REBECCA REPRESENTS THE FAMILY
There was another milestone; it was more
than that, it was an "event;" an event
that made a deep impression in several
quarters and left a wake of smaller events in its
train. This was the coming to Riverboro of the
Reverend Amos Burch and wife, returned missionaries
The Aid Society had called its meeting for a
certain Wednesday in March of the year in which
Rebecca ended her Riverboro school days and
began her studies at Wareham. It was a raw,
blustering day, snow on the ground and a look in
the sky of more to follow. Both Miranda and Jane
had taken cold and decided that they could not
leave the house in such weather, and this deflection
from the path of duty worried Miranda, since she
was an officer of the society. After making the
breakfast table sufficiently uncomfortable and wishing
plaintively that Jane wouldn't always insist on
being sick at the same time she was, she decided
that Rebecca must go to the meeting in their
stead. "You'll be better than nobody, Rebecca,"
she said flatteringly; "your aunt Jane shall write
an excuse from afternoon school for you; you can
wear your rubber boots and come home by the
way of the meetin' house. This Mr. Burch, if I
remember right, used to know your grandfather
Sawyer, and stayed here once when he was
candidatin'. He'll mebbe look for us there, and you
must just go and represent the family, an' give him
our respects. Be careful how you behave. Bow
your head in prayer; sing all the hymns, but not
too loud and bold; ask after Mis' Strout's boy;
tell everybody what awful colds we've got; if you
see a good chance, take your pocket handkerchief
and wipe the dust off the melodeon before the
meetin' begins, and get twenty-five cents out of the
sittin' room match-box in case there should be a collection."
Rebecca willingly assented. Anything interested
her, even a village missionary meeting, and the idea
of representing the family was rather intoxicating.
The service was held in the Sunday-school room,
and although the Rev. Mr. Burch was on the platform
when Rebecca entered, there were only a
dozen persons present. Feeling a little shy and
considerably too young for this assemblage, Rebecca
sought the shelter of a friendly face, and seeing
Mrs. Robinson in one of the side seats near the
front, she walked up the aisle and sat beside her.
"Both my aunts had bad colds," she said softly,
"and sent me to represent the family."
"That's Mrs. Burch on the platform with her
husband," whispered Mrs. Robinson. "She's awful
tanned up, ain't she? If you're goin' to save souls
seems like you hev' to part with your complexion.
Eudoxy Morton ain't come yet; I hope to the land
she will, or Mis' Deacon Milliken'll pitch the tunes
where we can't reach 'em with a ladder; can't
you pitch, afore she gits her breath and clears her throat?"
Mrs. Burch was a slim, frail little woman with
dark hair, a broad low forehead, and patient mouth.
She was dressed in a well-worn black silk, and
looked so tired that Rebecca's heart went out to her.
"They're poor as Job's turkey," whispered Mrs.
Robinson; "but if you give 'em anything they'd
turn right round and give it to the heathen. His
congregation up to Parsonsfield clubbed together
and give him that gold watch he carries; I s'pose
he'd 'a' handed that over too, only heathens always
tell time by the sun 'n' don't need watches. Eudoxy
ain't comin'; now for massy's sake, Rebecca, do
git ahead of Mis' Deacon Milliken and pitch real low."
The meeting began with prayer and then the
Rev. Mr. Burch announced, to the tune of Mendon:--
"Church of our God I arise and shine,
Bright with the beams of truth divine:
Then shall thy radiance stream afar,
Wide as the heathen nations are.
"Gentiles and kings thy light shall view,
And shall admire and love thee too;
They come, like clouds across the sky,
As doves that to their windows fly."
"Is there any one present who will assist us at
the instrument?" he asked unexpectedly.
Everybody looked at everybody else, and nobody
moved; then there came a voice out of a far corner
saying informally, "Rebecca, why don't you?" It
was Mrs. Cobb. Rebecca could have played Mendon
in the dark, so she went to the melodeon and
did so without any ado, no member of her family
being present to give her self-consciousness.
The talk that ensued was much the usual sort of
thing. Mr. Burch made impassioned appeals for the
spreading of the gospel, and added his entreaties
that all who were prevented from visiting in
person the peoples who sat in darkness should
contribute liberally to the support of others who could.
But he did more than this. He was a pleasant,
earnest speaker, and he interwove his discourse with
stories of life in a foreign land,--of the manners,
the customs, the speech, the point of view; even
giving glimpses of the daily round, the common
task, of his own household, the work of his
devoted helpmate and their little group of children,
all born under Syrian skies.
Rebecca sat entranced, having been given the
key of another world. Riverboro had faded; the
Sunday-school room, with Mrs. Robinson's red plaid
shawl, and Deacon Milliken's wig, on crooked, the
bare benches and torn hymn-books, the hanging
texts and maps, were no longer visible, and she
saw blue skies and burning stars, white turbans
and gay colors; Mr. Burch had not said so, but
perhaps there were mosques and temples and minarets
and date-palms. What stories they must know,
those children born under Syrian skies! Then
she was called upon to play "Jesus shall reign
where'er the sun."
The contribution box was passed and Mr. Burch
prayed. As he opened his eyes and gave out the
last hymn he looked at the handful of people, at the
scattered pennies and dimes in the contribution box,
and reflected that his mission was not only to gather
funds for the building of his church, but to keep
alive, in all these remote and lonely neighborhoods,
that love for the cause which was its only hope in
the years to come.
"If any of the sisters will provide entertainment,"
he said, "Mrs. Burch and I will remain among you
to-night and to-morrow. In that event we could
hold a parlor meeting. My wife and one of my
children would wear the native costume, we would
display some specimens of Syrian handiwork, and
give an account of our educational methods with the
children. These informal parlor meetings, admitting
of questions or conversation, are often the means
of interesting those not commonly found at church
services so I repeat, if any member of the congregation
desires it and offers her hospitality, we will
gladly stay and tell you more of the Lord's work."
A pall of silence settled over the little assembly.
There was some cogent reason why every "sister"
there was disinclined for company. Some had no
spare room, some had a larder less well stocked than
usual, some had sickness in the family, some were
"unequally yoked together with unbelievers" who
disliked strange ministers. Mrs. Burch's thin hands
fingered her black silk nervously. "Would no one
speak!" thought Rebecca, her heart fluttering with
sympathy. Mrs. Robinson leaned over and whispered
significantly, "The missionaries always used
to be entertained at the brick house; your grand-
father never would let 'em sleep anywheres else
when he was alive." She meant this for a stab at
Miss Miranda's parsimony, remembering the four
spare chambers, closed from January to December;
but Rebecca thought it was intended as a suggestion.
If it had been a former custom, perhaps her
aunts would want her to do the right thing; for
what else was she representing the family? So,
delighted that duty lay in so pleasant a direction,
she rose from her seat and said in the pretty voice
and with the quaint manner that so separated her
from all the other young people in the village, "My
aunts, Miss Miranda and Miss Jane Sawyer, would
be very happy to have you visit them at the brick
house, as the ministers always used to do when their
father was alive. They sent their respects by me."
The "respects" might have been the freedom of
the city, or an equestrian statue, when presented in
this way, and the aunts would have shuddered could
they have foreseen the manner of delivery; but it
was vastly impressive to the audience, who concluded
that Mirandy Sawyer must be making her
way uncommonly fast to mansions in the skies, else
what meant this abrupt change of heart?
Mr. Burch bowed courteously, accepted the
invitation "in the same spirit in which it was offered,"
and asked Brother Milliken to lead in prayer.
If the Eternal Ear could ever tire it would have
ceased long ere this to listen to Deacon Milliken,
who had wafted to the throne of grace the same
prayer, with very slight variations, for forty years.
Mrs. Perkins followed; she had several petitions
at her command, good sincere ones too, but a little
cut and dried, made of scripture texts laboriously
woven together. Rebecca wondered why she always
ended, at the most peaceful seasons, with the form,
"Do Thou be with us, God of Battles, while we
strive onward like Christian soldiers marching as
to war;" but everything sounded real to her to-day,
she was in a devout mood, and many things Mr.
Burch had said had moved her strangely. As she
lifted her head the minister looked directly at her
and said, "Will our young sister close the service
by leading us in prayer?"
Every drop of blood in Rebecca's body seemed to
stand still, and her heart almost stopped beating.
Mrs. Cobb's excited breathing could be heard distinctly
in the silence. There was nothing extraordinary
in Mr. Burch's request. In his journeyings
among country congregations he was constantly
in the habit of meeting young members who had
"experienced religion" and joined the church when
nine or ten years old. Rebecca was now thirteen;
she had played the melodeon, led the singing,
delivered her aunts' invitation with an air of great
worldly wisdom, and he, concluding that she must
be a youthful pillar of the church, called upon her
with the utmost simplicity.
Rebecca's plight was pathetic. How could she
refuse; how could she explain she was not a
"member;" how could she pray before all those elderly
women! John Rogers at the stake hardly suffered
more than this poor child for the moment as she
rose to her feet, forgetting that ladies prayed
sitting, while deacons stood in prayer. Her mind was
a maze of pictures that the Rev. Mr. Burch had
flung on the screen. She knew the conventional
phraseology, of course; what New England child,
accustomed to Wednesday evening meetings, does
not? But her own secret prayers were different.
However, she began slowly and tremulously:--
"Our Father who art in Heaven, . . . Thou art
God in Syria just the same as in Maine; . . . over
there to-day are blue skies and yellow stars and
burning suns . . . the great trees are waving in the
warm air, while here the snow lies thick under our
feet, . . . but no distance is too far for God to travel
and so He is with us here as He is with them
there, . . . and our thoughts rise to Him `as doves
that to their windows fly.'. . .
"We cannot all be missionaries, teaching people
to be good, . . . some of us have not learned yet
how to be good ourselves, but if thy kingdom is
to come and thy will is to be done on earth as it
is in heaven, everybody must try and everybody
must help, . . . those who are old and tired and
those who are young and strong. . . . The little
children of whom we have heard, those born under
Syrian skies, have strange and interesting work to
do for Thee, and some of us would like to travel
in far lands and do wonderful brave things for the
heathen and gently take away their idols of wood
and stone. But perhaps we have to stay at home
and do what is given us to do . . . sometimes even
things we dislike, . . . but that must be what it
means in the hymn we sang, when it talked about
the sweet perfume that rises with every morning
sacrifice. . . . This is the way that God teaches us
to be meek and patient, and the thought that He
has willed it so should rob us of our fears and help
us bear the years. Amen."
Poor little ignorant, fantastic child! Her petition
was simply a succession of lines from the various
hymns, and images the minister had used in his
sermon, but she had her own way of recombining
and applying these things, even of using them in a
new connection, so that they had a curious effect
of belonging to her. The words of some people
might generally be written with a minus sign after
them, the minus meaning that the personality of
the speaker subtracted from, rather than added to,
their weight; but Rebecca's words might always
have borne the plus sign.
The "Amen" said, she sat down, or presumed
she sat down, on what she believed to be a bench,
and there was a benediction. In a moment or two,
when the room ceased spinning, she went up to
Mrs. Burch, who kissed her affectionately and said,
"My dear, how glad I am that we are going to stay
with you. Will half past five be too late for us to
come? It is three now, and we have to go to the
station for our valise and for our children. We left
them there, being uncertain whether we should go
back or stop here."
Rebecca said that half past five was their supper
hour, and then accepted an invitation to drive home
with Mrs. Cobb. Her face was flushed and her lip
quivered in a way that aunt Sarah had learned to
know, so the homeward drive was taken almost in
silence. The bleak wind and aunt Sarah's quieting
presence brought her back to herself, however, and
she entered the brick house cheerily. Being too
full of news to wait in the side entry to take off her
rubber boots, she carefully lifted a braided rug into
the sitting-room and stood on that while she opened
"There are your shoes warming by the fire,"
said aunt Jane. "Slip them right on while you talk."
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