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散文佳作108篇 第76期:Integrity正直






-From A Mother in Mannville




The Orphanage is high in the Carolina mountains. Sometimes in winter the snowdrifts are sodeep that the institution is cut off from the village below,from all the world. Fog hides themountain peaks, the snow swirls down the valleys, and a wind blows so bitterly that theorphanage boys who take the milk twice daily to the baby cottage reach the door with fingersstiff in anagony of numbness.


I was there in the autumn. I wanted quiet, isolation, to do some troublesome writing. I wantedmountain air to blow out the malaria from too long a time in the subtropics. I was homesick,too, for the flaming of maples in October,and for corn shocks and pumpkins and black-walnuttrees and the lift of hills. I found them all, living in a cabin that belonged to the orphanage, halfa mile beyond the orphanage farm. When I took the cabin, I asked for a boyor man to comeand chop wood for the fireplace. The first few days were warm, I found what wood I neededabout the cabin, no one came, and Iforgot the order.


I looked up from my typewriter one late afternoon, a little startled. A boystood at the door,and my pointer dog, my companion, was at his side and had not barked to warn me. The boywas probably twelve years old, but undersized. He wore overalls and a torn shirt, and wasbarefooted.


He said, "I can chop some wood today."


I said, "But I have a boy coming from the orphanage."


"I'm the boy."


"You? But you're small."


"Size don't matter, chopping wood," he said. "Some of the big boys don't chop good. I've beenchopping wood at the orphanage a long time."


I visualized mangled and inadequate branches for my fires. I was well into my work and notinclined to conversation. I was a little blunt."Very well. There's the ax. Go ahead and see whatyou can do."


I went back to work,closing the door. At first the sound of the boy dragging brush annoyedme. Then he began to chop. The blows were rhythmic and steady, and shortly I had forgottenhim, the sound no more of an interruption than a consistent rain. I suppose an hour and ahalf passed, for when I stopped and stretched, and heard the boy's steps on the cabin stoop,the sun was dropping behind the farthest mountain, and the valleys were purplewith somethingdeeper than the asters.


The boy said, "I have to go to supper now. I can come again tomorrow evening."


I said, "I'll pay you now for what you've done," thinking I should probably have to insist on anolder boy. "Ten cents an hour'?"


"Anything is all right."


We went together back of the cabin. An astonishing amount of solid wood had been cut. Therewere cherry logs and heavy roots of rhododendron, and blocks from the waste pine and oakleft from the building of the cabin.


"But you've done as much as a man," I said. "This is a splendid pile."


I looked at him, actually, for the first time. His hair was the color of the corn shocks, and hiseyes, very direct, were like the mountain sky when rain is pending-gray, with a shadowing ofthat miraculous blue. As I spoke a light came over him, as though the setting sun hadtouched him with the same suffused glory with which it touched the mountains. I gave him aquarter.


"You may come tomorrow," I said, "and thank you very much."He looked at me, and at the coin,and seemed to want to speak, but could not, and turned away.


"I'll split kindling tomorrow," he said over his thin ragged shoulder. "You'llneed kindling andmedium wood and logs and backlogs."


At daylight I was half wakened by the sound of chopping. Again it was so even in texture that Iwent back to sleep. When I left my bed in the cool morning, the boy had come and gone, and astack of kindling was neat against the cabin wall. He came again after school in the afternoonand worked until time to return to the orphanage. His name was Jerry; he was twelve years old,and he had been at the orphanage since he was four. I could picture him at four, with the samegrave gray-blue eyes and the same-independence? No, the word that comes to me is"integrity."


The word means something very special to me, and the quality for which I use it is a rare one.My father had it-there is another of whom I am almost sure-but almost no man of myacquaintance possesses it with the clarity,the purity, the simplicity of a mountain stream.But the boy Jerry had it. It is bedded-on courage, but it is more than brave. It is honest, but itis more than honesty. The ax handle broke one day. Jerry said the woodshop at theorphanage would repair it. I brought money to pay for the job and he refused it.


"I'll pay for it," he said. "I broke it. I brought the ax down careless."


"But no one hits accurately every time," I told him. "The fault was in the wood of the handle.I'll see the man from whom I bought it.


"It was only then that he would take the money. He was standing back of his own carelessness. He was a free-will agent and he chose to do careful work, and if he failed, he took theresponsibility without subterfuge.


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