The rooms at the back had never seemed
so quiet before as when, at the close of the day,
he went into them. They seemed all the quieter
by contrast with the excitement of the past hours.
In the kitchen Mornin was giving the final touches
to the supper, and in the room which was at once sitting-room
and bedroom, the wooden cradle had fitted itself in
a corner near the fireplace and wore an air of permanent
establishment remarkable to contemplate when one considered
how unlooked-for an incident it was.
On the threshold of this apartment
Tom paused a moment. Such silence reigned that
he could hear the soft, faint breathing of the child
as it lay asleep. He stopped a second or so to
listen to it. Then he stooped down, and began
to loosen his shoes gently. As he was doing it,
Mornin caught sight of him in passing the open door.
“Mars Tom,” she said, “what’s
ye a-gwine fer to do?”
“I’m going to take them
off,” he answered, seriously. “They’ll
make too much noise.”
The good soul in the kitchen chuckled.
“Now,” she said, “now,
Mars Tom, dar ye go right now a-settin’
out to ruinate a good chile, ‘stead o’
ustin’ it ter things - a-settin’
out ter ruinate it. Don’t never tip aroun’
fer no chile. Don’t ye never do
it, ‘n’ ye won’t never haf ter.
Tippin’ roun’ jest spiles ’em.
Tell ye, Mornin never tipped roun’ when she
had em’ ter raise. Mornin started out right
from de fust.”
Tom looked at the cradle.
“She’ll rest easier,”
he said. “And so shall I. I must get a pair
of slippers.” And he slipped out of his
shoes and stood ready to spend the evening in his
stocking-feet. A solitary tallow candle stood
upon the table, shedding its yellow light upon all
surrounding objects to the best of its ability, and,
seeing that its flickering brightness fell upon the
small sleeper’s face, he placed it at the farther
end of the high mantel.
“She’ll be more comfortable,”
he said. And then sat down feeling at ease with
Mornin went back to her supper shaking her head.
“By de time she’s a year
old, dar won’t be no managin’ her,”
she said. “Da’s allus de
way wid de men folks, allus too hard or too
soft; better leav’ her to Mornin ‘n’
ust’n her to things right at de start.”
There seemed little chance that she
would be so “ustened.” Having finished
his supper, Tom carried his pipe and newspaper into
“I’ll sit here awhile,”
he said. “The smoke might be too much for
her, and the paper rustles so. We’d better
let her have her sleep out.”
But when the pipe was out and the
last page of the paper read, he went back to his own
room. The small ark stranded in his chimney corner
was attractive enough to draw him there. It was
a stronger attraction than it would have been to most
men. He had always been fond of children and
curious concerning them. There was not a child
in the surrounding region who had not some remembrance
of his rather too lavish good-nature. A visit
to the Cross-roads was often held out as a reward for
circumspect behaviour, and the being denied the treat
was considered punishment heavy enough for most juvenile
“Ef ye’d had young uns
of yer own, Tom, ye’d hev ruined them, shore,”
the secretly delighted matrons frequently remarked.
“You’d let ’em run right over ye.
I reckon ye keep that candy thar right a-purpose to
feed ’em on now, don’t yer?”
His numerous admirers, whose affection
for him was founded on their enjoyment of his ponderous
witticisms and the humour which was the little leavening
of their unexciting lives, had once or twice during
the past few days found themselves unprepared for,
and so somewhat bewildered by, the new mood which
had now and then revealed itself.
“It’s kinder outer Tom’s
way to take things like he takes this; it looks onnat’ral,”
If they had seen him as he drew up
to the cradle’s side, they would have discovered
that they were confronting a side of the man of which
they knew nothing. It was the man whose youth
had been sore-hearted and desolate, while he had been
too humble to realise that it was so, and with reason.
If he had known lonely hours in the past eight years,
only the four walls of the little back room had seen
them. He had always enacted his rôle well
outside; but it was only natural that the three silent
rooms must have seemed too empty now and again.
As he bent over the cradle, he remembered such times,
and somehow felt as if they were altogether things
of the past and not to trouble him again.
“She’ll be life in the
place,” he said. “When she sleeps
less and is old enough to make more noise, it will
be quite cheerful.”
He spoke with the self-congratulating
innocence of inexperience. A speculative smile
settled upon his countenance.
“When she begins to crawl around
and - and needs looking after, it will be
lively enough,” he reflected. “She’ll
keep us busy, I daresay.”
It was a circumstance perhaps worthy
of mention that he never spoke of the little creature
“She’ll need a good deal
of looking after,” he went on. “It
won’t do to let her tumble around and take care
of herself, as a boy might. We must be tender
He bent forward and drew the cover
cautiously over the red flannel sleeve.
“They think it a good joke,
those fellows,” he said; “but it isn’t
a joke with us, is it, young woman? We’ve
a pretty big job to engineer between us, but I daresay
we shall come out all right. We shall be good
friends in the end, and that’s a pretty nice
thing for a lonely fellow to look forward to.”
Then he arose stealthily and returned to the kitchen.
“I want you to tell me,”
he said to Mornin, “what she needs. I suppose
she needs something or other.”
“She needs mos’ ev’rything,
Mars Tom,” was the answer; “seems like
she hain’t bin pervided fer ’t all,
no more ’n ef she was a-gwine ter be a youn’
tukky dat de Lord hisself hed fitted out at de start.”
“Well,” said Tom, “I’ll
go to Barnesville to-morrow and talk to Judge Rutherford’s
wife about it. She’ll know what she ought
And, after a few moments given to
apparently agreeable reflection, he went back to the
room he had left.
He had barely seated himself, however,
when he was disturbed by a low-sounding tap on the
side door, which stood so far open as to allow of
any stray evening breeze entering without reaching
the corner of the chimney.
“Come in!” said Tom, not
in a friendly roar, as usual, but in a discreetly
The door was pushed gently open and
the visitor stood revealed, blinking with an impartial
air at the light within.
“Don’t push it wide open,”
said Tom; “come in if you are going to, and
leave it as it was.”
Mr. Stamps obeyed without making any
noise whatever. It was one of his amiable peculiarities
that he never made any noise, but appeared and disappeared
without giving any warning, making himself very agreeable
thereby at inopportune moments. He slipped in
without a sound, deftly left the door in its previous
position, and at once slipped into a chair, or rather
took possession of one, by balancing himself on the
extreme edge of it, arranging his legs on the lower
bar with some dexterity.
“Howdy?” he said, meekly, having accomplished
Tom’s manner was not cordial.
He stretched himself, put his hands in his pockets,
and made no response to the greeting which was, upon
the whole, a rather unnecessary one, as Mr. Stamps
had been hanging about the post-office through the
whole day, and had only wended his way homeward a
few hours before.
“Want anything?” he enquired.
Mr. Stamps turned his hat around in his hands hurriedly.
“No, I don’t want nothin’,
Tom,” he said. Then, after a pause, he added,
“I jest thought I’d step in.”
“Where are you going?” asked Tom.
The hat was turned round again.
“Whar wus I a-gwine?”
deprecatingly. “Whar? Oh! I - I
was a-gwine - I was a-gwine to Marthy’s,
“You’re pretty late,”
remarked Tom; “better lose no time; it’s
a pretty bad road between here and there.”
“So ’tis,” replied
Mr. Stamps, apparently struck with the originality
of the suggestion. “So ’tis!”
He appeared to reflect deeply for a few seconds, but
suddenly his eyes began to wander across the room and
rested finally upon the corner in which the cradle
stood. He jerked his head towards it.
“It’s thar, is it?” he enquired.
“Yes, she’s thar,” Tom answered,
rather crustily. “What of it?”
“Oh! nothin’, nothin’, Tom, only
it’s kinder curi’s - kinder curi’s.”
“Well,” said Tom, “I’ve
not begun to look at it in that light yet myself.”
“Hain’t ye, now?” softly. “Hain’t
Then a faint little chuckle broke
from him - not an intrusive chuckle, quite
the contrary; a deprecatory and inadvertent sort of
“That ain’t me,”
he ventured, inoffensively. “I’ve
been a-thinkin’ it was curi’s all along.”
“That ain’t going to hurt anybody,”
“Lord, no!” quite in a
hurry. “Lord, no! ’tain’t likely;
but it kinder int’rusted me - int’rusted
me, findin’ out what I did.”
And he ended with a gently suggestive cough.
Tom thrust his hands deeper into his
pockets and covered as large an area of floor with
his legs as was possible without upsetting Mr. Stamps’s
chair and at the same time that stealthy little man
“Oh! found out!” he replied, “Found
out h -
He checked himself with much suddenness,
glancing at the cradle as he did so.
“What did you find out?”
he demanded, unceremoniously, and with manifest contempt.
Mr. Stamps coughed again.
“’Twan’t much, mebbe,”
he replied, cautiously, “‘n’ then
again, mebbe ’twas. It was kinder int’rusting,
though. That - that thar was a good
prayer o’ his’n, warn’t it?”
“Yes,” admitted Tom, rather
blusteringly. “I daresay it was; I suppose
you are a better judge of prayers than I am.”
“I’m a purty good judge
on ’em,” modestly. “I’d
orter be, bein’ a class-leader ‘n’
uster kinder critykisin’. I don’t
never do it much in public myself, but I’ve
allus critikised them as did. Thet sounded
more professionaller then they air mostly - unless
comin’ frum them, as has bin raised to it.”
“Did it?” said Tom.
“Yes, it was more professionaller.”
Then he turned his hat again, setting
it more carefully on his knee. He also fixed
his eyes on Tom with a harmless smile.
“They wus North’ners.”
Tom started, but managed to recover himself.
“You might have mentioned that before,”
he remarked, with sarcasm.
“I did,” said Mr. Stamps,
“along at the start, Tom; but ye wouldn’t
none on ye believe me.”
Tom remembered that this was true,
it having been Mr. Stamps who suggested the Northern
theory which had been so unitedly scouted by his hearers
at the time of its propounding.
“I h’ain’t stayed
as stiddy in North Car’lina as the rest on ’em,”
repeated Mr. Stamps. “When I was younger,
I kinder launched out wunct. I thought I could
make money faster ef I wus in a more money-makin’er
place, ‘n’ I launched out. I went
North a spell ‘n’ was thar a right smart
while. I sorter stedded the folks’ ways
‘n’ I got to knowin’ ’em when
I seed ’em ‘n’ heerd ’em talk.
I know’d her for one the minit I set eyes on
her ‘n’ heern her speak. I didn’t
say nuthin’ much to the rest on ye, ’cause
I know’s ye’d make light on it; but I know’d
it wus jest that ar way with the Northerners.”
“Well,” said Tom, “it’s valuable
information, I suppose.”
Mr. Stamps coughed. He turned
his hat over and looked into its greasy and battered
“It moût be,” he
replied, “‘n’ then again it moughtent.
It moughtent be if thar’ wus nuthin’ else
to go ‘long with it. They wus hidin’
sumthin’, ye know, ‘n’ they sot
a heap on keepin’ it hid. Ef a body know’d
the whole thing from the start, thet’d be int’rustin’,
‘n’ it ’ud be vallyable too.”
“Valuable be d - ”
Tom began, but he checked himself once more on glancing
at the cradle.
But Mr. Stamps was so far interested
that he did not read the warning he might have read
in the suddenly repressed outbreak. As he neared
his goal he became a little excited and incautious.
He leaned forward, blinking rapidly.
“They wasn’t no man ‘n’
wife,” he said. “Lord, no! ‘N’
ef the two as knowed most on ’em ‘n’
was kinder quickest at readin’ signs ’d
kinder go partners ‘n’ heve confydence
in one another, ‘n’ sorter lay to ‘n’
work it out ‘n’ foller it up, it ud be
vallybler than stores, or post-offices, or farms to
both on ’em.” And he leaned so far
forward and blinked so fast that he lost his balance
and almost fell off his chair.
It was Tom who saved him from his
fall, but not from that tender consideration for his
physical security which such an act would argue.
Tom gathered up his legs and strode across to him almost
before he had finished speaking. For the time
being he had apparently forgotten the cradle and its
occupant. He seized the little man by the back
of his collar and lifted him bodily out of his chair
and shook him as a huge mastiff might have shaken
a rat, agitating the little legs in the large trousers
with a force which gave them, for a few seconds, the
most active employment.
“You confounded, sneaking, underhanded
little thief!” he thundered. “You
damned little scoundrel! You - you -
And he bore him out of doors, set
him struggling astride his mule which was cropping
the grass, and struck that sagacious animal a blow
upon her quarters which sent her galloping along the
Barnesville Road at a pace which caused her rider
to cling to her neck and body with arms and legs,
in which inconvenient posture he remained, unable to
recover himself, for a distance of at least half a
Tom returned to the back room in some
excitement. As he crossed the threshold, he was
greeted by a shrill cry from the cradle. He ruefully
regarded the patchwork quilt which seemed to be struggling
violently with some unseen agency.
“Doggone him!” he said,
innocently, “he’s wakened her - wakened
her, by thunder!”
And he sat down, breathing heavily
from his bodily exertion, and began to rock the cradle
with a vigour and gravity which might have been expected
to achieve great results, if Mornin had not appeared
and taken his charge into her own hands.