Hannah Brown did not sleep that night. Sleep would not come. Hour after hour passed, and her wrath refused to be quelled. She tried every conceivable method, but time hung heavily. It was not quite peep of day, however, when she laid her well-worn family Bible aside. It had been her mother’s, and amid all the anxieties and tribulations incident to the life of a woman who had free negroes and a miserable husband to manage, it had been her mainstay and comfort. She had frequently read it in anger, page after page, without knowing what was contained in the lines. But eventually the words became intelligible and took meaning. She wrested consolation from it by mere force of will.
And so on this occasion when she closed the book the fierce anger was gone.
She was not a hard woman naturally. Fate had brought her conditions which covered up the woman heart within her, but though it lay deep, it was there still. As she sat with folded hands her eyes fell upon—what?
The pink bonnet with the blue plume!
It may appear strange to those who do not understand such natures, but to me her next action was perfectly natural. She burst into a convulsive laugh; then, seizing the queer object, bent her face upon it and sobbed hysterically. When the storm was over, very tenderly she laid the gift aside, and bare-headed passed out into the night.
For a half-hour she stood at the end of the lane, and then hungry Balaam and his master hove in sight. Reaching out her hand, she checked the beast.
“William,” said she, very gently, “where is the mule?”
The elder had been asleep. He woke and gazed upon her blankly.
“What mule, Hannah?”
“The mule you rode to town.”
For one full minute the elder studied her face. Then it burst from his lips:
“Well, bless me! if I didn’t bring Balaam and forgit the mule!”
The woman laughed till her eyes ran water.
“William,” said she, “you’re drunk.”
“Hannah,” said he, meekly, “I know it. The truth is, Hannah, I—”
“Never mind, now, William,” she said, gently. “You are tired and hungry. Come into the house, husband.”
Leading Balaam, she disappeared down the lane; and when, a few minutes later, Hannah Brown and her husband entered through the light that streamed out of the open door her arms were around him, and her face upturned to his.
BY RICHARD MALCOLM JOHNSTON (1822-1898)
[From The Century Magazine, June, 1886; copyright, 1886, by The Century Co.; republished in the volume, Mr. Absalom Billingslea, and Other Georgia Folk (1888), by Richard Malcolm Johnston (Harper & Brothers).]