Chapter 19 – Brother Bones

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

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Rose accepted her uncle’s offer, as Aunt Myra discovered two or
three days later. Coming in for an early call, and hearing voices in
the study, she opened the door, gave a cry and shut it quickly,
looking a good deal startled. The Doctor appeared in a moment,
and begged to know what the matter was.

"How can you ask when that long box looks so like a coffin I
thought it was one, and that dreadful thing stared me in the face as
I opened the door," answered Mrs. Myra, pointing to the skeleton
that hung from the chandelier cheerfully grinning at all beholders.

"This is a medical college where women are freely admitted, so
walk in, madam, and join the class if you’ll do me the honour,"
said the Doctor, waving her forward with his politest bow.

"Do, auntie, it’s perfectly splendid," cried Rose’s voice, and Rose’s
blooming face was seen behind the ribs of the skeleton, smiling
and nodding in the gayest possible manner.

"What are you doing, child?" demanded Aunt Myra, dropping into
a chair and staring about her.

"Oh, I’m learning bones to-day, and I like it so much. There are
twelve ribs, you know, and the two lower ones are called floating
ribs, because they are not fastened to the breastbone. That’s why
they go in so easily if you lace tight and squeeze the lungs and
heart in the let me see, what was that big word oh, I know thoracic
cavity," and Rose beamed with pride as she aired her little bit of

"Do you think that is a good sort of thing for her to be poking
over? She is a nervous child, and I’m afraid it will be bad for her,"
said Aunt Myra, watching Rose as she counted vertebrae, and
waggled a hip-joint in its socket with an inquiring expression.

"An excellent study, for she enjoys it, and I mean to teach her how
to manage her nerves so that they won’t be a curse to her, as many
a woman’s become through ignorance or want of thought. To make
a mystery or terror of these things is a mistake, and I mean Rose
shall understand and respect her body so well that she won’t dare
to trifle with it as most women do."

"And she really likes it?"

"Very much, auntie! It’s all so wonderful, and so nicely planned,
you can hardly believe what you see. Just think, there are
600,000,000 air cells in one pair of lungs, and 2,000 pores to a
square inch of surface; so you see what quantities of air we must
have, and what care we should take of our skin so all the little
doors will open and shut right. And brains, auntie, you’ve no idea
how curious they are; I haven’t got to them yet, but I long to, and
uncle is going to show me a manikin that you can take to pieces.
Just think how nice it will be to see all the organs in their places;
I only wish they could be made to work as ours do."

It was funny to see Aunt Myra’s face as Rose stood before her
talking rapidly with one hand laid in the friendliest manner on the
skeleton’s shoulder. Every word both the Doctor and Rose uttered
hit the good lady in her weakest spot, and as she looked and
listened a long array of bottles and pill-boxes rose up before her,
reproaching her with the "ignorance and want of thought" that
made her what she was, a nervous, dyspeptic, unhappy old woman.

"Well, I don’t know but you may be right, Alec, only I wouldn’t
carry it too far. Women don’t need much of this sort of knowledge,
and are not fit for it. I couldn’t bear to touch that ugly thing, and it
gives me the creeps to hear about ‘organs,’ " said Aunt Myra, with a
sigh and her hand on her side.

"Wouldn’t it be a comfort to know that your liver was on the right
side, auntie, and not on the left!" asked Rose with a naughty laugh
in her eyes, for she had lately learnt that Aunt Myra’s liver
complaint was not in the proper place.

"It’s a dying world, child, and it don’t much matter where the pain
is, for sooner or later we all drop off and are seen no more," was
Aunt Myra’s cheerful reply.

"Well, I intend to know what kills me if I can, and meantime, I’m
going to enjoy myself in spite of a dying world. I wish you’d do so
too, and come and study with uncle, it would do you good, I’m
sure," and Rose went back to counting vertebrae with such a happy
face, that Aunt Myra had not the heart to say a word to dampen her

"Perhaps it’s as well to let her do what she likes the little while she
is with us. But pray be careful of her, Alec, and not allow her to
overwork," she whispered as she went out.

"That’s exactly what I’m trying to do, ma’am, and rather a hard job
I find it," he added, as he shut the door, for the dear aunts were
dreadfully in his way sometimes.

Half an hour later came another interruption in the shape of Mac,
who announced his arrival by the brief but elegant remark

"Hullo! what new game is this?"

Rose explained, Mac gave a long whistle of surprise, and then took
a promenade round the skeleton, observing gravely

"Brother Bones looks very jolly, but I can’t say much for his

"You mustn’t make fun of him, for he’s a good old fellow, and
you’d be just as ugly if your flesh was off," said Rose, defending
her new friend with warmth.

"I dare say, so I’ll keep my flesh on, thank you. You are so busy
you can’t read to a fellow, I suppose?" asked Mac, whose eyes
were better, but still too weak for books.

"Don’t you want to come and join my class? Uncle explains it all to
us, and you can take a look at the plates as they come along. We’ll
give up bones today and have eyes instead; that will be more
interesting to you," added Rose, seeing no ardent thirst for
physiological information in his face.

"Rose, we must not fly about from one thing to another in this
way," began Dr. Alec, but she whispered quickly, with a nod
towards Mac, whose goggles were turned wistfully in the direction
of the forbidden books

"He’s blue to-day, and we must amuse him; give a little lecture on
eyes, and it will do him good. No matter about me, uncle."

"Very well; the class will please be seated," and the Doctor gave a
sounding rap on the table.

"Come, sit by me, dear, then we can both see the pictures; and if
your head gets tired you can lie down," said Rose, generously
opening her little college to a brother, and kindly providing for the
weaknesses that all humanity is subject to.

Side by side they sat and listened to a very simple explanation of
the mechanism of the eye, finding it as wonderful as a fairy tale,
for fine plates illustrated it, and a very willing teacher did his best
to make the lesson pleasant.

"Jove! if I’d known what mischief I was doing to that mighty
delicate machine of mine, you wouldn’t have caught me reading by
firelight, or studying with a glare of sunshine on my book," said
Mac, peering solemnly at a magnified eye-ball; then, pushing it
away, he added indignantly, "Why isn’t a fellow taught all about
his works, and how to manage ’em, and not left to go blundering
into all sorts of worries? Telling him after he’s down isn’t much
use, for then he’s found it out himself and won’t thank you."

"Ah, Mac, that’s just what I keep lecturing about, and people won’t
listen. You lads need that sort of knowledge so much, and fathers
and mothers ought to be able to give it to you. Few of them are
able, and so we all go blundering, as you say. Less Greek and Latin
and more knowledge of the laws of health for my boys, if I had
them. Mathematics are all very well, but morals are better, and I
wish, how I wish that I could help teachers and parents to feel it as
they ought."

"Some do; Aunt Jessie and her boys have capital talks, and I wish
we could; but mother’s so busy with her housekeeping, and father
with his business, there never seems to be any time for that sort of
thing; even if there was, it don’t seem as if it would be easy to talk
to them, because we’ve never got into the way of it, you know."

Poor Mac was right there, and expressed a want that many a boy
and girl feels. Fathers and mothers are too absorbed in business
and housekeeping to study their children, and cherish that sweet
and natural confidence which is a child’s surest safeguard, and a
parent’s subtlest power. So the young hearts hide trouble or
temptation till the harm is done, and mutual regret comes too late.
Happy the boys and girls who tell all things freely to father or
mother, sure of pity, help, and pardon; and thrice happy the parents
who, out of their own experience, and by their own virtues, can
teach and uplift the souls for which they are responsible.

This longing stirred in the hearts of Rose and Mac, and by a
natural impulse both turned to Dr. Alec, for in this queer world of
ours, fatherly and motherly hearts often beat warm and wise in the
breasts of bachelor uncles and maiden aunts; and it is my private
opinion that these worthy creatures are a beautiful provision of
nature for the cherishing of other people’s children. They certainly
get great comfort out of it, and receive much innocent affection
that otherwise would be lost.

Dr. Alec was one of these, and his big heart had room for every
one of the eight cousins, especially orphaned Rose and afflicted
Mac; so, when the boy uttered that unconscious reproach to his
parents, and Rose added with a sigh, "It must be beautiful to have a
mother!" the good Doctor yearned over them, and, shutting his
book with a decided slam, said in that cordial voice of his

"Now, look here, children, you just come and tell me all your
worries, and with God’s help, I’ll settle them for you. That is what
I’m here for, I believe, and it will be a great happiness to me if you
can trust me."

"We can, uncle, and we will!" both answered, with a heartiness
that gratified him much.

"Good! now school is dismissed, and I advise you to go and refresh
your 600,000,000 air cells by a brisk run in the garden. Come
again whenever you like, Mac, and we’ll teach you all we can
about your ‘works,’ as you call them, so you can keep them running

"We’ll come, sir, much obliged," and the class in physiology went
out to walk.

Mac did come again, glad to find something he could study in spite
of his weak eyes, and learned much that was of more value than
anything his school had ever taught him.

Of course, the other lads made great fun of the whole thing, and
plagued Dr. Alec’s students half out of their lives. But they kept on
persistently, and one day something happened which made the
other fellows behave themselves for ever after.

It was a holiday, and Rose up in her room thought she heard the
voices of her cousins, so she ran down to welcome them, but found
no one there.

"Never mind, they will be here soon, and then we’ll have a frolic,"
she said to herself, and thinking she had been mistaken she went
into the study to wait. She was lounging over the table looking at a
map when an odd noise caught her ear. A gentle tapping
somewhere, and following the sound it seemed to come from the
inside of the long case in which the skeleton lived when not
professionally engaged. This case stood upright in a niche between
two book-cases at the back of the room, a darkish corner, where
Brother Bones, as the boys would call him, was out of the way.

As Rose stood looking in that direction, and wondering if a rat had
got shut in, the door of the case swung slowly open, and with a
great start she saw a bony arm lifted, and a bony finger beckon to
her. For a minute she was frightened, and ran to the study door
with a fluttering heart, but just as she touched the handle a queer,
stifled sort of giggle made her stop short and turn red with anger.
She paused an instant to collect herself, and then went softly
toward the bony beckoner. A nearer look revealed black threads
tied to the arm and fingers, the ends of threads disappearing
through holes bored in the back of the case. Peeping into the dark
recess, she also caught sight of the tip of an elbow covered with a
rough gray cloth which she knew very well.

Quick as a flash she understood the joke, her fear vanished, and
with a wicked smile, she whipped out her scissors, cut the threads,
and the bony arm dropped with a rattle. Before she could say,
"Come out, Charlie, and let my skeleton alone," a sudden irruption
of boys, all in a high state of tickle, proclaimed to the hidden rogue
that his joke was a failure.

"I told him not to do it, because it might give you a start,"
explained Archie, emerging from the closet.

"I had a smelling bottle all ready if she fainted away," added Steve,
popping up from behind the great chair.

"It’s too bad of you not to squawk and run; we depended on it, it’s
such fun to howl after you," said Will and Geordie, rolling out
from under the sofa in a promiscuous heap.

"You are getting altogether too strong-minded, Rose; most girls
would have been in a jolly twitter to see this old fellow waggling
his finger at them," complained Charlie, squeezing out from his
tight quarters, dusty and disgusted.

"I’m used to your pranks now, so I’m always on the watch and
prepared. But I won’t have Brother Bones made fun of. I know
uncle wouldn’t like it, so please don’t," began Rose just as Dr. Alec
came in, and, seeing the state of the case at a glance, he said

"Hear how I got that skeleton, and then I’m sure you will treat it
with respect."

The boys settled down at once on any article of furniture that was
nearest and listened dutifully.

"Years ago, when I was in the hospital, a poor fellow was brought
there with a rare and very painful disease. There was no hope for
him, but we did our best, and he was so grateful that when he died
he left us his body that we might discover the mysteries of his
complaint, and so be able to help others afflicted in the same way.
It did do good, and his brave patience made us remember him long
after he was gone. He thought I had been kind to him, and said to a
fellow-student of mine, ‘Tell the Doctor I lave him me bones, for
I’ve nothing else in the wide world, and I’ll nos be wanting ’em at
all, at all, when the great pain hat kilt me entirely.’ So that is how
they came to be mine, and why I’ve kept them carefully, for,
though only a poor, ignorant fellow, Mike Nolan did what he could
to help others, and prove his gratitude to those who tried to help

As Dr. Alec paused, Archie closed the door of the case as
respectfully as if the mummy of an Egyptian king was inside; Will
and Geordie looked solemnly at one another, evidently much
impressed, and Charlie pensively remarked from the coal-hod
where he sat

"I’ve often heard of a skeleton in the house, but I think few people
have one as useful and as interesting as ours."


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