Uncle Noah paused uncertainly, seeking a fit expression of his dilemma, and the girl, readily intuitive, glanced swiftly about to assure herself that the waiting-room was free from unsympathetic eavesdroppers. Then, strangely drawn by this quaint old vender of humanity, and warmly eager to put him more at his ease, she impulsively pushed a rocking-chair toward the old stove in the center and motioned him to be seated. But Uncle Noah had been reared in the Fairfax family, and a Fairfax never sat when a lady was still upon her feet. With a courtly gesture the old man bowed her to the chair she had drawn for him. A quick gleam of approval flashed in the gray eyes and with a deepening flush of puzzled interest, the girl instantly seated herself, unfastening the silver fox at her throat as she felt the warmth of the old country stove.
“Please, I would so much rather you, too, would sit down,” she said impulsively, and as Uncle Noah drew forward another of the rickety old rocking-chairs with which the Cotesville waiting-room was dotted, she bent toward him—a light in the wonderful gray eyes that won Uncle Noah’s heart.
“Tell me,” she said kindly: “Tell me just why you want to sell yourself.”
No, she had not laughed at him. Uncle Noah glowed to the tips of his fingers at the ready sympathy of her tone. He beamed mildly at her over his spectacles, turning the old fur cap round and round in his hands as he sought to voice the words that struggled to his lips. “Ol’ Massa’s money—an’, Miss, he hain’t had much since de War; jus’ ’nuff to live comfutable—all go in de Cotesville bank crash las’ fall an’ he doan want ol’ Mis’ foh to know. I’se de only one o’ de niggers whut’s left, an’ dere’s only one ol’ turkey gobbler left o’ de stock. He’s my ol’ pet, Miss, mos’ like a chile, an’—an’—” Uncle Noah choked.
The girl’s eyes were misty velvet. “And he told you to kill your pet for the Christmas dinner?” she finished gently.
Uncle Noah nodded. “Massa done say we mus’ hab a turkey for de Christmas dinner, or ol’ Mis’ll suspect de—de financial crisis whut we’re in. Out in de barn I prays foh an inspiration an’ I ’spect it come.”
“And so you decided to sell yourself—” began the girl.
“Yas’m.” Uncle Noah’s voice had grown apologetic. “Yoh see, Miss, I’se de only thing whut I really owns ‘cept dis yere ol’ stickpin. Cose I’se free now, but I reckons if I has a mind to sell maself de Norf can’t stop me. I’se sellin’ ma own property.” There was a gentle defiance in the old negro’s argument.
“And you—you wouldn’t accept a—a loan?” The girl flushed.
The negro’s hurt eyes were answer enough. Uncle Noah had not lived in an atmosphere permeated with Fairfax pride without feeling its influence.