It grew darker and darker. The katydids began their endless quarrel in the trees. A night-owl hooted dismally over in the woods. The children stopped talking, and sat in anxious silence. Presently Bud edged up closer, and put a sympathetic arm around his brother. A moment after, he began to cry.
“What you snufflin’ for?” asked John Jay savagely. “‘Tain’t yo’ buthday.”
“But I’m afraid you ain’t goin’ to have any eithah,” sobbed the little fellow, strangely wrought upon by this long silent waiting in the darkness.
“Aw, you go ’long to bed,” said John Jay, with a careless, grown-up air. “If anything comes I’ll wake you up. No use for two of us to be settin’ heah.”
Bud was sleepy, and crept away obediently; but the day was spoiled, and he went to bed sore with his brother’s disappointment.
John Jay sat down again to keep his lonely tryst. He looked up at the faithless stars. They had failed to help him, but in his desperation he determined to appeal to them once more. So he picked out the seven largest ones he could see and repeated very slowly, in a voice that would tremble, the old charm:
“Star-light, star bright,
Seventh star I’ve seen to-night;
I wish I may and I wish I might
Have the wish come true I wish to-night.”
Then he made his wish again, with a heart felt earnestness that was almost an ache. Oh, surely the day was not going to end in this cruel silence! Just then he heard the thud of a horse’s hoofs on the wooden bridge, far down the road. Nearer and louder it came. Somebody was prancing by at last. He stood up, straining his eyes in his smiling eagerness to see. Nearer and nearer the hoof-beats came in the starlight. “Bookity book! Bookity book!” The horseman paused a moment in front of Uncle Billy’s.
John Jay hopped from one foot to the other in his impatient gladness. Then his heart sank as the hoof-beats went on down the road, Bookity book! Bookity book! growing fainter and fainter, until at last they were drowned by the voices of the noisy katydids.
He stood still a moment, so bitterly disappointed that it seemed to him he could not possibly bear it. Then he went in and shut the door,—shut the door on all his bright hopes, on all his fond dreams, on the day that was to have held such happiness, but that had brought instead the cruelest disappointment of his life.
The tears ran down his little black face as he undressed himself. He sat on the edge of the trundle-bed a moment, whispering brokenly, “They wasn’t anybody livin’ that cared ‘bout it’s bein’ my buthday!” Then throwing himself face downward on his pillow, he cried softly with long choking sobs, until he fell asleep.
Although John Jay bore many a deep scar, both in mind and body, very little of his life had been given to sackcloth and ashes.