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13. XIII. SNOW-WHITE; ROSE-RED
Just before Thanksgiving the affairs of the Simpsons reached what might have been called a crisis, even in their family, which had been born and reared in a state of adventurous poverty and perilous uncertainty.
Riverboro was doing its best to return the entire tribe of Simpsons to the land of its fathers, so to speak, thinking rightly that the town which had given them birth, rather than the town of their adoption, should feed them and keep a roof over their heads until the children were of an age for self-support. There was little to eat in the household and less to wear, though Mrs. Simpson did, as always, her poor best. The children managed to satisfy their appetites by sitting modestly outside their neighbors' kitchen doors when meals were about to be served. They were not exactly popular favorites, but they did receive certain undesirable morsels from the more charitable housewives.
Life was rather dull and dreary, however, and in the chill and gloom of November weather, with the vision of other people's turkeys bursting with fat, and other people's golden pumpkins and squashes and corn being garnered into barns, the young Simpsons groped about for some inexpensive form of excitement, and settled upon the selling of soap for a premium. They had sold enough to their immediate neighbors during the earlier autumn to secure a child's handcart, which, though very weak on its pins, could be trundled over the country roads. With large business sagacity and an executive capacity which must have been inherited from their father, they now proposed to extend their operations to a larger area and distribute soap to contiguous villages, if these villages could be induced to buy. The Excelsior Soap Company paid a very small return of any kind to its infantile agents, who were scattered through the state, but it inflamed their imaginations by the issue of circulars with highly colored pictures of the premiums to be awarded for the sale of a certain number of cakes. It was at this juncture that Clara Belle and Susan Simpson consulted Rebecca, who threw herself solidly and wholeheartedly into the enterprise, promising her help and that of Emma Jane Perkins. The premiums within their possible grasp were three: a bookcase, a plush reclining chair, and a banquet lamp. Of course the Simpsons had no books, and casting aside, without thought or pang, the plush chair, which might have been of some use in a family of seven persons (not counting Mr. Simpson, who ordinarily sat elsewhere at the town's expense), they warmed themselves rapturously in the vision of the banquet lamp, which speedily became to them more desirable than food, drink, or clothing. Neither Emma Jane nor Rebecca perceived anything incongruous in the idea of the Simpsons striving for a banquet lamp. They looked at the picture daily and knew that if they themselves were free agents they would toil, suffer, ay sweat, for the happy privilege of occupying the same room with that lamp through the coming winter evenings. It looked to be about eight feet tall in the catalogue, and Emma Jane advised Clara Belle to measure the height of the Simpson ceilings; but a note in the margin of the circular informed them that it stood two and a half feet high when set up in all its dignity and splendor on a proper table, three dollars extra. It was only of polished brass, continued the circular, though it was invariably mistaken for solid gold, and the shade that accompanied it (at least it accompanied it if the agent sold a hundred extra cakes) was of crinkled crepe paper printed in a dozen delicious hues, from which the joy-dazzled agent might take his choice.
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