DOROTHY CANFIELD Author of "The Bent Twig," etc.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ADA C. WILLIAMSON
I Aunt Harriet Has a Cough II Betsy Holds the Reins III A Short Morning IV Betsy Goes to School V What Grade is Betsy? VI If You Don't Like Conversation in a Book Skip this Chapter! VII Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination VIII Betsy Starts a Sewing Society IX The New Clothes Fail X Betsy Has a Birthday XI "Understood Aunt Frances"
Uncle Henry looked at her, eying her sidewise over the top of one spectacle-glass Frontispiece
Elizabeth Ann stood up before the doctor. "Do you know," said Aunt Abigail, "I think it's going to be real nice, having a little girl in the house again"
She had greatly enjoyed doing her own hair.
"Oh, he's asking for more!" cried Elizabeth Ann
Betsy shut her teeth together hard, and started across "What's the matter, Molly? What's the matter?"
Betsy and Ellen and the old doll
He had fallen asleep with his head on his arms
Never were dishes washed better!
Betsy was staring down at her shoes, biting her lips and winking her eyes
AUNT HARRIET HAS A COUGH
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 Harriet, who was very tender-hearted, kept her chiefly because she couldn't get any other place 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 Elizabeth 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 had said to themselves that it was their manifest duty to save the dear little thing from the other relatives, who had no idea about how to bring up a 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, little brick house in the medium-sized city, and that they welcomed the occupation and new interests which a child would bring in.
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. But "ANYTHING but the Putneys!" said Aunt Harriet, a great many times. They were related only by marriage to her, and she had her own opinion of them as a stiffnecked, cold-hearted, undemonstrative, and hard set of New Englanders. "I boarded near them one summer when you were a baby, Frances, and I shall never forget the way they were treating some children visiting there! ... Oh, no, I don't mean they abused them or beat them ... but such lack of sympathy, such perfect indifference to the sacred sensitiveness of child-life, such a starving of the child-heart ... No, I shall never forget it! They 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 Aunt Harriet had of the Putneys. She did not know, to be sure, what "chores" were, but she took it confidently from Aunt Harriet's voice that they were something very, very dreadful.
There was certainly neither coldness nor hardness in the way Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances treated Elizabeth Ann. They had really given themselves up to the new responsibility, especially Aunt Frances, who was very 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 another which told her how to bring up children. And she joined a Mothers' Club which met once a week. And she took a correspondence course in mothercraft from a school in Chicago which teaches that business by mail. So you can see that by the time Elizabeth Ann was nine years old Aunt Frances must have known all that anybody can know about how to bring up children. And Elizabeth Ann got the benefit of it all.
She and her Aunt Frances were simply inseparable. Aunt Frances shared in all Elizabeth Ann's doings and even in all her thoughts. She was especially anxious to share all the little girl's thoughts, because she felt that the trouble with most children is that they are not understood, and she was determined that she would thoroughly understand 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 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.
And yet Elizabeth Ann was neither very strong nor well. And as to her being happy, you can judge for yourself when you have read all this story. She was very 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 herself, 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 another 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 Ann was always pretty well scared), "and 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 behind 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 always 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 always 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 mother when Aunt Harriet exclaimed about her paleness 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 imagination. But all these dreams and continuations of dreams Aunt Frances wrote down the first thing the next morning, and, with frequent references to a thick book full of hard words, she tried her best to puzzle out from them exactly what kind of little girl Elizabeth Ann really was.
There was one dream, however, that even conscientious 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, and slip away to try to get a little nap herself before it was time to get up.
At a quarter of nine every weekday morning Aunt Frances dropped whatever else she was doing, took Elizabeth Ann's little, thin, white 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 very 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 pigeonholed her carefully in her own schoolroom. She was in the third grade,—3A, you understand, which is almost 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. 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 Elizabeth Ann's beating the Schmidt girl in spelling, and was indignant over the teacher's having pets. Sometimes 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 own 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.
"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. Elizabeth Ann was growing tall very fast. One of the visiting 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 confidence. You'll always tell Aunt Frances EVERYTHING, won't you, darling?" Elizabeth Ann resolved to do this always, even if, as now, she often had to invent things to tell.
Aunt Frances went on, to the callers: "But I do wish she weren't so thin and pale and nervous. I suppose it is the exciting modern life that is so 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 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 before 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 entirely to taking care of Elizabeth Ann.
So one day, after this had happened several times, Aunt Frances really did send for the doctor, who 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, perhaps 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 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 conscientiousness, 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 very 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, you may be sure. 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 ..."
The doctor said back to her, as he put on his hat, all the things doctors always 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 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 just then something happened which changed Elizabeth 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 who needed so much care.
And yet, at the sound of that little discreet cough behind Aunt Harriet's hand, the doctor whirled around and fixed his sharp eyes on her, with all the bored, impatient look gone, 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 little teasing cough I've had this winter. And I meant to tell you, too, 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 very hard through his little tubes. Then 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."
And 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 obey the doctor's verdict, which was that Aunt Harriet was very, very sick and must go away at once to a warm climate, and 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. And 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 surprise 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 conscientiousness because she knew Aunt Harriet couldn't get along without her! And if you notice, that's the way things often happen to very, very conscientious people.
Elizabeth Ann, however, had no grocer brother. She had, it is true, a great many relatives, and of course 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, wasn't that enough, without adding to the household such a nervous, spoiled, morbid 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 sudden, 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.
And 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 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 imperative 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 quarantine 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 own aunt, and Ann is her own first-cousin-once-removed ... 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 when old Mrs. Lathrop issued orders they were usually obeyed. As to who the Bridget was who had the scarlet fever, I know no more than you. I take it, from the name, 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 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 times. Poor Elizabeth Ann!
BETSY HOLDS THE REINS
You can imagine, perhaps, the dreadful 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! Besides, 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 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 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 encounter, 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, touching his cap, and went back to the train, which went away shrieking for a nearby 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, 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, strained 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 quite 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 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 absorbed interest in the reins, she gave a queer little yelp. She was all ready with the explanation, her conversations 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 worth 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 furiously 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 noticed ... 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 shallow 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 wagonbox—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 KNEW 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 at all. 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 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 Elizabeth Ann so industriously that she had never found out a single thing for herself before. This was a very small discovery, but an original one. 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 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 attentively 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 arithmetic.
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 very tired of waiting, and remembered how the grocer's boy at home had started his horse. Then, summoning all her courage, with an apprehensive 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 his 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 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 Elizabeth 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 recollection 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.
If Aunt Abigail guessed from the expression on Elizabeth Ann's face what kind of talking Aunt Harriet'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 newcomer. Elizabeth Ann sat on the wooden chair, her feet hanging (she had been taught that it was not 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, evidently; 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 Frances, 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 blinking its eyes. "There, Betsy!" said Aunt Abigail, putting 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."
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 tonsilitis 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 suddenly 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, speculative 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 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 a moment later her face was immovably grave as 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 surprised, 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 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 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, nobody 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 sat 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 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 their 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 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 Elizabeth 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 rattlings. Here there was not a single sound except the soft, whispery noise when Aunt Abigail turned over a page as she read steadily and silently forward in her book. 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 which were fixed on the page. And 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 inside 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 conversational 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 different 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 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.
A SHORT MORNING
Aunt Abigail was gone, Eleanor was gone. The room was quite empty except for the bright sunshine pouring 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.
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 somebody 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 waiting for 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 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 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 MILK 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 very fond of milk, and she made a very good breakfast 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 a golden flood of 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 of clean reddish brown, the sturdy, stocky plants of bright green with clear red-and-white flowers. Elizabeth 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 queer 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 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. Something 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 Step, 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 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." Elizabeth 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," 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 an 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 were very hard when you first pick them in the autumn. She had to figure it out for herself very 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 humor in all her life. She felt a momentary impulse to call 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 very sure that she liked Cousin Ann, and she was very sure that she was afraid of her.
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 old pictures at the top; there wasn't a brass bed in any of the bedrooms, just 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 relieved at the absence of a piano and secretly rejoiced that she would not need to practice. 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 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, during 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 dawn 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. We always bought ours."
"Well, FOR GOODNESS' SAKES!" said Aunt Abigail. She turned and called across the room, "Henry, did you ever! Here's Betsy saying she don'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 to 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 warrant 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 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 at which she had so often looked with unseeing eyes.
"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 questions. Aunt Abigail turned away and put a stick of wood in the stove. Elizabeth Ann did not feel very 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's 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 absorbed 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'll churn it a little more till it really comes. And you and I will scald the wooden butter things and get everything 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 excitement of pulling out the plug from the bottom of the churn, and dodged back hastily to escape the gush of buttermilk spouting into the pail held by Aunt Abigail. 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 conceived 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 surprised 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 confidently. 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 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, battered 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 I 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, Grandmother was born the year the Declaration of Independence 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 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 teaching little girls how to do things—right in this very room, on this very floor—and the Declaration of Independence 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 Independence at all. It had been like the ounce, living exclusively 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.
BETSY GOES TO SCHOOL
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 bargain." 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 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! You go and lie down this minute!" To Elizabeth Ann's astonishment and immense relief, the great animal turned, drooping his head sadly, walked back across the floor, got upon 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 Elizabeth 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 with extreme haste 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 felt she must live up to her reputation, and had a very 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 padded forward across the room, evidently in such a state of terror about Cousin Ann that Elizabeth Ann felt for him. She had a fellow- feeling about that relative of hers. Also it was impossible to be afraid of so abjectly 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 sympathize 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 asking 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. How he did enjoy it! It did your heart good to see his gusto!
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 conjectures about who would be the next President; and as for old Shep, he made one plunge across the room, his toe-nails clicking rapidly 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 paw stretched out, his head laid on it, 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 telling. 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, I'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 Elizabeth Ann's lap again and she patted it and lifted up one of his big black ears. She had quite 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 stupefied little girl along toward the door Aunt Abigail came after them and put a big sugar-cookie 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 cookie, 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 day of the year always took her to the new teacher 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. And 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 all scientists and philosophers, they think they have gone a long way toward explaining something they don't understand by calling it a long name. The long name is "personality," and what it means nobody knows, but it is perhaps the very most important thing in the world for all that. And 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 is really all we know!
So I can't tell you 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 Abigail's old face, she should feel so comforted and protected 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 "personality," whatever that is! It might be very 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.
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 staring, 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 afternoon, 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 UNDERSTOOD 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?"
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 geraniums 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 very 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 explained, "and they feel very 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.
"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 very 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 all the children, even the littlest ones, opened their mouths wide and sang lustily.