The sound of the piano from upstairs became a familiar one in the evenings, as the night of the benefit concert approached. None save Rose dared venture into that area of the house in the evenings, letting Phebe reign as mistress over her chosen domain.
None, that is, save one.
"and he was saying - " Mac broke off in the middle of his sentence and cocked his head.
Alec frowned and did likewise, wondering what had attracted his nephew's attention. The faint sound of the piano floated along in the background, but as he listened more closely, he realized that it was not the smooth, assured accompaniment he had grown used to hearing; instead, the music started and stopped, one moment flowing into a rippling accompaniment and then next halting awkwardly in the middle of a phrase.
Mac rose from his chair and bowed slightly. "Excuse me, Uncle, I will return shortly."
He made his way down the hall, past Rose's rooms, to the small set of rooms that had been set aside for Phebe's use upon their return. The music grew louder, but no more smooth, and as he approached the door he heard an exasperated sigh.
"That doesn't sounds like 'Auld Robin Grey'," he said after tapping softly at the door.
Phebe spun around on her bench and a brief smile graced her lips. "Mac! Do come in."
"What was that piece? I don't believe I have heard it before."
Phebe's cheeks reddened. "No, you wouldn't have. I've had a falling out with Auld Robin, I'm afraid. I - Mac, can you keep a secret? Even from Dr. Alec and from Rose?"
"I'll be silent as the grave," Mac promised solemnly. "They shan't hear a word from me."
"I want to do something for the children," she said, dropping her voice low. "This night is for them, after all. So I wanted to turn that old bird song I was singing when Rose first arrived here into a proper song. But I'm afraid it isn't going so well."
"Play me what you have so far," Mac requested, perching in the chair by the piano. And so Phebe launched into the twittering and cooing of the bird chorus, the rippling accompaniment vividly evoking the rustling of delicate spring leaves and wind through soft grass. She reached the end of the chorus and the accompaniment changed, to a lively caper that went on for several measures. Then she stopped and looked helplessly at Mac.
"I can hear the sounds, but I have no words. I'm not a poet, Mac. I don't think I can write a song." Phebe looked so sad that Mac impulsively reached out and lay one hand over hers.
"Let me think on it, and I will find a way for you to have your song," he promised.
"Thank you. But remember - tell no one!"
"I shan't," he promised again, and strode off with great purpose.
Two days later, Phebe discovered her piano bench was adorned with a stack of hand-written papers, all tied up with a green ribbon. She smiled as she sat down to put the newly-found words to music, and hoped that Mac kept his promise of not telling anyone.
"I wouldn't blame you one bit if you hated me." The unexpected voice and even more unexpected statement caused Rose to jerk her head up and blink rapidly into the dusk of the hallway outside her room. The bright sunlight that streamed onto her desk made the doorway seem very dark, and the figure in it, indistinct.
"Archie? Whatever do you mean? Come in, come in, and tell me what you mean," she coaxed when he seemed to hesitate.
Archie paused in the doorway a moment longer before crossing the room and flinging himself into a chair, in a manner far more reminiscent of the dramatic Prince than the usually-composed Chief.
His eyes were dull and he looked as if he hadn't slept in the weeks since Christmas. He wrung his hands together and refused to meet Rose's eyes.
"It's all my fault," he said despondently.
"What is your fault? Archie, begin talking sense this instant," Rose commanded, for she could see her eldest cousin was past the point of responding to gentleness.
"It's my fault that Phebe was sent away. It's my fault I took your dear friend away from you," Archie replied so quietly that Rose had to strain to hear him. "If I hadn't said anything, if I had given up my little fantasy, she would be here now, singing so beautifully. It's all my fault."
"Stop this nonsense at once! Do you think so little of Phebe? I had thought better of you."
Archie's head snapped up. "What? I think the world of her! How can you say that?"
"Do you think she had no say in what happened? Do you think our Phebe a meek little lamb, who merely goes where she is told, when she is told to?" Rose asked scathingly. "If you think so little of her, I shouldn't wonder that she fled!"
"If you have something to say, cousin, I suggest you say it."
Rose's face transformed from a stern visage to a brilliant smile. "Now there's the Chief I know and love, full of life."
"You - you - what - " Archie's expression went through a comical series of transformations, from angry to confused to amused. Finally, he laughed, and Rose clapped her hands like a girl.
"There now, isn't that better?" She asked. Then she sobered. "It isn't your fault, Archie, and I could never hate you. She loves you. That is why she chose to go away. My Phebe-bird is a proud peacock in some ways, and could never do something that might cause strife in our family. I tried to tell her 'be happy, and never mind them' and do you know what she said to me?"
Archie shook his head.
"She said 'If you had been taken into a house, a friendless, penniless, forlorn girl, and for years been heaped with benefits, trusted, taught, loved, and made, oh, so happy! could you think it right to steal away something that these good people valued very much?'"
"But she wouldn't be stealing me," Archie objected. "I offered myself to her!"
"Ah, but the rest of the family, who have such high hopes for you, might see it that way."
Archie opened his mouth to argue, but thought better of it. "I suppose you have a point," he conceded.
"Phebe's point," Rose corrected. "Trust in her. She will do something spectacular and you will bring her home, covered in glory."
"At the end of the year," Archie said firmly. "I shan't wait a moment longer, glory or no."
"At the end of the year," Rose agreed with a smile.
The January wind rustled the few dead leaves not covered by snow and seemed to pick up speed as it rounded the corner of the building.
Mac pulled his coat tighter around himself and stomped his feet. The late afternoon sun was weak, and did little to provide any warmth. He held his book with gloved hands, but turned the page infrequently. One eye seemed to constantly be on the small door on the side of the building. Finally, the door opened, and a tall woman stepped out.
Mac tucked his book under one arm and offered the other to the lady.
"May I have the honor of escorting the esteemed soloist to her grand palace for the evening?"
Phebe laughed. "Why, Mac, so elegant. The honored poet may indeed have the honor of escorting this lowly musician to her humble room." And she tucked her hand at his elbow.
"I have been meaning to ask you," Mac said as they set off down the street, "whether you would have any interest arranging an accompaniment for one of my little songs. Mrs. B--- keeps asking, and I finally told her yes, so long as you were the one to perform it."
"An accompaniment? I don't know. I am just a singer, Mac. What do I know about writing music?"
"More than I, I'll wager. It needn't be anything fancy. Just a simple piano accompaniment while you sing. Like we did before, hey?"
Phebe laughed. "That did turn out well in the end, didn't it? Very well, I shall do it, if you truly want me to. There are surely better people - "
"I shan't endorse anyone but you," Mac interrupted. "If I am to share such successes as I might have, I shall share them with whom I please."
They walked in companionable silence for a while. "So, Mac, how are you, truly?" Phebe asked eventually. "You have been in such demand, I've hardly seen you, these past few weeks."
"Content for the moment, I believe," he said after a pause.
"Your little book seems well received," Phebe prompted, when Mac fell back into silence.
He shrugged carelessly. "Perhaps. It has certainly generated conversations. And I suppose I have become acquainted with some rather fascinating people because of it. I only hope the right people enjoy it."
"I know she does."
"Truly?" Mac asked, not even pretending to be unsure of whom Phebe was speaking.
"Truly. She is fairly bursting with pride, and is terribly impatient for you to come home."
Mac said nothing more, but his smile was wide as they reached the stoop of the house where Phebe let a room. "Good night, fair songstress."
"Good night, gallant poet," Phebe replied. And then added so quietly that Mac could not hear, "You Psyche awaits with lit lamp."
February was the dreariest month and Rose was particularly glad it was drawing to an end. It had been a long two months, since Mac's little book of "Songs and Sonnets" had arrived, and she grew impatient for both Mac and Phebe to return home.
However, neither of them seemed particularly inclined to rush back to the nest. Phebe's renown grew almost daily, it seemed, and Mac was still astonishing everyone by flitting between literary and social circles like a be-spectacled butterfly. Rose tried to be happy for them both, and she was, but as the weeks wore on, the cold February skies seemed to weigh down upon her, and she wondered if she would ever be joyful again.
Uncle Alec was her usual refuge in times of worry, but he was so delighted by the twin successes of "his" children that she was loathe to bring up her own discontent.
Steps in the hallway drew Rose out of her gloomy contemplation, and by the time Archie appeared in her parlor, she had smoothed her face into a more neutral set. Or so she thought.
"Post for you, cousin," Archie said, as he always did, and handed over a stack of letters.
Rose glanced through them, seeing both Phebe's bold writing, and Mac's messier scrawl. She tried to answer with a bright smile, and thought she had succeeded, but then Archie frowned and sat down.
"What's the matter, Rose? Something troubling in your post? One of your works, perhaps?" he asked anxiously, for it was unusual to see his normally cheerful cousin looking so down.
"What? Oh, no, no. Nothing like that." Rose looked consideringly at Archie. Here, perhaps, was someone with whom she could share her troubles. "I am feeling disconsolate today, I suppose. Pay me no mind."
Archie leaned forward and said earnestly, "Tell me your troubles, as we have always told you ours."
"I have been feeling as gray as the weather, I'm afraid. I try so hard to be happy for my Phebe, and for Mac, but lately all I can see is that I am not there to celebrate their triumphs with them."
"Poor child!" Archie said sympathetically. "I know that feeling well, I'm afraid. Tho' I am sure of her, I shan't be content until Phebe is at my side, where she ought to be. And I'm sure you feel that way about our Don, hmm?"
Rose's blush was all the answer she need give. "You mustn't say anything, Archie," Rose pleaded. "I will tell him in my own time, in my own way. If he ever comes home," she finished sadly.
"He will," Archie said with confidence, not giving away that he had known Rose's feelings on the matter for several months already. "I would not pry into your correspondence, but would you perhaps like to share the letters we get from 'the great creatures', as Steve is calling them? If we cannot share their success with them directly, at least we can share them with each other?"
"Oh, Archie, that is a kindly offer. Perhaps that will help. Shall we begin?"
And the two cousins moved to open their letters from the two people in the world that they each missed most.