A single hour's experience of the vicissitudesincident to a business career cloudedthe children's spirits just the least bit.
They did not accompany each other to the doorsof their chosen victims, feeling sure that togetherthey could not approach the subject seriously;but they parted at the gate of each house, theone holding the horse while the other took thesoap samples and interviewed any one who seemedof a coming-on disposition. Emma Jane had disposedof three single cakes, Rebecca of three smallboxes; for a difference in their ability to persuadethe public was clearly defined at the start, thoughneither of them ascribed either success or defeat toanything but the imperious force of circumstances.
Housewives looked at Emma Jane and desired nosoap; listened to her description of its merits, andstill desired none. Other stars in their coursesgoverned Rebecca's doings. The people whom sheinterviewed either remembered their present needof soap, or reminded themselves that they wouldneed it in the future; the notable point in the casebeing that lucky Rebecca accomplished, with almostno effort, results that poor little Emma Jane failedto attain by hard and conscientious labor.
"It's your turn, Rebecca, and I'm glad, too,"said Emma Jane, drawing up to a gateway andindicating a house that was set a considerabledistance from the road. "I haven't got overtrembling from the last place yet." (A lady had put herhead out of an upstairs window and called, "Goaway, little girl; whatever you have in your box wedon't want any.") "I don't know who lives here,and the blinds are all shut in front. If there'snobody at home you mustn't count it, but take thenext house as yours."Rebecca walked up the lane and went to theside door. There was a porch there, and seated ina rocking-chair, husking corn, was a good-lookingyoung man, or was he middle aged? Rebeccacould not make up her mind. At all events he hadan air of the city about him,--well-shaven face,well-trimmed mustache, well-fitting clothes.
Rebecca was a trifle shy at this unexpected encounter,but there was nothing to be done but explain herpresence, so she asked, "Is the lady of the houseat home?""I am the lady of the house at present," saidthe stranger, with a whimsical smile. "What can Ido for you?""Have you ever heard of the--would you like, orI mean--do you need any soap?" queried Rebecca"Do I look as if I did?" he respondedunexpectedly.
Rebecca dimpled. "I didn't mean THAT; I havesome soap to sell; I mean I would like to introduceto you a very remarkable soap, the best nowon the market. It is called the"--"Oh! I must know that soap," said the gentlemangenially. "Made out of pure vegetable fats,isn't it?""The very purest," corroborated Rebecca.
"No acid in it?""Not a trace.""And yet a child could do the Monday washingwith it and use no force.""A babe," corrected Rebecca"Oh! a babe, eh? That child grows youngerevery year, instead of older--wise child!"This was great good fortune, to find a customerwho knew all the virtues of the article in advance.
Rebecca dimpled more and more, and at her newfriend's invitation sat down on a stool at his sidenear the edge of the porch. The beauties of theornamental box which held the Rose-Red weredisclosed, and the prices of both that and the Snow-White were unfolded. Presently she forgot allabout her silent partner at the gate and was talkingas if she had known this grand personage all herlife.
"I'm keeping house to-day, but I don't live here,"explained the delightful gentleman. "I'm just ona visit to my aunt, who has gone to Portland.
I used to be here as a boy. and I am very fond ofthe spot.""I don't think anything takes the place of thefarm where one lived when one was a child,"observed Rebecca, nearly bursting with pride at havingat last successfully used the indefinite pronoun ingeneral conversation.
The man darted a look at her and put down hisear of corn. "So you consider your childhood athing of the past, do you, young lady?""I can still remember it," answered Rebeccagravely, "though it seems a long time ago.""I can remember mine well enough, and aparticularly unpleasant one it was," said the stranger.
"So was mine," sighed Rebecca. "What wasyour worst trouble?""Lack of food and clothes principally.""Oh!" exclaimed Rebecca sympathetically,--"mine was no shoes and too many babies and notenough books. But you're all right and happynow, aren't you?" she asked doubtfully, for thoughhe looked handsome, well-fed, and prosperous, anychild could see that his eyes were tired and hismouth was sad when he was not speaking.
"I'm doing pretty well, thank you," said theman, with a delightful smile. "Now tell me, howmuch soap ought I to buy to-day?""How much has your aunt on hand now?"suggested the very modest and inexperienced agent;"and how much would she need?""Oh, I don't know about that; soap keeps,doesn't it?""I'm not certain," said Rebecca conscientiously,"but I'll look in the circular--it's sure to tell;"and she drew the document from her pocket.
"What are you going to do with the magnificentprofits you get from this business?""We are not selling for our own benefit," saidRebecca confidentially. "My friend who is holdingthe horse at the gate is the daughter of a veryrich blacksmith, and doesn't need any money. Iam poor, but I live with my aunts in a brick house,and of course they wouldn't like me to be apeddler. We are trying to get a premium for somefriends of ours."Rebecca had never thought of alluding to thecircumstances with her previous customers, butunexpectedly she found herself describing Mr. Simpson,Mrs. Simpson, and the Simpson family; their poverty,their joyless life, and their abject need of abanquet lamp to brighten their existence.
"You needn't argue that point," laughed theman, as he stood up to get a glimpse of the "richblacksmith's daughter" at the gate. "I can see thatthey ought to have it if they want it, and especiallyif you want them to have it. I've known what it wasmyself to do without a banquet lamp. Now give methe circular, and let's do some figuring. How muchdo the Simpsons lack at this moment?""If they sell two hundred more cakes this monthand next, they can have the lamp by Christmas,"Rebecca answered, "and they can get a shade bysummer time; but I'm afraid I can't help very muchafter to-day, because my aunt Miranda may not liketo have me.""I see. Well, that's all right. I'll take threehundred cakes, and that will give them shade andall."Rebecca had been seated on a stool very near tothe edge of the porch, and at this remark she madea sudden movement, tipped over, and disappearedinto a clump of lilac bushes. It was a very shortdistance, fortunately, and the amused capitalist pickedher up, set her on her feet, and brushed her off.
"You should never seem surprised when you havetaken a large order," said he; "you ought to havereplied `Can't you make it three hundred and fifty?'
instead of capsizing in that unbusinesslike way.""Oh, I could never say anything like that!"exclaimed Rebecca, who was blushing crimson at herawkward fall. "But it doesn't seem right for youto buy so much. Are you sure you can afford it?""If I can't, I'll save on something else," returnedthe jocose philanthropist.
"What if your aunt shouldn't like the kind ofsoap?" queried Rebecca nervously.
"My aunt always likes what I like," he returned"Mine doesn't!" exclaimed Rebecca"Then there's something wrong with your aunt!""Or with me," laughed Rebecca.
"What is your name, young lady?""Rebecca Rowena Randall, sir.""What?" with an amused smile. "BOTH? Yourmother was generous.""She couldn't bear to give up either of thenames she says.""Do you want to hear my name?""I think I know already," answered Rebecca, witha bright glance. "I'm sure you must be Mr. Aladdinin the Arabian Nights. Oh, please, can I rundown and tell Emma Jane? She must be so tiredwaiting, and she will be so glad!"At the man's nod of assent Rebecca sped downthe lane, crying irrepressibly as she neared thewagon, "Oh, Emma Jane! Emma Jane! we are soldout!"Mr. Aladdin followed smilingly to corroboratethis astonishing, unbelievable statement; lifted alltheir boxes from the back of the wagon, and takingthe circular, promised to write to the ExcelsiorCompany that night concerning the premium.
"If you could contrive to keep a secret,--youtwo little girls,--it would be rather a nice surpriseto have the lamp arrive at the Simpsons' on ThanksgivingDay, wouldn't it?" he asked, as he tuckedthe old lap robe cosily over their feet.
They gladly assented, and broke into a chorus ofexcited thanks during which tears of joy stood inRebecca's eyes.
"Oh, don't mention it!" laughed Mr. Aladdin,lifting his hat. "I was a sort of commercial travelermyself once,--years ago,--and I like to seethe thing well done. Good-by Miss Rebecca Rowena!
Just let me know whenever you have anythingto sell, for I'm certain beforehand I shall want it.""Good-by, Mr. Aladdin! I surely will!" criedRebecca, tossing back her dark braids delightedlyand waving her hand.
"Oh, Rebecca!" said Emma Jane in an awe-struck whisper. "He raised his hat to us, and wenot thirteen! It'll be five years before we'reladies.""Never mind," answered Rebecca; "we are theBEGINNINGS of ladies, even now.""He tucked the lap robe round us, too,"continued Emma Jane, in an ecstasy of reminiscence.
"Oh! isn't he perfectly elergant? And wasn't itlovely of him to buy us out? And just think ofhaving both the lamp and the shade for one day'swork! Aren't you glad you wore your pink ginghamnow, even if mother did make you put onflannel underneath? You do look so pretty in pinkand red, Rebecca, and so homely in drab andbrown!""I know it," sighed Rebecca "I wish I waslike you--pretty in all colors!" And Rebeccalooked longingly at Emma Jane's fat, rosy cheeks;at her blue eyes, which said nothing; at her neatnose, which had no character; at her red lips, frombetween which no word worth listening to had everissued.
"Never mind!" said Emma Jane comfortingly.
"Everybody says you're awful bright and smart, andmother thinks you'll be better looking all the timeas you grow older. You wouldn't believe it, but Iwas a dreadful homely baby, and homely right alongtill just a year or two ago, when my red hair beganto grow dark. What was the nice man's name?""I never thought to ask!" ejaculated Rebecca.
"Aunt Miranda would say that was just like me,and it is. But I called him Mr. Aladdin because hegave us a lamp. You know the story of Aladdin andthe wonderful lamp?""Oh, Rebecca! how could you call him a nicknamethe very first time you ever saw him?""Aladdin isn't a nickname exactly; anyway, helaughed and seemed to like it."By dint of superhuman effort, and putting sucha seal upon their lips as never mortals put before,the two girls succeeded in keeping their wonderfulnews to themselves; although it was obvious to allbeholders that they were in an extraordinary andabnormal state of mind.
On Thanksgiving the lamp arrived in a largepacking box, and was taken out and set up by See-saw Simpson, who suddenly began to admire andrespect the business ability of his sisters. Rebeccahad heard the news of its arrival, but waited untilnearly dark before asking permission to go to theSimpsons', so that she might see the gorgeoustrophy lighted and sending a blaze of crimsonglory through its red crepe paper shade.