LOUISA M. ALCOTT
AUTHOR OF "LITTLE MEN," "LITTLE WOMEN," "MAY
FLOWERS," "POPPIES AND WHEAT," ETC.
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT.
BY JOHN S. P. ALCOTT.
JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
MOUNTAIN-LAUREL AND MAIDENHAIR
"Here's your breakfast, miss. I hope it's right. Your mother showed me
how to fix it, and said I'd find a cup up here."
"Take that blue one. I have not much appetite, and can't eat if things
are not nice and pretty. I like the flowers. I've been longing for some
ever since I saw them last night."
The first speaker was a red-haired, freckled-faced girl, in a brown
calico dress and white apron, with a tray in her hands and an air of
timid hospitality in her manner; the second a pale, pretty creature, in
a white wrapper and blue net, sitting in a large chair, looking about
her with the languid interest of an invalid in a new place. Her eyes
brightened as they fell upon a glass of rosy laurel and delicate
maidenhair fern that stood among the toast and eggs, strawberries and
cream, on the tray.
"Our laurel is jest in blow, and I'm real glad you come in time to see
it. I'll bring you a lot, as soon's ever I get time to go for it."
As she spoke, the plain girl replaced the ugly crockery cup and saucer
with the pretty china ones pointed out to her, arranged the dishes, and
waited to see if anything else was needed.
"What is your name, please?" asked the pretty girl, refreshing herself
with a draught of new milk.
"Rebecca. Mother thought I'd better wait on you; the little girls are so
noisy and apt to forget. Wouldn't you like a piller to your back? you
look so kind of feeble seems as if you wanted to be propped up a mite."
There was so much compassion and good-will in the face and voice, that
Emily accepted the offer, and let Rebecca arrange a cushion behind her;
then, while the one ate daintily, and the other stirred about an inner
room, the talk went on,--for two girls are seldom long silent when
"I think the air is going to suit me, for I slept all night and never
woke till Mamma had been up ever so long and got things all nicely
settled," said Emily, graciously, when the fresh strawberries had been
enjoyed, and the bread and butter began to vanish.
"I'm real glad you like it: most folks do, if they don't mind it being
plain and quiet up here. It's gayer down at the hotel, but the air ain't
half so good, and delicate folks generally like our old place best,"
answered Becky, as she tossed over a mattress and shook out the sheets
with a brisk, capable air pleasant to see.
"I wanted to go to the hotel, but the doctor said it would be too noisy
for me, so Mamma was glad to find rooms here. I didn't think a
farm-house _could_ be so pleasant. That view is perfectly splendid!" and
Emily sat up to gaze delightedly out of the window, below which spread
the wide intervale, through which the river ran with hay-fields on
either side, while along the green slopes of the hills lay farm-houses
with garden plots, and big barns waiting for the harvest; and beyond,
the rocky, wooded pastures dotted with cattle and musical with
cow-bells, brooks, and birds.
A balmy wind kissed a little color into the pale cheeks, the listless
eyes brightened as they looked, and the fretful lines vanished from lips
that smiled involuntarily at the sweet welcome Nature gave the city
child come to rest and play and grow gay and rosy in her green lap.
Becky watched her with interest, and was glad to see how soon the
new-comer felt the charm of the place, for the girl loved her mountain
home, and thought the old farm-house the loveliest spot in the world.
"When you get stronger I can show you lots of nice views round here.
There's a woodsy place behind the house that's just lovely. Down by the
laurel bushes is _my_ favorite spot, and among the rocks is a cave where
I keep things handy when I get a resting-spell now and then, and want to
be quiet. Can't get much at home, when there's boarders and five
children round in vacation time."
Becky laughed as she spoke, and there was a sweet motherly look in her
plain face, as she glanced at the three little red heads bobbing about
the door-yard below, where hens cackled, a pet lamb fed, and the old
white dog lay blinking in the sun.
"I like children; we have none at home, and Mamma makes such a baby of
me I'm almost ashamed sometimes. I want her to have a good rest now, for
she has taken care of me all winter and needs it. You shall be my nurse,
if I need one; but I hope to be so well soon that I can see to myself.
It's so tiresome to be ill!" and Emily sighed as she leaned back among
her pillows, with a glance at the little glass which showed her a thin
face and shorn head.
"It must be! I never was sick, but I have taken care of sick folks, and
have a sight of sympathy for 'em. Mother says I make a pretty good
nurse, being strong and quiet," answered Becky, plumping up pillows and
folding towels with a gentle despatch which was very grateful to the
invalid, who had dreaded a noisy, awkward serving-maid.
"Never ill! how nice that must be! I'm always having colds and
headaches, and fusses of some kind. What do you do to keep well,
Rebecca?" asked Emily, watching her with interest, as she came in to
remove the tray.
"Nothing but work; I haven't time to be sick, and when I'm tuckered out,
I go and rest over yonder. Then I'm all right, and buckle to again, as
smart as ever;" and every freckle in Becky's rosy face seemed to shine
with cheerful strength and courage.
"I'm 'tuckered out' doing nothing," said Emily, amused with the new
expression, and eager to try a remedy which showed such fine results in
this case. "I shall visit your pet places and do a little work as soon
as I am able, and see if it won't set me up. Now I can only dawdle,
doze, and read a little. Will you please put those books here on the
table? I shall want them by-and-by."
Emily pointed to a pile of blue and gold volumes lying on a trunk, and
Becky dusted her hands as she took them up with an air of reverence, for
she read on the backs of the volumes names which made her eyes sparkle.
"Do you care for poetry?" asked Emily, surprised at the girl's look and
"Guess I do! don't get much except the pieces I cut out of papers, but I
love 'em, and stick 'em in an old ledger, and keep it down in my cubby
among the rocks. I do love _that_ man's pieces. They seem to go right to
the spot somehow;" and Becky smiled at the name of Whittier as if the
sweetest of our poets was a dear old friend of hers.
"I like Tennyson better. Do you know him?" asked Emily, with a superior
air, for the idea of this farmer's daughter knowing anything about
poetry amused her.
"Oh yes, I've got a number of his pieces in my book, and I'm fond of
'em. But this man makes things so kind of true and natural I feel at
home with _him_. And this one I've longed to read, though I guess I
can't understand much of it. His 'Bumble Bee' was just lovely; with the
grass and columbines and the yellow breeches of the bee. I'm never tired
of that;" and Becky's face woke up into something like beauty as she
glanced hungrily at the Emerson while she dusted the delicate cover that
hid the treasures she coveted.
"I don't care much for him, but Mamma does. I like romantic poems, and
ballads, and songs; don't like descriptions of clouds, and fields, and
bees, and farmers," said Emily, showing plainly that even Emerson's
simplest poems were far above her comprehension as yet, because she
loved sentiment more than Nature.
"I do, because I know 'em better than love and the romantic stuff most
poetry tells about. But I don't pretend to judge, I'm glad of anything
I can get. Now if you don't want me I'll pick up my dishes and go to
With that Becky went away, leaving Emily to rest and dream with her eyes
on the landscape which was giving her better poetry than any her books
held. She told her mother about the odd girl, and was sure she would be
amusing if she did not forget her place and try to be friends.
"She is a good creature, my dear, her mother's main stay, and works
beyond her strength, I am sure. Be kind to the poor girl, and put a
little pleasure into her life if you can," answered Mrs. Spenser, as she
moved about, settling comforts and luxuries for her invalid.
"I shall _have_ to talk to her, as there is no other person of my age in
the house. How are the school marms? shall you get on with them, Mamma?
It will be so lonely here for us both, if we don't make friends with
"Most intelligent and amiable women all three, and we shall have
pleasant times together, I am sure. You may safely cultivate Becky; Mrs.
Taylor told me she was a remarkably bright girl, though she may not look
"Well, I'll see. But I do hate freckles and big red hands, and round
shoulders. She can't help it, I suppose, but ugly things fret me."
"Remember that she has no time to be pretty, and be glad she is so neat
and willing. Shall we read, dear? I'm ready now."
Emily consented, and listened for an hour or two while the pleasant
voice beside her conjured away all her vapors with some of Mrs. Ewing's
"The grass is dry now, and I want to stroll on that green lawn before
lunch. You rest, Mamma dear, and let me make discoveries all alone,"
proposed Emily, when the sun shone warmly, and the instinct of all young
creatures for air and motion called her out.
So, with her hat and wrap, and book and parasol, she set forth to
explore the new land in which she found herself.
Down the wide, creaking stairs and out upon the door-stone she went,
pausing there for a moment to decide where first to go. The sound of
some one singing in the rear of the house led her in that direction, and
turning the corner she made her first pleasant discovery. A hill rose
steeply behind the farm-house, and leaning from the bank was an old
apple-tree, shading a spring that trickled out from the rocks and
dropped into a mossy trough below. Up the tree had grown a wild
grape-vine, making a green canopy over the great log which served as a
seat, and some one had planted maidenhair ferns about both seat and
spring to flourish beautifully in the damp, shady spot.
"Oh, how pretty! I'll go and sit there. It looks clean, and I can see
what is going on in that big kitchen, and hear the singing. I suppose
it's Becky's little sisters by the racket."
Emily established herself on the lichen-covered log with her feet upon a
stone, and sat enjoying the musical tinkle of the water, with her eyes
on the delicate ferns stirring in the wind, and the lively jingle of the
multiplication-table chanted by childish voices in her ear.
Presently two little girls with a great pan of beans came to do their
work on the back door-step, a third was seen washing dishes at a window,
and Becky's brown-spotted gown flew about the kitchen as if a very
energetic girl wore it. A woman's voice was heard giving directions, as
the speaker was evidently picking chickens somewhere out of sight.
A little of the talk reached Emily and both amused and annoyed her, for
it proved that the country people were not as stupid as they looked.
"Oh, well, we mustn't mind if she _is_ notional and kind of wearing;
she's been sick, and it will take time to get rid of her fretty ways.
Jest be pleasant, and take no notice, and that nice mother of hers will
make it all right," said the woman's voice.
"How anybody with every mortal thing to be happy with _can_ be
out-of-sorts passes me. She fussed about every piller, chair, trunk, and
mite of food last night, and kept that poor tired lady trotting till I
was provoked. She's right pleasant this morning though, and as pretty as
a picture in her ruffled gown and that blue thing on her head," answered
Becky from the pantry, as she rattled out the pie-board, little dreaming
who sat hidden behind the grape-vine festoons that veiled the corner by
"Well, she's got redder hair 'n' we have, so she needn't be so grand and
try to hide it with blue nets," added one little voice.
"Yes, and it's ever so much shorter 'n' ours, and curls all over her
head like Daisy's wool. I should think such a big girl would feel real
ashamed without no braids," said the other child, proudly surveying the
tawny mane that hung over her shoulders,--for like most red-haired
people all the children were blessed with luxuriant crops of every shade
from golden auburn to regular carrots.
"I think it's lovely. Suppose it had to be cut off when she had the
fever. Wish I could get rid of my mop, it's such a bother;" and Becky
was seen tying a clean towel over the great knot that made her head look
very like a copper kettle.
"Now fly round, deary, and get them pies ready. I'll have these fowls on
in a minute, and then go to my butter. You run off and see if you can't
find some wild strawberries for the poor girl, soon's ever you are
through with them beans, children. We must kind of pamper her up for a
spell till her appetite comes back," said the mother.
Here the chat ended, and soon the little girls were gone, leaving Becky
alone rolling out pie-crust before the pantry window. As she worked her
lips moved, and Emily, still peeping through the leaves, wondered what
she was saying, for a low murmur rose and fell, emphasized now and then
with a thump of the rolling-pin.
"I mean to go and find out. If I stand on that wash-bench I can look in
and see her work. I'll show them all that _I_'m _not_ 'fussy,' and can
be 'right pleasant' if I like."
With this wise resolution Emily went down the little path, and after
pausing to examine the churn set out to dry, and the row of pans shining
on a neighboring shelf, made her way to the window, mounted the bench
while Becky's back was turned, and pushing away the morning-glory vines
and scarlet beans that ran up on either side peeped in with such a
smiling face that the crossest cook could not have frowned on her as an
"May I see you work? I can't eat pies, but I like to watch people make
them. Do you mind?"
"Not a bit. I'd ask you to come in, but it's dreadful hot here, and not
much room," answered Becky, crimping round the pastry before she poured
in the custard. "I'm going to make a nice little pudding for you; your
mother said you liked 'em; or would you rather have whipped cream with a
mite of jelly in it?" asked Becky, anxious to suit her new boarder.
"Whichever is easiest to make. I don't care what I eat. Do tell me what
you were saying. It sounded like poetry," said Emily, leaning both
elbows on the wide ledge with a pale pink morning-glory kissing her
cheek, and a savory odor reaching her nose.
"Oh, I was mumbling some verses. I often do when I work, it sort of
helps me along; but it must sound dreadful silly," and Becky blushed as
if caught in some serious fault.
"I do it, and it's a great comfort when I lie awake. I should think you
_would_ want something to help you along, you work so hard. Do you like
The familiar name, the kind tone, made the plain face brighten with
pleasure as its owner said, while she carefully filled a pretty bowl
with a golden mixture rich with fresh eggs and country milk,--
"No, I don't, but I ought to. Mother isn't as strong as she used to be,
and there's a sight to do, and the children to be brought up, and the
mortgage to be paid off; so if _I_ don't fly round, who will? We are
doing real well now, for Mr. Walker manages the farm and gives us our
share, so our living is all right; then boarders in summer and my school
in winter help a deal, and every year the boys can do more, so I'd be a
real sinner to complain if I do have to step lively all day."
Becky smiled as she spoke, and straightened her bent shoulders as if
settling her burden for another trudge along the path of duty.
"Do you keep school? Why, how old are you, Becky?" asked Emily, much
impressed by this new discovery.
"I'm eighteen. I took the place of a teacher who got sick last fall, and
I kept school all winter. Folks seemed to like me, and I'm going to have
the same place this year. I'm so glad, for I needn't go away, and the
pay is pretty good, as the school is large and the children do well. You
can see the school-house down the valley, that red brick one where the
roads meet;" and Becky pointed a floury finger, with an air of pride
that was pleasant to see.
Emily glanced at the little red house where the sun shone hotly in
summer, and all the winds of heaven must rage wildly in winter time, for
it stood, as country schools usually do, in the barest, most uninviting
spot for miles around.
"Isn't it awful down there in winter?" she asked, with a shiver at the
idea of spending days shut up in that forlorn place, with a crowd of
rough country children.
"Pretty cold, but we have plenty of wood, and we are used to snow and
gales up here. We often coast down, the whole lot of us, and that is
great fun. We take our dinners and have games noon-spells, and so we get
on first rate; some of my boys are big fellows, older than I am, and
they clear the roads and make the fire and look after us, and we are
real happy together."
Emily found it so impossible to imagine happiness under such
circumstances that she changed the subject by asking in a tone which had
unconsciously grown more respectful since this last revelation of
"If you do so well here, why don't you try for a larger school in a
"Oh, I couldn't leave mother yet; I hope to some day, when the girls are
older, and the boys able to get on alone. But I can't go now, for
there's a sight of things to do, and mother is always laid up with
rheumatism in cold weather. So much butter-making down cellar is bad for
her; but she won't let me do that in summer, so I take care of her in
winter. I can see to things night and morning, and through the day she's
quiet, and sits piecing carpet-rags and resting up for next spring. We
made and wove all the carpets in the house, except the parlor one. Mrs.
Taylor gave us that, and the curtains, and the easy-chair. Mother takes
a sight of comfort in that."
"Mrs. Taylor is the lady who first came to board here, and told us and
others about it," said Emily.
"Yes, and she's the kindest lady in the world! I'll tell you all about
her some day, it's real interesting; now I must see to my pies, and get
the vegetables on," answered Becky, glancing at the gay clock in the
kitchen with an anxious look.
"Then I won't waste any more of your precious time. May I sit in that
pretty place; or is it your private bower?" asked Emily, as she
dismounted from the wash-bench.
"Yes, indeed you may. That's mother's resting place when work is done.
Father made the spring long ago, and I put the ferns there. She can't go
rambling round, and she likes pretty things, so we fixed it up for her,
and she takes comfort there nights."
Becky bustled off to the oven with her pies, and Emily roamed away to
the big barn to lie on the hay, enjoying the view down the valley, as
she thought over what she had seen and heard, and very naturally
contrasted her own luxurious and tenderly guarded life with this other
girl's, so hard and dull and narrow. Working all summer and teaching all
winter in that dismal little school-house, with no change but home cares
and carpet-weaving! It looked horrible to pleasure-loving Emily, who
led the happy, care-free life of girls of her class, with pleasures of
all sorts, and a future of still greater luxury, variety, and happiness,
opening brightly before her.
It worried her to think of any one being contented with such a meagre
share of the good things of life, when she was unsatisfied in spite of
the rich store showered upon her. She could not understand it, and fell
asleep wishing every one could be comfortable,--it was so annoying to
see them grubbing in kitchens, teaching in bleak school-houses among
snow-drifts, and wearing ugly calico gowns.
A week or two of quiet, country fare and the bracing mountain air worked
wonders for the invalid, and every one rejoiced to see the pale cheeks
begin to grow round and rosy, the languid eyes to brighten, and the
feeble girl who used to lie on her sofa half the day now go walking
about with her alpenstock, eager to explore all the pretty nooks among
the hills. Her mother blessed Mrs. Taylor for suggesting this wholesome
place. The tired "school marms," as Emily called the three young women
who were their fellow-boarders, congratulated her as well as themselves
on the daily improvement in strength and spirits all felt; and Becky
exulted in the marvellous effects of her native air, aided by mother's
good cookery and the cheerful society of the children, whom the good
girl considered the most remarkable and lovable youngsters in the world.
Emily felt like the queen of this little kingdom, and was regarded as
such by every one, for with returning health she lost her fretful ways,
and, living with simple people, soon forgot her girlish airs and
vanities, becoming very sweet and friendly with all about her. The
children considered her a sort of good fairy who could grant wishes with
magical skill, as various gifts plainly proved. The boys were her
devoted servants, ready to run errands, "hitch up" and take her to drive
at any hour, or listen in mute delight when she sang to her guitar in
the summer twilight.
But to Becky she was a special godsend and comfort, for before the first
month had gone they were good friends, and Emily had made a discovery
which filled her head with brilliant plans for Becky's future, in spite
of her mother's warnings, and the sensible girl's own reluctance to be
dazzled by enthusiastic prophecies and dreams.
It came about in this way. Some three weeks after the two girls met,
Emily went one evening to their favorite trysting-place,--Becky's bower
among the laurels. It was a pretty nook in the shadow of a great gray
bowlder near the head of the green valley which ran down to spread into
the wide intervale below. A brook went babbling among the stones and
grass and sweet-ferns, while all the slope was rosy with laurel-flowers
in their time, as the sturdy bushes grew thickly on the hill-side, down
the valley, and among the woods that made a rich background for these
pink and white bouquets arranged with Nature's own careless grace.
Emily liked this spot, and ever since she had been strong enough to
reach it, loved to climb up and sit there with book and work, enjoying
the lovely panorama before her. Floating mists often gave her a constant
succession of pretty pictures; now a sunny glimpse of the distant lake,
then the church spire peeping above the hill, or a flock of sheep
feeding in the meadow, a gay procession of young pilgrims winding up the
mountain, or a black cloud heavy with a coming storm, welcome because of
the glorious rainbow and its shadow which would close the pageant.
Unconsciously the girl grew to feel not only the beauty but the value of
these quiet hours, to find a new peace, refreshment, and happiness,
bubbling up in her heart as naturally as the brook gushed out among the
mossy rocks, and went singing away through hay-fields and gardens, and
by dusty roads, till it met the river and rolled on to the sea.
Something dimly stirred in her, and the healing spirit that haunts such
spots did its sweet ministering till the innocent soul began to see that
life was not perfect without labor as well as love, duty as well as
happiness, and that true contentment came from within, not from without.
On the evening we speak of, she went to wait for Becky, who would join
her as soon as the after-supper chores were done. In the little cave
which held a few books, a dipper, and a birch-bark basket for berries,
Emily kept a sketching block and a box of pencils, and often amused
herself by trying to catch some of the lovely scenes before her. These
efforts usually ended in a humbler attempt, and a good study of an
oak-tree, a bit of rock, or a clump of ferns was the result. This
evening the sunset was so beautiful she could not draw, and remembering
that somewhere in Becky's scrap-book there was a fine description of
such an hour by some poet, she pulled out the shabby old volume, and
began to turn over the leaves.
She had never cared to look at it but once, having read all the best of
its contents in more attractive volumes, so Becky kept it tucked away in
the farther corner of her rustic closet, and evidently thought it a safe
place to conceal a certain little secret which Emily now discovered. As
she turned the stiff pages filled with all sorts of verses, good, bad,
and indifferent, a sheet of paper appeared on which was scribbled these
lines in school-girl handwriting:--
My bonnie flower, with truest joy
Thy welcome face I see,
The world grows brighter to my eyes,
And summer comes with thee.
My solitude now finds a friend,
And after each hard day,
I in my mountain garden walk,
To rest, or sing, or pray.
All down the rocky slope is spread
Thy veil of rosy snow,
And in the valley by the brook,
Thy deeper blossoms grow.
The barren wilderness grows fair,
Such beauty dost thou give;
And human eyes and Nature's heart
Rejoice that thou dost live.
Each year I wait thy coming, dear,
Each year I love thee more,
For life grows hard, and much I need
Thy honey for my store.
So, like a hungry bee, I sip
Sweet lessons from thy cup,
And sitting at a flower's feet,
My soul learns to look up.
No laurels shall I ever win,
No splendid blossoms bear,
But gratefully receive and use
God's blessed sun and air;
And, blooming where my lot is cast
Grow happy and content,
Making some barren spot more fair,
For a humble life well spent.
[Illustration: "She wrote it herself!"--PAGE 23.]
"She wrote it herself! I can't believe it!" said Emily, as she put down
the paper, looking rather startled, for she _did_ believe it, and felt
as if she had suddenly looked into a fellow-creature's heart. "I thought
her just an ordinary girl, and here she is a poet, writing verses that
make me want to cry! I don't suppose they _are_ very good, but they seem
to come right out of her heart, and touch me with the longing and the
patience or the piety in them. Well, I _am_ surprised!" and Emily read
the lines again, seeing the faults more plainly than before, but still
feeling that the girl put herself into them, vainly trying to express
what the wild flower was to her in the loneliness which comes to those
who have a little spark of the divine fire burning in their souls.
"Shall I tell her I've found it out? I must! and see if I can't get her
verses printed. Of course she has more tucked away somewhere. That is
what she hums to herself when she's at work, and won't tell me about
when I ask. Sly thing! to be so bashful and hide her gift. I'll tease
her a bit and see what she says. Oh dear, I wish _I_ could do it!
Perhaps she'll be famous some day, and then I'll have the glory of
With that consolation Emily turned over the pages of the ledger and
found several more bits of verse, some very good for an untaught girl,
others very faulty, but all having a certain strength of feeling and
simplicity of language unusual in the effusions of young maidens at the
Emily had a girlish admiration for talent of any kind, and being fond of
poetry, was especially pleased to find that her humble friend possessed
the power of writing it. Of course she exaggerated Becky's talent, and
as she waited for her, felt sure that she had discovered a feminine
Burns among the New Hampshire hills, for all the verses were about
natural and homely objects, touched into beauty by sweet words or tender
sentiment. She had time to build a splendid castle in the air and settle
Becky in it with a crown of glory on her head, before the quiet figure
in a faded sunbonnet came slowly up the slope with the glow of sunset on
a tired but tranquil face.
"Sit here and have a good rest, while I talk to you," said Emily, eager
to act the somewhat dramatic scene she had planned. Becky sunk upon the
red cushion prepared for her, and sat looking down at the animated
speaker, as Emily, perched on a mossy stone before her, began the
"Becky, did you ever hear of the Goodale children? They lived in the
country and wrote poetry and grew to be famous."
"Oh yes, I've read their poems and like 'em very much. Do you know 'em?"
and Becky looked interested at once.
"No, but I once met a girl who was something like them, only she didn't
have such an easy time as they did, with a father to help, and a nice
Sky-farm, and good luck generally. I've tried to write verses myself,
but I always get into a muddle, and give it up. This makes me
interested in other girls who _can_ do it, and I want to help my friend.
I'm _sure_ she has talent, and I'd so like to give her a lift in some
way. Let me read you a piece of hers and see what you think of it."
"Do!" and Becky threw off the sunbonnet, folded her hands round her
knees, and composed herself to listen with such perfect unconsciousness
of what was coming that Emily both laughed at the joke and blushed at
the liberty she felt she was taking with the poor girl's carefully
Becky was sure now that Emily was going to read something of her own
after this artful introduction, and began to smile as the paper was
produced and the first four lines read in a tone that was half timid,
half triumphant. Then with a cry she seized and crumpled up the paper,
exclaiming almost fiercely,--
"It's mine! Where did you get it? How dar'st you touch it?"
Emily fell upon her knees with a face and voice so full of penitence,
pleasure, sympathy, and satisfaction, that Becky's wrath was appeased
before her friend's explanation ended with these soothing and delightful
"That's all, dear, and I beg your pardon. But I'm sure you will be
famous if you keep on, and I shall yet see a volume of poems by Rebecca
Moore of Rocky Nook, New Hampshire."
Becky hid her face as if shame, surprise, wonder, and joy filled her
heart too full and made a few happy tears drop on the hands so worn with
hard work, when they ached to be holding a pen and trying to record the
fancies that sung in her brain as ceaselessly as the soft sough of the
pines or the ripple of the brook murmured in her ear when she sat here
alone. She could not express the vague longings that stirred in her
soul; she could only feel and dimly strive to understand and utter them,
with no thought of fame or fortune,--for she was a humble creature, and
never knew that the hardships of her life were pressing out the virtues
of her nature as the tread of careless feet crush the sweet perfume from
Presently she looked up, deeply touched by Emily's words and caresses,
and her blue eyes shone like stars as her face beamed with something
finer than mere beauty, for the secrets of her innocent heart were known
to this friend now, and it was very sweet to accept the first draught of
confidence and praise.
"I don't mind much, but I was scared for a minute. No one knows but
Mother, and she laughs at me, though she don't care if it makes me
happy. I'm glad you like my scribbling, but really I never think or hope
of being anybody. I couldn't, you know! but it's real nice to have you
say I _might_ and to make believe for a little while."
"But why not, Becky? The Goodale girls did, and half the poets in the
world were poor, ignorant people at first, you know. It only needs time
and help, and the gift will grow, and people see it; and then the glory
and the money will come," cried Emily, quite carried away by her own
enthusiasm and good-will.
"Could I get any money by these things?" asked Becky, looking at the
crumpled paper lying under a laurel-bush.
"Of course you could, dear! Let me have some of them, and I'll show you
that I know good poetry when I see it. You will believe if some
bank-bills come with the paper the verses appear in, I hope?"
Blind to any harm she might do by exciting vain hopes in her eagerness
to cheer and help, Emily made this rash proposal in all good faith,
meaning to pay for the verses herself if no editor was found to accept
Becky looked half bewildered by this brilliant prospect, and took a long
breath, as if some hand had lifted a heavy burden a little way from her
weary back, for stronger than ambition for herself was love for her
family, and the thought of help for them was sweeter than any dream of
"Yes, I would! oh, if I only _could_, I'd be the happiest girl in the
world! But I can't believe it, Emily. I heard Mrs. Taylor say that only
the _very best_ poetry paid, and mine is poor stuff, I know well
"Of course it needs polishing and practice and all that; but I'm sure it
is oceans better than half the sentimental twaddle we see in the papers,
and I _know_ that some of those pieces _are_ paid for, because I have a
friend who is in a newspaper office, and he told me so. Yours are quaint
and simple and some very original. I'm sure that ballad of the old house
is lovely, and I want to send it to Whittier. Mamma knows him; it's the
sort he likes, and he is so kind to every one, he will criticise it, and
be interested when she tells him about you. Do let me!"
"I never could in the world! It would be so bold, Mother would think I
was crazy. I love Mr. Whittier, but I wouldn't dar'st to show him my
nonsense, though reading his beautiful poetry helps me ever so much."
Becky looked and spoke as if her breath had been taken away by this
audacious proposal; and yet a sudden delicious hope sprung up in her
heart that there might, perhaps, be a spark of real virtue in the little
fire which burned within her, warming and brightening her dull life.
"Let us ask Mamma; she will tell us what is best to do first, for she
knows all sorts of literary people, and won't say any more than you want
her to. I'm bent on having my way, Becky, and the more modest you are,
the surer I am that you are a genius. Real geniuses always _are_ shy; so
you just make up your mind to give me the best of your pieces, and let
me prove that I'm right."
It was impossible to resist such persuasive words, and Becky soon
yielded to the little siren who was luring her out of her safe, small
pool into the deeper water that looks so blue and smooth till the
venturesome paper boats get into the swift eddies, or run aground upon
the rocks and sandbars.
The greatest secrecy was to be preserved, and no one but Mrs. Spenser
was to know what a momentous enterprise was afoot. The girls sat
absorbed in their brilliant plans till it was nearly dark, then groped
their way home hand in hand, leaving another secret for the laurels to
keep and dream over through their long sleep, for blossom time was past,
and the rosy faces turning pale in the July sun.
Neither of the girls forgot the talk they had that night in Emily's
room, for she led her captive straight to her mother, and told her all
their plans and aspirations without a moment's delay.
Mrs. Spenser much regretted her daughter's well-meant enthusiasm, but
fearing harm might be done, very wisely tried to calm the innocent
excitement of both by the quiet matter-of-fact way in which she listened
to the explanation Emily gave her, read the verses timidly offered by
Becky, and then said, kindly but firmly:--
"This is not poetry, my dear girls, though the lines run smoothly
enough, and the sentiment is sweet. It would bring neither fame nor
money, and Rebecca puts more real truth, beauty, and poetry into her
dutiful daily life than in any lines she has written."
"We had such a lovely plan for Becky to come to town with me, and see
the world, and write, and be famous. How can you spoil it all?"
"My foolish little daughter, I must prevent you from spoiling this good
girl's life by your rash projects. Becky will see that I am wise, though
you do not, and _she_ will understand this verse from my favorite poet,
and lay it to heart:--
"So near is grandeur to our dust,
So nigh is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, 'Thou must!'
The youth replies, 'I can!'"
"I do! I will! please go on," and Becky's troubled eyes grew clear and
steadfast as she took the words home to herself, resolving to live up to
"Oh, mother!" cried Emily, thinking her very cruel to nip their budding
hopes in this way.
"I know you won't believe it now, nor be able to see all that I mean
perhaps, but time will teach you both to own that I am right, and to
value the substance more than the shadow," continued Mrs. Spenser. "Many
girls write verses and think they are poets; but it is only a passing
mood, and fortunately for the world, and for them also, it soon dies out
in some more genuine work or passion. Very few have the real gift, and
those to whom it _is_ given wait and work and slowly reach the height of
their powers. Many delude themselves, and try to persuade the world that
they can sing; but it is waste of time, and ends in disappointment, as
the mass of sentimental rubbish we all see plainly proves. Write your
little verses, my dear, when the spirit moves,--it is a harmless
pleasure, a real comfort, and a good lesson for you; but do not neglect
higher duties or deceive yourself with false hopes and vain dreams.
'First live, then write,' is a good motto for ambitious young people. A
still better for us all is, 'Do the duty that lies nearest;' and the
faithful performance of that, no matter how humble it is, will be the
best help for whatever talent may lie hidden in us, ready to bloom when
the time comes. Remember this, and do not let my enthusiastic girl's
well-meant but unwise prophecies and plans unsettle you, and unfit you
for the noble work you are doing."
"Thank you, ma'am! I _will_ remember; I know you are right, and I won't
be upset by foolish notions. I never imagined before that I _could_ be
a poet; but it sounded so sort of splendid, I thought maybe it _might_
happen to me, by-and-by, as it does to other folks. I won't lot on it,
but settle right down and do my work cheerful."
As she listened, Becky's face had grown pale and serious, even a little
sad; but as she answered, her eyes shone, her lips were firm, and her
plain face almost beautiful with the courage and confidence that sprung
up within her. She saw the wisdom of her friend's advice, felt the
kindness of showing her the mistake frankly, and was grateful for
it,--conscious in her own strong, loving heart that it _was_ better to
live and work for others than to dream and strive for herself alone.
Mrs. Spenser was both surprised and touched by the girl's look, words,
and manner, and her respect much increased by the courage and good
temper with which she saw her lovely castle in the air vanish like
smoke, leaving the hard reality looking harder than ever, after this
little flight into the fairy regions of romance.
She talked long with the girls, and gave them the counsel all eager
young people need, yet are very slow to accept till experience teaches
them its worth. As the friend of many successful literary people, Mrs.
Spenser was constantly receiving the confidences of unfledged
scribblers, each of whom was sure that he or she had something valuable
to add to the world's literature. Her advice was always the same, "Work
and wait;" and only now and then was a young poet or author found enough
in earnest to do both, and thereby prove to themselves and others either
that they _did_ possess power, or did not, and so settle the question
forever. "First live, then write," proved a _quietus_ for many, and "Do
the duty that lies nearest" satisfied the more sincere that they could
be happy without fame. So, thanks to this wise and kindly woman, a large
number of worthy youths and maidens ceased dreaming and fell to work,
and the world was spared reams of feeble verse and third-rate romances.
After that night Becky spent fewer spare hours in her nest, and more in
reading with Emily, who lent her books and helped her to understand
them,--both much assisted by Mrs. Spenser, who marked passages,
suggested authors, and explained whatever puzzled them. Very happy bits
of time were these, and very precious to both, as Emily learned to see
and appreciate the humbler, harder side of life, and Becky got
delightful glimpses into the beautiful world of art, poetry, and truth,
which gave her better food for heart and brain than sentimental musings
or blind efforts to satisfy the hunger of her nature with verse-writing.
Their favorite places were in the big barn, on the front porch, or by
the spring. This last was Emily's schoolroom, and she both taught and
learned many useful lessons there.
One day as Becky came to rest a few minutes and shell peas, Emily put
down her book to help; and as the pods flew, she said, nodding toward
the delicate ferns that grew thickly all about the trough, the rock, and
the grassy bank,--
"We have these in our greenhouse, but I never saw them growing wild
before, and I don't find them anywhere up here. How did you get such
beauties, and make them do so well?"
"Oh, they grow in nooks on the mountain hidden under the taller ferns,
and in sly corners. But they don't grow like these, and die soon unless
transplanted and taken good care of. They always make me think of
you,--so graceful and delicate, and just fit to live with tea-roses in
a hot-house, and go to balls in beautiful ladies' _bo_kays," answered
Becky, smiling at her new friend, always so dainty, and still so
delicate in spite of the summer's rustication.
"Thank you! I suppose I shall never be very strong or able to do much;
so I _am_ rather like a fern, and do live in a conservatory all winter,
as I can't go out a great deal. An idle thing, Becky!" and Emily sighed,
for she was born frail, and even her tenderly guarded life could not
give her the vigor of other girls. But the sigh changed to a smile as
"If I am like the fern, you are like your own laurel,--strong, rosy, and
able to grow anywhere. I want to carry a few roots home, and see if they
won't grow in my garden. Then you will have me, and I you. I only hope
_your_ plant will do as well as mine does here."
"It won't! ever so many folks have taken roots away, but they never
thrive in gardens as they do on the hills where they belong. So I tell
'em to leave the dear bushes alone, and come up here and enjoy 'em in
their own place. You might keep a plant of it in your hot-house, and it
would blow I dare say; but it would never be half so lovely as my acres
of them, and I guess it would only make you sad, seeing it so far from
home, and pale and pining," answered Becky, with her eyes on the green
slopes where the mountain-laurel braved the wintry snow, and came out
fresh and early in the spring.
"Then I'll let it alone till I come next summer. But don't you take any
of the fern into the house in the cold weather? I should think it would
grow in your sunny windows," said Emily, pleased by the fancy that it
"I tried it, but it needs a damp place, and our cold nights kill it. No,
it won't grow in our old house; but I cover it with leaves, and the
little green sprouts come up as hearty as can be out here. The shade,
the spring, the shelter of the rock, keep it alive, you see, so it's no
use trying to move it."
Both sat silent for a few minutes, as their hands moved briskly and they
thought of their different lots. An inquisitive ray of sunshine peeped
in at them, touching Becky's hair till it shone like red gold. The same
ray dazzled Emily's eyes; she put up her hand to pull her hat-brim
lower, and touched the little curls on her forehead. This recalled her
pet grievance, and made her say impatiently, as she pushed the thick
short locks under her net,--
"My hair is _such_ a plague! I don't know what I am to do when I go into
society by-and-by. This crop is so unbecoming, and I can't match my hair
anywhere, it is such a peculiar shade of golden-auburn."
"It's a pretty color, and I think the curls much nicer than a boughten
switch," said Becky, quite unconscious that her own luxuriant locks were
of the true Titian red, and would be much admired by artistic eyes.
"I don't! I shall send to Paris to match it, and then wear a braid round
my head as you do sometimes. I suppose it will cost a fortune, but I
_won't_ have a strong-minded crop. A friend of mine got a lovely golden
switch for fifty dollars."
"My patience! do folks pay like that for false hair?" asked Becky,
"Yes, indeed. White hair costs a hundred, I believe, if it is long. Why,
you could get ever so much for yours if you ever wanted to sell it. I'll
take part of it, for in a little while mine will be as dark, and I'd
like to wear your hair, Becky."
"Don't believe Mother would let me. She is very proud of our red heads.
If I ever do cut it, you shall have some. I may be hard up and glad to
sell it perhaps. My sakes! I smell the cake burning!" and off flew Becky
to forget the chat in her work.
Emily did not forget it, and hoped Becky would be tempted, for she
really coveted one of the fine braids, but felt shy about asking the
poor girl for even a part of her one beauty.
So July and August passed pleasantly and profitably to both girls, and
in September they were to part. No more was said about poetry; and Emily
soon became so interested in the busy, practical life about her that her
own high-flown dreams were quite forgotten, and she learned to enjoy the
sweet prose of daily labor.
One breezy afternoon as she and her mother sat resting from a stroll on
the way-side bank among the golden-rod and asters, they saw Becky coming
up the long hill with a basket on her arm. She walked slowly, as if lost
in thought, yet never missed pushing aside with a decided gesture of her
foot every stone that lay in her way. There were many in that rocky
path, but Becky left it smoother as she climbed, and paused now and then
to send some especially sharp or large one spinning into the grassy
ditch beside the road.
"Isn't she a curious girl, Mamma? so tired after her long walk to town,
yet so anxious not to leave a stone in the way," said Emily, as they
watched her slow approach.
"A very interesting one to me, dear, because under that humble exterior
lies a fine, strong character. It is like Becky to clear her way, even
up a dusty hill where the first rain will wash out many more stones. Let
us ask her why she does it. I've observed the habit before, and always
meant to ask," replied Mrs. Spenser.
"Here we are! Come and rest a minute, Becky, and tell us if you mend
roads as well as ever so many other things," called Emily, beckoning
with a smile, as the girl looked up and saw them.
"Oh, it's a trick of mine; I caught it of Father when I was a little
thing, and do it without knowing it half the time," said Becky, sinking
down upon a mossy rock, as if rest were welcome.
"Why did he do it?" asked Emily, who knew that her friend loved to talk
of her father.
"Well, it's a family failing I guess, for his father did the same, only
_he_ began with his farm and let the roads alone. The land used to be
pretty much all rocks up here, you know, and farmers had to clear the
ground if they wanted crops. It was a hard fight, and took a sight of
time and patience to grub out roots and blast rocks and pick up stones
that seemed to grow faster than anything else. But they kept on, and now
As she spoke, Becky pointed proudly to the wide, smooth fields lying
before them, newly shorn of grass or grain, waving with corn, or rich in
garden crops ripening for winter stores. Here and there were rocky
strips unreclaimed, as if to show what had been done; and massive stone
walls surrounded pasture, field, and garden.
"A good lesson in patience and perseverance, my dear, and does great
honor to the men who made the wilderness blossom like the rose," said
"Then you can't wonder that they loved it and we want to keep it. I
guess it would break Mother's heart to sell this place, and we are all
working as hard as ever we can to pay off the mortgage. Then we'll be
just the happiest family in New Hampshire," said Becky, fondly surveying
the old farm-house, the rocky hill, and the precious fields won from the
"You never need fear to lose it; we will see to that if you will let
us," began Mrs. Spenser, who was both a rich and a generous woman.
"Oh, thank you! but we won't need help I guess; and if we should, Mrs.
Taylor made us promise to come to her," cried Becky. "She found us just
in our hardest time, and wanted to fix things then; but we are proud in
our way, and Mother said she'd rather work it off if she could. Then
what did that dear lady do but talk to the folks round here, and show
'em how a branch railroad down to Peeksville would increase the value of
the land, and how good this valley would be for strawberries and
asparagus and garden truck if we could only get it to market. Some of
the rich men took up the plan, and we hope it will be done this fall. It
will be the making of us, for our land is first-rate for small crops,
and the children can help at that, and with a _deepot_ close by it would
be such easy work. That's what I call helping folks to help themselves.
Won't it be grand?"
Becky looked so enthusiastic that Emily could not remain uninterested,
though market-gardening did not sound very romantic.
"I hope it will come, and next year we shall see you all hard at it.
What a good woman Mrs. Taylor is!"
"Ain't she? and the sad part of it is, she can't do and enjoy all she
wants to, because her health is so poor. She was a country girl, you
know, and went to work in the city as waiter in a boarding-house. A rich
man fell in love with her and married her, and she took care of him for
years, and he left her all his money. She was quite broken down, but she
wanted to make his name loved and honored after his death, as he hadn't
done any good while he lived; so she gives away heaps, and is never
tired of helping poor folks and doing all sorts of grand things to make
the world better. I call that splendid!"
"So do I, yet it is only what you are doing in a small way, Becky," said
Mrs. Spenser, as the girl paused out of breath. "Mrs. Taylor clears the
stones out of people's paths, making their road easier to climb than
hers has been, and leaving behind her fruitful fields for others to
reap. This is a better work than making verses, for it is the real
poetry of life, and brings to those who give themselves to it, no matter
in what humble ways, something sweeter than fame and more enduring than
"So it does! I see that now, and know why we love Father as we do, and
want to keep what he worked so hard to give us. He used to say every
stone cleared away was just so much help to the boys; and he used to
tell me his plans as I trotted after him round the farm, helping all I
could, being the oldest, and like him, he said."
Becky paused with full eyes, for not even to these good friends could
she ever tell the shifts and struggles in which she had bravely borne
her part during the long hard years that had wrested the little
homestead from the stony-hearted hills.
The musical chime of a distant clock reminded her that supper time was
near, and she sprang up as if much refreshed by this pleasant rest by
the way-side. As she pulled out her handkerchief, a little roll of pale
blue ribbon fell from her pocket, and Emily caught it up, exclaiming
mischievously, "Are you going to make yourself fine next Sunday, when
Moses Pennel calls, Becky?"
[Illustration: "Just as they were parting for bed, in rushed one of the
boys with the exciting news."--PAGE 45.]
The girl laughed and blushed as she said, carefully folding up the
"I'm going to do something with it that I like a sight better than that.
Poor Moses won't come any more, I guess. I'm not going to leave Mother
till the girls can take my place, and only then to teach, if I can get a
good school somewhere near."
"We shall see!" and Emily nodded wisely.
"We shall!" and Becky nodded decidedly, as she trudged on up the steep
hill beside Mrs. Spenser, while Emily walked slowly behind, poking
every stone she saw into the grass, unmindful of the detriment to her
delicate shoes, being absorbed in a new and charming idea of trying to
follow Mrs. Taylor's example in a small way.
A week later the last night came, and just as they were parting for bed,
in rushed one of the boys with the exciting news that the railroad
surveyors were in town, the folks talking about the grand enterprise,
and the fortune of the place made forever.
Great was the rejoicing in the old farm-house; the boys cheered,
the little girls danced, the two mothers dropped a happy tear as
they shook each other's hands, and Emily embraced Becky, tenderly
exclaiming,--"There, you dear thing, is a great stone shoved out of
_your_ way, and a clear road to fortune at last; for I shall tell all my
friends to buy your butter and eggs, and fruit and pigs, and everything
you send to market on that blessed railroad."
"A keg of our best winter butter is going by stage express to-morrow
anyway; and when our apples come, we shan't need a railroad to get 'em
to you, my darling dear," answered Becky, holding the delicate girl in
her arms with a look and gesture half sisterly, half motherly, wholly
fond and grateful.
When Emily got to her room, she found that butter and apples were not
all the humble souvenirs offered in return for many comfortable gifts to
the whole family.
On the table, in a pretty birch-bark cover, lay several of Becky's best
poems neatly copied, as Emily had expressed a wish to keep them; and
round the rustic volume, like a ring of red gold, lay a great braid of
Becky's hair, tied with the pale blue ribbon she had walked four miles
to buy, that her present might look its best.
Of course there were more embraces and kisses, and thanks and loving
words, before Emily at last lulled herself to sleep planning a Christmas
box, which should supply every wish and want of the entire family if she
could find them out.
Next morning they parted; but these were not mere summer friends, and
they did not lose sight of one another, though their ways lay far apart.
Emily had found a new luxury to bring more pleasure into life, a new
medicine to strengthen soul and body; and in helping others, she helped
Becky went steadily on her dutiful way, till the homestead was free, the
lads able to work the farm alone, the girls old enough to fill her
place, and the good mother willing to rest at last among her children.
Then Becky gave herself to teaching,--a noble task, for which she was
well fitted, and in which she found both profit and pleasure, as she led
her flock along the paths from which she removed the stumbling-blocks
for their feet, as well as for her own. She put her poetry into her
life, and made of it "a grand sweet song" in which beauty and duty
rhymed so well that the country girl became a more useful, beloved, and
honored woman than if she had tried to sing for fame which never
So each symbolical plant stood in its own place, and lived its appointed
life. The delicate fern grew in the conservatory among tea-roses and
camellias, adding grace to every bouquet of which it formed a part,
whether it faded in a ball-room, or was carefully cherished by some poor
invalid's bed-side,--a frail thing, yet with tenacious roots and strong
stem, nourished by memories of the rocky nook where it had learned its
lesson so well. The mountain-laurel clung to the bleak hillside,
careless of wintry wind and snow, as its sturdy branches spread year by
year, with its evergreen leaves for Christmas cheer, its rosy flowers
for spring-time, its fresh beauty free to all as it clothed the wild
valley with a charm that made a little poem of the lovely spot where the
pines whispered, woodbirds sang, and the hidden brook told the sweet
message it brought from the mountain-top where it was born.