Rebecca Mary - Part 13

Part 13

No item on her programme was omitted.

From her rocker on the porch Aunt Olivia watched proceedings with quiet patience. It was a good vantage point--she could see nearly all of the celebration. The tree Rebecca Mary climbed was on the edge of the old orchard next to Aunt Olivia, and there was a providential little rift through the shrubbery and vines that intervened. This part of the programme she could see almost too clearly, for it must be confessed that this part startled Aunt Olivia out of her calm. It--it was so unexpected. She stopped rocking and leaned forward in her chair to peer more sharply. What was the child--"She's climbing a tree!" breathed Aunt Olivia in undisguised astonishment. Even as she breathed it, there came to her faintly the snapping of twigs and flutter of leaves. Then all was quite still, but she could discern with her pair of trusty Plummer eyes two long legs gently dangling.

If Aunt Olivia had known, Rebecca Mary, too, was startled. It--it was so strange an experience. She was not in the least afraid--it was a mental start rather than a physical one. When she had reached the limb set down in her programme she sat on it in a little daze of bewildered delight.

She liked it!

"Why, why, it's nice!" Rebecca Mary breathed. Her turn had come for undisguised astonishment. The leaves all about her nodded to her and stroked her cheeks and hair and hands. They whispered things into her ears. They were such friendly little leaves!

Nothing looked quite the same up there. It was a little as if she were in a new world, and she felt odd thrills of pride, as probably people who had discovered countries and rivers and north poles felt. Through a rift in the leaves she could see with her good Plummer eyes a swaying spot of brown and white that was Aunt Olivia rocking. Suddenly Rebecca Mary experienced a pang of remorse that she had wasted so many opportunities like this--that this was her only one. She wished she had put 2 hrs. instead of 1 hr. over against "Tree climbing," but it was too late now. She had borrowed Aunt Olivia's open-faced gold watch to serve as timekeeper, and promptly at the expiration of the 1 hr. she slid down through the crackling twigs and friendly leaves to the old world below.

She did not allow herself to look back, but she could not help the sigh.

It was going to be harder to grow up than she had thought it would be.

The mud pies she made with conscientious care as Rhoda, the minister's little girl, had said she used to make them. She made rows and rows of them and set them in the sun to bake. There were raisin stones in them all and crimped edges around them. It did not take nearly all the 1 hr.

and 1/2, so she made another and still another batch. When the time was up she did not sigh, but she had had rather a good time. How many mud pies she HADN'T made in all those years that were to end today!

Olivicia and the little white cat went to the tea party. Rebecca Mary thought of inviting Aunt Olivia--she got as far as the porch steps, but no farther. She caught a glimpse of her own legs and shrank back sensitively. They seemed to have grown since she measured them against the woodshed wall. Rebecca Mary felt the contrast between her legs and the tea party. Aunt Olivia never knew how near she had come to being invited to take part in the celebration, at Article III. on the programme.

Rhoda had had tea parties unnumbered, like the sands of the sea. She had described them fluently, so Rebecca Mary was not as one in the dark. She knew how to cut the bread and the cake into tiny dice, and the cookies into tiny rounds. She knew how to make the cambric tea and to arrange the jelly and flowers. But Rhoda had forgotten to tell her how to make a rose pie--how to select two large rose leaves for upper and under crust, and to fill in the pie between them with pink and white rose petals and sugar in alternate layers. Press until "done." Why had Rhoda forgotten?

It seemed a pity that there was no rose pie at Rebecca Mary's tea party--and no time left to make one.

"Will you take sugar in your tea, Olivicia?" Rebecca Mary asked, shyly.

She sat on the ground with her legs drawn under her out of sight, but there were little warm spots in her cheeks. She had not expected to be--ashamed. If there had been a knothole anywhere, she thought to herself, the Thought of Growing Up would have come out of it and confronted her and reminded her of her legs.

"Will you help yourself to the bread? Won't you have another cookie?"

She left nothing out, and gradually the strangeness wore away. It got gradually to be a good time. "How many tea parties," thought Rebecca Mary, "there might have been!"

Rebecca Mary was skipping, when the minister's wife came to call on Aunt Olivia. It was the minister's wife who discovered it. Aunt Olivia caught the indrawing of her breath and saw her face. Then Aunt Olivia discovered it, and a delicate color overspread her thin cheeks and rose to her temples. Now what was the child--

"Rhoda is a great skipper," the minister's wife said, hurriedly. But it was the wrong thing--she knew it was the wrong thing.

"Rebecca Mary is having a--celebration," hurried Aunt Olivia; but she wished she had not, for it seemed like trying to excuse Rebecca Mary.

She, too, had said the wrong thing.

"How pleasant it is out here!" tried again the minister's wife.

"Yes, it's cool," Aunt Olivia agreed, gratefully. After that the things they said were right things. The fantastic little figure down there in the orchard, skipping wildly, determinedly, was in none of them. Both of them felt it to be safer. But the minister's wife's gaze dwelt on the skipping figure and followed it through its amazing mazes, in spite of the minister's wife.

"I couldn't have helped it, Robert," she said. "Not if you'd been there preaching 'Thou shalt not' to me! You would have looked too, while you were preaching. You can't imagine, sitting there at that desk, what the temptation was--Robert, you don't suppose Rebecca Mary has gone crazy?"

"Felicia! You frighten me!"

"No, _I_ don't suppose either. But it was certainly very strange. It was almost ALARMING, Robert. And she didn't know how at all. I wanted to go down and show her!"

"It seems to me"--the minister spoke impressively "that it is not Rebecca Mary who has gone crazy--"

"Why, the idea! Haven't I made it plain?" laughed she. "I'll speak in A B C's then. Rebecca Mary was SKIPPING, Robert--skipping skipping."

"Then it's Rebecca Mary," the minister murmured.

"That's what I'm afraid--didn't I say so? Or else it's her second childhood--"

"First, you mean. If THAT'S it, don't let's say a word, dear--don't breathe, Felicia, for fear we'll stop it."

"Dear child!" the minister's wife said, tenderly. "I wish I'd gone down there and shown her how. And I'd have told her--Robert, I'd have told her how to climb a tree! Don't tell the parish."

The day was to end at sunset, from sunrise to sunset, Rebecca Mary had decreed. The last article on her crumpled little programme was, "Saying Good-by to Olivicia(Don't cry)." It was going to be the most difficult thing of all the articles. Olivicia had existed so short a time comparatively--it might not have been as difficult if there had always been an Olivicia. "Or it might have been harder," Rebecca Mary said. She went towards that article with reluctant feet. But it had to come.

The bureau drawer was all ready. Rebecca Mary had lined it with something white and soft and sweetened it with dried rose petals spiced in the century-old Plummer way. It bore rather grewsome resemblance to Olivicia's coffin, but it was not grewsome to Rebecca Mary. She laid the doll in it with the tender little swinging motion mothers use in laying down their tiny sleepers.

"There, there the-re!" crooned Rebecca Mary, softly, brooding over the beautiful being. "You'll rest there sweetly after your mother is grown up. And you'll try not to miss her, won't you? You'll understand, Olivicia?--oh, Olivicia!" But she did not cry. Her eyes were very bright. For several minutes she stood there stooped over painfully, gazing down into the cof--the bureau drawer, wherein lay peaceful Olivicia. She was saying good-bye in her heart--she never said it aloud.

"Dear," very softly indeed, "you are sure you understand? Everybody has to grow up, dear. It--it hurts, but you have to. I mean I'VE got to.

I wouldn't so soon if it wasn't for my legs. But they keep right on growing--they're awful, dear!--I can't stop 'em. Olivicia, lie right there and be thankful you're a doll! But I wish you could open your eyes and look at me just once more."

Rebecca Mary shut the drawer gently. It was over--no, she would say one thing more to the beautiful being in there. She bent to the keyhole.

"Olivicia!" she called in a tender whisper, "I shall be right here nights. We shan't be far away from each other."

But it would not be like lying in each other's arms--oh, not at all like that. Rebecca Mary caught her breath; it was perilously like a sob. Then she girded up her loins and went away to meet her fate--the common fate of all.

She was very tired. The day had been a strain upon her that was beginning now to tell. To put all one's childhood into one day--that is not easy.

Article VI. was the last. In a way, it was a rest to Rebecca Mary, for it entailed merely a visit to the woodshed. She could sit quietly on the floor opposite the knothole and wait for the Thoughts. If the Thought of Growing Up came out tonight, she would say: "Oh, well, you may stay--you needn't go back. I'm not any glad to see you, but I'm ready. I suppose I shall get used to you."

What Thoughts came out of the knothole to Rebecca Mary she never told to any one. It was nearly dark when she went away, planting her feet firmly, holding her head straight--Rebecca Mary Plummer. She went to find Aunt Olivia and tell her. On the way, she stopped to get Aunt Olivia's shawl, for it was getting chilly out on the porch.

Significantly the first thing Rebecca Mary did after she began to grow up was to get the shawl and lay it over Aunt Olivia's spare shoulders.

The second thing was to bend to the scant gray hair and lightly rub it with her cheek. It was a Rebecca Mary kiss.

Out in front of the rocking chair, still straight and firm, she told Aunt Olivia.

"It's over--I think I put everything in," she said. "I thought you ought to know, so I came to tell you. I'm ready to grow up."

After all, if Rebecca Mary had known, her "programme" had not ended with Article VI. Here was another. Take the pencil in your steady little fingers, Rebecca Mary, and write:

Article VII.--Growing up. (Do not break Aunt Olivia's heart.)


Aunt Olivia sighed. It was the third time since she had begun to let Rebecca Mary down. The third sigh was the longest one. Oh, this letting down of children who would grow up!

"I won't do it!" Aunt Olivia rebelled, fiercely, but she took up her scissors again at Duty's nudge.

"You don't want people laughing at her, do you?" Duty said, sensibly.

"Well, then, rip out that hem and face up that skirt and stop sighing.