Chapter 4 – Aunts

Louisa May Alcott2016年11月04日'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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All dinner-time Rose felt that she was going to be talked about,
and afterward she was sure of it, for Aunt Plenty whispered to her
as they went into the parlour

"Run up and sit awhile with Sister Peace, my dear. She likes to
have you read while she rests, and we are going to be busy."

Rose obeyed, and the quiet rooms above were so like a church that
she soon composed her ruffled feelings, and was unconsciously a
little minister of happiness to the sweet old lady, who for years had
sat there patiently waiting to be set free from pain.

Rose knew the sad romance of her life, and it gave a certain tender
charm to this great-aunt of hers, whom she already loved. When
Peace was twenty, she was about to be married; all was done, the
wedding dress lay ready, the flowers were waiting to be put on, the
happy hour at hand, when word came that the lover was dead.
They thought that gentle Peace would die, too; but she bore it
bravely, put away her bridal gear, took up her life afresh, and lived
on a beautiful, meek woman, with hair as white as snow and
cheeks that never bloomed again. She wore no black, but soft, pale
colours, as if always ready for the marriage that had never come.

For thirty years she had lived on, fading slowly, but cheerful, busy,
and full of interest in all that went on in the family; especially the
joys and sorrows of the young girls growing up about her, and to
them she was adviser, confidante, and friend in all their tender
trials and delights. A truly beautiful old maiden, with her silvery
hair, tranquil face, and an atmosphere of repose about her that
soothed whoever came to her!

Aunt Plenty was utterly dissimilar, being a stout, brisk old lady,
with a sharp eye, a lively tongue, and a face like a winter-apple.
Always trotting, chatting, and bustling, she was a regular Martha,
cumbered with the cares of this world and quite happy in them.

Rose was right; and while she softly read psalms to Aunt Peace,
the other ladies were talking about her little self in the frankest

"Well, Alec, how do you like your ward?" began Aunt Jane, as they
all settled down, and Uncle Mac deposited himself in a corner to
finish his doze.

"I should like her better if I could have begun at the beginning, and
so got a fair start. Poor George led such a solitary life that the child
has suffered in many ways, and since he died she has been going
on worse than ever, judging from the state I find her in."

"My dear boy, we did what we thought best while waiting for you
to wind up your affairs and get home. I always told George he was
wrong to bring her up as he did; but he never took my advice, and
now here we are with this poor dear child upon our hands. I, for
one, freely confess that I don’t know what to do with her any more
than if she was one of those strange, outlandish birds you used to
bring home from foreign parts." And Aunt Plenty gave a perplexed
shake of the head which caused great commotion among the stiff
loops of purple ribbon that bristled all over the cap like crocus

"If my advice had been taken, she would have remained at the
excellent school where I placed her. But our aunt thought best to
remove her because she complained, and she has been dawdling
about ever since she came. A most ruinous state of things for a
morbid, spoilt girl like Rose," said Mrs. Jane, severely.

She had never forgiven the old ladies for yielding to Rose’s
pathetic petition that she might wait her guardian’s arrival before
beginning another term at the school, which was a regular Blimber
hot-bed, and turned out many a feminine Toots.

"I never thought it the proper school for a child in good
circumstances an heiress, in fact, as Rose is. It is all very well for
girls who are to get their own living by teaching, and that sort of
thing; but all she needs is a year or two at a fashionable finishing
school, so that at eighteen she can come out with eclat," put in
Aunt Clara, who had been a beauty and a belle, and was still a
handsome woman.

"Dear, dear! how short-sighted you all are to be discussing
education and plans for the future, when this unhappy child is so
plainly marked for the tomb," sighed Aunt Myra, with a lugubrious
sniff and a solemn wag of the funereal bonnet, which she refused
to remove, being afflicted with a chronic catarrh.

"Now, it is my opinion that the dear thing only wants freedom,
rest, and care. There is look in her eyes that goes to my heart, for it
shows that she feels the need of what none of us can give her a
mother," said Aunt Jessie, with tears in her own bright eyes at the
thought of her boys being left, as Rose was, to the care of others.

Uncle Alec, who had listened silently as each spoke, turned
quickly towards the last sister, and said, with a decided nod of

"You’ve got it, Jessie; and, with you to help me, I hope to make the
child feel that she is not quite fatherless and motherless."

"I’ll do my best, Alec; and I think you will need me, for, wise as
you are, you cannot understand a tender, timid little creature like
Rose as a woman can," said Mrs. Jessie, smiling back at him with
a heart full of motherly goodwill.

"I cannot help feeling that I, who have had a daughter of my own,
can best bring up a girl; and I am very much surprised that George
did not entrust her to me," observed Aunt Myra, with an air of
melancholy importance, for she was the only one who had given a
daughter to the family, and she felt that she had distinguished
herself, though ill-natured people said that she had dosed her
darling to death.

"I never blamed him in the least, when I remember the perilous
experiments you tried with poor Carrie," began Mrs. Jane, in her
hard voice.

"Jane Campbell, I will not hear a word! My sainted Caroline is a
sacred object," cried Aunt Myra, rising as if to leave the room.

Dr. Alec detained her, feeling that he must define his position at
once, and maintain it manfully if he hoped to have any success in
his new undertaking.

"Now, my dear souls, don’t let us quarrel and make Rose a bone of
contention though, upon my word, she is almost a bone, poor little
lass! You have had her among you for a year, and done what you
liked. I cannot say that your success is great, but that is owing to
too many fingers in the pie. Now, I intend to try my way for a year,
and if at the end of it she is not in better trim than now, I’ll give up
the case, and hand her over to someone else. That’s fair, I think."

"She will not be here a year hence, poor darling, so no one need
dread future responsibility," said Aunt Myra, folding her black
gloves as if all ready for the funeral.

"By Jupiter! Myra, you are enough to damp the ardour of a saint!"
cried Dr. Alec, with a sudden spark in his eyes. "Your croaking
will worry that child out of her wits, for she is an imaginative puss,
and will fret and fancy untold horrors. You have put it into her
head that she has no constitution, and she rather likes the idea. If
she had not had a pretty good one, she would have been ‘marked
for the tomb’ by this time, at the rate you have been going on with
her. I will not have any interference please understand that; so just
wash your hands of her, and let me manage till I want help, then
I’ll ask for it."

"Hear, hear!" came from the corner where Uncle Mac was
apparently wrapt in slumber.

"You were appointed guardian, so we can do nothing. But I predict
that the girl will be spoilt, utterly spoilt," answered Mrs. Jane,

"Thank you, sister. I have an idea that if a woman can bring up two
boys as perfectly as you do yours, a man, if he devotes his whole
mind to it, may at least attempt as much with one girl," replied Dr.
Alec, with a humorous look that tickled the others immensely, for
it was a well-known fact in the family that Jane’s boys were more
indulged than all the other lads put together.

"I am quite easy, for I really do think that Alec will improve the
child’s health; and by the time his year is out, it will be quite soon
enough for her to go to Madame Roccabella’s and be finished off,"
said Aunt Clara, settling her rings, and thinking, with languid
satisfaction, of the time when she could bring out a pretty and
accomplished niece.

"I suppose you will stay here in the old place, unless you think of
marrying, and it’s high time you did," put in Mrs. Jane, much
nettled at her brother’s last hit.

"No, thank you. Come and have a cigar, Mac," said Dr. Alec,

"Don’t marry; women enough in the family already," muttered
Uncle Mac; and then the gentlemen hastily fled.

"Aunt Peace would like to see you all, she says," was the message
Rose brought before the ladies could begin again.

"Hectic, hectic! dear me, dear me!" murmured Aunt Myra, as the
shadow of her gloomy bonnet fell upon Rose, and the stiff tips of a
black glove touched the cheek where the colour deepened under so
many eyes.

"I am glad these pretty curls are natural; they will be invaluable by
and by," said Aunt Clara, taking an observation with her head on
one side.

"Now that your uncle has come, I no longer expect you to review
the studies of the past year. I trust your time will not be entirely
wasted in frivolous sports, however," added Aunt Jane, sailing out
of the room with the air of a martyr.

Aunt Jessie said not a word, but kissed her little niece, with a look
of tender sympathy that made Rose cling to her a minute, and
follow her with grateful eyes as the door closed behind her.

After everybody had gone home, Dr. Alec paced up and down the
lower hall in the twilight for an hour, thinking so intently that
sometimes he frowned, sometimes he smiled, and more than once
he stood still in a brown study. All of a sudden he said, half aloud,
as if he had made up his mind

"I might as well begin at once, and give the child something new to
think about, for Myra’s dismals and Jane’s lectures have made her
as blue as a little indigo bag."

Diving into one of the trunks that stood in a corner, he brought up,
after a brisk rummage, a silken cushion, prettily embroidered, and
a quaint cup of dark carved wood.

"This will do for a start," he said, as he plumped up the cushion
and dusted the cup. "It won’t do to begin too energetically, or Rose
will be frightened. I must beguile her gently and pleasantly along
till I’ve won her confidence, and then she will be ready for

Just then Phebe came out of the dining-room with a plate of brown
bread, for Rose had been allowed no hot biscuit for tea.

"I’ll relieve you of some of that," said Dr. Alec, and, helping
himself to a generous slice, he retired to the study, leaving Phebe
to wonder at his appetite.

She would have wondered still more if she had seen him making
that brown bread into neat little pills, which he packed into an
attractive ivory box, out of which he emptied his own bits of

"There! if they insist on medicine, I’ll order these, and no harm
will be done. I will have my own way, but I’ll keep the peace, if
possible, and confess the joke when my experiment has
succeeded," he said to himself, looking very much like a
mischievous boy, as he went on with his innocent prescriptions.

Rose was playing softly on the small organ that stood in the upper
hall, so that Aunt Peace could enjoy it; and all the while he talked
with the old ladies, Uncle Alec was listening to the fitful music of
the child, and thinking of another Rose who used to play for him.

As the clock struck eight, he called out

"Time for my girl to be abed, else she won’t be up early, and I’m
full of jolly plans for to-morrow. Come and see what I’ve found for
you to begin upon."

Rose ran in and listened with bright attentive face, while Dr. Alec
said impressively

"In my wanderings over the face of the earth, I have picked up
some excellent remedies, and, as they are rather agreeable ones, I
think you and I will try them. This is a herb-pillow, given to me by
a wise old woman when I was ill in India. It is filled with saffron,
poppies, and other soothing plants; so lay your little head on it
to-night, sleep sweetly without a dream, and wake to-morrow
without a pain."

"Shall I really? How nice it smells." And Rose willingly received
the pretty pillow, and stood enjoying its faint, sweet odour, as she
listened to the doctor’s next remedy.

"This is the cup I told you of. Its virtue depends, they say, on the
drinker filling it himself; so you must learn to milk. I’ll teach you."

"I’m afraid I never can," said Rose; but she surveyed the cup with
favour, for a funny little imp danced on the handle, as if all ready
to take a header into the white sea below.

"Don’t you think she ought to have something more strengthening
than milk, Alec? I really shall feel anxious if she does not have a
tonic of some sort," said Aunt Plenty, eyeing the new remedies
suspiciously, for she had more faith in her old-fashioned doses
than all the magic cups and poppy pillows of the East.

"Well, ma’am, I’m willing to give her a pill, if you think best. It is
a very simple one, and very large quantities may be taken without
harm. You know hasheesh is the extract of hemp? Well, this is a
preparation of corn and rye, much used in old times, and I hope
it will be again."

"Dear me, how singular!" said Aunt Plenty, bringing her spectacles
to bear upon the pills, with a face so full of respectful interest that
it was almost too much for Dr. Alec’s gravity.

"Take one in the morning, and a good-night to you, my dear," he
said, dismissing his patient with a hearty kiss.

Then, as she vanished, he put both hands into his hair, exclaiming,
with a comical mixture of anxiety and amusement

"When I think what I have undertaken, I declare to you, aunt, I feel
like running away and not coming back till Rose is eighteen!"


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