Betsy's birthday was the ninth day of September, and the Necronsett Valley Fair is always held from the eighth to the twelfth. So it was decided that Betsy should celebrate her birthday by going up to Woodford, where the Fair was held. The Putneys weren't going that year, but the people on the next farm, the Wendells, said they could make room in their surrey for the two little girls; for, of course, Molly was going, too. In fact, she said the Fair was held partly to celebrate her being six years old. This would happen on the seventeenth of October. Molly insisted that that was plenty close enough to the ninth of September to be celebrated then. This made Betsy feel like laughing out, but observing that the Putneys only looked at each other with the faintest possible quirk in the corners of their serious mouths, she understood that they were afraid that Molly's feelings might be hurt if they laughed out loud. So Betsy tried to curve her young lips to the same kind and secret mirth.
And, I can't tell you why, this effort not to hurt Molly's feelings made her have a perfect spasm of love for Molly. She threw herself on her and gave her a great hug that tipped them both over on the couch on top of Shep, who stopped snoring with his great gurgling snort, wriggled out from under them, and stood with laughing eyes and wagging tail, looking at them as they rolled and giggled among the pillows.
"What dress are you going to wear to the Fair, Betsy?" asked Cousin Ann. "And we must decide about Molly's, too."
This stopped their rough-and-tumble fun in short order, and they applied themselves to the serious question of a toilet.
When the great day arrived and the surrey drove away from the Wendells' gate, Betsy was in a fresh pink-and-white gingham which she had helped Cousin Ann make, and plump Molly looked like something good to eat in a crisp white little dimity, one of Betsy's old dresses, with a deep hem taken in to make it short enough for the little butter-ball. Because it was Betsy's birthday, she sat on the front seat with Mr. Wendell, and part of the time, when there were not too many teams on the road, she drove, herself. Mrs. Wendell and her sister filled the back seat solidly full from side to side and made one continuous soft lap on which Molly happily perched, her eyes shining, her round cheeks red with joyful excitement. Betsy looked back at her several times and thought how very nice Molly looked. She had, of course, little idea how she herself looked, because the mirrors at Putney Farm were all small and high up, and anyhow they were so old and greenish that they made everybody look very queer-colored. You looked in them to see if your hair was smooth, and that was about all you could stand.
So it was a great surprise to Betsy later in the
morning, as she and Molly wandered hand in hand through
the wonders of Industrial Hall, to catch sight of Molly
in a full-length mirror as clear as water. She was
almost startled to see how faithfully reflected were the yellow
of the little girl's curls, the clear pink and white
of her face, and the blue of her soft eyes.
An older girl was reflected there also near Molly, a
dark-eyed, red-cheeked, sturdy little girl, standing very straight on two
strong legs, holding her head high and free, her dark
eyes looking out brightly from her tanned face. For an
instant Betsy gazed into those clear eyes and then
All this came into her mind and went out again in a moment, for Molly caught sight of a big doll in the next aisle and they hurried over to inspect her clothing. The mirror was forgotten in the many exciting sights and sounds and smells of their first county fair.
The two little girls were to wander about as they pleased until noon, when they were to meet the Wendells in the shadow of Industrial Hall and eat their picnic lunch together. The two parties arrived together from different directions, having seen very different sides of the Fair. The children were full of the merry-go-rounds, the balloon-seller, the toy-venders, and the pop-corn stands, while the Wendells exchanged views on the shortness of a hog's legs, the dip in a cow's back, and the thickness of a sheep's wool. The Wendells, it seemed, had met some cousins they didn't expect to see, who, not knowing about Betsy and Molly, had hoped that they might ride home with the Wendells.
"Don't you suppose," Mrs. Wendell asked Betsy, "that you and Molly could go home with the Vaughans? They're here in their big wagon. You could sit on the floor with the Vaughan children."
Betsy and Molly thought this would be great fun, and agreed enthusiastically.
"All right then," said Mrs. Wendell. She called to a young man who stood inside the building, near an open window: "Oh, Frank, Will Vaughan is going to be in your booth this afternoon, isn't he?"
"Yes, ma'am," said the young man. "His turn is from two to four."
"Well, you tell him, will you, that the two little girls who live at Putney Farm are going to go home with them. They can sit on the bottom of the wagon with the Vaughan young ones."
"Yes, ma'am," said the young man, with a noticeable lack of interest in how Betsy and Molly got home.
"Now, Betsy," said Mrs. Wendell, "you go round to that booth at two and ask Will Vaughan what time they're going to start and where their wagon is, and then you be sure not to keep them waiting a minute."
"No, I won't," said Betsy. "I'll be sure to be there on time."
She and Molly still had twenty cents to spend out of the forty they had brought with them, twenty-five earned by berry-picking and fifteen a present from Uncle Henry. They now put their heads together to see how they could make the best possible use of their four nickels. Cousin Ann had put no restrictions whatever on them, saying they could buy any sort of truck or rubbish they could find, except the pink lemonade. She said she had been told the venders washed their glasses in that, and their hands, and for all she knew their faces. Betsy was for merry-go-rounds, but Molly yearned for a big red balloon; and while they were buying that a man came by with toy dogs, little brown dogs with curled-wire tails. He called out that they would bark when you pulled their tails, and seeing the little girls looking at him he pulled the tail of the one he held. It gave forth a fine loud yelp, just like Shep when his tail got stepped on. Betsy bought one, all done up neatly in a box tied with blue string. She thought it a great bargain to get a dog who would bark for five cents. (Later on, when they undid the string and opened the box, they found the dog had one leg broken off and wouldn't make the faintest squeak when his tail was pulled; but that is the sort of thing you must expect to have happen to you at a county fair.)
Now they had ten cents left and they decided to have a ride apiece on the merry-go-round. But, glancing up at the clock-face in the tower over Agricultural Hall, Betsy noticed it was half-past two and she decided to go first to the booth where Will Vaughan was to be and find out what time they would start for home. She found the booth with no difficulty, but William Vaughan was not in it. Nor was the young man she had seen before. There was a new one, a strange one, a careless, whistling young man, with very bright socks, very yellow shoes, and very striped cuffs. He said, in answer to Betsy's inquiry: "Vaughan? Will Vaughan? Never heard the name," and immediately went on whistling and looking up and down the aisle over the heads of the little girls, who stood gazing up at him with very wide, startled eyes. An older man leaned over from the next booth and said: "Will Vaughan? He from Hillsboro? Well, I heard somebody say those Hillsboro Vaughans had word one of their cows was awful sick, and they had to start right home that minute."
Betsy came to herself out of her momentary daze and snatched Molly's hand. "Hurry! quick! We must find the Wendells before they get away!"
In her agitation (for she was really very much frightened) she forgot how easily terrified little Molly was. Her alarm instantly sent the child into a panic. "Oh, Betsy! Betsy! What will we do!" she gasped, as Betsy pulled her along the aisle and out of the door.
"Oh, the Wendells can't be gone yet," said Betsy reassuringly, though she was not at all sure she was telling the truth. She ran as fast as she could drag Molly's fat legs, to the horse-shed where Mr. Wendell had tied his horses and left the surrey. The horse-shed was empty, quite empty.
Betsy stopped short and stood still, her heart seeming to be up in her throat so that she could hardly breathe. After all, she was only ten that day, you must remember. Molly began to cry loudly, hiding her weeping face in Betsy's dress. "What will we do, Betsy! What can we do!" she wailed.
Betsy did not answer. She did not know what they would do! They were eight miles from Putney Farm, far too much for Molly to walk, and anyhow neither of them knew the way. They had only ten cents left, and nothing to eat. And the only people they knew in all that throng of strangers had gone back to Hillsboro.
"What will we do, Betsy?" Molly kept on crying out, horrified by Betsy's silence and evident consternation.
The other child's head swam. She tried again the formula which had helped her when Molly fell into the Wolf Pit, and asked herself, desperately, "What would Cousin Ann do if she were here?" But that did not help her much now, because she could not possibly imagine what Cousin Ann would do under such appalling circumstances. Yes, one thing Cousin Ann would be sure to do, of course; she would quiet Molly first of all.
At this thought Betsy sat down on the ground and took the panic-stricken little girl into her lap, wiping away the tears and saying, stoutly, "Now, Molly, stop crying this minute. I'll take care of you, of course. I'll get you home all right."
"How'll you ever do it?" sobbed Molly. "Everybody's gone and left us. We can't walk!"
"Never you mind how," said Betsy, trying to be facetious and mock-mysterious, though her own under lip was quivering a little. "That's my surprise party for you. Just you wait. Now come on back to that booth. Maybe Will Vaughan didn't go home with his folks."
She had very little hope of this, and only went back there because it seemed to her a little less dauntingly strange than every other spot in the howling wilderness about her; for all at once the Fair, which had seemed so lively and cheerful and gay before, seemed now a horrible, frightening, noisy place, full of hurried strangers who came and went their own ways, with not a glance out of their hard eyes for two little girls stranded far from home.
The bright-colored young man was no better when they found him again. He stopped his whistling only long enough to say, "Nope, no Will Vaughan anywhere around these diggings yet."
"We were going home with the Vaughans," murmured Betsy, in a low tone, hoping for some help from him.
"Looks as though you'd better go home on the cars," advised the young man casually. He smoothed his black hair back straighter than ever from his forehead and looked over their heads.
"How much does it cost to go to Hillsboro on the cars?" asked Betsy with a sinking heart.
"You'll have to ask somebody else about that," said the young man. "What I don't know about this Rube state! I never was in it before." He spoke as though he were very proud of the fact.
Betsy turned and went over to the older man who had told them about the Vaughans.
Molly trotted at her heels, quite comforted, now that Betsy was talking so competently to grown-ups. She did not hear what they said, nor try to. Now that Betsy's voice sounded all right she had no more fears. Betsy would manage somehow. She heard Betsy's voice again talking to the other man, but she was busy looking at an exhibit of beautiful jelly glasses, and paid no attention. Then Betsy led her away again out of doors, where everybody was walking back and forth under the bright September sky, blowing on horns, waving plumes of brilliant tissue-paper, tickling each other with peacock feathers, and eating pop-corn and candy out of paper bags.
That reminded Molly that they had ten cents yet. "Oh, Betsy," she proposed, "let's take a nickel of our money for some pop-corn."
She was startled by Betsy's fierce sudden clutch at their little purse and by the quaver in her voice as she answered: "No, no, Molly. We've got to save every cent of that. I've found out it costs thirty cents for us both to go home to Hillsboro on the train. The last one goes at six o'clock."
"We haven't got but ten," said Molly.
Betsy looked at her silently for a moment and then burst out, "I'll earn the rest! I'll earn it somehow! I'll have to! There isn't any other way!"
"All right," said Molly quaintly, not seeing anything unusual in this. "You can, if you want to. I'll wait for you here."
"No you won't!" cried Betsy, who had quite enough of trying to meet people in a crowd. "No, you won't! You just follow me every minute! I don't want you out of my sight!"
They began to move forward now, Betsy's eyes wildly roving from one place to another. How could a little girl earn money at a county fair! She was horribly afraid to go up and speak to a stranger, and yet how else could she begin?
"Here, Molly, you wait here," she said. "Don't you budge till I come back."
But alas! Molly had only a moment to wait that time, for the man who was selling lemonade answered Betsy's shy question with a stare and a curt, "Lord, no! What could a young one like you do for me?"
The little girls wandered on, Molly calm and expectant, confident in Betsy; Betsy with a very dry mouth and a very gone feeling. They were passing by a big shed-like building now, where a large sign proclaimed that the Woodford Ladies' Aid Society would serve a hot chicken dinner for thirty-five cents. Of course the sign was not accurate, for at half-past three, almost four, the chicken dinner had long ago been all eaten and in place of the diners was a group of weary women moving languidly about or standing saggingly by a great table piled with dirty dishes. Betsy paused here, meditated a moment, and went in rapidly so that her courage would not evaporate.
The woman with gray hair looked down at her a little impatiently and said, "Dinner's all over."
"I didn't come for dinner," said Betsy, swallowing hard. "I came to see if you wouldn't hire me to wash your dishes. I'll do them for twenty-five cents."
The woman laughed, looked from little Betsy to the great pile of dishes, and said, turning away, "Mercy, child, if you washed from now till morning, you wouldn't make a hole in what we've got to do."
Betsy heard her say to the other women, "Some young one wanting more money for the side-shows."
Now, now was the moment to remember what Cousin Ann would have done. She would certainly not have shaken all over with hurt feelings nor have allowed the tears to come stingingly to her eyes. So Betsy sternly made herself stop doing these things. And Cousin Ann wouldn't have given way to the dreadful sinking feeling of utter discouragement, but would have gone right on to the next place. So, although Betsy felt like nothing so much as crooking her elbow over her face and crying as hard as she could cry, she stiffened her back, took Molly's hand again, and stepped out, heartsick within but very steady (although rather pale) without.
She and Molly walked along in the crowd again, Molly laughing and pointing out the pranks and antics of the young people, who were feeling livelier than ever as the afternoon wore on. Betsy looked at them grimly with unseeing eyes. It was four o'clock. The last train for Hillsboro left in two hours and she was no nearer having the price of the tickets. She stopped for a moment to get her breath; for, although they were walking slowly, she kept feeling breathless and choked. It occurred to her that if ever a little girl had had a more horrible birthday she never heard of one!
"Oh, I wish I could, Dan!" said a young voice near her. "But honest! Momma'd just eat me up alive if I left the booth for a minute!"
Betsy turned quickly. A very pretty girl with yellow hair and blue eyes (she looked as Molly might when she was grown up) was leaning over the edge of a little canvas-covered booth, the sign of which announced that home-made doughnuts and soft drinks were for sale there. A young man, very flushed and gay, was pulling at the girl's blue gingham sleeve. "Oh, come on, Annie. Just one turn! The floor's elegant. You can keep an eye on the booth from the hall! Nobody's going to run away with the old thing anyhow!"
"Honest, I'd love to! But I got a great lot of dishes to wash, too! You know Momma!" She looked longingly toward the open-air dancing floor, out from which just then floated a burst of brazen music.
"Oh, please!" said a small voice. "I'll do it for twenty cents."
Betsy stood by the girl's elbow, all quivering earnestness.
"Do what, kiddie?" asked the girl in a good-natured surprise.
"Everything!" said Betsy, compendiously. "Everything! Wash the dishes, tend the booth; you can go dance! I'll do it for twenty cents."
The eyes of the girl and the man met in high amusement. "My! Aren't we up and coming!" said the man. "You're most as big as a pint-cup, aren't you?" he said to Betsy.
The little girl flushed—she detested being laughed at—but she looked straight into the laughing eyes. "I'm ten years old today," she said, "and I can wash dishes as well as anybody." She spoke with dignity.
The young man burst out into a great laugh.
what?" he said to the girl, and then, "Say, Annie,
why not? Your mother won't be here for an hour.
The kid can keep folks from walking off with the
"I'll do the dishes, too," repeated Betsy, trying hard not to mind being laughed at, and keeping her eyes fixed steadily on the tickets to Hillsboro.
"Well, by gosh," said the young man, laughing. "Here's our chance, Annie, for fair! Come along!"
The girl laughed, too, out of high spirits. "Wouldn't Momma be crazy!" she said hilariously. "But she'll never know. Here, you cute kid, here's my apron." She took off her long apron and tied it around Betsy's neck. "There's the soap, there's the table. You stack the dishes up on that counter."
She was out of the little gate in the counter in a twinkling, just as Molly, in answer to a beckoning gesture from Betsy, came in. "Hello, there's another one!" said the gay young man, gayer and gayer. "Hello, button! What you going to do? I suppose when they try to crack the safe you'll run at them and bark and drive them away!"
Molly opened her sweet, blue eyes very wide, not understanding a single word. The girl laughed, swooped back, gave Molly a kiss, and disappeared, running side by side with the young man toward the dance hall.
Betsy mounted on a soap box and began joyfully to wash the dishes. She had never thought that ever in her life would she simply love to wash dishes beyond anything else! But it was so. Her relief was so great that she could have kissed the coarse, thick plates and glasses as she washed them.
"It's all right, Molly; it's all right!" she quavered exultantly to Molly over her shoulder. But as Molly had not (from the moment Betsy took command) suspected that it was not all right, she only nodded and asked if she might sit up on a barrel where she could watch the crowd go by.
"I guess you could. I don't know why not," said Betsy doubtfully. She lifted her up and went back to her dishes. Never were dishes washed better!
Never were dishes washed better!
"Two doughnuts, please," said a man's voice behind her.
Oh, mercy, there was somebody come to buy! Whatever should
she do? She came forward intending to say that the
owner of the booth was away and she didn't know
As her hunted feeling of desperation relaxed she began to find some fun in her new situation, and when a woman with two little boys approached, she came forward to wait on her, elated, important. "Two for five," she said in a businesslike tone. The woman put down a dime, took up four doughnuts, divided them between her sons, and departed.
"My!" said Molly, looking admiringly at Betsy's coolness over this transaction. Betsy went back to her dishes, stepping high.
"Oh, Betsy, see! The pig! The big ox!" cried Molly now, looking from her coign of vantage down the wide, grass-grown lane between the booths.
Betsy craned her head around over her shoulder, continuing conscientiously to wash and wipe the dishes. The prize stock was being paraded around the Fair; the great prize ox, his shining horns tipped with blue rosettes; the prize cows, with wreaths around their necks; the prize horses, four or five of them as glossy as satin, curving their bright, strong necks and stepping as though on eggs, their manes and tails braided with bright ribbon; and then, "Oh, Betsy, look at the pig!" screamed Molly again—the smaller animals, the sheep, the calves, the colts, and the pig, which waddled along with portly dignity.
Betsy looked as well as she could over
But she looked anxiously at the clock. It was nearing five. Oh, suppose the girl forgot and danced too long!
"Two bottles of ginger ale and half a dozen doughnuts," said a man with a woman and three children.
Betsy looked feverishly among the bottles ranged on the counter, selected two marked ginger ale, and glared at their corrugated tin stoppers. How did you get them open?
"Here's your opener," said the man, "if that's what you're looking for. Here, you get the glasses and I'll open the bottles. We're in kind of a hurry. Got to catch a train."
Well, they were not the only people who had to catch a train, Betsy thought sadly. They drank in gulps and departed, cramming doughnuts into their mouths. Betsy wished ardently that the girl would come back. She was now almost sure that she had forgotten and would dance there till nightfall. But there, there she came, running along, as light-footed after an hour's dancing as when she had left the booth.
"Here you are, kid," said the young man, producing a quarter. "We've had the time of our young lives, thanks to you."
Betsy gave him back one of the nickels that remained to her, but he refused it.
"No, keep the change," he said royally. "It was worth it."
"Then I'll buy two doughnuts with my extra nickel," said Betsy.
"No, you won't," said the girl. "You'll take
all you want for nothing
"Some people came and bought things," said Betsy, happening to remember as she and Molly turned away. "The money is on that shelf."
"Well, now!" said
the girl, "if she didn't take hold and sell things!
Molly and Betsy hurried along out of the gate into the main street of the town and down to the station. Molly was eating doughnuts as she went. They were both quite hungry by this time, but Betsy could not think of eating till she had those tickets in her hand.
She pushed her quarter and a nickel into the ticket-seller's window and said "Hillsboro" in as confident a tone as she could; but when the precious bits of paper were pushed out at her and she actually held them, her knees shook under her and she had to go and sit down on the bench.
"My! Aren't these doughnuts good?" said Molly. "I never in my life had enough doughnuts before!"
Betsy drew a long breath and began rather languidly to eat one herself; she felt, all of a sudden, very, very tired.
She was tireder still when they got out of the train at Hillsboro Station and started wearily up the road toward Putney Farm. Two miles lay before them, two miles which they had often walked before, but never after such a day as now lay back of them. Molly dragged her feet as she walked and hung heavily on Betsy's hand. Betsy plodded along, her head hanging, her eyes all gritty with fatigue and sleepiness. A light buggy spun round the turn of the road behind them, the single horse trotting fast as though the driver were in a hurry, the wheels rattling smartly on the hard road. The little girls drew out to one side and stood waiting till the road should be free again. When he saw them the driver pulled the horse back so quickly it stood almost straight up. He peered at them through the twilight and then with a loud shout sprang over the side of the buggy.
It was Uncle Henry—oh, goody, it was Uncle Henry come to meet them! They wouldn't have to walk any further!
But what was the matter with Uncle Henry? He ran up to them, exclaiming, "Are ye all right? Are ye all right?" He stooped over and felt of them desperately as though he expected them to be broken somewhere. And Betsy could feel that his old hands were shaking, that he was trembling all over. When she said, "Why, yes, Uncle Henry, we're all right. We came home on the cars," Uncle Henry leaned up against the fence as though he couldn't stand up. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead and he said—it didn't seem as though it could be Uncle Henry talking, he sounded so excited—"Well, well—well, by gosh! My! Well, by thunder! Now! And so here ye are! And you're all right! Well!"
He couldn't seem to stop exclaiming, and you can't imagine anything stranger than an Uncle Henry who couldn't stop exclaiming.
After they all got into
the buggy he quieted down a little and said, "Thunderation!
we've had a scare! When the Wendells
come back with their cousins early this afternoon, they said
you were coming with the Vaughans. And then when you
didn't come and didn't come, we telephoned to the Vaughans,
and they said they hadn't seen hide nor hair of
ye, and didn't even know you were to the Fair
at all. I tell you, your Aunt Abigail and I
had an awful turn! Ann and I hitched up quicker'n
scat and she put right out with Prince up toward
Woodford and I took Jessie down this way; thought maybe
I'd get trace of ye somewhere here. Well, land!" He
wiped his forehead again. "Wa'n't I glad to see you
"Now tell me what in thunder did happen to you!"
Betsy began at the beginning and told straight through, interrupted at first by indignant comments from Uncle Henry, who was outraged by the Wendells' loose wearing of their responsibility for the children. But as she went on he quieted down to a closely attentive silence, interrupting only to keep Jess at her top speed.
Now that it was all safely over, Betsy thought her story quite an interesting one, and she omitted no detail, although she wondered once or twice if perhaps Uncle Henry were listening to her, he kept so still. "And so I bought the tickets and we got home," she ended, adding, "Oh, Uncle Henry, you ought to have seen the prize pig! He was too funny!"
They turned into the Putney yard now and saw Aunt Abigail's bulky form on the porch.
"Got 'em, Abby! All right! No harm done!" shouted Uncle Henry.
Aunt Abigail turned without a word and went back into the house. When the little girls dragged their weary legs in they found her quietly setting out some supper for them on the table, but she was wiping away with her apron the joyful tears which ran down her cheeks, such white cheeks! It seemed so strange to see rosy Aunt Abigail with a face like paper.
"Well, I'm glad to see ye," she told them soberly. "Sit right down and have some hot milk. I had some all ready."
The telephone rang, she went into the next room, and they heard her saying, in an unsteady voice: "All right, Ann. They're here. Your father just brought them in. I haven't had time to hear about what happened yet. But they're all right. You'd better come home."
"That's your Cousin Ann telephoning from the Marshalls'."
She herself went and sat down heavily, and when Uncle Henry came in a few minutes later she asked him in a rather weak voice for the ammonia bottle. He rushed for it, got her a fan and a drink of cold water, and hung over her anxiously till the color began to come back into her pale face. "I know just how you feel, Mother," he said sympathetically. "When I saw 'em standin' there by the roadside I felt as though somebody had hit me a clip right in the pit of the stomach."
The little girls ate their supper in a tired daze, not paying any attention to what the grown-ups were saying, until rapid hoofs clicked on the stones outside and Cousin Ann came in quickly, her black eyes snapping.
"Now, for mercy's sake, tell me what happened," she said, adding hotly, "and if I don't give that Maria Wendell a piece of my mind!"
Uncle Henry broke in: "I'm going to tell what happened. I want to do it. You and Mother just listen, just sit right down and listen." His voice was shaking with feeling, and as he went on and told of Betsy's afternoon, her fright, her confusion, her forming the plan of coming home on the train and of earning the money for the tickets, he made, for once, no Putney pretense of casual coolness. His old eyes flashed fire as he talked.
Betsy, watching him, felt her heart swell and beat fast in incredulous joy. Why, he was proud of her! She had done something to make the Putney cousins proud of her!
When Uncle Henry came to the part where she went on asking for employment after one and then another refusal, Cousin Ann reached out her long arms and quickly, almost roughly, gathered Betsy up on her lap, holding her close as she listened. Betsy had never before sat on Cousin Ann's lap.
And when Uncle Henry finished—he had not
forgotten a single thing Betsy had told him—and asked, "What
do you think of that for a little girl ten
years old today?" Cousin Ann opened the flood-gates wide and
burst out, "I think I never heard of a child's
doing a smarter, grittier thing
It was a great, a momentous, an historic moment!
Betsy, enthroned on those strong knees, wondered if any little girl had ever had such a beautiful birthday.