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Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm
by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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There she is, over an hour late; a little
more an' she'd 'a' been caught in a thunder
shower, but she'd never look ahead,"
said Miranda to Jane; "and added to all her other
iniquities, if she ain't rigged out in that new dress,
steppin' along with her father's dancin'-school steps,
and swingin' her parasol for all the world as if she
was play-actin'. Now I'm the oldest, Jane, an' I
intend to have my say out; if you don't like it you
can go into the kitchen till it's over. Step right
in here, Rebecca; I want to talk to you. What did
you put on that good new dress for, on a school
day, without permission?"

"I had intended to ask you at noontime, but you
weren't at home, so I couldn't," began Rebecca.

"You did no such a thing; you put it on because
you was left alone, though you knew well enough
I wouldn't have let you."

"If I'd been CERTAIN you wouldn't have let me
I'd never have done it," said Rebecca, trying to
be truthful; "but I wasn't CERTAIN, and it was worth
risking. I thought perhaps you might, if you knew
it was almost a real exhibition at school."

"Exhibition!" exclaimed Miranda scornfully;
"you are exhibition enough by yourself, I should
say. Was you exhibitin' your parasol?"

"The parasol WAS silly," confessed Rebecca,
hanging her head; "but it's the only time in my
whole life when I had anything to match it, and
it looked so beautiful with the pink dress! Emma
Jane and I spoke a dialogue about a city girl and
a country girl, and it came to me just the minute
before I started how nice it would come in for the
city girl; and it did. I haven't hurt my dress a
mite, aunt Mirandy."

"It's the craftiness and underhandedness of
your actions that's the worst," said Miranda
coldly. "And look at the other things you've
done! It seems as if Satan possessed you! You
went up the front stairs to your room, but you
didn't hide your tracks, for you dropped your
handkerchief on the way up. You left the screen
out of your bedroom window for the flies to come
in all over the house. You never cleared away
your lunch nor set away a dish, AND YOU LEFT THE
SIDE DOOR UNLOCKED from half past twelve to three
o'clock, so 't anybody could 'a' come in and stolen
what they liked!"

Rebecca sat down heavily in her chair as she
heard the list of her transgressions. How could
she have been so careless? The tears began to
flow now as she attempted to explain sins that
never could be explained or justified.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she faltered. "I was trimming
the schoolroom, and got belated, and ran all
the way home. It was hard getting into my dress
alone, and I hadn't time to eat but a mouthful,
and just at the last minute, when I honestly--HONESTLY
--would have thought about clearing away
and locking up, I looked at the clock and knew I
could hardly get back to school in time to form in
the line; and I thought how dreadful it would be
to go in late and get my first black mark on a Friday
afternoon, with the minister's wife and the
doctor's wife and the school committee all there!"

"Don't wail and carry on now; it's no good
cryin' over spilt milk," answered Miranda. "An
ounce of good behavior is worth a pound of repentance.
Instead of tryin' to see how little trouble
you can make in a house that ain't your own home,
it seems as if you tried to see how much you could
put us out. Take that rose out o' your dress and
let me see the spot it's made on your yoke, an' the
rusty holes where the wet pin went in. No, it ain't;
but it's more by luck than forethought. I ain't got
any patience with your flowers and frizzled-out hair
and furbelows an' airs an' graces, for all the world
like your Miss-Nancy father."

Rebecca lifted her head in a flash. "Look here,
aunt Mirandy, I'll be as good as I know how to be.
I'll mind quick when I'm spoken to and never
leave the door unlocked again, but I won't have
my father called names. He was a p-perfectly
l-lovely father, that's what he was, and it's MEAN
to call him Miss Nancy!"

"Don't you dare answer me back that imperdent
way, Rebecca, tellin' me I'm mean; your father
was a vain, foolish, shiftless man, an' you might as
well hear it from me as anybody else; he spent
your mother's money and left her with seven children
to provide for."

"It's s-something to leave s-seven nice
children," sobbed Rebecca.

"Not when other folks have to help feed, clothe,
and educate 'em," responded Miranda. "Now you
step upstairs, put on your nightgown, go to bed,
and stay there till to-morrow mornin'. You'll find
a bowl o' crackers an' milk on your bureau, an' I
don't want to hear a sound from you till breakfast
time. Jane, run an' take the dish towels off the
line and shut the shed doors; we're goin' to have
a turrible shower."

"We've had it, I should think," said Jane
quietly, as she went to do her sister's bidding.
"I don't often speak my mind, Mirandy; but you
ought not to have said what you did about Lorenzo.
He was what he was, and can't be made
any different; but he was Rebecca's father, and
Aurelia always says he was a good husband."

Miranda had never heard the proverbial phrase
about the only "good Indian," but her mind worked
in the conventional manner when she said grimly,
"Yes, I've noticed that dead husbands are usually
good ones; but the truth needs an airin' now and
then, and that child will never amount to a hill o'
beans till she gets some of her father trounced out
of her. I'm glad I said just what I did."

"I daresay you are," remarked Jane, with what
might be described as one of her annual bursts of
courage; "but all the same, Mirandy, it wasn't
good manners, and it wasn't good religion!"

The clap of thunder that shook the house just at
that moment made no such peal in Miranda Sawyer's
ears as Jane's remark made when it fell with
a deafening roar on her conscience.

Perhaps after all it is just as well to speak only
once a year and then speak to the purpose.

Rebecca mounted the back stairs wearily, closed
the door of her bedroom, and took off the beloved
pink gingham with trembling fingers. Her cotton
handkerchief was rolled into a hard ball, and in the
intervals of reaching the more difficult buttons that
lay between her shoulder blades and her belt, she
dabbed her wet eyes carefully, so that they should
not rain salt water on the finery that had been
worn at such a price. She smoothed it out carefully,
pinched up the white ruffle at the neck, and
laid it away in a drawer with an extra little sob at
the roughness of life. The withered pink rose fell
on the floor. Rebecca looked at it and thought to
herself, "Just like my happy day!" Nothing could
show more clearly the kind of child she was than
the fact that she instantly perceived the symbolism
of the rose, and laid it in the drawer with the dress
as if she were burying the whole episode with all
its sad memories. It was a child's poetic instinct
with a dawning hint of woman's sentiment in it.

She braided her hair in the two accustomed pig-
tails, took off her best shoes (which had happily
escaped notice), with all the while a fixed resolve
growing in her mind, that of leaving the brick
house and going back to the farm. She would not
be received there with open arms,--there was no
hope of that,--but she would help her mother
about the house and send Hannah to Riverboro in
her place. "I hope she'll like it!" she thought in
a momentary burst of vindictiveness. She sat by
the window trying to make some sort of plan,
watching the lightning play over the hilltop and
the streams of rain chasing each other down the
lightning rod. And this was the day that had
dawned so joyfully! It had been a red sunrise,
and she had leaned on the window sill studying
her lesson and thinking what a lovely world it
was. And what a golden morning! The changing
of the bare, ugly little schoolroom into a bower of
beauty; Miss Dearborn's pleasure at her success
with the Simpson twins' recitation; the privilege
of decorating the blackboard; the happy thought
of drawing Columbia from the cigar box; the
intoxicating moment when the school clapped her!
And what an afternoon! How it went on from
glory to glory, beginning with Emma Jane's telling
her, Rebecca Randall, that she was as "handsome
as a picture."

She lived through the exercises again in
memory, especially her dialogue with Emma Jane and
her inspiration of using the bough-covered stove
as a mossy bank where the country girl could sit
and watch her flocks. This gave Emma Jane a feeling
of such ease that she never recited better;
and how generous it was of her to lend the garnet
ring to the city girl, fancying truly how it would
flash as she furled her parasol and approached the
awe-stricken shepherdess! She had thought aunt
Miranda might be pleased that the niece invited
down from the farm had succeeded so well at
school; but no, there was no hope of pleasing her
in that or in any other way. She would go to
Maplewood on the stage next day with Mr. Cobb
and get home somehow from cousin Ann's. On
second thoughts her aunts might not allow it.
Very well, she would slip away now and see if she
could stay all night with the Cobbs and be off next
morning before breakfast.

Rebecca never stopped long to think, more 's the
pity, so she put on her oldest dress and hat and
jacket, then wrapped her nightdress, comb, and
toothbrush in a bundle and dropped it softly out
of the window. Her room was in the L and her
window at no very dangerous distance from the
ground, though had it been, nothing could have
stopped her at that moment. Somebody who had
gone on the roof to clean out the gutters had left
a cleat nailed to the side of the house about halfway
between the window and the top of the back
porch. Rebecca heard the sound of the sewing
machine in the dining-room and the chopping of
meat in the kitchen; so knowing the whereabouts
of both her aunts, she scrambled out of the window,
caught hold of the lightning rod, slid down to the
helpful cleat, jumped to the porch, used the woodbine
trellis for a ladder, and was flying up the road
in the storm before she had time to arrange any
details of her future movements.

Jeremiah Cobb sat at his lonely supper at the
table by the kitchen window. "Mother," as he
with his old-fashioned habits was in the habit of
calling his wife, was nursing a sick neighbor. Mrs.
Cobb was mother only to a little headstone in the
churchyard, where reposed "Sarah Ann, beloved
daughter of Jeremiah and Sarah Cobb, aged seventeen
months;" but the name of mother was better
than nothing, and served at any rate as a reminder
of her woman's crown of blessedness.

The rain still fell, and the heavens were dark,
though it was scarcely five o'clock. Looking up
from his "dish of tea," the old man saw at the
open door a very figure of woe. Rebecca's face
was so swollen with tears and so sharp with misery
that for a moment he scarcely recognized her.
Then when he heard her voice asking, "Please
may I come in, Mr. Cobb?" he cried, "Well I
vow! It's my little lady passenger! Come to call
on old uncle Jerry and pass the time o' day, hev
ye? Why, you're wet as sops. Draw up to the
stove. I made a fire, hot as it was, thinkin' I
wanted somethin' warm for my supper, bein' kind
o' lonesome without mother. She's settin' up with
Seth Strout to-night. There, we'll hang your
soppy hat on the nail, put your jacket over the
chair rail, an' then you turn your back to the stove
an' dry yourself good."

Uncle Jerry had never before said so many
words at a time, but he had caught sight of the
child's red eyes and tear-stained cheeks, and his
big heart went out to her in her trouble, quite
regardless of any circumstances that might have
caused it.

Rebecca stood still for a moment until uncle
Jerry took his seat again at the table, and then,
unable to contain herself longer, cried, "Oh, Mr.
Cobb, I've run away from the brick house, and I
want to go back to the farm. Will you keep me
to-night and take me up to Maplewood in the
stage? I haven't got any money for my fare, but
I'll earn it somehow afterwards."

"Well, I guess we won't quarrel 'bout money, you
and me," said the old man; "and we've never had
our ride together, anyway, though we allers meant
to go down river, not up."

"I shall never see Milltown now!" sobbed Rebecca.

"Come over here side o' me an' tell me all about
it," coaxed uncle Jerry. "Jest set down on that
there wooden cricket an' out with the whole story."

Rebecca leaned her aching head against Mr.
Cobb's homespun knee and recounted the history
of her trouble. Tragic as that history seemed to
her passionate and undisciplined mind, she told it
truthfully and without exaggeration.



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