Rebecca's visit to Milltown was all that herglowing fancy had painted it, except thatrecent readings about Rome and Venicedisposed her to believe that those cities mighthave an advantage over Milltown in the matterof mere pictorial beauty. So soon does the souloutgrow its mansions that after once seeingMilltown her fancy ran out to the future sight ofPortland; for that, having islands and a harborand two public monuments, must be far morebeautiful than Milltown, which would, she felt, takeits proud place among the cities of the earth, byreason of its tremendous business activity ratherthan by any irresistible appeal to the imagination.
It would be impossible for two children to seemore, do more, walk more, talk more, eat more, orask more questions than Rebecca and Emma Janedid on that eventful Wednesday.
"She's the best company I ever see in all mylife," said Mrs. Cobb to her husband that evening.
"We ain't had a dull minute this day. She's well-mannered, too; she didn't ask for anything, andwas thankful for whatever she got. Did you watchher face when we went into that tent where theywas actin' out Uncle Tom's Cabin? And did youtake notice of the way she told us about the bookwhen we sat down to have our ice cream? I tell youHarriet Beecher Stowe herself couldn't 'a' doneit better justice.""I took it all in," responded Mr. Cobb, who waspleased that "mother" agreed with him aboutRebecca. "I ain't sure but she's goin' to turn outsomethin' remarkable,--a singer, or a writer, or alady doctor like that Miss Parks up to Cornish.""Lady doctors are always home'paths, ain'tthey?" asked Mrs. Cobb, who, it is needless to say,was distinctly of the old school in medicine.
"Land, no, mother; there ain't no home'path'bout Miss Parks--she drives all over the country.""I can't see Rebecca as a lady doctor, somehow,"mused Mrs. Cobb. "Her gift o' gab is what'sgoin' to be the makin' of her; mebbe she'll lecture,or recite pieces, like that Portland elocutionist thatcome out here to the harvest supper.""I guess she'll be able to write down her ownpieces," said Mr. Cobb confidently; "she couldmake 'em up faster 'n she could read 'em out of abook.""It's a pity she's so plain looking," remarkedMrs. Cobb, blowing out the candle.
"PLAIN LOOKING, mother?" exclaimed her husbandin astonishment. "Look at the eyes of her;look at the hair of her, an' the smile, an' thatthere dimple! Look at Alice Robinson, that'scalled the prettiest child on the river, an' see howRebecca shines her ri' down out o' sight! I hopeMirandy'll favor her comin' over to see us realoften, for she'll let off some of her steam here, an'
the brick house'll be consid'able safer for everybodyconcerned. We've known what it was to hevchildren, even if 't was more 'n thirty years ago,an' we can make allowances."Notwithstanding the encomiums of Mr. and Mrs.
Cobb, Rebecca made a poor hand at compositionwriting at this time. Miss Dearborn gave herevery sort of subject that she had ever been givenherself: Cloud Pictures; Abraham Lincoln; Nature;Philanthropy; Slavery; Intemperance; Joyand Duty; Solitude; but with none of them didRebecca seem to grapple satisfactorily.
"Write as you talk, Rebecca," insisted poor MissDearborn, who secretly knew that she could nevermanage a good composition herself.
"But gracious me, Miss Dearborn! I don't talkabout nature and slavery. I can't write unless Ihave something to say, can I?""That is what compositions are for," returnedMiss Dearborn doubtfully; "to make you havethings to say. Now in your last one, on solitude, youhaven't said anything very interesting, and you'vemade it too common and every-day to sound well.
There are too many `yous' and `yours' in it; youought to say `one' now and then, to make it seemmore like good writing. `One opens a favoritebook;' `One's thoughts are a great comfort insolitude,' and so on.""I don't know any more about solitude this weekthan I did about joy and duty last week," grumbledRebecca.
"You tried to be funny about joy and duty,"said Miss Dearborn reprovingly; "so of course youdidn't succeed.""I didn't know you were going to make us readthe things out loud," said Rebecca with an embarrassedsmile of recollection.
"Joy and Duty" had been the inspiring subjectgiven to the older children for a theme to be writtenin five minutes.
Rebecca had wrestled, struggled, perspired invain. When her turn came to read she was obligedto confess she had written nothing.
"You have at least two lines, Rebecca," insistedthe teacher, "for I see them on your slate.""I'd rather not read them, please; they are notgood," pleaded Rebecca.
"Read what you have, good or bad, little ormuch; I am excusing nobody."Rebecca rose, overcome with secret laughterdread, and mortification; then in a low voice sheread the couplet:--When Joy and Duty clashLet Duty go to smash.
Dick Carter's head disappeared under the desk,while Living Perkins choked with laughter.
Miss Dearborn laughed too; she was little morethan a girl, and the training of the young idea seldomappealed to the sense of humor.
"You must stay after school and try again,Rebecca," she said, but she said it smilingly. "Yourpoetry hasn't a very nice idea in it for a good littlegirl who ought to love duty.""It wasn't MY idea," said Rebecca apologetically.
"I had only made the first line when I saw you weregoing to ring the bell and say the time was up. Ihad `clash' written, and I couldn't think of anythingthen but `hash' or `rash' or `smash.' I'llchange it to this:--When Joy and Duty clash,'T is Joy must go to smash.""That is better," Miss Dearborn answered,"though I cannot think `going to smash' is a prettyexpression for poetry."Having been instructed in the use of the indefinitepronoun "one" as giving a refined and elegant touchto literary efforts, Rebecca painstakingly rewroteher composition on solitude, giving it all the benefitof Miss Dearborn's suggestion. It then appeared inthe following form, which hardly satisfied eitherteacher or pupil:--SOLITUDEIt would be false to say that one could ever bealone when one has one's lovely thoughts to comfortone. One sits by one's self, it is true, but one thinks;one opens one's favorite book and reads one's favoritestory; one speaks to one's aunt or one's brother,fondles one's cat, or looks at one's photograph album.
There is one's work also: what a joy it is to one, ifone happens to like work. All one's little householdtasks keep one from being lonely. Does one everfeel bereft when one picks up one's chips to lightone's fire for one's evening meal? Or when onewashes one's milk pail before milking one's cow?
One would fancy not.
R. R. R.
"It is perfectly dreadful," sighed Rebecca whenshe read it aloud after school. "Putting in `one' allthe time doesn't make it sound any more like abook, and it looks silly besides.""You say such queer things," objected MissDearborn. "I don't see what makes you do it.
Why did you put in anything so common as pickingup chips?""Because I was talking about `household tasks'
in the sentence before, and it IS one of my householdtasks. Don't you think calling supper `one's evening meal'
is pretty? and isn't `bereft' a nice word?""Yes, that part of it does very well. It is the cat,the chips, and the milk pail that I don't like.""All right!" sighed Rebecca. "Out they go;Does the cow go too?""Yes, I don't like a cow in a composition," saidthe difficult Miss Dearborn.
The Milltown trip had not been without its tragicconsequences of a small sort; for the next weekMinnie Smellie's mother told Miranda Sawyer thatshe'd better look after Rebecca, for she was givento "swearing and profane language;" that she hadbeen heard saying something dreadful that veryafternoon, saying it before Emma Jane and LivingPerkins, who only laughed and got down on allfours and chased her.
Rebecca, on being confronted and charged withthe crime, denied it indignantly, and aunt Janebelieved her.
"Search your memory, Rebecca, and try to thinkwhat Minnie overheard you say," she pleaded.
"Don't be ugly and obstinate, but think real hard.
When did they chase you up the road, and whatwere you doing?"A sudden light broke upon Rebecca's darkness.
"Oh! I see it now," she exclaimed. "It hadrained hard all the morning, you know, and theroad was full of puddles. Emma Jane, Living, andI were walking along, and I was ahead. I saw thewater streaming over the road towards the ditch, andit reminded me of Uncle Tom's Cabin at Milltown,when Eliza took her baby and ran across the Mississippion the ice blocks, pursued by the bloodhounds.
We couldn't keep from laughing after we came outof the tent because they were acting on such a smallplatform that Eliza had to run round and round, andpart of the time the one dog they had pursued her,and part of the time she had to pursue the dog. Iknew Living would remember, too, so I took off mywaterproof and wrapped it round my books for ababy; then I shouted, `MY GOD! THE RIVER!' justlike that--the same as Eliza did in the play; thenI leaped from puddle to puddle, and Living andEmma Jane pursued me like the bloodhounds. It'sjust like that stupid Minnie Smellie who doesn'tknow a game when she sees one. And Eliza wasn'tswearing when she said `My God! the river!' Itwas more like praying.""Well, you've got no call to be prayin', any morethan swearin', in the middle of the road," saidMiranda; "but I'm thankful it's no worse. You'reborn to trouble as the sparks fly upward, an' I'mafraid you allers will be till you learn to bridle yourunruly tongue.""I wish sometimes that I could bridle Minnie's,"murmured Rebecca, as she went to set the table forsupper.
"I declare she IS the beatin'est child!" saidMiranda, taking off her spectacles and laying downher mending. "You don't think she's a leetle mitecrazy, do you, Jane?""I don't think she's like the rest of us,"responded Jane thoughtfully and with some anxietyin her pleasant face; "but whether it's for thebetter or the worse I can't hardly tell till she growsup. She's got the making of 'most anything in her,Rebecca has; but I feel sometimes as if we werenot fitted to cope with her.""Stuff an' nonsense!" said Miranda "Speakfor yourself. I feel fitted to cope with any childthat ever was born int' the world!""I know you do, Mirandy; but that don't MAKEyou so," returned Jane with a smile.
The habit of speaking her mind freely wascertainly growing on Jane to an altogether terrifyingextent.