New York, November
Dear Marmee and Beth,
I’m going to write you a regular volume, for I’ve got heaps
to tell, though I’m not a fine young lady traveling on the continent.
When I lost sight of Father’s dear old face, I felt a
trifle blue, and might have shed a briny drop or two, if an
Irish lady with four small children, all crying more or less,
hadn’t diverted my mind, for I amused myself by dropping gingerbread
nuts over the seat every time they opened their mouths to roar.
Soon the sun came out, and taking it as a good omen, I
cleared up likewise and enjoyed my journey with all my heart.
Mrs. Kirke welcomed me so kindly I felt at home at once,
even in that big house full of strangers. She gave me a funny
little sky parlor – all she had, but there is a stove in it, and a
nice table in a sunny window, so I can sit here and write whenever
I like. A fine view and a church tower opposite atone for
the many stairs, and I took a fancy to my den on the spot.
The nursery, where I am to teach and sew, is a pleasant room next
Mrs. Kirke’s private parlor, and the two little girls are pretty
children, rather spoiled, I fancy, but they took to me after
telling them The Seven Bad Pigs, and I’ve no doubt I shall make
a model governess.
I am to have my meals with the children, if I prefer it to
the great table, and for the present I do, for I am bashful,
though no one will believe it.
"Now, my dear, make yourself at home," said Mrs. K. in her
motherly way, "I’m on the drive from morning to night, as you
may suppose with such a family, but a great anxiety will be off
my mind if I know the children are safe with you. My rooms are
always open to you, and your own shall be as comfortable as I
can make it. There are some pleasant people in the house if you
feel sociable, and your evenings are always free. Come to me
if anything goes wrong, and be as happy as you can. There’s the
tea bell, I must run and change my cap." And off she bustled,
leaving me to settle myself in my new nest.
As I went downstairs soon after, I saw something I liked.
The flights are very long in this tall house, and as I stood
waiting at the head of the third one for a little servant girl
to lumber up, I saw a gentleman come along behind her, take the
heavy hod of coal out of her hand, carry it all the way up, put
it down at a door near by, and walk away, saying, with a kind
nod and a foreign accent, "It goes better so. The little back
is too young to haf such heaviness."
Wasn’t it good of him? I like such things, for as Father
says, trifles show character. When I mentioned it to Mrs. K.,
that evening, she laughed, and said, "That must have been
Professor Bhaer, he’s always doing things of that sort."
Mrs. K. told me he was from Berlin, very learned and good,
but poor as a church mouse, and gives lessons to support himself
and two little orphan nephews whom he is educating here, according
to the wishes of his sister, who married an American. Not
a very romantic story, but it interested me, and I was glad to
hear that Mrs. K. lends him her parlor for some of his scholars.
There is a glass door between it and the nursery, and I mean to
peep at him, and then I’ll tell you how he looks. He’s almost
forty, so it’s no harm, Marmee.
After tea and a go-to-bed romp with the little girls, I
attacked the big workbasket, and had a quiet evening chatting
with my new friend. I shall keep a journal-letter, and send it
once a week, so goodnight, and more tomorrow.
Had a lively time in my seminary this morning, for the
children acted like Sancho, and at one time I really thought I
should shake them all round. Some good angel inspired me to
try gymnastics, and I kept it up till they were glad to sit down
and keep still. After luncheon, the girl took them out for a
walk, and I went to my needlework like little Mabel ‘with a
willing mind’. I was thanking my stars that I’d learned to
make nice buttonholes, when the parlor door opened and shut,
and someone began to hum, Kennst Du Das Land, like a big bumblebee.
It was dreadfully improper, I know, but I couldn’t
resist the temptation, and lifting one end of the curtain
before the glass door, I peeped in. Professor Bhaer was there,
and while he arranged his books, I took a good look at him. A
regular German – rather stout, with brown hair tumbled all over
his head, a bushy beard, good nose, the kindest eyes I ever
saw, and a splendid big voice that does one’s ears good, after
our sharp or slipshod American gabble. His clothes were rusty,
his hands were large, and he hadn’t a really handsome feature
in his face, except his beautiful teeth, yet I liked him, for
he had a fine head, his linen was very nice, and he looked
like a gentleman, though two buttons were off his coat and
there was a patch on one shoe. He looked sober in spite of
his humming, till he went to the window to turn the hyacinth
bulbs toward the sun, and stroke the cat, who received him
like an old friend. Then he smiled, and when a tap came at
the door, called out in a loud, brisk tone, "Herein!"
I was just going to run, when I caught sight of a morsel of
a child carrying a big book, and stopped, to see what was going
"Me wants me Bhaer," said the mite, slamming down her book
and running to meet him.
"Thou shalt haf thy Bhaer. Come, then, and take a goot
hug from him, my Tina," said the Professor, catching her up
with a laugh, and holding her so high over his head that she
had to stoop her little face to kiss him.
"Now me mus tuddy my lessin," went on the funny little
thing. So he put her up at the table, opened the great dictionary
she had brought, and gave her a paper and pencil, and
she scribbled away, turning a leaf now and then, and passing
her little fat finger down the page, as if finding a word,
so soberly that I nearly betrayed myself by a laugh, while
Mr. Bhaer stood stroking her pretty hair with a fatherly look
that made me think she must be his own, though she looked more
French than German.
Another knock and the appearance of two young ladies sent
me back to my work, and there I virtuously remained through all
the noise and gabbling that went on next door. One of the girls
kept laughing affectedly, and saying, "Now Professor," in a
coquettish tone, and the other pronounced her German with an
accent that must have made it hard for him to keep sober.
Both seemed to try his patience sorely, for more than once
I heard him say emphatically, "No, no, it is not so, you haf
not attend to what I say," and once there was a loud rap, as
if he struck the table with his book, followed by the despairing
exclamation, "Prut! It all goes bad this day."
Poor man, I pitied him, and when the girls were gone, took
just one more peep to see if he survived it. He seemed to have
thrown himself back in his chair, tired out, and sat there with
his eyes shut till the clock struck two, when he jumped up, put
his books in his pocket, as if ready for another lesson, and
taking little Tina who had fallen asleep on the sofa in his
arms, he carried her quietly away. I fancy he has a hard life
of it. Mrs. Kirke asked me if I wouldn’t go down to the five
o’clock dinner, and feeling a little bit homesick, I thought
I would, just to see what sort of people are under the same
roof with me. So I made myself respectable and tried to slip
in behind Mrs. Kirke, but as she is short and I’m tall, my
efforts at concealment were rather a failure. She gave me a
seat by her, and after my face cooled off, I plucked up courage
and looked about me. The long table was full, and every
one intent on getting their dinner, the gentlemen especially,
who seemed to be eating on time, for they bolted in every
sense of the word, vanishing as soon as they were done. There
was the usual assortment of young men absorbed in themselves,
young couples absorbed in each other, married ladies in their
babies, and old gentlemen in politics. I don’t think I shall
care to have much to do with any of them, except one sweetfaced
maiden lady, who looks as if she had something in her.
Cast away at the very bottom of the table was the Professor,
shouting answers to the questions of a very inquisitive,
deaf old gentleman on one side, and talking philosophy with
a Frenchman on the other. If Amy had been here, she’d have
turned her back on him forever because, sad to relate, he had
a great appetite, and shoveled in his dinner in a manner which
would have horrified ‘her ladyship’. I didn’t mind, for I like
‘to see folks eat with a relish’, as Hannah says, and the poor
man must have needed a deal of food after teaching idiots all day.
As I went upstairs after dinner, two of the young men
were settling their hats before the hall mirror, and I heard
one say low to the other, "Who’s the new party?"
"Governess, or something of that sort."
"What the deuce is she at our table for?"
"Friend of the old lady’s."
"Handsome head, but no style."
"Not a bit of it. Give us a light and come on."
I felt angry at first, and then I didn’t care, for a governess
is as good as a clerk, and I’ve got sense, if I haven’t
style, which is more than some people have, judging from the
remarks of the elegant beings who clattered away, smoking like
bad chimneys. I hate ordinary people!
Yesterday was a quiet day spent in teaching, sewing, and
writing in my little room, which is very cozy, with a light and
fire. I picked up a few bits of news and was introduced to the
Professor. It seems that Tina is the child of the Frenchwoman
who does the fine ironing in the laundry here. The little thing
has lost her heart to Mr. Bhaer, and follows him about the house
like a dog whenever he is at home, which delights him, as he is
very fond of children, though a ‘bacheldore’. Kitty and Minnie
Kirke likewise regard him with affection, and tell all sorts of
stories about the plays he invents, the presents he brings, and
the splendid tales he tells. The younger men quiz him, it seems,
call him Old Fritz, Lager Beer, Ursa Major, and make all manner
of jokes on his name. But he enjoys it like a boy, Mrs. Kirke
says, and takes it so good-naturedly that they all like him in
spite of his foreign ways.
The maiden lady is a Miss Norton, rich, cultivated, and
kind. She spoke to me at dinner today (for I went to table
again, it’s such fun to watch people), and asked me to come
and see her at her room. She has fine books and pictures,
knows interesting persons, and seems friendly, so I shall make
myself agreeable, for I do want to get into good society, only
it isn’t the same sort that Amy likes.
I was in our parlor last evening when Mr. Bhaer came in
with some newspapers for Mrs. Kirke. She wasn’t there, but
Minnie, who is a little old woman, introduced me very prettily.
"This is Mamma’s friend, Miss March."
"Yes, and she’s jolly and we like her lots," added Kitty,
who is an ‘enfant terrible’.
We both bowed, and then we laughed, for the prim introduction
and the blunt addition were rather a comical contrast.
"Ah, yes, I hear these naughty ones go to vex you, Mees
Marsch. If so again, call at me and I come," he said, with a
threatening frown that delighted the little wretches.
I promised I would, and he departed, but it seems as if I
was doomed to see a good deal of him, for today as I passed
his door on my way out, by accident I knocked against it with
my umbrella. It flew open, and there he stood in his dressing
gown, with a big blue sock on one hand and a darning needle
in the other. He didn’t seem at all ashamed of it, for when
I explained and hurried on, he waved his hand, sock and all,
saying in his loud, cheerful way . . .
"You haf a fine day to make your walk. Bon voyage, Mademoiselle."
I laughed all the way downstairs, but it was a little pathetic,
also to think of the poor man having to mend his own clothes.
The German gentlemen embroider, I know, but darning hose is
another thing and not so pretty.
Nothing has happened to write about, except a call on Miss
Norton, who has a room full of pretty things, and who was very
charming, for she showed me all her treasures, and asked me if
I would sometimes go with her to lectures and concerts, as her
escort, if I enjoyed them. She put it as a favor, but I’m sure
Mrs. Kirke has told her about us, and she does it out of kindness
to me. I’m as proud as Lucifer, but such favors from such
people don’t burden me, and I accepted gratefully.
When I got back to the nursery there was such an uproar
in the parlor that I looked in, and there was Mr. Bhaer down
on his hands and knees, with Tina on his back, Kitty leading
him with a jump rope, and Minnie feeding two small boys with
seedcakes, as they roared and ramped in cages built of chairs.
"We are playing nargerie," explained Kitty.
"Dis is mine effalunt!" added Tina, holding on by the
"Mamma always allows us to do what we like Saturday afternoon,
when Franz and Emil come, doesn’t she, Mr. Bhaer?"
The ‘effalunt’ sat up, looking as much in earnest as any
of them, and said soberly to me, "I gif you my wort it is so,
if we make too large a noise you shall say Hush! to us, and we
go more softly."
I promised to do so, but left the door open and enjoyed the
fun as much as they did, for a more glorious frolic I never
witnessed. They played tag and soldiers, danced and sang,
and when it began to grow dark they all piled onto the sofa about
the Professor, while he told charming fairy stories of the storks
on the chimney tops, and the little ‘koblods’, who ride the
snowflakes as they fall. I wish Americans were as simple and
natural as Germans, don’t you?
I’m so fond of writing, I should go spinning on forever if
motives of economy didn’t stop me, for though I’ve used thin
paper and written fine, I tremble to think of the stamps this
long letter will need. Pray forward Amy’s as soon as you can
spare them. My small news will sound very flat after her
splendors, but you will like them, I know. Is Teddy studying
so hard that he can’t find time to write to his friends? Take
good care of him for me, Beth, and tell me all about the babies,
and give heaps of love to everyone. From your faithful Jo.
P.S. On reading over my letter, it strikes me as rather
Bhaery, but I am always interested in odd people, and I really
had nothing else to write about. Bless you!
My Precious Betsey,
As this is to be a scribble-scrabble letter, I direct it to
you, for it may amuse you, and give you some idea of my goings
on, for though quiet, they are rather amusing, for which, oh,
be joyful! After what Amy would call Herculaneum efforts, in
the way of mental and moral agriculture, my young ideas begin
to shoot and my little twigs to bend as I could wish. They are
not so interesting to me as Tina and the boys, but I do my duty
by them, and they are fond of me. Franz and Emil are jolly
little lads, quite after my own heart, for the mixture of
German and American spirit in them produces a constant state of
effervescence. Saturday afternoons are riotous times, whether
spent in the house or out, for on pleasant days they all go to
walk, like a seminary, with the Professor and myself to keep
order, and then such fun!
We are very good friends now, and I’ve begun to take
lessons. I really couldn’t help it, and it all came about in
such a droll way that I must tell you. To begin at the beginning,
Mrs. Kirke called to me one day as I passed Mr. Bhaer’s room
where she was rummaging.
"Did you ever see such a den, my dear? Just come and
help me put these books to rights, for I’ve turned everything
upside down, trying to discover what he has done with the six
new handkerchiefs I gave him not long ago."
I went in, and while we worked I looked about me, for it
was ‘a den’ to be sure. Books and papers everywhere, a broken
meerschaum, and an old flute over the mantlepiece as if done
with, a ragged bird without any tail chirped on one window
seat, and a box of white mice adorned the other. Half-finished
boats and bits of string lay among the manuscripts. Dirty
little boots stood drying before the fire, and traces of the
dearly beloved boys, for whom he makes a slave of himself,
were to be seen all over the room. After a grand rummage
three of the missing articles were found, one over the bird
cage, one covered with ink, and a third burned brown, having
been used as a holder.
"Such a man!" laughed good-natured Mrs. K., as she put the
relics in the rag bay. "I suppose the others are torn up to
rig ships, bandage cut fingers, or make kite tails. It’s dreadful,
but I can’t scold him. He’s so absent-minded and goodnatured,
he lets those boys ride over him roughshod. I agreed to do
his washing and mending, but he forgets to give out his things
and I forget to look them over, so he comes to a sad pass sometimes."
"Let me mend them," said I. "I don’t mind it, and he needn’t
know. I’d like to, he’s so kind to me about bringing my letters
and lending books."
So I have got his things in order, and knit heels into two
pairs of the socks, for they were boggled out of shape with his
queer darns. Nothing was said, and I hoped he wouldn’t find it
out, but one day last week he caught me at it. Hearing the
lessons he gives to others has interested and amused me so much
that I took a fancy to learn, for Tina runs in and out, leaving
the door open, and I can hear. I had been sitting near this
door, finishing off the last sock, and trying to understand what
he said to a new scholar, who is as stupid as I am. The girl
had gone, and I thought he had also, it was so still, and I was
busily gabbling over a verb, and rocking to and fro in a most
absurd way, when a little crow made me look up, and there was
Mr. Bhaer looking and laughing quietly, while he made signs to
Tina not to betray him.
"So!" he said, as I stopped and stared like a goose, "you
peep at me, I peep at you, and this is not bad, but see, I am
not pleasanting when I say, haf you a wish for German?"
"Yes, but you are too busy. I am too stupid to learn," I
blundered out, as red as a peony.
"Prut! We will make the time, and we fail not to find the
sense. At efening I shall gif a little lesson with much gladness,
for look you, Mees Marsch, I haf this debt to pay." And
he pointed to my work ‘Yes,’ they say to one another, these so
kind ladies, ‘he is a stupid old fellow, he will see not what we
do, he will never observe that his sock heels go not in holes
any more, he will think his buttons grow out new when they fall,
and believe that strings make theirselves.’ "Ah! But I haf an
eye, and I see much. I haf a heart, and I feel thanks for this.
Come, a little lesson then and now, or – no more good fairy works
for me and mine."
Of course I couldn’t say anything after that, and as it
really is a splendid opportunity, I made the bargain, and we
began. I took four lessons, and then I stuck fast in a grammatical
bog. The Professor was very patient with me, but it must
have been torment to him, and now and then he’d look at me
with such an expression of mild despair that it was a toss-up
with me whether to laugh or cry. I tried both ways, and when
it came to a sniff or utter mortification and woe, he just
threw the grammar on to the floor and marched out of the room.
I felt myself disgraced and deserted forever, but didn’t blame
him a particle, and was scrambling my papers together, meaning
to rush upstairs and shake myself hard, when in he came, as
brisk and beaming as if I’d covered myself in glory.
"Now we shall try a new way. You and I will read these
pleasant little marchen together, and dig no more in that
dry book, that goes in the corner for making us trouble."
He spoke so kindly, and opened Hans Andersons’s fairy
tales so invitingly before me, that I was more ashamed than
ever, and went at my lesson in a neck-or-nothing style that
seemed to amuse him immensely. I forgot my bashfulness, and
pegged away (no other word will express it) with all my might,
tumbling over long words, pronouncing according to inspiration
of the minute, and doing my very best. When I finished reading
my first page, and stopped for breath, he clapped his hands and
cried out in his hearty way, "Das ist gut! Now we go well! My
turn. I do him in German, gif me your ear." And away he went,
rumbling out the words with his strong voice and a relish which
was good to see as well as hear. Fortunately the story was _The
Constant Tin Soldier_, which is droll, you know, so I could laugh,
and I did, though I didn’t understand half he read, for I couldn’t
help it, he was so earnest, I so excited, and the whole thing so
After that we got on better, and now I read my lessons
pretty well, for this way of studying suits me, and I can see
that the grammar gets tucked into the tales and poetry as one
gives pills in jelly. I like it very much, and he doesn’t seem
tired of it yet, which is very good of him, isn’t it? I mean
to give him something on Christmas, for I dare not offer money.
Tell me something nice, Marmee.
I’m glad Laurie seems so happy and busy, that he has given
up smoking and lets his hair grow. You see Beth manages him
better than I did. I’m not jealous, dear, do your best, only
don’t make a saint of him. I’m afraid I couldn’t like him
without a spice of human naughtiness. Read him bits of my
letters. I haven’t time to write much, and that will do just
as well. Thank Heaven Beth continues so comfortable.
A Happy New Year to you all, my dearest family, which of
course includes Mr. L. and a young man by the name of Teddy.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your Christmas bundle,
for I didn’t get it till night and had given up hoping. Your
letter came in the morning, but you said nothing about a
parcel, meaning it for a surprise, so I was disappointed,
for I’d had a ‘kind of feeling’ that you wouldn’t forget me.
I felt a little low in my mind as I sat up in my room after
tea, and when the big, muddy, battered-looking bundle was
brought to me, I just hugged it and pranced. It was so
homey and refreshing that I sat down on the floor and read
and looked and ate and laughed and cried, in my usual absurd
way. The things were just what I wanted, and all the better
for being made instead of bought. Beth’s new ‘ink bib’ was
capital, and Hannah’s box of hard gingerbread will be a
treasure. I’ll be sure and wear the nice flannels you sent,
Marmee, and read carefully the books Father has marked. Thank
you all, heaps and heaps!
Speaking of books reminds me that I’m getting rich in that
line, for on New Year’s Day Mr. Bhaer gave me a fine Shakespeare.
It is one he values much, and I’ve often admired it,
set up in the place of honor with his German Bible, Plato,
Homer, and Milton, so you may imagine how I felt when he brought
it down, without its cover, and showed me my own name in it,
"from my friend Friedrich Bhaer".
"You say often you wish a library. Here I gif you one, for
between these lids (he meant covers) is many books in one. Read
him well, and he will help you much, for the study of character
in this book will help you to read it in the world and paint it
with your pen."
I thanked him as well as I could, and talk now about ‘my
library’, as if I had a hundred books. I never knew how much
there was in Shakespeare before, but then I never had a Bhaer
to explain it to me. Now don’t laugh at his horrid name. It
isn’t pronounced either Bear or Beer, as people will say it,
but something between the two, as only Germans can give it.
I’m glad you both like what I tell you about him, and hope you
will know him some day. Mother would admire his warm heart,
Father his wise head. I admire both, and feel rich in my new
‘friend Friedrich Bhaer’.
Not having much money, or knowing what he’d like, I got
several little things, and put them about the room, where he
would find them unexpectedly. They were useful, pretty, or
funny, a new standish on his table, a little vase for his
flower, he always has one, or a bit of green in a glass, to
keep him fresh, he says, and a holder for his blower, so
that he needn’t burn up what Amy calls ‘mouchoirs’. I made
it like those Beth invented, a big butterfly with a fat body,
and black and yellow wings, worsted feelers, and bead eyes.
It took his fancy immensely, and he put it on his mantlepiece
as an article of virtue, so it was rather a failure after all.
Poor as he is, he didn’t forget a servant or a child in the
house, and not a soul here, from the French laundrywoman to
Miss Norton forgot him. I was so glad of that.
They got up a masquerade, and had a gay time New Year’s
Eve. I didn’t mean to go down, having no dress. But at the
last minute, Mrs. Kirke remembered some old brocades, and Miss
Norton lent me lace and feathers. So I dressed up as Mrs.
Malaprop, and sailed in with a mask on. No one knew me, for I
disguised my voice, and no one dreamed of the silent, haughty
Miss March (for they think I am very stiff and cool, most of
them, and so I am to whippersnappers) could dance and dress,
and burst out into a ‘nice derangement of epitaphs, like an
allegory on the banks of the Nile’. I enjoyed it very much,
and when we unmasked it was fun to see them stare at me. I
heard one of the young men tell another that he knew I’d been
an actress, in fact, he thought he remembered seeing me at
one of the minor theaters. Meg will relish that joke. Mr.
Bhaer was Nick Bottom, and Tina was Titania, a perfect little
fairy in his arms. To see them dance was ‘quite a landscape’,
to use a Teddyism.
I had a very happy New Year, after all, and when I thought
it over in my room, I felt as if I was getting on a little in
spite of my many failures, for I’m cheerful all the time now,
work with a will, and take more interest in other people than
I used to, which is satisfactory. Bless you all! Ever your
loving . . . Jo