She Was Good for Nothing
The mayor was standing at his open window; he was wearing a dress shirt with a dainty breastpin in its frill. He was very well shaven, self-done, though he had cut himself slightly and had stuck a small bit of newspaper over the cut.
"Listen, youngster!" he boomed.
The youngster was none other than the washerwoman's son, who respectfully took off his cap as he passed. This cap was broken at the rim, so that he could put it into his pocket. In his poor but clean and very neatly mended clothes, and his heavy wooden shoes, the boy stood as respectfully as if he were before the king.
"You're a good boy, a well-behaved lad!" said the Mayor. "I suppose your mother is washing down at the river, and no doubt you are going to bring her what you have in your pocket. That's an awful thing with your mother! How much have you there?"
"A half pint," said the boy in a low, trembling voice.
"And this morning she had the same?" continued the Mayor.
"No, it was yesterday!" answered the boy.
"Two halves make a whole! She is no good! It is sad there are such people. Tell your mother she ought to be ashamed of herself. Don't you become a drunkard-but I suppose you will! Poor child! Run along now."
And the boy went, still holding his cap in his hand, while the wind rippled the waves of his yellow hair. He went down the street and through an alley to the river, where his mother stood at her washing stool in the water, beating the heavy linen with a wooden beater. The current was strong, for the mill's sluices were open; the bed sheet was dragged along by the stream and nearly swept away her washing stool, and the woman had all she could do to stand up against it.
"I was almost carried away," she said. "It's a good thing you've come, for I need something to strengthen me. It's so cold in the water; I've been standing here for six hours. Have you brought me anything?"
The boy drew forth a flask, and his mother put it to her lips and drank a little.
"Oh, that does me good! How it warms me!