The little girls retired to their rock-pile and talked over their bitter disappointment, Ralph and the other boys absorbed in a game of marbles near them. ’Lias had gone proudly into the schoolroom to show himself to Miss Benton.
It was the day before Decoration Day and a good deal of time was taken up with practising on the recitations they were going to give at the Decoration Day exercises in the village. Several of the children from each school in the township were to speak pieces in the Town Hall. Betsy was to recite Barbara Frietchie, her first love in that school, but she droned it over with none of her usual pleasure, her eyes on little ’Lias’s smiling face, so unconscious of its dinginess.
At noon time the boys disappeared down toward the swimming-hole. They often took a swim at noon and nobody thought anything about it on that day. The little girls ate their lunch on their rock, mourning over the failure of their plans, and scheming ways to meet the new obstacle. Stashie suggested, “Couldn’t your Aunt Abigail invite him up to your house for supper and then give him a bath afterward?” But Betsy, although she had never heard of treating a supper-guest in this way, was sure that it was not possible. She shook her head sadly, her eyes on the far-off gleam of white where the boys jumped up and down in their swimming-hole. That was not a good name for it, because there was only one part of it deep enough to swim in. Mostly it was a shallow bay in an arm of the river, where the water was only up to a little boy’s knees and where there was almost no current. The sun beating down on it made it quite warm, and even the first-graders’ mothers allowed them to go in. They only jumped up and down and squealed and splashed each other, but they enjoyed that quite as much as Frank and Harry, the two seventh-graders, enjoyed their swooping dives from the spring-board over the pool. They were late in getting back from the river that day and Miss Benton had to ring her bell hard in that direction before they came trooping up and clattered into the schoolroom, where the girls already sat, their eyes lowered virtuously to their books, with a prim air of self-righteousness. They were never late!
Betsy was reciting her arithmetic. She was getting on famously with that. Weeks ago, as soon as Miss Benton had seen the confusion of the little girl’s mind, the two had settled down to a serious struggle with that subject. Miss Benton had had Betsy recite all by herself, so she wouldn’t be flurried by the others; and to begin with had gone back, back, back to bedrock, to things Betsy absolutely knew, to the 2x2’s and the 3x3’s. And then, very cautiously, a step at a time, they had advanced, stopping short whenever Betsy felt a beginning of that bewildered “guessing” impulse which made her answer wildly at random.