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Chapter 1 Two Girls

  • Rose sat all alone in the big best parlor, with her little handkerchief lai_eady to catch the first tear, for she was thinking of her troubles, and _hower was expected. She had retired to this room as a good place in which t_e miserable; for it was dark and still, full of ancient furniture, sombr_urtains, and hung all around with portraits of solemn old gentlemen in wigs, severe-nosed ladies in top-heavy caps, and staring children in little bob- tailed coats or short-waisted frocks. It was an excellent place for woe; an_he fitful spring rain that pattered on the window-pane seemed to sob, "Cr_way: I'm with you."
  • Rose really did have some cause to be sad; for she had no mother, and ha_ately lost her father also, which left her no home but this with her great- aunts. She had been with them only a week, and, though the dear old ladies ha_ried their best to make her happy, they had not succeeded very well, for sh_as unlike any child they had ever seen, and they felt very much as if the_ad the care of a low-spirited butterfly.
  • They had given her the freedom of the house, and for a day or two she ha_mused herself roaming all over it, for it was a capital old mansion, and wa_ull of all manner of odd nooks, charming rooms, and mysterious passages.
  • Windows broke out in unexpected places, little balconies overhung the garde_ost romantically, and there was a long upper hall full of curiosities fro_ll parts of the world; for the Campbells had been sea-captains fo_enerations.
  • Aunt Plenty had even allowed Rose to rummage in her great china closet a spic_etreat, rich in all the "goodies" that children love; but Rose seemed to car_ittle for these toothsome temptations; and when that hope failed, Aunt Plent_ave up in despair.
  • Gentle Aunt Peace had tried all sorts of pretty needle-work, and planned _oll's wardrobe that would have won the heart of even an older child. But Ros_ook little interest in pink satin hats and tiny hose, though she sewe_utifully till her aunt caught her wiping tears away with the train of _edding-dress, and that discovery put an end to the sewing society.
  • Then both old ladies put their heads together and picked out the model chil_f the neighbourhood to come and play with their niece. But Ariadne Blish wa_he worst failure of all, for Rose could not bear the sight of her, and sai_he was so like a wax doll she longed to give her a pinch and see if she woul_queak. So prim little Ariadne was sent home, and the exhausted aunties lef_ose to her own devices for a day or two.
  • Bad weather and a cold kept her in-doors, and she spent most of her time i_he library where her father's books were stored. Here she read a great deal, cried a little, and dreamed many of the innocent bright dreams in whic_maginative children find such comfort and delight. This suited her bette_han anything else, but it was not good for her, and she grew pale, heavy-eye_nd listless, though Aunt Plenty gave her iron enough to make a cooking-stove, and Aunt Peace petted her like a poodle.
  • Seeing this, the poor aunties racked their brains for a new amusement an_etermined to venture a bold stroke, though not very hopeful of its success.
  • They said nothing to Rose about their plan for this Saturday afternoon, bu_et her alone till the time came for the grand surprise, little dreaming tha_he odd child would find pleasure for herself in a most unexpected quarter.
  • Before she had time to squeeze out a single tear a sound broke the stillness, making her prick up her ears. It was only the soft twitter of a bird, but i_eemed to be a peculiarly gifted bird, for while she listened the soft twitte_hanged to a lively whistle, then a trill, a coo, a chirp, and ended in _usical mixture of all the notes, as if the bird burst out laughing. Ros_aughed also, and, forgetting her woes, jumped up, saying eagerly,
  • "It is a mocking-bird. Where is it?"
  • Running down the long hall, she peeped out at both doors, but saw nothin_eathered except a draggle-tailed chicken under a burdock leaf. She listene_gain, and the sound seemed to be in the house. Away she went, much excited b_he chase, and following the changeful song, it led her to the china-close_oor.
  • "In there? How funny!" she said. But when she entered, not a bird appeare_xcept the everlastingly kissing swallows on the Canton china that lined th_helves. All of a sudden Rose's face brightened, and, softly opening th_lide, she peered into the kitchen. But the music had stopped, and all she sa_as a girl in a blue apron scrubbing the hearth. Rose stared about her for _inute, and then asked abruptly,
  • "Did you hear that mocking-bird?"
  • "I should call it a phebe-bird," answered the girl, looking up with a twinkl_n her black eyes.
  • "Where did it go?"
  • "It is here still."
  • "Where?"
  • "In my throat. Do you want to hear it?"
  • "Oh, yes! I'll come in." And Rose crept through the slide to the wide shelf o_he other side, being too hurried and puzzled to go round by the door.
  • The girl wiped her hands, crossed her feet on the little island of carpe_here she was stranded in a sea of soap-suds, and then, sure enough, out o_er slender throat came the swallow's twitter, the robin's whistle, the blue- jay's call, the thrush's song, the wood-dove's coo, and many another familia_ote, all ending as before with the musical ecstacy of a bobolink singing an_winging among the meadow grass on a bright June day.
  • Rose was so astonished that she nearly fell off her perch, and when the littl_oncert was over clapped her hands delightedly.
  • "Oh, it was lovely! Who taught you?"
  • "The birds," answered the girl, with a smile, as she fell to work again.
  • "It is very wonderful! I can sing, but nothing half so fine as that. What i_our name, please?"
  • "Phebe Moore."
  • "I've heard of phebe-birds; but I don't believe the real ones could do that,"
  • laughed Rose, adding, as she watched with interest the scattering of dabs o_oft soap over the bricks, "May I stay and see you work? It is very lonely i_he parlor."
  • "Yes, indeed, if you want to," answered Phebe, wringing out her cloth in _apable sort of way that impressed Rose very much.
  • "It must be fun to swash the water round and dig out the soap. I'd love to d_t, only aunt wouldn't like it, I suppose," said Rose, quite taken with th_ew employment.
  • "You'd soon get tired, so you'd better keep tidy and look on."
  • "I suppose you help your mother a good deal?"
  • "I haven't got any folks."
  • "Why, where do you live, then?"
  • "I'm going to live here, I hope. Debby wants some one to help round, and I'v_ome to try for a week."
  • "I hope you will stay, for it is very dull," said Rose, who had taken a sudde_ancy to this girl, who sung like a bird and worked like a woman.
  • "Hope I shall; for I'm fifteen now, and old enough to earn my own living. Yo_ave come to stay a spell, haven't you?" asked Phebe, looking up at her gues_nd wondering how life could be dull to a girl who wore a silk frock, _aintily frilled apron, a pretty locket, and had her hair tied up with _elvet snood.
  • "Yes, I shall stay till my uncle comes. He is my guardian now, and I don'_now what he will do with me. Have you a guardian?"
  • "My sakes, no! I was left on the poor-house steps a little mite of a baby, an_iss Rogers took a liking to me, so I've been there ever since. But she i_ead now, and I take care of myself."
  • "How interesting! It is like Arabella Montgomery in the 'Gypsy's Child.' Di_ou ever read that sweet story?" asked Rose, who was fond of tales of found- lings, and had read many.
  • "I don't have any books to read, and all the spare time I get I run off int_he woods; that rests me better than stories," answered Phebe, as she finishe_ne job and began on another.
  • Rose watched her as she got out a great pan of beans to look over, an_ondered how it would seem to have life all work and no play. Presently Pheb_eemed to think it was her turn to ask questions, and said, wistfully,
  • "You've had lots of schooling, I suppose?"
  • "Oh, dear me, yes! I've been at boarding school nearly a year, and I'm almos_ead with lessons. The more I got, the more Miss Power gave me, and I was s_iserable that I 'most cried my eyes out. Papa never gave me hard things t_o, and he always taught me so pleasantly I loved to study. Oh, we were s_appy and so fond of one another! But now he is gone, and I am left al_lone."
  • The tear that would not come when Rose sat waiting for it came now of its ow_ccord two of them in fact and rolled down her cheeks, telling the tale o_ove and sorrow better than any words could do it.
  • For a minute there was no sound in the kitchen but the little daughter'_obbing and the sympathetic patter of the rain. Phebe stopped rattling he_eans from one pan to another, and her eyes were full of pity as they reste_n the curly head bent down on Rose's knee, for she saw that the heart unde_he pretty locket ached with its loss, and the dainty apron was used to dr_adder tears than any she had ever shed.
  • Somehow, she felt more contented with her brown calico gown and blue-checke_inafore; envy changed to compassion; and if she had dared she would have gon_nd hugged her afflicted guest.
  • Fearing that might not be considered proper, she said, in her cheery voice,
  • "I'm sure you ain't all alone with such a lot of folks belonging to you, an_ll so rich and clever. You'll be petted to pieces, Debby says, because yo_re the only girl in the family."
  • Phebe's last words made Rose smile in spite of her tears, and she looked ou_rom behind her apron with an April face, saying in a tone of comic distress,
  • "That's one of my troubles! I've got six aunts, and they all want me, and _on't know any of them very well. Papa named this place the Aunt-hill, and no_ see why."
  • Phebe laughed with her as she said encouragingly,
  • "Everyone calls it so, and it's a real good name, for all the Mrs. Campbell_ive handy by, and keep coming up to see the old ladies."
  • "I could stand the aunts, but there are dozens of cousins, dreadful boys al_f them, and I detest boys! Some of them came to see me last Wednesday, but _as lying down, and when auntie came to call me I went under the quilt an_retended to be asleep. I shall have to see them some time, but I do dread i_o." And Rose gave a shudder, for, having lived alone with her invalid father, she knew nothing of boys, and considered them a species of wild animal.
  • "Oh! I guess you'll like 'em. I've seen 'em flying round when they come ove_rom the Point, sometimes in their boats and sometimes on horseback. If yo_ike boats and horses, you'll enjoy yourself first-rate."
  • "But I don't! I'm afraid of horses, and boats make me ill, and I hate boys!"
  • And poor Rose wrung her hands at the awful prospect before her. One of thes_orrors alone she could have borne, but all together were too much for her, and she began to think of a speedy return to the detested school.
  • Phebe laughed at her woe till the beans danced in the pan, but tried t_omfort her by suggesting a means of relief.
  • "Perhaps your uncle will take you away where there ain't any boys. Debby say_e is a real kind man, and always bring heaps of nice things when he comes."
  • "Yes, but you see that is another trouble, for I don't know Uncle Alec at all.
  • He hardly ever came to see us, though he sent me pretty things very often. No_ belong to him, and shall have to mind him, till I am eighteen. I may no_ike him a bit, and I fret about it all the time."
  • "Well, I wouldn't borrow trouble, but have a real good time. I'm sure I shoul_hink I was in clover if I had folks and money, and nothing to do but enjo_yself," began Phebe, but got no further, for a sudden rush and tumble outsid_ade them both jump.
  • "It's thunder," said Phebe.
  • "It's a circus!" cried Rose, who from her elevated perch had caught glimpse_f a gay cart of some sort and several ponies with flying manes and tails.
  • The sound died away, and the girls were about to continue their confidence_hen old Debby appeared, looking rather cross and sleepy after her nap.
  • "You are wanted in the parlor, Miss Rose."
  • "Has anybody come?"
  • "Little girls shouldn't ask questions, but do as they are bid," was all Debb_ould answer.
  • "I do hope it isn't Aunt Myra; she always scares me out of my wits asking ho_y cough is, and groaning over me as if I was going to die," said Rose, preparing to retire the way she came, for the slide, being cut for th_dmission of bouncing Christmas turkeys and puddings, was plenty large enoug_or a slender girl.
  • "Guess you'll wish it was Aunt Myra when you see who has come. Don't never le_e catch you coming into my kitchen that way again, or I'll shut you up in th_ig b'iler," growled Debby, who thought it her duty to snub children on al_ccasions.