Understood Betsy  by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Betsy Starts a Sewing Society

Part 2 of 3

Apparently Betsy's question had brought something half forgotten and altogether neglected into their minds. They talked for some time after that about 'Lias, the teacher confirming what Betsy and Stashie had said.

"And we sitting right here with plenty to eat and never raising a hand!" cried Aunt Abigail.

"How you will  let things slip out of your mind!" said Cousin Ann remorsefully.

It struck Betsy vividly that 'Lias was not at all the one they blamed for his objectionable appearance. She felt quite ashamed to go on with the other things she and the little girls had said, and fell silent, pretending to be very much absorbed in her game of checkers.

"Do you know," said Aunt Abigail suddenly, as though an inspiration had just struck her, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that Elmore Pond might adopt 'Lias if he was gone at the right way."

"Who's Elmore Pond?" asked the schoolteacher.

"Why, you must have seen him—that great, big, red-faced, good-natured-looking man that comes through here twice a year, buying stock. He lives over Digby way, but his wife was a Hillsboro girl, Matey Pelham—an awfully nice girl she was, too. They never had any children, and Matey told me the last time she was back for a visit that she and her husband talked quite often about adopting a little boy. Seems that Mr. Pond has always wanted a little boy. He's such a nice man! 'Twould be a lovely home for a child."

"But goodness!" said the teacher. "Nobody would want to adopt such an awful-looking little ragamuffin as that 'Lias. He looks so meeching, too. I guess his stepfather is real mean to him, when he's been drinking, and it's got 'Lias so he hardly dares hold his head up."

The clock struck loudly. "Well, hear that!" said Cousin Ann. "Nine o'clock and the children not in bed! Molly's most asleep this minute. Trot along with you, Betsy! Trot along, Molly. And, Betsy, be sure Molly's nightgown is buttoned up all the way."

So it happened that, although the grown-ups were evidently going on to talk about 'Lias Brewster, Betsy heard no more of what they said.

She herself went on thinking about 'Lias while she was undressing and answering absently little Molly's chatter. She was thinking about him even after they had gone to bed, had put the light out, and were lying snuggled up to each other, back to front, their four legs, crooked at the same angle, fitting in together neatly like two spoons in a drawer. She was thinking about him when she woke up, and as soon as she could get hold of Cousin Ann she poured out a new plan. She had never been afraid of Cousin Ann since the evening Molly had fallen into the Wolf Pit and Betsy had seen that pleased smile on Cousin Ann's firm lips. "Cousin Ann, couldn't we girls at school get together and sew—you'd have to help us some—and make some nice, new clothes for little 'Lias Brewster, and fix him up so he'll look better, and maybe that Mr. Pond will like him and adopt him?"

Cousin Ann listened attentively and nodded her head. "Yes, I think that would be a good idea," she said. "We were thinking last night we ought to do something for him. If you'll make the clothes, Mother'll knit him some stockings and Father will get him some shoes. Mr. Pond never makes his spring trip till late May, so we'll have plenty of time."

Betsy was full of importance that day at school and at recess time got the girls together on the rocks and told them all about the plan. "Cousin Ann says she'll help us, and we can meet at our house every Saturday afternoon till we get them done. It'll be fun! Aunt Abigail telephoned down to the store right away, and Mr. Wilkins says he'll give the cloth if we'll make it up."

Betsy spoke very grandly of "making it up," although she had hardly held a needle in her life, and when the Saturday afternoon meetings began she was ashamed to see how much better Ellen and even Eliza could sew than she. To keep her end up, she was driven to practising her stitches around the lamp in the evenings, with Aunt Abigail keeping an eye on her.

Cousin Ann supervised the sewing on Saturday afternoons and taught those of the little girls whose legs were long enough how to use the sewing machine. First they made a little pair of trousers out of an old gray woolen skirt of Aunt Abigail's. This was for practice, before they cut into the piece of new blue serge that the storekeeper had sent up. Cousin Ann showed them how to pin the pattern on the goods and they each cut out one piece. Those flat, queer-shaped pieces of cloth certainly did look less like a pair of trousers to Betsy than anything she had ever seen. Then one of the girls read aloud very slowly the mysterious-sounding directions from the wrapper of the pattern about how to put the pieces together. Cousin Ann helped here a little, particularly just as they were about to put the sections together wrong-side-up. Stashie, as the oldest, did the first basting, putting the notches together carefully, just as they read the instructions aloud, and there, all of a sudden, was a rough little sketch of a pair of knee trousers, without any hem or any waist-band, of course, but just the two-legged, complicated shape they ought to be! It was like a miracle to Betsy! Cousin Ann helped them sew the seams on the machine, and they all turned to for the basting of the facings and the finishing. They each made one buttonhole. It was the first one Betsy had ever made, and when she got through she was as tired as though she had run all the way to school and back. Tired, but very proud, although when Cousin Ann inspected that buttonhole, she covered her face with her handkerchief for a minute, as though she were going to sneeze, although she didn't sneeze at all.

It took them two Saturdays to finish up that trial pair of trousers, and when they showed the result to Aunt Abigail she was delighted. "Well, to think of that being my old skirt!" she said, putting on her spectacles to examine the work. She did not laugh, either, when she saw those buttonholes, but she got up hastily and went into the next room, where they soon heard her coughing.

Then they made a little blouse out of some new blue gingham. Cousin Ann happened to have enough left over from a dress she was making. This thin material was ever so much easier to manage than the gray flannel, and they had the little garment done in no time, even to the buttons and buttonholes. When it came to making the buttonholes, Cousin Ann sat right down with each one and supervised every stitch. You may not be surprised to know that they were a great improvement over the first batch.

Then, making a great ceremony of it, they began on the store material, working twice a week now, because May was slipping along very fast, and Mr. Pond might be there at any time. They knew pretty well how to go ahead on this one, after the experience of their first pair, and Cousin Ann was not much needed, except as adviser in hard places. She sat there in the room with them, doing some sewing of her own, so quiet that half the time they forgot she was there. It was great fun, sewing all together and chattering as they sewed.

A good deal of the time they talked about how splendid it was of them to be so kind to little 'Lias. "My! I don't believe most girls would put themselves out this way for a dirty little boy!" said Stashie, complacently.

"No, indeed!"  chimed in Betsy. "It's just like a story, isn't it?—working and sacrificing for the poor!"

"I guess he'll thank us all right for sure!" said Ellen. "He'll never forget us as long as he lives, I don't suppose."

Betsy, her imagination fired by this suggestion, said, "I guess when he's grown up he'll be telling everybody about how, when he was so poor and ragged, Stashie Monahan and Ellen Peters and Elizabeth Ann . . ."

"And Eliza!" put in that little girl hastily, very much afraid she would not be given her due share of the glory.

Cousin Ann sewed, and listened, and said nothing.

Toward the end of May two little blouses, two pairs of trousers, two pairs of stockings, two sets of underwear (contributed by the teacher), and the pair of shoes Uncle Henry gave were ready. The little girls handled the pile of new garments with inexpressible pride, and debated just which way of bestowing them was sufficiently grand to be worthy the occasion. Betsy was for taking them to school and giving them to 'Lias one by one, so that each child could have her thanks separately. But Stashie wanted to take them to the house when 'Lias's stepfather would be there, and shame him by showing that little girls had had to do what he ought to have done.

Cousin Ann broke into the discussion by asking, in her quiet, firm voice, "Why do you want 'Lias to know where the clothes come from?"