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| Home | Reading Room Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm

Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm
by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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How d' ye do, girls?" said Huldah Meserve,
peeping in at the door. "Can you
stop studying a minute and show me your
room? Say, I've just been down to the store
and bought me these gloves, for I was bound I
wouldn't wear mittens this winter; they're
simply too countrified. It's your first year here, and
you're younger than I am, so I s'pose you don't
mind, but I simply suffer if I don't keep up some
kind of style. Say, your room is simply too cute for
words! I don't believe any of the others can begin
to compare with it! I don't know what gives it that
simply gorgeous look, whether it's the full curtains,
or that elegant screen, or Rebecca's lamp; but you
certainly do have a faculty for fixing up. I like a
pretty room too, but I never have a minute to
attend to mine; I'm always so busy on my clothes that
half the time I don't get my bed made up till noon;
and after all, having no callers but the girls, it don't
make much difference. When I graduate, I'm going
to fix up our parlor at home so it'll be simply regal.
I've learned decalcomania, and after I take up lustre
painting I shall have it simply stiff with drapes and
tidies and placques and sofa pillows, and make mo-
ther let me have a fire, and receive my friends there
evenings. May I dry my feet at your register? I
can't bear to wear rubbers unless the mud or the
slush is simply knee-deep, they make your feet look
so awfully big. I had such a fuss getting this pair
of French-heeled boots that I don't intend to spoil
the looks of them with rubbers any oftener than I
can help. I believe boys notice feet quicker than
anything. Elmer Webster stepped on one of mine
yesterday when I accidentally had it out in the
aisle, and when he apologized after class, he said he
wasn't so much to blame, for the foot was so little
he really couldn't see it! Isn't he perfectly great?
Of course that's only his way of talking, for after
all I only wear a number two, but these French
heels and pointed toes do certainly make your foot
look smaller, and it's always said a high instep helps,
too. I used to think mine was almost a deformity,
but they say it's a great beauty. Just put your feet
beside mine, girls, and look at the difference; not
that I care much, but just for fun."

"My feet are very comfortable where they are,"
responded Rebecca dryly. "I can't stop to measure
insteps on algebra days; I've noticed your habit
of keeping a foot in the aisle ever since you had
those new shoes, so I don't wonder it was stepped on."

"Perhaps I am a little mite conscious of them,
because they're not so very comfortable at first, till
you get them broken in. Say, haven't you got a
lot of new things?"

"Our Christmas presents, you mean," said Emma
Jane. "The pillow-cases are from Mrs. Cobb, the
rug from cousin Mary in North Riverboro, the
scrap-basket from Living and Dick. We gave each
other the bureau and cushion covers, and the screen
is mine from Mr. Ladd."

"Well, you were lucky when you met him!
Gracious! I wish I could meet somebody like that.
The way he keeps it up, too! It just hides your
bed, doesn't it, and I always say that a bed takes
the style off any room--specially when it's not
made up; though you have an alcove, and it's the
only one in the whole building. I don't see how
you managed to get this good room when you're
such new scholars," she finished discontentedly.

"We shouldn't have, except that Ruth Berry
had to go away suddenly on account of her father's
death. This room was empty, and Miss Maxwell
asked if we might have it," returned Emma Jane.

"The great and only Max is more stiff and
standoffish than ever this year," said Huldah. "I've
simply given up trying to please her, for there's
no justice in her; she is good to her favorites, but
she doesn't pay the least attention to anybody else,
except to make sarcastic speeches about things
that are none of her business. I wanted to tell her
yesterday it was her place to teach me Latin, not manners."

"I wish you wouldn't talk against Miss Maxwell
to me," said Rebecca hotly. "You know how I feel."

"I know; but I can't understand how you can abide her."

"I not only abide, I love her!" exclaimed
Rebecca. "I wouldn't let the sun shine too hot on
her, or the wind blow too cold. I'd like to put a
marble platform in her class-room and have her sit
in a velvet chair behind a golden table!"

"Well, don't have a fit!--because she can sit
where she likes for all of me; I've got something
better to think of," and Huldah tossed her head.

"Isn't this your study hour?" asked Emma
Jane, to stop possible discussion.

"Yes, but I lost my Latin grammar yesterday;
I left it in the hall half an hour while I was having
a regular scene with Herbert Dunn. I haven't
spoken to him for a week and gave him back his
class pin. He was simply furious. Then when I
came back to the hall, the book was gone. I had
to go down town for my gloves and to the principal's
office to see if the grammar had been handed
in, and that's the reason I'm so fine."

Huldah was wearing a woolen dress that had
once been gray, but had been dyed a brilliant blue.
She had added three rows of white braid and large
white pearl buttons to her gray jacket, in order to
make it a little more "dressy." Her gray felt hat
had a white feather on it, and a white tissue veil
with large black dots made her delicate skin look
brilliant. Rebecca thought how lovely the knot of
red hair looked under the hat behind, and how the
color of the front had been dulled by incessant
frizzing with curling irons. Her open jacket
disclosed a galaxy of souvenirs pinned to the
background of bright blue,--a small American flag, a
button of the Wareham Rowing Club, and one or
two society pins. These decorations proved her
popularity in very much the same way as do the
cotillion favors hanging on the bedroom walls of
the fashionable belle. She had been pinning and
unpinning, arranging and disarranging her veil
ever since she entered the room, in the hope that
the girls would ask her whose ring she was wearing
this week; but although both had noticed the new
ornament instantly, wild horses could not have
drawn the question from them; her desire to be
asked was too obvious. With her gay plumage,
her "nods and becks and wreathed smiles," and her
cheerful cackle, Huldah closely resembled the
parrot in Wordsworth's poem:--

"Arch, volatile, a sportive bird,
By social glee inspired;
Ambitious to be seen or heard,
And pleased to be admired!"

"Mr. Morrison thinks the grammar will be
returned, and lent me another," Huldah continued.

"He was rather snippy about my leaving a book in
the hall. There was a perfectly elegant gentleman
in the office, a stranger to me. I wish he was a new
teacher, but there's no such luck. He was too
young to be the father of any of the girls, and too
old to be a brother, but he was handsome as a
picture and had on an awful stylish suit of clothes.
He looked at me about every minute I was in the
room. It made me so embarrassed I couldn't hardly
answer Mr. Morrison's questions straight."

"You'll have to wear a mask pretty soon, if
you're going to have any comfort, Huldah," said
Rebecca. "Did he offer to lend you his class pin,
or has it been so long since he graduated that he's
left off wearing it? And tell us now whether the
principal asked for a lock of your hair to put in his watch?"

This was all said merrily and laughingly, but
there were times when Huldah could scarcely make
up her mind whether Rebecca was trying to be
witty, or whether she was jealous; but she
generally decided it was merely the latter feeling,
rather natural in a girl who had little attention.

"He wore no jewelry but a cameo scarf pin and
a perfectly gorgeous ring,--a queer kind of one
that wound round and round his finger. Oh dear,
I must run! Where has the hour gone? There's the study bell!"

Rebecca had pricked up her ears at Huldah's
speech. She remembered a certain strange ring,
and it belonged to the only person in the world (save
Miss Maxwell) who appealed to her imagination,--
Mr. Aladdin. Her feeling for him, and that of Emma
Jane, was a mixture of romantic and reverent admiration
for the man himself and the liveliest gratitude
for his beautiful gifts. Since they first met him
not a Christmas had gone by without some remembrance
for them both; remembrances chosen with
the rarest taste and forethought. Emma Jane had
seen him only twice, but he had called several times
at the brick house, and Rebecca had learned to
know him better. It was she, too, who always wrote
the notes of acknowledgment and thanks, taking
infinite pains to make Emma Jane's quite different
from her own. Sometimes he had written from
Boston and asked her the news of Riverboro, and
she had sent him pages of quaint and childlike gossip,
interspersed, on two occasions, with poetry,
which he read and reread with infinite relish. If
Huldah's stranger should be Mr. Aladdin, would he
come to see her, and could she and Emma Jane
show him their beautiful room with so many of his
gifts in evidence?

When the girls had established themselves in
Wareham as real boarding pupils, it seemed to
them existence was as full of joy as it well could
hold. This first winter was, in fact, the most
tranquilly happy of Rebecca's school life,--a winter
long to be looked back upon. She and Emma
Jane were room-mates, and had put their modest
possessions together to make their surroundings
pretty and homelike. The room had, to begin with,
a cheerful red ingrain carpet and a set of maple
furniture. As to the rest, Rebecca had furnished
the ideas and Emma Jane the materials and labor,
a method of dividing responsibilities that seemed
to suit the circumstances admirably. Mrs. Perkins's
father had been a storekeeper, and on his death
had left the goods of which he was possessed to
his married daughter. The molasses, vinegar, and
kerosene had lasted the family for five years, and
the Perkins attic was still a treasure-house of
ginghams, cottons, and "Yankee notions." So at
Rebecca's instigation Mrs. Perkins had made full
curtains and lambrequins of unbleached muslin,
which she had trimmed and looped back with
bands of Turkey red cotton. There were two table
covers to match, and each of the girls had her
study corner. Rebecca, after much coaxing, had
been allowed to bring over her precious lamp,
which would have given a luxurious air to any
apartment, and when Mr. Aladdin's last Christmas
presents were added,--the Japanese screen for
Emma Jane and the little shelf of English Poets
for Rebecca,--they declared that it was all quite
as much fun as being married and going to housekeeping.

The day of Huldah's call was Friday, and on
Fridays from three to half past four Rebecca was
free to take a pleasure to which she looked forward
the entire week. She always ran down the snowy
path through the pine woods at the back of the
seminary, and coming out on a quiet village street,
went directly to the large white house where Miss
Maxwell lived. The maid-of-all-work answered her
knock; she took off her hat and cape and hung
them in the hall, put her rubber shoes and
umbrella carefully in the corner, and then opened the
door of paradise. Miss Maxwell's sitting-room was
lined on two sides with bookshelves, and Rebecca
was allowed to sit before the fire and browse
among the books to her heart's delight for an hour
or more. Then Miss Maxwell would come back
from her class, and there would be a precious half
hour of chat before Rebecca had to meet Emma
Jane at the station and take the train for Riverboro,
where her Saturdays and Sundays were
spent, and where she was washed, ironed, mended,
and examined, approved and reproved, warned and
advised in quite sufficient quantity to last her the
succeeding week.

On this Friday she buried her face in the blooming
geraniums on Miss Maxwell's plant-stand, selected
Romola from one of the bookcases, and sank
into a seat by the window with a sigh of infinite
content, She glanced at the clock now and then,
remembering the day on which she had been so
immersed in David Copperfield that the Riverboro
train had no place in her mind. The distracted
Emma Jane had refused to leave without her, and
had run from the station to look for her at Miss
Maxwell's. There was but one later train, and that
went only to a place three miles the other side
of Riverboro, so that the two girls appeared at their
respective homes long after dark, having had a
weary walk in the snow.

When she had read for half an hour she glanced
out of the window and saw two figures issuing from
the path through the woods. The knot of bright
hair and the coquettish hat could belong to but
one person; and her companion, as the couple
approached, proved to be none other than Mr. Aladdin.
Huldah was lifting her skirts daintily and
picking safe stepping-places for the high-heeled
shoes, her cheeks glowing, her eyes sparkling under
the black and white veil.

Rebecca slipped from her post by the window to
the rug before the bright fire and leaned her head
on the seat of the great easy-chair. She was frightened
at the storm in her heart; at the suddenness
with which it had come on, as well as at the strangeness
of an entirely new sensation. She felt all at
once as if she could not bear to give up her share
of Mr. Aladdin's friendship to Huldah: Huldah so
bright, saucy, and pretty; so gay and ready, and
such good company! She had always joyfully
admitted Emma Jane into the precious partnership,
but perhaps unconsciously to herself she had
realized that Emma Jane had never held anything but
a secondary place in Mr. Aladdin's regard; yet who
was she herself, after all, that she could hope to be first?

Suddenly the door opened softly and somebody
looked in, somebody who said: "Miss Maxwell
told me I should find Miss Rebecca Randall here."

Rebecca started at the sound and sprang to her
feet, saying joyfully, "Mr. Aladdin! Oh! I knew
you were in Wareham, and I was afraid you
wouldn't have time to come and see us."

"Who is `us'? The aunts are not here, are
they? Oh, you mean the rich blacksmith's daughter,
whose name I can never remember. Is she here?"

"Yes, and my room-mate," answered Rebecca,
who thought her own knell of doom had sounded,
if he had forgotten Emma Jane's name.

The light in the room grew softer, the fire
crackled cheerily, and they talked of many things,
until the old sweet sense of friendliness and
familiarity crept back into Rebecca's heart. Adam
had not seen her for several months, and there was
much to be learned about school matters as viewed
from her own standpoint; he had already inquired
concerning her progress from Mr. Morrison.

"Well, little Miss Rebecca," he said, rousing
himself at length, "I must be thinking of my drive
to Portland. There is a meeting of railway
directors there to-morrow, and I always take this
opportunity of visiting the school and giving my
valuable advice concerning its affairs, educational
and financial."

"It seems funny for you to be a school trustee,"
said Rebecca contemplatively. "I can't seem to make it fit."

"You are a remarkably wise young person and
I quite agree with you," he answered; "the fact
is," he added soberly, "I accepted the trusteeship
in memory of my poor little mother, whose last
happy years were spent here."

"That was a long time ago!"

"Let me see, I am thirty-two; only thirty-two,
despite an occasional gray hair. My mother was
married a month after she graduated, and she lived
only until I was ten; yes, it is a long way back to
my mother's time here, though the school was fifteen
or twenty years old then, I believe. Would
you like to see my mother, Miss Rebecca?"

The girl took the leather case gently and opened
it to find an innocent, pink-and-white daisy of a
face, so confiding, so sensitive, that it went straight
to the heart. It made Rebecca feel old, experienced,
and maternal. She longed on the instant to comfort
and strengthen such a tender young thing.

"Oh, what a sweet, sweet, flowery face!" she whispered softly.

"The flower had to bear all sorts of storms," said
Adam gravely. "The bitter weather of the world
bent its slender stalk, bowed its head, and dragged
it to the earth. I was only a child and could do
nothing to protect and nourish it, and there was no
one else to stand between it and trouble. Now I
have success and money and power, all that would
have kept her alive and happy, and it is too late.
She died for lack of love and care, nursing and
cherishing, and I can never forget it. All that has
come to me seems now and then so useless, since I
cannot share it with her!"

This was a new Mr. Aladdin, and Rebecca's heart
gave a throb of sympathy and comprehension. This
explained the tired look in his eyes, the look that
peeped out now and then, under all his gay speech
and laughter.

"I'm so glad I know," she said, "and so glad I
could see her just as she was when she tied that
white muslin hat under her chin and saw her yellow
curls and her sky-blue eyes in the glass. Mustn't
she have been happy! I wish she could have been
kept so, and had lived to see you grow up strong
and good. My mother is always sad and busy, but
once when she looked at John I heard her say, `He
makes up for everything.' That's what your mother
would have thought about you if she had lived,
and perhaps she does as it is."

"You are a comforting little person, Rebecca,"
said Adam, rising from his chair.

As Rebecca rose, the tears still trembling on her
lashes, he looked at her suddenly as with new vision.

"Good-by!" he said, taking her slim brown
hands in his, adding, as if he saw her for the first
time, "Why, little Rose-Red-Snow-White is making
way for a new girl! Burning the midnight oil and
doing four years' work in three is supposed to dull
the eye and blanch the cheek, yet Rebecca's eyes
are bright and she has a rosy color! Her long braids
are looped one on the other so that they make a
black letter U behind, and they are tied with grand
bows at the top! She is so tall that she reaches
almost to my shoulder. This will never do in the
world! How will Mr. Aladdin get on without his
comforting little friend! He doesn't like grown-up
young ladies in long trains and wonderful fine
clothes; they frighten and bore him!"

"Oh, Mr. Aladdin!" cried Rebecca eagerly,
taking his jest quite seriously; "I am not fifteen
yet, and it will be three years before I'm a young
lady; please don't give me up until you have to!"

"I won't; I promise you that," said Adam.
"Rebecca," he continued, after a moment's pause,
"who is that young girl with a lot of pretty red
hair and very citified manners? She escorted me
down the hill; do you know whom I mean?"

"It must be Huldah Meserve; she is from Riverboro."

Adam put a finger under Rebecca's chin and
looked into her eyes; eyes as soft, as clear, as
unconscious, and childlike as they had been when she
was ten. He remembered the other pair of challenging
blue ones that had darted coquettish glances
through half-dropped lids, shot arrowy beams from
under archly lifted brows, and said gravely, "Don't
form yourself on her, Rebecca; clover blossoms
that grow in the fields beside Sunnybrook mustn't
be tied in the same bouquet with gaudy sunflowers;
they are too sweet and fragrant and wholesome."



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