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- The Little Immigrant - 1/5 -
Thanks to Robert Stern, great-grandson of the author, for donating this eBook.
THE LITTLE IMMIGRANT
"NAH! Renestine, cannot you come with the skirt and let me lay it in your trunk? You are dreaming, dreaming all the time. My child, these things must be ready by midnight tonight."
The girl was thirteen years old and her mother was getting her possessions together to send her to America to join a sister who had already gone there and was married and now sent to have her little sister journey to the States, too.
"Oh, Mutterchen, I do not want to go," burst out Renestine. "I want to stay with you. I do not want to go."
"Nah! Kindlein, stay then," said the mother, keeping her own grief away from her child.
Just then the door to the little room flew open and three excited girls of about Renestine's own age or perhaps one or two years older, bustled themselves inside.
"Why, Renestine, you are not finished packing yet! We are ready and our trunks are roped and standing at the door for Laaskar to put on the post-wagon when he drives by on his way to the post-house tonight."
The speaker stopped confused seeing that Renestine was silent with no joy in her eyes and the mother sat quietly with flushed checks and said nothing.
"What has happened?" said the three girls in chorus. "You are not going to back out, are you?"
Still Renestine did not look up or make any sign that she was interested in the preparations for her arranged trip. Presently the mother spoke and her voice trembled.
"Renestine has changed her mind and will remain at home."
Then the girls broke into a laugh and chided Renestine, saying she was a baby and would never see the ocean or go to America and ride in carriages. The mental picture was doing its work. Not ride in carriages and have pretty clothes and .learn to speak English? That was too much to refuse. Renestine raised her head, wiped the tears out of her eyes, brought the skirt neatly folded to her mother and said: "Mutterchen, finish my trunk. I am going with Yetta, Selma and Polly to America."
The journey began and Renestine made the voyage over in a sailing vessel which took six weeks to make her port at Galveston, Texas, in the early fifties. The girls experienced days of seasickness when they thought it was better to die than to ride in carriages and were weary and homesick. But when, at last, they walked again upon land and were welcomed in Galveston by their relatives, all the melancholy hours were forgotten. The girls had separated into their different families on arriving at Houston, but frequently met just as they had before leaving their home town, and were observing everything with eagerness and getting their first impressions of America.
One balmy Sunday morning they took a walk and marveled much that Houston had so many houses and such large ones. While they walked they chatted and were merry. Finally, they noticed that a great many looked at them curiously, and some smiled. They were at last spoken to by an old lady, who reminded them that it was not customary for girls to walk in the middle of the street. This was a conceit that pleased them, to walk in the middle of the street just to see people walking on either side of them.
The ringing of the Sunday morning church bells was a startling sound and Paula exclaimed, as the three stood still listening: "Oh, listen to the music box!" Solemnly they walked on and wondered that the world was so large and full of beautiful things. Itwas a long time before Renestine realized that they had gone a great distance. "We will return now," she said. But when they turned to retrace their steps they found themselves in a wood of large, dark trees with heavy gray moss dropping from their branches and a solemn stillness over all. It was growing dusk, too, and the trees looked ghostly in the falling gloom.
"Do you know which way to go?" asked Yetta.
"Oh, come with me and I will show you," said Paula.
Trustingly they followed Paula. But the brave girl, after a half hour's vain effort, had to admit that she was puzzled herself and did not know how to get out of the wood. Yetta showed the nearness of tears, but Renestine set to work to extricate themselves. Before she had decided what to do they all three heard horses' hoofs trampling down bush-wood and dry twigs not far away. The riders, or whatever it was, came nearer until the girls saw a young man on horseback, a boy accompanying him. The horsemen reined in their horses and stopped when they saw the girls standing before them. The older man, who was about twenty-eight, asked how they came to be so far in the depth of the trackless woods. When they had told him, he dismounted, throwing the reins over his arm and leading his horse, he walked along by the side of the girls guiding them out of their difficulty; the boy followed on his horse which carried the saddle-bags containing the personal belongings of both of them. As they walked many questions were asked and answered and in a little time the woods were left behind and the. girls were opening the gate of Renestine's sister's home. The young rescuer, after seeing them safely disappear in the doorway, got on his horse again and trotted off to his hotel, the boy following.
SEATED at her work table in her sitting room, Mrs. Bilter was putting the last stitches in a white Swiss dress that Renestine was to wear that night to a ball. The puff sleeve close to the shoulder was the last of the dainty dress to be put on. Mrs. Bilter took eager pleasure in dressing her pretty sister in the daintiest of gowns. When she looked up she saw her husband coming through the gate for his noon dinner. She put down her sewing and moved to meet him on the porch.
"Well, dear, how are you getting on with the ball dress?" For Mr. Bilter was as interested in his little sister-in-law as his wife was. "Renestine will have to look her prettiest to-night. There are some visiting young men in the town and they will be at the ball."
They went in together and were received by old Aunt Mary, a colored family servant who was much respected and held in affection by the members.
"Dinnah jest put on de table, Missus."
"Has Miss Renestine come home?"
"No'm. I's hasn't seen her; prehaps she's kept in fer not knowin' her lessons."
Just then Renestine came in, her cheeks rosy and her large black eyes luminous with the exercise of walking home from school. She entered the dining-room laughing and sat down next to her brother-in-law.
"How were the lessons today, Renestine?" he asked, patting her hand that lay in his. "Arithmetic right?"
"No trouble at all. Oh, I am so glad that you both had the idea to send me to school, I love it. I love to be puzzled over a question and find it out for myself. I love to feel myself gaining knowledge and understanding many things that used to be dark and incomprehensible to me and that seem plain now. I rejoice that I am able to think and speak English," and Renestine turned her head toward her sister and her eyes were moist. "You are very good to me, Aldine, and besides you are spoiling me with all the pretty dresses you make for me."
"Oh, do come in right after dinner and look at your dress for to-night. It is just lovely with the little rosebuds around the shoulders," said Mrs. Bilter.
It did not take long before the three were admiring the fluffy white dress and predicting its success at the ball.
Renestine hurried home after school and sat down by the side of her sister to help sew rosebuds on the flounces of the wide skirt. When the dress was finished Renestine took it to her room and pinned it up on the curtains of her bed to look at it and get the effect of it. Then she got out her little white satin slippers and began the ceremony of the toilette for the ball.
Carriages were coming and going before the brilliantly lighted Colonial house owned by the Good Fellowship Club. The colored drivers sat proud and erect on their boxes and held in their restive horses while their masters and mistresses alighted. Young dandies in ruffled shirts and flowered velvet waistcoats came on foot and sprang eagerly up the steps and vanished through the double doors swung back by colored attendants. Strains of music reached the street and ceased when the doors opened and shut and the sound of many voices in conversation and happy laughter burst upon the ear of the passer-by. Inside, all was gaiety and animation. Festoons of greens hung from the chandelier of kerosene lights and garlands and wreaths decorated the walls of the wide hall and rooms where there was dancing. In the ballroom five colored musicians were the orchestra and the leader "called out" the figures of the lancers and quadrilles. "Face your pardners," he called out as the square dance was begun. Several sets of four couples were formed ready for the first strains of the lancers music and the prompter. "Forward all," and all the couples advanced to the center. "Swing your pardners," "balance corners," the lady and gentleman faced to the right and took steps to the music. "Swing," and they swung around.
The next figure was the "Grand right and left," called out by the prompter and the couples circled around and after a large ring was
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