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- Yankee Girl at Fort Sumter - 3/25 -
The next morning Sylvia was awakened by a tapping on her chamber door. Usually Jennie, the colored girl who helped Aunt Connie in the work of the house, would come into the room before Sylvia was awake with a big pitcher of hot water, and Sylvia would open her eyes to see Jennie unfastening the shutters and spreading out the fresh clothes. So this morning she wondered what the tapping meant, and called out: "Come in."
The door opened very slowly and a little negro girl, with a round woolly head and big startled eyes, stood peering in. She was barefooted, and wore a straight garment of faded blue cotton.
For a moment the two children stared at each other. Then Sylvia remembered that Aunt Connie's little girl was coming to live with her mother.
"Are you Estralla?" she asked eagerly, sitting up in bed.
"Yas, Missy," replied the little darky, lifting the big pitcher of water and bringing it into the room, where she stood holding it as if not knowing what to do next.
"Set the pitcher down," said Sylvia.
"Yas, Missy," said Estralla, her big eyes fixed on the little white girl in the pretty bed who was smiling at her in so friendly a fashion. She took a step or two forward, her eyes still fixed on Sylvia, and not noticing the little footstool directly in front of her, over which she stumbled with a loud crash, breaking the pitcher and sending the hot water over her bare feet.
"Oh, Mammy! Mammy! Mammy!" she screamed, lying face downward on the floor with the overturned footstool and broken pitcher, while the steaming water soaked through the cotton dress.
In a moment Sylvia was out of bed.
"Get up, Estralla," she commanded, "and stop screaming."
The little darky's wails ceased, and she looked up at the slender white figure standing in front of her.
"I kyan't git up; I'se all scalded and cut," she sobbed, "an' if I does get up I'se gwine to get whipped for breaking the pitcher," and at the thought of new trouble in store for her, she began to scream again.
"Get up this minute," said Sylvia. "I don't believe the water was hot enough to scald you; it never is really hot. Here, help me sop it up," and grabbing her bath towel Sylvia began to mop up the little stream of water which was trickling across the floor.
Estralla managed to get to her feet. She was still holding fast to the handle of the broken pitcher. The front of her cotton dress was soaked, but she was not hurt.
"I'll get whipped, yas'm, I will, fer breaking the pitcher."
"You won't!" declared Sylvia, half angrily. "It's my mother's pitcher, and I'll tell her you didn't mean to break it. Now you go and put on another dress, and tell Jennie to come up here and wipe up this floor."
"I ain't got no other dress; an' if I goes an' tells I'll get whipped," persisted the child.
Sylvia began to wonder what she could do. She thought Estralla was stupid and clumsy to fall down and break the pitcher, and now she thought her silly to be so frightened.
"I tells you, Missy, I su'ly will be whipped," she repeated so earnestly that Sylvia began to believe it. "An' when my mammy sees my dress all wet--" and Estralla began to sob, but so quietly that Sylvia realized the little darky was really frightened and unhappy.
"Don't cry, Estralla," she said more gently, patting her on the shoulder. "I'll tell you what to do. You are just about my size, and I'll give you one of my dresses. It's pink, and it's faded a little, but it's pretty. And you take this towel and wipe up the floor as well as you can. Then you slip off your dress and put on mine." While Sylvia talked Estralla stopped crying and began to look a little more cheerful.
Sylvia ran to the closet and was back in a moment with a pink checked gingham. It had a number of tiny ruffles on the skirt, and a little frill of lace around the neck.
"Landy! You don't mean I kin KEEP that, Missy?" exclaimed Estralla, her face radiant at the very thought.
"Yes, quick. Somebody may come. Slip off your dress."
In a moment the old blue frock lay in a little heap on the floor, and Sylvia had slipped the pink dress over Estralla's head, and was fastening it. The little darky chuckled and laughed now as if she had not a trouble in the world.
"Listen, Estralla! Here, pick up every bit of the pitcher and put the pieces on the chair. Nobody shall know that you broke it. And now you take this wet towel and your dress and spread them somewhere outdoors to dry. You can tell your mammy I gave you the dress. Now, run quick. My mother may come."
Estralla stood quite still looking at Sylvia. She had stopped laughing.
"Will you' mammy scold you 'bout dat pitcher?" she asked.
"I don't know. Anyway, nobody shall know that you broke it. You won't be whipped. Run along," urged Sylvia.
But Estralla did not move. "I don't keer if I is whipped," she announced. "I guess, mebbe, my mammy won't whip hard."
"Sylvia, Sylvia," sounded her mother's voice, and both the little girls looked at each other with startled eyes.
"Run," said Sylvia, giving Estralla a little push. "Run out on the balcony." Estralla did not question the command, and in a moment, carrying dress and towel, she had vanished through the open window.
"Why, child! What has happened?" exclaimed Mrs. Fulton, coming into the room and looking at the overturned footstool, the pieces of the broken pitcher, and at Sylvia standing in the middle of the floor with an anxious, half-frightened expression.
"Don't look so frightened, dear child. A broken pitcher isn't worth it," said Mrs. Fulton smilingly. "It's only hot water, and won't hurt anything. Only Father is waiting for breakfast, so use cold water this morning. Here is your blue muslin--I'll tie your sash when you come down," and giving Sylvia a kiss her mother hurried away.
"My landy!" whispered Estralla, peering in from the balcony window. "Your mammy's a angel. An' so is you, Missy. I was gwine tell her the trufe if she'd scolded, I su'ly was. Landy! I'd a sight ruther be whipped than have you scolded, Missy."
Sylvia looked at her in astonishment. Estralla, with round serious eyes, stood gazing at her as if she was ready to do anything that Sylvia could possibly ask.
"Run. It's all right," said Sylvia with a little smile, and Estralla, with a backward look over her shoulder, went slowly out of the room.
"I'm gwine to recollect this jes' as long as I live," Estralla whispered as she made her way back to the kitchen. "Nobuddy ever cared if I was whipped before, or if I wasn't whipped. An' I'll do somethin' fer Missy sometime, I will. An' she give me dis fine dress too." She bent over and smoothed out one of the little ruffles, and chuckled happily.
Her mammy was busy preparing breakfast when Estralla slid quietly into the kitchen. When she did look around and saw the child wearing the pink dress she nearly dropped the dish of hot bacon which Jennie was waiting to take to the dining-room.
"Wha' on earth did you get you' pink dress? Did Missy give it to you? Well, you step out to the cabin and take it off. This minute! Put you' blue frock right on. Like as not her mammy won't let you keep it," and Aunt Connie hurried Jennie off to the dining-room with the breakfast tray.
Estralla did not know what to do. Her blue dress was hung over a syringa bush behind the cabin. And at the dreadful thought that Mrs. Fulton might take away the pink dress she began to cry.
"Missy Sylvia said 'twas faded. She said to put it on," whimpered Estralla.
Aunt Connie began to be more hopeful. If the dress was faded--and she turned and looked at it more closely.
"Well, honey, 'tis faded. An' I guess Missy Sylvia's mammy won' take it back. An' it's the Sabbath day, so you jes' wear it," she said, patting the little woolly head. "Mammy's glad to have you dressed up; but you be mighty keerful."
"Yas, Mammy. I jes' love Missy Sylvia," replied the little girl, now all smiles, and forgetting how nearly she had come to serious trouble.
Nothing more was said to Sylvia about the broken pitcher; but when Jennie put the room in order, and brought down the broken pieces, Aunt Connie exclaimed: "Good massy! It's a good thing my Estralla didn't do that! I'd 'a' cuffed her well, I su'ly would."
Sylvia did not think to tell her mother about the gift of the pink dress to Estralla. She did not feel quite happy that she had not explained the broken pitcher to her mother; but she had promised Estralla that she would not tell, and Sylvia knew that a promise was a very serious thing, something not to be easily forgotten.
She did not see Estralla again that day, and Jennie brought the hot water as usual the next morning.
Grace and Mammy Esther called for Sylvia on Monday morning, and Sylvia at once told her friend that she had been named from the song. This seemed very wonderful to Grace, and she listened to Sylvia's explanation of "excelling" instead of "spelling," and said she didn't think it was of any consequence.
But when Sylvia told her what Captain Carleton had said about the forts, Grace shook her head and looked very serious.
"Don't tell Elinor Mayhew, Sylvia. Because really South Carolina does own the forts. My father said so. He said that South Carolina was a
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