Thomas Jefferson sat up.
“You’re awfully wicked, Nan,” he said definitively.
“’Cause I don’t believe all that about the woman and the snake and the apple and the man?”
“You’ll go to hell when you die, and then I guess you’ll believe,” said Thomas Jefferson, still more definitively.
She took a red apple from the pocket of her ragged frock and gave it to him.
“What’s that for?” he asked suspiciously.
“You eat it; it’s the kind you like—off ’m the tree right back of Jim Stone’s barn lot,” she answered.
“You stole it, Nan Bryerson!”
“Well, what if I did? You didn’t.”
He bit into it, and she held him in talk till it was eaten to the core.
“Have you heard tell anything more about the new railroad?” she asked.
Thomas Jefferson shook his head. “I heard Squire Bates and Major Dabney naming it one day last week.”
“Well, it’s shore comin’—right thoo’ Paradise. I heard tell how it was goin’ to cut the old Maje’s grass patch plumb in two, and run right smack thoo’ you-uns’ peach orchard.”
“Huh!” said Thomas Jefferson. “What do you reckon my father’d be doing all that time? He’d show ’em!”
A far-away cry, long-drawn and penetrating, rose on the still air of the lower slope and was blown on the breeze to the summit of the great rock.
“That’s maw, hollerin’ for me to get back home with that bucket o’ water,” said the girl; and, as she was descending the tree ladder: “You didn’t s’picion why I give you that apple, did you, Tommy-Jeffy?”
“’Cause you didn’t want it yourself, I reckon,” said the second Adam.
“No; it was ‘cause you said I was goin’ to hell and I wanted comp’ny. That apple was stole and you knowed it!”
Thomas Jefferson flung the core far out over the tree-tops and shut his eyes till he could see without seeing red. Then he rose to the serenest height he had yet attained and said: “I forgive you, you wicked, wicked girl!”
Her laugh was a screaming taunt.
“But you’ve et the apple!” she cried; “and if you wasn’t scared of goin’ to hell, you’d cuss me again—you know you would! Lemme tell you, Tom-Jeff, if the preacher had dipped me in the creek like he did you, I’d be a mighty sight holier than what you are. I cert’nly would.”
And now anger came to its own again.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Nan Bryerson! You’re nothing but a—a miserable little heathen; my mother said you was!” he cried out after her.
But a back-flung grimace was all the answer he had.
OF THE FATHERS UPON THE CHILDREN