Little Vampire Women, Page 2Louisa May Alcott
“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 Moldoveneasc Accords5 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.
A MERRY CHRISTMAS
Jo was the first to wake in the gray 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 anymore.”
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 recognize 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 honor. 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 th
em. 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 afterward. 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!
THE LAURENCE BOY
“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,6 curled up in an old three-legged sofa by the window. This was Jo’s favorite 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 parlor 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 paralyzing 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.7 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 neighborhood 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 press8 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,9 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.”