Little Rosebud’s Lovers was written in 1886 by Laura Jean Libbey, a popular author of popular fiction. Between 1882 and 1902, she wrote more than 50 different serials for the story papers. She was particularly known for placing working-girl heroines within sensational and melodramatic plots. In this selection, the first chapter of Little Rosebud’s Lovers, the heroine finds herself the unwitting object of desire of a wealthy Bostonian. The selection ends on a note of foreboding—in subsequent chapters Little Rosebud becomes homeless and impoverished before her inevitable redemption. What did women workers take away from their reading of the novels of Libbey and others? Historian Michael Denning has speculated that these stories were "an interruption in the present, a magical fairy tale transformation of familiar landscapes and characters, a death and rebirth that turned the social world upside down, making proud ladies [into] villains, and working-girls [into] ladies."
The red-gold gleam of a noon September shone brightly down upon the green, sloping, moss-covered hills of South Carolina, and upon the register of an isolated country hostelry, upon which handsome young stranger had just written the name, “Percy Fielding, Boston.”
" So you think there is no possible way of crossing the river before six o’clock tonight?“ he asked, eagerly, tapping,the heel of his polished boot with his gold-mounted cane. I thought there was a bridge hereabouts, landlord?”
“ There was a bridge,” replied the landlord, filling his bamboo pipe out on the cool, shady porch; “the high water swept it away.”
The young man glanced impatiently at the broad expanse of water that separated him from the tall, red-brick structure on the opposite bank and from a pair of bright, bewitching eyes that he knew would be watching for him.
“ That must be Judge Arden’s place,” he said to himself eying the mansion opposite with a sharp twinkle in his bright restless eyes. “Maud said I could not possibly miss it, and it answers her description exactly. Pretty, dashing willful Maud,” he mused, with a smile on his handsome face; “I shall never feel quite sure of my bird until I have her safely caged. Confound it!” muttered Percy, flinging himself down on a rustic bench on the porch, “I shall certainly die of ennui if I have to stay in this miserable hole until six o’clock tonight, and it’s only noon now. I don’t see how I am to fill in the time. I’m in for it, I suppose, though.”
“ You don’t see how you can fill in the time?” echoed the landlord, catching the last sentence; “why, you can count yourself lucky that you are here to-day above all other days.”
“ Why?” ejaculated Percy, suprisedly, poising the cigarette he had just lighted daintily between his white fingers."
“ You are just in time to take in the county fair, which we are holding just about a mile from here.”
Percy Fielding laughed outright. What had he this dainty, aristocratic, haughty youth, heir to half a million, in common with these simple country people who gathered together under the warm September sun, to go in raptures over mammoth yellow pumpkins, in which he could see no beauty, in immense ill-proportioned sheep, and patchwork bed-quilts? The cool, shady porch of the hostelly was certainly more inviting than sitting on the hard benches, under the blistering sun in a cloud of dust, among a motley crowd of tired, hot-faced mothers, who vainly endeavored to quiet their darling little screamers with huge sticks of red and white barber-pole candy and cups of lemonade, to which the vender had evidently not forgotten to add plenty of water.
It suited Percy better still to recline indolently in the cool shade, and reperuse the charming little billets-doux that were carefully stored away in his breast-pocket, bearing the monogram in fanciful design of “M. A.”
“ This is ladies' day,” continued the landlord, enthusiastically, noting the lack of interest on the face of his guest. “Several of the young ladies ride to-day; each one of them is bent upon winning the silver cup which is offered for the prize. There will be a warm contest, for the South Carolina girls carry off the palm—yes, they the beat the world, if I do say it, for their graceful horseback riding. Judge Arden’s daughter Maud is to be one of the riders.”
Instantly the expression of indifference dropped from the young man’s face, giving place to intense interest in his dark, sparkling eyes, as his white hand crept involuntarily toward the dainty letters in his breast-pocket.
“ No doubt Miss Maud will win the prize,” said the landlord, ruefully; "but if her sister, Little Rosebud, had been allowed to ride, she would have knocked the spots out of the whole lot of 'em!“
” Her sister!“ repeated Percy Fielding, in astonishment, ”why, I never knew she had a sister!“
” Do you know the Ardens?“ asked the landlord.” I thought you said you were an entire stranger in this locality?“
” So I am,“ returned Percy, nettled at the honest landlord’s audacity in presuming to question him. ”I met one of the family some time since in Boston, however."
A dull red flush crept over his reckless, boyish face as he remembered suddenly how he had met coquettish Maud Arden. He had not been introduced to her in the regular orthodox way, it had been a genuine case of flirtation be the young Harvard student, passing his vacation in Boston, and the pretty, dashing girl who tossed notes to him, and flirted her handkerchief behind the prim professor’s back, ending in passionate protestations of love on both sides, up to the time Maud had returned home, and Percy had followed as soon as he had saved up enough of his quarter’s allowance to cover the expenses of the trip. And, as his last letter informed her, he was coming to ask her to share his fortune.
“ My rascally old guardian can not keep me out of it much longer,” he had written, “for in two months more I will be of age—twenty-one—then I can spend the money as fast as I please.”
Landlords have a natural talent for relating the private affairs of the community to satisfy the idle curiosity of chance guests. Bob Cherry, or “Uncle Bob,” as be was generally called, was no exception to the general rule.
“ Judge Arden is one of the wealthiest men in South Carolina,” continued the landlord, briskly.
Fielding’s face flushed; this was undoubtedly pleasing news.
“ Miss Maud is not his only daughter, though.”
“ What!” cried the young man, wondering if he had heard aright.
“ I said Miss Maud was not his own daughter,” said Uncle Bob, complacently;“ she is his step-daughter. The judge was left a widower when his little daughter, Rosebud, was quite an infant, and he sent for his sister, a handsome young girl, to come and take charge of his home and his motherless little one. She had not been in the house a fortnight before she and the judge had a fearful quarrel, and she left the house in a towering rage, vowing a fearful vengeance on the judge and Little Rosebud. The judge never allowed her name mentioned in his presence from that day to this; and people do say he broods in secret, wondering what shape her vengeance will take, for he expects it to come to him as sure as fate.”
“ But what of Maud?” asked the young lover, impatiently.
“I was coming to that when you interrupted me. Of course, the judge had to get some one at once to take charge of the child. That was how Mrs. Marston happened to come to The Willows, as Judge Arden’s place is called, bringing with her her little daughter, Maud, a child some four years older than little Rosebud. The upshot of the whole matter was the judge married her. The widow certainly bewitched him. Everybody knows, though, that the day before the judge married her he made a will signing over the greater part of his property to Little Rosebud.”
“ Ah, ha” muttered Percy Fielding under his breath.
Little Rosebud don’t have an extra pleasant time of it with her step-mother and her pretty imperious daughter, but the judge does not dream of the state of affairs beneath his own roof. Little Rosebud is too proud to complain, and we neighbors, sir, never meddle with other folks' affairs.“
” So I see," responded Percy, dryly.
“ If you go to the fair you can see Miss Maud ride. I don’t see Rosebud’s name on the list, bless her dear heart; you ought to see her ride—it would fairly take your heart away. Why, Lord bless you, sir, she never minds a ditch or a fence—she goes clean over them.”
Who gave the young lady the sobriquet of ‘Rosebud’?" asked Percy, feeling strangely interested in the daring little sprite almost in spite of himself.
“ Who gave her the what?”
“ Who gave her the name of Rosebud?” said Percy.
“ Oh, she’s been called that ever since she was born, and she has the sweetest face, with red cheeks and pretty dimples, that you ever saw; but she is no young lady. Little Rosebud is only a romping, merry-hearted child of sixteen, with a face like an apple-blossom, framed in long, fair, curling flaxen hair, soft and clinging as a baby’s, and great blue roguish eyes, and the sweetest little scarlet mouth you ever saw.” "You ought to have been born a poet,“ laughed Percy, amusedly, ”you ring so many compliments on her charms. I have changed my mind. I believe I will go to the fair. I’ll have a chance of observing my pretty Maud unseen,“ he added, under his breath. ”It is lucky she does not expect me at The Willows before to-morrow. Which road do I take, landlord?“
” The one straight ahead—you can’t miss it."
Throwing on his traveling duster, and laying aside his silk hat, Percy donned a broad-brimmed felt, and started leisurely down the road indicated—on to his fate.
Dozens of country wagons passed him on the road, throwing up great clouds of dust in his face as they rolled along.
“ By George!” he muttered, savagely, “what a fool I am. I wouldn’t take another such trip to see all the girls in the country ride.”
He stood in front of the entrance gate brushing the white dust from his polished boots With his silk handkerchief, angry enough with himself as he leaned against the post, awaiting the change for the bill he had just given the gate-keeper.
He eagerly glanced toward the group of young ladies seated expectantly and gracefully on their ponies in front of the judges' stand, easily discerning Maud’s form in an instant.
Hastily thrusting the change in his vest-pocket without counting it, Percy was just about to pass within the inclosure, when the quick gallop of a horse’s feet attracted his attention, and the next moment the prettiest little creature that Percy Fielding’s eager eyes had ever rested upon drew rein breathlessly in front of the gate.
“ I know I am awfully late,” she chirped, in a silvery, bird-like voice, that made every pulse in Percy vibrate curiously;“ but indeed I couldn’t come any sooner I have just this moment gained papa’s consent.”
In a single instant, fickle, impulsive Percy Fielding was madly, hopelessly in love with the pretty little fairy sitting so gracefully on the back of the milk-white pony. She wore a tight-fitting blue velvet riding-habit. bordered with silver-gray fox fur, and a blue velvet cap with a scarlet bird’s wing on one side sat jauntily on her long flaxen curls, which fell to her slender waist.
“ I’m sorry, Miss Rosebud,” replied the gate-keeper, awkwardly touching his cap, “but I can’t let you come in with the horse.”
“ What’s the reason you can’t?” she exclaimed, disappointedly, opening her big blue eyes very wide with childish wonderment. “I’m going to be one of the riders for the silver cup, and I’m going to win it too!”
“ I’m sorry to refuse you, Miss Rosebud, indeed I am, but it is contrary to the rules to allow a horse inside the inclosure unless the horse is entered upon the books for the race, and your horse is not down, you see. You are too late, but it’s not my fault, you know. I’m simply doing my duty.”
Two great pearly tear drops stood for an instant on her pretty eye-lashes and Percy felt strongly tempted to hurl the sturdy gate-keeper aside and allow her to enter the grounds, rules or no rules. In that one mad, exciting moment, he felt he could peril everything for but a single glance from those lovely blue eyes, and to call back the smiles to the quivering, dimpled scarlet mouth.
“ Gypsy and I don’t care whether we are ‘entered’ on the the books, as you call it, or not,” pouted the willful, cherry-ripe lips, spiritedly. “If you don’t let us in at the gate, we will enter from over the top of the fence—so there!”
The gate-keeper laughed good humoredly, never dreaming the little creature had the slightest intention of making her threat good.
“ I know you are a very daring little lady,” he answered, “but I don’t think you would attempt such a hazardous feat as that. Why you would break your own neck as well as the pony’s.”
Evidently the milk-whit pony was no stranger to the freaks of his capricious mistress, for, without a word of warning, she suddenly tightened her hold of the reins, giving him a slight cut with her pearl-handled riding whip.
The next instant, to the amazement and horror of the bystanders, they had vaulted gracefully over the fence. The gallant little pony landed directly on his feet, and the next moment was trotting leisurely up to the judges' stand, with Rosebud as unconsciously innocent as if nothing out of the usual order of events had transpired.
Men cheered and ladies clapped their hands for pretty Little Rosebud Arden, the judge’s little willful daughter, was a general favorite. Her very faults seemed more charming than other girls' virtues.
Percy Fielding followed her the very moment he could recover from his surprise.
“ By Jove! isn’t she a magnificent, daring, superb little creature,” he ejaculated, excitedly, following every move of the graceful little figure with his dark, sparkling, passionate eyes.
He was Maud’s engaged lover, yet he found himself wondering if there was any possible way of “throwing her over” (as he phrased it) for bewitching Little Rosebud.
The September sunshine fell upon her fair flaxen curls, and upon her pretty, dimpled pink-and-white face, making Percy more desperately in love with her than ever—and he swore to himself that he would win her, come what would.
Percy Fielding was crossing with deliberate feet the line that marked his destiny, over which there was no returning.
And pretty Little Rosebud Arden would know the bitterest woe that ever came to a bright, sunny girl’s life, as she drained to the dregs the bitter draught which would be held to her lips by the hand she loved.
Source: Laura Jean Libby, Little Rosebud’s Lovers; or a Cruel Revenge (New York: George Munro Publishers, 1890), 1–9.<see also>