Chapter 18 – Fashion And Physiology

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

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"Please, sir, I guess you’d better step up right away, or it will be too
late, for I heard Miss Rose say she knew you wouldn’t like it, and
she’d never dare to let you see her."

Phebe said this as she popped her head into the study, where Dr.
Alec sat reading a new book.

"They are at it, are they?" he said, looking up quickly, and giving
himself a shake, as if ready for a battle of some sort.

"Yes, sir, as hard as they can talk, and Miss Rose don’t seem to
know what to do, for the things are ever so stylish, and she looks
elegant in ’em; though I like her best in the old ones," answered

"You are a girl of sense. I’ll settle matters for Rosy, and you’ll lend
a hand. Is everything ready in her room, and are you sure you
understand how they go?"

"Oh, yes, sir; but they are so funny! I know Miss Rose will think
it’s a joke," and Phebe laughed as if something tickled her

"Never mind what she thinks so long as she obeys. Tell her to do it
for my sake, and she will find it the best joke she ever saw. I
expect to have a tough time of it, but we’ll win yet," said the
Doctor, as he marched upstairs with the book in his hand, and an
odd smile on his face.

There was such a clatter of tongues in the sewing-room that no one
heard his tap at the door, so he pushed it open and took an
observation. Aunt Plenty, Aunt Clara, and Aunt Jessie were all
absorbed in gazing at Rose, who slowly revolved between them
and the great mirror, in a full winter costume of the latest fashion.

"Bless my heart! worse even than I expected," thought the Doctor,
with an inward groan, for, to his benighted eyes, the girl looked
like a trussed fowl, and the fine new dress had neither grace,
beauty, nor fitness to recommend it.

The suit was of two peculiar shades of blue, so arranged that
patches of light and dark distracted the eye. The upper skirt was
tied so lightly back that it was impossible to take a long step, and
the under one was so loaded with plaited frills that it "wobbled" no
other word will express it ungracefully, both fore and aft. A bunch
of folds was gathered up just below the waist behind, and a great
bow rode a-top. A small jacket of the same material was adorned
with a high ruff at the back, and laid well open over the breast, to
display some lace and a locket. Heavy fringes, bows, puffs, ruffles,
and revers finished off the dress, making one’s head ache to think
of the amount of work wasted, for not a single graceful line struck
the eye, and the beauty of the material was quite lost in the
profusion of ornament.

A high velvet hat, audaciously turned up in front, with a bunch of
pink roses and a sweeping plume, was cocked over one ear, and,
with her curls braided into a club at the back of her neck, Rose’s
head looked more like that of a dashing young cavalier than a
modest little girl’s. High-heeled boots tilted her well forward, a
tiny muff pinioned her arms, and a spotted veil, tied so closely
over her face that her eyelashes were rumpled by it, gave the last
touch of absurdity to her appearance.

"Now she looks like other girls, and as I like to see her," Mrs.
Clara was saying, with an air of great satisfaction.

"She does look like a fashionable young lady, but somehow I miss
my little Rose, for children dressed like children in my day,"
answered Aunt Plenty, peering through her glasses with a troubled
look, for she could not imagine the creature before her ever sitting
in her lap, running to wait upon her, or making the house gay with
a child’s blithe presence.

"Things have changed since your day, Aunt, and it takes time to
get used to new ways. But you, Jessie, surely like this costume
better than the dowdy things Rose has been wearing all summer.
Now, be honest, and own you do," said Mrs. Clara, bent on being
praised for her work.

"Well, dear to be quite honest, then, I think it is frightful,"
answered Mrs. Jessie, with a candour that caused revolving Rose
to stop in dismay.

"Hear, hear," cried a deep voice, and with a general start the ladies
became aware that the enemy was among them.

Rose blushed up to her hat brim, and stood, looking, as she felt,
like a fool, while Mrs. Clara hastened to explain.

"Of course, I don’t expect you to like it, Alec, but I don’t consider
you a judge of what is proper and becoming for a young lady.
Therefore, I have taken the liberty of providing a pretty street suit
for Rose. She need not wear it if you object, for I know we
promised to let you do what you liked with the poor dear for a

"It is a street costume, is it?" asked the Doctor, mildly. "Do you
know, I never should have guessed that it was meant for winter
weather and brisk locomotion. Take a turn, Rosy, and let me see
all its beauties and advantages."

Rose tried to walk off with her usual free tread, but the under-skirt
got in her way, the over-skirt was so tight she could not take a long
step, and her boots made it impossible to carry herself perfectly

"I haven’t got used to it yet," she said, petulantly, kicking at her
train, as she turned to toddle back again.

"Suppose a mad dog or a runaway horse was after you, could you
get out of the way without upsetting, Colonel," asked the Doctor,
with a twinkle in the eyes that were fixed on the rakish hat.

"Don’t think I could, but I’ll try," and Rose made a rush across the
room. Her boot-heels caught on a rug, several strings broke, her
hat tipped over her eyes, and she plunged promiscuously into a
chair, where she sat laughing so infectiously that all but Mrs. Clara
joined in her mirth.

"I should say that a walking suit in which one could not walk, and
a winter suit which exposes the throat, head, and feet to cold and
damp, was rather a failure, Clara, especially as it has no beauty to
reconcile one to its utter unfitness," said Dr. Alec, as he helped
Rose undo her veil, adding, in a low tone, "Nice thing for the eyes;
you’ll soon see spots when it’s off as well as when it’s on, and, by
and by, be a case for an oculist."

"No beauty!" cried Mrs. Clara, warmly, "Now, that is just a man’s
blindness. This is the best of silk and camel’s hair, real ostrich
feathers, and an expensive ermine muff. What could be in better
taste, or more proper for a young girl?"

"I’ll shew you, if Rose will go to her room and oblige me by
putting on what she finds there," answered the Doctor, with
unexpected readiness.

"Alec, if it is a Bloomer, I shall protest. I’ve been expecting it, but I
know I cannot bear to see that pretty child sacrificed to your wild
ideas of health. Tell me it isn’t a Bloomer!" and Mrs. Clara clasped
her hands imploringly.

"It is not."

"Thank Heaven!" and she resigned herself with a sigh of relief,
adding plaintively, "I did hope you’d accept my suit, for poor Rose
has been afflicted with frightful clothes long enough to spoil the
taste of any girl."

"You talk of my afflicting the child, and then make a helpless guy
like that of her!" answered the Doctor, pointing to the little fashion
plate that was scuttling out of sight as fast as it could go.

He closed the door with a shrug, but before anyone could speak,
his quick eye fell upon an object which caused him to frown, and
demand in an indignant tone

"After all I have said, were you really going to tempt my girl with
those abominable things?"

"I thought we put them away when she wouldn’t wear them,"
murmured Mrs. Clara, whisking a little pair of corsets out of sight
with guilty haste. "I only brought them to try, for Rose is growing
stout, and will have no figure if it is not attended to soon," she
added, with an air of calm conviction that roused the Doctor still
more, for this was one of his especial abominations.

"Growing stout! Yes, thank Heaven, she is, and shall continue to
do it, for Nature knows how to mould a woman better than any
corset-maker, and I won’t have her interfered with. My dear Clara,
have you lost your senses that you can for a moment dream of
putting a growing girl into an instrument of torture like this?" and
with a sudden gesture he plucked forth the offending corsets from
under the sofa cushion, and held them out with the expression one
would wear on beholding the thumbscrews or the rack of ancient

"Don’t be absurd, Alec. There is no torture about it, for tight lacing
is out of fashion, and we have nice, sensible things nowadays.
Everyone wears them; even babies have stiffened waists to support
their weak little backs," began Mrs. Clara, rushing to the defence
of the pet delusion of most women.

"I know it, and so the poor little souls have weak backs all their
days, as their mothers had before them. It is vain to argue the
matter, and I won’t try, but I wish to state, once for all, that if I ever
see a pair of corsets near Rose, I’ll put them in the fire, and you
may send the bill to me."

As he spoke the corsets were on their way to destruction, but Mrs.
Jessie caught his arm, exclaiming merrily, "Don’t burn them, for
mercy sake, Alec; they are full of whalebones, and will make a
dreadful odour. Give them to me. I’ll see that they do no harm."

"Whalebones, indeed! A regular fence of them, and metal
gate-posts in front. As if our own bones were not enough, if we’d
give them a chance to do their duty," growled the Doctor, yielding
up the bone of contention with a last shake of contempt. Then his
face cleared suddenly, and he held up his finger, saying, with a
smile, "Hear those girls laugh; cramped lungs could not make
hearty music like that."

Peals of laughter issued from Rose’s room, and smiles
involuntarily touched the lips of those who listened to the happy

"Some new prank of yours, Alec?" asked Aunt Plenty, indulgently,
for she had come to believe in most of her nephew’s odd notions,
because they seemed to work so well.

"Yes, ma’am, my last, and I hope you will like it. I discovered what
Clara was at, and got my rival suit ready for to-day. I’m not going
to ‘afflict’ Rose, but let her choose, and if I’m not entirely mistaken,
she will like my rig best. While we wait I’ll explain, and then you
will appreciate the general effect better. I got hold of this little
book, and was struck with its good sense and good taste, for it
suggests a way to clothe women both healthfully and handsomely,
and that is a great point. It begins at the foundations, as you will
see if you will look at these pictures, and I should think women
would rejoice at this lightening of their burdens."

As he spoke, the Doctor laid the book before Aunt Plenty, who
obediently brought her spectacles to bear upon the illustrations,
and after a long look exclaimed, with a scandalised face

"Mercy on us, these things are like the night-drawers Jamie wears!
You don’t mean to say you want Rose to come out in this costume?
It’s not proper, and I won’t consent to it!"

"I do mean it, and I’m sure my sensible aunt will consent when she
understands that these well I’ll call them by an Indian name, and
say pajamas are for underwear, and Rose can have as pretty frocks
as she likes outside. These two suits of flannel, each in one piece
from head to foot, with a skirt or so hung on this easily-fitting
waist, will keep the child warm without burdening her with belts,
and gathers, and buckles, and bunches round the waist, and leave
free the muscles that need plenty of room to work in. She shall
never have the back-ache if I can help it, nor the long list of ills
you dear women think you cannot escape."

"I don’t consider it modest, and I’m sure Rose will be shocked at
it," began Mrs. Clara, but stopped suddenly, as Rose appeared in
the doorway, not looking shocked a bit.

"Come on, my hygienic model, and let us see you," said her uncle,
with an approving glance, as she walked in, looking so
mischievously merry, that it was evident she enjoyed the joke.

"Well, I don’t see anything remarkable. That is a neat, plain suit;
the materials are good, and it’s not unbecoming, if you want her to
look like a little school-girl; but it has not a particle of style, and
no one would ever give it a second glance," said Mrs. Clara,
feeling that her last remark condemned the whole thing.

"Exactly what I want," answered the provoking Doctor, rubbing his
hands with a satisfied air. "Rosy looks now like what she is, a
modest little girl, who does not want to be stared at. I think she
would get a glance of approval, though, from people who like
sense and simplicity rather than fuss and feathers. Revolve, my
Hebe, and let me refresh my eyes by the sight of you."

There was very little to see, however, only a pretty Gabrielle dress,
of a soft warm shade of brown, coming to the tops of a trim pair of
boots with low heels. A seal-skin sack, cap, and mittens, with a
glimpse of scarlet at the throat, and the pretty curls tied up with a
bright velvet of the same colour, completed the external
adornment, making her look like a robin redbreast wintry, yet

"How do you like it, Rosy?" asked the Doctor, feeling that her
opinion was more important to the success of his new idea than
that of all the aunts on the hill.

"I feel very odd and light, but I’m warm as a toast, and nothing
seems to be in my way," answered Rose, with a skip which
displayed shapely gaiters on legs that now might be as free and
active as a boy’s under the modest skirts of the girl.

"You can run away from the mad dogs, and walk off at a smart
pace without tumbling on your nose, now, I fancy?"

"Yes, uncle! suppose the dog coming, I just hop over a wall so and
when I walk of a cold day, I go like this "

Entering fully into the spirit of the thing, Rose swung herself over
the high back of the sofa as easily as one of her cousins, and then
went down the long hall as if her stout boots were related to the
famous seven-leaguers.

"There! you see how it will be; dress her in that boyish way and
she will act like a boy. I do hate all these inventions of
strong-minded women!" exclaimed Mrs. Clara, as Rose came back
at a run.

"Ah, but you see some of these sensible inventions come from the
brain of a fashionable modiste, who will make you more lovely, or
what you value more ‘stylish’ outside and comfortable within. Mrs.
Van Tassel has been to Madame Stone, and is wearing a full suit
of this sort. Van himself told me, when I asked how she was, that
she had given up lying on the sofa, and was going about in a most
astonishing way, considering her feeble health."

"You don’t say so! Let me see that book a moment," and Aunt
Clara examined the new patterns with a more respectful air, for if
the elegant Mrs. Van Tassel wore these "dreadful things" it would
never do to be left behind, in spite of her prejudices.

Dr. Alec looked at Mrs. Jessie, and both smiled, for "little Mum"
had been in the secret, and enjoyed it mightily.

"I thought that would settle it," he said with a nod.

"I didn’t wait for Mrs. Van to lead the way, and for once in my life
I have adopted a new fashion before Clara. My freedom suit is
ordered, and you may see me playing tag with Rose and the boys
before long," answered Mrs. Jessie, nodding back at him.

Meantime Aunt Plenty was examining Rose’s costume, for the hat
and sack were off, and the girl was eagerly explaining the new

"See, auntie, all nice scarlet flannel, and a gay little petticoat, and
long stockings, oh, so warm! Phebe and I nearly died laughing
when I put this rig on, but I like it ever so much. The dress is so
comfortable, and doesn’t need any belt or sash, and I can sit
without rumpling any trimming, that’s such a comfort! I like to be
tidy, and so, when I wear fussed-up things, I’m thinking of my
clothes all the time, and that’s tiresome. Do say you like it. I
resolved I would, just to please uncle, for he does know more
about health than anyone else, I’m sure, and I’d wear a bag if he
asked me to do it."

"I don’t ask that, Rose, but I wish you’d weigh and compare the two
suits, and then choose which seems best. I leave it to your own
commonsense," answered Dr. Alec, feeling pretty sure he had won.

"Why, I take this one, of course, uncle. The other is fashionable,
and yes I must say I think it’s pretty but it’s very heavy, and I
should have to go round like a walking doll if I wore it. I’m much
obliged to auntie, but I’ll keep this, please."

Rose spoke gently but decidedly, though there was a look of regret
when her eye fell on the other suit which Phebe had brought in;
and it was very natural to like to look as other girls did. Aunt Clara
sighed; Uncle Alec smiled, and said heartily

"Thank you, dear; now read this book and you will understand why
I ask it of you. Then, if you like, I’ll give you a new lesson; you
asked for one yesterday, and this is more necessary than French or

"Oh, what?" and Rose caught up the book which Mrs. Clara had
thrown down with a disgusted look.

Though Dr. Alec was forty, the boyish love of teasing was not yet
dead in him, and, being much elated at his victory, he could not
resist the temptation of shocking Mrs. Clara by suggesting dreadful
possibilities, so he answered, half in earnest, half in jest,
"Physiology, Rose. Wouldn’t you like to be a little medical student,
with Uncle Doctor for teacher, and be ready to take up his practice
when he has to stop? If you agree, I’ll hunt up my old skeleton

That was too much for Aunt Clara, and she hastily departed, with
her mind in a sad state of perturbation about Mrs. Van Tassel’s
new costume and Rose’s new study.


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