A CHANGE OF HEART
That niece of yours is the most remarkable
girl I have seen in years," said Mr.
Burch when the door closed.
"She seems to be turnin' out smart enough lately,
but she's consid'able heedless," answered Miranda,
"an' most too lively."
"We must remember that it is deficient, not
excessive vitality, that makes the greatest trouble in
this world," returned Mr. Burch.
"She'd make a wonderful missionary," said Mrs.
Burch; "with her voice, and her magnetism, and her
gift of language."
"If I was to say which of the two she was best
adapted for, I'd say she'd make a better heathen,"
remarked Miranda curtly.
"My sister don't believe in flattering children,"
hastily interpolated Jane, glancing toward Mrs.
Burch, who seemed somewhat shocked, and was
about to open her lips to ask if Rebecca was not
Mrs. Cobb had been looking for this question all
the evening and dreading some allusion to her
favorite as gifted in prayer. She had taken an
instantaneous and illogical dislike to the Rev. Mr. Burch
in the afternoon because he called upon Rebecca
to "lead." She had seen the pallor creep into the
girl's face, the hunted look in her eyes, and the
trembling of the lashes on her cheeks, and realized
the ordeal through which she was passing. Her
prejudice against the minister had relaxed under his
genial talk and presence, but feeling that Mrs.
Burch was about to tread on dangerous ground, she
hastily asked her if one had to change cars many
times going from Riverboro to Syria. She felt that
it was not a particularly appropriate question, but it
served her turn.
Deacon Milliken, meantime, said to Miss Sawyer,
"Mirandy, do you know who Rebecky reminds me of?"
"I can guess pretty well," she replied.
"Then you've noticed it too! I thought at first,
seein' she favored her father so on the outside, that
she was the same all through; but she ain't, she's
like your father, Israel Sawyer."
"I don't see how you make that out," said
Miranda, thoroughly astonished.
"It struck me this afternoon when she got up
to give your invitation in meetin'. It was kind o'
cur'ous, but she set in the same seat he used to
when he was leader o' the Sabbath-school. You
know his old way of holdin' his chin up and throwin'
his head back a leetle when he got up to say
anything? Well, she done the very same thing; there
was more'n one spoke of it."
The callers left before nine, and at that hour (an
impossibly dissipated one for the brick house) the
family retired for the night. As Rebecca carried
Mrs. Burch's candle upstairs and found herself
thus alone with her for a minute, she said shyly,
"Will you please tell Mr. Burch that I'm not a
member of the church? I didn't know what to do
when he asked me to pray this afternoon. I hadn't
the courage to say I had never done it out loud
and didn't know how. I couldn't think; and I was
so frightened I wanted to sink into the floor. It
seemed bold and wicked for me to pray before all
those old church members and make believe I was
better than I really was; but then again, wouldn't
God think I was wicked not to be willing to pray
when a minister asked me to?"
The candle light fell on Rebecca's flushed, sensitive
face. Mrs. Burch bent and kissed her good-
night. "Don't be troubled," she said. "I'll tell
Mr. Burch, and I guess God will understand."
Rebecca waked before six the next morning, so
full of household cares that sleep was impossible.
She went to the window and looked out; it was
still dark, and a blustering, boisterous day.
"Aunt Jane told me she should get up at half
past six and have breakfast at half past seven," she
thought; "but I daresay they are both sick with
their colds, and aunt Miranda will be fidgety with
so many in the house. I believe I'll creep down
and start things for a surprise."
She put on a wadded wrapper and slippers and
stole quietly down the tabooed front stairs,
carefully closed the kitchen door behind her so that no
noise should waken the rest of the household, busied
herself for a half hour with the early morning routine
she knew so well, and then went back to her room
to dress before calling the children.
Contrary to expectation, Miss Jane, who the
evening before felt better than Miranda, grew worse
in the night, and was wholly unable to leave her bed
in the morning. Miranda grumbled without ceasing
during the progress of her hasty toilet, blaming
everybody in the universe for the afflictions she had
borne and was to bear during the day; she even
castigated the Missionary Board that had sent the
Burches to Syria, and gave it as her unbiased opinion
that those who went to foreign lands for the purpose
of saving heathen should stay there and save
'em, and not go gallivantin' all over the earth with
a passel o' children, visitin' folks that didn't want
'em and never asked 'em.
Jane lay anxiously and restlessly in bed with a
feverish headache, wondering how her sister could
manage without her.
Miranda walked stiffly through the dining-room,
tying a shawl over her head to keep the draughts
away, intending to start the breakfast fire and then
call Rebecca down, set her to work, and tell her,
meanwhile, a few plain facts concerning the proper
way of representing the family at a missionary meeting.
She opened the kitchen door and stared vaguely
about her, wondering whether she had strayed into
the wrong house by mistake.
The shades were up, and there was a roaring fire
in the stove; the teakettle was singing and bubbling
as it sent out a cloud of steam, and pushed
over its capacious nose was a half sheet of note
paper with "Compliments of Rebecca" scrawled
on it. The coffee pot was scalding, the coffee was
measured out in a bowl, and broken eggshells for
the settling process were standing near. The cold
potatoes and corned beef were in the wooden tray,
and "Regards of Rebecca" stuck on the chopping
knife. The brown loaf was out, the white loaf was
out, the toast rack was out, the doughnuts were out,
the milk was skimmed, the butter had been brought
from the dairy.
Miranda removed the shawl from her head and
sank into the kitchen rocker, ejaculating under her
breath, "She is the beatin'est child! I declare she's
The day and the evening passed off with credit
and honor to everybody concerned, even to Jane,
who had the discretion to recover instead of growing
worse and acting as a damper to the general
enjoyment. The Burches left with lively regrets,
and the little missionaries, bathed in tears, swore
eternal friendship with Rebecca, who pressed into
their hands at parting a poem composed before breakfast.
TO MARY AND MARTHA BURCH
Born under Syrian skies,
'Neath hotter suns than ours;
The children grew and bloomed,
Like little tropic flowers.
When they first saw the light,
'T was in a heathen land.
Not Greenland's icy mountains,
Nor India's coral strand,
But some mysterious country
Where men are nearly black
And where of true religion,
There is a painful lack.
Then let us haste in helping
The Missionary Board,
Seek dark-skinned unbelievers,
And teach them of their Lord.
Rebecca Rowena Randall.
It can readily be seen that this visit of the
returned missionaries to Riverboro was not without
somewhat far-reaching results. Mr. and Mrs. Burch
themselves looked back upon it as one of the rarest
pleasures of their half year at home. The neighborhood
extracted considerable eager conversation
from it; argument, rebuttal, suspicion, certainty,
retrospect, and prophecy. Deacon Milliken gave ten
dollars towards the conversion of Syria to
Congregationalism, and Mrs. Milliken had a spell of
sickness over her husband's rash generosity.
It would be pleasant to state that Miranda
Sawyer was an entirely changed woman afterwards, but
that is not the fact. The tree that has been getting
a twist for twenty years cannot be straightened
in the twinkling of an eye. It is certain, however,
that although the difference to the outward eye
was very small, it nevertheless existed, and she was
less censorious in her treatment of Rebecca, less
harsh in her judgments, more hopeful of final
salvation for her. This had come about largely from
her sudden vision that Rebecca, after all, inherited
something from the Sawyer side of the house instead
of belonging, mind, body, and soul, to the despised
Randall stock. Everything that was interesting in
Rebecca, and every evidence of power, capability,
or talent afterwards displayed by her, Miranda
ascribed to the brick house training, and this gave
her a feeling of honest pride, the pride of a master
workman who has built success out of the most
unpromising material; but never, to the very end,
even when the waning of her bodily strength relaxed
her iron grip and weakened her power of repression,
never once did she show that pride or make a
single demonstration of affection.
Poor misplaced, belittled Lorenzo de Medici Ran-
dall, thought ridiculous and good-for-naught by his
associates, because he resembled them in nothing!
If Riverboro could have been suddenly emptied into
a larger community, with different and more flexible
opinions, he was, perhaps, the only personage in
the entire population who would have attracted the
smallest attention. It was fortunate for his daughter
that she had been dowered with a little practical
ability from her mother's family, but if Lorenzo
had never done anything else in the world, he might
have glorified himself that he had prevented Rebecca
from being all Sawyer. Failure as he was, complete
and entire, he had generously handed down to her
all that was best in himself, and prudently retained
all that was unworthy. Few fathers are capable of
such delicate discrimination.
The brick house did not speedily become a sort
of wayside inn, a place of innocent revelry and
joyous welcome; but the missionary company was an
entering wedge, and Miranda allowed one spare bed
to be made up "in case anything should happen,"
while the crystal glasses were kept on the second
from the top, instead of the top shelf, in the china
closet. Rebecca had had to stand on a chair to reach
them; now she could do it by stretching; and this
is symbolic of the way in which she unconsciously
scaled the walls of Miss Miranda's dogmatism and
Miranda went so far as to say that she wouldn't
mind if the Burches came every once in a while, but
she was afraid he'd spread abroad the fact of his
visit, and missionaries' families would be underfoot
the whole continual time. As a case in point, she
gracefully cited the fact that if a tramp got a good
meal at anybody's back door, 't was said that he'd
leave some kind of a sign so that all other tramps
would know where they were likely to receive the
It is to be feared that there is some truth in this
homely illustration, and Miss Miranda's dread as
to her future responsibilities had some foundation,
though not of the precise sort she had in mind.
The soul grows into lovely habits as easily as into
ugly ones, and the moment a life begins to blossom
into beautiful words and deeds, that moment a new
standard of conduct is established, and your eager
neighbors look to you for a continuous manifestation
of the good cheer, the sympathy, the ready wit, the
comradeship, or the inspiration, you once showed
yourself capable of. Bear figs for a season or two,
and the world outside the orchard is very unwilling
you should bear thistles.
The effect of the Burches' visit on Rebecca is not
easily described. Nevertheless, as she looked back
upon it from the vantage ground of after years, she
felt that the moment when Mr. Burch asked her to
"lead in prayer" marked an epoch in her life.
If you have ever observed how courteous and
gracious and mannerly you feel when you don a
beautiful new frock; if you have ever noticed the
feeling of reverence stealing over you when you
close your eyes, clasp your hands, and bow your
head; if you have ever watched your sense of
repulsion toward a fellow creature melt a little under
the exercise of daily politeness, you may understand
how the adoption of the outward and visible sign
has some strange influence in developing the inward
and spiritual state of which it is the expression.
It is only when one has grown old and dull that
the soul is heavy and refuses to rise. The young
soul is ever winged; a breath stirs it to an upward
flight. Rebecca was asked to bear witness to a
state of mind or feeling of whose existence she had
only the vaguest consciousness. She obeyed, and as
she uttered words they became true in the uttering;
as she voiced aspirations they settled into realities.
As "dove that to its window flies," her spirit
soared towards a great light, dimly discovered at
first, but brighter as she came closer to it. To
become sensible of oneness with the Divine heart
before any sense of separation has been felt, this is
surely the most beautiful way for the child to find God.
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