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The Pretty Sister Of José 1889   By: (1849-1924)

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By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Charles Scribner's Sons 1889



It had taken him a long time, and it had cost him José much hard labor, to prepare for his aged grandmother and Pepita the tiny home outside Madrid, to which he at last brought them in great triumph one hot summer's day, when the very vine leaves and orange trees themselves were dusty. It had been a great undertaking for him in the first place, for he was a slow fellow José; slow as he was dull and kind and faithful to Pepita and the grandmother. He had a body as big as an ox, and a heart as big as his body, but he was slow and dull in everything but one thing that was his carpenter work. He was well enough at that, and more than well enough, for he had always had a fancy and a knack for it from the time when as a boy he had worked in his uncle's vineyards and tilled his fields and fed his beasts. His uncle had been counted a rich man among his neighbors, but when his sister and her husband died and left the two children, José and Pepita, penniless, and with no protector save himself and their grandmother, already an old woman, it was upon the grandmother that the burden fell, for he did nothing for them except to give them, grudgingly now and then, a few poor vegetables or a little fallen fruit. It is true that when José was old enough to labor in the fields he gave him work to do, but he paid him ill and treated him ill also, giving him poor food and harsh words, and often enough blows the poor lad did not deserve. So it came about that while he was at his work José fell into the way of planning to escape from all this, and make another home for himself and his pretty child sister and the old woman. He knew there was only one way to do it: if he could carry his one gift where it would be of more use to him than it could possibly be in a poor small village; if he could carry it to a market where there were more people and where work was better paid for. Where the king and queen were, of course, there must be more money, and one could find more to do and live better. It was Padre Alejandro, the village priest, who had suggested this to him first. He was a kind, jovial old fellow, the padre, and had seen something of the world, too, long ago, which was perhaps why he was never very hard upon a simple sinner who went to confession, and could give a bit of unecclesiastical advice now and then. He had always been kind to José, and as Pepita had grown prettier and prettier every day, he had often spoken of her to old Jovita, and said she should be well taught and taken care of, and once even when she had come into the house with a basket of grapes on her little head, rose flushed with the hot day, her black hair curling in moist silken rings on her forehead he had been betrayed into the worldly remark that such pretty young things ought to have something brighter to look forward to than hard work and scant fare, which made them old before their time, and left them nothing to look back upon. But he only said it to Jovita, and Jovita only stared a little, it never having occurred to her that there was anything much in the world but hard labor and poverty. And what difference did it make that one was pretty, except that it became more probable that some gay, lazy fellow would pretend to fall in love with one, and then after marriage leave one all the work to do and a houseful of hungry children to feed? She had seen that often enough. Had it not been so with Pepita's mother, who died at twenty five almost an old woman, worn out with trouble and hard usage?

But afterward, when Padre Alejandro saw José, he spoke of Pepita to him also, though only as if incidentally among other things.

"She should marry some good fellow who could take care of her," he said. "If you go to Madrid it will also be better for her."

And so the end of it all was that after much slow planning and many hopes and fears, and more than one disappointment, there came a day when the uncle was thrown into a violent rage by losing his best and most patient worker, and the poor cottage stood empty, and José and Pepita and Jovita found themselves in a new world... Continue reading book >>

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