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makes my hands dirty. Books keep me from running away and doing something desperate. What else have I to live for but for the comfort I can glean from a page ‘rich with the spoils of time'-as this poem says?” “Osceola, you are too sensible to talk such non
The idea of a girl with a mother, a father, a brother, and two sisters hinting that she has nothing to live for but books!" Laurie's orphan-heart throbbed protestingly.
“But it's true," persisted Osceola, taking a certain gloomy joy in thus being able to prove herself different from the ordinary run of girls. “What pleasure are my people to me? None. So I turn to books. Books keep me from thinking of my unbearable home.”
“Osceola, I won't stand another word like that," warned Laurie, filled with a resolve that was not the sudden caprice of the moment, but had been growing through many days, feeding itself upon first this incident, then that, being born perhaps of the thrill of pity she had felt for Mrs. Carter at the time that that indomitable cheerful one had said, “You-all save the tin cans an' I'll make the view."
“Why are you looking at me as if you was angrywere angry with me? Me!” said the cracker girl shortly.
“Because I am. Yes, open your big eyes; and maybe you'll never look at me in kindness again, for I'm going to tell you what I think of you.”
“You told me you liked me,” reminded Osceola, almost warningly.
“I more than like you; I love you. I can't help it; you are so pretty, and you try so faithfully to make the best of yourself. I believe in that, but I believe in making the best of other people, too. But you evi
dently don't. So there I think you are selfish and cruel.”
In much mental commotion, Laurie dropped the last yam on its heap, and then locked her trembling hands in her lap, shaken by proper doubts as to the advisability of ever speaking naked truth to a fellow creature. Now, however, there was nothing to do but to continue. A truth that is half stripped is much more offensive than one which is nobly nude.
“Selfish? Cruel?" The Florida girl recoiled from these accusations with indignation and distrust.
"Awfully so. What you need is not to be kept from thinking of your home, but made to think of it more. Almost everything that is wrong about your home life —and I admit there's plenty—is your own fault.”
"Have you gone crazy?” hinted Osceola.
“No, I've come sane, and dare speak out. Your people did not educate you to be a burden and a faultfinder, but to help to lift them. And have you tried? Have you tried to share the knowledge? You know you haven't. Does little Tallahassie want to be untidy and ignorant? Every word she says is proof to the contrary. If I were blessed with a little sister I'd teach her and wash her and darn her some stockings! The stockings are more necessary for health's sake than for looks' sake. You know that."
“Are you trying to daring to"
Tallahassie's sister found herself unable to put the accusation in words, bound to secrecy by the inherited narrowness of a set of people who think that family pride is best preserved by refusing to admit the presence of a discreditable ailment in their midst instead of seeking the publicity of a cure. But the arraigner went on undaunted.
“Yes, I'm trying. I dare. For Tallahassie's sake. Fortunately the child appears to be recovering from the trouble in her feet. It is your duty to take care of her so that it won't come back. She's just in a condition to catch that dreadful thing that poor Lee is suffering from." “Why are you dragging in Lee?
What do you mean by 'that dreadful thing?'
Osceola twisted her hands together in useless protest, for the other went courageously on.
"I mean just what you mean. I am coming to Lee presently. I want to say something in regard to your mother now, your generous mother who goes in real rags because she has no time to sew. You make pretty dresses for yourself; have you ever made her one, a really pretty one?"
“She wouldn't wear one!"
“I didn't ask you that. I asked if you had ever made her one. Have you, Osceola? Have you?”
Giving Osceola absolutely no time to turn the tables by asking the pertinent question: "Whose business is all this?” Laurie took pains to keep up the attack.
“Suppose you follow my suggestion and make her the very nicest dress you can ?"
"For her to smear with tobacco juice?"
“Tobacco or no, she's twice as artistic as you, for she has trimmed the bare house with flowers till it's one big bouquet. You can't tell me that such a person wouldn't just love to wear a pretty dress that her eldest daughter made her. Now for your duty to Lee
Osceola's increasing anger here took on a shade of fear, causing her to glance furtively over her shoulder
as though to guard against a chance listener, or as though she doubted the discretion of the very landscape.
“You leave Lee alone,” she cautioned.
"Lee has been left alone too long. You know what 'big lazies' is as well as I do. Better. It's hookworm disease.”
“How dare you say that my brother has anything so abominable and disgraceful?"
“Because he has, the poor boy. And if your pages ‘rich with the spoils of time' haven't taught you that it is a disease less disgraceful than dangerous, they haven't taught you much. Lee’s body is nearly worn out, and his mind is preparing to go the same way. Why don't you plan to earn some money and send him over the border to Georgia where that new sanatorium is and cure him? But you say you intend to spend your potato money on books. More books, You'd better burn the few you have and then turn around and be the home angel that you ought to be and can be. You think you know more than the rest of them. Then show it. That's all. I've done."
“And it's time !" cried Osceola very poignantly. She jumped up, trembling with distress and rage. “Because you come from New York you think you can say what you please!"
"I'd have said the same if I'd come from the Kilkenny coast,” observed Laurie, not to be aggravating but to be truthful. She, too, rose to her feet, hardly more at ease than the other girl.
“You think you can talk as insultingly as you like to a cracker. Well you can't. I'm not ashamed of being a cracker. I'm proud of being one!" “That's the best thing you've said yet.”
"You think you're above me because you have robbed me of my sweetheart!”
“Osceola!" “Keep him!”
This last taunt was so frenziedly childish as to call for pity rather than for disdain.
“I really don't want him, Osceola,” mentioned Laurie composedly.
But the Florida girl was in no mood to be placated.
“He's not either!" she cried, vaguely but hotly denying the implied. “He's big and fine and good looking.”
“Still I don't care to have him around. If you do, why don't you show him that you can be a housekeeper?”
“Oh, haven't you a word of mercy?” Osceola shrunk like a caged animal that has been prodded too much. “And I thought you liked me!”
“I love you," said Laurie, big tears coming to her lashes.
Osceola's storm of anger turned to equally stormy grief.
"Laurie, Laurie!” she cried in tone of final parting. Then she dropped her burning face in her hands, and, bending like a flower in a pelting rain, ran frantically home.
Laurie stood and watched the last flutter of her pink dress merge disappearingly into the distance, feeling exactly as if she had slapped a fairy and apprehended being made properly sorry for it.
“The only girl in the county, apparently, and now I'll maybe never see her again,” was her contrite and miserable reflection. “But there is no use pretending to be sorry I did it, for I'd do it over.”