A dusky little figure rose up out of the weeds ahead of them. “Land sakes! Ivy Hickman!” exclaimed John Jay, dropping his snake in surprise. “How did you get heah?”
Ivy stuck her thumb in her mouth without answering. He took her by the shoulder, about to shake a reply from her, when Bud exclaimed, in a frightened voice, “Law, I see Mammy comin’. Look! There she is now, in front of Uncle Billy’s house!”
Throwing away his club, and catching Ivy up in his short arms, John Jay staggered up the path leading to the back of the house as fast as such a heavy load would allow, leaving Brer Tarrypin far in the rear. Just as he sank down at the back door, all out of breath, old Sheba reached the front one.
“John Jay,” she called, “what you doing’, chile?”
“Heah I is, Mammy,” he answered. “I’se jus’ takin’ keer o’ the chillun!”
“That’s right, honey, I’ve got somethin’ mighty good in my basket fo’ we all’s suppah. Hurry up now, an’ tote in some kin’lin’ wood.”
Never had John Jay sprung to obey as he did then. He shivered when he thought of his narrow escape. His arms were piled so full of wood that he could scarcely see over them, when he entered the poorly lighted little cabin. He stumbled over the bottle of corn and the picture-book. Maybe he would not have kicked them aside so gaily had he known that his precious watch was lying in the cow-path on the side of the hill where Ivy had dropped it.
Mammy was bending over, examining something at her feet. Five ragged strips of pink calico lay along the floor, each held fast at one end by a rusty tack driven into the puncheons. Ivy had grown tired of her bondage, and had tugged and twisted until she got away. The faithful tacks had held fast, but the pink calico, grown thin with long wear and many washings, tore in ragged strips. Mammy glanced from the floor to Ivy’s tattered dress, and read the whole story.
Outside, across the road, Uncle Billy leaned over his front gate in the deepening twilight, and peacefully puffed at his corn-cob pipe. As the smoke curled up he bent his head to listen, as he had done in the early morning. The day was ending as it had begun, with the whack of old Mammy’s shingle, and the noise of John Jay’s loud weeping.
It was a warm night in May. The bright moonlight shone in through the chinks of the little cabin, and streamed across Ivy’s face, where she lay asleep on Mammy’s big feather bed. Bud was gently snoring in his corner of the trundle-bed below, but John Jay kicked restlessly beside him. He could not sleep with the moonlight in his eyes and the frogs croaking so mournfully in the pond back of the house. To begin with, it was too early to go to bed, and in the second place he wasn’t a bit sleepy.
Mammy sat on a bench just outside of the door, with her elbows on her knees. She was crooning a dismal song softly to herself,—something about