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33

(1921) Author: Sigrid Undset
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two half-grown boys were sitting on the stone steps of a house.
Francesca and Jenny talked to them and gave them money.

“Beggars?” asked Helge.

“I don’t know — the big one said he was a paper-boy.”

“I suppose the beggars in this country are merely
humbugs?”

“Most of them, but many have to sleep in the street even in
winter. And many are cripples.”

“I noticed that in Florence. Don’t you think it is a shame
that people with nasty wounds or terribly deformed should be
allowed to go about begging? The authorities ought to take
care of those unfortunate people.”

“I don’t know. It is the way out here. Foreigners can
hardly judge. I suppose they prefer to beg; they earn more
that way.”

“On the Piazza Michelangelo there was a beggar without
arms; his hands came out straight from the shoulders. A
German doctor I was living with said the man owned a villa
at Fiesole.”

“All the better for him!”

“With us the cripples are taught to work so that they can
earn their living in a respectable way.”

“Hardly enough anyhow to buy a villa,” said Jenny,
laughing.

“Can you imagine anything more demoralizing than to make
one’s living by exposing one’s deformity?”

“It is always demoralizing to know that one is a cripple in
one way or another.”

“But to live by invoking people’s compassion.”

“A cripple knows that he will be pitied in any case, and has
to accept help from men — or God.”

Jenny mounted some steps and lifted the corner of a curtain
that looked like a thin mattress. They entered a small church.

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