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seldom, but she was the brightest and mer-
riest of all the girls when she grew a little
excited, and lost the frightened look that had
made lines on her forehead much too soon.
Harry was not seen very often, but Betty
wondered a great deal about him, and fan-
cied him hunting and fishing in all sorts of


dangerous places. The Picknell girls came
into the village on Sundays always, and often
once or twice in the week ; but it was haying
time now, and they were very busy at the
farm. Betty liked them dearly, and so did
Mary Beck, who did not get on with the min-
ister's daughters at all, and had a prejudice,
as we know, against Nelly Foster. These
made the little company which seemed most
closely allied, especially after the Sin Book
Club became a thing of the part as an active
society. Betty had proposed th^ out-of-door
club, and had started a tennis-corvt, and de-
voted much time to it ; but nobody knew how
to play very well yet, except Harrv Foster
and Julia Picknell, and they were the most
difficult ones to catch for an idle afternoon.
George Max could play, and one or two others
could stumble threugh a game and like it
pretty well ; but as for Mary Beck, her shoes
were too small for much agility, and she liked
to wear her clothes so tight that she was very
clumsy with a racket. Betty's light little
gowns looked prim and plain to the Tideshead
girls, who thought their colors very strange, to
begin with, and had not the sense to be envious


when their wearer went by, as light-footed and
graceful as they were awkward. They could
not understand the simplicity that was natural
fco Betty, but everybody liked her, and felt as
much interested as if she were an altogether
new variety of human being. Perhaps we
shall understand the situation better if we
read a letter which our heroine wrote just
then :

MY DEAR PAPA, This is from your Betty,
who intended to take a long walk with Mary
Beck this afternoon, but is now prevented by
a thunder-shower. It makes me wonder what
you do when you get wet, and who sees that
you take off your wet clothes and tries not to
let you have a cold. Is n't it almost time for
you to come home now, papa? I do miss
taking care of you so very much. You will
be tired hearing about Mary Beck, and you
can't stop it, can you ? as if you laughed and
then talked about something else when we
were walking together. You must remember
that you said we must be always fighting an
enemy in ourselves, and my enemy just now
is making little funs of Mary, and seeing that


she does n't know so much as she thinks she
does. I like too well to show her that she is
mistaken when she tells about things ; but it
makes me sorry afterward, because, in spite
of myself, I like her better than I do anybody.
I truly love her, papa ; indeed, I do, but I
like to tease her better than to help her, when
she puts on airs about the very places where
I have been and things I have done. Aunt
Barbara speaks of her manners, ard wishes I
would " play with " Nelly Foster and the min-
ister's girls : but Nelly is like anybody grown
up, I suppose it is because she has seen
trouble, as people say here ; and the minister's
girls are little Afraid cats. That is what
Serena says, and is sure to make you laugh.
"Try and make 'em hop 'round," Serena told
me at the party, and I did try ; but they are n't
good hoppers, and that 's all there is to say.
I sent down to Blverport and bought Seth a
book of violin airs, and he practiced until two

o'clock one morning, so that Serena and
than were saying dreadful things. Aunt Mary
is about the same, and so is Aunt Barbara, and
they send their love. Papa, you must never
tell, but I hate the one and love the other.


Mary Beck is n't half so bad as I am to say
that, but now it is a black mark and must
stay. There is one awful piece of news. The
Fosters' father has broken out of jail and
escaped, and they are offering a great reward,
and it is in all the papers. I ought to go to
see Nelly, but I dread it. I am writing this
last page another day, for yesterday the sun
came out after the shower and I went out with
Aunt Barbara. She is letting Mrs. Foster do
some sewing for me. She says that my clothes
were in ruins ; she did indeed, and that they
had been badly washed. I hope that yours
are not the same. Mrs. Foster looked ter-
ribly frightened and pale, and asked Aunt B.
to come into the other room, and told her
about Mr. Foster. Then it was in the paper
last night. Papa, dear, I do remember what
you said in one of your letters about being a
Tideshead girl myself for this summer, and
not standing off and finding fault. I feel
more like a Tideshead girl lately, but I wish
they would n't keep saying how slow it is and
nothing going on. We might do so many
nice things, but they make such great fusses
first, instead of just going and doing them, the


way you and I do. They think of every reason
why you cant do things that you can do.
The currants are all gone. You can't have a
currant pie this year. I thought those by the
fence, under the cherry-tree, might last until
you came, because it is shady, but they all
spoiled in the rain. Now I am going to read
in " Walton's Lives " to Aunt Mary. She says
it is a book everybody ought to know, and that
I run wild more than I ought at my age. I
like to read aloud, as you know, so good-by,
but my age is such a trouble. If you were
here, we would have the best good time.
Your own child, BETTY.



THAT afternoon Betty's lively young voice
grew droning and dull after a while, as she
read the life of Dr. Donne, and at last she
stopped altogether.

" Aunt Mary, I can't help thinking about
the Fosters' father. Do you suppose he will
come home and frighten them some night ? '

" No, he would hardly dare to come where
they are sure to be looking for him," said
Aunt Mary. " Dear me, the thought makes

me so nervous."

" When I have read to the end of this page
I will just run down to see Nelly a few min-
utes, if you can spare me. I keep dreading to
see her until I am almost afraid to go."

Miss Mary sighed and said yes. Somehow
she didn't get hold of Betty's love, only her

Betty lingered ij the garden and picked


some mignonette before she started, and a
bright carnation or two from Aunt Barbara's
special plants. The Fosters' house was farther
down the street 011 the same side, and Nelly's
blinds were shut, but if Betty had only known
it, poor Nelly was looking out wistfully through
them, and wishing with all her heart that her
young neighbor would come in. She dreaded
the meeting, too, but there was such a simple,
frank friendliness about Betty Leicester that it
did not hurt as if one of the other girls had

There came the sound of the gate-latch, and
Nelly went eagerly down. " Come up to my
room ; I was sitting there sewing," she said,
blushing very red, and Betty felt her own
cheeks burn. How dreadful it must be not to
have such a comforting dear father as hers !
She put her arms round Nelly's neck and
kissed her, and Nelly could hardly keep from
crying ; but up-stairs they went to the bed-
room, where Betty had never happened to go
before. She felt suddenly, as she never had
before, how pinched and poor the Fosters must
be. Nelly was determined to be brave and
cheerful, and took up her sewing again. It


happened to be a little waist of Bett}^'s owru
Betty tried to talk gayly about being very tired
of reading " Walton 's Lives." She had come
to a dull place in Dr. Donne's memoirs, though
she thought them delightful at first. She
was just reading " The Village on the Cliff,"
on her own account, with perfect delight.

" Harry reads 4 Walton's Angler,' said
Nelly. " That 's the same man, is n't he ? It
is a stupid-looking old brown book that be-
longed to my grandfather."

" Papa reads it, too," said Betty, nodding
her head wisely. " I am in such a hurry to
have him come, when I think of Harry. I
am sure that he will help him to be a natu-
ralist or something like that. Mr. Buckland
would have just loved Harry. I knew him
when I was a little bit of a thing. Papa used
to take me to see him in London, and all his
dreadful beasts and snakes used to frighten
me, but I do so like to remember him now.
Harry makes me think of Robinson Crusoe
and Mayne Reid's books, and those story-book
boys who used to do such wild things fishing
and hunting."

"We used to think that Harry never would


get on because he spent so much time in the
woods, but somehow he always learned his
lessons too," said Nelly proudly ; " and now
Jbis fishing brings in so much money that I
don't know how we shall live when winter
comes. We are so anxious about winter. Oh,
Betty, it is easy to tell you, but I can't bear to
have other people even look at me ; " and she
burst into tears and hid her face in her hands.
" Let us go out-doors, just down through
the garden and across into the woods a little
while," pleaded Betty. " Do, Nelly, dear ! "
and presently they were on their way. The
fresh summer air and the sunshine were much
better than the close-shaded room, where Nelly
was startled by every sound about the house,
and they soon lost their first feeling of con-
straint as they sat under a pine-tree whip-
ping two of Miss Barbara Leicester's new tea-
napkins. Betty had many things to say about
her English life and her friends. Mary Beck
never cared to hear much about England, and


it was always delightful to have an interested
listener. At last the sewing was finished, and
Nelly proposed that they should go a little
farther, and come out on the river bank.


Harry would be coming up about this time with
his fare of fish, if he had had good luck. It
would be fun to shout to him as he went by.

They pushed on together through the open
pasture, where the sweet -fern and bayberr^
bushes grew tall and thick ; there was another
strip of woods between them and the river,
and just this side was a deserted house, which
had not been lived in for many years and was
gray and crumbling. The fields that belonged
to it had been made part of a great sheep pas-
ture, and two or three sheep were standing by
the half-opened door, as if they were quite at
home there in windy or wet weather. Betty
had seen the old house before, and thought it
was most picturesque. She now proposed that
they should have a picnic party by and by,
and make a fire in the old fireplace ; but Nelly
Foster thought there would be great danger of
burning the house down.

" Suppose we go and look in ? ' pleaded
Betty. " Mary Beck and I saw it not long
after I came, but she thought it was going to
rain, so that we did n't stop. I like to go
into an empty old ruin, and make up stories
about it, and wonder who used to live there.


Don't stop to pick these blackberries ; you
know they are n't half ripe," she teased Nelly ;
and so they went over to the old house, fright-
ening away the sheep as the} T crossed the door-
step boldly. It was all in ruins ; the roof was
broken about the chimney, so that the sun
shone through upon the floor, and the light-
red bricks were softened and sifting down.
In one corner there was a heap of withes foi
mending fences, which had been pulled about
by the sheep, and there were some mud nests
of swallows high against the walls, but the
birds seemed to have already left them. This
room had been the kitchen, and behind it was
a dark, small place which must have been a
bedroom when people lived there, dismal as it
looked now.

" I am going to look in here and all about
the place," said Betty cheerfully, and stepr> r i
in to see what she could find.

" Oh, go back, Nelly ! ' she screamed, in a
great fright, the next moment ; and they fled
out of the house into the warm sunshine.
They had had time to see that a man was lying
on the floor as if he were dead. Betty's heart
was beating so that she could hardly speak.


"We must get somebody to come," she
panted, trying to stop Nelly. " Was it some-
body dead?" .

But Nelly sank down as pale as ashes into
the sweet -fern bushes, and looked at her
strangely. " Oh, Betty Leicester, it will kill
mother, it will kill her ! I believe it was m^
father ; what shall I do ? '

" Your father," faltered Betty, " your fa*
ther ? We must go and tell." Then she re
membered that he was a hunted man, a fugi
tive from justice.

They looked fearfully at the house ; the
sheep had come back and stood again near the
loorway. There was something more horri-
ble than the two girls had ever known in the
ulence of the place. It would have been less
r.wful if there had been a face at the broken
door or windows.

" Henry we must try to stop Henry,"
said poor pale Nelly, and they hurried toward
the river shore. They could not help looking
anxiously behind them as they passed the belt
of pine ; a terrible fear possessed them as they
ran. " He is afraid that somebody will see him.
I wonder if he will come home to-night."


" He rrittst be ill there," said Betty, but she
did not dare to say anything else. What an
unendurable thing to be afraid and ashamed
of one's own father !

They looked down the river with eager eyes.
Yes, there was Harry Foster's boat coming
up slowly, with the three-cornered sail spread
to catch the light breeze. Nelly gave a long
sigh and sank down on the turf, and covered
her face as she cried bitterly. Betty thought,
with cowardly longing, of the quiet and safety
of Aunt Mary's room, and the brown-covered
volume of " Walton's Lives." Then she sum-
moned all her courage. These two might
never have sorer need of a friend than in this
summer afternoon.

Henry Foster's boat sailed but slowly. It
was heavily laden, and the wind was so light
that from time to time he urged it with the
oars. He did not see the two girls waiting on
the bank until he was close to them, for the
sun was in his eyes and his thoughts were
busy. His father's escape from jail was
worse than any sorrow yet ; nobody knew
^hat might come of it. Harry felt very old
and careworn for a boy of seventeen. He had


determined to go to see Miss Barbara Leices-
ter that evening, and to talk over his troubles
with her. He had been able to save a little
money, and he feared that it might be de-
manded. He had already paid off the smaller
debts that were owed in the village ; but he
knew his father too well not to be afraid of
getting some menacing letters presently. If
his father had only fled the country! But how
could that be done without money? He would
not work his passage ; Harry was certain
enough of that. Would it not be better to
let him have the money and go to the farthest
limit to which it could carry him ?

Something made the young man shade his
eyes with his hand and look toward the shore ;
then he took the oars and pulled quickly in.
That was surely his sister Nelly, and the girl
beside her, who wore a grayish dress with a
white blouse waist, was Betty Leicester. It
was just like kind-hearted little Betty to have
teased poor Nelly out into the woods. He
would carry them home in his boat ; he could
rub it clean with some handfuls of hemlock
twigs or river grass. Then he saw how
strangely they looked, as he pushed the boat


in and pulled it far ashore. What in the
world had happened?

Nelly tried to speak again and again, but
her voice could not make itself heard. " Oh,
don't cry any more, Nelly, dear," said Betty,
trembling from head to foot, and very pale.
" We went into the old house up there by the
pasture, and found Nelly said it was your
father, and we thought he was very ill."

" I '11 take you both home, then," said Harry
Foster, speaking quickly and with a hard
voice. " Get in, both of you, this is the
shortest way, then I '11 come back by my-

" Oh, no, no ! " sobbed Nelly. " He looked
as if he were dying, Harry ; he was lying on
the floor. We will go, too ; he could n't
hurt us, could he ? ' And the three turned
back into the woods. Betty's heart almost
failed her. She felt like a soldier going into
battle. Oh, could she muster bravery enough
to go into that house again ? Yet she loved
her father so much that doing this for another
girl's father was a great comfort, in all her

The young man hurried ahead when they


came near the house, and it was only a
minutes before he reappeared.

" You must go and tell mother to come as
quick as she can, and hurry to find the doctor
and tell him ; he will know what to do. Fa-
ther has been dreadfully hurt somehow. Per-
haps Miss Leicester will let Jonathan come
to help us get him home." Harry Foster's
face looked old and strange ; he never would
teem like a boy any more, Betty thought,
with a heart full of sympathy. She hurried
away with Nelly ; they could not bring help
fast enough.

After the great excitement was over, Betty
felt very tired and unhappy. That night she
could be comforted only by Aunt Barbara's
taking her into her own bed, and being more
affectionate and sympathetic than ever before,
even talking late, like a girl, about the Out-of-
Door Club plans. In spite of this attempt to
return to every -day thoughts, Betty waked
next morning to much annoyance and trouble*
She felt as if the sad affairs of yesterday re-
lated only to the poor Fosters and herself, but
as she went down the street, early, she was


stopped and questioned by eager groups of
people who were trying to find out something
more about the discovery of Mr. Foster in the
old house. It proved that he had leaped from
a high window, hurting himself badly by the
fall, when he made his escape from prison, and
that he had been wandering in the woods for
days. The officers had come at once, and
there was a group of men outside the Fosters'
house. This had a terrible look to Betty.
Everybody said that the doctor believed there
was only a slight chance for Mr. Foster's life,
and that they were not going to try to take
him back to jail. He had been delirious all
night. One or two kindly disposed persons
said that they pitied his poor family more than
ever, but most of the neighbors insisted that
"it served Foster just right." Betty did her
errand as quickly as possible, and hastily
brushed by some curious friends who tried to
detain her. She felt as if it were unkind and
disloyal to speak of her neighbor's trouble
to everybody, and the excitement and public
concern of the little village astonished her
very much. She did not know, until then,
bow the joy or trouble of one home could


affect the town as if it were one household.
Everybody spoke very kindly to her, and most
people called her " Betty," and seemed to
know her very well, whether they had ever
spoken to her before or not. The women
were standing at their front doors or their
gates, to hear whatever could be told, and
our friend looked down the long street and
felt that it was like running the gauntlet to get
home again. Just then she met the doctor,
looking gray and troubled, as if he had been
awake all night, but when he saw Betty his
face brightened.

" Well done, my little lady," he said, in a
cheerful voice, which made her feel steady
again, and then he put his hand on Betty's
shoulder and looked at her very kindly.

" Oh, doctor ! may I walk along with you a
little way?' she faltered. " Everybody asks
me to tell "

"Yes, yes, I know all about it," said the
doctor ; and he turned and took Betty's hand
as if she were a child, and they walked away
together. It was well known in Tideshead
that Dr. Prince did not like to be questioned
about his patients.


" I was wondering whether I ought to go to
see Nelly," said Betty, as they came near the
house. " I have n't seen her since I came
home with her yesterday, I did n't quite
dare to go in as I came by."

" Wait until to-morrow, perhaps," said the
doctor. "The poor man will be gone then,
and you will be a greater comfort. Go over
through the garden. You can climb the
fences, I dare say," and he looked at Betty
with a queer little smile. Perhaps he had
seen her sometimes crossing the fields with
Mary Beck.

" Do you mean that he is going to die to-
day ? " asked Betty, with great awe. " Ought
I to go then ? "

" Love may go where common kindness is
shut out," said Dr. Prince. " You have done
a great deal to make those poor children happy,
this summer. They had been treated in a very
narrow-minded way. It was not like Tides-
head, I must say," he added, " but people are
shy sometimes, and Mrs. Foster herself could
not bear to see the pity in her neighbors' faces.
It will be easier for her now."

" I keep thinking, what if it were my own


papa?' said Betty softly. "He could n't be
so wicked, but he might be ill, and I not there."

" Dear me, no ! ' said the doctor heartily,
and giving Betty's hand a tight grasp and a
little swing to and fro. " I suppose he 's hav-
ing a capital good time up among his glaciers.
I wish that I were with him for a month's
holiday ; " and at this Betty was quite cheerful

Now they stopped at Betty's own gate. "You
must take your Aunt Mary in hand a little,
before you go away. There 's nothing serious
the matter now, only lack of exercise and
thinking too much about herself."

" She did come to my tea-party in the gar-
den," responded Betty, with a faint smile, " and
I think sometimes she almost gets enough
courage to go to walk. She did n't sleep at
all last night, Serena said this morning."

" You see, she does n't need sleep," explained
Dr. Prince, quite professionally. " We are
all made to run about the world and to work.
Your aunt is always making blood and muscle
with such a good appetite, and then she never
uses them, and nature is clever at revenges.
Let her hunt the fields, as you do, and she


would sleep like a top. I call it a disease of
too-wellness, and I only know how to doctor
sick people. Now there 's a lesson for you to
reflect upon," and the busy doctor went hur-
rying back to where he had left his horse
standing, when he first caught sight of Betty's
white and anxious face.

As she entered the house Aunt Barbara was
just coming out. " I am going to see poor
Mrs. Foster, my dear, or to ask for her at the
door," she said, and Serena and Letty and Jon-
athan all came forward to ask whether Betty
knew any later news. Seth Pond had been
loitering up the street most of the morning,
with feelings of great excitement, but he pres-
ently came back with instructions from Aunt
Barbara to weed the long box-borders behind
the house, which he somewhat unwillingly

A few days later the excitement was at an
end, the sad funeral was over, and on Sunday
the Fosters were at church in their appealing
black clothes. Everybody had been as kind
as they knew how to be, but there were no
faces so welcome to the sad family as our little
Betty's and the doctor's.


" It comes of simply following her instinct
to be kind and do right," said the doctor to
Aunt Barbara, next day. " The child does n't
think twice about it, as most of us do. We
Tideshead people are terribly afraid of one
another, and have to go through just so much
before we can take the next step. There 's no
way to get right things done but to simply do
them. But it is n't so much what your Betty
does as what she is."

" She has grown into my old heart," said
Aunt Barbara. " I cannot bear to think of
her going away and taking the sunshine with
ner I an d yet she has her faults, of course,"
added the sensible old lady.

" Oh, by the way ! ' said Dr. Prince, turn-
ing back. " My wife told me to ask you to
come over to tea to-night and bring the little
girl ; I nearly forgot to give the message."

" I shall be very happy to come," answered
Miss Leicester, and the doctor nodded and
went his busy way. Betty was very fond of
going to drive with him, and he looked about
the neighborhood as he drove along, hoping to
catch sight of her ; but Betty was at that mo-
ment deeply engaged in helping Letty shell


some peas for dinner, at the other side of the

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Online LibrarySarah Orne JewettBetty Leicester → online text (page 9 of 13)