Northern Georgia Sketches
by Will Nathaniel Harben
THE WHIPPING OF
A FILIAL IMPULSE
THE SALE OF
A RURAL VISITOR
THE COURAGE OF
THE HERESY OF
THE TENDER LINK
TO JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS IN GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE KINDLY
ENCOURAGEMENT WHICH MADE THIS BOOK POSSIBLE.
I am indebted to the publishers of The Century Magazine,
Lippincott's Magazine, The Ladies' Home Journal, Book News, The Black
Cat, and to the Bacheller Syndicate for the courteous
permission to reprint the sketches contained in this volume.
WILL N. HARBEN.
A HUMBLE ABOLITIONIST
Andrew Duncan and his wife trudged along the unshaded road in the
beating sunshine, and paused to rest under the gnarled white- trunked
sycamore trees. She wore a drooping gown of checked homespun, a
sun-bonnet of the same material, the hood of which was stiffened with
invisible strips of cardboard, and a pair of coarse shoes just from the
shop. Her husband was barefooted, his shirt was soiled, and he wore no
coat to hide the fact. His trousers were worn to shreds about the
ankles, but their knees were patched with new cloth.
“I never was as thirsty in all my born days,” he panted, as he
looked down into the bluish depths of a road-side spring. “Gee-whilikins! ain't it hot?”
“An' some fool or other's run off with the drinkin'-gourd,” chimed
in his wife. “Now ain't that jest our luck?”
“We'll have to lap it up dog-fashion, I reckon,” Andrew replied,
ruefully, “an' this is the hardest spring to git down to I ever seed.
Hold on, Ann; I'll fix you.”
As he spoke he knelt on the moss by the spring, turned his
broad-brimmed felt hat outside in, and tightly folded it in the shape
of a big dipper. He filled it with water, and still kneeling, held it
up to his wife. When their thirst was satisfied, they turned off from
the road into a path leading up a gradual slope, on the top of which
stood a three- roomed log cabin.
“They are waitin' fer us,” remarked Duncan. “I see 'em out in the
passage. My Lord, I wonder what under the sun they'll do with Big Joe.
Ever' time I think of the whole business I mighty nigh bu'st with
Mrs. Duncan smiled under her bonnet.
“I think it's powerful funny myself,” she said, as she followed
after him, her new shoes creaking and crunching on the gravel. To this
observation Duncan made no response, for they were now in front of the
An old man and an old woman sat in the passage, fanning their faces
with turkey-wing fans. They were Peter Gill and his wife, Lucretia. The
latter rose from her chair, which had been tilted back against the
wall, and with clattering heels, shambled into the room on the right.
“I reckon you'd ruther set out heer whar you kin ketch a breath o'
air from what little's afloat,” she said, cordially, as she emerged, a
chair in either hand. Placing the chairs against the wall opposite her
husband, she took a pair of turkey-wings from a nail on the wall and
handed them to her guests, and with a grunt of relief resumed her seat.
For a moment no one spoke, but Duncan presently broke the silence.
“Well, I went an' seed Colonel Whitney fer you,” he began, his blue
eyes twinkling with inward amusement. “An', Pete Gill, I'm powerfully
afeerd you are in fer it. As much as you've spoke agin slave-holdin' as
a practice, you've got to make a start at it. The Colonel said that you
held a mortgage on Big Joe, an' ef you don't take 'im right off you
won't get a red cent fer yore debt.”
“I'm prepared fer it,” burst from Mrs. Gill. “I tried my level best
to keep Mr. Gill from lendin' the money, but nothin' I could say would
have the least influence on 'im. The Lord only knows what we'll do. We
are purty-lookin' folks to own a high-priced, stuck-up quality nigger.”
The two visitors exchanged covert glances of amusement.
“How did you manage to git caught?” Andrew asked, crushing a subtle
smile out of his face with his broad red hand.
Peter Gill had grown quite red in the face and down his wrinkled,
muscular neck. As he took off his brogans to cool his feet, and began
to scratch his toes through his woolen socks, it was evident to his
questioner that he was not only embarrassed but angry.
“The thousand dollars was all the money we was ever able to save
up,” he said. “I was laying off to buy the fust piece o' good land that
was on the market, so me 'n the ol' 'omen would have a support in old
age. But I didn't see no suitable farm just then, an' as my money was
lyin' idle in the bank, Lawyer Martin advised me to put it out at
intrust, an' I kinder tuck to the notion. Then Colonel Whitney got wind
o' the matter an' rid over an' said, to accommodate me, he'd take the
loan. He fust give me a mortgage on some swampy land over in Murray,
that Martin said was wuth ten thousand, an' it run on that way fur two
year. The fust hint I had of the plight I was in was when the Colonel
couldn't pay the intrust. Then I went to another lawyer, fer it looked
like Martin an' the Colonel was kinder in cahoot, an' my man diskivered
that the lan' had been sold long before it was mortgaged to me for
taxes. My lawyer wasn't no fool, so he got Whitney in fer a game o'
open-an'-shut swindle. He up an' notified 'im that ef my claim wasn't
put in good shape in double-quick time, he was goin' to put the clamps
on somebody. Well, the final upshot was that I tuck Big Joe as
security, an' now that the Colonel's entire estate has gone to
flinders, I've got the nigger an' my money's gone.”
Duncan waited for the speaker to resume, but the aspect of the case
was so disheartening that Gill declined to say more about it. He simply
hitched one of his heels up on the last rung of his chair and began to
fan himself vigorously.
“I did as you wanted me to,” said Duncan, wiping his brow and
combing his long, damp hair with his fingers. “I went round an' axed
the opinion o' several good citizens, an' it is the general belief ef
you don't take the nigger you won't never git back a cent o' yore loan.
But the funniest part o' the business is the way Big Joe acts about
it.” Duncan met his wife's glance and laughed out impulsively. “You
see, Gill, in the Whitney break-up, all the other niggers has been sold
to rich families, an' the truth is, Big Joe feels his dignity tuck down
a good many pegs by bein' put off on you-uns, that never owned a slave
to yore name. The other darkies has been a-teasin' of 'im all day, an'
he's sick an' tired of it. The Whitneys has spiled 'im bad. They l'arnt
'im to read an' always let 'im stan' dressed up in his long coat in the
big front hall to invite quality folks in the house. They say he had
his eye on a yaller gal, an' that he's been obliged to give her up, fer
she's gone with one of the Staffords in Fannin' County.”
Gill's knee, which was thrust out in front of him by the sharp bend
of his leg, was quivering.
“Big Joe might do a sight wuss 'n to belong to me,” he said, warmly.
“I don't know as we-uns'll have any big hall for 'im to cavort about
in, nur anybody any wuss'n yore sort to come to see us, but we pay our
debts an' have a plenty t' eat.”
Mrs. Gill was listening to this ebullition, her red nose slightly
elevated, and she made no effort to suppress a chuckle of satisfaction
over her husband's subtle allusion to the status of their guests.
“I want you two jest to come heer one minute,” she burst out
suddenly, and with a dignity that seemed to cool the air about her, she
rose and moved toward the little shed room at the end of the cabin.
Duncan and his wife followed, an expression of half-fearful curiosity
in their tawny visages. Reaching the door of the room, Mrs. Gill pushed
it open and coolly signaled them to enter, and when they had done so,
and stood mutely looking about them, she followed.
“When I made up my mind we'd be obliged to take Big Joe,” she
explained, “I fixed up fer 'im a little. Look at that bedstead!” (Her
hand was extended toward it as steadily as the limb of an oak.) “Ann
Duncan, you are at liberty to try to find a better one in this
neighborhood. You'n Andrew sleep on one made out'n poles with the bark
on 'em. Then jest feel o' them thar feathers in this new tick an'
pillows, an' them's bran- new store-bought sheets.”
This second open allusion to her own poverty had a subduing effect
on Mrs. Duncan's risibilities. The ever-present twinkle of amusement
went out of her eyes, and she had an attitude of vast consideration for
the words of her hostess as she put her perspiring hand on the mattress
and pressed it tentatively.
“It's saft a plenty fer a king,” she observed, conciliation enough
for any one in her tone; “he'll never complain, I bound you!”
“Big Joe won't have to tech his bare feet to the floor while he's
puttin' on his clothes, nuther,” reminded Mrs. Gill. She raised her
eyebrows as an admiral might after seeing a well-directed shot from one
of his guns blow up a ship, and pointed at a piece of rag carpet laid
at the side of the bed. “An' you see I've fixed 'im a washstand with a
new pan thar in the corner, an' a roller towel, an' bein' as they say
he's so fixy, I'm a-goin' to fetch in the lookin'-glass, an' I've cut
some pictur's out'n newspapers that I intend to paste up on the walls,
Mrs. Gill paused. Experienced as she was in the tricks of Ann
Duncan's facial expression, she at once divined that her words were
meeting with amused opposition.
“Why, Mis' Gill,” was Ann's rebuff, “shorely you ain't a-goin' to
let 'im sleep in the same house with you-uns!”
“Of course I am, Ann Duncan; what in the name o' common sense do you
“Oh, nuthin'.” Mrs. Duncan glanced at her husband and wiped a
cowardly smile from her broad mouth with her hand. “You see, Mis' Gill,
I'm afeerd you are goin' to overdo it. You've heerd me say I have good
stock in me, ef I am poor. I've got own second cousins that don't know
the'r own slaves when they meet 'em in the big road. I've heerd how
they treat their niggers, an' I'm afeerd all this extra fixin' up will
make folks poke fun at you. To-day in town the niggers started the
laugh on Big Joe theirselves, an' the white folks all j'ined in. It
looked like they thought it was a good joke for the Gill lay-out to own
a quality slave. Me'n Andrew don't mean no harm, but now it is funny;
you know it is!”
“I don't see a thing that's the least bit funny in it.” Mrs. Gill
bristled and turned almost white in helpless fury. “We never set
ourselves up as wantin' to own slaves, but when this one is saddled on
us through no fault o' our'n, I see no harm in our holdin' onto 'im
till we kin see our way out without loss. As to 'im not sleepin' in the
same cabin we do, whar in the Lord's creation would we put 'im? The
corn-crib is the only thing with a roof on it, an' it's full to the
“Oh, I reckon you are doin' the best you kin,” granted Mrs. Duncan,
as she passed out of the door and went back to where Peter Gill sat
fanning himself. He had overheard part of the conversation.
“I told Lucretia she oughtn't to fix up so almighty much,” he
observed. “A nigger ain't like no other livin' cre'ture. A pore man
jest cayn't please 'em.”
Ann Duncan was driven to the very verge of laughter again.
“What you goin' to call 'im?” she snickered, her strong effort at
keeping a serious face bringing tears into her eyes. “Are you goin' to
make 'im say Marse Gill, an' Mis' Lucretia?”
“I don't care a picayune what he calls us,” answered Gill, testily.
“I reckon we won't start a new language on his account.”
Through this colloquy Mrs. Duncan had been holding her sun-bonnet in
a tight roll in her hands. She now unfurled it like the flag of a
switchman and whisked it on her head.
“Well, I wish you luck with yore slave,” she was heard to say,
crisply, “but I hope you'll not think me meddlin' ef I say that you'll
have trouble. Folks like you-uns, an' we-uns fer that matter, don't kno
no more about managin' slaves raised by high-falutin' white folks than
doodle-bugs does.” And having risen to that climax, Ann Duncan,
followed by her splay-footed, admiring husband, departed.
The next morning, accompanied by Big Joe and the man who had been
overseer on his plantation, Colonel Whitney drove over in a spring
“I decided to bring Joe over myself, so as to have no
misunderstanding,” he announced. “The other negroes have been picking
at him a good deal; and he is a little out of sorts, but he'll get all
The Gills were standing in the passage, a look of stupid
embarrassment on their honest faces. Despite their rugged strength of
character, they were not a little awed by the presence of such a
prominent member of the aristocracy, notwithstanding the fact that
their dealings with the Colonel had not, in a financial way, been just
to their fancy.
“I'm much obliged to you, sir,” Peter found himself able to
The Colonel lighted a cigar and began to smoke. A sad, careworn
expression lay in his big blue eyes. He had the appearance of a man who
had not slept for a week. His tired glance swept from the Gills to the
negro in the wagon, and he said, huskily:
“Bounce out, Joe, and do the very best you can. I hate to part with
you, but you know my condition—we've talked that over enough.”
Slowly the tall black man crawled out at the end of the wagon and
stood alone on the ground. The expression of his face was at once so
full of despair and fiendishness that Mrs. Gill shuddered and looked
away from him.
“Well, Gill,” said the planter, “I reckon me and you are even at
last. I'm going down to Savannah, where I hope to get a fresh start and
amount to more in the world. Good- bye to you—good-bye, Joe.”
He had only nodded to the pair in the passage, but he reached over
the wagon-wheel for the hand of the negro, and as he took it a tender
expression of regret stamped itself on his strong features.
“Be a good boy, Joe,” he half-whispered. “As God is my heavenly
judge, I hate this more than anything else in the world. If I could
possibly raise the money I'd take you with me—or free you.”
The thick, stubborn lip of the slave relaxed and fell to quivering
“Good-bye, Marse Whit',” he said, simply. The Colonel took a firmer
grasp of the black hand.
“No ill-will, Joe?” he questioned, anxiously.
“No, suh, Marse Whit', I hadn't got no hard feelin's 'gin you.”
“Well, then good-bye, Joe. If I ever get my head above water, I'll
keep my promise about you and Liza. She looked on you as her favorite,
but don't raise your hopes too high. I'm an old man now, and it may be
uphill work down there.”
The negro lowered his head and the overseer drove on. As the wagon
rumbled down the rocky slope a wisp of blue smoke from the Colonel's
cigar followed it like a banner unfurled to the breeze. For several
minutes after the wagon had disappeared Big Joe stood where he had
alighted, his eyes upon the ground.
“What's the matter?” asked Gill, stepping down to him.
“Nothin', Marse—” Big Joe seemed to bite into the word as it rose
to his tongue, then he shrugged his shoulders contemptuously and looked
The Gills exchanged ominous glaces, and there was a pause.
“Have you had anything to eat this morning?” Gill bethought himself
The black man shook his head.
“I ain't teched a bite sence dey sol' me; dey offered it to me, but
I didn't want it.”
Once more the glances of the husband and wife traveled slowly back
and forth, centering finally on the face of the negro.
“I reckon it's 'cause yore sick at heart,” observed Gill, at first
sympathetically, and then with growing firmness as he continued. “I
know how you feel; most o' yore sort has a way o' thinkin' yorese'ves a
sight better'n pore white folks, an' right now the truth is you can't
bear the idee o' belongin' to me'n my wife. Now, me'n you an' her ought
to come to some sort of agreement that we kin all live under. You won't
find nuther one of us the overbearin' sort. We was forced to take you
to secure ourse'ves agin the loss of our little all, an' we want to do
what's fair in every respect. I'm told you are a fuss-rate shoemaker.
Now, ef you want to, you kin set up a shop in yore room thar, an' have
the last cent you kin make. You'll git plenty o' work, too, fer this
neighborhood is badly in need of a shoemaker. Now, my wife will fry you
some fresh eggs an' bacon an' make you a good cup o' coffee.”
But all that Peter Gill had managed to say with satisfaction to
himself seemed to have gone into one of the negro's ears and to have
met with not the slightest obstruction on its way out at the other. To
the hospitable invitation which closed Peter's speech, the negro simply
“I don't feel like eatin' a bite.”
“Oh, you don't,” said Gill, at the end of his resources; “maybe
you'd feel different about it ef you was to smell the bacon a-fryin'.”
“I don't wan't to eat,” reiterated the slave.
“Well, you needn't unless you want to,” went on Gill, still
pacifically. “That thar room on the right is fer you; jest go in it
whenever you feel like it an' try to make yorese'f at home; you won't
find us hard to git along with.”
The Gills left their human property seated on a big rock in front of
the cabin and withdrew to the rear. There they sat till near noon. Now
and then Gill would peer around the corner to satisfy himself that his
slave was still seated on the rock. Gill chewed nearly a week's
allowance of tobacco that morning; it seemed to have a sedative effect
on his nerves. Finally, Ann Duncan loomed up in the distance and strode
toward the cabin. She wore a gown of less brilliant tints than the one
she had worn the day before. It had the dun color of clay washed into
rather than out of its texture, and it hung from her narrow hips as if
it were damp.
“Well, he did come,” she remarked, introductively.
Mrs. Gill nodded. “Yes; the Colonel fetched 'im over this mornin'.”
“So I heerd, an' I jest 'lowed I'd step over an' see how you made
out.” Mrs. Duncan's rippling laugh recalled the whole of her allusions
of the day previous. “Thar's more talk goin' round than you could shake
a stick at, an' considerable spite an' envy. Some 'lows that the havin'
o' this slave is agoin' to make you stuck up, an' that you'll move yore
membership to Big Bethel meetin'-house; but law me! I can see that you
are bothered. How did he take to his room?”
“He ain't so much as looked in yit,” replied Mrs. Gill, with a
Thereupon Ann Duncan ventured up into the passage and peered
cautiously round the corner at Big Joe.
“He's a-wipin' of his eyes,” she announced, as she came back. “It
looks like he's a-cryin' about some'n'.”
At this juncture, a motley cluster of men, women, and children, led
by Andrew Duncan, came out of the woods which fringed the red, freshly
plowed field below, and began to steer itself, like a school of fish,
toward the cabin. About fifty yards away they halted, as animals do
when they scent danger. Heads up and open-mouthed, they stood gazing,
first at the Gills, and then at their slave. Peter Gill grew angry. He
stood up and strode as far in their direction as the ash-hopper under
the apple-tree, and raised both his hands, as if he were frightening
away a flock of crows.
“Be off, the last one of you!” he shouted; “and don't you dare show
yorese'ves round heer unless you've got business. This ain't no
side-show—I want you to understand that!”
They might have defied their old neighbor Gill, but the owner of a
slave so big and well dressed as the human monument on the rock was too
important a personage to displease with impunity; so, followed by the
apologetic Mrs. Duncan, who blamed herself for having set a bad example
to her curious neighbors, they slowly dispersed.
At noon Mrs. Gill went into the cabin and began to prepare dinner.
She came back to her husband in a moment, and in a low voice, and one
that held much significance, she said:
“I need some firewood.” As she spoke she allowed her glance to rest
on Big Joe. Gill looked at the sullen negro for half a minute, and then
he shrugged his shoulders as if indecision were a burden to be shaken
off, and mumbling something inaudible he went out to the woodpile and
brought in an armful of fuel.
“A pore beginning,” his wife said, as he put it down on the hearth.
“I know it,” retorted Gill, angrily. “You needn't begin that sort o'
talk, fer I won't stand it. I'm a-doin' all I can.” And Gill went back
to his chair.
The good housewife fried some slices of dark red ham. She boiled a
pot of sweet potatoes, peeled off their jackets, and made a pulp of
them in a pan; into the mass she stirred sweet milk, butter, eggs,
sugar, and grated nutmeg. Then she rolled out a sheet of dough and cut
out some open-top pies.
“I never knowed a nigger that could keep his teeth out of 'em,” she
Half an hour later she called out to Gill to come in. He paused in
the doorway, staring in astonishment
“Well, I never!” he ejaculated.
She had laid the best white cloth, got out her new knives and forks
with the bone handles, and some dishes that were never used except on
rare occasions. She had placed Gill's plate at the head of the table,
hers at the foot, and was wiping a third—the company plate with the
“Whar's he goin' to set an' eat?” she asked
“Blast me ef I know any more'n a rat,” Gill told her, with alarmed
frankness. “I hadn't thought about it a bit, but it never will do fer'
im to set down with me an' you. Folks might see it, an' it would give
'em more room for fun.”
Mrs. Gill laid the plate down and sighed.
“I declare, I'm afeered this nigger is a-goin' to stick us up,
whether or no. I won't feel much Christian humility with him at one
table an' us at another, but of course I know it ain't common fer folks
to eat with their slaves.”
Gill's glance was sweeping the table and its tempting dishes with an
indescribable air of disapproval.
“You are a-fixin' up powerful,” was his slow comment; “a body would
think, to look at all this, that it was the fourth Sunday an' you was
expectin' the preacher. You'd better begin right; we cayn't keep this
up an' make a crop.”
Her eyes flashed angrily.
“You had no business to bring Big Joe heer, then,” she fumed. “You
know well enough he's used to fine doin's, an' I'm not a-goin' to have
'im make light of us, ef we are pore. I was jest a-thinkin'; the
Whitneys always tied napkins 'round the'r necks to ketch the gravy they
drap, an' Big Joe's bound to notice that we ain't used to sech.”
It was finally agreed that for that day at least the slave was to
have his dinner served to him where he sat; so Mrs. Gill arranged it
temptingly on a piece of plank, over which a piece of cloth had been
spread, and took it out to him. She found him almost asleep, but he
opened his eyes as she drew near.
Drowsily he surveyed the contents of the cups and dishes, his eyes
kindling at the sight of the two whole custards. But his pride—it was
evidently that—enabled him to manifest a sneer of irreconcilability.
“I ain't a-goin' t'eat a bite,” was the way he put it, stubbornly.
For a moment Mrs. Gill was nonplussed; but she believed in getting
at the core of things.
“Are you a-complainin'?” she questioned.
The big negro's sneer grew more pronounced, but that was all the
answer he gave.
“Don't you think you could stomach a bit o' this heer custard pie?”
Big Joe's eyes gleamed against his will, but he shook his head.
“I tol' um all ef dey sol' me to you, I wouldn't eat a bite. I'm
gwine ter starve ter death.”
“Oh, that's yore intention!” Mrs. Gill caught her breath. A sort of
superstitious terror seized upon her as she slowly hitched back to the
“He won't tech a bite,” she informed Gill's expectant visage; “an'
what's a sight more, he says he's vowed he won't eat our victuals, an'
that he's laid out to starve. Peter Gill, I'm afeerd this has been sent
“Sent on us!' echoed Gill, who also had his quota of superstition.
“Yes, it's a visitation of the Almighty fer our hoardin' up that
money when so many of our neighbors is in need. I wish now we never had
seed it. Ef Big Joe dies on our hands, I'll always feel like we have
committed the unpardonable sin. We've talked ag'in' slave-holdin' all
our lives tell we had the bag to hold, an' now we've set up reg'lar in
Gill ate his dinner on the new cloth in morose silence. A heavy air
of general discontent had settled on him.
“Well,” he commented, as he went to the water-shelf in the passage
to take his after- dinner drink from the old cedar pail, “ef he refused
'tater custards like them thar he certainly is in a bad plight. If he
persists, I'll have to send fer a doctor.”
The afternoon passed slowly. The later conduct of the slave was
uneventful, beyond the fact that he rose to his full height once,
stretched and yawned, without looking toward the cabin, and then
reclined at full length on the grass. Another batch of curious
neighbors came as near the cabin as the spring. Those who had been
ordered away in the forenoon had set afloat a report that Gill had said
that, now he was a slave-holder, he would not submit to familiar visits
from the poor white trash of the community. And Sid Ruford, the
ringleader of the group at the spring, had the boldness to shout out
some hints about the one-nigger, log-cabin aristocracy which drove the
hot blood to Gill's tanned face. He sprang up and took down his
long-barreled “squirrel gun” from its hooks on the wall.
“I'll jest step down thar,” he said, “an' see ef that gab is meant
“I wouldn't pay no 'tention to him,” replied Mrs. Gill, who was held
back from the brink of an explosion only by the sight of the weapon and
a knowledge of Gill's marksmanship. However, Gill had scarcely taken
half a dozen steps down the path when he wheeled and came back
“They run like a passle o' skeerd sheep,” he chuckled, as he
restored his gun to its place.
This incident seemed to break the barrier of reserve between him and
his human property, for he stood over the prostrate form of the negro
and eyed him with a dissatisfied look.
“See heer,” he began, sullenly, “enough of a thing is a plenty. I'm
gettin' sick an' tired o' this, an' I'll be dadblasted ef I'm a-goin'
to let a black, poutin' scamp make me lose my nat'ral sleep an' peace
o' mind. Now, you git right up off'n that damp ground an' go in yore
room an' lie down, if you feel that-a- way. Folks is a-passin' along
an' lookin' at you like you was a stuffed monkey.”
It may have been the sight of the gun, or it may have been a
masterful quality in the Anglo-Saxon voice, that inspired the negro
with a respect he had not hitherto entertained for his new owner, for
he rose at once and went into his room.
At dusk Mrs. Gill waddled to the closed door of his apartment and
rapped respectfully. She heard the bed creaking as if Big Joe were
rising, and then he cautiously opened the door and with downcast eyes
waited for her to make her wishes known.
“Supper is ready,” she announced, in a voice which, despite her
strength of character, quivered a little, “an' before settin' down to
it, I thought thar would be no harm in askin' if thar's anything that
would strike yore fancy. When it gits a little darker I could blind a
chicken on the roost an' fry it, or I could make you some thick flour
soup with sliced dumplin's.”
She saw him wince as he tore himself from the temptation she had
laid before him, but he spoke quite firmly.
“I ain't a-goin' t'eat any more in this worl',” he said.
“Well, I reckon you won't gorge yorese'f in the next,” said Mrs.
Gill, “but I want to say that what you are contemplatin' is a sin.” She
turned back into the cabin and sat at the table and poured her
husband's coffee in disturbed silence.
“I believe on my soul he's gain' to make a die of it,” she said,
after a while, as she sat munching a piece of dry bread, having no
appetite at all. And Gill, deeply troubled, could make no reply.
It was their habit to go to bed as soon as supper was over, so when
they rose from the table Mrs. Gill turned down the covers of the
high-posted bed and beat the pillows. Before barring the cabin door,
she scrutinized the closed shutter directly opposite, but all was still
as death in the room of the slave.
For the first night in many years the old pair found they could not
sleep, their brains being still active with the first great problem of
their lives. The little clock struck ten. The silence of the night was
disturbed by the shrilling of tree-frogs and the occasional cry of the
Suddenly Gill sprang up with a little grunt of alarm. “What's that?”
“It sounded powerful like somebody a-groanin',” whispered Mrs. Gill.
“Oh, Lordy, Peter, I have a awful feelin'!”
“I'll git up an' see what's ailin' 'im,” said Gill, a little more
calmly. “Mebby the idiot has done without food till he's took cramps.”
Dressing himself hastily, he went outside. A pencil of yellow light
was streaming through a crack beneath Big Joe's door. Gill had not put
on his shoes, and his feet fell softly on the grass. Putting his ear to
the door of the negro's room, he overheard low groans and words which
sounded like a prayer, repeated over and over in a sing-song fashion.
Later he heard something like the sobbing of a big- chested man.
“Open up!” cried Gill, shaking the door; “open up, I say!”
The vocal demonstration within ceased, and there was a clatter in
the vicinity of the bed, as if Big Joe were rising to his feet. The
farmer repeated his firm command, and the shutter slowly opened. The
negro looked like a giant in the dim light of the tallow-dip on a table
“Was that you a-makin' all that noise?” asked Gill.
“I wus prayin', suh,” answered Big Joe, his face in the shadow.
“Oh, that was it; I didn't know!” Gill was trying to master a most
irritating awkwardness on his part; in questions of religious ceremony
he always allowed for individual taste. Passing the negro, he went into
the cabin and lifted the tallow-dip above his head and looked about the
room suspiciously. “You was jest a-prayin', eh?”
“Yes, suh; I was a-prayin' to de Gre't Marster ter tek me off on a
bed o' ease, sence I hatter go anyway. Er death er starvation ain't no
Gill sat down on the negro's bed. He crossed his legs and swung a
bare foot to and fro in a nervous, jerky manner.
“Looky' heer,” he said finally to the black profile in the doorway,
“you are a plagued mystery to me. What in the name o' all possessed do
you hanker after a box in the cold ground fer?”
The slave seemed slightly taken aback by the blunt directness of
this query; he left the door and sat down heavily in a chair at the
fireplace. “Huh!” he grunted, “is you been all dis time en not fin' out
what my trouble is?”
“Ef I did know I wouldn't be settin' heer at this time o'
night, losin' my nattral sleep to ask about it,” was the tart reply.
The negro grunted again. “Do you know Marse Whit's Liza?” he asked,
“I believe I've seed 'er once or twice,” Gill told him. “A
fine-lookin' wench—about the color of a sorghum ginger-cake. Is she
the one you mean?”
The big man nodded. “Me'n her was gwine ter git married, but Marse
Whit' hatter go'n trade 'er off ter Marse Stafford, en Marse Stafford
is done give 'er 'er freedom yistiddy.”
“Ah, he set 'er free, did he?” Gill stared, and by habit awkwardly
stroked that part of his face where a beard used to grow.
“Yes, suh; Marse Gill, he done set 'er free, en now a free nigger is
flyin' roun' her. She won't marry no slave now, suh!”
Gill drew a full breath and stood up. “Then it wasn't becase you
thought yorese'f so much better'n me'n my wife that you wanted to dump
yorese'f into eternity?”
“No, suh; dat wasn't in my min', suh.”
“Well, I'm powerful glad o' that, Joe,” responded Gill, “becase
neither me nor my wife ever harmed a kink in yore head. Now, the gospel
truth is, I was drawed into this whole business ag'in' my wishes, an'
me an' Lucretia would give a lots to be well out of it. Now, I don't
want to be the cause o' that free nigger walkin' off with yore
intrusts, so heer's what I'll do. Ef you'll ride in town with me in the
mornin' I'll git a lawyer to draw up as clean a set o' freedom papers
as you ever laid your peepers on. What do you say?”
Big Joe's eyes expanded until they seemed all white, with dark holes
in the center. For a minute he sat like a statue, as silent as the wall
behind him; then he said, with a deep breath: “Marse Gill, is you in
earnest—my Gawd! is you?”
“As the Almighty is my judge, in whose presence I set at this
The negro covered his face with a pair of big, quivering hands.
“Den I don't know what ter say, Marse Gill. I never expected to be a
free man, en I had give up hope er ever seein' Liza again. Oh, Marse
Gill, you sho' is one er His chosen flock!”
Gill was so deeply moved that when he ventured on a reply he found
difficulty in steadying his speech. His voice had a quality that was
new to it. He spoke as gently as if he were promising recovery to a
“Now, Joe, you crawl back in bed an' sleep,” he said, “an' in the
mornin' you'll be free, as shore as the sun rises on us both.”
Then he went back to bed and told his wife what he had done.
“I'm powerful glad we can git out of it so easy,” she commented.
“It's funny I never thought o' settin' 'im free. It looked to me like
he was a-goin' to be a burden that we never could git rid of, an' now
it's a-goin' to end all right in the Lord's sight.”
They were just dozing off in peaceable slumber when they heard a
gentle rap on the door.
“It's me, Marse Gill,” came from the outside. “I'm mighty sorry to
wake you ag'in, but I'm so hungry I don't think I kin wait till
“Well, I reckon you do feel kinder empty,” laughed the farmer as he
sprang out of bed. He lighted a candle, and following the specter—like
signals of his wife, who sat up in bed, he soon found the meal she had
arranged for the slave at noon. “Thar,” he said, as he handed it
through the doorway; “I had clean forgot yore fast was over.”
The next morning the farmer and Big Joe drove to town, two miles
distant. Gill was gone all day and did not return till dusk. His wife
went out to meet him at the wagonshed.
“How did you make out?” she asked.
“Tip-top,” he said, with a laugh. “As we went to town, nothin' would
do the black scamp but we must go by after the gal. She happened to be
dressed up, an' went to town with us. I set in front an' driv', while
they done their courtin' on the back seat. I soon got the papers in
shape, an' Squire Ridley spliced 'em right on the sidewalk in front o'
his office. A big crowd was thar, an' you never heerd the like o'
yellin'. Some o' the boys, jest fer pure devilment, picked me up an'
carried me on their shoulders to the tavern an' made me set down to a
hearty dinner. Joe borrowed a apron from the cook an' insisted on
waitin' on me. La me, I wisht you'd 'a' been than I felt like a blamed
“I reckon you did have a lots o' fun,” said Mrs. Gill. “Well, I'm
glad he ain't on our hands. I wouldn't pass another day like yistiddy
fer all the slaves in Georgia.
THE WHIPPING OF UNCLE HENRY
“I do believe,” said Mrs. Pelham, stooping to look through the
oblong window of the milk- and-butter cellar toward the great barn
across the farmyard, “I do believe Cobb an' Uncle Henry are fussin'
“Shorely not,” answered her old-maid sister, Miss Molly Meyers. She
left her butter bowl and paddles, and bent her angular figure beside
Mrs. Pelham, to see the white man and the black man who were
gesticulating in each other's faces under the low wagon-shed that
leaned against the barn.
The old women strained their ears to overhear what was said, but the
stiff breeze from across the white-and-brown fields of cotton
stretching toward the west bore the angry words away. Mrs. Pelham
turned and drew the white cloths over her milkpans.
“Cobb will never manage them niggers in the world” she sighed.
“Henry has had Old Nick in 'im as big as a house ever since Mr. Pelham
went off an' left Cobb in charge. Uncle Henry hadn't minded one word
Cobb has said, nur he won't. The whole crop is goin' to rack an' ruin.
Thar's jest one thing to be done. Mr. Pelham has jest got to come home
an' whip Henry. Nobody else could do it, an' he never will behave till
it's done. Cobb tried to whip 'im t'other day when you was over the
mountain, but Henry laid hold of a axhelve an' jest dared Cobb to tech
'im. That ended it. Cobb was afeard of 'im. Moreover, he's afeard Uncle
Henry will put p'ison in his victuals, or do 'im or his family some
bodily damage on the sly.”
“It would be a powerful pity,” returned Miss Molly, “fer Mr. Pelham
to have to lay down his business in North Carolina, whar he's got so
awful much to do, an' ride all that three hundred miles jest fer to
whip one nigger. It looks like some other way mought be thought of.
Couldn't you use your influence—”
“I've talked till I'm tired out,” Mrs. Pelham interrupted.”Uncle
Henry promises an' forms good resolutions, it seems like, but the very
minute Cobb wants 'im to do some'n a little different from Mr. Pelham's
way, Henry won't stir a peg. He jest hates the ground Cobb walks on.
Well, I reckon Cobb ain't much of a man. He never would work a
lick, an' if he couldn't git a job overseein' somebody's niggers he'd
let his family starve to death. Nobody kin hate a lazy, good-for-nothin' white man like a nigger kin. Thar Cobb comes now, to complain
to me, I reckon,” added Mrs. Pelham, going back to the window. “An'
bless your soul, Henry has took his seat out in the sun on the
wagon-tongue, as big as life. I reckon the whole crop will go to rack
The next moment a tall, thin-visaged man with gray hair and beard
stood in the cellar door.
“I'm jest about to the end o' my tether, Sister Pelham.” (He always
called her “Sister,” because they were members of the same church.) “I
can't get that black rascal to stir a step. I ordered Alf an' Jake to
hold 'im, so I could give 'im a sound lashin', but they was afeard to
Mrs. Pelham looked at him over her glasses as she wiped her damp
hands on her apron.
“You don't know how to manage niggers, Brother Cobb; I didn't much
'low you did the day Mr. Pelham left you in charge. The fust mornin',
you went to the field with that hosswhip in your hand, an' you've toted
it about ever since. You mought know that would give offense. Mr.
Pelham never toted one an' yore doin' of it looks like you 'lowed you'd
have a use fer it.”
“I acknowledge I don't know what to do,” said Cobb, frowning down
her reference to his whip. “I've been paid fer three months' work in
advance, in the white mare an' colt Mr. Pelham give me, an' I've done
sold 'em an' used the money. I'm free to confess that Brother Pelham's
intrusts are bein' badly protected as things are goin'; but I've done
“I reckon you have,” answered Mrs. Pelham, with some scorn in her
tone. “I reckon you have, accordin' to your ability an' judgment, an'
we can't afford to lose your services after you've been paid. Thar is
jest one thing left to do, an' that is fer Mr. Pelham to come home an'
whip Henry. He's sowin' discord an' rebellion, an' needs a good, sound
lashin'. The sooner it's done the better. Nobody can do it but Mr.
Pelham, an' I'm goin' in now an' write the letter an' send it off. In
the mean time, you'd better go on to work with the others, an' leave
Henry alone till his master comes.”
“Brother Pelham is the only man alive that could whip 'im,” replied
Cobb; “but it looks like a great pity an' expense for Brother Pel—“
But the planter's wife had passed him and gone up the steps into the
sitting-room. Cobb walked across the barnyard without looking at the
stalwart negro sitting on the wagon- tongue. He threw his whip down at
the barn, and he and half a dozen negroes went to the hayfields over
the knoll toward the creek.
In half an hour Mrs. Pelham, wearing her gingham bonnet, came out to
where Uncle Henry still sat sulking in the sun. As she approached him,
she pushed back her bonnet till her gray hair and glasses showed
“Henry,” she said, sternly, “I've jest done a thing that I hated
mightily to do.”
“What's that, Mis' Liza?” He looked up as he asked the question, and
then hung his head shamefacedly. He was about forty-five years of age.
For one of his race he had a strong, intelligent face. Indeed, he
possessed far more intelligence than the average negro. He was
considered the most influential slave on any of the half-dozen
plantations lying along that side of the river. He had learned to read,
and by listening to the conversation of white people had (if he had
acquired the colloquial speech of the middle-class whites) dropped
almost every trace of the dialect current among his people. And on this
he prided himself no little. He often led in prayer at the colored
meeting-house on an adjoining plantation, and some of his prayers were
more widely quoted and discussed than many of the sermons preached in
the same church.
“I have wrote to yore master, Henry,” answered Mrs. Pelham, “an'
I've tol' 'im all yore doin's, an' tol' him to come home an' whip you
fer disobeyin' Brother Cobb. I hated to do it, as I've jest said; but I
couldn't see no other way out of the difficulty. Don't you think you
deserve a whippin', Uncle Henry?”
“I don't know, Mis' Liza.” He did not look up from the grass over
which he swung his rag-covered leg and gaping brogan. “I don't know
myself, Mis' Liza. I want to help Marse Jasper out all I can while he
is off, but it seems like I jest can't work fer that man. Huh,
overseer! I say overseer! Why, Mis' Liza, he ain't as good as a nigger!
Thar ain't no pore white trash in all this valley country as low down
as all his lay-out. He ain't fittin' fer a overseer of nothin'. He
don't do anything like master did, nohow. He's too lazy to git in out
of a rain. He—”
“That will do, Henry. Mr. Pelham put him over you, an' you've
disobeyed. He'll be home in a few days, an' you an' him can settle it
between you. He will surely give you a good whippin' when he gits here.
Are you goin' to sit thar without layin' yore hand to a thing till he
“Now, you know me better'n that, Mis' Liza. I've done said I won't
mind that man, an' I reckon I won't; but the meadow-piece has obliged
to be broke an' sowed in wheat. I'm goin' to do that jest as soon as
the blacksmith fetches my bull-tongue plow.”
Mrs. Pelham turned away silently. She had heard some talk of the
government buying the negroes from their owners and setting them free.
She ardently hoped this would be done, for she was sure they could then
be hired cheaper than they could be owned and provided for. She
disliked to see a negro whipped; but occasionally she could see no
other way to make them do their duty.
From the dairy window, a few minutes later, she saw Uncle Henry put
the gear on a mule, and, with a heavy plow-stock on his shoulder, start
for the wheat-field beyond the meadow.
“He'll do two men's work over thar, jest to show what he kin do when
he's let alone,” she said to Miss Molly. “I hate to see 'im whipped.
He's too old an' sensible in most things, an' it would jest break
Lucinda's heart Mr. Pelham had ruther cut off his right arm, too; but
he'll do it, an' do it good, after havin' to come so far.”
Mr. Pelham was a week in reaching the plantation. He wrote that it
would take several days to arrange his affairs so that he could leave.
He admitted that there was nothing left to do except to whip Uncle
Henry soundly, and that they were right in thinking that Henry would
not let any one do it but himself. After the whipping he was sure that
the negro would obey Cobb, and that matters would then move along
When Mr. Pelham arrived, he left the stage at the cross-roads, half
a mile from his house, and carpet-bag in hand, walked home through his
own fields. He was a short, thick-set man of about sixty, round- faced,
blue-eyed, and gray-haired. He wore a sack-coat, top- boots, and baggy
trousers. He had a good- natured, kindly face, and walked with the
quick step and general air of a busy man.
He had traveled three hundred miles, slept on the hard seat of a
jolting train, eaten railroad pies and peanuts, and was covered with
the grime of a dusty journey, all to whip one disobedient negro. Still,
he was not out of humor, and after the whipping and lecture to his old
servant he would travel back over the tiresome route and resume his
business where he had left it.
His wife and sister-in-law were in the kitchen when they heard his
step in the long hall. They went into the sitting-room, where he had
put down his carpet-bag, and in the center of the floor stood swinging
his hat and mopping his brow with his red handkerchief. He shook hands
with the two women, and then sat down in his old seat in the chimney-corner.
“You want a bite to eat, an' a cup of coffee, I reckon,” said Mrs.
“No, I kin wait till dinner. Whar's Cobb?”
“I seed 'im at the wagon-shed a minute ago,” spoke up Miss Molly;
“he was expectin' you, an' didn't go to the field with the balance.”
“Tell 'im I want to see 'im.”
Both of the women went out, and the overseer came in.
“Bad state of affairs, Brother Cobb,” said the planter, as he shook
hands. They both sat down with their knees to the embers.
“That it is, Brother Pelham, an' I take it you didn't count on it
any more'n I did.”
“Never dreamt of it. Has he been doin' any better since he heerd I
was comin' to—whip 'im?”
“Not fer me, Brother Pelham. He hadn't done a lick fer me; but all
of his own accord, in the last week, he has broke and sowed all that
meadow-piece in wheat, an' is now harrowin' it down to hide it from the
birds. To do 'im jestice, I hadn't seed so much work done in six days
by any human bein' alive. He'll work for hisse'f, but he won't budge
Mr. Pelham broke into a soft, impulsive laugh, as if at the memory
“They all had a big joke on me out in North Carolina,” he said. “I
tol' 'em I was comin' home to whip a nigger, an' they wouldn't believe
a word of it. I reckon it is the fust time a body ever went so fur on
sech business. They 'lowed I was jest homesick an' wanted a' excuse to
“They don't know what a difficult subject we got to handle,” Cobb
replied. “You are, without doubt, the only man in seven states that
could whip 'im, Brother Pelham. I believe on my soul he'd kill anybody
else that'd tech 'im. He's got the strangest notions about the rights
of niggers I ever heerd from one of his kind. He's jest simply
“You're afeard of 'im, Brother Cobb, an' he's sharp enough to see
it; that's all.”
The overseer winced. “I don't reckon I'm any more so than any other
white man would be under the same circumstances. Henry mought not
strike back lick fer lick on the spot—I say he mought not; an' then
ag'in he mought—but he'd git even by some hook or crook, or I'm no
judge o' niggers.”
Mr. Pelham rose. “Whar is he?”
“Over in the wheat-field.”
“Well, you go over thar n' tell 'im I'm here, an' to come right away
down in the woods by the gum spring. I'll go down an' cut some hickory
withes an' wait fer 'im. The quicker it's done an' over, the deeper the
impression will be made on 'im. You see, I want 'im to realize that all
this trip is jest solely on his account. I'll start back early in the
mornin'. That will have its weight on his future conduct. An', Brother
Cobb, I can't—I jest can't afford to be bothered ag'in. My
business out thar at the lumber-camp won't admit of it. This whippin'
has got to do fer the rest of the year. I think he'll mind you when I
git through with 'im. I like 'im better'n any slave I ever owned, an'
I'd a thousand times ruther take the whippin' myself; but it's got to
Cobb took himself to Henry in the wheatfield, and the planter went
down into the edge of the woods near the spring. With his pocket- knife
he cut two slender hickory switches about five feet in length. He
trimmed off the out- shooting twigs and knots, and rounded the butts
From where he sat on a fallen log, he could see, across the boggy
swamp of bulrushes, the slight rise on which Henry was at work. He
could hear Henry's mellow, resonant “Haw” and “Gee,” as he drove his
mule and harrow from end to end of the field, and saw Cobb slowly
making his way toward him.
Mr. Pelham laid the switches down beside him, put his knife in his
pocket, and stroked his chin thoughtfully. Suddenly he felt a tight
sensation in his throat. The solitary figure of the negro as he trudged
along by the harrow seemed vaguely pathetic. Henry had always been such
a noble fellow, so reliable and trustworthy. They had really been, in
one way, more like brothers than master and slave. He had told Henry
secrets that he had confided to no other human being, and they had
laughed and cried together over certain adventures and sorrows. About
ten years before, Mr. Pelham's horse had run away and thrown him
against a tree and broken his leg. Henry had heard his cries and run to
him. They were two miles from the farmhouse, and it was a bitterly cold
day, but the stalwart negro had taken him in his arms and carried him
home and laid him down on his bed. There had been a great deal of
excitement about the house, and it was not until after the doctor had
come and dressed the broken limb that it was learned that Henry had
fallen in a swoon in his cabin and lain there unconscious for an hour,
his wife and children being away. Indeed, he had been almost as long
recovering as had been his master.
Henry had stopped his mule. Cobb had called to him, and was
approaching. Then Mr. Pelham knew that the overseer was delivering his
message, for the negro had turned his head and was looking toward the
woods which hid his master from view. Mr. Pelham felt himself flush all
over. Could he be going to whip Henry—really to lash his bare back
with those switches? How strange it seemed all at once! And that this
should be their first meeting after a two months' separation!
In his home-comings before, Uncle Henry had always been the first to
meet him with outstretched hand. But the negro had to be whipped. Mr.
Pelham had said it in North Carolina; he had said it to Cobb, and he
had written it to his wife. Yes, it must be done; and if done at all,
of course it must be done right.
He saw Henry hitch his mule to a chestnut- tree in the field and
Cobb turn to make his way back to the farm-house. Then he watched Henry
approaching till the bushes which skirted the field hid him from view.
There was no sound for several minutes except the rustling of the
fallen leaves in the woods behind him, and then Uncle Henry's head and
shoulders appeared above the broom-sedge near by.
“Howdy do, Marse Jasper?” he cried; and the next instant he broke
through the yellow sedge and stood before his master.
“Purty well, Henry.” Mr. Pelham could not refuse the black hand
which was extended, and which caught his with a hearty grasp. “I hope
you are as well as common, Henry?”
“Never better in my life, Marse Jasper.”
The planter had risen, but he now sat down beside his switches. For
a moment nothing was said. Uncle Henry awkwardly bent his body and his
neck to see if his mule were standing where he had left him, and his
master looked steadfastly at the ground.
“Sit down, Henry,” he said, presently; and the negro took a seat on
the extreme end of the log and folded his black, seamed hands over his
knee. “I want to talk to you first of all. Something of a very
unpleasant, unavoidable nature has got to take place betwixt us, an' I
want to give you a sound talkin' to beforehan'.”
“All right, Marse Jasper; I'm a-listenin'.” Henry looked again
toward his mule. “I did want to harrow that wheat down 'fore them birds
eat it up; but I got time, I reckon.”
The planter coughed and cleared his throat. He tried to cross his
short, fat legs by sliding the right one up to the knee of the left,
but owing to the lowness of the log, he was unable to do this, so he
left his legs to themselves, and with a hand on either side of him,
“Do you remember, Uncle Henry, twenty years ago, when you belonged
to old Heaton Pelzer an' got to hankerin' after that yellow girl of
mine jest after I bought her in South Carolina?”
“Mighty plain, Master Jasper, mighty plain.”
Henry's face showed a tendency to smile at the absurdity of the
“Lucinda was jest as much set after you, it seemed,” went on the
planter. “Old Pelzer was workin' you purty nigh to death on his pore,
wore-out land, an' pointedly refused to buy Lucinda so you could marry
her, nur he wouldn't consent to you marryin' a slave of mine. Ain't
“Yes, Marse Jasper, that's so, sir.”
“I had jest as many niggers as I could afford to keep, an' a sight
more. I was already up to my neck in debt, an' to buy you I knowed I'd
have to borrow money an' mortgage the last thing I had. But you come to
me night after night, when you could sneak off, an' begged an' begged
to be bought, so that I jest didn't have the heart to refuse. So, jest
to accommodate you, I got up the money an' bought you, payin' fully a
third more fer you than men of yore age was goin' at. You are married
now, an' got three as likely children as ever come into the world, an'
a big buxom wife that loves you, an' if I haven't treated you an' them
right I never heerd of it.”
“Never was a better master on earth, Marse Jasper. If thar is, I
hadn't never seed 'im.” Henry's face was full of emotion. He picked up
his slouch hat from the grass and folded it awkwardly on the log beside
“From that day till this,” the planter went on, “I've been over my
head in debt, an' I can really trace it to that transaction. It was the
straw that broke the camel's back, as the feller said. Well, now,
Henry, six months ago, when I saw that openin' to deal in lumber in
North Carolina, it seemed to me to be my chance to work out of debt, if
I could jest find somebody to look after my farm. I found a man, Henry
—a good, clever, honest man, as everybody said, an' a member of Big
Bethel Church. For a certain consideration he agreed to take charge.
That consideration I've paid in advance, an' it's gone; I couldn't git
“Now, how has it turned out? I had hardly got started out thar
before one of my niggers—the very one I relied on the most—has
played smash with all my plans. You begun by turnin' up yore nose at
Brother Cobb, an' then by openly disobeyin' 'im. Then he tried to
punish you—the right that the law gives a overseer—an' you up an'
dared him to tech you, an'—”
“Hold yore tongue till I'm through.”
“All right, Marse Jasper, but—”
“You openly defied 'im, that's enough; you broke up the order of the
whole thing, an' yore mistress was so upset that she had to send fer
me. Now, Henry, I hadn't never laid the lash on you in my life, an' I'd
rusher take it myself than to have to do it, but I hadn't come three
hundred miles jest to talk to you. I'm goin' to whip you, Henry, an'
I'm goin' to do it right, if thar's enough strength in my arm. You
needn't shake yore head an' sulk. No matter what you refused to let
Cobb an' the rest of 'em do, you are a-goin' to take what I'm goin' to
give you without a word, because you know it's just an' right.”
Henry's face was downcast, and his master could not see his eyes,
but a strange, rebellious fire had suddenly kindled in them, and he was
stubbornly silent. Mr. Pelham could not have dreamed of what was
passing in his mind.
“Henry, you an' me are both religious men,” said the planter, after
he had waited for a moment. “Let's kneel right down here by this log
an' commune with the Lord on this matter.”
Without a word the negro rose and knelt, his face in his hands, his
elbows on the log. There never had been a moment when Uncle Henry was
not ready to pray or listen to a prayer. He prided himself on his own
powers in that line, and had unbounded respect even for the less
skillful efforts of others. Mr. Pelham knelt very deliberately and
began to pray:
“Our heavenly Father, it is with extreme sadness an' sorrow that we
come to Thee this bright, sunny day. Our sins have been many, an' we
hardly know when our deeds are acceptable in Thy sight; but bless all
our efforts, we pray Thee, for the sake of Him that died for us, an'
let us not walk into error in our zeal to do Thy holy will.
“Lord, Thou knowest the hearts of Thy humble supplicant an' this man
beside him. Thou, through the existin' laws of this land, hast put him
into my care an' keepin' an' made me responsible to a human law for his
good or bad behavior. Lord, on this occasion it seems my duty to punish
him for disobedience, an' we pray Thee to sanction what is about to
take place with Thy grace. Let no 66 anger or malice rest in our hearts
during the performance of this disagreeable task, an' let the whole
redound to Thy glory, for ever an' ever, through the mercy of Thy Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Mr. Pelham rose to his feet stiffly, for he had touches of
rheumatism, and the ground was cold. He brushed his trousers, and laid
hold of his switches. But to his surprise, Henry had not risen. If it
had not been for the stiffness of his elbows; and the upright position
of his long feet, which stood on their toes erect as gate-posts, Mr.
Pelham might have thought that he had dropped asleep.
For a moment the planter stood silent, glancing first at the mass of
ill-clothed humanity at his feet, and then sweeping his eyes over the
quiet, rolling land which lay between him and the farmhouse. How
awfully still everything was! He saw Henry's cabin near the farmhouse.
Lucinda was out in the yard picking up chips, and one of Uncle Henry's
children was clinging to her skirts. The planter was very fond of
Lucinda, and he wondered what she would do if she knew he was about to
whip her husband. But why did the fellow not get up? Surely that was an
unusual way to act. In some doubt as to what he ought to do, Mr. Pelham
sat down again. It should not be said of him that he had ever
interrupted any man's prayers to whip him. As he sat down, the log
rolled slightly, the elbows of the negro slid off the bark, and Henry's
head almost came in contact with the log. But he took little notice of
the accident, and glancing at his master from the corner of his eye, he
deliberately replaced his elbows, pressed his hands together, and began
to pray aloud:
“Our heavenly Father.” These words were spoken in a deep, sonorous
tone, and as Uncle Henry paused for an instant the echoes groaned and
murmured and died against the hill behind him. Mr. Pelham bowed his
head to his hand. He had heard Henry pray before, and now he dreaded
hearing him, he hardly knew why. He felt a strange creeping sensation
in his spine.
“Our heavenly Father,” the slave repeated, in his mellow sing-song
tone, “Thou knowest that I am Thy humble servant. Thou knowest that I
have brought to Thee all my troubles since my change of heart—that I
have left nothing hidden from Thee, who art my Maker, my Redeemer, an'
my Lord. Thou knowest that I have for a long time harbored the belief
that the black man has some rights that he don't git under existin'
laws, but which, Thy will be done, will come in due time, like the
harvest follows the plantin'. Thou knowest, an' I know, that Henry
Pelham is nigher to Thee than a dumb brute, an' that it ain't no way to
lift a nigger up to beat 'im like a horse or a ox. I have said this to
Thee in secret prayer, time an' ag'in, an' Thou knowest how I stand on
it, if my master don't. Thou knowest that before Thee I have vowed that
I would die before any man, white or black, kin beat the blood out'n my
back. I may have brought trouble an' vexation to Marse Jasper, I don't
dispute that, but he had no business puttin' me under that low-down,
white-trash overseer an' goin' off so far. Heavenly Father, thou
knowest I love Marse Jasper, an' I would work fer 'im till I die; but
he is ready to put the lash to me an' disgrace me before my wife an'
children. Give my arms strength, Lord, to defend myself even against
him—against him who has, up to now, won my respect an' love by
forbearance an' kindness. He has said it, Lord—he has said that he
will whip me; but I've said, also, that no man shall do it. Give me
strength to battle fer the right, an' if he is hurt—bad hurt—may
the Lord have mercy on him! This I ask through the mercy an' the blood
of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Henry rose awkwardly to his feet and looked down at his master, who
sat silent on the log. Mr. Pelham's face was pale. There was a look of
indecision under the pallor. He held one of the switches by the butt in
his hand, and with its tapering end tapped the brown leaves between his
legs. He looked at the imperturbable countenance of the negro for fully
a minute before he spoke.
“Do you mean to say, Henry,” he asked, “that you are a-goin' to
resist me by force?”
“I reckon I am, Marse Jasper, if nothin' else won't do you. That's
what I have promised the Lord time an' ag'in since Cobb come to boss
me. I wasn't thinkin' about you then, Marse Jasper, because I didn't
'low you ever would try such a thing; but I said any white man,
an' I can't take it back.”
The planter looked up at the stalwart man towering over him. Henry
could toss him about like a ball. In his imagination he had pictured
the faithful fellow bowed before him, patiently submitting to his
blows, but the present contingency had never entered his mind. He tried
to be angry, but the good natured face of the slave he loved made it
“Sit down thar, Henry,” he said; and when the negro had obeyed, he
continued, almost appealingly: “I have told the folks in North Carolina
that I was comin' home to whip you, you see. I have told yore mistress,
an' I have told Cobb. I'll look like a purty fool if I don't do it.”
A regretful softness came into the face of the negro, and he hung
his head, and for a moment picked at the bark of the log with his long
“I'm mighty sorry, Marse Jasper,” he answered, after remaining
silent for a while. “But you see I've done promised the Lord; you
wouldn't have me—what do all them folks amount to beside the Lord?
No; a body ought to be careful about what he's promised the Almighty.”
Mr. Pelham had no reply forthcoming. He realized that he was simply
not going to whip Uncle Henry, and he did not want to appear ridiculous
in the eyes of his friends. The negro saw by his master's silence that
he was going to escape punishment, and that made him more humble and
sympathetic than ever. He was genuinely sorry for his master.
“You have done told 'em all you was goin' to whip me, I know, Marse
Jasper; but why don't you jest let 'em think you done it? I don't keer,
jest so I kin keep my word. Lucinda ain't a-goin' to believe I'd take
At this loophole of escape the face of the planter brightened. For a
moment he felt like grasping Henry's hand: then a cloud came over his
“But,” he demurred, “what about yore future conduct? Will you mind
what Cobb tells you?”
“I jest can't do that, Marse Jasper. Me 'n him jest can't git along
together. He ain't no man at all.”
“Well, what on earth am I to do? I've got to have an overseer, an'
I've got to go back to North Carolina.”
“You don't have to have no overseer fer me, Marse Jasper. Have I
ever failed to keep a promise to you, Marse Jasper?”
“No; but I can't be here.”
“I'll tell you what I'll do, Marse Jasper. Would you be satisfied
with my part of the work if I tend all the twenty-acre piece beyond my
cabin, an' make a good crop on it, an' look after all the cattle an'
stock, an' clear the woodland on the hill an' cord up the firewood?
“You couldn't do it, Henry.”
“I'll come mighty nigh it, Marse Jasper, if you'll let me be my own
boss en' tee responsible to you when you git back. Mr. Cobb kin boss
the rest of 'em. They don't keer how much he swings his whip an' struts
“Henry, I'll do it. I can trust you a sight better than I can Cobb.
I know you will keep yore word. But you will not say anything about—
“Not a word, Marse Jasper. They all may 'low I'm half dead, if they
want to.” Then the two men laughed together heartily and parted.
The overseer and the two white women were waiting for Mr. Pelham in
the backyard as he emerged from the woods and came toward the house.
Mrs. Pelham opened the gate for him, scanning his face anxiously.
“I was afeard you an' Henry had had some difficulty,” she said, in a
tone of relief; “he has been that hard to manage lately.'
Mr. Pelham grunted and laughed in disdain.
“I'll bet he was the hardest you ever tackled,” ventured Cobb.
“Anybody can manage him,” the planter replied—“anybody that has
got enough determination. You see Henry knows me.”
“But do you think he'll obey my orders after you go back?” Cobb had
followed Mr. Pelham into the sitting-room, and he anxiously waited for
the reply to his question.
The planter stooped to spit into a corner of the chimney, and then
slowly and thoughtfully stroked his chin with his hand. “That's the
only trouble, Brother Cobb,” he said, thrusting his fat hands into the
pockets of his trousers and turning his back to the fire-place; “that's
the only drawback. To be plain with you, Brother Cobb, I'm afeard you
don't inspire respect; men that don't own niggers seldom do. I believe
on my soul that nigger would die fightin' before he'd obey yore orders.
To tell the truth, I had to arrange a plan, an' that is one reason—
one reason—why I was down thar so long. After what happened today"
(Mr. Pelham spoke significantly and stroked his chin again) “he'll mind
me jest as well at a distance as if I was here on the spot. He'd have a
mortal dread of havin' me come so fur again.”
“I hope you wasn't cruel, Mr. Pelham,” said Mrs. Pelham, who had
just come in. “Henry's so good-hearted—”
“Oh, he'll git over it,” replied the planter, ambiguously. “But, as
I was goin' on to say, I had to fix another plan. I have set him a sort
o' task to do while I'm away, an' I believe he'll do it, Brother Cobb.
So all you'll have to do will be to look after the other niggers.”
The plan suited Cobb exactly; but when Mr. Pelham came home the
following summer it was hard to hear him say that Uncle Henry had
accomplished more than any three of the other negroes.
A FILIAL IMPULSE
“Yo' 're purty well fixed, Jim; I wish I had yore business.”
Big Jim Bradley glanced slowly around his store. The heaps of
flour-sacks, coffee-bags, sugar-barrels, piles of bacon, crates of
hams, kits of mackerel, and the long rows of well-filled shelves
brought a flush of satisfaction into his rugged face.
“Hain't no reason to complain, Bob,” he said; “you've been in
Georgia, an' you know how blamed hard it is fer a feller to make his
salt back thar.”
“Now yo' 're a-talkin'—yo' 're a-sayin' some'n' now!” Bob Lash was
sitting on the head of a potato-barrel, eating cheese and crackers, and
his spirited words were interspersed with little snowy puffs from the
corners of his mouth. “Jim,” he continued, in a muffled tone, as he
eased his feet down to the floor, “I'm a-goin' to wash this dry truck
down with a glass o' yore cider; I'm about to choke. Thar's yore
nickel. You needn't rise; I can wait on myse'f.”
“I'd keep my eye open while he was behind the counter, Jim,” put in
Henry Webb, jestingly. “Bob's got a swallow like a mill-race. He may
take a notion to drink out of yore half-gallon measure.”
“Had to drink out'n a thimble, or some'n' 'bout the size of it, at
yore place when you kept a bar,” gurgled Bob in the cider-glass. “But I
hain't nothin' ag'in you; the small doses of the stuff you sold was all
that saved my life.”
The flashily dressed young man sitting at Webb's side laughed and
slapped him familiarly on the knee. His name was Thornton. He used to
mix drinks” for Webb, and had been out of employment ever since his
employer's establishment had been closed by the sheriff, a few months
before. “One on you, Harry,” he said, laughing again at the comical
expression on his friend's face; “you have to get up before day to get
the best o' these Georgia mossbacks.”
Webb said nothing; and Bob, blushing triumphantly under Thornton's
compliment, and chewing a chip of dried beef that he had found on the
counter, came back to his seat on the barrel.
“Well, I reckon I have done middlin' well,” said Jim,
bringing the conversation back to his own affairs with as much
adroitness as he was capable of exercising. “I didn't have a dollar to
my name when I stuck this town, ten year back. I started as a waiter in
a restaurant nigh the railroad shops, then run a lemonade-stand at the
park, an' by makin' every lick count, I gradually worked up to this
Henry Webb seemed to grow serious. He glanced stealthily at Thornton
when Jim was not looking, crossed his legs nervously, and said: “Jim,
me an' you have been dickerin' long enough; all this roundabout talk
don't bring us an inch nearer a trade. Now I'm goin' to make you my
last proposition about this stock o' goods. My wife got her money out
of her minin' interest to-day, an' wants to put it in some regular
business o' this sort. I'm goin' to make you a round bid on the whole
thing, lock, stock, and barrel, an', on my honor, it's my last offer.
I'll give you ten thousand dollars in cash fer the key to the door.”
Everybody in the group was fully conscious of the vital importance
of the words which had just been spoken. Webb, who was a famous
poker-player, had never controlled his face and tone better. No one
spoke for a moment, but all eyes were fixed expectantly on Bradley.
“Huh,” he answered, half under his breath, “I reckon you would!” He
tossed his shaggy, iron-gray head and smiled artificially. His face was
pale, and his eyes shone with suppressed excitement. It was a better
offer than he had expected; in fact, he had not realized before that
his stock was convertible into quite so much ready money, and it was
hard for him, simple and honest as he was, to keep from showing
surprise. “Harry Webb,” he went on, evasively, “do you have any idee
what I cleared last year, not countin' bad debts an' expenses? I'm over
three thousand ahead, an' prospects fer trade never was better. My
books will show you that I am a-givin' it to you straight.”
Webb made no reply. If he had been as sure of his own moral worth as
he was of Jim's he would have been a better man. As it was, he only
looked significantly at Thornton, who had evidently come prepared to
play a part.
“It ain't no business o' mine, fellers, one way or the other,” began
Thornton, slightly confused. He cleared his throat and spat on the
floor. “But I'll admit I'm kinder anxious to see Harry get into some
settled business. You know he's mighty changeable, one day runnin' some
fortune-wheel or card-table, an' the next got charge of a side-show,
bar, or skating-rink, and never makes much stake at anything. I told
his wife to-day that I'd do my best to get you fellers to come to a
understanding. That's all the interest I've got in the matter; but I'd
bet my last chip you'd have to look a long ways before you could find
another buyer with that much ready cash such times as these.”
“Huh, you don't say!” sneered Jim, a cold gleam of indecision and
excitement in the glance that he accidentally threw to Bob Lash, who
erroneously fancied that his friend wanted him to say something to
offset the remarks made by Webb's ally. But diplomacy was not one of
the few gifts with which frugal nature had blessed Bob, and when the
idea struck him that he ought to speak, he grew very agitated, and
almost stabbed a hole in one of his cheeks with the long splinter with
which he was picking his teeth.
“The man that gits it has a purty dead- shore thing fer a
comfortable income,” he blurted out, incautiously. “I wish I had the
money to secure it; I'd plank it down so quick it 'u'd make yore head
Jim flushed. “Nobody hain't said nothin' 'bout the shebang bein' on
the market,” he said, quickly.
Bob saw his mistake too late to rectify it, so he said nothing.
Webb smiled, and rose with an easy assumption of indifference and
lighted a fresh cigar over the lamp-chimney. “Tibbs wants to rent me
the new store-room joining you, Jim,” he said, rolling his cigar into
the corner of his mouth and half closing the eye which was in direct
line with the rising smoke. “I kinder thought I'd like them big
plate-glass show- windows. Ten thousand dollars in bran-new groceries
wouldn't be bad, would they?”
Jim was taken slightly aback, but he recovered himself in an
instant. “Not ef they was bought jest right, Harry,” he said,
significantly. “A man mought have a purty fair start that way,
ef he was experienced; but law me! I'd hate awful to start to lay in a
stock frum these cussed drummers; they are wholesale bunco-sharks. An'
then, you see, I've been here sence this town fust started, an' I know
who will do to credit an' who won't. My blacklist is wuth five thousand
to any man in this line. Thar's men in this town that'll pay a gamblin'
debt 'thout a bobble, an' cuss like rips at the sight of a grocery
bill. But thar ain't no use talkin'; I reckon my business ain't fer
Webb turned to Thornton and coolly asked for a match; then the
entire group was silent till Bob Lash spoke.
“How in the world did you ever happen to come 'way out here, anyway,
Jim?” he asked, obtusely believing that Bradley meant exactly what he
had said in regard to Webb's proposition, and that for all concerned it
would be more agreeable and profitable to talk about something else.
“Got tired an' wanted a change,” grunted Bradley. “I never was
treated exactly right by my folks, an' was itchin' awful to make
“What county did you say you was from?”
Webb yawned aloud, puffed at his cigar, and swept the store from end
to end with a rather critical, would-be dissatisfied glance.
“I passed through thar goin' from Dalton to Canton,” went on Bob,
warming up. “It's a purty country through them mountains. What was you
a-follerin' back thar?”
“Farmin' it. Thar was jest three uv us—me an' brother Joe an'
mother; but we couldn't git along together.”
“What a pity!” said Bob.
“I al'ays wanted to make money,” went on Jim, “an' atter the old man
died I was anxious fer me an' Joe to save up enough to git a farm uv
our own; but he tuk to drinkin' an' spreein' round generally, an' was
al'ays off jest when the crop needed the most attention. I al'ays was
easy irritated, an' never could be satisfied onless I was goin' ahead.
Me an' Joe was eternally a-fussin', an' mother allays tuk his part. One
night she got rippin' mad, an' 'lowed that she could git along better
with 'im ef I wasn't thar to make trouble, an' so I made up my mind to
come West. I tol' 'em they was welcome to my intrust in the crap, an
that I had had all I could stand up under, an' was goin' off. Mother
never even said farewell, an' Joe sorter turned up his nose, an' 'lowed
I'd be writin' back an' beggin' fer money to git home on 'fore a month
was out. I told mother ef she ever needed help to write, but she never
looked up from her spinnin'- wheel, an' from that day to this I hadn't
had a scratch of a pen.”
“Shorely you didn't leave a old woman in sech hands as that,”
The expression on Jim Bradley's face changed. “What was I to do? Ef
I'd 'a' stayed that I'd 'a' been a beggar to-day,” he said,
argumentatively. “I 'lowed ef I was sech a bother I'd leave 'em; but
I'll admit thar are times when I think I may 'a' been a leetle hasty.
An' I do hanker atter home folks mighty bad at times, especially when
I'm locked up in this lonely store at night, with nothin' but my cat
fer company. I've been intendin' to write to mother every day, but
some'n' al'ays interferes. I heerd four year ago, accidentally, that
they was gittin' 'long tolerable well.”
“It's mighty tough on fellers of our age, Jim, to grow old alone in
the world,” sighed Bob, reaching out to the crate for another splinter.
“I'd ruther have less money an' more rale home comforts. Kin is a great
thing. Brother Sam sent me a pictur' uv his little gal. I wish I had it
to show you; she's mighty purty an' smart-lookin'. It made me mighty
“I reckon it did,” said Bradley. “I've seed dogs that lived better
than I do. D' you fellers ever see whar I bunk?”
“No,” joined in Thornton and Webb, seeing that they were addressed.
“Come into my parlor, then”; and Jim grinned, broadly. He lifted the
lamp, and holding it over his head, he led them through some curtains
made of cotton bagging into the back room. Empty boxes, hogsheads,
crates, bales of hay, heaps of old iron, and every sort of rubbish
imaginable covered the floor. A narrow bed stood by a window between a
row of dripping syrup-barrels and the greasy wall. “Thar's whar I
sleep,” said Jim, pointing to the bed. “It hain't been made up in a
coon's age. Sometimes old Injun Mary changes the sheets an' turns the
mattress when she happens along, but it hain't often. At home I used to
sleep in a big sweet-smellin' bed that was like lyin' down in a pile o'
“I'd think you'd git tired o' this; I would, by hooky!” declared
Bob. “Whar do you git yore grub?”
“Fust one place an' then another; I don't bother much about my
eatin'. I have to light out o' bed to wait on the fust one that rattles
the doorknob in the mornin', an' am so busy from then on that I cayn't
find a minute to git a bite o' breakfast. See my kettle thar? I can
make as good a cup o' coffee as the next one. Half a cup o' ground Javy
in my coffeepot, with bilin' water poured on, an' then put on the stove
to bile ag'in, does the business. Thar's my skillet; a cowboy give it
to me. Sometimes I fry a slice o' streak-o'-lean- streak-o'-fat, ur a
few cracked eggs, but it hain't half livin'.”
They walked back and sat down in the store again. Bob had a strange,
perplexed look on his face. Webb was about to make some reference to
his offer, when Bob forestalled him in a rather excited tone.
“Jim, did yore mother live nigh Ellijay?”
“'Bout three miles from town. What in the thunder is the matter?
What are you starin' at me that way fer?”
Bob looked down and moved uneasily on the barrel. “I was jest
a-wonderin'—my Lord, Jim! thar was a feller shot the day I passed
through Ellijay. I cayn't be shore, but it seems to me his name was Joe
Bradley. He was a troublesome, rowdyish sort of a feller, an' a man had
to shoot 'im in self-defense.”
Jim stared at the speaker helplessly, and then glanced around at
Webb and Thornton. His great brown eyes began to dilate, and a sickly
pallor came into his face. His breathing fell distinct and harsh on the
profound stillness of the room. His mouth dropped open, but he was
unable to utter a word.
“He may not a' been yore brother,” added Bob, quickly, and with
sympathy. “I'm not plumb shore o' the name, nuther. I was helpin' a man
drive a drove of Kentucky hosses through to Gainesville, an' we got
thar jest atter the shootin'. I heerd the shots myse'f The coroner held
a inquest, an' the dead man's mother was than She looked pitiful; she
was mighty gray an' old en' bent over. I was standin' in the edge o'
the crowd when some neighbor fotch' 'er up in his wagon, an' we all
made room for 'en She had the pity of every blessed man thar. She jest
stood 'mongst the rest, lookin' down at the corpse fer some time 'shout
sayin' a word to anybody, nur sheddin' a tear. Then she seemed to come
to 'erse'f, an' said, jest as ef nothin' oncommon had occurred:'Well,
gentlemen, why don't you move 'im under a shelter?' an' with that she
squatted down at his head, an' breshed the hair off'n his forehead
mighty gentle-like. 'We are a-holdin' uv a inquest, accordin' to law,'
a big feller said who was the coroner of the town. 'Law ur no law,' she
said, lookin' up at 'im, her eyes flashin' like a tiger-cat's, 'he
sha'n't lie here in the br'ilin' sun with no roof over 'im. Thar wasn't
no law to keep 'im from bein' murdered right in yore midst.' An' she
had her way, you kin bet on that. The men jest lifted 'im up an' toted
'im into the nighest store an' put 'im on a cot. The coroner objected,
but them men jest cussed 'im to his face an' pushed him away as ef he
was so much trash.”
“Did you take notice o' the body?” gasped Bradley, finding voice
finally. “What kind of a lookin' man was he?”
“Ef I remember right, he had sorter reddish hair an' blue eyes, an'
was 'bout yore build. He was a good-lookin' man.”
“It was brother Joe,” said Bradley. He was trembling from head to
foot and was deathly pale. “Well, go on,” he said, making a mighty
effort to appear calm; “what about mother?”
“I don't know anything more,” said Bob. “I left that same day. I
heerd some talk about her bein' left destitute, an' ef I ain't
mistaken, some said her other son had gone off West an' died out thar,
as nobody had heerd from him. That's what made me—” But Bradley
interrupted him. He rose, with a dazed look on his face, and went to
his desk, a few feet away. He sat on the high stool and leaned his
shaggy head on a pile of account-books. An inkstand rolled down to the
floor, and a penholder rattled after it, but he did not pick them up.
Then everything was still. Thornton reached over and took Webb's cigar
to light his own, instead of striking the match he had taken from his
pocket. The two men exchanged significant glances, and then looked
curiously, almost breathlessly, at the mute figure bowed over the desk.
Bradley raised his head. His eyes were bloodshot, and a tangled wisp of
his long hair lay across his haggard face.
“How long ago was it, Bob?” he asked, in a deep, husky voice.
“Two year last May.”
“My Lord! she may be dead an' gone by this time, an' I kin never
make up fer my neglect!” He left the desk and came back slowly. “Kin
you git that money to-night?” he asked, looking down at Webb.
“Yes; by walkin' up home.” Webb tried to subdue the eager light in
his eyes, which threatened to betray his intense satisfaction at the
sudden change of affairs.
“Well, go git it. I'll pack my satchel while yo' 're gone. I'm goin'
to leave you fellers fer good, I reckon. I want to git back home. I
wish you luck with the business, Webb. It's a good investment; we
mought never have traded ef this hadn't 'a' come up.
Jim Bradley was worn out with the fatigue of his long journey when
he alighted from the train in the little town that he had once known so
well. The place had changed so much that he hardly knew which way to
turn. He went into a store. The merchant was at his desk behind a
railing in the rear, and a boy sat in the middle of the floor filling a
patent egg-case with fresh eggs. “Come in,” he said, without looking
up, and went on with his work. Jim put his oilcloth valise on the floor
and sat down in a chair.
“Some'n' I kin do fer you to-day?” asked the boy, rising, and
putting the lid on the eggcase.
“No, I b'lieve not to-day, bub,” replied Bradley. “I've jest got
off'n the train an' stopped in to ax a few questions. The' used to be a
woman livin' on the Starks place ten year ago—a widder woman, Mis'
Jason Bradley; kin you tell me whar I'd be likely to find 'er now?”
“I don't know no sech er person,” said the boy; “mebby Mr. Summers
“You mean Joe Bradley's mother,” said the storekeeper, approaching—
“the feller that was shot over at Holland's bar?”
“She's the one,” said Jim, breathlessly; “is she still alive?”
“I hadn't heerd nothin' to the contrary, but I don't know jest whar
she is now. She was powerful hard up last winter, an' somebody tuk 'er
to live with 'em—seems to me it was one o' the Sanders boys.”
A woman entered the door and set her basket on the counter.
“Mis' Wade'll be able to tell you,” continued the merchant, turning
to her; “she lives over in that direction.”
“What's that, Mr. Summers?” she asked, carefully untying the cloth
that covered some yellow rolls of butter.
“This gentleman was askin' about the widow Bradley, Joe's mother; do
you know whar she is?”
“She's livin' with Alf Sanders,” replied the woman; “I seed 'er thar
soap-bilin' as I driv by last Tuesday was a week. Are you any kin o'
hern?” and she eyed Bradley curiously from head to foot.
He made no reply to her question, though a warm color had suddenly
come into his face at the words she had spoken. He took up his valise
and looked out at the setting sun.
“How fer is it out thar?” he asked, a tremor in his voice. “I want
to see 'er to-night.”
“Three mile, I reckon,” the woman said. “Keep to the big road tel
you cross the creek, an' then turn off to the right. You cayn't miss
He thanked her, and trudged on past the other stores and the little
white church on the hill, and on into the road that led toward the
mountain. Just before entering the woods, he turned and looked back at
“O Lord, I'm glad I ain't too late entirely,” he said; and he took a
soiled red handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. “I don't
know what I would 'a' done ef they'd 'a' said she was gone. But I'll
never see Joe ag'in, an' that seems quar. Poor boy! me an' him used to
be mighty thick when we was little bits o' fellers. I kin remember when
he'd 'a' fit a wildcat to help me, an' I got mad at him fer drinkin'
when he wasn't able to he'p hisse'f. I'd hold my peace ef it was to do
Sanders' house was a low, four-roomed log cabin which sat back under
some large beechtrees about a hundred yards from the road. Sanders
himself sat smoking in the front yard, surrounded by four or five
half-clad children and several gaunt hunting-dogs. He was a thin, wiry
man, with long brown hair and beard, and dark, suspicious eyes set
close together. He did not move or show much concern as Jim Bradley,
just at dusk, came wearily up the narrow path from the bars to the
“Down, Ski! Down, Brutus!” he called out savagely to his barking
dogs, and he silenced their uproar by hurling an ax-helve among them.
“This is whar Alf Sanders lives, I reckon,” said Bradley.
“I'm the feller,” replied Sanders. “Take a cheer; thar's one handy,”
and he indicated it with a lazy wave of his pipe.
Jim sat down mutely. Through the open door in one of the rooms he
could see the form of a woman moving about in the firelight. He fell to
trembling, and forgot that he was under the curious inspection of
Sanders and his children. A moment later, however, when the fire blazed
up more brightly, he saw that it was not his mother whom he had seen,
but a younger woman.
“Yo' 're a stranger about here?” interrogated Sanders, catching his
“Hadn't been in this country fer ten year,” was the laconic reply.
“My name's Bradley—Jim Bradley; I've come back to see my mother.”
“My stars! We all 'lowed you was dead an' buried long 'go!” and
Sanders dropped his pipe in sheer astonishment. “Well, ef that don't
take the rag off'n the bush! Mary! Oh, Mary!”
“What ails you, Alf?” asked a slatternly woman, emerging from the
“Come out here a minute. This is the old woman's son Jim, back from
“Yo' 're a-jokin',” she ejaculated, as she came slowly in open-eyed
wonder toward the visitor. “Why, who'd 'a' thought—”
“Whar is she?” interrupted Bradley, unceremoniously. “I've come a
long ways to see 'er.”
“She's out thar at the cow-lot a-milkin'. She tuk 'er bucket an' the
feed fer Brindle jest now.”
His eyes followed hers. Beyond a row of alder-bushes and a little
patch of corn he saw the dim outlines of a log stable and lean-to shed
surrounded by a snake fence. Away out toward the red-skied west lay
green fields and meadows under a canopy of blue smoke, and beyond their
limits rose the frowning mountains, upon the sides of which long,
sinuous fires were burning.
“I reckon I ort not to run upon her too sudden,” he said, awkwardly,
“bein' as she ain't expectin' me, an' hain't no idee I'm alive. Is she
“Toler'ble,” replied Mrs. Sanders, hesitatingly. “She's been
complainin' some o' headaches lately, an' her appetite ain't overly
good, but she's up an' about, an' will be powerful glad to see you. She
talks about you a good deal of late. Jest atter yore brother Joe's
death she had 'im on her mind purty constant, but now she al'ays has
some'n' to say about Jim—that's yore name, I believe?”
He nodded silently, not taking his eyes from the cow-lot. His valise
rolled from his knees down on to the grass, and one of the children
restored it to him.
“Yes, that is a fact,” put in Sanders. “She was talkin' last Sunday
about her two boys. She al'ays calls you the steady one. You ort to be
sorter cautious. Old folks like her sometimes cayn't stand good news
any better'n bad.”
“I'll be keerful.” His voice sounded husky and deep. “Does she—“
he went on hesitatingly—“does she work fer you around the place?'“
Sanders crossed his legs and cleared his throat. “That was the
understandin' when we agreed to take 'er,” he said, rather
consequentially. “She was to make 'erse'f handy whenever she was able.
My wife has had a risin' on 'er arm an' couldn't cook, an' we've had
five ur six field hands here to the'r meals. The old critter was
willin' to do anything to git a place to stay. The' wasn't anywhar else
fer 'er to go. She's too old to do much, but she's willin' to put 'er
hands to anything. We cayn't complain. She gits peevish now an' then,
though, an' 'er eyesight an' memory's a-failin', so that she makes
mistakes in the cookin'. T'other day she salted the dough twice an'
clean furgot to put in sody.”
“She's gittin' into 'er second childhood,” added Mrs. Sanders, “an'
she ain't got our ways in church notions, nuther. She's a Baptist, you
know, an' b'lieves in emersion of the entire body an' in close
communion an' sech- like, while the last one of us, down to little
Sally thar, is Methodists. She goes whar we do to meetin' 'ca'se her
church is too fer off an' we use the hosses Sundays.”
Bradley's face was hidden by the dusk and the brim of his slouch
hat, and they failed to notice the hot flush that rose into his cheeks.
He got up suddenly and put his valise on a chair. “I reckon I mought as
well walk out to whar she is,” he said. “She won't be apt to know me.
I've turned out a beard an' got gray sence she seed me.”
“I'll go 'long with you.” But Mrs. Sanders touched her husband on
the arm as he was rising. “It 'u'd look more decent ef you'd leave 'em
to the'rselves, Alf,” she whispered. He sat down without a word, and
Bradley walked away in the dusk to meet his mother. There was a blur
before the strong man's eyes, and a strange weakness came over him as
he leaned against the cow-lot fence and tried to think how he would
make himself known to her. Beneath the low shed, a part of the crude
stable, he saw the figure of a woman crouched down under a cow. “So,
so, Brin'!” she was saying softly. “Cayn't you stan' still a minute?
That ain't no way to do. So, so!”
His heart sank. It was her voice, but it was shrill and quivering,
and he recognized it only as one does a familiar face under a mask of
age. Just then, with a sudden exclamation, she sprang up quickly and
placed her pail on the ground out of the cow's reach. He comprehended
the situation at a glance. The calf had got through the bars and was
sucking its mother.
“Lord, what'll I do?” cried the old woman, in dismay; and catching
the calf around the neck, she exerted all her strength to separate it
from the cow.
Bradley sprang over the fence and ran to her assistance.
“Le' me git a hold o' the little scamp,” he said, and the next
instant he had the sleek little animal up in his strong arms. “Whar do
you want 'im put?” he asked, drily, turning to her.
“Outside the lot,” she gasped, so astonished that she could hardly
utter a word.
He carried his struggling burden to the fence and dropped it over,
and fastened up the bars to keep it out.
“Well, ef that don't beat all!” she laughed in great relief, when he
turned back to her. “I am very much obleeged. I 'lowed at fust you was
one o' the field hands.” He looked into her wrinkled face closely, but
saw no sign of recognition there. She put the corner of her little
breakfast-shawl to her poor wrinkled mouth and broke out into a low,
childlike laugh. “I cayn't help from being amused at the way you tuk up
that calf; I don't know” (and the smile left her face) “what I'd 'a'
done ef you hadn't 'a' come along. I never could 'a' turned it out, an'
Alf's wife never kin be pacified when sech a thing happens. We don't
git enough milk, anyway.”
“Le' me finish milkin',” he said, keeping his face half averted.
She laughed again. “Yo' 're a-jokin' now; I never seed a man
milk a cow.”
“I never did nuther tel I went out West,” he replied. “The Yankees
out thar showed me how. I'm a old bach', an' used to keep a cow o' my
own, an' thar wasn't nobody but me to tend 'er.”
She stood by his side and laughed like a child amused with a new toy
when he took her place at the cow, and with the pail between his knees
and using both hands, began to milk rapidly.
“I never seed the like,” he heard her muttering over and over to
herself. Then he rose and showed her the pail nearly filled. “I reckon
that calf 'u'd have a surprise-party ef he was to try on his suckin'
business now,” he said. “It serves 'im right fer bein' so rampacious.”
“Law me! I never could git that much,” she said, and she held out
her hand for the pail, but he swung it down at his side. “I'll tote
it,” he said; “I'm a-goin' back to the house. I reckon I'll put up thar
fer the night—that is, ef they'll take me in.”
“I've jest been lookin' at you an' wonderin',” she said,
reflectively, after they had passed through the bars. “My hearin' an'
eyesight is bad, an' so is my memory of faces, but it seems like I've
seed somebody some'r's that favors you mightily.”
He walked on silently. Only the little corn-patch was between them
and the group in the yard. He could hear Sanders's drawling voice, and
caught a gleam of the kitchen fire through the alder-bushes.
“You better le' me take the bucket,” she said, stopping abruptly and
showing some embarrassment. “Yo' 're mighty gentlemanly; but Alf's wife
al'ays gits mad when I make at all free with company. The whole family
pokes fun at me, an' 'lows I am childish, an' too fond o' talkin'. They
expect me jest to keep my mouth shet an' never have a word to say. It
cayn't be helped, I reckon, but it's a awful way fer a old body to
“That's a fact!” he blurted out, impulsively, still holding to the
pail, on which she had put her hand. “It's the last place on earth fer
“I hadn't had one single day o' enjoyment sence I came here,” she
continued, encouraged to talk by his manifest sympathy. “I reckon I ort
to be thankful, an' beggars mustn't be choosers, as the feller said;
fer no other family in the county would take me in. But it hain't no
place fer a old woman that likes peace an' rest at my time o' life. I
work hard all day, an' at night I need sound sleep; but they put the
children in my bed, an' they keep up a kickin' an' a squirmin' all
night. Then, the' ain't no other old women round here, an' I git mighty
lonesome. Sometimes I come as nigh as pease givin' up entirely.”
“Thank the Lord, you won't have to stand it any longer!” he
She started from him in astonishment, and began to study his
features. At that juncture two of Sanders's little girls drew near
inquisitively. “Here!” and he held the pail out to them. “Take this
milk to yore mammy.” One of them, half frightened, took the pail, and
both scampered back to the house.
“Yo' 're a curi's sort of a man,” she said, with a serious kind of
chuckle, as she drew her shawl up over her white head. “I wouldn't 'a'
done that fer a dollar. You skeered Sally out'n a year's growth. I used
to have a boy, that went away West ten year ago, who used to fly up
like you do, an' you sorter put me in mind of him, you do. He was the
best one I had. I could allus count on him fer help. He was as
steady-goin' as a clock. He never was heerd from, an' the general
belief is that he died out thar.”
There was a moment's pause. He seemed trying to think of some way to
reveal his identity. “You ortn't to pay attention to everything you
hear,” he ventured, awkwardly. “Who knows? Mebby he's still alive—
sech things ain't so almighty oncommon. Seems like I've heerd tell o' a
feller named Bradley out thar.”
“I reckon it wasn't Jim,” she sighed. “It was my daily prayer fer a
long time that he mought come back, but thar ain't no sech luck fer me.
I've done give up. I am a destitute, lonely woman, an' I cayn't stan'
all this commotion an' wrangle much longer. Ef I had him to work fer
now, I wouldn't keer; I'd wear my fingers to the bone; but fer people
that ain't no speck o' kin an' hadn't no appreciation fer what a body
does it's different.”
The corners of her mouth were drawn down, and she put her thin hand
up to her eyes.
“I don't b'lieve you'd know 'im ef you was to see 'im,” he said,
laughing artificially and taking her hand in his.
She started. A shiver ran through her frame, and her fingers
clutched his convulsively. “What do you mean?” she gasped. “Oh, my
Lord, what does the man mean?”
“The' ain't much doubt in my mind that he's alive an' ort to have a
thousand lashes on his bare back fer neglectin' his old mammy,” he
said, trying to hide the tremor in his voice.
A startled light of recognition dawned in her eyes and illumined her
whole visage. She stared at him with dilating eyes for an instant, and
then fell into his arms. “Oh, Jim, I declare I cayn't stan' it! It will
kill me! It will kill me!” she cried, putting her arms about his neck
and drawing his head down to her.
“I'm as glad as you are, mother,” he replied, tenderly stroking her
white hair with his rough hand; “no feller livin' ever wanted to see
his mammy wuss.”
Then there seemed nothing further for either of them to say, and so
he led her on to the house and to the chair he had left a few moments
“I've let the cat out'n the bag,” he said, shamefacedly, answering
their glances of inquiry. “I had to mighty nigh tell her point- blank
who I was.”
“I never 'lowed I'd see 'im ag'in,” Mrs. Bradley faltered, in a low,
tearful tone. “I am that thankful my heavenly Father let me live to
this day. I'd suffer it all over an' over again fer this joy.”
Sanders was silent, and his wife; and the children, barelegged and
dirty-faced, sat on the grass and mutely watched the bearded stranger
and his mother in childish wonder. Bradley said nothing, but he moved
his chair nearer to his mother's and put his strong arm around her.
Sanders broke the silence.
“What have you been follerin', Bradley?” he asked.
“Clerkin' fer somebody?”
“No; had a 'stablishment o' my own.”
“You don't say!” and Sanders looked at Bradley's seedy attire and
then at his wife significantly.
“Yes; I made some money out thar. The night 'fore I left, a feller
offered me ten thousand dollars in cash fer my stock o' goods, an' I
tuk 'im up. I didn't wait to put on my Sunday clothes; these is the
things I worked in, handlin' dirty groceries. I hain't the pertic'lar
sort. I've got some bonds an' rale estate that kin remain jest as well
whar they are at present. I've come back here to stay with mother. I
couldn't stand it to be alone much longer, an' I wouldn't ax 'er to
move to a new country at 'er age.”
Sanders and his wife stared at him in astonishment. Mrs. Bradley
leaned forward and looked intently into his face. She was very pale and
quivered with new excitement, but she said nothing.
“My Lord, you've had luck!” exclaimed Sanders, thinking of something
to say finally. “What on earth are you gwine to invest in here, ef it
hadn't no harm to ax?”
“I 'lowed I'd buy a big plantation. They are a-goin' cheap these
times, I reckon. I want a place whar a livin' will come easy, an' whar
I kin make mother comfortable. She's too old to have to lay ter hand to
a thing, ur be bothered in the least. I want to be nigh some
meetin'-house of her persuasion, an' whar she kin 'sociate with other
women o' her age. I don't expect to atone fer my neglect, but I intend
to try my hand at it fer a change.”
Mrs. Bradley lowered her head to her son's knee, and began to sob
softly. Then Mrs. Sanders got up quickly. “I smell my bread a-burnin',”
she said. “I'll call y'all in to supper directly. We hain't pretendin'
folks, Mr. Bradley, but yo' 're welcome to what we got. You needn't
rise, Mrs. Bradley; I kin fix the table.”
THE SALE OF UNCLE RASTUS
Aunt Milly's cabin was brightly illuminated. Crude tallow dips in
the necks of cracked jugs and bottles spangled a dark clothless table,
a slanting heap of blazing logs filled the wide rock-and-mud chimney,
and a bonfire of pine knots at the “wash-place” near the door outside
threw a red light far down the road which led past a row of cabins to
the residence of Aunt Milly's owner, Mr. Herbert Putnam.
The season's crop of corn had been hauled up from the fields to the
cribs. Frost had come; persimmons were ripe, and Aunt Milly was going
to give the first opossum supper of the fall. Her two boys, Len and
Caesar, had caught two fat opossums the night before, and she had
dressed the game and left it in a couple of pans out on the roof—“ter
let de fros' bite de wil' taste out'n it en tender it up 'fo 'bilin' en
bakin'.” She had given this explanation to her husband, Uncle Rastus,
who had been irritated by her rising two or three times in the night
“ter see ef dem cats wuzn't atter dat meat.”
Uncle Rastus was sick; he had taken a severe cold, which had settled
on his lungs and given him a cough. Hearing the negroes singing as they
came through the fields from the neighboring plantations, he left his
bed in the lean-to shed and hobbled slowly into the glare of
candlelight. He sniffed the aroma of coffee and baked meat and intently
surveyed the preparation his wife had made.
“I heer um—dat Nelse's tenor en Montague's bass; dey all comin'. I
never heer sech er racket!” As he spoke he put a quilt down on the
floor in the chimney-corner and lay down and pushed out his long bare
feet to the fire.
“I reckon I got my heerin',” she replied, eyeing him reprovingly.
“Look a-heer, Rastus, who seh you might git up? You know you gwine hat
er wuss achin' dan ever in yo' ches' ef you lie afar over dem cracks
des atter you got outin dat warm bed.”
“Lemme 'lone,” he said, in an offhand tone; “you reckon I ain't
gwine be at yo' 'possum supper, en mebby it de las' night on dis yer
His words evoked no reply, for the guests were now near the door,
and she had advanced to meet them. Nelse and Montague, two tall, lank
negroes, slouched in and dropped their hats on the floor. They were
followed by Aunt Winnie and her husband and a crowd of negroes of all
ages and sizes. As the guests filed in at the door and huddled round
the fire and Rastus's perpendicular feet, each put a silver quarter
into a bowl on the end of the table.
“I don't 'grudge you mine, Aunt Milly,” said Aunt Winnie, feelingly.
“My goodness, you is hat ernough trouble, wid yo' marster bein' so po'
en Unc' Rastus so sickly en y'all gwine be put up on de auction-block
ter-morrer en no idee whar you gwine nex'. How much y' reckin you gwine
ter fetch, Aunt Milly?”
For reply Aunt Milly simply shrugged her fat shoulders as she went
round among her guests and took their bonnets and shawls, which she
piled promiscuously on a chest in the corner.
“She's wuff all she'll bring, I boun' yer,” said Nelse, who was
standing almost astride of Rastus's head. “As for me, Aunt Milly, I'd
er sight rusher be put up on de auction- block at de court-house den
ter be sol' in er slave-mart. Dey hat me on sale in New Orleans fur two
weeks han' runnin', settin' bolt up in er long room wid er passel er
niggers dey call Cre-owls, en people constant er-lookin' at me en axin'
my price. Dey feed you on de fat er de lan' en keep you dressed up, but
you never know is yer gwine ter be er ditch-digger ur somebody s
ca'ge-driver. On de block it soon over en you know whar you gwine, en
ef er nigger is sharp he kin manage er li'l en git on de good side er
some white man he likes.”
“Marse Geo'ge Putnam'll buy y'all, you know he will,” remarked Aunt
Winnie to Rastus, who had sat up on his quilt and been listening
eagerly to Nelse. “He'll be on'y too glad er de chance ter spite Marse
Herbert en rake in some mo' uv his paw's old slaves. He already bought
up all de lan' 'cep' de li'l patch Marse Herbert's house stan' on, en
now de house en dis yer fambly er niggers is all dat is lef' fer 'im
ter want. My white folks seh ten yeer ergo dat Marse Geo'ge never will
res' satisfied till his po' brother is flat on his back destitute. Seem
lak he in his glory when he hear dat suppen o' Marse Herbert's is up
fer sale, so he kin buy it in. I hadn't never seed two sech brothers;
dey hain't 'change one word in ten yeer; en all kase ole Marse Putnam
lef' Marse Herbert de ol' home place en want 'im ter hol' on ter it.”
Uncle Rastus looked up suddenly. His face was full of angles, and
his dark eyes flashed in the firelight. “I hope he won't buy me,” he
grunted; “ef I cayn't stay wid Marse Herbert, de younges' en po'est er
ol' marster's chillun, I want ter go clean off 'mongst strangers. Dis
The pathos of this remark struck most of the listeners; but
Montague, who, for reasons of his own, disliked old Rastus, was unmoved
by it. “You needn't trouble 'bout whar you gwine,” he said, with
contemptuous emphasis on the “you,” and he pushed a little black girl
to one side that he might watch the effect of his words on Rastus. “De
won't be any big scramblin' atter you; who want ter buy er nigger des
ter git ter bury 'im dese hard times?”
“Be ershamed, Montague,” remonstrated Aunt Winnie; “be ershamed er
“He ain't got no raisin'!” blurted out Aunt Milly. “Unc' Rastus
ain't gwine ter listen ter dat black fool.”
“I des know what white folks seh, dat's all,” insinuated Montague,
sullenly. “Marse Herbert come over ter see my marster ter-day, en I
heerd um talkin' in de stable-yard. Marse Herbert 'low he'd been
countin' on payin' off his pressin' debt wid whut dis fambly er niggers
would fetch, en 'd laid his plans ter hol' on ter his house en go West
en mek money ter pay de intrust en lif' de mortgage, but des den
Unc' Rastus, de mos' valuables' one, tuk sick, en now Aunt Milly an' de
chillun won't fetch ernough ter do much good.”
This announcement produced an impression. Aunt Milly was plainly too
much astonished even to protest against the brutality of the
revelation. Rastus took a fresh hold on his thin knees with his arms,
coughed deeply and painfully, and looked Montague straight in the eyes.
“Is you tellin' de trufe?” he asked. “Is you?”
“I hadn't no reason to tell you er lie, Unc' Rastus.”
From that moment Montague had the contempt of the whole room. Aunt
Milly was evidently recompensed by this, for she simply looked into the
sympathetic faces around her and made no sound. Rastus lay back on his
quilt silently, and languidly thrust his feet back to the fire.
Aunt Milly's voice sounded cold and equivocal in her effort to
smother her emotions when she said, “Well, come on, y'all, an' git yo'
'possum an' biscuit 'fo' dey git co'.” The last words of her invitation
were drowned in the scrambling and shuffling of feet as the crowd
surged toward the table. A whole opossum embedded in a great heap of
fried sweet potatoes was placed by Len and Casar on each end of the
long table, and Aunt Milly followed them with a great bucket of coffee
and pans of smoking biscuits.
They were all seated and had begun the feast, when, to their
astonishment, Rastus rose and staggered to a vacant place at the end of
“Whar my 'possum, Aunt Milly?” he demanded, with pretended pique.
“On my soul, I believe you tryin' ter let' me out.”
“Go back ter yo' bed, Rastus,” she scolded, gently. “What kin got in
you? you ain't eat nothin' in er mont' 'cep' er li'l soup en gravy, en
now you want ter founder yo'se'f on 'possum meat.”
He shoved his plate impatiently toward her. “Gimme some er dem
taters en dat 'possum. You heer me?”
“You too sick, Rastus,” protested Aunt Milly, with maternal
persuasiveness. “Go lie down, en I'll fix you some er yo' good soup.”
“I know I wuz sick,” he replied; “but I want ter tell y'all,
I ain't now; I'm cuored well en soun'.” As he spoke these words,
accompanied by a heroic attempt to hold himself erect in his chair,
Aunt Milly recalled the strange look of desperate determination that
had possessed his face when Montague had finished speaking, and she
kept silent. Both sides of the long table were curiously looking at the
invalid. “I'm er li'l weak yit, but I ain't sick,” he went on, bracing
himself with a thin hand on each side of the table. “You know dat
conjure doctor on de river plantation? Well, he come by here dis
mawnin' 'fo' day, he did—des ez I wuz gittin' up ter git er armful er
“Why, you know dat ain't so, Unc' Rastus,” broke in Aunt Milly,
“kase I got up fus' dis mawnin', en you wuz soun' ersleep.”
“'Twuz long 'to' you got up, Aunt Milly,” added the old man, glibly,
as he warmed up to his fiction. “Well, dat conjure doctor rode by de
do' on er white hoss, he did, en seh to me, 'Rastus, you sick, en you
mus' git well 'fo' yo' marster puts you up for sale, so you kin bring
what you is wuff ter he'p him out'n his scrape.' En he up en ax me has
I my rabbitfoot erbout me, en I tuk it out'n my weskit pocket, en he
seh, 'Well, put it in de hot ashes in de back er de chimbly tell you
hear er dog bark, en den tek it out en wash it clean in spring-water,
en den keep it by you night en day,' en when I done ez he tol' me I got
A chorus of wondering ejaculations rose from the superstitious
listeners, and for a moment opossum meat and potatoes were forgotten.
Aunt Milly looked at her husband tenderly. “Dat nigger would die fer
Marse Herbert,” she thought. “He dat sick now he cayn't hol' his haid
up; de sight er dat 'possum meat is gaggin' 'im, but he'll kill me ef I
“I don't want yo' al' 'possum meat,” said Rastus, rising and moving
back to the fire. “I'm gwine ter lie down an' git rested up fer
ter-morrer. Ef dey'll let me, I'll dance er breakdown on dat
auction-block en turn one er my han'-springs.”
“He certny is cuored,” said Aunt Winnie, gladly. “Dese conjure
doctors beat de ol' sort all ter pieces.”
The supper over, Aunt Milly slowly counted out her earnings and put
them away; the table was moved back against the wall; Nelse got out his
bones and began to play, and Len and Caesar danced jigs till they sank
to the floor in exhaustion. After this, plantation songs were sung,
ghost-stories were told, and it was late when they went back to their
The following day was a fine one. The air was bracing, and the sun
shone brightly. The autumnal foliage had never appeared more beautiful;
every color in nature seemed lavished on the hills near by, and the
mountains, twenty miles away, blue as the skies in spring and summer,
had faded into a beautiful pink.
The court-house and auction-block were in a village two miles from
the plantations of the two Putnam brothers. Uncle Rastus and his family
were sent over in the wagon of Herbert Putnam's overseer, and Lawyer
Sill came by in his buggy and drove Herbert to the sale.
“I thought I would stay away and let you attend to it for me,” said
Herbert Putnam; “but my daughter thinks I ought to go. Brother George
will be there to bid them in. He wouldn't miss the opportunity to
humiliate me again for anything.”
“You ought to be on hand,” replied Sill, as the other got into the
buggy. “Your negroes worship you, and would feel hurt if you were not
present. Your brother has acted very badly, and has made himself
unpopular by it.”
“It was my father's wish that I hold the home place, but George
never could forgive me for it. If he had advanced money to me, as he
has to total strangers, I should have paid out all right. He has a
better head for business than I have.”
A hundred wagons, buggies, and carriages were scattered over the
court-house common, the hitching-racks were hidden by mules and horses,
and a considerable crowd of people, white and black, were clustered
around the auction-block to the right of the court-house door, near the
massive log jail. In the edge of the crowd an old darky was selling
“groundpeas,” and his white-headed wife was threading her way through
the crowd, retailing hot gingerbread from a basket and fresh cider from
a capacious jug with a corncob stopper. In some of the carriages
elegantly dressed ladies sat; young men, the gallants among the gentry
of the county, with broad hats, and trousers in their bootlegs,
conversed with them from the backs of restive mettlesome horses.
Colonel George Putnam sat in his carriage with his wife and son, but
when his brother drove up with Lawyer Sill, he alighted and approached
his own lawyer, who was talking with a group of planters.
“Burton,” said he, in a low tone, “remember, you are to bid for me;
I don't want to be conspicuous, but I will have those negroes. I don't
want any of my father's estate to go into the hands of strangers.”
“All right,” replied Burton; “we won't have much trouble. Old man
Staley has thrown out some intimation that he intends to do some
bidding, but he's afraid of his shadow, and when he sees you are in the
fight he'll draw in his horns.”
“I don't think so. Staley is no friend of mine, and will try to run
the price up on me out of spite. I looked over them a while ago as they
came up,” the colonel went on, glancing at the wagon in which Uncle
Rastus and his wife and sons were seated. “They all seem in pretty fair
condition except Rastus. He says he has had a little spell of fever,
but that he is all right now.”
“He is thin, but as sound as a dollar,” said Burton, lightly. “He
jumped out of the wagon just now as nimbly as a kitten and unhitched
the mules in a hurry. I told him I heard he had been sick, and he
laughed and said he could do more work than ten ordinary darkies.”
“Well, keep your eye on Staley. My brother has wasted everything my
father left him, and I owe it to our name to retain as many of our old
slaves as I can. You told me you would find out the amount of the
mortgage on the place.”
“McPherson lent him five thousand on it.”
“And he expects to make that out West and keep the interest paid!
He'll never do it in the world.”
Burton glanced across the crowd at the seedy-looking man with the
pale face and iron-gray hair, and his reply was tinged with feeling:
“You're purty hard on 'im, colonel; it's none o' my business, but
he's a powerful good fellow. Seems to me, as he was the only brother
you have, you might have helped him a little.”
The planter's eye fell, and an angry flush came into his dark face.
“You don't know anything about it, Burton,” said he, quickly. “I
acknowledge we had some words about the will, but he set afloat the
rumors about my treatment of him when I was a candidate for the
legislature, and it was through him that I was beaten.”
Burton wished to change the subject. “I see the auctioneer and the
negroes going to the block,” he said. “Look at old Rastus; he prances
around like a two-year-old colt. I reckon you can fatten him up; a
little sickness does 'em good sometimes.”
The crowd drew closer round the platform upon which the red-faced
auctioneer had sprung and was placing chairs for Rastus and his family.
All of them except Rastus himself seemed awed by the solemnity of the
occasion. “Who gwine buy me?” he laughed, clapping his hands and
rubbing them together. “I been er li'l sick, but I'm pickin' up now en
kin hol' my own wid any nigger in dis county. Who want me? Speak up
“Dry up,” laughed the auctioneer, and he playfully jerked off the
old man's hat and laid it in the latter's lap. “Don't you know ernough
not to come 'fo' company with yore hat on? Who's gain' to sell this
batch of niggers, you or me? Ef you are, I'll git down and bid on you.
I want somebody to look after my thoroughbreds.”
This sally evoked a wave of laughter from the crowd, and Rastus
joined in with as much enjoyment as if he had caused it. Herbert Putnam
drew Sill aside.
“Rastus is shamming,” he whispered; “he is as sick as he can be
right now. He's doing it in order to bring a better price, to help me
out. Dr. Wilson said the other day that he might live to be an old man,
but that he'd never be able to work any more.”
“Good gracious!” ejaculated Sill; “who ever heard the like? He's a
Herbert Putnam's eyes glistened and his voice was unsteady as he
spoke. “I'd give my right arm rather than part with him. If I were
able, he and his should be free to-day.”
The auctioneer began to gesticulate and shout: “Six hundred has been
bid on Rastus, by Mr. Burton over thar, to start the game. Only six
hundred for one of the best buck negroes in the county. Seven hundred!
That's right, Mr. Staley; he's the very man you want. Seven hundred;
eight do I hear it? Thank you; Mr. Burton don't intend to take a back
seat. All right; nine hundred! Nine-fifty do I hear it, Mr. Burton?
Nine- fifty it is. Mr. Staley has got a thousand ready for him; a
thousand has been bid; anybody else in the fight? Old Rastus is thin,
but he could throw a bull a rod by the tail. One thousand only on a
two-thousand-dollar negro. Do I hear more?”
George Putnam's face darkened angrily as he watched the excited
features of old man Staley. He drew Burton's ear down to his lips: “Bid
twelve hundred, and knock him out and be done with it,” he whispered;
“it will scare him to death.”
“Twelve hundred,” said Burton, without a change of countenance, and
silence fell on the chattering, speculating crowd; even the voluble
auctioneer showed surprise by not at once echoing the bid. Old Rastus
took advantage of the pause; he sprang up and clapped his hands and
knocked his heels together. “I ain't no thousand-dollar nigger,” he
cried. “I b'longs ter Marse Herbert Putnam, I does; de ain't no cheap
nigger on dis yer block.”
“Twelve hundred dollars!” repeated the auctioneer, impressively, and
there was something vaguely respectful in the way he pushed Rastus back
into his chair. “Twelve hundred! Mr. Staley, don't back out; you need
'im wuss than anybody else. Is it twelve- twenty-five?”
Staley hesitated; his eyes fell before the concentrated stare of the
silent crowd, and then he nodded. A murmur passed through the assembly,
and Colonel Putnam grew white with anger. “Some one has put him up to
this,” he said in a low tone to his agent. “Make it thirteen hundred.
And the next instant the auctioneer was flaunting the bid in the face
of old Staley.
Herbert Putnam, unnoticed by any one, elbowed his way through the
crowd to his brother and touched him on the arm. Their eyes met.
“Pardon me,” said Herbert, “but I must speak to you.”
And George Putnam was drawn beyond the outskirts of the crowd. “I
cannot keep quiet and see you cheated,” faltered Herbert, with his eyes
averted. “A long time ago, when you and I were boys, you stood up for
me, and I cannot forget that we are brothers. Don't bid any more on
Rastus; he is shamming; he is as sick as he can be, and is only
pretending to be well to bring a high price.”
The two men gazed into each other's eyes. George Putnam was
quivering all over, and his face was softening. Impulsively he put out
his hand, as if to apologize for his lack of words. “Let's not be
enemies any longer,” went on Herbert, as he pressed the extended hand.
“I am sick and tired of this estrangement. I am going away, and I may
never come back. I can't keep up the old place as father thought I
would, and you are welcome to it. Take it and care for it; mother's and
father's graves are on it.”
George Putnam's face was working; he strove to reply, but his voice
clogged. He looked toward his son and wife in his carriage, and then
back into his brother's face. “God forgive me, Herb,” he said; “I've
treated you like a dog. Old Rastus has been truer to you than your own
brother. You shall not give up the old place; you must keep it. Wait!”
And with those words he hurried to the platform.
The auctioneer had been proclaiming Staley's reckless bid of
thirteen-twenty-five, and the crowd was eagerly taking in the unusual
sight of the two Putnam brothers in close conversation. Colonel Putnam
reached the platform and signed the auctioneer to be quiet. Standing on
the lower step, he was in the view of all.
“I want Rastus, and I am going to have him, “ he said to the
upturned faces. “I want him to give him back to my brother, who has
been forced by my neglect to offer him for sale. Twenty thousand
dollars is my bid—and Rastus is worth every cent of it.”
No one spoke as Colonel Putnam stepped back into the crowd. Old
Rastus seemed the only one to thoroughly grasp the situation “Bress de
Lawd!” he exclaimed, and he slapped Aunt Milly on the back. “Dem boys
done made up, en I fotch twenty thousand dollars! Whooee!”
“Twenty thousand dollars,” said the auctioneer, awkwardly. “Twenty
thousand—do I hear—and sold to Colonel Putnam. I reckon the' ain't
no use puttin' up the others.”
There was great activity in the crowd. Everybody was trying to see
the two brothers as they went arm in arm to Colonel Putnam's carriage,
and a moment later, when the vehicle with four occupants turned into
the road leading toward George Putnam's plantation, a unanimous cheer
rose from the crowd.
THE CONVICT'S RETURN
The pedestrian trudged down the tortuous declivitous road of the
mountain amidst the splendor of autumn-tinted leafage and occasional
dashes of rhododendron flowers. Now and then he would stop and deeply
breathe in the crisp air, as if it were a palpable substance which was
pleasing to his palate. At such moments, when the interstices of trunks
and bowlders would permit, his eyes, large with weariness, would rest
on a certain farmhouse in the valley below.
“It's identical the same,” he said, when he had completed the
descent of the mountain and was drawing near to it. “As fer as I can
make out, it hain't altered one bit sence the day they tuk me away. Ef
ever'thing seems purtier now, it may be beca'se it's in the fall of the
year an' the maple-trees an' the laurel look so fancy.”
Approaching the barn, the only appurtenance to the four-roomed
house, farther on by a hundred yards, he leaned on the rail fence and
looked over into the barnyard at the screw of blue smoke which was
rising from a fire under a huge iron boiler.
“Marty's killin' hogs,” he said, reflectively. “I mought 'a' picked
a better day fer gittin' back; she never was knowed to be in a good
humor durin' hog-killin'.”
He half climbed, half vaulted over the fence, and approached the
woman, who was bowed over an improvised table of undressed planks on
which were heaped the dismembered sides, shoulders, and hams of pork.
His heart was in his mouth, owing to the carking doubt as to his
welcome which had been oozing into the joy of freedom ever since he
began his homeward journey. But it was not his wife who looked up as
his step rustled the corn-husks near her, but her unmarried sister,
“Well, I never!” she ejaculated. “It's Dick Wakeman, as I am alive!”
She wiped her hand on her apron and gave it to him, limp and cold. “We
all heerd you was pardoned out, but none of us 'lowed you'd make so
straight fer home.”
His features shrank, as if battered by the blow she had unwittingly
“I say!” he grunted, “Whar else in the name o' common sense would a
feller go? A body that's been penned up in the penitentiary fer four
years don't keer to be rosin' time monkeyin' round amongst plumb
strangers, when his own folks—when he hain't laid eyes on his—”
But, after all, good reasons for his haste in returning could not be
found outside of a certain sentimentality which lay deep beneath
Wakeman's rugged exterior, and to which no one had ever heard him
“Shorely,” said the old maid, taking a wrong grasp of the situation
—“shorely you knowed, Dick, that Marty has got 'er divorce?”
“Oh, yes. Bad news takes a bee-line shoot fer its mark. I heerd the
court had granted 'er a release, but that don't matter. A lawyer down
thar told me that it all could be fixed up now I'm out. Ef I'd 'at been
at home, Marty never would 'a' made sech a goose of 'erse'f. How much
did the divorce set 'er back?”
“About a hundred dollars,” answered Lucinda.
“Money liter'ly throwed away, “ said the convict, with irrepressible
indignation. “Marty never did quite sech a silly thing while I was at
The old maid stared at him, a half-amused smile playing over her
“But it was her money,” she said, argumentatively. “She owned the
farm an' every stick an' head o' stock on it when you an' 'er got
“You needn't tell me that,” said Wakeman, sharply. “I know that; but
that ain't no reason fer 'er to throw 'er money away gittin' a
Lucinda filled her hand with salt and began to sprinkle it on a side
of meat. “Law me,” she tittered, “I'll bet you hain't heerd about Marty
an' Jeff Goardley.”
“Yes, I have. Meddlin' busybodies has writ me about that, too,” said
Wakeman, sitting down on the hopper of a corn-sheller and idly swinging
“He's a-courtin' of 'er like a broom-sedge field afire,” added the
“She's got too much sense to marry 'im after 'er promises to me,”
said the convict, firmly.
“She lets 'im come reg'lar ev'ry Tuesday night.”
Wakeman was not ready with a reply, and Lucinda began to salt
another piece of pork.
“Ev'ry Tuesday night, rain or shine,” she said.
The words released Wakeman's tongue.
“Huh, he's the most triflin' fop in the county.”
“Looks like some o' the neighbors is powerful bent on the match,”
continued Lucinda, her tone betraying her own lack of sympathy for the
thing in question. “Marty was a-standin' over thar at the fence jest
'fore you come an' whirled all of a sudden an' went up to the house.
She said she was afeered her cracklin's would burn, but I'll bet she
seed you down the road. I never have been able to make 'er out. She
ain't once mentioned yore name sence you went off. Dick, I'm one that
don't, nur never did, believe you meant to steal Williams's hoss, kase
you was too drunk to know what you was a-doin', but Marty never says
whether she does ur doesn't. The day the news come back that you was
sentenced I ketched 'er in the back room a-cryin' as ef 'er heart would
break, but that night 'Lonzo Spann come in an' said that you had let it
out in the court-room that you'd be glad even to go to the penitentiary
to git a rest from Marty's tongue, an'—”
“Lucinda, as thar's a God on high, them words never passed my lips,”
the convict interrupted.
“I 'lowed not,” the old maid returned. “But it has got to be a sort
of standin' joke ag'in Marty, an' she heers it ev'ry now an' then. But
I'm yore friend, Dick. I've had respect fer you ever sence I noticed
how you suffered when Annie got sick an' died. Thar ain't many men that
has sech feelin' fer their dead children.”
Wakeman's face softened.
“I was jest a-wonderin', comin' on, ef—ef anybody has been
a-lookin' after the grave sence I went off. The boys in the
penitentiary used to mention the'r dead once in a while, an' I'd always
tell 'em about my grave. Pris'ners, Lucinda, git to relyin' on the
company o' the'r dead about as much as the'r livin' folks. In the four
years that I was in confinement not one friend o' mine ever come to ax
how I was gittin' on.”
“Marty has been a-lookin' after the grave,” said Lucinda, in the
suppressed tone peculiar to people who desire to disown deep emotion.
She turned her face toward the house. “I wish you wouldn't talk about
yore bein' neglected down thar, Dick. The Lord knows I've laid awake
many an' many a cold night a-wonderin' ef they give you-uns enough
cover, an' ef they tuk them cold chains off'n you at night. An' I
reckon Marty did, too, fer she used to roll an' tumble as ef 'er mind
wasn't at ease.”
Wakeman took off his coat and rolled up his shirt-sleeves.
“I'm itchin' to set in to farm-work ag'in,” he said. “Let me salt
fer you, an' you run up thar an' tell 'er I'm back. Maybe she'll come
Lucinda gave him her place at the table, a troubled expression
taking hold of her features.
“The great drawback is Jeff Goardley,” she said. “It really does
look like him an' Marty will come to a understandin'. I don't know
railly but what she may have promised him; he has seemed mighty
confident heer lately.”
Wakeman shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. He filled his hands
with the salt from a pail and began to rub it on the pork.
Lingeringly the woman left him and turned up the slight incline
toward the house. His eyes did not follow her. He was scrutinizing the
pile of pork she had salted.
“Goodness gracious!” he grunted. “Lucindy has wasted fifteen pound
o' salt. Ef I'd 'a' done that Marty'd 'a' tuk the top o' my head off. I
wonder ef Marty could 'a' got careless sence she's had all the work to
He had salted the last piece of meat when, looking up, he saw
Lucinda standing near him.
“She wouldn't come a step,” she announced, with some awkwardness of
delivery. “When I told 'er you wuz down heer she jest come to the door
an' looked down at you a-workin' an' grunted an' went back to 'er
cracklin's. But that's Marty.”
The convict dipped his hands into a tub of hot water and wiped them
on an empty saltbag.
“I wonder,” he began, “ef I'd better—” But he proceeded no
“I think I would,” said the angular mind- reader, sympathetically.
“Well, you come on up thar, too,” Wakeman proposed. “I've always
noticed that when you are about handy she never has as much to say as
she does commonly.”
“I'll have to go,” said Lucinda. “Ef Marty gits to talkin' to you
she'll let the cracklin's burn, an' then—then she'd marry Goardley
out o' pure spite.”
As the pair reached the steps of the back porch the convict caught a
glimpse of a gingham skirt within, and its stiff flounce as it vanished
behind the half-closed door-shutter suddenly flung an aspect of
seriousness into his countenance. He paused, his foot on the lowest
step, and peered into the sitting-room. Seeing it empty, he smiled.
“I'll go in thar an' take a cheer. Tell 'er I want to see 'er.”
His air of returning self-confidence provoked a faint laugh from his
“Yo' 're a case,” she said, nodding her consent to his request. “You
are different frum 'most anybody else. Somehow I can't think about you
ever havin' been jailed fer hoss- stealin'.”
“It all depends on a body's feelin's,” the convict returned. “Down
thar in the penitentiary we had a little gang of us that knowed we wuz
innocent of wrong intentions, an' we kinder flocked together. All the
rest sorter looked up to us an' believed we wuz all right. It was a
comfort. I'll step in an' git it over.”
He walked as erectly as an Indian up the steps and into the
sitting-room. To his surprise Mrs. Wakeman started to enter the room
from the adjoining kitchen, and seeing him, turned and began to beat a
“Hold on thar, Marty,” he called out, in the old tone which had
formerly made strangers suppose that the farm and all pertaining to it
had been his when he married her.
She paused in the doorway, white and sullen.
“Ain't you a-goin' to tell a feller howdy an' shake hands?” he
asked, with considerable self-possession.
“What 'ud I do that fur?”
“Beca'se I'm home ag'in,” he said.
“Huh, nobody hain't missed you.” The words followed a forced shrug.
“I know a sight better'n that, Marty,” he said. “I know a woman that
'ud take a duck fit jest when I was gone to drive the cows home an' got
delayed a little, would fret consider'ble durin' four years of sech a—
a trip as I've had. Set down here an' let's have a talk.”
“I've got my work to do,” she returned, after half a minute of
speechlessness, her helpless anger standing between her and
“Oh, all right!” he exclaimed. “I ain't no hand to waste time durin'
work hours with dillydallyin'. Any other time'll do me jest as well. I
'lowed maybe it would suit you better to have it over with. I must git
out the boss an' wagon an' haul that hog-meat up to the smokehouse.
Whar's Cato? I'll bet that triflin' nigger has give you the slip ag'in
this hog-killin', like he always did.”
Mrs. Wakeman stared at the speaker in a sort of thwarted, defiant
way without deigning to reply; her sneer was the only thing about her
bearing which seemed at all expressive of the vast contempt for him
that she really did not feel. She felt that her silence was cowardly,
her failure to assert her rights as a divorced woman an admission that
she was glad of his return.
At this critical juncture Lucinda Dykes sauntered into the room and
leaned against the dingy, once sky-blue wall. Her air of interested
amusement over the matrimonial predicament had left her. It had dawned
upon her, now that her sister had taken refuge in obstinate silence,
that a vast responsibility rested on her as intermediary.
“Cato went with some more niggers to a shindig over at Squire Camp's
yesterday an' hain't showed up sence,” she explained. “Ef I was you-uns
—ef I was Marty, I mean—I'd turn 'im off fer good an' all. Dick,
sence you went off me nur Marty hain't been able to do a thing with
The convict grunted. It was as if he had succeeded in rolling the
last four years from his memory as completely as if they had never
“Jest wait till I see the black scamp,” he growled. “I reckon I'll
have to do every lick of the work myself.” With that Wakeman turned
into the entry and thence went to the stable-yard near by.
“He hain't altered a smidgin',” Lucinda commented. “It may be kase
he has on the identical same clothes; he's been a-wearin striped ones
down thar, you know, an' they laid away his old ones. To save me I
can't realize that he's been off even a week.” The old maid snickered
softly. “He's the only one that could ever manage you, Marty. Now Jeff
Goardley would let you have yore own way, but Dick's a caution! It's
always been a question with me as to whether a woman would ruther lead
a man ur be led.”
There was a white stare in Mrs Wakeman's eyes which indicated that
she was pondering the man's chief aggression rather than heeding her
sister's nagging remarks. The sudden appearance of the convict's head
and shoulders above a near-at-hand window-sill rendered a reply
unnecessary. His face was flushed.
“Can you-uns tell me whar under the sun the halter is?” he broke
forth, in a turbulent tone. “I tuk the trouble to put a iron hook up in
the shed-room jest fer that halted, an' now somebody has tore down the
hook an' I can't find hair nur hide o' the halter.”
Mrs. Wakeman tried to sneer again as she turned aside, and the gaunt
intermediary, spurred on to her duty, approached the window.
“The blacksmith tuk that hook to mend the harrow with,” she said,
with a warning glance at Marty. “You'll find the halter on the joist
above the hoss-trough. Ef I was you, on this rust day, I'd try to—“
But Wakeman had dropped out of sight, and muttering unintelligible
sounds indicative of discomfiture, was striding toward the stable.
All the rest of that afternoon the convict toiled in the
smoke-house, hanging the meat on hooks along the joists over a slow,
partly smothered fire of chips and pieces of bark. When the work was
finished his eyes were red from smoke and brine. He stabled the horse
and fed him, and then, realizing that he had nothing more to do, he
felt hungry. He wanted to go into the sitting-room and sit down in his
old place in the chimney-corner, but a growing appreciation of the
extreme delicacy of the situation had taken hold of him. He wandered
about the stable-yard in a desultory way, going to the pig-pen, now
empty and blood-stained, and to the well-filled corn-crib, but these
objects had little claim on his interest. The evening shadows had begun
to stalk like dank amphibious monsters over the carpet of turf along
the creek-banks, and pencils of light were streaming out of the windows
of the family-room. Suddenly his eyes took in the woodpile; he went to
it, and picking up the ax, began to cut wood. He was tired, but he felt
that he would rather be seen occupied than remaining outside without a
visible excuse for so doing. In a few minutes he was joined by Lucinda.
“Dick,” she intoned, “you've worked enough, the Lord Almighty knows.
Come in the house an' rest 'fore supper; it's mighty nigh ready.”
He avoided her glance, and shamefacedly touched a big log he had
just cut into the proper length for the fireplace.
“Cato, the triflin' scamp, hain't cut you-uns a single backlog,” he
said, in a tone that she had never heard from him.
“We hadn't had a decent one sence you went off, Brother Richard,”
she returned. “An' a fire's no fire without a backlog.”
Their eyes met. She saw that he was deeply stirred by her
tenderness, and that opened the floodgates of her sympathy. She began
to rub her eyes.
“Oh, Dick, I'm so miser'ble; ef you an' Marty don't quit actin' like
you are I don't know what I will do.”
She saw him make a motion as if he had swallowed something; then he
stooped and shouldered the heavy backlog and some smaller sticks.
“I'll give you-uns one more backlog to set by, anyhow,” he said,
She preceded him into the sitting-room and stood over him while he
raked out the hot coals and deposited the log against the back part of
the fireplace. Then she turned into the kitchen and approached her
sister, who was frying meat in an iron pan on the coals.
“Marty,” she said, unsteadily, “ef you begin on Dick I'll go off fer
good. I can't stand that.”
Mrs. Wakeman folded her stern lips, as if to keep them under check,
and shrugged her shoulders. That was all the response she made.
Lucinda turned back into the sitting-room, where the dining-table
stood. To-night she put three plates on the white cloth; one of them
had been Dick's for years. She put it at the end of the table where he
had sat when he was the head of the house. As she did so she caught his
shifting glance and smiled.
“I want to make you feel as ef nothin' in the world had happened,
Dick,” she said. “I've been a-fixin' you a bed in the company- room,
but you jest must be sensible about that.”
“Law! anything will suit me, “ he began. But the entrance of Marty
interrupted his remark.
She put the bread, the coffee, the meat, and the gravy on the table,
and sat down in her place without a word. Lucinda glanced at Wakeman.
“Come on, Dick,” she called out. “I'll bet yo' 're hungry as a
He drew out the chair that had been placed for him and sat down. Now
an awkward situation presented itself. In the absence of a man Marty
always asked the blessing. Lucinda wondered what would take place; one
thing she knew well, and that was that Marty was too punctilious in
religious matters to touch a bite of food before grace had been said by
some one. But just then she noticed something about Wakeman that sent a
little thrill of horror through her. Evidently his long life in prison
had caused him to retrograde into utter forgetfulness of the existence
of table etiquette, for he had drawn the great dish of fried meat
toward him and was critically eying the various parts as he slowly
turned it round.
“What a fool I am,” he said, the delightful savor of the meat
rendering him momentarily oblivious of his former wife's forbidding
aspect. “I laid aside the lights o' that littlest shote an' firmly
intended to ax you to fry 'em fer me, but—”
Lucinda's stare convinced him that something had gone wrong.
“Marty's waitin' fer somebody to ax the blessin',” she explained.
“Blessin'? Good gracious!” he grunted, his effusiveness dried up.
“That went clean out'n my mind. But a body that's tuk his meals on a
tin plate in a row o' fellers waitin' fer the'r turn four years
hand-runnin', ain't expected to—”
He went no further, seeming to realize that the picture he was
drawing was tending to widen the distance between him and the
uncompromising figure opposite him. He folded his hands so that his
arms formed a frame for his plate, and said in a mellow bass voice:
“Good Lord, make us duly thankful fer the bounteous repast that Thy
angels has seed fit to spread before us to-night. Cause each of us to
inculcate sech a frame of mind as will not let us harbor ill will ag'in
our neighbors, an' finally, when this shadowy abode is dispersed by the
light of Thy glory, receive us all into Thy grace. This we beg in the
name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
He ended in some confusion. A red spot hovered over each of his
cheek-bones. “I clean forgot that part about good crops an' fair
weather,” he said to Lucinda. “But you see it's been four yeer sence I
said it over, an' a man o' my age ought n't to be expected to know a
thing like a younger person.”
“Help yorese'f to the meat an' pass the dish to Marty” replied Miss
Dykes. “Ef I was you, I'd not be continually a-bringin' up things about
the last four yeer.”
He made a hurried but bounteous choice of the parts of meat on the
dish, and then gave it over into the outstretched hands of Lucinda.
Marty was pouring out the coffee. She passed the old-fashioned
mustache-cup to her sister, and that lady transferred it to Wakeman. He
sipped from it lingeringly.
“My Lord!” he cried, impulsively. “I tell you the God's truth; sech
good coffee as this hadn't been in a mile o' my lips sence I went—
sence I was heer,” he corrected, as Lucinda's warning stare bore down
After that the meal proceeded in silence. When he had finished, Dick
went back to his chair in the chimney-corner near the battered woodbox.
After putting away the dishes and removing the cloth from the table,
Lucinda came and sat down near him. Mrs. Wakeman, casting occasional
furtive glances toward the front door, appropriated her share of the
general silence in a seat where the firelight faded. Richard wore an
unsettled air, as if getting into old harness came as awkward as
putting on the new had come when he married, years before. After a few
minutes he became a little drowsy, and began to act naturally, as if by
force of returning habit. He unlaced his shoes, took them off, rubbed
the bottoms of his feet, thrust those members toward the fire, and
worked his toes. He also took a chew of tobacco. Profound silence was
in the room; the thoughts of three minds percolated through it. Marty
picked up the Christian Advocate and pretended to read, but she
dropped it in her lap and cast another look toward the door.
The rustling of the paper attracted Richard's gaze.
“Is she expectin'—is anybody a-comin'?” He directed the question
“I wouldn't be much surprised,” was the answer. “It's Jeff
“You don't say!” Each of the words had a separate little jerk, and
the questioning stare of the convict's eyes pierced the space
intervening between him and his divorced wife. He spat into the fire,
wiped his mouth with an unsteady hand, and caught his breath.
Silence again. Lucinda broke it.
“You hadn't never told us how you happened to git yore pardon,” she
“By a streak o' luck,” Wakeman said, the languid largeness of his
eyes showing that he was still struggling against the inclination to
sleep. “T'other day the governor sent word to our superintendent that
he was comin' to see fer hisself how we was treated. The minute I heerd
it, I said to myself, I did, 'Wakeman, you must have a talk with that
man,' So the mornin' he got thar we wus all give a sort of vacation an'
stood up in rows—like fer inspection. When I seed 'im a-comin'
towards me I jest gazed at 'im with all my might an' he got to lookin'
at me. When he got nigh me he stopped short an' said:
“'Looky' heer, my man,' said he; 'yore face seems mighty familiar to
me. Have I ever seed you before?'
“'Not unless you remember me a-throwin' up my hat in front o' the
stan' an' yellin' when you wus stump-speakin' in Murray jest 'fore yore
'lection,' said I.
“Then he laughed kinder good-natured like, an' said: 'I'm sorry to
see a voter o' mine in a fix like yo'r'n. What can I do fer you?'
“'I want to have a talk with you, yore Honor, an' that bad,' said I.
“'I am at yore disposal,' said he. 'That's what I'm heer fer. I'll
ax the superintendent to call you in a moment. What is yore name?'“
'Richard Wakeman, yore Honor,' said I.
“'An' one o' the best men we ever had,' said the superintendent.
“Well, they passed on, an' in a few minutes I was ordered to come to
the superintendent's office, an' thar I found the governor tilted back
smokin' a fine cigar.
“'You wanted to have some'n' to say to me Wakeman?' said he.
“I eased my ball an' chain down on the skin of a big-eyed varmint o'
some sort, an' stood up straight.
“'I did, yore Honor, an' that bad,' said I.
“'What is it?' said he.
“'I want to put my case before you, yore Honor,' said I. 'An' I'm
not a-goin' to begin, as every convict does, by sayin' he ain't guilty,
fer I know you've heerd that tale tell yo' 're heartily sick of it.'
“'But are you guilty?' said the governor. 'I have seed men sent up
fer crimes they never committed.'
“'Yore Honor,' said I, 'I didn't no more intend to steal that boss
o' Pike Williams's than you did—not a bit. Gittin' on a spree about
once a year is my main fault, an' it was Christmas, an' all of us was
full o' devilment. It was at the Springplace bar, an' Alf Moreland
struck me a whack across the face with his whip, an' bein' astraddle of
a fine nag he made off. Pike's nag was hitched at the rack nigh me,
an', without hardly knowin' what I was doin', I jumped on it an'
spurred off after Alf. I run 'im nip an' tuck fer about seven mile, an'
then me an' him rid on fer more whisky down the valley. The next day I
was arrested, so drunk they had to haul me to jail in a wagon. They
tried me before a jury o' men that never did like me, an' I got five
“When I stopped thar to draw a fresh breath the governor axed, 'Is
that what you wanted to say, Wakeman?'
“'Not a word of it, yore Honor,' said I. 'I jest wanted to put a
straight question to you about the law. Ef you knowed that a man was
a-sufferin' a sight more on account of imprisonment than his sentence
called fer, would that be right?'
“The governor studied a minute, then he kinder smiled at the
superintendent, an' said:
“'That's a question fer the conscience. Ef a man is imprisoned fer a
crime, an' jail life breaks his health down, an' is killin' 'im, then
he ort to be pardoned out.'
“Then I had 'im right whar I wanted 'im, an' I up an' told 'im that
I had a wife that was all the world to me, an' that durin' my term
mischievous folks had lied ag'in me an' persuaded 'er to git a divorce,
an' that a oily- tongued scamp was a-tryin' to marry 'er fer what
little land she had. I reminded 'im that I was put in fer stealin', an
that I had worked four yeer o' my sentence, an' that it looked like a
good deal o' punishment fer jest one spree, but that I wouldn't
complain, bein' as I was cured of the liquor habit an' never intended
to put the neck of a bottle to my mouth ag'in, but that I did kinder
want to hurry back home fore too much damage was done.
“Well, I'm not lyin' when I say the governor's eyes was wet. All of
a sudden he heft out his hen' to me an' said:
“'I feel shore you never intended to steal that boss, Wakeman.'
“'My wife never has believed it fer one instant,' said the
superintendent. 'An' it takes a woman to ferret out guilt.'
“The governor tuk a sheet o' paper an' a pen an' said:
“'Wakeman, I'm a-goin' to pardon you, an' what's more, I inten' to
send a statement to all the newspapers that I'm convinced you are a
wronged man. I've done wuss than you was accused of in my young days,
an' had the cheek to run fer the office of governor.'
“Then the superintendent's wife come in an' stood up thar an' cried,
an' axed to be allowed to unlock my manacles. She got out my old suit—
this un heer—an' breshed it 'erself, an' kept on a-cryin' an'
a-laughin' at the same time The last words that she said to me was:
“'Wakeman, go home an' make up with yore wife; she won't turn ag'in
you when you git back to the old place whar you an' her has lived
together so long, an' whar yore child's grave is.'“
The speaker paused. For a man so coarse in appearance, his tone had
grown remarkably tender. Lucinda was staring wide-eyed, with a fixed
aspect of features, as if she were half frightened at the unwonted
commotion within herself and the danger of its appearing on the
surface. Finally she took refuge in the act of raising her apron to her
Mrs. Wakeman had excellent command over herself, drawing upon a vast
fund of offended pride, the interest of which had compounded within the
last four years. Just at this crisis the steady beat of a horse's hoofs
broke into the hushed stillness of the room. Lucinda lowered her apron
with wrists that seemed jointless bone, and stared at her sister.
“Are you a-goin' to let that feller stick his head inside that door
The question was ill-timed, for it produced only a haughty,
contemptuous shrug in the woman from whom it rebounded. Wakeman did not
take his eyes from the fire. They heard the gate-latch click, and then
a heavy- booted and spurred foot fell on the entry step. The next
instant the door was unceremoniously opened and a tall, lank
mountaineer entered. He was at the fag-end of bachelorhood, had sharp,
thin features, a small mustache dyed black, and reddish locks which
were long and curling. He wore a heavy gray shawl over his shoulders.
At first he did not see Wakeman, for his eyes had found employment in
trying to discover why Marty had not risen as he came in. He glanced
inquiringly at Lucinda, and then he recognized Richard.
“My Lord!” he muttered. “I had no idee you—I 'lowed you—”
“I didn't nuther,” Richard sneered, the red firelight revealing
strange flashes in his eyes.
For some instants the visitor stood on the hearth awkwardly
disrobing his sinewy hands. Finally, unheeding Lucinda's admonitory
glances toward the door, and the prayerful current from her eyes to
his, he sat down near Marty. Ten minutes by the clock on the
mantelpiece passed, in which time nothing was heard except the lowing
of the cattle in the cow-lot and the sizzling of the coals when Richard
spat. At last a portion of Wakeman's wandering self-confidence
resettled upon him, and it became him well. He crossed his legs easily,
dropped his quid of tobacco into the fire, and with a determined gaze
began to prod his squirming rival.
“Lookye heer,” he said, suddenly. “What did you come heer fur,
Goardley leaned forward and spat between his linked hands. He
accomplished it with no slight effort, for the inactivity of his mouth,
which was not chewing anything, had produced a hot dryness.
“I don't know,” he managed to say. “I jest thought I'd come around.”
“Do you know whar you hitched?”
Goardley hesitated and glanced helplessly at Marty, who,
stern-faced, inflexible, was looking at the paper in her lap.
“I hitched under the cherry-tree out thar,” he answered, with
scarcely a touch of self- confidence in his tone.
“Well, go unhitch an' git astraddle of yore animal.”
Goardley blinked, but did not rise.
“I didn't have the least idee you had got free, Dick, an'—”
“Well, you know it now, so git out to that hoss, ur by all that's
Mrs. Wakeman drew herself erect and crumpled the paper in her bony
“This is my house,” she said, “an' I ain't no married woman.”
The white fixity of Goardley's countenance relaxed in a slow grin.
An automatic affair it was, but as he took in the situation it was a
recognition of the aid which had arrived at the last minute.
Wakeman stood up in his stockinged feet. He was still unruffled.
“That's a fact; the place is her'n,” he admitted. “But I'll tell you
one article that ain't. It's that thar shootin'-iron on them deer-horns up thar, an' ef you don't git out'n heer forthwith it'll make the
fust hole in meat that it's made in four yeer. Maybe me'n Marty
ain't man an' wife, but when we wuz married the preacher said,
'What the Lord has j'ined together let no man put asunder,' an' I ain't
a-goin' to set still an' see a dirty, oily-tongued scamp like you try
to undo the Lord's work. You know the way out, an' I was too late fer
hog-killin'. I went into the penitentiary fer jest one spree, but I'll
go in fer manslaughter next time an' serve my term more cheerful—I
mought say with Christian fortitude.”
Cowardice produced the dominant expression in Goardley's face. He
rose and backed from the room. The convict thumped across the
resounding floor to the door and looked out after the departing man.
“Run like a sheered dog,” he laughed, impulsively, as he turned back
into the room. And then he waxed serious as he entered the atmosphere
circling about Marty, who, with a stormy brow, sat immovable, her eyes
“I couldn't help it, to save me,” he began, apologetically, to her
profile. “But I reckon you an' me can manage to git along like we used
to, an' I never would 'a' had any respect fer myself ef I had a-let
that scamp set heer an' think he was a-courtin' of you right before my
Marty made no reply. A flush of suppressed emotion had risen in her
cheeks and was taking on a deeper tinge. Richard grunted, stepped
half-way back to his chimney-corner, and looked at her again. Seeing
her eyes still averted, he grunted aloud, and went to his chair and sat
down. Several minutes passed. Then Lucinda's prayerful eyes saw his
hand, now quivering, reach behind him and draw his shoes in front of
him. He put them on, but did not tie the strings.
“Somehow,” he said, rising, “somehow, now that I come to think of
it, I don't feel exactly right—exactly as I used to—an' I reckon,
maybe, I ort to go some'rs else. I reckon, as you said jest now, that
in the eyes o' some folks you ain't no married woman, an' I have been
makin' purty free fer a jail-bird. Old Uncle Billy Hodkins won't set
his dogs on me, an' I'll go over thar tonight. After that the Lord only
knows whar I will head fer. Uncle Billy never did believe I was guilty;
he's writ me that a dozen times.”
As he moved toward the door, in a clattering, slipshod fashion,
Lucinda fixed Marty with a fierce stare.
“Are you a-goin' to set thar an' let Dick leave us fer good?” she
hurled at her fiercely.
Marty made no reply save that which was embodied in a would-be
defiant shrug, but the flow of blood had receded from her face.
“Ef you do, you ain't no Christian woman, that's all,” was Lucinda's
half-sobbing, half- shrieked accusation. “Yo' 're a purty thing to set
up an' drink the sacrament with a heart in you that the Old Nick's fire
The convict smiled back at his defender from the threshold; then
they heard him cross the entry and step down on the gravel walk. He had
passed the bars and was turning up the side of a little hill, on the
brow of which a few gravestones shimmered in the moonlight, when he
heard his name called from the entry. It was Lucinda's voice; she came
to him, her hair flying in the wind.
“I 'lowed,” he said, sheepishly, as she paused to catch her breath,
“I jest 'lowed I'd go up thar an' see ef the water had been washin' out
round Annie's grave. The last time I looked at it the foot-rock was a
little sagged to one side.”
“Come back in the house, Dick,” cried the old maid. “Marty has
completely broke down. She's cryin' like a baby. She has been actin'
stubborn beca'se she was proud an' afeerd folks would think she was a
fool about you. As soon as I told 'er you didn't say that about bein'
willin' to go to jail to git out'n reach o' 'er tongue, she axed me to
run after you. She's consented to make it up ef we will send over fer
the justice an' have the marryin' done to-night.”
“Are you a-tellin' me the truth, Lucinda?”
“As the Lord is my witness.”
He stared at the farmhouse a moment; then he said:
“Well, you an' her git everything ready, an' I'll git Squire Dow an'
the license. I'll be back as soon as I kin.”
A RURAL VISITOR
Lucinda Gibbs stood in the corner of the rail fence behind her
cottage. Her face was damp with perspiration, and her heavy iron- gray
hair had become disarranged and hung down her back below the skirt of
her gingham sun-bonnet. She was raking the decayed leaves and dead
weeds from her tender strawberry sprouts and mentally calculating on an
abundant crop of the luscious fruit later in the spring.
“The trouble is I won't git to eat none of 'em,” she sighed, as she
looked up and addressed the woman on the other side of the fence.
“You don't mean that you are actually a-goin' shore 'rough, Mis'
Gibbs?” exclaimed Betsey Lowry, as she leaned heavily on the top rail.
The widow reversed her rake and began to pull out the leaves which
were packed between the metal teeth, her face reddening gradually, as
if she were slightly irritated.
“I'd like to know ef thar's anything strange about my goin',” she
said, coldly. “You said you'd feed my cat an' chickens an' attend to
the cow fer what she'd give.”
“Oh, it ain't because I have the least objection to keepin' my word
about them things,” said the old maid, quickly. “Goodness knows, me an'
Joel needs the milk an' butter bad enough, an' it ain't one speck o'
trouble jest to throw scraps to the cat, an' meal-dough to the
chickens, but somehow it skeers me to think of a lone woman like you
a-goin' all the way to New York by yorese'f.”
Mrs. Gibbs leaned the rake against the fence. The flush died out of
her face, giving place to a sweet, wistful expression.
“Betsey,” she said, tremulously, “tell me the truth. Do you think I
ought to stay at home?”
The old maid turned to look through the orchard of leafless trees to
her own house not far away. She had reddened slightly.
“Ef you push me fer a answer, Mis' Gibbs, I'll have to tell you I
don't think you ought to go away up thar all alone.”
“You feel that-a-way, Betsey, because you hadn't never had no child
an' been separated from it like I have. When Amos married up thar an'
went to housekeepin' it mighty nigh killed me. An' then I begun to live
on the bare hope that he'd come South on a visit, but he hadn't done
it, an' thar ain't no prospect of the like. He says he cayn't git away
frum his business without dead loss, an' they want me to come. I've
said many a time that I'd never leave my home, but, Betsey, it seems to
me that I cayn't live another week without seein' how Amos looks. The
Lord only knows how lonely I am mighty nigh all the time. Ef Susie had
lived, she'd never 'a' left me, married or not, but it's different with
a man. Sometimes I wonder why the Lord tuk 'em both frum me.”
Betsey's kindly face softened. The intervening fence kept her from
putting a consoling arm around her neighbor.
“I hadn't been blind—nur Brother Joel hadn't nuther—to yore
lonely way o' livin',” she said, sympathetically. “Thar's hardly a
night that me an' him don't look out 'fore we go to bed to see ef you
are still a-sittin' up readin' by yore lamp. I kin always tell when you
are a-thinkin' about Susie more'n common; it's always when you git back
frum 'er grave that you set up latest. I believe in layin' on o'
flowers an' plantin' shrubs that'll keep sech a precious spot green,
but when it seems to make a body brood-like, then I think it ought not
to be indulged in to any great extent.”
“It's rally a sort of comfort to go to the graveyard, “ faltered
Mrs. Gibbs; and she raised her apron to her mouth.
“How long do you intend to stay with Amos an' his wife?” asked
Betsey, to divert the widow's thoughts. She looked over her shoulder,
and saw her brother Joel, a tall, strong-looking man about fifty-five
years of age, approaching from the direction of his store, down at the
“Three months, I reckon,” replied the widow. “I know in reason that
I won't want to leave Amos a bit sooner. You see, it may be a long time
before I lay eyes on 'im again. They say the baby is doin' fine, an' I
want to see it an' nuss it.”
“So you are raily goin'?” cried Joel Lowry, as he leaned on the
fence beside his sister.
“Yes, I'm a-goin' to make the trip, Joel.”
“It's a long ways,” returned the storekeeper, “an' I don't see how
you are a-goin' by yorese'f. Ef it was jest a few weeks later, now, I
might pull up an' go along. I've always believed ef I went to New York
to lay in stock that I could save enough on my goods to defray my
expenses thar an' back.
The eyes of the widow flashed eagerly. She took a long, trembling
“I wisht to goodness you would,” she said. “I don't know one thing
about trains, an' I am powerful afraid I'll make a bobble of the whole
thing from start to finish. Ef I was to git on the wrong car—but what
is the use to cross a bridge 'fore you git to it? Mebby I'll git thar
“I hate mightily to have you try it,” replied Joel, reflectively, as
he stroked his short gray beard. “I jest wish you would think better of
it. I'm a leetle grain older'n you, Mis' Gibbs, an' I've been about
Mrs. Gibbs drew her rake after her as she turned toward her cottage.
“I don't want to change my mind,” she said, emphatically. “I'm bent on
seein' Amos, an' I'm a-goin' to do it. I'd better go in now. I've got a
lot of packin' to do.”
Joel went back toward his store across a field of decaying
corn-stubble without looking round, and Betsey climbed over the fence
and went into the cottage with her neighbor.
“I never hated to see a body go so in all my born days,” she sighed.
Mrs. Gibbs opened the front door and preceded Betsey into the room
on the right of the little hall.
“You mustn't mind how things looks in heer,” she apologized. “I left
my trunk open right spank in the middle of the room, so whenever I see
a thing that ought to go in I kin jest fling it at the trunk an' put it
away when I have time.”
Betsey stood over the little hair trunk and looked down dolefully.
“What on earth is that I smell?” she asked. “Sassafras, as I'm
“Yes, I dug it yesterday. Amos likes sassafras- root tea; he used to
drink a power of it to thin his blood in the spring; he writ that he
hadn't had a taste of it sence he left heer. Shorely, it's come to a
purty pass if a body cayn't get sech as that in a big city like New
“Seems to me,” remarked the old maid, “that you've got a sight more
truck here than you'll have any need fer. What's this greasy mess
“That's mutton suet,” was the enthusiastic reply. “It's the whitest
cake I ever laid eyes on. They'll need it fer chapped hands an' lips.
Amos says it's a sight colder up thar. That's ginger-cake in that paper
box, an' I've made him an' Sally some wool socks an' stockin's.”
“Are you shore you are a-goin' to be away three months?” asked
Betsey, with a sigh.
“Mebby longer than that,” answered the old woman. “I feel like I
never will want to leave Amos again, but I couldn't be away from my
home always, you know. La, it'll seem powerful strange to wake up an'
not look out o' that thar window towards the mountain.”
“An' not to heer the hens a-cacklin', an' the cow an' calf
a-bellowin',” added Betsey. Then she put her handkerchief to her eyes
and plunged hastily from the room. Mrs. Gibbs moved quickly to the
window and looked out. She saw Betsey climb over the fence and go on
through the orchard, her head hanging down.
The evening before the day appointed for Mrs. Gibbs's departure,
Betsey came in out of breath.
“What do you reckon?” she asked, as she stood over the hair trunk,
which, roped and labeled, stood on end near the widow's bed. “What you
reckon? Joel has made up his mind to go.”
The widow was putting a brightly polished tin coffee-pot into an
old-fashioned carpetbag which stood on the white counterpane of her
bed. She stood erect, her hands on her hips.
“Looky' heer, Betsey,” she exclaimed, excitedly, “don't you joke
with me! I've jest worried over this undertakin' till I've lost every
speck of appetite fer my victuals. I tell you I ain't in no frame o'
mind fer any light talk on the subject.”
“He's a-goin', I tell you!” declared the old maid. “I never dreamt
he was in earnest the other day when he fust mentioned it, but all last
night he liter'ly rolled an' tumbled an' couldn't git a wink o' sleep
fer worrryin' over you an' yore wild-cat project. This mornin' the fust
thing he said was that he'd made up his mind to go ef he could git a
round-trip ticket thar an' back. He told me not to say anything to you
tell he had sent to town. Jest a minute ago Jeff Woods got back with
the ticket. Joel seems mightily tickled over goin'.”
Mrs. Gibbs sat down. A serious expression had come over her face.
“Ef I'd 'a' knowed he raily meant to go I'd 'a' stopped 'im,” she
said. “I don't want to be a bother an' a burden to my neighbors.
Betsey, I'm a-gittin' to be a lots o' trouble to other folks.”
“Pshaw!” cried Betsey. “Ef Joel hadn't 'a' wanted to go he'd not 'a'
bought the ticket. La me, now I'll have to go git him ready.”
The next morning, arrayed in his best suit of clothes, new high
top-boots, and a venerable silk hat, Joel drove to the widow's cottage
in his spring wagon. While she was locking up the doors he and a negro
farmhand placed the widow's trunk into the back part of the wagon. The
neighbors from the farmhouses down the red clay road and across the
gray fields and meadows gathered at the gate. When Mrs. Gibbs emerged,
their mental comment was that she looked ten years younger than before
deciding on the journey.
“All that flushed face an' shiny eyes is 'ca'se she's goin' to
Amos,” remarked a woman who held a little bare-footed boy by the hand.
The woman addressed was an unmarried woman old enough to be a
grandmother. She looked at the widow's beaming visage, gave her head a
significant toss, and said, contemptuously: “I say! That woman ain't
a-thinkin' no more 'bout Amos 'an I am at this minute. It looks to me
like some people can't see a inch before their faces. My Lor', you make
me laugh, Mis' Ruggles.”
Arriving at the station, Joel turned the widow's trunk over to the
baggage-master, and with her carpet-bag and his own clutched in one
hand, he stood on the platform pulling his beard nervously.
“We'll have to spend one night on the train,” he said. “I never
thought to mention it, but they tell me that a body kin, by payin' a
fraction more, git a place to lie down and stretch out, an' snooze a
The widow seemed to have made up her mind that she would not show
crude astonishment at anything new to her experience, but her curiosity
finally caused her to admit that she had never heard of such an
arrangement. So, to the best of his ability, the storekeeper entered
into a description of a sleeping-car, lowering the carpet-bags to the
platform, and making signs and drawing imaginary lines with his hands.
“Men an' women in the same car with jest curtains stretched
betwixt?” she cried. “No, thank you! I won't make a fool o' myse'f if
other women does. I kin set up fer one night easy enough, I reckon.
I've done the like many a time with the sick an' the dead without
feeling the wuss fer it.”
“I hardly 'lowed it would suit,” stammered Joel, “but I thought thar
would be no harm in givin' you yore choice.”
“Not the least in the world, Joel”; and then she paled, caught her
breath, and grabbed her carpet-bag, for the people on the platform were
hurrying about; the train was coming.
In the train they found a seat together, and when the locomotive
shrieked and they dashed off through deep cuts and over high trestles,
Mrs. Gibbs was unable to control her excitement. He saw that she was
holding tightly to the arm of the seat.
“I have never been on sech a fast one before,” she said,
“She don't whiz nigh like some I've rid on out West,” replied Joel,
with an air of conscious importance, even guardianship.
A few minutes later she grew calmer. Happening to catch her eye, he
saw that her mind was far away.
“I was jest a-thinkin' how awful it is to be leavin' Susie's grave
so fur behind,” she said. “I'm goin' to Amos, but my other child is
“I was thinkin' about Rachel's grave jest a minute ago,” he
returned. “You called 'er to my mind jest now. Somehow you have the
same sort of a look about the eyes.”
“Shucks! that ain't so, I know!”
“It's true as I live!”
“Well, she was a good woman. “
“The best I ever run across, an' knowed rail well.
The sun, seen first on one side of the car and then on the other,
went down. The train porter laid a plank across the ends of the seats
and climbed up on it and lighted the lamps overhead. This made the
space outside look like a black curtain softly flapping against the
car. The widow opened her carpet- bag and took out something wrapped in
“Betsey said you loved fried chicken an' biscuits,” she said.
“It's my favorite dish,” he replied, stiltedly, readily cloaking
himself in his best table manners.
“I'm dyin' fer a cup o' coffee,” she said.
“This dry food will clog in my throat without some'n' to wash it
down. I put in a package o' ground coffee an' my littlest coffee-pot,
thinkin' thar might be some way to boil water, but I don't see no
chance. You say we don't stop long enough to git supper?”
“That's what the conductor said.”
But at the next station, where they stopped for only a minute, he
took the coffee-pot and hurried out. The train started on, and she was
greatly alarmed, thinking that he was left, but he had entered the rear
door and now approached with the coffee-pot steaming at the spout.
“Now, ef you've jest got a cup about you we'll be all hunkydory,” he
Her face lighted up with combined pleasure and relief. “Well, I
certainly 'lowed you was left back thar,” she laughed. “An' how on
earth did you git the coffee?”
“They sell it by the quart on the platform,” he replied. “I drapped
onto that trick once when I was on my way to Californy.”
She got out a tin cup and filled it with the coffee. “I never was so
downright grateful fer a thing in my life,” she remarked. “Now, help
yorese'f, an' I'll sip some along with my chicken an' bread.”
“I won't tech it tell you've had all you feel like takin',” said he,
The coffee and the lunch seemed to stimulate them both, for they sat
and chatted and laughed together till past eleven o'clock. Then he
noticed that she was growing sleepy, so he took the vacant seat behind
“It'll give you more room,” he said.
By and by he saw her head fall forward. She was asleep. He rolled up
his overcoat in the shape of a pillow and placed it on the end of the
seat, and touching her gently, he told her to lie down and rest her
head on the coat. She obeyed, with a drowsy smile of gratitude. He
watched her all through the night. She slept soundly, like a tired
“I never seed a body look so much like Rachel in all my life,” he
said several times to himself. “Pore woman! I'm that glad I come with
'er' She's had 'er grief, an' I've had mine.”
The stopping of the train a little after the break of day roused
her. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. He did not wait to speak to her,
but taking the coffee-pot, he ran out at the door behind her, so that
her first glimpse of him was when he appeared before her with more hot
“You must take a cup to start you out fer the day,” he smiled.
“You do beat the world, Joel!” she laughed. “I couldn't 'a' done
She made room for him beside her, and they ate breakfast together.
The rest of the journey they sat watching the changing landscape,
remarking upon the different methods of tilling the soil, and talking
of home and their neighbors.
“It's strange how people can live as nigh to one another as me an'
you have an' not git better acquainted,” he said. “I declare, you ain't
a bit like I thought you was.”
“I never railly knowed you, nuther, Joel,” she laughed. “You was
always sech a busy, say-nothin' sort of a man.”
“An' right now you are off to stay a long time, and I'll have to go
back to the backwoods. I wonder ef—”
He went no farther, and she did not help him out. She had suddenly
grown reticent, and seemed occupied with the landscape, which was
rushing southward like a swollen stream of level farming lands, in
which floated houses, fences, twisting trees, and waltzing men and
“I reckon you'll stay up thar all the spring an' summer,” he said at
“I wouldn't like to leave Amos right away,” she made answer. “You
see, I hadn't seed the boy fer a long time, an' I hadn't thought o'
nothin' but him fer many a day.”
They arrived in New York at six o'clock that evening. Amos met them
at the train. They hardly recognized him in his silk hat, long
overcoat, stylish necktie, and kid gloves. Joel did not approve of what
he considered a rather dudish dress, but he overlooked that when he saw
how happy the young man was at the sight of his mother.
“I wish I could invite you to my house, Mr. Lowry,” said Amos,
cordially, “but the truth is, we have only a small flat, and there is
hardly room for you.”
“Oh, never mind me,” said Joel. I'm a-goin' to a tavern nigh whar I
do my tradin'. I'll tell you good day now, but I'll run in an' see ef
Mis' Gibbs has any word to send back when I start home.
He did not see her again for a week. He had concluded his purchases,
and was ready to return South, when he decided to look her up. Finding
her was more difficult than he had imagined. After several hours'
search on the east side of the city, she being on the west, he finally
reached the big building which contained Amos's flat. Here he became
involved in another mystery, for he found the front door, a glistening
plate-glass affair, firmly locked, and no bell in sight. He stood in
the tiled vestibule for several minutes deliberating on what was best
to do. Fortunately, he saw a policeman passing, and hailed him.
“I've got a friend a-livin' somewhar in this shebang,” he said; “but
you may hang me ef I know how to git at 'im.”
“Is his name on one of the letter-boxes?” asked the policeman.
“What letter-boxes?” questioned Joel. “I hain't seed no names.”
With an amused aspect of countenance the policeman mounted the steps
and went into the vestibule. Here he opened some wooden doors in the
wall, disclosing to view a long row of letter-boxes with the cards of
their owners beneath them.
“Who's your friend?” he asked, kindly.
“Amos Gibbs. I've knowed 'im ever sence he was a little—”
“There,” interrupted the policeman. “I pushed the button. That rang
a bell inside, and they will open the door by electricity if anybody is
at home. When you hear the latch clicking, push the door open and go
He disappeared down the street, and then Joel was roused from
apathetic helplessness by a rapid clicking in the lock. He opened the
door and went in. It was fortunate that Amos lived on the first floor,
or even then Joel would not have known how to proceed farther. As it
was, another door at the end of the heavily carpeted hall opened and a
servant girl in white cap and apron put out her head.
“Yes,” she said, in answer to his inquiry. Mrs. Gibbs was at home,
He followed her into a little parlor facing the street, with a single
window. It was furnished more neatly than any room Joel had ever been
in. The polished hardwood floor was covered with rugs of various kinds
and sizes, and the room contained a bookcase, an upright piano,
pictures, and pieces of bric-a-brac such as the store-keeper had never
Mrs. Gibbs entered from the dining-room in the rear. Her hair was
done up in a new style, which made her head appear larger than usual,
and she wore a shining black silk gown that added height, dignity, and
youth to her general aspect. She gave him her hand, and her whole
attire rustled as she sat down.
“Well, you got heer at last,” she said. “I 'lowed you never would
come. I've been lookin' fer you every day. I hain't hardly done
anything else sence I got heer.”
Joel stared, flushed, and tensely folded his hands anew. It seemed
to him that he would not have suffered such a dire lack of words if she
had not been looking so fine. It was as if his stalwart masculinity
were a glaring misfit among the dainty gewgaws about him. He was
mortally afraid the slender gilded chair he was sitting on would break
under his two hundred weight. He had never imagined that dress could
make such a change in the appearance of any one. The only features
about her which seemed natural were her voice and a triangular bit of
her wrinkled face which showed through her low-parted hair.
“I come as soon as I got through,” he heard himself say; and then he
cleared his throat from a great depth as an apology for the frailty of
“I kin see you think I'm a sight to behold,” she laughed, merrily.
“Sally fixed me up this- a-way. She fluted my hair with a hot curlin'
fork, an' combed it like the New York women's. She hain't done one
thing sence I come but haul out dresses an' fixin's that used to belong
to 'er dead mother, an' try 'em on me, an' they've kept me on the move
tell I'd give a sight fer jest one little nap whar thar wasn't so much
clatter. Last night they give me a old woman's party. Joel, jest think
of a person o' my age a-settin' up tell 'leven o'clock talkin' to a
gang o' gray-haired women like a passel o' hens jest off the'r nests!
An' jest when I 'lowed they was all goin' home, Sally passed around
things to eat an' drink.”
“They wanted to make you have a good time,” ventured the
The widow lowered her voice, and threw a furtive glance toward the
“But it ain't the way to make a woman o' my raisin' enjoy a visit,”
she said, cautiously. “I don't dare to say a word, fer Amos seems
tickled to death over all that Sally gits up; but, Joel, I'm mighty
nigh dead. Like a born idiot, I told 'em in my last letter that I'd
stay three months, an' now, as the Lord is my help an' stay, I don't
believe I can make out another week.”
Her voice faltered. Moisture glistened in her eyes.
“I hope it ain't as bad as that,” remarked Joel, in a tone of vast
“It's jest awful,” whimpered the widow. “I make so many fool
blunders. 'Tother day they wanted me to go to Brooklyn with 'em, an' I
jest lied out o' goin'; an' as they wanted to take the hired gal along
to watch the baby, I agreed to stay at home an' 'tend to the house. My
Lord, Joel, ef you've never been alone in one o' these contraptions,
don't you ever try it. The hired gal showed me all the different
arrangements, an' what I was to do. When the bell in the back rings you
must press the button in the kitchen, an' when the bell in the front
rings, it's somebody at the side door in the hall. An' when you hear a
shrill whistle out'n the talkin'-tube in the kitchen, you have to open
the end an' blow an' then holler through ant ax what's wanted. Then ef
it's groceries, ur milk, ur peddlers' stuff, ur what not, you have to
go to the dumb-waiter that fetches things up through a hole in the wall
like a well-bucket an' take the things off. I had a lots o' trouble. I
was busy all the while the family was off at that dumb-waiter. Like a
born fool, I didn't know it tuk stuff to other folks, too, an' I
thought it would save time to set at the dumb-waiter with the door
open, an' take off the things without waitin' fer 'em to whistle. You
never seed the like in all yore life! Before I'd been thar a hour, the
kitchen was liter'ly filled with all manner o' stuff, beer,
bad-smellin' cheese, and oodlin's an' oodlin's o' milk in bottles.
After a while I heerd a fearful racket inside the dumb-waiter. People
all the way to the top was a-yellin' out that somebody had stole the'r
things, and the landlord was a-bouncin' about like a rubber ball, an'
talkin' of callin' in the police. Finally he come in an' axed me about
it. He fixed it all right fer me, and delivered the goods to their
rightful owners, an' promised not to tell Amos nur Sally what I'd
“You did sorter have a time of it,” said Joel. “I'm no hand myse'f
to understand new fixin's. It's been chilly the last day or so, an'
when I went to my room in the tavern t'other night I noticed that it
was powerful warm after I went to bed. I got up an' struck a light, but
thar wasn't a sign of a fireplace in the room, an' it was so hot I
'lowed thar might be a conflagration a-smolderin' som'ers. So I put on
my things an' went down to the office. They explained to me that the
heat comes frum a furnace below, an' runs into the rooms through holes
in the floor. They come up an' shet mine off so as I could sleep.”
“It's a heap nicer our way,” said the widow, without a smile at his
misadventure. “I tell you, Joel, I jest can't stand it. I want to go
back. When are you a-goin'?”
“In the mornin'.”
She fumbled in the pocket of her skirt and took out her
handkerchief, placing it to her eyes.
“Oh, I'm heartily sick of it all!” she whimpered. “You are the fust
rail natural thing I've laid eyes on sence I come. Sally is mighty
cleanly, an' I'd ax you to clean the mud off'n yore feet, but it's the
fust muddy feet I've seen in so long I want to look at 'em.”
Joel glanced down at his boots and flushed. “I never noticed 'em,”
he stammered. “I had sech a time a-gittin' in this shebang.”
“Lord, it don't matter, Joel! I'm jest a-thinkin' about you a-goin'
home. I simply cayn't stand it; an' yet Amos an' Sally would feel bad
ef I went so soon. Amos was sayin' last night that they would make me
have sech a good time that I'd never want to leave 'em; but la me! this
is the fust rail work I've done in many a day.
“Well, I must go, I reckon,” Joel said, rising awkwardly and taking
his hat from the floor by his chair. “I'm sorry, too, to go back an'
leave you feelin' so miserable. I wish I could do some'n' to comfort
you, but I can't, I reckon. Good-bye—take keer of yorese'f.”
When he arrived home two days later, Betsey found him, as she
thought, peculiarly reticent about his trip, and all her efforts to get
him to speak of how Mrs. Gibbs was pleased were fruitless. One
afternoon two weeks after his return she ran into his store, where he
was busy weighing smoked bacon which he was purchasing from a customer.
“What you reckon, Joel?” she asked. “What you reckon has happened?”
“I don't know,” he said, looking up from the paper on which he was
“Mis' Gibbs's got back.”
“You cayn't mean it, sister!”
Betsey leaned against the counter, and the hardware in the showcase
rattled. Joel's face had paled. He called his clerk to him, and told
him to settle with the customer, and walked to the door with Betsey.
“Yes,” she said. “She got home in Jeff Woods's hack about a hour
ago. All the neighbors is over there now. She acts so quar! She hadn't
seemed to keer a speck about the cow, nur the cat, nur the chickens. As
soon as she got 'er things off, she jest sot down an' drooped. She
don't look well. The general opinion is that Amos an' his wife have
sent 'er home, fer she won't talk about them. She acts mighty funny.
Jest as I started out I happened to remark that you'd be astonished to
heer she was back, an' I never seed sech a quar look in a body's face.
But,” she concluded after a pause, “they couldn't 'a' treated 'er so
awful bad, fer she's got dead loads o' finery.”
That night Joel closed up his store earlier than usual, and when he
came into the sitting- room he brought an armful of big logs and put
them in the chimney. Then before a roaring fire he sat reflectively,
without reading the paper he had brought with him, as was his wont.
Betsey sat in the chimney-corner knitting, and looking first at him and
then peering through the window toward Mrs. Gibbs's cottage.
“Brother Joel,” she said, suddenly. “You are a-actin' quar, too. You
must know some'n' about what happened to Mis' Gibbs, ur why don't you
go over thar an' see 'er like the rest o' the neighbors? They've all
been but you. She'll think strange of it.”
“I don't see what good I could do,” he answered; and he began to
punch the fire, causing a stream of sparks to mount upward with a
fusilade of tiny explosions.
Betsey knitted silently for a few minutes longer, then she rose and
stood at the window.
“She's got 'er lamp on the table an' a paper in 'er lap, but she
hain't a-readin' of it,” said Betsey. “It looks jest like she's a-goin'
to commence 'er lonely broodin' life over ag'in. Some'n' seems wrong
with 'er, as good an' sweet as she is. She kinder fancied she'd be
happy with Amos, an' mebby when she got 'im with 'er she begun to pine
fer her ole home. Now she's back, an' I reckon she hardly knows what
she does want. I say, perhaps that may be her fix.”
“Mebby it is,” admitted the storekeeper, briefly.
Betsey turned on him quickly. There was a peculiar aggressive
sparkle in her eyes, a set look of determination on her face.
“Brother Joel,” she said, “you've jest got to have a grain of common
sense. You've got to go over thar this minute an' see 'er. Ef you don't
she ain't a-goin' to sleep a wink. I know women, an' I've knowed Mis'
Gibbs a long time.”
Joel drew his feet from the fire and wedged his heels under the rung
of his chair. The muscles of his face were twitching. There was no
mistaking Betsey's tone. She sat down near him and laid her thin,
tremulous hand on his knee.
“Do as I tell you, brother. Don't be back'ard. You can't hide
Joel rose. He tried to smile indifferently as he went to a little
mirror on the wall and brushed his hair and beard.
“You must wish me good luck, then, sister,” he said, huskily. “I
ain't no ways shore what she will do about me.”
After he had gone out Betsey took up an album and opened it at a
collection of tin- type pictures. On one of these her eyes rested long
and mistily. Then she kissed it, wiped her eyes, and went to bed. Two
hours later she heard the front door close and her brother creeping to
“Oh, Joel!” she called out. “Come to my door a minute.”
His boots made a loud clatter in the dead stillness of the house, as
“Was it all right, brother?”
“You bet it was, Betsey!” He stood in the doorway. The darkness hid
his face, but there was a note of boundless joy in his tone.
“I thought it would be, but I don't yet understand why she come back
“She don't like city folks' ways,” answered the storekeeper; “an'
“An' then what?” broke in Betsey, impatiently.
“Well, you see, the—the notion seemed to strike both of us when we
was travelin' together, an'—an' she admitted that she was a leetle
grain afeered that ef we didn't see one another ag'in fer three months
that the notion might wear off. Railly, she's tickled to death, fur now
she says she kin give Amos an' Sally a sensible reason fer wantin' to
git back home.”
Betsey was silent so long that Joel began to wonder if she had
fallen asleep. Finally she said:
“Go to bed now, Joel. She's the very woman fer you. I hain't never
had no rail happiness in my life sence Jim died, but I want them I love
to git all they kin.”
JIM TRUNDLE'S CRISIS
They were expecting Jim Trundle at the Cross-Roads that spring
morning. His coming had been looked for even more anxiously than that
of Sid Wombley, the wag of the “Cove.” Sid himself, when he dragged his
long legs into the store, forgot to think of anything amusing to say as
he looked the crowd over to see if Jim had preceded him.
It was on the end of his tongue to ask if Trundle had come and gone,
but for once he said nothing. He seated himself on the head of a
soda-keg and began to whittle the edge of the counter. Sid Wombley,
quiet, suited the humor of the group better on this occasion than the
same voluble individual in his natural element, so no one spoke to him,
and all continued to watch the road leading to Trundle's cabin.
The silence and the delay were too much for the patience of Wade
Sims, a bold, dashing young man in tight-fitting trousers, sharp heeled
boots, and a sombrero like an unroped tent. He was, as he often
expressed it, “afraid o' nothin' under a hide,” and if “the boys” had
seen fit to give Jim Trundle notification, in the shape of a letter he
would shortly receive, that he was a disgrace to the community, he saw
no reason for so much secrecy. He wasn't afraid of the verdict of any
jury that could be impaneled in the three counties over which he openly
traded horses and secretly disposed of illicit whisky.
“I reckon thar's no doubt about the letter bein' ready fer 'im,” he
remarked to Alf Carden, who stood in the little pigeon-holed pen of
upright palings which was known as “the post office.”
“I reckon not,” was the reply, “when it's about the only letter I
got on hand.”
“I could make a mighty good guess who drapped it,” said Sims, with a
grin at a one- armed man who had once held the position of book-keeper
at a cotton-gin, and who wrote letters and legal documents for half the
illiterate community, “but I wouldn't give 'im away if I was under
“I have an idee who's gain' to drap it,” spoke up Sid Wombley from
his soda-keg, and his sudden return to his natural condition evoked the
first laugh of the morning. At that moment a little boy, the son of the
storekeeper, who had been playing on the porch, came in quickly. His
words and manner showed that he knew who was in request, if his
intellect could not grasp the reason for it.
“Mr. Trundle is comin' acrost the cottonpatch behind the store,” he
announced, out of breath. Then silence fell on the group, a silence so
complete that Jim Trundle's strides over the plowed ground outside were
distinctly heard. The next moment Trundle had crawled over the low rail
fence at the side of the store, and with clattering, untied brogans was
coming up the steps.
The doorway, as his tall, lank figure passed through it, framed a
perfect picture of human poverty. His shirt, deeply dyed with the red
of the soil, was full of slits and patches worn threadbare. The hems of
his trousers had worn away, revealing triangular glimpses of his
ankles, and a frayed piece of a suspender hung from a stout peg in the
He greeted no one as he entered. A silent tongue was one of Jim
Trundle's peculiarities. Few people had ever gotten a dozen consecutive
words out of him. He strode to the end of the store, thrust his hand
into an open cracker-box, bit into a large square cracker, and sent his
eyes foraging along both counters for something to eat with it—
cheese, butter, a bit of honey, or a pinch of dried beef. He was
violating no rule of country store etiquette, for Alf Carden's
customers all understood that those things left on the counters were to
be partaken of in moderation. I think the habitues of the place had
gradually introduced this custom themselves years before, when Carden
was so anxious to draw people from the store across the river that he
would willingly have given a customer bed and board for an indefinite
time if by so doing he could have deprived his rival of the profit on a
bag of salt.
Jim Trundle wasn't going to ask if there was any mail for him, that
was plain to the curious onlookers; and their glances began to play
back and forth between Carden and the cracker consumer, making demands
on the former and condemning the latter for not more readily walking
into the trap set for him.
Wade Sims winked when he caught the storekeeper's eye, and nodded
toward the gaunt robber, who had squatted at the faucet of a
syrup-barrel and was cautiously trailing a golden stream over an
“So you didn't git no letter fer me, Alf,” said Sims, significantly.
“Seems like no mail don't come this way here lately hardly at all. I
hope all the rest'll have their ride fer nothin' too.”
Alf Carden understood, having given Sims a letter half an hour
before, and he smiled. “No,” he said, “thar hadn't nothin' fer any of
you except Jim Trundle; has he come along yet?”
Jim stood up quickly, and laid his besmeared cracker on the barrel.
“Me?” he ejaculated, and a white puff shot from his crunching jaws; “I
—I reckon yo're mistaken.”
“I reckon I kin read,” replied Carden, still acting his part
nonchalantly, and glancing askance at Sims to see how that individual
was taking it. “It is jest Jim Trundle in plain A B C letters. It is
either from somebody that cayn't write shore 'nough writin' ur is
tryin' to disguise his handwrite.”
Carden threw the letter on the counter. It lay there fully a minute,
while Jim Trundle wiped his hands on his trousers, gulped down a
mouthful of cracker, and stared helplessly round at the upturned faces.
Then he reached for the letter, and with trembling fingers tore it open
and read as follows:
“Jim Trundle. This is to give you due notic. We the reglar organized
band of Regulators of this settlement hav set on yore case an decided
what we are goin to do about it. Time and agin good citizens have
advised you to change yore way of livin, but you jest went along as
before, in the same old rut.
“You are no earthly account, an no amount of talkin seems to do you
any good. Yore childern are in tatters an without food, an you jest
wont do nothin fer them. This might hav gone on longer without action,
but last Wednesday you let yore sick wife go to the field in the hot
brilin sun, an she was seed by a responsible citizen in a faintin
condition, while you was on the creek banks a fishin in the shade.
“To night exactly at eight oclock we are comin after you in full
force to give you a sound lickin. Yore wife an childern would be better
off without you, and we advise you to leave the country before that
time. If we find you at home at eight oclock you may count on a sore
Yours truly, the secretary.”
The spectators observed that Jim Trundle had read every word of the
communication. His eyes, in their sunken sockets, darted strange,
hunted glances from face to face, as if seeking sympathy; then, as if
realizing the futility of the hope, he looked down at the floor. He
leaned back against the counter so heavily that Carden's thread-case
rattled its contents and the beam of the scales wildly swung back and
The group furtively feasted themselves on his visible agony, but
they got nothing more, for Jim Trundle did not intend to talk. Talking
was not in his line. He knew that at eight o'clock that night he was
going to be punished in a way that would be remembered against the
third and fourth generation of his descendants—that is, if he did not
desert his family and leave the country.
“Kin I do anything fer you in the provision line, Jim?” asked
Carden, for the entertainment of his customers. “I've got some fresh
bulk pork. Seems to me you hain't had none lately.”
Trundle refused to answer. He only stared out into the golden
sunshine that lay on the road to his home. He saw through Carden's
remarks, and his heart felt heavier under the thought that before him
were some of the faces which would be masked later on. He wondered if
those men knew that a lazy, worthless vagabond could feel disgrace as
keenly as they could.
There was nothing left for him to do except to go home. He wanted to
turn his mind- pictures of his wife and children into helpful
realities. Somehow they had always comforted him in trouble. Oh, God!
if only he could have foreseen the approach of this calamity! As he
moved out of the store he felt vaguely as if his arms, legs, and body
had nothing to do with his real, horrible self except to hinder it, to
detain it near its spot of torture.
Outside he drew a long, deep, trembling breath. His breast rose and
expanded under his ragged shirt and then sank like a collapsed balloon,
and lay still while he thought of himself. He was a dead man alive, a
moving, breathing horror in the sight of mankind.
He was sure that it was his strange nature that had brought him to
it. Nature had, indeed, made him happy in rags, oblivious to material
things. Had he been endowed with education he might have become a poet.
He saw strange, transcendent possibilities in the blue skies; in the
green growing things; in the dun heights of the mountains; in the
depths of his children's eyes; in the patient face of his wife.
What an awakening! A shudder ran over him. He felt the lash; he
heard Wade Sim's voice of command; then his lower lip began to quiver,
and something rising within him forced tears into his eyes. He had
begun to pity himself. If only those men really understood him they
would pardon his shortcomings. No human being could knowingly lash a
man feeling as he felt.
The road homeward led him into the depths of a wood where mighty
trees arched overhead and obscured the sky. He envied a squirrel
bounding unhindered to its sylvan home. Nature seemed to hold out her
vast green arms to him; he wanted to sink into them and sob away the
awful load that lay upon him. In the deepest part of the wood, where
tall, rugged cliffs bordered the road, there was a spring. He paused,
looked round him, and shuddered anew, for something told him it was at
this secluded spot that he would receive his castigation.
He passed on. The trees grew less dense along the way, and then on a
rise ahead of him he saw his cabin, a low, weather-beaten structure
that melted into the brown plowed fields about it. He was anxious to
see his wife. Could it be true that she had almost fainted while at
work? If so, why had she not mentioned it to him? He had noted nothing
unusual in her conduct of late; but how could he? She was as
uncommunicative as he, and they seldom talked to each other.
As he passed the pig-sty in the fence-corner even the sight of the
grunting inmate seemed to remind him that he was going to be whipped by
his neighbors. He shuddered and felt his blood grow cold. He shuddered
with the same thought again, as if he were encountering it for the
first time, when he dragged open the sagging gate and looked about the
bare yard. In one corner of it he had once started to grow some
flowers, but his neighbors had laughed at his attempt so much that he
allowed the bulbs to die and be uprooted by his chickens. His mind now
reverted to that period, and he decided it was this and kindred
impulses that had always kept him from being a good husband, father,
and citizen like his sturdy, more practical neighbors.
Well, to-morrow he was going to turn over a new leaf—that is, if—
but he could not look beyond the torture set for eight o'clock. He had
imagination, but it could picture nothing but every possible detail of
his approaching degradation—the secluded spot, the masked circle of
men, a muffled talk by Wade Sims, the baring of his back,—the lash!
His wife was in the cabin. She held a wooden bowl in her lap and was
shelling peas. As he towered up in front of her in the low- roofed
room, for the first time in his life he noticed that she looked pale
and thin, and as he continued to study the evidences against him in
growing bewilderment he felt that even God had deserted him.
She looked up.
“What's the matter?” she asked, in slow surprise.
“Nothin'.” But he continued to stare. How thin her hair seemed since
she had recovered from the fever! Perhaps if he had insisted on having
a doctor something might have been done for her then that was
neglected. Poor Martha! how he had made her suffer! The whipping would
not be so hard to bear now, except that—if she were to know—if she
were to witness it. Ah, he had not thought of that! Yes, God had left
him wholly at the mercy of Wade Sims and the rest of his neighbors.
Her eyes held a look of deep concern.
“What are you lookin' at me that-a-way fer?” she asked.
He made no answer, but turned to a stool in the chimney-corner and
sat down. She must not suspect what was going to happen. He would not
escape it by deserting her, for he was going to be a better man,
beginning with the next day. He would stay with her and protect her,
but she must never hear of the whipping. He understood her proud spirit
well enough to know that she could never get over such a disgrace.
Then out of the black flood of his despair a plan rose and floated
into possibility before his mind's eye. Sims' men would gather at the
store, and just before the appointed hour would march along the road he
had just traversed. He would make some excuse to his wife for being
obliged to absent himself for a little while and go to meet them. If he
told them he had voluntarily come to be whipped, they might agree to
keep the fact from his wife. Yes, God would not let them refuse that,
for even Wade Sims would not want to pain an unoffending woman when he
was told how Martha would take it. Then a sob broke from him, and he
realized that his head had fallen between his knees, that tears were
dripping from his eyes to his hands, and, moreover, that Martha was
looking at him as she had never looked before. She wanted to ask him
what was the matter, but she could not have done it to save her life.
“Are you ready fer dinner?” she asked, still with that look in her
“Yes, I reckon, ef—ef you are. Whar's the children?”
“Behind the house, hoein' the young corn. Do you want 'em?”
“No; jest thought I'd ask.”
She emptied the peas from her apron into the bowl, and put it on a
shelf. Then she walked across the swaying puncheon floor to a little
cupboard, and began to busy her hands with some dishes, keeping furtive
eyes the while on him. He evidently thought himself unobserved, for he
allowed his head to fall dejectedly again, and stared fixedly at the
hearth. Surely, thought Mrs. Trundle, Jim had never acted so peculiarly
before. Wiping a plate with a dishcloth, she moved across the floor
till she stood in front of him. He looked up. The gleaming orbs in
their deep hollows frightened the woman into speech she might not have
“Look y' heer, Jim, has anythin' gone wrong?”
“No.” He drew himself up, and rubbed his eyes. “Did you say dinner
“You know the table hain't set. Look y' heer, are you sick, Jim
“No.” His eyes rested on her. There was much that he wanted to ask
her, if only he could have found the words. She turned away
unsatisfied. The next moment she fanned him with the cloth she was
spreading for the meal, then she put a plate of fried bacon and a pan
of corn bread on the table, went to the back door, and called the
children from their work.
He studied them one by one with fresh horror as they filed in,
wondering what this one or that one would think if they should learn
that their father had been whipped for neglecting them and their
mother. At the table, however, he studied his wife chiefly. The
children were young and healthy, and devoured their food like famished
animals, but she was only making feeble pretenses with the piece of
bread she was daintily breaking and dipping into bacon-grease. The
“Regulators,” as they called themselves, were right; he had allowed a
sick wife to go into the hot sun to do work he ought to have done. He
thought now of the lash again, but not with a shudder. It could never
pain him more than the agony at his heart.
He spent that long afternoon under an apple-tree behind the cabin,
mending a harrow that was broken, stealing glances at his wife, longing
to open his heart to her, watching the progress of the sun in its slow
descent to the mountain-top, and feeling the threatening chill of the
lengthening shadows. All nature seemed mutely to announce the coming
horror. At sundown he went to the shelf in the entry, filled a tin pan
with fresh springwater, and washed his face and hands. Then he went in
to supper, but he did not eat heartily.
“Don't you feel no better, Jim?” asked his wife, her manner softened
by a vague uneasiness his actions had roused. A suggestion of his mute
suppressed agony seemed to have reached her and drawn her nearer to
“No, I hain't sick; I'll be all right in the mornin'.”
Through the open door he watched the darkness thicken and heard the
insects of the night begin to chirp and shrill. He had the curse of
introspective analysis, and resolved that they were happy. He used to
whistle and sing himself when his youth rendered it excusable. How very
long ago that seemed!
All at once he rose, pretended to yawn, and said something to his
wife about going over to Rawlston's a little while; he would be back by
bedtime. She wondered in silence, and after he had passed through the
gate she tiptoed to the door and looked after him uneasily.
The landscape darkened as he went along the road toward Carden's
store. It was quite dark in the wooded vale. When he reached the spring
he stopped to await the coming of Wade Sims and his followers. He
wondered if the spot was far enough from the cabin to prevent Martha
from hearing the blows that were to fall. He hoped it was, and, more
than anything else, that “the regulators” would not be drinking. They
would be more apt to listen to his request if they were perfectly
sober. The rising moon in the direction of the store now made the
arched roadway look like a long tunnel.
It would soon be eight o'clock. He sat down on the root of a tree
and tried to pray, but no prayer he had ever heard would come into the
chaos of his mind, and he could not invent one to suit the occasion. By
and by he heard voices down the road, then the tramp, tramp of
footsteps. A dark blur appeared on the moonlit roadway at the mouth of
the tunnel, and grew gradually into a body of men.
Jim Trundle stood up. They should find him ready.
“Hello! what have we heer?” It was the undisguised voice of Wade
Sims. The gang of twenty men or more paused abruptly. There was a
hurried fitting on of white cloth masks.
“Who's that?” called out the same voice, peremptorily, and the
hammer of a revolver clicked.
“Huh!” Wade's grunt of surprise was echoed in various exclamations
round the group. “On yore way out'n the county, eh? Seems to me yore
time's up. We'll have to put it to a vote. It's a little past eight
o'clock, an' you've had the whole day to git a move on you. Whar you
“I ain't on my way nowhar. I come down heer a half-hour ago to meet
you-uns, an' I've jest been a-waitin'.”
“To meet we-uns? Huh! Jeewhilikins!” It sounded like Alf Carden's
“I—I 'lowed you-uns would likely want to do it heer, bein' as it
was whar you-uns tuck Joe Rand last fall.”
Silence fell—a silence so profound, so susceptible, that it seemed
to retain Trundle's words and hold them up to sight rather than to
hearing for fully half a minute after they had ceased to stir the air.
Even Wade Sim's blustering equipose was shaken. His mask appealed
helplessly to other masks, but their jagged eye-holes offered no
“Well, we are much obleeged to you,” said Wade, awkwardly; and he
laughed a laugh that went little farther than his mask. “Boys, he looks
like he's actu'ly itchin' fer it; you needn't feel at all squeamish.”
“I've been studyin' over it,” said Trundle, furnishing more
surprise, “and I've concluded that I ort to be whipped, an' that sound.
In fact, neighbors, the sooner you do it an' have it over the better
I'll feel about it.”
The silence that swallowed up this clear-cut assertion was deeper
than the one which had followed Trundle's other remark. Seeing that no
one was ready to reply, he went on, “I did come down heer, though, to
see ef I couldn't git you-uns to do me a sorter favor, ef you-uns jest
“Ah!” Wade Sims was feeling better. “I must say I was puzzled about
yore conduct in sa'nterin' out to meet us. Well, what do you want?”
“I'm ready fer my whippin',” said Trundle, “becase I think I deserve
it. I've been so lazy an' careless that I never once noticed till I got
yore letter that my wife was a sick woman. I did let her go to the
field in the hot sun when I was a-fishin' on the creek- bank in the
shade. I thought her an' all of us would like some fresh fish, an' I
forgot that our corn-patch was sufferin' fer the hoe. But she didn't.
She 'tended to it. An'—now I come to the favor I want to ask. She
hain't done a speck o' harm to you-uns, an', as foolish as it may seem,
it would go hard with her in her weakly condition to heer about me
a-goin' through what I'll have to submit to. She has got a mighty sight
of pride, an' it's my honest conviction that she would jest pine away
an' die ef she knowed about it. I ain't a-beggin' off from nothin',
understand; it's only a word fer her an' the childern. You kin all take
a turn an' whip me jest as long as you want to, but when it's over an'
done with I 'lowed you mought consent to say nothin' to nobody about
it. Besides, I've made up my mind to lead a different sort of a life,
friends, God bein' my helper, an' it would be easier to do it if I
knowed Martha had respect fer me; an', neighbors, I am actu'ly afeered
she won't have it if she diskivers what takes place to-night. I—I
think you-uns mought agree to that much.”
Masks turned upon masks. Some of them fell from strangely set
visages into hands that quivered and failed to replace them. It was
plain to the crowd that they had not elected a leader who could
possibly do justice to the infinite delicacy of the situation. In fact,
something was struggling in Wade Sims that was humiliating him in his
own eyes, making him feel decidedly unmanly.
“I think yore proposition is—is purty reasonable,” he managed to
blurt out, after an awkward hesitation. “We hain't none of us got
nothin' ag'in yore wife; an' ef she is sick, an' hearin' about this—”
But his inability to continue was evident to his most sincere
admirers. Trundle sighed in relief. He knew that not one in the gang
could possibly be harder of heart than their blustering leader. “I
wish, then, gentlemen,” he said, calmly, “that you'd git it over with.
I don't know how long it's a-goin' to take—that's with you-uns; but
Martha thinks I've gone over to Rawlston's to set till bedtime, an'
it'll soon be time I was back.”
“That's a fact,” admitted Wade Sims, slowly, as if his mind were on
something besides the business in hand, and he looked round him. The
band stood like rugged, white-capped posts.
Then it was proved that Sid Wombley, the wag of the valley, had more
courage of his convictions than had ever been accredited to him. It
sounded strange to hear him speak without joking. His seriousness
struck a sort of terror to the hearts of some of the most backward.
There was a suspicion of a whimper in the tone he manfully tried to
straighten as he spoke.
“Looky' heer, Jim,” he said, and he stepped forward and tore off his
mask, “I've got a sorter feelin' that I want you to see my face an'
know who I am. Sence I heard yore proposal, blame me ef I hain't got
more downright respect fer you than fer any man in this cove, an' I
want to kick myself. You've got the sort o' meat in you that ain't in
me, I'm afeered, an' I take off my hat to it. I'm a member o' this
gang, an' have agreed to abide by the vote of the majority but they'll
have to git a mighty move on theirselves an' reverse the'r decision in
yore case, ur I'll be a deserter. I'd every bit as soon whip my mammy
as a body feelin' like you do.”
“That's the talk.” It was the voice of Alf Carden. All at once he
remembered that Jim Trundle, after all that had been said against him,
did not owe him a cent, while nearly every other man present had to be
dunned systematically once a week. “Boys, let 'im go,” he said; “I'm
a-thinkin' we hadn't fully understood Jim Trundle.”
“I hain't the one that got up this movement,” said Wade Sims, in a
tone of defense. Where sentiment was concerned he was out of his
element. “Ef you was to let 'im off with a word of advice, it wouldn't
be the fust time we conceded a p'int.”
That settled it. With vague mutterings of various sheepish kinds the
crowd began to filter away. Some went down the road, and others took
paths that led from it.
Sid Wombley lingered with Jim a moment. Not being able to turn the
matter into a jest, and yet being a thorough man, he felt very awkward.
“Go on home, Jim,” he said, gently, his hand on Trundle's arm. “Your
wife'll never know a thing about it; they'll all keep it quiet, an' the
boys'll never bother you ag'in. I—I'll see to that.”
They shook hands. Trundle started to speak, but simply choked and
coughed. Sid turned away. An idea for a joke flitted through his mind,
but he discarded it as unworthy of the occasion.
Jim went slowly up the hill to his cabin. The moon was now higher
up, and as he neared the gate he saw his wife walking about in the
entry. She was not alone. A woman sat on the step. It was old Mrs.
Samuel, the aunt of Wade Sims, a neighbor, who sometimes dropped in to
spend the evening. Was it an exclamation of glad surprise that he heard
as he opened the gate, and did his wife stand still and stare at him
excitedly, or was the sound the voice of one of the children turning in
its sleep? Was her cast of countenance a trick of the moonlight and
The eyes of both women fell as he approached them.
“Good evenin', Jim,” was Mrs. Samuel's greeting.
He nodded and sat down on the steps, his back to his wife. They were
all silent. Mrs. Trundle stepped to the water-shelf at one side, and
peered at his profile through the shadows, her face full of vague
misgivings. Then she sat down in a chair behind him, and studied his
back, his neck, the way his shirt lay, her hands clinched on her knees,
the fury of a tiger in her eyes.
Ten minutes passed. Then Trundle roused himself with a start. He
must not be so absent- minded; they must suspect nothing.
“Whar's the children?” he asked, not looking toward his wife.
“In bed a hour ago.”
Her tone struck him dumb with apprehension. He stared over his
shoulder at her. Her face was hidden in her hands. He glanced at the
visitor, and saw her avert her eyes. Could she have heard of the plan
to whip him, and revealed it to his wife? He felt sure of it; Wade Sims
could not keep a secret. His wife thought he had been punished. No
matter; it was the same thing. His heart was ice.
Mrs. Trundle bent nearer him. She was trying surreptitiously to see
if there were any marks on his neck above his shirt-collar.
Presently her pent-up emotions seemed to overwhelm her. She began to
sob and rock back and forth. Then she glared at Mrs. Samuel.
“I'd think you'd have the decency to go home,” she said, fiercely,
“an' not set thar an'—an' gloat over me an' him like a crow. It's our
“Why, Martha, what's the—” Trundle stood up in bewilderment.
“I was jest gettin' ready to go,” stammered the visitor, humbly, and
she hastened away. Trundle sank back on his seat. What was to be done
now? He had never seen his wife that way, but he loved her more than
ever in his life before. She watched Mrs. Samuel's form vanish in the
hazy moonlight; then she sat down on the step beside her husband.
“Jim,” she faltered, “I want you to lay yore head in my lap.” She
had put her thin, quivering arm round his neck, and her voice had never
before held such tender, motherly cadences.
“What do you want me to do that fer?'
“Jest becase I do. I hain't never in all my life loved you like I do
at this minute. I'd fight fer you with my last breath; I'd die fer you.
Jim, poor, dear Jim! you needn't try to hide it from me. Mis' Samuel
had jest told me what the Regulators was goin' to do when you turned
the corner. I know you went down to the spring to meet 'em so me an'
the childern wouldn't know it. Many a man would 'a' gone away an' left
his family ruther than suffer such disgrace. Oh, Jim, I'd a million
times ruther they'd whipped me! I'll never git over it. I'll feel that
lash on my back every minute as long as I live. They hain't none of 'em
got sense enough to see what a good, lovin' man you are at the bottom.
I'd ruther have you jest like you are than like any one o' that layout.
We must move away somewhars an' begin all over. I don't want the
childern to grow up under sech disgrace.”
Her hand passed gently round to the front of his shirt. She
unfastened it, and began to sob as she turned the garment down at the
neck. “Oh, Jim, did they hurt you? Does it—”
“They didn't tetch me, Martha,” he said, finally recovering his
voice. “Sid Wombley kinder tuk pity on me an' stood up fer me, an' they
all concluded to give me another trial. I hain't lived right, Martha, I
kin see it now, an' to-morrow I'm a-goin' to begin different. These
fellows have got good hearts in 'em, an' after the way they talked an'
acted to-night I hain't a-goin' to harbor no ill-will ag'in' 'em.”
Mrs. Trundle leaned toward him. She began to cry softly, and he drew
her head over on his shoulder and stroked her thin hair with his coarse
hands. Then they kissed each other, went into the cabin, and went to
bed in the dark, so as not to wake the children.
THE COURAGE OF ERICSON
In straggling, despondent lines the men in soiled gray leaned on
their muskets and peered through the misty darkness at the enemy
crawling across the field in front of them like a monster reptile. The
colonel of the regiment nearest the coppice of pines strode restlessly
back and forth in front of his men, on tenter-hooks of anxiety, the
spasmodic glow of his cigar showing features grim and tortured.
“I feel like we're in fer it to-night,” whispered Private Ericson to
a battle-stained comrade.
“Right you are,” was the guarded reply; “an' we-uns ain't a handful
beside the army out thar. I tell you the blasted fellers have had
reinforcements sence the sun went down. I know it, an' our colonel is
beginnin' to suspicion it. Ef he had his way he'd order a retreat while
thar's a chance.”
Silence, punctuated by the clanking of the colonel's sword and the
snoring of a private asleep standing, intervened. Then Private Huckaby
“So this is rally yore old stompin'-ground, Ericson. I reckon you
uster haul pine-knots out'n them woods, and split rails on that
“I know every inch of it like a book,” sighed Ericson.
“An' I reckon that sweetheart o' yor'n don't live fur off, ef she
“Her folks wuz Union,” returned Ericson, sententiously. “Her'n tuk
one side, an' me an' mine t'other. The cabin she used to live in is
jest beyond them woods at the foot o' the fust mountain, “Old Crow.”
She's thar yit. A feller that seed 'er a week ago told me. She 'lowed
ef I jined the Confederacy I needn't ever look her way any more. Her
father an' only brother went to the Union side, an' she blamed me fer
wantin' to go with my folks. She is as proud as Lucifer. I wisht we'd
parted friendlier. I hain't been in a single fight without wantin' that
one thing off my mind.”
Ericson leaned on the muzzle of his gun, and Huckaby saw his broad
shoulders rise and quiver convulsively. He stared at the begrimed face
under the slouched hat, beginning to think that what he had seen of his
young mate had been only the surface—the froth—of a deeper nature.
An excited grunt came from the mist which almost enveloped the colonel,
and he was seen to dart to the end of the regiment and throw down his
“To arms!” he cried.
The words were drowned in the clatter of muskets as they were
snatched from the ground to horny palms. The sound died like the rustle
of dead leaves in a forest after a gust of wind. A composite eye saw
that the line which had been moving across the field in front had
paused, steadied itself. The next instant it was a billow of flame half
a mile in length, rolling up and dashing itself against the wall of
damp darkness. The colonel, his blue steel blade raised against the
sheet of piercing lead, sprang forward, a black silhouette against the
enemy's glare. He meant it as an objective command—a prayer—to his
men to stand to their ground, but he tottered, leaned on his sword, and
as its point sank into the earth he fell face downward. Drums, great
and small, boomed and rattled on the Confederate side like a prolonged
echo of the Federal's salvo.
The ranks of the Confederates wavered—broke; the retreat began.
Running backward, his gun poised, Ericson felt a numb, tingling
sensation in his right side. He turned and started after his comrades,
but each step he put down seemed to meet the ground as it fell from
him. Then he felt dizzy. There was a roaring in his ears, and his legs
weakened. As he fell his gun tripped the feet of Huckaby, and that
individual went to earth, and then on hands and knees, to avoid being
shot, crept to his friend's side.
“What's wrong, Eric? Done fer?” he asked, his tone weighty with the
tragedy of the moment.
“I believe so,” said Ericson. “Go on; don't wait!”
“Good-by, my boy,” Huckaby said. “I'd tote ye, but some'n' is the
matter with the calf o' my right leg. I'd give out, I know, an'—an' I
must remember my wife and the ba—” He was gone.
Half an hour passed, during which time Ericson had experienced the
delicious sensation of a man freezing to death, then a realization of
his condition permeated his consciousness. He drew himself up on an
elbow and glanced over the field. Black ambulances, like vultures
stalking about with drooping wings, were picking their way among the
dead and dying. Vaguely Ericson's numb fancy pictured himself being
jostled like a human log of wood to hospital, or perhaps to prison, and
grasping his musket, and transforming it into a crutch, he rose and
hobbled away from the groans and puddles of blood into the edge of the
He had no sooner reached it than he felt the earth acting as if it
were a mad sea again, and he sank headlong into the heather and
underbrush. When he came to it was morning. The oblique rays of the sun
were making diamonds and pearls of the poised dewdrops. The field had
been cleared. Only a shattered gun, a tattered cap, a battered canteen
bore evidence of the recent carnage. Half a mile across the level
valley Ericson saw a village of tents, blue-coated guards pacing to and
fro, and the stars and stripes rippling from a tall staff.
The private rose cautiously to his trembling feet, and aided by his
too weighty crutch he went slowly through the wood toward the cabin
where dwelt Sally Tripp.
“It's the nighest house,” he said to himself. “Shorely she won't
refuse to let me in.”
However, when he had passed through the wood and saw the cabin not
fifty yards from him in the open, a screw of blue smoke curling from
the mud-and-stick chimney, misgivings which had depressed him ever
since he had parted with her attacked him anew. He forgot that he had
lost nearly every ounce of his life-blood, and stood almost erect,
resting hardly the weight of his hand on the gun as his eyes drank in
the familiar old scene.
Then he heard the massive bar of one of the doors squeak as it was
lifted from its wooden sockets, and in the doorway stood a
“Thank God, it's her!” Ericson muttered; and the sight of her
standing there, looking afar off toward the camp of the Federals, gave
him courage. He dropped his gun, determined not to exhibit weakness,
and walked erectly, if slowly, toward her.
He saw the girl turn pale, stare at him steadily, and stifle a
scream with her hand at her lips.
“Don't you know me, Sally?” he asked.
She stared mutely, inwardly occupied with her outward appearance,
fearing perhaps that a tithe of her gladness of heart at seeing him
might be detected by his supersensitive, pleading eye.
“Thar ain't nothin' to keep me from knowin' of you,” she said. “As
fur as them clothes on yore back is concerned, they become yore sort
powerful well. A rebel is a rebel anywhar.”
Again the qualms of physical weakness stirred within him. He hung
his head, praying for strength to keep from falling at her feet. She
smiled relentlessly and continued:
“I reckon when the Union men attackted you-uns last night you broke
an' ran like all the rest. I seed that fight, John Ericson. Me an'
grandpa scrouged down behind the chimney so as not to git struck an'
watched the trap the bluecoats was a-layin' fer you- uns. We seed the
reinforcements slide in round “Old Crow", an' knowed most o' you- uns
would play mumbly-peg 'fore mornin'. I mought 'a' 'lowed you'd git off
unteched, knowing them woods as well as you do.”
His silence, his downcast attitude may have shamed the girl, for a
change came over her. She cast a hurried glance at the far-off
encampment, and a touch of anxiety came into her tone as she added:
“You'd better git back into hidin', John Ericson. The Union soldiers
have been sendin' out searchin' squads all day fer men that got aloose
in the woods. They say they pulled Jake McLain right out'n his bed. His
wife had burnt his rebel uniform an' said he was a Yank a-lyin' up
sick, but the powderstains on his face give him away, an' they tuk him
It was plain to him that she did not suspect he was wounded unto
death, and he forgave her sternness for the sake of his great love.
Besides, she was showing qualities of patriotism to which he granted
her the right, though he could not comprehend what influence had
entered her life to harden it to such an extent. Just then the bent
form of Grandfather Tripp emerged from the other room of the cabin,
crossed the entry, and stared at the soldier.
“Well, I'll be liter'ly bumfuzzled!” he exclaimed. “Ef it ain't John
Ericson! I knowed yore company was in the fight last night, an' I
thought o' you when I heerd the grape-shot a-plinkin' out thar. But
hang me, ef you don't look sick ur half starved! Sally, give 'im
some'n' t' eat. They don't feed the rebs much. Johnny, she's been
a-pinin' fer you ever sence you enlisted, an' last night durin' the
fight she mighty nigh went distracted. She—”
“Grandpa, that's a lie!” cried the girl, fiercely; but there were
pink spots in her cheeks as she retreated into the cabin and began to
slam the pots and pans on the stone hearth.
The old man caught the arm of the soldier. “Go right in, my boy.
She's that glad to see you unhurt she don't know what to do. She'll
give you a mouthful gladder'n she ever fed a Yank.”
Mounting the log steps to the cabin door seemed to deprive the
soldier of the last vestige of his strength. As if from a distance he
heard the girl's complaining voice, and a blur hung before his sight.
Blindly he felt for a chair and sank into it. His head was sinking to
his breast, when the sharp voice of the girl—sharper because of her
grandfather's meddling—revived him like the lash of a whip on the
back of a succumbing beast of burden.
“Pa's dead, John Ericson,” she cried. “Shot down, fer all I know, by
you. He's gone. Now I reckon you see why I don't like the looks o' yore
clothes. Then jest see heer.” She flounced into a corner of the room,
jerked a trunk open and brought to him the soiled uniform of a Federal
soldier. “This was what Brother Jasper had on when he died. That hole
in the breast is where the ball went in. He come home a week ago on a
furlough to git over his wound, an' died a-settin' thar in that door.
Do you wonder that I never want to lay eyes on a dirty gray coat
Ericson's slouched hat hid the piteous glare in his eyes. He rested
his two hands on the arms of the chair and tried to draw himself up,
but that effort was the signal for his collapse. The girl laid the
uniform on the table and stared at him, the lines of her face softening
and betraying vague disquietude.
“Look a heer,” she blurted out, suddenly, “are—are you wounded?”
He tried to speak, but his lips seemed paralyzed.
“My God! Grandpa, look!” the girl cried. “He's wounded! He's dying,
an' I've jest been a-standin' heer—”
The old man bent over the soldier, and turned his face upward.
“Say, whar are you hit, Johnny?”
Ericson tried to affect a careless smile, and managed to place his
hand on his wounded side. The old man unbuttoned his coat.
“Well, I should think so!” he muttered. “He's lost enough of the
life fluid to paint a barn. Quick, Sally, put down a quilt fer 'im to
lie on in front o' the fire!”
The girl obeyed as by clock-work, the whiteness of terror and regret
in her face. She brought an armful of straw and some quilts and hastily
patted out a crude bed for the soldier.
“Now,” said the old man, “you must lie down, Johnny.”
Ericson sat up erect.
“I don't want to—to be helpless heer,” he stammered. “All through
the war I've never thought o' one single thing except Sally, an' now—
The girl cowered down on the hearth in front of him, and hid her
face with her hands.
“I didn't dream you was wounded,” she said. “Ef I'd 'a' knowed that,
I'd never 'a' said what I did. Grandpa told the truth jest now, he did.
Lie down, please do!”
He raised his eyes to her with a grateful glance. At this juncture
the small, remote blast of a bugle fell on their ears, and it struck
the tenderness from her great moist eyes. She rose and went to the
“It's a searchin' squad,” she cried, her voice vibrating with fear.
“They are at Joe French's house now. They are shore to come heer next.
Ef they take John away he'll die!” The old man stared at her rigidly.
“We must hide 'im,” he said. “Sally, he's an old friend an' a
neighbor. We must hide 'im!”
The wounded soldier stood up, grasped the edge of the mantel-piece
and swayed back and forth. There was a sweet comfort in her startled
concern that rendered him impervious to fear.
“Thar ain't no place to hide 'im,” said the girl, with an agonized
glance through the doorway toward French's house.
Ericson's knees began to bend, and he sank into his chair again.
“No use,” he muttered. “I 'lowed I mought git to the woods, but I'd
hobble so slow they'd be shore to see me. When they git heer I'll tell
'em you wasn't harborin' of me.”
The girl turned from the door.
“They are a-comin',” she said. Then her eyes fell on her brother's
uniform. She started, clutched it, and held it toward her grandfather,
fired with a sudden hope.
“Dress 'im in it,” she said. “I'll go out an' meet 'em an' tell 'em
nobody ain't heer except you an' my wounded brother home on a furlough.
The permit is in t'other room. I'll show 'em that. They'll never dream
he ain't brother when they read the furlough an' see 'im in the blue
A sickly smile worked its way through the grimy surface of the
soldier's face as he raised his hand to signify opposition to her
“I couldn't do that, Sally,” he said. “Not to save my life, I
couldn't. Somehow I think the chances o' my seein' another sunrise is
dead ag'in' me, an' I don't want to die in any other uniform except the
one me an' my comrades has fought in. I'd as soon wear the clothes of a
brother o' yor'n as anybody else alive, but I can't put on blue even to
escape arrest. I jest can't! It would be exactly the same as bein' a
spy, an' the Lord only knows how a fightin' man hates that sort of a
“But you must,” urged the girl, frantically. “Oh, you must!”
“I simply can't. That's all. I'd a sight ruther be tuk as a wounded
soldier unable to stir a single peg than to sneak into another man's
clothes an' deny the side I fit on. Huh, you are a woman! War makes men
mighty indifferent to anything except duty.”
A picture of baffled despair, the girl peered through the doorway at
the approaching men.
“You once said you'd do anything I asked ef I'd consent to marry
you. John, now will you let grandpa put it on you?”
A warm scarlet wave had passed over her. She had never looked so
beautiful. He hesitated for some time, and then shook his head.
“I can't put on blue clothes, Sally.”
The air was still as death. Above the beat of her strumming pulse
she could hear the “hep! hep!” of the soldiers as they marched toward
the cabin. Ericson staggered to his feet and stood swaying beside her.
“I mought as well go out an' meet 'em,” he said, his face awry with
pain and utter exhaustion. “Ef I don't they'll think you are harborin'
a reb, an' it mought go ag'in' you-uns.”
Then he threw out his hands and clutched her shoulders, and sank to
“He has fainted, grandpa,” said the girl. “Quick! Put the uniform on
'im. I'll try to detain 'em out thar till you are ready.”
“I mought just as well take off his suit an' kiver 'im with quilts,”
suggested the old man. “It'll save time.”
“No, the uniform!” cried the girl. “Ef he has that on they won't ask
no questions—along with the furlough. You know Jake McLain tried that
trick on 'em an' failed. Put it on 'im, for the Lord's sake. Don't
stand thar idle!”
The steady tramp of feet was now audible, and the occasional command
of the officer in charge. Darting from the back door the girl crossed
the entry, went into the next room, and emerged with the permit of
absence in her belt. Picking up a pail near the door, she went to the
pig-pen in a corner of the zigzag rail fence, and with no eyes for the
approaching men, slowly poured the food into the animal's trough.
Stopping the squad a few yards from her, the captain doffed his cap
“I have come to search your house for possible fugitives from the
Confederate ranks last night,” he said, politely. “A good many have
been found hiding in farmhouses in the vicinity.”
The girl set her pail down at her feet.
“We are Union,” she said, simply.
“I was told so,” the captain answered. “Nevertheless, I have orders
to search your premises. Is there any one within?”
“Nobody but grandpa an' my wounded brother, a Union soldier home on
She took the paper from her belt and unfolded it very deliberately.
“Thar's his permit. I fetched it out to show it so's you wouldn't have
to wake 'im up ef you could help it. He couldn't sleep last nigh fer
the shootin', an' the truth is, he is as nigh dead as kin be. I wisht
you would let 'im rest.”
The officer perused the furlough through his eyeglasses.
“That's all right,” he said, handing it back. “But you see I have to
There was a pause. The maiden felt the captain's eyes resting on her
admiringly. She could hear the hobnailed soles of her grandparent's
shoes grinding on the puncheon floor, and knew that the old man was
still engaged in dressing or undressing the fugitive.
“That's so,” she said, in a tone which plainly intimated that the
question was not positively settled. “But it looks like a shame, for
brother is powerful low, an' any noise mought do 'im lots o' harm.”
“I'll leave my men here, and go in myself,” compromised the officer.
“I'll walk very lightly.”
The heart of the girl sank. She could still hear the crunching of
her grandfather's shoes in the cabin.
“I'll be much obleeged ef you will be careful,” she said. And as he
started to the cabin she joined him. “Please go in here first,”
pointing to the room across the entry from the one containing the two
men, “an I'll run in an' see ef brother is fit to be seen.”
He complied, with a bow, and went into the room indicated.
Reappearing in a moment, he found her crouching down on the grass, a
look of pain on her face.
“What's the matter?” he asked, with concern.
“Nothin',” she winced. “I set my foot on that rock an' it kinder
twisted my ankle.”
He gave her his hand and aided her to rise.
“Please wait jest one minute,” she said, putting her foot down
tentatively. “I was in sech a hurry jest now that I almost broke my
He bowed assent. His eyes lit with admiration for her physical
charms, and she limped around to the rear of the cabin and went in.
Just as she did so the noise of her grandfather's shoes on the floor
ceased. The old man, thinking she was accompanied by the soldiers, was
enacting his part. He had flung himself into a chair, and sat nodding
as if asleep. On the bed of straw lay Ericson, still unconscious,
completely clothed in blue uniform. The discarded gray suit lay in a
bundle in a corner.
“Quick, that will never do!” she cried, causing the old man to look
up with a start. Taking a case from a pillow on the bed, she filled it
with the gray uniform and crushed it into the bottom of the old man's
“Set on it,” she said. “An' don't git up, whatever you do.” Then she
wrung her hands despairfully as she surveyed the room. A twitching of
Ericson's yellow face warned her that he was returning to
consciousness, and a new terror pierced her heart.
“Ef he comes to,” she thought, “he'll deny being a Union soldier,
an' then they'll take 'im—my God, have pity on the pore boy!”
She turned from the door and limped smilingly toward the waiting
“Ef brother wakes,” she said, “I hope you won't git mad at nothin'
he says. Fer the last two days he has been clean out'n his head.
Once he declared to us that he was actu'ly President Jeff Davis.
Thar's no tellin' what idea may strike 'im next.”
“I'll try not to wake him,” said the captain. “I'll merely step
inside very carefully. I wouldn't do that if—if my men were not
watching. You see they'd wonder—”
“Come on, then.” The rigidity of a crisis held her features. She
entered first, and pushed the great cumbersome door open before her.
The old man regarded them with sleepy looks and began to nod again.
The officer stood over the form in blue a moment, then peered under
the bed, and even up the funnel-shaped chimney.
“It's all right,” he whispered to Sally.
Ericson opened his eyes and smiled faintly.
The girl comprehended his frame of mind; he had not noticed that his
clothes had been changed.
“You've run me in a hole,” he said to the captain. “I'm ready to go,
but I don't want you to think that these folks are a-harborin' of me. I
come heer uninvited. The truth is, that young lady ordered me off, an'
I'd 'a' gone, but I keeled over in the door.”
He put a hand on either side of him, and with a strenuous effort
managed to sit up. Then he noticed his change of uniform, and as he
plucked distastefully at his coat-sleeve, he stared first at the girl
and then at the captain.
“Why, who's done this heer?” he asked. “I ain't no Yankee soldier.
I'm a rebel dyed in the wool.”
The girl laid her hand on the officer's arm.
“Come on, please, sir; he's gittin' excited. Ef we dispute with 'im
he'll git to rantin' awful.”
Without a word the officer followed her from the cabin and down
toward where his men stood. She walked rapidly, her steps quickened by
the rising tones of Ericson's voice behind her. She put her
handkerchief to her dry eyes, and said, plaintively:
“I hardly know what to do. We've had no end of trouble. First the
news come that pa had fell, an' then brother come home like he is now.”
“He looks like a very sick man,” said the officer, with a bluntness
peculiar to times of war. “Perhaps I ought to ask our surgeon to run
over and take a look at him.”
She started, her face fell.
“Old Doctor Stone, nigh us, is a-lookin' after 'im,” was the hasty
product of her bewildered invention. “He'll do all that can be done—
an'—an' I want to keep brother from thinkin' about army folks as much
as I can. Will you-uns camp nigh us long?”
“We leave inside of an hour.” He raised his cap, saluted his men,
gave an order, and they whirled and tramped away.
She went back into the cabin and sat down by the side of Ericson's
pallet. There was something in his dumb glance and subdued air that
quenched the warmth of her recent success. As he looked at her steadily
his eyes became moist and his powder-stained lips began to quiver.
“I didn't 'low you'd play sech a dog-mean trick on me, Sally,” he
muttered. I'd ruther a thousand times 'a' been shot like a soldier than
to hide in Yankee clothes.” Under her warm rush of love and pity for
him she completely lost the touch of hauteur that had clung to her
since his return. She took his hand in hers and bent her body down till
his fingers lay against her cheek. He could feel that she was deeply
“I couldn't stand to see 'em take you off,” she sobbed. “Because you
are all I got on earth to keer fer. It would 'e' killed you, an' me,
too.” Her voice took on the gentle cadences of a mother consoling a
sick child. “Grandpa will take off the mean old blue suit an' put you
up in the big bed, and I'll make you some good chicken soup with boiled
rice in it.”
He pressed her hand.
“Do you rally want me heer, Sally?”
Her reply was a moment's hesitation, a convulsive motion of the
vocal cords, a failure of speech, and a final pressure of her lips on
“Beca'se ef I 'lowed you did, Sally, I wouldn't keer much which side
beat. I wouldn't be able to think about any livin' thing but you.”
“Well, you can, then,” she said; and she rose quickly. “Grandpa, I'm
goin' in t'other room to fix 'im some chicken soup. Undress 'im an' put
'im to bed, an' then go fetch Doctor Stone.”
An hour later the old physician arrived and examined the patient.
“A flesh wound only,” he said. “But he has lost mighty nigh every
bit o' blood in 'im. Nuss 'im good, Sally, an' he'll be able to make
plenty o' corn and taters fer you the rest o' yore life—that is, if
the war ever ends.”
Ericson was convalescing when the news of Lee's surrender came
floating over the devastated land.
“I'm awfully glad it's all over,” he said. “I'm satisfied. I was
shot by a Yankee ball an' nussed back to life by a Union gal, so I
reckon my account is even.”
THE HERESY OF ABNER CALIHAN
Neil Filmore's store was at the crossing of the Big Cabin and Rock
Valley roads. Before he advent of Sherman into the South it had been a
grist-mill, to which the hardy mountaineers had regularly brought their
grain to be ground, in wagons, on horseback, or on their shoulders,
according to their conditions. But the Northern soldiers had
appropriated the miller's little stock of toll, had torn down the long
wooden sluice which had conveyed the water from the race to the mill,
had burnt the great wheel and crude wooden machinery, and rolled the
massive grinding-stones into the deepest part of the creek.
After the war nobody saw any need for a mill at that point, and Neil
Filmore had bought the property from its impoverished owner and turned
the building into a store. It proved to be a fair location, for there
was considerable travel along the two main roads, and as Filmore was
postmaster his store became the general meeting-point for everybody
living within ten miles of the spot. He kept for sale, as he expressed
it, “a little of everything, from shoe-eyes to a sack of guano.”
Indeed, a sight of his rough shelves and unplaned counters, filled with
cakes of tallow, beeswax and butter, bolts of calico, sheeting and
ginghams, and the floor and porch heaped with piles of skins, cases of
eggs, coops of chickens, and cans of lard, was enough to make an
orderly housewife shudder with horror.
But Mrs. Filmore had grown accustomed to this state of affairs in
the front part of the house, for she confined her domestic business,
and whatever neatness and order were possible, to the room in the rear,
where, as she often phrased it, she did the “eatin' an' cookin', an'
never interfeer with pap's part except to lend 'im my cheers when thar
is more'n common waitin' fer the mail-carrier.”
And her chairs were often in demand, for Filmore was a deacon in Big
Cabin Church, which stood at the foot of the green-clad mountain a mile
down the road, and it was at the store that his brother deacons
frequently met to transact church business.
One summer afternoon they held an important meeting. Abner Calihan,
a member of the church and a good, industrious citizen, was to be tried
“It has worried me more'n anything that has happened sence them two
Dutchmen over at Cove Spring swapped wives an' couldn't be convinced of
the'r error,” said long, lean Bill Odell, after he had come in and
borrowed a candle-box to feed his mule in, and had given the animal
eight ears of corn from the pockets of his long-tailed coat, and left
the mule haltered at a hitching-post in front of the store.
“Ur sence the widder Dill swore she was gwine to sue Hank Dobb's
wife fer witchcraft,” replied Filmore, in a hospitable tone. “Take a
cheer; it must be as hot as a bake- oven out thar in the sun.”
Bill Odell took off his coat and folded it carefully and laid it
across the beam of the scales, and unbuttoned his vest and sat down,
and proceeded to mop his perspiring face with a red bandanna. Toot
Bailey came in next, a quiet little man of about fifty, with a dark
face, straggling gray hair, and small, penetrating eyes. His blue lean
trousers were carelessly stuck into the tops of his clay- stained
boots, and he wore a sack-coat, a “hickory” shirt, and a leather belt.
Mrs. Filmore put her red head and broad, freckled face out of the door
of her apartment to see who had arrived, and the next moment came out
dusting a “split-bottomed” chair with her apron.
“How are ye, Toot?” was her greeting as she placed the chair for him
between a jar of fresh honey and a barrel of sorghum molasses. “How is
the sore eyes over yore way?”
“Toler'ble,” he answered, as he leaned back against the counter and
fanned himself with his slouch hat. “Mine is about through it, but the
Tye childern is a sight. Pizen-oak hadn't a circumstance.”
“What did ye use?”
“Copperas an' sweet milk. It is the best thing I've struck. I don't
want any o' that peppery eye-wash 'bout my place. It'd take the hide
off'n a mule's hind leg.”
“Now yore a-talkin',” and Bill Odell went to the water-bucket on the
end of the counter. He threw his tobacco-quid away, noisily washed out
his mouth, and took a long drink from the gourd dipper. Then Bart
Callaway and Amos Sanders, who had arrived half an hour before and had
walked down to take a look at Filmore's fish-pond, came in together.
Both were whittling sticks and looking cool and comfortable.
“We are all heer,” said Odell, and he added his hat to his coat and
the pile of weights on the scale-beam, and put his right foot on the
rung of his chair. “I reckon we mought as well proceed.” At these words
the men who had arrived last carefully stowed their hats away under
their chairs and leaned forward expectantly. Mrs. Filmore glided
noiselessly to a corner behind the counter, and with folded arms stood
ready to hear all that was to be said.
“Did anybody inform Ab of the object of this meeting?” asked Odell.
They all looked at Filmore, and he transferred their glances to his
wife. She flushed under their scrutiny and awkwardly twisted her fat
“Sister Calihan wuz in here this mornin',” she deposed in an uneven
tone. “I 'lowed somebody amongst 'em ort to know what you-uns wuz up
to, so I up an' told 'er.”
“What did she have to say?” asked Odell, bending over the scales to
spit at a crack in the floor, but not removing his eyes from the
“Law, I hardly know what she didn't say! I never seed a woman take
on so. Ef the last bit o' kin she had on earth wuz suddenly wiped from
the face o' creation, she couldn't 'a' tuk it more to heart. Sally woz
with 'er, an' went on wuss 'an her mammy.”
“What ailed Sally?”
Mrs. Filmore smiled irrepressibly. “I reckon you ort to know,
Brother Odell,” she said, under the hand she had raised to hide her
smile. “Do you reckon she hain't heerd o' yore declaration that Eph
cayn't marry in no heretic family while yo're above ground? It wuz
goin' the round at singin'-school two weeks ago, and thar hain't been a
thing talked sence.”
“I hadn't got a ioty to retract,” replied Odell, looking down into
the upturned faces for approval. “I'd as soon see a son o' mine in his
box. Misfortune an' plague is boun' to foller them that winks at
infidelity in any disguise ur gyarb.”
“Oh, shucks! don't fetch the young folks into it, Brother Odell,”
gently protested Bart Callaway. “Them two has been a-settin' up to each
other ever sence they wuz knee-high to a duck. They hain't responsible
fer the doin's o' the old folks.”
“I hain't got nothin' to take back, an' Eph knows it,” thundered the
tall deacon, and his face flushed angrily. “Ef the membership sees fit
to excommunicate Ab Calihan, none o' his stock'll ever come into my
family. But this is dilly-dallyin' over nothin'. You fellers'll set
thar cocked up, an' chew an' spit, an' look knowin', an' let the day
pass 'thout doin' a single thing. Ab Calihan is either fitten or
unfitten, one ur t'other. Brother Filmore, you've seed 'im the most,
now what's he let fall that's undoctrinal?”
Filmore got up and laid his clay pipe on the counter and kicked back
his chair with his foot.
“The fust indications I noticed,” he began, in a raised voice, as if
he were speaking to some one outside, “wuz the day Liz Wambush died.
Bud Thorn come in while I wuz weighing up a side o' bacon fur Ab, an'
'lowed that Liz couldn't live through the night. I axed 'im ef she had
made her peace, and he 'lowed she had, entirely, that she wuz jest
a-lyin' thar shoutin' Glory ever' breath she drawed, an' that they all
wuz glad to see her reconciled, fer you know she wuz a hard case
speritually. Well, it woz right back thar at the fireplace while Ab wuz
warmin' hisse'f to start home that he 'lowed that he hadn't a word to
say agin Liz's marvelous faith, nur her sudden speritual spurt, but
that in his opinion the doctrine o' salvation through faith without
actual deeds of the flesh to give it backbone wuz all shucks, an' a
dangerous doctrine to teach to a risin' gineration. Them wuz his words
as well as I can remember, an' he cited a good many cases to
demonstrate that the members o' Big Cabin wuzn't any more ready to help
a needy neighbor than a equal number outside the church. He wuz mad
kase last summer when his wheat wuz spilin' everybody that come to he'p
wuz uv some other denomination, an' the whole lot o' Big Cabin folks
made some excuse ur other. He 'lowed that you—”
Filmore hesitated, and the tall man opposite him changed
“Neil, hadn't you got a bit o' sense?” put in Mrs. Filmore, sharply.
“What did he say ag'in' me—the scamp?” asked Odell, firing up.
Filmore turned his back to his scowling wife, and took an egg from a
basket on the counter and looked at it closely, as he rolled it over
and over in his fingers.
“Lots that he ortn't to, I reckon,” he said, evasively.
“Well, what wuz some of it? I hain't a-keerin' what he says about
“He 'lowed, fer one thing, that yore strict adheerance to doctrine
had hardened you some, wharas religious conviction, ef thar wuz any
divine intention in it, ort, in reason, to have a contrary effect. He
'lowed you wuz money-lovin' an' uncharitable an' unfergivin' an', a
heap o' times, un-Christian in yore persecution o' the weak an'
helpless—them that has no food an' raiment—when yore crib an'
smokehouse is always full. Ab is a powerful talker, an'—”
“It's the devil in 'im a-talkin',” interrupted Odell, angrily, “an'
it's plain enough that he ort to be churched. Brother Sanders, you
intimated that you'd have a word to say; let us have it.”
Sanders, a heavy-set man, bald-headed and red-bearded, rose. He took
a prodigious quid of tobacco from his mouth and dropped it on the floor
at the side of his chair. His remarks were crisp and to the point.
“My opinion is that Ab Calihan hain't a bit more right in our church
than Bob Inglesel. He's got plumb crooked.”
“What have you heerd 'im say? That's what we want to git at,” said
Odell, his leathery face brightening.
“More'n I keered to listen at. He has been readin' stuff he ortn't
to. He give up takin' the Advocate, an' wouldn't go in Mary
Bank's club when they've been takin' it in his family fer the last five
year, an' has been subscribin' fer the True Light sence
Christmas. The last time I met 'im at Big Cabin, I think it wuz the
second Sunday, he couldn't talk o' nothin' else but what this great man
an' t'other had writ somewhar up in Yankeedom, an' that ef we all keep
along in our little rut we'll soon be the laughin'-stock of all the
rest of the enlightened world. Ab is a slippery sort of a feller, an'
it's mighty hard to ketch 'im, but I nailed 'im on one vital p'int.”
Sanders paused for a moment, stroked his beard, and then continued:
“He got excited sorter, an' 'lowed that he had come to the conclusion
that hell warn's no literal, burnin' one nohow, that he had too high a
regyard fer the Almighty to believe that He would amuse Hisse'f
roastin' an' feedin' melted lead to His creatures jest to see 'em
“He disputes the Bible, then,” said Odell, conclusively, looking
first into one face and then another. “He sets his puny self up ag'in'
the Almighty. The Book that has softened the pillers o' thousands; the
Word that has been the consolation o' millions an' quintillions o'
mortals of sense an' judgment in all ages an' countries is a pack o'
lies from kiver to kiver. I don't see a bit o' use goin' furder with
Just then Mrs. Filmore stepped out from her corner.
“I hain't been axed to put in,” she said, warmly; “but ef I wuz
you-uns I'd go slow with Abner Calihan. He's nobody's fool. He's too
good a citizen to be hauled an' drug about like a dog with a rope round
his neck. He fit on the right side in the war, an' to my certain
knowledge has done more to'ds keepin' peace an' harmony in this
community than any other three men in it. He has set up with the sick
an' toted medicine to 'em, an' fed the pore an' housed the homeless.
Here only last week he got hisse'f stung all over the face an' neck
helpin' that lazy Joe Sebastian hive his bees, an' Joe an' his triflin'
gang didn't git a scratch. You may see the day you'll regret it ef you
run dry shod over that man.”
“We simply intend to do our duty, Sister Filmore,” said Odell,
slightly taken aback; “but you kin see that church rules must be
obeyed. I move we go up thar in a body an' lay the case squar before
'im. Ef he is willin' to take back his wild assertions an' go 'long
quietly without tryin' to play smash with the religious order of the
whole community, he may stay in on probation. What do you-uns say?”
“It's all we kin do now,” said Sanders; and they all rose and
reached for their hats.
“You'd better stay an' look atter the store,” Filmore called back to
his wife from the outside; “somebody mought happen along.” With a
reluctant nod of her head she acquiesced, and came out on the little
porch and looked after them as they trudged along the hot road toward
Abner Calihan's farm. When they were out of sight she turned back into
the store. “Well,” she muttered, “Abner Calihan may put up with
that triflin' layout a-interfeerin' with 'im when he is busy a-savin'
his hay, but ef he don't set his dogs on 'em he is a better Christian
'an I think he is' an' he's a good un. They are a purty- lookin' set to
be a-dictatin' to a man like him.”
A little wagon-way, which was not used enough to kill the stubbly
grass that grew on it, ran from the main road out to Calihan's house.
The woods through which the little road had been cut were so thick and
the foliage so dense that the overlapping branches often hid the sky.
Calihan's house was a four-roomed log building which had been
weather-boarded on the outside with upright unpainted planks. On the
right side of the house was an orchard, and beneath some apple-trees
near the door stood an old-fashioned cider-press, a pile of
acid-stained rocks which had been used as weights in the press, and
numerous tubs, barrels, jugs, and jars, and piles of sour-smelling
refuse, over which buzzed a dense swarm of honey-bees, wasps, and
yellow-jackets. On the other side of the house, in a chip-strewn yard,
stood cords upon cords of wood, and several piles of rich pine-knots
and charred pine-logs, which the industrious farmer had on rainy days
hauled down from the mountains for kindling-wood. Behind the house was
a great log barn and a stable-yard, and beyond them lay the cornfields
and the lush green meadow, where a sinuous line of willows and slender
cane-brakes marked the course of a little creek.
The approach of the five visitors was announced to Mrs. Calihan and
her daughter by a yelping rush toward the gate of half a dozen dogs
which had been napping and snapping at flies on the porch. Mrs. Calihan
ran out into the yard and vociferously called the dogs off, and with
awed hospitality invited the men into the little sitting-room.
Those of them who cared to inspect their surroundings saw a rag
carpet, walls of bare, hewn logs, the cracks of which had been filled
with yellow mud, a little table in the center of the room, and a
cottage organ against the wall near the small window. On the mantel
stood a new clock and a glass lamp, the globe of which held a piece of
red flannel and some oil. The flannel was to give the lamp color.
Indeed, lamps with flannel in them were very much in vogue in that part
of the country.
“Me an' Sally wuz sorter expectin' ye,” said Mrs. Calihan, as she
gave them seats and went around and took their hats from their knees
and laid them on a bed in the next room. “I don't know what to make of
Mr. Calihan,” she continued, plaintively. “He never wuz this away
before. When we wuz married he could offer up the best prayer of any
young man in the settlement. The Mount Zion meetin'-house couldn't hold
protracted meetin' without 'im. He fed more preachers an' the'r bosses
than anybody else, an' some 'lowed that he wuz jest too natcherly good
to pass away like common folks, an' that when his time come he'd jest
disappear body an' all.” She was now wiping her eyes on her apron, and
her voice had the suggestion of withheld emotions. “I never calculated
on him bringin' sech disgrace as this on his family.”
“Whar is he now?” asked Odell, preliminarily.
“Down thar stackin' hay. Sally begun on 'im ag'in at dinner about
yore orders to Eph, an' he went away 'thout finishin' his dinner. She's
been a-cryin' an' a-poutin' en' takin' on fer a week, an' won't tech a
bite to eat. I never seed a gal so bound up in anybody as she is in
Eph. It has mighty nigh driv her pa distracted, kase he likes Eph, an'
Sally's his pet.” Mrs. Calihan turned her head toward the adjoining
room: “Sally, oh, Sally! are ye listenin'? Come heer a minute!”
There was silence for a moment, then a sound of heavy shoes on the
floor of the next room, and a tall rather good-looking girl entered.
Her eyes and cheeks were red, and she hung her head awkwardly, and did
not look at any one but her mother.
“Did you call me, ma?”
“Yes, honey; run an' tell yore pa they are all heer,—the last one
of 'em, an' fer him to hurry right on to the house an' not keep 'em
“Yes-sum!” And without any covering for her head the visitors saw
her dart across the back yard toward the meadow.
With his pitchfork on his shoulder, a few minutes later Abner
Calihan came up to the back door of his house. He wore no coat, and but
one frayed suspender supported his patched and baggy trousers. His
broad, hairy breast showed through the opening in his shirt. His tanned
cheeks and neck were corrugated, his hair and beard long and reddish
brown. His brow was high and broad, and a pair of blue eyes shone
serenely beneath his shaggy brows.
“Good evenin',” he said, leaning his pitchfork against the door-jamb
outside and entering. Without removing his hat he went around and gave
a damp hand to each visitor. “It is hard work savin' hay sech weather
No one replied to this remark, though they all nodded and looked as
if they wanted to give utterance to something struggling within them.
Calihan swung a chair over near the door, and sat down and leaned back
against the wall, and looked out at the chickens in the yard and the
gorgeous peacock strutting about in the sun. No one seemed quite ready
to speak, so, to cover his embarrassment, he looked farther over in the
yard to his potato- bank and pig-pens, and then up into the clear sky
for indications of rain.
“I reckon you know our business, Brother Calihan,” began Odell, in a
voice that broke the silence harshly.
“I reckon I could make a purty good guess,” and Calihan spit over
his left shoulder into the yard. “I hain't heerd nothin' else fer a
week. From all the talk, a body'd 'low I'd stole somebody's hawgs.”
“We jest had to take action,” affirmed the self-constituted
speaker for the others. “The opinions you have expressed,” and Odell at
once began to warm up to his task, “are so undoctrinal an' so p'int
blank ag'in' the articles of faith that, believin' as you seem to
believe, you are plumb out o' j'int with Big Cabin Church, an' a resky
man in any God-feerin' community. God Almighty”—and those who saw
Odell's twitching upper lip and indignantly flashing eye knew that the
noted “exhorter” was about to become mercilessly personal and
vindictive—“God Almighty is the present ruler of the universe, but
sence you have set up to run ag'in' Him it looks like you'd need a
wider scope of territory to transact business in than jest heer in this
The blood had left Calihan's face. His eyes swept from one stern,
unrelenting countenance to another till they rested on his wife and
daughter, who sat side by side, their faces in their aprons, their
shoulders quivering with soundless sobs. They had forsaken him. He was
an alien in his own house, a criminal convicted beneath his own roof.
His rugged breast rose and fell tumultuously as he strove to command
“I hadn't meant no harm—not a speck,” he faltered, as he wiped the
perspiration from his quivering chin. “I hain't no hand to stir up
strife in a community. I've tried to be law-abidin' an' honest, but it
don't seem like a man kin help thinkin'. He—”
“But he kin keep his thinkin' to hisse'f,” interrupted Odell,
sharply; and a pause came after his words.
In a jerky fashion Calihan spit over his shoulder again. He looked
at his wife and daughter for an instant, and nodded several times as if
acknowledging the force of Odell's words. Bart Callaway took out his
tobacco- quid and nervously shuffled it about in his palm as if he had
half made up his mind that Odell ought not to do all the talking, but
he remained mute, for Mrs. Calihan had suddenly looked up.
“That's what I told him,” she whimpered, bestowing a tearful glance
on her husband. “He mought 'a' kep' his idees to hisse'f ef he had to
have 'em, and not 'a' fetched calumny an' disgrace down on me an'
Sally. When he used to set thar atter supper an' pore over the True
Light when ever'body else wuz in bed, I knowed it'd bring trouble,
kase some o' the doctrine wuz scand'lous. The next thing I knowed he
had lost intrust in prayer-meetin', an' 'lowed that Brother Washburn's
sermons wuz the same thing over an' over, an' that they mighty nigh put
him to sleep. An' then he give up axin' the blessin' at the table—
somethin' that has been done in my family as fur back as the oldest one
kin remember. An' he talked his views, too, fer it got out, an' me nur
Sally narry one never cheeped it, fer we wuz ashamed. An' then ever'
respectable woman in Big Cabin meetin'-house begun to stuff away from
us as ef they wuz afeerd o' takin' some dreadful disease. It wuz hard
enough on Sally at the start, but when Eph up an' tol' her that you had
give him a good tongue-lashin', an' had refused to deed him the land
you promised him ef he went any further with her, it mighty nigh
prostrated her. She hain't done one thing lately but look out at the
road an' pine an' worry. The blame is all on her father. My folks has
all been good church members as fur back as kin be traced, an' narry
one wuz ever turned out.”
Mrs. Calihan broke down and wept. Calihan was deeply touched; he
could not bear to see a woman cry. He cleared his throat and tried to
“What step do you-uns feel called on to take next to—to what you
are a-doin' of now?” he stammered.
“We 'lowed,” replied Odell, “ef we couldn't come to some sort o'
understandin' with you now, we'd fetch up the case before preachin'
to-morrow an' let the membership vote on it. The verdict would go
ag'in' you, Ab, fer thar hain't a soul in sympathy with you.”
The sobbing of the two women broke out in renewed volume at the
mention of this dreadful ultimatum, which, despite their familiarity
with the rigor of Big Cabin Church discipline, they had up to this
moment regarded as a vague contingent rather than a tangible certainty.
Calihan's face grew paler. Whatever struggle might have been going
on in his mind was over. He was conquered.
“I am ag'in' bringin' reproach on my wife an' child,” he conceded, a
lump in his throat and a tear in his eye. “You all know best. I reckon
I have been too forward an' too eager to heer myself talk.” He got up
and looked out toward the towering cliffy mountains and into the blue
indefiniteness above them, and without looking at the others he
finished awkwardly: “Ef it's jest the same to you-uns you may let the
charge drap, an'—an' in future I'll give no cause fer complaint.”
“That's the talk” said Odell, warmly, and he got up and gave his
hand to Calihan. The others followed his example.
“I'll make a little speech before preachin' in the mornin',”
confided Odell to Calihan after congratulations were over. “You needn't
be thar unless you want to. I'll fix you up all right.”
Calihan smiled faintly and looked shamefacedly toward the meadow,
and reached outside and took hold of the handle of his pitchfork.
“I want to try to git through that haystack 'fore dark,” he said,
awkwardly. “Ef you- uns will be so kind as to excuse me now I'll run
down and finish up. I'd sorter set myself a task to do, an' I don't
like to fall short o' my mark.”
Down in the meadow Calihan worked like a tireless machine, not
pausing for a moment to rest his tense muscles. He was trying to make
up for the time he had lost with his guests. Higher and smaller grew
the great haystack as it slowly tapered toward its apex. The red sun
sank behind the mountain and began to draw in its long streamers of
light. The gray of dusk, as if fleeing from its darker self, the
monster night, crept up from the east, and with a thousand arms
extended moved on after the receding light.
Calihan worked on till the crickets began to shrill and the frogs in
the marshes to croak, and the hay beneath his feet felt damp with dew.
The stack was finished. He leaned on his fork and inspected his work
mechanically. It was a perfect cone. Every outside straw and blade of
grass lay smoothly downward, like the hair on a well-groomed horse.
Then with his fork on his shoulder he trudged slowly up the narrow
field-road toward the house. He was vaguely grateful for the darkness;
a strange, new, childish embarrassment was on him. For the first time
in life he was averse to meeting his wife and child.
“I've been spanked an' told to behave ur it 'ud go wuss with me,” he
muttered. “I never wuz talked to that away before by nobody, but I jest
had to take it. Sally an' her mother never would 'a' heerd the last of
it ef I had let out jest once. No man, I reckon, has a moral right to
act so as to make his family miserable. I crawfished, I know, an' on
short notice; but law me! I wouldn't have Bill Odell's heart in me fer
ever' acre o' bottom- lan' in this valley. I wouldn't 'a' talked to a
houn' dog as he did to me right before Sally an' her mother.”
He was very weary when he leaned his fork against the house and
turned to wash his face and hands in the tin basin on the bench at the
side of the steps. Mrs. Calihan came to the door, her face beaming.
“I wuz afeerd you never would come,” she said, in a sweet, winning
tone. “I got yore beans warmed over an' some o' yore brag yam taters
cooked. Come on in 'fore the coffee an' biscuits git cold.”
“I'll be thar in a minute,” he said; and he rolled up his sleeves
and plunged his hot hands and face into the cold spring-water.
“Here's a clean towel, pa; somebody has broke the roller.” It was
Sally. She had put on her best white muslin gown and braided her rich,
heavy hair into two long plaits which hung down her back. There was no
trace of the former redness about her eyes, and her face was bright and
full of happiness. He wiped his hands and face on the towel she held,
and took a piece of a comb from his vest pocket and hurriedly raked his
coarse hair backward. He looked at her tenderly and smiled in an
abashed sort of way.
“Anybody comin' to-night?”
“Eph Odell, I'll bet my hat!”
The girl nodded, and blushed and hung her head.
“How do you know?”
“Mr. Odell 'lowed I mought look fer him.”
Abner Calihan laughed slowly and put his arm around his daughter,
and together they went toward the steps of the kitchen door.
“You seed yore old daddy whipped clean out to-day,” he said,
tentatively. “I reckon yo're ashamed to see him sech a coward an' have
him sneak away like a dog with his tail tucked 'tween his legs. Bill
Odell is a power in this community.”
She laughed with him, but she did not understand his banter, and
preceded him into the kitchen. It was lighted by a large tallow- dip in
the center of the table. There was much on the white cloth to tempt a
hungry laborer's appetite—a great dish of greasy string-beans, with
pieces of bacon, a plate of smoking biscuits, and a platter of fried
ham in brown gravy. But he was not hungry. Slowly and clumsily he drew
up his chair and sat down opposite his wife and daughter. He slid a
quivering thumb under the edge of his inverted plate and turned it half
over, but noticing that they had their hands in their laps and had
reverently bowed their heads, he cautiously replaced it. In a flash he
comprehended what was expected of him. The color surged into his homely
face. He played with his knife for a moment, and then stared at them
stubbornly, almost defiantly. They did not look up, but remained
motionless and patiently expectant. The dread of the protracted
silence, for which he was becoming more and more responsible, conquered
him. He lowered his head and spoke in a low, halting tone:
“Good Lord, Father of us all, have mercy on our sins, and make us
thankful fer these, Thy many blessings. Amen.”
THE TENDER LINK
Several customers were gathered in Mark Wyndham's store at the
cross-roads. They were rough farmers, wearing jean clothing, slouch
hats, and coarse, dusty brogans.
A stranger, a man of quite a different type, came in and sat down
near the side door. At first the crowd gazed at him curiously, but
after a while he seemed to pass out of their minds. When he had waited
on all his customers, Mark approached the stranger.
“By hockey!” he exclaimed, pausing in astonishment, and then
extending his hand, “as the Lord is my Maker, it's Luke King! Who'd
ever expect to see you turn up?”
“Yes; Luke King it will have to be, since you, like all the rest,
won't call me by my right name.”
Mark laughed apologetically. “Oh, I forgot you never could bear to
be called by yore step-daddy's name; but you wuz raised up with the
King layout, an' Laramore is not a easy word to handle. Well, I reckon
you are follerin' what you started—writin' books?”
“I 'lowed you'd stick to it. I never seed a feller study harder an'
want to do a thing as bad.”
Lucian Laramore smiled. “Did any one here ever find out that I had
adopted that profession?”
“Not a soul, Luke. I never let on to anybody that I knowed it, an'
the folks round heer don't read much. They mought 'a' suspected some'n'
ef Luke King had been signed to yore books and stories, but nobody ever
called you by yore right name. What on earth ever made you come home?”
“It was my mother that brought me here, Mark—not the others,” said
Laramore. “If a man is a man, no sort of fame or prosperity can make
him forget his mother. I planned to come back several times, but
something always prevented it. However, when you wrote me that the last
time you saw her she was not looking well, I decided to come at once.”
Mark was critically surveying his old friend from head to foot while
he was speaking. Laramore smiled, and added, “You are wondering why I
am so plainly dressed, Mark; you needn't deny it.”
Mark flushed when he replied: “Well, I did 'low you fellers 'ud put
on more style 'n we- uns down here.”
“It's an old suit I have worn out hunting in Canada. I put it on
because I intended to do a good deal of walking; and then, to tell the
truth, I thought it would look better for me to go back very simply
“That's a fact, now I think of it; well, I wish you luck over thar.
Goin' ter foot it over?”
“Yes; it is only three miles, and I have plenty of time.”
But the walk was longer than Laramore thought it would be, and he
was hot, damp with perspiration, and covered with dust when he reached
the four-roomed cabin among the stunted pines and wild cedars.
Old Sam King sat out in front of the door. He wore no shoes nor
coat, and his hickory shirt and jean trousers had been patched many
times. His hair was long, sun-burned, and tangled, and the corrugated
skin of his cheek and neck was covered with straggling hairs. As the
stranger came in view from behind the pine-pole pig-pen, the old man
uttered a grunt of surprise that brought to the door two young women in
homespun dresses, and a tall, lank young man in his shirt-sleeves.
“I suppose you don't remember me,” said Laramore, and he put his
satchel on a washbench by a tub and a piggin of lye soap.
“Well, I reckon nobody in this shack is gwine to 'spute with you,”
rumbled the old man, as with his chin in his hand, he lazily looked at
the face before him.
“I might not have known you either if I had not been told that you
lived here. I am the fellow you used to call Luke King.”
“By Jacks!” After that ejaculation the old man and the others stared
“Yes, that's who I am,” continued Laramore. “How do you do, Jake?”
(to the lank young man in the door). “We might as well shake hands. You
girls have grown into women since I left. I've stayed away a long time,
and been nearly all over the world, but I've always wanted to get back.
Where is mother?”
Neither of the girls could summon up the courage to answer, and they
seemed under stress of great embarrassment.
“She is porely,” said the old man, inhospitably keeping his seat.
“She's had a hurtin' in 'er side from usin' that thar battlin'-stick
too much on dirty clothes, an' her cold has settled on 'er chest. Mary,
go tell yore maw Luke's got back. Huh, we all 'lowed you wuz dead 'cept
her. She al'ays contended you wuz alive som'ers. How's times been
a-servin' uv you?”
“Pretty well.” Laramore put his satchel on the ground and sat down
wearily on the bench by the tub.
“Things is awful slow heer. Whar have you been hangin' out?”
“Nowhere in particular—that is, I have lived in a good many
“Huh! 'bout as I expected; an' I reckon you hain't got nothin' at
all ter show fer it 'cept what you've got on yore back.”
“That's about all.”
“What you been a-follerin'?”
Laramore colored sensitively.
“Writing for papers and magazines.”
“I 'lowed you mought go at some'n' o' that sort; you used to try
mighty hard to write a good hand; you never would work. Married?”
“Hain't able to support a woman I reckon. Well, you showed a great
lot of good sense thar; a feller can sorter manage to shift fer hisse'f
ef he hadn't hampered by a pack o' children an' er sick woman.”
At that juncture Mary returned. She flushed as she caught Laramore's
expectant glance. She spoke to her father.
“Maw said tell 'im ter come in thar.”
Laramore went into the front room and turned into a small apartment
adjoining. It was windowless and dark, the only light filtering through
the front room. On a low, narrow bed beneath a ladder leading to a
trap-door above, lay a woman.
“Here I am, Luke,” she cried out, excitedly. “Don't stumble over
that pan o' water! I've been taking a mustard footbath to try an' git
my blood warm. La, me! How you did take me by surprise! I've prayed for
little else in many er yeer, an' I was jest about ter give it up.”
His foot touched a three-legged stool, and he drew it to the head of
her bed and sat down. He took one of her hard, thin hands and bent over
her. Should he kiss her? She had not taught him to do so when he was a
child, and he had never kissed her in his life, but he had seen the
world and grown wiser. He turned her face toward him and pressed his
lips to hers. She was much surprised, and drew herself from him and
wiped her mouth with a corner of the sheet, but he knew she was pleased
“Why, Luke, what on earth do you mean? Have you gone plumb crazy?”
she said, quickly.
“I wanted to kiss you, that's all,” he said, awkwardly. They were
both silent for a moment, then she spoke, tremblingly: “You al'ays was
womanish an' tender-like; it don't do a body any harm; none o' the rest
ain't that way. But, my stars! I cayn't tell a bit how you look in this
pitch dark. Mary! oh, Mary!”
Laramore released his mother's hand, and sat up erect as the girl
came to the door.
“What you want, maw?”
“I cayn't see my hand 'fore me; I wish you'd fetch a light heer.
You'll find a piece o' candle in the clock; I hid it there to keep Jake
from usin' it in his lantern.”
The girl lit the bit of tallow-dip, and fastened it in the neck of a
bottle. She brought it in, stood it on a box filled with cotton-seed
and ears of corn, and shambled out. Laramore's heart sank as he looked
around him. The room was nothing but a lean-to shed walled with upright
slabs and floored with puncheons. The bedstead was a crude wooden frame
supported by perpendicular saplings fastened to floor and rafters. The
cracks in the wall were filled with mud, rags, and newspapers. Bunches
of dried herbs hung above his head, and piles of old clothing and
agricultural implements lay about indiscriminately. Disturbed by the
light, a hen flew from her nest behind a dismantled loom, and with a
loud cackling went out at the door.
The old woman gazed at him eagerly. “You hain't altered so overly
much,” she observed, “'cept yore skin looks mighty white, and yore
hands feel soft.”
Then she lowered her voice into a whisper, and glanced furtively
toward the door. “You I favor yore father—I don't mean Sam, but Mr.
Laramore. Yore as like as two peas. He helt his head that away, an' had
yore way o' bein' gentle with womenfolks. You've got his high temper,
too. La, me! that last night you was at home, an' Sam cussed you, an'
kicked yore books into the fire, I didn't sleep a wink. I thought you'd
gone off to borrow a gun. It was almost a relief to know you'd left,
kase I seed you an' Sam couldn't git along. Yore father was a different
sort of a man, Luke; he loved books an' study, like you. He had good
blood in 'im; his father was a teacher an' a circuit-rider. I don't
know why I married Sam, 'less it was kase I was young an' helpless, an'
you was a baby.”
There was a low whimper in her voice, and the lines about her mouth
tightened. Laramore's breast heaved, and he suddenly put out his hand
and began to stroke her thin, gray hair. A strange, restful feeling
stole over him. The spell was on her, too; she closed her eyes, and a
blissful smile lighted her wan face. Then her lips began to quiver, and
she turned her face from him.
“I'm er simpleton,” she sobbed, “but I cayn't he'p it. Nobody hadn't
petted me nur tuk on over me a bit sence yore paw died. I never treated
you right, nuther, Luke; I ort never to 'a' let Sam run over you like
“Never mind that,” Laramore replied, tenderly; “but you must not lie
here in this dingy hole; you need medicine and good food.”
“I'm gwine ter git up,” she answered. “I'm not sick; I jest laid
down ter rest. I must git the house straight. Mary and Jane hain't no
hands at housework 'thout I stand over 'em, and Jake an' his paw is
continually a-fussin'. I feel stronger already; ef you'll go in t'other
room I'll rise. They'll never fix you nothin' ter eat, nur nowhar to
sleep. I reckon you'll have to lie with Jake, like you useter, tel I
can fix better. Things in a awful mess sence I got porely.”
He went into the front room. The old man had brought his satchel in.
He had opened it in a chair, and was coolly examining the contents in
the firelight. Jake and the two girls stood looking on. Laramore stared
at the old man, but the latter did not seem at all abashed. Finally he
closed the satchel and put it on the floor.
In a few minutes Mrs. King came in. She blew out the candle, and as
she crossed to the mantelpiece she carefully extinguished the smoking
wick. The change in her was more noticeable to her son than it had been
a few minutes before. She looked very frail and white in her faded
black cotton gown. Her shoes were worn and her bare feet showed through
“Mary,” she asked, “have you put on the supper?”
“Yes'm; but it hain't tuk up yit.” The girl went into the next room,
which was used for kitchen and dining-room in one, and her mother
followed her. In a few minutes the old woman came to the door.
“Walk out, all of you,” she said, wearily. “Luke, you'll have to put
up with what is set before you; hog-meat is mighty sca'ce this yeer.
Just at fattenin' time our hogs tuk the cholera an' six was found dead
in one day. Meat is fetchin' fifteen cents a pound in town.”
After supper Laramore left his mother and sisters removing the
dishes from the table and went out. He did not want to be left alone
ith his stepfather.
He crossed the little brook that ran behind the cabin, and leaned
against the rail fence which surrounded the pine-pole corn-crib. He
could easily leave them in their poverty and ignorance, and return to
the great intellectual world from which he had come—the world which
understood and honored him; but, after all, could he do it now that he
had seen his mother?
The cabin door shone out a square of red light against the blackness
of the hill and the silent pines beyond. He heard Jake whistling a tune
he had whistled long ago when they had worked in the fields together,
and the creaking of the puncheon floor as the family moved about
A figure appeared in the door. It was his mother, and she was coming
out to search for him.
“Here I am, mother,” he said, as she advanced through the darkness;
“look out and don't get your feet wet!”
She chuckled childishly as she stepped across the brook on the
stones. When she reached him she put her hand on his arm and laughed:
“La, me, boy, a little wet won't hurt me—I'm used to it; I've milked
the cows in that thar lot when the mire was shoe-mouth deep. I 'lowed
I'd find you heer some'rs. You used to be a mighty hand to sneak off
from the rest, an' you hain't got over it. But you have changed. You
don't talk our way exactly, an' I reckon that's what aggravates Sam. He
was goin' on jest now about yore bein' stuck up in yore talk an'
He looked past her at the full moon which was rising above the
“Mother,” said he, abruptly, and he put his arm around her neck, and
his eyes filled—“mother, I don't see how I can stay here long. Your
health is bad and you are not comfortable; the others are strong and
can stand it, but you can't. Come away with me, for a while anyway.
I'll put you under a doctor and make you comfortable.”
She looked up into his eyes steadily for a moment, then she slapped
him playfully on the breast and drew away from him. “How foolish you
talk!” she laughed; “why, you know I couldn't leave Sam an' the
children. He'd go stark crazy 'thout me round, an' they'd be 'thout
advice an' counsel. La, me! What makes you think I ain't comfortable?
This house is a sight better'n the last one we had, an' dryer, an' a
heap warmer inside. Hard times is likely to come anywhar an' any time.
It strikes rich en' pore alike. Thar's 'Squire Loften offerin' his big
riverbottom plantation an' the best new house in the county at a awful
sacrifice, kase he is obliged to raise money to pay out'n debt. He
offers it fer ten thousand dollars, ant it's wuth every dollar of
twenty. Now, ef we-all jest had sech a place as that we'd ax nobody any
odds. Sam an' Jake are hard workers, but they've had 'nough bad luck to
“Ten thousand dollars!” Laramore's heart bounded suddenly. It was
exactly the amount he had in a Boston bank—all that he had ever been
able to save. He had calculated on investing it with some literary
friends in a magazine of which he was to be the editor.
“Do you think they could manage the place successfully, mother?” he
asked, after a moment.
“Why, you know they could,” she returned. “A body could make a
livin' on that land and never half try. 'Squire Loften spent his money
like water, an' let a gang o' triflin' darkies eat 'im up alive.”
“I remember the farm and the old house very well,” he said,
“They turned that into a barn,” she ran on, enthusiastically. “The
new house is jest splendid—green blinds to the winders, an' cyarpets
on the floors, a spring-house, an' a windmill to keep the house an'
barn in water.”
“We'd better go in,” he said, abruptly; “you'll catch cold out here
in the dew.”
She laughed childishly as she walked back to the cabin by his side.
A thick smoke and an unpleasant odor met them at the door.
“It's Sam a-burnin' rags to oust the mosquitoes, so he kin sleep,”
she explained; “they are wuss this yeer 'an I ever seed 'em. Jake an'
the gals grease the'r faces with lamp-oil when they have any, but I
jest kiver up my head with a rag an' never know they are about. I
reckon we'd better go to bed. Jake has fixed him a bed up in the loft,
so you kin sleep by yorese'f. He's been jowerin' at his paw ever sence
supper fer treatin' you so bad.”
The next morning, after breakfast, Jake threw a bag of shelled corn
on the bare back of his old bay mare and started to mill down the
valley, and his father shouldered an ax and went up on the hill to cut
“Whar are you gwine?” asked Mrs. King, following Laramore to the
“I thought I would walk over to the Loften place and see the
improvements. I used to hunt over that land.”
“Well, be shore to git back by dinner, whatever you do. Me an' Jane
caught a hen on the roost last night, an' I'm gwine to make you a
chicken pie, kase you used to love 'em so much.”
Half a mile up the road, which ran along the side of the hill, he
came into view of the rich, level lands of the Loften plantation. He
stood in the shade of a tall poplar and looked thoughtfully at the lush
green meadows, the well-tilled fields of corn, cotton, and sorghum, and
the large two-storied house with its dormer windows, tall, fluted
columns, and broad verandas—at the numerous outhouses, barns, and
stables, and the white-graveled drives and walks from the house to the
road. Then he turned and looked back at the cabin—the home of his
It was hardly discernible in the gray morning mist that hung over
the little vale in which it stood. He saw Jake, far away, riding along,
in and out among the sassafras and sumac bushes that bordered a
worn-out wheatfield, his long legs dangling at the sides of the mare.
There was a bent figure in the woodyard picking up chips; it was his
mother or one of the girls.
“Poor souls!” he exclaimed; ” they have been in a dreary treadmill
all their lives, and have never known the joy of one gratified
ambition. If only I could conquer my own selfish desires I could give
them comforts they never dreamed of possessing—a taste of happiness.
It would take my last dollar, and Chamberlain and Gilraith would never
understand. They would look elsewhere for capital and for an editor,
and it would be like them to say they could get along without my
It was dusk when he returned to the cabin. Jake sat on his bag of
meal in the door. Old Sam had taken off his shoes, and sat out under a
persimmon tree “coolin' off,” and yelling angrily at his wife to “hurry
When she heard that Laramore had returned she came to the door. “We
didn't know what had become of you,” she said, as she emerged from the
“I got interested in the Loften farm, and before I realized it the
sun was down; I am sorry.”
“Oh, it don't matter; I saved yore piece o' pie, an' I'm just
warmin' it over. I bet you didn't get a single bite o' dinner.”
“Yes, I did; but I am ready for supper.”
As they were rising from the table Laramore said: “I have got
something to say to you all.”
They dragged their chairs back to the front room and sat down with
awkward ceremony. They stared at him in open-mouthed wonder as he
placed his chair in front of them. Old Sam seemed embarrassed by the
formality of the proceedings, and endeavored to relieve himself by
assuming indifference. He coughed conspicuously and hitched his chair
back till it leaned against the door-jamb.
There was a tremor in Laramore's voice, and all the time he was
speaking he did not look up from the floor.
“Since I went away from you,” he began, “I have studied hard and
applied myself to a profession, and though I have wandered about a good
deal I have managed to save a little money. I am not rich, but I am
worth more than you think I am. You have never had any luck, and you
have worked hard, and deserve more than has fallen to your lot. You
never could make anything on this poor land. The Loften property is
worth twice what he asked for it. I happened to have the money to spare
and bought it. I have the deed for it.”
There was a profound silence in the room. The occupants of the row
of chairs stared at him with widened eyes, mute and motionless. A
sudden breeze came in at the door and turned the flame of the candle on
the mantel toward the wall, and caused black ropes of smoke from the
pine-knots in the chimney to curl out into the room like pyrotechnic
snakes. Mrs. King bent forward and looked into Laramore's face and
smiled and winked, then she glanced at the serious faces of the others
and broke out into a childish laugh of genuine merriment.
“La, me! Ef you-uns ain't settin' thar and swallowin' down every
word that boy says jest ez ef it was so much law and gospel!”
But none of them entered into her mood; indeed, they gave her not so
much as a glance. Without replying, Laramore arose and took the candle
from the mantelpiece. He stood it on the table and laid a folded paper
beside it. “There's the deed,” he said. “It is made out to my mother to
hold as long as she lives, and to fall eventually to her daughters and
her son Jake.”
He left the paper on the table and went back to his chair. An
awkward silence ensued. It was broken by old Sam. He coughed and threw
his tobacco-quid out at the door, and smiling to hide his agitation he
went to the table. His back was to them, and his face went out of view
when he bent to hold the paper in the light.
“That's what it is, by Jacks!” he blurted out. “Thar's no shenanigan
about it. The Loften place is Mariar Habersham King's ef I kin read
With a great clatter of shoes and chairs they rose and gathered
around him, leaving their benefactor submerged in their shadow. Each
took the paper and examined it silently, and then they slowly
dispersed, leaving the document on the table. Sam King started
aimlessly toward the kitchen, but finally turned to the front door,
where he stood irresolute, staring out at the road. Mrs. King looked at
Laramore helplessly and went out into the kitchen, and exchanging
glances, the two girls followed her. Jake noticed that the wind was
blowing the paper from the table, and he rescued it and silently
offered it to his half-brother.
Laramore motioned it from him. “Give it to mother,” he said. “She'll
take care of it. By the way, Loften will get out at once. The price
paid includes the crops, and they are in very good condition.”
He had Jake's bed to himself again that night. For hours he lay
awake listening to the drone of excited conversation from the family
which had gathered under the trees in front of the cabin. About eleven
o'clock some one came softly into his room. The moon had risen and its
beams fell in at the open door. It was his mother, and she was moving
toward his bed with cat-like caution.
“Is that you, mother?” he asked.
For an instant she was so much startled at finding him awake that
she could not reply.
“Oh, I tried not to wake you,” she stammered. “I just wanted to make
shore yore bed was comfortable.”
“It is all right. I wasn't asleep, anyway.”
He could feel her trembling as she sat down on the edge of his bed.
“Seems like you couldn't sleep, nuther,” she said. “Thar hain't a
shut eye in this cabin. They've all laid down, an' laid down an' got up
ergin, over an' over.” She laughed softly and twisted her hands
nervously in her lap. “We are all that excited we don't know which way
to turn. Why, Luke, it'll be the talk o' the county! Sech luck hain't
fell to any family as pore as we are sence I can remember. La, me! It
'ud make you split yore sides a-laughin' jest to set out thar an'
listen to all the plans they are makin'. But Sam has the least of all
to say; an', Luke, I'm sorter sorry fer 'im. He feels bad about the way
he has al'ays treated you. He's too back'ard an' shamefaced to ax yore
pardon, an' he begged me jest now to do it fer 'im the fust time I got
a chance. He's a good man, Luke, but he's gittin' old, an' has been
hounded to death by debt an' ill-luck.”
“I know it; he is all right,” replied Laramore, tremulously. “Tell
him I have not the slightest ill-will against him, and that I hope he
will get along better now.”
“You talk like you don't intend to stay.”
“No; I shall have to return North pretty soon—that is, after I see
you moved into your new home. I can do better up there; you know I was
not cut out for a farmer.”
“I reckon you know best 'bout your own arrangements, but I hate to
have you go ag'in. I'd like to have all my children with me ef I
“I'll come back every now and then; I won't stay away so long next
She went out to tell her husband what he had said and to let her son
sleep, but Laramore slept little. All night, at intervals, the buzz of
low voices and sudden outbursts of merriment reached him.
His mother stole softly into his room. This time it was to bring a
shawl, which she cautiously spread over him, for the air had grown
cold. She thought him asleep, but as she was turning away he caught her
hand, and drew her down and kissed her.
“Why, Luke!” she exclaimed; “don't be foolish. Why, what's got in—
?” But her voice had grown husky and her words died away in an
irrepressible sob of happiness. She did not stir for an instant; then
impulsively she put her arms around his neck and kissed him. And he
felt that her face was damp.