The twilight was gaining. She paused. “Coton-Mai” she exclaimed aloud. “But I must see the old woman smile again over her good luck.”
Although it was “my girl” face to face, it was always “the old woman” behind each other’s back.
There was a knot-hole in the plank walls of the house. In spite of Anne Marie’s rheumatism they would never stop it up, needing it, they said, for light and air. Jeanne Marie slipped her feet out of her sabots and crept easily toward it, smiling, and saying “Coton-Mai!” to herself all the way. She put her eye to the hole. Anne Marie was not in the bed, she who had not left her bed for two months! Jeanne Marie looked through the dim light of the room until she found her.
Anne Marie, in her short petticoat and nightsack, with bare legs and feet, was on her knees in the corner, pulling up a plank, hiding—peasants know hiding when they see it—hiding her money away—away—away from whom?—muttering to herself and shaking her old grayhaired head. Hiding her money away from Jeanne Marie!
And this was why Jeanne Marie leaned her head against the side of the house and wept. It seemed to her that she had never known her twin sister at all.
You must picture to yourself the quiet, dim-lighted room of a convalescent; outside, the dreary, bleak days of winter in a sparsely settled, distant country parish; inside, a slow, smoldering log-fire, a curtained bed, the infant sleeping well enough, the mother wakeful, restless, thought-driven, as a mother must be, unfortunately, nowadays, particularly in that parish, where cotton worms and overflows have acquired such a monopoly of one’s future.
[Illustration: “THE QUIET, DIM-LIGHTED ROOM OF A CONVALESCENT.”]
God is always pretty near a sick woman’s couch; but nearer even than God seems the sick-nurse—at least in that part of the country, under those circumstances. It is so good to look through the dimness and uncertainty, moral and physical, and to meet those little black, steadfast, all-seeing eyes; to feel those smooth, soft, all-soothing hands; to hear, across one’s sleep, that three-footed step—the flat-soled left foot, the tiptoe right, and the padded end of the broomstick; and when one is so wakeful and restless and thought-driven, to have another’s story given one. God, depend upon it, grows stories and lives as he does herbs, each with a mission of balm to some woe.
She said she had, and in truth she had, no other name than “little Mammy”; and that was the name of her nature. Pure African, but bronze rather than pure black, and full-sized only in width, her growth having been hampered as to height by an injury to her hip, which had lamed her, pulling her figure awry, and burdening her with a protuberance of the joint. Her mother caused it by dropping her when a baby, and concealing it, for fear of punishment, until the dislocation became irremediable. All the animosity of which little Mammy was capable centered upon this unknown but never-to-be-forgotten mother of hers; out of this hatred had grown her love—that is, her destiny, a woman’s love being her destiny. Little Mammy’s love was for children.