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."
"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?"
"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.