A Detail by Stephen Crane
The tiny old lady in the black dress and curious little black bonnet
had at first seemed alarmed at the sound made by her feet upon the
stone pavements. But later she forgot about it, for she suddenly came
into the tempest of the Sixth Avenue shopping district, where from the
streams of people and vehicles went up a roar like that from headlong
She seemed then like a chip that catches, recoils, turns and wheels, a
reluctant thing in the clutch of the impetuous river. She hesitated,
faltered, debated with herself. Frequently she seemed about to address
people; then of a sudden she would evidently lose her courage.
Meanwhile the torrent jostled her, swung her this and that way.
At last, however, she saw two young women gazing in at a shop-window.
They were well-dressed girls; they wore gowns with enormous sleeves
that made them look like full-rigged ships with all sails set. They
seemed to have plenty of time; they leisurely scanned the goods in the
window. Other people had made the tiny old woman much afraid because
they were speeding to keep such tremendously important
engagements. She went close to the girls and peered in at the same
window. She watched them furtively for a time. Then finally she said—
The girls looked down at this old face with its two large eyes turned
"Excuse me, can you tell me where I can get any work?"
For an instant the two girls stared. Then they seemed about to exchange
a smile, but, at the last moment, they checked it. The tiny old lady's
eyes were upon them. She was quaintly serious, silently expectant.
She made one marvel that in that face the wrinkles showed no trace of
experience, knowledge; they were simply little, soft, innocent creases.
As for her glance, it had the trustfulness of ignorance and the candour
"I want to get something to do, because I need the money," she
continued since, in their astonishment, they had not replied to her
first question. "Of course I'm not strong and I couldn't do very much,
but I can sew well; and in a house where there was a good many men
folks, I could do all the mending. Do you know any place where they
would like me to come?"
The young women did then exchange a smile, but it was a subtle tender
smile, the edge of personal grief.
"Well, no, madame," hesitatingly said one of them at last; "I don't
think I know any one."
A shade passed over the tiny old lady's face, a shadow of the wing of
"Don't you?" she said, with a little struggle to be brave, in her voice.
Then the girl hastily continued—"But if you will give me your address,
I may find some one, and if I do, I will surely let you know of it."
The tiny old lady dictated her address, bending over to watch the girl
write on a visiting card with a little silver pencil. Then she said—
"I thank you very much." She bowed to them, smiling, and went on down
As for the two girls, they walked to the curb and watched this aged
figure, small and frail, in its black gown and curious black bonnet.
At last, the crowd, the innumerable wagons, intermingling and changing
with uproar and riot, suddenly engulfed it.