The convict shrank and slouched to the barn. As night fell he looked out and saw the farmer leave the place. Slowly he crept out and sneaked toward the house. He looked through the kitchen door. No one was there, but the supper was spread as if the mistress had laid it and gone out. He ate ravenously. Then he looked into the front room and listened. He could hear low voices on the porch. On the table lay a gold watch. He gazed at it, and in a moment he was beside it,—his hands were on it! Quickly he slipped out of the house and slouched toward the field. He saw his employer coming along the highway. He fled back in tenor and around to the front of the house, when suddenly he stopped. He felt the great, dark eyes of the stranger and saw the same dark, cloak-like coat where the stranger sat on the doorstep talking with the mistress of the house. Slowly, guiltily, he turned back, entered the kitchen, and laid the watch stealthily where he had found it; then he rushed wildly back toward the stranger, with arms outstretched.
The woman had laid supper for her husband, and going down from the house had walked out toward a neighbor’s. She was gone but a little while, and when she came back she started to see a dark figure on the doorsteps under the tall, red oak. She thought it was the new Negro until he said in a soft voice:
“Will you give me bread?”
Reassured at the voice of a white man, she answered quickly in her soft, Southern tones:
She was a little woman, and once had been pretty; but now her face was drawn with work and care. She was nervous and always thinking, wishing, wanting for something. She went in and got him some cornbread and a glass of cool, rich buttermilk; then she came out and sat down beside him. She began, quite unconsciously, to tell him about herself,—the things she had done and had not done and the things she had wished for. She told him of her husband and this new farm they were trying to buy. She said it was hard to get niggers to work. She said they ought all to be in the chain-gang and made to work. Even then some ran away. Only yesterday one had escaped, and another the day before.
At last she gossiped of her neighbors, how good they were and how bad.
“And do you like them all?” asked the stranger.
“Most of them,” she said; and then, looking up into his face and putting her hand into his, as though he were her father, she said:
“There are none I hate; no, none at all.”
He looked away, holding her hand in his, and said dreamily:
“You love your neighbor as yourself?”
“I try—” she began, and then looked the way he was looking; down under the hill where lay a little, half-ruined cabin.
“They are niggers,” she said briefly.
He looked at her. Suddenly a confusion came over her and she insisted, she knew not why.