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Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm
by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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The days flew by; as summer had melted
into autumn so autumn had given place to
winter. Life in the brick house had gone
on more placidly of late, for Rebecca was honestly
trying to be more careful in the performance of her
tasks and duties as well as more quiet in her plays,
and she was slowly learning the power of the soft
answer in turning away wrath.

Miranda had not had, perhaps, quite as many
opportunities in which to lose her temper, but it is
only just to say that she had not fully availed herself
of all that had offered themselves.

There had been one outburst of righteous wrath
occasioned by Rebecca's over-hospitable habits,
which were later shown in a still more dramatic and
unexpected fashion.

On a certain Friday afternoon she asked her aunt
Miranda if she might take half her bread and milk
upstairs to a friend.

"What friend have you got up there, for pity's
sake?" demanded aunt Miranda.

"The Simpson baby, come to stay over Sunday;
that is, if you're willing, Mrs. Simpson says she is.
Shall I bring her down and show her? She's dressed
in an old dress of Emma Jane's and she looks sweet."

"You can bring her down, but you can't show
her to me! You can smuggle her out the way you
smuggled her in and take her back to her mother.
Where on earth do you get your notions, borrowing
a baby for Sunday!"

"You're so used to a house without a baby you
don't know how dull it is," sighed Rebecca resignedly,
as she moved towards the door; "but at the
farm there was always a nice fresh one to play with
and cuddle. There were too many, but that's not
half as bad as none at all. Well, I'll take her back.
She'll be dreadfully disappointed and so will Mrs.
Simpson. She was planning to go to Milltown."

"She can un-plan then," observed Miss Miranda.

"Perhaps I can go up there and take care of the
baby?" suggested Rebecca. "I brought her home
so 't I could do my Saturday work just the same."

"You've got enough to do right here, without
any borrowed babies to make more steps. Now, no
answering back, just give the child some supper and
carry it home where it belongs."

"You don't want me to go down the front way,
hadn't I better just come through this room and
let you look at her? She has yellow hair and big
blue eyes! Mrs. Simpson says she takes after her father."

Miss Miranda smiled acidly as she said she
couldn't take after her father, for he'd take any
thing there was before she got there!

Aunt Jane was in the linen closet upstairs, sorting
out the clean sheets and pillow cases for Saturday,
and Rebecca sought comfort from her.

"I brought the Simpson baby home, aunt Jane,
thinking it would help us over a dull Sunday, but
aunt Miranda won't let her stay. Emma Jane has
the promise of her next Sunday and Alice Robinson
the next. Mrs. Simpson wanted I should have her
first because I've had so much experience in babies.
Come in and look at her sitting up in my bed, aunt
Jane! Isn't she lovely? She's the fat, gurgly
kind, not thin and fussy like some babies, and I
thought I was going to have her to undress and
dress twice each day. Oh dear! I wish I could
have a printed book with everything set down in it
that I COULD do, and then I wouldn't get disappointed
so often."

"No book could be printed that would fit you,
Rebecca," answered aunt Jane, "for nobody could
imagine beforehand the things you'd want to do.
Are you going to carry that heavy child home in your arms?"

"No, I'm going to drag her in the little
soap-wagon. Come, baby! Take your thumb out of
your mouth and come to ride with Becky in your
go-cart." She stretched out her strong young arms
to the crowing baby, sat down in a chair with the
child, turned her upside down unceremoniously,
took from her waistband and scornfully flung away
a crooked pin, walked with her (still in a highly
reversed position) to the bureau, selected a large
safety pin, and proceeded to attach her brief red
flannel petticoat to a sort of shirt that she wore.
Whether flat on her stomach, or head down, heels
in the air, the Simpson baby knew she was in the
hands of an expert, and continued gurgling placidly
while aunt Jane regarded the pantomime with a
kind of dazed awe.

"Bless my soul, Rebecca," she ejaculated, "it
beats all how handy you are with babies!"

"I ought to be; I've brought up three and a
half of 'em," Rebecca responded cheerfully, pulling
up the infant Simpson's stockings.

"I should think you'd be fonder of dolls than
you are," said Jane.

"I do like them, but there's never any change
in a doll; it's always the same everlasting old doll,
and you have to make believe it's cross or sick, or
it loves you, or can't bear you. Babies are more
trouble, but nicer."

Miss Jane stretched out a thin hand with a slender,
worn band of gold on the finger, and the baby
curled her dimpled fingers round it and held it fast.

"You wear a ring on your engagement finger,
don't you, aunt Jane? Did you ever think about
getting married?"

"Yes, dear, long ago."

"What happened, aunt Jane?"

"He died--just before."

"Oh!" And Rebecca's eyes grew misty.

"He was a soldier and he died of a gunshot
wound, in a hospital, down South."

"Oh! aunt Jane!" softly. "Away from you?"

"No, I was with him."

"Was he young?"

"Yes; young and brave and handsome, Rebecca;
he was Mr. Carter's brother Tom."

"Oh! I'm so glad you were with him! Wasn't
he glad, aunt Jane?"

Jane looked back across the half-forgotten years,
and the vision of Tom's gladness flashed upon her:
his haggard smile, the tears in his tired eyes, his
outstretched arms, his weak voice saying, "Oh, Jenny!
Dear Jenny! I've wanted you so, Jenny!" It was
too much! She had never breathed a word of it
before to a human creature, for there was no one who
would have understood. Now, in a shamefaced way,
to hide her brimming eyes, she put her head down
on the young shoulder beside her, saying, "It was
hard, Rebecca!"

The Simpson baby had cuddled down sleepily in
Rebecca's lap, leaning her head back and sucking
her thumb contentedly. Rebecca put her cheek
down until it touched her aunt's gray hair and softly
patted her, as she said, "I'm sorry, aunt Jane!"

The girl's eyes were soft and tender and the
heart within her stretched a little and grew; grew
in sweetness and intuition and depth of feeling. It
had looked into another heart, felt it beat, and
heard it sigh; and that is how all hearts grow.

Episodes like these enlivened the quiet course of
every-day existence, made more quiet by the departure
of Dick Carter, Living Perkins, and Huldah
Meserve for Wareham, and the small attendance at
the winter school, from which the younger children
of the place stayed away during the cold weather.

Life, however, could never be thoroughly dull
or lacking in adventure to a child of Rebecca's
temperament. Her nature was full of adaptability,
fluidity, receptivity. She made friends everywhere
she went, and snatched up acquaintances in every corner.

It was she who ran to the shed door to take the
dish to the "meat man" or "fish man;" she who
knew the family histories of the itinerant fruit
venders and tin peddlers; she who was asked to take
supper or pass the night with children in neighboring
villages--children of whose parents her aunts
had never so much as heard. As to the nature of
these friendships, which seemed so many to the
eye of the superficial observer, they were of various
kinds, and while the girl pursued them with
enthusiasm and ardor, they left her unsatisfied and
heart-hungry; they were never intimacies such as
are so readily made by shallow natures. She loved
Emma Jane, but it was a friendship born of propinquity
and circumstance, not of true affinity. It was
her neighbor's amiability, constancy, and devotion
that she loved, and although she rated these qualities
at their true value, she was always searching
beyond them for intellectual treasures; searching
and never finding, for although Emma Jane had
the advantage in years she was still immature.
Huldah Meserve had an instinctive love of fun
which appealed to Rebecca; she also had a fascinating
knowledge of the world, from having visited
her married sisters in Milltown and Portland; but
on the other hand there was a certain sharpness
and lack of sympathy in Huldah which repelled
rather than attracted. With Dick Carter she could
at least talk intelligently about lessons. He was a
very ambitious boy, full of plans for his future, which
he discussed quite freely with Rebecca, but when
she broached the subject of her future his interest
sensibly lessened. Into the world of the ideal Emma
Jane, Huldah, and Dick alike never seemed to have
peeped, and the consciousness of this was always a
fixed gulf between them and Rebecca.

"Uncle Jerry" and "aunt Sarah" Cobb were
dear friends of quite another sort, a very satisfying
and perhaps a somewhat dangerous one. A visit
from Rebecca always sent them into a twitter of
delight. Her merry conversation and quaint come-
ments on life in general fairly dazzled the old couple,
who hung on her lightest word as if it had been
a prophet's utterance; and Rebecca, though she
had had no previous experience, owned to herself a
perilous pleasure in being dazzling, even to a couple
of dear humdrum old people like Mr. and Mrs. Cobb.
Aunt Sarah flew to the pantry or cellar whenever
Rebecca's slim little shape first appeared on the crest
of the hill, and a jelly tart or a frosted cake was sure
to be forthcoming. The sight of old uncle Jerry's
spare figure in its clean white shirt sleeves, whatever
the weather, always made Rebecca's heart warm
when she saw him peer longingly from the kitchen
window. Before the snow came, many was the time
he had come out to sit on a pile of boards at the
gate, to see if by any chance she was mounting the
hill that led to their house. In the autumn Rebecca
was often the old man's companion while he was
digging potatoes or shelling beans, and now in the
winter, when a younger man was driving the stage,
she sometimes stayed with him while he did his
evening milking. It is safe to say that he was the
only creature in Riverboro who possessed Rebecca's
entire confidence; the only being to whom she
poured out her whole heart, with its wealth of hopes,
and dreams, and vague ambitions. At the brick
house she practiced scales and exercises, but at the
Cobbs' cabinet organ she sang like a bird, improvising
simple accompaniments that seemed to her
ignorant auditors nothing short of marvelous. Here
she was happy, here she was loved, here she was
drawn out of herself and admired and made much
of. But, she thought, if there were somebody who
not only loved but understood; who spoke her language,
comprehended her desires, and responded to
her mysterious longings! Perhaps in the big world
of Wareham there would be people who thought
and dreamed and wondered as she did.

In reality Jane did not understand her niece very
much better than Miranda; the difference between
the sisters was, that while Jane was puzzled, she
was also attracted, and when she was quite in the
dark for an explanation of some quaint or unusual
action she was sympathetic as to its possible motive
and believed the best. A greater change had come
over Jane than over any other person in the brick
house, but it had been wrought so secretly, and
concealed so religiously, that it scarcely appeared to the
ordinary observer. Life had now a motive utterly
lacking before. Breakfast was not eaten in the
kitchen, because it seemed worth while, now that
there were three persons, to lay the cloth in the dining-
room; it was also a more bountiful meal than of
yore, when there was no child to consider. The
morning was made cheerful by Rebecca's start for
school, the packing of the luncheon basket, the final
word about umbrella, waterproof, or rubbers; the
parting admonition and the unconscious waiting at
the window for the last wave of the hand. She found
herself taking pride in Rebecca's improved appearance,
her rounder throat and cheeks, and her better
color; she was wont to mention the length of
Rebecca's hair and add a word as to its remarkable
evenness and lustre, at times when Mrs. Perkins
grew too diffuse about Emma Jane's complexion.
She threw herself wholeheartedly on her niece's side
when it became a question between a crimson or
a brown linsey-woolsey dress, and went through a
memorable struggle with her sister concerning the
purchase of a red bird for Rebecca's black felt hat.
No one guessed the quiet pleasure that lay hidden in
her heart when she watched the girl's dark head bent
over her lessons at night, nor dreamed of her joy it,
certain quiet evenings when Miranda went to prayer
meeting; evenings when Rebecca would read aloud
Hiawatha or Barbara Frietchie, The Bugle Song,
or The Brook. Her narrow, humdrum existence
bloomed under the dews that fell from this fresh
spirit; her dullness brightened under the kindling
touch of the younger mind, took fire from the "vital
spark of heavenly flame" that seemed always to
radiate from Rebecca's presence.

Rebecca's idea of being a painter like her friend
Miss Ross was gradually receding, owing to the
apparently insuperable difficulties in securing any
instruction. Her aunt Miranda saw no wisdom in
cultivating such a talent, and could not conceive that
any money could ever be earned by its exercise,
"Hand painted pictures" were held in little esteem
in Riverboro, where the cheerful chromo or the
dignified steel engraving were respected and valued.
There was a slight, a very slight hope, that Rebecca
might be allowed a few music lessons from Miss
Morton, who played the church cabinet organ, but
this depended entirely upon whether Mrs. Morton
would decide to accept a hayrack in return for a
year's instruction from her daughter. She had the
matter under advisement, but a doubt as to whether
or not she would sell or rent her hayfields kept her
from coming to a conclusion. Music, in common
with all other accomplishments, was viewed by Miss
Miranda as a trivial, useless, and foolish amusement,
but she allowed Rebecca an hour a day for practice
on the old piano, and a little extra time for
lessons, if Jane could secure them without payment of
actual cash.

The news from Sunnybrook Farm was hopeful
rather than otherwise. Cousin Ann's husband had
died, and John, Rebecca's favorite brother, had gone
to be the man of the house to the widowed cousin.
He was to have good schooling in return for his care
of the horse and cow and barn, and what was still
more dazzling, the use of the old doctor's medical
library of two or three dozen volumes. John's whole
heart was set on becoming a country doctor, with
Rebecca to keep house for him, and the vision
seemed now so true, so near, that he could almost
imagine his horse ploughing through snowdrifts on
errands of mercy, or, less dramatic but none the
less attractive, could see a physician's neat turncut
trundling along the shady country roads, a medicine
case between his, Dr. Randall's, feet, and Miss
Rebecca Randall sitting in a black silk dress by his side.

Hannah now wore her hair in a coil and her
dresses a trifle below her ankles, these concessions
being due to her extreme height. Mark had broken
his collar bone, but it was healing well. Little Mira
was growing very pretty. There was even a rumor
that the projected railroad from Temperance to
Plumville might go near the Randall farm, in which
case land would rise in value from nothing-at-all an
acre to something at least resembling a price. Mrs.
Randall refused to consider any improvement in
their financial condition as a possibility. Content to
work from sunrise to sunset to gain a mere
subsistence for her children, she lived in their future,
not in her own present, as a mother is wont to do
when her own lot seems hard and cheerless.



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