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Chapter 7

The cabin of the Reverdys stood on a byway beyond the Gillespies. Sally had joined the girl on her way out of the Temple, and was prancing beside her as they went homeward together. "Oh, ain't it just great? I feel like as if I could fly. I never seen the Power in Leatherwood like it was to-night. He's sent; you can tell that as plain as the nose on your face. How happy I do feel! I believe in my heart I got salvation this minute. Don't you feel the Spirit any? But you was always such a still girl! I did like the way the women folks was floppun' all round. I say, if you feel the Power workun' in you, show it, and help the others to git it. What do you s'pose he meant by your paw's needun' him?"

"I don't know. Perhaps he will," the girl answered briefly.

"Goun' to tell him? Well, that's right, Janey. I kep' wonderun' why he didn't come to-night. If Abel hadn't be'n so beat out with his work at the Cross Roads to-day, you bet I'd 'a' made him come; but he said I'd git enough glory for both. I believe his talkun' with Squire Braile don't do him no good. You b'lieve Washington and Jefferson was friends with Tom Paine? The Squire says they was, but I misdoubt it, myself; I always hearn them two was good perfessun' Christians. Kind o' lonesome along here where the woods comes so close't, ain't it? Say, Janey: I wisht you'd come a little piece with me, though I don't suppose the bad spirits would dast to come around a body right on the way home from the Temple this way—"

They had reached the point where Sally must part with the girl, who stopped to lift the top rail of the bars to the lane leading from the road to her father's cabin. She let it drop again. "Why, I'll go the whole way with you, Sally."

"Will you? Well, I declare to gracious, you're the best girl I ever seen. I believe in my heart, I'll rout Abel out and make him go back home with you."

"You needn't," the girl said. "I'm not afraid to go alone in the dark."

"Well, just as you say, Janey. What do you do to keep from beun' afraid?"

"Oh, I don't know. I just think, I suppose."

"Well, I just want to squeal." Sally had been talking in her loud, loose voice to keep her courage up. "Well, I declare if we ain't there a'ready. If you just say the word I'll have Abel out in half a minute, and—"

"No," the girl said. "Good night."

"Well, good night. I've got half a mind to go back with you myself,"
Sally called, as she lifted her hand to pull the latchstring of her door.

Jane Gillespie found her father standing at the bars when she went back.
He mechanically let them down for her.

"I thought you would be in bed, Father," she said gently, but coldly.

"I've had things to keep me awake; and it's hot indoors," he answered, and then he demanded, "Well?"

If it was his way of bidding her tell him of her evening's experience, she did not obey him, and he had to make another attempt on her silence. "Was Hughey there?"

"Hughey? I don't know."

"Didn't he ask to come home with you?"

"I didn't see him. Sally Reverdy came with me."

"Yes, I knew that."

She was silent for another moment and then she said, "Father, I have a message for you. He said, 'I send my peace to him; and it will not return unto me.' He said you needed him."

Gillespie knew that she meant Dylks and he knew that she kept out of her voice whatever feeling she had in delivering his message.

In the dark, she could not see her father's frown, but she was aware of it in his answer. "You went there against my will. Well?"

"I believe."

"You believe? What do you believe?"

"Him. That he is sent."

"Why?"

"I can't tell you. He made me; he made all the people there."

Her father was standing between her and the door. He stood aside. "Go to bed now. But be quiet. Your Aunt Nancy is there."

"Aunt Nancy?"

"Laban came, but he went back to the Cross Roads, and she's over for the night with the baby."

"The baby? Oh, I'll be careful!" A joy came into her voice, and the strain left it in something like a laugh.

Early in the morning she crept down the ladder from the loft; her father had looped his cot up against the cabin wall and gone out. Nancy was sitting up in the bed she had made for herself on the floor, coiling a rope of her black hair into a knot at her neck. The baby lay cooing and kicking in her lap. The morning air came in fresh and sweet at the open door.

"Oh, Aunt Nancy, may I take her?"

"Yes; I'll get the breakfast. Your father'll be hungry; he's been up a good while, I reckon."

"I'll make the fire first, and then I'll take the baby."

The girl uncovered the embers on the hearth and blew them into life; then she ran out into the cornfield, and gathered her apron full of the milky ears, and grated them for the cakes which her aunt molded to fry for breakfast. She took the baby and washed its hands and face, talking and laughing with it.

"You talk to it a sight more than you do to anybody else, Jane," the mother said. "Don't put anything but its little shimmy on; it's goin' to be another hot day."

"I believe," the girl said, "I'll get some water in the tub, and wash her all over. There'll be time enough."

"It'd be a good thing, I reckon. But you mustn't forget your milkin'. I dunno what our cow'd do this morning if it wasn't for Joey. But he'll milk her, him and Benny Hingston, between them, somehow. Benny stayed with him last night."

"I did forget the milking," the girl said, putting the baby's little chemise on. "But I'll do it now. Sissy will have to wait till after breakfast for her washing." She got the tin bucket from where it blazed a-tilt in the sun beside the back door of the cabin, and took her deep bonnet from its peg. She did not ask why the boys slept alone in the cabin, but her aunt felt that she must explain.

"Laban's got work for the whole fall at the Cross Roads. He went straight back last night. I come here." She had got through without telling the lie which she feared she must. "I'm goin' home after breakfast."

Jane asked nothing further, but called from the open door, "Sukey, Sukey! Suk, Suk, Suk!" A plaintive lowing responded; then the snapping sound of a cow's eager hoofs; the hoarse drumming of the milk in the bucket followed, subduing itself to the soft final murmur of the strippings in the foam. Jane carried the milk to the spring house before she reappeared in the cabin with a cup of it for the baby.

"It's so good for her to have it warm from the cow," she said, as she tilted the tin for the last drop on the little one's lips. "I wish you'd leave her here with me, Aunt Nancy."

"It's about time she was weaned," the mother said. "I reckon you better call your father now. He must be ready for his breakfast, bendin' over that tobacco ever since sun-up."

Jane took down the tin dinner horn from its peg, and went to the back door with it, and blew a long, loud blast, crumbling away in broken sounds.

The baby was beating the air with its hands up and down, and gurgling its delight in the noise when she came back. "Oh, honey, honey, honey!" she cooed, catching it up and hugging it to her.

The mother looked at them over her shoulder as she put the cakes of grated corn in the skillet, and set it among the coals on the hearth. "It's a pity you ha'n't got one of your own."

"I don't want one of my own," the girl said.

"I thought, a spell back,"—the woman took up the subject again after a decent interval—"that you and Hughey Blake was goin' to make a match." The girl said nothing, and her aunt pursued, "Was he there, last night?"

"I didn't notice."

"Many folks?" her aunt asked with whatever change or fulfilment of a first intent.

From kneeling over to play with the baby the girl sank back on her heels with her hands fallen before her.

"I don't know."

"What did he preach?"

"The Word of God; God's own words. All Scripture; but it was like as if it was the first time you ever heard it."

The girl was looking at the woman, but seemed rapt from the sight of her in a vision of the night before.

"I reckon Satan could make it sound that way," Nancy said, but her niece seemed not to hear her. Nancy stood staring at her, with words bitter beyond saying in her heart; words that rose in her throat and choked her. When she spoke she only said, "Get up, Jane; your father'll be here in a minute."

"I'm not going to eat anything. I'm going into the woods." She staggered to her feet, and dashed from the door. The child looked after her with outstretched arms and whimpered pitifully, but she did not mind its call.

"Where's Jane?" her father said, coming in at the back door.

"Gone into the woods," she said.

"To pray, I reckon."

He sat down at the table-leaf lifted from the wall, and his sister served him his breakfast. He ate greedily, but his hand trembled so in lifting his cup that the coffee spilled from it.

When he had ended and sat leaning back from the board, she asked him:
"What are you going to do?"

The old man cleared his throat. "Nothing, yet. Let the Lord work His will."

"And let Joseph Dylks work his will, too! I'll have something to say about that."

"Be careful, woman. Be careful."

"Oh, I'll be careful. He has as much to lose as I have."

"No, not half so much."

William Dean Howells

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