They had been called the Sawyer girls when Miranda at eighteen, Jane a_welve, and Aurelia at eight participated in the various activities of villag_ife; and when Riverboro fell into a habit of thought or speech, it saw n_eason for falling out of it, at any rate in the same century. So althoug_iranda and Jane were between fifty and sixty at the time this story opens,
Riverboro still called them the Sawyer girls. They were spinsters; bu_urelia, the youngest, had made what she called a romantic marriage and wha_er sisters termed a mighty poor speculation. "There's worse things than bein'
old maids," they said; whether they thought so is quite another matter.
The element of romance in Aurelia's marriage existed chiefly in the fact tha_r. L. D. M. Randall had a soul above farming or trading and was a votary o_he Muses. He taught the weekly singing-school (then a feature of villag_ife) in half a dozen neighboring towns, he played the violin and "called off"
at dances, or evoked rich harmonies from church melodeons on Sundays. H_aught certain uncouth lads, when they were of an age to enter society, th_ntricacies of contra dances, or the steps of the schottische and mazurka, an_e was a marked figure in all social assemblies, though conspicuously absen_rom town-meetings and the purely masculine gatherings at the store or taver_r bridge.
His hair was a little longer, his hands a little whiter, his shoes a littl_hinner, his manner a trifle more polished, than that of his soberer mates;
indeed the only department of life in which he failed to shine was the makin_f sufficient money to live upon. Luckily he had no responsibilities; hi_ather and his twin brother had died when he was yet a boy, and his mother,
whose only noteworthy achievement had been the naming of her twin sons Marqui_e Lafayette and Lorenzo de Medici Randall, had supported herself and educate_er child by making coats up to the very day of her death. She was wont to sa_laintively, "I'm afraid the faculties was too much divided up between m_wins. L. D. M. is awful talented, but I guess M. D. L. would 'a' ben th_ractical one if he'd 'a' lived."
"L. D. M. was practical enough to get the richest girl in the village,"
replied Mrs. Robinson.
"Yes," sighed his mother, "there it is again; if the twins could 'a' marrie_urelia Sawyer, 't would 'a' been all right. L. D. M. was talented 'nough t_ET Reely's money, but M. D. L. would 'a' ben practical 'nough to have KEP'
Aurelia's share of the modest Sawyer property had been put into one thin_fter another by the handsome and luckless Lorenzo de Medici. He had _raceful and poetic way of making an investment for each new son and daughte_hat blessed their union. "A birthday present for our child, Aurelia," h_ould say,—"a little nest-egg for the future;" but Aurelia once remarked in _oment of bitterness that the hen never lived that could sit on those eggs an_atch anything out of them.
Miranda and Jane had virtually washed their hands of Aurelia when she marrie_orenzo de Medici Randall. Having exhausted the resources of Riverboro and it_mmediate vicinity, the unfortunate couple had moved on and on in a steadil_ecreasing scale of prosperity until they had reached Temperance, where the_ad settled down and invited fate to do its worst, an invitation which wa_romptly accepted. The maiden sisters at home wrote to Aurelia two or thre_imes a year, and sent modest but serviceable presents to the children a_hristmas, but refused to assist L. D. M. with the regular expenses of hi_apidly growing family. His last investment, made shortly before the birth o_iranda (named in a lively hope of favors which never came), was a small far_wo miles from Temperance. Aurelia managed this herself, and so it proved _ome at least, and a place for the unsuccessful Lorenzo to die and to b_uried from, a duty somewhat too long deferred, many thought, which h_erformed on the day of Mira's birth.
It was in this happy-go-lucky household that Rebecca had grown up. It was jus_n ordinary family; two or three of the children were handsome and the res_lain, three of them rather clever, two industrious, and two commonplace an_ull. Rebecca had her father's facility and had been his aptest pupil. She
"carried" the alto by ear, danced without being taught, played the melodeo_ithout knowing the notes. Her love of books she inherited chiefly from he_other, who found it hard to sweep or cook or sew when there was a novel i_he house. Fortunately books were scarce, or the children might sometimes hav_one ragged and hungry.
But other forces had been at work in Rebecca, and the traits of unknow_orbears had been wrought into her fibre. Lorenzo de Medici was flabby an_oneless; Rebecca was a thing of fire and spirit: he lacked energy an_ourage; Rebecca was plucky at two and dauntless at five. Mrs. Randall an_annah had no sense of humor; Rebecca possessed and showed it as soon as sh_ould walk and talk.
She had not been able, however, to borrow her parents' virtues and those o_ther generous ancestors and escape all the weaknesses in the calendar. Sh_ad not her sister Hannah's patience or her brother John's sturdy stayin_ower. Her will was sometimes willfulness, and the ease with which she di_ost things led her to be impatient of hard tasks or long ones. But whateve_lse there was or was not, there was freedom at Randall's farm. The childre_rew, worked, fought, ate what and slept where they could; loved one anothe_nd their parents pretty well, but with no tropical passion; and educate_hemselves for nine months of the year, each one in his own way.
As a result of this method Hannah, who could only have been developed b_orces applied from without, was painstaking, humdrum, and limited; whil_ebecca, who apparently needed nothing but space to develop in, and _nowledge of terms in which to express herself, grew and grew and grew, alway_rom within outward. Her forces of one sort and another had seemingly been se_n motion when she was born; they needed no daily spur, but moved of their ow_ccord—towards what no one knew, least of all Rebecca herself. The field fo_he exhibition of her creative instinct was painfully small, and the only us_he had made of it as yet was to leave eggs out of the corn bread one day an_ilk another, to see how it would turn out; to part Fanny's hair sometimes i_he middle, sometimes on the right, and sometimes on the left side; and t_lay all sorts of fantastic pranks with the children, occasionally bringin_hem to the table as fictitious or historical characters found in her favorit_ooks. Rebecca amused her mother and her family generally, but she never wa_ounted of serious importance, and though considered "smart" and old for he_ge, she was never thought superior in any way. Aurelia's experience o_enius, as exemplified in the deceased Lorenzo de Medici led her into _reater admiration of plain, every-day common sense, a quality in whic_ebecca, it must be confessed, seemed sometimes painfully deficient.
Hannah was her mother's favorite, so far as Aurelia could indulge herself i_uch recreations as partiality. The parent who is obliged to feed and cloth_even children on an income of fifteen dollars a month seldom has time t_iscriminate carefully between the various members of her brood, but Hannah a_ourteen was at once companion and partner in all her mother's problems. Sh_t was who kept the house while Aurelia busied herself in barn and field.
Rebecca was capable of certain set tasks, such as keeping the small childre_rom killing themselves and one another, feeding the poultry, picking u_hips, hulling strawberries, wiping dishes; but she was thought irresponsible,
and Aurelia, needing somebody to lean on (having never enjoyed that luxur_ith the gifted Lorenzo), leaned on Hannah. Hannah showed the result of thi_ttitude somewhat, being a trifle careworn in face and sharp in manner; bu_he was a self-contained, well-behaved, dependable child, and that is th_eason her aunts had invited her to Riverboro to be a member of their famil_nd participate in all the advantages of their loftier position in the world.
It was several years since Miranda and Jane had seen the children, but the_emembered with pleasure that Hannah had not spoken a word during th_nterview, and it was for this reason that they had asked for the pleasure o_er company. Rebecca, on the other hand, had dressed up the dog in John'_lothes, and being requested to get the three younger children ready fo_inner, she had held them under the pump and then proceeded to "smack" thei_air flat to their heads by vigorous brushing, bringing them to the table i_uch a moist and hideous state of shininess that their mother was ashamed o_heir appearance. Rebecca's own black locks were commonly pushed smoothly of_er forehead, but on this occasion she formed what I must perforce call by it_nly name, a spit-curl, directly in the centre of her brow, an ornament whic_he was allowed to wear a very short time, only in fact till Hannah was abl_o call her mother's attention to it, when she was sent into the next room t_emove it and to come back looking like a Christian. This command sh_nterpreted somewhat too literally perhaps, because she contrived in a spac_f two minutes an extremely pious style of hairdressing, fully as effective i_ot as startling as the first. These antics were solely the result of nervou_rritation, a mood born of Miss Miranda Sawyer's stiff, grim, and martia_ttitude. The remembrance of Rebecca was so vivid that their sister Aurelia'_etter was something of a shock to the quiet, elderly spinsters of the bric_ouse; for it said that Hannah could not possibly be spared for a few year_et, but that Rebecca would come as soon as she could be made ready; that th_ffer was most thankfully appreciated, and that the regular schooling an_hurch privileges, as well as the influence of the Sawyer home, woul_oubtless be "the making of Rebecca."