"There she is, over an hour late; a little more an' she'd 'a' been caught in _hunder shower, but she'd never look ahead," said Miranda to Jane; "and adde_o all her other iniquities, if she ain't rigged out in that new dress,
steppin' along with her father's dancin'-school steps, and swingin' he_arasol for all the world as if she was play-actin'. Now I'm the oldest, Jane,
an' I intend to have my say out; if you don't like it you can go into th_itchen till it's over. Step right in here, Rebecca; I want to talk to you.
What did you put on that good new dress for, on a school day, withou_ermission?"
"I had intended to ask you at noontime, but you weren't at home, so _ouldn't," began Rebecca.
"You did no such a thing; you put it on because you was left alone, though yo_new well enough I wouldn't have let you."
"If I'd been CERTAIN you wouldn't have let me I'd never have done it," sai_ebecca, trying to be truthful; "but I wasn't CERTAIN, and it was wort_isking. I thought perhaps you might, if you knew it was almost a rea_xhibition at school."
"Exhibition!" exclaimed Miranda scornfully; "you are exhibition enough b_ourself, I should say. Was you exhibitin' your parasol?"
"The parasol WAS silly," confessed Rebecca, hanging her head; "but it's th_nly time in my whole life when I had anything to match it, and it looked s_eautiful with the pink dress! Emma Jane and I spoke a dialogue about a cit_irl and a country girl, and it came to me just the minute before I starte_ow nice it would come in for the city girl; and it did. I haven't hurt m_ress a mite, aunt Mirandy."
"It's the craftiness and underhandedness of your actions that's the worst,"
said Miranda coldly. "And look at the other things you've done! It seems as i_atan possessed you! You went up the front stairs to your room, but you didn'_ide your tracks, for you dropped your handkerchief on the way up. You lef_he screen out of your bedroom window for the flies to come in all over th_ouse. You never cleared away your lunch nor set away a dish, AND YOU LEFT TH_IDE DOOR UNLOCKED from half past twelve to three o'clock, so 't anybody could
'a' come in and stolen what they liked!"
Rebecca sat down heavily in her chair as she heard the list of he_ransgressions. How could she have been so careless? The tears began to flo_ow as she attempted to explain sins that never could be explained o_ustified.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she faltered. "I was trimming the schoolroom, and go_elated, and ran all the way home. It was hard getting into my dress alone,
and I hadn't time to eat but a mouthful, and just at the last minute, when _onestly—HONESTLY—would have thought about clearing away and locking up, _ooked at the clock and knew I could hardly get back to school in time to for_n the line; and I thought how dreadful it would be to go in late and get m_irst black mark on a Friday afternoon, with the minister's wife and th_octor's wife and the school committee all there!"
"Don't wail and carry on now; it's no good cryin' over spilt milk," answere_iranda. "An ounce of good behavior is worth a pound of repentance. Instead o_ryin' to see how little trouble you can make in a house that ain't your ow_ome, it seems as if you tried to see how much you could put us out. Take tha_ose out o' your dress and let me see the spot it's made on your yoke, an' th_usty holes where the wet pin went in. No, it ain't; but it's more by luc_han forethought. I ain't got any patience with your flowers and frizzled-ou_air and furbelows an' airs an' graces, for all the world like your Miss-Nanc_ather."
Rebecca lifted her head in a flash. "Look here, aunt Mirandy, I'll be as goo_s I know how to be. I'll mind quick when I'm spoken to and never leave th_oor unlocked again, but I won't have my father called names. He was _-perfectly l-lovely father, that's what he was, and it's MEAN to call hi_iss Nancy!"
"Don't you dare answer me back that imperdent way, Rebecca, tellin' me I'_ean; your father was a vain, foolish, shiftless man, an' you might as wel_ear it from me as anybody else; he spent your mother's money and left he_ith seven children to provide for."
"It's s-something to leave s-seven nice children," sobbed Rebecca.
"Not when other folks have to help feed, clothe, and educate 'em," responde_iranda. "Now you step upstairs, put on your nightgown, go to bed, and sta_here till to-morrow mornin'. You'll find a bowl o' crackers an' milk on you_ureau, an' I don't want to hear a sound from you till breakfast time. Jane,
run an' take the dish towels off the line and shut the shed doors; we're goin'
to have a turrible shower."
"We've had it, I should think," said Jane quietly, as she went to do he_ister's bidding. "I don't often speak my mind, Mirandy; but you ought not t_ave said what you did about Lorenzo. He was what he was, and can't be mad_ny different; but he was Rebecca's father, and Aurelia always says he was _ood husband."
Miranda had never heard the proverbial phrase about the only "good Indian,"
but her mind worked in the conventional manner when she said grimly, "Yes,
I've noticed that dead husbands are usually good ones; but the truth needs a_irin' now and then, and that child will never amount to a hill o' beans til_he gets some of her father trounced out of her. I'm glad I said just what _id."
"I daresay you are," remarked Jane, with what might be described as one of he_nnual bursts of courage; "but all the same, Mirandy, it wasn't good manners,
and it wasn't good religion!"
The clap of thunder that shook the house just at that moment made no such pea_n Miranda Sawyer's ears as Jane's remark made when it fell with a deafenin_oar on her conscience.
Perhaps after all it is just as well to speak only once a year and then spea_o the purpose.
Rebecca mounted the back stairs wearily, closed the door of her bedroom, an_ook off the beloved pink gingham with trembling fingers. Her cotto_andkerchief was rolled into a hard ball, and in the intervals of reaching th_ore difficult buttons that lay between her shoulder blades and her belt, sh_abbed her wet eyes carefully, so that they should not rain salt water on th_inery that had been worn at such a price. She smoothed it out carefully,
pinched up the white ruffle at the neck, and laid it away in a drawer with a_xtra little sob at the roughness of life. The withered pink rose fell on th_loor. Rebecca looked at it and thought to herself, "Just like my happy day!"
Nothing could show more clearly the kind of child she was than the fact tha_he instantly perceived the symbolism of the rose, and laid it in the drawe_ith the dress as if she were burying the whole episode with all its sa_emories. It was a child's poetic instinct with a dawning hint of woman'_entiment in it.
She braided her hair in the two accustomed pig-tails, took off her best shoes
(which had happily escaped notice), with all the while a fixed resolve growin_n her mind, that of leaving the brick house and going back to the farm. Sh_ould not be received there with open arms,—there was no hope of that,—but sh_ould help her mother about the house and send Hannah to Riverboro in he_lace. "I hope she'll like it!" she thought in a momentary burst o_indictiveness. She sat by the window trying to make some sort of plan,
watching the lightning play over the hilltop and the streams of rain chasin_ach other down the lightning rod. And this was the day that had dawned s_oyfully! It had been a red sunrise, and she had leaned on the window sil_tudying her lesson and thinking what a lovely world it was. And what a golde_orning! The changing of the bare, ugly little schoolroom into a bower o_eauty; Miss Dearborn's pleasure at her success with the Simpson twins'
recitation; the privilege of decorating the blackboard; the happy thought o_rawing Columbia from the cigar box; the intoxicating moment when the schoo_lapped her! And what an afternoon! How it went on from glory to glory,
beginning with Emma Jane's telling her, Rebecca Randall, that she was as
"handsome as a picture."
She lived through the exercises again in memory, especially her dialogue wit_mma Jane and her inspiration of using the bough-covered stove as a mossy ban_here the country girl could sit and watch her flocks. This gave Emma Jane _eeling of such ease that she never recited better; and how generous it was o_er to lend the garnet ring to the city girl, fancying truly how it woul_lash as she furled her parasol and approached the awe-stricken shepherdess!
She had thought aunt Miranda might be pleased that the niece invited down fro_he farm had succeeded so well at school; but no, there was no hope o_leasing her in that or in any other way. She would go to Maplewood on th_tage next day with Mr. Cobb and get home somehow from cousin Ann's. On secon_houghts her aunts might not allow it. Very well, she would slip away now an_ee if she could stay all night with the Cobbs and be off next morning befor_reakfast.
Rebecca never stopped long to think, more 's the pity, so she put on he_ldest dress and hat and jacket, then wrapped her nightdress, comb, an_oothbrush in a bundle and dropped it softly out of the window. Her room wa_n the L and her window at no very dangerous distance from the ground, thoug_ad it been, nothing could have stopped her at that moment. Somebody who ha_one on the roof to clean out the gutters had left a cleat nailed to the sid_f the house about halfway between the window and the top of the back porch.
Rebecca heard the sound of the sewing machine in the dining-room and th_hopping of meat in the kitchen; so knowing the whereabouts of both her aunts,
she scrambled out of the window, caught hold of the lightning rod, slid dow_o the helpful cleat, jumped to the porch, used the woodbine trellis for _adder, and was flying up the road in the storm before she had time to arrang_ny details of her future movements.
Jeremiah Cobb sat at his lonely supper at the table by the kitchen window.
"Mother," as he with his old-fashioned habits was in the habit of calling hi_ife, was nursing a sick neighbor. Mrs. Cobb was mother only to a littl_eadstone in the churchyard, where reposed "Sarah Ann, beloved daughter o_eremiah and Sarah Cobb, aged seventeen months;" but the name of mother wa_etter than nothing, and served at any rate as a reminder of her woman's crow_f blessedness.
The rain still fell, and the heavens were dark, though it was scarcely fiv_'clock. Looking up from his "dish of tea," the old man saw at the open door _ery figure of woe. Rebecca's face was so swollen with tears and so sharp wit_isery that for a moment he scarcely recognized her. Then when he heard he_oice asking, "Please may I come in, Mr. Cobb?" he cried, "Well I vow! It's m_ittle lady passenger! Come to call on old uncle Jerry and pass the time o'
day, hev ye? Why, you're wet as sops. Draw up to the stove. I made a fire, ho_s it was, thinkin' I wanted somethin' warm for my supper, bein' kind o'
lonesome without mother. She's settin' up with Seth Strout to-night. There,
we'll hang your soppy hat on the nail, put your jacket over the chair rail,
an' then you turn your back to the stove an' dry yourself good."
Uncle Jerry had never before said so many words at a time, but he had caugh_ight of the child's red eyes and tear-stained cheeks, and his big heart wen_ut to her in her trouble, quite regardless of any circumstances that migh_ave caused it.
Rebecca stood still for a moment until uncle Jerry took his seat again at th_able, and then, unable to contain herself longer, cried, "Oh, Mr. Cobb, I'v_un away from the brick house, and I want to go back to the farm. Will yo_eep me to-night and take me up to Maplewood in the stage? I haven't got an_oney for my fare, but I'll earn it somehow afterwards."
"Well, I guess we won't quarrel 'bout money, you and me," said the old man;
"and we've never had our ride together, anyway, though we allers meant to g_own river, not up."
"I shall never see Milltown now!" sobbed Rebecca.
"Come over here side o' me an' tell me all about it," coaxed uncle Jerry.
"Jest set down on that there wooden cricket an' out with the whole story."
Rebecca leaned her aching head against Mr. Cobb's homespun knee and recounte_he history of her trouble. Tragic as that history seemed to her passionat_nd undisciplined mind, she told it truthfully and without exaggeration.