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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Madam Delia's Expectations

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And here Miss Martha stopped, and the color came as suddenly and warmly to her cheeks as if Monsieur Comstock had offered to marry her, and to settle upon her the snakes as exclusive property. Madam Delia divined the question; she had so often found herself trying to guess the social position of Gerty's parents.

"I don't know as I know," said she, slowly, "whether you ought to know anythin' about it. But I'll tell you what I know. That child's folks," she added, mysteriously, "lived on Quality Hill."

"Lived where?" said Miss Martha, breathless.

"Upper crust," said the other, defining her symbol still further. "No middlins to 'em. Genteel as anybody. Just look here!"

Madam Delia unclasped her leather bag, brought forth from it a mass of checks and tickets, some bird-seed, a small whip, a dog-collar, and a dingy morocco box. This held a piece of an old-fashioned enamelled ring, and a fragment of embroidered muslin marked "A."

"She'd lived with me six months before she brought 'em," said the show-woman, whispering.

The bit of handkerchief was enough. Was it a dream? thought the dear old lady. What the ocean had refused, was this sprite who had lived between earth and air to fulfil? Miss Martha bent softly over the bedside, resting her clean glove on the only dirty mattress it had ever touched, and quietly kissed the child. Then she looked up with a radiant face of perfect resolution.

"Mrs. De Marsan," said she, with dignity that was almost solemnity, "I wish to adopt this child. No one can doubt thy kindness of heart, but thee must see that thee is in no condition to give her suitable care and Christian nurture."

"That's a fact," interposed Madam Delia with a pang

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"Then thee will give her to me?" asked Miss Martha, firmly.

Madam Delia threw her apron over her face, and choked and sobbed beneath it for several minutes. Then reappearing, "It's what I've always expected," said she. Then, with a tinge of suspicion, "Would you have taken her without the ring and handkerchief?"

"Perhaps I should," said the other, gently. "But that seems to make it a clearer call."

"Fair enough," said Madam Delia, submitting. "I ain't denyin' of it." Then she reflected and recommenced. "There never was such a smart performin' child as that since the world began. She can do just anythin', and just as easy! Time and again I might have hired her out to a circus, and she glad of the chance, mind you; but no, I would keep her safe to home. Then when she showed me the ring and the other things, all my expectations altered very sudden; I knowed we couldn't keep her, and I began to mistrust that she would somehow find her folks. I guess my rathers was that she should, considerin'; but I did wish it had been Anne, for she ain't got nothin' better in her than just to live genteel."

"But Anne seems a nice child, too," said Miss Martha, consolingly.

"Well, that's just what she is," replied Madam Delia, with some contempt. "But what is she for a contortionist? Ask Comstock what she's got in her! And how to run the show without Gerty, that's what beats me. Why, folks begin to complain already that we advertise swallerin', and yet don't swaller. But never you mind, ma'am, you shall have Gerty. You shall have her," she added, with a gulp, "if I have to sell out! Go ahead!" And again the apron went over her face.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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