Uncle Jerry coughed and stirred in hischair a good deal during Rebecca's recital,but he carefully concealed any unduefeeling of sympathy, just muttering, "Poor little soul!
We'll see what we can do for her!""You will take me to Maplewood, won't you, Mr.
Cobb?" begged Rebecca piteously.
"Don't you fret a mite," he answered, with acrafty little notion at the back of his mind; "I'llsee the lady passenger through somehow. Nowtake a bite o' somethin' to eat, child. Spread someo' that tomato preserve on your bread; draw up tothe table. How'd you like to set in mother's placean' pour me out another cup o' hot tea?"Mr. Jeremiah Cobb's mental machinery wassimple, and did not move very smoothly save whenpropelled by his affection or sympathy. In thepresent case these were both employed to hisadvantage, and mourning his stupidity and prayingfor some flash of inspiration to light his path, heblundered along, trusting to Providence.
Rebecca, comforted by the old man's tone, andtimidly enjoying the dignity of sitting in Mrs. Cobb'sseat and lifting the blue china teapot, smiled faintly,smoothed her hair, and dried her eyes.
"I suppose your mother'll be turrible glad tosee you back again?" queried Mr. Cobb.
A tiny fear--just a baby thing--in the bottomof Rebecca's heart stirred and grew larger the momentit was touched with a question.
"She won't like it that I ran away, I s'pose, andshe'll be sorry that I couldn't please aunt Mirandy;but I'll make her understand, just as I did you.""I s'pose she was thinkin' o' your schoolin',lettin' you come down here; but land! you can go toschool in Temperance, I s'pose?""There's only two months' school now inTemperance, and the farm 's too far from all the otherschools.""Oh well! there's other things in the worldbeside edjercation," responded uncle Jerry, attackinga piece of apple pie.
"Ye--es; though mother thought that was goingto be the making of me," returned Rebecca sadly,giving a dry little sob as she tried to drink her tea.
"It'll be nice for you to be all together againat the farm--such a house full o' children!"remarked the dear old deceiver, who longed fornothing so much as to cuddle and comfort the poorlittle creature.
"It's too full--that's the trouble. But I'llmake Hannah come to Riverboro in my place.""S'pose Mirandy 'n' Jane'll have her? I shouldbe 'most afraid they wouldn't. They'll be kind o'
mad at your goin' home, you know, and you can'thardly blame 'em."This was quite a new thought,--that the brickhouse might be closed to Hannah, since she, Rebecca,had turned her back upon its cold hospitality.
"How is this school down here in Riverboro--pretty good?" inquired uncle Jerry, whose brainwas working with an altogether unaccustomedrapidity,--so much so that it almost terrified him.
"Oh, it's a splendid school! And MissDearborn is a splendid teacher!""You like her, do you? Well, you'd better believeshe returns the compliment. Mother was down tothe store this afternoon buyin' liniment for SethStrout, an' she met Miss Dearborn on the bridge.
They got to talkin' 'bout school, for mother hassummer-boarded a lot o' the schoolmarms, an' likes'em. `How does the little Temperance girl gitalong?' asks mother. `Oh, she's the best scholarI have!' says Miss Dearborn. `I could teach schoolfrom sun-up to sun-down if scholars was all likeRebecca Randall,' says she.""Oh, Mr. Cobb, DID she say that?" glowedRebecca, her face sparkling and dimpling in an instant.
"I've tried hard all the time, but I'll study thecovers right off of the books now.""You mean you would if you'd ben goin' tostay here," interposed uncle Jerry. "Now ain't ittoo bad you've jest got to give it all up on accounto' your aunt Mirandy? Well, I can't hardly blameye. She's cranky an' she's sour; I should thinkshe'd ben nussed on bonny-clabber an' greenapples. She needs bearin' with; an' I guess youain't much on patience, be ye?""Not very much," replied Rebecca dolefully.
"If I'd had this talk with ye yesterday," pursuedMr. Cobb, "I believe I'd have advised ye different.
It's too late now, an' I don't feel to say you'veben all in the wrong; but if 't was to do over again,I'd say, well, your aunt Mirandy gives you clothesand board and schoolin' and is goin' to send youto Wareham at a big expense. She's turrible hardto get along with, an' kind o' heaves benefits atyour head, same 's she would bricks; but they'rebenefits jest the same, an' mebbe it's your job tokind o' pay for 'em in good behavior. Jane's aleetle bit more easy goin' than Mirandy, ain't she,or is she jest as hard to please?""Oh, aunt Jane and I get along splendidly,"exclaimed Rebecca; "she's just as good and kindas she can be, and I like her better all the time.
I think she kind of likes me, too; she smoothedmy hair once. I'd let her scold me all day long,for she understands; but she can't stand up for meagainst aunt Mirandy; she's about as afraid ofher as I am.""Jane'll be real sorry to-morrow to find you'vegone away, I guess; but never mind, it can't behelped. If she has a kind of a dull time with Mirandy,on account o' her bein' so sharp, why of courseshe'd set great store by your comp'ny. Mother wastalkin' with her after prayer meetin' the other night.
`You wouldn't know the brick house, Sarah,' saysJane. `I'm keepin' a sewin' school, an' my scholarhas made three dresses. What do you think o'
that,' says she, `for an old maid's child? I'vetaken a class in Sunday-school,' says Jane, `an'
think o' renewin' my youth an' goin' to the picnicwith Rebecca,' says she; an' mother declares shenever see her look so young 'n' happy."There was a silence that could be felt in the littlekitchen; a silence only broken by the ticking ofthe tall clock and the beating of Rebecca's heart,which, it seemed to her, almost drowned the voiceof the clock. The rain ceased, a sudden rosy lightfilled the room, and through the window a rainbowarch could be seen spanning the heavens likea radiant bridge. Bridges took one across difficultplaces, thought Rebecca, and uncle Jerry seemedto have built one over her troubles and given herstrength to walk.
"The shower 's over," said the old man, fillinghis pipe; "it's cleared the air, washed the face o'
the airth nice an' clean, an' everything to-morrerwill shine like a new pin--when you an' I aredrivin' up river."Rebecca pushed her cup away, rose from thetable, and put on her hat and jacket quietly. "I'mnot going to drive up river, Mr. Cobb," she said.
"I'm going to stay here and--catch bricks; catch'em without throwing 'em back, too. I don't knowas aunt Mirandy will take me in after I've runaway, but I'm going back now while I have thecourage. You wouldn't be so good as to go withme, would you, Mr. Cobb?""You'd better b'lieve your uncle Jerry don'tpropose to leave till he gits this thing fixed up,"cried the old man delightedly. "Now you've hadall you can stan' to-night, poor little soul, withoutgettin' a fit o' sickness; an' Mirandy'll be sorean' cross an' in no condition for argyment; so myplan is jest this: to drive you over to the brickhouse in my top buggy; to have you set back inthe corner, an' I git out an' go to the side door;an' when I git your aunt Mirandy 'n' aunt Janeout int' the shed to plan for a load o' wood I'mgoin' to have hauled there this week, you'll slipout o' the buggy and go upstairs to bed. The frontdoor won't be locked, will it?""Not this time of night," Rebecca answered;"not till aunt Mirandy goes to bed; but oh! whatif it should be?""Well, it won't; an' if 't is, why we'll have toface it out; though in my opinion there's thingsthat won't bear facin' out an' had better be settledcomfortable an' quiet. You see you ain't run awayyet; you've only come over here to consult me'bout runnin' away, an' we've concluded it ain'twuth the trouble. The only real sin you'vecommitted, as I figger it out, was in comin' here by thewinder when you'd ben sent to bed. That ain't sovery black, an' you can tell your aunt Jane 'boutit come Sunday, when she's chock full o' religion,an' she can advise you when you'd better tell youraunt Mirandy. I don't believe in deceivin' folks,but if you've hed hard thoughts you ain't obleegedto own 'em up; take 'em to the Lord in prayer, asthe hymn says, and then don't go on hevin' 'em.
Now come on; I'm all hitched up to go over tothe post-office; don't forget your bundle; `it'salways a journey, mother, when you carry a nightgown;'
them 's the first words your uncle Jerryever heard you say! He didn't think you'd bebringin' your nightgown over to his house. Stepin an' curl up in the corner; we ain't goin' to letfolks see little runaway gals, 'cause they're goin'
back to begin all over ag'in!"When Rebecca crept upstairs, and undressing inthe dark finally found herself in her bed that night,though she was aching and throbbing in everynerve, she felt a kind of peace stealing over her.
She had been saved from foolishness and error;kept from troubling her poor mother; preventedfrom angering and mortifying her aunts.
Her heart was melted now, and she determinedto win aunt Miranda's approval by some desperatemeans, and to try and forget the one thing thatrankled worst, the scornful mention of her father,of whom she thought with the greatest admiration,and whom she had not yet heard criticised; forsuch sorrows and disappointments as Aurelia Randallhad suffered had never been communicated toher children.
It would have been some comfort to the bruised,unhappy little spirit to know that Miranda Sawyerwas passing an uncomfortable night, and thatshe tacitly regretted her harshness, partly becauseJane had taken such a lofty and virtuous positionin the matter. She could not endure Jane's disapproval,although she would never have confessed tosuch a weakness.
As uncle Jerry drove homeward under the stars,well content with his attempts at keeping the peace,he thought wistfully of the touch of Rebecca's headon his knee, and the rain of her tears on his hand;of the sweet reasonableness of her mind when shehad the matter put rightly before her; of her quickdecision when she had once seen the path of duty;of the touching hunger for love and understandingthat were so characteristic in her. "LordA'mighty!" he ejaculated under his breath, "LordA'mighty! to hector and abuse a child like thatone! 'T ain't ABUSE exactly, I know, or 't wouldn'tbe to some o' your elephant-hided young ones; butto that little tender will-o'-the-wisp a hard word 'slike a lash. Mirandy Sawyer would be a heap betterwoman if she had a little gravestun to remember,same's mother 'n' I have.""I never see a child improve in her work asRebecca has to-day," remarked Miranda Sawyer toJane on Saturday evening. "That settin' down Igave her was probably just what she needed, andI daresay it'll last for a month.""I'm glad you're pleased," returned Jane. "Acringing worm is what you want, not a bright, smilingchild. Rebecca looks to me as if she'd beenthrough the Seven Years' War. When she camedownstairs this morning it seemed to me she'dgrown old in the night. If you follow my advice,which you seldom do, you'll let me take her andEmma Jane down beside the river to-morrow afternoonand bring Emma Jane home to a good Sundaysupper. Then if you'll let her go to Milltown withthe Cobbs on Wednesday, that'll hearten her upa little and coax back her appetite. Wednesday 's aholiday on account of Miss Dearborn's going hometo her sister's wedding, and the Cobbs and Perkinseswant to go down to the Agricultural Fair."