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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter II

The Gilded Age

Chapter II


Toward the close of the third day's journey the wayfarers were just
beginning to think of camping, when they came upon a log cabin in the
woods. Hawkins drew rein and entered the yard. A boy about ten years
old was sitting in the cabin door with his face bowed in his hands.
Hawkins approached, expecting his footfall to attract attention, but it
did not. He halted a moment, and then said:

"Come, come, little chap, you mustn't be going to sleep before sundown"

With a tired expression the small face came up out of the hands,--a face
down which tears were flowing.

"Ah, I'm sorry I spoke so, my boy. Tell me--is anything the matter?"

The boy signified with a scarcely perceptible gesture that the trouble
was in the, house, and made room for Hawkins to pass. Then he put his
face in his hands again and rocked himself about as one suffering a grief
that is too deep to find help in moan or groan or outcry. Hawkins
stepped within. It was a poverty stricken place. Six or eight middle-
aged country people of both sexes were grouped about an object in the
middle of the room; they were noiselessly busy and they talked in
whispers when they spoke. Hawkins uncovered and approached. A coffin
stood upon two backless chairs. These neighbors had just finished
disposing the body of a woman in it--a woman with a careworn, gentle face
that had more the look of sleep about it than of death. An old lady
motioned, toward the door and said to Hawkins in a whisper:

"His mother, po' thing. Died of the fever, last night. Tha warn't no
sich thing as saving of her. But it's better for her--better for her.
Husband and the other two children died in the spring, and she hain't
ever hilt up her head sence. She jest went around broken-hearted like,
and never took no intrust in anything but Clay--that's the boy thar.
She jest worshiped Clay--and Clay he worshiped her. They didn't 'pear to
live at all, only when they was together, looking at each other, loving
one another. She's ben sick three weeks; and if you believe me that
child has worked, and kep' the run of the med'cin, and the times of
giving it, and sot up nights and nussed her, and tried to keep up her
sperits, the same as a grown-up person. And last night when she kep' a
sinking and sinking, and turned away her head and didn't know him no mo',
it was fitten to make a body's heart break to see him climb onto the bed
and lay his cheek agin hern and call her so pitiful and she not answer.
But bymeby she roused up, like, and looked around wild, and then she see
him, and she made a great cry and snatched him to her breast and hilt him
close and kissed him over and over agin; but it took the last po'
strength she had, and so her eyelids begin to close down, and her arms
sort o' drooped away and then we see she was gone, po' creetur. And
Clay, he--Oh, the po' motherless thing--I cain't talk abort it--I cain't
bear to talk about it."

Clay had disappeared from the door; but he came in, now, and the
neighbors reverently fell apart and made way for him. He leaned upon the
open coffin and let his tears course silently. Then he put out his small
hand and smoothed the hair and stroked the dead face lovingly. After a
bit he brought his other hand up from behind him and laid three or four
fresh wild flowers upon the breast, bent over and kissed the unresponsive
lips time and time again, and then turned away and went out of the house
without looking at any of the company. The old lady said to Hawkins:

"She always loved that kind o' flowers. He fetched 'em for her every
morning, and she always kissed him. They was from away north somers--she
kep' school when she fust come. Goodness knows what's to become o' that
po' boy. No father, no mother, no kin folks of no kind. Nobody to go
to, nobody that k'yers for him--and all of us is so put to it for to get
along and families so large."

Hawkins understood. All, eyes were turned inquiringly upon him. He
said:

"Friends, I am not very well provided for, myself, but still I would not
turn my back on a homeless orphan. If he will go with me I will give him
a home, and loving regard--I will do for him as I would have another do
for a child of my own in misfortune."

One after another the people stepped forward and wrung the stranger's
hand with cordial good will, and their eyes looked all that their hands
could not express or their lips speak.

"Said like a true man," said one.

"You was a stranger to me a minute ago, but you ain't now," said another.

"It's bread cast upon the waters--it'll return after many days," said the
old lady whom we have heard speak before.

"You got to camp in my house as long as you hang out here," said one.
"If tha hain't room for you and yourn my tribe'll turn out and camp in
the hay loft."

A few minutes afterward, while the preparations for the funeral were
being concluded, Mr. Hawkins arrived at his wagon leading his little waif
by the hand, and told his wife all that had happened, and asked her if he
had done right in giving to her and to himself this new care? She said:

"If you've done wrong, Si Hawkins, it's a wrong that will shine brighter
at the judgment day than the rights that many' a man has done before you.
And there isn't any compliment you can pay me equal to doing a thing like
this and finishing it up, just taking it for granted that I'll be willing
to it. Willing? Come to me; you poor motherless boy, and let me take
your grief and help you carry it."

When the child awoke in the morning, it was as if from a troubled dream.
But slowly the confusion in his mind took form, and he remembered his
great loss; the beloved form in the coffin; his talk with a generous
stranger who offered him a home; the funeral, where the stranger's wife
held him by the hand at the grave, and cried with him and comforted him;
and he remembered how this, new mother tucked him in his bed in the
neighboring farm house, and coaxed him to talk about his troubles, and
then heard him say his prayers and kissed him good night, and left him
with the soreness in his heart almost healed and his bruised spirit at
rest.

And now the new mother came again, and helped him to dress, and combed
his hair, and drew his mind away by degrees from the dismal yesterday,
by telling him about the wonderful journey he was going to take and the
strange things he was going to see. And after breakfast they two went
alone to the grave, and his heart went out to his new friend and his
untaught eloquence poured the praises of his buried idol into her ears
without let or hindrance. Together they planted roses by the headboard
and strewed wild flowers upon the grave; and then together they went
away, hand in hand, and left the dead to the long sleep that heals all
heart-aches and ends all sorrows.

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