teatime. The evenings were the worst of all, for Aunt March fell to telling long stories about her youth, which were so unutterably dull that Amy was always ready to go to bed, intending to cry over her hard fate, but usually going to sleep before she had squeezed out more than a tear or two.
If it had not been for Laurie, and old Esther, the maid, she felt that she never could have got through that dreadful time. The parrot alone was enough to drive her distracted, for he soon felt that she did not admire him, and revenged himself by being as mischievous as possible. He pulled her hair whenever she came near him, upset his bread and milk to plague her when she had newly cleaned his cage, made Mop bark by pecking at him while Madam dozed, called her names before company, and behaved in all respects like an reprehensible old bird. Then she could not endure the dog, a fat, cross beast who snarled and yelped at her when she made his toilet, and who lay on his back with all his legs in the air and a most idiotic expression of countenance when he wanted something to eat, which was about a dozen times a day. The cook was bad-tempered, the old coachman was deaf, and Esther the only one who ever took any notice of the young lady.
Esther was a Frenchwoman, who had lived with’Madame’, as she called her mistress, for many years, and who rather tyrannized over the old lady, who could not get along without her. Her real name was Estelle, but Aunt March ordered her to change it, and she obeyed, on condition that she was never asked to change her religion. She took a fancy to Mademoiselle, and amused her very much with odd stories of her life in France, when Amy sat with her while she got up Madame’s laces. She also allowed her to roam about the great house, and examine the curious and pretty things stored away in the big wardrobes and the ancient chests, for Aunt March hoarded like a magpie. Amy’s chief delight was an Indian cabinet, full of queer drawers, little pigeonholes, and secret places, in which were kept all sorts of ornaments, some precious, some merely curious, all more or less antique. To examine and arrange these things gave Amy great satisfaction, especially the jewel cases, in which on velvet cushions reposed the ornaments which had adorned a belle forty years ago. There was the garnet set which Aunt March wore when she came out, the pearls her father gave her on her wedding day, her lover’s diamonds, the jet mourning rings and pins, the queer lockets, with portraits of dead friends and weeping willows made of hair inside, the baby bracelets her one little daughter had worn, Uncle March’s big watch, with the red seal so many childish hands had played with, and in a box all by itself lay Aunt March’s wedding ring, too small now for her fat finger, but put carefully away like the most precious jewel of them all.
“Which would Mademoiselle choose if she had her will?” asked Esther, who always sat near to watch over and lock up the valuables.
“I like the diamonds best, but there is no necklace among them, and I’m fond of necklaces, they are so becoming. I should choose this if I might,” replied Amy, looking with great admiration at a string of gold and ebony beads from which hung a heavy cross of the same.
“I, too, covet that, but not as a necklace. Ah, no! To me it is a rosary, and as such I should use it like a good catholic,” said Esther, eyeing the handsome thing wistfully.
“Is it meant to use as you use the string of good-smelling wooden beads hanging over your glass?” asked Amy.
“Truly, yes, to pray with. It would be pleasing to the saints if one used so fine a rosary as this, instead of wearing it as a vain bijou.”
“You seem to take a great deal of comfort in your prayers, Esther, and always come down looking quiet and satisfied. I wish I could.”
“If Mademoiselle was a Catholic, she would find true comfort, but as that is not to be, it would be well if you went apart each day to meditate and pray, as did the good mistress whom I served before Madame. She had a little chapel, and in it found solacement for much trouble.”
“Would it be right for me to do so too?” asked Amy, who in her loneliness felt the need of help of some sort, and found that she was apt to forget her little book, now that Beth was not there to remind her of it.
“It would be excellent and charming, and I shall gladly arrange the little dressing room for you if you like it. Say nothing to Madame, but when she sleeps go you and sit alone a while to think good thoughts, and pray the dear God preserve your sister.”
Esther was truly pious, and quite sincere in her advice, for she had an affectionate heart, and felt much for the sisters in their anxiety. Amy liked the idea, and gave her leave to arrange the light closet next her room, hoping it would do her good.
“I wish I knew where all these pretty things would go when Aunt March dies,” she said, as she slowly replaced the shining rosary and shut the jewel cases one by one.
“To you and your sisters. I know it, Madame confides in me. I witnessed her will, and it is to be so,” whispered Esther smiling.
“How nice! But I wish she’d let us have them now. Procrastination is not agreeable,” observed Amy, taking a last look at the diamonds.
“It is too soon yet for the young ladies to wear these things. The first one who is affianced will have the pearls, Madame has said it, and I have a fancy that the little turquoise ring will be given to you when you go, for Madame approves your good behavior and charming manners.”