Understood Betsy  by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

If You Don't Like Conversation in a Book Skip This Chapter!

Part 2 of 3

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 us evenings?"

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, and when 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?"

Uncle Henry 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.