The Examples in this division are again taken from Basic books, through Little Women has not so far come out. But it has been used because it and Treasure Island go well together, being noted and well-loved stories, one American and one English, which the learner of English will have a special interest in reading, and those whose language is English a special interest in seeing in their Basic dress. On the other hand, these two books are as different from one another in material and outlook as they are from the third example, taken from Arms and the Man. The three together seem to make up a well-balanced selection from what might be named 'Basic for Pleasure.' Arms and the Man was put into Basic some time before Shaw's death, and was seen and given approval by Shaw himself before it was printed.
1. From Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Jo! Jo! Where are you?" came Meg's cry from the foot of the narrow steps going up to the top floor of the house.
"Here!" said a voice from overhead, sounding strangely thick, and running up, Meg saw her sister with an apple in her hand and a warm coat round her, crying over a book on an old three-legged seat under the window. This little room right under the roof was where Jo went most frequently to be by herself; and here her happiest hours went by, with six or seven apples, a good book, and the company of a rat living there, which by this time was used to her and had no fear of her at all. When Meg came in, Scrabble went quickly into his hole, and Jo, brushing the drops from her eyes, put down her book, waiting for the news.
"Only see! A note from Mrs. Gardiner for tomorrow night!" said Meg, waving a bit of paper in the air, and then reading out loud in a pleased voice: "Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss March and Miss Josephine at a little dance on New Year's Eve.1 Marmee says we may go. Now what dresses are we going in?"
"What's the good of saying that when we've only got one dress which will do?" said Jo with her mouth full.
"If only I had a silk one!" said Meg, sadly. "Mother says possibly I may have one when I'm eighteen, but two years is such a long time off."
"The ones we have are almost like silk, and they're good enough for us. Yours is as good as new, but there's the burn and the hole in mine. Whatever am I to do? The burn is very bad and nothing will take it out."
"You'll have to keep seated as much as possible, so that your back's not seen. The front is all right. I'll have a new silk band for my hair, and Marmee will let me have her little silver pin; and my new dancing-shoes are beautiful, and my gloves will do, though they aren't as good as they might be."
"Mine got marked by some fruit-drink or something, and I'll not be able to get any new ones, so I'll have to go without," said Jo, who was never much troubled about her dress.
"You'll have to have gloves, or I won't go," said Meg with decision. "Gloves are the most important thing. No one ever goes dancing without them."
"Then I'll be an onlooker. Company dancing isn't my idea of amusement anyhow. It's so stiff and slow. Give me something with a bit of a spring in it."
"It would be wrong to let Mother get you new ones. They're so dear, and you don't take any care of them. She said when they were damaged that she wouldn't get you any more this winter. Is there nothing to be done with them?" said Meg, looking troubled.
"I might be able to keep them all crushed up in my hand, so that nobody sees the marks, that's all. No! I have a better idea. This is what we'll do. You put on one good glove and keep the other in your hand and I'll do the same -- don't you see?"
"Your hands are wider than mine and my glove will be badly stretched," said Meg, whose gloves were specially important to her.
"Then I'll go without. It's nothing to me what anyone says. And Jo took up her book.
"Oh you may have the glove, you may! Only don't get any marks on it and do be on your best behavior. Don't put your hands together at your back, or keep looking fixedly at the same person, or say 'Christopher Columbus!' will you?"
"Don't get worked-up about me! I'll be as polished as a plate and not do anything wrong -- that is to say, I'll do my best. Now go and get your note answered and let me get on with this story."
So Meg went off to say how pleased they would be to go, and to get her dress ready, while Jo got through her story and her four apples, and had a good time playing with Scrabble.
On New Year's Eve there was no one in the living-room because the two younger girls were waiting on their sisters, who had no time now for anything but the important business of 'dressing for the dance.' Though their dresses were very simple, this process was the cause of much running up and down, laughing, and talking, and at one point of a strong smell of burning in every part of the house.
This last came from the fact that Meg had a great desire to have the hair round her face waved, and Jo had undertaken to do this with some heated irons.
"Is it all right for there to be quite so much smoke?" said Beth from her seat on the bed.
"What a strange smell! It's like burning feathers," said Amy, touching her soft waves with a little air of being pleased with herself and them.
"There! Now I'll take off the papers and you'll see a cloud of beautiful waving hair," said Jo, puffing down the irons.
She did take off the papers, but no cloud of beautiful waves came into view, because the hair came with the papers, and the shocked hairdresser put down a line of little black twists on the dressing-table in front of her unhappy sister.
"Oh, oh, oh! What have you done? It's all gone wrong. I won't be able to go! My hair! Oh my hair!" and Meg, crying bitterly, gave one long look in the glass at the burned ends of hair round her face.
"Oh dear! Oh dear! If only you'd never made the suggestion! Whatever I do goes wrong, every time! The irons were overheated, that's the trouble," said poor Jo, crying in her turn over the little black rolls.
"It's not hard to put right," said Amy, comforting them. "You have only to put your band on so that the ends are turned under, Meg, and your hair will be quite like the way they are doing it now. I've seen numbers of girls with it like that."
"If anyone is responsible, it's me, for attempting to be beautiful," said Meg. "If I had had any sense I'd have gone with it as it was, without touching it."
"If only you had! It was so smooth and soft. But it will be quite all right again before very long," said Beth, taking her turn at comforting, and she gave Meg a kiss.
After one or two other, smaller troubles, Meg was dressed at last, and, by the hard work of all the family, Jo's hair was got up and her dress on. They made a very pleasing picture in their simple dresses.
Meg was in silver-gray, ornamented with some delicate white open-work and her mother's silver pin, and had a blue band round her hair. Jo was in red-brown, with a stiff linen collar, almost like a man's, and a white flower or two for her only ornament. They put on one clean new glove, and took the other up in one hand, and everybody said that the general effect was 'quite natural and pleasing.' Meg's shoes had high heels2 and were very tight, and they were giving her some pain, though she would not say so; and Jo's nineteen hairpins all seemed to be going straight into her head, which was not her idea of comfort. But let us be beautiful for once at any price!
"Have a good time, dears," said Mrs. March, watching the two sisters stepping delicately down the front garden. "If the meal is late, don't take very much, and come away at eleven, when I send Hannah for you." And as they were going through the garden door, her voice came again from one of the windows:
"Girls, girls! Have you got clean pocket-handkerchiefs,3 the two of you?"
"Yes, yes, beautifully clean, and Meg has some Cologne4
on hers," Jo made answer, and they went on, Jo saying with a laugh, "Marmee would be crying that question after us if we were all running out of a burning house."
"It is one of the marks of her good taste, and quite right. The most important parts of a lady's dress are her shoes, gloves, and handkerchief," said Meg, who had quite a number of these little ideas about what was good taste and what was not.
"Now, you will do your best to keep the burn on your dress from being seen, won't you, Jo? Is my band all right? And does my hair seem very bad?" said Meg, turning from the glass in Mrs. Gardirier's dressing-room after a long, hard look.
"It's certain to go right Out of my head later. If you see me doing anything wrong, make a face at me, will you?" said Jo, giving her collar a little pull, and her hair a quick brush.
"No, I won't. That would be very bad behavior. I'll give you a look if anything is wrong, and a smile if you are all right. Now, keep your back straight, and take short steps; and don't give your hand to anyone when meeting them for the first time; it isn't the right thing to do."
"How do you get your knowledge about all these little details? I never have any. Isn't that music bright?"
Down they went, feeling a little self-conscious, because they did not go out very frequently, and even this small dance was an event to them. Mrs. Gardiner, who was old and had the air of a great lady, said something kind to them and then put them in the care of the oldest of her six daughters. Meg was one of Sallie's friends, and so before long was talking quite naturally and happily. But Jo, who didn't take much interest in other girls and their doings, kept where she was with her back against the wall, feeling as much out of place as a young horse in a flower-garden. Five or six light-hearted boys were talking about skates5 in another part of the room, and she had an impulse to go over to them, because skating was one of her greatest pleasures. She sent a questioning look to Meg, looking first at the boys and then giving signs of joining them, but her sister's face was so shocked that she made no move from where she was. Nobody came up to say anything to her, and one by one the group near her went away, till she was by herself. It was impossible for her to go walking about, because of the burn in her dress; so she kept her place, looking on at everybody a little sadly, till the dancing was started. Meg was in request straight away, and the tight shoes seemed so quick and carefree that nobody had any idea of the pain their smiling owner was feeling. Jo saw a tall young man with red hair coming in her direction, and, fearing that he was coming to make a request for a dance, took the chance of slipping into a little curtained space near-by, so that she would be able to go on watching in peace. But another self-conscious person with the same idea had come across this small secret place before her, and, turning from pulling the curtains across after her, Jo came face to face with 'the Laurence boy.'
1. eve: The 'Eve' of any day is the day before it. "New Year's Eve" is the day before "New Year's Day" -- the first day of the New Year.- 463 - < back
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2. heel: The part of a shoe placed under, and acting as a support for, the
back of the foot.
3. handkerchief: Square of linen and so on, kept in pocket for blowing nose
on and such uses. (Made clear earlier in the book.)
4. Cologne: A sweet-smelling liquid made in Cologne.
5. skates: Steel blades fixed under shoes for moving smoothly over level ice.
Using skates for this purpose is named 'skating.'