"SEE THE PALE MARTYR"
It was about this time that Rebecca, who had been
reading about the Spartan boy, conceived the
idea of some mild form of self-punishment to
be applied on occasions when she was fully convinced
in her own mind that it would be salutary.
The immediate cause of the decision was a somewhat
sadder accident than was common, even in a
career prolific in such things.
Clad in her best, Rebecca had gone to take tea
with the Cobbs; but while crossing the bridge she
was suddenly overcome by the beauty of the river
and leaned over the newly painted rail to feast her
eyes on the dashing torrent of the fall. Resting her
elbows on the topmost board, and inclining her little
figure forward in delicious ease, she stood there dreaming.
The river above the dam was a glassy lake with
all the loveliness of blue heaven and green shore
reflected in its surface; the fall was a swirling wonder
of water, ever pouring itself over and over inexhaustibly
in luminous golden gushes that lost themselves
in snowy depths of foam. Sparkling in the sunshine,
gleaming under the summer moon, cold and gray
beneath a November sky, trickling over the dam
in some burning July drought, swollen with turbulent
power in some April freshet, how many young
eyes gazed into the mystery and majesty of the
falls along that river, and how many young hearts
dreamed out their futures leaning over the bridge
rail, seeing "the vision splendid" reflected there and
often, too, watching it fade into "the light of
Rebecca never went across the bridge without
bending over the rail to wonder and to ponder, and
at this special moment she was putting the finishing
touches on a poem.
Two maidens by a river strayed
Down in the state of Maine.
The one was called Rebecca,
The other Emma Jane.
"I would my life were like the stream,"
Said her named Emma Jane,
"So quiet and so very smooth,
So free from every pain."
"I'd rather be a little drop
In the great rushing fall!
I would not choose the glassy lake,
'T would not suit me at all!"
(It was the darker maiden spoke
The words I just have stated,
The maidens twain were simply friends
And not at all related.)
But O! alas I we may not have
The things we hope to gain;
The quiet life may come to me,
The rush to Emma Jane!
"I don't like `the rush to Emma Jane,' and I
can't think of anything else. Oh! what a smell of
paint! Oh! it is ON me! Oh! it's all over my best
dress! Oh I what WILL aunt Miranda say!"
With tears of self-reproach streaming from her
eyes, Rebecca flew up the hill, sure of sympathy,
and hoping against hope for help of some sort.
Mrs. Cobb took in the situation at a glance, and
professed herself able to remove almost any stain
from almost any fabric; and in this she was
corroborated by uncle Jerry, who vowed that mother
could git anything out. Sometimes she took the
cloth right along with the spot, but she had a sure
hand, mother had!
The damaged garment was removed and partially
immersed in turpentine, while Rebecca graced the
festal board clad in a blue calico wrapper of Mrs. Cobb's.
"Don't let it take your appetite away," crooned
Mrs. Cobb. "I've got cream biscuit and honey for
you. If the turpentine don't work, I'll try French
chalk, magneshy, and warm suds. If they fail, father
shall run over to Strout's and borry some of the
stuff Marthy got in Milltown to take the currant pie
out of her weddin' dress."
"I ain't got to understandin' this paintin' accident
yet," said uncle Jerry jocosely, as he handed
Rebecca the honey. "Bein' as how there's `Fresh
Paint' signs hung all over the breedge, so 't a blind
asylum couldn't miss 'em, I can't hardly account
for your gettin' int' the pesky stuff."
"I didn't notice the signs," Rebecca said
dolefully. "I suppose I was looking at the falls."
"The falls has been there sence the beginnin'
o' time, an' I cal'late they'll be there till the end
on 't; so you needn't 'a' been in sech a brash to git
a sight of 'em. Children comes turrible high, mother,
but I s'pose we must have 'em!" he said, winking
at Mrs. Cobb.
When supper was cleared away Rebecca insisted
on washing and wiping the dishes, while Mrs. Cobb
worked on the dress with an energy that plainly
showed the gravity of the task. Rebecca kept leaving
her post at the sink to bend anxiously over
the basin and watch her progress, while uncle Jerry
offered advice from time to time.
"You must 'a' laid all over the breedge, deary,"
said Mrs. Cobb; "for the paint 's not only on your
elbows and yoke and waist, but it about covers
your front breadth."
As the garment began to look a little better
Rebecca's spirits took an upward turn, and at length
she left it to dry in the fresh air, and went into the
"Have you a piece of paper, please?" asked
Rebecca. "I'll copy out the poetry I was making
while I was lying in the paint."
Mrs. Cobb sat by her mending basket, and uncle
Jerry took down a gingham bag of strings and occupied
himself in taking the snarls out of them,--a
favorite evening amusement with him.
Rebecca soon had the lines copied in her round
schoolgirl hand, making such improvements as
occurred to her on sober second thought.
THE TWO WISHES
Two maidens by a river strayed,
'T was in the state of Maine.
Rebecca was the darker one,
The fairer, Emma Jane.
The fairer maiden said, "I would
My life were as the stream;
So peaceful, and so smooth and still,
So pleasant and serene."
"I'd rather be a little drop
In the great rushing fall;
I'd never choose the quiet lake;
'T would not please me at all."
(It was the darker maiden spoke
The words we just have stated;
The maidens twain were simply friends,
Not sisters, or related.)
But O! alas! we may not have
The things we hope to gain.
The quiet life may come to me,
The rush to Emma Jane!
She read it aloud, and the Cobbs thought it not only
surpassingly beautiful, but a marvelous production
"I guess if that writer that lived on Congress
Street in Portland could 'a' heard your poetry he'd
'a' been astonished," said Mrs. Cobb. "If you ask
me, I say this piece is as good as that one o' his,
`Tell me not in mournful numbers;' and consid'able clearer."
"I never could fairly make out what `mournful
numbers' was," remarked Mr. Cobb critically.
"Then I guess you never studied fractions!"
flashed Rebecca. "See here, uncle Jerry and aunt
Sarah, would you write another verse, especially for
a last one, as they usually do--one with `thoughts'
in it--to make a better ending?"
"If you can grind 'em out jest by turnin' the
crank, why I should say the more the merrier; but
I don't hardly see how you could have a better
endin'," observed Mr. Cobb.
"It is horrid!" grumbled Rebecca. "I ought not
to have put that `me' in. I'm writing the poetry.
Nobody ought to know it IS me standing by the
river; it ought to be `Rebecca,' or `the darker
maiden;' and `the rush to Emma Jane' is simply
dreadful. Sometimes I think I never will try poetry,
it's so hard to make it come right; and other times
it just says itself. I wonder if this would be better?
But O! alas! we may not gain
The good for which we pray
The quiet life may come to one
Who likes it rather gay,
I don't know whether that is worse or not. Now for
a new last verse!"
In a few minutes the poetess looked up, flushed
and triumphant. "It was as easy as nothing. Just
hear!" And she read slowly, with her pretty,
Then if our lot be bright or sad,
Be full of smiles, or tears,
The thought that God has planned it so
Should help us bear the years.
Mr. and Mrs. Cobb exchanged dumb glances of
admiration; indeed uncle Jerry was obliged to turn
his face to the window and wipe his eyes furtively
with the string-bag.
"How in the world did you do it?" Mrs. Cobb exclaimed.
"Oh, it's easy," answered Rebecca; "the hymns
at meeting are all like that. You see there's a
school newspaper printed at Wareham Academy
once a month. Dick Carter says the editor is always
a boy, of course; but he allows girls to try and write
for it, and then chooses the best. Dick thinks I can
be in it."
"IN it!" exclaimed uncle Jerry. "I shouldn't
be a bit surprised if you had to write the whole
paper; an' as for any boy editor, you could lick
him writin', I bate ye, with one hand tied behind ye."
"Can we have a copy of the poetry to keep in
the family Bible?" inquired Mrs. Cobb respectfully.
"Oh! would you like it?" asked Rebecca. "Yes
indeed! I'll do a clean, nice one with violet ink
and a fine pen. But I must go and look at my poor dress."
The old couple followed Rebecca into the kitchen.
The frock was quite dry, and in truth it had been
helped a little by aunt Sarah's ministrations; but
the colors had run in the rubbing, the pattern was
blurred, and there were muddy streaks here and
there. As a last resort, it was carefully smoothed
with a warm iron, and Rebecca was urged to attire
herself, that they might see if the spots showed as
much when it was on.
They did, most uncompromisingly, and to the
dullest eye. Rebecca gave one searching look, and
then said, as she took her hat from a nail in the
entry, "I think I'll be going. Good-night! If I've
got to have a scolding, I want it quick, and get it over."
"Poor little onlucky misfortunate thing!" sighed
uncle Jerry, as his eyes followed her down the hill.
"I wish she could pay some attention to the ground
under her feet; but I vow, if she was ourn I'd let
her slop paint all over the house before I could
scold her. Here's her poetry she's left behind.
Read it out ag'in, mother. Land!" he continued,
chuckling, as he lighted his cob pipe; "I can just
see the last flap o' that boy-editor's shirt tail as he
legs it for the woods, while Rebecky settles down in
his revolvin' cheer! I'm puzzled as to what kind of
a job editin' is, exactly; but she'll find out, Rebecky
will. An' she'll just edit for all she's worth!
"`The thought that God has planned it so
Should help us bear the years.'
Land, mother! that takes right holt, kind o' like
the gospel. How do you suppose she thought that out?"
"She couldn't have thought it out at her age,"
said Mrs. Cobb; "she must have just guessed it
was that way. We know some things without bein'
Rebecca took her scolding (which she richly
deserved) like a soldier. There was considerable of it,
and Miss Miranda remarked, among other things,
that so absent-minded a child was sure to grow up
into a driveling idiot. She was bidden to stay away
from Alice Robinson's birthday party, and doomed to
wear her dress, stained and streaked as it was, until
it was worn out. Aunt Jane six months later mitigated
this martyrdom by making her a ruffled dimity
pinafore, artfully shaped to conceal all the spots.
She was blessedly ready with these mediations
between the poor little sinner and the full consequences
of her sin.
When Rebecca had heard her sentence and gone
to the north chamber she began to think. If there
was anything she did not wish to grow into, it was
an idiot of any sort, particularly a driveling one;
and she resolved to punish herself every time she
incurred what she considered to be the righteous
displeasure of her virtuous relative. She didn't
mind staying away from Alice Robinson's. She
had told Emma Jane it would be like a picnic in
a graveyard, the Robinson house being as near an
approach to a tomb as a house can manage to be.
Children were commonly brought in at the back
door, and requested to stand on newspapers while
making their call, so that Alice was begged by her
friends to "receive" in the shed or barn whenever
possible. Mrs. Robinson was not only "turrible
neat," but "turrible close," so that the refreshments
were likely to be peppermint lozenges and glasses
of well water.
After considering the relative values, as penances,
of a piece of haircloth worn next the skin, and a
pebble in the shoe, she dismissed them both. The
haircloth could not be found, and the pebble would
attract the notice of the Argus-eyed aunt, besides
being a foolish bar to the activity of a person who
had to do housework and walk a mile and a half to school.
Her first experimental attempt at martyrdom had
not been a distinguished success. She had stayed
at home from the Sunday-school concert, a func-
tion of which, in ignorance of more alluring ones,
she was extremely fond. As a result of her desertion,
two infants who relied upon her to prompt
them (she knew the verses of all the children better
than they did themselves) broke down ignominiously.
The class to which she belonged had to read
a difficult chapter of Scripture in rotation, and the
various members spent an arduous Sabbath afternoon
counting out verses according to their seats
in the pew, and practicing the ones that would
inevitably fall to them. They were too ignorant to
realize, when they were called upon, that Rebecca's
absence would make everything come wrong, and
the blow descended with crushing force when the
Jebusites and Amorites, the Girgashites, Hivites,
and Perizzites had to be pronounced by the persons
of all others least capable of grappling with them.
Self-punishment, then, to be adequate and proper,
must begin, like charity, at home, and unlike charity
should end there too. Rebecca looked about the
room vaguely as she sat by the window. She must
give up something, and truth to tell she possessed
little to give, hardly anything but--yes, that would
do, the beloved pink parasol. She could not hide it
in the attic, for in some moment of weakness she
would be sure to take it out again. She feared she
had not the moral energy to break it into bits. Her
eyes moved from the parasol to the apple-trees in
the side yard, and then fell to the well curb. That
would do; she would fling her dearest possession into
the depths of the water. Action followed quickly
upon decision, as usual. She slipped down in the
darkness, stole out the front door, approached the
place of sacrifice, lifted the cover of the well, gave one
unresigned shudder, and flung the parasol downward
with all her force. At the crucial instant of
renunciation she was greatly helped by the reflection that
she closely resembled the heathen mothers who cast
their babes to the crocodiles in the Ganges.
She slept well and arose refreshed, as a
consecrated spirit always should and sometimes does.
But there was great difficulty in drawing water after
breakfast. Rebecca, chastened and uplifted, had
gone to school. Abijah Flagg was summoned, lifted
the well cover, explored, found the inciting cause of
trouble, and with the help of Yankee wit succeeded
in removing it. The fact was that the ivory hook of
the parasol had caught in the chain gear, and when
the first attempt at drawing water was made, the
little offering of a contrite heart was jerked up, bent,
its strong ribs jammed into the well side, and
entangled with a twig root. It is needless to say that
no sleight-of-hand performer, however expert, unless
aided by the powers of darkness, could have accomplished
this feat; but a luckless child in the pursuit
of virtue had done it with a turn of the wrist.
We will draw a veil over the scene that occurred
after Rebecca's return from school. You who read
may be well advanced in years, you may be gifted in
rhetoric, ingenious in argument; but even you might
quail at the thought of explaining the tortuous mental
processes that led you into throwing your beloved
pink parasol into Miranda Sawyer's well. Perhaps
you feel equal to discussing the efficacy of spiritual
self-chastisement with a person who closes her lips
into a thin line and looks at you out of blank,
uncomprehending eyes! Common sense, right, and logic
were all arrayed on Miranda's side. When poor Rebecca,
driven to the wall, had to avow the reasons
lying behind the sacrifice of the sunshade, her aunt
said, "Now see here, Rebecca, you're too big to be
whipped, and I shall never whip you; but when you
think you ain't punished enough, just tell me, and
I'll make out to invent a little something more. I
ain't so smart as some folks, but I can do that much;
and whatever it is, it'll be something that won't
punish the whole family, and make 'em drink ivory
dust, wood chips, and pink silk rags with their water."
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