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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBetty Leicester: A Story For Girls - Chapter 15. The Starlight Comes In
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Betty Leicester: A Story For Girls - Chapter 15. The Starlight Comes In Post by :trippin73 Category :Long Stories Author :Sarah Orne Jewett Date :May 2012 Read :993

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Betty Leicester: A Story For Girls - Chapter 15. The Starlight Comes In


THERE was a most joyful evening in the old Leicester house. Everybody forgot to speak about Betty's going to bed, and even Aunt Mary was in high spirits. It was wonderful how much good a little excitement did for her, and Betty had learned that an effort to be entertaining always brought the pleasant reward of saving Aunt Mary from a miserable, tedious morning or afternoon. When she waked next morning, her first thought was about papa, and her next that Aunt Mary was likely to have a headache after sitting up so late. Betty herself was tired, and felt as if it were the day after the fair; but when she hurried down to breakfast she found Aunt Barbara alone, and was told that papa had risen at four o'clock, and, as she expressed it to Aunt Mary a little later, stolen his breakfast from Serena and gone down to Riverport on the packet, the tide having served at that early hour.

"I heard a clacketing in the kitchen closet," said Serena, "and I just got my skirt an' a cape on to me an' flew down to see what 't was. I expected somebody was took with fits; an' there was y'r father with both his hands full o' somethin' he'd collected to stay himself with, an' he looked 's much o' a boy's ever he did, and I so remarked, an' he told me he was goin' to Riverport. 'Want a little change, I s'pose?' says I, an' he laughed good an' clipped it out o' the door and down towards the landin'."

"I wonder what he's after now, Serena?" said Betty sagely, but Serena shook her head absently. It was evident to Betty's mind that papa had shaken off all thought of care, and was taking steps towards some desired form of enjoyment. He had been disappointed the evening before to find that there were hardly any boats to be had. Very likely he meant to bring one up on the packet that afternoon; but Betty was disappointed not to find him in the house, and thought that he might have called her to go down on the packet with him. She felt as if she were going to have a long and dull morning.

However, she found that Aunt Mary was awake and in a cheerful frame, so she brought her boots in, and sat by the garden window while she put some new buttons on with the delightful little clamps that save so many difficult stitches. Aunt Mary was already dressed, though it was only nine o'clock, and was seated before an open bureau drawer, which her grandniece had learned to recognize as a good sign. Aunt Mary had endless treasures of the past carefully tucked away in little bundles and boxes, and she liked to look these over, and to show them to Betty, and tell their history. She listened with great eagerness to Betty's account of papa's departure.

"I was afraid that you would feel tired this morning," said the girl, turning a bright face toward her aunt.

"I am sure I expected it myself," replied Aunt Mary plaintively, "but it isn't neuralgia weather, perhaps. At any rate, I am none the worse."

"I believe that a good frolic is the very best thing for you," insisted Betty, feeling very bold; but Aunt Mary received this news amiably, though she made no reply. Betty had recovered by this time from her sense of bitter wrong at her father's departure, and after she had talked with Aunt Mary a little while about the grand success of the Out-of-Door Club, she went her ways to find Becky.

Becky was in a very friendly mood, and admired Mr. Leicester, and wondered too at ever having been afraid of him in other years, when she used to see him walking sedately down the street.

"Papa is very sober sometimes when he is hard at work," explained Betty with eagerness. "He gets very tired, and then--oh, I don't mean that papa is ever aggravating, but for days and days I know that he is working hard and can't stop to hear about my troubles, so I try not to talk to him; but he always makes up for it after a while. I don't mind now, but when I was a little girl and first went away from here I used to be lonely, and even cry sometimes, and of course I didn't understand. We get on beautifully now, and I like to read so much that I can always cover up the dull times with a nice book."

"Do they last long,--the dull times?" asked Mary Beck in an unusually sympathetic voice. Betty had spoken sadly, and it dawned upon her friend's mind that life was not all a holiday even to Betty Leicester.

"Ever so long," answered Betty briskly; "but you see I have my mending and housekeeping when we are in lodgings. We are masters of the situation now, papa always says; but when I was too small to look after him, we used to have to depend upon old lodging-house women, and they made us miserable, though I love them all for the sake of the good ones who will let you go into the kitchen yourself and make a cup of tea for papa just right, and be honest and good, and cry when you go away instead of slamming the door. Oh, I could tell you stories, Mary Eliza Beck!" and Betty took one or two frisky steps along the sidewalk as if she meant to dance. Mary Beck felt as if she were looking out of a very small and high garret window at a vast and surprising world. She was not sure that she should not like to keep house in country lodgings, though, and order the dinner, and have a housekeeping purse, as Betty had done these three or four years. They had often talked about these experiences; but Becky's heart always faltered when she thought of being alone in strange houses and walking alone in strange streets. Sometimes Betty had delightful visits, and excellent town lodgings, and diversified hotel life of the most entertaining sort. She seemed to be thinking about all this and reflecting upon it deeply. "I wish that papa and I were going to be here a year," she said. "I love Tideshead."

* * * * *

Mr. Leicester did not wait to come back with the packet boat, but appeared by the stage from the railway station in good season for dinner. He was very hungry, and looked well satisfied with his morning's work, and he told Betty that she should know toward the end of the afternoon the reason of his going to Riverport, so that there was nothing to do but to wait. She was disappointed, because she had fancied that he meant to bring home a new row-boat; perhaps, after all, he had made some arrangements about it. Why, yes! it might be coming up by the packet, and they would go out together that very evening. Betty could hardly wait for the hour to come.

When dinner was over, papa was enticed up to see the cubby-house, while the aunts took their nap. There was a little roast pig for dinner, and Aunt Barbara had been disappointed to find that her guest had gone away, as it was his favorite dinner; but his unexpected return made up for everything, and they had a great deal of good fun. Papa was in the best of spirits, and went out to speak to Serena about the batter pudding as soon as Aunt Barbara rose from her chair.

"Now don't you tell me you don't get them batter puddings a sight better in the dwellings of the rich and great," insisted Serena, with great complacency. "Setting down to feast with lords and dukes, same's you do, you must eat of the best the year round. We do season the sauce well, I will allow. Miss Barbara, she always thinks it may need a drop more."

"Serena," said Betty's father solemnly, "I assure you that I have eaten a slice of bacon between two tough pieces of hard tack for my dinner many a day this summer, and I haven't had such a batter pudding since the last one you made yourself."

"You don't tell me they're goin' out o' fashion," said Serena, much shocked. "I know some ain't got the knack o' makin' 'em."

Betty stood by, enjoying the conversation. Serena always said proudly that a great light of intellect would have been lost to the world if she had not rescued Mr. Leicester from the duck-pond when he was a boy, and they were indeed the best of friends. Serena's heart rejoiced when anybody praised her cooking, and she turned away now toward the pantry with a beaming smile, while the father and daughter went up to the garret.

It was hot there at this time of day; still the great elms outside kept the sun from shining directly on the roof, and a light breeze was blowing in at the dormer window.

Mr. Leicester sat down in the high-backed wooden rocking-chair, and looked about the quaint little place with evident pleasure. Betty was perched on the window-sill. She had looked forward eagerly to this moment.

"There is my old butterfly-net," he exclaimed, "and my minerals, and--why, all the old traps! Where did you find them? I remember that once I came up here and found everything cleared away but the gun,--they were afraid to touch that."

"I looked in the boxes under the eaves," explained Betty. "Your little Fourth of July cannon is there in the dark corner. I had it out at first, but Becky tumbled over it three times, and once Aunt Mary heard the noise and had a palpitation of the heart, so I pushed it back again out of the way. I did so wish that you were here to fire it. I had almost forgotten what fun the Fourth is. I wrote you all about it, didn't I?"

"Some day we will come to Tideshead and have a great celebration, to make up for losing that," said papa. "Betty, my child, I'm sleepy. I don't know whether it is this rocking-chair or Serena's dinner."

"Perhaps it was getting up so early in the morning," suggested Betty. "Go to sleep, papa. I'll say some of my new pieces of poetry. I learned all you gave me, and some others beside."

"Not the 'Scholar Gypsy,' I suppose?"

"Yes, indeed," said Betty. "The last of it was hard, but all those verses about the fields are lovely, and make me remember that spring when we lived in Oxford. That was the only long one you gave me. I am not sure that I can say it without the book. I always play that I am in the 'high field corner' looking down at the meadows, and I can remember the first pages beautifully."

Papa's eyes were already shut, and by the time Betty had said

"All the live murmur of a summer's day"

she found that he was fast asleep. She stole a glance at him now and then, and a little pang went through her heart as she saw that his hair was really growing gray. Aunt Mary and Aunt Barbara appeared to believe that he was hardly more than a boy, but to Betty thirty-nine years was a long lifetime, and indeed her father had achieved much more than most men of his age. She was afraid of waking him and kept very still, so that a sparrow lit on the window-sill and looked at her a moment or two before he flew away again. She could even hear the pigeons walking on the roof overhead and hopping on the shingles, with a tap, from the little fence that went about the house-top. When Mr. Leicester waked he still wished to hear the "Scholar Gypsy," which was accordingly begun again, and repeated with only two or three stops. Sometimes they said a verse together, and then they fell to talking about some of the people whom they both loved in Oxford, and had a delightful hour together. At first Betty had not liked to learn long poems, and thought her father was stern and inconsiderate in choosing such old and sober ones; but she was already beginning to see a reason for it, and was glad, if for nothing else, to know the poems papa himself liked best, even if she did not wholly understand them. It was easy now to remember a new one, for she had learned so many. Aunt Barbara was much pleased with this accomplishment, for she had learned a great many herself in her lifetime. It seemed to be an old custom in the Leicester family, and Betty thought one day that she could let this gift stand in the place of singing as Becky could; one's own friends were not apt to care so much for poetry, but older people liked to be "repeated" to. One night, however, she had said Tennyson's ballad of "The Revenge" to Harry Foster and Nelly as they came up the river, and they liked it surprisingly.

Papa reached for the old guitar presently and after mending the broken strings he began to sing a delightful little Italian song, a great favorite of Betty's. Then there was a step on the stairs, Aunt Barbara's dignified head appeared behind the railing, and they called her to come up and join them.

"I felt as if there must be ghosts walking in daylight when I heard the old guitar," she said a little wistfully. When she was seated in the rocking-chair and Betty's father had pulled forward a flowered tea-chest for himself, he went on with his singing, and then played a Spanish dancing tune, with a nod to Betty, so that she skipped at once to the open garret-floor and took the pretty steps with much gayety. Aunt Barbara smiled and kept time with her foot; then she left the prim rocking-chair and began to follow the dance too, soberly chasing Betty and receding and even twirling her about, until they were both out of breath and came back to their places very warm and excited. They looked strangely alike as they danced. Betty was almost as tall and only a little more quick and graceful than her grandaunt.

"It is such fun to be just the same age as you and papa," insisted Betty. "We do everything together now." She took on a pretty grown-up air, and looked at Aunt Barbara admiringly. It was only this summer that she had begun to understand how young grown people really are. Aunt Mary seemed much older because she had stopped doing so many pleasant things. This garret dance was a thing to remember. Betty liked Aunt Barbara better every day, but it had never occurred to her that she knew that particular Spanish dance. An army officer's wife had taught it to Betty and some of her friends the summer she was in the Isle of Wight. Becky had been brought up to be very doubtful about dancing, which was a great pity, for she was apt to be stiff and awkward when she walked or tried to move about in the room. Somehow she moved her feet as if they had been made too heavy for her, but she learned a good deal from trying to keep step as she walked with Betty, who was naturally light-footed.

Mr. Leicester put down the guitar at last, and said that he had an errand to do, and that Betty had better come along.

"Can't you sit still five minutes, either of you?" maliciously asked Aunt Barbara, who had quite regained her breath. "I really did not know how cozy this corner was. I must say that I had forgot to associate it with anything but Serena's and my putting away blankets in the spring. I used to like to sit by the window and read when I was your age, Betty. In those days I could look over this nearest elm and see way down the river, just as you can now in winter when the leaves are gone. I dare say the three generations before me have played here too. I am so glad that we could have Betty this summer; it is time she began to strike her roots a little deeper here."

"Yes," said Mr. Leicester, "but I _can't do without her, my only Betsey!" and they all laughed, but Betty had a sudden suspicion that Aunt Barbara would try to keep her altogether now. This frightened our friend a little, for though she loved the old home dearly, she must take care of papa. It was her place to take care of him now; she had been looking over his damaged wardrobe most anxiously that morning, as if her own had never known ruin. His outside clothes were well enough, but alas for his pocket handkerchiefs and stockings! He looked a little pale, too, and as if he had on the whole been badly neglected in minor ways.

But there never was a more cheerful and contented papa, as they walked toward the river together hand-in-hand, in the fashion of Betty's childhood. They found that the packet had come in, and there was a group of spectators on the old wharf, who were looking eagerly at something which proved to be a large cat-boat which the packet had in tow. Mr. Leicester left Betty suddenly and went to the wharf's edge.

"Did you have any trouble bringing her up?" he asked.

"Bless ye, no, sir," said the packet's skipper; "didn't hinder us one grain; had a clever little breeze right astern all the way up."

"Look here, Betty," said papa, returning presently. "I went down this morning to hunt for a dory with a sail, and I saw this cat-boat which somebody was willing to let, and I have hired it for a while. I wish to look up the river shell-fish a bit; it's not altogether play, I mean you to understand."

"Oh, _papa_!" cried Betty joyfully. "The only thing we needed was a nice boat. But you can't have clutters in pots and pans at Aunt Barbara's, can you, and your works going on? Serena won't like it, and she can be quite terrible, you know!"

"Come on board and look at her," said Mr. Leicester, regardless of the terrors of Serena's disapproval. The cat-boat carried a jib beside a good-sized mainsail, and had a comfortable little cabin with a tiny stove and two berths and plenty of lockers. Two young men had just spent their vacation in her, coasting eastward, and one of them told Mr. Leicester that she was the quickest and steadiest boat he ever saw, sailing close to the wind and answering her rudder capitally. They had lived on board altogether and made themselves very comfortable indeed. There was a light little flat-bottomed boat for tender, and the white cat-boat itself had been newly painted with gilt lettering across the stern, _Starlight, Riverport_.

"I can ask the Out-of-Door Club one day next week," announced Betty, with great enthusiasm. "Isn't she clean and pretty? _Won't Aunt Barbara like her, papa?"

"I must look about for some one to help me to sail her," said Mr. Leicester, with uncommon gravity. "What do you think of young Foster? He must know the river well, and his fishing may be falling off a little now. It would be a good way to help him, don't you think so?"

Betty's eyes shone with joy. "Oh, yes," she said; "they do have such a hard time now. Nelly told me so yesterday morning. It has cost them so much lately. Harry has been trying to get something to do in Riverport."

They were busy anchoring the Starlight out in the stream, and now Mr. Leicester helped Betty over the side into the tender and sculled her ashore. Some of the men on the wharf had disappeared, but others were still there, and there was a great bustle of unloading some bags of grain from the packet. Mr. Leicester invited one of his old acquaintances who asked many questions to come out and see the cat-boat, and as Betty hurried up the street to the house she saw over her shoulder that a large company in small leaky crafts had surrounded the pretty Starlight like pirates. It was apt to be very dull in Tideshead for many of the idle citizens, and Mr. Leicester's return was always hailed with delight. It was nearly tea-time, so that Betty could not go over to tell Mary Beck the good news; but one white handkerchief, meaning _Come over_, was quickly displayed on the pear-tree branch, and while Betty was getting dressed in a much-needed fresh gown for tea Becky kindly appeared, and was delighted with the good news. She had seen the Starlight already from a distance.

"My father used to have a splendid sailboat," said fatherless Becky with much wistfulness, and Betty put her arms round her and gave her a warm kiss. Sometimes it seemed that whatever one had the other lacked.

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