Begging at Mrs. Ekstroms
Betsy and Tacy and Tib were three little girls who were friends. They never quarreled.
Betsy and Tacy were friends first. They were good friends, and they never quarreled. When Tib moved into that neighborhood, and the three of them started playing together, grown-up people said:
"Its too bad! Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly always played so nicely. Two little girls often do play nicely, but just let a third one come around. . . ." And they stopped, and their silence sounded as though they were saying: "then the trouble begins!"
But although so many people expected it, no trouble began with Betsy, Tacy and Tib. The three of them didnt quarrel, any more than the two of them had. They sometimes quarreled with Julia and Katie, though. Julia and Katie were Betsys and Tacys big sisters; they were bossy; and Betsy and Tacy and Tib didnt like to be bossed.
Betsy and Tacy lived on Hill Street, which ran straight up into a green hill and stopped. The small yellow cottage where the Ray family lived was the last house on that side of the street, and the rambling white house opposite where the Kelly family lived was the last house on that side. These two houses ended the street, and after that came the hill.
Tib didnt live on Hill Street. She lived on Pleasant Street. To get to Tibs house from the place where Betsy and Tacy lived you went one block down and one block over. (The second block was through a vacant lot.) Tib lived in a chocolate-colored house which was the most beautiful house Betsy and Tacy had ever been in. It had front stairs and back stairs and a tower and panes of colored glass in the front door.
Tib was the same age as Betsy and Tacy. They were all eight years old. They were six when Tib came to live in Deep Valley, and now they were eight. Tacy was the tallest. She had long red ringlets and freckles and thin legs. Until she got acquainted with people Tacy was bashful. Tib was the smallest. She was little and dainty with round blue eyes and a fluff of yellow hair. She looked like a picture-book fairy, except, of course, that she didnt have wings. Betsy was the middle-sized one. She had plump legs and short brown braids which stuck out behind her ears. Her smile showed teeth which were parted in the middle, and Betsy was almost always smiling.
When Betsy ran out of doors in the morning, she came with a beam on her face. That was because it was fun to plan what she and Tacy and Tib were going to do. Betsy loved to think up things to do and Tacy and Tib loved to do them.
One morning Betsy ran out of her house and met Tacy who had just run out of hers. They met in the middle of the road and ran up to the bench which stood at the end of Hill Street. From that bench they could look way down the street. They often waited there for Tib.
Betsy and Tacy had to wait for Tib because they got ready to play sooner than she did. Betsys mother was slim and quick; she didnt need much help around the house. And Tacys mother had ten children besides Tacy, so of course there wasnt much for Tacy to do. Tibs mother had a hired girl to help her, but just the same Tib had to work. Tibs mother believed in children knowing how to work. Tib dusted the legs of the chairs and polished the silver. She was learning to cook and to sew.
Betsy and Tacy didnt mind waiting today. It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.
"What shall we do today?" asked Tacy.
"Lets go up on the Big Hill," Betsy answered.
The Big Hill wasnt the hill which ended Hill Street. That was the Hill Street Hill. The Big Hill rose up behind Betsys house. And a white house stood at the top.
"Shall we take a picnic?" asked Tacy.
"I wish we could," said Betsy. "But its pretty soon after breakfast to ask for a picnic."
"If I went in the house to ask," said Tacy, "I might have to help with the dishes."
"Better not go," said Betsy. "But well be hungry by the time we get to the top." She thought for a moment. "We may have to pretend were beggars."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Tacy, her blue eyes beginning to sparkle.
"Why, muss up our hair and dirty our clothes and ask for something to eat at the white house."
"Oh! Oh!" cried Tacy. It was all she could say.
Just then Tib ran up. She looked so clean in a starched pink chambray dress that Betsy thought perhaps they had better not be beggars.
"What are we going to do?" asked Tib.
"Were going up on the Big Hill," said Betsy. "Of course, we have to ask."
They were eight years old, but they still couldnt climb the Big Hill without permission; Betsy and Tacy couldnt; Tibs mother always told her that she could go wherever Betsy and Tacy were allowed to go. Tibs house was too far away to run to every time they had to ask permission.
Betsy and Tacy sent Paul, who was Tacys little brother, into their houses to ask permission now. Paul trotted into Tacys house and into Betsys house, and he trotted back with word that they could go. So Betsy and Tacy and Tib started walking up the Big Hill.
Julia was practising her music lesson, and the sound of the scales she was playing flashed out of the house as they passed. It sounded as though Julia were enjoying herself.
"I wouldnt like to be playing the piano today," said Betsy.
"Neither would I," said Tacy.
"Neither would I," said Tib. "Of course," she added, "we dont know how."
Neither Betsy nor Tacy would have pointed that out. Tib was always pointing such things out. But Betsy and Tacy liked her just the same.