The Maple Tree
Betsy was sitting in the backyard maple, high among spreading branches that were clothed in rich green except at their tips where they wore the first gold of September. Three branches forked to make a seat, one of them even providing a prop for her back. To her right, within easy reach, was another smaller crotch into which a cigar box had been nailed. This was closed and showed on the cover a plump coquettish lady wearing a Spanish shawl.
From this lofty retreat Betsy had a splendid view. It did not look toward the Big Hill where she and her friends Tacy and Tib had had so many adventurous picnics. It looked toward the town. Strictly speaking, her leaf-framed vista was of rooftops going down Hill Street like steps. But Betsy knew whither those steps led.
Sitting in her maple, she was aware of the town, spread out below, of Front Street where the stores were, of streets lined with the houses of people she did not know, of the Opera House, the Melborn Hotel, the skeleton of the new Carnegie Library, and the High School that her sister Julia and Tacy's sister Katie now attended. She was aware of the river winding through its spacious valley and of a world, yet unexplored, lying beyond.
Lifting the lid of the cigar box, Betsy took out a small tablet. It said on the cover, "Ray's Shoe Store. Wear Queen Quality Shoes." She took out a pencil, short and well tooth-marked, and chewed it thoughtfully. Then opening the tablet she wrote:
The Repentance of Lady Clinton
by Betsy Warrington Ray
Author of Her Secret Marriage, The Mystery of the
Butternut Tree, A Tress of Golden Hair,
Hardly More than a Cbild, Etc. Etc.
She had progressed no further when a scratching sound caused her to look down. A red ringleted head was rising toward her. The visitor was Tacy who lived across the street and had been her dear friend for many years. Seven, to be exact, for Betsy and Tacy had started to be friends at Betsy's fifth birthday party, and now they were both twelve.
Tacy paused on a limb just below. The perch in the maple tree was Betsy's private office. Here she thought out stories and poems and wrote them down. Here she kept what she had written in the cigar box that her mother had given her and Tacy had helped her nail to its present place.
"Of course," said Betsy. "Why weren't you in school this afternoon? Why couldn't you come out to play?
"Something awful, something terrible has happened," Tacy said. She hoisted herself into a crotch near the one in which Betsy was sitting.
Tacy's large blue eyes swam with tears. Her lids were red, her freckled cheeks were wet. Betsy put her tablet and pencil into the cigar box and closed the lid with the Spanish lady on it.
What's the matter?" she asked.
Tacy wiped her eyes on a wet ball of handkerchief. "You remember," she said, "Rena loaned me "Lady Audley's Secret.""
"Well ... Papa found it."
Tacy's eyes overflowed.
"I had hidden it under the bed. And this noon while we were eating dinner, Mamma told Papa she thought there was a mousehole in our room, and Papa went looking for it, and he found the book.
"He was furious, but he never dreamed it was mine. He marched down to the table and asked Mary whether she'd been reading it, and she said 'no.' And he asked Celia, and she said'no.' And he asked Katie, and she said 'no.' And then he came to me and I had to say 'yes.'"
Tacy began to sob.
"Papa said he was amazed and astounded. He said he thought he had brought us up to appreciate good literature. He said there was a set of Dickens in the house, and Shakespeare, and Father Finn, and how did a child of his happen to be reading trash? Then he went out to the kitchen range and lifted the lid and threw it in..."
"Yes, he did!" wept Tacy. "And now what am I going to tell Rena?"
Looking down from the maple, Betsy could see Rena contentedly stringing beans on, the back doorstep, unconscious of her loss. Rena had come from a farm to help Mrs. Ray. She was young and good-natured, not like Tib's mother's hired girl, Matilda, who was old and cross. But even Rena got mad sometimes, and her paper-backed novels were her dearest treasures. She kept them locked in her trunk, and Betsy read them out loud to her evenings when Mr. and Mrs. Ray happened to be out--at their High Fly Whist Club or a lodge dance or prayer meeting. Prompted by the same instinct that had caused Tacy to hide Lady Audley's Secret under her bed, Betsy had never mentioned these readings to her father and mother. But she had told all the stories to Tacy and Tib and had even persuaded Rena to lend them the books. And now Lady Audley's Secret had perished in the flames!
"We'll have to buy her another one," said Betsy. "They have those paper-backed books at Cook's Book Store. I've seen them."
"But they cost a dime," answered Tacy through her tears.
That was true. And a dime, ten cents, was hard to come by, especially when one could not tell for what one neededit.
"We'll earn it," said Betsy stoutly.
"How?" asked Tacy.
"Somehow. You'll see."
"Betsy! Tacy!" came a voice from below.
"It's Tib," said Betsy. "Come on up," she called. And in half a minute a fluff of yellow hair rose into view. Tib swung herself lightly to a seat on a neighboring branch.
Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are twelve—old enough to do lots of things...even go downtown on their own. There they see their first horseless carriage, discover the joys of the public library, and see a real play at the Opera House. They even find themselves acting in one! Best of all, they help a lonely new friend feel at home in Deep Valley—the most wonderful place in the world to grow up. Ever since their first publication in the 1940s, the Betsy-Tacy stories have been loved by each generation of young readers.
Maud Hart Lovelace (1892-1980) based her Betsy-Tacy series on her own childhood. Her series still boasts legions of fans, many of whom are members of the Betsy-Tacy Society, a national organization based in Mankato, Minnesota.In addition to illustrating the first four Betsy-Tacy books, Lois Lenski (1893-1974) was the 1946 Newberry Medal winning author of Strawberry Girl.