Your esteemed contribution entitled WarehamWildflowers has been accepted forThe Pilot, Miss Perkins," said Rebecca,entering the room where Emma Jane was darningthe firm's stockings. "I stayed to tea with MissMaxwell, but came home early to tell you.""You are joking, Becky!" faltered Emma Jane,looking up from her work.
"Not a bit; the senior editor read it and thoughtit highly instructive; it appears in the next issue.""Not in the same number with your poem aboutthe golden gates that close behind us when we leaveschool?"--and Emma Jane held her breath as sheawaited the reply.
"Even so, Miss Perkins.""Rebecca," said Emma Jane, with the nearestapproach to tragedy that her nature would permit,"I don't know as I shall be able to bear it, and ifanything happens to me, I ask you solemnly to burythat number of The Pilot with me."Rebecca did not seem to think this the expressionof an exaggerated state of feeling, inasmuch asshe replied, "I know; that's just the way it seemedto me at first, and even now, whenever I'm aloneand take out the Pilot back numbers to read overmy contributions, I almost burst with pleasure; andit's not that they are good either, for they lookworse to me every time I read them.""If you would only live with me in some littlehouse when we get older," mused Emma Jane, aswith her darning needle poised in air she regardedthe opposite wall dreamily, "I would do the houseworkand cooking, and copy all your poems andstories, and take them to the post-office, and youneedn't do anything but write. It would beperfectly elergant!""I'd like nothing better, if I hadn't promised tokeep house for John," replied Rebecca.
"He won't have a house for a good many years,will he?""No," sighed Rebecca ruefully, flinging herselfdown by the table and resting her head on her hand.
"Not unless we can contrive to pay off that detestablemortgage. The day grows farther off insteadof nearer now that we haven't paid the interestthis year."She pulled a piece of paper towards her, andscribbling idly on it read aloud in a moment or two:--"Will you pay a little faster?" said the mortgage to the farm;"I confess I'm very tired of this place.""The weariness is mutual," Rebecca Randall cried;"I would I'd never gazed upon your face!""A note has a `face,'" observed Emma Jane, whowas gifted in arithmetic. "I didn't know that amortgage had.""Our mortgage has," said Rebecca revengefully.
"I should know him if I met him in the dark. Waitand I'll draw him for you. It will be good for youto know how he looks, and then when you have ahusband and seven children, you won't allow him tocome anywhere within a mile of your farm."The sketch when completed was of a sort to beshunned by a timid person on the verge of slumber.
There was a tiny house on the right, and a weepingfamily gathered in front of it. The mortgage wasdepicted as a cross between a fiend and an ogre,and held an axe uplifted in his red right hand. Afigure with streaming black locks was staying theblow, and this, Rebecca explained complacently, wasintended as a likeness of herself, though she wasrather vague as to the method she should use inattaining her end.
"He's terrible," said Emma Jane, "but awfullywizened and small.""It's only a twelve hundred dollar mortgage,"said Rebecca, "and that's called a small one. Johnsaw a man once that was mortgaged for twelvethousand.""Shall you be a writer or an editor?" askedEmma Jane presently, as if one had only to chooseand the thing were done.
"I shall have to do what turns up first, I suppose.""Why not go out as a missionary to Syria, as theBurches are always coaxing you to? The Boardwould pay your expenses.""I can't make up my mind to be a missionary,"Rebecca answered. "I'm not good enough in thefirst place, and I don't `feel a call,' as Mr. Burchsays you must. I would like to do something forsomebody and make things move, somewhere, butI don't want to go thousands of miles away teachingpeople how to live when I haven't learned myself.
It isn't as if the heathen really needed me; I'msure they'll come out all right in the end.""I can't see how; if all the people who ought togo out to save them stay at home as we do," arguedEmma Jane.
"Why, whatever God is, and wherever He is,He must always be there, ready and waiting. Hecan't move about and miss people. It may takethe heathen a little longer to find Him, but Godwill make allowances, of course. He knows if theylive in such hot climates it must make them lazyand slow; and the parrots and tigers and snakesand bread-fruit trees distract their minds; andhaving no books, they can't think as well; butthey'll find God somehow, some time.""What if they die first?" asked Emma Jane.
"Oh, well, they can't be blamed for that; theydon't die on purpose," said Rebecca, with acomfortable theology.
In these days Adam Ladd sometimes went toTemperance on business connected with the proposedbranch of the railroad familiarly knownas the "York and Yank 'em," and while there hegained an inkling of Sunnybrook affairs. Thebuilding of the new road was not yet a certainty, andthere was a difference of opinion as to the bestroute from Temperance to Plumville. In one eventthe way would lead directly through Sunnybrook,from corner to corner, and Mrs. Randall would becompensated; in the other, her interests would notbe affected either for good or ill, save as all land inthe immediate neighborhood might rise a little invalue.
Coming from Temperance to Wareham one day,Adam had a long walk and talk with Rebecca,whom he thought looking pale and thin, thoughshe was holding bravely to her self-imposed hoursof work. She was wearing a black cashmere dressthat had been her aunt Jane's second best. We arefamiliar with the heroine of romance whose foot isso exquisitely shaped that the coarsest shoe cannotconceal its perfections, and one always cherishes adoubt of the statement; yet it is true that Rebecca'speculiar and individual charm seemed whollyindependent of accessories. The lines of her fig-ure, the rare coloring of skin and hair and eyes,triumphed over shabby clothing, though, had theadvantage of artistic apparel been given her, thelittle world of Wareham would probably at oncehave dubbed her a beauty. The long black braidswere now disposed after a quaint fashion of herown. They were crossed behind, carried up to thefront, and crossed again, the tapering ends finallybrought down and hidden in the thicker part at theneck. Then a purely feminine touch was given tothe hair that waved back from the face,--a touchthat rescued little crests and wavelets from bondageand set them free to take a new color in the sun.
Adam Ladd looked at her in a way that madeher put her hands over her face and laugh throughthem shyly as she said: "I know what you arethinking, Mr. Aladdin,--that my dress is an inchlonger than last year, and my hair different; butI'm not nearly a young lady yet; truly I'm not.
Sixteen is a month off still, and you promised notto give me up till my dress trails. If you don't likeme to grow old, why don't you grow young? Thenwe can meet in the halfway house and have nicetimes. Now that I think about it," she continued,"that's just what you've been doing all along.
When you bought the soap, I thought you weregrandfather Sawyer's age; when you danced withme at the flag-raising, you seemed like my father;but when you showed me your mother's picture, Ifelt as if you were my John, because I was so sorryfor you.""That will do very well," smiled Adam; "unlessyou go so swiftly that you become my grandmotherbefore I really need one. You are studying toohard, Miss Rebecca Rowena!""Just a little," she confessed. "But vacationcomes soon, you know.""And are you going to have a good rest and tryto recover your dimples? They are really worthpreserving."A shadow crept over Rebecca's face and her eyessuffused. "Don't be kind, Mr. Aladdin, I can't bearit;--it's--it's not one of my dimply days!" andshe ran in at the seminary gate, and disappearedwith a farewell wave of her hand.
Adam Ladd wended his way to the principal'soffice in a thoughtful mood. He had come to Warehamto unfold a plan that he had been consideringfor several days. This year was the fiftiethanniversary of the founding of the Wareham schools,and he meant to tell Mr. Morrison that in additionto his gift of a hundred volumes to the referencelibrary, he intended to celebrate it by offering prizesin English composition, a subject in which he wasmuch interested. He wished the boys and girls ofthe two upper classes to compete; the award to bemade to the writers of the two best essays. As tothe nature of the prizes he had not quite made uphis mind, but they would be substantial ones, eitherof money or of books.
This interview accomplished, he called upon MissMaxwell, thinking as he took the path through thewoods, "Rose-Red-Snow-White needs the help, andsince there is no way of my giving it to her withoutcausing remark, she must earn it, poor little soul!
I wonder if my money is always to be useless wheremost I wish to spend it!"He had scarcely greeted his hostess when hesaid: "Miss Maxwell, doesn't it strike you thatour friend Rebecca looks wretchedly tired?""She does indeed, and I am considering whetherI can take her away with me. I always go Southfor the spring vacation, traveling by sea to OldPoint Comfort, and rusticating in some quiet spotnear by. I should like nothing better than to haveRebecca for a companion.""The very thing!" assented Adam heartily;"but why should you take the whole responsibility?
Why not let me help? I am greatly interested inthe child, and have been for some years.""You needn't pretend you discovered her,"interrupted Miss Maxwell warmly, "for I did thatmyself.""She was an intimate friend of mine long beforeyou ever came to Wareham," laughed Adam, andhe told Miss Maxwell the circumstances of his firstmeeting with Rebecca. "From the beginning I'vetried to think of a way I could be useful in herdevelopment, but no reasonable solution seemed tooffer itself.""Luckily she attends to her own development,"answered Miss Maxwell. "In a sense she isindependent of everything and everybody; she followsher saint without being conscious of it. But sheneeds a hundred practical things that money wouldbuy for her, and alas! I have a slender purse.""Take mine, I beg, and let me act through you,"pleaded Adam. "I could not bear to see even ayoung tree trying its best to grow without light orair,--how much less a gifted child! I interviewedher aunts a year ago, hoping I might be permittedto give her a musical education. I assured them itwas a most ordinary occurrence, and that I was willingto be repaid later on if they insisted, but it wasno use. The elder Miss Sawyer remarked that nomember of her family ever had lived on charity,and she guessed they wouldn't begin at this lateday.""I rather like that uncompromising New Englandgrit," exclaimed Miss Maxwell, "and so far, Idon't regret one burden that Rebecca has borne orone sorrow that she has shared. Necessity has onlymade her brave; poverty has only made her daringand self-reliant. As to her present needs, thereare certain things only a woman ought to do for agirl, and I should not like to have you do them forRebecca; I should feel that I was wounding herpride and self-respect, even though she were ignorant;but there is no reason why I may not do themif necessary and let you pay her traveling expenses.
I would accept those for her without the slightestembarrassment, but I agree that the matter wouldbetter be kept private between us.""You are a real fairy godmother!" exclaimedAdam, shaking her hand warmly. "Would it beless trouble for you to invite her room-mate too,--the pink-and-white inseparable?""No, thank you, I prefer to have Rebecca all tomyself," said Miss Maxwell.
"I can understand that," replied Adam absent-mindedly; "I mean, of course, that one child is lesstrouble than two. There she is now."Here Rebecca appeared in sight, walking downthe quiet street with a lad of sixteen. They were inanimated conversation, and were apparently readingsomething aloud to each other, for the black headand the curly brown one were both bent over a sheetof letter paper. Rebecca kept glancing up at hercompanion, her eyes sparkling with appreciation.
"Miss Maxwell," said Adam, "I am a trustee ofthis institution, but upon my word I don't believe incoeducation!""I have my own occasional hours of doubt," sheanswered, "but surely its disadvantages are reducedto a minimum with--children! That is a very im-pressive sight which you are privileged to witness,Mr. Ladd. The folk in Cambridge often gloatedon the spectacle of Longfellow and Lowell arm inarm. The little school world of Wareham palpitateswith excitement when it sees the senior andthe junior editors of The Pilot walking together!"