Rose scrambled into the china-closet as rapidly as possible, and ther_efreshed herself by making faces at Debby, while she settled her plumage an_crewed up her courage. Then she crept softly down the hall and peeped int_he parlor. No one appeared, and all was so still she felt sure the compan_as upstairs. So she skipped boldly through the half-open folding-doors, t_ehold on the other side a sight that nearly took her breath away.
Seven boys stood in a row all ages, all sizes, all yellow-haired and blue- eyed, all in full Scotch costume, and all smiling, nodding, and saying as wit_ne voice, "How are you, cousin?"
Rose gave a little gasp, and looked wildly about her as if ready to fly, fo_ear magnified the seven and the room seemed full of boys. Before she coul_un, however, the tallest lad stepped out of the line, saying pleasantly,
"Don't be frightened. This is the Clan come to welcome you; and I'm the chief, Archie, at your service."
He held out his hand as he spoke, and Rose timidly put her own into a brow_aw, which closed over the white morsel and held it as the chief continued hi_ntroductions.
"We came in full rig, for we always turn out in style on grand occasions. Hop_ou like it. Now I'll tell you who these chaps are, and then we shall be al_ight. This big one is Prince Charlie, Aunt Clara's boy. She has but one, s_e is an extra good one. This old fellow is Mac, the bookworm, called Worm fo_hort. This sweet creature is Steve the Dandy. Look at his gloves and top- knot, if you please. They are Aunt Jane's lads, and a precious pair you'_etter believe. These are the Brats, my brothers, Geordie and Will, and Jami_he Baby. Now, my men, step out and show your manners."
At this command, to Rose's great dismay, six more hands were offered, and i_as evident that she was expected to shake them all. It was a trying moment t_he bashful child; but, remembering that they were her kinsmen come to welcom_er, she tried her best to return the greeting cordially.
This impressive ceremony being over, the Clan broke ranks, and both room_nstantly appeared to be pervaded with boys. Rose hastily retired to th_helter of a big chair and sat there watching the invaders and wondering whe_er aunt would come and rescue her.
As if bound to do their duty manfully, yet rather oppressed by it, each la_aused beside her chair in his wanderings, made a brief remark, received _till briefer answer, and then sheered off with a relieved expression.
Archie came first, and, leaning over the chair-back, observed in a paterna_one,
"I'm glad you've come, cousin, and I hope you'll find the Aunt-hill prett_olly."
"I think I shall."
Mac shook his hair out of his eyes, stumbled over a stool, and asked abruptly,
"Did you bring any books with you?"
"Four boxes full. They are in the library."
Mac vanished from the room, and Steve, striking an attitude which displaye_is costume effectively, said with an affable smile,
"We were sorry not to see you last Wednesday. I hope your cold is better."
"Yes, thank you." And a smile began to dimple about Rose's mouth, as sh_emembered her retreat under the bed-cover.
Feeling that he had been received with distinguished marks of attention, Stev_trolled away with his topknot higher than ever, and Prince Charlie prance_cross the room, saying in a free and easy tone,
"Mamma sent her love and hopes you will be well enough to come over for a da_ext week. It must be desperately dull here for a little thing like you."
"I'm thirteen and a half, though I do look small," cried Rose, forgetting he_hyness in indignation at this insult to her newly acquired teens.
"Beg pardon, ma'am; never should have guessed it." And Charlie went off with _augh, glad to have struck a spark out of his meek cousin.
Geordie and Will came together, two sturdy eleven and twelve year olders, and, fixing their round blue eyes on Rose, fired off a question apiece, as if i_as a shooting match and she the target.
"Did you bring your monkey?"
"No; he is dead."
"Are you going to have a boat?"
"I hope not."
Here the two, with a right-about-face movement, abruptly marched away, an_ittle Jamie demanded with childish frankness,
"Did you bring me anything nice?"
"Yes, lots of candy," answered Rose, whereupon Jamie ascended into her la_ith a sounding kiss and the announcement that he liked her very much.
This proceeding rather startled Rose, for the other lads looked and laughed, and in her confusion she said hastily to the young usurper,
"Did you see the circus go by?"
"When? Where?" cried all the boys in great excitement at once.
"Just before you came. At least I thought it was a circus, for I saw a red an_lack sort of cart and ever so many little ponies, and—"
She got no farther, for a general shout made her pause suddenly, as Archi_xplained the joke by saying in the middle of his laugh,
"It was our new dog-cart and the Shetland ponies. You'll never hear the las_f your circus, cousin."
"But there were so many, and they went so fast, and the cart was so very red,"
began Rose, trying to explain her mistake.
"Come and see them all!" cried the Prince. And before she knew what wa_appening, she was borne away to the barn and tumultuously introduced to thre_haggy ponies and the gay new dog-cart.
She had never visited these regions before, and had her doubts as to th_ropriety of her being there now, but when she suggested that "Auntie migh_ot like it," there was a general cry of,
"She told us to amuse you, and we can do it ever so much better out here tha_oking round in the house."
"I'm afraid I shall get cold without my sacque," began Rose, who wanted t_tay, but felt rather out of her element.
"No, you won't! We'll fix you," cried the lads, as one clapped his cap on he_ead, another tied a rough jacket round her neck by the sleeves, a thir_eatly smothered her in a carriage blanket, and a fourth threw open the doo_f the old barouche that stood there, saying with a flourish,
"Step in, ma'am, and make yourself comfortable while we show you some fun."
So Rose sat in state enjoying herself very much, for the lads proceeded t_ance a Highland Fling with a spirit and skill that made her clap her hand_nd laugh as she had not done for weeks.
"How is that, my lassie?" asked the Prince, coming up all flushed an_reathless when the ballet was over.
"It was splendid! I never went to the theatre but once, and the dancing wa_ot half so pretty as this. What clever boys you must be!" said Rose, smilin_pon her kinsmen like a little queen upon her subjects.
"Ah, we're a fine lot, and that is only the beginning of our larks. We haven'_ot the pipes here or we'd,
> 'Sing for you, play for you > A dulcy melody,'"
answered Charlie, looking much elated at her praise.
"I did not know we were Scotch; papa never said anything about it, or seeme_o care about Scotland, except to have me sing the old ballads," said Rose, beginning to feel as if she had left America behind her somewhere.
"Neither did we till lately. We've been reading Scott's novels, and all of _udden we remembered that our grandfather was a Scotchman. So we hunted up th_ld stories, got a bagpipe, put on our plaids, and went in, heart and soul, for the glory of the Clan. We've been at it some time now, and it's great fun.
Our people like it, and I think we are a pretty canny set."
Archie said this from the other coach-step, where he had perched, while th_est climbed up before and behind to join in the chat as they rested.
"I'm Fitzjames and he's Roderick Dhu, and we'll give you the broadsword comba_ome day. It's a great thing, you'd better believe," added the Prince.
"Yes, and you should hear Steve play the pipes. He makes 'em skirl like a goo_ne," cried Will from the box, eager to air the accomplishments of his race.
"Mac's the fellow to hunt up the old stories and tell us how to dress right, and pick out rousing bits for us to speak and sing," put in Geordie, saying _ood word for the absent Worm.
"And what do you and Will do?" asked Rose of Jamie, who sat beside her as i_ound to keep her in sight till the promised gift had been handed over.
"Oh, I'm the little foot-page, and do errands, and Will and Geordie are th_roops when we march, and the stags when we hunt, and the traitors when w_ant to cut any heads off."
"They are very obliging, I'm sure," said Rose, whereat the "utility men"
beamed with modest pride and resolved to enact Wallace and Montrose as soon a_ossible for their cousin's special benefit.
"Let's have a game of tag," cried the Prince, swinging himself up to a bea_ith a sounding slap on Stevie's shoulder.
Regardless of his gloves, Dandy tore after him, and the rest swarmed in ever_irection as if bent on breaking their necks and dislocating their joints a_apidly as possible.
It was a new and astonishing spectacle to Rose, fresh from a prim boarding- school, and she watched the active lads with breathless interest, thinkin_heir antics far superior to those of Mops, the dear departed monkey.
Will had just covered himself with glory by pitching off a high loft hea_irst and coming up all right, when Phebe appeared with a cloak, hood, an_ubbers, also a message from Aunt Plenty that "Miss Rose was to come i_irectly."
"All right; we'll bring her!" answered Archie, issuing some mysterious order, which was so promptly obeyed that, before Rose could get out of the carriage, the boys had caught hold of the pole and rattled her out of the barn, roun_he oval and up to the front door with a cheer that brought two caps to a_pper window, and caused Debby to cry aloud from the back porch,
"Them harum-scarum boys will certainly be the death of that delicate littl_reter!"
But the "delicate little creter" seemed all the better for her trip, and ra_p the steps looking rosy, gay, and dishevelled, to be received wit_amentation by Aunt Plenty, who begged her to go and lie down at once.
"Oh, please don't! We have come to tea with our cousin, and we'll be as goo_s gold if you'll let us stay, auntie," clamoured the boys, who not onl_pproved of "our cousin" but had no mind to lose their tea, for Aunt Plenty'_ame but feebly expressed her bountiful nature.
"Well, dears, you can; only be quiet, and let Rose go and take her iron and b_ade tidy, and then we will see what we can find for supper," said the ol_ady as she trotted away, followed by a volley of directions for th_pproaching feast.
"Marmalade for me, auntie."
"Plenty of plum-cake, please."
"Tell Debby to trot out the baked pears."
"I'm your man for lemon-pie, ma'am."
"Do have fritters; Rose will like 'em."
"She'd rather have tarts, I know."
When Rose came down, fifteen minutes later, with every curl smoothed and he_ost beruffled apron on, she found the boys loafing about the long hall, an_aused on the half-way landing to take an observation, for till now she ha_ot really examined her new-found cousins.
There was a strong family resemblance among them, though some of the yello_eads were darker than others, some of the cheeks brown instead of rosy, an_he ages varied all the way from sixteen-year-old Archie to Jamie, who was te_ears younger. None of them were especially comely but the Prince, yet al_ere hearty, happy-looking lads, and Rose decided that boys were not a_readful as she had expected to find them.
They were all so characteristically employed that she could not help smilin_s she looked. Archie and Charlie, evidently great cronies, were pacing up an_own, shoulder to shoulder, whistling "Bonnie Dundee"; Mac was reading in _orner, with his book close to his near-sighted eyes; Dandy was arranging hi_air before the oval glass in the hat-stand; Geordie and Will investigatin_he internal economy of the moon-faced clock; and Jamie lay kicking up hi_eels on the mat at the foot of the stairs, bent on demanding his sweeties th_nstant Rose appeared.
She guessed his intention, and forestalled his demand by dropping a handful o_ugar-plums down upon him.
At his cry of rapture the other lads looked up and smiled involuntarily, fo_he little kinswoman standing there above was a winsome sight with her shy, soft eyes, bright hair, and laughing face. The black frock reminded them o_er loss, and filled the boyish hearts with a kindly desire to be good to "ou_ousin," who had no longer any home but this.
"There she is, as fine as you please," cried Steve, kissing his hand to her.
"Come on, Missy; tea is ready," added the Prince encouragingly.
"I shall take her in." And Archie offered his arm with great dignity, a_onour that made Rose turn as red as a cherry and long to run upstairs again.
It was a merry supper, and the two elder boys added much to the fun b_ormenting the rest with dark hints of some interesting event which was abou_o occur. Something uncommonly fine, they declared it was, but enveloped i_he deepest mystery for the present.
"Did I ever see it?" asked Jamie.
"Not to remember it; but Mac and Steve have, and liked it immensely," answere_rchie, thereby causing the two mentioned to neglect Debby's delectabl_ritters for several minutes, while they cudgelled their brains.
"Who will have it first?" asked Will, with his mouth full of marmalade.
"Aunt Plenty, I guess."
"When will she have it?" demanded Geordie, bouncing in his seat wit_mpatience.
"Sometime on Monday."
"Heart alive! what is the boy talking about?" cried the old lady from behin_he tall urn, which left little to be seen but the topmost bow of her cap.
"Doesn't auntie know?" asked a chorus of voices.
"No; and that's the best of the joke, for she is desperately fond of it."
"What colour is it?" asked Rose, joining in the fun.
"Blue and brown."
"Is it good to eat?" asked Jamie.
"Some people think so, but I shouldn't like to try it," answered Charlie, laughing so he split his tea.
"Who does it belong to?" put in Steve.
Archie and the Prince stared at one another rather blankly for a minute, the_rchie answered with a twinkle of the eye that made Charlie explode again,
"To Grandfather Campbell."
This was a poser, and they gave up the puzzle, though Jamie confided to Ros_hat he did not think he could live till Monday without knowing what thi_emarkable thing was.
Soon after tea the Clan departed, singing "All the blue bonnets are over th_order," at the tops of their voices.
"Well, dear, how do you like your cousins?" asked Aunt Plenty, as the las_ony frisked round the corner and the din died away.
"Pretty well, ma'am; but I like Phebe better." An answer which caused Aun_lenty to hold up her hands in despair and trot away to tell sister Peace tha_he never should understand that child, and it was a mercy Alec was comin_oon to take the responsibility off their hands.
Fatigued by the unusual exertions of the afternoon, Rose curled herself up i_he sofa corner to rest and think about the great mystery, little guessin_hat she was to know it first of all.
Right in the middle of her meditations she fell asleep and dreamed she was a_ome again in her own little bed. She seemed to wake and see her fathe_ending over her; to hear him say, "My little Rose"; to answer, "Yes, papa"; and then to feel him take her in his arms and kiss her tenderly. So sweet, s_eal was the dream, that she started up with a cry of joy to find herself i_he arms of a brown, bearded man, who held her close, and whispered in a voic_o like her father's that she clung to him involuntarily,