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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBetty Leicester: A Story For Girls - Chapter 10. Up-Country
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Betty Leicester: A Story For Girls - Chapter 10. Up-Country Post by :randomcreek Category :Long Stories Author :Sarah Orne Jewett Date :May 2012 Read :1368

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Betty Leicester: A Story For Girls - Chapter 10. Up-Country

CHAPTER X. UP-COUNTRY

AUNT BARBARA and Betty had finished their breakfast in the cool breakfast-room, or little dining-room as it was sometimes called by the family. This looked out on the short elm-shaded grass of the side yard, but it was apt to get too warm later in the day. The dining-room was much larger, and had most of the family portraits in it and a ponderous sideboard and side tables, and Betty sometimes thought that a good deal of machinery had to be set running there to give a quiet dinner or supper just to Aunt Barbara and herself. But the little dining-room was very cosy, with a small sideboard and a tall clock and an old looking-glass and very old-fashioned slender wooden armchairs. The sun came dancing in through the leaves at a square window. The breakfast-room was nearer the kitchen, and Serena had a sociable custom of appearing now and then to ask Miss Leicester about the housekeeping.

"There now, Miss Barb'ra," she exclaimed, putting her head in at the door, while Betty and her aunt still lingered. "You excuse me this time, but here's Jonathan considers it best to go off up-country looking for winter's wood, of all things! I told him I'd like to ride up long of him to see sister Sarah when he went, but I never expected he'd select the very day I set two weeks ago for us to pick the currants."

"But one day will make very little difference; I thought yesterday when you spoke of them that they needed a little more sun," said Miss Leicester persuasively.

"'T will bring the jelly right into the last o' the week when there's enough to do any way." One would have thought that Serena was being forced into unpleasant duty, but this was her way of beginning a day's pleasure, and Miss Leicester had been familiar with it for many years.

"He's goin' right off; puttin' the hosses in now; never gives nobody a moment to consider," grumbled Serena, but Miss Leicester laughed and bade the good soul hurry and get herself ready. There was nothing to be done that day that Letty could not manage, or Letty's sister would come over in the afternoon, or Mrs. Grimshaw, the extra helper who was frequently on hand. "I think Jonathan is wise not to give you any more time to think about it. There's no use in scouring the whole house outside and in before you take a day's pleasure," she suggested cheerfully.

"I like to have my mind at rest," responded Serena, but still there was something unsaid. Betty's eyes were eager, but she considerately waited for Serena to speak first. "You see, Miss Barb'ra, Jonathan's got to take up the rag-bags, 't is most a year since I got 'em up to sister Sarah's before, and they're in the way here, we all know, and I've got some bundles beside, and I told Seth Pond to run out an' pick a mess o' snap beans. Sister Sarah's piece is very late land and I s'pose she won't have any; and Jonathan he knows when I start I fill up more than the little wagon; so he's got the big one, and that makes empty seats, an' Miss Betty was saying that when I was goin' up again"--

"You are base conspirators, both of you," said Aunt Barbara, much amused. "It is a delightful day; the weather couldn't be better. Now hurry, Betty, and don't keep Serena waiting."

"If it's so that you really want to go, Miss Betty."

"I do, indeed, Miss Serena," responded Betty with great spirit, and off she ran up-stairs, while her aunt hurried to find something to send by way of remembrance, not only to Serena's sister Sarah, but to Seth's mother, who lived two miles this side.

There was great excitement for the next half hour. Everybody behaved as if there were danger of missing a train, and Seth and Letty were sent this way and that, and Serena gave as many last charges as if she meant to be absent a fortnight, while Jonathan, already in the wagon, grumbled at the delay and shouted to the horses if they so much as lifted a foot at a fly. When they had fairly started he gave a chuckle of satisfaction and said that he didn't expect when he was harnessing to get off until much as an hour later, whereat Serena with unwonted levity called him a "deceivin' old sarpent." The wind was blowing gently from the north, and was cool enough to make one comfortable in a jacket, though Betty could not be persuaded that hers was needed. Serena's shawl was pinned neatly about her shoulders. She sat alone on the back seat of the wagon, for Jonathan had said that it would ride better not to be too heavy behind and therefore Betty was keeping him company in front, of which scheme Serena had her own secret opinion. The piece-bags took up a large part of the spare seat. Sister Sarah was lame and took great joy in working the waste material of the Leicester house into rugs and rag carpets, and it was one of Serena's joys to fill the round piece-bags even to bursting.

Then there were the beans, and the bundles large and small, and Betty was in charge of a package of newspapers and magazines and patent medicine almanacs and interesting circulars of all sorts which Seth had been saving for his mother.

Jonathan was a tall, thin man, with a shrewd clean-shaven face. He wore a new straw hat that day, with a faded linen coat, and a much washed-out plaid gingham cravat under his shirt collar. The best hat was worn on Betty's account, and was evidently a little stiff and uncomfortable, for he took it off once or twice and looked into the crown soberly and then put it on again.

"Sorry you wore it, I s'pose?" observed Serena on one of these occasions.

"Got to wear it some time," answered Jonathan gruffly, so that nobody thought best to speak of the hat again even when a sudden puff of wind blew it over into a field. Betty had been ready to put on one of her old play-gowns, as she still called them, but upon reflection decided that it would be hardly respectful when she had been invited to go visiting with such kind and proper friends, and indeed Serena had given her a hasty and complacent glance from head to foot when she came down dressed in one of the prettiest of the London ginghams. Mrs. Duncan, Betty's kind friend and adviser, had been sure that these ginghams would all four be needed to clothe our heroine comfortably through the summer, that is to judge from experience in other summers; but it made a difference in the stress put upon ginghams, to be a year older.

The up-country road wound first among farms and within sight of the river, then it took a sudden northward turn and there were not so many white elder flowers by the way as there were junipers and young birches. There were long reaches through the cool woods, and the road was always rising to a higher part of the country, veritable up-country, among the hills. From one high point where they stopped to let the horses rest a minute there was a beautiful view of the low lands that lay toward the sea, and the river which ran southward in shining lines. It would be hard to say who most enjoyed the morning. The elder members of the party seldom felt themselves free for a holiday, and Betty was always ready to enjoy whatever came in her way; but there was a delicious novelty in being asked to spend a day with Serena and Jonathan. They were hostess and host, and Betty felt an unusual spirit of deference and gratitude toward them; it seemed as if they were both quite conscious of a different relationship toward Betty from that at home. It was wonderful to see what cordial greetings most of the people gave them along the road, and how many warm friends they seemed to possess. The farther they went, the more struck by this was our Betty, who gave a little sigh at some unworded thought about always being a newcomer and stranger. She had begun to feel so recognized and at home in Tideshead that it was a little hard now to find herself unknown again.

But Serena liked to tell her who every one was, and there was as much friendly interest shown in Miss Betty Leicester as any heart could wish.

They had gone almost fourteen miles, and Betty was just nearing the end of a long description of her experiences at the Queen's Jubilee, when Jonathan said: "Now you can rec'lect just where you put the mark in. I don't calc'late to lose none of it, but here we've got to stop top of the hill an' see Seth's folks. You've got them papers an' things handy, ain't you, Serena?"

Betty saw a yellow story-and-a-half house by the roadside with some queer little sheds and outbuildings, and looked with great interest to see if any one came to the window. "Seth's folks" meant nobody but his mother, who lived alone as Betty knew, and there she was standing in the door, a kind-faced, round-shouldered little creature, who had the patient, half-apprehensive look of those women who live alone in lonely places. She threw her big clean gingham apron over her head and came forward just as Jonathan had got out of the wagon and Betty followed him.

"There, bless ye!" said "Seth's folks." "I waked up this morning kind of expecting that I should see somebody from down Seth's way. I expect he's well's common?"

"Oh, yes," responded Jonathan. "We had to leave him to keep house. He was full o' messages, but I can't seem to remember none on 'em now."

"No matter, so long I know's he's well," said the little woman, shaking hands with Betty and looking at her delightedly. "Now I want you all to come in and stop to dinner," but Serena could not even be persuaded to "'light down" on account of her duty to sister Sarah. Betty carried in the armful of reading matter and Mrs. Pond followed her, and while our friend looked at the plain little house and fancied Seth practicing his tunes, and saw the beautiful cone frame which he had helped his mother to make, the hospitable little mother was getting some home-made root-beer out of a big stone jug, and soon served it to her three guests in pretty old-fashioned blue and white mugs. Betty thought she had never tasted anything so delicious as the flavor of spice and pleasing bitterness in the cold drink, and Jonathan smacked his lips loudly and promised to call for more as he came back. Mrs. Pond took another good long look at Betty before they parted. "I wasn't expectin' you to be so much of a young lady, I do' know's you be quite growed up yet, though," she said. This was not the least of the pleasures of that day, and they went on next to sister Sarah's, where Betty and Serena and the freight were to be left while Jonathan went off about his business.

It almost seemed as if up-country existed for the sake of its market town of Tideshead. Betty had been there once or twice in her childhood, but her memories even of sister Sarah were rather indistinct. She had taken a long nap once on the patchwork quilt in the bedroom, and had waked to find four or five women hooking a large rug in the kitchen, all talking together, which had made an impression upon her young mind. It was strawberry-time too on that last visit. But sister Sarah remembered a great deal more about it than this, and was delighted to see Betty once more. There was the very rug on the floor, already beginning to look worn. One could remember it by a white, or rather a gray, rabbit under some large green leaves which made part of the design. It was impossible to say how many rugs there were in the house, as if life went on for the sole purpose of making hooked and braided rugs. Those in the kitchen at Aunt Barbara's were evidently the work of sister Sarah's industrious fingers. Serena might have left the place of her birth the week before instead of nearly forty years, if one might judge by the manner in which she hung her bonnet and shawl on a nail behind the door and put her gray thread gloves into the table drawer.

Sister Sarah looked like a neat little nun, and limped painfully as she went about the room. Sometimes she used a crutch, but she seemed as lame with it as without it, and she was such a brisk little creature in spirit, and was so little depressed by her misfortune that one felt it would be unwelcome to express any pity. Betty knew that sometimes the poor woman suffered a great deal of pain and could not move at all, and that a neighbor who also lived alone came at those times and stayed with her for a few weeks. "Sister Sarah ain't one mite lame in her mind," Serena said proudly one day, and Betty found this to be the truth. She did not like to read, however, and told Betty that it was never anything but a task, except to study geography, and she only had one old geography, fairly worn to pieces, which she knew by heart, with all its lists of towns and countries and rivers, the productions and boundaries and capitals and climatic conditions and wild animals were at her tongue's end for anybody who cared to hear them. "The old folks used to think she'd better exercise her memory learning hymns, and Sister Sarah favored geography," Serena once explained; "but she knows what other folks knows, and has got a head crammed full o' learning. She never forgets nothing, whilst I leak by the way, myself, and do' know whether I know anything or not," she ended triumphantly.

Serena's mind was full of plans that day, and after resting a little while and hearing the news, she asked Betty whether she would go with her to a cousin's about a mile away by a pasture path, or whether she would stay where she was. The path sounded very pleasant, but from the tone of the invitation it seemed best to remain behind, so she quickly decided and Serena set forth alone. It was only about eleven o'clock and she meant to be back by twelve, and dinner was put off half an hour. Then Serena would have the afternoon clear until it was time to go. The cousin had seen trouble since the last visit, so it never would do to go home without seeing her. Sister Sarah and Betty sat by the front windows of the living-room, and Betty obeyed a parting charge to tell her companion "about seeing the Queen and the times when she used to go and see the Prince o' Wales's girls," so that the last of the morning was soon gone.

"Such folks has their aches an' pains just like us," commented sister Sarah at last. "I expected, though, they was more pompous-behaved than you seem to describe. Well, they have to think o' their example, and so does others, for that matter. I wonder'f'mongst all they've learned to do, anybody ever showed 'em how to braid or hook 'em a nice mat. I s'pose not, but with all their hired help an' all their rags that must come of a year's wear, 't would be a shame for them to buy."

"I never saw any rugs just like these," said Betty, turning quickly to look out of the window. "I don't believe people make them except in America. But the princesses know how to do a good many things." It was very funny to Betty to think of their hooking rugs for themselves, however, but Serena's sister did not appear to suspect it.

"Land, won't I have a good time picking over those big full bags!" said she, looking at Aunt Barbara's rag-bags with delight, and forgetting the employments of royalty. "Your aunt's real generous, she is so! I sort out everything into heaps on the spare floor and if I have too much white I just reach for the dyepot. I do enjoy myself over them piece-bags."

"I don't know what would become of Aunt Barbara and Aunt Mary without Serena," said Betty, "but I don't see how you can spare her all the time."

"She wouldn't be spared by them," said sister Sarah, putting her head on one side like a bird. "When I was first left alone after marm's decease, folks thought she'd ought to come back, but I says No. She wouldn't be contented now same's she was before she went, and I should get wuss and wuss if I was waited on stiddy. 'No!' says I to every one, 'let me be and let her be. She's free to come, and she's puttin' by her good earnin's. I wept all night when she first went off to Tideshead, seventeen year old, to be maid to Madam Leicester, but I knew from that day she was set to go her way same's I was mine. But she's be'n a good sister to me; we never passed an hour unfriendly, and 't ain't all can say the same."

"No, indeed," said Betty cheerfully.

"Queen Victori' knows what it is to be alone," continued the little sister. "I always read how she was a real mourner. Now I seem to enter into her feelin's, bein' left by myself, though not a widow-woman."

Betty thought of the contrast between the Queen's life, with its formality and crowded households, and its retinues and solemn pageantry and this empty little New England farm-house on a long hillside that sloped eastward. It was so funny to hear the Queen discussed and to find her a familiar personage, just as one might in old England, where one was always hearing about "our dear Queen." But to sister Sarah the Queen was only another woman who lived alone, and had many responsibilities.

"I expect you're a regular little Britisher by this time, ain't you, Miss Betty?"

"Indeed, I'm not," answered our friend with spirit. "Papa would be ashamed of me. I'm a great American. What made you think so?" Sister Sarah looked pleased, but did not have anything more to offer on the subject. "We're all English to start with, but with the glory of America added on," said Betty with girlish enthusiasm. "You can't take away our English inheritance. I used to be always insisting upon that with the girls, that Shakespeare and King Arthur were just as much ours as theirs."

"I expect you know a sight o' things I never dreamt of," said sister Sarah, "but to me what takes place in this neighborhood is just as interesting as foreign parts. Folks is folks, I tell 'em. There ain't but a few kinds, neither, but they're put into all sorts of places, ain't they?"

Betty found that her hostess had a great many entertaining things to say, but presently there was a fear expressed lest Serena might be beguiled into staying too long at the cousin's, and so delay the dinner.

"Let me begin; oh please let me," said Betty, springing up. She had a sudden delighted instinct that it would be charming to wait upon Serena to-day and sister Sarah, and take her turn at making them comfortable. As quick as thought she turned up her skirt and pinned it behind her and said, "What next, if you please, ma'm," in a funny little tone copied from that of a precise London damsel in Mrs. Duncan's employ, who always amused the family very much.

Sister Sarah was fond of a joke, and to tell the truth this was one of her aching days and she had been dreading to take so many steps. She saw how pleased Betty was with her kind little plan.

"To lay the table and step lively," she answered, shaking with laughter. And Betty followed her directions until the square dinner-table stood in the middle of the floor, covered with a nice homespun linen cloth of which the history had to be told; and the old blue crockery; and Betty had cut just so many slices of bread, and brought just so many spiced pears from the brown jar in the cellar-way, and found the nice little square piece of cold corned beef which the hostess was so glad to have on hand, and had looked at the potatoes two or three times where they were baking in the stove oven in the shed-room where sister Sarah did her summer cooking; all these and other things were done when Serena, out of breath, and heated with hurrying, came in at the door.

"I'm going to finish since I have begun," said Betty proudly. "Now please use this fan, Serena, and rest yourself, and I shall be ready in a few minutes. I'm having a beautiful good time. Which pitcher shall I take for the fresh water?" and out she went to the cool old well under the apple-tree.

"Now was there ever such a darlin' gal," said sister Sarah, and Serena nodded her head. "I dare say she does like to take holt. Miss Barb'ra never was one that shirked at nothing," she had time to reply before Betty came back and filled the tumblers and called the sisters to their dinner.

"Sarah," said Serena decisively, as she saw how hard it was for sister Sarah to move, "you've got to get Ann Sparks, ain't ye?"

And the lame woman answered Yes.

"I hate to give up, as you know, but one of my poor times is coming on," she said sadly.

The dinner was a great pleasure; Betty would do all the waiting, and there was an unexpected dessert of a jelly cake which Serena had brought with her, being mindful of her sister's fondness for it. Betty was touched with the sisters' delight in being together, for in spite of what Miss Sarah had said about their being contented apart, she knew that the family had seen trouble in earlier times, and that Serena's wages had been the main dependence while sister Sarah could not be happy any where but in her own home.

There never were such delicious baked potatoes, and Betty humbly waited until she was perfectly sure neither of the sisters wanted the last one before she eagerly took it. It was delightful to be so hungry, as hungry as one could be on shipboard! And when the gay little dinner was over Betty made the hostess still play guest, and put on her apron again and carried the plates to the shed kitchen, and found the dish pan and the soap, and in spite of what anybody could say she washed them every one and only let Serena wipe them and put them away. Serena entered into the spirit of the thing and was so funny and nice--making believe to be afraid they were not doing things right and that "sister Sarah would turn to and do 'em over again, being amazing particular."

Then when the flies were whisked out by two efficient aprons, Betty left the sisters to themselves for a good talk and rest, and wandered out along the hillsides by the path Serena had taken, and there she sat and thought and looked off at the green country and at the sky. A little black and white dog came trotting along the path on some errand of his own, and when he saw Betty he held up one paw and looked at her and then came to be patted and to snuggle down by her side as if she were an old friend. Betty was touched by this expression of confidence and sympathy, as indeed she might be, and was sorry to say good-by to the little dog when it was time to go back to the house. He licked her fingers affectionately as she gave him a last patting, and seemed disappointed because she left him so soon, as if he had gone trotting about the world all his life to find her and now she was going away again. He did not offer to follow her, but whenever she looked back there he was, sitting quite still and watching.

Jonathan was already at the house, impatient to be on his way home, and Serena's bonnet was just being taken down from its nail as Betty came in. It seemed too bad to leave sister Sarah behind, but then she had all the piece-bags for company, as Serena said.

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