« PreviousContinue »
had no great reason to be very happy; for you know, sir, that it frets the temper to be sick; and that it is worse still to be sick and hungry too.
66 At that time, in the country where we lived, times were so very bad that the best workman could hardly find employment; and when he did, he was happy if he could earn twelve sous a day. Mother, work as she would, could not gain' more than six; and it was hard, out of this, to put meat into six mouths and clothing on six backs.
“Old Aunt Bridget would scold, as she got her portion of bread; and my little brothers used to cry if theirs did not come in time. I, too, used to cry when I got my share; for mother kept only a little, little piece for herself, and said that she had dined in the fields, — God pardon her for the lie! and bless her, as I am sure He did; for, but for Him, no working man or woman could subsist upon such a wretched morsel as my dear mother took.
“I was a thin, ragged, barefooted girl then, and sickly and weak for want of food; but I think I felt mother's hunger more than my own: and many and many a bitter night I lay awake, crying, and praying to God to give me the means of working for myself and aiding her. And He has, indeed, been good to me,” said Beatrice, “ for He has given me all this.
Well, time rolled on, and matters grew worse than ever: winter came, and was colder to us than any other winter, for our clothes were thinner and
more torn; mother sometimes could find no work, for the fields in which she labored were hidden under the snow; so that when we wanted them most we had them least, — warmth, work, or food.
“I knew that, do what I would, mother would never let me leave her, because I looked to my little brothers and my old cripple of an aunt; but still, bread was better for us all than my service; and when I left them the six would have a slice more; so I determined to bid good-by to nobody, but to go away, and look for work elsewhere. One Sunday, when mother and the little ones were at church, I went in to Aunt Bridget, and said, “Tell mother when she comes back, that Beatrice is gone.' I spoke quite stoutly, as if I did not care about it. «Gone! gone where ?' said she.
where?' said she. "You're not going to leave me alone!'
“ • Aunt,' said I, “ I'm going, and took this very opportunity because you are alone; tell mother I am too old now to eat her bread, and do no work for it: I am going, please God, where work and bread can be found : ' so I kissed her: she was so astonished that she could not move or speak; and I walked away through the old room, and the little garden.
So I walked a long way, until night fell ; and I thought of poor mother coming home, and no finding me; and little Pierre shouting out, in his clear voice, for Beatrice to bring him his supper. I think I should like to have died that night, and
I thought I should too; for when I was obliged to throw myself on the cold, hard ground, my feet were too torn and weary to bear me any farther.
“ Just then the moon came up; and do you know I felt a comfort in looking at it, for I knew it was shining on our little cottage, and it seemed like an old friend's face. A little way on, as I saw by the moon, was a village; and I saw, too, that a man was coming toward me; he must have heard me crying,
“Was not God good to me? This man was a farmer, who had need of a girl in his house; he made me tell why I was alone, and I told him the same story I have told you, and he believed me and took me home. I had walked six long leagues from our village that day, asking everywhere for work in vain; and here, at bedtime, I found a bed and a supper!
“ Here I lived very well for some months; my master was very good and kind to me; but, unluckily, too poor to give me any wages; so that I could save nothing to send to my poor mother. The only drawback to my comfort was, that I had no news of my mother ; I could not write to her, nor could she have read my letter if I had; so there I was, at only six leagues' distance from home, as far off as if I had been in Paris or America.
“ However, in a few months I grew so listless and homesick, that my mistress said she would keep me
no longer; and though I went away as poor as I came, I was still too glad to go back to the old village again, and see dear mother, if it were but for a day. I knew she would share her crust with me, as she had done for so long a time before; and hoped that, now I was taller and stronger, I might find work more easily in the neighborhood.
“ You may fancy what a fête it was when I came back; though I'm sure we cried as much as if it had been a funeral. Mother got into a fit, which frightened us all; and as for Aunt Bridget, she skreeled away for hours together, and did not scold for two days at least. Little Pierre offered me the whole of
supper; poor little man! his slice of bread was no bigger than before I went away.
“Well, I got a little work here, and a little there; but still I was a burden at home rather than a breadwinner; and, at the closing-in of the winter, was very glad to hear of a place at two leagues' distance, where work, they said, was to be had. Off I set, one morning, to find it, but missed my way, somehow, until it was nighttime before I arrived. Nighttime and snow again; it seemed as if all my journeys were to be made in this bitter weather.
“When I came to the farmer's door, his house was shut up, and his people were all abed; I knocked for a long while in vain ; at last he made his appearance at a window upstairs, and seemed so frightened, and looked so angry, that I suppose he took me for a
thief. I told him how I had come for work. Who comes for work at such an hour?' said he. Go home, you impudent baggage, and do not disturb honest people out of their sleep.'
“He banged the window; and so I was left alone to shift for myself as I might. There was no shed where I could find a bed; so I got under a cart, on some straw ; it was no very warm berth. I could not sleep for the cold; and the hours passed so slowly, that it seemed I had been there a week, instead of a night; but still it was not so bad as the first night when I left home, and when the good farmer found me.
“In the morning, before it was light, the farmer's people came out, and saw me crouching under the cart: they told me to get up; but I was so cold that I could not: at last the man himself came, and recognized me as the girl who had disturbed him the night before.
“When he heard my name, and the purpose for which I came, this good man took me into the house, and put me into one of the beds out of which his sons had just got; and, if I was cold before, you may be sure I was warm and comfortable now. Such a bed as this I had never slept in, nor did I ever have such good milk-soup as he gave me out of his own breakfast.
“Well, he agreed to hire me; and what do you think he gave me ? Six sous a day! and let me