Rose in Bloom, Page 2Louisa May Alcott
Three young men stood together on a wharf one bright October day,awaiting the arrival of an ocean steamer with an impatience whichfound a vent in lively skirmishes with a small lad, who pervaded thepremises like a will-o'-the-wisp, and afforded much amusement to theother groups assembled there.
"They are the Campbells, waiting for their cousin, who has been abroadseveral years with her uncle, the Doctor," whispered one lady toanother, as the handsomest of the young men touched his hat to her ashe passed, lugging the boy, whom he had just rescued from a littleexpedition down among the piles.
"Which is that?" asked the stranger.
"Prince Charlie, as he's called,--a fine fellow, the most promising ofthe seven; but a little fast, people say," answered the first speaker,with a shake of the head.
"Are the others his brothers?"
"No, cousins. The elder is Archie, a most exemplary young man. He hasjust gone into business with the merchant uncle, and bids fair to bean honor to his family. The other, with the eye-glasses and no gloves,is Mac, the odd one, just out of college."
"And the boy?"
"Oh, he is Jamie, the youngest brother of Archibald, and the pet ofthe whole family. Mercy on us! he'll be in if they don't hold on tohim."
The ladies' chat came to a sudden end just there; for, by the timeJamie had been fished out of a hogshead, the steamer hove in sight andevery thing else was forgotten. As it swung slowly round to enter thedock, a boyish voice shouted,--
"There she is! I see her and uncle and Phebe! Hooray for Cousin Rose!"and three small cheers were given with a will by Jamie, as he stood ona post waving his arms like a windmill, while his brother held on tothe tail of his jacket.
Yes, there they were,--Uncle Alec swinging his hat like a boy, withPhebe smiling and nodding on one side, and Rose kissing both handsdelightedly on the other, as she recognized familiar faces and heardfamiliar voices welcoming her home.
"Bless her dear heart, she's bonnier than ever! Looks like aMadonna,--doesn't she?--with that blue cloak round her, and her brighthair flying in the wind!" said Charlie excitedly, as they watched thegroup upon the deck with eager eyes.
"Madonnas don't wear hats like that. Rose hasn't changed much, butPhebe has. Why, she's a regular beauty!" answered Archie, staringwith all his might at the dark-eyed young woman, with the brilliantcolor and glossy, black braids shining in the sun.
"Dear old uncle! doesn't it seem good to have him back?" was all Macsaid; but he was not looking at "dear old uncle," as he made thefervent remark, for he saw only the slender blonde girl near by, andstretched out his hands to meet hers, forgetful of the green watertumbling between them.
During the confusion that reigned for a moment as the steamer settledto her moorings, Rose looked down into the three faces upturned tohers, and seemed to read in them something that both pleased andpained her. It was only a glance, and her own eyes were full; butthrough the mist of happy tears she received the impression thatArchie was about the same, that Mac had decidedly improved, and thatsomething was amiss with Charlie. There was no time for observation,however; for in a moment the shoreward rush began, and, before shecould grasp her travelling bag, Jamie was clinging to her like anecstatic young bear. She was with difficulty released from hisembrace, to fall into the gentler ones of the elder cousins, who tookadvantage of the general excitement to welcome both blooming girlswith affectionate impartiality. Then the wanderers were borne ashorein a triumphal procession, while Jamie danced rapturous jigs beforethem even on the gangway.
Archie remained to help his uncle get the luggage through the CustomHouse, and the others escorted the damsels home. No sooner were theyshut up in a carriage, however, than a new and curious constraintseemed to fall upon the young people; for they realized, all at once,that their former playmates were men and women now. Fortunately, Jamiewas quite free from this feeling of restraint, and, sittingbodkin-wise between the ladies, took all sorts of liberties with themand their belongings.
"Well, my mannikin, what do you think of us?" asked Rose, to break anawkward pause.
"You've both grown so pretty, I can't decide which I like best. Phebeis the biggest and brightest looking, and I was always fond of Phebe;but, somehow you are so kind of sweet and precious, I really think I_must_ hug you again," and the small youth did it tempestuously.
"If you love me best, I shall not mind a bit about your thinking Phebethe handsomest, because she _is_. Isn't she, boys?" asked Rose, with amischievous look at the gentlemen opposite, whose faces expressed arespectful admiration which much amused her.
"I'm so dazzled by the brilliancy and beauty that has suddenly burstupon me, I have no words to express my emotions," answered Charlie,gallantly dodging the dangerous question.
"I can't say yet, for I have not had time to look at any one. I willnow, if you don't mind;" and, to the great amusement of the rest, Macgravely adjusted his eye-glasses and took an observation.
"Well?" said Phebe, smiling and blushing under his honest stare, yetseeming not to resent it as she did the lordly sort of approval whichmade her answer the glance of Charlie's audacious blue eyes with aflash of her black ones.
"I think if you were my sister, I should be very proud of you, becauseyour face shows what I admire more than its beauty,--truth andcourage, Phebe," answered Mac, with a little bow, full of such genuinerespect that surprise and pleasure brought a sudden dew to quench thefire of the girl's eyes, and soothe the sensitive pride of the girl'sheart.
Rose clapped her hands just as she used to do when any thing delightedher, and beamed at Mac approvingly, as she said,--
"Now that's a criticism worth having, and we are much obliged. I wassure _you'd_ admire my Phebe when you knew her: but I didn't believeyou would be wise enough to see it at once; and you have gone up manypegs in my estimation, I assure you."
"I was always fond of mineralogy you remember, and I've been tappinground a good deal lately, so I've learned to know precious metals whenI see them," Mac said with his shrewd smile.
"That is the last hobby, then? Your letters have amused us immensely;for each one had a new theory or experiment, and the latest was alwaysthe best. I thought uncle would have died of laughing over thevegetarian mania: it was so funny to imagine you living on bread andmilk, baked apples, and potatoes roasted in your own fire," continuedRose, changing the subject again.
"This old chap was the laughing-stock of his class. They called himDon Quixote; and the way he went at windmills of all sorts was a sightto see," put in Charlie, evidently feeling that Mac had been patted onthe head quite as much as was good for him.
"But in spite of that the Don got through college with all the honors.Oh, wasn't I proud when Aunt Jane wrote us about it! and didn't sherejoice that her boy kept at the head of his class, and won themedal!" cried Rose, shaking Mac by both hands in a way that causedCharlie to wish "the old chap" had been left behind with Dr. Alec.
"Oh come, that's all mother's nonsense. I began earlier than the otherfellows and liked it better: so I don't deserve any praise. Prince isright, though: I did make a regular jack of myself; but, on the whole,I'm not sure that my wild oats weren't better than some I've seensowed. Anyway, they didn't cost much, and I'm none the worse forthem," said Mac, placidly.
"I know what 'wild oats' mean. I heard Uncle Mac say Charlie wassowing 'em too fast, and I asked mamma, so she told me. And I knowthat he was suspelled or expended, I don't remember which, but it wassomething bad, and Aunt Clara cried," added Jamie, all in one breath;for he possessed a fatal gift of making _malapropos_ remarks, whichcaused him to be a terror to his family.
"Do you want to go on the box again?" demanded Prince, with a warningfrown.
"No, I don't."
"Then hold your tongue."
"Well, Mac needn't kick me; for I was only"--began the culprit,innocently trying to make a bad matter worse.
"That will do," interrupted Charlie, sternly, and James subsided acr
ushed boy, consoling himself with Rose's new watch for theindignities he suffered at the hands of the "old fellows," as hevengefully called his elders.
Mac and Charlie immediately began to talk as hard as their tonguescould wag, bringing up all sorts of pleasant subjects so successfullythat peals of laughter made passers-by look after the merry load withsympathetic smiles.
An avalanche of aunts fell upon Rose as soon as she reached home, andfor the rest of the day the old house buzzed like a beehive. Eveningfound the whole tribe collected in the drawing-rooms, with theexception of Aunt Peace, whose place was empty now.
Naturally enough, the elders settled into one group after a while, andthe young fellows clustered about the girls, like butterflies roundtwo attractive flowers. Dr. Alec was the central figure in one roomand Rose in the other; for the little girl, whom they had all lovedand petted, had bloomed into a woman; and two years of absence hadwrought a curious change in the relative positions of the cousins,especially the three elder ones, who eyed her with a mixture of boyishaffection and manly admiration that was both new and pleasant.
Something sweet yet spirited about her charmed them and piqued theircuriosity; for she was not quite like other girls, and rather startledthem now and then by some independent little speech or act, which madethem look at one another with a sly smile, as if reminded that Rosewas "uncle's girl."
Let us listen, as in duty bound, to what the elders are saying first;for they are already building castles in the air for the boys andgirls to inhabit.
"Dear child! how nice it is to see her safely back, so well and happyand like her sweet little self!" said Aunt Plenty, folding her handsas if giving thanks for a great happiness.
"I shouldn't wonder if you found that you'd brought a firebrand intothe family, Alec. Two, in fact; for Phebe is a fine girl, and the ladshave found it out already, if I'm not mistaken," added Uncle Mac, witha nod toward the other room.
All eyes followed his, and a highly suggestive tableau presenteditself to the paternal and maternal audience in the back parlor.
Rose and Phebe, sitting side by side on the sofa, had evidentlyassumed at once the places which they were destined to fill by rightof youth, sex, and beauty; for Phebe had long since ceased to be themaid and become the friend, and Rose meant to have that factestablished at once.
Jamie occupied the rug, on which Will and Geordie stood at ease,showing their uniforms to the best advantage; for they were now in agreat school, where military drill was the delight of their souls.Steve posed gracefully in an arm-chair, with Mac lounging over theback of it; while Archie leaned on one corner of the lowchimney-piece, looking down at Phebe as she listened to his chat withsmiling lips, and cheeks almost as rich in color as the carnations inher belt.
But Charlie was particularly effective, although he sat upon amusic-stool, that most trying position for any man not gifted withgrace in the management of his legs. Fortunately Prince was, and hadfallen into an easy attitude, with one arm over the back of the sofa,his handsome head bent a little, as he monopolized Rose, with adevoted air and a very becoming expression of contentment on his face.
Aunt Clara smiled as if well pleased; Aunt Jessie looked thoughtful;Aunt Jane's keen eyes went from dapper Steve to broad-shouldered Macwith an anxious glance; Mrs. Myra murmured something about her"blessed Caroline;" and Aunt Plenty said warmly,--
"Bless the dears! any one might be proud of such a bonny flock ofbairns as that."
"I am all ready to play chaperon as soon as you please, Alec; for Isuppose the dear girl will come out at once, as she did not before youwent away. My services won't be wanted long, I fancy; for with hermany advantages she will be carried off in her first season or I'mmuch mistaken," said Mrs. Clara, with significant nods and smiles.
"You must settle all those matters with Rose: I am no longer captain,only first mate now, you know," answered Dr. Alec, adding soberly,half to himself, half to his brother,--"I wonder people are in suchhaste to 'bring out' their daughters, as it's called. To me there issomething almost pathetic in the sight of a young girl standing on thethreshold of the world, so innocent and hopeful, so ignorant of allthat lies before her, and usually so ill prepared to meet the ups anddowns of life. We do our duty better by the boys; but the poor littlewomen are seldom provided with any armor worth having; and, sooner orlater, they are sure to need it, for every one must fight her ownbattle, and only the brave and strong can win."
"You can't reproach yourself with neglect of that sort, Alec, for youhave done your duty faithfully by George's girl; and I envy you thepride and happiness of having such a daughter, for she is that toyou," answered old Mac, unexpectedly betraying the paternal sort oftenderness men seldom feel for their sons.
"I've tried, Mac, and I _am_ both proud and happy; but with every yearmy anxiety seems to increase. I've done my best to fit Rose for whatmay come, as far as I can foresee it; but now she must stand alone,and all my care is powerless to keep her heart from aching, her lifefrom being saddened by mistakes, or thwarted by the acts of others. Ican only stand by, ready to share her joy and sorrow, and watch hershape her life."
"Why, Alec, what is the child going to do, that you need look sosolemn?" exclaimed Mrs. Clara, who seemed to have assumed a sort ofright to Rose already.
"Hark! and let her tell you herself," answered Dr. Alec, as Rose'svoice was heard saying very earnestly,--
"Now you have all told your plans for the future, why don't you ask usours?"
"Because we know that there is only one thing for a pretty girl todo,--break a dozen or so of hearts before she finds one to suit, thenmarry and settle," answered Charlie, as if no other reply waspossible.
"That may be the case with many, but not with us; for Phebe and Ibelieve that it is as much a right and a duty for women to dosomething with their lives as for men; and we are not going to besatisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us," cried Rose, withkindling eyes. "I mean what I say, and you cannot laugh me down. Would_you_ be contented to be told to enjoy yourself for a little while,then marry and do nothing more till you die?" she added, turning toArchie.
"Of course not: that is only a part of a man's life," he answereddecidedly.
"A very precious and lovely part, but not _all_," continued Rose;"neither should it be for a woman: for we've got minds and souls aswell as hearts; ambition and talents, as well as beauty andaccomplishments; and we want to live and learn as well as love and beloved. I'm sick of being told that is all a woman is fit for! I won'thave any thing to do with love till I prove that I am something besidea housekeeper and baby-tender!"
"Heaven preserve us! here's woman's rights with a vengeance!" criedCharlie, starting up with mock horror, while the others regarded Rosewith mingled surprise and amusement, evidently fancying it all agirlish outbreak.
"Ah, you needn't pretend to be shocked: you will be in earnestpresently; for this is only the beginning of my strong-mindedness,"continued Rose, nothing daunted by the smiles of good-naturedincredulity or derision on the faces of her cousins. "I have made upmy mind not to be cheated out of the real things that make one goodand happy; and, just because I'm a rich girl, fold my hands and driftas so many do. I haven't lived with Phebe all these years in vain: Iknow what courage and self-reliance can do for one; and I sometimeswish I hadn't a penny in the world so that I could go and earn mybread with her, and be as brave and independent as she will be prettysoon."
It was evident that Rose was in earnest now; for, as she spoke, sheturned to her friend with such respect as well as love in her facethat the look told better than any words how heartily the rich girlappreciated the virtues hard experience had given the poor girl, andhow eagerly she desired to earn what all her fortune could not buy forher.
Something in the glance exchanged between the friends impressed theyoung men in spite of their prejudices; and it was in a perfectlyserious tone that Archie said,--
"I fancy you'll find your hands full, cousin, if you want work; forI've heard people say that we
alth has its troubles and trials as wellas poverty."
"I know it, and I'm going to try and fill my place well. I've got somecapital little plans all made, and have begun to study my professionalready," answered Rose, with an energetic nod.
"Could I ask what it is to be?" inquired Charlie, in a tone of awe.
"Guess!" and Rose looked up at him with an expression half-earnest,half-merry.
"Well, I should say that you were fitted for a beauty and a belle;but, as that is evidently not to your taste, I am afraid you are goingto study medicine and be a doctor. Won't your patients have a heavenlytime though? It will be easy dying with an angel to poison them."
"Now, Charlie, that's base of you, when you know how well women havesucceeded in this profession, and what a comfort Dr. Mary Kirk was todear Aunt Peace. I did want to study medicine; but uncle thought itwouldn't do to have so many M.D.'s in one family, since Mac thinks oftrying it. Besides, I seem to have other work put into my hands that Iam better fitted for."
"You are fitted for any thing that is generous and good; and I'llstand by you, no matter what you've chosen," cried Mac heartily; forthis was a new style of talk from a girl's lips, and he liked itimmensely.
"Philanthropy is a generous, good, and beautiful profession; and I'vechosen it for mine because I have much to give. I'm only the stewardof the fortune papa left me; and I think, if I use it wisely for thehappiness of others, it will be more blest than if I keep it all formyself."
Very sweetly and simply was this said, but it was curious to see howdifferently the various hearers received it.
Charlie shot a quick look at his mother, who exclaimed, as if in spiteof herself,--
"Now, Alec, _are_ you going to let that girl squander a fine fortuneon all sorts of charitable nonsense and wild schemes, for theprevention of pauperism and crime?"
"'They who give to the poor lend to the Lord,' and practicalChristianity is the kind He loves the best," was all Dr. Alecanswered; but it silenced the aunts, and caused even prudent Uncle Macto think with sudden satisfaction of certain secret investments hehad made, which paid him no interest but the thanks of the poor.
Archie and Mac looked well pleased, and promised their advice andassistance with the enthusiasm of generous young hearts. Steve shookhis head, but said nothing; and the lads on the rug at once proposedfounding a hospital for invalid dogs and horses, white mice andwounded heroes.
"Don't you think that will be a better way for a woman to spend herlife, than in dancing, dressing, and husband-hunting, Charlie?" askedRose, observing his silence and anxious for his approval.
"Very pretty for a little while, and very effective too; for I don'tknow any thing more captivating than a sweet girl in a meek littlebonnet, going on charitable errands and glorifying poor people'shouses with a delightful mixture of beauty and benevolence.Fortunately, the dear souls soon tire of it, but it's heavenly whileit lasts."
Charlie spoke in a tone of mingled admiration and contempt, and smileda superior sort of smile, as if he understood all the innocentdelusions as well as the artful devices of the sex, and expectednothing more from them. It both surprised and grieved Rose, for it didnot sound like the Charlie she had left two years ago. But she onlysaid, with a reproachful look and a proud little gesture of head andhand, as if she put the subject aside since it was not treated withrespect,--
"I am sorry you have so low an opinion of women: there _was_ a timewhen you believed in them sincerely."
"I do still, upon my word I do! They haven't a more devoted admirerand slave in the world than I am. Just try me and see," cried Charlie,gallantly kissing his hand to the sex in general.
But Rose was not appeased, and gave a disdainful shrug, as sheanswered with a look in her eyes that his lordship did not like,--
"Thank you: I don't want admirers or slaves, but friends and helpers.I've lived so long with a wise, good man that I am rather hard tosuit, perhaps; but I don't intend to lower my standard, and any onewho cares for my regard must at least try to live up to it."
"Whew! here's a wrathful dove! Come and smooth her ruffled plumage,Mac. I'll dodge before I do further mischief," and Charlie strolledaway into the other room, privately lamenting that Uncle Alec hadspoiled a fine girl by making her strong-minded.
He wished himself back again in five minutes; for Mac said somethingthat produced a gale of laughter, and when he took a look over hisshoulder the "wrathful dove" was cooing so peacefully and pleasantlyhe was sorely tempted to return and share the fun. But Charlie hadbeen spoiled by too much indulgence, and it was hard for him to ownhimself in the wrong even when he knew it. He always got what hewanted sooner or later; and, having long ago made up his mind thatRose and her fortune were to be his, he was secretly displeased at thenew plans and beliefs of the young lady, but flattered himself thatthey would soon be changed when she saw how unfashionable andinconvenient they were.
Musing over the delightful future he had laid out, he made himselfcomfortable in the sofa corner near his mother, till the appearance ofa slight refection caused both groups to melt into one. Aunt Plentybelieved in eating and drinking; so the slightest excuse for festivitydelighted her hospitable soul, and on this joyful occasion shesurpassed herself.
It was during this informal banquet that Rose, roaming about from oneadmiring relative to another, came upon the three younger lads, whowere having a quiet little scuffle in a secluded corner.
"Come out here and let me have a look at you," she said enticingly;for she predicted an explosion and public disgrace if peace was notspeedily restored.
Hastily smoothing themselves down, the young gentlemen presented threeflushed and merry countenances for inspection, feeling highly honoredby the command.
"Dear me, how you two have grown! You big things! how dare you getahead of me in this way?" she said, standing on tiptoe to pat thecurly pates before her; for Will and Geordie had shot up like weeds,and now grinned cheerfully down upon her as she surveyed them in comicamazement.
"The Campbells are all fine, tall fellows; and we mean to be the bestof the lot. Shouldn't wonder if we were six-footers, like Grandpa,"observed Will proudly, looking so like a young Shanghae rooster, alllegs and an insignificant head, that Rose kept her countenance withdifficulty.
"We shall broaden out when we get our growth. We are taller than Stevenow, a half a head, both of us," added Geordie, with his nose in theair.
Rose turned to look at Steve, and, with a sudden smile, beckoned tohim. He dropped his napkin, and flew to obey the summons; for she wasqueen of the hour, and he had openly announced his deathless loyalty.
"Tell the other boys to come here. I've a fancy to stand you all in arow and look you over, as you did me that dreadful day when you nearlyfrightened me out of my wits," she said, laughing at the memory of itas she spoke.
They came in a body, and, standing shoulder to shoulder, made such animposing array that the young commander was rather daunted for amoment. But she had seen too much of the world lately to be abashed bya trifle; and the desire to try a girlish test gave her courage toface the line of smiling cousins with dignity and spirit.
"Now I'm going to stare at you as you stared at me. It is my revengeon you seven bad boys for entrapping one poor little girl, andenjoying her alarm. I'm not a bit afraid of you now; so tremble andbeware!"
As she spoke, Rose looked up into Archie's face and noddedapprovingly; for the steady gray eyes met hers fairly, and softened asthey did so,--a becoming change, for naturally they were rather keenthan kind.
"A true Campbell, bless you!" she said, and shook his hand heartily asshe passed on.
Charlie came next, and here she felt less satisfied, though scarcelyconscious why; for, as she looked, there came a defiant sort of flash,changing suddenly to something warmer than anger, stronger than pride,making her shrink a little and say, hastily,--
"I don't find the Charlie I left; but the Prince is there still, Isee."
Turning to Mac with a sense of relief, she gently t
ook off his"winkers," as Jamie called them, and looked straight into the honestblue eyes that looked straight back at her, full of a frank andfriendly affection that warmed her heart, and made her own eyesbrighten as she gave back the glasses, saying, with a look and tone ofcordial satisfaction,--
"_You_ are not changed, my dear old Mac; and I'm so glad of that!"
"Now say something extra sweet to me, because I'm the flower of thefamily," said Steve, twirling the blonde moustache, which wasevidently the pride of his life.
Rose saw at a glance that Dandy deserved his name more than ever, andpromptly quenched his vanities by answering, with a provoking laugh,--
"Then the name of the flower of the family is Cock's-comb."
"Ah, ha! who's got it now?" jeered Will.
"Let us off easy, please," whispered Geordie, mindful that their turncame next.
"You blessed beanstalks! I'm proud of you: only don't grow quite outof sight, or ever be ashamed to look a woman in the face," answeredRose, with a gentle pat on the cheek of either bashful young giant;for both were as red as peonies, though their boyish eyes were asclear and calm as summer lakes.
"Now me!" And Jamie assumed his manliest air, feeling that he did notappear to advantage among his tall kinsmen. But he went to the head ofthe class in every one's opinion when Rose put her arms round him,saying, with a kiss,--
"You must be my boy now; for all the others are too old, and I want afaithful little page to do my errands for me."
"I will, I will! and I'll marry you too, if you'll just hold on till Igrow up!" cried Jamie, rather losing his head at this suddenpromotion.
"Bless the baby, what is he talking about?" laughed Rose, looking downat her little knight, as he clung about her with grateful ardor.
"Oh, I heard the aunts say that you'd better marry one of us, andkeep the property in the family; so I speak first, because you arevery fond of me, and I _do_ love curls."
Alas for Jamie! this awful speech had hardly left his innocent lipswhen Will and Geordie swept him out of the room like a whirlwind; andthe howls of that hapless boy were heard from the torture-hall, wherebeing shut into the skeleton-case was one of the mildest punishmentsinflicted upon him.
Dismay fell upon the unfortunates who remained: but their confusionwas soon ended; for Rose, with a look which they had never seen uponher face before, dismissed them with the brief command, "Breakranks,--the review is over," and walked away to Phebe.
"Confound that boy! You ought to shut him up, or gag him!" fumedCharlie, irritably.
"He shall be attended to," answered poor Archie, who was trying tobring up the little marplot with the success of most parents andguardians.
"The whole thing was deuced disagreeable," growled Steve, who feltthat he had not distinguished himself in the late engagement.
"Truth generally is," observed Mac dryly, as he strolled away with hisodd smile.
As if he suspected discord somewhere, Dr. Alec proposed music at thiscrisis; and the young people felt that it was a happy thought.
"I want you to hear both my birds; for they have improved immensely,and I am very proud of them," said the Doctor, twirling up the stooland pulling out the old music-books.
"I had better come first, for after you have heard the nightingale youwon't care for the canary," added Rose, wishing to put Phebe at herease; for she sat among them looking like a picture, but rather shyand silent, remembering the days when her place was in the kitchen.
"I'll give you some of the dear old songs you used to like so much.This was a favorite, I think;" and sitting down she sang the firstfamiliar air that came, and sang it well in a pleasant, but by nomeans finished, manner.
It chanced to be "The Birks of Aberfeldie," and vividly recalled thetime when Mac was ill, and she took care of him. The memory was sweetto her, and involuntarily her eye wandered in search of him. He wasnot far away, sitting just as he used to sit when she soothed his mostdespondent moods,--astride of a chair with his head down on his arms,as if the song suggested the attitude. Her heart quite softened to himas she looked, and she decided to forgive _him_ if no one else; forshe was sure that he had no mercenary plans about her tiresome money.
Charlie had assumed a pensive air, and fixed his fine eyes upon herwith an expression of tender admiration, which made her laugh in spiteof all her efforts to seem unconscious of it. She was both amused andannoyed at his very evident desire to remind her of certainsentimental passages in the last year of their girl and boyhood, andto change what she had considered a childish joke into romanticearnest. This did not suit her; for, young as she was, Rose had veryserious ideas of love, and had no intention of being beguiled intoeven a flirtation with her handsome cousin.
So Charlie attitudinized unnoticed, and was getting rather out oftemper when Phebe began to sing; and he forgot all about himself inadmiration of her. It took every one by surprise: for two years offoreign training added to several at home had worked wonders; and thebeautiful voice that used to warble cheerily over pots and kettles,now rang out melodiously or melted to a mellow music that woke asympathetic thrill in those who listened. Rose glowed with pride asshe accompanied her friend; for Phebe was in her own world now,--alovely world where no depressing memory of poor-house or kitchen,ignorance or loneliness, came to trouble her; a happy world where shecould be herself, and rule others by the magic of her sweet gift.
Yes, Phebe was herself now, and showed it in the change that came overher at the first note of music. No longer shy and silent, no longerthe image of a handsome girl, but a blooming woman, alive and full ofthe eloquence her art gave her, as she laid her hands softly together,fixed her eye on the light, and just poured out her song as simplyand joyfully as the lark does soaring toward the sun.
"My faith, Alec! that's the sort of voice that wins a man's heart outof his breast!" exclaimed Uncle Mac, wiping his eyes after one of theplaintive ballads that never grow old.
"So it would!" answered Dr. Alec, delightedly.
"So it has," added Archie to himself; and he was right: for, just atthat moment, he fell in love with Phebe. He actually did, and couldfix the time almost to a second: for, at a quarter past nine, hemerely thought her a very charming young person; at twenty minutespast, he considered her the loveliest woman he ever beheld; at fiveand twenty minutes past, she was an angel singing his soul away; andat half after nine he was a lost man, floating over a delicious sea tothat temporary heaven on earth where lovers usually land after thefirst rapturous plunge.
If any one had mentioned this astonishing fact, nobody would havebelieved it; nevertheless, it was quite true: and sober, business-likeArchie suddenly discovered a fund of romance at the bottom of hishitherto well-conducted heart that amazed him. He was not quite clearwhat had happened to him at first, and sat about in a dazed sort ofway; seeing, hearing, knowing nothing but Phebe: while the unconsciousidol found something wanting in the cordial praise so modestlyreceived, because Mr. Archie never said a word.
This was one of the remarkable things which occurred that evening;another was that Mac paid Rose a compliment, which was such anunprecedented fact, it produced a great sensation, though only oneperson heard it.
Everybody had gone but Mac and his father, who was busy with theDoctor. Aunt Plenty was counting the teaspoons in the dining-room, andPhebe was helping her as of old. Mac and Rose were alone,--heapparently in a brown study, leaning his elbows on the chimney-piece;and she lying back in a low chair, looking thoughtfully at the fire.She was tired; and the quiet was grateful to her: so she kept silenceand Mac respectfully held his tongue. Presently, however, she becameconscious that he was looking at her as intently as eyes and glassescould do it; and, without stirring from her comfortable attitude, shesaid, smiling up at him,--
"He looks as wise as an owl: I wonder what he's thinking about?"
"Something good, I hope?"
"I was thinking Leigh Hunt was about right when he said, 'A girl isthe sweetest thing God ever mad
"Why, Mac!" and Rose sat bolt upright with an astonished face: thiswas such an entirely unexpected sort of remark for the philosopher tomake.
Evidently interested in the new discovery, Mac placidly continued,"Do you know, it seems as if I never really saw a girl before, or hadany idea what agreeable creatures they could be. I fancy you are aremarkably good specimen, Rose."
"No, indeed! I'm only hearty and happy; and being safe at home againmay make me look better than usual perhaps: but I'm no beauty exceptto uncle."
"'Hearty and happy,'--that must be it," echoed Mac, soberlyinvestigating the problem. "Most girls are sickly or silly, I think Ihave observed; and that is probably why I am so struck with you."
"Of all queer boys you are the queerest! Do you really mean that youdon't like or notice girls?" asked Rose, much amused at this newpeculiarity of her studious cousin.
"Well, no: I am only conscious of two sorts,--noisy and quiet ones. Iprefer the latter: but, as a general thing, I don't notice any of themmuch more than I do flies, unless they bother me; then I'd like toflap them away; but, as that won't do, I hide."
Rose leaned back and laughed till her eyes were full: it was socomical to hear Mac sink his voice to a confidential whisper at thelast words, and see him smile with sinful satisfaction at the memoryof the tormentors he had eluded.
"You needn't laugh: it's a fact, I assure you. Charlie likes thecreatures, and they spoil him; Steve follows suit, of course. Archieis a respectful slave when he can't help himself. As for me, I don'toften give them a chance; and, when I get caught, I talk science anddead languages till they run for their lives. Now and then I find asensible one, and then we get on excellently."
"A sad prospect for Phebe and me," sighed Rose, trying to keep sober.
"Phebe is evidently a quiet one. I know she is sensible, or youwouldn't care for her. I can see that she is pleasant to look at, so Ifancy I shall like her. As for you, I helped bring you up; therefore Iam a little anxious to see how you turn out. I was afraid your foreignpolish might spoil you, but I think it has not. In fact, I find youquite satisfactory so far, if you don't mind my saying it. I don'tquite know what the charm is, though. Must be the power of inwardgraces, since you insist that you have no outward ones."
Mac was peering at her with a shrewd smile on his lips, but such akindly look behind the glasses, that she found both words and glancevery pleasant, and answered merrily,--
"I am glad you approve of me, and much obliged for your care of myearly youth. I hope to be a credit to you, and depend on your keepingme straight; for I'm afraid I shall be spoilt among you all."
"I'll keep my eye on you upon one condition," replied the youthfulMentor.
"If you are going to have a lot of lovers round, I wash my hands ofyou. If not, I'm your man."
"You must be sheep-dog, and help keep them away; for I don't want anyyet awhile; and, between ourselves, I don't believe I shall have anyif it is known that I am strong-minded. That fact will scare most menaway like a yellow flag," said Rose: for, thanks to Dr. Alec'sguardianship, she had wasted neither heart nor time in the foolishflirtations so many girls fritter away their youth upon.
"Hum! I rather doubt that," muttered Mac, as he surveyed the damselbefore him.
She certainly did not look unpleasantly strong-minded, for she _was_beautiful in spite of her modest denials. Beautiful with the truestsort of beauty; for nobility of character lent its subtle charm to thebloom of youth, the freshness of health, the innocence of a naturewhose sweet maidenliness Mac felt but could not describe. Gentle yetfull of spirit, and all aglow with the earnestness that suggestslovely possibilities, and makes one hope that such human flowers mayhave heaven's purest air and warmest sunshine to blossom in.
"Wait and see," answered Rose; then, as her uncle's voice was heard inthe hall, she held out her hand, adding pleasantly, "The old times areto begin again, so come soon and tell me all your doings, and help mewith mine just as you used to do."
"You really mean it?" and Mac looked much pleased.
"I really do. You are so little altered, except to grow big, that Idon't feel at all strange with you, and want to begin where we leftoff."
"That will be capital. Good-night, cousin," and to her great amazementhe gave her a hearty kiss.
"Oh, but that is not the old way at all!" cried Rose, stepping back inmerry confusion; while the audacious youth assumed an air of mildsurprise, as he innocently asked,--
"Didn't we always say good-night in that way? I had an impression thatwe did, and were to begin just as we left off."
"Of course not; no power on earth would have bribed you to do it, asyou know well enough. I don't mind the first night, but we are too oldfor that sort of thing now."
"I'll remember. It was the force of habit, I suppose; for I'm sure Imust have done it in former times, it seemed so natural. Coming,father!" and Mac retired, evidently convinced that he was right.
"Dear old thing! he is as much a boy as ever, and that is such acomfort; for some of the others have grown up very fast," said Rose toherself, recalling Charlie's sentimental airs, and Archie's beatifiedexpression while Phebe sang.