Now that berry picking was at an end, John Jay slipped back into his old lazy ways. Errands were run with lagging feet; work was done in the easiest way possible, and everything was left undone that he could by any means avoid. Mammy scolded when she came home at night and found both water-pail and wood-box empty, but he went serenely on with his supper. No matter what happened, nothing ever interfered with his appetite.
“Those chillun are gettin’ as bad as little young turkeys ‘bout strayin’ away from home,” mumbled Aunt Susan one morning, as she watched them slip through the fence soon after Sheba had left the house. “An’ they ain’t anything wussah than young turkeys for runnin’ off. ’Peahs like that kind of poultry is nevah satisfied with where they is, but always want to be where they isn’t. It’s the same with those chillun.”
Although Aunt Susan did not know it, there was one place where John Jay and his flock of two were always content to stay; that was on the steps at the side door of the church. Nearly every afternoon found them sitting there in a solemn row, waiting for the shadows to grow long across the grass, for it was then that George oftenest came to play on the organ. He always smiled on the three grave little figures, waiting so patiently for the music of his vesper hymns.
It touched the lonely man to have John Jay follow him about, with that same wistful look in his eyes that a faithful dog has for its master. Sometimes he sat down on the steps beside the children and talked to them awhile, just to see the boy’s face light up with pleasure.
It was a mystery to Sheba, how a dignified minister could care for the companionship of such a harum-scarum little creature as her grandson. She did know the tie that bound them, but their natures were as near akin as the acorn and the oak. In John Jay the man saw his own childhood with all its unanswered questions and dumb, groping ambitions; while the boy, looking up to his “Rev’und Gawge” as the highest standard of all manliness, felt faint stirrings within, of the possibility of such growth for himself.
Early one morning George sent a message to Sheba, asking that John Jay might be allowed to spend the day with him and help watch the toll-gate, while Mars’ Nat was in town. That morning still stands out in the boy’s memory, as one of the happiest he ever spent.
Along in the middle of the afternoon, when travel on the turnpike had almost ceased on account of the heat, George went into his room and lay down. John Jay sat on the floor of the porch, holding the old hound’s head in his lap, and lazily smoothing its long soft ears. He felt very important when a wagon rattled up and the toll was dropped into his fingers. He wished that everybody he knew would ride by and find him sitting there in charge; but no one else came for more than an hour. It had seemed as long as ten hours, with nothing to do but slap at the flies and talk to the sleepy hound. John Jay grinned when he saw the arrival, for it was a man whom he knew.