The day before Rebecca started for the South with Miss Maxwell she was in the library with Emma Jane and Huldah, consulting dictionaries and encyclopaedias. As they were leaving they passed the locked cases containing the library of fiction, open to the teachers and townspeople, but forbidden to the students.
They looked longingly through the glass, getting some little comfort from the titles of the volumes, as hungry children imbibe emotional nourishment from the pies and tarts inside a confectioner's window. Rebecca's eyes fell upon a new book in the corner, and she read the name aloud with delight: "The Rose of Joy. Listen, girls; isn't that lovely? The Rose of Joy. It looks beautiful, and it sounds beautiful. What does it mean, I wonder?"
"I guess everybody has a different rose," said Huldah shrewdly. "I know what mine would be, and I'm not ashamed to own it. I'd like a year in a city, with just as much money as I wanted to spend, horses and splendid clothes and amusements every minute of the day; and I'd like above everything to live with people that wear low necks." (Poor Huldah never took off her dress with- out bewailing the fact that her lot was cast in Riverboro, where her pretty white shoulders could never be seen.)
"That would be fun, for a while anyway," Emma Jane remarked. "But wouldn't that be pleasure more than joy? Oh, I've got an idea!"
"Don't shriek so!" said the startled Huldah. "I thought it was a mouse."
"I don't have them very often," apologized Emma Jane,--"ideas, I mean; this one shook me like a stroke of lightning. Rebecca, couldn't it be success?"
"That's good," mused Rebecca; "I can see that success would be a joy, but it doesn't seem to me like a rose, somehow. I was wondering if it could be love?"
"I wish we could have a peep at the book! It must be perfectly elergant!" said Emma Jane. "But now you say it is love, I think that's the best guess yet."
All day long the four words haunted and possessed Rebecca; she said them over to herself continually. Even the prosaic Emma Jane was affected by them, for in the evening she said, "I don't expect you to believe it, but I have another idea,-- that's two in one day; I had it while I was putting cologne on your head. The rose of joy might be helpfulness."
"If it is, then it is always blooming in your dear little heart, you darlingest, kind Emmie, taking such good care of your troublesome Becky!"
"Don't dare to call yourself troublesome! You're --you're--you're my rose of joy, that's what you are!" And the two girls hugged each other affectionately.
In the middle of the night Rebecca touched Emma Jane on the shoulder softly. "Are you very fast asleep, Emmie?" she whispered.
"Not so very," answered Emma Jane drowsily.
"I've thought of something new. If you sang or painted or wrote,--not a little, but beautifully, you know,--wouldn't the doing of it, just as much as you wanted, give you the rose of joy?"
"It might if it was a real talent," answered Emma Jane, "though I don't like it so well as love. If you have another thought, Becky, keep it till morning."
"I did have one more inspiration," said Rebecca when they were dressing next morning, "but I didn't wake you. I wondered if the rose of joy could be sacrifice? But I think sacrifice would be a lily, not a rose; don't you?"
The journey southward, the first glimpse of the ocean, the strange new scenes, the ease and delicious freedom, the intimacy with Miss Maxwell, almost intoxicated Rebecca. In three days she was not only herself again, she was another self, thrilling with delight, anticipation, and realization. She had always had such eager hunger for knowledge, such thirst for love, such passionate longing for the music, the beauty, the poetry of existence! She had always been straining to make the outward world conform to her inward dreams, and now life had grown all at once rich and sweet, wide and full. She was using all her natural, God-given outlets; and Emily Maxwell marveled daily at the inexhaustible way in which the girl poured out and gathered in the treasures of thought and experience that belonged to her. She was a lifegiver, altering the whole scheme of any picture she made a part of, by contributing new values. Have you never seen the dull blues and greens of a room changed, transfigured by a burst of sunshine? That seemed to Miss Maxwell the effect of Rebecca on the groups of people with whom they now and then mingled; but they were commonly alone, reading to each other and having quiet talks. The prize essay was very much on Rebecca's mind. Secretly she thought she could never be happy unless she won it. She cared nothing for the value of it, and in this case almost nothing for the honor; she wanted to please Mr. Aladdin and justify his belief in her.
"If I ever succeed in choosing a subject, I must ask if you think I can write well on it; and then I suppose I must work in silence and secret, never even reading the essay to you, nor talking about it."
Miss Maxwell and Rebecca were sitting by a little brook on a sunny spring day. They had been in a stretch of wood by the sea since breakfast, going every now and then for a bask on the warm white sand, and returning to their shady solitude when tired of the sun's glare.
"The subject is very important," said Miss Maxwell, "but I do not dare choose for you. Have you decided on anything yet?"
"No," Rebecca answered; "I plan a new essay every night. I've begun one on What is Failure? and another on He and She. That would be a dialogue between a boy and girl just as they were leaving school, and would tell their ideals of life. Then do you remember you said to me one day, `Follow your Saint'? I'd love to write about that. I didn't have a single thought in Wareham, and now I have a new one every minute, so I must try and write the essay here; think it out, at any rate, while I am so happy and free and rested. Look at the pebbles in the bottom of the pool, Miss Emily, so round and smooth and shining."
"Yes, but where did they get that beautiful polish, that satin skin, that lovely shape, Rebecca? Not in the still pool lying on the sands. It was never there that their angles were rubbed off and their rough surfaces polished, but in the strife and warfare of running waters. They have jostled against other pebbles, dashed against sharp rocks, and now we look at them and call them beautiful."
"If Fate had not made somebody a teacher, She might have been, oh! such a splendid preacher!"
rhymed Rebecca. "Oh! if I could only think and speak as you do!" she sighed. "I am so afraid I shall never get education enough to make a good writer."
"You could worry about plenty of other things to better advantage," said Miss Maxwell, a little scornfully. "Be afraid, for instance, that you won't understand human nature; that you won't realize the beauty of the outer world; that you may lack sympathy, and thus never be able to read a heart; that your faculty of expression may not keep pace with your ideas,--a thousand things, every one of them more important to the writer than the knowledge that is found in books. AEsop was a Greek slave who could not even write down his wonderful fables; yet all the world reads them."
"I didn't know that," said Rebecca, with a half sob. "I didn't know anything until I met you!"
"You will only have had a high school course, but the most famous universities do not always succeed in making men and women. When I long to go abroad and study, I always remember that there were three great schools in Athens and two in Jerusalem, but the Teacher of all teachers came out of Nazareth, a little village hidden away from the bigger, busier world."
"Mr. Ladd says that you are almost wasted on Wareham." said Rebecca thoughtfully.
"He is wrong; my talent is not a great one, but no talent is wholly wasted unless its owner chooses to hide it in a napkin. Remember that of your own gifts, Rebecca; they may not be praised of men, but they may cheer, console, inspire, perhaps, when and where you least expect. The brimming glass that overflows its own rim moistens the earth about it."
"Did you ever hear of The Rose of Joy?" asked Rebecca, after a long silence.
"Yes, of course; where did you see it?"
"On the outside of a book in the library."
"I saw it on the inside of a book in the library," smiled Miss Maxwell. "It is from Emerson, but I'm afraid you haven't quite grown up to it, Rebecca, and it is one of the things impossible to explain."
"Oh, try me, dear Miss Maxwell!" pleaded Rebecca. "Perhaps by thinking hard I can guess a little bit what it means."
"`In the actual--this painful kingdom of time and chance--are Care, Canker, and Sorrow; with thought, with the Ideal, is immortal hilarity--the rose of Joy; round it all the Muses sing,'" quoted Miss Maxwell.
Rebecca repeated it over and over again until she had learned it by heart; then she said, "I don't want to be conceited, but I almost believe I do understand it, Miss Maxwell. Not altogether, perhaps, because it is puzzling and difficult; but a little, enough to go on with. It's as if a splendid shape galloped past you on horseback; you are so surprised and your eyes move so slowly you cannot half see it, but you just catch a glimpse as it whisks by, and you know it is beautiful. It's all settled. My essay is going to be called The Rose of Joy. I've just decided. It hasn't any beginning, nor any middle, but there will be a thrilling ending, something like this: let me see; joy, boy, toy, ahoy, decoy, alloy:--
Then come what will of weal or woe (Since all gold hath alloy), Thou 'lt bloom unwithered in this heart, My Rose of Joy!
Now I'm going to tuck you up in the shawl and give you the fir pillow, and while you sleep I am going down on the shore and write a fairy story for you. It's one of our `supposing' kind; it flies far, far into the future, and makes beautiful things happen that may never really all come to pass; but some of them will,--you'll see! and then you'll take out the little fairy story from your desk and remember Rebecca."
"I wonder why these young things always choose subjects that would tax the powers of a great essayist!" thought Miss Maxwell, as she tried to sleep. "Are they dazzled, captivated, taken possession of, by the splendor of the theme, and do they fancy they can write up to it? Poor little innocents, hitch- ing their toy wagons to the stars! How pretty this particular innocent looks under her new sunshade!"
Adam Ladd had been driving through Boston streets on a cold spring day when nature and the fashion-mongers were holding out promises which seemed far from performance. Suddenly his vision was assailed by the sight of a rose-colored parasol gayly unfurled in a shop window, signaling the passer-by and setting him to dream of summer sunshine. It reminded Adam of a New England apple- tree in full bloom, the outer covering of deep pink shining through the thin white lining, and a fluffy, fringe-like edge of mingled rose and cream dropping over the green handle. All at once he remembered one of Rebecca's early confidences,--the little pink sunshade that had given her the only peep into the gay world of fashion that her childhood had ever known; her adoration of the flimsy bit of finery and its tragic and sacrificial end. He entered the shop, bought the extravagant bauble, and expressed it to Wareham at once, not a single doubt of its appropriateness crossing the darkness of his masculine mind. He thought only of the joy in Rebecca's eyes; of the poise of her head under the apple-blossom canopy. It was a trifle embarrassing to return an hour later and buy a blue parasol for Emma Jane Perkins, but it seemed increasingly difficult, as the years went on, to remember her existence at all the proper times and seasons.
This is Rebecca's fairy story, copied the next day and given to Emily Maxwell just as she was going to her room for the night. She read it with tears in her eyes and then sent it to Adam Ladd, thinking he had earned a share in it, and that he deserved a glimpse of the girl's budding imagination, as well as of her grateful young heart.
A FAIRY STORY
There was once a tired and rather poverty- stricken Princess who dwelt in a cottage on the great highway between two cities. She was not as unhappy as thousands of others; indeed, she had much to be grateful for, but the life she lived and the work she did were full hard for one who was fashioned slenderly.
Now the cottage stood by the edge of a great green forest where the wind was always singing in the branches and the sunshine filtering through the leaves.
And one day when the Princess was sitting by the wayside quite spent by her labor in the fields, she saw a golden chariot rolling down the King's Highway, and in it a person who could be none other than somebody's Fairy Godmother on her way to the Court. The chariot halted at her door, and though the Princess had read of such beneficent personages, she never dreamed for an instant that one of them could ever alight at her cottage.
"If you are tired, poor little Princess, why do you not go into the cool green forest and rest?" asked the Fairy Godmother.
"Because I have no time," she answered. "I must go back to my plough."
"Is that your plough leaning by the tree, and is it not too heavy?"
"It is heavy," answered the Princess, "but I love to turn the hard earth into soft furrows and know that I am making good soil wherein my seeds may grow. When I feel the weight too much, I try to think of the harvest."
The golden chariot passed on, and the two talked no more together that day; nevertheless the King's messengers were busy, for they whispered one word into the ear of the Fairy Godmother and another into the ear of the Princess, though so faintly that neither of them realized that the King had spoken.
The next morning a strong man knocked at the cottage door, and doffing his hat to the Princess said: "A golden chariot passed me yesterday, and one within it flung me a purse of ducats, saying: `Go out into the King's Highway and search until you find a cottage and a heavy plough leaning against a tree near by. Enter and say to the Princess whom you will find there: "I will guide the plough and you must go and rest, or walk in the cool green forest; for this is the command of your Fairy Godmother."'"
And the same thing happened every day, and every day the tired Princess walked in the green wood. Many times she caught the glitter of the chariot and ran into the Highway to give thanks to the Fairy Godmother; but she was never fleet enough to reach the spot. She could only stand with eager eyes and longing heart as the chariot passed by. Yet she never failed to catch a smile, and sometimes a word or two floated back to her, words that sounded like: "I would not be thanked. We are all children of the same King, and I am only his messenger."
Now as the Princess walked daily in the green forest, hearing the wind singing in the branches and seeing the sunlight filter through the lattice-work of green leaves, there came unto her thoughts that had lain asleep in the stifling air of the cottage and the weariness of guiding the plough. And by and by she took a needle from her girdle and pricked the thoughts on the leaves of the trees and sent them into the air to float hither and thither. And it came to pass that people began to pick them up, and holding them against the sun, to read what was written on them, and this was because the simple little words on the leaves were only, after all, a part of one of the King's messages, such as the Fairy Godmother dropped continually from her golden chariot.
But the miracle of the story lies deeper than all this.
Whenever the Princess pricked the words upon the leaves she added a thought of her Fairy Godmother, and folding it close within, sent the leaf out on the breeze to float hither and thither and fall where it would. And many other little Princesses felt the same impulse and did the same thing. And as nothing is ever lost in the King's Dominion, so these thoughts and wishes and hopes, being full of love and gratitude, had no power to die, but took unto themselves other shapes and lived on forever. They cannot be seen, our vision is too weak; nor heard, our hearing is too dull; but they can sometimes be felt, and we know not what force is stirring our hearts to nobler aims.
The end of the story is not come, but it may be that some day when the Fairy Godmother has a message to deliver in person straight to the King, he will say: "Your face I know; your voice, your thoughts, and your heart. I have heard the rumble of your chariot wheels on the great Highway, and I knew that you were on the King's business. Here in my hand is a sheaf of messages from every quarter of my kingdom. They were delivered by weary and footsore travelers, who said that they could never have reached the gate in safety had it not been for your help and inspiration. Read them, that you may know when and where and how you sped the King's service."
And when the Fairy Godmother reads them, it may be that sweet odors will rise from the pages, and half-forgotten memories will stir the air; but in the gladness of the moment nothing will be half so lovely as the voice of the King when he said: "Read, and know how you sped the King's service."
Rebecca Rowena Randall