MISS MINK'S SOLDIER
AND OTHER STORIES
MISS MINK'S SOLDIER
AND OTHER STORIES
ALICE HEGAN RICE
Author of "MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH," "MR. OPP," "CALVARY ALLEY," ETC.
NEW YORK THE CENTURY CO. 1918
Copyright, 1905, 1906, 1910, 1918, by THE CENTURY CO.
Copyright, 1914, by THE CROWELL PUBLISHING COMPANY
Published, October, 1918
TO THE LADY OF THE DECORATION
A MEMENTO OF MANY HAPPY DAYS SPENT TOGETHER "EAST OF SUEZ"
MISS MINK'S SOLDIER
A DARLING OF MISFORTUNE
A MATTER OF FRIENDSHIP
THE WILD OATS OF A SPINSTER
CUPID GOES SLUMMING
THE SOUL OF O SANA SAN
MISS MINK'S SOLDIER
Miss Mink sat in church with lips compressed and hands tightly clasped in her black alpaca lap, and stubbornly refused to comply with the request that was being made from the pulpit. She was a small desiccated person, with a sharp chin and a sharper nose, and narrow faded eyes that through the making of innumerable buttonholes had come to resemble them.
For over forty years she had sat in that same pew facing that same minister, regarding him second only to his Maker, and striving in thought and deed to follow his precepts. But the time had come when Miss Mink's blind allegiance wavered.
Ever since the establishment of the big Cantonment near the city, Dr. Morris, in order to encourage church attendance, had been insistent in his request that every member of his congregation should take a soldier home to Sunday dinner.
Now it was no lack of patriotism that made Miss Mink refuse to do her part. Every ripple in the small flag that fluttered over her humble dwelling sent a corresponding ripple along her spinal column. When she essayed to sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," in her high, quavering soprano, she invariably broke down from sheer excess of emotion. But the American army fighting for right and freedom in France, and the Army individually tracking mud into her spotless cottage, were two very different things. Miss Mink had always regarded a man in her house much as she regarded a gnat in her eye. There was but one course to pursue in either case—elimination!
But her firm stand in the matter had not been maintained without much misgiving. Every Sunday when Dr. Morris made his earnest appeal, something within urged her to comply. She was like an automobile that gets cranked up and then refuses to go. Church-going instead of being her greatest joy came to be a nightmare. She no longer lingered in the vestibule, for those highly cherished exchanges of inoffensive gossip that constituted her social life. Nobody seemed to have time for her. Every one was busy with a soldier. Within the sanctuary it was no better. Each khaki-clad figure that dotted the congregation claimed her attention as a possible candidate for hospitality. And each one that presented himself to her vision was indignantly repudiated. One was too old, another too young, one too stylish, another had forgotten to wash his ears. She found a dozen excuses for withholding her invitation.
But this morning as she sat upright and uncompromising in her short pew, she was suddenly thrown into a state of agitation by the appearance in the aisle of an un-ushered soldier who, after hesitating beside one or two pews, slipped into the seat beside her. It seemed almost as if Providence had taken a hand and since she had refused to select a soldier, had prompted a soldier to select her.
During the service she sat gazing straight at the minister without comprehending a word that he said. Never once did her glance stray to that khaki-clad figure beside her, but her thoughts played around him like lightning. What if she should get up her courage and ask him to dinner, how would she ever be able to walk out the street with him! And once she had got him to her cottage, what on earth would she talk to him about? Her hands grew cold as she thought about it. Yet something warned her it was now or never, and that it was only by taking the hated step and getting it over with, that she could regain the peace of mind that had of late deserted her.
The Doxology found her weakening, but the Benediction stiffened her resolve, and when the final Amen sounded, she turned blindly to the man beside her, and said, hardly above her breath:
"If you ain't got any place to go to dinner, you can come home with me."
The tall figure turned toward her, and a pair of melancholy brown eyes looked down into hers:
"You will excuse if I do not quite comprehend your meaning," he said politely, with a strong foreign accent.
Miss Mink was plunged into instant panic; suppose he was a German? Suppose she should be convicted for entertaining a spy! Then she remembered his uniform and was slightly reassured.
"I said would you come home to dinner with me?" she repeated weakly, with a fervent prayer that he would decline.
But the soldier had no such intention. He bowed gravely, and picked up his hat and overcoat.
Miss Mink, looking like a small tug towing a big steamer, shamefacedly made her way to the nearest exit, and got him out through the Sunday-school room. She would take him home through a side street, feed him and send him away as soon as possible. It was a horrible ordeal, but Miss Mink was not one to turn back once she had faced a difficult situation. As they passed down the broad steps into the brilliant October sunshine, she noticed with relief that his shoes were not muddy. Then, before she could make other observations, her mind was entirely preoccupied with a large, firm hand that grasped her elbow, and seemed to half lift her slight weight from step to step. Miss Mink's elbow was not used to such treatment and it indignantly freed itself before the pavement was reached. The first square was traveled in embarrassed silence, then Miss Mink made a heroic effort to break the ice:
"My name is Mink," she said, "Miss Libby Mink. I do dress-making over on Sixth Street."
"I am Bowinski," volunteered her tall companion, "first name Alexis. I am a machinist before I enlist in the army."
"I knew you were some sort of a Dago," said Miss Mink.
"But no, Madame, I am Russian. My home is in Kiev in Ukrania."
"Why on earth didn't you stay there?" Miss Mink asked from the depths of her heart.
The soldier looked at her earnestly. "Because of the persecution," he said. "My father he was in exile. His family was suspect. I come alone to America when I am but fifteen."
"Well I guess you're sorry enough now that you came," Miss Mink said, "Now that you've got drafted."
They had reached her gate by this time, but Bowinski paused before entering: "Madame mistakes!" he said with dignity. "I was not drafted. The day America enter the war, that day I give up my job I have held for five years, and enlist. America is my country, she take me in when I have nowhere to go. It is my proud moment when I fight for her!"
Then it was that Miss Mink took her first real look at him, and if it was a longer look than she had ever before bestowed upon man, we must put it down to the fact that he was well worth looking at, with his tall square figure, and his serious dark face lit up at the present with a somewhat indignant enthusiasm.
Miss Mink pushed open the gate and led the way into her narrow yard. She usually entered the house by way of the side door which opened into the dining room, which was also her bedroom by night, and her sewing room by day. But this morning, after a moment's hesitation, she turned a key in the rusty lock of the front door, and let a flood of sunshine dispel the gloom of the room. The parlor had been furnished by Miss Mink's parents some sixty years ago, and nothing had been changed. A customer had once suggested that if the sofa was taken away from the window, and the table put in its place, the room would be lighter. Miss Mink had regarded the proposition as preposterous. One might as well have asked her to move her nose around to the back of her head, or to exchange the positions of her eyes and ears!
You have seen a drop of water caught in a crystal? Well, that was what Miss Mink was like. She moved in the tiniest possible groove with her home at one end and her church at the other. Is it any wonder that when she beheld a strange young foreigner sitting stiffly on her parlor sofa, and realized that she must entertain him for at least an hour, that panic seized her?
"I better be seeing to dinner," she said hastily. "You can look at the album till I get things dished up."
Private Bowinski, surnamed Alexis, sat with knees awkwardly hunched and obediently turned the leaves of the large album, politely scanning the placid countenances of departed Minks for several generations.
Miss Mink, moving about in the inner room, glanced in at him from time to time. After the first glance she went to the small store room and got out a jar of sweet pickle, and after the second she produced a glass of crab apple jelly. Serving a soldier guest who had voluntarily adopted her country, was after all not so distasteful, if only she did not have to talk to him. But already the coming ordeal was casting its baleful shadow.
When they were seated opposite one another at the small table, her worst fears were realized. They could neither of them think of anything to say. If she made a move to pass the bread to him he insisted upon passing it to her. When she rose to serve him, he rose to serve her. She had never realized before how oppressive excessive politeness could be.
The one point of consolation for her lay in the fact that he was enjoying his dinner. He ate with a relish that would have flattered any hostess. Sometimes when he put his knife in his mouth she winced with apprehension, but aside from a few such lapses in etiquette he conducted himself with solemn and punctilious propriety.
When he had finished his second slice of pie, and pushed back his chair, Miss Mink waited hopefully for him to say good-bye. He was evidently getting out his car fare now, searching with thumb and forefinger in his vest pocket.
"If it is not to trouble you more, may I ask a match?" he said.
"A match? What on earth do you want with a match?" demanded Miss Mink. Then a look of apprehension swept over her face. Was this young man actually proposing to profane the virgin air of her domicile with the fumes of tobacco?
"Perhaps you do not like that I should smoke?" Bowinski said instantly. "I beg you excuse, I—"
"Oh! that's all right," said Miss Mink in a tone that she did not recognize as her own, "the matches are in that little bisque figure on the parlor mantel. I'll get you to leave the front door open, if you don't mind. It's kinder hot in here."
Five o'clock that afternoon found Miss Mink and Alexis Bowinski still sitting facing each other in the front parlor. They were mutually exhausted, and conversation after having suffered innumerable relapses, seemed about to succumb.
"If there's any place else you want to go, you mustn't feel that you've got to stay here," Miss Mink had urged some time after dinner. But Alexis had answered:
"I know only two place. The Camp and the railway depot. I go on last Sunday to the railway depot. The Chaplain at the Camp advise me I go to church this morning. Perhaps I make a friend."
"But what do the other soldiers do on Sunday?" Miss Mink asked desperately.
"They promenade. Always promenade. Except they go to photo-plays, and dance hall. It is the hard part of war, the waiting part."
Miss Mink agreed with him perfectly as she helped him wait. She had never spent such a long day in her life. At a quarter past five he rose to go. A skillful word on her part would have expedited matters, but Miss Mink was not versed in the social trick of speeding a departing guest. Fifteen minutes dragged their weary length even after he was on his feet. Then Miss Mink received a shock from which it took her an even longer time to recover. Alexis Bowinski, having at last arrived at the moment of departure, took her hand in his and, bowing awkwardly, raised it to his lips and kissed it! Then he backed out of the cottage, stalked into the twilight and was soon lost to sight beyond the hedge.
Miss Mink sank limply on the sofa by the window, and regarded her small wrinkled hand with stern surprise. It was a hand that had never been kissed before and it was tingling in the strangest and most unaccountable manner.
The following week was lived in the afterglow of that eventful Sunday. She described the soldier's visit in detail to the few customers who came in. She went early to prayer-meeting in order to tell about it. And in the telling she subordinated everything to the dramatic climax:
"I never was so took back in my life!" she said. "After setting there for four mortal hours with nothing to say, just boring each other to death, for him to get up like that and make a regular play-actor bow, and kiss my hand! Well, I never was so took back!"
And judging from the number of times Miss Mink told the story, and the conscious smile with which she concluded it, it was evident that she was not averse to being "took back."
By the time Sunday arrived she had worked herself up to quite a state of excitement. Would Bowinski he at church? Would he sit on her side of the congregation? Would he wait after the service to speak to her? She put on her best bonnet, which was usually reserved for funerals, and pinned a bit of thread lace over the shabby collar of her coat.
The moment she entered church all doubts were dispelled. There in her pew, quite as if he belonged there, sat the tall young Russian. He even stepped into the aisle for her to pass in, helped her off with her coat, and found the place for her in the hymn-book. Miss Mink realized with a glow of satisfaction, that many curious heads were craning in her direction. For the first time since she had gone forward forty years ago to confess her faith, she was an object of interest to the congregation!
When the benediction was pronounced several women came forward ostensibly to speak to her, but in reality to ask Bowinski to go home to dinner with them. She waived them all aside.
"No, he's going with me!" she announced firmly, and Bowinski obediently picked up his hat and accompanied her.
For the following month this scene was enacted each Sunday, with little change to outward appearances but with great change to Miss Mink herself. In the mothering of Bowinski she had found the great adventure of her life. She mended his clothes, and made fancy dishes for him, she knit him everything that could be knitted, including an aviator's helmet for which he had no possible use. She talked about "my soldier" to any one who would listen.
Bowinski accepted her attention with grave politeness. He wore the things she made for him, he ate the things she cooked for him, he answered all her questions and kissed her hand at parting. Miss Mink considered his behavior perfect.
One snowy Sunday in late November Miss Mink was thrown into a panic by his failure to appear on Sunday morning. She confided to Sister Bacon in the adjoining pew that she was afraid he had been sent to France. Sister Bacon promptly whispered to her husband that he had been sent to France, and the rumor spread until after church quite a little group gathered around Miss Mink to hear about it.
"What was his company?" some one asked.
"Company C, 47th Infantry," Miss Mink repeated importantly.
"Why, that's my boy's company," said Mrs. Bacon. "They haven't gone to France."
The thought of her soldier being in the trenches even, was more tolerable to Miss Mink than the thought of his being in town and failing to come to her for Sunday dinner.
"I bet he's sick," she announced. "I wish I could find out."
Mrs. Bacon volunteered to ask her Jim about him, and three days later stopped by Miss Mink's cottage to tell her that Bowinski had broken his leg over a week before and was in the Base Hospital.
"Can anybody go out there that wants to?" demanded Miss Mink.
"Yes, on Sundays and Wednesdays. But you can't count on the cars running to-day. Jim says everything's snowed under two feet deep."
Miss Mink held her own counsel but she knew what she was going to do. Her soldier was in trouble, he had no family or friends. She was going to him.
With trembling fingers she packed a small basket with some apples, a jar of jelly and a slice of cake. There was no time for her own lunch, so she hurriedly put on her coat and twisting a faded scarf about her neck trudged out into the blustery afternoon.
The blizzard of the day before had almost suspended traffic, and when she finally succeeded in getting a car, it was only to find that it ran no farther than the city limits.
"How much farther is it to the Camp?" Miss Mink asked desperately.
"About a mile," said the conductor. "I wouldn't try it if I was you, the walking's fierce."
But Miss Mink was not to be turned back. Gathering her skirts as high as her sense of propriety would permit, and grasping her basket she set bravely forth. The trip alone to the Camp, under the most auspicious circumstances, would have been a trying ordeal for her, but under the existing conditions it required nothing less than heroism. The snow had drifted in places as high as her knees, and again and again she stumbled and almost lost her footing as she staggered forward against the force of the icy wind.
Before she had gone half a mile she was ready to collapse with nervousness and exhaustion.
"Looks like I just can't make it," she whimpered, "and yet I'm going to!"
The honk of an automobile sent her shying into a snowdrift, and when she caught her breath and turned around she saw that the machine had stopped and a hand was beckoning to her from the window.
"May I give you a lift?" asked a girl's high sweet voice and, looking up, she saw a sparkling face smiling down at her over an upturned fur collar.
Without waiting to be urged she climbed into the machine, stumbled over the rug, and sank exhausted on the cushions.
"Give me your basket," commanded the young lady. "Now put your feet on the heater. Sure you have room?"
Miss Mink, still breathless, nodded emphatically.
"It's a shame to ask anyone to ride when I'm so cluttered up," continued the girl gaily. "I'm taking these things out to my sick soldier boys."
Miss Mink, looking down, saw that the floor of the machine was covered with boxes and baskets.
"I'm going to the Hospital, too," she said.
"That's good!" exclaimed the girl. "I can take you all the way. Perhaps you have a son or a grandson out there?"
Miss Mink winced. "No, he ain't any kin to me," she said, "but I been sort of looking after him."
"How sweet of you!" said the pouting red lips with embarrassing ardor. "Just think of your walking out here this awful day at your age. Quite sure you are getting warm?"
Yes, Miss Mink was warm, but she felt suddenly old, old and shrivelled beside this radiant young thing.
"I perfectly adore going to the hospital," said the girl, her blue eyes dancing. "Father's one of the medical directors, Major Chalmers, I expect you've heard of him. I'm Lois Chalmers."
But Miss Mink was scarcely listening. She was comparing the big luscious looking oranges in the crate, with the hard little apples in her own basket.
"Here we are!" cried Lois, as the car plowed through the snow and mud and stopped in front of a long shed-like building. Two orderlies sprang forward with smiling alacrity and began unloading the boxes.
"Aren't you the nicest ever?" cried Lois with a skillful smile that embraced them both. "Those to the medical, those to the surgical, and these to my little fat-faced Mumpsies."
Miss Mink got herself and her basket out unassisted, then stood in doubt as to what she should do next. She wanted to thank Miss Chalmers for her courtesy, but two dapper young officers had joined the group around her making a circle of masculine admirers.
Miss Mink slipped away unnoticed and presented herself at the door marked "Administration Building."
"Can you tell me where the broken-legged soldiers are?" she asked timidly of a man at a desk.
"Who do you want to see?"
"Alexis Bowinski. He come from Russia. He's got curly hair and big sort of sad eyes, and—"
"Bowinski," the man repeated, running his finger down a ledger, "A. Bowinski, Surgical Ward 5-C. Through that door, two corridors to the right midway down the second corridor."
Miss Mink started boldly forth to follow directions, but it was not until she had been ejected from the X-ray Room, the Mess Hall, and the Officers' Quarters, that she succeeded in reaching her destination. By that time her courage was at its lowest ebb. On either side of the long wards were cots, on which lay men in various stages of undress. Now Miss Mink had seen pajamas in shop windows, she had even made a pair once of silk for an ambitious groom, but this was the first time she had ever seen them, as it were, occupied.
So acute was her embarrassment that she might have turned back at the last moment, had her eyes not fallen on the cot nearest the door. There, lying asleep, with his injured leg suspended from a pulley from which depended two heavy weights, lay Bowinski.
Miss Mink slipped into the chair between his cot and the wall. After the first glance at his pale unshaven face and the pain-lined brow, she forgot all about herself. She felt only overwhelming pity for him, and indignation at the treatment to which he was being subjected.
By and by he stirred and opened his eyes.
"Oh you came!" he said, "I mean you not to know I be in hospital. You must have the kindness not to trouble about me."
"Trouble nothing," said Miss Mink, husky with emotion, "I never knew a thing about it until to-day. What have they got you harnessed up like this for?"
Then Alexis with difficulty found the English words to tell her how his leg had not set straight, had been re-broken and was now being forced into proper position.
"It is like hell, Madame," he concluded with a trembling lip, then he drew a sharp breath, "But no, I forget, I am in the army. I beg you excuse my complain."
Miss Mink laid herself out to entertain him. She unpacked her basket, and spread her meagre offerings before him. She described in detail all the surgical operations she had ever had any experience with, following some to their direst consequences. Alexis listened apathetically. Now and then a spasm of pain contracted his face, but he uttered no word of complaint.
Only once during the afternoon did his eyes brighten. Miss Mink caught the sudden change in his expression and, following his glance, saw Lois Chalmers coming through the ward. She had thrown aside her heavy fur coat, and her slim graceful little figure as alert as a bird's darted from cart to cot as she tossed packages of cigarettes to right and left.
"Here you are, Mr. Whiskers!" she was calling out gaily to one. "This is for you, Colonel Collar Bone. Where's Cadet Limpy? Discharged? Good for him! Hello, Mr. Strong Man!" For a moment she poised at the foot of Bowinski's cot, then recognizing Miss Mink she nodded:
"So you found your soldier? I'm going back to town in ten minutes, I'll take you along if you like."
She flitted out of the ward as quickly as she had come, leaving two long rows of smiling faces in her wake. She had brought no pity, nor tenderness, nor understanding, but she had brought her fresh young beauty, and her little gift of gayety, and made men forget, at least for a moment, their pain-racked bodies and their weary brains.
Miss Mink reached her cottage that night weary and depressed. She had had nothing to eat since breakfast, and yet was too tired to prepare supper. She made her a cup of tea which she drank standing, and then crept into bed only to lie staring into the darkness tortured by the thought of those heavy weights on Bowinski's injured leg.
The result of her weariness and exposure was a sharp attack of tonsilitis that kept her in bed several weeks. The first time she was able to be up, she began to count the hours until the next visiting day at the Camp. Her basket was packed the evening before, and placed beside the box of carnations in which she had extravagantly indulged. It is doubtful whether Miss Mink was ever so happy in her life as during that hour of pleased expectancy.
As she moved feebly about putting the house in order, so that she could make an early start in the morning, she discovered a letter that the Postman had thrust under the side door earlier in the day. Across the left hand corner was pictured an American flag, and across the right was a red triangle in a circle. She hastily tore off the envelop and read:
Dear Miss Mink:
I am out the Hospital, getting along fine. Hope you are in the same circumstances. I am sending you a book which I got from a Dear Young Lady, in the Hospital. I really do not know what to call her because I do not know her name, but I know she deserve a nice, nice name for all good She dose to all soldiers. I think she deserve more especially from me than to call her a Sweet Dear Lady, because that I have the discouragement, and she make me to laugh and take heart. I would ask your kind favor to please pass the book back to the Young Lady, and pleas pass my thankful word to her, and if you might be able to send me her name before that I go to France, which I learn is very soon. Excuse all errors if you pleas will. This is goodby from
Your soldier friend, A. BOWINSKI.
Miss Mink read the letter through, then she sat down limply in a kitchen chair and stared at the stove. Twice she half rose to get the pen and ink on the shelf above the coal box, but each time she changed her mind, folded her arms indignantly, and went back to her stern contemplation of the stove. Presently a tear rolled down her cheek, then another, and another until she dropped her tired old face in her tired old hands, and gave a long silent sob that shook her slight body from head to foot. Then she rose resolutely and sweeping the back of her hand across her eyes, took down her writing materials. On one side of a post card she wrote the address of Alexis Bowinski, and on the other she penned in her cramped neat writing, one line:
"Her name is Lois Chalmers. Hotel LeRoy."
This done she unpacked her basket, put her half dozen carnations in a tumbler of water and carried them into the dark parlor, pulled her chair up to the kitchen table, drew the lamp closer and patiently went back to her buttonholes.
A DARLING OF MISFORTUNE
A shabby but joyous citizen of the world at large was Mr. Phelan Harrihan, as, with a soul wholly in tune with the finite, he half sat and half reclined on a baggage-truck at Lebanon Junction. He wag relieving the tedium of his waiting moments by entertaining a critical if not fastidious audience of three.
Beside him, with head thrust under his ragged sleeve, sat a small and unlovely bull-terrier, who, at each fresh burst of laughter, lifted a pair of languishing eyes to the face of his master, and then manifested his surplus affection by ardently licking the buttons on the sleeve of the arm that encircled him.
It was a moot question whether Mr. Harrihan resembled his dog, or whether his dog resembled him. That there was a marked similarity admitted of no discussion. If Corp's nose had been encouraged and his lower jaw suppressed, if his intensely emotional nature had been under better control, and his sentimentality tempered with humor, the analogy would have been more complete. In taste, they were one. By birth, predilection, and instinct both were philosophers of the open, preferring an untrammeled life in Vagabondia to the collars and conventions of society. Both delighted in exquisite leisure, and spent it in pleased acquiescence with things as they are.
Some twenty-five years before, Phelan had opened his eyes upon a half-circle of blue sky, seen through the end of a canvas-covered wagon on a Western prairie, and having first conceived life to be a free-and-easy affair on a long, open road, he thereafter declined to consider it in any other light.
The only break in his nomadic existence was when a benevolent old gentleman found him, a friendless lad in a Nashville hospital, cursed him through a fever, and elected to educate him. Those were years of black captivity for Phelan, and after being crammed and coached for what seemed an interminable time, he was proudly entered at the University, where he promptly failed in every subject and was dropped at the mid-year term.
The old gentleman, fortunately, was spared all disappointment in regard to his irresponsible protege, for he died before the catastrophe, leaving Phelan Harrihan a legacy of fifteen dollars a month and the memory of a kind, but misguided, old man who was not quite right in his head.
Being thus provided with a sum more than adequate to meet all his earthly needs, Phelan joyously abandoned the straight and narrow path of learning, and once more betook himself to the open road.
The call of blue skies and green fields, the excitement of each day's encounter, the dramatic possibilities of every passing incident, the opportunity for quick and intimate fellowship, and above all an inherited and chronic disinclination for work, made Phelan an easy victim to that malady called by the casual tourist "wanderlust," but known in Hoboland as "railroad fever."
Only once a year did he return to civilization, don a stiff collar, and recognize an institution. During his meteoric career at the University he had been made a member of the Alpha Delta fraternity, in recognition of his varied accomplishments. Not only could he sing and dance and tell a tale with the best, but he was also a mimic and a ventriloquist, gifts which had proven invaluable in crucial conflicts with the faculty, and had constituted him a hero in several escapades. Of such material is college history made, and the Alpha Delta, recognizing the distinction of possessing this unique member, refused to accept his resignation, but unanimously demanded his presence at each annual reunion.
On June second, for five consecutive years, the ends of the earth had yielded up Phelan Harrihan; by a miracle of grace he had arrived in Nashville, decently appareled, ready to respond to his toast, to bask for his brief hour in the full glare of the calcium, then to depart again into oblivion.
It was now the first day of June and as Phelan concluded his tale, which was in fact an undress rehearsal of what he intended to tell on the morrow, he looked forward with modest satisfaction to the triumph that was sure to be his. For the hundredth time he made certain that the small brown purse, so unused to its present obesity, was safe and sound in his inside pocket.
During the pause that followed his recital, his audience grew restive.
"Go on, do it again," urged the ragged boy who sold the sandwiches, "show us how Forty Fathom Dan looked when he thought he was sinking.
"I don't dare trifle with me features," said Phelan solemnly. "How much are those sandwiches. One for five, is it? Two for fifteen, I suppose. Well, here's one for me, and one for Corp, and keep the change, kid. Ain't that the train coming?"
"It's the up train," said the station-master, rising reluctantly; "it meets yours here. I've got to be hustling."
Phelan, left without an audience, strolled up and down the platform, closely followed by Corporal Harrihan.
As the train slowed up at the little Junction, there was manifestly some commotion on board. Standing in the doorway of the rear car a small, white-faced woman argued excitedly with the conductor.
"I didn't have no ticket, I tell you!" she was saying as the train came to a stop. "I 'lowed I'd pay my way, but I lost my pocket-book. I lost it somewheres on the train here, I don't know where it is!"
"I've seen your kind before," said the conductor wearily; "what did you get on for when you didn't have anything to pay your fare with?"
"I tell you I lost my pocket-book after I got on!" she said doggedly; "I ain't going to get off, you daren't put me off!"
Phelan, who had sauntered up, grew sympathetic. He, too, had experienced the annoyance of being pressed for his fare when it was inconvenient to produce it.
"Go ahead," demanded the conductor firmly, "I don't want to push you off, but if you don't step down and out right away, I'll have it to do."
The woman's expression changed from defiance to terror. She clung to the brake with both hands and looked at him fearfully.
"No, no, don't touch me!" she cried. "Don't make me get off! I've got to get to Cincinnati. My man's there. He's been hurt in the foundry. He's—maybe he's dying now."
"I can't help that, maybe it's so and maybe it ain't. You never had any money when you got on this train and you know it. Go on, step off!"
"But I did!" she cried wildly; "I did. Oh, God! don't put me off."
The train began to move, and the conductor seized the woman's arms from behind and forced her forward. A moment more and she would be pushed off the lowest step. She turned beseeching eyes on the little group of spectators, and as she did so Phelan Harrihan sprang forward and with his hand on the railing, ran along with the slow-moving train.
With a deft movement he bent forward and apparently snatched something from the folds of her skirt.
"Get on to your luck now," he said with an encouraging smile that played havoc with the position of his features; "if here ain't your pocket-book all the time!"
The hysterical woman looked from the unfamiliar little brown purse in her hand, to the snub-nosed, grimy face of the young man running along the track, then she caught her breath.
"Why,—" she cried unsteadily, "yes—yes, it's my purse."
Phelan loosened his hold on the railing and had only time to scramble breathlessly up the bank before the down train, the train for Nashville which was to have been his, whizzed past.
He watched it regretfully as it slowed up at the station, then almost immediately pulled out again for the south, carrying his hopes with it.
"Corporal," said Phelan, to the dog, who had looked upon the whole episode as a physical-culture exercise indulged in for his special benefit, "a noble act of charity is never to be regretted, but wasn't I the original gun, not to wait for the change?"
His lack of business method seemed to weigh upon him, and he continued to apologize to Corporal:
"It was so sudden, you know, Corp. Couldn't see a lady ditched, when I had a bit of stuffed leather in my pocket. And two hundred miles to Nashville! Well I'll—be—jammed!"
He searched in his trousers pockets and found a dime in one and a hole in the other. It was an old trick of his to hide a piece of money in time of prosperity, and then discover it in the blackness of adversity.
He held the dime out ruefully: "That's punk and plaster for supper, but we'll have to depend on a hand-out for breakfast. And, Corp," he added apologetically, "you know I told you we was going to ride regular like gentlemen? Well, I've been compelled to change my plans. We are going to turf it twelve miles down to the watering tank, and sit out a couple of dances till the midnight freight comes along. If a side door Pullman ain't convenient, I'll have to go on the bumpers, then what'll become of you, Mr. Corporal Harrihan?"
The coming ordeal cast no shadow over Corporal. He was declaring his passionate devotion, by wild tense springs at Phelan's face, seeking in vain to overcome the cruel limitation of a physiognomy that made kissing well-nigh impossible.
Phelan picked up his small bundle and started down the track with the easy, regular swing of one who has long since gaged the distance of railroad ties. But his step lacked its usual buoyancy, and he forgot to whistle, Mr. Harrihan was undergoing the novel experience of being worried. Of course he would get to Nashville,—if the train went, he could go,—but the prospect of arriving without decent clothes and with no money to pay for a lodging, did not in the least appeal to him. He thought with regret of his well-laid plans: an early arrival, a Turkish bath, the purchase of a new outfit, instalment at a good hotel, then—presentation at the fraternity headquarters of Mr. Phelan Harrihan, Gentleman for a Night. He could picture it all, the dramatic effect of his entrance, the yell of welcome, the buzz of questions, and the evasive, curiosity-enkindling answers which he meant to give. Then the banquet, with its innumerable courses of well-served food, the speeches and toasts, and the personal ovation that always followed Mr. Harrihan's unique contribution.
Oh! he couldn't miss it! Providence would interfere in his behalf, he knew it would, it always did. "Give me my luck, and keep your lucre!" was a saying of Phelan's, quoted by brother hoboes from Maine to the Gulf.
All the long afternoon he tramped the ties, with Corporal at his heels. As dusk came on the clouds that had been doing picket duty, joined the regiment on the horizon which slowly wheeled and charged across the sky. Phelan scanned the heavens with an experienced weather eye, then began to look for a possible shelter from the coming shower. On either side, the fields stretched away in undulating lines, with no sign of a habitation in sight. A dejected old scarecrow, and a tumble-down shed in the distance were the only objects that presented themselves.
Turning up his coat-collar Phelan made a dash for the shed, but the shower overtook him half-way. It was not one of your gentle little summer showers, that patter on the shingles waking echoes underneath; it was a large and instantaneous breakage in the celestial plumbing that let gallons of water down Phelan's back, filling his pockets, hat brim, and shoes and sending a dashing cascade down Corporal's oblique profile.
"Float on your back, Corp, and pull for the shore!" laughed Phelan as he landed with a spring under the dilapidated shed. "Cheer up, old pard; you look as if all your past misdeeds had come before you in your drowning hour."
Corporal, shivering and unhappy, crept under cover, and dumbly demanded of Phelan what he intended to do about it.
"Light a blaze, sure," said Phelan, "and linger here in the air of the tropics till the midnight freight comes along."
Scraping together the old wood and debris in the rear of the shed, and extricating with some difficulty a small tin match-box from his saturated clothes, he knelt before the pile and used all of his persuasive powers to induce it to ignite.
At the first feeble blaze Corporal's spirits rose so promptly that he had to be restrained.
"Easy there! Corp," cautioned Phelan. "A fire's like a woman, you can't be sure of it too soon. And, dog alive, stop wagging your tail, don't you see it makes a draft?"
The fire capriciously would, then it wouldn't. A tiny flame played tantalizingly along the top of a stick only to go sullenly out when it reached the end. Match after match was sacrificed to the cause, but at last, down deep under the surface, there was a steady, reassuring, cheerful crackle that made Phelan sit back on his heels, and remark complacently:
"They most generally come around, in the end!"
In five minutes the fire was burning bright, Corporal was dreaming of meaty bones in far fence corners, and Phelan, less free from the incumbrances of civilization, was divesting himself of his rain-soaked garments.
From one of the innumerable pockets of his old cutaway coat he took a comb and brush and clothes-brush, and carefully deposited them before the fire. Then from around his neck he removed a small leather case, hung by a string and holding a razor. His treasured toilet articles thus being cared for, he turned his attention to the contents of his dripping bundle. A suit of underwear and a battered old copy of Eli Perkins were ruefully examined, and spread out to dry.
The fire, while it lasted, was doing admirable service, but the wood supply was limited, and Phelan saw that he must take immediate advantage of the heat. How to dry the underwear which he wore was the question which puzzled him, and he wrestled with it for several moments before an inspiration came.
"I'll borrow some duds from the scarecrow!" he said half aloud, and went forth immediately to execute his idea.
The rain had ceased, but the fields were still afloat, and Phelan waded ankle deep through the slush grass, to where the scarecrow raised his threatening arms against the twilight sky.
"Beggars and borrowers shouldn't be choosers," said Phelan, as he divested the figure of its ragged trousers and coat, "but I have a strong feeling in my mind that these habiliments ain't going to become me. Who's your tailor, friend?"
The scarecrow, reduced now to an old straw hat and a necktie, maintained a dignified and oppressive silence.
"Well, he ain't on to the latest cut," continued Phelan, wringing the water out of the coat. "But maybe these here is your pajamas? Don't tell me I disturbed you after you'd retired for the night? Very well then, aurevoy."
With the clothes under his arm he made his way back to the shed, and divesting himself of his own raiment he got into his borrowed property.
By this time the fire had died down, and the place was in semi-darkness. Phelan threw on a handful of sticks and, as the blaze flared up, he caught his first clear sight of his newly acquired clothes. They were ragged and weather-stained, and circled about with broad, unmistakable stripes.
"Well, I'll be spiked!" said Phelan, vastly amused. "I wouldn't 'a' thought it of a nice, friendly scarecrow like that! Buncoed me, didn't he? Well, feathers don't always make the jail-bird. Wonder what poor devil wore 'em last? Peeled out of 'em in this very shed, like as not. Well, they'll serve my purpose all right, all right."
He took off his shoes, placed them under his head for a pillow, lit a short cob pipe, threw on fresh wood, and prepared to wait for his clothes to dry.
Meanwhile the question of the banquet revolved itself continually in his mind. This time to-morrow night, the preparations would be in full swing. Instead of being hungry, half naked, and chilled, he might be in a luxurious club-house dallying with caviar, stuffed olives, and Benedictine. All that lay between him and bliss were two hundred miles of railroad ties and a decent suit of clothes!
"Wake up, Corp; for the love of Mike be sociable!" cried Phelan when the situation became too gloomy to contemplate. "Ain't that like a dog now? Hold your tongue when I'm longing for a word of kindly sympathy an' encouragement, and barking your fool head off once we get on the freight. Much good it'll be doing us to get to Nashville in this fix, but we'll take our blessings as they come, Corp, and just trust to luck that somebody will forget to turn 'em off. I know when I get to the banquet there'll be one other man absent. That's Bell of Terre Haute. Him and me is always in the same boat, he gets ten thousand a year and ain't got the nerve to spend it, and I get fifteen a month, and ain't got the nerve to keep it! Poor old Bell."
Corporal, roused from his slumbers, sniffed inquiringly at the many garments spread about the fire, yawned, turned around several times in dog fashion, then curled up beside Phelan, signifying by his bored expression that he hadn't the slightest interest in the matter under discussion.
Gradually the darkness closed in, and the fire died to embers. It would be four hours before the night freight slowed up at the water tank, and Phelan, tired from his long tramp, and drowsy from the heat and the vapor rising from the drying clothes, shifted the shoe-buttons from under his left ear, and drifted into dreamland.
How long he slept undisturbed, only the scarecrow outside knew. He was dimly aware, in his dreams, of subdued sounds and, by and by, the sounds formed themselves into whispered words and, still half asleep, he listened.
"I thought we'd find him along here. This is the road they always take," a low voice was saying; "you and Sam stand here, John and me'll tackle him from this side. He'll put up a stiff fight, you bet."
Phelan opened his eyes, and tried to remember where he was.
"Gosh! look at that bulldog!" came another whisper, and at the same moment Corporal jumped to his feet, growling angrily.
As he did so, four men sprang through the opening of the shed, and seized Phelan by the arms and legs.
"Look out there," cried one excitedly; "don't let him escape; here's the handcuffs."
"But here," cried Phelan, "what's up; what you doing to me?"
By this time Corporal, thoroughly roused, made a vicious lunge at the nearest man. The next minute there was a sharp report of a pistol, and the bull-terrier went yelping and limping out into the night.
"You coward!" cried Phelan, struggling to rise, "if you killed that dog—"
"Get those shackles on his legs," shouted one of the men. "Is the wagon ready, Sam? Take his legs there, I've got his head. Leave the truck here, we've got to drive like sand to catch that train!"
After being dragged to the road and thrown into a spring wagon, Phelan found himself lying on his back, jolting over a rough country road, his three vigilant captors sitting beside him with pistols in hand.
Any effort on his part to explain or seek information was promptly and emphatically discouraged. But in time he gathered, from the bits let fall by his captors, that he was an escaped convict, of a most desperate character, for whom a reward was offered, and that he had been at large twenty-four hours.
In vain did he struggle for a hearing. Only once did he get a response to his oft-repeated plea of innocence. It was when he told how he had come by the clothes he had on. For once Phelan got a laugh when he did not relish it.
"Got 'em off a scarecrow, did you?" said the man at his head, when the fun had subsided; "say, I want to be 'round when you tell that to the Superintendent of the Penitentiary—I ain't heard him laugh in ten years!"
So, in the face of such unbelief, Phelan lapsed into silence and gloom. What became of him concerned him less, at the moment, than the fate of Corporal, and the thought of the faithful little beast wounded and perhaps dying out there in the fields, made him sick at heart.
Just as they came in sight of the lights of the station, the whistle of the freight was heard down the track and the horses were beaten to a gallop.
Phelan was hurried from the wagon into an empty box car, with his full guard in attendance. As the train pulled out he heard a little whimper beside him and there, panting for breath after his long run, and with one ear hanging limp and bloody, cowered Corporal. Phelan's hands were not at his disposal, but even if they had been it is doubtful if he would have denied Corp the joy for once of kissing him.
Through the rest of the night the heavy cars rumbled over the rails, and the men took turn about sleeping and guarding the prisoner. Only once did Phelan venture another question:
"Say, you sports, you don't mind telling me where you are taking me, do you?"
"Listen at his gaff!" said one. "He'll know all right when he gets to Nashville."
Phelan sent such a radiant smile into the darkness that it threatened to reveal itself. Then he slipped his encircled wrists about Corporal's body and giving him a squeeze whispered:
"It's better'n the bumpers, Corp."
At the Penitentiary next day there was consternation and dismay when instead of the desperate criminal, who two days before had scaled the walls and dropped to freedom, an innocent little Irishman was presented, whose only offense apparently was in having donned, temporarily, the garb of crime.
As the investigation proceeded, Phelan found it expedient, to become excessively indignant. That an American citizen, strolling harmlessly through the fields of a summer evening, and being caught in a shower, should attempt to dry his clothes in an unused shed, and find himself attacked and bound, and hurried away without his belongings to a distant city, was an inconceivable outrage. If a shadow of doubt remained as to his identity, a score of prominent gentlemen in the city would be able to identify him. He named them, and added that he was totally unable to hazard a guess as to what form their resentment of his treatment would assume.
The authorities looked grave. Could Mr. Harrihan remember just what articles he had left behind? Mr. Harrihan could. A suit of clothes, a pair of shoes, a hat, a toilet set, and a small sum of money; "the loss of which," added Phelan with a fine air of indifference, "are as nothing compared to the indignity offered to my person."
Would the gentleman be satisfied if the cost of these articles, together with the railroad fare back to Lebanon Junction be paid him? The gentleman, after an injured pause, announced that he would.
And thus it was that Mr. Phelan Harrihan, in immaculate raiment, presented himself at the Sixth Annual Reunion of the Alpha Delta fraternity and, with a complacent smile encircling a ten-cent cigar, won fresh laurels by recounting, with many adornments, the adventures of the previous night.
The gloomy corridor in the big Baltimore hospital was still and deserted save for a nurse who sat at a flat-topped desk under a green lamp mechanically transferring figures from one chart to another. It was the period of quiet that usually precedes the first restless stirring of the sick at the breaking of dawn. The silence was intense as only a silence can be that waits momentarily for an interrupting sound.
Suddenly it came in a prolonged, imperative ring of the telephone bell. So insistent was the call that the nurse's hand closed over the transmitter long before the burr ceased. The office was notifying Ward B that an emergency case had been brought in and an immediate operation was necessary.
With prompt efficiency the well-ordered machinery for saving human life was put in motion. Soft-footed nurses emerged from the shadows and moved quickly about, making necessary arrangements. A trim, comely woman, straight of feature and clear of eye, gave directions in low decisive tones. When the telephone rang the second time she answered it.
"Yes, Office," she said, "this is Miss Fletcher. They are not going to operate? Too late? I see. Very well. Send the patient up to No. 16. Everything is ready."
Even as she spoke the complaining creak of the elevator could he heard, and presently two orderlies appeared at the end of the corridor bearing a stretcher.
Beside it, with head erect and jaw set, strode a strangely commanding figure. Six feet two he loomed in the shadows, a gaunt, raw-boned old mountaineer. On his head was a tall, wide-brimmed hat and in his right hand he carried a bulky carpet sack. The left sleeve of his long-tailed coat hung empty to the elbow. The massive head with its white flowing beard and hawklike face, the beaked nose and fierce, deep-set eyes, might have served as a model for Michael Angelo when he modeled his immortal Moses.
As the orderlies passed through the door of No. 16 and lowered the stretcher, the old man put down his carpet sack and grimly watched the nurse uncover the patient. Under the worn homespun coverlet, stained with the dull dyes of barks and berries, lay an emaciated figure, just as it had been brought into the hospital. One long coarse garment covered it, and the bare feet with their prominent ankle bones and the large work-hardened hands might have belonged to either a boy or a girl.
"Take that thar head wrappin' off!" ordered the old man peremptorily.
A nurse carefully unwound the rough woolen scarf and as she did so a mass of red hair fell across the pillow, hair that in spite of its matted disorder showed flashes of gleaming gold.
"We'll get her on the bed," a night nurse said to an assistant. "Put your arm under her knees. Don't jar the stretcher!"
Before the novice could obey another and a stronger arm was thrust forward.
"Stand back thar, some of you-uns," commanded a loud voice, "I'll holp move Sal myself."
In vain were protests from nurses and orderlies alike, the old mountaineer seemed bent on making good use of his one arm and with quick dexterity he helped to lift her on the bed.
"Now, whar's the doctor?" he demanded, standing with feet far apart and head thrown back.
The doctor was at the desk in the corridor, speaking to Miss Fletcher in an undertone:
"We only made a superficial examination down-stairs," he was saying, "but it is evidently a ruptured appendix. If she's living in a couple of hours I may be able to operate. But it's ten to one she dies on the table."
"Who are they, and where did they come from?" Miss Fletcher asked curiously.
"Their name is Hawkins, and they are from somewhere in the Kentucky mountains. Think of his starting with her in that condition! He can't read or write; it's the first time he has ever been in a city. I am afraid he's going to prove troublesome. You'd better get him out of there as soon as possible."
But anyone, however mighty in authority, who proposed to move Jeb Hawkins when he did not choose to be moved reckoned unknowingly. All tactics were exhausted from suggestion to positive command, and the rules of the hospital were quoted in vain.
In the remote regions where Jeb lived there were no laws to break. Every man's home was his stronghold, to be protected at the point of a pistol. He was one of the three million people of good Anglo-Saxon stock who had been stranded in the highlands when the Cumberland Mountains dammed the stream of humanity that swept westward through the level wilderness. Development had been arrested so long in Jeb and his ancestors that the outside world, its interests and its mode of living, was a matter of supreme and profound indifference. A sudden and unprecedented emergency had driven him to the "Settlements." His girl had developed an ailment that baffled the skill of the herb doctors; so, following one bit of advice after another, he had finally landed in Baltimore. And now that the terrible journey was ended and Sal was in the hands of the doctor who was to work the cure, the wholly preposterous request was made of him that he abandon her to her fate!
With dogged determination he sat beside the bed, and chewed silently and stolidly through the argument.
"You gals mought ez well save yer wind," he announced at last. "Ef Sal stays, I stay. Ef I go, Sal goes. We ain't axin' favors of nobody."
He was so much in the way during the necessary preparations for the possible operation that finally Miss Fletcher was appealed to. She was a woman accustomed to giving orders and to having them obeyed; but she was also a woman of tact. Ten minutes of valuable time were spent in propitiating the old man before she suggested that he come with her into the corridor while the nurses straightened the room. A few minutes later she returned, smiling:
"I've corralled him in the linen closet," she whispered; "he is unpacking his carpet sack as if he meant to take up his abode with us."
"I am afraid," said the special nurse, glancing toward the bed, "he won't have long to stay. How do you suppose he ever got her here?"
"I asked him. He said he drove her for three days in an ox-cart along the creek bottom until they got to Jackson. Then he told the ticket agent to send them to the best hospital the train ran to. Neither of them had ever seen a train before. It's a miracle she's lived this long."
"Does he realize her condition?"
"I don't know. I suppose I ought to tell him that the end may come at any time."
But telling him was not an easy matter as Miss Fletcher found when she joined him later in the linen closet. He was busy spreading his varied possessions along the shelves on top of the piles of immaculate linen, stopping now and then to refresh himself with a bite of salt pork and some corn pone that had been packed for days along with Sally's shoes and sunbonnet and his own scanty wardrobe.
"I suppose you know," Miss Fletcher began gently, trying not to show her chagrin at the state of the room, "that your daughter is in a very serious condition."
He looked at her sharply. "Shucks! Sal'll pull through," he said with mingled defiance and alarm. "You ain't saw her afore in one of them spells. Besides, hit meks a difference when a gal's paw and grandpaw and great-grandpaw was feud-followers. A feud-follower teks more killin' then ordinary folks. Her maw was subjec' to cramp colic afore her."
"But this isn't cramp colic," Miss Fletcher urged, "it's her appendix, and it wasn't taken in time."
"Well, ain't they goin' to draw it?" he asked irritably. "Ain't that whut we're here fer?"
"Yes; but you don't understand. The doctor may decide not, to operate."
The old man's face wore a puzzled look, then his lips hardened:
"Mebbe hit's the money thet's a-woriyin' him. You go toll him that Jeb Hawkins pays ez he goes! I got pension money sewed in my coat frum the hem clean up to the collar. I hain't askin' none of you to cure my gal fer nothin'!"
Miss Fletcher laid her hand on his arm. It was a shapely hand as well as a kindly one.
"It isn't a question of money," she said quietly, "it's a question of life or death. There is only a slight chance that your daughter will live through the day."
Someone tapped at the door and Miss Fletcher, after a whispered consultation, turned again to the old man:
"They have decided to take the chance," she said hurriedly. "They are carrying her up now. You stay here, and I will let you know as soon as it is over."
"Whar they fetching her to?" he demanded savagely.
"To the operating-room."
"You take me thar!"
"But you can't go, Mr. Hawkins. No one but the surgeons and nurses can be with her. Besides, the nurse who was just here said she had regained consciousness, and it might excite her to see you."
She might as well have tried to stop a mountain torrent. He brushed past her and was making his way to the elevator before she had ceased speaking. At the open door of the operating-room on the fourth floor he paused. On a long white table lay the patient, a white-clad doctor on either side of her, and a nurse in the background sorting a handful of gleaming instruments. With two strides the old man reached the girl's side.
"Sal!" he said fiercely, bending over her, "air ye wuss?"
Her dazed eyes cleared slightly.
"I dunno, Pop," she murmured feebly.
"Ye ain't fixin' to die, air ye?" he persisted.
"I dunno, Pop."
"Don't you let 'em skeer you," he commanded sternly. "You keep on a-fightin'. Don't you dare give up. Sal, do you hear me?"
The girl's wavering consciousness steadied, and for a moment the challenge that the old man flung at death was valiantly answered in her pain-racked eyes.
For an hour and a half the surgeons worked. The case, critical enough at best, was greatly complicated by the long delay. Twice further effort seemed useless, and it was only by the prompt administration of oxygen that the end was averted. During the nerve-racking suspense Pop not only refused to leave the room, he even refused to stand back from the table. With keen, suspicious eyes he followed every movement of the surgeons' hands. Only once did he speak out, and that was in the beginning, to an interne who was administering the anaesthetic:
"Lift that funnel, you squash-headed fool!" he thundered; "don't you see hit's marking of her cheek?"
When the work was finished and the unconscious patient had been taken down to her ward, Pop still kept his place beside her. With his hand on her pulse he watched her breathing, watched the first faint quivering of her lids, the restlessness that grew into pain and later into agony. Hour after hour he sat there and passed with her through that crucifixion that follows some capital operations.
On his refusal at luncheon time to leave the bedside Miss Fletcher ignored the rules and sent him a tray; but when night came and he still refused to go, she became impatient.
"You can't stay in here to-night, Mr. Hawkins," she said firmly. "I have asked one of the orderlies, who lives nearby, to take you home with him. We can send for you if there is any change. I must insist that you go now."
"Ain't I made it cl'ar from the start," cried Pop angrily, "thet I ain't a-goin' to be druv out? You-uns kin call me muley-headed or whatever you've a mind to. Sal's always stood by me, and by golly, I'm a-goin' to stand by Sal!"
His raised voice roused the patient, and a feeble summons brought Miss Fletcher to the bedside.
"Say," plead the girl faintly, "don't rile Pop. He's the—fightenest man—in—Breathitt—when his blood's—up."
"All right, dear," said Miss Fletcher, with a soothing hand on the hot brow; "he shall do as he likes."
During that long night the girl passed from one paroxysm of pain to another with brief intervals of drug-induced sleep. During the quiet moments the nurse snatched what rest she could; but old Jeb Hawkins stuck to his post in the straight-backed chair, never nodding, never relaxing the vigilance of his watch. For Pop was doing sentry duty, much as he had done it in the old days of the Civil War, when he had answered Lincoln's first call for volunteers and given his left arm for his country.
But the enemy to-night was mysterious, crafty, one that might come in the twinkling of an eye, and a sentry at seventy is not what he was at twenty-two. When the doctor arrived in the morning he found the old man haggard with fatigue.
"This won't do, Mr. Hawkins," he said kindly; "you must get some rest."
"Be she goin' to die?" Pop demanded, steadying himself by a chair.
"It is too soon to tell," the doctor said evasively; "but I'll say this much, her pulse is better than I expected. Now, go get some sleep."
Half an hour later a strange rumbling sound puzzled the nurses in Ward B. It came at regular intervals, rising from a monotonous growl to a staccato, then dying away in a plaintive diminuendo. It was not until one of the nurses needed clean sheets that the mystery was explained. On the floor of the linen closet, stretched on his back with his carpet sack under his head and his empty sleeve across his chest, lay Pop!
From that time on the old mountaineer became a daily problem to Ward B. It is true, he agreed in time to go home at night with the orderly; but by six in the morning he was sitting on the hospital steps, impatiently awaiting admission. The linen closet was still regarded by him as his private apartment, to which he repaired at such times as he could not stay in Sally's room, and refreshed himself with the luncheon he brought with him each day.
During the first week, when the girl's life hung in the balance, he was granted privileges which he afterward refused to relinquish. The hospital confines, after the freedom of the hills, chafed him sorely. As the days grew warmer he discarded his coat, collar, and at times his shoes.
"I 'low I'm goin' to tek Sal home next week!" became his daily threat.
But the days and weeks slipped by, and still the girl lay with a low, consuming fever, and still Pop watched by her side, showing her no affection by word or gesture but serving her and anticipating her every want with a thoroughness that left little for the nurses to do.
In some way Miss Fletcher had gained his confidence. To her he intrusted the bills which he ripped from his coat at the end of each week with the instruction that she "pay off them boys down in the office fa'r an' squar', but not to 'low 'em to cheat her." It may have been her growing interest in the invalid that won his favor, for she came in often to chat awhile with Sally and sometimes brought up a handful of flowers to brighten the sick room.
"She's getting better," she said one morning as she held the girl's big bony hand and looked down at the thin bright face in its frame of shining hair. "We'll have her sitting up now before long."
Pop's whole aspect brightened.
"Ef Sal onct begins to git well, can't none of 'em beat her," he said proudly.
"Have you any other children?" Miss Fletcher asked.
"Lord, yes," said Pop, "heaps of 'em. Thar's Ted an' Larkin, an' Gus,—they wuz all kilt in feud fights. An' Burt an' Jim,—they're in jail in Jackson fer moonshinin'. Four more died when they wuz babies. An' they ain't nary a one at home now but jes' Sal."
"How old is she?"
"Seventeen or eighteen, mebbe."
"And she tells me she has never been to school."
"Thar warn't no needcessity," said Pop complacently, taking a long twist of tobacco from his pocket. "Sal don't need no larnin'. She's pearter then most gals thet's got book sense. You show me ary one of these gals round here thet kin spin an' weave the cloth to mek ther own dresses, thet kin mold candles, an' mek soap, an' hoe terbaccy, an' handle a rifle good ez a man."
"But, Mr. Hawkins," insisted Miss Fletcher, "there are better things than those for us to learn. Haven't you ever felt the need of an education yourself?"
Pop looked at her suspiciously: "Look a-here, young woman. I'm nigh on to seventy. I never hed a doctor but onct in my life, an' then he chopped my arm off when it might hev got well whar it wuz. I kin plow, an' fell trees, an' haul wood. Thar ain't a log-rollin' ner a house-raisin' in our neck of the woods thet Jeb Hawkins ain't sent fer. I kin h'ist a barrel with the best of 'em, and shake up Ole Dan Tucker ez peart ez the next one. Now how about yer scholards? This here horspittle is full of 'em. Pale-faced, spindly-legged, nerve-jerking young fellows thet has spent ther fust twenty years gittin' larnin', an' ther next twenty gittin' over hit. Me an' Sal will keep to the open!"
But Sally was not so confident. As her strength began to return she took a growing interest in all that went on around her, asking eager, intelligent questions and noting with wistful curiosity the speech and manners of the nurses who served her. She was a raw recruit from Nature, unsophisticated, illiterate. Under a bondage of poverty and drudgery she had led her starved life in the mountain fastnesses; but now she had opened her eyes on a new and unexpected world.
"How do you go about gittin' a larnin'?" she ventured at last to ask one of the friendly nurses. "Can't you fetch me up some of them thar picter books?"
For hours after this she pored over her new treasures, until one day Miss Fletcher brought her a primer, and the seventeen-year-old girl grappled for the first time with the alphabet. After that she was loath to have the book out of her hand, going painfully and slowly over the lessons, mastering each in turn with patient perseverance.
Pop viewed this proceeding with disfavor. He seemed to sense the entering wedge that was to separate her from him. His pride in her accomplishment was overshadowed by his jealousy, and when she was able to read a whole page and attempted to explain the intricate process to him, he was distinctly cast down. He left the hospital that afternoon for the first time, and was gone until dusk. When he returned he carried a bunch of faded wild flowers that he had tramped two miles in the country to get for his girl.
May dragged into June, and still they were kept at the hospital. The old man became as restless as a caged animal; he paced the corridors for hours at a time and his eyes grew furtive and defiant. He, who had lived out of sight of the smoke from his nearest neighbor's chimneys, who had spent his life in the vast, still solitudes of the hills, was incredibly lonely here among his fellow men.
"If Pop has to stay here much longer, I'm afraid he'll smash the furniture," said the night nurse who, like everybody else in the ward, had grown interested in the old man. "He packs his things every morning before the doctor comes, only to unpack them after he leaves."
"The confinement is telling on him," said Miss Fletcher. "I wish for his sake they could start home to-day. But I do hate to see Sally go! The girl is getting her first taste of civilization, and I've never seen anyone so eager to learn. We have to take the books away from her every day, and when she can't study she begs to be allowed to roll bandages. The third day she sat up she wanted to help nurse the other patients.
"I am afraid we have spoiled her for hoeing tobacco, and planting corn," said the night nurse.
"I hope so," Miss Fletcher answered fervently.
It was nearly the last of June when the doctor dismissed his patient. "This doesn't mean that she is well," he warned Pop. "You will have to be careful of her for a long time. She has worked too hard for a growing girl, and she's not as strong now as she was."
"She will be!" Pop responded confidently. "That thar gal is made outen iron! Her maw was afore her. Liza wuz my third wife, an' she'd borned six or seven children, when she died at thirty-five, an', by Joshuy, she'd never once hed a doctor in all her life!"
Pop's joy over their dismissal was slightly dimmed by Sally's reception of the news. He saw her draw a long breath and bite her lips; then he saw what he had never seen since she was a baby, two large tears gather slowly in her eyes and roll down on the pillow. He watched them in amazement.
"Sal, whut ails ye?" he asked anxiously, after the doctor was gone.
"I want to git a larnin'!" she broke out. "I don't want to go back to the hills."
Instantly the old man's face, which had been tender, hardened to a mask of fury.
"That passel of fool women's been workin' on ye," he cried hoarsely, "larnin', larnin', thet's all they know. Ain't the Fork good enough fer ye? Ain't the cabin whar yer paw, an' yer grandpaw, an' yer great-grandpaw was borned good enough for ye?"
"Yes, Pop, yes!" she gasped, terrified at the storm she had raised. "I'm a-goin' back with you. Don't tek on so, Pop, I'm a-goin'!"
But the tempest was raging, and the old man got up and strode angrily up and down the small room, filling the air with his indignation.
"I should say you wuz goin' back! I'd like to see any of 'em try to keep you. They'd like to make one o' them dressed-up doll women outen you! You're goin' back with me to the Fork, an' ef thar's ever any more nussin' er doctorin' to do, I'm a-goin' to do hit. I've nussed three women on their deathbeds, an' when your time comes I 'low I kin handle you too."
Then his mood changed suddenly, and he sat down by the bed.
"Sal," he said almost persuasively, "you'll git over this here foolishness. Ag'in' fall you'll be a-cappin corn, an' a-roastin' sweet pertatoes, an' singin' them ole ballarts along with the Hicks gals, an' Cy West, an' Bub Holly. An' I'll tote you behind me on the beast over the Ridge to the Baptist Meetin' House the very next feet-washin' they hev. Jes' think how good hit's goin' to be to see the sun a-risin' over Ole Baldy, an' to hev room to stretch an' breathe in. Seems ez if I hain't been able to git my lungs full of wind sense I left Jackson."
"I know it, Pop," Sally said miserably. "You growed old in the hills afore you ever seen the Settlements. But sence I got a sight of whut folks is a-doin' down here, 'pears like I can't be reconciled to goin' back. 'Tain't the work back home, nor the lonesomeness, tho' the Lord knows the only folks thet ever does pass is when they're totin' deads down the creek bottom. Hit's the feelin' of bein' shet off from my chanct. Ef I could git a larnin' I wouldn't ask nothin' better then to go back an' pass it along. When I see these here gals a-larnin' how to holp the sick, an' keer fer babies, an' doctor folks, I lay here an' steddy 'bout all the good I could do back home ef I only knowed how."
"You do know how," Pop declared vociferously; "ain't you bin a-lookin' after folks thet's ailin' around the Fork fer a couple of years or more? Ez fer these new-fangled doctorin's, they won't nary one ov 'em do the good yarbs will. I'd ruther trust bitter-goldenseal root to cure a ailment than all the durn physic in this here horspittle. I ben a-studyin' these here doctors, an' I don't take much stock in 'em; instid of workin' on a organ thet gets twisted, they ups and draws hit. Now the Lord A'mighty put thet air pertickler thing in you fer some good reason, an' ther's bound to be a hitch in the machinery when hit's took out. Hit's a marvel to me some of these here patients ain't a amblin' round on all fours from what's been did to their insides!"
"But think whut the doctor did fer me," urged Sally.
"I ain't fergittin'," Pop said suddenly, "an' I've paid 'em fer hit. But ef they calkerlate on yer takin' root here, they're treein' the wrong possum. You're a-goin' home along o' me to-morrow."
That afternoon he left the hospital, and several hours later was seen walking up Monument Street with his arm full of bundles.
"I believe he's been buying clothes to take Sally home in!" said one of the nurses, who was watching him from an upper window. "He asked me this morning if I knew a place where he could buy women's togs."
"It's a shame he won't let the girl stay," said Miss Fletcher. "I have been talking to the superintendent, and she is quite willing to let her do light work around the hospital and pick up what training she can. I should be glad enough to look after her, and there's a good night school two blocks over."
"Why don't you talk to the old man?" urged the nurse. "You are the only one who has ever been able to do anything with him. Perhaps you could make him see what an injustice he is doing the girl."
"I believe I'll try," said Miss Fletcher.
The next morning, when she came on duty, she found Sally's bed the repository of a strange assortment of wearing apparel. A calico dress of pronounced hue, a large lace jabot, and a small pair of yellow kid gloves were spread out for inspection.
"I knowed they wuz too leetle," Pop was saying, as he carefully smoothed the kid fingers, "but I 'lowed you could kerry 'em in yer hand."
There was an unusual eagerness in his hard face, an evident desire to make up to Sally in one way for what he was depriving her of in another. He was more talkative than at any time since coming to the hospital, and he dilated with satisfaction on the joys that awaited their home-coming.
"May I have a little talk with you before you go?" asked Miss Fletcher.
He flashed on her a quick look of suspicion, but her calm, impassive face told him nothing. She was a pretty woman, and Pop had evidently recognized the fact from the start.
"Wal, I'll come now," he said, rising reluctantly; "but, Sal, you git yer clothes on an' be ready to start time I git back. I ain't anxious to stay round these here diggin's no longer'n need be. Besides, that thar railroad car mought take a earlier start. You be ready ag'in I git back."
For an hour and a quarter Miss Fletcher was shut up in the linen closet with the old man. What arguments and persuasions she brought to bear are not known. Occasionally his voice could be heard in loud and angry dissent, but when at last they emerged he looked like some old king of the jungle that has been captured and tamed. His shoulders drooped, his one arm hung limply by his side, and his usually restless eyes were bent upon the floor.
Without a word he strode back to the room where Sally in her misfit clothes was waiting for him.
"Come along o' me, Sal," he commanded sternly as he picked up his carpet sack. "Leave your things whar they be."
Silently they passed out of the ward, down the stairway, through the long vaultlike corridor to the superintendent's room. Once there he flung back his rusty coat and ripped the last bill but one from its hiding place.
"That thar is fer my gal," he said defiantly to the superintendent. "She'll git one the fust day of every month. Give her the larnin' she's so hell-bent on, stuff her plumb full on it. An' ef you let ennything happen to her"—his brows lowered threateningly—"I'll come back an' blow yer whole blame' horspittle into eternity!"
"Pop!" Sally pleaded, "Pop!"
But his emotions were at high tide and he did not heed her. Pushing her roughly aside, he strode back to the entrance hall, and was about to pick up his carpet sack when his gaze was suddenly arrested by the great marble figure that bends its thorn-crowned head in pity over the unhappy and the pain-racked mortals that pass beneath its outstretched hands.
"You ain't goin' to leave me like this, Pop?" begged Sally. "Ef you take it so hard, I'll go back, an' I'll go willin'. Jus' say the word, Pop, an' I'll go!"
The old mountaineer's one hand closed on the girl's bony arm in a tight clasp, his shoulders heaved, and his massive features worked, but his gaze never left the calm, pitying face of the Saviour overhead. He had followed his child without a tremor into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but at the entrance of this new life, where he must let her go alone, his courage failed and his spirit faltered. His dominant will, hitherto the only law he knew, was in mortal combat with a new and unknown force that for the first time had entered his life.
For several minutes he stood thus, his conflicting passions swaying him, as opposing gales shake a giant forest tree. Then he resolutely loosened his grip on the girl's arm and taking up his burden, without a word or a backward glance, set his face toward the hills, leaving an awkward, wistful girl watching him with her tears only half obscuring the vision that was already dawning for her.
Gordon Lee Surrender Jones lay upon what he confidently claimed to be his death-bed. Now and again he glanced furtively at the cabin door and listened. Being assured that nobody was coming, he cautiously extricated a large black foot from the bedclothes, and, holding it near the candle, laboriously tied a red string about one of his toes. He was a powerful negro, with a close-cropped bullet-head, a massive bulldog jaw, and a pair of incongruously gentle and credulous eyes.
According to his own diagnosis, he was suffering from "asmy, bronketers, pneumony, grip, diabeters, and old age." The last affliction was hardly possible, as Gordon Lee was probably born during the last days of the Civil War, though he might have been eighty, for all he knew to the contrary. In addition to his acknowledged ailments, there was one he cherished in secret. It was by far the most mysterious and deadly of the lot, a malady to be pondered on in the dark watches of the night, to be treated with weird rites and ceremonies, and to be cured only by some specialist versed in the deepest lore of witchcraft; for Gordon Lee knew beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt that a hoodoo had been laid upon him.
Of course, like most of his race, he had had experiences in this line before; but this was different. In fact, it was no less a calamity than a cricket in his leg. Just how the cricket got into his leg was a matter too deep for human speculation; but the fact that it was there, and that it hopped with ease from knee to ankle, and made excruciating excursions into his five toes, was as patent as the toes themselves.
What complicated the situation for Gordon Lee was that he could not discuss this painful topic with his wife. Amanda Jones had embarked on the higher education, and had long ago thrown overboard her old superstitions. She was not only Queen Mother of the Sisters of the Order of the Star, and an officer in various church societies, but she was also a cook in the house of Mrs. James Bertram, President of the State Federation of Women's Clubs. The crumbs of wisdom that fell from the lips of the great Mrs. Bertram were carefully preserved by Amanda, and warmed over, with sundry garnishings of her own, for the various colored clubs to which she belonged.
Gordon Lee had succeeded in adorning only three toes when he heard a quick step on the gravel outside and, hastily getting his foot under cover, he settled back on the pillow, closed his eyes, and began laboriously inhaling with a wheeze and exhaling with a groan.
The candle sputtered as the door was flung open, and a small, energetic mulatto woman, twenty years Gordon Lee's junior, bustled into the room.
"Good lan'! but it's hot in heah!" she exclaimed, flinging up a window. "I got a good mind to nail this heah window down f'om the top."
"I done open' de door fer a spell dis mawnin'," said Gordon Lee, sullenly, pulling the bedclothes tighter about his neck. "Lettin' in all dis heah night air meks my eyes sore."
The bedclothes, having thus been drawn up from the bottom of the bed, left the patient's feet exposed, and Amanda immediately spied the string-encircled toes.
"Gordon Lee Surrender Jones," she exclaimed indignantly, "has that there meddlin' ol' Aunt Kizzy been here again?"
Gordon Lee's eyes blinked, and his thick, sullen under lip dropped half an inch lower.
"Ef you think," continued Amanda, furiously, "that I'm a-goin' to keep on a-workin' my fingers to the bone, lak I been doin' for the past year, a-payin' doctors' bills, an' buyin' medicines fer you, while you lay up in this here bed listenin' to the fool talk of a passel of igneramuses, you's certainly mistaken. Hit's bad enough to have you steddyin' up new ailments ever' day, without folks a-puttin' 'em in yer head. Whut them strings tied on yer toes fer?"
Gordon Lee's wheezing had ceased under his severe mental strain, and now he lay blinking at the ceiling, utterly unable to give a satisfactory answer.
"Aunt Kizzy jes happen' 'long," he muttered presently. "Ain't no harm in a' ol' frien' passin' de time ob day."
"Whut them strings tied on yer toes fer?" repeated Amanda with fearful insistence.
Gordon Lee, pushed to the extreme, and knowing by experience that he was as powerless in the hands of his diminutive wife as an elephant in those of his keeper, weakly capitulated.
"Aunt Kizzy 'low'—I ain't sayin' she's right; I's jes tellin' you what she 'low'—Aunt Kizzy 'low' dat, 'cordin' to de symtems, she say',—an' I ain't sayin' I b'lieve her,—but she say' hit looks to her lak I's sufferin' f'om a hoodoo."
"A hoodoo!" Amanda's scorn was unbounded. "Ef it don't beat my time how some of you niggers hang on to them ol' notions. 'Tain't nothin' 't all but ignorant superstition. Ain't I tol' you that a hunderd times?"
"Yes, you done tol' me," said Gordon Lee, putting up a feeble defense. "You all time quoilin' an' runnin' down conjurin' an' bad-luck signs an' all de nigger superstitions; but you's quick 'nough to tek up all dese heah white superstitions."
"How you mean?" demanded Amanda.
Gordon Lee, flattered at having any remark of his noticed, proceeded to elaborate.
"I mean all dis heah talk 'bout hits bein' bad luck to sleep wid de windows shet, an' bout flies carrying disease, an' 'bout worms gittin' in de milk ef you leave it settin' roun' unkivered."
"Not worms," corrected Amanda; "germs. That ain't no superstition; that's a scientific fac'. They is so little you don't see 'em; but they's there all right. Mis' Bertram says they's ever'where—in the water, in the air, crawlin' up the very walls."
Gordon Lee looked fearfully at the ceiling, as if he expected an immediate attack from that direction.
"I ain't sayin' dey ain't, Amanda. Come to think of hit, seems lak I 'member 'em scrunchin' 'g'inst my teeth when I eats. I ain't sayin' nothin' 't all 'bout white folks superstitions,—I 'spec' dey's true, ebery one ob 'em,—but hit look' lak you oughtn't to shet yer min' ag'inst de colored signs dat done come down f'om yer maw an' yer paw, an' yer gran'maw an' gran'paw fer back as Adam. I 'spec' Adam hisself was conjured. Lak as not de sarpint done tricked him into regalin' hisself wid dat apple. But I s'pose you'd lay hit on de germs whut was disportin' deyselves on de apple. But dey ain't no use in 'sputin' dat p'int, 'ca'se de fac' remains dat de apple's done et."
"I ain't astin' you to dispute nothin'," cried Amanda, by this time in a high state of indignation. "I'm a-talkin' scientific fac's, an' you're talkin' nigger foolishness. The ignorance jes nachully oozes outen the pores o' your skin."
Gordon Lee, thus arraigned, lay with contracted brows and protruding lips, nursing his wrongs, while Amanda disappeared into the adjoining room, there to vent her wrath on the pots and pans about the stove.
Despite the fact that it was after eight o'clock and she had been on her feet all day, she set about preparing the evening meal for her husband with all the care she had bestowed on the white folks' supper.
Soon the little cabin was filled with the savory odor of bacon, and when the corn battercakes began to sizzle promisingly, and she flipped them over dexterously with a fork, Gordon Lee forgot his ill humor, and through the door watched the performance with growing eagerness.
"Git yerself propped up," Amanda called when the cakes were encircled with crisp, brown edges. "I'll git the bread-board to put acrost yer knees. You be eatin' this soup while I dishes up the bacon an' onions. How'd you like to have a little jam along with yer apple-dumplin'?"
Gordon Lee, sitting up in bed with this liberal repast spread on the bread-board across his knees, and his large, bare feet, with their pink adornments, rising like ebony tombstones at the foot of the bed, forgot his grievance.
"Jam!" he repeated. "Well, dat dere Sally Ann Slocum's dumplin's may need jam, er Maria Johnsing's, but dis heah dumplin' is complete in hitself. Ef dey ever was a pusson dat could assemble a' apple-dumplin' so's you swoller hit 'most afore hit gits to yer mouf, dat pusson is you."
Harmony being thus restored, and the patient having emptied all the dishes before him, Amanda proceeded to clear up. Her small, energetic figure moved briskly from one room to the other, and as she worked she sang in a low, chanting tone:
"You got a shoe, I got a shoe, All God's children got shoes. When I git to heaben, gwine try on my shoes, Gwine walk all over God's heaben, heaben, heaben. Ever'body's talkin' 'bout heaben ain't gwine to heaben— Heaben, heaben, gwine walk all over God's heaben."
But the truce, thus declared, was only temporary. During the long days that Amanda was away at her work, Gordon Lee had nothing to do but lie on his back and think of his ailments. For twenty years he had worked in an iron foundry, where his muscles were as active as his brain was passive. Now that the case was reversed, the result was disastrous. From an attack of rheumatism a year ago he had developed an amazing number of complaints, all of which finally fell under the head of the dread hoodoo.
Aunt Kizzy, the object of Amanda's special scorn, he held in great reverence. She had been a familiar figure in his mother's chimney-corner when he was a boy, and to doubt her knowledge of charms and conjuring was to him nothing short of heresy. She knew the value of every herb and simple that grew in Hurricane Hollow. She was an adept in getting people into the world and getting them out of it. She was constantly consulted about weaning calves, and planting crops according to the stage of the moon. And for everything in the heavens above and the earth beneath and the waters under the earth she "had a sign."
Since Gordon Lee's illness, she had fallen into the habit of dropping in to sit with him at such hours as Amanda would not be there. She would crouch over the fire, elbows on knees and pipe in mouth, and regale him with hair-raising tales of "hants" and "sperrits" and the part she had played in exorcising them.
"Dis heah case ob yourn," she said one day, "ain't no ordinary case. I done worked on lizards in de laigs, but I nebber had no 'casion to treat a cricket in de laig. Looks lak de cricket is a more persistent animal dan de lizard. 'Sides, ez I signify afore, dis heah case ob yourn ain't no ordinary case."
"Why—why ain't it?" Gordon Lee stammered apprehensively.
Aunt Kizzy lifted a bony black hand, and shook her turbaned head ominously.
"Dey's two kinds ob hoodoos," she said, "de libin' an' de daid. De daid ones is de easiest to lift, 'ca'se dey answers to charms; but nobody can lift a libin' hoodoo 'ceptin' de one dat laid hit on. I been a-steddyin' an' a-steddyin', an' de signs claim dat dis heah hoodoo ob yourn ain't no daid hoodoo."
By this time the whites of Gordon Lee's eyes were largely in evidence, and he raised himself fearfully on his elbow.
"Aunt Kizzy," he whispered hoarsely, "how am I gwine to fin' out who 't is done conjured me?"
"By de sign ob seben," she answered mysteriously. "I's gwine home an' work hit out, den I come back an' tell yer. Ef my 'spicions am true, dat dis heah is a libin' hoodoo, de only power in de earth to tek it off am ter git er bigger trick an' lay on de top ob hit. I'm gwine home now, an' I'll be back inside de hour."