Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Mr. Simpson spent little time with his family, owing to certain awkward methods of
horse-trading, or the "swapping" of farm implements and vehicles of various kinds,--
operations in which his customers were never long suited. After every successful trade he
generally passed a longer or shorter term in jail; for when a poor man without goods or
chattels has the inveterate habit of swapping, it follows naturally that he must have
something to swap; and having nothing of his own, it follows still more naturally that he
must swap something belonging to his neighbors.
Mr. Simpson was absent from the home circle for the moment because he had exchanged
the Widow Rideout's sleigh for Joseph Goodwin's plough. Goodwin had lately moved to
North Edgewood and had never before met the urbane and persuasive Mr. Simpson. The
Goodwin plough Mr. Simpson speedily bartered with a man "over Wareham way," and
got in exchange for it an old horse which his owner did not need, as he was leaving town
to visit his daughter for a year, Simpson fattened the aged animal, keeping him for
several weeks (at early morning or after nightfall) in one neighbor's pasture after another,
and then exchanged him with a Milltown man for a top buggy. It was at this juncture that
the Widow Rideout missed her sleigh from the old carriage house. She had not used it for
fifteen years and might not sit in it for another fifteen, but it was property, and she did not
intend to part with it without a struggle. Such is the suspicious nature of the village mind
that the moment she discovered her loss her thought at once reverted to Abner Simpson.
So complicated, however, was the nature of this particular business transaction, and so
tortuous the paths of its progress (partly owing to the complete disappearance of the
owner of the horse, who had gone to the West and left no address), that it took the sheriff
many weeks to prove Mr. Simpson's guilt to the town's and to the Widow Rideout's
satisfaction. Abner himself avowed his complete innocence, and told the neighbors how a
red-haired man with a hare lip and a pepper-and- salt suit of clothes had called him up
one morning about daylight and offered to swap him a good sleigh for an old cider press
he had layin' out in the dooryard. The bargain was struck, and he, Abner, had paid the
hare-lipped stranger four dollars and seventy-five cents to boot; whereupon the
mysterious one set down the sleigh, took the press on his cart, and vanished up the road,
never to be seen or heard from afterwards.
"If I could once ketch that consarned old thief," exclaimed Abner righteously, "I'd make
him dance,--workin' off a stolen sleigh on me an' takin' away my good money an' cider
press, to say nothin' o' my character!"
"You'll never ketch him, Ab," responded the sheriff. "He's cut off the same piece o' goods
as that there cider press and that there character and that there four-seventy-five o' yourn;
nobody ever see any of 'em but you, and you'll never see 'em again!"
Mrs. Simpson, who was decidedly Abner's better half, took in washing and went out to
do days' cleaning, and the town helped in the feeding and clothing of the children.
George, a lanky boy of fourteen, did chores on neighboring farms, and the others,