FictionForest

Chapter 20 – Under The Mistletoe

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

Light off Small Medium Large

Rose made Phebe promise that she would bring her stocking into
the "Bower," as she called her pretty room, on Christmas morning,
because that first delicious rummage loses half its charm if two
little night-caps at least do not meet over the treasures, and two
happy voices Oh and Ah together.

So when Rose opened her eyes that day they fell upon faithful
Phebe, rolled up in a shawl, sitting on the rug before a blazing fire,
with her untouched stocking laid beside her.

"Merry Christmas!" cried the little mistress smiling gaily.

"Merry Christmas!" answered the little maid, so heartily that it did
one good to hear her.

"Bring the stockings right away, Phebe, and let’s see what we’ve
got," said Rose, sitting up among the pillows, and looking as eager
as a child.

A pair of long knobby hose were laid out upon the coverlet, and
their contents examined with delight, though each knew every
blessed thing that had been put into the other’s stocking.

Never mind what they were; it is evident that they were quite
satisfactory, for as Rose leaned back, she said, with a luxurious
sigh of satisfaction, "Now, I believe I’ve got everything in the
world that I want," and Phebe answered, smiling over a lapful of
treasures, "This is the most splendid Christmas I ever had since I
was born." Then she added with an important air

"Do wish for something else, because I happen to know of two
more presents outside the door this minute."

"Oh, me, what richness!" cried Rose, much excited. "I used to wish
for a pair of glass slippers like Cinderella’s, but as I can’t have
them, I really don’t know what to ask for."

Phebe clapped her hands as she skipped off the bed and ran to the
door, saying merrily, "One of them is for your feet, anyway. I don’t
know what you’ll say to the other, but I think it’s elegant."

So did Rose, when a shining pair of skates and a fine sled
appeared.

"Uncle sent those; I know he did; and, now I see them, I remember
that I did want to skate and coast. Isn’t it a beauty? See! they fit
nicely," and, sitting on the new sled, Rose tried a skate on her little
bare foot, while Phebe stood by admiring the pretty tableau.

"Now we must hurry and get dressed, for there is a deal to do
to-day, and I want to get through in time to try my sled before
dinner."

"Gracious me, and I ought to be dusting my parlors this blessed
minute!" and mistress and maid separated with such happy faces
that anyone would have known what day it was without being told.

"Birnam Wood has come to Dunsinane, Rosy," said Dr. Alec, as he
left the breakfast table to open the door for a procession of holly,
hemlock, and cedar boughs that came marching up the steps.

Snowballs and "Merry Christmases!" flew about pretty briskly for
several minutes; then all fell to work trimming the old house, for
the family always dined together there on that day.

"I rode miles and mileses, as Ben says, to get this fine bit, and I’m
going to hang it there as the last touch to the rig-a-madooning,"
said Charlie, as he fastened a dull green branch to the chandelier in
the front parlor.

"It isn’t very pretty," said Rose, who was trimming the
chimney-piece with glossy holly sprays.

"Never mind that, it’s mistletoe, and anyone who stands under it
will get kissed whether they like it or not. Now’s your time, ladies,"
answered the saucy Prince, keeping his place and looking
sentimentally at the girls, who retired precipitately from the
dangerous spot.

"You won’t catch me," said Rose, with great dignity.

"See if I don’t!"

"I’ve got my eye on Phebe," observed Will, in a patronising tone
that made them all laugh.

"Bless the dear; I shan’t mind it a bit," answered Phebe, with such a
maternal air that Will’s budding gallantry was chilled to death.

"Oh, the mistletoe bough," sang Rose.

"Oh, the mistletoe bough!" echoed all the boys, and the teasing
ended in the plaintive ballad they all liked so well.

There was plenty of time to try the new skates before dinner, and
then Rose took her first lesson on the little bay, which seemed to
have frozen over for that express purpose. She found tumbling
down and getting up again warm work for a time, but with six boys
to teach her, she managed at last to stand alone; and, satisfied with
that success, she refreshed herself with a dozen grand coasts on the
Amazon, as her sled was called.

"Ah, that fatal colour! it breaks my heart to see it," croaked Aunt
Myra, as Rose came down a little late, with cheeks almost as ruddy
as the holly berries on the wall, and every curl as smooth as
Phebe’s careful hands could make it.

"I’m glad to see that Alec allows the poor child to make herself
pretty in spite of his absurd notions," added Aunt Clara, taking
infinite satisfaction in the fact that Rose’s blue silk dress had three
frills on it.

"She’s a very intelligent child, and has a nice little manner of her
own," observed Aunt Jane, with unusual affability; for Rose had
just handed Mac a screen to guard his eyes from the brilliant fire.

"If I had a daughter like that to show my Jem when he gets home, I
should be a very proud and happy woman," thought Aunt Jessie,
and then reproached herself for not being perfectly satisfied with
her four brave lads.

Aunt Plenty was too absorbed in the dinner to have an eye for
anything else; if she had not been, she would have seen what an
effect her new cap produced upon the boys. The good lady owned
that she did "love a dressy cap," and on this occasion her head gear
was magnificent; for the towering structure of lace was adorned
with buff ribbons to such an extent that it looked as if a flock of
yellow butterflies had settled on her dear old head. When she
trotted about the rooms the ruches quivered, the little bows all
stood erect, and the streamers waved in the breeze so comically
that it was absolutely necessary for Archie to smother the Brats in
the curtains till they had had their first laugh out.

Uncle Mac had brought Fun See to dinner, and it was a mercy he
did, for the elder lads found a vent for their merriment in joking
the young Chinaman on his improved appearance. He was in
American costume now, with a cropped head, and spoke
remarkably good English after six months at school; but, for all
that, his yellow face and beady eyes made a curious contrast to the
blonde Campbells all about him. Will called him the "Typhoon,"
meaning Tycoon, and the name stuck to him to his great disgust.

Aunt Peace was brought down and set in the chair of state at table,
for she never failed to join the family on this day, and sat smiling
at them all, "like an embodiment of Peace on earth," Uncle Alec
said, as he took his place beside her, while Uncle Mac supported
Aunt Plenty at the other end.

"I ate hardly any breakfast, and I’ve done everything I know to
make myself extra hungry, but I really don’t think I can eat straight
through, unless I burst my buttons off," whispered Geordie to Will,
as he surveyed the bounteous stores before him with a hopeless
sigh.

"A fellow never knows what he can do till he tries," answered
Will, attacking his heaped-up plate with an evident intention of
doing his duty like a man.

Everybody knows what a Christmas dinner is, so we need waste no
words in describing this one, but hasten at once to tell what
happened at the end of it. The end, by the way, was so long in
coming that the gas was lighted before dessert was over, for a
snow flurry had come on and the wintry daylight faded fast. But
that only made it all the jollier in the warm, bright rooms, full of
happy souls. Everyone was very merry, but Archie seemed
particularly uplifted so much so, that Charlie confided to Rose that
he was afraid the Chief had been at the decanters.

Rose indignantly denied the insinuation, for when healths were
drunk in the good old-fashioned way to suit the elders, she had
observed that Aunt Jessie’s boys filled their glasses with water, and
had done the same herself in spite of the Prince’s jokes about "the
rosy."

But Archie certainly was unusually excited, and when someone
remembered that it was the anniversary of Uncle Jem’s wedding,
and wished he was there to make a speech, his son electrified the
family by trying to do it for him. It was rather incoherent and
flowery, as maiden speeches are apt to be, but the end was
considered superb; for, turning to his mother with a queer little
choke in his voice, he said that she "deserved to be blessed with
peace and plenty, to be crowned with roses and lads’-love, and to
receive the cargo of happiness sailing home to her in spite of wind
or tide to add another Jem to the family jewels."

That allusion to the Captain, now on his return trip, made Mrs.
Jessie sob in her napkin, and set the boys cheering. Then, as if that
was not sensation enough, Archie suddenly dashed out of the
room, as if he had lost his wits.

"Too bashful to stay and be praised," began Charlie, excusing the
peculiarities of his chief as in duty bound.

"Phebe beckoned to him; I saw her," cried Rose, staring hard at the
door.

"Is it more presents coming?" asked Jamie, just as his brother
re-appeared, looking more excited than ever.

"Yes; a present for mother, and here it is!" roared Archie, flinging
wide the door to let in a tall man, who cried out

"Where’s my little woman? The first kiss for her, then the rest may
come on as fast as they like."

Before the words were out of his mouth, Mrs. Jessie was
half-hidden under his rough great-coat, and four boys were
prancing about him clamouring for their turn.

Of course, there was a joyful tumult for a time, during which Rose
slipped into the window recess and watched what went on, as if it
were a chapter in a Christmas story. It was good to see bluff Uncle
Jem look proudly at his tall son, and fondly hug the little ones. It
was better still to see him shake his brothers’ hands as if he would
never leave off, and kiss all the sisters in a way that made even
solemn Aunt Myra brighten up for a minute. But it was best of all
to see him finally established in grandfather’s chair, with his "little
woman" beside him, his three youngest boys in his lap, and Archie
hovering over him like a large-sized cherub. That really was, as
Charlie said, "A landscape to do one’s heart good."

"All hearty and all here, thank God!" said Captain Jem in the first
pause that came, as he looked about him with a grateful face.

"All but Rose," answered loyal little Jamie, remembering the
absent.

"Faith, I forgot the child! Where is George’s little girl?" asked the
Captain, who had not seen her since she was a baby.

"You’d better say Alec’s great girl," said Uncle Mac, who professed
to be madly jealous of his brother.

"Here I am, sir," and Rose appeared from behind the curtains,
looking as if she had rather have stayed there.

"Saint George Germain, how the mite has grown!" cried Captain
Jem, as he tumbled the boys out of his lap, and rose to greet the
tall girl, like a gentleman as he was. But, somehow, when he shook
her hand it looked so small in his big one, and her face reminded
him so strongly of his dead brother, that he was not satisfied with
so cold a welcome, and with a sudden softening of the keen eyes
he took her up in his arms, whispering, with a rough cheek against
her smooth one

"God bless you, child! forgive me if I forgot you for a minute, and
be sure that not one of your kinsfolk is happier to see you here than
Uncle Jem."

That made it all right; and when he set her down, Rose’s face was
so bright it was evident that some spell had been used to banish the
feeling of neglect that had kept her moping behind the curtain so
long.

That everyone sat round and heard all about the voyage home how
the Captain had set his heart on getting there in time to keep
Christmas; how everything had conspired to thwart his plan; and
how, at the very last minute, he had managed to do it, and had sent
a telegram to Archie, bidding him keep the secret, and be ready for
his father at any moment, for the ship got into another port, and he
might be late.

Then Archie told how that telegram had burnt in his pocket all
dinner-time; how he had to take Phebe into his confidence, and
how clever she was to keep the Captain back till the speech was
over and he could come in with effect.

The elders would have sat and talked all the evening, but the
young folks were bent on having their usual Christmas frolic; so,
after an hour of pleasant chat, they began to get restless, and
having consulted together in dumb show, they devised a way to
very effectually break up the family council.

Steve vanished, and, sooner than the boys imagined Dandy could
get himself up, the skirl of the bag-pipe was heard in the hall, and
the bonny piper came to lead Clan Campbell to the revel.

"Draw it mild, Stenie, my man; ye play unco weel, but ye mak a
most infernal din," cried Uncle Jem, with his hands over his ears,
for this accomplishment was new to him, and "took him all aback,"
as he expressed it.

So Steve droned out a Highland reel as softly as he could, and the
boys danced it to a circle of admiring relations. Captain Jem was a
true sailor, however, and could not stand idle while anything lively
was going on; so, when the piper’s breath gave out, he cut a
splendid pigeon-wing into the middle of the hall, saying, "Who can
dance a Fore and After?" and, waiting for no reply, began to
whistle the air so invitingly that Mrs Jessie "set" to him laughing
like a girl; Rose and Charlie took their places behind, and away
went the four with a spirit and skill that inspired all the rest to "cut
in" as fast as they could.

That was a grand beginning, and they had many another dance
before anyone would own they were tired. Even Fun See
distinguished himself with Aunt Plenty, whom he greatly admired
as the stoutest lady in the company; plumpness being considered a
beauty in his country. The merry old soul professed herself
immensely flattered by his admiration, and the boys declared she
"set her cap at him," else he would never have dared to catch her
under the mistletoe, and, rising on the tips of his own toes,
gallantly salute her fat cheek.

How they all laughed at her astonishment, and how Fun’s little
black eyes twinkled over this exploit! Charlie put him up to it, and
Charlie was so bent on catching Rose, that he laid all sorts of
pitfalls for her, and bribed the other lads to help him. But Rose
was wide-awake, and escaped all his snares, professing great
contempt for such foolish customs. Poor Phebe did not fare so
well, and Archie was the only one who took a base advantage of
her as she stood innocently offering tea to Aunt Myra, whom she
happened to meet just under the fatal bough. If his father’s arrival
had not rather upset him, I doubt if the dignified Chief would have
done it, for he apologized at once in the handsomest manner, and
caught the tray that nearly dropped from Phebe’s hands.

Jamie boldly invited all the ladies to come and salute him; and as
for Uncle Jem, he behaved as if the entire room was a grove of
mistletoe. Uncle Alec slyly laid a bit of it on Aunt Peace’s cap, and
then softly kissed her; which little joke seemed to please her very
much, for she liked to have part in all the home pastimes, and Alec
was her favourite nephew.

Charlie alone failed to catch his shy bird, and the oftener she
escaped the more determined he was to ensnare her. When every
other wile had been tried in vain, he got Archie to propose a game
with forfeits.

"I understand that dodge," thought Rose, and was on her guard so
carefully that not one among the pile soon collected belonged to
her.

"Now let us redeem them and play something else," said Will,
quite unconscious of the deeply-laid plots all about him.

"One more round and then we will," answered the Prince, who had
now baited his trap anew.

Just as the question came to Rose, Jamie’s voice was heard in the
hall, crying distressfully, "Oh, come quick, quick!" Rose started
up, missed the question, and was greeted with a general cry of
"Forfeit! forfeit!" in which the little traitor came to join.

"Now I’ve got her," thought the young rascal, exulting in his
fun-loving soul.

"Now I’m lost," thought Rose, as she gave up her pin-cushion with
a sternly defiant look that would have daunted anyone but the
reckless Prince. In fact, it made even him think twice, and resolve
to "let Rose off easy,” she had been so clever.

"Here’s a very pretty pawn, and what shall be done to redeem it?"
asked Steve, holding the pin-cushion over Charlie’s head, for he
had insisted on being judge, and kept that for the last.

"Fine or superfine?"

"Super."

"Hum, well, she shall take old Mac under the mistletoe, and kiss
him prettily. Won’t he be mad, though?" and this bad boy chuckled
over the discomfort he had caused two harmless beings.

There was an impressive pause among the young folks in their
corner, for they all knew that Mac would "be mad," since he hated
nonsense of this sort, and had gone to talk with the elders when the
game began. At this moment he was standing before the fire,
listening to a discussion between his uncles and his father, looking
as wise as a young owl, and blissfully unconscious of the plots
against him.

Charlie expected that Rose would say, "I won’t!" therefore he was
rather astonished, not to say gratified, when, after a look at the
victim, she laughed suddenly, and, going up to the group of
gentlemen, drew her uncle Mac under the mistletoe and surprised
him with a hearty kiss.

"Thank you, my dear," said the innocent gentleman, looking much
pleased at the unexpected honour.

"Oh, come; that’s not fair," began Charlie. But Rose cut him short
by saying, as she made him a fine courtesy

"You said ‘Old Mac,’ and though it was very disrespectful, I did it.
That was your last chance, sir, and you’ve lost it."

He certainly had, for, as he spoke, Rose pulled down the mistletoe
and threw it into the fire, while the boys jeered at the crestfallen
Prince, and exalted quick-witted Rose to the skies.

"What’s the joke?" asked young Mac, waked out of a brown study
by the laughter, in which the elders joined.

But there was a regular shout when, the matter having been
explained to him, Mac took a meditative stare at Rose through his
goggles, and said in a philosophical tone, "Well, I don’t think I
should have minded much if she had done it."

That tickled the lads immensely, and nothing but the appearance of
a slight refection would have induced them to stop chaffing the
poor Worm, who could not see anything funny in the beautiful
resignation he had shown on this trying occasion.

Soon after this, the discovery of Jamie curled up in the sofa corner,
as sound asleep as a dormouse, suggested the propriety of going
home, and a general move was made.

They were all standing about the hall lingering over the
good-nights, when the sound of a voice softly singing "Sweet
Home," made them pause and listen. It was Phebe, poor little
Phebe, who never had a home, never knew the love of father or
mother, brother or sister; who stood all alone in the wide world,
yet was not sad nor afraid, but took her bits of happiness
gratefully, and sung over her work without a thought of discontent.

I fancy the happy family standing there together remembered this
and felt the beauty of it, for when the solitary voice came to the
burden of its song, other voices took it up and finished it so
sweetly, that the old house seemed to echo the word "Home" in the
ears of both the orphan girls, who had just spent their first
Christmas under its hospitable roof.

 

Leave a Reply