Sarah Orne Jewett.

Betty Leicester online

. (page 7 of 13)
Online LibrarySarah Orne JewettBetty Leicester → online text (page 7 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

another half hour.

" Aunt Mary was so dear this morning ! '


said Betty, as they stood on opposite sides of r
tall sweet-clover top.

" She feels pretty well, then," answered Miss
Leicester, much pleased.

" Yes," said Betty, snipping away industri-
ously ; " she did n't wish to be pitied one bit.
Don't you think we could give her some chlo-
roform, Aunt Bab, and put her on the steamer
and take her to England ? She would get so
excited and have such a good time and be
well forever after."

"I really have thought so," acknowledged
Aunt Barbara, smiling at Betty's audacity.
But your Aunt Mary has suffered many
things, and has lost her motive power. She
cannot rouse herself when she wishes to, now-
adays, but must take life as it comes. I can
see that it was a mistake to yield years ago to
her nervous illness, but I was not so wise then,
and now it is too late. You know, Betty, she
had a great sorrow, and has never been the
same person since."

" So had papa when mamma died," said
Betty gravely, and trying hard to understand ;
" but he cured himself by just living for other
people, and thinking whether they were happy/


" It is the only way, dear," said Aunt Bar-
bara, " but when you are older you will know
better how it has been with my poor sister."

Betty said no more, but she had many
thoughts. Something that had been said
about losing one's motive power had struck
very deep. She had said something herself
about waiting for her train in the station, and
she had a sudden vision of the aimlessness
of it, and of even the train bills and adver-
tisements on the wall. She was eager, as all
girls are, for one single controlling fate or for-
tune to call out all her growing energies, but
she was aware at this moment that she her-
self must choose and provide ; she must learn
to throw herself heartily into her life just as
it was. It was a moment of clear vision to
Betty Leicester, and her cheeks flushed with
bright color. It wasn't the thing one had
to do, but the way one learned to do it, that
distinguished one's life. Perhaps she could be
famous for every-day homely things and have
a real genius for something so simple that
nobody else had thought of it. That night
when Betty said her prayers one new thing
oame into her mind to be asked for, and was


a great help, so that she often remembered it
afterward. " Help me to have a good time
doing e very-day things, and to make my woris

my pleasure."

/ A.



AUNT BARBARA and Betty had finished
their breakfast in the cool breakfast-room, or
little dining-room as it was sometimes called by
the family. This looked out on the short elm-
shaded grass of the side yard, but it was apt
to get too warm later in the day. The dining-
room was much larger, and had most of the
family portraits in it and a ponderous side-
board and side tables, and Betty sometimes
thought that a good deal of machinery had to
be set running there to give a quiet dinner or
supper just to Aunt Barbara and herself. But
the little dining-room was very cosy, with a
small sideboard and a tall clock and an old
lookino'-p-lass and very old-fashioned slender

O O .'

wooden armchairs. The sun came dancing
in through the leaves at a square window.
The breakfast-room was nearer the kitchen,
and Serena had a sociable custom of appear-


ing now and then to ask Miss Leicester about
the housekeeping.

" There now, Miss Barb'ra," she exclaimed^
putting her head in at the door, while Betty
and her aunt still lingered. " You excuse me
this time, but here 's Jonathan considers it
best to go off up-country looking for winter's
wood, of all things ! I told him I 'd like to
ride up long of him to see sister Sarah when
he went, but I never expected he 'd select the
very day I set two weeks ago for us to pick the

" But one day will make very little differ-
ence ; I thought yesterday when you spoke
of them that they needed a little more sun,"
said Miss Leicester persuasively.

" 'T will bring the jelly right into the last o'
the week when there 's enough to do any
way." One would have thought that Serena
was being forced into unpleasant duty, but
this was her way of beginning a day's pleasure,
and Miss Leicester had been familiar with it
for many years.

" He 's goin' right off ; puttin' the hosses
in now ; never gives nobody a moment to
consider," grumbled Serena, but Miss Leices-


ter laughed and bade the good soul hurry
and get herself ready. There was nothing to
be done that day that Letty could not man-
age, or Letty's sister would come over in the
afternoon, or Mrs. Grimshaw, the extra helper
who was frequently on hand. " I think Jona-
than is wise not to give you any more time to
think about it. There 's 110 use in scouring
the whole house outside and in before you take
a day's pleasure," she suggested cheerfully.

" I like to have my mind at rest," responded
Serena, but still there was something unsaid.
Betty's eyes were eager, but she considerately
waited for Serena to speak first. " You see,
Miss Barb'ra, Jonathan 's got to take up the
rag-bags, 't is most a year since I got 'em up
to sister Sarah's before, and they 're in the
way here, we all know, and I 've got some
bundles beside, and I told Seth Pond to run
out an' pick a mess o' snap beans. Sister
Sarah's piece is very late land and I s'pose she
won't have any ; and Jonathan he knows when
I start I fill up more than the little wagon ;
so he 's got the big one, and that makes empty
seats, an' Miss Betty was saying that when I
was goin' up again"


" You are base conspirators, both of you,'*
said Aunt Barbara, much amused. " It is
a delightful day ; the weather could n't be
better. Now hurry, Betty, and don't keep
Serena waiting."

" If it 's so that you really want to go, Miss

" I do, indeed, Miss Serena," responded Betty
with great spirit, and off she ran up-stairs,
while her aunt hurried to find something to
send by way of remembrance, not only to
Serena's sister Sarah, but to Seth's mother,
who lived two miles this side.

There was great excitement for the next
half hour. Everybody behaved as if there
were danger of missing a train, and Seth and
Letty were sent this way and that, and Serena
gave as many last charges as if she meant to
be absent a fortnight, while Jonathan, already
in the wagon, grumbled at the delay and
shouted to the horses if they so much as lifted
a foot at a fly. When they had fairly started
he gave a chuckle of satisfaction and said that
he did n't expect when he was harnessing to
get off until much as an hour later, whereat
Serena with unwonted levity called him a " de-


ceivin' old sarpent." The wind was blowing
gently from the north, and was cool enough
to make one comfortable in a jacket, though
Betty could not be persuaded that hers was
needed. Serena's shawl was pinned neatly
about her shoulders. She sat alone on the
back seat of the wagon, for Jonathan had said
that it would ride better not to be too heavy
behind and therefore Betty was keeping him
company in front, of which scheme Serena had
her own secret opinion. The piece-bags took
up a large part of the spare seat. Sister Sarah
was lame and took great joy in working the
waste material of the Leicester house into rugs
and rag carpets, and it was one of Serena's joys
to fill the round piece-bags even to bursting.

Then there were the beans, and the bundles
large and small, and Betty was in charge of
a package of newspapers and magazines and
patent medicine almanacs and interesting cir-
culars of all sorts which Seth had been saving
for his mother.

Jonathan was a tall, thin man, with a shrewd
clean-shaven face. He wore a new straw hat
that day, with a faded linen coat, and a much
washed-out plaid gingham cravat under his


shirt collar. The best hat was worn on Bet-
ty's account, and was evidently a little stiff
and uncomfortable, for he took it off once or
twice and looked into the crown soberly and
then put it on again.

" Sorry you wore it, I s'pose ? ' observed
Serena on one of these occasions.

" Got to wear it some time," answered
Jonathan gruffly, so that nobody thought best
to speak of the hat again even when a sudden
puff of wind blew it over into a field. Betty
had been ready to put on one of her old
play-gowns, as she still called them, but upon
reflection decided that it would be hardly re-
spectful when she had been invited to go visit-
ing with such kind and proper friends, and
indeed Serena had given her a hasty and com-
placent glance from head to foot when she
came down dressed in one of the prettiest of
the London ginghams. Mrs. Duncan, Betty's
kind friend and adviser, had been sure that
these ginghams would all four be needed to
clothe our heroine comfortably through the
Bummer, that is to judge from experience in
other summers ; but it made a difference in the
Stress put upon ginghams, to be a year older.


The up-country road wound first among
farms and within sight of the river, then it
took a sudden northward turn and there were
not so many white elder flowers by the way as
there were junipers and young birches. There
were long reaches through the cool woods, and
the road was always rising to a higher part of
the country, veritable up-country, among the
hills. From one high point where they stopped
to let the horses rest a minute there was a
beautiful view of the low lands that lay to-
ward the sea, and the river which ran south-
ward in shining lines. It would be hard to
say who most enjoyed the morning. The elder
members of the party seldom felt themselves
free for a holiday, and Betty was always ready
to enjoy whatever came in her way ; but there
was a delicious novelty in being asked to
spend a day with Serena and Jonathan. They
were hostess and host, and Betty felt an un-
usual spirit of deference and gratitude toward
them ; it seemed as if they were both quite
conscious of a different relationship toward
Betty from that at home. It was wonderful
to see what cordial greetings most of the peo-
gave them along the road, and how many


warm friends they seemed to possess. The
farther they went, the more struck by this was
our Betty, who gave a little sigh at some un-
worded thought about always being a new-
comer and stranger. She had begun to feel so
recognized and at home in Tideshead that it
was a little hard now to find herself unknown

But Serena liked to tell her who every one
was, and there was as much friendly interest
shown in Miss Betty Leicester as any heart
could wish.

They had gone almost fourteen miles, and
Betty was just nearihg the end of a long de-
scription of her experiences at the Queen's
Jubilee, when Jonathan said : " Now you can
rec'lect just where you put the mark in. I
don't calc'late to lose none of it, but here
we 've got to stop top of the hill an' see Seth's
folks. You 've got them papers an' things
handy, ain't you, Serena ? '

Betty saw a yellow story-and-a-half house
by the roadside with some queer little sheds
and outbuildings, and looked with great in-
terest to see if any one came to the window.
44 Seth's folks " meant nobody but his mother,


who lived alone as Betty knew, and there she
was standing in the door, a kind-faced, round-
shouldered little creature, who had the patient,
half - apprehensive look of those women who
live alone in lonely places. She threw her big
clean gingham apron over her head and came
forward just as Jonathan had got out of the
wagon and Betty followed him.

" There, bless ye ! " said " Seth's folks."
" I waked up this morning kind of expecting
that I should see somebody from down Seth's
way. I expect he 's well 's common ? '

" Oh, yes," responded Jonathan. " We had
to leave him to keep house. He was full o'
messages, but I can't seem to remember none

on 'em now."

" No matter, so long I know 's he 's well,"
said the little woman, shaking hands with
Betty and looking at her delightedly. " Now
I want you all to come in and stop to dinner,"
but Serena could not even be persuaded to
" 'light down " on account of her duty to sister
Sarah. Betty carried in the armful of read-
ing matter and Mrs. Pond followed her, and
while our friend looked at the plain little
house and fancied Seth practicing his tunes,


and saw the beautiful cone frame which he
had helped his mother to make, the hospitable
little mother was getting some home-made
root-beer out of a big stone jug, and soon served
it to her three guests in pretty old-fashioned
blue and white mugs. Betty thought she had
never tasted anything so delicious as the flavor
of spice and pleasing bitterness in the cold
drink, and Jonathan smacked his lips loudly
and promised to call for more as he came
back. Mrs. Pond took another good long
look at Betty before they parted. " I was n't
expectin' you to be so much of a young lady,
I do' know 's you be quite growed up yet,
though," she said. This was not the least of
the pleasures of that day, and they went 011
next to sister Sarah's, where Betty and Serena
and the freight were to be left while Jonathan
went off about his business.

It almost seemed as if up-country existed
for the sake of its market town of Tideshead.
Betty had been there once or twice in her child-
hood, but her memories even of sister Sarah
were rather indistinct. She had taken a long
nap once on the patchwork quilt in the bed-
room, and had waked to find four or five


women hooking a large rug in the kitchen, all
talking together, which had made an impres-
sion upon her young mind. It was strawberry-
time too on that last visit. But sister Sarah
remembered a great deal more about it than
this, and was delighted to see Betty once more.
There was the very rug on the floor, already
beginning to look worn. One could remem-
ber it by a white, or rather a gray, rabbit
under some large green leaves which made
part of the design. It was impossible to say
how many rugs there were in the house, as
if life went on for the sole purpose of mak-
ing hooked and braided rugs. Those in the
kitchen at Aunt Barbara's were evidently the
work of sister Sarah's industrious fingers.
Serena might have left the place of her birth
the week before instead of nearly forty years,
if one might judge by the manner in which she
hung her bonnet and shawl on a nail behind
the door and put her gray thread gloves into
the table drawer.

Sister Sarah looked like a neat little nun,
und limped painfully as she went about the
eoom. Sometimes she used a crutch, but she
seemed as lame with it as without it, and she


was such a brisk little creature in spirit, and
was so little depressed by her misfortune that
one felt it would be unwelcome to express any
pity. Betty knew that sometimes the poor
woman suffered a great deal of pain and could
not move at all, and that a neighbor who also
lived alone came at those times and stayed
with her for a few weeks. " Sister Sarah
ain't one mite lame in her mind," Serena said
proudly one day, and Betty found this to be
the truth. She did not like to read, however,
and told Betty that it was never anything but
a task, except to study geography, and she only
had one old geography, fairly worn to pieces,
which she knew by heart, with all its lists of
towns and countries and rivers, the productions
and boundaries and capitals and climatic con-
ditions and wild animals were at her tongue's
end for anybody who cared to hear them.
" The old folks used to think she 'd better ex-
ercise her memory learning hymns, and Sister
Sarah favored geography," Serena once ex-
plained ; " but she knows what other folks
knows, and has got a head crammed full o'
learning. She never forgets nothing, whilst
I leak by the way, myself, and do' know


whether I know anything or not," she ended

Serena's mind was full of plans that day,
and after resting a little while and hearing- the

o o

news, she asked Betty whether she would go
with her to a cousin's about a mile away by a
pasture path, or whether she would stay where
she was. The path sounded very pleasant, but
from the tone of the invitation it seemed best
to remain behind, so she quickly decided and
Serena set forth alone. It was only about
eleven o'clock and she meant to be back by
twelve, and dinner was put off half an hour.
Then Serena would have the afternoon clear
until it was time to go. The cousin had seen
trouble since the last visit, so it never would do
to go home without seeing her. Sister Sarah
and Betty sat by the front windows of the liv-
ing-room, and Betty obeyed a parting charge
to tell her companion "about seeing the Queen
and the times when she used to go and see the
Prince o' Wales' s girls," so that the last of the
morning was soon gone.

44 Such folks has their aches an' pains just
like us," commented sister Sarah at last. " I
expected, though, they was more pompous-be-


haved than you seem to describe. Well, thej
have to think o' their example, and so does
others, for that matter. I wonder 'f 'mongst all
they 've learned to do, anybody ever showed
'em how to braid or hook 'em a nice mat.
s'pose not, but with all their hired help an' all
their rags that must come of a year's wear.
't would be a shame for them to buy."

" I never saw any rugs just like these," said
Betty, turning quickly to look out of the win-
dow. " I don't believe people make them ex-
cept in America. But the princesses know how
to do a good many things." It was very funny
to Betty to think of their hooking rugs for
themselves, however, but Serena's sister did not
appear to suspect it.

w Land, won't I have a good time picking
over those big full bags ! " said she, looking at
Aunt Barbara's rag-bags with delight, and for-
getting the employments of royalty. " Your
aunt 's real generous, she is so ! I sort out
everything into heaps on the spare floor and if
I have too much white I just reach for the dye'
pot. I do enjoy myself over them piece-bags."

" I don't know what would become of Aunt
Barbara and Aunt Mary without Serena," said


Betty, " but I don't see how you can spare her
all the time."

" She would n't be spared by them," said sis
ter Sarah, putting her head on one side like
a bird. " When I was first left alone after
marm's decease, folks thought she 'd ou:ht to


come back, but I says No. She would n't be
contented now same 's she was before she went,
and I should get wuss and wuss if I was waited
on stiddy. 4 No ! ' says I to every one, ' let me
be and let her be. She 's free to come, and
she 's puttin' by her good earnin's. I wept all
night when she first went off to Tideshead, sev-
enteen year old, to be maid to Madam Leices-
ter, but I knew from that day she was set to go
her way same 's I was mine. But she 's be'n
a good sister to me ; we never passed an hour
unfriendly, and 't ain't all can say the same."

" No, indeed," said Betty cheerfully.

" Queen Victori' knows what it is to be
alone," continued the little sister. " I always
read how she was a real mourner. Now I
seem to enter into her feelin's, bein' left by
myself, though not a widow-woman."

Betty thought of the contrast between the
Queen's life, with its formality and crowded


households, and its retinues and solemn pa-
geantry and this empty little New England
farm-house on a long hillside that sloped east-
ward. It was so funny to hear the Queen dis-
cussed and to find her a familiar personage,
just as one might in old England, where one
was always hearing about " our dear Queen."
But to sister Sarah the Queen was only another
woman who lived alone, and had many respon-

" I expect you 're a regular little Britisher
by this time, ain't you, Miss Betty?'

" Indeed, I 'm not," answered our friend
with spirit. " Papa would be ashamed of me.
I 'm a great American. What made you think
so ? ' Sister Sarah looked pleased, but did
not have anything more to offer on the sub-
ject. " We 're all English to start with, but
with the glory of America added on," said
Betty with girlish enthusiasm. " You can't
take away our English inheritance. I used to
be always insisting upon that with the girls,
that Shakespeare and King Arthur were just
as much ours as theirs."

" I expect you know a sight & things I
never dreamt of," said sister Sarah, " but to


me what takes place in this neighborhood is
just as interesting as foreign parts. Folks is
folks, I tell 'em. There ain't but a few kinds,
neither, but they 're put into all sorts of places,
.ain't they ? "

Betty found that her hostess had a great
many entertaining things to say, but presently
there was a fear expressed lest Serena might
be beguiled into staying too long at the cous-
in's, and so delay the dinner.

" Let me begin ; oh please let me," said
Betty, springing up. She had a sudden de-
lighted instinct that it would be charming to
wait upon Serena to-day and sister Sarah, and
take her turn at making them comfortable. As
quick as thought she turned up her skirt and
pinned it behind her and said, "What next,
if you please, ma'm," in a funny little tone
copied from that of a precise London damsel
in Mrs. Duncan's employ, who always amused
the family very much.

Sister Sarah was fond of a joke, and to tell
the truth this was one of her aching days and
she had been dreading to take so many steps.
She saw how pleased Betty was with her kind
little plan.


" To lay the table and step lively," she an'
swered, shaking with laughter. And Betty fol-
lowed, her directions until the square dinner-
table stood in the middle of the floor, covered
with a nice homespun linen cloth of which the
history had to be told ; and the old blue crock-
ery ; and Betty had cut just so many slices of
bread, and brought just so many spiced pears
from the brown jar in the cellar- way, and
found the nice little square piece of cold
corned beef which the hostess was so glad
to have on hand, and had looked at the po-
tatoes two or three times where they were
baking in the stove oven in the shed-room
where sister Sarah did her summer cooking ;
all these and other things were done when Se-
rena, out of breath, and heated with hurrying,
came in at the door.

" I 'm going to finish since I have begun,"
said Betty proudly. " Now please use this fan,
Serena, and rest yourself, and I shall be ready
in a few minutes. I 'm having a beautiful
good time. Which pitcher shall I take for the
fresh water? " and out she went to the cool old
well under the apple-tree.

"Now was there ever such a darlin'


said sister Sarah, and Serena nodded her head 1 .,
" I dare say she does like to take holt. Mis3
Barb'ra never was one that shirked at noth-
ing" she had time to reply before Betty came
back and filled the tumblers and called the
sisters to their dinner.

" Sarah/' said Serena decisively, as she saw
how hard it was for sister Sarah to move,
" you 've got to get Ann Sparks, ain't ye ? '

And the lame woman answered Yes.

" I hate to give up, as you know, but one of
my poor times is coming on," she said sadly.

The dinner was a great pleasure ; Betty
would do all the waiting, and there was an un-
expected dessert of a jelly cake which Serena
had brought with her, being mindful of her sis-
ter's fondness for it. Betty was touched with
the sisters' delight in being together, for in
spite of what Miss Sarah had said about their
being contented apart, she knew that the fam-
ily had seen trouble in earlier times, and that
Serena's wages had been the main dependence
while sister Sarah could not be happy an]
where but in her own home.

There never were such delicious baked po-
tatoes, and Betty humbly waited until she was


perfectly sure neither of the sisters wanted the
last one before she eagerly took it. It was
delightful to be so hungry, as hungry as one
could be on shipboard ! And when the gay
little dinner was over Betty made the hostess
still play guest, and put on her apron again
and carried the plates to the shed kitchen, and
found the dish pan and the soap, and in spite
of what anybody could say she washed them
every one and only let Serena wipe them and

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibrarySarah Orne JewettBetty Leicester → online text (page 7 of 13)