Chapter 5 – A Belt And A Box

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

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When Rose came out of her chamber, cup in hand, next morning,
the first person she saw was Uncle Alec standing on the threshold
of the room opposite, which he appeared to be examining with
care. When he heard her step, he turned about and began to sing

"Where are you going, my pretty maid?"

"I’m going a-milking, sir, she said," answered Rose, waving the
cup; and then they finished the verse together in fine style.

Before either spoke, a head, in a nightcap so large and beruffled
that it looked like a cabbage, popped out of a room farther down
the hall, and an astonished voice exclaimed

"What in the world are you doing about so early?"

"Clearing our pipes for the day, ma’am. Look here, auntie, can I
have this room?" said Dr. Alec, making her a sailor’s bow.

"Any room you like, except sister’s."

"Thanks. And may I go rummaging round in the garrets and
glory-holes to furnish it as I like?"

"My dear boy, you may turn the house upside down if you will
only stay in it."

"That’s a handsome offer, I’m sure. I’ll stay, ma’am; here’s my little
anchor, so you will get more than you want of me this time."

"That’s inpossible! Put on your jacket, Rose. Don’t tire her out with
antics, Alec. Yes, sister, I’m coming!" and the cabbage vanished

The first milking lesson was a droll one; but after several scares
and many vain attempts, Rose at last managed to fill her cup, while
Ben held Clover’s tail so that it could not flap, and Dr. Alec kept
her from turning to stare at the new milkmaid, who objected to
both these proceedings very much.

"You look chilly in spite of all this laughing. Take a smart run
round the garden and get up a glow," said the doctor, as they left
the barn.

"I’m too old for running, uncle; Miss Power said it was not
lady-like for girls in their teens," answered Rose, primly.

"I take the liberty of differing from Madame Prunes and Prisms,
and, as your physician, I order you to run. Off with you!" said
Uncle Alec, with a look and a gesture that made Rose scurry away
as fast as she could go.

Anxious to please him, she raced round the beds till she came back
to the porch where he stood, and, dropping down upon the steps,
she sat panting, with cheeks as rosy as the rigolette on her

"Very well done, child; I see you have not lost the use of your
limbs though you are in your teens. That belt is too tight; unfasten
it, then you can take a long breath without panting so."

"It isn’t tight, sir; I can breathe perfectly well," began Rose, trying
to compose herself.

Her uncle’s only answer was to lift her up and unhook the new belt
of which she was so proud. The moment the clasp was open the
belt flew apart several inches, for it was impossible to restrain the
involuntary sigh of relief that flatly contradicted her words.

"Why, I didn’t know it was tight! it didn’t feel so a bit. Of course it
would open if I puff like this, but I never do, because I hardly ever
run," explained Rose, rather discomfited by this discovery.

"I see you don’t half fill your lungs, and so you can wear this
absurd thing without feeling it. The idea of cramping a tender little
waist in a stiff band of leather and steel just when it ought to be
growing," said Dr. Alec, surveying the belt with great disfavour as
he put the clasp forward several holes, to Rose’s secret dismay, for
she was proud of her slender figure, and daily rejoiced that she
wasn’t as stout as Luly Miller, a former schoolmate, who vainly
tried to repress her plumpness.

"It will fall off if it is so loose," she said anxiously, as she stood
watching him pull her precious belt about.

"Not if you keep taking long breaths to hold it on. That is what I
want you to do, and when you have filled this out we will go on
enlarging it till your waist is more like that of Hebe, goddess of
health, and less like that of a fashion-plate the ugliest thing

"How it does look!" and Rose gave a glance of scorn at the loose
belt hanging round her trim little waist. "It will be lost, and then I
shall feel badly, for it cost ever so much, and is real steel and
Russia leather. Just smell how nice."

"If it is lost I’ll give you a better one. A soft silken sash is much
fitter for a pretty child like you than a plated harness like this; and
I’ve got no end of Italian scarfs and Turkish sashes among my
traps. Ah! that makes you feel better, doesn’t it?" and he pinched
the cheek that had suddenly dimpled with a smile.

"It is very silly of me, but I can’t help liking to know that" here she
stopped and blushed and held down her head, ashamed to add,
"you think I am pretty."

Dr. Alec’s eyed twinkled, but he said very soberly

"Rose, are you vain?"

"I’m afraid I am," answered a very meek voice from behind the veil
of hair that hid the red face.

"That is a sad fault." And he sighed as if grieved at the confession.

"I know it is, and I try not to be; but people praise me, and I can’t
help liking it, for I really don’t think I am repulsive."

The last word and the funny tone in which it was uttered were too
much for Dr. Alec, and he laughed in spite of himself, to Rose’s
great relief.

"I quite agree with you; and in order that you may be still less
repulsive, I want you to grow as fine a girl as Phebe."

"Phebe!" and Rose looked so amazed that her uncle nearly went
off again.

"Yes, Phebe; for she has what you need health. If you dear little
girls would only learn what real beauty is, and not pinch and starve
and bleach yourselves out so, you’d save an immense deal of time
and money and pain. A happy soul in a healthy body makes the
best sort of beauty for man or woman. Do you understand that, my

"Yes, sir," answered Rose, much taken down by this comparison
with the girl from the poor-house. It nettled her sadly, and she
showed that it did by saying quickly

"I suppose you would like to have me sweep and scrub, and wear
an old brown dress, and go round with my sleeves rolled up, as
Phebe does?"

"I should very much, if you could work as well as she does, and
show as strong a pair of arms as she can. I haven’t seen a prettier
picture for some time than she made of herself this morning, up to
the elbows in suds, singing like a blackbird whilst she scrubbed on
the back stoop."

"Well, I do think you are the queerest man that ever lived!" was all
Rose could find to say after this display of bad taste.

"I haven’t begun to show you my oddities yet, so you must make up
your mind to worse shocks than this," he said, with such a
whimsical look that she was glad the sound of a bell prevented her
showing more plainly what a blow her little vanities had already

"You will find your box all open up in auntie’s parlor, and there
you can amuse her and yourself by rummaging to your heart’s
content; I’ve got to be cruising round all the morning getting my
room to rights," said Dr. Alec, as they rose from breakfast.

"Can’t I help you, uncle?" asked Rose, quite burning to be useful.

"No, thank you, I’m going to borrow Phebe for a while, if Aunt
Plenty can spare her."

"Anybody anything, Alec. You will want me, I know, so I’ll give
orders about dinner and be all ready to lend a hand"; and the old
lady bustled away full of interest and good-will.

"Uncle will find that I can do some things that Phebe can’t, so
now!" thought Rose, with a toss of the head as she flew to Aunt
Peace and the long-desired box.

Every little girl can easily imagine what an extra good time she
had diving into a sea of treasures and fishing up one pretty thing
after another, till the air was full of the mingled odours of musk
and sandalwood, the room gay with bright colours, and Rose in a
rapture of delight. She began to forgive Dr. Alec for the oatmeal
diet when she saw a lovely ivory workbox; became resigned to the
state of her belt when she found a pile of rainbow-coloured sashes;
and when she came to some distractingly pretty bottles of attar of
rose, she felt that they almost atoned for the great sin of thinking
Phebe the finer girl of the two.

Dr. Alec meanwhile had apparently taken Aunt Plenty at her word,
and was turning the house upside down. A general revolution was
evidently going on in the green-room, for the dark damask curtains
were seen bundling away in Phebe’s arms; the air-tight stove
retiring to the cellar on Ben’s shoulder; and the great bedstead
going up garret in a fragmentary state, escorted by three bearers.
Aunt Plenty was constantly on the trot among her store-rooms,
camphor-chests, and linen-closets, looking as if the new order of
things both amazed and amused her.

Half the peculiar performances of Dr. Alec cannot be revealed; but
as Rose glanced up from her box now and then she caught
glimpses of him striding by, bearing a bamboo chair, a pair of
ancient andirons, a queer Japanese screen, a rug or two, and finally
a large bathing-pan upon his head.

"What a curious room it will be," she said, as she sat resting and
refreshing herself with "Lumps of Delight," all the way from

"I fancy you will like it, deary," answered Aunt Peace, looking up
with a smile from some pretty trifle she was making with blue silk
and white muslin.

Rose did not see the smile, for just at that moment her uncle
paused at the door, and she sprang up to dance before him, saying,
with a face full of childish happiness

"Look at me! look at me! I’m splendid I don’t know myself. I
haven’t put these things on right, I dare say, but I do like them so

"You look as gay as a parrot in your fez and cabaja, and it does my
heart good to see the little black shadow turned into a rainbow,"
said Uncle Alec, surveying the bright figure before him with great

He did not say it, but he thought she made a much prettier picture
than Phebe at the wash-tub, for she had stuck a purple fez on her
blonde head, tied several brilliant scarfs about her waist, and put
on a truly gorgeous scarlet jacket with a golden sun embroidered
on the back, a silver moon on the front, and stars of all sizes on the
sleeves. A pair of Turkish slippers adorned her feet, and necklaces
of amber, coral, and filigree hung about her neck, while one hand
held a smelling-bottle, and the other the spicy box of oriental

"I feel like a girl in the ‘Arabian Nights,’ and expect to find a magic
carpet or a wonderful talisman somewhere. Only I don’t see how I
ever can thank you for all these lovely things," she said, stopping
her dance, as if suddenly oppressed with gratitude.

"I’ll tell you how by leaving off the black clothes, that never should
have been kept so long on such a child, and wearing the gay ones
I’ve brought. It will do your spirits good, and cheer up this sober
old house. Won’t it, auntie?"

"I think you are right, Alec, and it is fortunate that we have not
begun on her spring clothes yet, for Myra thought she ought not to
wear anything brighter than violet, and she is too pale for that."

"You just let me direct Miss Hemming how to make some of these
things. You will be surprised to see how much I know about piping
hems and gathering arm-holes and shirring biases," began Dr.
Alec, patting a pile of muslin, cloth and silk with a knowing air.

Aunt Peace and Rose laughed so that he could not display his
knowledge any farther, till they stopped, when he said

"That will go a great way toward filling out the belt, so laugh
away, Morgiana, and I’ll go back to my work, or I never shall be

"I couldn’t help it, ‘shirred biases’ were so very funny!" Rose said,
as she turned to her box after the splendid laugh. "But really,
auntie," she added soberly, "I feel as if I ought not to have so many
nice things. I suppose it wouldn’t do to give Phebe some of them?
Uncle might not like it."

"He would not mind; but they are not suitable for Phebe. Some of
the dresses you are done with would be more useful, if they can be
made over to fit her," answered Aunt Peace in the prudent,
moderate tone which is so trying to our feelings when we indulge
in little fits of charitable enthusiasm.

"I’d rather give her new ones, for I think she is a little bit proud and
might not like old things. If she was my sister it would do, because
sisters don’t mind, but she isn’t, and that makes it bad, you see. I
know how I can manage beautifully; I’ll adopt her!" and Rose
looked quite radiant with this new idea.

"I’m afraid you could not do it legally till you are older, but you
might see if she likes the plan, and at any rate you can be very kind
to her, for in one sense we are all sisters, and should help one

The sweet old face looked at her so kindly that Rose was fired
with a desire to settle the matter at once, and rushed away to the
kitchen, just as she was. Phebe was there, polishing up the antique
andirons so busily that she started when a voice cried out: "Smell
that, taste this, and look at me!"

Phebe sniffed attar of rose, crunched the "Lump of Delight" tucked
into her mouth, and stared with all her eyes at little Morgiana
prancing about the room like a brilliant paroquet.

"My stars, ain’t you splendid!" was all she could say, holding up
two dusty hands.

"I’ve got heaps of lovely things upstairs, and I’ll show them all to
you, and I’d go halves, only auntie thinks they wouldn’t be useful,
so I shall give you something else; and you won’t mind, will you?
because I want to adopt you as Arabella was in the story. Won’t
that be nice?"

"Why, Miss Rose, have you lost your wits?"

No wonder Phebe asked, for Rose talked very fast, and looked so
odd in her new costume, and was so eager she could not stop to
explain. Seeing Phebe’s bewilderment, she quieted down and said,
with a pretty air of earnestness

"It isn’t fair that I should have so much and you so little, and I want
to be as good to you as if you were my sister, for Aunt Peace says
we are all sisters really. I thought if I adopted you as much as I can
now, it would be nicer. Will you let me, please?"

To Rose’s great surprise, Phebe sat down on the floor and hid her
face in her apron for a minute without answering a word.

"Oh, dear, now she’s offended, and I don’t know what to do,"
thought Rose, much discouraged by this reception of her offer.

"Please, forgive me; I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, and hope
you won’t think – " she faltered presently, feeling that she must undo
the mischief, if possible.

But Phebe gave her another surprise, by dropping the apron and
showing a face all smiles, in spite of tears in the eyes, as she put
both arms round Rose and said, with a laugh and sob

"I think you are the dearest girl in the world, and I’ll let you do
anything you like with me."

"Then you do like the plan? You didn’t cry because I seemed to be
kind of patronising? I truly didn’t mean to be," cried Rose,

"I guess I do like it! and cried because no one was ever so good to
me before, and I couldn’t help it. As for patronising, you may walk
on me if you want to, and I won’t mind," said Phebe, in a burst of
gratitude, for the words, "we are sisters" went straight to her lonely
heart and nestled there.

"Well, now, we can play I’m a good sprite out of the box, or, what
is better, a fairy godmother come down the chimney, and you are
Cinderella, and must say what you want," said Rose, trying to put
the question delicately.

Phebe understood that, for she had a good deal of natural
refinement, though she did come from the poor-house.

"I don’t feel as if I wanted anything now, Miss Rose, but to find
some way of thanking you for all you’ve done," she said, rubbing
off a tear that went rolling down the bridge of her nose in the most
unromantic way.

"Why, I haven’t done anything but given you a bit of candy! Here,
have some more, and eat ’em while you work, and think what I can
do. I must go and clear up, so good-bye, and don’t forget I’ve
adopted you."

"You’ve given me sweeter things than candy, and I’m not likely to
forget it." And carefully wiping off the brick-dust, Phebe pressed
the little hand Rose offered warmly in both her hard ones, while
the black eyes followed the departing visitor with a grateful look
that made them very soft and bright.


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