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Chapter XXXVIII I Find Work and a Good Home

THE next day I got a job at breaking stone. It was on the turnpike out in the country, and I found a boarding-place with a farmer. The contractor who hired me stood sponsor for my board.

When I was shown to my room in the farmer’s house, I stepped for the first time into a bedroom.

I turned snail-like about me to get the meaning of the neatly arranged furniture; of the pictures on the walls.

My gaze came to rest on the snowy pillows and equally snowy sheets neatly turned down.

I looked long at the bed before I neared it. I touched it cautiously. The thing under my hand shrank down and seemed to flinch, as though hurt by the contact. I stepped quickly back.

A thing like that was not made for me to sleep in.

The thought enraged me. I walked up and struck the thing with both my clenched fists, throwing all my weight into the blow. My arms sank to the elbow.

It was a feather bed.

I wondered how a person could sleep with a thing like that shrinking and squirming about him every time he moved.

I took off my dilapidated coat, looked at my dirty shirt, then at the snowy sheets. Ashamed, I put on my coat again. I glanced up to the wall. My eyes rested on a picture of a child praying at its mother’s knee.

How long I stood there looking at that picture, I do not know. There seemed to be something familiar about it—the faintest shadow of memory—or perhaps the picture was simply to me an expression of a yearning which I had never realised.

I took off my shoes, stole softly out into the night and crawled into the strawstack.

I could never be induced to enter that room again.

At the farmer’s house I got three square meals regularly every day. And neither the hard-working farmer nor his gentle, sweet-faced wife ever asked me any questions about myself. They seemed to understand.

When I got my first pay for my work, the queen on the silver pieces sang me a song of kingship as I jingled them in my blistered hands. Here was real money that I had worked for as other men work for it. I would get more. I would henceforth be like other men. I would take my place with the best of them, in time.

That night when I went to my boarding-house I noticed that the grey-haired woman was tired.

I looked around for something to do for her. There was no kindling-wood under the stove. I went out to the wood-pile, split a big armful of good pine and carefully put it in its place. The good woman gave me a smile and a “thank you".

As I went out around the corner of the kitchen I heard her say to her husband,

“My! but ain’t that a fine young fellow! He’s going to be somebody some day if he keeps right on going.”

I nestled up against the stone chimney and hugged myself. Praise was a rare thing to me. Always I saw to it that there was plenty of kindling-wood under the kitchen-stove.

Came a rainy day and I couldn’t work.

I wandered restlessly about, eager for the hour when the good housewife would sit down to her knitting.

I liked to listen to her talk and to watch her nimble fingers ply the needles.

She unconsciously taught me many a lesson when she talked.

The knitting hour came, and as we sat together I led her to talk of her younger years—of her courtship and marriage.

She began with a blush and a little laugh.

“When John came a-courting, I fooled him. I fooled him into believing I was the dearest and sweetest girl he ever knew.”

She broke off with a blush and a bit of a laugh that she hugged to herself.

“I fooled him again,” she went on, “into believing I was a good housekeeper.”

This time the memory made her laugh across at me.

“It was all easy enough to do before marriage,” she sighed, “afterward it meant work, if I meant to keep him fooled.”

She laid the knitting in her lap and looked through the window. What she saw did not lie outside.

“I buckled to the work with a will,” she said. “Often and often I was so tired, I had hard work to smile. But when John came in from the field tired from work, or from something gone wrong, I always met him with the best of all my smiles. And how he would brighten up and brag on me!” she murmured dreamily.

She came to herself with another blush and a laugh, and took up her knitting again.

“So, I’ve been smiling my prettiest and working my best for forty years, and John has been bragging on me all the time. He hasn’t found out yet,” she finished with a chuckle, “that I fooled him forty years ago.”

From all the good old lady said I summed up this: If we would help people to better their lives, if we would inspire them to do better work, there is no better way than to express to them our appreciation of what they try to be and do.

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