The day before Rebecca started for theSouth with Miss Maxwell she was in thelibrary with Emma Jane and Huldah,consulting dictionaries and encyclopaedias. As theywere leaving they passed the locked cases containingthe library of fiction, open to the teachers andtownspeople, but forbidden to the students.
They looked longingly through the glass, gettingsome little comfort from the titles of the volumes,as hungry children imbibe emotional nourishmentfrom the pies and tarts inside a confectioner's window.
Rebecca's eyes fell upon a new book in thecorner, and she read the name aloud with delight:
"_The Rose of Joy_. Listen, girls; isn't that lovely?
_The Rose of Joy_. It looks beautiful, and it soundsbeautiful. What does it mean, I wonder?""I guess everybody has a different rose," saidHuldah shrewdly. "I know what mine would be,and I'm not ashamed to own it. I'd like a yearin a city, with just as much money as I wantedto spend, horses and splendid clothes and amusementsevery minute of the day; and I'd like aboveeverything to live with people that wear lownecks." (Poor Huldah never took off her dress with-out bewailing the fact that her lot was cast inRiverboro, where her pretty white shoulders couldnever be seen.)"That would be fun, for a while anyway," EmmaJane remarked. "But wouldn't that be pleasuremore than joy? Oh, I've got an idea!""Don't shriek so!" said the startled Huldah.
"I thought it was a mouse.""I don't have them very often," apologized EmmaJane,--"ideas, I mean; this one shook me likea stroke of lightning. Rebecca, couldn't it be success?""That's good," mused Rebecca; "I can see thatsuccess would be a joy, but it doesn't seem to melike a rose, somehow. I was wondering if it couldbe love?""I wish we could have a peep at the book! Itmust be perfectly elergant!" said Emma Jane.
"But now you say it is love, I think that's the bestguess yet."All day long the four words haunted and possessedRebecca; she said them over to herself continually.
Even the prosaic Emma Jane was affectedby them, for in the evening she said, "I don'texpect you to believe it, but I have another idea,--that's two in one day; I had it while I was puttingcologne on your head. The rose of joy might behelpfulness.""If it is, then it is always blooming in your dearlittle heart, you darlingest, kind Emmie, takingsuch good care of your troublesome Becky!""Don't dare to call yourself troublesome! You're--you're--you're my rose of joy, that's what youare!" And the two girls hugged each other affectionately.
In the middle of the night Rebecca touchedEmma Jane on the shoulder softly. "Are you veryfast asleep, Emmie?" she whispered.
"Not so very," answered Emma Jane drowsily.
"I've thought of something new. If you sang orpainted or wrote,--not a little, but beautifully, youknow,--wouldn't the doing of it, just as much asyou wanted, give you the rose of joy?""It might if it was a real talent," answered EmmaJane, "though I don't like it so well as love. If youhave another thought, Becky, keep it till morning.""I did have one more inspiration," said Rebeccawhen they were dressing next morning, "but Ididn't wake you. I wondered if the rose of joycould be sacrifice? But I think sacrifice would bea lily, not a rose; don't you?"The journey southward, the first glimpse of theocean, the strange new scenes, the ease and deliciousfreedom, the intimacy with Miss Maxwell,almost intoxicated Rebecca. In three days she wasnot only herself again, she was another self, thrillingwith delight, anticipation, and realization. Shehad always had such eager hunger for knowledge,such thirst for love, such passionate longing for themusic, the beauty, the poetry of existence! Shehad always been straining to make the outwardworld conform to her inward dreams, and now lifehad grown all at once rich and sweet, wide and full.
She was using all her natural, God-given outlets;and Emily Maxwell marveled daily at the inexhaustibleway in which the girl poured out and gatheredin the treasures of thought and experience thatbelonged to her. She was a lifegiver, altering thewhole scheme of any picture she made a part of,by contributing new values. Have you never seenthe dull blues and greens of a room changed,transfigured by a burst of sunshine? That seemed toMiss Maxwell the effect of Rebecca on the groups ofpeople with whom they now and then mingled; butthey were commonly alone, reading to each otherand having quiet talks. The prize essay was verymuch on Rebecca's mind. Secretly she thoughtshe could never be happy unless she won it. Shecared nothing for the value of it, and in this casealmost nothing for the honor; she wanted to pleaseMr. Aladdin and justify his belief in her.
"If I ever succeed in choosing a subject, I mustask if you think I can write well on it; and thenI suppose I must work in silence and secret, nevereven reading the essay to you, nor talking about it."Miss Maxwell and Rebecca were sitting by a littlebrook on a sunny spring day. They had been in astretch of wood by the sea since breakfast, goingevery now and then for a bask on the warm whitesand, and returning to their shady solitude whentired of the sun's glare.
"The subject is very important," said MissMaxwell, "but I do not dare choose for you. Have youdecided on anything yet?""No," Rebecca answered; "I plan a new essayevery night. I've begun one on What is Failure?
and another on He and She. That would be adialogue between a boy and girl just as they wereleaving school, and would tell their ideals of life.
Then do you remember you said to me one day,`Follow your Saint'? I'd love to write about that.
I didn't have a single thought in Wareham, andnow I have a new one every minute, so I must tryand write the essay here; think it out, at any rate,while I am so happy and free and rested. Look atthe pebbles in the bottom of the pool, Miss Emily,so round and smooth and shining.""Yes, but where did they get that beautifulpolish, that satin skin, that lovely shape, Rebecca?
Not in the still pool lying on the sands. It wasnever there that their angles were rubbed off andtheir rough surfaces polished, but in the strife andwarfare of running waters. They have jostledagainst other pebbles, dashed against sharp rocks,and now we look at them and call them beautiful.""If Fate had not made somebody a teacher,She might have been, oh! such a splendid preacher!"rhymed Rebecca. "Oh! if I could only think andspeak as you do!" she sighed. "I am so afraid Ishall never get education enough to make a goodwriter.""You could worry about plenty of other thingsto better advantage," said Miss Maxwell, a littlescornfully. "Be afraid, for instance, that you won'tunderstand human nature; that you won't realizethe beauty of the outer world; that you may lacksympathy, and thus never be able to read a heart;that your faculty of expression may not keep pacewith your ideas,--a thousand things, every one ofthem more important to the writer than the knowledgethat is found in books. AEsop was a Greekslave who could not even write down his wonderfulfables; yet all the world reads them.""I didn't know that," said Rebecca, with a halfsob. "I didn't know anything until I met you!""You will only have had a high school course, butthe most famous universities do not always succeedin making men and women. When I long to goabroad and study, I always remember that therewere three great schools in Athens and two inJerusalem, but the Teacher of all teachers came out ofNazareth, a little village hidden away from the bigger,busier world.""Mr. Ladd says that you are almost wasted onWareham." said Rebecca thoughtfully.
"He is wrong; my talent is not a great one, butno talent is wholly wasted unless its owner choosesto hide it in a napkin. Remember that of your owngifts, Rebecca; they may not be praised of men, butthey may cheer, console, inspire, perhaps, when andwhere you least expect. The brimming glass thatoverflows its own rim moistens the earth about it.""Did you ever hear of The Rose of Joy?" askedRebecca, after a long silence.
"Yes, of course; where did you see it?""On the outside of a book in the library.""I saw it on the inside of a book in the library,"smiled Miss Maxwell. "It is from Emerson, butI'm afraid you haven't quite grown up to it,Rebecca, and it is one of the things impossible toexplain.""Oh, try me, dear Miss Maxwell!" pleadedRebecca. "Perhaps by thinking hard I can guess alittle bit what it means.""`In the actual--this painful kingdom of timeand chance--are Care, Canker, and Sorrow; withthought, with the Ideal, is immortal hilarity--therose of Joy; round it all the Muses sing,'" quotedMiss Maxwell.
Rebecca repeated it over and over again until shehad learned it by heart; then she said, "I don'twant to be conceited, but I almost believe I dounderstand it, Miss Maxwell. Not altogether, perhaps,because it is puzzling and difficult; but a little,enough to go on with. It's as if a splendid shapegalloped past you on horseback; you are so surprisedand your eyes move so slowly you cannothalf see it, but you just catch a glimpse as it whisksby, and you know it is beautiful. It's all settled.
My essay is going to be called The Rose of Joy.
I've just decided. It hasn't any beginning, nor anymiddle, but there will be a thrilling ending,something like this: let me see; joy, boy, toy, ahoy,decoy, alloy:--Then come what will of weal or woe(Since all gold hath alloy),Thou 'lt bloom unwithered in this heart,My Rose of Joy!
Now I'm going to tuck you up in the shawl andgive you the fir pillow, and while you sleep I amgoing down on the shore and write a fairy story foryou. It's one of our `supposing' kind; it flies far,far into the future, and makes beautiful things happenthat may never really all come to pass; butsome of them will,--you'll see! and then you'lltake out the little fairy story from your desk andremember Rebecca.""I wonder why these young things always choosesubjects that would tax the powers of a greatessayist!" thought Miss Maxwell, as she tried to sleep.
"Are they dazzled, captivated, taken possession of,by the splendor of the theme, and do they fancythey can write up to it? Poor little innocents, hitch-ing their toy wagons to the stars! How pretty thisparticular innocent looks under her new sunshade!"Adam Ladd had been driving through Bostonstreets on a cold spring day when nature and thefashion-mongers were holding out promises whichseemed far from performance. Suddenly his visionwas assailed by the sight of a rose-colored parasolgayly unfurled in a shop window, signaling thepasser-by and setting him to dream of summersunshine. It reminded Adam of a New England apple-tree in full bloom, the outer covering of deep pinkshining through the thin white lining, and a fluffy,fringe-like edge of mingled rose and cream droppingover the green handle. All at once he rememberedone of Rebecca's early confidences,--the little pinksunshade that had given her the only peep into thegay world of fashion that her childhood had everknown; her adoration of the flimsy bit of finery andits tragic and sacrificial end. He entered the shop,bought the extravagant bauble, and expressed it toWareham at once, not a single doubt of itsappropriateness crossing the darkness of his masculinemind. He thought only of the joy in Rebecca'seyes; of the poise of her head under the apple-blossomcanopy. It was a trifle embarrassing to returnan hour later and buy a blue parasol for Emma JanePerkins, but it seemed increasingly difficult, as theyears went on, to remember her existence at allthe proper times and seasons.
This is Rebecca's fairy story, copied the next dayand given to Emily Maxwell just as she was going toher room for the night. She read it with tears in hereyes and then sent it to Adam Ladd, thinking he hadearned a share in it, and that he deserved a glimpseof the girl's budding imagination, as well as of hergrateful young heart.
A FAIRY STORYThere was once a tired and rather poverty-stricken Princess who dwelt in a cottage on thegreat highway between two cities. She was not asunhappy as thousands of others; indeed, she hadmuch to be grateful for, but the life she lived andthe work she did were full hard for one who wasfashioned slenderly.
Now the cottage stood by the edge of a greatgreen forest where the wind was always singingin the branches and the sunshine filtering throughthe leaves.
And one day when the Princess was sitting by thewayside quite spent by her labor in the fields, shesaw a golden chariot rolling down the King's Highway,and in it a person who could be none other thansomebody's Fairy Godmother on her way to theCourt. The chariot halted at her door, and thoughthe Princess had read of such beneficent personages,she never dreamed for an instant that one of themcould ever alight at her cottage.
"If you are tired, poor little Princess, why do younot go into the cool green forest and rest?" askedthe Fairy Godmother.
"Because I have no time," she answered. "Imust go back to my plough.""Is that your plough leaning by the tree, and isit not too heavy?""It is heavy," answered the Princess, "but I loveto turn the hard earth into soft furrows and knowthat I am making good soil wherein my seeds maygrow. When I feel the weight too much, I try tothink of the harvest."The golden chariot passed on, and the two talkedno more together that day; nevertheless the King'smessengers were busy, for they whispered one wordinto the ear of the Fairy Godmother and anotherinto the ear of the Princess, though so faintly thatneither of them realized that the King had spoken.
The next morning a strong man knocked at thecottage door, and doffing his hat to the Princesssaid: "A golden chariot passed me yesterday, andone within it flung me a purse of ducats, saying:
`Go out into the King's Highway and search untilyou find a cottage and a heavy plough leaning againsta tree near by. Enter and say to the Princess whomyou will find there: "I will guide the plough andyou must go and rest, or walk in the cool greenforest; for this is the command of your FairyGodmother."'"And the same thing happened every day, andevery day the tired Princess walked in the greenwood. Many times she caught the glitter of thechariot and ran into the Highway to give thanksto the Fairy Godmother; but she was never fleetenough to reach the spot. She could only standwith eager eyes and longing heart as the chariotpassed by. Yet she never failed to catch a smile,and sometimes a word or two floated back to her,words that sounded like: "I would not be thanked.
We are all children of the same King, and I am onlyhis messenger."Now as the Princess walked daily in the greenforest, hearing the wind singing in the branches andseeing the sunlight filter through the lattice-work ofgreen leaves, there came unto her thoughts that hadlain asleep in the stifling air of the cottage and theweariness of guiding the plough. And by and byshe took a needle from her girdle and pricked thethoughts on the leaves of the trees and sent theminto the air to float hither and thither. And it cameto pass that people began to pick them up, and holdingthem against the sun, to read what was writtenon them, and this was because the simple littlewords on the leaves were only, after all, a part ofone of the King's messages, such as the Fairy Godmotherdropped continually from her golden chariot.
But the miracle of the story lies deeper than all this.
Whenever the Princess pricked the words uponthe leaves she added a thought of her Fairy Godmother,and folding it close within, sent the leaf outon the breeze to float hither and thither and fallwhere it would. And many other little Princessesfelt the same impulse and did the same thing. Andas nothing is ever lost in the King's Dominion, sothese thoughts and wishes and hopes, being fullof love and gratitude, had no power to die, but tookunto themselves other shapes and lived on forever.
They cannot be seen, our vision is too weak; norheard, our hearing is too dull; but they can sometimesbe felt, and we know not what force is stirringour hearts to nobler aims.
The end of the story is not come, but it may bethat some day when the Fairy Godmother has a messageto deliver in person straight to the King, he willsay: "Your face I know; your voice, your thoughts,and your heart. I have heard the rumble of yourchariot wheels on the great Highway, and I knewthat you were on the King's business. Here in myhand is a sheaf of messages from every quarter ofmy kingdom. They were delivered by weary andfootsore travelers, who said that they could neverhave reached the gate in safety had it not been foryour help and inspiration. Read them, that youmay know when and where and how you sped theKing's service."And when the Fairy Godmother reads them, itmay be that sweet odors will rise from the pages,and half-forgotten memories will stir the air; butin the gladness of the moment nothing will be halfso lovely as the voice of the King when he said:
"Read, and know how you sped the King's service."Rebecca Rowena Randall