When he went up to his little attic room after supper he sat on his shucks pallet in the darkness and thought of all the evil that he should like to do. He should like to pull Sairy Jane’s plait and to slap Jubal. He should even like to tell Juliet Burwell that he didn’t want to keep a clean heart, and to call God names. No, he would not become a minister and preach the Gospel. He would be a thief instead and break into hen-houses and steal chickens. If his father planted watermelons he would steal them from the vines as soon as they were ripe. Perhaps Eugenia would help him. At any rate he would go halves with her if she would be his partner in wickedness. He had just as soon go to hell, after all—if it were not for Thomas Jefferson.
He leaned his head on his hands and looked through the narrow window to where the peanut fields lay in blackness. From the stable came the faint neigh of the old mare, and he remembered suddenly that he had forgotten to put straw in her stall and to loosen her halter that she might lie down. He rose and stole softly downstairs and out of the house.
One evening in late autumn Nicholas went into Delphy’s cabin after supper and found Eugenia seated upon the hearth, facing Uncle Ish and Aunt Verbeny. Between them Delphy’s son-in-law, Moses, was helping Bernard mend a broken hare trap, while Delphy, herself, was crooning a lullaby to one of her grandchildren as she carded the wool which she had taken from a quilt of faded patchwork. On the stones of the great fireplace the red flames from lightwood splits leaped over a smouldering hickory log, filling the cabin with the penetrating odour of burning, resinous pine. From the wall above the hearth a dozen roasting apples were suspended by hemp strings, and as the heat penetrated the russet coats the apples circled against the yawning chimney like small globes revolving about a sun.
Eugenia was sitting silently in a low, split-bottomed chair, her hands folded in her lap and her animated eyes on the dark faces across from her, over whose wrinkled surfaces the dancing firelight chased in ruddy lights and shadows.
Uncle Ish had stretched his feet out upon the stones, and the mud adhering to his rough, homemade boots was fast drying before the blaze and settling in coarse gray dust upon the hearth. His gnarled old palms lay upward on his knees, and his grizzled head was bowed upon his chest. At intervals he muttered softly to himself, but his words were inaudible—suggested by some far-off and disconnected vision. Aunt Verbeny was nodding in her chair, arousing herself from time to time to give a sharp glance into the face of Uncle Ish.
“Huccome dey let you out ter-night, honey?” asked Delphy suddenly, turning her eyes upon Eugenia as she drew a fresh handful of wool from between the covers of the quilt.
“I ran away,” replied the child gravely. “I saw Bernard with his hare trap, and Bernard shan’t do nothin’ that I can’t do.”