Mr. Simpson spent little time with his
family, owing to certain awkward methods
of horse-trading, or the "swapping"
of farm implements and vehicles of various kinds,--
operations in which his customers were never long
suited. After every successful trade he generally
passed a longer or shorter term in jail; for when a
poor man without goods or chattels has the inveterate
habit of swapping, it follows naturally that he
must have something to swap; and having nothing
of his own, it follows still more naturally that he
must swap something belonging to his neighbors.
Mr. Simpson was absent from the home circle
for the moment because he had exchanged the
Widow Rideout's sleigh for Joseph Goodwin's
plough. Goodwin had lately moved to North
Edgewood and had never before met the urbane
and persuasive Mr. Simpson. The Goodwin plough
Mr. Simpson speedily bartered with a man "over
Wareham way," and got in exchange for it an old
horse which his owner did not need, as he was
leaving town to visit his daughter for a year,
Simpson fattened the aged animal, keeping him for
several weeks (at early morning or after nightfall) in
one neighbor's pasture after another, and then
exchanged him with a Milltown man for a top buggy.
It was at this juncture that the Widow Rideout
missed her sleigh from the old carriage house.
She had not used it for fifteen years and might
not sit in it for another fifteen, but it was
property, and she did not intend to part with it
without a struggle. Such is the suspicious nature of
the village mind that the moment she discovered
her loss her thought at once reverted to Abner
Simpson. So complicated, however, was the nature
of this particular business transaction, and so
tortuous the paths of its progress (partly owing to the
complete disappearance of the owner of the horse,
who had gone to the West and left no address),
that it took the sheriff many weeks to prove Mr.
Simpson's guilt to the town's and to the Widow
Rideout's satisfaction. Abner himself avowed his
complete innocence, and told the neighbors how
a red-haired man with a hare lip and a pepper-and-
salt suit of clothes had called him up one morning
about daylight and offered to swap him a good
sleigh for an old cider press he had layin' out in
the dooryard. The bargain was struck, and he,
Abner, had paid the hare-lipped stranger four dollars
and seventy-five cents to boot; whereupon the
mysterious one set down the sleigh, took the press
on his cart, and vanished up the road, never to be
seen or heard from afterwards.
"If I could once ketch that consarned old thief,"
exclaimed Abner righteously, "I'd make him
dance,--workin' off a stolen sleigh on me an'
takin' away my good money an' cider press, to say
nothin' o' my character!"
"You'll never ketch him, Ab," responded the
sheriff. "He's cut off the same piece o' goods as
that there cider press and that there character and
that there four-seventy-five o' yourn; nobody ever
see any of 'em but you, and you'll never see 'em again!"
Mrs. Simpson, who was decidedly Abner's better
half, took in washing and went out to do days'
cleaning, and the town helped in the feeding and
clothing of the children. George, a lanky boy of
fourteen, did chores on neighboring farms, and
the others, Samuel, Clara Belle, Susan, Elijah, and
Elisha, went to school, when sufficiently clothed
and not otherwise more pleasantly engaged.
There were no secrets in the villages that lay
along the banks of Pleasant River. There were
many hard-working people among the inhabitants,
but life wore away so quietly and slowly that there
was a good deal of spare time for conversation,--
under the trees at noon in the hayfield; hanging
over the bridge at nightfall; seated about the
stove in the village store of an evening. These
meeting-places furnished ample ground for the
discussion of current events as viewed by the mas-
culine eye, while choir rehearsals, sewing societies,
reading circles, church picnics, and the like, gave
opportunity for the expression of feminine opinion.
All this was taken very much for granted, as a
rule, but now and then some supersensitive person
made violent objections to it, as a theory of life.
Delia Weeks, for example, was a maiden lady
who did dressmaking in a small way; she fell ill,
and although attended by all the physicians in
the neighborhood, was sinking slowly into a
decline when her cousin Cyrus asked her to come and
keep house for him in Lewiston. She went, and in
a year grew into a robust, hearty, cheerful woman.
Returning to Riverboro on a brief visit, she was
asked if she meant to end her days away from home.
"I do most certainly, if I can get any other
place to stay," she responded candidly. "I was
bein' worn to a shadder here, tryin' to keep my
little secrets to myself, an' never succeedin'. First
they had it I wanted to marry the minister, and
when he took a wife in Standish I was known to
be disappointed. Then for five or six years they
suspicioned I was tryin' for a place to teach school,
and when I gave up hope, an' took to dressmakin',
they pitied me and sympathized with me for that.
When father died I was bound I'd never let anybody
know how I was left, for that spites 'em
worse than anything else; but there's ways o'
findin' out, an' they found out, hard as I fought
'em! Then there was my brother James that went
to Arizona when he was sixteen. I gave good news
of him for thirty years runnin', but aunt Achsy
Tarbox had a ferretin' cousin that went out to
Tombstone for her health, and she wrote to a
postmaster, or to some kind of a town authority, and
found Jim and wrote back aunt Achsy all about
him and just how unfortunate he'd been. They
knew when I had my teeth out and a new set
made; they knew when I put on a false front-
piece; they knew when the fruit peddler asked
me to be his third wife--I never told 'em, an' you
can be sure HE never did, but they don't NEED to be
told in this village; they have nothin' to do but
guess, an' they'll guess right every time. I was
all tuckered out tryin' to mislead 'em and deceive
'em and sidetrack 'em; but the minute I got where
I wa'n't put under a microscope by day an' a
telescope by night and had myself TO myself without
sayin' `By your leave,' I begun to pick up. Cousin
Cyrus is an old man an' consid'able trouble, but he
thinks my teeth are handsome an' says I've got
a splendid suit of hair. There ain't a person in
Lewiston that knows about the minister, or father's
will, or Jim's doin's, or the fruit peddler; an' if
they should find out, they wouldn't care, an' they
couldn't remember; for Lewiston 's a busy place,
Miss Delia Weeks may have exaggerated matters
somewhat, but it is easy to imagine that Rebecca
as well as all the other Riverboro children
had heard the particulars of the Widow Rideout's
missing sleigh and Abner Simpson's supposed
connection with it.
There is not an excess of delicacy or chivalry in
the ordinary country school, and several choice
conundrums and bits of verse dealing with the Simpson
affair were bandied about among the scholars,
uttered always, be it said to their credit, in
undertones, and when the Simpson children were not in
Rebecca Randall was of precisely the same stock,
and had had much the same associations as her
schoolmates, so one can hardly say why she so hated
mean gossip and so instinctively held herself aloof from it.
Among the Riverboro girls of her own age was a
certain excellently named Minnie Smellie, who was
anything but a general favorite. She was a ferret-
eyed, blond-haired, spindle-legged little creature
whose mind was a cross between that of a parrot
and a sheep. She was suspected of copying answers
from other girls' slates, although she had
never been caught in the act. Rebecca and Emma
Jane always knew when she had brought a tart or
a triangle of layer cake with her school luncheon,
because on those days she forsook the cheerful
society of her mates and sought a safe solitude in
the woods, returning after a time with a jocund
smile on her smug face.
After one of these private luncheons Rebecca
had been tempted beyond her strength, and when
Minnie took her seat among them asked, "Is your
headache better, Minnie? Let me wipe off that
strawberry jam over your mouth."
There was no jam there as a matter of fact,
but the guilty Minnie's handkerchief went to her
crimson face in a flash.
Rebecca confessed to Emma Jane that same
afternoon that she felt ashamed of her prank. "I
do hate her ways," she exclaimed, "but I'm sorry
I let her know we 'spected her; and so to make
up, I gave her that little piece of broken coral I
keep in my bead purse; you know the one?"
"It don't hardly seem as if she deserved that,
and her so greedy," remarked Emma Jane.
"I know it, but it makes me feel better," said
Rebecca largely; "and then I've had it two years,
and it's broken so it wouldn't ever be any real
good, beautiful as it is to look at."
The coral had partly served its purpose as a
reconciling bond, when one afternoon Rebecca,
who had stayed after school for her grammar lesson
as usual, was returning home by way of the
short cut. Far ahead, beyond the bars, she espied
the Simpson children just entering the woodsy
bit. Seesaw was not with them, so she hastened
her steps in order to secure company on her homeward
walk. They were speedily lost to view, but
when she had almost overtaken them she heard,
in the trees beyond, Minnie Smellie's voice lifted
high in song, and the sound of a child's sobbing.
Clara Belle, Susan, and the twins were running
along the path, and Minnie was dancing up and
"`What made the sleigh love Simpson so?'
The eager children cried;
`Why Simpson loved the sleigh, you know,'
The teacher quick replied."
The last glimpse of the routed Simpson tribe,
and the last Rutter of their tattered garments,
disappeared in the dim distance. The fall of one small
stone cast by the valiant Elijah, known as "the fighting
twin," did break the stillness of the woods for
a moment, but it did not come within a hundred
yards of Minnie, who shouted "Jail Birds" at the
top of her lungs and then turned, with an agreeable
feeling of excitement, to meet Rebecca, standing
perfectly still in the path, with a day of reckoning
plainly set forth in her blazing eyes.
Minnie's face was not pleasant to see, for a coward
detected at the moment of wrongdoing is not
an object of delight.
"Minnie Smellie, if ever--I--catch--you--
singing--that--to the Simpsons again--do you
know what I'll do?" asked Rebecca in a tone of
"I don't know and I don't care," said Minnie
jauntily, though her looks belied her.
"I'll take that piece of coral away from you, and
I THINK I shall slap you besides!"
"You wouldn't darst," retorted Minnie. "If
you do, I'll tell my mother and the teacher, so there!"
"I don't care if you tell your mother, my mother,
and all your relations, and the president," said
Rebecca, gaining courage as the noble words fell from
her lips. "I don't care if you tell the town, the
whole of York county, the state of Maine and--
and the nation!" she finished grandiloquently.
"Now you run home and remember what I say.
If you do it again, and especially if you say `Jail
Birds,' if I think it's right and my duty, I shall
punish you somehow."
The next morning at recess Rebecca observed
Minnie telling the tale with variations to Huldah
Meserve. "She THREATENED me," whispered Minnie,
"but I never believe a word she says."
The latter remark was spoken with the direct
intention of being overheard, for Minnie had spasms
of bravery, when well surrounded by the machinery
of law and order.
As Rebecca went back to her seat she asked
Miss Dearborn if she might pass a note to Minnie
Smellie and received permission. This was the note:--
Of all the girls that are so mean
There's none like Minnie Smellie.
I'll take away the gift I gave
And pound her into jelly.
_P. S. Now do you believe me?_
The effect of this piece of doggerel was entirely
convincing, and for days afterwards whenever Minnie
met the Simpsons even a mile from the brick
house she shuddered and held her peace.
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Room | Rebecca
Of Sunnybrook Farm