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Jo's Boys

Chapter 8: Josie Plays Mermaid
While the young Bhaers were having serious experiences at home, Josie was
enjoying herself immensely at Rocky Nook; for the Laurences knew how to make
summer idleness both charming and wholesome. Bess was very fond of her little
cousin; Mrs Amy felt that whether her niece was an actress or not she must be a
gentlewoman, and gave her the social training which marks the well-bred woman
everywhere; while Uncle Laurie was never happier than when rowing, riding,
playing, or lounging with two gay girls beside him. Josie bloomed like a wild
flower in this free life, Bess grew rosy, brisk, and merry, and both were great
favourites with the neighbours, whose villas were by the shore or perched on the
cliffs along the pretty bay.
One crumpled rose-leaf disturbed Josie's peace, one baffled wish filled her with a
longing which became a mania, and kept her as restless and watchful as a
detective with a case to 'work up'. Miss Cameron, the great actress, had hired
one of the villas and retired thither to rest and 'create' a new part for next season.
She saw no one but a friend or two, had a private beach, and was invisible
except during her daily drive, or when the opera-glasses of curious gazers were
fixed on a blue figure disporting itself in the sea. The Laurences knew her, but
respected her privacy, and after a call left her in peace till she expressed a wish
for society--a courtesy which she remembered and repaid later, as we shall see.
But Josie was like a thirsty fly buzzing about a sealed honey-pot, for this
nearness to her idol was both delightful and maddening. She pined to see, hear,
talk with, and study this great and happy woman who could thrill thousands by
her art, and win friends by her virtue, benevolence, and beauty. This was the sort
of actress the girl meant to be, and few could object if the gift was really hers; for
the stage needs just such women to purify and elevate the profession which
should teach as well as amuse. If kindly Miss Cameron had known what
passionate love and longing burned in the bosom of the little girl whom she idly
observed skipping over the rocks, splashing about the beach, or galloping past
her gate on a Shetland pony, she would have made her happy by a look or a
word. But being tired with her winter's work and busy with her new part, the lady
took no more notice of this young neighbour than of the sea-gulls in the bay or
the daisies dancing in the fields. Nosegays left on her doorstep, serenades under
her garden-wall, and the fixed stare of admiring eyes were such familiar things
that she scarcely minded them; and Josie grew desperate when all her little
attempts failed.
'I might climb that pine-tree and tumble off on her piazza roof, or get Sheltie to
throw me just at her gate and be taken in fainting. It's no use to try to drown
myself when she is bathing. I can't sink, and she'd only send a man to pull me
out. What can I do? I will see her and tell her my hopes and make her say I can
act some day. Mamma would believe her; and if--oh, if she only would let me
study with her, what perfect joy that would be!'
Josie made these remarks one afternoon as she and Bess prepared for a swim,
a fishing party having prevented their morning bathe.