SUNSHINE IN A SHADY PLACE
The little schoolhouse on the hill had its
moments of triumph as well as its scenes
of tribulation, but it was fortunate that
Rebecca had her books and her new acquaintances
to keep her interested and occupied, or life would
have gone heavily with her that first summer in
Riverboro. She tried to like her aunt Miranda (the
idea of loving her had been given up at the moment
of meeting), but failed ignominiously in the attempt.
She was a very faulty and passionately human child,
with no aspirations towards being an angel of the
house, but she had a sense of duty and a desire to
be good,--respectably, decently good. Whenever
she fell below this self-imposed standard she was
miserable. She did not like to be under her aunt's
roof, eating bread, wearing clothes, and studying
books provided by her, and dislike her so heartily
all the time. She felt instinctively that this was
wrong and mean, and whenever the feeling of remorse
was strong within her she made a desperate
effort to please her grim and difficult relative. But
how could she succeed when she was never herself in
her aunt Miranda's presence? The searching look
of the eyes, the sharp voice, the hard knotty fingers,
the thin straight lips, the long silences, the "front-
piece" that didn't match her hair, the very obvious
"parting" that seemed sewed in with linen thread on
black net,--there was not a single item that appealed
to Rebecca. There are certain narrow, unimaginative,
and autocratic old people who seem to call out
the most mischievous, and sometimes the worst
traits in children. Miss Miranda, had she lived in a
populous neighborhood, would have had her doorbell
pulled, her gate tied up, or "dirt traps" set in her
garden paths. The Simpson twins stood in such
awe of her that they could not be persuaded to come
to the side door even when Miss Jane held gingerbread
cookies in her outstretched hands.
It is needless to say that Rebecca irritated her
aunt with every breath she drew. She continually
forgot and started up the front stairs because it was
the shortest route to her bedroom; she left the
dipper on the kitchen shelf instead of hanging it up
over the pail; she sat in the chair the cat liked best;
she was willing to go on errands, but often forgot
what she was sent for; she left the screen doors
ajar, so that flies came in; her tongue was ever in
motion; she sang or whistled when she was picking
up chips; she was always messing with flowers,
putting them in vases, pinning them on her dress,
and sticking them in her hat; finally she was an
everlasting reminder of her foolish, worthless father,
whose handsome face and engaging manner had
so deceived Aurelia, and perhaps, if the facts were
known, others besides Aurelia. The Randalls were
aliens. They had not been born in Riverboro nor
even in York County. Miranda would have allowed,
on compulsion, that in the nature of things a large
number of persons must necessarily be born outside
this sacred precinct; but she had her opinion of
them, and it was not a flattering one. Now if Hannah
had come--Hannah took after the other side of the
house; she was "all Sawyer." (Poor Hannah! that
was true!) Hannah spoke only when spoken to,
instead of first, last, and all the time; Hannah at
fourteen was a member of the church; Hannah liked to
knit; Hannah was, probably, or would have been, a
pattern of all the smaller virtues; instead of which
here was this black-haired gypsy, with eyes as big
as cartwheels, installed as a member of the household.
What sunshine in a shady place was aunt Jane
to Rebecca! Aunt Jane with her quiet voice, her
understanding eyes, her ready excuses, in these first
difficult weeks, when the impulsive little stranger
was trying to settle down into the "brick house
ways." She did learn them, in part, and by degrees,
and the constant fitting of herself to these new and
difficult standards of conduct seemed to make her
older than ever for her years.
The child took her sewing and sat beside aunt
Jane in the kitchen while aunt Miranda had the post
of observation at the sitting-room window. Sometimes
they would work on the side porch where the
clematis and woodbine shaded them from the hot
sun. To Rebecca the lengths of brown gingham
were interminable. She made hard work of sewing,
broke the thread, dropped her thimble into the
syringa bushes, pricked her finger, wiped the
perspiration from her forehead, could not match the
checks, puckered the seams. She polished her needles
to nothing, pushing them in and out of the emery
strawberry, but they always squeaked. Still aunt
Jane's patience held good, and some small measure
of skill was creeping into Rebecca's fingers, fingers
that held pencil, paint brush, and pen so cleverly and
were so clumsy with the dainty little needle.
When the first brown gingham frock was
completed, the child seized what she thought an
opportune moment and asked her aunt Miranda if she
might have another color for the next one.
"I bought a whole piece of the brown," said
Miranda laconically. "That'll give you two more
dresses, with plenty for new sleeves, and to patch
and let down with, an' be more economical."
"I know. But Mr. Watson says he'll take back
part of it, and let us have pink and blue for the
"Did you ask him?"
"It was none o' your business."
"I was helping Emma Jane choose aprons, and
didn't think you'd mind which color I had. Pink
keeps clean just as nice as brown, and Mr. Watson
says it'll boil without fading."
"Mr. Watson 's a splendid judge of washing, I
guess. I don't approve of children being rigged
out in fancy colors, but I'll see what your aunt Jane thinks."
"I think it would be all right to let Rebecca
have one pink and one blue gingham," said Jane.
"A child gets tired of sewing on one color. It's
only natural she should long for a change; besides
she'd look like a charity child always wearing the
same brown with a white apron. And it's dreadful
unbecoming to her!"
"`Handsome is as handsome does,' say I.
Rebecca never'll come to grief along of her beauty,
that's certain, and there's no use in humoring her
to think about her looks. I believe she's vain as a
peacock now, without anything to be vain of."
"She's young and attracted to bright things--
that's all. I remember well enough how I felt at her age."
"You was considerable of a fool at her age, Jane."
"Yes, I was, thank the Lord! I only wish I'd
known how to take a little of my foolishness along
with me, as some folks do, to brighten my declining years."
There finally was a pink gingham, and when it was
nicely finished, aunt Jane gave Rebecca a delightful
surprise. She showed her how to make a pretty
trimming of narrow white linen tape, by folding it
in pointed shapes and sewing it down very flat with
neat little stitches.
"It'll be good fancy work for you, Rebecca; for
your aunt Miranda won't like to see you always
reading in the long winter evenings. Now if you
think you can baste two rows of white tape round
the bottom of your pink skirt and keep it straight
by the checks, I'll stitch them on for you and trim
the waist and sleeves with pointed tape-trimming,
so the dress'll be real pretty for second best."
Rebecca's joy knew no bounds. "I'll baste
like a house afire!" she exclaimed. "It's a thousand
yards round that skirt, as well I know, having
hemmed it; but I could sew pretty trimming on if
it was from here to Milltown. Oh! do you think
aunt Mirandy'll ever let me go to Milltown with
Mr. Cobb? He's asked me again, you know; but
one Saturday I had to pick strawberries, and another
it rained, and I don't think she really approves of
my going. It's TWENTY-NINE minutes past four, aunt
Jane, and Alice Robinson has been sitting under
the currant bushes for a long time waiting for me.
Can I go and play?"
"Yes, you may go, and you'd better run as far as
you can out behind the barn, so 't your noise won't
distract your aunt Mirandy. I see Susan Simpson
and the twins and Emma Jane Perkins hiding behind
Rebecca leaped off the porch, snatched Alice
Robinson from under the currant bushes, and,
what was much more difficult, succeeded, by means
of a complicated system of signals, in getting Emma
Jane away from the Simpson party and giving them
the slip altogether. They were much too small for
certain pleasurable activities planned for that
afternoon; but they were not to be despised, for they
had the most fascinating dooryard in the village. In
it, in bewildering confusion, were old sleighs, pungs,
horse rakes, hogsheads, settees without backs, bed-
steads without heads, in all stages of disability, and
never the same on two consecutive days. Mrs.
Simpson was seldom at home, and even when she
was, had little concern as to what happened on the
premises. A favorite diversion was to make the
house into a fort, gallantly held by a handful of
American soldiers against a besieging force of the
British army. Great care was used in apportioning
the parts, for there was no disposition to let
anybody win but the Americans. Seesaw Simpson
was usually made commander-in-chief of the British
army, and a limp and uncertain one he was, capable,
with his contradictory orders and his fondness
for the extreme rear, of leading any regiment to
an inglorious death. Sometimes the long-suffering
house was a log hut, and the brave settlers defeated
a band of hostile Indians, or occasionally were
massacred by them; but in either case the Simpson
house looked, to quote a Riverboro expression, "as
if the devil had been having an auction in it."
Next to this uncommonly interesting playground,
as a field of action, came, in the children's opinion,
the "secret spot." There was a velvety stretch
of ground in the Sawyer pasture which was full of
fascinating hollows and hillocks, as well as verdant
levels, on which to build houses. A group of trees
concealed it somewhat from view and flung a grateful
shade over the dwellings erected there. It had
been hard though sweet labor to take armfuls of
"stickins" and "cutrounds" from the mill to this
secluded spot, and that it had been done mostly
after supper in the dusk of the evenings gave it
a still greater flavor. Here in soap boxes hidden
among the trees were stored all their treasures:
wee baskets and plates and cups made of burdock
balls, bits of broken china for parties, dolls, soon
to be outgrown, but serving well as characters in
all sorts of romances enacted there,--deaths,
funerals, weddings, christenings. A tall, square house
of stickins was to be built round Rebecca this
afternoon, and she was to be Charlotte Corday
leaning against the bars of her prison.
It was a wonderful experience standing inside the
building with Emma Jane's apron wound about her
hair; wonderful to feel that when she leaned her
head against the bars they seemed to turn to cold
iron; that her eyes were no longer Rebecca Randall's
but mirrored something of Charlotte Corday's hapless woe.
"Ain't it lovely?" sighed the humble twain, who
had done most of the labor, but who generously
admired the result.
"I hate to have to take it down," said Alice,
"it's been such a sight of work."
"If you think you could move up some stones
and just take off the top rows, I could step out
over," suggested Charlotte Corday. "Then leave
the stones, and you two can step down into the
prison to-morrow and be the two little princes in
the Tower, and I can murder you."
"What princes? What tower?" asked Alice and
Emma Jane in one breath. "Tell us about them."
"Not now, it's my supper time." (Rebecca was
a somewhat firm disciplinarian.)
"It would be elergant being murdered by you,"
said Emma Jane loyally, "though you are awful
real when you murder; or we could have Elijah and
Elisha for the princes."
"They'd yell when they was murdered," objected
Alice; "you know how silly they are at plays, all
except Clara Belle. Besides if we once show them
this secret place, they'll play in it all the time, and
perhaps they'd steal things, like their father."
"They needn't steal just because their father
does," argued Rebecca; "and don't you ever talk
about it before them if you want to be my secret,
partic'lar friends. My mother tells me never to say
hard things about people's own folks to their face.
She says nobody can bear it, and it's wicked to shame
them for what isn't their fault. Remember Minnie Smellie!"
Well, they had no difficulty in recalling that
dramatic episode, for it had occurred only a few days
before; and a version of it that would have melted
the stoniest heart had been presented to every girl
in the village by Minnie Smellie herself, who,
though it was Rebecca and not she who came off
victorious in the bloody battle of words, nursed her
resentment and intended to have revenge.
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Room | Rebecca
Of Sunnybrook Farm