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REBECCA

BY ARTHUR SHERBURNE HARDY

I

Why should n't I, if I want to?' But was it happiness? Of course it

The reins fell on Billy's rough back was. Everything beyond the gate must with an emphatic slap, but met with no be. response. The shaggy hoofs continued Nearing the top of the hill, the white to pound the frozen road with the stolid finger of the spire rose slowly above the indifference to stimuli born of the con- sky-line, then the roof, other roofs, viction that in the long run a steady straggling fences, the schoolhouse gait was the part of wisdom.

duty! On the whitewashed wall beThe road covered two miles for the hind the teacher's desk, Rebecca saw arrow's one, with that contempt for the motto, - her own handiwork, — grade and distance which characterized the early settler, who first chose his

Be Good and You will be Happy. dwelling-place and compelled the road Had n't she been good? When would to follow. Between the low stone walls, she be happy? whose boulders were continually evinc- In village parlance Rebecca ‘ran’the ing a desire to return to their earlier farm one of those hilly rock-strewn resting-places, down the rocky pitch to farms demanding constant prodding to the creaking bridge in the meadow, and prevent it from running out.' Down by up again through the moaning forest, it the brook in the birch woods were wound its way, mysterious, unending. pleasant places — pools of dark silent Another slap.

water, where the brook brooded before 'I can — if I want to.'

deciding to take the leap to the next Approving this sentiment, Billy, one, to pause again, out of breath; shalhalfway up the hill, stopped and, pull- lows where it sang to Rebecca, who ing the reins through the saddle rings, never sang except at seven-day interreached for a tuft of withered grass, vals in the church choir. The brook which all summer long had escaped hoof was always singing, even in winter, and wheel, to perish in the winter. cheerily, to the shivering birches. 'I might — if I was n't fifty.'

But pleasant places produced nothing. At fifty, when it was too late, past Pleasant places never did. Alluring, prudence seemed a mockery - a gate they bred idleness, all that brood of to happiness locked by prudery. Re prohibited pleasures generically grouped becca sighed. If she could stand at that by the minister under the word 'sin.' gate again!

The bare upland pasture where the 'Indeed I would!'

cows grazed, the shed where they were The reins tightened with a jerk, milked, the barn-cellar where the pigs haunches flattened instantly, and legs wallowed, the chicken-yard bereft of strained to the load.

grass, the vegetable patch, with its tat

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tered scarecrow rocking in the wind Yes, mother, it's true.' these counted. No food or raiment came And the truth shall make you free! from that wanton, running without The sentence from the minister's serthought of the future, purpose, or con- mon came from nowhere, like a bird science, through meadow and wood to alighting on a twig — ridiculously in

apposite. That impertinent busybody, Sometimes not now, in winter, the irresponsible mind, was one of Rebut when the crocuses came

- Rebecca becca's trials. wrestled spiritually with the brook - Then, for a long time, there was sia thing without roots or attachments, lence, their thoughts going their separate a mere gadabout, scornful of duty, of ways. Much hard and solitary thinking everything behind it, in its eagerness to preceded ‘getting together' for these get on. Life was real, life was earnest. two. As for the goal beyond the grave, she Rebecca hung her squirrel coat in the wished that it might come occasionally closet and turned to the door. at the end of the day, instead of at 'Where are you going now, Rebecca?' the end of living, like Billy's grain and "To the office, mother.' blanket. Even at fifty the grave was a

The office' was a low one-story long way off.

building, with a single door and room, Strictly speaking, Rebecca was forty- where her father used to consult his eight, a fact she strictly adhered to in clients - even hilltop villages requirpublic. In the privacy of her own ing lawyers as well as ministers and thoughts, when grim and vindictive, doctors. she was fifty; down among the birches, That, however, was long ago, and the forty; and, in crocus-time, even thirty. office had descended to Rebecca, with

, 'Steady, capable woman - no its legend in gilt letters still on the panel sense about Rebecca!' was the village of its door. Here she kept the farm

! verdict, knowing little of what it could accounts, her books, and her dreams. not see or touch.

Whenever she spoke of ‘going home,' it Billy's wants attended to, Rebecca was the office she had in mind. went into the house. Her mother, sit- It boasted a desk, above which Washting by the window, had been watching ington was perpetually delivering his for her return.

farewell address; a horsehair sofa, whose You've been gone a long time.' billowy surface was reminiscent of

For an ailing old woman, watching former clients; a bookcase with diaday after day at the window of a hilltop mond panes, – the law books had been farm, every hour was 'a long time.' relegated to the upper shelves, — and a

' But the querulous voice passed over redeeming fireplace, open, hospitable, Rebecca's soul without leaving a trace. framed in a white mantelpiece, with After forty years of duty, its surface, Ionic columns and garlands of roses like Billy's hide, had ceased to be super- in plaster, on which, under the clock, sensitive. Rebecca possessed what the stood a group of two grotesque porceminister called 'a healthy spirit.' lain figures in bright colors: a woman,

'Yes, mother,' she said, warming her holding high a tambourine, and a man hands at the range; 'Billy is n't as spry with a guitar. The child Rebecca had as he used to be.'

given these gay figures ecstatic adora‘Did you see the Squire?'

tion, as representing a wonderful world Yes, mother.'

inhabited by fairies, gypsies, and 'Is it true?'

other mythical persons - to which

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they evidently belonged. That also was slid from the rocker to the rug; but at long ago. If Rebecca's glance rested on the crunch of heavy boots on the snow, them now, it was only the glance of sprang to her desk. It would never do mingled scorn and pity appropriate to to have Hansen find her dreaming like misguided creatures doomed, like the a silly girl on the rug before the fire. butterflies fluttering in autumn sun

Hansen was the overseer. He came shine, to an untimely end. Yet there in, his red beard dripping with moisture, they remained enthroned, with the sofa and they went over the milk receipts toand the sign on the door and the clock gether. It was disconcertingly evident which never ran down — relics of the that Hansen had something on his mind. past, which would not let go.

'Is that all, Hansen?' It was four o'clock, growing dark al- 'Of course, Miss Rebecca,' — Hanready. Rebecca wound the clock, — it sen began every sentence with 'of was Saturday night, — threw a fresh course, - ‘if what's being said in the log on the smouldering coals, and sat village is true, you'll be wanting to get down in the rocker before the hearth, that wire up from the mill. We could watching the little flames, hissing, and beginning to curl up over their prey. “Yes, Hansen.' Hansen was always Shadows danced on the walls and ceil- trying to squeeze something more out ing, and red lights on the polished balls of the land by putting something more of the andirons.

in. We will go into that Monday.' It had all been like a dream, only, un- Faithful man was Hansen, — looklike a dream, it had not vanished. It ing after the farm as if it were his own, was true — and Christopher was com- - her right hand. ing Monday morning.

When he had gone, Rebecca went The beat of Rebecca's heart quick- back to the rug. On the wall over the ened. It had been as steady in the

mantel the clock ticked on, solemnly, Squire's office as the Squire's clock, intent on duty, indifferent to the time even when he said, “You're a rich it recorded. woman, Rebecca.' 'Am I?' Rebecca

II had said to herself. What's more,' the Squire went on, “and what ain't com- Christopher and Rebecca had played mon, your Uncle Caleb’s set it down together once in the pleasant places by fair and square in the will,' — the the brook. Christopher was a wonderSquire's spectacles dropped from his ful playmate. He knew every bird by forehead to his nose, - "To my niece, its note, where it hid its nest, - in Rebecca, in recognition of her sterling tree, in hedge, or meadow,

, - how many qualities."

eggs the nest should hold, and of Rebecca's lip softened, then straight- what color. He knew the bait each fish ened. Uncle Caleb had bided his time. loved best, and could catch the wariest

'I've a telegram here somewhere with a bent pin. No colt ever foaled on from Christopher.' - It was then Re- the hill had unseated him, though he becca's heart gave its first jump.—'He's had to cling desperately, bare-back, to coming up from York.' The Squire's the mane. Even the brown Durham fingers fumbled

his papers. bull looked askance at Christopher. As 'He's executor. He says, “Tell Re for the dogs, they ran to meet him at becca I'll see her Monday.”

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the mere sight of the stocky little figRecalling this announcement, Re- ure, bare-headed, hands in ragged troubecca's heart jumped again. She had sers, sure of adventure.

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Where Christopher got his chief pos- things that he should disappear, as natsession - imagination — is a secret un

ural and inevitable as that the sheep told. It did not grow on hilltop farms, should get the foot disease - predesand he was never seen with a book out tined and foreordained, like blight and of school. What tales he could tell! frost and potato bugs. The little flaxen-haired girl listened to It was quite otherwise with Uncle them for hours, open-mouthed, eyes Caleb. He was a surprise. bulging with wonder. He confided to Uncle Caleb owned the mills, only her what he was going to do when he four miles away, though it might as well was a man. Among other things he was have been a hundred. Once in a while, going to find the North Pole. He spoke to be sure, he drove out to the hilltop, of the North Pole as if it were a marble and Rebecca was conscious of approvin his pocket. Wonderful hours those ing glances in his shrewd gray eyes. were, among the buttercups by the They talked a little of the crops. Then brook and, on rainy days, in the hay- he went away. And now he had brought mow! No real person walking the vil. Christopher back – Christopher and lage street was half as real as the phan money at forty-eight! All the fat worms toms that trod Christopher's stage. wiggling to the surface when the ground Wonderful hours! spiced with the sense thawed out for a day could not bring of stolen joys — for motherless Chris- the birds back in winter. Uncle Caleb topher was the son of the village ne'er- was only a winter sun, waking to modo-weel, without favor outside of the mentary life what would better be left animal kingdom.

to sleep. And then, gradually, almost insen- The clock struck five. It was getting sibly, Christopher drew away, like a near supper-time. She covered the fire, young sapling from its fellows of slower put her desk to rights, and went out, growth, and Rebecca was left behind, locking the door. The key she kept in alone, clinging to childish toys, dream- her pocket, as if there were secrets in land, and all the creations of Chris- the office to guard. topher's riotous imagination, outgrown Her mother looked up as she came in. and spurned now for the solid things 'Rebecca, I've been thinking beckoning to manlier ambition. And "We can talk of that to-morrow, then, suddenly, leaping out of the dark, mother. I am tired to-night.' came one by one those events over But, Rebecca, to-morrow's the Sabwhich there is no control Christo- bath.' pher's disappearance, her father's death, 'I know it,' said Rebecca grimly. her mother's failing health, closing in But just before going to bed, as if the on her like the walls of a narrowing word 'Christopher' was not a bombshell room, walking roughshod over the loaded with potentialities, in her most dreams, hardening her hands, putting casual manner she let drop the senthat fixed, determined look in her eyes; tence: ‘Christopher's coming Monday, till one by one the actors on Christo- Mother.' pher's stage died, its lights went out, 'Dear me! how time flies.' and of those splendid hours nothing A gleam of humor twinkled in Rewas left but a few rebellious tears shed becca's eyes. in the ‘office,' when accounts were done 'I wonder if he found the North and the fire was very low.

Pole.' After all, Christopher had run true "The what?' to life. It was in the natural order of 'Nothing. Good-night, mother.'

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III

casional ‘I told you so. Moreover, suc

cess had not spoiled Christopher. It Rebecca had conquered the major was impossible to spoil him. Sound as devils on the ride home from the a winter apple,’ Uncle Caleb had said Squire's. They had all slunk away, to the Squire, when making his will. cowed by that ominous word 'fifty' - And here he was, sitting opposite Reexcept one. This latter she slew before becca, clean-shaven, talking about Ceygoing down to breakfast Monday morn- lon and India and London and Cairo, ing. Heroines in the books on the lower as familiarly as he used to talk about shelves behind the diamond panes in- fairies and giants and the North Pole. variably glanced in their mirrors before Rebecca listened as the little flaxenfacing important interviews. Like Is- haired girl had listened, her eyes growrael of old, Rebecca hardened her heart. ing brighter, her mouth softer, her heart Nothing on her bureau-cover would lighter — till suddenly, lighting a cigar make the slightest difference, had she and looking straight in her eyes, he desired any. There would be only what said: :she had seen hundreds of times

'Look here, Rebecca, we have busiwoman almost forty-eight, not quite; ness to talk over. Where shall we go?' slim; an oval face, tanned by wind Except for the maid clearing the taand sun; grayish eyes quick to show ble, there was no particular reason for certain indescribable danger-signals; going anywhere; but just here the little the flaxen hair deepened to brown; a fox, which had slipped his leash and laid mouth, firm, but ready to soften; and the fire in the office early in the morning

nothing the matter with it, before anyone was up, spoke. only she did not like it. She had no 'We might go to the office. It's nearinterest in these things. So she went er than the brook — and warmer.' downstairs, ignoring the mirror, thereby 'Just the place!' said Christopher. missing what had not been seen in it 'So the brook's still there.' since

“Yes, it's still running away, ChrisBut her mother saw, when Rebecca topher.' brought the breakfast-tray — and won- Not a word had he said about what dered.

she had refused to see in the mirror; but Then, without warning, while pour- now, sitting in the rocker, the pine cones ing the coffee, a horse neighed in the blazing and stars coming and going in yard, and there, at the hitching-post, the soot of the chimney-brick, — was Christopher, the Christopher of the "You're looking fine, Rebecca.' brook, only bigger, with the same quick ‘Am I? I've got the farm in fine confident gesture, the same compelling shape.' She parried the amused smile voice calling to her in the doorway: – in his blue eyes with 'Tell me about ‘Hullo, little girl!'

yourself, Christopher.' Formality dropped from her like a He began without a moment's hesicloak.

tation, just as he did in the hay-mow ‘Hullo, Christopher! Come in.' when she said, 'I'm ready — now be

Christopher had falsified hill proph- gin.' Perhaps, in the hay-mow, neither ecy. Persistent rumor had forced the of them wholly believed the things he admission that, instead of going to the said; but they both believed in Chrisbad, he had, as Uncle Caleb predicted, topher. That was his glory and charm, made good. Uncle Caleb was a shrewd his intrepid, nonchalant self-confidence, old fellow, saying little beyond an oc- his faith in himself, serene, without a

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