MAGIC IN A MIST
That morning began no differently from any morning, though it was to be the beginning of all things new for Eric. He was awakened early by Mrs. Freg’s rough hand shaking him by the arm, and her rough voice in his ears: “Get up, lazy-bones! All you boys pile out, this very minute! It’s six o’clock already!” Then she reached over Eric and shook the other two boys in the bed with him, repeating and repeating “Wake up, wake up! It’s six o’clock already!” When she was sure the three boys in the bed were awake and miserable, she crossed the room with a hurried, heavy tread and clumped, clumped down the stairs into the kitchen.
Though it happened just that way every morning, and it had happened so this morning, this day was to be very different from any other in Eric’s life. But Eric could not know that; so he crawled farther down under the few bedclothes he had managed to keep to himself, and shut his eyes again just for a minute.
The night had been a cold one, and the other two boys in the bed, because they were older and stronger, had managed to keep most of the bedding wrapped tightly around them, while little Eric shivered on the very edge. So he had not slept at all in the way little boys of nine usually sleep,—that is, when they have a bed to themselves, and their mother has left a kiss with them. When he had slept, he had dreamed he was wading in icy puddles out in the street.
But it was only a minute that he huddled there, trying to come really awake, and then he sprang out, and without thought of a bath, was into his clothes in a minute. The two older boys followed him more slowly, yawning, growling, and quarreling.
Breakfast was served in the kitchen by Mrs. Freg. The room was bare and ugly like the rest of the house, and the food was far from satisfying. As the older boys got most of the bedding for themselves, so they got most of the breakfast, while Mr. and Mrs. Freg laughed at them, and praised them for fine, hearty boys who knew what they wanted and would get it.
“You will succeed in the world, both of you,” said Mrs. Freg with mother-pride gleaming in her eyes, when they had managed to seize and divide between them little Eric’s steaming cup of coffee,—the only hot thing he had hoped for that morning.
“Will I be a success, too?” asked Eric in a faint but hopeful voice.
“You!” said the harsh woman. “You, young man, had better be thankful to work on at the canning instead of starving in the streets. That’s the fate of most orphans. Success indeed! Now hurry along, all of you. It’s quarter to seven.”
But right here is where the day began to differ from other days. Eric did not hurry along. He threw down his spoon and cried, “I’d just as soon starve in the streets, and wade in its icy puddles, too, as live here with you and your nasty boys and work in that old canning factory! I just wonder how you’d feel if I went out this morning and never, never came back! I’d like to do that!”