Chapter 8 – Breakers Ahead

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

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Anxious to smooth the way for Phebe, Rose was up betimes and
slipped into Aunt Plenty’s room before the old lady had gotten her
cap on.

"Aunty, I’ve something pleasant to tell you, and while you listen,
I’ll brush your hair, as you like to have me," she began, well aware
that the proposed process was a very soothing one.

"Yes, dear only don’t be too particular, because I’m late and must
hurry down or Jane won’t get things straight, and it does fidget me
to have the saltcellars uneven, the tea strainer forgotten, and your
uncle’s paper not aired," returned Miss Plenty, briskly unrolling the
two gray curls she wore at her temples.

Then Rose, brushing away at the scanty back hair, led skillfully up
to the crisis of her tale by describing Phebe’s panic and brave
efforts to conquer it; all about the flowers Archie sent her; and
how Steve forgot, and dear, thoughtful Archie took his place. So
far it went well and Aunt Plenty was full of interest, sympathy, and
approbation, but when Rose added, as if it was quite a matter of
course, "So, on the way home, he told her he loved her," a great
start twitched the gray locks out of her hands as the old lady turned
around, with the little curls standing erect, exclaiming, in
undisguised dismay: "Not seriously, Rose?"

"Yes, Aunty, very seriously. He never jokes about such things."

"Mercy on us! What shall we do about it?"

"Nothing, ma’am, but be as glad as we ought and congratulate him
as soon as she says ‘yes.’?

"Do you mean to say she didn’t accept at once?"

"She never will if we don’t welcome her as kindly as if she
belonged to one of our best families, and I don’t blame her."

"I’m glad the girl has so much sense. Of course we can’t do
anything of the sort, and I’m surprised at Archie’s forgetting what
he owes to the family in this rash manner. Give me my cap, child I
must speak to Alec at once." And Aunt Plenty twisted her hair into
a button at the back of her head with one energetic twirl.

"Do speak kindly, Aunty, and remember that it was not Phebe’s
fault. She never thought of this till very lately and began at once to
prepare for going away," said Rose pleadingly.

"She ought to have gone long ago. I told Myra we should have
trouble somewhere as soon as I saw what a good-looking creature
she was, and here it is as bad as can be. Dear, dear! Why can’t
young people have a little prudence?"

"I don’t see that anyone need object if Uncle Jem and Aunt Jessie
approve, and I do think it will be very, very unkind to scold poor
Phebe for being well-bred, pretty, and good, after doing all we
could to make her so."

"Child, you don’t understand these things yet, but you ought to feel
your duty toward your family and do all you can to keep the name
as honorable as it always has been. What do you suppose our
blessed ancestress Lady Marget would say to our oldest boy taking
a wife from the poorhouse?"

As she spoke, Miss Plenty looked up, almost apprehensively, at
one of the wooden-faced old portraits with which her room was
hung, as if asking pardon of the severe-nosed matron who stared
back at her from under the sort of blue dish cover which formed
her headgear.

"As Lady Marget died about two hundred years ago, I don’t care a
pin what she would say, especially as she looks like a very
narrow-minded, haughty woman. But I do care very much what
Miss Plenty Campbell says, for she is a very sensible, generous,
discreet, and dear old lady who wouldn’t hurt a fly, much less a
good and faithful girl who has been a sister to me. Would she?"
entreated Rose, knowing well that the elder aunt led all the rest
more or less.

But Miss Plenty had her cap on now and consequently felt herself
twice the woman she was without it, so she not only gave it a
somewhat belligerent air by setting it well up, but she shook her
head decidedly, smoothed down her stiff white apron, and stood up
as if ready for battle.

"I shall do my duty, Rose, and expect the same of others. Don’t say
any more now I must turn the matter over in my mind, for it has
come upon me suddenly and needs serious consideration."

With which unusually solemn address she took up her keys and
trotted away, leaving her niece to follow with an anxious
countenance, uncertain whether her championship had done good
or ill to the cause she had at heart.

She was much cheered by the sound of Phebe’s voice in the study,
for Rose was sure that if Uncle Alec was on their side all would be
well. But the clouds lowered again when they came in to breakfast,
for Phebe’s heavy eyes and pale cheeks did not look encouraging,
while Dr. Alec was as sober as a judge and sent an inquiring
glance toward Rose now and then as if curious to discover how she
bore the news.

An uncomfortable meal, though all tried to seem as usual and
talked over last night’s events with all the interest they could. But
the old peace was disturbed by a word, as a pebble thrown into a
quiet pool sends telltale circles rippling its surface far and wide.
Aunt Plenty, while "turning the subject over in her mind," also
seemed intent on upsetting everything she touched and made sad
havoc in her tea tray; Dr. Alec unsociably read his paper; Rose,
having salted instead of sugared her oatmeal, absently ate it,
feeling that the sweetness had gone out of everything; and Phebe,
after choking down a cup of tea and crumbling a roll, excused
herself and went away, sternly resolving not to be a bone of
contention to this beloved family.

As soon as the door was shut Rose pushed away her plate and,
going to Dr. Alec, she peeped over the paper with such an anxious
face that he put it down at once.

"Uncle, this is a serious matter, and we must take our stand at
once, for you are Phebe’s guardian and I am her sister," began Rose
with pretty solemnity. "You have often been disappointed in me,"
she continued, "but I know I never shall be in you because you are
too wise and good to let any worldly pride or prudence spoil your
sympathy with Archie and our Phebe. You won’t desert them, will

"Never!" answered Dr. Alec with gratifying energy.

"Thank you! Thank you!" cried Rose. "Now, if I have you and
Aunty on my side, I’m not afraid of anybody."

"Gently, gently, child. I don’t intend to desert the lovers, but I
certainly shall advise them to consider well what they are about.
I’ll own I am rather disappointed, because Archie is young to
decide his life in this way and Phebe’s career seemed settled in
another fashion. Old people don’t like to have their plans upset,
you know," he added more lightly, for Rose’s face fell as he went

"Old people shouldn’t plan too much for the young ones, then. We
are very grateful, I’m sure, but we cannot always be disposed of in
the most prudent and sensible way, so don’t set your hearts on little
arrangements of that sort, I beg," And Rose looked wondrous wise,
for she could not help suspecting even her best uncle of "plans" in
her behalf.

"You are quite right-we shouldn’t, yet it is very hard to help it,"
confessed Dr. Alec with a conscious air, and, returning hastily to
the lovers, he added kindly: "I was much pleased with the
straightforward way in which Phebe came to me this morning and
told me all about it, as if I really was her guardian. She did not
own it in words, but it was perfectly evident that she loves Archie
with all her heart, yet, knowing the objections which will be made,
very sensibly and bravely proposes to go away at once and end the
matter as if that were possible, poor child." And the tenderhearted
man gave a sigh of sympathy that did Rose good to hear and
mollified her rising indignation at the bare idea of ending Phebe’s
love affairs in such a summary way.

"You don’t think she ought to go, I hope?"

"I think she will go."

"We must not let her."

"We have no right to keep her."

"Oh, Uncle, surely we have! Our Phebe, whom we all love so

"You forget that she is a woman now, and we have no claim on
her. Because we’ve befriended her for years is the very reason we
should not make our benefits a burden, but leave her free, and if
she chooses to do this in spite of Archie, we must let her with a

Before Rose could answer, Aunt Plenty spoke out like one having
authority, for old-fashioned ways were dear to her soul and she
thought even love affairs should be conducted with a proper regard
to the powers that be.

"The family must talk the matter over and decide what is best for
the children, who of course will listen to reason and do nothing ill
advised. For my part, I am quite upset by the news, but shall not
commit myself till I’ve seen Jessie and the boy. Jane, clear away,
and bring me the hot water."

That ended the morning conference. And, leaving the old lady to
soothe her mind by polishing spoons and washing cups, Rose went
away to find Phebe while the doctor retired to laugh over the
downfall of brother Mac’s matchmaking schemes.

The Campbells did not gossip about their concerns in public, but
being a very united family, it had long been the custom to "talk
over" any interesting event which occurred to any member thereof,
and everyone gave his or her opinion, advice, or censure with the
utmost candor. Therefore the first engagement, if such it could be
called, created a great sensation, among the aunts especially, and
they were in as much of a flutter as a flock of maternal birds when
their young begin to hop out of the nest. So at all hours the
excellent ladies were seen excitedly nodding their caps together as
they discussed the affair in all its bearings, without ever arriving at
any unanimous decision.

The boys took it much more calmly. Mac was the only one who
came out strongly in Archie’s favor. Charlie thought the Chief
ought to do better and called Phebe "a siren who had bewitched
the sage youth." Steve was scandalized and delivered long orations
upon one’s duty to society, keeping the old name up, and the
danger of mésalliances, while all the time he secretly sympathized
with Archie, being much smitten with Kitty Van himself. Will and
Geordie, unfortunately home for the holidays, considered it "a jolly
lark," and little Jamie nearly drove his elder brother distracted by
curious inquiries as to "how folks felt when they were in love."

Uncle Mac’s dismay was so comical that it kept Dr. Alec in good
spirits, for he alone knew how deep was the deluded man’s chagrin
at the failure of the little plot which he fancied was prospering

"I’ll never set my heart on anything of the sort again, and the young
rascals may marry whom they like. I’m prepared for anything now –
so if Steve brings home the washerwoman’s daughter, and Mac
runs away with our pretty chambermaid, I shall say, ‘Bless you my
children,’ with mournful resignation, for, upon my soul, that is all
that’s left for a modern parent to do."

With which tragic burst, poor Uncle Mac washed his hands of the
whole affair and buried himself in the countinghouse while the
storm raged.

About this time Archie might have echoed Rose’s childish wish,
that she had not quite so many aunts, for the tongues of those
interested relatives made sad havoc with his little romance and
caused him to long fervently for a desert island where he could
woo and win his love in delicious peace. That nothing of the sort
was possible soon became evident, since every word uttered only
confirmed Phebe’s resolution to go away and proved to Rose how
mistaken she had been in believing that she could bring everyone
to her way of thinking.

Prejudices are unmanageable things, and the good aunts, like most
women, possessed a plentiful supply, so Rose found it like beating
her head against a wall to try and convince them that Archie was
wise in loving poor Phebe. His mother, who had hoped to have
Rose for her daughter not because of her fortune, but the tender
affection she felt for her put away her disappointment without a
word and welcomed Phebe as kindly as she could for her boy’s
sake. But the girl felt the truth with the quickness of a nature made
sensitive by love and clung to her resolve all the more tenaciously,
though grateful for the motherly words that would have been so
sweet if genuine happiness had prompted them.

Aunt Jane called it romantic nonsense and advised strong
measures "kind, but firm, Jessie." Aunt Clara was sadly distressed
about "what people would say" if one of "our boys" married a
nobody’s daughter. And Aunt Myra not only seconded her views by
painting portraits of Phebe’s unknown relations in the darkest
colors but uttered direful prophecies regarding the disreputable
beings who would start up in swarms the moment the girl made a
good match.

These suggestions so wrought upon Aunt Plenty that she turned a
deaf ear to the benevolent emotions native to her breast and, taking
refuge behind "our blessed ancestress, Lady Marget," refused to
sanction any engagement which could bring discredit upon the
stainless name which was her pride.

So it all ended where it began, for Archie steadily refused to listen
to anyone but Phebe, and she as steadily reiterated her bitter "No!"
fortifying herself half unconsciously with the hope that, by and by,
when she had won a name, fate might be kinder.

While the rest talked, she had been working, for every hour
showed her that her instinct had been a true one and pride would
not let her stay, though love pleaded eloquently. So, after a
Christmas anything but merry, Phebe packed her trunks, rich in
gifts from those who generously gave her all but the one thing she
desired, and, with a pocketful of letters to people who could
further her plans, she went away to seek her fortune, with a brave
face and a very heavy heart.

"Write often, and let me know all you do, my Phebe, and
remember I shall never be contented till you come back again,"
whispered Rose, clinging to her till the last.

"She will come back, for in a year I’m going to bring her home,
please God," said Archie, pale with the pain of parting but as
resolute as she.

"I’ll earn my welcome then perhaps it will be easier for them to
give and me to receive it," answered Phebe, with a backward
glance at the group of caps in the hall as she went down the steps
on Dr. Alec’s arm.

"You earned it long ago, and it is always waiting for you while I
am here. Remember that, and God bless you, my good girl," he
said, with a paternal kiss that warmed her heart.

"I never shall forget it!" And Phebe never did.


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