Understood Betsy  by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Betsy Has a Birthday

Part 2 of 3

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.

"Great kid, 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 dope and . . . "

"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 anything about . . . but the man laid down a nickel, took two doughnuts, and turned away. Betsy gasped and looked at the home-made sign stuck into the big pan of doughnuts. Sure enough, it read "2 for 5." She put the nickel up on a shelf and went back to her dishwashing. Selling things wasn't so hard, she reflected.

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 her shoulder . . . and in years to come she can shut her eyes and see again in every detail that rustic procession under the golden, September light.

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 . . . Momma'll never miss 'em. And what you sell here has got to be fresh every day. Here, hold out your hands, both of you."

"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! Say . . ."—she ran after Betsy and gave her a hug—"you smart young one, I wish't I had a little sister just like you!"