Rebecca Mary - Part 2

Part 2

"Everything's on the table," she called back from the stairs. "I'm going to light a fire. You come right down. I think it's high time--" her voice trailing out thinly.

"She does," murmured Rebecca Mary, radiant of face.

At half past twelve o'clock they both ate supper, both in their scant, white nightgowns, both very hungry indeed. But before she sat down in her old place at the table, Rebecca Mary went round to Aunt Olivia's place and whispered something rather shyly in her ear. She had been by herself in a corner of the room for a moment.

"I've sewed the hundred and twoth," Rebecca Mary whispered.

The Thousand Quilt

"Good afternoon," Rebecca Mary said, politely.

The minister's wife was cutting little trousers out of big ones--the minister's big ones. It was the old puzzle of how to steer clear of the thin places.

"Boys grow so!" sighed, tenderly, the minister's wife, over her work.

She had not heard the voice from the doorway.

"Good afternoon"--again.

It was a quaint little figure in tight red calico standing there.

It might easily have stepped down from some old picture on the wall.

Rebecca Mary had a bundle in her arms. It was so large that it obscured breast and face, and only a pair of grave blue eyes, presided over by thin, light brows, seemed visible to the minister's wife. The trousers puzzle merged into this one. Now who could--

"Oh! Oh, it's Miss Plummer's little girl Rebecca," she said, cordially.

"Rebecca Mary her NIECE," came, a little m.u.f.fled, from behind the great bundle.

"Rebecca Mary's niece---- Oh, you mean Miss Plummer's niece, and your whole name is that! But I suppose she calls you Rebecca or Becky, for short? Walk in, Rebecca."

But Rebecca Mary was struggling with the paralyzing vision of Aunt Olivia calling her Becky. She had pa.s.sed by the lesser wonder of being called Rebecca without the Mary.

"Oh no'm, indeed; Aunt 'Livia never shortens me," gently gasped the child. And the minister's wife, measuring from the bundle down, smiled to herself. There did not seem much room for shortening.

"But walk in, dear--you're going to walk in? I hope you have come to make me a little call?"

Rebecca Mary struggled out of her paralysis. Here was occasion for new embarra.s.sment. For Rebecca Mary was honest.

"N-o'm I mean, not a LITTLE call. I've come to spend the afternoon," she said, slowly, "and I've brought my work."

The bundle--the great bundle--was her work! She advanced into the room and began carefully to unroll it. It was the turn of the minister's wife to be paralyzed. She pushed forward a chair, and the child sat down in it.

"It's my Thousand Quilt that I'm making for Aunt 'Livia," explained Rebecca Mary. "It's 'most done. There's a thousand pieces in it, and I'm on the nine hundred and ninety-oneth. I thought proberly you'd have some work, so I brought mine."

"Yes, I see--" The minister's wife stood looking down at the tight little red figure among the gorgeous waves of the Thousand Quilt. They eddied and surged around it in dizzy reds and purples and greens. She was conscious of being a little seasick, and for relief she turned back to the puzzle of the little trousers. It had been in her mind at first to express sorrow at Rhoda's being unfortunately away--and the boys. Now she was glad she hadn't, for it was quite plain enough that the visitor had not come to spend the afternoon with the minister's children, but with the minister's wife.

"It isn't she that's young--it's I," thought the minister's wife, with kind, laughing eyes. "She's old enough to be my mother." "How old are you, dear?" she added, aloud.

"Me? I guess you mean Aunt 'Livia, don't you? It's Aunt 'Livia's birthday I'm making it for, it's going to be a present. Once she gave me a present on my birthday."

Once!--the minister's wife remembered Rhoda's birthdays and the boys'.

Taken altogether, such a host of little birthdays! But this little old, old visitor seemed to have had but one.

"My birthday is two days quicker than Aunt 'Livia's is," volunteered the visitor, sociably. "We're 'most twins, you see. Aunt 'Livia was fifty-six that time she gave me the present. She's agoing to be fifty-nine when I give her this quilt--it's taken me ever since to make it."

The minister's wife looked up from her cutting. So Rebecca Mary was only fifty-nine!

"It's quite a long quilt," sighed Rebecca Mary. But pride woke in her eyes as she gazed out on the splendors of the green and purple sea.

"A Thousand Quilt has so many st.i.tches in it, but when you sew'em all yourself--when you sew every single st.i.tch--" The pride in Rebecca Mary's grave blue eyes grew and grew.

"Robert," the minister's wife said that night to the minister, "it's an awful quilt, but you ought to have seen her eyes! It's taken her three years to make it--maybe you wouldn't be proud yourself!"

"Maybe YOU wouldn't, if Rhoda had made it."

"RHODA! Robert, she sewed one square of patchwork once and it made her sick. I had to put her to bed. Speaking of 'once' reminds me--once Rebecca Mary had a birthday present, Robert." She waited a little anxiously for him to understand. The minister always understood, but sometimes he made her wait.

"Felicia, are you trying to make me cry?" he said, and she was satisfied. She went across to him, as she always did when she wanted to cry herself. The floor was strewn with the tiniest boy's engine and cars, and she remembered, as she zigzagged among them, that they had been one of his very last birthday presents.

"It was--Robert, what do you think the present was? I'll give you three guesses, but I advise you to guess a rooster."

"Thomas Jefferson," murmured the minister, as one who was acquainted.

"Yes, that is his name. How did you remember? She is very fond of him--he is her intimatest friend, she says. So she is under great obligations to her aunt. It's a large quilt, but it's none too large to 'cover' Thomas Jefferson. I'm going to help her buy a lining and cotton batting."

"Cracked corn will make a good lining, but cotton bat--"

"Robert, this is not a comedy! If you'd seen Rebecca Mary, and the quilt, you'd call it a tragedy. You couldn't surprise me any if you told me she'd quilted it herself!"

Down the road from Aunt Olivia's farm, across its southern boundary fence, romped and shouted all day long the Tony Trumbullses. No one, except possibly their mother, was quite certain how many of them there were; it was a dizzy process to take their census. They were never still, in little brown bare limbs nor shrill voices. From sunup to sundown the Tony Trumbullses raced and laughed. Certainly they were happy.

The minister's wife had not dared to tell her Caller of the afternoon that the minister's children were down there shouting and racing with the little Tony Trumbullses. Dear, no!--not after Rebecca Mary in the course of conversation had said that Aunt Olivia did not countenance the Tony Trumbullses. Rebecca Mary did not say "countenance," but it meant that.

"Her aunt won't let her play with them, Robert. And she'd like to--you needn't tell me Rebecca Mary wouldn't like to! I saw it in her poor little solemn eyes. Besides, she said she asked her aunt once to let her. Robert, aunts are cruel; I never knew it before. They've no business bringing up little Rebecca Marys!"

"My dear! Felicia!" But in the minister's eyes was agreement.

Aunt Olivia took afternoon naps with punctilious regularity--Aunt Olivia herself was punctilious regularity. At half past one, day upon day, she hung out the dish towel, hung up her kitchen ap.r.o.n, and walked with unswerving course into her bedroom. There, disposed upon the dainty bed in rigid lines of unrest, she rested. The naps were often long ones.

A little after the afternoon that Rebecca Mary spent at the minister's the birthday quilt was finished. The thousandth tiny piece was neatly over-'n'-overed to its gorgeous expanse. But Rebecca Mary was not content. She longed to make it complete. She wanted to surprise Aunt 'Livia with it, as Aunt 'Livia on that momentous birthday of her own had surprised her with the little fluff-ball of yellow down that had grown into Thomas Jefferson. That had been such a beautiful surprise, but this--Aunt 'Livia had seen the quilt so many, many times! She had taught Rebecca Mary's stiff little fingers to set the first st.i.tches in it; she had made her rip out this purple square and that pink-checked one, and this one and that one and that. Oh, Aunt 'Livia was ACQUAINTED with the quilt! It would not be much of a surprise.

But Rebecca Mary set her little pointed chin between her little brown palms and pondered, and out of the pondering grew a plan so ambitious and so daring that Rebecca Mary gasped in the throes of it. But she held her ground and entertained it intrepidly. She even grew on friendly terms with it in the end. Here was a way to surprise Aunt 'Livia; Rebecca Mary would do it! That it would entail an almost endless amount of work did not daunt her: Rebecca Mary was a Plummer, and Plummers were not to be daunted. The long vista of patient hours of trying labor that the plan opened up before her set her blood tingling like a warrior's on the eve of battle. What were long, patient hours to a Plummer? Rebecca Mary girded up her loins and went to meet them.

Thereafter at Aunt Olivia's nap times Rebecca Mary disappeared. Day upon day, week upon week, she stole quietly away when the door of Aunt Olivia's bedroom shut. The first time she went oddly loaded down with what would have appeared--if there had been any one for it to "appear"

to be a bundle of long sticks. She made two trips into the unknown that first day. The second time the bundle looked much like that one over which her grave blue eyes had peered at the minister's wife when she went to spend the afternoon with her.

It was spring when the mysterious disappearances began. It was summer before Aunt Olivia woke up--not from her nap, but from her inattention.

Quite suddenly she came upon the realization that Rebecca Mary was not about the house; nor about the grounds, for she inst.i.tuted prompt search. She went to all the child's odd little haunts--the grapery, the orchard, the corn-house, even to her own beloved back yard, full of sweet-scented hiding-nooks dear to a child, but sacred ground to Aunt Olivia. Rebecca Mary sometimes did her "stents" there as a special privilege; she might be there now, unprivileged. Aunt Olivia's back yard was almost as full of flowery delights to Rebecca Mary as it was to Aunt Olivia.