“Don’t promise to do too much right off.” The whisper was uncomfortably clear. “She’s the kind who’s like a sifter. You have to be right hard with people like that— Take care! There’s another step!”
As we entered the kitchen, a tiny room with one window in it, I glanced around it as I had done at the front room, the two seeming to complete the suite occupied by Mrs. Gibbons. My survey was quick and cautious, but not too much so for mental noting of the conservation of time and space and labor represented by an arrangement of household effects I had never seen before. Health and comfort were the principal omissions.
In one corner of the room was a bed covered with a calico quilt of many colors, and under it a pallet, tucked away for convenience in the daytime, but obviously out at night. Close to the bed was a large stove in which a good fire was burning, and from the blue-and-white saucepan on the top came forth odor of a soup with which I was not familiar. The door of the oven was partly open, and in the latter could be seen a pan of heavy-looking biscuits which apparently awaited their devouring at any time that suited the desire of the devourer. Bettina looked at them and then at me, but she said nothing—that is, nothing out loud.
“Set down.” Mrs. Gibbons, the baby still in her arms, made effort to dust one of the two chairs in the room with the gingham apron she was wearing, and, after failing, motioned me to take it. The other one she pushed toward Bettina with her foot. On the bed was a little girl of six or seven, and as we took our seats a boy, who barely looked ten, came from behind a couple of wash-tubs in an opposite corner of the room and wiped his hands on a towel hanging from a hook in the wall. To ask something concerning this boy was the purpose of our visit.
“Speak to the lady, Jimmy. Anybody would think you didn’t have no manners! No, you can’t have your supper yet.”
Mrs. Gibbons waved her hand weakly at her son, who, smiling at us, had gone to a corner cupboard with perforated tins of diamond pattern in its doors, and taken therefrom a soup-plate and cup and saucer. Paying no attention to his mother’s reference to a delayed meal, he ladled out of the big saucepan, with a cracked cup, a plate of the steaming soup, and carried it carefully to an oilcloth-covered table, on which was a lamp and glass pitcher, some unwashed dishes left from the last meal, a broken doll, and a child’s shoe. Putting down the plate of soup, he came back to the stove and poured out a cup of feeble-looking coffee.
“Goin’ to be extras out to-night and I mightn’t get back till after ten.” Again his gay little smile lighted his thin face. “Ifen I don’t eat now I mightn’t eat at all. Have one?”
He poked a plate of the health-destroying biscuits at Bettina with a merry little movement, and bravely she took one, bravely made effort to eat it. “What’s your name?” I heard him ask her, and then I turned to Mrs. Gibbons.