After Pettigrass had gone on his errand the Major rose and went unsteadily into the house. Then, and not till then, Ardea got up on her knees and put her arms around the neck of the Great Dane.
“O, Hector!” she whispered; “me, I am Dabney, too! Once the gamins killed a poor little cat of mine; and I forgot God—the good God—and said wicked things; and I could have torn them into little, little pieces! But we—we shall be very good and patient after this, won’t we, Hector—you and me—no, you and I? What is it when you lick my face that way? Does it mean that you understand?”
BLUE BLOOD AND RED
In a world full of puzzling questions for Thomas Jefferson, one of the chief clustering points of the persistent “whys” was Major Dabney’s attitude, as a Man of Sin, and as the natural overlord of Paradise Valley.
That the Major was a Man of Sin there could be no manner of doubt. During the revival he had been frequently and pointedly prayed for by that name, and the groans from the Amen corner were conclusively damning. Just what the distinction was between a Man of Sin and a sinner—spelled with a small “s”—was something which Thomas Jefferson could never quite determine; but the desire to find out made him spy on Major Dabney at odd moments when the spying could be done safely and with a clear field for retreat in the event of the Major’s catching him at it.
Thus far the spying had been barren of results—of that kind which do not have to be undone and made over to fit in with other things. Once, Thomas Jefferson had been picking blackberries behind the wall of his father’s infield when the Major and Squire Bates had met on the pike. There was some talk of the new railroad; and when the Squire allowed that it was certain to come through Paradise, the Major had taken the name of God in vain in a way that suggested the fiery blast roaring from the furnace lip after the iron was out.
This was one of the results. But on reflection, Thomas Jefferson decided that this could not be The Sin. Profane swearing—that was what the Sunday-school lesson-leaf called it—was doubtless a mortal sin in a believer; was not he, Thomas Jefferson, finding the heavens as brass and the earth a place of fear and trembling because of that word to Nan Bryerson? But in other people—well, he had heard his father swear once, when one of the negroes at the furnace had opened the sand at the end of the sow and let the stream of molten iron run out into the creek.
The charge of profanity being tried and found wanting in the Major’s case, there remained that of violence. One day, Tike Bryerson—Nan’s father and the man who had tried to kill his Uncle Silas in the revival meeting—was beating his horses because they would not take the water at the lower ford. Tike had been stilling more pine-top whisky, and had been to town with some jugs hidden under the cornstalks in his wagon-bed. When he did that, he always came back with his eyes red like a squirrel’s, and everybody gave him all the road.