After a moment she came to herself, and finding some apple still in her mouth, went on chewing meditatively. “Aunt Abigail,” she said, “how long ago was that?”
“Let’s see,” said the old woman, peeling apples with wonderful rapidity. “I was born in 1844. And I was six when I first went to school. That’s sixty-six years ago.”
Elizabeth Ann, like all little girls of nine, had very little notion how long sixty-six years might be. “Was George Washington alive then?” she asked.
The wrinkles around Aunt Abigail’s eyes deepened mirthfully, but she did not laugh as she answered, “No, that was long after he died, but the schoolhouse was there when he was alive.”
“It was!” said Betsy, staring, with her teeth set deep in an apple.
“Yes, indeed. It was the first house in the valley built of sawed lumber. You know, when our folks came up here, they had to build all their houses of logs to begin with.”
“They did!” cried Betsy, with her mouth full of apple.
“Why yes, child, what else did you suppose they had to make houses out of? They had to have something to live in, right off. The sawmills came later.”
“I didn’t know anything about it,” said Betsy. “Tell me about it.”
“Why you knew, didn’t you—your Aunt Harriet must have told you—about how our folks came up here from Connecticut in 1763, on horseback! Connecticut was an old settled place then, compared to Vermont. There wasn’t anything here but trees and bears and wood-pigeons. I’ve heard ’em say that the wood-pigeons were so thick you could go out after dark and club ’em out of the trees, just like hens roosting in a hen-house. There always was cold pigeon-pie in the pantry, just the way we have doughnuts. And they used bear-grease to grease their boots and their hair, bears were so plenty. It sounds like good eating, don’t it! But of course that was just at first. It got quite settled up before long, and by the time of the Revolution, bears were getting pretty scarce, and soon the wood-pigeons were all gone.”
“And the schoolhouse—that schoolhouse where I went today—was that built then?” Elizabeth Ann found it hard to believe.
“Yes, it used to have a great big chimney and fireplace in it. It was built long before stoves were invented, you know.”
“Why, I thought stoves were always invented!” cried Elizabeth Ann. This was the most startling and interesting conversation she had ever taken part in.
Aunt Abigail laughed. “Mercy, no, child! Why, I can remember when only folks that were pretty well off had stoves and real poor people still cooked over a hearth fire. I always thought it a pity they tore down the big chimney and fireplace out of the schoolhouse and put in that big, ugly stove. But folks are so daft over new-fangled things. Well, anyhow, they couldn’t take away the sun-dial on the window-sill. You want to be sure to look at that. It’s on the sill of the middle window on the right hand as you face the teacher’s desk.”