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Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm
by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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They had been called the Sawyer girls when
Miranda at eighteen, Jane at twelve, and
Aurelia at eight participated in the various
activities of village life; and when Riverboro fell
into a habit of thought or speech, it saw no reason
for falling out of it, at any rate in the same century.
So although Miranda and Jane were between fifty
and sixty at the time this story opens, Riverboro
still called them the Sawyer girls. They were
spinsters; but Aurelia, the youngest, had made what
she called a romantic marriage and what her sisters
termed a mighty poor speculation. "There's worse
things than bein' old maids," they said; whether
they thought so is quite another matter.

The element of romance in Aurelia's marriage
existed chiefly in the fact that Mr. L. D. M. Randall
had a soul above farming or trading and was a votary
of the Muses. He taught the weekly singing-school
(then a feature of village life) in half a dozen
neighboring towns, he played the violin and "called off"
at dances, or evoked rich harmonies from church
melodeons on Sundays. He taught certain uncouth
lads, when they were of an age to enter society, the
intricacies of contra dances, or the steps of the
schottische and mazurka, and he was a marked
figure in all social assemblies, though conspicuously
absent from town-meetings and the purely masculine
gatherings at the store or tavern or bridge.

His hair was a little longer, his hands a little
whiter, his shoes a little thinner, his manner a trifle
more polished, than that of his soberer mates;
indeed the only department of life in which he failed
to shine was the making of sufficient money to live
upon. Luckily he had no responsibilities; his father
and his twin brother had died when he was yet a
boy, and his mother, whose only noteworthy achievement
had been the naming of her twin sons Marquis
de Lafayette and Lorenzo de Medici Randall, had
supported herself and educated her child by making
coats up to the very day of her death. She was wont
to say plaintively, "I'm afraid the faculties was too
much divided up between my twins. L. D. M. is
awful talented, but I guess M. D. L. would 'a' ben
the practical one if he'd 'a' lived."

"L. D. M. was practical enough to get the richest
girl in the village," replied Mrs. Robinson.

"Yes," sighed his mother, "there it is again; if
the twins could 'a' married Aurelia Sawyer, 't would
'a' been all right. L. D. M. was talented 'nough to
GET Reely's money, but M. D. L. would 'a' ben practical
'nough to have KEP' it."

Aurelia's share of the modest Sawyer property
had been put into one thing after another by the
handsome and luckless Lorenzo de Medici. He had
a graceful and poetic way of making an investment
for each new son and daughter that blessed their
union. "A birthday present for our child, Aurelia,"
he would say,--"a little nest-egg for the future;"
but Aurelia once remarked in a moment of bitterness
that the hen never lived that could sit on
those eggs and hatch anything out of them.

Miranda and Jane had virtually washed their
hands of Aurelia when she married Lorenzo de
Medici Randall. Having exhausted the resources
of Riverboro and its immediate vicinity, the
unfortunate couple had moved on and on in a steadily
decreasing scale of prosperity until they had reached
Temperance, where they had settled down and
invited fate to do its worst, an invitation which was
promptly accepted. The maiden sisters at home
wrote to Aurelia two or three times a year, and sent
modest but serviceable presents to the children at
Christmas, but refused to assist L. D. M. with the
regular expenses of his rapidly growing family.
His last investment, made shortly before the birth
of Miranda (named in a lively hope of favors which
never came), was a small farm two miles from
Temperance. Aurelia managed this herself, and so
it proved a home at least, and a place for the
unsuccessful Lorenzo to die and to be buried from, a duty
somewhat too long deferred, many thought, which
he performed on the day of Mira's birth.

It was in this happy-go-lucky household that Rebecca
had grown up. It was just an ordinary family;
two or three of the children were handsome and the
rest plain, three of them rather clever, two industrious,
and two commonplace and dull. Rebecca had
her father's facility and had been his aptest pupil.
She "carried" the alto by ear, danced without being
taught, played the melodeon without knowing the
notes. Her love of books she inherited chiefly from
her mother, who found it hard to sweep or cook
or sew when there was a novel in the house.
Fortunately books were scarce, or the children might
sometimes have gone ragged and hungry.

But other forces had been at work in Rebecca,
and the traits of unknown forbears had been wrought
into her fibre. Lorenzo de Medici was flabby and
boneless; Rebecca was a thing of fire and spirit:
he lacked energy and courage; Rebecca was plucky
at two and dauntless at five. Mrs. Randall and
Hannah had no sense of humor; Rebecca possessed
and showed it as soon as she could walk and talk.

She had not been able, however, to borrow her
parents' virtues and those of other generous ancestors
and escape all the weaknesses in the calendar.
She had not her sister Hannah's patience or her
brother John's sturdy staying power. Her will was
sometimes willfulness, and the ease with which she
did most things led her to be impatient of hard tasks
or long ones. But whatever else there was or was
not, there was freedom at Randall's farm. The children
grew, worked, fought, ate what and slept where
they could; loved one another and their parents
pretty well, but with no tropical passion; and
educated themselves for nine months of the year, each
one in his own way.

As a result of this method Hannah, who could
only have been developed by forces applied from
without, was painstaking, humdrum, and limited;
while Rebecca, who apparently needed nothing but
space to develop in, and a knowledge of terms in
which to express herself, grew and grew and grew,
always from within outward. Her forces of one sort
and another had seemingly been set in motion when
she was born; they needed no daily spur, but moved
of their own accord--towards what no one knew,
least of all Rebecca herself. The field for the
exhibition of her creative instinct was painfully small,
and the only use she had made of it as yet was to
leave eggs out of the corn bread one day and milk
another, to see how it would turn out; to part
Fanny's hair sometimes in the middle, sometimes
on the right, and sometimes on the left side; and to
play all sorts of fantastic pranks with the children,
occasionally bringing them to the table as fictitious
or historical characters found in her favorite books.
Rebecca amused her mother and her family generally,
but she never was counted of serious
importance, and though considered "smart" and old for
her age, she was never thought superior in any way.
Aurelia's experience of genius, as exemplified in the
deceased Lorenzo de Medici led her into a greater
admiration of plain, every-day common sense, a quality
in which Rebecca, it must be confessed, seemed
sometimes painfully deficient.

Hannah was her mother's favorite, so far as Aurelia
could indulge herself in such recreations as partiality.
The parent who is obliged to feed and clothe
seven children on an income of fifteen dollars a
month seldom has time to discriminate carefully
between the various members of her brood, but Hannah
at fourteen was at once companion and partner in
all her mother's problems. She it was who kept the
house while Aurelia busied herself in barn and field.
Rebecca was capable of certain set tasks, such as
keeping the small children from killing themselves
and one another, feeding the poultry, picking up
chips, hulling strawberries, wiping dishes; but she
was thought irresponsible, and Aurelia, needing
somebody to lean on (having never enjoyed that
luxury with the gifted Lorenzo), leaned on Hannah.
Hannah showed the result of this attitude somewhat,
being a trifle careworn in face and sharp in manner;
but she was a self-contained, well-behaved, dependable
child, and that is the reason her aunts had invited
her to Riverboro to be a member of their family and
participate in all the advantages of their loftier
position in the world. It was several years since
Miranda and Jane had seen the children, but they
remembered with pleasure that Hannah had not
spoken a word during the interview, and it was
for this reason that they had asked for the pleasure
of her company. Rebecca, on the other hand, had
dressed up the dog in John's clothes, and being
requested to get the three younger children ready
for dinner, she had held them under the pump and
then proceeded to "smack" their hair flat to their
heads by vigorous brushing, bringing them to the
table in such a moist and hideous state of shininess
that their mother was ashamed of their appearance.
Rebecca's own black locks were commonly pushed
smoothly off her forehead, but on this occasion she
formed what I must perforce call by its only name,
a spit-curl, directly in the centre of her brow, an
ornament which she was allowed to wear a very
short time, only in fact till Hannah was able to call
her mother's attention to it, when she was sent
into the next room to remove it and to come back
looking like a Christian. This command she interpreted
somewhat too literally perhaps, because she
contrived in a space of two minutes an extremely
pious style of hairdressing, fully as effective if not
as startling as the first. These antics were solely
the result of nervous irritation, a mood born of Miss
Miranda Sawyer's stiff, grim, and martial attitude.
The remembrance of Rebecca was so vivid that their
sister Aurelia's letter was something of a shock to
the quiet, elderly spinsters of the brick house; for
it said that Hannah could not possibly be spared
for a few years yet, but that Rebecca would come
as soon as she could be made ready; that the offer
was most thankfully appreciated, and that the regular
schooling and church privileges, as well as the
influence of the Sawyer home, would doubtless be
"the making of Rebecca"



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