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Chapter 5 Wisdom's ways

  • 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.