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"UNDERSTOOD AUNT FRANCES"
 ABOUT a month after Betsy's birthday, one October
day when the leaves were all red and yellow, two
very momentous events occurred, and, in a manner of speaking,
at the very same time. Betsy had noticed that her
kitten Eleanor (she still thought of her as a kitten,
although she was now a big, grown-up cat) spent very
little time around the house. She came into the kitchen
two or three times a day, mewing loudly for milk
and food, but after eating very fast she always disappeared
at once. Betsy missed the purring, contented ball of fur
on her lap in the long evenings as she played
checkers, or read aloud, or sewed, or played guessing games.
She felt rather hurt, too, that Eleanor paid her so
little attention, and several times she tried hard to make
her stay, trailing
 in front of her a
spool tied to a string or rolling a worsted ball
across the floor. But Eleanor seemed to have lost all
her taste for the things she had liked so much.
Invariably, the moment the door was opened, she darted out
One afternoon Betsy ran out after her, determined
to catch her and bring her back. When the cat
found she was being followed, she bounded along in great
leaps, constantly escaping from Betsy's outstretched hand. They came thus
to the horse-barn, into the open door of which Eleanor
whisked like a little gray shadow, Betsy close behind. The
cat flashed up the steep, ladder-like stairs that led to
the hay-loft. Betsy scrambled rapidly up, too. It was dark
up there, compared to the gorgeous-colored October day outside, and
for a moment she could not see Eleanor. Then she
made her out, a dim little shape, picking her way
over the hay, and she heard her talking. Yes, it
was real talk, quite, quite different from the loud, imperious
"miauw!" with which Eleanor asked
 for her
milk. This was the softest, prettiest kind of conversation, all
little murmurs and chirps and sing-songs. Why, Betsy could almost
understand it! She could understand it enough to know that
it was love-talk, and then, breaking into this, came a
sudden series of shrill, little, needle-like cries that fairly filled
the hay-loft. Eleanor gave a bound forward and disappeared. Betsy,
very much excited, scrambled and climbed up over the hay
as fast as she could go.
It was all silent
now—the piercing, funny little squalls had stopped as suddenly as
they began. On the top in a little nest lay
Eleanor, purring so loudly you could hear her all over
the big mow, and so proud and happy she could
hardly contain herself. Her eyes glistened, she arched her back,
rolled over and spread out her paws, disclosing to Betsy's
astounded, delighted eyes—no, she wasn't dreaming—two
dear little kittens, one
all gray, just like its mother; one gray with a
big bib on his chest.
Oh! How dear they were!
 and cuddly, and fuzzy! Betsy put
her fingers very softly on the gray one's head and
thrilled to feel the warmth of the little living creature.
"Oh, Eleanor!" she asked eagerly. "Can I pick one up?"
She lifted the gray one gently and held it up
to her cheek. The little thing nestled down in the
warm hollow of her hand. She could feel its tiny,
tiny little claws pricking softly into her palm. "Oh, you
sweetness! You little, little baby-thing!" she said over and over
in a whisper.
Eleanor did not stop purring, and she
looked up with friendly, trusting eyes as her little mistress
made the acquaintance of her children, but Betsy could feel
somehow that Eleanor was anxious about her kitten, was afraid
that, although the little girl meant everything that was kind,
her great, clumsy, awkward human hands weren't clever enough to
hold a baby-cat the proper way. "I don't blame you
a bit, Eleanor," said Betsy. "I should feel just so
in your place. There! I won't touch it again!" She
laid the kitten down carefully by its mother.
 Eleanor at once began to wash its face very vigorously,
knocking it over and over with her strong tongue. "My!"
said Betsy, laughing. "You'd scratch my eyes out, if I
were as rough as that!"
Eleanor didn't seem to hear.
Or rather she seemed to hear something else. For she
stopped short, her head lifted, her ears pricked up, listening
very hard to some distant sound. Then Betsy heard it,
too, somebody coming into the barn below, little, quick, uneven
footsteps. It must be little Molly, tagging along, as she
always did. What fun to show Molly the kittens!
"Betsy!" called Molly from below.
"Molly!" called Betsy from above. "Come
up here quick! I've got something up here."
a sound of scrambling, rapid feet on the rough stairs,
and Molly's yellow curls appeared, shining in the dusk. "I've
got a . . . " she began, but Betsy
did not let her finish.
"Come here, Molly, quick! quick!" she called,
 beckoning eagerly, as though the
kittens might evaporate into thin air if Molly didn't get
there at once.
Molly forgot what she was going to
say, climbed madly up the steep pile of hay, and
in a moment was lying flat on her stomach beside
the little family in a spasm of delight that satisfied
even Betsy and Eleanor, both of them convinced that these
were the finest kittens the world had ever seen.
"See, there are two," said Betsy. "You can have one for
your very own. And I'll let you choose. Which one
do you like best?"
She was hoping that Molly would
not take the little all-gray one, because she had fallen
in love with that the minute she saw it.
"Oh, this one with the white on his breast," said Molly,
without a moment's hesitation. "It's lots the prettiest! Oh, Betsy!
For my very own?"
Something white fell out of the
folds of her skirt on the hay. "Oh, yes," she
said indifferently. "A letter for you. Miss Ann told me
 to bring it out here. She said she
saw you streaking it for the barn."
It was a
letter from Aunt Frances. Betsy opened it, one eye on
Molly to see that she did not hug her new
darling too tightly, and began to read it in the
ray of dusty sunlight slanting in through a crack in
the side of the barn. She could do this easily,
because Aunt Frances always made her handwriting very large and
round and clear, so that a little girl could read
it without half trying.
And as she read, everything faded
away from before her . . . the barn, Molly,
the kittens . . . she saw nothing but the
words on the page.
When she had read the letter
through she got up quickly, oh ever so quickly! and
went away down the stairs. Molly hardly noticed she had
gone, so absorbing and delightful were the kittens.
Betsy went out of the dusky barn into the rich, October splendor
and saw none of it. She
 went straight
away from the house and the barn, straight up into
the hill-pasture toward her favorite place beside the brook, the
shady pool under the big maple-tree. At first she walked,
but after a while she ran, faster and faster, as
though she could not get there soon enough. Her head
was down, and one arm was crooked over her face. . . .
And do you know, I'm not going
to follow her up there, nor let you go. I'm
afraid we would all cry if we saw what Betsy
did under the big maple-tree. And the very reason she
ran away so fast was so that she could be
all by herself for a very hard hour, and fight
it out, alone.
So let us go back soberly to
the orchard where the Putneys are, and wait till Betsy
comes walking listlessly in, her eyes red and her cheeks
pale. Cousin Ann was up in the top of a
tree, a basket hung over her shoulder half full of
striped red Northern Spies; Uncle Henry was on a ladder
against another tree, filling a bag with the beautiful, shining,
yellow-green Pound Sweets, and Aunt Abigail was moving
 around, picking up the parti-colored windfalls and putting them into
barrels ready to go to the cider-mill.
Something about the
way Betsy walked, and as she drew closer something about
the expression of her face, and oh! as she began
to speak, something about the tone of her voice, stopped
all this cheerful activity as though a bomb had gone
off in their midst.
"I've had a letter from Aunt
Frances," said Betsy, biting her lips, "and she says she's
coming to take me away, back to them, tomorrow."
was a big silence; Cousin Ann stood, perfectly motionless up
in her tree, staring down through the leaves at Betsy.
Uncle Henry was turned around on his ladder, one hand
on an apple as though it had frozen there, staring
down at Betsy. Aunt Abigail leaned with both fat hands
on her barrel, staring hard at Betsy. Betsy was staring
down at her shoes, biting her lips and winking her
eyes. The yellow, hazy October sun sank slowly down toward
the rim of Hemlock Mountain, and sent long, golden
 shafts of light
through the branches of the trees upon this group of
people, all so silent, so motionless.
Betsy was the first
to speak, and I'm very proud of her for what
she said. She said, loyally, "Dear Aunt Frances! She was
always so sweet to me! She always tried so hard
to take care of me!"
For that was what Betsy
had found up by the brook under the big red
maple-tree. She had found there a certainty that, whatever else
she did, she must not hurt Aunt Frances's feelings—dear, gentle,
sweet Aunt Frances, whose feelings were so easily hurt and
who had given her so many years of such anxious
care. Something up there had told her—perhaps the quiet blue
shadow of Windward Mountain creeping slowly over the pasture toward
her, perhaps the silent glory of the great red-and-gold tree,
perhaps the singing murmur of the little brook—perhaps all of
them together had told her that now had come a
time when she must do more than what Cousin Ann
would do—when she
 must do what she herself
knew was right. And that was to protect Aunt Frances
When she spoke, out there in the orchard,
she broke the spell of silence. Cousin Ann climbed hastily
down from her tree, with her basket only partly filled.
Uncle Henry got stiffly off his ladder, and Aunt Abigail
advanced through the grass. And they all said the same
thing—"Let me see that letter."
They read it there, looking
over each other's shoulders, with grave faces. Then, still silently,
they all turned and went back into the house, leaving
their forgotten bags and barrels and baskets out under the
trees. When they found themselves in the kitchen—"Well, it's supper-time,
anyhow," said Cousin Ann hastily, as if ashamed of losing
her composure, "or almost time. We might as well get
"I'm a-going out to milk," said Uncle Henry
gruffly, although it was not nearly his usual time. He
took up the milk pails and marched out toward the
barn, stepping heavily, his head hanging.
 Shep woke
up with a snort and, getting off the couch, gamboled
clumsily up to Betsy, wagging his tail and jumping up
on her, ready for a frolic. That was almost too
much for Betsy! To think that after tomorrow she would
never see Shep again—nor Eleanor! Nor the kittens! She choked
as she bent over Shep and put her arms around
his neck for a great hug. But she mustn't cry,
she mustn't hurt Aunt Frances's feelings, or show that she
wasn't glad to go back to her. That wouldn't be
fair, after all Aunt Frances had done for her!
night she lay awake after she and Molly had gone
to bed and Molly was asleep. They had decided not
to tell Molly until the last minute, so she had
dropped off peacefully, as usual. But poor Betsy's eyes were
wide open. She saw a gleam of light under the
door. It widened; the door opened. Aunt Abigail stood there,
in her night cap, mountainous in her long white gown,
a candle shining up into her serious old face.
awake, Betsy?" she whispered, seeing
 the child's dark
eyes gleaming at her over the covers. "I just—I just
thought I'd look in to see if you were all
right." She came to the edge of the bed and
set the candle down on the little stand. Betsy reached
her arms up longingly and the old woman stooped over
her. Neither of them said a single word during the
long embrace which followed. Then Aunt Abigail straightened up hastily,
took her candle very quickly and softly, and heavily padded
out of the room.
Betsy turned over and flung one
arm over Molly—no Molly, either, after tomorrow!
She gulped hard
and stared up at the ceiling, dimly white in the
starlight. A gleam of light shone under the door. It
widened, and Uncle Henry stood there, a candle in his
hand, peering into the room. "You awake, Betsy?" he said
"Yes. I'm awake, Uncle Henry."
The old man shuffled
into the room. "I just got to thinking," he said,
hesitating, "that maybe you'd like to take my watch with
 It's kind of handy to have a
watch on the train. And I'd like real well for
you to have it."
He laid it down on the
stand, his own cherished gold watch, that had been given
him when he was twenty-one.
Betsy reached out and took
his hard, gnarled old fist in a tight grip. "Oh,
Uncle Henry!" she began, and could not go on.
"We'll miss you, Betsy," he said in an uncertain voice. "It's
been . . . it's been real nice to have you here. . . . "
And then he too
snatched up his candle very quickly and almost ran out
of the room.
Betsy turned over on her back. "No
crying, now!" she told herself fiercely. "No crying, now!" She
clenched her hands together tightly and set her teeth.
Something moved in the room. Somebody leaned over her. It was
Cousin Ann, who didn't make a sound, not one, but
who took Betsy in her strong arms and held her
close and closer, till Betsy could feel the quick pulse
of the other's heart beating all through her own body.
 Then she was gone—as silently as she came.
But somehow that great embrace had taken away all the
burning tightness from Betsy's eyes and heart. She was very,
very tired, and soon after this she fell sound asleep,
snuggled up close to Molly.
In the morning, nobody spoke
of last night at all. Breakfast was prepared and eaten,
and the team hitched up directly afterward. Betsy and Uncle
Henry were to drive to the station together to meet
Aunt Frances's train. Betsy put on her new wine-colored cashmere
that Cousin Ann had made her, with the soft white
collar of delicate old embroidery that Aunt Abigail had given
her out of one of the trunks in the attic.
She and Uncle Henry said very little as they drove
to the village, and even less as they stood waiting
together on the platform. Betsy slipped her hand into his
and he held it tight as the train whistled in
the distance and came slowly and laboriously puffing up to
Just one person got off at the little
 and that was Aunt Frances, looking ever
so dressed up and citified, with a fluffy ostrich-feather boa
and kid gloves and a white veil over her face
and a big blue one floating from her gay-flowered velvet
hat. How pretty she was! And how young—under the veil
which hid so kindly all the little lines in her
sweet, thin face. And how excited and fluttery! Betsy had
forgotten how fluttery Aunt Frances was! She clasped Betsy to
her, and then started back crying—she must see to her
suit-case—and then she clasped Betsy to her again and shook
hands with Uncle Henry, whose grim old face looked about
as cordial and welcoming as the sourest kind of sour
pickle, and she fluttered back and said she must have
left her umbrella on the train. "Oh, Conductor! Conductor! My
umbrella—right in my seat—a blue one with a
crooked-over—oh, here it is in my hand! What am I thinking of!"
The conductor evidently thought he'd better get the train away
as soon as possible, for he now shouted, "All aboard!"
to nobody at all,
 and sprang back on
the steps. The train went off, groaning over the steep
grade, and screaming out its usual echoing warning about the
next road crossing.
Uncle Henry took Aunt Frances's suit-case and
plodded back to the surrey. He got into the front
seat and Aunt Frances and Betsy in the back; and
they started off.
And now I want you to listen
to every single word that was said on the back
seat, for it was a very, very important conversation, when
Betsy's fate hung on the curl of an eyelash and
the flicker of a voice, as fates often do.
Frances hugged Betsy again and again and exclaimed about her
having grown so big and tall and fat—she didn't say
brown too, although you could see that she was thinking
that, as she looked through her veil at Betsy's tanned
face and down at the contrast between her own pretty,
white fingers and Betsy's leather-colored, muscular little hands. She exclaimed
and exclaimed and kept on exclaiming! Betsy
 wondered if she really always had been as fluttery as this.
And then, all of a sudden it came out, the
great news, the reason for the extra flutteriness.
Aunt Frances was going to be married!
Yes! Think of it! Betsy fell back openmouthed with astonishment.
"Did Betsy think her Aunt Frances a silly old thing?"
"Oh, Aunt Frances, no!"
cried Betsy fervently. "You look just as young, and pretty!
Lots younger than I remembered you!"
Aunt Frances flushed with
pleasure and went on, "You'll love your old Aunt Frances
just as much, won't you, when she's Mrs. Plimpton?"
Betsy put her arms around her and gave her a great
hug. "I'll always love you, Aunt Frances!" she said.
"You'll love Mr. Plimpton, too. He's so big and strong, and
he just loves to take care of people. He says
that's why he's marrying me. Don't you wonder where we
are going to live?"
 she asked, answering her
own question quickly. "We're not going to live anywhere. Isn't
that a joke? Mr. Plimpton's business keeps him always moving
around from one place to another, never more than a
"What'll Aunt Harriet do?" asked Betsy wonderingly.
"Why, she's ever and ever so much better," said Aunt Frances
happily. "And her own sister, my Aunt Rachel, has come
back from China, where she's been a missionary for ever
so long, and the two old ladies are going to
keep house together out in California, in the dearest little
bungalow, all roses and honeysuckle. But you're going to be
with me. Won't it be jolly fun, darling, to go
traveling all about everywhere, and see new places all the
Now those are the words Aunt Frances said, but
something in her voice and her face suggested a faint
possibility to Betsy that maybe Aunt Frances didn't really think
it would be such awfully jolly fun as her words
 Her heart gave a big jump up,
and she had to hold tight to the arm of
the surrey before she could ask, in a quiet voice,
"But, Aunt Frances, won't I be awfully in your way,
traveling around so?"
Now, Aunt Frances had ears of her
own, and though that was what Betsy's words said, what
Aunt Frances heard was a suggestion that possibly Betsy wasn't
as crazy to leave Putney Farm as she had supposed
of course she would be.
They both stopped talking for
a moment and peered at each other through the thicket
of words that held them apart. I told you this
was a very momentous conversation. One sure thing is that
the people on the back seat saw the inside of
the surrey as they traveled along, and nothing else. Red
sumac and bronzed beech-trees waved their flags at them in
vain. They kept their eyes fixed on each other intently,
each in an agony of fear lest she hurt the
After a pause Aunt Frances came to herself
 with a start, and said, affectionately putting her
arm around Betsy, "Why, you darling, what does Aunt Frances
care about trouble if her own dear baby-girl is happy?"
And Betsy said, resolutely, "Oh, you know, Aunt Frances, I'd
love to be with you!" She ventured one more step
through the thicket. "But honestly, Aunt Frances, won't it be
a bother . . . ?"
Aunt Frances ventured another
step to meet her, "But dear little girls must be somewhere . . . "
And Betsy almost forgot her
caution and burst out, "But I could stay here!
I know they would keep me!"
Even Aunt Frances's two
veils could not hide the gleam of relief and hope
that came into her pretty, thin, sweet face. She summoned
all her courage and stepped out into the clearing in
the middle of the thicket, asking right out, boldly, "Why,
do you like it here, Betsy? Would you like to stay?"
And Betsy—she never could remember
after-  ward if she had been careful enough not to shout too
loudly and joyfully—Betsy cried out, "Oh, I love it here!"
There they stood, face to face, looking at each
other with honest and very happy eyes.
Aunt Frances threw
her arm around Betsy and asked again, "Are you sure,
dear?" and didn't try to hide her relief. And neither
"I could visit you once in a while,
when you are somewhere near here," suggested Betsy, beaming.
"Oh, yes, I must have some of the time with my
darling!" said Aunt Frances. And this time there was nothing
in their hearts that contradicted their lips.
They clung to
each other in speechless satisfaction as Uncle Henry guided the
surrey up to the marble stepping-stone. Betsy jumped out first,
and while Uncle Henry was helping Aunt Frances out, she
was dashing up the walk like a crazy thing. She
flung open the front door and catapulted into Aunt Abigail
com-  ing out. It was like flinging herself into a feather-bed. . . .
"Oh! Oh!" she gasped out. "Aunt Frances is going to be married.
And travel around all the time! And she doesn't really
want me at all! Can't I stay here? Can't I stay here?"
Cousin Ann was right behind Aunt Abigail, and
she heard this. She looked over their shoulders toward Aunt
Frances, who was approaching from behind, and said, in her
usual calm and collected voice: "How do you do, Frances?
Glad to see you, Frances. How well you're looking! I
hear you are in for congratulations. Who's the happy man?"
Betsy was overcome with admiration for her coolness in being
able to talk so in such an exciting moment. She
knew Aunt Abigail couldn't have done it, for she had
sat down in a rocking-chair, and was holding Betsy on
her lap. The little girl could see her wrinkled old
hand trembling on the arm of the chair.
"I hope that means," continued Cousin Ann,
 going as usual straight to the point, "that we can keep Betsy here
"Oh, would you like to?" asked Aunt Frances,
fluttering, as though the idea had never occurred to her
before that minute. "Would Elizabeth Ann really like to stay?"
"Oh, I'd like to, all right!" said Betsy, looking confidently
up into Aunt Abigail's face.
Aunt Abigail spoke now. She
cleared her throat twice before she could bring out a
word. Then she said, "Why, yes, we'd kind of like
to keep her. We've sort of got used to having
That's what she said, but, as you have
noticed before on this exciting day, what people said didn't
matter as much as what they looked; and as her
old lips pronounced these words so quietly the corners of
Aunt Abigail's mouth were twitching, and she was swallowing hard.
She said, impatiently, to Cousin Ann, "Hand me that handkerchief,
Ann!" And as she blew her nose, she said, "Oh,
what an old fool I am!"
Then, all of a sudden, it was as though a
 great, fresh
breeze had blown through the house. They all drew a
long breath and began to talk loudly and cheerfully about
the weather and Aunt Frances's trip and how Aunt Harriet
was and which room Aunt Frances was to have and
would she leave her wraps down in the hall or
take them upstairs—and, in the midst of this, Betsy, her
heart ready to burst, dashed out of doors, followed by
Shep. She ran madly toward the barn. She did not
know where she was going. She only knew that she
must run and jump and shout, or she would explode.
Shep ran and jumped because Betsy did.
To these two
wild creatures, careering through the air like bright-blown autumn leaves,
appeared little Molly in the barn door.
"Oh, I'm going
to stay! I'm going to stay!" screamed Betsy.
Molly had not had any notion of the contrary, she
only said, "Of course, why not?" and went on to
something really important, saying, in a very much capitalized statement,
"My kitten can walk! It took three steps just now."
 After Aunt Frances got her wraps off, Betsy
took her for a tour of inspection. They went all
over the house first, with special emphasis laid on the
living-room. "Isn't this the loveliest place?" said Betsy, fervently, looking
about her at the white curtains, the bright flowers, the
southern sunshine, the bookcases, and the bright cooking utensils. It
was all full to the brim to her eyes with
happiness, and she forgot entirely that she had thought it
a very poor, common kind of room when she had
first seen it. Nor did she notice that Aunt Frances
showed no enthusiasm over it now.
She stopped for a
few moments to wash some potatoes and put them into
the oven for dinner. Aunt Frances opened her eyes at
this. "I always see to the potatoes and the apples,
the cooking of them, I mean," explained Betsy proudly. "I've
just learned to make apple-pie and brown betty."
into the stone-floored milk-room, where Aunt Abigail was working over
butter, and where Betsy, swelling with pride, showed
 Aunt Frances how deftly and smoothly she could manipulate the
wooden paddle and make rolls of butter that weighed within
an ounce or two of a pound.
"Mercy, child! Think
of your being able to do such things!" said Aunt
Frances, more and more astonished.
They went out of doors
now, Shep bounding by their side. Betsy was amazed to
see that Aunt Frances drew back, quite nervously, whenever the
big dog frisked near her. Out in the barn Betsy
had a disappointment. Aunt Frances just balked absolutely at those
ladder-like stairs—"Oh, I couldn't! I couldn't, dear. Do you
go up there? Is it quite safe?"
"Why, Aunt Abigail
went up there to see the kittens!" cried Betsy, on
the edge of exasperation. But her heart softened at the
sight of Aunt Frances's evident distress of mind at the
very idea of climbing into the loft, and she brought
the kittens down for inspection, Eleanor mewing anxiously at the
top of the stairs.
On the way back to the house they had an
 adventure, a sort of
adventure, and it brought home to Betsy once for all
how much she loved dear, sweet Aunt Frances, and just
what kind of love it was.
As they crossed the
barnyard the calf approached them playfully, leaping stiff-legged into the
air, and making a pretense of butting at them with
its hornless young head.
Betsy and Shep often played with
the calf in this way by the half-hour, and she
thought nothing of it now; hardly noticed it, in fact.
But Aunt Frances gave a loud, piercing shriek, as though
she were being cut into pieces. "Help! Help!" she
screamed. "Betsy! Oh, Betsy!"
She had turned as white
as a sheet and could not take a single step
forward. "It's nothing! It's nothing!" said Betsy, rather impatiently. "He's
just playing. We often play with him, Shep and I."
The calf came a little nearer, with lowered head. "Get
away!" said Betsy indifferently, kicking at him.
 At this hint of masterfulness on Betsy's part, Aunt Frances cried
out, "Oh, yes, Betsy, do make him go away! Do
make him go away!"
It came over Betsy that Aunt
Frances was really frightened, yes, really; and all at once
her impatience disappeared, never to come back again. She felt
toward Aunt Frances just as she did toward little Molly,
and she acted accordingly. She stepped in front of Aunt
Frances, picked up a stick, and hit the calf a
blow on the neck with it. He moved away, startled
and injured, looking at his playfellow with reproachful eyes. But
Betsy was relentless. Aunt Frances must not be frightened!
"Here, Shep! Here, Shep!" she called loudly, and when the big
dog came bounding to her she pointed to the calf
and said sternly, "Take him into the barn! Drive him
into the barn, sir!"
Shep asked nothing better than this
command, and charged forward, barking furiously and leaping into the
air as though he intended to eat the calf up
alive. The two swept across
 the barnyard and
into the lower regions of the barn. In a moment
Shep reappeared, his tongue hanging out, his tail wagging, his
eyes glistening, very proud of himself, and mounted guard at
Aunt Frances hurried along desperately through the gate
of the barnyard. As it fell to behind her she
sank down on a rock, breathless, still pale and agitated.
Betsy threw her arms around her in a transport of
affection. She felt that she understood Aunt Frances as nobody
else could, the dear, sweet, gentle, timid aunt! She took
the thin, nervous white fingers in her strong brown hands.
"Oh, Aunt Frances, dear, darling Aunt Frances!" she cried, "how
I wish I could always take care of you."
The last of the red and gold leaves were slowly drifting
to the ground as Betsy and Uncle Henry drove back
from the station after seeing Aunt Frances off. They were
not silent this time, as when they had gone to
meet her. They were talking cheerfully together,
 laying their plans for the winter which was so near. "I
must begin to bank the house tomorrow," mused Uncle Henry.
"And those apples have got to go to the cider-mill,
right now. Don't you want to ride over on top
of them, Betsy, and see 'em made into cider?"
"Oh, my, yes!" said Betsy, "that will be fine! And I
must put away Deborah's summer clothes and get Cousin Ann
to help me make some warm ones, if I'm going
to take her to school in cold weather."
As they drove into the yard, they saw Eleanor coming from the
direction of the barn with something big and heavy in
her mouth. She held her head as high as she
could, but even so, her burden dragged on the ground,
bumping softly against the rough places on the path. "Look!"
said Betsy. "Just see that great rat Eleanor has caught!"
Uncle Henry squinted his old eyes toward the cat
for a moment and laughed. "We're not the only ones
that are getting ready for winter," he remarked.
 Betsy did not know what he meant and climbed hastily
over the wheel and ran to see. As she approached
Eleanor, the cat laid her burden down with an air
of relief and looked trustfully into her little mistress's face.
Why, it was one of the kittens! Eleanor was bringing
it to the house. Oh, of course! they mustn't stay
out there in that cold hayloft now the cold weather
was drawing near. Betsy picked up the little sprawling thing,
trying with weak legs to get around over the rough
ground. She carried it carefully toward the house, Eleanor walking
sinuously by her side and "talking" in little singing, purring
miauws to explain her ideas of kitten-comfort. Betsy felt that
she quite understood her. "Yes, Eleanor, a nice little basket
behind the stove with a warm piece of an old
blanket in it. Yes, I'll fix it for you. It'll
be lovely to have the whole family there. And I'll
bring the other one in for you."
But evidently Eleanor
did not understand little-girl talk as well as Betsy understood
cat-talk, for a little later, as Betsy turned from the
 nest she was making in the corner behind
the stove, Eleanor was missing; and when she ran out
toward the barn she met her again, her head strained
painfully back, dragging another fat, heavy kitten, who curled his
pink feet up as high as he could in a
vain effort not to have them knock against the stones.
"Now, Eleanor," said Betsy, a little put out, "you don't
trust me enough! I was going to get it all right!"
"Well," said Aunt Abigail, as they came into the
kitchen, "now you must begin to teach them to drink."
"Goodness!" said Betsy, "don't they know how to drink already?"
"You try them and see," said Aunt Abigail with a
So when Uncle Henry brought the pails full
of fragrant, warm milk into the house, Betsy poured out
some in a saucer and put the kittens up to
it. She and Molly squatted down on their heels to
watch, and before long they were laughing so that they
were rolling on the kitchen floor.
 At first
the kittens looked every way but at the milk, seeming
to see everything but what was under their noses. Then
Graykin (that was Betsy's) absent-mindedly walked right through the saucer,
emerging with very wet feet and a very much aggrieved
and astonished expression. Molly screamed with laughter to see him
shake his little pink toes and finally sit down seriously
to lick them clean. Then White-bib (Molly's) put his head
down to the saucer.
"There! Mine is smarter than yours!"
said Molly. But White-bib went on putting his head down,
down, down, clear into the milk nearly up to his
eyes, although he looked very frightened and miserable. Then he
jerked it up quickly and sneezed and sneezed and sneezed,
such deliciously funny little baby sneezes! He pawed and pawed
at his little pink nose with his little pink paw
until Eleanor took pity on him and came to wash
him off. In the midst of this process she saw
the milk, and left off to lap it up eagerly;
and in a jiffy she had drunk every drop and
was licking the saucer loudly with her
 raspy tongue. And that was the end of the kittens' first
That evening, as they sat around the lamp, Eleanor
came and got up in Betsy's lap just like old
times. Betsy was playing checkers with Uncle Henry and interrupted
the game to welcome the cat back delightedly. But Eleanor
was uneasy, and kept stopping her toilet to prick up
her ears and look restlessly toward the basket, where the
kittens lay curled so closely together that they looked like
one soft ball of gray fur. By and by Eleanor
jumped down heavily and went back to the basket. She
stayed there only a moment, standing over the kittens and
licking them convulsively, and then she came back and got
up in Betsy's lap again.
"What ails that cat?" said
Cousin Ann, noting this pacing and restlessness.
"Maybe she wants
Betsy to hold her kittens, too," suggested Aunt Abigail.
I'd love to!" said Betsy, spreading out her knees to
make her lap bigger.
"But I want my own White-bib myself!" said
 Molly, looking up from the beads she was stringing.
"Well, maybe Eleanor would let you settle it that way," said Cousin Ann.
The little girls ran
over to the basket and brought back each her own
kitten. Eleanor watched them anxiously, but as soon as they
sat down she jumped up happily into Betsy's lap and
curled down close to little Graykin. This time she was
completely satisfied, and her loud purring filled the room with
a peaceable murmur.
"There, now you're fixed for the winter,"
said Aunt Abigail.
By and by, after Cousin Ann had
popped some corn, old Shep got off the couch and
came to stand by Betsy's knee to get an occasional
handful. Eleanor opened one eye, recognized a friend, and shut
it sleepily. But the little kitten woke up in terrible
alarm to see that hideous monster so near him, and
prepared to sell his life dearly. He bristled up his
ridiculous little tail, opened his absurd, little pink mouth in
 soft, baby sss, and struck savagely at
old Shep's good-natured face with a soft little paw. Betsy
felt her heart overflow with amusement and pride in the
intrepid little morsel. She burst into laughter, but she picked
it up and held it lovingly close to her cheek.
What fun it was going to be to see those
kittens grow up!
Old Shep padded back softly to the
couch, his toe-nails clicking on the floor, hoisted himself heavily
up, and went to sleep. The kitten subsided into a
ball again. Eleanor stirred and stretched in her sleep and
laid her head in utter trust on her little mistress's
hand. After that Betsy moved the checkers only with her
In the intervals of the game, while Uncle
Henry was pondering over his moves, the little girl looked
down at her pets and listened absently to the keen
autumnal wind that swept around the old house, shaking the
shutters and rattling the windows. A stick of wood in
the stove burned in two and fell together with a
soft, whispering sound. The lamp cast a steady
 radiance on Uncle Henry bent seriously over the checker-board, on
Molly's blooming, round cheeks and bright hair, on Aunt Abigail's
rosy, cheerful, wrinkled old face, and on Cousin Ann's quiet,
clear, dark eyes. . . .
That room was full
to the brim of something beautiful, and Betsy knew what
it was. Its name was Happiness.