New Chronicles of Rebecca

Author: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin


Mrs. Baxter finally heard from Mrs. Came, through whom all information was sure to filter if you gave it time, that her husband despised a coward, that he considered Elisha a regular mother’s-apron-string boy, and that he was "learnin’" him to be brave.

Bill Peters, the hired man, now drove Buttercup to pasture, though whenever Mr. Came went to Moderation or Bonnie Eagle, as he often did, Mrs. Baxter noticed that Elisha took the hired man’s place. She often joined him on these anxious expeditions, and, a like terror in both their souls, they attempted to train the red cow and give her some idea of obedience.

"If she only wouldn’t look at us that way we would get along real nicely with her, wouldn’t we?" prattled the Prophet, straggling along by her side; "and she is a splendid cow; she gives twenty-one quarts a day, and Mr. Came says it’s more’n half cream."

The minister’s wife assented to all this, thinking that if Buttercup would give up her habit of turning completely round in the road to roll her eyes and elevate her white-tipped eyebrow, she might indeed be an enjoyable companion; but in her present state of development her society was not agreeable, even did she give sixty-one quarts of milk a day. Furthermore, when Mrs. Baxter discovered that she never did any of these reprehensible things with Bill Peters, she began to believe cows more intelligent creatures than she had supposed them to be, and she was indignant to think Buttercup could count so confidently on the weakness of a small boy and a timid woman.

One evening, when Buttercup was more than usually exasperating, Mrs. Baxter said to the Prophet, who was bracing himself to keep from being pulled into a wayside brook where Buttercup loved to dabble, "Elisha, do you know anything about the superiority of mind over matter?"

No, he didn’t, though it was not a fair time to ask the question, for he had sat down in the road to get a better purchase on the rope.

"Well, it doesn’t signify. What I mean is that we can die but once, and it is a glorious thing to die for a great principle. Give me that rope. I can pull like an ox in my present frame of mind. You run down on the opposite side of the brook, take that big stick wade right in—you are barefooted,—brandish the stick, and, if necessary, do more than brandish. I would go myself, but it is better she should recognize you as her master, and I am in as much danger as you are, anyway. She may try to hook you, of course, but you must keep waving the stick,—die brandishing, Prophet, that’s the idea! She may turn and run for me, in which case I shall run too; but I shall die running, and the minister can bury us under our favorite sweet-apple tree!"

The Prophet’s soul was fired by the lovely lady’s eloquence. Their spirits mounted simultaneously, and they were flushed with a splendid courage in which death looked a mean and paltry thing compared with vanquishing that cow. She had already stepped into the pool, but the Prophet waded in towards her, moving the alder branch menacingly. She looked up with the familiar roll of the eye that had done her such good service all summer, but she quailed beneath the stern justice and the new valor of the Prophet’s gaze.

In that moment perhaps she felt ashamed of the misery she had caused the helpless mite. At any rate, actuated by fear, surprise, or remorse, she turned and walked back into the road without a sign of passion or indignation, leaving the boy and the lady rather disappointed at their easy victory. To be prepared for a violent death and receive not even a scratch made them fear that they might possibly have overestimated the danger.

They were better friends than ever after that, the young minister’s wife and the forlorn little boy from Acreville, sent away from home he knew not why, unless it were that there was little to eat there and considerably more at the Cash Cames’, as they were called in Edgewood. Cassius was familiarly known as Uncle Cash, partly because there was a disposition in Edgewood to abbreviate all Christian names, and partly because the old man paid cash, and expected to be paid cash, for everything.

The late summer grew into autumn, and the minister’s great maple flung a flaming bough of scarlet over Mrs. Baxter’s swing-chair. Uncle Cash found Elisha very useful at picking up potatoes and apples, but the boy was going back to his family as soon as the harvesting was over.

One Friday evening Mrs. Baxter and Rebecca, wrapped in shawls and "fascinators," were sitting on Mrs. Came’s front steps enjoying the sunset. Rebecca was in a tremulous state of happiness, for she had come directly from the Seminary at Wareham to the parsonage, and as the minister was absent at a church conference, she was to stay the night with Mrs. Baxter and go with her to Portland next day.

They were to go to the Islands, have ice cream for luncheon, ride on a horse-car, and walk by the Longfellow house, a programme that so unsettled Rebecca’s never very steady mind that she radiated flashes and sparkles of joy, making Mrs. Baxter wonder if flesh could be translucent, enabling the spirit-fires within to shine through?

Buttercup was being milked on the grassy slope near the shed door. As she walked to the barn, after giving up her pailfuls of yellow milk, she bent her neck and snatched a hasty bite from a pile of turnips lying temptingly near. In her haste she took more of a mouthful than would be considered good manners even among cows, and as she disappeared in the barn door they could see a forest of green tops hanging from her mouth, while she painfully attempted to grind up the mass of stolen material without allowing a single turnip to escape.

It grew dark soon afterward and they went into the house to see Mrs. Came’s new lamp lighted for the first time, to examine her last drawn-in rug (a wonderful achievement produced entirely from dyed flannel petticoats), and to hear the doctor’s wife play "Oft in the Still Night," on the dulcimer.

As they closed the sitting-room door opening on the piazza facing the barn, the women heard the cow coughing and said to one another: "Buttercup was too greedy, and now she has indigestion."

Elisha always went to bed at sundown, and Uncle Cash had gone to the doctor’s to have his hand dressed, for he had hurt it is some way in the threshing-machine. Bill Peters, the hired man, came in presently and asked for him, saying that the cow coughed more and more, and it must be that something was wrong, but he could not get her to open her mouth wide enough for him to see anything. "She’d up an’ die ruther ’n obleege anybody, that tarnal, ugly cow would!" he said.

When Uncle Cash had driven into the yard, he came in for a lantern, and went directly out to the barn. After a half-hour or so, in which the little party had forgotten the whole occurrence, he came in again.

"I’m blamed if we ain’t goin’ to lose that cow," he said. "Come out, will ye, Hannah, and hold the lantern? I can’t do anything with my right hand in a sling, and Bill is the stupidest critter in the country."

Everybody went out to the barn accordingly, except the doctor’s wife, who ran over to her house to see if her brother Moses had come home from Milltown, and could come and take a hand in the exercises.

Buttercup was in a bad way; there was no doubt of it. Something, one of the turnips, presumably, had lodged in her throat, and would move neither way, despite her attempts to dislodge it. Her breathing was labored, and her eyes bloodshot from straining and choking. Once or twice they succeeded in getting her mouth partly open, but before they could fairly discover the cause of trouble she had wrested her head away.

"I can see a little tuft of green sticking straight up in the middle," said Uncle Cash, while Bill Peters and Moses held a lantern on each side of Buttercup’s head; "but, land! It’s so far down, and such a mite of a thing, I couldn’t git it, even if I could use my right hand. S’pose you try, Bill."

Bill hemmed and hawed, and confessed he didn’t care to try. Buttercup’s grinders were of good size and excellent quality, and he had no fancy for leaving his hand within her jaws. He said he was no good at that kind of work, but that he would help Uncle Cash hold the cow’s head; that was just as necessary, and considerable safer.

Moses was more inclined to the service of humanity, and did his best, wrapping his wrist in a cloth, and making desperate but ineffectual dabs at the slippery green turnip-tops in the reluctantly opened throat. But the cow tossed her head and stamped her feet and switched her tail and wriggled from under Bill’s hands, so that it seemed altogether impossible to reach the seat of the trouble.

Uncle Cash was in despair, fuming and fretting the more because of his own crippled hand.

"Hitch up, Bill,:" he said, "and, Hannah, you drive over to Milliken’s Mills for the horse-doctor. I know we can git out that turnip if we can hit on the right tools and somebody to manage em right; but we’ve got to be quick about it or the critter’ll choke to death, sure! Your hand’s so clumsy, Mose, she thinks her time’s come when she feels it in her mouth, and your fingers are so big you can’t ketch holt o’ that green stuff thout its slippin’!"

"Mine ain’t big; let me try," said a timid voice, and turning round, they saw little Elisha Simpson, his trousers pulled on over his night-shirt, his curly hair ruffled, his eyes vague with sleep.

Uncle Cash gave a laugh of good-humored derision. "You—that’s afraid to drive a cow to pasture? No, sir; you hain’t got sand enough for this job, I guess!"

Buttercup just then gave a worse cough than ever, and her eyes rolled in her head as if she were giving up the ghost.

"I’d rather do it than see her choke to death!" cried the boy, in despair.

"Then, by ginger, you can try it, sonny!" said Uncle Cash. "Now this time we’ll tie her head up. Take it slow, and make a good job of it."

Accordingly they pried poor Buttercup’s jaws open to put a wooden gag between them, tied her head up, and kept her as still as they could while the women held the lanterns.

"Now, sonny, strip up your sleeve and reach as fur down’s you can! Wind your little fingers in among that green stuff stickin’ up there that ain’t hardly big enough to call green stuff, give it a twist, and pull for all you’re worth. Land! What a skinny little pipe stem!"

The Little Prophet had stripped up his sleeve. It was a slender thing, his arm; but he had driven the red cow all summer, borne her tantrums, protected her from the consequences of her own obstinacy, taking (as he thought) a future owner’s pride in her splendid flow of milk—grown fond of her, in a word, and now she was choking to death. A skinny little pipe stem is capable of a deal at such a time, and only a slender hand and arm could have done the work.

Elisha trembled with nervousness, but he made a dexterous and dashing entrance into the awful cavern of Buttercup’s mouth; descended upon the tiny clump of green spills or spikes, wound his little fingers in among them as firmly as he could, and then gave a long, steady, determined pull with all the strength in this body. That was not so much in itself, to be sure, but he borrowed a good deal more from some reserve quarter, the location of which nobody knows anything about, but upon which everybody draws in time of need.

Such a valiant pull you would never have expected of the Little Prophet. Such a pull it was that, to his own utter amazement, he suddenly found himself lying flat on his back on the barn floor with a very slippery something in his hand, and a fair-sized but rather dilapidated turnip at the end of it.

"That’s the business!" cried Moses.

"I could ’a’ done it as easy as nothin’ if my arm had been a leetle mite smaller," said Bill Peters.

"You’re a trump, sonny!" exclaimed Uncle Cash, as he helped Moses untie Buttercup’s head and took the gag out.

"You’re a trump, Lisha, and, by ginger, the cow’s your’n; only don’t you let your blessed pa drink none of her cream!"

The welcome air rushed into Buttercup’s lungs and cooled her parched, torn throat. She was pretty nearly spent, poor thing, and bent her head (rather gently for her) over the Little Prophet’s shoulder as he threw his arms joyfully about her neck, and whispered, "You’re my truly cow now, ain’t you, Buttercup?"

"Mrs. Baxter, dear," said Rebecca, as they walked home to the parsonage together under the young harvest moon; "there are all sorts of cowards, aren’t there, and don’t you think Elisha is one of the best kind."

"I don’t quite know what to think about cowards, Rebecca Rowena," said the minister’s wife hesitatingly. "The Little Prophet is the third coward I have known in my short life who turned out to be a hero when the real testing time came. Meanwhile the heroes themselves—or the ones that were taken for heroes—were always busy doing something, or being somewhere, else."


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Chicago: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, "IV," New Chronicles of Rebecca, ed. Altemus, Henry and trans. Holcomb, Thomas Addis Emmett, an Holcomb, Martha A. Lyon in New Chronicles of Rebecca Original Sources, accessed December 10, 2023,

MLA: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith. "IV." New Chronicles of Rebecca, edited by Altemus, Henry, and translated by Holcomb, Thomas Addis Emmett, an Holcomb, Martha A. Lyon, in New Chronicles of Rebecca, Original Sources. 10 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Wiggin, KD, 'IV' in New Chronicles of Rebecca, ed. and trans. . cited in , New Chronicles of Rebecca. Original Sources, retrieved 10 December 2023, from