Rose In Bloom

Louisa May Alcott

Chapter 2 - Old Friends With New Faces


"It is so good to be home again! I wonder how we ever made up our minds to go away!" exclaimed Rose as she went roaming about the old house next morning, full of the satisfaction one feels at revisiting familiar nooks and corners and finding them unchanged.

"That we might have the pleasure of coming back again," answered Phebe, walking down the hall beside her little mistress, as happy as she.

"Everything seems just as we left it, even to the rose leaves we used to tuck in here," continued the younger girl, peeping into one of the tall India jars that stood about the hall.

"Don't you remember how Jamie and Pokey used to play Forty Thieves with them, and how you tried to get into that blue one and got stuck, and the other boys found us before I could pull you out?" asked Phebe, laughing.

"Yes, indeed, and speaking of angels, one is apt to hear the rustling of their wings," added Rose, as a shrill whistle came up the avenue accompanied by the clatter of hoofs.

"It is the circus!" cried Phebe gaily as they both recalled the red cart and the charge of the clan.

There was only one boy now, alas, but he made noise enough for half a dozen, and before Rose could run to the door, Jamie came bouncing in with a "shining morning face," a bat over his shoulder, a red and white jockey cap on his head, one pocket bulging with a big ball, the other overflowing with cookies, and his mouth full of the apple he was just finishing off in hot haste.

"Morning! I just looked in to make sure you'd really come and see that you were all right," he observed, saluting with bat and doffing the gay cap with one effective twitch.

"Good morning, dear. Yes, we really are here, and getting to rights as fast as possible. But it seems to me you are rather gorgeous, Jamie. What do you belong to a fire company or a jockey club?" asked Rose, turning up the once chubby face, which now was getting brown and square about the chin.

"No, ma'am! Why, don't you know? I'm captain of the Base Ball Star Club. Look at that, will you?" And, as if the fact were one of national importance, Jamie flung open his jacket to display upon his proudly swelling chest an heart-shaped red flannel shield decorated with a white cotton star the size of a tea plate.

"Superb! I've been away so long I forgot there was such a game. And you the captain?" cried Rose, deeply impressed by the high honor to which her kinsman had arrived.

"I just am, and it's no joke you'd better believe, for we knock our teeth out, black our eyes, and split our fingers almost as well as the big fellows. You come down to the Common between one and two and see us play a match, then you'll understand what hard work it is. I'll teach you to bat now if you'll come out on the lawn," added Jamie, fired with a wish to exhibit his prowess.

"No, thank you, captain. The grass is wet, and you'll be late at school if you stay for us."

"I'm not afraid. Girls are not good for much generally, but you never used to mind a little wet and played cricket like a good one. Can't you ever do that sort of thing now?" asked the boy, with a pitying look at these hapless creatures debarred from the joys and perils of manly sports.

"I can run still and I'll get to the gate before you, see if I don't." And, yielding to the impulse of the moment, Rose darted down the steps before astonished Jamie could mount and follow.

He was off in a moment, but Rose had the start, and though old Sheltie did his best, she reached the goal just ahead, and stood there laughing and panting, all rosy with fresh October air, a pretty picture for several gentlemen who were driving by.

"Good for you, Rose!" said Archie, jumping out to shake hands while Will and Geordie saluted and Uncle Mac laughed at Jamie, who looked as if girls had risen slightly in his opinion.

"I'm glad it is you, because you won't be shocked. But I'm so happy to be back I forgot I was not little Rose still," said Atalanta, smoothing down her flying hair.

"You look very like her, with the curls on your shoulders in the old way. I missed them last night and wondered what it was. How are Uncle and Phebe?" asked Archie, whose eyes had been looking over Rose's head while he spoke toward the piazza, where a female figure was visible among the reddening woodbines.

"All well, thanks. Won't you come up and see for yourselves?"

"Can't, my dear, can't possibly. Business, you know, business. This fellow is my right-hand man, and I can't spare him a minute. Come, Arch, we must be off, or these boys will miss their train," answered Uncle Mac, pulling out his watch.

With a last look from the light-haired figure at the gate to the dark-haired one among the vines, Archie drove away and Jamie cantered after, consoling himself for his defeat with apple number two.

Rose lingered a moment, feeling much inclined to continue her run and pop in upon all the aunts in succession, but, remembering her uncovered head, was about to turn back when a cheerful "Ahoy! ahoy!" made her look up to see Mac approaching at a great pace, waving his hat as he came.

"The Campbells are coming, thick and fast this morning, and the more the merrier," she said, running to meet him. "You look like a good boy going to school, and virtuously conning your lesson by the way," she added, smiling to see him take his finger out of the book he had evidently been reading, and tuck it under his arm, just as he used to do years ago.

"I am a schoolboy, going to the school I like best," he answered, waving a plumy spray of asters as if pointing out the lovely autumn world about them, full of gay hues, fresh airs, and mellow sunshine.

"That reminds me that I didn't get a chance to hear much about your plans last night the other boys all talked at once, and you only got a word now and then. What have you decided to be, Mac?" asked Rose as they went up the avenue side by side.

"A man first, and a good one if possible. After that, what God pleases."

Something in the tone, as well as the words, made Rose look up quickly into Mac's face to see a new expression there. It was indescribable, but she felt as she had often done when watching the mists part suddenly, giving glimpses of some mountaintop, shining serene and high against the blue.

"I think you will be something splendid, for you really look quite glorified, walking under this arch of yellow leaves with the sunshine on your face," she exclaimed, conscious of a sudden admiration never felt before, for Mac was the plainest of all the cousins.

"I don't know about that, but I have my dreams and aspirations, and some of them are pretty high ones. Aim at the best, you know, and keep climbing if you want to get on," he said, looking at the asters with an inward sort of smile, as if he and they had some sweet secret between them.

"You are queerer than ever. But I like your ambition, and hope you will get on. Only mustn't you begin at something soon? I fancied you would study medicine with Uncle that used to be our plan, you know."

"I shall, for the present at least, because I quite agree with you that it is necessary to have an anchor somewhere and not go floating off into the world of imagination without ballast of the right sort. Uncle and I had some talk about it last night and I'm going to begin as soon as possible, for I've mooned long enough," and giving himself a shake, Mac threw down the pretty spray, adding half aloud:

"Chide me not, laborious band,
For the idle flowers I brought:
Every aster in my hand
Goes home laden with a thought."

Rose caught the words and smiled, thinking to herself, "Oh, that's it he is getting into the sentimental age and Aunt Jane has been lecturing him. Dear me, how we are growing up!"

"You look as if you didn't like the prospect very well," she said aloud, for Mac had rammed the volume of Shelley into his pocket and the glorified expression was so entirely gone, Rose fancied she had been mistaken about the mountaintop behind the mists.

"Yes, well enough I always thought the profession a grand one, and where could I find a better teacher than Uncle? I've got into lazy ways lately, and it is high time I went at something useful, so here I go," and Mac abruptly vanished into the study while Rose joined Phebe in Aunt Plenty's room.

The dear old lady had just decided, after long and earnest discussion, which of six favorite puddings should be served for dinner, and thus had a few moments to devote to sentiment, so when Rose came in she held out her arms, saying fondly: "I shall not feel as if I'd got my child back again until I have her in my lap a minute. No, you're not a bit too heavy, my rheumatism doesn't begin much before November, so sit here, darling, and put your two arms round my neck."

Rose obeyed, and neither spoke for a moment as the old woman held the young one close and appeased the two years' longing of a motherly heart by the caresses women give the creatures dearest to them. Right in the middle of a kiss, however, she stopped suddenly and, holding out one arm, caught Phebe, who was trying to steal away unobserved.

"Don't go there's room for both in my love, though there isn't in my lap. I'm so grateful to get my dear girls safely home again that I hardly know what I'm about," said Aunt Plenty, embracing Phebe so heartily that she could not feel left out in the cold and stood there with her black eyes shining through the happiest tears.

"There, now I've had a good hug, and feel as if I was all right again. I wish you'd set that cap in order, Rose I went to bed in such a hurry, I pulled the strings off it and left it all in a heap. Phebe, dear, you shall dust round a mite, just as you used to, for I haven't had anyone to do it as I like since you've been gone, and it will do me good to see all my knickknacks straightened out in your tidy way," said the elder lady, getting up with a refreshed expression on her rosy old face.

"Shall I dust in here too?" asked Phebe, glancing toward an inner room which used to be her care.

"No, dear, I'd rather do that myself. Go in if you like, nothing is changed. I must go and see to my pudding." And Aunt Plenty trotted abruptly away with a quiver of emotion in her voice which made even her last words pathetic.

Pausing on the threshold as if it was a sacred place, the girls looked in with eyes soon dimmed by tender tears, for it seemed as if the gentle occupant was still there. Sunshine shone on the old geraniums by the window; the cushioned chair stood in its accustomed place, with the white wrapper hung across it and the faded slippers lying ready. Books and basket, knitting and spectacles, were all just as she had left them, and the beautiful tranquility that always filled the room seemed so natural, both lookers turned involuntarily toward the bed, where Aunt Peace used to greet them with a smile. There was no sweet old face upon the pillow now, yet the tears that wet the blooming cheeks were not for her who had gone, but for her who was left, because they saw something which spoke eloquently of the love which outlives death and makes the humblest things beautiful and sacred.

A well-worn footstool stood beside the bed, and in the high-piled whiteness of the empty couch there was a little hollow where a gray head nightly rested while Aunt Plenty said the prayers her mother taught her seventy years ago.

Without a word, the girls softly shut the door. And while Phebe put the room in the most exquisite order, Rose retrimmed the plain white cap, where pink and yellow ribbons never rustled now, both feeling honored by their tasks and better for their knowledge of the faithful love and piety which sanctified a good old woman's life.

"You darling creature, I'm so glad to get you back! I know it's shamefully early, but I really couldn't keep away another minute. Let me help you I'm dying to see all your splendid things. I saw the trunks pass and I know you've quantities of treasures," cried Annabel Bliss all in one breath as she embraced Rose an hour later and glanced about the room bestrewn with a variety of agreeable objects.

"How well you are looking! Sit down and I'll show you my lovely photographs. Uncle chose all the best for me, and it's a treat to see them," answered Rose, putting a roll on the table and looking about for more.

"Oh, thanks! I haven't time now one needs hours to study such things. Show me your Paris dresses, there's a dear I'm perfectly aching to see the last styles," and Annabel cast a hungry eye toward certain large boxes delightfully suggestive of French finery.

"I haven't got any," said Rose, fondly surveying the fine photographs as she laid them away.

"Rose Campbell! You don't mean to say that you didn't get one Paris dress at least?" cried Annabel, scandalized at the bare idea of such neglect.

"Not one for myself. Aunt Clara ordered several, and will be charmed to show them when her box comes."

"Such a chance! Right there and plenty of money! How could you love your uncle after such cruelty?" sighed Annabel, with a face full of sympathy.

Rose looked puzzled for a minute, then seemed to understand, and assumed a superior air which became her very well as she said, good-naturedly opening a box of laces, "Uncle did not forbid my doing it, and I had money enough, but I chose not to spend it on things of that sort."

"Could and didn't! I can't believe it!" And Annabel sank into a chair, as if the thought was too much for her.

"I did rather want to at first, just for the fun of the thing. In fact, I went and looked at some amazing gowns. But they were very expensive, very much trimmed, and not my style at all, so I gave them up and kept what I valued more than all the gowns Worth every made."

"What in the world was it?" cried Annabel, hoping she would say diamonds.

"Uncle's good opinion," answered Rose, looking thoughtfully into the depths of a packing case, where lay the lovely picture that would always remind her of the little triumph over girlish vanity, which not only kept but increased "Uncle's good opinion."

"Oh, indeed!" said Annabel blankly, and fell to examining Aunt Plenty's lace while Rose went on with a happy smile in her eyes as she dived into another trunk.

"Uncle thinks one has no right to waste money on such things, but he is very generous and loves to give useful, beautiful, or curious gifts. See, all these pretty ornaments are for presents, and you shall choose first whatever you like."

"He's a perfect dear!" cried Annabel, reveling in the crystal, filigree, coral, and mosaic trinkets spread before her while Rose completed her rapture by adding sundry tasteful trifles fresh from Paris.

"Now tell me, when do you mean to have your coming-out party? I ask because I've nothing ready and want plenty of time, for I suppose it will be the event of the season," asked Annabel a few minutes later as she wavered between a pink coral and a blue lava set.

"I came out when I went to Europe, but I suppose Aunty Plen will want to have some sort of merry-making to celebrate our return. I shall begin as I mean to go on, and have a simple, sociable sort of party and invite everyone whom I like, no matter in what 'set' they happen to belong. No one shall ever say I am aristocratic and exclusive so prepare yourself to be shocked, for old friends and young, rich and poor, will be asked to all my parties."

"Oh, my heart! You are going to be odd, just as Mama predicted!" sighed Annabel, clasping her hands in despair and studying the effect of three bracelets on her chubby arm in the midst of her woe.

"In my own house I'm going to do as I think best, and if people call me odd, I can't help it. I shall endeavor not to do anything very dreadful, but I seem to inherit Uncle's love for experiments and mean to try some. I daresay they will fail and I shall get laughed at. I intend to do it nevertheless, so you had better drop me now before I begin," said Rose with an air of resolution that was rather alarming.

"What shall you wear at this new sort of party of yours?" asked Annabel, wisely turning a deaf ear to all delicate or dangerous topics and keeping to matters she understood.

"That white thing over there. It is fresh and pretty, and Phebe has one like it. I never want to dress more than she does, and gowns of that sort are always most becoming and appropriate to girls of our age."

"Phebe! You don't mean to say you are going to make a lady of her!" gasped Annabel, upsetting her treasures as she fell back with a gesture that made the little chair creak again, for Miss Bliss was as plump as a partridge.

"She is one already, and anybody who slights her slights me, for she is the best girl I know and the dearest," cried Rose warmly.

"Yes, of course I was only surprised you are quite right, for she may turn out to be somebody, and then how glad you'll feel that you were so good to her!" said Annabel, veering around at once, seeing which way the wind blew.

Before Rose could speak again, a cheery voice called from the hall, "Little mistress, where are you?"

"In my room, Phebe, dear," and up came the girl Rose was going to "make a lady of," looking so like one that Annabel opened her china-blue eyes and smiled involuntarily as Phebe dropped a little curtsey in playful imitation of her old manner and said quietly: "How do you do, Miss Bliss?"

"Glad to see you back, Miss Moore," answered Annabel, shaking hands in a way that settled the question of Phebe's place in her mind forever, for the stout damsel had a kind heart in spite of a weak head and was really fond of Rose. It was evidently "Love me, love my Phebe," so she made up her mind on the spot that Phebe was somebody, and that gave an air of romance even to the poorhouse.

She could not help staring a little as she watched the two friends work together and listened to their happy talk over each new treasure as it came to light, for every look and word plainly showed that years of close companionship had made them very dear to one another. It was pretty to see Rose try to do the hardest part of any little job herself still prettier to see Phebe circumvent her and untie the hard knots, fold the stiff papers, or lift the heavy trays with her own strong hands, and prettiest of all to hear her say in a motherly tone, as she put Rose into an easy chair: "Now, my deary, sit and rest, for you will have to see company all day, and I can't let you get tired out so early."

"That is no reason why I should let you either. Call Jane to help or I'll bob up again directly," answered Rose, with a very bad assumption of authority.

"Jane may take my place downstairs, but no one shall wait on you here except me, as long as I'm with you," said stately Phebe, stooping to put a hassock under the feet of her little mistress.

"It is very nice and pretty to see, but I don't know what people will say when she goes into society with the rest of us. I do hope Rose won't be very odd," said Annabel to herself as she went away to circulate the depressing news that there was to be no grand ball and, saddest disappointment of all, that Rose had not a single Paris costume with which to refresh the eyes and rouse the envy of her amiable friends.

"Now I've seen or heard from all the boys but Charlie, and I suppose he is too busy. I wonder what he is about," thought Rose, turning from the hall door, whither she had courteously accompanied her guest.

The wish was granted a moment after, for, going into the parlor to decide where some of her pictures should hang, she saw a pair of brown boots at one end of the sofa, a tawny-brown head at the other, and discovered that Charlie was busily occupied in doing nothing.

"The voice of the Bliss was heard in the land, so I dodged till she went upstairs, and then took a brief siesta while waiting to pay my respects to the distinguished traveler, Lady Hester Stanhope," he said, leaping up to make his best bow.

"The voice of the sluggard would be a more appropriate quotation, I think. Does Annabel still pine for you?" asked Rose, recalling certain youthful jokes upon the subject of unrequited affections.

"Not a bit of it. Fun has cut me out, and the fair Annabella will be Mrs. Tokio before the winter is over if I'm not much mistaken."

"What, little Fun See? How droll it seems to think of him grown up and married to Annabel of all people! She never said a word about him, but this accounts for her admiring my pretty Chinese things and being so interested in Canton."

"Little Fun is a great swell now, and much enamored of our fat friend, who will take to chopsticks whenever he says the word. I needn't ask how you do, Cousin, for you beat that Aurora all hollow in the way of color. I should have been up before, but I thought you'd like a good rest after your voyage."

"I was running a race with Jamie before nine o'clock. What were you doing, young man?"

"'Sleeping I dreamed, love, dreamed, love, of thee,'" began Charlie, but Rose cut him short by saying as reproachfully as she could, while the culprit stood regarding her with placid satisfaction: "You ought to have been up and at work like the rest of the boys. I felt like a drone in a hive of very busy bees when I saw them all hurrying off to their business."

"But, my dear girl, I've got no business. I'm making up my mind, you see, and do the ornamental while I'm deciding. There always ought to be one gentleman in a family, and that seems to be rather my line," answered Charlie, posing for the character with an assumption of languid elegance which would have been very effective if his twinkling eyes had not spoilt it.

"There are none but gentlemen in our family, I hope," answered Rose, with the proud air she always wore when anything was said derogatory to the name of Campbell.

"Of course, of course. I should have said gentleman of leisure. You see it is against my principles to slave as Archie does. What's the use? Don't need the money, got plenty, so why not enjoy it and keep jolly as long as possible? I'm sure cheerful people are public benefactors in this world of woe."

It was not easy to object to this proposition, especially when made by a comely young man who looked the picture of health and happiness as he sat on the arm of the sofa smiling at his cousin in the most engaging manner. Rose knew very well that the Epicurean philosophy was not the true one to begin life upon, but it was difficult to reason with Charlie because he always dodged sober subjects and was so full of cheery spirits, one hated to lessen the sort of sunshine which certainly is a public benefactor.

"You have such a clever way of putting things that I don't know how to contradict you, though I still think I'm right," she said gravely. "Mac likes to idle as well as you, but he is not going to do it because he knows it's bad for him to fritter away his time. He is going to study a profession like a wise boy, though he would much prefer to live among his beloved books or ride his hobbies in peace."

"That's all very well for him, because he doesn't care for society and may as well be studying medicine as philandering about the woods with his pockets full of musty philosophers and old-fashioned poets," answered Charlie with a shrug which plainly expressed his opinion of Mac.

"I wonder if musty philosophers, like Socrates and Aristotle, and old-fashioned poets, like Shakespeare and Milton, are not safer company for him to keep than some of the more modern friends you have?" said Rose, remembering Jamie's hints about wild oats, for she could be a little sharp sometimes and had not lectured "the boys" for so long it seemed unusually pleasant.

But Charlie changed the subject skillfully by exclaiming with an anxious expression: "I do believe you are going to be like Aunt Jane, for that's just the way she comes down on me whenever she gets the chance! Don't take her for a model, I beg she is a good woman but a mighty disagreeable one in my humble opinion."

The fear of being disagreeable is a great bugbear to a girl, as this artful young man well knew, and Rose fell into the trap at once, for Aunt Jane was far from being her model, though she could not help respecting her worth.

"Have you given up your painting?" she asked rather abruptly, turning to a gilded Fra Angelico angel which leaned in the sofa corner.

"Sweetest face I ever saw, and very like you about the eyes, isn't it?" said Charlie, who seemed to have a Yankee trick of replying to one question with another.

"I want an answer, not a compliment," and Rose tried to look severe as she put away the picture more quickly than she had taken it up.

"Have I given up painting? Oh, no! I daub a little in oils, slop a little in watercolors, sketch now and then, and poke about the studios when the artistic fit comes on."

"How is the music?"

"More flourishing. I don't practice much, but sing a good deal in company. Set up a guitar last summer and went troubadouring round in great style. The girls like it, and it's jolly among the fellows."

"Are you studying anything?"

"Well, I have some lawbooks on my table good, big, wise-looking chaps and I take a turn at them semioccasionally when pleasure palls or parents chide. But I doubt if I do more than learn what 'a allybi' is this year," and a sly laugh in Charlie's eye suggested that he sometimes availed himself of this bit of legal knowledge.

"What do you do then?"

"Fair catechist, I enjoy myself. Private theatricals have been the rage of late, and I have won such laurels that I seriously think of adopting the stage as my profession."

"Really!" cried Rose, alarmed.

"Why not? If I must go to work, isn't that as good as anything?"

"Not without more talent than I think you possess. With genius one can do anything without it one had better let the stage alone."

"There's a quencher for the 'star of the goodlie companie' to which I belong. Mac hasn't a ray of genius for anything, yet you admire him for trying to be an M.D.," cried Charlie, rather nettled at her words.

"It is respectable, at all events, and I'd rather be a second-rate doctor than a second-rate actor. But I know you don't mean it, and only say so to frighten me."

"Exactly. I always bring it up when anyone begins to lecture and it works wonders. Uncle Mac turns pale, the aunts hold up their hands in holy horror, and a general panic ensues. Then I magnanimously promise not to disgrace the family and in the first burst of gratitude the dear souls agree to everything I ask, so peace is restored and I go on my way rejoicing."

"Just the way you used to threaten to run off to sea if your mother objected to any of your whims. You are not changed in that respect, though you are in others. You had great plans and projects once, Charlie, and now you seem to be contented with being a 'jack of all trades and master of none'".

"Boyish nonsense! Time has brought wisdom, and I don't see the sense of tying myself down to one particular thing and grinding away at it year after year. People of one idea get so deucedly narrow and tame, I've no patience with them. Culture is the thing, and the sort one gets by ranging over a wide field is the easiest to acquire, the handiest to have, and the most successful in the end. At any rate, it is the kind I like and the only kind I intend to bother myself about."

With this declaration, Charlie smoothed his brow, clasped his hands over his head, and, leaning back, gently warbled the chorus of a college song as if it expressed his views of life better than he could:

"While our rosy fillets shed
Blushes o'er each fervid head,
With many a cup and many a smile
The festal moments we beguile."

"Some of my saints here were people of one idea, and though they were not very successful from a worldly point of view while alive, they were loved and canonized when dead," said Rose, who had been turning over a pile of photographs on the table and just then found her favorite, St. Francis, among them.

"This is more to my taste. Those worn-out, cadaverous fellows give me the blues, but here's a gentlemanly saint who takes things easy and does good as he goes along without howling over his own sins or making other people miserable by telling them of theirs." And Charlie laid a handsome St. Martin beside the brown-frocked monk.

Rose looked at both and understood why her cousin preferred the soldierly figure with the sword to the ascetic with his crucifix. One was riding bravely through the world in purple and fine linen, with horse and hound and squires at his back; and the other was in a lazar-house, praying over the dead and dying. The contrast was a strong one, and the girl's eyes lingered longest on the knight, though she said thoughtfully, "Yours is certainly the pleasantest and yet I never heard of any good deed he did, except divide his cloak with a beggar, while St. Francis gave himself to charity just when life was most tempting and spent years working for God without reward. He's old and poor, and in a dreadful place, but I won't give him up, and you may have your gay St. Martin if you want him."

"No, thank you, saints are not in my line but I'd like the golden-haired angel in the blue gown if you'll let me have her. She shall be my little Madonna, and I'll pray to her like a good Catholic," answered Charlie, turning to the delicate, deep-eyed figure with the lilies in its hand.

"With all my heart, and any others that you like. Choose some for your mother and give them to her with my love."

So Charlie sat down beside Rose to turn and talk over the pictures for a long and pleasant hour. But when they went away to lunch, if there had been anyone to observe so small but significant a trifle, good St. Francis lay face downward behind the sofa, while gallant St. Martin stood erect upon the chimneypiece.