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IF YOU DON'T LIKE CONVERSATION IN A BOOK SKIP THIS CHAPTER!
 BETSY opened the door and was greeted by her kitten,
who ran to her, purring and arching her back to
"Well," said Aunt Abigail, looking up from the
pan of apples in her lap, "I suppose you're starved,
aren't you! Get yourself a piece of bread and butter,
why don't you? and have one of these apples."
As the little girl sat down by her, munching fast
on this provender, she asked: "What desk did you get?"
Elizabeth Ann thought for a moment, cuddling Eleanor up to
her face. "I think it is the third from the
front in the second row." She wondered why Aunt Abigail
cared. "Oh, I guess that's your Uncle Henry's desk. It's
 the one his father had, too. Are there
a couple of H.P.'s carved on it?"
"His father carved the H.P. on the lid, so Henry had
to put his inside. I remember the winter he put
it there. It was the first season Mother let me
wear real hoop skirts. I sat in the first seat
on the third row."
Betsy ate her apple more and
more slowly, trying to take in what Aunt Abigail had
said. Uncle Henry and his father—why Moses or Alexander
the Great didn't seem any further back in the mists
of time to Elizabeth Ann than did Uncle Henry's father!
And to think he had been a little boy, right
there at that desk! She stopped chewing altogether for a
moment and stared into space. Although she was only nine
years old, she was feeling a little of the same
rapt wonder, the same astonished sense of the reality of
the people who have gone before, which make a first
visit to the Roman Forum such a thrilling event for
grown-ups. That very desk!
After a moment she
came to herself, and finding some apple still in her
mouth, went on chewing meditatively. "Aunt Abigail," she said, "how
long ago was that?"
"Let's see," said the old woman,
peeling apples with wonderful rapidity. "I was born in 1844.
And I was six when I first went to school.
That's sixty-six years ago."
Elizabeth Ann, like all little girls
of nine, had very little notion how long sixty-six years
might be. "Was George Washington alive then?" she asked.
wrinkles around Aunt Abigail's eyes deepened mirthfully, but she did
not laugh as she answered, "No, that was long after
he died, but the schoolhouse was there when he was
"It was!" said Betsy, staring, with her teeth
set deep in an apple.
"Yes, indeed. It was the
first house in the valley built of sawed lumber. You
know, when our folks came up here, they had to
build all their houses of logs to begin with."
"They did!" cried Betsy, with her mouth full
"Why, yes, child, what else did you suppose
they had to make houses out of? They had to
have something to live in, right off. The sawmills came
"I didn't know anything about it," said Betsy. "Tell
me about it."
"Why you knew, didn't you—your Aunt Harriet
must have told you—about how our folks came up here
from Connecticut in 1763, on horseback? Connecticut was an old
settled place then, compared to Vermont. There wasn't anything here
but trees and bears and wood-pigeons. I've heard 'em say
that the wood-pigeons were so thick you could go out
after dark and club 'em out of the trees, just
like hens roosting in a hen-house. There always was cold
pigeon-pie in the pantry, just the way we have doughnuts.
And they used bear-grease to grease their boots and their
hair, bears were so plenty. It sounds like good eating,
don't it! But of course that was
 just at first. It got quite settled up before long, and
by the time of the Revolution, bears were getting pretty
scarce, and soon the wood-pigeons were all gone."
"And the schoolhouse—that schoolhouse where I went
today—was that built then?"
Elizabeth Ann found it hard to believe.
"Yes, it used
to have a great big chimney and fireplace in it.
It was built long before stoves were invented, you know."
"Why, I thought stoves were always invented!" cried Elizabeth Ann.
This was the most startling and interesting conversation she had
ever taken part in.
Aunt Abigail laughed. "Mercy, no, child!
Why, I can remember when only folks that were pretty
well off had stoves and real poor people still cooked
over a hearth fire. I always thought it a pity
they tore down the big chimney and fireplace out of
the schoolhouse and put in that big, ugly stove. But
folks are so daft over new-fangled things. Well, any how, they
couldn't take away the sun-dial on
You want to be sure to look at that. It's
on the sill of the middle window on the right
hand as you face the teacher's desk."
"Sun-dial," repeated Betsy.
"Why, to tell the time by, when—"
"Why didn't they have a clock?" asked the child.
laughed. "Good gracious, there was only one clock in the
valley for years and years, and that belonged to the
Wardons, the rich people in the village. Everybody had sun-dials
cut in their window-sills. There's one on the window-sill of
our pantry this minute. Come on, I'll show it to
you." She got up heavily with her pan of apples,
and trotted briskly, shaking the floor as she went, over
to the stove. "But first just watch me put these
on to cook so you'll know how." She set the
pan on the stove, poured some water from the tea-kettle
over the apples, and put on a cover. "Now come
on into the pantry."
They entered a sweet-smelling, spicy little
room, all white paint, and shelves which were
loaded with dishes and boxes and bags and pans of
milk and jars of preserves.
"There!" said Aunt Abigail, opening
the window. "That's not so good as the one at
school. This only tells when noon is."
Elizabeth Ann stared
stupidly at the deep scratch on the window-sill.
you see?" said Aunt Abigail. "When the shadow got to
that mark it was noon. And the rest of the
time you guessed by how far it was from the
mark. Let's see if I can come anywhere near it
now." She looked at it hard and said: "I guess
it's half-past four." She glanced back into the kitchen at
the clock and said: "Oh, pshaw! It's ten minutes past
five! Now my grandmother could have told that within five
minutes, just by the place of the shadow. I declare!
Sometimes it seems to me that every time a new
piece of machinery comes into the door some of our
wits fly out at the window! Now I couldn't any
more live without matches than I could fly! And yet
they all used to get along all right
before they had matches. Makes me feel foolish to think
I'm not smart enough to get along, if I wanted
to, without those little snips of pine and brimstone. Here,
Betsy, take a cooky. It's against my principles to let
a child leave the pantry without having a cooky. My!
it does seem like living again to have a young
one around to stuff!"
Betsy took the cooky, but went
on with the conversation by exclaiming, "How could anybody
get along without matches? You have to have matches."
Aunt Abigail didn't answer at first. They were back in the
kitchen now. She was looking at the clock again. "See
here," she said; "it's time I began getting supper ready.
We divide up on the work. Ann gets the dinner
and I get the supper. And everybody gets his own
breakfast. Which would you rather do, help Ann with the
dinner, or me with the supper?"
Elizabeth Ann had not
had the slightest idea
 of helping anybody with
any meal, but, confronted unexpectedly with the alternative offered, she
made up her mind so quickly that she didn't want
to help Cousin Ann, and declared so loudly, "Oh, help
you with the supper!" that her promptness made her sound
quite hearty and willing. "Well, that's fine," said Aunt Abigail.
"We'll set the table now. But first you would better
look at that apple sauce. I hear it walloping away
as though it was boiling too fast. Maybe you'd better
push it back where it won't cook so fast. There
are the holders, on that hook."
Elizabeth Ann approached the
stove with the holder in her hand and horror in
her heart. Nobody had ever dreamed of asking her to
handle hot things. She looked around dismally at Aunt Abigail,
but the old woman was standing with her back turned,
doing something at the kitchen table. Very gingerly the little
girl took hold of the handle of the saucepan, and
very gingerly she shoved it to the back of the
stove. And then she stood still a moment to
admire herself. She could do that as well as anybody!
"Why," said Aunt Abigail, as if remembering that Betsy
had asked her a question, "Any man could strike a
spark from his flint and steel that he had for
his gun. And he'd keep striking it till it happened
to fly out in the right direction, and you'd catch
it in some fluff where it would start a smoulder,
and you'd blow on it till you got a little
flame, and drop tiny bits of shaved-up dry pine in
it, and so, little by little, you'd build your fire
"But it must have taken forever to do that!"
"Oh, you didn't have to do that more than once
in ever so long," said Aunt Abigail, briskly. She interrupted
her story to say: "Now you put the silver around,
while I cream the potatoes. It's in that drawer—a knife,
a fork, and two spoons for each place—and the plates
and cups are up there behind the glass doors. We're
going to have hot cocoa again tonight." And as the
little girl, hypnotized by the
 other's casual, offhand
way of issuing instructions, began to fumble with the knives
and forks she went on: "Why, you'd start your fire
that way, and then you'd never let it go out.
Everybody that amounted to anything knew how to bank the
hearth fire with ashes at night so it would be
sure to last. And the first thing in the morning,
you got down on your knees and poked the ashes
away very carefully till you got to the hot coals.
Then you'd blow with the bellows and drop in pieces
of dry pine—don't forget the water-glasses—and you'd blow gently
till they flared up and the shavings caught, and there
your fire would be kindled again. The napkins are in
the second drawer."
Betsy went on setting the table, deep
in thought, reconstructing the old life. As she put the
napkins around she said, "But sometimes it must have gone
out . . ."
"Yes," said Aunt Abigail, "sometimes it
went out, and then one of the children was sent
over to the nearest neighbor to borrow some fire. He'd
take a covered iron pan
fastened on to
a long hickory stick, and go through the woods—everything was
woods then—to the next house and wait till they had
their fire going and could spare him a pan full
of coals; and then—don't forget the salt and pepper—he would
leg it home as fast as he could streak it,
to get there before the coals went out. Say, Betsy,
I think that apple sauce is ready to be sweetened.
You do it, will you? I've got my hands in
the biscuit dough. The sugar's in the left-hand drawer in
the kitchen cabinet."
"Oh, my!" cried Betsy, dismayed. "I
don't know how to cook!"
Aunt Abigail laughed and put
back a strand of curly white hair with the back
of her floury hand. "You know how to stir sugar
into your cup of cocoa, don't you?"
"But how much
shall I put in?" asked Elizabeth Ann, clamoring for exact
instruction so she wouldn't need to do any thinking for
"Oh, till it tastes right," said Aunt Abigail,
carelessly. "Fix it to suit yourself, and I guess
the rest of us will like it. Take that big
spoon to stir it with."
Elizabeth Ann took off the
lid and began stirring in sugar, a teaspoonful at a
time, but she soon saw that made no impression. She
poured in a cupful, stirred it vigorously, and tasted it.
Better, but not quite enough. She put in a tablespoonful
more and tasted it, staring off into space under bended
brows as she concentrated her attention on the taste. It
was quite a responsibility to prepare the apple sauce for
a family. It was ever so good, too. But maybe
a little more sugar. She put in a teaspoonful and
decided it was just exactly right!
"Done?" asked Aunt Abigail.
"Take it off, then, and pour it out in that
big yellow bowl, and put it on the table in
front of your place. You've made it; you ought to
"It isn't done, is it?" asked Betsy. "That
isn't all you do to make apple sauce !"
"What else could you do?" asked Aunt Abigail.
"Well . . . !" said Elizabeth Ann, very much surprised.
"I didn't know it was so easy to cook!"
thing in the world," said Aunt Abigail gravely, with the
merry wrinkles around her merry old eyes all creased up
with silent fun.
When Uncle Henry came in from the
barn, with old Shep at his heels, and Cousin Ann
came down from upstairs, where her sewing-machine had been humming
like a big bee, they were both duly impressed when
told that Betsy had set the table and made the
apple sauce. They pronounced it very good apple sauce indeed,
and each sent his saucer back to the little girl
for a second helping. She herself ate three saucerfuls. Her
own private opinion was that it was the very best
apple sauce ever made.
 After supper was over
and the dishes washed and wiped, Betsy helping with the
putting-away, the four gathered around the big lamp on the
table with the red cover. Cousin Ann was making some
buttonholes in the shirtwaist she had constructed that afternoon, Aunt
Abigail was darning socks, and Uncle Henry was mending a
piece of harness. Shep lay on the couch and snored
until he got so noisy they couldn't stand it, and
Cousin Ann poked him in the ribs and he woke
up snorting and gurgling and looking around sheepishly. Every time
this happened it made Betsy laugh. She held Eleanor, who
didn't snore at all, but made the prettiest little tea-kettle-singing
purr deep in her throat, and opened and sheathed her
needle-like claws in Betsy's dress.
"Well, how'd you get on
at school?" asked Uncle Henry.
"I've got your desk," said
Elizabeth Ann, looking at him curiously, at his gray hair
and wrinkled, weather-beaten face, and trying to
think what he must have looked like when he was a
little boy like Ralph.
"So?" said Uncle Henry. "Well, let
me tell you that's a mighty good desk! Did you
notice the deep groove in the top of it?"
Betsy nodded. She had wondered what that was used for.
"Well, that was the lead-pencil desk in the old days. When
they couldn't run down to the store to buy things,
because there wasn't any store to run to, how do
you suppose they got their lead-pencils?"
Elizabeth Ann shook her
head, incapable even of a guess. She had never thought
before but that lead-pencils grew in glass show-cases in stores.
"Well, sir," said Uncle Henry, "I'll tell you. They took
a piece off the lump of lead they made their
bullets of, melted it over the fire in the hearth
down at the schoolhouse till it would run like water,
and poured it in that groove. When it cooled off,
there was a long streak of solid lead, about as
big as one of our
 lead-pencils nowadays. They'd
break that up in shorter lengths, and there you'd have
your lead-pencils, made while you wait. Oh, I tell you
in the old days folks knew how to take care
of themselves more than now."
"Why, weren't there any stores?"
asked Elizabeth Ann. She could not imagine living without buying
things at stores.
"Where'd they get the things to put
in a store in those days?" asked Uncle Henry, argumentatively.
"Every single thing had to be lugged clear from Albany
or from Connecticut on horseback."
"Why didn't they use wagons?"
asked Elizabeth Ann.
"You can't run a wagon unless you've
got a road to run it on, can you?"
asked Uncle Henry. "It was a long, long time before
they had any roads. It's an awful chore to make
roads in a new country all woods and hills and
swamps and rocks. You were lucky if there was a
good path from your house to the next settlement."
"Now, Henry," said Aunt Abigail, "do stop going on
about old times long enough to let Betsy answer the
question you asked her. You haven't given her a chance
to say how she got on at school."
"Well, I'm awfully mixed up!" said Betsy, complainingly. "I don't know what
I am! I'm second-grade arithmetic and third-grade spelling and seventh-grade
reading and I don't know what in writing or composition.
We didn't have those."
Nobody seemed to think this very
remarkable, or even very interesting. Uncle Henry, indeed, noted it
only to say, "Seventh-grade reading!" He turned to Aunt Abigail.
"Oh, Mother, don't you suppose she could read aloud to
Aunt Abigail and Cousin Ann both laid down
their sewing to laugh! "Yes, yes, Father, and play checkers
with you too, like as not!" They explained to Betsy:
"Your Uncle Henry is just daft on being read aloud
to when he's got something to do in the evening,
 he hasn't he's as fidgety as
a broody hen if he can't play checkers. Ann hates
checkers and I haven't got the time, often."
"Oh, I love to play checkers!" said Betsy.
"Well, now . . ." said Uncle Henry, rising instantly and dropping his half-mended
harness on the table. "Let's have a game."
"Oh, Father!" said Cousin Ann, in the tone she used for Shep.
"How about that piece of breeching! You know that's not
safe. Why don't you finish that up first?"
sat down again, looking as Shep did when Cousin Ann
told him to get up on the couch, and took
up his needle and awl.
"But I could read something
aloud," said Betsy, feeling very sorry for him. "At least
I think I could. I never did, except at school."
"What shall we have, Mother?" asked Uncle Henry eagerly.
"Oh, I don't know. What have we got in this bookcase?"
said Aunt Abigail. "It's pretty cold to go into the
parlor to the other one." She leaned forward, ran her
 over the worn old volumes,
and took out a battered, blue-covered book. "Scott?"
said Uncle Henry, his eyes shining. "The staggit eve!"
At least that was the way it sounded to Betsy, but
when she took the book and looked where Aunt Abigail
pointed she read it correctly, though in a timid, uncertain
voice. She was proud to think she could please a
grown-up so much as she was evidently pleasing Uncle Henry,
but the idea of reading aloud for people to hear,
not for a teacher to correct, was unheard-of.
The Stag at eve had drunk his fill
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill,
she began, and it was as though she
had stepped into a boat and was swept off by
a strong current. She did not know what all the
words meant, and she could not pronounce a good many
of the names, but nobody interrupted to correct her, and
she read on and on, steadied by the strongly-marked rhythm,
 forward swiftly from one clanging, sonorous rhyme
to another. Uncle Henry nodded his head in time to
the rise and fall of her voice and now and
then stopped his work to look at her with bright,
eager, old eyes. He knew some of the places by
heart evidently, for once in a while his voice would
join the little girl's for a couplet or two. They
chanted together thus:
A moment listened to the cry
That thickened as the chase drew nigh,
Then, as the headmost foes appeared,
With one brave bound, the copse he cleared.
At the last
line Uncle Henry flung his arm out wide, and the
child felt as though the deer had made his great
leap there, before her eyes.
"I've seen 'em jump just
like that," broke in Uncle Henry. "A two-three-hundred-pound stag go
up over a four-foot fence just like a piece of
thistledown in the wind."
"Uncle Henry," asked Elizabeth Ann, "what
is a copse?"
"I don't know," said Uncle
Henry indifferently. "Something in the woods, must be. Underbrush most
likely. You can always tell words you don't know by
the sense of the whole thing. Go on."
And stretching forward, free and far,
The child's voice took up the
chant again. She read faster and faster as it got
more exciting. Uncle Henry joined in on
For, jaded now and spent with toil,
Embossed with foam and dark with soil,
While every gasp with sobs he drew,
The laboring stag strained full in view.
The little girl's heart beat fast. She fled
along through the next lines, stumbling desperately over the hard
words but seeing the headlong chase through them clearly as
through tree-trunks in a forest. Uncle Henry broke in in
a triumphant shout:
The wily quarry shunned the shock
And turned him from the opposing rock;
 Then dashing down a darksome glen,
Soon lost to hound and hunter's ken,
In the deep Trossach's wildest nook
His solitary refuge took.
"Oh, my!" cried Elizabeth Ann, laying down the book. "He got away,
didn't he? I was so afraid he wouldn't!"
"I can just hear those dogs yelping, can't you?" said Uncle Henry.
Yelled on the view the opening pack.
"Sometimes you hear
'em that way up on the slope of Hemlock Mountain
back of us, when they get to running a deer."
"What say we have some pop-corn?" suggested Aunt Abigail. "Betsy,
don't you want to pop us some?"
"I never did,"
said the little girl, but in a less doubtful tone
than she had ever used with that phrase so familiar
to her. A dim notion was growing up in her mind
that the fact that she had never done a thing
was no proof that she couldn't.
you," said Uncle Henry. He reached down a couple of
ears of corn from a big yellow cluster hanging on
the wall, and he and Betsy shelled them into the
popper, popped it full of snowy kernels, buttered it,
salted it, and took it back to the table.
was just as she was eating her first ambrosial mouthful
that the door opened and a fur-capped head was thrust
in. A man's voice said: "Evenin', folks. No, I can't
stay. I was down at the village just now, and
thought I'd ask for any mail down our way." He
tossed a newspaper and a letter on the table and
The letter was addressed to Elizabeth Ann and
it was from Aunt Frances. She read it to herself
while Uncle Henry read the newspaper. Aunt Frances wrote that
she had been perfectly horrified to learn that Cousin Molly
had not kept Elizabeth Ann with her, and that she
would never forgive her for that cruelty. And when she
thought that her darling was at Putney Farm . . . !
Her blood ran cold. It
positively did! It was too dreadful. But it couldn't be helped,
for a time anyhow, because Aunt Harriet was really very
sick. Elizabeth Ann would have to be a dear, brave
child and endure it as best she could. And as
soon . . . oh, as soon as ever she
could, Aunt Frances would come and take her away from
them. "Don't cry too much, darling . . . it
breaks my heart to think of you there! Try to
be cheerful, dearest! Try to bear it for the sake
of your distracted, loving Aunt Frances."
Elizabeth Ann looked up
from this letter and across the table at Aunt Abigail's
rosy, wrinkled old face, bent over her darning. Uncle Henry
laid the paper down, took a big mouthful of pop-corn,
and beat time silently with his hand. When he could
speak he murmured:
An hundred dogs bayed deep and strong,
Clattered an hundred steeds along.
Old Shep woke up with a
snort and Aunt
Abigail fed him a handful
of pop-corn. Little Eleanor stirred in her sleep, stretched, yawned,
and nestled down into a ball again on the little
girl's lap. Betsy could feel in her own body the
rhythmic vibration of the kitten's contented purr.
Aunt Abigail looked
up: "Finished your letter? I hope Harriet is no worse.
What does Frances say?"
Elizabeth Ann blushed a deep red
and crushed the letter together in her hand. She felt
ashamed and she did not know why. "Aunt Frances says,
. . . Aunt Frances says, . . ." she
began, hesitating. "She says Aunt Harriet is still pretty sick."
She stopped, drew a long breath, and went on, "And
she sends her love to you."
Now Aunt Frances hadn't
done anything of the kind, so this was a really
whopping fib. But Elizabeth Ann didn't care if it was.
It made her feel less ashamed, though she did not
know why. She took another mouthful of pop-corn and stroked
Uncle Henry got up and stretched.
"It's time to go to bed, folks," he said. As
he wound the clock Betsy heard him murmuring:
But when the sun his beacon red . . . .