Chapter 17: Among The Haycocks

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Uncle Alec did not object and, finding that no one had any claim upon the child, permitted Rose to keep it for a time at least. So little Dulce, newly equipped even to a name, took her place among them and slowly began to thrive. But she did not grow pretty and never was a gay, attractive child, for she seemed to have been born in sorrow and brought up in misery. A pale, pensive little creature, always creeping into corners and looking timidly out, as if asking leave to live, and, when offered playthings, taking them with a meek surprise that was very touching.

Rose soon won her heart, and then almost wished she had not, for baby clung to her with inconvenient fondness, changing her former wail of “Marmar” into a lament for “Aunty Wose” if separated long. Nevertheless, there was great satisfaction in cherishing the little waif, for she learned more than she could teach and felt a sense of responsibility which was excellent ballast for her enthusiastic nature.

Kitty Van, who made Rose her model in all things, was immediately inspired to go and do likewise, to the great amusement as well as annoyance of her family. Selecting the prettiest, liveliest child in the Asylum, she took it home on trial for a week. “A perfect cherub” she pronounced it the first day, but an “enfant terrible” before the week was over, for the young hero rioted by day, howled by night, ravaged the house from top to bottom, and kept his guardians in a series of panics by his hairbreadth escapes. So early on Saturday, poor exhausted Kitty restored the “cherub” with many thanks, and decided to wait until her views of education were rather more advanced.

As the warm weather came on, Rose announced that Dulce needed mountain air, for she dutifully repeated as many of Dr. Alec’s prescriptions as possible and, remembering how much good Cozy Corner did her long ago, resolved to try it on her baby. Aunt Jessie and Jamie went with her, and Mother Atkinson received them as cordially as ever. The pretty daughters were all married and gone, but a stout damsel took their place, and nothing seemed changed except that the old heads were grayer and the young ones a good deal taller than six years ago.

Jamie immediately fraternized with neighboring boys and devoted himself to fishing with an ardor which deserved greater success. Aunt Jessie reveled in reading, for which she had no time at home, and lay in her hammock a happy woman, with no socks to darn, buttons to sew, or housekeeping cares to vex her soul. Rose went about with Dulce like a very devoted hen with one rather feeble chicken, for she was anxious to have this treatment work well and tended her little patient with daily increasing satisfaction. Dr. Alec came up to pass a few days and pronounced the child in a most promising condition. But the grand event of the season was the unexpected arrival of Phebe.

Two of her pupils had invited her to join them in a trip to the mountains, and she ran away from the great hotel to surprise her little mistress with a sight of her, so well and happy that Rose had no anxiety left on her account.

Three delightful days they spent, roaming about together, talking as only girls can talk after a long separation, and enjoying one another like a pair of lovers. As if to make it quite perfect, by one of those remarkable coincidences which sometimes occur, Archie happened to run up for the Sunday, so Phebe had her surprise, and Aunt Jessie and the telegraph kept their secret so well, no one ever knew what maternal machinations brought the happy accident to pass.

Then Rose saw a very pretty, pastoral bit of lovemaking, and long after it was over, and Phebe gone one way, Archie another, the echo of sweet words seemed to linger in the air, tender ghosts to haunt the pine grove, and even the big coffeepot had a halo of romance about it, for its burnished sides reflected the soft glances the lovers interchanged as one filled the other’s cup at that last breakfast.

Rose found these reminiscences more interesting than any novel she had read, and often beguiled her long leisure by planning a splendid future for her Phebe as she trotted about after her baby in the lovely July weather.

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