A few minutes later, a dusky little figure crept through the gloaming, and rustled softly through the leaves lying on the path. Resting his arms on the fence, he looked across the dim fields to the darkly outlined tree-tops of the hill beyond.
“I wondah if he knows that I’m keepin’ my promise,” he whispered. “I wondah if he knows I’m tryin’ to follow him.”
Over the churchyard hill the new moon swung its slender crescent of light, and into its silvery wake there trembled out of the darkness a shining star.
* * * * *
The roadside ditches are covered with ice, these cold winter mornings. The ruts in the muddy pike are frozen as hard as stone. John Jay shuffles along in his big shoes on his way to school, out at the toes and out at his elbows; but there is a broad smile all over his bright little face. Wherever he can find a strip of ice to slide across, he goes with a rush and a whoop. Sometimes there is only a raw turnip and a piece of corn pone in his pocket for dinner. His feet and fingers are always numb with cold by the time he reaches the school house, but his eyes still shine, and his whistle never loses its note of cheeriness.
There are whippings and scoldings in the schoolhouse, just as there have always been whippings and scoldings in the cabin; for no sooner is he thawed out after his long walk, than he begins to be the worry of his teacher’s life, as he was the torment of Mammy’s. It is not that he means to make trouble. Despite his many blunders into mischief, he is always at the head of his class, for he has a motive for hard study that the other pupils know nothing of.
Every evening Bud and Ivy watch for his home-coming with eager faces flattened against the cabin window, lit up by the red glare of the sunset. They see him come running up the road, snapping his cold fingers, and turning occasional handsprings into the snow-drifts in the fence corners.
Just before he comes whistling up the path with his face twisted into all sorts of ugly grimaces to make them laugh, he stops at the gate a moment. Do they wonder what he always sees across those snowy fields, as he stands and looks away towards Mars’ Nat’s cottage and the white churchyard on the hill?
Ah, Bud and Ivy have not had their awakening; but the little brother and sister are not the only ones who fail to see more than the surface of John Jay’s nature. Under the bubbles of his gay animal spirits runs the deep current of a strong purpose, and in these moments he is keeping silent tryst with a memory. He thinks of his promise, and his heart goes out to his Reverend George on the other side of the toll-gate.
[Illustration: Tollgate (down)]
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