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BETSY HOLDS THE REINS
 YOU can imagine, perhaps, the dreadful terror
of Elizabeth Ann as the train carried her along toward
Vermont and the horrible Putney Farm! It had happened so
quicklyher satchel packed, the telegram sent,
the train caughtthat she
had not had time to get her wits together, assert
herself, and say that she would not go there! Besides,
she had a sinking notion that perhaps they wouldn't pay
any attention to her if she did. The world had
come to an end now that Aunt Frances wasn't there
to take care of her! Even in the most familiar
air she could only half breathe without Aunt Frances! And
now she was not even being taken to Putney Farm!
She was being sent!
She shrank together in her seat,
 more frightened as the end of
her journey came nearer, and looked out dismally at the
winter landscape, thinking it hideous with its brown bare fields,
its brown bare trees, and the quick-running little streams hurrying
along, swollen with the January thaw which had taken all the
snow from the hills. She had heard her elders say
about her so many times that she could not stand
the cold, that she shivered at the very thought of
cold weather, and certainly nothing could look colder than that
bleak country into which the train was now slowly making
The engine puffed and puffed with great laboring
breaths that shook Elizabeth Ann's diaphragm up and down, but
the train moved more and more slowly. Elizabeth Ann could
feel under her feet how the floor of the car
was tipped up as it crept along the steep incline.
"Pretty stiff grade here?" said a passenger to the conductor.
"You bet!" he assented. "But Hillsboro is the next station
and that's at the top of the hill. We go
down after that to Rutland." He
 turned to
Elizabeth Ann"Say, little girl, didn't your uncle say you were
to get off at Hillsboro? You'd better be getting your
Poor Elizabeth Ann's knees knocked against each other
with fear of the strange faces she was to encounter,
and when the conductor came to help her get off,
he had to carry the white, trembling child as well
as her satchel. But there was only one strange face
there,not another soul in sight at the little wooden station.
A grim-faced old man in a fur cap and heavy
coat stood by a lumber wagon.
"This is her, Mr.
Putney," said the conductor, touching his cap, and went back
to the train, which went away shrieking for a nearby
crossing and setting the echoes ringing from one mountain to
There was Elizabeth Ann alone with her much-feared Great-uncle
Henry. He nodded to her, and drew out from the
bottom of the wagon a warm, large cape, which he
slipped over her shoulders. "The women folks were
afraid you'd git cold drivin'," he explained. He then lifted
her high to the seat, tossed her satchel into the
wagon, climbed up himself, and clucked to his horses. Elizabeth
Ann had always before thought it an essential part of
railway journeys to be much kissed at the end and
asked a great many times how you had "stood the
She sat very still on the high lumber seat,
feeling very forlorn and neglected. Her feet dangled high above
the floor of the wagon. She felt herself to be
in the most dangerous place she had ever dreamed of
in her worst dreams. Oh, why wasn't Aunt Frances there
to take care of her! It was just like one
of her bad dreamsyes, it was horrible! She would fall,
she would roll under the wheels and be crushed to.
. . She looked up at Uncle Henry with the
wild, strained eyes of nervous terror which always brought Aunt Frances
to her in a rush to "hear all about it,"
to sympathize, to reassure.
Uncle Henry looked down at her
his hard, weather-beaten old face quite unmoved.
"Here, you drive, will you, for a piece?" he said
briefly, putting the reins into her hands, hooking his spectacles
over his ears, and drawing out a stubby pencil and
a bit of paper. "I've got some figgering to do.
You pull on the left-hand rein to make 'em go
to the left and t'other way for t'other way, though
'tain't likely we'll meet any teams."
Elizabeth Ann had been
so near one of her wild screams of terror that
now, in spite of her instant absorbed interest in the
reins, she gave a queer little yelp. She was all
ready with the explanation, her conversations with Aunt Frances having
made her very fluent in explanations of her own emotions.
She would tell Uncle Henry about how scared she had
been, and how she had just been about to scream
and couldn't keep back that one little. . . But
Uncle Henry seemed not to have heard her little howl,
or, if he had, didn't think it worth conversation, for
he. . . oh, the horses were certainly going to
one side! She hastily
de-  cided which was
her right hand (she had never been forced to know
it so quickly before) and pulled furiously on that rein.
The horses turned their hanging heads a little, and, miraculously,
there they were in the middle of the road again.
Elizabeth Ann drew a long breath of relief and pride,
and looked to Uncle Henry for praise. But he was
busily setting down figures as though he were getting his
'rithmetic lesson for the next day and had not noticed. . . Oh, there
they were going to the left
again! This time, in her flurry, she made a mistake
about which hand was which and pulled wildly on the
left line! The horses docilely walked off the road into
a shallow ditch, the wagon tilted. . . help! Why
didn't Uncle Henry help! Uncle Henry continued intently figuring on
the back of his envelope.
Elizabeth Ann, the perspiration starting
out on her forehead, pulled on the other line. The
horses turned back up the little slope, the wheel grated
sickeningly against the
wagon-  boxshe
was sure they
would tip over! But there! somehow there they were in
the road, safe and sound, with Uncle Henry adding up
a column of figures. If he only knew, thought the
little girl, if he only knew the danger he had
been in, and how he had been saved. . .
! But she must think of some way to remember,
for sure, which her right hand was, and avoid that
hideous mistake again.
And then suddenly something inside Elizabeth Ann's
head stirred and moved. It came to her, like a
clap, that she needn't know which was right or left
at all. If she just pulled the way she wanted
them to gothe horses would never know whether it was
the right or the left rein!
It is possible that
what stirred inside her head at that moment was her
brain, waking up. She was nine years old, and she
was in the third A grade at school, but that
was the first time she had ever had a whole
thought of her very own. At home, Aunt Frances had
always known exactly what she was doing, and
 had helped her over the hard places before she even knew they
were there; and at school her teachers had been carefully
trained to think faster than the scholars. Somebody had always
been explaining things to Elizabeth Ann so industriously that she
had never found out a single thing for herself before.
This was a very small discovery, but an original one.
Elizabeth Ann was as excited about it as a mother-bird
over the first egg that hatches.
She forgot how afraid
she was of Uncle Henry, and poured out to him
her discovery. "It's not right or left that matters!" she
ended triumphantly; "it's which way you want to go!" Uncle
Henry looked at her attentively as she talked, eyeing her
sidewise over the top of one spectacle-glass. When she finished"Well,
now, that's so," he admitted, and returned to his arithmetic.
It was a short remark, shorter than any Elizabeth Ann
had ever heard before. Aunt Frances and her teachers always
explained matters at length. But it had a weighty,
satis-  fying ring to it. The little girl felt
the importance of having her statement recognized. She turned back
to her driving.
The slow, heavy plow horses had stopped
during her talk with Uncle Henry. They stood as still
now as though their feet had grown to the road.
Elizabeth Ann looked up at the old man for instructions.
But he was deep in his figures. She had been
taught never to interrupt people, so she sat still and
waited for him to tell her what to do.
But, although they were driving in the midst of a winter
thaw, it was a pretty cold day, with an icy
wind blowing down the back of her neck. The early
winter twilight was beginning to fall, and she felt rather
empty. She grew very tired of waiting, and remembered how
the grocer's boy at home had started his horse. Then,
summoning all her courage, with an apprehensive glance at Uncle
Henry's arithmetical silence, she slapped the reins up and down
on the horses' backs and made the best imitation she
could of the grocer's boy's cluck.
lifted their heads, they leaned forward, they put one foot
before the other . . . they were off! The color
rose hot on Elizabeth Ann's happy face. If she had
started a big red automobile she would not have been
prouder. For it was the first thing she had ever
done all herself. . . every bit. . . every
smitch! She had thought of it and she had done
it. And it had worked!
Now for what seemed to
her a long, long time she drove, drove so hard
she could think of nothing else. She guided the horses
around stones, she cheered them through freezing mud-puddles of melted
snow, she kept them in the anxiously exact middle of
the road. She was quite astonished when Uncle Henry put
his pencil and paper away, took the reins from her
hands, and drove into a yard, on one side of
which was a little low white house and on the
other a big red barn. He did not say a
word, but she guessed that this was Putney Farm.
women in gingham dresses and white aprons came out
of the house. One was old
might be called young, just like Aunt Harriet and Aunt
Frances. But they looked very different from those aunts. The
dark-haired one was very tall and strong-looking, and the white-haired
one was very rosy and fat. They both looked up
at the little, thin, white-faced girl on the high seat,
and smiled. "Well, Father, you got her, I see," said
the brown-haired one. She stepped up to the wagon and
held up her arms to the child. "Come on, Betsy,
and get some supper," she said, as though Elizabeth Ann
had lived there all her life and had just driven
into town and back.
And that was the arrival of
Elizabeth Ann at Putney Farm.
The brown-haired one took a
long, strong step or two and swung her up on
the porch. "You take her in, Mother," she said. "I'll
help Father unhitch."
The fat, rosy, white-haired one took Elizabeth
Ann's skinny, cold little hand in her soft, warm, fat
one, and led her along to the open
kitchen door. "I'm your Aunt Abigail," she said. "Your mother's
aunt, you know. And that's your Cousin Ann that lifted
you down, and it was your Uncle Henry that brought
you out from town." She shut the door and went
on, "I don't know if your Aunt Harriet ever happened
to tell you about us, and so. . . "
Elizabeth Ann interrupted her hastily, the recollection of all Aunt
Harriet's remarks vividly before her. "Oh, yes, oh, yes!" she
said. "She always talked about you. She talked about you
a lot, she . . . " The little girl stopped
short and bit her lip.
If Aunt Abigail guessed from
the expression on Elizabeth Ann's face what kind of talking
Aunt Harriet's had been, she showed it only by a
deepening of the wrinkles all around her eyes. She said,
gravely: "Well, that's a good thing. You know all about
us then." She turned to the stove and took out
of the oven a pan of hot baked beans, very
brown and crispy on top (Elizabeth Ann detested beans), and
said, over her shoulder, "Take your things
 off, Betsy, and hang 'em on that lowest hook back of
the door. That's your hook."
The little girl fumbled forlornly
with the fastenings of her cape and the buttons of
her coat. At home, Aunt Frances or Grace had always
taken off her wraps and put them away for her.
When, very sorry for herself, she turned away from the
hook, Aunt Abigail said: "Now you must be cold. Pull
a chair right up here by the stove." She was
stepping around quickly as she put supper on the table.
The floor shook under her. She was one of the
fattest people Elizabeth Ann had ever seen. After living with
Aunt Frances and Aunt Harriet and Grace the little girl
could scarcely believe her eyes. She stared and stared.
Abigail seemed not to notice this. Indeed, she seemed for
the moment to have forgotten all about the new-comer. Elizabeth
Ann sat on the wooden chair, her feet hanging (she
had been taught that it was not manners to put
her feet on the rungs), looking about her with miserable,
homesick eyes. What an ugly,
low-  ceilinged room, with only a couple of horrid kerosene lamps for light;
and they didn't keep any girl, evidently; and they were
going to eat right in the kitchen like poor people;
and nobody spoke to her or looked at her or
asked her how she had "stood the trip"; and here
she was, millions of miles away from Aunt Frances, without
anybody to take care of her. She began to feel
the tight place in her throat which, by thinking about
hard, she could always turn into tears, and presently her
eyes began to water.
Aunt Abigail was not looking at
her at all, but she now stopped short in one
of her rushes to the table, set down the butter-plate
she was carrying, and said "There!" as though she had
forgotten something. She stoopedit was perfectly amazing how spry she
wasand pulled out from under the stove a half-grown kitten,
very sleepy, yawning and stretching, and blinking its eyes. "There,
Betsy!" said Aunt Abigail, putting the little yellow and white
ball into the child's lap. "There is one
of old Whitey's kittens that didn't get given away last
summer, and she pesters the life out of me. I've
got so much to do. When I heard you were
coming, I thought maybe you would take care of her
for me. If you want to, enough to bother to
feed her and all, you can have her for your
Elizabeth Ann bent her thin face over the warm,
furry, friendly little animal. She could not speak. She had
always wanted a kitten, but Aunt Frances and Aunt Harriet
and Grace had always been sure that cats brought diphtheria
and tonsilitis and all sorts of dreadful diseases to delicate
little girls. She was afraid to move for fear the
little thing would jump down and run away, but as
she bent cautiously toward it the necktie of her middy
blouse fell forward and the kitten in the middle of
a yawn struck swiftly at it with a soft paw.
Then, still too sleepy to play, it turned its head
and began to lick Elizabeth Ann's hand with a rough
little tongue. Perhaps you can imagine how thrilled the little
girl was at this!
She held her hand
perfectly still until the kitten stopped and began suddenly washing
its own face, and then she put her hands under
it and very awkwardly lifted it up, burying her face
in the soft fur. The kitten yawned again, and from
the pink-lined mouth came a fresh, milky breath. "Oh!" said
Elizabeth Ann under her breath. "Oh, you darling!" The
kitten looked at her with bored, speculative eyes.
looked up now at Aunt Abigail and said, "What is
its name, please?" But the old woman was busy turning
over a griddle full of pancakes and did not hear.
On the train Elizabeth Ann had resolved not to call
these hateful relatives by the same name she had for
dear Aunt Frances, but she now forgot that resolution and
said, again, "Oh, Aunt Abigail, what is its name?"
Abigail faced her blankly. "Name?" she asked. "Whose. . .
oh, the kitten's? Goodness, child, I stopped racking my brain
for kitten names sixty years ago. Name it yourself. It's
Elizabeth Ann had already named it in
her own mind, the name she had always thought she
would call a kitten by, if she ever had one.
It was Eleanor, the prettiest name she knew.
pushed a pitcher toward her. "There's the cat's saucer under
the sink. Don't you want to give it some milk?"
Elizabeth Ann got down from her chair, poured some milk
into the saucer, and called: "Here, Eleanor! Here, Eleanor!"
Abigail looked at her sharply out of the corner of
her eye and her lips twitched, but a moment later
her face was immovably grave as she carried the last
plate of pancakes to the table.
Elizabeth Ann sat on
her heels for a long time, watching the kitten lap
the milk, and she was surprised, when she stood up,
to see that Cousin Ann and Uncle Henry had come
in, very red-cheeked from the cold air.
"Well, folks," said
Aunt Abigail, "don't
 you think we've done some
lively stepping around, Betsy and I, to get supper all
on the table for you?"
Elizabeth Ann stared. What did
Aunt Abigail mean? She hadn't done a thing about getting
supper! But nobody made any comment, and they all took
their seats and began to eat. Elizabeth Ann was astonishingly
hungry, and she thought she could never get enough of
the creamed potatoes, cold ham, hot cocoa, and pancakes. She
was very much relieved that her refusal of beans caused
no comment. Aunt Frances had always tried very hard to
make her eat beans because they have so much protein
in them, and growing children need protein. Elizabeth Ann had
heard this said so many times she could have repeated
it backward, but it had never made her hate beans
any the less. However, nobody here seemed to know this,
and Elizabeth Ann kept her knowledge to herself. They had
also evidently never heard how delicate her digestion was, for
she never saw anything like the number of
pan-  cakes they let her eat. All she wanted! She
had never heard of such a thing!
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.
supperwell, 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
Elizabeth Ann stared again. What queer things they said
here. She wasn't nearly as big as Aunt Abigail!
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
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!
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
bangings 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 feltwhat 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. . .
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 tearsyes, 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 to
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
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
lit-  tle 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.