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Rose's Birthday Present, A True Story by Marie E. C. Delbrassine

 

“Where is Rose?”

“Busy, as usual, with her mice and beetles, I suppose, father,” answered Ethel; “we have not seen her all this afternoon.”

“She will probably be with you at teatime,” said Dr. Sinclair, “after which I should like you to ask her to come to me for a little while in the surgery.”

“Very well, father, I won't forget.”

Dr. Sinclair retreated again to his surgery, which was arranged also as his library, knowing that his willing helper would not fail to join him there.

“I cannot think,” said Maud, Ethel's sister, “what that girl finds to interest her in all those horrid creatures—beetles and toads, and even snakes, when she can get one; the other day I saw her handling a slowworm as if it were a charming domestic pet. It was enough to make one feel cold all over.”

“Well, there is no accounting for taste; Rose never seems to care if she is asked to a party or not,” continued Ethel, “and she does not mind helping father with his work, which I always find so tiresome, for he is so dreadfully particular about it. Perhaps biologists are different from other folks; I sometimes think there is something uncannny and queer about them.”

“I'm sure Rose is neither uncanny nor queer, she's just a brick,” said Jack, a schoolboy of fourteen, who was enjoying a Saturday half-holiday at home with a new book, it being too wet to play cricket. “She is always willing to do anything to help a fellow.”

“Which means,” said Ethel, “that you always expect girls to be your slaves, when you are at home.”

At this moment the door opened and Rose herself appeared.

“Well, Rose,” said Maud, “have you pinned out a beetle, or taught your pet ants to perform tricks?”

“Not this afternoon,” said Rose; “I have had a delightful time with my microscope, studying spiders and drawing slides for the magic lantern to be used at my next little lecture to the G.F.S. girls.”

“That sounds dry and uninteresting,” yawned Maud. “Ah, here comes tea. By the way, father would like you to go to his study afterwards. Poor Rose, I expect he has some more tiresome work for you.”

“Oh, don't call it tiresome, Maud dear; I quite enjoy it.”

“It's a good thing you do. I hate being shut up there; it's such a bore.”

A quarter of an hour later a middle-aged man, whose snow-white hair made him appear at first sight much older than he was in reality, might have been seen busy over a manuscript, whilst a fair girl sat beside him, reading out to him the notes he had made, and which he was working into the book he was writing. The two seemed to work in perfect harmony.

Rose's father had been the rector of a remote country parish in Cornwall. Most of his friends said that he was lost in such a neighbourhood, and that it was a shame to have sent so able a man to such a parish; but Mr. Sinclair never complained himself; he may sometimes have thought it strange that other men were chosen before him to occupy positions which he felt conscious he might well have filled, but as his lot was cast in that Cornish nook, he had thrown himself heart and soul into whatever work he found to do. The affection he won from the rough fisherfolk, who regarded him as the father of the parish, whose joys and sorrows, cares and anxieties, were all well known to him, was as much to him as any brilliant worldly success. His means were small, too small for his generous heart. He wished to give as good an education as possible to his two children, Henry and Rose, and devoted much time and trouble to that end. For several years he taught the boy and girl together himself, Rose learning much the same lessons as her brother; this laid the foundation of the accuracy which characterised her in any task she undertook—a quality often lacking in feminine work.

Mr. Sinclair had been a good student of natural history, and had written books and magazine articles which had been well thought of. Rose tried to follow her father's pursuit; she would spend hours in reading about birds and butterflies, and in making little researches herself. One of her greatest pleasures had been to help her father, either by taking notes for him or by writing at his dictation. She hoped herself some day to add to her pecuniary resources by writing for biological papers or even by giving lectures.

But the happy home life in the Cornish rectory was to end all too quickly. Rose lost both her parents within a short time of each other; her brother was at Oxford, working hard; and Rose was left alone, and had to leave the home which was so dear to her.

It was then that her uncle, Dr. Sinclair, without a moment's hesitation, offered her a home in his house. He did not listen to warning voices, cautioning him against burdening himself with the charge of another girl, for his own means were not large, and his family made many demands upon his purse. He was a physician whose career might have been a brilliant one had his practice been in London; but a fanciful and invalid wife had rendered this impossible, as she declared she could only exist in the pure air of the country.

So he had reluctantly abandoned his cherished hope of working as a London doctor, and had settled near a small country town in Gloucestershire, where he soon obtained most of the practice round; but his scope was narrow. He nevertheless managed to keep in touch with his profession, a profession in which he had entered heart and soul, making various scientific researches in his laboratory, and sending the fruit of them in clearly-written articles to medical papers. Now for this work, either in writing short articles from his notes, or from his dictation, a patient helper was of great assistance to him. His own daughters, as already seen, disliked the work, and showed their father no sympathy in it, whereas to Rose it was real enjoyment, filling, in a measure, the void she felt in no longer helping her father. Between uncle and niece a tacit sympathy had grown up. He encouraged her in her natural history pursuits, and helped her to start the lectures she gave to the G.F.S. girls in the neighbourhood. The suggestion had seemed little likely to interest them, but Rose had been so clear and explicit that the girls soon became eager for them.

Time went on in this way, when something happened which was again to change Rose's circumstances. Truly it is that often trifles light as air have an unknown weight of importance in them. One morning the letter-bag brought a circular announcing that some “University Extension Lectures” were to be given at C——, their nearest town, by a professor from Oxford, the subject chosen being “Spiders,” with notes from the microscope.

When Dr. Sinclair had read it, he passed it, smiling kindly, to Rose.

“This is not for me,” he said, “but I think I know some one whom it may interest.”

“Oh, uncle! how delightful,” said Rose, when she had looked at it; “the very thing I should enjoy!”

So it came to pass that Rose attended the lectures, entering very fully into them, and taking careful notes.

At the close of the course, the lecturer said he would like any of the students who felt sufficiently interested in the subject to write a paper, and send it in to him, giving a summary of the lectures, and asking any questions they might care to ask, at the end.

Rose and several others responded to the invitation, and wrote their papers.

For some time Rose heard no more about it, but one morning she was surprised to receive the following note:—

     “DEAR MADAM,—I have felt much satisfaction in reading your
     paper, which I return, with a few notes and answers to your
     questions. It shows me with what intelligent interest you
     have followed my lectures.

     “It may interest you to know that an examination for a
     scholarship at St. Margaret's Hall, the new college for
     women, is shortly to be held at Oxford; and if you care to
     pursue a subject for which you show much understanding, I
     would suggest your trying for it. I don't promise you
     success, but I think it is worth the venture. A friend of
     mine, a lady living in Oxford, receives lady students
     recommended by me, and would, I am sure, make you
     comfortable on very moderate terms. Yours truly,

     “B. FIELDING.”

Rose read the letter two or three times and then passed it to her uncle. Had she the means to go there—if, oh, if she could only get the scholarship, how delightful it would be!

“Come to my study,” said Dr. Sinclair.

And as soon as the door was shut he said kindly,—

“I don't like you to lose this opportunity, dear child, so write and tell Mr. Fielding you will go up to Oxford, if he will introduce you to the lady he mentions.”

“Oh, but, uncle,” she said, “what Mr. Fielding may call moderate terms may really mean a great deal more than should be paid for me.”

“Never mind, little Rose,” said Dr. Sinclair, “I meant to give my kind little helper a birthday present, and this shall be it.”

“Dear uncle, how kind of you. But remember, that whatever help, as you term it, I may have given you, has always been a pleasure to me.”

“And so, dear, is anything that I may do for you to me.”

Thus it was settled, and a few days later, Dr. Sinclair himself started for his own beloved Oxford with his niece. Jack and Maud went to the station to see them off.

“Keep up your courage, Rose,” said Jack, “you're pretty sure to pass, for if any girl in England knows about creepy, crawley things, you do!”

When Rose returned some days later, she looked rather overstrained and pale, and, to the surprise of Ethel and Maud, never looked at her microscope, or at any of her treasures in the way of beetles and tadpoles, but spent her time in complete idleness, except when she helped them to do up some of their evening clothes for some forthcoming dances; and they were surprised to see how deftly a biologist could sew.

One Saturday, as the three girls were sitting working together, Jack, who was spending his half-holiday at home again, said, “Why, here comes the telegraph boy!”

“Run and see who it is for,” said Ethel, who had lately shown much more sympathetic interest in Rose, and who began to realise that if Rose obtained what she was so keenly set on, she, as well as others, might miss the cousin who had been so kind and so unselfish an inmate of their home. “Run and see, Jack; and if it is for any of us, bring it here.”

Rose looked very white, but did not look up from her work.

“Addressed to Miss Rose Sinclair,” said Jack, who soon returned.

Rose took the telegram with trembling fingers, and then tore it open.

It announced the following:—

Rose Sinclair passed first. Awarded scholarship St. Margaret's for three years.

“Oh, Ethel!” said Rose, “it is too good to be true.”

“I knew you would pass,” said Jack, “I always said you would, didn't I, now?”

“Well,” said Ethel, “we ought to be very glad for your sake.”

“Yes,” said Maud, “I congratulate you, Rose—but, I am very, very sorry you are going away.”

“Are you, dear?” said Rose; “I also shall feel lonely without all of you, in this my second home. But let us go and tell uncle, for I consider this his special birthday gift to me.”

“So it is,” said Dr. Sinclair, who appeared at that moment.

“Then your old uncle is much gratified in sending his niece to Oxford; but he will miss his little girl very much.”

Rose distinguished herself even far above Jack's expectation. After she had concluded her college course, she devoted her time and knowledge to giving lectures, for which she received remuneration, also to writing articles for magazines, and subsequent events led to her settling in Oxford. Whenever Dr. Sinclair wants an especially enjoyable holiday, he goes to spend a few days with Rose, and the two compare notes on their work. When he expresses his pleasure at her success, Rose loves to remind him that she owes it greatly to his kindness that she was placed in the way of obtaining it, through the birthday gift, which was to be so helpful to her.

 
 
 

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