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Chapter 6 – Uncle Alec’s Room

Louisa May AlcottNov 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Soon after dinner, and before she had got acquainted with half her
new possessions, Dr. Alec proposed a drive, to carry round the first
instalment of gifts to the aunts and cousins. Rose was quite ready
to go, being anxious to try a certain soft burnous from the box,
which not only possessed a most engaging little hood, but had
funny tassels bobbing in all directions.

The big carriage was full of parcels, and even Ben’s seat was
loaded with Indian war clubs, a Chinese kite of immense size, and
a pair of polished ox-horns from Africa. Uncle Alec, very blue as
to his clothes, and very brown as to his face, sat bolt upright,
surveying well known places with interest, while Rose, feeling
unusually elegant and comfortable, leaned back folded in her soft
mantle, and played she was an Eastern princess making a royal
progress among her subjects.

At three of the places their calls were brief, for Aunt Myra’s
catarrh was unusually bad; Aunt Clara had a room full of
company; and Aunt Jane showed such a tendency to discuss the
population, productions, and politics of Europe, Asia and Africa,
that even Dr. Alec was dismayed, and got away as soon as
possible.

"Now we will have a good time! I do hope the boys will be at
home," said Rose, with a sigh of relief, as they wound yet higher
up the hill to Aunt Jessie’s.

"I left this for the last call, so that we might find the lads just in
from school. Yes, there is Jamie on the gate watching for us; now
you’ll see the Clan gather; they are always swarming about
together."

The instant Jamie saw the approaching guests he gave a shrill
whistle, which was answered by echoes from meadow, house and
barn, as the cousins came running from all directions, shouting,
"Hooray for Uncle Alec!" They went at the carriage like
highwaymen, robbed it of every parcel, took the occupants
prisoners, and marched them into the house with great exultation.

"Little Mum! little Mum! here they are with lots of goodies! Come
down and see the fun right away! Quick!" bawled Will and
Geordie amidst a general ripping off of papers and a reckless
cutting of strings that soon turned the tidy room into a chaos.

Down came Aunt Jessie with her pretty cap half on, but such a
beaming face below it that one rather thought the fly-away
head-gear an improvement than otherwise. She had hardly time to
greet Rose and the doctor before the boys were about her, each
clamouring for her to see his gift and rejoice over it with him, for
"little Mum" went halves in everything. The great horns
skirmished about her as if to toss her to the ceiling; the war clubs
hurtled over her head as if to annihilate her; an amazing medley
from the four quarters of the globe filled her lap, and seven excited
boys all talked to her at once.

But she liked it; oh dear, yes! and sat smiling, admiring, and
explaining, quite untroubled by the din, which made Rose cover up
her ears and Dr. Alec threaten instant flight if the riot was not
quelled. That threat produced a lull, and while the uncle received
thanks in one corner, the aunt had some little confidences made to
her in the other.

"Well, dear, and how are things going with you now? Better, I
hope, than they were a week ago."

"Aunt Jessie, I think I’m going to be very happy, now uncle has
come. He does the queerest things, but he is so good to me I can’t
help loving him"; and, nestling closer to little Mum, Rose told all
that had happened, ending with a rapturous account of the splendid
box.

"I am very glad, dear. But, Rose, I must warn you of one thing;
don’t let uncle spoil you."

"But I like to be spoilt, auntie."

"I don’t doubt it; but if you turn out badly when the year is over he
will be blamed, and his experiment prove a failure. That would be
a pity, wouldn’t it? when he wants to do so much for you, and can
do it if his kind heart does not get in the way of his good
judgment."

"I never thought of that, and I’ll try not to be spoilt. But how
can I help it?" asked Rose anxiously.

"By not complaining of the wholesome things he wants you to do;
by giving him cheerful obedience as well as love; and even making
some small sacrifices for his sake."

"I will, I truly will! and when I get in a worry about things may I
come to you? Uncle told me to, and I feel as if I shouldn’t be
afraid."

"You may, darling; this is the place where little troubles are best
cured, and this is what mothers are for, I fancy"; and Aunt Jessie
drew the curly head to her shoulder with a tender look that proved
how well she knew what medicine the child most needed.

It was so sweet and comfortable that Rose sat still enjoying it till a
little voice said

"Mamma, don’t you think Pokey would like some of my shells?
Rose gave Phebe some of her nice things, and it was very good of
her. Can I?"

"Who is Pokey?" asked Rose, popping up her head, attracted by the
odd name.

"My dolly; do you want to see her?" asked Jamie, who had been
much impressed by the tale of adoption he had overheard.

"Yes; I’m fond of dollies, only don’t tell the boys, or they will laugh
at me."

"They don’t laugh at me, and they play with my dolly a great deal;
but she likes me best"; and Jamie ran away to produce his pet.

"I brought my old doll, but I keep her hidden because I am too big
to play with her, and yet I can’t bear to throw her away, I’m so fond
of her," said Rose, continuing her confidences in a whisper.

"You can come and play with Jamie’s whenever you like, for we
believe in dollies up here," began Aunt Jessie, smiling to herself as
if something amused her.

Just then Jamie came back, and Rose understood the smile, for his
dolly proved to be a pretty four-year-old little girl, who trotted in
as fast as her fat legs would carry her, and making straight for the
shells, scrambled up an armful, saying, with a laugh that showed
her little white teeth

"All for Dimmy and me, for Dimmy and me!"

"That’s my dolly; isn’t she a nice one?" asked Jamie, proudly
surveying his pet with his hands behind him and his short legs
rather far apart a manly attitude copied from his brothers.

"She is a dear dolly. But why call her Pokey?" asked Rose,
charmed with the new plaything.

"She is such an inquisitive little body she is always poking that
mite of a nose into everything; and as Paul Pry did not suit, the
boys fell to calling her Pokey. Not a pretty name, but very
expressive."

It certainly was, for, having examined the shells, the busy tot laid
hold of everything she could find, and continued her researches till
Archie caught her sucking his carved ivory chessmen to see if they
were not barley sugar. Rice paper pictures were also discovered
crumpled up in her tiny pocket, and she nearly smashed Will’s
ostrich egg by trying to sit upon it.

"Here, Jim, take her away; she’s worse than the puppies, and we
can’t have her round," commanded the elder brother, picking her
up and handing her over to the little fellow, who received her with
open arms and the warning remark

"You’d better mind what you do, for I’m going to ‘dopt Pokey like
Rose did Phebe, and then you’ll have to be very good to her, you
big fellows."

"’Dopt away, baby, and I’ll give you a cage to keep her in, or you
won’t have her long, for she is getting worse than a monkey"; and
Archie went back to his mates, while Aunt Jessie, foreseeing a
crisis, proposed that Jamie should take his dolly home, as she was
borrowed, and it was time her visit ended.

"My dolly is better than yours, isn’t she? ’cause she can walk and
talk and sing and dance, and yours can’t do anything, can she?"
asked Jamie with pride, as he regarded his Pokey, who just then
had been moved to execute a funny little jig and warble the
well-known couplet

"’Puss-tat, puss-tat, where you been?’

‘I been Lunnin, to saw a Tween."’

After which superb display she retired, escorted by Jamie, both
making a fearful din blowing on conch shells.

"We must tear ourselves away, Rose, because I want to get you
home before sunset. Will you come for a drive, Jessie?" said Dr.
Alec, as the music died away in the distance.

"No, thank you; but I see the boys want a scamper, so, if you don’t
mind, they may escort you home, but not go in. That is only
allowed on holidays."

The words were hardly out of Aunt Jessie’s mouth when Archie
said, in a tone of command

"Pass the word, lads. Boot and saddle, and be quick about it."

"All right!" And in a moment not a vestige of boy remained but the
litter on the floor.

The cavalcade went down the hill at a pace that made Rose cling
to her uncle’s arm, for the fat old horses got excited by the antics
of the ponies careering all about them, and went as fast as they
could pelt, with the gay dog-cart rattling in front, for Archie and
Charlie scorned shelties since this magnificent equipage had been
set up. Ben enjoyed the fun, and the lads cut up capers till Rose
declared that "circus" was the proper name for them after all.

When they reached the house they dismounted, and stood, three on
each side the steps, in martial attitudes, while her ladyship was
handed out with great elegance by Uncle Alec. Then the Clan
saluted, mounted at word of command, and with a wild whoop tore
down the avenue in what they considered the true Arab style.

"That was splendid, now it is safely ended," said Rose, skipping up
the steps with her head over her shoulder to watch the dear tassels
bob about.

"I shall get you a pony as soon as you are a little stronger," said Dr.
Alec, watching her with a smile.

"Oh, I couldn’t ride one of those horrid, frisky little beasts! They
roll their eyes and bounce about so, I should die of fright," cried
Rose, clasping her hands tragically.

"Are you a coward?"

"About horses I am."

"Never mind, then; come and see my new room"; and he led the
way upstairs without another word.

As Rose followed she remembered her promise to Aunt Jessie, and
was sorry she had objected so decidedly. She was a great deal
more sorry five minutes later, and well she might be.

"Now, take a good look, and tell me what you think of it," said Dr.
Alec, opening the door and letting her enter before him, while
Phebe was seen whisking down the backstairs with a dust-pan.

Rose walked to the middle of the room, stood still, and gazed
about her with eyes that brightened as they looked, for all was
changed.

This chamber had been built out over the library to suit some
fancy, and had been unused for years, except at Christmas times,
when the old house overflowed. It had three windows one to the
east, that overlooked the bay; one to the south, where the
horse-chestnuts waved their green fans; and one to the west,
towards the hill and the evening sky. A ruddy sunset burned there
now, filling the room with an enchanted glow; the soft murmur of
the sea was heard, and a robin chirped "Good-night!" among the
budding trees.

Rose saw and heard these things first, and felt their beauty with a
child’s quick instinct; then her eye took in the altered aspect of the
room, once so shrouded, still and solitary, now so full of light and
warmth and simple luxury.

India matting covered the floor, with a gay rug here and there; the
antique andirons shone on the wide hearth, where a cheery blaze
dispelled the dampness of the long-closed room. Bamboo lounges
and chairs stood about, and quaint little tables in cosy corners; one
bearing a pretty basket, one a desk, and on a third lay several
familiar-looking books. In a recess stood a narrow white bed, with
a lovely Madonna hanging over it. The Japanese screen half-folded
back showed a delicate toilet service of blue and white set forth on
a marble slab, and near by was the great bath-pan, with Turkish
towels and a sponge as big as Rose’s head.

"Uncle must love cold water like a duck," she thought, with a
shiver.

Then her eye went on to the tall cabinet, where a half-open door
revealed a tempting array of the drawers, shelves and "cubby
holes," which so delight the hearts of children.

"What a grand place for my new things," she thought, wondering
what her uncle kept in that cedar retreat.

"Oh me, what a sweet toilet table!" was her next mental
exclamation, as she approached this inviting spot.

A round old-fashioned mirror hung over it, with a gilt eagle a-top,
holding in his beak the knot of blue ribbon that tied up a curtain of
muslin falling on either side of the table, where appeared little
ivory-handled brushes, two slender silver candle-sticks, a porcelain
match-box, several pretty trays for small matters, and, most
imposing of all, a plump blue silk cushion, coquettishly trimmed
with lace, and pink rose-buds at the corners.

That cushion rather astonished Rose; in fact, the whole table did,
and she was just thinking, with a sly smile

"Uncle is a dandy, but I never should have guessed it," when he
opened the door of a large closet, saying, with a careless wave of
the hand

"Men like plenty of room for their rattle-traps; don’t you think that
ought to satisfy me?"

Rose peeped in and gave a start, though all she saw was what one
usually finds in closets clothes and boots, boxes and bags. Ah! but
you see these clothes were small black and white frocks; the row
of little boots that stood below had never been on Dr. Alec’s feet;
the green bandbox had a gray veil straying out of it, and yes! the
bag hanging on the door was certainly her own piece-bag, with a
hole in one corner. She gave a quick look round the room and
understood now why it had seemed too dainty for a man, why her
Testament and Prayer Book were on the table by the bed, and what
those rose-buds meant on the blue cushion. It came upon her in
one delicious burst that this little paradise was all for her, and, not
knowing how else to express her gratitude, she caught Dr. Alec
round the neck, saying impetuously

"O uncle, you are too good to me! I’ll do anything you ask me; ride
wild horses and take freezing baths and eat bad-tasting messes, and
let my clothes hang on me, to show how much I thank you for this
dear, sweet, lovely room!"

"You like it, then? But why do you think it is yours, my lass?"
asked Dr. Alec, as he sat down looking well pleased, and drew his
excited little niece to his knee.

"I don’t think, I know it is for me; I see it in your face, and I feel as
if I didn’t half deserve it. Aunt Jessie said you would spoil me, and
I must not let you. I’m afraid this looks like it, and perhaps oh me!
perhaps I ought not to have this beautiful room after all!" and Rose
tried to look as if she could be heroic enough to give it up if it was
best.

"I owe Mrs. Jessie one for that," said Dr. Alec, trying to frown,
though in his secret soul he felt that she was quite right. Then he
smiled that cordial smile, which was like sunshine on his brown
face, as he said

"This is part of the cure, Rose, and I put you here that you might
take my three great remedies in the best and easiest way. Plenty of
sun, fresh air, and cold water; also cheerful surroundings, and
some work; for Phebe is to show you how to take care of this
room, and be your little maid as well as friend and teacher. Does
that sound hard and disagreeable to you, dear?"

"No, sir; very, very pleasant, and I’ll do my best to be a good
patient. But I really don’t think anyone could be sick in this
delightful room," she said, with a long sigh of happiness as her eye
went from one pleasant object to another.

"Then you like my sort of medicine better than Aunt Myra’s, and
don’t want to throw it out of the window, hey?"

 

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