And Uncle Mac sat himself comfortably down to settle Rose's fate while the doctor paced the room, plucking at his beard and knitting his brows as if he found it hard to see his way.
"Yes, Archie is a good fellow," he said, answering the question he had ignored before. "An upright, steady, intelligent lad who will make an excellent husband if he ever finds out that he has a heart. I suppose I'm an old fool, but I do like a little more romance in a young man than he seems to have more warmth and enthusiasm, you know. Bless the boy! He might be forty instead of three or four and twenty, he's so sober, calm, and cool. I'm younger than he is, and could go a-wooing like a Romeo if I had any heart to offer a woman."
The doctor looked rather shamefaced as he spoke, and his brother burst out laughing. "See here, Alec, it's a pity so much romance and excellence as yours should be lost, so why don't you set these young fellows an example and go a-wooing yourself? Jessie has been wondering how you have managed to keep from falling in love with Phebe all this time, and Clara is quite sure that you waited only till she was safe under Aunt Plenty's wing to offer yourself in the good old-fashioned style."
"I!" And the doctor stood aghast at the mere idea, then he gave a resigned sort of sigh and added like a martyr, "If those dear women would let me alone, I'd thank them forever. Put the idea out of their minds for heaven's sake, Mac, or I shall be having that poor girl flung at my head and her comfort destroyed. She is a fine creature and I'm proud of her, but she deserves a better lot than to be tied to an old fellow like me whose only merit is his fidelity."
"As you please, I was only joking," and Uncle Mac dropped the subject with secret relief. The excellent man thought a good deal of family and had been rather worried at the hints of the ladies. After a moment's silence he returned to a former topic, which was rather a pet plan of his. "I don't think you do Archie justice, Alec. You don't know him as well as I do, but you'll find that he has heart enough under his cool, quiet manner. I've grown very fond of him, think highly of him, and don't see how you could do better for Rose than to give her to him."
"If she will go," said the doctor, smiling at his brother's businesslike way of disposing of the young people.
"She'll do anything to please you," began Uncle Mac in perfect good faith, for twenty-five years in the society of a very prosaic wife had taken nearly all the romance out of him.
"It is of no use for us to plan, and I shall never interfere except to advise, and if I were to choose one of the boys, I should incline to my godson," answered the doctor gravely.
"What, my Ugly Duckling!" exclaimed Uncle Mac in great surprise.
"The Ugly Duckling turned out a swan, you remember. I've always been fond of the boy because he's so genuine and original. Crude as a green apple now, but sound at the core, and only needs time to ripen. I'm sure he'll turn out a capital specimen of the Campbell variety."
"Much obliged, Alec, but it will never do at all. He's a good fellow, and may do something to be proud of by and by, but he's not the mate for our Rose. She needs someone who can manage her property when we are gone, and Archie is the man for that, depend upon it."
"Confound the property!" cried Dr. Alec impetuously. "I want her to be happy, and I don't care how soon she gets rid of her money if it is going to be a millstone round her neck. I declare to you, I dreaded the thought of this time so much that I've kept her away as long as I could and trembled whenever a young fellow joined us while we were abroad. Had one or two narrow escapes, and now I'm in for it, as you can see by tonight's 'success' as Clara calls it. Thank heaven I haven't many daughters to look after!"
"Come, come, don't be anxious take Archie and settle it right up safely and happily. That's my advice, and you'll find it sound," replied the elder conspirator, like one having experience.
"I'll think of it, but mind you, Mac, not a word of this to the sisters. We are a couple of old fools to be matchmaking so soon but I see what is before me and it's a comfort to free my mind to someone."
"So it is. Depend on me not a breath even to Jane," answered Uncle Mac, with a hearty shake and a sympathetic slap on the shoulder.
"Why, what dark and awful secrets are going on here? Is it a Freemason's Lodge and those the mystic signs?" asked a gay voice at the door; and there stood Rose, full of smiling wonder at the sight of her two uncles hand in hand, whispering and nodding to one another mysteriously.
They stared like schoolboys caught plotting mischief and looked so guilty that she took pity on them, innocently imagining the brothers were indulging in a little sentiment on this joyful occasion, so she added quickly, as she beckoned, without crossing the threshold, "Women not allowed, of course, but both of you dear Odd Fellows are wanted, for Aunt Plenty begs we will have an old-fashioned contra dance, and I'm to lead off with Uncle Mac. I chose you, sir, because you do it in style, pigeon wings and all. So, please come and Phebe is waiting for you, Uncle Alec. She is rather shy you know, but will enjoy it with you to take care of her."
"Thank you, thank you!" cried both gentlemen, following with great alacrity.
Unconscious, Rose enjoyed that Virginia reel immensely, for the pigeon wings were superb, and her partner conducted her through the convolutions of the dance without a fault, going down the middle in his most gallant style. Landing safely at the bottom, she stood aside to let him get his breath, for stout Uncle Mac was bound to do or die on that occasion and would have danced his pumps through without a murmur if she had desired it.
Leaning against the wall with his hair in his eyes, and a decidedly bored expression of countenance, was Mac, Jr., who had been surveying the gymnastics of his parent with respectful astonishment.
"Come and take a turn, my lad. Rose is fresh as a daisy, but we old fellows soon get enough of it, so you shall have my place," said his father, wiping his face, which glowed like a cheerful peony.
"No, thank you, sir I can't stand that sort of thing. I'll race you round the piazza with pleasure, Cousin, but his oven is too much for me," was Mac's uncivil reply as he backed toward the open window, as if glad of an excuse to escape.
"Fragile creature, don't stay on my account, I beg. I can't leave my guests for a moonlight run, even if I dared to take it on a frosty night in a thin dress," said Rose, fanning herself and not a bit ruffled by Mac's refusal, for she knew his ways and they amused her.
"Not half so bad as all this dust, gas, heat, and noise. What do you suppose lungs are made of?" demanded Mac, ready for a discussion then and there.
"I used to know, but I've forgotten now. Been so busy with other things that I've neglected the hobbies I used to ride five or six years ago," she said, laughing.
"Ah, those were times worth having! Are you going in for much of this sort of thing, Rose?" he asked with a disapproving glance at the dancers.
"About three months of it, I think."
"Then good-bye till New Year." And Mac vanished behind the curtains.
"Rose, my dear, you really must take that fellow in hand before he gets to be quite a bear. Since you have been gone he has lived in his books and got on so finely that we have let him alone, though his mother groans over his manners. Polish him up a bit, I beg of you, for it is high time he mended his odd ways and did justice to the fine gifts he hides behind them," said Uncle Mac, scandalized at the bluntness of his son.
"I know my chestnut burr too well to mind his prickles. But others do not, so I will take him in hand and make him a credit to his family," answered Rose readily.
"Take Archie for your model he's one of a thousand, and the girl who gets him gets a prize, I do assure you," added Uncle Mac, who found matchmaking to his taste and thought that closing remark a deep one.
"Oh, me, how tired I am!" cried Rose, dropping into a chair as the last carriage rolled away somewhere between one and two.
"What is your opinion now, Miss Campbell?" asked the doctor, addressing her for the first time by the name which had been uttered so often that night.
"My opinion is that Miss Campbell is likely to have a gay life if she goes on as she has begun, and that she finds it very delightful so far," answered the girl, with lips still smiling from their first taste of what the world calls pleasure.
Chapter 4 THORNS AMONG THE ROSES
For a time everything went smoothly, and Rose was a happy girl. The world seemed a beautiful and friendly place, and fulfillment of her brightest dreams appeared to be a possibility. Of course this could not last, and disappointment was inevitable, because young eyes look for a Paradise and weep when they find a workaday world which seems full of care and trouble till one learns to gladden and glorify it with high thoughts and holy living.
Those who loved her waited anxiously for the disillusion which must come in spite of all their cherishing, for till now Rose had been so busy with her studies, travels, and home duties that she knew very little of the triumphs, trials, and temptations of fashionable life. Birth and fortune placed her where she could not well escape some of them, and Dr. Alec, knowing that experience is the best teacher, wisely left her to learn this lesson as she must many another, devoutly hoping that it would not be a hard one.
October and November passed rapidly, and Christmas was at hand, with all its merry mysteries, home gatherings, and good wishes.
Rose sat in her own little sanctum, opening from the parlor, busily preparing gifts for the dear five hundred friends who seemed to grow fonder and fonder as the holidays drew near. The drawers of her commode stood open, giving glimpses of dainty trifles, which she was tying up with bright ribbons.
A young girl's face at such moments is apt to be a happy one, but Rose's was very grave as she worked, and now and then she threw a parcel into the drawer with a careless toss, as if no love made the gift precious. So unusual was this expression that it struck Dr. Alec as he came in and brought an anxious look to his eyes, for any cloud on that other countenance dropped its shadow over his.
"Can you spare a minute from your pretty work to take a stitch in my old glove?" he asked, coming up to the table strewn with ribbon, lace, and colored papers.
"Yes, Uncle, as many as you please."
The face brightened with sudden sunshine; both hands were put out to receive the shabby driving glove, and the voice was full of that affectionate alacrity which makes the smallest service sweet.
"My Lady Bountiful is hard at work, I see. Can I help in any way?" he asked, glancing at the display before him.
"No, thank you, unless you can make me as full of interest and pleasure in these things as I used to be. Don't you think preparing presents a great bore, except for those you love and who love you?" she added in a tone which had a slight tremor in it as she uttered the last words.
"I don't give to people whom I care nothing for. Can't do it, especially at Christmas, when goodwill should go into everything one does. If all these 'pretties' are for dear friends, you must have a great many."
"I thought they were friends, but I find many of them are not, and that's the trouble, sir."
"Tell me all about it, dear, and let the old glove go," he said, sitting down beside her with his most sympathetic air.
But she held the glove fast, saying eagerly, "No, no, I love to do this! I don't feel as if I could look at you while I tell what a bad, suspicious girl I am," she added, keeping her eyes on her work.
"Very well, I'm ready for confessions of any iniquity and glad to get them, for sometimes lately I've seen a cloud in my girl's eyes and caught a worried tone in her voice. Is there a bitter drop in the cup that promised to be so sweet, Rose?"
"Yes, Uncle. I've tried to think there was not, but it is there, and I don't like it. I'm ashamed to tell, and yet I want to, because you will show me how to make it sweet or assure me that I shall be the better for it, as you used to do when I took medicine."
She paused a minute, sewing swiftly; then out came the trouble all in one burst of girlish grief and chagrin.
"Uncle, half the people who are so kind to me don't care a bit for me, but for what I can give them, and that makes me unhappy, because I was so glad and proud to be liked. I do wish I hadn't a penny in the world, then I should know who my true friends were."
"Poor little lass! She has found out that all that glitters is not gold, and the disillusion has begun," said the doctor to himself, adding aloud, smiling yet pitiful, "And so all the pleasure is gone out of the pretty gifts and Christmas is a failure?"
"Oh, no not for those whom nothing can make me doubt! It is sweeter than ever to make these things, because my heart is in every stitch and I know that, poor as they are, they will be dear to you, Aunty Plen, Aunt Jessie, Phebe, and the boys."
She opened a drawer where lay a pile of pretty gifts, wrought with loving care by her own hands, touching them tenderly as she spoke and patting the sailor's knot of blue ribbon on one fat parcel with a smile that told how unshakable her faith in someone was. "But these," she said, pulling open another drawer and tossing over its gay contents with an air half sad, half scornful, "these I bought and give because they are expected. These people care only for a rich gift, not one bit for the giver, whom they will secretly abuse if she is not as generous as they expect. How can I enjoy that sort of thing, Uncle?"
"You cannot, but perhaps you do some of them injustice, my dear. Don't let the envy or selfishness of a few poison your faith in all. Are you sure that none of these girls care for you?" he asked, reading a name here and there on the parcels scattered about.
"I'm afraid I am. You see I heard several talking together the other evening at Annabel's, only a few words, but it hurt me very much, for nearly everyone was speculating on what I would give them and hoping it would be something fine. 'She's so rich she ought to be generous,' said one. 'I've been perfectly devoted to her for weeks and hope she won't forget it,' said another. 'If she doesn't give me some of her gloves, I shall think she's very mean, for she has heaps, and I tried on a pair in fun so she could see they fitted and take a hint,' added a third. I did take the hint, you see." And Rose opened a handsome box in which lay several pairs of her best gloves, with buttons enough to satisfy the heart of the most covetous.
"Plenty of silver paper and perfume, but not much love went into that bundle, I fancy?" And Dr. Alec could not help smiling at the disdainful little gesture with which Rose pushed away the box.
"Not a particle, nor in most of these. I have given them what they wanted and taken back the confidence and respect they didn't care for. It is wrong, I know, but I can't bear to think all the seeming goodwill and friendliness I've been enjoying was insincere and for a purpose. That's not the way I treat people."
"I am sure of it. Take things for what they are worth, dear, and try to find the wheat among the tares, for there is plenty if one knows how to look. Is that all the trouble?"
"No, sir, that is the lightest part of it. I shall soon get over my disappointment in those girls and take them for what they are worth as you advise, but being deceived in them makes me suspicious of others, and that is hateful. If I cannot trust people I'd rather keep by myself and be happy. I do detest maneuvering and underhanded plots and plans!"
Rose spoke petulantly and twitched her silk till it broke, while regret seemed to give place to anger as she spoke.
"There is evidently another thorn pricking. Let us have it out, and then I'll kiss the place to make it well as I used to do when I took the splinters from the fingers you are pricking so unmercifully," said the doctor, anxious to relieve his pet patient as soon as possible.
Rose laughed, but the color deepened in her cheeks as she answered with a pretty mixture of maidenly shyness and natural candor.
"Aunt Clara worries me by warning me against half the young men I meet and insisting that they want only my money. Now that is dreadful, and I won't listen, but I can't help thinking of it sometimes, for they are very kind to me and I'm not vain enough to think it is my beauty. I suppose I am foolish, but I do like to feel that I am something besides an heiress."
The little quiver was in Rose's voice again as she ended, and Dr. Alec gave a quick sigh as he looked at the downcast face so full of the perplexity ingenuous spirits feel when doubt first mars their faith and dims the innocent beliefs still left from childhood. He had been expecting this and knew that what the girl just began to perceive and try modestly to tell had long ago been plain to worldlier eyes. The heiress was the attraction to most of the young men whom she met. Good fellows enough, but educated, as nearly all are nowadays, to believe that girls with beauty or money are brought to market to sell or buy as the case may be.
Rose could purchase anything she liked, as she combined both advantages, and was soon surrounded by many admirers, each striving to secure the prize. Not being trained to believe that the only end and aim of a woman's life was a good match, she was a little disturbed, when the first pleasing excitement was over, to discover that her fortune was her chief attraction.
It was impossible for her to help seeing, hearing, guessing this from a significant glance, a stray word, a slight hint here and there, and the quick instinct of a woman felt even before it understood the self-interest which chilled for her so many opening friendships. In her eyes love was a very sacred thing, hardly to be thought of till it came, reverently received and cherished faithfully to the end. Therefore, it is not strange that she shrank from hearing it flippantly discussed and marriage treated as a bargain to be haggled over, with little thought of its high duties, great responsibilities, and tender joys. Many things perplexed her, and sometimes a doubt of all that till now she had believed and trusted made her feel as if at sea without a compass, for the new world was so unlike the one she had been living in that it bewildered while it charmed the novice.
Dr. Alec understood the mood in which he found her and did his best to warn without saddening by too much worldly wisdom.
"You are something besides an heiress to those who know and love you, so take heart, my girl, and hold fast to the faith that is in you. There is a touchstone for all these things, and whatever does not ring true, doubt and avoid. Test and try men and women as they come along, and I am sure conscience, instinct, and experience will keep you from any dire mistake," he said, with a protecting arm about her and a trustful look that was very comforting.
After a moment's pause she answered, while a sudden smile dimpled around her mouth and the big glove went up to hide her telltale cheeks: "Uncle, if I must have lovers, I do wish they'd be more interesting. How can I like or respect men who go on as some of them do and then imagine women can feel honored by the offer of their hands? Hearts are out of fashion, so they don't say much about them."
"Ah, ha! That is the trouble, is it? And we begin to have delicate distresses, do we?" said Dr. Alec, glad to see her brightening and full of interest in the new topic, for he was a romantic old fellow, as he had confessed to his brother.
Rose put down the glove and looked up with a droll mixture of amusement and disgust in her face. "Uncle, it is perfectly disgraceful! I've wanted to tell you, but I was ashamed, because I never could boast of such things as some girls do, and they were so absurd I couldn't feel as if they were worth repeating even to you. Perhaps I ought, though, for you may think it proper to command me to make a good match, and of course I should have to obey," she added, trying to look meek.
"Tell, by all means. Don't I always keep your secrets and give you the best advice, like a model guardian? You must have a confidant, and where find a better one than here?" he asked, tapping his waistcoat with an inviting gesture.
"Nowhere so I'll tell all but the names. I'd best be prudent, for I'm afraid you may get a little fierce you do sometimes when people vex me," began Rose, rather liking the prospect of a confidential chat with Uncle, for he had kept himself a good deal in the background lately.
"You know our ideas are old-fashioned, so I was not prepared to have men propose at all times and places with no warning but a few smiles and soft speeches. I expected things of that sort would be very interesting and proper, not to say thrilling, on my part but they are not, and I find myself laughing instead of crying, feeling angry instead of glad, and forgetting all about it very soon. Why, Uncle, one absurd boy proposed when we'd met only half a dozen times. But he was dreadfully in debt, so that accounted for it perhaps." And Rose dusted her fingers, as if she had soiled them.
"I know him, and I thought he'd do it," observed the doctor with a shrug.
"You see and know everything, so there's no need of going on, is there?"
"Do, do! Who else? I won't even guess."
"Well, another went down upon his knees in Mrs. Van's greenhouse and poured forth his passion manfully, with a great cactus pricking his poor legs all the while. Kitty found him there, and it was impossible to keep sober, so he has hated me ever since."
The doctor's "Ha! Ha!" was good to hear, and Rose joined him, for it was impossible to regard these episodes seriously, since no true sentiment redeemed them from absurdity.
"Another sent me reams of poetry and went on so Byronically that I began to wish I had red hair and my name was Betsy Ann. I burnt all the verses, so don't expect to see them, and he, poor fellow, is consoling himself with Emma. But the worst of all was the one who would make love in public and insisted on proposing in the middle of a dance. I seldom dance round dances except with our boys, but that night I did because the girls laughed at me for being so 'prudish,' as they called it. I don't mind them now, for I found I was right, and felt that I deserved my fate."
"Is that all?" asked her uncle, looking "fierce," as she predicted, at the idea of his beloved girl obliged to listen to a declaration, twirling on the arm of a lover.
"One more but him I shall not tell about, for I know he was in earnest and really suffered, though I was as kind as I knew how to be. I'm young in these things yet, so I grieved for him, and treat his love with the tenderest respect."
Rose's voice sank almost to a whisper as she ended, and Dr. Alec bent his head, as if involuntarily saluting a comrade in misfortune. Then he got up, saying with a keen look into the face he lifted by a finger under the chin: "Do you want another three months of this?"
"I'll tell you on New Year's Day, Uncle."
"Very well. Try to keep a straight course, my little captain, and if you see dirty weather ahead, call on your first mate."
"Aye, aye, sir. I'll remember."
Chapter 5 PRINCE CHARMING
The old glove lay upon the floor forgotten while Rose sat musing, till a quick step sounded in the hall and a voice drew near, tunefully humming.
"As he was walkin' doun the street The city for to view, Oh, there he spied a bonny lass, The window lookin' through."
"Sae licht he jumped up the stair, And tirled at the pin; Oh, wha sae ready as hersel' To let the laddie in?"
sang Rose as the voice paused and a tap came at the door.
"Good morning, Rosamunda, here are your letters, and your most devoted ready to execute any commissions you may have for him," was Charlie's greeting as he came in looking comely, gay, and debonair as usual.
"Thanks. I've no errands unless you mail my replies, if these need answering, so by your leave, Prince," and Rose began to open the handful of notes he threw into her lap.
"Ha! What sight is this to blast mine eyes?" ejaculated Charlie, as he pointed to the glove with a melodramatic start, for, like most accomplished amateur actors, he was fond of introducing private theatricals into his daily talk and conversation.
"Uncle left it."
"'Tis well. Methought perchance a rival had been here," and, picking it up, Charlie amused himself with putting it on the head of a little Psyche which ornamented the mantelpiece, softly singing as he did so, another verse of the old song:
"He set his Jenny on his knee, All in his Highland dress; For brawly well he kenned the way To please a bonny lass."
Rose went on reading her letters, but all the while was thinking of her conversation with her uncle as well as something else suggested by the newcomer and his ditty.
During the three months since her return she had seen more of this cousin than any of the others, for he seemed to be the only one who had leisure to "play with Rose," as they used to say years ago. The other boys were all at work, even little Jamie, many of whose play hours were devoted to manful struggles with Latin grammar, the evil genius of his boyish life. Dr. Alec had many affairs to arrange after his long absence; Phebe was busy with her music; and Aunt Plenty still actively superintended her housekeeping. Thus it fell out, quite naturally, that Charlie should form the habit of lounging in at all hours with letters, messages, bits of news, and agreeable plans for Rose. He helped her with her sketching, rode with her, sang with her, and took her to parties as a matter of course, for Aunt Clara, being the gaiest of the sisters, played chaperon on all occasions.
For a time it was very pleasant, but, by and by, Rose began to wish Charlie would find something to do like the rest and not make dawdling after her the business of his life. The family was used to his self-indulgent ways, and there was an amiable delusion in the minds of the boys that he had a right to the best of everything, for to them he was still the Prince, the flower of the flock, and in time to be an honor to the name. No one exactly knew how, for, though full of talent, he seemed to have no especial gift or bias, and the elders began to shake their heads because, in spite of many grand promises and projects, the moment for decisive action never came.
Rose saw all this and longed to inspire her brilliant cousin with some manful purpose which should win for him respect as well as admiration. But she found it very hard, for though he listened with imperturbable good humor, and owned his shortcomings with delightful frankness, he always had some argument, reason, or excuse to offer and out-talked her in five minutes, leaving her silenced but unconvinced.
Of late she had observed that he seemed to feel as if her time and thoughts belonged exclusively to him and rather resented the approach of any other claimant. This annoyed her and suggested the idea that her affectionate interest and efforts were misunderstood by him, misrepresented and taken advantage of by Aunt Clara, who had been most urgent that she should "use her influence with the dear boy," though the fond mother resented all other interference. This troubled Rose and made her feel as if caught in a snare, for, while she owned to herself that Charlie was the most attractive of her cousins, she was not ready to be taken possession of in this masterful way, especially since other and sometimes better men sought her favor more humbly.
These thoughts were floating vaguely in her mind as she read her letters and unconsciously influenced her in the chat that followed.
"Only invitations, and I can't stop to answer them now or I shall never get through this job," she said, returning to her work.
"Let me help. You do up, and I'll direct. Have a secretary, do now, and see what a comfort it will be," proposed Charlie, who could turn his hand to anything and had made himself quite at home in the sanctum.
"I'd rather finish this myself, but you may answer the notes if you will. Just regrets to all but two or three. Read the names as you go along and I'll tell you which."
"To hear is to obey. Who says I'm a 'frivolous idler' now?" And Charlie sat down at the writing table with alacrity, for these hours in the little room were his best and happiest.
"Order is heaven's first law, and the view a lovely one, but I don't see any notepaper," he added, opening the desk and surveying its contents with interest.
"Right-hand drawer violet monogram for the notes, plain paper for the business letter. I'll see to that, though," answered Rose, trying to decide whether Annabel or Emma should have the laced handkerchief.
"Confiding creature! Suppose I open the wrong drawer and come upon the tender secrets of your soul?" continued the new secretary, rummaging out the delicate notepaper with masculine disregard of order.
"I haven't got any," answered Rose demurely.
"What, not one despairing scrawl, one cherished miniature, one faded floweret, etc., etc.? I can't believe it, Cousin," and he shook his head incredulously.
"If I had, I certainly should not show them to you, impertinent person! There are a few little souvenirs in that desk, but nothing very sentimental or interesting."
"How I'd like to see 'em! But I should never dare to ask," observed Charlie, peering over the top of the half-open lid with a most persuasive pair of eyes.
"You may if you want to, but you'll be disappointed, Paul Pry. Lower left-hand drawer with the key in it."
"'Angel of goodness, how shall I requite thee? Interesting moment, with what palpitating emotions art thou fraught!'" And, quoting from the "Mysteries of Udolpho," he unlocked and opened the drawer with a tragic gesture.
"Seven locks of hair in a box, all light, for 'here's your straw color, your orange tawny, your French crown color, and your perfect yellow' Shakespeare. They look very familiar, and I fancy I know the heads they thatched."
"Yes, you all gave me one when I went away, you know, and I carried them round the world with me in that very box."
"I wish the heads had gone too. Here's a jolly little amber god with a gold ring in his back and a most balmy breath," continued Charlie, taking a long sniff at the scent bottle.
"Uncle brought me that long ago, and I'm very fond of it."
"This now looks suspicious man's ring with a lotus cut on the stone and a note attached. I tremble as I ask, who, when, and where?"
"A gentleman, on my birthday, in Calcutta."
"I breathe again it was my sire?"
"Don't be absurd. Of course it was, and he did everything to make my visit pleasant. I wish you'd go and see him like a dutiful son, instead of idling here."
"That's what Uncle Mac is eternally telling me, but I don't intend to be lectured into the treadmill till I've had my fling first," muttered Charlie rebelliously.
"If you fling yourself in the wrong direction, you may find it hard to get back again," began Rose gravely.
"No fear, if you look after me as you seem to have promised to do, judging by the thanks you get in this note. Poor old governor! I should like to see him, for it's almost four years since he came home last and he must be getting on."
Charlie was the only one of the boys who ever called his father "governor," perhaps because the others knew and loved their fathers, while he had seen so little of his that the less respectful name came more readily to his lips, since the elder man in truth seemed a governor issuing requests or commands, which the younger too often neglected or resented.
Long ago Rose had discovered that Uncle Stephen found home made so distasteful by his wife's devotion to society that he preferred to exile himself, taking business as an excuse for his protracted absences.
The girl was thinking of this as she watched her cousin turn the ring about with a sudden sobriety which became him well; and, believing that the moment was propitious, she said earnestly: "He is getting on. Dear Charlie, do think of duty more than pleasure in this case and I'm sure you never will regret it."
"Do you want me to go?" he asked quickly.
"I think you ought."
"And I think you'd be much more charming if you wouldn't always be worrying about right and wrong! Uncle Alec taught you that along with the rest of his queer notions."
"I'm glad he did!" cried Rose warmly, then checked herself and said with a patient sort of sigh, "You know women always want the men they care for to be good and can't help trying to make them so."
"So they do, and we ought to be a set of angels, but I've a strong conviction that, if we were, the dear souls wouldn't like us half as well. Would they now?" asked Charlie with an insinuating smile.
"Perhaps not, but that is dodging the point. Will you go?" persisted Rose unwisely.
"No, I will not."
That was sufficiently decided and an uncomfortable pause followed, during which Rose tied a knot unnecessarily tight and Charlie went on exploring the drawer with more energy than interest.
"Why, here's an old thing I gave you ages ago!" he suddenly exclaimed in a pleased tone, holding up a little agate heart on a faded blue ribbon. "Will you let me take away the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh?" he asked, half in earnest, half in jest, touched by the little trinket and the recollections it awakened.
"No, I will not," answered Rose bluntly, much displeased by the irreverent and audacious question.
Charlie looked rather abashed for a moment, but his natural lightheartedness made it easy for him to get the better of his own brief fits of waywardness and put others in good humor with him and themselves.
"Now we are even let's drop the subject and start afresh," he said with irresistible affability as he coolly put the little heart in his pocket and prepared to shut the drawer. But something caught his eye, and exclaiming, "What's this? What's this?" he snatched up a photograph which lay half under a pile of letters with foreign postmarks.
"Oh! I forgot that was there," said Rose hastily.
"Who is the man?" demanded Charlie, eyeing the good-looking countenance before him with a frown.
"That is the Honorable Gilbert Murray, who went up the Nile with us and shot crocodiles and other small game, being a mighty hunter, as I told you in my letters," answered Rose gaily, though ill pleased at the little discovery just then, for this had been one of the narrow escapes her uncle spoke of.
"And they haven't eaten him yet, I infer from the pile of letters?" said Charlie jealously.
"I hope not. His sister did not mention it when she wrote last."
"Ah! Then she is your correspondent? Sisters are dangerous things sometimes." And Charlie eyed the packet suspiciously.
"In this case, a very convenient thing, for she tells me all about her brother's wedding, as no one else would take the trouble to do."
"Oh! Well, if he's married, I don't care a straw about him. I fancied I'd found out why you are such a hard-hearted charmer. But if there is no secret idol, I'm all at sea again." And Charlie tossed the photograph into the drawer as if it no longer interested him.
"I'm hard-hearted because I'm particular and, as yet, do not find anyone at all to my taste."
"No one?" with a tender glance.
"No one" with a rebellious blush, and the truthful addition "I see much to admire and like in many persons, but none quite strong and good enough to suit me. My heroes are old-fashioned, you know."
"Prigs, like Guy Carleton, Count Altenberg, and John Halifax I know the pattern you goody girls like," sneered Charlie, who preferred the Guy Livingston, Beauclerc, and Rochester style.
"Then I'm not a 'goody girl,' for I don't like prigs. I want a gentleman in the best sense of the word, and I can wait, for I've seen one, and know there are more in the world."
"The deuce you have! Do I know him?" asked Charlie, much alarmed.
"You think you do," answered Rose with a mischievous sparkle in her eye.
"If it isn't Pem, I give it up. He's the best-bred fellow I know."
"Oh, dear, no! Far superior to Mr. Pemberton and many years older," said Rose, with so much respect that Charlie looked perplexed as well as anxious.
"Some apostolic minister, I fancy. You pious creatures always like to adore a parson. But all we know are married."
"Give a name, for pity's sake I'm suffering tortures of suspense," begged Charlie.
"Uncle? Well, upon my word, that's a relief, but mighty absurd all the same. So, when you find a young saint of that sort, you intend to marry him, do you?" demanded Charlie much amused and rather disappointed.
"When I find any man half as honest, good, and noble as Uncle, I shall be proud to marry him if he asks me," answered Rose decidedly.
"What odd tastes women have!" And Charlie leaned his chin on his hand to muse pensively for a moment over the blindness of one woman who could admire an excellent old uncle more than a dashing young cousin.
Rose, meanwhile, tied up her parcels industriously, hoping she had not been too severe, for it was very hard to lecture Charlie, though he seemed to like it sometimes and came to confession voluntarily, knowing that women love to forgive when the sinners are of his sort.
"It will be mail time before you are done," she said presently, for silence was less pleasant than his rattle.
Charlie took the hint and dashed off several notes in his best manner. Coming to the business letter, he glanced at it and asked, with a puzzled expression: "What is all this? Cost of repairs, etc., from a man named Buffum?"
"Never mind that I'll see to it by and by."
"But I do mind, for I'm interested in all your affairs, and though you think I've no head for business, you'll find I have if you'll try me."
"This is only about my two old houses in the city, which are being repaired and altered so that the rooms can be let singly."
"Going to make tenement houses of them? Well, that's not a bad idea such places pay well, I've heard."
"That is just what I'm not going to do. I wouldn't have a tenement house on my conscience for a million dollars not as they are now," said Rose decidedly.
"Why, what do you know about it, except that people live in them and the owners turn a pretty penny on the rents?"
"I know a good deal about them, for I've seen many such, both here and abroad. It was not all pleasure with us, I assure you. Uncle was interested in hospitals and prisons, and I sometimes went with him, but they made me sad so he suggested other charities that I could be of help about when we came home. I visited infant schools, working women's homes, orphan asylums, and places of that sort. You don't know how much good it did me and how glad I am that I have the means of lightening a little some of the misery in the world."
"But, my dear girl, you needn't make ducks and drakes of your fortune trying to feed and cure and clothe all the poor wretches you see. Give, of course everyone should do something in that line and no one likes it better than I. But don't, for mercy's sake, go at it as some women do and get so desperately earnest, practical, and charity-mad that there is no living in peace with you," protested Charlie, looking alarmed at the prospect.
"You can do as you please. I intend to do all the good I can by asking the advice and following the example of the most 'earnest,' 'practical,' and 'charitable' people I know so, if you don't approve, you can drop my acquaintance," answered Rose, emphasizing the obnoxious words and assuming the resolute air she always wore when defending her hobbies.
"You'll be laughed at."
"I'm used to that."
"And criticized and shunned."
"Not by people whose opinion I value."
"Women shouldn't go poking into such places."
"I've been taught that they should."
"Well, you'll get some dreadful disease and lose your beauty, and then where are you?" added Charlie, thinking that might daunt the young philanthropist.
But it did not, for Rose answered, with a sudden kindling of the eyes as she remembered her talk with Uncle Alec: "I shouldn't like it. But there would be one satisfaction in it, for when I'd lost my beauty and given away my money, I should know who really cared for me."
Charlie nibbled his pen in silence for a moment, then asked, meekly, "Could I respectfully inquire what great reform is to be carried on in the old houses which their amiable owner is repairing?"
"I am merely going to make them comfortable homes for poor but respectable women to live in. There is a class who cannot afford to pay much, yet suffer a great deal from being obliged to stay in noisy, dirty, crowded places like tenement houses and cheap lodgings. I can help a few of them and I'm going to try."
"May I humbly ask if these decayed gentlewomen are to inhabit their palatial retreat rent-free?"
"That was my first plan, but Uncle showed me that it was wiser not make genteel paupers of them, but let them pay a small rent and feel independent. I don't want the money, of course, and shall use it in keeping the houses tidy or helping other women in like case," said Rose, entirely ignoring her cousin's covert ridicule.
"Don't expect any gratitude, for you won't get it; nor much comfort with a lot of forlornities on your hands, and be sure that when it is too late you will tire of it all and wish you had done as other people do."
"Thanks for your cheerful prophecies, but I think I'll venture."
She looked so undaunted that Charlie was a little nettled and fired his last shot rather recklessly: "Well, one thing I do know you'll never get a husband if you go on in this absurd way, and by Jove! you need one to take care of you and keep the property together!"
Rose had a temper, but seldom let it get the better of her; now, however, it flashed up for a moment. Those last words were peculiarly unfortunate, because Aunt Clara had used them more than once when warning her against impecunious suitors and generous projects. She was disappointed in her cousin, annoyed at having her little plans laughed at, and indignant with him for his final suggestion.
"I'll never have one, if I must give up the liberty of doing what I know is right, and I'd rather go into the poorhouse tomorrow than 'keep the property together' in the selfish way you mean!"
That was all but Charlie saw that he had gone too far and hastened to make his peace with the skill of a lover, for, turning to the little cabinet piano behind him, he sang in his best style the sweet old song:
"Oh were thou in the cauld blast,"
dwelling with great effect, not only upon the tender assurance that "My plaid should shelter thee,"
but also that, even if a king,
"The brightest jewel in my crown Wad be my queen, wad be my queen."
It was very evident that Prince Charming had not gone troubadouring in vain, for Orpheus himself could not have restored harmony more successfully. The tuneful apology was accepted with a forgiving smile and a frank "I'm sorry I was cross, but you haven't forgotten how to tease, and I'm rather out of sorts today. Late hours don't agree with me."
"Then you won't feel like going to Mrs. Hope's tomorrow, I'm afraid," and Charlie took up the last note with an expression of regret which was very flattering.
"I must go, because it is made for me, but I can come away early and make up lost sleep. I do hate to be so fractious," and Rose rubbed the forehead that ached with too much racketing.
"But the German does not begin till late I'm to lead and depend upon you. Just stay this once to oblige me," pleaded Charlie, for he had set his heart on distinguishing himself.
"No I promised Uncle to be temperate in my pleasures and I must keep my word. I'm so well now, it would be very foolish to get ill and make him anxious not to mention losing my beauty, as you are good enough to call it, for that depends on health, you know."
"But the fun doesn't begin till after supper. Everything will be delightful, I assure you, and we'll have a gay old time as we did last week at Emma's."
"Then I certainly will not, for I'm ashamed of myself when I remember what a romp that was and how sober Uncle looked as he let me in at three in the morning, all fagged out my dress in rags, my head aching, my feet so tired that I could hardly stand, and nothing to show for five hours' hard work but a pocketful of bonbons, artificial flowers, and tissue-paper fool's caps. Uncle said I'd better put one on and go to bed, for I looked as though I'd been to a French bal masque. I never want to hear him say so again, and I'll never let dawn catch me out in such a plight anymore."
"You were all right enough, for mother didn't object and I got you both home before daylight. Uncle is notional about such things, so I shouldn't mind, for we had a jolly time and we were none the worse for it."
"Indeed we were, every one of us! Aunt Clara hasn't gotten over her cold yet. I slept all the next day, and you looked like a ghost, for you'd been out every night for weeks, I think."
"Oh, nonsense! Everyone does it during the season, and you'll get used to the pace very soon," began Charlie, bent on making her go, for he was in his element in a ballroom and never happier than when he had his pretty cousin on his arm.
"Ah! But I don't want to get used to it, for it costs too much in the end. I don't wish to get used to being whisked about a hot room by men who have taken too much wine, to turn day into night, wasting time that might be better spent, and grow into a fashionable fast girl who can't get along without excitement. I don't deny that much of it is pleasant, but don't try to make me too fond of gaiety. Help me to resist what I know is hurtful, and please don't laugh me out of the good habits Uncle has tried so hard to give me."
Rose was quite sincere in her appeal, and Charlie knew she was right, but he always found it hard to give up anything he had set his heart on, no matter how trivial, for the maternal indulgence which had harmed the boy had fostered the habit of self-indulgence, which was ruining the man. So when Rose looked up at him, with a very honest desire to save him as well as herself from being swept into the giddy vortex which keeps so many young people revolving aimlessly, till they go down or are cast upon the shore, wrecks of what they might have been, he gave a shrug and answered briefly: "As you please. I'll bring you home as early as you like, and Effie Waring shall take your place in the German. What flowers shall I send you?"
Now, that was an artful speech of Charlie's, for Miss Waring was a fast and fashionable damsel who openly admired Prince Charming and had given him the name. Rose disliked her and was sure her influence was bad, for youth made frivolity forgivable, wit hid want of refinement, and beauty always covers a multitude of sins in a man's eyes. At the sound of Effie's name, Rose wavered, and would have yielded but for the memory of the "first mate's" last words. She did desire to "keep a straight course"; so, though the current of impulse set strongly in a southerly direction, principle, the only compass worth having, pointed due north, and she tried to obey it like a wise young navigator, saying steadily, while she directed to Annabel the parcel containing a capacious pair of slippers intended for Uncle Mac: "Don't trouble yourself about me. I can go with Uncle and slip away without disturbing anybody."
"I don't believe you'll have the heart to do it," said Charlie incredulously as he sealed the last note.
"Wait and see."
"I will, but I shall hope to the last." And kissing his hand to her, he departed to post her letters, quite sure that Miss Waring would not lead the German.
It certainly looked for a moment as if Miss Campbell would, because she ran to the door with the words "I'll go" upon her lips. But she did not open it till she had stood a minute staring hard at the old glove on Psyche's head; then like one who had suddenly gotten a bright idea, she gave a decided nod and walked slowly out of the room.
Chapter 6 POLISHING MAC
"Please could I say one word?" was the question three times repeated before a rough head bobbed out from the grotto of books in which Mac usually sat when he studied.
"Did anyone speak?" he asked, blinking in the flood of sunshine that entered with Rose.
"Only three times, thank you. Don't disturb yourself, I beg, for I merely want to say a word," answered Rose as she prevented him from offering the easy chair in which he sat.
"I was rather deep in a compound fracture and didn't hear. What can I do for you, Cousin?" And Mac shoved a stack of pamphlets off the chair near him with a hospitable wave of the hand that sent his papers flying in all directions.
Rose sat down, but did not seem to find her "word" an easy one to utter, for she twisted her handkerchief about her fingers in embarrassed silence till Mac put on his glasses and, after a keen look, asked soberly: "Is it a splinter, a cut, or a whitlow, ma'am?"
"It is neither. Do forget your tiresome surgery for a minute and be the kindest cousin that ever was," answered Rose, beginning rather sharply and ending with her most engaging smile.
"Can't promise in the dark," said the wary youth.
"It is a favor, a great favor, and one I don't choose to ask any of the other boys," answered the artful damsel.
Mac looked pleased and leaned forward, saying more affably, "Name it, and be sure I'll grant it if I can."
"Go with me to Mrs. Hope's party tomorrow night."
"What!" And Mac recoiled as if she had put a pistol to his head.
"I've left you in peace a long time, but it is your turn now, so do your duty like a man and a cousin."
"But I never go to parties!" cried the unhappy victim in great dismay.
"High time you began, sir."
"But I don't dance fit to be seen."
"I'll teach you."
"My dress coat isn't decent, I know."
"Archie will lend you one he isn't going."
"I'm afraid there's a lecture that I ought not to cut."
"No, there isn't I asked Uncle."
"I'm always so tired and dull in the evening."
"This sort of thing is just what you want to rest and freshen up your spirits."
Mac gave a groan and fell back vanquished, for it was evident that escape was impossible.
"What put such a perfectly wild idea into your head?" he demanded, rather roughly, for hitherto he had been left in peace and this sudden attack decidedly amazed him.
"Sheer necessity, but don't do it if it is so very dreadful to you. I must go to several more parties, because they are made for me, but after that I'll refuse, and then no one need be troubled with me."
Something in Rose's voice made Mac answer penitently, even while he knit his brows in perplexity. "I don't mean to be rude, and of course I'll go anywhere if I'm really needed. But I don't understand where the sudden necessity is, with three other fellows at command, all better dancers and beaus than I am."
"I don't want them, and I do want you, for I haven't the heart to drag Uncle out anymore, and you know I never go with any gentleman but those of my own family."
"Now look here, Rose if Steve has been doing anything to tease you, just mention it and I'll attend to him," cried Mac, plainly seeing that something was amiss and fancying that Dandy was at the bottom of it, as he had done escort duty several times lately.
"No, Steve has been very good, but I know he had rather be with Kitty Van, so of course I feel like a marplot, though he is too polite to hint it."
"What a noodle that boy is! But there's Archie he's steady as a church and has no sweetheart to interfere," continued Mac, bound to get at the truth and half suspecting what it was.
"He is on his feet all day, and Aunt Jessie wants him in the evening. He does not care for dancing as he used, and I suppose he really does prefer to rest and read." Rose might have added, "And hear Phebe sing," for Phebe did not go out as much as Rose did, and Aunt Jessie often came to sit with the old lady when the young folks were away and, of course, dutiful Archie came with her, so willingly of late!
"What's amiss with Charlie? I thought he was the prince of cavaliers. Annabel says he dances 'like an angel,' and I know a dozen mothers couldn't keep him at home of an evening. Have you had a tiff with Adonis and so fall back on poor me?" asked Mac, coming last to the person of whom he thought first but did not mention, feeling shy about alluding to a subject often discussed behind her back.
"Yes, I have, and I don't intend to go with him any more for some time. His ways do not suit me, and mine do not suit him, so I want to be quite independent, and you can help me if you will," said Rose, rather nervously spinning the big globe close by.
Mac gave a low whistle, looking wide awake all in a minute as he said with a gesture, as if he brushed a cobweb off his face: "Now, see here, Cousin, I'm not good at mysteries and shall only blunder if you put me blindfold into any nice maneuver. Just tell me straight out what you want and I'll do it if I can. Play I'm Uncle and free your mind come now."
He spoke so kindly, and the honest eyes were so full of merry goodwill, that Rose thought she might confide in him and answered as frankly as he could desire: "You are right, Mac, and I don't mind talking to you almost as freely as to Uncle, because you are such a reliable fellow and won't think me silly for trying to do what I believe to be right. Charlie does, and so makes it hard for me to hold to my resolutions. I want to keep early hours, dress simply, and behave properly no matter what fashionable people do. You will agree to that, I'm sure, and stand by me through thick and thin for principle's sake."
"I will, and begin by showing you that I understand the case. I don't wonder you are not pleased, for Charlie is too presuming, and you do need someone to help you head him off a bit. Hey, Cousin?"
"What a way to put it!" And Rose laughed in spite of herself, adding with an air of relief, "That is it, and I do want someone to help me make him understand that I don't choose to be taken possession of in that lordly way, as if I belonged to him more than to the rest of the family. I don't like it, for people begin to talk, and Charlie won't see how disagreeable it is to me."
"Tell him so," was Mac's blunt advice.
"I have, but he only laughs and promises to behave, and then he does it again when I am so placed that I can't say anything. You will never understand, and I cannot explain, for it is only a look, or a word, or some little thing but I won't have it, and the best way to cure him is to put it out of his power to annoy me so."
"He is a great flirt and wants to teach you how, I suppose. I'll speak to him if you like and tell him you don't want to learn. Shall I?" asked Mac, finding the case rather an interesting one.
"No, thank you that would only make trouble. If you will kindly play escort a few times, it will show Charlie that I am in earnest without more words and put a stop to the gossip," said Rose, coloring like a poppy at the recollection of what she heard one young man whisper to another as Charlie led her through a crowded supper room with his most devoted air, "Lucky dog! He is sure to get the heiress, and we are nowhere."
"There's no danger of people gossiping about us, is there?" And Mac looked up with the oddest of all his odd expressions.
"Of course not you're only a boy."
"I'm twenty-one, thank you, and Prince is but a couple of years older," said Mac, promptly resenting the slight put upon his manhood.
"Yes, but he is like other young men, while you are a dear old bookworm. No one would ever mind what you did, so you may go to parties with me every night and not a word would be said or, if there was, I shouldn't mind since it is 'only Mac,'" answered Rose, smiling as she quoted a household phrase often used to excuse his vagaries.
"Then I am nobody?" he said, lifting his brows as if the discovery surprised and rather nettled him.
"Nobody in society as yet, but my very best cousin in private, and I've just proved my regard by making you my confidant and choosing you for my knight," said Rose, hastening to soothe the feelings her careless words seemed to have ruffled slightly.
"Much good that is likely to do me," grumbled Mac.
"You ungrateful boy, not to appreciate the honor I've conferred upon you! I know a dozen who would be proud of the place, but you only care for compound fractures, so I won't detain you any longer, except to ask if I may consider myself provided with an escort for tomorrow night?" said Rose, a trifle hurt at his indifference, for she was not used to refusals.
"If I may hope for the honor." And, rising, he made her a bow which was such a capital imitation of Charlie's grand manner that she forgave him at once, exclaiming with amused surprise: "Why, Mac! I didn't know you could be so elegant!"
"A fellow can be almost anything he likes if he tries hard enough," he answered, standing very straight and looking so tall and dignified that Rose was quite impressed, and with a stately courtesy she retired, saying graciously: "I accept with thanks. Good morning, Dr. Alexander Mackenzie Campbell."
When Friday evening came and word was sent up that her escort had arrived, Rose ran down, devoutly hoping that he had not come in a velveteen jacket, top-boots, black gloves, or made any trifling mistake of that sort. A young gentleman was standing before the long mirror, apparently intent upon the arrangement of his hair, and Rose paused suddenly as her eye went from the glossy broadcloth to the white-gloved hands, busy with an unruly lock that would not stay in place.
"Why, Charlie, I thought—" she began with an accent of surprise in her voice, but got no further, for the gentleman turned and she beheld Mac in immaculate evening costume, with his hair parted sweetly on his brow, a superior posy at his buttonhole, and the expression of a martyr on his face.
"Ah, don't you wish it was? No one but yourself to thank that it isn't he. Am I right? Dandy got me up, and he ought to know what is what," demanded Mac, folding his hands and standing as stiff as a ramrod.
"You are so regularly splendid that I don't know you."
"Neither do I."
"I really had no idea you could look so like a gentleman," added Rose, surveying him with great approval.
"Nor that I could feel so like a fool."
"Poor boy! He does look rather miserable. What can I do to cheer him up in return for the sacrifice he is making?"
"Stop calling me a boy. It will soothe my agony immensely and give me courage to appear in a low-necked coat and curl on my forehead, for I'm not used to such elegancies and I find them no end of a trial."
Mac spoke in such a pathetic tone, and gave such a gloomy glare at the aforesaid curl, that Rose laughed in his face and added to his woe by handing him her cloak. He surveyed it gravely for a minute, then carefully put it on wrong side out and gave the swan's-down hood a good pull over the head, to the utter destruction of all smoothness to the curls inside.
Rose uttered a cry and cast off the cloak, bidding him learn to do it properly, which he meekly did and then led her down the hall without walking on her skirts more than three times on the way. But at the door she discovered that she had forgotten her furred overshoes and bade Mac get them.
"Never mind it's not wet," he said, pulling his cap over his eyes and plunging into his coat, regardless of the "elegancies" that afflicted him.
"But I can't walk on cold stones with thin slippers, can I?" began Rose, showing him a little white foot.
"You needn't, for there you are, my lady." And, unceremoniously picking her up, Mac landed her in the carriage before she could say a word.
"What an escort!" she exclaimed in comic dismay, as she rescued her delicate dress from a rug in which he was about to tuck her up like a mummy.
"It's 'only Mac,' so don't mind," and he cast himself into an opposite corner with the air of a man who had nerved himself to the accomplishment of many painful duties and was bound to do them or die.
"But gentlemen don't catch up ladies like bags of meal and poke them into carriages in this way. It is evident that you need looking after, and it is high time I undertook your society manners. Now, do mind what you are about and don't get yourself or me into a scrape if you can help it," besought Rose, feeling that on many accounts she had gone further and fared worse.
"I'll behave like a Turveydrop see if I don't."
Mac's idea of the immortal Turveydrop's behavior seemed to be a peculiar one; for, after dancing once with his cousin, he left her to her own devices and soon forgot all about her in a long conversation with Professor Stumph, the learned geologist. Rose did not care, for one dance proved to her that that branch of Mac's education had been sadly neglected, and she was glad to glide smoothly about with Steve, though he was only an inch or two taller than herself. She had plenty of partners, however, and plenty of chaperons, for all the young men were her most devoted, and all the matrons beamed upon her with maternal benignity.
Charlie was not there, for when he found that Rose stood firm, and had moreover engaged Mac as a permanency, he would not go at all and retired in high dudgeon to console himself with more dangerous pastimes. Rose feared it would be so, and even in the midst of the gaiety about her an anxious mood came over her now and then and made her thoughtful for a moment. She felt her power and wanted to use it wisely, but did not know how to be kind to Charlie without being untrue to herself and giving him false hopes.
"I wish we were all children again, with no hearts to perplex us and no great temptations to try us," she said to herself as she rested a minute in a quiet nook while her partner went to get a glass of water. Right in the midst of this half-sad, half-sentimental reverie, she heard a familiar voice behind her say earnestly: "And allophite is the new hydrous silicate of alumina and magnesia, much resembling pseudophite, which Websky found in Silesia."
"What is Mac talking about!" she thought, and, peeping behind a great azalea in full bloom, she saw her cousin in deep conversation with the professor, evidently having a capital time, for his face had lost its melancholy expression and was all alive with interest, while the elder man was listening as if his remarks were both intelligent and agreeable.
"What is it?" asked Steve, coming up with the water and seeing a smile on Rose's face.
She pointed out the scientific tete-a-tete going on behind the azalea, and Steve grinned as he peeped, then grew sober and said in a tone of despair: "If you had seen the pains I took with that fellow, the patience with which I brushed his wig, the time I spent trying to convince him that he must wear thin boots, and the fight I had to get him into that coat, you'd understand my feelings when I see him now."
"Why, what's the matter with him?" asked Rose.
"Will you take a look and see what a spectacle he has made of himself. He'd better be sent home at once or he will disgrace the family by looking as if he'd been in a row."
Steve spoke in such a tragic tone that Rose took another peep and did sympathize with Dandy, for Mac's elegance was quite gone. His tie was under one ear, his posy hung upside down, his gloves were rolled into a ball, which he absently squeezed and pounded as he talked, and his hair looked as if a whirlwind had passed over it, for his ten fingers set it on end now and then, as they had a habit of doing when he studied or talked earnestly. But he looked so happy and wide awake, in spite of his dishevelment, that Rose gave an approving nod and said behind her fan: "It is a trying spectacle, Steve yet, on the whole, I think his own odd ways suit him best and I fancy we shall be proud of him, for he knows more than all the rest of us put together. Hear that now." And Rose paused that they might listen to the following burst of eloquence from Mac's lips: "You know Frenzal has shown that the globular forms of silicate of bismuth at Schneeburg and Johanngeorgenstadt are not isometric, but monoclinic in crystalline form, and consequently he separates them from the old eulytite and gives them the new name Agricolite."
"Isn't it awful? Let us get out of this before there's another avalanche or we shall be globular silicates and isometric crystals in spite of ourselves," whispered Steve with a panic-stricken air, and they fled from the hailstorm of hard words that rattled about their ears, leaving Mac to enjoy himself in his own way.
But when Rose was ready to go home and looked about for her escort, he was nowhere to be seen, for the professor had departed, and Mac with him, so absorbed in some new topic that he entirely forgot his cousin and went placidly home, still pondering on the charms of geology. When this pleasing fact dawned upon Rose her feelings may be imagined. She was both angry and amused it was so like Mac to go mooning off and leave her to her fate. Not a hard one, however; for, though Steve was gone with Kitty before her plight was discovered, Mrs. Bliss was only too glad to take the deserted damsel under her wing and bear her safely home.
Rose was warming her feet and sipping the chocolate which Phebe always had ready for her, as she never ate supper, when a hurried tap came at the long window whence the light streamed and Mac's voice was heard softly asking to be let in "just for one minute."
Curious to know what had befallen him, Rose bade Phebe obey his call and the delinquent cavalier appeared, breathless, anxious, and more dilapidated than ever, for he had forgotten his overcoat; his tie was at the back of his neck now; and his hair as rampantly erect as if all the winds of heaven had been blowing freely through it, as they had, for he had been tearing to and fro the last half hour, trying to undo the dreadful deed he had so innocently committed.
"Don't take any notice of me, for I don't deserve it. I only came to see that you were safe, Cousin, and then go hang myself, as Steve advised," he began in a remorseful tone that would have been very effective if he had not been obliged to catch his breath with a comical gasp now and then.
"I never thought you would be the one to desert me," said Rose with a reproachful look, thinking it best not to relent too soon, though she was quite ready to do it when she saw how sincerely distressed he was.
"It was that confounded man! He was a regular walking encyclopedia, and, finding I could get a good deal out of him, I went in for general information, as the time was short. You know I always forget everything else when I get hold of such a fellow."
"That is evident. I wonder how you came to remember me at all," answered Rose, on the brink of a laugh it was so absurd.
"I didn't till Steve said something that reminded me then it burst upon me, in one awful shock, that I'd gone and left you, and you might have knocked me down with a feather," said honest Mac, hiding none of his iniquity.
"What did you do then?"
"Do! I went off like a shot and never stopped till I reached the Hopes'"
"You didn't walk all the way?" cried Rose.
"Bless you, no I ran. But you were gone with Mrs. Bliss, so I pelted back again to see with my own eyes that you were safe at home," answered Mac with a sigh of relief, wiping his hot forehead.
"But it is three miles at least each way, and twelve o'clock, and dark and cold. Oh, Mac! How could you!" exclaimed Rose, suddenly realizing what he had done as she heard his labored breathing, saw the state of the thin boots, and detected the absence of an overcoat.
"Couldn't do less, could I?" asked Mac, leaning up against the door and trying not to pant.
"There was no need of half killing yourself for such a trifle. You might have known I could take care of myself for once, at least, with so many friends about. Sit down this minute. Bring another cup, please, Phebe this boy isn't going home till he is rested and refreshed after such a run as that," commanded Rose.
"Don't be good to me I'd rather take a scolding than a chair, and drink hemlock instead of chocolate if you happen to have any ready," answered Mac with a pathetic puff as he subsided onto the sofa and meekly took the draft Phebe brought him.
"If you had anything the matter with your heart, sir, a race of this sort might be the death of you so never do it again," said Rose, offering her fan to cool his heated countenance.
"Haven't got any heart."
"Yes, you have, for I hear it beating like a trip-hammer, and it is my fault I ought to have stopped as we went by and told you I was all right."
"It's the mortification, not the miles, that upsets me. I often take that run for exercise and think nothing of it but tonight I was so mad I made extra-good time, I fancy. Now don't you worry, but compose your mind and 'sip your dish of tea,' as Evelina says," answered Mac, artfully turning the conversation from himself.
"What do you know about Evelina?" asked Rose in great surprise.
"All about her. Do you suppose I never read a novel?"
"I thought you read nothing but Greek and Latin, with an occasional glance at Websky's pseudophites and the monoclinics of Johanngeorgenstadt."
Mac opened his eyes wide at this reply, then seemed to see the joke and joined in the laugh with such heartiness that Aunt Plenty's voice was heard demanding from above with sleepy anxiety: "Is the house afire?"
"No, ma'am, everything is safe, and I'm only saying good night," answered Mac, diving for his cap.
"Then go at once and let that child have her sleep," added the old lady, retiring to her bed.
Rose ran into the hall, and catching up her uncle's fur coat, met Mac as he came out of the study, absently looking about for his own.
"You haven't any, you benighted boy! So take this, and have your wits about you next time or I won't let you off so easily," she said, holding up the heavy garment and peeping over it, with no sign of displeasure in her laughing eyes.
"Next time! Then you do forgive me? You will try me again, and give me a chance to prove that I'm not a fool?" cried Mac, embracing the big coat with emotion.
"Of course I will, and, so far from thinking you a fool, I was much impressed with your learning tonight and told Steve that we ought to be proud of our philosopher."
"Learning be hanged! I'll show you that I'm not a bookworm but as much a man as any of them, and then you may be proud or not, as you like!" cried Mac with a defiant nod that caused the glasses to leap wildly off his nose as he caught up his hat and departed as he came.
A day or two later Rose went to call upon Aunt Jane, as she dutifully did once or twice a week. On her way upstairs she heard a singular sound in the drawing room and involuntarily stopped to listen.
"One, two, three, slide! One, two, three, turn! Now, then, come on!" said one voice impatiently.
"It's very easy to say 'come on,' but what the dickens do I do with my left leg while I'm turning and sliding with my right?" demanded another voice in a breathless and mournful tone.
Then the whistling and thumping went on more vigorously than before, and Rose, recognizing the voices, peeped through the half-open door to behold a sight which made her shake with suppressed laughter. Steve, with a red tablecloth tied around his waist, languished upon Mac's shoulder, dancing in perfect time to the air he whistled, for Dandy was proficient in the graceful art and plumed himself upon his skill. Mac, with a flushed face and dizzy eye, clutched his brother by the small of his back, vainly endeavoring to steer him down the long room without entangling his own legs in the tablecloth, treading on his partner's toes, or colliding with the furniture. It was very droll, and Rose enjoyed the spectacle till Mac, in a frantic attempt to swing around, dashed himself against the wall and landed Steve upon the floor. Then it was impossible to restrain her laughter any longer and she walked in upon them, saying merrily: "It was splendid! Do it again, and I'll play for you."
Steve sprang up and tore off the tablecloth in great confusion, while Mac, still rubbing his head, dropped into a chair, trying to look quite calm and cheerful as he gasped out: "How are you, Cousin? When did you come? John should have told us."
"I'm glad he didn't, for then I should have missed this touching tableau of cousinly devotion and brotherly love. Getting ready for our next party, I see."
"Trying to, but there are so many things to remember all at once keep time, steer straight, dodge the petticoats, and manage my confounded legs that it isn't easy to get on at first," answered Mac with a sigh of exhaustion, wiping his hot forehead.
"Hardest job I ever undertook and, as I'm not a battering ram, I decline to be knocked round any longer," growled Steve, dusting his knees and ruefully surveying the feet that had been trampled on till they tingled, for his boots and broadcloth were dear to the heart of the dapper youth.
"Very good of you, and I'm much obliged. I've got the pace, I think, and can practice with a chair to keep my hand in," said Mac with such a comic mixture of gratitude and resignation that Rose went off again so irresistibly that her cousins joined her with a hearty roar.
"As you are making a martyr of yourself in my service, the least I can do is lend a hand. Play for us, Steve, and I'll give Mac a lesson, unless he prefers the chair." And, throwing off her hat and cloak, Rose beckoned so invitingly that the gravest philosopher would have yielded.
"A thousand thanks, but I'm afraid I shall hurt you," began Mac, much gratified, but mindful of past mishaps.
"I'm not. Steve didn't manage his train well, for good dancers always loop theirs up. I have none at all, so that trouble is gone and the music will make it much easier to keep step. Just do as I tell you, and you'll go beautifully after a few turns."
"I will, I will! Pipe up, Steve! Now, Rose!" And, brushing his hair out of his eyes with an air of stern determination, Mac grasped Rose and returned to the charge bent on distinguishing himself if he died in the attempt.
The second lesson prospered, for Steve marked the time by a series of emphatic bangs; Mac obeyed orders as promptly as if his life depended on it; and, after several narrow escapes at exciting moments, Rose had the satisfaction of being steered safely down the room and landed with a grand pirouette at the bottom. Steve applauded, and Mac, much elated, exclaimed with artless candor: "There really is a sort of inspiration about you, Rose. I always detested dancing before, but now, do you know, I rather like it."
"I knew you would, only you mustn't stand with your arm round your partner in this way when you are done. You must seat and fan her, if she likes it," said Rose, anxious to perfect a pupil who seemed so lamentably in need of a teacher.
"Yes, of course, I know how they do it." And, releasing his cousin, Mac raised a small whirlwind around her with a folded newspaper, so full of zeal that she had not the heart to chide him again.
"Well done, old fellow. I begin to have hopes of you and will order you a new dress coat at once, since you are really going in for the proprieties of life," said Steve from the music stool, with the approving nod of one who was a judge of said proprieties. "Now, Rose, if you will just coach him a little in his small talk, he won't make a laughingstock of himself as he did the other night," added Steve. "I don't mean his geological gabble that was bad enough, but his chat with Emma Curtis was much worse. Tell her, Mac, and see if she doesn't think poor Emma had a right to think you a first-class bore."
"I don't see why, when I merely tried to have a little sensible conversation," began Mac with reluctance, for he had been unmercifully chaffed by his cousins, to whom his brother had betrayed him.
"What did you say? I won't laugh if I can help it," said Rose, curious to hear, for Steve's eyes were twinkling with fun.
"Well, I knew she was fond of theaters, so I tried that first and got on pretty well till I began to tell her how they managed those things in Greece. Most interesting subject, you know?"
"Very. Did you give her one of the choruses or a bit of Agamemnon, as you did when you described it to me?" asked Rose, keeping sober with difficulty as she recalled that serio-comic scene.
"Of course not, but I was advising her to read Prometheus when she gaped behind her fan and began to talk about Phebe. What a 'nice creature' she was, 'kept her place,' dressed according to her station, and that sort of twaddle. I suppose it was rather rude, but being pulled up so short confused me a bit, and I said the first thing that came into my head, which was that I thought Phebe the best-dressed woman in the room because she wasn't all fuss and feathers like most of the girls."
"Oh, Mac! That to Emma, who makes it the labor of her life to be always in the height of fashion and was particularly splendid that night. What did she say?" cried Rose, full of sympathy for both parties.
"She bridled and looked daggers at me."
"And what did you do?"
"I bit my tongue and tumbled out of one scrape into another. Following her example, I changed the subject by talking about the charity concert for the orphans, and when she gushed about the 'little darlings,' I advised her to adopt one and wondered why young ladies didn't do that sort of thing, instead of cuddling cats and lapdogs."
"Unhappy boy! Her pug is the idol of her life, and she hates babies," said Rose.
"More fool she! Well, she got my opinion on the subject, anyway, and she's very welcome, for I went on to say that I thought it would not only be a lovely charity, but excellent training for the time when they had little darlings of their own. No end of poor things die through the ignorance of mothers, you know," added Mac, so seriously that Rose dared not smile at what went before.
"Imagine Emma trotting round with a pauper baby under her arm instead of her cherished Toto," said Steve with an ecstatic twirl on the stool.
"Did she seem to like your advice, Monsieur Malapropos?" asked Rose, wishing she had been there.
"No, she gave a little shriek and said, 'Good gracious, Mr. Campbell, how droll you are! Take me to Mama, please,' which I did with a thankful heart. Catch me setting her pug's leg again," ended Mac with a grim shake of the head.
"Never mind. You were unfortunate in your listener that time. Don't think all girls are so foolish. I can show you a dozen sensible ones who would discuss dress reform and charity with you and enjoy Greek tragedy if you did the chorus for them as you did for me," said Rose consolingly, for Steve would only jeer.
"Give me a list of them, please, and I'll cultivate their acquaintance. A fellow must have some reward for making a teetotum of himself."
"I will with pleasure; and if you dance well they will make it very pleasant for you, and you'll enjoy parties in spite of yourself."
"I cannot be a 'glass of fashion and a mold of form' like Dandy here, but I'll do my best: only, if I had my choice, I'd much rather go round the streets with an organ and a monkey," answered Mac despondently.
"Thank you kindly for the compliment," and Rose made him a low courtesy, while Steve cried, "Now you have done it!" in a tone of reproach which reminded the culprit, all too late, that he was Rose's chosen escort.
"By the gods, so I have!" And casting away the newspaper with a gesture of comic despair, Mac strode from the room, chanting tragically the words of Cassandra, "'Woe! woe! O Earth! O Apollo! I will dare to die; I will accost the gates of Hades, and make my prayer that I may receive a mortal blow!'"
Chapter 7 PHEBE
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.