New Chronicles of Rebecca
Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part 3 out of 4
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
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
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!
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
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
"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
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
"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
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.
THE LITTLE PROPHET
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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!"
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
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
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
"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.
"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
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
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
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!"
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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."
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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,
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"Coal black," corrected Rebecca, with a sparkling eye and a
"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
"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
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
"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
"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."
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.
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
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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