That niece of yours is the most remarkablegirl I have seen in years," said Mr.
Burch when the door closed.
"She seems to be turnin' out smart enough lately,but she's consid'able heedless," answered Miranda,"an' most too lively.""We must remember that it is deficient, notexcessive vitality, that makes the greatest trouble inthis world," returned Mr. Burch.
"She'd make a wonderful missionary," said Mrs.
Burch; "with her voice, and her magnetism, and hergift of language.""If I was to say which of the two she was bestadapted for, I'd say she'd make a better heathen,"remarked Miranda curtly.
"My sister don't believe in flattering children,"hastily interpolated Jane, glancing toward Mrs.
Burch, who seemed somewhat shocked, and wasabout to open her lips to ask if Rebecca was nota "professor."Mrs. Cobb had been looking for this question allthe evening and dreading some allusion to herfavorite as gifted in prayer. She had taken aninstantaneous and illogical dislike to the Rev. Mr. Burchin the afternoon because he called upon Rebeccato "lead." She had seen the pallor creep into thegirl's face, the hunted look in her eyes, and thetrembling of the lashes on her cheeks, and realizedthe ordeal through which she was passing. Herprejudice against the minister had relaxed under hisgenial talk and presence, but feeling that Mrs.
Burch was about to tread on dangerous ground, shehastily asked her if one had to change cars manytimes going from Riverboro to Syria. She felt thatit was not a particularly appropriate question, but itserved her turn.
Deacon Milliken, meantime, said to Miss Sawyer,"Mirandy, do you know who Rebecky reminds meof?""I can guess pretty well," she replied.
"Then you've noticed it too! I thought at first,seein' she favored her father so on the outside, thatshe was the same all through; but she ain't, she'slike your father, Israel Sawyer.""I don't see how you make that out," saidMiranda, thoroughly astonished.
"It struck me this afternoon when she got upto give your invitation in meetin'. It was kind o'
cur'ous, but she set in the same seat he used towhen he was leader o' the Sabbath-school. Youknow his old way of holdin' his chin up and throwin'
his head back a leetle when he got up to sayanything? Well, she done the very same thing; therewas more'n one spoke of it."The callers left before nine, and at that hour (animpossibly dissipated one for the brick house) thefamily retired for the night. As Rebecca carriedMrs. Burch's candle upstairs and found herselfthus alone with her for a minute, she said shyly,"Will you please tell Mr. Burch that I'm not amember of the church? I didn't know what to dowhen he asked me to pray this afternoon. I hadn'tthe courage to say I had never done it out loudand didn't know how. I couldn't think; and I wasso frightened I wanted to sink into the floor. Itseemed bold and wicked for me to pray before allthose old church members and make believe I wasbetter than I really was; but then again, wouldn'tGod think I was wicked not to be willing to praywhen a minister asked me to?"The candle light fell on Rebecca's flushed, sensitiveface. Mrs. Burch bent and kissed her good-night. "Don't be troubled," she said. "I'll tellMr. Burch, and I guess God will understand."Rebecca waked before six the next morning, sofull of household cares that sleep was impossible.
She went to the window and looked out; it wasstill dark, and a blustering, boisterous day.
"Aunt Jane told me she should get up at halfpast six and have breakfast at half past seven," shethought; "but I daresay they are both sick withtheir colds, and aunt Miranda will be fidgety withso many in the house. I believe I'll creep downand start things for a surprise."She put on a wadded wrapper and slippers andstole quietly down the tabooed front stairs,carefully closed the kitchen door behind her so that nonoise should waken the rest of the household, busiedherself for a half hour with the early morning routineshe knew so well, and then went back to her roomto dress before calling the children.
Contrary to expectation, Miss Jane, who theevening before felt better than Miranda, grew worsein the night, and was wholly unable to leave her bedin the morning. Miranda grumbled without ceasingduring the progress of her hasty toilet, blamingeverybody in the universe for the afflictions she hadborne and was to bear during the day; she evencastigated the Missionary Board that had sent theBurches to Syria, and gave it as her unbiased opinionthat those who went to foreign lands for the purposeof saving heathen should stay there and save'em, and not go gallivantin' all over the earth witha passel o' children, visitin' folks that didn't want'em and never asked 'em.
Jane lay anxiously and restlessly in bed with afeverish headache, wondering how her sister couldmanage without her.
Miranda walked stiffly through the dining-room,tying a shawl over her head to keep the draughtsaway, intending to start the breakfast fire and thencall Rebecca down, set her to work, and tell her,meanwhile, a few plain facts concerning the properway of representing the family at a missionarymeeting.
She opened the kitchen door and stared vaguelyabout her, wondering whether she had strayed intothe wrong house by mistake.
The shades were up, and there was a roaring firein the stove; the teakettle was singing and bubblingas it sent out a cloud of steam, and pushedover its capacious nose was a half sheet of notepaper with "Compliments of Rebecca" scrawledon it. The coffee pot was scalding, the coffee wasmeasured out in a bowl, and broken eggshells forthe settling process were standing near. The coldpotatoes and corned beef were in the wooden tray,and "Regards of Rebecca" stuck on the choppingknife. The brown loaf was out, the white loaf wasout, the toast rack was out, the doughnuts were out,the milk was skimmed, the butter had been broughtfrom the dairy.
Miranda removed the shawl from her head andsank into the kitchen rocker, ejaculating under herbreath, "She is the beatin'est child! I declare she'sall Sawyer!"The day and the evening passed off with creditand honor to everybody concerned, even to Jane,who had the discretion to recover instead of growingworse and acting as a damper to the generalenjoyment. The Burches left with lively regrets,and the little missionaries, bathed in tears, sworeeternal friendship with Rebecca, who pressed intotheir hands at parting a poem composed beforebreakfast.
TO MARY AND MARTHA BURCHBorn under Syrian skies,'Neath hotter suns than ours;The children grew and bloomed,Like little tropic flowers.
When they first saw the light,'T was in a heathen land.
Not Greenland's icy mountains,Nor India's coral strand,But some mysterious countryWhere men are nearly blackAnd where of true religion,There is a painful lack.
Then let us haste in helpingThe Missionary Board,Seek dark-skinned unbelievers,And teach them of their Lord.
Rebecca Rowena Randall.
It can readily be seen that this visit of thereturned missionaries to Riverboro was not withoutsomewhat far-reaching results. Mr. and Mrs. Burchthemselves looked back upon it as one of the rarestpleasures of their half year at home. The neighborhoodextracted considerable eager conversationfrom it; argument, rebuttal, suspicion, certainty,retrospect, and prophecy. Deacon Milliken gave tendollars towards the conversion of Syria toCongregationalism, and Mrs. Milliken had a spell ofsickness over her husband's rash generosity.
It would be pleasant to state that MirandaSawyer was an entirely changed woman afterwards, butthat is not the fact. The tree that has been gettinga twist for twenty years cannot be straightenedin the twinkling of an eye. It is certain, however,that although the difference to the outward eyewas very small, it nevertheless existed, and she wasless censorious in her treatment of Rebecca, lessharsh in her judgments, more hopeful of finalsalvation for her. This had come about largely fromher sudden vision that Rebecca, after all, inheritedsomething from the Sawyer side of the house insteadof belonging, mind, body, and soul, to the despisedRandall stock. Everything that was interesting inRebecca, and every evidence of power, capability,or talent afterwards displayed by her, Mirandaascribed to the brick house training, and this gaveher a feeling of honest pride, the pride of a masterworkman who has built success out of the mostunpromising material; but never, to the very end,even when the waning of her bodily strength relaxedher iron grip and weakened her power of repression,never once did she show that pride or make asingle demonstration of affection.
Poor misplaced, belittled Lorenzo de Medici Ran-dall, thought ridiculous and good-for-naught by hisassociates, because he resembled them in nothing!
If Riverboro could have been suddenly emptied intoa larger community, with different and more flexibleopinions, he was, perhaps, the only personage inthe entire population who would have attracted thesmallest attention. It was fortunate for his daughterthat she had been dowered with a little practicalability from her mother's family, but if Lorenzohad never done anything else in the world, he mighthave glorified himself that he had prevented Rebeccafrom being all Sawyer. Failure as he was, completeand entire, he had generously handed down to herall that was best in himself, and prudently retainedall that was unworthy. Few fathers are capable ofsuch delicate discrimination.
The brick house did not speedily become a sortof wayside inn, a place of innocent revelry andjoyous welcome; but the missionary company was anentering wedge, and Miranda allowed one spare bedto be made up "in case anything should happen,"while the crystal glasses were kept on the secondfrom the top, instead of the top shelf, in the chinacloset. Rebecca had had to stand on a chair to reachthem; now she could do it by stretching; and thisis symbolic of the way in which she unconsciouslyscaled the walls of Miss Miranda's dogmatism andprejudice.
Miranda went so far as to say that she wouldn'tmind if the Burches came every once in a while, butshe was afraid he'd spread abroad the fact of hisvisit, and missionaries' families would be underfootthe whole continual time. As a case in point, shegracefully cited the fact that if a tramp got a goodmeal at anybody's back door, 't was said that he'dleave some kind of a sign so that all other trampswould know where they were likely to receive thesame treatment.
It is to be feared that there is some truth in thishomely illustration, and Miss Miranda's dread asto her future responsibilities had some foundation,though not of the precise sort she had in mind.
The soul grows into lovely habits as easily as intougly ones, and the moment a life begins to blossominto beautiful words and deeds, that moment a newstandard of conduct is established, and your eagerneighbors look to you for a continuous manifestationof the good cheer, the sympathy, the ready wit, thecomradeship, or the inspiration, you once showedyourself capable of. Bear figs for a season or two,and the world outside the orchard is very unwillingyou should bear thistles.
The effect of the Burches' visit on Rebecca is noteasily described. Nevertheless, as she looked backupon it from the vantage ground of after years, shefelt that the moment when Mr. Burch asked her to"lead in prayer" marked an epoch in her life.
If you have ever observed how courteous andgracious and mannerly you feel when you don abeautiful new frock; if you have ever noticed thefeeling of reverence stealing over you when youclose your eyes, clasp your hands, and bow yourhead; if you have ever watched your sense ofrepulsion toward a fellow creature melt a little underthe exercise of daily politeness, you may understandhow the adoption of the outward and visible signhas some strange influence in developing the inwardand spiritual state of which it is the expression.
It is only when one has grown old and dull thatthe soul is heavy and refuses to rise. The youngsoul is ever winged; a breath stirs it to an upwardflight. Rebecca was asked to bear witness to astate of mind or feeling of whose existence she hadonly the vaguest consciousness. She obeyed, and asshe uttered words they became true in the uttering;as she voiced aspirations they settled into realities.
As "dove that to its window flies," her spiritsoared towards a great light, dimly discovered atfirst, but brighter as she came closer to it. Tobecome sensible of oneness with the Divine heartbefore any sense of separation has been felt, this issurely the most beautiful way for the child to findGod.