Chapter 21: How Phebe Earned Her Welcome

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Dr. Alec had not arrived, but bad tidings had, as Rose guessed the instant her eyes fell upon Aunt Plenty, hobbling downstairs with her cap awry, her face pale, and a letter flapping wildly in her hand as she cried distractedly: “Oh, my boy! My boy! Sick, and I not there to nurse him! Malignant fever, so far away. What can those children do? Why did I let Alec go?”

Rose got her into the parlor, and while the poor old lady lamented, she read the letter which Phebe had sent to her that she might “break the news carefully to Rose.”

DEAR MISS PLENTY,
Please read this to yourself first, and tell my little mistress as you think best. The dear doctor is very ill, but I am with him, and shall not leave him day or night till he is safe. So trust me, and do not be anxious, for everything shall be done that care and skill and entire devotion can do. He would not let us tell you before, fearing you would try to come at the risk of your health. Indeed it would be useless, for only one nurse is needed, and I came first, so do not let Rose or anybody else rob me of my right to the danger and the duty. Mac has written to his father, for Dr. Alec is now too ill to know what we do, and we both felt that you ought to be told without further delay. He has a bad malignant fever, caught no one can tell how, unless among some poor emigrants whom he met wandering about quite forlorn in a strange city. He understood Portuguese and sent them to a proper place when they had told their story. But I fear he has suffered for his kindness, for this fever came on rapidly, and before he knew what it was I was there, and it was too late to send me away.

Now I can show you how grateful I am, and if need be give my life so gladly for this friend who has been a father to me. Tell Rose his last conscious word and thought were for her. “Don’t let her come; keep my darling safe.” Oh, do obey him! Stay safely at home and, God helping me, I’ll bring Uncle Alec back in time. Mac does all I will let him. We have the best physicians, and everything is going as well as can be hoped till the fever turns.

Dear Miss Plenty, pray for him and for me, that I may do this one happy thing for those who have done so much for
Your ever dutiful and loving

PHEBE

As Rose looked up from the letter, half stunned by the sudden news and the great danger, she found that the old lady had already stopped useless bewailing and was praying heartily, like one who knew well where help was to be found. Rose went and knelt down at her knee, laying her face on the clasped hands in her lap, and for a few minutes neither wept nor spoke. Then a stifled sob broke from the girl, and Aunt Plenty gathered the young head in her arms, saying, with the slow tears of age trickling down her own withered cheeks: “Bear up, my lamb, bear up. The good Lord won’t take him from us I am sure and that brave child will be allowed to pay her debt to him. I feel she will.”

“But I want to help. I must go, Aunty, I must no matter what the danger is,” cried Rose, full of a tender jealousy of Phebe for being first to brave peril for the sake of him who had been a father to them both.

“You can’t go, dear, it’s no use now, and she is right to say, ‘Keep away.’ I know those fevers, and the ones who nurse often take it, and fare worse for the strain they’ve been through. Good girl to stand by so bravely, to be so sensible, and not let Mac go too near! She’s a grand nurse Alec couldn’t have a better, and she’ll never leave him till he’s safe,” said Miss Plenty excitedly.

“Ah, you begin to know her now, and value her as you ought. I think few would have done as she has, and if she does get ill and die, it will be our fault partly, because she’d go through fire and water to make us do her justice and receive her as we ought,” cried Rose, proud of an example which she longed to follow.

“If she brings my boy home, I’ll never say another word. She may marry every nephew I’ve got, if she likes, and I’ll give her my blessing,” exclaimed Aunt Plenty, feeling that no price would be too much to pay for such a deed.

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