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 quickly—her satchel packed, the telegram sent, the train caught—that 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 and 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 its way.
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 things together."
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 another.
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 trip."
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 dreams—yes, it was horrible! She would fall,
she would roll under the wheels and be crushed to
Uncle Henry looked down at her soberly, 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
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
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
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
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 go—the 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.
Uncle Henry looked at her, eyeing her sidewise over the top of one
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, satisfying 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