Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin - HTML preview
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The Banquet Lamp
There had been company at the brick house to the bountiful Thanksgiving dinner which had been provided at one o'clock,--the Burnham sisters, who lived between North Riverboro and Shaker Village, and who for more than a quarter of a century had come to pass the holiday with the Sawyers every year. Rebecca sat silent with a book after the dinner dishes were washed, and when it was nearly five asked if she might go to the Simpsons'.
"What do you want to run after those Simpson children for on a Thanksgiving Day?" queried Miss Miranda. "Can't you set still for once and listen to the improvin' conversation of your elders? You never can let well enough alone, but want to be forever on the move.""The Simpsons have a new lamp, and Emma Jane and I promised to go up and see it lighted, and make it a kind of a party."
"What under the canopy did they want of a lamp, and where did they get the money to pay for it? If Abner was at home, I should think he'd been swappin' again," said Miss Miranda.
"The children got it as a prize for selling soap," replied Rebecca; "they've been working for a year, and you know I told you that Emma Jane and I helped them the Saturday afternoon you were in Portland."
"I didn't take notice, I s'pose, for it's the first time I ever heard the lamp mentioned. Well, you can go for an hour, and no more. Remember it's as dark at six as it is at midnight Would you like to take along some Baldwin apples? What have you got in the pocket of that new dress that makes it sag down so?"
"It's my nuts and raisins from dinner," replied Rebecca, who never succeeded in keeping the most innocent action a secret from her aunt Miranda; "they're just what you gave me on my plate.""Why didn't you eat them?"
"Because I'd had enough dinner, and I thought if I saved these, it would make the Simpsons' party better," stammered Rebecca, who hated to be scolded and examined before company.
"They were your own, Rebecca," interposed aunt Jane, "and if you chose to save them to give away, it is all right. We ought never to let this day pass without giving our neighbors something to be thankful for, instead of taking all the time to think of our own mercies." The Burnham sisters nodded approvingly as Rebecca went out, and remarked that they had never seen a child grow and improve so fast in so short a time.
"There's plenty of room left for more improvement, as you'd know if she lived in the same house with you," answered Miranda. "She's into every namable thing in the neighborhood, an' not only into it, but generally at the head an' front of it, especially when it's mischief. Of all the foolishness I ever heard of, that lamp beats everything; it's just like those Simpsons, but I didn't suppose the children had brains enough to sell anything."
"One of them must have," said Miss Ellen Burnham, "for the girl that was selling soap at the Ladds' in North Riverboro was described by Adam Ladd as the most remarkable and winning child he ever saw.""It must have been Clara Belle, and I should never call her remarkable," answered Miss Miranda. "Has Adam been home again?"
"Yes, he's been staying a few days with his aunt. There's no limit to the money he's making, they say; and he always brings presents for all the neighbors. This time it was a full set of furs for Mrs. Ladd; and to think we can remember the time he was a barefoot boy without two shirts to his back! It is strange he hasn't married, with all his money, and him so fond of children that he always has a pack of them at his heels.""There's hope for him still, though," said Miss Jane smilingly; "for I don't s'pose he's more than thirty." "He could get a wife in Riverboro if he was a hundred and thirty," remarked Miss Miranda.
"Adam's aunt says he was so taken with the little girl that sold the soap (Clara Belle, did you say her name was?), that he declared he was going to bring her a Christmas present," continued Miss Ellen.
"Well, there's no accountin' for tastes," exclaimed Miss Miranda. "Clara Belle's got crosseyes and red hair, but I'd be the last one to grudge her a Christmas present; the more Adam Ladd gives to her the less the town'll have to."
"Isn't there another Simpson girl?" asked Miss Lydia Burnham; "for this one couldn't have been cross-eyed; I remember Mrs. Ladd saying Adam remarked about this child's handsome eyes. He said it was her eyes that made him buy the three hundred cakes. Mrs. Ladd has it stacked up in the shed chamber."
"Three hundred cakes!" ejaculated Miranda. "Well, there's one crop that never fails in Riverboro!"
"The fool crop," responded Miranda tersely, and changed the subject, much to Jane's gratitude, for she had been nervous and ill at ease for the last fifteen minutes. What child in Riverboro could be described as remarkable and winning, save Rebecca? What child had wonderful eyes, except the same Rebecca? and finally, was there ever a child in the world who could make a man buy soap by the hundred cakes, save Rebecca?
Meantime the "remarkable" child had flown up the road in the deepening dusk, but she had not gone far before she heard the sound of hurrying footsteps, and saw a well-known figure coming in her direction. In a moment she and Emma Jane met and exchanged a breathless embrace."Something awful has happened," panted Emma Jane. "Don't tell me it's broken," exclaimed Rebecca.
"No! oh, no! not that! It was packed in straw, and every piece came out all right; and I was there, and I never said a single thing about your selling the three hundred cakes that got the lamp, so that we could be together when you told.""OUR selling the three hundred cakes," corrected Rebecca; "you did as much as I." "No, I didn't, Rebecca Randall. I just sat at the gate and held the horse."
"Yes, but WHOSE horse was it that took us to North Riverboro? And besides, it just happened to be my turn. If you had gone in and found Mr. Aladdin you would have had the wonderful lamp given to you; but what's the trouble?"
"The Simpsons have no kerosene and no wicks. I guess they thought a banquet lamp was something that lighted itself, and burned without any help. Seesaw has gone to the doctor's to try if he can borrow a wick, and mother let me have a pint of oil, but she says she won't give me any more. We never thought of the expense of keeping up the lamp, Rebecca."
"No, we didn't, but let's not worry about that till after the party. I have a handful of nuts and raisins and some apples."
"I have peppermints and maple sugar," said Emma Jane. "They had a real Thanksgiving dinner; the doctor gave them sweet potatoes and cranberries and turnips; father sent a spare-rib, and Mrs. Cobb a chicken and a jar of mince-meat."
At half past five one might have looked in at the Simpsons' windows, and seen the party at its height. Mrs. Simpson had let the kitchen fire die out, and had brought the baby to grace the festal scene. The lamp seemed to be having the party, and receiving the guests. The children had taken the one small table in the house, and it was placed in the far corner of the room to serve as a pedestal. On it stood the sacred, the adored, the longdesired object; almost as beautiful, and nearly half as large as the advertisement. The brass glistened like gold, and the crimson paper shade glowed like a giant ruby. In the wide splash of light that it flung upon the floor sat the Simpsons, in reverent and solemn silence, Emma Jane standing behind them, hand in hand with Rebecca. There seemed to be no desire for conversation; the occasion was too thrilling and serious for that. The lamp, it was tacitly felt by everybody, was dignifying the party, and providing sufficient entertainment simply by its presence; being fully as satisfactory in its way as a pianola or a string band."I wish father could see it," said Clara Belle loyally. "If he onth thaw it he'd want to thwap it," murmured Susan sagaciously. At the appointed hour Rebecca dragged herself reluctantly away from the enchanting scene.
"I'll turn the lamp out the minute I think you and Emma Jane are home," said Clara Belle. "And, oh! I'm so glad you both live where you can see it shine from our windows. I wonder how long it will burn without bein' filled if I only keep it lit one hour every night?"
"You needn't put it out for want o' karosene," said Seesaw, coming in from the shed, "for there's a great kag of it settin' out there. Mr. Tubbs brought it over from North Riverboro and said somebody sent an order by mail for it."
Rebecca squeezed Emma Jane's arm, and Emma Jane gave a rapturous return squeeze. "It was Mr. Aladdin," whispered Rebecca, as they ran down the path to the gate. Seesaw followed them and handsomely offered to see them "apiece" down the road, but Rebecca declined his escort with such decision that he did not press the matter, but went to bed to dream of her instead. In his dreams flashes of lightning proceeded from both her eyes, and she held a flaming sword in either hand.
Rebecca entered the home dining-room joyously. The Burnham sisters had gone and the two aunts were knitting.
"It was a heavenly party," reiterated Rebecca, coming in again, much too excited to be easily crushed, "and oh! aunt Jane, aunt Miranda, if you'll only come into the kitchen and look out of the sink window, you can see the banquet lamp shining all red, just as if the Simpsons' house was on fire.""And probably it will be before long," observed Miranda. "I've got no patience with such foolish goin's-on."
Jane accompanied Rebecca into the kitchen. Although the feeble glimmer which she was able to see from that distance did not seem to her a dazzling exhibition, she tried to be as enthusiastic as possible."Rebecca, who was it that sold the three hundred cakes of soap to Mr. Ladd in North Riverboro?" "Mr. WHO?" exclaimed Rebecca "Mr. Ladd, in North Riverboro." "Is that his real name?" queried Rebecca in astonishment. "I didn't make a bad guess;" and she laughed softly to herself. "I asked you who sold the soap to Adam Ladd?" resumed Miss Jane. "Adam Ladd! then he's A. Ladd, too; what fun!" "Answer me, Rebecca." "Oh! excuse me, aunt Jane, I was so busy thinking. Emma Jane and I sold the soap to Mr. Ladd." "Did you tease him, or make him buy it?" "Now, aunt Jane, how could I make a big grown-up man buy anything if he didn't want to? He needed the soap dreadfully as a present for his aunt."
Miss Jane still looked a little unconvinced, though she only said, "I hope your aunt Miranda won't mind, but you know how particular she is, Rebecca, and I really wish you wouldn't do anything out of the ordinary without asking her first, for your actions are very queer."
"There can't be anything wrong this time," Rebecca answered confidently. "Emma Jane sold her cakes to her own relations and to uncle Jerry Cobb, and I went first to those new tenements near the lumber mill, and then to the Ladds'. Mr. Ladd bought all we had and made us promise to keep the secret until the premium came, and I've been going about ever since as if the banquet lamp was inside of me all lighted up and burning, for everybody to see."
Rebecca's hair was loosened and falling over her forehead in ruffled waves; her eyes were brilliant, her cheeks crimson; there was a hint of everything in the girl's face,--of sensitiveness and delicacy as well as of ardor; there was the sweetness of the mayflower and the strength of the young oak, but one could easily divine that she was one of"The souls by nature pitched too high, By suffering plunged too low."
"That's just the way you look, for all the world as if you did have a lamp burning inside of you," sighed aunt Jane. "Rebecca! Rebecca! I wish you could take things easier, child; I am fearful for you sometimes."
Seasons Of Growth
The days flew by; as summer had melted into autumn so autumn had given place to winter. Life in the brick house had gone on more placidly of late, for Rebecca was honestly trying to be more careful in the performance of her tasks and duties as well as more quiet in her plays, and she was slowly learning the power of the soft answer in turning away wrath.
Miranda had not had, perhaps, quite as many opportunities in which to lose her temper, but it is only just to say that she had not fully availed herself of all that had offered themselves.There had been one outburst of righteous wrath occasioned by Rebecca's over-hospitable habits, which were later shown in a still more dramatic and unexpected fashion. On a certain Friday afternoon she asked her aunt Miranda if she might take half her bread and milk upstairs to a friend. "What friend have you got up there, for pity's sake?" demanded aunt Miranda.
"The Simpson baby, come to stay over Sunday; that is, if you're willing, Mrs. Simpson says she is. Shall I bring her down and show her? She's dressed in an old dress of Emma Jane's and she looks sweet."
"You can bring her down, but you can't show her to me! You can smuggle her out the way you smuggled her in and take her back to her mother. Where on earth do you get your notions, borrowing a baby for Sunday!"
"You're so used to a house without a baby you don't know how dull it is," sighed Rebecca resignedly, as she moved towards the door; "but at the farm there was always a nice fresh one to play with and cuddle. There were too many, but that's not half as bad as none at all. Well, I'll take her back. She'll be dreadfully disappointed and so will Mrs. Simpson. She was planning to go to Milltown.""She can un-plan then," observed Miss Miranda. "Perhaps I can go up there and take care of the baby?" suggested Rebecca. "I brought her home so 't I could do my Saturday work just the same."
"You've got enough to do right here, without any borrowed babies to make more steps. Now, no answering back, just give the child some supper and carry it home where it belongs."
"You don't want me to go down the front way, hadn't I better just come through this room and let you look at her? She has yellow hair and big blue eyes! Mrs. Simpson says she takes after her father."
"I brought the Simpson baby home, aunt Jane, thinking it would help us over a dull Sunday, but aunt Miranda won't let her stay. Emma Jane has the promise of her next Sunday and Alice Robinson the next. Mrs. Simpson wanted I should have her first because I've had so much experience in babies. Come in and look at her sitting up in my bed, aunt Jane! Isn't she lovely? She's the fat, gurgly kind, not thin and fussy like some babies, and I thought I was going to have her to undress and dress twice each day. Oh dear! I wish I could have a printed book with everything set down in it that I COULD do, and then I wouldn't get disappointed so often."
"No book could be printed that would fit you, Rebecca," answered aunt Jane, "for nobody could imagine beforehand the things you'd want to do. Are you going to carry that heavy child home in your arms?"
"No, I'm going to drag her in the little soap-wagon. Come, baby! Take your thumb out of your mouth and come to ride with Becky in your go-cart." She stretched out her strong young arms to the crowing baby, sat down in a chair with the child, turned her upside down unceremoniously, took from her waistband and scornfully flung away a crooked pin, walked with her (still in a highly reversed position) to the bureau, selected a large safety pin, and proceeded to attach her brief red flannel petticoat to a sort of shirt that she wore. Whether flat on her stomach, or head down, heels in the air, the Simpson baby knew she was in the hands of an expert, and continued gurgling placidly while aunt Jane regarded the pantomime with a kind of dazed awe."Bless my soul, Rebecca," she ejaculated, "it beats all how handy you are with babies!" "I ought to be; I've brought up three and a half of 'em," Rebecca responded cheerfully, pulling up the infant Simpson's stockings. "I should think you'd be fonder of dolls than you are," said Jane.
"I do like them, but there's never any change in a doll; it's always the same everlasting old doll, and you have to make believe it's cross or sick, or it loves you, or can't bear you. Babies are more trouble, but nicer."
Miss Jane stretched out a thin hand with a slender, worn band of gold on the finger, and the baby curled her dimpled fingers round it and held it fast.
"You wear a ring on your engagement finger, don't you, aunt Jane? Did you ever think about getting married?"
Jane looked back across the half-forgotten years, and the vision of Tom's gladness flashed upon her: his haggard smile, the tears in his tired eyes, his outstretched arms, his weak voice saying, "Oh, Jenny! Dear Jenny! I've wanted you so, Jenny!" It was too much! She had never breathed a word of it before to a human creature, for there was no one who would have understood. Now, in a shamefaced way, to hide her brimming eyes, she put her head down on the young shoulder beside her, saying, "It was hard, Rebecca!"
The Simpson baby had cuddled down sleepily in Rebecca's lap, leaning her head back and sucking her thumb contentedly. Rebecca put her cheek down until it touched her aunt's gray hair and softly patted her, as she said, "I'm sorry, aunt Jane!"
The girl's eyes were soft and tender and the heart within her stretched a little and grew; grew in sweetness and intuition and depth of feeling. It had looked into another heart, felt it beat, and heard it sigh; and that is how all hearts grow.
Episodes like these enlivened the quiet course of every-day existence, made more quiet by the departure of Dick Carter, Living Perkins, and Huldah Meserve for Wareham, and the small attendance at the winter school, from which the younger children of the place stayed away during the cold weather.
Life, however, could never be thoroughly dull or lacking in adventure to a child of Rebecca's temperament. Her nature was full of adaptability, fluidity, receptivity. She made friends everywhere she went, and snatched up acquaintances in every corner. It was she who ran to the shed door to take the dish to the "meat man" or "fish man;" she who knew the family histories of the itinerant fruit venders and tin peddlers; she who was asked to take supper or pass the night with children in neighboring villages--children of whose parents her aunts had never so much as heard. As to the nature of these friendships, which seemed so many to the eye of the superficial observer, they were of various kinds, and while the girl pursued them with enthusiasm and ardor, they left her unsatisfied and heart-hungry; they were never intimacies such as are so readily made by shallow natures. She loved Emma Jane, but it was a friendship born of propinquity and circumstance, not of true affinity. It was her neighbor's amiability, constancy, and devotion that she loved, and although she rated these qualities at their true value, she was always searching beyond them for intellectual treasures; searching and never finding, for although Emma Jane had the advantage in years she was still immature. Huldah Meserve had an instinctive love of fun which appealed to Rebecca; she also had a fascinating knowledge of the world, from having visited her married sisters in Milltown and Portland; but on the other hand there was a certain sharpness and lack of sympathy in Huldah which repelled rather than attracted. With Dick Carter she could at least talk intelligently about lessons. He was a very ambitious boy, full of plans for his future, which he discussed quite freely with Rebecca, but when she broached the subject of her future his interest sensibly lessened. Into the world of the ideal Emma Jane, Huldah, and Dick alike never seemed to have peeped, and the consciousness of this was always a fixed gulf between them and Rebecca.
"Uncle Jerry" and "aunt Sarah" Cobb were dear friends of quite another sort, a very satisfying and perhaps a somewhat dangerous one. A visit from Rebecca always sent them into a twitter of delight. Her merry conversation and quaint come- ments on life in general fairly dazzled the old couple, who hung on her lightest word as if it had been a prophet's utterance; and Rebecca, though she had had no previous experience, owned to herself a perilous pleasure in being dazzling, even to a couple of dear humdrum old people like Mr. and Mrs. Cobb. Aunt Sarah flew to the pantry or cellar whenever Rebecca's slim little shape first appeared on the crest of the hill, and a jelly tart or a frosted cake was sure to be forthcoming. The sight of old uncle Jerry's spare figure in its clean white shirt sleeves, whatever the weather, always made Rebecca's heart warm when she saw him peer longingly from the kitchen window. Before the snow came, many was the time he had come out to sit on a pile of boards at the gate, to see if by any chance she was mounting the hill that led to their house. In the autumn Rebecca was often the old man's companion while he was digging potatoes or shelling beans, and now in the winter, when a younger man was driving the stage, she sometimes stayed with him while he did his evening milking. It is safe to say that he was the only creature in Riverboro who possessed Rebecca's entire confidence; the only being to whom she poured out her whole heart, with its wealth of hopes, and dreams, and vague ambitions. At the brick house she practiced scales and exercises, but at the Cobbs' cabinet organ she sang like a bird, improvising simple accompaniments that seemed to her ignorant auditors nothing short of marvelous. Here she was happy, here she was loved, here she was drawn out of herself and admired and made much of. But, she thought, if there were somebody who not only loved but understood; who spoke her language, comprehended her desires, and responded to her mysterious longings! Perhaps in the big world of Wareham there would be people who thought and dreamed and wondered as she did.
In reality Jane did not understand her niece very much better than Miranda; the difference between the sisters was, that while Jane was puzzled, she was also attracted, and when she was quite in the dark for an explanation of some quaint or unusual action she was sympathetic as to its possible motive and believed the best. A greater change had come over Jane than over any other person in the brick house, but it had been wrought so secretly, and concealed so religiously, that it scarcely appeared to the ordinary observer. Life had now a motive utterly lacking before. Breakfast was not eaten in the kitchen, because it seemed worth while, now that there were three persons, to lay the cloth in the dining- room; it was also a more bountiful meal than of yore, when there was no child to consider. The morning was made cheerful by Rebecca's start for school, the packing of the luncheon basket, the final word about umbrella, waterproof, or rubbers; the parting admonition and the unconscious waiting at the window for the last wave of the hand. She found herself taking pride in Rebecca's improved appearance, her rounder throat and cheeks, and her better color; she was wont to mention the length of Rebecca's hair and add a word as to its remarkable evenness and lustre, at times when Mrs. Perkins grew too diffuse about Emma Jane's complexion. She threw herself wholeheartedly on her niece's side when it became a question between a crimson or a brown linsey-woolsey dress, and went through a memorable struggle with her sister concerning the purchase of a red bird for Rebecca's black felt hat. No one guessed the quiet pleasure that lay hidden in her heart when she watched the girl's dark head bent over her lessons at night, nor dreamed of her joy it, certain quiet evenings when Miranda went to prayer meeting; evenings when Rebecca would read aloud Hiawatha or Barbara Frietchie, The Bugle Song, or The Brook. Her narrow, humdrum existence bloomed under the dews that fell from this fresh spirit; her dullness brightened under the kindling touch of the younger mind, took fire from the "vital spark of heavenly flame" that seemed always to radiate from Rebecca's presence.
Rebecca's idea of being a painter like her friend Miss Ross was gradually receding, owing to the apparently insuperable difficulties in securing any instruction. Her aunt Miranda saw no wisdom in cultivating such a talent, and could not conceive that any money could ever be earned by its exercise, "Hand painted pictures" were held in little esteem in Riverboro, where the cheerful chromo or the dignified steel engraving were respected and valued. There was a slight, a very slight hope, that Rebecca might be allowed a few music lessons from Miss Morton, who played the church cabinet organ, but this depended entirely upon whether Mrs. Morton would decide to accept a hayrack in return for a year's instruction from her daughter. She had the matter under advisement, but a doubt as to whether or not she would sell or rent her hayfields kept her from coming to a conclusion. Music, in common with all other accomplishments, was viewed by Miss Miranda as a trivial, useless, and foolish amusement, but she allowed Rebecca an hour a day for practice on the old piano, and a little extra time for lessons, if Jane could secure them without payment of actual cash.
The news from Sunnybrook Farm was hopeful rather than otherwise. Cousin Ann's husband had died, and John, Rebecca's favorite brother, had gone to be the man of the house to the widowed cousin. He was to have good schooling in return for his care of the horse and cow and barn, and what was still more dazzling, the use of the old doctor's medical library of two or three dozen volumes. John's whole heart was set on becoming a country doctor, with Rebecca to keep house for him, and the vision seemed now so true, so near, that he could almost imagine his horse ploughing through snowdrifts on errands of mercy, or, less dramatic but none the less attractive, could see a physician's neat turncut trundling along the shady country roads, a medicine case between his, Dr. Randall's, feet, and Miss Rebecca Randall sitting in a black silk dress by his side.
Hannah now wore her hair in a coil and her dresses a trifle below her ankles, these concessions being due to her extreme height. Mark had broken his collar bone, but it was healing well. Little Mira was growing very pretty. There was even a rumor that the projected railroad from Temperance to Plumville might go near the Randall farm, in which case land would rise in value from nothing-at-all an acre to something at least resembling a price. Mrs. Randall refused to consider any improvement in their financial condition as a possibility. Content to work from sunrise to sunset to gain a mere subsistence for her children, she lived in their future, not in her own present, as a mother is wont to do when her own lot seems hard and cheerless.
Gray Days And Gold
When Rebecca looked back upon the year or two that followed the Simpsons' Thanksgiving party, she could see only certain milestones rising in the quiet pathway of the months.
The first milestone was Christmas Day. It was a fresh, crystal morning, with icicles hanging like dazzling pendants from the trees and a glaze of pale blue on the surface of the snow. The Simpsons' red barn stood out, a glowing mass of color in the white landscape. Rebecca had been busy for weeks before, trying to make a present for each of the seven persons at Sunnybrook Farm, a somewhat difficult proceeding on an expenditure of fifty cents, hoarded by incredible exertion. Success had been achieved, however, and the precious packet had been sent by post two days previous. Miss Sawyer had bought her niece a nice gray squirrel muff and tippet, which was even more unbecoming if possible, than Rebecca's other articles of wearing apparel; but aunt Jane had made her the loveliest dress of green cashmere, a soft, soft green like that of a young leaf. It was very simply made, but the color delighted the eye. Then there was a beautiful "tatting" collar from her mother, some scarlet mittens from Mrs. Cobb, and a handkerchief from Emma Jane.
Rebecca herself had fashioned an elaborate tea- cosy with a letter "M" in outline stitch, and a pretty frilled pincushion marked with a "J," for her two aunts, so that taken all together the day would have been an unequivocal success had nothing else happened; but something else did.
There was a knock at the door at breakfast time, and Rebecca, answering it, was asked by a boy if Miss Rebecca Randall lived there. On being told that she did, he handed her a parcel bearing her name, a parcel which she took like one in a dream and bore into the dining-room."It's a present; it must be," she said, looking at it in a dazed sort of way; "but I can't think who it could be from." "A good way to find out would be to open it," remarked Miss Miranda.
The parcel being untied proved to have two smaller packages within, and Rebecca opened with trembling fingers the one addressed to her. Anybody's fingers would have trembled. There was a case which, when the cover was lifted, disclosed a long chain of delicate pink coral beads,--a chain ending in a cross made of coral rosebuds. A card with "Merry Christmas from Mr. Aladdin" lay under the cross."Of all things!" exclaimed the two old ladies, rising in their seats. "Who sent it?"
"Mr. Ladd," said Rebecca under her breath. "Adam Ladd! Well I never! Don't you remember Ellen Burnham said he was going to send Rebecca a Christmas present? But I never supposed he'd think of it again," said Jane. "What's the other package?"
It proved to be a silver chain with a blue enamel locket on it, marked for Emma Jane. That added the last touch--to have him remember them both! There was a letter also, which ran:--
Dear Miss Rebecca Rowena,--My idea of a Christmas present is something entirely unnecessary and useless. I have always noticed when I give this sort of thing that people love it, so I hope I have not chosen wrong for you and your friend. You must wear your chain this afternoon, please, and let me see it on your neck, for I am coming over in my new sleigh to take you both to drive. My aunt is delighted with the soap.Sincerely your friend, Adam Ladd.
"Well, well!" cried Miss Jane, "isn't that kind of him? He's very fond of children, Lyddy Burnham says. Now eat your breakfast, Rebecca, and after we've done the dishes you can run over to Emma's and give her her chain-- What's the matter, child?"
Rebecca's emotions seemed always to be stored, as it were, in adjoining compartments, and to be continually getting mixed. At this moment, though her joy was too deep for words, her bread and butter almost choked her, and at intervals a tear stole furtively down her cheek.
Mr. Ladd called as he promised, and made the acquaintance of the aunts, understanding them both in five minutes as well as if he had known them for years. On a footstool near the open fire sat Rebecca, silent and shy, so conscious of her fine apparel and the presence of aunt Miranda that she could not utter a word. It was one of her "beauty days." Happiness, excitement, the color of the green dress, and the touch of lovely pink in the coral necklace had transformed the little brown wren for the time into a bird of plumage, and Adam Ladd watched her with evident satisfaction. Then there was the sleigh ride, during which she found her tongue and chattered like any magpie, and so ended that glorious Christmas Day; and many and many a night thereafter did Rebecca go to sleep with the precious coral chain under her pillow, one hand always upon it to be certain that it was safe.
Another milestone was the departure of the Simpsons from Riverboro, bag and baggage, the banquet lamp being their most conspicuous posses- sion. It was delightful to be rid of Seesaw's hateful presence; but otherwise the loss of several playmates at one fell swoop made rather a gap in Riverboro's "younger set," and Rebecca was obliged to make friends with the Robinson baby, he being the only long-clothes child in the village that winter. The faithful Seesaw had called at the side door of the brick house on the evening before his departure, and when Rebecca answered his knock, stammered solemnly, "Can I kkeep comp'ny with you when you g-g-row up?" "Certainly NOT," replied Rebecca, closing the door somewhat too speedily upon her precocious swain.
Mr. Simpson had come home in time to move his wife and children back to the town that had given them birth, a town by no means waiting with open arms to receive them. The Simpsons' moving was presided over by the village authorities and somewhat anxiously watched by the entire neighborhood, but in spite of all precautions a pulpit chair, several kerosene lamps, and a small stove disappeared from the church and were successfully swapped in the course of Mr. Simpson's driving tour from the old home to the new. It gave Rebecca and Emma Jane some hours of sorrow to learn that a certain village in the wake of Abner Simpson's line of progress had acquired, through the medium of an ambitious young minister, a magnificent lamp for its new church parlors. No money changed hands in the operation; for the minister succeeded in getting the lamp in return for an old bicycle. The only pleasant feature of the whole affair was that Mr. Simpson, wholly unable to console his offspring for the loss of the beloved object, mounted the bicycle and rode away on it, not to be seen or heard of again for many a long day.
The year was notable also as being the one in which Rebecca shot up like a young tree. She had seemingly never grown an inch since she was ten years old, but once started she attended to growing precisely as she did other things,--with such energy, that Miss Jane did nothing for months but lengthen skirts, sleeves, and waists. In spite of all the arts known to a thrifty New England woman, the limit of letting down and piecing down was reached at last, and the dresses were sent to Sunnybrook Farm to be made over for Jenny.
There was another milestone, a sad one, marking a little grave under a willow tree at Sunnybrook Farm. Mira, the baby of the Randall family, died, and Rebecca went home for a fortnight's visit. The sight of the small still shape that had been Mira, the baby who had been her special charge ever since her birth, woke into being a host of new thoughts and wonderments; for it is sometimes the mystery of death that brings one to a consciousness of the still greater mystery of life.
It was a sorrowful home-coming for Rebecca. The death of Mira, the absence of John, who had been her special comrade, the sadness of her mother, the isolation of the little house, and the pinching economies that went on within it, all conspired to depress a child who was so sensitive to beauty and harmony as Rebecca.
Hannah seemed to have grown into a woman during Rebecca's absence. There had always been a strange unchildlike air about Hannah, but in certain ways she now appeared older than aunt Jane --soberer, and more settled. She was pretty, though in a colorless fashion; pretty and capable.
Rebecca walked through all the old playgrounds and favorite haunts of her early childhood; all her familiar, her secret places; some of them known to John, some to herself alone. There was the spot where the Indian pipes grew; the particular bit of marshy ground where the fringed gentians used to be largest and bluest; the rock maple where she found the oriole's nest; the hedge where the field mice lived; the moss-covered stump where the white toadstools were wont to spring up as if by magic; the hole at the root of the old pine where an ancient and honorable toad made his home; these were the landmarks of her childhood, and she looked at them as across an immeasurable distance. The dear little sunny brook, her chief companion after John, was sorry company at this season. There was no laughing water sparkling in the sunshine. In summer the merry stream had danced over white pebbles on its way to deep pools where it could be still and think. Now, like Mira, it was cold and quiet, wrapped in its shroud of snow; but Rebecca knelt by the brink, and putting her ear to the glaze of ice, fancied, where it used to be deepest, she could hear a faint, tinkling sound. It was all right! Sunnybrook would sing again in the spring; perhaps Mira too would have her singing time somewhere--she wondered where and how. In the course of these lonely rambles she was ever thinking, thinking, of one subject. Hannah had never had a chance; never been freed from the daily care and work of the farm. She, Rebecca, had enjoyed all the privileges thus far. Life at the brick house had not been by any means a path of roses, but there had been comfort and the companionship of other children, as well as chances for study and reading. Riverboro had not been the world itself, but it had been a glimpse of it through a tiny peephole that was infinitely better than nothing. Rebecca shed more than one quiet tear before she could trust herself to offer up as a sacrifice that which she so much desired for herself. Then one morning as her visit neared its end she plunged into the subject boldly and said, "Hannah, after this term I'm going to stay at home and let you go away. Aunt Miranda has always wanted you, and it's only fair you should have your turn."
Hannah was darning stockings, and she threaded her needle and snipped off the yarn before she answered, "No, thank you, Becky. Mother couldn't do without me, and I hate going to school. I can read and write and cipher as well as anybody now, and that's enough for me. I'd die rather than teach school for a living. The winter'll go fast, for Will Melville is going to lend me his mother's sewing machine, and I'm going to make white petticoats out of the piece of muslin aunt Jane sent, and have 'em just solid with tucks. Then there's going to be a singing-school and a social circle in Temperance after New Year's, and I shall have a real good time now I'm grown up. I'm not one to be lonesome, Becky," Hannah ended with a blush; "I love this place."Rebecca saw that she was speaking the truth, but she did not understand the blush till a year or two later.
Rebecca Represents The Family
There was another milestone; it was more than that, it was an "event;" an event that made a deep impression in several quarters and left a wake of smaller events in its train. This was the coming to Riverboro of the Reverend Amos Burch and wife, returned missionaries from Syria.
The Aid Society had called its meeting for a certain Wednesday in March of the year in which Rebecca ended her Riverboro school days and began her studies at Wareham. It was a raw, blustering day, snow on the ground and a look in the sky of more to follow. Both Miranda and Jane had taken cold and decided that they could not leave the house in such weather, and this deflection from the path of duty worried Miranda, since she was an officer of the society. After making the breakfast table sufficiently uncomfortable and wishing plaintively that Jane wouldn't always insist on being sick at the same time she was, she decided that Rebecca must go to the meeting in their stead. "You'll be better than nobody, Rebecca," she said flatteringly; "your aunt Jane shall write an excuse from afternoon school for you; you can wear your rubber boots and come home by the way of the meetin' house. This Mr. Burch, if I remember right, used to know your grandfather Sawyer, and stayed here once when he was candidatin'. He'll mebbe look for us there, and you must just go and represent the family, an' give him our respects. Be careful how you behave. Bow your head in prayer; sing all the hymns, but not too loud and bold; ask after Mis' Strout's boy; tell everybody what awful colds we've got; if you see a good chance, take your pocket handkerchief and wipe the dust off the melodeon before the meetin' begins, and get twenty-five cents out of the sittin' room match-box in case there should be a collection."Rebecca willingly assented. Anything interested her, even a village missionary meeting, and the idea of representing the family was rather intoxicating.
The service was held in the Sunday-school room, and although the Rev. Mr. Burch was on the platform when Rebecca entered, there were only a dozen persons present. Feeling a little shy and considerably too young for this assemblage, Rebecca sought the shelter of a friendly face, and seeing Mrs. Robinson in one of the side seats near the front, she walked up the aisle and sat beside her."Both my aunts had bad colds," she said softly, "and sent me to represent the family."
"That's Mrs. Burch on the platform with her husband," whispered Mrs. Robinson. "She's awful tanned up, ain't she? If you're goin' to save souls seems like you hev' to part with your complexion. Eudoxy Morton ain't come yet; I hope to the land she will, or Mis' Deacon Milliken'll pitch the tunes where we can't reach 'em with a ladder; can't you pitch, afore she gits her breath and clears her throat?"
Mrs. Burch was a slim, frail little woman with dark hair, a broad low forehead, and patient mouth. She was dressed in a well-worn black silk, and looked so tired that Rebecca's heart went out to her.
"They're poor as Job's turkey," whispered Mrs. Robinson; "but if you give 'em anything they'd turn right round and give it to the heathen. His congregation up to Parsonsfield clubbed together and give him that gold watch he carries; I s'pose he'd 'a' handed that over too, only heathens always tell time by the sun 'n' don't need watches. Eudoxy ain't comin'; now for massy's sake, Rebecca, do git ahead of Mis' Deacon Milliken and pitch real low."The meeting began with prayer and then the Rev. Mr. Burch announced, to the tune of Mendon:--
"Church of our God I arise and shine, Bright with the beams of truth divine: Then shall thy radiance stream afar, Wide as the heathen nations are. "Gentiles and kings thy light shall view, And shall admire and love thee too; They come, like clouds across the sky, As doves that to their windows fly.""Is there any one present who will assist us at the instrument?" he asked unexpectedly.
Everybody looked at everybody else, and nobody moved; then there came a voice out of a far corner saying informally, "Rebecca, why don't you?" It was Mrs. Cobb. Rebecca could have played Mendon in the dark, so she went to the melodeon and did so without any ado, no member of her family being present to give her self-consciousness.
The talk that ensued was much the usual sort of thing. Mr. Burch made impassioned appeals for the spreading of the gospel, and added his entreaties that all who were prevented from visiting in person the peoples who sat in darkness should contribute liberally to the support of others who could. But he did more than this. He was a pleasant, earnest speaker, and he interwove his discourse with stories of life in a foreign land,--of the manners, the customs, the speech, the point of view; even giving glimpses of the daily round, the common task, of his own household, the work of his devoted helpmate and their little group of children, all born under Syrian skies.
Rebecca sat entranced, having been given the key of another world. Riverboro had faded; the Sunday-school room, with Mrs. Robinson's red plaid shawl, and Deacon Milliken's wig, on crooked, the bare benches and torn hymn-books, the hanging texts and maps, were no longer visible, and she saw blue skies and burning stars, white turbans and gay colors; Mr. Burch had not said so, but perhaps there were mosques and temples and minarets and date-palms. What stories they must know, those children born under Syrian skies! Then she was called upon to play "Jesus shall reign where'er the sun." The contribution box was passed and Mr. Burch prayed. As he opened his eyes and gave out the last hymn he looked at the handful of people, at the scattered pennies and dimes in the contribution box, and reflected that his mission was not only to gather funds for the building of his church, but to keep alive, in all these remote and lonely neighborhoods, that love for the cause which was its only hope in the years to come.
"If any of the sisters will provide entertainment," he said, "Mrs. Burch and I will remain among you to-night and to-morrow. In that event we could hold a parlor meeting. My wife and one of my children would wear the native costume, we would display some specimens of Syrian handiwork, and give an account of our educational methods with the children. These informal parlor meetings, admitting of questions or conversation, are often the means of interesting those not commonly found at church services so I repeat, if any member of the congregation desires it and offers her hospitality, we will gladly stay and tell you more of the Lord's work."
A pall of silence settled over the little assembly. There was some cogent reason why every "sister" there was disinclined for company. Some had no spare room, some had a larder less well stocked than usual, some had sickness in the family, some were "unequally yoked together with unbelievers" who disliked strange ministers. Mrs. Burch's thin hands fingered her black silk nervously. "Would no one speak!" thought Rebecca, her heart fluttering with sympathy. Mrs. Robinson leaned over and whispered significantly, "The missionaries always used to be entertained at the brick house; your grand- father never would let 'em sleep anywheres else when he was alive." She meant this for a stab at Miss Miranda's parsimony, remembering the four spare chambers, closed from January to December; but Rebecca thought it was intended as a suggestion. If it had been a former custom, perhaps her aunts would want her to do the right thing; for what else was she representing the family? So, delighted that duty lay in so pleasant a direction, she rose from her seat and said in the pretty voice and with the quaint manner that so separated her from all the other young people in the village, "My aunts, Miss Miranda and Miss Jane Sawyer, would be very happy to have you visit them at the brick house, as the ministers always used to do when their father was alive. They sent their respects by me." The "respects" might have been the freedom of the city, or an equestrian statue, when presented in this way, and the aunts would have shuddered could they have foreseen the manner of delivery; but it was vastly impressive to the audience, who concluded that Mirandy Sawyer must be making her way uncommonly fast to mansions in the skies, else what meant this abrupt change of heart?Mr. Burch bowed courteously, accepted the invitation "in the same spirit in which it was offered," and asked Brother Milliken to lead in prayer.
If the Eternal Ear could ever tire it would have ceased long ere this to listen to Deacon Milliken, who had wafted to the throne of grace the same prayer, with very slight variations, for forty years. Mrs. Perkins followed; she had several petitions at her command, good sincere ones too, but a little cut and dried, made of scripture texts laboriously woven together. Rebecca wondered why she always ended, at the most peaceful seasons, with the form, "Do Thou be with us, God of Battles, while we strive onward like Christian soldiers marching as to war;" but everything sounded real to her today, she was in a devout mood, and many things Mr. Burch had said had moved her strangely. As she lifted her head the minister looked directly at her and said, "Will our young sister close the service by leading us in prayer?"
Every drop of blood in Rebecca's body seemed to stand still, and her heart almost stopped beating. Mrs. Cobb's excited breathing could be heard distinctly in the silence. There was nothing extraordinary in Mr. Burch's request. In his journeyings among country congregations he was constantly in the habit of meeting young members who had "experienced religion" and joined the church when nine or ten years old. Rebecca was now thirteen; she had played the melodeon, led the singing, delivered her aunts' invitation with an air of great worldly wisdom, and he, concluding that she must be a youthful pillar of the church, called upon her with the utmost simplicity.
Rebecca's plight was pathetic. How could she refuse; how could she explain she was not a "member;" how could she pray before all those elderly women! John Rogers at the stake hardly suffered more than this poor child for the moment as she rose to her feet, forgetting that ladies prayed sitting, while deacons stood in prayer. Her mind was a maze of pictures that the Rev. Mr. Burch had flung on the screen. She knew the conventional phraseology, of course; what New England child, accustomed to Wednesday evening meetings, does not? But her own secret prayers were different. However, she began slowly and tremulously:--
"Our Father who art in Heaven, . . . Thou art God in Syria just the same as in Maine; . . . over there to-day are blue skies and yellow stars and burning suns . . . the great trees are waving in the warm air, while here the snow lies thick under our feet, . . . but no distance is too far for God to travel and so He is with us here as He is with them there, . . . and our thoughts rise to Him `as doves that to their windows fly.'. . .
"We cannot all be missionaries, teaching people to be good, . . . some of us have not learned yet how to be good ourselves, but if thy kingdom is to come and thy will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven, everybody must try and everybody must help, . . . those who are old and tired and those who are young and strong. . . . The little children of whom we have heard, those born under Syrian skies, have strange and interesting work to do for Thee, and some of us would like to travel in far lands and do wonderful brave things for the heathen and gently take away their idols of wood and stone. But perhaps we have to stay at home and do what is given us to do . . . sometimes even things we dislike, . . . but that must be what it means in the hymn we sang, when it talked about the sweet perfume that rises with every morning sacrifice. . . . This is the way that God teaches us to be meek and patient, and the thought that He has willed it so should rob us of our fears and help us bear the years. Amen."
Poor little ignorant, fantastic child! Her petition was simply a succession of lines from the various hymns, and images the minister had used in his sermon, but she had her own way of recombining and applying these things, even of using them in a new connection, so that they had a curious effect of belonging to her. The words of some people might generally be written with a minus sign after them, the minus meaning that the personality of the speaker subtracted from, rather than added to, their weight; but Rebecca's words might always have borne the plus sign.
The "Amen" said, she sat down, or presumed she sat down, on what she believed to be a bench, and there was a benediction. In a moment or two, when the room ceased spinning, she went up to Mrs. Burch, who kissed her affectionately and said, "My dear, how glad I am that we are going to stay with you. Will half past five be too late for us to come? It is three now, and we have to go to the station for our valise and for our children. We left them there, being uncertain whether we should go back or stop here."
Rebecca said that half past five was their supper hour, and then accepted an invitation to drive home with Mrs. Cobb. Her face was flushed and her lip quivered in a way that aunt Sarah had learned to know, so the homeward drive was taken almost in silence. The bleak wind and aunt Sarah's quieting presence brought her back to herself, however, and she entered the brick house cheerily. Being too full of news to wait in the side entry to take off her rubber boots, she carefully lifted a braided rug into the sitting-room and stood on that while she opened her budget."There are your shoes warming by the fire," said aunt Jane. "Slip them right on while you talk."
Deacon Israel's Successor
It was a very small meeting, aunt Miranda," began Rebecca, "and the missionary and his wife are lovely people, and they are coming here to stay all night and to-morrow with you. I hope you won't mind."
"Coming here!" exclaimed Miranda, letting her knitting fall in her lap, and taking her spectacles off, as she always did in moments of extreme excitement. "Did they invite themselves?""No," Rebecca answered. "I had to invite them for you; but I thought you'd like to have such interesting company. It was this way"-- "Stop your explainin', and tell me first when they'll be here. Right away?" "No, not for two hours--about half past five."
"Then you can explain, if you can, who gave you any authority to invite a passel of strangers to stop here over night, when you know we ain't had any company for twenty years, and don't intend to have any for another twenty,--or at any rate while I'm the head of the house."
"Don't blame her, Miranda, till you've heard her story," said Jane. "It was in my mind right along, if we went to the meeting, some such thing might happen, on account of Mr. Burch knowing father."
"The meeting was a small one," began Rebecca "I gave all your messages, and everybody was disappointed you couldn't come, for the president wasn't there, and Mrs. Matthews took the chair, which was a pity, for the seat wasn't nearly big enough for her, and she reminded me of a line in a hymn we sang, `Wide as the heathen nations are,' and she wore that kind of a beaver garden-hat that always gets on one side. And Mr. Burch talked beautifully about the Syrian heathen, and the singing went real well, and there looked to be about forty cents in the basket that was passed on our side. And that wouldn't save even a heathen baby, would it? Then Mr. Burch said, if any sister would offer entertainment, they would pass the night, and have a parlor meeting in Riverboro tomorrow, with Mrs. Burch in Syrian costume, and lovely foreign things to show. Then he waited and waited, and nobody said a word. I was so mortified I didn't know what to do. And then he repeated what he said, an explained why he wanted to stay, and you could see he thought it was his duty. Just then Mrs. Robinson whispered to me and said the missionaries always used to go to the brick house when grandfather was alive, and that he never would let them sleep anywhere else. I didn't know you had stopped having them. because no traveling ministers have been here, except just for a Sunday morning, since I came to Riverboro. So I thought I ought to invite them, as you weren't there to do it for yourself, and you told me to represent the family."
"What did you do--go up and introduce yourself as folks was goin' out?"
"No; I stood right up in meeting. I had to, for Mr. Burch's feelings were getting hurt at nobody's speaking. So I said, `My aunts, Miss Miranda and Miss Jane Sawyer would be happy to have you visit at the brick house, just as the missionaries always did when their father was alive, and they sent their respects by me.' Then I sat down; and Mr. Burch prayed for grandfather, and called him a man of God, and thanked our Heavenly Father that his spirit was still alive in his descendants (that was you), and that the good old house where so many of the brethren had been cheered and helped, and from which so many had gone out strengthened for the fight, was still hospitably open for the stranger and wayfarer."
Sometimes, when the heavenly bodies are in just the right conjunction, nature seems to be the most perfect art. The word or the deed coming straight from the heart, without any thought of effect, seems inspired.
A certain gateway in Miranda Sawyer's soul had been closed for years; not all at once had it been done, but gradually, and without her full knowledge. If Rebecca had plotted for days, and with the utmost cunning, she could not have effected an entrance into that forbidden country, and now, unknown to both of them, the gate swung on its stiff and rusty hinges, and the favoring wind of opportunity opened it wider and wider as time went on. All things had worked together amazingly for good. The memory of old days had been evoked, and the daily life of a pious and venerated father called to mind; the Sawyer name had been publicly dignified and praised; Rebecca had comported herself as the granddaughter of Deacon Israel Sawyer should, and showed conclusively that she was not "all Randall," as had been supposed. Miranda was rather mollified by and pleased with the turn of events, although she did not intend to show it, or give anybody any reason to expect that this expression of hospitality was to serve for a precedent on any subsequent occasion.
"Well, I see you did only what you was obliged to do, Rebecca," she said, "and you worded your invitation as nice as anybody could have done. I wish your aunt Jane and me wasn't both so worthless with these colds; but it only shows the good of havin' a clean house, with every room in order, whether open or shut, and enough victuals cooked so 't you can't be surprised and belittled by anybody, whatever happens. There was half a dozen there that might have entertained the Burches as easy as not, if they hadn't 'a' been too mean or lazy. Why didn't your missionaries come right along with you?""They had to go to the station for their valise and their children." "Are there children?" groaned Miranda. "Yes, aunt Miranda, all born under Syrian skies."
"Syrian grandmother!" ejaculated Miranda (and it was not a fact). "How many?" "I didn't think to ask; but I will get two rooms ready, and if there are any over I'll take 'em into my bed," said Rebecca, secretly hoping that this would be the case. "Now, as you're both half sick, couldn't you trust me just once to get ready for the company? You can come up when I call. Will you?"
"I believe I will," sighed Miranda reluctantly. "I'll lay down side o' Jane in our bedroom and see if I can get strength to cook supper. It's half past three--don't you let me lay a minute past five. I kep' a good fire in the kitchen stove. I don't know, I'm sure, why I should have baked a pot o' beans in the middle of the week, but they'll come in handy. Father used to say there was nothing that went right to the spot with returned missionaries like pork 'n' beans 'n' brown bread. Fix up the two south chambers, Rebecca."
Rebecca, given a free hand for the only time in her life, dashed upstairs like a whirlwind. Every room in the brick house was as neat as wax, and she had only to pull up the shades, go over the floors with a whisk broom, and dust the furniture. The aunts could hear her scurrying to and fro, beating up pillows and feather beds, flapping towels, jingling crockery, singing meanwhile in her clear voice:--
"In vain with lavish kindness The gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone."
She had grown to be a handy little creature, and tasks she was capable of doing at all she did like a flash, so that when she called her aunts at five o'clock to pass judgment, she had accomplished wonders. There were fresh towels on bureaus and washstands, the beds were fair and smooth, the pitchers were filled, and soap and matches were laid out; newspaper, kindling, and wood were in the boxes, and a large stick burned slowly in each air- tight stove. "I thought I'd better just take the chill off," she explained, "as they're right from Syria; and that reminds me, I must look it up in the geography before they get here."
There was nothing to disapprove, so the two sisters went downstairs to make some slight changes in their dress. As they passed the parlor door Miranda thought she heard a crackle and looked in. The shades were up, there was a cheerful blaze in the open stove in the front parlor, and a fire laid on the hearth in the back room. Rebecca's own lamp, her second Christmas present from Mr. Aladdin, stood on a marble-topped table in the corner, the light that came softly through its rose-colored shade transforming the stiff and gloomy ugliness of the room into a place where one could sit and love one's neighbor."For massy's sake, Rebecca," called Miss Miranda up the stairs, "did you think we'd better open the parlor?" Rebecca came out on the landing braiding her hair.
"We did on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I thought this was about as great an occasion," she said. "I moved the wax flowers off the mantelpiece so they wouldn't melt, and put the shells, the coral, and the green stuffed bird on top of the what-not, so the children wouldn't ask to play with them. Brother Milliken's coming over to see Mr. Burch about business, and I shouldn't wonder if Brother and Sister Cobb happened in. Don't go down cellar, I'll be there in a minute to do the running."Miranda and Jane exchanged glances. "Ain't she the beatin'est creetur that ever was born int' the world!" exclaimed Miranda; "but she can turn off work when she's got a mind to!"
At quarter past five everything was ready, and the neighbors, those at least who were within sight of the brick house (a prominent object in the landscape when there were no leaves on the trees), were curious almost to desperation. Shades up in both parlors! Shades up in the two south bedrooms! And fires--if human vision was to be relied on-fires in about every room. If it had not been for the kind offices of a lady who had been at the meeting, and who charitably called in at one or two houses and explained the reason of all this preparation, there would have been no sleep in many families.
The missionary party arrived promptly, and there were but two children, seven or eight having been left with the brethren in Portland, to diminish traveling expenses. Jane escorted them all upstairs, while Miranda watched the cooking of the supper; but Rebecca promptly took the two little girls away from their mother, divested them of their wraps, smoothed their hair, and brought them down to the kitchen to smell the beans.
There was a bountiful supper, and the presence of the young people robbed it of all possible stiffness. Aunt Jane helped clear the table and put away the food, while Miranda entertained in the parlor; but Rebecca and the infant Burches washed the dishes and held high carnival in the kitchen, doing only trifling damage--breaking a cup and plate that had been cracked before, emptying a silver spoon with some dishwater out of the back door (an act never permitted at the brick house), and putting coffee grounds in the sink. All evidences of crime having been removed by Rebecca, and damages repaired in all possible cases, the three entered the parlor, where Mr. and Mrs. Cobb and Deacon and Mrs. Milliken had already appeared.
It was such a pleasant evening! Occasionally they left the heathen in his blindness bowing down to wood and stone, not for long, but just to give themselves (and him) time enough to breathe, and then the Burches told strange, beautiful, marvelous things. The two smaller children sang together, and Rebecca, at the urgent request of Mrs. Burch, seated herself at the tinkling old piano and gave "Wild roved an Indian girl, bright Alfarata" with considerable spirit and style.
At eight o'clock she crossed the room, handed a palm-leaf fan to her aunt Miranda, ostensibly that she might shade her eyes from the lamplight; but it was a piece of strategy that gave her an opportunity to whisper, "How about cookies?""Do you think it's worth while?" sibilated Miss Miranda in answer. "The Perkinses always do." "All right. You know where they be."
Rebecca moved quietly towards the door, and the young Burches cataracted after her as if they could not bear a second's separation. In five minutes they returned, the little ones bearing plates of thin caraway wafers,--hearts, diamonds, and circles daintily sugared, and flecked with caraway seed raised in the garden behind the house. These were a specialty of Miss Jane's, and Rebecca carried a tray with six tiny crystal glasses filled with dandelion wine, for which Miss Miranda had been famous in years gone by. Old Deacon Israel had always had it passed, and he had bought the glasses himself in Boston. Miranda admired them greatly, not only for their beauty but because they held so little. Before their advent the dandelion wine had been served in sherry glasses.
As soon as these refreshments--commonly called a "colation" in Riverboro--had been genteelly partaken of, Rebecca looked at the clock, rose from her chair in the children's corner, and said cheerfully, "Come! time for little missionaries to be in bed!"Everybody laughed at this, the big missionaries most of all, as the young people shook hands and disappeared with Rebecca.
A Change Of HeartThat niece of yours is the most remarkable girl I have seen in years," said Mr. Burch when the door closed. "She seems to be turnin' out smart enough lately, but she's consid'able heedless," answered Miranda, "an' most too lively." "We must remember that it is deficient, not excessive vitality, that makes the greatest trouble in this world," returned Mr. Burch. "She'd make a wonderful missionary," said Mrs. Burch; "with her voice, and her magnetism, and her gift of language." "If I was to say which of the two she was best adapted for, I'd say she'd make a better heathen," remarked Miranda curtly.
"My sister don't believe in flattering children," hastily interpolated Jane, glancing toward Mrs. Burch, who seemed somewhat shocked, and was about to open her lips to ask if Rebecca was not a "professor."
Mrs. Cobb had been looking for this question all the evening and dreading some allusion to her favorite as gifted in prayer. She had taken an instantaneous and illogical dislike to the Rev. Mr. Burch in the afternoon because he called upon Rebecca to "lead." She had seen the pallor creep into the girl's face, the hunted look in her eyes, and the trembling of the lashes on her cheeks, and realized the ordeal through which she was passing. Her prejudice against the minister had relaxed under his genial talk and presence, but feeling that Mrs. Burch was about to tread on dangerous ground, she hastily asked her if one had to change cars many times going from Riverboro to Syria. She felt that it was not a particularly appropriate question, but it served her turn.Deacon Milliken, meantime, said to Miss Sawyer, "Mirandy, do you know who Rebecky reminds me of?" "I can guess pretty well," she replied.
"Then you've noticed it too! I thought at first, seein' she favored her father so on the outside, that she was the same all through; but she ain't, she's like your father, Israel Sawyer.""I don't see how you make that out," said Miranda, thoroughly astonished.
"It struck me this afternoon when she got up to give your invitation in meetin'. It was kind o' cur'ous, but she set in the same seat he used to when he was leader o' the Sabbathschool. You know his old way of holdin' his chin up and throwin' his head back a leetle when he got up to say anything? Well, she done the very same thing; there was more'n one spoke of it."
The callers left before nine, and at that hour (an impossibly dissipated one for the brick house) the family retired for the night. As Rebecca carried Mrs. Burch's candle upstairs and found herself thus alone with her for a minute, she said shyly, "Will you please tell Mr. Burch that I'm not a member of the church? I didn't know what to do when he asked me to pray this afternoon. I hadn't the courage to say I had never done it out loud and didn't know how. I couldn't think; and I was so frightened I wanted to sink into the floor. It seemed bold and wicked for me to pray before all those old church members and make believe I was better than I really was; but then again, wouldn't God think I was wicked not to be willing to pray when a minister asked me to?"
The candle light fell on Rebecca's flushed, sensitive face. Mrs. Burch bent and kissed her good- night. "Don't be troubled," she said. "I'll tell Mr. Burch, and I guess God will understand."
Rebecca waked before six the next morning, so full of household cares that sleep was impossible. She went to the window and looked out; it was still dark, and a blustering, boisterous day.
"Aunt Jane told me she should get up at half past six and have breakfast at half past seven," she thought; "but I daresay they are both sick with their colds, and aunt Miranda will be fidgety with so many in the house. I believe I'll creep down and start things for a surprise."
She put on a wadded wrapper and slippers and stole quietly down the tabooed front stairs, carefully closed the kitchen door behind her so that no noise should waken the rest of the household, busied herself for a half hour with the early morning routine she knew so well, and then went back to her room to dress before calling the children.
Contrary to expectation, Miss Jane, who the evening before felt better than Miranda, grew worse in the night, and was wholly unable to leave her bed in the morning. Miranda grumbled without ceasing during the progress of her hasty toilet, blaming everybody in the universe for the afflictions she had borne and was to bear during the day; she even castigated the Missionary Board that had sent the Burches to Syria, and gave it as her unbiased opinion that those who went to foreign lands for the purpose of saving heathen should stay there and save 'em, and not go gallivantin' all over the earth with a passel o' children, visitin' folks that didn't want 'em and never asked 'em.Jane lay anxiously and restlessly in bed with a feverish headache, wondering how her sister could manage without her.
Miranda walked stiffly through the dining-room, tying a shawl over her head to keep the draughts away, intending to start the breakfast fire and then call Rebecca down, set her to work, and tell her, meanwhile, a few plain facts concerning the proper way of representing the family at a missionary meeting.She opened the kitchen door and stared vaguely about her, wondering whether she had strayed into the wrong house by mistake.
The shades were up, and there was a roaring fire in the stove; the teakettle was singing and bubbling as it sent out a cloud of steam, and pushed over its capacious nose was a half sheet of note paper with "Compliments of Rebecca" scrawled on it. The coffee pot was scalding, the coffee was measured out in a bowl, and broken eggshells for the settling process were standing near. The cold potatoes and corned beef were in the wooden tray, and "Regards of Rebecca" stuck on the chopping knife. The brown loaf was out, the white loaf was out, the toast rack was out, the doughnuts were out, the milk was skimmed, the butter had been brought from the dairy.Miranda removed the shawl from her head and sank into the kitchen rocker, ejaculating under her breath, "She is the beatin'est child! I declare she's all Sawyer!"
The day and the evening passed off with credit and honor to everybody concerned, even to Jane, who had the discretion to recover instead of growing worse and acting as a damper to the general enjoyment. The Burches left with lively regrets, and the little missionaries, bathed in tears, swore eternal friendship with Rebecca, who pressed into their hands at parting a poem composed before breakfast.TO MARY AND MARTHA BURCH
Born under Syrian skies,
'Neath hotter suns than ours;
The children grew and bloomed, Like little tropic flowers.
When they first saw the light, 'T was in a heathen land.
Not Greenland's icy mountains, Nor India's coral strand,
But some mysterious country Where men are nearly black
And where of true religion, There is a painful lack.
Then let us haste in helping The Missionary Board,
Seek dark-skinned unbelievers, And teach them of their Lord. Rebecca Rowena Randall. It can readily be seen that this visit of the returned missionaries to Riverboro was not without somewhat far-reaching results. Mr. and Mrs. Burch themselves looked back upon it as one of the rarest pleasures of their half year at home. The neighborhood extracted considerable eager conversation from it; argument, rebuttal, suspicion, certainty, retrospect, and prophecy. Deacon Milliken gave ten dollars towards the conversion of Syria to Congregationalism, and Mrs. Milliken had a spell of sickness over her husband's rash generosity.
It would be pleasant to state that Miranda Sawyer was an entirely changed woman afterwards, but that is not the fact. The tree that has been getting a twist for twenty years cannot be straightened in the twinkling of an eye. It is certain, however, that although the difference to the outward eye was very small, it nevertheless existed, and she was less censorious in her treatment of Rebecca, less harsh in her judgments, more hopeful of final salvation for her. This had come about largely from her sudden vision that Rebecca, after all, inherited something from the Sawyer side of the house instead of belonging, mind, body, and soul, to the despised Randall stock. Everything that was interesting in Rebecca, and every evidence of power, capability, or talent afterwards displayed by her, Miranda ascribed to the brick house training, and this gave her a feeling of honest pride, the pride of a master workman who has built success out of the most unpromising material; but never, to the very end, even when the waning of her bodily strength relaxed her iron grip and weakened her power of repression, never once did she show that pride or make a single demonstration of affection.
Poor misplaced, belittled Lorenzo de Medici Ran- dall, thought ridiculous and good-fornaught by his associates, because he resembled them in nothing! If Riverboro could have been suddenly emptied into a larger community, with different and more flexible opinions, he was, perhaps, the only personage in the entire population who would have attracted the smallest attention. It was fortunate for his daughter that she had been dowered with a little practical ability from her mother's family, but if Lorenzo had never done anything else in the world, he might have glorified himself that he had prevented Rebecca from being all Sawyer. Failure as he was, complete and entire, he had generously handed down to her all that was best in himself, and prudently retained all that was unworthy. Few fathers are capable of such delicate discrimination.
The brick house did not speedily become a sort of wayside inn, a place of innocent revelry and joyous welcome; but the missionary company was an entering wedge, and Miranda allowed one spare bed to be made up "in case anything should happen," while the crystal glasses were kept on the second from the top, instead of the top shelf, in the china closet. Rebecca had had to stand on a chair to reach them; now she could do it by stretching; and this is symbolic of the way in which she unconsciously scaled the walls of Miss Miranda's dogmatism and prejudice.
Miranda went so far as to say that she wouldn't mind if the Burches came every once in a while, but she was afraid he'd spread abroad the fact of his visit, and missionaries' families would be underfoot the whole continual time. As a case in point, she gracefully cited the fact that if a tramp got a good meal at anybody's back door, 't was said that he'd leave some kind of a sign so that all other tramps would know where they were likely to receive the same treatment.
It is to be feared that there is some truth in this homely illustration, and Miss Miranda's dread as to her future responsibilities had some foundation, though not of the precise sort she had in mind. The soul grows into lovely habits as easily as into ugly ones, and the moment a life begins to blossom into beautiful words and deeds, that moment a new standard of conduct is established, and your eager neighbors look to you for a continuous manifestation of the good cheer, the sympathy, the ready wit, the comradeship, or the inspiration, you once showed yourself capable of. Bear figs for a season or two, and the world outside the orchard is very unwilling you should bear thistles.
The effect of the Burches' visit on Rebecca is not easily described. Nevertheless, as she looked back upon it from the vantage ground of after years, she felt that the moment when Mr. Burch asked her to "lead in prayer" marked an epoch in her life.
If you have ever observed how courteous and gracious and mannerly you feel when you don a beautiful new frock; if you have ever noticed the feeling of reverence stealing over you when you close your eyes, clasp your hands, and bow your head; if you have ever watched your sense of repulsion toward a fellow creature melt a little under the exercise of daily politeness, you may understand how the adoption of the outward and visible sign has some strange influence in developing the inward and spiritual state of which it is the expression.
It is only when one has grown old and dull that the soul is heavy and refuses to rise. The young soul is ever winged; a breath stirs it to an upward flight. Rebecca was asked to bear witness to a state of mind or feeling of whose existence she had only the vaguest consciousness. She obeyed, and as she uttered words they became true in the uttering; as she voiced aspirations they settled into realities.
As "dove that to its window flies," her spirit soared towards a great light, dimly discovered at first, but brighter as she came closer to it. To become sensible of oneness with the Divine heart before any sense of separation has been felt, this is surely the most beautiful way for the child to find God.
The Sky Line Widens
The time so long and eagerly waited for had come, and Rebecca was a student at Wareham. Persons who had enjoyed the social bewilderments and advantages of foreign courts, or had mingled freely in the intellectual circles of great universities, might not have looked upon Wareham as an extraordinary experience; but it was as much of an advance upon Riverboro as that village had been upon Sunnybrook Farm. Rebecca's intention was to complete the four years' course in three, as it was felt by all the parties concerned that when she had attained the ripe age of seventeen she must be ready to earn her own living and help in the education of the younger children. While she was wondering how this could be successfully accomplished, some of the other girls were cogitating as to how they could meander through the four years and come out at the end knowing no more than at the beginning. This would seem a difficult, well-nigh an impossible task, but it can be achieved, and has been, at other seats of learning than modest little Wareham.
Rebecca was to go to and fro on the cars daily from September to Christmas, and then board in Wareham during the three coldest months. Emma Jane's parents had always thought that a year or two in the Edgewood high school (three miles from Riverboro) would serve every purpose for their daughter and send her into the world with as fine an intellectual polish as she could well sustain. Emma Jane had hitherto heartily concurred in this opinion, for if there was any one thing that she detested it was the learning of lessons. One book was as bad as another in her eyes, and she could have seen the libraries of the world sinking into ocean depths and have eaten her dinner cheerfully the while; but matters assumed a different complexion when she was sent to Edgewood and Rebecca to Wareham. She bore it for a week-- seven endless days of absence from the beloved object, whom she could see only in the evenings when both were busy with their lessons. Sunday offered an opportunity to put the matter before her father, who proved obdurate. He didn't believe in education and thought she had full enough already. He never intended to keep up "blacksmithing" for good when he leased his farm and came into Riverboro, but proposed to go back to it presently, and by that time Emma Jane would have finished school and would be ready to help her mother with the dairy work.Another week passed. Emma Jane pined visibly and audibly. Her color faded, and her appetite (at table) dwindled almost to nothing.
Her mother alluded plaintively to the fact that the Perkinses had a habit of going into declines; that she'd always feared that Emma Jane's complexion was too beautiful to be healthy; that some men would be proud of having an ambitious daughter, and be glad to give her the best advantages; that she feared the daily journeys to Edgewood were going to be too much for her own health, and Mr. Perkins would have to hire a boy to drive Emma Jane; and finally that when a girl had such a passion for learning as Emma Jane, it seemed almost like wickedness to cross her will.
Mr. Perkins bore this for several days until his temper, digestion, and appetite were all sensibly affected; then he bowed his head to the inevitable, and Emma Jane flew, like a captive set free, to the loved one's bower. Neither did her courage flag, although it was put to terrific tests when she entered the academic groves of Wareham. She passed in only two subjects, but went cheerfully into the preparatory department with her five "conditions," intending to let the stream of education play gently over her mental surfaces and not get any wetter than she could help. It is not possible to blink the truth that Emma Jane was dull; but a dogged, unswerving loyalty, and the gift of devoted, unselfish loving, these, after all, are talents of a sort, and may possibly be of as much value in the world as a sense of numbers or a faculty for languages.
Wareham was a pretty village with a broad main street shaded by great maples and elms. It had an apothecary, a blacksmith, a plumber, several shops of one sort and another, two churches, and many boarding-houses; but all its interests gathered about its seminary and its academy. These seats of learning were neither better nor worse than others of their kind, but differed much in efficiency, according as the principal who chanced to be at the head was a man of power and inspiration or the reverse. There were boys and girls gathered from all parts of the county and state, and they were of every kind and degree as to birth, position in the world, wealth or poverty. There was an opportunity for a deal of foolish and imprudent behavior, but on the whole surprisingly little advantage was taken of it. Among the third and fourth year students there was a certain amount of going to and from the trains in couples; some carrying of heavy books up the hill by the sterner sex for their feminine schoolmates, and occasional bursts of silliness on the part of heedless and precocious girls, among whom was Huldah Meserve. She was friendly enough with Emma Jane and Rebecca, but grew less and less intimate as time went on. She was extremely pretty, with a profusion of auburn hair, and a few very tiny freckles, to which she constantly alluded, as no one could possibly detect them without noting her porcelain skin and her curling lashes. She had merry eyes, a somewhat too plump figure for her years, and was popularly supposed to have a fascinating way with her. Riverboro being poorly furnished with beaux, she intended to have as good a time during her four years at Wareham as circumstances would permit. Her idea of pleasure was an ever-changing circle of admirers to fetch and carry for her, the more publicly the better; incessant chaff and laughter and vivacious conversation, made eloquent and effective by arch looks and telling glances. She had a habit of confiding her conquests to less fortunate girls and bewailing the incessant havoc and damage she was doing; a damage she avowed herself as innocent of, in intention, as any new-born lamb. It does not take much of this sort of thing to wreck an ordinary friendship, so before long Rebecca and Emma Jane sat in one end of the railway train in going to and from Riverboro, and Huldah occupied the other with her court. Sometimes this was brilliant beyond words, including a certain youthful Monte Cristo, who on Fridays expended thirty cents on a round trip ticket and traveled from Wareham to Riverboro merely to be near Huldah; sometimes, too, the circle was reduced to the popcorn-and-peanut boy of the train, who seemed to serve every purpose in default of better game.
Rebecca was in the normally unconscious state that belonged to her years; boys were good comrades, but no more; she liked reciting in the same class with them, everything seemed to move better; but from vulgar and precocious flirtations she was protected by her ideals. There was little in the lads she had met thus far to awaken her fancy, for it habitually fed on better meat. Huldah's school- girl romances, with their wealth of commonplace detail, were not the stuff her dreams were made of, when dreams did flutter across the sensitive plate of her mind.
Among the teachers at Wareham was one who influenced Rebecca profoundly, Miss Emily Maxwell, with whom she studied English literature and composition. Miss Maxwell, as the niece of one of Maine's ex-governors and the daughter of one of Bowdoin's professors, was the most remarkable personality in Wareham, and that her few years of teaching happened to be in Rebecca's time was the happiest of all chances. There was no indecision or delay in the establishment of their relations; Rebecca's heart flew like an arrow to its mark, and her mind, meeting its superior, settled at once into an abiding attitude of respectful homage.
It was rumored that Miss Maxwell "wrote," which word, when uttered in a certain tone, was understood to mean not that a person had command of penmanship, Spencerian or otherwise, but that she had appeared in print.
"You'll like her; she writes," whispered Huldah to Rebecca the first morning at prayers, where the faculty sat in an imposing row on the front seats. "She writes; and I call her stuck up."
Nobody seemed possessed of exact information with which to satisfy the hungry mind, but there was believed to be at least one person in existence who had seen, with his own eyes, an essay by Miss Maxwell in a magazine. This height of achievement made Rebecca somewhat shy of her, but she looked her admiration; something that most of the class could never do with the unsatisfactory organs of vision given them by Mother Nature. Miss Maxwell's glance was always meeting a pair of eager dark eyes; when she said anything particularly good, she looked for approval to the corner of the second bench, where every shade of feeling she wished to evoke was reflected on a certain sensitive young face.
One day, when the first essay of the class was under discussion, she asked each new pupil to bring her some composition written during the year before, that she might judge the work, and know precisely with what material she had to deal. Rebecca lingered after the others, and approached the desk shyly."I haven't any compositions here, Miss Maxwell, but I can find one when I go home on Friday. They are packed away in a box in the attic." "Carefully tied with pink and blue ribbons?" asked Miss Maxwell, with a whimsical smile.
"No," answered Rebecca, shaking her head decidedly; "I wanted to use ribbons, because all the other girls did, and they looked so pretty, but I used to tie my essays with twine strings on purpose; and the one on solitude I fastened with an old shoelacing just to show it what I thought of it!""Solitude!" laughed Miss Maxwell, raising her eyebrows. "Did you choose your own subject?" "No; Miss Dearborn thought we were not old enough to find good ones." "What were some of the others?"
"Fireside Reveries, Grant as a Soldier, Reflections on the Life of P. T. Barnum, Buried Cities; I can't remember any more now. They were all bad, and I can't bear to show them; I can write poetry easier and better, Miss Maxwell.""Poetry!" she exclaimed. "Did Miss Dearborn require you to do it?" "Oh, no; I always did it even at the farm. Shall I bring all I have? It isn't much."
Rebecca took the blank-book in which she kept copies of her effusions and left it at Miss Maxwell's door, hoping that she might be asked in and thus obtain a private interview; but a servant answered her ring, and she could only walk away, disappointed.
A few days afterward she saw the black-covered book on Miss Maxwell's desk and knew that the dreaded moment of criticism had come, so she was not surprised to be asked to remain after class.
The room was quiet; the red leaves rustled in the breeze and flew in at the open window, bearing the first compliments of the season. Miss Maxwell came and sat by Rebecca's side on the bench."Did you think these were good?" she asked, giving her the verses.
"Not so very," confessed Rebecca; "but it's hard to tell all by yourself. The Perkinses and the Cobbs always said they were wonderful, but when Mrs. Cobb told me she thought they were better than Mr. Longfellow's I was worried, because I knew that couldn't be true."This ingenuous remark confirmed Miss Maxwell's opinion of Rebecca as a girl who could hear the truth and profit by it. "Well, my child," she said smilingly, "your friends were wrong and you were right; judged by the proper tests, they are pretty bad."
"Then I must give up all hope of ever being a writer!" sighed Rebecca, who was tasting the bitterness of hemlock and wondering if she could keep the tears back until the interview was over.
"Don't go so fast," interrupted Miss Maxwell. "Though they don't amount to anything as poetry, they show a good deal of promise in certain direc- tions. You almost never make a mistake in rhyme or metre, and this shows you have a natural sense of what is right; a `sense of form,' poets would call it. When you grow older, have a little more experience,
-in fact, when you have something to say, I think you may write very good verses. Poetry needs knowledge and vision, experience and imagination, Rebecca. You have not the first three yet, but I rather think you have a touch of the last."
"Certainly you may; it will only help you to write better prose. Now for the first composition. I am going to ask all the new students to write a letter giving some description of the town and a hint of the school life.""Shall I have to be myself?" asked Rebecca. "What do you mean?"
"A letter from Rebecca Randall to her sister Hannah at Sunnybrook Farm, or to her aunt Jane at the brick house, Riverboro, is so dull and stupid, if it is a real letter; but if I could make believe I was a different girl altogether, and write to somebody who would be sure to understand everything I said, I could make it nicer.""Very well; I think that's a delightful plan," said Miss Maxwell; "and whom will you suppose yourself to be?"
"I like heiresses very much," replied Rebecca contemplatively. "Of course I never saw one, but interesting things are always happening to heiresses, especially to the goldenhaired kind. My heiress wouldn't be vain and haughty like the wicked sisters in Cinderella; she would be noble and generous. She would give up a grand school in Boston because she wanted to come here where her father lived when he was a boy, long before he made his fortune. The father is dead now, and she has a guardian, the best and kindest man in the world; he is rather old of course, and sometimes very quiet and grave, but sometimes when he is happy, he is full of fun, and then Evelyn is not afraid of him. Yes, the girl shall be called Evelyn Abercrombie, and her guardian's name shall be Mr. Adam Ladd.""Do you know Mr. Ladd?" asked Miss Maxwell in surprise. "Yes, he's my very best friend," cried Rebecca delightedly. "Do you know him too?"
"Oh, yes; he is a trustee of these schools, you know, and often comes here. But if I let you `suppose' any more, you will tell me your whole letter and then I shall lose a pleasant surprise."
What Rebecca thought of Miss Maxwell we already know; how the teacher regarded the pupil may be gathered from the following letter written two or three months later.
My Dear Father,--As you well know, I have not always been an enthusiast on the subject of teaching. The task of cramming knowledge into these self-sufficient, inefficient youngsters of both sexes discourages me at times. The more stupid they are, the less they are aware of it. If my department were geography or mathematics, I believe I should feel that I was accomplishing something, for in those branches application and industry work wonders; but in English literature and composition one yearns for brains, for appreciation, for imagination! Month after month I toil on, opening oyster after oyster, but seldom finding a pearl. Fancy my joy this term when, without any violent effort at shell-splitting, I came upon a rare pearl; a black one, but of satin skin and beautiful lustre! Her name is Rebecca, and she looks not unlike Rebekah at the Well in our family Bible; her hair and eyes being so dark as to suggest a strain of Italian or Spanish blood. She is nobody in particular. Man has done nothing for her; she has no family to speak of, no money, no education worthy the name, has had no advantages of any sort; but Dame Nature flung herself into the breach and said:--
"This child I to myself will take; She shall be mine and I will make A Lady of my own."
Blessed Wordsworth! How he makes us understand! And the pearl never heard of him until now! Think of reading Lucy to a class, and when you finish, seeing a fourteen-yearold pair of lips quivering with delight, and a pair of eyes brimming with comprehending tears!
You poor darling! You, too, know the discouragement of sowing lovely seed in rocky earth, in sand, in water, and (it almost seems sometimes) in mud; knowing that if anything comes up at all it will be some poor starveling plant. Fancy the joy of finding a real mind; of dropping seed in a soil so warm, so fertile, that one knows there are sure to be foliage, blossoms, and fruit all in good time! I wish I were not so impatient and so greedy of results! I am not fit to be a teacher; no one is who is so scornful of stupidity as I am. . . . The pearl writes quaint countrified little verses, doggerel they are; but somehow or other she always contrives to put in one line, one thought, one image, that shows you she is, quite unconsciously to herself, in possession of the secret. . . . Good-by; I'll bring Rebecca home with me some Friday, and let you and mother see her for yourselves.Your affectionate daughter, Emily.
Clover Blossoms And Sunflowers
How d' ye do, girls?" said Huldah Meserve, peeping in at the door. "Can you stop studying a minute and show me your room? Say, I've just been down to the store and bought me these gloves, for I was bound I wouldn't wear mittens this winter; they're simply too countrified. It's your first year here, and you're younger than I am, so I s'pose you don't mind, but I simply suffer if I don't keep up some kind of style. Say, your room is simply too cute for words! I don't believe any of the others can begin to compare with it! I don't know what gives it that simply gorgeous look, whether it's the full curtains, or that elegant screen, or Rebecca's lamp; but you certainly do have a faculty for fixing up. I like a pretty room too, but I never have a minute to attend to mine; I'm always so busy on my clothes that half the time I don't get my bed made up till noon; and after all, having no callers but the girls, it don't make much difference. When I graduate, I'm going to fix up our parlor at home so it'll be simply regal. I've learned decalcomania, and after I take up lustre painting I shall have it simply stiff with drapes and tidies and placques and sofa pillows, and make mo- ther let me have a fire, and receive my friends there evenings. May I dry my feet at your register? I can't bear to wear rubbers unless the mud or the slush is simply knee-deep, they make your feet look so awfully big. I had such a fuss getting this pair of French-heeled boots that I don't intend to spoil the looks of them with rubbers any oftener than I can help. I believe boys notice feet quicker than anything. Elmer Webster stepped on one of mine yesterday when I accidentally had it out in the aisle, and when he apologized after class, he said he wasn't so much to blame, for the foot was so little he really couldn't see it! Isn't he perfectly great? Of course that's only his way of talking, for after all I only wear a number two, but these French heels and pointed toes do certainly make your foot look smaller, and it's always said a high instep helps, too. I used to think mine was almost a deformity, but they say it's a great beauty. Just put your feet beside mine, girls, and look at the difference; not that I care much, but just for fun."
"My feet are very comfortable where they are," responded Rebecca dryly. "I can't stop to measure insteps on algebra days; I've noticed your habit of keeping a foot in the aisle ever since you had those new shoes, so I don't wonder it was stepped on.""Perhaps I am a little mite conscious of them, because they're not so very comfortable at first, till you get them broken in. Say, haven't you got a lot of new things?"
"Our Christmas presents, you mean," said Emma Jane. "The pillow-cases are from Mrs. Cobb, the rug from cousin Mary in North Riverboro, the scrap-basket from Living and Dick. We gave each other the bureau and cushion covers, and the screen is mine from Mr. Ladd."
"Well, you were lucky when you met him! Gracious! I wish I could meet somebody like that. The way he keeps it up, too! It just hides your bed, doesn't it, and I always say that a bed takes the style off any room--specially when it's not made up; though you have an alcove, and it's the only one in the whole building. I don't see how you managed to get this good room when you're such new scholars," she finished discontentedly.
"We shouldn't have, except that Ruth Berry had to go away suddenly on account of her father's death. This room was empty, and Miss Maxwell asked if we might have it," returned Emma Jane.
"The great and only Max is more stiff and standoffish than ever this year," said Huldah. "I've simply given up trying to please her, for there's no justice in her; she is good to her favorites, but she doesn't pay the least attention to anybody else, except to make sarcastic speeches about things that are none of her business. I wanted to tell her yesterday it was her place to teach me Latin, not manners.""I wish you wouldn't talk against Miss Maxwell to me," said Rebecca hotly. "You know how I feel." "I know; but I can't understand how you can abide her."
"I not only abide, I love her!" exclaimed Rebecca. "I wouldn't let the sun shine too hot on her, or the wind blow too cold. I'd like to put a marble platform in her class-room and have her sit in a velvet chair behind a golden table!""Well, don't have a fit!--because she can sit where she likes for all of me; I've got something better to think of," and Huldah tossed her head. "Isn't this your study hour?" asked Emma Jane, to stop possible discussion.
"Yes, but I lost my Latin grammar yesterday; I left it in the hall half an hour while I was having a regular scene with Herbert Dunn. I haven't spoken to him for a week and gave him back his class pin. He was simply furious. Then when I came back to the hall, the book was gone. I had to go down town for my gloves and to the principal's office to see if the grammar had been handed in, and that's the reason I'm so fine."
Huldah was wearing a woolen dress that had once been gray, but had been dyed a brilliant blue. She had added three rows of white braid and large white pearl buttons to her gray jacket, in order to make it a little more "dressy." Her gray felt hat had a white feather on it, and a white tissue veil with large black dots made her delicate skin look brilliant. Rebecca thought how lovely the knot of red hair looked under the hat behind, and how the color of the front had been dulled by incessant frizzing with curling irons. Her open jacket disclosed a galaxy of souvenirs pinned to the background of bright blue,
-a small American flag, a button of the Wareham Rowing Club, and one or two society pins. These decorations proved her popularity in very much the same way as do the cotillion favors hanging on the bedroom walls of the fashionable belle. She had been pinning and unpinning, arranging and disarranging her veil ever since she entered the room, in the hope that the girls would ask her whose ring she was wearing this week; but although both had noticed the new ornament instantly, wild horses could not have drawn the question from them; her desire to be asked was too obvious. With her gay plumage, her "nods and becks and wreathed smiles," and her cheerful cackle, Huldah closely resembled the parrot in Wordsworth's poem:--
"Arch, volatile, a sportive bird, By social glee inspired;
Ambitious to be seen or heard, And pleased to be admired!"
"He was rather snippy about my leaving a book in the hall. There was a perfectly elegant gentleman in the office, a stranger to me. I wish he was a new teacher, but there's no such luck. He was too young to be the father of any of the girls, and too old to be a brother, but he was handsome as a picture and had on an awful stylish suit of clothes. He looked at me about every minute I was in the room. It made me so embarrassed I couldn't hardly answer Mr. Morrison's questions straight."
"You'll have to wear a mask pretty soon, if you're going to have any comfort, Huldah," said Rebecca. "Did he offer to lend you his class pin, or has it been so long since he graduated that he's left off wearing it? And tell us now whether the principal asked for a lock of your hair to put in his watch?"
This was all said merrily and laughingly, but there were times when Huldah could scarcely make up her mind whether Rebecca was trying to be witty, or whether she was jealous; but she generally decided it was merely the latter feeling, rather natural in a girl who had little attention.
"He wore no jewelry but a cameo scarf pin and a perfectly gorgeous ring,--a queer kind of one that wound round and round his finger. Oh dear, I must run! Where has the hour gone? There's the study bell!"
Rebecca had pricked up her ears at Huldah's speech. She remembered a certain strange ring, and it belonged to the only person in the world (save Miss Maxwell) who appealed to her imagination,-- Mr. Aladdin. Her feeling for him, and that of Emma Jane, was a mixture of romantic and reverent admiration for the man himself and the liveliest gratitude for his beautiful gifts. Since they first met him not a Christmas had gone by without some remembrance for them both; remembrances chosen with the rarest taste and forethought. Emma Jane had seen him only twice, but he had called several times at the brick house, and Rebecca had learned to know him better. It was she, too, who always wrote the notes of acknowledgment and thanks, taking infinite pains to make Emma Jane's quite different from her own. Sometimes he had written from Boston and asked her the news of Riverboro, and she had sent him pages of quaint and childlike gossip, interspersed, on two occasions, with poetry, which he read and reread with infinite relish. If Huldah's stranger should be Mr. Aladdin, would he come to see her, and could she and Emma Jane show him their beautiful room with so many of his gifts in evidence?
When the girls had established themselves in Wareham as real boarding pupils, it seemed to them existence was as full of joy as it well could hold. This first winter was, in fact, the most tranquilly happy of Rebecca's school life,--a winter long to be looked back upon. She and Emma Jane were room-mates, and had put their modest possessions together to make their surroundings pretty and homelike. The room had, to begin with, a cheerful red ingrain carpet and a set of maple furniture. As to the rest, Rebecca had furnished the ideas and Emma Jane the materials and labor, a method of dividing responsibilities that seemed to suit the circumstances admirably. Mrs. Perkins's father had been a storekeeper, and on his death had left the goods of which he was possessed to his married daughter. The molasses, vinegar, and kerosene had lasted the family for five years, and the Perkins attic was still a treasure-house of ginghams, cottons, and "Yankee notions." So at Rebecca's instigation Mrs. Perkins had made full curtains and lambrequins of unbleached muslin, which she had trimmed and looped back with bands of Turkey red cotton. There were two table covers to match, and each of the girls had her study corner. Rebecca, after much coaxing, had been allowed to bring over her precious lamp, which would have given a luxurious air to any apartment, and when Mr. Aladdin's last Christmas presents were added,--the Japanese screen for Emma Jane and the little shelf of English Poets for Rebecca,--they declared that it was all quite as much fun as being married and going to housekeeping.
The day of Huldah's call was Friday, and on Fridays from three to half past four Rebecca was free to take a pleasure to which she looked forward the entire week. She always ran down the snowy path through the pine woods at the back of the seminary, and coming out on a quiet village street, went directly to the large white house where Miss Maxwell lived. The maid-of-all-work answered her knock; she took off her hat and cape and hung them in the hall, put her rubber shoes and umbrella carefully in the corner, and then opened the door of paradise. Miss Maxwell's sitting-room was lined on two sides with bookshelves, and Rebecca was allowed to sit before the fire and browse among the books to her heart's delight for an hour or more. Then Miss Maxwell would come back from her class, and there would be a precious half hour of chat before Rebecca had to meet Emma Jane at the station and take the train for Riverboro, where her Saturdays and Sundays were spent, and where she was washed, ironed, mended, and examined, approved and reproved, warned and advised in quite sufficient quantity to last her the succeeding week.
On this Friday she buried her face in the blooming geraniums on Miss Maxwell's plantstand, selected Romola from one of the bookcases, and sank into a seat by the window with a sigh of infinite content, She glanced at the clock now and then, remembering the day on which she had been so immersed in David Copperfield that the Riverboro train had no place in her mind. The distracted Emma Jane had refused to leave without her, and had run from the station to look for her at Miss Maxwell's. There was but one later train, and that went only to a place three miles the other side of Riverboro, so that the two girls appeared at their respective homes long after dark, having had a weary walk in the snow.
When she had read for half an hour she glanced out of the window and saw two figures issuing from the path through the woods. The knot of bright hair and the coquettish hat could belong to but one person; and her companion, as the couple approached, proved to be none other than Mr. Aladdin. Huldah was lifting her skirts daintily and picking safe stepping-places for the high-heeled shoes, her cheeks glowing, her eyes sparkling under the black and white veil.
Rebecca slipped from her post by the window to the rug before the bright fire and leaned her head on the seat of the great easy-chair. She was frightened at the storm in her heart; at the suddenness with which it had come on, as well as at the strangeness of an entirely new sensation. She felt all at once as if she could not bear to give up her share of Mr. Aladdin's friendship to Huldah: Huldah so bright, saucy, and pretty; so gay and ready, and such good company! She had always joyfully admitted Emma Jane into the precious partnership, but perhaps unconsciously to herself she had realized that Emma Jane had never held anything but a secondary place in Mr. Aladdin's regard; yet who was she herself, after all, that she could hope to be first?Suddenly the door opened softly and somebody looked in, somebody who said: "Miss Maxwell told me I should find Miss Rebecca Randall here."
Rebecca started at the sound and sprang to her feet, saying joyfully, "Mr. Aladdin! Oh! I knew you were in Wareham, and I was afraid you wouldn't have time to come and see us.""Who is `us'? The aunts are not here, are they? Oh, you mean the rich blacksmith's daughter, whose name I can never remember. Is she here?" "Yes, and my room-mate," answered Rebecca, who thought her own knell of doom had sounded, if he had forgotten Emma Jane's name.
The light in the room grew softer, the fire crackled cheerily, and they talked of many things, until the old sweet sense of friendliness and familiarity crept back into Rebecca's heart. Adam had not seen her for several months, and there was much to be learned about school matters as viewed from her own standpoint; he had already inquired concerning her progress from Mr. Morrison.
"Well, little Miss Rebecca," he said, rousing himself at length, "I must be thinking of my drive to Portland. There is a meeting of railway directors there to-morrow, and I always take this opportunity of visiting the school and giving my valuable advice concerning its affairs, educational and financial."
"It seems funny for you to be a school trustee," said Rebecca contemplatively. "I can't seem to make it fit."
"You are a remarkably wise young person and I quite agree with you," he answered; "the fact is," he added soberly, "I accepted the trusteeship in memory of my poor little mother, whose last happy years were spent here."
"Let me see, I am thirty-two; only thirty-two, despite an occasional gray hair. My mother was married a month after she graduated, and she lived only until I was ten; yes, it is a long way back to my mother's time here, though the school was fifteen or twenty years old then, I believe. Would you like to see my mother, Miss Rebecca?"
The girl took the leather case gently and opened it to find an innocent, pink-and-white daisy of a face, so confiding, so sensitive, that it went straight to the heart. It made Rebecca feel old, experienced, and maternal. She longed on the instant to comfort and strengthen such a tender young thing."Oh, what a sweet, sweet, flowery face!" she whispered softly.
"The flower had to bear all sorts of storms," said Adam gravely. "The bitter weather of the world bent its slender stalk, bowed its head, and dragged it to the earth. I was only a child and could do nothing to protect and nourish it, and there was no one else to stand between it and trouble. Now I have success and money and power, all that would have kept her alive and happy, and it is too late. She died for lack of love and care, nursing and cherishing, and I can never forget it. All that has come to me seems now and then so useless, since I cannot share it with her!"
This was a new Mr. Aladdin, and Rebecca's heart gave a throb of sympathy and comprehension. This explained the tired look in his eyes, the look that peeped out now and then, under all his gay speech and laughter.
"I'm so glad I know," she said, "and so glad I could see her just as she was when she tied that white muslin hat under her chin and saw her yellow curls and her sky-blue eyes in the glass. Mustn't she have been happy! I wish she could have been kept so, and had lived to see you grow up strong and good. My mother is always sad and busy, but once when she looked at John I heard her say, `He makes up for everything.' That's what your mother would have thought about you if she had lived, and perhaps she does as it is.""You are a comforting little person, Rebecca," said Adam, rising from his chair. As Rebecca rose, the tears still trembling on her lashes, he looked at her suddenly as with new vision.
"Good-by!" he said, taking her slim brown hands in his, adding, as if he saw her for the first time, "Why, little Rose-Red-Snow-White is making way for a new girl! Burning the midnight oil and doing four years' work in three is supposed to dull the eye and blanch the cheek, yet Rebecca's eyes are bright and she has a rosy color! Her long braids are looped one on the other so that they make a black letter U behind, and they are tied with grand bows at the top! She is so tall that she reaches almost to my shoulder. This will never do in the world! How will Mr. Aladdin get on without his comforting little friend! He doesn't like grown-up young ladies in long trains and wonderful fine clothes; they frighten and bore him!"
"Oh, Mr. Aladdin!" cried Rebecca eagerly, taking his jest quite seriously; "I am not fifteen yet, and it will be three years before I'm a young lady; please don't give me up until you have to!"
"I won't; I promise you that," said Adam. "Rebecca," he continued, after a moment's pause, "who is that young girl with a lot of pretty red hair and very citified manners? She escorted me down the hill; do you know whom I mean?""It must be Huldah Meserve; she is from Riverboro."
Adam put a finger under Rebecca's chin and looked into her eyes; eyes as soft, as clear, as unconscious, and childlike as they had been when she was ten. He remembered the other pair of challenging blue ones that had darted coquettish glances through halfdropped lids, shot arrowy beams from under archly lifted brows, and said gravely, "Don't form yourself on her, Rebecca; clover blossoms that grow in the fields beside Sunnybrook mustn't be tied in the same bouquet with gaudy sunflowers; they are too sweet and fragrant and wholesome."
The Hill Difficulty
The first happy year at Wareham, with its widened sky-line, its larger vision, its greater opportunity, was over and gone. Rebecca had studied during the summer vacation, and had passed, on her return in the autumn, certain examinations which would enable her, if she carried out the same programme the next season, to complete the course in three instead of four years. She came off with no flying colors,--that would have been impossible in consideration of her inadequate training; but she did wonderfully well in some of the required subjects, and so brilliantly in others that the average was respectable. She would never have been a remarkable scholar under any circumstances, perhaps, and she was easily out- stripped in mathematics and the natural sciences by a dozen girls, but in some inexplicable way she became, as the months went on, the foremost figure in the school. When she had entirely forgotten the facts which would enable her to answer a question fully and conclusively, she commonly had some original theory to expound; it was not always correct, but it was generally unique and sometimes amusing. She was only fair in Latin or French grammar, but when it came to translation, her freedom, her choice of words, and her sympathetic understanding of the spirit of the text made her the delight of her teachers and the despair of her rivals.
"She can be perfectly ignorant of a subject,' said Miss Maxwell to Adam Ladd, "but entirely intelligent the moment she has a clue. Most of the other girls are full of information and as stupid as sheep."
Rebecca's gifts had not been discovered save by the few, during the first year, when she was adjusting herself quietly to the situation. She was distinctly one of the poorer girls; she had no fine dresses to attract attention, no visitors, no friends in the town. She had more study hours, and less time, therefore, for the companionship of other girls, gladly as she would have welcomed the gayety of that side of school life. Still, water will find its own level in some way, and by the spring of the second year she had naturally settled into the same sort of leadership which had been hers in the smaller community of Riverboro. She was unanimously elected assistant editor of the Wareham School Pilot, being the first girl to assume that enviable, though somewhat arduous and thankless position, and when her maiden number went to the Cobbs, uncle Jerry and aunt Sarah could hardly eat or sleep for pride.
"She'll always get votes," said Huldah Meserve, when discussing the election, "for whether she knows anything or not, she looks as if she did, and whether she's capable of filling an office or not, she looks as if she was. I only wish I was tall and dark and had the gift of making people believe I was great things, like Rebecca Randall. There's one thing: though the boys call her handsome, you notice they don't trouble her with much attention."
It was a fact that Rebecca's attitude towards the opposite sex was still somewhat indifferent and oblivious, even for fifteen and a half! No one could look at her and doubt that she had potentialities of attraction latent within her somewhere, but that side of her nature was happily biding its time. A human being is capable only of a certain amount of activity at a given moment, and it will inevitably satisfy first its most pressing needs, its most ardent desires, its chief ambitions. Rebecca was full of small anxieties and fears, for matters were not going well at the brick house and were anything but hopeful at the home farm. She was overbusy and overtaxed, and her thoughts were naturally drawn towards the difficult problems of daily living.
It had seemed to her during the autumn and winter of that year as if her aunt Miranda had never been, save at the very first, so censorious and so fault-finding. One Saturday Rebecca ran upstairs and, bursting into a flood of tears, exclaimed, "Aunt Jane, it seems as if I never could stand her continual scoldings. Nothing I can do suits aunt Miranda; she's just said it will take me my whole life to get the Randall out of me, and I'm not convinced that I want it all out, so there we are!"Aunt Jane, never demonstrative, cried with Rebecca as she attempted to soothe her.
"You must be patient," she said, wiping first her own eyes and then Rebecca's. "I haven't told you, for it isn't fair you should be troubled when you're studying so hard, but your aunt Miranda isn't well. One Monday morning about a month ago, she had a kind of faint spell; it wasn't bad, but the doctor is afraid it was a shock, and if so, it's the beginning of the end. Seems to me she's failing right along, and that's what makes her so fretful and easy vexed. She has other troubles too, that you don't know anything about, and if you're not kind to your aunt Miranda now, child, you'll be dreadful sorry some time."
All the temper faded from Rebecca's face, and she stopped crying to say penitently, "Oh! the poor dear thing! I won't mind a bit what she says now. She's just asked me for some milk toast and I was dreading to take it to her, but this will make everything different. Don't worry yet, aunt Jane, for perhaps it won't be as bad as you think."
So when she carried the toast to her aunt a little later, it was in the best gilt-edged china bowl, with a fringed napkin on the tray and a sprig of geranium lying across the salt cellar."Now, aunt Miranda," she said cheerily, "I expect you to smack your lips and say this is good; it's not Randall, but Sawyer milk toast." "You've tried all kinds on me, one time an' another," Miranda answered. "This tastes real kind o' good; but I wish you hadn't wasted that nice geranium."
"You can't tell what's wasted," said Rebecca philosophically; "perhaps that geranium has been hoping this long time it could brighten somebody's supper, so don't disappoint it by making believe you don't like it. I've seen geraniums cry,--in the very early morning!"
The mysterious trouble to which Jane had alluded was a very real one, but it was held in profound secrecy. Twenty-five hundred dollars of the small Sawyer property had been invested in the business of a friend of their father's, and had returned them a regular annual income of a hundred dollars. The family friend had been dead for some five years, but his son had succeeded to his interests and all went on as formerly. Suddenly there came a letter saying that the firm had gone into bankruptcy, that the business had been completely wrecked, and that the Sawyer money had been swept away with everything else.
The loss of one hundred dollars a year is a very trifling matter, but it made all the difference between comfort and self-denial to the two old spinsters Their manner of life had been so rigid and careful that it was difficult to economize any further, and the blow had fallen just when it was most inconvenient, for Rebecca's school and boarding expenses, small as they were, had to be paid promptly and in cash."Can we possibly go on doing it? Shan't we have to give up and tell her why?" asked Jane tearfully of the elder sister.
"We have put our hand to the plough, and we can't turn back," answered Miranda in her grimmest tone; "we've taken her away from her mother and offered her an education, and we've got to keep our word. She's Aurelia's only hope for years to come, to my way o' thinkin'. Hannah's beau takes all her time 'n' thought, and when she gits a husband her mother'll be out o' sight and out o' mind. John, instead of farmin', thinks he must be a doctor,-- as if folks wasn't gettin' unhealthy enough these days, without turnin' out more young doctors to help 'em into their graves. No, Jane; we'll skimp 'n' do without, 'n' plan to git along on our interest money somehow, but we won't break into our principal, whatever happens."
"Breaking into the principal" was, in the minds of most thrifty New England women, a sin only second to arson, theft, or murder; and, though the rule was occasionally carried too far for common sense,--as in this case, where two elderly women of sixty might reasonably have drawn something from their little hoard in time of special need,--it doubtless wrought more of good than evil in the community.
Rebecca, who knew nothing of their business affairs, merely saw her aunts grow more and more saving, pinching here and there, cutting off this and that relentlessly. Less meat and fish were bought; the woman who had lately been coming two days a week for washing, ironing, and scrubbing was dismissed; the old bonnets of the season before were brushed up and retrimmed; there were no drives to Moderation or trips to Portland. Economy was carried to its very extreme; but though Miranda was well-nigh as gloomy and uncompromising in her manner and conversation as a woman could well be, she at least never twitted her niece of being a burden; so Rebecca's share of the Sawyers' misfortunes consisted only in wearing her old dresses, hats, and jackets, without any apparent hope of a change.
There was, however, no concealing the state of things at Sunnybrook, where chapters of accidents had unfolded themselves in a sort of serial story that had run through the year. The potato crop had failed; there were no apples to speak of; the hay had been poor; Aurelia had turns of dizziness in her head; Mark had broken his ankle. As this was his fourth offense, Miranda inquired how many bones there were in the human body, "so 't they'd know when Mark got through breakin' 'em." The time for paying the interest on the mortgage, that incubus that had crushed all the joy out of the Randall household, had come and gone, and there was no possibility, for the first time in fourteen years, of paying the required forty-eight dollars. The only bright spot in the horizon was Hannah's engagement to Will Melville,--a young farmer whose land joined Sunnybrook, who had a good house, was alone in the world, and his own master. Hannah was so satisfied with her own unexpectedly radiant prospects that she hardly realized her mother's anxieties; for there are natures which flourish, in adversity, and deteriorate when exposed to sudden prosperity. She had made a visit of a week at the brick house; and Miranda's impression, conveyed in privacy to Jane, was that Hannah was close as the bark of a tree, and consid'able selfish too; that when she'd clim' as fur as she could in the world, she'd kick the ladder out from under her, everlastin' quick; that, on being sounded as to her ability to be of use to the younger children in the future, she said she guessed she'd done her share a'ready, and she wan't goin' to burden Will with her poor relations. "She's Susan Randall through and through!" ejaculated Miranda. "I was glad to see her face turned towards Temperance. If that mortgage is ever cleared from the farm, 't won't be Hannah that'll do it; it'll be Rebecca or me!"
Aladdin Rubs His Lamp
Your esteemed contribution entitled Wareham Wildflowers has been accepted for The Pilot, Miss Perkins," said Rebecca, entering the room where Emma Jane was darning the firm's stockings. "I stayed to tea with Miss Maxwell, but came home early to tell you.""You are joking, Becky!" faltered Emma Jane, looking up from her work. "Not a bit; the senior editor read it and thought it highly instructive; it appears in the next issue." "Not in the same number with your poem about the golden gates that close behind us when we leave school?"--and Emma Jane held her breath as she awaited the reply. "Even so, Miss Perkins."
"Rebecca," said Emma Jane, with the nearest approach to tragedy that her nature would permit, "I don't know as I shall be able to bear it, and if anything happens to me, I ask you solemnly to bury that number of The Pilot with me."
Rebecca did not seem to think this the expression of an exaggerated state of feeling, inasmuch as she replied, "I know; that's just the way it seemed to me at first, and even now, whenever I'm alone and take out the Pilot back numbers to read over my contributions, I almost burst with pleasure; and it's not that they are good either, for they look worse to me every time I read them."
"If you would only live with me in some little house when we get older," mused Emma Jane, as with her darning needle poised in air she regarded the opposite wall dreamily, "I would do the housework and cooking, and copy all your poems and stories, and take them to the post-office, and you needn't do anything but write. It would be perfectly elergant!""I'd like nothing better, if I hadn't promised to keep house for John," replied Rebecca. "He won't have a house for a good many years, will he?"
"No," sighed Rebecca ruefully, flinging herself down by the table and resting her head on her hand. "Not unless we can contrive to pay off that detestable mortgage. The day grows farther off instead of nearer now that we haven't paid the interest this year." She pulled a piece of paper towards her, and scribbling idly on it read aloud in a moment or two:--
"Will you pay a little faster?" said the mortgage to the farm; "I confess I'm very tired of this place."
"The weariness is mutual," Rebecca Randall cried; "I would I'd never gazed upon your face!"
"Our mortgage has," said Rebecca revengefully. "I should know him if I met him in the dark. Wait and I'll draw him for you. It will be good for you to know how he looks, and then when you have a husband and seven children, you won't allow him to come anywhere within a mile of your farm."
The sketch when completed was of a sort to be shunned by a timid person on the verge of slumber. There was a tiny house on the right, and a weeping family gathered in front of it. The mortgage was depicted as a cross between a fiend and an ogre, and held an axe uplifted in his red right hand. A figure with streaming black locks was staying the blow, and this, Rebecca explained complacently, was intended as a likeness of herself, though she was rather vague as to the method she should use in attaining her end."He's terrible," said Emma Jane, "but awfully wizened and small." "It's only a twelve hundred dollar mortgage," said Rebecca, "and that's called a small one. John saw a man once that was mortgaged for twelve thousand." "Shall you be a writer or an editor?" asked Emma Jane presently, as if one had only to choose and the thing were done. "I shall have to do what turns up first, I suppose." "Why not go out as a missionary to Syria, as the Burches are always coaxing you to? The Board would pay your expenses."
"I can't make up my mind to be a missionary," Rebecca answered. "I'm not good enough in the first place, and I don't `feel a call,' as Mr. Burch says you must. I would like to do something for somebody and make things move, somewhere, but I don't want to go thousands of miles away teaching people how to live when I haven't learned myself. It isn't as if the heathen really needed me; I'm sure they'll come out all right in the end."
"I can't see how; if all the people who ought to go out to save them stay at home as we do," argued Emma Jane.
"Why, whatever God is, and wherever He is, He must always be there, ready and waiting. He can't move about and miss people. It may take the heathen a little longer to find Him, but God will make allowances, of course. He knows if they live in such hot climates it must make them lazy and slow; and the parrots and tigers and snakes and bread-fruit trees distract their minds; and having no books, they can't think as well; but they'll find God somehow, some time."
In these days Adam Ladd sometimes went to Temperance on business connected with the proposed branch of the railroad familiarly known as the "York and Yank 'em," and while there he gained an inkling of Sunnybrook affairs. The building of the new road was not yet a certainty, and there was a difference of opinion as to the best route from Temperance to Plumville. In one event the way would lead directly through Sunnybrook, from corner to corner, and Mrs. Randall would be compensated; in the other, her interests would not be affected either for good or ill, save as all land in the immediate neighborhood might rise a little in value.
Coming from Temperance to Wareham one day, Adam had a long walk and talk with Rebecca, whom he thought looking pale and thin, though she was holding bravely to her self-imposed hours of work. She was wearing a black cashmere dress that had been her aunt Jane's second best. We are familiar with the heroine of romance whose foot is so exquisitely shaped that the coarsest shoe cannot conceal its perfections, and one always cherishes a doubt of the statement; yet it is true that Rebecca's peculiar and individual charm seemed wholly independent of accessories. The lines of her fig- ure, the rare coloring of skin and hair and eyes, triumphed over shabby clothing, though, had the advantage of artistic apparel been given her, the little world of Wareham would probably at once have dubbed her a beauty. The long black braids were now disposed after a quaint fashion of her own. They were crossed behind, carried up to the front, and crossed again, the tapering ends finally brought down and hidden in the thicker part at the neck. Then a purely feminine touch was given to the hair that waved back from the face,--a touch that rescued little crests and wavelets from bondage and set them free to take a new color in the sun.
Adam Ladd looked at her in a way that made her put her hands over her face and laugh through them shyly as she said: "I know what you are thinking, Mr. Aladdin,--that my dress is an inch longer than last year, and my hair different; but I'm not nearly a young lady yet; truly I'm not. Sixteen is a month off still, and you promised not to give me up till my dress trails. If you don't like me to grow old, why don't you grow young? Then we can meet in the halfway house and have nice times. Now that I think about it," she continued, "that's just what you've been doing all along. When you bought the soap, I thought you were grandfather Sawyer's age; when you danced with me at the flag-raising, you seemed like my father; but when you showed me your mother's picture, I felt as if you were my John, because I was so sorry for you."
"That will do very well," smiled Adam; "unless you go so swiftly that you become my grandmother before I really need one. You are studying too hard, Miss Rebecca Rowena!""Just a little," she confessed. "But vacation comes soon, you know." "And are you going to have a good rest and try to recover your dimples? They are really worth preserving."
A shadow crept over Rebecca's face and her eyes suffused. "Don't be kind, Mr. Aladdin, I can't bear it;--it's--it's not one of my dimply days!" and she ran in at the seminary gate, and disappeared with a farewell wave of her hand.
Adam Ladd wended his way to the principal's office in a thoughtful mood. He had come to Wareham to unfold a plan that he had been considering for several days. This year was the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Wareham schools, and he meant to tell Mr. Morrison that in addition to his gift of a hundred volumes to the reference library, he intended to celebrate it by offering prizes in English composition, a subject in which he was much interested. He wished the boys and girls of the two upper classes to compete; the award to be made to the writers of the two best essays. As to the nature of the prizes he had not quite made up his mind, but they would be substantial ones, either of money or of books.
This interview accomplished, he called upon Miss Maxwell, thinking as he took the path through the woods, "Rose-Red-Snow-White needs the help, and since there is no way of my giving it to her without causing remark, she must earn it, poor little soul! I wonder if my money is always to be useless where most I wish to spend it!"He had scarcely greeted his hostess when he said: "Miss Maxwell, doesn't it strike you that our friend Rebecca looks wretchedly tired?"
"She does indeed, and I am considering whether I can take her away with me. I always go South for the spring vacation, traveling by sea to Old Point Comfort, and rusticating in some quiet spot near by. I should like nothing better than to have Rebecca for a companion."
"The very thing!" assented Adam heartily; "but why should you take the whole responsibility? Why not let me help? I am greatly interested in the child, and have been for some years."
"You needn't pretend you discovered her," interrupted Miss Maxwell warmly, "for I did that myself."
"She was an intimate friend of mine long before you ever came to Wareham," laughed Adam, and he told Miss Maxwell the circumstances of his first meeting with Rebecca. "From the beginning I've tried to think of a way I could be useful in her development, but no reasonable solution seemed to offer itself."
"Luckily she attends to her own development," answered Miss Maxwell. "In a sense she is independent of everything and everybody; she follows her saint without being conscious of it. But she needs a hundred practical things that money would buy for her, and alas! I have a slender purse."
"Take mine, I beg, and let me act through you," pleaded Adam. "I could not bear to see even a young tree trying its best to grow without light or air,--how much less a gifted child! I interviewed her aunts a year ago, hoping I might be permitted to give her a musical education. I assured them it was a most ordinary occurrence, and that I was willing to be repaid later on if they insisted, but it was no use. The elder Miss Sawyer remarked that no member of her family ever had lived on charity, and she guessed they wouldn't begin at this late day."
"I rather like that uncompromising New England grit," exclaimed Miss Maxwell, "and so far, I don't regret one burden that Rebecca has borne or one sorrow that she has shared. Necessity has only made her brave; poverty has only made her daring and self-reliant. As to her present needs, there are certain things only a woman ought to do for a girl, and I should not like to have you do them for Rebecca; I should feel that I was wounding her pride and self-respect, even though she were ignorant; but there is no reason why I may not do them if necessary and let you pay her traveling expenses. I would accept those for her without the slightest embarrassment, but I agree that the matter would better be kept private between us.""You are a real fairy godmother!" exclaimed Adam, shaking her hand warmly. "Would it be less trouble for you to invite her room-mate too,-- the pink-and-white inseparable?" "No, thank you, I prefer to have Rebecca all to myself," said Miss Maxwell. "I can understand that," replied Adam absent- mindedly; "I mean, of course, that one child is less trouble than two. There she is now."
Here Rebecca appeared in sight, walking down the quiet street with a lad of sixteen. They were in animated conversation, and were apparently reading something aloud to each other, for the black head and the curly brown one were both bent over a sheet of letter paper. Rebecca kept glancing up at her companion, her eyes sparkling with appreciation."Miss Maxwell," said Adam, "I am a trustee of this institution, but upon my word I don't believe in coeducation!"
"I have my own occasional hours of doubt," she answered, "but surely its disadvantages are reduced to a minimum with--children! That is a very im- pressive sight which you are privileged to witness, Mr. Ladd. The folk in Cambridge often gloated on the spectacle of Longfellow and Lowell arm in arm. The little school world of Wareham palpitates with excitement when it sees the senior and the junior editors of The Pilot walking together!"
Roses Of Joy
The day before Rebecca started for the South with Miss Maxwell she was in the library with Emma Jane and Huldah, consulting dictionaries and encyclopaedias. As they were leaving they passed the locked cases containing the library of fiction, open to the teachers and townspeople, but forbidden to the students.
They looked longingly through the glass, getting some little comfort from the titles of the volumes, as hungry children imbibe emotional nourishment from the pies and tarts inside a confectioner's window. Rebecca's eyes fell upon a new book in the corner, and she read the name aloud with delight: "_The Rose of Joy_. Listen, girls; isn't that lovely? _The Rose of Joy_. It looks beautiful, and it sounds beautiful. What does it mean, I wonder?"
"I guess everybody has a different rose," said Huldah shrewdly. "I know what mine would be, and I'm not ashamed to own it. I'd like a year in a city, with just as much money as I wanted to spend, horses and splendid clothes and amusements every minute of the day; and I'd like above everything to live with people that wear low necks." (Poor Huldah never took off her dress with- out bewailing the fact that her lot was cast in Riverboro, where her pretty white shoulders could never be seen.)"That would be fun, for a while anyway," Emma Jane remarked. "But wouldn't that be pleasure more than joy? Oh, I've got an idea!" "Don't shriek so!" said the startled Huldah. "I thought it was a mouse." "I don't have them very often," apologized Emma Jane,--"ideas, I mean; this one shook me like a stroke of lightning. Rebecca, couldn't it be success?" "That's good," mused Rebecca; "I can see that success would be a joy, but it doesn't seem to me like a rose, somehow. I was wondering if it could be love?" "I wish we could have a peep at the book! It must be perfectly elergant!" said Emma Jane. "But now you say it is love, I think that's the best guess yet."
All day long the four words haunted and possessed Rebecca; she said them over to herself continually. Even the prosaic Emma Jane was affected by them, for in the evening she said, "I don't expect you to believe it, but I have another idea,-- that's two in one day; I had it while I was putting cologne on your head. The rose of joy might be helpfulness.""If it is, then it is always blooming in your dear little heart, you darlingest, kind Emmie, taking such good care of your troublesome Becky!"
"Don't dare to call yourself troublesome! You're --you're--you're my rose of joy, that's what you are!" And the two girls hugged each other affectionately.
In the middle of the night Rebecca touched Emma Jane on the shoulder softly. "Are you very fast asleep, Emmie?" she whispered.
"I've thought of something new. If you sang or painted or wrote,--not a little, but beautifully, you know,--wouldn't the doing of it, just as much as you wanted, give you the rose of joy?""It might if it was a real talent," answered Emma Jane, "though I don't like it so well as love. If you have another thought, Becky, keep it till morning."
"I did have one more inspiration," said Rebecca when they were dressing next morning, "but I didn't wake you. I wondered if the rose of joy could be sacrifice? But I think sacrifice would be a lily, not a rose; don't you?"
The journey southward, the first glimpse of the ocean, the strange new scenes, the ease and delicious freedom, the intimacy with Miss Maxwell, almost intoxicated Rebecca. In three days she was not only herself again, she was another self, thrilling with delight, anticipation, and realization. She had always had such eager hunger for knowledge, such thirst for love, such passionate longing for the music, the beauty, the poetry of existence! She had always been straining to make the outward world conform to her inward dreams, and now life had grown all at once rich and sweet, wide and full. She was using all her natural, God-given outlets; and Emily Maxwell marveled daily at the inexhaustible way in which the girl poured out and gathered in the treasures of thought and experience that belonged to her. She was a lifegiver, altering the whole scheme of any picture she made a part of, by contributing new values. Have you never seen the dull blues and greens of a room changed, transfigured by a burst of sunshine? That seemed to Miss Maxwell the effect of Rebecca on the groups of people with whom they now and then mingled; but they were commonly alone, reading to each other and having quiet talks. The prize essay was very much on Rebecca's mind. Secretly she thought she could never be happy unless she won it. She cared nothing for the value of it, and in this case almost nothing for the honor; she wanted to please Mr. Aladdin and justify his belief in her.
"If I ever succeed in choosing a subject, I must ask if you think I can write well on it; and then I suppose I must work in silence and secret, never even reading the essay to you, nor talking about it."
Miss Maxwell and Rebecca were sitting by a little brook on a sunny spring day. They had been in a stretch of wood by the sea since breakfast, going every now and then for a bask on the warm white sand, and returning to their shady solitude when tired of the sun's glare."The subject is very important," said Miss Maxwell, "but I do not dare choose for you.
Have you decided on anything yet?"
"No," Rebecca answered; "I plan a new essay every night. I've begun one on What is Failure? and another on He and She. That would be a dialogue between a boy and girl just as they were leaving school, and would tell their ideals of life. Then do you remember you said to me one day, `Follow your Saint'? I'd love to write about that. I didn't have a single thought in Wareham, and now I have a new one every minute, so I must try and write the essay here; think it out, at any rate, while I am so happy and free and rested. Look at the pebbles in the bottom of the pool, Miss Emily, so round and smooth and shining."
"Yes, but where did they get that beautiful polish, that satin skin, that lovely shape, Rebecca? Not in the still pool lying on the sands. It was never there that their angles were rubbed off and their rough surfaces polished, but in the strife and warfare of running waters. They have jostled against other pebbles, dashed against sharp rocks, and now we look at them and call them beautiful.""If Fate had not made somebody a teacher, She might have been, oh! such a splendid preacher!" rhymed Rebecca. "Oh! if I could only think and speak as you do!" she sighed. "I am so afraid I shall never get education enough to make a good writer."
"You could worry about plenty of other things to better advantage," said Miss Maxwell, a little scornfully. "Be afraid, for instance, that you won't understand human nature; that you won't realize the beauty of the outer world; that you may lack sympathy, and thus never be able to read a heart; that your faculty of expression may not keep pace with your ideas,--a thousand things, every one of them more important to the writer than the knowledge that is found in books. AEsop was a Greek slave who could not even write down his wonderful fables; yet all the world reads them.""I didn't know that," said Rebecca, with a half sob. "I didn't know anything until I met you!"
"You will only have had a high school course, but the most famous universities do not always succeed in making men and women. When I long to go abroad and study, I always remember that there were three great schools in Athens and two in Jerusalem, but the Teacher of all teachers came out of Nazareth, a little village hidden away from the bigger, busier world.""Mr. Ladd says that you are almost wasted on Wareham." said Rebecca thoughtfully.
"He is wrong; my talent is not a great one, but no talent is wholly wasted unless its owner chooses to hide it in a napkin. Remember that of your own gifts, Rebecca; they may not be praised of men, but they may cheer, console, inspire, perhaps, when and where you least expect. The brimming glass that overflows its own rim moistens the earth about it.""Did you ever hear of The Rose of Joy?" asked Rebecca, after a long silence. "Yes, of course; where did you see it?" "On the outside of a book in the library."
"I saw it on the inside of a book in the library," smiled Miss Maxwell. "It is from Emerson, but I'm afraid you haven't quite grown up to it, Rebecca, and it is one of the things impossible to explain.""Oh, try me, dear Miss Maxwell!" pleaded Rebecca. "Perhaps by thinking hard I can guess a little bit what it means."
"`In the actual--this painful kingdom of time and chance--are Care, Canker, and Sorrow; with thought, with the Ideal, is immortal hilarity--the rose of Joy; round it all the Muses sing,'" quoted Miss Maxwell.
Rebecca repeated it over and over again until she had learned it by heart; then she said, "I don't want to be conceited, but I almost believe I do understand it, Miss Maxwell. Not altogether, perhaps, because it is puzzling and difficult; but a little, enough to go on with. It's as if a splendid shape galloped past you on horseback; you are so surprised and your eyes move so slowly you cannot half see it, but you just catch a glimpse as it whisks by, and you know it is beautiful. It's all settled. My essay is going to be called The Rose of Joy. I've just decided. It hasn't any beginning, nor any middle, but there will be a thrilling ending, something like this: let me see; joy, boy, toy, ahoy, decoy, alloy:--
Then come what will of weal or woe (Since all gold hath alloy),
Thou 'lt bloom unwithered in this heart, My Rose of Joy!
Now I'm going to tuck you up in the shawl and give you the fir pillow, and while you sleep I am going down on the shore and write a fairy story for you. It's one of our `supposing' kind; it flies far, far into the future, and makes beautiful things happen that may never really all come to pass; but some of them will,--you'll see! and then you'll take out the little fairy story from your desk and remember Rebecca."
"I wonder why these young things always choose subjects that would tax the powers of a great essayist!" thought Miss Maxwell, as she tried to sleep. "Are they dazzled, captivated, taken possession of, by the splendor of the theme, and do they fancy they can write up to it? Poor little innocents, hitch- ing their toy wagons to the stars! How pretty this particular innocent looks under her new sunshade!"
Adam Ladd had been driving through Boston streets on a cold spring day when nature and the fashion-mongers were holding out promises which seemed far from performance. Suddenly his vision was assailed by the sight of a rose-colored parasol gayly unfurled in a shop window, signaling the passer-by and setting him to dream of summer sunshine. It reminded Adam of a New England apple- tree in full bloom, the outer covering of deep pink shining through the thin white lining, and a fluffy, fringe-like edge of mingled rose and cream dropping over the green handle. All at once he remembered one of Rebecca's early confidences,--the little pink sunshade that had given her the only peep into the gay world of fashion that her childhood had ever known; her adoration of the flimsy bit of finery and its tragic and sacrificial end. He entered the shop, bought the extravagant bauble, and expressed it to Wareham at once, not a single doubt of its appropriateness crossing the darkness of his masculine mind. He thought only of the joy in Rebecca's eyes; of the poise of her head under the apple-blossom canopy. It was a trifle embarrassing to return an hour later and buy a blue parasol for Emma Jane Perkins, but it seemed increasingly difficult, as the years went on, to remember her existence at all the proper times and seasons.
This is Rebecca's fairy story, copied the next day and given to Emily Maxwell just as she was going to her room for the night. She read it with tears in her eyes and then sent it to Adam Ladd, thinking he had earned a share in it, and that he deserved a glimpse of the girl's budding imagination, as well as of her grateful young heart.A FAIRY STORY
There was once a tired and rather poverty- stricken Princess who dwelt in a cottage on the great highway between two cities. She was not as unhappy as thousands of others; indeed, she had much to be grateful for, but the life she lived and the work she did were full hard for one who was fashioned slenderly.Now the cottage stood by the edge of a great green forest where the wind was always singing in the branches and the sunshine filtering through the leaves.
And one day when the Princess was sitting by the wayside quite spent by her labor in the fields, she saw a golden chariot rolling down the King's Highway, and in it a person who could be none other than somebody's Fairy Godmother on her way to the Court. The chariot halted at her door, and though the Princess had read of such beneficent personages, she never dreamed for an instant that one of them could ever alight at her cottage."If you are tired, poor little Princess, why do you not go into the cool green forest and rest?" asked the Fairy Godmother. "Because I have no time," she answered. "I must go back to my plough." "Is that your plough leaning by the tree, and is it not too heavy?"
"It is heavy," answered the Princess, "but I love to turn the hard earth into soft furrows and know that I am making good soil wherein my seeds may grow. When I feel the weight too much, I try to think of the harvest."
The golden chariot passed on, and the two talked no more together that day; nevertheless the King's messengers were busy, for they whispered one word into the ear of the Fairy Godmother and another into the ear of the Princess, though so faintly that neither of them realized that the King had spoken.
The next morning a strong man knocked at the cottage door, and doffing his hat to the Princess said: "A golden chariot passed me yesterday, and one within it flung me a purse of ducats, saying: `Go out into the King's Highway and search until you find a cottage and a heavy plough leaning against a tree near by. Enter and say to the Princess whom you will find there: "I will guide the plough and you must go and rest, or walk in the cool green forest; for this is the command of your Fairy Godmother."'"
And the same thing happened every day, and every day the tired Princess walked in the green wood. Many times she caught the glitter of the chariot and ran into the Highway to give thanks to the Fairy Godmother; but she was never fleet enough to reach the spot. She could only stand with eager eyes and longing heart as the chariot passed by. Yet she never failed to catch a smile, and sometimes a word or two floated back to her, words that sounded like: "I would not be thanked. We are all children of the same King, and I am only his messenger."
Now as the Princess walked daily in the green forest, hearing the wind singing in the branches and seeing the sunlight filter through the lattice-work of green leaves, there came unto her thoughts that had lain asleep in the stifling air of the cottage and the weariness of guiding the plough. And by and by she took a needle from her girdle and pricked the thoughts on the leaves of the trees and sent them into the air to float hither and thither. And it came to pass that people began to pick them up, and holding them against the sun, to read what was written on them, and this was because the simple little words on the leaves were only, after all, a part of one of the King's messages, such as the Fairy Godmother dropped continually from her golden chariot.But the miracle of the story lies deeper than all this.
Whenever the Princess pricked the words upon the leaves she added a thought of her Fairy Godmother, and folding it close within, sent the leaf out on the breeze to float hither and thither and fall where it would. And many other little Princesses felt the same impulse and did the same thing. And as nothing is ever lost in the King's Dominion, so these thoughts and wishes and hopes, being full of love and gratitude, had no power to die, but took unto themselves other shapes and lived on forever. They cannot be seen, our vision is too weak; nor heard, our hearing is too dull; but they can sometimes be felt, and we know not what force is stirring our hearts to nobler aims.
The end of the story is not come, but it may be that some day when the Fairy Godmother has a message to deliver in person straight to the King, he will say: "Your face I know; your voice, your thoughts, and your heart. I have heard the rumble of your chariot wheels on the great Highway, and I knew that you were on the King's business. Here in my hand is a sheaf of messages from every quarter of my kingdom. They were delivered by weary and footsore travelers, who said that they could never have reached the gate in safety had it not been for your help and inspiration. Read them, that you may know when and where and how you sped the King's service."
And when the Fairy Godmother reads them, it may be that sweet odors will rise from the pages, and half-forgotten memories will stir the air; but in the gladness of the moment nothing will be half so lovely as the voice of the King when he said: "Read, and know how you sped the King's service."Rebecca Rowena Randall
Over The Teacups
The summer term at Wareham had ended, and Huldah Meserve, Dick Carter, and Living Perkins had finished school, leaving Rebecca and Emma Jane to represent Riverboro in the year to come. Delia Weeks was at home from Lewiston on a brief visit, and Mrs. Robinson was celebrating the occasion by a small and select party, the particular day having been set because strawberries were ripe and there was a rooster that wanted killing. Mrs. Robinson explained this to her husband, and requested that he eat his dinner on the carpenter's bench in the shed, as the party was to be a ladies' affair."All right; it won't be any loss to me," said Mr. Robinson. "Give me beans, that's all I ask. When a rooster wants to be killed, I want somebody else to eat him, not me!"
Mrs. Robinson had company only once or twice a year, and was generally much prostrated for several days afterward, the struggle between pride and parsimony being quite too great a strain upon her. It was necessary, in order to maintain her standing in the community, to furnish a good "set out," yet the extravagance of the proceeding goaded her from the first moment she began to stir the marble cake to the moment when the feast appeared upon the table.
The rooster had been boiling steadily over a slow fire since morning, but such was his power of resistance that his shape was as firm and handsome in the pot as on the first moment when he was lowered into it."He ain't goin' to give up!" said Alice, peering nervously under the cover, "and he looks like a scarecrow."
"We'll see whether he gives up or not when I take a sharp knife to him," her mother answered; "and as to his looks, a platter full o' gravy makes a sight o' difference with old roosters, and I'll put dumplings round the aidge; they're turrible fillin', though they don't belong with boiled chicken."
The rooster did indeed make an impressive showing, lying in his border of dumplings, and the dish was much complimented when it was borne in by Alice. This was fortunate, as the chorus of admiration ceased abruptly when the ladies began to eat the fowl.
"I was glad you could git over to Huldy's graduation, Delia," said Mrs. Meserve, who sat at the foot of the table and helped the chicken while Mrs. Robinson poured coffee at the other end. She was a fit mother for Huldah, being much the most stylish person in Riverboro; ill health and dress were, indeed, her two chief enjoyments in life. It was rumored that her elaborately curled "front piece" had cost five dollars, and that it was sent into Portland twice a year to be dressed and frizzed; but it is extremely difficult to discover the precise facts in such cases, and a conscientious historian always prefers to warn a too credulous reader against imbibing as gospel truth something that might be the basest perversion of it. As to Mrs. Meserve's appearance, have you ever, in earlier years, sought the comforting society of the cook and hung over the kitchen table while she rolled out sugar gingerbread? Perhaps then, in some unaccustomed moment of amiability, she made you a dough lady, cutting the outline deftly with her pastry knife, and then, at last, placing the human stamp upon it by sticking in two black currants for eyes. Just call to mind the face of that sugar gingerbread lady and you will have an exact portrait of Huldah's mother, --Mis' Peter Meserve, she was generally called, there being several others."How'd you like Huldy's dress, Delia?" she asked, snapping the elastic in her black jet bracelets after an irritating fashion she had.
"I thought it was about the handsomest of any," answered Delia; "and her composition was first rate. It was the only real amusin' one there was, and she read it so loud and clear we didn't miss any of it; most o' the girls spoke as if they had hasty pudtin' in their mouths."
"That was the composition she wrote for Adam Ladd's prize," explained Mrs. Meserve, "and they do say she'd 'a' come out first, 'stead o' fourth, if her subject had been dif'rent. There was three ministers and three deacons on the committee, and it was only natural they should choose a serious piece; hers was too lively to suit 'em."
Huldah's inspiring theme had been Boys, and she certainly had a fund of knowledge and experience that fitted her to write most intelligently upon it. It was vastly popular with the audience, who enjoyed the rather cheap jokes and allusions with which it coruscated; but judged from a purely literary standpoint, it left much to be desired."Rebecca's piece wan't read out loud, but the one that took the boy's prize was; why was that?" asked Mrs. Robinson. "Because she wan't graduatin'," explained Mrs. Cobb, "and couldn't take part in the exercises; it'll be printed, with Herbert Dunn's, in the school paper." "I'm glad o' that, for I'll never believe it was better 'n Huldy's till I read it with my own eyes; it seems as if the prize ought to 'a' gone to one of the seniors."
"Well, no, Marthy, not if Ladd offered it to any of the two upper classes that wanted to try for it," argued Mrs. Robinson. "They say they asked him to give out the prizes, and he refused, up and down. It seems odd, his bein' so rich and travelin' about all over the country, that he was too modest to git up on that platform."
"My Huldy could 'a' done it, and not winked an eyelash," observed Mrs. Meserve complacently; a remark which there seemed no disposition on the part of any of the company to controvert.
"It was complete, though, the governor happening to be there to see his niece graduate," said Delia Weeks. "Land! he looked elegant! They say he's only six feet, but he might 'a' been sixteen, and he certainly did make a fine speech."
"Did you notice Rebecca, how white she was, and how she trembled when she and Herbert Dunn stood there while the governor was praisin' 'em? He'd read her composition, too, for he wrote the Sawyer girls a letter about it." This remark was from the sympathetic Mrs. Cobb.
"I thought 't was kind o' foolish, his makin' so much of her when it wan't her graduation," objected Mrs. Meserve; "layin' his hand on her head 'n' all that, as if he was a Pope pronouncin' benediction. But there! I'm glad the prize come to Riverboro 't any rate, and a han'somer one never was give out from the Wareham platform. I guess there ain't no end to Adam Ladd's money. The fifty dollars would 'a' been good enough, but he must needs go and put it into those elegant purses.""I set so fur back I couldn't see 'em fairly," complained Delia, "and now Rebecca has taken hers home to show her mother." "It was kind of a gold net bag with a chain," said Mrs. Perkins, "and there was five tendollar gold pieces in it. Herbert Dunn's was put in a fine leather wallet." "How long is Rebecca goin' to stay at the farm?" asked Delia.
"Till they get over Hannah's bein' married, and get the house to runnin' without her," answered Mrs. Perkins. "It seems as if Hannah might 'a' waited a little longer. Aurelia was set against her goin' away while Rebecca was at school, but she's obstinate as a mule, Hannah is, and she just took her own way in spite of her mother. She's been doin' her sewin' for a year; the awfullest coarse cotton cloth she had, but she's nearly blinded herself with fine stitchin' and rufflin' and tuckin'. Did you hear about the quilt she made? It's white, and has a big bunch o' grapes in the centre, quilted by a thimble top. Then there's a row of circle-borderin' round the grapes, and she done them the size of a spool. The next border was done with a sherry glass, and the last with a port glass, an' all outside o' that was solid stitchin' done in straight rows; she's goin' to exhibit it at the county fair."
"She'd better 'a' been takin' in sewin' and earnin' money, 'stead o' blindin' her eyes on such foolishness as quilted counterpanes," said Mrs. Cobb. "The next thing you know that mortgage will be foreclosed on Mis' Randall, and she and the children won't have a roof over their heads."
"Don't they say there's a good chance of the railroad goin' through her place?" asked Mrs. Robinson. "If it does, she'll git as much as the farm is worth and more. Adam Ladd 's one of the stockholders, and everything is a success he takes holt of. They're fightin' it in Augusty, but I'd back Ladd agin any o' them legislaters if he thought he was in the right." "Rebecca'll have some new clothes now," said Delia, "and the land knows she needs 'em. Seems to me the Sawyer girls are gittin' turrible near!""Rebecca won't have any new clothes out o' the prize money," remarked Mrs. Perkins, "for she sent it away the next day to pay the interest on that mortgage." "Poor little girl!" exclaimed Delia Weeks.
"She might as well help along her folks as spend it on foolishness," affirmed Mrs. Robinson. "I think she was mighty lucky to git it to pay the interest with, but she's probably like all the Randalls; it was easy come, easy go, with them."
"That's more than could be said of the Sawyer stock," retorted Mrs. Perkins; "seems like they enjoyed savin' more'n anything in the world, and it's gainin' on Mirandy sence her shock."
"I don't believe it was a shock; it stands to reason she'd never 'a' got up after it and been so smart as she is now; we had three o' the worst shocks in our family that there ever was on this river, and I know every symptom of 'em better'n the doctors." And Mrs. Peter Meserve shook her head wisely.
"Mirandy 's smart enough," said Mrs. Cobb, "but you notice she stays right to home, and she's more close-mouthed than ever she was; never took a mite o' pride in the prize, as I could see, though it pretty nigh drove Jeremiah out o' his senses. I thought I should 'a' died o' shame when he cried `Hooray!' and swung his straw hat when the governor shook hands with Rebecca. It's lucky he couldn't get fur into the church and had to stand back by the door, for as it was, he made a spectacle of himself. My suspicion is"--and here every lady stopped eating and sat up straight--"that the Sawyer girls have lost money. They don't know a thing about business 'n' never did, and Mirandy's too secretive and contrairy to ask advice."
"The most o' what they've got is in gov'ment bonds, I always heard, and you can't lose money on them. Jane had the timber land left her, an' Mirandy had the brick house. She probably took it awful hard that Rebecca's fifty dollars had to be swallowed up in a mortgage, 'stead of goin' towards school expenses. The more I think of it, the more I think Adam Ladd intended Rebecca should have that prize when he gave it." The mind of Huldah's mother ran towards the idea that her daughter's rights had been assailed.
"Land, Marthy, what foolishness you talk!" exclaimed Mrs. Perkins; "you don't suppose he could tell what composition the committee was going to choose; and why should he offer another fifty dollars for a boy's prize, if he wan't interested in helpin' along the school? He's give Emma Jane about the same present as Rebecca every Christmas for five years; that's the way he does."
"Some time he'll forget one of 'em and give to the other, or drop 'em both and give to some new girl!" said Delia Weeks, with an experience born of fifty years of spinsterhood. "Like as not," assented Mrs. Peter Meserve, "though it's easy to see he ain't the marryin' kind. There's men that would marry once a year if their wives would die fast enough, and there's men that seems to want to live alone.""If Ladd was a Mormon, I guess he could have every woman in North Riverboro that's a suitable age, accordin' to what my cousins say," remarked Mrs. Perkins.
"'T ain't likely he could be ketched by any North Riverboro girl," demurred Mrs. Robinson; "not when he prob'bly has had the pick o' Boston. I guess Marthy hit it when she said there's men that ain't the marryin' kind."
"I wouldn't trust any of 'em when Miss Right comes along!" laughed Mrs. Cobb genially. "You never can tell what 'n' who 's goin' to please 'em. You know Jeremiah's contrairy horse, Buster? He won't let anybody put the bit into his mouth if he can help it. He'll fight Jerry, and fight me, till he has to give in. Rebecca didn't know nothin' about his tricks, and the other day she went int' the barn to hitch up. I followed right along, knowing she'd have trouble with the headstall, and I declare if she wan't pattin' Buster's nose and talkin' to him, and when she put her little fingers into his mouth he opened it so fur I thought he'd swaller her, for sure. He jest smacked his lips over the bit as if 't was a lump o' sugar. `Land, Rebecca,' I says, `how'd you persuade him to take the bit?' `I didn't,' she says, `he seemed to want it; perhaps he's tired of his stall and wants to get out in the fresh air.'"
The Vision Splendid
A year had elapsed since Adam Ladd's prize had been discussed over the teacups in Riverboro. The months had come and gone, and at length the great day had dawned for Rebecca,--the day to which she had been looking forward for five years, as the first goal to be reached on her little journey through the world. School- days were ended, and the mystic function known to the initiated as "graduation" was about to be celebrated; it was even now heralded by the sun dawning in the eastern sky. Rebecca stole softly out of bed, crept to the window, threw open the blinds, and welcomed the rosy light that meant a cloudless morning. Even the sun looked different somehow,--larger, redder, more important than usual; and if it were really so, there was no member of the graduating class who would have thought it strange or unbecoming, in view of all the circumstances. Emma Jane stirred on her pillow, woke, and seeing Rebecca at the window, came and knelt on the floor beside her. "It's going to be pleasant!" she sighed gratefully. "If it wasn't wicked, I could thank the Lord, I'm so relieved in mind! Did you sleep?"
"Not much; the words of my class poem kept running through my head, and the accompaniments of the songs; and worse than anything, Mary Queen of Scots' prayer in Latin; it seemed as if"`Adoro, imploro, Ut liberes me!' were burned into my brain."
No one who is unfamiliar with life in rural neighborhoods can imagine the gravity, the importance, the solemnity of this last day of school. In the matter of preparation, wealth of detail, and general excitement it far surpasses a wedding; for that is commonly a simple affair in the country, sometimes even beginning and ending in a visit to the parsonage. Nothing quite equals graduation in the minds of the graduates themselves, their families, and the younger students, unless it be the inauguration of a governor at the State Capitol. Wareham, then, was shaken to its very centre on this day of days. Mothers and fathers of the scholars, as well as relatives to the remotest generation, had been coming on the train and driving into the town since breakfast time; old pupils, both married and single, with and without families, streamed back to the dear old village. The two livery stables were crowded with vehicles of all sorts, and lines of buggies and wagons were drawn up along the sides of the shady roads, the horses switching their tails in luxurious idleness. The streets were filled with people wearing their best clothes, and the fashions included not only "the latest thing," but the well preserved relic of a bygone day. There were all sorts and conditions of men and women, for there were sons and daughters of storekeepers, lawyers, butchers, doctors, shoemakers, professors, ministers, and farmers at the Wareham schools, either as boarders or day scholars. In the seminary building there was an excitement so deep and profound that it expressed itself in a kind of hushed silence, a transient suspension of life, as those most interested approached the crucial moment. The feminine graduates-to-be were seated in their own bedrooms, dressed with a completeness of detail to which all their past lives seemed to have been but a prelude. At least, this was the case with their bodies; but their heads, owing to the extreme heat of the day, were one and all ornamented with leads, or papers, or dozens of little braids, to issue later in every sort of curl known to the girl of that period. Rolling the hair on leads or papers was a favorite method of attaining the desired result, and though it often entailed a sleepless night, there were those who gladly paid the price. Others, in whose veins the blood of martyrs did not flow, substituted rags for leads and pretended that they made a more natural and less woolly curl. Heat, however, will melt the proudest head and reduce to fiddling strings the finest product of the waving- pin; so anxious mothers were stationed over their offspring, waving palm-leaf fans, it having been decided that the supreme instant when the town clock struck ten should be the one chosen for releasing the prisoners from their self-imposed tortures.
Dotted or plain Swiss muslin was the favorite garb, though there were those who were steaming in white cashmere or alpaca, because in some cases such frocks were thought more useful afterwards. Blue and pink waist ribbons were lying over the backs of chairs, and the girl who had a Roman sash was praying that she might be kept from vanity and pride.
The way to any graduating dress at all had not seemed clear to Rebecca until a month before. Then, in company with Emma Jane, she visited the Perkins attic, found piece after piece of white butter- muslin or cheesecloth, and decided that, at a pinch, it would do. The "rich blacksmith's daughter" cast the thought of dotted Swiss behind her, and elected to follow Rebecca in cheesecloth as she had in higher matters; straightway devising costumes that included such drawing of threads, such hemstitching and pin-tucking, such insertions of fine thread tatting that, in order to be finished, Rebecca's dress was given out in sections,--the sash to Hannah, waist and sleeves to Mrs. Cobb, and skirt to aunt Jane. The stitches that went into the despised material, worth only three or four pennies a yard, made the dresses altogether lovely, and as for the folds and lines into which they fell, they could have given points to satins and brocades.
The two girls were waiting in their room alone, Emma Jane in rather a tearful state of mind. She kept thinking that it was the last day that they would be together in this altogether sweet and close intimacy. The beginning of the end seemed to have dawned, for two positions had been offered Rebecca by Mr. Morrison the day before: one in which she would play for singing and calisthenics, and superintend the piano practice of the younger girls in a boarding-school; the other an assistant's place in the Edgewood High School. Both were very modest as to salary, but the former included educational advantages that Miss Maxwell thought might be valuable.
Rebecca's mood had passed from that of excitement into a sort of exaltation, and when the first bell rang through the corridors announcing that in five minutes the class would proceed in a body to the church for the exercises, she stood motionless and speechless at the window with her hand on her heart.
"It is coming, Emmie," she said presently; "do you remember in The Mill on the Floss, when Maggie Tulliver closed the golden gates of childhood behind her? I can almost see them swing; almost hear them clang; and I can't tell whether I am glad or sorry."
"Emmie, don't dare to cry, for I'm just on the brink myself! If only you were graduating with me; that's my only sorrow! There! I hear the rumble of the wheels! People will be seeing our grand surprise now! Hug me once for luck, dear Emmie; a careful hug, remembering our butter- muslin frailty!"
Ten minutes later, Adam Ladd, who had just arrived from Portland and was wending his way to the church, came suddenly into the main street and stopped short under a tree by the wayside, riveted to the spot by a scene of picturesque loveliness such as his eyes had seldom witnessed before. The class of which Rebecca was president was not likely to follow accepted customs. Instead of marching two by two from the seminary to the church, they had elected to proceed thither by royal chariot. A haycart had been decked with green vines and bunches of long-stemmed field daisies, those gay darlings of New England meadows. Every inch of the rail, the body, even the spokes, all were twined with yellow and green and white. There were two white horses, flower-trimmed reins, and in the floral bower, seated on maple boughs, were the twelve girls of the class, while the ten boys marched on either side of the vehicle, wearing buttonhole bouquets of daisies, the class flower.
Rebecca drove, seated on a green-covered bench that looked not unlike a throne. No girl clad in white muslin, no happy girl of seventeen, is plain; and the twelve little country maids, from the vantage ground of their setting, looked beautiful, as the June sunlight filtered down on their uncovered heads, showing their bright eyes, their fresh cheeks, their smiles, and their dimples.
Rebecca, Adam thought, as he took off his hat and saluted the pretty panorama,-Rebecca, with her tall slenderness, her thoughtful brow, the fire of young joy in her face, her fillet of dark braided hair, might have been a young Muse or Sibyl; and the flowery hayrack, with its freight of blooming girlhood, might have been painted as an allegorical picture of The Morning of Life. It all passed him, as he stood under the elms in the old village street where his mother had walked half a century ago, and he was turning with the crowd towards the church when he heard a little sob. Behind a hedge in the garden near where he was standing was a forlorn person in white, whose neat nose, chestnut hair, and blue eyes he seemed to know. He stepped inside the gate and said, "What's wrong, Miss Emma?"
"Oh, is it you, Mr. Ladd? Rebecca wouldn't let me cry for fear of spoiling my looks, but I must have just one chance before I go in. I can be as homely as I like, after all, for I only have to sing with the school; I'm not graduating, I'm just leaving! Not that I mind that; it's only being separated from Rebecca that I never can stand!"
The two walked along together, Adam comforting the disconsolate Emma Jane, until they reached the old meeting-house where the Commencement exercises were always held. The interior, with its decorations of yellow, green, and white, was crowded, the air hot and breathless, the essays and songs and recitations precisely like all others that have been since the world began. One always fears that the platform may sink under the weight of youthful platitudes uttered on such occasions; yet one can never be properly critical, because the sight of the boys and girls themselves, those young and hopeful makers of to-morrow, disarms one's scorn. We yawn desperately at the essays, but our hearts go out to the essayists, all the same, for "the vision splendid" is shining in their eyes, and there is no fear of "th' inevitable yoke" that the years are so surely bringing them.
Rebecca saw Hannah and her husband in the audience; dear old John and cousin Ann also, and felt a pang at the absence of her mother, though she had known there was no possibility of seeing her; for poor Aurelia was kept at Sunnybrook by cares of children and farm, and lack of money either for the journey or for suitable dress. The Cobbs she saw too. No one, indeed, could fail to see uncle Jerry; for he shed tears more than once, and in the intervals between the essays descanted to his neighbors concerning the marvelous gifts of one of the graduating class whom he had known ever since she was a child; in fact, had driven her from Maplewood to Riverboro when she left her home, and he had told mother that same night that there wan't nary rung on the ladder o' fame that that child wouldn't mount before she got through with it.
The Cobbs, then, had come, and there were other Riverboro faces, but where was aunt Jane, in her black silk made over especially for this occasion? Aunt Miranda had not intended to come, she knew, but where, on this day of days, was her beloved aunt Jane? However, this thought, like all others, came and went in a flash, for the whole morning was like a series of magic lantern pictures, crossing and recrossing her field of vision. She played, she sang, she recited Queen Mary's Latin prayer, like one in a dream, only brought to consciousness by meeting Mr. Aladdin's eyes as she spoke the last line. Then at the end of the programme came her class poem, Makers of To- morrow; and there, as on many a former occasion, her personality played so great a part that she seemed to be uttering Miltonic sentiments instead of school-girl verse. Her voice, her eyes, her body breathed conviction, earnestness, emotion; and when she left the platform the audience felt that they had listened to a masterpiece. Most of her hearers knew little of Carlyle or Emerson, or they might have remembered that the one said, "We are all poets when we read a poem well," and the other, "'T is the good reader makes the good book." It was over! The diplomas had been presented, and each girl, after giving furtive touches to her hair, sly tweaks to her muslin skirts, and caressing pats to her sash, had gone forward to receive the roll of parchment with a bow that had been the subject of anxious thought for weeks. Rounds of applause greeted each graduate at this thrilling moment, and Jeremiah Cobb's behavior, when Rebecca came forward, was the talk of Wareham and Riverboro for days. Old Mrs. Webb avowed that he, in the space of two hours, had worn out her pew more--the carpet, the cushions, and woodwork-- than she had by sitting in it forty years. Yes, it was over, and after the crowd had thinned a little, Adam Ladd made his way to the platform. Rebecca turned from speaking to some stran- gers and met him in the aisle. "Oh, Mr. Aladdin, I am so glad you could come! Tell me"--and she looked at him half shyly, for his approval was dearer to her, and more difficult to win, than that of the others--"tell me, Mr. Aladdin,--were you satisfied?""More than satisfied!" he said; "glad I met the child, proud I know the girl, longing to meet the woman!"
Th' Inevitable Yoke
Rebecca's heart beat high at this sweet praise from her hero's lips, but before she had found words to thank him, Mr. and Mrs. Cobb, who had been modestly biding their time in a corner, approached her and she introduced them to Mr. Ladd."Where, where is aunt Jane?" she cried, holding aunt Sarah's hand on one side and uncle Jerry's on the other. "I'm sorry, lovey, but we've got bad news for you." "Is aunt Miranda worse? She is; I can see it by your looks;" and Rebecca's color faded.
"She had a second stroke yesterday morning jest when she was helpin' Jane lay out her things to come here to-day. Jane said you wan't to know anything about it till the exercises was all over, and we promised to keep it secret till then."
"I will go right home with you, aunt Sarah. I must just run to tell Miss Maxwell, for after I had packed up to-morrow I was going to Brunswick with her. Poor aunt Miranda! And I have been so gay and happy all day, except that I was longing for mother and aunt Jane."
"There ain't no harm in bein' gay, lovey; that's what Jane wanted you to be. And Miranda's got her speech back, for your aunt has just sent a letter sayin' she's better; and I'm goin' to set up to-night, so you can stay here and have a good sleep, and get your things together comfortably to-morrow."
"I'll pack your trunk for you, Becky dear, and attend to all our room things," said Emma Jane, who had come towards the group and heard the sorrowful news from the brick house.
They moved into one of the quiet side pews, where Hannah and her husband and John joined them. From time to time some straggling acquaintance or old schoolmate would come up to congratulate Rebecca and ask why she had hidden herself in a corner. Then some member of the class would call to her excitedly, reminding her not to be late at the picnic luncheon, or begging her to be early at the class party in the evening. All this had an air of unreality to Rebecca. In the midst of the happy excitement of the last two days, when "blushing honors" had been falling thick upon her, and behind the delicious exaltation of the morning, had been the feeling that the condition was a transient one, and that the burden, the struggle, the anxiety, would soon loom again on the horizon. She longed to steal away into the woods with dear old John, grown so manly and handsome, and get some comfort from him.
Meantime Adam Ladd and Mr. Cobb had been having an animated conversation. "I s'pose up to Boston, girls like that one are as thick as blackb'ries?" uncle Jerry said, jerking his head interrogatively in Rebecca's direction."They may be," smiled Adam, taking in the old man's mood; "only I don't happen to know one." "My eyesight bein' poor 's the reason she looked han'somest of any girl on the platform, I s'pose?" "There's no failure in my eyes," responded Adam, "but that was how the thing seemed to me!" "What did you think of her voice? Anything extry about it?" "Made the others sound poor and thin, I thought."
"Well, I'm glad to hear your opinion, you bein' a traveled man, for mother says I'm foolish 'bout Rebecky and hev been sence the fust. Mother scolds me for spoilin' her, but I notice mother ain't fur behind when it comes to spoilin'. Land! it made me sick, thinkin' o' them parents travelin' miles to see their young ones graduate, and then when they got here hevin' to compare 'em with Rebecky. Good-by, Mr. Ladd, drop in some day when you come to Riverboro.""I will," said Adam, shaking the old man's hand cordially; "perhaps to-morrow if I drive Rebecca home, as I shall offer to do. Do you think Miss Sawyer's condition is serious?" "Well, the doctor don't seem to know; but anyhow she's paralyzed, and she'll never walk fur again, poor soul! She ain't lost her speech; that'll be a comfort to her."
Adam left the church, and in crossing the common came upon Miss Maxwell doing the honors of the institution, as she passed from group to group of strangers and guests. Knowing that she was deeply interested in all Rebecca's plans, he told her, as he drew her aside, that the girl would have to leave Wareham for Riverboro the next day.
"That is almost more than I can bear!" exclaimed Miss Maxwell, sitting down on a bench and stabbing the greensward with her parasol. "It seems to me Rebecca never has any respite. I had so many plans for her this next month in fitting her for her position, and now she will settle down to housework again, and to the nursing of that poor, sick, cross old aunt."
"If it had not been for the cross old aunt, Rebecca would still have been at Sunnybrook; and from the standpoint of educational advantages, or indeed advantages of any sort, she might as well have been in the backwoods," returned Adam."That is true; I was vexed when I spoke, for I thought an easier and happier day was dawning for my prodigy and pearl." "OUR prodigy and pearl," corrected Adam. "Oh, yes!" she laughed. "I always forget that it pleases you to pretend you discovered Rebecca."
"I believe, though, that happier days are dawning for her," continued Adam. "It must be a secret for the present, but Mrs. Randall's farm will be bought by the new railroad. We must have right of way through the land, and the station will be built on her property. She will receive six thousand dollars, which, though not a fortune, will yield her three or four hundred dollars a year, if she will allow me to invest it for her. There is a mortgage on the land; that paid, and Rebecca self-supporting, the mother ought to push the education of the oldest boy, who is a fine, ambitious fellow. He should be taken away from farm work and settled at his studies.""We might form ourselves into a Randall Protective Agency, Limited," mused Miss Maxwell. "I confess I want Rebecca to have a career." "I don't," said Adam promptly. "Of course you don't. Men have no interest in the careers of women! But I know Rebecca better than you." "You understand her mind better, but not necessarily her heart. You are considering her for the moment as prodigy; I am thinking of her more as pearl."
"Well," sighed Miss Maxwell whimsically, "prodigy or pearl, the Randall Protective Agency may pull Rebecca in opposite directions, but nevertheless she will follow her saint."That will content me," said Adam gravely. "Particularly if the saint beckons your way." And Miss Maxwell looked up and smiled provokingly.
Rebecca did not see her aunt Miranda till she had been at the brick house for several days. Miranda steadily refused to have any one but Jane in the room until her face had regained its natural look, but her door was always ajar, and Jane fancied she liked to hear Rebecca's quick, light step. Her mind was perfectly clear now, and, save that she could not move, she was most of the time quite free from pain, and alert in every nerve to all that was going on within or without the house. "Were the windfall apples being picked up for sauce; were the potatoes thick in the hills; was the corn tosselin' out; were they cuttin' the upper field; were they keepin' fly-paper laid out everywheres; were there any ants in the dairy; was the kindlin' wood holdin' out; had the bank sent the cowpons?"
Poor Miranda Sawyer! Hovering on the verge of the great beyond,--her body "struck" and no longer under control of her iron will,--no divine visions floated across her tired brain; nothing but petty cares and sordid anxieties. Not all at once can the soul talk with God, be He ever so near. If the heavenly language never has been learned, quick as is the spiritual sense in seizing the facts it needs, then the poor soul must use the words and phrases it has lived on and grown into day by day. Poor Miss Miranda!--held fast within the prison walls of her own nature, blind in the presence of revelation because she had never used the spiritual eye, deaf to angelic voices because she had not used the spiritual ear.
There came a morning when she asked for Rebecca. The door was opened into the dim sick- room, and Rebecca stood there with the sunlight behind her, her hands full of sweet peas. Miranda's pale, sharp face, framed in its nightcap, looked haggard on the pillow, and her body was pitifully still under the counterpane."Come in," she said; "I ain't dead yet. Don't mess up the bed with them flowers, will ye?" "Oh, no! They're going in a glass pitcher," said Rebecca, turning to the washstand as she tried to control her voice and stop the tears that sprang to her eyes. "Let me look at ye; come closer. What dress are ye wearin'?" said the old aunt in her cracked, weak voice. "My blue calico." "Is your cashmere holdin' its color?" "Yes, aunt Miranda." "Do you keep it in a dark closet hung on the wrong side, as I told ye?" "Always." "Has your mother made her jelly?" "She hasn't said." "She always had the knack o' writin' letters with nothin' in 'em. What's Mark broke sence I've been sick?" "Nothing at all, aunt Miranda." "Why, what's the matter with him? Gittin' lazy, ain't he? How 's John turnin' out?" "He's going to be the best of us all." "I hope you don't slight things in the kitchen because I ain't there. Do you scald the coffee-pot and turn it upside down on the winder-sill?" "Yes, aunt Miranda."
"It's always `yes' with you, and `yes' with Jane," groaned Miranda, trying to move her stiffened body; "but all the time I lay here knowin' there's things done the way I don't like 'em."
There was a long pause, during which Rebecca sat down by the bedside and timidly touched her aunt's hand, her heart swelling with tender pity at the gaunt face and closed eyes.
"I was dreadful ashamed to have you graduate in cheesecloth, Rebecca, but I couldn't help it no- how. You'll hear the reason some time, and know I tried to make it up to ye. I'm afraid you was a laughin'-stock!"
"No," Rebecca answered. "Ever so many people said our dresses were the very prettiest; they looked like soft lace. You're not to be anxious about anything. Here I am all grown up and graduated,-- number three in a class of twenty-two, aunt Miranda,--and good positions offered me already. Look at me, big and strong and young, all ready to go into the world and show what you and aunt Jane have done for me. If you want me near, I'll take the Edgewood school, so that I can be here nights and Sundays to help; and if you get better, then I'll go to Augusta,--for that's a hundred dollars more, with music lessons and other things beside."
"You listen to me," said Miranda quaveringly. "Take the best place, regardless o' my sickness. I'd like to live long enough to know you'd paid off that mortgage, but I guess I shan't."
Here she ceased abruptly, having talked more than she had for weeks; and Rebecca stole out of the room, to cry by herself and wonder if old age must be so grim, so hard, so unchastened and unsweetened, as it slipped into the valley of the shadow.
The days went on, and Miranda grew stronger and stronger; her will seemed unassailable, and before long she could be moved into a chair by the window, her dominant thought being to arrive at such a condition of improvement that the doctor need not call more than once a week, instead of daily; thereby diminishing the bill, that was mount- ing to such a terrifying sum that it haunted her thoughts by day and dreams by night.
Little by little hope stole back into Rebecca's young heart. Aunt Jane began to "clear starch" her handkerchiefs and collars and purple muslin dress, so that she might be ready to go to Brunswick at any moment when the doctor pronounced Miranda well on the road to recovery. Everything beautiful was to happen in Brunswick if she could be there by August,--everything that heart could wish or imagination conceive, for she was to be Miss Emily's very own visitor, and sit at table with college professors and other great men.
At length the day dawned when the few clean, simple dresses were packed in the hair trunk, together with her beloved coral necklace, her cheesecloth graduating dress, her class pin, aunt Jane's lace cape, and the one new hat, which she tried on every night before going to bed. It was of white chip with a wreath of cheap white roses and green leaves, and cost between two and three dollars, an unprecedented sum in Rebecca's experience. The effect of its glories when worn with her nightdress was dazzling enough, but if ever it appeared in conjunction with the cheesecloth gown, Rebecca felt that even reverend professors might regard it with respect. It is probable indeed that any professorial gaze lucky enough to meet a pair of dark eyes shining under that white rose garland would never have stopped at respect!
Death, at all events, was not there to meet her; but something that looked at first only too much like it. Her mother had been standing on the haymow superintending some changes in the barn, had been seized with giddiness, they thought, and slipped. The right knee was fractured and the back strained and hurt, but she was conscious and in no immediate danger, so Rebecca wrote, when she had a moment to send aunt Jane the particulars.
"I don' know how 'tis," grumbled Miranda, who was not able to sit up that day; "but from a child I could never lay abed without Aurelia's gettin' sick too. I don' know 's she could help fallin', though it ain't anyplace for a woman,--a haymow; but if it hadn't been that, 't would 'a' been somethin' else. Aurelia was born unfortunate. Now she'll probably be a cripple, and Rebecca'll have to nurse her instead of earning a good income somewheres else.""Her first duty 's to her mother," said aunt Jane; "I hope she'll always remember that."
"Nobody remembers anything they'd ought to, --at seventeen," responded Miranda. "Now that I'm strong again, there's things I want to consider with you, Jane, things that are on my mind night and day. We've talked 'em over before; now we'll settle 'em. When I'm laid away, do you want to take Aurelia and the children down here to the brick house? There's an awful passel of 'em,--Aurelia, Jenny, and Fanny; but I won't have Mark. Hannah can take him; I won't have a great boy stompin' out the carpets and ruinin' the furniture, though I know when I'm dead I can't hinder ye, if you make up your mind to do anything.""I shouldn't like to go against your feelings, especially in laying out your money, Miranda," said Jane.
"Don't tell Rebecca I've willed her the brick house. She won't git it till I'm gone, and I want to take my time 'bout dyin' and not be hurried off by them that's goin' to profit by it; nor I don't want to be thanked, neither. I s'pose she'll use the front stairs as common as the back and like as not have water brought into the kitchen, but mebbe when I've been dead a few years I shan't mind. She sets such store by you, she'll want you to have your home here as long's you live, but anyway I've wrote it down that way; though Lawyer Burns's wills don't hold more'n half the time. He's cheaper, but I guess it comes out jest the same in the end. I wan't goin' to have the fust man Rebecca picks up for a husband turnin' you ou'doors."
There was a long pause, during which Jane knit silently, wiping the tears from her eyes from time to time, as she looked at the pitiful figure lying weakly on the pillows. Suddenly Miranda said slowly and feebly:--
"I don' know after all but you might as well take Mark; I s'pose there's tame boys as well as wild ones. There ain't a mite o' sense in havin' so many children, but it's a turrible risk splittin' up families and farmin' 'em out here 'n' there; they'd never come to no good, an' everybody would keep rememberin' their mother was a Sawyer. Now if you'll draw down the curtin, I'll try to sleep."
Mother And Daughter
Two months had gone by,--two months of steady, fagging work; of cooking, washing, ironing; of mending and caring for the three children, although Jenny was fast becoming a notable little housewife, quick, ready, and capable. They were months in which there had been many a weary night of watching by Aurelia's bedside; of soothing and bandaging and rubbing; of reading and nursing, even of feeding and bathing. The ceaseless care was growing less now, and the family breathed more freely, for the mother's sigh of pain no longer came from the stifling bedroom, where, during a hot and humid August, Aurelia had lain, suffering with every breath she drew. There would be no question of walking for many a month to come, but blessings seemed to multiply when the blinds could be opened and the bed drawn near the window; when mother, with pillows behind her, could at least sit and watch the work going on, could smile at the past agony and forget the weary hours that had led to her present comparative ease and comfort.
No girl of seventeen can pass through such an ordeal and come out unchanged; no girl of Re- becca's temperament could go through it without some inward repining and rebellion. She was doing tasks in which she could not be fully happy,--heavy and trying tasks, which perhaps she could never do with complete success or satisfaction; and like promise of nectar to thirsty lips was the vision of joys she had had to put aside for the performance of dull daily duty. How brief, how fleeting, had been those splendid visions when the universe seemed open for her young strength to battle and triumph in! How soon they had faded into the light of common day! At first, sympathy and grief were so keen she thought of nothing but her mother's pain. No consciousness of self interposed between her and her filial service; then, as the weeks passed, little blighted hopes began to stir and ache in her breast; defeated ambitions raised their heads as if to sting her; unattainable delights teased her by their very nearness; by the narrow line of separation that lay between her and their realization. It is easy, for the moment, to tread the narrow way, looking neither to the right nor left, upborne by the sense of right doing; but that first joy of self-denial, the joy that is like fire in the blood, dies away; the path seems drearier and the footsteps falter. Such a time came to Rebecca, and her bright spirit flagged when the letter was received saying that her position in Augusta had been filled. There was a mutinous leap of the heart then, a beating of wings against the door of the cage, a longing for the freedom of the big world outside. It was the stirring of the powers within her, though she called it by no such grand name. She felt as if the wind of destiny were blowing her flame hither and thither, burning, consuming her, but kindling nothing. All this meant one stormy night in her little room at Sunnybrook, but the clouds blew over, the sun shone again, a rainbow stretched across the sky, while "hope clad in April green" smiled into her upturned face and beckoned her on, saying:--"Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be." Threads of joy ran in and out of the gray tangled web of daily living. There was the attempt at odd moments to make the bare little house less bare by bringing in out-ofdoors, taking a leaf from Nature's book and noting how she conceals ugliness wherever she finds it. Then there was the satisfaction of being mistress of the poor domain; of planning, governing, deciding; of bringing order out of chaos; of implanting gayety in the place of inert resignation to the inevitable. Another element of comfort was the children's love, for they turned to her as flowers to the sun, drawing confidently on her fund of stories, serene in the conviction that there was no limit to Rebecca's power of makebelieve. In this, and in yet greater things, little as she realized it, the law of compensation was working in her behalf, for in those anxious days mother and daughter found and knew each other as never before. A new sense was born in Rebecca as she hung over her mother's bed of pain and unrest,--a sense that comes only of ministering, a sense that grows only when the strong bend toward the weak. As for Aurelia, words could never have expressed her dumb happiness when the real revelation of motherhood was vouchsafed her. In all the earlier years when her babies were young, carking cares and anxieties darkened the fireside with their brooding wings. Then Rebecca had gone away, and in the long months of absence her mind and soul had grown out of her mother's knowledge, so that now, when Aurelia had time and strength to study her child, she was like some enchanting changeling. Aurelia and Hannah had gone on in the dull round and the common task, growing duller and duller; but now, on a certain stage of life's journey, who should appear but this bewildering being, who gave wings to thoughts that had only crept before; who brought color and grace and harmony into the dun brown texture of existence.
You might harness Rebecca to the heaviest plough, and while she had youth on her side, she would always remember the green earth under her feet and the blue sky over her head. Her physical eye saw the cake she was stirring and the loaf she was kneading; her physical ear heard the kitchen fire crackling and the teakettle singing, but ever and anon her fancy mounted on pinions, rested itself, renewed its strength in the upper air. The bare little farmhouse was a fixed fact, but she had many a palace into which she now and then withdrew; palaces peopled with stirring and gallant figures belonging to the world of romance; palaces not without their heavenly apparitions too, breathing celestial counsel. Every time she retired to her citadel of dreams she came forth radiant and refreshed, as one who has seen the evening star, or heard sweet music, or smelled the rose of joy.
Aurelia could have understood the feeling of a narrow-minded and conventional hen who has brought a strange, intrepid duckling into the world; but her situation was still more wonderful, for she could only compare her sensations to those of some quiet brown Dorking who has brooded an ordinary egg and hatched a bird of paradise. Such an idea had crossed her mind more than once during the past fortnight, and it flashed to and fro this mellow October morning when Rebecca came into the room with her arms full of goldenrod and flaming autumn leaves.
"Just a hint of the fall styles, mother," she said, slipping the stem of a gorgeous red and yellow sapling between the mattress and the foot of the bed. "This was leaning over the pool, and I was afraid it would be vain if I left it there too long looking at its beautiful reflection, so I took it away from danger; isn't it wonderful? How I wish I could carry one to poor aunt Miranda to-day! There's never a flower in the brick house when I'm away."
It was a marvelous morning. The sun had climbed into a world that held in remembrance only a succession of golden days and starlit nights. The air was fragrant with ripening fruit, and there was a mad little bird on a tree outside the door nearly bursting his throat with joy of living. He had forgotten that summer was over, that winter must ever come; and who could think of cold winds, bare boughs, or frozen streams on such a day? A painted moth came in at the open window and settled on the tuft of brilliant leaves. Aurelia heard the bird and looked from the beauty of the glowing bush to her tall, splendid daughter, standing like young Spring with golden Autumn in her arms.
Then suddenly she covered her eyes and cried, "I can't bear it! Here I lie chained to this bed, interfering with everything you want to do. It's all wasted! All my saving and doing without; all your hard study; all Mirandy's outlay; everything that we thought was going to be the making of you!"
"Mother, mother, don't talk so, don't think so!" exclaimed Rebecca, sitting down impetuously on the floor by the bed and dropping the goldenrod by her side. "Why, mother, I'm only a little past seventeen! This person in a purple calico apron with flour on her nose is only the beginnings of me! Do you remember the young tree that John transplanted? We had a dry summer and a cold winter and it didn't grow a bit, nor show anything of all we did for it; then there was a good year and it made up for lost time. This is just my little `rooting season,' mother, but don't go and believe my day is over, because it hasn't begun! The old maple by the well that's in its hundredth year had new leaves this summer, so there must be hope for me at seventeen!""You can put a brave face on it," sobbed Aurelia, "but you can't deceive me. You've lost your place; you'll never see your friends here, and you're nothing but a drudge!"
"I look like a drudge," said Rebecca mysteriously, with laughing eyes, "but I really am a princess; you mustn't tell, but this is only a disguise; I wear it for reasons of state. The king and queen who are at present occupying my throne are very old and tottering, and are going to abdicate shortly in my favor. It's rather a small kingdom, I suppose, as kingdoms go, so there isn't much struggle for it in royal circles, and you mustn't expect to see a golden throne set with jewels. It will probably be only of ivory with a nice screen of peacock feathers for a background; but you shall have a comfortable chair very near it, with quantities of slaves to do what they call in novels your `lightest bidding.'"Aurelia smiled in spite of herself, and though not perhaps wholly deceived, she was comforted.
"I only hope you won't have to wait too long for your thrones and your kingdoms, Rebecca," she said, "and that I shall have a sight of them before I die; but life looks very hard and rough to me, what with your aunt Miranda a cripple at the brick house, me another here at the farm, you tied hand and foot, first with one and then with the other, to say nothing of Jenny and Fanny and Mark! You've got something of your father's happy disposition, or it would weigh on you as it does on me."
"Why, mother!" cried Rebecca, clasping her knees with her hands; "why, mother, it's enough joy just to be here in the world on a day like this; to have the chance of seeing, feeling, doing, becoming! When you were seventeen, mother, wasn't it good just to be alive? You haven't forgotten?""No," said Aurelia, "but I wasn't so much alive as you are, never in the world."
"I often think," Rebecca continued, walking to the window and looking out at the trees,-"I often think how dreadful it would be if I were not here at all. If Hannah had come, and then, instead of me, John; John and Jenny and Fanny and the others, but no Rebecca; never any Rebecca! To be alive makes up for everything; there ought to be fears in my heart, but there aren't; something stronger sweeps them out, something like a wind. Oh, see! There is Will driving up the lane, mother, and he ought to have a letter from the brick house."
Good-By, SunnybrookWill Melville drove up to the window and, tossing a letter into Rebecca's lap, went off to the barn on an errand. "Sister 's no worse, then," sighed Aurelia gratefully, "or Jane would have telegraphed. See what she says." Rebecca opened the envelope and read in one flash of an eye the whole brief page:--
Your aunt Miranda passed away an hour ago. Come at once, if your mother is out of danger. I shall not have the funeral till you are here. She died very suddenly and without any pain. Oh, Rebecca! I long for you so!Aunt Jane.
The force of habit was too strong, and even in the hour of death Jane had remembered that a telegram was twenty-five cents, and that Aurelia would have to pay half a dollar for its delivery.
Rebecca burst into a passion of tears as she cried, "Poor, poor aunt Miranda! She is gone without taking a bit of comfort in life, and I couldn't say good-by to her! Poor lonely aunt Jane! What can I do, mother? I feel torn in two, between you and the brick house."
"You must go this very instant," said Aurelia; starting from her pillows. "If I was to die while you were away, I would say the very same thing. Your aunts have done everything in the world for you,--more than I've ever been able to do,--and it is your turn to pay back some o' their kindness and show your gratitude. The doctor says I've turned the corner and I feel I have. Jenny can make out somehow, if Hannah'll come over once a day.""But, mother, I CAN'T go! Who'll turn you in bed?" exclaimed Rebecca, walking the floor and wringing her hands distractedly.
"It don't make any difference if I don't get turned," replied Aurelia stoically. "If a woman of my age and the mother of a family hasn't got sense enough not to slip off haymows, she'd ought to suffer. Go put on your black dress and pack your bag. I'd give a good deal if I was able to go to my sister's funeral and prove that I've forgotten and forgiven all she said when I was married. Her acts were softer 'n her words, Mirandy's were, and she's made up to you for all she ever sinned against me 'n' your father! And oh, Rebecca," she continued with quivering voice, "I remember so well when we were little girls together and she took such pride in curling my hair; and another time, when we were grown up, she lent me her best blue muslin: it was when your father had asked me to lead the grand march with him at the Christmas dance, and I found out afterwards she thought he'd intended to ask her!"
Here Aurelia broke down and wept bitterly; for the recollection of the past had softened her heart and brought the comforting tears even more effectually than the news of her sister's death.
There was only an hour for preparation. Will would drive Rebecca to Temperance and send Jenny back from school. He volunteered also to engage a woman to sleep at the farm in case Mrs. Randall should be worse at any time in the night.
Rebecca flew down over the hill to get a last pail of spring water, and as she lifted the bucket from the crystal depths and looked out over the glowing beauty of the autumn landscape, she saw a company of surveyors with their instruments making calculations and laying lines that apparently crossed Sunnybrook at the favorite spot where Mirror Pool lay clear and placid, the yellow leaves on its surface no yellower than its sparkling sands.
She caught her breath. "The time has come!" she thought. "I am saying good-by to Sunnybrook, and the golden gates that almost swung together that last day in Wareham will close forever now. Good-by, dear brook and hills and meadows; you are going to see life too, so we must be hopeful and say to one another:--"`Grow old along with me, The best is yet to be.'"
Will Melville had seen the surveyors too, and had heard in the Temperance post-office that morning the probable sum that Mrs. Randall would receive from the railway company. He was in good spirits at his own improved prospects, for his farm was so placed that its value could be only increased by the new road; he was also relieved in mind that his wife's family would no longer be in dire poverty directly at his doorstep, so to speak. John could now be hurried forward and forced into the position of head of the family several years sooner than had been anticipated, so Hannah's husband was obliged to exercise great self-control or he would have whistled while he was driving Rebecca to the Temperance station. He could not understand her sad face or the tears that rolled silently down her cheeks from time to time; for Hannah had always represented her aunt Miranda as an irascible, parsimonious old woman, who would be no loss to the world whenever she should elect to disappear from it.
"Cheer up, Becky!" he said, as he left her at the depot. "You'll find your mother sitting up when you come back, and the next thing you know the whole family'll be moving to some nice little house wherever your work is. Things will never be so bad again as they have been this last year; that's what Hannah and I think;" and he drove away to tell his wife the news.
Adam Ladd was in the station and came up to Rebecca instantly, as she entered the door looking very unlike her bright self.
"The Princess is sad this morning," he said, taking her hand. "Aladdin must rub the magic lamp; then the slave will appear, and these tears be dried in a trice."
He spoke lightly, for he thought her trouble was something connected with affairs at Sunnybrook, and that he could soon bring the smiles by telling her that the farm was sold and that her mother was to receive a handsome price in return. He meant to remind her, too, that though she must leave the home of her youth, it was too remote a place to be a proper dwelling either for herself or for her lonely mother and the three younger children. He could hear her say as plainly as if it were yesterday, "I don't think one ever forgets the spot where one lived as a child." He could see the quaint little figure sitting on the piazza at North Riverboro and watch it disappear in the lilac bushes when he gave the memorable order for three hundred cakes of Rose-Red and Snow-White soap.
A word or two soon told him that her grief was of another sort, and her mood was so absent, so sensitive and tearful, that he could only assure her of his sympathy and beg that he might come soon to the brick house to see with his own eyes how she was faring.
Adam thought, when he had put her on the train and taken his leave, that Rebecca was, in her sad dignity and gravity, more beautiful than he had ever seen her,--all-beautiful and all-womanly. But in that moment's speech with her he had looked into her eyes and they were still those of a child; there was no knowledge of the world in their shining depths, no experience of men or women, no passion, nor comprehension of it. He turned from the little country station to walk in the woods by the wayside until his own train should be leaving, and from time to time he threw himself under a tree to think and dream and look at the glory of the foliage. He had brought a new copy of The Arabian Nights for Rebecca, wishing to replace the well-worn old one that had been the delight of her girlhood; but meeting her at such an inauspicious time, he had absently carried it away with him. He turned the pages idly until he came to the story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, and presently, in spite of his thirty-four years, the old tale held him spellbound as it did in the days when he first read it as a boy. But there were certain paragraphs that especially caught his eye and arrested his attention,-- paragraphs that he read and reread, finding in them he knew not what secret delight and significance. These were the quaintly turned phrases describing the effect on the once poor Aladdin of his wonderful riches, and those descanting upon the beauty and charm of the Sultan's daughter, the Princess Badroulboudour:--
Not only those who knew Aladdin when he played in the streets like a vagabond did not know him again; those who had seen him but a little while before hardly knew him, so much were his features altered; such were the effects of the lamp, as to procure by degrees to those who possessed it, perfections agreeable to the rank the right use of it advanced them to.
The Princess was the most beautiful brunette in the world; her eyes were large, lively, and sparkling; her looks sweet and modest; her nose was of a just proportion and without a fault; her mouth small, her lips of a vermilion red, and charmingly agreeable symmetry; in a word, all the features of her face were perfectly regular. It is not therefore surprising that Aladdin, who had never seen, and was a stranger to, so many charms, was dazzled. With all these perfections the Princess had so delicate a shape, so majestic an air, that the sight of her was sufficient to inspire respect.
"Adorable Princess," said Aladdin to her, accosting her, and saluting her respectfully, "if I have the misfortune to have displeased you by my boldness in aspiring to the possession of so lovely a creature, I must tell you that you ought to blame your bright eyes and charms, not me.""Prince," answered the Princess, "it is enough for me to have seen you, to tell you that I obey without reluctance."
Aunt Miranda's Apology
When Rebecca alighted from the train at Maplewood and hurried to the post- office where the stage was standing, what was her joy to see uncle Jerry Cobb holding the horses' heads.
"The reg'lar driver 's sick," he explained, "and when they sent for me, thinks I to myself, my drivin' days is over, but Rebecky won't let the grass grow under her feet when she gits her aunt Jane's letter, and like as not I'll ketch her to-day; or, if she gits delayed, tomorrow for certain. So here I be jest as I was more 'n six year ago. Will you be a real lady passenger, or will ye sit up in front with me?"
Emotions of various sorts were all struggling together in the old man's face, and the two or three bystanders were astounded when they saw the handsome, stately girl fling herself on Mr. Cobb's dusty shoulder crying like a child. "Oh, uncle Jerry!" she sobbed; "dear uncle Jerry! It's all so long ago, and so much has happened, and we've grown so old, and so much is going to happen that I'm fairly frightened."
"There, there, lovey," the old man whispered comfortingly, "we'll be all alone on the stage, and we'll talk things over 's we go along the road an' mebbe they won't look so bad."
Every mile of the way was as familiar to Rebecca as to uncle Jerry; every wateringtrough, grindstone, red barn, weather-vane, duck-pond, and sandy brook. And all the time she was looking backward to the day, seemingly so long ago, when she sat on the box seat for the first time, her legs dangling in the air, too short to reach the footboard. She could smell the big bouquet of lilacs, see the pink-flounced parasol, feel the stiffness of the starched buff calico and the hated prick of the black and yellow porcupine quills. The drive was taken almost in silence, but it was a sweet, comforting silence both to uncle Jerry and the girl.
Then came the sight of Abijah Flagg shelling beans in the barn, and then the Perkins attic windows with a white cloth fluttering from them. She could spell Emma Jane's loving thought and welcome in that little waving flag; a word and a message sent to her just at the first moment when Riverboro chimneys rose into view; something to warm her heart till they could meet.
The brick house came next, looking just as of yore; though it seemed to Rebecca as if death should have cast some mysterious spell over it. There were the rolling meadows, the stately elms, all yellow and brown now; the glowing maples, the garden-beds bright with asters, and the hollyhocks, rising tall against the parlor windows; only in place of the cheerful pinks and reds of the nodding stalks, with their gay rosettes of bloom, was a crape scarf holding the blinds together, and another on the sitting-room side, and another on the brass knocker of the brown-painted door.
"Stop, uncle Jerry! Don't turn in at the side; hand me my satchel, please; drop me in the road and let me run up the path by myself. Then drive away quickly."
At the noise and rumble of the approaching stage the house door opened from within, just as Rebecca closed the gate behind her. Aunt Jane came down the stone steps, a changed woman, frail and broken and white. Rebecca held out her arms and the old aunt crept into them feebly, as she did on that day when she opened the grave of her buried love and showed the dead face, just for an instant, to a child. Warmth and strength and life flowed into the aged frame from the young one."Rebecca," she said, raising her head, "before you go in to look at her, do you feel any bitterness over anything she ever said to you?" Rebecca's eyes blazed reproach, almost anger, as she said chokingly: "Oh, aunt Jane! Could you believe it of me? I am going in with a heart brimful of gratitude!"
"She was a good woman, Rebecca; she had a quick temper and a sharp tongue, but she wanted to do right, and she did it as near as she could. She never said so, but I'm sure she was sorry for every hard word she spoke to you; she didn't take 'em back in life, but she acted so 't you'd know her feeling when she was gone.""I told her before I left that she'd been the making of me, just as mother says," sobbed Rebecca
"She wasn't that," said Jane. "God made you in the first place, and you've done considerable yourself to help Him along; but she gave you the wherewithal to work with, and that ain't to be despised; specially when anybody gives up her own luxuries and pleasures to do it. Now let me tell you something, Rebecca. Your aunt Mirandy 's willed all this to you,--the brick house and buildings and furniture, and the land all round the house, as far 's you can see."
Rebecca threw off her hat and put her hand to her heart, as she always did in moments of intense excitement. After a moment's silence she said: "Let me go in alone; I want to talk to her; I want to thank her; I feel as if I could make her hear and feel and understand!"
Jane went back into the kitchen to the inexorable tasks that death has no power, even for a day, to blot from existence. He can stalk through dwelling after dwelling, leaving despair and desolation behind him, but the table must be laid, the dishes washed, the beds made, by somebody.
Ten minutes later Rebecca came out from the Great Presence looking white and spent, but chastened and glorified. She sat in the quiet doorway, shaded from the little Riverboro world by the overhanging elms. A wide sense of thankfulness and peace possessed her, as she looked at the autumn landscape, listened to the rumble of a wagon on the bridge, and heard the call of the river as it dashed to the sea. She put up her hand softly and touched first the shining brass knocker and then the red bricks, glowing in the October sun.
It was home; her roof, her garden, her green acres, her dear trees; it was shelter for the little family at Sunnybrook; her mother would have once more the companionship of her sister and the friends of her girlhood; the children would have teachers and playmates.
And she? Her own future was close-folded still; folded and hidden in beautiful mists; but she leaned her head against the sun-warmed door, and closing her eyes, whispered, just as if she had been a child saying her prayers: "God bless aunt Miranda; God bless the brick house that was; God bless the brick house that is to be!"