MISS MINERVA AND WILLIAM GREEN HILL
By Frances Boyd Calhoun
A SCANDALIZED VIRGIN
The bus drove up to the gate and stopped under the electric street-light. Perched on the box by the big, black negro driver sat a little boy whose slender figure was swathed in a huge rain coat.
Miss Minerva was on the porch waiting to receive him.
"Mercy on me, child," she said, "what on earth made you ride up there? Why didn't you get inside?"
"I jest wanted to ride by Sam Lamb," replied the child as he was lifted down. "An' I see a nice fat little man name' Major—"
"He jes' wouldn' ride inside, Miss Minerva," interrupted the driver, quickly, to pass over the blush that rose to the spinster's thin cheek at mention of the Major. "Twan't no use fer ter try ter make him ride nowhars but jes' up by me. He jes' 'fused an' 'fused an' 'sputed an' 'sputed; he jes' tuck ter me f'om de minute he got off 'm de train an' sot eyes on me; he am one easy chile ter git 'quainted wid; so, I jes' h'isted him up by me. Here am his verlise, ma'am."
"Good-bye, Sam Lamb," said the child as the negro got back on the box and gathered up the reins. "I'll see you to-morrer."
Miss Minerva imprinted a thin, old-maid kiss on the sweet, childish mouth. "I am your Aunt Minerva," she said, as she picked up his satchel.
The little boy carelessly drew the back of his hand across his mouth.
"What are you doing?" she asked. "Are you wiping my kiss off?"
"Naw 'm," he replied, "I's jest a—I's a-rubbin' it in, I reckon."
"Come in, William," and his aunt led the way through the wide hall into w big bedroom.
"Billy, ma'am," corrected her nephew.
"William," firmly repeated Miss Minerva. "You may have been called Billy on that plantation where you were allowed to run wild with the negroes, but your name is William Green Hill and I shall insist upon your being called by it."
She stooped to help him off with his coat, remarking as she did so, "What a big overcoat; it is several sizes too large for you."
"Darned if 'tain't," agreed the child promptly.
"Who taught you such a naughty word?" she asked in a horrified voice. "Don't you know it is wrong to curse?"
"You call that cussin'?" came in scornful tones from the little boy. "You don't know cussin' when you see it; you jest oughter hear ole Uncle Jimmy-Jawed Jup'ter, Aunt Cindy's husban'; he'll show you somer the pretties' cussin' you ever did hear."
"Who is Aunt Cindy?"
"She's the colored 'oman what 'tends to me ever sence me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln's born, an' Uncle Jup'ter is her husban' an' he sho' is a stingeree on cussin'. Is yo' husban' much of a cusser?" he inquired.
A pale pink dyed Miss Minerva's thin, sallow face.
"I am not a married woman," she replied, curtly, "and I most assuredly would not permit any oaths to be used on my premises."
"Well, Uncle Jimmy-Jawed Jup'ter is jest nach'elly boon' to cuss,—he's got a repertation to keep up," said Billy.
He sat down in a chair in front of his aunt, crossed his legs and smiled confidentially up into her face.
"Hell an' damn is jest easy ev'y day words to that nigger. I wish you could hear him cuss on a Sunday jest one time, Aunt Minerva; he'd sho' make you open yo' eyes an' take in yo' sign. But Aunt Cindy don't 'low me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln to say nothin' 't all only jest 'darn' tell we gits grown mens, an' puts on long pants."
"Wilkes Booth Lincoln?" questioned his aunt.
"Ain't you never hear teller him?" asked the child. "He's ole Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline's boy; an' Peruny Pearline," he continued enthusiastically, "she ain't no ord'nary nigger, her hair ain't got nare kink an' she's got the grandes' clo'es. They ain't nothin' snide 'bout her. She got ten chillens an' ev'y single one of 'em's got a diff'unt pappy, she been married so much. They do say she got Injun blood in her, too."
Miss Minerva, who had been standing prim, erect, and stiff, fell limply into a convenient rocking chair, and looked closely at this orphaned nephew who had come to live with her.
She saw a beautiful, bright, attractive, little face out of which big, saucy, grey eyes shaded by long curling black lashes looked winningly at her; she saw a sweet, childish, red mouth, a mass of short, yellow curls, and a thin but graceful little figure.
"I knows the names of aller ole Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline's chillens," he was saying proudly: "Admiral Farragut Moses the Prophet Esquire, he's the bigges'; an' Alice Ann Maria Dan Step-an'-Go-Fetch-It, she had to nuss all the res.'; she say fas' as she git th'oo nussin' one an' 'low she goin' to have a breathin' spell here come another one an' she got to nuss it. An' the nex' is Mount Sinai Tabernicle, he name fer the church where of Aunt BlueGum Tempy's Peruny Pearline takes her sackerment; an' the nex' is First Thessalonians; Second Thessalonians, he's dead an' gone to the Bad Place 'cause he skunt a cat,—I don't mean skin the cat on a actin' role like me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln does,—he skunt a sho' 'nough cat what was a black cat, what was a ole witch, an' she come back an' ha'nt him an' he growed thinner an' thinner an' weasler an' weasler, tell finely he wan't nothin' 't all but a skel'ton, an' the Bad Man won't 'low nobody 't all to give his parch' tongue no water, an' he got to, ever after amen, be toast on a pitchfork. An' Oleander Magnolia Althea is the nex'," he continued, enumerating Peruny Pearline's offspring on his thin, well molded fingers, "she got the seven year itch; an' Gettysburg, an' Biddle-&-Brothers-Mercantile-Co.; he name fer the sto' where ole Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline gits credit so she can pay when she fetches in her cotton in the fall; an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln, him an' me's twins, we was borned the same day only I's borned to my mama an' he's borned to his 'n an' Doctor Jenkins fetched me an' Doctor Shacklefoot fetched him. An' Decimus Ultimus,"—the little boy triumphantly put his right forefinger on his left little one, thus making the tenth, "she's the baby an' she's got the colic an' cries loud 'nough to wake up Israel; Wilkes Booth Lincoln say he wish the little devil would die. Peruny Pearline firs' name her 'Doctor Shacklefoot' 'cause he fetches all her chillens, but the doctor he say that ain't no name fer a girl, so he name her Decimus Ultimus."
Miss Minerva, sober, proper, dignified, religious old maid unused to children, listened in frozen amazement and paralyzed silence. She decided to put the child to bed at once that she might collect her thoughts, and lay some plans for the rearing of this sadly neglected, little orphaned nephew.
"William," she said, "it is bedtime, and I know you must be sleepy after your long ride on the cars. Would you like something to eat before I put you to bed? I saved you some supper."
"Naw 'm, I ain't hongry; the Major man what I talk to on the train tuck me in the dinin'-room an' gimme all I could hol'; I jest eat an' eat tell they wan't a wrinkle in me," was the reply. "He axed me 'bout you, too. Is he name' Major Minerva?"
She opened a door in considerable confusion, and they entered a small, neat room adjoining.
"This is your own little room, William," said she, "you see it opens into mine. Have you a nightshirt?"
"Naw 'm, I don' need no night-shirt. I jest sleeps in my unions and sometimes in my overalls."
"Well, you may sleep in your union suit to-night," said his scandalized relative, "and I'll see what I can do for you to-morrow. Can you undress yourself?"
Her small nephew wrinkled his nose, disdainfully. "Well, I reckon so," he scornfully made answer. "Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln been undressin' usself ever sence we's born."
"I'll come in here after a while and turn off the light. Good-night, William."
"Good-night, Aunt Minerva," responded the little boy.
THE RABBIT'S LEFT HIND FOOT
A few minutes later, as Miss Minerva sat rocking and thinking, the door opened and a lean, graceful, little figure, clad in a skinny, grey union suit, came into the room.
"Ain't I a-goin' to say no prayers?" demanded a sweet, childish voice. "Aunt Cindy hear me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln say us prayers ev'y night sence we's born."
"Why, of course you must say your prayers," said his aunt, blushing at having to be reminded of her duty by this young heathen; "kneel down here by me."
Billy looked at his aunt's bony frame and thought of Aunt Cindy's soft, fat, ample lap. A wistful look crossed his childish face as he dropped down in front of her and laid his head against her knee, then the bright, beautiful little face took on an angelic expression as he closed his eyes and softly chanted: "'Now I lays me down to sleep, I prays the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die befo' I wake, I prays the Lord my soul to take.
"'Keep way f'om me hoodoo an' witch, Lead my paf f'om the po'-house gate, I pines fey the golden harps an' sich, Oh, Lord, I'll set an' pray an' wait.' 'Oh, Lord, bless ev'ybody; bless me an' Aunt Cindy, an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln, an' Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline, an' Uncle Jimmy-Jawed Jup'ter, an' ev'ybody, an' Sam Lamb, an' Aunt Minerva, an' alley Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline's chillens, an' give Aunt Minerva a billy goat or a little nanny if she'd ruther, an' bless Major Minerva, an' make me a good boy like Sanctified Sophy, fey Jesus' sake. Amen.'"
"What is that you have tied around your neck, William?" she asked, as the little boy rose to his feet.
"That's my rabbit foot; you won't never have no 'sease 't all an' nobody can't never conjure you if you wears a rabbit foot. This here one is the lef' hin' foot; it was ketched by a red-headed nigger with crosseyes in a graveyard at twelve er'clock on a Friday night, when they's a full moon. He give it to Aunt Cindy to tie 'roun' my nake when I's a baby. Ain't you got no abbit foot?" he anxiously inquired.
"No," she answered. "I have never had one and I have never been conjured either. Give it to me, William; I can not allow you to be so superstitious," and she held out her hand.
"Please, Aunt Minerva, jest lemme wear it to-night," he pleaded. "Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln's been wearin' us rabbit foots ever sence we's born."
"No," she said firmly; "I'll put a stop to such nonsense at once. Give it to me, William."
Billy looked at his aunt's austere countenance and lovingly fingered his charm; he opened his mouth to say something, but hesitated; slowly he untied the string around his neck and laid his treasure on her lap; then without looking up, he ran into his own little room, closing the door behind him.
Soon afterward Miss Minerva, hearing a sound like a stifled sob coming from the adjoining room, opened the door softly and looked into a sad, little face with big, wide, open eyes shining with tears.
"What is the matter, William?" she coldly asked.
"I ain't never slep' by myself," he sobbed. "Wilkes Booth Lincoln always sleep on a pallet by my bed ever sence we's born an'—'I wants Aunt Cindy to tell me 'bout Uncle Piljerk Peter."
His aunt sat down on the bed by his side. She was not versed in the ways of childhood and could not know that the little boy wanted to pillow his head on Aunt Cindy's soft and ample bosom, that he was homesick for his black friends, the only companions he had ever known.
"I'll you a Bible story," she temporized. "You must not be a baby. You are not afraid, are you, William? God is always with you."
"I don' want no God," he sullenly made reply, "I wants somebody with sho' 'nough skin an' bones, an'—n' I wants to hear 'bout Uncle Piljerk Peter."
"I will tell you a Bible story," again suggested his aunt, "I will tell you about—"
"I don' want to hear no Bible story, neither," he objected, "I wants to hear Uncle Jimmy-Jawed Jup'ter play his 'corjun an' sing:
"'Rabbit up the gum tree, Coon is in the holler Wake, snake; Juney-Bug stole a half a dollar."'
"I'll sing you a hymn," said Miss Minerva patiently.
"I don' want to hear you sing no hymn," said Billy impolitely. "I wants to see Sanctified Sophy shout."
As his aunt could think of no substitute with which to tempt him in lieu of Sanctified Sophy's shouting, she remained silent.
"An' I wants Wilkes Booth Lincoln to dance a clog," persisted her nephew.
Miss Minerva still remained silent. She felt unable to cope with the situation till she had adjusted her thoughts and made her plans.
Presently Billy, looking at her shrewdly, said:
"Gimme my rabbit foot, Aunt Minerva, an' I'll go right off to sleep."
When she again looked in on him he was fast asleep, a rosy flush on his babyish, tearstained cheek, his red lips half parted, his curly head pillowed on his arm, and close against his soft, young throat there nestled the left hind foot of a rabbit.
Miss Minerva's bed time was half after nine o'clock, summer or winter. She had hardly varied a second in the years that had elapsed since the runaway marriage of her only relative, the young sister whose child had now come to live with her. But on the night of Billy's arrival the stern, narrow woman sat for hours in her rocking chair, her mind busy with thoughts of that pretty young sister, dead since the boy's birth.
And now the wild, reckless, dissipated brother-in-law was dead, too, and the child had been sent to her; to the aunt who did not want him, who did not care for children, who had never forgiven her sister her unfortunate marriage. "If he had only been a girl," she sighed. What she believed to be a happy thought entered her brain.
"I shall rear him," she promised herself, "just as if he were a little girl; then he will be both a pleasure and a comfort to me, and a companion for my loneliness."
Miss Minerva was strictly methodical; she worked ever by the clock, so many hours for this, so many minutes for that. William, she now resolved, for the first time becoming really interested in him, should grow up to be a model young man, a splendid and wonderful piece of mechanism, a fine, practical, machine-like individual, moral, upright, religious. She was glad that he was young; she would begin his training on the morrow. She would teach him to sew, to sweep, to churn, to cook, and when he was older he should be educated for the ministry.
"Yes," said Miss Minerva; "I shall be very strict with him just at first, and punish him for the slightest disobedience or misdemeanor, and he will soon learn that my authority is not to be questioned."
And the little boy who had never had a restraining hand laid upon him in his short life? He slept sweetly and innocently in the next room dreaming of the care-free existence on the plantation and of his idle, happy, negro companions.
THE WILLING WORKER
"Get up, William," said Miss Minerva, "and come with me to the bath-room; I have fixed your bath."
The child's sleepy eyes popped wide open at this astounding command.
"Ain't this-here Wednesday?" he asked sharply.
"Yes; to-day is Wednesday. Hurry up or your water will get cold."
"Well, me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln jest washed las' Sat'day. We ain't got to wash no mo' till nex' Sat'day," he argued.
"Oh, yes," said his relative; "you must bathe every day."
"Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln ain't never wash on a Wednesday sence we's born," he protested indignantly.
Billy's idea of a bath was taken from the severe weekly scrubbing which Aunt Cindy gave him with a hard washrag, and he felt that he'd rather die at once than have to bathe every day.
He followed his aunt dolefully to the bath-room at the end of the long back-porch of the old-fashioned, one-story house; but once in the big white tub he was delighted.
In fact he stayed in it so long Miss Minerva had to knock on the door and tell him to hurry up and get ready for breakfast.
"Say," he yelled out to her, "I likes this here; it's mos' as fine as Johnny's Wash Hole where me and' Wilkes Booth Lincoln goes in swimmin' ever sence we's born."
When he came into the dining-room he was a sight to gladden even a prim old maid's heart. The water had curled his hair into riotous yellow ringlets, his bright eyes gleamed, his beautiful, expressive little face shone happily, and every movement of his agile, lithe figure was grace itself.
"I sho' is hongry," he remarked, as he took his seat at the breakfast table.
Miss Minerva realized that now was the time to begin her small nephew's training; if she was ever to teach him to speak correctly she must begin at once.
"William," she said sternly, "you must not talk so much like a negro. Instead of saying 'I sho' is hongry,' you should say, 'I am very hungry.' Listen to me and try to speak more correctly."
"Don't! don't!" she screamed as he helped himself to the meat and gravy, leaving a little brown river on her fresh white tablecloth. "Wait until I ask a blessing; then I will help you to what you want."
Billy enjoyed his breakfast very much. "These muffins sho' is—" he began; catching his aunt's eye he corrected himself—
"These muffins am very good."
"These muffins are very good," said Miss Minerva patiently.
"Did you ever eat any bobbycued rabbit?" he asked. "Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln been eatin' chit'lins, an' sweet 'taters, an' 'possum, an' squirrel, an' hoecake, an' Brunswick stew ever sence we's born," was his proud announcement.
"Use your napkin," commanded she, "and don't fill your mouth so full."
The little boy flooded his plate with syrup.
"These-here 'lasses sho' is—" he began, but instantly remembering that he must be more particular in his speech, he stammered out:
"These-here sho' is—am—are a nice messer 'lasses. I ain't never eat sech a good bait. They sho' is—I aimed to say—these 'lasses sho' are a bird; they's 'nother sight tastier 'n sorghum, an' Aunt Cindy 'lows that sorghum is the very penurity of a nigger."
She did not again correct him.
"I must be very patient," she thought, "and go very slowly. I must not expect too much of him at first."
After breakfast Miss Minerva, who would not keep a servant, preferring to do her own work, tied a big cook-apron around the little boy's neck, and told him to churn while she washed the dishes. This arrangement did not suit Billy.
"Boys don't churn," he said sullenly, "me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln don' never have to churn sence we's born; 'omans has to churn an' I ain't agoing to. Major Minerva—he ain't never churn," he began belligerently but his relative turned an uncompromising and rather perturbed back upon him. Realizing that he was beaten, he submitted to his fate, clutched the dasher angrily, and began his weary work.
He was glad his little black friend did not witness his disgrace.
As he thought of Wilkes Booth Lincoln the big tears came into his eyes and rolled down his cheeks; he leaned way over the churn and the great glistening tears splashed right into the hole made for the dasher, and rolled into the milk.
Billy grew interested at once and laughed aloud; he puckered up his face and tried to weep again, for he wanted more tears to fall into the churn; but the tears refused to come and he couldn't squeeze another one out of his eyes.
"Aunt Minerva," he said mischievously, "I done ruint yo' buttermilk."
"What have you done?" she inquired.
"It's done ruint," he replied, "you'll hafter th'ow it away; 't ain't fitten fer nothin.' I done cried 'bout a bucketful in it."
"Why did you cry?" asked Miss Minerva calmly. "Don't you like to work?"
"Yes 'm, I jes' loves to work; I wish I had time to work all the time. But it makes my belly ache to churn,—I got a awful pain right now."
"Churn on!" she commanded unsympathetically.
He grabbed the dasher and churned vigorously for one minute.
"I reckon the butter's done come," he announced, resting from his labors.
"It hasn't begun to come yet," replied the exasperated woman. "Don't waste so much time, William."
The child churned in silence for the space of two minutes, and suggested: "It's time to put hot water in it; Aunt Cindy always puts hot water in it. Lemme git some fer you."
"I never put hot water in my milk," said she, "it makes the butter puffy. Work more and talk less, William."
Again there was a brief silence, broken only by the sound of the dasher thumping against the bottom of the churn, and the rattle of the dishes.
"I sho' is tired," he presently remarked, heaving a deep sigh. "My arms is 'bout give out, Aunt Minerva. Ole Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline see a man churn with his toes; lemme git a chair an' see if I can't churn with my toes."
"Indeed you shall not," responded his annoyed relative positively.
"Sanctified Sophy knowed a colored 'oman what had a little dog went roun' an' roun' an' churn fer her," remarked Billy after a short pause. "If you had a billy goat or a little nanny I could hitch him to the churn fer you ev'ry day."
"William," commanded his aunt, "don't say another word until you have finished your work."
"Can't I sing?" he asked.
She nodded permission as she went through the open door into the dining-room.
Returning a few minutes later she found him sitting astride the churn, using the dasher so vigorously that buttermilk was splashing in every direction, and singing in a clear, sweet voice:
"He'll feed you when you's naked, The orphan stear he'll dry, He'll clothe you when you's hongry An' take you when you die."
Miss Minerva jerked him off with no gentle hand.
"What I done now?" asked the boy innocently, "'tain't no harm as I can see jes' to straddle a churn."
"Go out in the front yard," commanded his aunt, "and sit in the swing till I call you. I'll finish the work without your assistance. And, William," she called after him, "there is a very bad little boy who lives next door; I want you to have as little to do with him as possible."
SWEETHEART AND PARTNER
Billy was sitting quietly in the big lawn-swing when his aunt, dressed for the street, finally came through the front door.
"I am going up-town, William," she said, "I want to buy you some things that you may go with me to church Sunday. Have you ever been to Sunday-School?"
"Naw 'm; but I been to pertracted meetin'," came the ready response, "I see Sanctified Sophy shout tell she tore ev'y rag offer her back 'ceptin' a shimmy. She's one 'oman what sho' is got 'ligion; she ain't never backslid 't all, an' she ain't never fell f'om grace but one time—"
"Stay right in the yard till I come back. Sit in the swing and don't go outside the front yard. I shan't be gone long," said Miss Minerva.
His aunt had hardly left the gate before Billy caught sight of a round, fat little face peering at him through the palings which separated Miss Minerva's yard from that of her next-door neighbor.
"Hello!" shouted Billy. "Is you the bad little boy what can't play with me?"
"What you doing in Miss Minerva's yard?" came the answering interrogation across the fence.
"I's come to live with her," replied Billy. "My mama an' papa is dead. What's yo' name?"
"I'm Jimmy Garner. How old are you? I'm most six, I am."
"Shucks, I's already six, a-going on seven. Come on, le's swing."
"Can't," said the new acquaintance, "I've runned off once to-day, and got licked for it."
"I ain't never got no whippin' sence me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln 's born," boasted Billy.
"Ain't you?" asked Jimmy. "I 'spec' I been whipped more 'n a million times, my mama is so pertic'lar with me. She's 'bout the pertic'larest woman ever was; she don't 'low me to leave the yard 'thout I get a whipping. I believe I will come over to see you 'bout half a minute."
Suiting the action to the word Jimmy climbed the fence, and the two little boys were soon comfortably settled facing each other in the big lawn-swing.
"Who lives over there?" asked Billy, pointing to the house across the street.
"That's Miss Cecilia's house. That's her coming out of the front gate now."
The young lady smiled and waved her hand at them.
"Ain't she a peach?" asked Jimmy. "She's my sweetheart and she is 'bout the swellest sweetheart they is."
"She's mine, too," promptly replied Billy, who had fallen in love at first sight. "I's a-goin' to have her fer my sweetheart too."
"Naw, she ain't yours, neither; she's mine," angrily declared the other little boy, kicking his rival's legs. "You all time talking 'bout you going to have Miss Cecilia for your sweetheart. She's done already promised me."
"I'll tell you what," proposed Billy, "lemme have her an' you can have Aunt Minerva."
"I wouldn't have Miss Minerva to save your life," replied Jimmy disrespectfully, "her nake ain't no bigger 'n that," making a circle of his thumb and forefinger. "Miss Cecilia, Miss Cecilia," he shrieked tantalizingly, "is my sweetheart."
"I'll betcher I have her fer a sweetheart soon as ever I see her," said Billy.
"What's your name?" asked Jimmy presently.
"Aunt Minerva says it's William Green Hill, but 'tain't, it's jest plain Billy," responded the little boy.
"Ain't God a nice, good old man," remarked Billy, after they had swung in silence for a while, with an evident desire to make talk.
"That He is," replied Jimmy, enthusiastically. "He's 'bout the forgivingest person ever was. I just couldn't get 'long at all 'thout Him. It don't make no differ'nce what you do or how many times you run off, all you got to do is just ask God to forgive you and tell him you're sorry and ain't going to do so no more, that night when you say your prayers, and it's all right with God. S'posing He was one of these wants-his-own-way kind o' mans, He could make Hi'self the troublesomest person ever was, and little boys couldn't do nothing a tall. I sure think a heap of God. He ain't never give me the worst of it yet."
"I wonder what He looks like," mused Billy.
"I s'pec' He just looks like the three-headed giant in Jack the Giant-Killer," explained Jimmy, "'cause He's got three heads and one body. His heads are name' Papa, Son, and Holy Ghost, and His body is just name' plain God. Miss Cecilia 'splained it all to me and she is 'bout the splendidest 'splainer they is. She's my Sunday-School teacher."
"She's goin' to be my Sunday-School teacher, too," said Billy serenely.
"Yours nothing; you all time want my Sunday-School teacher."
"Jimmee!" called a voice from the interior of the house in the next yard.
"Somebody's a-callin' you," said Billy.
"That ain't nobody but mama," explained Jimmy composedly.
"Jimmee-ee!" called the voice.
"Don't make no noise," warned that little boy, "maybe she'll give up toreckly."
"You Jimmee!" his mother called again.
Jimmy made no move to leave the swing.
"I don' never have to go 'less she says 'James Lafayette Garner,' then I got to hustle," he remarked.
"She's mighty near got me," he said softly; "but maybe she'll get tired and won't call no more. She ain't plumb mad yet.
"It's coming now," said Jimmy dolefully.
The two little boys sat very still and quiet.
"James Lafayette Garner!"
The younger child sprang to his feet.
"I got to get a move on now," he said; "when she calls like that she means business. I betcher she's got a switch and a hair-brush and a slipper in her hand right this minute. I'll be back toreckly," he promised.
He was as good as his word, and in a very short time he was sitting again facing Billy in the swing.
"She just wanted to know where her embroid'ry scissors was," he explained. "It don't matter what's lost in that house I'm always the one that's got to be 'sponsible and all time got to go look for it."
"Did you find 'em?" asked Billy.
"Yep; I went right straight where I left 'em yeste'day. I had 'em trying to cut a piece of wire. I stole off and went down to Sam Lamb's house this morning and tooken breakfast with him and his old woman, Sukey," he boasted.
"I knows Sam Lamb," said Billy, "I rode up on the bus with him."
"He's my partner," remarked Jimmy.
"He's mine, too," said Billy quickly.
"No, he ain't neither; you all time talking 'bout you going to have Sam Lamb for a partner. You want everything I got. You want Miss Cecilia and you want Sam Lamb. Well, you just ain't a-going to have 'em. You got to get somebody else for your partner and sweetheart."
"Well, you jest wait an' see," said Billy. "I got Major Minerva."
"Shucks, they ain't no Major name' that away," and Jimmy changed the subject. "Sam Lamb's sow's got seven little pigs. He lemme see 'em suck," said Sam Lamb's partner proudly. "He's got a cow, too; she's got the worrisomest horns ever was. I believe she's a steer anyway."
"Shucks," said the country boy, contemptuously, "You do' know a steer when you see one; you can't milk no steer."
TURNING ON THE HOSE
"Look! Ain't that a snake?" shrieked Billy, pointing to what looked to him like a big snake coiled in the yard.
"Snake, nothing!" sneered his companion, "that's a hose. You all time got to call a hose a snake. Come on, let's sprinkle," and Jimmy sprang out of the swing, jerked up the hose, and dragged it to the hydrant. "My mama don't never 'low me to sprinkle with her hose, but Miss Minerva she's so good I don' reckon she'll care," he cried mendaciously.
Billy followed, watched his companion screw the hose to the faucet, and turn the water on. There was a hissing, gurgling sound and a stream of water shot out, much to the rapture of the astonished Billy.
"Won't Aunt Minerva care?" he asked, anxiously. "Is she a real 'ligious 'oman?"
"She is the Christianest woman they is," announced the other child. "Come on, we'll sprinkle the street—and I don't want nobody to get in our way neither."
"I wish Wilkes Booth Lincoln could see us," said Miss Minerva's nephew.
A big, fat negress, with a bundle of clothes tied in a red table cloth on her head, came waddling down the sidewalk.
Billy looked at Jimmy and giggled, Jimmy looked at Billy and giggled; then, the latter took careful aim and a stream of water hit the old woman squarely in the face.
"Who dat? What's yo' doin'?" she yelled, as she backed off. "'I's a-gwine to tell yo' pappy, Jimmy Garner," as she recognized one of the culprits. "Pint dat ar ho'e 'way f'om me, 'fo' I make yo' ma spank yuh slabsided. I got to git home an' wash. Drap it, I tell yuh!"
Two little girls rolling two doll buggies in which reposed two enormous rag-babies were seen approaching.
"That's Lina Hamilton and Frances Black," said Jimmy, "they're my chums."
Billy took a good look at them. "They's goin' to be my chums, too," he said calmly.
"Your chums, nothing!" angrily cried Jimmy, swelling up pompously. "You all time trying to claim my chums. I can't have nothing a tall 'thout you got to stick your mouth in. You 'bout the selfishest boy they is. You want everything I got, all time."
The little girls were now quite near and Jimmy hailed them gleefully, forgetful of his anger.
"Come on, Lina, you and Frances," he shrieked, "and we can have the mostest fun. Billy here's done come to live with Miss Minerva and she's done gone up town and don't care if we sprinkle, 'cause she's got so much 'ligion."
"But you know none of us are allowed to use a hose," objected Lina.
"But it's so much fun," said Jimmy; "and Miss Minerva she's so Christian she ain't going to raise much of a rough-house, and if she do we can run when we see her coming."
"I can't run," said Billy, "I ain't got nowhere to run to an'—"
"If that ain't just like you, Billy," interrupted Jimmy, "all time talking 'bout you ain't got nowhere to run to; you don't want nobody to have no fun. You 'bout the picayunest boy they is."
Little Ikey Rosenstein, better known as "GooseGrease," dressed in a cast-off suit of his big brother's, with his father's hat set rakishly back on his head and over his ears, was coming proudly down the street some distance off.
"Yonder comes Goose-Grease Rosenstein," said Jimmy gleefully. "When he gets right close le's make him hop."
"All right," agreed Billy, his good humor restored, "le's baptize him good."
"Oh, we can't baptize him," exclaimed the other little boy, "'cause he's a Jew and the Bible says not to baptize Jews. You got to mesmerize 'em. How come me to know so much?" he continued condescendingly, "Miss Cecilia teached me in the Sunday-School. Sometimes I know so much I I feel like I'm going to bust. She teached me 'bout 'Scuffle little chillens and forbid 'em not,' and 'bout 'Ananias telled Sapphira he done it with his little hatchet,' and 'bout 'Lijah jumped over the moon in a automobile: I know everything what's in the Bible. Miss Cecilia sure is a crackerjack; she's 'bout the stylishest Sunday-School teacher they is."
"'T was the cow jumped over the moon," said Frances, "and it isn't in the Bible; it's in Mother Goose."
"And Elijah went to Heaven in a chariot of fire," corrected Lina.
"And I know all 'bout Gabr'el," continued Jimmy unabashed. "When folks called him to blow his trumpet he was under the haystack fast asleep."
Ikey was quite near by this time to command the attention of the four children.
"Let's mesmerize Goose-Grease," yelled Jimmy, as he turned the stream of water full upon him.
Frances, Lina, and Billy clapped their hands and laughed for joy.
With a terrified and angry shriek their victim, dripping water at every step, ran howling by his tormentors. When he reached a safe distance he turned around, shook a fist at them, and screamed back:
"My papa is going to have you all arrested and locked up in the calaboose."
"Calaboose, nothing!" jeered Jimmy. "You all time wanting to put somebody in the calaboose 'cause they mesmerize you. You got to be mesmerized 'cause it's in the Bible."
A short, stout man, dressed in neat black clothes, was coming toward them.
"Oh, that's the Major!" screamed Billy delightedly, taking the hose and squaring himself to greet his friend of the train, but Jimmy jerked it out of his hand, before either of them noticed him turning about, as if for something forgotten.
"You ain't got the sense of a one-eyed tadpole, Billy," he said. "That's Miss Minerva's beau. He's been loving her more 'n a million years. My mama says he ain't never going to marry nobody a tall 'thout he can get Miss Minerva, and Miss Minerva she just turns up her nose at anything that wears pants. You better not sprinkle him. He's been to the war and got his big toe shot off. He kilt 'bout a million Injuns and Yankees and he's name' Major 'cause he's a Confed'rit vetrun. He went to the war when he ain't but fourteen."
"Did he have on long pants?" asked Billy. "I call him Major Minerva—"
"Gladys Maude's got the pennyskeeters," broke in Frances importantly, fussing over her baby, "and I'm going to see Doctor Sanford. Don't you think she looks pale, Jimmy?"
"Pale, nothing!" sneered the little boy. "Girls got to all time play their dolls are sick. Naw; I don't know nothing a tall 'bout your Gladys Maude."
Lina gazed up the street.
"That looks like Miss Minerva to me 'way up yonder," she remarked. "I think we had better get away from here before she sees us."
Two little girls rolling two doll buggies fairly flew down the street and one little boy quickly climbed to the top of the dividing fence. From this safe vantage point he shouted to Billy, who was holding the nozzle of the hose out of which poured a stream of water.
"You 'd better turn that water off 'cause Miss Minerva's going to be madder 'n a green persimmon."
"I do' know how to," said Billy forlornly. "You turnt it on."
"Drop the hose and run to the hydrant and twist that little thing at the top," screamed Jimmy. "You all time got to perpose someping to get little boys in trouble anyway," he added ungenerously.
"You perposed this yo'self," declared an indignant Billy. "You said Aunt Minerva's so 'ligious she wouldn't git mad."
"Christian womans can get just as mad as any other kind," declared the other boy, sliding from his perch on the fence and running across his lawn to disappear behind his own front door.
Holding her skirts nearly up to her knees Miss Minerva stepped gingerly along the wet and muddy street till she got to her gate, where her nephew met her, looking a little guilty, but still holding his head up with that characteristic, manly air which was so attractive.
"William," she said sternly, "I see you have been getting into mischief, and I feel it my duty to punish you, so that you may learn to be trustworthy. I said nothing to you about the hose because I did not think you would know how to use it."
Billy remained silent. He did not want to betray his little companions of the morning, so he said nothing in his own defense.
"Come with me into the house," continued his aunt, "you must go to bed at once."
But the child protested vigorously.
"Don' make me go to bed in the daytime, Aunt Minerva; me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln ain't never went to bed in the daytime since we's born, an' I ain't never hear tell of a real 'ligious 'oman a-puttin' a little boy in bed 'fore it's dark; an' I ain't never a-goin' to meddle with yo' ole hose no mo'."
But Miss Minerva was obdurate, and the little boy spent a miserable hour between the sheets.
"I have a present for you," said his aunt, handing Billy a long, rectangular package.
"Thank you, ma'am," said her beaming nephew as he sat down on the floor, all eager anticipation, and began to untie the string. His charming, changeful face was bright and happy again, but his expression became one of indignant amaze as he saw the contents of the box.
"What I want with a doll?" he asked angrily, "I ain't no girl."
"I think every little boy should have a doll and learn to make clothes for it," said Miss Minerva. "I don't want you to be a great, rough boy; I want you to be sweet and gentle like a little girl; I am going to teach you how to sew and cook and sweep, so you may grow up a comfort to me."
This was a gloomy forecast for the little boy accustomed, as he had been, to the freedom of a big plantation, and he scowled darkly.
"Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln ain't never hafter play with no dolls sence we's born," he replied sullenly, "we goes in swimmin' an' plays baseball. I can knock a home-run an' pitch a curve an' ketch a fly. Why don't you gimme a baseball bat? I already got a ball what Admiral Farragut gimme. An' I ain't agoin' to be no sissy neither. Lina an' Frances plays dolls, me an' Jimmy—" he stopped in sudden confusion.
"Lina and Frances and James!" exclaimed his aunt. "What do you know about them, William?"
The child's face flushed. "I seen 'em this mornin'," he acknowledged.
Miss Minerva put a hand on either shoulder der and looked straight into his eyes.
"William, who started that sprinkling this morning?" she questioned, sharply.
Billy flushed guiltily and lowered his eyelids; but only for an instant. Quickly recovering his composure he returned her gaze steadily and ignored her question.
"I see yo' beau too, Aunt Minerva," he remarked tranquilly.
It was Miss Minerva this time who lost her composure, for her thin, sallow face became perfectly crimson.
"My beau?" she asked confusedly. "Who put that nonsense into your head?"
"Jimmy show him to me," he replied jauntily, once more master of the situation and in full realization of the fact. "Why don't you marry him, Aunt Minerva, so's he could live right here with us? An' I could learn him how to churn. I s'pec' he 'd make a beautiful churner. He sho' is a pretty little fat man," he continued flatteringly. "An' dress? That beau was jest dressed plumb up to the top notch. I sho' would marry him if I's you an' not turn up my nose at him 'cause he wears pants, an' you can learn him how to talk properer'n what he do an' I betcher he'd jest nachelly take to a broom, an' I s'pec' he ain't got nobody 'tall to show him how to sew. An' y' all could get the doctor to fetch you a little baby so he wouldn't hafter play with no doll. I sho' wisht we had him here," ended a selfish Billy, "he could save me a lot of steps. An' I sho' would like to hear 'bout all them Injuns an' Yankees what he's killed."
Billy's aunt was visibly embarrassed.
The persistent admiration of this, her one lover, had been pleasing to her, yet she had never been willing to sacrifice her independence for the cares and trials of matrimony. The existing state of affairs between the two was known to every one in the small town, but such was Miss Minerva's dignified aloofness that Billy was the first person who had ever dared to broach the subject to her.
"Sit down here, William," she commanded, "and I will read to you."
"Tell me a tale," he said, looking up at her with his bright, sweet smile. The doll lay neglected on a chair near by and Billy wanted her to forget it.
"Tell me 'bout Piljerk Peter."
"Piljerk Peter?" there was an interrogation in her voice.
"Yas 'm. Ain't you never hear tell 'bout Piljerk Peter? He had fifteen chillens an' one time the las' one of 'em an' his ole 'oman was down with the fever an' he ain't got but one pill an' they so sick they mos' 'bout to die an' ain't nobody in the fiel' fer to pick the cotton an' he can't git no doctor an' he ain't got but jest that one pill; so he tie that pill to a string an' let the bigges' chile swaller it an' draw it back up an' let the nex' chile swaller it an' jerk it back up an' let the nex, Chile swaller it an' jerk it back up an' let the nex' Chile swaller it an' jerk it back up an' let the nex'—."
"I don't believe in telling tales to children," interrupted his aunt, "I will tell you biographical and historical stories and stories from the Bible. Now listen, while I read to you."
"An' the nex' Chile swaller it an' he jerk it back up," continued Billy serenely, "an' the nex' Chile swaller it an' he jerk it back up tell finely ev'y single one of 'em, plumb down to the baby, swaller that pill an' the las' one of 'em got well an' that one pill it done the work. Then he tuck the pill and give it to his ole 'oman an' she swaller it an' he jerk it back up but didn't nothin' 'tall come up but jest the string an' his ole 'oman she died 'cause all the strenk done gone outer that pill."
Miss Minerva opened a book called "Gems for the Household," which she had purchased from a silvertongued book-agent. She selected an article the subject of which was "The Pure in Heart."
Billy listened with a seemingly attentive ear to the choice flow of words, but in reality his little brain was busy with its own thoughts. The article closed with the suggestion that if one were innocent and pure he would have a dreamless sleep—
"If you have a conscience clear, And God's commands you keep; If your heart is good and pure, You will have a perfect sleep."
Billy's aunt concluded. Wishing to know if he had understood what she had just read she asked:
"What people sleep the soundest?"
"Niggers," was his prompt reply, as he thought of the long summer days and the colored folk on the plantation.
She was disappointed, but not discouraged.
"Now, William," she admonished, "I'm going to read you another piece, and I want you to tell me about it, when I get through. Pay strict attention."
"Yas 'm," he readily agreed.
She chose an article describing the keen sense of smell in animals. Miss Minerva was not an entertaining reader and the words were long and fairly incomprehensible to the little boy sitting patiently at her side.
Again his thoughts wandered, though every now and then he caught a word or two.
"What animals have the keenest sense of smell, William?" was her query at the conclusion of her reading.
"Billy goats," was Billy's answer without the slightest hesitation.
"You have goats on the brain," she said in anger. "I did not read one word about billy goats."
"Well, if 'taint a billy goat," he replied, "I do' know what 'tis 'thout it's a skunk."
"I bought you a little primer this morning," she remarked after a short silence, "and I want you to say a lesson every day."
"I already knows a lot," he boasted. "Tabernicle, he 'an' Mercantile both been to school an' they learnt me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln. I knows crooked S, an' broken back K, an' curly tail Q, an' roun' O, an' I can spell c-a-t cat, an' d-o-g dog an' A stands fer apple."
That night he concluded his ever lengthy prayer at his kinswoman's knee with:
"O Lord, please make for Aunt Minerva a little baby, make her two of 'em. O Lord, if you got 'em to spare please make her three little babies an' let 'em all be girls so's she can learn 'em how to churn an' sew. An' bless Aunt Minerva and Major Minerva, f'r ever 'nd ever. Amen."
As he rose from his knees he asked: "Aunt Minerva, do God work on Sunday?"
"No-o," answered his relative, hesitatingly.
"Well, it look like He'd jest hafter work on Sunday, He's so busy jest a-makin' babies. He makes all the niggers an' heathens an' Injuns an' white chillens; I reckon He gits somebody to help him. Don't you, Aunt Minerva?"
RABBITS' AND OTHER EGGS
Billy was sitting in the swing. Jimmy crawled over the fence and joined him.
"Miss Cecilia's dyeing me some Easter eggs," he said, "all blue and pink and green and yelluh and every kind they is; I tooken her some of our hen's eggs and she is going to fix 'em for me and they'll be just like rabbit's eggs; I reckon I'll have 'bout a million. I'll give you one," he added generously.
"I want more 'n one," declared Billy, who was used to having the lion's share of everything.
"You all time talking 'bout you want more 'n one egg," said Jimmy. "You 'bout the stingiest Peter they is. Ain't you got no eggs? Get Miss Minerva to give you some of hers and I'll take 'em over and ask Miss Cecilia to dye 'em for you 'cause you ain't 'quainted with her yet."
"Aunt Minerva ain't got none 'cep'in' what she put under a of hen fer to set this mornin':"
"Can't you get 'em from under the old hen? Miss Minerva is such a Christian woman, she ain't—"
"You done fool me 'bout that 'ligious business befo'," interrupted Billy, "an' I got put to bed in the daytime."
"Well, she won't never miss two or three eggs," coaxed Jimmy. "How many did she put under the old hen?"
"She put fifteen," was the response, "an' I don't believe she'd want me to tech 'em."
"They 're 'bout the prettiest eggs ever was," continued the tempter, "all blue and pink and green, and 'bout a million kinds. They're just perzactly like rabbit's eggs."
"Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln ain't never hear teller no rabbit's eggs sence we's born," said Billy; "I don't berlieve rabbits lays eggs nohow."
"They don' lay 'em 'cept to Easter," said Jimmy. "Miss Cecilia 'splained it all to me and she's my Sunday-School teacher and rabbits is bound to lay eggs 'cause it's in the Bible and she's 'bout the prettiest 'splainer they is. I'm going over there now to see 'bout my eggs," and he made believe to leave the swing.
"Le's us slip roun' to the hen-house an' see what the of hen's a-doin'," suggested the sorely tempted Billy. "Aunt Minerva is a-makin' me some nightshirts an' she ain't takin' no notice of nothin' else."
They tiptoed stealthily around the house to the back-yard, but found the hen-house door locked.
"Can't you get the key?" asked the younger child.
"Naw, I can't," replied the other boy, "but you can git in th'oo this-here little hole what the chickens goes in at, whiles I watches fer Aunt Minerva. I'll stand right here an' hol' my cap whiles you fetches me the eggs. An' don't you take more 'n five or six," he warned.
"I'm skeered of the old hen," objected Jimmy. "Is she much of a pecker?"
"Naw, she ain't a-goin' to hurt you," was the encouraging reply. "Git up an' crawl th'oo; I'll help you."
Billy, having overcome his scruples, now entered into the undertaking with great zest.
Jimmy climbed the chicken ladder, kicked his chubby legs through the aperture, hung suspended on his fat little middle for an instant, and finally, with much panting and tugging, wriggled his plump, round body into the hen-house. He walked over where a lonesome looking hen was sitting patiently on a nest. He put out a cautious hand and the hen promptly gave it a vicious peck.
"Billy," he called angrily, "you got to come in here and hold this old chicken; she's 'bout the terriblest pecker they is."
Billy stuck his head in the little square hole. "Go at her from behind," he suggested; "put yo' hand under her easy like, an' don' let her know what you's up to."
Jimmy tried to follow these instructions, but received another peck for his pains. He promptly mutinied.
"If you want any eggs," he declared, scowling at the face framed in the aperture, "you can come get 'em yourself. I done monkeyed with this chicken all I'm going to."
So Billy climbed up and easily got his lean little body through the opening. He dexterously caught the hen by the nape of the neck, as he had seen Aunt Cindy do, while Jimmy reached for the eggs.
"If we ain't done lef' my cap outside on the groun'," said Billy. "What we goin' to put the eggs in?"
"Well, that's just like you, Billy, you all time got to leave your cap on the ground. I'll put 'em in my blouse till you get outside and then I'll hand 'em to you. How many you going to take?"
"We might just as well git 'em all now," said Billy. "Aunt Cindy say they's some kinder hens won't lay no chickens 't all if folks put they hands in they nests an' this here hen look like to me she's one of them kind, so the rester the egg'll jest be waste, any how, 'cause you done put yo' han's in her nes', an' a dominicker ain't a-goin' to stan' no projeckin' with her eggs. Hurry up."
Jimmy carefully distributed the eggs inside his blouse, and Billy once more crawled through the hole and stood on the outside waiting, cap in hand, to receive them.
But the patient hen had at last raised her voice in angry protest and set up a furious cackling, which so frightened the little boy on the inside that he was panic-stricken. He caught hold of a low roost pole, swung himself up and, wholly unmindful of his blouse full of eggs, pushed his lower limbs through the hole and stuck fast. A pair of chubby, sturdy legs, down which were slowly trickling little yellow rivulets, and half of a plump, round body were all that would go through.
"Pull!" yelled the owner of the short fat legs. "I'm stuck and can't go no furder. Pull me th'oo, Billy."
About this time the defrauded fowl flew from her nest and attempted to get out by her rightful exit. Finding it stopped up by a wriggling, squirming body she perched herself on the little boy's neck and flapped her enraged wings in his face.
"Pull!" yelled the child again, "help me th'oo, Billy, 'fore this fool chicken pecks all the meat off 'm my bones."
Billy grabbed the sticky limbs and gave a valiant tug, but the body did not move an inch. Alas, Jimmy with his cargo of broken eggs was fast imprisoned.
"Pull again!" yelled the scared and angry child, "you 'bout the idjetest idjet they is if you can't do no better 'n that."
Billy jerked with all his strength, but with no visible result.
"Pull harder! You no-count gump!" screamed the prisoner, beating off the hen with his hands.
The boy on the outside, who was strong for his years, braced himself and gave a mighty wrench of the other child's stout extremities. Jimmy howled in pain and gave his friend an energetic kick.
"Lemme go!" he shrieked, "you old impe'dunt backbiter. I'm going to tell Miss Minerva you pulled my legs out by the roots."
A small portion of the prisoner's blouse was visible. Billy caught hold of it and gave a strong jerk. There was a sound of ripping and tearing and the older boy fell sprawling on his back with a goodly portion of the younger child's raiment in his hands.
"Now see what you done," yelled the victim of his energy, "you ain't got the sense of a buffalo gnat. Oh! oh! This hole is 'bout to cut my stomach open."
"Hush, Jimmy!" warned the other child. "Don't make so much noise. Aunt Minerva'll hear you."
"I want her to hear me," screamed Jimmy. "You'd like me to stay stuck in a chicken hole all night. Oh! oh! oh!"
The noise did indeed bring Billy's aunt out on a tour of investigation. She had to knock a plank off the hen-house with an axe before Jimmy's release could be accomplished. He was lifted down, red, angry, sticky, and perspiring, and was indeed a sight to behold.
"Billy got to all time perpose something to get little boys in trouble," he growled, "and got to all time get 'em stuck in a hole in a chicken-house."
"My nephew's name is William," corrected she.
"You perposed this here yo'self!" cried an indignant Billy. "Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln don' know nothin' 't all 'bout no rabbit's eggs sence we's born."
"It doesn't matter who proposed it," said his aunt firmly. "You are going to be punished, William. I have just finished one of your night-shirts. Come with me and put it on and go to bed. Jimmy, you go home and show yourself to your mother."
"Pick up yo' shirt-tail offer the groun' what I tore off, Jimmy," advised Billy, "an' take it home to yo' ma. Aunt Minerva," he pleaded, following mournfully behind her, "please don't put me to bed; the Major he don' go to bed no daytimes; I won't never get me no mo' eggs to make rabbit's eggs outer."
TELLERS OF TALES
The days flew rapidly by. Miss Minerva usually attempted to train Billy all the morning, and by the midday dinner hour she was so exhausted that she was glad to let him play in the front yard during the afternoon.
Here he was often joined by the three children whose acquaintance he had made the day after his arrival, and the quartette became staunch friends and chums.
All four were sitting in the swing one warm spring day, under the surveillance of Billy's aunt, sewing on the veranda.
"Let's tell tales," suggested Jimmy.
"All right," agreed Frances. "I'll tell the first. Once there's—"
"Naw, you ain't neither," interrupted the little boy. "You all time talking 'bout you going to tell the first tale. I'm going to tell the first tale myself. One time they's—"
"No, you are not either," said Lina positively. "Frances is a girl and she ought to be the first if she wants to. Don't you think so, Billy?"
"Yas, I does," championed he; "go on, Frances."
That little girl, thus encouraged, proceeded to tell the first tale:
"Once there's a man named Mr. Elisha, and he had a friend named Mr. Elijah, so his mantelpiece fell on top of his head and make him perfectly bald; he hasn't got a single hair and he hasn't got any money, 'cause mama read me 'bout he rented his garments, which is clo'es, 'cause he didn't have none at all what belong to him. I spec' he just rented him a shirt and a pair o' breeches and wore 'em next to his hide 'thout no undershirt at all. He was drea'ful poor and had a miser'ble time and old mean Mr. Per'dventure took him up on a high mountain and left him, so when he come down some bad little childern say, 'Go 'long back, bald head!' and they make pockmocks on him. Seems like everybody treat him bad, so he cuss 'em, so I never see anybody with a bald head 'thout I run, 'cause I don't want to get cussed. So two Teddy bears come out of the woods and ate up forty-two hunderd of—"
"Why, Frances," reproved Lina, "you always get things wrong. I don't believe they ate up that many children."
"Yes, they did too," championed Jimmy, "'cause it's in the Bible and Miss Cecilia 'splained all 'bout it to me, and she's our Sunday-School teacher and 'bout the bullyest 'splainer they is. Them Teddy bears ate up 'bout a million chillens, which is all the little boys and girls two Teddy bears can hold at a time."
"I knows a man what ain't got no hair 't all on his head," remarked Billy; "he's a conjure-man an' me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln been talkin' to him ever sence we's born an' he ain't never cuss us, an' I ain't never got eat up by no Teddy bears neither. Huccome him to be bald? He's out in the fiel' one day a-pickin' cotton when he see a tu'key buzzard an' he talk to her like this:
"'I say tu'key buzzard, I say, Who shall I see unexpected today?'
"If she flop her wings three times you goin' to see yo' sweetheart, but this-here buzzard ain't flop no wings 't all; she jes' lean over an' th'ow up on his head an' he been bald ever sence; ev'y single hair come out."
"Did you-all hear 'bout that 'Talian Dago that works on the section gang eating a buzzard?" asked Frances.
"Naw," said Billy. "Did it make him sick?"
"That it did," she answered; "he sent for Doctor Sanford and tells him, 'Me killa de big bird, me eat-a de big bird, de big bird make-a me seek."'
"Them Dagoes 'bout the funniest talking folks they is," said Jimmy, "but they got to talk that way 'cause it's in the Bible. They 'sputed on the tower of Babel and the Lord say 'Confound you!' Miss Cecilia 'splained it all to me and she's 'bout the dandiest 'splainer they is."
"You may tell your tale now, Jimmy," said Lina.
"I'm going to tell 'bout William Tell 'cause he's in the Bible," said Jimmy. "Once they's a man name'—"
"William Tell isn't in the Bible," declared Lina.
"Yes, he is too," contended the little boy, "Miss Cecilia 'splained it to me. You all time setting yourself up to know more'n me and Miss Cecilia. One time they's a man name' William Tell and he had a little boy what's the cutest kid they is and the Devil come 'long and temp' him. Then the Lord say, 'William Tell, you and Adam and Eve can taste everything they is in the garden 'cepting this one apple tree; you can get all the pears and bunnanas and peaches and grapes and oranges and plums and persimmons and scalybarks and fig leaves and 'bout a million other kinds of fruit if you want to, but don't you tech a single apple.' And the Devil temp' him and say he going to put his cap on a pole and everybody got to bow down to it for a idol and if William Tell don't bow down to it he got to shoot a apple for good or evil off 'm his little boy's head. That's all the little boy William Tell and Adam and Eve got, but he ain't going to fall down and worship no gravy image on top a pole, so he put a tomahawk in his bosom and he tooken his bow and arrur and shot the apple plumb th'oo the middle and never swinge a hair of his head. And Eve nibble off the apple and give Adam the core, and Lina all time 'sputing 'bout Adam and Eve and William Tell ain't in the Bible. They 're our first parents."
"Now, Billy, you tell a tale and then it will be my time," said Lina with a savingthe-best-for-the-last air.
"Once they was a of witch," said Billy, "what got outer her skin ev'y night an' lef' it on the he'rth an' turnt herself to a great, big, black cat an' go up the chim'ly an' go roun' an' ride folks fer horses, an' set on ev'ybody's chis' an' suck they breath an' kill 'em an' then come back to bed. An' can't nobody ketch her tell one night her husban' watch her an' he see her jump outer her skin an' drop it on the he'rth an' turn to a 'normous black cat an' go up the chim'ly. An' he got outer the bed an' put some salt an' pepper an' vinegar on the skin an' she come back an' turnt to a 'oman an' try to git back in her skin an' she can't 'cause the salt an' pepper an' vinegar mos' burn her up, an' she keep on a-tryin' an' she can't never snuggle inter her skin 'cause it keep on a burnin' worser 'n ever, an' there she is a 'oman 'thout no skin on. So she try to turn back to a cat an' she can't 'cause it's pas' twelve erclock, an' she jest swivvle an' swivvle tell fine'ly she jest swivvle all up. An' that was the las' of the ole witch an' her husban' live happy ever after. Amen."
"Once upon a time," said Lina, "there was a beautiful maiden and she was in love, but her wicked old parent wants her to marry a rich old man threescore and ten years old, which is 'most all the old you can get unless you are going to die; and the lovely princess said, 'No, father, you may cut me in the twain but I will never marry any but my true love.' So the wicked parent shut up the lovely maiden in a high tower many miles from the ground, and made her live on turnips and she had nothing else to eat; so one day when she was crying a little fairy flew in at the window and asked, 'Why do you weep, fair one?' And she said, 'A wicked parent hath shut me up and I can't ever see my lover any more.' So the fairy touched her head with her wand and told her to hang her hair out of the window, and she did and it reached the ground, and her lover, holding a rope ladder in one hand and playing the guitar and singing with the other, climbed up by her hair and took her down on the ladder and his big black horse was standing near, all booted and spurred, and they rode away and lived happy ever after."
"How he goin' to clam' up, Lina," asked Billy, "with a rope ladder in one hand and his guitar in the other?"
"I don't know," was the dignified answer. "That is the way it is told in my fairy-tale book."
CHANGING THE ETHIOPIAN
Billy and Jimmy were sitting in the swing.
"What makes your hair curl just like a girl's?" asked the latter. "It's 'bout the curliest hair they is."
"Yes, it do," was Billy's mournful response. "It done worry me 'mos' to death. Ever sence me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln's born we done try ev'ything fer to get the curl out. They was a Yankee man came 'long las' fall a-sellin' some stuff in a bottle what he call 'No-To-Kink' what he say would take the kink outer any nigger's head. An' Aunt Cindy bought a bottle fer to take the kink outer her hair an' me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln put some on us heads an' it jes' make mine curlier 'n what it was already. I's 'shame' to go roun' folks with my cap off, a-lookin' like a frizzly chicken. Miss Cecilia say she like it though, an' we's engaged. We's goin' to git married soon's I puts on long pants."
"How long you been here, Billy?" asked the other boy.
"Well, I don't know perxactly, but I been to Sunday-School four times. I got engaged to Miss Cecilia that very firs' Sunday, but she didn' know it tell I went over to her house the nex' day an' tol' her 'bout it. She say she think my hair is so pretty."
"Pretty nothin'," sneered his rival. "She jus' stuffin' you fuller 'n a tick with hot air. It just makes you look like a girl. There's a young lady come to spend a week with my mama not long ago and she put somepin' on her head to make it right yeller. She left the bottle to our house and I know where 't is. Maybe if you'd put some o' that on your head 't would take the curl out."
"'Tain't nothin' a-goin' to do it no good," gloomily replied Billy. "'Twould jest make it yeller 'n what 'tis now. Won't I be a pretty sight when I puts on long pants with these here yaller curls stuck on topper my head? I'd 'nuther sight ruther be bal'headed."
"Bennie Dick's got 'bout the kinkiest head they is."
Bennie Dick was the two-year-old baby of Mrs. Garner's cook, Sarah Jane.
"It sho' is," replied Billy. "Wouldn't he look funny if he had yaller hair, 'cause his face is so black?"
"I know where the bottle is," cried Jimmy, snatching eagerly at the suggestion. "Let's go get it and put some on Bennie Dick's head and see if it'll turn it yeller."
"Aunt Minerva don' want me to go over to yo' house," objected Billy.
"You all time talking 'bout Miss Minerva won't let you go nowheres; she sure is imperdunt to you. You 'bout the 'fraidest boy they is.... Come on, Billy," pleaded Jimmy.
The little boy hesitated.
"I don't want to git Aunt Minerva's dander der up any more 'n I jest natchelly boun' to," he said, following Jimmy reluctantly to the fence; "but I'll jes' take a look at that bottle an' see ef it looks anything 't all like 'No-To-Kink'."
Giggling mightily, they jumped the dividing fence and slipped with stealthy tread around the house to Sarah Jane's cabin in the back-yard.
Bennie Dick was sitting on the floor before the open door, the entrance of which was, securely barricaded to keep him inside. Sarah Jane was in the kitchen cooking supper; they could hear her happy voice raised in religious melody; Mrs. Garner had not yet returned from a card party; the coast was clear, and the time propitious.
Jimmy tiptoed to the house and soon returned with a big bottle of a powerful "blondine" in one hand and a stick of candy in the other.
"Bennie Dick," he said, "here's a nice stick of candy for you if you'll let us wash your head."
The negro baby's thick, red lips curved in a grin of delight, his shiny ebony face beamed happily, his round black eyes sparkled as he held out his fat, rusty little hands. He sucked greedily at the candy as the two mischievous little boys uncorked the bottle and, poured a generous supply of the liquid on his head. They rubbed it in well, grinning with delight. They made a second and a third application before the bottle was exhausted; then they stood off to view the result of their efforts. The effect was ludicrous. The combination of coal black skin and red gold hair presented by the little negro exceeded the wildest expectations of Jimmy and Billy. They shrieked with laughter and rolled over and over on the floor in their unbounded delight.
"Hush!" warned Jimmy suddenly, "I believe Sarah Jane's coming out here to see 'bout Benny Dick. Let's get behind the door and see what she's going to do."
"'Hit were good fer Paul an' Silas, Hit were good fer Paul an' Silas, Hit were good fer Paul an' Silas, An' hit's good ernough fer me.'"
floated Sarah Jane's song nearer and nearer.
"'Hit's de ole time erligion, Hit's de ole time'"
She caught sight of her baby with his glistening black face and golden hair. She threw up her hands, closed her eyes, and uttered a terrified shriek. Presently she slowly opened her eyes and took a second peep at her curious-looking offspring. Sarah Jane screamed aloud:
"Hit's de handiwork er de great Jehoshaphat! Hit's de Marster's sign. Who turnt yo' hair, Benny Dick?" she asked of the sticky little pickaninny sitting happily on the floor. "Is a angel been here?"
Benny Dick nodded his head with a delighted grin of comprehension.
"Hit's de doing er de Lord," cried his mother. "He gwine turn my chile white an' he done begunt on his head!"
There was an ecstatic giggle from behind the door.
Sarah Jane rushed inside as fast as her mammoth proportions would admit and caught a culprit in each huge black paw.
"What yer up ter now, Jimmy Garner?" she asked. "What yer been er-doing?"
Sudden suspicion entered her mind as she caught sight of the empty bottle lying on a chair. "You been er-putting' suthin' on my chile's head! I knows yer, I's er-gwine ter make yo' mammy gi' ye de worses' whippin' yer eber got an' I's gwine ter take dis here William right ober ter Miss Minerva. Ain't y' all 'shame' er yerselves? Er tamperin' wid de ha'r what de good Lord put on er colored pusson's head an' ertryin' fer ter scarify my feelin's like yer done. An' yer hear me, I's gwine see dat somebody got ter scarify yer hides."
"If that ain't just like you, Billy," said Jimmy, "you all time got to perpose to make nigger heads yeller and you all time getting little boys in trouble. You 'bout the smart Alexist jack-rabbit they is."
"You perposed this here hair business yo'self, Jimmy," retorted his fellow-conspirator. "You's always blamin' yo' meanness on somebody else ever sence you's born."
"Hit don't matter who perposed hit," said Sarah Jane firmly; "meanness has been did, an' y' all gotter be structified on de place pervided by natur fer ter lem my chile erlone."
LO! THE POOR INDIANS
Billy had just decided to run down to the livery stable to pay Sam Lamb a visit when the gate opened, and Lina and Frances, their beloved dolls in their arms, came skipping in.
Jimmy, who had had a difference with Billy and was in the sulks on his own side of the fence, immediately crawled over and joined the others in the swing. He was lonesome and the prospect of companionship was too alluring for him to nurse his anger longer.
"Aunt Minerva's gone to the Aid Society," remarked the host. "Don't y' all wish it met ev'y day 'stid 'er jes' meetin' ev'y Monday?"
"Yes, I do," agreed Frances, "you can have so much fun when our mamas go to the Aid. My mama's gone too, so she left me with Brother and he's writing a love letter to Ruth Shelton, so I slipped off."
"Mother has gone to the Aid, too," said Lina.
"My mama too," chimed in Jimmy, "she goes to the Aid every Monday and to card parties nearly all the time. She telled Sarah Jane to 'tend to me and Sarah Jane's asleep. I hear her snoring. Ain't we glad there ain't no grown folks to meddle? Can't we have fun?"
"What'll we play?" asked Frances, who had deliberately stepped in a mud puddle on the way, and splashed mud all over herself, "let's make mud pies."
"Naw, we ain't a-going to make no mud pies," objected Jimmy. "We can make mud pies all time when grown folks 'r' looking at you."
"Le's's play sumpin' what we ain't never play, sence we 's born," put in Billy.
"I hope grandmother won't miss me." said Lina, "she 's reading a very interesting book."
"Let's play Injun!" yelled Jimmy; "we ain't never play' Injun."
This suggestion was received with howls of delight.
"My mama's got a box of red stuff that she puts on her face when she goes to the card parties. She never puts none on when she just goes to the Aid. I can run home and get the box to make us red like Injuns," said Frances.
"My mother has a box of paint, too."
"I ain't never see Aunt Minerva put no red stuff on her face," remarked Billy, disappointedly.
"Miss Minerva, she don't never let the Major come to see her, nor go to no card parties is the reason," explained the younger boy, "she just goes to the Aid where they ain't no men, and you don't hafter put no red on your face at the Aid. We'll let you have some of our paint, Billy. My mama's got 'bout a million diff'ent kinds."
"We got to have pipes," was Frances's next suggestion.
"My papa's got 'bout a million pipes," boasted Jimmy, "but he got 'em all to the office, I spec'."
"Father has a meerschaum."
"Aunt Minerva ain't got no pipe."
"Miss Minerva's 'bout the curiousest woman they is," said Jimmy; "she ain't got nothing a tall; she ain't got no paint and she ain't got no pipe."
"Ladies don't use pipes, and we can do without them anyway," said Lina, "but we must have feathers; all Indians wear feathers."
"I'll get my mama's duster," said Jimmy.
"Me, too," chimed in Frances.
Here Billy with flying colors came to the fore and redeemed Miss Minerva's waning reputation.
"Aunt Minerva's got a great, big buncher tu'key feathers an' I can git 'em right now," and the little boy flew into the house and was back in a few seconds.
"We must have blankets, of course," said Lina, with the air of one whose word is law; "mother has a genuine Navajo."
"I got a little bow'narruh what Santa Claus bringed me," put in Jimmy.
"We can use hatchets for tomahawks," continued the little girl. "Come on, Frances; let us go home and get our things and come back here to dress up. Run, Jimmy, get your things! You, too, Billy!" she commanded.
The children ran breathlessly to their homes nearby and collected the different articles necessary to transform them into presentable Indians. They soon returned, Jimmy dumping his load over the fence and tumbling after; and the happy quartette sat down on the grass in Miss Minerva's yard. First the paint boxes were opened and generously shared with Billy, as with their handkerchiefs they spread thick layers of rouge over their charming, bright, mischievous little faces.
The feather decoration was next in order.
"How we goin' to make these feathers stick?" asked Billy.
They were in a dilemma till the resourceful Jimmy came to the rescue.
"Wait a minute," he cried, "I'll be back 'fore you can say 'Jack Robinson'."
He rolled over the fence and was back in a few minutes, gleefully holding up a bottle.
"This muc'lage'll make 'em stick," he panted, almost out of breath.
Lina assumed charge of the head-dresses. She took Billy first, rubbed the mucilage well into his sunny curls, and filled his head full of his aunt's turkey feathers, leaving them to stick out awkwardly in all directions and at all angles. Jimmy and Frances, after robbing their mothers' dusters, were similarly decorated, and last, Lina, herself, was tastefully arrayed by the combined efforts of the other three.
At last all was in readiness.
Billy, regardless of consequences, had pinned his aunt's newest grey blanket around him and was viewing, with satisfied admiration, its long length trailing on the-grass behind him; Lina had her mother's treasured Navajo blanket draped around her graceful little figure; Frances, after pulling the covers off of several beds and finding nothing to suit her fanciful taste, had snatched a gorgeous silk afghan from the leather couch in the library. It was an expensive affair of intricate pattern, delicate stitches; and beautiful embroidery with a purple velvet border and a yellow satin lining. She had dragged one corner of it through the mud puddle and torn a big rent in another place.
Jimmy was glorious in a bright red blanket, carrying his little bow and arrow.
"I'm going to be the Injun chief," he boasted.
"I'm going to be a Injun chief, too," parroted Frances.
"Chief, nothing!" he sneered, "you all time trying to be a Injun chief. You 'bout the pompousest little girl they is. You can't be a chief nohow; you got to be a squash, Injun ladies 'r' name' squashes; me an' Billy's the chiefs. I'm name' old Setting Bull, hi'self."
"You can't be named 'Bull,' Jimmy," reproved Lina, "it isn't genteel to say 'bull' before people."
"Yes, I am too," he contended. "Setting Bull's the biggest chief they is and I'm going to be name' him."
"Well, I am not going to play then," said Lina primly, "my mother wants me to be genteel, and 'bull' is not genteel."
"I tell you what, Jimmy," proposed Frances, "you be name' 'Setting Cow. 'Cow' is genteel 'cause folks milk 'em."
"Naw, I ain't going to be name' no cow, neither," retorted the little Indian, "you all time trying to 'suade somebody to be name' 'Setting Cow'."
"He can't be name' a cow,"—Billy now entered into the discussion—"'cause he ain't no girl. Why don' you be name' 'Settin' Steer'? Is 'steer' genteel, Lina?" he anxiously inquired.
"Yes, he can be named 'Sitting Steer'," she granted. Jimmy agreeing to the compromise, peace was once more restored.
"Frances and Lina got to be the squashes," he began.
"It isn't 'squashes,' it is 'squaws,"' corrected Lina.
"Yes, 'tis squashes too," persisted Jimmy, "'cause it's in the Bible and Miss Cecilia 'splained it to me and she's 'bout the high-steppingest 'splainer they is. Me and Billy is the chiefs," he shouted, capering around, "and you and Frances is the squashes and got to have papooses strop' to your back."
"Bennie Dick can be a papoose," suggested Billy.
"I'm not going to be a Injun squash if I got to have a nigger papoose strapped to my back!" cried an indignant Frances. "You can strap him to your own back, Billy."
"But I ain't no squash," objected that little Indian.
"We can have our dolls for papooses," said Lina, going to the swing where the dolls had been left. Billy pulled a piece of string from his pocket and the babies were safely strapped to their mothers' backs. With stately tread, headed by Sitting Steer, the children marched back and forth across the lawn in Indian file.
So absorbed were they in playing Indian that they forgot the flight of time until their chief suddenly stopped, all his brave valor gone as he pointed with trembling finger up the street.
That part of the Ladies' Aid Society which lived in West Covington was bearing down upon them.
"Yonder's our mamas and Miss Minerva," he whispered. "Now look what a mess Billy's done got us in; he all time got to perpose someping to get chillens in trouble and he all time got to let grown folks ketch em."
"Aren't you ashamed to tell such a story, Jimmy Garner?" cried Frances. "Billy didn't propose any such thing. Come on, let's run," she suggested.
"'Tain't no use to run," advised Jimmy. "They're too close and done already see us. We boun' to get what's coming to us anyway, so you might jus' as well make 'em think you ain't 'fraid of 'em. Grown folks got to all time think little boys and girls 'r' skeered of 'em, anyhow."
"Aunt Minerva'll sho' put me to bed this time," said Billy. "Look like ev'y day I gotter go to bed."
"Mother will make me study the catechism all day to-morrow," said Lina dismally.
"Mama'll lock me up in the little closet under the stairway," said Frances.
"My mama'll gimme 'bout a million licks and try to take all the hide off o' me," said Jimmy; "but we done had a heap of fun."
It was some hours later. Billy's aunt had ruthlessly clipped the turkey feathers from his head, taking the hair off in great patches. She had then boiled his scalp, so the little boy thought, in her efforts to remove the mucilage. Now, shorn of his locks and of some of his courage, the child was sitting quietly by her side, listening to a superior moral lecture and indulging in a compulsory heart-to-heart talk with his relative.
"I don't see that it does you any good, William, to put you to bed."
"I don' see as it do neither," agreed Billy.
"I can not whip you; I am constitutionally opposed to corporal punishment for children."
"I's 'posed to it too," he assented.
"I believe I will hire a servant, so that I may devote my entire time to your training."
This prospect for the future did not appeal to her nephew. On the contrary it filled him with alarm.
"A husban' 'd be another sight handier," he declared with energy; "he 'd be a heap mo' 'count to you 'n a cook, Aunt Minerva. There's that Major—"
"You will never make a preacher of yourself, William, unless you improve."
The child looked up at her in astonishment; this was the first he knew of his being destined for the ministry.
"A preacher what 'zorts an' calls up mourners?" he said,—"not on yo' tin-type. Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln—"
"How many times have I expressed the wish not to have you bring that negro's name into the conversation?" she impatiently interrupted.
"I don' perzactly know, 'm," he answered good humoredly, "'bout fifty hunerd, I reckon. Anyways, Aunt Minerva, I ain't goin' to be no preacher. When I puts on long pants I's goin' to be a Confedrit Vet'run an' kill 'bout fifty hunderd Yankees an' Injuns, like my Major man."
NOW RIDDLE ME THIS
The children were sitting in the swing. Florence Hammer, a little girl whose mother was spending the day at Miss Minerva's, was with them.
"Don't you-all wish Santa Claus had his birthday right now 'stead 'o waiting till Christmas to hang up our stockings?" asked Frances.
"Christmas isn't Santa Claus' birthday," corrected Lina. "God was born on Christmas and that's the reason we hang up our stockings."
"Yes; it is old Santa's birthday, too," argued Jimmy, "'cause it's in the Bible and Miss Cecilia 'splained it to me and she 'bout the dandiest 'splainer they is."
"Which you-all like the best: God or Doctor Sanford or Santa Claus?" asked Florence.
"I like God 'nother sight better 'n I do anybody," declared Jimmy, "'cause He so forgivingsome. He's 'bout the forgivingest person they is. Santa Claus can't let you go to Heaven nor Doctor Sanford neither, nor our papas and mamas nor Miss Minerva. Now wouldn't we be in a pretty fix if we had to 'pend on Doctor Sanford or Santa Claus to forgive you every time you run off or fall down and bust your breeches. Naw; gimme God evy time."
"I like Santa Claus the best," declared Frances, "'cause he isn't f'rever getting in your way, and hasn't any castor oil like Doctor Sanford, and you don't f'rever have to be telling him you're sorry you did what you did, and he hasn't all time got one eye on you either, like God, and got to follow you 'round. And Santa Claus don't all time say, Shet your eyes and open your mouth,' like Doctor Sanford, 'and poke out your tongue.'"
"I like Doctor Sanford the best," said Florence, "'cause he 's my uncle, and God and Santa Claus ain't kin to me."
"And the Bible say, 'Love your kin-folks,' Miss Cecilia 'splained—"
"I use to like my Uncle Doc' heap better 'n what I do now," went on the little girl, heedless of Jimmy's interruption, "till I went with daddy to his office one day. And what you reckon that man's got in his office? He's got a dead man 'thout no meat nor clo'es on, nothing a tall but just his bones."
"Was he a hant?" asked Billy. "I like the Major best—he 's got meat on."
"Naw; he didn't have no sheet on—just bones," was the reply.
"No sheet on; no meat on!" chirruped Billy, glad of the rhyme.
"Was he a angel, Florence?" questioned Frances.
"Naw; he didn't have no harp and no wings neither."
"It must have been a skeleton," explained Lina.
"And Uncle Doc' just keeps that poor man there and won't let him go to Heaven where dead folks b'longs."
"I spec' he wasn't a good man 'fore he died and got to go to the Bad Place," suggested Frances.
"I'll betcher he never asked God to forgive him when he 'ceived his papa and sassed his mama,"—this from Jimmy, "and Doctor Sanford's just a-keeping old Satan from getting him to toast on a pitchfork."
"I hope they'll have a Christmas tree at Sunday-School next Christmas," said Frances, harking back, "and I hope I'll get a heap o' things like I did last Christmas. Poor little Tommy Knott he's so skeered he wasn't going to get nothing at all on the tree so he got him a great, big, red apple an' he wrote on a piece o' paper 'From Tommy Knott to Tommy Knott,' and tied it to the apple and put it on the tree for hi'self."
"Let's ask riddles," suggested Lina.
"All right," shouted Frances, "I'm going to ask the first."
"Naw; you ain't neither," objected Jimmy. "You all time got to ask the first riddle. I'm going to ask the first one—
"'Round as a biscuit, busy as a bee, Prettiest little thing you ever did see?'— 'A watch.'
"Humpty Dumpty set on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, All the king's horses and all the king's men Can't put Humpty Dumpty back again.' 'A egg.'
"'Round as a ring, deep as a cup, All the king's horses can't pull it up.' 'A well.'
"'House full, yard full, can't ketch—'"
"Hush, Jimmy!" cried Lina, in disgust. "You don't know how to ask riddles. You must n't give the answers, too. Ask one riddle at a time and let some one else answer it. I'll ask one and see who can answer it:
"'As I was going through a field of wheat I picked up something good to eat, 'Twas neither fish nor flesh nor bone, I kept it till it ran alone?'"
"A snake! A snake!" guessed Florence. "That's a easy riddle."
"Snake, nothing!" scoffed Jimmy, "you can't eat a snake. 'Sides Lina wouldn't 'a' picked up a snake. Is it a little baby rabbit, Lina?"
"It was neither fish nor flesh nor bone," she declared; "and a rabbit is flesh and bone."
"Then it's boun' to be a apple," was Jimmy's next guess; "that ain't no flesh and blood and it's good to eat."
"An apple can't run alone," she triumphantly answered. "Give it up? Well, it was an egg and it hatched to a chicken. Now, Florence, you ask one."
"S'pose a man was locked up in a house," she asked, "how'd he get out?"
"Clam' outer a winder," guessed Billy.
"'Twa'n't no winder to the house," she declared.
"Crawled out th'oo the chim'ly, like Santa Claus," was Billy's next guess.
"'Twa'n't no chim'ly to it. Give it up? Give it up?" the little girl laughed gleefully. "Well, he just broke out with measles."
"It is Billy's time," said Lina, who seemed to be mistress of ceremonies.
"Tabernicle learnt this here one at school; 'see, if y' all can guess it: 'Tabby had four kittens but Stillshee didn't have none 't all"'
"I don't see no sense a tall in that," argued Jimmy, "'thout some bad little boys drownded 'em."
"Tabby was a cat," explained the other boy, "and she had four kittens; and Stillshee was a little girl, and she didn't have no kittens 't all."
"What's this," asked Jimmy: "'A man rode'cross a bridge and Fido walked? 'Had a little dog name' Fido."
"You didn't ask that right, Jimmy," said Lina, "you always get things wrong. The riddle is, 'A man rode across a bridge and Yet he walked,' and the answer is, 'He had a little dog named Yet who walked across the bridge.'"
"Well, I'd 'nother sight ruther have a little dog name' Fido," declared Jimmy. "A little dog name' Yet and a little girl name' Stillshee ain't got no sense a tall to it."
"Why should a hangman wear suspenders?" asked Lina. "I'll bet nobody can answer that."
"To keep his breeches from falling off," triumphantly answered Frances.
"No, you goose, a hangman should wear suspenders so that he 'd always have a gallows handy."
IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The pulpit of the Methodist Church was not occupied by its regular pastor, Brother Johnson. Instead, a traveling minister, collecting funds for a church orphanage in Memphis, was the speaker for the day. Miss Minerva rarely missed a service in her own church. She was always on hand at the Love Feast and the Missionary Rally and gave liberally of her means to every cause. She was sitting in her own pew between Billy and Jimmy, Mr. and Mrs. Garner having remained at home. Across the aisle from her sat Frances Black, between her father and mother; two pews in front of her were Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, with Lina on the outside next the aisle. The good Major was there, too; it was the only place he could depend upon for seeing Miss Minerva.
The preacher, after an earnest and eloquent discourse from the text, "He will remember the fatherless," closed the big Bible with a bang calculated to wake any who might be sleeping. He came down from the pulpit and stood close to his hearers as he made his last pathetic appeal.
"My own heart," said he, "goes out to every orphan child, for in the yellow fever epidemic of '78, when but two years old, I lost both father and mother. If there are any little orphan children here to-day, I should be glad if they would come up to the front and shake hands with me."
Now Miss Minerva always faithfully responded to every proposal made by a preacher; it was a part of her religious conviction. At revivals she was ever a shining, if solemn and austere, light. When a minister called for all those who wanted to go to Heaven to rise, she was always the first one on her feet. If he asked to see the raised hands of those who were members of the church at the tender age of ten years, Miss Minerva's thin, long arm gave a prompt response. Once when a celebrated evangelist was holding a big protracted meeting under canvas in the town and had asked all those who had read the book of Hezekiah in the Bible to stand up, Miss Minerva on one side of the big tent and her devoted lover on the other side were among the few who had risen to their feet. She had read the good book from cover to cover from Genesis to Revelation over and over so she thought she had read Hezekiah a score of times.