When Mary Rose was fourteen, she attended High School and approached it with the same enthusiasm and energy with which she approached everything else. She was agog with the wonders of history and deeply impressed by the power of words to convey thoughts and ideas. She loved her English lessons, and even began to write poetry. (Oh that I had kept more of those loose sheets of paper with the scribbled lines which she tossed away so carelessly, and my old heart weeps for the precious thoughts I may have saved.) About the only thing that Mary Rose did not enjoy about school was Sport. She dreaded the exertion which left her so worn out . . . possibly the first signs of the sickness which took her from us. But apart from the tiredness she very much disliked the idea of competition, and her sensibilities were quite wounded by the knowledge that winners created losers: that the joy of winning, for some, could only multiply the disappointment of losing, for others.
It was on one of these hated "Sports Days" that she found the frog. The afternoon had been stiflingly hot: the playground grassless and dusty. Most of the students had gone home and Mary Rose remained to rest underneath a large gum tree. At length, becoming thirsty, she left the shade and crossed the sun-scorched playground to the water fountain. A large sheet of corrugated iron had been left leaning against the wall, to shield the fountain from the fierce sun, and on that hot metal surface she saw a lone frog, and her tender heart was torn at the sight. "The poor little thing," she told me later, "was all hunched up and dry -- his skin was so dry it was beginning to shrivel."
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Well, I picked him up, and I held him under the water of the bubbler. It was a bit hard with one hand, because I had to use the other hand to turn the water on. But he seemed to like it. He kept crawling into the water, then back onto my hand. Then into the water again, and then hop back onto my hand. Then, all by himself, he crawled down my arm and hopped onto the corner of my school case. He seemed to really like it there, so I left him, and he stayed there all the way home."
"I daresay he was very grateful to you."
"Yes . . . I'm sure I saved his life . . . I'm sure he would have died on that hot piece of tin," and her smile was radiant with joy.
She named the frog "Oscar", and she carried it down the front steps and released it into the violets and ferns which grew beside the path. The next morning, however, to the amazement of everyone, Oscar was sitting on the bottom step, as if waiting for her. Mary Rose was beside herself with happiness. I tried to explain that we had lots of frogs in our garden, but nothing would convince her that it wasn't Oscar, and she lifted him onto the end of her school case and carried him off to school for the day, where he reportedly remained, quite contented, sitting either on the corner of her desk, or on the end of her suitcase.
"I'm surprised your teacher didn't object to your bringing a frog to school," I said.
"The teacher didn't see him," she replied. "He didn't cause any trouble," and she released the frog once more into the greenery at the bottom of the steps.
The next day, as hard as it is to believe, the frog was once more sitting on the bottom step, exactly as though he was waiting for her, and a thrilled Mary Rose picked him up and carried him off to school once more, with the same untroubled result, and that evening released him again at the bottom of the steps. This is ridiculous, I thought. This can't be happening. Frogs do not have the intelligence to behave in this way. But I need not have been perturbed. Oscar did not appear again, and I didn't know whether to be sorry or relieved. Mary Rose was disappointed, of course, but she was also philosophical -- after all, she explained, a frog needed to live a frog's life, and he had said thank you very nicely.
In the days that followed I have to admit that I wondered a great deal about all this. My common sense told me that it was all just a sweet co-incidence, but still, I wondered: could the frog have responded to some degree of empathy in Mary Rose? After all, she had always been a very special child. Everyone loved her. Everything on the farm was drawn to her -- even the chooks seems to prefer her company. Well, as Shakespeare put it, ". . . there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy."