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Chapter 18 – Which Was It?

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

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Rose did read and digest, and found her days much richer for the
good company she kept, for an introduction to so much that was
wise, beautiful, and true could not but make that month a
memorable one. It is not strange that while the young man most
admired "Heroism" and "Self-Reliance," the girl preferred "Love"
and "Friendship," reading them over and over like prose poems, as
they are, to the fitting accompaniment of sunshine, solitude, and
sympathy, for letters went to and fro with praiseworthy regularity.

Rose much enjoyed this correspondence, and found herself
regretting that it was at an end when she went home in September,
for Mac wrote better than he talked, though he could do that
remarkably well when he chose. But she had no chance to express
either pleasure or regret, for the first time she saw him after her
return the great change in his appearance made her forget
everything else. Some whim had seized him to be shaven and
shorn, and when he presented himself to welcome Rose, she hardly
knew him. The shaggy hair was nicely trimmed and brushed, the
cherished brown beard entirely gone, showing a well-cut mouth
and handsome chin and giving a new expression to the whole face.

"Are you trying to look like Keats?" she asked, after a critical
glance, which left her undecided whether the change was an
improvement or not.

"I am trying not to look like Uncle," answered Mac coolly.

"And why, if you please?" demanded Rose in great surprise.

"Because I prefer to look like myself, and not resemble any other
man, no matter how good or great he may be."

"You haven’t succeeded then, for you look now very much like the
young Augustus," returned Rose, rather pleased on the whole to
see what a finely shaped head appeared after the rough thatch was
off.

"Trust a woman to find a comparison for everything under the
sun!" laughed Mac, not at all flattered by the one just made. "What
do you think of me, on the whole?" he asked a minute later, as he
found Rose still scrutinizing him with a meditative air.

"Haven’t made up my mind. It is such an entire change, I don’t
know you, and feel as if I ought to be introduced. You certainly
look much more tidy, and I fancy I shall like it when I’m used to
seeing a somewhat distinguished-looking man about the house
instead of my old friend Orson," answered Rose, with her head on
one side to get a profile view.

"Don’t tell Uncle why I did it, please he thinks it was for the sake
of coolness and likes it, so take no notice. They are all used to me
now, and don’t mind," said Mac, roving about the room as if rather
ashamed of his whim after all.

"No, I won’t, but you mustn’t mind if I’m not as sociable as usual
for a while. I never can be with strangers, and you really do seem
like one. That will be a punishment for your want of taste and love
of originality," returned Rose, resolved to punish him for the slight
put upon her beloved uncle.

"As you like. I won’t trouble you much anyway, for I’m going to be
very busy. May go to L this winter, if Uncle thinks best, and then
my ‘originality’ can’t annoy you."

"I hope you won’t go. Why, Mac, I’m just getting to know and
enjoy you, and thought we’d have a nice time this winter reading
something together. Must you go?" And Rose seemed to forget his
strangeness, as she held him still by one button while she talked.

"That would be nice. But I feel as if I must go my plans are all
made, and I’ve set my heart on it," answered Mac, looking so eager
that Rose released him, saying sadly: "I suppose it is natural for
you all to get restless and push off, but it is hard for me to let you
go one after the other and stay here alone. Charlie is gone, Archie
and Steve are wrapped up in their sweethearts, the boys away, and
only Jamie left to ‘play with Rose.’?

"But I’ll come back, and you’ll be glad I went if I bring you my – "
began Mac with sudden animation, then stopped abruptly to bite
his lips, as if he had nearly said too much.

"Your what?" asked Rose curiously, for he neither looked nor
acted like himself.

"I forgot how long it takes to get a diploma," he said, walking
away again.

"There will be one comfort if you go you’ll see Phebe and can tell
me all about her, for she is so modest, she doesn’t half do it. I shall
want to know how she gets on, if she is engaged to sing ballads in
the concerts they talk of for next winter. You will write, won’t
you?"

"Oh, yes! No doubt of that," and Mac laughed low to himself as he
stooped to look at the little Psyche on the mantelpiece. "What a
pretty thing it is!" he added soberly as he took it up.

"Be careful. Uncle gave it to me last New Year, and I’m very fond
of it. She is just lifting her lamp to see what Cupid is like, for she
hasn’t seen him yet," said Rose, busy putting her worktable in
order.

"You ought to have a Cupid for her to look at. She has been
waiting patiently a whole year, with nothing but a bronze lizard in
sight," said Mac with the half-shy, half-daring look which was so
new and puzzling.

"Cupid fled away as soon as she woke him, you know, and she had
a bad time of it. She must wait longer till she can find and keep
him."

"Do you know she looks like you? Hair tied up in a knot, and a
spiritual sort of face. Don’t you see it?" asked Mac, turning the
graceful little figure toward her.

"Not a bit of it. I wonder whom I shall resemble next! I’ve been
compared to a Fra Angelico angel, Saint Agnes, and now ‘Syke,’ as
Annabel once called her."

"You’d see what I mean, if you’d ever watched your own face when
you were listening to music, talking earnestly, or much moved,
then your soul gets into your eyes and you are like Psyche."

"Tell me the next time you see me in a ‘soulful’ state, and I’ll look
in the glass, for I’d like to see if it is becoming," said Rose merrily
as she sorted her gay worsteds.

"Your feet in the full-grown grasses,

Moved soft as a soft wind blows;

You passed me as April passes,

With a face made out of a rose,"

murmured Mac under his breath, thinking of the white figure going
up a green slope one summer day; then, as if chiding himself for
sentimentality, he set Psyche down with great care and began to
talk about a course of solid reading for the winter.

After that, Rose saw very little of him for several weeks, as he
seemed to be making up for lost time and was more odd and
absent than ever when he did appear.

As she became accustomed to the change in his external
appearance, she discovered that he was altering fast in other ways
and watched the "distinguished-looking gentleman" with much
interest, saying to herself, when she saw a new sort of dignity
about him alternating with an unusual restlessness of manner, and
now and then a touch of sentiment, "Genius is simmering, just as I
predicted."

As the family were in mourning, there were no festivities on Rose’s
twenty-first birthday, though the boys had planned all sorts of
rejoicings. Everyone felt particularly tender toward their girl on
that day, remembering how "poor Charlie" had loved her, and they
tried to show it in the gifts and good wishes they sent her. She
found her sanctum all aglow with autumn leaves, and on her table
so many rare and pretty things, she quite forgot she was an heiress
and only felt how rich she was in loving friends.

One gift greatly pleased her, though she could not help smiling at
the source from whence it came, for Mac sent her a Cupid not the
chubby child with a face of naughty merriment, but a slender,
winged youth leaning on his unstrung bow, with a broken arrow at
his feet. A poem, "To Psyche," came with it, and Rose was much
surprised at the beauty of the lines, for, instead of being witty,
complimentary, or gay, there was something nobler than mere
sentiment in them, and the sweet old fable lived again in language
which fitly painted the maiden Soul looking for a Love worthy to
possess it.

Rose read them over and over as she sat among the gold and
scarlet leaves which glorified her little room, and each time found
new depth and beauty in them, looking from the words that made
music in her ear to the lovely shapes that spoke with their mute
grace to her eye. The whole thing suited her exactly, it was so
delicate and perfect in its way, for she was tired of costly gifts and
valued very much this proof of her cousin’s taste and talent, seeing
nothing in it but an affectionate desire to please her.

All the rest dropped in at intervals through the day to say a loving
word, and last of all came Mac. Rose happened to be alone with
Dulce, enjoying a splendid sunset from her western window, for
October gave her child a beautiful good night.

Rose turned around as he entered and, putting down the little girl,
went to him with the evening red shining on her happy face as she
said gratefully: "Dear Mac, it was so lovely! I don’t know how to
thank you for it in any way but this." And, drawing down his tall
head, she gave him the birthday kiss she had given all the others.

But this time it produced a singular effect, for Mac turned scarlet,
then grew pale, and when Rose added playfully, thinking to relieve
the shyness of so young a poet, "Never again say you don’t write
poetry, or call your verses rubbish I knew you were a genius, and
now I’m sure of it," he broke out, as if against his will: "No. It isn’t
genius, it is love!" Then, as she shrank a little, startled at his
energy, he added, with an effort at self-control which made his
voice sound strange: "I didn’t mean to speak, but I can’t suffer you
to deceive yourself so. I must tell the truth, and not let you kiss me
like a cousin when I love you with all my heart and soul!"

"Oh, Mac, don’t joke!" cried Rose, bewildered by this sudden
glimpse into a heart she thought she knew so well.

"I’m in solemn earnest," he answered steadily, in such a quiet tone
that, but for the pale excitement of his face, she might have
doubted his words. "Be angry, if you will. I expect it, for I know it
is too soon to speak. I ought to wait for years, perhaps, but you
seemed so happy I dared to hope you had forgotten."

"Forgotten what?" asked Rose sharply.

"Charlie."

"Ah! You all will insist on believing that I loved him better than I
did!" she cried, with both pain and impatience in her voice, for the
family delusion tried her very much at times.

"How could we help it, when he was everything women most
admire?" said Mac, not bitterly, but as if he sometimes wondered
at their want of insight.

"I do not admire weakness of any sort I could never love without
either confidence or respect. Do me the justice to believe that, for
I’m tired of being pitied."

She spoke almost passionately, being more excited by Mac’s
repressed emotion than she had ever been by Charlie’s most
touching demonstration, though she did not know why.

"But he loved you so!" began Mac, feeling as if a barrier had
suddenly gone down but not daring to venture in as yet.

"That was the hard part of it! That was why I tried to love him,
why I hoped he would stand fast for my sake, if not for his own,
and why I found it so sad sometimes not to be able to help
despising him for his want of courage. I don’t know how others
feel, but, to me, love isn’t all. I must look up, not down, trust and
honor with my whole heart, and find strength and integrity to lean
on. I have had it so far, and I know I could not live without it."

"Your ideal is a high one. Do you hope to find it, Rose?" Mac
asked, feeling, with the humility of a genuine love, that he could
not give her all she desired.

"Yes," she answered, with a face full of the beautiful confidence in
virtue, the instinctive desire for the best which so many of us lose
too soon, to find again after life’s great lessons are well learned. "I
do hope to find it, because I try not to be unreasonable and expect
perfection. Smile if you will, but I won’t give up my hero yet," and
she tried to speak lightly, hoping to lead him away from a more
dangerous topic.

"You’ll have to look a long while, I’m afraid," and all the glow was
gone out of Mac’s face, for he understood her wish and knew his
answer had been given.

"I have Uncle to help me, and I think my ideal grew out of my
knowledge of him. How can I fail to believe in goodness, when he
shows me what it can be and do?"

"It’s no use for me to say any more, for I have very little to offer. I
did not mean to say a word till I earned a right to hope for
something in return. I cannot take it back, but I can wish you
success, and I do, because you deserve the very best." And Mac
moved as if he was going away without more words, accepting the
inevitable as manfully as he could.

"Thank you that makes me feel very ungrateful and unkind. I wish
I could answer you as you want me to for, indeed, dear Mac, I’m
very fond of you in my own way," and Rose looked up with such
tender pity and frank affection in her face, it was no wonder the
poor fellow caught at a ray of hope and, brightening suddenly, said
in his own odd way: "Couldn’t you take me on trial while you are
waiting for a true hero? It may be years before you find him;
meantime, you could be practicing on me in ways that would be
useful when you get him."

"Oh, Mac! What shall I do with you?" exclaimed Rose, so
curiously affected by this very characteristic wooing that she did
not know whether to laugh or cry, for he was looking at her with
his heart in his eyes, though his proposition was the queerest ever
made at such a time.

"Just go on being fond of me in your own way, and let me love you
as much as I like in mine. I’ll try to be satisfied with that." And he
took both her hands so beseechingly that she felt more ungrateful
than ever.

"No, it would not be fair, for you would love the most and, if the
hero did appear, what would become of you?"

"I should resemble Uncle Alec in one thing at least fidelity, for my
first love would be my last."

That went straight to Rose’s heart, and for a minute she stood
silent, looking down at the two strong hands that held hers so
firmly yet so gently, and the thought went through her mind, "Must
he, too, be solitary all his life? I have no dear lover as my mother
had, why cannot I make him happy and forget myself?"

It did not seem very hard, and she owned that, even while she told
herself that compassion was no equivalent for love. She wanted to
give all she could, and keep as much of Mac’s affection as she
honestly might, because it seemed to grow more sweet and
precious when she thought of putting it away.

"You will be like Uncle in happier ways than that, I hope, for you,
too, must have a high ideal and find her and be happy," she said,
resolving to be true to the voice of conscience, not be swayed by
the impulse of the moment.

"I have found her, but I don’t see any prospect of happiness, do
you?" he asked wistfully.

"Dear Mac, I cannot give you the love you want, but I do trust and
respect you from the bottom of my heart, if that is any comfort,"
began Rose, looking up with eyes full of contrition for the pain her
reply must give.

She got no further, however, for those last words wrought a
marvelous change in Mac. Dropping her hands, he stood erect, as
if inspired with sudden energy and hope, while over his face there
came a brave, bright look, which for the moment made him a
nobler and comelier man than ever handsome Prince had been.
"It is a comfort!" he said, in a tone of gratitude that touched her
very much. "You said your love must be founded on respect, and
that you have given me why can I not earn the rest? I’m nothing
now, but everything is possible when one loves with all his heart
and soul and strength. Rose, I will be your hero if a mortal man
can, even though I have to work and wait for years. I’ll make you
love me, and be glad to do it. Don’t be frightened. I’ve not lost my
wits I’ve just found them. I don’t ask anything I’ll never speak of
my hope, but it is no use to stop me. I must try it, and I will
succeed!"

With the last words, uttered in a ringing voice while his face
glowed, his eyes shone, and he looked as if carried out of himself
by the passion that possessed him, Mac abruptly left the room, like
one eager to change words to deeds and begin his task at once.

Rose was so amazed by all this that she sat down trembling a little,
not with fear or anger, but a feeling half pleasure, half pain, and a
sense of some new power subtle, strong, and sweet that had come
into her life. It seemed as if another Mac had taken the place of the
one she had known so long an ardent, ambitious man, ready for
any work now that the magical moment had come when everything
seems possible to love. If hope could work such a marvelous
change for a moment, could not happiness do it for a lifetime? It
would be an exciting experiment to try, she thought, remembering
the sudden illumination which made that familiar face both
beautiful and strange.

She could not help wondering how long this unsuspected
sentiment had been growing in his heart and felt perplexed by its
peculiar demonstration, for she had never had a lover like this
before. It touched and flattered her, nevertheless and she could not
but feel honored by a love so genuine and generous, for it seemed
to make a man of Mac all at once, and a manly man, too, who was
not daunted by disappointment but could "hope against hope" and
resolve to make her love him if it took years to do it.

There was the charm of novelty about this sort of wooing, and she
tried to guess how he would set about it, felt curious to see how he
would behave when next they met, and was half angry with herself
for not being able to decide how she ought to act. The more she
thought, the more bewildered she grew, for having made up her
mind that Mac was a genius, it disturbed all her plans to find him a
lover, and such an ardent one. As it was impossible to predict what
would come next, she gave up trying to prepare for it and, tired
with vain speculations, carried Dulce off to bed, wishing she could
tuck away her love troubles as quietly and comfortably as she did
her sleepy little charge.

Simple and sincere in all things, Mac gave Rose a new surprise by
keeping his promise to the letter asked nothing of her, said nothing
of his hope, and went on as if nothing had happened, quite in the
old friendly way. No, not quite, for now and then, when she least
expected it, she saw again the indescribable expression on his face,
a look that seemed to shed a sudden sunshine over her, making her
eyes fall involuntarily, her color rise, and her heart beat quicker for
a moment. Not a word did he say, but she felt that a new
atmosphere surrounded her when he was by, and although he used
none of the little devices most lovers employ to keep the flame
alight, it was impossible to forget that underneath his quietude
there was a hidden world of fire and force ready to appear at a
touch, a word from her.

This was rather dangerous knowledge for Rose, and she soon
began to feel that there were more subtle temptations than she had
expected, for it was impossible to be unconscious of her power, or
always to resist the trials of it which daily came unsought. She had
never felt this desire before, for Charlie was the only one who had
touched her heart, and he was constantly asking as well as giving,
and wearied her by demanding too much or oppressed her by
offering more than she could accept.

Mac did neither; he only loved her, silently, patiently, hopefully,
and this generous sort of fidelity was very eloquent to a nature like
hers. She could not refuse or chide, since nothing was asked or
urged; there was no need of coldness, for he never presumed; no
call for pity, since he never complained. All that could be done
was to try and be as just and true as he was, and to wait as
trustfully for the end, whatever it was to be.

For a time she liked the new interest it put into her life, yet did
nothing to encourage it and thought that if she gave this love no
food it would soon starve to death. But it seemed to thrive on air,
and presently she began to feel as if a very strong will was slowly
but steadily influencing her in many ways. If Mac had never told
her that he meant to "make her love him," she might have yielded
unconsciously, but now she mistook the impulse to obey this
undercurrent for compassion and resisted stoutly, not
comprehending yet the reason for the unrest which took possession
of her about this time.

She had as many moods as an April day, and would have much
surprised Dr. Alec by her vagaries had he known them all. He saw
enough, however, to guess what was the matter, but took no notice,
for he knew this fever must run its course, and much medicine
only does harm. The others were busy about their own affairs, and
Aunt Plenty was too much absorbed in her rheumatism to think of
love, for the cold weather set in early, and the poor lady kept her
room for days at a time with Rose as nurse.

Mac had spoken of going away in November, and Rose began to
hope he would, for she decided that this silent sort of adoration
was bad for her, as it prevented her from steadily pursuing the
employments she had marked out for that year. What was the use
of trying to read useful books when her thoughts continually
wandered to those charming essays on "Love" and "Friendship"?
To copy antique casts, when all the masculine heads looked like
Cupid and the feminine ones like the Psyche on her mantelpiece?
To practice the best music if it ended in singing over and over the
pretty spring song without Phebe’s bird chorus? Dulce’s company
was pleasantest now, for Dulce seldom talked, so much meditation
was possible. Even Aunt Plenty’s red flannel, camphor, and Pond’s
Extract were preferable to general society, and long solitary rides
on Rosa seemed the only thing to put her in tune after one of her
attempts to find out what she ought to do or leave undone.

She made up her mind at last, and arming herself with an unmade
pen, like Fanny Squeers, she boldly went into the study to confer
with Dr. Alec at an hour when Mac was usually absent.
"I want a pen for marking can you make me one, Uncle?" she
asked, popping her head in to be sure he was alone.

"Yes, my dear," answered a voice so like the doctor’s that she
entered without delay.

But before she had taken three steps she stopped, looking rather
annoyed, for the head that rose from behind the tall desk was not
rough and gray, but brown and smooth, and Mac, not Uncle Alec,
sat there writing. Late experience had taught her that she had
nothing to fear from a tete-a-tete and, having with difficulty taken
a resolution, she did not like to fail of carrying it out.

"Don’t get up, I won’t trouble you if you are busy, there is no
hurry," she said, not quite sure whether it were wiser to stay or run
away.

Mac settled the point by taking the pen out of her hand and
beginning to cut it, as quietly as Nicholas did on that "thrilling"
occasion. Perhaps he was thinking of that, for he smiled as he
asked, "Hard or soft?"

Rose evidently had forgotten that the family of Squeers ever
existed, for she answered: "Hard, please," in a voice to match. "I’m
glad to see you doing that," she added, taking courage from his
composure and going as straight to her point as could be expected
of a woman.

"And I am very glad to do it."

"I don’t mean making pens, but the romance I advised," and she
touched the closely written page before him, looking as if she
would like to read it.

"That is my abstract on a lecture on the circulation of the blood,"
he answered, kindly turning it so that she could see. "I don’t write
romances I’m living one," and he glanced up with the happy,
hopeful expression which always made her feel as if he was
heaping coals of fire on her head.

"I wish you wouldn’t look at me in that way it fidgets me," she said
a little petulantly, for she had been out riding, and knew that she
did not present a "spiritual" appearance after the frosty air had
reddened nose as well as cheeks.

"I’ll try to remember. It does itself before I know it. Perhaps this
may mend matters." And, taking out the blue glasses he sometimes
wore in the wind, he gravely put them on.

Rose could not help laughing, but his obedience only aggravated
her, for she knew he could observe her all the better behind his
ugly screen.

"No, it won’t they are not becoming, and I don’t want to look blue
when I do not feel so," she said, finding it impossible to guess
what he would do next or to help enjoying his peculiarities.

"But you don’t to me, for in spite of the goggles everything is
rose-colored now." And he pocketed the glasses without a murmur
at the charming inconsistency of his idol.

"Really, Mac, I’m tired of this nonsense, it worries me and wastes
your time."

"Never worked harder. But does it really trouble you to know I
love you?" he asked anxiously.

"Don’t you see how cross it makes me?" And she walked away,
feeling that things were not going as she intended to have them at
all.

"I don’t mind the thorns if I get the rose at last, and I still hope I
may, some ten years hence," said this persistent suitor, quite
undaunted by the prospect of a "long wait."

"I think it is rather hard to be loved whether I like it or not,"
objected Rose, at a loss how to make any headway against such
indomitable hopefulness.

"But you can’t help it, nor can I so I must go on doing it with all
my heart till you marry, and then well, then I’m afraid I may hate
somebody instead," and Mac spoilt the pen by an involuntary slash
of his knife.

"Please don’t, Mac!"

"Do which, love or hate?"

"Don’t do either go and care for someone else; there are plenty of
nice girls who will be glad to make you happy," said Rose, intent
upon ending her disquiet in some way.

"That is too easy. I enjoy working for my blessings, and the harder
I have to work, the more I value them when they come."

"Then if I suddenly grew very kind, would you stop caring about
me?" asked Rose, wondering if that treatment would free her from
a passion which both touched and tormented her.

"Try and see." But there was a traitorous glimmer in Mac’s eyes
which plainly showed what a failure it would be.

"No, I’ll get something to do, so absorbing I shall forget all about
you."

"Don’t think about me if it troubles you," he said tenderly.

"I can’t help it." Rose tried to catch back the words, but it was too
late, and she added hastily, "That is, I cannot help wishing you
would forget me. It is a great disappointment to find I was
mistaken when I hoped such fine things of you."

"Yes, you were very sure that it was love when it was poetry, and
now you want poetry when I’ve nothing on hand but love. Will
both together please you?"

"Try and see."

"I’ll do my best. Anything else?" he asked, forgetting the small task
she had given him in his eagerness to attempt the greater.

"Tell me one thing. I’ve often wanted to know, and now you speak
of it I’ll venture to ask. Did you care about me when you read
Keats to me last summer?"

"No."

"When did you begin?" asked Rose, smiling in spite of herself at
his unflattering honesty.

"How can I tell? Perhaps it did begin up there, though, for that talk
set us writing, and the letters showed me what a beautiful soul you
had. I loved that first it was so quick to recognize good things, to
use them when they came, and give them out again as
unconsciously as a flower does its breath. I longed for you to come
home, and wanted you to find me altered for the better in some
way as I had found you. And when you came it was very easy to
see why I needed you to love you entirely, and to tell you so. That’s
all, Rose."

A short story, but it was enough the voice that told it with such
simple truth made the few words so eloquent, Rose felt strongly
tempted to add the sequel Mac desired. But her eyes had fallen as
he spoke, for she knew his were fixed upon her, dark and dilated,
with the same repressed emotion that put such fervor into his quiet
tones, and just as she was about to look up, they fell on a shabby
little footstool. Trifles affect women curiously, and often most
irresistibly when some agitation sways them. The sight of the old
hassock vividly recalled Charlie, for he had kicked it on the night
she never liked to remember. Like a spark it fired a long train of
recollections, and the thought went through her mind: "I fancied I
loved him, and let him see it, but I deceived myself, and he
reproached me for a single look that said too much. This feeling is
very different, but too new and sudden to be trusted. I’ll neither
look nor speak till I am quite sure, for Mac’s love is far deeper than
poor Charlie’s, and I must be very true."

Not in words did the resolve shape itself, but in a quick impulse,
which she obeyed certain that it was right, since it was hard to
yield to it. Only an instant’s silence followed Mac’s answer as she
stood looking down with fingers intertwined and color varying in
her cheeks. A foolish attitude, but Mac thought it a sweet picture
of maiden hesitation and began to hope that a month’s wooing was
about to end in winning for a lifetime. He deceived himself,
however, and cold water fell upon his flame, subduing but by no
means quenching it, when Rose looked up with an air of
determination which could not escape eyes that were growing
wonderfully farsighted lately.

"I came in here to beg Uncle to advise you to go away soon. You
are very patient and forbearing, and I feel it more than I can tell.
But it is not good for you to depend on anyone so much for your
happiness, I think, and I know it is bad for me to feel that I have so
much power over a fellow creature. Go away, Mac, and see if this
isn’t all a mistake. Don’t let a fancy for me change or delay your
work, because it may end as suddenly as it began, and then we
should both reproach ourselves and each other. Please do! I respect
and care for you so much, I can’t be happy to take all and give
nothing. I try to, but I’m not sure I want to think it is too soon to
know yet."

Rose began bravely, but ended in a fluttered sort of way as she
moved toward the door, for Mac’s face though it fell at first,
brightened as she went on, and at the last word, uttered almost
involuntarily, he actually laughed low to himself, as if this order
into exile pleased him much.

"Don’t say that you give nothing, when you’ve just shown me that
I’m getting on. I’ll go; I’ll go at once, and see if absence won’t help
you ‘to think, to know, and to be sure’ as it did me. I wish I could
do something more for you. As I can’t, good-bye."

"Are you going now?" And Rose paused in her retreat to look back
with a startled face as he offered her a badly made pen and opened
the door for her just as Dr. Alec always did; for, in spite of
himself, Mac did resemble the best of uncles.

"Not yet, but you seem to be."

Rose turned as red as a poppy, snatched the pen, and flew upstairs,
to call herself hard names as she industriously spoiled all Aunt
Plenty’s new pocket handkerchiefs by marking them "A.M.C."

Three days later Mac said "good-bye" in earnest, and no one was
surprised that he left somewhat abruptly, such being his way, and a
course of lectures by a famous physician the ostensible reason for
a trip to L – – . Uncle Alec deserted most shamefully at the last
moment by sending word that he would be at the station to see the
traveler off, Aunt Plenty was still in her room, so when Mac came
down from his farewell to her, Rose met him in the hall, as if
anxious not to delay him. She was a little afraid of another
tete-a-tete, as she fared so badly at the last, and had assumed a
calm and cousinly air which she flattered herself would plainly
show on what terms she wished to part.

Mac apparently understood, and not only took the hint, but
surpassed her in cheerful composure, for, merely saying
"Good-bye, Cousin; write when you feel like it," he shook hands
and walked out of the house as tranquilly as if only a day instead
of three months were to pass before they met again. Rose felt as if
a sudden shower bath had chilled her and was about to retire,
saying to herself with disdainful decision: "There’s no love about it
after all, only one of the eccentricities of genius," when a rush of
cold air made her turn to find herself in what appeared to be the
embrace of an impetuous overcoat, which wrapped her close for an
instant, then vanished as suddenly as it had come, leaving her to
hide in the sanctum and confide to Psyche with a tender sort of
triumph in her breathless voice: "No, no, it isn’t genius that must
be love!"

 

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