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Little Women and Werewolves
By Louisa May Alcott
Del ReyCopyright © 2010 Louisa May Alcott
All right reserved.
"Christmas night will have a full moon, so on top ofno presents, we can't go out," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. "It'sfortunate we thought to have a Christmas play, so we could invite friends tostay overnight, or it would have been completely ruined."
"It's so dreadful to be poor! And it's a horror tohave no father or brothers about to do heavy chores and protect us from thewerewolves," sighed Meg, rubbing at a spot on her old dress with herthumb.
"Yes, I don't think it's fair for some girls to havelots of pretty things and other girls nothing at all," declared littleAmy, with an injured sniff.
"We've got Mother, and each other, anyhow,"said Beth contentedly from her corner. "And we can protect ourselves.Besides, Father is as sad as we that he cannot be here with us. And what doesit matter that some girls have lovely clothes when they, just like us, muststay inside during a full moon? Remember that many of them don't even havesisters, so they must shiver all alone in their pretty boots as they listen tothe werewolves howl."
Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth-haired,bright-eyed girl of thirteen who spoke in a soft voice, had a shy manner, atimid voice, and a peaceful expression. Her father called her just that,"Little Tranquility," since she kept herself happy and safe, beyondthe boundaries where harsh reality could invade, within her own little world.
The four young faces on which the firelight shonebrightened at the cheerful words but darkened again when Jo said sadly:"No matter where he wants to be, the fact is we will have no father herefor Christmas, and we shall not have him as long as this terrible war goes on."
"He would want us to be merry," Beth pointedout. "And we each have a dollar to spend for the occasion."
"We can do little with that, and I would hardly wantto, with such suffering going on all around us," Meg said, trying to pushfrom her mind all the pretty things she wanted. Meg, or Margaret, was theoldest sister: sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with plenty ofsoft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands of which she was rather vain.
"I can do a lot with it. I can buy a new book, maybetwo," Jo said. She was fifteen, very tall, thin, and brown, and brought tomind a new colt trying to learn how to use its long limbs. Her features battledwith one another: a firm, set mouth, a comical nose, and sharp gray eyes thatwere by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick chestnut hair washer one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way.
"I planned to spend mine on new music," saidBeth with a smile, a lovely tune playing in her head.
"I shall get a nice box of Faber's drawing pencils;I really need them," said Amy decidedly. Amy was the youngest. She had icyblue eyes and yellow hair that curled on her shoulders; pale and slender, shealways carried herself like a young lady mindful of her manners.
"I have earned a treat, spending my days teachingthose dreadful children," began Meg, in the complaining tone again.
"You don't have half such a hard time as I do,"said Jo. "How would you like to be shut up for hours with a nervous, fussyold lady, who keeps you trotting, is never satisfied, and worries you tillyou're ready to fly out of the window or box her ears?" It was her lot tospend her days reading to Aunt March, her father's wealthy and grouchy widowedaunt.
"It's naughty to fret, but I do think washing andcleaning is the worst work of all. It makes me cross, and my hands are as roughas a man's. I would so like to have soft hands when I sit at the piano andplay," Beth said, looking down at her work-reddened hands.
"I don't believe that any of you suffer as Ido," cried Amy; "for you don't have to go to school with impertinentgirls, who tease me when I don't know my lessons, injure me because my coat isworn, stare at my ugly nose, and think their father better than mine because ofthe contents of his wallet," cried Amy.
"You certainly mean insult rather than injure, don'tyou?" Jo laughed. "It isn't as if they blacken your eyes, or rip theflesh from your bones like the werewolves would if they could get their sharpteeth around your throat."
"I know what I mean, and I am correct in saying theyinjure me. It is in the figurative sense. It's proper to use good words, andimprove your vocabulary," returned Amy with dignity.
"Don't fight your own war within these walls whentrue war rages outside them," scolded Meg.
"But Jo does use such slang words, as if she werefrom the lowest of classes," observed Amy. Hearing that, Jo sat up andbegan to whistle.
"Don't, Jo; it's so boyish!"
"That's why I do it."
"I suppose you also howl like the werewolves."
Jo raised her face to the ceiling and let out a low andfierce howl.
"I detest rude, unladylike girls."
"I hate affected, niminy-piminy chits."
"Foxes sharing a den agree," sang Beth, thepeacemaker, with such a fearsome but funny face that both sharp voices softenedto a laugh.
"Really, girls, you are both to be blamed,"said Meg, beginning to lecture in her elder-sisterly fashion. "Jo, youcould be concentrating on being a young lady, especially as you have grown sotall and look like one with your hair worn up."
"I ain't one! And if I look like a lady with my hairup, I shall wear it down till I'm twenty," Jo cried, pulling down her hairso the chestnut-colored locks fell over her shoulders and down her back."It's bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like the work and play ofboys, and have little time to worry about such things as manners. Why, I shouldbe off fighting with Father, but instead have to stay home and knit like a pokyold drooling woman. At least my socks get to see battle." She shook the bluearmy sock hanging from the end of her knitting needle till the needles rattledlike castanets.
"It is your burden to bear, so make the best ofit," said Beth, stroking her sister's hair. "Fight werewolves, notyour own sister, if you want to fight so badly."
"As for you, Amy, you are altogether too particularand prim," continued Meg. "Jo may assume the part of the wolf in ourfamily, but you'll grow up an affected little goose if you don't takecare."
"If we have a wolf and a goose, then what am I,please?" Beth asked.
"A dear, and nothing more," answered Megwarmly; and no one contradicted her. Nobody mentioned aloud that Beth was theirmouse, the meek pet of the family, kept carefully caged for her own safety.
The snow fell softly outside as the sisters knit theirblue socks for the fighting soldiers. The girls' father had once been wealthybut had lost a great deal of money, so they were not fully accepted by eitherthe rich or the poor young people in town, but the sisters had, in one another,all the friendship, diversion, and caring they needed. The carpet and furniturein the house were old and well worn, yet it was a comfortable home filled withthe warmth of the fire and the scent of Christmas roses that bloomed on thewindowsill.
The clock struck the hour of six, and Beth put a pair ofslippers by the fire so their mother would have a warm pair to slip into whenshe returned home. "These are so worn," she said, holding them out towardher sisters. "I think I'll buy Marmee a new pair with my dollar."
"No, I shall!" cried Amy.
"I'm the oldest," Meg began.
"But I am the man of the family, with our dearfather gone, so I shall provide the slippers. It was me that Father asked totake care of Mother while he was away," Jo said.
"Let's each get her something for Christmas!"Beth exclaimed. "We don't really need to get anything for ourselves."
"But what would we get?" asked Jo.
They thought for a moment, and then suddenly beganspilling out ideas.
"A pair of gloves!" Meg announced.
"Army shoes, or perhaps boots, for the nights sheinsists on standing guard defending us against werewolves," Jo said."Or, even better for those nights, a pocket knife with a sharp and readyblade made of real silver."
"A small bottle of cologne doesn't cost much, so Icould also buy myself a few pencils," Amy added.
"We can shop tomorrow afternoon. Marmee will thinkwe're going to buy things for ourselves. There is so much to do yet for ourChristmas play, but I can think about it and plan it in my head while wewalk," Jo said, pacing the room, back and forth, back and forth.
"This is my last year acting. I am really too old,even now, to be doing so," observed Meg, who was as much a child as everabout "dressing up" frolics.
"I'll believe you are stopping when I see it,"Jo said. "You are our best actress, and our productions will end if youquit the boards."
"What play will we do, Jo?"
"Mine," Jo replied, trying not to appear tooboastful. "The one I wrote. The Werewolf Curse: An Operatic Tragedy isperfect for the occasion."
"Oh, yes, Jo! It will be perfect." Beth sighed,thinking her sister gifted with wonderful genius in all things.<o:p></o:p> <o:p></o:p> "And I shall play the fiercest werewolf that everlived!" Jo marched about the room, teeth bared and fingers curled intoclaws, as her sisters shrieked and laughed.
"How nice to see my girls so merry!" Marmeesaid, stepping into the room. Although not elegantly dressed, she was tall, hada noble air, and her girls thought her the most splendid mother on earth.
"You look tired, or sad, Marmee," Meg said.
"I was helping at the clinic, as you know, and theBrigade stormed in and took three women, three patients away."
"The Brigade!" Jo cried. "I thought theydisbanded due to the war."
"When the men went off to fight, it certainlyappeared that way. But now there are women rising up to fight, as they call it,'the threat of werewolves among us,' and a war hero leads them, one who wasinjured and sent home, but with a hunger for battle still in his heart. He andothers returning from the war are reviving the Brigade with alarmingswiftness."
"Did they accuse all three of those women of beingwerewolves?" Amy asked, eyes wide.
"They said two were werewolves and the other awerewolf sympathizer. One had an infected wound, and they produced a knife saidto have cut into a werewolf as it attacked, and they swore it a perfect matchto her wound, although I did not think it was, and I said as much."
"I'm glad the clinic is so far from us if that'swhere werewolves take refuge," Amy said with a sigh.
"But there is no proof they are what they areaccused of being. And you're safe here, Amy, just as we have always told you. Iknow you fear the werewolves more than anything else on this earth, but you arewell protected, my child," Marmee said as she smoothed her youngestdaughter's hair.
"And the other women?" Jo asked. "What wasthe Brigade's case against them?"
"The other accused of being a werewolf had a weakinfant, and we all know pure werewolves, those born of both werewolf mothersand fathers, languish during their first few years. But hunger and poverty alsocause infant weakness, a fact the Brigade chose to ignore completely."
"What of the sympathizer?"
"I have no idea what evidence they had against thatwoman. They took her out by her hair as she kicked, cried, and screamed; butwhat is saddest is that sometime during the mêlée, the ailing infant perished.It is so unfair that they continue to lay blame only at the feet of the poor; Icannot recall a time that a wealthy person was executed as either a werewolf ora werewolf sympathizer. Oh, but the Brigade frightened us all, stomping aboutin those horrible breastplates and helmets, and I saw absolutely that some ofthem were women. The whole affair was surely as brutal and inhuman as anythingon the war's battlefields."
"We are all so helpless against that foul Brigade,it's a wonder they have amassed such great support," Meg said.<o:p></o:p> <o:p></o:p> "People are afraid, and they are selfish. Theycannot see what it's like to be another, to live as a werewolf with a need forhuman meat. And because they are the werewolves' prey, they vilify the poorcreatures and view them as purely evil. I think, although most citizensdisapprove of the Brigade's tactics, they yet view it as necessary."
"If only the whole world had Father's generousoutlook!" Beth exclaimed.
"If that were the case, he would be here by oursides because there would be no war either against werewolves or against eachother," said Marmee.
"Come warm yourself by the fire, Mother," Megsuggested.
Marmee nodded and held her hands out toward thecomforting flames of the hearth. "I reminded the Brigade that it wasnearly Christmas, but they turned the table and reminded me of the womanslaughtered and eaten last month who had children of her own left behind andalone for Christmas. But I then spoke up once more to add that they would bequite busy if they wished to rid us of werewolves completely, for with so manygone in the war, a full one-quarter of our population are now werewolves, richas well as poor; of all ages and both men and women."
"And what was their reaction then, Marmee?"asked Jo, inching forward to better hear and memorize her mother's tale ofconfrontation.
"They differed, as expected, saying that nowherenear that many werewolves exist, but there were many others present whobelieved my figures accurate. No one in that room could remember a time whenthere were no werewolves among us; some recalled even long-dead forebearsrelating their childhood memories of bolting their doors on nights with fullmoons."
"I overheard Father, just before he left, estimatingthat it was close to one-third of this town's population who arewerewolves," said Beth.
"It can't be that many!" Amy exclaimed.
Marmee glanced at her other daughters, and they allquickly assured Amy that the quoted numbers were inflated, although in theirhearts they feared the numbers to be even higher.
"And the werewolves all live far from us, don't they?" Amy questioned.
"They do, indeed," Marmee said with a smile."Just as we have always told you."
Excerpted from Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott Copyright © 2010 by Louisa May Alcott. Excerpted by permission.
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