FictionForest

Chapter 8 – And What Came Of It

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

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"Uncle, could you lend me a ninepence? I’ll return it as soon as I
get my pocket-money," said Rose, coming into the library in a
great hurry that evening.

"I think I could, and I won’t charge any interest for it, so you need
not be in any hurry to repay me. Come back here and help me
settle these books if you have nothing pleasanter to do," answered
Dr. Alec, handing out the money with that readiness which is so
delightful when we ask small loans.

"I’ll come in a minute; I’ve been longing to fix my books, but didn’t
dare to touch them, because you always shake your head when I
read."

"I shall shake my head when you write, if you don’t do it better
than you did in making out this catalogue."

"I know it’s bad, but I was in a hurry when I did it, and I am in one
now." And away went Rose, glad to escape a lecture.

But she got it when she came back, for Uncle Alec was still
knitting his brows over the list of books, and sternly demanded,
pointing to a tipsy-looking title staggering down the page

"Is that meant for ‘Pulverized Bones,’ ma’am?"

"No, sir; it’s ‘Paradise Lost.’ "

"Well, I’m glad to know it, for I began to think you were planning
to study surgery or farming. And what is this, if you please?
‘Babies’ Aprons’ is all I can make of it."

Rose looked hard at the scrawl, and presently announced, with an
air of superior wisdom

"Oh, that’s ‘Bacon’s Essays.’ "

"Miss Power did not teach anything so old-fashioned as writing, I
see. Now look at this memorandum Aunt Plenty gave me, and see
what a handsome plain hand that is. She went to a dame-school
and learnt a few useful things well; that is better than a smattering
of half a dozen so-called higher branches, I take the liberty of
thinking."

"Well, I’m sure I was considered a bright girl at school, and learned
everything I was taught. Luly and me were the first in all our
classes, and ‘specially praised for our French and music and those
sort of things," said Rose, rather offended at Uncle Alec’s
criticism.

"I dare say; but if your French grammar was no better than your
English, I think the praise was not deserved, my dear."

"Why, uncle, we did study English grammar, and I could parse
beautifully. Miss Power used to have us up to show off when
people came. I don’t see but I talk as right as most girls."

"I dare say you do, but we are all too careless about our English.
Now, think a minute, and tell me if these expressions are correct
‘Luly and me,’ ‘those sort of things,’ and ‘as right as most girls.’ "

Rose pulled her pet curl and put up her lip, but had to own that she
was wrong, and said meekly, after a pause which threatened to be
sulky

"I suppose I should have said ‘Luly and I,’ in that case, and ‘that sort
of things’ and ‘rightly,’ though ‘correctly’ would have been a better
word, I guess."

"Thank you; and if you will kindly drop ‘I guess,’ I shall like my
little Yankee all the better. Now, see here, Rosy, I don’t pretend to
set myself up for a model in anything, and you may come down on
my grammar, manners or morals as often as you think I’m wrong,
and I’ll thank you. I’ve been knocking about the world for years,
and have got careless, but I want my girl to be what I call
well-educated, even if she studies nothing but the three ‘Rs’ for a
year to come. Let us be thorough, no matter how slowly we go."

He spoke so earnestly and looked so sorry to have ruffled her that
Rose went and sat on the arm of his chair, saying, with a pretty air
of penitence

"I’m sorry I was cross, uncle, when I ought to thank you for taking
so much interest in me. I guess no, I think you are right about
being thorough, for I used to understand a great deal better when
papa taught me a few lessons than when Miss Power hurried me
through so many. I declare my head used to be such a jumble of
French and German, history and arithmetic, grammar and music, I
used to feel sometimes as if it would split. I’m sure I don’t wonder
it ached." And she held on to it as if the mere memory of the
"jumble" made it swim.

"Yet that is considered an excellent school, I find, and I dare say it
would be if the benighted lady did not think it necessary to cram
her pupils like Thanks-giving turkeys, instead of feeding them in a
natural and wholesome way. It is the fault with most American
schools, and the poor little heads will go on aching till we learn
better."

This was one of Dr. Alec’s hobbies, and Rose was afraid he was off
for a gallop, but he reined himself in and gave her thoughts a new
turn by saying suddenly, as he pulled out a fat pocket-book

"Uncle Mac has put all your affairs into my hands now, and here is
your month’s pocket money. You keep your own little accounts, I
suppose?"

"Thank you. Yes, Uncle Mac gave me an account book when I
went to school, and I used to put down my expenses, but I couldn’t
make them go very well, for figures are the one thing I am not at
all clever about," said Rose, rummaging in her desk for a
dilapidated little book, which she was ashamed to show when she
found it.

"Well, as figures are rather important things to most of us, and you
may have a good many accounts to keep some day, wouldn’t it be
wise to begin at once and learn to manage your pennies before the
pounds come to perplex you?"

"I thought you would do all that fussy part and take care of the
pounds, as you call them. Need I worry about it? I do hate sums,
so!"

"I shall take care of things till you are of age, but I mean that you
shall know how your property is managed, and do as much of it as
you can by and by; then you won’t be dependent on the honesty of
other people."

"Gracious me! as if I wouldn’t trust you with millions of billions if
I had them," cried Rose, scandalised at the mere suggestion.

"Ah, but I might be tempted; guardians are sometimes; so you’d
better keep your eye on me, and in order to do that you must learn
all about these affairs," answered Dr. Alec, as he made an entry in
his own very neat account-book.

Rose peeped over his shoulder at it, and then turned to the
arithmetical puzzle in her hand with a sigh of despair.

"Uncle, when you add up your expenses do you ever find you have
got more money than you had in the beginning?"

"No; I usually find that I have a good deal less than I had in the
beginning. Are you troubled in the peculiar way you mention?"

"Yes; it is very curious, but I never can make things come out
square."

"Perhaps I can help you," began Uncle Alec, in the most respectful
tone.

"I think you had better, for if I have got to keep accounts I may as
well begin in the right way. But please don’t laugh! I know I’m very
stupid, and my book is a disgrace, but I never could get it straight."
And with great trepidation, Rose gave up her funny little accounts.

It really was good in Dr. Alec not to laugh, and Rose felt deeply
grateful when he said in a mildly suggestive tone

"The dollars and cents seem to be rather mixed, perhaps if I just
straightened them out a bit we should find things all right."

"Please do, and then show me on a fresh leaf how to make mine
look nice and ship-shape as yours do."

As Rose stood by him watching the ease with which he quickly
brought order out of chaos, she privately resolved to hunt up her
old arithmetic and perfect herself in the four first rules, with a
good tug at fractions, before she read any more fairy tales.

"Am I a rich girl, uncle?" she asked suddenly, as he was copying a
column of figures.

"Rather a poor one, I should say, since you had to borrow a
ninepence."

"That was your fault, because you forgot my pocket-money. But,
really, shall I be rich by and by?"

"I am afraid you will."

"Why afraid, uncle?"

"Too much money is a bad thing."

"But I can give it away, you know; that is always the pleasantest
part of having it I think."

"I’m glad you feel so, for you can do much good with your fortune
if you know how to use it well."

"You shall teach me, and when I am a woman we will set up a
school where nothing but the three R’s shall be taught, and all the
children live on oatmeal, and the girls have waists a yard round,"
said Rose, with a sudden saucy smile dimpling her cheeks.

"You are an impertinent little baggage, to turn on me in that way
right in the midst of my first attempt at teaching. Never mind, I’ll
have an extra bitter dose for you next time, miss."

"I knew you wanted to laugh, so I gave you a chance. Now, I will
be good, master, and do my lesson nicely."

So Dr. Alec had his laugh, and then Rose sat down and took a
lesson in accounts which she never forgot.

"Now come and read aloud to me; my eyes are tired, and it is
pleasant to sit here by the fire while the rain pours outside and
Aunt Jane lectures upstairs," said Uncle Alec, when last month’s
accounts had been put in good order and a fresh page neatly begun.

Rose liked to read aloud, and gladly gave him the chapter in
"Nicholas Nickleby" where the Miss Kenwigses take their French
lesson. She did her very best, feeling that she was being criticised,
and hoping that she might not be found wanting in this as in other
things.

"Shall I go on, sir?" she asked very meekly, when the chapter
ended.

"If you are not tired, dear. It is a pleasure to hear you, for you read
remarkably well," was the answer that filled her heart with pride
and pleasure.

"Do you really think so, uncle? I’m so glad! Papa taught me, and I
read for hours to him, but I thought perhaps, he liked it because he
was fond of me."

"So am I; but you really do read unusually well, and I’m very glad
of it, for it is a rare accomplishment, and one I value highly. Come
here in this cosy, low chair; the light is better, and I can pull these
curls if you go too fast. I see you are going to be a great comfort as
well as a great credit to your old uncle, Rosy." And Dr. Alec drew
her close beside him with such a fatherly look and tone that she
felt it would be very easy to love and obey him, since he knew how
to mix praise and blame so pleasantly together.

Another chapter was just finished, when the sound of a carriage
warned them that Aunt Jane was about to depart. Before they
could go to meet her, however, she appeared in the doorway
looking like an unusually tall mummy in her waterproof, with her
glasses shining like cat’s eyes from the depths of the hood.

"Just as I thought! petting that child to death and letting her sit up
late reading trash. I do hope you feel the weight of the
responsibility you have taken upon yourself, Alec," she said, with a
certain grim sort of satisfaction at seeing things go wrong.

"I think I have a very realising sense of it, sister Jane," answered
Dr. Alec, with a comical shrug of the shoulders and a glance at
Rose’s bright face.

"It is sad to see a great girl wasting these precious hours so. Now,
my boys have studied all day, and Mac is still at his books, I’ve no
doubt, while you have not had a lesson since you came, I suspect."

"I’ve had five to-day, ma’am," was Rose’s very unexpected answer.

"I’m glad to hear it; and what were they, pray?" Rose looked very
demure as she replied

"Navigation, geography, grammar, arithmetic, and keeping my
temper."

"Queer lessons, I fancy; and what have you learned from this
remarkable mixture, I should like to know?"

A naughty sparkle came into Rose’s eyes as she answered, with a
droll look at her uncle

"I can’t tell you all, ma’am, but I have collected some useful
information about China, which you may like, especially the teas.
The best are Lapsing Souchong, Assam Pekoe, rare Ankoe,
Flowery Pekoe, Howqua’s mixture, Scented Caper, Padral tea,
black Congou, and green Twankey. Shanghai is on the Woosung
River. Hong Kong means ‘Island of Sweet waters.’ Singapore is
‘Lion’s Town.’ ‘Chops’ are the boats they live in; and they drink tea
out of little saucers. Principal productions are porcelain, tea,
cinnamon, shawls, tin, tamarinds and opium. They have beautiful
temples and queer gods; and in Canton is the Dwelling of the Holy
Pigs, fourteen of them, very big, and all blind."

The effect of this remarkable burst was immense, especially the
fact last mentioned. It entirely took the wind out of Aunt Jane’s
sails; it was so sudden, so varied and unexpected, that she had not
a word to say. The glasses remained fixed full upon Rose for a
moment, and then, with a hasty "Oh, indeed!" the excellent lady
bundled into her carriage and drove away, somewhat bewildered
and very much disturbed.

She would have been more so if she had seen her reprehensible
brother-in-law dancing a triumphal polka down the hall with Rose
in honour of having silenced the enemy’s battery for once.

 

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