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mansion like that of Midbranch, but it was a comfort
able dwelling, though an unpretending one. The gen
tleman on the back seat, and the driver, who was an
elderly negro, both turned toward the hall door, which

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

was open and lighted by a lamp ^within, as if they
expected some one to come out on the porch. But
nobody came, and, after a moment's hesitation, the
gentleman got down, and taking a valise from the
back of the wagon, mounted the steps of the porch.
While he was doing this the face of the negro man,
which could be plainly seen in the light from the hall
door, grew anxious and troubled. When the gentle
man set his valise on the porch, and stood by it with
out making any attempt to enter, the old man put
down the reins, and quickly descending from his seat,
hurried up the steps.

"Dunno whar ole miss is, but I reckon she done
gone to look after de tukkies. She dreffle keerful dat
dey all go to roos' ebery night. Walk right in, Mahs'
Junius." And, taking up the valise, he followed the
gentleman into the hall.

There, near the back door, stood the rotund black
woman, and, behind her, Plez. " Look h'yar, Letty,"
said the negro man, " whar ole miss f "

"Dunno," said the woman. "She done gib out
supper, an 7 I ain't seed her sence. Is dis Mahs' Ju
nius ? Keckon you don' 'member Letty T "

" Yes, I do," said the gentleman, shaking hands with
her ; " but the Letty I remember was a rather slim
young woman."

"Dat's so," said Letty, with a respectful laugh,
"but, shuh 'nuf, my food's been blessed to me, Mahs'
Junius."

"But whar's ole miss!" persisted the old man.
"You, Letty, can't you go look her up?"

Now was heard the voice of Plez, who meekly
emerged from the shade of Letty. "Ole miss done

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

gone out to de road gate/ 7 said he. " I seen her when
I brung de cows."

" Bress my soul ! " ejaculated Letty. " Out to de
road gate ! An' 'spectin' you too, Mahs' Junius ! "

"Didn't she say nuffin to you?" said the old man,
addressing Plez.

"She didn't say nuffin to me, Uncle Isham," an
swered the boy, " 'cept if I didn't quit skeerin' dem
cows, an' makin' 'em run wid froin' rocks till dey ain't
got a drip drap o' milk lef in 'em, she'd whang me
ober de head wid her umbril."

" 'Tain't easy to tell whar she done gone from dat,"
said Letty.

The face of Uncle Isham grew more troubled.
"Walk in de parlor, Mans' Junius," he said, "an'
make yo'se'f comf ble. Ole miss boun' to be back
d'reckly. I'll go put up de hoss."

As the old man went heavily down the porch steps
he muttered to himself: "I was feared o' sumfin like
dis ; I done feel it in my bones."

The gentleman took a seat in the parlor where Letty
had preceded him with a lamp. "Eeckon ole miss
didn't 'spec' you quite so soon, Mahs' Junius, cos de
sorrel hoss is pow'ful slow, an' Uncle Isham is mighty
keerful ob rocks in de road. Eeckon she's done gone
ober to see ole Aun' Patsy, who's gwine to die in two
or free days, to take her some red an' yaller pieces fur
a crazy-quilt. I know she's got some pieces fur her."

"Aunt Patsy alive yet?" exclaimed Master Junius.
" But if she's about to die, what does she want with a
crazy-quilt?"

" Dat's fur she shroud," said Letty. " She 'tends to
go to glory all wrap' up in a crazy-quilt, jus' chock-full

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

ob all de colors ob de rainbow. Aun' Patsy neber
did 'tend to have a shroud o' bleached domestic like
common folks. She wants to cut a shine 'mong de
angels, an 7 her quilt's 'most done, jus' one corner ob it
lef . Beckon ole miss done gone to carry her de pieces
fur dat corner. Dere ain't much time lef, fur Aun'
Patsy is pretty nigh dead now. She's ober two hun-
nerd years ole."

"What!" exclaimed Master Junius, "two hun
dred?"

"Yes, sah," answered Letty. "Doctor Peter's ole
Jim was more'n a hunnerd when he died, an' we-all
knows Aun' Patsy is twice as ole as ole Jim."

" I'll wait here," said Master Junius, taking up a
book. " I suppose she will be back before long."

In about half an hour Uncle Isham came into the
kitchen, his appearance indicating that he had had a
hurried walk, and told Letty that she had better give
Master Junius his supper without waiting any longer
for her mistress. " She ain't at Aun' Patsy's," said the
old man, " an' she's jus' done gone somewhar else, an'
she'll come back when she's a mind to, an' dar ain't
nuffin else to say 'bout it."

Supper was eaten ; a pipe was smoked on the porch ;
and Master Junius went to bed in a room which had
been carefully prepared for him under the supervision
of the mistress ; but the purple sunbonnet and the
umbrella of the same color did not return to the house
that night.

Master Junius was a quiet man, and fond of walking ;
and the next day he devoted to long rambles, some
times on the roads, sometimes over the fields, and
sometimes through the woods ; but in none of his walks,

33



THE LATE MRS. NULL

nor when he came back to dinner and supper, did he
meet the elderly mistress of the house to which he had
come. That evening, as he sat on the top step of the
porch with his pipe, he summoned to him Uncle Isham,
and thus addressed the old man :

" I think it is impossible, Isham, that your mistress
started out to meet me, and that an accident happened
to her. I have walked all over this neighborhood, and
I know that no accident could have occurred without
my seeing or hearing something of it."

Uncle Isham stood on the ground, his feet close to
the bottom step ; his hat was in his hand, and his up
turned face wore an expression of earnestness which
seemed to set uncomfortably upon it. " Mahs' Junius,"
said he, " dar ain't no acciden' come to ole miss j she's
done gone cos she wanted to, an' she ain't come back
cos she didn't want to. Dat's ole miss, right fru."

" I suppose," said the young man, " that as she went
away on foot she must be staying with some of the
neighbors. If we were to make inquiries, it certainly
would not be difficult to find out where she is."

"Mahs' Junius," said Uncle Isham, his black eyes
shining brighter and brighter as he spoke, "dar's
cullud people, an' white folks too, in dis yere county
who'd put on der bes' clothes an' black der shoes, an'
skip off wid alacrousness, to do de wus kin' o' sin, dat
dey knowed fur sartin would send 'em down to de
deepes' an' hottes' gullies ob de lower regions, but
nuffin in dis worl' could make one o' dem people go
'quirin' 'bout ole miss when she didn't want to be
'quired about."

The smoker put down his pipe on the top step beside
him, and sat for a few moments in thought. Then he

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

spoke. " Isham," he began, " I want you to tell me if
you have any notion or idea"

" Mahs' Junius," exclaimed the old negro, " 'scuse me
fur int'ruptin', but I can't help it. Don' you go an'
ax an ole man like me if I t'inks dat ole miss went away
cos you was comin' an' if it's my true b'lief dat she'll
neber come back while you is h'yar. Don' ask me
nuffin like dat, Mahs' Junius. I'se libed in dis place
all my bawn days, an' I ain't neber done nuffin to you,
Mahs' Junius, 'cept keepin' you from breakin' yo'
neck when yo' was too little to know better. I neber
'jected to yo' marryin' any lady yo' like bes', an'
'tain't fa'r, Mahs' Junius, now I'se ole an' gittin' on de
careen, fur you to ax me wot I t'inks about ole miss
gwine away an' comin' back. I begs you, Mahs'
Junius, don' ax me dat."

Master Junius rose to his feet. " All right, Isham,"
he said ; " I shall not worry your good old heart with
questions." And he went into the house.

The next day this quiet gentleman and good walker
went to see old Aunt Patsy, who had apparently con
sented to live a day or two longer ; gave her a little
money in lieu of pieces for her crazy-bedquilt ; and
told her he was going away to stay. He told Uncle
Isham he was going away to stay away ; and he said
the same thing to Letty, and to Plez, and to two
colored women of the neighborhood whom he hap
pened to see. Then he took his valise, which was not
a very large one, and departed. He refused to be
conveyed to the distant station in the spring- wagon,
saying that he much preferred to walk. Uncle Isham
took leave of him with much sadness, but did not ask
him to stay ; and Letty and Plez looked after him

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

wistfully, still holding in their hands the coins he had
placed there. With the exception of these coins, the
only thing he left behind him was a sealed letter on
the parlor table, addressed to the mistress of the house.

Toward the end of that afternoon, two women came
along the public road which passed the outer gate.
One came from the south, and rode in an open car
riage, evidently hired at the railroad-station ; the
other was on foot, and came from the north $ she wore
a purple sunbonnet, and carried an umbrella of the
same color. When this latter individual caught sight
of the approaching carriage, then at some distance, she
stopped short and gazed at it. She did not retire
behind a bush, as she had done on a former occasion,
but she stood in the shade of a tree on the side of the
road, and waited. As the carriage came nearer to the
gate the surprise upon her face became rapidly mingled
with indignation. The driver had checked the speed
of his horses, and, without doubt, intended to stop at
the gate. This might not have been sufficient to excite
her emotions, but she now saw clearly, having not been
quite certain of it before, that the occupant of the
carriage was a lady, and, apparently, a young one, for
she wore in her hat some bright-colored flowers. The
driver stopped, got down, opened the gate, and then,
mounting to his seat, drove through, leaving the gate
standing wide open.

This contempt of ordinary proprietary requirements
made the old lady spring out from the shelter of the
shade. Brandishing her umbrella, she was about to
cry out to the man to stop and shut the gate, but she
restrained herself. The distance was too great, and,
besides, she thought better of it. She went again into

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

the shade, and waited. In about ten minuses the car
riage came back, but without the lady. This time
the driver got down, shut the gate after him, and drove
rapidly away.

If blazing eyes could crack glass, the spectacles of
the old lady would have been splintered into many
pieces as she stood by the roadside, the end of her um
brella jabbed an inch or two into the ground. After
standing thus for some five minutes, she suddenly
turned and walked vigorously away in the direction
from which she had come.

Uncle Isham, Letty, and the boy Plez were very
much surprised at the arrival of the lady in the car
riage. She had asked for the mistress of the house,
and on being assured that she was expected to return
very soon, had alighted, paid and dismissed her driver,
and had taken a seat in the parlor. Her valise, rather
larger than that of the previous visitor, was brought
in and put in the hall. She waited for an hour or
two, during which time Letty made several attempts
to account for the non-appearance of her mistress, who,
she said, was away on a visit, but was expected back
every minute $ and when supper was ready she par
took of that meal alone, and after a short evening
spent in reading she went to bed in the chamber which
Letty prepared for her.

Before she retired, Letty, who had shown herself a
very capable attendant, said to her: "Wot's your
name, miss f I allus likes to know the names o ? ladies
I waits on."

"My name," said the lady, "is Mrs. Null.'?



37



CHAPTER IV

THE autumn sun was shining very pleasantly when,
about nine o'clock in the morning, Mrs. Null came out
on the porch, and, standing at the top of the steps,
looked about her. She had on her hat with the red
flowers, and she wore a short jacket, into the pockets
of which her hands were thrust with an air which
indicated satisfaction with the circumstances sur
rounding her. The old dog, lying on the grass at the
bottom of the steps, looked up at her and flopped his
tail upon the ground. Mrs. Null called to him in a
cheerful tone, and the dog arose and, hesitatingly, put
his fore feet on the bottom step $ then, when she held
out her hand and spoke to him again, he determined
that, come what might, he would go up those forbidden
steps and let her pat his head. This he did, and after
looking about him to assure himself that this was
reality and not a dog-dream, he lay down upon the
door-mat, and, with a sigh of relief, composed himself
to sleep. A black turkey-gobbler, who looked as if he
had been charred in a fire, followed by five turkey-
hens, also suggesting the idea that water had been
thrown over them before anything but their surfaces
had been burnt, came timidly around the house and
stopped before venturing upon the greensward in front

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THE LATE MRS. NULL



of the porch ; then, seeing nobody but Mrs. Null, they
advanced with bobbing heads and swaying bodies to
look into the resources of this seldom-explored region.
Plez, who was coming from the spring with a pail of
water on his head, saw the dog on the porch and the
turkeys on the grass, and stopped to regard the spec
tacle. He looked at them, and he looked at Mrs.
Null, and a grin of amused interest spread itself over
his face.

Mrs. Null went down the steps and approached the
boy. " Plez," said she, " if your mistress, or anybody,
should come here this morning, you must run over to
Pine Top Hill and call me. I'm going there to read."

" Don' you want me to go wid you, an' show you de
way, Miss Null f " asked Plez, preparing to set down
his pail.

" Oh, no," said she ; " I know the way." And with
her hands still in her pockets, from one of which pro
truded a rolled-up novel, she walked down to the
little stream which ran from the spring, crossed the
plank, and took the path which led by the side of
the vineyard to Pine Top Hill.

This lady visitor had now been here two days wait
ing for the return of the m : stress of the little estate ;
and the sojourn had evidently been of benefit to her.
Good air, the good meals with which Letty had pro
vided her, and a sort of sympathy which had sprung
up in a very sudden way between her and everything
on the place, had given brightness to her eyes. She
even looked a little plumper than when she came, and
certainly very pretty. She climbed Pine Top Hill
without making any mistake as to the best path, and
went directly to alow piece of sun- warmed rock which

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

cropped out from the ground not far from the bases of
the cluster of pines which gave the name to the hill.
An extended and very pretty view could be had from
this spot, and Mrs. Null seemed to enjoy it, looking
about her with quick turns of the head as if she
wanted to satisfy herself that all of the scenery was
there. Apparently satisfied that it was, she stretched
out her feet, withdrew her gaze from the surrounding
country, and regarded the toes of her boots. Now she
smiled a little and began to speak.

" Freddy," said she, " I must think over matters, and
have a talk with you about them. Nothing could be
more proper than this, since we are on our wedding-
tour. You keep beautifully in the background, which
is very nice of you, for that's what I married you for.
But we must have a talk now, for we haven't said a
word to each other, nor, perhaps, thought of each
other, during the whole three nights and two days that
we have been here. I expect these people think it
very queer that I should keep on waiting for their
mistress to come back, but I can't help it ; I must stay
till she comes, or he comes, and they must continue to
think it funny. And as for Mr. Croft, I suppose I
should get a letter from him if he knew where to
write, but you know, Freddy, we are travelling about
on this wedding-tour without letting anybody, espe
cially Mr. Croft, know exactly where we are. He
must think it an awfully wonderful piece of good luck
that a young married couple should happen to be
journeying in the very direction taken by a gentleman
whom he wants to find, and that they are willing to
look for the gentleman without charging anything but
the extra expenses to which they may be put. We

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

wouldn't charge him a cent, you know, Freddy Null,
but for the fear that he would think we would not
truly act as his agents if we were not paid, and so
would employ somebody else. We don't want him to
employ anybody else. We want to find Junius Kes-
wick before he does, and then maybe we won't want
Mr. Croft to find him at all. But I hope it will not
turn out that way. He said it was neither crime nor
relationship, and, of course, it couldn't be. What I
hope is that it is good fortune ; but that's doubtful.
At any rate, I must see Junius first, if I can possibly
manage it. If she would only come back and open her
letter, there might be no more trouble about it, for I
don't believe he would go away without leaving her
his address. Isn't all this charming, Freddy? And
don't you feel glad that we came here for our wedding-
tour? Of course you don't enjoy it as much as I do,
for it can't seem so natural to you ; but you are bound
to like it. The very fact of my being here should
make the place delightful in your eyes, Mr. Null, even
if I have forgotten all about you ever since I came."

That afternoon, as Mrs. Null was occupying some of
her continuous leisure in feeding the turkeys at the
back of the house, she noticed two colored men in
earnest conversation with Isham. When they had
gone she called to the old man. " Uncle Isham," she
said, "what did those men want? "

" Tell you what 'tis, Miss Null," said Isham, remov
ing his shapeless felt hat, " dis yere place is gittin' wus
an' wus on de careen, an' wot's gwine to happen if ole
miss don' come back is more'n I kin tell. Dar's no
groun' ploughed yit for wheat, an' dem two han's been
'gaged to come do it, an' dey put it off, an' put it off,

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

till ole miss got as mad as hot coals, an 7 now at las 7
dey've come, an' she's not h'yar, an' nuffin can be
done. De wheat'll be free inches high on ebery oder
farm 'fore ole miss git dem plough-nan's ag'in."

"That is too bad, Uncle Isham," said Mrs. Null.
" When land that ought to be ploughed isn't ploughed,
it all grows up in old-field pines, don't it ? "

" It don' do dat straight off, Miss Null," said the old
negro, his gray face relaxing into a smile.

" No, I suppose not," said she. " I have heard that
it takes thirty years for a whole forest of old-field
pines to grow up. But they will do it if the land isn't
ploughed. Now, Uncle Isham, I don't intend to let
everything be at a standstill here just because your
mistress is away. That is one reason why I feed the
turkeys. If they died, or the farm all went wrong, I
should feel that it was partly my fault."

"Yaas'm," said Uncle Isham, passing his hat from
one hand to the other, as he delivered himself a little
hesitatingly," yaas'm ; if you wasn't h'yar p'r'aps ole
miss mought come back."

" Now, Uncle Isham," said Mrs. Null, " you mustn't
think your mistress is staying away on account of me.
She left home, as Letty has told me over and over,
because your Master Junius came. Of course she
thinks he's here yet, and she don't know anything
about me. But if her affairs should go to rack and ruin
while I am here and able to prevent it, I should think
it was my fault. That's what I mean, Uncle Isham.
And now this is what I want you to do. I want you
to go right after those men, and tell them to come
here as soon as they can, and begin to plough. Do
you know where the ploughing is to be done ? "

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" Oh, yaas'm," said Uncle Isham ; " dar ain't on'y
one place fur dat. It's de clober-fiel', ober dar on de
oder side ob de gyarden."

" And what is to be planted in it? " asked Mrs. Null.

" Ob course dey's gwine to plough fur wheat," an
swered Uncle Isham, a little surprised at the question.

I don't altogether like that," said Mrs. Null, her
brows slightly contracting. " I've read a great deal
about the foolishness of Southern people planting
wheat. They can't compete with the great wheat-
farms of the West, which sometimes cover a whole
county, and, of course, having so much, they can
afford to sell it a great deal cheaper than you can
here. And yet you go on, year after year, paying
every cent you can rake and scrape for fertilizing
drugs, and getting about a teacupful of wheat that
is, proportionately speaking. I don't think this sort
of thing should continue, Uncle Isham. It would be
a great deal better to plough that field for pickles.
Now there is a steady market for pickles, and, so far
as I know, there are no pickle-farms in the West."

" Pickles ! " ejaculated the astonished Isham. " Do
you mean, Miss Null, to put dat fiel' down in ku-
kumbers at dis time o' yeah ? "

" Well," said Mrs. Null, thoughtfully, I don't know
that I feel authorized to make the change at present,
but I do know that the things that pay most are small
fruits, and if you people down here would pay more
attention to them you would make more money. But
the land must be ploughed, and then we'll see about
planting it afterwards ; your mistress will, probably,
be home in time for that. You go after the men, and
tell them I shall expect them to begin the first thing

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

in the morning. And if there is anything else to be
done on the farm, you come and tell me about it to
morrow. Fm going to take the responsibility on
myself to see that matters go on properly until your
mistress returns."

Letty and her son Plez occupied a cabin not far
from the house, while Uncle Isham lived alone in a
much smaller tenement, near the barn and chicken-
house. That evening he went over to Letty's, taking
with him, as a burnt-offering, a partially consumed
and still glowing log of hickory wood from his own
hearth-stone. " Jes lemme tell you dis h'yar, Letty,"
said he, after making up the fire and seating himself
on a stool near by : " ef you want to see ole miss come
back r'arin' an' chargin', jes you let her know dat Miss
Null is gwine ter plough de clober-fiel' fur pickles."

" Wot's dat fool talk f " asked Letty.

" Miss Null's gwine ter boss dis farm, dat's all," said
Isham. " She tole me so herse'f ; an' ef she's lef alone
she's gwine ter do it city fashion. But one thing's
sartin shuh, Letty : if ole miss do fin' out wot's gwine
on, she'll be back h'yar in no time ! She know well
'nuf dat dat Miss Null ain't got no right ter come an'
boss dis h'yar farm. Who's she, anyway? "

" Dunno," answered Letty. " I done ax her six or
seben time, but 'pears like I dunno wot she mean when
she tell me. P'r'aps she's one o' ole miss' little gal
babies growed up. I tell you, Uncle Isham, she know
dis place jes as ef she bawn h'yar."

Uncle Isham looked steadily into the fire, and
rubbed the sides of his head with his big black fingers.
" Ole miss nebber had no gal baby 'cept one, an' dat
died when 'twas mighty little."

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" Does you reckon she kill her ef she come back an'
fin' her no kin ? " asked Letty.

Uncle Isham pushed his stool back and started to
his feet with a noise which woke Plez, who had been
soundly sleeping on the other side of the fireplace 5 and
striding to the door, the old man went out into the
open air. Returning in less than a minute, he put
his head into the doorway and addressed the aston
ished woman, who had turned around to look after him.
" Look h'yar, you Letty, I don' want to hear no sech
fool talk 'bout ole miss. You dunno ole miss, nohow.
You only come h'yar seben year ago, when dat Plez
was trottin' roun' wid nuffin but a little meal-bag fur
clothes. Mahs' John had been dead a long time den.
You nebber knowed Mahs' John. You nebber was
woke up at two o'clock in de mawnin' wid de crack
ob a pistol, an' run out 'spectin' 'twas somebody stealin'
chickens an' Mahs' John firin' at 'em, an' see ole miss
a-cuttin' fur de road gate wid her white night-gown a-
floppin' in de win' behind her, an' when we got out to
de gate, dar we see Mahs' John a-stan'in' up ag'in' de
pos', not de pos' wid de hinges on, but de pos' wid de
hook on, an' a hole in de top ob de head which he
made hese'f wid de pistol. One-eyed Jim see de whole
thing. He war stealin' cohn in de fiel' on de oder
side de road. He see Mahs' John come out wid de
pistol, an' he lay low. Not dat it war Mahs' John's
cohn dat he was stealin', but he knowed well 'nuf dat



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