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I started from the window, feeling, for an instant, faint and sick. In a few moments I returned, and looked out again. Both the fallen ones had regained their feet, and passed out of sight, and Biddy, who had witnessed the last scene in this half comic, half tragic performance, was giving the pavement a plentiful coating of ashes and cinders.
I may be permitted to remark, that I trust other housekeepers, whose pavements are washed on cold mornings—and their name, I had alınost said, is legion—are as innocent as I was in the above case, and that the wrong to pedestrians lies at the door of thoughtless servants. But is it not our duty to see the wrong has no further repetition ?
It has been remarked that the residence of a truly humane man may be known by the ashes before his door on a slippery morning. If this be so, what are we to think of those who coolly supply a sheet of ice to the side walk?
CHAPTER XII. .
REGARD FOR THE POOR.
We sometimes get, by chance, as it were, glimpses of life altogether new, yet full of instruction. I once had such a glimpse, and, at the time, put it upon record as a lesson for myself as well as others. Its introduction into this series of “ Confessions” will be quite in place.
“How many children have you ?” I asked of a poor woman, one day, who, with her tray of fish on her head, stopped at my door with the hope of finding a customer.
Four,” she replied. “All young ?”
“Yes ma'am. The oldest is but seven years of age. “ Have you a husband ?" I enquired.
” The woman replied in a changed voice :
“Yes, ma'am. But he isn't much help to me. Like a great many other men, he drinks too much. If it wasn't for that, you wouldn't find me crying fish about the streets in the spring, and berries through the summer, to get bread for my children.
children. He could support us all comfortably, if he was only sober; for he has a good trade, and is a good workman. He used to earn ten and sometimes twelve dollars a week.”
“How much do you make towards supporting your family ?” I asked.
“ Nearly all they get to live on, and that isn't much,” she said bitterly. “My husband sometimes pays the rent, and sometimes he doesn't even do that. I have made as high as four dollars in a week, but oftener two or three is the most I get."
“ How in the world can you support yourself, husband, and four children on three dollars a week ?"
“I have to do it,” was her simple reply. “ There are women who would be glad to get three dollars a week, and think themselves well off.”
“But how do you live on so small a sum ?"
“We have to deny ourselves almost every little comfort, and confine ourselves down to the mere necessaries of life. After those who can afford to pay good prices for their marketing have been supplied, we come in for a part of what remains. I often get meat enough for a few cents to last me for several days. And its the same way with vegetables. After the markets are over, the butchers and country people, whom we know, let us have lots of things for almost nothing, sooner than take them home. In this way we make our slender means go a great deal farther than they would if we had to pay the highest market price for every thing. But, it often happens that what we gain here is lost in the eagerness we feel to sell whatever we have, especially when, from having walked and cried for a long time, we become much fatigued. Almost every one complains that we ask too much for our things, if we happen to be one or two cents above what somebody has paid in market, where there are almost as many different prices as there are persons who sell. And in consequence, almost every one tries to beat us down.
“ It often happens that, after I have walked for hours and sold but very little, I have parted with my whole stock at cost to some two or three ladies, who would not have bought from me at all if they hadn't known that they were making good bargains out of me; and this because I could not bear up any longer. I think it very hard, sometimes, when ladies, who have every thing in plenty, take off nearly all my profits, after I have toiled through the hot sun for hours, or shivered in the cold of winter. It is no doubt right enough for every one to be prudent, and buy things as low as possible; but it has never seemed to me as quite just for a rich lady to beat down a poor fish-woman, or strawberry-woman, a cent or two on a bunch or basket, when that very cent made, perhaps, onethird, or one-half of her profits.
“It was only yesterday that I stopped at a house to sell a bunch of fish. The lady took a fancy to a nice bunch of small rock, for which I asked her twenty cents. They had cost me just sixteen cents. Won't you take three fips ?' she asked. “That leaves me too small a profit, madam,' I replied. “You want too much profit, she returned; “I saw just such a bunch of fish in market yesterday for three fips.' 'Yes, but remember,' I replied, that here are the fish at
your door. You neither have to send for them nor to bring them home yourself.
' Oh, as to that,' she answered, “I have a waiter whose business it is to carry the marketing. It is all the same to me. So, if you expect to sell me your things, you must do it at the market prices. I will give you three fips for that bunch of fish, and no more. I had walked a great deal, and
' sold but little. I was tired, and half sick with a dreadful headache. It was time for me to think about getting home. So I said, 'Well, ma'am, I suppose you must take them, but it leaves me only a mere trifle for my profit. A servant standing by took the fish, and the lady handed me a quarter, and held out her hand for the change. I first put into it a five cent piece. She continued holding it out, until I searched about in my pocket for a penny. This I next placed
. in her hand. So you've cheated me out of a cent at last,' she said, half laughing and half in earnest ; 'you are a sad rogue.' A little boy was standing by. 'Here, Charley,' she said to him, “is a penny I have just saved. buy a candy with it.'
As I turned away from the door of the large, beautiful house in which that lady lived, I felt something rising in my throat and choking me; I had bitter thoughts of all my kind.
Happily, where I next stopped, I met with one more considerate. She bought two bunches of my fish at my own price—spoke very kindly to me, and even went so far, seeing that I looked jaded out, to tell me to go down into her kitchen and rest myself for a little while.