Page images
PDF
EPUB

"Do you bring wood all the way from thore on your back?" "When I get some."

"Aren't you tired?"

The child looked at him steadily, and then in a strange somewhat softened manner which belied her words, answered, "No."

"You don't bring that big basket full, do you ? "
She kept her bright eyes on him and nodded.
"I should think it would break your back."
"If I don't break my back I get a lickin'."

"Was that what you were crying for as you went by?
"I wa'n't a cryin'!" said the girl.

cryin' for nothin'!”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

'Nobody never see me a

"You haven't filled your basket to-day."

She gave an askant look into it, and was silent.

"How came that?"

"'Cause !—I was tired, and I hadn't had no dinner and I don't care! That's why I wished the thunder would kill me. I can't live without eatin"."

"Have you had nothing since morning?"

"I don't get no mornin'-I have to get my dinner." "And you could get none to-day?"

"No. Everything was eat up.'

"Everything isn't quite eaten up," said Winthrop, rummaging in his coat pocket; and he brought forth thence a paper of figs which he gave the girl. "He isn't so short of means as I feared, after all," thought Elizabeth, "since he can afford to carry figs about in his pocket." But she did not know that the young gentleman had made his own dinner off that paper of figs; and she could not guess it, even when from his other coat pocket he produced some biscuits which were likewise given to eke out the figs in the little black girl's dinner. She was presently roused to very great marvelling again by seeing him apply his foot to another box, one without a clean side, and roll it over half the length of the shed for the child to sit upon.

"What do you think of life now, Miss Elizabeth ?" he said, leaving his charge to eat her figs and coming again to the young lady's side.

"That isn't life," said Elizabeth.

"It seems without the one quarter of agreeableness," he said. "But it's horrible, Mr. Winthrop !"

He was silent, and looked at the girl, who sitting on her coal box was eating figs and biscuits with intense satisfaction,

"She is not a bad-looking child," said Elizabeth.

"She is a very good-looking child," said Winthrop; "at least her face has a great deal of intelligence; and I think, something more."

"What more ?

Feeling, or capacity of feeling."

"I wish you had a seat, Mr. Landholm," said Elizabeth, looking round.

"Thank you-I don't wish for one."

י !

[ocr errors]

"It was very vexatious in Rose to go and leave me "There isn't another box for her if she had stayed," said Winthrop.

"She would have me go out with her this afternoon to see her dressmaker, who lives just beyond here a little; and father had the horses. It was so pleasant an afternoon, I had no notion of a storm."

"There's a pretty good notion of a storm now," said Winthrop.

So there was, beyond a doubt; the rain was falling in floods, and the lightning and thunder, though not very near, were very unceasing. Elizabeth still felt awkward and uneasy, and did not know what to talk about. She never had talked much to Mr. Landholm; and his cool matter-of-fact way of answering her remarks, puzzled or baffled her.

"That child sitting there makes me very uncomfortable," she said presently.

[ocr errors]

Why, Miss Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth hesitated, and then said she did not know.

"You don't like the verification of my setting forth of life," he said smiling.

"But that is not life, Mr. Winthrop."

"What is it?"

"It is the experience of one here and there-not of people in general."

"What do you take to be the experience of people in general?"

"Not mine, to be sure," said Elizabeth after a little thought, -"nor hers."

"Hers is a light shade of what rests upon many."

"Why Mr. Winthrop ! do you think so?"

"Look at her," he said in a low voice;" she has forgotten her empty basket in a sweet fig.'

[ocr errors]

"But she must take it up again."

"She won't lessen her burden, but she will her power of forgetting."

Elizabeth sat still, looking at her vis-à-vis of life, and feeling very uneasily what she had never felt before. She began therewith to ponder sundry extraordinary propositions about the inequalities of social condition and the relative duties of man

to man.

"What right have I," she said suddenly, "to so much more than she has ?"

"Very much the sort of right that I have to be an American, while somebody else is a Chinese."

"Chance," said Elizabeth.

"No, there is no such thing as chance," ne said seriously. "What then?"

"The fruit of industry, talent, and circumstance."

"Not mine."

"No, but your father's, who gives it to you."

"But why ought I to enjoy more than she does ?—in the abstract, I mean."

"I don't know," said Winthrop.-"I guess we had better walk on now, Miss Elizabeth."

"Walk on!-it rains too hard."

"But we are in the shed, while other people are out?" "No but,-suppose that by going out I could bring them. in ?

"Then I would certainly act as your messenger," he said smiling. "But you can't reach all the people who are so careless as to go out without umbrellas."

Elizabeth was betrayed into a laugh-a genuine hearty laugh of surprise, in which her awkwardness was for a moment forgotten. How came you to bring one, such a day?”

I thought the sun was going to shine.'

But seriously, Mr. Landholm, my question," said Elizabeth.
What was it?"

How ought I to enjoy so much more than she has?"
Modestly, I should think."

What do you mean?"

If you were to give the half of your fortune to one such, for instance," he said with a slight smile, "do you fancy you would have adjusted two scales of the social balance to hang even?" "No," said Elizabeth," I suppose not."

You would have given away what she could not keep; you would have put out of your power what would not be in hers;

and on the whole, she would be scantly a gainer and the world would be a loser."

"Yet surely," said Elizabeth," something is due from my hand to hers."

Her companion was quite silent, rather oddly, she thought; and her meditations came back for a moment from social to individual distinctions and differences. Then, really in a puzzle as to the former matter, she repeated her question.

"But what can one do to them, then, Mr. Winthrop ?—or what should be one's aim?"

"Put them in the way of exercising the talent and industry and circumstance which have done such great things for us."

"So that by the time they have the means they will be ready for them?- -But dear me! that is a difficult matter!" said Elizabeth.

Her companion smiled a little.

"But they haven't any talent, Mr. Landholm,-nor industry nor circumstance either. To be sure those latter wants might be made up."

"Most people have talent, of one sort or another," said Winthrop. "There's a little specimen pretty well stocked." you think so?"

"Do
Try her."

"I don't know how to try her!" said Elizabeth. "I wish you would."

"I don't know how, either," said Winthrop. have been doing it this some time."

"I wish she hadn't come in," said Elizabeth.

tled all my ideas."

"Circumstances

"She has unset

(6 They will rest the better for being unsettled."

Elizabeth looked at him, but he did not acknowledge the look. Presently, whether to try how benevolence worked, or to run away from her feeling of awkwardness, she got up and moved a few steps towards the place where the little blackey sat.

"Have you had dinner enough?" she said, standing and looking down upon her as a very disagreeable social curiosity.

"There aint no more, if I hain't," said the curiosity, with very dauntless eyes.

"Where do you get your dinner every day?"

"Long street," said the girl, turning her eyes away from Elizabeth and looking out into the storm.

"Do you often go without any?"

"When the folks don't give me none."

"Does that happen often?"

"They didn't give me none to-day."

"What do you do then?

The eyes came back from the door to Elizabeth, and then went to Winthrop.

"What do you do then?" Elizabeth repeated. "I gets 'em."

"You didn't get any to-day?" said Winthrop.

She shook her head.

"You mustn't any more."

"Nobody ha'n't no business to let me starve," said the blackey stoutly.

"No, but I'll tell you where to go the next time you can't get a dinner, and you shall have it without stealing."

"I ha'n't stole it nobody never see me steal-I only tuk it," said the girl with a little lowering of her voice and air. "What's your name?"

"Clam."

"Clam!" said Elizabeth," where did you get such an odd name?"

"Long street," said the girl, her black eyes twinkling.

"Where did you get it?" said Winthrop gravely.

"I didn't get it nowheres-it was guv to me."

"What's your other name?"

"I ha'n't got no more names-my name's Clam."
"What's your mother's name
?"

"She's Sukey Beckinson."

"Is she kind to you?" asked Elizabeth.

"I don' know!"

"Did you have dinner enough?" said Winthrop with a smile.

Clam jumped up, and crossing her hands on her breast dropped a brisk little courtsey to her benefactor. She made no other answer, and then sat down again.

"Are you afraid to go home with your empty basket when the storm's over?" said he kindly.

"No," she said; but it was with a singular expression of cold and careless necessity.

The rest of the basketful wouldn't be worth more than

that. would it?" said he giving her a sixpence.

Clam took it and clasped it very tight in her fist, for other place of security she had none; and looked at him, but made no more answer than that.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »