Изображения страниц

ing half wistfully; "I sot a heap er store by ye."

She neither accepted nor repulsed the caress; merely stood, her hands clasped before her, absently gazing at the fire. His arm fell; but in a second he put out his hand again, to finger softly a stray lock of hair.

"An' Bud Boas, he was yere too," said Polly Ann; "he 'lows ye'd bes' be keerful kase Whitsun's mad at ye. He 'lows yo' too triflin'." "An' I'low Whitsun Harp's too meddlin'!" cried Lum, opening his brown eyes angrily. "W'at bus'ness ar' hit er his'n? I don' rent er him. 'Tain't his plantation. To my notion, Whitsun hed orter be run off this yere place!"

"He's did a heap er good yere," said Polly Ann-was it the firelight, Lum wondered, that made her cheeks so red?" Look at the fightin's an' drinkin's he's stopped! Thar ain't be'n a man killed yere sence he turned regerlater."

"Thar'll be one killed mighty quick though ef he don' quit projickin' 'roun' an' lickin' folks permiscus'."

Polly Ann laid her hand on her husband's arm, looking down at him, for she was taller than he. "Lum," she said solemnly, "he is called, Whitsun is. They caynt hurt him till his work's did. Don' ye say anythin' agin 'im, Lum."

Lum's frown turned into a broad grin. "Oh, laws! called ter lick folks? Ef thet ain't the durndest trick!"

"But he is," she insisted; "he's hed signs an' tokens. Don' go agin 'im, Lum." "Wa'al, honey," said Lum easily, "I ain't purportin' ter go agin 'im. He's too big a b'ar fer me ter tackle."

Polly Ann turned away abruptly. Lum looked after her, all the light-hearted carelessness gone out of his face. "'Pears like I jes cudn't please her nohow," he thought while he busied himself clearing the table. Lum had the habit of helping his wife about the house; he had acquired it helping his mother, Lum's father being "triflin'."

At the same time Polly Ann was thinking: "He won' fight hisself or run enter no danger, but he'll sick the rest on, an' him stan' by." She hardly noticed how deftly Lum wiped the dishes and brushed out the room. "Be ye too tired ter listen ter a leetle music, honey?" he said when he had put the broom behind the door.

"Naw," said Polly Ann, trying to smile, "I don't guess I'm ever too tired fer music."

Faint as the smile was, Lum welcomed it and took down his violin with a brighter face.

He played a long while; at first, simple

melodies of the plantation and the campmeeting; then, as his thoughts drifted into other memories, they took their own shape in music rude as his life, but weird and sad like the cypress brake. Lum was born a musician. He had a wonderful ear but the scantiest knowledge, most of which came from a strolling violinist who had the swamp fever in Lum's cabin and left a book of songs for payment. Lum learned the songs by heart. They were as commonplace as possible, but the ideas, worn shabby through the handling of generations, were new and splendid to Lum. Why not? They could not have been any fresher to him if they had just been discovered. They lifted and adorned his notion of love. They aided the ever-increasing power which his wife exercised over his imagination. He thought of her in their language, which had a dignity and charming tenderness quite lacking in the speech of his birthplace where a man "took up with a girl and married her," making no more ado about it; the song words were so pretty and kind-sounding, it was like kissing a girl to say them. Lum was too shy to say them himself. Once he ventured to call Polly Ann "Darling," instantly blushing up to his eyes. She did not seem to mind, neither did she seem pleased. It was the way in which she always met her husband's affection. This passive endurance of his love had come to have a kind of terror for Lum. He could not understand his wife. To go back to the beginning,-as Lum did to-night on his violin strings, he had married Polly Ann out of compassion. He was in the field when Old Man Gooden fell dead in a fit of apoplexy. He helped Polly Ann carry her father into the house, and he witnessed her passionate, dumb agony. Lum had a soft heart, unfettered except by a few rustic attentions to a certain pretty widow on the plantation, Mistress Savannah Lady. When he beheld Polly Ann's desolate condition his heart melted.

"Nary kin nigher'n the Sunk Lan's," mused Lum, "hit's turrible hard. An' she sot sich store by her paw, an' he muched* her so. They sorter kep' ter theyselves, too, I don't guess they wuz the socherbel kin'. Nary un waitin' on 'er neether, 'less hit ar' Whitsun Harp. Ef he don' merry her, I reckon I hed orter. 'Tain't no mo'n neighborly."

Whitsun making no sign, he carried out his intention.

Polly Ann assented gravely, almost silently, to whatever he proposed. Nothing was easier than to rent a cabin and a pair of mules from the Northern men who had bought the plantation, and settle down "to raise a crop."

* To much; Arkansas for to pet, to caress, to make much of.

Polly Ann, after the first outburst, put her grief stoically away and only worked the harder. Polly Ann's father came from the "Sunk Lands," that mysterious region created by the great Lisbon earthquake, an island in the swamps, half the year cut off from the world, forgotten except by a few traders. Until she was fifteen she had lived the solitary life of the people and grown up in their Indian-like reticence. When she was fifteen, her mother died and her father took her to Clover Bend. She was now twenty-three years old, and she had been married hardly five months. Lum was a man of the lowlands, who inherited French instincts of sociability and liked idling about and gossiping. He took his new relations lightly at first, but soon his wife's stronger nature fascinated him. She awak ened all the ardor and tenderness in him, this beautiful, silent, haughty, patient woman. "She ar' fairer nur the flowers," quoted Lum from the songs; "an' she's got a right smart er sense too," he added in the vernacular. He declared his wife's superiority with much frankness. “Law me," said he to Boas, it was a few days later, and they sat on the store counter, indulging in the unpretending luxury of brown sugar and crackers, "law me, Polly Ann's wuth a hull crap er me! Ye'd orter see the plunder she've bought, pickin' cotton —”

"Wa'al, then," interrupted Boas, dropping his customary mild, plaintive drawl to a lower key, "w'y fur be ye so possessed ter cavoort 'reoun' with Savannah Lady?"

"Me!" exclaimed Lum.

"Yes, jes you," repeated Boas with an anxious gaze into Lum's scarlet face. "They 'lows like ye taken up with 'er. Boy, ye hadn't orter be agwine on thet way! Nur ye hadn't orter come yere, fiddlin' an' carryin' on, an' yo' wife ter home, by her lone self, studyin' an' grievin'-"

"Polly Ann don' grieve," said Lum rather sullenly; "leastways she don' grieve ayfter me, nohow. In co'se I mean," he went on quickly, "she ar' grievin' fer her paw."

"In co'se," said Boas. There was a pause. "An' ez regardin' Mistress Lady," Lum said finally, giving the full prefix with dignity, on ordinary occasions one would only say "Mis'" in Arkansas,-" we uns wuz raised together an' natchelly have frien'ly feelin's. But ef ye ar' 'lowin' thet I even her or ary nother lady ter Polly Ann ye ar' a long sight outer yo' reckonin', thet's all. I knaw I taken her ter the singin' school the fiddler hed; but Polly Ann never'd go thar ter singin', kase-wa'al, Polly Ann jes natchelly cayn't sing, cayn't cotch a tune. An' ez fer me goin' ter the store an' drinkin', I disre

member how often I done come yere; but I knaw I never got drunk onywhar, not the least bit on earth. But I ain't purportin' to be goin' yere ter fiddle nights, Bud Boas, never no mo'. Folks ain't got no call ter say I don' ruther stay by Polly Ann than onywhar nelse."

"Thet's so," said Boas. "I knawed they wuz lyin'." Lum did not tell Boas that he only went to the store because he thought Polly Ann did not care to see him home, and his heart was sore. He could not say that, since it would seem like complaining of Polly Ann. But Boas's caution set him thinking; gossip must be loud to rouse that haunted soul from its dream of pain.

"Thet thar's w'at Whit Harp hez heerd, dad burn him," growled Lum," an' blame my skin ef I don' b'lieve thet ar Savannah ar' jes foolin' with me fur ter tol on Steve Morrow." Which it happened was precisely the case. Savannah wanted to marry the stockman, Morrow, and she used Lum to help her, not at all sorry to make Polly Ann jealous, if she could, as well as Morrow. "Ain't thet thar jes like the critter?" said Lum with perfect good humor; "it's a rig on me an' Steve though." Yet he felt a queer resentment against Harp — a resentment not diminished by the sight of his lost mule munching cotton stalks in his own field. "Whitsun fotched 'im," Polly Ann explained. It seemed to Lum that she spoke as though proud of Harp's success. Lum, the best-tempered man on the plantation, ground his teeth. "I sw'ar I hate thet thar Whitsun Harp!" he was thinking.

The next time that he saw Harp was mail day. Twice a week a rider brought the mail to Clover Bend. The post-office was in the store, just as the court-room was, whenever the majesty of the law was invoked or a jail needed. The store had a wide platform the right height to serve instead of a horse block. Savannah Lady rode up to the platform as Whitsun came through the door. She was a pretty, kittenish, fair little woman, and her hair, which was of a lovely reddish-brown color, had a trick of escaping in little ringlets and blowing round her white neck. After all, there was no great harm in her; but to Harp she was the embodiment of all that was dangerous and alluring in woman.

Lum was on the platform so near that common gallantry required him to help her alight. Somehow she stumbled, so he held her for a second by the elbows. Harp, black as night, watched her recover herself, laugh, blush, and flutter into the store. He strode up to Lum. "Lum Shinault," said he in a low tone and very deliberately, "ef ye don' quit yo' ornery triflin' ways I'll lick ye!"

"Then I'll kill ye, shore's death, Whitsun Harp!" Lum gasped, choked with passion. Whitsun only gave him a steady gaze and turned on his heel.

Lum felt himself despised.

A week went by. Polly Ann was conscious of a change in Lum. Though kind as ever, his shy caresses were no longer offered. He worked harder and seldom went to the store, "an' he jis' studies the plum w'ile," said Polly Ann.

One day Mrs. Boas came over to ask Lum to get some quinine and whisky at the store for Boas. "He hed one er 'is spells," so the poor wife always named Boas's fits of terror, "an' he run out en the woods an' got soppin' wet an' cotched cole an' 'pears like hit gits a leetle mucher all the w'ile."

After Lum was gone Polly Ann bethought herself of some corn which should be ground, and that it was grinding day at the mill. Like the store, the mill was a versatile and accommodating establishment, ginning cotton, sawing wood, or grinding corn with equal readiness. So saddling the big gray horse, which was at once her dowry and her inheritance, she led him to the ferry and paddled boat, horse, and woman across the stream. The Clover Bend ferry was deserted, but it was accustomed to desertion, being conducted on Southern principles: if you came when the ferryman was away you must wait until he got back, that was all. Polly Ann saw Lum's wagon-box boat on the sand, and riding up the bank she perceived Lum himself walking through the cypress brake.

"Cypress Swamp," or the "Black River bottom," is like a dry river channel winding through the higher land. When the spring overflow comes the lustrous green water rushes among the tree trunks, and the high land becomes a multitude of islands and peninsulas; but most of the year the channel is dry, and in autumn the cypress boughs spread a soft russet carpet on the ground; the hackberry, maples, live-oaks, and holly-trees which mingle with the cypress splash the foliage with splendid hues, the sunlight filters through the branches and prints shifting shadows of the vines masking the thorn-trees, or turns the red berries into dots of flame. Then the cypress brake is beautiful. But Lum Shinault was not thinking of its beauty. He was walking slowly, his head sunk between his shoulders.

"Studyin'!" said Polly Ann.

Lum looked up. The silhouette of a horse's head had fallen across his path. A sun-bonnet was bent over the mane. The bonnet hid the woman's face, but that ringlet of dazzling hair, floating under the cape, could only belong to one person. Horse and rider stopped. So did the footman. His shadow spread out gigantic on the ground. Then both shadows were

blended together as if in an embrace. Did Polly Ann grow angry? Not in the least; she could see too well.

"W'ats got Savannah Lady?" said she; "looks like Lum was guvin' 'er w'isky an' holdin' uv 'er."

This, indeed, was what he was doing. For once there was no guile about Savannah's acts; Lum had served her turn. Young Morrow had spoken, and she was on her way to buy her wedding finery when she was seized with a chill; but she still rode on, clinging to her horse's neck, until she met Lum. He gave her some whisky.

Now by an evil chance, at this moment, Whitsun Harp must needs enter the scene on a gallop. He saw the shadows, he saw the bright head on Lum's shoulder, the little hands clutching Lum's arm.

A shower of cypress boughs whirled in the air; a pawpaw branch snapped, wrenched away by a furious hand; and Lum lifted his eyes to see Whitsun's face.

"I tell ye, yo' mistaken!" shouted Lum. "It's too late for talking now," said Whitsun, deep and low.

He jumped off his horse and caught Lum by the throat. The smaller man was like a baby in his grip. Lum, writhing and struggling in an impotent fury of rage and shame, hardly felt the blows. Suddenly the hand at his throat released him so suddenly that he was hurled to the ground; he heard his wife's voice, shrill with anger: "Whitsun Harp, w'at ye doin' ter my man?"

He sat up, his brain swimming, specks of fire and blood floating in the air; but there was Whitsun standing empty-handed, and Polly Ann's face over the gray's head.

"I didn't aim ye shud ever knaw on 't, Polly Ann," said Whitsun, "I cudn't holp it, hit hed ter be did."

"I'll never fergive ye en this worl', Whitsun Harp!" said Polly Ann.

Lum put his hands on the tree near him and got to his feet. He leaned on the tree and steadied his choked and shaking voice enough to say, "Look a yere, Whitsun Harp, I'll kill ye fer this."

Harp did not glance toward him; he took one step forward as though he would speak to Polly Ann, but at her gesture of repulsion he turned silently and mounted his horse. On horseback, he reined in his horse, and looking at Polly Ann, said again, "I cudn't holp it," before he galloped away.

Savannah was shivering and crying. "Hit you ary lick, Savannah?" said Lum. "Naw, naw," sobbed she. "Oh, Lum, oh, Mis' Shinault, 'twa'n't my fault! I war jes sick. Whitsun's heerd lies on me 'n' Lum. I'm goin'


"THEN I'LL KILL YE, SHORE'S DEATH." ter be merried ter Steve Morrow nex' week. Fer the Lord's sake, don' tell 'im; he wudn't never speak ter me agin! I done my best! I pulled Whitsun's arm."

For all his misery Lum burst into a bitter laugh. "Muster hendered Whitsun a heap, you holdin' on," said he. "You go 'long home, Savannah, an' don' be skeered er we uns tellin'; jes tek keer ye don' let on nuthin' yo'selfnever min' w'at happens!"

Something in his face checked her answer; she was scared, and glad to ride away. The husband and wife were left alone together.

Lum looked at Polly Ann, who was very pale. "Ye come jes in time, Polly Ann," said he.

"I wudn't o' b'lieved ye'd a taken it, Lum Shinault," said she bitterly, "with yo' knife on too. Pull yo' belt 'reoun'!"


Mechanically, Lum put his hand to his belt, which had been twisted so that the knife was in the back. "I done forgot 'beout the knife," muttered Lum, reddening; "thet ar's a favoryte trick er Harp's." Then, in a second, he added: "I ain't goin' ter tek hit, Polly Ann."

She said nothing.

"Ye don' b'lieve me," cried Lum.


"Tain't no use talkin'," said she wearily. "I'll hev it out with 'im. Ye 'low I'm a ornery, triflin,' pusillanimous"

"Whar's the use callin' yo'self names ?" interrupted Polly Ann. "I don' wanter yere no mo' 'beout it. Reckon Boas'll waynt 'is w'isky onyhow. Thar 'tis un'er the gum-tree." Lum looked at his wife with imploring eyes and quivering mouth; at that moment he was longing to fling his arms about her and sob out

She rode on a little way and stopped. "I'm goin' ter hev a plum good dinner fer ye, Lum," she called back.

"Thankee, Polly Ann," said Lum. He watched her until the trees hid horse and rider. "Polly Ann 'lows thar ain't no troubles men persons cayn't cure with eatin' an' drinkin'," said he; "drinkin'," -he eyed the whisky bottle lying at the foot of the gum-tree,—“ naw, thar ain't ony comfort fer me en thet ar. I'm en a hole, an' thar's jes one way outen hit. No good talkin' ter Polly Ann, she's sot. "Twud on'y pester her. Oh, my Lord, ain't it hard!



"I wisht I cud hev kissed her jes wunst," he said, after a while, "on'y fer ter say good-bye. How soft her cheek wuz! An' thar war a little blue vein jes un'er the ear. Wa'al, hit won' mek no differ ter her, but I wisht-"

He walked on slowly until he came to the boat on the sand. He could see his own cabin. He remembered the day that he brought Polly Ann to it his wedding-day. He crawled into the boat, lay down in the stern, and cried like a child.


his shame on her breast. Poor Lum's grandfather was a Frenchman.

Polly Ann did not look at him, but went on arranging her bag of corn; all Lum could see was the profile of her sun-bonnet-there is nothing sympathetic about a sun-bonnet. "Bes' git on ter the mill ef I waynt a pone er bread terday," said Polly Ann. "Be back ter dinner, Lum."


POLLY ANN'S good dinner waited in vain. Lum did not come. Yet she was sure that, while at the well drawing water, she had seen his figure through the window. She blew the horn. She called at the top of her voice. Finally she went to the shed to see if the horse was gone. Gone he was, and there was a piece of brown wrapping-paper, such as they used at the store, tacked on to a log and directed to "Mistris Shinalt." She took it down, turned it over, and saw a single sentence, written in pencil, in cramped, careful letters: "Darling Polly an i taken your

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »