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  Painted Windows Elia W. Peattie


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AMONG the pictures that I see when I look back into the past, is the one where I, a sullen, egotistic person nine years old, stood quite alone in the world. To he sure, there were father and mother in the house, and there were the other children, and not one among them knew I was alone. The world certainly would not have regarded me as friendless or orphaned. There was nothing in my mere appearance, as I started away to school in my clean ginghams, with my well-brushed hair, and embroidered school-bag, to lead any one to suppose that I was a castaway. Yet I was -- I had discovered this fact, hidden though it might be from others.

I was no longer loved. Father and mother loved the other children; but not me. I might come home at night, fairly bursting with important news about what had happened in class or among my friends, and try to relate my little histories. But did mother listen? Not at all. She would nod like a mandarin while I talked, or go on turning the leaves of her book, or writing her letter. What I said was of no importance to her.

Father was even less interested. He frankly told me to keep still, and went on with the accounts in which he was so absurdly interested, or examined "papers" -- stupid-looking things done on legal cap, which he brought home with him from the office. No one kissed me when I started away in the morning; no one kissed me when I came home at night. I went to bed unkissed. I felt myself to be a lonely and misunderstood child -- perhaps even an adopted one.

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Why, I knew a little girl who, when she went up to her room at night, found the bedclothes turned back, and the shade drawn, and a screen placed so as to keep off drafts. And her mother brushed her hair twenty minutes by the clock each night, to make it glossy; and then she sat by her bed and sang softly till the girl fell asleep.

I not only had to open my own bed, but the beds for the other children, and although I sometimes felt my mother's hand tucking in the bedclothes round me, she never stooped and kissed me on the brow and said, "Bless you, my child." No one, in all my experience, had said, "Bless you, my child." When the girl I have spoken of came into the room, her mother reached out her arms and said, before everybody, "Here comes my dear little girl." When I came into a room, I was usually told to do something for somebody. It was "Please see if the fire needs more wood," or "Let the cat in, please," or "I'd like you to weed the pansy bed before supper-time."

In these circumstances, life hardly seemed worth living. I decided that I had made a mistake in choosing my family. It did not appreciate me, and it failed to make my young life glad. I knew my young life ought to be glad. And it was not. It was drab, as drab as Toot's old rain-coat.

Toot was "our coloured boy." That is the way we described him. Father had brought him home from the war, and had sent him to school, and then apprenticed him to a miller. Toot did "chores" for his board and clothes, but was soon to be his own man, and to be paid money by the miller, and to marry Tulula Darthula Jones, a nice coloured girl who lived with the Cutlers. The time had been when Toot had been my self-appointed slave. Almost my first recollections were of his carrying me out to see the train pass, and saying, "Toot, toot!" in imitation of the locomotive; so, although he had rather a splendid name, I called him "Toot," and the whole town followed my example. Yes, the time had been when Toot saw me safe to school, and slipped little red apples into my pocket, and took me out while he milked the cow, and told me stories and sang me plantation songs. Now, when he passed, he only nodded. When I spoke to him about his not giving me any more apples, he said:

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Painted Windows
Elia W. Peattie

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