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Chapter 6 – Polishing Mac

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

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"Please could I say one word?" was the question three times
repeated before a rough head bobbed out from the grotto of books
in which Mac usually sat when he studied.

"Did anyone speak?" he asked, blinking in the flood of sunshine
that entered with Rose.

"Only three times, thank you. Don’t disturb yourself, I beg, for I
merely want to say a word," answered Rose as she prevented him
from offering the easy chair in which he sat.

"I was rather deep in a compound fracture and didn’t hear. What
can I do for you, Cousin?" And Mac shoved a stack of pamphlets
off the chair near him with a hospitable wave of the hand that sent
his papers flying in all directions.

Rose sat down, but did not seem to find her "word" an easy one to
utter, for she twisted her handkerchief about her fingers in
embarrassed silence till Mac put on his glasses and, after a keen
look, asked soberly: "Is it a splinter, a cut, or a whitlow, ma’am?"

"It is neither. Do forget your tiresome surgery for a minute and be
the kindest cousin that ever was," answered Rose, beginning rather
sharply and ending with her most engaging smile.

"Can’t promise in the dark," said the wary youth.

"It is a favor, a great favor, and one I don’t choose to ask any of the
other boys," answered the artful damsel.

Mac looked pleased and leaned forward, saying more affably,
"Name it, and be sure I’ll grant it if I can."

"Go with me to Mrs. Hope’s party tomorrow night."

"What!" And Mac recoiled as if she had put a pistol to his head.

"I’ve left you in peace a long time, but it is your turn now, so do
your duty like a man and a cousin."

"But I never go to parties!" cried the unhappy victim in great
dismay.

"High time you began, sir."

"But I don’t dance fit to be seen."

"I’ll teach you."

"My dress coat isn’t decent, I know."

"Archie will lend you one he isn’t going."

"I’m afraid there’s a lecture that I ought not to cut."

"No, there isn’t I asked Uncle."

"I’m always so tired and dull in the evening."

"This sort of thing is just what you want to rest and freshen up your
spirits."

Mac gave a groan and fell back vanquished, for it was evident that
escape was impossible.

"What put such a perfectly wild idea into your head?" he
demanded, rather roughly, for hitherto he had been left in peace
and this sudden attack decidedly amazed him.

"Sheer necessity, but don’t do it if it is so very dreadful to you. I
must go to several more parties, because they are made for me, but
after that I’ll refuse, and then no one need be troubled with me."

Something in Rose’s voice made Mac answer penitently, even
while he knit his brows in perplexity. "I don’t mean to be rude, and
of course I’ll go anywhere if I’m really needed. But I don’t
understand where the sudden necessity is, with three other fellows
at command, all better dancers and beaus than I am."

"I don’t want them, and I do want you, for I haven’t the heart to
drag Uncle out anymore, and you know I never go with any
gentleman but those of my own family."

"Now look here, Rose if Steve has been doing anything to tease
you, just mention it and I’ll attend to him," cried Mac, plainly
seeing that something was amiss and fancying that Dandy was at
the bottom of it, as he had done escort duty several times lately.

"No, Steve has been very good, but I know he had rather be with
Kitty Van, so of course I feel like a marplot, though he is too polite
to hint it."

"What a noodle that boy is! But there’s Archie he’s steady as a
church and has no sweetheart to interfere," continued Mac, bound
to get at the truth and half suspecting what it was.

"He is on his feet all day, and Aunt Jessie wants him in the
evening. He does not care for dancing as he used, and I suppose he
really does prefer to rest and read." Rose might have added, "And
hear Phebe sing," for Phebe did not go out as much as Rose did,
and Aunt Jessie often came to sit with the old lady when the young
folks were away and, of course, dutiful Archie came with her, so
willingly of late!

"What’s amiss with Charlie? I thought he was the prince of
cavaliers. Annabel says he dances ‘like an angel,’ and I know a
dozen mothers couldn’t keep him at home of an evening. Have you
had a tiff with Adonis and so fall back on poor me?" asked Mac,
coming last to the person of whom he thought first but did not
mention, feeling shy about alluding to a subject often discussed
behind her back.

"Yes, I have, and I don’t intend to go with him any more for some
time. His ways do not suit me, and mine do not suit him, so I want
to be quite independent, and you can help me if you will," said
Rose, rather nervously spinning the big globe close by.

Mac gave a low whistle, looking wide awake all in a minute as he
said with a gesture, as if he brushed a cobweb off his face: "Now,
see here, Cousin, I’m not good at mysteries and shall only blunder
if you put me blindfold into any nice maneuver. Just tell me
straight out what you want and I’ll do it if I can. Play I’m Uncle and
free your mind come now."

He spoke so kindly, and the honest eyes were so full of merry
goodwill, that Rose thought she might confide in him and
answered as frankly as he could desire: "You are right, Mac, and I
don’t mind talking to you almost as freely as to Uncle, because you
are such a reliable fellow and won’t think me silly for trying to do
what I believe to be right. Charlie does, and so makes it hard for
me to hold to my resolutions. I want to keep early hours, dress
simply, and behave properly no matter what fashionable people do.
You will agree to that, I’m sure, and stand by me through thick and
thin for principle’s sake."

"I will, and begin by showing you that I understand the case. I don’t
wonder you are not pleased, for Charlie is too presuming, and you
do need someone to help you head him off a bit. Hey, Cousin?"

"What a way to put it!" And Rose laughed in spite of herself,
adding with an air of relief, "That is it, and I do want someone to
help me make him understand that I don’t choose to be taken
possession of in that lordly way, as if I belonged to him more than
to the rest of the family. I don’t like it, for people begin to talk, and
Charlie won’t see how disagreeable it is to me."

"Tell him so," was Mac’s blunt advice.

"I have, but he only laughs and promises to behave, and then he
does it again when I am so placed that I can’t say anything. You
will never understand, and I cannot explain, for it is only a look, or
a word, or some little thing but I won’t have it, and the best way to
cure him is to put it out of his power to annoy me so."

"He is a great flirt and wants to teach you how, I suppose. I’ll speak
to him if you like and tell him you don’t want to learn. Shall I?"
asked Mac, finding the case rather an interesting one.

"No, thank you that would only make trouble. If you will kindly
play escort a few times, it will show Charlie that I am in earnest
without more words and put a stop to the gossip," said Rose,
coloring like a poppy at the recollection of what she heard one
young man whisper to another as Charlie led her through a
crowded supper room with his most devoted air, "Lucky dog! He is
sure to get the heiress, and we are nowhere."

"There’s no danger of people gossiping about us, is there?" And
Mac looked up with the oddest of all his odd expressions.

"Of course not you’re only a boy."

"I’m twenty-one, thank you, and Prince is but a couple of years
older," said Mac, promptly resenting the slight put upon his
manhood.

"Yes, but he is like other young men, while you are a dear old
bookworm. No one would ever mind what you did, so you may go
to parties with me every night and not a word would be said or, if
there was, I shouldn’t mind since it is ‘only Mac,’" answered Rose,
smiling as she quoted a household phrase often used to excuse his
vagaries.

"Then I am nobody?" he said, lifting his brows as if the discovery
surprised and rather nettled him.

"Nobody in society as yet, but my very best cousin in private, and
I’ve just proved my regard by making you my confidant and
choosing you for my knight," said Rose, hastening to soothe the
feelings her careless words seemed to have ruffled slightly.

"Much good that is likely to do me," grumbled Mac.

"You ungrateful boy, not to appreciate the honor I’ve conferred
upon you! I know a dozen who would be proud of the place, but
you only care for compound fractures, so I won’t detain you any
longer, except to ask if I may consider myself provided with an
escort for tomorrow night?" said Rose, a trifle hurt at his
indifference, for she was not used to refusals.

"If I may hope for the honor." And, rising, he made her a bow
which was such a capital imitation of Charlie’s grand manner that
she forgave him at once, exclaiming with amused surprise: "Why,
Mac! I didn’t know you could be so elegant!"

"A fellow can be almost anything he likes if he tries hard enough,"
he answered, standing very straight and looking so tall and
dignified that Rose was quite impressed, and with a stately
courtesy she retired, saying graciously: "I accept with thanks. Good
morning, Dr. Alexander Mackenzie Campbell."

When Friday evening came and word was sent up that her escort
had arrived, Rose ran down, devoutly hoping that he had not come
in a velveteen jacket, top-boots, black gloves, or made any trifling
mistake of that sort. A young gentleman was standing before the
long mirror, apparently intent upon the arrangement of his hair,
and Rose paused suddenly as her eye went from the glossy
broadcloth to the white-gloved hands, busy with an unruly lock
that would not stay in place.

"Why, Charlie, I thought " she began with an accent of surprise in
her voice, but got no further, for the gentleman turned and she
beheld Mac in immaculate evening costume, with his hair parted
sweetly on his brow, a superior posy at his buttonhole, and the
expression of a martyr on his face.

"Ah, don’t you wish it was? No one but yourself to thank that it
isn’t he. Am I right? Dandy got me up, and he ought to know what
is what," demanded Mac, folding his hands and standing as stiff as
a ramrod.

"You are so regularly splendid that I don’t know you."

"Neither do I."

"I really had no idea you could look so like a gentleman," added
Rose, surveying him with great approval.

"Nor that I could feel so like a fool."

"Poor boy! He does look rather miserable. What can I do to cheer
him up in return for the sacrifice he is making?"

"Stop calling me a boy. It will soothe my agony immensely and
give me courage to appear in a low-necked coat and curl on my
forehead, for I’m not used to such elegancies and I find them no
end of a trial."

Mac spoke in such a pathetic tone, and gave such a gloomy glare at
the aforesaid curl, that Rose laughed in his face and added to his
woe by handing him her cloak. He surveyed it gravely for a
minute, then carefully put it on wrong side out and gave the
swan’s-down hood a good pull over the head, to the utter
destruction of all smoothness to the curls inside.

Rose uttered a cry and cast off the cloak, bidding him learn to do it
properly, which he meekly did and then led her down the hall
without walking on her skirts more than three times on the way.
But at the door she discovered that she had forgotten her furred
overshoes and bade Mac get them.

"Never mind it’s not wet," he said, pulling his cap over his eyes and
plunging into his coat, regardless of the "elegancies" that afflicted
him.

"But I can’t walk on cold stones with thin slippers, can I?" began
Rose, showing him a little white foot.

"You needn’t, for there you are, my lady." And, unceremoniously
picking her up, Mac landed her in the carriage before she could say
a word.

"What an escort!" she exclaimed in comic dismay, as she rescued
her delicate dress from a rug in which he was about to tuck her up
like a mummy.

"It’s ‘only Mac,’ so don’t mind," and he cast himself into an
opposite corner with the air of a man who had nerved himself to
the accomplishment of many painful duties and was bound to do
them or die.

"But gentlemen don’t catch up ladies like bags of meal and poke
them into carriages in this way. It is evident that you need looking
after, and it is high time I undertook your society manners. Now,
do mind what you are about and don’t get yourself or me into a
scrape if you can help it," besought Rose, feeling that on many
accounts she had gone further and fared worse.

"I’ll behave like a Turveydrop see if I don’t."

Mac’s idea of the immortal Turveydrop’s behavior seemed to be a
peculiar one; for, after dancing once with his cousin, he left her to
her own devices and soon forgot all about her in a long
conversation with Professor Stumph, the learned geologist. Rose
did not care, for one dance proved to her that that branch of Mac’s
education had been sadly neglected, and she was glad to glide
smoothly about with Steve, though he was only an inch or two
taller than herself. She had plenty of partners, however, and plenty
of chaperons, for all the young men were her most devoted, and all
the matrons beamed upon her with maternal benignity.

Charlie was not there, for when he found that Rose stood firm, and
had moreover engaged Mac as a permanency, he would not go at
all and retired in high dudgeon to console himself with more
dangerous pastimes. Rose feared it would be so, and even in the
midst of the gaiety about her an anxious mood came over her now
and then and made her thoughtful for a moment. She felt her
power and wanted to use it wisely, but did not know how to be
kind to Charlie without being untrue to herself and giving him
false hopes.

"I wish we were all children again, with no hearts to perplex us
and no great temptations to try us," she said to herself as she rested
a minute in a quiet nook while her partner went to get a glass of
water. Right in the midst of this half-sad, half-sentimental reverie,
she heard a familiar voice behind her say earnestly: "And allophite
is the new hydrous silicate of alumina and magnesia, much
resembling pseudophite, which Websky found in Silesia."

"What is Mac talking about!" she thought, and, peeping behind a
great azalea in full bloom, she saw her cousin in deep conversation
with the professor, evidently having a capital time, for his face had
lost its melancholy expression and was all alive with interest,
while the elder man was listening as if his remarks were both
intelligent and agreeable.

"What is it?" asked Steve, coming up with the water and seeing a
smile on Rose’s face.

She pointed out the scientific tete-a-tete going on behind the
azalea, and Steve grinned as he peeped, then grew sober and said
in a tone of despair: "If you had seen the pains I took with that
fellow, the patience with which I brushed his wig, the time I spent
trying to convince him that he must wear thin boots, and the fight I
had to get him into that coat, you’d understand my feelings when I
see him now."

"Why, what’s the matter with him?" asked Rose.

"Will you take a look and see what a spectacle he has made of
himself. He’d better be sent home at once or he will disgrace the
family by looking as if he’d been in a row."

Steve spoke in such a tragic tone that Rose took another peep and
did sympathize with Dandy, for Mac’s elegance was quite gone.
His tie was under one ear, his posy hung upside down, his gloves
were rolled into a ball, which he absently squeezed and pounded as
he talked, and his hair looked as if a whirlwind had passed over it,
for his ten fingers set it on end now and then, as they had a habit of
doing when he studied or talked earnestly. But he looked so happy
and wide awake, in spite of his dishevelment, that Rose gave an
approving nod and said behind her fan: "It is a trying spectacle,
Steve yet, on the whole, I think his own odd ways suit him best and
I fancy we shall be proud of him, for he knows more than all the
rest of us put together. Hear that now." And Rose paused that they
might listen to the following burst of eloquence from Mac’s lips:
"You know Frenzal has shown that the globular forms of silicate of
bismuth at Schneeburg and Johanngeorgenstadt are not isometric,
but monoclinic in crystalline form, and consequently he separates
them from the old eulytite and gives them the new name
Agricolite."

"Isn’t it awful? Let us get out of this before there’s another
avalanche or we shall be globular silicates and isometric crystals
in spite of ourselves," whispered Steve with a panic-stricken air,
and they fled from the hailstorm of hard words that rattled about
their ears, leaving Mac to enjoy himself in his own way.

But when Rose was ready to go home and looked about for her
escort, he was nowhere to be seen, for the professor had departed,
and Mac with him, so absorbed in some new topic that he entirely
forgot his cousin and went placidly home, still pondering on the
charms of geology. When this pleasing fact dawned upon Rose her
feelings may be imagined. She was both angry and amused it was
so like Mac to go mooning off and leave her to her fate. Not a hard
one, however; for, though Steve was gone with Kitty before her
plight was discovered, Mrs. Bliss was only too glad to take the
deserted damsel under her wing and bear her safely home.

Rose was warming her feet and sipping the chocolate which Phebe
always had ready for her, as she never ate supper, when a hurried
tap came at the long window whence the light streamed and Mac’s
voice was heard softly asking to be let in "just for one minute."

Curious to know what had befallen him, Rose bade Phebe obey his
call and the delinquent cavalier appeared, breathless, anxious, and
more dilapidated than ever, for he had forgotten his overcoat; his
tie was at the back of his neck now; and his hair as rampantly erect
as if all the winds of heaven had been blowing freely through it, as
they had, for he had been tearing to and fro the last half hour,
trying to undo the dreadful deed he had so innocently committed.

"Don’t take any notice of me, for I don’t deserve it. I only came to
see that you were safe, Cousin, and then go hang myself, as Steve
advised," he began in a remorseful tone that would have been very
effective if he had not been obliged to catch his breath with a
comical gasp now and then.

"I never thought you would be the one to desert me," said Rose
with a reproachful look, thinking it best not to relent too soon,
though she was quite ready to do it when she saw how sincerely
distressed he was.

"It was that confounded man! He was a regular walking
encyclopedia, and, finding I could get a good deal out of him, I
went in for general information, as the time was short. You know I
always forget everything else when I get hold of such a fellow."

"That is evident. I wonder how you came to remember me at all,"
answered Rose, on the brink of a laugh it was so absurd.

"I didn’t till Steve said something that reminded me then it burst
upon me, in one awful shock, that I’d gone and left you, and you
might have knocked me down with a feather," said honest Mac,
hiding none of his iniquity.

"What did you do then?"

"Do! I went off like a shot and never stopped till I reached the
Hopes’"

"You didn’t walk all the way?" cried Rose.

"Bless you, no I ran. But you were gone with Mrs. Bliss, so I pelted
back again to see with my own eyes that you were safe at home,"
answered Mac with a sigh of relief, wiping his hot forehead.

"But it is three miles at least each way, and twelve o’clock, and
dark and cold. Oh, Mac! How could you!" exclaimed Rose,
suddenly realizing what he had done as she heard his labored
breathing, saw the state of the thin boots, and detected the absence
of an overcoat.

"Couldn’t do less, could I?" asked Mac, leaning up against the door
and trying not to pant.

"There was no need of half killing yourself for such a trifle. You
might have known I could take care of myself for once, at least,
with so many friends about. Sit down this minute. Bring another
cup, please, Phebe this boy isn’t going home till he is rested and
refreshed after such a run as that," commanded Rose.

"Don’t be good to me I’d rather take a scolding than a chair, and
drink hemlock instead of chocolate if you happen to have any
ready," answered Mac with a pathetic puff as he subsided onto the
sofa and meekly took the draft Phebe brought him.

"If you had anything the matter with your heart, sir, a race of this
sort might be the death of you so never do it again," said Rose,
offering her fan to cool his heated countenance.

"Haven’t got any heart."

"Yes, you have, for I hear it beating like a trip-hammer, and it is
my fault I ought to have stopped as we went by and told you I was
all right."

"It’s the mortification, not the miles, that upsets me. I often take
that run for exercise and think nothing of it but tonight I was so
mad I made extra-good time, I fancy. Now don’t you worry, but
compose your mind and ‘sip your dish of tea,’ as Evelina says,"
answered Mac, artfully turning the conversation from himself.

"What do you know about Evelina?" asked Rose in great surprise.

"All about her. Do you suppose I never read a novel?"

"I thought you read nothing but Greek and Latin, with an
occasional glance at Websky’s pseudophites and the monoclinics
of Johanngeorgenstadt."

Mac opened his eyes wide at this reply, then seemed to see the
joke and joined in the laugh with such heartiness that Aunt Plenty’s
voice was heard demanding from above with sleepy anxiety: "Is
the house afire?"

"No, ma’am, everything is safe, and I’m only saying good night,"
answered Mac, diving for his cap.

"Then go at once and let that child have her sleep," added the old
lady, retiring to her bed.

Rose ran into the hall, and catching up her uncle’s fur coat, met
Mac as he came out of the study, absently looking about for his
own.

"You haven’t any, you benighted boy! So take this, and have your
wits about you next time or I won’t let you off so easily," she said,
holding up the heavy garment and peeping over it, with no sign of
displeasure in her laughing eyes.

"Next time! Then you do forgive me? You will try me again, and
give me a chance to prove that I’m not a fool?" cried Mac,
embracing the big coat with emotion.

"Of course I will, and, so far from thinking you a fool, I was much
impressed with your learning tonight and told Steve that we ought
to be proud of our philosopher."

"Learning be hanged! I’ll show you that I’m not a bookworm but as
much a man as any of them, and then you may be proud or not, as
you like!" cried Mac with a defiant nod that caused the glasses to
leap wildly off his nose as he caught up his hat and departed as he
came.

A day or two later Rose went to call upon Aunt Jane, as she
dutifully did once or twice a week. On her way upstairs she heard a
singular sound in the drawing room and involuntarily stopped to
listen.

"One, two, three, slide! One, two, three, turn! Now, then, come
on!" said one voice impatiently.

"It’s very easy to say ‘come on,’ but what the dickens do I do with
my left leg while I’m turning and sliding with my right?"
demanded another voice in a breathless and mournful tone.

Then the whistling and thumping went on more vigorously than
before, and Rose, recognizing the voices, peeped through the
half-open door to behold a sight which made her shake with
suppressed laughter. Steve, with a red tablecloth tied around his
waist, languished upon Mac’s shoulder, dancing in perfect time to
the air he whistled, for Dandy was proficient in the graceful art
and plumed himself upon his skill. Mac, with a flushed face and
dizzy eye, clutched his brother by the small of his back, vainly
endeavoring to steer him down the long room without entangling
his own legs in the tablecloth, treading on his partner’s toes, or
colliding with the furniture. It was very droll, and Rose enjoyed the
spectacle till Mac, in a frantic attempt to swing around, dashed
himself against the wall and landed Steve upon the floor. Then it
was impossible to restrain her laughter any longer and she walked
in upon them, saying merrily: "It was splendid! Do it again, and I’ll
play for you."

Steve sprang up and tore off the tablecloth in great confusion,
while Mac, still rubbing his head, dropped into a chair, trying to
look quite calm and cheerful as he gasped out: "How are you,
Cousin? When did you come? John should have told us."

"I’m glad he didn’t, for then I should have missed this touching
tableau of cousinly devotion and brotherly love. Getting ready for
our next party, I see."

"Trying to, but there are so many things to remember all at once
keep time, steer straight, dodge the petticoats, and manage my
confounded legs that it isn’t easy to get on at first," answered Mac
with a sigh of exhaustion, wiping his hot forehead.

"Hardest job I ever undertook and, as I’m not a battering ram, I
decline to be knocked round any longer," growled Steve, dusting
his knees and ruefully surveying the feet that had been trampled on
till they tingled, for his boots and broadcloth were dear to the heart
of the dapper youth.

"Very good of you, and I’m much obliged. I’ve got the pace, I think,
and can practice with a chair to keep my hand in," said Mac with
such a comic mixture of gratitude and resignation that Rose went
off again so irresistibly that her cousins joined her with a hearty
roar.

"As you are making a martyr of yourself in my service, the least I
can do is lend a hand. Play for us, Steve, and I’ll give Mac a lesson,
unless he prefers the chair." And, throwing off her hat and cloak,
Rose beckoned so invitingly that the gravest philosopher would
have yielded.

"A thousand thanks, but I’m afraid I shall hurt you," began Mac,
much gratified, but mindful of past mishaps.

"I’m not. Steve didn’t manage his train well, for good dancers
always loop theirs up. I have none at all, so that trouble is gone and
the music will make it much easier to keep step. Just do as I tell
you, and you’ll go beautifully after a few turns."

"I will, I will! Pipe up, Steve! Now, Rose!" And, brushing his hair
out of his eyes with an air of stern determination, Mac grasped
Rose and returned to the charge bent on distinguishing himself if
he died in the attempt.

The second lesson prospered, for Steve marked the time by a series
of emphatic bangs; Mac obeyed orders as promptly as if his life
depended on it; and, after several narrow escapes at exciting
moments, Rose had the satisfaction of being steered safely down
the room and landed with a grand pirouette at the bottom. Steve
applauded, and Mac, much elated, exclaimed with artless candor:
"There really is a sort of inspiration about you, Rose. I always
detested dancing before, but now, do you know, I rather like it."

"I knew you would, only you mustn’t stand with your arm round
your partner in this way when you are done. You must seat and fan
her, if she likes it," said Rose, anxious to perfect a pupil who
seemed so lamentably in need of a teacher.

"Yes, of course, I know how they do it." And, releasing his cousin,
Mac raised a small whirlwind around her with a folded newspaper,
so full of zeal that she had not the heart to chide him again.

"Well done, old fellow. I begin to have hopes of you and will order
you a new dress coat at once, since you are really going in for the
proprieties of life," said Steve from the music stool, with the
approving nod of one who was a judge of said proprieties. "Now,
Rose, if you will just coach him a little in his small talk, he won’t
make a laughingstock of himself as he did the other night," added
Steve. "I don’t mean his geological gabble that was bad enough,
but his chat with Emma Curtis was much worse. Tell her, Mac,
and see if she doesn’t think poor Emma had a right to think you a
first-class bore."

"I don’t see why, when I merely tried to have a little sensible
conversation," began Mac with reluctance, for he had been
unmercifully chaffed by his cousins, to whom his brother had
betrayed him.

"What did you say? I won’t laugh if I can help it," said Rose,
curious to hear, for Steve’s eyes were twinkling with fun.

"Well, I knew she was fond of theaters, so I tried that first and got
on pretty well till I began to tell her how they managed those
things in Greece. Most interesting subject, you know?"

"Very. Did you give her one of the choruses or a bit of
Agamemnon, as you did when you described it to me?" asked
Rose, keeping sober with difficulty as she recalled that serio-comic
scene.

"Of course not, but I was advising her to read Prometheus when
she gaped behind her fan and began to talk about Phebe. What a
‘nice creature’ she was, ‘kept her place,’ dressed according to her
station, and that sort of twaddle. I suppose it was rather rude, but
being pulled up so short confused me a bit, and I said the first
thing that came into my head, which was that I thought Phebe the
best-dressed woman in the room because she wasn’t all fuss and
feathers like most of the girls."

"Oh, Mac! That to Emma, who makes it the labor of her life to be
always in the height of fashion and was particularly splendid that
night. What did she say?" cried Rose, full of sympathy for both
parties.

"She bridled and looked daggers at me."

"And what did you do?"

"I bit my tongue and tumbled out of one scrape into another.
Following her example, I changed the subject by talking about the
charity concert for the orphans, and when she gushed about the
‘little darlings,’ I advised her to adopt one and wondered why
young ladies didn’t do that sort of thing, instead of cuddling cats
and lapdogs."

"Unhappy boy! Her pug is the idol of her life, and she hates
babies," said Rose.

"More fool she! Well, she got my opinion on the subject, anyway,
and she’s very welcome, for I went on to say that I thought it would
not only be a lovely charity, but excellent training for the time
when they had little darlings of their own. No end of poor things
die through the ignorance of mothers, you know," added Mac, so
seriously that Rose dared not smile at what went before.

"Imagine Emma trotting round with a pauper baby under her arm
instead of her cherished Toto," said Steve with an ecstatic twirl on
the stool.

"Did she seem to like your advice, Monsieur Malapropos?" asked
Rose, wishing she had been there.

"No, she gave a little shriek and said, ‘Good gracious, Mr.
Campbell, how droll you are! Take me to Mama, please,’ which I
did with a thankful heart. Catch me setting her pug’s leg again,"
ended Mac with a grim shake of the head.

"Never mind. You were unfortunate in your listener that time.
Don’t think all girls are so foolish. I can show you a dozen sensible
ones who would discuss dress reform and charity with you and
enjoy Greek tragedy if you did the chorus for them as you did for
me," said Rose consolingly, for Steve would only jeer.

"Give me a list of them, please, and I’ll cultivate their
acquaintance. A fellow must have some reward for making a
teetotum of himself."

"I will with pleasure; and if you dance well they will make it very
pleasant for you, and you’ll enjoy parties in spite of yourself."

"I cannot be a ‘glass of fashion and a mold of form’ like Dandy
here, but I’ll do my best: only, if I had my choice, I’d much rather
go round the streets with an organ and a monkey," answered Mac
despondently.

"Thank you kindly for the compliment," and Rose made him a low
courtesy, while Steve cried, "Now you have done it!" in a tone of
reproach which reminded the culprit, all too late, that he was
Rose’s chosen escort.

"By the gods, so I have!" And casting away the newspaper with a
gesture of comic despair, Mac strode from the room, chanting
tragically the words of Cassandra, "’Woe! woe! O Earth! O
Apollo! I will dare to die; I will accost the gates of Hades, and
make my prayer that I may receive a mortal blow!’"

 

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