Neb looked anxiously for signs that Madge was ready to see visitors, he listened at the door. He saw no sign, he heard no signal. He was scared, but he was faithful to his promise to the girl. He planted his old back against the door. “Now de trouble am commencin’!” he assured himself.
Holton looked at him with a sour smile. “I hope,” he said to Frank, “that you’ll have better luck nor me. Neb wouldn’t open that door for me.”
“Dem was yo’ ohduhs, suh,” said Neb, appealing to his master.
“An’ he was powerful sassy in the bargain,” Holton went on, full of malice, hoping to make Neb suffer for defying him.
Layson, however, much as he was now annoyed by the old darky’s hesitation about opening the stable door for him, himself, did not propose to chide him for having kept his trust and held it closed to others. “You mustn’t mind Neb,” he said to Holton. “He’s a privileged character around here. I had told him to admit no one, and, as usual, he obeyed my orders blindly.”
“Yes, suh,” Neb declared, delighted, “went it blind, suh.”
“His obedience,” his master went on boastingly, “is really phenomenal. He wouldn’t open that door for anybody. He’d guard the key with his own life.” He turned to Neb. “Wouldn’t you, now, Neb?”
Neb was disconcerted. It was true enough that from most people he certainly would have guarded that key with his life. But at that moment there was one within the stable from whom he had not guarded it. “Yes—yessah!” he said hesitantly. And as he said it he would have given anything he had if he could have laid his hands upon that self-same key.
Frank smiled at him. “But I suppose you’ll let me have a look at her.”
“Yes—yessuh—in a—in a minute, suh.”
Layson was annoyed. “Why not at once?” He was beginning to be frightened. Could something Neb was trying to hide have happened to the mare?
“Bekase—bekase—” Ned stammered, “well, to tell de trufe, suh, bekase I is afeared she ain’t quite dressed.”
“Not dressed! The mare not dressed! Have you lost your senses? Open that door—quick!”
“Marse Frank, I cain’t. I nachully jus’ cain’t.”
Holton was enjoying this. “You see,” he said, “he won’t open it for nobody. Not even for th’ man as owns it an’ th’ mare behind it.”
“Give me the key!” said Frank.
“De key—de key—” Neb stammered.
“I said the key!”
The old negro advanced pitifully. “Fo’ de lawd, Marse Frank, I hasn’t got it!”
“He’d guard it with his life!” said Holton, with deep sarcasm.
“Where is it?” Frank demanded.
“In dar,” said Neb, and pointed to the stable.
Layson, astonished and annoyed beyond the power of words by the old negro’s strange performance, fearful of the safety of his mare, entirely puzzled, sprang toward the stable window and was about to pull himself up by the ledge so that he might look in.