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   Chapter 6 COUSIN BEN TO THE RESCUE

A Dear Little Girl at School By Amy Ella Blanchard Characters: 16847

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The next morning when Edna opened her eyes she saw a white world. Trees, fences, roofs, were covered with snow. It was banked up in great drifts along the road. The path to the gate was so deeply snowed under that it was an impossibility to think of getting from the house. At the back it was no better. The two little girls looked rather sober.

"I wonder if mother can get home to-day," was the first thought in Nettie's mind, and, "I wonder if I can get home to my mother," was that in Edna's.

It seemed rather forlorn to think of facing the day without some older person, but Nettie bravely went to work to do her best. First she went down into the cellar for coal which she lugged up to put on the two fires. Edna came down to find her busily taking up the ashes.

"Oh, how do you know what to do to make the fires burn?" she asked.

"Oh, I know, for mother has told me, and I often do this for her. The kitchen fire is easy enough but it is hard to lift the coal bucket up high enough to get the coal into the other stove."

"I can help," said Edna. So together they managed.

"Now, I must see what there is for breakfast," said Nettie. "I think there are two eggs, and the hens must have laid more, but I can't get out to hunt them till a path is made. I think there is still a little milk, for it didn't take much for the cambric tea, and we can have more of that. Then there is bread enough and butter. We can boil the eggs."

This they did, Edna watching the clock very carefully to see that they were not over done. They concluded to toast the bread, and made a pretty fair breakfast, though it was not a very hearty one, Edna thought. There was a little of the milk toast left which they warmed up to give to the cat who must miss his morning's milk, as the milkman had not appeared.

"I don't suppose he will get here at all," said Nettie a little anxiously. She was wondering what she could give her guest for dinner if it should be so that her mother did not return. She set to work in a very housewifely way to tidy up the house, Edna helping all she could. Then they stationed themselves by the window to see if by any chance there might be someone coming along whom they could hail. But the road was not much frequented and there was not a footstep nor a track in the deep snow. Only the smoke from neighboring chimneys gave any evidence of life. Once they heard sleigh-bells in the distance and concluded that the main road was being used.

"I wish I could get out to feed the chickens," said Nettie after a while. "I am afraid they will be hungry." She went to the back door to view the prospect, and tried to shovel away some of the snow, but it was slow work. Edna brought another shovel and together they managed to clear a few feet of the path, but it was very wearying and they soon had to give it up.

Then they went back to the window, but the monotony was not relieved by any change in the face of things and so they determined that it was rather stupid to stand there. Nettie brought down her two dolls and they played with these for a while, but keeping house in a make believe way was not so exciting when there was the reality close at hand, and they decided that paper dolls would be more entertaining.

"I think there is a fashion book upstairs in the garret," said Nettie, "and we can take that. Mother said I might have it."

Edna followed her up into the attic and they found the book, took it down into the front room and began to make their selections and cut out paper dolls till it suddenly dawned upon Nettie that it was time for another meal. She laid down her scissors with a sigh. "I really don't know what we shall have for dinner," she said. "Mother was going to bring something back with her. I shall have to rummage."

She went into the little pantry, Edna following. "There are two potatoes, but they aren't very big," she said, "and there is some codfish. I might make some codfish balls if I knew how. Do you know, Edna?"

"I think they are made of fish and potatoes, aren't they?"

"Yes, but I don't know how much fish and how much potato, besides I am afraid there aren't potatoes enough. I suppose we shall have to give that up. Oh, here are some more eggs; that is fine. If I could find some ham or some bacon we could have ham and eggs, and that would be very good." But nothing of this kind could be discovered and Nettie brought out the potatoes, laid them on the table and said rather ruefully, "It seems to me that we aren't going to have much dinner. There isn't another thing except sugar and tea and such things."

"There might be rice," said Edna with a sudden thought of Aunt Elizabeth's desserts.

"Why, of course, and rice and brown sugar are very good indeed. I am so glad you thought of it. I know there must be rice." She went back to the pantry and presently came out with a box in which she had discovered the rice. "I'll get the eggs and we can have them fried," she remarked, "they will seem more like meat that way."

"And we can have the potatoes baked because they will be easier to do," said Edna.

Nettie made another visit to the pantry. "I've found something else," she called.

"What?" asked Edna going to the door.

"Two apples. Now, I am sure that is every blessed thing."

"Well," said Edna cheerfully, "I think we are very lucky to find so much."

"I must put the potatoes in the oven right away," declared Nettie, "for it takes them a good while to bake. I will put on some water for the rice, too. I wonder how much rice I should take. Have you any idea?"

"No, I haven't, but I should think we will want quite a good deal, we haven't very much else, have we?"

"No, we have not. I will take a large cupful. It swells up so, I should think that might do. You soak it first, I think." She measured out a full cup of the rice, poured some water over it, washed it and then set it to soak till the water should boil. The potatoes were put in the oven and then the two went back to the next room. "It won't take the rice as long as it does the potatoes, I am sure," said Nettie, "and the water will have to boil first."

They returned to the paper-dolls, becoming quite interested in them till presently they heard a great sputtering, and running out found the water was boiling over. "I'll put on the rice now," said Nettie, "for I am getting hungry, aren't you?"

"Well, yes, a little," acknowledged Edna.

Nettie was rather uncertain as to what she should cook the rice in, and next, how much water she should pour over it, but after some discussion it was decided, and they went back to set the table. "Doesn't it seem funny to be keeping house just like grown-ups?" said Edna. "I never knew how much trouble it was before, did you, Nettie?"

"I knew, but I didn't think about it, I suppose," returned Nettie. "We will pile up our dolls and papers over here on this other table and then they will be easy to get at when we want them. I wish the milkman had come, for I really don't know what to give to Tippy. We haven't any meat. To be sure he will eat most anything, but I am afraid he will go hungry to-day."

"Couldn't you give him an egg and some bread or some rice, if we have enough."

"I could do that, I suppose. I hope there will be rice enough, but it is very hard to tell when you aren't acquainted with such a thing as the boiling and swelling of it."

"Oh, I smell something burning," cried Edna, "and something is making a funny popping noise." They flew to the kitchen to see that the rice had burst all bounds and was dancing out of the saucepan all over the hot stove, puffing and popping at a great rate.

"Oh, dear," exclaimed Nettie. "I never saw so much rice come from one cupful. Could you believe it? Why, it has taken up all the water and the saucepan is full up to the top besides all that is on the stove. Oh, dear, I wish I knew just how to cook it."

"Haven't you a cook book?" asked Edna with a quick suggestion of what might help out the question.

"Why, of course mother has one. I will set this off and go hunt it up."

The book was found on the shelves and the two put their heads together to discover the best way to boil rice. "I think this seems the easiest way," said Nettie, pointing to one of the pages of the book, "but I hope it won't hurt it to wait, for I'll have to put on more water to boil. It says to have a great

deal of water and keep it boiling like mad."

After some time the rice was transferred to another and larger saucepan and was soon boiling "like mad," then the eggs were fried and after a somewhat anxious and laborious period of time the dinner was pronounced ready.

"Oh, dear me, but it is hard work," said Edna sighing as the two sat down to partake of the meal which they had prepared after so much difficulty.

"Yes, it is hard work," agreed Nettie, "but we did it all ourselves, and the potatoes are really done and the rice looks all right."

"It looks fine," said Edna, "and so do the eggs. I don't mind their being broken a little; I don't see how you could dish them up without."

They had been so long in preparing the meal that they were quite starved and ate with a relish. "I'm glad there is more rice," said Nettie, "for now that I know what a little it takes to make a big dish I shan't be afraid of our starving while it lasts."

"Oh, dear," Edna put down her spoon, "you don't think we shall have to stay here alone for days, do you? The snow will have to melt after a while and the roads be cleared."

"It doesn't look much like it yet," returned Nettie.

"Oh, but it never, never, never could keep on like this." Edna was determined to be hopeful. "I'm going to believe someone will come this very afternoon, either your mother or somebody."

Her faith was not without foundation for along in the middle of the afternoon they heard jangling bells, and ran to the front window to see the milkman in a huge sleigh, his milk cans in the body of it. He plowed his way to the front door which was opened to him before he could knock.

"Oh, Mr. Snyder," said Nettie, "I am so glad you have come. We are all alone and we haven't a drop of milk."

"That so?" said Mr. Snyder. "I thought as much. It's pretty hard travelling and I've been hours getting around to my customers, but now the road is broken it won't be quite so hard getting back. I'd better leave you double quantity in case I'm late to-morrow."

"Oh, you are our milkman, too, aren't you?" said Edna. "You leave milk at Mrs. Conway's, don't you?"

"To be sure I do."

"And have you been there yet?"

"No, I'm on my way now. You're out a bit, you know, but what are you doing down here?"

Edna told him her tale in which he was much interested. "Well, I declare," he said. "Want me to take you home with me? I can bundle you in there with the milk cans, and I reckon you wouldn't freeze."

For a moment Edna thought she must accept this invitation, then she looked at Nettie. Suppose her mother should not come that evening, and she should be there at night all alone. "Couldn't you take Nettie, too?" she said.

"Why, certainly. The two of you aren't much more than two milk cans, and I'm sure you're not so big round."

"Oh, but suppose mother should come," said Nettie. "She would be so worried, and I must be here to keep up the fires."

"Then," said Edna firmly, setting her face against the temptation of the cheerful supper table at home, the dear mother arms, the greetings of the boys and all the rest of it. "I will tell you what I can do. I will write mother a little note and ask her if she can send somebody or find some way to get us something to eat, and I'll stay till your mother comes, Nettie."

"Oh, I think you are lovely to do that," answered Nettie.

"Could you wait a minute, Mr. Snyder?" asked Edna. "I won't write much."

"I'll wait," he said, "and if you will give me a shovel I'll make a path to your gate. I reckon you're right about staying, sissy. I've got two little girls of my own and I know I shouldn't like them to be left alone either one of them."

Edna hurried through her note which said: "Dear mother, I am with Nettie Black. She lives in the first little house on the side road on the way to the old mill. We are all alone for her mother hasn't come back. Please send us something to eat if you can, for we have nothing left but rice and milk. There may be eggs in the hen-house, but we can't get at them. I want to come but I'd better not. Your loving Edna."

The little note was safely stowed away in Mr. Snyder's pocket with a promise of sure delivery, and he went off, his horses plunging through the deep drifts up to their middles.

"I think you are just as good as you can be," said Nettie. "I don't feel as if I ought to let you stay, but I do hate the idea of being left all alone."

"I'd want you to stay with me if I were in your place," returned Edna remembering the G. R. Club. To be sure Nettie did not belong to her school, but she was quite as much one of those "others" to whom one should do as he would be done by.

"It really looks as if something had happened," remarked Edna. "When we see the path to the gate. I wish he had had time to make one at the back, too."

It was almost dark and they were about to turn from the window to light the lamp, when ploughing through the deep snow they saw someone coming down the road. They watched him eagerly. Except the milkman he was the first person they had seen that day. "He is coming this way," said Edna hopefully. "Oh, Nettie, I believe it is Cousin Ben. He has a basket and see how he has taken to the road where Mr. Snyder's sleigh went along." She watched for a few minutes longer. "It is Cousin Ben," she cried joyfully. "He is coming here. Light the lamp, Nettie, while I go let him in."

She hurried to the door to see Ben stamping off the snow from his feet. "Whewee!" he exclaimed, "but isn't this a sockdolager? I never saw such a storm? How are you Ande, my honey. Of all things to think of your being this near home and none of us knowing it."

"Then mother did think I was still at Uncle Justus's," said Edna.

"Just what she did. You rung a surprise on the whole of us, I can tell you."

He came in and set down the basket, took off his cap and overcoat and looked down at the two little girls with a smile.

"This is Nettie Black," Edna told him. "She has been so nice to me, and I don't know what would have happened if I had not been able to get to her house."

"Don't speak of it," returned Ben with a little frown and a shake of his head. "I'll sit down and warm myself and then you can tell me how this all happened."

He drew up to the fire, took Edna on his knee and she poured forth her tale. "Pretty tough," he said when she had completed her story. "I'm glad your mother didn't know you had started. Now, Miss Nettie if you will let me sleep on that big sofa I am going to stay right here till we can dig you out and your mother comes. There's a lot of provender in that basket and we'll be as jolly as they make 'em."

"Oh, but you can sleep upstairs," returned Nettie. "There is plenty of room."

"Good! Then upstairs be it. What was that about hens and eggs and things, Ande?"

"Oh, we can't get out to the hen-house, you know. We tried to make a path but it was too hard work for us so we gave it up."

"I should remark. Well, that will be done first thing in the morning, and I'll go see what I can find. Eggsactly, as it were. What about the fires? Any coal up here?"

"A little," Nettie told him. "We have carried up all we could at a time, but we couldn't bring enough for the fires to-night. We are going down to get more."

"You are going to do no such thing. Got a candle? Where are the coal scuttles? One of you hold the light and show me your coal bin and up comes your coal." Cousin Ben was already making for the cellar door.

Of course no one was going to be left out of this expedition and all three descended to the cellar, from which they presently came forth all laughing. It was certainly a cheering thing to have someone so willing to come to their aid. Next the basket was unpacked and it goes without saying that there were neither eggs nor rice for supper that night. Moreover, Tippy had such a feast of milk as well as other things as he had not seen for several days. Ben kept the little girls in such a state of giggle that they could scarcely do the dishes, but what with the labors of the day and the later excitement they were ready for bed early, and went up leaving Cousin Ben with a book before him. Later his light half wakened Edna, but as he closed the door between the rooms and she realized that he was there, she turned over with a sigh of content, feeling very safe and sleepy.

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