New Chronicles of Rebecca
New Chronicles of Rebecca
Kate Douglas Wiggin
New Chronicles of Rebecca
First Chronicle. JACK O’LANTERN
Miss Miranda Sawyer’s old-fashioned garden was the pleasantest spot in Riverboro on a sunny July morning. The rich color of the brick house gleamed and glowed through the shade of the elms and maples. Luxuriant hop-vines clambered up the lightning rods and water spouts, hanging their delicate clusters here and there in graceful profusion. Woodbine transformed the old shed and tool house to things of beauty, and the flower beds themselves were the prettiest and most fragrant in all the countryside. A row of dahlias ran directly around the garden spot,—dahlias scarlet, gold, and variegated. In the very centre was a round plot where the upturned faces of a thousand pansies smiled amid their leaves, and in the four corners were triangular blocks of sweet phlox over which the butterflies fluttered unceasingly. In the spaces between ran a riot of portulaca and nasturtiums, while in the more regular, shell-bordered beds grew spirea and gillyflowers, mignonette, marigolds, and clove pinks.
Back of the barn and encroaching on the edge of the hay field was a grove of sweet clover whose white feathery tips fairly bent under the assaults of the bees, while banks of aromatic mint and thyme drank in the sunshine and sent it out again into the summer air, warm, and deliciously odorous.
The hollyhocks were Miss Sawyer’s pride, and they grew in a stately line beneath the four kitchen windows, their tapering tips set thickly with gay satin circlets of pink or lavender or crimson.
“They grow something like steeples,” thought little Rebecca Randall, who was weeding the bed, “and the flat, round flowers are like rosettes; but steeples wouldn’t be studded with rosettes, so if you were writing about them in a composition you’d have to give up one or the other, and I think I’ll give up the steeples:—
Gay little hollyhock
Lifting your head,
Out from your bed.
It’s a pity the hollyhock isn’t really little, instead of steepling up to the window top, but I can’t say, ‘Gay TALL hollyhock.’… I might have it ‘Lines to a Hollyhock in May,’ for then it would be small; but oh, no! I forgot; in May it wouldn’t be blooming, and it’s so pretty to say that its head is ‘sweetly rosetted’… I wish the teacher wasn’t away; she would like ‘sweetly rosetted,’ and she would like to hear me recite ‘Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!’ that I learned out of Aunt Jane’s Byron; the rolls come booming out of it just like the waves at the beach.... I could make nice compositions now, everything is blooming so, and it’s so warm and sunny and happy outdoors. Miss Dearborn told me to write something in my thought book every single day, and I’ll begin this very night when I go to bed.”
Rebecca Rowena Randall, the little niece of the brick-house ladies, and at present sojourning there for purposes of board, lodging, education, and incidentally such discipline and chastening as might ultimately produce moral excellence,—Rebecca Randall had a passion for the rhyme and rhythm of poetry. From her earliest childhood words had always been to her what dolls and toys are to other children, and now at twelve she amused herself with phrases and sentences and images as her schoolmates played with the pieces of their dissected puzzles. If the heroine of a story took a “cursory glance” about her “apartment,” Rebecca would shortly ask her Aunt Jane to take a “cursory glance” at her oversewing or hemming; if the villain “aided and abetted” someone in committing a crime, she would before long request the pleasure of “aiding and abetting” in dishwashing or bedmaking. Sometimes she used the borrowed phrases unconsciously; sometimes she brought them into the conversation with an intense sense of pleasure in their harmony or appropriateness; for a beautiful word or sentence had the same effect upon her imagination as a fragrant nosegay, a strain of music, or a brilliant sunset.
“How are you gettin’ on, Rebecca Rowena?” called a peremptory voice from within.
“Pretty good, Aunt Miranda; only I wish flowers would ever come up as thick as this pigweed and plantain and sorrel. What MAKES weeds be thick and flowers be thin?—I just happened to be stopping to think a minute when you looked out.”
“You think considerable more than you weed, I guess, by appearances. How many times have you peeked into that humming bird’s nest? Why don’t you work all to once and play all to once, like other folks?”
“I don’t know,” the child answered, confounded by the question, and still more by the apparent logic back of it. “I don’t know, Aunt Miranda, but when I’m working outdoors such a Saturday morning as this, the whole creation just screams to me to stop it and come and play.”
“Well, you needn’t go if it does!” responded her aunt sharply. “It don’t scream to me when I’m rollin’ out these doughnuts, and it wouldn’t to you if your mind was on your duty.”
Rebecca’s little brown hands flew in and out among the weeds as she thought rebelliously: “Creation WOULDN’T scream to Aunt Miranda; it would know she wouldn’t come.”
Scream on, thou bright and gay creation, scream!
‘Tis not Miranda that will hear thy cry!
Oh, such funny, nice things come into my head out here by myself, I do wish I could run up and put them down in my thought book before I forget them, but Aunt Miranda wouldn’t like me to leave off weeding:—
Rebecca was weeding the hollyhock bed
When wonderful thoughts came into her head.
Her aunt was occupied with the rolling pin
And the thoughts of her mind were common and thin.
That wouldn’t do because it’s mean to Aunt Miranda, and anyway it isn’t good. I MUST crawl under the syringa shade a minute, it’s so hot, and anybody has to stop working once in a while, just to get their breath, even if they weren’t making poetry.
Rebecca was weeding the hollyhock bed When marvelous thoughts came into her head. Miranda was wielding the rolling pin And thoughts at such times seemed to her as a sin.
How pretty the hollyhock rosettes look from down here on the sweet, smelly ground!
“Let me see what would go with rosetting. AIDING AND ABETTING, PETTING, HEN-SETTING, FRETTING,—there’s nothing very nice, but I can make fretting’ do.
Cheered by Rowena’s petting,
The flowers are rosetting,
But Aunt Miranda’s fretting
Doth somewhat cloud the day.”
Suddenly the sound of wagon wheels broke the silence and then a voice called out—a voice that could not wait until the feet that belonged to it reached the spot: “Miss Saw-YER! Father’s got to drive over to North Riverboro on an errand, and please can Rebecca go, too, as it’s Saturday morning and vacation besides?”
Rebecca sprang out from under the syringa bush, eyes flashing with delight as only Rebecca’s eyes COULD flash, her face one luminous circle of joyous anticipation. She clapped her grubby hands, and dancing up and down, cried: “May I, Aunt Miranda—can I, Aunt Jane—can I, Aunt Miranda-Jane? I’m more than half through the bed.”
“If you finish your weeding tonight before sundown I s’pose you can go, so long as Mr. Perkins has been good enough to ask you,” responded Miss Sawyer reluctantly. “Take off that gingham apron and wash your hands clean at the pump. You ain’t be’n out o’ bed but two hours an’ your head looks as rough as if you’d slep’ in it. That comes from layin’ on the ground same as a caterpillar. Smooth your hair down with your hands an’ p’r’aps Emma Jane can braid it as you go along the road. Run up and get your second-best hair ribbon out o’ your upper drawer and put on your shade hat. No, you can’t wear your coral chain—jewelry ain’t appropriate in the morning. How long do you cal’late to be gone, Emma Jane?”
“I don’t know. Father’s just been sent for to see about a sick woman over to North Riverboro. She’s got to go to the poor farm.”
This fragment of news speedily brought Miss Sawyer, and her sister Jane as well, to the door, which commanded a view of Mr. Perkins and his wagon. Mr. Perkins, the father of Rebecca’s bosom friend, was primarily a blacksmith, and secondarily a selectman and an overseer of the poor, a man therefore possessed of wide and varied information.
“Who is it that’s sick?” inquired Miranda.
“A woman over to North Riverboro.”
“What’s the trouble?”
“Yes, and no; she’s that wild daughter of old Nate Perry that used to live up towards Moderation. You remember she ran away to work in the factory at Milltown and married a do—nothin’ fellow by the name o’ John Winslow?”
“Yes; well, where is he? Why don’t he take care of her?”
“They ain’t worked well in double harness. They’ve been rovin’ round the country, livin’ a month here and a month there wherever they could get work and house-room. They quarreled a couple o’ weeks ago and he left her. She and the little boy kind o’ camped out in an old loggin’ cabin back in the woods and she took in washin’ for a spell; then she got terrible sick and ain’t expected to live.”
“Who’s been nursing her?” inquired Miss Jane.
“Lizy Ann Dennett, that lives nearest neighbor to the cabin; but I guess she’s tired out bein’ good Samaritan. Anyways, she sent word this mornin’ that nobody can’t seem to find John Winslow; that there ain’t no relations, and the town’s got to be responsible, so I’m goin’ over to see how the land lays. Climb in, Rebecca. You an’ Emmy Jane crowd back on the cushion an’ I’ll set forrard. That’s the trick! Now we’re off!”
“Dear, dear!” sighed Jane Sawyer as the sisters walked back into the brick house. “I remember once seeing Sally Perry at meeting. She was a handsome girl, and I’m sorry she’s come to grief.”
“If she’d kep’ on goin’ to meetin’ an’ hadn’t looked at the men folks she might a’ be’n earnin’ an honest livin’ this minute,” said Miranda. “Men folks are at the bottom of everything wrong in this world,” she continued, unconsciously reversing the verdict of history.
“Then we ought to be a happy and contented community here in Riverboro,” replied Jane, “as there’s six women to one man.”
“If ‘t was sixteen to one we’d be all the safer,” responded Miranda grimly, putting the doughnuts in a brown crock in the cellar-way and slamming the door.