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The White People Frances Hodgson Burnett

Chapter IV

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"I wonder what would have happened if you had spoken to her about the child?" he said, slowly, as if he were trying to imagine it.

"I'm a very shy person. I should never have courage to speak to a stranger," I answered.

"I'm afraid I'm a coward, too. She might have thought me interfering."

"She might not have understood," he murmured.

"It was clinging to her dress when she walked away down the platform," I went on. "I dare say you noticed it then?"

"Not as you did. I wish I had noticed it more," was his answer. "Poor little White One!"

That led us into our talk about the White People. He said he did not think he was exactly an observant person in some respects. Remembering his books, which seemed to me the work of a man who saw and understood everything in the world, I could not comprehend his thinking that, and I told him so. But he replied that what I had said about my White People made him feel that he must be abstracted sometimes and miss things. He did not remember having noticed the rare fairness I had seen. He smiled as he said it, because, of course, it was only a little thing-- that he had not seen that some people were so much fairer than others.

"But it has not been a little thing to you, evidently. That is why I am even rather curious about it," he explained. "It is a difference definite enough to make you speak almost as if they were of a different race from ours."

I sat silent a few seconds, thinking it over. Suddenly I realized what I had never realized before.

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"Do you know," I said, as slowly as he himself had spoken, "I did not know that was true until you put it into words. I am so used to thinking of them as different, somehow, that I suppose I do feel as if they were almost like another race, in a way. Perhaps one would feel like that with a native Indian, or a Japanese."

"I dare say that is a good simile," he reflected. "Are they different when you know them well?"

"I have never known one but Wee Brown Elspeth," I answered, thinking it over.

He did start then, in the strangest way.

"What!" he exclaimed. "What did you say?"

I was quite startled myself. Suddenly he looked pale, and his breath caught itself.

"I said Wee Elspeth, Wee Brown Elspeth. She was only a child who played with me," I stammered, "when I was little."

He pulled himself together almost instantly, though the color did not come back to his face at once and his voice was not steady for a few seconds. But he laughed outright at himself.

"I beg your pardon," he apologized. "I have been ill and am rather nervous. I thought you said something you could not possibly have said. I almost frightened you. And you were only speaking of a little playmate. Please go on."

"I was only going to say that she was fair like that, fairer than any one I had ever seen; but when we played together she seemed like any other child. She was the first I ever knew."

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The White People
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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