The time so long and eagerly waited forhad come, and Rebecca was a student atWareham. Persons who had enjoyed thesocial bewilderments and advantages of foreigncourts, or had mingled freely in the intellectualcircles of great universities, might not have lookedupon Wareham as an extraordinary experience;but it was as much of an advance upon Riverboroas that village had been upon Sunnybrook Farm.
Rebecca's intention was to complete the fouryears' course in three, as it was felt by all theparties concerned that when she had attained the ripeage of seventeen she must be ready to earn herown living and help in the education of the youngerchildren. While she was wondering how this couldbe successfully accomplished, some of the othergirls were cogitating as to how they could meanderthrough the four years and come out at the endknowing no more than at the beginning. Thiswould seem a difficult, well-nigh an impossible task,but it can be achieved, and has been, at other seatsof learning than modest little Wareham.
Rebecca was to go to and fro on the cars dailyfrom September to Christmas, and then board inWareham during the three coldest months. EmmaJane's parents had always thought that a year ortwo in the Edgewood high school (three miles fromRiverboro) would serve every purpose for theirdaughter and send her into the world with as finean intellectual polish as she could well sustain.
Emma Jane had hitherto heartily concurred inthis opinion, for if there was any one thing thatshe detested it was the learning of lessons. Onebook was as bad as another in her eyes, and shecould have seen the libraries of the world sinkinginto ocean depths and have eaten her dinner cheerfullythe while; but matters assumed a differentcomplexion when she was sent to Edgewood andRebecca to Wareham. She bore it for a week--seven endless days of absence from the belovedobject, whom she could see only in the eveningswhen both were busy with their lessons. Sundayoffered an opportunity to put the matter beforeher father, who proved obdurate. He didn'tbelieve in education and thought she had full enoughalready. He never intended to keep up "blacksmithing"for good when he leased his farm andcame into Riverboro, but proposed to go back toit presently, and by that time Emma Jane wouldhave finished school and would be ready to helpher mother with the dairy work.
Another week passed. Emma Jane pined visiblyand audibly. Her color faded, and her appetite(at table) dwindled almost to nothing.
Her mother alluded plaintively to the fact thatthe Perkinses had a habit of going into declines;that she'd always feared that Emma Jane'scomplexion was too beautiful to be healthy; that somemen would be proud of having an ambitious daughter,and be glad to give her the best advantages;that she feared the daily journeys to Edgewoodwere going to be too much for her own health,and Mr. Perkins would have to hire a boy to driveEmma Jane; and finally that when a girl had sucha passion for learning as Emma Jane, it seemedalmost like wickedness to cross her will.
Mr. Perkins bore this for several days until histemper, digestion, and appetite were all sensiblyaffected; then he bowed his head to the inevitable,and Emma Jane flew, like a captive set free, to theloved one's bower. Neither did her courage flag,although it was put to terrific tests when she enteredthe academic groves of Wareham. She passed inonly two subjects, but went cheerfully into thepreparatory department with her five "conditions,"intending to let the stream of education play gentlyover her mental surfaces and not get any wetter thanshe could help. It is not possible to blink the truththat Emma Jane was dull; but a dogged, unswervingloyalty, and the gift of devoted, unselfish loving,these, after all, are talents of a sort, and maypossibly be of as much value in the world as a senseof numbers or a faculty for languages.
Wareham was a pretty village with a broad mainstreet shaded by great maples and elms. It had anapothecary, a blacksmith, a plumber, several shopsof one sort and another, two churches, and manyboarding-houses; but all its interests gathered aboutits seminary and its academy. These seats of learningwere neither better nor worse than others oftheir kind, but differed much in efficiency, accordingas the principal who chanced to be at the head wasa man of power and inspiration or the reverse.
There were boys and girls gathered from all partsof the county and state, and they were of everykind and degree as to birth, position in the world,wealth or poverty. There was an opportunity for adeal of foolish and imprudent behavior, but on thewhole surprisingly little advantage was taken of it.
Among the third and fourth year students therewas a certain amount of going to and from thetrains in couples; some carrying of heavy booksup the hill by the sterner sex for their feminineschoolmates, and occasional bursts of silliness onthe part of heedless and precocious girls, amongwhom was Huldah Meserve. She was friendlyenough with Emma Jane and Rebecca, but grewless and less intimate as time went on. She wasextremely pretty, with a profusion of auburn hair,and a few very tiny freckles, to which sheconstantly alluded, as no one could possibly detectthem without noting her porcelain skin and hercurling lashes. She had merry eyes, a somewhattoo plump figure for her years, and was popularlysupposed to have a fascinating way with her.
Riverboro being poorly furnished with beaux, sheintended to have as good a time during her fouryears at Wareham as circumstances would permit.
Her idea of pleasure was an ever-changing circleof admirers to fetch and carry for her, the morepublicly the better; incessant chaff and laughterand vivacious conversation, made eloquent andeffective by arch looks and telling glances. Shehad a habit of confiding her conquests to lessfortunate girls and bewailing the incessant havoc anddamage she was doing; a damage she avowedherself as innocent of, in intention, as any new-bornlamb. It does not take much of this sort of thingto wreck an ordinary friendship, so before longRebecca and Emma Jane sat in one end of therailway train in going to and from Riverboro, andHuldah occupied the other with her court.
Sometimes this was brilliant beyond words, includinga certain youthful Monte Cristo, who on Fridaysexpended thirty cents on a round trip ticket andtraveled from Wareham to Riverboro merely to benear Huldah; sometimes, too, the circle was reducedto the popcorn-and-peanut boy of the train, whoseemed to serve every purpose in default of bettergame.
Rebecca was in the normally unconscious statethat belonged to her years; boys were good comrades,but no more; she liked reciting in the sameclass with them, everything seemed to move better;but from vulgar and precocious flirtations she wasprotected by her ideals. There was little in thelads she had met thus far to awaken her fancy, forit habitually fed on better meat. Huldah's school-girl romances, with their wealth of commonplacedetail, were not the stuff her dreams were made of,when dreams did flutter across the sensitive plate ofher mind.
Among the teachers at Wareham was one whoinfluenced Rebecca profoundly, Miss Emily Maxwell,with whom she studied English literature andcomposition. Miss Maxwell, as the niece of oneof Maine's ex-governors and the daughter of one ofBowdoin's professors, was the most remarkablepersonality in Wareham, and that her few years ofteaching happened to be in Rebecca's time was thehappiest of all chances. There was no indecision ordelay in the establishment of their relations;Rebecca's heart flew like an arrow to its mark, andher mind, meeting its superior, settled at once intoan abiding attitude of respectful homage.
It was rumored that Miss Maxwell "wrote,"which word, when uttered in a certain tone, wasunderstood to mean not that a person had commandof penmanship, Spencerian or otherwise, but thatshe had appeared in print.
"You'll like her; she writes," whispered Huldahto Rebecca the first morning at prayers, where thefaculty sat in an imposing row on the front seats.
"She writes; and I call her stuck up."Nobody seemed possessed of exact informationwith which to satisfy the hungry mind, but there wasbelieved to be at least one person in existence whohad seen, with his own eyes, an essay by MissMaxwell in a magazine. This height of achievementmade Rebecca somewhat shy of her, but she lookedher admiration; something that most of the classcould never do with the unsatisfactory organs ofvision given them by Mother Nature. MissMaxwell's glance was always meeting a pair of eagerdark eyes; when she said anything particularlygood, she looked for approval to the corner of thesecond bench, where every shade of feeling shewished to evoke was reflected on a certain sensitiveyoung face.
One day, when the first essay of the class wasunder discussion, she asked each new pupil to bringher some composition written during the year before,that she might judge the work, and know preciselywith what material she had to deal. Rebeccalingered after the others, and approached the deskshyly.
"I haven't any compositions here, Miss Maxwell,but I can find one when I go home on Friday.
They are packed away in a box in the attic.""Carefully tied with pink and blue ribbons?"asked Miss Maxwell, with a whimsical smile.
"No," answered Rebecca, shaking her headdecidedly; "I wanted to use ribbons, because all theother girls did, and they looked so pretty, but Iused to tie my essays with twine strings onpurpose; and the one on solitude I fastened with anold shoelacing just to show it what I thought ofit!""Solitude!" laughed Miss Maxwell, raising hereyebrows. "Did you choose your own subject?""No; Miss Dearborn thought we were not oldenough to find good ones.""What were some of the others?""Fireside Reveries, Grant as a Soldier, Reflectionson the Life of P. T. Barnum, Buried Cities;I can't remember any more now. They were all bad,and I can't bear to show them; I can write poetryeasier and better, Miss Maxwell.""Poetry!" she exclaimed. "Did Miss Dearbornrequire you to do it?""Oh, no; I always did it even at the farm. ShallI bring all I have? It isn't much."Rebecca took the blank-book in which she keptcopies of her effusions and left it at Miss Maxwell'sdoor, hoping that she might be asked in and thusobtain a private interview; but a servant answeredher ring, and she could only walk away, disappointed.
A few days afterward she saw the black-coveredbook on Miss Maxwell's desk and knew that thedreaded moment of criticism had come, so she wasnot surprised to be asked to remain after class.
The room was quiet; the red leaves rustled inthe breeze and flew in at the open window, bearingthe first compliments of the season. Miss Maxwellcame and sat by Rebecca's side on the bench.
"Did you think these were good?" she asked,giving her the verses.
"Not so very," confessed Rebecca; "but it'shard to tell all by yourself. The Perkinses and theCobbs always said they were wonderful, but whenMrs. Cobb told me she thought they were betterthan Mr. Longfellow's I was worried, because Iknew that couldn't be true."This ingenuous remark confirmed Miss Maxwell'sopinion of Rebecca as a girl who could hear thetruth and profit by it.
"Well, my child," she said smilingly, "yourfriends were wrong and you were right; judged bythe proper tests, they are pretty bad.""Then I must give up all hope of ever being awriter!" sighed Rebecca, who was tasting thebitterness of hemlock and wondering if she couldkeep the tears back until the interview was over.
"Don't go so fast," interrupted Miss Maxwell.
"Though they don't amount to anything as poetry,they show a good deal of promise in certain direc-tions. You almost never make a mistake in rhymeor metre, and this shows you have a natural senseof what is right; a `sense of form,' poets wouldcall it. When you grow older, have a little moreexperience,--in fact, when you have somethingto say, I think you may write very good verses.
Poetry needs knowledge and vision, experience andimagination, Rebecca. You have not the first threeyet, but I rather think you have a touch of the last.""Must I never try any more poetry, not evento amuse myself?""Certainly you may; it will only help you towrite better prose. Now for the first composition.
I am going to ask all the new students to write aletter giving some description of the town and ahint of the school life.""Shall I have to be myself?" asked Rebecca.
"What do you mean?""A letter from Rebecca Randall to her sisterHannah at Sunnybrook Farm, or to her aunt Janeat the brick house, Riverboro, is so dull and stupid,if it is a real letter; but if I could make believe I wasa different girl altogether, and write to somebodywho would be sure to understand everything I said,I could make it nicer.""Very well; I think that's a delightful plan,"said Miss Maxwell; "and whom will you supposeyourself to be?""I like heiresses very much," replied Rebeccacontemplatively. "Of course I never saw one, butinteresting things are always happening toheiresses, especially to the golden-haired kind. Myheiress wouldn't be vain and haughty like thewicked sisters in Cinderella; she would be nobleand generous. She would give up a grand schoolin Boston because she wanted to come here whereher father lived when he was a boy, long before hemade his fortune. The father is dead now, and shehas a guardian, the best and kindest man in theworld; he is rather old of course, and sometimesvery quiet and grave, but sometimes when he ishappy, he is full of fun, and then Evelyn is not afraidof him. Yes, the girl shall be called EvelynAbercrombie, and her guardian's name shall be Mr. AdamLadd.""Do you know Mr. Ladd?" asked Miss Maxwellin surprise.
"Yes, he's my very best friend," cried Rebeccadelightedly. "Do you know him too?""Oh, yes; he is a trustee of these schools, youknow, and often comes here. But if I let you`suppose' any more, you will tell me your whole letterand then I shall lose a pleasant surprise."What Rebecca thought of Miss Maxwell wealready know; how the teacher regarded the pupilmay be gathered from the following letter writtentwo or three months later.
Wareham, December 1stMy Dear Father,--As you well know, I havenot always been an enthusiast on the subject ofteaching. The task of cramming knowledge intothese self-sufficient, inefficient youngsters of bothsexes discourages me at times. The more stupid theyare, the less they are aware of it. If my departmentwere geography or mathematics, I believe I shouldfeel that I was accomplishing something, for in thosebranches application and industry work wonders;but in English literature and composition one yearnsfor brains, for appreciation, for imagination! Monthafter month I toil on, opening oyster after oyster,but seldom finding a pearl. Fancy my joy this termwhen, without any violent effort at shell-splitting,I came upon a rare pearl; a black one, but of satinskin and beautiful lustre! Her name is Rebecca,and she looks not unlike Rebekah at the Well in ourfamily Bible; her hair and eyes being so dark asto suggest a strain of Italian or Spanish blood. Sheis nobody in particular. Man has done nothing forher; she has no family to speak of, no money, noeducation worthy the name, has had no advantagesof any sort; but Dame Nature flung herself intothe breach and said:--"This child I to myself will take;She shall be mine and I will makeA Lady of my own."Blessed Wordsworth! How he makes us understand!
And the pearl never heard of him until now!
Think of reading Lucy to a class, and when youfinish, seeing a fourteen-year-old pair of lipsquivering with delight, and a pair of eyes brimming withcomprehending tears!
You poor darling! You, too, know thediscouragement of sowing lovely seed in rocky earth,in sand, in water, and (it almost seems sometimes)in mud; knowing that if anything comes up at allit will be some poor starveling plant. Fancy the joyof finding a real mind; of dropping seed in a soilso warm, so fertile, that one knows there are sureto be foliage, blossoms, and fruit all in good time!
I wish I were not so impatient and so greedy ofresults! I am not fit to be a teacher; no one iswho is so scornful of stupidity as I am. . . . Thepearl writes quaint countrified little verses,doggerel they are; but somehow or other she alwayscontrives to put in one line, one thought, one image,that shows you she is, quite unconsciously to herself,in possession of the secret. . . . Good-by; I'll bringRebecca home with me some Friday, and let youand mother see her for yourselves.
Your affectionate daughter,Emily.