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Chapter 11 "The stirring of the powers"

  • Rebecca's visit to Milltown was all that her glowing fancy had painted it, except that recent readings about Rome and Venice disposed her to believe tha_hose cities might have an advantage over Milltown in the matter of mer_ictorial beauty. So soon does the soul outgrow its mansions that after onc_eeing Milltown her fancy ran out to the future sight of Portland; for that, having islands and a harbor and two public monuments, must be far mor_eautiful than Milltown, which would, she felt, take its proud place among th_ities of the earth, by reason of its tremendous business activity rather tha_y any irresistible appeal to the imagination.
  • It would be impossible for two children to see more, do more, walk more, tal_ore, eat more, or ask more questions than Rebecca and Emma Jane did on tha_ventful Wednesday.
  • "She's the best company I ever see in all my life," said Mrs. Cobb to he_usband that evening. "We ain't had a dull minute this day. She's well- mannered, too; she didn't ask for anything, and was thankful for whatever sh_ot. Did you watch her face when we went into that tent where they was actin'
  • out Uncle Tom's Cabin? And did you take notice of the way she told us abou_he book when we sat down to have our ice cream? I tell you Harriet Beeche_towe herself couldn't 'a' done it better justice."
  • "I took it all in," responded Mr. Cobb, who was pleased that "mother" agree_ith him about Rebecca. "I ain't sure but she's goin' to turn out somethin'
  • remarkable,—a singer, or a writer, or a lady doctor like that Miss Parks up t_ornish."
  • "Lady doctors are always home'paths, ain't they?" asked Mrs. Cobb, who, it i_eedless to say, was distinctly of the old school in medicine.
  • "Land, no, mother; there ain't no home'path 'bout Miss Parks—she drives al_ver the country."
  • "I can't see Rebecca as a lady doctor, somehow," mused Mrs. Cobb. "Her gift o'
  • gab is what's goin' to be the makin' of her; mebbe she'll lecture, or recit_ieces, like that Portland elocutionist that come out here to the harves_upper."
  • "I guess she'll be able to write down her own pieces," said Mr. Cob_onfidently; "she could make 'em up faster 'n she could read 'em out of _ook."
  • "It's a pity she's so plain looking," remarked Mrs. Cobb, blowing out th_andle.
  • "PLAIN LOOKING, mother?" exclaimed her husband in astonishment. "Look at th_yes of her; look at the hair of her, an' the smile, an' that there dimple!
  • Look at Alice Robinson, that's called the prettiest child on the river, an'
  • see how Rebecca shines her ri' down out o' sight! I hope Mirandy'll favor he_omin' over to see us real often, for she'll let off some of her steam here, an' the brick house'll be consid'able safer for everybody concerned. We'v_nown what it was to hev children, even if 't was more 'n thirty years ago, an' we can make allowances."
  • Notwithstanding the encomiums of Mr. and Mrs. Cobb, Rebecca made a poor han_t composition writing at this time. Miss Dearborn gave her every sort o_ubject that she had ever been given herself: Cloud Pictures; Abraham Lincoln; Nature; Philanthropy; Slavery; Intemperance; Joy and Duty; Solitude; but wit_one of them did Rebecca seem to grapple satisfactorily.
  • "Write as you talk, Rebecca," insisted poor Miss Dearborn, who secretly kne_hat she could never manage a good composition herself.
  • "But gracious me, Miss Dearborn! I don't talk about nature and slavery. _an't write unless I have something to say, can I?"
  • "That is what compositions are for," returned Miss Dearborn doubtfully; "t_ake you have things to say. Now in your last one, on solitude, you haven'_aid anything very interesting, and you've made it too common and every-day t_ound well. There are too many 'yous' and 'yours' in it; you ought to say
  • 'one' now and then, to make it seem more like good writing. 'One opens _avorite book;' 'One's thoughts are a great comfort in solitude,' and so on."
  • "I don't know any more about solitude this week than I did about joy and dut_ast week," grumbled Rebecca.
  • "You tried to be funny about joy and duty," said Miss Dearborn reprovingly;
  • "so of course you didn't succeed."
  • "I didn't know you were going to make us read the things out loud," sai_ebecca with an embarrassed smile of recollection.
  • "Joy and Duty" had been the inspiring subject given to the older children fo_ theme to be written in five minutes.
  • Rebecca had wrestled, struggled, perspired in vain. When her turn came to rea_he was obliged to confess she had written nothing.
  • "You have at least two lines, Rebecca," insisted the teacher, "for I see the_n your slate."
  • "I'd rather not read them, please; they are not good," pleaded Rebecca.
  • "Read what you have, good or bad, little or much; I am excusing nobody."
  • Rebecca rose, overcome with secret laughter dread, and mortification; then i_ low voice she read the couplet:—
  • When Joy and Duty clash Let Duty go to smash.
  • Dick Carter's head disappeared under the desk, while Living Perkins choke_ith laughter.
  • Miss Dearborn laughed too; she was little more than a girl, and the trainin_f the young idea seldom appealed to the sense of humor.
  • "You must stay after school and try again, Rebecca," she said, but she said i_milingly. "Your poetry hasn't a very nice idea in it for a good little gir_ho ought to love duty."
  • "It wasn't MY idea," said Rebecca apologetically. "I had only made the firs_ine when I saw you were going to ring the bell and say the time was up. I had
  • 'clash' written, and I couldn't think of anything then but 'hash' or 'rash' or
  • 'smash.' I'll change it to this:—
  • When Joy and Duty clash,
  • 'T is Joy must go to smash."
  • "That is better," Miss Dearborn answered, "though I cannot think 'going t_mash' is a pretty expression for poetry."
  • Having been instructed in the use of the indefinite pronoun "one" as giving _efined and elegant touch to literary efforts, Rebecca painstakingly rewrot_er composition on solitude, giving it all the benefit of Miss Dearborn'_uggestion. It then appeared in the following form, which hardly satisfie_ither teacher or pupil:—
  • SOLITUDE
  • It would be false to say that one could ever be alone when one has one'_ovely thoughts to comfort one. One sits by one's self, it is true, but on_hinks; one opens one's favorite book and reads one's favorite story; on_peaks to one's aunt or one's brother, fondles one's cat, or looks at one'_hotograph album. There is one's work also: what a joy it is to one, if on_appens to like work. All one's little household tasks keep one from bein_onely. Does one ever feel bereft when one picks up one's chips to light one'_ire for one's evening meal? Or when one washes one's milk pail before milkin_ne's cow? One would fancy not.
  • R. R. R.
  • "It is perfectly dreadful," sighed Rebecca when she read it aloud afte_chool. "Putting in 'one' all the time doesn't make it sound any more like _ook, and it looks silly besides."
  • "You say such queer things," objected Miss Dearborn. "I don't see what make_ou do it. Why did you put in anything so common as picking up chips?"
  • "Because I was talking about 'household tasks' in the sentence before, and i_S one of my household tasks. Don't you think calling supper 'one's evenin_eal' is pretty? and isn't 'bereft' a nice word?"
  • "Yes, that part of it does very well. It is the cat, the chips, and the mil_ail that I don't like."
  • "All right!" sighed Rebecca. "Out they go; Does the cow go too?"
  • "Yes, I don't like a cow in a composition," said the difficult Miss Dearborn.
  • The Milltown trip had not been without its tragic consequences of a smal_ort; for the next week Minnie Smellie's mother told Miranda Sawyer that she'_etter look after Rebecca, for she was given to "swearing and profan_anguage;" that she had been heard saying something dreadful that ver_fternoon, saying it before Emma Jane and Living Perkins, who only laughed an_ot down on all fours and chased her.
  • Rebecca, on being confronted and charged with the crime, denied i_ndignantly, and aunt Jane believed her.
  • "Search your memory, Rebecca, and try to think what Minnie overheard you say,"
  • she pleaded. "Don't be ugly and obstinate, but think real hard. When did the_hase you up the road, and what were you doing?"
  • A sudden light broke upon Rebecca's darkness.
  • "Oh! I see it now," she exclaimed. "It had rained hard all the morning, yo_now, and the road was full of puddles. Emma Jane, Living, and I were walkin_long, and I was ahead. I saw the water streaming over the road towards th_itch, and it reminded me of Uncle Tom's Cabin at Milltown, when Eliza too_er baby and ran across the Mississippi on the ice blocks, pursued by th_loodhounds. We couldn't keep from laughing after we came out of the ten_ecause they were acting on such a small platform that Eliza had to run roun_nd round, and part of the time the one dog they had pursued her, and part o_he time she had to pursue the dog. I knew Living would remember, too, so _ook off my waterproof and wrapped it round my books for a baby; then _houted, 'MY GOD! THE RIVER!' just like that—the same as Eliza did in th_lay; then I leaped from puddle to puddle, and Living and Emma Jane pursued m_ike the bloodhounds. It's just like that stupid Minnie Smellie who doesn'_now a game when she sees one. And Eliza wasn't swearing when she said 'M_od! the river!' It was more like praying."
  • "Well, you've got no call to be prayin', any more than swearin', in the middl_f the road," said Miranda; "but I'm thankful it's no worse. You're born t_rouble as the sparks fly upward, an' I'm afraid you allers will be till yo_earn to bridle your unruly tongue."
  • "I wish sometimes that I could bridle Minnie's," murmured Rebecca, as she wen_o set the table for supper.
  • "I declare she IS the beatin'est child!" said Miranda, taking off he_pectacles and laying down her mending. "You don't think she's a leetle mit_razy, do you, Jane?"
  • "I don't think she's like the rest of us," responded Jane thoughtfully an_ith some anxiety in her pleasant face; "but whether it's for the better o_he worse I can't hardly tell till she grows up. She's got the making of 'mos_nything in her, Rebecca has; but I feel sometimes as if we were not fitted t_ope with her."
  • "Stuff an' nonsense!" said Miranda "Speak for yourself. I feel fitted to cop_ith any child that ever was born int' the world!"
  • "I know you do, Mirandy; but that don't MAKE you so," returned Jane with _mile.
  • The habit of speaking her mind freely was certainly growing on Jane to a_ltogether terrifying extent.