“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.
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 ministers wife. The trousers
puzzle merged into this one. Now who could-
“Oh! Oh, it’s Miss
Plummer’s little girl Rebecca,” she said,
“Rebecca Mary her niece,”
came, a little muffled, 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 passed 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 embarrassment.
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
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.”
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
“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
stitches in it, but when you sew’em all yourself-when
you sew every single stitch-” The
pride in Rebecca Mary’s grave blue eyes 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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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 apron, 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 stitches 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 instituted 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
The child was not there-not
anywhere. Aunt Olivia sought for Thomas Jefferson
to inquire of him, but Thomas Jefferson was missing
too. She went the rounds again. Where could
the child be?
It was a hot, stinging day in late
June when Aunt Olivia’s suspicions awoke.
They had been long in rousing, but, once alert, they
developed rapidly into certainties. Her pale
eyes glistened, her thin nostrils dilated-Aunt
Olivia’s whole lean, sharp, unemotional person
put on suspicion. The child had gone to see the
“My land!” ejaculated
Aunt Olivia, “after all my forbidding! And
she a Plummer!” She sat down suddenly as though
a little faint. She had never known a Plummer
to disobey before; it was a new experience. It
took time to get used to it, and she sat still a long
time, rigid and grim, on the edge of the chair.
Then as suddenly as she had sat down she got up.
It could not be-she refused to entertain
the suspicion longer. Rebecca Mary had not
gone there to that forbidden place; she was in the
garden somewhere. Aunt Olivia, a little stiff
as if from a chill, went once more in search of the
“Rebecca! Rebecca Mary!”
she called, at regular intervals. Then sharply,
“Rebecca Mary Plummer!” Her voice had thin
cadences of suspicion lurking in it against its will.
But there seemed really no doubt.
One by one incriminating circumstances occurred to
Aunt Olivia. Rebecca Mary had longed to go so
much; the Tony Trumbullses, one at a time or in a tumultuous
body, had urged her so often; she herself had more
than once caught the child gazing wistfully, in passing
by, at the bewildering, deafening, frolics of the
little Tony Trumbullses. Once Rebecca Mary had
asked to go barefoot, as they went. Once she
had let out the tight little braids in her neck and
rumpled her thin little hair. Once Aunt Olivia
had come upon her playing. The remembrance
of it now tightened the lines around Aunt Olivia’s
lips. The child had been running wildly about
the yard, shouting in a strange, excited, ridiculous
way. When Aunt Olivia in stern displeasure had
demanded explanations, she had run on recklessly,
calling back over her shoulder: “Don’t
stop me! I’m a Tony Trumbull!”
“My land!” breathed Aunt
Olivia, taking back the suspicion to her breast.
“After all my forbidding she’s gone down
there. She’s been going down there
dear knows how long. She’s waited till I
took my naps an’ then went. A Plummer!”
There was really nowhere else she
could have gone. She had never wanted to go anywhere
else, except to the minister’s, and Rebecca Mary
was punctilious and would not think of going there
again till the minister’s wife had returned
But Aunt Olivia waited. As usual,
she went to her room next day at nap time and closed
the door behind her. But when a little figure
slipped down the road towards the forbidden place
a moment later, she was watching behind her blinds.
She was groaning as if in pain.
The little figure began to run staidly.
Aunt Olivia groaned again. The child was in a
hurry to get there-she couldn’t wait
to walk! There was guilt in every motion of the
“And she runs like a Plummer,” groaned
The next day, and the next, Aunt Olivia
watched behind her blinds. The fourth day she
put on her afternoon dress and followed the hurrying
little figure. Not at once-Aunt Olivia
did not hurry. There was a sad reluctance in
every movement. It seemed a terrible thing to
be following Rebecca Mary-Rebecca Mary
Plummer to a forbidden place.
Afar off Aunt Olivia heard faintly
the shoutings that always heralded an approach to
the Tony Trumbullses, and shuddered. The tumult
kept growing clearer; she thought she detected a wild,
excited little shout that might be Rebecca Mary’s.
Her thin lips set into a stern, straight line.
A splash of red caught Aunt Olivia’s
eye as she drew nearer the joyous whirl of little
children. Rebecca Mary wore a little tight red
dress. The coil seemed closing in about the child.
Close to the southern boundary fence
of Aunt Olivia’s land stood an old empty barn.
It had been a place for storing surplus hay, once,
when there had been surplus hay. For many years
now it had been empty. As Aunt Olivia approached
it she noticed that its great sliding door was open.
Strange, when for so long it had been shut!
“If that old barn door ain’t
open!” breathed Aunt Olivia, stopping in her
astonishment. “I ain’t seen it open
before in these ten years. Now, what I want to
know is, who opened it? Likely as not those screeching
little wild Injuns.” She strode across the
stubby grass-ground to the barn and peered into its
cool, dim depths. Then Aunt Olivia uttered a
little, bewildered cry. Gradually the dimness
took on light and the whole startling picture within
unfolded itself to her astonished eyes.
Rebecca Mary was quilting. She
was stooping earnestly over a gay expanse of purples
and reds and greens. Her little tight red back
was towards Aunt Olivia; it looked bent and strained.
Rebecca Mary’s eyes were very close to the gay
Suddenly Rebecca Mary began to speak,
and Aunt Olivia’s widened eyes discovered a
great, white rooster pecking about under the quilt.
His big, snowy bulk stood out distinct in the shadow
“I’m glad we’re
’most through. Aren’t you, Thomas
Jefferson? It’s been a pretty long
quilt. You get sort of tired when you quilt a
long quilt. It makes your back creak when
you unbend it; and when you quilt in a barn, of course
you can’t see without squinching, and it hurts
your eyes to squinch.”
Silence again, except for the industrious
peck-peck of the great white rooster. Aunt Olivia
stood very still.
“You’ve been a great help,
Thomas Jefferson,” began again the voice of
Rebecca Mary, after a little. “I’m
very much obliged to you, as I’ve said before.
I don’t know what I should have done without
you. No, you needn’t answer. I couldn’t
hear a word you said. You can’t hear with
cotton in both o’ your ears,” Rebecca Mary
sighed. There was no cotton in Aunt Olivia’s
ears to shut out the soft little sound. “But
of course you have to wear it in, on account o’
your conscience. It’s conscience cotton,
Thomas Jefferson. I’ve explained before,
but I don’t know’s you understood.
It seems a little unpolite to wear it in my ears, with
you here keeping me comp’ny. I s’pose
you think it’s un-unsociable.
But Aunt Olivia doesn’t allow me to ’sociate
with the Tony Trumbullses. Oh, Thomas Jefferson,
I wish she’d allow me to ’sociate!”
Aunt Olivia found herself wishing
she had conscience cotton in both o’ her ears.
“They’re such nice, cheerful
little children! It makes you want to go right
over their fence and hollow too.” Rebecca
Mary pronounced it “hollow” with careful
precision. Aunt Olivia would not approve of “holler.”
“And when you can’t, you like to listen.
But I s’posed listening to them hollow would
be ’sociating. So I put the cotton in.”
The joyous “hollowing”
broke in waves of glee on Aunt Olivia’s eardrums.
It seemed to be assaulting her heart. Oddly, now
it did not sound unmannerly and dreadful. It
sounded nice and cheerful. A Plummer, even, might
be happy like that.
“Cotton is a very strange ex-exper’ence,
Thomas Jefferson,” ran on the little voice.
“At first you ’most can’t stand it,
but you get over the worst of it bymeby. Besides,
we’re getting ’most through now. Ain’t
that splendid, Thomas Jefferson? And it’s
pretty lucky, too, because Aunt ’Livia’s
birthday is getting very near. It-it
almost scares me. Doesn’t it you?
For I don’t know how Aunt ’Livia looks
when she’s pleased-you think she’ll
look pleased, don’t you, Thomas Jefferson?
It’s such a long quilt, and when you’ve
sewed every stitch yourself-
If Rebecca Mary had turned round then
she would have seen how Aunt Olivia looked when she
was pleased. But the little figure at the quilting-frame
bent steadily to its task, only another soft sigh
stealing into Aunt Olivia’s uncottoned ears.
Thomas Jefferson pecked his way towards the open door,
and the lean figure there started back guiltily; Aunt
Olivia did not want to be recognized.
“You there under the quilt,
Thomas Jefferson?” The little voice put on tenderness.
“Because I’m a-going to tell you something.
Once Aunt ’Livia gave me a birthday present
and it was you. Such a little mite of a
yellow chicken! That’s why I’m making
the quilt for Aunt ’Livia. It was three
years ago; I’ve loved you ever since,”
added Rebecca Mary, simply.
For an instant Aunt Olivia stopped
being a Plummer. A sob crept into her throat.
“Rebecca! Rebecca Mary! Rebecca Mary
Plummer!” she cried, involuntarily. Then
she stepped back hastily, glad for the cotton in Rebecca
Mary’s ears. For the surprise-she
must not spoil the child’s hard-earned surprise.
And, besides, Aunt Olivia wanted to be surprised.
It was a relief to get away.
She could not look any longer at the picture in the
great cobwebby barn-the gorgeous quilt spread
out to its full extent, the empty scaffolds above
Rebecca Mary stooping to her work, Thomas Jefferson
pecking about the floor. Aunt Olivia was not old;
through all the years ahead of her she would remember
She went straight to the southern
boundary fence and looked across at the jubilant little
Tony Trumbullses. The one in a red dress like
Rebecca Mary’s she singled out with a pointing
finger. “You come here,” she
called. “I won’t hurt you; no need
to look scairt. Do you know who I am? I’m
Rebecca Mary’s aunt. You know who Rebecca
Mary is, don’t you?”
“Gracious!” shrilled the
little red Tony Trumbull, which Aunt Olivia took for
“Well, then, you know where
I live. You see here-I want you all,
the whole kit o’ you, to come to my house tomorrow
morning to see Rebecca Mary. I’m going
to say it over again. Tomorrow morning, to see
Rebecca Mary!” setting apart the syllables with
the pointing finger. “You can play in my
back yard,” said Aunt Olivia, sublimely unconscious