A single hour's experience of the vicissitudes incident to a business caree_louded the children's spirits just the least bit. They did not accompany eac_ther to the doors of their chosen victims, feeling sure that together the_ould not approach the subject seriously; but they parted at the gate of eac_ouse, the one holding the horse while the other took the soap samples an_nterviewed any one who seemed of a coming-on disposition. Emma Jane ha_isposed of three single cakes, Rebecca of three small boxes; for a differenc_n their ability to persuade the public was clearly defined at the start, though neither of them ascribed either success or defeat to anything but th_mperious force of circumstances. Housewives looked at Emma Jane and desire_o soap; listened to her description of its merits, and still desired none.
Other stars in their courses governed Rebecca's doings. The people whom sh_nterviewed either remembered their present need of soap, or reminde_hemselves that they would need it in the future; the notable point in th_ase being that lucky Rebecca accomplished, with almost no effort, result_hat poor little Emma Jane failed to attain by hard and conscientious labor.
"It's your turn, Rebecca, and I'm glad, too," said Emma Jane, drawing up to _ateway and indicating a house that was set a considerable distance from th_oad. "I haven't got over trembling from the last place yet." (A lady had pu_er head out of an upstairs window and called, "Go away, little girl; whateve_ou have in your box we don't want any.") "I don't know who lives here, an_he blinds are all shut in front. If there's nobody at home you mustn't coun_t, but take the next house as yours."
Rebecca walked up the lane and went to the side door. There was a porch there, and seated in a rocking-chair, husking corn, was a good-looking young man, o_as he middle aged? Rebecca could not make up her mind. At all events he ha_n air of the city about him,—well-shaven face, well-trimmed mustache, well- fitting clothes. Rebecca was a trifle shy at this unexpected encounter, bu_here was nothing to be done but explain her presence, so she asked, "Is th_ady of the house at home?"
"I am the lady of the house at present," said the stranger, with a whimsica_mile. "What can I do for you?"
"Have you ever heard of the—would you like, or I mean—do you need any soap?"
"Do I look as if I did?" he responded unexpectedly.
Rebecca dimpled. "I didn't mean THAT; I have some soap to sell; I mean I woul_ike to introduce to you a very remarkable soap, the best now on the market.
It is called the"—
"Oh! I must know that soap," said the gentleman genially. "Made out of pur_egetable fats, isn't it?"
"The very purest," corroborated Rebecca.
"No acid in it?"
"Not a trace."
"And yet a child could do the Monday washing with it and use no force."
"A babe," corrected Rebecca
"Oh! a babe, eh? That child grows younger every year, instead of older—wis_hild!"
This was great good fortune, to find a customer who knew all the virtues o_he article in advance. Rebecca dimpled more and more, and at her new friend'_nvitation sat down on a stool at his side near the edge of the porch. Th_eauties of the ornamental box which held the Rose-Red were disclosed, and th_rices of both that and the Snow-White were unfolded. Presently she forgot al_bout her silent partner at the gate and was talking as if she had known thi_rand personage all her life.
"I'm keeping house to-day, but I don't live here," explained the delightfu_entleman. "I'm just on a visit to my aunt, who has gone to Portland. I use_o be here as a boy and I am very fond of the spot."
"I don't think anything takes the place of the farm where one lived when on_as a child," observed Rebecca, nearly bursting with pride at having at las_uccessfully used the indefinite pronoun in general conversation.
The man darted a look at her and put down his ear of corn. "So you conside_our childhood a thing of the past, do you, young lady?"
"I can still remember it," answered Rebecca gravely, "though it seems a lon_ime ago."
"I can remember mine well enough, and a particularly unpleasant one it was,"
said the stranger.
"So was mine," sighed Rebecca. "What was your worst trouble?"
"Lack of food and clothes principally."
"Oh!" exclaimed Rebecca sympathetically,—"mine was no shoes and too man_abies and not enough books. But you're all right and happy now, aren't you?"
she asked doubtfully, for though he looked handsome, well-fed, and prosperous, any child could see that his eyes were tired and his mouth was sad when he wa_ot speaking.
"I'm doing pretty well, thank you," said the man, with a delightful smile.
"Now tell me, how much soap ought I to buy to-day?"
"How much has your aunt on hand now?" suggested the very modest an_nexperienced agent; "and how much would she need?"
"Oh, I don't know about that; soap keeps, doesn't it?"
"I'm not certain," said Rebecca conscientiously, "but I'll look in th_ircular—it's sure to tell;" and she drew the document from her pocket.
"What are you going to do with the magnificent profits you get from thi_usiness?"
"We are not selling for our own benefit," said Rebecca confidentially. "M_riend who is holding the horse at the gate is the daughter of a very ric_lacksmith, and doesn't need any money. I am poor, but I live with my aunts i_ brick house, and of course they wouldn't like me to be a peddler. We ar_rying to get a premium for some friends of ours."
Rebecca had never thought of alluding to the circumstances with her previou_ustomers, but unexpectedly she found herself describing Mr. Simpson, Mrs.
Simpson, and the Simpson family; their poverty, their joyless life, and thei_bject need of a banquet lamp to brighten their existence.
"You needn't argue that point," laughed the man, as he stood up to get _limpse of the "rich blacksmith's daughter" at the gate. "I can see that the_ught to have it if they want it, and especially if you want them to have it.
I've known what it was myself to do without a banquet lamp. Now give me th_ircular, and let's do some figuring. How much do the Simpsons lack at thi_oment?"
"If they sell two hundred more cakes this month and next, they can have th_amp by Christmas," Rebecca answered, "and they can get a shade by summe_ime; but I'm afraid I can't help very much after to-day, because my aun_iranda may not like to have me."
"I see. Well, that's all right. I'll take three hundred cakes, and that wil_ive them shade and all."
Rebecca had been seated on a stool very near to the edge of the porch, and a_his remark she made a sudden movement, tipped over, and disappeared into _lump of lilac bushes. It was a very short distance, fortunately, and th_mused capitalist picked her up, set her on her feet, and brushed her off.
"You should never seem surprised when you have taken a large order," said he;
"you ought to have replied 'Can't you make it three hundred and fifty?'
instead of capsizing in that unbusinesslike way."
"Oh, I could never say anything like that!" exclaimed Rebecca, who wa_lushing crimson at her awkward fall. "But it doesn't seem right for you t_uy so much. Are you sure you can afford it?"
"If I can't, I'll save on something else," returned the jocose philanthropist.
"What if your aunt shouldn't like the kind of soap?" queried Rebecc_ervously.
"My aunt always likes what I like," he returned
"Mine doesn't!" exclaimed Rebecca
"Then there's something wrong with your aunt!"
"Or with me," laughed Rebecca.
"What is your name, young lady?"
"Rebecca Rowena Randall, sir."
"What?" with an amused smile. "BOTH? Your mother was generous."
"She couldn't bear to give up either of the names she says."
"Do you want to hear my name?"
"I think I know already," answered Rebecca, with a bright glance. "I'm sur_ou must be Mr. Aladdin in the Arabian Nights. Oh, please, can I run down an_ell Emma Jane? She must be so tired waiting, and she will be so glad!"
At the man's nod of assent Rebecca sped down the lane, crying irrepressibly a_he neared the wagon, "Oh, Emma Jane! Emma Jane! we are sold out!"
Mr. Aladdin followed smilingly to corroborate this astonishing, unbelievabl_tatement; lifted all their boxes from the back of the wagon, and taking th_ircular, promised to write to the Excelsior Company that night concerning th_remium.
"If you could contrive to keep a secret,—you two little girls,—it would b_ather a nice surprise to have the lamp arrive at the Simpsons' o_hanksgiving Day, wouldn't it?" he asked, as he tucked the old lap robe cosil_ver their feet.
They gladly assented, and broke into a chorus of excited thanks during whic_ears of joy stood in Rebecca's eyes.
"Oh, don't mention it!" laughed Mr. Aladdin, lifting his hat. "I was a sort o_ommercial traveler myself once,—years ago,—and I like to see the thing wel_one. Good-by Miss Rebecca Rowena! Just let me know whenever you have anythin_o sell, for I'm certain beforehand I shall want it."
"Good-by, Mr. Aladdin! I surely will!" cried Rebecca, tossing back her dar_raids delightedly and waving her hand.
"Oh, Rebecca!" said Emma Jane in an awe-struck whisper. "He raised his hat t_s, and we not thirteen! It'll be five years before we're ladies."
"Never mind," answered Rebecca; "we are the BEGINNINGS of ladies, even now."
"He tucked the lap robe round us, too," continued Emma Jane, in an ecstasy o_eminiscence. "Oh! isn't he perfectly elergant? And wasn't it lovely of him t_uy us out? And just think of having both the lamp and the shade for one day'_ork! Aren't you glad you wore your pink gingham now, even if mother did mak_ou put on flannel underneath? You do look so pretty in pink and red, Rebecca, and so homely in drab and brown!"
"I know it," sighed Rebecca "I wish I was like you—pretty in all colors!" An_ebecca looked longingly at Emma Jane's fat, rosy cheeks; at her blue eyes, which said nothing; at her neat nose, which had no character; at her red lips, from between which no word worth listening to had ever issued.
"Never mind!" said Emma Jane comfortingly. "Everybody says you're awful brigh_nd smart, and mother thinks you'll be better looking all the time as you gro_lder. You wouldn't believe it, but I was a dreadful homely baby, and homel_ight along till just a year or two ago, when my red hair began to grow dark.
What was the nice man's name?"
"I never thought to ask!" ejaculated Rebecca. "Aunt Miranda would say that wa_ust like me, and it is. But I called him Mr. Aladdin because he gave us _amp. You know the story of Aladdin and the wonderful lamp?"
"Oh, Rebecca! how could you call him a nickname the very first time you eve_aw him?"
"Aladdin isn't a nickname exactly; anyway, he laughed and seemed to like it."
By dint of superhuman effort, and putting such a seal upon their lips as neve_ortals put before, the two girls succeeded in keeping their wonderful news t_hemselves; although it was obvious to all beholders that they were in a_xtraordinary and abnormal state of mind.
On Thanksgiving the lamp arrived in a large packing box, and was taken out an_et up by Seesaw Simpson, who suddenly began to admire and respect th_usiness ability of his sisters. Rebecca had heard the news of its arrival, but waited until nearly dark before asking permission to go to the Simpsons', so that she might see the gorgeous trophy lighted and sending a blaze o_rimson glory through its red crepe paper shade.