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Chapter 1 – Coming Home

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Three young men stood together on a wharf one bright October
day awaiting the arrival of an ocean steamer with an impatience
which found a vent in lively skirmishes with a small lad, who
pervaded the premises like a will-o’-the-wisp and afforded much
amusement to the other groups assembled there.

"They are the Campbells, waiting for their cousin, who has been
abroad several years with her uncle, the doctor," whispered one
lady to another as the handsomest of the young men touched his
hat to her as he passed, lugging the boy, whom he had just rescued
from a little expedition down among the piles.

"Which is that?" asked the stranger.

"Prince Charlie, as he’s called a fine fellow, the most promising of
the seven, but a little fast, people say," answered the first speaker
with a shake of the head.

"Are the others his brothers?"

"No, cousins. The elder is Archie, a most exemplary young man.
He has just gone into business with the merchant uncle and bids
fair to be an honor to his family. The other, with the eyeglasses
and no gloves, is Mac, the odd one, just out of college."

"And the boy?"

"Oh, he is Jamie, the youngest brother of Archibald, and the pet of
the whole family. Mercy on us he’ll be in if they don’t hold on to
him!"

The ladies’ chat came to a sudden end just there, for by the time
Jamie had been fished out of a hogshead, the steamer hove in sight
and everything else was forgotten. As it swung slowly around to
enter the dock, a boyish voice shouted, "There she is! I see her and
Uncle and Phebe! Hooray for Cousin Rose!" And three small
cheers were given with a will by Jamie as he stood on a post
waving his arms like a windmill while his brother held onto the
tail of his jacket.

Yes, there they were Uncle Alec swinging his hat like a boy, with
Phebe smiling and nodding on one side and Rose kissing both
hands delightedly on the other as she recognized familiar faces and
heard familiar voices welcoming her home.

"Bless her dear heart, she’s bonnier than ever! Looks like a
Madonna doesn’t she? with that blue cloak round her, and her
bright hair flying in the wind!" said Charlie excitedly as they
watched the group upon the deck with eager eyes.

"Madonnas don’t wear hats like that. Rose hasn’t changed much,
but Phebe has. Why, she’s a regular beauty!" answered Archie,
staring with all his might at the dark-eyed young woman with the
brilliant color and glossy black braids shining in the sun.

"Dear old Uncle! Doesn’t it seem good to have him back?" was all
Mac said, but he was not looking at "dear old uncle" as he made
the fervent remark, for he saw only the slender blond girl nearby
and stretched out his hands to meet hers, forgetful of the green
water tumbling between them.

During the confusion that reigned for a moment as the steamer
settled to her moorings, Rose looked down into the four faces
upturned to hers and seemed to read in them something that both
pleased and pained her. It was only a glance, and her own eyes
were full, but through the mist of happy tears she received the
impression that Archie was about the same, that Mac had
decidedly improved, and that something was amiss with Charlie.
There was no time for observation, however, for in a moment the
shoreward rush began, and before she could grasp her traveling
bag, Jamie was clinging to her like an ecstatic young bear. She was
with difficulty released from his embrace to fall into the gentler
ones of the elder cousins, who took advantage of the general
excitement to welcome both blooming girls with affectionate
impartiality. Then the wanderers were borne ashore in a triumphal
procession, while Jamie danced rapturous jigs before them even on
the gangway.

Archie remained to help his uncle get the luggage through the
Custom House, and the others escorted the damsels home. No
sooner were they shut up in a carriage, however, than a new and
curious constraint seemed to fall upon the young people, for they
realized, all at once, that their former playmates were men and
women now. Fortunately, Jamie was quite free from this feeling of
restraint and, sitting bodkinwise between the ladies, took all sorts
of liberties with them and their belongings.

"Well, my mannikin, what do you think of us?" asked Rose, to
break an awkward pause.

"You’ve both grown so pretty, I can’t decide which I like best.
Phebe is the biggest and brightest-looking, and I was always fond
of Phebe, but somehow you are so kind of sweet and precious, I
really think I must hug you again," and the small youth did it
tempestuously.

"If you love me best, I shall not mind a bit about your thinking
Phebe the handsomest, because she is. Isn’t she, boys?" asked
Rose, with a mischievous look at the gentlemen opposite, whose
faces expressed a respectful admiration which much amused her.

"I’m so dazzled by the brilliancy and beauty that has suddenly burst
upon me, I have no words to express my emotions," answered
Charlie, gallantly dodging the dangerous question.

"I can’t say yet, for I have not had time to look at anyone. I will
now, if you don’t mind." And, to the great amusement of the rest,
Mac gravely adjusted his eyeglasses and took an observation.

"Well?" said Phebe, smiling and blushing under his honest stare,
yet seeming not to resent it as she did the lordly sort of approval
which made her answer the glance of Charlie’s audacious blue eyes
with a flash of her black ones.

"I think if you were my sister, I should be very proud of you,
because your face shows what I admire more than its beauty truth
and courage, Phebe," answered Mac with a little bow full of such
genuine respect that surprise and pleasure brought a sudden dew to
quench the fire of the girl’s eyes and soothe the sensitive pride of
the girl’s heart.

Rose clapped her hands just as she used to do when anything
delighted her, and beamed at Mac approvingly as she said: "Now
that’s a criticism worth having, and we are much obliged. I was
sure you’d admire my Phebe when you knew her, but I didn’t
believe you would be wise enough to see it at once, and you have
gone up many pegs in my estimation, I assure you."

"I was always fond of mineralogy you remember, and I’ve been
tapping round a good deal lately, so I’ve learned to know precious
metals when I see them," Mac said with his shrewd smile.

"That is the latest hobby, then? Your letters have amused us
immensely, for each one had a new theory or experiment, and the
latest was always the best. I thought Uncle would have died of
laughter over the vegetarian mania it was so funny to imagine you
living on bread and milk, baked apples, and potatoes roasted in
your own fire," continued Rose, changing the subject again.

"This old chap was the laughingstock of his class. They called him
Don Quixote, and the way he went at windmills of all sorts was a
sight to see," put in Charlie, evidently feeling that Mac had been
patted on the head quite as much as was good for him.

"But in spite of that the Don got through college with all the
honors. Oh, wasn’t I proud when Aunt Jane wrote to us about it and
didn’t she rejoice that her boy kept at the head of his class and won
the medal!" cried Rose, shaking Mac by both hands in a way that
caused Charlie to wish "the old chap" had been left behind with
Dr. Alec.

"Oh, come, that’s all Mother’s nonsense. I began earlier than the
other fellows and liked it better, so I don’t deserve any praise.
Prince is right, though. I did make a regular jack of myself, but on
the whole I’m not sure that my wild oats weren’t better than some
I’ve seen sowed. Anyway, they didn’t cost much, and I’m none the
worse for them," said Mac placidly.

"I know what ‘wild oats’ means. I heard Uncle Mac say Charlie was
sowing ’em too fast, and I asked Mama, so she told me. And I
know that he was suspelled or expended, I don’t remember which,
but it was something bad, and Aunt Clara cried," added Jamie all
in one breath, for he possessed a fatal gift of making malapropos
remarks, which caused him to be a terror to his family.

"Do you want to go on the box again?" demanded Prince with a
warning frown.

"No, I don’t."

"Then hold your tongue."

"Well, Mac needn’t kick me, for I was only…" began the culprit,
innocently trying to make a bad matter worse.

"That will do," interrupted Charlie sternly, and James subsided, a
crushed boy, consoling himself with Rose’s new watch for the
indignities he suffered at the hands of the "old fellows" as he
vengefully called his elders.

Mac and Charlie immediately began to talk as hard as their
tongues could wag, bringing up all sorts of pleasant subjects so
successfully that peals of laughter made passersby look after the
merry load with sympathetic smiles.

An avalanche of aunts fell upon Rose as soon as she reached
home, and for the rest of the day the old house buzzed like a
beehive. Evening found the whole tribe collected in the drawing
rooms, with the exception of Aunt Peace, whose place was empty
now.

Naturally enough, the elders settled into one group after a while,
and the young fellows clustered about the girls like butterflies
around two attractive flowers. Dr. Alec was the central figure in
one room and Rose in the other, for the little girl, whom they had
all loved and petted, had bloomed into a woman, and two years of
absence had wrought a curious change in the relative positions of
the cousins, especially the three elder ones, who eyed her with a
mixture of boyish affection and manly admiration that was both
new and pleasant.

Something sweet yet spirited about her charmed them and piqued
their curiosity, for she was not quite like other girls, and rather
startled them now and then by some independent little speech or
act which made them look at one another with a sly smile, as if
reminded that Rose was "Uncle’s girl."

Let us listen, as in duty bound, to what the elders are saying first,
for they are already building castles in air for the boys and girls to
inhabit.

"Dear child how nice it is to see her safely back, so well and happy
and like her sweet little self!" said Aunt Plenty, folding her hands
as if giving thanks for a great happiness.

"I shouldn’t wonder if you found that you’d brought a firebrand into
the family, Alec. Two, in fact, for Phebe is a fine girl, and the lads
have found it out already if I’m not mistaken," added Uncle Mac,
with a nod toward the other room.

All eyes followed his, and a highly suggestive tableau presented
itself to the paternal and maternal audience in the back parlor.

Rose and Phebe, sitting side by side on the sofa, had evidently
assumed at once the places which they were destined to fill by
right of youth, sex, and beauty, for Phebe had long since ceased to
be the maid and become the friend, and Rose meant to have that
fact established at once.

Jamie occupied the rug, on which Will and Geordie stood at ease,
showing their uniforms to the best advantage, for they were now in
a great school, where military drill was the delight of their souls.
Steve posed gracefully in an armchair, with Mac lounging over the
back of it, while Archie leaned on one corner of the low
chimneypiece, looking down at Phebe as she listened to his chat
with smiling lips and cheeks almost as rich in color as the
carnations in her belt.

But Charlie was particularly effective, although he sat upon a
music stool, that most trying position for any man not gifted with
grace in the management of his legs. Fortunately Prince was, and
had fallen into an easy attitude, with one arm over the back of the
sofa, his handsome head bent a little, as he monopolized Rose,
with a devoted air and a very becoming expression of contentment
on his face.

Aunt Clara smiled as if well pleased; Aunt Jessie looked
thoughtful; Aunt Jane’s keen eyes went from dapper Steve to
broad-shouldered Mac with an anxious glance; Mrs. Myra
murmured something about her "blessed Caroline"; and Aunt
Plenty said warmly, "Bless the dears! Anyone might be proud of
such a bonny flock of bairns as that."

"I am all ready to play chaperon as soon as you please, Alec, for I
suppose the dear girl will come out at once, as she did not before
you went away. My services won’t be wanted long, I fancy, for
with her many advantages she will be carried off in her first season
or I’m much mistaken," said Mrs. Clara, with significant nods and
smiles.

"You must settle all those matters with Rose. I am no longer
captain, only first mate now, you know," answered Dr. Alec,
adding soberly, half to himself, half to his brother, "I wonder
people are in such haste to ‘bring out’ their daughters, as it’s called.
To me there is something almost pathetic in the sight of a young
girl standing on the threshold of the world, so innocent and
hopeful, so ignorant of all that lies before her, and usually so ill
prepared to meet the ups and downs of life. We do our duty better
by the boys, but the poor little women are seldom provided with
any armor worth having, and sooner or later they are sure to need
it, for every one must fight her own battle, and only the brave and
strong can win."

"You can’t reproach yourself with neglect of that sort, Alec, for
you have done your duty faithfully by George’s girl, and I envy you
the pride and happiness of having such a daughter, for she is that
to you," answered old Mac, unexpectedly betraying the paternal
sort of tenderness men seldom feel for their sons.

"I’ve tried, Mac, and I am both proud and happy, but with every
year my anxiety seems to increase. I’ve done my best to fit Rose
for what may come, as far as I can foresee it, but now she must
stand alone, and all my care is powerless to keep her heart from
aching, her life from being saddened by mistakes, or thwarted by
the acts of others. I can only stand ready to share her joy and
sorrow and watch her shape her life."

"Why, Alec, what is the child going to do that you need look so
solemn?" exclaimed Mrs. Clara, who seemed to have assumed a
sort of right to Rose already.

"Hark! And let her tell you herself," answered Dr. Alec, as Rose’s
voice was heard saying very earnestly, "Now, you have all told
your plans for the future, why don’t you ask us ours?"

"Because we know that there is only one thing for a pretty girl to
do break a dozen or so hearts before she finds one to suit, then
marry and settle," answered Charlie, as if no other reply was
possible.

"That may be the case with many, but not with us, for Phebe and I
believe that it is as much a right and a duty for women to do
something with their lives as for men, and we are not going to be
satisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us," cried Rose with
kindling eyes. "I mean what I say, and you cannot laugh me down.
Would you be contented to be told to enjoy yourself for a little
while, then marry and do nothing more till you die?" she added,
turning to Archie.

"Of course not that is only a part of a man’s life," he answered
decidedly.

"A very precious and lovely part, but not all," continued Rose.
"Neither should it be for a woman, for we’ve got minds and souls
as well as hearts; ambition and talents as well as beauty and
accomplishments; and we want to live and learn as well as love
and be loved. I’m sick of being told that is all a woman is fit for! I
won’t have anything to do with love till I prove that I am
something besides a housekeeper and baby-tender!"

"Heaven preserve us! Here’s woman’s rights with a vengeance!"
cried Charlie, starting up with mock horror, while the others
regarded Rose with mingled surprise and amusement, evidently
fancying it all a girlish outbreak.

"Ah, you needn’t pretend to be shocked you will be in earnest
presently, for this is only the beginning of my strong-mindedness,"
continued Rose, nothing daunted by the smiles of good-natured
incredulity or derision on the faces of her cousins. "I have made up
my mind not to be cheated out of the real things that make one
good and happy and, just because I’m a rich girl, fold my hands
and drift as so many do. I haven’t lived with Phebe all these years
in vain. I know what courage and self-reliance can do for one, and
I sometimes wish I hadn’t a penny in the world so that I could go
and earn my bread with her, and be as brave and independent as
she will be pretty soon."

It was evident that Rose was in earnest now, for as she spoke she
turned to her friend with such respect as well as love in her face
that the look told better than any words how heartily the rich girl
appreciated the virtues hard experience had given the poor girl,
and how eagerly she desired to earn what all her fortune could not
buy for her.

Something in the glance exchanged between the friends impressed
the young men in spite of their prejudices, and it was in a perfectly
serious tone that Archie said, "I fancy you’ll find your hands full,
Cousin, if you want work, for I’ve heard people say that wealth has
its troubles and trials as well as poverty."

"I know it, and I’m going to try and fill my place well. I’ve got
some capital little plans all made, and have begun to study my
profession already," answered Rose with an energetic nod.

"Could I ask what it is to be?" inquired Charlie in a tone of awe.

"Guess!" and Rose looked up at him with an expression
half-earnest, half-merry.

"Well, I should say that you were fitted for a beauty and a belle,
but as that is evidently not to your taste, I am afraid you are going
to study medicine and be a doctor. Won’t your patients have a
heavenly time though? It will be easy dying with an angel to
poison them."

"Now, Charlie, that’s base of you, when you know how well
women have succeeded in this profession and what a comfort Dr.
Mary Kirk was to dear Aunt Peace. I did want to study medicine,
but Uncle thought it wouldn’t do to have so many M.D.’s in one
family, since Mac thinks of trying it. Besides, I seem to have other
work put into my hands that I am better fitted for."

"You are fitted for anything that is generous and good, and I’ll
stand by you, no matter what you’ve chosen," cried Mac heartily,
for this was a new style of talk from a girl’s lips, and he liked it
immensely.

"Philanthropy is a generous, good, and beautiful profession, and
I’ve chosen it for mine because I have much to give. I’m only the
steward of the fortune Papa left me, and I think, if I use it wisely
for the happiness of others, it will be more blest than if I keep it all
for myself."

Very sweetly and simply was this said, but it was curious to see
how differently the various hearers received it.

Charlie shot a quick look at his mother, who exclaimed, as if in
spite of herself, "Now, Alec, are you going to let that girl squander
a fine fortune on all sorts of charitable nonsense and wild schemes
for the prevention of pauperism and crime?"

"’They who give to the poor lend to the Lord,’ and practical
Christianity is the kind He loves the best," was all Dr. Alec
answered, but it silenced the aunts and caused even prudent Uncle
Mac to think with sudden satisfaction of certain secret investments
he had made which paid him no interest but the thanks of the poor.

Archie and Mac looked well pleased and promised their advice
and assistance with the enthusiasm of generous young hearts.
Steve shook his head, but said nothing, and the lads on the rug at
once proposed founding a hospital for invalid dogs and horses,
white mice, and wounded heroes.

"Don’t you think that will be a better way for a woman to spend her
life than in dancing, dressing, and husband-hunting, Charlie?"
asked Rose, observing his silence and anxious for his approval.

"Very pretty for a little while, and very effective too, for I don’t
know anything more captivating than a sweet girl in a meek little
bonnet going on charitable errands and glorifying poor people’s
houses with a delightful mixture of beauty and benevolence.
Fortunately, the dear souls soon tire of it, but it’s heavenly while it
lasts."

Charlie spoke in a tone of mingled admiration and contempt, and
smiled a superior sort of smile, as if he understood all the innocent
delusions as well as the artful devices of the sex and expected
nothing more from them. It both surprised and grieved Rose, for it
did not sound like the Charlie she had left two years ago. But she
only said, with a reproachful look and a proud little gesture of
head and hand, as if she put the subject aside since it was not
treated with respect: "I am sorry you have so low an opinion of
women. There was a time when you believed in them sincerely."

"I do still, upon my word I do! They haven’t a more devoted
admirer and slave in the world than I am. Just try me and see,"
cried Charlie, gallantly kissing his hand to the sex in general.

But Rose was not appeased, and gave a disdainful shrug as she
answered with a look in her eyes that his lordship did not like,
"Thank you. I don’t want admirers or slaves, but friends and
helpers. I’ve lived so long with a wise, good man that I am rather
hard to suit, perhaps, but I don’t intend to lower my standard, and
anyone who cares for my regard must at least try to live up to it."

"Whew! Here’s a wrathful dove! Come and smooth her ruffled
plumage, Mac. I’ll dodge before I do further mischief," and Charlie
strolled away into the other room, privately lamenting that Uncle
Alec had spoiled a fine girl by making her strong-minded.

He wished himself back again in five minutes, for Mac said
something that produced a gale of laughter, and when he took a
look over his shoulder the "wrathful dove" was cooing so
peacefully and pleasantly he was sorely tempted to return and
share the fun. But Charlie had been spoiled by too much
indulgence, and it was hard for him to own himself in the wrong
even when he knew it. He always got what he wanted sooner or
later, and having long ago made up his mind that Rose and her
fortune were to be his, he was secretly displeased at the new plans
and beliefs of the young lady, but flattered himself that they would
soon be changed when she saw how unfashionable and
inconvenient they were.

Musing over the delightful future he had laid out, he made himself
comfortable in the sofa corner near his mother till the appearance
of a slight refection caused both groups to melt into one. Aunt
Plenty believed in eating and drinking, so the slightest excuse for
festivity delighted her hospitable soul, and on this joyful occasion
she surpassed herself.

It was during this informal banquet that Rose, roaming about from
one admiring relative to another, came upon the three younger
lads, who were having a quiet little scuffle in a secluded corner.

"Come out here and let me have a look at you," she said enticingly,
for she predicted an explosion and public disgrace if peace was not
speedily restored.

Hastily smoothing themselves down, the young gentlemen
presented three flushed and merry countenances for inspection,
feeling highly honored by the command.

"Dear me, how you two have grown! You big things how dare you
get head of me in this way!" she said, standing on tiptoe to pat the
curly pates before her, for Will and Geordie had shot up like
weeds, and now grinned cheerfully down upon her as she surveyed
them in comic amazement.

"The Campbells are all fine, tall fellows, and we mean to be the
best of the lot. Shouldn’t wonder if we were six-footers like
Grandpa," observed Will proudly, looking so like a young
Shanghai rooster, all legs and an insignificant head, that Rose kept
her countenance with difficulty.

"We shall broaden out when we get our growth. We are taller than
Steve now, a half a head, both of us," added Geordie, with his nose
in the air.

Rose turned to look at Steve and, with a sudden smile, beckoned to
him. He dropped his napkin and flew to obey the summons, for she
was queen of the hour, and he had openly announced his deathless
loyalty.

"Tell the other boys to come here. I’ve a fancy to stand you all in a
row and look you over, as you did me that dreadful day when you
nearly frightened me out of my wits," she said, laughing at the
memory of it as she spoke.

They came in a body and, standing shoulder to shoulder, made
such an imposing array that the young commander was rather
daunted for a moment. But she had seen too much of the world
lately to be abashed by a trifle, and the desire to see a girlish test
gave her courage to face the line of smiling cousins with dignity
and spirit.

"Now, I’m going to stare at you as you stared at me. It is my
revenge on you seven bad boys for entrapping one poor little girl
and enjoying her alarm. I’m not a bit afraid of you now, so tremble
and beware!"

As she spoke, Rose looked up into Archie’s face and nodded
approvingly, for the steady gray eyes met hers fairly and softened
as they did so a becoming change, for naturally they were rather
keen than kind.

"A true Campbell, bless you!" she said, and shook his hand heartily
as she passed on.

Charlie came next, and here she felt less satisfied, though scarcely
conscious why, for, as she looked, there came a defiant sort of
flash, changing suddenly to something warmer than anger, stronger
than pride, making her shrink a little and say, hastily, "I don’t find
the Charlie I left, but the Prince is there still, I see."

Turning to Mac with a sense of relief, she gently took off his
"winkers," as Jamie called them, and looked straight into the
honest blue eyes that looked straight back at her, full of a frank
and friendly affection that warmed her heart and made her own
eyes brighten as she gave back the glasses, saying, with a look and
tone of cordial satisfaction, "You are not changed, my dear old
Mac, and I’m so glad of that!"

"Now say something extra sweet to me, because I’m the flower of
the family," said Steve, twirling the blond moustache, which was
evidently the pride of his life.

Rose saw at a glance that Dandy deserved his name more than
ever, and promptly quenched his vanities by answering, with a
provoking laugh, "Then the name of the flower of the family is
Cockscomb."

"Ah, ha! who’s got it now?" jeered Will.

"Let us off easy, please," whispered Geordie, mindful that their
turn came next.

"You blessed beanstalks! I’m proud of you only don’t grow quite
out of sight, or even be ashamed to look a woman in the face,"
answered Rose, with a gentle pat on the cheek of either bashful
young giant, for both were red as peonies, though their boyish eyes
were as clear and calm as summer lakes.

"Now me!" and Jamie assumed his manliest air, feeling that he did
not appear to advantage among his tall kinsmen. But he went to
the head of the class in everyone’s opinion when Rose put her arms
around him, saying, with a kiss, "You must be my boy now, for all
the others are too old, and I want a faithful little page to do my
errands for me."

"I will, I will I’ll marry you too, if you’ll just hold on till I grow
up!" cried Jamie, rather losing his head at this sudden promotion.

"Bless the baby, what is he talking about?" laughed Rose, looking
down at her little knight as he clung about her with grateful ardor.

"Oh, I heard the aunts say that you’d better marry one of us, and
keep the property in the family, so I speak first, because you are
very fond of me, and I do love curls."

Alas for Jamie! This awful speech had hardly left his innocent lips
when Will and Geordie swept him out of the room like a
whirlwind, and the howls of that hapless boy were heard from the
torture hall, where being shut into the skeleton case was one of the
mildest punishments inflicted upon him.

Dismay fell upon the unfortunates who remained, but their
confusion was soon ended, for Rose, with a look which they had
never seen upon her face before, dismissed them with the brief
command, "Break ranks the review is over," and walked away to
Phebe.

"Confound that boy! You ought to shut him up or gag him!" fumed
Charlie irritably.

"He shall be attended to," answered poor Archie, who was trying to
bring up the little marplot with the success of most parents and
guardians.

"The whole thing was deuced disagreeable," growled Steve, who
felt that he had not distinguished himself in the late engagement.

"Truth generally is," observed Mac dryly as he strolled away with
his odd smile.

As if he suspected discord somewhere, Dr. Alec proposed music at
this crisis, and the young people felt that it was a happy thought.

"I want you to hear both my birds, for they have improved
immensely, and I am very proud of them," said the doctor, twirling
up the stool and pulling out the old music books.

"I had better come first, for after you have heard the nightingale
you won’t care for the canary," added Rose, wishing to put Phebe
at her ease, for she sat among them looking like a picture, but
rather shy and silent, remembering the days when her place was in
the kitchen.

"I’ll give you some of the dear old songs you used to like so much.
This was a favorite, I think," and sitting down she sang the first
familiar air that came, and sang it well in a pleasant, but by no
means finished, manner.

It chanced to be "The Birks of Aberfeldie," and vividly recalled the
time when Mac was ill and she took care of him. The memory was
sweet to her, and involuntarily her eye wandered in search of him.
He was not far away, sitting just as he used to sit when she soothed
his most despondent moods astride of a chair with his head down
on his arms, as if the song suggested the attitude. Her heart quite
softened to him as she looked, and she decided to forgive him if no
one else, for she was sure that he had no mercenary plans about
her tiresome money.

Charlie had assumed a pensive air and fixed his fine eyes upon her
with an expression of tender admiration, which made her laugh in
spite of all her efforts to seem unconscious of it. She was both
amused and annoyed at his very evident desire to remind her of
certain sentimental passages in the last year of their girl- and
boy-hood, and to change what she had considered a childish joke
into romantic earnest. Rose had very serious ideas of love and had
no intention of being beguiled into even a flirtation with her
handsome cousin.

So Charlie attitudinized unnoticed and was getting rather out of
temper when Phebe began to sing, and he forgot all about himself
in admiration of her. It took everyone by surprise, for two years of
foreign training added to several at home had worked wonders,
and the beautiful voice that used to warble cheerily over pots and
kettles now rang out melodiously or melted to a mellow music that
woke a sympathetic thrill in those who listened. Rose glowed with
pride as she accompanied her friend, for Phebe was in her own
world now a lovely world where no depressing memory of
poorhouse or kitchen, ignorance or loneliness, came to trouble her,
a happy world where she could be herself and rule others by the
magic of her sweet gift.

Yes, Phebe was herself now, and showed it in the change that
came over her at the first note of music. No longer shy and silent,
no longer the image of a handsome girl but a blooming woman,
alive and full of the eloquence her art gave her, as she laid her
hands softly together, fixed her eye on the light, and just poured
out her song as simply and joyfully as the lark does soaring toward
the sun.

"My faith, Alec that’s the sort of voice that wins a man’s heart out
of his breast!" exclaimed Uncle Mac, wiping his eyes after one of
the plaintive ballads that never grow old.

"So it would!" answered Dr. Alec delightedly.

"So it has," added Archie to himself; and he was right, for just at
that moment he fell in love with Phebe. He actually did, and could
fix the time almost to a second, for at a quarter past nine, he
merely thought her a very charming young person; at twenty
minutes past, he considered her the loveliest woman he ever
beheld; at five and twenty minutes past, she was an angel singing
his soul away; and at half after nine he was a lost man, floating
over a delicious sea to that temporary heaven on earth where
lovers usually land after the first rapturous plunge.

If anyone had mentioned this astonishing fact, nobody would have
believed it; nevertheless, it was quite true, and sober, businesslike
Archie suddenly discovered a fund of romance at the bottom of his
hitherto well-conducted heart that amazed him. He was not quite
clear what had happened to him at first, and sat about in a dazed
sort of way, seeing, hearing, knowing nothing but Phebe, while the
unconscious idol found something wanting in the cordial praise so
modestly received because Mr. Archie never said a word.

This was one of the remarkable things which occurred that
evening. Another was that Mac paid Rose a compliment, which
was such an unprecedented fact, it produced a great sensation,
though only one person heard it.

Everybody had gone but Mac and his father, who was busy with
the doctor. Aunt Plenty was counting the teaspoons in the dining
room, and Phebe was helping her as of old. Mac and Rose were
alone he apparently in a brown study, leaning his elbows on the
chimneypiece, and she lying back in a low chair looking
thoughtfully at the fire. She was tired, and the quiet was grateful to
her, so she kept silence and Mac respectfully held his tongue.
Presently, however, she became conscious that he was looking at
her as intently as eyes and glasses could do it, and without stirring
from her comfortable attitude, she said, smiling up at him, "He
looks as wise as an owl I wonder what he’s thinking about?"

"You, Cousin."

"Something good, I hope?"

"I was thinking Leigh Hunt was about right when he said, ‘A girl is
the sweetest thing God ever made.’"

"Why, Mac!" and Rose sat bolt upright with an astonished face this
was such an entirely unexpected sort of remark for the philosopher
to make.

Evidently interested in the new discovery, Mac placidly continued,
"Do you know, it seems as if I never really saw a girl before, or
had any idea what agreeable creatures they could be. I fancy you
are a remarkably good specimen, Rose."

"No, indeed! I’m only hearty and happy, and being safe at home
again may make me look better than usual perhaps, but I’m no
beauty except to Uncle."

"’Hearty and happy’ that must be it," echoed Mac, soberly
investigating the problem. "Most girls are sickly or silly, I think I
have observed, and that is probably why I am so struck with you."

"Of all the queer boys you are the queerest! Do you really mean
that you don’t like or notice girls?" asked Rose, much amused at
this new peculiarity of her studious cousin.

"Well, no, I am only conscious of two sorts noisy and quiet ones. I
prefer the latter, but, as a general thing, I don’t notice any of them
much more than I do flies, unless they bother me, then I’d like to
flap them away, but as that won’t do, I hide."

Rose leaned back and laughed until her eyes were full. It was so
comical to hear Mac sink his voice to a confidential whisper at the
last words and see him smile with sinful satisfaction at the
memory of the tormentors he had eluded.

"You needn’t laugh it’s a fact, I assure you. Charlie likes the
creatures, and they spoil him. Steve follows suit, of course. Archie
is a respectful slave when he can’t help himself. As for me, I don’t
often give them a chance, and when I get caught I talk science and
dead languages till they run for their lives. Now and then I find a
sensible one, and then we get on excellently."

"A sad prospect for Phebe and me," sighed Rose, trying to keep
sober.

"Phebe is evidently a quiet one. I know she is sensible, or you
wouldn’t care for her. I can see that she is pleasant to look at, so I
fancy I shall like her. As for you, I helped bring you up, therefore I
am a little anxious to see how you turn out. I was afraid your
foreign polish might spoil you, but I think it has not. In fact, I find
you quite satisfactory so far, if you don’t mind my saying it. I don’t
quite know what the charm is, though. Must be the power of
inward graces, since you insist that you have no outer ones."

Mac was peering at her with a shrewd smile on his lips, but such a
kindly look behind the glasses that she found both words and
glance very pleasant and answered merrily, "I am glad you approve
of me, and much obliged for your care of my early youth. I hope to
be a credit to you and depend on your keeping me straight, for I’m
afraid I shall be spoilt among you all."

"I’ll keep my eye on you upon one condition," replied the youthful
mentor.

"Name it."

"If you are going to have a lot of lovers around, I wash my hands
of you. If not, I’m your man."

"You must be sheep dog and help keep them away, for I don’t want
any yet awhile and, between ourselves, I don’t believe I shall have
any if it is known that I am strong-minded. That fact will scare
most men away like a yellow flag," said Rose, for, thanks to Dr.
Alec’s guardianship, she had wasted neither heart nor time in the
foolish flirtations so many girls fritter away their youth upon.

"Hum! I rather doubt that," muttered Mac as he surveyed the
damsel before him.

She certainly did not look unpleasantly strong-minded, and she
was beautiful in spite of her modest denials. Beautiful with the
truest sort of beauty, for nobility of character lent its subtle charm
to the bloom of youth, the freshness of health, the innocence of a
nature whose sweet maidenliness Mac felt but could not describe.
Gentle yet full of spirit, and all aglow with the earnestness that
suggests lovely possibilities and makes one hope that such human
flowers may have heaven’s purest air and warmest sunshine to
blossom in.

"Wait and see," answered Rose; then, as her uncle’s voice was
heard in the hall, she held out her hand, adding pleasantly, "The
old times are to begin again, so come soon and tell me all your
doings and help me with mine just as you used to do."

"You really mean it?" And Mac looked much pleased.

"I really do. You are so little altered, except to grow big, that I
don’t feel at all strange with you and want to begin where we left
off."

"That will be capital. Good night, Cousin," and to her great
amazement, he gave her a hearty kiss.

"Oh, but that is not the old way at all!" cried Rose, stepping back
in merry confusion while the audacious youth assumed an air of
mild surprise as he innocently asked: "Didn’t we always say good
night in that way? I had an impression that we did and were to
begin just as we left off."

"Of course not. No power on earth would have bribed you to do it,
as you know well enough. I don’t mind the first night, but we are
too old for that sort of thing now."

"I’ll remember. It was the force of habit, I suppose, for I’m sure I
must have done it in former times, it seemed so natural. Coming,
Father!" and Mac retired, evidently convinced he was right.

"Dear old thing! He is as much a boy as ever, and that is such a
comfort, for some of the others have grown up very fast," said
Rose to herself, recalling Charlie’s sentimental airs and Archie’s
beatified expression while Phebe sang.

 

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