The Colonel opened his napkin and deftly tucked the hole in the end out of sight beneath the table. “Now, Uncle Noah, what is there to-night for supper?”
To Uncle Noah this nightly question had become a sacred institution, a stimulus to imaginative powers highly developed in his quaint dialogues with the Colonel. He forgot the doomed Job. It was Christmas Eve, and his creative gift took festive wings.
“Well, sah,” he beamed, “we has a little chicken gumbo, some fried chicken jus’ the right golden brown, sah, creamed potatoes, hot biscuits with currant jelly—er—sliced ham and baked potatoes.”
Colonel Fairfax thoughtfully considered the appetizing prospect in accordance with the rules of the game. What mattered it that the luscious edibles existed only in the brain of the loyal old darky? The little pretense gave to each a delightful thrill—surely an adequate extenuation of the harmless diversion. As usual Colonel Fairfax found the key to the situation in the closing items of Uncle Noah’s list.
“It all sounds delicious, Uncle Noah,” he observed graciously, “but I have a touch of my old enemy the dyspepsia today. I think I shall have sliced ham and baked potatoes. That, I think, will do for us both.”
Mrs. Fairfax agreed, her kindly eyes fixed upon Uncle Noah’s attentive face.
“And, sah,” Uncle Noah began—it was Christmas Eve and this game must be perfectly played—“shall I attend to de distribution of gifts in de negroes’ quarters, sah?”
“Yes,” agreed the Colonel, “see that no one is slighted!”
Mrs. Fairfax bowed her wistful face upon her hands to hide the blinding tears, and an odd, uncomfortable silence fell upon the little group.
At length the Colonel pushed his chair back and rose. “Uncle Noah,” he said sternly, a suspicious brightness gleaming in his eyes, “that turkey of yours is making a terrible noise under the window. Make him quit gobbling. Patricia, I don’t wonder he makes you nervous. He’s an old renegade!”
That the object of the Colonel’s wrath had long since retired to roost mattered not to his accuser. The turkey had developed a convenient habit of gobbling under the window whenever emotion forced the Colonel to seek a vent in stern commands. Uncle Noah crossed to the window and commanded Job to be silent. Mrs. Fairfax, southern gentlewoman and thoroughbred from tip to toe, quivered proudly, and, as Uncle Noah returned, bade him serve the supper in tones as well controlled as they were gentle.
In the great barren kitchen Uncle Noah wiped his steel-rimmed spectacles and glared angrily about him.
“Ol’ Missus grievin’ her heart out foh young Massa Dick,” he reflected, “and de Colonel say ‘slight no one!’ Gord-a-massy, whut am dis yere ol’ worl’ a-comin’ to? Ebery time ol’ Mis’ cry for young Massa Dick, Colonel say Job gobbles—”