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Title: New Chronicles of Rebecca
Author: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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NEW CHRONICLES OF REBECCA

By Kate Douglas Wiggin



CONTENTS

     First Chronicle
     Jack O’Lantern

     Second Chronicle
     Daughters of Zion

     Third Chronicle
     Rebecca’s Thought Book

     Fourth Chronicle
     A Tragedy in Millinery

     Fifth Chronicle
     The Saving of the Colors

     Sixth Chronicle
     The State of Maine Girl

     Seventh Chronicle
     The Little Prophet

     Eighth Chronicle
     Abner Simpson’s New Leaf

     Ninth Chronicle
     The Green Isle

     Tenth Chronicle
     Rebecca’s Reminiscences

     Eleventh Chronicle
     Abijah the Brave and the Fair Emma Jane



First Chronicle. JACK O’LANTERN


I

Miss Miranda Sawyer’s old-fashioned garden was the pleasantest spot in
Riverboro on a sunny July morning. The rich color of the brick house
gleamed and glowed through the shade of the elms and maples. Luxuriant
hop-vines clambered up the lightning rods and water spouts, hanging
their delicate clusters here and there in graceful profusion. Woodbine
transformed the old shed and tool house to things of beauty, and the
flower beds themselves were the prettiest and most fragrant in all
the countryside. A row of dahlias ran directly around the garden
spot,--dahlias scarlet, gold, and variegated. In the very centre was a
round plot where the upturned faces of a thousand pansies smiled amid
their leaves, and in the four corners were triangular blocks of sweet
phlox over which the butterflies fluttered unceasingly. In the spaces
between ran a riot of portulaca and nasturtiums, while in the more
regular, shell-bordered beds grew spirea and gillyflowers, mignonette,
marigolds, and clove pinks.

Back of the barn and encroaching on the edge of the hay field was a
grove of sweet clover whose white feathery tips fairly bent under the
assaults of the bees, while banks of aromatic mint and thyme drank
in the sunshine and sent it out again into the summer air, warm, and
deliciously odorous.

The hollyhocks were Miss Sawyer’s pride, and they grew in a stately line
beneath the four kitchen windows, their tapering tips set thickly with
gay satin circlets of pink or lavender or crimson.

“They grow something like steeples,” thought little Rebecca Randall, who
was weeding the bed, “and the flat, round flowers are like rosettes; but
steeples wouldn’t be studded with rosettes, so if you were writing about
them in a composition you’d have to give up one or the other, and I
think I’ll give up the steeples:--

     Gay little hollyhock
     Lifting your head,
     Sweetly rosetted
     Out from your bed.

It’s a pity the hollyhock isn’t really little, instead of steepling up
to the window top, but I can’t say, ‘Gay TALL hollyhock.’... I might
have it ‘Lines to a Hollyhock in May,’ for then it would be small; but
oh, no! I forgot; in May it wouldn’t be blooming, and it’s so pretty
to say that its head is ‘sweetly rosetted’... I wish the teacher wasn’t
away; she would like ‘sweetly rosetted,’ and she would like to hear me
recite ‘Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!’ that I learned
out of Aunt Jane’s Byron; the rolls come booming out of it just like the
waves at the beach.... I could make nice compositions now, everything
is blooming so, and it’s so warm and sunny and happy outdoors. Miss
Dearborn told me to write something in my thought book every single day,
and I’ll begin this very night when I go to bed.”

Rebecca Rowena Randall, the little niece of the brick-house ladies, and
at present sojourning there for purposes of board, lodging, education,
and incidentally such discipline and chastening as might ultimately
produce moral excellence,--Rebecca Randall had a passion for the rhyme
and rhythm of poetry. From her earliest childhood words had always been
to her what dolls and toys are to other children, and now at twelve she
amused herself with phrases and sentences and images as her schoolmates
played with the pieces of their dissected puzzles. If the heroine of
a story took a “cursory glance” about her “apartment,” Rebecca would
shortly ask her Aunt Jane to take a “cursory glance” at her oversewing
or hemming; if the villain “aided and abetted” someone in committing
a crime, she would before long request the pleasure of “aiding and
abetting” in dishwashing or bedmaking. Sometimes she used the borrowed
phrases unconsciously; sometimes she brought them into the conversation
with an intense sense of pleasure in their harmony or appropriateness;
for a beautiful word or sentence had the same effect upon her
imagination as a fragrant nosegay, a strain of music, or a brilliant
sunset.

“How are you gettin’ on, Rebecca Rowena?” called a peremptory voice from
within.

“Pretty good, Aunt Miranda; only I wish flowers would ever come up as
thick as this pigweed and plantain and sorrel. What MAKES weeds be thick
and flowers be thin?--I just happened to be stopping to think a minute
when you looked out.”

“You think considerable more than you weed, I guess, by appearances. How
many times have you peeked into that humming bird’s nest? Why don’t you
work all to once and play all to once, like other folks?”

“I don’t know,” the child answered, confounded by the question, and
still more by the apparent logic back of it. “I don’t know, Aunt
Miranda, but when I’m working outdoors such a Saturday morning as this,
the whole creation just screams to me to stop it and come and play.”

“Well, you needn’t go if it does!” responded her aunt sharply. “It don’t
scream to me when I’m rollin’ out these doughnuts, and it wouldn’t to
you if your mind was on your duty.”

Rebecca’s little brown hands flew in and out among the weeds as she
thought rebelliously: “Creation WOULDN’T scream to Aunt Miranda; it
would know she wouldn’t come.”

     Scream on, thou bright and gay creation, scream!
     ‘Tis not Miranda that will hear thy cry!

Oh, such funny, nice things come into my head out here by myself, I do
wish I could run up and put them down in my thought book before I forget
them, but Aunt Miranda wouldn’t like me to leave off weeding:--

     Rebecca was weeding the hollyhock bed
     When wonderful thoughts came into her head.
     Her aunt was occupied with the rolling pin
     And the thoughts of her mind were common and thin.

That wouldn’t do because it’s mean to Aunt Miranda, and anyway it isn’t
good. I MUST crawl under the syringa shade a minute, it’s so hot, and
anybody has to stop working once in a while, just to get their breath,
even if they weren’t making poetry.

Rebecca was weeding the hollyhock bed When marvelous thoughts came into
her head. Miranda was wielding the rolling pin And thoughts at such
times seemed to her as a sin.

How pretty the hollyhock rosettes look from down here on the sweet,
smelly ground!

“Let me see what would go with rosetting. AIDING AND ABETTING, PETTING,
HEN-SETTING, FRETTING,--there’s nothing very nice, but I can make
fretting’ do.

     Cheered by Rowena’s petting,
     The flowers are rosetting,
     But Aunt Miranda’s fretting
     Doth somewhat cloud the day.”

Suddenly the sound of wagon wheels broke the silence and then a voice
called out--a voice that could not wait until the feet that belonged to
it reached the spot: “Miss Saw-YER! Father’s got to drive over to North
Riverboro on an errand, and please can Rebecca go, too, as it’s Saturday
morning and vacation besides?”

Rebecca sprang out from under the syringa bush, eyes flashing with
delight as only Rebecca’s eyes COULD flash, her face one luminous circle
of joyous anticipation. She clapped her grubby hands, and dancing up
and down, cried: “May I, Aunt Miranda--can I, Aunt Jane--can I, Aunt
Miranda-Jane? I’m more than half through the bed.”

“If you finish your weeding tonight before sundown I s’pose you can go,
so long as Mr. Perkins has been good enough to ask you,” responded Miss
Sawyer reluctantly. “Take off that gingham apron and wash your hands
clean at the pump. You ain’t be’n out o’ bed but two hours an’ your head
looks as rough as if you’d slep’ in it. That comes from layin’ on the
ground same as a caterpillar. Smooth your hair down with your hands an’
p’r’aps Emma Jane can braid it as you go along the road. Run up and get
your second-best hair ribbon out o’ your upper drawer and put on
your shade hat. No, you can’t wear your coral chain--jewelry ain’t
appropriate in the morning. How long do you cal’late to be gone, Emma
Jane?”

“I don’t know. Father’s just been sent for to see about a sick woman
over to North Riverboro. She’s got to go to the poor farm.”

This fragment of news speedily brought Miss Sawyer, and her sister Jane
as well, to the door, which commanded a view of Mr. Perkins and his
wagon. Mr. Perkins, the father of Rebecca’s bosom friend, was primarily
a blacksmith, and secondarily a selectman and an overseer of the poor, a
man therefore possessed of wide and varied information.

“Who is it that’s sick?” inquired Miranda.

“A woman over to North Riverboro.”

“What’s the trouble?”

“Can’t say.”

“Stranger?’

“Yes, and no; she’s that wild daughter of old Nate Perry that used to
live up towards Moderation. You remember she ran away to work in the
factory at Milltown and married a do--nothin’ fellow by the name o’ John
Winslow?”

“Yes; well, where is he? Why don’t he take care of her?”

“They ain’t worked well in double harness. They’ve been rovin’ round the
country, livin’ a month here and a month there wherever they could get
work and house-room. They quarreled a couple o’ weeks ago and he left
her. She and the little boy kind o’ camped out in an old loggin’ cabin
back in the woods and she took in washin’ for a spell; then she got
terrible sick and ain’t expected to live.”

“Who’s been nursing her?” inquired Miss Jane.

“Lizy Ann Dennett, that lives nearest neighbor to the cabin; but I
guess she’s tired out bein’ good Samaritan. Anyways, she sent word this
mornin’ that nobody can’t seem to find John Winslow; that there ain’t
no relations, and the town’s got to be responsible, so I’m goin’ over to
see how the land lays. Climb in, Rebecca. You an’ Emmy Jane crowd back
on the cushion an’ I’ll set forrard. That’s the trick! Now we’re off!”

“Dear, dear!” sighed Jane Sawyer as the sisters walked back into the
brick house. “I remember once seeing Sally Perry at meeting. She was a
handsome girl, and I’m sorry she’s come to grief.”

“If she’d kep’ on goin’ to meetin’ an’ hadn’t looked at the men folks
she might a’ be’n earnin’ an honest livin’ this minute,” said Miranda.
“Men folks are at the bottom of everything wrong in this world,” she
continued, unconsciously reversing the verdict of history.

“Then we ought to be a happy and contented community here in Riverboro,”
 replied Jane, “as there’s six women to one man.”

“If ‘t was sixteen to one we’d be all the safer,” responded Miranda
grimly, putting the doughnuts in a brown crock in the cellar-way and
slamming the door.


II

The Perkins horse and wagon rumbled along over the dusty country road,
and after a discreet silence, maintained as long as human flesh could
endure, Rebecca remarked sedately:

“It’s a sad errand for such a shiny morning, isn’t it, Mr. Perkins?”

“Plenty o’ trouble in the world, Rebecky, shiny mornin’s an’ all,” that
good man replied. “If you want a bed to lay on, a roof over your head,
an’ food to eat, you’ve got to work for em. If I hadn’t a’ labored early
an’ late, learned my trade, an’ denied myself when I was young, I might
a’ be’n a pauper layin’ sick in a loggin’ cabin, stead o’ bein’ an
overseer o’ the poor an’ selectman drivin’ along to take the pauper to
the poor farm.”

“People that are mortgaged don’t have to go to the poor farm, do they,
Mr. Perkins?” asked Rebecca, with a shiver of fear as she remembered her
home farm at Sunnybrook and the debt upon it; a debt which had lain like
a shadow over her childhood.

“Bless your soul, no; not unless they fail to pay up; but Sal Perry an’
her husband hadn’t got fur enough along in life to BE mortgaged. You
have to own something before you can mortgage it.”

Rebecca’s heart bounded as she learned that a mortgage represented a
certain stage in worldly prosperity.

“Well,” she said, sniffing in the fragrance of the new-mown hay and
growing hopeful as she did so; “maybe the sick woman will be better such
a beautiful day, and maybe the husband will come back to make it up and
say he’s sorry, and sweet content will reign in the humble habitation
that was once the scene of poverty, grief, and despair. That’s how it
came out in a story I’m reading.”

“I hain’t noticed that life comes out like stories very much,” responded
the pessimistic blacksmith, who, as Rebecca privately thought, had read
less than half a dozen books in his long and prosperous career.

A drive of three or four miles brought the party to a patch of woodland
where many of the tall pines had been hewn the previous winter. The roof
of a ramshackle hut was outlined against a background of young birches,
and a rough path made in hauling the logs to the main road led directly
to its door.

As they drew near the figure of a woman approached--Mrs. Lizy Ann
Dennett, in a gingham dress, with a calico apron over her head.

“Good morning, Mr. Perkins,” said the woman, who looked tired and
irritable. “I’m real glad you come right over, for she took worse after
I sent you word, and she’s dead.”

Dead! The word struck heavily and mysteriously on the children’s ears.
Dead! And their young lives, just begun, stretched on and on, all
decked, like hope, in living green. Dead! And all the rest of the world
reveling in strength. Dead! With all the daisies and buttercups waving
in the fields and the men heaping the mown grass into fragrant cocks
or tossing it into heavily laden carts. Dead! With the brooks tinkling
after the summer showers, with the potatoes and corn blossoming, the
birds singing for joy, and every little insect humming and chirping,
adding its note to the blithe chorus of warm, throbbing life.

“I was all alone with her. She passed away suddenly jest about break o’
day,” said Lizy Ann Dennett.

“Her soul passed upward to its God Just at the break of day.”

These words came suddenly into Rebecca’s mind from a tiny chamber where
such things were wont to lie quietly until something brought them to the
surface. She could not remember whether she had heard them at a funeral
or read them in the hymn book or made them up “out of her own head,” but
she was so thrilled with the idea of dying just as the dawn was breaking
that she scarcely heard Mrs. Dennett’s conversation.

“I sent for Aunt Beulah Day, an’ she’s be’n here an’ laid her out,”
 continued the long suffering Lizy Ann. “She ain’t got any folks, an’
John Winslow ain’t never had any as far back as I can remember. She
belongs to your town and you’ll have to bury her and take care of
Jacky--that’s the boy. He’s seventeen months old, a bright little
feller, the image o’ John, but I can’t keep him another day. I’m all
wore out; my own baby’s sick, mother’s rheumatiz is extry bad, and my
husband’s comin’ home tonight from his week’s work. If he finds a child
o’ John Winslow’s under his roof I can’t say what would happen; you’ll
have to take him back with you to the poor farm.”

“I can’t take him up there this afternoon,” objected Mr. Perkins.

“Well, then, keep him over Sunday yourself; he’s good as a kitten. John
Winslow’ll hear o’ Sal’s death sooner or later, unless he’s gone out of
the state altogether, an’ when he knows the boy’s at the poor farm, I
kind o’ think he’ll come and claim him. Could you drive me over to the
village to see about the coffin, and would you children be afraid to
stay here alone for a spell?” she asked, turning to the girls.

“Afraid?” they both echoed uncomprehendingly.

Lizy Ann and Mr. Perkins, perceiving that the fear of a dead presence
had not entered the minds of Rebecca or Emma Jane, said nothing, but
drove off together, counseling them not to stray far away from the cabin
and promising to be back in an hour.

There was not a house within sight, either looking up or down the shady
road, and the two girls stood hand in hand, watching the wagon out of
sight; then they sat down quietly under a tree, feeling all at once a
nameless depression hanging over their gay summer-morning spirits.

It was very still in the woods; just the chirp of a grasshopper now
and then, or the note of a bird, or the click of a far-distant mowing
machine.

“We’re WATCHING!” whispered Emma Jane. “They watched with Gran’pa
Perkins, and there was a great funeral and two ministers. He left two
thousand dollars in the bank and a store full of goods, and a paper
thing you could cut tickets off of twice a year, and they were just like
money.”

“They watched with my little sister Mira, too,” said Rebecca. “You
remember when she died, and I went home to Sunnybrook Farm? It was
winter time, but she was covered with evergreen and white pinks, and
there was singing.”

“There won’t be any funeral or ministers or singing here, will there?
Isn’t that awful?”

“I s’pose not; and oh, Emma Jane, no flowers either. We might get those
for her if there’s nobody else to do it.”

“Would you dare put them on to her?” asked Emma Jane, in a hushed voice.

“I don’t know; I can’t tell; it makes me shiver, but, of course, we
COULD do it if we were the only friends she had. Let’s look into
the cabin first and be perfectly sure that there aren’t any. Are you
afraid?”

“N-no; I guess not. I looked at Gran’pa Perkins, and he was just the
same as ever.”

At the door of the hut Emma Jane’s courage suddenly departed. She
held back shuddering and refused either to enter or look in. Rebecca
shuddered too, but kept on, drawn by an insatiable curiosity about life
and death, an overmastering desire to know and feel and understand the
mysteries of existence, a hunger for knowledge and experience at all
hazards and at any cost.

Emma Jane hurried softly away from the felt terrors of the cabin, and
after two or three minutes of utter silence Rebecca issued from the
open door, her sensitive face pale and woe-begone, the ever-ready tears
raining down her cheeks. She ran toward the edge of the wood, sinking
down by Emma Jane’s side, and covering her eyes, sobbed with excitement:

“Oh, Emma Jane, she hasn’t got a flower, and she’s so tired and
sad-looking, as if she’d been hurt and hurt and never had any good
times, and there’s a weeny, weeny baby side of her. Oh, I wish I hadn’t
gone in!”

Emma Jane blenched for an instant. “Mrs. Dennett never said THERE WAS
TWO DEAD ONES! ISN’T THAT DREADFUL? But,” she continued, her practical
common sense coming to the rescue, “you’ve been in once and it’s all
over; it won’t be so bad when you take in the flowers because you’ll
be used to it. The goldenrod hasn’t begun to bud, so there’s nothing
to pick but daisies. Shall I make a long rope of them, as I did for the
schoolroom?”

“Yes,” said Rebecca, wiping her eyes and still sobbing. “Yes, that’s the
prettiest, and if we put it all round her like a frame, the undertaker
couldn’t be so cruel as to throw it away, even if she is a pauper,
because it will look so beautiful. From what the Sunday school lessons
say, she’s only asleep now, and when she wakes up she’ll be in heaven.”

“THERE’S ANOTHER PLACE,” said Emma Jane, in an orthodox and sepulchral
whisper, as she took her ever-present ball of crochet cotton from her
pocket and began to twine the whiteweed blossoms into a rope.

“Oh, well!” Rebecca replied with the easy theology that belonged to her
temperament. “They simply couldn’t send her DOWN THERE with that little
weeny baby. Who’d take care of it? You know page six of the catechism
says the only companions of the wicked after death are their father the
devil and all the other evil angels; it wouldn’t be any place to bring
up a baby.”

“Whenever and wherever she wakes up, I hope she won’t know that the big
baby is going to the poor farm. I wonder where he is?”

“Perhaps over to Mrs. Dennett’s house. She didn’t seem sorry a bit, did
she?”

“No, but I suppose she’s tired sitting up and nursing a stranger. Mother
wasn’t sorry when Gran’pa Perkins died; she couldn’t be, for he was
cross all the time and had to be fed like a child. Why ARE you crying
again, Rebecca?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I can’t tell, Emma Jane! Only I don’t want to die and
have no funeral or singing and nobody sorry for me! I just couldn’t bear
it!”

“Neither could I,” Emma Jane responded sympathetically; “but p’r’aps
if we’re real good and die young before we have to be fed, they will
be sorry. I do wish you could write some poetry for her as you did for
Alice Robinson’s canary bird, only still better, of course, like that
you read me out of your thought book.”

“I could, easy enough,” exclaimed Rebecca, somewhat consoled by the
idea that her rhyming faculty could be of any use in such an emergency.
“Though I don’t know but it would be kind of bold to do it. I’m all
puzzled about how people get to heaven after they’re buried. I can’t
understand it a bit; but if the poetry is on her, what if that should
go, too? And how could I write anything good enough to be read out loud
in heaven?”

“A little piece of paper couldn’t get to heaven; it just couldn’t,”
 asserted Emma Jane decisively. “It would be all blown to pieces and
dried up. And nobody knows that the angels can read writing, anyway.”

“They must be as educated as we are, and more so, too,” agreed Rebecca.
“They must be more than just dead people, or else why should they have
wings? But I’ll go off and write something while you finish the rope;
it’s lucky you brought your crochet cotton and I my lead pencil.”

In fifteen or twenty minutes she returned with some lines written on a
scrap of brown wrapping paper. Standing soberly by Emma Jane, she said,
preparing to read them aloud: “They’re not good; I was afraid your
father’d come back before I finished, and the first verse sounds exactly
like the funeral hymns in the church book. I couldn’t call her Sally
Winslow; it didn’t seem nice when I didn’t know her and she is dead, so
I thought if I said friend’ it would show she had somebody to be sorry.

     “This friend of ours has died and gone
     From us to heaven to live.
     If she has sinned against Thee, Lord,
     We pray Thee, Lord, forgive.

     “Her husband runneth far away
     And knoweth not she’s dead.
     Oh, bring him back--ere tis too late--
     To mourn beside her bed.

     “And if perchance it can’t be so,
     Be to the children kind;
     The weeny one that goes with her,
     The other left behind.”

“I think that’s perfectly elegant!” exclaimed Emma Jane, kissing Rebecca
fervently. “You are the smartest girl in the whole State of Maine, and
it sounds like a minister’s prayer. I wish we could save up and buy a
printing machine. Then I could learn to print what you write and we’d
be partners like father and Bill Moses. Shall you sign it with your name
like we do our school compositions?”

“No,” said Rebecca soberly. “I certainly shan’t sign it, not knowing
where it’s going or who’ll read it. I shall just hide it in the flowers,
and whoever finds it will guess that there wasn’t any minister or
singing, or gravestone, or anything, so somebody just did the best they
could.”


III

The tired mother with the “weeny baby” on her arm lay on a long
carpenter’s bench, her earthly journey over, and when Rebecca stole
in and placed the flowery garland all along the edge of the rude bier,
death suddenly took on a more gracious and benign aspect. It was only
a child’s sympathy and intuition that softened the rigors of the sad
moment, but poor, wild Sal Winslow, in her frame of daisies, looked
as if she were missed a little by an unfriendly world; while the weeny
baby, whose heart had fallen asleep almost as soon as it had learned to
beat, the weeny baby, with Emma Jane’s nosegay of buttercups in its tiny
wrinkled hand, smiled as if it might have been loved and longed for and
mourned.

“We’ve done all we can now without a minister,” whispered Rebecca. “We
could sing, God is ever good’ out of the Sunday school song book, but
I’m afraid somebody would hear us and think we were gay and happy.
What’s that?”

A strange sound broke the stillness; a gurgle, a yawn, a merry little
call. The two girls ran in the direction from which it came, and there,
on an old coat, in a clump of goldenrod bushes, lay a child just waking
from a refreshing nap.

“It’s the other baby that Lizy Ann Dennett told about!” cried Emma Jane.

“Isn’t he beautiful!” exclaimed Rebecca. “Come straight to me!” and she
stretched out her arms.

The child struggled to its feet, and tottered, wavering, toward the warm
welcome of the voice and eyes. Rebecca was all mother, and her maternal
instincts had been well developed in the large family in which she was
next to the eldest. She had always confessed that there were perhaps a
trifle too many babies at Sunnybrook Farm, but, nevertheless, had she
ever heard it, she would have stood loyally by the Japanese proverb:
“Whether brought forth upon the mountain or in the field, it matters
nothing; more than a treasure of one thousand ryo a baby precious is.”

“You darling thing!” she crooned, as she caught and lifted the child.
“You look just like a Jack-o’-lantern.”

The boy was clad in a yellow cotton dress, very full and stiff. His hair
was of such a bright gold, and so sleek and shiny, that he looked like
a fair, smooth little pumpkin. He had wide blue eyes full of laughter,
a neat little vertical nose, a neat little horizontal mouth with his
few neat little teeth showing very plainly, and on the whole Rebecca’s
figure of speech was not so wide of the mark.

“Oh, Emma Jane! Isn’t he too lovely to go to the poor farm? If only we
were married we could keep him and say nothing and nobody would know the
difference! Now that the Simpsons have gone away there isn’t a single
baby in Riverboro, and only one in Edgewood. It’s a perfect shame, but
I can’t do anything; you remember Aunt Miranda wouldn’t let me have the
Simpson baby when I wanted to borrow her just for one rainy Sunday.”

“My mother won’t keep him, so it’s no use to ask her; she says most
every day she’s glad we’re grown up, and she thanks the Lord there
wasn’t but two of us.”

“And Mrs. Peter Meserve is too nervous,” Rebecca went on, taking the
village houses in turn; “and Mrs. Robinson is too neat.”

“People don’t seem to like any but their own babies,” observed Emma
Jane.

“Well, I can’t understand it,” Rebecca answered. “A baby’s a baby, I
should think, whose ever it is! Miss Dearborn is coming back Monday;
I wonder if she’d like it? She has nothing to do out of school, and we
could borrow it all the time!”

“I don’t think it would seem very genteel for a young lady like Miss
Dearborn, who ‘boards round,’ to take a baby from place to place,”
 objected Emma Jane.

“Perhaps not,” agreed Rebecca despondently, “but I think if we haven’t
got any--any--PRIVATE babies in Riverboro we ought to have one for the
town, and all have a share in it. We’ve got a town hall and a town lamp
post and a town watering trough. Things are so uneven! One house like
mine at Sunnybrook, brimful of children, and the very next one empty!
The only way to fix them right would be to let all the babies that ever
are belong to all the grown-up people that ever are,--just divide
them up, you know, if they’d go round. Oh, I have a thought! Don’t
you believe Aunt Sarah Cobb would keep him? She carries flowers to the
graveyard every little while, and once she took me with her. There’s a
marble cross, and it says: SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF SARAH ELLEN, BELOVED
CHILD OF SARAH AND JEREMIAH COBB, AGED 17 MONTHS. Why, that’s another
reason; Mrs. Dennett says this one is seventeen months. There’s five of
us left at the farm without me, but if we were only nearer to Riverboro,
how quick mother would let in one more!”

“We might see what father thinks, and that would settle it,” said Emma
Jane. “Father doesn’t think very sudden, but he thinks awful strong. If
we don’t bother him, and find a place ourselves for the baby, perhaps
he’ll be willing. He’s coming now; I hear the wheels.”

Lizy Ann Dennett volunteered to stay and perform the last rites with
the undertaker, and Jack-o’-lantern, with his slender wardrobe tied in
a bandanna handkerchief, was lifted into the wagon by the reluctant Mr.
Perkins, and jubilantly held by Rebecca in her lap. Mr. Perkins drove
off as speedily as possible, being heartily sick of the whole affair,
and thinking wisely that the little girls had already seen and heard
more than enough of the seamy side of life that morning.

Discussion concerning Jack-o’-lantern’s future was prudently deferred
for a quarter of an hour, and then Mr. Perkins was mercilessly pelted
with arguments against the choice of the poor farm as a place of
residence for a baby.

“His father is sure to come back some time, Mr. Perkins,” urged Rebecca.
“He couldn’t leave this beautiful thing forever; and if Emma Jane and I
can persuade Mrs. Cobb to keep him a little while, would you care?”

No; on reflection Mr. Perkins did not care. He merely wanted a quiet
life and enough time left over from the public service to attend to his
blacksmith’s shop; so instead of going home over the same road by which
they came he crossed the bridge into Edgewood and dropped the children
at the long lane which led to the Cobb house.

Mrs. Cobb, “Aunt Sarah” to the whole village, sat by the window looking
for Uncle Jerry, who would soon be seen driving the noon stage to the
post office over the hill. She always had an eye out for Rebecca, too,
for ever since the child had been a passenger on Mr. Cobb’s stagecoach,
making the eventful trip from her home farm to the brick house in
Riverboro in his company, she had been a constant visitor and the joy
of the quiet household. Emma Jane, too, was a well-known figure in the
lane, but the strange baby was in the nature of a surprise--a surprise
somewhat modified by the fact that Rebecca was a dramatic personage and
more liable to appear in conjunction with curious outriders, comrades,
and retainers than the ordinary Riverboro child. She had run away from
the too stern discipline of the brick house on one occasion, and had
been persuaded to return by Uncle Jerry. She had escorted a wandering
organ grinder to their door and begged a lodging for him on a rainy
night; so on the whole there was nothing amazing about the coming
procession.

The little party toiled up to the hospitable door, and Mrs. Cobb came
out to meet them.

Rebecca was spokesman. Emma Jane’s talent did not lie in eloquent
speech, but it would have been a valiant and a fluent child indeed
who could have usurped Rebecca’s privileges and tendencies in this
direction, language being her native element, and words of assorted
sizes springing spontaneously to her lips.

“Aunt Sarah, dear,” she said, plumping Jack-o’-lantern down on the grass
as she pulled his dress over his feet and smoothed his hair becomingly,
“will you please not say a word till I get through--as it’s very
important you should know everything before you answer yes or no?
This is a baby named Jacky Winslow, and I think he looks like a
Jack-o’-lantern. His mother has just died over to North Riverboro, all
alone, excepting for Mrs. Lizy Ann Dennett, and there was another little
weeny baby that died with her, and Emma Jane and I put flowers
around them and did the best we could. The father--that’s John
Winslow--quarreled with the mother--that was Sal Perry on the Moderation
Road--and ran away and left her. So he doesn’t know his wife and the
weeny baby are dead. And the town has got to bury them because they
can’t find the father right off quick, and Jacky has got to go to the
poor farm this afternoon. And it seems an awful shame to take him up to
that lonesome place with those old people that can’t amuse him, and
if Emma Jane and Alice Robinson and I take most all the care of him we
thought perhaps you and Uncle Jerry would keep him just for a little
while. You’ve got a cow and a turn-up bedstead, you know,” she hurried
on insinuatingly, “and there’s hardly any pleasure as cheap as more
babies where there’s ever been any before, for baby carriages and
trundle beds and cradles don’t wear out, and there’s always clothes
left over from the old baby to begin the new one on. Of course, we can
collect enough things to start Jacky, so he won’t be much trouble or
expense; and anyway, he’s past the most troublesome age and you won’t
have to be up nights with him, and he isn’t afraid of anybody or
anything, as you can see by his just sitting there laughing and sucking
his thumb, though he doesn’t know what’s going to become of him. And
he’s just seventeen months old like dear little Sarah Ellen in the
graveyard, and we thought we ought to give you the refusal of him before
he goes to the poor farm, and what do you think about it? Because it’s
near my dinner time and Aunt Miranda will keep me in the whole afternoon
if I’m late, and I’ve got to finish weeding the hollyhock bed before
sundown.”

IV

Mrs. Cobb had enjoyed a considerable period of reflection during this
monologue, and Jacky had not used the time unwisely, offering several
unconscious arguments and suggestions to the matter under discussion;
lurching over on the greensward and righting himself with a chuckle,
kicking his bare feet about in delight at the sunshine and groping for
his toes with arms too short to reach them, the movement involving an
entire upsetting of equilibrium followed by more chuckles.

Coming down the last of the stone steps, Sarah Ellen’s mother regarded
the baby with interest and sympathy.

“Poor little mite!” she said; “that doesn’t know what he’s lost and
what’s going to happen to him. Seems to me we might keep him a spell
till we’re sure his father’s deserted him for good. Want to come to Aunt
Sarah, baby?”

Jack-o’-lantern turned from Rebecca and Emma Jane and regarded the kind
face gravely; then he held out both his hands and Mrs. Cobb, stooping,
gathered him like a harvest. Being lifted into her arms, he at once tore
her spectacles from her nose and laughed aloud. Taking them from him
gently, she put them on again, and set him in the cushioned rocking
chair under the lilac bushes beside the steps. Then she took one of his
soft hands in hers and patted it, and fluttered her fingers like birds
before his eyes, and snapped them like castanets, remembering all the
arts she had lavished upon “Sarah Ellen, aged seventeen months,” years
and years ago.

     Motherless baby and babyless mother,
     Bring them together to love one another.

Rebecca knew nothing of this couplet, but she saw clearly enough that
her case was won.

“The boy must be hungry; when was he fed last?” asked Mrs. Cobb. “Just
stay a second longer while I get him some morning’s milk; then you
run home to your dinners and I’ll speak to Mr. Cobb this afternoon. Of
course, we can keep the baby for a week or two till we see what happens.
Land! He ain’t goin’ to be any more trouble than a wax doll! I guess he
ain’t been used to much attention, and that kind’s always the easiest to
take care of.”

At six o’clock that evening Rebecca and Emma Jane flew up the hill and
down the lane again, waving their hands to the dear old couple who were
waiting for them in the usual place, the back piazza where they had sat
so many summers in a blessed companionship never marred by an unloving
word.

“Where’s Jacky?” called Rebecca breathlessly, her voice always
outrunning her feet.

“Go up to my chamber, both of you, if you want to see,” smiled Mrs.
Cobb, “only don’t wake him up.”

The girls went softly up the stairs into Aunt Sarah’s room. There, in
the turn-up bedstead that had been so long empty, slept Jack-o’-lantern,
in blissful unconsciousness of the doom he had so lately escaped. His
nightgown and pillow case were clean and fragrant with lavender, but
they were both as yellow as saffron, for they had belonged to Sarah
Ellen.

“I wish his mother could see him!” whispered Emma Jane.

“You can’t tell; it’s all puzzly about heaven, and perhaps she does,”
 said Rebecca, as they turned reluctantly from the fascinating scene and
stole down to the piazza.

It was a beautiful and a happy summer that year, and every day it was
filled with blissful plays and still more blissful duties. On the
Monday after Jack-o’-lantern’s arrival in Edgewood Rebecca founded the
Riverboro Aunts Association. The Aunts were Rebecca, Emma Jane, Alice
Robinson, and Minnie Smellie, and each of the first three promised
to labor for and amuse the visiting baby for two days a week, Minnie
Smellie, who lived at some distance from the Cobbs, making herself
responsible for Saturday afternoons.

Minnie Smellie was not a general favorite among the Riverboro girls, and
it was only in an unprecedented burst of magnanimity that they admitted
her into the rites of fellowship, Rebecca hugging herself secretly at
the thought, that as Minnie gave only the leisure time of one day a
week, she could not be called a “full” Aunt. There had been long and
bitter feuds between the two children during Rebecca’s first summer in
Riverboro, but since Mrs. Smellie had told her daughter that one more
quarrel would invite a punishment so terrible that it could only be
hinted at vaguely, and Miss Miranda Sawyer had remarked that any niece
of hers who couldn’t get along peaceable with the neighbors had better
go back to the seclusion of a farm where there weren’t any, hostilities
had been veiled, and a suave and diplomatic relationship had replaced
the former one, which had been wholly primitive, direct, and barbaric.
Still, whenever Minnie Smellie, flaxen-haired, pink-nosed, and
ferret-eyed, indulged in fluent conversation, Rebecca, remembering the
old fairy story, could always see toads hopping out of her mouth. It was
really very unpleasant, because Minnie could never see them herself; and
what was more amazing, Emma Jane perceived nothing of the sort, being
almost as blind, too, to the diamonds that fell continually from
Rebecca’s lips; but Emma Jane’s strong point was not her imagination.

A shaky perambulator was found in Mrs. Perkins’s wonderful attic; shoes
and stockings were furnished by Mrs. Robinson; Miss Jane Sawyer knitted
a blanket and some shirts; Thirza Meserve, though too young for an aunt,
coaxed from her mother some dresses and nightgowns, and was presented
with a green paper certificate allowing her to wheel Jacky up and down
the road for an hour under the superintendence of a full Aunt. Each
girl, under the constitution of the association, could call Jacky “hers”
 for two days in the week, and great, though friendly, was the rivalry
between them, as they washed, ironed, and sewed for their adored nephew.

If Mrs. Cobb had not been the most amiable woman in the world she might
have had difficulty in managing the aunts, but she always had Jacky to
herself the earlier part of the day and after dusk at night.

Meanwhile Jack-o’-lantern grew healthier and heartier and jollier as the
weeks slipped away. Uncle Jerry joined the little company of worshipers
and slaves, and one fear alone stirred in all their hearts; not, as a
sensible and practical person might imagine, the fear that the recreant
father might never return to claim his child, but, on the contrary, that
he MIGHT do so!

October came at length with its cheery days and frosty nights, its glory
of crimson leaves and its golden harvest of pumpkins and ripened corn.
Rebecca had been down by the Edgewood side of the river and had come
up across the pastures for a good-night play with Jacky. Her literary
labors had been somewhat interrupted by the joys and responsibilities of
vice-motherhood, and the thought book was less frequently drawn from its
hiding place under the old haymow in the barn chamber.

Mrs. Cobb stood behind the screen door with her face pressed against the
wire netting, and Rebecca could see that she was wiping her eyes.

All at once the child’s heart gave one prophetic throb and then stood
still. She was like a harp that vibrated with every wind of emotion,
whether from another’s grief or her own.

She looked down the lane, around the curve of the stone wall, red with
woodbine, the lane that would meet the stage road to the station. There,
just mounting the crown of the hill and about to disappear on the other
side, strode a stranger man, big and tall, with a crop of reddish curly
hair showing from under his straw hat. A woman walked by his side, and
perched on his shoulder, wearing his most radiant and triumphant mien,
as joyous in leaving Edgewood as he had been during every hour of his
sojourn there--rode Jack-o’-lantern!

Rebecca gave a cry in which maternal longing and helpless, hopeless
jealousy strove for supremacy. Then, with an impetuous movement she
started to run after the disappearing trio.

Mrs. Cobb opened the door hastily, calling after her, “Rebecca, Rebecca,
come back here! You mustn’t follow where you haven’t any right to go. If
there’d been anything to say or do, I’d a’ done it.”

“He’s mine! He’s mine!” stormed Rebecca. “At least he’s yours and mine!”

“He’s his father’s first of all,” faltered Mrs. Cobb; “don’t let’s
forget that; and we’d ought to be glad and grateful that John Winslow’s
come to his senses an’ remembers he’s brought a child into the world and
ought to take care of it. Our loss is his gain and it may make a man of
him. Come in, and we’ll put things away all neat before your Uncle Jerry
gets home.”

Rebecca sank in a pitiful little heap on Mrs. Cobb’s bedroom floor
and sobbed her heart out. “Oh, Aunt Sarah, where shall we get another
Jack-o’-lantern, and how shall I break it to Emma Jane? What if his
father doesn’t love him, and what if he forgets to strain the milk or
lets him go without his nap? That’s the worst of babies that aren’t
private--you have to part with them sooner or later!”

“Sometimes you have to part with your own, too,” said Mrs. Cobb sadly;
and though there were lines of sadness in her face there was neither
rebellion nor repining, as she folded up the sides of the turn-up
bedstead preparatory to banishing it a second time to the attic. “I
shall miss Sarah Ellen now more’n ever. Still, Rebecca, we mustn’t feel
to complain. It’s the Lord that giveth and the Lord that taketh away:
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”



Second Chronicle. DAUGHTERS OF ZION


I

Abijah Flagg was driving over to Wareham on an errand for old Squire
Winship, whose general chore-boy and farmer’s assistant he had been for
some years.

He passed Emma Jane Perkins’s house slowly, as he always did. She was
only a little girl of thirteen and he a boy of fifteen or sixteen, but
somehow, for no particular reason, he liked to see the sun shine on her
thick braids of reddish-brown hair. He admired her china-blue eyes too,
and her amiable, friendly expression. He was quite alone in the world,
and he always thought that if he had anybody belonging to him he would
rather have a sister like Emma Jane Perkins than anything else within
the power of Providence to bestow. When she herself suggested this
relationship a few years later he cast it aside with scorn, having
changed his mind in the interval--but that story belongs to another time
and place.

Emma Jane was not to be seen in garden, field, or at the window, and
Abijah turned his gaze to the large brick house that came next on the
other side of the quiet village street. It might have been closed for
a funeral. Neither Miss Miranda nor Miss Jane Sawyer sat at their
respective windows knitting, nor was Rebecca Randall’s gypsy face to be
discerned. Ordinarily that will-o’-the wispish little person could be
seen, heard, or felt wherever she was.

“The village must be abed, I guess,” mused Abijah, as he neared the
Robinsons’ yellow cottage, where all the blinds were closed and no sign
of life showed on porch or in shed. “No, ‘t aint, neither,” he thought
again, as his horse crept cautiously down the hill, for from the
direction of the Robinsons’ barn chamber there floated out into the air
certain burning sentiments set to the tune of “Antioch.” The words, to a
lad brought up in the orthodox faith, were quite distinguishable:

“Daughter of Zion, from the dust, Exalt thy fallen head!”

Even the most religious youth is stronger on first lines than others,
but Abijah pulled up his horse and waited till he caught another
familiar verse, beginning:

“Rebuild thy walls, thy bounds enlarge, And send thy heralds forth.”

“That’s Rebecca carrying the air, and I can hear Emma Jane’s alto.”

     “Say to the North,
     Give up thy charge,
     And hold not back, O South,
     And hold not back, O South,” etc.

“Land! ain’t they smart, seesawin’ up and down in that part they learnt
in singin’ school! I wonder what they’re actin’ out, singin’ hymn-tunes
up in the barn chamber? Some o’ Rebecca’s doins, I’ll be bound! Git dap,
Aleck!”

Aleck pursued his serene and steady trot up the hills on the Edgewood
side of the river, till at length he approached the green Common where
the old Tory Hill meeting-house stood, its white paint and green blinds
showing fair and pleasant in the afternoon sun. Both doors were open,
and as Abijah turned into the Wareham road the church melodeon pealed
out the opening bars of the Missionary Hymn, and presently a score of
voices sent the good old tune from the choir-loft out to the dusty road:

     “Shall we whose souls are lighted
     With Wisdom from on high,
     Shall we to men benighted
     The lamp of life deny?”

“Land!” exclaimed Abijah under his breath. “They’re at it up here, too!
That explains it all. There’s a missionary meeting at the church, and
the girls wa’n’t allowed to come so they held one of their own, and I
bate ye it’s the liveliest of the two.”

Abijah Flagg’s shrewd Yankee guesses were not far from the truth, though
he was not in possession of all the facts. It will be remembered by
those who have been in the way of hearing Rebecca’s experiences in
Riverboro, that the Rev. and Mrs. Burch, returned missionaries from the
Far East, together with some of their children, “all born under Syrian
skies,” as they always explained to interested inquirers, spent a day or
two at the brick house, and gave parlor meetings in native costume.

These visitors, coming straight from foreign lands to the little Maine
village, brought with them a nameless enchantment to the children, and
especially to Rebecca, whose imagination always kindled easily. The
romance of that visit had never died in her heart, and among the many
careers that dazzled her youthful vision was that of converting such
Syrian heathen as might continue in idol worship after the Burches’
efforts in their behalf had ceased. She thought at the age of eighteen
she might be suitably equipped for storming some minor citadel of
Mohammedanism; and Mrs. Burch had encouraged her in the idea, not, it is
to be feared, because Rebecca showed any surplus of virtue or Christian
grace, but because her gift of language, her tact and sympathy, and her
musical talent seemed to fit her for the work.

It chanced that the quarterly meeting of the Maine Missionary Society
had been appointed just at the time when a letter from Mrs. Burch to
Miss Jane Sawyer suggested that Rebecca should form a children’s branch
in Riverboro. Mrs. Burch’s real idea was that the young people should
save their pennies and divert a gentle stream of financial aid into
the parent fund, thus learning early in life to be useful in such work,
either at home or abroad.

The girls themselves, however, read into her letter no such modest
participation in the conversion of the world, and wishing to effect an
organization without delay, they chose an afternoon when every house in
the village was vacant, and seized upon the Robinsons’ barn chamber as
the place of meeting.

Rebecca, Alice Robinson, Emma Jane Perkins, Candace Milliken, and Persis
Watson, each with her hymn book, had climbed the ladder leading to
the haymow a half hour before Abijah Flagg had heard the strains
of “Daughters of Zion” floating out to the road. Rebecca, being an
executive person, had carried, besides her hymn book, a silver call-bell
and pencil and paper. An animated discussion regarding one of two
names for the society, The Junior Heralds or The Daughters of Zion,
had resulted in a unanimous vote for the latter, and Rebecca had been
elected president at an early stage of the meeting. She had modestly
suggested that Alice Robinson, as the granddaughter of a missionary to
China, would be much more eligible.

“No,” said Alice, with entire good nature, “whoever is ELECTED
president, you WILL be, Rebecca--you’re that kind--so you might as well
have the honor; I’d just as lieves be secretary, anyway.”

“If you should want me to be treasurer, I could be, as well as not,”
 said Persis Watson suggestively; “for you know my father keeps china
banks at his store--ones that will hold as much as two dollars if you
will let them. I think he’d give us one if I happen to be treasurer.”

The three principal officers were thus elected at one fell swoop
and with an entire absence of that red tape which commonly renders
organization so tiresome, Candace Milliken suggesting that perhaps she’d
better be vice-president, as Emma Jane Perkins was always so bashful.

“We ought to have more members,” she reminded the other girls, “but if
we had invited them the first day they’d have all wanted to be officers,
especially Minnie Smellie, so it’s just as well not to ask them till
another time. Is Thirza Meserve too little to join?”

“I can’t think why anybody named Meserve should have called a baby
Thirza,” said Rebecca, somewhat out of order, though the meeting was
carried on with small recognition of parliamentary laws. “It always
makes me want to say:

     Thirza Meserver
     Heaven preserve her!
     Thirza Meserver
     Do we deserve her?

She’s little, but she’s sweet, and absolutely without guile. I think we
ought to have her.”

“Is ‘guile’ the same as ‘guilt?” inquired Emma Jane Perkins.

“Yes,” the president answered; “exactly the same, except one is written
and the other spoken language.” (Rebecca was rather good at imbibing
information, and a master hand at imparting it!) “Written language is
for poems and graduations and occasions like this--kind of like a best
Sunday-go-to-meeting dress that you wouldn’t like to go blueberrying in
for fear of getting it spotted.”

“I’d just as ‘lieves get ‘guile’ spotted as not,” affirmed the
unimaginative Emma Jane. “I think it’s an awful foolish word; but now
we’re all named and our officers elected, what do we do first? It’s
easy enough for Mary and Martha Burch; they just play at missionarying
because their folks work at it, same as Living and I used to make
believe be blacksmiths when we were little.”

“It must be nicer missionarying in those foreign places,” said Persis,
“because on ‘Afric’s shores and India’s plains and other spots where
Satan reigns’ (that’s father’s favorite hymn) there’s always a heathen
bowing down to wood and stone. You can take away his idols if he’ll let
you and give him a bible and the beginning’s all made. But who’ll we
begin on? Jethro Small?”

“Oh, he’s entirely too dirty, and foolish besides!” exclaimed Candace.
“Why not Ethan Hunt? He swears dreadfully.”

“He lives on nuts and is a hermit, and it’s a mile to his camp through
the thick woods; my mother’ll never let me go there,” objected Alice.
“There’s Uncle Tut Judson.”

“He’s too old; he’s most a hundred and deaf as a post,” complained Emma
Jane. “Besides, his married daughter is a Sabbath-school teacher--why
doesn’t she teach him to behave? I can’t think of anybody just right to
start on!”

“Don’t talk like that, Emma Jane,” and Rebecca’s tone had a tinge of
reproof in it. “We are a copperated body named the Daughters of Zion,
and, of course, we’ve got to find something to do. Foreigners are the
easiest; there’s a Scotch family at North Riverboro, an English one in
Edgewood, and one Cuban man at Millkin’s Mills.”

“Haven’t foreigners got any religion of their own?” inquired Persis
curiously.

“Ye-es, I s’pose so; kind of a one; but foreigners’ religions are never
right--ours is the only good one.” This was from Candace, the deacon’s
daughter.

“I do think it must be dreadful, being born with a religion and growing
up with it, and then finding out it’s no use and all your time wasted!”
 Here Rebecca sighed, chewed a straw, and looked troubled.

“Well, that’s your punishment for being a heathen,” retorted Candace,
who had been brought up strictly.

“But I can’t for the life of me see how you can help being a heathen if
you’re born in Africa,” persisted Persis, who was well named.

“You can’t.” Rebecca was clear on this point. “I had that all out with
Mrs. Burch when she was visiting Aunt Miranda. She says they can’t help
being heathen, but if there’s a single mission station in the whole of
Africa, they’re accountable if they don’t go there and get saved.”

“Are there plenty of stages and railroads?” asked Alice; “because there
must be dreadfully long distances, and what if they couldn’t pay the
fare?”

“That part of it is so dreadfully puzzly we mustn’t talk about it,
please,” said Rebecca, her sensitive face quivering with the force of
the problem. Poor little soul! She did not realize that her superiors
in age and intellect had spent many a sleepless night over that same
“accountability of the heathen.”

“It’s too bad the Simpsons have moved away,” said Candace. “It’s so
seldom you can find a real big wicked family like that to save, with
only Clara Belle and Susan good in it.”

“And numbers count for so much,” continued Alice. “My grandmother says
if missionaries can’t convert about so many in a year the Board advises
them to come back to America and take up some other work.”

“I know,” Rebecca corroborated; “and it’s the same with revivalists. At
the Centennial picnic at North Riverboro, a revivalist sat opposite to
Mr. Ladd and Aunt Jane and me, and he was telling about his wonderful
success in Bangor last winter. He’d converted a hundred and thirty in
a month, he said, or about four and a third a day. I had just finished
fractions, so I asked Mr. Ladd how the third of a man could be
converted. He laughed and said it was just the other way; that the man
was a third converted. Then he explained that if you were trying to
convince a person of his sin on a Monday, and couldn’t quite finish by
sundown, perhaps you wouldn’t want to sit up all night with him, and
perhaps he wouldn’t want you to; so you’d begin again on Tuesday, and
you couldn’t say just which day he was converted, because it would be
two thirds on Monday and one third on Tuesday.”

“Mr. Ladd is always making fun, and the Board couldn’t expect any great
things of us girls, new beginners,” suggested Emma Jane, who was being
constantly warned against tautology by her teacher. “I think it’s awful
rude, anyway, to go right out and try to convert your neighbors; but if
you borrow a horse and go to Edgewood Lower Corner, or Milliken’s Mills,
I s’pose that makes it Foreign Missions.”

“Would we each go alone or wait upon them with a committee, as they did
when they asked Deacon Tuttle for a contribution for the new hearse?”
 asked Persis.

“Oh! We must go alone,” decided Rebecca; “it would be much more refined
and delicate. Aunt Miranda says that one man alone could never get
a subscription from Deacon Tuttle, and that’s the reason they sent a
committee. But it seems to me Mrs. Burch couldn’t mean for us to try
and convert people when we’re none of us even church members, except
Candace. I think all we can do is to persuade them to go to meeting and
Sabbath school, or give money for the hearse, or the new horse sheds.
Now let’s all think quietly for a minute or two who’s the very most
heathenish and reperrehensiblest person in Riverboro.”

After a very brief period of silence the words “Jacob Moody” fell from
all lips with entire accord.

“You are right,” said the president tersely; “and after singing hymn
number two hundred seventy four, to be found on the sixty-sixth page,
we will take up the question of persuading Mr. Moody to attend divine
service or the minister’s Bible class, he not having been in the
meeting-house for lo! these many years.

     ‘Daughter of Zion, the power that hath saved thee
     Extolled with the harp and the timbrel should be.’

“Sing without reading, if you please, omitting the second stanza. Hymn
two seventy four, to be found on the sixty-sixth page of the new hymn
book or on page thirty two of Emma Jane Perkins’s old one.”

II

It is doubtful if the Rev. Mr. Burch had ever found in Syria a person
more difficult to persuade than the already “gospel-hardened” Jacob
Moody of Riverboro.

Tall, gaunt, swarthy, black-bearded--his masses of grizzled, uncombed
hair and the red scar across his nose and cheek added to his sinister
appearance. His tumble-down house stood on a rocky bit of land back of
the Sawyer pasture, and the acres of his farm stretched out on all sides
of it. He lived alone, ate alone, plowed, planted, sowed, harvested
alone, and was more than willing to die alone, “unwept, unhonored, and
unsung.” The road that bordered upon his fields was comparatively little
used by any one, and notwithstanding the fact that it was thickly set
with chokecherry trees and blackberry bushes it had been for years
practically deserted by the children. Jacob’s Red Astrakhan and Granny
Garland trees hung thick with apples, but no Riverboro or Edgewood boy
stole them; for terrifying accounts of the fate that had overtaken one
urchin in times agone had been handed along from boy to boy, protecting
the Moody fruit far better than any police patrol.

Perhaps no circumstances could have extenuated the old man’s surly
manners or his lack of all citizenly graces and virtues; but his
neighbors commonly rebuked his present way of living and forgot the
troubled past that had brought it about: the sharp-tongued wife, the
unloving and disloyal sons, the daughter’s hapless fate, and all the
other sorry tricks that fortune had played upon him--at least that was
the way in which he had always regarded his disappointments and griefs.

This, then, was the personage whose moral rehabilitation was to be
accomplished by the Daughters of Zion. But how?

“Who will volunteer to visit Mr. Moody?” blandly asked the president.

VISIT MR. MOODY! It was a wonder the roof of the barn chamber did not
fall; it did, indeed echo the words and in some way make them sound more
grim and satirical.

“Nobody’ll volunteer, Rebecca Rowena Randall, and you know it,” said
Emma Jane.

“Why don’t we draw lots, when none of us wants to speak to him and yet
one of us must?”

This suggestion fell from Persis Watson, who had been pale and
thoughtful ever since the first mention of Jacob Moody. (She was fond of
Granny Garlands; she had once met Jacob; and, as to what befell, well,
we all have our secret tragedies!)

“Wouldn’t it be wicked to settle it that way?”

“It’s gamblers that draw lots.”

“People did it in the Bible ever so often.”

“It doesn’t seem nice for a missionary meeting.”

These remarks fell all together upon the president’s bewildered ear the
while (as she always said in compositions)--“the while” she was trying
to adjust the ethics of this unexpected and difficult dilemma.

“It is a very puzzly question,” she said thoughtfully. “I could ask Aunt
Jane if we had time, but I suppose we haven’t. It doesn’t seem nice to
draw lots, and yet how can we settle it without? We know we mean right,
and perhaps it will be. Alice, take this paper and tear off five narrow
pieces, all different lengths.”

At this moment a voice from a distance floated up to the haymow--a voice
saying plaintively: “Will you let me play with you, girls? Huldah has
gone to ride, and I’m all alone.”

It was the voice of the absolutely-without-guile Thirza Meserve, and it
came at an opportune moment.

“If she is going to be a member,” said Persis, “why not let her come up
and hold the lots? She’d be real honest and not favor anybody.”

It seemed an excellent idea, and was followed up so quickly that
scarcely three minutes ensued before the guileless one was holding the
five scraps in her hot little palm, laboriously changing their places
again and again until they looked exactly alike and all rather soiled
and wilted.

“Come, girls, draw!” commanded the president. “Thirza, you mustn’t chew
gum at a missionary meeting, it isn’t polite nor holy. Take it out and
stick it somewhere till the exercises are over.”

The five Daughters of Zion approached the spot so charged with fate, and
extended their trembling hands one by one. Then after a moment’s silent
clutch of their papers they drew nearer to one another and compared
them.

Emma Jane Perkins had drawn the short one, becoming thus the destined
instrument for Jacob Moody’s conversion to a more seemly manner of life!

She looked about her despairingly, as if to seek some painless and
respectable method of self-destruction.

“Do let’s draw over again,” she pleaded. “I’m the worst of all of us.
I’m sure to make a mess of it till I kind o’ get trained in.”

Rebecca’s heart sank at this frank confession, which only corroborated
her own fears.

“I’m sorry, Emmy, dear,” she said, “but our only excuse for drawing lots
at all would be to have it sacred. We must think of it as a kind of a
sign, almost like God speaking to Moses in the burning bush.”

“Oh, I WISH there was a burning bush right here!” cried the distracted
and recalcitrant missionary. “How quick I’d step into it without even
stopping to take off my garnet ring!”

“Don’t be such a scare-cat, Emma Jane!” exclaimed Candace bracingly.
“Jacob Moody can’t kill you, even if he has an awful temper. Trot right
along now before you get more frightened. Shall we go cross lots with
her, Rebecca, and wait at the pasture gate? Then whatever happens Alice
can put it down in the minutes of the meeting.”

In these terrible crises of life time gallops with such incredible
velocity that it seemed to Emma Jane only a breath before she was being
dragged through the fields by the other Daughters of Zion, the guileless
little Thirza panting in the rear.

At the entrance to the pasture Rebecca gave her an impassioned embrace,
and whispering, “WHATEVER YOU DO, BE CAREFUL HOW YOU LEAD UP,” lifted
off the top rail and pushed her through the bars. Then the girls turned
their backs reluctantly on the pathetic figure, and each sought a tree
under whose friendly shade she could watch, and perhaps pray, until the
missionary should return from her field of labor.

Alice Robinson, whose compositions were always marked 96 or 97,--100
symbolizing such perfection as could be attained in the mortal world of
Riverboro,--Alice, not only Daughter, but Scribe of Zion, sharpened her
pencil and wrote a few well-chosen words of introduction, to be used
when the records of the afternoon had been made by Emma Jane Perkins and
Jacob Moody.

Rebecca’s heart beat tumultuously under her gingham dress. She felt
that a drama was being enacted, and though unfortunately she was not the
central figure, she had at least a modest part in it. The short lot had
not fallen to the properest Daughter, that she quite realized; yet would
any one of them succeed in winning Jacob Moody’s attention, in
engaging him in pleasant conversation, and finally in bringing him to
a realization of his mistaken way of life? She doubted, but at the same
moment her spirits rose at the thought of the difficulties involved in
the undertaking.

Difficulties always spurred Rebecca on, but they daunted poor Emma Jane,
who had no little thrills of excitement and wonder and fear and longing
to sustain her lagging soul. That her interview was to be entered as
“minutes” by a secretary seemed to her the last straw. Her blue eyes
looked lighter than usual and had the glaze of china saucers; her
usually pink cheeks were pale, but she pressed on, determined to be
a faithful Daughter of Zion, and above all to be worthy of Rebecca’s
admiration and respect.

“Rebecca can do anything,” she thought, with enthusiastic loyalty, “and
I mustn’t be any stupider than I can help, or she’ll choose one of
the other girls for her most intimate friend.” So, mustering all her
courage, she turned into Jacob Moody’s dooryard, where he was chopping
wood.

“It’s a pleasant afternoon, Mr. Moody,” she said in a polite but hoarse
whisper, Rebecca’s words, “LEAD UP! LEAD UP!” ringing in clarion tones
through her brain.

Jacob Moody looked at her curiously. “Good enough, I guess,” he growled;
“but I don’t never have time to look at afternoons.”

Emma Jane seated herself timorously on the end of a large log near the
chopping block, supposing that Jacob, like other hosts, would pause in
his tasks and chat.

“The block is kind of like an idol,” she thought; “I wish I could take
it away from him, and then perhaps he’d talk.”

At this moment Jacob raised his axe and came down on the block with such
a stunning blow that Emma Jane fairly leaped into the air.

“You’d better look out, Sissy, or you’ll git chips in the eye!” said
Moody, grimly going on with his work.

The Daughter of Zion sent up a silent prayer for inspiration, but none
came, and she sat silent, giving nervous jumps in spite of herself
whenever the axe fell upon the log Jacob was cutting.

Finally, the host became tired of his dumb visitor, and leaning on
his axe he said, “Look here, Sis, what have you come for? What’s your
errant? Do you want apples? Or cider? Or what? Speak out, or GIT out,
one or t’other.”

Emma Jane, who had wrung her handkerchief into a clammy ball, gave it
a last despairing wrench, and faltered: “Wouldn’t you like--hadn’t you
better--don’t you think you’d ought to be more constant at meeting and
Sabbath school?”

Jacob’s axe almost dropped from his nerveless hand, and he regarded
the Daughter of Zion with unspeakable rage and disdain. Then, the blood
mounting in his face, he gathered himself together, and shouted: “You
take yourself off that log and out o’ this dooryard double-quick, you
imperdent sanct’omus young one! You just let me ketch Bill Perkins’
child trying to teach me where I shall go, at my age! Scuttle, I tell
ye! And if I see your pious cantin’ little mug inside my fence ag’in on
sech a business I’ll chase ye down the hill or set the dog on ye! SCOOT,
I TELL YE!”

Emma Jane obeyed orders summarily, taking herself off the log, out the
dooryard, and otherwise scuttling and scooting down the hill at a pace
never contemplated even by Jacob Moody, who stood regarding her flying
heels with a sardonic grin.

Down she stumbled, the tears coursing over her cheeks and mingling with
the dust of her flight; blighted hope, shame, fear, rage, all tearing
her bosom in turn, till with a hysterical shriek she fell over the bars
and into Rebecca’s arms outstretched to receive her. The other Daughters
wiped her eyes and supported her almost fainting form, while Thirza,
thoroughly frightened, burst into sympathetic tears, and refused to be
comforted.

No questions were asked, for it was felt by all parties that Emma Jane’s
demeanor was answering them before they could be framed.

“He threatened to set the dog on me!” she wailed presently, when, as
they neared the Sawyer pasture, she was able to control her voice. “He
called me a pious, cantin’ young one, and said he’d chase me out o’ the
dooryard if I ever came again! And he’ll tell my father--I know he will,
for he hates him like poison.”

All at once the adult point of view dawned upon Rebecca. She never
saw it until it was too obvious to be ignored. Had they done wrong in
interviewing Jacob Moody? Would Aunt Miranda be angry, as well as Mr.
Perkins?

“Why was he so dreadful, Emmy?” she questioned tenderly. “What did you
say first? How did you lead up to it?”

Emma Jane sobbed more convulsively, and wiped her nose and eyes
impartially as she tried to think.

“I guess I never led up at all; not a mite. I didn’t know what you
meant. I was sent on an errant, and I went and done it the best I could!
(Emma Jane’s grammar always lapsed in moments of excitement.) And then
Jake roared at me like Squire Winship’s bull.... And he called my face
a mug.... You shut up that secretary book, Alice Robinson! If you write
down a single word I’ll never speak to you again.... And I don’t want to
be a member’ another minute for fear of drawing another short lot. I’ve
got enough of the Daughters or Zion to last me the rest o’ my life! I
don’t care who goes to meetin’ and who don’t.”

The girls were at the Perkins’s gate by this time, and Emma Jane went
sadly into the empty house to remove all traces of the tragedy from her
person before her mother should come home from the church.

The others wended their way slowly down the street, feeling that their
promising missionary branch had died almost as soon as it had budded.

“Goodby,” said Rebecca, swallowing lumps of disappointment and chagrin
as she saw the whole inspiring plan break and vanish into thin air like
an iridescent bubble. “It’s all over and we won’t ever try it again.
I’m going in to do overcasting as hard as I can, because I hate that the
worst. Aunt Jane must write to Mrs. Burch that we don’t want to be
home missionaries. Perhaps we’re not big enough, anyway. I’m perfectly
certain it’s nicer to convert people when they’re yellow or brown or
any color but white; and I believe it must be easier to save their souls
than it is to make them go to meeting.”



Third Chronicle. REBECCA’S THOUGHT BOOK


I

The “Sawyer girls’” barn still had its haymow in Rebecca’s time,
although the hay was a dozen years old or more, and, in the opinion of
the occasional visiting horse, sadly juiceless and wanting in flavor.
It still sheltered, too, old Deacon Israel Sawyer’s carryall and
mowing-machine, with his pung, his sleigh, and a dozen other survivals
of an earlier era, when the broad acres of the brick house went to make
one of the finest farms in Riverboro.

There were no horses or cows in the stalls nowadays; no pig grunting
comfortably of future spare ribs in the sty; no hens to peck the plants
in the cherished garden patch. The Sawyer girls were getting on in
years, and, mindful that care once killed a cat, they ordered their
lives with the view of escaping that particular doom, at least, and
succeeded fairly well until Rebecca’s advent made existence a trifle
more sensational.

Once a month for years upon years, Miss Miranda and Miss Jane had put
towels over their heads and made a solemn visit to the barn, taking off
the enameled cloth coverings (occasionally called “emmanuel covers” in
Riverboro), dusting the ancient implements, and sometimes sweeping
the heaviest of the cobwebs from the corners, or giving a brush to the
floor.

Deacon Israel’s tottering ladder still stood in its accustomed place,
propped against the haymow, and the heavenly stairway leading to eternal
glory scarcely looked fairer to Jacob of old than this to Rebecca. By
means of its dusty rounds she mounted, mounted, mounted far away
from time and care and maiden aunts, far away from childish tasks
and childish troubles, to the barn chamber, a place so full of golden
dreams, happy reveries, and vague longings, that, as her little brown
hands clung to the sides of the ladder and her feet trod the rounds
cautiously in her ascent, her heart almost stopped beating in the sheer
joy of anticipation.

Once having gained the heights, the next thing was to unlatch the heavy
doors and give them a gentle swing outward. Then, oh, ever new Paradise!
Then, oh, ever lovely green and growing world! For Rebecca had that
something in her soul that

“Gives to seas and sunset skies The unspent beauty of surprise.”

At the top of Guide Board hill she could see Alice Robinson’s barn with
its shining weather vane, a huge burnished fish that swam with the wind
and foretold the day to all Riverboro. The meadow, with its sunny
slopes stretching up to the pine woods, was sometimes a flowing sheet
of shimmering grass, sometimes--when daisies and buttercups were
blooming--a vision of white and gold. Sometimes the shorn stubble would
be dotted with “the happy hills of hay,” and a little later the rock
maple on the edge of the pines would stand out like a golden ball
against the green; its neighbor, the sugar maple, glowing beside it,
brave in scarlet.

It was on one of these autumn days with a wintry nip in the air that
Adam Ladd (Rebecca’s favorite “Mr. Aladdin”), after searching for her in
field and garden, suddenly noticed the open doors of the barn chamber,
and called to her. At the sound of his vice she dropped her precious
diary, and flew to the edge of the haymow. He never forgot the vision
of the startled little poetess, book in one mittened hand, pencil in
the other, dark hair all ruffled, with the picturesque addition of an
occasional glade of straw, her cheeks crimson, her eyes shining.

“A Sappho in mittens!” he cried laughingly, and at her eager question
told her to look up the unknown lady in the school encyclopedia, when
she was admitted to the Female Seminary at Wareham.

Now, all being ready, Rebecca went to a corner of the haymow, and
withdrew a thick blank-book with mottled covers. Out of her gingham
apron pocket came a pencil, a bit of rubber, and some pieces of brown
paper; then she seated herself gravely on the floor, and drew an
inverted soapbox nearer to her for a table.

The book was reverently opened, and there was a serious reading of the
extracts already carefully copied therein. Most of them were apparently
to the writer’s liking, for dimples of pleasure showed themselves now
and then, and smiles of obvious delight played about her face; but
once in a while there was a knitting of the brows and a sigh of
discouragement, showing that the artist in the child was not wholly
satisfied.

Then came the crucial moment when the budding author was supposedly to
be racked with the throes of composition; but seemingly there were
no throes. Other girls could wield the darning or crochet or knitting
needle, and send the tatting shuttle through loops of the finest cotton;
hemstitch, oversew, braid hair in thirteen strands, but the pencil was
never obedient in their fingers, and the pen and ink-pot were a horror
from early childhood to the end of time.

Not so with Rebecca; her pencil moved as easily as her tongue, and no
more striking simile could possibly be used. Her handwriting was not
Spencerian; she had neither time, nor patience, it is to be feared,
for copybook methods, and her unformed characters were frequently the
despair of her teachers; but write she could, write she would, write she
must and did, in season and out; from the time she made pothooks at six,
till now, writing was the easiest of all possible tasks; to be indulged
in as solace and balm when the terrors of examples in least common
multiple threatened to dethrone the reason, or the rules of grammar
loomed huge and unconquerable in the near horizon.

As to spelling, it came to her in the main by free grace, and not by
training, and though she slipped at times from the beaten path, her
extraordinary ear and good visual memory kept her from many or flagrant
mistakes. It was her intention, especially when saying her prayers at
night, to look up all doubtful words in her small dictionary, before
copying her Thoughts into the sacred book for the inspiration
of posterity; but when genius burned with a brilliant flame, and
particularly when she was in the barn and the dictionary in the house,
impulse as usual carried the day.

There sits Rebecca, then, in the open door of the Sawyers barn
chamber--the sunset door. How many a time had her grandfather, the good
deacon, sat just underneath in his tipped-back chair, when Mrs. Israel’s
temper was uncertain, and the serenity of the barn was in comforting
contrast to his own fireside!

The open doors swinging out to the peaceful landscape, the solace of the
pipe, not allowed in the “settin’-room”--how beautifully these simple
agents have ministered to the family peace in days agone! “If I hadn’t
had my barn and my store BOTH, I couldn’t never have lived in holy
matrimony with Maryliza!” once said Mr. Watson feelingly.

But the deacon, looking on his waving grass fields, his tasseling corn
and his timber lands, bright and honest as were his eyes, never saw
such visions as Rebecca. The child, transplanted from her home farm at
Sunnybrook, from the care of the overworked but easy-going mother, and
the companionship of the scantily fed, scantily clothed, happy-go-lucky
brothers and sisters--she had indeed fallen on shady days in Riverboro.
The blinds were closed in every room of the house but two, and the same
might have been said of Miss Miranda’s mind and heart, though Miss
Jane had a few windows opening to the sun, and Rebecca already had her
unconscious hand on several others. Brickhouse rules were rigid and many
for a little creature so full of life, but Rebecca’s gay spirit could
not be pinioned in a strait jacket for long at a time; it escaped
somehow and winged its merry way into the sunshine and free air; if she
were not allowed to sing in the orchard, like the wild bird she was, she
could still sing in the cage, like the canary.

II

If you had opened the carefully guarded volume with the mottled covers,
you would first have seen a wonderful title page, constructed apparently
on the same lines as an obituary, or the inscription on a tombstone,
save for the quantity and variety of information contained in it. Much
of the matter would seem to the captious critic better adapted to the
body of the book than to the title page, but Rebecca was apparently
anxious that the principal personages in her chronicle should be well
described at the outset.

She seems to have had a conviction that heredity plays its part in the
evolution of genius, and her belief that the world will be inspired
by the possession of her Thoughts is too artless to be offensive. She
evidently has respect for rich material confided to her teacher, and
one can imagine Miss Dearborn’s woe had she been confronted by Rebecca’s
chosen literary executor and bidden to deliver certain “Valuable Poetry
and Thoughts,” the property of posterity “unless carelessly destroyed.”

THOUGHT BOOK of Rebecca Rowena Randall Really of Sunnybrook Farm But
temporily of The Brick House Riverboro. Own niece of Miss Miranda and
Jane Sawyer Second of seven children of her father, Mr. L. D. M. Randall
(Now at rest in Temperance cemmetary and there will be a monument as
soon as we pay off the mortgage on the farm) Also of her mother Mrs.
Aurelia Randall

     In case of Death the best of these Thoughts
     May be printed in my Remerniscences
     For the Sunday School Library at Temperance, Maine
     Which needs more books fearfully
     And I hereby
     Will and Testament them to Mr. Adam Ladd
     Who bought 300 cakes of soap from me
     And thus secured a premium
     A Greatly Needed Banquet Lamp
     For my friends the Simpsons.
     He is the only one that incourages
     My writing Remerniscences and
     My teacher Miss Dearborn will
     Have much valuable Poetry and Thoughts
     To give him unless carelessly destroyed.

     The pictures are by the same hand that
     Wrote the Thoughts.

IT IS NOT NOW DECIDED WHETHER REBECCA ROWENA RANDALL WILL BE A PAINTER
OR AN AUTHOR, BUT AFTER HER DEATH IT WILL BE KNOWN WHICH SHE HAS BEEN,
IF ANY.

FINIS

From the title page, with its wealth of detail, and its unnecessary and
irrelevant information, the book ripples on like a brook, and to the
weary reader of problem novels it may have something of the brook’s
refreshing quality.

OUR DIARIES May, 187--

All the girls are keeping a diary because Miss Dearborn was very much
ashamed when the school trustees told her that most of the girls’ and
all of the boys’ compositions were disgraceful, and must be improved
upon next term. She asked the boys to write letters to her once a week
instead of keeping a diary, which they thought was girlish like playing
with dolls. The boys thought it was dreadful to have to write letters
every seven days, but she told them it was not half as bad for them as
it was for her who had to read them.

To make my diary a little different I am going to call it a THOUGHT Book
(written just like that, with capitals). I have thoughts that I never
can use unless I write them down, for Aunt Miranda always says, Keep
your thoughts to yourself. Aunt Jane lets me tell her some, but does not
like my queer ones and my true thoughts are mostly queer. Emma Jane does
not mind hearing them now and then, and that is my only chance.

If Miss Dearborn does not like the name Thought Book I will call it
Remerniscences (written just like that with a capital R). Remerniscences
are things you remember about yourself and write down in case you should
die. Aunt Jane doesn’t like to read any other kind of books but just
lives of interesting dead people and she says that is what Longfellow
(who was born in the state of Maine and we should be very proud of it
and try to write like him) meant in his poem:

     “Lives of great men all remind us
     We should make our lives sublime,
     And departing, leave behind us
     Footprints on the sands of time.”

I know what this means because when Emma Jane and I went to the beach
with Uncle Jerry Cobb we ran along the wet sand and looked at the shapes
our boots made, just as if they were stamped in wax. Emma Jane turns in
her left foot (splayfoot the boys call it, which is not polite) and Seth
Strout had just patched one of my shoes and it all came out in the sand
pictures. When I learned The Psalm of Life for Friday afternoon speaking
I thought I shouldn’t like to leave a patched footprint, nor have Emma
Jane’s look crooked on the sands of time, and right away I thought Oh!
What a splendid thought for my Thought Book when Aunt Jane buys me a
fifteen-cent one over to Watson’s store.

* * * * *


REMERNISCENCES

June, 187--

I told Aunt Jane I was going to begin my Remerniscences, and she says
I am full young, but I reminded her that Candace Milliken’s sister died
when she was ten, leaving no footprints whatever, and if I should die
suddenly who would write down my Remerniscences? Aunt Miranda says the
sun and moon would rise and set just the same, and it was no matter if
they didn’t get written down, and to go up attic and find her piece-bag;
but I said it would, as there was only one of everybody in the world,
and nobody else could do their remerniscensing for them. If I should die
tonight I know now who would describe me right. Miss Dearborn would
say one thing and brother John another. Emma Jane would try to do me
justice, but has no words; and I am glad Aunt Miranda never takes the
pen in hand.

My dictionary is so small it has not many genteel words in it, and I
cannot find how to spell Remerniscences, but I remember from the cover
of Aunt Jane’s book that there was an “s” and a “c” close together in
the middle of it, which I thought foolish and not needful.

All the girls like their dairies very much, but Minnie Smellie got Alice
Robinson’s where she had hid it under the school wood pile and read
it all through. She said it was no worse than reading anybody’s
composition, but we told her it was just like peeking through a keyhole,
or listening at a window, or opening a bureau drawer. She said she
didn’t look at it that way, and I told her that unless her eyes got
unscealed she would never leave any kind of a sublime footprint on
the sands of time. I told her a diary was very sacred as you generally
poured your deepest feelings into it expecting nobody to look at it but
yourself and your indulgent heavenly Father who seeeth all things.

Of course it would not hurt Persis Watson to show her diary because she
has not a sacred plan and this is the way it goes, for she reads it out
loud to us:

“Arose at six this morning--(you always arise in a diary but you say
get up when you talk about it). Ate breakfast at half past six. Had soda
biscuits, coffee, fish hash and doughnuts. Wiped the dishes, fed the
hens and made my bed before school. Had a good arithmetic lesson, but
went down two in spelling. At half past four played hide and coop in the
Sawyer pasture. Fed hens and went to bed at eight.”

She says she can’t put in what doesn’t happen, but as I don’t think her
diary is interesting she will ask her mother to have meat hash instead
of fish, with pie when the doughnuts give out, and she will feed the
hens before breakfast to make a change. We are all going now to try and
make something happen every single day so the diaries won’t be so dull
and the footprints so common.

* * * * *


AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

July 187--

We dug up our rosecakes today, and that gave me a good Remerniscence.
The way you make rose cakes is, you take the leaves of full blown roses
and mix them with a little cinnamon and as much brown sugar as they
will give you, which is never half enough except Persis Watson, whose
affectionate parents let her go to the barrel in their store. Then you
do up little bits like sedlitz powders, first in soft paper and then
in brown, and bury them in the ground and let them stay as long as you
possibly can hold out; then dig them up and eat them. Emma Jane and
I stick up little signs over the holes in the ground with the date we
buried them and when they’ll be done enough to dig up, but we can never
wait. When Aunt Jane saw us she said it was the first thing for children
to learn,--not to be impatient,--so when I went to the barn chamber I
made a poem.

IMPATIENCE

We dug our rose cakes up oh! all too soon. Twas in the orchard just at
noon. Twas in a bright July forenoon. Twas in the sunny afternoon. Twas
underneath the harvest moon.

It was not that way at all; it was a foggy morning before school, and I
should think poets could never possibly get to heaven, for it is so hard
to stick to the truth when you are writing poetry. Emma Jane thinks it
is nobody’s business when we dug the rosecakes up. I like the line about
the harvest moon best, but it would give a wrong idea of our lives and
characters to the people that read my Thoughts, for they would think we
were up late nights, so I have fixed it like this:

                    IMPATIENCE

     We dug our rose cakes up oh! all too soon,
     We thought their sweetness would be such a boon.
     We ne’er suspicioned they would not be done
     After three days of autumn wind and sun.
     Why did we from the earth our treasures draw?
     Twas not for fear that rat or mole might naw,
     An aged aunt doth say impatience was the reason,
     She says that youth is ever out of season.

That is just as Aunt Jane said it, and it gave me the thought for the
poem which is rather uncommon.

* * * * *


A DREADFUL QUESTION

September, 187--

WHICH HAS BEEN THE MOST BENEFERCENT INFLUENCE ON CHARACTER--PUNISHMENT
OR REWARD?

This truly dreadful question was given us by Dr. Moses when he visited
school today. He is a School Committee; not a whole one but I do not
know the singular number of him. He told us we could ask our families
what they thought, though he would rather we wouldn’t, but we must write
our own words and he would hear them next week.

After he went out and shut the door the scholars were all plunged in
gloom and you could have heard a pin drop. Alice Robinson cried and
borrowed my handkerchief, and the boys looked as if the schoolhouse had
been struck by lightning. The worst of all was poor Miss Dearborn, who
will lose her place if she does not make us better scholars soon, for
Dr. Moses has a daughter all ready to put right in to the school and she
can board at home and save all her wages. Libby Moses is her name.

Miss Dearborn stared out the window, and her mouth and chin shook like
Alice Robinson’s, for she knew, ah! all to well, what the coming week
would bring forth.

Then I raised my hand for permission to speak, and stood up and said:
“Miss Dearborn, don’t you mind! Just explain to us what benefercent’
means and we’ll write something real interesting; for all of us know
what punishment is, and have seen others get rewards, and it is not so
bad a subject as some.” And Dick Carter whispered, “GOOD ON YOUR HEAD,
REBECCA!” which mean he was sorry for her too, and would try his best,
but has no words.

Then teacher smiled and said benefercent meant good or healthy for
anybody, and would all rise who thought punishment made the best
scholars and men and women; and everybody sat stock still.

And then she asked all to stand who believed that rewards produced the
finest results, and there was a mighty sound like unto the rushing of
waters, but really was our feet scraping the floor, and the scholars
stood up, and it looked like an army, though it was only nineteen,
because of the strong belief that was in them. Then Miss Dearborn
laughed and said she was thankful for every whipping she had when
she was a child, and Living Perkins said perhaps we hadn’t got to the
thankful age, or perhaps her father hadn’t used a strap, and she said
oh! no, it was her mother with the open hand; and Dick Carter said he
wouldn’t call that punishment, and Sam Simpson said so too.

I am going to write about the subject in my Thought Book first, and when
I make it into a composition, I can leave out anything about the family
or not genteel, as there is much to relate about punishment not pleasant
or nice and hardly polite.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

PUNISHMENT

Punishment is a very puzzly thing, but I believe in it when really
deserved, only when I punish myself it does not always turn out well.
When I leaned over the new bridge, and got my dress all paint, and Aunt
Sarah Cobb couldn’t get it out, I had to wear it spotted for six
months which hurt my pride, but was right. I stayed at home from Alice
Robinson’s birthday party for a punishment, and went to the circus
next day instead, but Alice’s parties are very cold and stiff, as Mrs.
Robinson makes the boys stand on newspapers if they come inside the
door, and the blinds are always shut, and Mrs. Robinson tells me how bad
her liver complaint is this year. So I thought, to pay for the circus
and a few other things, I ought to get more punishment, and I threw my
pink parasol down the well, as the mothers in the missionary books throw
their infants to the crocodiles in the Ganges river. But it got stuck
in the chain that holds the bucket, and Aunt Miranda had to get Abijah
Flagg to take out all the broken bits before we could ring up water.

I punished myself this way because Aunt Miranda said that unless I
improved I would be nothing but a Burden and a Blight.

There was an old man used to go by our farm carrying a lot of broken
chairs to bottom, and mother used to say--“Poor man! His back is too
weak for such a burden!” and I used to take him out a doughnut, and this
is the part I want to go into the Remerniscences. Once I told him we
were sorry the chairs were so heavy, and he said THEY DIDN’T SEEM SO
HEAVY WHEN HE HAD ET THE DOUGHNUT. This does not mean that the doughnut
was heavier than the chairs which is what brother John said, but it is a
beautiful thought and shows how the human race should have sympathy, and
help bear burdens.

I know about a Blight, for there was a dreadful east wind over at our
farm that destroyed all the little young crops just out of the ground,
and the farmers called it the Blight. And I would rather be hail, sleet,
frost, or snow than a Blight, which is mean and secret, and which is the
reason I threw away the dearest thing on earth to me, the pink parasol
that Miss Ross brought me from Paris, France. I have also wrapped up my
bead purse in three papers and put it away marked not to be opened till
after my death unless needed for a party.

I must not be Burden, I must not be Blight, The angels in heaven would
weep at the sight.

 * * * * *

REWARDS

A good way to find out which has the most benefercent effect would be to
try rewards on myself this next week and write my composition the very
last day, when I see how my character is. It is hard to find rewards for
yourself, but perhaps Aunt Jane and some of the girls would each give
me one to help out. I could carry my bead purse to school every day,
or wear my coral chain a little while before I go to sleep at night. I
could read Cora or the Sorrows of a Doctor’s Wife a little oftener, but
that’s all the rewards I can think of. I fear Aunt Miranda would say
they are wicked but oh! if they should turn out benefercent how glad and
joyful life would be to me! A sweet and beautiful character, beloved
by my teacher and schoolmates, admired and petted by my aunts and
neighbors, yet carrying my bead purse constantly, with perhaps my best
hat on Wednesday afternoons, as well as Sundays!

* * * * *

A GREAT SHOCK

The reason why Alice Robinson could not play was, she was being punished
for breaking her mother’s blue platter. Just before supper my story
being finished I went up Guide Board hill to see how she was bearing
up and she spoke to me from her window. She said she did not mind being
punished because she hadn’t been for a long time, and she hoped it would
help her with her composition. She thought it would give her thoughts,
and tomorrow’s the last day for her to have any. This gave me a good
idea and I told her to call her father up and beg him to beat her
violently. It would hurt, I said, but perhaps none of the other girls
would have a punishment like that, and her composition would be all
different and splendid. I would borrow Aunt Miranda’s witchhayzel and
pour it on her wounds like the Samaritan in the Bible.

I went up again after supper with Dick Carter to see how it turned out.
Alice came to the window and Dick threw up a note tied to a stick. I
had written: “DEMAND YOUR PUNISHMENT TO THE FULL. BE BRAVE LIKE DOLORES’
MOTHER IN THE Martyrs of Spain.”

She threw down an answer, and it was: “YOU JUST BE LIKE DOLORES’ MOTHER
YOURSELF IF YOU’RE SO SMART!” Then she stamped away from the window and
my feelings were hurt, but Dick said perhaps she was hungry, and that
made her cross. And as Dick and I turned to go out of the yard we looked
back and I saw something I can never forget. (The Great Shock) Mrs.
Robinson was out behind the barn feeding the turkies. Mr. Robinson
came softly out of the side door in the orchard and looking everywheres
around he stepped to the wire closet and took out a saucer of cold beans
with a pickled beet on top, and a big piece of blueberry pie. Then he
crept up the back stairs and we could see Alice open her door and take
in the supper.

Oh! What will become of her composition, and how can she tell anything
of the benefercent effects of punishment, when she is locked up by
one parent, and fed by the other? I have forgiven her for the way she
snapped me up for, of course, you couldn’t beg your father to beat you
when he was bringing you blueberry pie. Mrs. Robinson makes a kind that
leaks out a thick purple juice into the plate and needs a spoon and
blacks your mouth, but is heavenly.

* * * * *

A DREAM

The week is almost up and very soon Dr. Moses will drive up to the
school house like Elijah in the chariot and come in to hear us read.
There is a good deal of sickness among us. Some of the boys are not able
to come to school just now, but hope to be about again by Monday, when
Dr. Moses goes away to a convention. It is a very hard composition to
write, somehow. Last night I dreamed that the river was ink and I kept
dipping into it and writing with a penstalk made of a young pine tree. I
sliced great slabs of marble off the side of one of the White Mountains,
the one you see when going to meeting, and wrote on those. Then I threw
them all into the falls, not being good enough for Dr. Moses.

Dick Carter had a splendid boy to stay over Sunday. He makes the real
newspaper named The Pilot published by the boys at Wareham Academy. He
says when he talks about himself in writing he calls himself “we,” and
it sounds much more like print, besides conscealing him more.

Example: Our hair was measured this morning and has grown two inches
since last time.... We have a loose tooth that troubles us very much...
Our inkspot that we made by negligence on our only white petticoat we
have been able to remove with lemon and milk. Some of our petticoat came
out with the spot.

I shall try it in my composition sometime, for of course I shall write
for the Pilot when I go to Wareham Seminary. Uncle Jerry Cobb says that
I shall, and thinks that in four years I might rise to be editor if they
ever have girls.

I have never been more good than since I have been rewarding myself
steady, even to asking Aunt Miranda kindly to offer me a company jelly
tart, not because I was hungry, but for an experement I was trying, and
would explain to her sometime.

She said she never thought it was wise to experement with your stomach,
and I said, with a queer thrilling look, it was not my stomach but my
soul, that was being tried. Then she gave me the tart and walked away
all puzzled and nervous.

The new minister has asked me to come and see him any Saturday afternoon
as he writes poetry himself, but I would rather not ask him about this
composition.

Ministers never believe in rewards, and it is useless to hope that they
will. We had the wrath of God four times in sermons this last summer,
but God cannot be angry all the time,--nobody could, especially in
summer; Mr. Baxter is different and calls his wife dear which is lovely
and the first time I ever heard it in Riverboro. Mrs. Baxter is another
kind of people too, from those that live in Temperance. I like to
watch her in meeting and see her listen to her husband who is young and
handsome for a minister; it gives me very queer and uncommon feelings,
when they look at each other, which they always do when not otherwise
engaged.

She has different clothes from anybody else. Aunt Miranda says you must
think only of two things: will your dress keep you warm and will it wear
well and there is nobody in the world to know how I love pink and red
and how I hate drab and green and how I never wear my hat with the
black and yellow porkupine quills without wishing it would blow into the
river.

Whene’er I take my walks abroad How many quills I see. But as they are
not porkupines They never come to me.


COMPOSITION

WHICH HAS THE MOST BENEFERCENT EFFECT ON THE CHARACTER, PUNISHMENT OR
REWARD?

By Rebecca Rowena Randall

(This copy not corrected by Miss Dearborn yet.)

We find ourselves very puzzled in approaching this truly great and
national question though we have tried very ernestly to understand it,
so as to show how wisely and wonderfully our dear teacher guides the
youthful mind, it being her wish that our composition class shall long
be remembered in Riverboro Centre.

We would say first of all that punishment seems more benefercently
needed by boys than girls. Boys’ sins are very violent, like stealing
fruit, profane language, playing truant, fighting, breaking windows, and
killing innocent little flies and bugs. If these were not taken out of
them early in life it would be impossible for them to become like our
martyred president, Abraham Lincoln.

Although we have asked everybody on our street, they think boys’ sins
can only be whipped out of them with a switch or strap, which makes
us feel very sad, as boys when not sinning the dreadful sins mentioned
above seem just as good as girls, and never cry when switched, and say
it does not hurt much.

We now approach girls, which we know better, being one. Girls seem
better than boys because their sins are not so noisy and showy. They
can disobey their parents and aunts, whisper in silent hour, cheat in
lessons, say angry things to their schoolmates, tell lies, be sulky and
lazy, but all these can be conducted quite ladylike and genteel, and
nobody wants to strap girls because their skins are tender and get black
and blue very easily.

Punishments make one very unhappy and rewards very happy, and one would
think when one is happy one would behave the best. We were acquainted
with a girl who gave herself rewards every day for a week, and it seemed
to make her as lovely a character as one could wish; but perhaps if one
went on for years giving rewards to onesself one would become selfish.
One cannot tell, one can only fear.

If a dog kills a sheep we should whip him straight away, and on the very
spot where he can see the sheep, or he will not know what we mean, and
may forget and kill another. The same is true of the human race. We must
be firm and patient in punishing, no matter how much we love the one who
has done wrong, and how hungry she is. It does no good to whip a person
with one hand and offer her a pickled beet with the other. This confuses
her mind, and she may grow up not knowing right from wrong. (The
striking example of the pickled beet was removed from the essay by the
refined but ruthless Miss Dearborn, who strove patiently, but vainly, to
keep such vulgar images out of her pupils’ literary efforts.)

We now respectfully approach the Holy Bible and the people in the Bible
were punished the whole time, and that would seem to make it right.
Everybody says Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth; but we think ourself,
that the Lord is a better punisher than we are, and knows better how and
when to do it having attended to it ever since the year B.C. while
the human race could not know about it till 1492 A.D., which is when
Columbus discovered America.

We do not believe we can find out all about this truly great and
national subject till we get to heaven, where the human race, strapped
and unstrapped, if any, can meet together and laying down their harps
discuss how they got there.

And we would gently advise boys to be more quiet and genteel in conduct
and try rewards to see how they would work. Rewards are not all like
the little rosebud merit cards we receive on Fridays, and which boys
sometimes tear up and fling scornfully to the breeze when they get
outside, but girls preserve carefully in an envelope.

Some rewards are great and glorious, for boys can get to be governor or
school trustee or road commissioner or president, while girls can only
be wife and mother. But all of us can have the ornament of a meek and
lowly spirit, especially girls, who have more use for it than boys.

R.R.R.

* * * * *


STORIES AND PEOPLE

October, 187--

There are people in books and people in Riverboro, and they are not the
same kind. They never talk of chargers and palfreys in the village, nor
say How oft and Methinks, and if a Scotchman out of Rob Roy should come
to Riverboro and want to marry one of us girls we could not understand
him unless he made motions; though Huldah Meserve says if a nobleman of
high degree should ask her to be his,--one of vast estates with serfs at
his bidding,--she would be able to guess his meaning in any language.

Uncle Jerry Cobb thinks that Riverboro people would not make a story,
but I know that some of them would.

Jack-o’-lantern, though only a baby, was just like a real story if
anybody had written a piece about him: How his mother was dead and his
father ran away and Emma Jane and I got Aunt Sarah Cobb to keep him so
Mr. Perkins wouldn’t take him to the poor farm; and about our lovely
times with him that summer, and our dreadful loss when his father
remembered him in the fall and came to take him away; and how Aunt Sarah
carried the trundle bed up attic again and Emma Jane and I heard her
crying and stole away.

Mrs. Peter Meserve says Grandpa Sawyer was a wonderful hand at stories
before his spirit was broken by grandmother. She says he was the life
of the store and tavern when he was a young man, though generally sober,
and she thinks I take after him, because I like compositions better than
all the other lessons; but mother says I take after father, who always
could say everything nicely whether he had anything to say or not; so
methinks I should be grateful to both of them. They are what is called
ancestors and much depends upon whether you have them or not. The
Simpsons have not any at all. Aunt Miranda says the reason everybody
is so prosperous around here is because their ancestors were all first
settlers and raised on burnt ground. This should make us very proud.

Methinks and methought are splendid words for compositions. Miss
Dearborn likes them very much, but Alice and I never bring them in to
suit her. Methought means the same as I thought, but sounds better.
Example: If you are telling a dream you had about your aged aunt:

     Methought I heard her say
     My child you have so useful been
     You need not sew today.

This is a good example one way, but too unlikely, woe is me!

This afternoon I was walking over to the store to buy molasses, and as
I came off the bridge and turned up the hill, I saw lots and lots of
heelprints in the side of the road, heelprints with little spike holes
in them.

“Oh! The river drivers have come from up country,” I thought, “and
they’ll be breaking the jam at our falls tomorrow.” I looked everywhere
about and not a man did I see, but still I knew I was not mistaken for
the heelprints could not lie. All the way over and back I thought about
it, though unfortunately forgetting the molasses, and Alice Robinson
not being able to come out, I took playtime to write a story. It is
the first grown-up one I ever did, and is intended to be like Cora the
Doctor’s Wife, not like a school composition. It is written for Mr. Adam
Ladd, and people like him who live in Boston, and is the printed kind
you get money for, to pay off a mortgage.

* * * * *

LANCELOT OR THE PARTED LOVERS

A beautiful village maiden was betrothed to a stallwart river driver,
but they had high and bitter words and parted, he to weep into the
crystal stream as he drove his logs, and she to sigh and moan as she
went about her round of household tasks.

At eventide the maiden was wont to lean over the bridge and her tears
also fell into the foaming stream; so, though the two unhappy lovers did
not know it, the river was their friend, the only one to whom they told
their secrets and wept into.

The months crept on and it was the next July when the maiden was passing
over the bridge and up the hill. Suddenly she spied footprints on the
sands of time.

“The river drivers have come again!” she cried, putting her hand to
her side for she had a slight heart trouble like Cora and Mrs. Peter
Meserve, that doesn’t kill.

“They HAVE come indeed; ESPECIALLY ONE YOU KNOW,” said a voice, and
out from the alder bushes sprung Lancelot Littlefield, for that was the
lover’s name and it was none other than he. His hair was curly and like
living gold. His shirt, white of flannel, was new and dry, and of a
handsome color, and as the maiden looked at him she could think of
nought but a fairy prince.

“Forgive,” she mermered, stretching out her waisted hands.

“Nay, sweet,” he replied. “‘Tis I should say that to you,” and bending
gracefully on one knee he kissed the hem of her dress. It was a rich
pink gingham check, ellaborately ornamented with white tape trimming.

Clasping each other to the heart like Cora and the Doctor, they stood
there for a long while, till they heard the rumble of wheels on the
bridge and knew they must disentangle.

The wheels came nearer and verily! it was the maiden’s father.

“Can I wed with your fair daughter this very moon,” asked Lancelot, who
will not be called his whole name again in this story.

“You may,” said the father, “for lo! she has been ready and waiting for
many months.” This he said not noting how he was shaming the maiden,
whose name was Linda Rowenetta.

Then and there the nuptial day was appointed and when it came, the
marriage knot was tied upon the river bank where first they met; the
river bank where they had parted in anger, and where they had again
scealeld their vows and clasped each other to the heart. And it was very
low water that summer, and the river always thought it was because no
tears dropped into it but so many smiles that like sunshine they dried
it up.

R.R.R.

Finis

* * * * *


CAREERS

November, 187--

Long ago when I used to watch Miss Ross painting the old mill at
Sunnybrook I thought I would be a painter, for Miss Ross went to Paris
France where she bought my bead purse and pink parasol and I thought
I would like to see a street with beautiful bright-colored things
sparkling and hanging in the store windows.

Then when the missionaries from Syria came to stay at the brick house
Mrs. Burch said that after I had experienced religion I must learn music
and train my voice and go out to heathen lands and save souls, so I
thought that would be my career. But we girls tried to have a branch and
be home missionaries and it did not work well. Emma Jane’s father would
not let her have her birthday party when he found out what she had done
and Aunt Jane sent me up to Jake Moody’s to tell him we did not mean
to be rude when we asked him to go to meeting more often. He said all
right, but just let him catch that little dough-faced Perkins young one
in his yard once more and she’d have reason to remember the call, which
was just as rude and impolite as our trying to lead him to a purer and a
better life.

Then Uncle Jerry and Mr. Aladdin and Miss Dearborn liked my
compositions, and I thought I’d better be a writer, for I must be
something the minute I’m seventeen, or how shall we ever get the
mortgage off the farm? But even that hope is taken away from me now,
for Uncle Jerry made fun of my story Lancelot Or The Parted Lovers and I
have decided to be a teacher like Miss Dearborn.

The pathetic announcement of a change in the career and life purposes of
Rebecca was brought about by her reading the grown-up story to Mr. and
Mrs. Jeremiah Cobb after supper in the orchard. Uncle Jerry was the
person who had maintained all along that Riverboro people would not make
a story; and Lancelot or The Parted Lovers was intended to refute that
assertion at once and forever; an assertion which Rebecca regarded
(quite truly) as untenable, though why she certainly never could have
explained. Unfortunately Lancelot was a poor missionary, quite unfitted
for the high achievements to which he was destined by the youthful
novelist, and Uncle Jerry, though a stage-driver and no reading man, at
once perceived the flabbiness and transparency of the Parted Lovers the
moment they were held up to his inspection.

“You see Riverboro people WILL make a story!” asserted Rebecca
triumphantly as she finished her reading and folded the paper. “And it
all came from my noticing the river drivers’ tracks by the roadside, and
wondering about them; and wondering always makes stories; the minister
says so.”

“Ye-es,” allowed Uncle Jerry reflectively, tipping his chair back
against the apple tree and forcing his slow mind to violent and
instantaneous action, for Rebecca was his pride and joy; a person, in
his opinion, of superhuman talent, one therefore to be “whittled into
shape” if occasion demanded.

“It’s a Riverboro story, sure enough, because you’ve got the river
and the bridge and the hill and the drivers all right there in it; but
there’s something awful queer bout it; the folks don’t act Riverboro,
and don’t talk Riverboro, cordin’ to my notions. I call it a reg’lar
book story.”

“But,” objected Rebecca, “the people in Cinderella didn’t act like us,
and you thought that was a beautiful story when I told it to you.”

“I know,” replied Uncle Jerry, gaining eloquence in the heat of
argument. “They didn’t act like us, but ‘t any rate they acted like
‘emselves! Somehow they was all of a piece. Cinderella was a little too
good, mebbe, and the sisters was most too thunderin’ bad to live on the
face o’ the earth, and that fayry old lady that kep’ the punkin’ coach
up her sleeve--well, anyhow, you jest believe that punkin’ coach, rats,
mice, and all, when you’re hearin’ bout it, fore ever you stop to think
it ain’t so.

“I don’ know how tis, but the folks in that Cinderella story seem to
match together somehow; they’re all pow’ful onlikely--the prince feller
with the glass slipper, and the hull bunch; but jest the same you kind
o’ gulp em all down in a lump. But land, Rebecky, nobody’d swaller that
there village maiden o’ your’n, and as for what’s-his-name Littlefield,
that come out o’ them bushes, such a feller never ‘d a’ be’n IN bushes!
No, Rebecky, you’re the smartest little critter there is in this
township, and you beat your Uncle Jerry all holler when it comes to
usin’ a lead pencil, but I say that ain’t no true Riverboro story! Look
at the way they talk! What was that’ bout being BETROTHED’?”

“Betrothed is a genteel word for engaged to be married,” explained the
crushed and chastened author; and it was fortunate the doting old man
did not notice her eyes in the twilight, or he might have known that
tears were not far away.

“Well, that’s all right, then; I’m as ignorant as Cooper’s cow when
it comes to the dictionary. How about what’s-his-name callin’ the girl
‘Naysweet’?”

“I thought myself that sounded foolish,:” confessed Rebecca; “but it’s
what the Doctor calls Cora when he tries to persuade her not to quarrel
with his mother who comes to live with them. I know they don’t say it in
Riverboro or Temperance, but I thought perhaps it was Boston talk.”

“Well, it ain’t!” asserted Mr. Cobb decisively. “I’ve druv Boston men
up in the stage from Milltown many’s the time, and none of em ever
said Naysweet to me, nor nothin’like it. They talked like folks, every
mother’s son of em! If I’d a’ had that what’s-his-name on the harricane
deck’ o’ the stage and he tried any naysweetin’ on me, I’d a’ pitched
him into the cornfield, side o’ the road. I guess you ain’t growed up
enough for that kind of a story, Rebecky, for your poetry can’t be beat
in York County, that’s sure, and your compositions are good enough to
read out loud in town meetin’ any day!”

Rebecca brightened up a little and bade the old couple her usual
affectionate good night, but she descended the hill in a saddened mood.
When she reached the bridge the sun, a ball of red fire, was setting
behind Squire Bean’s woods. As she looked, it shone full on the broad,
still bosom of the river, and for one perfect instant the trees on the
shores were reflected, all swimming in a sea of pink. Leaning over the
rail, she watched the light fade from crimson to carmine, from carmine
to rose, from rose to amber, and from amber to gray. Then withdrawing
Lancelot or the Parted Lovers from her apron pocket, she tore the pages
into bits and dropped them into the water below with a sigh.

“Uncle Jerry never said a word about the ending!” she thought; “and that
was so nice!”

And she was right; but while Uncle Jerry was an illuminating critic when
it came to the actions and language of his Riverboro neighbors, he had
no power to direct the young mariner when she “followed the gleam,” and
used her imagination.

OUR SECRET SOCIETY

November, 187--

Our Secret society has just had a splendid picnic in Candace Milliken’s
barn.

Our name is the B.O.S.S., and not a single boy in the village has been
able to guess it. It means Braid Over Shoulder Society, and that is the
sign. All the members wear one of their braids over the right shoulder
in front; the president’s tied with red ribbon (I am the president) and
all the rest tied with blue.

To attract the attention of another member when in company or at a
public place we take the braid between the thumb and little finger and
stand carelessly on one leg. This is the Secret Signal and the password
is Sobb (B.O.S.S. spelled backwards) which was my idea and is thought
rather uncommon.

One of the rules of the B.O.S.S. is that any member may be required to
tell her besetting sin at any meeting, if asked to do so by a majority
of the members.

This was Candace Milliken’s idea and much opposed by everybody, but when
it came to a vote so many of the girls were afraid of offending Candace
that they agreed because there was nobody else’s father and mother
who would let us picnic in their barn and use their plow, harrow,
grindstone, sleigh, carryall, pung, sled, and wheelbarrow, which we did
and injured hardly anything.

They asked me to tell my besetting sin at the very first meeting, and it
nearly killed me to do it because it is such a common greedy one. It is
that I can’t bear to call the other girls when I have found a thick spot
when we are out berrying in the summer time.

After I confessed, which made me dreadfully ashamed, every one of the
girls seemed surprised and said they had never noticed that one but had
each thought of something very different that I would be sure to think
was my besetting sin. Then Emma Jane said that rather than tell hers she
would resign from the Society and miss the picnic. So it made so
much trouble that Candace gave up. We struck out the rule from the
constitution and I had told my sin for nothing.

The reason we named ourselves the B.O.S.S. is that Minnie Smellie has
had her head shaved after scarlet fever and has no braid, so she can’t
be a member.

I don’t want her for a member but I can’t be happy thinking she will
feel slighted, and it takes away half the pleasure of belonging to the
Society myself and being president.

That, I think, is the principal trouble about doing mean and unkind
things; that you can’t do wrong and feel right, or be bad and feel good.
If you only could you could do anything that came into your mind yet
always be happy.

Minnie Smellie spoils everything she comes into but I suppose we
other girls must either have our hair shaved and call ourselves The
Baldheadians or let her be some kind of a special officer in the
B.O.S.S.

She might be the B.I.T.U.D. member (Braid in the Upper Drawer), for
there is where Mrs. Smellie keeps it now that it is cut off.

WINTER THOUGHTS

March, 187--

It is not such a cold day for March and I am up in the barn chamber with
my coat and hood on and Aunt Jane’s waterproof and my mittens.

After I do three pages I am going to hide away this book in the haymow
till spring.

Perhaps they get made into icicles on the way but I do not seem to have
any thoughts in the winter time. The barn chamber is full of thoughts in
warm weather. The sky gives them to me, and the trees and flowers, and
the birds, and the river; but now it is always gray and nipping, the
branches are bare and the river is frozen.

It is too cold to write in my bedroom but while we still kept an open
fire I had a few thoughts, but now there is an air-tight stove in the
dining room where we sit, and we seem so close together, Aunt Miranda,
Aunt Jane and I that I don’t like to write in my book for fear they will
ask me to read out loud my secret thoughts.

I have just read over the first part of my Thought Book and I have
outgrown it all, just exactly as I have outgrown my last year’s drab
cashmere.

It is very queer how anybody can change so fast in a few months, but I
remember that Emma Jane’s cat had kittens the day my book was bought at
Watson’s store. Mrs. Perkins kept the prettiest white one, Abijah Flagg
drowning all the others.

It seems strange to me that cats will go on having kittens when they
know what becomes of them! We were very sad about it, but Mrs. Perkins
said it was the way of the world and how things had to be.

I cannot help being glad that they do not do the same with children, or
John and Jenny Mira Mark and me would all have had stones tied to our
necks and been dropped into the deepest part of Sunny Brook, for Hannah
and Fanny are the only truly handsome ones in the family.

Mrs. Perkins says I dress up well, but never being dressed up it does
not matter much. At least they didn’t wait to dress up the kittens to
see how they would improve, before drowning them, but decided right
away.

Emma Jane’s kitten that was born the same day this book was is now quite
an old cat who knows the way of the world herself, and how things have
to be, for she has had one batch of kittens drowned already.

So perhaps it is not strange that my Thought Book seems so babyish and
foolish to me when I think of all I have gone through and the millions
of things I have learned, and how much better I spell than I did ten
months ago.

My fingers are cold through the mittens, so good-bye dear Thought Book,
friend of my childhood, now so far far behind me!

I will hide you in the haymow where you’ll be warm and cosy all the long
winter and where nobody can find you again in the summer time but your
affectionate author,

Rebecca Rowena Randall.



Fourth Chronicle. A TRAGEDY IN MILLINERY


I

Emma Jane Perkins’s new winter dress was a blue and green Scotch plaid
poplin, trimmed with narrow green velvet-ribbon and steel nail-heads.
She had a gray jacket of thick furry cloth with large steel buttons
up the front, a pair of green kid gloves, and a gray felt hat with an
encircling band of bright green feathers. The band began in front with
a bird’s head and ended behind with a bird’s tail, and angels could have
desired no more beautiful toilette. That was her opinion, and it was
shared to the full by Rebecca.

But Emma Jane, as Rebecca had once described her to Mr. Adam Ladd, was
a rich blacksmith’s daughter, and she, Rebecca, was a little half-orphan
from a mortgaged farm “up Temperance way,” dependent upon her spinster
aunts for board, clothes, and schooling. Scotch plaid poplins were
manifestly not for her, but dark-colored woolen stuffs were, and
mittens, and last winter’s coats and furs.

And how about hats? Was there hope in store for her there? she wondered,
as she walked home from the Perkins house, full of admiration for Emma
Jane’s winter outfit, and loyally trying to keep that admiration free
from wicked envy. Her red-winged black hat was her second best, and
although it was shabby she still liked it, but it would never do for
church, even in Aunt Miranda’s strange and never-to-be-comprehended
views of suitable raiment.

There was a brown felt turban in existence, if one could call it
existence when it had been rained on, snowed on, and hailed on for two
seasons; but the trimmings had at any rate perished quite off the face
of the earth, that was one comfort!

Emma Jane had said, rather indiscreetly, that at the village milliner’s
at Milliken’s Mills there was a perfectly elegant pink breast to be had,
a breast that began in a perfectly elegant solferino and terminated in a
perfectly elegant magenta; two colors much in vogue at that time. If
the old brown hat was to be her portion yet another winter, would Aunt
Miranda conceal its deficiencies from a carping world beneath the shaded
solferino breast? WOULD she, that was the question?

Filled with these perplexing thoughts, Rebecca entered the brick house,
hung up her hood in the entry, and went into the dining-room.

Miss Jane was not there, but Aunt Miranda sat by the window with her lap
full of sewing things, and a chair piled with pasteboard boxes by her
side. In one hand was the ancient, battered, brown felt turban, and in
the other were the orange and black porcupine quills from Rebecca’s last
summer’s hat; from the hat of the summer before that, and the summer
before that, and so on back to prehistoric ages of which her childish
memory kept no specific record, though she was sure that Temperance and
Riverboro society did. Truly a sight to chill the blood of any eager
young dreamer who had been looking at gayer plumage!

Miss Sawyer glanced up for a second with a satisfied expression and then
bent her eyes again upon her work.

“If I was going to buy a hat trimming,” she said, “I couldn’t select
anything better or more economical than these quills! Your mother had
them when she was married, and you wore them the day you come to the
brick house from the farm; and I said to myself then that they looked
kind of outlandish, but I’ve grown to like em now I’ve got used to em.
You’ve been here for goin’ on two years and they’ve hardly be’n out
o’wear, summer or winter, more’n a month to a time! I declare they do
beat all for service! It don’t seem as if your mother could a’ chose
em,--Aurelia was always such a poor buyer! The black spills are bout
as good as new, but the orange ones are gittin’ a little mite faded and
shabby. I wonder if I couldn’t dip all of em in shoe blackin’? It seems
real queer to put a porcupine into hat trimmin’, though I declare I
don’t know jest what the animiles are like, it’s be’n so long sence
I looked at the pictures of em in a geography. I always thought their
quills stood out straight and angry, but these kind o’ curls round some
at the ends, and that makes em stand the wind better. How do you like
em on the brown felt?” she asked, inclining her head in a discriminating
attitude and poising them awkwardly on the hat with her work-stained
hand.

How did she like them on the brown felt indeed?

Miss Sawyer had not been looking at Rebecca, but the child’s eyes were
flashing, her bosom heaving, and her cheeks glowing with sudden rage
and despair. All at once something happened. She forgot that she was
speaking to an older person; forgot that she was dependent; forgot
everything but her disappointment at losing the solferino breast,
remembering nothing but the enchanting, dazzling beauty of Emma Jane
Perkins’s winter outfit; and suddenly, quite without warning, she burst
into a torrent of protest.

“I will NOT wear those hateful porcupine quills again this winter! I
will not! It’s wicked, WICKED to expect me to! Oh! How I wish there
never had been any porcupines in the world, or that all of them had died
before silly, hateful people ever thought of trimming hat with them!
They curl round and tickle my ear! They blow against my cheek and sting
it like needles! They do look outlandish, you said so yourself a minute
ago. Nobody ever had any but only just me! The only porcupine was made
into the only quills for me and nobody else! I wish instead of sticking
OUT of the nasty beasts, that they stuck INTO them, same as they do into
my cheek! I suffer, suffer, suffer, wearing them and hating them, and
they will last forever and forever, and when I’m dead and can’t help
myself, somebody’ll rip them out of my last year’s hat and stick them
on my head, and I’ll be buried in them! Well, when I am buried THEY
will be, that’s one good thing! Oh, if I ever have a child I’ll let her
choose her own feathers and not make her wear ugly things like pigs’
bristles and porcupine quills!”

With this lengthy tirade Rebecca vanished like a meteor, through the
door and down the street, while Miranda Sawyer gasped for breath, and
prayed to Heaven to help her understand such human whirlwinds as this
Randall niece of hers.

This was at three o’clock, and at half-past three Rebecca was kneeling
on the rag carpet with her head in her aunt’s apron, sobbing her
contrition.

“Oh! Aunt Miranda, do forgive me if you can. It’s the only time I’ve
been bad for months! You know it is! You know you said last week I
hadn’t been any trouble lately. Something broke inside of me and came
tumbling out of my mouth in ugly words! The porcupine quills make me
feel just as a bull does when he sees a red cloth; nobody understands
how I suffer with them!”

Miranda Sawyer had learned a few lessons in the last two years, lessons
which were making her (at least on her “good days”) a trifle kinder, and
at any rate a juster woman than she used to be. When she alighted on the
wrong side of her four-poster in the morning, or felt an extra touch of
rheumatism, she was still grim and unyielding; but sometimes a curious
sort of melting process seemed to go on within her, when her whole bony
structure softened, and her eyes grew less vitreous. At such moments
Rebecca used to feel as if a superincumbent iron pot had been lifted off
her head, allowing her to breath freely and enjoy the sunshine.

“Well,” she said finally, after staring first at Rebecca and then at the
porcupine quills, as if to gain some insight into the situation, “well,
I never, sence I was born int’ the world, heerd such a speech as you’ve
spoke, an’ I guess there probably never was one. You’d better tell the
minister what you said and see what he thinks of his prize Sunday-school
scholar. But I’m too old and tired to scold and fuss, and try to train
you same as I did at first. You can punish yourself this time, like
you used to. Go fire something down the well, same as you did your pink
parasol! You’ve apologized and we won’t say no more about it today, but
I expect you to show by extry good conduct how sorry you be! You care
altogether too much about your looks and your clothes for a child, and
you’ve got a temper that’ll certainly land you in state’s prison some o’
these days!”

Rebecca wiped her eyes and laughed aloud. “No, no, Aunt Miranda, it
won’t, really! That wasn’t temper; I don’t get angry with PEOPLE; but
only, once in a long while, with things; like those,--cover them up
quick before I begin again! I’m all right! Shower’s over, sun’s out!”

Miss Miranda looked at her searchingly and uncomprehendingly. Rebecca’s
state of mind came perilously near to disease, she thought.

“Have you seen me buyin’ any new bunnits, or your Aunt Jane?” she asked
cuttingly. “Is there any particular reason why you should dress better
than your elders? You might as well know that we’re short of cash just
now, your Aunt Jane and me, and have no intention of riggin’ you out
like a Milltown fact’ry girl.”

“Oh-h!” cried Rebecca, the quick tears starting again to her eyes and
the color fading out of her cheeks, as she scrambled up from her knees
to a seat on the sofa beside her aunt. “Oh-h! How ashamed I am! Quick,
sew those quills on to the brown turban while I’m good! If I can’t stand
them I’ll make a neat little gingham bag and slip over them!”

And so the matter ended, not as it customarily did, with cold words on
Miss Miranda’s part and bitter feelings on Rebecca’s, but with a gleam
of mutual understanding.

Mrs. Cobb, who was a master hand at coloring, dipped the offending
quills in brown dye and left them to soak in it all night, not only
making them a nice warm color, but somewhat weakening their rocky
spines, so that they were not quite as rampantly hideous as before, in
Rebecca’s opinion.

Then Mrs. Perkins went to her bandbox in the attic and gave Miss
Dearborn some pale blue velvet, with which she bound the brim of the
brown turban and made a wonderful rosette, out of which the porcupine’s
defensive armor sprang, buoyantly and gallantly, like the plume of Henry
of Navarre.

Rebecca was resigned, if not greatly comforted, but she had grace enough
to conceal her feelings, now that she knew economy was at the root
of some of her aunt’s decrees in matters of dress; and she managed to
forget the solferino breast, save in sleep, where a vision of it had a
way of appearing to her, dangling from the ceiling, and dazzling her
so with its rich color that she used to hope the milliner would sell it
that she might never be tempted with it when she passed the shop window.

One day, not long afterward, Miss Miranda borrowed Mr. Perkins’s horse
and wagon and took Rebecca with her on a drive to Union, to see about
some sausage meat and head cheese. She intended to call on Mrs. Cobb,
order a load of pine wood from Mr. Strout on the way, and leave some
rags for a rug with old Mrs. Pease, so that the journey could be made
as profitable as possible, consistent with the loss of time and the wear
and tear on her second-best black dress.

The red-winged black hat was forcibly removed from Rebecca’s head just
before starting, and the nightmare turban substituted.

“You might as well begin to wear it first as last,” remarked Miranda,
while Jane stood in the side door and sympathized secretly with Rebecca.

“I will!” said Rebecca, ramming the stiff turban down on her head with a
vindictive grimace, and snapping the elastic under her long braids; “but
it makes me think of what Mr. Robinson said when the minister told him
his mother-in-law would ride in the same buggy with him at his wife’s
funeral.”

“I can’t see how any speech of Mr. Robinson’s, made years an’ years ago,
can have anything to do with wearin’ your turban down to Union,” said
Miranda, settling the lap robe over her knees.

“Well, it can; because he said: Have it that way, then, but it’ll spile
the hull blamed trip for me!’”

Jane closed the door suddenly, partly because she experienced a desire
to smile (a desire she had not felt for years before Rebecca came to
the brick house to live), and partly because she had no wish to overhear
what her sister would say when she took in the full significance of
Rebecca’s anecdote, which was a favorite one with Mr. Perkins.

It was a cold blustering day with a high wind that promised to bring an
early fall of snow. The trees were stripped bare of leaves, the
ground was hard, and the wagon wheels rattled noisily over the
thank-you-ma’ams.

“I’m glad I wore my Paisley shawl over my cloak,” said Miranda. “Be you
warm enough, Rebecca? Tie that white rigolette tighter round your neck.
The wind fairly blows through my bones. I most wish t we’d waited till
a pleasanter day, for this Union road is all up hill or down, and we
shan’t get over the ground fast, it’s so rough. Don’t forget, when you
go into Scott’s, to say I want all the trimmin’s when they send me the
pork, for mebbe I can try out a little mite o’ lard. The last load o’
pine’s gone turrible quick; I must see if “Bijah Flagg can’t get us some
cut-rounds at the mills, when he hauls for Squire Bean next time. Keep
your mind on your drivin’, Rebecca, and don’t look at the trees and the
sky so much. It’s the same sky and same trees that have been here right
along. Go awful slow down this hill and walk the hoss over Cook’s Brook
bridge, for I always suspicion it’s goin’ to break down under me, an’ I
shouldn’t want to be dropped into that fast runnin’ water this cold day.
It’ll be froze stiff by this time next week. Hadn’t you better get out
and lead”--

The rest of the sentence was very possibly not vital, but at any rate
it was never completed, for in the middle of the bridge a fierce gale
of wind took Miss Miranda’s Paisley shawl and blew it over her head. The
long heavy ends whirled in opposite directions and wrapped themselves
tightly about her wavering bonnet. Rebecca had the whip and the reins,
and in trying to rescue her struggling aunt could not steady her own
hat, which was suddenly torn from her head and tossed against the bridge
rail, where it trembled and flapped for an instant.

“My hat! Oh! Aunt Miranda, my hateful hat!” cried Rebecca, never
remembering at the instant how often she had prayed that the “fretful
porcupine” might some time vanish in this violent manner, since it
refused to die a natural death.

She had already stopped the horse, so, giving her aunt’s shawl one last
desperate twitch, she slipped out between the wagon wheels, and darted
in the direction of the hated object, the loss of which had dignified it
with a temporary value and importance.

The stiff brown turban rose in the air, then dropped and flew along the
bridge; Rebecca pursued; it danced along and stuck between two of the
railings; Rebecca flew after it, her long braids floating in the wind.

“Come back! Come back! Don’t leave me alone with the team. I won’t have
it! Come back, and leave your hat!”

Miranda had at length extricated herself from the submerging shawl, but
she was so blinded by the wind, and so confused that she did not measure
the financial loss involved in her commands.

Rebecca heard, but her spirit being in arms, she made one more mad
scramble for the vagrant hat, which now seemed possessed with an evil
spirit, for it flew back and forth, and bounded here and there, like
a living thing, finally distinguishing itself by blowing between the
horse’s front and hind legs, Rebecca trying to circumvent it by going
around the wagon, and meeting it on the other side.

It was no use; as she darted from behind the wheels the wind gave the
hat an extra whirl, and scurrying in the opposite direction it soared
above the bridge rail and disappeared into the rapid water below.

“Get in again!” cried Miranda, holding on her bonnet. “You done your
best and it can’t be helped, I only wish’t I’d let you wear your black
hat as you wanted to; and I wish’t we’d never come such a day! The shawl
has broke the stems of the velvet geraniums in my bonnet, and the wind
has blowed away my shawl pin and my back comb. I’d like to give up and
turn right back this minute, but I don’t like to borrer Perkins’s hoss
again this month. When we get up in the woods you can smooth your hair
down and tie the rigolette over your head and settle what’s left of my
bonnet; it’ll be an expensive errant, this will!”

 * * * * *

II

It was not till next morning that Rebecca’s heart really began its song
of thanksgiving. Her Aunt Miranda announced at breakfast, that as Mrs.
Perkins was going to Milliken’s Mills, Rebecca might go too, and buy a
serviceable hat.

“You mustn’t pay over two dollars and a half, and you mustn’t get the
pink bird without Mrs. Perkins says, and the milliner says, that it
won’t fade nor moult. Don’t buy a light-colored felt because you’ll get
sick of it in two or three years same as you did the brown one. I always
liked the shape of the brown one, and you’ll never get another trimmin’
that’ll wear like them quills.”

“I hope not!” thought Rebecca.

“If you had put your elastic under your chin, same as you used to, and
not worn it behind because you think it’s more grown-up an’ fash’onable,
the wind never’d a’ took the hat off your head, and you wouldn’t a’ lost
it; but the mischief’s done and you can go right over to Mis’ Perkins
now, so you won’t miss her nor keep her waitin’. The two dollars and a
half is in an envelope side o’ the clock.”

Rebecca swallowed the last spoonful of picked-up codfish on her plate,
wiped her lips, and rose from her chair happier than the seraphs in
Paradise.

The porcupine quills had disappeared from her life, and without any
fault or violence on her part. She was wholly innocent and virtuous, but
nevertheless she was going to have a new hat with the solferino breast,
should the adored object prove, under rigorous examination, to be
practically indestructible.

“Whene’er I take my walks abroad, How many hats I’ll see; But if they’re
trimmed with hedgehog quills They’ll not belong to me!”

So she improvised, secretly and ecstatically, as she went towards the
side entry.

“There’s ‘Bijah Flagg drivin’ in,” said Miss Miranda, going to the
window. “Step out and see what he’s got, Jane; some passel from the
Squire, I guess. It’s a paper bag and it may be a punkin, though he
wouldn’t wrop up a punkin, come to think of it! Shet the dinin’ room
door, Jane; it’s turrible drafty. Make haste, for the Squire’s hoss
never stan’s still a minute cept when he’s goin’!”

Abijah Flagg alighted and approached the side door with a grin.

“Guess what I’ve got for ye, Rebecky?”

No throb of prophetic soul warned Rebecca of her approaching doom.

“Nodhead apples?” she sparkled, looking as bright and rosy and
satin-skinned as an apple herself.

“No; guess again.”

“A flowering geranium?”

“Guess again!”

“Nuts? Oh! I can’t, Bijah; I’m just going to Milliken’s Mills on an
errand, and I’m afraid of missing Mrs. Perkins. Show me quick! Is it
really for me, or for Aunt Miranda?”

“Reely for you, I guess!” and he opened the large brown paper bag and
drew from it the remains of a water-soaked hat!

They WERE remains, but there was no doubt of their nature and substance.
They had clearly been a hat in the past, and one could even suppose
that, when resuscitated, they might again assume their original form in
some near and happy future.

Miss Miranda, full of curiosity, joined the group in the side entry at
this dramatic moment.

“Well, I never!” she exclaimed. “Where, and how under the canopy, did
you ever?”

“I was working on the dam at Union Falls yesterday,” chuckled Abijah,
with a pleased glance at each of the trio in turn, “an’ I seen this
little bunnit skippin’ over the water jest as Becky does over the road.
It’s shaped kind o’ like a boat, an’ gorry, ef it wa’nt sailin’ jest
like a boat! Where hev I seen that kind of a bristlin’ plume?’ thinks
I.”

(“Where indeed!” thought Rebecca stormily.)

“Then it come to me that I’d drove that plume to school and drove it to
meetin’ and drove it to the Fair an’drove it most everywheres on Becky.
So I reached out a pole an’ ketched it fore it got in amongst the logs
an’ come to any damage, an’ here it is! The hat’s passed in its checks,
I guess; looks kind as if a wet elephant had stepped on it; but the
plume’s bout’s good as new! I reely fetched the hat beck for the sake o’
the plume.”

“It was real good of you, ‘Bijah, an’ we’re all of us obliged to you,”
 said Miranda, as she poised the hat on one hand and turned it slowly
with the other.

“Well, I do say,” she exclaimed, “and I guess I’ve said it before, that
of all the wearing’ plumes that ever I see, that one’s the wearin’est!
Seems though it just wouldn’t give up. Look at the way it’s held Mis’
Cobb’s dye; it’s about as brown’s when it went int’ the water.”

“Dyed, but not a mite dead,” grinned Abijah, who was somewhat celebrated
for his puns.

“And I declare,” Miranda continued, “when you think o’ the fuss they
make about ostriches, killin’ em off by hundreds for the sake o’ their
feathers that’ll string out and spoil in one hard rainstorm,--an’ all
the time lettin’ useful porcupines run round with their quills on, why
I can’t hardly understand it, without milliners have found out jest
how good they do last, an’ so they won’t use em for trimmin’. ‘Bijah’s
right; the hat ain’t no more use, Rebecca, but you can buy you another
this mornin’--any color or shape you fancy--an’ have Miss Morton sew
these brown quills on to it with some kind of a buckle or a bow, jest
to hide the roots. Then you’ll be fixed for another season, thanks to
‘Bijah.”

Uncle Jerry and Aunt Sarah Cobb were made acquainted before very long
with the part that destiny, or Abijah Flagg, had played in Rebecca’s
affairs, for, accompanied by the teacher, she walked to the old stage
driver’s that same afternoon. Taking off her new hat with the venerable
trimming, she laid it somewhat ostentatiously upside down on the kitchen
table and left the room, dimpling a little more than usual.

Uncle Jerry rose from his seat, and, crossing the room, looked curiously
into the hat and found that a circular paper lining was neatly pinned
in the crown, and that it bore these lines, which were read aloud with
great effect by Miss Dearborn, and with her approval were copied in the
Thought Book for the benefit of posterity:

“It was the bristling porcupine, As he stood on his native heath, He
said, ‘I’ll pluck me some immortelles And make me up a wreath. For tho’
I may not live myself To more than a hundred and ten, My quills will
last till crack of doom, And maybe after then. They can be colored blue
or green Or orange, brown, or red, But often as they may be dyed They
never will be dead.’ And so the bristling porcupine As he stood on his
native heath, Said, I think I’ll pluck me some immmortelles And make me
up a wreath.’

“R.R.R.”



Fifth Chronicle. THE SAVING OF THE COLORS


I

Even when Rebecca had left school, having attained the great age of
seventeen and therefore able to look back over a past incredibly long
and full, she still reckoned time not by years, but by certain important
occurrences.

There was the year her father died; the year she left Sunnybrook Farm to
come to her aunts in Riverboro; the year Sister Hannah became engaged;
the year little Mira died; the year Abijah Flagg ceased to be Squire
Bean’s chore-boy, and astounded Riverboro by departing for Limerick
Academy in search of an education; and finally the year of her
graduation, which, to the mind of seventeen, seems rather the
culmination than the beginning of existence.

Between these epoch-making events certain other happenings stood out in
bold relief against the gray of dull daily life.

There was the day she first met her friend of friends, “Mr. Aladdin,”
 and the later, even more radiant one when he gave her the coral
necklace. There was the day the Simpson family moved away from Riverboro
under a cloud, and she kissed Clara Belle fervently at the cross-roads,
telling her that she would always be faithful. There was the visit of
the Syrian missionaries to the brick house. That was a bright, romantic
memory, as strange and brilliant as the wonderful little birds’ wings
and breasts that the strangers brought from the Far East. She remembered
the moment they asked her to choose some for herself, and the rapture
with which she stroked the beautiful things as they lay on the black
haircloth sofa. Then there was the coming of the new minister, for
though many were tried only one was chosen; and finally there was the
flag-raising, a festivity that thrilled Riverboro and Edgewood society
from centre to circumference, a festivity that took place just before
she entered the Female Seminary at Wareham and said good-by to kind Miss
Dearborn and the village school.

There must have been other flag-raisings in history,--even the persons
most interested in this particular one would grudgingly have allowed
that much,--but it would have seemed to them improbable that any such
flag-raising as theirs, either in magnitude of conception or brilliancy
of actual performance, could twice glorify the same century. Of some
pageants it is tacitly admitted that there can be no duplicates, and the
flag-raising at Riverboro Centre was one of these; so that it is small
wonder if Rebecca chose it as one of the important dates in her personal
almanac.

The new minister’s wife was the being, under Providence, who had
conceived the germinal idea of the flag.

At this time the parish had almost settled down to the trembling belief
that they were united on a pastor. In the earlier time a minister was
chosen for life, and if he had faults, which was a probably enough
contingency, and if his congregation had any, which is within the bounds
of possibility, each bore with the other (not quite without friction),
as old-fashioned husbands and wives once did, before the easy way out of
the difficulty was discovered, or at least before it was popularized.

The faithful old parson had died after thirty years’ preaching,
and perhaps the newer methods had begun to creep in, for it seemed
impossible to suit the two communities most interested in the choice.

The Rev. Mr. Davis, for example, was a spirited preacher, but persisted
in keeping two horses in the parsonage stable, and in exchanging
them whenever he could get faster ones. As a parochial visitor he was
incomparable, dashing from house to house with such speed that he could
cover the parish in a single afternoon. This sporting tendency, which
would never have been remarked in a British parson, was frowned upon in
a New England village, and Deacon Milliken told Mr. Davis, when giving
him what he alluded to as his “walking papers,” that they didn’t want
the Edgewood church run by hoss power!

The next candidate pleased Edgewood, where morning preaching was held,
but the other parish, which had afternoon service, declined to accept
him because he wore a wig--an ill-matched, crookedly applied wig.

Number three was eloquent but given to gesticulation, and Mrs. Jere
Burbank, the president of the Dorcas Society, who sat in a front pew,
said she couldn’t bear to see a preacher scramble round the pulpit hot
Sundays.

Number four, a genial, handsome man, gifted in prayer, was found to be
a Democrat. The congregation was overwhelmingly Republican in its
politics, and perceived something ludicrous, if not positively
blasphemous, in a Democrat preaching the gospel. (“Ananias and
Beelzebub’ll be candidatin’ here, first thing we know!” exclaimed the
outraged Republican nominee for district attorney.)

Number five had a feeble-minded child, which the hiring committee
prophesied, would always be standing in the parsonage front yard, making
talk for the other denominations.

Number six was the Rev. Judson Baxter, the present incumbent; and he
was voted to be as near perfection as a minister can be in this finite
world. His young wife had a small income of her own, a distinct and
unusual advantage, and the subscription committee hoped that they might
not be eternally driving over the country to get somebody’s fifty cents
that had been over-due for eight months, but might take their onerous
duties a little more easily.

“It does seem as if our ministers were the poorest lot!” complained Mrs.
Robinson. “If their salary is two months behindhand they begin to be
nervous! Seems as though they might lay up a little before they come
here, and not live from hand to mouth so! The Baxters seem quite
different, and I only hope they won’t get wasteful and run into debt.
They say she keeps the parlor blinds open bout half the time, and the
room is lit up so often evenin’s that the neighbors think her and Mr.
Baxter must set in there. It don’t seem hardly as if it could be so, but
Mrs. Buzzell says tis, and she says we might as well say good-by to the
parlor carpet, which is church property, for the Baxters are living all
over it!”

This criticism was the only discordant note in the chorus of praise, and
the people gradually grew accustomed to the open blinds and the overused
parlor carpet, which was just completing its twenty-fifth year of honest
service.

Mrs. Baxter communicated her patriotic idea of a new flag to the Dorcas
Society, proposing that the women should cut and make it themselves.

“It may not be quite as good as those manufactured in the large cities,”
 she said, “but we shall be proud to see our home-made flag flying in the
breeze, and it will mean all the more to the young voters growing up, to
remember that their mothers made it with their own hands.”

“How would it do to let some of the girls help?” modestly asked Miss
Dearborn, the Riverboro teacher. “We might choose the best sewers and
let them put in at least a few stitches, so that they can feel they have
a share in it.”

“Just the thing!” exclaimed Mrs. Baxter. “We can cut the stripes and sew
them together, and after we have basted on the white stars the girls can
apply them to the blue ground. We must have it ready for the campaign
rally, and we couldn’t christen it at a better time than in this
presidential year.”

II

In this way the great enterprise was started, and day by day the
preparations went forward in the two villages.

The boys, as future voters and fighters, demanded an active share in
the proceedings, and were organized by Squire Bean into a fife and drum
corps, so that by day and night martial but most inharmonious music woke
the echoes, and deafened mothers felt their patriotism oozing out at the
soles of their shoes.

Dick Carter was made captain, for his grandfather had a gold medal
given him by Queen Victoria for rescuing three hundred and twenty-six
passengers from a sinking British vessel. Riverboro thought it high time
to pay some graceful tribute to Great Britain in return for her handsome
conduct to Captain Nahum Carter, and human imagination could contrive
nothing more impressive than a vicarious share in the flag raising.

Living Perkins tried to be happy in the ranks, for he was offered no
official position, principally, Mrs. Smellie observed, because “his
father’s war record wa’nt clean.” “Oh, yes! Jim Perkins went to the
war,” she continued. “He hid out behind the hencoop when they was
draftin’, but they found him and took him along. He got into one battle,
too, somehow or nother, but he run away from it. He was allers cautious,
Jim was; if he ever see trouble of any kind comin’ towards him, he was
out o’ sight fore it got a chance to light. He said eight dollars a
month, without bounty, wouldn’t pay HIM to stop bullets for. He wouldn’t
fight a skeeter, Jim wouldn’t, but land! we ain’t to war all the time,
and he’s a good neighbor and a good blacksmith.”

Miss Dearborn was to be Columbia and the older girls of the two schools
were to be the States. Such trade in muslins and red, white, and blue
ribbons had never been known since “Watson kep’ store,” and the number
of brief white petticoats hanging out to bleach would have caused the
passing stranger to imagine Riverboro a continual dancing school.

Juvenile virtue, both male and female, reached an almost impossible
height, for parents had only to lift a finger and say, “you shan’t go
to the flag raising!” and the refractory spirit at once armed itself for
new struggles toward the perfect life.

Mr. Jeremiah Cobb had consented to impersonate Uncle Sam, and was to
drive Columbia and the States to the “raising” on the top of his own
stage. Meantime the boys were drilling, the ladies were cutting and
basting and stitching, and the girls were sewing on stars; for the
starry part of the spangled banner was to remain with each of them in
turn until she had performed her share of the work.

It was felt by one and all a fine and splendid service indeed to help
in the making of the flag, and if Rebecca was proud to be of the chosen
ones, so was her Aunt Jane Sawyer, who had taught her all her delicate
stitches.

On a long-looked-for afternoon in August the minister’s wife drove up
to the brick house door, and handed out the great piece of bunting to
Rebecca, who received it in her arms with as much solemnity as if it had
been a child awaiting baptismal rites.

“I’m so glad!” she sighed happily. “I thought it would never come my
turn!”

“You should have had it a week ago, but Huldah Meserve upset the ink
bottle over her star, and we had to baste on another one. You are the
last, though, and then we shall sew the stars and stripes together, and
Seth Strout will get the top ready for hanging. Just think, it won’t
be many days before you children will be pulling the rope with all your
strength, the band will be playing, the men will be cheering, and the
new flag will go higher and higher, till the red, white, and blue shows
against the sky!”

Rebecca’s eyes fairly blazed. “Shall I fell on’ my star, or buttonhole
it?” she asked.

“Look at all the others and make the most beautiful stitches you can,
that’s all. It is your star, you know, and you can even imagine it is
your state, and try and have it the best of all. If everybody else
is trying to do the same thing with her state, that will make a great
country, won’t it?”

Rebecca’s eyes spoke glad confirmation of the idea. “My star, my state!”
 she repeated joyously. “Oh, Mrs. Baxter, I’ll make such fine stitches
you’ll think the white grew out of the blue!”

The new minister’s wife looked pleased to see her spark kindle a flame
in the young heart. “You can sew so much of yourself into your star,”
 she went on in the glad voice that made her so winsome, “that when you
are an old lady you can put on your specs and find it among all the
others. Good-by! Come up to the parsonage Saturday afternoon; Mr. Baxter
wants to see you.”

“Judson, help that dear little genius of a Rebecca all you can!” she
said that night, when they were cosily talking in their parlor and
living “all over” the parish carpet. “I don’t know what she may, or may
not, come to, some day; I only wish she were ours! If you could have
seen her clasp the flag tight in her arms and put her cheek against it,
and watched the tears of feeling start in her eyes when I told her
that her star was her state! I kept whispering to myself, Covet not thy
neighbor’s child!’”

Daily at four o’clock Rebecca scrubbed her hands almost to the bone,
brushed her hair, and otherwise prepared herself in body, mind, and
spirit for the consecrated labor of sewing on her star. All the time
that her needle cautiously, conscientiously formed the tiny stitches she
was making rhymes “in her head,” her favorite achievement being this:

“Your star, my star, all our stars together, They make the dear old
banner proud To float in the bright fall weather.”

There was much discussion as to which of the girls should impersonate
the State of Maine, for that was felt to be the highest honor in the
gift of the committee.

Alice Robinson was the prettiest child in the village, but she was very
shy and by no means a general favorite.

Minnie Smellie possessed the handsomest dress and a pair of white
slippers and open-work stockings that nearly carried the day. Still, as
Miss Delia Weeks well said, she was so stupid that if she should
suck her thumb in the very middle of the exercises nobody’d be a dite
surprised!

Huldah Meserve was next voted upon, and the fact that if she were not
chosen her father might withdraw his subscription to the brass band fund
was a matter for grave consideration.

“I kind o’ hate to have such a giggler for the State of Maine; let her
be the Goddess of Liberty,” proposed Mrs. Burbank, whose patriotism was
more local than national.

“How would Rebecca Randall do for Maine, and let her speak some of her
verses?” suggested the new minister’s wife, who, could she have had her
way, would have given all the prominent parts to Rebecca, from Uncle Sam
down.

So, beauty, fashion, and wealth having been tried and found wanting, the
committee discussed the claims of talent, and it transpired that to
the awe-stricken Rebecca fell the chief plum in the pudding. It was a
tribute to her gifts that there was no jealousy or envy among the other
girls; they readily conceded her special fitness for the role.

Her life had not been pressed down full to the brim of pleasures, and
she had a sort of distrust of joy in the bud. Not until she saw it in
full radiance of bloom did she dare embrace it. She had never read
any verse but Byron, Felicia Hemans, bits of “Paradise Lost,” and the
selections in the school readers, but she would have agreed heartily
with the poet who said:

“Not by appointment do we meet delight And joy; they heed not our
expectancy; But round some corner in the streets of life They on a
sudden clasp us with a smile.”

For many nights before the raising, when she went to her bed she said to
herself, after she had finished her prayers: “It can’t be true that I’m
chosen for the State of Maine! It just CAN’T be true! Nobody could be
good ENOUGH, but oh, I’ll try to be as good as I can! To be going to
Wareham Seminary next week and to be the State of Maine too! Oh! I must
pray HARD to God to keep me meek and humble!”

III

The flag was to be raised on a Tuesday, and on the previous Sunday it
became known to the children that Clara Belle Simpson was coming back
from Acreville, coming to live with Mrs. Fogg and take care of the
baby, called by the neighborhood boys “the Fogg horn,” on account of his
excellent voice production.

Clara Belle was one of Miss Dearborn’s original flock, and if she
were left wholly out of the festivities she would be the only girl of
suitable age to be thus slighted; it seemed clear to the juvenile mind,
therefore, that neither she nor her descendants would ever recover from
such a blow. But, under all the circumstances, would she be allowed to
join in the procession? Even Rebecca, the optimistic, feared not,
and the committee confirmed her fears by saying that Abner Simpson’s
daughter certainly could not take any prominent part in the ceremony,
but they hoped that Mrs. Fogg would allow her to witness it.

When Abner Simpson, urged by the town authorities, took his wife and
seven children away from Riverboro to Acreville, just over the border in
the next county, Riverboro went to bed leaving its barn and shed doors
unfastened, and drew long breaths of gratitude to Providence.

Of most winning disposition and genial manners, Mr. Simpson had not
that instinctive comprehension of property rights which renders a man a
valuable citizen.

Squire Bean was his nearest neighbor, and he conceived the novel idea
of paying Simpson five dollars a year not to steal from him, a method
occasionally used in the Highlands in the early days.

The bargain was struck, and adhered to religiously for a twelve-month,
but on the second of January Mr. Simpson announced the verbal contract
as formally broken.

“I didn’t know what I was doin’ when I made it, Squire,” he urged.
“In the first place, it’s a slur on my reputation and an injury to my
self-respect. Secondly, it’s a nervous strain on me; and thirdly, five
dollars don’t pay me!”

Squire Bean was so struck with the unique and convincing nature of
these arguments that he could scarcely restrain his admiration, and he
confessed to himself afterward, that unless Simpson’s mental attitude
could be changed he was perhaps a fitter subject for medical science
than the state prison.

Abner was a most unusual thief, and conducted his operations with a tact
and neighborly consideration none too common in the profession. He would
never steal a man’s scythe in haying-time, nor his fur lap-robe in the
coldest of the winter. The picking of a lock offered no attractions
to him; “he wa’n’t no burglar,” he would have scornfully asserted. A
strange horse and wagon hitched by the roadside was the most flagrant
of his thefts; but it was the small things--the hatchet or axe on the
chopping-block, the tin pans sunning at the side door, a stray garment
bleaching on the grass, a hoe, rake, shovel, or a bag of early potatoes,
that tempted him most sorely; and these appealed to him not so much for
their intrinsic value as because they were so excellently adapted to
swapping. The swapping was really the enjoyable part of the procedure,
the theft was only a sad but necessary preliminary; for if Abner
himself had been a man of sufficient property to carry on his business
operations independently, it is doubtful if he would have helped himself
so freely to his neighbor’s goods.

Riverboro regretted the loss of Mrs. Simpson, who was useful in
scrubbing, cleaning, and washing, and was thought to exercise some
influence over her predatory spouse. There was a story of their early
married life, when they had a farm; a story to the effect that Mrs.
Simpson always rode on every load of hay that her husband took to
Milltown, with the view of keeping him sober through the day. After he
turned out of the country road and approached the metropolis, it was
said that he used to bury the docile lady in the load. He would then
drive on to the scales, have the weight of the hay entered in the
buyer’s book, take his horses to the stable for feed and water, and when
a favorable opportunity offered he would assist the hot and panting Mrs.
Simpson out of the side or back of the rack, and gallantly brush the
straw from her person. For this reason it was always asserted that Abner
Simpson sold his wife every time he went to Milltown, but the story was
never fully substantiated, and at all events it was the only suspected
blot on meek Mrs. Simpson’s personal reputation.

As for the Simpson children, they were missed chiefly as familiar
figures by the roadside; but Rebecca honestly loved Clara Belle,
notwithstanding her Aunt Miranda’s opposition to the intimacy. Rebecca’s
“taste for low company” was a source of continual anxiety to her aunt.

“Anything that’s human flesh is good enough for her!” Miranda groaned to
Jane. “She’ll ride with the rag-sack-and-bottle peddler just as quick as
she would with the minister; she always sets beside the St. Vitus’ dance
young one at Sabbath school; and she’s forever riggin’ and onriggin’
that dirty Simpson baby! She reminds me of a puppy that’ll always go to
everybody that’ll have him!”

It was thought very creditable to Mrs. Fogg that she sent for Clara
Belle to live with her and go to school part of the year.

“She’ll be useful” said Mrs. Fogg, “and she’ll be out of her father’s
way, and so keep honest; though she’s no awful hombly I’ve no fears for
her. A girl with her red hair, freckles, and cross-eyes can’t fall into
no kind of sin, I don’t believe.”

Mrs. Fogg requested that Clara Belle should be started on her journey
from Acreville by train and come the rest of the way by stage, and she
was disturbed to receive word on Sunday that Mr. Simpson had borrowed a
“good roader” from a new acquaintance, and would himself drive the girl
from Acreville to Riverboro, a distance of thirty-five miles. That he
would arrive in their vicinity on the very night before the flag-raising
was thought by Riverboro to be a public misfortune, and several
residents hastily determined to deny themselves a sight of the
festivities and remain watchfully on their own premises.

On Monday afternoon the children were rehearsing their songs at the
meeting-house. As Rebecca came out on the broad wooden steps she watched
Mrs. Peter Meserve’s buggy out of sight, for in front, wrapped in a
cotton sheet, lay the previous flag. After a few chattering good-bys
and weather prophecies with the other girls, she started on her homeward
walk, dropping in at the parsonage to read her verses to the minister.

He welcomed her gladly as she removed her white cotton gloves (hastily
slipped on outside the door, for ceremony) and pushed back the funny hat
with the yellow and black porcupine quills--the hat with which she made
her first appearance in Riverboro society.

“You’ve heard the beginning, Mr. Baxter; now will you please tell me if
you like the last verse?” she asked, taking out her paper. “I’ve only
read it to Alice Robinson, and I think perhaps she can never be a poet,
though she’s a splendid writer. Last year when she was twelve she wrote
a birthday poem to herself, and she made natal’ rhyme with Milton,.’
which, of course, it wouldn’t. I remember every verse ended:

     ‘This is my day so natal
     And I will follow Milton.’

Another one of hers was written just because she couldn’t help it, she
said. This was it:

     ‘Let me to the hills away,
     Give me pen and paper;
     I’ll write until the earth will sway
     The story of my Maker.’”

The minister could scarcely refrain from smiling, but he controlled
himself that he might lose none of Rebecca’s quaint observations.
When she was perfectly at ease, unwatched and uncriticised, she was a
marvelous companion.

“The name of the poem is going to be My Star,’” she continued, “and Mrs.
Baxter gave me all the ideas, but somehow there’s a kind of magicness
when they get into poetry, don’t you think so?” (Rebecca always talked
to grown people as if she were their age, or, a more subtle and truer
distinction, as if they were hers.)

“It has often been so remarked, in different words,” agreed the
minister.

“Mrs. Baxter said that each star was a state, and if each state did its
best we should have a splendid country. Then once she said that we ought
to be glad the war is over and the States are all at peace together; and
I thought Columbia must be glad, too, for Miss Dearborn says she’s
the mother of all the States. So I’m going to have it end like this: I
didn’t write it, I just sewed it while I was working on my star:

     For it’s your star, my star, all the stars together,
     That make our country’s flag so proud
     To float in the bright fall weather.
     Northern stars, Southern stars, stars of the East and West,
     Side by side they lie at peace
     On the dear flag’s mother-breast.”

“‘Oh! many are the poets that are sown by nature,’” thought the
minister, quoting Wordsworth to himself. “And I wonder what becomes of
them! That’s a pretty idea, little Rebecca, and I don’t know whether
you or my wife ought to have the more praise. What made you think of the
stars lying on the flag’s mother-breast’? Where did you get that word?”

“Why” (and the young poet looked rather puzzled), “that’s the way it is;
the flag is the whole country--the mother--and the stars are the states.
The stars had to lie somewhere: ‘LAP’ nor ‘ARMS’ wouldn’t sound well
with West,’ so, of course, I said ‘BREAST,’” Rebecca answered, with some
surprise at the question; and the minister put his hand under her chin
and kissed her softly on the forehead when he said good-by at the door.

IV

Rebecca walked rapidly along in the gathering twilight, thinking of the
eventful morrow.

As she approached the turning on the left called the old Milltown
road, she saw a white horse and wagon, driven by a man with a rakish,
flapping, Panama hat, come rapidly around the turn and disappear over
the long hills leading down to the falls. There was no mistaking him;
there never was another Abner Simpson, with his lean height, his bushy
reddish hair, the gay cock of his hat, and the long piratical, upturned
mustaches, which the boys used to say were used as hat-racks by the
Simpson children at night.. The old Milltown road ran past Mrs. Fogg’s
house, so he must have left Clara Belle there, and Rebecca’s heart
glowed to think that her poor little friend need not miss the raising.

She began to run now, fearful of being late for supper, and covered the
ground to the falls in a brief time. As she crossed the bridge she again
saw Abner Simpson’s team, drawn up at the watering trough.

Coming a little nearer, with the view of inquiring for the family, her
quick eye caught sight of something unexpected. A gust of wind blew up
a corner of a linen lap-robe in the back of the wagon, and underneath
it she distinctly saw the white-sheeted bundle that held the flag; the
bundle with a tiny, tiny spot of red bunting peeping out at one corner.
It is true she had eaten, slept, dreamed red, white, and blue for weeks,
but there was no mistaking the evidence of her senses; the idolized
flag, longed for, worked for, sewed for, that flag was in the back of
Abner Simpson’s wagon, and if so, what would become of the raising?

Acting on blind impulse, she ran toward the watering-trough, calling out
in her clear treble: “Mr. Simpson! Oh, Mr. Simpson, will you let me ride
a piece with you and hear all about Clara Belle? I’m going part way over
to the Centre on an errand.” (So she was; a most important errand,--to
recover the flag of her country at present in the hands of the foe!)

Mr. Simpson turned round in his seat and cried heartily, “Certain sure I
will!” for he liked the fair sex, young and old, and Rebecca had always
been a prime favorite with him. “Climb right in! How’s everybody? Glad
to see ye! The folks talk bout ye from sun-up to sun-down, and Clara
Belle can’t hardly wait for a sight of ye!”

Rebecca scrambled up, trembling and pale with excitement. She did not in
the least know what was going to happen, but she was sure that the flag,
when in the enemy’s country, must be at least a little safer with the
State of Maine sitting on top of it!

Mr. Simpson began a long monologue about Acreville, the house he lived
in, the pond in front of it, Mrs. Simpson’s health, and various items of
news about the children, varied by reports of his personal misfortunes.
He put no questions, and asked no replies, so this gave the
inexperienced soldier a few seconds to plan a campaign. There were
three houses to pass; the Browns’ at the corner, the Millikens’, and the
Robinsons’ on the brow of the hill. If Mr. Robinson were in the front
yard she might tell Mr. Simpson she wanted to call there and ask Mr.
Robinson to hold the horse’s head while she got out of the wagon.
Then she might fly to the back before Mr. Simpson could realize the
situation, and dragging out the precious bundle, sit on it hard, while
Mr. Robinson settled the matter of ownership with Mr. Simpson.

This was feasible, but it meant a quarrel between the two men, who held
an ancient grudge against each other, and Mr. Simpson was a valiant
fighter as the various sheriffs who had attempted to arrest him could
cordially testify. It also meant that everybody in the village would
hear of the incident and poor Clara Belle be branded again as the child
of a thief.

Another idea danced into her excited brain; such a clever one she could
hardly believe it hers. She might call Mr. Robinson to the wagon, and
when he came close to the wheels she might say, “all of a sudden”:
“Please take the flag out of the back of the wagon, Mr. Robinson. We
have brought it here for you to keep overnight.” Mr. Simpson might be
so surprised that he would give up his prize rather than be suspected of
stealing.

But as they neared the Robinsons’ house there was not a sign of life
to be seen; so the last plan, ingenious though it was, was perforce
abandoned.

The road now lay between thick pine woods with no dwelling in sight.
It was growing dusk and Rebecca was driving along the lonely way with a
person who was generally called Slippery Simpson.

Not a thought of fear crossed her mind, save the fear of bungling in
her diplomacy, and so losing the flag. She knew Mr. Simpson well, and a
pleasanter man was seldom to be met. She recalled an afternoon when he
came home and surprised the whole school playing the Revolutionary War
in his helter-skelter dooryard, and the way in which he had joined the
British forces and impersonated General Burgoyne had greatly endeared
him to her. The only difficulty was to find proper words for her
delicate mission, for, of course, if Mr. Simpson’s anger were aroused,
he would politely push her out of the wagon and drive away with the
flag. Perhaps if she led the conversation in the right direction an
opportunity would present itself. She well remembered how Emma Jane
Perkins had failed to convert Jacob Moody, simply because she failed to
“lead up” to the delicate question of his manner of life. Clearing her
throat nervously, she began: “Is it likely to be fair tomorrow?”

“Guess so; clear as a bell. What’s on foot; a picnic?”

“No; we’re to have a grand flag-raising!” (“That is,” she thought, “if
we have any flag to raise!”)

“That so? Where?”

“The three villages are to club together and have a rally, and raise
the flag at the Centre. There’ll be a brass band, and speakers, and the
Mayor of Portland, and the man that will be governor if he’s elected,
and a dinner in the Grange Hall, and we girls are chosen to raise the
flag.”

“I want to know! That’ll be grand, won’t it?” (Still not a sign of
consciousness on the part of Abner.)

“I hope Mrs. Fogg will take Clara Belle, for it will be splendid to look
at! Mr. Cobb is going to be Uncle Sam and drive us on the stage. Miss
Dearborn--Clara Belle’s old teacher, you know--is going to be Columbia;
the girls will be the States of the Union, and oh, Mr. Simpson, I am the
one to be the State of Maine!” (This was not altogether to the point,
but a piece of information impossible to conceal.)

Mr. Simpson flourished the whipstock and gave a loud, hearty laugh. Then
he turned in his seat and regarded Rebecca curiously. “You’re kind of
small, hain’t ye, for so big a state as this one?” he asked.

“Any of us would be too small,” replied Rebecca with dignity, “but the
committee asked me, and I am going to try hard to do well.”

The tragic thought that there might be no occasion for anybody to do
anything, well or ill, suddenly overcame her here, and putting her
hand on Mr. Simpson’s sleeve, she attacked the subject practically and
courageously.

“Oh, Mr. Simpson, dear Mr. Simpson, it’s such a mortifying subject I
can’t bear to say anything about it, but please give us back our flag!
Don’t, DON’T take it over to Acreville, Mr. Simpson! We’ve worked so
long to make it, and it was so hard getting the money for the bunting!
Wait a minute, please; don’t be angry, and don’t say no just yet, till
I explain more. It’ll be so dreadful for everybody to get there tomorrow
morning and find no flag to raise, and the band and the mayor all
disappointed, and the children crying, with their muslin dresses all
bought for nothing! O dear Mr. Simpson, please don’t take our flag away
from us!”

The apparently astonished Abner pulled his mustaches and exclaimed: “But
I don’t know what you’re drivin’ at! Who’s got yer flag? I hain’t!”

Could duplicity, deceit, and infamy go any further, Rebecca wondered,
and her soul filling with righteous wrath, she cast discretion to the
winds and spoke a little more plainly, bending her great swimming eyes
on the now embarrassed Abner, who looked like an angle-worm, wriggling
on a pin.

“Mr. Simpson, how can you say that, when I saw the flag in the back of
your wagon myself, when you stopped to water the horse? It’s wicked of
you to take it, and I cannot bear it!” (Her voice broke now, for a doubt
of Mr. Simpson’s yielding suddenly darkened her mind.) “If you keep it,
you’ll have to keep me, for I won’t be parted from it! I can’t fight
like the boys, but I can pinch and scratch, and I WILL scratch, just
like a panther--I’ll lie right down on my star and not move, if I starve
to death!”

“Look here, hold your hosses n’ don’t cry till you git something to cry
for!” grumbled the outraged Abner, to whom a clue had just come; and
leaning over the wagon-back he caught hold of a corner of white sheet
and dragged up the bundle, scooping off Rebecca’s hat in the process,
and almost burying her in bunting.

She caught the treasure passionately to her heart and stifled her sobs
in it, while Abner exclaimed: “I swan to man, if that hain’t a flag!
Well, in that case you’re good n’ welcome to it! Land! I seen that
bundle lyin’ in the middle o’ the road and I says to myself, that’s
somebody’s washin’ and I’d better pick it up and leave it at the
post-office to be claimed; n’ all the time it was a flag!”

This was a Simpsonian version of the matter, the fact being that a
white-covered bundle lying on the Meserves’ front steps had attracted
his practiced eye, and slipping in at the open gate he had swiftly and
deftly removed it to his wagon on general principles; thinking if it
were clean clothes it would be extremely useful, and in any event there
was no good in passing by something flung into your very arms, so to
speak. He had had no leisure to examine the bundle, and indeed took
little interest in it. Probably he stole it simply from force of habit,
and because there was nothing else in sight to steal, everybody’s
premises being preternaturally tidy and empty, almost as if his visit
had been expected!

Rebecca was a practical child, and it seemed to her almost impossible
that so heavy a bundle should fall out of Mrs. Meserve’s buggy and not
be noticed; but she hoped that Mr. Simpson was telling the truth, and
she was too glad and grateful to doubt anyone at the moment.

“Thank you, thank you ever so much, Mr. Simpson. You’re the nicest,
kindest, politest man I ever knew, and the girls will be so pleased you
gave us back the flag, and so will the Dorcas Society; they’ll be sure
to write you a letter of thanks; they always do.”

“Tell em not to bother bout any thanks,” said Simpson, beaming
virtuously. “But land! I’m glad twas me that happened to see that bundle
in the road and take the trouble to pick it up.” (“Jest to think of it’s
bein’ a flag!” he thought; “if ever there was a pesky, wuthless thing to
trade off, twould be a great, gormin’ flag like that!”)

“Can I get out now, please?” asked Rebecca. “I want to go back, for Mrs.
Meserve will be dreadfully nervous when she finds out she dropped the
flag, and she has heart trouble.”

“No, you don’t,” objected Mr. Simpson gallantly, turning the horse. “Do
you think I’d let a little creeter like you lug that great heavy bundle?
I hain’t got time to go back to Meserve’s, but I’ll take you to the
corner and dump you there, flag n’ all, and you can get some o’ the
men-folks to carry it the rest o’ the way. You’ll wear it out, huggin’
it so!”

“I helped make it and I adore it!” said Rebecca, who was in a
high-pitched and grandiloquent mood. “Why don’t YOU like it? It’s your
country’s flag.”

Simpson smiled an indulgent smile and looked a trifle bored at these
frequent appeals to his extremely rusty higher feelings.

“I don’ know’s I’ve got any partic’lar int’rest in the country,” he
remarked languidly. “I know I don’t owe nothin’ to it, nor own nothin’
in it!”

“You own a star on the flag, same as everybody,” argued Rebecca, who had
been feeding on patriotism for a month; “and you own a state, too, like
all of us!”

“Land! I wish’t I did! or even a quarter section!” sighed Mr. Simpson,
feeling somehow a little more poverty-stricken and discouraged than
usual.

As they approached the corner and the watering-trough where four
cross-roads met, the whole neighborhood seemed to be in evidence,
and Mr. Simpson suddenly regretted his chivalrous escort of Rebecca;
especially when, as he neared the group, an excited lady, wringing her
hands, turned out to be Mrs. Peter Meserve, accompanied by Huldah, the
Browns, Mrs. Milliken, Abijah Flagg, and Miss Dearborn.

“Do you know anything about the new flag, Rebecca?” shrieked Mrs.
Meserve, too agitated, at the moment, to notice the child’s companion.

“It’s right here in my lap, all safe,” responded Rebecca joyously.

“You careless, meddlesome young one, to take it off my steps where
I left it just long enough to go round to the back and hunt up my
door-key! You’ve given me a fit of sickness with my weak heart, and what
business was it of yours? I believe you think you OWN the flag! Hand it
over to me this minute!”

Rebecca was climbing down during this torrent of language, but as she
turned she flashed one look of knowledge at the false Simpson, a look
that went through him from head to foot, as if it were carried by
electricity.

He had not deceived her after all, owing to the angry chatter of Mrs.
Meserve. He had been handcuffed twice in his life, but no sheriff had
ever discomfited him so thoroughly as this child. Fury mounted to his
brain, and as soon as she was safely out from between the wheels he
stood up in the wagon and flung the flag out in the road in the midst of
the excited group.

“Take it, you pious, passimonious, cheese-parin’, hair-splittin’,
back-bitin’, flag-raisin’ crew!” he roared. “Rebecca never took the
flag; I found it in the road, I say!”

“You never, no such a thing!” exclaimed Mrs. Meserve. “You found it on
the doorsteps in my garden!”

“Mebbe twas your garden, but it was so chock full o’ weeks I THOUGHT
twas the road,” retorted Abner. “I vow I wouldn’t a’ given the old
rag back to one o’ YOU, not if you begged me on your bended knees! But
Rebecca’s a friend o’ my folks and can do with her flag’s she’s a mind
to, and the rest o’ ye can go to thunder--n’ stay there, for all I
care!”

So saying, he made a sharp turn, gave the gaunt white horse a lash and
disappeared in a cloud of dust, before the astonished Mr. Brown, the
only man in the party, had a thought of detaining him.

“I’m sorry I spoke so quick, Rebecca,” said Mrs. Meserve, greatly
mortified at the situation. “But don’t you believe a word that lyin’
critter said! He did steal it off my doorstep, and how did you come to
be ridin’ and consortin’ with him! I believe it would kill your Aunt
Miranda if she should hear about it!”

The little school-teacher put a sheltering arm round Rebecca as Mr.
Brown picked up the flag and dusted and folded it.

“I’m willing she should hear about it,” Rebecca answered. “I didn’t do
anything to be ashamed of! I saw the flag in the back of Mr. Simpson’s
wagon and I just followed it. There weren’t any men or any Dorcases to
take care of it and so it fell to me! You wouldn’t have had me let it
out of my sight, would you, and we going to raise it tomorrow morning?”

“Rebecca’s perfectly right, Mrs. Meserve!” said Miss Dearborn proudly.
“And it’s lucky there was somebody quick-witted enough to ride and
consort’ with Mr. Simpson! I don’t know what the village will think, but
seems to me the town clerk might write down in his book, THIS DAY THE
STATE OF MAINE SAVED THE FLAG!’”



Sixth Chronicle. THE STATE O’ MAINE GIRL


I

The foregoing episode, if narrated in a romance, would undoubtedly have
been called “The Saving of the Colors,” but at the nightly conversazione
in Watson’s store it was alluded to as the way little Becky Randall got
the flag away from Slippery Simpson.

Dramatic as it was, it passed into the limbo of half-forgotten things
in Rebecca’s mind, its brief importance submerged in the glories of the
next day.

There was a painful prelude to these glories. Alice Robinson came to
spend the night with Rebecca, and when the bedroom door closed upon the
two girls, Alice announced here intention of “doing up” Rebecca’s front
hair in leads and rags, and braiding the back in six tight, wetted
braids.

Rebecca demurred. Alice persisted.

“Your hair is so long and thick and dark and straight,” she said, “that
you’ll look like an Injun!”

“I am the State of Maine; it all belonged to the Indians once,” Rebecca
remarked gloomily, for she was curiously shy about discussing her
personal appearance.

“And your wreath of little pine-cones won’t set decent without crimps,”
 continued Alice.

Rebecca glanced in the cracked looking-glass and met what she considered
an accusing lack of beauty, a sight that always either saddened or
enraged her according to circumstances; then she sat down resignedly
and began to help Alice in the philanthropic work of making the State of
Maine fit to be seen at the raising.

Neither of the girls was an expert hairdresser, and at the end of an
hour, when the sixth braid was tied, and Rebecca had given one last
shuddering look in the mirror, both were ready to weep with fatigue.

The candle was blown out and Alice soon went to sleep, but Rebecca
tossed on her pillow, its goose-feathered softness all dented by the
cruel lead knobs and the knots of twisted rags. She slipped out of bed
and walked to and fro, holding her aching head with both hands. Finally
she leaned on the window-sill, watching the still weather-vane on
Alice’s barn and breathing in the fragrance of the ripening apples,
until her restlessness subsided under the clear starry beauty of the
night.

At six in the morning the girls were out of bed, for Alice could hardly
wait until Rebecca’s hair was taken down, she was so eager to see the
result of her labors.

The leads and rags were painfully removed, together with much hair, the
operation being punctuated by a series of squeaks, squeals, and shrieks
on the part of Rebecca and a series of warnings from Alice, who wished
the preliminaries to be kept secret from the aunts, that they might the
more fully appreciate the radiant result.

Then came the unbraiding, and then--dramatic moment--the “combing out;”
 a difficult, not to say impossible process, in which the hairs that had
resisted the earlier stages almost gave up the ghost.

The long front strands had been wound up from various angles and by
various methods, so that, when released, they assumed the strangest,
most obstinate, most unexpected attitudes. When the comb was dragged
through the last braid, the wild, tortured, electric hairs following,
and then rebounding from it in a bristling, snarling tangle.
Massachusetts gave one encompassing glance at the State o’ Maine’s head,
and announced her intention of going home to breakfast! She was deeply
grieved at the result of her attempted beautifying, but she felt that
meeting Miss Miranda Sawyer at the morning meal would not mend matters
in the least, so slipping out of the side door, she ran up Guide Board
hill as fast as her legs could carry her.

The State o’ Maine, deserted and somewhat unnerved, sat down before the
glass and attacked her hair doggedly and with set lips, working over it
until Miss Jane called her to breakfast; then, with a boldness born
of despair, she entered the dining room, where her aunts were already
seated at table. To “draw fire” she whistled, a forbidden joy, which
only attracted more attention, instead of diverting it. There was a
moment of silence after the grotesque figure was fully taken in; then
came a moan from Jane and a groan from Miranda.

“What have you done to yourself?” asked Miranda sternly.

“Made an effort to be beautiful and failed!” jauntily replied Rebecca,
but she was too miserable to keep up the fiction. “Oh, Aunt Miranda,
don’t scold. I’m so unhappy! Alice and I rolled up my hair to curl it
for the raising. She said it was so straight I looked like an Indian!”

“Mebbe you did,” vigorously agreed Miranda, “but ‘t any rate you looked
like a Christian Injun, ‘n’ now you look like a heathen Injun; that’s
all the difference I can see. What can we do with her, Jane, between
this and nine o’clock?”

“We’ll all go out to the pump just as soon as we’re through breakfast,”
 answered Jane soothingly. “We can accomplish consid’rable with water and
force.”

Rebecca nibbled her corn-cake, her tearful eyes cast on her plate and
her chin quivering.

“Don’t you cry and red your eyes up,” chided Miranda quite kindly; “the
minute you’ve eat enough run up and get your brush and comb and meet us
at the back door.”

“I wouldn’t care myself how bad I looked,” said Rebecca, “but I can’t
bear to be so homely that I shame the State of Maine!”

Oh, what an hour followed this plaint! Did any aspirant for literary
or dramatic honors ever pass to fame through such an antechamber of
horrors? Did poet of the day ever have his head so maltreated? To be
dipped in the rain-water tub, soused again and again; to be held under
the spout and pumped on; to be rubbed furiously with rough roller
towels; to be dried with hot flannels! And is it not well-nigh
incredible that at the close of such an hour the ends of the long hair
should still stand out straight, the braids having been turned up two
inches by Alice, and tied hard in that position with linen thread?

“Get out the skirt-board, Jane,” cried Miranda, to whom opposition
served as a tonic, “and move that flat-iron on to the front o’ the
stove. Rebecca, set down in that low chair beside the board, and Jane,
you spread out her hair on it and cover it up with brown paper. Don’t
cringe, Rebecca; the worst’s over, and you’ve borne up real good! I’ll
be careful not to pull your hair nor scorch you, and oh, HOW I’d like
to have Alice Robinson acrost my knee and a good strip o’ shingle in my
right hand! There, you’re all ironed out and your Aunt Jane can put on
your white dress and braid your hair up again good and tight. Perhaps
you won’t be the hombliest of the states, after all; but when I see you
comin’ in to breakfast I said to myself: I guess if Maine looked like
that, it wouldn’t never a’ been admitted into the Union!’”

When Uncle Sam and the stagecoach drew up to the brick house with a
grand swing and a flourish, the goddess of Liberty and most of the
States were already in their places on the “harricane deck.”

Words fail to describe the gallant bearing of the horses, their
headstalls gayly trimmed and their harnesses dotted with little flags.
The stage windows were hung in bunting, and from within beamed Columbia,
looking out from the bright frame as if proud of her freight of loyal
children. Patriotic streamers floated from whip, from dash-board and
from rumble, and the effect of the whole was something to stimulate the
most phlegmatic voter.

Rebecca came out on the steps and Aunt Jane brought a chair to assist in
the ascent. Miss Dearborn peeped from the window, and gave a despairing
look at her favorite.

What had happened to her? Who had dressed her? Had her head been put
through a wringing-machine? Why were her eyes red and swollen? Miss
Dearborn determined to take her behind the trees in the pine grove
and give her some finishing touches; touches that her skillful fingers
fairly itched to bestow.

The stage started, and as the roadside pageant grew gayer and gayer,
Rebecca began to brighten and look prettier, for most of her beautifying
came from within. The people, walking, driving, or standing on
their doorsteps, cheered Uncle Sam’s coach with its freight of
gossamer-muslined, fluttering-ribboned girls, and just behind, the
gorgeously decorated haycart, driven by Abijah Flagg, bearing the jolly
but inharmonious fife-and-drum corps.

Was ever such a golden day! Such crystal air! Such mellow sunshine! Such
a merry Uncle Sam!

The stage drew up at an appointed spot near a pine grove, and while the
crowd was gathering, the children waited for the hour to arrive when
they should march to the platform; the hour toward which they seemed to
have been moving since the dawn of creation.

As soon as possible Miss Dearborn whispered to Rebecca: “Come behind the
trees with me; I want to make you prettier!”

Rebecca thought she had suffered enough from that process already during
the last twelve hours, but she put out an obedient hand and the two
withdrew.

Now Miss Dearborn was, I fear, a very indifferent teacher. Dr. Moses
always said so, and Libbie Moses, who wanted her school, said it was
a pity she hadn’t enjoyed more social advantages in her youth. Libbie
herself had taken music lessons in Portland; and spent a night at the
Profile House in the White Mountains, and had visited her sister in
Lowell, Massachusetts. These experiences gave her, in her own mind, and
in the mind of her intimate friends, a horizon so boundless that her
view of smaller, humbler matters was a trifle distorted.

Miss Dearborn’s stock in trade was small, her principal virtues being
devotion to children and ability to gain their love, and a power of
evolving a schoolroom order so natural, cheery, serene, and peaceful
that it gave the beholder a certain sense of being in a district heaven.
She was poor in arithmetic and weak in geometry, but if you gave her a
rose, a bit of ribbon, and a seven-by-nine looking-glass she could make
herself as pretty as a pink in two minutes.

Safely sheltered behind the pines, Miss Dearborn began to practice
mysterious feminine arts. She flew at Rebecca’s tight braids, opened
the strands and rebraided them loosely; bit and tore the red, white,
and blue ribbon in two and tied the braids separately. Then with nimble
fingers she pulled out little tendrils of hair behind the ears and
around the nape of the neck. After a glance of acute disapproval
directed at the stiff balloon skirt she knelt on the ground and gave
a strenuous embrace to Rebecca’s knees, murmuring, between her hugs,
“Starch must be cheap at the brick house!”

This particular line of beauty attained, there ensued great pinchings of
ruffles, her fingers that could never hold a ferrule nor snap children’s
ears being incomparable fluting-irons.

Next the sash was scornfully untied and tightened to suggest something
resembling a waist. The chastened bows that had been squat, dowdy,
spiritless, were given tweaks, flirts, bracing little pokes and dabs,
till, acknowledging a master hand, they stood up, piquant, pert, smart,
alert!

Pride of bearing was now infused into the flattened lace at the neck,
and a pin (removed at some sacrifice from her own toilette) was darned
in at the back to prevent any cowardly lapsing. The short white cotton
gloves that called attention to the tanned wrist and arms were stripped
off and put in her own pocket. Then the wreath of pine-cones was
adjusted at a heretofore unimagined angle, the hair was pulled softly
into a fluffy frame, and finally, as she met Rebecca’s grateful eyes
she gave her two approving, triumphant kisses. In a second the sensitive
face lighted into happiness; pleased dimples appeared in the cheeks, the
kissed mouth was as red as a rose, and the little fright that had walked
behind the pine-tree stepped out on the other side Rebecca the lovely.

As to the relative value of Miss Dearborn’s accomplishments, the
decision must be left to the gentle reader; but though it is certain
that children should be properly grounded in mathematics, no heart of
flesh could bear to hear Miss Dearborn’s methods vilified who had seen
her patting, pulling, squeezing Rebecca from ugliness into beauty.

The young superintendent of district schools was a witness of the scene,
and when later he noted the children surrounding Columbia as bees
a honeysuckle, he observed to Dr. Moses: “She may not be much of a
teacher, but I think she’d be considerable of a wife!” and subsequent
events proved that he meant what he said!

II

Now all was ready; the moment of fate was absolutely at hand; the
fife-and-drum corps led the way and the States followed; but what
actually happened Rebecca never knew; she lived through the hours in a
waking dream. Every little detail was a facet of light that reflected
sparkles, and among them all she was fairly dazzled. The brass band
played inspiring strains; the mayor spoke eloquently on great themes;
the people cheered; then the rope on which so much depended was put into
the children’s hands, they applied superhuman strength to their task,
and the flag mounted, mounted, smoothly and slowly, and slowly unwound
and stretched itself until its splendid size and beauty were revealed
against the maples and pines and blue New England sky.

Then after cheers upon cheers and after a patriotic chorus by the church
choirs, the State of Maine mounted the platform, vaguely conscious
that she was to recite a poem, though for the life of her she could not
remember a single word.

“Speak up loud and clear, Rebecky,” whispered Uncle Sam in the front
row, but she could scarcely hear her own voice when, tremblingly, she
began her first line. After that she gathered strength and the poem
“said itself,” while the dream went on.

She saw Adam Ladd leaning against a tree; Aunt Jane and Aunt Miranda
palpitating with nervousness; Clara Belle Simpson gazing cross-eyed but
adoring from a seat on the side; and in the far, far distance, on the
very outskirts of the crowd, a tall man standing in a wagon--a tall,
loose-jointed man with red upturned mustaches, and a gaunt white horse
headed toward the Acreville road.

Loud applause greeted the state of Maine, the slender little white-clad
figure standing on the mossy boulder that had been used as the centre of
the platform. The sun came up from behind a great maple and shone full
on the star-spangled banner, making it more dazzling than ever, so that
its beauty drew all eyes upward.

Abner Simpson lifted his vagrant shifting gaze to its softy fluttering
folds and its splendid massing of colors, thinking:

“I don’t know’s anybody’d ought to steal a flag--the thunderin’ idjuts
seem to set such store by it, and what is it, anyway? Nothin; but a
sheet o’ buntin!”

Nothing but a sheet of bunting? He looked curiously at the rapt faces
of the mothers, their babies asleep in their arms; the parted lips and
shining eyes of the white-clad girls; at Cap’n Lord, who had been in
Libby prison, and Nat Strout, who had left an arm at Bull Run; at the
friendly, jostling crowd of farmers, happy, eager, absorbed, their
throats ready to burst with cheers. Then the breeze served, and he heard
Rebecca’s clear voice saying:

“For it’s your star, my star, all the stars together, That make our
country’s flag so proud To float in the bright fall weather!”

“Talk about stars! She’s got a couple of em right in her head,” thought
Simpson.... “If I ever seen a young one like that lyin; on anybody’s
doorstep I’d hook her quicker’n a wink, though I’ve got plenty to home,
the Lord knows! And I wouldn’t swap her off neither.... Spunky little
creeter, too; settin; up in the wagon lookin’ bout’s big as a pint o’
cider, but keepin’ right after the goods!... I vow I’m bout sick o’ my
job! Never WITH the crowd, allers JEST on the outside, s if I wa’n’t as
good’s they be! If it paid well, mebbe I wouldn’t mind, but they’re so
thunderin’ stingy round here, they don’t leave anything decent out for
you to take from em, yet you’re reskin’ your liberty n’ reputation jest
the same!... Countin’ the poor pickin’s n’ the time I lose in jail I
might most’s well be done with it n’ work out by the day, as the folks
want me to; I’d make bout’s much n’ I don’t know’s it would be any
harder!”

He could see Rebecca stepping down from the platform, while his own
red-headed little girl stood up on her bench, waving her hat with one
hand, her handkerchief with the other, and stamping with both feet.

Now a man sitting beside the mayor rose from his chair and Abner heard
him call:

“Three cheers for the women who made the flag!”

“HIP, HIP, HURRAH!”

“Three cheers for the State of Maine!”

“HIP, HIP, HURRAH!”

“Three cheers for the girl that saved the flag from the hands of the
enemy!”

“HIP, HIP, HURRAH! HIP, HIP, HURRAH!”

It was the Edgewood minister, whose full, vibrant voice was of the sort
to move a crowd. His words rang out into the clear air and were carried
from lip to lip. Hands clapped, feet stamped, hats swung, while the loud
huzzahs might almost have wakened the echoes on old Mount Ossipee.

The tall, loose-jointed man sat down in the wagon suddenly and took up
the reins.

“They’re gettin’ a little mite personal, and I guess it’s bout time for
you to be goin’, Simpson!”

The tone was jocular, but the red mustaches drooped, and the
half-hearted cut he gave to start the white mare on her homeward journey
showed that he was not in his usual devil-may-care mood.

“Durn his skin!” he burst out in a vindictive undertone, as the mare
swung into her long gait. “It’s a lie! I thought twas somebody’s wash! I
hain’t an enemy!”

While the crowd at the raising dispersed in happy family groups to their
picnics in the woods; while the Goddess of Liberty, Uncle Sam,
Columbia, and the proud States lunched grandly in the Grange hall with
distinguished guests and scarred veterans of two wars, the lonely
man drove, and drove, and drove through silent woods and dull, sleepy
villages, never alighting to replenish his wardrobe or his stock of
swapping material.

At dusk he reached a miserable tumble-down house on the edge of a pond.

The faithful wife with the sad mouth and the habitual look of anxiety in
her faded eyes came to the door at the sound of wheels and went doggedly
to the horse-shed to help him unharness.

“You didn’t expect to see me back tonight, did ye?” he asked
satirically; “leastwise not with this same horse? Well, I’m here! You
needn’t be scairt to look under the wagon seat, there hain’t nothin’
there, not even my supper, so I hope you’re suited for once! No, I guess
I hain’t goin’ to be an angel right away, neither. There wa’n’t nothin’
but flags layin’ roun’ loose down Riverboro way, n’ whatever they say, I
hain’t sech a hound as to steal a flag!”

It was natural that young Riverboro should have red, white, and blue
dreams on the night after the new flag was raised. A stranger thing,
perhaps, is the fact that Abner Simpson should lie down on his hard bed
with the flutter of bunting before his eyes, and a whirl of unaccustomed
words in his mind.

“For it’s your star, my star, all our stars together.”

“I’m sick of goin’ it alone,” he thought; “I guess I’ll try the other
road for a spell;” and with that he fell asleep.



Seventh Chronicle. THE LITTLE PROPHET


I

“I guess York County will never get red of that Simpson crew!” exclaimed
Miranda Sawyer to Jane. “I thought when the family moved to Acreville
we’d seen the last of em, but we ain’t! The big, cross-eyed, stutterin’
boy has got a place at the mills in Maplewood; that’s near enough to
come over to Riverboro once in a while of a Sunday mornin’ and set in
the meetin’ house starin’ at Rebecca same as he used to do, only it’s
reskier now both of em are older. Then Mrs. Fogg must go and bring back
the biggest girl to help her take care of her baby,--as if there wa’n’t
plenty of help nearer home! Now I hear say that the youngest twin has
come to stop the summer with the Cames up to Edgewood Lower Corner.”

“I thought two twins were always the same age,” said Rebecca,
reflectively, as she came into the kitchen with the milk pail.

“So they be,” snapped Miranda, flushing and correcting herself. “But
that pasty-faced Simpson twin looks younger and is smaller than the
other one. He’s meek as Moses and the other one is as bold as a brass
kettle; I don’t see how they come to be twins; they ain’t a mite alike.”

“Elijah was always called the fighting twin’ at school,” said Rebecca,
“and Elisha’s other name was Nimbi-Pamby; but I think he’s a nice little
boy, and I’m glad he has come back. He won’t like living with Mr. Came,
but he’ll be almost next door to the minister’s, and Mrs. Baxter is sure
to let him play in her garden.”

“I wonder why the boy’s stayin’ with Cassius Came,” said Jane. “To be
sure they haven’t got any of their own, but the child’s too young to be
much use.”

“I know why,” remarked Rebecca promptly, “for I heard all about it over
to Watson’s when I was getting the milk. Mr. Came traded something with
Mr. Simpson two years ago and got the best of the bargain, and Uncle
Jerry says he’s the only man that ever did, and he ought to have a
monument put up to him. So Mr. Came owes Mr. Simpson money and won’t
pay it, and Mr. Simpson said he’d send over a child and board part of it
out, and take the rest in stock--a pig or a calf or something.”

“That’s all stuff and nonsense,” exclaimed Miranda; “nothin’ in the
world but store-talk. You git a clump o’ men-folks settin’ round
Watson’s stove, or out on the bench at the door, an’ they’ll make up
stories as fast as their tongues can wag. The man don’t live that’s
smart enough to cheat Abner Simpson in a trade, and who ever heard of
anybody’s owin’ him money? Tain’t supposable that a woman like Mrs. Came
would allow her husband to be in debt to a man like Abner Simpson. It’s
a sight likelier that she heard that Mrs. Simpson was ailin’ and sent
for the boy so as to help the family along. She always had Mrs. Simpson
to wash for her once a month, if you remember Jane?”

There are some facts so shrouded in obscurity that the most skillful and
patient investigator cannot drag them into the light of day. There are
also (but only occasionally) certain motives, acts, speeches, lines of
conduct, that can never be wholly and satisfactorily explained, even in
a village post-office or on the loafers’ bench outside the tavern door.

Cassius Came was a close man, close of mouth and close of purse; and all
that Riverboro ever knew as to the three months’ visit of the Simpson
twin was that it actually occurred. Elisha, otherwise Nimbi-Pamby, came;
Nimbi-Pamby stayed; and Nimbi-Pamby, when he finally rejoined his own
domestic circle, did not go empty-handed (so to speak), for he was
accompanied on his homeward travels by a large, red, bony, somewhat
truculent cow, who was tied on behind the wagon, and who made the
journey a lively and eventful one by her total lack of desire to proceed
over the road from Edgewood to Acreville. But that, the cow’s tale,
belongs to another time and place, and the coward’s tale must come
first; for Elisha Simpson was held to be sadly lacking in the manly
quality of courage.

It was the new minister’s wife who called Nimbi-Pamby the Little
Prophet. His full name was Elisha Jeremiah Simpson, but one seldom heard
it at full length, since, if he escaped the ignominy of Nimbi-Pamby,
Lishe was quite enough for an urchin just in his first trousers and
those assumed somewhat prematurely. He was “Lishe,” therefore, to the
village, but the Little Prophet to the young minister’s wife.

Rebecca could see the Cames’ brown farmhouse from Mrs. Baxter’s
sitting-room window. The little-traveled road with strips of tufted
green between the wheel tracks curled dustily up to the very doorstep,
and inside the screen door of pink mosquito netting was a wonderful
drawn-in rug, shaped like a half pie, with “Welcome” in saffron letters
on a green ground.

Rebecca liked Mrs. Cassius Came, who was a friend of her Aunt Miranda’s
and one of the few persons who exchanged calls with that somewhat
unsociable lady. The Came farm was not a long walk from the brick house,
for Rebecca could go across the fields when haying-time was over, and
her delight at being sent on an errand in that direction could not be
measured, now that the new minister and his wife had grown to be such a
resource in her life. She liked to see Mrs. Came shake the Welcome rug,
flinging the cheery word out into the summer sunshine like a bright
greeting to the day. She liked to see her go to the screen door a dozen
times in a morning, open it a crack and chase an imaginary fly from the
sacred precincts within. She liked to see her come up the cellar steps
into the side garden, appearing mysteriously as from the bowels of the
earth, carrying a shining pan of milk in both hands, and disappearing
through the beds of hollyhocks and sunflowers to the pig-pen or the
hen-house.

Rebecca was not fond of Mr. Came, and neither was Mrs. Baxter, nor
Elisha, for that matter; in fact Mr. Came was rather a difficult person
to grow fond of, with his fiery red beard, his freckled skin, and his
gruff way of speaking; for there were no children in the brown house to
smooth the creases from his forehead or the roughness from his voice.

II

The new minister’s wife was sitting under the shade of her great maple
early one morning, when she first saw the Little Prophet. A tiny figure
came down the grass-grown road leading a cow by a rope. If it had been a
small boy and a small cow, a middle-sized boy and an ordinary cow, or a
grown man and a big cow, she might not have noticed them; but it was the
combination of an infinitesimal boy and a huge cow that attracted her
attention. She could not guess the child’s years, she only knew that he
was small for his age, whatever it was.

The cow was a dark red beast with a crumpled horn, a white star on her
forehead, and a large surprised sort of eye. She had, of course, two
eyes, and both were surprised, but the left one had an added hint of
amazement in it by virtue of a few white hairs lurking accidentally in
the centre of the eyebrow.

The boy had a thin sensitive face and curtly brown hair, short trousers
patched on both knees, and a ragged straw hat on the back of his head.
He pattered along behind the cow, sometimes holding the rope with both
hands, and getting over the ground in a jerky way, as the animal left
him no time to think of a smooth path for bare feet.

The Came pasture was a good half-mile distant, and the cow seemed in no
hurry to reach it; accordingly she forsook the road now and then,
and rambled in the hollows, where the grass was sweeter to her way of
thinking. She started on one of these exploring expeditions just as she
passed the minister’s great maple, and gave Mrs. Baxter time to call out
to the little fellow, “Is that your cow?”

Elisha blushed and smiled, and tried to speak modestly, but there was a
quiver of pride in his voice as he answered suggestively:

“It’s--nearly my cow.”

“How is that?” asked Mrs. Baxter.

“Why, Mr. Came says when I drive her twenty-nine more times to pasture
thout her gettin’ her foot over the rope or thout my bein’ afraid, she’s
goin’ to be my truly cow. Are you fraid of cows?”

“Ye-e-es,” Mrs. Baxter confessed, “I am, just a little. You see, I am
nothing but a woman, and boys can’t understand how we feel about cows.”

“I can! They’re awful big things, aren’t they?”

“Perfectly enormous! I’ve always thought a cow coming towards you one of
the biggest things in the world.”

“Yes; me, too. Don’t let’s think about it. Do they hook people so very
often?”

“No indeed, in fact one scarcely ever hears of such a case.”

“If they stepped on your bare foot they’d scrunch it, wouldn’t they?”

“Yes, but you are the driver; you mustn’t let them do that; you are a
free-will boy, and they are nothing but cows.”

“I know; but p’raps there is free-will cows, and if they just WOULD do
it you couldn’t help being scrunched, for you mustn’t let go of the rope
nor run, Mr. Came says.

“No, of course that would never do.”

“Where you used to live did all the cows go down into the boggy places
when you drove em to pasture, or did some walk in the road?”

“There weren’t any cows or any pastures where I used to live; that’s
what makes me so foolish; why does your cow need a rope?”

“She don’t like to go to pasture, Mr. Came says. Sometimes she’d druther
stay to home, and so when she gets part way she turns round and comes
backwards.”

“Dear me!” thought Mrs. Baxter, “what becomes of this boy-mite if the
cow has a spell of going backwards?--Do you like to drive her?” she
asked.

“N-no, not erzackly; but you see, it’ll be my cow if I drive her
twenty-nine more times thout her gettin’ her foot over the rope and
thout my bein’ afraid,” and a beaming smile gave a transient brightness
to his harassed little face. “Will she feed in the ditch much longer?”
 he asked. “Shall I say Hurrap’? That’s what Mr. Came says--HURRAP!’ like
that, and it means to hurry up.”

It was rather a feeble warning that he sounded and the cow fed
on peacefully. The little fellow looked up at the minister’s wife
confidingly, and then glanced back at the farm to see if Cassius Came
were watching the progress of events.

“What shall we do next?” he asked.

Mrs. Baxter delighted in that warm, cosy little ‘WE;’ it took her into
the firm so pleasantly. She was a weak prop indeed when it came to cows,
but all the courage in her soul rose to arms when Elisha said, “What
shall WE do next?” She became alert, ingenious, strong, on the instant.

“What is the cow’s name?” she asked, sitting up straight in the
swing-chair.

“Buttercup; but she don’t seem to know it very well. She ain’t a mite
like a buttercup.”

“Never mind; you must shout ‘Buttercup!’ at the top of your voice, and
twitch the rope HARD; then I’ll call, ‘Hurrap!’ with all my might at
the same moment. And if she starts quickly we mustn’t run nor seem
frightened!”

They did this; it worked to a charm, and Mrs. Baxter looked
affectionately after her Little Prophet as the cow pulled him down Tory
Hill.

The lovely August days wore on. Rebecca was often at the parsonage
and saw Elisha frequently, but Buttercup was seldom present at their
interviews, as the boy now drove her to the pasture very early in the
morning, the journey thither being one of considerable length and her
method of reaching the goal being exceedingly roundabout.

Mr. Came had pointed out the necessity of getting her into the pasture
at least a few minutes before she had to be taken out again at night,
and though Rebecca didn’t like Mr. Came, she saw the common sense of
this remark. Sometimes Mrs. Baxter and Rebecca caught a glimpse of
the two at sundown, as they returned from the pasture to the twilight
milking, Buttercup chewing her peaceful cud, her soft white bag of milk
hanging full, her surprised eye rolling in its accustomed “fine frenzy.”
 The frenzied roll did not mean anything, they used to assure Elisha; but
if it didn’t, it was an awful pity she had to do it, Rebecca thought;
and Mrs. Baxter agreed. To have an expression of eye that meant murder,
and yet to be a perfectly virtuous and well-meaning animal, this was a
calamity indeed.

Mrs. Baxter was looking at the sun one evening as it dropped like a ball
of red fire into Wilkins’s woods, when the Little Prophet passed.

“It’s the twenty-ninth night,” he called joyously.

“I am so glad,” she answered, for she had often feared some accident
might prevent his claiming the promised reward. “Then tomorrow Buttercup
will be your own cow?”

“I guess so. That’s what Mr. Came said. He’s off to Acreville now, but
he’ll be home tonight, and father’s going to send my new hat by him.
When Buttercup’s my own cow I wish I could change her name and call her
Red Rover, but p’r’aps her mother wouldn’t like it. When she b’longs to
me, mebbe I won’t be so fraid of gettin’ hooked and scrunched, because
she’ll know she’s mine, and she’ll go better. I haven’t let her get
snarled up in the rope one single time, and I don’t show I’m afraid, do
I?”

“I should never suspect it for an instant,” said Mrs. Baxter
encouragingly. “I’ve often envied you your bold, brave look!”

Elisha appeared distinctly pleased. “I haven’t cried, either, when she’s
dragged me over the pasture bars and peeled my legs. Bill Petes’s little
brother Charlie says he ain’t afraid of anything, not even bears. He
says he would walk right up close and cuff em if they dared to yip;
but I ain’t like that! He ain’t scared of elephants or tigers or lions
either; he says they’re all the same as frogs or chickens to him!”

Rebecca told her Aunt Miranda that evening that it was the Prophet’s
twenty-ninth night, and that the big red cow was to be his on the
morrow.

“Well, I hope it’ll turn out that way,” she said. “But I ain’t a mite
sure that Cassius Came will give up that cow when it comes to the point.
It won’t be the first time he’s tried to crawl out of a bargain with
folks a good deal bigger than Lisha, for he’s terrible close, Cassius
is. To be sure he’s stiff in his joints and he’s glad enough to have
a boy to take the cow to the pasture in summer time, but he always has
hired help when it comes harvestin’. So Lisha’ll be no use from this
on; and I dare say the cow is Abner Simpson’s anyway. If you want a walk
tonight, I wish you’d go up there and ask Mis’ Came if she’ll lend me
an’ your Aunt Jane half her yeast-cake. Tell her we’ll pay it back when
we get ours a Saturday. Don’t you want to take Thirza Meserve with you?
She’s alone as usual while Huldy’s entertainin’ beaux on the side porch.
Don’t stay too long at the parsonage!”

III

Rebecca was used to this sort of errand, for the whole village of
Riverboro would sometimes be rocked to the very centre of its being by
simultaneous desire for a yeast-cake. As the nearest repository was a
mile and a half distant, as the yeast-cake was valued at two cents and
wouldn’t keep, as the demand was uncertain, being dependent entirely on
a fluctuating desire for “riz bread,” the storekeeper refused to order
more than three yeast-cakes a day at his own risk. Sometimes they
remained on his hands a dead loss; sometimes eight or ten persons would
“hitch up” and drive from distant farms for the coveted article, only to
be met with the flat, “No, I’m all out o’ yeast-cake; Mis’ Simmons
took the last; mebbe you can borry half o’ hern, she hain’t much of a
bread-eater.”

So Rebecca climbed the hills to Mrs. Came’s, knowing that her daily
bread depended on the successful issue of the call.

Thirza was barefooted, and tough as her little feet were, the long walk
over the stubble fields tired her. When they came within sight of the
Came barn, she coaxed Rebecca to take a short cut through the turnips
growing in long, beautifully weeded rows.

“You know Mr. Came is awfully cross, Thirza, and can’t bear anybody to
tread on his crops or touch a tree or a bush that belongs to him. I’m
kind of afraid, but come along and mind you step softly in between the
rows and hold up your petticoat, so you can’t possibly touch the turnip
plants. I’ll do the same. Skip along fast, because then we won’t leave
any deep footprints.”

The children passed safely and noiselessly along, their pleasure a
trifle enhanced by the felt dangers of their progress. Rebecca knew that
they were doing no harm, but that did not prevent her hoping to escape
the gimlet eye of Mr. Came.

As they neared the outer edge of the turnip patch they paused suddenly,
petticoats in air.

A great clump of elderberry bushes hid them from the barn, but from the
other side of the clump came the sound of conversation: the timid voice
of the Little Prophet and the gruff tones of Cassius Came.

Rebecca was afraid to interrupt, and too honest to wish to overhear. She
could only hope the man and the boy would pass on to the house as they
talked, so she motioned to the paralyzed Thirza to take two more steps
and stand with her behind the elderberry bushes. But no! In a moment
they heard Mr. Came drag a stool over beside the grindstone as he said:

“Well, now Elisha Jeremiah, we’ll talk about the red cow. You say you’ve
drove her a month, do ye? And the trade between us was that if you
could drive her a month, without her getting the rope over her foot and
without bein’ afraid, you was to have her. That’s straight, ain’t it?”

The Prophet’s face burned with excitement, his gingham shirt rose and
fell as if he were breathing hard, but he only nodded assent and said
nothing.

“Now,” continued Mr. Came, “have you made out to keep the rope from
under her feet?”

“She ain’t got t-t-tangled up one s-single time,” said Elisha,
stuttering in his excitement, but looking up with some courage from his
bare toes, with which he was assiduously threading the grass.

“So far, so good. Now bout bein’ afraid. As you seem so certain of
gettin’ the cow, I suppose you hain’t been a speck scared, hev you?
Honor bright, now!”

“I--I--not but just a little mite. I”--

“Hold up a minute. Of course you didn’t SAY you was afraid, and didn’t
SHOW you was afraid, and nobody knew you WAS afraid, but that ain’t the
way we fixed it up. You was to call the cow your’n if you could drive
her to the pasture for a month without BEIN’ afraid. Own up square now,
hev you be’n afraid?”

A long pause, then a faint, “Yes.”

“Where’s your manners?”

“I mean yes, sir.”

“How often? If it hain’t be’n too many times mebbe I’ll let ye off,
though you’re a reg’lar girl-boy, and’ll be runnin’ away from the cat
bimeby. Has it be’n--twice?”

“Yes,” and the Little Prophet’s voice was very faint now, and had a
decided tear in it.

“Yes what?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Has it be’n four times?”

“Y-es, sir.” More heaving of the gingham shirt.

“Well, you AIR a thunderin’ coward! How many times? Speak up now.”

More digging of the bare toes in the earth, and one premonitory tear
drop stealing from under the downcast lids, then,--

“A little, most every day, and you can keep the cow,” wailed the
Prophet, as he turned abruptly and fled behind the shed, where he flung
himself into the green depths of a tansy bed, and gave himself up to
unmanly sobs.

Cassius Came gave a sort of shamefaced guffaw at the abrupt departure
of the boy, and went on into the house, while Rebecca and Thirza made
a stealthy circuit of the barn and a polite and circumspect entrance
through the parsonage front gate.

Rebecca told the minister’s wife what she could remember of the
interview between Cassius Came and Elisha Simpson, and tender-hearted
Mrs. Baxter longed to seek and comfort her Little Prophet sobbing in the
tansy bed, the brand of coward on his forehead, and what was much worse,
the fear in his heart that he deserved it.

Rebecca could hardly be prevented from bearding Mr. Came and openly
espousing the cause of Elisha, for she was an impetuous, reckless,
valiant creature when a weaker vessel was attacked or threatened
unjustly.

Mrs. Baxter acknowledged that Mr. Came had been true, in a way, to his
word and bargain, but she confessed that she had never heard of so cruel
and hard a bargain since the days of Shylock, and it was all the worse
for being made with a child.

Rebecca hurried home, her visit quite spoiled and her errand quite
forgotten till she reached the brick house door, where she told her
aunts, with her customary picturesqueness of speech, that she would
rather eat buttermilk bread till she died than partake of food mixed
with one of Mr. Came’s yeast-cakes; that it would choke her, even in the
shape of good raised bread.

“That’s all very fine, Rebecky,” said her Aunt Miranda, who had a
pin-prick for almost every bubble; “but don’t forget there’s two other
mouths to feed in this house, and you might at least give your aunt and
me the privilege of chokin’ if we feel to want to!”

IV

Mrs. Baxter finally heard from Mrs. Came, through whom all information
was sure to filter if you gave it time, that her husband despised a
coward, that he considered Elisha a regular mother’s-apron-string boy,
and that he was “learnin’” him to be brave.

Bill Peters, the hired man, now drove Buttercup to pasture, though
whenever Mr. Came went to Moderation or Bonnie Eagle, as he often did,
Mrs. Baxter noticed that Elisha took the hired man’s place. She often
joined him on these anxious expeditions, and, a like terror in both
their souls, they attempted to train the red cow and give her some idea
of obedience.

“If she only wouldn’t look at us that way we would get along real nicely
with her, wouldn’t we?” prattled the Prophet, straggling along by her
side; “and she is a splendid cow; she gives twenty-one quarts a day, and
Mr. Came says it’s more’n half cream.”

The minister’s wife assented to all this, thinking that if Buttercup
would give up her habit of turning completely round in the road to roll
her eyes and elevate her white-tipped eyebrow, she might indeed be an
enjoyable companion; but in her present state of development her society
was not agreeable, even did she give sixty-one quarts of milk a day.
Furthermore, when Mrs. Baxter discovered that she never did any of these
reprehensible things with Bill Peters, she began to believe cows more
intelligent creatures than she had supposed them to be, and she was
indignant to think Buttercup could count so confidently on the weakness
of a small boy and a timid woman.

One evening, when Buttercup was more than usually exasperating, Mrs.
Baxter said to the Prophet, who was bracing himself to keep from being
pulled into a wayside brook where Buttercup loved to dabble, “Elisha, do
you know anything about the superiority of mind over matter?”

No, he didn’t, though it was not a fair time to ask the question, for he
had sat down in the road to get a better purchase on the rope.

“Well, it doesn’t signify. What I mean is that we can die but once, and
it is a glorious thing to die for a great principle. Give me that rope.
I can pull like an ox in my present frame of mind. You run down on the
opposite side of the brook, take that big stick wade right in--you
are barefooted,--brandish the stick, and, if necessary, do more than
brandish. I would go myself, but it is better she should recognize you
as her master, and I am in as much danger as you are, anyway. She may
try to hook you, of course, but you must keep waving the stick,--die
brandishing, Prophet, that’s the idea! She may turn and run for me, in
which case I shall run too; but I shall die running, and the minister
can bury us under our favorite sweet-apple tree!”

The Prophet’s soul was fired by the lovely lady’s eloquence. Their
spirits mounted simultaneously, and they were flushed with a splendid
courage in which death looked a mean and paltry thing compared with
vanquishing that cow. She had already stepped into the pool, but the
Prophet waded in towards her, moving the alder branch menacingly. She
looked up with the familiar roll of the eye that had done her such good
service all summer, but she quailed beneath the stern justice and the
new valor of the Prophet’s gaze.

In that moment perhaps she felt ashamed of the misery she had caused the
helpless mite. At any rate, actuated by fear, surprise, or remorse,
she turned and walked back into the road without a sign of passion or
indignation, leaving the boy and the lady rather disappointed at their
easy victory. To be prepared for a violent death and receive not even a
scratch made them fear that they might possibly have overestimated the
danger.

They were better friends than ever after that, the young minister’s wife
and the forlorn little boy from Acreville, sent away from home he
knew not why, unless it were that there was little to eat there and
considerably more at the Cash Cames’, as they were called in Edgewood.
Cassius was familiarly known as Uncle Cash, partly because there was a
disposition in Edgewood to abbreviate all Christian names, and partly
because the old man paid cash, and expected to be paid cash, for
everything.

The late summer grew into autumn, and the minister’s great maple flung
a flaming bough of scarlet over Mrs. Baxter’s swing-chair. Uncle Cash
found Elisha very useful at picking up potatoes and apples, but the boy
was going back to his family as soon as the harvesting was over.

One Friday evening Mrs. Baxter and Rebecca, wrapped in shawls and
“fascinators,” were sitting on Mrs. Came’s front steps enjoying the
sunset. Rebecca was in a tremulous state of happiness, for she had
come directly from the Seminary at Wareham to the parsonage, and as the
minister was absent at a church conference, she was to stay the night
with Mrs. Baxter and go with her to Portland next day.

They were to go to the Islands, have ice cream for luncheon, ride on
a horse-car, and walk by the Longfellow house, a programme that so
unsettled Rebecca’s never very steady mind that she radiated flashes
and sparkles of joy, making Mrs. Baxter wonder if flesh could be
translucent, enabling the spirit-fires within to shine through?

Buttercup was being milked on the grassy slope near the shed door. As
she walked to the barn, after giving up her pailfuls of yellow milk,
she bent her neck and snatched a hasty bite from a pile of turnips lying
temptingly near. In her haste she took more of a mouthful than would be
considered good manners even among cows, and as she disappeared in the
barn door they could see a forest of green tops hanging from her mouth,
while she painfully attempted to grind up the mass of stolen material
without allowing a single turnip to escape.

It grew dark soon afterward and they went into the house to see Mrs.
Came’s new lamp lighted for the first time, to examine her last drawn-in
rug (a wonderful achievement produced entirely from dyed flannel
petticoats), and to hear the doctor’s wife play “Oft in the Still
Night,” on the dulcimer.

As they closed the sitting-room door opening on the piazza facing
the barn, the women heard the cow coughing and said to one another:
“Buttercup was too greedy, and now she has indigestion.”

Elisha always went to bed at sundown, and Uncle Cash had gone to the
doctor’s to have his hand dressed, for he had hurt it is some way in
the threshing-machine. Bill Peters, the hired man, came in presently and
asked for him, saying that the cow coughed more and more, and it must
be that something was wrong, but he could not get her to open her mouth
wide enough for him to see anything. “She’d up an’ die ruther ‘n obleege
anybody, that tarnal, ugly cow would!” he said.

When Uncle Cash had driven into the yard, he came in for a lantern, and
went directly out to the barn. After a half-hour or so, in which the
little party had forgotten the whole occurrence, he came in again.

“I’m blamed if we ain’t goin’ to lose that cow,” he said. “Come out,
will ye, Hannah, and hold the lantern? I can’t do anything with my right
hand in a sling, and Bill is the stupidest critter in the country.”

Everybody went out to the barn accordingly, except the doctor’s wife,
who ran over to her house to see if her brother Moses had come home from
Milltown, and could come and take a hand in the exercises.

Buttercup was in a bad way; there was no doubt of it. Something, one
of the turnips, presumably, had lodged in her throat, and would move
neither way, despite her attempts to dislodge it. Her breathing was
labored, and her eyes bloodshot from straining and choking. Once or
twice they succeeded in getting her mouth partly open, but before they
could fairly discover the cause of trouble she had wrested her head
away.

“I can see a little tuft of green sticking straight up in the middle,”
 said Uncle Cash, while Bill Peters and Moses held a lantern on each side
of Buttercup’s head; “but, land! It’s so far down, and such a mite of a
thing, I couldn’t git it, even if I could use my right hand. S’pose you
try, Bill.”

Bill hemmed and hawed, and confessed he didn’t care to try. Buttercup’s
grinders were of good size and excellent quality, and he had no fancy
for leaving his hand within her jaws. He said he was no good at that
kind of work, but that he would help Uncle Cash hold the cow’s head;
that was just as necessary, and considerable safer.

Moses was more inclined to the service of humanity, and did his best,
wrapping his wrist in a cloth, and making desperate but ineffectual dabs
at the slippery green turnip-tops in the reluctantly opened throat. But
the cow tossed her head and stamped her feet and switched her tail
and wriggled from under Bill’s hands, so that it seemed altogether
impossible to reach the seat of the trouble.

Uncle Cash was in despair, fuming and fretting the more because of his
own crippled hand.

“Hitch up, Bill,” he said, “and, Hannah, you drive over to Milliken’s
Mills for the horse-doctor. I know we can git out that turnip if we can
hit on the right tools and somebody to manage em right; but we’ve got to
be quick about it or the critter’ll choke to death, sure! Your hand’s so
clumsy, Mose, she thinks her time’s come when she feels it in her mouth,
and your fingers are so big you can’t ketch holt o’ that green stuff
thout its slippin’!”

“Mine ain’t big; let me try,” said a timid voice, and turning round,
they saw little Elisha Simpson, his trousers pulled on over his
night-shirt, his curly hair ruffled, his eyes vague with sleep.

Uncle Cash gave a laugh of good-humored derision. “You--that’s afraid
to drive a cow to pasture? No, sir; you hain’t got sand enough for this
job, I guess!”

Buttercup just then gave a worse cough than ever, and her eyes rolled in
her head as if she were giving up the ghost.

“I’d rather do it than see her choke to death!” cried the boy, in
despair.

“Then, by ginger, you can try it, sonny!” said Uncle Cash. “Now this
time we’ll tie her head up. Take it slow, and make a good job of it.”

Accordingly they pried poor Buttercup’s jaws open to put a wooden gag
between them, tied her head up, and kept her as still as they could
while the women held the lanterns.

“Now, sonny, strip up your sleeve and reach as fur down’s you can! Wind
your little fingers in among that green stuff stickin’ up there that
ain’t hardly big enough to call green stuff, give it a twist, and pull
for all you’re worth. Land! What a skinny little pipe stem!”

The Little Prophet had stripped up his sleeve. It was a slender thing,
his arm; but he had driven the red cow all summer, borne her tantrums,
protected her from the consequences of her own obstinacy, taking (as he
thought) a future owner’s pride in her splendid flow of milk--grown fond
of her, in a word, and now she was choking to death. A skinny little
pipe stem is capable of a deal at such a time, and only a slender hand
and arm could have done the work.

Elisha trembled with nervousness, but he made a dexterous and dashing
entrance into the awful cavern of Buttercup’s mouth; descended upon the
tiny clump of green spills or spikes, wound his little fingers in among
them as firmly as he could, and then gave a long, steady, determined
pull with all the strength in this body. That was not so much in itself,
to be sure, but he borrowed a good deal more from some reserve quarter,
the location of which nobody knows anything about, but upon which
everybody draws in time of need.

Such a valiant pull you would never have expected of the Little Prophet.
Such a pull it was that, to his own utter amazement, he suddenly found
himself lying flat on his back on the barn floor with a very slippery
something in his hand, and a fair-sized but rather dilapidated turnip at
the end of it.

“That’s the business!” cried Moses.

“I could ‘a’ done it as easy as nothin’ if my arm had been a leetle mite
smaller,” said Bill Peters.

“You’re a trump, sonny!” exclaimed Uncle Cash, as he helped Moses untie
Buttercup’s head and took the gag out.

“You’re a trump, Lisha, and, by ginger, the cow’s your’n; only don’t you
let your blessed pa drink none of her cream!”

The welcome air rushed into Buttercup’s lungs and cooled her parched,
torn throat. She was pretty nearly spent, poor thing, and bent her head
(rather gently for her) over the Little Prophet’s shoulder as he threw
his arms joyfully about her neck, and whispered, “You’re my truly cow
now, ain’t you, Buttercup?”

“Mrs. Baxter, dear,” said Rebecca, as they walked home to the parsonage
together under the young harvest moon; “there are all sorts of cowards,
aren’t there, and don’t you think Elisha is one of the best kind.”

“I don’t quite know what to think about cowards, Rebecca Rowena,” said
the minister’s wife hesitatingly. “The Little Prophet is the third
coward I have known in my short life who turned out to be a hero when
the real testing time came. Meanwhile the heroes themselves--or the ones
that were taken for heroes--were always busy doing something, or being
somewhere, else.”



Eighth Chronicle. ABNER SIMPSON’S NEW LEAF


Rebecca had now cut the bonds that bound her to the Riverboro district
school, and had been for a week a full-fledged pupil at the Wareham
Seminary, towards which goal she had been speeding ever since the
memorable day when she rode into Riverboro on the top of Uncle Jerry
Cobb’s stagecoach, and told him that education was intended to be “the
making of her.”

She went to and fro, with Emma Jane and the other Riverboro boys and
girls, on the morning and evening trains that ran between the academy
town and Milliken’s Mills.

The six days had passed like a dream!--a dream in which she sat in
corners with her eyes cast down; flushed whenever she was addressed;
stammered whenever she answered a question, and nearly died of heart
failure when subjected to an examination of any sort. She delighted
the committee when reading at sight from “King Lear,” but somewhat
discouraged them when she could not tell the capital of the United
States. She admitted that her former teacher, Miss Dearborn, might have
mentioned it, but if so she had not remembered it.

In these first weeks among strangers she passed for nothing but an
interesting-looking, timid, innocent, country child, never revealing,
even to the far-seeing Emily Maxwell, a hint of her originality,
facility, or power in any direction. Rebecca was fourteen, but so
slight, and under the paralyzing new conditions so shy, that she
would have been mistaken for twelve had it not been for her general
advancement in the school curriculum.

Growing up in the solitude of a remote farm house, transplanted to a
tiny village where she lived with two elderly spinsters, she was still
the veriest child in all but the practical duties and responsibilities
of life; in those she had long been a woman.

It was Saturday afternoon; her lessons for Monday were all learned and
she burst into the brick house sitting-room with the flushed face and
embarrassed mien that always foreshadowed a request. Requests were more
commonly answered in the negative than in the affirmative at the brick
house, a fact that accounted for the slight confusion in her demeanor.

“Aunt Miranda,” she began, “the fishman says that Clara Belle Simpson
wants to see me very much, but Mrs. Fogg can’t spare her long at a time,
you know, on account of the baby being no better; but Clara Belle could
walk a mile up, and I a mile down the road, and we could meet at the
pink house half way. Then we could rest and talk an hour or so, and both
be back in time for our suppers. I’ve fed the cat; she had no appetite,
as it’s only two o’clock and she had her dinner at noon, but she’ll go
back to her saucer, and it’s off my mind. I could go down cellar now
and bring up the cookies and the pie and doughnuts for supper before I
start. Aunt Jane saw no objection; but we thought I’d better ask you so
as to run no risks.”

Miranda Sawyer, who had been patiently waiting for the end of this
speech, laid down her knitting and raised her eyes with a half-resigned
expression that meant: Is there anything unusual in heaven or earth or
the waters under the earth that this child does not want to do? Will she
ever settle down to plain, comprehensible Sawyer ways, or will she to
the end make these sudden and radical propositions, suggesting at every
turn the irresponsible Randall ancestry?

“You know well enough, Rebecca, that I don’t like you to be intimate
with Abner Simpson’s young ones,” she said decisively. “They ain’t fit
company for anybody that’s got Sawyer blood in their veins, if it’s ever
so little. I don’t know, I’m sure, how you’re goin’ to turn out! The
fish peddler seems to be your best friend, without it’s Abijah Flagg
that you’re everlastingly talkin’ to lately. I should think you’d
rather read some improvin’ book than to be chatterin’ with Squire Bean’s
chore-boy!”

“He isn’t always going to be a chore-boy,” explained Rebecca, “and
that’s what we’re considering. It’s his career we talk about, and he
hasn’t got any father or mother to advise him. Besides, Clara Belle kind
of belongs to the village now that she lives with Mrs. Fogg; and she
was always the best behaved of all the girls, either in school or
Sunday-school. Children can’t help having fathers!”

“Everybody says Abner is turning over a new leaf, and if so, the
family’d ought to be encouraged every possible way,” said Miss Jane,
entering the room with her mending basket in hand.

“If Abner Simpson is turnin’ over a leaf, or anythin’ else in creation,
it’s only to see what’s on the under side!” remarked Miss Miranda
promptly. “Don’t talk to me about new leaves! You can’t change that kind
of a man; he is what he is, and you can’t make him no different!”

“The grace of God can do consid’rable,” observed Jane piously.

“I ain’t sayin’ but it can if it sets out, but it has to begin early and
stay late on a man like Simpson.”

“Now, Mirandy, Abner ain’t more’n forty! I don’t know what the average
age for repentance is in men-folks, but when you think of what an awful
sight of em leaves it to their deathbeds, forty seems real kind
of young. Not that I’ve heard Abner has experienced religion, but
everybody’s surprised at the good way he’s conductin’ this fall.”

“They’ll be surprised the other way round when they come to miss their
firewood and apples and potatoes again,” affirmed Miranda.

“Clara Belle don’t seem to have inherited from her father,” Jane
ventured again timidly. “No wonder Mrs. Fogg sets such store by the
girl. If it hadn’t been for her, the baby would have been dead by now.”

“Perhaps tryin’ to save it was interferin’ with the Lord’s will,” was
Miranda’s retort.

“Folks can’t stop to figure out just what’s the Lord’s will when a child
has upset a kettle of scalding water on to himself,” and as she spoke
Jane darned more excitedly. “Mrs. Fogg knows well enough she hadn’t
ought to have left that baby alone in the kitchen with the stove, even
if she did see Clara Belle comin’ across lots. She’d ought to have
waited before drivin’ off; but of course she was afraid of missing the
train, and she’s too good a woman to be held accountable.”

“The minister’s wife says Clara Belle is a real--I can’t think of the
word!” chimed in Rebecca. “What’s the female of hero? Whatever it is,
that’s what Mrs. Baxter called her!”

“Clara Belle’s the female of Simpson; that’s what she is,” Miss Miranda
asserted; “but she’s been brought up to use her wits, and I ain’t sayin’
but she used em.”

“I should say she did!” exclaimed Miss Jane; “to put that screaming,
suffering child in the baby-carriage and run all the way to the doctor’s
when there wasn’t a soul on hand to advise her! Two or three more such
actions would make the Simpson name sound consid’rable sweeter in this
neighborhood.”

“Simpson will always sound like Simpson to me!” vouchsafed the elder
sister, “but we’ve talked enough about em an’ to spare. You can go
along, Rebecca; but remember that a child is known by the company she
keeps.”

“All right, Aunt Miranda; thank you!” cried Rebecca, leaping from the
chair on which she had been twisting nervously for five minutes. “And
how does this strike you? Would you be in favor of my taking Clara Belle
a company-tart?”

“Don’t Mrs. Fogg feed the young one, now she’s taken her right into the
family?”

“Oh, yes,” Rebecca answered, “she has lovely things to eat, and Mrs.
Fogg won’t even let her drink skim milk; but I always feel that taking
a present lets the person know you’ve been thinking about them and are
extra glad to see them. Besides, unless we have company soon, those
tarts will have to be eaten by the family, and a new batch made; you
remember the one I had when I was rewarding myself last week? That was
queer--but nice,” she added hastily.

“Mebbe you could think of something of your own you could give away
without taking my tarts!” responded Miranda tersely; the joints of her
armor having been pierced by the fatally keen tongue of her niece, who
had insinuated that company-tarts lasted a long time in the brick house.
This was a fact; indeed, the company-tart was so named, not from any
idea that it would ever be eaten by guests, but because it was too good
for every-day use.

Rebecca’s face crimsoned with shame that she had drifted into an
impolite and, what was worse, an apparently ungrateful speech.

“I didn’t mean to say anything not nice, Aunt Miranda,” she stammered.
“Truly the tart was splendid, but not exactly like new, that’s all. And
oh! I know what I can take Clara Belle! A few chocolate drops out of the
box Mr. Ladd gave me on my birthday.”

“You go down cellar and get that tart, same as I told you,” commanded
Miranda, “and when you fill it don’t uncover a new tumbler of jelly;
there’s some dried-apple preserves open that’ll do. Wear your rubbers
and your thick jacket. After runnin’ all the way down there--for your
legs never seem to be rigged for walkin’ like other girls’--you’ll set
down on some damp stone or other and ketch your death o’ cold, an’ your
Aunt Jane n’ I’ll be kep’ up nights nursin’ you and luggin’ your meals
upstairs to you on a waiter.”

 Here Miranda leaned her head against the back of her rocking
chair, dropped her knitting and closed her eyes wearily, for when the
immovable body is opposed by the irresistible force there is a certain
amount of jar and disturbance involved in the operation.

Rebecca moved toward the side door, shooting a questioning glance at
Aunt Jane as she passed. The look was full of mysterious suggestion and
was accompanied by an almost imperceptible gesture. Miss Jane knew that
certain articles were kept in the entry closet, and by this time she had
become sufficiently expert in telegraphy to know that Rebecca’s unspoken
query meant: “COULD YOU PERMIT THE HAT WITH THE RED WINGS, IT BEING
SATURDAY, FINE SETTLED WEATHER, AND A PLEASURE EXCURSION?”

These confidential requests, though fraught with embarrassment when
Miranda was in the room, gave Jane much secret joy; there was something
about them that stirred her spinster heart--they were so gay, so
appealing, so un-Sawyer-, un-Riverboro-like. The longer Rebecca lived in
the brick house the more her Aunt Jane marveled at the child. What made
her so different from everybody else. Could it be that her graceless
popinjay of a father, Lorenzo de Medici Randall, had bequeathed her some
strange combination of gifts instead of fortune? Her eyes, her brows,
the color of her lips, the shape of her face, as well as her ways and
words, proclaimed her a changeling in the Sawyer tribe; but what an
enchanting changeling; bringing wit and nonsense and color and delight
into the gray monotony of the dragging years!

There was frost in the air, but a bright cheery sun, as Rebecca walked
decorously out of the brick house yard. Emma Jane Perkins was away over
Sunday on a visit to a cousin in Moderation; Alice Robinson and Candace
Milliken were having measles, and Riverboro was very quiet. Still, life
was seldom anything but a gay adventure to Rebecca, and she started
afresh every morning to its conquest. She was not exacting; the Asmodean
feat of spinning a sand heap into twine was, poetically speaking, always
in her power, so the mile walk to the pink-house gate, and the tryst
with freckled, red-haired Clara Belle Simpson, whose face Miss Miranda
said looked like a raw pie in a brick oven, these commonplace incidents
were sufficiently exhilarating to brighten her eye and quicken her step.

As the great bare horse-chestnut near the pink-house gate loomed into
view, the red linsey-woolsey speck going down the road spied the
blue linsey-woolsey speck coming up, and both specks flew over the
intervening distance and, meeting, embraced each other ardently,
somewhat to the injury of the company-tart.

“Didn’t it come out splendidly?” exclaimed Rebecca. “I was so afraid
the fishman wouldn’t tell you to start exactly at two, or that one of us
would walk faster than the other; but we met at the very spot! It was a
very uncommon idea, wasn’t it? Almost romantic!”

“And what do you think?” asked Clara Belle proudly. “Look at this! Mrs.
Fogg lent me her watch to come home by!”

“Oh, Clara Belle, how wonderful! Mrs. Fogg gets kinder and kinder to
you, doesn’t she? You’re not homesick any more, are you?”

“No-o; not really; only when I remember there’s only little Susan to
manage the twins; though they’re getting on real well without me. But I
kind of think, Rebecca, that I’m going to be given away to the Foggs for
good.”

“Do you mean adopted?”

“Yes; I think father’s going to sign papers. You see we can’t tell how
many years it’ll be before the poor baby outgrows its burns, and Mrs.
Fogg’ll never be the same again, and she must have somebody to help
her.”

“You’ll be their real daughter, then, won’t you, Clara Belle? And
Mr. Fogg is a deacon, and a selectman, and a road commissioner, and
everything splendid.”

“Yes; I’ll have board, and clothes, and school, and be named Fogg, and”
 (here her voice sank to an awed whisper) “the upper farm if I should
ever get married; Miss Dearborn told me that herself, when she was
persuading me not to mind being given away.”

“Clara Belle Simpson!” exclaimed Rebecca in a transport. “Who’d have
thought you’d be a female hero and an heiress besides? It’s just like
a book story, and it happened in Riverboro. I’ll make Uncle Jerry Cobb
allow there CAN be Riverboro stories, you see if I don’t.”

“Of course I know it’s all right,” Clara Belle replied soberly. “I’ll
have a good home and father can’t keep us all; but it’s kind of dreadful
to be given away, like a piano or a horse and carriage!”

Rebecca’s hand went out sympathetically to Clara Belle’s freckled paw.
Suddenly her own face clouded and she whispered:

“I’m not sure, Clara Belle, but I’m given away too--do you s’pose I
am? Poor father left us in debt, you see. I thought I came away from
Sunnybrook to get an education and then help pay off the mortgage; but
mother doesn’t say anything about my coming back, and our family’s one
of those too-big ones, you know, just like yours.”

“Did your mother sign papers to your aunts?’

“If she did I never heard anything about it; but there’s something
pinned on to the mortgage that mother keeps in the drawer of the
bookcase.”

“You’d know it if twas adoption papers; I guess you’re just lent,” Clara
Belle said cheeringly. “I don’t believe anybody’d ever give YOU away!
And, oh! Rebecca, father’s getting on so well! He works on Daly’s farm
where they raise lots of horses and cattle, too, and he breaks all the
young colts and trains them, and swaps off the poor ones, and drives
all over the country. Daly told Mr. Fogg he was splendid with stock,
and father says it’s just like play. He’s sent home money three Saturday
nights.”

“I’m so glad!” exclaimed Rebecca sympathetically. “Now your mother’ll
have a good time and a black silk dress, won’t she?”

“I don’t know,” sighed Clara Belle, and her voice was grave. “Ever since
I can remember she’s just washed and cried and cried and washed. Miss
Dearborn has been spending her vacation up to Acreville, you know,
and she came yesterday to board next door to Mrs. Fogg’s. I heard them
talking last night when I was getting the baby to sleep--I couldn’t
help it, they were so close--and Miss Dearborn said mother doesn’t like
Acreville; she says nobody takes any notice of her, and they don’t give
her any more work. Mrs. Fogg said, well, they were dreadful stiff and
particular up that way and they liked women to have wedding rings.”

“Hasn’t your mother got a wedding ring?” asked Rebecca, astonished.
“Why, I thought everybody HAD to have them, just as they do sofas and a
kitchen stove!”

“I never noticed she didn’t have one, but when they spoke I remembered
mother’s hands washing and wringing, and she doesn’t wear one, I know.
She hasn’t got any jewelry, not even a breast-pin.”

Rebecca’s tone was somewhat censorious, “your father’s been so poor
perhaps he couldn’t afford breast-pins, but I should have thought he’d
have given your mother a wedding ring when they were married; that’s the
time to do it, right at the very first.”

“They didn’t have any real church dress-up wedding,” explained Clara
Belle extenuatingly. “You see the first mother, mine, had the big boys
and me, and then she died when we were little. Then after a while this
mother came to housekeep, and she stayed, and by and by she was Mrs.
Simpson, and Susan and the twins and the baby are hers, and she and
father didn’t have time for a regular wedding in church. They don’t have
veils and bridesmaids and refreshments round here like Miss Dearborn’s
sister did.”

“Do they cost a great deal--wedding rings?” asked Rebecca thoughtfully.
“They’re solid gold, so I s’pose they do. If they were cheap we might
buy one. I’ve got seventy-four cents saved up; how much have you?”

“Fifty-three,” Clara Belle responded, in a depressing tone; “and anyway
there are no stores nearer than Milltown. We’d have to buy it secretly,
for I wouldn’t make father angry, or shame his pride, now he’s got
steady work; and mother would know I had spent all my savings.”

Rebecca looked nonplussed. “I declare,” she said, “I think the Acreville
people must be perfectly horrid not to call on your mother only because
she hasn’t got any jewelry. You wouldn’t dare tell your father what Miss
Dearborn heard, so he’d save up and buy the ring?”

“No; I certainly would not!” and Clara Belle’s lips closed tightly and
decisively.

Rebecca sat quietly for a few moments, then she exclaimed jubilantly:
“I know where we could get it! From Mr. Aladdin, and then I needn’t tell
him who it’s for! He’s coming to stay over tomorrow with his aunt, and
I’ll ask him to buy a ring for us in Boston. I won’t explain anything,
you know; I’ll just say I need a wedding ring.”

“That would be perfectly lovely,” replied Clara Belle, a look of hope
dawning in her eyes; “and we can think afterwards how to get it over to
mother. Perhaps you could send it to father instead, but I wouldn’t dare
to do it myself. You won’t tell anybody, Rebecca?”

“Cross my heart!” Rebecca exclaimed dramatically; and then with a
reproachful look, “you know I couldn’t repeat a sacred secret like
that! Shall we meet next Saturday afternoon, and I tell you what’s
happened?--Why, Clara Belle, isn’t that Mr. Ladd watering his horse at
the foot of the hill this very minute? It is; and he’s driven up from
Milltown stead of coming on the train from Boston to Edgewood. He’s all
alone, and I can ride home with him and ask him about the ring right
away!”

Clara Belle kissed Rebecca fervently, and started on her homeward
walk, while Rebecca waited at the top of the long hill, fluttering her
handkerchief as a signal.

“Mr. Aladdin! Mr. Aladdin!” she cried, as the horse and wagon came
nearer.

Adam Ladd drew up quickly at the sound of the eager young voice.

“Well, well; here is Rebecca Rowena fluttering along the highroad like a
red-winged blackbird! Are you going to fly home, or drive with me?”

Rebecca clambered into the carriage, laughing and blushing with delight
at his nonsense and with joy at seeing him again.

“Clara Belle and I were just talking about you this minute, and I’m so
glad you came this way, for there’s something very important to ask you
about,” she began, rather breathlessly.

“No doubt,” laughed Adam Ladd, who had become, in the course of his
acquaintance with Rebecca, a sort of high court of appeals; “I hope the
premium banquet lamp doesn’t smoke as it grows older?”

“Now, Mr. Aladdin, you WILL not remember nicely. Mr. Simpson swapped off
the banquet lamp when he was moving the family to Acreville; it’s not
the lamp at all, but once, when you were here last time, you said you’d
make up your mind what you were going to give me for Christmas.”

“Well,” and “I do remember that much quite nicely.”

“Well, is it bought?”

“No, I never buy Christmas presents before Thanksgiving.”

“Then, DEAR Mr. Aladdin, would you buy me something different, something
that I want to give away, and buy it a little sooner than Christmas?”

“That depends. I don’t relish having my Christmas presents given away.
I like to have them kept forever in little girls’ bureau drawers, all
wrapped in pink tissue paper; but explain the matter and perhaps I’ll
change my mind. What is it you want?”

“I need a wedding ring dreadfully,” said Rebecca, “but it’s a sacred
secret.”

Adam Ladd’s eyes flashed with surprise and he smiled to himself with
pleasure. Had he on his list of acquaintances, he asked himself, a
person of any age or sex so altogether irresistible and unique as this
child? Then he turned to face her with the merry teasing look that made
him so delightful to young people.

“I thought it was perfectly understood between us,” he said, “that if
you could ever contrive to grow up and I were willing to wait, that I
was to ride up to the brick house on my snow white”--

“Coal black,” corrected Rebecca, with a sparkling eye and a warning
finger.

“Coal black charger; put a golden circlet on your lily white finger,
draw you up behind me on my pillion”--

“And Emma Jane, too,” Rebecca interrupted.

“I think I didn’t mention Emma Jane,” argued Mr. Aladdin. “Three on a
pillion is very uncomfortable. I think Emma Jane leaps on the back of a
prancing chestnut, and we all go off to my castle in the forest.”

“Emma Jane never leaps, and she’d be afraid of a prancing chestnut,”
 objected Rebecca.

“Then she shall have a gentle cream-colored pony; but now, without any
explanation, you ask me to buy you a wedding ring, which shows
plainly that you are planning to ride off on a snow white--I mean coal
black--charger with somebody else.”

Rebecca dimpled and laughed with joy at the nonsense. In her prosaic
world no one but Adam Ladd played the game and answered the fool
according to his folly. Nobody else talked delicious fairy-story twaddle
but Mr. Aladdin.

“The ring isn’t for ME!” she explained carefully. “You know very well
that Emma Jane nor I can’t be married till we’re through Quackenbos’s
Grammar, Greenleaf’s Arithmetic, and big enough to wear long trails and
run a sewing machine. The ring is for a friend.”

“Why doesn’t the groom give it to his bride himself?”

“Because he’s poor and kind of thoughtless, and anyway she isn’t a bride
any more; she has three step and three other kind of children.”

Adam Ladd put the whip back in the socket thoughtfully, and then stooped
to tuck in the rug over Rebecca’s feet and his own. When he raised his
head again he asked: “Why not tell me a little more, Rebecca? I’m safe!”

Rebecca looked at him, feeling his wisdom and strength, and above all
his sympathy. Then she said hesitatingly: “You remember I told you all
about the Simpsons that day on your aunt’s porch when you bought the
soap because I told you how the family were always in trouble and how
much they needed a banquet lamp? Mr. Simpson, Clara Belle’s father, has
always been very poor, and not always very good,--a little bit THIEVISH,
you know--but oh, so pleasant and nice to talk to! And now he’s turning
over a new leaf. And everybody in Riverboro liked Mrs. Simpson when she
came here a stranger, because they were sorry for her and she was so
patient, and such a hard worker, and so kind to the children. But where
she lives now, though they used to know her when she was a girl, they’re
not polite to her and don’t give her scrubbing and washing; and Clara
belle heard our teacher say to Mrs. Fogg that the Acreville people were
stiff, and despised her because she didn’t wear a wedding ring, like all
the rest. And Clara Belle and I thought if they were so mean as that,
we’d love to give her one, and then she’d be happier and have more
work; and perhaps Mr. Simpson if he gets along better will buy her a
breast-pin and earrings, and she’ll be fitted out like the others. I
know Mrs. Peter Meserve is looked up to by everybody in Edgewood on
account of her gold bracelets and moss agate necklace.”

Adam turned again to meet the luminous, innocent eyes that glowed under
the delicate brows and long lashes, feeling as he had more than once
felt before, as if his worldly-wise, grown-up thoughts had been bathed
in some purifying spring.

“How shall you send the ring to Mrs. Simpson?” he asked, with interest.

“We haven’t settled yet; Clara Belle’s afraid to do it, and thinks I
could manage better. Will the ring cost much? Because, of course, if it
does, I must ask Aunt Jane first. There are things I have to ask Aunt
Miranda, and others that belong to Aunt Jane.”

“It costs the merest trifle. I’ll buy one and bring it to you, and we’ll
consult about it; but I think as you’re great friends with Mr. Simpson
you’d better send it to him in a letter, letters being your strong
point! It’s a present a man ought to give his own wife, but it’s worth
trying, Rebecca. You and Clara Belle can manage it between you, and I’ll
stay in the background where nobody will see me.”



Ninth Chronicle. THE GREEN ISLE

     Many a green isle needs must be
     In the deep sea of misery,
     Or the mariner, worn and wan,
     Never thus could voyage on
     Day and night and night and day,
     Drifting on his weary way.

     --Shelley


Meantime in these frosty autumn days life was crowded with events in the
lonely Simpson house at Acreville.

The tumble-down dwelling stood on the edge of Pliney’s Pond; so called
because old Colonel Richardson left his lands to be divided in five
equal parts, each share to be chosen in turn by one of his five sons,
Pliny, the eldest, having priority of choice.

Pliny Richardson, having little taste for farming, and being ardently
fond of fishing, rowing, and swimming, acted up to his reputation
of being “a little mite odd,” and took his whole twenty acres in
water--hence Pliny’s Pond.

The eldest Simpson boy had been working on a farm in Cumberland County
for two years. Samuel, generally dubbed “see-saw,” had lately found a
humble place in a shingle mill and was partially self-supporting. Clara
Belle had been adopted by the Foggs; thus there were only three mouths
to fill, the capacious ones of Elijah and Elisha, the twin boys, and
of lisping, nine-year-old Susan, the capable houseworker and
mother’s assistant, for the baby had died during the summer; died of
discouragement at having been born into a family unprovided with food
or money or love or care, or even with desire for, or appreciation of,
babies.

There was no doubt that the erratic father of the house had turned over
a new leaf. Exactly when he began, or how, or why, or how long he would
continue the praiseworthy process,--in a word whether there would be
more leaves turned as the months went on,--Mrs. Simpson did not know,
and it is doubtful if any authority lower than that of Mr. Simpson’s
Maker could have decided the matter. He had stolen articles for swapping
purposes for a long time, but had often avoided detection, and always
escaped punishment until the last few years. Three fines imposed for
small offenses were followed by several arrests and two imprisonments
for brief periods, and he found himself wholly out of sympathy with
the wages of sin. Sin itself he did not especially mind, but the wages
thereof were decidedly unpleasant and irksome to him. He also minded
very much the isolated position in the community which had lately become
his; for he was a social being and would ALMOST rather not steal from a
neighbor than have him find it out and cease intercourse! This feeling
was working in him and rendering him unaccountably irritable and
depressed when he took his daughter over to Riverboro at the time of the
great flag-raising.

There are seasons of refreshment, as well as seasons of drought, in the
spiritual, as in the natural world, and in some way or other dews
and rains of grace fell upon Abner Simpson’s heart during that brief
journey. Perhaps the giving away of a child that he could not support
had made the soil of his heart a little softer and readier for planting
than usual; but when he stole the new flag off Mrs. Peter Meserve’s
doorsteps, under the impression that the cotton-covered bundle
contained freshly washed clothes, he unconsciously set certain forces in
operation.

It will be remembered that Rebecca saw an inch of red bunting peeping
from the back of his wagon, and asked the pleasure of a drive with him.
She was no daughter of the regiment, but she proposed to follow the
flag. When she diplomatically requested the return of the sacred
object which was to be the glory of the “raising” next day, and he thus
discovered his mistake, he was furious with himself for having slipped
into a disagreeable predicament; and later, when he unexpectedly faced
a detachment of Riverboro society at the cross-roads, and met not only
their wrath and scorn, but the reproachful, disappointed glance of
Rebecca’s eyes, he felt degraded as never before.

The night at the Centre tavern did not help matters, nor the jolly
patriotic meeting of the three villages at the flag-raising next
morning. He would have enjoyed being at the head and front of the
festive preparations, but as he had cut himself off from all such
friendly gatherings, he intended at any rate to sit in his wagon on the
very outskirts of the assembled crowd and see some of the gayety; for,
heaven knows, he had little enough, he who loved talk, and song, and
story, and laughter, and excitement.

The flag was raised, the crowd cheered, the little girl to whom he had
lied, the girl who was impersonating the State of Maine, was on the
platform “speaking her piece,” and he could just distinguish some of the
words she was saying:

“For it’s your star, my star, all the stars together, That makes our
country’s flag so proud To float in the bright fall weather.”

Then suddenly there was a clarion voice cleaving the air, and he saw
a tall man standing in the centre of the stage and heard him crying:
“THREE CHEERS FOR THE GIRL THAT SAVED THE FLAG FROM THE HANDS OF THE
ENEMY!”

He was sore and bitter enough already; lonely, isolated enough; with
no lot nor share in the honest community life; no hand to shake, no
neighbor’s meal to share; and this unexpected public arraignment smote
him between the eyes. With resentment newly kindled, pride wounded,
vanity bleeding, he flung a curse at the joyous throng and drove toward
home, the home where he would find his ragged children and meet the
timid eyes of a woman who had been the loyal partner of his poverty and
disgraces.

It is probable that even then his (extremely light) hand was already on
the “new leaf.” The angels, doubtless, were not especially proud of the
matter and manner of his reformation, but I dare say they were glad to
count him theirs on any terms, so difficult is the reformation of this
blind and foolish world! They must have been; for they immediately
flung into his very lap a profitable, and what is more to the point, an
interesting and agreeable situation where money could be earned by doing
the very things his nature craved. There were feats of daring to be
performed in sight of admiring and applauding stable boys; the horses
he loved were his companions; he was OBLIGED to “swap,” for Daly, his
employer, counted on him to get rid of all undesirable stock; power and
responsibility of a sort were given him freely, for Daly was no Puritan,
and felt himself amply capable of managing any number of Simpsons;
so here were numberless advantages within the man’s grasp, and wages
besides!

Abner positively felt no temptation to steal; his soul expanded with
pride, and the admiration and astonishment with which he regarded
his virtuous present was only equaled by the disgust with which he
contemplated his past; not so much a vicious past, in his own generous
estimation of it, as a “thunderin’ foolish” one.

Mrs. Simpson took the same view of Abner’s new leaf as the angels.
She was thankful for even a brief season of honesty coupled with the
Saturday night remittance; and if she still washed and cried and cried
and washed, as Clara Belle had always seen her, it was either because of
some hidden sorrow, or because her poor strength seemed all at once to
have deserted her.

Just when employment and good fortune had come to the step-children, and
her own were better fed and clothed than ever before, the pain that had
always lurked, constant but dull, near her tired heart, grew fierce
and triumphantly strong; clutching her in its talons, biting, gnawing,
worrying, leaving her each week with slighter powers of resistance.
Still hope was in the air and a greater content than had ever been hers
was in her eyes; a content that came near to happiness when the doctor
ordered her to keep her bed and sent for Clara Belle. She could not wash
any longer, but there was the ever new miracle of the Saturday night
remittance for household expenses.

“Is your pain bad today, mother,” asked Clara Belle, who, only lately
given away, was merely borrowed from Mrs. Fogg for what was thought to
be a brief emergency.

“Well, there, I can’t hardly tell, Clara Belle,” Mrs. Simpson replied,
with a faint smile. “I can’t seem to remember the pain these days
without it’s extra bad. The neighbors are so kind; Mrs. Little has sent
me canned mustard greens, and Mrs. Benson chocolate ice cream and mince
pie; there’s the doctor’s drops to make me sleep, and these blankets
and that great box of eatables from Mr. Ladd; and you here to keep me
comp’ny! I declare I’m kind o’ dazed with comforts. I never expected to
see sherry wine in this house. I ain’t never drawed the cork; it does
me good enough jest to look at Mr. Ladd’s bottle settin’ on the
mantel-piece with the fire shinin’ on the brown glass.”

Mr. Simpson had come to see his wife and had met the doctor just as he
was leaving the house.

“She looks awful bad to me. Is she goin’ to pull through all right, same
as the last time?” he asked the doctor nervously.

“She’s going to pull right through into the other world,” the doctor
answered bluntly; “and as there don’t seem to be anybody else to take
the bull by the horns, I’d advise you, having made the woman’s life
about as hard and miserable as you could, to try and help her to die
easy!”

Abner, surprised and crushed by the weight of this verbal chastisement,
sat down on the doorstep, his head in his hands, and thought a while
solemnly. Thought was not an operation he was wont to indulge in, and
when he opened the gate a few minutes later and walked slowly toward
the barn for his horse, he looked pale and unnerved. It is uncommonly
startling, first to see yourself in another man’s scornful eyes, and
then, clearly, in your own.

Two days later he came again, and this time it was decreed that he
should find Parson Carll tying his piebald mare at the post.

Clara Belle’s quick eye had observed the minister as he alighted from
his buggy, and, warning her mother, she hastily smoothed the bedclothes,
arranged the medicine bottles, and swept the hearth.

“Oh! Don’t let him in!” wailed Mrs. Simpson, all of a flutter at the
prospect of such a visitor. “Oh, dear! They must think over to the
village that I’m dreadful sick, or the minister wouldn’t never think
of callin’! Don’t let him in, Clara Belle! I’m afraid he will say hard
words to me, or pray to me; and I ain’t never been prayed to since I was
a child! Is his wife with him?”

“No; he’s alone; but father’s just drove up and is hitching at the shed
door.”

“That’s worse than all!” and Mrs. Simpson raised herself feebly on her
pillows and clasped her hands in despair. “You mustn’t let them two
meet, Clara Belle, and you must send Mr. Carll away; your father
wouldn’t have a minister in the house, nor speak to one, for a thousand
dollars!”

“Be quiet, mother! Lie down! It’ll be all right! You’ll only fret
yourself into a spell! The minister’s just a good man; he won’t say
anything to frighten you. Father’s talking with him real pleasant, and
pointing the way to the front door.”

The parson knocked and was admitted by the excited Clara Belle, who
ushered him tremblingly into the sickroom, and then betook herself to
the kitchen with the children, as he gently requested her.

Abner Simpson, left alone in the shed, fumbled in his vest pocket and
took out an envelope which held a sheet of paper and a tiny packet
wrapped in tissue paper. The letter had been read once before and ran as
follows:

Dear Mr. Simpson:

This is a secret letter. I heard that the Acreville people weren’t nice
to Mrs. Simpson because she didn’t have any wedding ring like all the
others.

I know you’ve always been poor, dear Mr. Simpson, and troubled with a
large family like ours at the farm; but you really ought to have given
Mrs. Simpson a ring when you were married to her, right at the very
first; for then it would have been over and done with, as they are solid
gold and last forever. And probably she wouldn’t feel like asking you
for one, because ladies are just like girls, only grown up, and I know
I’d be ashamed to beg for jewelry when just board and clothes cost
so much. So I send you a nice, new wedding ring to save your buying,
thinking you might get Mrs. Simpson a bracelet or eardrops for
Christmas. It did not cost me anything, as it was a secret present from
a friend.

I hear Mrs. Simpson is sick, and it would be a great comfort to her
while she is in bed and has so much time to look at it. When I had
the measles Emma Jane Perkins lent me her mother’s garnet ring, and it
helped me very much to put my wasted hand outside the bedclothes and see
the ring sparkling.

Please don’t be angry with me, dear Mr. Simpson, because I like you
so much and am so glad you are happy with the horses and colts; and I
believe now perhaps you DID think the flag was a bundle of washing
when you took it that day; so no more from your Trusted friend, Rebecca
Rowena Randall.

Simpson tore the letter slowly and quietly into fragments and scattered
the bits on the woodpile, took off his hat, and smoothed his hair;
pulled his mustaches thoughtfully, straightened his shoulders, and then,
holding the tiny packet in the palm of his hand, he went round to the
front door, and having entered the house stood outside the sickroom for
an instant, turned the knob and walked softly in.

Then at last the angels might have enjoyed a moment of unmixed joy, for
in that brief walk from shed to house Abner Simpson’s conscience waked
to life and attained sufficient strength to prick and sting, to provoke
remorse, to incite penitence, to do all sorts of divine and beautiful
things it was meant for, but had never been allowed to do.

Clara Belle went about the kitchen quietly, making preparations for the
children’s supper. She had left Riverboro in haste, as the change for
the worse in Mrs. Simpson had been very sudden, but since she had come
she had thought more than once of the wedding ring. She had wondered
whether Mr. Ladd had bought it for Rebecca, and whether Rebecca would
find means to send it to Acreville; but her cares had been so many and
varied that the subject had now finally retired to the background of her
mind.

The hands of the clock crept on and she kept hushing the strident tones
of Elijah and Elisha, opening and shutting the oven door to look at
the corn bread, advising Susan as to her dishes, and marveling that the
minister stayed so long.

At last she heard a door open and close and saw the old parson come
out, wiping his spectacles, and step into the buggy for his drive to the
village.

Then there was another period of suspense, during which the house was
as silent as the grave, and presently her father came into the kitchen,
greeted the twins and Susan, and said to Clara Belle: “Don’t go in there
yet!” jerking his thumb towards Mrs. Simpson’s room; “she’s all beat out
and she’s just droppin’ off to sleep. I’ll send some groceries up from
the store as I go along. Is the doctor makin’ a second call tonight?”

“Yes; he’ll be here pretty soon, now,” Clara Belle answered, looking at
the clock.

“All right. I’ll be here again tomorrow, soon as it’s light, and if she
ain’t picked up any I’ll send word back to Daly, and stop here with you
for a spell till she’s better.”

It was true; Mrs. Simpson was “all beat out.” It had been a time of
excitement and stress, and the poor, fluttered creature was dropping off
into the strangest sleep--a sleep made up of waking dreams. The pain,
that had encompassed her heart like a band of steel, lessened its cruel
pressure, and finally left her so completely that she seemed to see it
floating above her head; only that it looked no longer like a band of
steel, but a golden circle.

The frail bark in which she had sailed her life voyage had been rocking
on a rough and tossing ocean, and now it floated, floated slowly into
smoother waters.

As long as she could remember, her boat had been flung about in storm
and tempest, lashed by angry winds, borne against rocks, beaten, torn,
buffeted. Now the waves had subsided; the sky was clear; the sea was
warm and tranquil; the sunshine dried the tattered sails; the air was
soft and balmy.

And now, for sleep plays strange tricks, the bark disappeared from the
dream, and it was she, herself, who was floating, floating farther and
farther away; whither she neither knew nor cared; it was enough to be at
rest, lulled by the lapping of the cool waves.

Then there appeared a green isle rising from the sea; an isle so radiant
and fairy-like that her famished eyes could hardly believe its reality;
but it was real, for she sailed nearer and nearer to its shores, and at
last her feet skimmed the shining sands and she floated through the
air as disembodied spirits float, till she sank softly at the foot of a
spreading tree.

Then she saw the green isle was a flowering isle. Every shrub and bush
was blooming; the trees were hung with rosy garlands, and even the earth
was carpeted with tiny flowers. The rare fragrances, the bird songs,
soft and musical, the ravishment of color, all bore down upon her
swimming senses at once, taking them captive so completely that she
remembered no past, was conscious of no present, looked forward to no
future. She seemed to leave the body and the sad, heavy things of the
body. The humming in her ears ceased, the light faded, the birds songs
grew fainter and more distant, the golden circle of pain receded farther
and farther until it was lost to view; even the flowering island gently
drifted away, and all was peace and silence.

It was time for the doctor now, and Clara Belle, too anxious to wait
longer, softly turned the knob of her mother’s door and entered the
room. The glow of the open fire illumined the darkest side of the poor
chamber. There were no trees near the house, and a full November moon
streamed in at the unblinded, uncurtained windows, lighting up the bare
interior--the unpainted floor, the gray plastered walls, and the white
counterpane.

Her mother lay quite still, her head turned and drooping a little on
the pillow. Her left hand was folded softly up against her breast, the
fingers of the right partly covering it, as if protecting something
precious.

Was it the moonlight that made the patient brow so white, and where were
the lines of anxiety and pain? The face of the mother who had washed
and cried and cried and washed was as radiant as if the closed eye were
beholding heavenly visions.

“Something must have cured her!” thought Clara Belle, awed and almost
frightened by the whiteness and the silence.

She tiptoed across the floor to look more closely at the still, smiling
shape, and bending over it saw, under the shadow of the caressing right
hand, a narrow gold band gleaming on the work-stained finger.

“Oh, the ring came, after all!” she said in a glad whisper, “and perhaps
it was that that made her better!”

She put her hand on her mother’s gently. A terrified shiver, a warning
shudder, shook the girl from head to foot at the chilling touch. A dread
presence she had never met before suddenly took shape. It filled the
room; stifled the cry on her lips; froze her steps to the floor, stopped
the beating of her heart.

Just then the door opened.

“Oh, doctor! Come quick!” she sobbed, stretching out her hand for
help, and then covering her eyes. “Come close! Look at mother! Is she
better--or is she dead?”

The doctor put one hand on the shoulder of the shrinking child, and
touched the woman with the other.

“She is better!” he said gently, “and she is dead.”



Tenth Chronicle. REBECCA’S REMINISCENCES


Rebecca was sitting by the window in her room at the Wareham Female
Seminary. She was alone, as her roommate, Emma Jane Perkins, was
reciting Latin down below in some academic vault of the old brick
building.

A new and most ardent passion for the classics had been born in Emma
Jane’s hitherto unfertile brain, for Abijah Flagg, who was carrying off
all the prizes at Limerick Academy, had written her a letter in Latin, a
letter which she had been unable to translate for herself, even with the
aid of a dictionary, and which she had been apparently unwilling that
Rebecca, her bosom friend, confidant, and roommate, should render into
English.

An old-fashioned Female Seminary, with its allotment of one medium-sized
room to two medium sized young females, gave small opportunities for
privacy by night or day, for neither the double washstand, nor the thus
far unimagined bathroom, nor even indeed the humble and serviceable
screen, had been realized, in these dark ages of which I write.
Accordingly, like the irrational ostrich, which defends itself by the
simple process of not looking at its pursuers, Emma Jane had kept her
Latin letter in her closed hand, in her pocket, or in her open book,
flattering herself that no one had noticed her pleased bewilderment at
its only half-imagined contents.

All the fairies were not present at Rebecca’s cradle. A goodly number of
them telegraphed that they were previously engaged or unavoidably absent
from town. The village of Temperance, Maine, where Rebecca first saw the
light, was hardly a place on its own merits to attract large throngs of
fairies. But one dear old personage who keeps her pocket full of Merry
Leaves from the Laughing Tree, took a fancy to come to the little
birthday party; and seeing so few of her sister-fairies present, she
dowered the sleeping baby more richly than was her wont, because of its
apparent lack of wealth in other directions. So the child grew, and the
Merry Leaves from the Laughing Tree rustled where they hung from the
hood of her cradle, and, being fairy leaves, when the cradle was
given up they festooned themselves on the cribside, and later on blew
themselves up to the ceilings at Sunnybook Farm and dangled there,
making fun for everybody. They never withered, even at the brick house
in Riverboro, where the air was particularly inimical to fairies,
for Miss Miranda Sawyer would have scared any ordinary elf out of her
seventeen senses. They followed Rebecca to Wareham, and during Abijah
Flagg’s Latin correspondence with Emma Jane they fluttered about that
young person’s head in such a manner that Rebecca was almost afraid that
she would discover them herself, although this is something, as a matter
of fact, that never does happen.

A week had gone by since the Latin missive had been taken from
the post-office by Emma Jane, and now, by means of much midnight
oil-burning, by much cautious questioning of Miss Maxwell, by such
scrutiny of the moods and tenses of Latin verbs as wellnigh destroyed
her brain tissue, she had mastered its romantic message. If it was
conventional in style, Emma Jane never suspected it. If some of the
similes seemed to have been culled from the Latin poets, and some of the
phrases built up from Latin exercises, Emma Jane was neither scholar
nor critic; the similes, the phrases, the sentiments, when finally
translated and written down in black-and-white English, made, in her
opinion, the most convincing and heart-melting document ever sent
through the mails:

Mea cara Emma:

Cur audeo scribere ad te epistulam? Es mihi dea! Semper es in mea anima.
Iterum et iterum es cum me in somnis. Saepe video tuas capillos auri,
tuos pulchros oculos similes caelo, tuas genas, quasi rubentes rosas
in nive. Tua vox est dulcior quam cantus avium aut murmur rivuli in
montibus.

Cur sum ego tam miser et pauper et indignus, et tu tam dulcis et bona et
nobilis?

Si cogitabis de me ero beatus. Tu es sola puella quam amo, et semper
eris. Alias puellas non amavi. Forte olim amabis me, sed sum indignus.
Sine te sum miser, cum tu es prope mea vita omni est goddamn.

Vale, carissima, carissima puella!

De tuo fideli servo A.F.

My dear Emma:

Why dare I write to you a letter? You are to me a goddess! Always you
are in my heart. Again and again you are with me in dreams. Often I see
your locks of gold, your beautiful eyes like the sky, your cheeks, as
red roses in snow. Your voice is sweeter than the singing of birds or
the murmur of the stream in the mountains.

Why am I so wretched and poor and unworthy, and you so sweet and good
and noble?

If you will think of me I shall be happy. You are the only girl that I
love and always will be. Other girls I have not loved. Perhaps sometime
you will love me, but I am unworthy. Without you, I am wretched, when
you are near my life is all joy.

Farewell, dearest, dearest girl!

From your faithful slave A.F.

Emma Jane knew the letter by heart in English. She even knew it in
Latin, only a few days before a dead language to her, but now one filled
with life and meaning. From beginning to end the epistle had the effect
upon her as of an intoxicating elixir. Often, at morning prayers, or
while eating her rice pudding at the noon dinner, or when sinking off
to sleep at night, she heard a voice murmuring in her ear, “Vale,
carissima, carissima puella!” As to the effect on her modest,
countrified little heart of the phrases in which Abijah stated she was
a goddess and he her faithful slave, that quite baffles description; for
it lifted her bodily out of the scenes in which she moved, into a new,
rosy, ethereal atmosphere in which even Rebecca had no place.

Rebecca did not know this, fortunately; she only suspected, and waited
for the day when Emma Jane would pour out her confidences, as she always
did, and always would until the end of time. At the present moment
she was busily employed in thinking about her own affairs. A shabby
composition book with mottled board covers lay open on the table before
her, and sometimes she wrote in it with feverish haste and absorption,
and sometimes she rested her chin in the cup of her palm, and with the
pencil poised in the other hand looked dreamily out on the village, its
huddle of roofs and steeples all blurred into positive beauty by the
fast-falling snowflakes.

It was the middle of December and the friendly sky was softly dropping
a great white mantle of peace and good-will over the little town, making
all ready within and without for the Feast o’ the Babe.

The main street, that in summer was made dignified by its splendid
avenue of shade trees, now ran quiet and white between rows of stalwart
trunks, whose leafless branches were all hanging heavy under their
dazzling burden.

The path leading straight up the hill to the Academy was broken only by
the feet of the hurrying, breathless boys and girls who ran up and down,
carrying piles of books under their arms; books which they remembered
so long as they were within the four walls of the recitation room, and
which they eagerly forgot as soon as they met one another in the living,
laughing world, going up and down the hill.

“It’s very becoming to the universe, snow is!” thought Rebecca, looking
out of the window dreamily. “Really there’s little to choose between the
world and heaven when a snowstorm is going on. I feel as if I ought to
look at it every minute. I wish I could get over being greedy, but it
still seems to me at sixteen as if there weren’t waking hours enough
in the day, and as if somehow I were pressed for time and continually
losing something. How well I remember mother’s story about me when I
was four. It was at early breakfast on the farm, but I called all meals
dinner’ then, and when I had finished I folded up my bib and sighed: O,
dear! Only two more dinners, play a while and go to bed!’ This was at
six in the morning--lamplight in the kitchen, snowlight outside!

     Powdery, powdery, powdery snow,
     Making things lovely wherever you go!
     Merciful, merciful, merciful snow,
     Masking the ugliness hidden below.

Herbert made me promise to do a poem for the January ‘Pilot,’ but I
mustn’t take the snow as a subject; there has been too great competition
among the older poets!” And with that she turned in her chair and began
writing again in the shabby book, which was already three quarters
filled with childish scribblings, sometimes in pencil, and sometimes in
violet ink with carefully shaded capital letters.”

* * * * *

Squire Bean has had a sharp attack of rheumatism and Abijah Flagg came
back from Limerick for a few days to nurse him. One morning the Burnham
sisters from North Riverboro came over to spend the day with Aunt
Miranda, and Abijah went down to put up their horse. (“‘Commodatin’
‘Bijah” was his pet name when we were all young.)

He scaled the ladder to the barn chamber--the dear old ladder that
used to be my safety valve!--and pitched down the last forkful of
grandfather’s hay that will ever be eaten by any visiting horse. They
WILL be delighted to hear that it is all gone; they have grumbled at it
for years and years.

What should Abijah find at the bottom of the heap but my Thought Book,
hidden there two or three years ago and forgotten!

When I think of what it was to me, the place it filled in my life, the
affection I lavished on it, I wonder that I could forget it, even in
all the excitement of coming to Wareham to school. And that gives me
“an uncommon thought” as I used to say! It is this: that when we finish
building an air castle we seldom live in it after all; we sometimes even
forget that we ever longed to! Perhaps we have gone so far as to
begin another castle on a higher hilltop, and this is so
beautiful,--especially while we are building, and before we live in
it!--that the first one has quite vanished from sight and mind, like the
outgrown shell of the nautilus that he casts off on the shore and never
looks at again. (At least I suppose he doesn’t; but perhaps he takes one
backward glance, half-smiling, half-serious, just as I am doing at my
old Thought Book, and says, “WAS THAT MY SHELL! GOODNESS GRACIOUS! HOW
DID I EVER SQUEEZE MYSELF INTO IT!”)

That bit about the nautilus sounds like an extract from a school theme,
or a “Pilot” editorial, or a fragment of one of dear Miss Maxwell’s
lectures, but I think girls of sixteen are principally imitations of the
people and things they love and admire; and between editing the “Pilot,”
 writing out Virgil translations, searching for composition subjects, and
studying rhetorical models, there is very little of the original
Rebecca Rowena about me at the present moment; I am just a member of
the graduating class in good and regular standing. We do our hair alike,
dress alike as much as possible, eat and drink alike, talk alike,--I am
not even sure that we do not think alike; and what will become of the
poor world when we are all let loose upon it on the same day of June?
Will life, real life, bring our true selves back to us? Will love and
duty and sorrow and trouble and work finally wear off the “school stamp”
 that has been pressed upon all of us until we look like rows of shining
copper cents fresh from the mint?

Yet there must be a little difference between us somewhere, or why does
Abijah Flagg write Latin letters to Emma Jane, instead of to me? There
is one example on the other side of the argument,--Abijah Flagg. He
stands out from all the rest of the boys like the Rock of Gibraltar in
the geography pictures. Is it because he never went to school until he
was sixteen? He almost died of longing to go, and the longing seemed to
teach him more than going. He knew his letters, and could read simple
things, but it was I who taught him what books really meant when I was
eleven and he thirteen. We studied while he was husking corn or cutting
potatoes for seed, or shelling beans in the Squire’s barn. His beloved
Emma Jane didn’t teach him; her father wold not have let her be friends
with a chore-boy! It was I who found him after milking-time, summer
nights, suffering, yes dying, of Least Common Multiple and Greatest
Common Divisor; I who struck the shackles from the slave and told him to
skip it all and go on to something easier, like Fractions, Percentage,
and Compound Interest, as I did myself. Oh! How he used to smell of the
cows when I was correcting his sums on warm evenings, but I don’t regret
it, for he is now the joy of Limerick and the pride of Riverboro, and I
suppose has forgotten the proper side on which to approach a cow if you
wish to milk her. This now unserviceable knowledge is neatly inclosed in
the outgrown shell he threw off two or three years ago. His gratitude
to me knows no bounds, but--he writes Latin letters to Emma Jane! But as
Mr. Perkins said about drowning the kittens (I now quote from myself at
thirteen), “It is the way of the world and how things have to be!”

Well, I have read the Thought Book all through, and when I want to
make Mr. Aladdin laugh, I shall show him my composition on the relative
values of punishment and reward as builders of character.

I am not at all the same Rebecca today at sixteen that I was then,
at twelve and thirteen. I hope, in getting rid of my failings, that I
haven’t scrubbed and rubbed so hard that I have taken the gloss off the
poor little virtues that lay just alongside of the faults; for as I read
the foolish doggerel and the funny, funny “Remerniscences,” I see on the
whole a nice, well-meaning, trusting, loving heedless little creature,
that after all I’d rather build on than outgrow altogether, because she
is Me; the Me that was made and born just a little different from all
the rest of the babies in my birthday year.

One thing is alike in the child and the girl. They both love to set
thoughts down in black and white; to see how they look, how they sound,
and how they make one feel when one reads them over.

They both love the sound of beautiful sentences and the tinkle of
rhyming words, and in fact, of the three great R’s of life, they adore
Reading and Riting, as much as they abhor ‘Rithmetic.

The little girl in the old book is always thinking of what she is “going
to be.”

Uncle Jerry Cobb spoiled me a good deal in this direction. I remember
he said to everybody when I wrote my verses for the flag-raising: “Nary
rung on the ladder o’ fame but that child’ll climb if you give her
time!”--poor Uncle Jerry! He will be so disappointed in me as time goes
on. And still he would think I have already climbed two rungs on the
ladder, although it is only a little Wareham ladder, for I am one of
the “Pilot” editors, the first “girl editor”--and I have taken a fifty
dollar prize in composition and paid off the interest on a twelve
hundred dollar mortgage with it.

     “High is the rank we now possess,
     But higher we shall rise;
     Though what we shall hereafter be
     Is hid from mortal eyes.”

This hymn was sung in meeting the Sunday after my election, and Mr.
Aladdin was there that day and looked across the aisle and smiled at me.
Then he sent me a sheet of paper from Boston the next morning with just
one verse in the middle of it.

“She made the cleverest people quite ashamed; And ev’n the good with
inward envy groan, Finding themselves so very much exceeded, In their
own way by all the things that she did.”

Miss Maxwell says it is Byron, and I wish I had thought of the last
rhyme before Byron did; my rhymes are always so common.

I am too busy doing, nowadays, to give very much thought to being.
Mr. Aladdin was teasing me one day about what he calls my “cast-off
careers.”

“What makes you aim at any mark in particular, Rebecca?” he asked,
looking at Miss Maxwell and laughing. “Women never hit what they aim at,
anyway; but if they shut their eyes and shoot in the air they generally
find themselves in the bull’s eye.”

I think one reason that I have always dreamed of what I should be, when
I grew up, was, that even before father died mother worried about the
mortgage on the farm, and what would become of us if it were foreclosed.

It was hard on children to be brought up on a mortgage that way, but
oh! it was harder still on poor dear mother, who had seven of us then
to think of, and still has three at home to feed and clothe out of the
farm.

Aunt Jane says I am young for my age, Aunt Miranda is afraid that I will
never really “grow up,” Mr. Aladdin says that I don’t know the world any
better than the pearl inside of the oyster. They none of them know the
old, old thoughts I have, some of them going back years and years; for
they are never ones that I can speak about.

I remember how we children used to admire father, he was so handsome and
graceful and amusing, never cross like mother, or too busy to play with
us. He never did any work at home because he had to keep his hands nice
for playing the church melodeon, or the violin or piano for dances.

Mother used to say: “Hannah and Rebecca, you must hull the strawberries,
your father cannot help.” “John, you must milk next year for I haven’t
the time and it would spoil your father’s hands.”

All the other men in Temperance village wore calico, or flannel shirts,
except on Sundays, but Father never wore any but white ones with
starched bosoms. He was very particular about them and mother used to
stitch and stitch on the pleats, and press and press the bosoms and
collar and cuffs, sometimes late at night.

Then she was tired and thin and gray, with no time to sew on new dresses
for herself, and no time to wear them, because she was always taking
care of the babies; and father was happy and well and handsome. But
we children never thought much about it until once, after father had
mortgaged the farm, there was going to be a sociable in Temperance
village. Mother could not go as Jenny had whooping-cough and Mark had
just broken his arm, and when she was tying father’s necktie, the last
thing before he started, he said: “I wish, Aurelia, that you cared a
little about YOUR appearance and YOUR dress; it goes a long way with a
man like me.”

Mother had finished the tie, and her hands dropped suddenly. I looked at
her eyes and mouth while she looked at father and in a minute I was ever
so old, with a grown-up ache in my heart. It has always stayed there,
although I admired my handsome father and was proud of him because he
was so talented; but now that I am older and have thought about things,
my love for mother is different from what it used to be. Father was
always the favorite when we were little, he was so interesting, and
I wonder sometimes if we don’t remember interesting people longer and
better than we do those who are just good and patient. If so it seems
very cruel.

As I look back I see that Miss Ross, the artist who brought me my
pink parasol from Paris, sowed the first seeds in me of ambition to do
something special. Her life seemed so beautiful and so easy to a child.
I had not been to school then, or read George Macdonald, so I did not
know that “Ease is the lovely result of forgotten toil.”

Miss Ross sat out of doors and painted lovely things, and everybody said
how wonderful they were, and bought them straight away; and she took
care of a blind father and two brothers, and traveled wherever she
wished. It comes back to me now, that summer when I was ten and Miss
Ross painted me sitting by the mill-wheel while she talked to me of
foreign countries!

The other day Miss Maxwell read something from Browning’s poems to the
girls of her literature class. It was about David the shepherd boy
who used to lie in his hollow watching one eagle “wheeling slow as in
sleep.” He used to wonder about the wide world that the eagle beheld,
the eagle that was stretching his wings so far up in the blue, while he,
the poor shepherd boy, could see only the “strip twixt the hill and the
sky;” for he lay in a hollow.

I told Mr. Baxter about it the next day, which was the Saturday before
I joined the church. I asked him if it was wicked to long to see as much
as the eagle saw?

There was never anybody quite like Mr. Baxter. “Rebecca dear,” he said,
“it may be that you need not always lie in a hollow, as the shepherd boy
did; but wherever you lie, that little strip you see ‘twixt the hill
and the sky’ is able to hold all of earth and all of heaven, if only you
have the right sort of vision.”

I was a long, long time about “experiencing religion.” I remember Sunday
afternoons at the brick house the first winter after I went there; when
I used to sit in the middle of the dining-room as I was bid, silent and
still, with the big family Bible on my knees. Aunt Miranda had Baxter’s
“Saints’ Rest,” but her seat was by the window, and she at least could
give a glance into the street now and then without being positively
wicked.

Aunt Jane used to read the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” The fire burned low;
the tall clock ticked, ticked, so slowly and steadily, that the pictures
swam before my eyes and I almost fell asleep.

They thought by shutting everything else out that I should see God;
but I didn’t, not once. I was so homesick for Sunnybook and John that
I could hardly learn my weekly hymns, especially the sad, long one
beginning:

     “My thoughts on awful subjects roll,
     Damnation and the dead.”

It was brother John for whom I was chiefly homesick on Sunday
afternoons, because at Sunnybrook Farm father was dead and mother was
always busy, and Hannah never liked to talk.

Then the next year the missionaries from Syria came to Riverboro; and
at the meeting Mr. Burch saw me playing the melodeon, and thought I was
grown up and a church member, and so he asked me to lead in prayer.

I didn’t dare to refuse, and when I prayed, which was just like thinking
out loud, I found I could talk to God a great deal easier than to Aunt
Miranda or even to Uncle Jerry Cobb. There were things I could say to
Him that I could never say to anybody else, and saying them always made
me happy and contented.

When Mr. Baxter asked me last year about joining the church, I told him
I was afraid I did not understand God quite well enough to be a real
member.

“So you don’t quite understand God, Rebecca?” he asked, smiling.
“Well, there is something else much more important, which is, that
He understands you! He understands your feeble love, your longings,
desires, hopes, faults, ambitions, crosses; and that, after all, is what
counts! Of course you don’t understand Him! You are overshadowed by His
love, His power, His benignity, His wisdom; that is as it should be!
Why, Rebecca, dear, if you could stand erect and unabashed in God’s
presence, as one who perfectly comprehended His nature or His purposes,
it would be sacrilege! Don’t be puzzled out of your blessed inheritance
of faith, my child; accept God easily and naturally, just as He accepts
you!”

“God never puzzled me, Mr. Baxter; it isn’t that,” I said; “but the
doctrines do worry me dreadfully.”

“Let them alone for the present,” Mr Baxter said. “Anyway, Rebecca, you
can never prove God; you can only find Him!”

“Then do you think I have really experienced religion, Mr. Baxter?” I
asked. “Am I the beginnings of a Christian?”

“You are a dear child of the understanding God!” Mr. Baxter said; “and I
say it over to myself night and morning so that I can never forget it.”

* * * * *

The year is nearly over and the next few months will be lived in the
rush and whirlwind of work that comes before graduation. The bell for
philosophy class will ring in ten minutes, and as I have been writing
for nearly two hours, I must learn my lesson going up the Academy
hill. It will not be the first time; it is a grand hill for learning! I
suppose after fifty years or so the very ground has become soaked with
knowledge, and every particle of air in the vicinity is crammed with
useful information.

I will put my book into my trunk (having no blessed haymow hereabouts)
and take it out again,--when shall I take it out again?

After graduation perhaps I shall be too grown up and too busy to write
in a Thought Book; but oh, if only something would happen worth putting
down; something strange; something unusual; something different from the
things that happen every day in Riverboro and Edgewood!

Graduation will surely take me a little out of “the hollow,”--make me
a little more like the soaring eagle, gazing at the whole wide world
beneath him while he wheels “slow as in sleep.” But whether or not,
I’ll try not to be a discontented shepherd, but remember what Mr. Baxter
said, that the little strip that I see “twixt the hill and the sky” is
able to hold all of earth and all of heaven, if only I have the eyes to
see it.

Rebecca Rowena Randall.

Wareham Female Seminary, December 187--.



Eleventh Chronicle. ABIJAH THE BRAVE AND THE FAIR EMMAJANE


I

     “A warrior so bold and a maiden so bright
     Conversed as they sat on the green.
     They gazed at each other in tender delight.
     Alonzo the brave was the name of the knight,
     And the maid was the fair Imogene.

     “Alas!’ said the youth, ‘since tomorrow I go
     To fight in a far distant land,
     Your tears for my absence soon ceasing to flow,
     Some other will court you, and you will bestow
     On a wealthier suitor your hand.’

     ‘Oh, hush these suspicions!’ Fair Imogene said,
     “So hurtful to love and to me!
     For if you be living, or if you be dead,
     I swear by the Virgin that none in your stead
     Shall the husband of Imogene be!’

Ever since she was eight years old Rebecca had wished to be eighteen,
but now that she was within a month of that awe-inspiring and
long-desired age she wondered if, after all, it was destined to be a
turning point in her quiet existence. Her eleventh year, for instance,
had been a real turning-point, since it was then that she had left
Sunnybrook Farm and come to her maiden aunts in Riverboro. Aurelia
Randall may have been doubtful as to the effect upon her spinster
sisters of the irrepressible child, but she was hopeful from the first
that the larger opportunities of Riverboro would be the “making” of
Rebecca herself.

The next turning-point was her fourteenth year, when she left the
district school for the Wareham Female Seminary, then in the hey-day
of its local fame. Graduation (next to marriage, perhaps, the most
thrilling episode in the life of a little country girl) happened at
seventeen, and not long afterward her Aunt Miranda’s death, sudden and
unexpected, changed not only all the outward activities and conditions
of her life, but played its own part in her development.

The brick house looked very homelike and pleasant on a June morning
nowadays with children’s faces smiling at the windows and youthful
footsteps sounding through the halls; and the brass knocker on the
red-painted front door might have remembered Rebecca’s prayer of a year
before, when she leaned against its sun-warmed brightness and whispered:
“God bless Aunt Miranda; God bless the brick house that was; God bless
the brick house that’s going to be!”

All the doors and blinds were open to the sun and air as they had never
been in Miss Miranda Sawyer’s time. The hollyhock bed that had been her
chief pride was never neglected, and Rebecca liked to hear the neighbors
say that there was no such row of beautiful plants and no such variety
of beautiful colors in Riverboro as those that climbed up and peeped in
at the kitchen windows where old Miss Miranda used to sit.

Now that the place was her very own Rebecca felt a passion of pride in
its smoothly mown fields, its carefully thinned-out woods, its blooming
garden spots, and its well-weeded vegetable patch; felt, too whenever
she looked at any part of it, a passion of gratitude to the stern old
aunt who had looked upon her as the future head of the family, as well
as a passion of desire to be worthy of that trust.

It had been a very difficult year for a girl fresh from school: the
death of her aunt, the nursing of Miss Jane, prematurely enfeebled by
the shock, the removal of her own invalid mother and the rest of the
little family from Sunnybrook Farm. But all had gone smoothly; and when
once the Randall fortunes had taken an upward turn nothing seemed able
to stop their intrepid ascent.

Aurelia Randall renewed her youth in the companionship of her sister
Jane and the comforts by which her children were surrounded; the
mortgage was no longer a daily terror, for Sunnybrook had been sold to
the new railroad; Hannah, now Mrs. Will Melville, was happily situated;
John, at last, was studying medicine; Mark, the boisterous and unlucky
brother, had broken no bones for several months; while Jenny and Fanny
were doing well at the district school under Miss Libby Moses, Miss
Dearborn’s successor.

“I don’t feel very safe,” thought Rebecca, remembering all these
unaccustomed mercies as she sat on the front doorsteps, with her tatting
shuttle flying in and out of the fine cotton like a hummingbird. “It’s
just like one of those too beautiful July days that winds up with a
thundershower before night! Still, when you remember that the Randalls
never had anything but thunder and lightning, rain, snow, and hail, in
their family history for twelve or fifteen years, perhaps it is only
natural that they should enjoy a little spell of settled weather. If it
really turns out to BE settled, now that Aunt Jane and mother are strong
again I must be looking up one of what Mr. Aladdin calls my cast-off
careers.”--“There comes Emma Jane Perkins through her front gate; she
will be here in a minute, and I’ll tease her!” and Rebecca ran in the
door and seated herself at the old piano that stood between the open
windows in the parlor.

Peeping from behind the muslin curtains, she waited until Emma Jane
was on the very threshold and then began singing her version of an old
ballad, made that morning while she was dressing. The ballad was a great
favorite of hers, and she counted on doing telling execution with it in
the present instance by the simple subterfuge of removing the original
hero and heroine, Alonzo and Imogene, and substituting Abijah the Brave
and the Fair Emmajane, leaving the circumstances in the first three
verses unaltered, because in truth they seemed to require no alteration.

Her high, clear voice, quivering with merriment, floated through the
windows into the still summer air:

     “‘A warrior so bold and a maiden so bright
     Conversed as they sat on the green.
     They gazed at each other in tender delight.
     Abijah the Brave was the name of the knight,
     And the maid was the Fair Emmajane.’”

“Rebecca Randall, stop! Somebody’ll hear you!”

“No, they won’t--they’re making jelly in the kitchen, miles away.”

     “‘Alas!’ said the youth, since tomorrow I go
     To fight in a far distant land,
     Your tears for my absence soon ceasing to flow,
     Some other will court you, and you will bestow
     On a wealthier suitor your hand.’”

“Rebecca, you can’t THINK how your voice carries! I believe mother can
hear it over to my house!”

“Then, if she can, I must sing the third verse, just to clear your
reputation from the cloud cast upon it in the second,” laughed her
tormentor, going on with the song:

“‘Oh, hush these suspicions!’ Fair Emmajane said, ‘So hurtful to love
and to me! For if you be living, or if you be dead, I swear, my Abijah,
that none in your stead, Shall the husband of Emmajane be!’”

After ending the third verse Rebecca wheeled around on the piano
stool and confronted her friend, who was carefully closing the parlor
windows:--

“Emma Jane Perkins, it is an ordinary Thursday afternoon at four o’clock
and you have on your new blue barege, although there is not even a
church sociable in prospect this evening. What does this mean? Is Abijah
the Brave coming at last?”

“I don’t know certainly, but it will be some time this week.”

“And of course you’d rather be dressed up and not seen, than seen when
not dressed up. Right, my Fair Emmajane; so would I. Not that it makes
any difference to poor me, wearing my fourth best black and white calico
and expecting nobody.

“Oh, well, YOU! There’s something inside of you that does instead of
pretty dresses,” cried Emma Jane, whose adoration of her friend had
never altered nor lessened since they met at the age of eleven. “You
know you are as different from anybody else in Riverboro as a princess
in a fairy story. Libby Moses says they would notice you in Lowell,
Massachusetts!”

“Would they? I wonder,” speculated Rebecca, rendered almost speechless
by this tribute to her charms. “Well, if Lowell, Massachusetts, could
see me, or if you could see me, in my new lavender muslin with the
violet sash, it would die of envy, and so would you!”

“If I had been going to be envious of you, Rebecca, I should have died
years ago. Come, let’s go out on the steps where it’s shady and cool.”

“And where we can see the Perkins front gate and the road running both
ways,” teased Rebecca, and then, softening her tone, she said: “How
is it getting on, Emmy? Tell me what’s happened since I’ve been in
Brunswick.”

“Nothing much,” confessed Emma Jane. “He writes to me, but I don’t write
to him, you know. I don’t dare to, till he comes to the house.”

“Are his letters still in Latin?” asked Rebecca, with a twinkling eye.

“Oh, no! Not now, because--well, because there are things you can’t seem
to write in Latin. I saw him at the Masonic picnic in the grove, but he
won’t say anything REAL to me till he gets more pay and dares to speak
to mother and father. He IS brave in all other ways, but I ain’t sure
he’ll ever have the courage for that, he’s so afraid of them and always
has been. Just remember what’s in his mind all the time, Rebecca, that
my folks know all about what his mother was, and how he was born on the
poor-farm. Not that I care; look how he’s educated and worked himself
up! I think he’s perfectly elegant, and I shouldn’t mind if he had been
born in the bulrushes, like Moses.”

Emma Jane’s every-day vocabulary was pretty much what it had been before
she went to the expensive Wareham Female Seminary. She had acquired
a certain amount of information concerning the art of speech, but in
moments of strong feeling she lapsed into the vernacular. She grew
slowly in all directions, did Emma Jane, and, to use Rebecca’s favorite
nautilus figure, she had left comparatively few outgrown shells on the
shores of “life’s unresting sea.”

“Moses wasn’t born in the bulrushes, Emmy dear,” corrected Rebecca
laughingly. “Pharaoh’s daughter found him there. It wasn’t quite as
romantic a scene--Squire Bean’s wife taking little Abijah Flagg from the
poorhouse when his girl-mother died, but, oh, I think Abijah’s splendid!
Mr. Ladd says Riverboro’ll be proud of him yet, and I shouldn’t wonder,
Emmy dear, if you had a three-story house with a cupola on it, some day;
and sitting down at your mahogany desk inlaid with garnets, you will
write notes stating that Mrs. Abijah Flagg requests the pleasure of Miss
Rebecca Randall’s company to tea, and that the Hon. Abijah Flagg, M.C.,
will call for her on his way from the station with a span of horses and
the turquoise carryall!”

Emma Jane laughed at the ridiculous prophecy, and answered: “If I ever
write the invitation I shan’t be addressing it to Miss Randall, I’m sure
of that; it’ll be to Mrs.-----”

“Don’t!” cried Rebecca impetuously, changing color and putting her hand
over Emma Jane’s lips. “If you won’t I’ll stop teasing. I couldn’t bear
a name put to anything, I couldn’t, Emmy dear! I wouldn’t tease you,
either, if it weren’t something we’ve both known ever so long--something
that you have always consulted me about of your own accord, and Abijah
too.”

“Don’t get excited,” replied Emma Jane, “I was only going to say you
were sure to be Mrs. Somebody in course of time.”

“Oh,” said Rebecca with a relieved sigh, her color coming back; “if
that’s all you meant, just nonsense; but I thought, I thought--I don’t
really know just what I thought!”

“I think you thought something you didn’t want me to think you thought,”
 said Emma Jane with unusual felicity.

“No, it’s not that; but somehow, today, I have been remembering things.
Perhaps it was because at breakfast Aunt Jane and mother reminded me of
my coming birthday and said that Squire Bean would give me the deed of
the brick house. That made me feel very old and responsible; and when I
came out on the steps this afternoon it was just as if pictures of the
old years were moving up and down the road. Everything is so beautiful
today! Doesn’t the sky look as if it had been dyed blue and the fields
painted pink and green and yellow this very minute?”

“It’s a perfectly elegant day!” responded Emma Jane with a sigh. “If
only my mind was at rest! That’s the difference between being young and
grown-up. We never used to think and worry.”

“Indeed we didn’t! Look, Emmy, there’s the very spot where Uncle Jerry
Cobb stopped the stage and I stepped out with my pink parasol and my
bouquet of purple lilacs, and you were watching me from your bedroom
window and wondering what I had in mother’s little hair trunk strapped
on behind. Poor Aunt Miranda didn’t love me at first sight, and oh, how
cross she was the first two years! But now every hard thought I ever had
comes back to me and cuts like a knife!”

“She was dreadful hard to get along with, and I used to hate her like
poison,” confessed Emma Jane; “but I am sorry now. She was kinder toward
the last, anyway, and then, you see children know so little! We never
suspected she was sick or that she was worrying over that lost interest
money.”

“That’s the trouble. People seem hard and unreasonable and unjust,
and we can’t help being hurt at the time, but if they die we forget
everything but our own angry speeches; somehow we never remember theirs.
And oh, Emma Jane, there’s another such a sweet little picture out there
in the road. The next day after I came to Riverboro, do you remember, I
stole out of the brick house crying, and leaned against the front gate.
You pushed your little fat pink-and-white face through the pickets and
said: Don’t cry! I’ll kiss you if you will me!’”

Lumps rose suddenly in Emma Jane’s throat, and she put her arm around
Rebecca’s waist as they sat together side by side.

“Oh, I do remember,” she said in a choking voice. “And I can see the two
of us driving over to North Riverboro and selling soap to Mr. Adam
Ladd; and lighting up the premium banquet lamp at the Simpson party; and
laying the daisies round Jacky Winslow’s mother when she was dead in
the cabin; and trundling Jacky up and down the street in our old baby
carriage!”

“And I remember you,” continued Rebecca, “being chased down the hill
by Jacob Moody, when we were being Daughters of Zion and you had been
chosen to convert him!”

“And I remember you, getting the flag back from Mr. Simpson; and how you
looked when you spoke your verses at the flag-raising.”

“And have you forgotten the week I refused to speak to Abijah Flagg
because he fished my turban with the porcupine quills out of the river
when I hoped at last that I had lost it! Oh, Emma Jane, we had dear good
times together in the little harbor.’”

“I always thought that was an elegant composition of yours--that
farewell to the class,” said Emma Jane.

“The strong tide bears us on, out of the little harbor of childhood into
the unknown seas,” recalled Rebecca. “It is bearing you almost out of
my sight, Emmy, these last days, when you put on a new dress in the
afternoon and look out of the window instead of coming across the
street. Abijah Flagg never used to be in the little harbor with the rest
of us; when did he first sail in, Emmy?”

Emma Jane grew a deeper pink and her button-hole of a mouth quivered
with delicious excitement.

“It was last year at the seminary, when he wrote me his first Latin
letter from Limerick Academy,” she said in a half whisper.

“I remember,” laughed Rebecca. “You suddenly began the study of the dead
languages, and the Latin dictionary took the place of the crochet needle
in your affections. It was cruel of you never to show me that letter,
Emmy!”

“I know every word of it by heart,” said the blushing Emma Jane, “and
I think I really ought to say it to you, because it’s the only way you
will ever know how perfectly elegant Abijah is. Look the other way,
Rebecca. Shall I have to translate it for you, do you think, because it
seems to me I could not bear to do that!”

“It depends upon Abijah’s Latin and your pronunciation,” teased Rebecca.
“Go on; I will turn my eyes toward the orchard.”

The Fair Emmajane, looking none too old still for the “little harbor,”
 but almost too young for the “unknown seas,” gathered up her courage and
recited like a tremulous parrot the boyish love letter that had so fired
her youthful imagination.

“Vale, carissima, carissima puella!” repeated Rebecca in her musical
voice. “Oh, how beautiful it sounds! I don’t wonder it altered your
feeling for Abijah! Upon my word, Emma Jane,” she cried with a sudden
change of tone, “if I had suspected for an instant that Abijah the Brave
had that Latin letter in him I should have tried to get him to write it
to me; and then it would be I who would sit down at my mahogany desk and
ask Miss Perkins to come to tea with Mrs. Flagg.”

Emma Jane paled and shuddered openly. “I speak as a church member,
Rebecca,” she said, “when I tell you I’ve always thanked the Lord that
you never looked at Abijah Flagg and he never looked at you. If either
of you ever had, there never would have been a chance for me, and I’ve
always known it!”

II

The romance alluded to in the foregoing chapter had been going on, so
far as Abijah Flagg’s part of it was concerned, for many years, his
affection dating back in his own mind to the first moment that he saw
Emma Jane Perkins at the age of nine.

Emma Jane had shown no sign of reciprocating his attachment until the
last three years, when the evolution of the chore-boy into the
budding scholar and man of affairs had inflamed even her somewhat dull
imagination.

Squire Bean’s wife had taken Abijah away from the poorhouse, thinking
that she could make him of some little use in her home. Abbie Flagg, the
mother, was neither wise nor beautiful; it is to be feared that she
was not even good, and her lack of all these desirable qualities,
particularly the last one, had been impressed upon the child ever since
he could remember. People seemed to blame him for being in the world at
all; this world that had not expected him nor desired him, nor made any
provision for him. The great battle-axe of poorhouse opinion was forever
leveled at the mere little atom of innocent transgression, until he grew
sad and shy, clumsy, stiff, and self-conscious. He had an indomitable
craving for love in his heart and had never received a caress in his
life.

He was more contented when he came to Squire Bean’s house. The first
year he could only pick up chips, carry pine wood into the kitchen, go
to the post-office, run errands, drive the cows, and feed the hens, but
every day he grew more and more useful.

His only friend was little Jim Watson, the storekeeper’s son, and they
were inseparable companions whenever Abijah had time for play.

One never-to-be-forgotten July day a new family moved into the white
cottage between Squire Bean’s house and the Sawyers’. Mr. Perkins had
sold his farm beyond North Riverboro and had established a blacksmith’s
shop in the village, at the Edgewood end of the bridge. This fact was of
no special interest to the nine-year-old Abijah, but what really was of
importance, was the appearance of a pretty little girl of seven in the
front yard; a pretty little fat doll of a girl, with bright fuzzy hair,
pink cheeks, blue eyes, and a smile of almost bewildering continuity.
Another might have criticised it as having the air of being glued on,
but Abijah was already in the toils and never wished it to move.

The next day being the glorious Fourth and a holiday, Jimmy Watson came
over like David, to visit his favorite Jonathan. His Jonathan met him
at the top of the hill, pleaded a pressing engagement, curtly sent him
home, and then went back to play with his new idol, with whom he
had already scraped acquaintance, her parents being exceedingly busy
settling the new house.

After the noon dinner Jimmy again yearned to resume friendly relations,
and, forgetting his rebuff, again toiled up the hill and appeared
unexpectedly at no great distance from the Perkins premises, wearing the
broad and beaming smile of one who is confident of welcome.

His morning call had been officious and unpleasant and unsolicited, but
his afternoon visit could only be regarded as impudent, audacious,
and positively dangerous; for Abijah and Emma Jane were cosily playing
house, the game of all others in which it is particularly desirable to
have two and not three participants.

At that moment the nature of Abijah changed, at once and forever.
Without a pang of conscience he flew over the intervening patch of
ground between himself and his dreaded rival, and seizing small stones
and larger ones, as haste and fury demanded, flung them at Jimmy Watson,
and flung and flung, till the bewildered boy ran down the hill howling.
Then he made a “stickin’” door to the play-house, put the awed Emma Jane
inside and strode up and down in front of the edifice like an Indian
brave. At such an early age does woman become a distracting and
disturbing influence in man’s career!

Time went on, and so did the rivalry between the poorhouse boy and the
son of wealth, but Abijah’s chances of friendship with Emma Jane grew
fewer and fewer as they both grew older. He did not go to school, so
there was no meeting-ground there, but sometimes, when he saw the knot
of boys and girls returning in the afternoon, he would invite Elijah and
Elisha, the Simpson twins, to visit him, and take pains to be in Squire
Bean’s front yard, doing something that might impress his inamorata as
she passed the premises.

As Jimmy Watson was particularly small and fragile, Abijah generally
chose feats of strength and skill for these prearranged performances.

Sometimes he would throw his hat up into the elm trees as far as he
could and, when it came down, catch it on his head. Sometimes he would
walk on his hands, with his legs wriggling in the air, or turn a double
somersault, or jump incredible distances across the extended arms of
the Simpson twins; and his bosom swelled with pride when the girls
exclaimed, “Isn’t he splendid!” although he often heard his rival murmur
scornfully, “SMARTY ALECK!”--a scathing allusion of unknown origin.

Squire Bean, although he did not send the boy to school (thinking, as
he was of no possible importance in the universe, it was not worth
while bothering about his education), finally became impressed with his
ability, lent him books, and gave him more time to study. These were all
he needed, books and time, and when there was an especially hard knot to
untie, Rebecca, as the star scholar of the neighborhood, helped him to
untie it.

When he was sixteen he longed to go away from Riverboro and be something
better than a chore boy. Squire Bean had been giving him small wages
for three or four years, and when the time of parting came presented him
with a ten-dollar bill and a silver watch.

Many a time had he discussed his future with Rebecca and asked her
opinion.

This was not strange, for there was nothing in human form that she could
not and did not converse with, easily and delightedly. She had ideas
on every conceivable subject, and would have cheerfully advised the
minister if he had asked her. The fishman consulted her when he couldn’t
endure his mother-in-law another minute in the house; Uncle Jerry
Cobb didn’t part with his river field until he had talked it over with
Rebecca; and as for Aunt Jane, she couldn’t decide whether to wear her
black merino or her gray thibet unless Rebecca cast the final vote.

Abijah wanted to go far away from Riverboro, as far as Limerick Academy,
which was at least fifteen miles; but although this seemed extreme,
Rebecca agreed, saying pensively: “There IS a kind of magicness about
going far away and then coming back all changed.”

This was precisely Abijah’s unspoken thought. Limerick knew nothing of
Abbie Flagg’s worthlessness, birth, and training, and the awful stigma
of his poorhouse birth, so that he would start fair. He could have gone
to Wareham and thus remained within daily sight of the beloved Emma
Jane; but no, he was not going to permit her to watch him in the process
of “becoming,” but after he had “become” something. He did not propose
to take any risks after all these years of silence and patience. Not he!
He proposed to disappear, like the moon on a dark night, and as he was,
at present, something that Mr. Perkins would by no means have in the
family nor Mrs. Perkins allow in the house, he would neither return to
Riverboro nor ask any favors of them until he had something to offer.
Yes, sir. He was going to be crammed to the eyebrows with learning for
one thing,--useless kinds and all,--going to have good clothes, and a
good income. Everything that was in his power should be right, because
there would always be lurking in the background the things he never
could help--the mother and the poorhouse.

So he went away, and, although at Squire Bean’s invitation he came back
the first year for two brief visits at Christmas and Easter, he was
little seen in Riverboro, for Mr. Ladd finally found him a place where
he could make his vacations profitable and learn bookkeeping at the same
time.

The visits in Riverboro were tantalizing rather than pleasant. He
was invited to two parties, but he was all the time conscious of his
shirt-collar, and he was sure that his “pants” were not the proper
thing, for by this time his ideals of dress had attained an almost
unrealizable height. As for his shoes, he felt that he walked on carpets
as if they were furrows and he were propelling a plow or a harrow before
him. They played Drop the Handkerchief and Copenhagen at the parties,
but he had not had the audacity to kiss Emma Jane, which was bad enough,
but Jimmy had and did, which was infinitely worse! The sight of James
Watson’s unworthy and over-ambitious lips on Emma Jane’s pink cheek
almost destroyed his faith in an overruling Providence.

After the parties were over he went back to his old room in Squire
Bean’s shed chamber. As he lay in bed his thoughts fluttered about
Emma Jane as swallows circle around the eaves. The terrible sickness of
hopeless handicapped love kept him awake. Once he crawled out of bed in
the night, lighted the lamp, and looked for his mustache, remembering
that he had seen a suspicion of down on his rival’s upper lip. He rose
again half an hour later, again lighted the lamp, put a few drops of oil
on his hair, and brushed it violently for several minutes. Then he went
back to bed, and after making up his mind that he would buy a dulcimer
and learn to play on it so that he would be more attractive at parties,
and outshine his rival in society as he had aforetime in athletics, he
finally sank into a troubled slumber.

Those days, so full of hope and doubt and torture, seemed mercifully
unreal now, they lay so far back in the past--six or eight years, in
fact, which is a lifetime to the lad of twenty--and meantime he had
conquered many of the adverse circumstances that had threatened to cloud
his career.

Abijah Flagg was a true child of his native State. Something of the same
timber that Maine puts into her forests, something of the same strength
and resisting power that she works into her rocks, goes into her sons
and daughters; and at twenty Abijah was going to take his fate in his
hand and ask Mr. Perkins, the rich blacksmith, if, after a suitable
period of probation (during which he would further prepare himself for
his exalted destiny), he might marry the fair Emma Jane, sole heiress of
the Perkins house and fortunes.

III

This was boy and girl love, calf love, perhaps, though even that may
develop into something larger, truer, and finer; but not so far away
were other and very different hearts growing and budding, each in its
own way. There was little Miss Dearborn, the pretty school teacher,
drifting into a foolish alliance because she did not agree with her
stepmother at home; there was Herbert Dunn, valedictorian of his class,
dazzled by Huldah Meserve, who like a glowworm “shone afar off bright,
but looked at near, had neither heat nor light.”

There was sweet Emily Maxwell, less than thirty still, with most of her
heart bestowed in the wrong quarter. She was toiling on at the Wareham
school, living as unselfish a life as a nun in a convent; lavishing the
mind and soul of her, the heart and body of her, on her chosen work.
How many women give themselves thus, consciously and unconsciously;
and, though they themselves miss the joys and compensations of mothering
their own little twos and threes, God must be grateful to them for
their mothering of the hundreds which make them so precious in His
regenerating purposes.

Then there was Adam Ladd, waiting at thirty-five for a girl to grow a
little older, simply because he could not find one already grown who
suited his somewhat fastidious and exacting tastes.

“I’ll not call Rebecca perfection,” he quoted once, in a letter to Emily
Maxwell,--“I’ll not call her perfection, for that’s a post, afraid to
move. But she’s a dancing sprig of the tree next it.”

When first she appeared on his aunt’s piazza in North Riverboro and
insisted on selling him a large quantity of very inferior soap in order
that her friends, the Simpsons, might possess a premium in the shape of
a greatly needed banquet lamp, she had riveted his attention. He thought
all the time that he enjoyed talking with her more than with any woman
alive, and he had never changed his opinion. She always caught what
he said as if it were a ball tossed to her, and sometimes her mind, as
through it his thoughts came back to him, seemed like a prism which had
dyed them with deeper colors.

Adam Ladd always called Rebecca in his heart his little Spring. His
boyhood had been lonely and unhappy. That was the part of life he had
missed, and although it was the full summer of success and prosperity
with him now, he found his lost youth only in her.

She was to him--how shall I describe it?

Do you remember an early day in May with budding leaf, warm earth,
tremulous air, and changing, willful sky--how new it seemed? How fresh
and joyous beyond all explaining?

Have you lain with half-closed eyes where the flickering of sunlight
through young leaves, the song of birds and brook and the fragrance of
wild flowers combined to charm your senses, and you felt the sweetness
and grace of nature as never before?

Rebecca was springtide to Adam’s thirsty heart. She was blithe youth
incarnate; she was music--an Aeolian harp that every passing breeze
woke to some whispering little tune; she was a changing, iridescent
joy-bubble; she was the shadow of a leaf dancing across a dusty floor.
No bough of his thought could be so bare but she somehow built a nest in
it and evoked life where none was before.

And Rebecca herself?

She had been quite unconscious of all this until very lately, and even
now she was but half awakened; searching among her childish instincts
and her girlish dreams for some Ariadne thread that should guide her
safely through the labyrinth of her new sensations.

For the moment she was absorbed, or thought she was, in the little love
story of Abijah and Emma Jane, but in reality, had she realized it, that
love story served chiefly as a basis of comparison for a possible one of
her own, later on.

She liked and respected Abijah Flagg, and loving Emma Jane was a habit
contracted early in life; but everything that they did or said, or
thought or wrote, or hoped or feared, seemed so inadequate, so painfully
short of what might be done or said, or thought or written, or hoped or
feared, under easily conceivable circumstances, that she almost felt a
disposition to smile gently at the fancy of the ignorant young couple
that they had caught a glimpse of the great vision.

She was sitting under the sweet apple tree at twilight. Supper was over;
Mark’s restless feet were quiet, Fanny and Jenny were tucked safely in
bed; her aunt and her mother were stemming currants on the side porch.

A blue spot at one of the Perkins windows showed that in one vestal
bosom hope was not dead yet, although it was seven o’clock.

Suddenly there was the sound of a horse’s feet coming up the quiet road;
plainly a steed hired from some metropolis like Milltown or Wareham,
as Riverboro horses when through with their day’s work never disported
themselves so gayly.

A little open vehicle came in sight, and in it sat Abijah Flagg. The
wagon was so freshly painted and so shiny that Rebecca thought that he
must have alighted at the bridge and given it a last polish. The creases
in his trousers, too, had an air of having been pressed in only a few
minutes before. The whip was new and had a yellow ribbon on it; the
gray suit of clothes was new, and the coat flourished a flower in its
button-hole. The hat was the latest thing in hats, and the intrepid
swain wore a seal-ring on the little finger of his right hand. As
Rebecca remembered that she had guided it in making capital G’s in his
copy-book, she felt positively maternal, although she was two years
younger than Abijah the Brave.

He drove up to the Perkins gate and was so long about hitching the horse
that Rebecca’s heart beat tumultuously at the thought of Emma Jane’s
heart waiting under the blue barege. Then he brushed an imaginary speck
off his sleeve, then he drew on a pair of buff kid gloves, then he went
up the path, rapped at the knocker, and went in.

“Not all the heroes go to the wars,” thought Rebecca. “Abijah has laid
the ghost of his father and redeemed the memory of his mother, for no
one will dare say again that Abbie Flagg’s son could never amount to
anything!”

The minutes went by, and more minutes, and more. The tranquil dusk
settled down over the little village street and the young moon came out
just behind the top of the Perkins pine tree.

The Perkins front door opened and Abijah the Brave came out hand in hand
with his Fair Emma Jane.

They walked through the orchard, the eyes of the old couple following
them from the window, and just as they disappeared down the green slope
that led to the riverside the gray coat sleeve encircled the blue barege
waist.

Rebecca, quivering with instant sympathy and comprehension, hid her face
in her hands.

“Emmy has sailed away and I am all alone in the little harbor,” she
thought.

It was as if childhood, like a thing real and visible, were slipping
down the grassy river banks, after Abijah and Emma Jane, and
disappearing like them into the moon-lit shadows of the summer night.

“I am all alone in the little harbor,” she repeated; “and oh, I wonder,
I wonder, shall I be afraid to leave it, if anybody ever comes to carry
me out to sea!”





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