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- Understood Betsy - 10/25 -
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. Nobody 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 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 shoulder, and just 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 shrill laughter rising even above the shouts of merriment of the others. She laughed so she could hardly get up on her feet again, it was such an unexpected ending to the con test.
The big farmer was laughing too. "You ain't so smart as you THINK 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, NOW!" He turned to the little girls near him. "They 'most got away from him THAT time!" he said. "He's awful foolish about leaving 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 without 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 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--oh, 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 very small voice, "Do you like dolls with yellow hair the best?"
Now it happened that Elizabeth Ann had very positive 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 that old, bright-yellow hair! I like them to have brown hair, just the way most little girls really 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 her have her down all the time. I'll bring mine over next Saturday, if you want me to. Mine's got yellow hair, but she's real pretty anyhow. If Father's going to mill that day, he can leave me there for the morning."
[Illustration with caption: Betsy shut her teeth together hard, and started across.]
Elizabeth Ann had not understood more than one word in five of this, but just then 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 going to leave them, because I think I've told enough about their school for ONE while. It was only a poor, rough, little district school anyway, that no Superintendent of Schools would have looked at for a minute, except to sniff.
IF YOU DON'T LIKE CONVERSATION IN A BOOK SKIP THIS CHAPTER!
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. "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?"
"His father carved the H. P. on the lid, so Henry 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, the same astonished sense of the reality of the people who have gone before, which make a first visit to the Roman Forum such 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 meditatively. "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 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!" said Betsy, staring, with 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 something 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! Connecticut was an old settled place then, compared to Vermont. There wasn't anything here but trees and 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, don't it! But of course that was just at first. It got quite settled up before long, and by the time of the Revolution, bears were getting pretty scarce, and soon the wood-pigeons were all gone."
"And the schoolhouse--that schoolhouse where I went today--was that built THEN?" Elizabeth Ann found it hard to believe.
"Yes, it used to have a great big chimney and fireplace in it. It was
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