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Chapter 9 Ashes of roses

  • "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.