“Nancy!” ejaculated Uncle Cradd with stern amazement.
“Can’t do a thing with her when she looks like that, Cradd,” said father, as he comfortably lighted a cigar and drew the small leather-covered book towards him with hungry fingers.
“Now, Ann,” began Matthew, in the soothing tone of voice he had seen fail on me many times, “you don’t understand entirely, and your situation is pretty desperate in—”
“I do, I do understand that when I refuse this offer I am assuming enormous obligations, Matthew Berry,” I answered, with my head in the air and absolute courage in my heart.
“I ask you to bear witness, Matthew, to what my answer to the demand of my country would have been if I alone could have answered, but Nancy is within her rights, and I protect the rights of a woman before those of any man,” said Uncle Cradd, and there was not a trace of relief in his fine old face that he was to be saved from a parting with the land that had been the love of his life, but one of affectionate regard and admiration for me. “Also say to the secretary of agriculture that a Craddock woman is as good as her word, and that the Harpeth Valley can be depended upon to lead the United States in the production of eggs in—when shall I promise, Nancy?”
“About—about a year,” I answered, searching in my mind for some data from the huge red book as to when wealth from the hen could be expected to roll in in response to the “good management” I felt even then capable of displaying. Even now I can’t blame myself for over-confidence when I think of the two white pearls in my hat on the table beside father’s book.
“Better make it two,” advised Matthew cautiously, but with a gleam of enthusiasm as he also glanced at the eggs. That gleam was what earned my forgiveness for his daring to come upon me with such a mission.
“Say eighteen months. That will be the end of the second season,” I answered with decision. “And it is about time for me to give the last feeding of my hostages to the United States and Mr. Evan Baldwin. You’ll excuse me, Matthew?” I asked politely, but cruelly, for I knew he intended to follow me immediately.
“Now here is your line of dispute, Cradd, just as I said,” exclaimed father, who had opened his leather treasure and been hunting through its pages even before my heroics had completely exploded. And before Matthew and I had left the room, they were off on a bat with some favorite Ancient.
“Of course, Ann, you do realize just what you are doing?” asked Matthew of me, as we walked on the moss-green flagstones back to the barn, and his voice was so sweet and gentle with solicitude that I felt I must answer him seriously and take him into my confidence. Affection is a note that one must always make payment on.
“Yes, Matt, I do realize that those two are in a way children, for whose maintenance I have made myself responsible, and my mind is scared to death, but my heart is beating so high with courage that I can hardly stand it.”