Chapter 20 – What Mac Did

Louisa May Alcott2016年11月05日'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

Rose, meantime, was trying to find out what the sentiment was
with which she regarded her cousin Mac. She could not seem to
reconcile the character she had known so long with the new one
lately shown her, and the idea of loving the droll, bookish,
absentminded Mac of former times appeared quite impossible and
absurd, but the new Mac, wide awake, full of talent, ardent and
high-handed, was such a surprise to her, she felt as if her heart was
being won by a stranger, and it became her to study him well
before yielding to a charm which she could not deny.

Affection came naturally, and had always been strong for the boy;
regard for the studious youth easily deepened to respect for the
integrity of the young man, and now something warmer was
growing up within her; but at first she could not decide whether it
was admiration for the rapid unfolding of talent of some sort or
love answering to love.

As if to settle that point, Mac sent her on New Year’s Day a little
book plainly bound and modestly entitled Songs and Sonnets.
After reading this with ever-growing surprise and delight, Rose
never had another doubt about the writer’s being a poet, for though
she was no critic, she had read the best authors and knew what was
good. Unpretentious as it was, this had the true ring, and its very
simplicity showed conscious power for, unlike so many first
attempts, the book was not full of "My Lady," neither did it indulge
in Swinburnian convulsions about

"The lilies and languors of peace,

The roses and raptures of love.";

or contain any of the highly colored medieval word pictures so
much in vogue. "My book should smell of pines, and resound with
the hum of insects," might have been its motto, so sweet and
wholesome was it with a springlike sort of freshness which plainly
betrayed that the author had learned some of Nature’s deepest
secrets and possessed the skill to tell them in tuneful words. The
songs went ringing through one’s memory long after they were
read, and the sonnets were full of the subtle beauty, insight, and
half-unconscious wisdom, which seem to prove that "genius is
divine when young."

Many faults it had, but was so full of promise that it was evident
Mac had not "kept good company, read good books, loved good
things, and cultivated soul and body as faithfully as he could" in
vain. It all told now, for truth and virtue had blossomed into
character and had a language of their own more eloquent than the
poetry to which they were what the fragrance is to the flower.
Wiser critics than Rose felt and admired this; less partial ones
could not deny their praise to a first effort, which seemed as
spontaneous and aspiring as a lark’s song; and, when one or two of
these Jupiters had given a nod of approval, Mac found himself, not
exactly famous, but much talked about. One set abused, the other
set praised, and the little book was sadly mauled among them, for
it was too original to be ignored, and too robust to be killed by
hard usage, so it came out of the fray none the worse but rather
brighter, if anything, for the friction which proved the gold

This took time, however, and Rose could only sit at home reading
all the notices she could get, as well as the literary gossip Phebe
sent her, for Mac seldom wrote, and never a word about himself,
so Phebe skillfully extracted from him in their occasional meetings
all the personal news her feminine wit could collect and faithfully
reported it.

It was a little singular that without a word of inquiry on either side,
the letters of the girls were principally filled with tidings of their
respective lovers. Phebe wrote about Mac; Rose answered with
minute particulars about Archie; and both added hasty items
concerning their own affairs, as if these were of little consequence.

Phebe got the most satisfaction out of the correspondence, for soon
after the book appeared Rose began to want Mac home again and
to be rather jealous of the new duties and delights that kept him.
She was immensely proud of her poet, and had little jubilees over
the beautiful fulfillment of her prophecies, for even Aunt Plenty
owned now with contrition that "the boy was not a fool." Every
word of praise was read aloud on the housetops, so to speak, by
happy Rose; every adverse criticism was hotly disputed; and the
whole family was in a great state of pleasant excitement over this
unexpectedly successful first flight of the Ugly Duckling, now
generally considered by his relatives as the most promising young
swan of the flock.

Aunt Jane was particularly funny in her new position of mother to
a callow poet and conducted herself like a proud but bewildered
hen when one of her brood takes to the water. She pored over the
poems, trying to appreciate them but quite failing to do so, for life
was all prose to her, and she vainly tried to discover where Mac
got his talent from. It was pretty to see the new respect with which
she treated his possessions now; the old books were dusted with a
sort of reverence; scraps of paper were laid carefully by lest some
immortal verse be lost; and a certain shabby velvet jacket fondly
smoothed when no one was by to smile at the maternal pride with
filled her heart and caused her once severe countenance to shine
with unwonted benignity.

Uncle Mac talked about "my son" with ill-concealed satisfaction,
and evidently began to feel as if his boy was going to confer
distinction upon the whole race of Campbell, which had already
possessed one poet. Steve exulted with irrepressible delight and
went about quoting Songs and Sonnets till he bored his friends
dreadfully by his fraternal raptures.

Archie took it more quietly, and even suggested that it was too
soon to crow yet, for the dear old fellow’s first burst might be his
last, since it was impossible to predict what he would do next.
Having proved that he could write poetry, he might drop it for
some new world to conquer, quoting his favorite Thoreau, who,
having made a perfect pencil, gave up the business and took to
writing books with the sort of indelible ink which grows clearer
with time.

The aunts of course had their "views," and enjoyed much prophetic
gossip as they wagged their caps over many social cups of tea. The
younger boys thought it "very jolly," and hoped the Don would "go
ahead and come to glory as soon as possible," which was all that
could by expected of "Young America," with whom poetry is not
usually a passion.

But Dr. Alec was a sight for "sair een," so full of concentrated
contentment was he. No one but Rose, perhaps, knew how proud
and pleased the good man felt at this first small success of his
godson, for he had always had high hopes of the boy, because in
spite of his oddities he had such an upright nature, and promising
little, did much, with the quiet persistence which foretells a manly
character. All the romance of the doctor’s heart was stirred by this
poetic bud of promise and the love that made it bloom so early, for
Mac had confided his hopes to Uncle, finding great consolation
and support in his sympathy and advice. Like a wise man, Dr. Alec
left the young people to learn the great lesson in their own way,
counseling Mac to work and Rose to wait till both were quite
certain that their love was built on a surer foundation than
admiration or youthful romance.

Meantime he went about with a well-worn little book in his
pocket, humming bits from a new set of songs and repeating with
great fervor certain sonnets which seemed to him quite equal, if
not superior, to any that Shakespeare ever wrote. As Rose was
doing the same thing, they often met for a private "read and
warble," as they called it, and while discussing the safe subject of
Mac’s poetry, both arrived at a pretty clear idea of what Mac’s
reward was to be when he came home.

He seemed in no hurry to do this, however, and continued to
astonish his family by going into society and coming out brilliantly
in that line. It takes very little to make a lion, as everyone knows
who has seen what poor specimens are patted and petted every
year, in spite of their bad manners, foolish vagaries, and very
feeble roaring. Mac did not want to be lionized and took it rather
scornfully, which only added to the charm that people suddenly
discovered about the nineteenth cousin of Thomas Campbell, the
poet. He desired to be distinguished in the best sense of the word,
as well as to look so, and thought a little of the polish society gives
would not be amiss, remembering Rose’s efforts in that line. For
her sake he came out of his shell and went about seeing and testing
all sorts of people with those observing eyes of his, which saw so
much in spite of their nearsightedness. What use he meant to make
of these new experiences no one knew, for he wrote short letters
and, when questioned, answered with imperturbable patience:
"Wait till I get through; then I’ll come home and talk about it."

So everyone waited for the poet, till something happened which
produced a greater sensation in the family than if all the boys had
simultaneously taken to rhyming.

Dr. Alec got very impatient and suddenly announced that he was
going to L to see after those young people, for Phebe was rapidly
singing herself into public favor with the sweet old ballads which
she rendered so beautifully that hearers were touched as well as
ears delighted, and her prospects brightened every month.

"Will you come with me, Rose, and surprise this ambitious pair
who are getting famous so fast they’ll forget their homekeeping
friends if we don’t remind them of us now and then?" he said when
he proposed the trip one wild March morning.

"No, thank you, sir I’ll stay with Aunty; that is all I’m fit for and I
should only be in the way among those fine people," answered
Rose, snipping away at the plants blooming in the study window.

There was a slight bitterness in her voice and a cloud on her face,
which her uncle heard and saw at once, half guessed the meaning
of, and could not rest till he had found out.

"Do you think Phebe and Mac would not care to see you?" he
asked, putting down a letter in which Mac gave a glowing account
of a concert at which Phebe surpassed herself.

"No, but they must be very busy," began Rose, wishing she had
held her tongue.

"Then what is the matter?" persisted Dr. Alec.

Rose did not speak for a moment, and decapitated two fine
geraniums with a reckless slash of her scissors, as if pent-up
vexation of some kind must find a vent. It did in words also, for, as
if quite against her will, she exclaimed impetuously: "The truth is,
I’m jealous of them both!"

"Bless my soul! What now?" ejaculated the doctor in great

Rose put down her water pot and shears, came and stood before
him with her hands nervously twisted together, and said, just as
she used to do when she was a little girl confessing some misdeed:
"Uncle, I must tell you, for I’ve been getting very envious,
discontented, and bad lately. No, don’t be good to me yet, for you
don’t know how little I deserve it. Scold me well, and make me see
how wicked I am."

"I will as soon as I know what I am to scold about. Unburden
yourself, child, and let me see all your iniquity, for if you begin by
being jealous of Mac and Phebe, I’m prepared for anything," said
Dr. Alec, leaning back as if nothing could surprise him now.

"But I am not jealous in that way, sir. I mean I want to be or do
something splendid as well as they. I can’t write poetry or sing like
a bird, but I should think I might have my share of glory in some
way. I thought perhaps I could paint, and I’ve tried, but I can only
copy I’ve no power to invent lovely things, and I’m so discouraged,
for that is my one accomplishment. Do you think I have any gift
that could be cultivated and do me credit like theirs?" she asked so
wistfully that her uncle felt for a moment as if he never could
forgive the fairies who endow babies in their cradles for being so
niggardly to his girl. But one look into the sweet, open face before
him reminded him that the good elves had been very generous and
he answered cheerfully: "Yes, I do, for you have one of the best
and noblest gifts a woman can possess. Music and poetry are fine
things, and I don’t wonder you want them, or that you envy the
pleasant fame they bring. I’ve felt just so, and been ready to ask
why it didn’t please heaven to be more generous to some people, so
you needn’t be ashamed to tell me all about it."

"I know I ought to be contented, but I’m not. My life is very
comfortable, but so quiet and uneventful, I get tired of it and want
to launch out as the others have, and do something, or at least try.
I’m glad you think it isn’t very bad of me, and I’d like to know what
my gift is," said Rose, looking less despondent already.

"The art of living for others so patiently and sweetly that we enjoy
it as we do the sunshine, and are not half grateful enough for the
great blessing."

"It is very kind of you to say so, but I think I’d like a little fun and
fame nevertheless." And Rose did not look as thankful as she

"Very natural, dear, but the fun and the fame do not last, while the
memory of a real helper is kept green long after poetry is forgotten
and music silent. Can’t you believe that, and be happy?"

"But I do so little, nobody sees or cares, and I don’t feel as if I was
really of any use," sighed Rose, thinking of the long, dull winter,
full of efforts that seemed fruitless.

"Sit here, and let us see if you really do very little and if no one
cares." And, drawing her to his knee, Dr. Alec went on, telling off
each item on one of the fingers of the soft hand he held.

"First, an infirm old aunt is kept very happy by the patient, cheerful
care of this good-for-nothing niece. Secondly, a crotchety uncle,
for whom she reads, runs, writes, and sews so willingly that he
cannot get on without her. Thirdly, various relations who are
helped in various ways. Fourthly, one dear friend never forgotten,
and a certain cousin cheered by praise which is more to him than
the loudest blast Fame could blow. Fifthly, several young girls find
her an example of many good works and ways. Sixthly, a
motherless baby is cared for as tenderly as if she were a little
sister. Seventhly, half a dozen poor ladies made comfortable; and,
lastly, some struggling boys and girls with artistic longings are put
into a pleasant room furnished with casts, studies, easels, and all
manner of helpful things, not to mention free lessons given by this
same idle girl, who now sits upon my knee owning to herself that
her gift is worth having after all."

"Indeed, I am! Uncle, I’d no idea I had done so many things to
please you, or that anyone guessed how hard I try to fill my place
usefully. I’ve learned to do without gratitude now I’ll learn not to
care for praise, but to be contented to do my best, and have only
God know."

"He knows, and He rewards in His own good time. I think a quiet
life like this often makes itself felt in better ways than one that the
world sees and applauds, and some of the noblest are never known
till they end, leaving a void in many hearts. Yours may be one of
these if you choose to make it so, and no one will be prouder of
this success than I, unless it be Mac."

The clouds were quite gone now, and Rose was looking straight
into her uncle’s face with a much happier expression when that last
word made it color brightly and the eyes glance away for a second.
Then they came back full of a tender sort of resolution as she said:
"That will be the reward I work for," and rose, as if ready to be up
and doing with renewed courage.

But her uncle held her long enough to ask quite soberly, though his
eyes laughed: "Shall I tell him that?"

"No, sir, please don’t! When he is tired of other people’s praise, he
will come home, and then I’ll see what I can do for him," answered
Rose, slipping away to her work with the shy, happy look that
sometimes came to give to her face the charm it needed.

"He is such a thorough fellow, he never is in a hurry to go from
one thing to another. An excellent habit, but a trifle trying to
impatient people like me," said the doctor and, picking up Dulce,
who sat upon the rug with her dolly, he composed his feelings by
tossing her till she crowed with delight.

Rose heartily echoed that last remark, but said nothing aloud, only
helped her uncle off with dutiful alacrity and, when he was gone,
began to count the days till his return, wishing she had decided to
go too.

He wrote often, giving excellent accounts of the "great creatures,"
as Steve called Phebe and Mac, and seemed to find so much to do
in various ways that the second week of absence was nearly over
before he set a day for his return, promising to astonish them with
the account of his adventures.

Rose felt as if something splendid was going to happen and set her
affairs in order so that the approaching crisis might find her fully
prepared. She had "found out" now, was quite sure, and put away
all doubts and fears to be ready to welcome home the cousin
whom she was sure Uncle would bring as her reward. She was
thinking of this one day as she got out her paper to write a long
letter to poor Aunt Clara, who pined for news far away there in

Something in the task reminded her of that other lover whose
wooing ended so tragically, and opening a little drawer of
keepsakes, she took out the blue bracelet, feeling that she owed
Charlie a tender thought in the midst of her new happiness, for of
late she had forgotten him.

She had worn the trinket hidden under her black sleeve for a long
time after his death, with the regretful constancy one sometimes
shows in doing some little kindness all too late. But her arm had
grown too round to hide the ornament, the forget-me-nots had
fallen one by one, the clasp had broken, and that autumn she laid
the bracelet away, acknowledging that she had outgrown the
souvenir as well as the sentiment that gave it.

She looked at it in silence for a moment, then put it softly back
and, shutting the drawer, took up the little gray book which was
her pride, thinking as she contrasted the two men and their
influence on her life the one sad and disturbing, the other sweet
and inspiring "Charlie’s was passion Mac’s is love."

"Rose! Rose!" called a shrill voice, rudely breaking the pensive
reverie, and with a start, she shut the desk, exclaiming as she ran
to the door: "They have come! They have come!"


Leave a Review