Just before Thanksgiving the affairs of theSimpsons reached what might have been calleda crisis, even in their family, which had beenborn and reared in a state of adventurous poverty andperilous uncertainty.
Riverboro was doing its best to return the entiretribe of Simpsons to the land of its fathers, so tospeak, thinking rightly that the town which hadgiven them birth, rather than the town of theiradoption, should feed them and keep a roof over theirheads until the children were of an age for self-support. There was little to eat in the household andless to wear, though Mrs. Simpson did, as always,her poor best. The children managed to satisfy theirappetites by sitting modestly outside their neighbors'
kitchen doors when meals were about to beserved. They were not exactly popular favorites, butthey did receive certain undesirable morsels from themore charitable housewives.
Life was rather dull and dreary, however, and inthe chill and gloom of November weather, with thevision of other people's turkeys bursting with fat,and other people's golden pumpkins and squashesand corn being garnered into barns, the youngSimpsons groped about for some inexpensive formof excitement, and settled upon the selling of soapfor a premium. They had sold enough to theirimmediate neighbors during the earlier autumn tosecure a child's handcart, which, though very weakon its pins, could be trundled over the country roads.
With large business sagacity and an executive capacitywhich must have been inherited from their father,they now proposed to extend their operationsto a larger area and distribute soap to contiguousvillages, if these villages could be induced to buy. TheExcelsior Soap Company paid a very small return ofany kind to its infantile agents, who were scatteredthrough the state, but it inflamed their imaginationsby the issue of circulars with highly colored picturesof the premiums to be awarded for the sale of a certainnumber of cakes. It was at this juncture thatClara Belle and Susan Simpson consulted Rebecca,who threw herself solidly and wholeheartedly into theenterprise, promising her help and that of EmmaJane Perkins. The premiums within their possiblegrasp were three: a bookcase, a plush reclining chair,and a banquet lamp. Of course the Simpsons hadno books, and casting aside, without thought or pang,the plush chair, which might have been of someuse in a family of seven persons (not counting Mr.
Simpson, who ordinarily sat elsewhere at the town'sexpense), they warmed themselves rapturously inthe vision of the banquet lamp, which speedily be-came to them more desirable than food, drink, orclothing. Neither Emma Jane nor Rebecca perceivedanything incongruous in the idea of theSimpsons striving for a banquet lamp. They lookedat the picture daily and knew that if they themselveswere free agents they would toil, suffer, ay sweat,for the happy privilege of occupying the same roomwith that lamp through the coming winter evenings.
It looked to be about eight feet tall in the catalogue,and Emma Jane advised Clara Belle to measure theheight of the Simpson ceilings; but a note in themargin of the circular informed them that it stoodtwo and a half feet high when set up in all its dignityand splendor on a proper table, three dollars extra.