New Chronicles of Rebecca by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Third Chronicle: Rebecca's Thought Book
I punished myself this way because Aunt Miranda said that unless I improved I would be nothing but a Burden and a Blight.
There was an old man used to go by our farm carrying a lot of broken chairs to bottom, and mother used to say--"Poor man! His back is too weak for such a burden!" and I used to take him out a doughnut, and this is the part I want to go into the Remerniscences. Once I told him we were sorry the chairs were so heavy, and he said they didn't seem so heavy when he had et the doughnut. This does not mean that the doughnut was heavier than the chairs which is what brother John said, but it is a beautiful thought and shows how the human race should have sympathy, and help bear burdens.
I know about a Blight, for there was a dreadful east wind over at our farm that destroyed all the little young crops just out of the ground, and the farmers called it the Blight. And I would rather be hail, sleet, frost, or snow than a Blight, which is mean and secret, and which is the reason I threw away the dearest thing on earth to me, the pink parasol that Miss Ross brought me from Paris, France. I have also wrapped up my bead purse in three papers and put it away marked not to be opened till after my death unless needed for a party.
I must not be Burden, I must not be Blight,
* * * * * * * * * * * *
A good way to find out which has the most benefercent effect would be to try rewards on myself this next week and write my composition the very last day, when I see how my character is. It is hard to find rewards for yourself, but perhaps Aunt Jane and some of the girls would each give me one to help out. I could carry my bead purse to school every day, or wear my coral chain a little while before I go to sleep at night. I could read Cora or the Sorrows of a Doctor's Wife a little oftener, but that's all the rewards I can think of. I fear Aunt Miranda would say they are wicked but oh! if they should turn out benefercent how glad and joyful life would be to me! A sweet and beautiful character, beloved by my teacher and schoolmates, admired and petted by my aunts and neighbors, yet carrying my bead purse constantly, with perhaps my best hat on Wednesday afternoons, as well as Sundays!
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A Great Shock
The reason why Alice Robinson could not play was, she was being punished for breaking her mother's blue platter. Just before supper my story being finished I went up Guide Board hill to see how she was bearing up and she spoke to me from her window. She said she did not mind being punished because she hadn't been for a long time, and she hoped it would help her with her composition. She thought it would give her thoughts, and tomorrow's the last day for her to have any. This gave me a good idea and I told her to call her father up and beg him to beat her violently. It would hurt, I said, but perhaps none of the other girls would have a punishment like that, and her composition would be all different and splendid. I would borrow Aunt Miranda's witchhayzel and pour it on her wounds like the Samaritan in the Bible.
I went up again after supper with Dick Carter to see how it turned out. Alice came to the window and Dick threw up a note tied to a stick. I had written: "Demand your punishment to the full. Be brave like Dolores' mother in the Martyrs of Spain."
She threw down an answer, and it was: "You just be like Dolores' mother yourself if you're so smart!" Then she stamped away from the window and my feelings were hurt, but Dick said perhaps she was hungry, and that made her cross. And as Dick and I turned to go out of the yard we looked back and I saw something I can never forget. (The Great Shock) Mrs. Robinson was out behind the barn feeding the turkies. Mr. Robinson came softly out of the side door in the orchard and looking everywheres around he stepped to the wire closet and took out a saucer of cold beans with a pickled beet on top, and a big piece of blueberry pie. Then he crept up the back stairs and we could see Alice open her door and take in the supper.
Oh! What will become of her composition, and how can she tell anything of the benefercent effects of punishment, when she is locked up by one parent, and fed by the other? I have forgiven her for the way she snapped me up for, of course, you couldn't beg your father to beat you when he was bringing you blueberry pie. Mrs. Robinson makes a kind that leaks out a thick purple juice into the plate and needs a spoon and blacks your mouth, but is heavenly.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The week is almost up and very soon Dr. Moses will drive up to the school house like Elijah in the chariot and come in to hear us read. There is a good deal of sickness among us. Some of the boys are not able to come to school just now, but hope to be about again by Monday, when Dr. Moses goes away to a convention. It is a very hard composition to write, somehow. Last night I dreamed that the river was ink and I kept dipping into it and writing with a penstalk made of a young pine tree. I sliced great slabs of marble off the side of one of the White Mountains, the one you see when going to meeting, and wrote on those. Then I threw them all into the falls, not being good enough for Dr. Moses.
Dick Carter had a splendid boy to stay over Sunday. He makes the real newspaper named The Pilot published by the boys at Wareham Academy. He says when he talks about himself in writing he calls himself "we," and it sounds much more like print, besides conscealing him more.
Example: Our hair was measured this morning and has grown two inches since last time . . . . We have a loose tooth that troubles us very much . . . Our inkspot that we made by negligence on our only white petticoat we have been able to remove with lemon and milk. Some of our petticoat came out with the spot.
I shall try it in my composition sometime, for of course I shall write for the Pilot when I go to Wareham Seminary. Uncle Jerry Cobb says that I shall, and thinks that in four years I might rise to be editor if they ever have girls.
I have never been more good than since I have been rewarding myself steady, even to asking Aunt Miranda kindly to offer me a company jelly tart, not because I was hungry, but for an experement I was trying, and would explain to her sometime.
She said she never thought it was wise to experement with your stomach, and I said, with a queer thrilling look, it was not my stomach but my soul, that was being tried. Then she gave me the tart and walked away all puzzled and nervous.
The new minister has asked me to come and see him any Saturday afternoon as he writes poetry himself, but I would rather not ask him about this composition.
Ministers never believe in rewards, and it is useless to hope that they will. We had the wrath of God four times in sermons this last summer, but God cannot be angry all the time,--nobody could, especially in summer; Mr. Baxter is different and calls his wife dear which is lovely and the first time I ever heard it in Riverboro. Mrs. Baxter is another kind of people too, from those that live in Temperance. I like to watch her in meeting and see her listen to her husband who is young and handsome for a minister; it gives me very queer and uncommon feelings, when they look at each other, which they always do when not otherwise engaged.
She has different clothes from anybody else. Aunt Miranda says you must think only of two things: will your dress keep you warm and will it wear well and there is nobody in the world to know how I love pink and red and how I hate drab and green and how I never wear my hat with the black and yellow porkupine quills without wishing it would blow into the river.
Whene'er I take my walks abroad How many quills I see. But as they are not porkupines They never come to me.
Which has the most benefercent effect on the character, punishment or reward?
Rebecca Rowena Randall
(This copy not corrected by Miss Dearborn yet.)
We find ourselves very puzzled in approaching this truly great and national question though we have tried very ernestly to understand it, so as to show how wisely and wonderfully our dear teacher guides the youthful mind, it being her wish that our composition class shall long be remembered in Riverboro Centre.
We would say first of all that punishment seems more benefercently needed by boys than girls. Boys' sins are very violent, like stealing fruit, profane language, playing truant, fighting, breaking windows, and killing innocent little flies and bugs. If these were not taken out of them early in life it would be impossible for them to become like our martyred president, Abraham Lincoln.
Although we have asked everybody on our street, they think boys' sins can only be whipped out of them with a switch or strap, which makes us feel very sad, as boys when not sinning the dreadful sins mentioned above seem just as good as girls, and never cry when switched, and say it does not hurt much.
We now approach girls, which we know better, being one. Girls seem better than boys because their sins are not so noisy and showy. They can disobey their parents and aunts, whisper in silent hour, cheat in lessons, say angry things to their schoolmates, tell lies, be sulky and lazy, but all these can be conducted quite ladylike and genteel, and nobody wants to strap girls because their skins are tender and get black and blue very easily.
Punishments make one very unhappy and rewards very happy, and one would think when one is happy one would behave the best. We were acquainted with a girl who gave herself rewards every day for a week, and it seemed to make her as lovely a character as one could wish; but perhaps if one went on for years giving rewards to onesself one would become selfish. One cannot tell, one can only fear.
If a dog kills a sheep we should whip him straight away, and on the very spot where he can see the sheep, or he will not know what we mean, and may forget and kill another. The same is true of the human race. We must be firm and patient in punishing, no matter how much we love the one who has done wrong, and how hungry she is. It does no good to whip a person with one hand and offer her a pickled beet with the other. This confuses her mind, and she may grow up not knowing right from wrong. (The striking example of the pickled beet was removed from the essay by the refined but ruthless Miss Dearborn, who strove patiently, but vainly, to keep such vulgar images out of her pupils' literary efforts.)
We now respectfully approach the Holy Bible and the people in the Bible were punished the whole time, and that would seem to make it right. Everybody says Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth; but we think ourself, that the Lord is a better punisher than we are, and knows better how and when to do it having attended to it ever since the year B.C. while the human race could not know about it till 1492 A.D., which is when Columbus discovered America.
We do not believe we can find out all about this truly great and national subject till we get to heaven, where the human race, strapped and unstrapped, if any, can meet together and laying down their harps discuss how they got there.
And we would gently advise boys to be more quiet and genteel in conduct and try rewards to see how they would work. Rewards are not all like the little rosebud merit cards we receive on Fridays, and which boys sometimes tear up and fling scornfully to the breeze when they get outside, but girls preserve carefully in an envelope.
Some rewards are great and glorious, for boys can get to be governor or school trustee or road commissioner or president, while girls can only be wife and mother. But all of us can have the ornament of a meek and lowly spirit, especially girls, who have more use for it than boys.
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Stories and People
There are people in books and people in Riverboro, and they are not the same kind. They never talk of chargers and palfreys in the village, nor say How oft and Methinks, and if a Scotchman out of Rob Roy should come to Riverboro and want to marry one of us girls we could not understand him unless he made motions; though Huldah Meserve says if a nobleman of high degree should ask her to be his,--one of vast estates with serfs at his bidding,--she would be able to guess his meaning in any language.
Uncle Jerry Cobb thinks that Riverboro people would not make a story, but I know that some of them would.
Jack-o'-lantern, though only a baby, was just like a real story if anybody had written a piece about him: How his mother was dead and his father ran away and Emma Jane and I got Aunt Sarah Cobb to keep him so Mr. Perkins wouldn't take him to the poor farm; and about our lovely times with him that summer, and our dreadful loss when his father remembered him in the fall and came to take him away; and how Aunt Sarah carried the trundle bed up attic again and Emma Jane and I heard her crying and stole away.
Mrs. Peter Meserve says Grandpa Sawyer was a wonderful hand at stories before his spirit was broken by grandmother. She says he was the life of the store and tavern when he was a young man, though generally sober, and she thinks I take after him, because I like compositions better than all the other lessons; but mother says I take after father, who always could say everything nicely whether he had anything to say or not; so methinks I should be grateful to both of them. They are what is called ancestors and much depends upon whether you have them or not. The Simpsons have not any at all. Aunt Miranda says the reason everybody is so prosperous around here is because their ancestors were all first settlers and raised on burnt ground. This should make us very proud.
Methinks and methought are splendid words for compositions. Miss Dearborn likes them very much, but Alice and I never bring them in to suit her. Methought means the same as I thought, but sounds better. Example: If you are telling a dream you had about your aged aunt:
Methought I heard her say
This is a good example one way, but too unlikely, woe is me!
This afternoon I was walking over to the store to buy molasses, and as I came off the bridge and turned up the hill, I saw lots and lots of heelprints in the side of the road, heelprints with little spike holes in them.
"Oh! The river drivers have come from up country," I thought, "and they'll be breaking the jam at our falls tomorrow." I looked everywhere about and not a man did I see, but still I knew I was not mistaken for the heelprints could not lie. All the way over and back I thought about it, though unfortunately forgetting the molasses, and Alice Robinson not being able to come out, I took playtime to write a story. It is the first grown-up one I ever did, and is intended to be like Cora the Doctor's Wife, not like a school composition. It is written for Mr. Adam Ladd, and people like him who live in Boston, and is the printed kind you get money for, to pay off a mortgage.
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Lancelot or the Parted Lovers
A beautiful village maiden was betrothed to a stallwart river driver, but they had high and bitter words and parted, he to weep into the crystal stream as he drove his logs, and she to sigh and moan as she went about her round of household tasks.
At eventide the maiden was wont to lean over the bridge and her tears also fell into the foaming stream; so, though the two unhappy lovers did not know it, the river was their friend, the only one to whom they told their secrets and wept into.
The months crept on and it was the next July when the maiden was passing over the bridge and up the hill. Suddenly she spied footprints on the sands of time.
"The river drivers have come again!" she cried, putting her hand to her side for she had a slight heart trouble like Cora and Mrs. Peter Meserve, that doesn't kill.
"They have come indeed; especially one you know," said a voice, and out from the alder bushes sprung Lancelot Littlefield, for that was the lover's name and it was none other than he. His hair was curly and like living gold. His shirt, white of flannel, was new and dry, and of a handsome color, and as the maiden looked at him she could think of nought but a fairy prince.
"Forgive," she mermered, stretching out her waisted hands.
"Nay, sweet," he replied. "'Tis I should say that to you," and bending gracefully on one knee he kissed the hem of her dress. It was a rich pink gingham check, ellaborately ornamented with white tape trimming.
Clasping each other to the heart like Cora and the Doctor, they stood there for a long while, till they heard the rumble of wheels on the bridge and knew they must disentangle.
The wheels came nearer and verily! it was the maiden's father.
"Can I wed with your fair daughter this very moon," asked Lancelot, who will not be called his whole name again in this story.
"You may," said the father, "for lo! she has been ready and waiting for many months." This he said not noting how he was shaming the maiden, whose name was Linda Rowenetta.
Then and there the nuptial day was appointed and when it came, the marriage knot was tied upon the river bank where first they met; the river bank where they had parted in anger, and where they had again scealeld their vows and clasped each other to the heart. And it was very low water that summer, and the river always thought it was because no tears dropped into it but so many smiles that like sunshine they dried it up.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Long ago when I used to watch Miss Ross painting the old mill at Sunnybrook I thought I would be a painter, for Miss Ross went to Paris France where she bought my bead purse and pink parasol and I thought I would like to see a street with beautiful bright-colored things sparkling and hanging in the store windows.
Then when the missionaries from Syria came to stay at the brick house Mrs. Burch said that after I had experienced religion I must learn music and train my voice and go out to heathen lands and save souls, so I thought that would be my career. But we girls tried to have a branch and be home missionaries and it did not work well. Emma Jane's father would not let her have her birthday party when he found out what she had done and Aunt Jane sent me up to Jake Moody's to tell him we did not mean to be rude when we asked him to go to meeting more often. He said all right, but just let him catch that little dough-faced Perkins young one in his yard once more and she'd have reason to remember the call, which was just as rude and impolite as our trying to lead him to a purer and a better life.
Then Uncle Jerry and Mr. Aladdin and Miss Dearborn liked my compositions, and I thought I'd better be a writer, for I must be something the minute I'm seventeen, or how shall we ever get the mortgage off the farm? But even that hope is taken away from me now, for Uncle Jerry made fun of my story Lancelot Or The Parted Lovers and I have decided to be a teacher like Miss Dearborn.
The pathetic announcement of a change in the career and life purposes of Rebecca was brought about by her reading the grown-up story to Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Cobb after supper in the orchard. Uncle Jerry was the person who had maintained all along that Riverboro people would not make a story; and Lancelot or The Parted Lovers was intended to refute that assertion at once and forever; an assertion which Rebecca regarded (quite truly) as untenable, though why she certainly never could have explained. Unfortunately Lancelot was a poor missionary, quite unfitted for the high achievements to which he was destined by the youthful novelist, and Uncle Jerry, though a stage-driver and no reading man, at once perceived the flabbiness and transparency of the Parted Lovers the moment they were held up to his inspection.
"You see Riverboro people will make a story!" asserted Rebecca triumphantly as she finished her reading and folded the paper. "And it all came from my noticing the river drivers' tracks by the roadside, and wondering about them; and wondering always makes stories; the minister says so."
"Ye-es," allowed Uncle Jerry reflectively, tipping his chair back against the apple tree and forcing his slow mind to violent and instantaneous action, for Rebecca was his pride and joy; a person, in his opinion, of superhuman talent, one therefore to be "whittled into shape" if occasion demanded.
"It's a Riverboro story, sure enough, because you've got the river and the bridge and the hill and the drivers all right there in it; but there's something awful queer bout it; the folks don't act Riverboro, and don't talk Riverboro, cordin' to my notions. I call it a reg'lar book story."
"But," objected Rebecca, "the people in Cinderella didn't act like us, and you thought that was a beautiful story when I told it to you."
"I know," replied Uncle Jerry, gaining eloquence in the heat of argument. "They didn't act like us, but 't any rate they acted like 'emselves! Somehow they was all of a piece. Cinderella was a little too good, mebbe, and the sisters was most too thunderin' bad to live on the face o' the earth, and that fayry old lady that kep' the punkin' coach up her sleeve--well, anyhow, you jest believe that punkin' coach, rats, mice, and all, when you're hearin' bout it, fore ever you stop to think it ain't so.
"I don' know how tis, but the folks in that Cinderella story seem to match together somehow; they're all pow'ful onlikely--the prince feller with the glass slipper, and the hull bunch; but jest the same you kind o' gulp em all down in a lump. But land, Rebecky, nobody'd swaller that there village maiden o' your'n, and as for what's-his-name Littlefield, that come out o' them bushes, such a feller never 'd a' be'n in bushes! No, Rebecky, you're the smartest little critter there is in this township, and you beat your Uncle Jerry all holler when it comes to usin' a lead pencil, but I say that ain't no true Riverboro story! Look at the way they talk! What was that' bout being betrothed'?"
"Betrothed is a genteel word for engaged to be married," explained the crushed and chastened author; and it was fortunate the doting old man did not notice her eyes in the twilight, or he might have known that tears were not far away.
"Well, that's all right, then; I'm as ignorant as Cooper's cow when it comes to the dictionary. How about what's-his-name callin' the girl 'Naysweet'?"
"I thought myself that sounded foolish,:" confessed Rebecca; "but it's what the Doctor calls Cora when he tries to persuade her not to quarrel with his mother who comes to live with them. I know they don't say it in Riverboro or Temperance, but I thought perhaps it was Boston talk."
"Well, it ain't!" asserted Mr. Cobb decisively. "I've druv Boston men up in the stage from Milltown many's the time, and none of em ever said Naysweet to me, nor nothin'like it. They talked like folks, every mother's son of em! If I'd a' had that what's-his-name on the harricane deck' o' the stage and he tried any naysweetin' on me, I'd a' pitched him into the cornfield, side o' the road. I guess you ain't growed up enough for that kind of a story, Rebecky, for your poetry can't be beat in York County, that's sure, and your compositions are good enough to read out loud in town meetin' any day!"
Rebecca brightened up a little and bade the old couple her usual affectionate good night, but she descended the hill in a saddened mood. When she reached the bridge the sun, a ball of red fire, was setting behind Squire Bean's woods. As she looked, it shone full on the broad, still bosom of the river, and for one perfect instant the trees on the shores were reflected, all swimming in a sea of pink. Leaning over the rail, she watched the light fade from crimson to carmine, from carmine to rose, from rose to amber, and from amber to gray. Then withdrawing Lancelot or the Parted Lovers from her apron pocket, she tore the pages into bits and dropped them into the water below with a sigh.
"Uncle Jerry never said a word about the ending!" she thought; "and that was so nice!"
And she was right; but while Uncle Jerry was an illuminating critic when it came to the actions and language of his Riverboro neighbors, he had no power to direct the young mariner when she "followed the gleam," and used her imagination.
Our Secret Society
Our Secret society has just had a splendid picnic in Candace Milliken's barn.
Our name is the B.O.S.S., and not a single boy in the village has been able to guess it. It means Braid Over Shoulder Society, and that is the sign. All the members wear one of their braids over the right shoulder in front; the president's tied with red ribbon (I am the president) and all the rest tied with blue.
To attract the attention of another member when in company or at a public place we take the braid between the thumb and little finger and stand carelessly on one leg. This is the Secret Signal and the password is Sobb (B.O.S.S. spelled backwards) which was my idea and is thought rather uncommon.
One of the rules of the B.O.S.S. is that any member may be required to tell her besetting sin at any meeting, if asked to do so by a majority of the members.
This was Candace Milliken's idea and much opposed by everybody, but when it came to a vote so many of the girls were afraid of offending Candace that they agreed because there was nobody else's father and mother who would let us picnic in their barn and use their plow, harrow, grindstone, sleigh, carryall, pung, sled, and wheelbarrow, which we did and injured hardly anything.
They asked me to tell my besetting sin at the very first meeting, and it nearly killed me to do it because it is such a common greedy one. It is that I can't bear to call the other girls when I have found a thick spot when we are out berrying in the summer time.
After I confessed, which made me dreadfully ashamed, every one of the girls seemed surprised and said they had never noticed that one but had each thought of something very different that I would be sure to think was my besetting sin. Then Emma Jane said that rather than tell hers she would resign from the Society and miss the picnic. So it made so much trouble that Candace gave up. We struck out the rule from the constitution and I had told my sin for nothing.
The reason we named ourselves the B.O.S.S. is that Minnie Smellie has had her head shaved after scarlet fever and has no braid, so she can't be a member.
I don't want her for a member but I can't be happy thinking she will feel slighted, and it takes away half the pleasure of belonging to the Society myself and being president.
That, I think, is the principal trouble about doing mean and unkind things; that you can't do wrong and feel right, or be bad and feel good. If you only could you could do anything that came into your mind yet always be happy.
Minnie Smellie spoils everything she comes into but I suppose we other girls must either have our hair shaved and call ourselves The Baldheadians or let her be some kind of a special officer in the B.O.S.S.
She might be the B.I.T.U.D. member (Braid in the Upper Drawer), for there is where Mrs. Smellie keeps it now that it is cut off.
It is not such a cold day for March and I am up in the barn chamber with my coat and hood on and Aunt Jane's waterproof and my mittens.
After I do three pages I am going to hide away this book in the haymow till spring.
Perhaps they get made into icicles on the way but I do not seem to have any thoughts in the winter time. The barn chamber is full of thoughts in warm weather. The sky gives them to me, and the trees and flowers, and the birds, and the river; but now it is always gray and nipping, the branches are bare and the river is frozen.
It is too cold to write in my bedroom but while we still kept an open fire I had a few thoughts, but now there is an air-tight stove in the dining room where we sit, and we seem so close together, Aunt Miranda, Aunt Jane and I that I don't like to write in my book for fear they will ask me to read out loud my secret thoughts.
I have just read over the first part of my Thought Book and I have outgrown it all, just exactly as I have outgrown my last year's drab cashmere.
It is very queer how anybody can change so fast in a few months, but I remember that Emma Jane's cat had kittens the day my book was bought at Watson's store. Mrs. Perkins kept the prettiest white one, Abijah Flagg drowning all the others.
It seems strange to me that cats will go on having kittens when they know what becomes of them! We were very sad about it, but Mrs. Perkins said it was the way of the world and how things had to be.
I cannot help being glad that they do not do the same with children, or John and Jenny Mira Mark and me would all have had stones tied to our necks and been dropped into the deepest part of Sunny Brook, for Hannah and Fanny are the only truly handsome ones in the family.
Mrs. Perkins says I dress up well, but never being dressed up it does not matter much. At least they didn't wait to dress up the kittens to see how they would improve, before drowning them, but decided right away.
Emma Jane's kitten that was born the same day this book was is now quite an old cat who knows the way of the world herself, and how things have to be, for she has had one batch of kittens drowned already.
So perhaps it is not strange that my Thought Book seems so babyish and foolish to me when I think of all I have gone through and the millions of things I have learned, and how much better I spell than I did ten months ago.
My fingers are cold through the mittens, so good-bye dear Thought Book, friend of my childhood, now so far far behind me!
I will hide you in the haymow where you'll be warm and cosy all the long winter and where nobody can find you again in the summer time but your affectionate author,
Rebecca Rowena Randall.
The "Sawyer girls'" barn still had its haymow in Rebecca's time, although the hay was a dozen years old or more, and, in the opinion of the occasional visiting horse, sadly juiceless and wanting in flavor. It still sheltered, too, old Deacon Israel Sawyer's carryall and mowing-machine, with his pung, his sleigh, and a dozen other survivals of an earlier era, when the broad acres of the brick house went to make one of the finest farms in Riverboro.
There were no horses or cows in the stalls nowadays; no pig grunting comfortably of future spare ribs in the sty; no hens to peck the plants in the cherished garden patch. The Sawyer girls were getting on in years, and, mindful that care once killed a cat, they ordered their lives with the view of escaping that particular doom, at least, and succeeded fairly well until Rebecca's advent made existence a trifle more sensational.
Once a month for years upon years, Miss Miranda and Miss Jane had put towels over their heads and made a solemn visit to the barn, taking off the enameled cloth coverings (occasionally called "emmanuel covers" in Riverboro), dusting the ancient implements, and sometimes sweeping the heaviest of the cobwebs from the corners, or giving a brush to the floor.
Deacon Israel's tottering ladder still stood in its accustomed place, propped against the haymow, and the heavenly stairway leading to eternal glory scarcely looked fairer to Jacob of old than this to Rebecca. By means of its dusty rounds she mounted, mounted, mounted far away from time and care and maiden aunts, far away from childish tasks and childish troubles, to the barn chamber, a place so full of golden dreams, happy reveries, and vague longings, that, as her little brown hands clung to the sides of the ladder and her feet trod the rounds cautiously in her ascent, her heart almost stopped beating in the sheer joy of anticipation.
Once having gained the heights, the next thing was to unlatch the heavy doors and give them a gentle swing outward. Then, oh, ever new Paradise! Then, oh, ever lovely green and growing world! For Rebecca had that something in her soul that
"Gives to seas and sunset skies The unspent beauty of surprise."
At the top of Guide Board hill she could see Alice Robinson's barn with its shining weather vane, a huge burnished fish that swam with the wind and foretold the day to all Riverboro. The meadow, with its sunny slopes stretching up to the pine woods, was sometimes a flowing sheet of shimmering grass, sometimes--when daisies and buttercups were blooming--a vision of white and gold. Sometimes the shorn stubble would be dotted with "the happy hills of hay," and a little later the rock maple on the edge of the pines would stand out like a golden ball against the green; its neighbor, the sugar maple, glowing beside it, brave in scarlet.
It was on one of these autumn days with a wintry nip in the air that Adam Ladd (Rebecca's favorite "Mr. Aladdin"), after searching for her in field and garden, suddenly noticed the open doors of the barn chamber, and called to her. At the sound of his vice she dropped her precious diary, and flew to the edge of the haymow. He never forgot the vision of the startled little poetess, book in one mittened hand, pencil in the other, dark hair all ruffled, with the picturesque addition of an occasional glade of straw, her cheeks crimson, her eyes shining.
"A Sappho in mittens!" he cried laughingly, and at her eager question told her to look up the unknown lady in the school encyclopedia, when she was admitted to the Female Seminary at Wareham.
Now, all being ready, Rebecca went to a corner of the haymow, and withdrew a thick blank-book with mottled covers. Out of her gingham apron pocket came a pencil, a bit of rubber, and some pieces of brown paper; then she seated herself gravely on the floor, and drew an inverted soapbox nearer to her for a table.
The book was reverently opened, and there was a serious reading of the extracts already carefully copied therein. Most of them were apparently to the writer's liking, for dimples of pleasure showed themselves now and then, and smiles of obvious delight played about her face; but once in a while there was a knitting of the brows and a sigh of discouragement, showing that the artist in the child was not wholly satisfied.
Then came the crucial moment when the budding author was supposedly to be racked with the throes of composition; but seemingly there were no throes. Other girls could wield the darning or crochet or knitting needle, and send the tatting shuttle through loops of the finest cotton; hemstitch, oversew, braid hair in thirteen strands, but the pencil was never obedient in their fingers, and the pen and ink-pot were a horror from early childhood to the end of time.
Not so with Rebecca; her pencil moved as easily as her tongue, and no more striking simile could possibly be used. Her handwriting was not Spencerian; she had neither time, nor patience, it is to be feared, for copybook methods, and her unformed characters were frequently the despair of her teachers; but write she could, write she would, write she must and did, in season and out; from the time she made pothooks at six, till now, writing was the easiest of all possible tasks; to be indulged in as solace and balm when the terrors of examples in least common multiple threatened to dethrone the reason, or the rules of grammar loomed huge and unconquerable in the near horizon.
As to spelling, it came to her in the main by free grace, and not by training, and though she slipped at times from the beaten path, her extraordinary ear and good visual memory kept her from many or flagrant mistakes. It was her intention, especially when saying her prayers at night, to look up all doubtful words in her small dictionary, before copying her Thoughts into the sacred book for the inspiration of posterity; but when genius burned with a brilliant flame, and particularly when she was in the barn and the dictionary in the house, impulse as usual carried the day.
There sits Rebecca, then, in the open door of the Sawyers barn chamber--the sunset door. How many a time had her grandfather, the good deacon, sat just underneath in his tipped-back chair, when Mrs. Israel's temper was uncertain, and the serenity of the barn was in comforting contrast to his own fireside!
The open doors swinging out to the peaceful landscape, the solace of the pipe, not allowed in the "settin'-room"--how beautifully these simple agents have ministered to the family peace in days agone! "If I hadn't had my barn and my store both, I couldn't never have lived in holy matrimony with Maryliza!" once said Mr. Watson feelingly.
But the deacon, looking on his waving grass fields, his tasseling corn and his timber lands, bright and honest as were his eyes, never saw such visions as Rebecca. The child, transplanted from her home farm at Sunnybrook, from the care of the overworked but easy-going mother, and the companionship of the scantily fed, scantily clothed, happy-go-lucky brothers and sisters--she had indeed fallen on shady days in Riverboro. The blinds were closed in every room of the house but two, and the same might have been said of Miss Miranda's mind and heart, though Miss Jane had a few windows opening to the sun, and Rebecca already had her unconscious hand on several others. Brickhouse rules were rigid and many for a little creature so full of life, but Rebecca's gay spirit could not be pinioned in a strait jacket for long at a time; it escaped somehow and winged its merry way into the sunshine and free air; if she were not allowed to sing in the orchard, like the wild bird she was, she could still sing in the cage, like the canary.
If you had opened the carefully guarded volume with the mottled covers, you would first have seen a wonderful title page, constructed apparently on the same lines as an obituary, or the inscription on a tombstone, save for the quantity and variety of information contained in it. Much of the matter would seem to the captious critic better adapted to the body of the book than to the title page, but Rebecca was apparently anxious that the principal personages in her chronicle should be well described at the outset.
She seems to have had a conviction that heredity plays its part in the evolution of genius, and her belief that the world will be inspired by the possession of her Thoughts is too artless to be offensive. She evidently has respect for rich material confided to her teacher, and one can imagine Miss Dearborn's woe had she been confronted by Rebecca's chosen literary executor and bidden to deliver certain "Valuable Poetry and Thoughts," the property of posterity "unless carelessly destroyed."
Thought Book of Rebecca Rowena Randall
In case of Death the best of these Thoughts
The pictures are by the same hand that
It is not now decided whether Rebecca Rowena Randall will be a painter or an author, but after her death it will be known which she has been, if any.
From the title page, with its wealth of detail, and its unnecessary and irrelevant information, the book ripples on like a brook, and to the weary reader of problem novels it may have something of the brook's refreshing quality.
OUR DIARIES May, 187--
All the girls are keeping a diary because Miss Dearborn was very much ashamed when the school trustees told her that most of the girls' and all of the boys' compositions were disgraceful, and must be improved upon next term. She asked the boys to write letters to her once a week instead of keeping a diary, which they thought was girlish like playing with dolls. The boys thought it was dreadful to have to write letters every seven days, but she told them it was not half as bad for them as it was for her who had to read them.
To make my diary a little different I am going to call it a Thought Book (written just like that, with capitals). I have thoughts that I never can use unless I write them down, for Aunt Miranda always says, Keep your thoughts to yourself. Aunt Jane lets me tell her some, but does not like my queer ones and my true thoughts are mostly queer. Emma Jane does not mind hearing them now and then, and that is my only chance.
If Miss Dearborn does not like the name Thought Book I will call it Remerniscences (written just like that with a capital R). Remerniscences are things you remember about yourself and write down in case you should die. Aunt Jane doesn't like to read any other kind of books but just lives of interesting dead people and she says that is what Longfellow (who was born in the state of Maine and we should be very proud of it and try to write like him) meant in his poem:
"Lives of great men all remind us
I know what this means because when Emma Jane and I went to the beach with Uncle Jerry Cobb we ran along the wet sand and looked at the shapes our boots made, just as if they were stamped in wax. Emma Jane turns in her left foot (splayfoot the boys call it, which is not polite) and Seth Strout had just patched one of my shoes and it all came out in the sand pictures. When I learned The Psalm of Life for Friday afternoon speaking I thought I shouldn't like to leave a patched footprint, nor have Emma Jane's look crooked on the sands of time, and right away I thought Oh! What a splendid thought for my Thought Book when Aunt Jane buys me a fifteen-cent one over to Watson's store.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I told Aunt Jane I was going to begin my Remerniscences, and she says I am full young, but I reminded her that Candace Milliken's sister died when she was ten, leaving no footprints whatever, and if I should die suddenly who would write down my Remerniscences? Aunt Miranda says the sun and moon would rise and set just the same, and it was no matter if they didn't get written down, and to go up attic and find her piece-bag; but I said it would, as there was only one of everybody in the world, and nobody else could do their remerniscensing for them. If I should die tonight I know now who would describe me right. Miss Dearborn would say one thing and brother John another. Emma Jane would try to do me justice, but has no words; and I am glad Aunt Miranda never takes the pen in hand.
My dictionary is so small it has not many genteel words in it, and I cannot find how to spell Remerniscences, but I remember from the cover of Aunt Jane's book that there was an "s" and a "c" close together in the middle of it, which I thought foolish and not needful.
All the girls like their dairies very much, but Minnie Smellie got Alice Robinson's where she had hid it under the school wood pile and read it all through. She said it was no worse than reading anybody's composition, but we told her it was just like peeking through a keyhole, or listening at a window, or opening a bureau drawer. She said she didn't look at it that way, and I told her that unless her eyes got unscealed she would never leave any kind of a sublime footprint on the sands of time. I told her a diary was very sacred as you generally poured your deepest feelings into it expecting nobody to look at it but yourself and your indulgent heavenly Father who seeeth all things.
Of course it would not hurt Persis Watson to show her diary because she has not a sacred plan and this is the way it goes, for she reads it out loud to us:
"Arose at six this morning--(you always arise in a diary but you say get up when you talk about it). Ate breakfast at half past six. Had soda biscuits, coffee, fish hash and doughnuts. Wiped the dishes, fed the hens and made my bed before school. Had a good arithmetic lesson, but went down two in spelling. At half past four played hide and coop in the Sawyer pasture. Fed hens and went to bed at eight."
She says she can't put in what doesn't happen, but as I don't think her diary is interesting she will ask her mother to have meat hash instead of fish, with pie when the doughnuts give out, and she will feed the hens before breakfast to make a change. We are all going now to try and make something happen every single day so the diaries won't be so dull and the footprints so common.
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An Uncommon Thought
We dug up our rosecakes today, and that gave me a good Remerniscence. The way you make rose cakes is, you take the leaves of full blown roses and mix them with a little cinnamon and as much brown sugar as they will give you, which is never half enough except Persis Watson, whose affectionate parents let her go to the barrel in their store. Then you do up little bits like sedlitz powders, first in soft paper and then in brown, and bury them in the ground and let them stay as long as you possibly can hold out; then dig them up and eat them. Emma Jane and I stick up little signs over the holes in the ground with the date we buried them and when they'll be done enough to dig up, but we can never wait. When Aunt Jane saw us she said it was the first thing for children to learn,--not to be impatient,--so when I went to the barn chamber I made a poem.
We dug our rose cakes up oh! all too soon.
It was not that way at all; it was a foggy morning before school, and I should think poets could never possibly get to heaven, for it is so hard to stick to the truth when you are writing poetry. Emma Jane thinks it is nobody's business when we dug the rosecakes up. I like the line about the harvest moon best, but it would give a wrong idea of our lives and characters to the people that read my Thoughts, for they would think we were up late nights, so I have fixed it like this:
We dug our rose cakes up oh! all too soon,
That is just as Aunt Jane said it, and it gave me the thought for the poem which is rather uncommon.
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A Dreadful Question
Which has been the most benefercent influence on character-- punishment or reward?
This truly dreadful question was given us by Dr. Moses when he visited school today. He is a School Committee; not a whole one but I do not know the singular number of him. He told us we could ask our families what they thought, though he would rather we wouldn't, but we must write our own words and he would hear them next week.
After he went out and shut the door the scholars were all plunged in gloom and you could have heard a pin drop. Alice Robinson cried and borrowed my handkerchief, and the boys looked as if the schoolhouse had been struck by lightning. The worst of all was poor Miss Dearborn, who will lose her place if she does not make us better scholars soon, for Dr. Moses has a daughter all ready to put right in to the school and she can board at home and save all her wages. Libby Moses is her name.
Miss Dearborn stared out the window, and her mouth and chin shook like Alice Robinson's, for she knew, ah! all to well, what the coming week would bring forth.
Then I raised my hand for permission to speak, and stood up and said: "Miss Dearborn, don't you mind! Just explain to us what benefercent' means and we'll write something real interesting; for all of us know what punishment is, and have seen others get rewards, and it is not so bad a subject as some." And Dick Carter whispered, "Good on your head, Rebecca!" which mean he was sorry for her too, and would try his best, but has no words.
Then teacher smiled and said benefercent meant good or healthy for anybody, and would all rise who thought punishment made the best scholars and men and women; and everybody sat stock still.
And then she asked all to stand who believed that rewards produced the finest results, and there was a mighty sound like unto the rushing of waters, but really was our feet scraping the floor, and the scholars stood up, and it looked like an army, though it was only nineteen, because of the strong belief that was in them. Then Miss Dearborn laughed and said she was thankful for every whipping she had when she was a child, and Living Perkins said perhaps we hadn't got to the thankful age, or perhaps her father hadn't used a strap, and she said oh! no, it was her mother with the open hand; and Dick Carter said he wouldn't call that punishment, and Sam Simpson said so too.
I am going to write about the subject in my Thought Book first, and when I make it into a composition, I can leave out anything about the family or not genteel, as there is much to relate about punishment not pleasant or nice and hardly polite.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Punishment is a very puzzly thing, but I believe in it when really deserved, only when I punish myself it does not always turn out well. When I leaned over the new bridge, and got my dress all paint, and Aunt Sarah Cobb couldn't get it out, I had to wear it spotted for six months which hurt my pride, but was right. I stayed at home from Alice Robinson's birthday party for a punishment, and went to the circus next day instead, but Alice's parties are very cold and stiff, as Mrs. Robinson makes the boys stand on newspapers if they come inside the door, and the blinds are always shut, and Mrs. Robinson tells me how bad her liver complaint is this year. So I thought, to pay for the circus and a few other things, I ought to get more punishment, and I threw my pink parasol down the well, as the mothers in the missionary books throw their infants to the crocodiles in the Ganges river. But it got stuck in the chain that holds the bucket, and Aunt Miranda had to get Abijah Flagg to take out all the broken bits before we could ring up water.