[Illustration: Tollgate (up)]
It came to pass as George had said. One cold, rainy day when the wind rustled the fallen leaves and sighed through all the bare branches, he came haltingly up to the end of his lonely pilgrimage. It was given to little John Jay to hold his hand and look into his eyes as Death swung up the bar and bade him pass on.
A wondering smile flitted across the beloved face; then that mysterious silence that bars all sight and speech fell between the freed spirit hastening up the eternal highway and the trembling boy left sobbing behind.
Mars’ Nat turned away with tears in his eyes and looked out of the window. “Through thick and thin, he’s the one soul who loved me and believed in me,” he said, in a half whisper. “His poor, black hands have upheld the old family standards and ideals far more faithfully than mine, both in his slavery and his freedom.”
Because of this there was no grave made for George in the forsaken shadow of Brier Crook church. He was given a place on the hill, beside the Chadwicks, whose name he had borne unsullied, and to whose honor he had been proudly loyal.
“That was a gran’ funeral occasion, sis’ Sheba,” exclaimed Aunt Susan, as she took off the rusty crape veil that had served at the funerals of two generations. “I reckon every cul’ud person around heah was present. Three ministahs a helpin’, an’ fo’teen white families sendin’ flowahs with their cards on isn’t to be seen every day in the yeah. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”
“No, indeed,” answered Mammy, with a mournful shake of the head. “Dyin’ would be somethin’ to look forwa’ds to if we could all hope for such a buryin’ as that. But I’m beat about John Jay. He do seem so onfeelin’. He loved that man bettah than anything on this yearth, an’ I s’posed he’d take his death mighty hard; but what you reckon he said to me this mawnin’. I was i’onin’ my black aidged handkerchief to take, when he says to me, sezee, ‘What you want to put on mo’nin’ for Rev’und Gawge for? He said to tell you all that he jus’ gone through the toll-gate.’”
“You don’t tell me!” exclaimed Aunt Susan. “That sut’n’ly sounds on-natchel in a chile like him.”
“Yes,” continued Mammy, “I haven’t seen him shed a tear. He jus’ wandahs around the yard, same as if nothin’ had happened, and nevah says a word about it.”
[Illustration: Sat alone by the church steps]
She did not know how many times he slipped away from the other children and sat alone by the church steps, where he had so often listened to George’s vesper melodies. She did not know what mournful cadences of memory thrilled him, as he rocked himself back and forth among the dead weeds, with his arms around his knees and his head bowed on them. She knew nothing of the music that had sung wordless longings into his simple child-heart until it awakened answering voices of a deathless ambition. So her surprise knew no bounds when he came slowly into the cabin one evening, and asked if he might be allowed to start to school the following week.