FictionForest

Chapter 7 – Phebe

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

Light off Small Medium Large

While Rose was making discoveries and having experiences,
Phebe was doing the same in a quieter way, but though they
usually compared notes during the bedtime tete-a-tete which
always ended their day, certain topics were never mentioned, so
each had a little world of her own into which even the eye of
friendship did not peep.

Rose’s life just now was the gaiest but Phebe’s the happiest. Both
went out a good deal, for the beautiful voice was welcomed
everywhere, and many were ready to patronize the singer who
would have been slow to recognize the woman. Phebe knew this
and made no attempt to assert herself, content to know that those
whose regard she valued felt her worth and hopeful of a time when
she could gracefully take the place she was meant to fill.

Proud as a princess was Phebe about some things, though in most
as humble as a child; therefore, when each year lessened the
service she loved to give and increased the obligations she would
have refused from any other source, dependence became a burden
which even the most fervent gratitude could not lighten. Hitherto
the children had gone on together, finding no obstacles to their
companionship in the secluded world in which they lived. Now
that they were women their paths inevitably diverged, and both
reluctantly felt that they must part before long.

It had been settled, when they were abroad, that on their return
Phebe should take her one gift in her hand and try her fortunes. On
no other terms would she accept the teaching which was to fit her
for the independence she desired. Faithfully had she used the
facilities so generously afforded both at home and abroad and now
was ready to prove that they had not been in vain. Much
encouraged by the small successes she won in drawing rooms, and
the praise bestowed by interested friends, she began to feel that she
might venture on a larger field and begin her career as a concert
singer, for she aimed no higher.

Just at this time much interest was felt in a new asylum for orphan
girls, which could not be completed for want of funds. The
Campbells well had borne their part and still labored to
accomplish the much-needed charity. Several fairs had been given
for this purpose, followed by a series of concerts. Rose had thrown
herself into the work with all her heart and now proposed that
Phebe should make her debut at the last concert, which was to be a
peculiarly interesting one, as all the orphans were to be present and
were expected to plead their own cause by the sight of their
innocent helplessness as well as touch hearts by the simple airs
they were to sing.

Some of the family thought Phebe would object to so humble a
beginning, but Rose knew her better and was not disappointed, for
when she made her proposal Phebe answered readily: "Where
could I find a fitter time and place to come before the public than
here among my little sisters in misfortune? I’ll sing for them with
all my heart only I must be one of them and have no flourish made
about me."

"You shall arrange it as you like, and as there is to be little vocal
music but yours and the children’s, I’ll see that you have everything
as you please," promised Rose.

It was well she did, for the family got much excited over the
prospect of "our Phebe’s debut" and would have made a flourish if
the girls had not resisted. Aunt Clara was in despair about the
dress because Phebe decided to wear a plain claret-colored merino
with frills at neck and wrists so that she might look, as much as
possible, like the other orphans in their stuff gowns and white
aprons. Aunt Plenty wanted to have a little supper afterward in
honor of the occasion, but Phebe begged her to change it to a
Christmas dinner for the poor children. The boys planned to throw
bushels of flowers, and Charlie claimed the honor of leading the
singer in. But Phebe, with tears in her eyes, declined their kindly
offers, saying earnestly: "I had better begin as I am to go on and
depend upon myself entirely. Indeed, Mr. Charlie, I’d rather walk
in alone, for you’d be out of place among us and spoil the pathetic
effect we wish to produce." And a smile sparkled through the tears
as Phebe looked at the piece of elegance before her and thought of
the brown gowns and pinafores.

So, after much discussion, it was decided that she should have her
way in all things and the family content themselves with
applauding from the front.

"We’ll blister our hands every man of us, and carry you home in a
chariot and four see if we don’t, you perverse prima donna!"
threatened Steve, not at all satisfied with the simplicity of the
affair.

"A chariot and two will be very acceptable as soon as I’m done. I
shall be quite steady till my part is all over, and then I may feel a
little upset, so I’d like to get away before the confusion begins.
Indeed, I don’t mean to be perverse, but you are all so kind to me,
my heart is full whenever I think of it, and that wouldn’t do if I’m
to sing," said Phebe, dropping one of the tears on the little frill she
was making.

"No diamond could have adorned it better," Archie thought as he
watched it shine there for a moment, and felt like shaking Steve
for daring to pat the dark head with an encouraging "All right. I’ll
be on hand and whisk you away while the rest are splitting their
gloves. No fear of your breaking down. If you feel the least bit like
it, though, just look at me and I’ll glare at you and shake my fist,
since kindness upsets you."

"I wish you would, because one of my ballads is rather touching
and I always want to cry when I sing it. The sight of you trying to
glare will make me want to laugh and that will steady me nicely,
so sit in front, please, ready to slip out when I come off the last
time."

"Depend upon me!" And the little man departed, taking great
credit to himself for his influence over tall, handsome Phebe.

If he had known what was going on in the mind of the silent young
gentleman behind the newspaper, Steve would have been much
astonished, for Archie, though apparently engrossed by business,
was fathoms deep in love by this time. No one suspected this but
Rose, for he did his wooing with his eyes, and only Phebe knew
how eloquent they could be. He had discovered what the matter
was long ago had made many attempts to reason himself out of it,
but, finding it a hopeless task, had given up trying and let himself
drift deliciously. The knowledge that the family would not approve
only seemed to add ardor to his love and strength to his purpose,
for the same energy and persistence which he brought to business
went into everything he did, and having once made up his mind to
marry Phebe, nothing could change this plan except a word from
her.

He watched and waited for three months, so that he might not be
accused of precipitation, though it did not take him one to decide
that this was the woman to make him happy. Her steadfast nature,
quiet, busy ways, and the reserved power and passion betrayed
sometimes by a flash of the black eyes, a quiver of the firm lips,
suited Archie, who possessed many of the same attributes himself.
The obscurity of her birth and isolation of her lot, which would
have deterred some lovers, not only appealed to his kindly heart,
but touched the hidden romance which ran like a vein of gold
through his strong common sense and made practical, steady-going
Archie a poet when he fell in love. If Uncle Mac had guessed what
dreams and fancies went on in the head bent over his ledgers, and
what emotions were fermenting in the bosom of his staid
"right-hand man," he would have tapped his forehead and
suggested a lunatic asylum. The boys thought Archie had sobered
down too soon. His mother began to fear that the air of the
counting room did not suit him, and Dr. Alec was deluded into the
belief that the fellow really began to "think of Rose," he came so
often in the evening, seeming quite content to sit beside her
worktable and snip tape or draw patterns while they chatted.

No one observed that, though he talked to Rose on these occasions,
he looked at Phebe, in her low chair close by, busy but silent, for
she always tried to efface herself when Rose was near and often
mourned that she was too big to keep out of sight. No matter what
he talked about, Archie always saw the glossy black braids on the
other side of the table, the damask cheek curving down into the
firm white throat, and the dark lashes, lifted now and then,
showing eyes so deep and soft he dared not look into them long.
Even the swift needle charmed him, the little brooch which rose
and fell with her quiet breath, the plain work she did, and the tidy
way she gathered her bits of thread into a tiny bag. He seldom
spoke to her; never touched her basket, though he ravaged Rose’s if
he wanted string or scissors; very rarely ventured to bring her some
curious or pretty thing when ships came in from China only sat and
thought of her, imagined that this was his parlor, this her
worktable, and they two sitting there alone a happy man and wife.

At this stage of the little evening drama he would be conscious of
such a strong desire to do something rash that he took refuge in a
new form of intoxication and proposed music, sometimes so
abruptly that Rose would pause in the middle of a sentence and
look at him, surprised to meet a curiously excited look in the
usually cool gray eyes.

Then Phebe, folding up her work, would go to the piano, as if glad
to find a vent for the inner life which she seemed to have no power
of expressing except in song. Rose would follow to accompany
her, and Archie, moving to a certain shady corner whence he could
see Phebe’s face as she sang, would give himself up to unmitigated
rapture for half an hour. Phebe never sang so well as at such times,
for the kindly atmosphere was like sunshine to a bird, criticisms
were few and gentle, praises hearty and abundant, and she poured
out her soul as freely as a spring gushes up when its hidden source
is full.

In moments such as these Phebe was beautiful with the beauty that
makes a man’s eye brighten with honest admiration and fills his
heart with a sense of womanly nobility and sweetness. Little
wonder, then, that the chief spectator of this agreeable tableau
grew nightly more enamored, and while the elders were deep in
whist, the young people were playing that still more absorbing
game in which hearts are always trumps.

Rose, having Dummy for a partner, soon discovered the fact and
lately had begun to feel as she fancied Wall must have done when
Pyramus wooed Thisbe through its chinks. She was a little startled
at first, then amused, then anxious, then heartily interested, as
every woman is in such affairs, and willingly continued to be a
medium, though sometimes she quite tingled with the electricity
which seemed to pervade the air. She said nothing, waiting for
Phebe to speak, but Phebe was silent, seeming to doubt the truth
till doubt became impossible, then to shrink as if suddenly
conscious of wrongdoing and seize every possible pretext for
absenting herself from the "girls’ corner," as the pretty recess was
called.

The concert plan afforded excellent opportunities for doing this,
and evening after evening she slipped away to practice her songs
upstairs while Archie sat staring disconsolately at the neglected
work basket and mute piano. Rose pitied him and longed to say a
word of comfort, but felt shy he was such a reserved fellow so left
him to conduct his quiet wooing in his own way, feeling that the
crisis would soon arrive.

She was sure of this as she sat beside him on the evening of the
concert, for while the rest of the family nodded and smiled, chatted
and laughed in great spirits, Archie was as mute as a fish and sat
with his arms tightly folded, as if to keep in any unruly emotions
which might attempt to escape. He never looked at the program,
but Rose knew when Phebe’s turn came by the quick breath he
drew and the intent look, so absent before, that came into his eyes.

But her own excitement prevented much notice of his, for Rose
was in a flutter of hope and fear, sympathy and delight, about
Phebe and her success. The house was crowded; the audience
sufficiently mixed to make the general opinion impartial; and the
stage full of little orphans with shining faces, a most effective
reminder of the object in view.

"Little dears, how nice they look!" "Poor things, so young to be
fatherless and motherless." "It will be a disgrace to the city if those
girls are not taken proper care of." "Subscriptions are always in
order, you know, and pretty Miss Campbell will give you her
sweetest smile if you hand her a handsome check." "I’ve heard this
Phebe Moore, and she really has a delicious voice such a pity she
won’t fit herself for opera!" "Only sings three times tonight; that’s
modest, I’m sure, when she’s the chief attraction, so we must give
her an encore after the Italian piece." "The orphans lead off, I see.
Stop your ears if you like, but don’t fail to applaud or the ladies
will never forgive you."

Chat of this sort went on briskly while fans waved, programs
rustled, and ushers flew about distractedly, till an important
gentleman appeared, made his bow, skipped upon the leader’s
stand, and with a wave of his baton caused a general uprising of
white pinafores as the orphans led off with that much-enduring
melody "America" in shrill small voices, but with creditable
attention to time and tune. Pity and patriotism produced a generous
round of applause, and the little girls sat down, beaming with
innocent satisfaction.

An instrumental piece followed, and then a youthful gentleman,
with his hair in picturesque confusion, and what his friends called
a "musical brow," bounded up the steps and, clutching a roll of
music with a pair of tightly gloved hands, proceed to inform the
audience, in a husky tenor voice, that "It was a lovely violet."

What else the song contained in the way of sense or sentiment it
was impossible to discover as the three pages of music appeared to
consist of variations upon that one line, ending with a prolonged
quaver which flushed the musical brow and left the youth quite
breathless when he made his bow.

"Now she’s coming! Oh, Uncle, my heart beats as if it were
myself!" whispered Rose, clutching Dr. Alec’s arm with a little
gasp as the piano was rolled forward, the leader’s stand pushed
back, and all eyes turned toward the anteroom door.

She forgot to glance at Archie, and it was as well perhaps, for his
heart was thumping almost audibly as he waited for his Phebe. Not
from the anteroom, but out among the children, where she had sat
unseen in the shadow of the organ, came stately Phebe in her
wine-colored dress, with no ornament but her fine hair and a white
flower at her throat. Very pale, but quite composed, apparently, for
she stepped slowly through the narrow lane of upturned faces,
holding back her skirts lest they should rudely brush against some
little head. Straight to the front she went, bowed hastily, and, with
a gesture to the accompanist, stood waiting to begin, her eyes fixed
on the great gilt clock at the opposite end of the hall.

They never wandered from that point while she sang, but as she
ended they dropped for an instant on an eager, girlish countenance
bending from a front seat; then, with her hasty little bow, she went
quickly back among the children, who clapped and nodded as she
passed, well pleased with the ballad she had sung.

Everyone courteously followed their example, but there was no
enthusiasm, and it was evident that Phebe had not produced a
particularly favorable impression.

"Never sang so badly in her life," muttered Charlie irefully.

"She was frightened, poor thing. Give her time, give her time,"
said Uncle Mac kindly.

"I know she was, and I glared like a gorgon, but she never looked
at me," added Steve, smoothing his gloves and his brows at the
same time.

"That first song was the hardest, and she got through much better
than I expected," put in Dr. Alec, bound not to show the
disappointment he felt.

"Don’t be troubled. Phebe has courage enough for anything, and
she’ll astonish you before the evening’s over," prophesied Mac with
unabated confidence, for he knew something the rest did not.

Rose said nothing, but under cover of her burnous gave Archie’s
hand a sympathetic squeeze, for his arms were unfolded now, as if
the strain was over, and one lay on his knee while with the other he
wiped his hot forehead with an air of relief.

Friends about them murmured complimentary fibs and affected
great delight and surprise at Miss Moore’s "charming style,"
"exquisite simplicity," and "undoubted talent." But strangers freely
criticized, and Rose was so indignant at some of their remarks, she
could not listen to anything on the stage, though a fine overture
was played, a man with a remarkable bass voice growled and
roared melodiously, and the orphans sang a lively air with a chorus
of "Tra, la, la," which was a great relief to little tongues unused to
long silence.

"I’ve often heard that women’s tongues were hung in the middle
and went at both ends now I’m sure of it," whispered Charlie,
trying to cheer her up by pointing out the comical effect of some
seventy-five open mouths in each of which the unruly member was
wagging briskly.

Rose laughed and let him fan her, leaning from his seat behind
with the devoted air he always assumed in public, but her wounded
feelings were not soothed and she continued to frown at the stout
man on the left who had dared to say with a shrug and a glance at
Phebe’s next piece, "That young woman can no more sing this
Italian thing than she can fly, and they ought not to let her attempt
it."

Phebe did, however, and suddenly changed the stout man’s opinion
by singing it grandly, for the consciousness of her first failure
pricked her pride and spurred her to do her best with the calm sort
of determination which conquers fear, fires ambition, and changes
defeat to success. She looked steadily at Rose now, or the flushed,
intent face beside her, and throwing all her soul into the task, let
her voice ring out like a silver clarion, filling the great hall and
setting the hearers’ blood a-tingle with the exulting strain.

That settled Phebe’s fate as a cantatrice. The applause was genuine
and spontaneous this time and broke out again and again with the
generous desire to atone for former coldness. But she would not
return, and the shadow of the great organ seemed to have
swallowed her up, for no eye could find her, no pleasant clamor
win her back.

"Now I can die content," said Rose, beaming with heartfelt
satisfaction while Archie looked steadfastly at his program, trying
to keep his face in order, and the rest of the family assumed a
triumphant air, as if they had never doubted from the first.

"Very well, indeed," said the stout man with an approving nod.
"Quite promising for a beginner. Shouldn’t wonder if in time they
made a second Cary or Kellogg of her."

"Now you’ll forgive him, won’t you?" murmured Charlie in his
cousin’s ear.

"Yes, and I’d like to pat him on the head. But take warning and
never judge by first appearances again," whispered Rose, at peace
now with all mankind.

Phebe’s last song was another ballad; she meant to devote her
talent to that much neglected but always attractive branch of her
art. It was a great surprise, therefore, to all but one person in the
hall when, instead of singing "Auld Robin Grey," she placed
herself at the piano, and, with a smiling glance over her shoulder
at the children, broke out in the old bird song which first won
Rose. But the chirping, twittering, and cooing were now the
burden to three verses of a charming little song, full of springtime
and the awakening life that makes it lovely. A rippling
accompaniment flowed through it all, and a burst of delighted
laughter from the children filled up the first pause with a fitting
answer to the voices that seemed calling to them from the vernal
woods.

It was very beautiful, and novelty lent its charm to the surprise, for
art and nature worked a pretty miracle and the clever imitation,
first heard from a kitchen hearth, now became the favorite in a
crowded concert room. Phebe was quite herself again; color in the
cheeks now; eyes that wandered smiling to and fro; and lips that
sang as gaily and far more sweetly than when she kept time to her
blithe music with a scrubbing brush.

This song was evidently intended for the children, and they
appreciated the kindly thought, for as Phebe went back among
them, they clapped ecstatically, flapped their pinafores, and some
caught her by the skirts with audible requests to "Do it again,
please; do it again."

But Phebe shook her head and vanished, for it was getting late for
such small people, several of whom "lay sweetly slumbering there"
till roused by the clamor round them. The elders, however, were
not to be denied and applauded persistently, especially Aunt
Plenty, who seized Uncle Mac’s cane and pounded with it as
vigorously as "Mrs. Nubbles" at the play.

"Never mind your gloves, Steve; keep it up till she comes," cried
Charlie, enjoying the fun like a boy while Jamie lost his head with
excitement and, standing up, called "Phebe! Phebe!" in spite of his
mother’s attempts to silence him.

Even the stout man clapped, and Rose could only laugh
delightedly as she turned to look at Archie, who seemed to have let
himself loose at last and was stamping with a dogged energy funny
to see.

So Phebe had to come, and stood there meekly bowing, with a
moved look on her face that showed how glad and grateful she
was, till a sudden hush came; then, as if inspired by the memory of
the cause that brought her there, she looked down into the sea of
friendly faces before her, with no trace of fear in her own, and
sang the song that never will grow old.

That went straight to the hearts of those who heard her, for there
was something inexpressibly touching in the sight of this
sweet-voiced woman singing of home for the little creatures who
were homeless, and Phebe made her tuneful plea irresistible by an
almost involuntary gesture of the hands which had hung loosely
clasped before her till, with the last echo of the beloved word, they
fell apart and were half outstretched, as if pleading to be filled.

It was the touch of nature that works wonders, for it made full
purses suddenly weigh heavily in pockets slow to open, brought
tears to eyes unused to weep, and caused that group of red-gowned
girls to grow very pathetic in the sight of fathers and mothers who
had left little daughters safe asleep at home. This was evident from
the stillness that remained unbroken for an instant after Phebe
ended; and before people could get rid of their handkerchiefs she
would have been gone if the sudden appearance of a mite in a
pinafore, climbing up the stairs from the anteroom with a great
bouquet grasped in both hands, had not arrested her.

Up came the little creature, intent on performing the mission for
which rich bribes of sugarplums had been promised, and trotting
bravely across the stage, she held up the lovely nosegay, saying in
her baby voice, "Dis for you, ma’am." Then, startled by the sudden
outburst of applause, she hid her face in Phebe’s gown and began
to sob with fright.

An awkward minute for poor Phebe, but she showed unexpected
presence of mind and left behind her a pretty picture of the oldest
and youngest orphan as she went quickly down the step, smiling
over the great bouquet with the baby on her arm.

Nobody minded the closing piece, for people began to go, sleepy
children to be carried off, and whispers grew into a buzz of
conversation. In the general confusion Rose looked to see if Steve
had remembered his promise to help Phebe slip away before the
rush began. No, there he was putting on Kitty’s cloak, quite
oblivious to any other duty. Turning to ask Archie to hurry out,
Rose found that he had already vanished, leaving his gloves behind
him.

"Have you lost anything?" asked Dr. Alec, catching a glimpse of
her face.

"No, sir, I’ve found something," she whispered back, giving him
the gloves to pocket along with her fan and glass, adding hastily as
the concert ended, "Please, Uncle, tell them all not to come with
us. Phebe has had enough excitement and ought to rest."

Rose’s word was law to the family in all things concerning Phebe.
So word was passed that there were to be no congratulations until
tomorrow, and Dr. Alec got his party off as soon as possible. But
all the way home, while he and Aunt Plenty were prophesying a
brilliant future for the singer, Rose sat rejoicing over the happy
present of the woman. She was sure that Archie had spoken and
imagined the whole scene with feminine delight how tenderly he
had asked the momentous question, how gratefully Phebe had
given the desired reply, and now how both were enjoying that
delicious hour which Rose had been given to understand never
came but once. Such a pity to shorten it, she thought, and begged
her uncle to go home the longest way the night was so mild, the
moonlight so clear, and herself so in need of fresh air after the
excitement of the evening.

"I thought you would want to rush into Phebe’s arms the instant she
got done," said Aunt Plenty, innocently wondering at the whims
girls took into their heads.

"So I should if I consulted my own wishes, but as Phebe asked to
be let alone I want to gratify her," answered Rose, making the best
excuse she could.

"A little piqued," thought the doctor, fancying he understood the
case.

As the old lady’s rheumatism forbade their driving about till
midnight, home was reached much too soon, Rose thought, and
tripped away to warn the lovers the instant she entered the house.
But study, parlor, and boudoir were empty; and, when Jane
appeared with cake and wine, she reported that "Miss Phebe went
right upstairs and wished to be excused, please, being very tired."

"That isn’t at all like Phebe I hope she isn’t ill," began Aunt Plenty,
sitting down to toast her feet.

"She may be a little hysterical, for she is a proud thing and
represses her emotions as long as she can. I’ll step up and see if she
doesn’t need a soothing draft of some sort." And Dr. Alec threw off
his coat as he spoke.

"No, no, she’s only tired. I’ll run up to her she won’t mind me and
I’ll report if anything is amiss."

Away went Rose, quite trembling with suspense, but Phebe’s door
was shut, no light shone underneath, and no sound came from the
room within. She tapped and receiving no answer, went on to her
own chamber, thinking to herself: "Love always makes people
queer, I’ve heard, so I suppose they settled it all in the carriage and
the dear thing ran away to think about her happiness alone. I’ll not
disturb her. Why, Phebe!" said Rose, surprised, for, entering her
room, there was the cantatrice, busy about the nightly services she
always rendered her little mistress.

"I’m waiting for you, dear. Where have you been so long?" asked
Phebe, poking the fire as if anxious to get some color into cheeks
that were unnaturally pale.

The instant she spoke Rose knew that something was wrong, and a
glance at her face confirmed the fear. It was like a dash of cold
water and quenched her happy fancies in a moment; but being a
delicate-minded girl, she respected Phebe’s mood and asked no
questions, made no comments, and left her friend to speak or be
silent as she chose.

"I was so excited I would take a turn in the moonlight to calm my
nerves. Oh, dearest Phebe, I am so glad, so proud, so full of
wonder at your courage and skill and sweet ways altogether that I
cannot half tell you how I love and honor you!" she cried, kissing
the white cheeks with such tender warmth they could not help
glowing faintly as Phebe held her little mistress close, sure that
nothing could disturb this innocent affection.

"It is all your work, dear, because but for you I might still be
scrubbing floors and hardly dare to dream of anything like this,"
she said in her old grateful way, but in her voice there was a thrill
of something deeper than gratitude, and at the last two words her
head went up with a gesture of soft pride as if it had been newly
crowned.

Rose heard and saw and guessed at the meaning of both tone and
gesture, feeling that her Phebe deserved both the singer’s laurel and
the bride’s myrtle wreath. But she only looked up, saying very
wistfully: "Then it has been a happy night for you as well as for
us."

"The happiest of my life, and the hardest," answered Phebe briefly
as she looked away from the questioning eyes.

"You should have let us come nearer and help you through. I’m
afraid you are very proud, my Jenny Lind."

"I have to be, for sometimes I feel as if I had nothing else to keep
me up." She stopped short there, fearing that her voice would
prove traitorous if she went on. In a moment she asked in a tone
that was almost hard: "You think I did well tonight?"

"They all think so, and were so delighted they wanted to come in a
body and tell you so, but I sent them home because I knew you’d
be tired out. Perhaps I ought not to have done it and you’d rather
have had a crowd about you than just me?"

"It was the kindest thing you ever did, and what could I like better
than ‘just you,’ my darling?"

Phebe seldom called her that, and when she did her heart was in
the little word, making it so tender that Rose thought it the
sweetest in the world, next to Uncle Alec’s "my little girl." Now it
was almost passionate, and Phebe’s face grew rather tragical as she
looked down at Rose. It was impossible to seem unconscious any
longer, and Rose said, caressing Phebe’s cheek, which burned with
a feverish color now: "Then don’t shut me out if you have a
trouble, but let me share it as I let you share all mine."

"I will! Little mistress, I’ve got to go away, sooner even than we
planned."

"Why, Phebe?"

"Because Archie loves me."

"That’s the very reason you should stay and make him happy."

"Not if it caused dissension in the family, and you know it would."

Rose opened her lips to deny this impetuously, but checked herself
and answered honestly: "Uncle and I would be heartily glad, and
I’m sure Aunt Jessie never could object if you loved Archie as he
does you."

"She has other hopes, I think, and kind as she is, it would be a
disappointment if he brought me home. She is right, they all are,
and I alone am to blame. I should have gone long ago I knew I
should, but it was so pleasant, I couldn’t bear to go away alone."

"I kept you, and I am to blame if anyone, but indeed, dear Phebe, I
cannot see why you should care even if Aunt Myra croaks and
Aunt Clara exclaims or Aunt Jane makes disagreeable remarks. Be
happy, and never mind them," cried Rose, so much excited by all
this that she felt the spirit of revolt rise up within her and was
ready to defy even that awe-inspiring institution "the family" for
her friend’s sake.

But Phebe shook her head with a sad smile and answered, still
with the hard tone in her voice as if forcing back all emotion that
she might see her duty clearly: "You could do that, but I never can.
Answer me this, Rose, and answer truly as you love me. If you had
been taken into a house, a friendless, penniless, forlorn girl, and
for years been heaped with benefits, trusted, taught, loved, and
made, oh, so happy! could you think it right to steal away
something that these good people valued very much? To have
them feel that you had been ungrateful, had deceived them, and
meant to thrust yourself into a high place not fit for you when they
had been generously helping you in other ways, far more than you
deserved. Could you then say as you do now, ‘Be happy, and never
mind them’?"

Phebe held Rose by the shoulders now and searched her face so
keenly that the other shrank a little, for the black eyes were full of
fire and there was something almost grand about this girl who
seemed suddenly to have become a woman. There was no need for
words to answer the question so swiftly asked, for Rose put herself
in Phebe’s place in the drawing of a breath, and her own pride
made her truthfully reply: "No I could not!"

"I knew you’d say that, and help me do my duty." And all the
coldness melted out of Phebe’s manner as she hugged her little
mistress close, feeling the comfort of sympathy even through the
blunt sincerity of Rose’s words.

"I will if I know how. Now, come and tell me all about it." And,
seating herself in the great chair which had often held them both,
Rose stretched out her hands as if glad and ready to give help of
any sort.

But Phebe would not take her accustomed place, for, as if coming
to confession, she knelt down upon the rug and, leaning on the arm
of the chair, told her love story in the simplest words.

"I never thought he cared for me until a little while ago. I fancied it
was you, and even when I knew he liked to hear me sing I
supposed it was because you helped, and so I did my best and was
glad you were to be a happy girl. But his eyes told the truth. Then I
saw what I had been doing and was frightened. He did not speak,
so I believed, what is quite true, that he felt I was not a fit wife for
him and would never ask me. It was right I was glad of it, yet I was
proud and, though I did not ask or hope for anything, I did want
him to see that I respected myself, remembered my duty, and could
do right as well as he. I kept away. I planned to go as soon as
possible and resolved that at this concert I would do so well, he
should not be ashamed of poor Phebe and her one gift."

"It was this that made you so strange, then, preferring to go alone
and refusing every little favor at our hands?" asked Rose, feeling
very sure now about the state of Phebe’s heart.

"Yes, I wanted to do everything myself and not owe one jot of my
success, if I had any, to even the dearest friend I’ve got. It was bad
and foolish of me, and I was punished by the first dreadful failure.
I was so frightened, Rose! My breath was all gone, my eyes so
dizzy I could hardly see, and that great crowd of faces seemed so
near, I dared not look. If it had not been for the clock I never
should have gotten through, and when I did, not knowing in the
least how I’d sung, one look at your distressed face told me I’d
failed."

"But I smiled, Phebe indeed I did as sweetly as I could, for I was
sure it was only fright," protested Rose eagerly.

"So you did, but the smile was full of pity, not of pride, as I wanted
it to be, and I rushed into a dark place behind the organ, feeling
ready to kill myself. How angry and miserable I was! I set my
teeth, clenched my hands, and vowed that I would do well next
time or never sing another note. I was quite desperate when my
turn came, and felt as if I could do almost anything, for I
remembered that he was there. I’m not sure how it was, but it
seemed as if I was all voice, for I let myself go, trying to forget
everything except that two people must not be disappointed,
though I died when the song was done."

"Oh, Phebe, it was splendid! I nearly cried, I was so proud and glad
to see you do yourself justice at last."

"And he?" whispered Phebe, with her face half hidden on the arm
of the chair.

"Said not a word, but I saw his lips tremble and his eyes shine and
I knew he was the happiest creature there, because I was sure he
did think you fit to be his wife and did mean to speak very soon."

Phebe made no answer for a moment, seeming to forget the small
success in the greater one which followed and to comfort her sore
heart with the knowledge that Rose was right.

"He sent the flowers, he came for me, and, on the way home,
showed me how wrong I had been to doubt him for an hour. Don’t
ask me to tell that part, but be sure I was the happiest creature in
the world then."

And Phebe hid her face again, all wet with tender tears that fell
soft and sudden as a summer shower.

Rose let them flow undisturbed while she silently caressed the bent
head, wondering, with a wistful look in her own wet eyes, what
this mysterious passion was which could so move, ennoble, and
beautify the beings whom it blessed.

An impertinent little clock upon the chimneypiece striking eleven
broke the silence and reminded Phebe that she could not indulge in
love dreams there. She started up, brushed off her tears, and said
resolutely: "That is enough for tonight. Go happily to bed, and
leave the troubles for tomorrow."

"But, Phebe, I must know what you said," cried Rose, like a child
defrauded of half its bedtime story.

"I said, ‘No.’"

"Ah! But it will change to ‘yes’ by and by, I’m sure of that so I’ll let
you go to dream of him. The Campbells are rather proud of being
descendants of Robert the Bruce, but they have common sense and
love you dearly, as you’ll see tomorrow."

"Perhaps." And with a good night kiss, poor Phebe went away, to
lie awake till dawn.

 

Leave a Reply