“Nannie’s spending the day,” explained his stepmother with an attempt at conversation. “She would name that child Marthy, an’ it’s the best lookin’ one she’s got.”
The baby, a pink-cheeked atom in a blue gingham frock, made a frantic clutch at the vivid hair of the giant who held her, and set up a tearful disclaimer. Nicholas returned her to the rug, where she attempted to swallow a string of spools, and looked at his stepmother.
“Where’s that dress I sent you?” he demanded.
Marthy Burr sat down and smoothed out the creases in her purple calico.
“Laid away in camphor,” she replied with a diffidence that was rapidly waning. “Marthy, if you swallow them spools, you won’t have anything to play with.”
Nicholas looked about the common little room—at the coarse lace curtains, the crude chromos, the distorted vases—and returned to his question.
“You promised me you’d wear it,” he went on.
“Wear my best alpaca every day?” she demanded suspiciously. “I wouldn’t have it on more’n an hour befo’ one of them worthless niggers would have spilt bacon gravy all over it. There ain’t been no peace in this house since you sent those no ‘count darkies here to help me. If yo’ pa was ‘live, he’d turn them out bag an’ baggage befo’ sundown. Lord, Lord, when I think of what yo’ poor pa would say if he was to walk in now an’ find them creeturs in the kitchen.”
Her stepson smiled.
“Now, if you’ll sit still a moment, I’ll tell you a piece of news,” he said.
“You ain’t thinkin’ of gettin’ married, air you?” inquired Marthy Burr with sudden keenness.
“Married!” He laughed aloud. “I’ve no time for such nonsense. Listen—no, let the baby alone, she isn’t choking. If the Powers agree, and the Democratic Party triumphs in November, I shall be Governor of Virginia on the first of January.”
His stepmother looked at him in a dazed way, her glance wandering from his face to the baby with the string of spools. There was a pleased light in her eyes, but he saw that she was striving in vain to grasp the full significance of his words.
“Well, well,” she said at last. “I al’ays told Amos you wa’nt no fool—but who’d have thought it!”
The Capitol building at Richmond stands on a slight eminence in a grassy square, hiding its gray walls behind a stretch of elms and sycamores, as if it had retreated into historic shadow before the ruthless advance of the spirit of modernism. In the centre of the square, whose brilliant green slopes are intersected by gravelled walks that shine silver in the sunlight, the grave old building remains the one distinctive feature of a city where Iconoclasm has walked with destroying feet.