When Mammy came home that night, there was wood in the box and water in the pail. The loose boards lying around the yard had been piled up neatly, and the paths were freshly swept. All that evening John Jay’s eyes followed her with curious glances whichever way she turned, as if he found her changed. The change was in John Jay.
Next day, when she came home, she found the same state of affairs. It was early in the afternoon, and the children were out playing. She hung up her sun-bonnet, and dropped wearily down into a chair. Then, remembering a pile of clothes that must be mended before dark, she got up and began to hunt for her thimble and thread.
“That tawmentin’ boy must have lost ’em,” she exclaimed, after a vain search through her work-basket. The clothes were lying on the bed where she had put them. As she gathered them in her arms the thimble rolled out, and a spool of thread with a needle sticking in it fell to the floor.
[Illustration: George came out and locked the door]
She shook out Ivy’s little blue dress, and began turning it around to find the seam that was ripped. It was drawn together with queer straggling stitches that only the most awkward of fingers could have made. The white buttons on Bud’s shirt-waist had been sewed on with black thread, and a spot of blood told where somebody’s thumb had felt the sharp thrust of a needle. John Jay’s trousers lay at the bottom of the pile, with a little round, puckered patch of calico on each knee.
The tears came into Mammy’s eyes as she saw the boy’s poor attempt to help. “I’se afeerd he’s goin’ to die,” she muttered in alarm. “I sut’n’ly is. Poah little fellow: he’s mighty tryin’ to a body’s patience sometimes, an’ he’s made a mess of this mendin’, for suah, but I reckon he means all right. He’s not so onthinkin’ an’ onthankful aftah all.” She laid the spool and thimble on the window-sill, and folded her hands to rest awhile. There was a tremulous smile on her careworn old face. For one day, at least, John Jay had paid his toll.
Boys do not grow into saints in a single night, in the way that Jack’s beanstalk grew from earth to sky. Sainthood comes slowly, like the blossom on a century plant; there must be a hundred years of thorny stem-life first.
Mammy soon lost all her fears of John Jay’s dying. Although the promise made to George on the haymow was faithfully kept, he could no more avoid getting into mischief than a weathercock can keep from turning when the wind blows.