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Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm
by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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Two months had gone by,--two months of
steady, fagging work; of cooking, washing,
ironing; of mending and caring for
the three children, although Jenny was fast becoming
a notable little housewife, quick, ready, and
capable. They were months in which there had
been many a weary night of watching by Aurelia's
bedside; of soothing and bandaging and rubbing;
of reading and nursing, even of feeding and bathing.
The ceaseless care was growing less now, and
the family breathed more freely, for the mother's
sigh of pain no longer came from the stifling
bedroom, where, during a hot and humid August,
Aurelia had lain, suffering with every breath she
drew. There would be no question of walking for
many a month to come, but blessings seemed to
multiply when the blinds could be opened and the
bed drawn near the window; when mother, with
pillows behind her, could at least sit and watch the
work going on, could smile at the past agony and
forget the weary hours that had led to her present
comparative ease and comfort.

No girl of seventeen can pass through such an
ordeal and come out unchanged; no girl of Re-
becca's temperament could go through it without
some inward repining and rebellion. She was doing
tasks in which she could not be fully happy,--heavy
and trying tasks, which perhaps she could never
do with complete success or satisfaction; and like
promise of nectar to thirsty lips was the vision of
joys she had had to put aside for the performance
of dull daily duty. How brief, how fleeting,
had been those splendid visions when the universe
seemed open for her young strength to battle
and triumph in! How soon they had faded into
the light of common day! At first, sympathy and
grief were so keen she thought of nothing but
her mother's pain. No consciousness of self interposed
between her and her filial service; then, as
the weeks passed, little blighted hopes began to stir
and ache in her breast; defeated ambitions raised
their heads as if to sting her; unattainable delights
teased her by their very nearness; by the narrow
line of separation that lay between her and their
realization. It is easy, for the moment, to tread the
narrow way, looking neither to the right nor left,
upborne by the sense of right doing; but that first
joy of self-denial, the joy that is like fire in the
blood, dies away; the path seems drearier and the
footsteps falter. Such a time came to Rebecca, and
her bright spirit flagged when the letter was
received saying that her position in Augusta had been
filled. There was a mutinous leap of the heart then,
a beating of wings against the door of the cage, a
longing for the freedom of the big world outside.
It was the stirring of the powers within her, though
she called it by no such grand name. She felt as
if the wind of destiny were blowing her flame
hither and thither, burning, consuming her, but
kindling nothing. All this meant one stormy night
in her little room at Sunnybrook, but the clouds
blew over, the sun shone again, a rainbow stretched
across the sky, while "hope clad in April green"
smiled into her upturned face and beckoned her on,

"Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be."

Threads of joy ran in and out of the gray tangled
web of daily living. There was the attempt at odd
moments to make the bare little house less bare by
bringing in out-of-doors, taking a leaf from Nature's
book and noting how she conceals ugliness wherever
she finds it. Then there was the satisfaction of being
mistress of the poor domain; of planning, governing,
deciding; of bringing order out of chaos; of
implanting gayety in the place of inert resignation to
the inevitable. Another element of comfort was the
children's love, for they turned to her as flowers to
the sun, drawing confidently on her fund of stories,
serene in the conviction that there was no limit to
Rebecca's power of make-believe. In this, and in
yet greater things, little as she realized it, the law
of compensation was working in her behalf, for in
those anxious days mother and daughter found and
knew each other as never before. A new sense was
born in Rebecca as she hung over her mother's bed
of pain and unrest,--a sense that comes only of
ministering, a sense that grows only when the strong
bend toward the weak. As for Aurelia, words could
never have expressed her dumb happiness when the
real revelation of motherhood was vouchsafed her.
In all the earlier years when her babies were young,
carking cares and anxieties darkened the fireside
with their brooding wings. Then Rebecca had gone
away, and in the long months of absence her mind
and soul had grown out of her mother's knowledge,
so that now, when Aurelia had time and strength
to study her child, she was like some enchanting
changeling. Aurelia and Hannah had gone on in
the dull round and the common task, growing duller
and duller; but now, on a certain stage of life's
journey, who should appear but this bewildering
being, who gave wings to thoughts that had only
crept before; who brought color and grace and
harmony into the dun brown texture of existence.

You might harness Rebecca to the heaviest
plough, and while she had youth on her side, she
would always remember the green earth under her
feet and the blue sky over her head. Her physical
eye saw the cake she was stirring and the loaf she
was kneading; her physical ear heard the kitchen
fire crackling and the teakettle singing, but ever
and anon her fancy mounted on pinions, rested
itself, renewed its strength in the upper air. The
bare little farmhouse was a fixed fact, but she had
many a palace into which she now and then withdrew;
palaces peopled with stirring and gallant figures
belonging to the world of romance; palaces
not without their heavenly apparitions too, breathing
celestial counsel. Every time she retired to her
citadel of dreams she came forth radiant and
refreshed, as one who has seen the evening star, or
heard sweet music, or smelled the rose of joy.

Aurelia could have understood the feeling of
a narrow-minded and conventional hen who has
brought a strange, intrepid duckling into the world;
but her situation was still more wonderful, for she
could only compare her sensations to those of some
quiet brown Dorking who has brooded an ordinary
egg and hatched a bird of paradise. Such an idea
had crossed her mind more than once during the
past fortnight, and it flashed to and fro this mellow
October morning when Rebecca came into the room
with her arms full of goldenrod and flaming autumn leaves.

"Just a hint of the fall styles, mother," she said,
slipping the stem of a gorgeous red and yellow
sapling between the mattress and the foot of the bed.
"This was leaning over the pool, and I was afraid
it would be vain if I left it there too long looking
at its beautiful reflection, so I took it away from
danger; isn't it wonderful? How I wish I could
carry one to poor aunt Miranda to-day! There's
never a flower in the brick house when I'm away."

It was a marvelous morning. The sun had climbed
into a world that held in remembrance only a
succession of golden days and starlit nights. The air
was fragrant with ripening fruit, and there was a
mad little bird on a tree outside the door nearly
bursting his throat with joy of living. He had
forgotten that summer was over, that winter must ever
come; and who could think of cold winds, bare
boughs, or frozen streams on such a day? A painted
moth came in at the open window and settled on
the tuft of brilliant leaves. Aurelia heard the bird
and looked from the beauty of the glowing bush to
her tall, splendid daughter, standing like young
Spring with golden Autumn in her arms.

Then suddenly she covered her eyes and cried,
"I can't bear it! Here I lie chained to this bed,
interfering with everything you want to do. It's all
wasted! All my saving and doing without; all your
hard study; all Mirandy's outlay; everything that
we thought was going to be the making of you!"

"Mother, mother, don't talk so, don't think
so!" exclaimed Rebecca, sitting down impetuously
on the floor by the bed and dropping the goldenrod
by her side. "Why, mother, I'm only a little past
seventeen! This person in a purple calico apron
with flour on her nose is only the beginnings of me!
Do you remember the young tree that John transplanted?
We had a dry summer and a cold winter
and it didn't grow a bit, nor show anything of all
we did for it; then there was a good year and it
made up for lost time. This is just my little
`rooting season,' mother, but don't go and believe my
day is over, because it hasn't begun! The old
maple by the well that's in its hundredth year had
new leaves this summer, so there must be hope for
me at seventeen!"

"You can put a brave face on it," sobbed
Aurelia, "but you can't deceive me. You've lost your
place; you'll never see your friends here, and
you're nothing but a drudge!"

"I look like a drudge," said Rebecca mysteriously,
with laughing eyes, "but I really am a princess;
you mustn't tell, but this is only a disguise;
I wear it for reasons of state. The king and queen
who are at present occupying my throne are very
old and tottering, and are going to abdicate shortly
in my favor. It's rather a small kingdom, I suppose,
as kingdoms go, so there isn't much struggle
for it in royal circles, and you mustn't expect to
see a golden throne set with jewels. It will probably
be only of ivory with a nice screen of peacock
feathers for a background; but you shall have a
comfortable chair very near it, with quantities of slaves
to do what they call in novels your `lightest bidding.'"

Aurelia smiled in spite of herself, and though not
perhaps wholly deceived, she was comforted.

"I only hope you won't have to wait too long for
your thrones and your kingdoms, Rebecca," she
said, "and that I shall have a sight of them before
I die; but life looks very hard and rough to me,
what with your aunt Miranda a cripple at the brick
house, me another here at the farm, you tied hand
and foot, first with one and then with the other,
to say nothing of Jenny and Fanny and Mark!
You've got something of your father's happy
disposition, or it would weigh on you as it does on me."

"Why, mother!" cried Rebecca, clasping her
knees with her hands; "why, mother, it's enough
joy just to be here in the world on a day like this;
to have the chance of seeing, feeling, doing, becoming!
When you were seventeen, mother, wasn't it
good just to be alive? You haven't forgotten?"

"No," said Aurelia, "but I wasn't so much alive
as you are, never in the world."

"I often think," Rebecca continued, walking to
the window and looking out at the trees,--"I often
think how dreadful it would be if I were not here
at all. If Hannah had come, and then, instead of
me, John; John and Jenny and Fanny and the
others, but no Rebecca; never any Rebecca! To
be alive makes up for everything; there ought to
be fears in my heart, but there aren't; something
stronger sweeps them out, something like a wind.
Oh, see! There is Will driving up the lane,
mother, and he ought to have a letter from the brick house."



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