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Continental Exchange

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June 1, 1870

My dearest Beth,

By the time you get this letter, we'll have arrived in London, but I wanted to write specially to you about the ship. You’d love it, dearest. We have tiny little cabins — Aunt Carroll calls them “staterooms” but there’s nothing stately about them. She and uncle are in one, and cousin Flo and I share the other. We sleep in beds built right into the walls, and if there are rough seas, the stewards come in at night to strap us into the beds! Well, they tried that with me once, but I told them I’d rather be rolling around the floor than tied to my bed, so they’ve left me alone since then. Flo thought it was rather hilarious, and she giggles about it every night.

I know, that doesn’t sound very gracious or charming of me, and you know how I promised to turn over a new leaf, and take a page from Amy’s book. So it will please you to know that I sought out the steward the very next day to offer a sincere apology — and I was truly sincere, since he was only trying to do his job and I made his life difficult. We’ve since made it up, and there’s no hard feelings. His name is Jimmy and we’ve become fast friends, and he’s taken me for tours all over the ship, and told me tales about his life at sea. He’s been sailing since he was twelve years old, just imagine!

Of course, I can’t spend all my time with Jimmy and his friends, much as I’d like, for I fear that I’m still more suited to the company of boys than being a prim and proper young lady. But I’m holding fast to my pledge of good manners and proper behavior, and you’ll be glad to know that I accompany Aunt and Flo every day to tea in the grand salon.

Bethy, the salon is a wonder to behold! It’s filled with fresh blooms every day, and is situated on the top deck, so it gets the best sun and ocean air. And the music! Oh my dear, you’d die for the music! There’s a grand piano in the salon and someone is always playing charming tunes during tea. At night in the dining room (and the meals are so grand! Seven courses every night!), there’s always a group of musicians playing, and after dinner, there is dancing in the ballroom accompanied by a full orchestra.

I wish you were here with me, to see and hear it all. And also to keep me company in the ballroom, for you know what a horror I am at dancing, despite all the practice that Meg and Amy and Teddy made me do. Still, I dance gamely with every young man who is brave enough to ask, and haven’t turned down one yet. Some of them are very charming, but of course, none of them are Teddy, and I miss him dearly, as I miss you all.

How is he holding up? Has he found a nice, proper young lady to spend time with? I hope so — he’ll make a wonderful husband someday, and I’ll be delighted to see him married.

You might be wondering how I find time to write, with all the social activity I find myself partaking in, but never fear, Beth! Aunt and Flo feel poorly quite often. They're not hardy like me and can't handle the ocean travel, so only venture out of the cabin for tea and to join in the social whirl in the evenings (although I don't think they enjoy any of it, not even a little bit! Still, it's what proper ladies do, I suppose). It's too bad for them, and I've tried to help them as much as I can, but while they thank me for my kindness they prefer to be alone.

So most of the days I'm free! The ship is quite glorious to explore, and the fresh ocean air is a delight. I get up early to see the sunrises and I'm always on deck for the sunsets, and oh, I think of Amy and the time she'd have trying to capture the colors on her sketchpad. I’ve found quite a few quiet corners on this huge ship where I can hide myself away with pen and paper and lose myself in my fancy for hours. When we arrive in London, I’ll have several stories to send off, and before I left, I made arrangements with my publishers to wire the payment directly to Marmee. So you see, I can still continue to help the family, even from an ocean away!

I must say goodbye for now. It’s late and Flo’s indulged me scribbling by candlelight for too long. But I think of you daily, and miss you dearly.

My love to all!
Your Jo

August 14, 1870

My dearest sister,

It was wonderful to receive all your letters today! They came in a bunch, all at once. I imagine they were all posted at the same time in London, so they all arrived together, and oh, we had such fun reading them all. Meg brought the babies over after lunch and we all spent a lovely afternoon reading your letters aloud. Meg is still a brilliant actress, and she read your words so well, it was like having you hear with us.

Thank you especially for the letter just for me. It helps when I'm missing you to know that you're thinking of me and to be able to picture you on the ship, or gazing at the Irish countryside, or traveling into London on the express train. You create worlds with your words, as well as Amy does with her drawings. Imagine if the two of you were traveling together? You'd have several books by the time you were done!

I'm doing quite well, although I miss my Jo. Still, Amy is a great companion, and of course I have Marmee and Father always. I visit with Meg and the babies every day — if she doesn't come here, I go to her, and it's always lovely to be able to help her in her own dear home. Demi and Daisy are lovely, and perhaps I spoil them a little? But they are good babies and they deserves sweeties and treats, I believe.

I have to thank you again for that trip to the seaside for Marmee and me. I think you were right — the change of air did wonders for me. I'm feeling so much better, stronger than I have in a long time. I don't know what it is, but thankfully, it seems my health is much improved.

I think often of the promises we made to each other before you left — that you would learn to be a proper lady and be charming and gracious on your Grand Tour; and that I would be braver and bolder at home, be more like you and make friends with proper strangers. I try, Jo, I promise I do, and maybe it's my improved health that is helping, but you'll be delighted to know that I've actually accompanied Amy on some of her calls, and have visited Aunt March on my own! She was surprised to see me, and a bit gruff at first, but quite happy when I played on her piano, specially the songs she told me she quite liked.

You asked about Laurie, and he's well, although he misses you nearly as much as I do. He's been very kind to me, taking me out riding and one day he came and got me, and brought me to lunch in the city! I was quite nervous, but Laurie was so silly and made me laugh so much, and one of his friends joined us, a Mister Bump. I admit, I fell back into my old ways and was silent and shy at first, but he was a kind and jovial fellow, just like Laurie, and soon I found myself laughing at both of them.

Home is not home without you, but I'm so glad you are having such a wonderful time. Please send more letters, and I will do the same.

I miss you!
Your Beth

September 21, 1870

Dear Beth,

I write you from Paris, and oh, if only I could dance a jig and yell out "hip hip hooray!" But I'm afraid that's frowned up in polite society here, and I'm writing this from a cafe on the Rue Princesse (isn't that name dreadfully elegant?) I've received your last letter, and the news you've told me has me overjoyed. Who can imagine my Bethy out on calls with Amy and lunching with Teddy in the city! It's boggling but delightful at the same time.

I'm so glad you're feeling better, my dear, and glad that you and I can continue to keep our pledges to each other. As you know from my letter to all the family, I continue to be the Perfect Young Lady (well, within my own limits), and Aunt and Flo are both very pleased. Sometimes I follow Uncle to the men's salon in one of our hotels, and then they both frown and I know I've slipped, but I soon correct course and am the charming and pleasant Miss March to all and sundry.

I've seen so much in Paris, the charming cafes, all the fashions that Meg would be in raptures over, and the art in the museums — oh, Amy would swoon. I fear I don't appreciate all the drawings and sculptures half as much as she might, but there's so much to see and I've put it into my scribblings. I even received a cable in London, telling me that several of my stories I sent off were sold and would be published in the next few months. A cable! I felt so very grand when Uncle announced it, and felt even better when I saw the sum they paid me. It will keep you in fresh fruit and good health for a nice long while, I promise.

I'm glad that Teddy is behaving so well, and treating you as I begged him to do. Please keep a good eye on him, and make sure he doesn't get into any terrible scrapes without me there. A few scrapes are to be expected, but you know how Teddy can be. I'm sorry to hear that his flirtation with May Chester went nowhere, but May Chester doesn't really deserve a boy as nice as our Teddy. I'm sure there's a perfect girl out there just waiting for him.

We're heading out again in the morning — off to Germany for a month, and then to Switzerland. I will be sure to send many more letters, documenting my own scrapes. Please keep me in your thoughts and know that I remain

Your loving,

November 8, 1870

Dear Jo,

It's always wonderful to get your letters, although sometimes it feels a bit a like a trip in time. By the time we receive them here at home, it's been a few months since you've written them. It makes me wonder what you're doing in that future, so far away from home.

All of that is by way of saying, by the time you get this letter, so much will be different. I've continued to hold to my pledge, and — I'm afraid you won't believe this — but tomorrow I start in school!

I hope you haven't fainted dead away from the shock, but if you have, please revive yourself and read on. I spoke in my last letter of Mr. Bump, and by now, I know you've heard of him from Amy as well. He's a good man, and a good friend of Laurie's and we all enjoy his company very much. He visits often with Laurie, and lately has been visiting on his own. Marmee and Father very much approve of him. His father is a shopkeeper — well, that's a bit of an understatement, since he owns quite a few large shops in the city, and his mother is a lovely lady who as been to call on Marmee. We've all grown quite fond of William (for that is his name and he's asked that now that we're all friends, we no longer call him "Mr. Bump"), who is studying medicine at Laurie's college.

William is the one who came up with the idea that I should study nursing. He said I show quite an aptitude for it, and that I shouldn't let that go to waste. I didn't think anything of the idea at first, but William continued to bring it up, and after a while, I started to think maybe it was something I could do?

Jo, I'm afraid I've gone and committed to it. I've gone to the city with Amy and William and Laurie, and enrolled in nursing training. Amy and I will go together in the mornings — she is taking art classes at the conservatory — and William or Laurie have promised to escort us home in the evenings, if the hour grows late. Honestly, I think William would just like to spend some time walking with Amy in the evenings, and I don't think Amy has any objections to that idea, so you know I'll be as quiet as a mouse while chaperoning them.

I imagine you're surprised at this news, and Jo, I didn't think I could ever do such a thing. But I thought of you, and how brave you always are, and how I promised to try new things while you were away. And oh, I do like helping people and nursing them. Marmee and Father approve of this, although I know they both worry about my health. But I feel so strong these days, so well, and I think that I would like a challenge, and to be useful to the family, just as you have always been.

The other news I have for you, I'm sure you've heard already by now, but Laurie and Mr. Laurence are leaving in a fortnight for Europe! Mr. Laurence has business there, and Laurie is finishing his studies, and he's not been quite himself since you went abroad. I think a change might do him good, cheer him up a bit. And if you happen to meet up with him while he's there, make sure you tell him how well he's done. He's a good man now, Jo, and much to your credit.

I'm putting out the candle now, so I can rest my brain and be ready to learn tomorrow.

All my love,

January 17, 1871

Dear Beth

You're quite right. I don't believe any of what you wrote. I'll accept it as fact, because I know you're very truthful, but I'm afraid until I return home and see it with my own two eyes, I won't be able to believe that you're a nurse.

Despite my disbelief, I'm still delighted that you chose to do it, and I have to admit, I think nursing will be the perfect career for you, and I'm just annoyed I didn't think to encourage you to do this sooner. When I meet this Mr. Bump, I'll shake his hand gladly and thank him for putting the idea into your head. Like Marmee and Father, I do worry about your health, but if they've approved and you say that you're well, then it's good enough for me. I think this is an excellent path for you to take, Beth.

And you're not the only one sticking to your pledge. I do my best daily, to be a proper lady and a credit to you all. Aunt often offers me kind words of praise and encouragement, much like Marmee would, and Flo is always ready with a nudge or advice when I need it. She's kinder than she needs to be, and it makes me think of Meg, and oh, I must admit, I miss her and all of you dearly.

Still, I am having the time of my life on this trip, and I wouldn't miss a second of it for the world. Your last letter caught up to me, just before Teddy did in Switzerland, so he didn't quite surprise me as he'd have liked. Still, it was a joy to see him and to make amends, as we didn't leave on the best of terms. I must say, I think you've influenced him while I've been gone. His temper seems much better! Or perhaps my own is, sweetened in the lovely air of the Alps.

Tomorrow we're all off for Lausanne and a holiday on the lake. Aunt and Uncle invited Teddy to join us, and I can't say that I mind at all. Having him here makes me less homesick for you all. I'm sure we'll have some delightful scrapes and I'll send you all the details.

Much love,

March 23, 1871

Dear Jo,

I know Amy will be writing to you, but I must put it down on paper: she is to be married! William asked and she accepted, and oh, they're both so happy! They beam all day, as if they've both swallowed a bit of the sun.

We're all happy for her. Marmee and Father as so pleased, as William is such a nice young man. He's still working at his medical training, but it will be completed soon, and they'll be married after that, next summer. Amy is already talking about the wedding and how you must be home for it, since she can't imagine being married without you here.

I can't imagine it either. It will be strange too, to be the only one at home. Marmee asked if I minded dreadfully, but I don't think I do, other than being lonely without my sisters. I can't imagine being married and leaving home, or just doing as you did — leaving home to travel abroad. It's not something I've ever wanted and I can't see it ever happening.

Of course, I could never have imagined training as a nurse, so I suppose I should always keep an open mind. The training is going very well! There is much studying, but I enjoy all of it, and I find that I'm very happy, learning how to heal others. I never wanted much, but this is something I think that's always been part of me, wanting to help and to care for people. I just didn't know how to go about it, and I was always so afraid, that it took you leaving to give me the courage to try something new.

I hope you are still having a wonderful time, and that you and Laurie haven't gotten into too many scrapes! Please write and tell me about all of them.

All my love,

May 16, 1871
Dear Beth

That's marvelous news about Amy! Her letter told me every detail of the proposal so I almost feel like I was there by her side when it happened. I understand what you mean about her happiness — it practically leapt off the page as I was reading.

I also understand about her happiness for another reason. You asked about the scrapes Teddy and I have gotten into… well, I'm afraid we've gotten into the biggest scrape of all. You see, he asked me to marry him, and this time, I've accepted.

I know what you're thinking. How I declared, time and time again, that it would never happen, that we wouldn't be happy, that I didn't want to be married to him, despite how I loved him. But Beth, I think the time we've spent apart has changed us both. I feel like a different Jo than the one who left home all those months ago, and Teddy's changed too. He feels more like a man than a boy now, and he's more steady and ready to be serious. You should see how good he is to his grandfather, and how well he's taken to the business now that he's put his mind to it. I fear we've both become very proud of each other, and showering each other with praise.

I will tell you what happened. We had taken a boat for the day out on Lake Geneva, and oh, there was love in the air that day. So many young men and their beautiful ladies everywhere we went. I pointed that out to Teddy, and said that I hoped one day he would find a beautiful young lady to suit him, and he said, in a very quiet voice, that he already had. Beth, it was like the breath had been knocked out of me when he said it. It was something I hadn't known I wanted, and just how badly I wanted it, until that very moment, when I couldn't have it any longer. I felt as if I would burst into tears, but I kept myself steady, and said in my best Proper Young Lady voice that I was so pleased that he'd found someone and I couldn't wait to dance at his wedding. To which he replied, "I hope very much that the bride would dance with the groom" and gave me the most impudent smile, because despite how much he's changed, he's still my Teddy underneath.

Well, we both burst into laughter at that, and maybe a few tears on my part, and when we were done laughing, he asked, and I said yes.

So after all this time, I will soon be Mrs. Theodore Laurence! Can you believe it? I never thought I'd be married. I thought it would be Meg and Amy off married, and the two of us together at home for the rest of our lives. And I admit, I was happy with that. Until I realized just how unhappy the thought of Teddy married to someone else made me. Lucky for me, I only had to be that unhappy for a few moments, and now I'm like you described Amy, beaming as if I swallowed the sun.

Now I will share with you a secret: we're to be married next week. I want to surprise the others when we get home, so please don't tell! I don't want to be parted from Teddy when he and his grandfather return to America, so I'll accompany him as his wife. And I will see you soon, which is good because even with all the fun and adventures, I'm homesick and miss you dreadfully.

I can't wait: to be married, to come home, to see you all, to start a new life.

Love, Jo

June 30, 1871

Dear Jo

It's my turn to disbelieve your marvelous news! But that's not really true, for in my heart, I always thought that you and Laurie would work your way to each other. It's happened sooner than I thought, though, and I'm so delighted for you. Everyone will be surprised when you arrive, I promise. The secret is safe with me.

I think you'll be surprised too, when you see how much we've changed. The twins have grown so much and Meg is so proud, and Amy is a "Proper Young Lady" as you say, engaged to be married and already planning her life as a new bride, and I'm to be nurse and care for people. Very different from our castles in the air, but somehow more satisfying than what we imagined, I think.

I can't wait to see you, and Laurie and Mr. Laurence too! Give them both my love, and I'm saving my best kiss for you.