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Eight Cousins, Page 2

Louisa May Alcott

  Chapter 2--The Clan

  Rose scrambled into the china-closet as rapidly as possible, and thererefreshed herself by making faces at Debby, while she settled herplumage and screwed up her courage. Then she crept softly down the halland peeped into the parlor. No one appeared, and all was so still shefelt sure the company was upstairs. So she skipped boldly through thehalf-open folding-doors, to behold on the other side a sight that nearlytook her breath away.

  Seven boys stood in a row all ages, all sizes, all yellow-haired andblue-eyed, all in full Scotch costume, and all smiling, nodding, andsaying as with one voice, "How are you, cousin?"

  Rose gave a little gasp, and looked wildly about her as if ready to fly,for fear magnified the seven and the room seemed full of boys. Beforeshe could run, however, the tallest lad stepped out of the line, sayingpleasantly,

  "Don't be frightened. This is the Clan come to welcome you; and I'm thechief, Archie, at your service."

  He held out his hand as he spoke, and Rose timidly put her own into abrown paw, which closed over the white morsel and held it as the chiefcontinued his introductions.

  "We came in full rig, for we always turn out in style on grandoccasions. Hope you like it. Now I'll tell you who these chaps are, andthen we shall be all right. This big one is Prince Charlie, Aunt Clara'sboy. She has but one, so he is an extra good one. This old fellow isMac, the bookworm, called Worm for short. This sweet creature is Stevethe Dandy. Look at his gloves and top-knot, if you please. They are AuntJane's lads, and a precious pair you'd better believe. These are theBrats, my brothers, Geordie and Will, and Jamie the Baby. Now, my men,step out and show your manners."

  At this command, to Rose's great dismay, six more hands were offered,and it was evident that she was expected to shake them all. It was atrying moment to the bashful child; but, remembering that they were herkinsmen come to welcome her, she tried her best to return the greetingcordially.

  This impressive ceremony being over, the Clan broke ranks, and bothrooms instantly appeared to be pervaded with boys. Rose hastily retiredto the shelter of a big chair and sat there watching the invaders andwondering when her aunt would come and rescue her.

  As if bound to do their duty manfully, yet rather oppressed by it, eachlad paused beside her chair in his wanderings, made a brief remark,received a still briefer answer, and then sheered off with a relievedexpression.

  Archie came first, and, leaning over the chair-back, observed in apaternal tone,

  "I'm glad you've come, cousin, and I hope you'll find the Aunt-hillpretty jolly."

  "I think I shall."

  Mac shook his hair out of his eyes, stumbled over a stool, and askedabruptly,

  "Did you bring any books with you?"

  "Four boxes full. They are in the library."

  Mac vanished from the room, and Steve, striking an attitude whichdisplayed his costume effectively, said with an affable smile,

  "We were sorry not to see you last Wednesday. I hope your cold isbetter."

  "Yes, thank you." And a smile began to dimple about Rose's mouth, as sheremembered her retreat under the bed-cover.

  Feeling that he had been received with distinguished marks of attention,Steve strolled away with his topknot higher than ever, and PrinceCharlie pranced across the room, saying in a free and easy tone,

  "Mamma sent her love and hopes you will be well enough to come over fora day next week. It must be desperately dull here for a little thinglike you."

  "I'm thirteen and a half, though I do look small," cried Rose,forgetting her shyness in indignation at this insult to her newlyacquired teens.

  "Beg pardon, ma'am; never should have guessed it." And Charlie went offwith a laugh, glad to have struck a spark out of his meek cousin.

  Geordie and Will came together, two sturdy eleven and twelve yearolders, and, fixing their round blue eyes on Rose, fired off a questionapiece, as if it was a shooting match and she the target.

  "Did you bring your monkey?"

  "No; he is dead."

  "Are you going to have a boat?"

  "I hope not."

  Here the two, with a right-about-face movement, abruptly marched away,and little Jamie demanded with childish frankness,

  "Did you bring me anything nice?"

  "Yes, lots of candy," answered Rose, whereupon Jamie ascended into herlap with a sounding kiss and the announcement that he liked her verymuch.

  This proceeding rather startled Rose, for the other lads looked andlaughed, and in her confusion she said hastily to the young usurper,

  "Did you see the circus go by?"

  "When? Where?" cried all the boys in great excitement at once.

  "Just before you came. At least I thought it was a circus, for I saw ared and black sort of cart and ever so many little ponies, and--"

  She got no farther, for a general shout made her pause suddenly, asArchie explained the joke by saying in the middle of his laugh,

  "It was our new dog-cart and the Shetland ponies. You'll never hear thelast of your circus, cousin."

  "But there were so many, and they went so fast, and the cart was so veryred," began Rose, trying to explain her mistake.

  "Come and see them all!" cried the Prince. And before she knew what washappening, she was borne away to the barn and tumultuously introduced tothree shaggy ponies and the gay new dog-cart.

  She had never visited these regions before, and had her doubts as to thepropriety of her being there now, but when she suggested that "Auntiemight not like it," there was a general cry of,

  "She told us to amuse you, and we can do it ever so much better out herethan poking round in the house."

  "I'm afraid I shall get cold without my sacque," began Rose, who wantedto stay, but felt rather out of her element.

  "No, you won't! We'll fix you," cried the lads, as one clapped his capon her head, another tied a rough jacket round her neck by the sleeves,a third neatly smothered her in a carriage blanket, and a fourth threwopen the door of the old barouche that stood there, saying with aflourish,

  "Step in, ma'am, and make yourself comfortable while we show you somefun."

  So Rose sat in state enjoying herself very much, for the lads proceededto dance a Highland Fling with a spirit and skill that made her clap herhands and laugh as she had not done for weeks.

  "How is that, my lassie?" asked the Prince, coming up all flushed andbreathless when the ballet was over.

  "It was splendid! I never went to the theatre but once, and the dancingwas not half so pretty as this. What clever boys you must be!" saidRose, smiling upon her kinsmen like a little queen upon her subjects.

  "Ah, we're a fine lot, and that is only the beginning of our larks. Wehaven't got the pipes here or we'd,

  'Sing for you, play for you A dulcy melody,'"

  answered Charlie, looking much elated at her praise.

  "I did not know we were Scotch; papa never said anything about it, orseemed to care about Scotland, except to have me sing the old ballads,"said Rose, beginning to feel as if she had left America behind hersomewhere.

  "Neither did we till lately. We've been reading Scott's novels, and allof a sudden we remembered that our grandfather was a Scotchman. So wehunted up the old stories, got a bagpipe, put on our plaids, and wentin, heart and soul, for the glory of the Clan. We've been at it sometime now, and it's great fun. Our people like it, and I think we are apretty canny set."

  Archie said this from the other coach-step, where he had perched,while the rest climbed up before and behind to join in the chat as theyrested.

  "I'm Fitzjames and he's Roderick Dhu, and we'll give you the broadswordcombat some day. It's a great thing, you'd better believe," added thePrince.

  "Yes, and you should hear Steve play the pipes. He makes 'em skirl likea good one," cried Will from the box, eager to air the accomplishmentsof his race.

  "Mac's the fellow to hunt up the old stories and tell us how to dressright, and pick out rousing bits for us to speak and sing," put inGeordie
, saying a good word for the absent Worm.

  "And what do you and Will do?" asked Rose of Jamie, who sat beside heras if bound to keep her in sight till the promised gift had been handedover.

  "Oh, I'm the little foot-page, and do errands, and Will and Geordie arethe troops when we march, and the stags when we hunt, and the traitorswhen we want to cut any heads off."

  "They are very obliging, I'm sure," said Rose, whereat the "utility men"beamed with modest pride and resolved to enact Wallace and Montrose assoon as possible for their cousin's special benefit.

  "Let's have a game of tag," cried the Prince, swinging himself up to abeam with a sounding slap on Stevie's shoulder.

  Regardless of his gloves, Dandy tore after him, and the rest swarmed inevery direction as if bent on breaking their necks and dislocating theirjoints as rapidly as possible.

  It was a new and astonishing spectacle to Rose, fresh from a primboarding-school, and she watched the active lads with breathlessinterest, thinking their antics far superior to those of Mops, the deardeparted monkey.

  Will had just covered himself with glory by pitching off a high lofthead first and coming up all right, when Phebe appeared with a cloak,hood, and rubbers, also a message from Aunt Plenty that "Miss Rose wasto come in directly."

  "All right; we'll bring her!" answered Archie, issuing some mysteriousorder, which was so promptly obeyed that, before Rose could get out ofthe carriage, the boys had caught hold of the pole and rattled her outof the barn, round the oval and up to the front door with a cheer thatbrought two caps to an upper window, and caused Debby to cry aloud fromthe back porch,

  "Them harum-scarum boys will certainly be the death of that delicatelittle creter!"

  But the "delicate little creter" seemed all the better for her trip, andran up the steps looking rosy, gay, and dishevelled, to be received withlamentation by Aunt Plenty, who begged her to go and lie down at once.

  "Oh, please don't! We have come to tea with our cousin, and we'll be asgood as gold if you'll let us stay, auntie," clamoured the boys, whonot only approved of "our cousin" but had no mind to lose their tea, forAunt Plenty's name but feebly expressed her bountiful nature.

  "Well, dears, you can; only be quiet, and let Rose go and take her ironand be made tidy, and then we will see what we can find for supper,"said the old lady as she trotted away, followed by a volley ofdirections for the approaching feast.

  "Marmalade for me, auntie."

  "Plenty of plum-cake, please."

  "Tell Debby to trot out the baked pears."

  "I'm your man for lemon-pie, ma'am."

  "Do have fritters; Rose will like 'em."

  "She'd rather have tarts, I know."

  When Rose came down, fifteen minutes later, with every curl smoothed andher most beruffled apron on, she found the boys loafing about the longhall, and paused on the half-way landing to take an observation, fortill now she had not really examined her new-found cousins.

  There was a strong family resemblance among them, though some of theyellow heads were darker than others, some of the cheeks brown insteadof rosy, and the ages varied all the way from sixteen-year-old Archieto Jamie, who was ten years younger. None of them were especiallycomely but the Prince, yet all were hearty, happy-looking lads, and Rosedecided that boys were not as dreadful as she had expected to find them.

  They were all so characteristically employed that she could not helpsmiling as she looked. Archie and Charlie, evidently great cronies, werepacing up and down, shoulder to shoulder, whistling "Bonnie Dundee"; Macwas reading in a corner, with his book close to his near-sighted eyes;Dandy was arranging his hair before the oval glass in the hat-stand;Geordie and Will investigating the internal economy of the moon-facedclock; and Jamie lay kicking up his heels on the mat at the foot of thestairs, bent on demanding his sweeties the instant Rose appeared.

  She guessed his intention, and forestalled his demand by dropping ahandful of sugar-plums down upon him.

  At his cry of rapture the other lads looked up and smiled involuntarily,for the little kinswoman standing there above was a winsome sight withher shy, soft eyes, bright hair, and laughing face. The black frockreminded them of her loss, and filled the boyish hearts with a kindlydesire to be good to "our cousin," who had no longer any home but this.

  "There she is, as fine as you please," cried Steve, kissing his hand toher.

  "Come on, Missy; tea is ready," added the Prince encouragingly.

  "I shall take her in." And Archie offered his arm with great dignity, anhonour that made Rose turn as red as a cherry and long to run upstairsagain.

  It was a merry supper, and the two elder boys added much to the fun bytormenting the rest with dark hints of some interesting event which wasabout to occur. Something uncommonly fine, they declared it was, butenveloped in the deepest mystery for the present.

  "Did I ever see it?" asked Jamie.

  "Not to remember it; but Mac and Steve have, and liked it immensely,"answered Archie, thereby causing the two mentioned to neglect Debby'sdelectable fritters for several minutes, while they cudgelled theirbrains.

  "Who will have it first?" asked Will, with his mouth full of marmalade.

  "Aunt Plenty, I guess."

  "When will she have it?" demanded Geordie, bouncing in his seat withimpatience.

  "Sometime on Monday."

  "Heart alive! what is the boy talking about?" cried the old lady frombehind the tall urn, which left little to be seen but the topmost bow ofher cap.

  "Doesn't auntie know?" asked a chorus of voices.

  "No; and that's the best of the joke, for she is desperately fond ofit."

  "What colour is it?" asked Rose, joining in the fun.

  "Blue and brown."

  "Is it good to eat?" asked Jamie.

  "Some people think so, but I shouldn't like to try it," answeredCharlie, laughing so he split his tea.

  "Who does it belong to?" put in Steve.

  Archie and the Prince stared at one another rather blankly for a minute,then Archie answered with a twinkle of the eye that made Charlie explodeagain,

  "To Grandfather Campbell."

  This was a poser, and they gave up the puzzle, though Jamie confidedto Rose that he did not think he could live till Monday without knowingwhat this remarkable thing was.

  Soon after tea the Clan departed, singing "All the blue bonnets are overthe border," at the tops of their voices.

  "Well, dear, how do you like your cousins?" asked Aunt Plenty, as thelast pony frisked round the corner and the din died away.

  "Pretty well, ma'am; but I like Phebe better." An answer which causedAunt Plenty to hold up her hands in despair and trot away to tell sisterPeace that she never should understand that child, and it was a mercyAlec was coming soon to take the responsibility off their hands.

  Fatigued by the unusual exertions of the afternoon, Rose curled herselfup in the sofa corner to rest and think about the great mystery, littleguessing that she was to know it first of all.

  Right in the middle of her meditations she fell asleep and dreamed shewas at home again in her own little bed. She seemed to wake and see herfather bending over her; to hear him say, "My little Rose"; to answer,"Yes, papa"; and then to feel him take her in his arms and kiss hertenderly. So sweet, so real was the dream, that she started up with acry of joy to find herself in the arms of a brown, bearded man, who heldher close, and whispered in a voice so like her father's that she clungto him involuntarily,

  "This is my little girl, and I am Uncle Alec."