“Yes, I do!” said Ellen, not looking at Betsy but down at the weeds by the road. “I think it would be lots of fun!”
Little Molly, playing with Annie and Eliza, did not hear this; but she was allowed to go with the older girls on the great expedition.
It was a warm, dark evening in late May, with the frogs piping their sweet, high note, and the first of the fireflies wheeling over the wet meadows near the tumble-down house where ’Lias lived. The girls took turns in carrying the big paper-wrapped bundle, and stole along in the shadow of the trees, full of excitement, looking over their shoulders at nothing and pressing their hands over their mouths to keep back the giggles. There was, of course, no reason on earth why they should giggle, which is, of course, the very reason why they did. If you’ve ever been a little girl you know about that.
One window of the small house was dimly lighted, they found, when they came in sight of it, and they thrilled with excitement and joyful alarm. Suppose ’Lias’s dreadful stepfather should come out and yell at them! They came forward on tiptoe, making a great deal of noise by stepping on twigs, rustling bushes, crackling gravel under their feet and doing all the other things that make such a noise at night and never do in the daytime. But nobody stirred inside the room with the lighted window. They crept forward and peeped cautiously inside ... and stopped giggling. The dim light coming from a little kerosene lamp with a smoky chimney fell on a dismal, cluttered room, a bare, greasy wooden table, and two broken-backed chairs, with little ’Lias in one of them. He had fallen asleep with his head on his arms, his pinched, dirty, sad little figure showing in the light from the lamp. His feet dangled high above the floor in their broken, muddy shoes. One sleeve was torn to the shoulder. A piece of dry bread had slipped from his bony little hand and a tin dipper stood beside him on the bare table. Nobody else was in the room, nor evidently in the darkened, empty, fireless house.
[Illustration: He had fallen asleep with his head on his arms.]
As long as she lives Betsy will never forget what she saw that night through that window. Her eyes grew very hot and her hands very cold. Her heart thumped hard. She reached for little Molly and gave her a great hug in the darkness. Suppose it were little Molly asleep there, all alone in the dirty, dismal house, with no supper and nobody to put her to bed. She found that Ellen, next her, was crying quietly into the corner of her apron.
Nobody said a word. Stashie, who had the bundle, walked around soberly to the front door, put it down, and knocked loudly. They all darted away noiselessly to the road, to the shadow of the trees, and waited until the door opened. A square of yellow light appeared, with ’Lias’s figure, very small, at the bottom of it. They saw him stoop and pick up the bundle and go back into the house. Then they went quickly and silently back, separating at the cross-roads with no good-night greetings.