"TH' INEVITABLE YOKE"
Rebecca's heart beat high at this sweet
praise from her hero's lips, but before she
had found words to thank him, Mr. and
Mrs. Cobb, who had been modestly biding their
time in a corner, approached her and she introduced
them to Mr. Ladd.
"Where, where is aunt Jane?" she cried, holding
aunt Sarah's hand on one side and uncle Jerry's
on the other.
"I'm sorry, lovey, but we've got bad news for you."
"Is aunt Miranda worse? She is; I can see it
by your looks;" and Rebecca's color faded.
"She had a second stroke yesterday morning
jest when she was helpin' Jane lay out her things
to come here to-day. Jane said you wan't to know
anything about it till the exercises was all over, and
we promised to keep it secret till then."
"I will go right home with you, aunt Sarah. I
must just run to tell Miss Maxwell, for after I had
packed up to-morrow I was going to Brunswick with
her. Poor aunt Miranda! And I have been so gay
and happy all day, except that I was longing for
mother and aunt Jane."
"There ain't no harm in bein' gay, lovey; that's
what Jane wanted you to be. And Miranda's got
her speech back, for your aunt has just sent a letter
sayin' she's better; and I'm goin' to set up to-night,
so you can stay here and have a good sleep, and get
your things together comfortably to-morrow."
"I'll pack your trunk for you, Becky dear, and
attend to all our room things," said Emma Jane,
who had come towards the group and heard the
sorrowful news from the brick house.
They moved into one of the quiet side pews,
where Hannah and her husband and John joined
them. From time to time some straggling acquaintance
or old schoolmate would come up to congratulate
Rebecca and ask why she had hidden herself
in a corner. Then some member of the class would
call to her excitedly, reminding her not to be late
at the picnic luncheon, or begging her to be early
at the class party in the evening. All this had an
air of unreality to Rebecca. In the midst of the
happy excitement of the last two days, when
"blushing honors" had been falling thick upon her, and
behind the delicious exaltation of the morning, had
been the feeling that the condition was a transient
one, and that the burden, the struggle, the anxiety,
would soon loom again on the horizon. She longed
to steal away into the woods with dear old John,
grown so manly and handsome, and get some comfort
Meantime Adam Ladd and Mr. Cobb had been
having an animated conversation.
"I s'pose up to Boston, girls like that one are as
thick as blackb'ries?" uncle Jerry said, jerking his
head interrogatively in Rebecca's direction.
"They may be," smiled Adam, taking in the old
man's mood; "only I don't happen to know one."
"My eyesight bein' poor 's the reason she looked
han'somest of any girl on the platform, I s'pose?"
"There's no failure in my eyes," responded Adam,
"but that was how the thing seemed to me!"
"What did you think of her voice? Anything extry about it?"
"Made the others sound poor and thin, I thought."
"Well, I'm glad to hear your opinion, you bein'
a traveled man, for mother says I'm foolish 'bout
Rebecky and hev been sence the fust. Mother
scolds me for spoilin' her, but I notice mother ain't
fur behind when it comes to spoilin'. Land! it
made me sick, thinkin' o' them parents travelin'
miles to see their young ones graduate, and then
when they got here hevin' to compare 'em with Rebecky.
Good-by, Mr. Ladd, drop in some day when
you come to Riverboro."
"I will," said Adam, shaking the old man's hand
cordially; "perhaps to-morrow if I drive Rebecca
home, as I shall offer to do. Do you think Miss
Sawyer's condition is serious?"
"Well, the doctor don't seem to know; but anyhow
she's paralyzed, and she'll never walk fur
again, poor soul! She ain't lost her speech; that'll
be a comfort to her."
Adam left the church, and in crossing the common
came upon Miss Maxwell doing the honors
of the institution, as she passed from group to
group of strangers and guests. Knowing that
she was deeply interested in all Rebecca's plans, he
told her, as he drew her aside, that the girl would
have to leave Wareham for Riverboro the next day.
"That is almost more than I can bear!" exclaimed
Miss Maxwell, sitting down on a bench and stabbing
the greensward with her parasol. "It seems to me
Rebecca never has any respite. I had so many
plans for her this next month in fitting her for her
position, and now she will settle down to housework
again, and to the nursing of that poor, sick, cross old aunt."
"If it had not been for the cross old aunt,
Rebecca would still have been at Sunnybrook; and
from the standpoint of educational advantages, or
indeed advantages of any sort, she might as well
have been in the backwoods," returned Adam.
"That is true; I was vexed when I spoke, for I
thought an easier and happier day was dawning for
my prodigy and pearl."
"OUR prodigy and pearl," corrected Adam.
"Oh, yes!" she laughed. "I always forget that
it pleases you to pretend you discovered Rebecca."
"I believe, though, that happier days are dawning
for her," continued Adam. "It must be a secret
for the present, but Mrs. Randall's farm will be
bought by the new railroad. We must have right
of way through the land, and the station will be
built on her property. She will receive six thousand
dollars, which, though not a fortune, will yield her
three or four hundred dollars a year, if she will
allow me to invest it for her. There is a mortgage
on the land; that paid, and Rebecca self-supporting,
the mother ought to push the education of the oldest
boy, who is a fine, ambitious fellow. He should
be taken away from farm work and settled at his studies."
"We might form ourselves into a Randall
Protective Agency, Limited," mused Miss Maxwell. "I
confess I want Rebecca to have a career."
"I don't," said Adam promptly.
"Of course you don't. Men have no interest in
the careers of women! But I know Rebecca better than you."
"You understand her mind better, but not
necessarily her heart. You are considering her for the
moment as prodigy; I am thinking of her more as pearl."
"Well," sighed Miss Maxwell whimsically, "prodigy
or pearl, the Randall Protective Agency may
pull Rebecca in opposite directions, but nevertheless
she will follow her saint."
That will content me," said Adam gravely.
"Particularly if the saint beckons your way."
And Miss Maxwell looked up and smiled provokingly.
Rebecca did not see her aunt Miranda till she
had been at the brick house for several days.
Miranda steadily refused to have any one but Jane in
the room until her face had regained its natural
look, but her door was always ajar, and Jane fancied
she liked to hear Rebecca's quick, light step. Her
mind was perfectly clear now, and, save that she
could not move, she was most of the time quite free
from pain, and alert in every nerve to all that was
going on within or without the house. "Were the
windfall apples being picked up for sauce; were the
potatoes thick in the hills; was the corn tosselin'
out; were they cuttin' the upper field; were they
keepin' fly-paper laid out everywheres; were there
any ants in the dairy; was the kindlin' wood holdin'
out; had the bank sent the cowpons?"
Poor Miranda Sawyer! Hovering on the verge
of the great beyond,--her body "struck" and no
longer under control of her iron will,--no divine
visions floated across her tired brain; nothing but
petty cares and sordid anxieties. Not all at once
can the soul talk with God, be He ever so near. If
the heavenly language never has been learned,
quick as is the spiritual sense in seizing the facts it
needs, then the poor soul must use the words and
phrases it has lived on and grown into day by day.
Poor Miss Miranda!--held fast within the prison
walls of her own nature, blind in the presence of
revelation because she had never used the spiritual
eye, deaf to angelic voices because she had not used
the spiritual ear.
There came a morning when she asked for
Rebecca. The door was opened into the dim sick-
room, and Rebecca stood there with the sunlight
behind her, her hands full of sweet peas. Miranda's
pale, sharp face, framed in its nightcap, looked
haggard on the pillow, and her body was pitifully still
under the counterpane.
"Come in," she said; "I ain't dead yet. Don't
mess up the bed with them flowers, will ye?"
"Oh, no! They're going in a glass pitcher," said
Rebecca, turning to the washstand as she tried to
control her voice and stop the tears that sprang to her eyes.
"Let me look at ye; come closer. What dress
are ye wearin'?" said the old aunt in her cracked, weak voice.
"My blue calico."
"Is your cashmere holdin' its color?"
"Yes, aunt Miranda."
"Do you keep it in a dark closet hung on the
wrong side, as I told ye?"
"Has your mother made her jelly?"
"She hasn't said."
"She always had the knack o' writin' letters with
nothin' in 'em. What's Mark broke sence I've been sick?"
"Nothing at all, aunt Miranda."
"Why, what's the matter with him? Gittin'
lazy, ain't he? How 's John turnin' out?"
"He's going to be the best of us all."
"I hope you don't slight things in the kitchen
because I ain't there. Do you scald the coffee-pot
and turn it upside down on the winder-sill?"
"Yes, aunt Miranda."
"It's always `yes' with you, and `yes' with
Jane," groaned Miranda, trying to move her stiffened
body; "but all the time I lay here knowin'
there's things done the way I don't like 'em."
There was a long pause, during which Rebecca
sat down by the bedside and timidly touched her
aunt's hand, her heart swelling with tender pity at
the gaunt face and closed eyes.
"I was dreadful ashamed to have you graduate
in cheesecloth, Rebecca, but I couldn't help it no-
how. You'll hear the reason some time, and know
I tried to make it up to ye. I'm afraid you was a
"No," Rebecca answered. "Ever so many people
said our dresses were the very prettiest; they looked
like soft lace. You're not to be anxious about
anything. Here I am all grown up and graduated,--
number three in a class of twenty-two, aunt
Miranda,--and good positions offered me already.
Look at me, big and strong and young, all ready to
go into the world and show what you and aunt
Jane have done for me. If you want me near, I'll
take the Edgewood school, so that I can be here
nights and Sundays to help; and if you get better,
then I'll go to Augusta,--for that's a hundred dollars more,
with music lessons and other things beside."
"You listen to me," said Miranda quaveringly.
"Take the best place, regardless o' my sickness.
I'd like to live long enough to know you'd paid off
that mortgage, but I guess I shan't."
Here she ceased abruptly, having talked more
than she had for weeks; and Rebecca stole out of
the room, to cry by herself and wonder if old age
must be so grim, so hard, so unchastened and
unsweetened, as it slipped into the valley of the shadow.
The days went on, and Miranda grew stronger
and stronger; her will seemed unassailable, and
before long she could be moved into a chair by the
window, her dominant thought being to arrive at
such a condition of improvement that the doctor
need not call more than once a week, instead of
daily; thereby diminishing the bill, that was mount-
ing to such a terrifying sum that it haunted her
thoughts by day and dreams by night.
Little by little hope stole back into Rebecca's
young heart. Aunt Jane began to "clear starch"
her handkerchiefs and collars and purple muslin
dress, so that she might be ready to go to Brunswick
at any moment when the doctor pronounced
Miranda well on the road to recovery. Everything
beautiful was to happen in Brunswick if she
could be there by August,--everything that heart
could wish or imagination conceive, for she was to
be Miss Emily's very own visitor, and sit at table
with college professors and other great men.
At length the day dawned when the few clean,
simple dresses were packed in the hair trunk,
together with her beloved coral necklace, her cheesecloth
graduating dress, her class pin, aunt Jane's
lace cape, and the one new hat, which she tried on
every night before going to bed. It was of white
chip with a wreath of cheap white roses and green
leaves, and cost between two and three dollars, an
unprecedented sum in Rebecca's experience. The
effect of its glories when worn with her nightdress
was dazzling enough, but if ever it appeared in
conjunction with the cheesecloth gown, Rebecca felt
that even reverend professors might regard it with
respect. It is probable indeed that any professorial
gaze lucky enough to meet a pair of dark eyes shining
under that white rose garland would never have
stopped at respect!
Then, when all was ready and Abijah Flagg at
the door, came a telegram from Hannah: "Come
at once. Mother has had bad accident."
In less than an hour Rebecca was started on her
way to Sunnybrook, her heart palpitating with fear
as to what might be awaiting her at her journey's end.
Death, at all events, was not there to meet her;
but something that looked at first only too much
like it. Her mother had been standing on the
haymow superintending some changes in the barn,
had been seized with giddiness, they thought, and
slipped. The right knee was fractured and the back
strained and hurt, but she was conscious and in no
immediate danger, so Rebecca wrote, when she had
a moment to send aunt Jane the particulars.
"I don' know how 'tis," grumbled Miranda, who
was not able to sit up that day; "but from a child
I could never lay abed without Aurelia's gettin' sick
too. I don' know 's she could help fallin', though
it ain't anyplace for a woman,--a haymow; but
if it hadn't been that, 't would 'a' been somethin'
else. Aurelia was born unfortunate. Now she'll
probably be a cripple, and Rebecca'll have to nurse
her instead of earning a good income somewheres else."
"Her first duty 's to her mother," said aunt Jane;
"I hope she'll always remember that."
"Nobody remembers anything they'd ought to,
--at seventeen," responded Miranda. "Now that
I'm strong again, there's things I want to consider
with you, Jane, things that are on my mind night
and day. We've talked 'em over before; now we'll
settle 'em. When I'm laid away, do you want to
take Aurelia and the children down here to the brick
house? There's an awful passel of 'em,--Aurelia,
Jenny, and Fanny; but I won't have Mark. Hannah
can take him; I won't have a great boy stompin'
out the carpets and ruinin' the furniture, though
I know when I'm dead I can't hinder ye, if you
make up your mind to do anything."
"I shouldn't like to go against your feelings,
especially in laying out your money, Miranda," said Jane.
"Don't tell Rebecca I've willed her the brick
house. She won't git it till I'm gone, and I want to
take my time 'bout dyin' and not be hurried off by
them that's goin' to profit by it; nor I don't want to
be thanked, neither. I s'pose she'll use the front
stairs as common as the back and like as not have
water brought into the kitchen, but mebbe when
I've been dead a few years I shan't mind. She sets
such store by you, she'll want you to have your home
here as long's you live, but anyway I've wrote it
down that way; though Lawyer Burns's wills don't
hold more'n half the time. He's cheaper, but I
guess it comes out jest the same in the end. I
wan't goin' to have the fust man Rebecca picks up
for a husband turnin' you ou'doors."
There was a long pause, during which Jane knit
silently, wiping the tears from her eyes from time
to time, as she looked at the pitiful figure lying
weakly on the pillows. Suddenly Miranda said slowly
"I don' know after all but you might as well
take Mark; I s'pose there's tame boys as well as
wild ones. There ain't a mite o' sense in havin'
so many children, but it's a turrible risk splittin' up
families and farmin' 'em out here 'n' there; they'd
never come to no good, an' everybody would keep
rememberin' their mother was a Sawyer. Now if
you'll draw down the curtin, I'll try to sleep."
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Room | Rebecca
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