How d' ye do, girls?" said Huldah Meserve,peeping in at the door. "Can youstop studying a minute and show me yourroom? Say, I've just been down to the storeand bought me these gloves, for I was bound Iwouldn't wear mittens this winter; they'resimply too countrified. It's your first year here, andyou're younger than I am, so I s'pose you don'tmind, but I simply suffer if I don't keep up somekind of style. Say, your room is simply too cute forwords! I don't believe any of the others can beginto compare with it! I don't know what gives it thatsimply gorgeous look, whether it's the full curtains,or that elegant screen, or Rebecca's lamp; but youcertainly do have a faculty for fixing up. I like apretty room too, but I never have a minute toattend to mine; I'm always so busy on my clothes thathalf the time I don't get my bed made up till noon;and after all, having no callers but the girls, it don'tmake much difference. When I graduate, I'm goingto fix up our parlor at home so it'll be simply regal.
I've learned decalcomania, and after I take up lustrepainting I shall have it simply stiff with drapes andtidies and placques and sofa pillows, and make mo-ther let me have a fire, and receive my friends thereevenings. May I dry my feet at your register? Ican't bear to wear rubbers unless the mud or theslush is simply knee-deep, they make your feet lookso awfully big. I had such a fuss getting this pairof French-heeled boots that I don't intend to spoilthe looks of them with rubbers any oftener than Ican help. I believe boys notice feet quicker thananything. Elmer Webster stepped on one of mineyesterday when I accidentally had it out in theaisle, and when he apologized after class, he said hewasn't so much to blame, for the foot was so littlehe really couldn't see it! Isn't he perfectly great?
Of course that's only his way of talking, for afterall I only wear a number two, but these Frenchheels and pointed toes do certainly make your footlook smaller, and it's always said a high instep helps,too. I used to think mine was almost a deformity,but they say it's a great beauty. Just put your feetbeside mine, girls, and look at the difference; notthat I care much, but just for fun.""My feet are very comfortable where they are,"responded Rebecca dryly. "I can't stop to measureinsteps on algebra days; I've noticed your habitof keeping a foot in the aisle ever since you hadthose new shoes, so I don't wonder it was steppedon.""Perhaps I am a little mite conscious of them,because they're not so very comfortable at first, tillyou get them broken in. Say, haven't you got alot of new things?""Our Christmas presents, you mean," said EmmaJane. "The pillow-cases are from Mrs. Cobb, therug from cousin Mary in North Riverboro, thescrap-basket from Living and Dick. We gave eachother the bureau and cushion covers, and the screenis mine from Mr. Ladd.""Well, you were lucky when you met him!
Gracious! I wish I could meet somebody like that.
The way he keeps it up, too! It just hides yourbed, doesn't it, and I always say that a bed takesthe style off any room--specially when it's notmade up; though you have an alcove, and it's theonly one in the whole building. I don't see howyou managed to get this good room when you'resuch new scholars," she finished discontentedly.
"We shouldn't have, except that Ruth Berryhad to go away suddenly on account of her father'sdeath. This room was empty, and Miss Maxwellasked if we might have it," returned Emma Jane.
"The great and only Max is more stiff andstandoffish than ever this year," said Huldah. "I'vesimply given up trying to please her, for there'sno justice in her; she is good to her favorites, butshe doesn't pay the least attention to anybody else,except to make sarcastic speeches about thingsthat are none of her business. I wanted to tell heryesterday it was her place to teach me Latin, notmanners.""I wish you wouldn't talk against Miss Maxwellto me," said Rebecca hotly. "You know how Ifeel.""I know; but I can't understand how you canabide her.""I not only abide, I love her!" exclaimedRebecca. "I wouldn't let the sun shine too hot onher, or the wind blow too cold. I'd like to put amarble platform in her class-room and have her sitin a velvet chair behind a golden table!""Well, don't have a fit!--because she can sitwhere she likes for all of me; I've got somethingbetter to think of," and Huldah tossed her head.
"Isn't this your study hour?" asked EmmaJane, to stop possible discussion.
"Yes, but I lost my Latin grammar yesterday;I left it in the hall half an hour while I was havinga regular scene with Herbert Dunn. I haven'tspoken to him for a week and gave him back hisclass pin. He was simply furious. Then when Icame back to the hall, the book was gone. I hadto go down town for my gloves and to the principal'soffice to see if the grammar had been handedin, and that's the reason I'm so fine."Huldah was wearing a woolen dress that hadonce been gray, but had been dyed a brilliant blue.
She had added three rows of white braid and largewhite pearl buttons to her gray jacket, in order tomake it a little more "dressy." Her gray felt hathad a white feather on it, and a white tissue veilwith large black dots made her delicate skin lookbrilliant. Rebecca thought how lovely the knot ofred hair looked under the hat behind, and how thecolor of the front had been dulled by incessantfrizzing with curling irons. Her open jacketdisclosed a galaxy of souvenirs pinned to thebackground of bright blue,--a small American flag, abutton of the Wareham Rowing Club, and one ortwo society pins. These decorations proved herpopularity in very much the same way as do thecotillion favors hanging on the bedroom walls ofthe fashionable belle. She had been pinning andunpinning, arranging and disarranging her veilever since she entered the room, in the hope thatthe girls would ask her whose ring she was wearingthis week; but although both had noticed the newornament instantly, wild horses could not havedrawn the question from them; her desire to beasked was too obvious. With her gay plumage,her "nods and becks and wreathed smiles," and hercheerful cackle, Huldah closely resembled theparrot in Wordsworth's poem:--"Arch, volatile, a sportive bird,By social glee inspired;Ambitious to be seen or heard,And pleased to be admired!""Mr. Morrison thinks the grammar will bereturned, and lent me another," Huldah continued.
"He was rather snippy about my leaving a book inthe hall. There was a perfectly elegant gentlemanin the office, a stranger to me. I wish he was a newteacher, but there's no such luck. He was tooyoung to be the father of any of the girls, and tooold to be a brother, but he was handsome as apicture and had on an awful stylish suit of clothes.
He looked at me about every minute I was in theroom. It made me so embarrassed I couldn't hardlyanswer Mr. Morrison's questions straight.""You'll have to wear a mask pretty soon, ifyou're going to have any comfort, Huldah," saidRebecca. "Did he offer to lend you his class pin,or has it been so long since he graduated that he'sleft off wearing it? And tell us now whether theprincipal asked for a lock of your hair to put in hiswatch?"This was all said merrily and laughingly, butthere were times when Huldah could scarcely makeup her mind whether Rebecca was trying to bewitty, or whether she was jealous; but shegenerally decided it was merely the latter feeling,rather natural in a girl who had little attention.
"He wore no jewelry but a cameo scarf pin anda perfectly gorgeous ring,--a queer kind of onethat wound round and round his finger. Oh dear,I must run! Where has the hour gone? There'sthe study bell!"Rebecca had pricked up her ears at Huldah'sspeech. She remembered a certain strange ring,and it belonged to the only person in the world (saveMiss Maxwell) who appealed to her imagination,--Mr. Aladdin. Her feeling for him, and that of EmmaJane, was a mixture of romantic and reverent admirationfor the man himself and the liveliest gratitudefor his beautiful gifts. Since they first met himnot a Christmas had gone by without some remembrancefor them both; remembrances chosen withthe rarest taste and forethought. Emma Jane hadseen him only twice, but he had called several timesat the brick house, and Rebecca had learned toknow him better. It was she, too, who always wrotethe notes of acknowledgment and thanks, takinginfinite pains to make Emma Jane's quite differentfrom her own. Sometimes he had written fromBoston and asked her the news of Riverboro, andshe had sent him pages of quaint and childlike gossip,interspersed, on two occasions, with poetry,which he read and reread with infinite relish. IfHuldah's stranger should be Mr. Aladdin, would hecome to see her, and could she and Emma Janeshow him their beautiful room with so many of hisgifts in evidence?
When the girls had established themselves inWareham as real boarding pupils, it seemed tothem existence was as full of joy as it well couldhold. This first winter was, in fact, the mosttranquilly happy of Rebecca's school life,--a winterlong to be looked back upon. She and EmmaJane were room-mates, and had put their modestpossessions together to make their surroundingspretty and homelike. The room had, to begin with,a cheerful red ingrain carpet and a set of maplefurniture. As to the rest, Rebecca had furnishedthe ideas and Emma Jane the materials and labor,a method of dividing responsibilities that seemedto suit the circumstances admirably. Mrs. Perkins'sfather had been a storekeeper, and on his deathhad left the goods of which he was possessed tohis married daughter. The molasses, vinegar, andkerosene had lasted the family for five years, andthe Perkins attic was still a treasure-house ofginghams, cottons, and "Yankee notions." So atRebecca's instigation Mrs. Perkins had made fullcurtains and lambrequins of unbleached muslin,which she had trimmed and looped back withbands of Turkey red cotton. There were two tablecovers to match, and each of the girls had herstudy corner. Rebecca, after much coaxing, hadbeen allowed to bring over her precious lamp,which would have given a luxurious air to anyapartment, and when Mr. Aladdin's last Christmaspresents were added,--the Japanese screen forEmma Jane and the little shelf of English Poetsfor Rebecca,--they declared that it was all quiteas much fun as being married and going to housekeeping.
The day of Huldah's call was Friday, and onFridays from three to half past four Rebecca wasfree to take a pleasure to which she looked forwardthe entire week. She always ran down the snowypath through the pine woods at the back of theseminary, and coming out on a quiet village street,went directly to the large white house where MissMaxwell lived. The maid-of-all-work answered herknock; she took off her hat and cape and hungthem in the hall, put her rubber shoes andumbrella carefully in the corner, and then opened thedoor of paradise. Miss Maxwell's sitting-room waslined on two sides with bookshelves, and Rebeccawas allowed to sit before the fire and browseamong the books to her heart's delight for an houror more. Then Miss Maxwell would come backfrom her class, and there would be a precious halfhour of chat before Rebecca had to meet EmmaJane at the station and take the train for Riverboro,where her Saturdays and Sundays werespent, and where she was washed, ironed, mended,and examined, approved and reproved, warned andadvised in quite sufficient quantity to last her thesucceeding week.
On this Friday she buried her face in the bloominggeraniums on Miss Maxwell's plant-stand, selectedRomola from one of the bookcases, and sankinto a seat by the window with a sigh of infinitecontent, She glanced at the clock now and then,remembering the day on which she had been soimmersed in David Copperfield that the Riverborotrain had no place in her mind. The distractedEmma Jane had refused to leave without her, andhad run from the station to look for her at MissMaxwell's. There was but one later train, and thatwent only to a place three miles the other sideof Riverboro, so that the two girls appeared at theirrespective homes long after dark, having had aweary walk in the snow.
When she had read for half an hour she glancedout of the window and saw two figures issuing fromthe path through the woods. The knot of brighthair and the coquettish hat could belong to butone person; and her companion, as the coupleapproached, proved to be none other than Mr. Aladdin.
Huldah was lifting her skirts daintily andpicking safe stepping-places for the high-heeledshoes, her cheeks glowing, her eyes sparkling underthe black and white veil.
Rebecca slipped from her post by the window tothe rug before the bright fire and leaned her headon the seat of the great easy-chair. She was frightenedat the storm in her heart; at the suddennesswith which it had come on, as well as at the strangenessof an entirely new sensation. She felt all atonce as if she could not bear to give up her shareof Mr. Aladdin's friendship to Huldah: Huldah sobright, saucy, and pretty; so gay and ready, andsuch good company! She had always joyfullyadmitted Emma Jane into the precious partnership,but perhaps unconsciously to herself she hadrealized that Emma Jane had never held anything buta secondary place in Mr. Aladdin's regard; yet whowas she herself, after all, that she could hope to befirst?
Suddenly the door opened softly and somebodylooked in, somebody who said: "Miss Maxwelltold me I should find Miss Rebecca Randall here."Rebecca started at the sound and sprang to herfeet, saying joyfully, "Mr. Aladdin! Oh! I knewyou were in Wareham, and I was afraid youwouldn't have time to come and see us.""Who is `us'? The aunts are not here, arethey? Oh, you mean the rich blacksmith's daughter,whose name I can never remember. Is shehere?""Yes, and my room-mate," answered Rebecca,who thought her own knell of doom had sounded,if he had forgotten Emma Jane's name.
The light in the room grew softer, the firecrackled cheerily, and they talked of many things,until the old sweet sense of friendliness andfamiliarity crept back into Rebecca's heart. Adamhad not seen her for several months, and there wasmuch to be learned about school matters as viewedfrom her own standpoint; he had already inquiredconcerning her progress from Mr. Morrison.
"Well, little Miss Rebecca," he said, rousinghimself at length, "I must be thinking of my driveto Portland. There is a meeting of railwaydirectors there to-morrow, and I always take thisopportunity of visiting the school and giving myvaluable advice concerning its affairs, educationaland financial.""It seems funny for you to be a school trustee,"said Rebecca contemplatively. "I can't seem tomake it fit.""You are a remarkably wise young person andI quite agree with you," he answered; "the factis," he added soberly, "I accepted the trusteeshipin memory of my poor little mother, whose lasthappy years were spent here.""That was a long time ago!""Let me see, I am thirty-two; only thirty-two,despite an occasional gray hair. My mother wasmarried a month after she graduated, and she livedonly until I was ten; yes, it is a long way back tomy mother's time here, though the school was fifteenor twenty years old then, I believe. Wouldyou like to see my mother, Miss Rebecca?"The girl took the leather case gently and openedit to find an innocent, pink-and-white daisy of aface, so confiding, so sensitive, that it went straightto the heart. It made Rebecca feel old, experienced,and maternal. She longed on the instant to comfortand strengthen such a tender young thing.
"Oh, what a sweet, sweet, flowery face!" shewhispered softly.
"The flower had to bear all sorts of storms," saidAdam gravely. "The bitter weather of the worldbent its slender stalk, bowed its head, and draggedit to the earth. I was only a child and could donothing to protect and nourish it, and there was noone else to stand between it and trouble. Now Ihave success and money and power, all that wouldhave kept her alive and happy, and it is too late.
She died for lack of love and care, nursing andcherishing, and I can never forget it. All that hascome to me seems now and then so useless, since Icannot share it with her!"This was a new Mr. Aladdin, and Rebecca's heartgave a throb of sympathy and comprehension. Thisexplained the tired look in his eyes, the look thatpeeped out now and then, under all his gay speechand laughter.
"I'm so glad I know," she said, "and so glad Icould see her just as she was when she tied thatwhite muslin hat under her chin and saw her yellowcurls and her sky-blue eyes in the glass. Mustn'tshe have been happy! I wish she could have beenkept so, and had lived to see you grow up strongand good. My mother is always sad and busy, butonce when she looked at John I heard her say, `Hemakes up for everything.' That's what your motherwould have thought about you if she had lived,and perhaps she does as it is.""You are a comforting little person, Rebecca,"said Adam, rising from his chair.
As Rebecca rose, the tears still trembling on herlashes, he looked at her suddenly as with new vision.
"Good-by!" he said, taking her slim brownhands in his, adding, as if he saw her for the firsttime, "Why, little Rose-Red-Snow-White is makingway for a new girl! Burning the midnight oil anddoing four years' work in three is supposed to dullthe eye and blanch the cheek, yet Rebecca's eyesare bright and she has a rosy color! Her long braidsare looped one on the other so that they make ablack letter U behind, and they are tied with grandbows at the top! She is so tall that she reachesalmost to my shoulder. This will never do in theworld! How will Mr. Aladdin get on without hiscomforting little friend! He doesn't like grown-upyoung ladies in long trains and wonderful fineclothes; they frighten and bore him!""Oh, Mr. Aladdin!" cried Rebecca eagerly,taking his jest quite seriously; "I am not fifteenyet, and it will be three years before I'm a younglady; please don't give me up until you have to!""I won't; I promise you that," said Adam.
"Rebecca," he continued, after a moment's pause,"who is that young girl with a lot of pretty redhair and very citified manners? She escorted medown the hill; do you know whom I mean?""It must be Huldah Meserve; she is from Riverboro."Adam put a finger under Rebecca's chin andlooked into her eyes; eyes as soft, as clear, asunconscious, and childlike as they had been when shewas ten. He remembered the other pair of challengingblue ones that had darted coquettish glancesthrough half-dropped lids, shot arrowy beams fromunder archly lifted brows, and said gravely, "Don'tform yourself on her, Rebecca; clover blossomsthat grow in the fields beside Sunnybrook mustn'tbe tied in the same bouquet with gaudy sunflowers;they are too sweet and fragrant and wholesome."