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   Chapter 1 COUSIN BEN

A Dear Little Girl at School By Amy Ella Blanchard Characters: 14707

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Edna and Cousin Ben Barker were on the back porch. It was a favorite place, for it was always shady there in summer and out of the wind on cold days. If big Cousin Ben did not always like to be where Edna was, on the other hand Edna invariably sought out Cousin Ben if he were to be found about the premises.

On this special afternoon he was doing something to his wheel, getting it in order for a long ride which he had planned for the next day. Edna stood watching him, ready to hand a tool or run for a piece of rag to be used in cleaning, or to fill the oil can from the bottle on the shelf upstairs.

"Where are you going to-day, Cousin Ben?" Edna always asked this for Cousin Ben's replies were generally so funny.

"I'm going to the woods," he said, "to see Johnny-jump-up."

"Why will he jump up?" asked Edna in pleased expectancy of something amusing.

"Because the dog-wood bark, you know."

"I know dog-wood blossoms," returned Edna a little doubtfully.

"Of course, and I dare say you know the dog-wood bark, too, don't you?"

"Ye-es, I suppose so."

Cousin Ben went on burnishing the metal he was at work upon. "You see," he continued after a moment, "the catkins will all be out and when I meet one I shall say, 'Pussy, will oh, will you tell me the way to the elder Berries.'"

"What do you suppose she will say?" inquired Edna settling herself well content to continue this sort of talk, though thinking it was scarcely the season for Pussy-willows.

"She will say: 'The elder Berry? My dear boy, any dog ought to know the way there.' You see she knows I am a Barker."

Edna laughed. "Go on."

"And I will say, 'Yes, madam, but that sassy Fras always tries to get in my path. It is a very easy matter to whip poor Will, but sassy Fras is another matter.' Then she will ask: 'Did you ever try to haze L. Nutt?' and I will reply, 'Chestnuts!' for I don't like to talk about hazing, being in a position to expect a little of it any day. Well, Ande, I must be off or I will find Pip's sis away." Cousin Ben always called Edna Ande because he declared that was what her name really was but had been turned hind side before. Some persons, Edna's sister Celia and Agnes Evans, for instance, called Cousin Ben a very silly boy, but Edna thought his kind of nonsense great fun.

It was an afternoon in autumn. For some time past, Edna and her sister had been going into the city to school every day, but this was the last week when this would be done, for after this they would go only on Mondays returning on Fridays till the days became long again. During the winter when it was still dark at seven in the morning, and when the afternoons were so short, it had seemed better that they should not come home every day. Therefore, as Aunt Elizabeth Horner and Uncle Justus wanted much to have them remain, it was so arranged. Edna was a great favorite with her Uncle Justus, for she had spent the winter previous at his house and had gone to his school. Then, on account of Mr. Conway's business, the family had removed from the town in which they had formerly lived and had taken a house a little out of the city.

Like most children Edna loved the country and was glad of the change. A little further up the road lived her friend Dorothy Evans and her sister Agnes, the latter was a little older than Edna's sister Celia. All four girls attended Uncle Justus' school and so did Margaret MacDonald, the adopted daughter of good Mrs. MacDonald who lived in the big gray stone house with the lovely grounds. Margaret was having a pretty hard time of it, as she had never had much opportunity of going to school and was far behind the girls of her own age. Edna and Dorothy were her staunch defenders, however and when matters came to a too difficult pass the older girls were appealed to and could always straighten out whatever was wrong. Frank and Charlie, Edna's brothers, were almost too large for Uncle Justus' school, where only little fellows went, so they went elsewhere to the school which Roger and Steve Porter attended. It was Cousin Ben's first year at college, and he was housed at the Conways, his mother being an elder sister of Edna's mother.

After seeing Cousin Ben start off, Edna left the porch and stood for a moment thinking what she would do next. This being the last time she would be at home for the entire week, she concluded she ought to make the most of it, but first she must get together such things as she should want for Monday. "Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, and Monday, too. There are only four, after all," she said, counting the days on her fingers. "It seems very much longer when you first think of it." And then, as she continued to think, to her surprise she discovered that only Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays would be the entire days she would spend away from home.

She was so interested in having found this out that she ran upstairs to her mother, to tell of it. "Mother," she said, "I have made a discovery."

"You have, and what is it?" said Mrs. Conway.

"Why, here I've been thinking I'd be away from you the whole week all but Saturday and Sunday, and now I find out I shall see you every day but three, 'cause, you know, I don't start till after breakfast on Monday, so that's one day. Then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I don't see you, but I get back in time for dinner on Friday, so there is Friday, Saturday and Sunday, three more days. Isn't it fine?"

"Very, I think."

"And the funny part is," Edna went on busily thinking, "I am at school five days out of the seven. It's almost like a puzzle, isn't it? I think I shall take Ada with me and leave her there. She is used to it, and won't mind as much as some of the other dolls, for she was there all last year and besides, Aunt Elizabeth gave her to me. Aunt Elizabeth is quite kind sometimes, isn't she?"

"She means to be kind all the time, but she has rather a stern manner."

"Did you used to be afraid of her when you were a little girl?"

"No, honey, because I didn't know her. She is your papa's aunt, you know."

"And he told me he didn't see much of her, for he lived in quite another place, and I suppose by the time he grew up he wasn't afraid of anybody. Well, anyhow, I'm glad it won't be 'butter or molasses' all the week."

"What do you mean, dearie?"

"Why, you know we couldn't have both and there were never any preserves. Sometimes there were stewed apples, the dried kind, and they were not so very bad when they were sweet enough and had a lot of lemon flavor in them. I used to ask Ellen to do them that way and she always would, except when Aunt Elizabeth was in the kitchen and then she had to do as Aunt Elizabeth told her. If you have more preserves than you can use, don't you think you could send her some, mother? You see we shall not be here to eat them, Celia and I, and you won't have to use so many."

"That is an idea. Why, yes, I can send some in every week when you go, and Celia can tell Aunt Elizabeth to have them for your supper."

"How will she tell her?" asked Edna, feeling that this was an ordeal that she would not like to go through.

"Why, it will be very easy to say, 'Aunt Elizabeth, here are some preserves mother thought would be nice for supper to-night.' Don't you think that would be easy to say?"

"Ye

-es," returned Edna a little doubtful if this would have the proper effect. "I think myself it would be better to let Ellen have them or Uncle Justus."

Her mother laughed. Edna's awe of Aunt Elizabeth was so very apparent.

"There is one thing I wish you would promise," the little girl went on, "and that is, that you will always have hot cakes on Saturday mornings so I can have butter and syrup both."

"I promise," replied her mother smiling.

"I know Louis is mighty glad not to be going back," Edna continued, "and I'm rather glad he isn't myself, for this year I shall have Celia."

"I thought you were fond of Louis."

"I am pretty fond of him, but I'd rather have girls about all the time than boys all the time. Girls fuss with you, of course. They get mad and won't speak, but I'd liefer they'd do that than try to boss you the way boys do. Mother, there is another thing I wish you would do, and that is I wish you would tell Aunt Elizabeth that she will please let Dorothy come to play with me sometimes. Dorothy is my particular friend, you know, and Aunt Elizabeth will never allow me to have her visit me unless you say she can."

"Did she never allow you to have company last winter?"

Edna shook her head and a sigh escaped her.

"I will arrange that Dorothy shall come," said her mother quite firmly.

"It's going to be much nicer than last year," remarked Edna in a satisfied tone, "for I shall always have Celia to go to, and you will be so near, too, and besides I like Uncle Justus much better than I did at first."

"Of the two I should think you would have more fear of Uncle Justus than of Aunt Elizabeth," said her mother looking down at her.

"I did at first, but I found it was mostly on account of his eyebrows; they are so shaggy."

Mrs. Conway smiled. "I have heard it said that he can be rather terrible," she remarked.

"Oh, well, so he can, but he isn't all the time and Aunt Elizabeth is."

"I hope this year you will find out that it is only Aunt Elizabeth's eyebrows, too."

"It couldn't be, for she hasn't any to speak of," returned Edna. As she talked she was carefully packing the little trunk in which Ada's clothes were kept. It was a tiny trunk, only about six inches long. Aunt Elizabeth had made it, herself, by covering a box with leather and strapping the leather across with strips of wood glued on. Edna liked the trunk much better than a larger one which had been bought at the store. Aunt Elizabeth was very clever in making things of this kind and would sometimes surprise her little niece with some home-made gift which was the more prized because it was unusual. The child remembered this now and began to feel that she had not shown herself very grateful in speaking as she had done a moment before. "Mother," she said. "I didn't mean that Aunt Elizabeth was frightful all the time. She is very kind when she gives me things like this trunk."

"You don't mean frightful," replied Mrs. Conway laughing, "you mean she is rather formidable."

But that was too much of a word for Edna, though she did not say so. Having stowed away Ada's belongings, three frocks, two petticoats, a red hood and sacque, a blue dressing-gown and apron, she shut the lid. "I don't think I'll take her furs this week because she'll not need them," she remarked, "and I don't think I will take any of my other dolls because I will be so glad to see them next Friday. Mother, if you come into town any time during the week will you come out to see us?"

"If I have time I certainly shall."

Edna gave a sigh of content. It was surely going to be much better than last year. "Mother," she said, changing the subject, "do you think Cousin Ben is silly?"

"He can be rather silly but he can also be very sensible. He is silly only when he wants to tease or when he wants to amuse a little girl I know."

"I like his silly better than some of the big girls's sillies. They giggle so much and aren't funny at all. I think he is very funny. He says such queer things about the trees and plants in the woods. He twists their names around so they mean something else. Like the dog-wood, bark, you know. Mother, what is hazing?"

"It is the kind of thing the college boys do to those in a lower class; they play tricks on them which sometimes are really very cruel."

"Do you mean they really hurt them?"

"Sometimes they hurt them very much. I knew of one young man who was forced into a pond of water on an icy day in the fall, and who nearly died of pneumonia in consequence of the cold he took from having to be in his wet clothes so long."

"Do you think they will do anything like that to Cousin Ben?"

"I certainly hope not, though no doubt there will be some tricks played on him as he is a Freshman."

Edna knew what a Freshman was but the matter of hazing was quite new to her and troubled her very much. Cousin Ben had gone out alone to the woods. Perhaps this very moment someone was lying in wait for him.

Hastily setting away the doll and trunk she ran downstairs, put on her coat and hat and started up the road toward the woods nearest. She had no exact plan in her mind, but she knew Cousin Ben had probably gone to see one of his classmates who lived just beyond this piece of woods. The college was on the outskirts of the city and the dormitories were within easy walking distance, so that one was liable to see a group of college boys at almost any time. Edna trotted along hoping to overtake her cousin. She did not believe anyone would attack him unless he were alone, and she meant to keep him company on his return walk. Just as she reached the edge of the woods she came upon a group of Sophomores standing a short distance away and she heard one say. "We'll nab him as he comes out, boys."

Who could they mean but Cousin Ben? She walked slowly that she might, if possible, hear more.

"You're sure he came this way?" she heard another say.

"Sure," was the reply. "We saw him go in Abercrombie's gate."

That settled it in Edna's mind, for it was Will Abercrombie whose house Cousin Ben most frequented. She hesitated a moment, wondering what path her cousin would take, and then she remembered that the short cut was through the woods; it was much longer by the road. It was already getting rather late and it looked grim and gloomy in the woods, but there was nothing to do but face any danger and go straight ahead. She was crafty enough not to turn in at once for fear the boys might suspect, so she kept on a short distance to where the road turned and then she cut into the bit of forest scrambling up the bank and scratching her hands, with the brambles, but reaching the path in a few minutes. The further she went the darker it grew. The sun was setting and she could see long fingers of light between the trees. She wished she had some one with her, that Cousin Ben would appear before she went much further, but there was no sign of him and she plodded on, the dead leaves rustling about her feet or falling from overhead, giving her little starts of fear. It seemed a long, long way, and she almost wished she had not undertaken the work of rescue, but at last she saw, dimly ahead of her, a figure approaching and heard a cheerful whistling which she recognized as her cousin's. And she darted forward to meet him.

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