The day of Rebecca's arrival had been Friday, and on the Monday following sh_egan her education at the school which was in Riverboro Centre, about a mil_istant. Miss Sawyer borrowed a neighbor's horse and wagon and drove her t_he schoolhouse, interviewing the teacher, Miss Dearborn, arranging for books, and generally starting the child on the path that was to lead to boundles_nowledge. Miss Dearborn, it may be said in passing, had had no specia_reparation in the art of teaching. It came to her naturally, so her famil_aid, and perhaps for this reason she, like Tom Tulliver's clergyman tutor,
"set about it with that uniformity of method and independence of circumstance_hich distinguish the actions of animals understood to be under the immediat_eaching of Nature." You remember the beaver which a naturalist tells us
"busied himself as earnestly in constructing a dam in a room up three pair o_tairs in London as if he had been laying his foundation in a lake in Uppe_anada. It was his function to build, the absence of water or of possibl_rogeny was an accident for which he was not accountable." In the same manne_id Miss Dearborn lay what she fondly imagined to be foundations in the infan_ind.
Rebecca walked to school after the first morning. She loved this part of th_ay's programme. When the dew was not too heavy and the weather was fair ther_as a short cut through the woods. She turned off the main road, crept throug_ncle Josh Woodman's bars, waved away Mrs. Carter's cows, trod the short gras_f the pasture, with its well-worn path running through gardens of buttercup_nd white-weed, and groves of ivory leaves and sweet fern. She descended _ittle hill, jumped from stone to stone across a woodland brook, startling th_rowsy frogs, who were always winking and blinking in the morning sun. The_ame the "woodsy bit," with her feet pressing the slippery carpet of brow_ine needles; the "woodsy bit" so full of dewy morning, surprises,—fungou_rowths of brilliant orange and crimson springing up around the stumps of dea_rees, beautiful things born in a single night; and now and then the miracl_f a little clump of waxen Indian pipes, seen just quickly enough to be save_rom her careless tread. Then she climbed a stile, went through a grass_eadow, slid under another pair of bars, and came out into the road agai_aving gained nearly half a mile.
How delicious it all was! Rebecca clasped her Quackenbos's Grammar an_reenleaf's Arithmetic with a joyful sense of knowing her lessons. Her dinne_ail swung from her right hand, and she had a blissful consciousness of th_wo soda biscuits spread with butter and syrup, the baked cup-custard, th_oughnut, and the square of hard gingerbread. Sometimes she said whatever
"piece" she was going to speak on the next Friday afternoon.
> "A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, > There was lack of woman's nursing, there was dearth of > woman's tears."
How she loved the swing and the sentiment of it! How her young voice quivere_henever she came to the refrain:—
> "But we'll meet no more at Bingen, dear Bingen on the Rhine."
It always sounded beautiful in her ears, as she sent her tearful little trebl_nto the clear morning air. Another early favorite (for we must remember tha_ebecca's only knowledge of the great world of poetry consisted of th_elections in vogue in school readers) was:—
> "Woodman, spare that tree!
> Touch not a single bough!
> In youth it sheltered me, > And I'll protect it now."
When Emma Jane Perkins walked through the "short cut" with her, the tw_hildren used to render this with appropriate dramatic action. Emma Jan_lways chose to be the woodman because she had nothing to do but raise on hig_n imaginary axe. On the one occasion when she essayed the part of the tree'_omantic protector, she represented herself as feeling "so awful foolish" tha_he refused to undertake it again, much to the secret delight of Rebecca, wh_ound the woodman's role much too tame for her vaulting ambition. She revele_n the impassioned appeal of the poet, and implored the ruthless woodman to b_s brutal as possible with the axe, so that she might properly put greate_pirit into her lines. One morning, feeling more frisky than usual, she fel_pon her knees and wept in the woodman's petticoat. Curiously enough, he_ense of proportion rejected this as soon as it was done.
"That wasn't right, it was silly, Emma Jane; but I'll tell you where it migh_ome in—in Give me Three Grains of Corn. You be the mother, and I'll be th_amishing Irish child. For pity's sake put the axe down; you are not th_oodman any longer!"
"What'll I do with my hands, then?" asked Emma Jane.
"Whatever you like," Rebecca answered wearily; "you're just a mother—that'_ll. What does YOUR mother do with her hands? Now here goes!
> "'Give me three grains of corn, mother, > Only three grains of corn, > 'T will keep the little life I have > Till the coming of the morn.'"
This sort of thing made Emma Jane nervous and fidgety, but she was Rebecca'_lave and hugged her chains, no matter how uncomfortable they made her.
At the last pair of bars the two girls were sometimes met by a detachment o_he Simpson children, who lived in a black house with a red door and a re_arn behind, on the Blueberry Plains road. Rebecca felt an interest in th_impsons from the first, because there were so many of them and they were s_atched and darned, just like her own brood at the home farm.
The little schoolhouse with its flagpole on top and its two doors in front, one for boys and the other for girls, stood on the crest of a hill, wit_olling fields and meadows on one side, a stretch of pine woods on the other, and the river glinting and sparkling in the distance. It boasted n_ttractions within. All was as bare and ugly and uncomfortable as it wel_ould be, for the villages along the river expended so much money in repairin_nd rebuilding bridges that they were obliged to be very economical in schoo_rivileges. The teacher's desk and chair stood on a platform in one corner; there was an uncouth stove, never blackened oftener than once a year, a map o_he United States, two black-boards, a ten-quart tin pail of water and long- handled dipper on a corner shelf, and wooden desks and benches for th_cholars, who only numbered twenty in Rebecca's time. The seats were higher i_he back of the room, and the more advanced and longer-legged pupils sa_here, the position being greatly to be envied, as they were at once nearer t_he windows and farther from the teacher.
There were classes of a sort, although nobody, broadly speaking, studied th_ame book with anybody else, or had arrived at the same degree of proficienc_n any one branch of learning. Rebecca in particular was so difficult t_lassify that Miss Dearborn at the end of a fortnight gave up the attemp_ltogether. She read with Dick Carter and Living Perkins, who were fitting fo_he academy; recited arithmetic with lisping little Thuthan Thimpthon; geography with Emma Jane Perkins, and grammar after school hours to Mis_earborn alone. Full to the brim as she was of clever thoughts and quain_ancies, she made at first but a poor hand at composition. The labor o_riting and spelling, with the added difficulties of punctuation and capitals, interfered sadly with the free expression of ideas. She took history wit_lice Robinson's class, which was attacking the subject of the Revolution, while Rebecca was bidden to begin with the discovery of America. In a week sh_ad mastered the course of events up to the Revolution, and in ten days ha_rrived at Yorktown, where the class had apparently established summe_uarters. Then finding that extra effort would only result in her recitin_ith the oldest Simpson boy, she deliberately held herself back, for wisdom'_ays were not those of pleasantness nor her paths those of peace if one wer_ompelled to tread them in the company of Seesaw Simpson. Samuel Simpson wa_enerally called Seesaw, because of his difficulty in making up his mind.
Whether it were a question of fact, of spelling, or of date, of going swimmin_r fishing, of choosing a book in the Sunday-school library or a stick o_andy at the village store, he had no sooner determined on one plan of actio_han his wish fondly reverted to the opposite one. Seesaw was pale, flaxe_aired, blue eyed, round shouldered, and given to stammering when nervous.
Perhaps because of his very weakness Rebecca's decision of character had _ascination for him, and although she snubbed him to the verge of madness, h_ould never keep his eyes away from her. The force with which she tied he_hoe when the lacing came undone, the flirt over shoulder she gave her blac_raid when she was excited or warm, her manner of studying,—book on desk, arm_olded, eyes fixed on the opposite wall,—all had an abiding charm for Seesa_impson. When, having obtained permission, she walked to the water pail in th_orner and drank from the dipper, unseen forces dragged Seesaw from his sea_o go and drink after her. It was not only that there was something akin t_ssociation and intimacy in drinking next, but there was the fearful joy o_eeting her in transit and receiving a cold and disdainful look from he_onderful eyes.
On a certain warm day in summer Rebecca's thirst exceeded the bounds o_ropriety. When she asked a third time for permission to quench it at th_ommon fountain Miss Dearborn nodded "yes," but lifted her eyebrow_npleasantly as Rebecca neared the desk. As she replaced the dipper Seesa_romptly raised his hand, and Miss Dearborn indicated a weary affirmative.
"What is the matter with you, Rebecca?" she asked.
"I had salt mackerel for breakfast," answered Rebecca.
There seemed nothing humorous about this reply, which was merely the statemen_f a fact, but an irrepressible titter ran through the school. Miss Dearbor_id not enjoy jokes neither made nor understood by herself, and her fac_lushed.
"I think you had better stand by the pail for five minutes, Rebecca; it ma_elp you to control your thirst."
Rebecca's heart fluttered. She to stand in the corner by the water pail and b_tared at by all the scholars! She unconsciously made a gesture of angr_issent and moved a step nearer her seat, but was arrested by Miss Dearborn'_ommand in a still firmer voice.
"Stand by the pail, Rebecca! Samuel, how many times have you asked for wate_o-day?"
"This is the f-f-fourth."
"Don't touch the dipper, please. The school has done nothing but drink thi_fternoon; it has had no time whatever to study. I suppose you had somethin_alt for breakfast, Samuel?" queried Miss Dearborn with sarcasm.
"I had m-m-mackerel, j-just like Reb-b-becca." (Irrepressible giggles by th_chool.)
"I judged so. Stand by the other side of the pail, Samuel."
Rebecca's head was bowed with shame and wrath. Life looked too black a thin_o be endured. The punishment was bad enough, but to be coupled in correctio_ith Seesaw Simpson was beyond human endurance.
Singing was the last exercise in the afternoon, and Minnie Smellie chose Shal_e Gather at the River? It was a baleful choice and seemed to hold some secre_nd subtle association with the situation and general progress of events; o_t any rate there was apparently some obscure reason for the energy and vi_ith which the scholars shouted the choral invitation again and again:—
> "Shall we gather at the river, > The beautiful, the beautiful river?"
Miss Dearborn stole a look at Rebecca's bent head and was frightened. Th_hild's face was pale save for two red spots glowing on her cheeks. Tears hun_n her lashes; her breath came and went quickly, and the hand that held he_ocket handkerchief trembled like a leaf.
"You may go to your seat, Rebecca," said Miss Dearborn at the end of the firs_ong. "Samuel, stay where you are till the close of school. And let me tel_ou, scholars, that I asked Rebecca to stand by the pail only to break up thi_abit of incessant drinking, which is nothing but empty-mindedness and desir_o walk to and fro over the floor. Every time Rebecca has asked for a drin_o-day the whole school has gone to the pail one after another. She is reall_hirsty, and I dare say I ought to have punished you for following he_xample, not her for setting it. What shall we sing now, Alice?"
"The Old Oaken Bucket, please."
"Think of something dry, Alice, and change the subject. Yes, The Star Spangle_anner if you like, or anything else."
Rebecca sank into her seat and pulled the singing book from her desk. Mis_earborn's public explanation had shifted some of the weight from her heart, and she felt a trifle raised in her self-esteem.
Under cover of the general relaxation of singing, votive offerings o_espectful sympathy began to make their appearance at her shrine. Livin_erkins, who could not sing, dropped a piece of maple sugar in her lap as h_assed her on his way to the blackboard to draw the map of Maine. Alic_obinson rolled a perfectly new slate pencil over the floor with her foo_ntil it reached Rebecca's place, while her seat-mate, Emma Jane, had made u_ little mound of paper balls and labeled them "Bullets for you know who."
Altogether existence grew brighter, and when she was left alone with th_eacher for her grammar lesson she had nearly recovered her equanimity, whic_as more than Miss Dearborn had. The last clattering foot had echoed throug_he hall, Seesaw's backward glance of penitence had been met and answere_efiantly by one of cold disdain.
"Rebecca, I am afraid I punished you more than I meant," said Miss Dearborn, who was only eighteen herself, and in her year of teaching country schools ha_ever encountered a child like Rebecca.
"I hadn't missed a question this whole day, nor whispered either," quavere_he culprit; "and I don't think I ought to be shamed just for drinking."
"You started all the others, or it seemed as if you did. Whatever you do the_ll do, whether you laugh, or miss, or write notes, or ask to leave the room, or drink; and it must be stopped."
"Sam Simpson is a copycoat!" stormed Rebecca "I wouldn't have minded standin_n the corner alone—that is, not so very much; but I couldn't bear standin_ith him."
"I saw that you couldn't, and that's the reason I told you to take your seat, and left him in the corner. Remember that you are a stranger in the place, an_hey take more notice of what you do, so you must be careful. Now let's hav_ur conjugations. Give me the verb 'to be,' potential mood, past perfec_ense."
> "I might have been "We might have been
> Thou mightst have been You might have been
> He might have been They might have been."
"Give me an example, please."
> "I might have been glad > Thou mightst have been glad > He, she, or it might have been glad."
"'He' or 'she' might have been glad because they are masculine and feminine, but could 'it' have been glad?" asked Miss Dearborn, who was very fond o_plitting hairs.
"Why not?" asked Rebecca
"Because 'it' is neuter gender."
"Couldn't we say, 'The kitten might have been glad if it had known it was no_oing to be drowned'?"
"Ye—es," Miss Dearborn answered hesitatingly, never very sure of herself unde_ebecca's fire; "but though we often speak of a baby, a chicken, or a kitte_s 'it,' they are really masculine or feminine gender, not neuter."
Rebecca reflected a long moment and then asked, "Is a hollyhock neuter?"
"Oh yes, of course it is, Rebecca"
"Well, couldn't we say, 'The hollyhock might have been glad to see the rain, but there was a weak little hollyhock bud growing out of its stalk and it wa_fraid that that might be hurt by the storm; so the big hollyhock was kind o_fraid, instead of being real glad'?"
Miss Dearborn looked puzzled as she answered, "Of course, Rebecca, hollyhock_ould not be sorry, or glad, or afraid, really."
"We can't tell, I s'pose," replied the child; "but _I_ think they are, anyway. Now what shall I say?"
"The subjunctive mood, past perfect tense of the verb 'to know.'"
> "If I had known "If we had known
> If thou hadst known If you had known
> If he had known If they had known.
"Oh, it is the saddest tense," sighed Rebecca with a little break in he_oice; "nothing but IFS, IFS, IFS! And it makes you feel that if they only HA_nown, things might have been better!"
Miss Dearborn had not thought of it before, but on reflection she believed th_ubjunctive mood was a "sad" one and "if" rather a sorry "part of speech."
"Give me some more examples of the subjunctive, Rebecca, and that will do fo_his afternoon," she said.
"If I had not loved mackerel I should not have been thirsty;" said Rebecc_ith an April smile, as she closed her grammar. "If thou hadst loved me trul_hou wouldst not have stood me up in the corner. If Samuel had not love_ickedness he would not have followed me to the water pail."
"And if Rebecca had loved the rules of the school she would have controlle_er thirst," finished Miss Dearborn with a kiss, and the two parted friends.