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- The Potato Child & Others - 1/5 -
The Potato Child & Others
By Mrs. Charles J. Woodbury
If only our help could begin as soon as our hindrance does
The Potato Child A Story That Never Ends A Nazareth Christmas
The Potato Child
It was certain that Elsie had a very hard and solitary life.
When Miss Amanda had selected her from among the girls at "The Home," the motherly matron felt sorry.
"She is a tender-hearted little thing, and a kind word goes a great way with Elsie."
Miss Amanda looked at the matron as if she were speaking Greek, and said nothing. It was quite plain that few words, either kind or unkind, would pass Miss Amanda's lips. But "The Home" was more than full, and Miss Amanda Armstrong was a person well known as the leading dressmaker in the city, a person of some money; not obliged to work now if she didn't wish to. "If cold, she is at least perfectly just," they all said.
So Elsie went to work for Miss Amanda, and lived in the kitchen. She waited on the door, washed the dishes, cleaned the vegetables, and set the table (Miss Amanda lived alone, and ate in the kitchen). Every Friday she swept the house. Her bed was in a little room in the back attic.
When she came, Miss Amanda handed her a dress and petticoat, and a pair of shoes. "These are to last six months," she said, "and see you keep yourself clean." She gave her also one change of stockings and underclothes.
"Here is your room; you do not need a light to go to bed by, and it is not healthy to sleep under too many covers."
It wasn't so much what Miss Amanda did to her, for she never struck her, nor in any way ill-treated her; nor was it so much what she said, for she said almost nothing. But she said it all in commands, and the loving little Elsie was just driven into herself.
She had had a darling mother, full of love and tenderness, and Elsie would say to herself, "I must not forget the things mama told me, 'Love can never die, and kind words can never die.'" But she had no one to love, and she never heard any kind words; so she was a bit worried. "I shall forget how kind words sound, and I shall forget how to love," sighed the little girl.
She used to long for a doll or cat or something she could call her own and talk to. She asked Miss Amanda, who said "No." She added, "I have no money to give for such foolishness as a doll, and a cat would eat its head off."
Miss Amanda had been blessed with no little-girl time. When she was young, she always had been forced to work hard, and she thought it was no worse for Elsie than it had been for herself. I don't suppose it was; but one looking in on these two could not but feel for both of them.
Elsie would try to talk to herself a little at night, but it was cheerless. Then she would lift up her knee, and draw the sheet about it for a hood, and call it a little girl. She named it Nancy Pullam, and would try to love that; but it almost broke her back when she tried to hug Nancy. "Oh, if I had something to be good to"! she said.
So she began greeting the ladies, when she opened the door, with a cheerful little "Good morning" or "Good afternoon."
"I wouldn't do that," said Miss Amanda, "it looks forward and pert. It is their place to say 'Good morning,' not yours. You have no occasion to speak to your betters, and, anyway, children should be seen and not heard."
One day, a never-forgotten day, she went down cellar to the bin of potatoes to select some for dinner. She was sorting them over and laying out all of one size, when she took up quite a long one, and lo! it had a little face on it and two eyes and a little hump between for a nose and a long crack below that made a very pretty mouth.
Elsie looked at it joyfully. "It will make me a child," she said, "no matter if it has no arms or legs; the face is everything."
She carefully placed it at the end of the bin, and whenever she could slip away without neglecting her work would run down cellar and talk softly to it.
But one day her potato-child was gone! Elsie's heart gave a big jump, and then fell like lead, and seemed to lie perfectly still; but it commenced to beat again, beat and ache, beat and ache!
She tried to look for the changeling; but the tears made her so that she couldn't see very well; and there were so many potatoes! She looked every moment she had a chance all the next day, and cried a great deal. "I can never be real happy again," she thought.
"Don't cry any more," said Miss Amanda," it does not look well when you open the door for my customers. You have enough to eat and wear; what more do you want?"
"Something to love," said Elsie, but not very loud.
She tried not to cry again, and then she felt worse not-to shed tears, when, perhaps, her dear little potato-child was eaten up.
Two days after, as she was still searching, a little piece of white paper in the far dark corner attracted her attention. She went over and lifted it up. Behind it was a hole, and partly in and partly out of the hole lay her potato-child. I think a rat had dragged it out of the bin. She hugged it to her heart, and cried for joy.
"Oh, my darling, you have come back to me, you have come back! And then it seemed as if the pink eyes of the potato-child looked up into Elsie's in affectionate gratitude; and it became plain to Elsie that her child loved her. She was so thankful that she even kissed the little piece of white paper. "If it hadn't been for you I would never have found my child. I mean to keep you always," she said, and she wrapped it about her potato-child, and put them in her bosom. "We must never be parted again," she murmured.
At supper, with many misgivings, she unwrapped her treasure for Miss Amanda, and asked if she could keep it as her own. "I won't eat any potato for dinner tomorrow if you will give me this," she said.
"Well," answered Miss Amanda, "I don't know as it will do any harm; why do you want it?"
"It is my potato-child. I want to love it."
"See you lose no time, then," said Miss Amanda.
And afterward, Elsie never called the potato it, but always "my child."
She found a fragment of calico, large enough for a dress and skirt, with enough over, a queer, three-cornered piece, which she pinned about the unequal shoulders for a shawl. Upon the bonnet she worked for days.
All this sewing was a great joy to her. Last of all, she begged a bit of frayed muslin from the sweepings for a night-dress. Then she could undress her baby every night.
She must have heard a tiny tuber-voice, for she said, "Now I can never forget the sound of loving words, and the world is full of joy."
Elsie had a candle-box in her room, with the cover hung on hinges. It served the double purpose of a trunk and a seat. She put her child's clothes and the scrap of white paper in this box. In the daytime she let her child sit upon the window-sill so she could see the blue sky; but when the weather grew colder she took her down to the kitchen each morning, lest she should suffer.
Sometimes, Miss Amanda watched her closely. "She does her work well, but she is a queer thing. She makes me uneasy," she thought.
Christmas was coming. Elsie and her mother had always loved Christmas, and had invariably given some gift to each other. After their stockings were hung side by side, Christmas Eve, her mother would take her in her lap and tell her the Christmas story. So now it was a great mercy for Elsie that she had her child to work for.
One day, when she had scrubbed the pantry floor unusually clean, Miss Amanda gave her the privilege of the rag barrel. This resulted in a new Christmas suit of silk and velvet for baby; and this she made.
When Elsie left "The Home" the matron had given her a little needle-book containing a spool of thread and thimble for a good-by present. These now came into good play. She used the lamp shears to cut with.
When all was done the babe looked beautiful, except that it had no stockings. It had not even legs. "I'll make her a wooden leg, and let her be a cripple, then I shall love her all the better."
But after she had made the leg, and a very good one, too, she hadn't the heart to break the skin of her child, and push it in.
"I'll make the stockings without legs," she said, and so she did.
Elsie was very careful never to let her child see, or mention before her, how busy she was for Christmas.
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