“Owing to circumstances understood by you and myself, but by ho one else, there would be no turkey this year save that—”
“Y-e-e-s, sah?” Uncle Noah laid a wrinkled brown hand upon the nearest chair for support.
“We have a live turkey in stock,” ended the Colonel firmly, looking squarely into the trembling negro’s eyes.
Uncle Noah’s heart gave a convulsive leap. The thunderbolt had fallen! The fierce old turkey gobbler, solitary tenant of the crazy outbuildings, the imperial tyrant upon whom Uncle Noah had bestowed the affection of his loyal old heart, had been sentenced to death by the highest earthly tribunal the old negro recognized.
“I’se—I’se afeard he’ll be tough, Colonel Fairfax,” he quavered. “I—I—Gord-a-massy, Massa Dick, yoh wouldn’t kill ol’ Job? He’s too smart foh a bird an’ he’s done a most powahful sight o’ runnin’, sah; I reckons he’s mos’ all muscle.”
There was an agonized appeal in the darky’s voice that cut straight to the Colonel’s heart. “Uncle Noah,” he said kindly, “it can’t be helped. Job goes for the sake of—someone else.”
“Yes. Thank God, Uncle Noah,” the Colonel laid a gentle hand on the negro’s shoulder, “that she doesn’t know of our—er—financial crisis”—his halting utterance showed how distasteful the words were to him—“save, of course, that we must live with economy, as we have for years. Of the catastrophe of last fall she is ignorant, and a Fairfax Christmas without a turkey would—she must not know,” he finished abruptly.
The Colonel had spoken with a simple dignity and confidence that brought the old negro back from the field of sentiment to the barren desert of reality. Dimly in his mental chaos stood forth three pitiless facts: “Ol’ Missus” was grieving her heart out for the son with whom the Colonel had quarreled three years before; of this money trouble from which Colonel Fairfax had shielded her she must as yet know nothing; and there was no turkey for the Christmas dinner. Verily things looked dark for the ill-fated Job, roosting in unsuspecting security in the desolate old barn. With bowed head the darky walked slowly toward the door.
“Uncle Noah,” the Colonel’s tones were incisive, “you will kill Job tonight.”
“I mos’ forgot, Massa Dick,” faltered Uncle Noah, “dat supper’s ready, sah. Ol’ Missus done come downstairs jus’ foh I chases Job to roost. Laws-a-massy, Massa Dick, can’t he live till after supper?”
The Colonel nodded, carefully avoiding the old man’s troubled eyes, and went to join his wife at supper.
“Christmas Eve, my dear,” he announced cheerfully as he bent to kiss the sweet, wistful face that turned to greet him. “I beg your pardon for keeping you waiting. Uncle Noah and I were discussing to-morrow’s turkey;” he gazed calmly at the old negro nervously handling the tea things; “he has selected a large bird and I have been advising a smaller.”