Excerpted Inspirations #46
[Rose has just received a declaration of love from her cousin Mac, and spoken about what she hoped for in a lover, taking her Uncle Alec as a model of manly virtue.]
"'It is no use for me to say any more; for I have very little to offer. I did not mean to say a word, till I'd earned a right to hope for something in return. I cannot take it back, but I can wish your success, and I do, because you deserve the very best,' and Mac moved, as it he was going away without more words, accepting the inevitable as manfully as he could.
"'Thank you: that makes me feel very ungrateful and unkind. I wish I could answer as you want me to; for indeed, dear Mac, I'm very fond of you in my own way,' and Rose looked up with such tender pity and frank affection in her face, it was no wonder that the poor fellow caught at a ray of hope, and, brightening suddenly, said in his own odd way, --
"'Couldn't you take me on trial, while you are waiting for the true hero? It may be years before you find him; meantime, you could be practising on me in ways that would be useful when you get him.'
"'O Mac! what shall I do with you?' exclaimed Rose, so curiously affected by this very characteristic wooing, that she did not know whether to laugh or cry; for he was looking at her with his heart in his eyes, though his proposition was the queerest ever made at such a time.
"'Just go on being fond of me in your own way, and let me love you as much as I like in mine. I'll try to be satisfied with that,' and he took both of her hands so beseechingly that she felt more ungrateful than ever.
"'No, it would not be fair, for you would love the most; and, if the hero did appear, what would become of you?'
"'I should resemble Uncle Alec in one way at least, -- fidelity; for my first love would be my last.'
"That went straight to Rose's heart; and for a moment she stood silent, looking down at the two hands that held hers so firmly, yet so gently ....
"'Dear Mac, I cannot give you the love you want, but I do trust and respect you from the bottom of my heart, if that is any comfort,' began Rose, looking up with eyes full of contrition, for the pain her reply must give.
"She got no further, however, for those last words wrought a marvelous change in Mac. Dropping her hands, he stood erect, as if inspired with sudden energy and hope, while over his face there came a brave, bright look, which for the moment made him a nobler and a comelier man than ever handsome Prince had been.
"'It is a comfort!' he said in a tone of gratitude that touched her very much. 'You said your love must be founded on respect, and that you have given me: why can I not earn the rest? I'm nothing now; but everything is possible when one loves with all his heart and soul and strength. Rose, I will be your hero if a mortal man can, even though I have to work and wait for years. I'll make you love me, and be glad to do it. Don't be frightened. I've not lost my wits: I've just found them. I don't ask anything: I'll never speak of my hope, but it is no use to stop me; I must try it, and I will succeed!'
"With those last words, uttered in a ringing voice, while his face glowed, his eyes shone, and he looked as if carried out of himself by the passion that possessed him, Mac abruptly left the room, like one eager to change words to deeds and begin his task at once."
-Louisa May Alcott, Rose in Bloom (1876), pp, 273-276 "Hands" drawing by Linda Odhner