« السابقةمتابعة »
two first families. Occasionally its one long straggling street was overawed by the assumption of the latest San Francisco fashions, imported per express, exclusively to the first families ; making outraged Nature, in the ragged outline of her furrowed surface, look still more homely, and putting personal insult on that greater portion of the population to whom the Sabbath, with a change of linen, brought merely the necesi sity of cleanliness, without the luxury of adornment. Then there was a Methodist Church, and hard by a Monte Bank, and a little beyond, on the mountain-side, a graveyard, and then a little schoolhouse.
“The Master," as he was known to his little flock, sat alone one night in the schoolhouse, with some open copy - books before him, carefully making those bold and full characters which are supposed to combine the extremes of chirographical and moral excellence, and had got as far as “Riches are deceitful,” and was elaborating the noun with an insincerity of flourish that was quite in the spirit of his text, when he heard a gentle tapping. The woodpeckers had been busy about the roof during the day, and the noise did not disturb his work. But the
opening of the door, and the tapping continuing from the inside, caused him to look up. He was slightly startled by the figure of a young girl, dirty and shabbily clad. Still, her great black eyes, her coarse, uncombed, lustreless black hair falling over her sunburned face, her red arms and feet streaked with the red soil, were all familiar to him. It was Melissa Smith, — Smith's motherless child.
“ What can she want here ?” thought the master. Everybody knew “ Mliss," as she was called, throughout the length and height of Red Mountain. Everybody knew her as an incorrigible girl. Her fierce, ungovernable disposition, her mad freaks and lawless character, were in their way as proverbial as the story of her father's weaknesses, and as philosophically accepted by the townsfolk. She wrangled with and fought the schoolboys with keener invective and quite as powerful arm. She followed the trails with a woodman's craft, and the master had met her before, miles away, shoeless, stockingless, and bareheaded on the mountain road. The miners' camps along the stream supplied her with subsistence, during these voluntary pilgrimages, in freely offered alms. Not but
that a larger protection had been previously extended to Mliss. The Rev. Joshua McSnagley, “ stated” preacher, had placed her in the hotel as servant, by way of pre liminary refinement, and had introduced her to his scholars at Sunday-school. But she threw plates occasionally at the landlord, and quickly retorted to the cheap witticisms of the guests, and created in the Sabbathschool a sensation that was so inimical to the orthodox dulness and placidity of that institution that, with a decent regard for the starched frocks and unblemished morals of the two pink-and-white-faced children of the first families, the reverend gentleman had her ignominiously expelled. Such were the antecedents and such the character of Mliss as she stood before the master. It was shown in the ragged dress, the unkempt hair, and bleeding feet, and asked his pity. It flashed from her black, fearless eyes, and commanded his respect.
“I come here to-night,” she said rapidly and boldly, keeping her hard glance on his, “ because I knew you was alone. I would n't come here when them gals was here. I hate 'em, and they hates me. That's why. You keep school, don't you? I want to be teached !”
If to the shabbiness of her apparel and uncomeliness of her tangled hair and dirts face she had added the humility of teary the master would have extended to her the usual moiety of pity, and nothing more. But with the natural, though illogical, instincts of his species, her boldness awakened in him something of that respect which all original natures pay unconsciously to one another in any grade. And he gazed at her the more fixedly as she went on, still rapidly, her hand on that door-latch and her eyes on his :
“My name's Mliss, — Mliss Smith! You can bet your life on that. My father's Old Smith, — Old Bummer Smith, - that's what's the matter with him. Mliss Smith, - and I'm coming to school!” “ Well?” said the master.
Accustomed to be thwarted and opposed, often wantonly and cruelly, for no other purpose than to excite the violent impulses of her nature, the master's phlegm evidently took her by surprise. She stopped; she began to twist a lock of her hair between her fingers; and the rigid line of upper lip, drawn over the wicked little teeth, relaxed and quivered slightly. Then her eyes dropped, and something like a blush struggled up to
her cheek, and tried to assert itself throug the splashes of redder soil and the sunburn of years. Suddenly she threw herself forward, calling on God to strike her dead, and fell quite weak and helpless, with her face on the master's desk, crying and sobbing as if her heart would break.
The master lifted her gently, and waited for the paroxysm to pass. When, with face still averted, she was repeating between her sobs the mea culpa of childish penitence, that “she'd be good, she did n't mean to," etc., — it came to him to ask her why she had left Sabbath-school.
Why had she left the Sabbath-school? why? Oh, yes! What did he (McSnagley, want to tell her she was wicked for? What did he tell her that God hated her for? If God hated her, what did she want to go to Sabbath-school for? She did n't want to be “ beholden” to anybody who hated her.
Had she told McSnagley this ?
The master laughed. It was a hearty laugh, and echoed so oddly in the little schoolhouse, and seemed so inconsistent and discordant with the sighing of the pines without, that he shortly corrected himself