Little Women HTML version
On the Shelf
In France the young girls have a dull time of it till they are married, when 'Vive la
liberté!' becomes their motto. In America, as everyone knows, girls early sign the
declaration of independence, and enjoy their freedom with republican zest, but the young
matrons usually abdicate with the first heir to the throne and go into a seclusion almost as
close as a French nunnery, though by no means as quiet. Whether they like it or not, they
are virtually put upon the shelf as soon as the wedding excitement is over, and most of
them might exclaim, as did a very pretty woman the other day, "I'm as handsome as ever,
but no one takes any notice of me because I'm married."
Not being a belle or even a fashionable lady, Meg did not experience this affliction till
her babies were a year old, for in her little world primitive customs prevailed, and she
found herself more admired and beloved than ever.
As she was a womanly little woman, the maternal instinct was very strong, and she was
entirely absorbed in her children, to the utter exclusion of everything and everybody else.
Day and night she brooded over them with tireless devotion and anxiety, leaving John to
the tender mercies of the help, for an Irish lady now presided over the kitchen
department. Being a domestic man, John decidedly missed the wifely attentions he had
been accustomed to receive, but as he adored his babies, he cheerfully relinquished his
comfort for a time, supposing with masculine ignorance that peace would soon be
restored. But three months passed, and there was no return of repose. Meg looked worn
and nervous, the babies absorbed every minute of her time, the house was neglected, and
Kitty, the cook, who took life 'aisy', kept him on short commons. When he went out in the
morning he was bewildered by small commissions for the captive mamma, if he came
gaily in at night, eager to embrace his family, he was quenched by a "Hush! They are just
asleep after worrying all day." If he proposed a little amusement at home, "No, it would
disturb the babies." If he hinted at a lecture or a concert, he was answered with a
reproachful look, and a decided "Leave my children for pleasure, never!" His sleep was
broken by infant wails and visions of a phantom figure pacing noiselessly to and fro in
the watches of the night. His meals were interrupted by the frequent flight of the
presiding genius, who deserted him, half-helped, if a muffled chirp sounded from the nest
above. And when he read his paper of an evening, Demi's colic got into the shipping list
and Daisy's fall affected the price of stocks, for Mrs. Brooke was only interested in
The poor man was very uncomfortable, for the children had bereft him of his wife, home
was merely a nursery and the perpetual `hushing' made him feel like a brutal intruder
whenever he entered the sacred precincts of Babyland. He bore it very patiently for six
months, and when no signs of amendment appeared, he did what other paternal exiles do-
-tried to get a little comfort elsewhere. Scott had married and gone to housekeeping not
far off, and John fell into the way of running over for an hour or two of an evening, when
his own parlor was empty, and his own wife singing lullabies that seemed to have no end.
Mrs. Scott was a lively, pretty girl, with nothing to do but be agreeable, and she
performed her mission most successfully. The parlor was always bright and attractive, the
chessboard ready, the piano in tune, plenty of gay gossip, and a nice little supper set forth
in tempting style.
John would have preferred his own fireside if it had not been so lonely, but as it was he
gratefully took the next best thing and enjoyed his neighbor's society.