The old stage coach was rumbling alongthe dusty road that runs from Maplewoodto Riverboro. The day was as warmas midsummer, though it was only the middle ofMay, and Mr. Jeremiah Cobb was favoring thehorses as much as possible, yet never losing sightof the fact that he carried the mail. The hills weremany, and the reins lay loosely in his hands as helolled back in his seat and extended one foot andleg luxuriously over the dashboard. His brimmedhat of worn felt was well pulled over his eyes, andhe revolved a quid of tobacco in his left cheek.
There was one passenger in the coach,--a smalldark-haired person in a glossy buff calico dress.
She was so slender and so stiffly starched thatshe slid from space to space on the leather cushions,though she braced herself against the middleseat with her feet and extended her cotton-glovedhands on each side, in order to maintain some sortof balance. Whenever the wheels sank farther thanusual into a rut, or jolted suddenly over a stone,she bounded involuntarily into the air, came downagain, pushed back her funny little straw hat, andpicked up or settled more firmly a small pink sunshade, which seemed to be her chief responsibility,--unless we except a bead purse, into whichshe looked whenever the condition of the roadswould permit, finding great apparent satisfactionin that its precious contents neither disappearednor grew less. Mr. Cobb guessed nothing of theseharassing details of travel, his business being tocarry people to their destinations, not, necessarily,to make them comfortable on the way. Indeed hehad forgotten the very existence of this oneunnoteworthy little passenger.
When he was about to leave the post-office inMaplewood that morning, a woman had alightedfrom a wagon, and coming up to him, inquiredwhether this were the Riverboro stage, and if hewere Mr. Cobb. Being answered in the affirmative,she nodded to a child who was eagerly waitingfor the answer, and who ran towards her as if shefeared to be a moment too late. The child mighthave been ten or eleven years old perhaps, butwhatever the number of her summers, she had anair of being small for her age. Her mother helpedher into the stage coach, deposited a bundle anda bouquet of lilacs beside her, superintended the"roping on" behind of an old hair trunk, and finallypaid the fare, counting out the silver with greatcare.
"I want you should take her to my sisters'
in Riverboro," she said. "Do you know Mi-randy and Jane Sawyer? They live in the brickhouse."Lord bless your soul, he knew 'em as well asif he'd made 'em!
"Well, she's going there, and they're expectingher. Will you keep an eye on her, please? If shecan get out anywhere and get with folks, or getanybody in to keep her company, she'll do it.
Good-by, Rebecca; try not to get into any mischief,and sit quiet, so you'll look neat an' nice whenyou get there. Don't be any trouble to Mr. Cobb.
--You see, she's kind of excited.--We came onthe cars from Temperance yesterday, slept all nightat my cousin's, and drove from her house--eightmiles it is--this morning.""Good-by, mother, don't worry; you know itisn't as if I hadn't traveled before."The woman gave a short sardonic laugh and saidin an explanatory way to Mr. Cobb, "She's been toWareham and stayed over night; that isn't muchto be journey-proud on!""It WAS TRAVELING, mother," said the childeagerly and willfully. "It was leaving the farm, andputting up lunch in a basket, and a little ridingand a little steam cars, and we carried our nightgowns.""Don't tell the whole village about it, if we did,"said the mother, interrupting the reminiscences ofthis experienced voyager. "Haven't I told youbefore," she whispered, in a last attempt atdiscipline, "that you shouldn't talk about nightgowns and stockings and--things like that, in aloud tone of voice, and especially when there'smen folks round?""I know, mother, I know, and I won't. All Iwant to say is"--here Mr. Cobb gave a cluck,slapped the reins, and the horses started sedatelyon their daily task--"all I want to say is that itis a journey when"--the stage was really underway now and Rebecca had to put her head out ofthe window over the door in order to finish hersentence--"it IS a journey when you carry anightgown!"The objectionable word, uttered in a high treble,floated back to the offended ears of Mrs. Randall,who watched the stage out of sight, gathered upher packages from the bench at the store door,and stepped into the wagon that had been standingat the hitching-post. As she turned the horse'shead towards home she rose to her feet for amoment, and shading her eyes with her hand, lookedat a cloud of dust in the dim distance.
"Mirandy'll have her hands full, I guess," shesaid to herself; "but I shouldn't wonder if it wouldbe the making of Rebecca."All this had been half an hour ago, and the sun,the heat, the dust, the contemplation of errands tobe done in the great metropolis of Milltown, hadlulled Mr. Cobb's never active mind into completeoblivion as to his promise of keeping an eye onRebecca.
Suddenly he heard a small voice above the rattleand rumble of the wheels and the creaking of theharness. At first he thought it was a cricket, a treetoad, or a bird, but having determined the directionfrom which it came, he turned his head over hisshoulder and saw a small shape hanging as far outof the window as safety would allow. A long blackbraid of hair swung with the motion of the coach;the child held her hat in one hand and with theother made ineffectual attempts to stab the driverwith her microscopic sunshade.
"Please let me speak!" she called.
Mr. Cobb drew up the horses obediently.
"Does it cost any more to ride up there withyou?" she asked. "It's so slippery and shiny downhere, and the stage is so much too big for me, thatI rattle round in it till I'm 'most black and blue.
And the windows are so small I can only see piecesof things, and I've 'most broken my neck stretchinground to find out whether my trunk has fallenoff the back. It's my mother's trunk, and she'svery choice of it."Mr. Cobb waited until this flow of conversation,or more properly speaking this flood of criticism,had ceased, and then said jocularly:--"You can come up if you want to; there ain'tno extry charge to sit side o' me." Whereupon hehelped her out, "boosted" her up to the front seat,and resumed his own place.
Rebecca sat down carefully, smoothing her dressunder her with painstaking precision, and puttingher sunshade under its extended folds between thedriver and herself. This done she pushed back herhat, pulled up her darned white cotton gloves, andsaid delightedly:--"Oh! this is better! This is like traveling! Iam a real passenger now, and down there I felt likeour setting hen when we shut her up in a coop. Ihope we have a long, long ways to go?""Oh! we've only just started on it," Mr. Cobbresponded genially; "it's more 'n two hours.""Only two hours," she sighed "That will behalf past one; mother will be at cousin Ann's, thechildren at home will have had their dinner, andHannah cleared all away. I have some lunch,because mother said it would be a bad beginning to getto the brick house hungry and have aunt Mirandyhave to get me something to eat the first thing.--It's a good growing day, isn't it?""It is, certain; too hot, most. Why don't youput up your parasol?"She extended her dress still farther over thearticle in question as she said, "Oh dear no! I neverput it up when the sun shines; pink fades awfully,you know, and I only carry it to meetin' cloudySundays; sometimes the sun comes out all of asudden, and I have a dreadful time covering it up;it's the dearest thing in life to me, but it's an awfulcare."At this moment the thought gradually permeatedMr. Jeremiah Cobb's slow-moving mind that thebird perched by his side was a bird of very differentfeather from those to which he was accustomed inhis daily drives. He put the whip back in its socket,took his foot from the dashboard, pushed his hatback, blew his quid of tobacco into the road, andhaving thus cleared his mental decks for action, he tookhis first good look at the passenger, a look whichshe met with a grave, childlike stare of friendlycuriosity.
The buff calico was faded, but scrupulously clean,and starched within an inch of its life. From thelittle standing ruffle at the neck the child's slenderthroat rose very brown and thin, and the head lookedsmall to bear the weight of dark hair that hung ina thick braid to her waist. She wore an odd littlevizored cap of white leghorn, which may either havebeen the latest thing in children's hats, or some bitof ancient finery furbished up for the occasion. Itwas trimmed with a twist of buff ribbon and a clusterof black and orange porcupine quills, which hungor bristled stiffly over one ear, giving her thequaintest and most unusual appearance. Her face waswithout color and sharp in outline. As to features,she must have had the usual number, though Mr.
Cobb's attention never proceeded so far as nose,forehead, or chin, being caught on the way and heldfast by the eyes. Rebecca's eyes were like faith,--"the substance of things hoped for, the evidenceof things not seen." Under her delicately etchedbrows they glowed like two stars, their dancinglights half hidden in lustrous darkness. Theirglance was eager and full of interest, yet neversatisfied; their steadfast gaze was brilliant andmysterious, and had the effect of looking directly throughthe obvious to something beyond, in the object, inthe landscape, in you. They had never beenaccounted for, Rebecca's eyes. The school teacherand the minister at Temperance had tried andfailed; the young artist who came for the summerto sketch the red barn, the ruined mill, and thebridge ended by giving up all these local beautiesand devoting herself to the face of a child,--asmall, plain face illuminated by a pair of eyes carryingsuch messages, such suggestions, such hints ofsleeping power and insight, that one never tired oflooking into their shining depths, nor of fancyingthat what one saw there was the reflection of one'sown thought.
Mr. Cobb made none of these generalizations;his remark to his wife that night was simply to theeffect that whenever the child looked at him sheknocked him galley-west.
"Miss Ross, a lady that paints, gave me thesunshade," said Rebecca, when she had exchangedlooks with Mr. Cobb and learned his face by heart.
"Did you notice the pinked double ruffle and thewhite tip and handle? They're ivory. The handleis scarred, you see. That's because Fanny suckedand chewed it in meeting when I wasn't looking.
I've never felt the same to Fanny since.""Is Fanny your sister?""She's one of them.""How many are there of you?""Seven. There's verses written about sevenchildren:--"`Quick was the little Maid's reply,O master! we are seven!'
I learned it to speak in school, but the scholarswere hateful and laughed. Hannah is the oldest, Icome next, then John, then Jenny, then Mark, thenFanny, then Mira.""Well, that IS a big family!""Far too big, everybody says," replied Rebeccawith an unexpected and thoroughly grown-up candorthat induced Mr. Cobb to murmur, "I swan!"and insert more tobacco in his left cheek.
"They're dear, but such a bother, and cost somuch to feed, you see," she rippled on. "Hannahand I haven't done anything but put babies to bedat night and take them up in the morning for yearsand years. But it's finished, that's one comfort,and we'll have a lovely time when we're all grownup and the mortgage is paid off.""All finished? Oh, you mean you've comeaway?""No, I mean they're all over and done with;our family 's finished. Mother says so, and she alwayskeeps her promises. There hasn't been anysince Mira, and she's three. She was born theday father died Aunt Miranda wanted Hannahto come to Riverboro instead of me, but mothercouldn't spare her; she takes hold of houseworkbetter than I do, Hannah does. I told mother lastnight if there was likely to be any more childrenwhile I was away I'd have to be sent for, for whenthere's a baby it always takes Hannah and meboth, for mother has the cooking and the farm.""Oh, you live on a farm, do ye? Where is it?
--near to where you got on?""Near? Why, it must be thousands of miles!
We came from Temperance in the cars. Then wedrove a long ways to cousin Ann's and went to bed.
Then we got up and drove ever so far to Maplewood,where the stage was. Our farm is away offfrom everywheres, but our school and meetinghouse is at Temperance, and that's only two miles.
Sitting up here with you is most as good as climbingthe meeting-house steeple. I know a boy who'sbeen up on our steeple. He said the people andcows looked like flies. We haven't met any peopleyet, but I'm KIND of disappointed in the cows;--they don't look so little as I hoped they would;still (brightening) they don't look quite as big asif we were down side of them, do they? Boys alwaysdo the nice splendid things, and girls can onlydo the nasty dull ones that get left over. Theycan't climb so high, or go so far, or stay out solate, or run so fast, or anything."Mr. Cobb wiped his mouth on the back of hishand and gasped. He had a feeling that he was beinghurried from peak to peak of a mountain rangewithout time to take a good breath in between.
"I can't seem to locate your farm," he said,"though I've been to Temperance and used to liveup that way. What's your folks' name?""Randall. My mother's name is Aurelia Randall;our names are Hannah Lucy Randall, RebeccaRowena Randall, John Halifax Randall, JennyLind Randall, Marquis Randall, Fanny EllslerRandall, and Miranda Randall. Mother named halfof us and father the other half, but we didn't comeout even, so they both thought it would be nice toname Mira after aunt Miranda in Riverboro; theyhoped it might do some good, but it didn't, and nowwe call her Mira. We are all named after somebodyin particular. Hannah is Hannah at theWindow Binding Shoes, and I am taken out ofIvanhoe; John Halifax was a gentleman in a book;Mark is after his uncle Marquis de Lafayette thatdied a twin. (Twins very often don't live to growup, and triplets almost never--did you know that,Mr. Cobb?) We don't call him Marquis, only Mark.
Jenny is named for a singer and Fanny for a beautifuldancer, but mother says they're both misfits, forJenny can't carry a tune and Fanny's kind of stiff-legged. Mother would like to call them Jane andFrances and give up their middle names, but shesays it wouldn't be fair to father. She says wemust always stand up for father, because everythingwas against him, and he wouldn't have died if hehadn't had such bad luck. I think that's all thereis to tell about us," she finished seriously.
"Land o' Liberty! I should think it wasenough," ejaculated Mr. Cobb. "There wa'n'tmany names left when your mother got throughchoosin'! You've got a powerful good memory!
I guess it ain't no trouble for you to learn yourlessons, is it?""Not much; the trouble is to get the shoes togo and learn 'em. These are spandy new I've goton, and they have to last six months. Motheralways says to save my shoes. There don't seemto be any way of saving shoes but taking 'em offand going barefoot; but I can't do that in Riverborowithout shaming aunt Mirandy. I'm going toschool right along now when I'm living with auntMirandy, and in two years I'm going to the seminaryat Wareham; mother says it ought to be themaking of me! I'm going to be a painter like MissRoss when I get through school. At any rate, that'swhat _I_ think I'm going to be. Mother thinks I'dbetter teach.""Your farm ain't the old Hobbs place, is it?""No, it's just Randall's Farm. At least that'swhat mother calls it. I call it Sunnybrook Farm.""I guess it don't make no difference what youcall it so long as you know where it is," remarkedMr. Cobb sententiously.
Rebecca turned the full light of her eyes uponhim reproachfully, almost severely, as she answered:--"Oh! don't say that, and be like all the rest! Itdoes make a difference what you call things. WhenI say Randall's Farm, do you see how it looks?""No, I can't say I do," responded Mr. Cobb uneasily.
"Now when I say Sunnybrook Farm, what doesit make you think of?"Mr. Cobb felt like a fish removed from his nativeelement and left panting on the sand; there wasno evading the awful responsibility of a reply, forRebecca's eyes were searchlights, that pierced thefiction of his brain and perceived the bald spot onthe back of his head.
"I s'pose there's a brook somewheres near it,"he said timorously.
Rebecca looked disappointed but not quite dis-heartened. "That's pretty good," she saidencouragingly. "You're warm but not hot; there'sa brook, but not a common brook. It has youngtrees and baby bushes on each side of it, and it's ashallow chattering little brook with a white sandybottom and lots of little shiny pebbles. Wheneverthere's a bit of sunshine the brook catches it, andit's always full of sparkles the livelong day.
Don't your stomach feel hollow? Mine doest Iwas so 'fraid I'd miss the stage I couldn't eat anybreakfast.""You'd better have your lunch, then. I don'teat nothin' till I get to Milltown; then I get apiece o' pie and cup o' coffee.""I wish I could see Milltown. I suppose it'sbigger and grander even than Wareham; more likeParis? Miss Ross told me about Paris; she boughtmy pink sunshade there and my bead purse. Yousee how it opens with a snap? I've twenty centsin it, and it's got to last three months, for stampsand paper and ink. Mother says aunt Mirandywon't want to buy things like those when she'sfeeding and clothing me and paying for my schoolbooks.""Paris ain't no great," said Mr. Cobbdisparagingly. "It's the dullest place in the State o'
Maine. I've druv there many a time."Again Rebecca was obliged to reprove Mr. Cobb,tacitly and quietly, but none the less surely, thoughthe reproof was dealt with one glance, quickly sentand as quickly withdrawn.
"Paris is the capital of France, and you have togo to it on a boat," she said instructively. "It's inmy geography, and it says: `The French are a gayand polite people, fond of dancing and light wines.'
I asked the teacher what light wines were, and hethought it was something like new cider, or maybeginger pop. I can see Paris as plain as day by justshutting my eyes. The beautiful ladies are alwaysgayly dancing around with pink sunshades andbead purses, and the grand gentlemen are politelydancing and drinking ginger pop. But you can seeMilltown most every day with your eyes wideopen," Rebecca said wistfully.
"Milltown ain't no great, neither," replied Mr.
Cobb, with the air of having visited all the cities ofthe earth and found them as naught. "Now youwatch me heave this newspaper right onto Mis'
Brown's doorstep."Piff! and the packet landed exactly as it wasintended, on the corn husk mat in front of thescreen door.
"Oh, how splendid that was!" cried Rebeccawith enthusiasm. "Just like the knife throwerMark saw at the circus. I wish there was a long,long row of houses each with a corn husk mat anda screen door in the middle, and a newspaper tothrow on every one!""I might fail on some of 'em, you know," saidMr. Cobb, beaming with modest pride. "If youraunt Mirandy'll let you, I'll take you down toMilltown some day this summer when the stageain't full."A thrill of delicious excitement ran throughRebecca's frame, from her new shoes up, up to theleghorn cap and down the black braid. She pressedMr. Cobb's knee ardently and said in a voice chokingwith tears of joy and astonishment, "Oh, itcan't be true, it can't; to think I should seeMilltown. It's like having a fairy godmother who asksyou your wish and then gives it to you! Did youever read Cinderella, or The Yellow Dwarf, or TheEnchanted Frog, or The Fair One with GoldenLocks?""No," said Mr. Cobb cautiously, after a moment'sreflection. "I don't seem to think I ever did readjest those partic'lar ones. Where'd you get achance at so much readin'?""Oh, I've read lots of books," answeredRebecca casually. "Father's and Miss Ross's and allthe dif'rent school teachers', and all in the Sunday-school library. I've read The Lamplighter, andScottish Chiefs, and Ivanhoe, and The Heir ofRedclyffe, and Cora, the Doctor's Wife, and DavidCopperfield, and The Gold of Chickaree, and Plutarch'sLives, and Thaddeus of Warsaw, and Pilgrim's Progress,and lots more.--What have you read?""I've never happened to read those partic'larbooks; but land! I've read a sight in my time!
Nowadays I'm so drove I get along with theAlmanac, the Weekly Argus, and the Maine StateAgriculturist.--There's the river again; this isthe last long hill, and when we get to the top of itwe'll see the chimbleys of Riverboro in thedistance. 'T ain't fur. I live 'bout half a mile beyondthe brick house myself."Rebecca's hand stirred nervously in her lap andshe moved in her seat. "I didn't think I was goingto be afraid," she said almost under her breath;"but I guess I am, just a little mite--when yousay it's coming so near.""Would you go back?" asked Mr. Cobb curiously.
She flashed him an intrepid look and then saidproudly, "I'd never go back--I might be frightened,but I'd be ashamed to run. Going to auntMirandy's is like going down cellar in the dark.
There might be ogres and giants under the stairs,--but, as I tell Hannah, there MIGHT be elves andfairies and enchanted frogs!--Is there a mainstreet to the village, like that in Wareham?""I s'pose you might call it a main street, an'
your aunt Sawyer lives on it, but there ain't nostores nor mills, an' it's an awful one-horsevillage! You have to go 'cross the river an' get onto our side if you want to see anything goin' on.""I'm almost sorry," she sighed, "because itwould be so grand to drive down a real main street,sitting high up like this behind two splendid horses,with my pink sunshade up, and everybody in townwondering who the bunch of lilacs and the hairtrunk belongs to. It would be just like the beautifullady in the parade. Last summer the circuscame to Temperance, and they had a procession inthe morning. Mother let us all walk in and wheelMira in the baby carriage, because we couldn'tafford to go to the circus in the afternoon. Andthere were lovely horses and animals in cages, andclowns on horseback; and at the very end came alittle red and gold chariot drawn by two ponies, andin it, sitting on a velvet cushion, was the snakecharmer, all dressed in satin and spangles. She wasso beautiful beyond compare, Mr. Cobb, that youhad to swallow lumps in your throat when youlooked at her, and little cold feelings crept up anddown your back. Don't you know how I mean?
Didn't you ever see anybody that made you feellike that?"Mr. Cobb was more distinctly uncomfortable atthis moment than he had been at any one timeduring the eventful morning, but he evaded thepoint dexterously by saying, "There ain't no harm,as I can see, in our makin' the grand entry in thebiggest style we can. I'll take the whip out, setup straight, an' drive fast; you hold your bo'quetin your lap, an' open your little red parasol, an'
we'll jest make the natives stare!"The child's face was radiant for a moment, butthe glow faded just as quickly as she said, "I forgot--mother put me inside, and maybe she'd wantme to be there when I got to aunt Mirandy's.
Maybe I'd be more genteel inside, and then Iwouldn't have to be jumped down and my clothesfly up, but could open the door and step down likea lady passenger. Would you please stop a minute,Mr. Cobb, and let me change?"The stage driver good-naturedly pulled up hishorses, lifted the excited little creature down, openedthe door, and helped her in, putting the lilacs andthe pink sunshade beside her.
"We've had a great trip," he said, "and we'vegot real well acquainted, haven't we?--You won'tforget about Milltown?""Never!" she exclaimed fervently; "and you'resure you won't, either?""Never! Cross my heart!" vowed Mr. Cobbsolemnly, as he remounted his perch; and as thestage rumbled down the village street between thegreen maples, those who looked from their windowssaw a little brown elf in buff calico sitting primlyon the back seat holding a great bouquet tightly inone hand and a pink parasol in the other. Had theybeen farsighted enough they might have seen, whenthe stage turned into the side dooryard of the oldbrick house, a calico yoke rising and fallingtempestuously over the beating heart beneath, the redcolor coming and going in two pale cheeks, and amist of tears swimming in two brilliant dark eyes.
Rebecca's journey had ended.
"There's the stage turnin' into the Sawyergirls' dooryard," said Mrs. Perkins to her husband.
"That must be the niece from up Temperance way.
It seems they wrote to Aurelia and invited Hannah,the oldest, but Aurelia said she could spare Rebeccabetter, if 't was all the same to Mirandy 'n' Jane;so it's Rebecca that's come. She'll be goodcomp'ny for our Emma Jane, but I don't believethey'll keep her three months! She looks blackas an Injun what I can see of her; black and kindof up-an-comin'. They used to say that one o' theRandalls married a Spanish woman, somebodythat was teachin' music and languages at a boardin'
school. Lorenzo was dark complected, you remember,and this child is, too. Well, I don't know asSpanish blood is any real disgrace, not if it's a goodways back and the woman was respectable."