A single hour's experience of the vicissitudes incident to a business career clouded the children's spirits just the least bit. They did not accompany each other to the doors of their chosen victims, feeling sure that together they could not approach the subject seriously; but they parted at the gate of each house, the one holding the horse while the other took the soap samples and interviewed any one who seemed of a coming-on disposition. Emma Jane had disposed of three single cakes, Rebecca of three small boxes; for a difference in their ability to persuade the public was clearly defined at the start, though neither of them ascribed either success or defeat to anything but the imperious force of circumstances. Housewives looked at Emma Jane and desired no soap; listened to her description of its merits, and still desired none. Other stars in their courses governed Rebecca's doings. The people whom she interviewed either remembered their present need of soap, or reminded themselves that they would need it in the future; the notable point in the case being that lucky Rebecca accomplished, with almost no effort, results that poor little Emma Jane failed to attain by hard and conscientious labor.
"It's your turn, Rebecca, and I'm glad, too," said Emma Jane, drawing up to a gateway and indicating a house that was set a considerable distance from the road. "I haven't got over trembling from the last place yet." (A lady had put her head out of an upstairs window and called, "Go away, little girl; whatever you have in your box we don't want any.") "I don't know who lives here, and the blinds are all shut in front. If there's nobody at home you mustn't count it, but take the next house as yours."
Rebecca walked up the lane and went to the side door. There was a porch there, and seated in a rocking-chair, husking corn, was a good-looking young man, or was he middle aged? Rebecca could not make up her mind. At all events he had an air of the city about him,--well-shaven face, well-trimmed mustache, well-fitting clothes. Rebecca was a trifle shy at this unexpected encounter, but there was nothing to be done but explain her presence, so she asked, "Is the lady of the house at home?"
"I am the lady of the house at present," said the stranger, with a whimsical smile. "What can I do for you?"
"Have you ever heard of the--would you like, or I mean--do you need any soap?" queried Rebecca
"Do I look as if I did?" he responded unexpectedly.
Rebecca dimpled. "I didn't mean that; I have some soap to sell; I mean I would like to introduce to you a very remarkable soap, the best now on the market. It is called the"--
"Oh! I must know that soap," said the gentleman genially. "Made out of pure vegetable fats, isn't it?"
"The very purest," corroborated Rebecca.
"No acid in it?"
"Not a trace."
"And yet a child could do the Monday washing with it and use no force."
"A babe," corrected Rebecca
"Oh! a babe, eh? That child grows younger every year, instead of older--wise child!"
This was great good fortune, to find a customer who knew all the virtues of the article in advance. Rebecca dimpled more and more, and at her new friend's invitation sat down on a stool at his side near the edge of the porch. The beauties of the ornamental box which held the Rose-Red were disclosed, and the prices of both that and the Snow- White were unfolded. Presently she forgot all about her silent partner at the gate and was talking as if she had known this grand personage all her life.
"I'm keeping house to-day, but I don't live here," explained the delightful gentleman. "I'm just on a visit to my aunt, who has gone to Portland. I used to be here as a boy. and I am very fond of the spot."
"I don't think anything takes the place of the farm where one lived when one was a child," observed Rebecca, nearly bursting with pride at having at last successfully used the indefinite pronoun in general conversation.
The man darted a look at her and put down his ear of corn. "So you consider your childhood a thing of the past, do you, young lady?"
"I can still remember it," answered Rebecca gravely, "though it seems a long time ago."
"I can remember mine well enough, and a particularly unpleasant one it was," said the stranger.
"So was mine," sighed Rebecca. "What was your worst trouble?"
"Lack of food and clothes principally."
"Oh!" exclaimed Rebecca sympathetically,-- "mine was no shoes and too many babies and not enough books. But you're all right and happy now, aren't you?" she asked doubtfully, for though he looked handsome, well-fed, and prosperous, any child could see that his eyes were tired and his mouth was sad when he was not speaking.
"I'm doing pretty well, thank you," said the man, with a delightful smile. "Now tell me, how much soap ought I to buy to-day?"
"How much has your aunt on hand now?" suggested the very modest and inexperienced agent; "and how much would she need?"
"Oh, I don't know about that; soap keeps, doesn't it?"
"I'm not certain," said Rebecca conscientiously, "but I'll look in the circular--it's sure to tell;" and she drew the document from her pocket.
"What are you going to do with the magnificent profits you get from this business?"
"We are not selling for our own benefit," said Rebecca confidentially. "My friend who is holding the horse at the gate is the daughter of a very rich blacksmith, and doesn't need any money. I am poor, but I live with my aunts in a brick house, and of course they wouldn't like me to be a peddler. We are trying to get a premium for some friends of ours."
Rebecca had never thought of alluding to the circumstances with her previous customers, but unexpectedly she found herself describing Mr. Simpson, Mrs. Simpson, and the Simpson family; their poverty, their joyless life, and their abject need of a banquet lamp to brighten their existence.
"You needn't argue that point," laughed the man, as he stood up to get a glimpse of the "rich blacksmith's daughter" at the gate. "I can see that they ought to have it if they want it, and especially if you want them to have it. I've known what it was myself to do without a banquet lamp. Now give me the circular, and let's do some figuring. How much do the Simpsons lack at this moment?"
"If they sell two hundred more cakes this month and next, they can have the lamp by Christmas," Rebecca answered, "and they can get a shade by summer time; but I'm afraid I can't help very much after to-day, because my aunt Miranda may not like to have me."
"I see. Well, that's all right. I'll take three hundred cakes, and that will give them shade and all."
Rebecca had been seated on a stool very near to the edge of the porch, and at this remark she made a sudden movement, tipped over, and disappeared into a clump of lilac bushes. It was a very short distance, fortunately, and the amused capitalist picked her up, set her on her feet, and brushed her off. "You should never seem surprised when you have taken a large order," said he; "you ought to have replied `Can't you make it three hundred and fifty?' instead of capsizing in that unbusinesslike way."
"Oh, I could never say anything like that!" exclaimed Rebecca, who was blushing crimson at her awkward fall. "But it doesn't seem right for you to buy so much. Are you sure you can afford it?"
"If I can't, I'll save on something else," returned the jocose philanthropist.
"What if your aunt shouldn't like the kind of soap?" queried Rebecca nervously.
"My aunt always likes what I like," he returned
"Mine doesn't!" exclaimed Rebecca
"Then there's something wrong with your aunt!"
"Or with me," laughed Rebecca.
"What is your name, young lady?"
"Rebecca Rowena Randall, sir."
"What?" with an amused smile. "Both? Your mother was generous."
"She couldn't bear to give up either of the names she says."
"Do you want to hear my name?"
"I think I know already," answered Rebecca, with a bright glance. "I'm sure you must be Mr. Aladdin in the Arabian Nights. Oh, please, can I run down and tell Emma Jane? She must be so tired waiting, and she will be so glad!"
At the man's nod of assent Rebecca sped down the lane, crying irrepressibly as she neared the wagon, "Oh, Emma Jane! Emma Jane! we are sold out!"
Mr. Aladdin followed smilingly to corroborate this astonishing, unbelievable statement; lifted all their boxes from the back of the wagon, and taking the circular, promised to write to the Excelsior Company that night concerning the premium.
"If you could contrive to keep a secret,--you two little girls,--it would be rather a nice surprise to have the lamp arrive at the Simpsons' on Thanksgiving Day, wouldn't it?" he asked, as he tucked the old lap robe cosily over their feet.
They gladly assented, and broke into a chorus of excited thanks during which tears of joy stood in Rebecca's eyes.
"Oh, don't mention it!" laughed Mr. Aladdin, lifting his hat. "I was a sort of commercial traveler myself once,--years ago,--and I like to see the thing well done. Good-by Miss Rebecca Rowena! Just let me know whenever you have anything to sell, for I'm certain beforehand I shall want it."
"Good-by, Mr. Aladdin! I surely will!" cried Rebecca, tossing back her dark braids delightedly and waving her hand.
"Oh, Rebecca!" said Emma Jane in an awe- struck whisper. "He raised his hat to us, and we not thirteen! It'll be five years before we're ladies."
"Never mind," answered Rebecca; "we are the beginnings of ladies, even now."
"He tucked the lap robe round us, too," continued Emma Jane, in an ecstasy of reminiscence. "Oh! isn't he perfectly elergant? And wasn't it lovely of him to buy us out? And just think of having both the lamp and the shade for one day's work! Aren't you glad you wore your pink gingham now, even if mother did make you put on flannel underneath? You do look so pretty in pink and red, Rebecca, and so homely in drab and brown!"
"I know it," sighed Rebecca "I wish I was like you--pretty in all colors!" And Rebecca looked longingly at Emma Jane's fat, rosy cheeks; at her blue eyes, which said nothing; at her neat nose, which had no character; at her red lips, from between which no word worth listening to had ever issued.
"Never mind!" said Emma Jane comfortingly. "Everybody says you're awful bright and smart, and mother thinks you'll be better looking all the time as you grow older. You wouldn't believe it, but I was a dreadful homely baby, and homely right along till just a year or two ago, when my red hair began to grow dark. What was the nice man's name?"
"I never thought to ask!" ejaculated Rebecca. "Aunt Miranda would say that was just like me, and it is. But I called him Mr. Aladdin because he gave us a lamp. You know the story of Aladdin and the wonderful lamp?"
"Oh, Rebecca! how could you call him a nickname the very first time you ever saw him?"
"Aladdin isn't a nickname exactly; anyway, he laughed and seemed to like it."
By dint of superhuman effort, and putting such a seal upon their lips as never mortals put before, the two girls succeeded in keeping their wonderful news to themselves; although it was obvious to all beholders that they were in an extraordinary and abnormal state of mind.
On Thanksgiving the lamp arrived in a large packing box, and was taken out and set up by See- saw Simpson, who suddenly began to admire and respect the business ability of his sisters. Rebecca had heard the news of its arrival, but waited until nearly dark before asking permission to go to the Simpsons', so that she might see the gorgeous trophy lighted and sending a blaze of crimson glory through its red crepe paper shade.