OPIE READ'S SELECT WORKS Old Ebenezer The Jucklins My Young Master A Kentucky Colonel On the Suwanee River A Tennessee Judge Works of Strange Power and Fascination Uniformly bound in extra cloth, gold tops, ornamental covers, uncut edges, six volumes in a box, $6.00 Sold separately, $1.00 each.
OPIE READ'S SELECT WORKS
THE JUCKLINS A NOVEL
Author of "Old Ebenezer," "My Young Master," "On the Suwanee River," "A Kentucky Colonel," "A Tennessee Judge," "The Colossus," "Emmett Bonlore," "Len Gansett," "The Tear in The Cup, and Other Stories," "The Wives of The Prophet."
CHICAGO LAIRD & LEE, PUBLISHERS
Entered according to Act of Congress in the year eighteen hundred and ninety-six, by
WILLIAM H. LEE,
In the office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.
(ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)
The neighbors and our family began to laugh at me about as far back as I can remember, and I think that the first serious remark my father ever addressed to me was, "Bill, you are too lazy to amount to anything in this life, so I reckon we'll have to make a school teacher of you." I don't know why he should have called me lazy; I suppose it must have been on account of my awkwardness. Lazy, why, I could sit all day and fish in one place and not get a bite, while my more industrious companions would, out of sheer exhaustion of patience, be compelled to move about; and I hold that patience is the very perfection of industry.
In the belief that I could never amount to anything I gradually approached my awkward manhood. I grew fast, and I admit that I was always tired; and who is more weary than a sprout of a boy? My brothers were active of body and quick of judgment, and I know that Ed, my oldest brother, won the admiration of the neighborhood when he swapped horses with a stranger and cheated him unmercifully. How my father did laugh, and mother laughed, too, but she told Ed that he must never do such a thing again. With what envy did I look upon this applause. I knew that Ed's brain was no better than mine; and as I lay in bed one night I formed a strong resolve and fondly hugged it unto myself. I owned a horse, a good one; and I would swap him off for two horses—I would cheat some one and thereby win the respect of my fellows. My secret was sweet and I said nothing. By good chance a band of gypsies came our way; I would swindle the rascals. I went to their camp, leading my horse, and after much haggling, I came home with two horses. It was night when I reached home, and I put my team into the stable, and barred up my secret until the sun of a new day could fall upon it. Well, the next morning one of the horses was dead, and the other one was so stiff that we had to shove him out of the stall. My father snorted, my poor mother wept, and for nights afterward I slipped out and slept in the barn, burrowed under the hay that I might not hear the derisive titter of my brother Ed.
We lived in northern Alabama, in a part of the country that boasted of the refinement and intelligence of its society. When I was alone with boys much younger than myself I could say smart things, and I had a hope that when I should go into formal "company" I would, with one evening's achievement, place myself high above the numbskulls who had giggled at me. The time came. There was to be a "party" at the house of a neighbor, and I was invited. I had a suit of new clothes, and after dressing myself with exceeding care, I set out, strong of heart, for the field of victory. But I weakened when I saw the array of blooded horses hitched without, and heard the gay laughter within, a merriment rippling and merciless; and I stood on the porch, sick with the sense of my awkwardness. I was too big, and I knew that I was straining my clothes. Through the window I could see a trim fellow laughing with a girl, and I said to myself, "If I can catch you out somewhere I will maul you." I was not acquainted with him, but I hated him, for I knew that he was my enemy. To an overgrown young fellow, ashamed of his uncouth, steer-like strength, all graceful youths are hateful; and he feels, too, that a handsome girl is his foe, for girls with pretty mouths are nearly always laughing, and why should they laugh if they are not laughing at him? Long I stood there, stretching the seams of my clothes, angry, wishing that the house might catch fire. I heard footsteps, and looking about, recognized a member of the household, an old and neglected girl. I was not afraid of her, and I bowed. And I felt a sudden looseness, a giving away of a part of my gear. She called me Mr. Hawes, the very first time that any one had called me anything but Bill; she opened the door and bade me go in. I had to duck my head as I stepped forward, and there I was inside the room with the light pouring over me. I took one step forward, and stumbled over something, and then a tittering fool named Bentley, exclaimed: "Hello, here comes little Willie." I don't know how I got out. I heard a roar of laughter, I saw grinning faces jumbled together, and then I was outside, standing with my hot hand resting in the frost on the top rail of a fence. Some one was urging me to come back—the neglected girl—but I stood there silent, with my hot hand melting the frost. I went out into the moon-lighted woods, seized a sapling and almost wrenched it from the ground. Down the road I went toward home, but I turned aside and sat on a log. I felt a sense of pain and I opened my hands—I had been cutting my palms with my nails. But in this senseless fury I had made up my mind. I would waylay Bentley and beat him. Hour after hour I sat there. Horses began to canter by; up and down the road there was laughter and merry chatting. The moon was full, and I could plainly see the passers-by. Suddenly I sprang from the log and seized a bridle rein. A girl shrieked and a man cut my hand with a whip, and I jerked the horse to his knees. Bentley shouted that he would kill me if I did not let go, but I heeded not; I jerked him off his horse, kicked his pistol across the road, mashed his mouth, slammed him against the ground. The shrieking girl cried out that I was a brute, and I told her that I could whip her whole family, a charming bit of repartee, I thought, but afterward I remembered that her family consisted of herself and an aged grandmother, and I sent her an abject apology. Bentley's horse cantered away, and I left the fellow lying in the road, with the girl standing over him, shrieking for help. It was all done in a minute, and with jolting tread I stalked away before any one came up. Of course there was a great scandal. My poor mother was grieved and humiliated, ashamed to meet any of the neighbors; and my father swore that instead of becoming a school teacher I ought to turn out as a highwayman. My brothers thought to have some fun with me, but I frightened them with a roar, and for a time they were afraid to smile in my presence. I was almost heartbroken over my disgrace. Without undue praise I can say that I was generous and kindhearted; even as a child I had shown almost a censurable unselfishness; I had given away my playthings, and my sensibilities were so tender that I could not bear the sight of a suffering animal, and I remember that an old man laughed at me because I could not cut the throat of a sheep when the poor thing had been hung up by the heels. And now I was put down as a heartless brute. Bentley's face constantly haunted me. I was afraid that he might die, and once when I heard that he was not likely to get well, I was resolved to go to him, to beg his pardon. Two weeks had passed; it was night and rain was pouring down, but I cared naught for the wetting. I found Bentley sitting up with his face bandaged. His mother frowned at me when she opened the door and saw me standing there under the drip, and it was some time before she asked me to come in, and I have thought that she would have driven me off had not the sight of me, wet and debased, aroused her pity. Bentley held out his hand when I entered the room, and he said, "I don't blame you, Bill. It was mean of me, but I wanted to be smart." I was so full, so choked with emotion, that it was some time before I could say a word. But after a time I spoke of the rain, and told him that I thought that I had heard a wildcat as I came along, which was a lie, for I had heard nothing save the wind and the rain falling on the dead leaves. He laughed and said that he did not suppose that I would have been very much frightened had the cat jumped at me. Then I told him that I was the biggest coward on earth, and sought to prove it by offering to let him kick me as long as he might find it amusing. I told him that everybody despised me for the way I had beaten him, everybody, including my own family, and that I deserved the censure of all good people. We talked a long time, and he laughed a great deal, but when I told him that I was coming over to work for him three weeks, his eyes grew brighter with tears. This filled me up again and I could do nothing but blubber. After a long time I asked him if he would do me a favor, and he said that he would. Then I took out a watch that I had brought in a buckskin bag, and I said, "Here is a thing that used to belong to my grandfather, and it was given me by mother when I was ten years old. It is a fine time-piece and is solid. Now, I want you to take it as a present from me. You said you would do me a favor." But he declared that he could not take it. "Why, I would despise myself if I did," said he. I told him that I would despise myself if he did not. His mother, who had left us alone, came in, smiling, and said that I must not think of parting with so valuable a watch, the mark of my grandfather's gentility, but I put the watch on the table and plunged out into the rain and was gone. Bentley's mother returned the watch the next day, and then there went about the neighborhood a report that I was so much afraid of Bentley's revenge that I had tried to buy him off with a watch. Bentley had said that I should not work for him, but when the time for breaking up the land came, I went over and began to plow the field. His mother came out and compelled me to quit, but I went back at night and plowed while other people slept; and thus I worked until much of his corn-land was broken up. The neighbors said that I had gone insane, and a few days afterward, when I met a woman in the road, she jerked her old mare in an effort to get away, and piteously begged me not to hurt her. I made no further attempt to get into "company," and thus, forced back upon myself, I began to form the habits of a student; and to aid me in my determination to study law, I decided to teach school. So, when I was almost grown—or, rather, about twenty-three years old, for I appeared to keep on growing—I went over into another neighborhood and took up a school. And they called me "Lazy Bill." I couldn't understand why, for I am sure that I attended to my duties, that I played town ball with the boys, that I even cut wood all day one Saturday; but confound them, they called me lazy. I spoke to one of the trustees; I called his attention to the fact that I worked hard, and he replied that the hardest working man he had ever seen was a lazy fellow who worked merely as a "blind." To sleep after the sun rises is a great crime in the country, and sometimes I sat up so late with my books that I had to be called twice for breakfast. And no amount of work could have offset this ignominy. I taught school during three years, and found at the end of that time that I was no nearer a lawyer's office. Once I called on an old judge, the leading lawyer in a neighboring village, and told him that if he would take me I would work for my clothes, and the humorous old rascal, surveying me, replied: "I have not contemplated the starting of a woolen mill. Why don't you go to work?" he asked. I told him that I was at work, that I taught school, but that I wanted to be a lawyer. He laughed and said that teaching school was not work—declared it to be the refuge of the lazy and the shiftless. I then ventured to remark that the South would continue to be backward as long as the educator was put down as a piece of worthless rubbish. I went away, and a few days later one of the trustees called on me and said that I had declared their children to be ignorant rubbish, and that therefore they wanted my services no longer. I returned home. My brothers were gone, and my parents were in feeble health. My father died within a year, and soon my mother followed him. The farm was poor and was mortgaged, and empty-handed I turned away. I heard that a school teacher was wanted up in North Carolina, near the Tennessee line, and I decided to apply for the place. I walked to the railway station, twenty miles distant. I have said that I went away empty-handed. I did not; I carried a trunk, light with clothes and heavy with books. I had put my trunk on the railway platform and was striding up and down when I saw two men, well-dressed, rich-looking, standing near. This amounted to nothing, and I would not mention it but for the fact that it was at this moment that I received my first encouragement. One of the men, speaking to his companion, remarked: "Devilish fine-looking fellow. I'd give a great deal to be in his shoes, to have his strength and his youth." I turned away, eager to hear more, yet afraid lest the other man might say something to spoil it all. But he did not. "Yes," he replied, "but he doesn't know how fortunate he is. Gad, he looks like an imported bull."
The train came and I was whirred away, over streams, below great hanging rocks; but I thought not of the grandeur of the rocks nor of the beauty of the streams, for through my mind was running the delicious music of the first compliment that had ever been paid me. And I realized that I had outgrown the age of my awkwardness, that strength was of itself a grace to be admired, that I should feel thankful rather than remember with bitterness the days of my humiliation. I observed a woman looking at me, and there was interest in her eyes, and I knew that she did not take kindly to me simply because she was an old and neglected girl, for she was handsome. Beside her sat a man, and I could see that he was eager to win her smile. He hated me, I could see that, but he couldn't laugh at me. I noticed that my hands and feet were not over large, and this was a sort of surprise, for I recalled hearing a boy say that my foot was the biggest thing he ever saw without a liver in it. I reached back and wiped out the past; I looked out at a radiant cloud hanging low in the west, and called it the future. Fool? Oh, of course. I had been a fool when a boy, and was a fool now, but how much wiser it was to be a happy fool.
I was to leave the train at Nagle station, and then to go some distance into the country, which direction I knew not. I made so bold as to ask the handsome lady if she knew anything of the country about Nagle, and she smiled sweetly, and said that she did not, that she was a stranger going South. I had surmised as much, and I spoke to her merely to see what effect it would have on the man who sat beside her. Was my new-found pride making me malicious? I thought it was, and I censured myself. The lady showed a disposition to continue the talk, but the man drove me into silence by remarking: "I suppose there is something novel about one's first ride on the cars." How I did want to reach out and take hold of his ear, but I thought of Bentley and subsided. When I arose to get off at my station, I thought that the lady, as I passed her, made a motion as if she would like to give me her hand. This might simply have been the prompting of my long famished but now over-fed conceit, my bloating egotism, but I gave the woman a grateful thought as I stood on the platform gazing at the train as it faded away in the dusk that appeared to come down the road to meet it.
I had expected to alight at a town, but the station was a lonely place, a wagon-maker's shop, the company's building and a few shanties. I asked the station master if he knew where the school teacher was wanted, and he answered that from the people thereabouts one must be needed in every household.
"And I should think," I replied, giving him what I conceived to be a look of severe rebuke, "that a teacher of common decency and politeness is most needed of all."
"I reckon you are right," he rejoined. "Is he the man you are looking for?"
"I don't want to get into trouble here," said I, "but I insist upon fair treatment and I'm going to have it."
"All right, sir. Now, what is it you want to know?"
"Why, I was told that there was an opening for a school teacher in this neighborhood."
"And so there is, but don't you know that no neighborhood could be proud of such a fact? Therefore, you ought to be more careful as to how you make your inquiries."
I saw that he wanted to joke with me and I joked with him. And I soon found that this was the right course, for he invited me into his office and insisted upon my sharing his luncheon, cold bread and meat and a tin bucket of boiling coffee. I soon learned that he was newly graduated from a school of telegraphy, and that this was his first position. He had come from a city and he gave me the impression that he was buried alive; he said that he had entered an oath in his book that if some one didn't get off at his station pretty soon he would set the whole thing on fire and turn train robber. "Don't you think that would be a pretty good idea?" he asked, laughing.
"It would be a pretty dangerous one, at least," I answered.
"Yes, but without danger there is never any fun. My old man insisted upon my taking that night-school course; and the professor of the institution held out the idea that I could be a great man within a short time after graduating; led me to believe I could get charge of a big office in town, but here I am stuck up here in these hills. No rags about here at all."
"Rags, calico, women—catch on?"
"You mean no society, to speak of."
"That's it. Oh, away off in the country it's all right, but I can never go more than three miles from this miserable place. You'll have to go about fifteen miles."
"How do you know?"
"Why, an old fellow from a neighborhood about that far away came out here the other day and sent off a dispatch, telling some man off, I don't remember where, to send a teacher out there."
"And one might have come by this time," I suggested, with a sense of fear.
"No, you are the only one that has put in an appearance, and the only one that is likely to come. I understand that they don't treat teachers very well out there."
"The boys have a habit of ducking them in the creek, I hear."
"Oh, is that all? Be fun for me."
"You won't think so after you see those roosters. Let me see. Take the Purdy road out there, and go straight ahead to the east, and when you think you have gone about fifteen miles, ask for the house of Lim Jucklin. The last teacher, I understand, boarded at his house."
"You appear to know a good deal about it."
"Well, the truth of it is, I do, for the last teacher came and went this way. And he told me like this: 'The thing opened up all right, plenty of rags, but that evening some of the young fellows came to me and said that unless I brought some sort of treat the next morning they would put me in the creek; said that they hated to do it, but that time-honored customs must be observed. I didn't bring any treat and I went into the creek. Then I left.' Yes, that's what he said, and I concluded that as for me I would rather be here. It isn't so lively, but it is a good deal dryer. But you can't get there to-night. Better take a shake-down here with me till morning, and then you may catch some farmer going that way with a wagon."
I thanked him for this courtesy, and readily accepted it. And the next morning, with my trunk on my shoulder, I set out upon what I conceived to be my career in life.
The month was April, and the day was blithe, with no blotch in the sky. The country was rough, the road was pebbly in the bottoms and flinty on the hills, but there was a leaping joy everywhere; in the woods where the blue-jays were shouting, down the branch where the woodpecker tapped in an oak tree's sounding board. It must have been a low-hanging ambition to be thrilled with the prospect of teaching school, or was it buoyant health that made me happy? I eased down my trunk, and boyishly threw stones away off into an echoing hollow. A rabbit ran out into the road and stopped, and with a stone I knocked it over. Tenderly I picked it up, felt its fluttering heart, and groaned inwardly when the little heart was stilled. I called myself a murderer, an Anglo-Saxon brute, to kill a harmless creature merely upon a devilish impulse, and in the gravelly ground I began to dig a grave with my knife, and I was so much taken up with this work and with my grief, that I heeded not the approach of a wagon.
"What are you doing there?" some one called.
I looked up. A farmer had stopped his blowing horses and was looking at me. "I'm digging a grave," I answered.
"Diggin' a grave? Why, who's dead?"
"A rabbit." He moved uneasily, and gave me a searching look. And I saw that he took me to be insane. "I killed the poor thing," I explained, "killed it out of mere wantonness, and I am so grief-stricken that I am going to do the best I can for the poor thing—going to give it a Christian burial."
The man laughed. "I wish you would kill the last one of them," he said. "Set out as nice a young orchard as you ever saw last winter, and the devilish rabbits killed every one of the trees."
"Then I am not so much of a murderer after all," I replied. "I might have known that rabbits are not altogether harmless. How far do you go on this road?"
"About ten miles."
"Will you let me ride with you?"
"Yes, be glad to have you."
I put the rabbit into his grave, raked the dirt on him with my foot—hardly a Christian-like way, I admit—placed my trunk into the body of the wagon, and took a seat beside the man. And there was something about him that at once interested me. His hat was off and the breeze was stirring his grizzly hair. His nose was large and thin, and when he turned his face square upon me, I saw that his eyes were gray and clear. He wore no coat, his shirt sleeves were rolled back, and though he must have been more than fifty years old, I could see that he had enormous strength in his arms. And he was looking at me admiringly, for he said, "You must be pretty much of a man."
"I am not a child except in my lack of wisdom," I answered.
"Gad, you talk like a preacher. Which way are you going?"
"Over to Lim Jucklin's house."
He gave me another square look and remarked, "That's my name."
"You don't tell me so?"
"Didn't you hear me tell you so?"
"Well, then, I did tell you so."
"I am delighted to meet you, sir. I am a school teacher, and I hear that one is wanted in your neighborhood."
He looked at me from head to foot, and replied: "I shouldn't wonder but you are the right man. What's your name?"
I told him and after a few moments of silence he asked, "Any kin to the Luke Hawes that fought in the Creek war?"
"He was my grandfather."
"Ah, hah, and my daddy fit with him—was a lieutenant in his company. Let's shake hands. Whoa, boys." He stopped his horses, got up, shook down the wrinkled legs of his trousers and reached forth his hand.
"You are a stranger in North Caroliny," he said when he had clucked to his horses.
"Yes, I am a stranger everywhere you might put it," I answered. "I am from Alabama, but the people made so much fun of me in the community where I was brought up that I am even a stranger there."
"What did they make fun of you about?"
"Because I was overgrown and awkward."
"Whoa, boys! Let's shake hands again. I got it the same way when I was a boy, and I come in one of never gettin' over it."
We drove on and had gone some distance when he asked: "Do you know all about 'rithmetic?"
"I at least know the multiplication table."
"It's more than I do. Get up there, boys. And down in my country they think that a man that don't know all about 'rithmetic is a fool. I have often told them that there wan't no record of the fact that the Saviour was good at figgers, except figgers of speech, but they won't have it that a man is smart unless he can go up to a barn and cover one side of it with eights and sevens and nines and all that sort of thing. I've got a daughter that's quicker than a flash—took it from her mother, I reckon—and I have a son that's tolerable, but I have always been left in the lurch right there. But I can read all right, and I know the Book about as well as the most of them, but that makes no difference down in our neighborhood. The pace down there is set by Old General Lundsford. He knows all about figgers and everything else, for that matter, but figgers is his strong holt. He owns nearly everything; is a mighty 'ristocrat and don't bend very often; lives in the house that his grandfather built, great big brick, and never had no respect for me at all until I wallowed him in the road one day about thirty odd years ago. And along about ten years after that he found out that he had a good deal of respect for me. What do you know about game chickens?"
"Not very much; I simply know that they are about the bravest things that live."
He gave me another one of his square looks and replied: "There is more wisdom in such talk as that than there could be crowded into a wheat bin. But, do you know that people make fun of me because I admire a game rooster? They do. I don't want to fight 'em for money, you know; I'm a good church member and all that sort of thing; I believe the Book from one end to the other; believe that the whale swallowed Jonah, I don't care if its throat ain't bigger than a hoe-handle; believe that the vine growed up in one night, and withered at mornin'; believe that old Samson killed all them fellers with the jaw-bone—believe everything as I tell you from start to finish, but I'll be blamed if I can keep from fightin' chickens to save my life. And I always keep two beauties, I tell you. Not long ago my wife ups and kills Sam and fed him to a preacher. Preacher was there, hungry, and the other chickens were parading around summers on the other side of the hill, but my wife she ups and kills Sam, a black beauty, with a pedigree as long as a plow-line. And, sir, while that man was chawin' of my chicken he gave me a lecture on fightin' roosters."
"You spoke of your son and daughter. Do they attend school?"
"Oh, no; they are grown long ago."
"Then how is it that the teacher usually boards at your house?"
"I don't know; but they do. Reckon they jest fell into the habit. My house is handy, for one thing; ain't more than three miles from the school—jest a nice, exercisin' sort of walk. Whoa, boys! Sorter have to scotch 'em back goin' down here. Saw a man get killed down there one day; horse kicked him, and do you see that knob over there where them hickory trees are? I had a hard time there one night. A lot of foot-burners come to my house one night durin' the war and took me out and told me that if I didn't give them my money they would roast my shanks. I didn't have any money and I told them so, but they didn't believe me; and so they brought me right over there where them hickories are, tied me, took off my shoes and built up a fire at my feet; but about the time they had got me well blistered, along come some Yankee soldiers and nabbed 'em. And a few minutes after that there wasn't anything agin their feet, I tell you, not even the ground. Well, we are gettin' pretty close to home now."
"But we haven't come fifteen miles from the station, have we?"
"Well, you had come about five mile before I overtook you and we have come nearly ten since then. These hosses are travelers. Oh, I reckon we've got about three more miles to go yet."
The country was old, with here and there a worn-out and neglected field. A creek wound its way among the hills, deep and dark in places, but babbling out into a broad and shiny ford where we crossed. One moment the scene was desolate, with gullied hill-sides, but further on and off to the right I could see poetic strips of meadow land, and further yet, upon a hill-top, stood a grim old house of brick and stone. We turned off to the right before coming abreast of this place, and pursued a winding course along a deep-shaded ravine, not rough with broken ground, but graceful with grassy slopes and with here and there a rock. My companion pointed out his house, what is known as a double log building, with a broad passage way between the two sections. A path, so hard and smooth that it shone in the sun, ran down obliquely into the ravine, and at the end of it I saw a large iron kettle overturned, and I knew that this marked the spring. I liked the place, the forest back of it, the steep hills far away, the fields lying near and the meadow down the ravine. I hate a new house, a new field, a wood that looks new; to me there must be the impress of fond association, and here I found it, the spring-house with moss on its roof, the path, a great oak upon which death had placed its beautiful mark—a bough of misletoe.
"You hop right out and go in and make yourself at home, while I take care of the horses," said the old man. "Go right on," he added, for he saw that I was hesitating. "You don't need an introduction. Jest say that you are Whut'sname and that you are the new school teacher."
"But I don't know yet that I am to be the teacher."
"Well, then, tell 'em that you are Whut'sname and that you don't know whether you are to be the teacher or not."
"But won't you stop long enough to introduce me?"
"Oh, I reckon I mout. Come on. There is wife in the door, now."
He did not go as far as the door; he simply shouted: "Here's a man, Susan. He can tell you his name, for blamed if I ain't dun forgot."
Into this household I was received with open-handed graciousness. Nothing can be more charming than the unconscious generosity of simple folk. To this family I applied the word simple and cut myself with a cool smile at my own vanity. Was I not a countryman and as rustic-minded as they? But I had come from another community, had crossed a state line and the lines of several counties, and besides I took to myself the credit of having read many a cunning book, and therefore these people were surely more simple than I. Traveling unquestionably gathers knowledge, but the man who reads has ever a feeling that he is the proper critic of the man who has simply observed.
Mrs. Jucklin gave me a strong grasp of welcome, apologized for the lack of order that I must surely find in the house and conducted me to the sitting-room, a large apartment, with a home-woven carpet on the floor. A turkey wing, used for a fan, hung beside the enormous fire-place, and on the broad mantelpiece, trimmed with paper cut in scollops, an old Yankee clock was ticking. The woman shook a cat out of a hickory rocking chair and urged me to sit down. She knew that I must be tired after my long ride, and she said that if I would only excuse her for a moment she would go down to the spring-house and get me a glass of milk, to give me strength wherewith to wait until she could stir about and get something to eat. And above all, I must pardon Limuel's abruptness of manner. But really he meant nothing by it, as I would find out when I should become better acquainted with him. She was a little, black-eyed woman, doubtless a descendant of a Dutch family that had come to the colony at an early date, for she reminded me of my mother, and I know that mother's grandfather was a Dutchman. I begged Mrs. Jucklin not to go after the milk, but she ran away almost with the lightness of a girl. In truth, to think of the milk made me shudder; I couldn't bear the thought of it. During the hard times at the close of the war, when I was a child, we had to drink rye coffee, and I remember that once the cows got into the rye field and gave rye milk. The coffee and the milk together had made me sick, and ever since then I had looked upon milk with a reminiscent horror. But there she came with it.
"My dear madam," I pleaded, "I would much rather not drink it."
"Oh, but you must, for I know you are tired out."
"But I don't drink milk."
"And it is because you can't find any like this. Just taste it, then."
The old man came stalking into the room and I gave him an appealing look. "I gad, Susan," said he, "let him alone. Don't you reckon he's got sense enough to know what he wants? Take the stuff away."
With a sigh of disappointment she placed the tumbler upon the mantelpiece. "Where's Alf?" the old man asked.
"Gone over to the General's to help about something."
"She's about somewhere. That's her in the passage, I think. Guinea?" There was no reply, save of hastening footsteps, and a moment later a young woman entered the room. She was not very tall, but she was graceful, and her dark eyes were dashed with mischief. She reminded me of the woman whom I had seen on the train; her smile was the same, but her eyes were brighter. She had a peculiar laugh, a musical cluck, and at first sight I was glad that I had met her, but a moment later I was afraid that she was going to laugh at me. The old man did not introduce me; his wife did not know my name, and I sought to speak my name, but had lost it just at that moment and could merely splutter something. I was not much embarrassed, though; I recalled what I had heard the two men say, and behind me was the strong brace of a woman's kindly regard.
"We are glad to see you," said the girl, looking straight at me. I replied that I was glad to see her, and then we both laughed; she with her musical cluck and I with a goat-like rasp, it seemed to me. We all drew up about the fire-place, a habit in the country, and it was then that I thought of the open-handed graciousness of the household. Had I correctly caught this girl's name, Guinea? And with a countryman's frankness I asked if that were her name.
"Well, no," said Mrs. Jucklin, speaking for her, "it ain't her sure enough name, but it's all that she goes by. And it came about in this way: A long time ago, when she was a little bit of a girl, she was toddlin' about the yard with a checked dress on, and one of the neighbors lookin' at her said that she looked exactly like a little guinea chicken, and ever since then we have called her Guinea. Her right name is Angeline."
"Her right name is what?" the old man asked, looking up.
"Angeline," I said.
"Well, it's the first time I ever heard of it."
"Now, Limuel, why do you want to act that way? A body would think that you don't know anything about your own family."
"Never heard of it before," said the old man.
"You are surely the most provokin' man I ever saw, Limuel. You know the very day we named the child, and now you pretend——"
"Pretend? I don't pretend nothin'. Can't blame a man for never hearin' of the name, can you?"
"Mister," she said, turning to me, "please don't pay any attention to him. He'd pester me nearly to death if I'd let him. But come, Guinea, we must stir about and get something to eat."
The mother and the daughter went out into a kitchen detached from the main part of the house, and the old man looked at me and laughed. And after a moment of chuckling he said: "I reckon that I've got two of the finest in the world."
"Children?" I asked.
"No, game roosters. One's named Sam and the other's named Bob."
"I thought you said that Sam had been eaten by the preacher."
"Oh, that Sam was, but I've got another one. I always have a Sam and a Bob. When a Sam dies I get another Sam, and likewise with a Bob. But you know what's a fact? I never allow 'em to fight to a finish. If I did the sport would be gone. You must never let one rooster know that the other one can whip him, for if you do there won't be any fight after that—you must always keep each one believin' that he is the best man. I reckon I've had more than a hundred, but I never let 'em fight to a finish. My folks here don't care nothin' about fun—they even frown on it, Alf with the rest, and I hold that he ought to know better, bein' a man, but so it is. I've got a chicken house back here, with a high picket fence around it, and I keep it locked, I tell you. Have to, or the preachers would eat up my sport, and this ain't findin' no fault with their doctrine, for I believe the Book from kiver to kiver. After we get a snack we'll slip off and have a set-to. What do you say?"
I hardly knew what to say. I was afraid to decline, lest I might lose his good opinion, and I was loth to accept the invitation, fearing that I might lower myself in the estimation of the women; but while I was casting about the old man relieved me by saying: "However, we've got plenty of time before us. It's always well to hold a good thing in reserve, you know. After dinner we'll go over and see Old Perdue and find out if you can arrange with him about the school. He's got the whole thing in charge. General Lundsford has charge of nearly everything else, but he don't take much stock in free schools. He argues that nothin' that's free is any good, and in the main he's about right; but we've had some pretty good schools here, the only trouble bein' to keep the teachers out of the creek. What education my son Alf has he picked up about home, here, but Guinea was sent off to school, way over at Raleigh."
"I am glad to see that you thought so much of the importance of training her mind," I remarked.
He gave me a troubled look, moved uneasily, as I had seen him move when I told him that I was burying a rabbit, ran his fingers through his upright, bristling hair and for a long time was silent. And as I looked at him I fancied that he was trying to think of something to say, something to lead my mind away from what he had already said. I had seen the quaint, half-comical side of his nature, and now I saw that he could be thoughtful, and in his serious mood his face was strong and rugged. His beard, cropped close, reminded me of scraps of wire, some of them rusted; and when he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand I wondered that he did not scratch the skin off.
Guinea came to the door and told us that the meal was ready. The old man got up, with a return of his comical air, and told me to follow him. The girl continued to stand near the threshold and as I drew near unto her she said: "This door wasn't cut quite high enough for you, was it? Look, father, he has to duck his head. The boys may have a time putting him into the creek." She was now talking to her father, but was looking at me, so I took it upon myself to answer her. "Yes, for you have called attention to the fact that my legs are long and the rascals may have hard running with trying to catch me."
"Oh," she replied, "but I was thinking of your strength rather than your swiftness. Come this way. Father has run off and left you."
The old man had stepped down out of the passage and had gone some distance toward a small house surrounded by a picket fence.
"You go with her," he called, looking back, "and I'll be there pretty soon."
"No telling when he will come now," the girl remarked, walking close beside me. "He's got two of the most spiteful chickens out there you ever saw, and whenever anything goes wrong with him he bolts right out there, no matter who is here, and makes those vicious things peck at each other. Mother and I try hard to reform him, but we can't."
It was Mrs. Jucklin's time-grayed privilege to apologize for the scantiness of her fare, and this she did with becoming modesty and regret. She had not expected company; the regular dinner hour was over long ago, and somehow she never could understand why she couldn't get a meal out of the regular time. But if I would only give her a chance she would reclaim herself. She called my attention to the corn bread; declared that it was not fit to be eaten, and she didn't know what made the stove act that way. But the milk she knew was good. Oh, she had forgotten that I didn't drink milk. Guinea smiled at me and clucked at her mother. "Don't pretend that you like anything just to please her," she said, when Mrs. Jucklin had turned about to keep a hoe-cake from burning. "All you've got to do is to say nothing until she gets through—that, and simply to remember that she enjoys it."
While we were eating we heard a voice crying: "Hike, there, Sam; get him down, Bob! Hike there!"
"They are warming up to their work," Guinea remarked, and her mother sighed; and then she began to talk louder than was her wont, striving to drown the old man's voice. "It isn't any use, mother," said the girl. "The gentleman will find it out sooner or later."
"And I suppose," said I, "that you think that you may find out my name sooner or later. Please pardon me for not introducing myself. My name is——"
"Hike, there, Bob! Get him down, Sam! Now you are at it! Hike, there!"
"My name is Hawes, William Hawes, and I am from Alabama."
"And you have come to teach the school?" said the girl.
"Yes, if I can make the arrangements."
"But is there anything very satisfying in such an occupation?" she asked.
I felt then that she placed no very high estimate upon my worth, and on her part this was but natural, for among country people school-teaching is looked upon as a lazy calling.
"I have not chosen teaching as my real vocation," I answered.
"Hike, there, I tell you! Hike!"
"It is my aim to be a lawyer, to be eloquent, to stir emotions, to be strong in the presence of men. My earlier advantages, no matter how I sought to turn them about, gave me no promise of reaching the bar; I had good primary training, but in reality I had to educate myself, and in the work of a teacher I saw a hope to lead me onward."
"Came within one of letting them fight to a finish," said the old man, stepping into the room.
"Limuel, why will you always humiliate me?" his wife asked, placing a chair for him.
"Humiliate you! Bless your life, I wouldn't humiliate you. The only trouble is that you are tryin' to make me fit a garment you've got, ruther than to make the garment fit me. I ain't doin' no harm, Susan, and it's my way, and you can't very well knock the spots off'en a leopard nur skin an Etheopian. Here comes Alf."
The son was a young fellow of good size, shapely, and with his mother's black eyes. Guinea introduced me to him, and at once I felt that I should like to win his friendship. The old man explained my presence there. "And now," said he, "I want you to go over to old Perdue's with him after dinner and see if any arrangements can be made. He's goin' to board with us, and I want to tell you right now that he is from good stock; his grandaddy was the captain of the company that my daddy fit in durin' the Creek war, and from what I learn I don't reckon there was ever sich fightin' before nor since. What are they doin' over at the General's?"
"Nothing much," Alf answered. "They started to plow this morning, but it is still most too wet."
"Was Millie at home?" Guinea asked.
"I think so, but I suppose you know that Chid isn't."
"Never mind that," the old man spoke up. "Leave all cuttin' and slashin' to folks that ain't no kin to each other. You've been to dinner, have you, Alf? Well, hitch the mare to the buckboard and go with this gentleman over to old Perdue's."
At the end of the passage, facing the ravine, I stood and talked to Guinea, while Alf was hitching the mare to the buck-board. The sun was well over to the west, pouring upon us, and in the strong light I noted the clear, health-hue of her complexion. A guinea chicken, swift and graceful, ran round the corner of the house, and, nodding toward the fowl, I said: "I am talking to her namesake and she is jealous."
I thought that the shadow of a pout crossed her lips, but she smiled and replied: "If my real name were not so ugly I'd insist upon people calling me by it. I hate nicknames."
"But sometimes they are appropriate," I rejoined.
"But when they are," she said, laughing, "they never stick. It's the disagreeable nickname that remains with us."
"Is that the philosophy you learned at Raleigh?" I asked.
She shrugged her shapely shoulders, laughed low in her throat and answered: "I haven't learned philosophy at all. It doesn't take much of a stock of learning for a girl who lives away out here."
"But she might strive to learn in order to be fitted for a better life, believing that it will surely come."
"How encouraging you are, Mr. Hawes. After a while you may persuade me that I am really glad that you came."
"You have already made me glad," I replied.
"Have I? Then mind that I don't make you sorry. Alf's waiting for you."
As we drove toward Perdue's I wondered what could have caused old man Jucklin's change of manner at the time he had spoken of sending his daughter away to be educated. Surely, he could not deplore the grace and refinement which this schooling had given her. Would it be well to ask Alf? No; he could but regard such a question as a direct impertinence.
The mare trotted briskly and the rush of cool air was delicious. The road was crooked, holding in its elbows bits of scenery unsuspected until we were upon them, moss growing under great rocks, weeping in eternal shade, a bit of water blazing in the sun, a hickory bottom, where squirrels were barking; and from everywhere came the thrilling incense of spring.
Alf, though a farmer, had not the stoop of overwork, nor that sullenness that often comes from a life-long and close association with the soil; he was chatty, talked to his mare, talked to me and whistled to himself. He pointed out a cave wherein British soldiers had been forced to take refuge to save themselves from the pursuit of victorious patriots, but what they had supposed was a refuge was, indeed, a trap, for the patriots smoked them out and took them to General Green's camp. We drove upon a hill top, and, looking across a valley, I saw a large brick house on a hill not far beyond. And I recognized it as a place that I had seen earlier in the day. "It's where General Lundsford lives," said Alf, following my eyes with his own. "We go by there. He used to own a good many negroes and some of them still hang about him. Most of his land is poor, but enough of it is rich to make him well off. And proud! He's proud as a blooded horse. Most of the very few old-timers that are left in this part of the country. We are getting somewhat Yankeefied, especially away over to the east where so many northern people come of a winter. But he doesn't take much to it—still cuts his wheat with a cradle."
We drove down into the valley, crossed a rude stone bridge, and slowly went up the other side. The mare, brisk from having been pent up, showed a disposition to quicken her pace, but Alf held her back, searching with his strong eyes the yard, the summer house in the garden hard by and the orchard off to the left. I looked at him and his face was eager and hard set, but his eyes, though strained, were soft and glowing. I spoke to him, but he heeded me not, but just at that moment he drew himself straighter and gazed toward the house. And I saw a woman crossing the yard. The road ran close to the low, rough stone wall, and when we had come opposite the gate Alf stopped the mare and got out to buckle a strap. But I noticed that he was looking more at the house than at the strap. A broad porch, or gallery, as we term it, ran nearly half way round the house, and out upon this a girl stepped and stood looking over us at the hills far away. I saw Alf blush, and the next moment he had sprung upon the buck-board and was driving off almost furiously. I wondered why he should be afraid of her. He was not overgrown, not awkward, but lithe, and I knew that he loved her and that his own emotion had frightened him.
Perdue lived but a short distance beyond the General's place, and soon we were there, talking to the old fellow out at the fence. When I told him my business he looked sharply at me, appearing to measure me from head to foot; and he said I was, no doubt, the man he had been longing to see. "And now," said he, after we had talked for a time, "if you are willing to take this school and go ahead with it, all right. I am determined that the boys and girls of this community shall get an education even if they choke the creek with teachers. If I had full swing I'd raise a lot of men and go around and club the big boys. Oh, it hasn't been this way very long. We've had first-rate schools here, but those devilish Aimes boys are so full of the old Harry—but we'll fix 'em. The ground will be all right for plowin' to-morrow, and the big boys will have to work until the corn is laid by, but I reckon you'll get a pretty fair turn-out. There's enough money appropriated to have a rattlin' good school, and if you'll stick by me we'll have it."
I told him that I would stick by him. "All right," said he, "see that you do. Let me see. This is Friday. You hold yourself in readiness to begin Monday mornin', and to-morrow I will ride around the neighborhood and spread the news."
So that was settled. Briskly we drove away, and again upon nearing the house of the old General, Alf pulled the mare back into a walk. This time, though, he did not stop, but as we slowly passed he swept the house and the yard with his eager glance. The sun was down when we reached home. How long the day had been, what a stretch of time lay between the going down of the sun now and its rising, when I had shouldered my trunk at the railway station!
As I was getting down in front of the door I heard Mr. Jucklin calling me, and when I answered he came forward out of the passage and said that he wanted to see me a moment. He led the way and I followed him into the dark shadow of a tree. "I forgot to tell you not to say anything about that," said he.
"About what?" I asked.
"About wallowin' him—the old General. He requested me not to mention it, bein' so proud, and I told him that I wouldn't, and I don't know what made me speak of it to-day, but I did."
"Oh, I won't mention it," I spoke up rather sharply, for I was disappointed that he had not told me something of importance.
"All right. And I am much obleeged to you. He is one of the proudest men in the world and he don't want anybody to suspect that any feller ever wallowed him; but I want to tell you right now that I have wallowed a good many of 'em in my time. Are you goin' to teach the school?"
"Yes, the arrangements have been made, and I am to begin work Monday morning."
"Good enough. Well, we'll go on in now and eat a snack, for I reckon the women folks have got it about ready."
We went early to bed. The house was but a story and a half high, and I was to room with Alf, up close to the clap-board roof. I could not stand straight, except in the middle of the apartment, but I was comfortable, for I had a good bed, and there was plenty of air coming in through two large windows, one on each side of the chimney at the end, toward the south. While the dawn was drowsiest, just at the time when it seems that one moment of dreamy dozing is worth a whole night of soundest sleep, Alf got up to go afield to his plow, and as the joints of the stairway were creaking under him as he went down I turned over for another nap, thankful that after all the teaching of a school was not the hardest lot in life. And I was deliciously dreaming when Guinea called me to breakfast.
I spent the most of the day in my room, getting ready for my coming work. Against the chimney I built a shelf and put my books upon it; I turned a large box into a writing table, and of a barrel I fashioned an easy-chair. My surroundings were rude, but I was pleased with them; indeed, I had never found myself so pleasantly placed. And when Alf came up at night he looked about him and with a smile remarked: "You must own that lamp that we read about. Wish you would rub it again and get my corn out of the grass." He looked tired and I wondered why he did not go to bed, but he strode up and down the room, smoking his pipe. He was silent and thoughtful, refilling his pipe as soon as the tobacco was burned out; but sometimes he would talk, though what he said I felt was aimless.
"I've some heavier tobacco than that," I said.
"This will do, though it is pretty light. Raised on an old hill."
He sat down and continued to pull at his pipe, though the fire was out. He leaned with his elbow on the table; he moved as if his position were uncomfortable; he got up, went to the window, looked out, came back, resumed his seat and after looking at the floor for a few moments said that he thought that it must be going to rain.
"Perhaps so," I replied, "but that's not what you wanted to say."
He gave me a sharp glance, looked down and then asked: "How do you know?"
"I know because I can see and because I'm not a fool."
"Anybody ever call you a fool?" he asked, with a sad laugh. He leaned far back and looked up at the clapboards.
"That has nothing to do with it, Alf. Pardon me. Mr. Jucklin, I should have said. The truth is, it seems that I have known you a long time."
"And when you feel that way about a man," he quickly spoke up, "you make no mistake in accepting him as a friend. Call me Alf. What's your first name?" I told him, and he added: "And I'll call you Bill. No; the truth is I didn't care to say that I thought it was going to rain; I don't give a snap for rain, except the rain that is pouring on my heart. You remember that girl that came out upon the gallery. I know you do, for no man could forget her. You know that Guinea asked me if Millie was at home. Well, that was Millie Lundsford, the old General's daughter. We have lived close together all our lives, but I have never known her very well, and even now I wouldn't go there on a dead-set visit. She and Guinea went off to school together and are good friends. Guinea tries to plague me about her at times, not knowing that I really love her. I couldn't go off to school, didn't care any too much for education, but since that girl came home and I got better acquainted with her I have felt that I would give half my life to know books, so that I could talk to her; and since then I have been studying, with Guinea to help me. And you don't know how glad I was when I heard that you had come here to teach school, for I want to study under you. But secretly," he added. "I can't go to the school-house; I don't want her to know that I am so ignorant."
I reached over and took hold of his hand. "Alf, to teach you shall be one of my duties. But don't put yourself down as ignorant, for you are not."
He grasped my hand, and, looking straight into my eyes, said: "I wish I knew as much and was as good-looking as you. Then I wouldn't be afraid to go to her and ask her to let me win her love, if I could. To-morrow you go over to the General's, pretending that you want to get his advice about the school, and I will go with you. Hang it, Bill, you may be in love one of these days."
"Why, Alf, I don't see why either of us should be afraid to go to the General's house. Go? Of course, we will. But you make me laugh when you say that if you were only as good-looking as I am. Let me tell you something." I briefly told him the uneventful story of my life, that ridicule had found me while yet I was a toddler and had held me up as its target. "You might have grown too fast," he remarked when I had concluded, "but you have caught up with yourself. To tell you the truth, you would be picked out from among a thousand men. Where did you get all those books? I don't see how you brought them with you in that trunk, and with your other things."
"The other things didn't take up much room," I answered, and, turning to the books, I began to tell him something about them, but I soon saw that his mind was far away. "Yes, we will go over there to-morrow," said I, and his mind flew back.
"And walk right in as if we owned half the earth," said he, but I knew that he felt not this lordly courage, knew that already he was quaking. "Oh, I'll go right in with you," he said. "You lead the way and I'll be with you."
When I had gone to bed a remark that he had made was sweeping like a wind through my mind: "Hang it, Bill, you may be in love one of these days." I was already in love—in love with Guinea.
Alf was still asleep when I arose from my bed the next morning. I stood at the head of the stairs and looked back at his handsome, though sun-browned face, and I felt a strange and strong sympathy for him, but I had not begun to agonize in my love; it was so new that I was dazzled. When I went down stairs Guinea was feeding the chickens from the kitchen window, and the old man was walking about the yard, with his slouch hat pulled down to shut out the slanting glare of the sun. But he saw me and, calling me, said that he would now show me his beauties. And just then I heard Guinea's voice: "If he starts to make them fight you come right away and leave him, Mr. Hawes," she said. "We don't allow him to fight them on Sunday."
"Miss Smartjacket," the old man spoke up, "I hadn't said a word about makin' 'em fight. Hawes, these women folks don't want a man to have no fun at all. As long as a man is at work it's all right with the women; they can stand to see him delve till he drops, but the minit he wants to have a little fun, why, they begin to mowl about it. Of course, I'm not goin' to let 'em fight on Sunday. But a preacher would eat one of 'em on Sunday. All days belong to 'em. It's die dog or eat the hatchet when they come round. And yet, as I tell you, I believe in the Book from kiver to kiver. Step out here, Hawes."
I thought that I received from Guinea a smile of assent, and I followed him. The enclosure wherein he kept his chickens was almost as strong as a "stockade." The old man unfastened a padlock and bade me enter. I stepped inside, and when the master had followed me he was greeted with many a cluck and scratching, the welcome of two game cocks in a wire coop, divided into two apartments by a solid board partition. "I jest wanted you to look at 'em and size 'em merely for your own satisfaction," said the old man, fondly looking upon his shimmering pets. "This red one over here is Sam, and that dominecker rascal is Bob. Ah, Lord, you don't know what comfort there is in a chicken, and how a preacher can eat a game rooster is beyond my understandin'. But I'm with him, you understand, from kiver to kiver. Keep quiet there, boys; no fight to-day. Must have some respect, you know."
He took a grain of corn from his pocket, placed it between his teeth, and with a grin on his face got down on his knees and held his mouth near the bars of Sam's cage. The rooster plucked out the grain of corn, and Bob, watching the performance, began to prance about in jealous rage. "Never you mind, Bob," said the old man, getting up and dusting his knees. "I know your tricks. Held one out to you that way not long ago, and I wish I may never stir agin if you didn't take a crack at my eye, and if I hadn't ducked I'd be one-eyed right now. But they are callin' us to breakfust. Bound to interfere with a man one way or another."
It was with great care that Alf prepared himself to go with me to the General's house. Out under a tree in the yard he placed a mirror on a chair and there he sat and shaved himself. Then he went upstairs to put on a suit of clothes which never had been worn, and anon I heard him calling his mother to help him find buttons and neckwear that had been misplaced. And he shouted to me not to be impatient, that he was doing the best he could. Impatient! I was sitting in the passage, leaning back against the wall, and near the steps Guinea stood, looking far out over the ravine. She had donned a garb of bright calico, with long, green-stemmed flowers stamped upon it, and I thought that of all the dresses I had ever beheld this was the most beautiful and becoming. She hummed a tune and looking about pretended to be surprised to see me sitting there, and for aught I know the astonishment might have been real, for I had made no noise in placing my chair against the wall.
"I ought not to be humming a dance tune on Sunday," she said, stepping back and standing against the opposite wall, with her hands behind her.
"I don't see how the day can make music harmful," I replied.
"The day can't make music harmful," she rejoined. "But I can't sing. Sometimes when I can't express what I am thinking about I hum it. How long are you and Alf going to be away?"
"As long as it suits him," I answered. "I have decided to have no voice as to the length of our stay."
"Then you are simply going to accommodate him. How kind of you. And have you always so much consideration for others? If you have you may find your patience strained if you stay here."
"To stand any strain that may be placed upon our patience is a virtue," I remarked—sententious pedagogue—and she lifted her hands, clasped them behind her head, looked at me and laughed, a music sweet and low. Just then Alf came out upon the passage, looking down at himself, first one side and then the other; and it was with a feeling of close kinship to envy that I regarded his new clothes. He apologized for having kept me waiting so long, but in truth I could have told him that I should have liked to wait there for hours, looking at the graceful figure of that girl, standing with her hands clasped behind her brown head.
The distance was not great and we had decided to walk, and across a meadow, purpling with coming bloom, we took a nearer way. I said to Alf that one might think that he was a stranger at the General's house, and he replied: "In one way I am. I have been there many a time, it is true, but always to help do something."
"Is the family so exclusive, then?" I asked.
"Oh, they are as friendly as any people you ever saw, but, of course, I naturally place them high above me. The old General doesn't appear to know that I have grown to be a man; always talks to me as if I were a boy—wants to know what father's doing and all that sort of thing. He doesn't give a snap what father's doing."
"And the girl. How does she talk to you?" It was several moments before he answered me.
"I was just trying to think," he said. "To tell you the truth, I don't know how she talks to me. I can't recall anything she has ever said to me. She calls me Alf and I call her Miss Millie, and we laugh at some fool thing and that's about all there is to it. But I know that the old man would never be willing for me to marry her. He is looking pretty high for her or he wouldn't have spent so much money on her education."
"But, of course, the girl will have something to say," I suggested.
"I don't know as to that," he replied; "but, of course, I hope so. You can't tell about girls—at least, I can't. The old General married rather late in life and has but two children. His wife died several years ago. Chydister, the boy, or, rather, the man—for he's about my age—is off at a medical college. He doesn't strike me as being so alfired smart, but they say that he's got learning away up in G. The old man says that he is going to make him the best doctor in the whole country, if colleges can do it, and I reckon they can. He and I have always got along pretty well; he used to stay at our house a good deal."
We crossed the creek, by leaping from one stone to another, and pursued a course along a rotting rail fence, covered with vines. And from over in the low ground came the "sqush" of the cows as they strode through the rank and sappy clover. We crossed a hill whereon stood a deserted negro "quarter"—the moldering mark of a life that is now dreamy and afar off—and after crossing another valley slowly ascended the rounding bulge of ground, capped by the home of the General. Alf had begun to falter and hang back, and when I sought gently to encourage him he remarked: "But you must remember that this is the first time that I have ever been here with new clothes on, and I want to tell you that this makes a big difference."
"It has been some time since I went anywhere with new clothes on," I replied, which set him laughing; but his merriment was shut off when I opened the gate. Behind the house, where the ground sloped toward the orchard, there were a number of cabins, old, but not deserted, for negro children were playing about the doors and from somewhere within came the low drone of a half-religious, half-cornshucking melody. An old dog got up from under a tree, but, repenting of the exertion, lay down again; a turkey loudly gobbled, a peacock croaked, and a tall, bulky, old man came out upon the porch.
"Walk right in," he called, and shouting back into the hallway he commanded some one to bring out three chairs. And even before we had ascended the stone steps the command had been obeyed by a negro boy. "Glad to meet you, sir," he said when Alf had introduced me. "You have come to teach the school, I believe. Old man Perdue was over and told me about it. Sit down. What's your father doing, Alf?"
"Can't do anything to-day," Alf answered, glancing at me.
"I suppose not. All the folks well? Glad to hear it," he added before Alf could answer him. "It's been pretty wet, but it's drying up all right."
He wore a dressing gown, befigured with purple gourds, was bare-headed and I thought that he wore a wig, for his hair was thick and was curled under at the back of his neck. His face, closely shaved, was full and red; his lips were thick and his mouth was large. I could see that he was of immense importance, a dominant spirit of the Old South, and my reading told me that his leading ancestor had come to America as the master of a Virginia plantation.
"Henry!" the old General called. "Fetch me my pipe. Henry!"
"Comin'," a voice cried from within. His pipe was brought and when it had been lighted with a coal which Henry carried in the palm of his hand, rolling it about from side to side, the General puffed for a few moments and then, looking at me, asked if I found school-teaching to be a very profitable employment.
"The money part of it has been but of minor consideration," I answered. "My aim is to become a lawyer, and I am teaching school to help me toward that end."
He cleared his throat with a loud rasp. "I remember," said he, "that a man came here once from the North with pretty much the same idea. It was before the war. We got him up a school, and by the black ooze in the veins of old Satan, it wasn't long before he was trying to persuade the negroes to run away from us. I had a feather bed that wasn't in use at the time, and old Mills over here had a first-rate article of tar on hand, and when we got through with the gentleman he looked like an arctic explorer. Where are you from, sir?"
I told him, and then he asked: "The name is all right, and the location is good. My oldest brother knew a Captain Hawes in the Creek war."
"He was my grandfather," I replied. He looked at me, still pulling at his pipe, and said: "Then, sir, I am, indeed, glad to see you. Alf, what's your father doing?"
"Nothing, sir; it's Sunday," Alf answered, blushing. The old General looked at him, cleared his throat and said: "Yes, yes. Folks all well?"
I heard the door open and close and I saw Alf move, even as his father had moved when he came upon me in the road. I heard light foot-falls in the hall, and then out stepped a girl. She smiled and nodded at Alf and the General introduced me to her. Alf got up, almost tumbled out of his chair and asked her to sit down. "Oh, no, keep your seat," she said. "I'm not going to stay but a minute." She walked over to a post and, leaning against it, turned and looked back at us. She wore a flower in her hair, and in her hand she held a calacanthus bud. She was rather small, with a petulant sort of beauty, but I did not think that she could be compared with Guinea, for all of Alf's raving over her. Her cheeks were dimpled, and well she knew it, for she smiled whenever anything was said, and when no word had been spoken she smiled at the silence.
"Alf, what has become of Guinea?" she asked. "It seems an age since I saw her."
"She was over here last, I think," Alf answered.
"Ahem—m—" came from the General. "You'll be counting meals on each other, like the Yankees, after a while," he said. "Why don't you quit your foolishness; and if you want to see each other, go and see. I don't know what your feelings are in the matter, sir," he added, turning to me, "but I don't see much good in this so-called public school system. And of all worthless things under heaven it is a negro that has caught up a smattering of education. God knows he's trifling enough at best, but teach him to read and he's utterly worthless. I sent a negro to the postoffice some time ago, and he came along back with my newspaper spread out before him, reading it on the horse. And if it hadn't been for Millie I would have ripped the hide off him."
"He didn't know any better," the girl spoke up. "Poor thing, you scared him nearly to death."
"Yes, and I immediately gave him the best coat I had to square myself, not with him, but with myself," said the old man. "But I hold that if the negro, or anyone else, for that matter, is to be a servant, let him be a servant. I don't want a man to plow for me simply because he can read. Confound him, I don't care whether he can read or not. I want him to plow. When I choose my friends it is another matter. Your father go to church to-day, Alf?"
"I don't know, sir," Alf answered, moving about in his chair, and then in his embarrassment he got up and stammeringly begged the girl to sit down.
"Why, what's all this trouble and nonsense about," the General asked, looking first at the girl and then at Alf. "'Od zounds, there oughtn't to be any trouble about a chair. Fifty of them back in there."
Alf dropped back and the girl laughed with such genuine heartiness that I thought much better of her, but still I did not think that she was at all to be compared with Guinea. The General yelled for Henry to bring him another coal, and when his pipe had been relighted he turned to me and said: "You don't find the old North State as she once was, sir. Ah, Lord, the ruin that has gone on in this world since I can remember. And yet they say we are becoming more civilized. Zounds, sir, do you call it civilization to see hundreds of fields turned out to persimmon bushes and broom sedge? Look over there," he added, waving his hand. "I have seen the time when that was almost a garden. What do you want?" The last remark was addressed to the negro boy who had suddenly appeared. "Dinner? Yes, yes. Come, Mr. Hawes, and you, Alf. This way. Get out!" A dog had come between him and the door. "Devilish dogs are about to take the place, but they are no account, not one of them. Lie around here and let the rabbits eat up the pea vines. Even the dogs have degenerated along with everything else."
I walked with the General, and, looking back, I was pleased to see that Alf had summoned courage enough to follow along beside the girl. We were shown into a long dining-room, with a great height of ceiling. The house had been built in a proud old day, and all about me I noted a dim and faded elegance. The General bade us sit down, and I noticed that his tone was softened. He mumbled a blessing over a great hunk of mutton and, broadly smiling upon me, told me that he was glad to welcome me to his board. "The school-teacher," said he, "modifies and refines our native crudeness. Yes, sir, you have a great work, a work that you may be proud of. Had education more broadly prevailed, had the people North and South better understood one another, there would have been no bloody disruption. Now, gentlemen, I must request you to help yourselves, remembering that such as I have is freely yours. When age comes on apace there is nothing more inspiring than to see the young and the vigorous gathered about us. And it is thus that the evening of live is brightened. Henry, pass the bread to Mr. Jucklin, and the peas, the very first of this backward season, I assure you. Mr. Hawes, can you recall the face of your noble grandfather?"
"No, General; he died many years before I can remember."
"A pity, I assure you, for what is more spurring to our ambition than to recall the features of a noted relative. Some of this lettuce, Mr. Hawes? A sleepy, but withal a soothing, dish. My daughter, I must request you to help yourself. Charming weather we have, Mr. Hawes, with the essence of youth and hope in the air."
How completely had his manner changed. His eyes, which had seemed hard and cold when he had waved his hand and looked out over the yellow sedge grass, were beaming now with kindly light, and his voice, which I had thought was coarse and gruff, was vibrant with notes of stirring sympathy. Alf, heartened by the old gentleman's streaming courtesy, spoke a low word to the girl who sat beside him, and she nodded, smiling, but with one ear politely lent to the familiar talk of her father.
After dinner we were shown into the library, wherein were many law books, and the General, catching the longing glance that I shot at them, turned with bewitching patronage, bowed and said:
"You have expressed your determination to become acquainted with the law and to practice the wiles of its logic; and so, if you can make no better arrangements, I pray, sir, that you make this room your office."
Alf's eyes bulged out at this, doubtless looking upon me as the most fortunate man alive, and in my country bluntness I blurted: "You are the kindest man I ever saw."
In this room we talked for two hours or more, and the afternoon—or the evening, as we say in the South—was well pronounced when I declared that it was time for us to go. Alf looked up surprised, and in a voice sad with appeal, he asked if it were very late. I could have given him the exact time, but was afraid to take out my grandfather's watch—afraid that the General and his daughter might think that I was seeking to make a display, so I simply said: "Yes, time that we were going."
"Don't be in a hurry, gentlemen," the General protested; "don't let a trivial matter rob us of your society."
Alf pulled back, but I insisted, and so we took our leave. The old gentleman came out upon the porch with us. "Henry!" he yelled, turning about, "who the devil left that gate open? Go and shut it, you lazy scoundrel. Those infamous new-comers over on the creek take my place for a public highway. And I hope to be hung up by the heels if I don't fill the last one of them full of shot."
"I'll never forget you," Alf remarked as we walked along, down through the meadow. "You have stood by me, and you bet your life I don't forget such things. Of course, I have known the old man ever since I can remember, but he never treated me so well before. And when the time comes, if I can get him in that dining-room I don't believe he'll refuse me. It's a blamed big pity that I can't talk as you can, but you just stick to me and I will talk all right after a while."
"Oh, I'll stick to you," I replied, "but I didn't notice that I talked in a way to amount to anything. I felt as stupid as an ass looks. What did the girl say? You were talking to her very earnestly over by the window."
"To save my life, I can't recall anything she said, Bill, but I know that every word she spoke was dripped honey. I'd almost give my life to take her in my arms and hug her just once. Ever feel that way about a girl?"
I was beginning to feel just exactly that way, but I told him no, whereupon he said: "But you may one of these days, and whenever you do, you call on me to help you, and I'll do it, I don't care who the girl is or how high up she may stand. Many a night I have lain in bed and wished that Millie might be going along the road by herself and that about three men would come up and say something out of the way to her, just so I could spring out and wipe the face of the earth with them. I'm not as big as you are, but for her I'll bet I can whip any three men you ever saw. By the way, don't even speak Millie's name at home. The folks don't know that I'm in love with her. There's one thing that stands in my favor."
"What is it?" I asked. He looked up at me, but was silent, and becoming interested by his manner I was about to repeat the question, when he said: "I'm not at liberty to speak of it yet. You've noticed that Guinea has more education than I have. Well, her education has something to do with the point that's in my favor, but I've said too much already and we'd better drop the subject."
I was burning to know more, for I recalled the change of manner that had come over Mr. Jucklin at the time he spoke of having sent his daughter away to school, and I was turning this over and over in my mind, when Alf said: "A young fellow named Dan Stuart often goes to see Millie, and I don't know how much she thinks of him, but some of his people are high flyers, and that may have an influence in his favor. Doc Etheredge, out here, is his cousin, and old man Etheredge owned nearly a hundred and fifty negroes at one time. But when that girl stands up at the altar to marry some one else, they will find me there putting in my protest."
When we reached home I found Guinea sitting under a tree, reading, and I had joined her when the old man called me. Looking about I saw him standing at the end of the house, beckoning to me. "I want to see you a minute," he said, as I approached him. I wondered whether he was again going to show me his chickens, and it was a relief when he conducted me in an opposite direction. He looked back to see if we were far enough away, and then, coming closer to me, he said: "This is the way I came to do it."
"Do what?" I asked, not over pleased that he should have called upon me to leave the girl.
"Wallow him, the old General. He claimed that my hogs had been gettin' into his field, and I told him that I didn't feel disposed to keep my hogs up when everybody else's were runnin' at large, and then he called me a scoundrel and we clinched. I took him so quick that he wasn't prepared for me, and I give a sort of a hem stich and down he went, right in the middle of the road. And there I was right on top of him. He didn't say a word, while I was wallowin' him, but when I let him up, he looked all round and then said: 'Lim Jucklin, if I thought anybody was lookin' I'd kill you right here. You are the first man that ever wallowed a Lundsford and lived, and the novelty of the thing sorter appeals to me. You know that I'm not afraid of the devil, and keep your mouth shut about this affair, and we'll let it drap.' And he meant just what he said, and I did keep my mouth shut, not because I was afraid of his hurtin' me, but because I was sorry to humiliate him. Ever hear of John Mortimer Lacey? Well, shortly after that him and Lundsford fit a duel and Lacey went to New Orleans and died there. So, don't say anything about it."
"About what? Lacey's going to New Orleans and dying there?"
"No, cadfound it all, about my wallerin' the General."
"I won't," I answered, and then I thought to touch upon a question that had taken a fast hold upon me. "By the way, you spoke of having sent your daughter to school at Raleigh——"
"The devil I did! Well, what's that got to do with you or with anyone else, for that matter? I'll be—you must excuse me, sir," he quickly added, bowing. "I'm not right bright in my mind at times. Pecked right at my eye, and if I hadn't dodged I'd be one-eyed this minute—yes, I would, as sure as you are born. But here, let us drop that wallowin' business and that other affair with it, and not mention it again. Don't know why I done it in the first place, but I reckon it was because I'm not right bright in my mind at times. You'll excuse my snap and snarl, won't you? Go on back there, now, and talk about your books."
"I am the one to ask pardon, Mr. Jucklin. I ought to have had better sense than to touch upon something that didn't concern me. I guess there must be a good deal of the brute in me, and it seems to me that I spend nearly half my time regretting what I did the other half."
"Why, Lord love your soul, man, you haven't done nothin'. But you draw me close to you when you talk of regrettin' things. I have spent nearly all my life in putty much that fix. After you've lived in this neighborhood a while you'll hear that old Lim has been in many a fight, but you'll never hear that anybody has ever whupped him. You may hear, though, that he has rid twenty mile of a cold night to beg the pardon of a man that he had thrashed. We'll shake hands right here, and if you say the word we'll go right now and make them chickens fight. No, it's Sunday. Kiver to kiver, you understand. Go on back there, now."
With Guinea I sat and saw the sun go down behind a yellow gullied hill. From afar up and down the valley came the lonesome "pig-oo-ee!" of the farmers, calling their hogs for the evening's feed. We heard the flutter of the chickens, flying to roost, and the night hawk heard them, too, for his eager, hungry scream pierced the still air. On a smooth old rock at the verge of the ravine the girl's brother stood, arms folded, looking out over the darkening low land, and from within the house, where Mrs. Jucklin sat alone, there came a sad melody: "Come, thou fount of every blessing."
The girl's eyes were upward turned. "Every evening comes with a new mystery," she said. "We think we know what to expect, but when the evening comes it is different from what it was yesterday."
"And it is thus that we are enabled to live without growing tired of the world and of ourselves," I replied. "And I wish that I had come like the evening—with a mystery," I added.
I heard her musical cluck and even in the dusk I could see the light of her smile. "But why should you want to come with a mystery?" she asked.
"To inspire those about me with an interest regarding me. Even the stray dog is more interesting than the dog that is vouched for by the appearance of his master. I never saw a pack-peddler that I did not long to know something of his life, his emotions, the causes that sent him adrift, but I can't find this interest in a man whom I understand."
She laughed again. "But haven't you some little mystery connected with your life?" she asked.
"None. I have read myself into a position a few degrees above the clod-hopper, but that's all. If there were a war, I would be a soldier, but as there is no war, I am going to be a lawyer."
"It would be nice, I should think, to stand up and make speeches," she said. "But wouldn't you rather be a doctor?"
I don't know why I said it, but I replied that I hated doctors, and she did not laugh at this, but was silent. I waited for her to say something, but she uttered not a word. It was now dark, and I could just discern Alf's figure, standing on the rock. The song in the house was hushed.
"I don't really mean that I hate doctors," I said, seeking to right myself, if, indeed, I had made a mistake; and she simply replied: "Oh." "I mean that I should not like to practice medicine," I added, and again she said: "Oh." A lamp had been lighted in the sitting-room, and thither we went, to join Old Lim and his wife, who were warm in the discussion of a religious question. The Book said that whatever a man's hands found to do he must do, and, therefore, he held that it was right to do almost anything on Sunday.
"Even unto the fighting of chickens?" his wife asked.
"Oh, I knowed what you was a-gittin' at. Knowed it while you was a-beatin' the bush all round. When a woman begins to beat the bush, it's time to look out, Mr. Hawes. I came in here just now, and I knowed in a minute that wife, there, was goin' to accuse me of havin' a round with Sam and Bob, but I pledge you my word that I didn't. Just went in and exchanged a few words with 'em. Man's got a right to talk to his friends, I reckon; but if he ain't, w'y, it's time to shut up shop."
Alf came in and, with Guinea, sang an old song, and their father sat there with the tears shining in his eyes. He leaned over, and I heard him whisper to his wife: "Did have just a mild bit of a round, Susan, and I hope that you and the Lord will forgive me for it. If you do I know the Lord will. I'm an old liar, Susan."
"No, you are not, Lemuel," she answered, in a low voice. "You are the best man in the world, and everybody loves you."
I saw him squeeze her wrinkled hand.
I could not sleep, but in a strange disturbance tossed about. Alf was talking in a dream. I got up and sat for a time at the window, looking out toward the gullied hill that had turned out the light of the sun. On the morrow my work was to begin. And what was to be the result? Was it intended that I should reach the bar and win renown, or had I been listed for the life of a pedagogue? Was my love for the girl so new that it dazzled me? No, it was now a passion, wounded and sore. But why? By that little word, "Oh." I put on my clothes, tip-toed down stairs and walked about the yard. The moon was full, low above the scrub oaks. A streak of shimmering light ran down toward the spring, and over it I slowly strode. I heard the water gurgling from under the moss-covered spring-house, and I saw the leaf-shadow patch-work moving to and fro over the smooth slabs of stone. Long I stood there, looking at the pictures, listening to the music; and turning back toward the house, I had gone some distance when I chanced to look up, and then, thrilled, I slowly sank upon my knees. At one of the large windows, in the northeast end of the house, stood Guinea, in a loose, white robe, the light of the full moon falling upon her. Behind her head her hands were clasped, and she stood there like a marble cross. Her face was upward turned, and the low yellow moon was bronzing her brown hair—a glorified marble cross, with a crown of gold, I thought, as I bowed in my worship. My forehead touched the path, and when I lifted my head—the cross was gone.
We ate breakfast early the next morning, while the game cocks were yet crowing in their coop. When I went down I heard the jingling of trace chains, and I knew that the old man was making ready to plow the young corn. I had insisted upon walking to the school-house, telling Alf that all I wanted was to know the direction, but he declared that it was no more than just that I should be driven over the first morning of the session. So, together we went on the buck-board. Guinea had laughingly told me not to be afraid of the creek, that the large boys were at home, plowing, and as we were skirting the gullied hill I glanced back and saw her standing in the yard, looking after us. The road lay mostly through the woods, with many a turn and dip down among thick bushes to cross a crooked stream. Sometimes we came upon small clearings, where tired-looking men were grubbing new-land for tobacco, and I remember that a half-grown boy, with a sullen look, threw a chunk at us and viciously shouted that if we would stop a minute he would whip both of us. I imagined that he was kept from school by the imperious demand of the tobacco patch, and I sympathized with him in his wrath against mankind. A little further along we came within sight of an old log house, and then the laughter of children reached our ears. We had arrived at the place where my work was to begin. Alf put me down, and, saying that he must get back home, drove away; and a hush fell upon the children as I turned toward the house. Inside I found a cow-bell, and when I had rung the youngsters to their duties, I made them a short speech, telling them that I was sure we should become close friends. I had some difficulty in arranging them into classes, for it appeared that each child had brought an individual book. But I was glad to see that old McGuffy's readers prevailed, for in many parts of the South they had been supplanted by books of flimsy text, and now to see them cropping up gave me great pleasure. There they were, with the same old lessons that had fired me with ambition, the words of Shakspeare and the speeches of great Americans.
By evening my work was well laid out, and as I took my way homeward, with Guinea in my mind, there was a strong surge within my breast, the leaping of a determination to win her.
As I neared home, coming round by the spring, I saw the girl running down the path, the picture of a young deer, and how that picture did remain with me, and how on an occasion held by the future, it was to be vivified.
"Oh, you have got back safe and dry," she cried, halting upon seeing me. "Why, I thought you would come back dripping. No, I didn't," she quickly added. "Don't you know I told you that all the large boys were at work? Wait until I get the jar of butter and I'll go to the house with you."
"Let me get it for you," I replied, turning back with her.
"You can't get it," she said, laughing; "you'll fall into the spring. But, then, you might hold it as a remembrance to temper the severity of the ducking yet to come."
"Miss Guinea," I made bold to say, standing at the door of the spring-house, "do you know that you talk with exceeding readiness?"
"Oh, do you mean that I am always ready to talk? I didn't think that of you."
I reached out and took the jar from her. "You know I didn't mean that," I said; and, looking up, with her eyes full of mischief, she asked: "What did you mean, then?"
"I mean that you talk easily and brightly—like a book."
"You'd better let me have the jar," she said, holding out her hands. "I'm afraid that you'll fall and break it, after that. You know that a man is never so likely to slip as he is when he's trying to compliment a woman."
"No, I don't know that, but I do know that a Southern woman ought to know the difference between flattery and a real compliment."
"Why a Southern woman?" she asked. She looked to me as if she were really in earnest and I strove to answer her earnestly.
"Because Southern women are not given to flirting; because they place more reliance in what a man says, and——"
"I think you've got yourself tangled up," she said, laughing at me, and I could but acknowledge that I had; and then it was, in the sweetest of tones, that she said: "But if I had thought you really were tangled I would not have spoken of it. Now tell me what you were going to say, and I promise to listen like a mouse in a corner."
"No, I'm afraid to attempt it again." I was in advance of her, for the path was narrow and the dew was now gathering on the grass, but she shot past me, and, looking back, said beseechingly: "Won't you, please?" The sun was long since down and the twilight was darkening, but I could see the eagerness on her face. "Do, please, for I like to hear such things. I'm nothing but the simplest sort of a girl, as easy to amuse as a child, and you must remember that you are a great big man, from out in the world."
"Come on with that butter!" the old man shouted, and with a laugh the girl ran away from me. I wondered whether she were playing with me, but I could not believe that she was. In those eyes there might be mischief, but there could not be deceit.
Bed time came immediately after supper. The old man did not go out to look after his chickens, so tired was he, and there was no song in the sitting-room. I sat in the passage, where the moonlight fell, and hoped that the girl might join me, but she did not, and I went to my room, where I found Alf, half undressed, sitting on the edge of the bed. I had sat down and had filled my pipe before he took notice of me, but when I began to search about for a light he looked up and remarked: "Matches on the corner of your library."