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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Late Mrs. Null - Chapter 4
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The Late Mrs. Null - Chapter 4 Post by :Dusty13 Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :605

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The Late Mrs. Null - Chapter 4


The Autumn sun was shining very pleasantly when, about nine o'clock in the morning, Mrs Null came out on the porch, and, standing at the top of the steps, looked about her. She had on her hat with the red flowers, and she wore a short jacket, into the pockets of which her hands were thrust with an air which indicated satisfaction with the circumstances surrounding her. The old dog, lying on the grass at the bottom of the steps, looked up at her and flopped his tail upon the ground. Mrs Null called to him in a cheerful tone and the dog arose, and, hesitatingly, put his forefeet on the bottom step; then, when she held out her hand and spoke to him again, he determined that, come what might, he would go up those forbidden steps, and let her pat his head. This he did, and after looking about him to assure himself that this was reality and not a dog dream, he lay down upon the door-mat, and, with a sigh of relief, composed himself to sleep. A black turkey gobbler, who looked as if he had been charred in a fire, followed by five turkey hens, also suggesting the idea that water had been thrown over them before anything but their surfaces had been burned, came timidly around the house and stopped before venturing upon the greensward in front of the porch; then, seeing nobody but Mrs Null, they advanced with bobbing heads and swaying bodies to look into the resources of this seldom explored region. Plez, who was coming from the spring with a pail of water on his head, saw the dog on the porch and the turkeys on the grass, and stopped to regard the spectacle. He looked at them, and he looked at Mrs Null, and a grin of amused interest spread itself over his face.

Mrs Null went down the steps and approached the boy. "Plez," said she, "if your mistress, or anybody, should come here this morning, you must run over to Pine Top Hill and call me. I'm going there to read."

"Don' you want me to go wid yer, and show you de way, Miss Null?" asked Plez, preparing to set down his pail.

"Oh, no," said she, "I know the way." And with her hands still in her pockets, from one of which protruded a rolled-up novel, she walked down to the little stream which ran from the spring, crossed the plank and took the path which led by the side of the vineyard to Pine Top Hill.

This lady visitor had now been here two days waiting for the return of the mistress of the little estate; and the sojourn had evidently been of benefit to her. Good air, the good meals with which Letty had provided her, and a sort of sympathy which had sprung up in a very sudden way between her and everything on the place, had given brightness to her eyes. She even looked a little plumper than when she came, and certainly very pretty. She climbed Pine Top Hill without making any mistake as to the best path, and went directly to a low piece of sun-warmed rock which cropped out from the ground not far from the bases of the cluster of pines which gave the name to the hill. An extended and very pretty view could be had from this spot, and Mrs Null seemed to enjoy it, looking about her with quick turns of the head as if she wanted to satisfy herself that all of the scenery was there. Apparently satisfied that it was, she stretched out her feet, withdrew her gaze from the surrounding country, and regarded the toes of her boots. Now she smiled a little and began to speak.

"Freddy," said she, "I must think over matters, and have a talk with you about them. Nothing could be more proper than this, since we are on our wedding tour. You keep beautifully in the background, which is very nice of you, for that's what I married you for. But we must have a talk now, for we haven't said a word to each other, nor, perhaps, thought of each other during the whole three nights and two days that we have been here. I expect these people think it very queer that I should keep on waiting for their mistress to come back, but I can't help it; I must stay till she comes, or he comes, and they must continue to think it funny. And as for Mr Croft, I suppose I should get a letter from him if he knew where to write, but you know, Freddy, we are travelling about on this wedding tour without letting anybody, especially Mr Croft, know exactly where we are. He must think it an awfully wonderful piece of good luck that a young married couple should happen to be journeying in the very direction taken by a gentleman whom he wants to find, and that they are willing to look for the gentleman without charging anything but the extra expenses to which they may be put. We wouldn't charge him a cent, you know, Freddy Null, but for the fear that he would think we would not truly act as his agents if we were not paid, and so would employ somebody else. We don't want him to employ anybody else. We want to find Junius Keswick before he does, and then, maybe, we won't want Mr Croft to find him at all. But I hope it will not turn out that way. He said, it was neither crime nor relationship and, of course, it couldn't be. What I hope is, that it is good fortune; but that's doubtful. At any rate, I must see Junius first, if I can possibly manage it. If she would only come back and open her letter, there might be no more trouble about it, for I don't believe he would go away without leaving her his address. Isn't all this charming, Freddy? And don't you feel glad that we came here for our wedding tour? Of course you don't enjoy it as much as I do, for it can't seem so natural to you; but you are bound to like it. The very fact of my being here should make the place delightful in your eyes, Mr Null, even if I have forgotten all about you ever since I came."

That afternoon, as Mrs Null was occupying some of her continuous leisure in feeding the turkeys at the back of the house, she noticed two colored men in earnest conversation with Isham. When they had gone she called to the old man. "Uncle Isham," she said, "what did those men want?"

"Tell you what 'tis, Miss Null," said Isham, removing his shapeless felt hat, "dis yere place is gittin' wus an' wus on de careen, an' wat's gwine to happen if ole miss don' come back is more'n I kin tell. Dar's no groun' ploughed yit for wheat, an' dem two han's been 'gaged to come do it, an' dey put it off, an' put it off till ole miss got as mad as hot coals, an' now at las' dey've come, an' she's not h'yar, an' nuffin' can be done. De wheat'll be free inches high on ebery oder farm 'fore ole miss git dem plough han's agin."

"That is too bad, Uncle Isham," said Mrs Null. "When land that ought to be ploughed isn't ploughed, it all grows up in old field pines, don't it?"

"It don' do dat straight off, Miss Null," said the old negro, his gray face relaxing into a smile.

"No, I suppose not," said she. "I have heard that it takes thirty years for a whole forest of old field pines to grow up. But they will do it if the land isn't ploughed. Now, Uncle Isham, I don't intend to let everything be at a standstill here just because your mistress is away. That is one reason why I feed the turkeys. If they died, or the farm all went wrong, I should feel that it was partly my fault."

"Yaas'm," said Uncle Isham, passing his hat from one hand to the other, as he delivered himself a little hesitatingly--"yaas'm, if you wasn't h'yar p'raps ole miss mought come back."

"Now, Uncle Isham," said Mrs Null, "you mustn't think your mistress is staying away on account of me. She left home, as Letty has told me over and over, because your Master Junius came. Of course she thinks he's here yet, and she don't know anything about me. But if her affairs should go to rack and ruin while I am here and able to prevent it, I should think it was my fault. That's what I mean, Uncle Isham. And now this is what I want you to do. I want you to go right after those men, and tell them to come here as soon as they can, and begin to plough. Do you know where the ploughing is to be done?"

"Oh, yaas'm," said Uncle Isham, "dar ain't on'y one place fur dat. It's de clober fiel', ober dar, on de udder side ob de gyarden."

"And what is to be planted in it?" asked Mrs Null.

"Ob course dey's gwine to plough for wheat," answered Uncle Isham, a little surprised at the question.

"I don't altogether like that," said Mrs Null, her brows slightly contracting. "I've read a great deal about the foolishness of Southern people planting wheat. They can't compete with the great wheat farms of the West, which sometimes cover a whole county, and, of course, having so much, they can afford to sell it a great deal cheaper than you can here. And yet you go on, year after year, paying every cent you can rake and scrape for fertilizing drugs, and getting about a teacupful of wheat,--that is, proportionately speaking. I don't think this sort of thing should continue, Uncle Isham. It would be a great deal better to plough that field for pickles. Now there is a steady market for pickles, and, so far as I know, there are no pickle farms in the West."

"Pickles!" ejaculated the astonished Isham. "Do you mean, Miss Null, to put dat fiel' down in kukumbers at dis time o' yeah?"

"Well," said Mrs Null, thoughtfully, "I don't know that I feel authorized to make the change at present, but I do know that the things that pay most are small fruits, and if you people down here would pay more attention to them you would make more money. But the land must be ploughed, and then we'll see about planting it afterward; your mistress will, probably, be home in time for that. You go after the men, and tell them I shall expect them to begin the first thing in the morning. And if there is anything else to be done on the farm, you come and tell me about it to-morrow. I'm going to take the responsibility on myself to see that matters go on properly until your mistress returns."

Letty and her son, Plez, occupied a cabin not far from the house, while Uncle Isham lived alone in a much smaller tenement, near the barn and chicken house. That evening he went over to Letty's, taking with him, as a burnt offering, a partially consumed and still glowing log of hickory wood from his own hearth-stone. "Jes' lemme tell you dis h'yar, Letty," said he, after making up the fire and seating himself on a stool near by, "ef you want to see ole miss come back rarin' an' chargin', jes' you let her know dat Miss Null is gwine ter plough de clober fiel' for pickles."

"Wot's dat fool talk?" asked Letty.

"Miss Null's gwine to boss dis farm, dat's all," said Isham. "She tole me so herse'f, an' ef she's lef' alone she's gwine ter do it city fashion. But one thing's sartin shuh, Letty, if ole miss do fin' out wot's gwine on, she'll be back h'yar in no time! She know well 'nuf dat dat Miss Null ain't got no right to come an' boss dis h'yar farm. Who's she, anyway?"

"Dunno," answered Letty. "I done ax her six or seben time, but 'pears like I dunno wot she mean when she tell me. P'raps she's one o' ole miss' little gal babies growed up. I tell you, Uncle Isham, she know dis place jes as ef she bawn h'yar."

Uncle Isham looked steadily into the fire and rubbed the sides of his head with his big black fingers. "Ole miss nebber had no gal baby 'cept one, an' dat died when 'twas mighty little."

"Does you reckon she kill her ef she come back an' fin' her no kin?" asked Letty.

Uncle Isham pushed his stool back and started to his feet with a noise which woke Plez, who had been soundly sleeping on the other side of the fireplace; and striding to the door, the old man went out into the open air. Returning in less than a minute, he put his head into the doorway and addressed the astonished woman who had turned around to look after him. "Look h'yar, you Letty, I don' want to hear no sech fool talk 'bout ole miss. You dunno ole miss, nohow. You only come h'yar seben year ago when dat Plez was trottin' roun' wid nuffin but a little meal bag for clothes. Mahs' John had been dead a long time den; you nebber knowed Mahs' John. You nebber was woke up at two o'clock in the mawnin wid de crack ob a pistol, an' run out 'spectin' 'twas somebody stealin' chickens an' Mahs' John firin' at 'em, an' see ole miss a cuttin' for de road gate wid her white night-gown a floppin' in de win' behind her, an' when we got out to de gate dar we see Mahs' John a stannin' up agin de pos', not de pos' wid de hinges on, but de pos' wid de hook on, an' a hole in de top ob de head which he made hese'f wid de pistol. One-eyed Jim see de whole thing. He war stealin' cohn in de fiel' on de udder side de road. He see Mahs' John come out wid de pistol, an' he lay low. Not dat it war Mahs' John's cohn dat he was stealin', but he knowed well 'nuf dat Mahs' John take jes' as much car' o' he neighbus cohn as he own. An' den he see Mahs' John stan' up agin de pos' an' shoot de pistol, an' he see Mahs' John's soul come right out de hole in de top ob his head an' go straight up to heben like a sky-racket."

"Wid a whizz?" asked the open-eyed Letty."

"Like a sky-racket, I tell you," continued the old man, "an' den me an' ole miss come up. She jes' tuk one look at him and then she said in a wice, not like she own wice, but like Mahs' John's wice, wot had done gone forebber: 'You Jim, come out o' dat cohn and help carry him in!' And we free carried him in. An' you dunno ole miss, nohow, an' I don' want to hear no fool talk from you, Letty, 'bout her. Jes' you 'member dat!"

And with this Uncle Isham betook himself to the solitude of his own cabin.

"Well," said Letty to herself, as she rose and approached the bed in the corner of the room, "Ise pow'ful glad dat somebody's gwine to take de key bahsket, for I nebber goes inter dat sto'-room by myse'f widout tremblin' all froo my back bone fear ole miss come back, an' fin' me dar 'lone."

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