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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

Northern Georgia Sketches online

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holes.

“Mary,” she asked, “have you put on the supper?”

“Yes’m; but it hain’t tuk up yit.” The girl went into the next room,
which was used for kitchen and dining-room in one, and her mother
followed her. In a few minutes the old woman came to the door.

“Walk out, all of you,” she said, wearily. “Luke, you ‘ll have to put up
with what is set before you; hog-meat is mighty sca’ce this yeer. Just
at fattenin’ time our hogs tuk the cholera an’ six was found dead in one
day. Meat is fetchin’ fifteen cents a pound in town.”


II

|After supper Laramore left his mother and sisters removing the dishes
from the table and went out. He did not want to be left alone with his
stepfather.

He crossed the little brook that ran behind the cabin, and leaned
against the rail fence which surrounded the pine-pole corn-crib. He
could easily leave them in their poverty and ignorance, and return to
the great intellectual world from which he had come - the world which
understood and honored him; but, after all, could he do it now that he
had seen his mother?

The cabin door shone out a square of red light against the blackness of
the hill and the silent pines beyond. He heard Jake whistling a tune he
had whistled long ago when they had worked in the fields together, and
the creaking of the puncheon floor as the family moved about within.

A figure appeared in the door. It was his mother, and she was coming out
to search for him.

“Here I am, mother,” he said, as she advanced through the darkness;
“look out and don’t get your feet wet!”

She chuckled childishly as she stepped across the brook on the stones.
When she reached him she put her hand on his arm and laughed: “La, me,
boy, a little wet won’t hurt me - I’m used to it; I’ve milked the cows in
that thar lot when the mire was shoe-mouth deep. I ‘lowed I’d find you
heer some’rs. You used to be a mighty hand to sneak off from the rest,
an’ you hain’t got over it. But you have changed. You don’t talk our way
exactly, an’ I reckon that’s what aggravates Sam. He was goin’ on jest
now about yore bein’ stuck up in yore talk an’ eatin’.”

He looked past her at the full moon which was rising above the trees.

“Mother,” said he, abruptly, and he put his arm around her neck, and his
eyes filled - “mother, I don’t see how I can stay here long. Your health
is bad and you are not comfortable; the others are strong and can stand
it, but you can’t. Come away with me, for a while anyway. I ‘ll put you
under a doctor and make you comfortable.”

She looked up into his eyes steadily for a moment, then she slapped him
playfully on the breast and drew away from him. “How foolish you talk!”
she laughed; “why, you know I couldn’t leave Sam an’ the children. He’d
go stark crazy ‘thout me round, an’ they’d be ‘thout advice an’ counsel.
La, me! What makes you think I ain’t comfortable? This house is a sight
better ‘n the last one we had, an’ dryer, an’ a heap warmer inside. Hard
times is likely to come anywhar an’ any time. It strikes rich an’ pore
alike. Thar’s ‘Squire Loften offerin’ his big river-bottom plantation
an’ the best new house in the county at a awful sacrifice, kase he is
obliged to raise money to pay out ‘n debt. He offers it fer ten thousand
dollars, an’ it’s wuth every dollar of twenty. Now, ef we-all jest had
sech a place as that we’d ax nobody any odds. Sam an’ Jake are hard
workers, but they’ve had ‘nough bad luck to dishearten anybody.”

“Ten thousand dollars!” Laramore’s heart bounded suddenly. It was
exactly the amount he had in a Boston bank - all that he had ever been
able to save. He had calculated on investing it with some literary
friends in a magazine of which he was to be the editor.

“Do you think they could manage the place successfully, mother?” he
asked, after a moment.

“Why, you know they could,” she returned. “A body could make a livin’ on
that land and never half try. ‘Squire Loften spent his money like water,
an’ let a gang o’ triflin’ darkies eat ‘im up alive.”

“I remember the farm and the old house very well,” he said,
reflectively.

“They turned that into a barn,” she ran on, enthusiastically. “The new
house is jest splendid - green blinds to the winders, an’ cyarpets on
the floors, a spring-house, an’ a windmill to keep the house an’ barn in
water.”

“We’d better go in,” he said, abruptly; “you ‘ll catch cold out here in
the dew.”

She laughed childishly as she walked back to the cabin by his side. A
thick smoke and an unpleasant odor met them at the door.

“It’s Sam a-burnin’ rags to oust the mosquitoes, so he kin sleep,” she
explained; “they are wuss this yeer’an I ever seed ‘em. Jake an’ the
gals grease the’r faces with lamp-oil when they have any, but I jest
kiver up my head with a rag an’ never know they are about. I reckon we’d
better go to bed. Jake has fixed him a bed up in the loft, so you kin
sleep by yorese’f. He’s been jowerin? at his paw ever sence supper fer
treatin’ you so bad.”

The next morning, after breakfast, Jake threw a bag of shelled corn on
the bare back of his old bay mare and started to mill down the valley,
and his father shouldered an ax and went up on the hill to cut wood.

“Whar are you gwine?” asked Mrs. King, following Laramore to the door.

“I thought I would walk over to the Loften place and see the
improvements. I used to hunt over that land.”

“Well, be shore to git back by dinner, whatever you do. Me an’ Jane
caught a hen on the roost last night, an’ I’m gwine to make you a
chicken pie, kase you used to love ‘em so much.”

Half a mile up the road, which ran along the side of the hill, he came
into view of the rich, level lands of the Loften plantation. He stood
in the shade of a tall poplar and looked thoughtfully at the lush green
meadows, the well-tilled fields of corn, cotton, and sorghum, and the
large two-storied house with its dormer windows, tall, fluted columns,
and broad verandas - at the numerous outhouses, barns, and stables, and
the white-graveled drives and walks from the house to the road. Then he
turned and looked back at the cabin - the home of his mother.

It was hardly discernible in the gray morning mist that hung over the
little vale in which it stood. He saw Jake, far away, riding along, in
and out among the sassafras and sumac bushes that bordered a worn-out
wheat-field, his long legs dangling at the sides of the mare. There was
a bent figure in the wood-yard picking up chips; it was his mother or
one of the girls.

“Poor souls!” he exclaimed; “they have been in a dreary treadmill all
their lives, and have never known the joy of one gratified ambition. If
only I could conquer my own selfish desires I could give them comforts
they never dreamed of possessing - a taste of happiness. It would take my
last dollar, and Chamberlain and Gilraith would never understand. They
would look elsewhere for capital and for an editor, and it would be like
them to say they could get along without my contributions.”

It was dusk when he returned to the cabin. Jake sat on his bag of
meal in the door. Old Sam had taken off his shoes, and sat out under a
persimmon tree “coolin’ off,” and yelling angrily at his wife to “hurry
up supper.”

When she heard that Laramore had returned she came to the door. “We
didn’t know what had become of you,” she said, as she emerged from the
cabin.

“I got interested in the Loften farm, and before I realized it the sun
was down; I am sorry.”

“Oh, it don’t matter; I saved yore piece o’ pie, an’ I’m just warmin’ it
over. I bet you didn’t get a single bite o’ dinner.”

“Yes, I did; but I am ready for supper.”

As they were rising from the table Laramore said: “I have got something
to say to you all.”

They dragged their chairs back to the front room and sat down with
awkward ceremony. They stared at him in open-mouthed wonder as he placed
his chair in front of them. Old Sam seemed embarrassed by the formality
of the proceedings, and endeavored to relieve himself by assuming
indifference. He coughed conspicuously and hitched his chair back till
it leaned against the door-jamb.

There was a tremor in Laramore’s voice, and all the time he was speaking
he did not look up from the floor.

“Since I went away from you,” he began, “I have studied hard and applied
myself to a profession, and though I have wandered about a good deal I
have managed to save a little money. I am not rich, but I am worth more
than you think I am. You have never had any luck, and you have worked
hard, and deserve more than has fallen to your lot. You never could make
anything on this poor land. The Loften property is worth twice what he
asked for it. I happened to have the money to spare and bought it. I
have the deed for it.”

There was a profound silence in the room. The occupants of the row of
chairs stared at him with widened eyes, mute and motionless. A sudden
breeze came in at the door and turned the flame of the candle on
the mantel toward the wall, and caused black ropes of smoke from the
pine-knots in the chimney to curl out into the room like pyrotechnic
snakes. Mrs. King bent forward and looked into Lara-more’s face and
smiled and winked, then she glanced at the serious faces of the others
and broke out into a childish laugh of genuine merriment.

“La, me! Ef you-uns ain’t settin’ thar and swallowin’ down every word
that boy says jest ez ef it was so much law and gospel!”

But none of them entered into her mood; indeed, they gave her not so
much as a glance. Without replying, Laramore arose and took the candle
from the mantelpiece. He stood it on the table and laid a folded paper
beside it. “There’s the deed,” he said. “It is made out to my mother to
hold as long as she lives, and to fall eventually to her daughters and
her son Jake.”

He left the paper on the table and went back to his chair. An awkward
silence ensued. It was broken by old Sam. He coughed and threw his
tobacco-quid out at the door, and smiling to hide his agitation he went
to the table. His back was to them, and his face went out of view when
he bent to hold the paper in the light.

“That’s what it is, by Jacks!” he blurted out. “Thar’s no shenanigan
about it. The Loften place is Mariar Habersham King’s ef I kin read
writin’.”

With a great clatter of shoes and chairs they rose and gathered around
him, leaving their benefactor submerged in their shadow. Each took the
paper and examined it silently, and then they slowly dispersed, leaving
the document on the table. Sam King started aimlessly toward the
kitchen, but finally turned to the front door, where he stood
irresolute, staring out at the road. Mrs. King looked at Laramore
helplessly and went out into the kitchen, and exchanging glances, the
two girls followed her. Jake noticed that the wind was blowing the
paper from the table, and he rescued it and silently offered it to his
half-brother.

Laramore motioned it from him. “Give it to mother,” he said. “She ‘ll
take care of it. By the way, Loften will get out at once. The price paid
includes the crops, and they are in very good condition.”

He had Jake’s bed to himself again that night. For hours he lay awake
listening to the drone of excited conversation from the family which
had gathered under the trees in front of the cabin. About eleven o’clock
some one came softly into his room. The moon had risen and its beams
fell in at the open door. It was his mother, and she was moving toward
his bed with cat-like caution. “Is that you, mother?” he asked.

For an instant she was so much startled at finding him awake that she
could not reply.

“Oh, I tried not to wake you,” she stammered. “I just wanted to make
shore yore bed was comfortable.”

“It is all right. I wasn’t asleep, anyway.” He could feel her trembling
as she sat down on the edge of his bed.

“Seems like you couldn’t sleep, nuther,” she said. “Thar hain’t a shut
eye in this cabin. They’ve all laid down, an’ laid down an’ got
up ergin, over an’ over.” She laughed softly and twisted her hands
nervously in her lap. “We are all that excited we don’t know which way
to turn. Why, Luke, it ‘ll be the talk o’ the county! Sech luck hain’t
fell to any family as pore as we are sence I can remember. La, me! It
‘ud make you split yore sides a-laughin’ jest to set out thar an’ listen
to all the plans they are makin’. But Sam has the least of all to say;
an’, Luke, I’m sorter sorry fer ‘im. He feels bad about the way he has
al’ays treated you. He’s too back’ard an’ shamefaced to ax yore pardon,
an’ he begged me jest now to do it fer ‘im the fust time I got a chance.
He’s a good man, Luke, but he’s gittin’ old, an’ has been hounded to
death by debt an’ ill-luck.”

“I know it; he is all right,” replied Lara-more, tremulously. “Tell him
I have not the slightest ill-will against him, and that I hope he will
get along better now.”

“You talk like you don’t intend to stay.”

“No; I shall have to return North pretty soon - that is, after I see you
moved into your new home. I can do better up there; you know I was not
cut out for a farmer.”

“I reckon you know best ‘bout your own arrangements, but I hate to have
you go ag’in. I’d like to have all my children with me ef I could.”

“I ‘ll come back every now and then; I won’t stay away so long next
time.”

She went out to tell her husband what he had said and to let her son
sleep, but Laramore slept little. All night, at intervals, the buzz of
low voices and sudden outbursts of merriment reached him.

His mother stole softly into his room. This time it was to bring a
shawl, which she cautiously spread over him, for the air had grown cold.
She thought him asleep, but as she was turning away he caught her hand,
and drew her down and kissed her.

“Why, Luke!” she exclaimed; “don’t be foolish. Why, what’s got
in - ?” But her voice had grown husky and her words died away in an
irrepressible sob of happiness. She did not stir for an instant; then
impulsively she put her arms around his neck and kissed him. And he felt
that her face was damp.












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