Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Miss Dearborn

"Miss Dearborn's stock in trade was small, her principal virtues being devotion to children and ability to gain their love, and a power of evolving a schoolroom order so natural, cheery, serene, and peaceful that it gave the beholder a certain sense of being in a district heaven. She was poor in arithmetic and weak in geometry, but if you gave her a rose, a bit of ribbon, and a seven-by-nine looking-glass she could make herself as pretty as a pink in two minutes.

Safely sheltered behind the pines, Miss Dearborn began to practice mysterious feminine arts. She flew at Rebecca's tight braids, opened the strands and rebraided them loosely; bit and tore the red, white, and blue ribbon in two and tied the braids separately. Then with nimble fingers she pulled out little tendrils of hair behind the ears and around the nape of the neck. After a glance of acute disapproval directed at the stiff balloon skirt she knelt on the ground and gave a strenuous embrace to Rebecca's knees, murmuring, between her hugs, "Starch must be cheap at the brick house!"

This particular line of beauty attained, there ensued great pinchings of ruffles; her fingers that could never hold a ferrule nor snap children's ears being incomparable fluting-irons.

Next the sash was scornfully untied and tightened to suggest something resembling a waist. The chastened bows that had been squat, dowdy, spiritless, were given tweaks, flirts, bracing little pokes and dabs, till, acknowledging a master hand, they stood up, piquant, pert, smart, alert!

Pride of bearing was now infused into the flattened lace at the neck, and a pin (removed at some sacrifice from her own toilette) was darned in at the back to prevent any cowardly lapsing. The short white cotton gloves that called attention to the tanned wrist and arms were stripped off and put in her own pocket. Then the wreath of pine-cones was adjusted at a heretofore unimagined angle, the hair was pulled softly in a fluffy frame, and finally, as she met Rebecca's grateful eyes she gave her two approving, triumphant kisses. In a second that sensitive face lighted into happiness; pleased dimples appeared in the cheeks, the kissed mouth was red as a rose, and the little fright that had walked behind the pine-tree stepped out on the other side Rebecca the lovely.

As to the relative value of Miss Dearborn's accomplishments, the decision must be left to the gentle reader; but though it is certain that children should be properly grounded in mathematics, no heart of flesh could bear to hear Miss Dearborn's methods vilified who had seen her patting, pulling, squeezing Rebecca from ugliness into beauty.

The young superintendent of district schools was a witness of the scene, and when later he noted the children surrounding Columbia as bees a honeysuckle, he observed to Dr. Moses: "She may not be much of a teacher, but I think she'd be considerable of a wife!" and subsequent events proved that he meant what he said!"

-- Taken from New Chronicles of Rebecca (the sequel to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) by Kate Douglas Wiggin. While it may not be great literature, it is certainly unparalleled in offering delightful vignettes of village life in Maine at the turn of the 20th century.


  1. Lovely!

    ~Emily ("vintage from S&S ☺)

  2. I did enjoy Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and this was a delightful excerpt concerning her. Thanks!


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