FictionForest

Chapter 21 – A Scare

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

Light off Small Medium Large

"Brother Alec, you surely don’t mean to allow that child to go out
such a bitter cold day as this," said Mrs. Myra, looking into the
study, where the Doctor sat reading his paper, one February
morning.

"Why not? If a delicate invalid like yourself can bear it, surely my
hearty girl can, especially as she is dressed for cold weather,"
answered Dr. Alec with provoking confidence.

"But you have no idea how sharp the wind is. I am chilled to the
very marrow of my bones," answered Aunt Myra, chafing the end
of her purple nose with her sombre glove.

"I don’t doubt it, ma’am, if you will wear crape and silk instead of
fur and flannel. Rosy goes out in all weathers, and will be none the
worse for an hour’s brisk skating."

"Well, I warn you that you are trifling with the child’s health, and
depending too much on the seeming improvement she has made
this year. She is a delicate creature for all that, and will drop away
suddenly at the first serious attack, as her poor mother did,"
croaked Aunt Myra, with a despondent wag of the big bonnet.

"I’ll risk it," answered Dr. Alec, knitting his brows, as he always
did when any allusion was made to that other Rose.

"Mark my words, you will repent it," and with that awful prophecy,
Aunt Myra departed like a black shadow.

Now it must be confessed that among the Doctor’s failings and he
had his share was a very masculine dislike of advice which was
thrust upon him unasked. He always listened with respect to the
great-aunts, and often consulted Mrs. Jessie; but the other three
ladies tried his patience sorely, by constant warnings, complaints
and counsels. Aunt Myra was an especial trial, and he always
turned contrary the moment she began to talk. He could not help it,
and often laughed about it with comic frankness. Here now was a
sample of it, for he had just been thinking that Rose had better
defer her run till the wind went down and the sun was warmer. But
Aunt Myra spoke, and he could not resist the temptation to make
light of her advice, and let Rose brave the cold. He had no fear of
its harming her, for she went out every day, and it was a great
satisfaction to him to see her run down the avenue a minute
afterward, with her skates on her arm, looking like a rosy-faced
Esquimaux in her seal-skin suit, as she smiled at Aunt Myra
stalking along as solemnly as a crow.

"I hope the child won’t stay out long, for this wind is enough to
chill the marrow in younger bones than Myra’s," thought Dr. Alec,
half an hour later, as he drove toward the city to see the few
patients he had consented to take for old acquaintance’ sake.

The thought returned several times that morning, for it was truly a
bitter day, and, in spite of his bear-skin coat, the Doctor shivered.
But he had great faith in Rose’s good sense, and it never occurred
to him that she was making a little Casabianca of herself, with the
difference of freezing instead of burning at her post.

You see, Mac had made an appointment to meet her at a certain
spot, and have a grand skating bout as soon as the few lessons he
was allowed were over. She had promised to wait for him, and did
so with a faithfulness that cost her dear, because Mac forgot his
appointment when the lessons were done, and became absorbed in
a chemical experiment, till a general combustion of gases drove
him out of his laboratory. Then he suddenly remembered Rose,
and would gladly have hurried away to her, but his mother forbade
his going out, for the sharp wind would hurt his eyes.

"She will wait and wait, mother, for she always keeps her word,
and I told her to hold on till I came," explained Mac, with visions
of a shivering little figure watching on the windy hill-top.

"Of course, your uncle won’t let her go out such a day as this. If he
does, she will have the sense to come here for you, or to go home
again when you don’t appear," said Aunt Jane, returning to her
"Watts on the Mind."

"I wish Steve would just cut up and see if she’s there, since I can’t
go," began Mac, anxiously.

"Steve won’t stir a peg, thank you. He’s got his own toes to thaw
out, and wants his dinner," answered Dandy, just in from school,
and wrestling impatiently with his boots.

So Mac resigned himself, and Rose waited dutifully till
dinner-time assured her that her waiting was in vain. She had done
her best to keep warm, had skated till she was tired and hot, then
stood watching others till she was chilled; tried to get up a glow
again by trotting up and down the road, but failed to do so, and
finally cuddled disconsolately under a pine-tree to wait and watch.
When she at length started for home, she was benumbed with cold,
and could hardly make her way against the wind that buffeted the
frost-bitten rose most unmercifully.

Dr. Alec was basking in the warmth of the study fire, after his
drive, when the sound of a stifled sob made him hurry to the door
and look anxiously into the hall. Rose lay in a shivering bunch
near the register, with her things half off, wringing her hands, and
trying not to cry with the pain returning warmth brought to her
half-frozen fingers.

"My darling, what is it?" and Uncle Alec had her in his arms in a
minute.

"Mac didn’t come I can’t get warm the fire makes me ache!" and
with a long shiver Rose burst out crying, while her teeth chattered,
and her poor little nose was so blue, it made one’s heart ache to see
it.

In less time than it takes to tell it, Dr. Alec had her on the sofa
rolled up in the bear-skin coat, with Phebe rubbing her cold feet
while he rubbed the aching hands, and Aunt Plenty made a
comfortable hot drink, and Aunt Peace sent down her own
foot-warmer and embroidered blanket "for the dear."

Full of remorseful tenderness, Uncle Alec worked over his new
patient till she declared she was all right again. He would not let
her get up to dinner, but fed her himself, and then forgot his own
while he sat watching her fall into a drowse, for Aunt Plenty’s
cordial made her sleepy.

She lay so several hours for the drowse deepened into a heavy
sleep, and Uncle Alec, still at his post, saw with growing anxiety
that a feverish colour began to burn in her cheeks, that her
breathing was quick and uneven, and now and then she gave a
little moan, as if in pain. Suddenly she woke up with a start, and
seeing Aunt Plenty bending over her, put out her arms like a sick
child, saying wearily

"Please, could I go to bed?"

"The best place for you, deary. Take her right up, Alec; I’ve got the
hot water ready, and after a nice bath, she shall have a cup of my
sage tea, and be rolled up in blankets to sleep off her cold,"
answered the old lady, cheerily, as she bustled away to give orders.

"Are you in pain, darling?" asked Uncle Alec, as he carried her up.

"My side aches when I breathe, and I feel stiff and queer; but it
isn’t bad, so don’t be troubled, uncle," whispered Rose, with a little
hot hand against his cheek.

But the poor doctor did look troubled, and had cause to do so, for
just then Rose tried to laugh at Dolly charging into the room with a
warming-pan, but could not, for the sharp pain took her breath
away and made her cry out.

"Pleurisy," sighed Aunt Plenty, from the depths of the bath-tub.

"Pewmonia!" groaned Dolly, burrowing among the bedclothes with
the long-handled pan, as if bent on fishing up that treacherous
disease.

"Oh, is it bad?" asked Phebe, nearly dropping a pail of hot water in
her dismay, for she knew nothing of sickness, and Dolly’s
suggestion had a peculiarly dreadful sound to her.

"Hush!" ordered the Doctor, in a tone that silenced all further
predictions, and made everyone work with a will.

"Make her as comfortable as you can, and when she is in her little
bed I’ll come and say good-night," he added, when the bath was
ready and the blankets browning nicely before the fire.

Then he went away to talk quite cheerfully to Aunt Peace about its
being "only a chill"; after which he tramped up and down the hall,
pulling his beard and knitting his brows, sure signs of great inward
perturbation.

"I thought it would be too good luck to get through the year
without a downfall. Confound my perversity! Why couldn’t I take
Myra’s advice and keep Rose at home. It’s not fair that the poor
child should suffer for my sinful over-confidence. She shall not
suffer for it! Pneumonia, indeed! I defy it," and he shook his fist in
the ugly face of an Indian idol that happened to be before him, as
if that particularly hideous god had some spite against his own
little goddess.

In spite of his defiance his heart sunk when he saw Rose again, for
the pain was worse, and the bath and blankets, the warming-pan
and piping-hot sage tea, were all in vain. For several hours there
was no rest for the poor child, and all manner of gloomy
forebodings haunted the minds of those who hovered about her
with faces full of the tenderest anxiety.

In the midst of the worst paroxysm Charlie came to leave a
message from his mother, and was met by Phebe coming
despondently downstairs with a mustard plaster that had brought
no relief.

"What the dickens is the matter? You look as dismal as a
tombstone," he said, as she held up her hand to stop his lively
whistling.

"Miss Rose is dreadful sick."

"The deuce she is!"

"Don’t swear, Mr. Charlie; she really is, and it’s Mr. Mac’s fault,"
and Phebe told the sad tale in a few sharp words, for she felt at war
with the entire race of boys at that moment.

"I’ll give it to him, make your mind easy about that," said Charlie,
with an ominous doubling up of his fist. "But Rose isn’t
dangerously ill, is she?" he added anxiously, as Aunt Plenty was
seen to trot across the upper hall, shaking a bottle violently as she
went.

"Oh, but she is though. The Doctor don’t say much, but he don’t
call it a ‘chill’ any more. It’s ‘pleurisy’ now, and I’m so afraid it will
be pewmonia to-morrow," answered Phebe, with a despairing
glance at the plaster.

Charlie exploded into a stifled laugh at the new pronunciation of
pneumonia, to Phebe’s great indignation.

"How can you have the heart to do it, and she in such horrid pain?
Hark to that, and then laugh if you darst," she said with a tragic
gesture, and her black eyes full of fire.

Charlie listened and heard little moans that went to his heart and
made his face as sober as Phebe’s. "O uncle, please stop the pain,
and let me rest a minute! Don’t tell the boys I wasn’t brave. I try to
bear it, but it’s so sharp I can’t help crying."

Neither could Charlie, when he heard the broken voice say that;
but, boy-like, he wouldn’t own it, and said pettishly, as he rubbed
his sleeve across his eyes

"Don’t hold that confounded thing right under my nose; the
mustard makes my eyes smart."

"Don’t see how it can, when it hasn’t any more strength in it than
meal. The Doctor said so, and I’m going to get some better," began
Phebe, not a bit ashamed of the great tears that were bedewing the
condemned plaster.

"I’ll go!" and Charlie was off like a shot, glad of an excuse to get
out of sight for a few minutes.

When he came back all inconvenient emotion had been disposed
of, and, having delivered a box of the hottest mustard procurable
for money, he departed to "blow up" Mac, that being his next duty
in his opinion. He did it so energetically and thoroughly that the
poor Worm was cast into the depths of remorseful despair, and
went to bed that evening feeling that he was an outcast from
among men, and bore the mark of Cain upon his brow.

Thanks to the skill of the Doctor, and the devotion of his helpers,
Rose grew easier about midnight, and all hoped that the worst was
over. Phebe was making tea by the study fire, for the Doctor had
forgotten to eat and drink since Rose was ill, and Aunt Plenty
insisted on his having a "good cordial dish of tea" after his
exertions. A tap on the window startled Phebe, and, looking up,
she saw a face peering in. She was not afraid, for a second look
showed her that it was neither ghost nor burglar, but Mac, looking
pale and wild in the wintry moonlight.

"Come and let a fellow in," he said in a low tone, and when he
stood in the hall he clutched Phebe’s arm, whispering gruffly,
"How is Rose?"

"Thanks be to goodness, she’s better," answered Phebe, with a
smile that was like broad sunshine to the poor lad’s anxious heart.

"And she will be all right again to-morrow?"

"Oh, dear no! Dolly says she’s sure to have rheumatic fever, if she
don’t have noo-monia!" answered Phebe, careful to pronounce the
word rightly this time.

Down went Mac’s face, and remorse began to gnaw at him again as
he gave a great sigh and said doubtfully

"I suppose I couldn’t see her?"

"Of course not at this time of night, when we want her to go to
sleep!"

Mac opened his mouth to say something more, when a sneeze
came upon him unawares, and a loud "Ah rash hoo!" awoke the
echoes of the quiet house.

"Why didn’t you stop it?" said Phebe reproachfully. "I dare say
you’ve waked her up."

"Didn’t know it was coming. Just my luck!" groaned Mac, turning
to go before his unfortunate presence did more harm.

But a voice from the stair-head called softly, "Mac, come up; Rose
wants to see you."

Up he went, and found his uncle waiting for him.

"What brings you here at this hour, my boy?" asked the Doctor in a
whisper.

"Charlie said it was all my fault, and if she died I’d killed her. I
couldn’t sleep, so I came to see how she was, and no one knows it
but Steve," he said with such a troubled face and voice that the
Doctor had not the heart to blame him.

Before he could say anything more a feeble voice called "Mac!"
and with a hasty "Stay a minute just to please her, and then slip
away, for I want her to sleep," the Doctor led him into the room.

The face on the pillow looked very pale and childish, and the smile
that welcomed Mac was very faint, for Rose was spent with pain,
yet could not rest till she had said a word of comfort to her cousin.

"I knew your funny sneeze, and I guessed that you came to see how
I did, though it is very late. Don’t be worried, I’m better now, and it
is my fault I was ill, not yours; for I needn’t have been so silly as to
wait in the cold just because I said I would."

Mac hastened to explain, to load himself with reproaches, and to
beg her not to die on any account, for Charlie’s lecture had made a
deep impression on the poor boy’s mind.

"I didn’t know there was any danger of my dying," and Rose looked
up at him with a solemn expression in her great eyes.

"Oh, I hope not; but people do sometimes go suddenly, you know,
and I couldn’t rest till I’d asked you to forgive me," faltered Mac,
thinking that Rose looked very like an angel already, with the
golden hair loose on the pillow, and the meekness of suffering on
her little white face.

"I don’t think I shall die; uncle won’t let me; but if I do, remember I
forgave you."

She looked at him with a tender light in her eyes, and, seeing how
pathetic his dumb grief was, she added softly, drawing his head
down, "I wouldn’t kiss you under the mistletoe, but I will now, for I
want you to be sure I do forgive and love you just the same."

That quite upset poor Mac; he could only murmur his thanks and
get out of the room as fast as possible, to grope his way to the
couch at the far end of the hall, and lie there till he fell asleep,
worn out with trying not to "make a baby" of himself.

 

Leave a Reply