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|A Waif of the Plains||Bret Harte|
|Page 2 of 5||
"And so you took good care of the dear little thing? She's such an angel, isn't she? and you must love her very much."
Clarence colored with delight. It was true it had never occurred to him to look at Susy in the light of a celestial visitant, and I fear he was just then more struck with the fair complimenter than the compliment to his companion, but he was pleased for her sake. He was not yet old enough to be conscious of the sex's belief in its irresistible domination over mankind at all ages, and that Johnny in his check apron would be always a hopeless conquest of Jeannette in her pinafore, and that he ought to have been in love with Susy.
Howbeit, the lady suddenly whisked her away to the recesses of her own wagon, to reappear later, washed, curled, and beribboned like a new doll, and Clarence was left alone with the husband and another of the party.
"Well, my boy, you haven't told me your name yet."
"So Susy calls you, but what else?"
"Any relation to Colonel Brant?" asked the second man carelessly.
"He was my father," said the boy, brightening under this faint prospect of recognition in his loneliness.
The two men glanced at each other. The leader looked at the boy curiously, and said,--
"Are you the son of Colonel Brant, of Louisville?"
"Yes, sir," said the boy, with a dim stirring of uneasiness in his heart. "But he's dead now," he added finally.
"Ah, when did he die?" said the man quickly.
"Oh, a long time ago. I don't remember him much. I was very little," said the boy, half apologetically.
"Ah, you don't remember him?"
"No," said Clarence shortly. He was beginning to fall back upon that certain dogged repetition which in sensitive children arises from their hopeless inability to express their deeper feelings. He also had an instinctive consciousness that this want of a knowledge of his father was part of that vague wrong that had been done him. It did not help his uneasiness that he could see that one of the two men, who turned away with a half-laugh, misunderstood or did not believe him.
"How did you come with the Silsbees?" asked the first man.
Clarence repeated mechanically, with a child's distaste of practical details, how he had lived with an aunt at St. Jo, and how his stepmother had procured his passage with the Silsbees to California, where he was to meet his cousin. All this with a lack of interest and abstraction that he was miserably conscious told against him, but he was yet helpless to resist.
The first man remained thoughtful, and then glanced at Clarence's sunburnt hands. Presently his large, good-humored smile returned.
"Well, I suppose you are hungry?"
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