On the very next Friday after this"dreadfullest fight that ever was seen," asBunyan says in Pilgrim's Progress, there weregreat doings in the little schoolhouse on the hill.
Friday afternoon was always the time chosen fordialogues, songs, and recitations, but it cannot bestated that it was a gala day in any true sense ofthe word. Most of the children hated "speakingpieces;" hated the burden of learning them,dreaded the danger of breaking down in them.
Miss Dearborn commonly went home with a headache,and never left her bed during the rest of theafternoon or evening; and the casual female parentwho attended the exercises sat on a front benchwith beads of cold sweat on her forehead, listeningto the all-too-familiar halts and stammers. Sometimesa bellowing infant who had clean forgotten hisverse would cast himself bodily on the maternalbosom and be borne out into the open air, where hewas sometimes kissed and occasionally spanked;but in any case the failure added an extra dashof gloom and dread to the occasion. The adventof Rebecca had somehow infused a new spiritinto these hitherto terrible afternoons. She hadtaught Elijah and Elisha Simpson so that theyrecited three verses of something with such comicaleffect that they delighted themselves, the teacher,and the school; while Susan, who lisped, had beenprovided with a humorous poem in which sheimpersonated a lisping child. Emma Jane andRebecca had a dialogue, and the sense of companionshipbuoyed up Emma Jane and gave her self-reliance. In fact, Miss Dearborn announced onthis particular Friday morning that the exercisespromised to be so interesting that she had invitedthe doctor's wife, the minister's wife, two membersof the school committee, and a few mothers. LivingPerkins was asked to decorate one of the black-boards and Rebecca the other. Living, who wasthe star artist of the school, chose the map of NorthAmerica. Rebecca liked better to draw thingsless realistic, and speedily, before the eyes of theenchanted multitude, there grew under her skillfulfingers an American flag done in red, white,and blue chalk, every star in its right place, everystripe fluttering in the breeze. Beside thisappeared a figure of Columbia, copied from the topof the cigar box that held the crayons.
Miss Dearborn was delighted. "I propose wegive Rebecca a good hand-clapping for such abeautiful picture--one that the whole school maywell be proud of!"The scholars clapped heartily, and Dick Carter,waving his hand, gave a rousing cheer.
Rebecca's heart leaped for joy, and to herconfusion she felt the tears rising in her eyes. Shecould hardly see the way back to her seat, for inher ignorant lonely little life she had never beensingled out for applause, never lauded, nor crowned,as in this wonderful, dazzling moment. If "noblenessenkindleth nobleness," so does enthusiasmbeget enthusiasm, and so do wit and talent enkindlewit and talent. Alice Robinson proposed thatthe school should sing Three Cheers for the Red,White, and Blue! and when they came to thechorus, all point to Rebecca's flag. Dick Cartersuggested that Living Perkins and Rebecca Randallshould sign their names to their pictures, sothat the visitors would know who drew them. HuldahMeserve asked permission to cover the largestholes in the plastered walls with boughs and fill thewater pail with wild flowers. Rebecca's mood wasabove and beyond all practical details. She satsilent, her heart so full of grateful joy that shecould hardly remember the words of her dialogue.
At recess she bore herself modestly, notwithstandingher great triumph, while in the general atmosphereof good will the Smellie-Randall hatchet wasburied and Minnie gathered maple boughs and coveredthe ugly stove with them, under Rebecca'sdirection.
Miss Dearborn dismissed the morning sessionat quarter to twelve, so that those who lived nearenough could go home for a change of dress.
Emma Jane and Rebecca ran nearly every step ofthe way, from sheer excitement, only stopping tobreathe at the stiles.
"Will your aunt Mirandy let you wear your best,or only your buff calico?" asked Emma Jane.
"I think I'll ask aunt Jane," Rebecca replied.
"Oh! if my pink was only finished! I left auntJane making the buttonholes!""I'm going to ask my mother to let me wearher garnet ring," said Emma Jane. "It would lookperfectly elergant flashing in the sun when I pointto the flag. Good-by; don't wait for me goingback; I may get a ride."Rebecca found the side door locked, but sheknew that the key was under the step, and so ofcourse did everybody else in Riverboro, for theyall did about the same thing with it. She unlockedthe door and went into the dining-room to find herlunch laid on the table and a note from aunt Janesaying that they had gone to Moderation with Mrs.
Robinson in her carryall. Rebecca swallowed apiece of bread and butter, and flew up the frontstairs to her bedroom. On the bed lay the pinkgingham dress finished by aunt Jane's kind hands.
Could she, dare she, wear it without asking? Didthe occasion justify a new costume, or would heraunts think she ought to keep it for the concert?
"I'll wear it," thought Rebecca. "They're nothere to ask, and maybe they wouldn't mind a bit;it's only gingham after all, and wouldn't be sogrand if it wasn't new, and hadn't tape trimmingon it, and wasn't pink."She unbraided her two pigtails, combed out thewaves of her hair and tied them back with a ribbon,changed her shoes, and then slipped on thepretty frock, managing to fasten all but the threemiddle buttons, which she reserved for Emma Jane.
Then her eye fell on her cherished pink sunshade,the exact match, and the girls had never seen it.
It wasn't quite appropriate for school, but sheneedn't take it into the room; she would wrap itin a piece of paper, just show it, and carry it cominghome. She glanced in the parlor looking-glassdownstairs and was electrified at the vision. Itseemed almost as if beauty of apparel could go nofurther than that heavenly pink gingham dress!
The sparkle of her eyes, glow of her cheeks, sheenof her falling hair, passed unnoticed in the all-conquering charm of the rose-colored garment. Goodness!
it was twenty minutes to one and she wouldbe late. She danced out the side door, pulled a pinkrose from a bush at the gate, and covered the milebetween the brick house and the seat of learningin an incredibly short time, meeting Emma Jane,also breathless and resplendent, at the entrance.
"Rebecca Randall!" exclaimed Emma Jane,"you're handsome as a picture!""I?" laughed Rebecca "Nonsense! it's onlythe pink gingham.""You're not good looking every day," insistedEmma Jane; "but you're different somehow. Seemy garnet ring; mother scrubbed it in soap andwater. How on earth did your aunt Mirandy letyou put on your bran' new dress?""They were both away and I didn't ask,"Rebecca responded anxiously. "Why? Do you thinkthey'd have said no?""Miss Mirandy always says no, doesn't she?"asked Emma Jane.
"Ye--es; but this afternoon is very special--almost like a Sunday-school concert.""Yes," assented Emma Jane, "it is, of course;with your name on the board, and our pointing toyour flag, and our elergant dialogue, and all that."The afternoon was one succession of solidtriumphs for everybody concerned. There were noreal failures at all, no tears, no parents ashamedof their offspring. Miss Dearborn heard manyadmiring remarks passed upon her ability, andwondered whether they belonged to her or partly,at least, to Rebecca. The child had no more todo than several others, but she was somehow inthe foreground. It transpired afterwards at variousvillage entertainments that Rebecca couldn'tbe kept in the background; it positively refusedto hold her. Her worst enemy could not havecalled her pushing. She was ready and willingand never shy; but she sought for no chancesof display and was, indeed, remarkably lacking inself-consciousness, as well as eager to bring othersinto whatever fun or entertainment there was.
If wherever the MacGregor sat was the head ofthe table, so in the same way wherever Rebeccastood was the centre of the stage. Her clear hightreble soared above all the rest in the choruses,and somehow everybody watched her, took noteof her gestures, her whole-souled singing, herirrepressible enthusiasm.
Finally it was all over, and it seemed to Rebeccaas if she should never be cool and calm again, asshe loitered on the homeward path. There wouldbe no lessons to learn to-night, and the vision ofhelping with the preserves on the morrow had noterrors for her--fears could not draw breath inthe radiance that flooded her soul. There werethick gathering clouds in the sky, but she took nonote of them save to be glad that she could raiseher sunshade. She did not tread the solid groundat all, or have any sense of belonging to the commonhuman family, until she entered the side yardof the brick house and saw her aunt Mirandastanding in the open doorway. Then with a rushshe came back to earth.