad, for mine is the most delicious one now.”

   Another bang of the street door announced the arrival of their mother.

   “Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them!” they all cried in chorus.

   “Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “But not far away from here lies a poor woman with a newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. Being a vampire means I have to work doubly hard to be good, so I immediately went to them to offer my services.”

   The girls were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and their breakfast was more tempting than they imagined. Rather than the usual helping of pig’s blood, Hannah, in defiance of Mrs March’s orders, had served up a lovely little feast of dainty creatures. There were sparrows and chipmunks and a bashful opossum. The girls’ fangs throbbed in expectation, for it had been such a long time since any of them had sunk her teeth into a recently pulsing vein.

   For a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, “I’m so glad you came before we began!”

   “Yes,” said Meg. “Let’s give them our breakfast as a Christmas present.”

   “May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?” asked Beth eagerly.

   “I shall take the sparrows,” added Amy, heroically giving up the article she most liked.

   Meg was already covering the chipmunks and piling a vole into one big plate.

   When all the food was packed up, the March family proceeded enthusiastically to the door. Jo opened it and said, “But the Hummels are human.”

   “We know that,” said Amy impatiently.

   “Shouldn’t we bring human food?” Jo said.

   Marmee and the girls agreed that human food would probably be more appropriate.

   “Let’s bring cream and muffins,” said Amy, listing two foods she’d loved dearly when she’d had mortal taste buds.

   “And buckwheat and bread,” added Meg.

   Having decided what to bring, they were stymied as to how to accomplish the task. Hannah hadn’t made muffins in more than two centuries and in the interim had forgotten the recipe. Even if she could recall the specific ingredients, it was Christmas night, so all of the shops were closed. They had nowhere to purchase provisions. For ten minutes, the girls stood in the doorway wrestling with the problem. Then Beth suggested that they bring the animals to the Hummels’ house and advise Mrs Hummel to make some sort of stew, which she should know how to do, being a poor human and all.

   Marmee thought it was an excellent plan and the procession set out for the Hummel abode. A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.

   How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in.

   “Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!” said the poor woman, crying for joy, even as she examined the offerings with a curious eye. She did not recognise the vole but accepted it gratefully, as well as the suggestion that she throw it, along with the other animals, in a pot with some water and salt.

   “Funny angels with fangs,” said Jo, wearing a heavy winter coat despite the fact that vampires couldn’t feel cold. The Marches believed in fitting in as much as possible with the community and always wore season-appropriate attire.

   When they returned home, they put the bundled gifts on the table and presented them to Marmee. Beth played her gayest march while Meg conducted Mother to the seat of honour. Mrs March was both surprised and touched, and smiled with her eyes full as she examined her presents and read the little notes which accompanied them. The bunny bun-bun was sucked dry immediately, followed swiftly by the squirrel and the rabbit. Prior to eating the rat, she paused a moment to smell it deeply before pronouncing it delightful. Bright red blood trickled down her chin.

   There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining, in the simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals so pleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterwards. Jo looked down at her mother’s feet and saw the remains of their gifts scattered like dead things.

   Oh, how lovely to have Christmas corpses after all!

   “Jo! Jo! Where are you?” cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.

   “Here!” answered a husky voice from above, and, running up, Meg found her sister deeply engrossed in a well-worn copy of The Seven Signs of a Vampire Slayer and How to Spot One, curled up in an old three-legged sofa by the window. This was Jo’s favourite refuge, and here she loved to retire with a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived nearby and didn’t mind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into his hole. This Scrabble was in fact the eighteenth such one, for Jo could never long resist the easy lure of a close-by snack when feeling peckish. The kitchens were several floors below, and despite her superior vampire strength she could rarely bestir herself to make the long journey downstairs.

   “Such fun! Only see! A regular note of invitation from Mrs Gardiner for tomorrow night!” cried Meg, waving the precious paper and then proceeding to read it with girlish delight.

   “‘Mrs Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and Miss Josephine at a little dance on New Year’s Eve.’ Marmee is willing we should go, now what shall we wear?”

   “What’s the use of asking that, when you know we shall wear our poplins, because we haven’t got anything else?” answered Jo.

   “If I only had a silk!” sighed Meg.

   “I’m sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough for us. Yours is as good as new, but I forgot the burn in mine. Whatever shall I do? The burn shows badly.”

   “You must sit still all you can and keep your back out of sight. The front is all right. I shall have a new ribbon for my hair, and Marmee will lend me her little pearl pin, and my new slippers are lovely, and my gloves will do, though they aren’t as nice as I’d like.”

   “Mine are spoiled with blood, and I can’t get any new ones, so I shall have to go without,” said Jo, who never troubled herself much about dress.

   “You must have gloves, or I won’t go,” cried Meg decidedly. “Gloves are more important than anything else. You can’t dance without them, and if you don’t I should be so mortified.”

   “Then I’ll stay still. I don’t care much for company dancing. It’s no fun to go sailing round. I like to fly about and cut capers.”

   “You can’t ask Mother for new ones, they are so expensive, and you are so careless. She said when you spoiled the others that she shouldn’t get you any more this winter. Can’t you make them do?”

   “I can hold them crumpled up in my hand, so no one will know how stained they are. That’s all I can do. No! I’ll tell you how we can manage, each wear one good one and carry a bad one. Don’t you see?”

   “Your hands are bigger than mine, and you will stretch my glove dreadfully,” began Meg, whose gloves were a tender point with her.

   “Then I’ll go without. I don’t care what people say!” cried Jo, taking up her book.

   “You may have it, you may! Only don’t stain it, and do behave nicely.”

   On New Year’s Eve the parlour was deserted, for the two younger girls played dressing maids and the two elder were absorbed in the all-important business of “getting ready for the party”. Simple as the toilets were, there was a great deal of running up and down, laughing and talking.

   After various mishaps, Meg was finished at last, and by the united exertions of the entire family Jo’s hair was got up and her dress on. They looked very well in their simple suits, Meg’s in silvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills and the pearl pin. Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen collar and a white chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament. Each put on one nice light glove, and carried one soiled one, and all pronounced the effect “quite easy and fine”. Meg’s high-heeled slippers were very tight and awkward to walk in, though she would not own it, and Jo’s nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head. This was not at all comfortable but necessary should vampire slayers attack the party, for the hairpins were dipped in poison and doubled as paralysing darts.

   “Have a good time, dearies!” said Mrs March, as the sisters went daintily down the walk. “Don’t eat much supper, and come away at five when I send Hannah for you.”

   Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom went to parties, and informal as this little gathering was, it was an event to them. Mrs Gardiner, a stately old vampire lady, greeted them kindly as they passed through the area set apart for the screening of weapons. The March girls were from an old and established family, but even they had to submit to an examination by Pinkerton agents. Everyone did, as the company was mixed and no hostess wanted to inadvertently admit a slayer to her party, for not only was it personally mortifying for a vampire to be slain at your soiree, it was very damaging socially.

   Like all society matrons, Mrs Gardiner welcomed nonvampires into her drawing rooms, for some of the oldest families in the neighbourhood were human, making interaction unavoidable. The two groups rubbed together tolerably well, united by a common purpose to keep newcomers out of their circle, and disagreements over a missing servant or an unfair accusation of colluding with slayers broke out only rarely. Although Mrs Gardiner considered humans to be inferior to her in every way, those of exceptional social standing at the party had nothing to fear from her and her kind. It was the height of rudeness to dine on your guests, particularly if they were your social equal. Likewise, it was unforgivably vulgar to stake your host.

   The poor were not afforded the same courtesy and frequently fended off attacks from vampires and nonvampires alike, both of whom fed on them, the former literally, the other metaphorically. For centuries, vampire philosophers had argued that their treatment of humans was kinder; they took only the blood in their veins. Nonvampires took the sweat of their brow, the fire in their belly and the joy in their heart.

   Slayers swore nobly to protect the desperate and the destitute from predators, but in targeting vampires only, they revealed their bigotry. Some vampires were indeed the cruel and thoughtless killing machines that many in the sensationalistic press portrayed them to be, but what of the factory owner or the slave holder? Were they not also cruel and thoughtless? Yet they were exempt from retribution.

   Jo, like her mother, knew vampire slayers were mere vigilantes. They dispensed justice as they saw fit, which naturally made it the opposite of just. Marmee’s way of helping the poor, providing them with food and shelter and solace, was the only method to save them from their despair. If the system itself was broken, it needed to be changed from the inside; randomly selecting vampires to assassinate wasn’t the answer.

   When the March girls were cleared by the security agents, Mrs Gardiner handed them over to the eldest of her six daughters. Meg knew Sallie and was at her ease very soon, but Jo, who didn’t care much for girls or girlish gossip, stood about, with her back carefully against the wall, and felt as much out of place as a colt in a flower garden. A big redheaded youth approached her corner, and fearing he meant to engage her, she slipped into a curtained recess, intending to peep and enjoy herself in peace. Unfortunately, another bashful person had chosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell behind her, she found herself face to face with the “Laurence boy”.

   “Dear me, I didn’t know anyone was here!” stammered Jo, preparing to back out as speedily as she had bounced in.

   But the boy laughed and said pleasantly, though he looked a little startled, “Don’t mind me, stay if you like.” “Shan’t I disturb you?”

   “Not a bit. I only came here because I don’t know many people and felt rather strange at first, you know.”

   “So did I. Don’t go away, please, unless you’d rather.”

   The boy sat down again and looked at his pumps, till Jo said, trying to be polite and easy, “I think I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you before. You live near us, don’t you?”

   “Next door, Miss March.”

   “Oh, I am not Miss March, I’m only Jo,” returned the young lady.

   “I’m not Mr Laurence, I’m only Laurie.”

   “Laurie Laurence, what an odd name.”

   “My first name is Theodore, but I don’t like it, for the fellows called me Dora, so I made them say Laurie instead.”

   “I hate my name too, so sentimental! I wish everyone would say Jo instead of Josephine. How did you make the boys stop calling you Dora?”

   “I thrashed ’em.”

   “I can’t thrash Aunt March,” Jo said, although of course technically she could, for she led her sisters in the study of boxing and karate every morning in the attic room. “So I suppose I shall have to bear it.”

   “Don’t you like to dance, Miss Jo?” asked Laurie, looking as if he thought the name suited her.

   “I like it well enough if there is plenty of room, and everyone is lively. In a place like this I’m sure to upset something, tread on people’s toes, or do something dreadful. I’d much rather stay apart and watch for slayers.”

   “Do slayers typically disrupt house parties? I’ve been abroad a good many years, and haven’t been into company enough yet to know how you do things here.”

   “Not too often,” she said. “Thorough screening usually ensures peaceful evenings. But it does happen upon occasion. Just last month, the Phillipses‘ party was brought to a premature close when the host, Mr Phillips, was staked in his own ballroom. It was during the dancing, so everyone was very upset, especially his daughter Leticia, as she was about to have her first waltz.”

   “Did they catch the culprit?”

   “He escaped through the window while everyone was watching poor Mr Phillips’s guts explode all over the carpet. I don’t know if you’ve seen many stakings, but it’s a dreadful business. The maids always complain about how difficult it is to get melted flesh out of the curtains.”

   At the words melted flesh, the boy’s eyes glowed. “I’ve never seen a staking. What’s it like?”

   “Very unpleasant all around,” she said. “Staking is a terrible way to go. I’d much rather be decapitated. It still makes an awful mess but it’s a lot more dignified than your limbs twittering all over the place.” She shook her arms in approximation and Laurie laughed, appreciating her humour. Jo liked him tremendously, for most of the human boys she knew were particular about vampires and would rather be slayers than friends, which is why she counted so few of them among her acquaintance.

   “I’ve never thought about it before, but I suppose I’d like to be decapitated too,” Laurie said. “One nice clean chop!”

   “Oh, but the chops are rarely clean. Usually it takes several whacks before the connection is cut. You have to have a really sharp battle-axe.”

   “I’ll remember that,” he said, then paled and stuttered, “N-not… th-that I plan on decapitating any vampires. I like them immensely. I’d love to be one myself.”

   “Oh, don’t worry. I won’t bite you. I’m a strict humanitarian, so it’s against my religion to eat humans. We stick to pig’s blood and have small animals only on very special occasions. My sister Beth loves kittens.”

   “I’ve never met a humanitarian before. There aren’t any in Europe.”

   “There aren’t a lot around here either. Just me and my sisters and my parents. It’s no big deal. I don’t even crave human flesh. Maybe if I’d gone without food for days on end, standing this close to you would give me ideas, but I had a snack an hour ago,” Jo said, with a smile to put him at ease. “Tell me about Europe. I love dearly to hear people describe their travels.”

   Laurie didn’t seem to know where to begin, but Jo’s eager questions soon set him going, and he told her how he had been at school in Vevay, where the boys never wore hats and had a fleet of boats on the lake, and for holiday fun went on walking trips about Switzerland with their teachers.

   “Don’t I wish I’d been there!” cried Jo. “Did you go to Paris?”

   “We spent last winter there.”

   “Can you talk French?”

   “We were not allowed to speak anything else at Vevay.” “Do say some! I can read it, but can’t pronounce.”

   “Quel nom a cette jeune demoiselle en les pantoufles jolis?”

   “How nicely you do it! Let me see… you said, ‘Who is the young lady in the pretty slippers?’, didn’t you?”

   “Oui, mademoiselle.”

   “It’s my sister Margaret, and you knew it was! Do you think she is pretty?”

   “Yes, she makes me think of the German vampire girls, she looks so pale and quiet, and dances like a lady.”

   Jo quite glowed with pleasure at this boyish praise of her sister, and stored it up to repeat to Meg. Both peeped and criticised and chatted till they felt like old acquaintances and didn’t even seem to notice the differences between them, which is precisely how Marmee said it should be for humans and vampires. Jo liked the “Laurence boy” better than ever and took several good looks at him, so that she might describe him to the girls, for human boys were almost unknown creatures to them.

   “Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes, handsome nose, fine teeth, small hands and feet, taller than I am, very polite, for a boy, and altogether jolly. Wonder how old he is?”

   By and by, the band struck up a splendid polka and Laurie insisted that they dance.

   “I can’t, for I told Meg I wouldn’t, because…” There Jo stopped, and looked undecided whether to tell or to laugh.

   “Because, what?”

   “You won’t tell?”

   “Never!”

   “Well, I have a bad trick of standing near the window at sunrise, and so I burn my frocks, and I scorched this one. Though it’s nicely mended, it shows, and Meg told me to keep still so no one would see it. You may laugh, if you want to. It is funny, I know.”

   But Laurie didn’t laugh. He only looked down a minute, and the expression of his face puzzled Jo when he said very gently, “So it’s true that sunlight does you great harm?”

   “Only those thoughtless enough to expose themselves. I know I should pull the curtains and go to sleep but I love seeing the first rays peek over the horizon,” she said softly.

   “Never mind that,” Laurie said. “I’ll tell you how we can manage. There’s a long hall out there, and we can dance grandly, and no one will see us. Please come.”

   Jo thanked him and gladly went, wishing she had two neat gloves when she saw the nice, pearl-coloured ones her partner wore. The hall was empty, and they had a grand polka, for Laurie danced well, and taught her the German step, which delighted Jo, being full of swing and spring. When the music stopped, they sat down on the stairs, and Laurie was in the midst of an account of a vampires‘ festival at Heidelberg when Meg appeared in search of her sister. She beckoned, and Jo reluctantly followed her into a side room, where Meg sat on a sofa and held her foot.

   “I’ve twisted my ankle. That stupid high heel turned and gave my foot a sad wrench,” she said, glancing down at the unfortunate appendage, which now pointed inwards at a most severe angle. “It doesn’t ache and I can stand fine but the cracking sound the bones make every time I step is disturbing the other dancers. I think we should leave.”

   “I knew you’d hurt your feet with those silly shoes. I’m sorry. But I don’t see what you can do, except get a carriage, or stay here all night,” answered Jo, tugging on the bent limb, which would not straighten despite her considerable efforts. The vampire ability to regenerate would heal the appendage soon, but not so quickly that Meg could rejoin the dancing.

   “Can I help you?” said a friendly voice. And there was Laurie, with a full cup in one hand and a plate of ice in the other.

   “It’s nothing,” Meg assured. “I turned my foot a little, that’s all.”

   But Laurie could see for himself that she’d turned her foot a lot and immediately offered to take her home in his grandfather’s carriage.

   “It’s so early! You can’t mean to go yet?” began Jo, looking relieved but hesitating to accept the offer.

   “I always go early, I do, truly! Please let me take you home. It’s all on my way, you know, and it rains, they say.”

   That settled it. Jo gratefully accepted and they rolled away in the luxurious closed carriage, feeling very festive and elegant.

   “I had a capital time. Did you?” asked Jo, rumpling up her hair, and making herself comfortable.

   Meg agreed that she did up until the moment she twisted her ankle and had to leave. Laurie went on the box so Meg could keep her foot up, and the girls talked over their party in freedom.

   “Sallie’s friend, Annie Moffat, took a fancy to me, and asked me to come and spend a week with her when Sallie does. She is going in the spring when the opera comes, and it will be perfectly splendid, if Mother only lets me go,” Meg said, cheering up at the thought.

   Jo told her adventures, and by the time she had finished they were at home. With many thanks, they said goodnight and entered the house. The instant the door creaked, two little heads bobbed up and eager voices cried out…

   “Tell about the party! Tell about the party!”

   “I declare, it really seems like being a fine young lady, to come home from the party in a carriage and sit in my dressing gown with a maid to wait on me,” said Meg.

   “I don’t believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burned gowns, one glove apiece, and tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them.” And I think Jo was quite right.

    International bestseller by Dimitri Strinsky (b. 1294), translated into thirty-seven languages, including Swahili. Its sequel, Seven More Signs of a Vampire Slayer and How I Missed Them the First Time, is also a classic.

    The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, established in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, who became famous after foiling an attempt to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln. Pinkerton was the first personal-security agency to hire vampires to screen for slayers.

    For an example, see “Vampires Are Thoughtless Killing Machines,” New York Times, January 23, 1856.

    Type of shoe said to be worn by men in olden times; however, this detail has been pointed to by several radical feminist scholars as proof that Laurie’s desire to be a vampire is really a repressed desire to be a woman. See Karen Thomapolis’s Unmasking Gender in Little Vampire Women.

   With the holidays over, the girls had to take up their packs, which, after the week of merrymaking, seemed heavier than ever. Beth lay on the sofa, trying to comfort herself with a cat and three juicy kittens she’d found hiding in the basement. Amy was fretting because her lessons were not learned and she couldn’t find her rubbers. Meg, whose burden consisted of four spoiled vampire children, had not heart enough even to make herself pretty as usual by putting on a blue neck ribbon and dressing her hair in the most becoming way.

   “Where’s the use of looking nice, when no one sees me but those cross midgets, and no one cares whether I’m pretty or not?” she muttered, shutting her drawer with a jerk as she thought of Mrs King and her family. “I shall have to toil and moil all my days, with only little bits of fun now and then because I’m poor and can’t enjoy my life as other girls do. It’s a shame!”

   “Well, that’s just the way it is, so don’t let us grumble but shoulder our bundles and trudge along as cheerfully as Marmee does. I’m sure Aunt March is a regular Old Man of the Sea to me, but I suppose when I’ve learned to carry her without complaining, she will tumble off, or get so light that I shan’t mind her,” said Jo, whose resolute speech didn’t match her dejected attitude. She had been so despondent that she didn’t try to marshal the girls into their usual sunset training session of karate, calisthenics and boxing, with which they complied with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

   Jo happened to suit Aunt March, who was lame and needed an active person to protect her. The childless old lady had offered to adopt one of the girls when the troubles came, and was much offended because her offer was declined. Other friends told the Marches that they had lost all chance of being remembered in the rich old vampire’s will, but the unworldly Marches only said…

   “We can’t give up our girls for a dozen fortunes. Rich or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another.”

   As well, they knew Aunt March was a tough old bird who had been around for more than four hundred years and would likely be around for another four hundred. Their chances for inheritance were already decidedly slim.

   The Marches, in their fondness for family over fortune, were not that unusual amongst their contemporaries. Vampire affection, though not as heartwarmingly sentimental as human affection, was deep and sincere. Parents sired their children and kept them close until they reached their majority at fifty chronological years, at which point they could sire a lifemate and settle down. Freshly sired children usually followed.

   Mr and Mrs March had themselves followed that path, with Mr March siring Mrs March and then a century later siring the four sisters, whom he found in an orphanage about to be separated by an unfeeling proprietress. Marmee’s kind heart went out to the benighted foursome and she knew upon seeing them that they were meant to be hers. Her husband complied with her request, feeling too that these unfortunate children needed a strong hand and a stronger soul to lead them, and twenty-four hours later, the giddy new mother stood over the four little graves from which her newborn daughters would emerge. It was the happiest day of her life.

   Since then, the Marches had come down in the world, for Mr March had lost his property in trying to help an unfortunate friend. The friend turned out to be a slayer who stole Mr March’s money through an elaborate counterfeit stock scheme.

   That Mr March allowed himself to be swindled out of ownership of his ancestral home disgusted Aunt March, who urged him to hunt down the cowardly slayer and consume him in a fiery fit of rage. Her nephew resisted her counsel, for he believed strongly in his humanitarian principles and was happier to let the villain live than to compromise himself.

   His stubbornness made his aunt so angry she refused to speak to them for a time, but when her husband was beheaded by one of his own servants, she was forced to re-evaluate her connections and decided the only associates she could trust were family. It was beyond shocking that Uncle March, the premier vampire defender in New England, was slain in his very own home. Well schooled in stealth and an experienced practitioner of the scientifical method, he should never have fallen for the cartoonish pratfalls of the Buffoonish Butler Hoax, a well-known ruse in which a deadly opponent infiltrates a household by pretending to be a harmless servant who is for ever tripping over the silver and spilling the china.

   Terrified, Aunt March immediately dismissed the entire staff (after, of course, they removed her husband’s gooey remains) and recruited her niece Jo, who hoped one day to be a defender, to look after her. The Concord police enquiry into the unfortunate affair concluded that the slayer had worked alone. But Jo’s aunt did not accept the findings because she assumed that the team of human investigators was part of the conspiracy. She therefore remained convinced that a worldwide cabal watched her daily, waiting for its moment to attack.

   Being her aunt’s protectress wasn’t all Jo had hoped it would be, for the job provided little opportunity for her to use, let alone hone, her defender skills, but she accepted the place since nothing better appeared. The work was tedious and dull, but it gave her full access to the large training study, which had been left to dust and spiders since Uncle March’s decapitation. Jo remembered the fierce old gentleman who used to let her play with his dart gun and told her thrilling stories of do-or-die hunts. He nurtured her love of adventure but stopped short of teaching her the mechanisms and techniques of modern-day slayer hunting, for he thought it a most unsuitable profession for any woman, especially his niece. The dim, dusty room, with its potions cabinet, investigative instruments, strategical maps and, best of all, the wilderness of books in which she could now wander where she liked, made the study a region of bliss to her.

   The moment Aunt March took her nap, Jo hurried to this well-equipped place, and curling herself up in the easy chair, studied the many tactical guides and first-person accounts of successful apprehensions of vicious slayers. But, like all happiness, it did not last long, for as sure as she had just reached the heart of the story, the pivotal part of a stratagem, or the most perilous adventure of her defender, a shrill voice called, “Josy-phine! Josy-phine!” and she had to leave her paradise to secure the perimeter, check the points of entry, or wind yarn.

   Jo’s ambition was to do something very splendid. What it was, she had no idea as yet, but left it for time to tell her, and meanwhile, found her greatest affliction in the fact that she couldn’t read, run and ride as much as she liked. A quick temper, sharp tongue and restless spirit were always getting her into scrapes, and her life was a series of ups and downs, which were both comic and pathetic. But the training she received at Aunt March’s was just what she needed, and the thought that she was doing something to support herself made her happy in spite of the perpetual “Josy-phine!”

    A reference to the old man from the story “Sinbad the Sailor” in The Thousand and One Nights, which some critics argue is coded text about systemic vampire oppression by citing the fact that the Persian king killed his bride every morning as proof that the virgins were vampires. In referencing it here, Jo could be referencing her own systemic oppression.

    Also known as the Silly Servant Stratagem and the Volatile Valet Ploy.

   “What in the world are you going to do now, Jo?” asked Meg one snowy evening, as her sister came tramping through the hall, in rubber boots, old sack and hood, with a broom in one hand and a shovel in the other.

   “Going to hunt vampire slayers,” answered Jo.

   “I should think two treks at twilight would have been enough! It’s wet out, and I advise you to stay dry by the fire, as I do,” said Meg.

   “Never take advice! Can’t keep still all night, and not being a pussycat, I don’t like to doze by the fire. I like adventures, and I’m going to find some.”

   Meg went back to reading Ivanhoe, and Jo began to search the paths with great energy. A garden separated the Marches’ house from that of Mr Laurence. Both stood in a suburb of the city, which was still countrylike, with groves and lawns, large gardens and quiet streets, all of which provided excellent cover for a slayer. A low hedge parted the two estates, offering additional concealment. On one side was an old, brown house, looking rather bare and shabby, robbed of the vines that could further hide a predator. On the other side was a stately stone mansion, plainly betokening every sort of comfort and luxury, from the big coach house and well-kept grounds to the conservatory and the glimpses of lovely things one caught between the rich curtains.

   Yet it seemed a lonely, lifeless sort of house, for no children frolicked on the lawn, no motherly face ever smiled at the windows, and few people went in and out, except the old gentleman and his grandson.

   “That boy is suffering for society and fun,” Jo said to herself. “His grandpa does not know what’s good for him, and keeps him shut up all alone. He needs a party of jolly boys to play with, or somebody young and lively. I’ve a great mind to go over and tell the old gentleman so!”

   The idea amused Jo, who liked to do daring things and was always scandalising Meg by her queer performances. The plan of “going over” was not forgotten. And when the snowy evening came, Jo resolved to try what could be done. She saw Mr Laurence drive off, and then sallied out to the hedge, where she paused and took a survey. All quiet, curtains down at the lower windows, servants out of sight, and nothing human visible but a curly black head leaning on a thin hand at the upper window.

   “There he is,” thought Jo, “poor boy! All alone and sick this happy night. It’s a shame! I’ll toss up a snowball and make him look out, and then say a kind word to him.”

   Up went a handful of soft snow, which cracked the window, as Jo frequently forgot how powerful her vampire strength made her, and the head turned at once, showing a face which lost its listless look in a minute, as the big eyes brightened and the mouth began to smile. Jo nodded and laughed, and flourished her broom as she called out…

   “How do you do? Are you sick?”

   Laurie opened the window, and croaked out as hoarsely as a raven…

   “Better, thank you. I’ve had a bad cold, and been shut up a week.”

   “I’m sorry. What do you amuse yourself with?”

   “Nothing. It’s dull as tombs up here.”

   “Don’t you read?”

   “Not much. They won’t let me.”

   “Can’t somebody read to you?”

   “Grandpa does sometimes, but my books don’t interest him, and I hate to ask Brooke, my tutor, all the time.”

   “Have someone come and see you then.”

   “There isn’t anyone I’d like to see. Boys make such a row, and my head is weak.”

   “Isn’t there some nice girl who’d read and amuse you? Girls are quiet and like to play nurse.”

   “Don’t know any.”

   “You know us,” began Jo, then laughed and stopped. “But you’re not girls, you’re vampires,” cried Laurie.

   “I’m not quiet and nice either, but I’ll come, if Mother will let me. I’ll go and ask her. Shut the window, like a good boy, and wait till I come.”

   With that, Jo shouldered her broom and marched into the house, wondering what they would all say to her. Marmee did not protest the visit, for she firmly believed that the only way to improve vampire-human relations was to increase vampire-human interaction, and, after fortifying her daughter against any unbecoming urges with a tall glass of pig’s blood, sent her to the neighbour’s house with her blessing.

   Laurie was in a flutter of excitement at the idea of having company, and flew about to get ready, for as Mrs March said, he was “a little gentleman”, and did honour to the coming guest by brushing his curly pate, putting on a fresh collar, and trying to tidy up the room, which in spite of half a dozen servants, was anything but neat. Presently there came a loud ring, then a decided voice, asking for “Mr Laurie”, and a surprised-looking servant came running up to announce the vampire.

   “All right, show her up, it’s Miss Jo,” said Laurie, going to the door of his little parlour to meet Jo, who appeared with a covered dish in one hand and three kittens in the other.

   “Here I am, bag and baggage,” she said briskly. “Mother sent her love, and was glad if I could do anything for you. Meg wanted me to bring some of her blancmange, and Beth thought cats would be comforting. I knew you’d laugh at them because you don’t suck the blood out of living animals or even dead ones, but I couldn’t refuse, she was so anxious to do something.”

   It so happened that Beth’s funny loan was just the thing, for in laughing over the fact that, no, he did not suck the blood out of living animals or even dead ones, Laurie forgot his bashfulness, and grew sociable at once.

   “That looks too pretty to eat,” he said, smiling with pleasure, his manners unfailingly polite, as Jo uncovered the dish, and showed the blancmange, surrounded by a garland of green leaves, and the scarlet flowers of Amy’s pet geranium.

   “It isn’t anything. Meg has no idea how to cook so she just put something white in a saucer. I don’t know what it is but I’m sure it’s inedible. What a cosy room this is!”

   “How kind you are! Yes, please take the big chair and let me do something to amuse my company.”

   “No, I came to amuse you. Shall I read aloud?” and Jo looked towards some books nearby.

   “Thank you! I’ve read all those, and if you don’t mind, I’d rather talk,” answered Laurie.

   “Not a bit. I’ll talk all night if you’ll only set me going. Beth says I never know when to stop.”

   “Is Beth the one who stays at home a good deal and sometimes goes out with a little basket?” asked Laurie with interest.

   “Yes, that’s Beth. She’s my girl, and a regular good one she is too.”

   “The pretty one is Meg, and the curly-haired one is Amy, I believe?”

   “How did you find that out?”

   Laurie coloured up, but answered frankly, “Why, you see I often hear you calling to one another, and when I’m alone up here, I can’t help looking over at your house, you always seem to be having such good times. I beg your pardon for being so rude, but sometimes you forget to put down the curtain. And when the lamps are lighted, it’s like looking at a picture to see you all around the table with your mother, taking turns draining every last little drop of blood out of a beaver or other small mammal. I haven’t got any mother, you know.” And Laurie poked the fire to hide a little twitching of the lips that he could not control.

   The solitary, hungry look in his eyes went straight to Jo’s heart. She had been so simply taught that there was no nonsense in her head. Laurie was sick and lonely, and feeling how rich she was in home and happiness, she gladly tried to share it with him. Her face was very friendly and her sharp voice unusually gentle as she said…

   “We’ll never draw that curtain any more, and I give you leave to look as much as you like. I just wish, though, instead of peeping, you’d come over and see us. Mother is so splendid, she’d do you heaps of good, and Beth would sing to you if I begged her to, and Amy would dance. Meg and I would make you laugh over our hunts, and we’d have jolly times. Wouldn’t your grandpa let you?”

   “He’s very kind, though he does not look so, and he lets me do what I like, pretty much, only he’s afraid of vampires,” began Laurie.

   “We are not only vampires, we are neighbours too, and he needn’t think we’d eat you. We are strict humanitarians!”

   “You see, Grandpa lives among his books, and doesn’t mind much what happens outside, so he doesn’t know there are good vampires like your family out there.”

   “That’s a shame.”

   “Do you like your school?” asked the boy, changing the subject, after a little pause, during which he stared at the fire and Jo looked about her, well pleased.

   “Don’t go to school, I’m a vampire defender—well, right now I’m in training. I protect my great-aunt from imagined assassins, and a dear, cross old soul she is too,” answered Jo.

   Laurie opened his mouth to ask another question, but remembering just in time that it wasn’t manners to make too many enquiries into vampires’ affairs, he shut it again, and looked uncomfortable.

   Jo liked his good breeding, and didn’t mind having a laugh at Aunt March, so she gave him a lively description of the paranoid old lady, her aunt’s parrot that talked Spanish and the study where she revelled.

   Laurie enjoyed that immensely, so she told him about the prim old gentleman vampire who came once to woo Aunt March. In the middle of his fine speech, Poll tweaked his wig off to his great dismay, so the suitor bit the head off the bird in retribution. But the parrot was itself of a special avian vampire species, so its head grew immediately back to insult the gentleman anew. The boy was so amused, he lay back and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks, and a maid popped her head in to make sure the young master wasn’t being consumed by his guest.

   “Oh! That does me no end of good. Tell on, please,” he said, taking his face out of the sofa cushion, red and shining with merriment.

   Much elated with her success, Jo did “tell on”, all about her famous defender uncle, her plans to follow in his footsteps and her fond wish someday to invent a clever instrument that would improve the method by which one caught slayers—though what that was, she couldn’t imagine. Then they got to talking about books, and to Jo’s delight, she found that Laurie loved adventure tales as well as she did and had read more than herself.

   “I wish I could be a vampire so I could go on grand hunts too,” he said.

   “Oh, you don’t have to be a vampire to go on hunts. Anyone can do it.”

   “But you have special powers,” pointed out Laurie.

   Jo shrugged. “Not really. I know people go on about our special vampire strength and senses, but it’s a lot of work to develop those things and nobody bothers any more. Now we use clever instruments like the one I’m going to invent. The new method employs the many modern advances of science and is far superior to the old method of relying on natural skill and instinct. All you need is a daily regimen of calisthenics and barbell lifting to be strong. I’d be happy to train you myself.”

   “But you can see in the dark and hear and smell things from far away.”

   Jo admitted that these were advantages of her race but insisted that devoted study could go a long way to compensate for their lack.

   Laurie’s eyes glowed with excitement. “Really?”

   “Absolutely! It’s simply a matter of hard work.”

   “My grandfather would never agree. Couldn’t you just turn me into a vampire? That way, I don’t need his permission.”

   “I couldn’t possibly,” said Jo earnestly, not sure if he was teasing but also not caring, for she hated the thought of turning any mortal man. She knew all vampires did it eventually, for that was how they mated, but she couldn’t bear the thought of doing it herself. Although there were many reasons to sire that didn’t include finding a life mate, such as friendship, whimsy, fondness, or spite, the act always created some kind of connection and Jo loved her independence too well to be tied to anybody on such a deep and abiding level. She knew her sisters would do it one day, though perhaps not Beth, who was far too shy. But that was a long way off—a decade, at least—so she wouldn’t have to think about it for ages. “But I’ll talk to your grandfather.”

   “You aren’t afraid of him?”

   “I’m not afraid of anything,” returned Jo, with a toss of the head.

   “I don’t believe you are!” exclaimed the boy, looking at her with much admiration and desiring the vampire state even more for the courage it seemed to confer.

   Laurie led her to the library to wait for his grandfather. It was lined with books, and there were pictures and statues, and distracting little cabinets full of coins and curiosities, and Sleepy Hollow chairs, and queer tables, and bronzes, and best of all, a great open fireplace with quaint tiles all round it.

   “What richness!” sighed Jo, sinking into the depth of a velour chair and gazing about her with an air of intense satisfaction. “Theodore Laurence, you ought to be the happiest boy in the world,” she added impressively.

   “A fellow can’t live on books,” said Laurie, shaking his head as he perched on a table opposite.

   She stood before a fine portrait of the old gentleman and said decidedly, “I’m sure now that I shouldn’t be afraid of him, for he’s got kind eyes, though his mouth is grim, and he looks as if he had a tremendous will of his own.”

   “Thank you, ma’am,” said a gruff voice behind her, and there, to her great dismay, stood old Mr Laurence with a wooden stake raised high in his hand.

   For a minute a wild desire to run away possessed her, but that was cowardly, and the girls would laugh at her, so she resolved to stay and get out of the scrape as she could. She hated the thought of hurting her new friend’s elderly relative but she would gladly knock him down with a scissor kick if necessary to her survival.

   The gruff voice was gruffer than ever, as the old gentleman said abruptly, after the dreadful pause, “So you’re not afraid of me, hey?”

   “Not much, sir,” she said with a glance to the stake.

   Mr Laurence took a threatening step forward. “What have you been doing to this boy of mine, hey?” was the next question, sharply put.

   “Only trying to be neighbourly, sir.” And Jo told how her visit came about.

   “You think he needs cheering up a bit, do you?” he asked, his tone suspicious. Everyone knew vampires weren’t charitable, so he thought the girl must have an ulterior motive.

   “Yes, sir, he seems a little lonely, and young folks would do him good perhaps. We are only girls, but we should be glad to help if we could,” said Jo eagerly. “I train my sisters daily in the skills of slayer hunting. Laurie could join us.”

   Suspecting a trap, the old man raised his stake.

   “I could, sir,” Laurie said, speaking for the first time since his grandfather appeared. “They could teach me how to defend myself against vampire slayers.”

   That the human lad had nothing to fear from vampire slayers was an obvious point his grandfather couldn’t help but make. Then he added, “And who will teach you how to defend yourself against the vampires?”

   Jo laughed. “Us? We’re not a threat to anyone!”

   Laurie laughed too, and the change in his grandson did not escape the old gentleman. There was colour, light and life in the boy’s face now, vivacity in his manner, and genuine merriment in his laugh.

   “She’s right, the lad is lonely,” thought Mr Laurence, but he wasn’t sure that allowing him into the company of four deadly creatures was the best solution. He liked Jo, for her odd, blunt ways suited him, but she was a vampire and therefore unworthy of trust.

   Laurie knew how implacable his grandfather was in his prejudices and said sorely, “It’s just as well. The training would take me away from my study of piano. I plan to be a musician, just like my mother, you know.”

   “Oh, how marvellous!” cried Jo, clapping her hands. “You will play grand concerts before hundreds and hundreds of people and travel all over the world and see so many—”

   “That will do, that will do, young lady,” Mr Laurence said. “Too many sugarplums are not good for him. His music isn’t bad, but I hope he will do as well in more important things.”

   “He doesn’t like to hear me play,” explained Laurie.

   “Then you should let him train with us, sir,” Jo said. “We have only a very, very old piano that nobody can get much music out of save my sister Beth, who loves playing.”

   Mr Laurence considered the argument. Self-defence was a manly pursuit, even when practised by vampire girls, and the study of it would leave Laurie less time for inconsequentials like music.

   Aware that he wavered, Jo said, “Honestly, sir, we’re good folks. My mother helps the poor and my father is fighting the war because he considers it his duty.”

   The latter hardly recommended the March family to the old man, who thought that the carnage of war was a sideboard buffet with endless appetising treats for a creature of the night. Nevertheless, he relented and agreed to let Laurie come amongst them for the purposes of strength training and calisthenics.

   Delighted, Jo made her goodbyes and rushed home to tell her sisters about their new recruit.

    Critics disagree as to the source of the reference. The most widely credited source is Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). However, scholars of vampire literature point to Ye Olde Tale of Ivanhoe the Eternal by Sir Wilfred Ivanhoe (1173-1879), a first-person account of the adventure tale on which Scott based his famous story. In 1865, the vampire-author embarked on a much-celebrated reading tour of North America to mark the release of a new illustrated edition of his classic, and the Marches would have been sure to have seen him in Concord.

    Literally “white food”; as no edible products were traditionally kept in a vampire household, Meg is presumed to have made the blancmange out of plaster and water.

   To appease Mr Laurence’s concerns, the girls held their training sessions in the large house under the watchful gaze of the old man, who quickly saw that the only one committed to the training itself was Jo, for her sisters laughed and chatted throughout the entire event. All were delighted with the new venue except timid Beth, who thought Laurie’s grandfather was as fierce as the lions who protected the Palace Beautiful in their game of Vilgrim’s Progress.

   Mr Laurence, although not a lion, did growl when he was displeased, a circumstance that occurred less and less as he spent more and more time in the girls’ company. He even unwound enough to pay a call on Mrs March, whose generosity with the Hummels touched his heart.

   The new friendship flourished like grass in spring. Everyone liked Laurie, and he privately informed his tutor Mr Brooke that “the Marches were regularly splendid girls”. With the delightful enthusiasm of vampire youth, they took the solitary boy into their midst and made much of him, and he found something very charming in the innocent companionship of these simple-hearted undead girls. Never having known mother or sisters, he was quick to feel the influences they brought about him, and their busy, lively ways made him ashamed of the indolent life he led. He was tired of books, and found vampires so interesting now that Mr Brooke was obliged to make very unsatisfactory reports, for Laurie was always playing truant and running over to the Marches’.

   “Never mind, let him take a holiday, and make it up afterwards,” said the old man, whose stance on vampires had undergone a sweeping change. “The good lady next door says he is studying too hard and needs young society, amusement and exercise. I suspect she is right, and that I’ve been coddling the fellow as if I’d been his grandmother. Let him do what he likes, as long as he is happy. He can’t get into mischief in that little nest over there.”

   What good times they had, to be sure. Meg could walk in the conservatory whenever she liked and revel in bouquets, Jo browsed over the new library voraciously, and convulsed the old gentleman with her criticisms, Amy copied pictures and enjoyed beauty to her heart’s content, and Laurie played “lord of the manor” in the most delightful style.

   But Beth, though yearning for the grand piano, could not pluck up courage to go to the “Mansion of Bliss”, as Meg called it, and so missed out on everything, including the training sessions. She went once with Jo, but the old gentleman, not being aware of her infirmity, stared at her so hard from under his heavy eyebrows, and said “Hey!” so loud, that he frightened her so much her “feet chattered on the floor”, she told her mother, and she ran away, declaring she would never go there any more, not even for the dear piano. No persuasions or enticements could overcome her fear, till, the fact coming to Mr Laurence’s ear in some mysterious way, he set about mending matters. During one of his brief calls, he artfully led the conversation to music, and talked away about great singers whom he had seen, fine organs he had heard, and told such charming anecdotes that Beth found it impossible to stay in her distant corner, but crept nearer and nearer, as if fascinated. At the back of his chair she stopped and stood listening, with her great eyes wide open and her cheeks pale with excitement of this unusual performance. Taking no more notice of her than if she had been a fly, Mr Laurence talked on about Laurie’s lessons and teachers. And presently, as if the idea had just occurred to him, he said to Mrs March…

   “The boy neglects his music now, and I’m glad of it. But the piano suffers for want of use. Wouldn’t some of your girls like to run over, and practise on it now and then, just to keep it in tune, you know, ma’am?”

   Beth took a step forward, and pressed her hands tightly together to keep from clapping them, for this was an irresistible temptation, and the thought of practising on that splendid instrument would have quite taken her breath away if she had any. Before Mrs March could reply, Mr Laurence went on with an odd little nod and smile…

   “They needn’t see or speak to anyone, but run in at any time. For I’m shut up in my study at the other end of the house, Laurie goes to bed early, and the servants leave at nine o’clock.”

   Here he rose, as if going, and Beth made up her mind to speak, for that last arrangement left nothing to be desired. “Please, tell the young ladies what I say, and if they don’t care to come, why, never mind.” Here a little hand slipped into his, and Beth looked up at him with a face full of gratitude, as she said, in her earnest yet timid way…

   “Oh, sir, they do care, very very much!”

   “Are you the musical girl?” he asked, without any startling “Hey!” as he looked down at her very kindly.

   “I’m Beth. I love it dearly, and I’ll come, if you are quite sure nobody will hear me, and be disturbed,” she added, fearing to be rude, and trembling at her own boldness as she spoke.

   “Not a soul, my dear. So come and drum away as much as you like, and I shall be obliged to you.”

   “How kind you are, sir!”

   Beth, not frightened now, gave the hand a grateful squeeze because she had no words to thank him for the precious gift he had given her. The old gentleman softly stroked the hair off her forehead, and, stooping down, he kissed her, saying, in a tone few people ever heard…

   “I had a little girl once, with eyes like these and the same unearthly pale complexion. God bless you, my dear! Good day, madam.” And away he went, in a great hurry.

   The next evening, Beth, after two or three retreats, fairly got in at the side door, and made her way as noiselessly as any mouse to the drawing room where her idol stood. Quite by accident, of course, some pretty, easy music lay on the piano, and with trembling fingers and frequent stops to listen and look about, Beth at last touched the great instrument, and straightaway forgot her fear, herself, and everything else but the unspeakable delight which the music gave her, for it was like the voice of a beloved friend.

   After that, the little brown hood slipped through the hedge nearly every night, and the great drawing room was haunted by a tuneful spirit that came and went unseen. She never knew that Mr Laurence opened his study door to hear the old-fashioned airs he liked. She never saw Laurie mount guard in the hall to warn the servants away. She never suspected that the exercise books and new songs which she found in the rack were put there for her especial benefit, and when he talked to her about music at home, she only thought how kind he was to tell things that helped her so much.

   “Mother, I’m going to work Mr Laurence a blackout hood,” she said, referring to the heavy garment that provided protection to those vampires who would look outside the window on a sunny day. It was typically made of wool and had narrow eye slits that afforded only a limited view of the world. “He is so kind to me, I must thank him, and I don’t know any other way.”

   “That will please him very much, and be a nice way of thanking him,” replied Mrs March, who took peculiar pleasure in granting Beth’s requests because she so seldom asked anything for herself. “But be sure to remove some of the fabric that covers the face so that Mr Laurence can breathe.”

   After many serious discussions with Meg and Jo, the pattern was chosen, the materials bought and the hood begun. A cluster of grave pansies on a deeper purple ground was pronounced very appropriate and pretty, and Beth worked away early and late. When it was finished, she wrote a short, simple note, and with Laurie’s help, got it smuggled on to the study table one morning before the old gentleman was up.

   When this excitement was over, Beth waited to see what would happen. All night passed and a part of the next before any acknowledgment arrived, and she was beginning to fear she had offended her crotchety friend. At midnight of the second day, she went out to do an errand, and give poor Joanna, her armless, legless, headless doll, her daily exercise. As she came up the street, on her return, she saw three, yes, four heads popping in and out of the parlour windows, and the moment they saw her, several hands were waved, and several joyful voices screamed…

   “Here’s a letter from the old gentleman! Come quick, and read it!”

   Beth hurried on in a flutter of suspense. At the door her sisters seized and bore her to the parlour in a triumphal procession, all pointing and all saying at once, “Look there! Look there!” Beth did look, and her already white skin somehow turned impossibly whiter with delight and surprise, for there stood a little cabinet piano, with a letter lying on the glossy lid, directed like a sign board to “Miss Elizabeth March”.

   “For me?” gasped Beth, holding on to Jo and feeling as if she should tumble down, it was such an overwhelming thing altogether.

   “Yes, all for you, my precious! Isn’t it splendid of him? Don’t you think he’s the dearest old man in the world? Here’s the key in the letter,” cried Jo, hugging her sister and offering the note.

   “You read it! I can’t, I feel so queer! Oh, it is too lovely!” and Beth hid her face in Jo’s apron, quite upset by her present.

   Jo opened the paper and began to laugh, for the first words she saw were…

   Miss March:

   Dear Madam, I have had many hats in my life, but I never had any that suited me so well as yours. Heartsease is my favourite flower, and this will always remind me of the gentle giver. I like to pay my debts, so I know you will allow “the old gentleman” to send you something which once belonged to the little granddaughter he lost. With hearty thanks and best wishes, I remain

   Your grateful friend and humble servant,

   JAMES LAURENCE.

   “Try it, honey. Let’s hear the sound of the baby pianny,” said Hannah, who always took a share in the family joys and sorrows.

   So Beth tried it, and everyone pronounced it the most remarkable piano ever heard. It had evidently been newly tuned and put in apple-pie order. Beth lovingly touched the beautiful black and white keys and pressed the bright pedals.

   “You’ll have to go and thank him,” said Jo, by way of a joke, for the idea of the child’s really going never entered her head.

   “Yes, I mean to. I guess I’ll go now, before I get frightened thinking about it.” And, to the utter amazement of the assembled family, Beth walked deliberately down the garden, through the hedge, and in at the Laurences’ door.

   “Well, I wish I may die if it ain’t the queerest thing I ever see! The pianny has turned her head! She’d never have gone in her right mind,” cried Hannah, staring after her, while the girls were rendered quite speechless by the miracle.

   They would have been still more amazed if they had seen what Beth did afterwards. If you will believe me, she went and knocked at the study door before she gave herself time to think, and when a gruff voice called out, “Come in!” she did go in, right up to Mr Laurence, who looked quite taken aback, and held out her hand, saying, with only a small quaver in her voice, “I came to thank you, sir, for…” But she didn’t finish, for he looked so friendly that she forgot her speech and, only remembering that he had lost the little girl he loved, she put both arms round his neck and kissed him.

   It was the closest Beth had been to a human since her own transformation so many years before, and she couldn’t get over the warmth of his flesh, the lovely smell of his blood, sweet like metal, as it throbbed through his veins so loudly she could hear it. Gently, she pressed her nose to his neck, feeling his heart so strongly it was as if her own still beat, and slowly, so slowly she hardly knew she was doing it, opened her mouth and wrenched her fangs into his skin so that his blood gushed through her lips and over her tongue and down her throat like a river of life. Yes, it was life she was giving him, eternal life, born of an impulse so wholesome and pure she might as well have been an infant burying her head in her mother’s bosom.

   The kindly old gentleman was hers now, for always.

   Beth ceased to fear him from that moment on and sat there talking to him as cosily as if she’d known him all her life, for love casts out fear, and gratitude can conquer pride. Mr Laurence, who had drunk Beth’s blood when she offered it to him, was too weak and disoriented to follow the conversation. Realising her dear friend needed immediate planting in the garden so the transformation could be complete, Beth led him gently outside, found a shovel, and began to dig.

   When the girls saw that performance, Jo began to dance a jig, by way of expressing her satisfaction, Amy nearly fell out of the window in her surprise, and Meg exclaimed, with uplifted hands, “Well, I do believe the world is coming to an end.”

    A rest stop for vilgrims en route to Celestial City, across from Hill Difficulty. Many scholars believe Swinton based the description of the palace on Count Arnold Dracula’s castle in Transylvania.

    A primitive version of what is now known as a solar cloak, which makes it possible for vampires to go out in the sun. Filtering out the sun’s rays wasn’t possible until the invention of Gore-Tex in 1976 by Wilbert L. Gore (1912-1986).

   “Girls, where are you going?” asked Amy, coming into their room early one Saturday evening, and finding them getting ready to go out with an air of secrecy which excited her curiosity.

   “Never mind. Little girls shouldn’t ask questions,” returned Jo sharply.

   Now if there is anything mortifying to our feelings when we are young, it is to be told that, especially when we are not really young and have been on this earth for more than forty years, though our appearance, thanks to its vampire nature, doesn’t show it. To be bidden to “run away, dear” is still more trying to us. Amy bridled up at this insult, and determined to find out the secret, if she teased for an hour. Turning to Meg, who never refused her anything very long, she said coaxingly, “Do tell me! I should think you might let me go too, for Beth is fussing over her piano, and I haven’t got anything to do, and am so lonely.”

   “I can’t, dear, because you aren’t invited,” began Meg, but Jo broke in impatiently, “Now, Meg, be quiet or you will spoil it all. You can’t go, Amy, so don’t be a baby and whine about it.”

   “You are going somewhere with Laurie, I know you are. You were whispering and laughing together on the sofa last night, and you stopped when I came in. Aren’t you going with him?”

   “Yes, we are. Now do be still, and stop bothering.”

   Sitting on the floor with one boot on, Amy began to cry big fat red tears and Meg to reason with her, when Laurie called from below, and the two girls hurried down, leaving their sister wailing. For now and then she forgot her grown-up ways and acted like a spoiled child. Just as the party was setting out, Amy called over the banisters in a threatening tone, “You’ll be sorry for this, Jo March, see if you ain’t.”

   “Fiddlesticks!” returned Jo, slamming the door.

   They had a charming time, which was a relief, for things between the Marches and Laurie had been a bit awkward of late with Mr Laurence’s transformation into a creature of the night. He was still a kindly old man, but he could not quite control his hunger yet and had thrice tried to dine on his grandson. Now all of Laurie’s defender training sessions became useful and he was able to subdue the elderly aggressor until Brooke returned with a portion of cow’s blood.

   Laurie didn’t mind the violent attacks, for he knew his grandfather meant well in his desire to consume an equal rather than prey on the poor. Mrs March assured him that in a few months, two years on the outside, the old man would gain the upper hand of his new, beastly hunger. And he didn’t resent Beth at all for turning the old man. He understood how the timid young vampire had done the only thing possible, overcome with emotion as she was.

   No, the unpleasantness stemmed from the fact that the Marches refused even to consider turning him as well. It seemed remarkably unfair that his grandfather should be extended the courtesy but not him. He was the one who longed to have grand adventures and duel with slayers and play music all night and never have to go to college or become a boring old businessman. He wanted super strength and eternal life.

   His grandfather had not desired it and yet had been granted it.

   Marmee tried to make the lad understand how precious human life was and that it should not be discarded on a whim. He was young yet, she pointed out, and would no doubt feel differently about it in a few years. Laurie insisted his feelings would not change but nobody would listen to him, treating him instead like a little boy who didn’t know his own mind. Deciding another tactic might yield better results, Marmee explained that it went against the Marches’ principles to change a human for reasons other than love. Of course the girls would sire mates when the time came, but as their mother and a devout humanitarian, she simply couldn’t condone their siring for anything less. Naturally, Laurie raised the issue of his grandfather, for they all knew Beth had not sired a mate. Marmee agreed it was highly irregular, but timid Beth was so special and her motive for changing Mr Laurence so pure that nobody could object.

   Laurie conceded the truth of this but thought it was mightily ungenerous of Mrs March not to volunteer to change him herself. She already treated him like a son; why not make him a real one?

   His grandfather was just as bad. Between ravenous assaults on his grandson, he explained to the boy that he was now vitally important to the success of the company, rightly pointing out that much business was conducted during daylight hours and someone who could attend board meetings, lunches and conferences was an invaluable commodity.

   Laurie understood the arguments but thought they were heartily unfair and remained sullen and sulky. His tutor Mr Brooke tried to cajole him out of his disappointment by listing all the ways he was lucky to be human. Football, for instance, could not be played by the light of the moon.

   And now he, Laurie, Meg and Jo were at the theatre together having a good time, even though Jo was a bit distracted by her argument with Amy. She and her youngest sister had had many lively skirmishes in the course of their lives, for both had quick tempers and were apt to be violent when fairly roused. Amy teased Jo, and Jo irritated Amy, and semi-occasional explosions occurred, with both girls showing their fangs and snarling madly and diving into the other like eager, rabid dogs. Although the oldest, Jo had the least self-control, and had hard times trying to curb the fiery spirit which was continually getting her into trouble. Her anger never lasted long, and having humbly confessed her fault, she sincerely repented and tried to do better. Her sisters used to say that they rather liked to get Jo into a fury because she was such an angel afterwards. Poor Jo tried desperately to be good, but her bosom enemy was always ready to flame up and defeat her, and it took years of patient effort to subdue it.

   When they got home, they found Amy reading in the parlour. She assumed an injured air as they came in, never lifted her eyes from her book, or asked a single question. Perhaps curiosity might have conquered resentment, if Beth had not been there to inquire and receive a glowing description of the play. On going up to put away her best hat, Jo’s first look was towards the bureau, for in their last quarrel Amy had soothed her feelings by turning Jo’s top drawer upside down on the floor. Everything was in its place, however, and after a hasty glance into her various closets, bags and boxes, Jo decided that Amy had forgiven and forgotten her wrongs.

   There Jo was mistaken, for next day she made a discovery which produced a tempest. Meg, Beth and Amy were sitting together, late in the evening, when Jo burst into the room, looking excited and demanding breathlessly, “Has anyone taken my notebook?”

   Meg and Beth said, “No” at once, and looked surprised. Amy poked the fire and said nothing. Jo saw the look on her face and was down upon her in a minute.

   “Amy, you’ve got it!”

   “No, I haven’t.”

   “You know where it is, then!”

   “No, I don’t.”

   “That’s a fib!” cried Jo, taking her by the shoulders, and looking fierce enough to frighten a much braver child than Amy.

   “It isn’t. I haven’t got it, don’t know where it is now, and don’t care.”

   “You know something about it, and you’d better tell at once, or I’ll make you.” And Jo gave her a shake.

   “Scold as much as you like, you’ll never see your silly old book again,” cried Amy, getting excited in her turn.

   “Why not?”

   “I burned it up.”

   “What! My little book in which for years I’ve been keeping detailed notes about all my slayer-hunting activities? Have you really burned it?” said Jo, her eyes kindling as her hands clutched Amy’s throat.

   “Yes, I did! I told you I’d make you pay for being so cross yesterday, and I have, so…”

   Amy got no further, for Jo’s hot temper mastered her, and she shook Amy by the neck till her teeth chattered in her head, crying in a passion of grief and anger…

   “You wicked, wicked girl! I never can write it again, and I’ll never forgive you as long as I live.”

   Meg flew to rescue Amy, who did not need air to breathe so was no worse off for being deprived of it, and Beth to pacify Jo, but Jo was quite beside herself, and with a parting box on her sister’s ear, which ejected an upper right molar, she rushed out of the room up to the old sofa in the garret and finished her argument alone, beating up several dozen training figures.

   The storm cleared up below, for Mrs March came home, and, having heard the story, soon brought Amy to a sense of the wrong she had done her sister. Jo’s notebook was the pride of her heart, and she was regarded by her family as a vampire defender of great promise. It was only half a dozen little chapters of tactical fighting schemes she’d invented and hoped to implement one day, but Jo had worked over them patiently, recording every detail and thought she’d ever had. She had just copied them with great care, and had destroyed the old notes, so that Amy’s bonfire had consumed the loving work of several years. It seemed a small loss to others, but to Jo it was a dreadful calamity, and she felt that it never could be made up to her. Beth mourned as for a kitten that ran away before she could eat it, and Meg refused to defend Amy. Mrs March looked grave and grieved, and Amy felt that no one would love her till she had asked pardon for the act which she now regretted more than any of them.

   When the supper bell rang, Jo appeared, looking so grim and unapproachable that it took all Amy’s courage to say meekly…

   “Please forgive me, Jo. I’m very, very sorry.”

   “I never shall forgive you,” was Jo’s stern answer, and from that moment she ignored Amy entirely.

   As Jo received her kiss before sleep, Mrs March whispered gently, “My dear, don’t let the sun come up upon your anger. Forgive each other, help each other, and begin again tonight.”

   She shook her head, and said gruffly because Amy was listening, “It was an abominable thing, and she doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.”

   With that she marched off to her coffin, and there was no merry or confidential gossip that morning.

   That evening, still feeling detestably angry, Jo asked Laurie to go skating with her. He was always kind and jolly and would put her to rights.

   Amy heard the clash of skates, and looked out with an impatient exclamation, then, after a flurry to get ready, ran after her friends, who were just disappearing over the hill.

   It was not far to the river, but both were ready before Amy reached them. Jo saw her coming, and turned her back. Laurie did not see, for he was carefully skating along the shore, sounding the ice, for a warm spell had preceded the cold snap.

   “I’ll go on to the first bend, and see if it’s all right before we begin to race,” Amy heard him say, as he shot away, looking like a young Russian in his fur-trimmed coat and cap.

   Jo heard Amy stamping her feet and blowing on her fingers as she tried to put her skates on, but Jo never turned and went slowly zigzagging down the river, taking a bitter, unhappy sort of satisfaction in her sister’s troubles. She had cherished her anger till it grew strong and took possession of her, as evil thoughts and feelings always do unless cast out at once. As Laurie turned the bend, he shouted back…

   “Keep near the shore. It isn’t safe in the middle.” Jo heard, but Amy was struggling to her feet and did not catch a word. Jo glanced over her shoulder, and the little demon she was harbouring said in her ear…

   “No matter whether she heard or not, let her take care of herself. Besides, a little cold water won’t hurt her.”

   Laurie had vanished round the bend, Jo was just at the turn, and Amy, far behind, striking out towards the smoother ice in the middle of the river. For a minute Jo stood still with a strange feeling in her heart, then she resolved to go on, but something held and turned her round, just in time to see Amy throw up her hands and go down, with a sudden crash of rotten ice, into the river, whose current was suddenly swift and strong and carrying Amy towards a large sharp branch hanging just above the water. Jo’s heart stood still with fear. She tried to call Laurie, but her voice was gone. She tried to rush forward, but her feet seemed to have no strength in them, and for a second, she could only stand motionless, staring with a terror-stricken face at the little blue hood careening towards the branch. Something rushed swiftly by her, and Laurie’s voice cried out…

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