Chapter 22 - Short And Sweet
In the hall she found Steve and Kitty, for he had hidden his little sweetheart behind the big couch, feeling that she had a right there, having supported his spirits during the late anxiety with great constancy and courage. They seemed so cozy, billing and cooing in the shadow of the gay vase, that Rose would have slipped silently away if they had not seen and called to her. "He's not gone I guess you'll find him in the parlor," said Steve, divining with a lover's instinct the meaning of the quick look she had cast at the hat rack as she shut the study door behind her.
"Mercy, no! Archie and Phebe are there, so he'd have the sense to pop into the sanctum and wait, unless you'd like me to go and bring him out?" added Kitty, smoothing Rose's ruffled hair and settling the flowers on the bosom where Uncle Alec's head had lain until he fell asleep.
"No, thank you, I'll go to him when I've seen my Phebe. She won't mind me," answered Rose, moving on to the parlor.
"Look here," called Steve, "do advise them to hurry up and all be married at once. We were just ready when Uncle fell ill, and now we cannot wait a day later than the first of May."
"Rather short notice," laughed Rose, looking back with the doorknob in her hand.
"We'll give up all our splendor, and do it as simply as you like, if you will only come too. Think how lovely! Three weddings at once! Do fly round and settle things there's a dear," implored Kitty, whose imagination was fired with this romantic idea.
"How can I, when I have no bridegroom yet?" began Rose, with conscious color in her telltale face.
"Sly creature! You know you've only got to say a word and have a famous one. Una and her lion will be nothing to it," cried Steve, bent on hastening his brother's affair, which was much too dilatory and peculiar for his taste.
"He has been in no haste to come home, and I am in no haste to leave it. Don't wait for me, 'Mr. and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Jr.,' I shall be a year at least making up my mind, so you may lead off as splendidly as you like and I'll profit by your experience." And Rose vanished into the parlor, leaving Steve to groan over the perversity of superior women and Kitty to comfort him by promising to marry him on May Day "all alone."
A very different couple occupied the drawing room, but a happier one, for they had known the pain of separation and were now enjoying the bliss of a reunion which was to last unbroken for their lives. Phebe sat in an easy chair, resting from her labors, pale and thin and worn, but lovelier in Archie's eyes than ever before. It was very evident that he was adoring his divinity, for, after placing a footstool at her feet, he had forgotten to get up and knelt there with his elbow on the arm of her chair, looking like a thirsty man drinking long drafts of the purest water.
"Shall I disturb you if I pass through?" asked Rose, loath to spoil the pretty tableau.
"Not if you stop a minute on the way and congratulate me, Cousin, for she says 'yes' at last!" cried Archie, springing up to go and bring her to the arms Phebe opened as she appeared.
"I knew she would reward your patience and put away her pride when both had been duly tried," said Rose, laying the tired head on her bosom with such tender admiration in her eyes that Phebe had to shake some bright drops from her own before she could reply in a tone of grateful humility that showed how much her heart was touched: "How can I help it, when they are all so kind to me? Any pride would melt away under such praise and thanks and loving wishes as I've had today, for every member of the family has taken pains to welcome me, to express far too much gratitude, and to beg me to be one of you. I needed very little urging, but when Archie's father and mother came and called me 'daughter,' I would have promised anything to show my love for them."
"And him," added Rose, but Archie seemed quite satisfied and kissed the hand he held as if it had been that of a beloved princess while he said with all the pride Phebe seemed to have lost: "Think what she gives up for me fame and fortune and the admiration of many a better man. You don't know what a splendid prospect she has of becoming one of the sweet singers who are loved and honored everywhere, and all this she puts away for my sake, content to sing for me alone, with no reward but love."
"I am so glad to make a little sacrifice for a great happiness I never shall regret it or think my music lost if it makes home cheerful for my mate. Birds sing sweetest in their own nests, you know." And Phebe bent toward him with a look and gesture which plainly showed how willingly she offered up all ambitious hopes upon the altar of a woman's happy love.
Both seemed to forget that they were not alone, and in a moment they were, for a sudden impulse carried Rose to the door of her sanctum, as if the south wind which seemed to have set in was wafting this little ship also toward the Islands of the Blessed, where the others were safely anchored now.
The room was a blaze of sunshine and a bower of spring freshness and fragrance, for here Rose had let her fancy have free play, and each garland, fern, and flower had its meaning. Mac seemed to have been reading this sweet language of symbols, to have guessed why Charlie's little picture was framed in white roses, why pansies hung about his own, why Psyche was half hidden among feathery sprays of maidenhair, and a purple passion flower lay at Cupid's feet. The last fancy evidently pleased him, for he was smiling over it, and humming to himself as if to beguile his patient waiting, the burden of the air Rose had so often sung to him:
"Bonny lassie, will ye gang, will ye gang To the birks of Aberfeldie?"
"Yes, Mac, anywhere!"
He had not heard her enter, and wheeling around, looked at her with a radiant face as he said, drawing a long breath, "At last! You were so busy over the dear man, I got no word. But I can wait I'm used to it."
Rose stood quite still, surveying him with a new sort of reverence in her eyes, as she answered with a sweet solemnity that made him laugh and redden with the sensitive joy of one to whom praise from her lips was very precious: "You forget that you are not the Mac who went away. I should have run to meet my cousin, but I did not dare to be familiar with the poet whom all begin to honor."
"You like the mixture, then? You know I said I'd try to give you love and poetry together."
"Like it! I'm so glad, so proud, I haven't any words strong and beautiful enough to half express my wonder and my admiration. How could you do it, Mac?" And a whole face full of smiles broke loose as Rose clapped her hands, looking as if she could dance with sheer delight.
"It did itself, up there among the hills, and here with you, or out alone upon the sea. I could write a heavenly poem this very minute, and put you in as Spring you look like her in that green gown with snowdrops in your bonny hair. Rose, am I getting on a little? Does a hint of fame help me nearer to the prize I'm working for? Is your heart more willing to be won?"
He did not stir a step, but looked at her with such intense longing that his glance seemed to draw her nearer like an irresistible appeal, for she went and stood before him, holding out both hands, as if she offered all her little store, as she said with simplest sincerity: "It is not worth so much beautiful endeavor, but if you still want so poor a thing, it is yours."
He caught her hands in his and seemed about to take the rest of her, but hesitated for an instant, unable to believe that so much happiness was true.
"Are you sure, Rose very sure? Don't let a momentary admiration blind you I'm not a poet yet, and the best are but mortal men, you know."
"It is not admiration, Mac."
"Nor gratitude for the small share I've taken in saving Uncle? I had my debt to pay, as well as Phebe, and was as glad to risk my life."
"No it is not gratitude."
"Nor pity for my patience? I've only done a little yet, and I am as far as ever from being like your hero. I can work and wait still longer if you are not sure, for I must have all or nothing."
"Oh, Mac! Why will you be so doubtful? You said you'd make me love you, and you've done it. Will you believe me now?" And, with a sort of desperation, she threw herself into his arms, clinging there in eloquent silence while he held her close; feeling, with a thrill of tender triumph, that this was no longer little Rose, but a loving woman, ready to live and die for him.
"Now I'm satisfied!" he said presently, when she lifted up her face, full of maidenly shame at the sudden passion which had carried her out of herself for a moment. "No don't slip away so soon. Let me keep you for one blessed minute and feel that I have really found my Psyche."
"And I my Cupid," answered Rose, laughing, in spite of her emotion, at the idea of Mac in that sentimental character.
He laughed, too, as only a happy lover could, then said, with sudden seriousness: "Sweet soul! Lift up your lamp and look well before it is too late, for I'm no god, only a very faulty man."
"Dear love! I will. But I have no fear, except that you will fly too high for me to follow, because I have no wings."
"You shall live the poetry, and I will write it, so my little gift will celebrate your greater one."
"No you shall have all the fame, and I'll be content to be known only as the poet's wife."
"And I'll be proud to own that my best inspiration comes from the beneficent life of a sweet and noble woman."
"Oh, Mac! We'll work together and try to make the world better by the music and the love we leave behind us when we go."
"Please God, we will!" he answered fervently and, looking at her as she stood there in the spring sunshine, glowing with the tender happiness, high hopes, and earnest purposes that make life beautiful and sacred, he felt that now the last leaf had folded back, the golden heart lay open to the light, and his Rose had bloomed.