Silver Pitchers, And Other Stories – Louisa May Alcott
‘Silver Pitchers’ is a collection of nine short stories by famous American authoress Louisa May Alcott. Most of the tales deal with young girls and their early love affairs, but do not lack the moralistic touch of the author. Included are ‘Silver Pitchers’, ‘Anna’s Whim’, ‘Transcendental Wild Oats’, ‘The Romance of a Summer Day’, ‘My Rococo Watch’, ‘By the River’, ‘Letty’s Tramp’, ‘Scarlet Stockings’ and ‘Independence: A Centennial Love Story.’
Silver Pitchers, And Other Stories.
Excerpt from the text:
“We can do nothing about it except show our displeasure in some proper manner,” said Portia, in her most dignified tone.
“I should like to cut them all dead for a year to come; and I’m not sure that I won’t!” cried Pauline, fiercely.
“We ought to make it impossible for such a thing to happen again, and I think we might,” added Priscilla, so decidedly that the others looked at her in surprise.
The three friends sat by the fire “talking things over,” as girls love to do. Pretty creatures, all of them, as they nestled together on the lounge in dressing-gowns and slippers, with unbound hair, eyes still bright with excitement, and tongues that still wagged briskly.
Usually the chat was of dresses, compliments, and all the little adventures that befall gay girls at a merry-making. But to-night something of uncommon interest absorbed the three, and kept them talking earnestly long after they should have been asleep.
Handsome Portia looked out from her blonde locks with a disgusted expression, as she sipped the chocolate thoughtful mamma had left inside the fender. Rosy-faced Pauline sat staring indignantly at the fire; while in gentle Priscilla’s soft eyes the shadow of a real sorrow seemed to mingle with the light of a strong determination.
Yes, something had happened at this Thanksgiving festival which much offended the three friends, and demanded grave consideration on their part; for the “Sweet P’s,” as Portia, Pris, and Polly were called, were the belles of the town. One ruled by right of beauty and position, one by the power of a character so sweet and strong that its influence was widely felt, and one by the wit and winsomeness of a high yet generous spirit.
It had been an unusually pleasant evening, for after the quilting bee in the afternoon good Squire Allen had given a bountiful supper, and all the young folks of the town had joined in the old-fashioned games, which made the roof ring with hearty merriment.
All would have gone well if some one had not privately introduced something stronger than the cider provided by the Squire,—a mysterious and potent something, which caused several of the young men to betray that they were decidedly the worse for their libations.
That was serious enough; but the crowning iniquity was the putting of brandy into the coffee, which it was considered decorous for the young girls to prefer instead of cider.
Who the reprobates were remained a dead secret, for the young men laughed off the dreadful deed as a joke, and the Squire apologized in the handsomest manner.
But the girls felt much aggrieved and would not be appeased, though the elders indulgently said, “Young men will be young men,” even while they shook their heads over the pranks played and the nonsense spoken under the influence of the wine that had been so slyly drank.
Now what should be done about it? The “Sweet P’s” knew that their mates would look to them for guidance at this crisis, for they were the leaders in all things. So they must decide on some line of conduct for all to adopt, as the best way of showing their disapproval of such practical jokes.
When Pris spoke, the others looked at her with surprise; for there was a new expression in her face, and both asked wonderingly, “How?”
“There are several ways, and we must decide which is the best. One is to refuse invitations to the sociable next week.”
“But I’ve just got a lovely new dress expressly for it!” cried Portia, tragically.
“Then we might decline providing any supper,” began Pris.
“That wouldn’t prevent the boys from providing it, and I never could get through the night without a morsel of something!” exclaimed Polly, who loved to see devoted beings bending before her, with offerings of ice, or struggling manfully to steer a glass of lemonade through a tumultuous sea of silk and broadcloth, feeling well repaid by a word or smile from her when they landed safely.
“True, and it would be rather rude and resentful; for I am sure they will be models of deportment next time,” and gentle Pris showed signs of relenting, though that foolish joke bad cost her more than either of the others.
For a moment all sat gazing thoughtfully at the fire, trying to devise some awful retribution for the sinners, no part of which should fall upon themselves. Suddenly Polly clapped her hands, crying with a triumphant air,—
“I’ve got it, girls! I’ve got it!”
“What? How? Tell us quick!”
“We will refuse to go to the first sociable, and that will make a tremendous impression, for half the nice girls will follow our lead, and the boys will be in despair. Every one will ask why we are not there; and what can those poor wretches say but the truth? Won’t that be a bitter pill for my lords and gentlemen?”
“It will certainly be one to us,” said Portia, thinking of the “heavenly blue dress” with a pang.
“Wait a bit; our turn will come at the next sociable. To this we can go with escorts of our own choosing, or none at all, for they are free and easy affairs, you know. So we need be under no obligation to any of those sinners, and can trample upon them as much as we please.”
“But how about the games, the walks home, and all the pleasant little services the young men of our set like to offer and we to receive?” asked Portia, who had grown up with these “boys,” as Polly called them, and found it hard to turn her back on the playmates who had now become friends or lovers.
“Bless me! I forgot that the feud might last more than one evening. Give me an idea, Pris,” and Polly’s triumph ended suddenly.
“I will,” answered Pris, soberly; “for at this informal sociable we can institute a new order of things. It will make a talk, but I think we have a right to do it, and I’m sure it will have a good effect, if we only hold out, and don’t mind being laughed at. Let us refuse to associate with the young men whom we know to be what is called ‘gay,’ and accept as friends those of whose good habits we are sure. If they complain, as of course they will, we can say their own misconduct made it necessary, and there we have them.”
“But, Pris, who ever heard of such an idea? People will say all sorts of things about us!” said Portia, rather startled at the proposition.
“Let them! I say it’s a grand plan, and I’ll stand by you, Pris, through thick and thin!” cried Polly, who enjoyed the revolutionary spirit of the thing.
“We can but try it, and give the young men a lesson; for, girls, matters are coming to a pass, when it is our duty to do something. I cannot think it is right for us to sit silent and see these fine fellows getting into bad habits because no one dares or cares to speak out, though we gossip and complain in private.”
“Do you want us to begin a crusade?” asked Portia, uneasily.
“Yes, in the only way we girls can do it. We can’t preach and pray in streets and bar-rooms, but we may at home, and in our own little world show that we want to use our influence for good. I know that you two can do any thing you choose with the young people in this town, and it is just that set who most need the sort of help you can give, if you will.”
“You have more influence than both of us put together; so don’t be modest, Pris, but tell us what to do, and I’ll do it, even if I’m hooted at,” cried warm-hearted Polly, won at once.
“You must do as you think right; but I have made up my mind to protest against wine-drinking in every way I can. I know it will cost me much, for I have nothing to depend upon but the good opinion of my friends; nevertheless, I shall do what seems my duty, and I may be able to save some other girl from the heart-aches I have known.”
“You won’t lose our good opinion, you dear little saint! Just tell us how to begin and we will follow our leader,” cried both Portia and Polly, fired with emulation by their friend’s quiet resolution.
Pris looked from one to the other, and, seeing real love and confidence in their faces, was moved to deepen the impression she had made, by telling them the sad secret of her life. Pressing her hands tightly together, and drooping her head, she answered in words that were the more pathetic for their brevity,—
“Dear girls, don’t think me rash or sentimental, for I know what I am trying to do, and you will understand my earnestness better when I tell you that a terrible experience taught me to dread this appetite more than death. It killed my father, broke mother’s heart, and left me all alone.”
As she paused, poor Pris hid her face and shrank away, as if by this confession she had forfeited her place in the respect of her mates. But the girlish hearts only clung the closer to her, and proved the sincerity of their affection by sympathetic tears and tender words, as Portia and Polly held her fast, making a prettier group than the marble nymphs on the mantelpiece; for the Christian graces quite outdid the heathen ones.
Polly spoke first, and spoke cheerfully, feeling, with the instinct of a fine nature, that Priscilla’s grief was too sacred to be talked about, and that they could best show their appreciation of her confidence by proving themselves ready to save others from a sorrow like hers.
“Let us be a little society of three, and do what we can. I shall begin at home, and watch over brother Ned; for lately he has been growing away from me somehow, and I’m afraid he is beginning to be ‘gay.’ I shall get teased unmercifully; but I won’t mind if I keep him safe.”
“I have no one at home to watch over but papa, and he is in no danger, of course; so I shall show Charley Lord that I am not pleased with him,” said Portia, little dreaming where her work was to be done.
“And you will set about reforming that delightful scapegrace, Phil Butler?” added Polly, peeping archly into the still drooping face of Pris.
“I have lost my right to do it, for I told him to-night that love and respect must go together in my heart,” and Pris wiped her wet eyes with a hand that no longer wore a ring.
Portia and Polly looked at one another in dismay, for by this act Pris proved how thoroughly in earnest she was.
Neither had any words of comfort for so great a trouble, and sat silently caressing her, till Pris looked up, with her own serene smile again, and said, as if to change the current of their thoughts,—
“We must have a badge for the members of our new society, so let us each wear one of these tiny silver pitchers. I’ve lost the mate to mine, but Portia has a pair just like them. You can divide, then we are all provided for.”
Portia ran to her jewel-case, caught up a pair of delicate filigree ear-rings, hastily divided a narrow velvet ribbon into three parts, attached to each a silver pitcher, and, as the friends smilingly put on these badges, they pledged their loyalty to the new league by a silent good-night kiss.