The boy’s first waking thought was that there had been an earthquake and that the cabin had caved in. He never could rightly remember the order of events that followed, but he had a confused memory of a shriek, a scratching of matches, and the glimmer of a candle that made him sit up and blink his eyes. Then something struck him, first on one ear, then the other, cuffing him soundly. He was too dazed to know why. Some blind instinct helped him to find the bed and burrow down under the clothes, where he lay trying to think what possible fault of his could have raised such a cyclone about his ears. He was too deep under the bedclothes to hear Mammy’s grumbling remarks about his “tawmentin’ ways” as she rubbed her skinned elbow with tallow from the candle.
Standing in the back door of Sheba’s cabin one could see the red gables of the old Chadwick house, rising above the dark pine-trees that surrounded it. A wealthy city family by the name of Haven owned it now. It was open only during the summer months. The roses that Mistress Alice had set out with her own white hands years ago climbed all over the front of the house, twining around its tall pillars, and hanging down in festoons from its stately eaves. Cuttings from the same hardy plant had been trained along the fences, around the tree-trunks and over trellises, until the place had come to be known all around the country as “Rosehaven.”
Sheba always had steady employment when the place was open, for the young ladies of the family kept her flat-irons busy with their endless tucks and ruffles. She found a good market, too, for all the eggs she could induce her buff cochins to lay, and all the berries that she could make John Jay pick.
This bright June morning she stood in the door with a basket of fresh eggs in her hand, looking anxiously across the fields to the gables of Rosehaven, and grumbling to herself.
“Heah I done promise Miss Hallie these fresh aigs for her bufday cake, an’ no way to get ’em to her. I’ll nevah get all these clothes done up by night if I stop my i’onin’, an’ John Jay’s done lit out again! little black rascal!” She lifted up her voice in another wavering call. “John Ja-a-y!” The beech woods opposite threw back the echo of her voice, sweet and clear,—“Ja-a-y!”
“Heah I come, Mammy!” cried a panting voice. “I was jus’ turnin’ the grine-stone for Uncle Billy.”
She looked at him suspiciously an instant, then handed him the basket. “Take these aigs ovah to Miss Hallie,” she ordered, “and mind you be quickah’n you was last time, or they might hatch befo’ you get there.”
“Law now, Mammy!” said John Jay, with a grin. He snatched at the basket, impatient to be off, for while standing before her he had kept scratching his right shoulder with his left hand; not that there was any need to do so, but it gave him an excuse for holding together the jagged edges of a great tear in his new shirt. He was afraid it might be discovered before he could get away.