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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesRebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter XXI - THE SKY LINE WIDENS
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Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter XXI - THE SKY LINE WIDENS Post by :onyxxerl Category :Long Stories Author :Kate Douglas Wiggin Date :June 2011 Read :593

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Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm - Chapter XXI - THE SKY LINE WIDENS

CHAPTER XXI - THE SKY LINE WIDENS


The time so long and eagerly waited for
had come, and Rebecca was a student at
Wareham. Persons who had enjoyed the
social bewilderments and advantages of foreign
courts, or had mingled freely in the intellectual
circles of great universities, might not have looked
upon Wareham as an extraordinary experience;
but it was as much of an advance upon Riverboro
as that village had been upon Sunnybrook Farm.
Rebecca's intention was to complete the four
years' course in three, as it was felt by all the
parties concerned that when she had attained the ripe
age of seventeen she must be ready to earn her
own living and help in the education of the younger
children. While she was wondering how this could
be successfully accomplished, some of the other
girls were cogitating as to how they could meander
through the four years and come out at the end
knowing no more than at the beginning. This
would seem a difficult, well-nigh an impossible task,
but it can be achieved, and has been, at other seats
of learning than modest little Wareham.

Rebecca was to go to and fro on the cars daily
from September to Christmas, and then board in
Wareham during the three coldest months. Emma
Jane's parents had always thought that a year or
two in the Edgewood high school (three miles from
Riverboro) would serve every purpose for their
daughter and send her into the world with as fine
an intellectual polish as she could well sustain.
Emma Jane had hitherto heartily concurred in
this opinion, for if there was any one thing that
she detested it was the learning of lessons. One
book was as bad as another in her eyes, and she
could have seen the libraries of the world sinking
into ocean depths and have eaten her dinner cheerfully
the while; but matters assumed a different
complexion when she was sent to Edgewood and
Rebecca to Wareham. She bore it for a week--
seven endless days of absence from the beloved
object, whom she could see only in the evenings
when both were busy with their lessons. Sunday
offered an opportunity to put the matter before
her father, who proved obdurate. He didn't
believe in education and thought she had full enough
already. He never intended to keep up "blacksmithing"
for good when he leased his farm and
came into Riverboro, but proposed to go back to
it presently, and by that time Emma Jane would
have finished school and would be ready to help
her mother with the dairy work.

Another week passed. Emma Jane pined visibly
and audibly. Her color faded, and her appetite
(at table) dwindled almost to nothing.

Her mother alluded plaintively to the fact that
the Perkinses had a habit of going into declines;
that she'd always feared that Emma Jane's
complexion was too beautiful to be healthy; that some
men would be proud of having an ambitious daughter,
and be glad to give her the best advantages;
that she feared the daily journeys to Edgewood
were going to be too much for her own health,
and Mr. Perkins would have to hire a boy to drive
Emma Jane; and finally that when a girl had such
a passion for learning as Emma Jane, it seemed
almost like wickedness to cross her will.

Mr. Perkins bore this for several days until his
temper, digestion, and appetite were all sensibly
affected; then he bowed his head to the inevitable,
and Emma Jane flew, like a captive set free, to the
loved one's bower. Neither did her courage flag,
although it was put to terrific tests when she entered
the academic groves of Wareham. She passed in
only two subjects, but went cheerfully into the
preparatory department with her five "conditions,"
intending to let the stream of education play gently
over her mental surfaces and not get any wetter than
she could help. It is not possible to blink the truth
that Emma Jane was dull; but a dogged, unswerving
loyalty, and the gift of devoted, unselfish loving,
these, after all, are talents of a sort, and may
possibly be of as much value in the world as a sense
of numbers or a faculty for languages.

Wareham was a pretty village with a broad main
street shaded by great maples and elms. It had an
apothecary, a blacksmith, a plumber, several shops
of one sort and another, two churches, and many
boarding-houses; but all its interests gathered about
its seminary and its academy. These seats of learning
were neither better nor worse than others of
their kind, but differed much in efficiency, according
as the principal who chanced to be at the head was
a man of power and inspiration or the reverse.
There were boys and girls gathered from all parts
of the county and state, and they were of every
kind and degree as to birth, position in the world,
wealth or poverty. There was an opportunity for a
deal of foolish and imprudent behavior, but on the
whole surprisingly little advantage was taken of it.
Among the third and fourth year students there
was a certain amount of going to and from the
trains in couples; some carrying of heavy books
up the hill by the sterner sex for their feminine
schoolmates, and occasional bursts of silliness on
the part of heedless and precocious girls, among
whom was Huldah Meserve. She was friendly
enough with Emma Jane and Rebecca, but grew
less and less intimate as time went on. She was
extremely pretty, with a profusion of auburn hair,
and a few very tiny freckles, to which she
constantly alluded, as no one could possibly detect
them without noting her porcelain skin and her
curling lashes. She had merry eyes, a somewhat
too plump figure for her years, and was popularly
supposed to have a fascinating way with her.
Riverboro being poorly furnished with beaux, she
intended to have as good a time during her four
years at Wareham as circumstances would permit.
Her idea of pleasure was an ever-changing circle
of admirers to fetch and carry for her, the more
publicly the better; incessant chaff and laughter
and vivacious conversation, made eloquent and
effective by arch looks and telling glances. She
had a habit of confiding her conquests to less
fortunate girls and bewailing the incessant havoc and
damage she was doing; a damage she avowed
herself as innocent of, in intention, as any new-born
lamb. It does not take much of this sort of thing
to wreck an ordinary friendship, so before long
Rebecca and Emma Jane sat in one end of the
railway train in going to and from Riverboro, and
Huldah occupied the other with her court.
Sometimes this was brilliant beyond words, including
a certain youthful Monte Cristo, who on Fridays
expended thirty cents on a round trip ticket and
traveled from Wareham to Riverboro merely to be
near Huldah; sometimes, too, the circle was reduced
to the popcorn-and-peanut boy of the train, who
seemed to serve every purpose in default of better
game.

Rebecca was in the normally unconscious state
that belonged to her years; boys were good comrades,
but no more; she liked reciting in the same
class with them, everything seemed to move better;
but from vulgar and precocious flirtations she was
protected by her ideals. There was little in the
lads she had met thus far to awaken her fancy, for
it habitually fed on better meat. Huldah's school-
girl romances, with their wealth of commonplace
detail, were not the stuff her dreams were made of,
when dreams did flutter across the sensitive plate of
her mind.

Among the teachers at Wareham was one who
influenced Rebecca profoundly, Miss Emily Maxwell,
with whom she studied English literature and
composition. Miss Maxwell, as the niece of one
of Maine's ex-governors and the daughter of one of
Bowdoin's professors, was the most remarkable
personality in Wareham, and that her few years of
teaching happened to be in Rebecca's time was the
happiest of all chances. There was no indecision or
delay in the establishment of their relations;
Rebecca's heart flew like an arrow to its mark, and
her mind, meeting its superior, settled at once into
an abiding attitude of respectful homage.

It was rumored that Miss Maxwell "wrote,"
which word, when uttered in a certain tone, was
understood to mean not that a person had command
of penmanship, Spencerian or otherwise, but that
she had appeared in print.

"You'll like her; she writes," whispered Huldah
to Rebecca the first morning at prayers, where the
faculty sat in an imposing row on the front seats.
"She writes; and I call her stuck up."

Nobody seemed possessed of exact information
with which to satisfy the hungry mind, but there was
believed to be at least one person in existence who
had seen, with his own eyes, an essay by Miss
Maxwell in a magazine. This height of achievement
made Rebecca somewhat shy of her, but she looked
her admiration; something that most of the class
could never do with the unsatisfactory organs of
vision given them by Mother Nature. Miss
Maxwell's glance was always meeting a pair of eager
dark eyes; when she said anything particularly
good, she looked for approval to the corner of the
second bench, where every shade of feeling she
wished to evoke was reflected on a certain sensitive
young face.

One day, when the first essay of the class was
under discussion, she asked each new pupil to bring
her some composition written during the year before,
that she might judge the work, and know precisely
with what material she had to deal. Rebecca
lingered after the others, and approached the desk
shyly.

"I haven't any compositions here, Miss Maxwell,
but I can find one when I go home on Friday.
They are packed away in a box in the attic."

"Carefully tied with pink and blue ribbons?"
asked Miss Maxwell, with a whimsical smile.

"No," answered Rebecca, shaking her head
decidedly; "I wanted to use ribbons, because all the
other girls did, and they looked so pretty, but I
used to tie my essays with twine strings on
purpose; and the one on solitude I fastened with an
old shoelacing just to show it what I thought of
it!"

"Solitude!" laughed Miss Maxwell, raising her
eyebrows. "Did you choose your own subject?"

"No; Miss Dearborn thought we were not old
enough to find good ones."

"What were some of the others?"

"Fireside Reveries, Grant as a Soldier, Reflections
on the Life of P. T. Barnum, Buried Cities;
I can't remember any more now. They were all bad,
and I can't bear to show them; I can write poetry
easier and better, Miss Maxwell."

"Poetry!" she exclaimed. "Did Miss Dearborn
require you to do it?"

"Oh, no; I always did it even at the farm. Shall
I bring all I have? It isn't much."

Rebecca took the blank-book in which she kept
copies of her effusions and left it at Miss Maxwell's
door, hoping that she might be asked in and thus
obtain a private interview; but a servant answered
her ring, and she could only walk away, disappointed.

A few days afterward she saw the black-covered
book on Miss Maxwell's desk and knew that the
dreaded moment of criticism had come, so she was
not surprised to be asked to remain after class.

The room was quiet; the red leaves rustled in
the breeze and flew in at the open window, bearing
the first compliments of the season. Miss Maxwell
came and sat by Rebecca's side on the bench.

"Did you think these were good?" she asked,
giving her the verses.

"Not so very," confessed Rebecca; "but it's
hard to tell all by yourself. The Perkinses and the
Cobbs always said they were wonderful, but when
Mrs. Cobb told me she thought they were better
than Mr. Longfellow's I was worried, because I
knew that couldn't be true."

This ingenuous remark confirmed Miss Maxwell's
opinion of Rebecca as a girl who could hear the
truth and profit by it.

"Well, my child," she said smilingly, "your
friends were wrong and you were right; judged by
the proper tests, they are pretty bad."

"Then I must give up all hope of ever being a
writer!" sighed Rebecca, who was tasting the
bitterness of hemlock and wondering if she could
keep the tears back until the interview was over.

"Don't go so fast," interrupted Miss Maxwell.
"Though they don't amount to anything as poetry,
they show a good deal of promise in certain direc-
tions. You almost never make a mistake in rhyme
or metre, and this shows you have a natural sense
of what is right; a `sense of form,' poets would
call it. When you grow older, have a little more
experience,--in fact, when you have something
to say, I think you may write very good verses.
Poetry needs knowledge and vision, experience and
imagination, Rebecca. You have not the first three
yet, but I rather think you have a touch of the last."

"Must I never try any more poetry, not even
to amuse myself?"

"Certainly you may; it will only help you to
write better prose. Now for the first composition.
I am going to ask all the new students to write a
letter giving some description of the town and a
hint of the school life."

"Shall I have to be myself?" asked Rebecca.

"What do you mean?"

"A letter from Rebecca Randall to her sister
Hannah at Sunnybrook Farm, or to her aunt Jane
at the brick house, Riverboro, is so dull and stupid,
if it is a real letter; but if I could make believe I was
a different girl altogether, and write to somebody
who would be sure to understand everything I said,
I could make it nicer."

"Very well; I think that's a delightful plan,"
said Miss Maxwell; "and whom will you suppose
yourself to be?"

"I like heiresses very much," replied Rebecca
contemplatively. "Of course I never saw one, but
interesting things are always happening to
heiresses, especially to the golden-haired kind. My
heiress wouldn't be vain and haughty like the
wicked sisters in Cinderella; she would be noble
and generous. She would give up a grand school
in Boston because she wanted to come here where
her father lived when he was a boy, long before he
made his fortune. The father is dead now, and she
has a guardian, the best and kindest man in the
world; he is rather old of course, and sometimes
very quiet and grave, but sometimes when he is
happy, he is full of fun, and then Evelyn is not afraid
of him. Yes, the girl shall be called Evelyn
Abercrombie, and her guardian's name shall be Mr. Adam
Ladd."

"Do you know Mr. Ladd?" asked Miss Maxwell
in surprise.

"Yes, he's my very best friend," cried Rebecca
delightedly. "Do you know him too?"

"Oh, yes; he is a trustee of these schools, you
know, and often comes here. But if I let you
`suppose' any more, you will tell me your whole letter
and then I shall lose a pleasant surprise."


What Rebecca thought of Miss Maxwell we
already know; how the teacher regarded the pupil
may be gathered from the following letter written
two or three months later.

Wareham, December 1st

My Dear Father,--As you well know, I have
not always been an enthusiast on the subject of
teaching. The task of cramming knowledge into
these self-sufficient, inefficient youngsters of both
sexes discourages me at times. The more stupid they
are, the less they are aware of it. If my department
were geography or mathematics, I believe I should
feel that I was accomplishing something, for in those
branches application and industry work wonders;
but in English literature and composition one yearns
for brains, for appreciation, for imagination! Month
after month I toil on, opening oyster after oyster,
but seldom finding a pearl. Fancy my joy this term
when, without any violent effort at shell-splitting,
I came upon a rare pearl; a black one, but of satin
skin and beautiful lustre! Her name is Rebecca,
and she looks not unlike Rebekah at the Well in our
family Bible; her hair and eyes being so dark as
to suggest a strain of Italian or Spanish blood. She
is nobody in particular. Man has done nothing for
her; she has no family to speak of, no money, no
education worthy the name, has had no advantages
of any sort; but Dame Nature flung herself into
the breach and said:--

"This child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine and I will make
A Lady of my own."

Blessed Wordsworth! How he makes us understand!
And the pearl never heard of him until now!
Think of reading Lucy to a class, and when you
finish, seeing a fourteen-year-old pair of lips
quivering with delight, and a pair of eyes brimming with
comprehending tears!

You poor darling! You, too, know the
discouragement of sowing lovely seed in rocky earth,
in sand, in water, and (it almost seems sometimes)
in mud; knowing that if anything comes up at all
it will be some poor starveling plant. Fancy the joy
of finding a real mind; of dropping seed in a soil
so warm, so fertile, that one knows there are sure
to be foliage, blossoms, and fruit all in good time!
I wish I were not so impatient and so greedy of
results! I am not fit to be a teacher; no one is
who is so scornful of stupidity as I am. . . . The
pearl writes quaint countrified little verses,
doggerel they are; but somehow or other she always
contrives to put in one line, one thought, one image,
that shows you she is, quite unconsciously to herself,
in possession of the secret. . . . Good-by; I'll bring
Rebecca home with me some Friday, and let you
and mother see her for yourselves.

Your affectionate daughter,

Emily.

Content of CHAPTER XXI - THE SKY LINE WIDENS (Kate Douglas Wiggin's novel: Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm)

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