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The White People Frances Hodgson Burnett

Chapter IV

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"The child!" he said. "Yes. But I was sitting on the other side. And I was so absorbed in the poor mother that I am afraid I scarcely saw it. Tell me about it."

"It was not six years old, poor mite," I answered. "It was one of those very fair children one sees now and then. It was not like its mother. She was not one of the White People."

"The White People?" he repeated quite slowly after me. "You don't mean that she was not a Caucasian? Perhaps I don't understand."

That made me feel a trifle shy again. Of course he could not know what I meant. How silly of me to take it for granted that he would!

"I beg pardon. I forgot," I even stammered a little. "It is only my way of thinking of those fair people one sees, those very fair ones, you know--the ones whose fairness looks almost transparent. There are not many of them, of course; but one can't help noticing them when they pass in the street or come into a room. You must have noticed them, too. I always call them, to myself, the White People, because they are different from the rest of us. The poor mother wasn't one, but the child was. Perhaps that was why I looked at it, at first. It was such a lovely little thing; and the whiteness made it look delicate, and I could not help thinking--" I hesitated, because it seemed almost unkind to finish.

"You thought that if she had just lost one child she ought to take more care of the other," he ended for me. There was a deep thoughtfulness in his look, as if he were watching me. I wondered why.

"I wish I had paid more attention to the little creature," he said, very gently. "Did it cry?"

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"No," I answered. "It only clung to her and patted her black sleeve and kissed it, as if it wanted to comfort her. I kept expecting it to cry, but it didn't. It made me cry because it seemed so sure that it could comfort her if she would only remember that it was alive and loved her. I wish, I wish death did not make people feel as if it filled all the world--as if, when it happens, there is no life left anywhere. The child who was alive by her side did not seem a living thing to her. It didn't matter."

I had never said as much to any one before, but his watching eyes made me forget my shy worldlessness.

"What do you feel about it--death?" he asked.

The low gentleness of his voice seemed something I had known always.

"I never saw it," I answered. "I have never even seen any one dangerously ill. I-- It is as if I can't believe it."

"You can't believe it? That is a wonderful thing," he said, even more quietly than before.

"If none of us believed, how wonderful that would be! Beautiful, too."

"How that poor mother believed it!" I said, remembering her swollen, distorted, sobbing face. "She believed nothing else; everything else was gone."

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The White People
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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