The Courtship of Jo March: a variation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women by Trix Wilkins by Trix Wilkins - Read Online
The Courtship of Jo March
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Summary

If only she had survived, and he had returned...

It’s the classic story of four sisters we’ve come to love, and yet we can’t help but wonder. Why did Jo refuse Laurie? What might Laurie have done on the European Grand Tour? What became of Jo’s writing, Amy’s art, Laurie’s music? Would a school have existed without Aunt March? And could Beth possibly have been saved?

This re-imagining of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is for all who have ever wondered how things might have worked out differently for the beloved March sisters – the life Beth might have led, the books Jo might have written, the friends they might have made, and the courtship that might have been.

A strongly flowing and ultimately satisfying narrative…Alcott fans would enjoy The Courtship of Jo March immensely. Stephanie Jane, Literary Flits

Delightful…This book is for fans of Jo and Laurie, and it delivers in that department beautifully. Andrea Lundgren, Into the Writer Lea

TRIX WILKINS has always longed for an Austenesque ending to Little Women. She avoids housekeeping by going ice skating or on dates with her husband when they can find babysitting, and is still working out what to do with her degrees in journalism and international relations. The Courtship of Jo March is her first novel.

Much ado about Little Women www.marchandlaurencelittlewomen.wordpress.com

Paperback inquiries marchandlaurencelittlewomen@gmail.com

Published: Trix Wilkins on
ISBN: 9781533741202
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TRIX WILKINS

––––––––

This book is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

THE COURTSHIP OF JO MARCH:

a variation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

First published in Australia in 2016 by Trix Wilkins

Extended edition published 2017

Copyright © by Trix Wilkins 2016, 2017

The right of Trix Wilkins to be identified as the moral rights author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000.

All rights reserved.

Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Cover design © by Dragan Djuric

Author blog Much ado about Little Women

www.marchandlaurencelittlewomen.wordpress.com

Bookshop www. payhip.com/marchandlaurencelittlewomen

marchandlaurencelittlewomen@gmail.com

ISBN 978-0-6481180-0-8 (eBook)

Acknowledgements

My sincere gratitude to Louisa May Alcott for writing Little Women and the irrepressible Jo March into being; to her mother Abigail, who enabled and encouraged her to write; and to her sister Elizabeth, who loved her dearly. To Eve LaPlante, for her moving dual biography Marmee & Louisa which in part inspired this story. To William Shakespeare, for penning As you like it. To Jules Verne, for writing of invention and adventure beyond his time and the discovery of love along the journey.

To Jo, Anna, and Steve – for reading and editing multiple versions of this story and for their honesty and encouragement, without which this would have gone unfinished. To all the staff at The Blend Café – theirs is the ultimate haven for writing and will be sadly missed. To Emma – whose enthusiasm for this story was instrumental in propelling this project, and being the sort of reader one loves to write for.

To my mother and sister, Helen and Jan-Lian – for their unfailing love, patience and example. I wouldn’t trade either for anyone, not even for Marmee and the March sisters!

To Timothy and Abigail – for the delightful dancing, the games, the artwork and the laughter...the countless precious moments that brought to mind such scenes of joy and fun that might otherwise have been unfathomable.

And finally, to Andrew, my husband and dearest friend – without whose patience, perseverance, and unyielding affection this would have been unimaginable.

Author’s note

All characters in this novel appear or are alluded to in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. However, the histories and characteristics attributed to Tommy Chamberlain, the Vaughn family and the extended Laurence family might not have been what Louisa originally intended. These include: Kate, Fred, Frank and Grace Vaughn; George and Mary Vaughn; James Laurence; Jonathan and Eleanor Laurence.

The main narrative takes place after the first eight chapters of Little Women Part 2 (Good Wives). It is assumed that the events of Little Women Part 1 and the first eight chapters of Good Wives have transpired as per the original text. The prologue to this novel contains a synopsis of characters and events from the original that pertain to this variation. I have taken on board the thesis of Eve LaPlante regarding Mr March – that he was in fact based on Samuel Joseph May, Louisa’s uncle and Abigail’s brother, and not Louisa’s father Bronson Alcott.

Although the characters retain their ages and stage of life from the original, this is set in the early 1870s as key plot devices used are either only available during or specific to this time period, particularly the events and inventions of 1873. Nevertheless, I have assumed characters may behave outside of the typical behaviors or attitudes of their time and society, as they do in any age. Please note that this variation is in part an alternate real-time history as it is an alternate fictional history of the March sisters. This comes from a personal penchant for alternate worlds for which I hope the reader may indulge me, and enjoy this story as much as I have writing it.

Prologue

The March sisters

"I’m not ambitious for a splendid fortune, a fashionable position,

or a great name for my girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also, I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune;

but I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had

in a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned,

and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures...

If I’m not mistaken, she will be rich in the possession of a good man’s heart, and that is better than a fortune."

Mrs March to her daughter Jo, Little Women

All the trouble started the day the second eldest March sister Jo met the boy next door, Theodore Laurence (known to Jo as Teddy, and Laurie to everyone else). He was orphaned of an Italian mother and an English father as a child, and was being cared for by his extremely reserved grandfather, James Laurence. The latter’s predominant interests were his trading ships to India and the education of his only grandson to groom him into the family business. Laurie’s grandfather was affectionate and protective but sadly seemed to know little of fun. Jo felt sorry for the lonely boy, and upon the cat wandering next door chatted to him about cricket over the fence. They later became officially acquainted at a ball, where Jo attempted to hide her burnt dress and found herself running into Laurie instead. So began a friendship that was as unexpected as it was endearing – with unintended consequences.

Laurie had a tutor named John Brooke, a serious and sensible man who fell in love with Jo’s beautiful elder sister Meg. Sharing Jo’s penchant for mischief, Laurie played a prank which resulted in Meg’s realizing that she also cared somewhat for John. Dismayed by the thought of family peace being broken by such a separation, Jo was somewhat mollified by Meg’s insistence that she could not be persuaded to an engagement at seventeen.

Then their Aunt March – who was extremely adept at unwittingly raising opposition in even the gentlest of people –came to express her absolute disapproval of the match. There was nothing to stop Meg. Of course she would love John and marry him! He had patiently cared for his elderly mother, provided for those who needed his help despite having little of his own, and escorted her mother during the long and arduous journey to her injured father in Washington. He was hardworking and devoted – and no amount of likely poverty would persuade her not to give her life to a man of such character. They married and were happy.

Still, Meg longed for the luxuries her closest friends could purchase upon their marrying wealthier men, and found herself struggling with the loss of that aspect of her ‘castle in the air.’ Whilst shopping with Sallie Moffat, she bought an unaffordable silk dress then reproached John for his poverty. Meg humbly apologized for her harsh words. She was forgiven – the quarrel ending in the conception of twins Daisy and Demi Brooke.

Another introduction Laurie became heavily involved in was Fred Vaughn to Amy. In his defence, at the time of his organizing ‘Camp Laurence’ Laurie had only meant to have a relaxing and enjoyable picnic by the river – and thought his English friends, the Vaughns, would get on capitally with his American friends, the Marches. No one suspected that Amy, who had been a mere child at the time, would ever be in danger of being courted by Fred. However, that initial introduction meant that when Amy went to Europe years later as a young woman, their acquaintance could be very easily renewed and greater intimacy established. With their daily adventures, moonlight walks, and balcony talks, Fred fell promptly in love with elegant artistic Amy and came to serenade her one night in Coblentz.

Now Fred Vaughn was the eldest son and his family exceedingly wealthy. The Vaughns owned a city house in a fashionable street and a country home with lovely grounds and fine horses. While they were not titled, Amy found the Vaughns to be kind and generous, and was flattered by Fred’s attentions. She received them gratefully and anticipated a proposal was forthcoming which she intended to accept.

(Had Jo been in Europe with her sister at the time they might have quarreled over this, for Jo did not approve of Fred’s character – his having cheated and lied about a game of croquet. It might have been a similar quarrel to the one they had while out making calls, when Amy objected to Jo’s being friendly to the poor grocer’s boy Tommy Chamberlain – of whose character Jo approved – while giving the cold shoulder to the wealthy and titled Tudor – of whose character Jo disapproved entirely.)

Marrying Fred would have answered all Amy’s wishes. She could pursue her art and be an ornament to society to her heart’s content without a worry for money. Then Fred’s twin brother Frank fell dangerously ill, and he was called home very suddenly with no mention of an eventual return to Rome.

Jo knew how it felt to have the person dearest to her fall so perilously ill so unexpectedly and could pity Fred his distress – but she felt no small amount of relief at the idea of having Amy safe. For the most part however, her attention and energy were bent towards keeping her favorite sister Beth healthy. The affection between Jo and Beth was the most fervent between sisters, and Jo had known no greater agony than what she felt when Beth contracted scarlet fever while caring for the children of a poor neighborhood family, the Hummels.

Thankfully, Laurie had contacted Mrs March despite their housekeeper Hannah’s objections, who arrived home from caring for her ill husband in Washington to then nurse Beth back from the brink of death. Although Beth recovered from the illness it weakened her significantly, her health faltering ever since. Jo watched her precious sister closely and was always looking out for how she might lift Beth’s failing spirits.

Beth loved music dearly and longed to learn. It seemed someone ought to help her, for she played tirelessly at her piano and took such delight in using her skill to give pleasure to others. Jo thus resolved to earn her fortune for the power to buy all Beth could want – a holiday by the sea, where she might regain her strength, her favorite fruits, and perhaps even the means for Beth to learn that which her heart most desired.

Jo had always loved writing, but now that two of the things dearest in her heart were so tied she wrote with a fervor like never before. Having experienced the joy and prosperity of seeing her pieces published, she came to view writing not only as her passion but also her profession. She meant to be a writer all her days, and intended never to give up her liberty for any mortal man.

Her best friend Laurie meant to be a musician all his days, and intended never to fulfill his grandfather’s ambition that he run the Laurence merchant fleet. He joined the March sisters’ secret societies, performed in their plays, contributed to their publication the Pickwick Portfolio, and went out skating, rowing, riding, and running with them all (well, the last only with Jo, who unlike her sisters laid no claims to ladyship).

Jo was thrilled to have a friend she could gallivant about with like a boy, who didn’t care whether her pins were in place, ran races with her, and encouraged her thoroughly in her writing though everyone else said she should learn to be a lady and secure a husband (he even kept the secret of her published stories for a while, so she could surprise the rest of her family).

Then Laurie went to college and fell in with the fashions. He was reputably endlessly playing pranks on his fellow students, getting into scrapes with his professors then wheedling his way out of them, flirting incessantly and falling in love with a different girl every month – or so he would have them believe...

One

The Plumfield ball

Munching on an apple, pen furiously flying across the page, Jo looked at the dark clouds and mumbled to Beth with her mouth full, Would dearly love a run in the rain today, but as I’m a ‘young lady’ now, heaven forbid I be anything but proper!

She knitted her brows as she wrote into being her heroine doing precisely that, and felt better.

Jo, there’s someone down there. Beth said anxiously. Someone poking around in the bushes, you ought to see!

Jo swiftly came to the window and looked out.

A man wearing a large bright hat, hauling some sort of sack, was indeed hovering by their hedges. She burst out laughing. Oh Beth, it’s just Teddy being ridiculous! She opened the window and called, Teddy, you ought to get inside, a storm’s coming!

Laurie shouted back, Then it’s the best time to be out!

Jo laughed as he dropped the sack, and some curious items fell out. Come Jo, help me with these things will you? I don’t want the presents ruined!

Before long the two had the assortment of gifts set before the fire, with everybody huddled about.

And what great inventions have you procured for us today, Teddy? inquired Jo, eyes full of mirth. Laurie had unfailingly brought home many a curious and amusing gadget during his visits home from college. Some of the more memorable pieces found their way into the garret – Jo’s own refuge – for a laugh. One unwittingly entrapped Scrabble, the pet rat.

None for you today Jo, that’s Meg’s prerogative, Laurie said laughing, pulling out a mysterious object for Meg involving a cover for a kitchen tool – so he said, though he couldn’t say which tool.

Some less exciting but no less welcomed items were next produced. A leather folder for Beth’s music (complete with new songs), soft slippers for Mr and Mrs March, toys for Daisy and Demi – and then what Laurie evidently thought his crowning glory, for he fell about laughing as soon as Jo opened the package of half a dozen boxes of paper clips.

This drew everyone’s interest, for Jo was rendered quite speechless, and all wanted to know what the joke was about. But Laurie didn’t oblige anyone with an explanation, merely proposing going out for a run before the rain fell. Meg and Beth politely declined, leaving Jo as his sole companion.

They ran down the hill to the river. Jo had had more practice than Laurie and moved the swifter – but his legs were longer and so they made quite a race of it, finishing together in the end.

What am I to do with all those paper clips you ridiculous boy? she asked, when they had caught their breath.

"You’ve brought it on yourself. I followed your advice."

What advice? demanded Jo.

You said that I shouldn’t be extravagant, sending flowers and things to girls for whom I don’t care ‘two pins.’ And I asked you, seeing that as sensible girls, for whom I do care piles of pins, won’t let me send them such things, what am I to do? You didn’t answer. So you see, you now have boxes of pins – well, paper clips I should say, if we’re going to be technically correct – as proof that I do take seriously the advice of my dear wise friends.

He bowed, whipping off his hat and smiling mischievously.

Do you really take our advice so seriously? she replied archly. I suppose then you haven’t flirted with a single woman since we last saw you. You know mother doesn’t approve of flirting, even in fun – and you do tend to flirt desperately, Teddy.

As I can’t reply ‘so do you,’ I’ll merely say that I don’t see any harm in that pleasant little game, if all understand that it’s only play.

True, I can’t see how it’s done. I always seem to say and do the wrong thing in the wrong place.

Now Theodore Laurence was by no means a dandy, despite initial appearances (Mrs March would have cast him off from her daughters, were he so) – but he did find it quite amusing to give others, particularly women, the impression that he was. In truth, intelligence, frankness and perseverance in the face of difficulty were the things that attracted him. He wondered how many women who possessed these qualities would honestly show themselves as such if they fancied him drawn to stylish dress, vapid flattery, and flirtatious conversation, and thought his little social experiment rather harmless.

He was glad Jo didn’t flirt in such a way and told her so, adding, It’s really refreshing to see a sensible, straightforward girl, who can be jolly and kind without making a fool of herself.

I’m afraid Aunt March would upbraid you right now if she heard you. She’s trying to make me a ‘lady of society,’ and Jo laughed as she mimicked her prim aunt.

And how does she succeed?

Very poorly. Inside Plumfield I have to submit you know, so I can keep visiting that wonderful library of hers. But outside Plumfield I don’t mind her at all.

I’m glad of it! It would be a pity to have you spoiled.

"I’m afraid however I will be ‘spoiled,’ as you put it, for at least one evening."

Laurie turned to her curiously. What do you mean?

Jo explained. Aunt March had agreed to pay for lessons for Beth to learn music formally, in exchange for Jo’s attending a ball at Plumfield. And there was one more thing...

Aunt March will choose your escort! exclaimed Laurie. That seems a bit unreasonable, don’t you think?

"I’m afraid it is terribly unfair to you Teddy, I agree. I wouldn’t think of asking you to mind anything Aunt March requested if it weren’t for Beth. But just think, it is only one night, and afterwards Beth will have all the lessons and all the beautiful music she wants."

"The impossible aunt has chosen me has she? Laurie leaned back on the grass and propped his head up on his hands, looking mischievous. And so you will have to wear some fancy gown, and be obliged to be on my arm and dance with me for an entire evening? I do think I am beginning to like Aunt March. I believe I should send her a gift. How about one box of pins? She isn’t quite as sensible as you, after all."

Oh Teddy, don’t make a fuss, it’s one night. I will act the queen of society, you as my attentive companion, and the day after all will be forgot.

I think I can do better than that! Laurie bounced up off the grass, and bowed. I will be the adoring suitor himself, having eyes for nobody but you, complimenting you on all your perfections, smiling at you all night long, glaring with jealousy at any other man who looks at you, interrupting any dance you have with any other, and snubbing any young woman who dares to try to catch my eye. I think that ought to satisfy Aunt March and secure Beth her music, don’t you?

You’d be better off directing your attentions to Aunt March herself. The way she speaks of you, Teddy, I believe she might be the most ardent of your admirers, teased Jo.

Laurie made a face, then asked, I’m curious. Who would you have chosen, if Aunt March had allowed it?

Tommy Chamberlain, was her instant reply.

Tommy Chamberlain! Laurie looked indignant.

Can’t you picture the look on Aunt March’s face the moment we come in, her ranting about how scandalous it would be to have the grocer’s son at a gentleman’s ball...! I could write a million stories of it afterwards.

Laurie laughed then and said, But you would have saved a dance or two for me, though, wouldn’t you? She assented; he replied, Good, for it would be a shame to have to be cross with Tommy. He’s a fine fellow, and might best me in a duel.

Tommy wouldn’t raise a hand against you even if you provoked him with such nonsense. He thinks the world of you Teddy. And so he should. I think it’s absolutely brilliant and gentlemanly, what you’ve done for him and his family!

Nobody could do less for the Chamberlains. I’d be an ungrateful brute, having received your and your mother’s kindness all these years, if I had done anything else!

You did very well indeed. Your generosity meant Tommy could have the time and energy to study. His prospects have improved greatly and those of his brothers must do so also. It has made a world of difference to his father, who can see a different future for them now, said Jo warmly.

I don’t do anything. Grandfather’s money pays for it all.

Yes, but it was your idea.

It was still too late. The money came too late to save their mother, and that was all that was lacking! Only money, to save a life! Don’t thank me Jo, for I feel that I have failed utterly in every sense of the word. I ought to have acted the very instant you told me of their situation. Their mother might have been spared.

Laurie’s eyes watered, as he remembered the loss of his own mother.

Jo squeezed his hand; he looked at her gratefully. You can’t blame yourself Teddy, she said gently. We all did what we could, when we could. We couldn’t have known she would pass away so quickly, after having only been ill such a short time.

They were silent some time. Laurie seemed on the brink of falling into one of his pensive moods. Jo asked if he had written any music lately, and he brightened instantly at the question. He had been writing some new music, though it wasn’t yet finished.

He added, upon seeing her eyes light up, I mean for it to be a surprise for everybody, so don’t ask me to play it just yet.

I won’t ask you to play it, but I would ask you to play with Beth as much as you can while you’re home. Even when her lessons start, I think she would appreciate playing with someone she is comfortable with – and she’s very much at ease with you, Teddy.

Laurie nodded his acquiescence.

Have you decided what you’re to do once you’ve finished college? was Jo’s next question – one she asked him each time he returned home, and had resolved to do so until he gave her something approaching a satisfactory answer.

Laurie avoided her gaze. "I’ve decided what not to do. I’ll not run grandfather’s ships."

Will you write music, then?

He looked up at her, earnestly now. I’ll write songs as you write books, I hope.

Jo struck while the iron was hot, and proposed running a race back home to Beth and music. If music would stir her friend and her sister out of their present lethargy, Jo couldn’t think of a reason they ought not to start right away.

Laurie agreed – and this time, Jo got to the door first.

To her satisfaction, Laurie took on her request immediately, inviting Beth to play with him at the piano. Beth was happy to, and they played several songs together while Jo watched with approval the two people she loved most.

Thank you Teddy, Beth looks a little bit healthier, as well as happier, for your being here! Jo said with a smile, shaking hands, as he and Mr Laurence were about to depart.

Then I’ll come as often as I can.

From this day, each time Laurie came home to visit from college, he spent a great deal of time playing music with Beth. He also began to teach her music, sharing what he knew as well as he could. The change in Beth was so positive and immediate Laurie felt quite ashamed he had not thought of doing this sooner.

Beth had no such feelings, and was only grateful for his time and attention. She was, however, quite surprised. He seemed to spend more time with her than with Jo, a thing everyone thought a strange change. But nobody asked any questions – for Jo seemed pleased with the arrangement, Laurie’s visits seemed to help Beth even more than Jo had dared to hope, and Beth’s spirits improved immeasurably with her expanding musical skill.

While Laurie didn’t spend much time with Jo during his visits, he did write almost every day to her from college – usually of his studies and pranks, but invariably ending with his saying how much he missed her, found her better company than all his college friends combined, and all sorts of ‘sentimental nonsense.’

Despite Jo’s pointedly refusing to respond to such remarks, he would not desist. She wasn’t entirely sure what to make of his letters, wondering if he had written such things merely to provoke a reaction – then came the night of Aunt March’s ball.

Aunt March sought marriages for all her nieces, but this was not in any way driven by romantic impulse. She was pragmatic and pursued such attachments for financial reasons. She heard of Fred Vaughn’s courtship of Amy, then of his sudden departure and his father’s disapproval. She heard of Theodore Laurence’s partiality for her authoress niece Jo.

A plan formed in her mind and was speedily executed. Though she hated balls in general and hosting her own even more, this ball was strategic. She thought to secure the Laurence heir for Jo, hoping that the prospect of procuring such a valuable relation would be sufficient to convince the Vaughns to overlook Amy’s personal lack of fortune and approve her marrying Fred.

Jo, come and see – Laurie has sent a gift for you! exclaimed Beth excitedly, as she carried a large box.

Aunt March appeared at the top of the stairs, startling Beth so suddenly she almost dropped the gift in fright.

Is that from Theodore Laurence? Well hurry on then, child, bring it here so we may see what it is!

Boots. Please let it be boots, thought Jo.

She opened the box – and took out a red silk gown.

Aunt March looked at it with horror. Red! A red dress!

Oh Jo, it’s absolutely beautiful. Beth sighed.

I suppose you must wear it, Josephine. Aunt March grumbled. There is nothing for it. When a man like Theodore Laurence condescends to present such a gift on the eve of an occasion such as the ball tonight, a woman such as yourself is obligated to make immediate use of it as a sign of appreciation and mark of respect.

Jo bit her lip to stifle a laugh, for she knew such a thing would not have