WHEN the half dozen little ones were hungry, old Cléophas would take the fiddle from its flannel bag and play a tune upon it. Perhaps it was to drown their cries, or their hunger, or his conscience, or all three. One day Fifine, in a rage, stamped her small foot and clinched her little hands, and declared:
"It ′s no two way′! I ′m goin′ smash it, dat fiddle, some day in a t′ousan′ piece′!"
"You mus′ n′ do dat, Fifine," expostulated her father. "Dat fiddle been ol′er ′an you an′ me t′ree time′ put togedder. You done yaird me tell often ′nough ′bout dat Italien w′at give it to me w′en he die, ′long yonder befo′ de war. An′ he say, ′Cléophas, dat fiddle - dat one part my life - w′at goin′ live w′en I be dead - Dieu merci ! ′ You talkin′ too fas′, Fifine."
"Well, I ′m goin′ do some′in′ wid dat fiddle, va ! " returned the daughter, only half mollified. "Mine w′at I say."
So once when there were great carryings-on up at the big plantation - no end of ladies and gentlemen from the city, riding, driving, dancing, and making music upon all manner of instruments - Fifine, with the fiddle in its flannel bag, stole away and up to the big house where these festivities were in progress.
No one noticed at first the little barefoot girl seated upon a step of the veranda and watching, lynx-eyed, for her opportunity.
"It ′s one fiddle I got for sell," she announced, resolutely, to the first who questioned her.
It was very funny to have a shabby little girl sitting there wanting to sell a fiddle, and the child was soon surrounded.
The lustreless instrument was brought forth and examined, first with amusement, but soon very seriously, especially by three gentlelemen: one with very long hair that hung down, another with equally long hair that stood up, the third with no hair worth mentioning.
These three turned the fiddle upside down and almost inside out. They thumped upon it, and listened. They scraped upon it, and listened. They walked into the house with it, and out of the house with it, and into remote corners with it. All this with much putting of heads together, and talking together in familiar and unfamiliar languages. And, finally, they sent Fifine away with a fiddle twice as beautiful as the one she had brought, and a roll of money besides!
The child was dumb with astonishment, and away she flew. But when she stopped beneath a big chinaberry-tree, to further scan the roll of money, her wonder was redoubled. There was far more than she could count, more than she had ever dreamed of possessing. Certainly enough to top the old cabin with new shingles; to put shoes on all the little bare feet and food into the hungry mouths. Maybe enough - and Fifine′s heart fairly jumped into her throat at the vision - maybe enough to buy Blanchette and her tiny calf that Unc′ Siméon wanted to sell!
"It ′s jis like you say, Fifine," murmured old Cléophas, huskily, when he had played upon the new fiddle that night. "It ′s one fine fiddle; an′ like you say, it shine′ like satin. But some way or udder, ′t ain′ de same. Yair, Fifine, take it - put it ′side. I b′lieve, me, I ain′ goin′ play de fiddle no mo′."