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Chapter 28 "Th' inevitable yoke"

  • Rebecca's heart beat high at this sweet praise from her hero's lips, bu_efore she had found words to thank him, Mr. and Mrs. Cobb, who had bee_odestly biding their time in a corner, approached her and she introduced the_o Mr. Ladd.
  • "Where, where is aunt Jane?" she cried, holding aunt Sarah's hand on one sid_nd uncle Jerry's on the other.
  • "I'm sorry, lovey, but we've got bad news for you."
  • "Is aunt Miranda worse? She is; I can see it by your looks;" and Rebecca'_olor faded.
  • "She had a second stroke yesterday morning jest when she was helpin' Jane la_ut her things to come here to-day. Jane said you wan't to know anything abou_t till the exercises was all over, and we promised to keep it secret til_hen."
  • "I will go right home with you, aunt Sarah. I must just run to tell Mis_axwell, for after I had packed up to-morrow I was going to Brunswick wit_er. Poor aunt Miranda! And I have been so gay and happy all day, except tha_ was longing for mother and aunt Jane."
  • "There ain't no harm in bein' gay, lovey; that's what Jane wanted you to be.
  • And Miranda's got her speech back, for your aunt has just sent a letter sayin'
  • she's better; and I'm goin' to set up to-night, so you can stay here and hav_ good sleep, and get your things together comfortably to-morrow."
  • "I'll pack your trunk for you, Becky dear, and attend to all our room things,"
  • said Emma Jane, who had come towards the group and heard the sorrowful new_rom the brick house.
  • They moved into one of the quiet side pews, where Hannah and her husband an_ohn joined them. From time to time some straggling acquaintance or ol_choolmate would come up to congratulate Rebecca and ask why she had hidde_erself in a corner. Then some member of the class would call to he_xcitedly, reminding her not to be late at the picnic luncheon, or begging he_o be early at the class party in the evening. All this had an air o_nreality to Rebecca. In the midst of the happy excitement of the last tw_ays, when "blushing honors" had been falling thick upon her, and behind th_elicious exaltation of the morning, had been the feeling that the conditio_as a transient one, and that the burden, the struggle, the anxiety, woul_oon loom again on the horizon. She longed to steal away into the woods wit_ear old John, grown so manly and handsome, and get some comfort from him.
  • Meantime Adam Ladd and Mr. Cobb had been having an animated conversation.
  • "I s'pose up to Boston, girls like that one are as thick as blackb'ries?"
  • uncle Jerry said, jerking his head interrogatively in Rebecca's direction.
  • "They may be," smiled Adam, taking in the old man's mood; "only I don't happe_o know one."
  • "My eyesight bein' poor 's the reason she looked han'somest of any girl on th_latform, I s'pose?"
  • "There's no failure in my eyes," responded Adam, "but that was how the thin_eemed to me!"
  • "What did you think of her voice? Anything extry about it?"
  • "Made the others sound poor and thin, I thought."
  • "Well, I'm glad to hear your opinion, you bein' a traveled man, for mothe_ays I'm foolish 'bout Rebecky and hev been sence the fust. Mother scolds m_or spoilin' her, but I notice mother ain't fur behind when it comes t_poilin'. Land! it made me sick, thinkin' o' them parents travelin' miles t_ee their young ones graduate, and then when they got here hevin' to compare
  • 'em with Rebecky. Good-by, Mr. Ladd, drop in some day when you come t_iverboro."
  • "I will," said Adam, shaking the old man's hand cordially; "perhaps to-morro_f I drive Rebecca home, as I shall offer to do. Do you think Miss Sawyer'_ondition is serious?"
  • "Well, the doctor don't seem to know; but anyhow she's paralyzed, and she'l_ever walk fur again, poor soul! She ain't lost her speech; that'll be _omfort to her."
  • Adam left the church, and in crossing the common came upon Miss Maxwell doin_he honors of the institution, as she passed from group to group of stranger_nd guests. Knowing that she was deeply interested in all Rebecca's plans, h_old her, as he drew her aside, that the girl would have to leave Wareham fo_iverboro the next day.
  • "That is almost more than I can bear!" exclaimed Miss Maxwell, sitting down o_ bench and stabbing the greensward with her parasol. "It seems to me Rebecc_ever has any respite. I had so many plans for her this next month in fittin_er for her position, and now she will settle down to housework again, and t_he nursing of that poor, sick, cross old aunt."
  • "If it had not been for the cross old aunt, Rebecca would still have been a_unnybrook; and from the standpoint of educational advantages, or indee_dvantages of any sort, she might as well have been in the backwoods,"
  • returned Adam.
  • "That is true; I was vexed when I spoke, for I thought an easier and happie_ay was dawning for my prodigy and pearl."
  • "OUR prodigy and pearl," corrected Adam.
  • "Oh, yes!" she laughed. "I always forget that it pleases you to pretend yo_iscovered Rebecca."
  • "I believe, though, that happier days are dawning for her," continued Adam.
  • "It must be a secret for the present, but Mrs. Randall's farm will be bough_y the new railroad. We must have right of way through the land, and th_tation will be built on her property. She will receive six thousand dollars, which, though not a fortune, will yield her three or four hundred dollars _ear, if she will allow me to invest it for her. There is a mortgage on th_and; that paid, and Rebecca self-supporting, the mother ought to push th_ducation of the oldest boy, who is a fine, ambitious fellow. He should b_aken away from farm work and settled at his studies."
  • "We might form ourselves into a Randall Protective Agency, Limited," muse_iss Maxwell. "I confess I want Rebecca to have a career."
  • "I don't," said Adam promptly.
  • "Of course you don't. Men have no interest in the careers of women! But I kno_ebecca better than you."
  • "You understand her mind better, but not necessarily her heart. You ar_onsidering her for the moment as prodigy; I am thinking of her more a_earl."
  • "Well," sighed Miss Maxwell whimsically, "prodigy or pearl, the Randal_rotective Agency may pull Rebecca in opposite directions, but nevertheles_he will follow her saint."
  • "That will content me," said Adam gravely.
  • "Particularly if the saint beckons your way." And Miss Maxwell looked up an_miled provokingly.
  • Rebecca did not see her aunt Miranda till she had been at the brick house fo_everal days. Miranda steadily refused to have any one but Jane in the roo_ntil her face had regained its natural look, but her door was always ajar, and Jane fancied she liked to hear Rebecca's quick, light step. Her mind wa_erfectly clear now, and, save that she could not move, she was most of th_ime quite free from pain, and alert in every nerve to all that was going o_ithin or without the house. "Were the windfall apples being picked up fo_auce; were the potatoes thick in the hills; was the corn tosselin' out; wer_hey cuttin' the upper field; were they keepin' fly-paper laid ou_verywheres; were there any ants in the dairy; was the kindlin' wood holdin'
  • out; had the bank sent the cowpons?"
  • Poor Miranda Sawyer! Hovering on the verge of the great beyond,—her body
  • "struck" and no longer under control of her iron will,—no divine vision_loated across her tired brain; nothing but petty cares and sordid anxieties.
  • Not all at once can the soul talk with God, be He ever so near. If th_eavenly language never has been learned, quick as is the spiritual sense i_eizing the facts it needs, then the poor soul must use the words and phrase_t has lived on and grown into day by day. Poor Miss Miranda!—held fast withi_he prison walls of her own nature, blind in the presence of revelatio_ecause she had never used the spiritual eye, deaf to angelic voices becaus_he had not used the spiritual ear.
  • There came a morning when she asked for Rebecca. The door was opened into th_im sick-room, and Rebecca stood there with the sunlight behind her, her hand_ull of sweet peas. Miranda's pale, sharp face, framed in its nightcap, looke_aggard on the pillow, and her body was pitifully still under the counterpane.
  • "Come in," she said; "I ain't dead yet. Don't mess up the bed with the_lowers, will ye?"
  • "Oh, no! They're going in a glass pitcher," said Rebecca, turning to th_ashstand as she tried to control her voice and stop the tears that sprang t_er eyes.
  • "Let me look at ye; come closer. What dress are ye wearin'?" said the old aun_n her cracked, weak voice.
  • "My blue calico."
  • "Is your cashmere holdin' its color?"
  • "Yes, aunt Miranda."
  • "Do you keep it in a dark closet hung on the wrong side, as I told ye?"
  • "Always."
  • "Has your mother made her jelly?"
  • "She hasn't said."
  • "She always had the knack o' writin' letters with nothin' in 'em. What's Mar_roke sence I've been sick?"
  • "Nothing at all, aunt Miranda."
  • "Why, what's the matter with him? Gittin' lazy, ain't he? How 's John turnin'
  • out?"
  • "He's going to be the best of us all."
  • "I hope you don't slight things in the kitchen because I ain't there. Do yo_cald the coffee-pot and turn it upside down on the winder-sill?"
  • "Yes, aunt Miranda."
  • "It's always 'yes' with you, and 'yes' with Jane," groaned Miranda, trying t_ove her stiffened body; "but all the time I lay here knowin' there's thing_one the way I don't like 'em."
  • There was a long pause, during which Rebecca sat down by the bedside an_imidly touched her aunt's hand, her heart swelling with tender pity at th_aunt face and closed eyes.
  • "I was dreadful ashamed to have you graduate in cheesecloth, Rebecca, but _ouldn't help it no-how. You'll hear the reason some time, and know I tried t_ake it up to ye. I'm afraid you was a laughin'-stock!"
  • "No," Rebecca answered. "Ever so many people said our dresses were the ver_rettiest; they looked like soft lace. You're not to be anxious abou_nything. Here I am all grown up and graduated,—number three in a class o_wenty-two, aunt Miranda,—and good positions offered me already. Look at me, big and strong and young, all ready to go into the world and show what you an_unt Jane have done for me. If you want me near, I'll take the Edgewoo_chool, so that I can be here nights and Sundays to help; and if you ge_etter, then I'll go to Augusta,—for that's a hundred dollars more, with musi_essons and other things beside."
  • "You listen to me," said Miranda quaveringly. "Take the best place, regardles_' my sickness. I'd like to live long enough to know you'd paid off tha_ortgage, but I guess I shan't."
  • Here she ceased abruptly, having talked more than she had for weeks; an_ebecca stole out of the room, to cry by herself and wonder if old age must b_o grim, so hard, so unchastened and unsweetened, as it slipped into th_alley of the shadow.
  • The days went on, and Miranda grew stronger and stronger; her will seeme_nassailable, and before long she could be moved into a chair by the window, her dominant thought being to arrive at such a condition of improvement tha_he doctor need not call more than once a week, instead of daily; thereb_iminishing the bill, that was mounting to such a terrifying sum that i_aunted her thoughts by day and dreams by night.
  • Little by little hope stole back into Rebecca's young heart. Aunt Jane bega_o "clear starch" her handkerchiefs and collars and purple muslin dress, s_hat she might be ready to go to Brunswick at any moment when the docto_ronounced Miranda well on the road to recovery. Everything beautiful was t_appen in Brunswick if she could be there by August,—everything that hear_ould wish or imagination conceive, for she was to be Miss Emily's very ow_isitor, and sit at table with college professors and other great men.
  • At length the day dawned when the few clean, simple dresses were packed in th_air trunk, together with her beloved coral necklace, her cheeseclot_raduating dress, her class pin, aunt Jane's lace cape, and the one new hat, which she tried on every night before going to bed. It was of white chip wit_ wreath of cheap white roses and green leaves, and cost between two and thre_ollars, an unprecedented sum in Rebecca's experience. The effect of it_lories when worn with her nightdress was dazzling enough, but if ever i_ppeared in conjunction with the cheesecloth gown, Rebecca felt that eve_everend professors might regard it with respect. It is probable indeed tha_ny professorial gaze lucky enough to meet a pair of dark eyes shining unde_hat white rose garland would never have stopped at respect!
  • Then, when all was ready and Abijah Flagg at the door, came a telegram fro_annah: "Come at once. Mother has had bad accident."
  • In less than an hour Rebecca was started on her way to Sunnybrook, her hear_alpitating with fear as to what might be awaiting her at her journey's end.
  • Death, at all events, was not there to meet her; but something that looked a_irst only too much like it. Her mother had been standing on the haymo_uperintending some changes in the barn, had been seized with giddiness, the_hought, and slipped. The right knee was fractured and the back strained an_urt, but she was conscious and in no immediate danger, so Rebecca wrote, whe_he had a moment to send aunt Jane the particulars.
  • "I don' know how 'tis," grumbled Miranda, who was not able to sit up that day;
  • "but from a child I could never lay abed without Aurelia's gettin' sick too. _on' know 's she could help fallin', though it ain't anyplace for a woman,—_aymow; but if it hadn't been that, 't would 'a' been somethin' else. Aureli_as born unfortunate. Now she'll probably be a cripple, and Rebecca'll have t_urse her instead of earning a good income somewheres else."
  • "Her first duty 's to her mother," said aunt Jane; "I hope she'll alway_emember that."
  • "Nobody remembers anything they'd ought to,—at seventeen," responded Miranda.
  • "Now that I'm strong again, there's things I want to consider with you, Jane, things that are on my mind night and day. We've talked 'em over before; no_e'll settle 'em. When I'm laid away, do you want to take Aurelia and th_hildren down here to the brick house? There's an awful passel of
  • 'em,—Aurelia, Jenny, and Fanny; but I won't have Mark. Hannah can take him; _on't have a great boy stompin' out the carpets and ruinin' the furniture, though I know when I'm dead I can't hinder ye, if you make up your mind to d_nything."
  • "I shouldn't like to go against your feelings, especially in laying out you_oney, Miranda," said Jane.
  • "Don't tell Rebecca I've willed her the brick house. She won't git it till I'_one, and I want to take my time 'bout dyin' and not be hurried off by the_hat's goin' to profit by it; nor I don't want to be thanked, neither. _'pose she'll use the front stairs as common as the back and like as not hav_ater brought into the kitchen, but mebbe when I've been dead a few years _han't mind. She sets such store by you, she'll want you to have your hom_ere as long's you live, but anyway I've wrote it down that way; though Lawye_urns's wills don't hold more'n half the time. He's cheaper, but I guess i_omes out jest the same in the end. I wan't goin' to have the fust man Rebecc_icks up for a husband turnin' you ou'doors."
  • There was a long pause, during which Jane knit silently, wiping the tears fro_er eyes from time to time, as she looked at the pitiful figure lying weakl_n the pillows. Suddenly Miranda said slowly and feebly:—
  • "I don' know after all but you might as well take Mark; I s'pose there's tam_oys as well as wild ones. There ain't a mite o' sense in havin' so man_hildren, but it's a turrible risk splittin' up families and farmin' 'em ou_ere 'n' there; they'd never come to no good, an' everybody would kee_ememberin' their mother was a Sawyer. Now if you'll draw down the curtin, I'll try to sleep."