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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portion Of Labor - Chapter 6
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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 6 Post by :RobHite Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :849

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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 6

Chapter VI

As Jim Tenny, with Eva Loud and the child, drove down the road towards the Brewster house, his horse and buggy became the nucleus of a gathering procession, shouting and exclaiming, with voices all tuned to one key of passionate sympathy. There were even many women of the poorer class who had no sense of indecency in following the utmost lead of their tender emotions. Some of them bore children of their own in their arms, and were telling them with passionate croonings to look at the other little girl in the carriage who had been lost, and gone away a whole day and two nights from her mother. They often called out fondly to Ellen and Eva, and ordered Jim to wait a moment that they might look at the poor darling. But Jim drove on as fast as he was able, though he had sometimes to rein his horse sharply to avoid riding down some lean racing boys, who would now and then shoot ahead of him with loud whoops of triumph. Once as he drove he laid one hand caressingly over Eva's. "Poor girl!" he said, hoarsely and shamefacedly, and Eva sobbed loudly. When Jim reached Mrs. Zelotes Brewster's house there was a swift displacement of lights and shadows in a window, a door flew open, and the gaunt old woman was at the wheel.

"Stop!" she cried. "Stop! Bring her in here to me! Let me have her! Give her to me; I have got everything ready! Come, Ellen--come to grandmother!"

Then there was a mad rush from the opposite direction, and the child's mother was there, reaching into the buggy with fierce arms of love and longing. "Give her to me!" she shrieked out. "Give me my baby, Eva Loud! Oh, Ellen, where have you been?"

Fanny Brewster dragged her child from her sister's arms so forcibly that she seemed fairly to fly over the wheel. Then she strained her to her hungry bosom, covering her with kisses, wetting her soft face and yellow hair with tears.

"My baby, mother's darling, mother's baby!" she gasped out with great pants of satisfied love; but another pair of lean, wiry old arms stole around the child's slender body.

"Give her to me!" demanded Mrs. Zelotes Brewster. "She is my son's child, and I have a right to her! You will kill her, goin' on so over her. Give her to me! I have everything all ready in my house to take care of her. Give her to me, Fanny Loud!"

"Keep your hands off her!" cried Fanny. "She's my own baby, and nobody's goin' to take her away from me, I guess."

"Give her to me this minute!" said Mrs. Zelotes Brewster. "You'll kill her, goin' on so. You're frightenin' her to death. Give her to me this minute!"

Ellen, meanwhile, that little tender blossom tossed helplessly by contending waves of love, was weeping and trembling with joy at the feel of her mother's arms and with awe and terror at this tempest of passion which she had evoked.

"Give her to me!" demanded Mrs. Zelotes Brewster.

The crowd who had followed stood gaping with working faces. The mothers wept over their own children. Eva stood at her sister's elbow, with a hand on one of the child's, which was laid over Fanny's shoulder. Jim Tenny had his face hidden on his horse's neck.

"Give her to me!" said Mrs. Zelotes again. "Give her to me, I say! I am her own grandmother!"

"And I am her own mother!" called out Fanny, with a great master-note of love and triumph and defiance. "I'm her own mother, and I've got her, and nobody but God shall take her from me again." The tears streamed down her cheeks; she kissed the child with pale, parted lips. She was at once pathetic and terrible. She was human love and selfishness incarnate.

Mrs. Zelotes Brewster stared at her, and her face changed suddenly and softened. She turned and went back into her own house. Her gray head appeared a second beside her window, then sank out of sight. She was kneeling there with her Bible at her side, a sudden sweet humility of thankfulness rising from her whole spirit like a perfume, when Fanny, with Eva following, still clinging to the child's little hand over her sister's shoulder, went across the yard to her own house to tell her husband. The others followed, and stood about outside, listening with curiosity sanctified by intensest sympathy. One nervous-faced boy leaped on the slant of the bulkhead to peer in a window of the sitting-room, and when his mother pulled him back forcibly, rubbed his grimy little knuckles across his eyes, and a dark smooch appeared on his nose and cheeks. He was a young boy, very small and thin for his age. He whispered to his mother and she nodded, and he darted off in the direction of his own home.

Andrew Brewster had just come home after an all-night's search, and he was in his bedroom in the bitter sleep of utter exhaustion and despair. Suddenly his heart had failed him and his brain had reeled. He had begun to feel dazed, to forget for a minute what he was looking for. He had made incoherent replies to the men with him, and finally one, after a whispered consultation with the others, had said: "Look at here, Andrew, old fellow; you'd better go home and rest a bit. We'll look all the harder while you're gone, and maybe she'll be found when you wake up."

"Who will be found?" Andrew asked, with a dazed look. He reeled as if he were drunk.

"Ain't had anything, has he?" one of the men whispered.

"Not a drop to my knowledge."

Andrew's lips trembled perceptibly; his forehead was knitted with vacuous perplexity; his eyes reflected blanks of unreason; his whole body had an effect of weak settling and subsidence. The man who worked next to him in the cutting-room at Lloyd's, and had searched at his side indefatigably from the first, stole a tender hand under his shoulder. "Come along with me, old man," he said, and Andrew obeyed.

When Fanny and Eva came in with the child, he lay prostrate on the bed, and scarcely seemed to breathe. A great qualm of fear shot over Fanny for a second. His father had died of heart-disease.

"Is he--dead?" she gasped to Eva.

"No, of course he ain't," said Eva. "He's asleep; he's wore out. Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, wake up! She's found, Andrew; Ellen's found." But Andrew did not stir.

"He is!" gasped Fanny, again.

"No, he ain't. Andrew, Andrew Brewster, wake up, wake up! Ellen's here! She's found!"

Fanny put Ellen down, and bent over Andrew and listened. "No, I can hear him breathe," she cried. Then she kissed him, and leaned her mouth close to his ear. "Andrew!" she said, in a voice which Eva and Ellen had never heard before. "Andrew, poor old man, wake up; she's found! Our child is found!"

When Andrew still did not wake, but only stirred, and moaned faintly, Fanny lifted Ellen onto the bed. "Kiss poor father, and wake him," she told her.

Ellen, whose blue eyes were big with fright and wonder, whose lips were quivering, and whose little body was vibrating with the strain of her nerves, laid her soft cheek against her father's rough, pale one, and stole a little arm under his neck. "Father, wake up!" she called out in her little, trembling, sweet voice, and that reached Andrew Brewster in the depths of his own physical inertness. He opened his eyes and looked at the child, and the light came into them, and then the sound of his sobbing filled the house and reached the people out in the yard, and an echo arose from them. Gradually the crowd dispersed. Jim Tenny, before he drove away, went to the door and spoke to Eva.

"Anything I can do?" he asked, with a curious, tender roughness. He did not look at her as he spoke.

"No; thank you, Jim," replied Eva.

Suddenly the young man reached out a hand and stroked her rough hair. "Well, take care of yourself, old girl," he said.

Eva went to her sister as Jim went out of the yard. Ellen was in the sitting-room with her father, and Fanny had gone to the kitchen to heat some milk for the child, whom she firmly believed to have had nothing to eat during her absence.

"Fanny," said Eva.

"Well?" said Fanny. "I can't stop; I must get some milk for her; she must be 'most starved."

Fanny turned and looked at Eva, who cast down her eyes before her in a very shamefacedness of happiness and contrition.

"Why, what is it?" repeated Fanny, staring at her.

"I've got Jim back, I guess, as well as Ellen," said Eva, "and I'm going to be a good woman."

After all the crowd of people outside had gone, the little nervous boy raced into the Brewster yard with a tin cup of chestnuts in his hand. He knocked at the side door, and when Fanny opened it he thrust them upon her. "They're for her!" he blurted out, and was gone, racing like a deer.

"Don't you want the cup back?" Fanny shouted after him.

"No, ma'am," he called back, and that, although his mother had charged him to bring back the cup or he would get a scolding.

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