Chapter 22 – Something To Do

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

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Whatever danger there might have been from the effects of that
sudden chill, it was soon over, though, of course, Aunt Myra
refused to believe it, and Dr. Alec cherished his girl with
redoubled vigilance and tenderness for months afterward. Rose
quite enjoyed being sick, because as soon as the pain ended the fun
began, and for a week or two she led the life of a little princess
secluded in the Bower, while every one served, amused, and
watched over her in the most delightful manner. But the doctor
was called away to see an old friend, who was dangerously ill, and
then Rose felt like a young bird deprived of its mother’s sheltering
wing; especially on one afternoon when the aunts were taking their
naps, and the house was very still within while snow fell softly

"I’ll go and hunt up Phebe, she is always nice and busy, and likes to
have me help her. If Dolly is out of the way we can make caramels
and surprise the boys when they come," Rose said to herself, as she
threw down her book and felt ready for society of some sort.

She took the precaution to peep through the slide before she
entered the kitchen, for Dolly allowed no messing when she was
round. But the coast was clear, and no one but Phebe appeared,
sitting at the table with her head on her arms apparently asleep.
Rose was just about to wake her with a "Boo!" when she lifted her
head, dried her wet eyes with her blue apron, and fell to work with
a resolute face on something she was evidently much interested in.
Rose could not make out what it was, and her curiosity was greatly
excited, for Phebe was writing with a sputtering pen on some bits
of brown paper, apparently copying something from a little book.

"I must know what the dear thing is about, and why she cried, and
then set her lips tight and went to work with all her might,"
thought Rose, forgetting all about the caramels, and, going round
to the door, she entered the kitchen, saying pleasantly

"Phebe, I want something to do. Can’t you let me help you about
anything, or shall I be in the way?"

"Oh, dear no, miss; I always love to have you round when things
are tidy. What would you like to do?" answered Phebe, opening a
drawer as if about to sweep her own affairs out of sight; but Rose
stopped her, exclaiming, like a curious child

"Let me see! What is it? I won’t tell if you’d rather not have Dolly

"I’m only trying to study a bit; but I’m so stupid I don’t get on
much," answered the girl reluctantly, permitting her little mistress
to examine the poor contrivances she was trying to work with.

A broken slate that had blown off the roof, an inch or two of
pencil, an old almanac for a reader, several bits of brown or yellow
paper ironed smoothly and sewn together for a copy-book, and the
copies sundry receipts written in Aunt Plenty’s neat hand. These,
with a small bottle of ink and a rusty pen, made up Phebe’s outfit,
and it was little wonder that she did not "get on" in spite of the
patient persistence that dried the desponding tears and drove along
the sputtering pen with a will.

"You may laugh if you want to, Miss Rose, I know my things are
queer, and that’s why I hide ’em; but I don’t mind since you’ve
found me out, and I ain’t a bit ashamed except of being so
backward at my age," said Phebe humbly, though her cheeks grew
redder as she washed out some crooked capitals with a tear or two
not yet dried upon the slate.

"Laugh at you! I feel more like crying to think what a selfish girl I
am, to have loads of books and things and never remember to give
you some. Why didn’t you come and ask me, and not go struggling
along alone in this way? It was very wrong of you, Phebe, and I’ll
never forgive you if you do so again," answered Rose, with one
hand on Phebe’s shoulder, while the other gently turned the leaves
of the poor little copy-book.

"I didn’t like to ask for anything more when you are so good to me
all the time, miss, dear," began Phebe, looking up with grateful

"O you proud thing! just as if it wasn’t fun to give away, and I had
the best of it. Now, see here, I’ve got a plan and you mustn’t say no,
or I shall scold. I want something to do, and I’m going to teach you
all I know; it won’t take long," and Rose laughed as she put her
arm around Phebe’s neck, and patted the smooth dark head with
the kind little hand that so loved to give.

"It would be just heavenly!" and Phebe’s face shone at the mere
idea; but fell again as she added wistfully, "Only I’m afraid I ought
not to let you do it, Miss Rose. It will take time, and maybe the
Doctor wouldn’t like it."

"He didn’t want me to study much, but he never said a word about
teaching, and I don’t believe he will mind a bit. Anyway, we can
try it till he comes, so pack up your things and go right to my room
and we’ll begin this very day; I’d truly like to do it, and we’ll have
nice times, see if we don’t!" cried Rose eagerly.

It was a pretty sight to see Phebe bundle her humble outfit into her
apron, and spring up as if the desire of her heart had suddenly been
made a happy fact to her; it was a still prettier sight to see Rose
run gaily on before, smiling like a good fairy as she beckoned to
the other, singing as she went

"The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,

And many are the curious things I’ll show you when you’re there.

Will you, will you walk in, Phebe dear?"

"Oh, won’t I!" answered Phebe fervently, adding, as they entered
the Bower, "You are the dearest spider that ever was, and I’m the
happiest fly."

"I’m going to be very strict, so sit down in that chair and don’t say a
word till school is ready to open," ordered Rose, delighted with the
prospect of such a useful and pleasant "something to do."

So Phebe sat demurely in her place while her new teacher laid
forth books and slates, a pretty inkstand and a little globe; hastily
tore a bit off her big sponge, sharpened pencils with more energy
than skill, and when all was ready gave a prance of satisfaction
that set the pupil laughing.

"Now the school is open, and I shall hear you read, so that I may
know in which class to put you, Miss Moore," began Rose with
great dignity, as she laid a book before her scholar, and sat down
in the easy chair with a long rule in her hand.

Phebe did pretty well, only tripping now and then over a hard
word, and pronouncing identical "identickle," in a sober way that
tickled Rose, though never a smile betrayed her. The spelling
lesson which followed was rather discouraging; Phebe’s ideas of
geography were very vague, and grammar was nowhere, though
the pupil protested that she tried so hard to "talk nice like educated
folks" that Dolly called her "a stuck-up piece who didn’t know her

"Dolly’s an old goose, so don’t you mind her, for she will say
‘nater,’ ‘vittles,’ and ‘doos’ as long as she lives, and insist that they
are right. You do talk very nicely, Phebe, I’ve observed it, and
grammar will help you, and show you some things are right and
others ain’t are not, I mean," added Rose, correcting herself, and
feeling that she must mind her own parts of speech if she was to
serve as an example for Phebe.

When the arithmetic came, the little teacher was surprised to find
her scholar quicker in some things than herself, for Phebe had
worked away at the columns in the butcher’s and baker’s books till
she could add so quickly and correctly that Rose was amazed, and
felt that in this branch the pupil would soon excel the teacher if
she kept on at the same pace. Her praise cheered Phebe
immensely, and they went bravely on, both getting so interested
that time flew unheeded till Aunt Plenty appeared, exclaiming, as
she stared at the two heads bent over one slate

"Bless my heart, what is going on now?"

"School, aunty. I’m teaching Phebe, and it’s great fun!" cried Rose,
looking up with a bright face.

But Phebe’s was brighter, though she added with a wistful look

"Maybe I ought to have asked leave first; only when Miss Rose
proposed this, I was so happy I forgot to. Shall I stop, ma’am?"

"Of course not, child; I’m glad to see you fond of your book, and to
find Rose helping you along. My blessed mother used to sit at
work with her maids about her, teaching them many a useful thing
in the good old fashion that’s gone by now. Only don’t neglect your
work, dear, or let the books interfere with the duties."

As Aunt Plenty spoke, with her kind old face beaming approvingly
upon the girls, Phebe glanced at the clock, saw that it pointed to
five, knew that Dolly would soon be down, expecting to find
preparations for supper under way, and, hastily dropping her
pencil, she jumped up, saying

"Please, can I go? I’ll clear up after I’ve done my chores."

"School is dismissed," answered Rose, and with a grateful "Thank
you, heaps and heaps!" Phebe ran away singing the multiplication
table as she set the tea ditto.

That was the way it began, and for a week the class of one went on
with great pleasure and profit to all concerned; for the pupil
proved a bright one, and came to her lessons as to a feast, while
the young teacher did her best to be worthy the high opinion held
of her, for Phebe firmly believed that Miss Rose knew everything
in the way of learning.

Of course the lads found out what was going on, and chaffed the
girls about the "Seminary," as they called the new enterprise; but
they thought it a good thing on the whole, kindly offered to give
lessons in Greek and Latin gratis, and decided among themselves
that "Rose was a little trump to give the Phebe-bird such a capital

Rose herself had some doubts as to how it would strike her uncle,
and concocted a wheedlesome speech which should at once
convince him that it was the most useful, wholesome, and
delightful plan ever devised. But she got no chance to deliver her
address, for Dr. Alec came upon her so unexpectedly that it went
out of her head entirely. She was sitting on the floor in the library,
poring over a big book laid open in her lap, and knew nothing of
the long-desired arrival till two large, warm hands met under her
chin and gently turned her head back, so that someone could kiss
her heartily on either cheek, while a fatherly voice said, half
reproachfully, "Why is my girl brooding over a dusty Encyclopedia
when she ought to be running to meet the old gentleman who
couldn’t get on another minute without her?"

"O uncle! I’m so glad! and so sorry! Why didn’t you let us know
what time you’d be here, or call out the minute you came? Haven’t
I been home-sick for you? and now I’m so happy to have you back
I could hug your dear old curly head off," cried Rose, as the
Encyclopedia went down with a bang, and she up with a spring
that carried her into Dr. Alec’s arms, to be kept there in the sort of
embrace a man gives to the dearest creature the world holds for

Presently he was in his easy chair with Rose upon his knee smiling
up in his face and talking as fast as her tongue could go, while he
watched her with an expression of supreme content, as he stroked
the smooth round cheek, or held the little hand in his, rejoicing to
see how rosy was the one, how plump and strong the other.

"Have you had a good time? Did you save the poor lady? Aren’t
you glad to be home again with your girl to torment you?"

"Yes, to all those questions. Now tell me what you’ve been at, little
sinner? Aunty Plen says you want to consult me about some new
and remarkable project which you have dared to start in my

"She didn’t tell you, I hope?"

"Not a word more expect that you were rather doubtful how I’d
take it, and so wanted to ‘fess’ yourself and get round me as you
always try to do, though you don’t often succeed. Now, then, own
up and take the consequences."

So Rose told about her school in her pretty, earnest way, dwelling
on Phebe’s hunger for knowledge, and the delight it was to help
her, adding, with a wise nod

"And it helps me too, uncle, for she is so quick and eager I have to
do my best or she will get ahead of me in some things. To-day,
now, she had the word ‘cotton’ in a lesson and asked all about it,
and I was ashamed to find I really knew so little that I could only
say that it was a plant that grew down South in a kind of a pod, and
was made into cloth. That’s what I was reading up when you came,
and to-morrow I shall tell her all about it, and indigo too. So you
see it teaches me also, and is as good as a general review of what
I’ve learned, in a pleasanter way than going over it alone."

"You artful little baggage! that’s the way you expect to get round
me, is it? That’s not studying, I suppose?"

"No, sir, it’s teaching; and please, I like it much better than having
a good time by myself. Besides, you know, I adopted Phebe and
promised to be a sister to her, so I am bound to keep my word, am
I not?" answered Rose, looking both anxious and resolute as she
waited for her sentence.

Dr. Alec was evidently already won, for Rose had described the
old slate and brown paper copy-book with pathetic effect, and the
excellent man had not only decided to send Phebe to school long
before the story was done, but reproached himself for forgetting
his duty to one little girl in his love for another. So when Rose
tried to look meek and failed utterly, he laughed and pinched her
cheek, and answered in that genial way which adds such warmth
and grace to any favour

"I haven’t the slightest objection in the world. In fact, I was
beginning to think I might let you go at your books again,
moderately, since you are so well; and this is an excellent way to
try your powers. Phebe is a brave, bright lass, and shall have a fair
chance in the world, if we can give it to her, so that if she ever
finds her friends they need not be ashamed of her."

"I think she has found some already," began Rose eagerly.

"Hey? what? has anyone turned up since I’ve been gone?" asked
Dr. Alec quickly, for it was a firm belief in the family that Phebe
would prove to be "somebody" sooner or later.

"No, her best friend turned up when you came home, uncle,"
answered Rose with an approving pat, adding gratefully, "I can’t
half thank you for being so good to my girl, but she will, because I
know she is going to make a woman to be proud of, she’s so strong
and true, and loving."

"Bless your dear heart, I haven’t begun to do anything yet, more
shame to me! But I’m going at it now, and as soon as she gets on a
bit, she shall go to school as long as she likes. How will that do for
a beginning?"

"It will be ‘just heavenly,’ as Phebe says, for it is the wish of her
life to ‘get lots of schooling,’ and she will be too happy when I tell
her. May I, please? it will be so lovely to see the dear thing open
her big eyes and clap her hands at the splendid news."

"No one shall have a finger in this nice little pie; you shall do it all
yourself, only don’t go too fast, or make too many castles in the air,
my dear; for time and patience must go into this pie of ours if it is
to turn out well."

"Yes, uncle, only when it is opened won’t ‘the birds begin to sing?"’
laughed Rose, taking a turn about the room as a vent for the joyful
emotions that made her eyes shine. All of a sudden she stopped
and asked soberly

"If Phebe goes to school who will do her work? I’m willing, if I

"Come here and I’ll tell you a secret. Dolly’s ‘bones’ are getting so
troublesome, and her dear old temper so bad, that the aunts have
decided to pension her off and let her go and live with her
daughter, who has married very well. I saw her this week, and
she’d like to have her mother come, so in the spring we shall have
a grand change, and get a new cook and chamber-girl if any can be
found to suit our honoured relatives."

"Oh, me! how can I ever get on without Phebe? Couldn’t she stay,
just so I could see her? I’d pay her board rather than have her go,
I’m so fond of her."

How Dr. Alec laughed at that proposal, and how satisfied Rose
was when he explained that Phebe was still to be her maid, with no
duties except such as she could easily perform between

"She is a proud creature, for all her humble ways, and even from
us would not take a favour if she did not earn it somewhere. So
this arrangement makes it all square and comfortable, you see, and
she will pay for the schooling by curling these goldilocks a dozen
times a day if you let her."

"Your plans are always so wise and kind! That’s why they work so
well, I suppose, and why people let you do what you like with
them. I really don’t see how other girls get along without an Uncle
Alec!" answered Rose, with a sigh of pity for those who had
missed so great a blessing.

When Phebe was told the splendid news, she did not "stand on her
head with rapture," as Charlie prophesied she would, but took it
quietly, because it was such a happy thing she had no words "big
and beautiful enough to thank them in," she said; but every hour of
her day was brightened by this granted wish, and dedicated to the
service of those who gave it.

Her heart was so full of content that if overflowed in music, and
the sweet voice singing all about the house gave thanks so blithely
that no other words were needed. Her willing feet were never tired
of taking steps for those who had smoothed her way; her skilful
hands were always busy in some labour of love for them, and on
the face fast growing in comeliness there was an almost womanly
expression of devotion, which proved how well Phebe had already
learned one of life’s great lessons gratitude.


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