A Novel



Author of "Lyrics of Lowly Life"

New York

International Association of Newspapers and Authors


Copyright, 1898

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Copyright, 1898

by Dodd, Mead and Company

North River Bindery Co.

Printers and Binders

New York





It was about six o'clock of a winter's morning. In the eastern sky faint

streaks of grey had come and were succeeded by flashes of red,

crimson-cloaked heralds of the coming day. It had snowed the day before,

but a warm wind had sprung up during the night, and the snow had

partially melted, leaving the earth showing through in ugly patches of

yellow clay and sooty mud. Half despoiled of their white mantle, though

with enough of it left to stand out in bold contrast to the bare places,

the houses loomed up, black, dripping, and hideous. Every once in a

while the wind caught the water as it trickled from the eaves, and sent

it flying abroad in a chill unsparkling spray. The morning came in,

cold, damp, and dismal.

At the end of a short, dirty street in the meanest part of the small

Ohio town of Dexter stood a house more sagging and dilapidated in

appearance than its disreputable fellows. From the foundation the walls

converged to the roof, which seemed to hold its place less by virtue of

nails and rafters than by faith. The whole aspect of the dwelling, if

dwelling it could be called, was as if, conscious of its own meanness,

it was shrinking away from its neighbours and into itself. A sickly

light gleamed from one of the windows. As the dawn came into the sky, a

woman came to the door and looked out. She was a slim woman, and her

straggling, dusty-coloured hair hung about an unpleasant sallow face.

She shaded her eyes with her hand, as if the faint light could hurt

those cold, steel-grey orbs. "It 's mornin'," she said to those within.

"I 'll have to be goin' along to git my man's breakfast: he goes to work

at six o'clock, and I 'ain't got a thing cooked in the house fur him.

Some o' the rest o' you 'll have to stay an' lay her out." She went back

in and closed the door behind her.

"La, Mis' Warren, you ain't a-goin' a'ready? Why, there 's everything to

be done here yit: Margar't 's to be laid out, an' this house has to be

put into some kind of order before the undertaker comes."

"I should like to know what else I 'm a-goin' to do, Mis' Austin.

Charity begins at home. My man 's got to go to work, an' he 's got to

have his breakfast: there 's cares fur the livin' as well as fur the

dead, I say, an' I don't believe in tryin' to be so good to them that 's

gone that you furgit them that 's with you."

Mrs. Austin pinched up her shrivelled face a bit more as she replied,

"Well, somebody ought to stay. I know I can't, fur I 've got a ter'ble

big washin' waitin' fur me at home, an' it 's been two nights sence I

've had any sleep to speak of, watchin' here. I 'm purty near broke


"That 's jest what I 've been a-sayin'," repeated Mrs. Warren. "There 's

cares fur the livin' as well as fur the dead; you 'd ought to take care

o' yoreself: first thing you know you 'll be flat o' yore own back."

A few other women joined their voices in the general protest against

staying. It was for all the world as if they had been anxious to see the

poor woman out of the world, and, now that they knew her to be gone, had

no further concern for her. All had something to do, either husbands to

get off to work or labours of their own to perform.

A little woman with a weak voice finally changed the current of talk by

saying, "Well, I guess I kin stay: there 's some cold things at home

that my man kin git, an' the childern 'll git off to school by

themselves. They 'll all understand."

"That 's right, Melissy Davis," said a hard-faced woman who had gone on

about some work she was doing, without taking any notice of the

clamorous deserters, "an' I 'll stay with you. I guess I 've got about

as much work to do as any of you," she added, casting a cold glance at

the women who were now wrapped up and ready to depart, "an' I was n't so

much of a friend of Margar't's as some of you, neither, but on an

occasion like this I know what dooty is." And Miss Hester Prime closed

her lips in a very decided fashion.

"Oh, well, some folks is so well off in money an' time that they kin

afford to be liberal with a pore creature like Margar't, even ef they

did n't have nothin' to do with her before she died."

Miss Prime's face grew sterner as she replied, "Margar't Brent was n't

my kind durin' life, an' that I make no bones o' sayin' here an' now;

but when she got down on the bed of affliction I done what I could fur

her along with the best of you; an' you, Mandy Warren, that 's seen me

here day in an' day out, ought to be the last one to deny that.

Furthermore, I did n't advise her to leave her husband, as some people

did, but I did put in a word an' help her to work so 's to try to keep

her straight afterwards, though it ain't fur me to be a-braggin' about

what I done, even to offset them that did n't do nothin'."

This parting shot told, and Mrs. Warren flared up like a wax light. "It

's a wonder yore old tracts an' the help you give her did n't keep her

sober sometimes."

"Ef I could n't keep her sober, I was n't one o' them that set an' took

part with her when she was gittin' drunk."

"'Sh! 'sh!" broke in Mrs. Davis: "ef I was you two I would n't go on

that way. Margar't 's dead an' gone now, an' what 's past is past. Pore

soul, she had a hard enough time almost to drive her to destruction; but

it 's all over now, an' we ought to put her away as peaceful as


The women who had all been in such a hurry had waited at the prospect

of an altercation, but, seeing it about to blow over, they bethought

themselves of their neglected homes and husbands, and passed out behind

the still irate Mrs. Warren, who paused long enough in earshot to say,

"I hope that spiteful old maid 'll have her hands full."

The scene within the room which the women had just left was anything but

an inviting one. The place was miserably dirty. Margaret had never been

a particularly neat housewife, even in her well days. The old rag carpet

which disfigured the floor was worn into shreds and blotched with

grease, for the chamber was cooking- and dining- as well as

sleeping-room. A stove, red with rust, struggled to send forth some

heat. The oily black kerosene lamp showed a sickly yellow flame through

the grimy chimney.

On a pallet in one corner lay a child sleeping. On the bed, covered with

a dingy sheet, lay the stark form out of which the miserable life had so

lately passed.

The women opened the blinds, blew out the light, and began performing

the necessary duties for the dead.

"Anyhow, let her body go clean before her Maker," said Miss Hester

Prime, severely.

"Don't be too hard on the pore soul, Miss Hester," returned Mrs. Davis.

"She had a hard time of it. I knowed Margar't when she was n't so low

down as in her last days."

"She ought n't never to 'a' left her husband."

"Oh, ef you 'd 'a' knowed him as I did, Miss Hester, you would n't never

say that. He was a brute: sich beatin's as he used to give her when he

was in liquor you never heerd tell of."

"That was hard, but as long as he was a husband he was a protection to

her name."

"True enough. Protection is a good dish, but a beatin's a purty bitter

sauce to take with it."

"I wonder what 's ever become of Brent."

"Lord knows. No one 'ain't heerd hide ner hair o' him sence he went away

from town. People thought that he was a-hangin' around tryin' to git a

chance to kill Mag after she got her divorce from him, but all at once

he packed off without sayin' a word to anybody. I guess he's drunk

himself to death by this time."

When they had finished with Margaret, the women set to work to clean up

the house. The city physician who had attended the dead woman in her

last hours had reported the case for county burial, and the undertaker

was momentarily expected.

"We 'll have to git the child up an' git his pallet out of the way, so

the floor kin be swept."

"A body hates to wake the pore little motherless dear."

"Perhaps, after all, the child is better off without her example."

"Yes, Miss Hester, perhaps; but a mother, after all, is a mother."

"Even sich a one as this?"

"Even sich a one as this."

Mrs. Davis bent over the child, and was about to lift him, when he

stirred, opened his eyes, and sat up of his own accord. He appeared

about five years of age. He might have been a handsome child, but

hardship and poor feeding had taken away his infantile plumpness, and he

looked old and haggard, even beneath the grime on his face. The kindly

woman lifted him up and began to dress him.

"I want my mamma," said the child.

Neither of the women answered: there was something tugging at their

heart-strings that killed speech.

Finally the little woman said, "I don't know ef we did right to let him

sleep through it all, but then it was sich a horrible death."

When she had finished dressing the child, she led him to the bed and

showed him his mother's face. He touched it with his little grimy

finger, and then, as if, young as he was, the realization of his

bereavement had fully come to him, he burst into tears.

Miss Hester turned her face away, but Mrs. Davis did not try to conceal

her tears. She took the boy up in her arms and comforted him the best

she could.

"Don't cry, Freddie," she said; "don't cry; mamma's--restin'. Ef you

don't care, Miss Prime, I 'll take him over home an' give him some

breakfast, an' leave him with my oldest girl, Sophy. She kin stay out o'

school to-day. I 'll bring you back a cup o' tea, too; that is, ef you

ain't afeared--"

"Afeared o' what?" exclaimed Miss Prime, turning on her.

"Well, you know, Miss Hester, bein' left alone--ah--some people air

funny about--"

"I 'm no fool, Melissy Davis. Take the child an' go on."

Miss Hester was glad of the chance to be sharp. It covered the weakness

to which she had almost given way at sight of the child's grief. She

bustled on about her work when Mrs. Davis was gone, but her brow was

knit into a wrinkle of deep thought. "A mother is a mother, after all,"

she mused aloud, "even sich a one."


For haste, for unadulterated despatch, commend me to the county burying.

The body politic is busy and has no time to waste on an inert human

body. It does its duty to its own interest and to the pauper dead when

the body is dropped with all celerity into the ground. The county is

philosophical: it says, "Poor devil, the world was unkind to him: he 'll

be glad to get out of it: we 'll be doing him a favour to put him at the

earliest moment out of sight and sound and feeling of the things that

wounded him. Then, too, the quicker the cheaper, and that will make it

easier on the taxpayers." This latter is so comforting! So the order is

written, the funeral is rushed through, and the county goes home to its

dinner, feeling well satisfied with itself,--so potent are the

consolations of philosophy at so many hundreds per year.

To this general order poor Margaret's funeral proved no exception. The

morning after her decease she was shrouded and laid in her cheap pine

coffin to await those last services which, in a provincial town, are the

meed of saint and sinner alike. The room in which she lay was very

clean,--unnaturally so,--from the attention of Miss Prime. Clean muslin

curtains had been put up at the windows, and the one cracked mirror

which the house possessed had been covered with white cloth. The

lace-like carpet had been taken off the floor, and the boards had been

scrubbed white. The little stove in the corner, now cold, was no longer

red with rust. In a tumbler on a little table at Margaret's head stood

the only floral offering that gave a touch of tenderness to the grim

scene,--a bunch of home-grown scarlet and white geraniums. Some woman

had robbed her wintered room of this bit of brightness for the memory of

the dead. The perfume of the flowers mingled heavily with the faint

odour which pervades the chamber of death,--an odour that is like the

reminiscence of sorrow.

Like a spirit of order, with solemn face and quiet tread, Miss Hester

moved about the room, placing one thing here, another there, but ever

doing or changing something, all with maidenly neatness. What a

childish fancy this is of humanity's, tiptoeing and whispering in the

presence of death, as if one by an incautious word or a hasty step might

wake the sleeper from such deep repose!

The service had been set for two o'clock in the afternoon. One or two

women had already come in to "sit," but by half-past one the general

congregation began to arrive and to take their places. They were mostly

women. The hour of the day was partiallyresponsible for this; but then

men do not go to funerals anyway, if they can help it. They do not

revel, like their sisters, in the exquisite pleasure of sorrow. Most of

the women had known pain and loss themselves, and came with ready

sympathy, willing, nay, anxious to be moved to tears. Some of them came

dragging by one hand children, dressed stiffly, uncomfortably, and

ludicrously,--a medley of soiled ribbons, big collars, wide bows, and

very short knickerbockers. The youngsters were mostly curious and

ill-mannered, and ever and anon one had to be slapped by its mother into

snivelling decorum. Mrs. Davis came in with one of her own children and

leading the dead woman's boy by the hand. At this a buzz of whispered

conversation began.

"Pore little dear," said one, as she settled the bow more securely

under her own boy's sailor collar,--"pore little dear, he 's all alone

in the world."

"I never did see in all my life sich a young child look so sad," said


"H'm!" put in a third; "in this world pore motherless childern has

plenty o' reason to look sad, I tell you."

She brushed the tears off the cheek of her little son whom she had

slapped a moment before. She was tender now.

One woman bent down and whispered into her child's ear as she pointed

with one cotton-gloved finger, "See, Johnny, see little Freddie, there;

he 'ain't got no mother no more. Pore little Freddie! ain't you sorry

fur him?" The child nodded, and gazed with open-eyed wonder at "little

Freddie" as if he were of a new species.

The curtains, stirred by the blast through the loose windows, flapped

dismally, and the people drew their wraps about them, for the fireless

room was cold. Steadily, insistently, the hive-like drone of

conversation murmured on.

  • contrast [´kɔntrɑ:st] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.对比 v.使对比(照)   (初中英语单词)
  • awhile [ə´wail] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.少顷;片刻   (初中英语单词)
  • abroad [ə´brɔ:d] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.海外;到处;广泛   (初中英语单词)
  • foundation [faun´deiʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.建立;基金;地基   (初中英语单词)
  • virtue [´və:tʃu:] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.美德;贞操;长处   (初中英语单词)
  • aspect [´æspekt] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.面貌;神色;方向   (初中英语单词)
  • dwelling [´dweliŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.住所;寓所   (初中英语单词)
  • conscious [´kɔnʃəs] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.意识的;自觉的   (初中英语单词)
  • anxious [´æŋkʃəs] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.担忧的;渴望的   (初中英语单词)
  • liberal [´libərəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.大方的 n.开明的人   (初中英语单词)
  • advise [əd´vaiz] 移动到这儿单词发声  vt.忠告;建议;通知   (初中英语单词)
  • destruction [di´strʌkʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.破坏,毁灭   (初中英语单词)
  • peaceful [´pi:sfəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.和平的;平静的   (初中英语单词)
  • sleeping [´sli:piŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.&a.睡着(的)   (初中英语单词)
  • miserable [´mizərəbəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.悲惨的;可怜的   (初中英语单词)
  • liquor [´likə] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.酒类;(溶)液   (初中英语单词)
  • protection [prə´tekʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.警戒;护照;通行证   (初中英语单词)
  • divorce [di´vɔ:s] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.离婚 vt.同….离婚   (初中英语单词)
  • physician [fi´ziʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.(内科)医生   (初中英语单词)
  • accord [ə´kɔ:d] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.&vi.符合 vt.给与   (初中英语单词)
  • horrible [´hɔrəbəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.可怕的;恐怖的   (初中英语单词)
  • realization [,riəlai´zeiʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.实现;认识   (初中英语单词)
  • wrinkle [´riŋkəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.&v.(使)起皱(纹)   (初中英语单词)
  • funeral [´fju:nərəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.葬礼,丧葬;困难   (初中英语单词)
  • philosophy [fi´lɔsəfi] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.哲学;人生观   (初中英语单词)
  • exception [ik´sepʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.例外;反对,异议   (初中英语单词)
  • carpet [´kɑ:pit] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.地毯 vt.铺地毯   (初中英语单词)
  • scarlet [´skɑ:lit] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.猩红色 a.猩红的   (初中英语单词)
  • perfume [´pə:fju:m, pə´fju:m] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.香味 vt.使发香   (初中英语单词)
  • solemn [´sɔləm] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.严肃的;隆重的   (初中英语单词)
  • responsible [ri´spɔnsəbəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.尽责的;责任重大的   (初中英语单词)
  • willing [´wiliŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.情愿的,乐意的   (初中英语单词)
  • mostly [´məustli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.主要地;多半;通常   (初中英语单词)
  • steadily [´stedili] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.坚定地;不断地   (初中英语单词)
  • sprung [sprʌŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  spring的过去分词   (高中英语单词)
  • mantle [´mæntl] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.斗蓬 v.覆盖;笼罩   (高中英语单词)
  • hideous [´hidiəs] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.丑陋的,可怕的   (高中英语单词)
  • unpleasant [ʌn´plezənt] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.不愉快的;不合意的   (高中英语单词)
  • repeated [ri´pi:tid] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.反复的;重复的   (高中英语单词)
  • decided [di´saidid] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.明显的;决定的   (高中英语单词)
  • seeing [si:iŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  see的现在分词 n.视觉   (高中英语单词)
  • housewife [´hauswaif] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.家庭主妇   (高中英语单词)
  • chamber [´tʃeimbə] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.房间;议院;会议室   (高中英语单词)
  • despatch [di´spætʃ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.&v.发送;派遣;调度   (高中英语单词)
  • commend [kə´mend] 移动到这儿单词发声  vt.把…交托给;称赞   (高中英语单词)
  • offering [´ɔfəriŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.提供;礼物;捐献   (高中英语单词)
  • tenderness [´tendənis] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.娇嫩;柔软;温柔   (高中英语单词)
  • brightness [´braitnis] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.光明;快乐   (高中英语单词)
  • exquisite [ik´skwizit] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.精巧的;敏锐的   (高中英语单词)
  • stiffly [´stifli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.硬;顽固地   (高中英语单词)
  • warren [´wɔrən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.养兔场;大杂院   (英语四级单词)
  • parting [´pɑ:tiŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.&n.分离(的)   (英语四级单词)
  • kerosene [´kerəsi:n] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.煤油,火油   (英语四级单词)
  • sickly [´sikli] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.多病的;病态的   (英语四级单词)
  • haggard [´hægəd] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.憔悴的   (英语四级单词)
  • politic [´pɔlitik] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.精明的;有策略的   (英语四级单词)
  • unkind [,ʌn´kaind] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.不客气的;不和善的   (英语四级单词)
  • potent [´pəutənt] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.有(势)力的;烈性的   (英语四级单词)
  • decease [di´si:s] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.&vi.死,死亡   (英语四级单词)
  • provincial [prə´vinʃəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.省的 n.外省人   (英语四级单词)
  • sinner [´sinə] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.罪人   (英语四级单词)
  • partially [´pɑ:ʃəli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.部分地;局部地   (英语四级单词)
  • taking [´teikiŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.迷人的 n.捕获物   (英语六级单词)
  • affliction [ə´flikʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.痛苦,苦恼;折磨   (英语六级单词)
  • offset [´ɔ:fset] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.&vt.抵销;补偿   (英语六级单词)
  • inviting [in´vaitiŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.动人的   (英语六级单词)
  • miserably [´mizərəbli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.悲惨地;糟糕地   (英语六级单词)
  • cracked [krækt] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.有裂缝的;碎的;粗哑   (英语六级单词)
  • tumbler [´tʌmblə] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.杂技演员;不倒翁   (英语六级单词)
  • sleeper [´sli:pə] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.睡眠者;(铁路)枕木   (英语六级单词)

  • 上传人 欢乐鱼 分享于 2017-06-26 17:06:44
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