When Rebecca looked back upon theyear or two that followed the Simpsons'
Thanksgiving party, she could see onlycertain milestones rising in the quiet pathway ofthe months.
The first milestone was Christmas Day. It wasa fresh, crystal morning, with icicles hanging likedazzling pendants from the trees and a glaze ofpale blue on the surface of the snow. The Simpsons'
red barn stood out, a glowing mass of color inthe white landscape. Rebecca had been busy forweeks before, trying to make a present for each ofthe seven persons at Sunnybrook Farm, a somewhatdifficult proceeding on an expenditure of fiftycents, hoarded by incredible exertion. Success hadbeen achieved, however, and the precious packethad been sent by post two days previous. MissSawyer had bought her niece a nice gray squirrelmuff and tippet, which was even more unbecomingif possible, than Rebecca's other articles of wearingapparel; but aunt Jane had made her the loveliestdress of green cashmere, a soft, soft green likethat of a young leaf. It was very simply made, butthe color delighted the eye. Then there was abeautiful "tatting" collar from her mother, somescarlet mittens from Mrs. Cobb, and a handkerchieffrom Emma Jane.
Rebecca herself had fashioned an elaborate tea-cosy with a letter "M" in outline stitch, and apretty frilled pincushion marked with a "J," for hertwo aunts, so that taken all together the day wouldhave been an unequivocal success had nothing elsehappened; but something else did.
There was a knock at the door at breakfast time,and Rebecca, answering it, was asked by a boy ifMiss Rebecca Randall lived there. On being toldthat she did, he handed her a parcel bearing hername, a parcel which she took like one in a dreamand bore into the dining-room.
"It's a present; it must be," she said, lookingat it in a dazed sort of way; "but I can't thinkwho it could be from.""A good way to find out would be to open it,"remarked Miss Miranda.
The parcel being untied proved to have twosmaller packages within, and Rebecca opened withtrembling fingers the one addressed to her. Anybody'sfingers would have trembled. There was acase which, when the cover was lifted, disclosed along chain of delicate pink coral beads,--a chainending in a cross made of coral rosebuds. A cardwith "Merry Christmas from Mr. Aladdin" layunder the cross.
"Of all things!" exclaimed the two old ladies,rising in their seats. "Who sent it?""Mr. Ladd," said Rebecca under her breath.
"Adam Ladd! Well I never! Don't you rememberEllen Burnham said he was going to sendRebecca a Christmas present? But I never supposedhe'd think of it again," said Jane. "What'sthe other package?"It proved to be a silver chain with a blue enamellocket on it, marked for Emma Jane. That addedthe last touch--to have him remember them both!
There was a letter also, which ran:--Dear Miss Rebecca Rowena,--My idea of aChristmas present is something entirely unnecessaryand useless. I have always noticed when Igive this sort of thing that people love it, so Ihope I have not chosen wrong for you and yourfriend. You must wear your chain this afternoon,please, and let me see it on your neck, for I amcoming over in my new sleigh to take you both todrive. My aunt is delighted with the soap.
Sincerely your friend,Adam Ladd.
"Well, well!" cried Miss Jane, "isn't that kindof him? He's very fond of children, Lyddy Burnhamsays. Now eat your breakfast, Rebecca, andafter we've done the dishes you can run over toEmma's and give her her chain-- What's the matter,child?"Rebecca's emotions seemed always to be stored,as it were, in adjoining compartments, and to becontinually getting mixed. At this moment, thoughher joy was too deep for words, her bread and butteralmost choked her, and at intervals a tear stolefurtively down her cheek.
Mr. Ladd called as he promised, and made theacquaintance of the aunts, understanding them bothin five minutes as well as if he had known themfor years. On a footstool near the open fire satRebecca, silent and shy, so conscious of her fineapparel and the presence of aunt Miranda that shecould not utter a word. It was one of her "beautydays." Happiness, excitement, the color of thegreen dress, and the touch of lovely pink in thecoral necklace had transformed the little brownwren for the time into a bird of plumage, and AdamLadd watched her with evident satisfaction. Thenthere was the sleigh ride, during which she foundher tongue and chattered like any magpie, and soended that glorious Christmas Day; and many andmany a night thereafter did Rebecca go to sleepwith the precious coral chain under her pillow, onehand always upon it to be certain that it was safe.
Another milestone was the departure of theSimpsons from Riverboro, bag and baggage, thebanquet lamp being their most conspicuous posses-sion. It was delightful to be rid of Seesaw's hatefulpresence; but otherwise the loss of severalplaymates at one fell swoop made rather a gapin Riverboro's "younger set," and Rebecca wasobliged to make friends with the Robinson baby,he being the only long-clothes child in the villagethat winter. The faithful Seesaw had called at theside door of the brick house on the evening beforehis departure, and when Rebecca answered hisknock, stammered solemnly, "Can I k-keep comp'nywith you when you g-g-row up?" "Certainly NOT,"replied Rebecca, closing the door somewhattoo speedily upon her precocious swain.
Mr. Simpson had come home in time to movehis wife and children back to the town that hadgiven them birth, a town by no means waiting withopen arms to receive them. The Simpsons' movingwas presided over by the village authorities andsomewhat anxiously watched by the entireneighborhood, but in spite of all precautions a pulpitchair, several kerosene lamps, and a small stovedisappeared from the church and were successfullyswapped in the course of Mr. Simpson'sdriving tour from the old home to the new. It gaveRebecca and Emma Jane some hours of sorrow tolearn that a certain village in the wake of AbnerSimpson's line of progress had acquired, throughthe medium of an ambitious young minister, amagnificent lamp for its new church parlors. No moneychanged hands in the operation; for the ministersucceeded in getting the lamp in return for an oldbicycle. The only pleasant feature of the wholeaffair was that Mr. Simpson, wholly unable to consolehis offspring for the loss of the beloved object,mounted the bicycle and rode away on it, not tobe seen or heard of again for many a long day.
The year was notable also as being the one inwhich Rebecca shot up like a young tree. She hadseemingly never grown an inch since she was tenyears old, but once started she attended to growingprecisely as she did other things,--with suchenergy, that Miss Jane did nothing for months butlengthen skirts, sleeves, and waists. In spite of allthe arts known to a thrifty New England woman,the limit of letting down and piecing down wasreached at last, and the dresses were sent to SunnybrookFarm to be made over for Jenny.
There was another milestone, a sad one, markinga little grave under a willow tree at SunnybrookFarm. Mira, the baby of the Randall family,died, and Rebecca went home for a fortnight'svisit. The sight of the small still shape that hadbeen Mira, the baby who had been her specialcharge ever since her birth, woke into being a hostof new thoughts and wonderments; for it is sometimesthe mystery of death that brings one to aconsciousness of the still greater mystery of life.
It was a sorrowful home-coming for Rebecca. Thedeath of Mira, the absence of John, who had beenher special comrade, the sadness of her mother, theisolation of the little house, and the pinchingeconomies that went on within it, all conspired todepress a child who was so sensitive to beauty andharmony as Rebecca.
Hannah seemed to have grown into a womanduring Rebecca's absence. There had always beena strange unchildlike air about Hannah, but incertain ways she now appeared older than aunt Jane--soberer, and more settled. She was pretty,though in a colorless fashion; pretty and capable.
Rebecca walked through all the old playgroundsand favorite haunts of her early childhood; all herfamiliar, her secret places; some of them known toJohn, some to herself alone. There was the spotwhere the Indian pipes grew; the particular bit ofmarshy ground where the fringed gentians used tobe largest and bluest; the rock maple where shefound the oriole's nest; the hedge where the fieldmice lived; the moss-covered stump where thewhite toadstools were wont to spring up as if bymagic; the hole at the root of the old pine where anancient and honorable toad made his home; thesewere the landmarks of her childhood, and she lookedat them as across an immeasurable distance. Thedear little sunny brook, her chief companion afterJohn, was sorry company at this season. Therewas no laughing water sparkling in the sunshine.
In summer the merry stream had danced over whitepebbles on its way to deep pools where it could bestill and think. Now, like Mira, it was cold andquiet, wrapped in its shroud of snow; but Rebeccaknelt by the brink, and putting her ear to the glazeof ice, fancied, where it used to be deepest, she couldhear a faint, tinkling sound. It was all right! Sunnybrookwould sing again in the spring; perhaps Miratoo would have her singing time somewhere--shewondered where and how. In the course of theselonely rambles she was ever thinking, thinking,of one subject. Hannah had never had a chance;never been freed from the daily care and work ofthe farm. She, Rebecca, had enjoyed all the privilegesthus far. Life at the brick house had not beenby any means a path of roses, but there had beencomfort and the companionship of other children, aswell as chances for study and reading. Riverborohad not been the world itself, but it had been aglimpse of it through a tiny peephole that wasinfinitely better than nothing. Rebecca shed morethan one quiet tear before she could trust herself tooffer up as a sacrifice that which she so much desiredfor herself. Then one morning as her visit nearedits end she plunged into the subject boldly andsaid, "Hannah, after this term I'm going to stayat home and let you go away. Aunt Miranda hasalways wanted you, and it's only fair you shouldhave your turn."Hannah was darning stockings, and she threadedher needle and snipped off the yarn before sheanswered, "No, thank you, Becky. Mother couldn'tdo without me, and I hate going to school. I canread and write and cipher as well as anybody now,and that's enough for me. I'd die rather than teachschool for a living. The winter'll go fast, for WillMelville is going to lend me his mother's sewingmachine, and I'm going to make white petticoatsout of the piece of muslin aunt Jane sent, and have'em just solid with tucks. Then there's going tobe a singing-school and a social circle in Temperanceafter New Year's, and I shall have a real goodtime now I'm grown up. I'm not one to be lonesome,Becky," Hannah ended with a blush; "I lovethis place."Rebecca saw that she was speaking the truth, butshe did not understand the blush till a year or twolater.