Page images

if she could see him now, standing there, wealthy, educated, well dressed, honored among men, and owner of the old plantation on which they had lived as servants!

Of the saturnine, long-haired father, and the five lank, slab-sided brothers, the problem of whose useless existence it had taken a civil war to solve, he thought little. He had not cared for them greatly, and it was no distress to him to know that they were dead. But his mother was different. She had been the one human creature he had loved unselfishly -besides little Mary Beverley. He was thinking of her, of his grief at her death, his indignation when within the year his father had brought home another in her place, his hatred of his stepmother, which had resulted in his running away from home to seek his fortune, and all the old-time matters, when he was aroused by hearing a voice outside. It was a clear, full voice, softly modulated, and its intonation was very pleasant: unmistakably the voice of a lady.

"Stay here, laddies," she was saying, “and play until I get through talking to the old people, and then we'll walk over to Judge Wilmer's for some apples. I can't let you come, indeed, Ran. The last time I took you to the cabin you upset Aunt Kitty's churn and wasted all the poor old woman's butter-milk on the floor. Yes, my child, I know it was an accident; but such accidents are always happening to you. You are a very unlucky and heedless little boy, and to take you visiting is simply to invite calamity. Stay here, and be good children. I won't be long."

Anthony drew near the window, and in a moment had the satisfaction of seeing a tall, graceful woman, with a little willow basket in her hand, pass, and enter the farthest of the group of cabins.

Meanwhile, the boys, two in number, and aged respectively five and seven years, had taken possession of the porch, and were climbing on the railings. They were large, straightlimbed children, and the smaller had a crop of chestnut curls that fell almost to his waist. As they jumped about, they laughed and chattered. The door was a trifle ajar, and Anthony could hear every word.

"Aunt Neelie didn't want mamma to put any coffee in her basket," remarked the smaller child: "she said mamma oughtn't

to give the servants things, 'cause maybe we'd want 'em ourselves. That's mean, ain't it, Hector? We've got a whole bucket of coffee in our store-room, and poor old Aunt Kitty hasn't any in her cupboard. She asked mamma to save her the grounds: I heard her, that day I knocked the churn over."

"Aunt Neelie's such a hunks! I hate her!" responded Hector. "She's always fussing about something. Other folks want coffee too, just as well as she does, I reckon. Mamma don't listen to her, one good thing, and gives the old folks things all the time. White people always give to black people: Aunt Neelie ought to know that. If they didn't, who would?"

But this was much too difficult a question for little Ran to settle he avoided it, therefore, and introduced another topic. "Hec, what is paupers?"

"Folks that haven't any money, nor any place to live, nor things to eat, nor clothes to wear," defined Hector, comprehensively.

"Then we ain't that. I thought we weren't, because we've got land, and a house, and lots of things. And you've got a calf, and I've got ten cents, and a gander, and a little pig, and a speckled pullet, and-" growing weary with the enumeration of his wealth, "and-oh, yes-a drake with a wen under his chin."

"Who said we were paupers ?" fired Hector. "It's a lie!" "So 'tis," acquiesced Ran, pleasantly, "if not having things is being paupers. But you must not say it's a lie, Hec, because 'twas Aunt Neelie that said it. She said it when mamma told her that the gentleman had come that bought the land, you know-grandpa's land, and father's. She cried when mamma told her, and said the Beverleys were paupers, and that mamma didn't care one bit, and was glad the land was gone, because she wasn't a Beverley."

"She is a Beverley," asserted Hector; "and I'm going to have the land back when I get to be a man. I'm going to work hard and make a lot of money, and ask the gentleman to let me have it back; and I know he will, because he won't love it like we do. He's just a stranger, you know, Ran: so he won't care for it, and will like the money better."

"That will be jolly," said Ran. "I'll help."

The listener inside smiled to himself. Prosperity had de

parted from the old family, and they felt the change: he had thought they would, when he saw the land advertised. He had not bought it himself to gloat over their downfall and his own uprising. He scarcely knew yet why he had bought it. Perhaps, he was a little influenced by the feeling that the land had better be in his hands than in those of strangers; perhaps, it was only a passing whim; but, anyhow, he had bought it, and, while he knew perfectly well that it was a poor investment for his money, he was not sorry that he had done so. These boys were Hector Beverley's sons, of course: indeed, their names, Hector and Randolph, made that fact patent. He wondered if there were any more children. "Aunt Neelie” must be his former object of detestation-Miss Cornelia: he recognized her at once.

The little boys were sitting on the steps. Hector had a straight pine tobacco-stick in his hands, and was splitting it with his knife into long slender splinters to make a bird-trap. Ran was watching him with interest. Anthony, looking out at them, remembered many a time when he had sat there splitting tobacco-sticks for the same purpose.

Hector took up the discourse. "Ran!" he said, and paused to wrestle with a knot.


"Mamma says we must not talk about Aunt Neelie. I asked her what made Aunt Neelie so nasty, one day, and she said when I got old, and had lots of trouble, and a pain in my back 'most all the time, I wouldn't like folks to call me nasty. And I reckon I wouldn't, neither. She tells us bully stories sometimes, too, and then I almost like her. Maybe when she gets to heaven, where her back can't ache, and the coffee won't ever be burnt, and the rolls won't ever be sour, she'll be real pleasant."

Ran pushed back his hat with his hand until the brim. rested on the mass of curls on his shoulders, and regarded his brother steadfastly, an expression of dismay on his face that was comical. Evidently the future held possibilities for which he was unprepared.

"Is Aunt Neelie going to heaven?" he demanded, abruptly. "Of course she is," responded Hector. "There ain't any other place for her to go. She's old, and she's a woman. You

couldn't say a woman was going to hell, could you? I'd like to know what sort of manners you'd call that. Of course, she's going to heaven."

With which triumphant settlement of the difficulties of the future state on the plain principles of life laid down for him here below by his very old-fashioned mother, Hector returned to his whittling.

Ran pondered. "Hec," he said, "I reckon she will go in a good way ahead of us, and she's sure not to like it down by the gate, because she'll think somebody else has got a better place. I tell you what we'll do: we'll squat down right by the middle walk, behind the box-bushes, and wait till we hear some of the angels talking about her and saying where she's gone, and then we'll clip the other way and hunt for father."

"That ain't a good way," objected Hector: "you're sure to meet her walking round, anyhow: so there isn't any use of dodging. You can't stay in one place fifty hundred millions of years without seeing all the people."

"Can't I?"-despondently; then, with more hopefulness, "I can everlasting toddle, Hec, and Aunt Neelie walks so slow. When I see her coming towards me, you just watch out sharp, and you will see one little angel hustle."


From 'Mammy Mystic.' Copyright, 1905, The Merriam Company, and used here by permission of the publishers.

WHEN the scheme was unfolded to the little negress she abhorred it. There were snakes in the swamp, she declared vigorously, and alligators, and "har'nts." Mammy Mystic would find out about it and whip her. She was "afeard" all around, and more than willing to wait for a natural unfolding of the mystery. But Eugénie was not. No appointed time of disclosure awaited in her future and her curiosity burned like a live coal. Wait she would not. She domineered over Chance and hectored until she finally carried her point. Chance could not "cross her heart" to the fact of the swamp being infested by ghosts (the only manifestation of evil feared by the white child) and could only bring forward conjecture, founded on

the hypothesis that if the bayous were haunted (and everybody knew they were) the swamp must be also. This Eugénie refused to admit. Many people had been drowned in the bayous and that, of course, made a difference.

Fortune favored the small conspirators above their deserts. The very next afternoon, about sundown, word was brought from the village that old Toinette Wild, a notorious politician and ringleader among the blacks, lay in extremis, and that none of the negroes about were willing to shroud her when the spirit should pass. She had been accounted a "cunjer-queen" of exceptional potency, and to her race had been an object of terror for years. Whether the superstitious blacks expected the devil to come for his own in person is an open question, but as the end approached excitement and terror among them rose to such a pitch that a deputation had been sent for Mammy Mystic, who was supposed to possess courage and occultism sufficient to cope with the devil on his own ground. Mystic obeyed the summons for reasons of her own, not unconnected with a desire to pose startlingly before her people and enjoy to the full mysterious supremacy.

At Eugénie's solicitation Chance was accorded permission to spend the night on the nursery floor. Nothing could possibly be better, and the spirits of the children rose to high-water mark. They giggled and romped until tea-time, and during that meal Eugénie could scarcely conduct herself with decorum. It seemed to her that bed-time would never come, or the house quiet down for the night. There was no difficulty about keeping awake. Chance spread her blankets close beside Eugénie's little bed, and the pair whispered and thrilled as the moments dragged themselves along. When the clock struck eleven Eugénie cast aside her bed-clothes and leaped to the floor.

"I can't wait another single minute," she declared excitedly. "Auntie's been upstairs hours, and everybody's bound to be dead asleep by now. Help me button my shoes, Chancie, and find a dark frock. We've got to be dark all over, and steal just as easy."

In ten minutes the dressing was complete and the pair sallied forth into the night. The moon was full and flooded the earth with radiance so that they were not at all afraid. The trees on the lawn stood out sharply and the shrubberies seemed.

« PreviousContinue »