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woodpecker's view-point, undoubtedly must have seemed stupid and a waste of time. But even in such trifles was the afternoon spent; and when the children were again gathered, and Sandy, with a delicacy which the schoolmistress well understood, took leave of them quietly at the outskirts of the settlement, it had seemed the shortest day of her weary life.
As the long, dry summer withered to its roots, the school term of Red Gulch - to use a local euphuism “ dried up” also. In another day Miss Mary would be free; and for a season, at least, Red Gulch would know her no more. She was seated alone in the schoolhouse, her cheek resting on her hand, her eyes half closed in one of those day-dreams in which Miss Mary, I fear, to the danger of school discipline, was lately in the habit of indulging. Her lap was full of mosses, ferns, and other woodland memories. She was so preoccupied with these and her own thoughts that a gentle tapping at the door passed unheard, or translated itself into the remembrance of far-off woodpeckers. When at last it asserted itself more distinctly, she started up with a flushed cheek and opened the
door. On the threshold stood a woman, the self-assertion and audacity of whose dress were in singular contrast to her timid, irresolute bearing
Miss Mary recognized at a glance the dubious mother of her anonymous pupil. Perhaps she was disappointed, perhaps she was only fastidious; but as she coldly invited her to enter, she half unconsciously settled her white cuffs and collar, and gathered closer her own chaste skirts. It was, perhaps, for this reason that the embarrassed stranger, after a moment's hesitation, left her gorgeous parasol open and sticking in the dust beside the door, and then sat down at the farther end of a long bench. Her voice was husky as she began :
“ I heerd tell that you were goin' down to the Bay to-morrow, and I could n't let you go until I came to thank you for your kindness to my Tommy.”
Tommy, Miss Mary said, was a good boy, and deserved more than the poor attention she could give him.
“ Thank you, miss; thank ye !” cried the stranger, brightening even through the color which Red Gulch knew facetiously as her
“ war paint,” and striving, in her embarrassment, to drag the long bench nearer the schoolmistress. “I thank you, miss, for that; and if I am his mother, there ain't a sweeter, dearer, better boy lives than him. And if I ain't much as says it, thar ain't sweeter, dearer, angeler teacher lives than he's got.”
Miss Mary, sitting primly behind her desk, with a ruler over her shoulder, opened her gray eyes widely at this, but said nothing.
“It ain't for you to be complimented by the like of me, I know," she went on, hurriedly. “It ain't for me to be comin' here, in broad day, to do it, either; but I come to ask a favor, - not for me, miss, — not for me, but for the darling boy."
Encouraged by a look in the young schoolmistress's eye, and putting her lilacgloved hands together, the fingers downward, between her knees, she went on, in a low voice:
“You see, miss, there 's no one the boy has any claim on but me, and I ain't the proper person to bring him up. I thought some, last year, of sending him away to Frisco to school, but when they talked of bringing a schoolma'am here I waited till I
saw you, and then I knew it was all right, and I could keep my boy a little longer. And oh, miss, he loves you so much; and if you could hear him talk about you, in his pretty way, and if he could ask you what I ask you now, you
could n't refuse him. “ It is natural,” she went on rapidly, in a voice that trembled strangely between pride and humility, — “it's natural that he should take to you, miss, for his father, when I first knew him, was a gentleman, - and the boy must forget me, sooner or later, and so I ain't a goin' to cry about that. For I come to ask you to take my Tommy, — God bless him for the bestest, sweetest boy that lives, -to - to take him with you.”
She had risen and caught the young girl's hand in her own, and had fallen on her knees beside her.
“I've money plenty, and it's all yours and his. Put him in some good school, where you can go and see him, and help him to - to - to forget his mother. Do with him what you like. The worst you can do will be kindness to what he will learn with me. Only take him out of this wicked life, this cruel place, this home of shame and sorrow.
You will! I know you will, –
won't you? You will, — you must not, you cannot
no! You will make him as pure, as gentle, as yourself; and when he has grown up, you will tell him his father's name, - the name that has n't passed my lips for years,
the name of Alexander Morton, whom they call here Sandy! Miss Mary!- do not take your hand away! Miss Mary, speak to me! You will take my boy? Do not put your face from me. I know it ought not to look on such as Miss Mary! — my God, be merciful! - she is leaving me!”
Miss Mary had risen, and, in the gathering twilight, had felt her way to the open window. She stood there, leaning against the casement, her eyes fixed on the last rosy tints that were fading from the western sky. There was still some of its light on her pure young forehead, on her white collar, on her clasped white hands, but all fading slowly away. The suppliant had dragged herself, still on her knees, beside her.
“I know it takes time to consider. I will wait here all night; but I cannot go until you speak. Do not deny me now. You will! - I see it in your sweet face, such a face as I have seen in my dr ams.