Liebin, “Little Albert’s Punishment” (1907; Voltairine de Cleyre, tr.)



(Translated from the Jewish of Liebin.)

ALBERT is nine years old. He is little, thin, and pale. There was no place for him in school, so he has to stay at home. Very likely the hand of an overseeing Providence is in that, since Albert’s being at home has been of much use.

Albert’s father is a button-hole maker, but he will soon have forgotten all about his trade, for he has been out of a job for a long, long time. Day in and day out he goes about looking for work, drags himself around from morning till night, but—may the like not happen to you—no work is to be heard of. He is as blue as indigo, and life has no pleasure for him.

Albert’s mother is a wage-earner; she takes in washing, and gets something like dry bread for it. Woman’s wages.

Albert has, besides, a little sister, Emma. She is not a year old yet, and when she wants something to eat, or when she is cold, she screams for all she is worth. Albert is very fond of his little sister, and whenever he has a minute to spare he plays with her, kisses her, and warms her little hands in his mouth, for they are always blue and cold. In the evening Albert sells papers, and in the morning he goes out and gathers up coal and wood for the family. .

Every morning, since the cold winter came on, Albert goes out with a basket on his arm. He goes around in the streets, his eyes fixed on the ground, and when he finds a bit of coal or a piece of wood, he picks it up: often, very often, little Emma is freezing, waiting for Albert’s basket.

When Albert finds a coal wagon being unloaded, he reckons that as his good luck. He always waits till they finish chuting the coal, then goes up with his basket, and generally manages to gather several pieces at once.

Albert comes home completely used up; but his mamma kisses him, makes a fire; he sits down by the stove with little Emma and is happy.

Albert’s last trip, however, was very, very unsuccessful. It was a cold, cold winter day. Though the sun shone, the frost mocked at it; he was king, and he bit and cut with the edge of death.

The mother would perhaps not have allowed Albert to go out in such a frost to pick coal, but little Emma was rather sick. She hiccoughed and shivered like a leaf, and it was very cold in the house. Though there was a little coal, it was too little to heat the room; nor was there any money to buy more. So the poor mother dressed her good little son in a mass of rags and sent him out with his basket.

Albert went out into the street.

The cold pierced through the rags, and embraced him with its bitter caress; every limb began to shiver; nevertheless he congratulated himself; for several times he met wagons, one after the other, chuting coal, and at every such meeting he made out not so badly. His fingers and toes began to sting bitterly, and he had already started to run home, carrying with him a “good bit” of coal. Oh, how cold he was! He felt that he was freezing; but just then his eyes caught sight of another wagon. The coal would soon be unloaded, and he need not wait long. He stopped and stood still, knocking one foot against the other.

The coal was in. Albert went straightway up with his basket, and began to pick up the bits of coal that were lying about. Suddenly some one gave him a hard kick. The frightened boy sprang up, trembling. Near him stood a big, coal-blackened Italian driver, shouting something at him.

Albert wanted to run, but the coal-man caught hold of him, pulled the basket of coal out of his hand, threw the coal out of it, and flung it half a block away. The child’s heart gave a spasm of pain, and his eyes ran over with tears. He picked up the basket, made a face at the angry Italian from a safe distance, and went home crying: “Oh, little Emma will freeze.”

Liebin and Voltairine de Cleyre (translator), “Little Albert’s Punishment,” Mother Earth 2, no. 4 (June 1907): 201-212.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.