It was about this time that Rebecca, who had beenreading about the Spartan boy, conceived theidea of some mild form of self-punishment tobe applied on occasions when she was fully convincedin her own mind that it would be salutary.
The immediate cause of the decision was a somewhatsadder accident than was common, even in acareer prolific in such things.
Clad in her best, Rebecca had gone to take teawith the Cobbs; but while crossing the bridge shewas suddenly overcome by the beauty of the riverand leaned over the newly painted rail to feast hereyes on the dashing torrent of the fall. Resting herelbows on the topmost board, and inclining her littlefigure forward in delicious ease, she stood theredreaming.
The river above the dam was a glassy lake withall the loveliness of blue heaven and green shorereflected in its surface; the fall was a swirling wonderof water, ever pouring itself over and over inexhaustiblyin luminous golden gushes that lost themselvesin snowy depths of foam. Sparkling in the sunshine,gleaming under the summer moon, cold and graybeneath a November sky, trickling over the damin some burning July drought, swollen with turbulentpower in some April freshet, how many youngeyes gazed into the mystery and majesty of thefalls along that river, and how many young heartsdreamed out their futures leaning over the bridgerail, seeing "the vision splendid" reflected there andoften, too, watching it fade into "the light ofcommon day."Rebecca never went across the bridge withoutbending over the rail to wonder and to ponder, andat this special moment she was putting the finishingtouches on a poem.
Two maidens by a river strayedDown in the state of Maine.
The one was called Rebecca,The other Emma Jane.
"I would my life were like the stream,"Said her named Emma Jane,"So quiet and so very smooth,So free from every pain.""I'd rather be a little dropIn the great rushing fall!
I would not choose the glassy lake,'T would not suit me at all!"(It was the darker maiden spokeThe words I just have stated,The maidens twain were simply friendsAnd not at all related.)But O! alas I we may not haveThe things we hope to gain;The quiet life may come to me,The rush to Emma Jane!
"I don't like `the rush to Emma Jane,' and Ican't think of anything else. Oh! what a smell ofpaint! Oh! it is ON me! Oh! it's all over my bestdress! Oh I what WILL aunt Miranda say!"With tears of self-reproach streaming from hereyes, Rebecca flew up the hill, sure of sympathy,and hoping against hope for help of some sort.
Mrs. Cobb took in the situation at a glance, andprofessed herself able to remove almost any stainfrom almost any fabric; and in this she wascorroborated by uncle Jerry, who vowed that mothercould git anything out. Sometimes she took thecloth right along with the spot, but she had a surehand, mother had!
The damaged garment was removed and partiallyimmersed in turpentine, while Rebecca graced thefestal board clad in a blue calico wrapper of Mrs.
"Don't let it take your appetite away," croonedMrs. Cobb. "I've got cream biscuit and honey foryou. If the turpentine don't work, I'll try Frenchchalk, magneshy, and warm suds. If they fail, fathershall run over to Strout's and borry some of thestuff Marthy got in Milltown to take the currant pieout of her weddin' dress.""I ain't got to understandin' this paintin' accidentyet," said uncle Jerry jocosely, as he handedRebecca the honey. "Bein' as how there's `FreshPaint' signs hung all over the breedge, so 't a blindasylum couldn't miss 'em, I can't hardly accountfor your gettin' int' the pesky stuff.""I didn't notice the signs," Rebecca saiddolefully. "I suppose I was looking at the falls.""The falls has been there sence the beginnin'
o' time, an' I cal'late they'll be there till the endon 't; so you needn't 'a' been in sech a brash to gita sight of 'em. Children comes turrible high, mother,but I s'pose we must have 'em!" he said, winkingat Mrs. Cobb.
When supper was cleared away Rebecca insistedon washing and wiping the dishes, while Mrs. Cobbworked on the dress with an energy that plainlyshowed the gravity of the task. Rebecca kept leavingher post at the sink to bend anxiously overthe basin and watch her progress, while uncle Jerryoffered advice from time to time.
"You must 'a' laid all over the breedge, deary,"said Mrs. Cobb; "for the paint 's not only on yourelbows and yoke and waist, but it about coversyour front breadth."As the garment began to look a little betterRebecca's spirits took an upward turn, and at lengthshe left it to dry in the fresh air, and went into thesitting-room.
"Have you a piece of paper, please?" askedRebecca. "I'll copy out the poetry I was makingwhile I was lying in the paint."Mrs. Cobb sat by her mending basket, and uncleJerry took down a gingham bag of strings and occupiedhimself in taking the snarls out of them,--afavorite evening amusement with him.
Rebecca soon had the lines copied in her roundschoolgirl hand, making such improvements asoccurred to her on sober second thought.
THE TWO WISHESBYREBECCA RANDALLTwo maidens by a river strayed,'T was in the state of Maine.
Rebecca was the darker one,The fairer, Emma Jane.
The fairer maiden said, "I wouldMy life were as the stream;So peaceful, and so smooth and still,So pleasant and serene.""I'd rather be a little dropIn the great rushing fall;I'd never choose the quiet lake;'T would not please me at all."(It was the darker maiden spokeThe words we just have stated;The maidens twain were simply friends,Not sisters, or related.)But O! alas! we may not haveThe things we hope to gain.
The quiet life may come to me,The rush to Emma Jane!
She read it aloud, and the Cobbs thought it not onlysurpassingly beautiful, but a marvelous production"I guess if that writer that lived on CongressStreet in Portland could 'a' heard your poetry he'd'a' been astonished," said Mrs. Cobb. "If you askme, I say this piece is as good as that one o' his,`Tell me not in mournful numbers;' and consid'ableclearer.""I never could fairly make out what `mournfulnumbers' was," remarked Mr. Cobb critically.
"Then I guess you never studied fractions!"flashed Rebecca. "See here, uncle Jerry and auntSarah, would you write another verse, especially fora last one, as they usually do--one with `thoughts'
in it--to make a better ending?""If you can grind 'em out jest by turnin' thecrank, why I should say the more the merrier; butI don't hardly see how you could have a betterendin'," observed Mr. Cobb.
"It is horrid!" grumbled Rebecca. "I ought notto have put that `me' in. I'm writing the poetry.
Nobody ought to know it IS me standing by theriver; it ought to be `Rebecca,' or `the darkermaiden;' and `the rush to Emma Jane' is simplydreadful. Sometimes I think I never will try poetry,it's so hard to make it come right; and other timesit just says itself. I wonder if this would be better?
But O! alas! we may not gainThe good for which we prayThe quiet life may come to oneWho likes it rather gay,I don't know whether that is worse or not. Now fora new last verse!"In a few minutes the poetess looked up, flushedand triumphant. "It was as easy as nothing. Justhear!" And she read slowly, with her pretty,pathetic voice:--Then if our lot be bright or sad,Be full of smiles, or tears,The thought that God has planned it soShould help us bear the years.
Mr. and Mrs. Cobb exchanged dumb glances ofadmiration; indeed uncle Jerry was obliged to turnhis face to the window and wipe his eyes furtivelywith the string-bag.
"How in the world did you do it?" Mrs. Cobbexclaimed.
"Oh, it's easy," answered Rebecca; "the hymnsat meeting are all like that. You see there's aschool newspaper printed at Wareham Academyonce a month. Dick Carter says the editor is alwaysa boy, of course; but he allows girls to try and writefor it, and then chooses the best. Dick thinks I canbe in it.""IN it!" exclaimed uncle Jerry. "I shouldn'tbe a bit surprised if you had to write the wholepaper; an' as for any boy editor, you could lickhim writin', I bate ye, with one hand tied behind ye.""Can we have a copy of the poetry to keep inthe family Bible?" inquired Mrs. Cobb respectfully.
"Oh! would you like it?" asked Rebecca. "Yesindeed! I'll do a clean, nice one with violet inkand a fine pen. But I must go and look at my poordress."The old couple followed Rebecca into the kitchen.
The frock was quite dry, and in truth it had beenhelped a little by aunt Sarah's ministrations; butthe colors had run in the rubbing, the pattern wasblurred, and there were muddy streaks here andthere. As a last resort, it was carefully smoothedwith a warm iron, and Rebecca was urged to attireherself, that they might see if the spots showed asmuch when it was on.
They did, most uncompromisingly, and to thedullest eye. Rebecca gave one searching look, andthen said, as she took her hat from a nail in theentry, "I think I'll be going. Good-night! If I'vegot to have a scolding, I want it quick, and get itover.""Poor little onlucky misfortunate thing!" sigheduncle Jerry, as his eyes followed her down the hill.
"I wish she could pay some attention to the groundunder her feet; but I vow, if she was ourn I'd lether slop paint all over the house before I couldscold her. Here's her poetry she's left behind.
Read it out ag'in, mother. Land!" he continued,chuckling, as he lighted his cob pipe; "I can justsee the last flap o' that boy-editor's shirt tail as helegs it for the woods, while Rebecky settles down inhis revolvin' cheer! I'm puzzled as to what kind ofa job editin' is, exactly; but she'll find out, Rebeckywill. An' she'll just edit for all she's worth!
"`The thought that God has planned it soShould help us bear the years.'
Land, mother! that takes right holt, kind o' likethe gospel. How do you suppose she thought that out?""She couldn't have thought it out at her age,"said Mrs. Cobb; "she must have just guessed itwas that way. We know some things without bein'
told, Jeremiah."Rebecca took her scolding (which she richlydeserved) like a soldier. There was considerable of it,and Miss Miranda remarked, among other things,that so absent-minded a child was sure to grow upinto a driveling idiot. She was bidden to stay awayfrom Alice Robinson's birthday party, and doomed towear her dress, stained and streaked as it was, untilit was worn out. Aunt Jane six months later mitigatedthis martyrdom by making her a ruffled dimitypinafore, artfully shaped to conceal all the spots.
She was blessedly ready with these mediationsbetween the poor little sinner and the full consequencesof her sin.
When Rebecca had heard her sentence and goneto the north chamber she began to think. If therewas anything she did not wish to grow into, it wasan idiot of any sort, particularly a driveling one;and she resolved to punish herself every time sheincurred what she considered to be the righteousdispleasure of her virtuous relative. She didn'tmind staying away from Alice Robinson's. Shehad told Emma Jane it would be like a picnic ina graveyard, the Robinson house being as near anapproach to a tomb as a house can manage to be.
Children were commonly brought in at the backdoor, and requested to stand on newspapers whilemaking their call, so that Alice was begged by herfriends to "receive" in the shed or barn wheneverpossible. Mrs. Robinson was not only "turribleneat," but "turrible close," so that the refreshmentswere likely to be peppermint lozenges and glassesof well water.
After considering the relative values, as penances,of a piece of haircloth worn next the skin, and apebble in the shoe, she dismissed them both. Thehaircloth could not be found, and the pebble wouldattract the notice of the Argus-eyed aunt, besidesbeing a foolish bar to the activity of a person whohad to do housework and walk a mile and a half toschool.
Her first experimental attempt at martyrdom hadnot been a distinguished success. She had stayedat home from the Sunday-school concert, a func-tion of which, in ignorance of more alluring ones,she was extremely fond. As a result of her desertion,two infants who relied upon her to promptthem (she knew the verses of all the children betterthan they did themselves) broke down ignominiously.
The class to which she belonged had to reada difficult chapter of Scripture in rotation, and thevarious members spent an arduous Sabbath afternooncounting out verses according to their seatsin the pew, and practicing the ones that wouldinevitably fall to them. They were too ignorant torealize, when they were called upon, that Rebecca'sabsence would make everything come wrong, andthe blow descended with crushing force when theJebusites and Amorites, the Girgashites, Hivites,and Perizzites had to be pronounced by the personsof all others least capable of grappling with them.
Self-punishment, then, to be adequate and proper,must begin, like charity, at home, and unlike charityshould end there too. Rebecca looked about theroom vaguely as she sat by the window. She mustgive up something, and truth to tell she possessedlittle to give, hardly anything but--yes, that woulddo, the beloved pink parasol. She could not hide itin the attic, for in some moment of weakness shewould be sure to take it out again. She feared shehad not the moral energy to break it into bits. Hereyes moved from the parasol to the apple-trees inthe side yard, and then fell to the well curb. Thatwould do; she would fling her dearest possession intothe depths of the water. Action followed quicklyupon decision, as usual. She slipped down in thedarkness, stole out the front door, approached theplace of sacrifice, lifted the cover of the well, gave oneunresigned shudder, and flung the parasol downwardwith all her force. At the crucial instant ofrenunciation she was greatly helped by the reflection thatshe closely resembled the heathen mothers who casttheir babes to the crocodiles in the Ganges.
She slept well and arose refreshed, as aconsecrated spirit always should and sometimes does.
But there was great difficulty in drawing water afterbreakfast. Rebecca, chastened and uplifted, hadgone to school. Abijah Flagg was summoned, liftedthe well cover, explored, found the inciting cause oftrouble, and with the help of Yankee wit succeededin removing it. The fact was that the ivory hook ofthe parasol had caught in the chain gear, and whenthe first attempt at drawing water was made, thelittle offering of a contrite heart was jerked up, bent,its strong ribs jammed into the well side, andentangled with a twig root. It is needless to say thatno sleight-of-hand performer, however expert, unlessaided by the powers of darkness, could have accomplishedthis feat; but a luckless child in the pursuitof virtue had done it with a turn of the wrist.
We will draw a veil over the scene that occurredafter Rebecca's return from school. You who readmay be well advanced in years, you may be gifted inrhetoric, ingenious in argument; but even you mightquail at the thought of explaining the tortuous mentalprocesses that led you into throwing your belovedpink parasol into Miranda Sawyer's well. Perhapsyou feel equal to discussing the efficacy of spiritualself-chastisement with a person who closes her lipsinto a thin line and looks at you out of blank,uncomprehending eyes! Common sense, right, and logicwere all arrayed on Miranda's side. When poor Rebecca,driven to the wall, had to avow the reasonslying behind the sacrifice of the sunshade, her auntsaid, "Now see here, Rebecca, you're too big to bewhipped, and I shall never whip you; but when youthink you ain't punished enough, just tell me, andI'll make out to invent a little something more. Iain't so smart as some folks, but I can do that much;and whatever it is, it'll be something that won'tpunish the whole family, and make 'em drink ivorydust, wood chips, and pink silk rags with theirwater."