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Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm
by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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I don' know as I cal'lated to be the makin' of any
child," Miranda had said as she folded Aurelia's
letter and laid it in the light-stand drawer.
"I s'posed, of course, Aurelia would send us the
one we asked for, but it's just like her to palm off
that wild young one on somebody else."

"You remember we said that Rebecca or even
Jenny might come, in case Hannah couldn't,"
interposed Jane.

"I know we did, but we hadn't any notion it would
turn out that way," grumbled Miranda.

"She was a mite of a thing when we saw her
three years ago," ventured Jane; "she's had time
to improve."

"And time to grow worse!"

"Won't it be kind of a privilege to put her on the
right track?" asked Jane timidly.

"I don' know about the privilege part; it'll be
considerable of a chore, I guess. If her mother hain't
got her on the right track by now, she won't take to
it herself all of a sudden."

This depressed and depressing frame of mind had
lasted until the eventful day dawned on which Rebecca
was to arrive.

"If she makes as much work after she comes as
she has before, we might as well give up hope of
ever gettin' any rest," sighed Miranda as she hung
the dish towels on the barberry bushes at the side door.

"But we should have had to clean house, Rebecca
or no Rebecca," urged Jane; "and I can't see why
you've scrubbed and washed and baked as you have
for that one child, nor why you've about bought out
Watson's stock of dry goods."

"I know Aurelia if you don't," responded
Miranda. "I've seen her house, and I've seen that
batch o' children, wearin' one another's clothes and
never carin' whether they had 'em on right sid' out
or not; I know what they've had to live and dress
on, and so do you. That child will like as not come
here with a passel o' things borrowed from the
rest o' the family. She'll have Hannah's shoes and
John's undershirts and Mark's socks most likely.
I suppose she never had a thimble on her finger in
her life, but she'll know the feelin' o' one before
she's ben here many days. I've bought a piece of
unbleached muslin and a piece o' brown gingham
for her to make up; that'll keep her busy. Of
course she won't pick up anything after herself; she
probably never see a duster, and she'll be as hard
to train into our ways as if she was a heathen."

"She'll make a dif'rence," acknowledged Jane,
"but she may turn out more biddable 'n we think."

"She'll mind when she's spoken to, biddable or
not," remarked Miranda with a shake of the last towel.

Miranda Sawyer had a heart, of course, but she
had never used it for any other purpose than the
pumping and circulating of blood. She was just,
conscientious, economical, industrious; a regular
attendant at church and Sunday-school, and a member
of the State Missionary and Bible societies, but
in the presence of all these chilly virtues you longed
for one warm little fault, or lacking that, one likable
failing, something to make you sure she was
thoroughly alive. She had never had any education
other than that of the neighborhood district school,
for her desires and ambitions had all pointed to the
management of the house, the farm, and the dairy.
Jane, on the other hand, had gone to an academy,
and also to a boarding-school for young ladies; so
had Aurelia; and after all the years that had elapsed
there was still a slight difference in language and
in manner between the elder and the two younger sisters.

Jane, too, had had the inestimable advantage of a
sorrow; not the natural grief at the loss of her aged
father and mother, for she had been content to let
them go; but something far deeper. She was engaged
to marry young Tom Carter, who had nothing
to marry on, it is true, but who was sure to have,
some time or other. Then the war broke out. Tom
enlisted at the first call. Up to that time Jane had
loved him with a quiet, friendly sort of affection, and
had given her country a mild emotion of the same
sort. But the strife, the danger, the anxiety of the
time, set new currents of feeling in motion. Life became
something other than the three meals a day,
the round of cooking, washing, sewing, and church
going. Personal gossip vanished from the village
conversation. Big things took the place of trifling
ones,--sacred sorrows of wives and mothers, pangs
of fathers and husbands, self-denials, sympathies,
new desire to bear one another's burdens. Men
and women grew fast in those days of the nation's
trouble and danger, and Jane awoke from the vague
dull dream she had hitherto called life to new hopes,
new fears, new purposes. Then after a year's anxiety,
a year when one never looked in the newspaper
without dread and sickness of suspense, came
the telegram saying that Tom was wounded; and
without so much as asking Miranda's leave, she
packed her trunk and started for the South. She
was in time to hold Tom's hand through hours of
pain; to show him for once the heart of a prim New
England girl when it is ablaze with love and grief;
to put her arms about him so that he could have a
home to die in, and that was all;--all, but it served.

It carried her through weary months of nursing
--nursing of other soldiers for Tom's dear sake; it
sent her home a better woman; and though she had
never left Riverboro in all the years that lay between,
and had grown into the counterfeit presentment of
her sister and of all other thin, spare, New England
spinsters, it was something of a counterfeit, and
underneath was still the faint echo of that wild heart-
beat of her girlhood. Having learned the trick of
beating and loving and suffering, the poor faithful
heart persisted, although it lived on memories
and carried on its sentimental operations mostly in secret.

"You're soft, Jane," said Miranda once; "you
allers was soft, and you allers will be. If 't wa'n't
for me keeping you stiffened up, I b'lieve you'd
leak out o' the house into the dooryard."

It was already past the appointed hour for Mr.
Cobb and his coach to be lumbering down the street.

"The stage ought to be here," said Miranda,
glancing nervously at the tall clock for the twentieth
time. "I guess everything 's done. I've
tacked up two thick towels back of her washstand
and put a mat under her slop-jar; but children are
awful hard on furniture. I expect we sha'n't know
this house a year from now."

Jane's frame of mind was naturally depressed
and timorous, having been affected by Miranda's
gloomy presages of evil to come. The only difference
between the sisters in this matter was that
while Miranda only wondered how they could endure
Rebecca, Jane had flashes of inspiration in
which she wondered how Rebecca would endure
them. It was in one of these flashes that she ran
up the back stairs to put a vase of apple blossoms
and a red tomato-pincushion on Rebecca's bureau.

The stage rumbled to the side door of the brick
house, and Mr. Cobb handed Rebecca out like a
real lady passenger. She alighted with great
circumspection, put the bunch of faded flowers in her
aunt Miranda's hand, and received her salute; it
could hardly be called a kiss without injuring the
fair name of that commodity.

"You needn't 'a' bothered to bring flowers,"
remarked that gracious and tactful lady; "the garden
's always full of 'em here when it comes time."

Jane then kissed Rebecca, giving a somewhat
better imitation of the real thing than her sister.
"Put the trunk in the entry, Jeremiah, and we'll
get it carried upstairs this afternoon," she said.

"I'll take it up for ye now, if ye say the word, girls."

"No, no; don't leave the horses; somebody'll
be comin' past, and we can call 'em in."

"Well, good-by, Rebecca; good-day, Mirandy 'n'
Jane. You've got a lively little girl there. I guess
she'll be a first-rate company keeper."

Miss Sawyer shuddered openly at the adjective
"lively" as applied to a child; her belief being that
though children might be seen, if absolutely necessary,
they certainly should never be heard if she
could help it. "We're not much used to noise, Jane
and me," she remarked acidly.

Mr. Cobb saw that he had taken the wrong tack,
but he was too unused to argument to explain himself
readily, so he drove away, trying to think by
what safer word than "lively" he might have
described his interesting little passenger.

"I'll take you up and show you your room,
Rebecca," Miss Miranda said. "Shut the mosquito
nettin' door tight behind you, so 's to keep the flies
out; it ain't flytime yet, but I want you to start
right; take your passel along with ye and then you
won't have to come down for it; always make your
head save your heels. Rub your feet on that braided
rug; hang your hat and cape in the entry there as
you go past."

"It's my best hat," said Rebecca

"Take it upstairs then and put it in the clothes-
press; but I shouldn't 'a' thought you'd 'a' worn
your best hat on the stage."

"It's my only hat," explained Rebecca. "My
everyday hat wasn't good enough to bring. Fanny's
going to finish it."

"Lay your parasol in the entry closet."

"Do you mind if I keep it in my room, please?
It always seems safer."

"There ain't any thieves hereabouts, and if there
was, I guess they wouldn't make for your sunshade,
but come along. Remember to always go up the
back way; we don't use the front stairs on account
o' the carpet; take care o' the turn and don't ketch
your foot; look to your right and go in. When
you've washed your face and hands and brushed
your hair you can come down, and by and by
we'll unpack your trunk and get you settled before
supper. Ain't you got your dress on hind sid' foremost?"

Rebecca drew her chin down and looked at the
row of smoked pearl buttons running up and down
the middle of her flat little chest.

"Hind side foremost? Oh, I see! No, that's all
right. If you have seven children you can't keep
buttonin' and unbuttonin' 'em all the time--they
have to do themselves. We're always buttoned up
in front at our house. Mira's only three, but she's
buttoned up in front, too."

Miranda said nothing as she closed the door, but
her looks were at once equivalent to and more
eloquent than words.

Rebecca stood perfectly still in the centre of the
floor and looked about her. There was a square of
oilcloth in front of each article of furniture and a
drawn-in rug beside the single four poster, which
was covered with a fringed white dimity counterpane.

Everything was as neat as wax, but the ceilings
were much higher than Rebecca was accustomed to.
It was a north room, and the window, which was
long and narrow, looked out on the back buildings
and the barn.

It was not the room, which was far more comfortable
than Rebecca's own at the farm, nor the lack
of view, nor yet the long journey, for she was not
conscious of weariness; it was not the fear of a
strange place, for she loved new places and courted
new sensations; it was because of some curious
blending of uncomprehended emotions that Rebecca
stood her sunshade in the corner, tore off her best
hat, flung it on the bureau with the porcupine quills
on the under side, and stripping down the dimity
spread, precipitated herself into the middle of the
bed and pulled the counterpane over her head.

In a moment the door opened quietly. Knocking
was a refinement quite unknown in Riverboro, and
if it had been heard of would never have been
wasted on a child.

Miss Miranda entered, and as her eye wandered
about the vacant room, it fell upon a white and
tempestuous ocean of counterpane, an ocean breaking
into strange movements of wave and crest and billow.


The tone in which the word was voiced gave it all
the effect of having been shouted from the housetops

A dark ruffled head and two frightened eyes
appeared above the dimity spread.

"What are you layin' on your good bed in the
daytime for, messin' up the feathers, and dirtyin'
the pillers with your dusty boots?"

Rebecca rose guiltily. There seemed no excuse
to make. Her offense was beyond explanation or apology.

"I'm sorry, aunt Mirandy--something came
over me; I don't know what."

"Well, if it comes over you very soon again we'll
have to find out what 't is. Spread your bed up
smooth this minute, for 'Bijah Flagg 's bringin' your
trunk upstairs, and I wouldn't let him see such a
cluttered-up room for anything; he'd tell it all over town."

When Mr. Cobb had put up his horses that night
he carried a kitchen chair to the side of his wife,
who was sitting on the back porch.

"I brought a little Randall girl down on the
stage from Maplewood to-day, mother. She's kin to
the Sawyer girls an' is goin' to live with 'em," he
said, as he sat down and began to whittle. "She's
that Aurelia's child, the one that ran away with
Susan Randall's son just before we come here to live."

"How old a child?"

"'Bout ten, or somewhere along there, an' small
for her age; but land! she might be a hundred to
hear her talk! She kep' me jumpin' tryin' to an-
swer her! Of all the queer children I ever come
across she's the queerest. She ain't no beauty--
her face is all eyes; but if she ever grows up to
them eyes an' fills out a little she'll make folks
stare. Land, mother! I wish 't you could 'a' heard
her talk."

"I don't see what she had to talk about, a child
like that, to a stranger," replied Mrs. Cobb.

"Stranger or no stranger, 't wouldn't make no
difference to her. She'd talk to a pump or a grind-
stun; she'd talk to herself ruther 'n keep still."

"What did she talk about?"

"Blamed if I can repeat any of it. She kep' me
so surprised I didn't have my wits about me. She
had a little pink sunshade--it kind o' looked like a
doll's amberill, 'n' she clung to it like a burr to a
woolen stockin'. I advised her to open it up--the
sun was so hot; but she said no, 't would fade, an'
she tucked it under her dress. `It's the dearest
thing in life to me,' says she, `but it's a dreadful
care.' Them 's the very words, an' it's all the words
I remember. `It's the dearest thing in life to me, but
it's an awful care!' "--here Mr. Cobb laughed aloud
as he tipped his chair back against the side of the
house. "There was another thing, but I can't get
it right exactly. She was talkin' 'bout the circus
parade an' the snake charmer in a gold chariot, an'
says she, `She was so beautiful beyond compare,
Mr. Cobb, that it made you have lumps in your
throat to look at her.' She'll be comin' over to
see you, mother, an' you can size her up for
yourself. I don' know how she'll git on with Mirandy
Sawyer--poor little soul!"

This doubt was more or less openly expressed in
Riverboro, which, however, had two opinions on the
subject; one that it was a most generous thing in
the Sawyer girls to take one of Aurelia's children
to educate, the other that the education would be
bought at a price wholly out of proportion to its
intrinsic value.

Rebecca's first letters to her mother would seem
to indicate that she cordially coincided with the
latter view of the situation.



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