There she is, over an hour late; a littlemore an' she'd 'a' been caught in a thundershower, but she'd never look ahead,"said Miranda to Jane; "and added to all her otheriniquities, if she ain't rigged out in that new dress,steppin' along with her father's dancin'-school steps,and swingin' her parasol for all the world as if shewas play-actin'. Now I'm the oldest, Jane, an' Iintend to have my say out; if you don't like it youcan go into the kitchen till it's over. Step rightin here, Rebecca; I want to talk to you. What didyou put on that good new dress for, on a schoolday, without permission?""I had intended to ask you at noontime, but youweren't at home, so I couldn't," began Rebecca.
"You did no such a thing; you put it on becauseyou was left alone, though you knew well enoughI wouldn't have let you.""If I'd been CERTAIN you wouldn't have let meI'd never have done it," said Rebecca, trying tobe truthful; "but I wasn't CERTAIN, and it was worthrisking. I thought perhaps you might, if you knewit was almost a real exhibition at school.""Exhibition!" exclaimed Miranda scornfully;"you are exhibition enough by yourself, I shouldsay. Was you exhibitin' your parasol?""The parasol WAS silly," confessed Rebecca,hanging her head; "but it's the only time in mywhole life when I had anything to match it, andit looked so beautiful with the pink dress! EmmaJane and I spoke a dialogue about a city girl anda country girl, and it came to me just the minutebefore I started how nice it would come in for thecity girl; and it did. I haven't hurt my dress amite, aunt Mirandy.""It's the craftiness and underhandedness ofyour actions that's the worst," said Mirandacoldly. "And look at the other things you'vedone! It seems as if Satan possessed you! Youwent up the front stairs to your room, but youdidn't hide your tracks, for you dropped yourhandkerchief on the way up. You left the screenout of your bedroom window for the flies to comein all over the house. You never cleared awayyour lunch nor set away a dish, AND YOU LEFT THESIDE DOOR UNLOCKED from half past twelve to threeo'clock, so 't anybody could 'a' come in and stolenwhat they liked!"Rebecca sat down heavily in her chair as sheheard the list of her transgressions. How couldshe have been so careless? The tears began toflow now as she attempted to explain sins thatnever could be explained or justified.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she faltered. "I was trimmingthe schoolroom, and got belated, and ran allthe way home. It was hard getting into my dressalone, and I hadn't time to eat but a mouthful,and just at the last minute, when I honestly--HONESTLY--would have thought about clearing awayand locking up, I looked at the clock and knew Icould hardly get back to school in time to form inthe line; and I thought how dreadful it would beto go in late and get my first black mark on a Fridayafternoon, with the minister's wife and thedoctor's wife and the school committee all there!""Don't wail and carry on now; it's no goodcryin' over spilt milk," answered Miranda. "Anounce of good behavior is worth a pound of repentance.
Instead of tryin' to see how little troubleyou can make in a house that ain't your own home,it seems as if you tried to see how much you couldput us out. Take that rose out o' your dress andlet me see the spot it's made on your yoke, an' therusty holes where the wet pin went in. No, it ain't;but it's more by luck than forethought. I ain't gotany patience with your flowers and frizzled-out hairand furbelows an' airs an' graces, for all the worldlike your Miss-Nancy father."Rebecca lifted her head in a flash. "Look here,aunt Mirandy, I'll be as good as I know how to be.
I'll mind quick when I'm spoken to and neverleave the door unlocked again, but I won't havemy father called names. He was a p-perfectlyl-lovely father, that's what he was, and it's MEANto call him Miss Nancy!""Don't you dare answer me back that imperdentway, Rebecca, tellin' me I'm mean; your fatherwas a vain, foolish, shiftless man, an' you might aswell hear it from me as anybody else; he spentyour mother's money and left her with seven childrento provide for.""It's s-something to leave s-seven nicechildren," sobbed Rebecca.
"Not when other folks have to help feed, clothe,and educate 'em," responded Miranda. "Now youstep upstairs, put on your nightgown, go to bed,and stay there till to-morrow mornin'. You'll finda bowl o' crackers an' milk on your bureau, an' Idon't want to hear a sound from you till breakfasttime. Jane, run an' take the dish towels off theline and shut the shed doors; we're goin' to havea turrible shower.""We've had it, I should think," said Janequietly, as she went to do her sister's bidding.
"I don't often speak my mind, Mirandy; but youought not to have said what you did about Lorenzo.
He was what he was, and can't be madeany different; but he was Rebecca's father, andAurelia always says he was a good husband."Miranda had never heard the proverbial phraseabout the only "good Indian," but her mind workedin the conventional manner when she said grimly,"Yes, I've noticed that dead husbands are usuallygood ones; but the truth needs an airin' now andthen, and that child will never amount to a hill o'
beans till she gets some of her father trounced outof her. I'm glad I said just what I did.""I daresay you are," remarked Jane, with whatmight be described as one of her annual bursts ofcourage; "but all the same, Mirandy, it wasn'tgood manners, and it wasn't good religion!"The clap of thunder that shook the house just atthat moment made no such peal in Miranda Sawyer'sears as Jane's remark made when it fell witha deafening roar on her conscience.
Perhaps after all it is just as well to speak onlyonce a year and then speak to the purpose.
Rebecca mounted the back stairs wearily, closedthe door of her bedroom, and took off the belovedpink gingham with trembling fingers. Her cottonhandkerchief was rolled into a hard ball, and in theintervals of reaching the more difficult buttons thatlay between her shoulder blades and her belt, shedabbed her wet eyes carefully, so that they shouldnot rain salt water on the finery that had beenworn at such a price. She smoothed it out carefully,pinched up the white ruffle at the neck, andlaid it away in a drawer with an extra little sob atthe roughness of life. The withered pink rose fellon the floor. Rebecca looked at it and thought toherself, "Just like my happy day!" Nothing couldshow more clearly the kind of child she was thanthe fact that she instantly perceived the symbolismof the rose, and laid it in the drawer with the dressas if she were burying the whole episode with allits sad memories. It was a child's poetic instinctwith a dawning hint of woman's sentiment in it.
She braided her hair in the two accustomed pig-tails, took off her best shoes (which had happilyescaped notice), with all the while a fixed resolvegrowing in her mind, that of leaving the brickhouse and going back to the farm. She would notbe received there with open arms,--there was nohope of that,--but she would help her motherabout the house and send Hannah to Riverboro inher place. "I hope she'll like it!" she thought ina momentary burst of vindictiveness. She sat bythe window trying to make some sort of plan,watching the lightning play over the hilltop andthe streams of rain chasing each other down thelightning rod. And this was the day that haddawned so joyfully! It had been a red sunrise,and she had leaned on the window sill studyingher lesson and thinking what a lovely world itwas. And what a golden morning! The changingof the bare, ugly little schoolroom into a bower ofbeauty; Miss Dearborn's pleasure at her successwith the Simpson twins' recitation; the privilegeof decorating the blackboard; the happy thoughtof drawing Columbia from the cigar box; theintoxicating moment when the school clapped her!
And what an afternoon! How it went on fromglory to glory, beginning with Emma Jane's tellingher, Rebecca Randall, that she was as "handsomeas a picture."She lived through the exercises again inmemory, especially her dialogue with Emma Jane andher inspiration of using the bough-covered stoveas a mossy bank where the country girl could sitand watch her flocks. This gave Emma Jane a feelingof such ease that she never recited better;and how generous it was of her to lend the garnetring to the city girl, fancying truly how it wouldflash as she furled her parasol and approached theawe-stricken shepherdess! She had thought auntMiranda might be pleased that the niece inviteddown from the farm had succeeded so well atschool; but no, there was no hope of pleasing herin that or in any other way. She would go toMaplewood on the stage next day with Mr. Cobband get home somehow from cousin Ann's. Onsecond thoughts her aunts might not allow it.
Very well, she would slip away now and see if shecould stay all night with the Cobbs and be off nextmorning before breakfast.
Rebecca never stopped long to think, more 's thepity, so she put on her oldest dress and hat andjacket, then wrapped her nightdress, comb, andtoothbrush in a bundle and dropped it softly outof the window. Her room was in the L and herwindow at no very dangerous distance from theground, though had it been, nothing could havestopped her at that moment. Somebody who hadgone on the roof to clean out the gutters had lefta cleat nailed to the side of the house about halfwaybetween the window and the top of the backporch. Rebecca heard the sound of the sewingmachine in the dining-room and the chopping ofmeat in the kitchen; so knowing the whereaboutsof both her aunts, she scrambled out of the window,caught hold of the lightning rod, slid down to thehelpful cleat, jumped to the porch, used the woodbinetrellis for a ladder, and was flying up the roadin the storm before she had time to arrange anydetails of her future movements.
Jeremiah Cobb sat at his lonely supper at thetable by the kitchen window. "Mother," as hewith his old-fashioned habits was in the habit ofcalling his wife, was nursing a sick neighbor. Mrs.
Cobb was mother only to a little headstone in thechurchyard, where reposed "Sarah Ann, beloveddaughter of Jeremiah and Sarah Cobb, aged seventeenmonths;" but the name of mother was betterthan nothing, and served at any rate as a reminderof her woman's crown of blessedness.
The rain still fell, and the heavens were dark,though it was scarcely five o'clock. Looking upfrom his "dish of tea," the old man saw at theopen door a very figure of woe. Rebecca's facewas so swollen with tears and so sharp with miserythat for a moment he scarcely recognized her.
Then when he heard her voice asking, "Pleasemay I come in, Mr. Cobb?" he cried, "Well Ivow! It's my little lady passenger! Come to callon old uncle Jerry and pass the time o' day, hevye? Why, you're wet as sops. Draw up to thestove. I made a fire, hot as it was, thinkin' Iwanted somethin' warm for my supper, bein' kindo' lonesome without mother. She's settin' up withSeth Strout to-night. There, we'll hang yoursoppy hat on the nail, put your jacket over thechair rail, an' then you turn your back to the stovean' dry yourself good."Uncle Jerry had never before said so manywords at a time, but he had caught sight of thechild's red eyes and tear-stained cheeks, and hisbig heart went out to her in her trouble, quiteregardless of any circumstances that might havecaused it.
Rebecca stood still for a moment until uncleJerry took his seat again at the table, and then,unable to contain herself longer, cried, "Oh, Mr.
Cobb, I've run away from the brick house, and Iwant to go back to the farm. Will you keep meto-night and take me up to Maplewood in thestage? I haven't got any money for my fare, butI'll earn it somehow afterwards.""Well, I guess we won't quarrel 'bout money, youand me," said the old man; "and we've never hadour ride together, anyway, though we allers meantto go down river, not up.""I shall never see Milltown now!" sobbed Rebecca.
"Come over here side o' me an' tell me all aboutit," coaxed uncle Jerry. "Jest set down on thatthere wooden cricket an' out with the whole story."Rebecca leaned her aching head against Mr.
Cobb's homespun knee and recounted the historyof her trouble. Tragic as that history seemed toher passionate and undisciplined mind, she told ittruthfully and without exaggeration.