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Betty Gordon is an orphan who becomes the ward of Richard Gordon, her uncle. Since Uncle Dick has to travel on business, he sends Betty to Bramble Farm to stay with an old friend, who, unknown to Uncle Dick, is married to a mean old miser.
“I Do wish you’d wear a sunbonnet, Betty,” said Mrs. Arnold, glancing up from her ironing board as Betty Gordon came into the kitchen. “You’re getting old enough now to think a little about your complexion.”
Betty’s brown eyes laughed over the rim of the glass of water she had drawn at the sink.
“I can’t stand a sunbonnet,” she declared vehemently, returning the glass to the nickel holder under the shelf. “I know just how a horse feels with blinders on. You know you wouldn’t like it, Mrs. Arnold, if I pulled up half your onion sets in mistake for weeds because I couldn’t see what I was doing.”
Mrs. Arnold shook her head over the white ruffle she was fluting with nervous, skillful fingers.
“There’s no call for you to go grubbing in that onion bed,” she said. “I’d like you to have nice hands and not be burnt black as an Indian when your uncle comes. But then, nobody pays any attention to what I say.”
There was more truth in this statement than Mrs. Arnold herself suspected. She was one of these patient, anxious women who unconsciously nag every one about them and whose stream of complaint never rises above a constant murmur. Her family were so used to Mrs. Arnold’s monotonous fault-finding that they rarely if ever knew what she was complaining about. They did not mean to be disrespectful, but they had fallen into the habit of not listening.
“Uncle Dick won’t mind if I’m as black as an Indian,” said Betty confidently, spreading out her strong little brown right hand and eyeing it critically. “With all the traveling he’s done, I guess he’s seen people more tanned than I am. You’re sure there wasn’t a letter this morning?”
“The young ones said there wasn’t,” returned Mrs. Arnold, changing her cool iron for a hot one, and testing it by holding it close to her flushed face. “But I don’t know that Ted and George would know a letter if they saw it, their heads are so full of fishing.”
“I thought Uncle Dick would write again,” observed Betty wistfully. “But perhaps there wasn’t time. He said he might come any day.”
“I don’t know what he’ll say,” worried Mrs. Arnold, her eyes surveying the slender figure leaning against the sink. “Your not being in mourning will certainly seem queer to him. I hope you’ll tell him Sally Pettit and I offered to make you black frocks.”
Betty smiled, her peculiarly vivid, rich smile.
“Dear Mrs. Arnold!” she said, affection warm in her voice. “Of course I’ll tell him. He will understand, and not blame you. And now I’m going to tackle those weeds.”
The screen door banged behind her.
Betty Gordon was an orphan, her mother having died in March (it was now June) and her father two years before. The twelve-year-old girl had to her knowledge but one single living relative in the world, her father’s brother, Richard Gordon. Betty had never seen this uncle. For years he had traveled about the country, wherever his work called him, sometimes spending months in large cities, sometimes living for weeks in the desert. Mr. Gordon was a promoter of various industrial enterprises and was frequently sent for to investigate new mines, oil wells and other large developments.
“I’d love to travel,” thought Betty, pulling at an especially stubborn weed. “I hope Uncle Dick will like me and take me with him wherever he goes. Wouldn’t it be just like a fairy story if he should come here and scoop me out of Pineville and take me hundreds of miles away to beautiful and exciting adventures!”
This enchanting prospect so thrilled the energetic young gardener that she sat down comfortably in the middle of the row to dream a little more. While her father lived, Betty’s home had been in a small, bustling city where she had gone to school in the winter. The family had always gone to the seashore in the summer; but the only exciting adventure she could recall had been a tedious attack of the measles when she was six years old. Mrs. Gordon, upon her husband’s sudden death, had taken her little daughter and come back to Pineville, the only home she had known as a lonely young orphan girl. She had many kind friends in the sleepy country town, and when she died these same friends had taken loving charge of Betty.
The girl’s grief for the loss of her mother baffled the villagers who would have known how to deal with sorrow that expressed itself in words or flowed out in tears. Betty’s long silences, her desire to be left quite alone in her mother’s room, above all her determination not to wear mourning, puzzled them. That she had sustained a great shock no one could doubt. White and miserable, she went about, the shadow of her former gay-hearted self. For the first time in her life she was experiencing a real bereavement.