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- Understood Betsy - 5/25 -
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 ... .
[Illustration: "Do you know," said Aunt Abigail, "I think it's going to be real nice, having a little girl in the house again."]
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.
[Illustration: She had greatly enjoyed doing her own hair.]
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
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