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Full text of "Understood Betsy"

"PS 

35 il 



URiS LIBRARY 



Cornell University Library 
PS3511.I79U6 1917 



Understood Betsy / 




3 1924 012 592 691 




The original of this book is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924012592691 



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DOROTHY CANFIELD 




Si l&rusfcwv&L "Boat, 



GROSSET & DUNLAP 



URIS LIBRARY 

FEB o 8 1988 



NEW YORK 



Copyright, 1916, 1917 
the century co. 

COi'YRICH-:. 1PV 
bY 

HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 



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PRINTED IN THE 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PACE 

I Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 1 

II Betsy Holds the Reins 21 

III A Short Morning 41 

IV Betsy Goes to School 58 

V What Grade Is Betsy? 70 

VI If You Don't Like Conversation in a Book 

Skip This Chapter! 87 

VII Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination . . 108 

VIII Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 128 

IX The Nev Clothes Fail 148 

X Betsy has a Birthday 160 

XI "Understood Aunt Frances" 185 



CHAPTER I 



1$ 



V -oudh 



When this story begins, Elizabeth Ann, who is the 
heroine of it, was a little girl of nine, who lived with 
her Great-aunt Harriet in a medium-sized city in a 
medium-sized State in the middle of this country; and 
that's all you need to know about the place, for it's not 
the important thing in the story; and anyhow you 
know all about it because it was probably very much 
like the place you live in yourself. 

Elizabeth Ann's Great-aunt Harriet was a widow 
who was not very rich or very poor, and she had one 
daughter, Frances, who gave piano lessons to little 
girls. They kept a "girl" whose name was Grace and 
who had asthma dreadfully and wasn't very much of 
a "girl" at all, being nearer fifty than forty. Aunt Har- 
riet, who was very tender-hearted, kept her chiefly 



Understood Betsy 

because she knew that Grace could never find any 
other job on account of her coughing so you could 
hear her all over the house. 

So now you know the names of all the household. 
And this is how they looked: Aunt Harriet was very 
small and thin and old, Grace was very small and 
thin and middle-aged, Aunt Frances (for Elizabeth 
Ann called her "Aunt," although she was really, of 
course, a first-cousin-once-removed) was small and 
thin and if the light wasn't too strong might be called 
young, and Elizabeth Ann was very small and thin and 
little. And yet they all had plenty to eat. I wonder 
what was the matter with them? 

It was certainly not because they were not good, for 
no womenkind in all the world had kinder hearts than 
they. You have heard how Aunt Harriet kept Grace 
(in spite of the fact that she was a very depressing 
person) on account of her asthma; and when Eliza- 
beth Ann's father and mother both died when she 
was a baby, although there were many other cousins 
and uncles and aunts in the family, these two women 
fairly rushed upon the little baby-orphan, taking her 
'home and surrounding her henceforth with the most 
loving devotion. 

They said to themselves that it was their manifest 
duty to save the dear little thing from the other rela- 
tives, who had no idea about how to bring up a 



Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 

sensitive, impressionable child, and they were sure, 
from the way Elizabeth Ann looked at six months, 
that she was going to be a sensitive, impressionable 
child. It is possible also that they were a little bored 
with their empty life in their rather forlorn, litde 
brick house in the medium-sized city. 

But they thought that they chiefly desired to save 
dear Edward's child from the other kin, especially 
from the Putney cousins, who had written down from 
their Vermont farm that they would be glad to take 
the little girl into their family. Aunt Harriet did not 
like the Vermont cousins. She used to say, "Anything 
but the Putneys!" They were related only by marriage 
to her, and she had her own opinion of them as a stiff- 
necked, cold-hearted, undemonstrative, and hard set 
of New Englanders. "I boarded near them one sum- 
mer when you were a baby, Frances, and I shall never 
forget the way they treated some children visiting 
there! . . . Oh, no, I don't mean they abused them 
or beat them . . . but such lack of sympathy, such a 
starving of the child-heart. . . . No, I shall never for- 
get it! The children had chores to do ... as though 
they had been hired men!" 

Aunt Harriet never meant to say any of this when 
Elizabeth Ann could hear, but the little girl's ears 
were as sharp as little girls' ears always are, and long 
before she was nine she knew all about the opinion 

•3* 



Understood Betsy 

Aunt Harriet had of the Putneys. She did not know, 
to be sure, what "chores" were, but she knew from 
Aunt Harriet's voice that they were something very 
dreadful. 

There was certainly neither coldness nor hardness 
in the way Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances treated 
Elizabeth Ann. They had given themselves up to the 
new responsibility; especially Aunt Frances, who was 
conscientious about everything. As soon as the baby 
came there to live, Aunt Frances stopped reading 
novels and magazines, and re-read one book after an- 
other which told her how to bring up children. She 
joined a Mothers' Club which met once a week. She 
took a correspondence course from a school in Chicago 
which teaches mother-craft by mail. So you can see 
that by the time Elizabeth Ann was nine years old 
Aunt Frances must have known a great deal about 
how to bring up children. And Elizabeth Ann got 
the benefit of it all. 

Aunt Frances always said that she and the little 
girl were "simply inseparable." She shared in all Eliza- 
beth Ann's doings. In her thoughts, too. She felt she 
ought to share all the little girl's thoughts, because 
she was determined that she would dioroughly un- 
derstand Elizabeth Ann down to the bottom of her 
little mind. Aunt Frances (down in the bottom of 
her own mind) thought that her mother had never 

•4* 



Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 

really understood her, and she meant to do better by 
Elizabeth Ann. She also loved the little girl with all 
her heart, and longed, above everything in the world, 
to protect her from all harm and to keep her happy 
and strong and well. 

Yet Elizabeth Ann was neither very strong nor well. 
As to her being happy, you can judge for yourself 
when you have read this story. She was small for her 
age, with a rather pale face and big dark eyes which 
had in them a frightened, wistful expression that 
went to Aunt Frances's tender heart and made her 
ache to take care of Elizabeth Ann better and better. 
Aunt Frances was afraid of a great many things her- 
self, and she knew how to sympathize with timidity. 
She was always quick to reassure the little girl with 
all her might and main whenever there was anything 
to fear. When they were out walking (Aunt Frances 
took her out for a walk up one block and down an- 
other, every single day, no matter how tired the music 
lessons had made her), the aunt's eyes were always 
on the alert to avoid anything which might frighten 
Elizabeth Ann. If a big dog trotted by, Aunt Frances 
always said, hastily: "There, there, dear! That's a nice 
doggie, I'm sure. I don't believe he ever bites little 
girls. . . . Mercy! Elizabeth Ann, don't go near him! 
. . . Here, darling, just get on the other side of Aunt 
Frances if he scares you so" (by that time Elizabeth 

•5' 



Understood Betsy 

Ann was always pretty well scared), "perhaps we'd 
better just turn this corner and walk in the other 
direction."' If by any chance the dog went in that 
direction too, Aunt Frances became a prodigy of 
valiant protection, putting the shivering little girl be- 
hind her, threatening the animal with her umbrella, 
and saying in a trembling voice, "Go away, sir! Go 
away!" 

Or if it thundered and lightened, Aunt Frances al- 
ways dropped everything she might be doing and held 
Elizabeth Ann tightly in her arms until it was all over. 
And at night — Elizabeth Ann did not sleep very well 
— when the little girl woke up screaming with a bad 
dream, it was always dear Aunt Frances who came to 
her bedside, a warm wrapper over her nightgown so 
that she need not hurry back to her own room, a 
candle lighting up her tired, kind face. She took the 
little girl into her thin arms and held her close against 
her thin breast. "Tell Aunt Frances all about your 
naughty dream, darling," she would murmur, "so's to 
get it off your mind!" 

She had read in her books that you can tell a great 
deal about children's inner lives by analyzing their 
dreams, and besides, if she did not urge Elizabeth 
Ann to tell it, she was afraid the sensitive, nervous 
little thing would "lie awake and brood over it." This 
was the phrase she always used the next day to her 



Understood Betsy 

mother when Aunt Harriet exclaimed about her pale- 
ness and the dark rings under her eyes. So she listened 
patiently while the little girl told her all about the 
fearful dreams she had, the great dogs with huge red 
mouths that ran after her, the Indians who scalped 
her, her schoolhouse on fire so that she had to jump 
from a third-story window and was all broken to bits 
— once in a while Elizabeth Ann got so interested in 
all this that she went on and made up more awful 
things even than she had dreamed, and told long 
stories which showed her to be a child of great im- 
agination. These dreams and continuations of dreams 
Aunt Frances wrote down the first thing the next 
morning, and tried her best to puzzle out from them 
exactly what kind of little girl Elizabeth Ann was. 

There was one dream, however, that even conscien- 
tious Aunt Frances never tried to analyze, because it 
was too sad. Elizabeth Ann dreamed sometimes that 
she was dead and lay in a little white coffin with white 
roses over her. Oh, that made Aunt Frances cry, and 
so did Elizabeth Ann. It was very touching. Then, 
after a long, long time of talk and tears and sobs and 
hugs, the little girl would begin to get drowsy, and 
Aunt Frances would rock her to sleep in her arms, 
and lay her down ever so quietly 5 and slip away to 
try to get a little nap herself before it was time to 
get up. 

•8- 



Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 

At a quarter of nine every week-day morning Aunt 
Frances dropped whatever else she was doing, took 
Elizabeth Ann's little, thin hand protectingly in hers, 
and led her through the busy streets to the big brick 
school-building where the little girl had always gone 
to school. It was four stories high, and when all the 
classes were in session there were six hundred children 
under that one roof. You can imagine, perhaps, the 
noise there was on the playground just before school! 
Elizabeth Ann shrank from it with all her soul, and 
clung more tightly than ever to Aunt Frances's hand 
as she was led along through the crowded, shrieking 
masses of children. Oh, how glad she was that she 
had Aunt Frances there to take care of her, though 
as a matter of fact nobody noticed the little thin girl 
at all, and her own classmates would hardly have 
known whether she came to school or not. Aunt 
Frances took her safely through the ordeal of the 
playground, then up the long, broad stairs, and pigeon- 
holed her carefully in her own schoolroom. She was 
in the third grade — 3A, you understand, which is al- 
most the fourth. 

Then at noon Aunt Frances was waiting there, a 
patient, never-failing figure, to walk home with her 
little charge; and in the afternoon the same thing 
happened over again. On the way to and from school 
they talked about what had happened in the class. 

•9' 



Understood Betsy 

Aunt Frances believed in sympathizing with a child's 
life, so she always asked about every little thing, and 
remembered to inquire about the continuation of every 
episode, and sympathized with all her heart over the 
failure in mental arithmetic, and triumphed over Eliza- 
beth Ann's beating the Schmidt girl in spelling, and 
was indignant over the teacher's having pets. Some- 
times in telling over some very dreadful failure or 
disappointment Elizabeth Ann would get so wrought 
up that she would cry. This always brought the ready 
tears to Aunt Frances's kind eyes, and with many 
soothing words and nervous, tremulous caresses she 
tried to make life easier for poor little Elizabeth Ann. 
The days when they had cried they could neither of 
them eat much luncheon. 

After school and on Saturdays there was always the 
daily walk, and there were lessons, all kinds of lessons 
— piano lessons of course, and nature-study lessons out 
of an excellent book Aunt Frances had bought, and 
painting lessons, and sewing lessons, and even a little 
French, although Aunt Frances was not very sure about 
her pronunciation. She wanted to give the little girl 
every possible advantage, you see. They were really 
inseparable. Elizabeth Ann once said to some ladies 
calling on her aunts that whenever anything happened 
in school, the first thing she thought of was what Aunt 
Frances would think of it. 



10 « 



Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 

"Why is that?" they asked, looking at Aunt Frances, 
who was blushing with pleasure. 

"Oh, she is so interested in my school work! And 
she understands me!" said Elizabeth Ann, repeating 
the phrases she had heard so often. 

Aunt Frances's eyes filled with happy tears. She 
called Elizabeth Ann to her and kissed her and gave 
her as big a hug as her thin arms could manage. Eliza- 
beth Ann was growing tall very fast. One of the visit- 
ing ladies said that before long she would be as big 
as her auntie, and a troublesome young lady. Aunt 
Frances said: "I have had her from the time she was 
a little baby and there has scarcely been an hour she 
has been out of my sight. I'll always have her confi- 
dence. You'll always tell Aunt Frances everything, 
won't you, darling?" Elizabeth Ann resolved to do 
this always, even if, as now, she sometimes didn't have 
much to tell and had to invent something. 

Aunt Frances went on, to the callers: "But I do 
wish she weren't so thin and pale and nervous. I sup- 
pose the exciting modern life is bad for children. I 
try to see that she has plenty of fresh air. I go out 
with her for a walk every single day. But we have 
taken all the walks around here so often that we're 
rather tired of them. It's often hard to know how to 
get her out enough. I think I'll have to get the doctor 
to come and see her and perhaps give her a tonic." To 

• ii • 



Understood Betsy 

Elizabeth Ann she added, hastily: "Now don't go 
getting notions in your head, darling. Aunt Frances 
doesn't think there's anything very much the matter 
with you. You'll be all right again soon if you just 
take the doctor's medicine nicely. Aunt Frances will 
take care of her precious little girl. She'll make the 
bad sickness go away." Elizabeth Ann, who had not 
known that she was sick, had a picture of herself lying 
in the little white coffin, all covered over with white. 
... In a few minutes Aunt Frances was obliged to 
excuse herself from her callers and devote herself en- 
tirely to taking care of Elizabeth Ann. 

One day, after this had happened several times, 
Aunt Frances really did send for the doctor. He came 
briskly in, just as Elizabeth Ann had always seen him, 
with his little square black bag smelling of leather, his 
sharp eyes, and the air of bored impatience which he 
always wore in that house. Elizabeth Ann was terribly 
afraid to see him, for she felt in her bones he would 
say she had galloping consumption and would die 
before the leaves cast a shadow. This was a phrase she 
had picked up from Grace, whose conversation, per- 
haps on account of her asthma, was full of references 
to early graves and quick declines. 

And yet — did you ever hear of such a case before ? — 
although Elizabeth Ann when she first stood up before 
the doctor had been quaking with fear lest he discover 

•12' 



Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 

some deadly disease in her, she was very much hurt 
indeed when, after thumping her and looking at her 
lower eyelid inside out, and listening to her breathing, 
he pushed her away with a little jerk and said: "There's 
nothing in the world the matter with that child. She's 
as sound as a nut! What she needs is . . ." — he looked 
for a moment at Aunt Frances's thin, anxious face, 
with the eyebrows drawn together in a knot of consci- 
entiousness, and then he looked at Aunt Harriet's 
thin, anxious face with the eyebrows drawn up that 
very same way, and then he glanced at Grace's thin, 
anxious face peering from the door waiting for his 
verdict — and then he drew a long breath, shut his lips 
and his little black case tightly, and did not go on to 
say what it was that Elizabeth Ann needed. 

Of course Aunt Frances didn't let him off as easily 
as that. She fluttered around him as he tried to go, and 
she said all sorts of fluttery things to him, like "But, 
Doctor, she hasn't gained a pound in three months 
. . . and her sleep . . . and her appetite . . . and her 
nerves . . ." 

As he put on his hat the doctor said back to her 
all the things doctors say under such conditions: "More 
beefsteak . . . plenty of fresh air . . . more sleep 
. . . she'll be all right . . ." but his voice did not 
sound as though he thought what he was saying 
amounted to much. Nor did Elizabeth Ann. She had 

•13' 



Understood Betsy 

hoped for some spectacular red pills to be taken every 
half-hour, like those Grace's doctor gave her whenever 
she felt low in her mind. 

And then something happened which changed Eliza- 
beth Ann's life forever and ever. It was a very small 
thing, too. Aunt Harriet coughed. Elizabeth Ann did 
not think it at all a bad-sounding cough in comparison 
with Grace's hollow whoop; Aunt Harriet had been 
coughing like that ever since the cold weather set in, 
for three or four months now, and nobody had thought 
anything of it, because they were all so much occupied 
in taking care of the sensitive, nervous little girl. 

Yet, at the sound of that small discreet cough be- 
hind Aunt Harriet's hand, the doctor whirled around 
and fixed his sharp eyes on her. All the bored, impa- 
tient look was gone. It was the first time Elizabeth 
Ann had ever seen him look interested. "What's that? 
What's that?" he said, going over quickly to Aunt 
Harriet. He snatched out of his little bag a shiny thing 
with two rubber tubes attached, and he put the ends of 
the tubes in his ears and the shiny thing up against 
Aunt Harriet, who was saying, "It's nothing, Doctor 
... a teasing cough I've had this winter. I meant to 
tell you, but I forgot it, that that sore spot on my lungs 
doesn't go away as it ought to." 

The doctor motioned her very impolitely to stop 
talking, and listened hard through his little tubes. Then 

.14. 



Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 

he turned around and looked at Aunt Frances as 
though he were angry at her. He said, "Take the child 
away and then come back here yourself." 

That was almost all that Elizabeth Ann ever knew 
of the forces which swept her away from the life which 
had always gone on, revolving about her small person, 
exactly the same ever since she could remember. 

You have heard so much about tears in the account 
of Elizabeth Ann's life so far that I won't tell you 
much about the few days which followed, as the family 
talked over and hurriedly prepared to do what the 
doctor said they must. Aunt Harriet was very, very sick, 
he told them and must go away at once to a warm 
climate. Aunt Frances must go, too, but not Elizabeth 
Ann, for Aunt Frances would need to give all her time 
to taking care of Aunt Harriet. Anyhow the doctor 
didn't think it best, either for Aunt Harriet or for 
Elizabeth Ann, to have them in the same house. 

Grace couldn't go of course, but to everybody's sur- 
prise she said she didn't mind, because she had a 
bachelor brother, who kept a grocery store, who had 
been wanting her for years to go and keep house for 
him. She said she had stayed on just out of conscien- 
tiousness because she knew Aunt Harriet couldn't get 

'15- 



Understood Betsy 

along without her! If you notice, that's the way things 
often happen to very conscientious people. 

Elizabeth Ann, however, had no grocer brother. She 
had, it is true, a great many relatives. It was settled 
she should go to some of them till Aunt Frances could 
take her back. For the time being, just now, while 
everything was so distracted and confused, she was to 
go to stay with the Lathrop cousins, who lived in 
the same city, although it was very evident that the 
Lathrops were not perfectly crazy with delight over 
the prospect. 

Still, something had to be done at once, and Aunt 
Frances was so frantic with the packing up, and the 
moving men coming to take the furniture to storage, 
and her anxiety over her mother — she had switched 
to Aunt Harriet, you see, all the conscientiousness she 
had lavished on Elizabeth Ann — nothing much could 
be extracted from her about Elizabeth Ann. "Just keep 
her for the present, Molly!" she said to Cousin Molly 
Lathrop. "I'll do something soon. I'll write you. I'll 
make another arrangement . . . but just now . . ." 

Her voice was quavering on the edge of tears, and 
Cousin Molly Lathrop, who hated scenes, said hastily, 
"Yes, oh, yes, of course. For the present . . ." and went 
away, thinking that she didn't see why she should 
have all the disagreeable things to do. When she had 
her husband's tyrannical old mother to take care of, 

• i6» 



Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 

wasr't that enough, without adding to the household 
such a nervous, spoiled young one as Elizabeth Ann! 

Elizabeth Ann did not of course for a moment dream 
that Cousin Molly was thinking any such things about 
her, but she could not help seeing that Cousin Molly 
was not any too enthusiastic about taking her in; and 
she was already feeling terribly forlorn about the sud- 
den, unexpected change in Aunt Frances, who had 
been so wrapped up in her and now was just as much 
wrapped up in Aunt Harriet. Do you know, I am sorry 
for Elizabeth Ann, and, what's more, I have been ever 
since this story began. 

Well, since I promised you that I was not going to 
tell about more tears, I won't say a single word about 
the day when the two aunts went away on the train, 
for there is nothing much but tears to tell about, except 
perhaps an absent look in Aunt Frances's eyes which 
hurt the little girl's feelings dreadfully. 

Then Cousin Molly took the hand of the sobbing 
little girl and led her back to the Lathrop house. But 
if you think you are now going to hear about the 
Lathrops, you are quite mistaken, for just at this 
moment old Mrs. Lathrop took a hand in the matter. 
She was Cousin Molly's husband's mother, and., of 
course, no relation at all to Elizabeth Ann, and so was 
less enthusiastic than anybody else. All that Elizabeth 
Ann ever saw of this old lady, who now turned the 

• i7» 



Understood Betsy 

current of her life again, was her head, sticking out of 
a second-story window; and that's all that you need 
to know about her, either. It was a very much agitated 
old head, and it bobbed and shook with the intensity 
with which the old voice called upon Cousin Molly 
and Elizabeth Ann to stop right there where they 
were on the front walk. 

"The doctor says that what's the matter with Bridget 
is scarlet fever, and we've all got to be quarantined. 
There's no earthly sense bringing that child in to be 
sick and have it, and be nursed, and make the quar- 
antine twice as long!" 

"But, Mother!" called Cousin Molly. "I can't leave 
the child in the middle of the street!" 

Elizabeth Ann was actually glad to hear her say that, 
because she was feeling so awfully unwanted, which 
is, if you think of it, not a very cheerful feeling for a 
little girl who has been the hub round which a whole 
household was revolving. 

"You don't have to!" shouted old Mrs. Lathrop out 
of her second-story window. Although she did not add 
"You gump!" aloud, you could feel she was meaning 
just that. "You don't have to! You can just send her 
to the Putney cousins. All nonsense about her not 
going there in the first place. They invited her the 
minute they heard of Harriet's being so bad. They're 
the natural ones to take her in. Abigail is her mother's 

•i8- 



Aunt Harriet Has a Cough 

own aunt, and Ann is her own first-cousin-once-re- 
moved . . . just as close as Harriet and Frances are, 
and much closer than you! And on a farm and all . . . 
just the place for her!" 

"But how under the sun, Mother," shouted Cousin 
Molly back, "can I get her to the Putneys' ? You can't 
send a child of nine a thousand miles without . . ." 

Old Mrs. Lathrop looked again as though she were 
saying "You gump!" and said aloud, "Why, there's 
James going to New York on business in a few days 
anyhow. He can just go now, and take her along and 
put her on the right train at Albany. If he wires from 
here, they'll meet her in Hillsboro." 

And that was just what happened. Perhaps you may 
have guessed by this time that people usually did what 
old Mrs. Lathrop told them to. As to who the Bridget 
was who had the scarlet fever, I know no more than 
you. Maybe she was the cook. Unless, indeed, old Mrs. 
Lathrop made her up for the occasion, which I think 
she would have been quite capable of doing, don't you ? 

At any rate, with no more ifs or ands, Elizabeth 
Ann's satchel was packed, and Cousin James Lathrop's 
satchel was packed, and the two set off together, the 
big, portly, middle-aged man quite as much afraid of 
his mother as Elizabeth Ann was. But he was going to 
New York, and it is conceivable that he thought once 



Understood Betsy 

or twice on the trip that there were good times in New 
York as well as business engagements, whereas poor 
Elizabeth Ann was being sent straight to the one place 
in the world where there were no good times at all. 
Aunt Harriet had said so, ever so many tirr.es. Poor 
Elizabeth Ann! 



.30 



IHAPTEB 2 



SSelsy rKoUs iL C$K 



eins 



You can imagine, perhaps, the terror of Elizabeth Ann 
as the train carried her along toward Vermont and 
the horrible Putney Farm! It had happened so quickly 
— her satchel packed, the telegram sent, the train caught 
— that she had not had time to get her wits together, 
assert herself, and say that she would not go there ! Be- 
sides, she had a sinking notion that perhaps they 
wouldn't pay any attention to her if she did. The 
world had come to an end now that Aunt Frances 
wasn't there to take care of her! Even in the most 
familiar air she could only half breathe without Aunt 
Frances! And now she was not even being taken to 
the Putney Farm! She was being sent! 

She shrank together in her seat, more and more 
frightened as the end of her journey came nearer, and 
looked out dismally at the winter landscape, thinking 
it hideous with its brown bare fields, its brown bare 
trees, and the quick-running little streams hurrying 



Understood Betsy 

along, swollen with the January thaw which had taken 
all the snow from the hills. She had heard her elders 
say about her so many times that she could not stand 




the cold, that she shivered at the very thought of cold 
weather, and certainly nothing could look colder than 
that bleak country into which the train was now slowly 
making its way. 
The engine puffed and puffed with great laboring 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

breaths that shook Elizabeth Ann's diaphragm up and 
down, but the train moved more and more slowly. 
Elizabeth Ann could feel under her feet how the 
floor of the car was tipped up as it crept along the 
steep incline. "Pretty stiff grade here?" said a passenger 
to the conductor. 

"You bet!" he assented. "But Hillsboro is the next 
station and that's at the top of the hill. We go down 
after that to Rutland." He turned to Elizabeth Ann— 
"Say, little girl, didn't your uncle say you were to get 
off at Hillsboro? You'd better be getting your things 
together." 

Poor Elizabeth Ann's knees knocked against each 
other with fear of the strange faces she was to en- 
counter, and when the conductor came to help her 
get off, he had to carry the white, trembling child as 
well as her satchel. But there was only one strange 
face there — not another soul in sight at the little 
wooden station. A grim-faced old man in a fur cap 
and heavy coat stood by a lumber wagon. 

"This is her, Mr. Putney," said the conductor, touch- 
ing his cap, and went back to the train, which went 
away shrieking for a near-by crossing and setting the 
echoes ringing from one mountain to another. 

There was Elizabeth Ann alone with her much- 
feared Great-uncle Henry. He nodded to her, and drew 
out from the bottom of the wagon a warm, large cape, 

•23- 



Understood Betsy 

which he slipped over her shoulders. "The women 
folks were afraid you'd git cold drivin'," he explained. . 
He then lifted her high to the seat, tossed her satchel 
into the wagon, climbed up himself, and clucked to his 
horses. Elizabeth Ann had always before thought it 
an essential part of railway journeys to be much kissed 
at the end and asked a great many times how you had 
"stood the trip." 

She sat very still on the high lumber seat, feeling 
very forlorn and neglected. Her feet dangled high 
above the floor of the wagon. She felt herself to be 
in the most dangerous place she had ever dreamed of 
in her worst dreams. Oh, why wasn't Aunt Frances 
there to take care of her ! It was just like one of her bad 
dreams — yes, it was horrible ! She would fall, she would 
roll under the wheels and be crushed to . . . She 
looked up at Uncle Henry with the wild eyes of nervous 
terror which always brought Aunt Frances to her in 
a rush to "hear all about it," to sympathize, to reassure. 

Uncle Henry looked down at her soberly, his hard, 
weather-beaten old face unmoved. "Here, you drive, 
will you, for a piece?" he said briefly, putting the reins 
into her hands, hooking his spectacles over his ears, 
and drawing out a stubby pencil and a bit of paper. 
"I've got some figgering to do. You pull on the left- 
hand rein to make 'em go to the left and t'other way 

•24- 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

for t'other way, though 'tain't likely we'll meet any 
teams." 

Elizabeth Ann had been so near one of her wild 
screams of terror that now, in spite of her instant ab- 
sorbed interest in the reins, she gave a queer little yelp. 
She was all ready with the explanation, her conversa- 
tions with Aunt Frances having made her very fluent 
in explanations of her own emotions. She would tell 
Uncle Henry about how scared she had been, and how 
she had just been about to scream and couldn't keep 
back that one little . . . But Uncle Henry seemed not 
to have heard her little howl, or, if he had, didn't 
think it worch conversation, for he . . . oh, the horses 
were certainly going to one side! She hastily decided 
which was her right hand (she had never been forced 
to know it so quickly before) and pulled on that rein. 
The horses turned their hanging heads a little, and, 
miraculously, there they were in the middle of the 
road again. 

Elizabeth Ann drew a long breath of relief and pride, 
and looked to Uncle Henry for praise. But he was 
busily setting down figures as though he were getting 
his 'rithmetic lesson for the next day and had not no- 
ticed . . . Oh, there they were going to the left again ! 
This time, in her flurry, she made a mistake about 
which hand was which and pulled wildly on the left 
line! The horses docilely walked off the road into a 

•25- 



Understood Betsy 

..•hallow ditch, the wagon tilted . . . help! Why didn't 
Uncle Henry help! Uncle Henry continued intently 
figuring on the back of his envelope. 

Elizabeth Ann, the perspiration starting out on her 
forehead, pulled on the other line. The horses turned 
back up the little slope, the wheel grated sickeningly 
against the wagon-box — she was sure they would tip 
over! But there! somehow there they were in the road, 
safe and sound, with Uncle Henry adding up a column 
of figures. If he only knew, thought the little girl, if 
he only \new the danger he had been in, and how he 
had been saved . . . ! But she must think of some way 
to remember, for sure, which her right hand was, and 
avoid that hideous mistake again. 

And then suddenly something inside Elizabeth Ann's 
head stirred and moved. It came to her, like a clap, that 
she needn't know which was right or left. If she just 
pulled the way she wanted them to go — the horses 
would never know whether it was the right or the left 
rein! 

It is possible that what stirred inside her head at that 
moment was her brain, waking up. She was nine 
years old, and she was in the third A grade at school, 
but that was the first time she had ever had a whole 
thought of her very own. At home, Aunt Frances 
had always known exactly what she was doing, and 
had helped her over the hard places before she even 

•26' 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

knew they were there; and at school her teachers had 
been carefully trained to think faster than the scholars. 
Somebody had always been explaining things to Eliza- 




beth Ann so carefully that she had never found out a 
single thing for herself before. This was a very small 
discovery, but it was her own. Elizabeth Ann was as 
excited about it as a mother-bird over the first egg that 
hatches. 
She forgot how afraid she was of Uncle Henry, and 
•27- 



Understood Betsy 

poured out to him her discovery. "It's not right or left 
that matters!" she ended triumphantly; "it's which 
way you want to go!" Uncle Henry looked at her at- 
tentively as she talked, eyeing her sidewise over the 
top of one spectacle-glass. When she finished — "Well, 
now, that's so," he admitted, and returned to his arith- 
metic. 

It was a short remark, shorter than any Elizabeth 
Ann had ever heard before. Aunt Frances and her 
teachers always explained matters at length. But it 
had a weighty, satisfying ring to it. The little girl felt 
the importance of having her statement recognized. 
She turned back to her driving. 

The slow, heavy plow horses had stopped during 
her talk with Uncle Henry. They stood as still now as 
though their feet had grown to the road. Elizabeth 
Ann looked up at the old man for instructions. But 
he was deep in his figures. She had been taught never 
to interrupt people, so she sat still and waited for him 
to tell her what to do. 

But, although they were driving in the midst of a 
winter thaw, it was a pretty cold day, with an icy wind 
blowing down the back of her neck. The early winter 
twilight was beginning to fall, and she felt rather 
empty. She grew tired of waiting, and remembered 
how the grocer's boy at home had started his horse. 
Then, summoning all her courage, with an uneasy 

•28- 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

glance at Uncle Henry's arithmetical silence, she 
slapped the reins up and down on the horses' backs 
and made the best imitation she could of the grocer's 
boy's cluck. The horses lifted their heads, they leaned 
forward, they put one foot before the other . . . they 
were off! The color rose hot on Elizabeth Ann's happy 
face. If she had started a big red automobile she would 
not have been prouder. For it was the first thing she 
had ever done all herself . . . every bit . . . every 
smitch! She had thought of it and she had done it. 
And it had worked! 

Now for what seemed to her a long, long time she 
drove, drove so hard she could think of nothing else. 
She guided the horses around stones, she cheered them 
through freezing mud-puddles of melted snow, she 
kept them in the anxiously exact middle of the road. 
She was quite astonished when Uncle Henry put hi;- 
pencil and paper away, took the reins from her hands, 
and drove into a yard, on one side of which was a 
little low white house and on the other a big red barn. 
He did not say a word, but she guessed that this was 
Putney Farm. 

Two women in gingham dresses and white aprons 
came out of the house. One was old and one might be 
called young, just like Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances. 
But they looked very different from those aunts. The 
dark-haired one was very tall and strong-looking, and 

•29' 



Understood Betsy 

the white-haired one was very rosy and fat. They both 
looked up at the little, thin, white-faced girl on the 
high seat, and smiled. "Well, Father, you got her, I 
see," said the brown-haired one. She stepped up to the 
wagon and held up her arms to the child. "Come on, 
Betsy, and get some supper," she said, as though Eliza- 
beth Ann had lived there all her life and had just 
driven into town and back. 

And that was the arrival of Elizabeth Ann at Putney 
Farm. 

The brown-haired one took a long, strong step or 
two and swung her up on the porch. "You take her 
in, Mother," she said. "I'll help Father unhitch." 

The fat, rosy, white-haired one took Elizabeth Ann's 
skinny, cold little hand in her soft warm, fat one, and 
led her along to the open kitchen door. "I'm your 
Aunt Abigail," she said. "Your mother's aunt, you 
know. And that's your Cousin Ann that lifted you 
down, and it was your Uncle Henry that brought you 
out from town." She shut the door and went on, "I 
don't know if your Aunt Harriet ever happened to 
tell you about us, and so . . ." 

Elizabeth Ann interrupted her hastily, the recollec- 
tion of all Aunt Harriet's remarks vividly before her. 
"Oh, yes, oh, yes!" she said. "She always talked about 
you. She talked about you a lot, she . . ." The little 
girl stopped short and bit her lip. 

• 30« 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

If Aunt Abigail guessed from the expression on 
Elizabeth Ann's face what kind of talking Aunt Har- 
riet's had been, she showed it only by a deepening of 
the wrinkles all around her eyes. She said, gravely: 
"Well, that's a good thing. You know all about us 
then." She turned to the stove and took out of the 
oven a pan of hot baked beans, very brown and crispy 
on top (Elizabeth Ann detested beans), and said, over 
her shoulder, "Take your things off, Betsy, and hang 
'em on that lowest hook back of the door. That's your 
hook." 

The little girl fumbled forlornly with the fastenings 
of her cape and the buttons of her coat. At home, Aunt 
Frances or Grace had always taken off her wraps and 
put them away for her. When, very sorry for herself, 
she turned away from the hook, Aunt Abigail said: 
"Now you must be cold. Pull a chair right up here 
by the stove." She was stepping around quickly as she 
put supper on the table. The floor shook under her. 
She was one of the fattest people Elizabeth Ann had 
ever seen. After living with Aunt Frances and Aunt 
Harriet and Grace the little girl could scarcely believe 
her eyes. She stared and stared. 

Aunt Abigail seemed not to notice this. Indeed, she 
seemed for the moment to have forgotten all about the 
new-comer. Elizabeth Ann sat on the wooden chair, 
her feet hanging (she had been taught that it was not 

•31 • 



Understood Betsy 

manners to put her feet on the rungs), looking about 
her with miserable, homesick eyes. What an ugly, low- 
ceilinged room, with only a couple of horrid kerosene 
lamps for light; and they didn't keep any girl, evi- 
dently; and they were going to eat right in the kitchen 
like poor people; and nobody spoke to her or looked 
at her or asked her how she had "stood the trip"; and 
here she was, millions of miles away from Aunt Fran- 
ces, without anybody to take care of her. She began 
to feel the tight place in her throat which, by thinking 
about hard, she could always turn into tears, and 
presently her eyes began to water. 

Aunt Abigail was not looking at her at all, but she 
now stopped short in one of her rushes to the table, 
set down the butter-plate she was carrying, and said 
"There!" as though she had forgotten something. She 
stooped — it was perfectly amazing how spry she was — 
and pulled out from under the stove a half-grown 
kitten, very sleepy, yawning and stretching, and blink- 
ing its eyes. "There, Betsy!" said Aunt Abigail, put- 
ting the little yellow and white ball into the child's 
lap. "There is one of old Whitey's kittens that didn't 
get given away last summer, and she pesters the life 
out of me. I've got so much to do. When I heard you 
were coming, I thought maybe you would take care 
of her for me. If you want to, enough to bother to feed 
her and all, you can have her for your own." 

.32- 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

Elizabeth Ann bent her thin face over the warm, 
furry, friendly little animal. She could not speak. She 
had always wanted a kitten, but Aunt Frances and 
Aunt Harriet and Grace had always been sure that 
cats brought diphtheria and tonsillitis and all sorts of 
dreadful diseases to delicate little girls. She was afraid 
to move for fear the little thing would jump down and 
run away, but as she bent cautiously toward it the 
necktie of her middy blouse fell forward and the 
kitten in the middle of a yawn struck swiftly at it 
with a soft paw. Then, still too sleepy to play, it turned 
its head and began to lick Elizabeth Ann's hand with 
a rough little tongue. Perhaps you can imagine how 
thrilled the little girl was at this! She held her hand 
perfectly still until the kitten stopped and began sud- 
denly washing its own face, and then she put her hands 
under it and very awkwardly lifted it up, burying her 
face in the soft fur. The kitten yawned again, and from 
the pink-lined mouth came a fresh, milky breath. "Oh!" 
said Elizabeth Ann under her breath. "Oh, you 
darling!" The kitten looked at her with bored, specula- 
tive eyes. 

Elizabeth Ann looked up now at Aunt Abigail and 
said, "What is its name, please?" But the old woman 
was busy turning over a griddle full of pancakes and 
did not hear. On the train Elizabeth Ann had resolved 
not to call these hateful relatives by the same name 

•33' 



Understood Betsy 

she had for dear Aunt Frances, but she now forgot 
that resolution and said, again, "Oh, Aunt Abigail, 
what is its name?" 

Aunt Abigail faced her blankly. "Name ?" she asked. 
"Whose ... oh, the kitten's? Goodness, child, I 
stopped racking my brain for kitten names sixty years 
ago. Name it yourself. It's yours." 

Elizabeth Ann had already named it in her own 
mind, the name she had always thought she would 
call a kitten by, if she ever had one. It was Eleanor, the 
prettiest name she knew. 

Aunt Abigail pushed a pitcher toward her. "There's 
the cat's saucer under the sink. Don't you want to 
give it some milk ?" 

Elizabeth Ann got down from her chair, poured 
some milk into the saucer, and called: "Here, Eleanor! 
Here, Eleanor!" 

Aunt Abigail looked at her sharply out of the corner 
of her eye and her lips twitched, but her face was 
quite serious as a moment later she carried the last 
plate of pancakes to the table. 

Elizabeth Ann sat on her heels for a long time, 
watching the kitten lap the milk, and she was sur- 
prised, when she stood up, to see that Cousin Ann and 
Uncle Henry had come in, very red-cheeked from the 
cold air. 

"Well, folks," said Aunt Abigail, "don't you think 

•34" 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

we've done some lively stepping around, Betsy and I, 
to get supper all on the table for you?" 

Elizabeth Ann stared. What did Aunt Abigail mean? 
She hadn't done a thing about getting supper! But 




nobody made any comment, and they all took their 
seats and began to eat. Elizabeth Ann was astonishingly 
hungry, and she thought she could never get enough 
"of the creamed potatoes, cold ham, hot cocoa, and 
pancakes. She was very much relieved that her refusal 
of beans caused no comment. Aunt Frances had always 
tried very hard to make her eat beans because they have 
so much protein in them, and growing children need 

•35' 



Understood Betsy 

protein. Elizabeth Ann had heard this said so many 
times she could have repeated it backward, but it had 
never made her hate beans any the less. However, no- 
body here seemed to know this, and Elizabeth Ann 
kept her knowledge to herself. They had also evidently 
never heard how delicate her digestion was, for she 
never saw anything like the number of pancakes they 
let her eat. All she wanted! She had never heard of 
such a thing! 

They still did not ask her how she had "stood the 
trip." They did not indeed ask her much of anything 
or pay very much attention to her beyond filling her 
plate as fast as she emptied it. In the middle of the 
meal Eleanor came, jumped into her lap, and curled 
down, purring. After this Elizabeth Ann kept one 
hand on the little soft ball, handling her fork with 
the other. 

After supper — well, Elizabeth Ann never knew what 
did happen after supper until she felt somebody lifting 
her and carrying her upstairs. It was Cousin Ann, who 
carried her as lightly as though she were a baby, and 
who said, as she set her down on the floor in a slant- 
ceilinged bedroom, "You went right to sleep with your 
head on the table. I guess you're pretty tired." 

Aunt Abigail was sitting on the edge of a great 
wide bed with four posts, and a curtain around the 
top. She was partly undressed, and was undoing her 

•36* 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

hair and brushing it out. It was very curly and all 
fluffed out in a shining white fuzz around her fat, 
pink face, full of soft wrinkles; but in a moment she 
was braiding it up again and putting on a tight white 
nightcap, which she tied under her chin. 

"We got the word about your coming so late," said 
Cousin Ann, "that we didn't have time to fix you up 
a bedroom that can be warmed. So you're going to 
sleep in here for a while. The bed's big enough for 
two, I guess, even if they are as big as you and Mother." 

Elizabeth Ann stared again. What queer things they 
said here. She wasn't nearly as big as Aunt Abigail! 

"Mother, did you put Shep out?" asked Cousin Ann; 
and when Aunt Abigail said, "No! There! I forgot 
to!" Cousin Ann went away; and that was the last of 
her. They certainly believed in being saving of theii 
words at Putney Farm. 

Elizabeth Ann began to undress. She was only half- 
awake; and that made her feel only about half her 
age, which wasn't very great, the whole of it, and 
she felt like just crooking her arm over her eyes and 
giving up! She was too forlorn! She had never slept 
with anybody before, and she had heard ever so many 
times how bad it was for children to sleep with grown- 
ups. An icy wind rattled the windows and puffed in 
around the loose old casings. On the window-sill lay 
a little wreath of snow. Elizabeth Ann shivered and 

•37" 



Understood Betsy 

shook on her thin legs, undressed in a hurry, and 
slipped into her night-dress. She felt just as cold inside 
as out, and never was more utterly miserable than in 
that strange, ugly little room, with that strange, queer, 
fat old woman. She was even too miserable to cry, and 
that is saying a great deal for Elizabeth Ann! 

She got into bed first, because Aunt Abigail said 
she was going to keep the candle lighted for a while 
and read. "And anyhow," she said, "I'd better sleep 
on the outside to keep you from rolling out." 

Elizabeth Ann and Aunt Abigail lay very still for 
a long time, Aunt Abigail reading out of a small, worn 
old book. Elizabeth Ann could see its title, "Essays of 
Emerson." A book with that name had always laid 
on the center table in Aunt Harriet's house, but that 
copy was all new and shiny, and Elizabeth Ann had 
never seen anybody look inside it. It was a very dull- 
looking book, with no pictures and no conversation. 
The little girl lay on her back, looking up at the cracks 
in the plaster ceiling and watching the shadows sway 
and dance as the candle flickered in the gusts of cold 
air. She herself began to feel a soft, pervasive warmth. 
Aunt Abigail's great body was like a stove. 

It was very, very quiet, quieter than any place Eliza- 
beth Ann had ever known, except church, because a 
trolley-line ran past Aunt Harriet's house and even at 
night there were always more or less hangings and 

•38- 



Betsy Holds the Reins 

rattlings. Here there was not a single sound except the 
soft, whispery noise when Aunt Abigail turned over a 
page as she read. Elizabeth Ann turned her head so 
that she could see the round, rosy old face, full of soft 
wrinkles, and the calm, steady old eyes fixed on the 
page. As she lay there in the warm bed, watching that 
quiet face, something very queer began to happen 
to Elizabeth Ann. She felt as though a tight knot in- 
side her were slowly being untied. She felt — what was 
it she felt? There are no words for it. From deep 
within her something rose up softly . . . she drew 
one or two long, half-sobbing breaths. . . . 

Aunt Abigail laid down her book and looked over 
at the child. "Do you know," she said, in a conversa- 
tional tone, "do you know, I think it's going to be 
real nice, having a little girl in the house again." 

Oh, then the tight knot in the little unwanted 
girl's heart was loosened indeed! It all gave way at 
once, and Elizabeth Ann burst suddenly into hot 
tears — yes, I know I said I would not tell you any 
more about her crying; but these tears were very dif- 
ferent from any she had ever shed before. And they 
were the last, too, for a long, long time. 

Aunt Abigail said, "Well, well!" and moving over 
in bed took the little weeping girl into her arms. She 
did not say another word then, but she put her soft, 
withered old cheek close against Elizabeth Ann's, till 

•39* 



Understood Betsy 

the sobs began to grow less, and then she said: "I 
hear your kitty crying outside the door. Shall I let 
her in? I expect she'd like to sleep with you. I guess 
there's room for three of us." 

She got out of bed as she spoke and walked across 
the room to the door. The floor shook under her 
great bulk, and the peak of her nightcap made a long, 
grotesque shadow. But as she came back with the 
kitten in her arms Elizabeth Ann saw nothing funny 
in her looks. She gave Eleanor to the little girl and 
got into bed again. "There, now, I guess we're ready 
for the night," she said. "You put the kitty on the 
other side of you so she won't fall out of bed." 

She blew the light out and moved over a little closer 
to Elizabeth Ann, who immediately was enveloped in 
that delicious warmth. The kitten curled up under the 
little girl's chin. Between her and the terrors of the 
dark room loomed the rampart of Aunt Abigail's great 
body. 

Elizabeth Ann drew a long, long breath . . . and 
when she opened her eyes the sun was shining in at 
the window. 



■40- 



CHAPTER 3 



(A cAorl on, 



ornmg 



Aunt Abigail was gone, Eleanor was gone. The room 
was quite empty except for the bright sunshine pour- 
ing in through the small-paned windows. Elizabeth 
Ann stretched and yawned and looked about her. What 
funny wall-paper it was — so old-fashioned looking! 
The picture was of a blue river and a brown mill, with 
green willow-trees over it, and a man with sacks on 
his horse's back stood in front of the mill. This picture 
was repeated a great many times, all over the paper; 
and in the corner, where it hadn't come out even, they 
had had to cut it right down the middle of the horse. 
It was very curious-looking. She stared at it a long 
time, waiting for somebody to tell her when to get up. 
At home Aunt Frances always told her, and helped 
her get dressed. But here nobody came. She discovered 
that the heat came from a hole in the floor near the 
bed, which opened down into the room below. From it 
came a warm breath of baking bread and a muffled 
thump once in a while. 

•41 • 



Understood Betsy 

The sun rose higher and higher, and Elizabeth 
Ann grew hungrier and hungrier. Finally it occurred 
to her that it was not absolutely necessary to have some- 
body tell her to get up. She reached for her clothes and 
began to dress. When she had finished she went out 
into the hall, and with a return of her aggrieved, 
abandoned feeling (you must remember that her 
stomach was very empty) she began to try to find her 
way downstairs. She soon found the steps, went down 
them one at a time, and pushed open the door at the 
foot. Cousin Ann, the brown-haired one, was ironing 
near the stove. She nodded and smiled as the child 
came into the room, and said, "Well, you must feel 
rested!" 

"Oh, I haven't been asleep!" explained Elizabeth 
Ann. "I was waiting for somebody to tell me to get up." 

"Oh," said Cousin Ann, opening her black eyes a 
little. "Were you?" She said no more than this, but 
Elizabeth Ann decided hastily that she would not add, 
as she had been about to, that she was also waitingior 
somebody to help her dress and do her hair. As a 
matter of fact, she had greatly enjoyed doing her own 
hair — the first time she had ever tried it. It had never 
occurred to Aunt Frances that her little baby-girl had 
grown up enough to be her own hairdresser, nor had 
it occurred to Elizabeth Ann that this might be possible. 
But as she struggled with the snarls she had had a 

•42- 



A Short Morning 

sudden wild idea of doing it a different way from the 
pretty fashion Aunt Frances always followed. Elizabeth 
Ann had always secretly envied a girl in her class whose 
hair was all tied back from her face, with one big knot 
in her ribbon at the back of her neck. It looked so 
grown-up. And this morning she had done hers that 
way, turning her neck till it ached, so that she could 
see the coveted tight effect at the back. And still — 
aren't little girls queer? — although she had enjoyed 
doing her own hair, she was very much inclined to 
feel hurt because Cousin Ann had not come to do it 
for her. 

Cousin Ann set her iron down with the soft thump 
which Elizabeth Ann had heard upstairs. She began 
folding a napkin, and said : "Now reach yourself a bowl 
off the shelf yonder. The oatmeal's in that kettle on 
the stove and the milk is in the blue pitcher. If you 
want a piece of bread and butter, here's a new loaf 
just out of the oven, and the butter's in that brown 
crock." 

Elizabeth Ann followed these instructions and sat 
down before this quickly assembled breakfast in a 
very much surprised silence. At home it took the girl 
more than half an hour to get breakfast and set the 
table, and then she had to wait on them besides. She 
began to pour the milk out of the pitcher and stopped 

■43' 



Understood Betsy 

suddenly. "Oh, I'm afraid I've taken more than my 
share!" she said apologetically. 

Cousin Ann looked up from her rapidly moving 
iron, and said, in an astonished voice: "Your share? 
What do you mean?" 

"My share of the quart," explained Elizabeth Ann. 
At home they bought a quart of milk and a cup of 
cream every day, and they were all very conscientious 
about not taking more than their due share. 

"Good land, child, take all the mil\ you want!" 
said Cousin Ann, as though she found something 
shocking in what the little girl had just said. Elizabeth 
Ann thought to herself that she spoke as though milk 
ran out of a faucet, like water. 

She was fond of milk, and she made a good break- 
fast as she sat looking about the low-ceilinged room. 
It was unlike any room she had ever seen. 

It was, of course, the kitchen, and yet it didn't seem 
possible that the same word could be applied to that 
room and the small, dark cubby-hole which had been 
Grace's asthmatical kingdom. This room was very long 
and narrow, and all along one side were windows 
with white, ruffled curtains drawn back at the sides, 
and with small, shining panes of glass, through which 
the sun poured golden light on a long shelf of potted 
plants that took the place of a window-sill. The shelf 
was covered with shining white oil-cloth, the pots were 

.44. 



Understood Betsy 

of clean reddish brown, the sturdy, stocky plants of 
bright green with clear red-and-white flowers. Eliza- 
beth Ann's eyes wandered all over the kitchen from 
the low, white ceiling to the clean, bare wooden floor, 
but they always came back to those sunny windows. 
Once, back in the big brick school-building, as she 
had sat drooping her thin shoulders over her desk, 
some sort of a procession had gone by with a brass 
band playing a lively air. For some reason, every time 
she now glanced at that sheet of sunlight and the 
bright flowers she had a little of the same thrill which 
had straightened her back and gone up and down 
her spine while the band was playing. Possibly Aunt 
Frances was right, after all, and Elizabeth Ann was 
a very impressionable child. I wonder, by the way, if 
anybody ever saw a child who wasn't. 

At one end, the end where Cousin Ann was ironing, 
stood the kitchen stove, gleaming black, with a tea- 
kettle humming away on it, a big hot-water boiler near 
it, and a large kitchen cabinet with lots of drawers and 
shelves and hooks and things. Beyond that, in the 
middle of the room, was the table where they had 
had supper last night, and at which the little girl 
now sat eating her very late breakfast; and beyond 
that, at the other end of the room, was another table 
with an old dark-red cashmere shawl on it for a cover. 
A large lamp stood in the middle of this, a bookcase 

•46- 



A Short Morning 

near it, two or three rocking-chairs around it, and 
back of it, against the wall, was a wide sofa covered 
with bright cretonne, with three bright pillows. Some- 
thing big and black and woolly was lying on this 
sofa, snoring loudly. As Cousin Ann saw the little 
girl's fearful glance alight on this she explained: 
"That's Shep, our old dog. Doesn't he make an awful 
noise! Mother says, when she happens to be alone 
here in the evening, it's real company to hear Shep 
snore — as good as having a man in the house." 

Although this did not seem at all a sensible remark 
to Elizabeth Ann, who thought soberly to herself that 
she didn't see why snoring made a dog as good as a 
man, still she was acute enough (for she was really 
quite an intelligent little girl) to feel that it belonged 
in the same class of remarks as one or two others she 
had noted as "queer" in the talk at Putney Farm last 
night. This variety of talk was entirely new to her, 
nobody in Aunt Harriet's conscientious household ever 
making anything but plain statements of fact. It was 
one of the "queer Putney ways" which Aunt Harriet 
had forgotten to mention. It is possible that Aunt 
Harriet had never noticed it. 

When Elizabeth Ann finished her breakfast, Cousin 
Ann made three suggestions, using exactly the same 
accent for them all. She said: "Wouldn't you better 
wash your dishes up now before they get sticky? And 

.47. 



Understood Betsy 

don't you want one of those red apples from the dish 
on the side table? And then maybe you'd like to look 
around the house so's to know where you are." Eliza- 
beth Ann had never washed a dish in all her life, 
and she had always thought that nobody but poor, 
ignorant people, who couldn't afford to hire girls, did 
such things. And yet (it was odd) she did not feel like 
saying this to Cousin Ann, who stood there so straight 
in her gingham dress and apron, with her clear, bright 
eyes and red cheeks. Besides this feeling, Elizabeth 
Ann was overcome with embarrassment at the idea of 
undertaking a new task in that casual way. How in 
the world did you wash dishes ? She stood rooted to the 
spot, irresolute, horribly shy, and looking, though she 
did not know it, very clouded and sullen. Cousin Ann 
said briskly, holding an iron up to her cheek to see if 
it was hot enough: "Just take them over to the sink 
there and hold them under the hot-water faucet. 
They'll be clean in no time. The dish-towels are those 
hanging on the rack over the stove." 

Elizabeth Ann moved promptly over to the sink, 
as though Cousin Ann's words had shoved her there, 
and before she knew it, her saucer, cup, and spoon 
were clean and she was wiping them on a dry checked 
towel. "The spoon goes in the side-table drawer with 
the other silver, and the saucer and cup in those shelves 
there behind the glass doors where the china belongs," 

•48- 



A Short Morning 

continued Cousin Ann, thumping hard with her iron 
on a napkin and not looking up at all, "and don't 
forget your apple as you go out. Those Northern Spies 
are just getting to be good about now. When they first 
come off the tree in October you could shoot them 
through on oak plank." 

Now Elizabeth Ann knew that this was a foolish 
thing to say, since of course an apple never could go 
through a board; but something that had always been 
sound asleep in her brain woke up a little, little bit 
and opened one eye. For it occurred dimly to Elizabeth 
Ann that this was a rather funny way of saying that 
Northern Spies are very hard when you first pick them 
in the autumn. She had to figure it out for herself 
slowly, because it was a new idea to her, and she was 
halfway through her tour of inspection of the house 
before there glimmered on her lips, in a faint smile, 
the first recognition of a joke in all her life. She felt 
like calling down to Cousin Ann that she saw the 
point, but before she had taken a single step toward 
the head of the stairs she had decided not to do this. 
Cousin Ann, with her bright, dark eyes, and her 
straight back, and her long arms, and her way of 
speaking as though it never occurred to her that you 
wouldn't do just as she said — Elizabeth Ann was not 
sure that she liked Cousin Ann, and she was very sure 
that she was afraid of her. 

•49- 



Understood Betsy 

So she went on, walking from one room to another, 
industriously eating the red apple, the biggest she had 
ever seen. It was the best, too, with its crisp, white 
flesh and the delicious, sour-sweet juice which made 
Elizabeth Ann feel with each mouthful like hurrying 
to take another. She did not think much more of the 
other rooms in the house than she had of the kitchen. 
There were no draped "throws" over anything; there 
were no lace curtains at the windows, just dotted 
Swiss like the kitchen; all the ceilings were very low; 
the furniture was all of dark wood and very old- 
looking; what few rugs there were were of bright- 
colored rags; the mirrors were queer and old, with 
funny pictures at the top ; all the beds were old wooden 
ones with posts, and curtains round the tops; and there 
was not a single plush portiere in the parlor, whereas 
at Aunt Harriet's there had been two sets for that one 
room. 

She was glad to see no piano. In her heart she had 
not liked her music lessons at all, but she had never 
dreamed of not accepting them from Aunt Frances 
as she accepted everything else. Also she had liked to 
hear Aunt Frances boast about how much better she 
could play than other children of her age. 

She was downstairs by this time, and, opening a 
door out of the parlor, found herself back in the 
kitchen, the long line of sunny windows and the bright 

•50' 



A Short Morning 

flowers giving her that quick little thrill again. Cousin 
Ann looked up from her ironing, nodded, and said: 
"All through? You'd better come in and get warmed 
up. Those rooms get awfully cold these January days. 
Winters we mostly use this room so's to get the good 
of the kitchen stove." She added after a moment, dur- 
ing which Elizabeth Ann stood by the stove, warming 
her hands: ''There's one place you haven't seen yet — the 
milk-room. Mother's down there now, churning. That's 
the door — the middle one." 

Elizabeth Ann had been wondering and wondering 
where in the world Aunt Abigail was. So she stepped 
quickly to the door, and went down the cold dark 
stairs she found there. At the bottom was a door, locked 
apparently, for she could find no fastening. She heard 
steps inside, the door was briskly cast open, and she 
almost fell into the arms of Aunt Abigail, who caught 
her as she stumbled forward, saying: "Well, I've been 
expectin' you down here for a long time. I never saw a 
little girl yet who didn't like to watch butter-making. 
Don't you love to run the butter-worker over it? I do, 
myself, for all I'm seventy-two!" 

"I don't know anything about it," said Elizabeth 
Ann. "I don't know what you make butter out of. Wc 
always bought ours." 

"Well, for goodness' sa\esl" said Aunt Abigail. She 
turned and called across the room, "Henry, did you 

•51- 



Understood Betsy 

ever! Here's Betsy saying she doesn't know what we 
make butter out of! She actually never saw anybody 
making butter!" 

Uncle Henry was sitting down, near the window, 
turning the handle of a small barrel swung between 
two uprights. He stopped for a moment and considered 
Aunt Abigail's remark with the same serious attention 
he had given to Elizabeth Ann's discovery about left 
and right. Then he began to turn the churn over and 
over again and said, peaceably: "Well, Mother, you 
never saw anybody laying asphalt pavement, I'll war- 
rant you! And I suppose Betsy knows all about that." 

Elizabeth Ann's spirits rose. She felt very superior 
indeed. "Oh, yes," she assured them, "I know all about 
that! Didn't you ever see anybody doing that? Why, 
I've seen them hundreds of times! Every day as we went 
to school they were doing over the whole pavement 
for blocks along there." 

Aunt Abigail and Uncle Henry looked at her with 
interest, and Aunt Abigail said: "Well, now, think 
of that! Tell us all about it!" 

"Why, there's a big black sort of wagon," began 
Elizabeth Ann, "and they run it up and down and 
pour out the black stuff on the road. And that's all there 
is to it." She stopped, rather abruptly, looking uneasy. 
Uncle Henry inquired: "Now there's one thing I've 

•52- 



A Short Morning 

always wanted to know. How do they keep that stuff 
from hardening on them? How do they keep it hot?" 

The little girl looked blank. "Why, a fire, I suppose," 
she faltered, searching her memory desperately and 
finding there only a dim recollection of a red glow 
somewhere connected with the familiar scene. 

"Of course a fire," agreed Uncle Henry. "But what 
do they burn in it, coke or coal or wood or charcoal? 
And how do they get any draft to keep it going?" 

Elizabeth Ann shook her head. "I never noticed," 
she said. 

Aunt Abigail asked her now, "What do they do to 
the road before they pour it on?" 

"Do?" said Elizabeth Ann. "I didn't know they did 
anything." 

"Well, they can't pour it right on a dirt road, can 
they?" asked Aunt Abigail. "Don't they put down 
cracked stone or something?" 

Elizabeth Ann looked down at her toes. "I never 
noticed," she said. 

"I wonder how long it takes for it to harden?" said 
Uncle Henry. 

"I never noticed," said Elizabeth Ann, in a small 
voice. 

Uncle Henry said, "Oh!" and stopped asking ques- 
tions. Aunt Abigail turned away and put a stick of 
wood in the stove. Elizabeth Ann did not feel very 

•53' 



Understood Betsy 

superior now, and when Aunt Abigail said, "Now 
the butter's beginning to come. Don't you want to 
watch and see everything I do, so's you can answer if 
anybody asks you how butter is made?" Elizabeth Ann 
understood perfectly what was in Aunt Abigail's mind, 
and gave to the process of butter-making a more alert 
and aroused attention than she had ever before given 
to anything. It was so interesting, too, that in no 
time she forgot why she was watching, and was ab- 
sorbed in the fascinations of the dairy for their own 
sake. 

She looked in the churn as Aunt Abigail unscrewed 
the top, and saw the thick, sour cream separating into 
buttermilk and tiny golden particles. "It's gathering," 
said Aunt Abigail, screwing the lid back on. "Father'U 
churn it a little more till it really comes. And you and 
I will scald the wooden butter things and get every- 
thing ready. You'd better take that apron there to 
keep your dress clean." 

Wouldn't Aunt Frances have been astonished if 
she could have looked in on Elizabeth Ann that very 
first morning of her stay at the hateful Putney Farm 
and have seen her wrapped in a gingham apron, her 
face bright with interest, trotting here and there in 
the stone-floored milk-room! She was allowed the ex- 
citement of pulling out the plug from the bottom of 
the churn, and dodged back hastily to escape the gush 

•54' 



A Short Morning 

cf buttermilk spouting into the pail held by Aunt Abi- 
gail. And she poured the water in to wash the butter, 
and screwed on the top herself, and, again all herself 
(for Uncle Henry had gone off as soon as the butter 
had "come"), swung the barrel back and forth six or 
seven times to swish the water all through the particles 
of butter. She even helped Aunt Abigail scoop out the 
great yellow lumps — her imagination had never con- 
ceived of so much butter in all the world! Then Aunt 
Abigail let her run the curiously shaped wooden butter- 
worker back and forth over the butter, squeezing out 
the water, and then pile it up again with her wooden 
paddle into a mound of gold. She weighed out the 
salt needed on the scales, and was very much sur- 
prised to find that there really is such a thing as an 
ounce. She had never met it before outside the pages 
of her arithmetic book and she didn't know it lived 
anywhere else. 

After the salt was worked in she watched Aunt 
Abigail's deft, wrinkled old hands make pats and 
rolls. It looked like the greatest fun, and too easy for 
anything; and when Aunt Abigail asked her if she 
wouldn't like to make up the last half-pound into a 
pat for dinner, she took up the wooden paddle confi- 
dently. And then she got one of the surprises that 
Putney Farm seemed to have for her. She discovered 
that her hands didn't seem to belong to her at all, that 



Understood Betsy 

her fingers were all thumbs, that she didn't seem to 
know in the least beforehand how hard a stroke she 
was going to give nor which way her fingers were 
going to go. It was, as a matter of fact, the first time 
Elizabeth Ann had tried to do anything with her hands 
except to write and figure and play on the piano, and 
naturally she wasn't very well acquainted with them. 
She stopped in dismay, looking at the shapeless, bat- 
tered heap of butter before her and holding out her 
hands as though they were not part of her. 

Aunt Abigail laughed, took up the paddle, and after 
three or four passes the butter was a smooth, yellow ball. 
"Well, that brings it all back to me!" she said — "when 
J was a little girl, when my grandmother first let me 
try to make a pat. I was about five years old — my\ 
what a mess I made of it! And I remember — doesn't 
it seem funny — that she laughed and said her Great- 
aunt Elmira had taught her how to handle butter 
right here in this very milk-room. Let's see, Grand- 
mother was born the year the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence was signed. That's quite a while ago, isn't 
it? But butter hasn't changed much, I guess, nor little 
girls either." 

Elizabeth Ann listened to this statement with a very 
queer, startled expression on her face, as though she 
hadn't understood the words. Now for a moment she 
stood staring up in Aunt Abigail's face, and yet not 

.56* 



A Short Morning 

seeing her at all, because she was thinking so hard. She 
was thinking! "Why! There were real people living 
when the Declaration of Independence was signed — 
real people, not just history people — old women teach- 
ing little girls how to do things — right in this very 
room, on this very floor — and the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence just signed!" 

To tell the honest truth, although she had passed a 
very good examination in the little book on American 
history they had studied in school, Elizabeth Ann had 
never to that moment had any notion that there ever 
had been really and truly any Declaration of Inde- 
pendence at all. It had been like the ounce, living only 
inside her schoolbooks for little girls to be examined 
about. And now here Aunt Abigail, talking about a 
butter-pat, had brought it to life! 

Of course all this only lasted a moment, because it 
was such a new idea! She soon lost track of what she 
was thinking of; she rubbed her eyes as though she 
were coming out of a dream, she thought, confusedly: 
"What did butter have to do with the Declaration of 
Independence? Nothing, of course! It couldn't!" and 
the whole impression seemed to pass out of her mind. 
But it was an impression which was to come again and 
again during the next few months. 



>57 . 



CHAPTER 4 



C/Deisy ^yoes to (3/cnool 



Elizabeth Ann was very much surprised to hear 
Cousin Ann's voice calling, "Dinner!" down the stairs. 
It did not seem possible that the whole morning had 
gone by. "Here," said Aunt Abigail, "just put that pat 
on a plate, will you, and take it upstairs as you go. I've 
got all I can do to haul my own two hundred pounds 
up, without any half-pound of butter into the bar- 
gain." The little girl smiled at this, though she did 
not exactly know why, and skipped up the stairs 
proudly with her butter. 

Dinner was smoking on the table, which was set in 
the midst of the great pool of sunlight. A very large 
black-and-white dog, with a great bushy tail, was 
walking around and around the table, sniffing the air. 
He looked as big as a bear to Elizabeth Ann; and as he 
walked his great red tongue hung out of his mouth 
and his white teeth gleamed horribly. Elizabeth Ann 
shrank back in terror, clutching her plate of butter to 

•58- 



Betsy Goes to School 

her breast with tense fingers. Cousin Ann said, over 
her shoulder: "Oh, bother! There's old Shep, got up 
to pester us begging for scraps! Shep I You go and lie 
down this minute!" 

To Elizabeth Ann's astonishment and immense re- 
lief, the great animal turned, drooping his head sadly, 
walked back across the floor, got up on the couch again, 
and laid his head down on one paw very forlornly, 
turning up the whites of his eyes meekly at Cousin 
Ann. 

Aunt Abigail, who had just pulled herself up the 
stairs, panting, said, between laughing and puffing: 
"I'm glad I'm not an animal on this farm. Ann does 
boss them around so." "Well, somebody has to!" said 
Cousin Ann, advancing on the table with a platter. 
This proved to have chicken fricassee on it, and Eliza- 
beth Ann's heart melted in her at the smell. She loved 
chicken gravy on hot biscuits beyond anything in the 
world, but chickens are so expensive when you buy 
them in the market that Aunt Harriet hadn't had them 
very often for dinner. And there was a plate of biscuits, 
golden brown, just coming out of the oven! She sat 
down very quickly, her mouth watering, and attacked 
the big plateful of food which Cousin Ann passed her. 

At Aunt Harriet's she had always been aware that 
everybody watched her anxiously as she ate, and she 
had heard so much about her light appetite that she 

•59" 



Understood Betsy 

felt she must live up to her reputation, and had a natural 
and human hesitation about eating all she wanted 
when there happened to be something she liked very 
much. But nobody here knew that she "only ate enough 
to keep a bird alive," and that her "appetite was so 
capricious!" Nor did anybody notice her while she 
stowed away the chicken and gravy and hot biscuits 
and currant jelly and baked potatoes and apple pie — 
when did Elizabeth Ann ever eat such a meal before? 
She actually felt her belt grow tight. 

In the middle of the meal Cousin Ann got up to 
answer the telephone, which was in the next room. The 
instant the door had closed behind her Uncle Henry 
leaned forward, tapped Elizabeth Ann on the shoulder, 
and nodded toward the sofa. His eyes were twinkling, 
and as for Aunt Abigail she began to laugh silently, 
shaking all over, her napkin at her mouth to stifle 
the sound. Elizabeth Ann turned wonderingly and saw 
the old dog cautiously and noiselessly letting himself 
down from the sofa, one ear cocked rigidly in the 
direction of Cousin Ann's voice in the next room. "The 
old tyke!" said Uncle Henry. "He always sneaks up 
to the table to be fed if Ann goes out for a minute. 
Here, Betsy, you're nearest, give him this piece of 
skin from the chicken neck." The big dog paddled 
forward across the room, evidently in such a state of 
terror about Cousin Ann that Elizabeth Ann felt for 

•6o« 



Betsy Goes to School 

him. She had a fellow-feeling about that relative of 
hers. Also it was impossible to be afraid of so meek 
and guilty an animal. As old Shep came up to her, 
poking his nose inquiringly on her lap, she shrinkingly 
held out the big piece of skin, and though she jumped 
back at the sudden snap and gobbling gulp with which 
the old dog greeted the tidbit, she could not but sympa- 
thize with his evident enjoyment of it. He waved his 
bushy tail gratefully, cocked his head on one side, and, 
his ears standing up at attention, his eyes glistening 
greedily, he gave a little, begging whine. "Oh, he's ask- 
ing for more!" cried Elizabeth Ann, surprised to see 
how plainly she could understand dog-talk. "Quick, 
Uncle Henry, give me another piece!" 

Uncle Henry rapidly transferred to her plate a wing- 
bone from his own, and Aunt Abigail, with one deft 
swoop, contributed the neck from the platter. As fast 
as she could, Elizabeth Ann fed these to Shep, who 
woofed them down at top speed, the bones crunching 
loudly under his strong, white teeth. It did your heart 
good to see how he enjoyed it! 

There was the sound of the telephone receiver being 
hung up in the next room — and everybody acted at 
once. Aunt Abigail began drinking innocently out of 
her coffee-cup, only her laughing old eyes showing 
over the rim; Uncle Henry buttered a slice of bread 
with a grave face, as though he were deep in conjec- 

• 6i« 



Understood Betsy 

tures about who would be the next President ; and as 
for old Shep, he made one plunge across the room, his 
toe-nails clicking on the bare floor, sprang up on the 
couch, and when Cousin Ann opened the door and 
came in, he was lying in exactly the position in which 
she had left him, his paws stretched out, his head laid 
on them, his brown eyes turned up meekly so that 
the whites showed. 

I've told you what these three did, but I haven't told 
you yet what Elizabeth Ann did. And it is worth tell- 
ing. As Cousin Ann stepped in, glancing suspiciously 
from her sober-faced and abstracted parents to the 
lamb-like innocence of old Shep, little Elizabeth Ann 
burst into a shout of laughter. It's worth telling about, 
because, so far as I know, that was the first time she 
had ever laughed out heartily in all her life. For my 
part, J'm half surprised to know that she knew how. 

Of course, when she laughed, Aunt Abigail had to 
laugh too, setting down her coffee-cup and showing 
all the funny wrinkles in her face screwed up hard 
with fun; and that made Uncle Henry laugh, and 
then Cousin Ann laughed and said, as she sat down, 
"You are bad children, the whole four of you!" And 
old Shep, seeing the state of things, stopped pretending 
to be meek, jumped down, and came lumbering over 
to the table, wagging his tail and laughing too; you 
know that good, wide dog-smile! He put his head on 

•62- 



Betsy Goes to School 

Elizabeth Ann's lap again and she patted it and lifted 
up one of his big black ears. She had forgotten that 
she was terribly afraid of big dogs. 

After dinner Cousin Ann looked up at the clock and 
said: "My goodness! Betsy'll be late for school if she 
doesn't start right off." She explained to the child, 
aghast at this sudden thunderclap, "I let you sleep this 
morning as long as you wanted to, because you were 
so tired from your journey. But of course there's no 
reason for missing the afternoon session." 

As Elizabeth Ann continued sitting perfectly still, 
frozen with alarm, Cousin Ann jumped up briskly, got 
the little coat and cap, helped her up, and began 
inserting the child's arms into the sleeves. She pulled 
the cap well down over Elizabeth Ann's ears, felt in the 
pocket and pulled out the mittens. "There," she said, 
holding them out, "you'd better put them on before 
you go out, for it's a real cold day." As she led the stupe- 
fied little girl along toward the door Aunt Abigail came 
after them and put a big sugar-cooky into the child's 
hand. "Maybe you'll like to eat that for your recess 
time," she said. "I always did when I went to school." 

Elizabeth Ann's hand closed automatically about 
the cooky, but she scarcely heard what was said. She 
felt herself to be in a bad dream. Aunt Frances had 
never, no never, let her go to school alone, and on the 
first dav of the year always took her to the new teacher 

.03- 



Understood Betsy 

and introduced her and told the teacher how sensitive 
she was and how hard to understand; and then she 
stayed there for an hour or two till Elizabeth Ann 
got used to things! She could not face a whole new 
school all alone — oh, she couldn't, she wouldn't! She 
couldn't! Horrors! Here she was in the front hall — she 
was on the porch! Cousin Ann was saying: "Now run 
along, child. Straight down the road till the first turn 
to the left, and there in the cross-roads, there you are." 
And now the front door closed behind her, the path 
stretched before her to the road, and the road led down 
the hill the way Cousin Ann had pointed. Elizabeth 
Ann's feet began to move forward and carried her 
down the path, although she was still crying out to 
herself, "I can't! I won't! I can't!" 

Are you wondering why Elizabeth Ann didn't turn 
right around, open the front door, walk in, and say, 
"I can't! I won't! I can't!" to Cousin Ann? 

The answer to that question is that she didn't do it 
because Cousin Ann was Cousin Ann. There's more 
in that than you think! In fact, there is a mystery in 
it that nobody has ever solved, not even the greatest 
scientists and philosophers, although, like ali scientists 
and philosophers, they think they have gone a long 
way toward explaining something they don't under- 
stand by calling it a long name. The long name is "'per- 

•64* 



Betsy Goes to School 

sonality," and what it means nobody knows, but for 
all that, it is perhaps the very most important thing in 
the world. Yet we know only one or two things about 
it. We know that anybody's personality is made up of 
the sum total of all the actions and thoughts and desires 
of his life. And we know that though there aren't any 
words or any figures in any language to set down that 
sum total accurately, still it is one of the first things 
that everybody knows about anybody else. And that 
really is all we know ! 

So I can't tell ycu why Elizabeth Ann did not go 
back and cry and sob and say she couldn't and she 
wouldn't and she couldn't, as she would certainly have 
done at Aunt Harriet's. You remember that I could 
not even tell you why it was that, as the little fatherless 
and motherless girl lay in bed looking at Aunt Abi- 
gail's old face, she should feel so comforted and pro- 
tected that she must needs break out crying. No, all 
I can say is that it was because Aunt Abigail was Aunt 
Abigail. But perhaps it may occur to you that it's 
rather a good idea to keep a sharp eye on your "per- 
sonality," whatever that is! It might be handy, you 
know, to have a personality like Cousin Ann's which 
sent Elizabeth Ann's feet down the path; or perhaps 
you would prefer one like Aunt Abigail's. Well, take 
your choice. 

• 65- 



Understood Betsy 

You must not, of course, think for a moment that 
Elizabeth Ann had the slightest intention of obeying 
Cousin Ann. No indeed! Nothing was farther from 
her mind as her feet carried her along the path and 
into the road. In her mind was nothing but rebellion 
and fear and anger and oh, such hurt feelings! She 
turned sick at the very thought of facing all the star- 
ing, curious faces in the playground turned on the new 
scholar as she had seen them at home! She would 
never, never do it! She would walk around all the af- 
ternoon, and then go back and tell Cousin Ann that 
she couldn't! She would explain to her how Aunt 
Frances never let her go out of doors without a loving 
hand to cling to. She would explain to her how Aunt 
Frances always took care of her! ... It was easier to 
think about what she would say and do and explain, 
away from Cousin Ann, than it was to say and do it 
before those black eyes. Aunt Frances's eyes were soft, 
light blue. 

Oh, how she wanted Aunt Frances to take care of 
her! Nobody cared a thing about her! Nobody under- 
stood her but Aunt Frances! She wouldn't go back at 
all to Putney Farm. She would just walk on and on 
till she was lost, and the night would come and she 
would lie down and freeze to death, and then wouldn't 
Cousin Ann feel . . . Someone called to her, "Isn't 
this Betsy?" 

•66- 



Betsy Goes to School 

She looked up astonished. A young girl in a gingham 
dress and a white apron like those at Putney Farm 
stood in front of a tiny, square building, like a toy 
house. "Isn't this Betsy?" asked the young girl again. 
"Your Cousin Ann said you were coming to school 
today and I've been looking out for you. But I saw you 
going right by, and I ran out to stop you." 

"Why, where is the school?" asked Betsy, staring 
around for a big brick, four-story building. 

The young girl laughed and held out her hand, 
"This is the school," she said, "and I am the teacher, 
and you'd better come right in, for it's time to begin." 

She led Betsy into a low-ceilinged room with ge- 
raniums at the windows, where about a dozen children 
of different ages sat behind their desks. At the first 
sight of them Betsy blushed crimson with fright and 
shyness, and hung down her head ; but, looking out the 
corners of her eyes, she saw that they, too, were all red- 
faced and scared-looking and hung down their heads, 
looking at her shyly out of the corners of their eyes. 
She was so surprised by this that she forgot all about 
herself and looked inquiringly at the teacher. 

"They don't see many strangers," the teacher ex- 
plained, "and they feel shy and scared when a new 
scholar comes, especially one from the city." 

"Is this my grade ?" asked Elizabeth, thinking it the 
very smallest grade she had ever seen. 

•67* 



Betsy Goes to School 

"This is the whole school," said the teacher. "There 
are only two or three in each class. You'll probably 
have three in yours. Miss Ann said you were in the 
third grade. There, that's your seat." 

Elizabeth sat down before a very old desk, much 
battered and hacked up with knife marks. There was 
a big H. P. carved just over the inkwell, and many 
other initials scattered all over the top. 

The teacher stepped back to her desk and took up 
a violin that lay there. "Now, children, we'll begin 
the afternoon session by singing 'America,' " she said. 
She played the air over a little, sweetly and stirringly, 
and then as the children stood up she came down close 
to them, standing just in front of Betsy. She drew the 
bow across the strings in a big chord, and said, "Now," 
and Betsy burst into song with the others. The sun 
came in the windows brightly, the teacher, too, sang 
as she played, and the children, even the littlest ones, 
opened their mouths wide and sang with all their 
hearts. 



•69* 



CHAPTER 5 



QQlai QraJe 3s C^Eelsy? 



After the singing the teacher gave Elizabeth Ann a 
pile of schoolbooks, some paper, some pencils, and a 
pen, and told her to set her desk in order. There were 
more initials carved inside, another big H. P. with a 
little A. P. under it. What a lot of children must have 
sat there, thought the little girl as she arranged her 
books and papers. As she shut down the lid the teacher 
finished giving some instructions to three or four little 
ones and said, "Betsy and Ralph and Ellen, bring your 
reading books up here." 

Betsy sighed, took out her third-grade reader, and 
went with the other two up to the battered old bench 
near the teacher's desk. She knew all about reading les- 
sons and she hated them, although she loved to read. 
But reading lessons . . . ! You sat with your book open 
at some reading that you could do with your eyes shut, 
it was so easy, and you waited and waited and waited 
while your classmates slowly stumbled along, reading 

.jo. 



What Grade Is Betsy? 

aloud a sentence or two apiece, until your turn came to 
stand up and read your sentence or two, which b) 
that time sounded just like nonsense because you'd read 
it over and over so many times to yourself before your 
chance came. And often you didn't even have a chance 
to do that, because the teacher didn't have time to 
get around to you at all, and you closed your boot 
and put it back in your desk without having opened 
your mouth. Reading was one thing Elizabeth Ann 
had learned to do very well indeed, but she had learned 
it all by herself at home from much reading to herself. 
Aunt Frances had kept her well supplied with chil- 
dren's books from the nearest public library. She often 
read three a week — very different, that, from a sentence 
or two once or twice a week. 

When she sat down on the battered old bench she 
almost laughed aloud, it seemed so funny to be in a 
class of only three. There had been forty in her grade 
in the big brick building. She sat in the middle, the 
little girl whom the teacher had called Ellen on one 
side, and Ralph on the other. Ellen was very pretty, 
with fair hair smoothly braided in two little pig-tails, 
sweet, blue eyes, and a clean blue-and-white gingham 
dress. Ralph had very black eyes, dark hair, a big 
bruise on his forehead, a cut on his chin, and a tear 
in the knee of his short trousers. He was much bigger 
than Ellen, and Elizabeth Ann thought he looked 

•71- 



Understood Betsy 

rather fierce. She decided that she would be afraid of 
him, and would not like him at all. 

"Page thirty-two," said the teacher. "Ralph first." 

Ralph stood up and began to read. It sounded familiar 
to Elizabeth Ann, for he did not read at all well. What 
was not familiar was that the teacher did not stop him 
after the first sentence. He read on and on till he had 
read a page, the teacher only helping him with the 
hardest words. 

"Now Betsy," said the teacher. 

Elizabeth Ann stood up, read the first sentence, and 
paused, like a caged lion pausing when he comes to 
the end of his cage. 

"Go on," said the teacher. 

Elizabeth Ann read the next sentence and stopped 
again, automatically. 

"Go on," said the teacher, looking at her sharply. 

The next time the little girl paused the teacher 
laughed out good-naturedly. "What is the matter with 
you, Betsy?" she said. "Go on till I tell you to stop." 

So Elizabeth Ann, very much surprised but very 
much interested, read on, sentence after sentence, till 
she forgot they were sentences and just thought of 
what they meant. She read a whole page and then an- 
other page, and that was the end of the selection. She 
had never read aloud so much in her life. She was 
aware that everybody in the room had stopped work- 

•72* 



What Grade Is Betsy? 

ing to listen to her. She felt proud and less afraid than 
she had ever thought she could be in a schoolroom. 
When she finished, "You read very well!" said the 
teacher. "Is this book easy for you?" 

"Oh, yes!" said Elizabeth Ann. 

"I guess, then, that you'd better not stay in this class," 
said the teacher. She took a book out of her desk. "See 
if you can read that." 

Elizabeth Ann began in her usual school-reading 
style, very slow and monotonous, but this didn't seem 
like a "reader" at all. It was poetry, full of hard words 
that were fun to try to pronounce, and it was all about 
an old woman who would hang out an American flag, 
even though the town was full of rebel soldiers. She 
read faster and faster, getting more and more excited, 
till she broke out with "Halt!" in such a loud, spirited 
voice that the sound of it startled her. She stopped, 
fearing that she would be laughed at. But nobody 
laughed. They were all listening eagerly, even the little 
ones, with their eyes turned toward her. 

"You might as well go on and let us see how it came 
out," said the teacher, and Betsy finished triumphantly. 

"Well," said the teacher, "there's no sense in your 
reading along in the third reader. After this you'll re- 
cite out of the seventh reader with Frank and Harry 
and Stashie." 

Elizabeth Ann could not believe her ears. To be 

•73' 



Understood Betsy 

"jumped" four grades in that casual way! It wasn't 
possible! She at once thought, however, of something 
that would prevent it entirely, and while Ellen was 
reading her page in a slow, careful little voice, Eliza- 
beth Ann was feeling miserably that she must explain 
to the teacher why she couldn't read with the seventh- 
grade children. Oh, how she wished she could! When 
they stood up to go back to their seats she hesitated, 
hung her head, and looked very unhappy. "Did you 
want to say something to me?" asked the teacher, 
pausing with a bit of chalk in her hand. 

The little girl went up to her desk and said, what 
she knew it was her duty to confess: "I can't be allowed 
to read in the seventh reader. I don't write a bit well, 
and I never get the mental number-work right. I 
couldn't do ««ything with seventh-grade arithmetic!" 

The teacher looked blank and said: "I didn't say 
anything about your number-work! I don't hjiow 
anything about it! You haven't recited yet." She turned 
away and began to write a list of words on the board. 
"Betsy, Ralph, and Ellen study their spelling," she said. 
"You little ones come up for your reading." 

Two little boys and two little girls came forward as 
Elizabeth Ann began to con over the words on the 
board. At first she found she was listening to the little, 
chirping voices, as the children struggled with their 
reading, instead of studying "doubt, travel, cheese," 

.74. 



What Grade Is Betsy? 

and the other words in her lesson. But she put her hands 
over her ears, and her mind on her spelling. She wanted 
to make a good impression with that lesson. After a 
while, when she was sure she could spell them all cor- 
rectly, she began to listen and look around her. She 
always "got" her spelling in less time than was allowed 
the class, and usually sat idle, looking out of the win- 
dow until that study period was over. But now the 
moment she stopped staring at the board and moving 
her lips as she spelled to herself the teacher said, just 
as though she had been watching her every minute 
instead of conducting a class, "Betsy, have you learned 
your spelling?" 

"Yes, ma'am, I think so," said Elizabeth Ann, won- 
dering why she was asked. 

"That's fine," said the teacher. "I wish you'd take 
little Molly over in that corner and help her with her 
reading. She's getting on so much better than the rest 
of the class that I hate to have her lose her time. Just 
hear her read the rest of her little story, will you, and 
don't help her unless she's really stuck." 

Elizabeth Ann was startled by this request. She had 
never heard of such a thing in a schoolroom. She felt 
very uncertain of herself as she sat down on a low 
chair in the corner away from the desks, with the child 
leaning on her knee. And yet she was not exactly afraid, 
either, because Molly was such a shy, tiny, roly-poly 

■75' 



Understood Betsy 

thing, with her crop of yellow curls, and her bright 
blue eyes so serious as she looked hard at the book 
and began: "Once there was a rat. It was a fat rat." 
No, it was impossible to be frightened of such a funny 
little girl, who peered so earnestly into the older child's 
face to make sure she was doing her lesson right. 

Elizabeth Ann had never had anything to do with 
children younger than herself, and she felt very pleased 
and important to have anybody look up to her! She put 
her arm around Molly's square, warm, fat body and 
gave her a squeeze. Molly snuggled up closer, and the 
two children put their heads together over the printed 
page, Elizabeth Ann correcting Molly gently when she 
made a mistake, and waiting patiently when she hesi- 
tated. She had so fresh in her mind her own suffering 
from quick, nervous corrections that she took the 
greatest pleasure in speaking quietly and not inter- 
rupting the little girl more than was necessary. It was 
fun to teach, lots of fun! She was surprised when the 
teacher said, "Well, Betsy, how did Molly do?" 

"Oh, is the time up?" said Elizabeth Ann. "Why, she 
does beautifully, I think, for such a little thing." 

"Do you suppose," said the teacher thoughtfully, just 
as though Betsy were a grown-up person, "do you sup- 
pose she could go into the second reader, with Eliza? 
There's no use keeping her in the first if she's ready to 
go on." 

•76- 



What Grade Is Betsy? 

Elizabeth Ann's head whirled with this second light- 
handed juggling with the sacred distinction between 
the grades. In the big brick schoolhouse nobody ever 
went into another grade except at the beginning of a 
new year, after you'd passed a lot of examinations. She 
had not known that anybody could do anything else. 
The idea that everybody took a year to a grade, no 
matter what! was so fixed in her mind that she felt as 
though the teacher had said: "How would you like to 
stop being nine years old and be twelve instead ? And 
don't you think Molly would better be eight instead 
of six?" 

However, just then her class in arithmetic was called, 
so that she had no more time to be puzzled. She came 
forward with Ralph and Ellen again, very low in her 
mind. She hated arithmetic with all her might, and 
she really didn't understand a thing about it! By long 
experience she had learned to read her teachers' faces 
very accurately, and she guessed by their expression 
whether the answer she gave was the right one. And 
that was the only way she could tell. You never heard of 
any other child who did that, did you ? 

They had mental arithmetic, of course (Elizabeth 
Ann thought it just her luck!), and of course it was 
those hateful eights and sevens, and of course right 
away poor Betsy got the one she hated most, 7x8. 
She never knew that one! She said dispiritedly that 

•77" 



Understood Betsy 

it was 54, remembering vaguely that it was somewhere 
in the fifties. Ralph burst out scornfully, "56!" and the 
teacher, as if she wanted to take him down for showing 
off, pounced on him with 9x8. He answered, without 
drawing breath, 72. Elizabeth Ann shuddered at his 
accuracy. Ellen, too, rose to the occasion when she got 
6x7, which Elizabeth Ann could sometimes remem- 
ber and sometimes not. And then, oh horrors! It was 
her turn again! Her turn had never before come more 
than twice during a mental arithmetic lesson. She was 
so startled by the swiftness with which the question 
went around that she balked on 6 x 6, which she knew 
perfectly. And before she could recover Ralph had 
answered and had rattled out a 108 in answer to 9 x 12; 
and then Ellen slapped down an 84 on top of 7 x 12. 
Good gracious! Who could have guessed, from the way 
they read, they could do their tables like this! She her- 
self missed on 7x7 and was ready to cry. After this 
the teacher didn't call on her at all, but showered ques- 
tions down on the other two, who sent the answers 
back with sickening speed. 

After the lesson the teacher said, smiling, "Well, 
Betsy, you were right about your arithmetic. I guess 
you'd better recite with Eliza for a while. She's doing 
second-grade work. I shouldn't be surprised if, after 
a good review with her, you'd be able to go on with 
the third-grade work." 

•78- 



What Grade Is Betsy? 

Elizabeth Ann fell back on the bench with her mouth 
open. She felt really dizzy. What crazy things the 
teacher said! She felt as though she was being pulled 
limb from limb. 

"What's the matter?" asked die teacher, seeing her 
bewildered face. 

"Why— why," said Elizabeth Ann, "I don't know 
what I am at all. If I'm second-grade arithmetic and 
seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what 
grade am I ?" 

The teacher laughed. "You aren't any grade at all, no 
matter where you are in school. You're just yourself, 
aren't you? What difference does it make what grade 
you're in? And what's the use of your reading litde 
baby things too easy for you just because you don't 
know your multiplication table?" 

"Well, for goodness' sa\es\" ejaculated Elizabeth 
Ann, feeling very much as though somebody had stood 
her suddenly on her head. 

"What's the matter?" asked the teacher again. 

This time Elizabeth Ann didn't answer, because she 
herself didn't know what the matter was. But I do, 
and I'll tell you. The matter was that never before had 
she known what she was doing in school. She had 
always thought she was there to pass from one grade 
to another, and she was ever so startled to get a 
glimpse of the fact that she was there to learn how to 

.79. 



Understood Betsy 

read and write and cipher and generally use her mind, 
so she could take care of herself when she came to be 
grown up. Of course, she didn't know that till she did 
come to be grown up, but in that moment, she had 
her first dim notion of it, and it made her feel the way 
you do when you're learning to skate and somebody 
pulls away the chair you've been leaning on and says, 
"Now, go it alone!" 

The teacher waited a minute. When Elizabeth Ann 
didn't say anything more, she rang a little bell. "Recess 
time," she said. As the children marched out and began 
putting on their wraps she followed them into the 
cloak-room, pulled on a warm, red cap and a red 
sweater, and ran outdoors herself. "Who's on my side !" 
she called, and the children came darting out after her. 
Elizabeth Ann had dreaded the first recess time with 
the strange children, but she had no time to feel shy, 
for in a twinkling she was on one end of a long rope 
with a lot of her schoolmates, pulling with all her 
might against the teacher and two of the big boys. No- 
body had looked at her curiously, nobody had said 
anything to her beyond a loud, "Come on, Betsy!" from 
Ralph, who was at the head on their side. 

They pulled and they pulled, digging their feet into 
the ground and bracing themselves against the rocks 
which stuck up out of the playground. Sometimes 

•8o- 



Understood Betsy 

the teacher's side yanked them along by quick jerks, 
and then they'd all set their feet hard when Ralph 
shouted out, "Now, all together!" and they'd slowly 
drag the other side back. And all the time everybody 
was shouting and yelling together with the excitement. 
Betsy was screaming too, and when a wagon passing by 
stopped and a big, broad-shouldered farmer jumped 
down laughing, put the end of the rope over his shoul- 
der, and walked off with the whole lot of them till he 
had pulled them clear off their feet, Elizabeth Ann 
found herself rolling over and over with a breathless, 
squirming mass of children, her laughter rising even 
above the shouts of the others. She laughed so she 
could hardly get up on her feet again, it was such an 
unexpected ending to the tug-of-war. 

The big farmer was laughing too. "You ain't so smart 
as you thin\ you are, are you!" he jeered at them good- 
naturedly. Then he started, yelling "whoa there!" to 
his horses, which had begun to walk on. He had to run 
after them with all his might, and just climbed into the 
back of the wagon and grabbed the reins the very 
moment they broke into a trot. The children laughed, 
and Ralph shouted after him, "Hi, there, Uncle Nate! 
Who's not so smart as he thinks he is, nowl" He turned 
to the little girls near him. "They 'most got away from 
him that time!" he said. "He's awful foolish about leav- 

•82- 



What Grade Is Betsy? 

ing them standing while he's funning or something. 
He thinks he's awful funny, anyhow. Some day they'll 
run away on him and then where'll he be?" 

Elizabeth Ann was thinking to herself that this was 
one of the queerest things that had happened to her 
even in this queer place. Never, why never once, had 
any grown-up, passing the playground of the big brick 
building, dreamed of such a thing as stopping for a 
minute to play. They never even looked at the children, 
any more than if they were in another world. In fact 
she had felt the school was in another world. 

"Ralph, it's your turn to get the water," said the 
teacher, handing him a pail. "Want to go along?" said 
Ralph gruffly to Ellen and Betsy. He led the way and 
the little girls walked after him. Now that she was out 
of a crowd Elizabeth Ann felt all her shyness come 
down on her like a black cloud, drying up her mouth 
and turning her hands and feet cold as ice. Into one 
of these cold hands she felt small, warm fingers slide. 
She looked down and there was little Molly trotting 
by her side, turning her blue eyes up trustfully. 
"Teacher says I can go with you if you'll take care of 
me," she said. "She never lets us first-graders go with- 
out somebody bigger to help us over the log." 

As she spoke they came to a small, clear, swift brook, 
crossed by a big white-birch log. Elizabeth Ann was 

•S3- 



Understood Betsy 

horribly afraid to set foot on it, but with little Molly's 
hand holding tightly to hers she was ashamed to say 
she was afraid. Ralph skipped across, swinging the 
pail to show how easy it was for him. Ellen followed 
more slowly, and then — don't you wish Aunt Frances 
could have been there! — Betsy shut her teeth together 
hard, put Molly ahead of her, took her hand, and 
started across. As a matter of fact Molly went along 
as sure-footed as a little goat, having done it a hundred 
times, and it was she who steadied Elizabeth Ann. But 
nobody knew this, Molly least of all. 

Ralph took a drink out of a tin cup standing on a 
stump near by, dipped the pail into a deep, clear pool, 
and started back to the school. Ellen took a drink and 
offered the cup to Betsy, very shyly, without looking 
up. After they had all three had a drink they stood 
there for a moment, much embarrassed. Then Ellen 
said, in a small voice, "Do you like dolls with yellow 
hair the best?" 

Now it happened that Elizabeth Ann had very posi- 
tive convictions on this point which she had never 
spoken of, because Aunt Frances didn't really care 
about dolls. She only pretended to, to be company for 
her little niece. 

"No, I don't!" answered the little girl emphatically. 
"I get just sick and tired of always seeing them with 

•84- 



What Grade Is Betsy? 

that old, bright-yellow hair! I like them to have brown 
hair, just the way most little girls do!" 

Ellen lifted her eyes and smiled radiantly. "Oh, so 
do I!" she said. "And that lovely old doll your folks 
have has got brown hair. Will you let me play with 
her some time?" 

"My folks?" said Elizabeth Ann blankly. 

"Why, yes, your Aunt Abigail and your Uncle 
Henry." 

"Have they got a doll?" said Betsy, thinking this 
was the very climax of Putney queerness. 

"Oh, my, yes!" said Molly eagerly. "She's the one 
Mrs. Putney had when she was a little girl. And she's 
got the loveliest clothes! She's in the hair-trunk under 
the eaves in the attic. They let me take her down once 
when I was there with Mother. And Mother said she 
guessed, now a little girl had come there to live, they'd 
let you have her down all the time. I'll bring mine 
over next Saturday, if you want me to. Mine's got yel- 
low hair, but she's real pretty anyhow. If Father's going 
to mill that day, he can leave me there for the morn- 
ing." 

Elizabeth Ann had not understood more than one 
word in five of this, but the school-bell rang and they 
went back, little Molly helping Elizabeth Ann over 
the log and thinking she was being helped, as before. 

They ran along to the little building, and there I'm 

•8 5 . 



Understood Betsy 

going to leave them, because I think I've told enough 
about their school for one while. It was only a poor, 
rough, district school anyway, that no city Superin- 
tendent of Schools would have looked at for a minute, 
except to sniff. 



CHAPTER 6 



&j hJJou ^<=JJon I oLilce 

K^onversahon in a CS/Uootc 

C2/kifi CZJkis K^shaJDier! 



Betsy opened the door and was greeted by her kitten, 
who ran to her, purring and arching her back to be 
stroked. 

"Well," said Aunt Abigail, looking up from the 
pan of apples in her lap, "I suppose you're starved, 
aren't you! Get yourself a piece of bread and butter, 
why don't you ? and have one of these apples." 

As the little girl sat down by her, munching fast on 
this provender, she asked: "What desk did you get?" 

Elizabeth Ann thought for a moment, cuddling 
Eleanor up to her face. "I think it is the third from 
the front in the second row." She wondered why Aunt 
Abigail cared. 

•87* 



Understood Betsy 

"Oh, I guess that's your Uncle Henry's desk. It's 
the one his father had, too. Are there a couple of 
H. P.'s carved on it?" 

Betsy' nodded. 

"His father carved the H. P. on the lid, so I lenry had 
to put his inside. I remember the winter he put it there. 
It was the first season Mother let me wear real hoop 
skirts. I sat in the first seat on the third row." 

Betsy ate her apple more and more slowly, trying 
to take in what Aunt Abigail had said. Uncle Henry 
and his father — why Moses or Alexander the Great 
didn't seem any further back in the mists of time to 
Elizabeth Ann than did Uncle Henry's father! And to 
think he had been a little boy, right there at that desk! 
She stopped chewing altogether for a moment and 
stared into space. Although she was only nine years 
old, she was feeling a little of the same rapt wonder 
that people in the past were really people, which makes 
a first visit to the Roman Forum a thrilling event for 
grown-ups. That very desk! 

After a moment she came to herself, and finding 
some apple still in her mouth, went on chewing medi- 
tatively. "Aunt Abigail," she said, "how long ago was 
that?" 

"Let's see," said the old woman, peeling apples with 
wonderful rapidity. "I was born in 1844. And I was 

•88- 



Don't Li%e Conversation? — Skip This Chapter! 

six when I first went to school. That's sixty-six years 
ago." 

Elizabeth Ann, like all little girls of nine, had very 
little notion how long sixty-six years might be. "Was 
George Washington alive then?" she asked. 

The wrinkles around Aunt Abigail's eyes deepened 
mirthfully, but she did not laugh as she answered, 
"No, that was long after he died, but the schoolhouse 
was there when he was alive." 

"It was I" said Betsy, staring, her teeth set deep in an 
apple. 

"Yes, indeed. It was the first house in the valley built 
of sawed lumber. You know, when our folks came 
up here, they had to build all their houses of logs to 
begin with." 

"They did!" cried Betsy, with her mouth full of 
apple. 

"Why, yes, child, what else did you suppose they 
had to make houses out of? They had to have some- 
thing to live in, right off. The sawmills came later." 

"I didn't know anything about it," said Betsy. "Tell 
me about it." 

"Why, you knew, didn't you — your Aunt Harriet 
must have told you — about how our folks came up 
here from Connecticut in 1763, on horseback? Con- 
necticut was an old settled place then, compared to 
Vermont. There wasn't anything here but trees and 

• 8o- 



Understood Betsy 

bears and wood-pigeons. I've heard 'em say that the 
wood-pigeons were so thick you could go out after 
dark and club 'em out of the trees, just like hens 
roosting in a hen-house. There always was cold pigeon- 
pie in the pantry, just the way we have doughnuts. And 
they used bear-grease to grease their boots and their 
hair, bears were so plenty. It sounds like good eating, 
doesn't it! But of course that was just at first. It got quite 
settled up before long, and by the time of the Revolu- 
tion, bears were getting pretty scarce, and soon the 
wood-pigeons were all gone." 

"And the schoolhouse — that schoolhouse where I 
went today — was diat built then?" Elizabeth Ann 
found it hard to believe. 

"Yes, it used to have a great big chimney and fire- 
place in it. It was built long before stoves were in- 
vented, you know." 

"Why, I thought stoves were always invented!" cried 
Elizabeth Ann. This was the most startling and inter- 
esting conversation she had ever taken part in. 

Aunt Abigail laughed. "Mercy, no, child! Why, / 
can remember when only folks that were pretty well 
off had stoves and real poor people still cooked over 
a hearth fire. I always thought it a pity they tore down 
the big chimney and fireplace out of the schoolhouse 
and put in that big, ugly stove. But folks are so daft 
over new-fangled things. Well, anyhow, they couldn't 

•90- 



Don't Li\e Conversation? — S\ip This Chapter 1 

take away the sun-dial on the window-sill. You want 
to be sure to look at that. It's on the sill of the middle 
window on the right hand as you face the teacher's 
desk." 

"Sun-dial," repeated Betsy. "What's that?" 

"Why, to tell the time by, when—" 

"Why didn't they have a clock?" asked the child. 

Aunt Abigail laughed. "Good gracious, there was 
only one clock in the valley for years and years, and 
that belonged to the Wardons, the rich family in the 
village. Most people had sun-dials cut in their window- 
sills. There's one on the window-sill of our pantry this 
minute. Come on, I'll show it to you." She got up 
heavily with her pan of apples, and trotted briskly, 
shaking the floor as she went, over to the stove. "But 
first just watch me put these on to cook so you'll know 
how." She set the pan on the stove, poured some water 
from the tea-kettle over the apples, and put on a 
cover. "Now come on into the pantry." 

They entered a sweet-smelling, spicy small room, all 
white paint and shelves which were loaded with dishes 
and boxes and bags and pans of milk and jars of pre- 
serves. 

"There!" said Aunt Abigail, opening the window. 
"That's not so good as the one at school. This only 
tells when noon is." 

•pi* 



Understood Betsy 

Elizabeth Ann stared stupidly at the deep scratch on 
the window-sill. 

"Don't you see?" said Aunt Abigail. "When the 
shadow got to that mark it was noon. And the rest 
of the time you guessed by how far it was from the 
mark. Let's see if I can come anywhere near it now." 
She looked at it hard and said: "I guess it's half -past 
four." She glanced back into the kitchen at the clock 
and said: "Oh, pshaw! It's ten minutes past five! Now 
my grandmother could have told that within five 
minutes, just by the place of the shadow. I declare! 
Sometimes it seems to me that every time a new piece 
of machinery comes into the door some of our wits 
fly out at the window! Now I couldn't any more live 
without matches than I could fly! And yet they all 
used to get along all right before they had matches. 
Makes me feel foolish to think I'm not smart enough to 
get along, if I wanted to, without those little snips of 
pine and brimstone. Here, Betsy, take a cooky. It's 
against my principles to let a child leave the pantry 
without having a cooky. My! it does seem like living 
again to have a young one around to stuff!" 

Betsy took the cooky, but went on with the con- 
versation by exclaiming, "How could awybody get 
along without matches ? You have to have matches." 

Aunt Abigail didn't answer at first. They were back 
• 92* 



Don't Li\e Conversation? — Sfyp This Chapter! 

in the kitchen now. She was looking at the clock again. 
"See here," she said; "it's time I began getting supper 
ready. We divide up on the work. Ann gets the dinner 
and I get the supper. And everybody gets his own 
breakfast. Which would you rather do, help Ann with 
the dinner, or me with the supper?" 

Elizabeth Ann had not had the slightest idea of 
helping anybody with any meal, but, confronted un- 
expectedly with the alternative offered, she made up 
her mind so quickly that she didn't want to help 
Cousin Ann, and declared so loudly, "Oh, help you 
with the supper!" that her promptness made her sound 
quite hearty and willing. "Well, that's fine," said Aunt 
Abigail. "We'll set the table now. But first you would 
better look at that apple sauce. I hear it walloping away 
as though it was boiling too fast. Maybe you'd better 
push it back where it won't cook so fast. There are the 
holders, on that hook." 

Elizabeth Ann approached the stove with the holder 
in her hand and horror in her heart. Nobody had ever 
dreamed of asking her to handle hot things. She looked 
around dismally at Aunt Abigail, but the old woman 
was standing with her back turned, doing something at 
the kitchen table. Very gingerly the little girl took 
hold of the handle of the saucepan, and very gingerly 
she shoved in to the back of the stove. And then she 

•ps- 



Understood Betsy 

stood still a moment to admire herself. She could do 
that as well as anybody! 

"Why," said Aunt Abigail, as if remembering that 
Betsy had asked her a question. "Any man could strike 
a spark from his flint and steel that he had for his gun. 
And he'd keep striking it till it happened to fly out 
in the right direction, and you'd catch it in some fluff 
where it would start a smolder, and you'd blow on it 
till you got a little flame, and drop tiny bits of shaved-up 
dry pine in it, and so, little by little, you'd build your 
fire up." 
"But it must have taken iorever to do that!" 
"Oh, you didn't have to do that more than once in 
ever so long," said Aunt Abigail, briskly. She inter- 
rupted her story to say: "Now you put the silver around, 
while I cream the potatoes. It's in that drawer — a knife, 
a fork, and two spoons for each place — and the plates 
and cups are up there behind the glass doors. We're 
going to have hot cocoa again tonight." As the little 
girl, hypnotized by the other's casual, offhand way of 
issuing instructions, began to fumble with the knives 
and forks she went on: "Why, you'd start your fire that 
way, and then you'd never let it go out. Everybody 
that amounted to anything knew how to bank the 
hearth fire with ashes at night so it would be sure 
to last. And the first thing in the morning, you got 

.94. 



Don't Like Conversation? — S\ip This Chapter! 

down on your knees and poked the ashes away very 
carefully till you got to the hot coals. Then you'd blow 
with the bellows and drop in pieces of dry pine — don't 
forget the water-glasses — and you'd blow gently till 
they flared up and the shavings caught, and there your 
fire would be kindled again. The napkins are in the 
second drawer." 

Betsy went on setting the table, deep in thought, re- 
constructing the old life. As she put the napkins around 
she said, "But sometimes it must have gone out . . ." 

"Yes," said Aunt Abigail, "sometimes it went out, 
and then one of the children was sent over to the 
nearest neighbor to borrow some fire. He'd take a 
covered iron pan fastened on to a long hickory stick, 
and go through the woods — everything was woods then 
~-to the next house and wait till they had their fire 
going and could spare him a pan full of coals; and 
then — don't forget the salt and pepper — he would leg 
it home as fast as he could streak it, to get there before 
the coals went out. Say, Betsy, I think that apple sauce 
is ready to be sweetened. You do it, will you? I've got 
my hands in the biscuit dough. The sugar's in the left- 
hand drawer in the kitchen cabinet." 

"Oh, my I" cried Betsy, dismayed. "/ don't know how 
to cook!" 

Aunt Abigail laughed and put back a strand of curly 

•95' 



Understood Betsy 

white hair with the back of her floury hand. "You 
know how to stir sugar into your cup of cocoa, don't 
you?" 

"But how much shall I put in?" asked Elizabeth 
Ann, clamoring for exact instruction so she wouldn't 
need to do any thinking for herself. 

"Till it tastes right," said Aunt Abigail, carelessly. 
"Fix it to suit yourself, and I guess the rest of us will 
like it. Take that big spoon to stir it with." 

Elizabeth Ann took off the lid and began stirring in 
sugar, a teaspoonful at a time, but she soon saw that 
that made no impression. She poured in a cupful, 
stirred it vigorously, and tasted it. Better, but not quite 
enough. She put in a tablespoonful more and tasted it, 
staring off into space as she concentrated her attention 
on tne taste. It was quite p. responsibility to prepare the 
apple sauce for a family. It was ever so good, too. But 
maybe a little more sugar. She put in a teaspoonful and 
decided it was just exactly right! 

"Done?" asked Aunt Abigail. "Take it off, then, and 
pour it out in that big yellow bowl, and put it on the 
table in front of your place. You've made it; you ought 
to serve it." 

"It isn't done, is it?" asked Betsy. "That isn't all you 
do to make apple sauce!" 

"What else could you do?" asked Aunt Abigail. 
•96- 



Don't Life Conversation? — Skip This Chapter! 

"Well ... !" said Elizabeth Ann, very much sur- 
prised. "I didn't know it was so easy to cook!" 

"Easiest thing in the world," said Aunt Abigail 
gravely, with the merry wrinkles around her merry old 
eyes all creased up with silent fun. 

When Uncle Henry came in from the barn, with 
old Shep at his heels, and Cousin Ann came down 
from upstairs, where her sewing-machine had been 
humming like a big bee, they were both duly im- 
pressed when told that Betsy had set the table and 
made the apple sauce. They pronounced it very good 
apple sauce indeed, and each sent his saucer back to 
the little girl for a second helping. She herself ate three 
saucerfuls. Her own private opinion was that it was the 
very best apple sauce ever made. 

After supper was over and the dishes washed and 
wiped, Betsy helping with the putting-away, the four 
gathered around the big lamp on the table with the 
red cover. Cousin Ann was making some buttonholes 
in the shirtwaist she had constructed that afternoon, 
Aunt Abigail was darning socks, and Uncle Henry 
was mending a piece of harness. Shep lay on the couch 
and snored until he got so noisy they couldn't stand 
it, and Cousin Ann poked him in the ribs and he woke 
up snorting and gurgling and looking around sheep- 
ishly. Every time this happened it made Betsy laugh. 

•97" 



Understood Betsy 

She held Eleanor, who didn't snore at all, but made the 
prettiest tea-kettle-singing purr deep in her throat, and 
opened and sheathed her needle-like claws in Betsy's 
dress. 

"Well, how'd you get on at school?" asked Uncle 
Henry. 

"I've got your desk," said Elizabeth Ann, looking at 
him curiously, at his gray hair and wrinkled, weather- 
beaten face, and trying to think what he must have 
looked like when he was a little boy like Ralph. 

"So?" said Uncle Henry. "Well, let me tell you that's 
a mighty good desk! Did you notice the deep groove in 
the top of it?" 

Betsy nodded. She had wondered what that was 
used for. 

"Well, that was the lead-pencil desk in the old days. 
When they couldn't run down to the store to buy 
things, because there wasn't any store to run to, how 
do you suppose they got their lead-pencils?" 

Elizabeth Ann shook her head, incapable even of a 
guess. She had never thought before but that lead- 
pencils grew in glass show-cases in stores. 

"Well, sir," said Uncle Henry, "I'll tell you. They 
took a piece off the lump of lead they made their bul- 
lets of, melted it over the fire in the hearth down at 
the schoolhouse till it would run like water, and 
poured it in that groove. When it cooled off, there was 

•98- 



Don't Li\e Conversation? — S\ip This Chapter! 

a long streak of solid lead, about as big as one of our 
lead-pencils nowadays. They'd break that up in shorter 
lengths, and there you'd have your lead-pencils, made 
while you wait. I tell you, in the old days folks knew 
how to take care of themselves more than now." 

"Why, weren't there any stores?" asked Elizabeth 
Ann. She could not imagine living without buying 
things at stores. 

"Where'd they get the things to put in a store in those 
days?" asked Uncle Henry, argumentatively. "Every 
single thing had to be lugged clear from Albany or 
from Connecticut on horseback." 

"Why didn't they use wagons?" asked Elizabeth 
Ann. 

"You can't run a wagon unless you've got a road to 
run it on, can you?" asked Uncle Henry. "It was a 
long, long time before they had any roads. It's an awful 
chore to make roads in a new country all woods and 
hills and swamps and rocks. You were lucky if there 
was a good path from your house to the next settle- 
ment." 

"Now, Henry," said Aunt Abigail, "do stop going on 
about old times long enough to let Betsy answer the 
question you asked her. You haven't given her a chance 
to say how she got on at school." 

"Well, I'm awfully mixed up!" said Betsy, complain- 
ingly. "I don't know what I am! I'n? second-grade 

'99' 



Understood Betsy 

arithmetic and third-grade spelling and seventh-grade 
reading and I don't know what in writing or composi- 
tion. We didn't have those." 

Nobody seemed to think this very remarkable, or 
even very interesting. Uncle Henry, indeed, noted it 
only to say, "Seventh-grade reading!" He turned to 
Aunt Abigail. "Oh, Mother, don't you suppose she 
could read aloud to us evenings?" 

Aunt Abigail and Cousin Ann both laid down their 
sewing to laugh! "Yes, yes, Father, and play checkers 
with you too, like as not!" They explained to Betsy: 
"Your Uncle Henry is just daft on being read aloud to 
when he's got something to do in the evening, and 
when he hasn't, he's as fidgety as a broody hen if he 
can't play checkers. Ann hates checkers and I haven't 
got the time, often." 

"Oh, I love to play checkers!" said Betsy. 

"Well, now . . ." said Uncle Henry, rising instantly 
and dropping his half-mended harness on the table. 
"Let's have a game." 

"Oh, Father!" said Cousin Ann, in the tone she used 
for Shep. "How about that piece of breeching! You 
know that's not safe. Why don't you finish that up 
first?" 

Uncle Henry sat down again, looking as Shep did 
when Cousin Ann told him to lie down on the couch, 
and took up his needle and awl. 

• ioo- 



Don't Li\e Conversation? — S\ip This Chapter! 

"But I could read something aloud," said Betsy, 
feeling very sorry for him. "At least I think I could. 
I never did, except at school." 

"What shall we have, Mother?" asked Uncle Henry 
eagerly. 

"Oh, I don't know. What have we got in this book- 
case?" said Aunt Abigail. "It's pretty cold to go into 
the parlor to the other one." She leaned forward, ran 
her fat forefinger over the worn old volumes, and took 
out a battered, blue-covered book. "Scott ?" 

"Gosh, yes!" said Uncle Henry, his eyes shining. 
"The staggit eve!" 

At least that was the way it sounded to Betsy, but 
when she took the book and looked where Aunt Abi- 
gail pointed she read it correctly, though in a timid, 
uncertain voice. She was proud to think she could 
please a grown-up so much as she was evidently pleas- 
ing Uncle Henry, but the idea of reading aloud for 
people to hear, not for a teacher to correct, was un- 
heard-of. 

The Stag at eve had drun\ his fill 
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill, 

she began, and it was as though she had stepped into 
a boat and was swept off by a strong current. She did 
not know what all the words meant, and she could not 

• 101 • 



Understood Betsy 

pronounce a good many of the names, but nobody 
interrupted to correct her, and she read on and on, 




steadied by the strongly marked rhythm, drawn for- 
ward swiftly from one clanging, sonorous rhyme to 
another. Uncle Henry nodded his head in time to the 
rise and fall of her voice and now and then stopped 
his work to look at her with bright, eager, old eyes. He 

• 102- 



Don't Like Conversation? — S%ip This Chapter! 

knew some of the places by heart evidently, for once 
in a while his voice would join the little girl's for a 
couplet or two. They chanted together thus: 

A moment listened to the cry 
That thickened as the chase drew nigh, 
Then, as the headmost foes appeared, 
With one brave bound, the copse he cleared. 

At the last line Uncle Henry flung his arm out wide, 
and the child felt as though the deer had made his 
great leap there, before her eyes. 

"I've seen 'em jump just like that," broke in Uncle 
Henry. "A two-three-hundred-pound stag go up over 
a four-foot fence just like a piece of thistledown in the 
wind." 

"Uncle Henry," asked Elizabeth Ann, "what is a 
copse?" 

"I don't know," said Uncle Henry indifferently. 
"Something in the woods, must be. Underbrush most 
likely. You can always tell words you don't know by 
the sense of the whole thing. Go on." 

And stretching forward, free and far, 

The child's voice took up the chant again. She read 
faster and faster as it got more exciting. Uncle Henry 
joined in on 

• 103* 



Understood Betsy 

For, jaded now and spent with toil, 
Embossed with foam and dar\ with soil, 
While every gasp with sobs he drew, 
The laboring stag strained full in view. 

The little girl's heart beat fast. She fled along through 
the next lines, stumbling desperately over the hard 
words but seeing the headlong chase through them 
clearly as through tree-trunks in a forest. Uncle Henry 
broke in in a triumphant shout: 

The wily quarry shunned the shoc\ 
And turned him from the opposing rocltj 
Then dashing down a darksome glen, 
Soon lost to hound the hunter's \en, 
In the deep Trossach's wildest noo\ 
His solitary refuge too\. 

"Oh, my!" cried Elizabeth Ann, laying down the 
book. "He got away, didn't he? I was so afraid he 
wouldn't!" 

"I can just hear those dogs yelping, can't you ?" said 
Uncle Henry. 

Yelled on the view the opening pac\. 

"Sometimes you hear 'em that way up on the slope 
of Hemlock Mountain back of us, when they get to 
running a deer." 

•104- 



Don't Life Conversation? — S%ip This Chapter! 

"What say we have some pop-corn?" suggested 
Aunt Abigail. "Betsy, don't you want to pop us some?" 

"I never did," said the little girl, but in a less doubtful 
tone than she had ever used with that phrase so familiar 
to her. A dim notion was growing up in her mind 
that the fact that she had never done a thing was no 
proof that she couldn't. 

"I'll show you," said Uncle Henry. He reached down 
a couple of ears from a big yellow cluster hanging on 
the wall, and he and Betsy shelled them into the pop- 
per, popped it full of snowy kernels, buttered it, salted 
it, and took it back to the table. 

It was just as she was eating her first ambrosial 
mouthful that the door opened and a fur-capped head 
was thrust in. A man's voice said : "Evenin', folks. No, 
I can't stay. I was down at the village just now, and 
thought I'd ask for any mail down our way." He tossed 
a newspaper and a letter on the table and was gone. 

The letter was addressed to Elizabeth Ann and it 
was from Aunt Frances. She read it to herself while 
Uncle Henry read the newspaper. Aunt Frances wrote 
that she had been perfectly horrified to learn that 
Cousin Molly had not kept Elizabeth Ann with her, 
and that she would never forgive her for that cruelty. 
And when she thought that her darling was at Put- 
ney Farm . . . ! Her blood ran cold. It positively did! 
It was too dreadful. But it couldn't be helped, for a 

•105- 



Understood Betsy 

time anyhow, because Aunt Harriet was really very 
sick. Elizabeth Ann would have to be a dear, brave child 
and endure it as best she could. And as soon . . . oh, 
as soon as ever she could, Aunt Frances would come 
and take her away from them. "Don't cry too much, 
darling ... it breaks my heart to think of you there! 
Try to be cheerful, dearest! Try to bear it for the sake 
of your distracted, loving Aunt Frances." 

Elizabeth Ann looked up from this letter and across 
the table at Aunt Abigail's rosy, wrinkled old face, bent 
over her darning. Uncle Henry laid the paper down, 
took a big mouthful of pop-corn, and beat time silently 
with his hand. When he could speak he murmured: 

An hundred dogs bayed deep and strong, 
Clattered an hundred steeds along. 

Old Shep woke up with a snort and Aunt Abigail 
fed him a handful of pop-corn. Little Eleanor stirred 
in her sleep, stretched, yawned, and nestled down into 
a ball again on the little girl's lap. Betsy could feel in 
her own body the rhythmic vibration of the kitten's 
contented purr. 

Aunt Abigail looked up: "Finished your letter? I 
hope Harriet is no worse. What does Frances say?" 

Elizabeth Ann blushed a deep red and crushed the 
letter together in her hand. She felt ashamed and she 
did not know why. "Aunt Frances says, . . . Aunt 

•io6- 



Don't U\e Conversation? — Sfyp This Chapter! 

Frances says, . . ." she began, hesitating. "She says 
Aunt Harriet is still pretty sick." She stopped, drew a 
long breath, and went on, "And she sends her love to 
you." 

Now Aunt Frances hadn't done anything of the 
kind, so this was a really whopping fib. But Elizabeth 
Ann didn't care if it was. It made her feel less ashamed, 
though she did not know why. She took another 
mouthful of pop-corn and stroked Eleanor's back. 

Uncle Henry got up and stretched. "It's time to go 
to bed, folks," he said. As he wound the clock Betsy 
heard him murmuring: 

But when the sun his beacon red . . „ 



• I07« 



CHAPTER 7 



vDlissabem 1/ilnn CZTatU 

s. 



s in 



h 



an k^j xamination 



I wonder if you can guess the name of a little girl who, 
about a month after this, was walking along through 
the melting snow in the woods with a big black dog 
running circles around her. Yes, all alone in the woods 
with a terrible great dog beside her, and yet not a bit 
afraid. You don't suppose it could be Elizabeth Ann? 
Well, whoever she was, she had something on her 
mind, for she walked more and more slowly and had 
only a very absent-minded pat for the dog's head when 
he thrust it up for a caress. When the wood road led 
into a clearing in which there was a rough little house 
of slabs, the child stopped altogether, and, looking 
down, began nervously to draw lines in the snow with 
her overshoe. 
You see, something perfectly dreadful had happened 
•io8- 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

in school that day. The Superintendent, the all-impor- 
tant, seldom-seen Superintendent, came to visit the 
school and the children were given some examinations 
so he could see how they were getting on. 

Now, you know what an examination did to Eliza. 
beth Ann. Or haven't I told you yet? 

Well, if I haven't, it's because words fail me. If there 
is anything horrid that an examination didn't do to 
Elizabeth Ann, I have yet to hear of it. It began years 
ago, before ever she went to school, when she heard 
Aunt Frances talking about how she had dreaded ex- 
aminations when she was a child, and how they dried 
up her mouth and made her ears ring and her head 
ache and her knees get all weak and her mind a per- 
fect blank, so that she didn't know what two and two 
made. Of course Elizabeth Ann didn't feel all those 
things right off at her first examination, but by the 
time she had had several and had rushed to tell Aunt 
Frances about how awful they were and the two of 
them had sympathized with one another and compared 
symptoms and then wept about her resulting low 
marks, why, she not only had all the symptoms Aunt 
Frances had ever had, but a good many more of her 
own invention. 

Well, she had had them all and had them hard this 
afternoon, when the Superintendent was there. Hei 
mouth had gone dry and her knees had shaken and 

• 109 • 



Understood Betsy 

her elbows had felt as though they had no more bones 
in diem than so much jelly, and her eyes had smarted, 
and oh, what answers she had made! That dreadful 
tight panic had clutched at her throat whenever the 
Superintendent had looked at her, and she had dis- 
graced herself ten times over. She went hot and cold 
to think of it, and felt quite sick with hurt vanity. She 
who did so well every day and was so much looked 
up to by her classmates, what must they be thinking 
of her! To tell the truth, she had been crying as she 
walked along through the woods, because she was so 
sorry for herself. Her eyes were all red still, and her 
throat sore from the big lump in it. 

And now she would live it all over again as she told 
the Putney cousins. For of course they must be told. 
She had always told Aunt Frances everything that 
happened in school. It happened that Aunt Abigail 
had been taking a nap when she got home from school, 
and so she had come out to the sap-house, where Cousin 
Ann and Uncle Henry were making syrup, to have it 
over with as soon as possible. She went up to the little 
slab house now, dragging her feet and hanging her 
head, and opened the door. 

Cousin Ann, in a very short old skirt and a man's 
coat and high rubber boots, was just poking some more 
wood into the big fire which blazed furiously under 
the broad, flat pan where the sap was boiling. The 

•no* 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

rough, brown hut was filled with white steam and that 
sweetest of all odors, hot maple syrup. Cousin Ann 
turned her head, her face red with the heat of the fire, 
and nodded at the child. 

"Hello, Betsy, you're just in time. I've saved out a 
cupful of hot syrup for you, all ready to wax." 

Betsy hardly heard this, although she had been wild 
about waxed sugar on snow ever since her very first 
taste of it. "Cousin Ann," she said unhappily, "the 
Superintendent visited our school this afternoon." 

"Did he?" said Cousin Ann, dipping a thermometei 
into the boiling syrup. 

"Yes, and we had examinations I" said Betsy. 

"Did you?" said Cousin Ann, holding the ther- 
mometer up to the light and looking at it. 

"And you know how perfectly awful examinations 
make you feel," said Betsy, very near to tears again. 

"Why, no," said Cousin Ann, sorting over syrup tins. 
"They never made me feel awful. I thought they were 
sort of fun." 

"Fun!" cried Betsy, indignantly, staring through the 
beginnings of her tears. 

"Why, yes. Like taking a dare, don't you know. 
Somebody stumps you to jump off the hitching-post, 
and you do it to show 'em. I always used to think ex- 
aminations were like that. Somebody stumps you to 
spell 'pneumonia,' and you do it to show 'em. Here's 

• in • 



Understood Betsy 

your cup of syrup. You'd better go right out and wax 
it while it's hot." 

Elizabeth Ann automatically took the cup in her 
h?nd, but she did not look at it. "But supposing you 
get so scared you can't spell 'pneumonia' or anything 
else!" she said feelingly. "That's what happened to me. 
You know how your mouth gets all dry and your 
knees . . ." She stopped. Cousin Ann had said she did 
not know all about those things. "Well, anyhow, I got 
so scared I could hardly stand up! And I made the 
most awful mistakes — things I know just as well! I 
spelled 'doubt' without any b and 'separate' with an 
e, and I said Iowa was bounded on the north by Wis- 
consin, and I . . ." 

"Oh, well," said Cousin Ann, "it doesn't matter if 
you really know the right answers, does it? That's 
the important thing." 

This was an idea which had never in all her life 
entered Betsy's brain and she did not take it in now. 
She only shook her head miserably and went on in a 
doleful tone. "And I said 13 and 8 are 22/ and I wrote 
March without any capital M, and I . . ." 

"Look here, Betsy, do you want to tell me all this?" 
Cousin Ann spoke in the quick, ringing voice she had 
once in a while which made everybody, from old Shep 
up, open his eyes and get his wits about him. Betsy 
gathered hers and thought hard; and she came to an 

•112- 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

unexpected conclusion. No, she didn't really want to 
tell Cousin Ann all about it. Why was she doing it? 
Because she thought that was the thing to do. "Because 
if you don't really want to," went on Cousin Ann, "I 
don't see that it's doing anybody any good. I guess 
Hemlock Mountain will stand right there just the same 
even if you did forget to put a b in 'doubt.' And your 
syrup will be too cool to wax right if you don't take it 
out pretty soon." 

She turned back to stroke the fire, and Elizabeth 
Ann, in a daze, found herself walking out of the door. 
It fell shut after her, and there she was under the clear,, 
pale-blue sky, with the sun just hovering over the rim 
of Hemlock Mountain. She looked up at the big moun- 
tains, all blue and silver with shadows and snow, and 
wondered what in the world Cousin Ann had meant. 
Of course Hemlock Mountain would stand there just 
the same. But what of it? What did that have to do 
with her arithmetic, with anything? She had failed in 
her examination, hadn't she? 

She found a clean white snow-bank under a pine- 
tree, and, setting her cup of syrup down in a safe place, 
began to pat the snow down hard to make the right 
bed for the waxing of the syrup. The sun, very hot 
for that late March day, brought out strongly the tarry 
perfume of the big pine-tree. Near her the sap dripped 
musically into a bucket, already half full, hung on a 

•113- 



Understood Betsy 

maple-tree. A blue-jay rushed suddenly through the 
upper branches of the wood, his screaming and chat- 
tering voice sounding like noisy children at play. 

Elizabeth Ann took up her cup and poured some 
of the thick, hot syrup out on the hard snow, making 
loops and curves as she poured. It stiffened and 
hardened at once, and she lifted up a great coil of it, 
threw her head back, and let it drop into her mouth. 
Concentrated sweetness of summer days was in that 
mouthful, part of it still hot and aromatic, part of it 
icy and wet with melting snow. She crunched it all 
together into a delicious, big lump and sucked on it 
dreamily, her eyes on the rim of Hemlock Mountain, 
high above her there, the snow on it bright golden in 
the sunlight. Uncle Henry had promised to take her up 
to the top as soon as the snow went off. She wondered 
what the top of a mountain would be like. Uncle Henry 
had said the main thing was that you could see so 
much of the world at once. He said it was too queer 
the way your own house and big barn and great fields 
looked like little toy things that weren't of any account. 
It was because you could see so much more than just 
the . . . 

She heard an imploring whine, and a cold nose was 
thrust into her hand ! Why, there was old Shep begging 
for his share of waxed sugar. He loved it, though it 
did stick to his teeth so! She poured out another lot 

• 114- 



Understood Betsy 

and gave half of it to Shep. It immediately stuck his 
jaws together tight, and he began pawing at his mouth 
and shaking his head till Betsy had to laugh. Then he 
managed to pull his jaws apart and chewed loudly and 
visibly, tossing his head, opening his mouth wide till 
Betsy could see the sticky, brown candy draped in 
melting festoons all over his big white teeth and red 
gullet. Then with a gulp he had swallowed it all down 
and was whining for more, striking softly at the little 
girl's skirt with his forepaw. "Oh, you eat it too fast!" 
cried Betsy, but she shared her next lot with him too. 
The sun had gone down over Hemlock Mountain by 
this time, and the big slope above her was all deep 
blue shadow. The mountain looked much higher now 
as the dusk began to fall, and loomed up bigger and 
bigger as though it reached to the sky. It was no won- 
der houses looked small from its top. Betsy ate the 
last of her sugar, looking up at the quiet giant there, 
towering grandly above her. There was no lump in 
her throat now. Although she still thought she did not 
know what in the world Cousin Ann meant by saying 
that about Hemlock Mountain and her examination, 
it's my opinion that she had made a good beginning 
of an understanding. 

She was just picking up her cup to take it back to 
the sap-house when Shep growled a little and stood 
with his ears and tail up, looking down the road. Some- 

•n6« 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

thing was coming down that road in the blue, clear twi- 
light, something that was making a very queer noise. 
It sounded almost like somebody crying. It was some- 
body crying! It was a child crying. It was a little, little 
girl. . . . Betsy could see her now . . . stumbling 
along and crying as though her heart would break. 
Why, it was little Molly, her own particular charge at 
school, whose reading lesson she heard every day. Betsy 
and Shep ran to meet her. "What's the matter, Molly? 
What's the matter?" Betsy knelt down and put her 
arms around the weeping child. "Did you fall down? 
Did you hurt you ? What are you doing 'way off here ? 
Did you lose your way?" 

"I don't want to go away! I don't want to go away!" 
said Molly over and over, clinging tightly to Betsy. 
It was a long time before Betsy could quiet her enough 
to find out what had happened. Then she made out 
between Molly's sobs that her mother had been taken 
suddenly sick and had to go away to a hospital, and 
that left nobody at home to take care of Molly, and she 
was to be sent away to some strange relatives in the 
city who didn't want her at all and who said so right 
out. . . . 

Elizabeth Ann knew all about that! Her heart swelled 
big with sympathy. For a moment she stood again out 
on the sidewalk in front of the Lathrop house with 
old Mrs. Lathrop's ungracious white head bobbing 

•117* 



Understood Betsy 

from a window, and knew again that ghastly feeling 
of being unwanted. She knew why little Molly was 
crying! And she shut her hands together hard and 
made up her mind that she would help her out! 

Do you know what she did, right off, without think- 
ing about it? She didn't go and look up Aunt Abigail. 
She didn't wait till Uncle Henry came back from his 
round of emptying sap buckets into the big tub on 
his sled. As fast as her feet could carry her she flew 
back to Cousin Ann in the sap-house. I can't tell you 
(except again that Cousin Ann was Cousin Ann) why 
it was that Betsy ran so fast to her and was so sure that 
everything would be all right as soon as Cousin Ann 
knew about it; but whatever the reason was it was a 
good one, for, though Cousin Ann did not stop to kiss 
Molly or even to look at her more than one sharp first 
glance, she said after a moment's pause, during which 
she filled a syrup can and screwed the cover down 
very tight: "Well, if her folks will let her stay, how 
would you like to have Molly come and stay with 
us till her mother gets back from the hospital? Now 
you've got a room of your own, I guess if you wanted 
to you could have her sleep with you." 

"Oh, Molly, Molly, Molly!" shouted Betsy, jumping 
up and down, and then hugging the little girl with all 
her might. "Oh, it will be like having a little sister!" 

Cousin Ann sounded a dry, warning note: "Don't be 
■ii8- 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

too sure her folks will let her. We don't know about 
them yet." 

Betsy ran to her, and caught her hand, looking up 
at her with shining eyes. "Cousin Ann, if you go to 
see them and ask them, they will!" 

This made even Cousin Ann give a little abashed 
smile of pleasure, although she made her face grave 
again at once and said : "You'd better go along back to 
the house now, Betsy. It's time for you to help Mother 
with the supper." 

The two children trotted back along the darkening 
wood road, Shep running before them, little Molly 
clinging fast to the older child's hand. "Aren't you ever 
afraid, Betsy, in the woods this way?" she asked ad- 
miringly, looking about her with timid eyes. 

"Oh, no!" said Betsy, protectingly; "there's nothing 
to be afraid of, except getting off on the wrong fork of 
the road, near the Wolf Pit." 

"Oh, owl" said Molly, scringing. "What's the Wolf 
Pit? What an awful name!" 

Betsy laughed. She tried to make her laugh sound 
brave like Cousin Ann's, which always seemed so 
scornful of being afraid. As a matter of fact, she was 
beginning to fear that they had made the wrong turn, 
and she was not quite sure that she could find the way 
home. But she put this out of her mind and walked 
along very fast, peering ahead into the dusk. "It hasn't 

-no* 



Understood Betsy 

anything to do with wolves," she said in answer to 
Molly's question; "anyhow, not now. It's just a big, 
deep hole in the ground where a brook had dug out a 
cave. . . . Uncle Henry told me all about it when he 
showed it to me . . . and then part of the roof caved 
in; sometimes there's ice in the corner of the covered 
part all the summer, Aunt Abigail says." 

"Why do you call it the Wolf Pit?" asked Molly, 
walking very close to Betsy and holding very tightly to 
her hand. 

"Oh. long, ever so long ago, when the first settlers 
came up here, they heard a wolf howling all night, and 
when it didn't stop in the morning, they came up here 
on the mountain and found a wolf had fallen in and 
couldn't get out." 

"My! I hope they killed him!" said Molly. 

"Gracious ! that was more than a hundred years ago," 
said Betsy. She was not thinking of what she was say- 
ing. She was thinking that if they were on the right 
road they ought to be home by this time. She was 
thinking that the right road ran downhill to the house 
all the way, and that this certainly seemed to be going 
up a little. She was wondering what had become of 
Shep. "Stand here just a minute, Molly," she said. "I 
want ... I just want to go ahead a litde bit and see 
. . . and see . . ." She darted on around a curve of 

•T20* 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

the road and stood still, her heart sinking. The road 
turned there and led straight up the mountain! 

For just a moment the little girl felt a wild impulse 
to burst out in a shriek for Aunt Frances, and to run 
crazily away, anywhere so long as she was running. 
But the thought of Molly standing back there, trust- 
fully waking to be taken care of, shut Betsy's lips to- 
gether hard before her scream of fright got out. She 
stood still, thinking. Now she mustn't get frightened. 
All they had to do was to walk back along the road 
till they came to the fork and then make the right turn. 
But what if they didn't get back to the turn till it was 
so dark they couldn't see it ... ? Well, she mustn't 
think of that. She ran back, calling, "Come on, Molly," 
in a tone she tried to make as firm as Cousin Ann's. "I 
guess we have made the wrong turn after all. We'd 
better . . ." 

But there was no Molly there. In the brief moment 
Betsy had stood thinking, Molly had disappeared. The 
long, shadowy wood road held not a trace of her. 

Then Betsy was frightened and then she did begin 
to scream, at the top of her voice, "Molly! Molly!" She 
was beside herself with terror, and started back hastily 
to hear Molly's voice, very faint, apparently coming 
from the ground under her feet. 

"Ow! Ow! Betsy! Get me out! Get me out!" 

"Where are you ?" shrieked Betsy. 

•I2I« 



Understood Betsy 

"I don't know!" came Molly's sobbing voice. "I just 
moved the least little bit out of the road, and slipped 
on the ice and began to slide and I couldn't stop my- 
self and I fell down into a deep hole!" 

Betsy's head felt as though her hair were standing up 
straight on end with horror. Molly must have fallen 
down into the Wolf Pit! Yes, they were quite near it. 
She remembered now that big white-birch tree stood 
right at the place where the brook tumbled over the 
edge and fell into it. Although she was dreadfully 
afraid of falling in herself, she went cautiously over to 
this tree, feeling her way with her foot to make sure 
she did not slip, and peered down into the cavernous 
gloom below. Yes, there was Molly's little face, just a 
white speck. The child was crying, sobbing, and hold- 
ing up her arms to Betsy. 

"Are you hurt, Molly?" 

"No. I fell into a big snow-bank, but I'm all wet and 
frozen and I want to get out! I want to get out!" 

Betsy held on to the birch-tree. Her head whirled. 
What should she do! "Look here, Molly," she called 
down, "I'm going to run back along to the right road 
and back to the house and get Uncle Henry. He'll come 
with a rope and get you out!" 

At this Molly's crying rose to a frantic scream. "Oh, 
Betsy, don't leave me here alone! Don't! Don't! Thf 

• 122* 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

wolves will get me! Betsy, don't leave me alone!" The 
child was wild with terror. 

"But I can't get you out myself!" screamed back 
Betsy, crying herself. Her teeth were chattering with 
the cold. 

"Don't go! Don't go!" came up from the darkness 
of the pit in a piteous howl. Betsy made a great effort 
and stopped crying. She sat down on a stone and tried 
to think. And this is what came into her mind as a 
guide: "What would Cousin Ann do if she were here? 
She wouldn't cry. She would thin\ of something." 

Betsy looked around her desperately. The first thing 
she saw was the big limb of a pine-tree, broken off by 
the wind, which half lay and half slantingly stood up 
against a tree a little distance above the mouth of the 
pit. It had been there so long that the needles had dried 
and fallen off, and the skeleton of the branch with 
the broken stubs looked like . . . yes, it looked like 
a ladder! That was what Cousin Ann would have done! 

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute, Molly!" she called 
wildly down the pit, warm all over in excitement. 
"Now listen. You go off there in a corner, where the 
ground makes a sort of roof. I'm going to throw down 
something you can climb up on, maybe." 

"Ow! Ow, it'll hit me!" cried poor little Molly, more 
and more frightened. But she scrambled off under her 
shelter obediendy, while Betsy struggled with the 

•I23> 



Understood Betsy 

branch. It was so firmly imbedded in the snow that at 
first she could not budge it at all. But after she cleared 
that away and pried hard with the stick she was using 
as a lever she felt it give a little. She bore down with all 
her might, throwing her weight again and again on 
her lever, and finally felt the big branch move. After 
that it was easier, as its course was downhill over the 
snow to the mouth of the pit. Glowing, and pushing, 
wet with perspiration, she slowly maneuvered it along 
to the edge, turned it squarely, gave it a great shove, and 
leaned over anxiously. Then she gave a great sigh of 
relief! Just as she had hoped, it went down sharp end 
first and stuck fast in the snow which had saved Molly 
from broken bones. She was so out of breath with her 
work that for a moment she could not speak. Then, 
"Molly, there! Now I guess you can climb up to where 
I can reach you." 

Molly made a rush for any way out of her prison, and 
climbed, like the practiced squirrel that she was, up 
from one stub to another to the top of the branch. She 
was still below the edge of the pit there, but Betsy lay 
flat down on the snow and held out her hands. Molly 
took hold hard, and, digging her toes into the snow, 
slowly wormed her way up to the surface of the ground. 

It was then, at that very moment, that Shep came 
bounding up to them, barking loudly, and after him 
Cousin Ann striding along in her rubber boots, with 

• 124* 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

a lantern in her hand and a rather anxious look on her 
face. 

She stopped short and looked at the two little girls, 
covered with snow, their faces flaming with excite- 
ment, and at the black hole gaping behind them. "I al- 
ways told Father we ought to put a fence around that 
pit," she said in a matter-of-fact voice. "Some day a 
sheep's going to fall down there. Shep came along to 
the house without you, and we thought most likely 
you'd taken the wrong turn." 

Betsy felt terribly aggrieved. She wanted to be petted 
and praised for her heroism. She wanted Cousin Ann 
to realize ... oh, if Aunt Frances were only there, 
she would iealize . . . ! 

"I fell down in the hole, and Betsy wanted to go and 
get Mr. Putney, but I wouldn't let her, and so she threw 
down a big branch and I climbed out," explained Molly, 
who, now that her danger was past, took Betsy's action 
quite as a matter of course. 

"Oh, that was how it happened," said Cousin Ann. 
She looked down the hole and saw the big branch, and 
looked back and saw the long trail of crushed snow 
where Betsy had dragged it. "Well, now, that was quite 
a good idea for a little girl to have," she said briefly. "I 
guess you'll do to take care of Molly all right!" 

She spoke in her usual voice and immediately drew 
the children after her, but Betsy's heart was singing 

•125" 



Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination 

joyfully as she trotted along clasping Cousin Ann's 
strong hand. Now she knew that Cousin Ann realized. 
. . . She trotted fast, smiling to herself in the darkness. 

"What made you think of doing that?" asked Cousin 
Ann presently, as they approached the house. 

"Why, I tried to think what you would have done 
if you'd been there," said Betsy. 

"Oh!" said Cousin Ann. "Well . . ." 

She didn't say another word, but Betsy, glancing up 
into her face as they stepped into the lighted room, saw 
an expression that made her give a little skip and hop 
of joy. She had pleased Cousin Ann. 

That night, as she lay in her bed, her arm over Molly 
cuddled up warm beside her, she remembered, ever 
so faintly, as something of no importance, that she had 
failed in an examination that afternoon. 



»I27« 



CHAPTER 8 



cJoeisv G/iarts a C/ei 



ft; CJ/tarts a Q2/eioing 



(2/ocieii; 



Betsy and Molly had taken Deborah to school with 
them. Deborah was the old wooden doll with brown, 
painted curls. She had lain in a trunk almost ever since 
Aunt Abigail's childhood, because Cousin Ann had 
never cared for dolls when she was a little girl. At first 
Betsy had not dared to ask to see her, much less to play 
with her, but when Ellen, as she had promised, came 
over to Putney Farm that first Saturday she had said 
right out, as soon as she landed in the house, "Oh, Mrs. 
Putney, can't we play with Deborah?" And Aunt Abi- 
gail had answered: "Why, yes, of course! I knew there 
was something I've kept forgetting!" She went up with 
them herself to the cold attic and opened the little 
hair-trunk under the eaves. There lay a doll, flat on her 
back, looking up at them brightly out of her blue eyes. 

•128- 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

"Well, Debby dear," said Aunt Abigail, taking her 
up gently. "It's a good long time since you and I played 
under the lilac bushes, isn't it? I expect you've been 
pretty lonesome up here all these years. Never you mind, 
you'll have some good times again, now." She pulled 
down the doll's full, ruffled skirt, straightened the lace 
at the neck of her dress, and held her for a moment, 
looking down at her silently. You could tell by the 
way she spoke, by the way she touched Deborah, by the 
way she looked at her, that she had loved the doll 
dearly, and maybe still did, a little. 

When she put Deborah into Betsy's arms, the child 
felt that she was receiving something precious, almost 
something alive. She and Ellen looked with delight at 
the yards and yards of picot-edged ribbon, sewed on by 
hand to the ruffles of the skirt, and lifted up the silk 
folds to admire the carefully made, full petticoats and 
frilly drawers, the pretty, soft old kid shoes and white 
stockings. Aunt Abigail looked at them with an absent 
smile on her lips, as though she were living over old 
scenes. 

Finally, "It's too cold to play up here," she said, com- 
ing to herself with a long breath. "You'd better bring 
Deborah and the trunk down into the south room." 
She carried the doll, and Betsy and Ellen each took 
an end of the old trunk, no larger than a modern suit > 
case. They settled themselves on the big couch, bac) 

• 129- 



Understood Betsy 

of the table with the lamp. Old Shep was on it, but 
Betsy coaxed him off by putting down some bones 
Cousin Ann had been saving for him. When he finished 
those and came back for the rest of his snooze, he found 
his place occupied by the little girls, sitting cross- 
legged, examining the contents of the trunk, all spread 
out around them. Shep sighed deeply and sat down 
with his nose resting on the couch near Betsy's knee, 
following their movements with his kind, dark eyes. 
Once in a while Betsy stopped hugging Deborah or 
exclaiming over a new dress long enough to pat Shep's 
head and fondle his ears. This was what he was waiting 
for, and every time she did it he wagged his tail thump- 
ingly against the floor. 

After that Deborah and her trunk were kept down- 
stairs where Betsy could play with her. Often she was 
taken to school. You never heard of such a thing as 
taking a doll to school, did you ? Well, I told you this 
was a queer, old-fashioned school. As a matter of fact, 
it was not only Betsy who took her doll to school; all 
the little girls did, whenever they felt like it. Miss Ben- 
ton, the teacher, had a shelf for them in the entry-way 
where the wraps were hung, and the dolls sat on it and 
waited patiently all through lessons. At recess time or 
nooning each little mother snatched her own child and 
began to play. As soon as it grew warm enough to 
play outdoors without just racing around every minute 

•130* 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

to keep from freezing to death, the dolls and their 
mothers went out to a great pile of rocks at one end of 
the bare, stony field which was the playground. There 
they sat and played in the spring sunshine, warmer 
from day to day. There were a great many holes and 
shelves and pockets and little caves in the rocks which 
made lovely places for playing keep-house. Each little 
girl had her own particular cubby-holes and "rooms," 
and they "visited" their dolls back and forth all around 
the pile. And as they played they talked fast about all 
sorts of things, being little girls and not boys who just 
yelled and howled as they played ball or duck-on-a-rock 
or prisoner's goal, racing and running and wrestling 
noisily all around the rocks. 

There was one child who neither played with the 
girls nor ran and whooped with the boys. This was little 
six-year-old 'Lias, one of the two boys in Molly's first 
grade. At recess time he generally hung about the 
school door by himself, looking moodily down and 
knocking the toe of his ragged, muddy shoe against 
a stone. The little girls were talking about him one 
day as they played. "My! Isn't that 'Lias Brewster the 
horridest-looking child!" said Eliza, who had the 
second grade all to herself, although Molly now read 
out of the second reader with her. 

"Mercy, yes! So ragged!" said Anastasia Monahan, 

•131* 



Understood Betsy 

called Stashie for short. She was a big girl, fourteen 
years old, who was in the seventh grade. 

"He doesn't look as if he ever combed his hair!" said 
Betsy. "It looks just like a wisp of old hay." 

"And sometimes," little Molly proudly added her 
bit to the talk of the older girls, "he forgets to put on 
any stockings and just has his dreadful old shoes on 
over his dirty, bare feet." 

"I guess he hasn't got any stockings half the time," 
said big Stashie scornfully. "I guess his stepfather drinks 
'em up." 

"How can he drink up stockings?" asked Molly, 
opening her round eyes very wide. 

"Sh! You mustn't ask. Little girls shouldn't know 
about such things, should they, Betsy?" 

"No, indeed," said Betsy, looking mysterious. As a 
matter of fact, she herself had no idea what Stashie 
meant, but she looked wise and said nothing. 

Some of the boys had squatted down near the rocks 
for a game of marbles now. 

"Well, anyhow," said Molly resentfully, "I don't 
care what his stepfather does to his stockings. I wish 
'Lias would wear 'em to school. And lots of times he 
hasn't anything on under those horrid old overalls 
either! I can see his bare skin through the torn places." 

"I wish he didn't have to sit so near me," said Betsy 
complainingly. "He's so dirty." 

• 112 • 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

"Well, I don't want him near me, either!" cried all 
the other little girls at once. Ralph glanced up at them 
frowning, from where he knelt with his middle finger 
crooked behind a marble ready for a shot. He looked 
as he always did, rough and half-threatening. "You 
girls make me sick!" he said. He sent his marble 
straight to the mark, pocketed his opponent's, and stood 
up, scowling at the little mothers. "I guess if you had 
to live the way he does, you'd be dirty! Half the time 
he don't get anything to eat before he comes to school, 
and if my mother didn't put up some extra for him 
in my box he wouldn't get any lunch either. And then 
you go and jump on him!" 

"Why doesn't his own mother put up his lunch?" 
Betsy challenged their critic. 

"He hasn't got any mother. She's dead," said Ralph, 
turning away with his hands in his pockets. He yelled 
to the boys, "Come on, fellers, beat-che to the bridge 
and back!" and was off, with the others racing at his 
heels. 

"Well, anyhow, I don't care; he is dirty and horrid!" 
said Stashie emphatically, looking over at the drooping, 
battered little figure, leaning against the school door, 
listlessly kicking at a stone. 

But Betsy did not say anything more just then. 

The teacher, who "boarded 'round," was staying 
at Putney Farm at that time, and that evening, as 

•133' 



Understood Betsy 

they all sat around the lamp in the south room, Betsy 
looked up from her game of checkers with Uncle 
Henry and asked, "How can anybody drink up stock- 
ings?" 

"Mercy, child! what are you talking about?" asked 
Aunt Abigail. 

Betsy repeated what Anastasia Monahan had said, 
and was flattered by the rather startled attention given 
her by the grown-ups. "I didn't know that Bud Walker 
had taken to drinking again!" said Uncle Henry. "My! 
That's too bad!" 

"Who takes care of that child anyhow, now that 
poor Susie is dead?" Aunt Abigail asked of everybody 
in general. 

"Is he just living there done, with that good-for- 
nothing stepfather ? How do they get enough to eat?" 
said Cousin Ann, looking troubled. 

Apparently Betsy's question had brought something 
half forgotten and altogether neglected into their 
minds. They talked for some time after that about 
'Lias, the teacher confirming what Betsy and Stashie 
had said. 

"And we sitting right here with plenty to eat and 
never raising a hand!" cried Aunt Abigail. 

"How you will let things slip out of your mind!" 
said Cousin Ann remorsefully. 

It struck Betsy vividly that 'Lias was not at all the one 

•134- 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

they blamed for his objectionable appearance. She 
felt quite ashamed to go on with the other things she 
and the little girls had said, and fell silent, pretending 
to be very much absorbed in her game of checkers. 

"Do you know," said Aunt Abigail suddenly, as 
though an inspiration had just struck her, "I wouldn't 
be a bit surprised if that Elmore Pond might adopt 
'Lias if he was gone at the right way." 

"Who's Elmore Pond?" asked the schoolteacher. 

"Why, you must have seen him — that great, big, red- 
faced, good-natured-looking man that comes through 
here twice a year, buying stock. He lives over Digby 
way, but his wife was a Hillsboro girl, Matey Pelham 
— an awfully nice girl she was, too. They never had 
any children, and Matey told me the last time she was 
back for a visit that she and her husband talked quite 
often about adopting a little boy. Seems that Mr. Pond 
has always wanted a little boy. He's such a nice man! 
'Twould be a lovely home for a child." 

"But goodness!" said the teacher. "Nobody would 
want to adopt such an awful-looking little ragamuffin 
as that 'Lias. He looks so meeching, too. I guess his 
stepfather is real mean to him, when he's been drink- 
ing, and it's got 'Lias so he hardly dares hold his 
head up." 

The clock struck loudly. "Well, hear that!" said 
Cousin Ann. "Nine o'clock and the children not in 

•135- 



Understood Betsy 

bed ! Molly's most asleep this minute. Trot along with 
you, Betsy! Trot along, Molly. And, Betsy, be sure 
Molly's nightgown is buttoned up all the way." 

So it happened that, although the grown-ups were 
evidently going on to talk about 'Lias Brewster, Betsy 
heard no more of what they said. 

She herself went on thinking about 'Lias while she 
was undressing and answering absently little Molly's 
chatter. She was thinking about him even after they 
had gone to bed, had put the light out, and were lying 
snuggled up to each other, back to front, their four 
legs, crooked at the same angle, fitting in together 
neatly like two spoons in a drawer. She was thinking 
about him when she woke up, and as soon as she could 
get hold of Cousin Ann she poured out a new plan. She 
had never been afraid of Cousin Ann since the evening 
Molly had fallen into the Wolf Pit and Betsy had 
seen that pleased smile on Cousin Ann's firm lips. 
"Cousin Ann, couldn't we girls at school get together 
and sew — you'd have to help us some — and make some 
nice, new clothes for little 'Lias Brewster, and fix him 
up so he'll look better, and maybe that Mr. Pond 
will like him and adopt him?" 

Cousin Ann listened attentively and nodded her 
head. "Yes, I think that would be a good idea," she 
said. "We were thinking last night we ought to do 
something for him. If you'll make the clothes, Mother'll 

• 136- 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

knit him some stockings and Father will get him some 
shoes. Mr. Pond never makes his spring trip till late 
May, so we'll have plenty of time." 

Betsy was full of importance that day at school and 
at recess time got the girls together on the rocks and 
told them all about the plan. "Cousin Ann says she'll 
help us, and we can meet at our house every Saturday 
afternoon till we get them done. It'll be fun! Aunt 
Abigail telephoned down to the store right away, and 
Mr. Wilkins says he'll give the cloth if we'll make 
it up." 

Betsy spoke very grandly of "making it up," al- 
though she had hardly held a needle in her life, and 
when the Saturday afternoon meetings began she was 
ashamed to see how much better Ellen and even Eliza 
could sew than she. To keep her end up, she was driven 
to practicing her stitches around the lamp in the eve- 
nings, with Aunt Abigail keeping an eye on her. 

Cousin Ann supervised the sewing on Saturday af- 
ternoons and taught those of the little girls whose legs 
were long enough how to use the sewing machine. 
First they made a little pair of trousers out of an old 
gray woolen skirt of Aunt Abigail's. This was for 
practice, before they cut into the piece of new blue 
serge that the storekeeper had sent up. Cousin Ann 
showed them how to pin the pattern on the goods and 
they each cut out one piece. Those flat, queer-shaped 

•137- 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

pieces of cloth certainly did look less like a pair of trou- 
sers to Betsy than anything she had ever seen. Then one 
of the girls read aloud very slowly the mysterious- 
sounding directions from the wrapper of the pattern 
about how to put the pieces together. Cousin Ann 
helped here a little, particularly just as they were about 
to put the sections together wrong-side-up. Stashie, as 
the oldest, did the first basting, putting the notches to- 
gether carefully, just as they read the instructions aloud, 
and there, all of a sudden, was a rough little sketch of 
a pair of knee trousers, without any hem or any waist- 
band, of course, but just the two-legged, complicated 
shape they ought to be! It was like a miracle to Betsy! 
Cousin Ann helped them sew the seams on the ma- 
chine, and they all turned to for the basting of the 
facings and the finishing. They each made one but- 
tonhole. It was the first one Betsy had ever made, and 
when she got through she was as tired as though she 
had run all the way to school and back. Tired, but 
very proud; although when Cousin Ann inspected 
that buttonhole, she covered her face with her hand- 
kerchief for a minute, as though she were going to 
sneeze, although she didn't sneeze at all. 

It took them two Saturdays to finish up that trial 
pair of trousers, and when they showed the result to 
Aunt Abigail she was delighted. "Well, to think of 
that being my old skirt!" she said, putting on her spec- 

.139. 



Understood Betsy 

tacles to examine the work. She did not laugh, either, 
when she saw those buttonholes, but she got up hastily 
and went into the next room, where they soon heard 
her coughing. 

Then they made a little blouse out of some new blue 
gingham. Cousin Ann happened to have enough left 
over from a dress she was making. This thin material 
was ever so much easier to manage than the gray flan- 
nel, and they had the little garment done in no time, 
even to the buttons and buttonholes. When it came to 
making the buttonholes, Cousin Ann sat right down 
with each one and supervised every stitch. You may 
not be surprised to know that they were a great im- 
provement over the first batch. 

Then, making a great ceremony of it, they began 
on the store material, working twice a week now, be- 
cause May was slipping along very fast, and Mr. Pond 
might be there at any time. They knew pretty well 
how to go ahead on this one, after the experience of 
their first pair, and Cousin Ann was not much needed, 
except as adviser in hard places. She sat there in the 
room with them, doing some sewing of her own, so 
quiet that half the time they forgot she was there. It 
was great fun, sewing all together and chatting as they 
sewed. 

A good deal of the time they talked about how 
splendid it was of them to be so kind to little 'Lias. 

• 140* 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

"My! I don't believe most girls would put themselves 
out this way for a dirty little boy!" said Stashie, com- 
placently. 

"No, indeed!" chimed in Betsy. "It's just like a story, 
isn't it? — working and sacrificing for the poor!" 

"I guess he'll thank us all right for sure!" said Ellen. 
"He'll never forget us as long as he lives, I don't sup- 
pose." 

Betsy, her imagination fired by this suggestion, said, 
"I guess when he's grown up he'll be telling every- 
body about how, when he was so poor and ragged, 
Stashie Monahan and Ellen Peters and Elizabeth 
Ann . . ." 

"And Eliza!" put in that little girl hastily, very 
much afraid she would not be given her due share 
of the glory. 

Cousin Ann sewed, and listened, and said nothing. 

Toward the end of May two little blouses, two pairs 
of trousers, two pairs of stockings, two sets of under- 
wear (contributed by the teacher), and the pair of 
shoes Uncle Henry gave were ready. The little girls 
handled the pile of new garments with inexpressible 
pride, and debated just which way of bestowing them 
was sufficiently grand to be worthy the occasion. Bets r 
was for taking them to school and giving them Ic 
'Lias one by one, so that each child could have her 
thanks separately. But Stashie wanted to take them 

• 141* 



Understood Betsy 

to the house when 'Lias's stepfather would be there, 
and shame him by showing that little girls had had 
to do what he ought to have done. 

Cousin Ann broke into the discussion by asking, 
in her quiet, firm voice, "Why do you want 'Lias to 
know where the clothes come from?" 

They had forgotten again that she was there, and 
turned around quickly to stare at her. Nobody could 
think of any answer to her very queer question. It had 
not occurred to anyone that there could be such a 
question. 

Cousin Ann shifted her ground and asked another: 
"Why did you make these clothes, anyhow?" 

They stared again, speechless. Why did she ask that? 
She knew why. 

Finally little Molly said, in her honest, baby way, 
"Why, you know why, Miss Ann! So 'Lias Brewster 
will look nice, and Mr. Pond will maybe adopt him." 

"Well," said Cousin Ann, "what has that got to do 
with 'Lias knowing who did it?" 

"Why, he wouldn't know who to be grateful to," 
cried Betsy. 

"Oh," said Cousin Ann. "Oh, I see. You didn't do 

: to help 'Lias. You did it to have him grateful to 

you. I see. Molly is such a little girl, it's no wonder 

she didn't really take in what you girls were up to." 

•142* 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

She nodded her head wisely, as though now she un 
derstood. 

But if she did, little Molly certainly did not. She 
had not the least idea what everybody was talking 
about. She looked from one sober, downcast face to 
another rather anxiously. What was the matter? 

Apparently nothing was really the matter, she de- 
cided, for after a minute's silence Miss Ann got up 
with her usual face of cheerful gravity, and said: 
"Don't you think you little girls ought to top off 
this last afternoon with a tea-party? There's a new 
batch of cookies, and you can make yourselves some 
lemonade if you want to." 

They had these refreshments out on the porch, in the 
sunshine, with their dolls for guests and a great deal 
of chatter for sauce. Nobody said another word about 
how to give the clothes to 'Lias, till, just as the girls 
were going away, Betsy said, walking along with the 
two older ones, "Say, don't you think it'd be fun to go 
some evening after dark and leave the clothes on 
'Lias's doorstep, and knock and run away quick be- 
fore anybody comes to the door?" She spoke in an un- 
certain voice and smoothed Deborah's carved wooden 
curls. 

"Yes, I do!" said Ellen, not looking at Betsy but down 
at the weeds by the road. "I think it would be lots 
of fun!" 

•14?* 



Understood Betsy 

Little Molly, playing with Annie and Eliza, did not 
bear this; but she was allowed to go with the older 
girls on the great expedition. 

It was a warm, dark evening in late May, with the 
frogs piping their sweet, high note, and the first of 
the fireflies wheeling over the wet meadows near the 
tumble-down house where 'Lias lived. The girls took 
turns in carrying the big paper-wrapped bundle, and 
stole along in the shadow of the trees, full of excite- 
ment, looking over their shoulders at nothing and 
pressing their hands over their mouths to keep back 
the giggles. There was, of course, no reason on earth 
why they should giggle, which is, of course, the reason 
why they did. If you've ever been a little girl you know 
about that. 

One window of the small house was dimly lighted, 
they found, when they came in sight of it, and they 
thrilled with excitement and joyful alarm. Suppose 
'Lias's dreadful stepfather should come out and yell at 
them! They came forward on tiptoe, making a great 
deal of noise by stepping on twigs, rustling bushes, 
crackling gravel under their feet and doing all the other 
things that make such a noise at night and never do 
in the daytime. But nobody stirred inside the room 
with the lighted window. They crept forward and 
peeped cautiously inside . . . and stopped giggling. 

.144. 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

The dim light coming from a little kerosene lamp with 
a smoky chimney fell on a dismal, cluttered room, a 
bare, greasy wooden table, and two broken-backed 
chairs, with little 'Lias in one of them. He had fallen 
asleep with his head on his arms, his pinched, dirty, 
sad little figure showing in the light from the lamp. 
His feet dangled high above the floor in their broken, 
muddy shoes. One sleeve was torn to the shoulder. A 
piece of dry bread had slipped from his bony little hand 
and a tin dipper stood beside him on the bare table. 
Nobody else was in the room, nor evidently in the 
darkened, empty, fireless house. 

As long as she lives Betsy will never forget what she 
saw that night through that window. Her eyes grew 
very hot and her hands very cold. Her heart thumped 
hard. She reached for little Molly and gave her a great 
hug in the datkness. Suppose it were little Molly asleep 
there, all alone in the dirty, dismal house, with no sup- 
per and nobody to put her to bed. She found that Ellen, 
next her, was crying into the corner of her apron. 

Nobody said a word. Stashie, who had the bundle, 
walked around soberly to the front door, put it down, 
and knocked loudly. They all darted away noiselessly 
to the road, to the shadow of the trees, and waited un- 
til the door opened. A square of yellow light appeared, 
with 'Lias's figure, very small, at the bottom of it. 
They saw him stoop and pick up the bundle and go 

•145. 



Understood Betsy 

back into the house. Then they went quickly and 
silently back, separating at the cross-roads with no 
good-night greetings. 

Molly and Betsy began to climb the hill to Putney 
Farm. It was a very warm night for May, and little 
Molly began to puff for breath. "Let's sit down on this 
rock awhile and rest," she said. 

They were halfway up the hill now. From the rock 
they could see the lights in the farmhouses scattered 
along the valley road and on the side of the mountain 
opposite them, like big stars fallen from the multitude 
above. Betsy lay down on the rock and looked up at 
the stars. After a silence little Molly's chirping voice 
said, "Oh, I thought you said we were going to march 
up to 'Lias in school and give him his clothes. Did you 
forget about that?" 

Betsy gave a wriggle of shame as she remembered 
that plan. "No, we didn't forget it," she said. "We 
thought this would be a better way." 

"But how'll 'Lias know who to thank?" asked Molly. 

"That's no matter," said Betsy. Yes, it was Elizabeth- 
Ann-that-was who said that. And meant it, too. She 
was not even thinking of what she was saying. Between 
her and the stars, thick over her in the black, soft sky, 
she saw again that dirty, disordered room and the little 
boy, all alone, asleep with a piece of dry bread in his 
bony little fingers. 

•146* 



Betsy Starts a Sewing Society 

She looked hard and long at that picture, all the 
time seeing the quiet stars through it. And then she 
turned over and hid her face on the rock. She had 
said her "Now I lay me" every night since she could 
remember, but she had never prayed till she lay there 
with her face on the rock, saying over and over, "Oh, 
God, please, please, please make Mr. Pond adopt 
'Lias." 



CHAPTER 9 



CzJne ^f lew Clothes (ZSail 



The little cirls went early to school the next day, 
eager for the first glimpse of 'Lias in his new clothes. 
They now quite enjoyed the mystery about who had 
made them, and were full of agreeable excitement as 
the little figure came down the road. He wore the gray 
trousers and the blue shirt; the trousers were a shade 
too long, the shirt a perfect fit. The girls gazed at him 
with pride as he came on the playground, walking 
briskly along in the new shoes, which were just the 
right size. He had been wearing all winter a pair of 
cast-off women's shoes. 

From a distance he looked like another child. But 
as he came closer ... oh! his face! his hair! his hands! 
his finger-nails! The little fellow had evidently tried 
to live up to his beautiful new raiment, for his hair 
had been roughly put back from his face, and around 
his mouth and nose was a small area of almost clean 
skin, where he had made an attempt at washing his 

•148* 



The New Clothes Fail 

face. But he had made practically no impression on the 
layers of encrusted dirt, and the little girls looked at 
him ruefully. Mr. Pond would certainly never take a 
fancy to such a dreadfully grimy child ! His new, clean 
clothes made him look all the worse, as though dirty 
on purpose! 

The little girls retired to their rock-pile and talked 
over their disappointment, Ralph and the other boys 
absorbed in a game of marbles near them. 'Lias had 
gone proudly into the schoolroom to show himself to 
Miss Benton. 

It was the day before Decoration Day and a good 
deal of time was taken up with practicing on the reci- 
tations they were going to give at the Decoration Day 
exercises in the village. Several of the children from 
each school in the township were to speak pieces in the 
Town Hall. Betsy was to recite Barbara Frietchie, her 
first love in that school, but she droned it over with 
none of her usual pleasure, her eyes on little 'Lias's 
smiling face, so unconscious of its dinginess. 

At noontime the boys disappeared down toward 
the swimming-hole. They often took a swim at noon 
and nobody thought anything about it on that day. 
The little girls ate their lunch on their rock, mourning 
over the failure of their plans, and scheming ways to 
meet the new obstacle. Stashie suggested, "Couldn't 
your Aunt Abigail invite him up to your house for 

.149. 



Understood Betsy 

supper and then give him a bath afterward?" But 
Betsy, although she had never heard of treating a sup- 
per-guest in this way, was sure that it was not possible. 
She shook her head sadly, her eyes on the far-off gleam 
of white where the boys jumped up and down in their 
swimming-hole. That was not a good name for it, 
because there was only one part of it deep enough to 
swim in. Mostly it was a shallow bay in an arm of the 
river, where the water was only up to a little boy's knees 
and where there was almost no current. The sun beat- 
ing down on it made it quite warm, and even the first- 
graders' mothers allowed them to go in. They only 
jumped up and down and squealed and splashed each 
other, but they enjoyed that quite as much as Frank 
and Harry, the two seventh-graders, enjoyed their 
swooping dives from the spring-board over the pool. 
They were late in getting back from the river that day 
and Miss Benton had to ring her bell hard in that 
direction before they came trooping up and clattered 
into the schoolroom, where the girls already sat, their 
eyes lowered virtuously to their books, with a prim 
air of self-righteousness. They were never late! 

Betsy was reciting her arithmetic. She was getting 
on famously with that. Weeks ago, as soon as Miss 
Benton had seen the confusion of the little girl's mind, 
the two had settled down to a serious struggle with 
that subject. Miss Benton had had Betsy recite all by 

•150* 



The New Clothes Fail 

herself, so she wouldn't be flurried by the others; and 
to begin with had gone back, back, back to bedrock, 
to things Betsy absolutely knew, to the 2 x 2's and the 
3 x 3's. And then, very cautiously, a step at a time, they 
had advanced, stopping short whenever Betsy felt a 
beginning of that bewildered "guessing" impulse which 
made her answer wildly at random. 

After a while, in the dark night which arithmetic 
had always been to her, Betsy began to make out a 
few definite outlines, which were always there, facts 
which she knew to be so without guessing from the 
expression of her teacher's face. From that moment 
her progress had been rapid, one sure fact hooking 
itself on to another, and another one on to that. She 
attacked a page of problems now with a zest and self- 
confidence which made her arithmetic lessons among 
the most interesting hours at school. On that day she 
was standing up at the board, a piece of chalk in her 
hand, chewing her tongue and thinking hard how to 
find out the amount of wall-paper needed for a room 
12 feet square with two doors and two windows in 
it, when her eyes fell on little 'Lias, bent over his read- 
ing book. She forgot her arithmetic, she forgot where 
she was. She stared and stared, till Ellen, catching the 
direction of her eyes, looked and stared too. Little Xias 
was clean, preternaturally, almost wetly clean. His face 
was clean and shining, his ears shone pink and fair, his 

• 151 • 



Understood Betsy 

hands were absolutely spotless, even his hay-colored 
hair was clean and, still damp, brushed flady back till 
it shone in the sun. Betsy blinked her eyes a great 
many times, thinking she must be dreaming, but. every 




time she opened them there was 'Lias, looking white 
and polished like a new willow whistle. 

Somebody poked her hard in the ribs. She started 
and, turning, saw Ralph, who was doing a sum beside 
her on the board, scowling at her under his black brows. 
"Quit gawking at 'Lias," he said under his breath. 
"You make me tired!" Something conscious and shame- 
faced in his manner made Betsy understand at once 

•152* 



The hlew Clothes Fail 

what had happened. Ralph had taken 'Lias down to 
the little boys' wading-place and had washed him all 
over. She remembered now that they had a piece of 
yellow soap there. 

Her face broke into a radiant smile and she began 
to say something to Ralph about how nice that was of 
him, but he frowned again and said, crossly, "Aw, 
cut it out! Look at what you've done there! If I couldn't 
9x8 and get it right!" 

"How queer boys are!" thought Betsy, erasing her 
mistake and putting down the right answer. But she 
did not try to speak to Ralph again about 'Lias, not 
even after school, when she saw 'Lias going home with 
a new cap on his head which she recognized as Ralph's. 
She just looked at Ralph's bare head, and smiled her 
eyes at him, keeping the rest of her face sober, the way 
Cousin Ann did. For a minute Ralph almost smiled 
back. At least he looked quite friendly. They stepped 
along toward home together, the first time Ralph had 
ever condescended to walk beside a girl. 

"We got a new colt," he said. 

"Have you?" she said. "What color?" 

"Black, with a white star, and they're going to lei 
me ride him when he's old enough." 

"My! Won't that be nice!" said Betsy. 

And all the time they were both thinking of little 

•153- 



Understood Betsy 

ljas with his new clothes and his sweet, thin face 
shining with cleanliness. 

"Do you like spruce gum?" asked Ralph. 

"Oh, I love gum!" said Betsy. 

"Well, I'll bring you down a chunk tomorrow, if 
I don't forget it," said Ralph, turning off at the cross- 
roads. 

They had not mentioned 'Lias at all. 

The next day they were to have school only in the 
morning. In the afternoon they were to go in a big 
hay-wagon down to the village to the "exercises." 'Lias 
came to school in his new blue-serge trousers and his 
white blouse. The little girls gloated over his appear- 
ance, and hung around him, for who was to "visit 
school" that morning but Mr. Pond himself! Cousin 
Ann had arranged it somehow. It took Cousin Ann to 
fix things! During recess, as they were playing still- 
pond-no-more-moving on the playground, Mr. Pond 
and Uncle Henry drew up to the edge of the play- 
ground, stopped their horse, and, talking and laughing 
together, watched the children at play. Betsy looked 
hard at the big, burly, kind-faced man with the smiling 
eyes and the hearty laugh, and decided that he would 
"do" perfectly for 'Lias. But what she decided was to 
have litde importance, apparently, for after all he 
would not get out of the wagon, but said he'd have 
to drive right on to the village. Just like that, with no 

•154- 



The New Clothes Fail 

excuse other than a careless glance at his watch. No., 
he guessed he wouldn't have time, this morning, he 
said. Betsy cast an imploring look up into Uncle 
Henry's face, but evidently he felt himself quite help- 
less, too. Oh, if only Cousin Ann had come! She would 
have marched him into the schoolhouse double-quick. 
But Uncle Henry was not Cousin Ann, and though 
Betsy saw him, as they drove away, conscientiously 
point out little 'Lias, resplendent and shining, Mr. 
Pond only nodded absently, as though he were thinking 
of something else. 

Betsy could have cried with disappointment; but 
she and the other girls, putting their heads together 
for comfort, told each other that there was time enough 
yet. Mr. Pond would not leave town till tomorrow. 
Perhaps . . . there was still some hope. 

But that afternoon even this last hope was dashed. 
As they gathered at the schoolhouse, the girls fresh and 
crisp in their newly starched dresses, with red or blue 
hair-ribbons, the boys very self-conscious in their dark 
suits, clean collars, new caps (all but Ralph), and 
blacked shoes, there was no little 'Lias. They waited 
and waited, but there was no sign of him. Finally 
Uncle Henry, who was to drive the straw-ride down 
to town, looked at his watch, gathered up the reins, 
and said they would be late if they didn't start right 

•155- 



Understood Betsy 

a way. Maybe 'Lias had had a chance to ride in with 
somebody else. 

They all piled in, the horses stepped off, the wheels 
grated on the stones. And just at that moment a dis- 
mal sound of sobbing reached them from the wood- 
shed back of the schoolhouse. The children tumbled 
out as fast as they had tumbled in, and ran back, 
Betsy and Ralph at their head. There in the woodshed 
was little 'Lias, huddled in the corner behind some 
wood, crying and crying and crying, digging his fists 
into his eyes, his face all smeared with tears and dirt. 
And he was dressed again in his filthy, torn old overalls 
and ragged shirt. His poor little bare feet shone with a 
piteous cleanliness in that dark place. 

"What's the matter? What's the matter?" the chil- 
dren asked him all at once. He flung himself on Ralph, 
burying his face in the other boy's coat, and sobbed 
out some disjointed story which only Ralph could 
hear . . . and then as last and final climax of the 
disaster, who should come looking over the shoulders 
of the children but Uncle Henry and Mr. Pond! And 
'Lias all ragged and dirty again! Betsy sat down weakly 
on a pile of wood, discouraged. What was the use of 
anything! 

"What's the matter?" asked the two men together. 

Ralph turned, with an angry toss of his dark head, 
and told them bitterly, over the heads of the children: 

•156- 



The New Clothes Fail 

"He just had some decent clothes. . . . First ones he's 
ever had! And he was lotting on going to the exercises 
in the Town Hall. And that darned old skunk of a 
stepfather has gone and taken 'em and sold 'em to get 
whisky. I'd like to \ill him!" 

Betsy could have flung her arms around Ralph, he 
looked so exactly the way she felt. "Yes, he is a darned 
old skunk!" she said to herself, rejoicing in the bad 
words she did not know before. It too\ bad words to 
qualify what had happened. 

She saw an electric spark pass from Ralph's blazing 
eyes to Mr. Pond's broad face, now grim and fierce. 
She saw Mr. Pond step forward, brushing the children 
out of his way, like a giant among dwarfs. She saw 
him stoop and pick little 'Lias up in his great, strong 
arms, and, holding him close, stride furiously out of 
the woodshed, across the playground to the buggy 
which was waiting for him. 

"He'll go to the exercises all right!" he called back 
over his shoulder in a great roar. "He'll go, if I have 
to buy out the whole town to get him an outfit! And 
that whelp won't get these clothes, either; you hear 
me say so!" 

He sprang into the buggy and, holding 'Lias on his 
lap, took up the reins and drove rapidly forward. 

They saw 'Lias again, entering the Town Hall, hold- 
ing fast to Mr. Pond's hand. He was magnificent in 

•157- 



Understood Betsy 

a whole suit of store clothes, coat and all, and he wore 
white stockings and neat, low shoes, like a city child! 

They saw him later, up on the platform, squeaking 
out his little patriotic poem, his eyes, shining like stars, 
fixed on one broad, smiling face in the audience. When 
he finished he was overcome with shyness by the ap- 
plause, and for a moment forgot to turn and leave the 
platform. He hung his head, and, looking out from un- 
der his eyebrows, gave a quaint, shy smile at the 
audience. Betsy saw Mr. Pond's great smile waver and 
grow dim. His eyes filled so full that he had to take out 
his handkerchief and blow his nose loudly. 

They saw little 'Lias once more, for the last time. 
Mr. Pond's buggy drove rapidly past their slow-moving 
aay-wagon, Mr. Pond holding the reins masterfully 
in one hand. Beside him, very close, sat 'Lias with his 
kp full of toys, oh, full — like Christmas! In that fleeting 
glimpse they saw a toy train, a stuffed dog, a candy-box, 
a pile of picture-books, Lops, paper-bags, and even the 
swinging crane of the big mechanical toy dredge that 
everybody said the storekeeper could never sell to any- 
body because it cost so much! 

As they passed swiftly, 'Lias looked out at them and 
waved his hand flutteringly. His other hand was tightly 
clasped in Mr. Pond's big one. He was smiling at them 
all. His eyes looked dazed and radiant. He turned his 
J-tad as the buggy flashed by to call out, in a shrill, ex- 

•158- 



The New Clothes Fail 

lilting shout, "Good-by! Good-by! I'm going to live 
with . . ." They could hear no more. He was gone, 
only his little hand still waving at them over the back 
of the buggy seat. 

Betsy drew a long, long breath. She found that Ralph 
was looking at her. For a moment, she couldn't think 
what made him look so different. Then she saw that 
he was smiling. She had never seen him smile before. 
He smiled at her as though he were sure she would 
understand, and never said a word. Betsy looked for- 
ward again and saw the gleaming buggy vanishing 
over the hill in front of them. She smiled back at Ralph 
silently. 

Not a thing had happened the way she had planned ; 
no, not a single thing! But it seemed to her she had 
never been so happy in her life. 



159- 



CHAPTER 10 



OOe/sy cslas a CyDirihdai; 



Betsy's birthday was the ninth day of September, and 
the Necronsett Valley Fair is always held from the 
eighth to the twelfth. So it was decided that Betsy 
should celebrate her birthday by going up to Wood- 
ford, where the Fair was held. The Putneys weren't 
going that year, but the people on the next farm, the 
Wendells, said they could make room in their surrey 
for the two little girls; for, of course, Molly was going, 
too. In fact, she said the Fair was held partly to cele- 
brate her being six years old. This would happen on 
the seventeenth of October. Molly insisted that that was 
plenty close enough to the ninth of September to be 
celebrated then. This made Betsy feel like laughing, 
but observing that the Putneys only looked at each 
other with the faintest possible quirk in the corners 
of their serious mouths, she understood that they were 
afraid that Molly's feelings might be hurt if they 
laughed out loud. So Betsy tried to curve her young 
lips to the same kind and secret mirth. 

• 160 • 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

And, I can't tell you why, this effort not to hurt 
Molly's feelings made her have a perfect spasm of love 
for Molly. She threw herself on her and gave her a great 
hug that tipped them both over on the couch on top 
of Shep, who stopped snoring with his great gurgling 
snort, wriggled out from under them, and stood with 
laughing eyes and wagging tail, looking at them as 
they rolled and giggled among the pillows. 

"What dress are you going to wear to the Fair, 
Betsy?" asked Cousin Ann. "And we must decide about 
Molly's, too." 

This stopped their rough-and-tumble fun in short 
order, and they applied themselves to serious questions. 

When the great day arrived and the surrey drove 
away from the Wendells' gate, Betsy was in a fresh 
pink-and-white gingham which she had helped Cousin 
Ann make, and plump Molly looked like something 
good to eat in a crisp white dimity, one of Betsy's old 
dresses, with a deep hem taken in to make it short 
enough for the tiny butter-ball. Because it was Betsy's 
birthday, she sat on the front seat with Mr. Wendell, 
and part of the time, when there were not too many 
teams on the road, she drove, herself. Mrs. Wendell 
and her sister filled the back seat solidly full from 
side to side and made one continuous soft lap on which 
Molly happily perched, her eyes shining, her round 
cheeks red with joyful excitement. Betsy looked back 

•i6i« 



Understood Betsy 

at her several times and thought how nice Molly looked. 
She had, of course, little idea how she herself looked, 
because the mirrors at Putney Farm were all small 
and high up, and anyhow they were so old and greenish 
that they made everybody look very queer-colored. You 
looked in them to see if your hair was smooth, and 
that was about all you could stand. 

So it was a great surprise to Betsy later in the morn- 
ing, as she and Molly wandered hand in hand through 
the wonders of Industrial Hall, to catch sight of Molly 
in a full-length mirror as clear as water. She was al- 
most startled to see how faithfully reflected were the 
yellow of the little girl's curls, the clear pink and white 
of her face, and the blue of her soft eyes. An older 
girl was reflected there also, near Molly, a dark-eyed, 
red-cheeked, sturdy girl, standing straight on two 
strong legs, holding her head high and free, her dark 
eyes looking out brightly from her tanned face. For 
an instant Betsy gazed into those clear eyes and then 
. . . why, gracious goodness! That was herself she 
was looking at! How changed she was! How very, 
very different she looked from the last time she had 
seen herself in a big mirror! She remembered it well 
— out shopping with Aunt Frances in a department 
store, she had caught sight of a pale child, with a thin 
neck and spindling legs half-hidden in the folds of 
Aunt Frances's skirts. But she didn't look even like 

•162* 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

the sister of this browned, muscular, upstanding child 
who held Molly's hand so firmly. 

All this came into her mind and went out again in 
a moment, for Molly caught sight of a big doll in the 
next aisle and they hurried over to inspect her clothing. 
The mirror was forgotten in the many exciting sights 
and sounds and smells of their first county fair. 

The two litde girls were to wander about as they 
pleased until noon, when they were to meet the Wen- 
dells in the shadow of Industrial Hall and eat their 
picnic lunch together. The two parties arrived together 
from different directions, having seen very different 
sides of the Fair. The children were full of the merry- 
go-rounds, the balloon-seller, the toy-venders, and the 
pop-corn stands, while the Wendells exchanged views 
on the shortness of a hog's legs, the dip in a cow's back, 
and the thickness of a sheep's wool. The Wendells, it 
seemed, had met some cousins they didn't expect to 
see, who, not knowing about Betsy and Molly, had 
hoped that they might ride home with the Wendells. 

"Don't you suppose," Mrs. Wendell asked Betsy, "that 
you and Molly could go home with the Vaughans? 
They're here in their big wagon. You could sit on the 
floor with the Vaughan children." 

Betsy and Molly thought this would be fun, and 
agreed enthusiastically. 

"All right then," said Mrs. Wendell. She called to 
•163* 



Understood Betsy 

a young man who stood inside the building, near an 
open window: "Oh, Frank, Will Vaughan is going to 
be in your booth this afternoon, isn't he?" 

"Yes, ma'am," said the young man. "His turn is 
from two to four." 

"Well, you tell him, will you, that the two little 
girls who live at Putney Farm are going to go home 
with them. They can sit on the bottom of the wagon 
with the Vaughan young ones." 

"Yes, ma'am," said the young man, with a noticeable 
lack of interest in how Betsy and Molly got home. 

"Now, Betsy," said Mrs. Wendell, "you go round 
to that booth at two and ask Will Vaughan what time 
they're going to start and where their wagon is, and 
then you be sure not to keep them waiting a minute." 

"No, I won't," said Betsy. "I'll be sure to be there on 
time." 

She and Molly still had twenty cents to spend out 
of the forty they had brought with them, twenty-five 
earned by berry-picking and fifteen a present from 
Uncle Henry. They now put their heads together to 
see how they could make the best possible use of their 
four nickels. Cousin Ann had put no restrictions what- 
ever on them, saying they could buy any sort of truck 
or rubbish they could find, except the pink lemonade. 
She said she had been told the venders washed their 
glasses in that, and their hands, and for all she knew 

• 164. 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

their faces. Betsy was for merry-go-rounds, but Molly 
yearned for a big red balloon; and while they were 
buying that a man came by with toy dogs, little brown 
dogs with curled-wire tails. He called out that they 
would bark when you pulled their tails, and seeing the 
litde girls looking at him he pulled the tail of the one 
he held. It gave forth a fine loud yelp, just like Shep 
when his tail got stepped on. Betsy bought one, all done 
up neatly in a box tied with blue string. She thought 
it a great bargain to get a dog who would bark for five 
cents. (Later on, when they undid the string and 
opened the box, they found the dog had one leg broken 
off and wouldn't make the faintest squeak when his 
tail was pulled; but that is the sort of thing you must 
expect to have happen to you at a county fair.) 

Now they had ten cents left and they decided to 
have a ride apiece on the merry-go-round. But, glancing 
up at the clock-face in the tower over Agricultural 
Hall, Betsy noticed it was half-past two and she decided 
to go first to the booth where Will Vaughan was tq 
be and find out what time they would start for home, 
She found the booth with no difficulty, but William 
Vaughan was not in it. Nor was the young man she 
had seen before. There was a new one, a strange one, 
a careless, whisding young man, with very bright socks, 
and striped cuffs. He said, in answer to Betsy's in- 
quiry: "Vaughan? Will Vaughan? Never heard the 

•165' 



Understood Betsy 

name," and immediately went on whistling and look- 
ing up and down the aisle over the heads of the little 
girls, who stood gazing up at him with very wide, 
startled eyes. An older man leaned over from the next 
booth and said: "Will Vaughan? He from Hillsboro? 
Well, I heard somebody say those Hillsboro Vaughans 
had word one of their cows was awful sick, and they 
had to start right home that minute." 

Betsy came to herself out of her momentary daze 
and snatched Molly's hand. "Hurry! quick! We must 
find the Wendells before they get away!" 

In her agitation (for she was really very much 
frightened) she forgot how easily terrified little Molly 
was. Her alarm instantly sent the child into a panic. 
"Oh, Betsy! Betsy! What will we do!" she gasped, as 
Betsy pulled her along the aisle and out of the door. 

"Oh, the Wendells can't be gone yet," said Betsy 
reassuringly, though she was not at all sure she was 
telling the truth. She ran as fast as she could drag 
Molly's fat legs, to the horse-shed where Mr. Wendell 
had tied his horses and left the surrey. The horse-shed 
was empty, quite empty. 

Betsy stopped short and stood still, her heart seem- 
ing to be up in her throat so that she could hardly 
breathe. After all, she was only ten that day, you must 
remember. Molly began to cry loudly, hiding her 

• 166' 




^' '*&£* J '/ 



Understood Betsy 

weeping face in Betsy's dress. "What will we do, Betsy! 
What can we do!" she wailed. 

Betsy did not answer. She did not know what they 
would do! They were eight miles from Putney Farm, 
far too much for Molly to walk, and anyhow neither 
of them knew the way. They had only ten cents left, 
and nothing to eat. And the only people they knew in 
all that throng of strangers had gone back to Hillsboro. 

"What will we do, Betsy ?" Molly kept on crying out, 
horrified by Betsy's silence. 

The other child's head swam. She tried again the 
formula which had helped her when Molly fell into 
the Wolf Pit, and asked herself, desperately, "What 
would Cousin Ann do if she were here?" But that did 
not help her much now, because she could not possibly 
imagine what Cousin Ann would do under such ap- 
palling circumstances. Yes, one thing Cousin Ann 
would be sure to do, of course; she would quiet Molly 
first of all. 

At this thought Betsy sat down on the ground and 
took the panic-stricken little girl into her lap, wiping 
away the tears and saying, stoutly, "Now, Molly, stop 
crying this minute. I'll take care of you, of course. I'll 
get you home all right." 

"How'U you ever do it?" sobbed Molly. "Everybody's 
gone and left us. We can't walk!" 

"Never you mind how," said Betsy, trying to be 
•i68- 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

facetious and mock-mysterious, though her own un- 
der lip was quivering a little. "That's my surprise party 
for you. Just you wait. Now come on back to that booth. 
Maybe Will Vaughan didn't go home with his folks." 

She had very little hope of this, and only went back 
there because it seemed to her a little less dauntingly 
strange than every other spot in the howling wilder- 
ness about her; for all at once the Fair, which had 
seemed so lively and cheerful and gay before, seemed 
now a frightening, noisy place, full of hurried strangers 
who came and went their own ways, with not a glance 
out of their hard eyes for two little girls stranded far 
from home. 

The bright-colored young man was no better when 
they found him again. He stopped his whistling only 
long enough to say, "Nope, no Will Vaughan anywhere 
around these diggings yet." 

"We were going home with the Vaughans," mur- 
mured Betsy, in a low tone, hoping for some help from 
him. 

"Looks as though you'd better go home on the cars," 
advised the young man casually. He smoothed his black 
hair back straighter than ever from his forehead and 
looked over their heads. 

"How much does it cost to go to Hillsboro on the 
cars?" asked Betsy with a sinking heart. 

"You'll have to ask somebody else about that," said 
•169* 



Understood Jtletsy 

the young man. "What I don't know about this rube 
state! I never was in it before." He spoke as though he 
were proud of the fact. 

Betsy turned and went over to the older man who 
had told them about the Vaughans. 

Molly trotted at her heels, quite comforted, now that 
Betsy was talking so competently to grown-ups. She 
did not hear what they said, nor try to. Now that 
Betsy's voice sounded all right she had no more fears. 
Betsy would manage somehow. She heard Betsy's voice 
again talking to the other man, but she was busy look- 
ing at an exhibit of beautiful jelly glasses, and paid no 
attention. Then Betsy led her away again out of doors, 
where everybody was walking back and forth under 
the bright September sky, blowing on horns, waving 
plumes of brilliant tissue-paper, tickling each other 
with peacock feathers, and eating pop-corn and candy 
out of paper bags. 

That reminded Molly that they had ten cents yet. 
"Oh, Betsy," she proposed, "let's take a nickel of our 
money for some pop-corn." 

She was startled by Betsy's fierce sudden clutch at 
their little purse and by the quaver in her voice as she 
answered: "No, no, Molly. We've got to save every 
cent of that. I've found out it costs thirty cents for us 
both to go home to Hillsboro on the train. The last one 
goes at six o'clock." 

•I70» 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

"We haven't got but ten," said Molly. 

Betsy looked at her silently for a moment and then 
burst out, "I'll earn the rest! I'll earn it somehow! I'll 
have to! There isn't any other way!" 

"All right," said Molly quaintly, not seeing anything 
unusual in this. "You can, if you want to. I'll wait for 
you here." 

"No, you won't!" cried Betsy, who had quite enough 
of trying to meet people in a crowd. "No, you won't! 
You just follow me every minute! I don't want you 
out of my sight!" 

They began to move forward now, Betsy's eyes wildly 
roving from one place to another. How could a little 
girl earn money at a county fair! She was horribly 
afraid to go up and speak to a stranger, and yet how 
else could she begin? 

"Here, Molly, you wait here," she said. "Don't you 
budge till I come back." 

But alas ! Molly had only a moment to wait that tinr:, 
for the man who was selling lemonade answered 
Betsy's shy question with a stare and a curt, "Lord, 
no! What could a young one like you do for me?" 

The litde girls wandered on, Molly calm and ex- 
pectant, confident in Betsy; Betsy with a dry mouth 
and a gone feeling. They were passing by a big shed- 
like building now, where a large sign proclaimed that 
the Woodford Ladies' Aid Society would serve a hot 

• 171 • 



Understood Betsy 

chicken dinner for thirty-five cents. Of course the sign 
was not accurate, for at half-past three, almost four, 
the chicken dinner had long ago been all eaten and in 
place of the diners was a group of weary women mov- 
ing languidly about or standing saggingly by a great 
table piled with dirty dishes. Betsy paused here, medi- 
tated a moment, and went in rapidly so that her courage 
would not evaporate. 

The woman with gray hair looked down at her a 
little impatiently and said, "Dinner's all over." 

"I didn't come for dinner," said Betsy, swallowing 
hard. "I came to see if you wouldn't hire me to wash 
your dishes. I'll do them for twenty-five cents." 

The woman laughed, looked from little Betsy to 
the great pile of dishes, and said, turning away, 
"Mercy, child, if you washed from now till morning, 
you wouldn't make a hole in what we've got to do." 

Betsy heard her say to the other women, "Some 
young one wanting more money for the side-shows." 

Now, now was the moment to remember what 
Cousin Ann would have done. She would certainly not 
have shaken all over with hurt feelings nor have al- 
lowed the tears to come stingingly to her eyes. So Betsy 
sternly made herself stop doing these things. And 
Cousin Ann wouldn't have given way to the dreadful 
sinking feeling of discouragement, but would have 
gone right on to the next place. So, although Betsy 

•172- 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

felt like nothing so much as crooking her elbow over 
her face and crying as hard as she could cry, she 
stiffened her back, took Molly's hand again, and 
stepped out, heartsick within but very steady (although 
rather pale) without. 

She and Molly walked along in the crowd again, 
Molly laughing and pointing out the pranks and antics 
of the young people, who were feeling livelier than 
ever as the afternoon wore on. Betsy looked at them 
grimly with unseeing eyes. It was four o'clock. The 
last train for Hillsboro left in two hours and she was 
no nearer having the price of the tickets. She stopped 
for a moment to get her breath; for, although they 
were walking slowly, she kept feeling breathless and 
choked. It occurred to her that if ever a little girl had 
had a more horrible birthday she never heard of one! 

"Oh, I wish I could, Dan!" said a young voice near 
her. "But honest! Momma'd just eat me up alive if I 
left the booth for a minute!" 

Betsy turned quickly. A very pretty girl with yellow 
hair and blue eyes (she looked as Molly might when 
she was grown up) was leaning over the edge of a 
little canvas-covered booth, the sign of which an- 
nounced that home-made doughnuts and soft drinks 
were for sale there. A young man, very flushed and 
gay, was pulling at the girl's blue gingham sleeve. 
"Oh, come on, Annie. Just one turn! The floor's just 

•173' 



Understood Betsy 

right. You can keep an eye on the booth from the 
hall! Nobody's going to run away with the old thing 
anyhow!" 

"Honest, I'd love to! But I got a great lot of dishes 
to wash, too! You know Momma!" She looked long- 
ingly toward the open-air dancing floor, out from 
which just then floated a burst of brassy music. 

"Oh, please!" said a small voice. "I'll do it for twenty 
cents." 

Betsy stood by the girl's elbow, quivering earnestness. 

"Do what, kiddie?" asked the girl in good-natured 
surprise. 

"Everything!" said Betsy, compendiously. "Every- 
thing! Wash the dishes, tend the booth; you can go 
dance! I'll do it for twenty cents." 

The eyes of the girl and the man met. "My! Aren't 
we up and coming!" said the man. "You're most as big 
as a pint-cup, aren't you?" he said to Betsy. 

The little girl flushed — she detested being laughed 
at — but she looked straight into the laughing eyes. "I'm 
ten years old today," she said, "and I can wash dishes 
as well as anybody." She spoke with dignity. 

The young man burst out into a great laugh. 

"Great kid, what?" he said to the girl, and then, 
"Say, Annie, why not? Your mother won't be here 
for an hour. The kid can keep folks from walking off 
with the stuff and . . ." 

•174- 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

"I'll do the dishes, too," repeated Betsy, trying hard, 
not to mind being laughed at, and keeping her eyes 
fixed steadily on the tickets to Hillsboro. 

"Well, by gosh," said the young man, laughing. 
"Here's our chance, Annie, for fair! Come along!" 

The girl laughed, too, out of high spirits. "Wouldn't 
Momma be crazy!" she said hilariously. "But she'll 
never know. Here, you cute kid, here's my apron." 
She took off her long apron and tied it around Betsy's 
neck. "There's the soap, there's the table. Stack the 
dishes up on that counter." 

She was out of the little gate in the counter in a 
twinkling, just as Molly, in answer to a beckoning ges- 
ture from Betsy, came in. "Hello, there's another one!" 
said the gay young man, gayer and gayer. "Hello, 
button! What you going to do? I suppose when they 
try to crack the safe you'll run at them and bark and 
drive them away!" 

Molly opened her sweet, blue eyes wide, not under- 
standing a single word. The girl laughed, swooped 
back, gave Molly a kiss, and disappeared, running side 
by side with the young man toward the dance hall. 

Betsy mounted on a soap box and began joyfully to 
wash the dishes. She had never thought that ever in 
her life would she simply love to wash dishes beyond 
anything else! But it was so. Her relief was so great 

•175- 



Understood Betsy 

that she could have kissed the coarse, thick plates and 
glasses as she washed them. 

"It's all right, Molly; it's all right!" she quavered 
exultantly to Molly over her shoulder. But as Molly 
had not (from the moment Betsy took command) sus- 
pected that it was not all right, she only nodded and 
asked if she might sit up on a barrel where she could 
watch the crowd go by. 

"I guess you could. I don't know why not," said 
Betsy doubtfully. She lifted her up and went back to 
her dishes. Never were dishes washed better! 

"Two doughnuts, please," said a man's voice behind 
her. 

Oh, mercy, there was somebody come to buy! What- 
ever should she do? She came forward intending to 
say that the owner of the booth was away and she 
didn't know anything about . . . but the man laid 
down a nickel, took two doughnuts, and turned away. 
Betsy gasped and looked at the home-made sign stuck 
into the big pan of doughnuts. Sure enough, it read 
"2 for 5." She put the nickel up on a shelf and went 
back to her dishwashing. Selling things wasn't so hard, 
she reflected. 

Now that she saw a way out, she began to find some 
fun being behind a counter instead of in front. When 
a woman with two little boys approached, she came 
forward to wait on her, feeling important. "Two for 

•176* 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

five," she said in a businesslike tone. The woman put 
down a dime, took up four doughnuts, divided them 
between her sons, and departed. 

"My!" said Molly, looking admiringly at Betsy's 
coolness. Betsy went back to her dishes, stepping high. 

"Oh, Betsy, see! The pig! The big ox!" cried Molly 
now, looking from her coign of vantage down the 
wide, grass-grown lane between the booths. 

Betsy craned her head around over her shoulder, con- 
tinuing conscientiously to wash and wipe the dishes. 
The prize stock was being paraded around the Fair; 
the huge prize ox, his shining horns tipped with blue 
rosettes; the prize cows, with wreaths around their 
necks; the prize horses, four or five of them as glossy 
as satin, curving their bright, strong necks and step- 
ping as though on eggs, their manes and tails braided 
with bright ribbon; and then, "Oh, Betsy, loo\ at the 
pig!" screamed Molly again — the smaller animals, the 
sheep, the calves, the colts, and the pig, which waddled 
along with portly dignity. 

Betsy looked as well as she could over her shoulder 
. . . and in years to come she could shut her eyes and 
see again in every detail that procession under the 
golden, September light. 

But she looked anxiously at the clock. It was nearing 
five. Oh, suppose tht girl forgot and danced too long! 

•177* 



Understood Betsy 

"Two bottles of ginger ale and half a dozen dough- 
nuts," said a man with a woman and three children. 

Betsy looked feverishly among the botdes ranged on 
the counter, selected two marked ginger ale, and glared 
at their corrugated tin stoppers. How did you get them 
open? 

"Here's your opener," said the man, "if that's what 
you're looking for. You get the glasses and I'll open 
the bottles. We're in kind of a hurry. Got to catch a 
train." 

Well, they were not the only people who had to 
catch a train, Betsy thought sadly. They drank in gulps 
and departed, cramming doughnuts into their mouths. 
Betsy wished that the girl would come back. She was 
now almost sure that she had forgotten and would 
dance till nightfall. But there, there she came, running 
along, as light-footed after an hour's dancing as when 
she had left the booth. 

"Here you are, kid," said the young man, producing 
a quarter. "We've had the time of our young lives, 
thanks to you." 

Betsy gave him back one of the nickels that remained 
to her, but he refused it. 

"No, keep the change," he said royally. "It was 
worth it." 

"Then I'll buy two doughnuts with my extra nickel," 
said Betsy. 

•178* 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

"No, you won't," said the girl. "You'll take all you 
want for nothing . . . Momma'll never miss 'em. 
What you sell here has got to be fresh every day any- 
how. Here, hold out your hands, both of you." 

"Some people came and bought things," said Betsy, 
happening to remember as she and Molly turned away. 
"The money is on that shelf." 

"Well, now," said the girl, "if she didn't take hold 
and sell things! Say . . ." — she ran after Betsy and 
gave her a hug — "you smart young one, I wish't I had 
a little sister just like you!" 

Molly and Betsy hurried along out of the gate into 
the main street of the town and down to the station. 
Molly was eating doughnuts as she went. They were 
both quite hungry by this time, but Betsy could not 
think of eating till she had those tickets in her hand. 

She pushed her quarter and a nickel into the ticket- 
seller's window and said "Hillsboro" in as confident 
a tone as she could; but when the precious bits of 
paper were pushed out at her and she actually held 
them, her knees shook under her and she had to go 
and sit down on the bench. 

"My! Aren't these doughnuts good?" said Molly. "I 
never in my life had enough doughnuts before!" 

Betsy drew a long breath and began rather languidly 
to eat one herself; she felt, all of a sudden, very, very 
tired. 

.179. 



Understood Betsy 

She was tireder still when they got out of the train 
at Hillsboro Station and started wearily up the road 
toward Putney Farm. Two miles lay before them, two 
miles which they had often walked before, but never 
after such a day as now lay back of them. Molly dragged 
her feet as she walked and hung heavily on Betsy's 
hand. Betsy plodded along, her head hanging, her eyes 
gritty with sleepiness. A light buggy spun round the 
turn of the road behind them, the single horse trotting 
fast as though the driver were in a hurry, the wheels 
rattling smartly on the hard road. The little girls drew 
out to one side and stood waiting till the road should 
be free again. When he saw them the driver pulled the 
horse back so quickly it stood almost straight up. He 
peered at them through the twilight and then with a 
loud shout sprang over the side of the buggy. 

It was Uncle Henry — oh, goody, it was Uncle Henry 
come to meet them! They wouldn't have to walk any 
further! 

But what was the matter with Uncle Henry? He 
ran up to them, exclaiming, "Are ye all right ? Are ye 
all right?" He stooped over and felt of them desperately 
as though he expected them to be broken somewhere. 
And Betsy could feel that his old hands were shaking, 
that he was trembling all over. When she said, "Why, 
yes, Uncle Henry, we're all right. We came home on 
the cars," Uncle Henry leaned up against the fence as 

•i8o- 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

though he couldn't stand up. He took off his hat and 
wiped his forehead and he said — it didn't seem as 
though it could be Uncle Henry talking, he sounded 
so excited — "Well, well — well, by gosh! My! Well, by 
thunder! Now! And so here ye are! And you're all 
right! Weill" 

He couldn't seem to stop exclaiming, and you can't 
imagine anything stranger than an Uncle Henry who 
couldn't stop exclaiming. 

After they all got into the buggy he quieted down 
a little and said, "Thunderation! But we've had a scare! 
When the Wendells come back with their cousins early 
this afternoon, they said you were coming with the 
Vaughans. And then when you didn't come and didn't 
come, we telephoned to the Vaughans, and they said 
they hadn't seen hide nor hair of ye, and didn't even 
know you were to the Fair at all! I tell you, your Aunt 
Abigail and I had an awful turn! Ann and 1 hitched 
up quicker'n scat and she put right out with Prince 
up toward Woodford and I took Jessie down this way; 
thought maybe I'd get trace of ye somewhere here. 
Well, land!" He wiped his forehead again. "Wa'n't 
I glad to see you standin' there ... get along, Jess! 
I want to get the news to Abigail soon as I can!" 

"Now tell me what in thunder did happen to you!" 

Betsy began at the beginning and told straight 
through, interrupted at first by indignant comments 

•i8i- 



Understood Betsy 

from Uncle Henry, who was outraged by the Wendells' 
loose wearing of their responsibility for the children. 
But as she went on he quieted down to a closely at- 
tentive silence, interrupting only to keep Jess at her top 
speed. 

Now that it was all safely over, Betsy thought her 
story quite an interesting one, and she omitted no detail, 
although she wondered once or twice if perhaps 
Uncle Henry were listening to her, he kept so still. 
"And so I bought the tickets and we got home," she 
ended, adding, "Oh, Uncle Henry, you ought to have 
seen the prize pig! He was too funny!" 

They turned into the Putney yard now and saw 
Aunt Abigail's bulky form on the porch. 

"Got 'em, Abby! All right! No harm done!" shouted 
Uncle Henry. 

Aunt Abigail turned without a word and went back 
into the house. When the little girls dragged their 
weary legs in they found her quietly setting out some 
supper for them on the table, but she was wiping away 
with her apron the joyful tears which ran down her 
cheeks, such pale cheeks! It seemed so strange to see 
rosy Aunt Abigail with a face as white as paper. 

"Well, I'm glad to see ye," she told them soberly. 
"Sit right down and have some hot milk. I had some 
all ready." 

The telephone rang, she went into the next room, 
•182- 



Betsy Has a Birthday 

and they heard her saying, in an unsteady voice: "All 
right, Ann. They're here. Your father just brought 
them in. I haven't had time to hear about what hap- 
pened yet. But they're all right. You'd better come 
home." 

"That's your Cousin Ann telephoning from the 
Marshalls'." 

She herself went and sat down heavily, and when 
Uncle Henry came in a few minutes later she asked 
him in a rather weak voice for the ammonia bottle. 
He rushed for it, got her a fan and a drink of cold 
water, and hung over her anxiously till the color began 
to come back into her pale face. "I know just how 
you feel, Mother," he said sympathetically. "When 1 
saw 'em standin' there by the roadside I felt as though 
somebody had hit me a clip right in the pit of the 
stomach." 

The little girls ate their supper in a tired daze, not 
paying any attention to what the grown-ups were say- 
ing, until rapid hoofs clicked on the stones outside and 
Cousin Ann came in quickly, her black eyes snapping. 

"Now, for mercy's sake, tell me what happened," 
she said, adding hotly, "and if I don't give that Maria 
Wendell a piece of my mind!" 

Uncle Henry broke in: "I'm going to tell what hap- 
pened. I want to do it. You and Mother just listen, 
just sit right down and listen." His voice was shaking 

•i8v 



Understood Betsy 

yith feeling, and as he went on and told of Betsy's 
afternoon, her fright, her confusion, her forming the 
plan of coming home on the train and of earning the 
money for the tickets, he made, for once, no Putney 
pretense of casual coolness. His old eyes flashed fire as 
he talked. 

Betsy, watching him, felt her heart swell and beat 
fast in incredulous joy. Why, he was proud of her! 
She had done something to make the Putney cousins 
proud of her ! 

When Uncle Henry came to the part where she 
went on asking for employment after one and then 
another refusal, Cousin Ann reached out her long 
arms and quickly, roughly, gathered Betsy up on her 
lap, holding her close as she listened. Betsy had never 
before sat on Cousin Ann's lap. 

And when Uncle Henry finished — he had not for- 
gotten a single thing Betsy had told him — and asked, 
"What do you think of that for a little girl ten years 
old today?" Cousin Ann opened the flood-gates wide 
and burst out, "I think I never heard of a child's doing 
a smarter, grittier thing . . . and I don't care if she 
does hear me say so!" 

It was a great, a momentous, an historic moment! 

Betsy, enthroned on those strong knees, wondered 
if any little girl had ever had such a beautiful birthday. 

•i84- 



CHAPTER II 



^ Uinderstood Ssd 






unt 

» 



ranees 



About a month after Betsy's birthday, one October 
day wher the leaves were all red and yellow, two very 
momentous events occurred, and, in a manner of 
speaking, at the very same time. Betsy had noticed that 
her kitten Eleanor (she still thought of her as a kitten, 
although she was now a big, grown-up cat) spent very 
little time around the house. She came into the kitchen 
two or three times a day, mewing loudly for milk and 
food, but after eating very fast she always disappeared 
at once. Betsy missed the purring, contented ball of fur 
on her lap in the long evenings as she played checkers, 
or read aloud, or sewed, or played guessing games. She 
felt rather hurt, too, that Eleanor paid her so little at- 
tention, and several times she tried hard to make her 
stay, trailing in front of her a spool tied to a string 

•i8s- 



Understood Betsy 

or rolling a worsted ball across the floor. But Eleanor 
seemed to have lost all her taste for the things she had 
liked so much. Invariably, the moment the door was 
opened, she darted out and vanished. 

One afternoon Betsy ran out after her, determined 
to catch her and bring her back. When the cat found 
she was being followed, she bounded along in great 
leaps, constantly escaping from Betsy's outstretched 
hand. They came thus to the horse-barn, into the open 
door of which Eleanor whisked like a little gray 
shadow, Betsy close behind. The cat flashed up the 
steep, ladder-like stairs that led to the hay-loft. Betsy 
scrambled rapidly up, too. It was dark up there, com- 
pared to the gorgeous-colored October day outside, and 
for a moment she could not see Eleanor. Then she 
made her out, a dim little shape, picking her way over 
the hay, and she heard her talking. Yes, it was real 
talk, quite, quite different from the loud, imperious 
"miauw!" with which Eleanor asked for her milk. This 
was the softest, prettiest kind of conversation, all little 
murmurs and chirps and sing-songs. Why, Betsy could 
almost understand it! She could understand it enough 
to know that it was love-talk, and then, breaking into 
this, came a sudden series of shrill, little, needle-like 
cries that fairly filled the hay-loft. Eleanor gave a 
bound forward and disappeared. Betsy, very much ex- 

■i86- 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

cited, scrambled and climbed up over the hay as fast 
as she could go. 

It was all silent now — the piercing, funny little 
.quails had stopped as suddenly as they began. On the 
top in a little nest lay Eleanor, purring so loudly you 
could hear her all over the big mow, and so proud 
and happy she could hardly contain herself. Her eyes 
glistened, she arched her back, rolled over and spread 
out her paws, disclosing to Betsy's astounded, delighted 
eyes — no, she wasn't dreaming — two dear little kittens, 
one all gray, just like its mother; one gray with a big 
bib on his chest. 

Oh! How dear they were! How darling, and cuddly, 
and fuzzy! Betsy put her fingers very softly on the 
gray one's head and thrilled to feel the warmth of 
the little living creature. "Oh, Eleanor!" she asked 
eagerly. "Can I pick one up?" She lifted the gray one 
gently and held it up to her cheek. The little thing 
nestled down in the warm hollow of her hand. She 
could feel its tiny, tiny little claws pricking softly into 
her palm. "Oh, you sweetness! You little, litde baby- 
thing!" she said over and over in a whisper. 

Eleanor did not stop purring, and she looked up 
with friendly, trusting eyes as her little mistress made 
the acquaintance of her children, but Betsy could feel 
somehow that Eleanor was anxious about her kitten, 

•187' 



Understood Betsy 

was afraid that, although the little girl meant every- 
thing that was kind, her great, clumsy, awkward 
human hands weren't clever enough to hold a baby-cat 
the proper way. "I don't blame you a bit, Eleanor," 
said Betsy. "I should feel just so in your place. There! 
I won't touch it again!" She laid the kitten down care- 
fully by its mother. Eleanor at once began to wash its 
face vigorously, knocking it over and over with her 
strong tongue. "My!" said Betsy, laughing. "You'd 
scratch my eyes out, if / were as rough as that!" 

Eleanor didn't seem to hear. Or rather she seemed 
to hear something else. For she stopped short, her head 
lifted, her ears pricked up, listening very hard to some 
distant sound. Then Betsy heard it, too, somebody 
coming into the barn below, little, quick, uneven foot- 
steps. It must be little Molly, tagging along, as she al- 
ways did. What fun to show Molly the kittens ! 

"Betsy!" called Molly from below. 

"Molly!" called Betsy from above. "Come up here 
quick! I've got something up here." 

There was a sound of scrambling, rapid feet on the 
rough stairs, and Molly's yellow curls appeared, shin- 
ing in the dusk. "I've got a . . ." she began, but Betsy 
did not let her finish. 

"Come here, Molly, quick! quic\!" she called, beck- 
oning eagerly, as though the kittens might evaporate 
into thin air if Molly didn't get there at once. 

•i88- 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

Molly forgot what she was going to say, climbed 
madly up the steep pile of hay, and in a moment was 
lying flat on her stomach beside the little family in 
a spasm of delight that satisfied even Betsy and Eleanor, 
both of them convinced that these were the finest 
kittens the world had ever seen. 

"See, there are two," said Betsy. "You can have one 
for your very own. And I'll let you choose. Which one 
do you like best?" 

She was hoping that Molly would not take the little 
all-gray one, because she had fallen in love with that 
the minute she saw it. 

"Oh, this one with the white on his breast," said 
Molly, without a moment's hesitation. "It's lots the 
prettiest! Oh, Betsy! For my very own?" 

Something white fell out of the folds of her skirt 
on the hay. "Oh, yes," she said indifferently. "A letter 
for you. Miss Ann told me to bring it out here. She said 
she saw you streaking it for the barn." 

It was a letter from Aunt Frances. Betsy opened it, 
one eye on Molly to see that she did not hug her new 
darling too tightly, and began to read it in the ray of 
dusty sunlight slanting in through a crack in the side 
of the barn. She could do this easily, because Aunt 
Frances always made her handwriting very large and 
round and clear, so that a little girl could read it with- 
out half trying. 

•i8q« 



Understood Betsy 

And as she read, everything faded away from be- 
fore her . . . the barn, Molly, the kittens . . . she saw 
nothing but the words on the page. 

When she had read the letter through she got up 
quickly, oh, ever so quickly! and went away down the 
stairs. Molly hardly noticed she had gone, so absorbing 
and delightful were the kittens. 

Betsy went out of the dusky barn into the rich, 
October splendor and saw none of it. She went straight 
away from the house and the barn, straight up into 
the hill-pasture toward her favorite place beside the 
brook, the shady pool under the big maple-tree. At 
first she walked, but after a while she ran, faster and 
faster, as though she could not get there soon enough. 
Her head was down, and one arm was crooked over 
her face. . . . 

And do you know, I'm not going to follow her up 
there, nor let you go. I'm afraid we would all cry if we 
saw what Betsy did under the big maple-tree. The rea- 
son she ran away so fast was so that she could be all 
by herself for a very hard hour, and fight it out, alone. 

So let us go back soberly to the orchard where the 
Putneys are, and wait till Betsy comes walking list- 
lessly in, her eyes red and her cheeks pale. Cousin Ann 
was up in the top of a tree, a basket hung over her 
shoulder half full of striped red Northern Spies ; Uncle 
Henry was on a ladder against another tree, filling a 

• 190* 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

bag with the beautiful, shining, yellow-green Pound 
Sweets, and Aunt Abigail was moving around, picking 
up the parti-colored windfalls and putting them into 
barrels ready to go to the cider-mill. 

Something about the way Betsy walked, and as she 
drew closer something about the expression of her 
face, and oh! as she began to speak, something about 
the tone of her voice, stopped all this cheerful activity 
as though a bomb had gone off in their midst. 

"I've had a letter from Aunt Frances/' said Betsy, 
"she says she's coming to take me away, back to 
them, tomorrow." 

There was a big silence; Cousin Ann stood, perfectly 
motionless up in her tree, staring down through the 
leaves at Betsy. Uncle Henry was turned around on 
his ladder, one hand on an apple as though it had 
frozen there, staring down at Betsy. Aunt Abigail 
leaned with both fat hands on her barrel, staring hard 
at Betsy. Betsy was staring down at her shoes, biting 
her lips and winking her eyes. The yellow, hazy Octo- 
ber sun sank slowly down toward the rim of Hemlock 
Mountain, and sent long, golden shafts of light through 
the branches of the trees upon this group of people, 
all so silent, so motionless. 

Betsy was the first to speak, and I'm proud of her 
for what she said. She said, loyally, "Dear Aunt Fran- 

• 191* 



Understood Betsy 

ces! She was always so sweet to me! She always tried 
so hard to take care of me!" 

For that was what Betsy had found up by the brook 
under the big red maple-tree. She had found there a 
certainty that, whatever else she did, she must not hurt 
Aunt Frances's feelings — dear, gentle, sweet Aunt Fran- 
ces, whose feelings were so easily hurt and who had 
given her so many years of such anxious care. Some- 
thing up there had told her — perhaps the quiet blue 
shadow of Windward Mountain creeping slowly over 
the pasture toward her, perhaps the silent glory of the 
red-and-gold tree, perhaps the singing murmur of the 
litde brook — perhaps all of them together had told her 
that now had come a time when she must do more than 
what Cousin Ann would do — when she must do what 
she herself knew was right. And that was to protect 
Aunt Frances from hurt. 

When she spoke, out there in the orchard, she broke 
the spell of silence. Cousin Ann climbed hastily down 
from her tree, with her basket only partly filled. Uncle 
Henry got stiffly off his ladder, and Aunt Abigail ad- 
vanced through the grass. And they all said the same 
thing — "Let me see that letter." 

They read it there, looking over each other's shoul- 
ders, with grave faces. Then, still silently, they all 
turned and went back into the house, leaving their 
forgotten bags and barrels and baskets out under the 

-TQ2- 



"Understood Aunt France:" 

trees. When they found themselves in the kitchen— 
"Well, it's suppertime, anyhow," said Cousin Ann 
hastily, as if ashamed of losing her composure, "or al- 
most time. We might as well get it now." 

"I'm a-going out to milk," said Uncle Henry gruffly, 
although it was not nearly his usual time. He took up 
the milk pails and marched out toward the barn, step- 
ping heavily, his head hanging. 

Shep woke up with a snort and, getting off the couch, 
gamboled clumsily up to Petsy, wagging his tail and 
jumping up on her, ready for a frolic. That was almost 
too much for Betsy! To think that after tomorrow she 
would never see Shep again — nor Eleanor! Nor the 
kittens ! She choked as she bent over Shep and put her 
arms around his neck for a great hug. But she mustn't 
cry, she mustn't hurt Aunt Frances's feelings, or show 
that she wasn't glad to go back to her. That wouldn't 
be fair, after all Aunt Frances had done for her! 

That night she lay awake after she and Molly had 
gone to bed and Molly was asleep. They had decided 
not to tell Molly until the last minute, so she had 
dropped off peacefully, as usual. But poor Betsy's eyes 
were wide open. She saw a gleam of light under the 
door. It widened ; the door opened. Aunt Abigail stood 
there, in her night cap, mountainous in her long white 
gown, a candle shining up into her serious old face. 

"You awake, Betsy?" she whispered, seeing the 
•193- 



Understood Betsy 

child's dark eyes gleaming at her over the covers. rt I 
just — I just thought I'd look in to see if you were all 
right." She came to the edge of the bed and set the 
candle down on the little stand. Betsy reached her 
arms up longingly and the old woman stooped over 
her. Neither of them said a single word during the 
long embrace which followed. Then Aunt Abigail 
straightened up hastily, took her candle quickly and 
softly, and heavily padded out of the room. 

Betsy turned over and flung one arm over Molly — 
no Molly, either, after tomorrow! 

She gulped hard and stared up at the ceiling, dimly 
white in the starlight. A gleam of light shone under 
the door. It widened, and Uncle Henry stood there, a 
candle in his hand, peering into the room. "You awake, 
Betsy?" he said cautiously. 

"Yes. I'm awake, Uncle Henry." 

The old man shuffled into the room. "I just got to 
thinking," he said, hesitating, "'that maybe you'd like 
to take my watch with you. It's kind of handy to have 
a watch on the train. And I'd like real well for you to 
have it." 

He laid it down on the stand, his own cherished 
gold watch, that had been given him when he was 
twenty-one. 

Betsy reached out and took his hard, gnarled old 
•194- 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

fist in a tight grip. "Oh, Uncle Henry!" she began, 
and could not go on. 

"We'll miss you, Betsy," he said in an uncertain 
voice. "It's been . . . it's been real nice to have you 
here. . . ." 

And then he too snatched up his candle very quickly 
and almost ran out of the room. 

Betsy turned over on her back. "No crying, now!" 
she told herself fiercely. "No crying, now!" She 
clenched her hands together tightly and set her teeth. 

Something moved in the room. Somebody leaned 
over her. It was Cousin Ann, who didn't make a sound, 
not one, but who took Betsy in her strong arms and 
held her close and closer, till Betsy could feel the quick 
pulse of the other's heart beating all through her own 
body. 

Then she was gone — as silently as she came. 

But somehow that great embrace had taken away 
all the burning tightness from Betsy's eyes and heart. 
She was very tired, and soon after this she fell asleep, 
snuggled up close to Molly. 

In the morning, nobody spoke of last night. Break- 
fast was prepared and eaten, and the team hitched up 
directly afterward. Betsy and Uncle Henry were to 
drive to the station together to meet Aunt Frances's 
train. Betsy put on her new wine-colored cashmere 
that Cousin Ann had made her, with the soft white 

•195. 



Understood Betsy 

tollar of delicate old embroidery that Aunt Abigail 
had given her out of one of the trunks in the attic. 

She and Uncle Henry said little as they drove to the 
village, and even less as they stood waiting together 
on the platform. Betsy slipped her hand into his and 
he held it tight as the train whistled in the distance and 
came slowly and laboriously puffing up to the station. 

Just one person got off at the little station, and that 
was Aunt Frances, looking dressed up and citified, 
with kid gloves and a white veil over her face and a 
big blue one floating from her gay-flowered velvet hat. 
How pretty she was! And how young — under the veil 
which hid so kindly the little lines in her sweet, thin 
face. And how excited and fluttery ! Betsy had forgotten 
how fluttery Aunt Frances was! She clasped Betsy to 
her, and then started back crying — she must see to her 
suit-case — and then she clasped Betsy to her again and 
shook hands with Uncle Henry, whose grim old face 
looked about as cordial and welcoming as the sourest 
kind of sour pickle, and she fluttered back and said she 
must have left her umbrella on the train. "Oh, Con- 
ductor! Conductor! My umbrella — right in my seat — 
a blue one with a crooked-over — oh, here it is in my 
hand! What am I thinking of!" 

The conductor evidently thought he'd bettei get the 
train away as soon as possible, for he now shouted. 
"All aboard!" to nobody at all, and sprang back on 

• 196* 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

the steps. The train went off, groaning over the steep 
grade, and screaming out its usual echoing warning 
about the next road crossing. 

Uncle Henry took Aunt Frances's suit-case and plod- 
ded back to the surrey. He got into the front seat and 
Aunt Frances and Betsy in the back; and they started 
off. 

Now 1 want you to listen to every single word that 
was said on the back seat, for it was a very important 
conversation, when Betsy's fate hung on the curl of an 
eyelash and the flicker of a voice, as fates often do. 

Aunt Frances hugged Betsy again and again and 
exclaimed about her having grown so big and tall and 
fat — she didn't say brown too, although you could 
see that she was thinking that, as she looked through 
her veil at Betsy's tanned face and down at the contrast 
between her own pretty, white fingers and Betsy's 
leather-colored, muscular little hands. She exclaimed 
and exclaimed and kept on exclaiming! Betsy wondered 
if she really always had been as fluttery as this. Then, 
all of a sudden it came out, the great news, the reason 
for the extra flutteriness. 

Aunt Frances was going to be married! 

Yes! Think of it! Betsy fell back open-mouthed with 
astonishment. 

"Did Betsy think her Aunt Frances a -silly old thing?" 
.197. 



Understood Betsy 

"Oh, Aunt Frances, nol" cried Betsy fervently. "You 
look just as young, and pretty! Lots younger than I 
remembered you!" 

Aunt Frances flushed with pleasure and went on, 
"You'll love your old Aunt Frances just as much, won't 
ycu, when she's Mrs. Plimpton?" 

Betsy put her arms around her and gave her a great 
hug. "I'll always love you, Aunt Frances!" she said. 

"You'll love Mr. Plimpton, too. He's so big and 
strong, and he just loves to take care of people. He says 
that's why he's marrying me. Don't you wonder where 
we are going to live?" she asked, answering her own 
question quickly. "We're not going to live anywhere. 
Isn't that a joke? Mr. Plimpton's business keeps him 
always moving around from one place to another, 
never more than a month anywhere." 

"What'll Aunt Harriet do?" asked Betsy wonder- 
ingly. 

"Why, she's ever and ever so much better," said 
Aunt Frances happily. "And her own sister, my Aunt 
Rachel, has come back from China, where she's been a 
missionary for ever so long, and the two old ladies 
are going to keep house together out in California, in 
the dearest little bungalow, all roses and honeysuckle. 
But you're going to be with me. Won't it be jolly fun, 
darling, to go traveling all about everywhere, and see 
new places all the time!" 

• 198- 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

Now those are the words Aunt Frances said, but 
something in her voice and her face suggested a faint 
possibility to Betsy that maybe Aunt Frances didn't 
really think it would be such awfully jolly fun as her 
words said. 

Her heart gave a big jump up, and she had to hold 
tight to the arm of the surrey before she could ask, in 
a quiet voice, "But, Aunt Frances, won't I be awfully 
in your way, traveling around so?" 

Now, Aunt Frances had ears of her own, and though 
that was what Betsy's words said, what Aunt Frances 
heard was a suggestion that possibly Betsy wasn't as 
crazy to leave Putney Farm as she had supposed of 
course she would be. 

They both stopped talking for a moment and peered 
at each other through the thicket of words that held 
them apart. I told you this was a very momentous con- 
versation. One sure thing is that the people on the 
back seat saw the inside of die surrey as they traveled 
along, and nothing else. Red sumac and bronzed beech- 
trees waved their flags at them in vain. They kept their 
eyes fixed on each other intently, each in an agony of 
fear lest she hurt the other's feelings. 

After a pause Aunt Frances came to herself with a 
start, and said, affectionately putting her arm around 
Betsy, "Why, you darling, what does Aunt Frances care 
about trouble if her own dear baby-girl is happy?" 

• 199. 



Understood Betsy 

And Betsy said, resolutely, "Oh, you know, Aunt 
Frances, I'd love to be with you!" She ventured one 
more step through the thicket. "But honestly, Aunt 
Frances, won't it be a bother ... ?" 

Aunt Frances ventured another step to meet her, 
"But dear little girls must be somewhere . . ." 

And Betsy almost forgot her caution and burst out, 
"But I could stay here! I know they would keep me!" 

Even Aunt Frances's two veils could not hide the 
gleam of relief and hope that came into her pretty, thin, 
sweet face. She summoned all her courage and stepped 
out into the clearing in the middle of the thicket, asking 
right out, boldly, "Why, do you like it here, Betsy? 
Would you like to stay?" 

And Betsy — she never could remember afterward if 
she had been careful enough not to shout too loudly 
and joyfully — Betsy cried out, "Oh, I love it here!" 
There they stood, face to face, looking at each other 
with honest and very happy eyes. 

Aunt Frances threw her arm around Betsy and 
asked again, "Are you sure, dear?" and didn't try to 
hide her relief. And neither did Betsy. 

"I could visit you once in a while, when you are 
somewhere near here," suggested Betsy, beaming. 

"Oh, yes, I must have some of the time with my 
darling!" said Aunt Frances. And this time there was 
nothing in their hearts that contradicted their lips. 

•200* 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

They clung to each other as Uncle Henry guided the 
surrey up to the marble stepping-stone. Betsy jumped 
out first, and while Uncle Henry was helping Aunt 
Frances out, she was dashing up the walk like a crazy 
thing. She flung open the front door and catapulted 
into Aunt Abigail just coming out. It was like flinging 
herself into a feather-bed. . . . 

"Oh! Oh!" she gasped out. "Aunt Frances is going to 
be married. And travel around all the time! And she 
doesn't really want me at all! Can't I stay here? Can't 
I stay here?" 

Cousin Ann was right behind Aunt Abigail, and she 
heard this. She looked over their shoulders toward 
Aunt Frances, who was approaching from behind, and 
said, in her usual calm and collected voice: "How do 
you do, Frances? Glad to see you, Frances. How well 
you're looking! I hear you are in for congratulations. 
Who's the happy man?" 

Betsy was overcome with admiration for her coolness 
in being able to talk so in such an exciting moment. 
She knew Aunt Abigail couldn't have done it, for she 
had sat down in a rocking-chair, and was holding Betsy 
on her lap. The little girl could see her wrinkled old 
hand trembling on the arm of the chair. 

"I hope that means," continued Cousin Ann, going 
as usual straight to the point, "that we can keep Betsy 
here with us." 



Understood Betsy 

"Oh, would you like to?" asked Aunt Frances, flut- 
tering, as though the idea had never occurred to her 
before that minute. "Would Elizabeth Ann really li\e 
to stay?" 

"Oh, I'd li\e to, all right!" said Betsy, looking confi- 
dently up into Aunt Abigail's face. 

Aunt Abigail spoke now. She cleared her throat twice 
before she could bring out a word. Then she said, 
"Why, yes, we'd kind of like to keep her. We've sort 
of got used to having her around." 

That's what she said, but, as you have noticed before 
on this exciting day, what people said didn't matter as 
much as what they looked; and as her old lips pro- 
nounced these words so quietly, the corners of Aunt 
Abigail's mouth were twitching, and she was swallow- 
ing hard. She said, impatiently, to Cousin Ann, "Hand 
me that handkerchief, Ann!" And as she blew her 
nose, she said, "What an old fool I am!" 

It was as though a great, fresh breeze had blown 
through the house. They all drew a long breath and 
began to talk loudly and cheerfully about the weather 
and Aunt Frances's trip and how Aunt Harriet was 
and which room Aunt Frances was to have and would 
she leave her wraps down in the hall or take them up- 
stairs — and, in the midst of this, Betsy, her heart ready 
to burst, dashed out of doors, followed by Shep. She 
ran madly toward the barn. She did not know where 

• 202 • 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

she was going. She only knew that she must run and 
jump and shout, or she would explode. 

Shep ran and jumped because Betsy did. 

To these two wild creatures, careering through the 
air like bright blown autumn leaves, appeared little 
Molly in the barn door. 

"Oh, I'm going to stay! I'm going to stay!" screamed 
Betsy. 

But as Molly had not had any notion of the contrary, 
she only said, "Of course, why not?" and went on to 
something important, saying, "My kitten can u/alkj It 
took three steps just now." 

After Aunt Frances got her wraps off, Betsy took her 
for a tour of inspection. They went all over the house 
first, with special emphasis laid on the kitchen-living- 
room. "Isn't this the loveliest place?" said Betsy, fer- 
vently, looking about her at the white curtains, the 
bright flowers, the southern sunshine, the bookcases, 
and the bright cooking utensils. It was all full to the 
brim to her eyes with happiness. She forgot entirely 
that she had thought it a very poor, common kind of 
room when she had first seen it. Nor did she notice that 
Aunt Frances showed no enthusiasm over it now. 

She stopped for a few moments to wash some pota- 
toes and put them into the oven for dinner. Aunt 
Frances opened her eyes at this. "I always see to the 
potatoes and the apples, the cooking of them, I mean," 

•203- 



Understood Betsy 

explained Betsy proudly. "I've just learned to u. 'ke 
apple-pie and brown betty." 

Then down into the stone-floored milk-room, where 
Aunt Abigail was working over butter, and where 
Betsy, swelling with pride, showed Aunt Frances how 
deftly and smoothly she could manipulate the wooden 
paddle and make rolls of butter that weighed within 
an ounce or two of a pound. 

"Mercy, child! Think of your being able to do such 
things!" said Aunt Frances, more and more astonished. 

They went out of doors now, Shep bounding by their 
side. Betsy was amazed to see that Aunt Frances drew 
back, nervously, whenever the big dog frisked near her. 
Out in the barn Betsy had a disappointment. Aunt 
Frances just balked absolutely at those ladder-like stairs 
— "Oh, I couldn't! I couldn't, dear. Do you go up there ? 
Is it quite safe?" 

"Why, Aunt Abigail went up there to see the kit- 
tens!" cried Betsy, on the edge of exasperation. But her 
heart softened at the sight of Aunt Frances's evident 
distress of mind at the idea of climbing into the loft, 
and she brought the kittens down for inspection, Elea- 
nor mewing anxiously at the top of the stairs. 

On the way back to the house they had an adventure, 
a sort of adventure, and it brought home to Betsy once 
for all how much she loved dear, sweet Aunt Frances, 
and what kind of love it was. 



•204' 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

As they crossed the barnyard the calf approached 
them playfully, leaping stiff-legged into the air, and 
making a pretense of butting at them with its hornless 
young head. 

Betsy and Shep often played with the calf in this 
way by the half-hour, and she thought nothing of it 
now; hardly noticed it, in fact. 

But Aunt Frances gave a loud, piercing shriek, as 
though she were being cut into pieces. "Help! Helpl" 
she screamed. "Betsy! Oh, Betsy!" 

She had turned white and could not take a single 
step forward. "It's nothing! It's nothing!" said Betsy, 
rather impatiently. "He's just playing. We often play 
with him, Shep and I." 

The calf came a little nearer, with lowered head. 
"Get away!" said Betsy indifferently, kicking at him. 

At this hint of masterfulness on Betsy's part, Aunt 
Frances cried out, "Oh, yes, Betsy, do make him go 
away! Do make him go away!" 

It came over Betsy that Aunt Frances was frightened, 
yes, really; and all at once her impatience disappeared, 
never to come back again. She felt toward Aunt Frances 
just as she did toward little Molly, and she acted ac- 
cordingly. She stepped in front of Aunt Frances, picked 
up a stick, and hit the calf a blow on the neck with it. 
He moved away, startled and injured, looking at his 

•205- 



Understood Betsy 

playfellow with reproachful eyes. But Betsy was relent- 
less. Aunt Frances must not be frightened! 

"Here, Shep! Here, Shep!" she called loudly, and 
when the big dog came bounding to her she pointed to 
the calf and said sternly, "Take him into the barn! 
Drive him into the barn, sir!" 

Shep asked nothing better than this command, and 
charged forward, barking furiously and leaping into 
the air as though he intended to eat the calf up alive. 
The two swept across the barnyard and into the lower 
regions of the barn. In a moment Shep reappeared, his 
tongue hanging out, his tail wagging, his eyes glisten- 
ing, very proud of himself, and mounted guard at the 
door. 

Aunt Frances hurried along through the gate of the 
barnyard. As it fell to behind her she sank down on a 
rock, breathless, still pale and agitated. Betsy threw 
her arms around her in a transport of affection. She felt 
that she understood Aunt Frances as nobody else could, 
the dear, sweet, gentle, timid aunt! She took the thin, 
nervous white fingers in her strong brown hands. "Oh, 
Aunt Frances, darling Aunt Frances !" she cried. "How 
I wish I could always take care of you." 

The last of the red and gold leaves were slowly drift- 
ing to the ground as Betsy and Uncle Henry drove back 
from the station after seeing Aunt Frances off. They 

2d6- 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

were not silent this time, as when they had gone to 
meet her. They were talking cheerfully together, lay- 
ing their plans for the winter which was so near. "I 
must begin to bank the house tomorrow," mused 
Uncle Henry. "And those apples have got to go to the 
cider-mill, right off. Don't you want to ride over on 
top of them, Betsy, and see 'em made into cider?" 

"Oh, my, yes!" said Betsy. "That will be fine! And 
I must put away Deborah's summer clothes and get 
Cousin Ann to help me make some warm ones, if I'm 
going to take her to school in cold weather." 

As they drove into the yard, they saw Eleanor com- 
ing from the direction of the barn with something big 
and heavy in her mouth. She held her head as high as 
she could, but even so, her burden dragged on the 
ground, bumping softly against the rough places on the 
path. "Look!" said Betsy. "Just see that great rat Elea- 
nor has caught!" 

Uncle Henry squinted his old eyes toward the cat 
for a moment and laughed. "We're not the only ones 
that are getting ready for winter," he remarked. 

Betsy did not know what he meant and climbed 
hastily over the wheel and ran to see. As she approached 
Eleanor, the cat laid her burden down with an air of 
relief and looked trustfully into her little mistress's 
face. Why, it was one of the kittens! Eleanor was 
bringing it to the. house. Oh, of course! they mustn't 

•207- 



Understood Betsy 

stay out there in that cold hayloft now the cold weather 
was drawing near. Betsy picked up the little sprawling 
thing, trying with weak legs to get around over the 
rough ground. She carried it carefully toward the 
house, Eleanor walking sinuously by her side and "talk- 
ing" in little singing, purring miauws to explain her 
ideas of kitten-comfort. Betsy felt that she quite under- 
stood her. "Yes, Eleanor, a nice little basket behind 
the stove with a warm piece of an old blanket in it. 
Yes, I'll fix it for you. It'll be lovely to have the whole 
family there. And I'll bring the other one in for you." 

But evidently Eleanor did not understand little-girl 
talk as well as Betsy understood cat-talk, for a little 
later, as Betsy turned from the nest she was making in 
the corner behind the stove, Eleanor was missing; and 
when she ran out toward the barn she met her again, 
her head strained painfully back, dragging another 
fat, heavy kitten, who curled his pink feet up as high 
as he could in a vain effort not to have them knock 
against the stones. "Now, Eleanor," said Betsy, a little 
put out, "you don't trust me enough! I was going to 
get it all right!" 

"Well," said Aunt Abigail, as they came into the 
kitchen, "now you must begin to teach them to drink." 

"Goodness!" said Betsy. "Don't they know how to 
drink already?" 

•208- 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

"You try them and see," said Aunt Abigail with a 
mysterious smile. 

So when Uncle Henry brought the pails full of 
fragrant, warm milk into the house, Betsy poured out 
some in a saucer and put the kittens up to it. She and 
Molly squatted down on their heels to watch, and be- 
fore long they were laughing so that they were rolling 
on the kitchen floor. At first the kittens looked every 
way but at the milk, seeming to see everything but 
what was under their noses. Then Graykin (that was 
Betsy's) absent-mindedly walked right through the 
saucer, emerging with very wet feet and an aggrieved 
and astonished expression. Molly screamed with laugh- 
ter to see him shake his pink toes and sit down seriously 
to lick them clean. Then White-bib (Molly's) put his 
head down to the saucer. 

"There! Mine is smarter than yours!" said Molly. 
But White-bib went on putting his head down, down, 
down, clear into the milk nearly up to his eyes, al- 
though he looked frightened and miserable. Then he 
jerked it up quickly and sneezed and sneezed and 
sneezed, such deliciously funny little baby sneezes! He 
pawed and pawed at his little pink nose with his little 
pink paw until Eleanor took pity on him and came 
to wash him off. In the midst of this process she saw 
the milk, and left off to lap it up eagerly; and in a 
jiffy she had drunk every drop and was licking the 

•209- 



Understood Betsy 

saucer loudly with her raspy tongue. That was the end 
of the kittens' first lesson. 

In the evening, as they sat around the lamp, Eleanor 
came and got up in Betsy's lap just like old times. Betsy 




was playing checkers with Uncle Henry and inter- 
rupted the game to welcome the cat back. But Eleanor 
was uneasy, and kept stopping her toilet to prick up 
her ears and look restlessly toward the basket, where 
the kittens lay curled so closely together that they 
looked like one soft ball of gray fur. By and by Elea- 



•210' 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

nor jumped down heavily and went back to the basket. 
She stayed there only a moment, standing over the 
kittens and licking them. Then she came back and 
got up in Betsy's lap again. 

"What ails that cat?" said Cousin Ann, noting this 
pacing and restlessness. 

"Maybe she wants Betsy to hold her kittens, too," 
suggested Aunt Abigail. 

"Oh, I'd love to!" said Betsy, spreading out her 
knees to make her lap bigger. 

"But I want my own White-bib myself!" said Molly, 
looking up from the beads she was stringing. 

"Well, maybe Eleanor would let you setde it that 
way," said Cousin Ann. 

The litde girls ran over to the basket and brought 
back each her own kitten. Eleanor watched them 
anxiously, but as soon as they sat down she jumped up 
happily into Betsy's lap and curled down close to Gray- 
kin. This time she was completely satisfied, and her 
loud purring filled the room with a peaceable murmur. 

"There, now you're fixed for the winter," said Aunt 
Abigail. 

By and by, after Cousin Ann had popped some corn, 
old Shep got off the couch and came to stand by Betsy's 
knee to get an occasional handful. Eleanor opened one 
eye, recognized a friend, and shut it sleepily. But the 

•211 • 



Understood Bet e y 

kitten woke up in terrible alarm to see that hideous 
monster so near him, and prepared to sell his life dearly. 
He bristled up his ridiculous short tail, opened his 
absurd, pink mouth in a soft, baby s—s — s, and struck 
savagely at old Shep's good-natured face with a soft 
little paw. Betsy felt her heart overflow with amuse- 
ment and pride in the intrepid little morsel. She burst 
into laughter, but she picked it up and held it lovingly 
close to her cheek. What fun it was going to be to see 
those kittens grow up! 

Old Shep padded back softly to the couch, his toe- 
nails clicking on the floor, hoisted himself heavily up, 
and went to sleep. The kitten subsided into a ball 
again. Eleanor stirred and stretched in her sleep and 
laid her ht^d in utter trust on her little mistress's hand. 
After that Betsy moved the checkers only with her 
other hand. 

In the intervals of the game, while Uncle Henry was 
pondering over his moves, the little girl looked down 
at her pets and listened absently to the keen autumnal 
wind that swept around the old house, shaking the 
shutters and rattling the windows. A stick of wood in 
the stove burned in two and fell together with a soft, 
whispering sound. The lamp cast a steady radiance on 
Uncle Henry bent seriously over the checker-board, 
on Molly's blooming, round cheeks and bright hair, 

•212- 



"Understood Aunt Frances" 

on Aunt Abigail's rosy, cheerful, wrinkled old face, 
and on Cousin Ann's quiet, clear, dark eyes. . . . 

That room was full to the brim of something beau- 
tiful, and Betsy knew what it was. Its name was Hap- 
piness. 



• ai*«