Part 2 out of 4
the ground, and the farmers called it the Blight. And I would
rather be hail, sleet, frost, or snow than a Blight, which is
mean and secret, and which is the reason I threw away the dearest
thing on earth to me, the pink parasol that Miss Ross brought me
from Paris, France. I have also wrapped up my bead purse in three
papers and put it away marked not to be opened till after my
death unless needed for a party.
I must not be Burden, I must not be Blight,
The angels in heaven would weep at the sight.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
A good way to find out which has the most benefercent effect
would be to try rewards on myself this next week and write my
composition the very last day, when I see how my character is. It
is hard to find rewards for yourself, but perhaps Aunt Jane and
some of the girls would each give me one to help out. I could
carry my bead purse to school every day, or wear my coral chain a
little while before I go to sleep at night. I could read Cora or
the Sorrows of a Doctor's Wife a little oftener, but that's all
the rewards I can think of. I fear Aunt Miranda would say they
are wicked but oh! if they should turn out benefercent how glad
and joyful life would be to me! A sweet and beautiful character,
beloved by my teacher and schoolmates, admired and petted by my
aunts and neighbors, yet carrying my bead purse constantly, with
perhaps my best hat on Wednesday afternoons, as well as Sundays!
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A GREAT SHOCK
The reason why Alice Robinson could not play was, she was being
punished for breaking her mother's blue platter. Just before
supper my story being finished I went up Guide Board hill to see
how she was bearing up and she spoke to me from her window. She
said she did not mind being punished because she hadn't been for
a long time, and she hoped it would help her with her
composition. She thought it would give her thoughts, and
tomorrow's the last day for her to have any. This gave me a good
idea and I told her to call her father up and beg him to beat her
violently. It would hurt, I said, but perhaps none of the other
girls would have a punishment like that, and her composition
would be all different and splendid. I would borrow Aunt
Miranda's witchhayzel and pour it on her wounds like the
Samaritan in the Bible.
I went up again after supper with Dick Carter to see how it
turned out. Alice came to the window and Dick threw up a note
tied to a stick. I had written: "DEMAND YOUR PUNISHMENT TO THE
FULL. BE BRAVE LIKE DOLORES' MOTHER IN THE Martyrs of Spain."
She threw down an answer, and it was: "YOU JUST BE LIKE DOLORES'
MOTHER YOURSELF IF YOU'RE SO SMART!" Then she stamped away from
the window and my feelings were hurt, but Dick said perhaps she
was hungry, and that made her cross. And as Dick and I turned to
go out of the yard we looked back and I saw something I can never
forget. (The Great Shock) Mrs. Robinson was out behind the barn
feeding the turkies. Mr. Robinson came softly out of the side
door in the orchard and looking everywheres around he stepped to
the wire closet and took out a saucer of cold beans with a
pickled beet on top, and a big piece of blueberry pie. Then he
crept up the back stairs and we could see Alice open her door and
take in the supper.
Oh! What will become of her composition, and how can she tell
anything of the benefercent effects of punishment, when she is
locked up by one parent, and fed by the other? I have forgiven
her for the way she snapped me up for, of course, you couldn't
beg your father to beat you when he was bringing you blueberry
pie. Mrs. Robinson makes a kind that leaks out a thick purple
juice into the plate and needs a spoon and blacks your mouth, but
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The week is almost up and very soon Dr. Moses will drive up to
the school house like Elijah in the chariot and come in to hear
us read. There is a good deal of sickness among us. Some of the
boys are not able to come to school just now, but hope to be
about again by Monday, when Dr. Moses goes away to a convention.
It is a very hard composition to write, somehow. Last night I
dreamed that the river was ink and I kept dipping into it and
writing with a penstalk made of a young pine tree. I sliced great
slabs of marble off the side of one of the White Mountains, the
one you see when going to meeting, and wrote on those. Then I
threw them all into the falls, not being good enough for Dr.
Dick Carter had a splendid boy to stay over Sunday. He makes the
real newspaper named The Pilot published by the boys at Wareham
Academy. He says when he talks about himself in writing he calls
himself "we," and it sounds much more like print, besides
conscealing him more.
Example: Our hair was measured this morning and has grown two
inches since last time . . . . We have a loose tooth that
troubles us very much . . . Our inkspot that we made by
negligence on our only white petticoat we have been able to
remove with lemon and milk. Some of our petticoat came out with
I shall try it in my composition sometime, for of course I shall
write for the Pilot when I go to Wareham Seminary. Uncle Jerry
Cobb says that I shall, and thinks that in four years I might
rise to be editor if they ever have girls.
I have never been more good than since I have been rewarding
myself steady, even to asking Aunt Miranda kindly to offer me a
company jelly tart, not because I was hungry, but for an
experement I was trying, and would explain to her sometime.
She said she never thought it was wise to experement with your
stomach, and I said, with a queer thrilling look, it was not my
stomach but my soul, that was being tried. Then she gave me the
tart and walked away all puzzled and nervous.
The new minister has asked me to come and see him any Saturday
afternoon as he writes poetry himself, but I would rather not ask
him about this composition.
Ministers never believe in rewards, and it is useless to hope
that they will. We had the wrath of God four times in sermons
this last summer, but God cannot be angry all the time,--nobody
could, especially in summer; Mr. Baxter is different and calls
his wife dear which is lovely and the first time I ever heard it
in Riverboro. Mrs. Baxter is another kind of people too, from
those that live in Temperance. I like to watch her in meeting and
see her listen to her husband who is young and handsome for a
minister; it gives me very queer and uncommon feelings, when they
look at each other, which they always do when not otherwise
She has different clothes from anybody else. Aunt Miranda says
you must think only of two things: will your dress keep you warm
and will it wear well and there is nobody in the world to know
how I love pink and red and how I hate drab and green and how I
never wear my hat with the black and yellow porkupine quills
without wishing it would blow into the river.
Whene'er I take my walks abroad How many quills I see. But as
they are not porkupines They never come to me.
WHICH HAS THE MOST BENEFERCENT EFFECT ON THE CHARACTER,
PUNISHMENT OR REWARD?
Rebecca Rowena Randall
(This copy not corrected by Miss Dearborn yet.)
We find ourselves very puzzled in approaching this truly great
and national question though we have tried very ernestly to
understand it, so as to show how wisely and wonderfully our dear
teacher guides the youthful mind, it being her wish that our
composition class shall long be remembered in Riverboro Centre.
We would say first of all that punishment seems more
benefercently needed by boys than girls. Boys' sins are very
violent, like stealing fruit, profane language, playing truant,
fighting, breaking windows, and killing innocent little flies and
bugs. If these were not taken out of them early in life it would
be impossible for them to become like our martyred president,
Although we have asked everybody on our street, they think boys'
sins can only be whipped out of them with a switch or strap,
which makes us feel very sad, as boys when not sinning the
dreadful sins mentioned above seem just as good as girls, and
never cry when switched, and say it does not hurt much.
We now approach girls, which we know better, being one. Girls
seem better than boys because their sins are not so noisy and
showy. They can disobey their parents and aunts, whisper in
silent hour, cheat in lessons, say angry things to their
schoolmates, tell lies, be sulky and lazy, but all these can be
conducted quite ladylike and genteel, and nobody wants to strap
girls because their skins are tender and get black and blue very
Punishments make one very unhappy and rewards very happy, and one
would think when one is happy one would behave the best. We were
acquainted with a girl who gave herself rewards every day for a
week, and it seemed to make her as lovely a character as one
could wish; but perhaps if one went on for years giving rewards
to onesself one would become selfish. One cannot tell, one can
If a dog kills a sheep we should whip him straight away, and on
the very spot where he can see the sheep, or he will not know
what we mean, and may forget and kill another. The same is true
of the human race. We must be firm and patient in punishing, no
matter how much we love the one who has done wrong, and how
hungry she is. It does no good to whip a person with one hand and
offer her a pickled beet with the other. This confuses her mind,
and she may grow up not knowing right from wrong. (The striking
example of the pickled beet was removed from the essay by the
refined but ruthless Miss Dearborn, who strove patiently, but
vainly, to keep such vulgar images out of her pupils' literary
We now respectfully approach the Holy Bible and the people in the
Bible were punished the whole time, and that would seem to make
it right. Everybody says Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth; but
we think ourself, that the Lord is a better punisher than we are,
and knows better how and when to do it having attended to it ever
since the year B.C. while the human race could not know about it
till 1492 A.D., which is when Columbus discovered America.
We do not believe we can find out all about this truly great and
national subject till we get to heaven, where the human race,
strapped and unstrapped, if any, can meet together and laying
down their harps discuss how they got there.
And we would gently advise boys to be more quiet and genteel in
conduct and try rewards to see how they would work. Rewards are
not all like the little rosebud merit cards we receive on
Fridays, and which boys sometimes tear up and fling scornfully to
the breeze when they get outside, but girls preserve carefully in
Some rewards are great and glorious, for boys can get to be
governor or school trustee or road commissioner or president,
while girls can only be wife and mother. But all of us can have
the ornament of a meek and lowly spirit, especially girls, who
have more use for it than boys.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
STORIES AND PEOPLE
There are people in books and people in Riverboro, and they are
not the same kind. They never talk of chargers and palfreys in
the village, nor say How oft and Methinks, and if a Scotchman out
of Rob Roy should come to Riverboro and want to marry one of us
girls we could not understand him unless he made motions; though
Huldah Meserve says if a nobleman of high degree should ask her
to be his,--one of vast estates with serfs at his bidding,--she
would be able to guess his meaning in any language.
Uncle Jerry Cobb thinks that Riverboro people would not make a
story, but I know that some of them would.
Jack-o'-lantern, though only a baby, was just like a real story
if anybody had written a piece about him: How his mother was dead
and his father ran away and Emma Jane and I got Aunt Sarah Cobb
to keep him so Mr. Perkins wouldn't take him to the poor farm;
and about our lovely times with him that summer, and our dreadful
loss when his father remembered him in the fall and came to take
him away; and how Aunt Sarah carried the trundle bed up attic
again and Emma Jane and I heard her crying and stole away.
Mrs. Peter Meserve says Grandpa Sawyer was a wonderful hand at
stories before his spirit was broken by grandmother. She says he
was the life of the store and tavern when he was a young man,
though generally sober, and she thinks I take after him, because
I like compositions better than all the other lessons; but mother
says I take after father, who always could say everything nicely
whether he had anything to say or not; so methinks I should be
grateful to both of them. They are what is called ancestors and
much depends upon whether you have them or not. The Simpsons have
not any at all. Aunt Miranda says the reason everybody is so
prosperous around here is because their ancestors were all first
settlers and raised on burnt ground. This should make us very
Methinks and methought are splendid words for compositions. Miss
Dearborn likes them very much, but Alice and I never bring them
in to suit her. Methought means the same as I thought, but sounds
better. Example: If you are telling a dream you had about your
Methought I heard her say
My child you have so useful been
You need not sew today.
This is a good example one way, but too unlikely, woe is me!
This afternoon I was walking over to the store to buy molasses,
and as I came off the bridge and turned up the hill, I saw lots
and lots of heelprints in the side of the road, heelprints with
little spike holes in them.
"Oh! The river drivers have come from up country," I thought,
"and they'll be breaking the jam at our falls tomorrow." I looked
everywhere about and not a man did I see, but still I knew I was
not mistaken for the heelprints could not lie. All the way over
and back I thought about it, though unfortunately forgetting the
molasses, and Alice Robinson not being able to come out, I took
playtime to write a story. It is the first grown-up one I ever
did, and is intended to be like Cora the Doctor's Wife, not like
a school composition. It is written for Mr. Adam Ladd, and people
like him who live in Boston, and is the printed kind you get
money for, to pay off a mortgage.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
LANCELOT OR THE PARTED LOVERS
A beautiful village maiden was betrothed to a stallwart river
driver, but they had high and bitter words and parted, he to weep
into the crystal stream as he drove his logs, and she to sigh and
moan as she went about her round of household tasks.
At eventide the maiden was wont to lean over the bridge and her
tears also fell into the foaming stream; so, though the two
unhappy lovers did not know it, the river was their friend, the
only one to whom they told their secrets and wept into.
The months crept on and it was the next July when the maiden was
passing over the bridge and up the hill. Suddenly she spied
footprints on the sands of time.
"The river drivers have come again!" she cried, putting her hand
to her side for she had a slight heart trouble like Cora and Mrs.
Peter Meserve, that doesn't kill.
"They HAVE come indeed; ESPECIALLY ONE YOU KNOW," said a voice,
and out from the alder bushes sprung Lancelot Littlefield, for
that was the lover's name and it was none other than he. His hair
was curly and like living gold. His shirt, white of flannel, was
new and dry, and of a handsome color, and as the maiden looked at
him she could think of nought but a fairy prince.
"Forgive," she mermered, stretching out her waisted hands.
"Nay, sweet," he replied. "'Tis I should say that to you," and
bending gracefully on one knee he kissed the hem of her dress. It
was a rich pink gingham check, ellaborately ornamented with white
Clasping each other to the heart like Cora and the Doctor, they
stood there for a long while, till they heard the rumble of
wheels on the bridge and knew they must disentangle.
The wheels came nearer and verily! it was the maiden's father.
"Can I wed with your fair daughter this very moon," asked
Lancelot, who will not be called his whole name again in this
"You may," said the father, "for lo! she has been ready and
waiting for many months." This he said not noting how he was
shaming the maiden, whose name was Linda Rowenetta.
Then and there the nuptial day was appointed and when it came,
the marriage knot was tied upon the river bank where first they
met; the river bank where they had parted in anger, and where
they had again scealeld their vows and clasped each other to the
heart. And it was very low water that summer, and the river
always thought it was because no tears dropped into it but so
many smiles that like sunshine they dried it up.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Long ago when I used to watch Miss Ross painting the old mill at
Sunnybrook I thought I would be a painter, for Miss Ross went to
Paris France where she bought my bead purse and pink parasol and
I thought I would like to see a street with beautiful
bright-colored things sparkling and hanging in the store windows.
Then when the missionaries from Syria came to stay at the brick
house Mrs. Burch said that after I had experienced religion I
must learn music and train my voice and go out to heathen lands
and save souls, so I thought that would be my career. But we
girls tried to have a branch and be home missionaries and it did
not work well. Emma Jane's father would not let her have her
birthday party when he found out what she had done and Aunt Jane
sent me up to Jake Moody's to tell him we did not mean to be rude
when we asked him to go to meeting more often. He said all right,
but just let him catch that little dough-faced Perkins young one
in his yard once more and she'd have reason to remember the call,
which was just as rude and impolite as our trying to lead him to
a purer and a better life.
Then Uncle Jerry and Mr. Aladdin and Miss Dearborn liked my
compositions, and I thought I'd better be a writer, for I must be
something the minute I'm seventeen, or how shall we ever get the
mortgage off the farm? But even that hope is taken away from me
now, for Uncle Jerry made fun of my story Lancelot Or The Parted
Lovers and I have decided to be a teacher like Miss Dearborn.
The pathetic announcement of a change in the career and life
purposes of Rebecca was brought about by her reading the grown-up
story to Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Cobb after supper in the orchard.
Uncle Jerry was the person who had maintained all along that
Riverboro people would not make a story; and Lancelot or The
Parted Lovers was intended to refute that assertion at once and
forever; an assertion which Rebecca regarded (quite truly) as
untenable, though why she certainly never could have explained.
Unfortunately Lancelot was a poor missionary, quite unfitted for
the high achievements to which he was destined by the youthful
novelist, and Uncle Jerry, though a stage-driver and no reading
man, at once perceived the flabbiness and transparency of the
Parted Lovers the moment they were held up to his inspection.
"You see Riverboro people WILL make a story!" asserted Rebecca
triumphantly as she finished her reading and folded the paper.
"And it all came from my noticing the river drivers' tracks by
the roadside, and wondering about them; and wondering always
makes stories; the minister says so."
"Ye-es," allowed Uncle Jerry reflectively, tipping his chair back
against the apple tree and forcing his slow mind to violent and
instantaneous action, for Rebecca was his pride and joy; a
person, in his opinion, of superhuman talent, one therefore to be
"whittled into shape" if occasion demanded.
"It's a Riverboro story, sure enough, because you've got the
river and the bridge and the hill and the drivers all right there
in it; but there's something awful queer bout it; the folks don't
act Riverboro, and don't talk Riverboro, cordin' to my notions. I
call it a reg'lar book story."
"But," objected Rebecca, "the people in Cinderella didn't act
like us, and you thought that was a beautiful story when I told
it to you."
"I know," replied Uncle Jerry, gaining eloquence in the heat of
argument. "They didn't act like us, but 't any rate they acted
like 'emselves! Somehow they was all of a piece. Cinderella was a
little too good, mebbe, and the sisters was most too thunderin'
bad to live on the face o' the earth, and that fayry old lady
that kep' the punkin' coach up her sleeve--well, anyhow, you jest
believe that punkin' coach, rats, mice, and all, when you're
hearin' bout it, fore ever you stop to think it ain't so.
"I don' know how tis, but the folks in that Cinderella story seem
to match together somehow; they're all pow'ful onlikely--the
prince feller with the glass slipper, and the hull bunch; but
jest the same you kind o' gulp em all down in a lump. But land,
Rebecky, nobody'd swaller that there village maiden o' your'n,
and as for what's-his-name Littlefield, that come out o' them
bushes, such a feller never 'd a' be'n IN bushes! No, Rebecky,
you're the smartest little critter there is in this township, and
you beat your Uncle Jerry all holler when it comes to usin' a
lead pencil, but I say that ain't no true Riverboro story! Look
at the way they talk! What was that' bout being BETROTHED'?"
"Betrothed is a genteel word for engaged to be married,"
explained the crushed and chastened author; and it was fortunate
the doting old man did not notice her eyes in the twilight, or he
might have known that tears were not far away.
"Well, that's all right, then; I'm as ignorant as Cooper's cow
when it comes to the dictionary. How about what's-his-name
callin' the girl 'Naysweet'?"
"I thought myself that sounded foolish,:" confessed Rebecca; "but
it's what the Doctor calls Cora when he tries to persuade her not
to quarrel with his mother who comes to live with them. I know
they don't say it in Riverboro or Temperance, but I thought
perhaps it was Boston talk."
"Well, it ain't!" asserted Mr. Cobb decisively. "I've druv Boston
men up in the stage from Milltown many's the time, and none of em
ever said Naysweet to me, nor nothin'like it. They talked like
folks, every mother's son of em! If I'd a' had that
what's-his-name on the harricane deck' o' the stage and he tried
any naysweetin' on me, I'd a' pitched him into the cornfield,
side o' the road. I guess you ain't growed up enough for that
kind of a story, Rebecky, for your poetry can't be beat in York
County, that's sure, and your compositions are good enough to
read out loud in town meetin' any day!"
Rebecca brightened up a little and bade the old couple her usual
affectionate good night, but she descended the hill in a saddened
mood. When she reached the bridge the sun, a ball of red fire,
was setting behind Squire Bean's woods. As she looked, it shone
full on the broad, still bosom of the river, and for one perfect
instant the trees on the shores were reflected, all swimming in a
sea of pink. Leaning over the rail, she watched the light fade
from crimson to carmine, from carmine to rose, from rose to
amber, and from amber to gray. Then withdrawing Lancelot or the
Parted Lovers from her apron pocket, she tore the pages into bits
and dropped them into the water below with a sigh.
"Uncle Jerry never said a word about the ending!" she thought;
"and that was so nice!"
And she was right; but while Uncle Jerry was an illuminating
critic when it came to the actions and language of his Riverboro
neighbors, he had no power to direct the young mariner when she
"followed the gleam," and used her imagination.
OUR SECRET SOCIETY
Our Secret society has just had a splendid picnic in Candace
Our name is the B.O.S.S., and not a single boy in the village has
been able to guess it. It means Braid Over Shoulder Society, and
that is the sign. All the members wear one of their braids over
the right shoulder in front; the president's tied with red ribbon
(I am the president) and all the rest tied with blue.
To attract the attention of another member when in company or at
a public place we take the braid between the thumb and little
finger and stand carelessly on one leg. This is the Secret Signal
and the password is Sobb (B.O.S.S. spelled backwards) which was
my idea and is thought rather uncommon.
One of the rules of the B.O.S.S. is that any member may be
required to tell her besetting sin at any meeting, if asked to do
so by a majority of the members.
This was Candace Milliken's idea and much opposed by everybody,
but when it came to a vote so many of the girls were afraid of
offending Candace that they agreed because there was nobody
else's father and mother who would let us picnic in their barn
and use their plow, harrow, grindstone, sleigh, carryall, pung,
sled, and wheelbarrow, which we did and injured hardly anything.
They asked me to tell my besetting sin at the very first meeting,
and it nearly killed me to do it because it is such a common
greedy one. It is that I can't bear to call the other girls when
I have found a thick spot when we are out berrying in the summer
After I confessed, which made me dreadfully ashamed, every one of
the girls seemed surprised and said they had never noticed that
one but had each thought of something very different that I would
be sure to think was my besetting sin. Then Emma Jane said that
rather than tell hers she would resign from the Society and miss
the picnic. So it made so much trouble that Candace gave up. We
struck out the rule from the constitution and I had told my sin
The reason we named ourselves the B.O.S.S. is that Minnie Smellie
has had her head shaved after scarlet fever and has no braid, so
she can't be a member.
I don't want her for a member but I can't be happy thinking she
will feel slighted, and it takes away half the pleasure of
belonging to the Society myself and being president.
That, I think, is the principal trouble about doing mean and
unkind things; that you can't do wrong and feel right, or be bad
and feel good. If you only could you could do anything that came
into your mind yet always be happy.
Minnie Smellie spoils everything she comes into but I suppose we
other girls must either have our hair shaved and call ourselves
The Baldheadians or let her be some kind of a special officer in
She might be the B.I.T.U.D. member (Braid in the Upper Drawer),
for there is where Mrs. Smellie keeps it now that it is cut off.
It is not such a cold day for March and I am up in the barn
chamber with my coat and hood on and Aunt Jane's waterproof and
After I do three pages I am going to hide away this book in the
haymow till spring.
Perhaps they get made into icicles on the way but I do not seem
to have any thoughts in the winter time. The barn chamber is full
of thoughts in warm weather. The sky gives them to me, and the
trees and flowers, and the birds, and the river; but now it is
always gray and nipping, the branches are bare and the river is
It is too cold to write in my bedroom but while we still kept an
open fire I had a few thoughts, but now there is an air-tight
stove in the dining room where we sit, and we seem so close
together, Aunt Miranda, Aunt Jane and I that I don't like to
write in my book for fear they will ask me to read out loud my
I have just read over the first part of my Thought Book and I
have outgrown it all, just exactly as I have outgrown my last
year's drab cashmere.
It is very queer how anybody can change so fast in a few months,
but I remember that Emma Jane's cat had kittens the day my book
was bought at Watson's store. Mrs. Perkins kept the prettiest
white one, Abijah Flagg drowning all the others.
It seems strange to me that cats will go on having kittens when
they know what becomes of them! We were very sad about it, but
Mrs. Perkins said it was the way of the world and how things had
I cannot help being glad that they do not do the same with
children, or John and Jenny Mira Mark and me would all have had
stones tied to our necks and been dropped into the deepest part
of Sunny Brook, for Hannah and Fanny are the only truly handsome
ones in the family.
Mrs. Perkins says I dress up well, but never being dressed up it
does not matter much. At least they didn't wait to dress up the
kittens to see how they would improve, before drowning them, but
decided right away.
Emma Jane's kitten that was born the same day this book was is
now quite an old cat who knows the way of the world herself, and
how things have to be, for she has had one batch of kittens
So perhaps it is not strange that my Thought Book seems so
babyish and foolish to me when I think of all I have gone through
and the millions of things I have learned, and how much better I
spell than I did ten months ago.
My fingers are cold through the mittens, so good-bye dear Thought
Book, friend of my childhood, now so far far behind me!
I will hide you in the haymow where you'll be warm and cosy all
the long winter and where nobody can find you again in the summer
time but your affectionate author,
Rebecca Rowena Randall.
A TRAGEDY IN MILLINERY
Emma Jane Perkins's new winter dress was a blue and green Scotch
plaid poplin, trimmed with narrow green velvet-ribbon and steel
nail-heads. She had a gray jacket of thick furry cloth with large
steel buttons up the front, a pair of green kid gloves, and a
gray felt hat with an encircling band of bright green feathers.
The band began in front with a bird's head and ended behind with
a bird's tail, and angels could have desired no more beautiful
toilette. That was her opinion, and it was shared to the full by
But Emma Jane, as Rebecca had once described her to Mr. Adam
Ladd, was a rich blacksmith's daughter, and she, Rebecca, was a
little half-orphan from a mortgaged farm "up Temperance way,"
dependent upon her spinster aunts for board, clothes, and
schooling. Scotch plaid poplins were manifestly not for her, but
dark-colored woolen stuffs were, and mittens, and last winter's
coats and furs.
And how about hats? Was there hope in store for her there? she
wondered, as she walked home from the Perkins house, full of
admiration for Emma Jane's winter outfit, and loyally trying to
keep that admiration free from wicked envy. Her red-winged black
hat was her second best, and although it was shabby she still
liked it, but it would never do for church, even in Aunt
Miranda's strange and never-to-be-comprehended views of suitable
There was a brown felt turban in existence, if one could call it
existence when it had been rained on, snowed on, and hailed on
for two seasons; but the trimmings had at any rate perished quite
off the face of the earth, that was one comfort!
Emma Jane had said, rather indiscreetly, that at the village
milliner's at Milliken's Mills there was a perfectly elegant pink
breast to be had, a breast that began in a perfectly elegant
solferino and terminated in a perfectly elegant magenta; two
colors much in vogue at that time. If the old brown hat was to be
her portion yet another winter, would Aunt Miranda conceal its
deficiencies from a carping world beneath the shaded solferino
breast? WOULD she, that was the question?
Filled with these perplexing thoughts, Rebecca entered the brick
house, hung up her hood in the entry, and went into the
Miss Jane was not there, but Aunt Miranda sat by the window with
her lap full of sewing things, and a chair piled with pasteboard
boxes by her side. In one hand was the ancient, battered, brown
felt turban, and in the other were the orange and black porcupine
quills from Rebecca's last summer's hat; from the hat of the
summer before that, and the summer before that, and so on back to
prehistoric ages of which her childish memory kept no specific
record, though she was sure that Temperance and Riverboro society
did. Truly a sight to chill the blood of any eager young dreamer
who had been looking at gayer plumage!
Miss Sawyer glanced up for a second with a satisfied expression
and then bent her eyes again upon her work.
"If I was going to buy a hat trimming," she said, "I couldn't
select anything better or more economical than these quills! Your
mother had them when she was married, and you wore them the day
you come to the brick house from the farm; and I said to myself
then that they looked kind of outlandish, but I've grown to like
em now I've got used to em. You've been here for goin' on two
years and they've hardly be'n out o'wear, summer or winter,
more'n a month to a time! I declare they do beat all for service!
It don't seem as if your mother could a' chose em,--Aurelia was
always such a poor buyer! The black spills are bout as good as
new, but the orange ones are gittin' a little mite faded and
shabby. I wonder if I couldn't dip all of em in shoe blackin'? It
seems real queer to put a porcupine into hat trimmin', though I
declare I don't know jest what the animiles are like, it's be'n
so long sence I looked at the pictures of em in a geography. I
always thought their quills stood out straight and angry, but
these kind o' curls round some at the ends, and that makes em
stand the wind better. How do you like em on the brown felt?" she
asked, inclining her head in a discriminating attitude and
poising them awkwardly on the hat with her work-stained hand.
How did she like them on the brown felt indeed?
Miss Sawyer had not been looking at Rebecca, but the child's eyes
were flashing, her bosom heaving, and her cheeks glowing with
sudden rage and despair. All at once something happened. She
forgot that she was speaking to an older person; forgot that she
was dependent; forgot everything but her disappointment at losing
the solferino breast, remembering nothing but the enchanting,
dazzling beauty of Emma Jane Perkins's winter outfit; and
suddenly, quite without warning, she burst into a torrent of
"I will NOT wear those hateful porcupine quills again this
winter! I will not! It's wicked, WICKED to expect me to! Oh! How
I wish there never had been any porcupines in the world, or that
all of them had died before silly, hateful people ever thought of
trimming hat with them! They curl round and tickle my ear! They
blow against my cheek and sting it like needles! They do look
outlandish, you said so yourself a minute ago. Nobody ever had
any but only just me! The only porcupine was made into the only
quills for me and nobody else! I wish instead of sticking OUT of
the nasty beasts, that they stuck INTO them, same as they do into
my cheek! I suffer, suffer, suffer, wearing them and hating them,
and they will last forever and forever, and when I'm dead and
can't help myself, somebody'll rip them out of my last year's hat
and stick them on my head, and I'll be buried in them! Well, when
I am buried THEY will be, that's one good thing! Oh, if I ever
have a child I'll let her choose her own feathers and not make
her wear ugly things like pigs' bristles and porcupine quills!'
With this lengthy tirade Rebecca vanished like a meteor, through
the door and down the street, while Miranda Sawyer gasped for
breath, and prayed to Heaven to help her understand such human
whirlwinds as this Randall niece of hers.
This was at three o'clock, and at half-past three Rebecca was
kneeling on the rag carpet with her head in her aunt's apron,
sobbing her contrition.
"Oh! Aunt Miranda, do forgive me if you can. It's the only time
I've been bad for months! You know it is! You know you said last
week I hadn't been any trouble lately. Something broke inside of
me and came tumbling out of my mouth in ugly words! The porcupine
quills make me feel just as a bull does when he sees a red cloth;
nobody understands how I suffer with them!"
Miranda Sawyer had learned a few lessons in the last two years,
lessons which were making her (at least on her "good days") a
trifle kinder, and at any rate a juster woman than she used to
be. When she alighted on the wrong side of her four-poster in
the morning, or felt an extra touch of rheumatism, she was still
grim and unyielding; but sometimes a curious sort of melting
process seemed to go on within her, when her whole bony structure
softened, and her eyes grew less vitreous. At such moments
Rebecca used to feel as if a superincumbent iron pot had been
lifted off her head, allowing her to breath freely and enjoy the
"Well," she said finally, after staring first at Rebecca and then
at the porcupine quills, as if to gain some insight into the
situation, "well, I never, sence I was born int' the world, heerd
such a speech as you've spoke, an' I guess there probably never
was one. You'd better tell the minister what you said and see
what he thinks of his prize Sunday-school scholar. But I'm too
old and tired to scold and fuss, and try to train you same as I
did at first. You can punish yourself this time, like you used
to. Go fire something down the well, same as you did your pink
parasol! You've apologized and we won't say no more about it
today, but I expect you to show by extry good conduct how sorry
you be! You care altogether too much about your looks and your
clothes for a child, and you've got a temper that'll certainly
land you in state's prison some o' these days!"
Rebecca wiped her eyes and laughed aloud. "No, no, Aunt Miranda,
it won't, really! That wasn't temper; I don't get angry with
PEOPLE; but only, once in a long while, with things; like
those,-- cover them up quick before I begin again! I'm all right!
Shower's over, sun's out!"
Miss Miranda looked at her searchingly and uncomprehendingly.
Rebecca's state of mind came perilously near to disease, she
"Have you seen me buyin' any new bunnits, or your Aunt Jane?" she
asked cuttingly. "Is there any particular reason why you should
dress better than your elders? You might as well know that we're
short of cash just now, your Aunt Jane and me, and have no
intention of riggin' you out like a Milltown fact'ry girl."
"Oh-h!" cried Rebecca, the quick tears starting again to her eyes
and the color fading out of her cheeks, as she scrambled up from
her knees to a seat on the sofa beside her aunt. "Oh-h! How
ashamed I am! Quick, sew those quills on to the brown turban
while I'm good! If I can't stand them I'll make a neat little
gingham bag and slip over them!"
And so the matter ended, not as it customarily did, with cold
words on Miss Miranda's part and bitter feelings on Rebecca's,
but with a gleam of mutual understanding.
Mrs. Cobb, who was a master hand at coloring, dipped the
offending quills in brown dye and left them to soak in it all
night, not only making them a nice warm color, but somewhat
weakening their rocky spines, so that they were not quite as
rampantly hideous as before, in Rebecca's opinion.
Then Mrs. Perkins went to her bandbox in the attic and gave Miss
Dearborn some pale blue velvet, with which she bound the brim of
the brown turban and made a wonderful rosette, out of which the
porcupine's defensive armor sprang, buoyantly and gallantly, like
the plume of Henry of Navarre.
Rebecca was resigned, if not greatly comforted, but she had grace
enough to conceal her feelings, now that she knew economy was at
the root of some of her aunt's decrees in matters of dress; and
she managed to forget the solferino breast, save in sleep, where
a vision of it had a way of appearing to her, dangling from the
ceiling, and dazzling her so with its rich color that she used to
hope the milliner would sell it that she might never be tempted
with it when she passed the shop window.
One day, not long afterward, Miss Miranda borrowed Mr. Perkins's
horse and wagon and took Rebecca with her on a drive to Union, to
see about some sausage meat and head cheese. She intended to call
on Mrs. Cobb, order a load of pine wood from Mr. Strout on the
way, and leave some rags for a rug with old Mrs. Pease, so that
the journey could be made as profitable as possible, consistent
with the loss of time and the wear and tear on her second-best
The red-winged black hat was forcibly removed from Rebecca's head
just before starting, and the nightmare turban substituted.
"You might as well begin to wear it first as last," remarked
Miranda, while Jane stood in the side door and sympathized
secretly with Rebecca.
"I will!" said Rebecca, ramming the stiff turban down on her head
with a vindictive grimace, and snapping the elastic under her
long braids; "but it makes me think of what Mr. Robinson said
when the minister told him his mother-in-law would ride in the
same buggy with him at his wife's funeral."
"I can't see how any speech of Mr. Robinson's, made years an'
years ago, can have anything to do with wearin' your turban down
to Union," said Miranda, settling the lap robe over her knees.
"Well, it can; because he said: Have it that way, then, but it'll
spile the hull blamed trip for me!'"
Jane closed the door suddenly, partly because she experienced a
desire to smile (a desire she had not felt for years before
Rebecca came to the brick house to live), and partly because she
had no wish to overhear what her sister would say when she took
in the full significance of Rebecca's anecdote, which was a
favorite one with Mr. Perkins.
It was a cold blustering day with a high wind that promised to
bring an early fall of snow. The trees were stripped bare of
leaves, the ground was hard, and the wagon wheels rattled noisily
over the thank-you-ma'ams.
"I'm glad I wore my Paisley shawl over my cloak," said Miranda.
"Be you warm enough, Rebecca? Tie that white rigolette tighter
round your neck. The wind fairly blows through my bones. I most
wish t we'd waited till a pleasanter day, for this Union road is
all up hill or down, and we shan't get over the ground fast, it's
so rough. Don't forget, when you go into Scott's, to say I want
all the trimmin's when they send me the pork, for mebbe I can try
out a little mite o' lard. The last load o' pine's gone turrible
quick; I must see if "Bijah Flagg can't get us some cut-rounds at
the mills, when he hauls for Squire Bean next time. Keep your
mind on your drivin', Rebecca, and don't look at the trees and
the sky so much. It's the same sky and same trees that have been
here right along. Go awful slow down this hill and walk the hoss
over Cook's Brook bridge, for I always suspicion it's goin' to
break down under me, an' I shouldn't want to be dropped into that
fast runnin' water this cold day. It'll be froze stiff by this
time next week. Hadn't you better get out and lead"--
The rest of the sentence was very possibly not vital, but at any
rate it was never completed, for in the middle of the bridge a
fierce gale of wind took Miss Miranda's Paisley shawl and blew it
over her head. The long heavy ends whirled in opposite directions
and wrapped themselves tightly about her wavering bonnet. Rebecca
had the whip and the reins, and in trying to rescue her
struggling aunt could not steady her own hat, which was suddenly
torn from her head and tossed against the bridge rail, where it
trembled and flapped for an instant.
"My hat! Oh! Aunt Miranda, my hateful hat!" cried Rebecca, never
remembering at the instant how often she had prayed that the
"fretful porcupine" might some time vanish in this violent
manner, since it refused to die a natural death.
She had already stopped the horse, so, giving her aunt's shawl
one last desperate twitch, she slipped out between the wagon
wheels, and darted in the direction of the hated object, the loss
of which had dignified it with a temporary value and importance.
The stiff brown turban rose in the air, then dropped and flew
along the bridge; Rebecca pursued; it danced along and stuck
between two of the railings; Rebecca flew after it, her long
braids floating in the wind.
"Come back"! Come back! Don't leave me alone with the team. I
won't have it! Come back, and leave your hat!"
Miranda had at length extricated herself from the submerging
shawl, but she was so blinded by the wind, and so confused that
she did not measure the financial loss involved in her commands.
Rebecca heard, but her spirit being in arms, she made one more
mad scramble for the vagrant hat, which now seemed possessed with
an evil spirit, for it flew back and forth, and bounded here and
there, like a living thing, finally distinguishing itself by
blowing between the horse's front and hind legs, Rebecca trying
to circumvent it by going around the wagon, and meeting it on the
It was no use; as she darted from behind the wheels the wind gave
the hat an extra whirl, and scurrying in the opposite direction
it soared above the bridge rail and disappeared into the rapid
"Get in again!" cried Miranda, holding on her bonnet. "You done
your best and it can't be helped, I only wish't I'd let you wear
your black hat as you wanted to; and I wish't we'd never come
such a day! The shawl has broke the stems of the velvet geraniums
in my bonnet, and the wind has blowed away my shawl pin and my
back comb. I'd like to give up and turn right back this minute,
but I don't like to borrer Perkins's hoss again this month. When
we get up in the woods you can smooth your hair down and tie the
rigolette over your head and settle what's left of my bonnet;
it'll be an expensive errant, this will!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It was not till next morning that Rebecca's heart really began
its song of thanksgiving. Her Aunt Miranda announced at
breakfast, that as Mrs. Perkins was going to Milliken's Mills,
Rebecca might go too, and buy a serviceable hat.
"You mustn't pay over two dollars and a half, and you mustn't get
the pink bird without Mrs. Perkins says, and the milliner says,
that it won't fade nor moult. Don't buy a light-colored felt
because you'll get sick of it in two or three years same as you
did the brown one. I always liked the shape of the brown one, and
you'll never get another trimmin' that'll wear like them quills."
"I hope not!" thought Rebecca.
"If you had put your elastic under your chin, same as you used
to, and not worn it behind because you think it's more grown-up
an' fash'onable, the wind never'd a' took the hat off your head,
and you wouldn't a' lost it; but the mischief's done and you can
go right over to Mis' Perkins now, so you won't miss her nor keep
her waitin'. The two dollars and a half is in an envelope side o'
Rebecca swallowed the last spoonful of picked-up codfish on her
plate, wiped her lips, and rose from her chair happier than the
seraphs in Paradise.
The porcupine quills had disappeared from her life, and without
any fault or violence on her part. She was wholly innocent and
virtuous, but nevertheless she was going to have a new hat with
the solferino breast, should the adored object prove, under
rigorous examination, to be practically indestructible.
"Whene'er I take my walks abroad,
How many hats I'll see;
But if they're trimmed with hedgehog quills
They'll not belong to me!"
So she improvised, secretly and ecstatically, as she went towards
the side entry.
"There's 'Bijah Flagg drivin' in," said Miss Miranda, going to
the window. "Step out and see what he's got, Jane; some passel
from the Squire, I guess. It's a paper bag and it may be a
punkin, though he wouldn't wrop up a punkin, come to think of it!
Shet the dinin' room door, Jane; it's turrible drafty. Make
haste, for the Squire's hoss never stan's still a minute cept
when he's goin'!"
Abijah Flagg alighted and approached the side door with a grin.
"Guess what I've got for ye, Rebecky?"
No throb of prophetic soul warned Rebecca of her approaching
"Nodhead apples?" she sparkled, looking as bright and rosy and
satin-skinned as an apple herself.
"No; guess again."
"A flowering geranium?"
"Nuts? Oh! I can't, " Bijah; I'm just going to Milliken's Mills
on an errand, and I'm afraid of missing Mrs. Perkins. Show me
quick! Is it really for me, or for Aunt Miranda?
"Reely for you, I guess!" and he opened the large brown paper bag
and drew from it the remains of a water-soaked hat!
They WERE remains, but there was no doubt of their nature and
substance. They had clearly been a hat in the past, and one could
even suppose that, when resuscitated, they might again assume
their original form in some near and happy future.
Miss Miranda, full of curiosity, joined the group in the side
entry at this dramatic moment.
"Well, I never!" she exclaimed. "Where, and how under the canopy,
did you ever?"
"I was working on the dam at Union Falls yesterday," chuckled
Abijah, with a pleased glance at each of the trio in turn, "an' I
seen this little bunnit skippin' over the water jest as Becky
does over the road. It's shaped kind o' like a boat, an' gorry,
ef it wa'nt sailin' jest like a boat! Where hev I seen that kind
of a bristlin' plume?' thinks I."
("Where indeed!" thought Rebecca stormily.)
"Then it come to me that I'd drove that plume to school and drove
it to meetin' and drove it to the Fair an'drove it most
everywheres on Becky. So I reached out a pole an' ketched it fore
it got in amongst the logs an' come to any damage, an' here it
is! The hat's passed in its checks, I guess; looks kind as if a
wet elephant had stepped on it; but the plume's bout's good as
new! I reely fetched the hat beck for the sake o' the plume."
"It was real good of you, 'Bijah, an' we're all of us obliged to
you," said Miranda, as she poised the hat on one hand and turned
it slowly with the other.
"Well, I do say," she exclaimed, "and I guess I've said it
before, that of all the wearing' plumes that ever I see, that
one's the wearin'est! Seems though it just wouldn't give up. Look
at the way it's held Mis' Cobb's dye; it's about as brown's when
it went int' the water."
"Dyed, but not a mite dead," grinned Abijah, who was somewhat
celebrated for his puns.
"And I declare," Miranda continued, "when you think o' the fuss
they make about ostriches, killin' em off by hundreds for the
sake o' their feathers that'll string out and spoil in one hard
rainstorm,--an' all the time lettin' useful porcupines run round
with their quills on, why I can't hardly understand it, without
milliners have found out jest how good they do last, an' so they
won't use em for trimmin'. 'Bijah's right; the hat ain't no more
use, Rebecca, but you can buy you another this mornin'--any color
or shape you fancy--an' have Miss Morton sew these brown quills
on to it with some kind of a buckle or a bow, jest to hide the
roots. Then you'll be fixed for another season, thanks to
Uncle Jerry and Aunt Sarah Cobb were made acquainted before very
long with the part that destiny, or Abijah Flagg, had played in
Rebecca's affairs, for, accompanied by the teacher, she walked to
the old stage driver's that same afternoon. Taking off her new
hat with the venerable trimming, she laid it somewhat
ostentatiously upside down on the kitchen table and left the
room, dimpling a little more than usual.
Uncle Jerry rose from his seat, and, crossing the room, looked
curiously into the hat and found that a circular paper lining was
neatly pinned in the crown, and that it bore these lines, which
were read aloud with great effect by Miss Dearborn, and with her
approval were copied in the Thought Book for the benefit of
"It was the bristling porcupine, As he stood on his native heath,
He said, I'll pluck me some immortelles And make me up a wreath.
For tho' I may not live myself To more than a hundred and ten, My
quills will last till crack of doom, And maybe after then. They
can be colored blue or green Or orange, brown, or red, But often
as they may be dyed They never will be dead.' And so the
bristling porcupine As he stood on his native heath, Said, I
think I'll pluck me some immmortelles And make me up a wreath.'
THE SAVING OF THE COLORS
Even when Rebecca had left school, having attained the great age
of seventeen and therefore able to look back over a past
incredibly long and full, she still reckoned time not by years,
but by certain important occurrences.
There was the year her father died; the year she left Sunnybrook
Farm to come to her aunts in Riverboro; the year Sister Hannah
became engaged; the year little Mira died; the year Abijah Flagg
ceased to be Squire Bean's chore-boy, and astounded Riverboro by
departing for Limerick Academy in search of an education; and
finally the year of her graduation, which, to the mind of
seventeen, seems rather the culmination than the beginning of
Between these epoch-making events certain other happenings stood
out in bold relief against the gray of dull daily life.
There was the day she first met her friend of friends, "Mr.
Aladdin," and the later, even more radiant one when he gave her
the coral necklace. There was the day the Simpson family moved
away from Riverboro under a cloud, and she kissed Clara Belle
fervently at the cross-roads, telling her that she would always
be faithful. There was the visit of the Syrian missionaries to
the brick house. That was a bright, romantic memory, as strange
and brilliant as the wonderful little birds' wings and breasts
that the strangers brought from the Far East. She remembered the
moment they asked her to choose some for herself, and the rapture
with which she stroked the beautiful things as they lay on the
black haircloth sofa. Then there was the coming of the new
minister, for though many were tried only one was chosen; and
finally there was the flag-raising, a festivity that thrilled
Riverboro and Edgewood society from centre to circumference, a
festivity that took place just before she entered the Female
Seminary at Wareham and said good-by to kind Miss Dearborn and
the village school.
There must have been other flag-raisings in history,--even the
persons most interested in this particular one would grudgingly
have allowed that much,--but it would have seemed to them
improbable that any such flag-raising as theirs, either in
magnitude of conception or brilliancy of actual performance,
could twice glorify the same century. Of some pageants it is
tacitly admitted that there can be no duplicates, and the
flag-raising at Riverboro Centre was one of these; so that it is
small wonder if Rebecca chose it as one of the important dates in
her personal almanac.
The new minister's wife was the being, under Providence, who had
conceived the germinal idea of the flag.
At this time the parish had almost settled down to the trembling
belief that they were united on a pastor. In the earlier time a
minister was chosen for life, and if he had faults, which was a
probably enough contingency, and if his congregation had any,
which is within the bounds of possibility, each bore with the
other (not quite without friction), as old-fashioned husbands and
wives once did, before the easy way out of the difficulty was
discovered, or at least before it was popularized.
The faithful old parson had died after thirty years' preaching,
and perhaps the newer methods had begun to creep in, for it
seemed impossible to suit the two communities most interested in
The Rev. Mr. Davis, for example, was a spirited preacher, but
persisted in keeping two horses in the parsonage stable, and in
exchanging them whenever he could get faster ones. As a parochial
visitor he was incomparable, dashing from house to house with
such speed that he could cover the parish in a single afternoon.
This sporting tendency, which would never have been remarked in a
British parson, was frowned upon in a New England village, and
Deacon Milliken told Mr. Davis, when giving him what he alluded
to as his "walking papers," that they didn't want the Edgewood
church run by hoss power!
The next candidate pleased Edgewood, where morning preaching was
held, but the other parish, which had afternoon service, declined
to accept him because he wore a wig--an ill-matched, crookedly
Number three was eloquent but given to gesticulation, and Mrs.
Jere Burbank, the president of the Dorcas Society, who sat in a
front pew, said she couldn't bear to see a preacher scramble
round the pulpit hot Sundays.
Number four, a genial, handsome man, gifted in prayer, was found
to be a Democrat. The congregation was overwhelmingly Republican
in its politics, and perceived something ludicrous, if not
positively blasphemous, in a Democrat preaching the gospel.
("Ananias and Beelzebub'll be candidatin' here, first thing we
know!" exclaimed the outraged Republican nominee for district
Number five had a feeble-minded child, which the hiring committee
prophesied, would always be standing in the parsonage front yard,
making talk for the other denominations.
Number six was the Rev. Judson Baxter, the present incumbent; and
he was voted to be as near perfection as a minister can be in
this finite world. His young wife had a small income of her own,
a distinct and unusual advantage, and the subscription committee
hoped that they might not be eternally driving over the country
to get somebody's fifty cents that had been over-due for eight
months, but might take their onerous duties a little more easily.
"It does seem as if our ministers were the poorest lot!"
complained Mrs. Robinson. "If their salary is two months
behindhand they begin to be nervous! Seems as though they might
lay up a little before they come here, and not live from hand to
mouth so! The Baxters seem quite different, and I only hope they
won't get wasteful and run into debt. They say she keeps the
parlor blinds open bout half the time, and the room is lit up so
often evenin's that the neighbors think her and Mr. Baxter must
set in there. It don't seem hardly as if it could be so, but Mrs.
Buzzell says tis, and she says we might as well say good-by to
the parlor carpet, which is church property, for the Baxters are
living all over it!"
This criticism was the only discordant note in the chorus of
praise, and the people gradually grew accustomed to the open
blinds and the overused parlor carpet, which was just completing
its twenty-fifth year of honest service.
Mrs. Baxter communicated her patriotic idea of a new flag to the
Dorcas Society, proposing that the women should cut and make it
"It may not be quite as good as those manufactured in the large
cities," she said, "but we shall be proud to see our home-made
flag flying in the breeze, and it will mean all the more to the
young voters growing up, to remember that their mothers made it
with their own hands."
"How would it do to let some of the girls help?" modestly asked
Miss Dearborn, the Riverboro teacher. "We might choose the best
sewers and let them put in at least a few stitches, so that they
can feel they have a share in it."
"Just the thing!" exclaimed Mrs. Baxter. "We can cut the stripes
and sew them together, and after we have basted on the white
stars the girls can apply them to the blue ground. We must have
it ready for the campaign rally, and we couldn't christen it at a
better time than in this presidential year."
In this way the great enterprise was started, and day by day the
preparations went forward in the two villages.
The boys, as future voters and fighters, demanded an active share
in the proceedings, and were organized by Squire Bean into a fife
and drum corps, so that by day and night martial but most
inharmonious music woke the echoes, and deafened mothers felt
their patriotism oozing out at the soles of their shoes.
Dick Carter was made captain, for his grandfather had a gold
medal given him by Queen Victoria for rescuing three hundred and
twenty-six passengers from a sinking British vessel. Riverboro
thought it high time to pay some graceful tribute to Great
Britain in return for her handsome conduct to Captain Nahum
Carter, and human imagination could contrive nothing more
impressive than a vicarious share in the flag raising.
Living Perkins tried to be happy in the ranks, for he was offered
no official position, principally, Mrs. Smellie observed, because
"his father's war record wa'nt clean." "Oh, yes! Jim Perkins went
to the war," she continued. "He hid out behind the hencoop when
they was draftin', but they found him and took him along. He got
into one battle, too, somehow or nother, but he run away from it.
He was allers cautious, Jim was; if he ever see trouble of any
kind comin' towards him, he was out o' sight fore it got a chance
to light. He said eight dollars a month, without bounty, wouldn't
pay HIM to stop bullets for. He wouldn't fight a skeeter, Jim
wouldn't, but land! we ain't to war all the time, and he's a good
neighbor and a good blacksmith."
Miss Dearborn was to be Columbia and the older girls of the two
schools were to be the States. Such trade in muslins and red,
white, and blue ribbons had never been known since "Watson kep'
store," and the number of brief white petticoats hanging out to
bleach would have caused the passing stranger to imagine
Riverboro a continual dancing school.
Juvenile virtue, both male and female, reached an almost
impossible height, for parents had only to lift a finger and say,
"you shan't go to the flag raising!" and the refractory spirit at
once armed itself for new struggles toward the perfect life.
Mr. Jeremiah Cobb had consented to impersonate Uncle Sam, and was
to drive Columbia and the States to the "raising" on the top of
his own stage. Meantime the boys were drilling, the ladies were
cutting and basting and stitching, and the girls were sewing on
stars; for the starry part of the spangled banner was to remain
with each of them in turn until she had performed her share of
It was felt by one and all a fine and splendid service indeed to
help in the making of the flag, and if Rebecca was proud to be of
the chosen ones, so was her Aunt Jane Sawyer, who had taught her
all her delicate stitches.
On a long-looked-for afternoon in August the minister's wife
drove up to the brick house door, and handed out the great piece
of bunting to Rebecca, who received it in her arms with as much
solemnity as if it had been a child awaiting baptismal rites.
"I'm so glad!" she sighed happily. "I thought it would never come
"You should have had it a week ago, but Huldah Meserve upset the
ink bottle over her star, and we had to baste on another one. You
are the last, though, and then we shall sew the stars and stripes
together, and Seth Strout will get the top ready for hanging.
Just think, it won't be many days before you children will be
pulling the rope with all your strength, the band will be
playing, the men will be cheering, and the new flag will go
higher and higher, till the red, white, and blue shows against
Rebecca's eyes fairly blazed. "Shall I fell on' my star, or
buttonhole it?" she asked.
"Look at all the others and make the most beautiful stitches you
can, that's all. It is your star, you know, and you can even
imagine it is your state, and try and have it the best of all. If
everybody else is trying to do the same thing with her state,
that will make a great country, won't it?"
Rebecca's eyes spoke glad confirmation of the idea. "My star, my
state!" she repeated joyously. "Oh, Mrs. Baxter, I'll make such
fine stitches you'll think the white grew out of the blue!"
The new minister's wife looked pleased to see her spark kindle a
flame in the young heart. "You can sew so much of yourself into
your star," she went on in the glad voice that made her so
winsome, "that when you are an old lady you can put on your specs
and find it among all the others. Good-by! Come up to the
parsonage Saturday afternoon; Mr. Baxter wants to see you."
"Judson, help that dear little genius of a Rebecca all you can!"
she said that night, when they were cosily talking in their
parlor and living "all over" the parish carpet. "I don't know
what she may, or may not, come to, some day; I only wish she were
ours! If you could have seen her clasp the flag tight in her arms
and put her cheek against it, and watched the tears of feeling
start in her eyes when I told her that her star was her state! I
kept whispering to myself, Covet not thy neighbor's child!'"
Daily at four o'clock Rebecca scrubbed her hands almost to the
bone, brushed her hair, and otherwise prepared herself in body,
mind, and spirit for the consecrated labor of sewing on her star.
All the time that her needle cautiously, conscientiously formed
the tiny stitches she was making rhymes "in her head," her
favorite achievement being this:
"Your star, my star, all our stars together, They make the dear
old banner proud To float in the bright fall weather."
There was much discussion as to which of the girls should
impersonate the State of Maine, for that was felt to be the
highest honor in the gift of the committee.
Alice Robinson was the prettiest child in the village, but she
was very shy and by no means a general favorite.
Minnie Smellie possessed the handsomest dress and a pair of white
slippers and open-work stockings that nearly carried the day.
Still, as Miss Delia Weeks well said, she was so stupid that if
she should suck her thumb in the very middle of the exercises
nobody'd be a dite surprised!
Huldah Meserve was next voted upon, and the fact that if she were
not chosen her father might withdraw his subscription to the
brass band fund was a matter for grave consideration.
"I kind o' hate to have such a giggler for the State of Maine;
let her be the Goddess of Liberty," proposed Mrs. Burbank, whose
patriotism was more local than national.
"How would Rebecca Randall do for Maine, and let her speak some
of her verses?" suggested the new minister's wife, who, could she
have had her way, would have given all the prominent parts to
Rebecca, from Uncle Sam down.
So, beauty, fashion, and wealth having been tried and found
wanting, the committee discussed the claims of talent, and it
transpired that to the awe-stricken Rebecca fell the chief plum
in the pudding. It was a tribute to her gifts that there was no
jealousy or envy among the other girls; they readily conceded her
special fitness for the role.
Her life had not been pressed down full to the brim of pleasures,
and she had a sort of distrust of joy in the bud. Not until she
saw it in full radiance of bloom did she dare embrace it. She had
never read any verse but Byron, Felicia Hemans, bits of "Paradise
Lost," and the selections in the school readers, but she would
have agreed heartily with the poet who said:
"Not by appointment do we meet delight And joy; they heed not our
expectancy; But round some corner in the streets of life They on
a sudden clasp us with a smile."
For many nights before the raising, when she went to her bed she
said to herself, after she had finished her prayers: "It can't be
true that I'm chosen for the State of Maine! It just CAN'T be
true! Nobody could be good ENOUGH, but oh, I'll try to be as good
as I can! To be going to Wareham Seminary next week and to be the
State of Maine too! Oh! I must pray HARD to God to keep me meek
The flag was to be raised on a Tuesday, and on the previous
Sunday it became known to the children that Clara Belle Simpson
was coming back from Acreville, coming to live with Mrs. Fogg and
take care of the baby, called by the neighborhood boys "the Fogg
horn," on account of his excellent voice production.
Clara Belle was one of Miss Dearborn's original flock, and if she
were left wholly out of the festivities she would be the only
girl of suitable age to be thus slighted; it seemed clear to the
juvenile mind, therefore, that neither she nor her descendants
would ever recover from such a blow. But, under all the
circumstances, would she be allowed to join in the procession?
Even Rebecca, the optimistic, feared not, and the committee
confirmed her fears by saying that Abner Simpson's daughter
certainly could not take any prominent part in the ceremony, but
they hoped that Mrs. Fogg would allow her to witness it.
When Abner Simpson, urged by the town authorities, took his wife
and seven children away from Riverboro to Acreville, just over
the border in the next county, Riverboro went to bed leaving its
barn and shed doors unfastened, and drew long breaths of
gratitude to Providence.
Of most winning disposition and genial manners, Mr. Simpson had
not that instinctive comprehension of property rights which
renders a man a valuable citizen.
Squire Bean was his nearest neighbor, and he conceived the novel
idea of paying Simpson five dollars a year not to steal from him,
a method occasionally used in the Highlands in the early days.
The bargain was struck, and adhered to religiously for a
twelve-month, but on the second of January Mr. Simpson announced
the verbal contract as formally broken.
"I didn't know what I was doin' when I made it, Squire," he
urged. "In the first place, it's a slur on my reputation and an
injury to my self-respect. Secondly, it's a nervous strain on me;
and thirdly, five dollars don't pay me!"
Squire Bean was so struck with the unique and convincing nature
of these arguments that he could scarcely restrain his
admiration, and he confessed to himself afterward, that unless
Simpson's mental attitude could be changed he was perhaps a
fitter subject for medical science than the state prison.
Abner was a most unusual thief, and conducted his operations with
a tact and neighborly consideration none too common in the
profession. He would never steal a man's scythe in haying-time,
nor his fur lap-robe in the coldest of the winter. The picking of
a lock offered no attractions to him; "he wa'n't no burglar," he
would have scornfully asserted. A strange horse and wagon hitched
by the roadside was the most flagrant of his thefts; but it was
the small things--the hatchet or axe on the chopping-block, the
tin pans sunning at the side door, a stray garment bleaching on
the grass, a hoe, rake, shovel, or a bag of early potatoes, that
tempted him most sorely; and these appealed to him not so much
for their intrinsic value as because they were so excellently
adapted to swapping. The swapping was really the enjoyable part
of the procedure, the theft was only a sad but necessary
preliminary; for if Abner himself had been a man of sufficient
property to carry on his business operations independently, it is
doubtful if he would have helped himself so freely to his
Riverboro regretted the loss of Mrs. Simpson, who was useful in
scrubbing, cleaning, and washing, and was thought to exercise
some influence over her predatory spouse. There was a story of
their early married life, when they had a farm; a story to the
effect that Mrs. Simpson always rode on every load of hay that
her husband took to Milltown, with the view of keeping him sober
through the day. After he turned out of the country road and
approached the metropolis, it was said that he used to bury the
docile lady in the load. He would then drive on to the scales,
have the weight of the hay entered in the buyer's book, take his
horses to the stable for feed and water, and when a favorable
opportunity offered he would assist the hot and panting Mrs.
Simpson out of the side or back of the rack, and gallantly brush
the straw from her person. For this reason it was always asserted
that Abner Simpson sold his wife every time he went to Milltown,
but the story was never fully substantiated, and at all events it
was the only suspected blot on meek Mrs. Simpson's personal
As for the Simpson children, they were missed chiefly as familiar
figures by the roadside; but Rebecca honestly loved Clara Belle,
notwithstanding her Aunt Miranda's opposition to the intimacy.
Rebecca's "taste for low company" was a source of continual
anxiety to her aunt.
"Anything that's human flesh is good enough for her!" Miranda
groaned to Jane. "She'll ride with the rag-sack-and-bottle
peddler just as quick as she would with the minister; she always
sets beside the St. Vitus' dance young one at Sabbath school; and
she's forever riggin' and onriggin' that dirty Simpson baby! She
reminds me of a puppy that'll always go to everybody that'll have
It was thought very creditable to Mrs. Fogg that she sent for
Clara Belle to live with her and go to school part of the year.
"She'll be useful" said Mrs. Fogg, "and she'll be out of her
father's way, and so keep honest; though she's no awful hombly
I've no fears for her. A girl with her red hair, freckles, and
cross-eyes can't fall into no kind of sin, I don't believe."
Mrs. Fogg requested that Clara Belle should be started on her
journey from Acreville by train and come the rest of the way by
stage, and she was disturbed to receive word on Sunday that Mr.
Simpson had borrowed a "good roader" from a new acquaintance, and
would himself drive the girl from Acreville to Riverboro, a
distance of thirty-five miles. That he would arrive in their
vicinity on the very night before the flag-raising was thought by
Riverboro to be a public misfortune, and several residents
hastily determined to deny themselves a sight of the festivities
and remain watchfully on their own premises.
On Monday afternoon the children were rehearsing their songs at
the meeting-house. As Rebecca came out on the broad wooden steps
she watched Mrs. Peter Meserve's buggy out of sight, for in
front, wrapped in a cotton sheet, lay the previous flag. After a
few chattering good-bys and weather prophecies with the other
girls, she started on her homeward walk, dropping in at the
parsonage to read her verses to the minister.
He welcomed her gladly as she removed her white cotton gloves
(hastily slipped on outside the door, for ceremony) and pushed
back the funny hat with the yellow and black porcupine quills--
the hat with which she made her first appearance in Riverboro
"You've heard the beginning, Mr. Baxter; now will you please tell
me if you like the last verse?" she asked, taking out her paper.
"I've only read it to Alice Robinson, and I think perhaps she can
never be a poet, though she's a splendid writer. Last year when
she was twelve she wrote a birthday poem to herself, and she made
natal' rhyme with Milton,.' which, of course, it wouldn't. I
remember every verse ended:
'This is my day so natal
And I will follow Milton.'
Another one of hers was written just because she couldn't help
it, she said. This was it:
'Let me to the hills away,
Give me pen and paper;
I'll write until the earth will sway
The story of my Maker.'"
The minister could scarcely refrain from smiling, but he
controlled himself that he might lose none of Rebecca's quaint
observations. When she was perfectly at ease, unwatched and
uncriticised, she was a marvelous companion.
"The name of the poem is going to be My Star,'" she continued,
"and Mrs. Baxter gave me all the ideas, but somehow there's a
kind of magicness when they get into poetry, don't you think so?"
(Rebecca always talked to grown people as if she were their age,
or, a more subtle and truer distinction, as if they were hers.)
"It has often been so remarked, in different words," agreed the
"Mrs. Baxter said that each star was a state, and if each state
did its best we should have a splendid country. Then once she
said that we ought to be glad the war is over and the States are
all at peace together; and I thought Columbia must be glad, too,
for Miss Dearborn says she's the mother of all the States. So I'm
going to have it end like this: I didn't write it, I just sewed
it while I was working on my star:
For it's your star, my star, all the stars together,
That make our country's flag so proud
To float in the bright fall weather.
Northern stars,Southern stars, stars of the East and West,
Side by side they lie at peace
On the dear flag's mother-breast."
"'Oh! many are the poets that are sown by nature,'" thought the
minister, quoting Wordsworth to himself. "And I wonder what
becomes of them! That's a pretty idea, little Rebecca, and I
don't know whether you or my wife ought to have the more praise.
What made you think of the stars lying on the flag's
mother-breast'? Where did you get that word?"
"Why" (and the young poet looked rather puzzled), "that's the way
it is; the flag is the whole country--the mother--and the stars
are the states. The stars had to lie somewhere: 'LAP' nor 'ARMS'
wouldn't sound well with West,' so, of course, I said 'BREAST,'"
Rebecca answered, with some surprise at the question; and the
minister put his hand under her chin and kissed her softly on the
forehead when he said good-by at the door.
Rebecca walked rapidly along in the gathering twilight, thinking
of the eventful morrow.
As she approached the turning on the left called the old Milltown
road, she saw a white horse and wagon, driven by a man with a
rakish, flapping, Panama hat, come rapidly around the turn and
disappear over the long hills leading down to the falls. There
was no mistaking him; there never was another Abner Simpson, with
his lean height, his bushy reddish hair, the gay cock of his hat,
and the long piratical, upturned mustaches, which the boys used
to say were used as hat-racks by the Simpson children at night..
The old Milltown road ran past Mrs. Fogg's house, so he must have
left Clara Belle there, and Rebecca's heart glowed to think that
her poor little friend need not miss the raising.
She began to run now, fearful of being late for supper, and
covered the ground to the falls in a brief time. As she crossed
the bridge she again saw Abner Simpson's team, drawn up at the
Coming a little nearer, with the view of inquiring for the
family, her quick eye caught sight of something unexpected. A
gust of wind blew up a corner of a linen lap-robe in the back of
the wagon, and underneath it she distinctly saw the white-sheeted
bundle that held the flag; the bundle with a tiny, tiny spot of
red bunting peeping out at one corner. It is true she had eaten,
slept, dreamed red, white, and blue for weeks, but there was no
mistaking the evidence of her senses; the idolized flag, longed
for, worked for, sewed for, that flag was in the back of Abner
Simpson's wagon, and if so, what would become of the raising?
Acting on blind impulse, she ran toward the watering-trough,
calling out in her clear treble: "Mr. Simpson! Oh, Mr. Simpson,
will you let me ride a piece with you and hear all about Clara
Belle? I'm going part way over to the Centre on an errand." (So
she was; a most important errand,--to recover the flag of her
country at present in the hands of the foe!)
Mr. Simpson turned round in his seat and cried heartily, "Certain
sure I will!" for he liked the fair sex, young and old, and
Rebecca had always been a prime favorite with him. "Climb right
in! How's everybody? Glad to see ye! The folks talk bout ye from
sun-up to sun-down, and Clara Belle can't hardly wait for a sight
Rebecca scrambled up, trembling and pale with excitement. She did
not in the least know what was going to happen, but she was sure
that the flag, when in the enemy's country, must be at least a
little safer with the State of Maine sitting on top of it!
Mr. Simpson began a long monologue about Acreville, the house he
lived in, the pond in front of it, Mrs. Simpson's health, and
various items of news about the children, varied by reports of
his personal misfortunes. He put no questions, and asked no
replies, so this gave the inexperienced soldier a few seconds to
plan a campaign. There were three houses to pass; the Browns' at
the corner, the Millikens', and the Robinsons' on the brow of the
hill. If Mr. Robinson were in the front yard she might tell Mr.
Simpson she wanted to call there and ask Mr. Robinson to hold the
horse's head while she got out of the wagon. Then she might fly
to the back before Mr. Simpson could realize the situation, and
dragging out the precious bundle, sit on it hard, while Mr.
Robinson settled the matter of ownership with Mr. Simpson.
This was feasible, but it meant a quarrel between the two men,
who held an ancient grudge against each other, and Mr. Simpson
was a valiant fighter as the various sheriffs who had attempted
to arrest him could cordially testify. It also meant that
everybody in the village would hear of the incident and poor
Clara Belle be branded again as the child of a thief.
Another idea danced into her excited brain; such a clever one she
could hardly believe it hers. She might call Mr. Robinson to the
wagon, and when he came close to the wheels she might say, "all
of a sudden": "Please take the flag out of the back of the wagon,
Mr. Robinson. We have brought it here for you to keep overnight."
Mr. Simpson might be so surprised that he would give up his prize
rather than be suspected of stealing.
But as they neared the Robinsons' house there was not a sign of
life to be seen; so the last plan, ingenious though it was, was
The road now lay between thick pine woods with no dwelling in
sight. It was growing dusk and Rebecca was driving along the
lonely way with a person who was generally called Slippery
Not a thought of fear crossed her mind, save the fear of bungling
in her diplomacy, and so losing the flag. She knew Mr. Simpson
well, and a pleasanter man was seldom to be met. She recalled an
afternoon when he came home and surprised the whole school
playing the Revolutionary War in his helter-skelter dooryard, and
the way in which he had joined the British forces and
impersonated General Burgoyne had greatly endeared him to her.
The only difficulty was to find proper words for her delicate
mission, for, of course, if Mr. Simpson's anger were aroused, he
would politely push her out of the wagon and drive away with the
flag. Perhaps if she led the conversation in the right direction
an opportunity would present itself. She well remembered how Emma
Jane Perkins had failed to convert Jacob Moody, simply because
she failed to "lead up" to the delicate question of his manner of
life. Clearing her throat nervously, she began: "Is it likely to
be fair tomorrow?"
"Guess so; clear as a bell. What's on foot; a picnic?"
"No; we're to have a grand flag-raising!" ("That is," she
thought, "if we have any flag to raise!")
"That so? Where?"
"The three villages are to club together and have a rally, and
raise the flag at the Centre. There'll be a brass band, and
speakers, and the Mayor of Portland, and the man that will be
governor if he's elected, and a dinner in the Grange Hall, and we
girls are chosen to raise the flag."
"I want to know! That'll be grand, won't it?" (Still not a sign
of consciousness on the part of Abner.)
"I hope Mrs. Fogg will take Clara Belle, for it will be splendid
to look at! Mr. Cobb is going to be Uncle Sam and drive us on the
stage. Miss Dearborn--Clara Belle's old teacher, you know--is
going to be Columbia; the girls will be the States of the Union,
and oh, Mr. Simpson, I am the one to be the State of Maine!"
(This was not altogether to the point, but a piece of information
impossible to conceal.)
Mr. Simpson flourished the whipstock and gave a loud, hearty
laugh. Then he turned in his seat and regarded Rebecca curiously.
"You're kind of small, hain't ye, for so big a state as this
one?" he asked.
"Any of us would be too small," replied Rebecca with dignity,
"but the committee asked me, and I am going to try hard to do
The tragic thought that there might be no occasion for anybody to
do anything, well or ill, suddenly overcame her here, and putting
her hand on Mr. Simpson's sleeve, she attacked the subject
practically and courageously.
"Oh, Mr. Simpson, dear Mr. Simpson, it's such a mortifying
subject I can't bear to say anything about it, but please give us
back our flag! Don't, DON'T take it over to Acreville, Mr.
Simpson! We've worked so long to make it, and it was so hard
getting the money for the bunting! Wait a minute, please; don't
be angry, and don't say no just yet, till I explain more. It'll
be so dreadful for everybody to get there tomorrow morning and
find no flag to raise, and the band and the mayor all
disappointed, and the children crying, with their muslin dresses
all bought for nothing! O dear Mr. Simpson, please don't take
our flag away from us!"
The apparently astonished Abner pulled his mustaches and
exclaimed: "But I don't know what you're drivin' at! Who's got
yer flag? I hain't!"
Could duplicity, deceit, and infamy go any further, Rebecca
wondered, and her soul filling with righteous wrath, she cast
discretion to the winds and spoke a little more plainly, bending
her great swimming eyes on the now embarrassed Abner, who looked
like an angle-worm, wriggling on a pin.
"Mr. Simpson, how can you say that, when I saw the flag in the
back of your wagon myself, when you stopped to water the horse?
It's wicked of you to take it, and I cannot bear it!" (Her voice
broke now, for a doubt of Mr. Simpson's yielding suddenly
darkened her mind.) "If you keep it, you'll have to keep me, for
I won't be parted from it! I can't fight like the boys, but I can
pinch and scratch, and I WILL scratch, just like a panther--I'll
lie right down on my star and not move, if I starve to death!"
"Look here, hold your hosses n' don't cry till you git something
to cry for!" grumbled the outraged Abner, to whom a clue had just
come; and leaning over the wagon-back he caught hold of a corner
of white sheet and dragged up the bundle, scooping off Rebecca's
hat in the process, and almost burying her in bunting.
She caught the treasure passionately to her heart and stifled her
sobs in it, while Abner exclaimed: "I swan to man, if that
hain't a flag! Well, in that case you're good n' welcome to it!
Land! I seen that bundle lyin' in the middle o' the road and I
says to myself, that's somebody's washin' and I'd better pick it
up and leave it at the post-office to be claimed; n' all the time
it was a flag!"
This was a Simpsonian version of the matter, the fact being that
a white-covered bundle lying on the Meserves' front steps had
attracted his practiced eye, and slipping in at the open gate he
had swiftly and deftly removed it to his wagon on general
principles; thinking if it were clean clothes it would be
extremely useful, and in any event there was no good in passing
by something flung into your very arms, so to speak. He had had
no leisure to examine the bundle, and indeed took little interest
in it. Probably he stole it simply from force of habit, and
because there was nothing else in sight to steal, everybody's
premises being preternaturally tidy and empty, almost as if his
visit had been expected!
Rebecca was a practical child, and it seemed to her almost
impossible that so heavy a bundle should fall out of Mrs.
Meserve's buggy and not be noticed; but she hoped that Mr.
Simpson was telling the truth, and she was too glad and grateful
to doubt anyone at the moment.
"Thank you, thank you ever so much, Mr. Simpson. You're the
nicest, kindest, politest man I ever knew, and the girls will be
so pleased you gave us back the flag, and so will the Dorcas
Society; they'll be sure to write you a letter of thanks; they
"Tell em not to bother bout any thanks," said Simpson, beaming
virtuously. "But land! I'm glad twas me that happened to see
that bundle in the road and take the trouble to pick it up."
(Jest to think of it's bein' a flag!" he thought; "if ever there
was a pesky, wuthless thing to trade off, twould be a great,
gormin' flag like that!")
"Can I get out now, please?" asked Rebecca. "I want to go back,
for Mrs. Meserve will be dreadfully nervous when she finds out
she dropped the flag, and she has heart trouble."
"No, you don't," objected Mr. Simpson gallantly, turning the
horse. "Do you think I'd let a little creeter like you lug that
great heavy bundle? I hain't got time to go back to Meserve's,
but I'll take you to the corner and dump you there, flag n' all,
and you can get some o' the men-folks to carry it the rest o' the
way. You'll wear it out, huggin' it so!"
"I helped make it and I adore it!" said Rebecca, who was in a
high-pitched and grandiloquent mood. "Why don't YOU like it? It's
your country's flag."
Simpson smiled an indulgent smile and looked a trifle bored at
these frequent appeals to his extremely rusty higher feelings.
"I don' know's I've got any partic'lar int'rest in the country,"
he remarked languidly. "I know I don't owe nothin' to it, nor own
nothin' in it!"
"You own a star on the flag, same as everybody," argued Rebecca,
who had been feeding on patriotism for a month; "and you own a
state, too, like all of us!"
"Land! I wish't I did! or even a quarter section!" sighed Mr.
Simpson, feeling somehow a little more poverty-stricken and
discouraged than usual.
As they approached the corner and the watering-trough where four
cross-roads met, the whole neighborhood seemed to be in evidence,
and Mr. Simpson suddenly regretted his chivalrous escort of
Rebecca; especially when, as he neared the group, an excited
lady, wringing her hands, turned out to be Mrs. Peter Meserve,
accompanied by Huldah, the Browns, Mrs. Milliken, Abijah Flagg,
and Miss Dearborn.
"Do you know anything about the new flag, Rebecca?" shrieked Mrs.
Meserve, too agitated, at the moment, to notice the child's
"It's right here in my lap, all safe," responded Rebecca
"You careless, meddlesome young one, to take it off my steps
where I left it just long enough to go round to the back and hunt
up my door-key! You've given me a fit of sickness with my weak
heart, and what business was it of yours? I believe you think you
OWN the flag! Hand it over to me this minute!"
Rebecca was climbing down during this torrent of language, but as
she turned she flashed one look of knowledge at the false
Simpson, a look that went through him from head to foot, as if it
were carried by electricity.
He had not deceived her after all, owing to the angry chatter of
Mrs. Meserve. He had been handcuffed twice in his life, but no
sheriff had ever discomfited him so thoroughly as this child.
Fury mounted to his brain, and as soon as she was safely out from
between the wheels he stood up in the wagon and flung the flag
out in the road in the midst of the excited group.
"Take it, you pious, passimonious, cheese-parin', hair-splittin',
back-bitin', flag-raisin' crew!" he roared. "Rebecca never took
the flag; I found it in the road, I say!"
"You never, no such a thing!" exclaimed Mrs. Meserve. "You found
it on the doorsteps in my garden!"
"Mebbe twas your garden, but it was so chock full o' weeks I
THOUGHT twas the road," retorted Abner. "I vow I wouldn't a'
given the old rag back to one o' YOU, not if you begged me on
your bended knees! But Rebecca's a friend o' my folks and can do
with her flag's she's a mind to, and the rest o' ye can go to
thunder-- n' stay there, for all I care!"
So saying, he made a sharp turn, gave the gaunt white horse a
lash and disappeared in a cloud of dust, before the astonished
Mr. Brown, the only man in the party, had a thought of detaining
"I'm sorry I spoke so quick, Rebecca," said Mrs. Meserve, greatly
mortified at the situation. "But don't you believe a word that
lyin' critter said! He did steal it off my doorstep, and how did
you come to be ridin' and consortin' with him! I believe it would
kill your Aunt Miranda if she should hear about it!"
The little school-teacher put a sheltering arm round Rebecca as
Mr. Brown picked up the flag and dusted and folded it.
"I'm willing she should hear about it," Rebecca answered. "I
didn't do anything to be ashamed of! I saw the flag in the back
of Mr. Simpson's wagon and I just followed it. There weren't any
men or any Dorcases to take care of it and so it fell to me! You
wouldn't have had me let it out of my sight, would you, and we
going to raise it tomorrow morning?"
"Rebecca's perfectly right, Mrs. Meserve!" said Miss Dearborn
proudly. "And it's lucky there was somebody quick-witted enough
to ride and consort' with Mr. Simpson! I don't know what the
village will think, but seems to me the town clerk might write
down in his book, THIS DAY THE STATE OF MAINE SAVED THE FLAG!'"
THE STATE O' MAINE GIRL
The foregoing episode, if narrated in a romance, would
undoubtedly have been called "The Saving of the Colors," but at
the nightly conversazione in Watson's store it was alluded to as
the way little Becky Randall got the flag away from Slippery
Dramatic as it was, it passed into the limbo of half-forgotten
things in Rebecca's mind, its brief importance submerged in the
glories of the next day.
There was a painful prelude to these glories. Alice Robinson came
to spend the night with Rebecca, and when the bedroom door closed
upon the two girls, Alice announced here intention of "doing up"
Rebecca's front hair in leads and rags, and braiding the back in
six tight, wetted braids.
Rebecca demurred. Alice persisted.
"Your hair is so long and thick and dark and straight," she said,
"that you'll look like an Injun!"
"I am the State of Maine; it all belonged to the Indians once,"
Rebecca remarked gloomily, for she was curiously shy about
discussing her personal appearance.
"And your wreath of little pine-cones won't set decent without
crimps," continued Alice.
Rebecca glanced in the cracked looking-glass and met what she
considered an accusing lack of beauty, a sight that always either
saddened or enraged her according to circumstances; then she sat
down resignedly and began to help Alice in the philanthropic work
of making the State of Maine fit to be seen at the raising.
Neither of the girls was an expert hairdresser, and at the end of
an hour, when the sixth braid was tied, and Rebecca had given one
last shuddering look in the mirror, both were ready to weep with