Short Stories » Currant Picking
WHEN the long, cold winter has passed, the wet, variable spring weather also, and the gardens are all planted, there comes a halting-time between the end of last year's income and the beginning of the new season's sales. Among the farmers the very first things raised must be sold for those things most needed. If the children want to earn a little pocket-money, they do not expect to get it out of the asparagus and pie- plant, lettice or radishes; no, these must buy groceries, perhaps shoes ; but the children all over Utah can gather, in June, currants and sell them and have the money for their own.
The currants of Utah are, to the children who will gather them, like "the cranberries on the moor," and other wild berries which the children of many countries gather and sell. And how pretty these currant hedges are the first to show the green leaves and the first to bloom in the spring! And when the pioneers came here, they must have been very glad to find them, for wild berries are not common here as in other States and Territories. Was not this once " the great American desert"? Yes, though it does not look so now.
I did not think of currants as an income, until I knew how some little girls stood in the sun for hours picking the currants and then took them to town to sell, offering them to a lady who was noted for her luxurious living and public charities. These children, by two days' incessant labor at a distance from home, going and returning over glistening stubble-fields and dusty road, had, by a close calculation, earned enough to buy them each a much-desired straw hat to wear to Sunday-school instead of their winter ones. The lady had a guest, and the two repaired to the dining-room to look at the fruit the little girls had brought. "I think eight cents a quart rather high," said the lady. "Dear me!" added her friend, "these things grow almost wild everywhere; the children have nothing to do but to pick them. I should think five cents enough."
The little girls, warm with the long, jolting ride, looked at the ladies in their elegant attire, surrounded by rich furniture, and wondered how they could condescend to quibble over such a small sum. Disheartened, they went to several other places, and at each refusal felt more abashed, and at last halted, undecided whether to try even once more. All the bright hopes were dull now ; the sun was warm ; they were foot- weary, and they must not keep the kind neighbor waiting too long; they were hungry, too. The great city did not look to them as they had expected. Everything seemed in such a rush, everybody for themselves, so indifferent, almost heartless. How nice home was! In such meditative mood they reached another gate, and before either had time to ask, "Shall we go in here ? " a kind voice inquired, " My dears, have you something to sell ? " They looked at the speaker and felt an instant relief, for her face was gentle and sympathetic, as though she could see their timidity and weariness. "Yes, ma'am, Utah currants," answered Annie, the elder sister. "Come in out of the sun. I'll look at them." This they were very glad to do, and when they stepped upon the wide and long porch, all screened in with vines, a canary trilled out a sort of welcome from his cage high up in the cool shadows. A cat with her kitten lay curled up in an arm-chair just inside the hall, and how quiet, and peaceful, and sweet everything looked! They passed into a cool dining-room, where dinner was just over but not removed. " You look very warm and tired, my dears, and perhaps you have not yet had your dinners ; if not, sit down and have something while we talk about this fruit." Noticing their hesitation, she gently drew them to the table and drew several dishes of food before them, then opened their baskets. By gentle questions the lady learned all their story, of the distance from town, the hours in the hot sun, the ride to town with the good neighbor, and then the many disappointments. As the recital drew near the end, how their faces changed expression as they looked in her friendly face !
" You are deserving of praise for your industry and perseverance, and I will take these twelve quarts of you, and whatever else you bring to town come to me first and I will give you my custom, whether it be fruit, or butter and eggs, if they are as nice as these."
The lady asked them many questions, and found that they had improved their scanty advantages, being able to tell her in an interesting manner what they had learned. When they rose to go, how different were their feelings compared with their calls at other houses! They had met a lady indeed, though not a rich one, and had experienced feelings of gratitude and pleasure instead of mortification and shame in their honest efforts.
You may be sure that after that day their friend was served with the earliest and best products from the little farm, with all punctuality, and when the winter school opened, two certain little girls appeared at the school-house door the very first morning, comfortably attired and equipped with well-filled satchels, cheerful faces and eager minds ready for the winter campaign of learning.
I do not think that the rich realize, generally, how sensitive may be the feeling of those who have to earn their means in the small ways of life.
Yet in the days of our Saviour, he asked, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?" How few now earn their living in as small a way as that, or their bread by gleaning, and yet how beautiful, though centuries old, is the story of the life, how exalted the character, of Ruth, the gleaner!