For a time you can see he's hurt, his pride's wounded, because he shrinks away from that thing and don't want to talk about it--and so I used to think now he's learned something and he'll be more careful hereafter--but laws! in a couple of weeks he's forgotten all about it, and any selfish tramp out of nobody knows where can come and put up a poor mouth and walk right into his heart with his boots on."

"It must try your patience pretty sharply sometimes."

"Oh, no, I'm used to it; and I'd rather have him so than the other way. When I call him a failure, I mean to the world he's a failure; he isn't to me. I don't know as I want him different much different, anyway. I have to scold him some, snarl at him, you might even call it, but I reckon I'd do that just the same, if he was different--it's my make. But I'm a good deal less snarly and more contented when he's a failure than I am when he isn't."

"Then he isn't always a failure," said Hawking, brightening.

"Him? Oh, bless you, no. He makes a strike, as he calls it, from time to time. Then's my time to fret and fuss. For the money just flies-- first come first served. Straight off, he loads up the house with cripples and idiots and stray cats and all the different kinds of poor wrecks that other people don't want and he does, and then when the poverty comes again I've got to clear the most of them out or we'd starve; and that distresses him, and me the same, of course.

"Here's old Dan'l and old Jinny, that the sheriff sold south one of the times that we got bankrupted before the war--they came wandering back after the peace, worn out and used up on the cotton plantations, helpless, and not another lick of work left in their old hides for the rest of this earthly pilgrimage--and we so pinched, oh so pinched for the very crumbs to keep life in us, and he just flung the door wide, and the way he received them you'd have thought they had come straight down from heaven in answer to prayer. I took him one side and said, 'Mulberry we can't have them--we've nothing for ourselves--we can't feed them.' He looked at me kind of hurt, and said, 'Turn them out?--and they've come to me just as confident and trusting as--as--why Polly, I must have bought that confidence sometime or other a long time ago, and given my note, so to speak--you don't get such things as a gift--and how am I going to go back on a debt like that? And you see, they're so poor, and old, and friendless, and--But I was ashamed by that time, and shut him off, and somehow felt a new courage in me, and so I said, softly, 'We'll keep them--the Lord will provide.' He was glad, and started to blurt out one of those over-confident speeches of his, but checked himself in time, and said humbly, 'I will, anyway.' It was years and years and years ago. Well, you see those old wrecks are here yet."

"But don't they do your housework?"

"Laws! The idea. They would if they could, poor old things, and perhaps they think they do do some of it. But it's a superstition. Dan'l waits on the front door, and sometimes goes on an errand; and sometimes you'll see one or both of them letting on to dust around in here--but that's because there's something they want to hear about and mix their gabble into. And they're always around at meals, for the same reason. But the fact is, we have to keep a young negro girl just to take care of them, and a negro woman to do the housework and help take care of them."

"Well, they ought to be tolerably happy, I should think.

"It's no name for it. They quarrel together pretty much all the time-- most always about religion, because Dan'l's a Dunker Baptist and Jinny's a shouting Methodist, and Jinny believes in special Providences and Dan'l don't, because he thinks he's a kind of a free-thinker--and they play and sing plantation hymns together, and talk and chatter just eternally and forever, and are sincerely fond of each other and think the world of Mulberry, and he puts up patiently with all their spoiled ways and foolishness, and so-ah, well, they're happy enough if it comes to that. And I don't mind--I've got used to it.

The American Claimant Page 09

Mark Twain

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