“I wish you’d stop pesterin’ the child, Amos,” she said, inspired less by the softness of amiability than by the genius of opposition. “I don’t see how you can be everlastingly doin’ it—my dead sister’s child, too.”
Nicholas swallowed his tears with his coffee and turned to his father. “I can get up ’fore day and do a piece of the land, and I can help you ‘bout the sowin’ when I get back in the evening. I’ll be back by twelve—”
“Oh, I reckon you can go if you’re so set on it,” said Amos gruffly. He rose and left the room, stopping in the hall to get a bucket of buttermilk for the hogs. Nicholas went over to the window and joined Sarah Jane, who was shelling the peanuts, carefully separating the outer hulls from the inner pink skins, which were left intact for sowing. Marthy Burr, who was clearing off the table, let fall a china dish and began scolding the younger children.
“I declare, if you don’t all but drive me daft!” she said, flinching from a twinge of neuralgia and raising her voice querulously. “Why can’t you take yourselves off and give me some rest? Nannie, you and Jake go out to the old oak and see if all the turkeys air up. Be sure and count ’em—and take Jubal (the youngest) ’long with you. If you see your pa tell him I say to look at the brindle cow. She acted mighty queer at milkin’, and I reckon she’d better have a little bran mash—Sairy Jane,” turning suddenly upon her eldest daughter, “if you eat another one of them peanuts I’ll box your jaws—”
Nicholas finished the peanuts and went upstairs to his little attic room. He was not sleepy, and, after throwing himself upon his corn-shuck mattress, he lay for a long time staring at the ceiling, thinking of the morrow and listening to the groans of his stepmother as she tossed with neuralgia.
In the first glimmer of dawn Nicholas dressed himself and stole softly down from the attic, the frail stairway creaking beneath his tread. As he was unfastening the kitchen door, which led out upon a rough plank platform called the “back porch,” Marthy Burr stuck her head in from the adjoining room where she slept, and called his name in a high-pitched, querulous voice.
“Is that you, Nick?” she asked. “I declar, I’d jest dropped off to sleep when you woke me comin’ down stairs. I never could abide tip-toein’, nohow. I don’t see how ’tis that I can’t get no rest ‘thout bein’ roused up, when your pa can turn right over and sleep through thunder. Whar you goin’ now?”
Nicholas stopped and held a whispered colloquy with her from the back porch. “I’m goin’ to drag the land some ’fore pa gets up,” he answered. “Then I’m goin’ in to town. You know he said I might.”
His stepmother shook her bandaged head peevishly and stood holding the collar of her unbleached cotton gown.
“Oh, I reckon so,” she responded. “I was think-in’ ‘bout goin’ in myself and hevin’ my tooth out, but I s’pose I can wait on you. The Lord knows I’m used to waitin’.”