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Poor White

CHAPTER XVII
As in most older American homes, the kitchen at the rear of the Butterworth
farmhouse was large and comfortable. Much of the life of the house had been led
there. Clara sat in a deep window that looked out across a little gully where in the
spring a small stream ran down along the edge of the barnyard. She was then a
quiet child and loved to sit for hours unobserved and undisturbed. At her back
was the kitchen with the warm, rich smells and the soft, quick, persistent
footsteps of her mother. Her eyes closed and she slept. Then she awoke. Before
her lay a world into which her fancy could creep out. Across the stream before
her eyes went a small, wooden bridge and over this in the spring horses went
away to the fields or to sheds where they were hitched to milk or ice wagons. The
sound of the hoofs of the horses pounding on the bridge was like thunder,
harnesses rattled, voices shouted. Beyond the bridge was a path leading off to
the left and along the path were three small houses where hams were smoked.
Men came from the wagon sheds bearing the meat on their shoulders and went
into the little houses. Fires were lighted and smoke crawled lazily up through the
roofs. In a field that lay beyond the smoke houses a man came to plow. The
child, curled into a little, warm ball in the window seat, was happy. When she
closed her eyes fancies came like flocks of white sheep running out of a green
wood. Although she was later to become a tomboy and run wild over the farm
and through the barns, and although all her life she loved the soil and the sense
of things growing and of food for hungry mouths being prepared, there was in
her, even as a child, a hunger for the life of the spirit. In her dreams women,
beautifully gowned and with rings on their hands, came to brush the wet, matted
hair back from her forehead. Across the little wooden bridge before her eyes
came wonderful men, women, and children. The children ran forward. They cried
out to her. She thought of them as brothers and sisters who were to come to live
in the farmhouse and who were to make the old house ring with laughter. The
children ran toward her with outstretched hands, but never arrived at the house.
The bridge extended itself. It stretched out under their feet so that they ran
forward forever on the bridge.
And behind the children came men and women, sometimes together, sometimes
walking alone. They did not seem like the children to belong to her. Like the
women who came to touch her hot forehead, they were beautifully gowned and
walked with stately dignity.
The child climbed out of the window and stood on the kitchen floor. Her mother
hurried about. She was feverishly active and often did not hear when the child
spoke. "I want to know about my brothers and sisters: where are they, why don't
they come here?" she asked, but the mother did not hear, and if she did, had
nothing to say. Sometimes she stopped to kiss the child and tears came to her
eyes. Then something cooking on the kitchen stove demanded attention. "You
run outside," she said hurriedly, and turned again to her work.
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