Part 6 out of 6
Well, I seen that girl seen through me then.
Martha was awful smart sometimes. And each
one was so derned tickled the other one wasn't go-
ing to do any pining away we like to of fell into
love all over agin. But not quite. Fur neither one
would ever trust the other one agin. So we felt
more comfortable with each other. You ain't
never comfortable with a person you know is more
honest than you be.
"But," says Martha, after a minute, "if you didn't
come back to make me marry you, what does
Doctor Kirby want to see Miss Hampton about?
And who was that with him?"
I had been nigh to forgetting the main thing we
had all come here fur, in my gladness at getting rid
of any danger of marrying Martha. But it come to
me all to oncet I had been missing a lot that must be
taking place inside that house. I had even missed
the way they first looked when she met 'em at the
door, and I wouldn't of missed that fur a lot. And
I seen all to oncet what a big piece of news it
will be to Martha.
"Martha," I says, "they ain't no Dr. Hartley L.
Kirby. The man known as such is David Arm-
I never seen any one so peetrified as Martha was
fur a minute.
"Yes," says I, "and the other one is Miss Lucy's
brother. And they are all three in there straighten-
ing themselves out and finding where everybody
gets off at, and why. One of these here serious
times you read about. And you and me are missing
it all, like a couple of gumps. How can we hear?"
Martha says she don't know.
"You THINK," I told her. "We've wasted five
good minutes already. I've GOT to hear the rest of
it. Where would they be?"
Martha guesses they will all be in the sitting room,
which has got the best chairs in it.
"What is next to it? A back parlour, or a bed-
room, or what?" I was thinking of how I happened
to overhear Perfessor Booth and his fambly
Martha says they is nothing like that to be
"Martha," I says, "this is serious. This here
story they are thrashing out in there is the only
derned sure-enough romanceful story either you
or me is ever lible to run up against personal in all
our lives. It would of been a good deal nicer if
they had ast us in to see the wind-up of it. Fur, if
it hadn't of been fur me, they never would of been
reunited and rejuvenated the way they be. But
some people get stingy streaks with their concerns.
Martha, she says: "Danny, it wouldn't be
honourable to listen."
"Martha," I tells her, "after the way you and
me went and jilted each other, what kind of senses
of honour have WE got to brag about?"
She remembers that the spare bedroom is right
over the sitting room. The house is heated with
stoves in the winter time. There is a register right
through the floor of the spare bedroom and the
ceiling of the sitting room. Not the kind of a
register that comes from a twisted-around shaft in
a house that uses furnace heat. But jest really a
hole in the floor, with a cast-iron grating, to let
the heat from the room below into the one above.
She says she guesses two people that wasn't so
very honourable might sneak into the house the
back way, and up the back stairs, and into the spare
bedroom, and lay down on their stummicks on the
floor, being careful to make no noise, and both see
and hear through that register. Which we done it.
I could hear well enough, but at first I couldn't
see any of them. But I gathered that Miss
Lucy was standing up whilst she was talking,
and moving around a bit now and then. I seen one
of her sleeves, and then a wisp of her hair. Which
was aggervating, fur I wanted to know what she
was like. But her voice was so soft and quiet that
you kind of knowed before you seen her how she
"Prentiss McMakin came to me that day," she
was saying, "with an appeal--I hardly know how
to tell you." She broke off.
"Go ahead, Lucy," says Colonel Tom's voice.
"He was insulting," she said. "He had been drink-
ing. He wanted me to--to--he appealed to me to
run off with him.
"I was furious--NATURALLY." Her voice changed
as she said it enough so you could feel how furious
Miss Lucy could get. She was like her brother
Tom in some ways.
"I ordered him out of the house. His answer to
that was an offer to marry me. You can imagine
that I was surprised as well as angry--I was
"'But I AM married!' I cried. The idea that any
of my own people, or any one whom I had known at
home, would think I wasn't married was too much
for me to take in all at once.
"'You THINK you are,' said Prentiss McMakin,
with a smile.
"In spite of myself my breath stopped. It was
as if a chilly hand had taken hold of my heart.
I mean, physically, I felt like that.
"'I AM married,' I repeated, simply.
"I suppose that McMakin had got the story of
our wedding from YOU." She stopped a minute.
The doctor's voice answered:
"I suppose so," like he was a very tired man.
"Anyhow," she went on, "he knew that we went
first to Clarksville. He said:
"'You think you are married, Lucy, but you
"I wish you to understand that Prentiss McMakin
did it all very, very well. That is my excuse. He
acted well. There was something about him--I
scarcely know how to put it. It sounds odd, but
the truth is that Prentiss McMakin was always a
more convincing sort of a person when he had been
drinking a little than when he was sober. He
lacked warmth--he lacked temperament. I suppose
just the right amount put it into him. It put the
devil into him, too, I reckon.
"He told me that you and he, Tom, had been to
Clarksville, and had made investigations, and that
the wedding was a fraud. And he told it with a
wealth of convincing detail. In the midst of it he
broke off to ask to see my wedding certificate. As
he talked, he laughed at it, and tore it up, saying
that the thing was not worth the paper it was on,
and he threw the pieces of paper into the grate. I
listened, and I let him do it--not that the paper
itself mattered particularly. But the very fact that
I let him tear it showed me, myself, that I was
"He ended with an impassioned appeal to me to
go with him.
"I showed him the door. I pretended to the
last that I thought he was lying to me. But I did
not think so. I believed him. He had done it all
very cleverly. You can understand how I might--
in view of what had happened?"
I wanted to see Miss Lucy--how she looked
when she said different things, so I could make up
my mind whether she was forgiving the doctor or
not. Not that I had much doubt but what they
would get their personal troubles fixed up in the
end. The iron grating in the floor was held down
by four good-sized screws, one at each corner. They
wasn't no filling at all betwixt it and the iron grating
that was in the ceiling of the room below. The
space was hollow. I got an idea and took out my
"What are you going to do?" whispers Martha.
"S-sh-sh," I says, "shut up, and you'll see."
One of the screws was loose, and I picked her out
easy enough. The second one I broke the point off of
my knife blade on. Like you nearly always do on
a screw. When it snapped Colonel Tom he says:
"What's that?" He was powerful quick of hear-
ing, Colonel Tom was. I laid low till they went on
talking agin. Then Martha slides out on tiptoe and
comes back in three seconds with one of these here
little screw-drivers they use around sewing-machines
and the little oil can that goes with it. I oils them
screws and has them out in a holy minute, and lifts
the grating from the floor careful and lays it careful
on the rug.
By doing all of which I could get my head and
shoulders down into that there hole. And by twist-
ing my neck a good deal, see a little ways to each
side into the room, instead of jest underneath the
grating. The doctor I couldn't see yet, and only a
little of Colonel Tom, but Miss Lucy quite plain.
"You mean thing," Martha whispers, "you are
blocking it up so I can't hear."
"Keep still," I whispers, pulling my head out of
the hole so the sound wouldn't float downward into
the room below. "You are jest like all other
women--you got too much curiosity."
"How about yourself?" says she.
"Who was it thought of taking the grating off?"
I whispers back to her. Which settles her tem-
porary, but she says if I don't give her a chancet at
it purty soon she will tickle my ribs.
When I listens agin they are burying that there
Prent McMakin. But without any flowers.
Miss Lucy, she was half setting on, half leaning
against, the arm of a chair. Which her head was
jest a bit bowed down so that I couldn't see her
eyes. But they was the beginnings of a smile onto
her face. It was both soft and sad.
"Well," says Colonel Tom, "you two have wasted
almost twenty years of life."
"There is one good thing," says the doctor. "It
is a good thing that there was no child to suffer by
She raised her face when he said that, Miss Lucy
did, and looked in his direction.
"You call that a good thing?" she says, in a kind
of wonder. And after a minute she sighs. "Per-
haps," she says, "you are right. Heaven only
knows. Perhaps it WAS better that he died."
"DIED!" sings out the doctor.
And I hearn his chair scrape back, like he had riz
to his feet sudden. I nearly busted my neck trying
fur to see him, but I couldn't. I was all twisted up,
head down, and the blood getting into my head from
it so I had to pull it out every little while.
"Yes," she says, with her eyes wide, "didn't you
know he died?" And then she turns quick toward
Colonel Tom. "Didn't you tell him--" she
begins. But the doctor cuts in.
"Lucy," he says, his voice shaking and croaking
in his throat, "I never knew there was a child!"
I hears Colonel Tom hawk in HIS throat like a
man who is either going to spit or else say something.
But he don't do either one. No one says anything
fur a minute. And then Miss Lucy says agin:
And then she fell into a kind of a muse. I have
been myself in the fix she looked to be in then--so
you forget fur a while where you are, or who is there,
whilst you think about something that has been in
the back part of your mind fur a long, long time.
What she was musing about was that child that
hadn't lived. I could tell that by her face. I
could tell how she must have thought of it,
often and often, fur years and years, and longed fur
it, so that it seemed to her at times she could
almost touch it. And how good a mother she would
of been to it. Some women has jest natcherally
GOT to mother something or other. Miss Lucy
was one of that kind. I knowed all in a flash, whilst I
looked at her there, why she had adopted Martha
fur her child.
It was a wonderful look that was onto her face.
And it was a wonderful face that look was onto. I
felt like I had knowed her forever when I seen her
there. Like the thoughts of her the doctor had been
carrying around with him fur years and years, and
that I had caught him thinking oncet or twicet, had
been my thoughts too, all my life.
Miss Lucy, she was one of the kind there's no use
trying to describe. The feller that could see her
that-a-way and not feel made good by it orter have
a whaling. Not the kind of sticky, good feeling
that makes you uncomfortable, like being pestered
by your conscience to jine a church or quit cussing.
But the kind of good that makes you forget they is
anything on earth but jest braveness of heart and
being willing to bear things you can't help. You
knowed the world had hurt her a lot when you seen
her standing there; but you didn't have the nerve to
pity her none, either. Fur you could see she had
got over pitying herself. Even when she was in
that muse, longing with all her soul fur that child
she had never knowed, you didn't have the nerve
to pity her none.
"He died," she says agin, purty soon, with that
gentle kind of smile.
Colonel Tom, he clears his throat agin. Like
when you are awful dry.
"The truth is--" he begins.
And then he breaks off agin. Miss Lucy turns
toward him when he speaks. By the strange look
that come onto her face there must of been some-
thing right curious in HIS manner too. I was jest
simply laying onto my forehead mashing one of my
dern eyeballs through a little hole in the grating.
But I couldn't, even that way, see fur enough to one
side to see how HE looked.
"The truth is," says Colonel Tom, trying it agin,
"that I--well, Lucy, the child may be dead, but he
didn't die when you thought he did."
There was a flash of hope flared into her face that
I hated to see come there. Because when it died
out in a minute, as I expected it would have to,
it looked to me like it might take all her life out
with it. Her lips parted like she was going to say
something with them. But she didn't. She jest
"Why did you never tell me this--that there was
a child?" says the doctor, very eager.
"Wait," says Colonel Tom, "let me tell the story
in my own way."
Which he done it. It seems when he had went to
Galesburg this here child had only been born a few
days. And Miss Lucy was still sick. And the
kid itself was sick, and liable to die any minute, by
the looks of things.
Which Colonel Tom wishes that it would die, in
his heart. He thinks that it is an illegitimate child,
and he hates the idea of it and he hates the sight
of it. The second night he is there he is setting in
his sister's room, and the woman that has been
nursing the kid and Miss Lucy too is in the next
room with the kid.
She comes to the door and beckons to him, the
nurse does. He tiptoes toward her, and she says
to him, very low-voiced, that "it is all over."
Meaning the kid has quit struggling fur to live, and
jest natcherally floated away. The nurse had
thought Miss Lucy asleep, but as both her and
Colonel Tom turn quick toward her bed they see
that she has heard and seen, and she turns her face
toward the wall. Which he tries fur to comfort
her, Colonel Tom does, telling her as how it is an
illegitimate child, and fur its own sake it was better
it was dead before it ever lived any. Which she
don't answer of him back, but only stares in a wild-
eyed way at him, and lays there and looks desperate,
and says nothing.
In his heart Colonel Tom is awful glad that it is
dead. He can't help feeling that way. And he
quits trying to talk to his sister, fur he
suspicions that she will ketch onto the fact that
he is glad that it is dead. He goes on into the
He finds the nurse looking awful funny, and
bending over the dead kid. She is putting a look-
ing-glass to its lips. He asts her why.
She says she thought she might be mistaken after
all. She couldn't say jest WHEN it died. It was
alive and feeble, and then purty soon it showed no
signs of life. It was like it hadn't had enough
strength to stay and had jest went. I didn't show
any pulse, and it didn't appear to be breathing.
And she had watched it and done everything be-
fore she beckoned to Colonel Tom and told him that
it was dead. But as she come back into the room
where it was she thought she noticed something
that was too light to be called a real flutter move its
eyelids, which she had closed down over its eyes.
It was the ghost of a move, like it had tried to raise
the lids, or they had tried to raise theirselves, and
had been too weak. So she has got busy and
wrapped a hot cloth around it, and got a drop of
brandy or two between its lips, and was fighting to
bring it back to life. And thought she was doing
it. Thought she had felt a little flutter in its chest,
and was trying if it had breath at all.
Colonel Tom thinks of what big folks the Buckner
fambly has always been at home. And how high
they had always held their heads. And how none
of the women has ever been like this before. Nor
no disgrace of any kind. And that there kid, if it
is alive, is a sign of disgrace. And he hoped to God,
he said, it wasn't alive.
But he don't say so. He stands there and
watches that nurse fight fur to hold onto the little
mist of life she thinks now is still into it. She un-
buttons her dress and lays the kid against the heat
of her own breast. And wills fur it to live, and
fights fur it to, and determines that it must, and jest
natcherally tries fur to bullyrag death into going
away. And Colonel Tom watching, and wishing
that it wouldn't. But he gets interested in that
there fight, and so purty soon he is hoping both ways
by spells. And the fight all going on without a
But finally the nurse begins fur to cry. Not be-
cause she is sure it is dead. But because she is sure
it is coming back. Which it does, slow.
"'But I have told HER that it is dead,'" says Colonel
Tom, jerking his head toward the other room where
Miss Lucy is lying. He speaks in a low voice and
closes the door when he speaks. Fur it looks now
like it was getting strong enough so it might even
squall a little.
"I don't know what kind of a look there was on
my face," says Colonel Tom, telling of the story to
his sister and the doctor, "but she must have seen
that I was--and heaven help me, but I WAS!--sorry
that the baby was alive. It would have been such
an easy way out of it had it been really dead!
"'She mustn't know that it is living,' I said to
the nurse, finally," says Colonel Tom, going on with
his story. I had been watching Miss Lucy's face
as Colonel Tom talked and she was so worked up
by that fight fur the kid's life she was breath-
less. But her eyes was cast down, I guess so her
brother couldn't see them. Colonel Tom goes on
with his story:
"'You don't mean--' said the nurse, startled.
"'No! No!' I said, 'of course--not that! But--
why should she ever know that it didn't die?'"
"'It is illegitimate?' asked the nurse.
"'Yes,' I said." The long and short of it was,
Colonel Tom went on to tell, that the nurse went out
and got her mother. Which the two of them lived
alone, only around the corner. And give the child
into the keeping of her mother, who took it away
then and there.
Colonel Tom had made up his mind there wasn't
going to be no bastards in the Buckner fambly.
And now that Miss Lucy thought it was dead he
would let her keep on thinking so. And that would
be settled for good and all. He figgered that it
wouldn't ever hurt her none if she never
The nurse's mother kept it all that week, and it
throve. Colonel Tom was coaxing of his sister to
go back to Tennessee. But she wouldn't go. So
he had made up his mind to go back and get his
Aunt Lucy Davis to come and help him coax. He
was only waiting fur his sister to get well enough so
he could leave her. She got better, and she never
ast fur the kid, nor said nothing about it. Which
was probable because she seen he hated it so. He
had made up his mind, before he went back after
their Aunt Lucy Davis, to take the baby himself and
put it into some kind of an institution.
"I thought," he says to Miss Lucy, telling of the
story, "that you yourself were almost reconciled
to the thought that it hadn't lived."
Miss Lucy interrupted him with a little sound.
She was breathing hard, and shaking from head to
foot. No one would have thought to look at her
then she was reconciled to the idea that it hadn't
lived. It was cruel hard on her to tear her to pieces
with the news that it really had lived, but had lived
away from her all these years she had been longing
fur it. And no chancet fur her ever to mother it.
And no way to tell what had ever become of it. I
felt awful sorry fur Miss Lucy then.
"But when I got ready to leave Galesburg,"
Colonel Tom goes on, "it suddenly occurred to me
that there would be difficulties in the way of putting
it in a home of any sort. I didn't know what to do
"What DID you? What DID you? WHAT DID YOU?"
cries out Miss Lucy, pressing her hand to her chest,
like she was smothering.
"The first thing I did," says Colonel Tom, "was
to get you to another house--you remember,
"Yes, yes!" she says, excited, "and what then?"
"Perhaps I did a very foolish thing," says Colonel
"After I had seen you installed in the new place
and had bidden you good-bye, I got a carriage and
drove by the place where the nurse and her mother
lived. I told the woman that I had changed my
mind--that you were going to raise the baby--
that I was going to permit it. I don't think she
quite believed me, but she gave me the baby. What
else could she do? Besides, I had paid her well,
when I discharged her, to say nothing to you, and to
keep the baby until I should come for it. They
needed money; they were poor.
"I was determined that it should never be heard
of again. It was about noon when I left Galesburg.
I drove all that afternoon, with the baby in a basket
on the seat of the carriage beside me. Everybody
has read in books, since books were first written--
and seen in newspapers, too--about children being
left on door steps. Given an infant to dispose of,
that is perhaps the first thing that occurs to a per-
son. There was a thick plaid shawl wrapped about
the child. In the basket, beside the baby, was a
nursing bottle. About dusk I had it refilled with
warm milk at a farmhouse near--"
My head was beginning fur to swim. I pulled my
head out of that there hole, and rammed my foot
into it. It banged against that grating and loosened
it. It busted loose some plaster, which showered
down into the room underneath. Miss Lucy, she
screamed. And the doctor and Colonel Tom both
yelled out to oncet:
"It's me," I yells, banging that grating agin.
"Watch out below there!" And the third lick I
give her she broke loose and clattered down right
onto a centre table and spilled over some pho-
tographs and a vase full of flowers, and bounced off
onto the floor.
"Look out below," I yells, "I'm coming down!"
I let my legs through first, and swung them so I
would land to one side of the table, and held by my
hands, and dropped. But struck the table a side-
ways swipe and turned it over, and fell onto the
floor. The doctor, he grabbed me by the collar and
straightened me up, and give me a shake and stood
me onto my feet.
"What do you mean--" he begins. But I
"Now then," I says to Colonel Tom, "did you
leave that there child sucking that there bottle on
the doorstep of a blacksmith's house next to his shop
at the edge of a little country town about twenty
miles northeast of Galesburg wrapped up in that
there plaid shawl?"
"I did," says Colonel Tom.
"Then," says I, turning to Miss Lucy, "I can
understand why I have been feeling drawed to YOU
fur quite a spell. I'm him."