The Tinkling Simlins
IT was admitted that there was no other man around North Pass who could get together so good a force of berry-pickers as Abe Tweedy, — or Twiddy, as he was known by word of mouth. He went out into the wilds of Johnson County to engage them in April; imported them to the Floyd farm, near the pass, in May, when strawberries were beginning to ripen; and “ bossed ” them with forceful patience and suavity until the last blackberry was off the vines in August. The inhabitants of “ old Johnsing ” were a lawless people in those days, but it was Tweedy’s boast that in ten years there had been no “ killings ” in his gang, and scarcely ever a fight or a drawn knife, while the quarreling was only enough to give a little human interest to the long, hard seasons. Year after year the same families joined his force. Friendships or jealousies which had been interrupted during the winter began afresh along the strawberry rows, and ran their course from the bleak, chilly, showery days when Tweedy kindled a bonfire on the edge of the field, so that his gang could warm its numbed hands and dry its dew - drenched clothing, to other days of perfect sunshine and delight ; and on to others still, when the aroma of the raspberries hung like an overpowering incense in the quivering air, and Tweedy advised the pickers to put moist raspberry leaves in their hats and bonnets to keep off the sun.
It was the beginning of such a day of fainting heat, and Tweedy had made the rounds of the field with a waterbucket and a dipper. He passed over a little rise of ground, and found himself near a girl who had fairly buried her head in the waving branches of a tall raspberry bush, and was searching for the great, red, perfect berries which grow beneath the leaves.
“ Fine warm day,” he said, setting down the bucket, and taking off his hat to wipe his forehead. The girl did not seem to hear, so he stood a moment looking at her. Her skirt was soaked to the waist with the heavy dew which shimmered on the leaves and berries, her sleeves were wet to the shoulders and clung about her strong round arms, and even the ruffle of her sunbonnet was limp from brushing against the vines. It was very early although it was so warm. The sun was low in the east, and its light fell in an almost level flood of gold across the tops of the vines, which were all staked and trained high, so that the field looked like a vineyard. Far away toward the horizon, the morning shadows were still lurking among the wild blue hills. It seemed a pity that the girl should be soaked with dew and have her head buried in a raspberry bush. Tweedy tried a new tone. “Look out you pick them berries clean, Cynthy Lence,” he said.
She straightened herself, and pushed her bonnet back from a calm-looking face with moist curls flattened against the temples. “ ’Pears to me, when I stand on my haid in a bush, it ’s a sign I ’m searchin’ pretty close for ’em,” she answered, freeing the curls with her hand.
Tweedy lifted the dripping dipper out of the bucket and held it toward her. “ I knowed you would n’t stop workin’ long enough to take a drink ’less’n I faulted yore work,” he said. “ It ain’t my place, as boss, to make a fuss about anybody’s doin’ too much ; but jus’ countin’ myself as Abe Twiddy, I cain’t sense why you drive yoreself so hard. If you want to show that you can pick two boxes to Buck Anderson’s one, you done that long ago.”
The girl had come a step toward him to take the dipper, but her hand dropped and she did not take it.
“ Pshaw ! ” he said, holding it out further. She shook her head. “ Pshaw! ” he repeated, “ you ’re the faithfulest worker I’ve got in this field ; you don’t need any boss, an’ someway I cain’t never count myself as anything but Abe Twiddy when I ’m talkin’ to you. . . . Stan’ still a minute ; it’s bound to be said. I cain’t help seein’ that you-uns is workin’ yoreself so unmerciful jus’ because Buck Anderson married that old Widder Tate instead of you. He’s a heap sorrier about it ’n you be, an’ she ’s run him right up agin the wall, too ; he das n’t lift a eyelash ’less’n she says, ‘ Eyelashes up ! ’ like we used to play. It don’t look to me like there’s the stuff in him for a girl to keer so much about.”
The girl was looking at him so steadily that he began to hesitate. “ You see, Cynthy, I ’m a mighty old acquaintance of yorn,” he apologized. “ I been bossin’ you now since you was jus’ big enough to stan’ under the raspberry vines an’ pull the berries off’n the low branches ; they mos’ly went into yore mouth, too. Now don’t it look like it was tol’able nateral I should take an interest ? ”
She smiled at him with a sparkle of resentment in her eyes. “ Nobody’s keepin’ you from takin’ an interest, if you want to,” she said. " I. don’t keer.”
All the rugged lines in Tweedy’s face took a sudden downward turn. He was not used to finding himself of small account, and if any one who cared had been watching him, it would have been evident that he was not only perplexed, but pained. At last he picked up the waterbucket and started along the row, but, pausing, looked at the girl again. She had bent into the bush once more, and he went slowly away, feeling as if he had lost something there among the raspberry leaves.
The heat grew more oppressive as the day went on, and Tweedy noticed the listless, sullen spirit of his gang. The talk and laughter which usually passed between the rows died out, and only an angry mother raised her voice now and then to threaten a child, or Buck Anderson’s wife (still known as “ the Widow Tate ”) was heard railing at her husband. Tweedy himself was indefatigable in good works and in good cheer. He took the heavy hand-crates from the red-faced, panting children who were carrying them to the shed, and, as he passed, he stopped to joke with the row of old women who were playing truant openly and smoking their pipes in the shadow of a tree. But his jokes fell back on him like those of an actor who is facing a stolid house. There was no air stirring, the weight of the atmosphere rested heavy on the field, and all the time he was thinking of Cynthia with her head hidden in the raspberry bush. Again and again he started to go to see if she still had it there; but talking to her seemed so useless that he did not go until the whole force worked its way over the knoll which had separated her from the others, and he caught sight of her only a few bushes beyond the place where she had been before. She was picking as slowly and wearily as any of the rest, and he hurried toward her, reproaching himself for having taunted her. After all, it was quite as much a pity for her to work slowly as to work swiftly on account of a man like Anderson, and he was ready to tell her so, when he noticed that Anderson and his wife were picking on the row next hers. Through all the season he had been quietly keeping them at a distance from her, but that morning she had come into the field so much earlier than any one else that she had already passed over the knoll when the others began, and so he had been careless in giving out the rows. Anderson’s black head and thin shoulders were moving rapidly toward Cynthia, but his wife had come to a full stop, and was staring over the bushes at the girl, with a pair of cold blue eyes. Tweedy knew that the Widow Tate had more than once drawn a knife and attacked persons against whom she had a prejudice; and as she finally strode forward from one bush to another, he fancied he could see the swing of a knife in the limp folds of her gown ; his thoughts followed her with foreboding, even while he called himself a fool, and took off his hat and fanned himself as if fanning up a new idea. The widow seemed to have seen all she wished to see of Cynthia, however, and Tweedy drew a breath of relief as he saw her fill the last box in her hand-crate and start off toward the shed. Tweedy hurried away, too, suddenly realizing that he was not plain “ Abe Twiddy,” but a boss, and that this would be a good time to do a little bossing in the parts of the field at a distance from Cynthia ; he called them “ the far parts of the field.”
Meanwhile, the pickers moved slowly along their rows, and the sun rose slowly higher and shot its rays at them with greater force. Cynthia could feel the sharp impact of the heat upon her head ; she could feel, too, the strange piercing of an unseen steady gaze. Thinking the Widow Tate might still be looking at her, she tried to keep her own eyes doggedly upon her work ; but last she glanced up, and saw the widow’s sunbon net just passing out of sight on its way to the shed. It was Buck Anderson who was looking at her. She had not seen him so close at hand for nearly a year, and his haggard face startled her. It did not seem possible that this was the man with whom she had gayly " raced the field ” last season ; for though he might not have been a strong man then, he had been free and light-hearted. She had never seen a human soul in punishment before, and she took an involuntary step toward him, wonder and pity in. her eyes.
Anderson glanced over his shoulder to be sure that his wife was out of sight, and then hurried toward her, shaking as if he had a chill.
“I’ve wanted a chance to talk to you,” he began in a husky voice. “I pretty nigh died las’ winter, an’ I 'll die this winter, so I can talk where a well man would be obleeged to keep his mouth shet. After I had axed you-uns, an’ you would n’t have me, Cynthy, I was plumb wild ; I did n’t keer what I did, an’ I jus’ got married out of devilment, because I knowed folkses would say I ’d throwed you-uns over to git the Widder Tate’s wheat farm in the bottoms; an’ I ’lowed it would spite you to have the name o’ bein’ cut out by the widder. I reckon she took me because she had seed how fast I could work, an’ she allowed I ’d make a right good hand on her farm an’ hyar in the berry fields before wheat harvest; but she drove me too hard. I took a cold last winter ” — He stopped with a sort of gasp from having said so much and spoken so rapidly. He seemed to have very little strength, and Cynthia noticed that he reeled slightly and put his hand to his head before he went on, while his eyes sought hers with a weak man’s longing for compassion. “ She drove me to work when I was n’t fit,” he began again, trying hard not to make each word an appeal. “ I had had pneumony, an’ goin’ out like that I pretty nigh died.”
Cynthia was struggling against the shock of the change in him. Her eyes roamed out across the field as she listened to his nervous, hurrying voice, and half consciously she noted how many of the pickers had stopped work to stare across the walls of shimmering green, and wonder what her old lover was saying to her while his wife was gone. They were all like Tweedy : they thought that she had been mourning for him. She was glad that it was she who had borne the humiliation of their sympathy instead of Anderson, yet she resented their inquisitive interest and their theories. It was not her fault that a man too slight for her to love had loved her, though perhaps, if she had been thinking less of other things, she might have seen that he cared for her, and have kept him from caring quite so much; but she had thought of nothing except to be the best and swiftest picker in Abe Tweedy’s gang.
“ What made you work when you was n’t fit? ” she asked.
Anderson shook his head. “You-uns could n’t onderstand it,” he said wearily. “You-uns is one of the sort that jus’ goes as they please, an’ don’t gee nor haw when folkses jerk the lines; but I ’m mighty tender to the bit. I don’ know how she did it, but she jus’ slipped a curb into my mouth the first day, an she’s been a-gee-hawin’ an’ a-whippin’ me up ever since. I ’lowed I would n 't git the chance to say airy word to youuns before I was drove onderground, an’
I wanted to tell you that I only married for devilment, an’ she ’s paid me out, — that’s all.”
He stopped, but his hollow, sorrowful eyes still lingered on the girl’s face, and, for the first time in her life, her heart admitted the claim of his unanswered love. Even his weakness suddenly became sacred from the judgment of her strength. Her face grew full of sorrow for him, but though her lips moved once or twice, she could not find a word to say. The silence of the breathless morning was so deep that she could almost hear what two women were whispering together in a row near by.
“ Oh,” Anderson began again in his hoarse, eager voice, “ you don’t lay up no grudge agin me., do you ? I did it for devilment, but I’ve been paid out a’ready; an’ when I think I’ve got to go on an’ live with her till I die, an’ have her stand by me then an’ shet my eyes, I reckon I ’ll have paid more than the little spite it was to you to have a man you didn’t keer for throw hisse’f away.”
Cynthia went a step closer to him, regardless of the sharp laugh with which the women ended their conference in the other row. Her heart seemed to beat itself against a barrier of wordlessness. “Buck,” she said, “I’m mighty sorry for you, an’ if I’ve ever laid up any grudge or keered a little, it ain t anything beside what you’ve been through ; an’ I ’ll say it before my Maker, it’s all my fault. I — I wisht there was something I could do ”
Anderson looked at her, wondering if all the feeling in her face could be for him; and when he saw it really was for him, a sob came up into his throat, and with a single broken word he went back to his row.
Just then Tweedy came along, his water - bucket swinging at his side. “ What’s the matter ? ” he asked Cynthia. “You’ve scarcely moved a foot since I was talkin’ to you an hour ago.”
She smiled a little, and there was still something tender in her eyes. “ ’Pears to me you-uns is mighty hard to please to-day, Mr. Twiddy,” she replied. “ A hour ago you was faultin’ me ’cause I picked too fast.”
“ Well, you was pickin’ too fast,” he said, and his voice was testy; “ thar’s a gait betwixt runnin’ yore head off an’ standin’ still.”
He had never spoken like that to her before, and she looked at him with a startled face. “ I was tryin’ to please you-uns,” she began, — “ that is, in the first place. Jus’ the las’ few minutes I been talkin’ to Buck Anderson.”
“ So I ’ve heard an’ seen,” he said. “ The word of it is clear acrost the field.”
Her features hardened. “ An’ you come acrost to stop it ? ” she inquired.
“ Well, bein’ the boss, I naterally have to come this way once in a while,” he returned evasively, stooping to pull off a red berry she had missed. It did not prove to be as ripe as he had thought. He jerked at it until it crumbled in his hand, and then laughed as he threw the pieces away. She watched him scornfully, but when he finally looked up at her, though his lips still laughed, his eyes were as frank and steady as her own. “I ’m in an awkward place, Cynthy,” he said. “ I know you think I meddle too much, an’ yet I ’m bound to keep things as quiet an’ peaceable as I can ; an’ somehow, I’m bound likewise to keep you from trouble, if I can. I know you call it yore own business if you choose to pass a word with Buck, same as if he wms any other man, an’ so’t is ; an’ yet this whole field has got its eyes open a - vvatchin’, so whatever the Widder Tate don’t see, she ’ll hear. You don’t know her the way I do. I room next ’em in the barracks, an’ I hear her goin’ for him nights. She’s the illest-natured woman I ever met up with, an’ if she gets a notion that you an’ him is takin’ notice again, tliar ’ll be the devil to pay. I wisht you ’d promise me, Cynthy, not to speak him airy other word.”
The girl shut her lips. “ If thar :s the devil to pay, I reckon them that owes him ’ll have to do it. I ain’t never had no dealin’s with him,” she said.
“ But that’s the trouble with the old boy, Cynthy,” the foreman explained. “ He jus’ collects whar he has a mind to, without lookin’ at his books. An’ thar’s another thing, — though it ain’t easy for a man to name it to a honest girl that he’s seed growin’ up right out of the shadder of the vines, the way you have : even if the widder did n’t jump on you with a knife some time when you was n’t lookin’, tliar’s nothin’ like a fieldful of long-tongued berry-pickers to blacken a girl’s name.”
Cynthia set her hand-crate down very slowly under the bushes, and her hands fell by her sides. “ Oh, Mr. Twiddy,” she said, “ do you think I keer ? If they can make me black so easy, I 'd rather be made black an’ have it done. I don’t reckon such kind o’ talk as theirn ‘ll be heard at the jedgment seat more 'n the rattlin’ of a dry ole las’ year’s simlin full o’ seeds. You know what the Bible says about them that have not charity,—they are become as soundin brass an’ tinklin’ simlins. What do I keer if all their round simlin heads bob up an’ rattle together all acrost the field ? ”
“ Sist ! ” whispered Tweedy. There was a murmur in the air as if a breeze had arisen to shake all the pickers tongues. Here and there heads leaned across rows to meet heads leaning from the other side. Some were turned to look at Cynthia and Tweedy, and at Anderson, who was walking in a queer dazed way beside his row, and picking scarce a berry. Others wrere looking with interest at the Widow Tate, as she marched heavily and slowly down the path from the shed.
Cynthia’s lips curved disdainfully. “ They had ought to thank me an’ Buck,” she said. “ They ain’t feelin’ half so played out with the heat as they was a hour ago.”
“ Pore child ! ” Tweedy sighed, as if he were summing up all her waywardness and his pity for her. “ You don’t mind it very much now, an’ you don’t need to, ’cause it’ll die out if it ain’t fed; but cain’t you pictur’ how it ud be if it kep’ on ? I’ve had flies buzz about my head till I was nigh distracted, but I suppose you think it ud bemean you to take notice of a fly.”
“ I’ve heard ’em,” Cynthia said. “ They’ve kep’ a-buzzin’ in my ears jus’ the way you-uns does, an’ whenever I brushed ’em off they’d come right back. Mr. Twiddy, you-uns is so skeered o’ people’s tongues, don’t you reckon yore gang ’ll be puttin’ our names together if you spen’ so much time bossin’ me, when I’m knowed to be the best an’ fastest picker in the field ? ”
Her tone stung Tweedy, and for a moment a glow of resentment tried to fight its way through the sunburn on his face ; but as he stared at her, seeking for a retort, and yet uncertain whether to retort or to turn on his heel, something spoke to him out of the unchanging depths of his tenderness for her, and he understood the burning of injustice, the suffering, and the humiliation which held council behind her curving lips and brightened eyes. The anger died out of him, just as discord gives way to silence or to something sweeter, and he looked at the girl in a way that she could not understand. And yet there was nothing he could say to her, and he turned away, leaving her wishing that he had spoken, so that her own words might not sound so clearly in her ears.
The ripe berries were gleaming conspicuously along the row where Buck Anderson had hurried forward without picking them, and Tweedy, in his official character, Could not pass them by. He walked swiftly from bush to bush, swreeping off a berry here and there as he passed, until he had a handful of the red, fragrant, half-melting jewels with which to accuse Anderson’s carelessness ; but Anderson was nowhere to be seen. Tweedy went on, glancing between the bushes; for he expected to find Buck stooping somewhere out of sight, picking from the low branches. Along the row from the other end the Widow Tate was approaching ; she was looking for Anderson, too, her hard eyes resting an instant on every bush, seeking for some stir among the leaves. Presently she hurried forward, calling loudly, " What’s the matter with you ? What you doin’ down thar ? ”
Tweedy came up and found her standing beside Anderson, who had fallen between the bushes and lay in their shadow. Something of the green tint of the leaves was on his face, and he looked as if he were dead, but the widow did not kneel to touch him ; she only bent, looking a little closer, and stirred him with her foot, repeating her questions.
Tweedy stooped, and passed a hand across his head and felt above his heart.
The widow straightened up and folded her arms. " He’s only playin’ off,” she said. “ He does hit when he gits tired o’ work.”
Several of the pickers had already gathered, and were elbowing one another around the two bushes which sheltered Anderson, hut they waited for Tweedy to speak.
“I reckon it’s sunstroke,” Tweedy said. “ We ’ll carry him straight to the barracks, Mis’ Anderson, an’ put him in wet blankets. I don’t know what the chances are, but I ;m afeard " — He reached out for his water - bucket, and dashed its contents over Anderson’s head and face.
“ Oh, he ’ll git well,” the woman said in her harsh voice, which was sometimes more cruel than her thought. “ Hit takes a mighty little to git him down, an’ a mighty lot to git him up ; but he ’ll git well, an’ I ’ll have him to nuss all through wheat harvest.”
Cynthia had come up with the others, and when she saw Anderson the sunken blankness of his features appealed to all in her that was strongest and most gentle. After his wife had spoken there was a moment of silence, and then Cynthia leaned toward Tweedy and said very slowly and clearly, “ Let me watch beside him, so he ’ll not wake up to be twitted with the trouble that he’s made. I '11 take keer of him if he lives, an’ if he don’t live I ’ll not begrudge the time it took me to shet his eyes.”
So many people had heard her that Tweedy could not ignore what she had said. “ Don’t be foolish, Cynthy,” he answered quietly, although he felt outraged by her folly. “ Mis’ Anderson ain’t goin’ to grudge nothin’ to the pore feller, now he’s down. If you want to help, run to the shed and tell Mr. Floyd to send a man on horseback after the doctor.”
Cynthia beckoned to a boy, and sent him on the errand. Some of the men helped Tweedy to lift Anderson and carry him down the row; most of the pickers followed, and, with the green barriers on either hand to prevent straggling, the little procession started to leave the field. Cynthia fell into the line, but Anderson’s wife stood at one side, like a spectator, her face and figure quite rigid except for the slow swelling of the veins upon her forehead. A report that she had stayed behind reached Tweedy, and he halted. “ Come on, Mis’ Anderson., an’ git things ready for him ! ” he called back, trying to make his tone ignore Cynthia’s interference ; and then, more sharply, as the woman did not stir, “ Come on! ”
She came on with long, cumbrous strides, overtaking the bearers just as they left the field. “ You-uns need n’t call me, Abe Twiddy,” she said, stepping into the foreman’s path and confronting him with a heavy, quivering face, — “ you-uns need n’t call me to come an’ nuss a man that married me to be took keer of, when his pore triflin’ heart was bound up in Cynthy Lence. I’ve seed him stan’ an’ look at her acrost the rows. He would have took up with her soon or late, an’ now that she’s spoke like she did to spite me, I make her a free gift of him, alive or dead.” She turned on Cynthia, who had come forward, with her head raised and her eyes sparkling, as if to accept the gift. “ Oh, I know what’s kep’ you-uns from lookin’ at him or speakin’ to him all the season,” she cried, — “you-uns has been afeard o’ me; but now I take all these men an’ women to witness that you need n’t be afeard o’ me no more. I’m goin’ back to the bottoms to harvest my wheat, an’ I make you-uns a free gift of him. Look at him, an’ see if hit don’t do you proud to git what you been seekin’ fur so long.”
Tweedy’s eyes took fire. “ Go,” he said, — “ go, Mis’ Anderson, an’ don’t bring yore black heart acrost my path agin. You-uns has been tired o’ yore bargain these months back, an’ now yo’re makin’ a girl’s quick speech the excuse for throwin’ off what you don’t want onto her, an’ tryin’ to put a slur onto her at the same time. I know yore kind. You git mad, an’ then you make yore temper serve yore turn. Take yoreself out o’ this field, but don’t you let man, woman, or child hear you say that you gave yore husband to Cynthy Lence, or I 'll see to it that yore tongue’s stiffened so you cain’t say it agin. I give youuns, an’ all you-uns that’s listenin’, to onderstand that, alive or dead, Buck Anderson is lef’ with me.”
He started forward, leaving the woman glowering after him on the edge of the field. Some of the pickers stayed with her, talking in an eager group ; the others followed more silently toward the barracks. Cynthia walked beside Tweedy. “ I thank you - uns for closin’ her mouth,” she said, “ but I want to take keer of Buck, jus’ the same.”
“You cain’t,” said Tweedy shortly.
“ But I want to,” the girl insisted. “I —I owe it to him, Mr. Twiddy.”
Tweedy had borne a great deal that day; the last shred of his patience was worn through, and his personal feeling was mingled in such an inextricable tangle with his duty that it seemed useless for him to try to tell what was the right thing to do, or to make a stand for doing it, even if he could decide. The girl was her own keeper, after all. “ You know what yo’re askin’, an’ what it means ? ” he said.
“ I know that I’m askin’ to do the las’ thing that one human can do for another, Mr. Twiddy,” Cynthia answered, looking at him as if she had suddenly grown older than he. “ You-uns knows that Buck Anderson ain’t goin’ to git well.”
Tweedy was too human and too sorely tried to rise to what she asked of him. “We’ll take him to his room, an’ turn the widder’s things out of it,” he said gruffly, “ an’ you-uns can do as you please about sittin’ thar an’ keepin’ watch.”
“ Thank you, Mr. Twiddy,” the girl said, with a deference that was galling after she had made her point.
When they reached the long, manyroomed shed known as the barracks, Tweedy turned upon his troop of curious-eyed, pushing, busy-tongued retainers, almost as if he saw for the first time that they had left the field. “ We don’t want no crowdin’ an’ gabblin’ here,” he said sharply. “ Me an’ Cynthy is all that’s needed, an’ out yonder the berries are meltin’ on the vines. Go back to yore rows an’ work yore peartest till I come an’ give you the news. If the Widder Tate is hangin’ around, tell her to yoke up her oxen an’ git. She ’ll find her phunderment lyin’ here outside the door.” He and the men who w-ere helping him laid Anderson down on a straw pallet, and then he started off to the well for water to keep up the cold drenching which had been his first thought in the field ; the others went with the retreating gang of pickers back to their work.
As Cynthia watched them go, and waited for Tweedy to come back with his unfailing, practical water - buckets, she seemed bitterly unneeded. Anderson might never return to consciousness ; and even if he wakened, the mere absence of his wife would be more than he had hoped for as a final grace. The murmuring of voices died away as the pickers ambled out of her hearing, but she knew that, freed from Tweedy’s presence and her own, every tongue was unbridled out there among the raspberries. In spite of Tweedy’s championship there would be no more escape from comment than from the heat that was glimmering everywhere, — over the green fields and the dry ploughed ground, and far over the faint, quivering, shadowless hills. Even the few, like Tweedy, who would take her part against the others would be convinced that she had defied Anderson’s wife from love of Anderson ; and as she stood there waiting, she went down into that place of regret and futile rebellion where generous natures sometimes pay the price of their unselfishness, and the tears that start burning toward the eyelids freeze before they fall. Then Tweedy came hurrying from the well, and the fight for Anderson’s useless life began.
The doctor came late and went quickly, leaving no encouragement behind him ; and as all effort to revive Anderson grew into the conscientious formality with which the living strive to detain the dying, even when their engagement with death is inevitable, Tweedy, in his turn, began to feel useless in the room. The persistence with which Cynthia knelt beside the unconscious man compelled Tweedy to defer to her, and he left her frequently, to go out and supervise the field. In one of his absences Cynthia heard a stir outside, and, glancing up, saw the Widow Tate and a few companions coming up the slope toward the barracks, trying to prod the inertia out of a pair of oxen who had been in pasture and were loath to change their way of life. Cynthia did not look again, but she was acutely conscious of every motion that was made and every word that was spoken while the oxen were yoked to a heavy lumber wagon, and the scanty and disordered furnishings outside the door were gathered up. A shadow darkened the doorway, and the girl knew that some one was standing there with arms akimbo, and looking at her. Other shadows came in silence; then there was a hoarse laugh, they all turned away, and Cynthia heard the widow clamber into her wagon and crack her whip like a man; the wagon-wheels began to creak, and finally to rattle, as the weight of the wagon urged the oxen into a rapid pace downhill.
Twilight fell at last like an absolution for the tortured spirit of the day. Even the voices of the pickers were hushed to a sort of peace, as they straggled in from work, and began to build little outdoor fires that sparkled brightly in front of the barracks, under the shadow of the trees. The women bent over the fires, cooking, and voice called to voice, asking or offering the commonplace services of life, but with unusual gentleness, as people speak when at any moment a guest may enter. Tweedy neither stayed long with Cynthia nor was long absent, but guarded her in every way and saw that she needed nothing. When twilight had changed to night, and the little evening fires had all gone out, except here and there a coal that blinked like a red glowworm in the dark, he stood beside her for a little while, looking down at her and at Anderson. The thought of himself had yielded utterly to a great compassion for the sad ending of their love. Anderson would die that night, and he could not bear that Cynthia should feel that even the kindest eyes were watching her, unless she wished it, when the final renunciation came.
“ Do you want me to stay with you ? ” he asked, after a time. “If I don’t stay, I ’ll be right next door, an’ I ’ll hear if you even tap on the wall. I thought perhaps you’d ruther be alone.”
As the girl looked up at him, the lamplight glistened upon teardrops in her eyes. “ Thank you, Mr. Twiddy,” she answered, — “ you-uns is mighty kind. I ’d ruther be alone.”
Tweedy hardly knew what he did. He stooped suddenly and kissed her forehead. “ You pore child! ” he whispered, and left the room.
During the long hours of the night Cynthia had the long years of her future for companionship. The white moonlight came in at the doorway, and crept toward Anderson, and finally retreated, fearing to intrude. Once or twice she heard Tweedy get up from his bed, and pace softly back and forth in his room, and with the knowledge that he was awake her longing for his companionship grew almost into a cry. Once she went to the door and looked out over the lonely raspberry field, where a thin white fog had settled under the moonlight; but the breath of it was cold, and she feared that Anderson might open his eyes and not find her, if his sold returned to ask for a farewell, before it went upon the way which it was seeking in the dark.
A change had come over him even in the moment she was gone. He breathed in sharper and more infrequent gasps, and the lines of death had sunk deeper in his face. She bent above him, watching with such intense sympathy that her own breathing seemed almost linked with his, as she waited for each throe, thinking that each would be the last. But with the tenacity of feebleness his life fought on and on. At last, quite unexpectedly to herself, Cynthia tapped upon the wall. Tweedy was with her in an instant ; and when she reached out a trembling hand, he took it without a word, and they watched together while the gray light of morning gradually dispelled the moonlight, and on until full dawn, when Anderson died.
Cynthia knelt beside him for a little while, but she did not need to close his eyes, for they had not opened to look at her. It was as if, at the moment when he turned away from her in the field, he had known that he had all it was right for him to claim, and his heart had been too full to ask for more.
Tweedy stood apart and waited until she came to him. Then they went outside. There was no stir yet about the barracks, for the overworn pickers were sleeping beyond their usual time. The sun had not risen, but its clearly drawn rays spread like a crown above the eastern hills, and the sky was scintillant. Only the lower hills and the deep green valleys lay shadowless and still in the diffusion of brightness, like a child’s features that are waiting solemnly for life to set its seal of character upon them.
Tweedy broke the silence in a low voice. “ I spoke hard to you-uns yesterday, more ’n once, Cynthy,” he said, “ but I want you to forgit it all, if you can. I was only wantin’ to see you as happy as you had a chance to be; but now that I see how much deeper yore mis’ry was than I reckoned, thar ain’t nothin’ but sorrow for you in my heart — an’ love.”
The last word was spoken so gently, so much as an added tenderness, that it could not have pained or offended the deepest sorrow, yet Cynthia was startled by it. She looked at him curiously. “ You-uns does well to pity me,” she said. “ I don’t keer what all the others says an’ thinks, but I want you-uns to know the truth, ’cause you won’t be oncharitable, even to Buck. I ain’t never loved him. It was him loved me.”
Tweedy passed his hand across his brow. “ You-uns did it all for a man you did n’t love,” he exclaimed, — “ you dared all them tongues ? ”
She nodded. “I — I owed it to him. Without knowin’, I had led him on.”
Tweedy looked off over the hushed, expectant earth. “ My God,” he said softly, “ what would you do for the man you loved ? ”
The girl’s breath came in an unexpected sob. " Oh, Mr. Twiddy,” she faltered, " I might have to tell him so. He might n’t know it for hisse’f.”
Tweedy turned. Her face was tremulous, but consecrated by the love which she had hidden for so long; and as their eyes met they forgot that there was anything but love in all the world. The glory brightened in the east, and the air stirred like an awakening along the fields. One after another the sleepy pickers came out of the barracks, saw the two figures below them on the hillside, and whispered back and forth with brightening eyes.
At last Tweedy put her gently away from him. “ I had ought to go an’ call the gang, an’ tell them that pore Buck is gone.”
Cynthia glanced over her shoulder and laughed as she saw the pickers bending discreetly to kindle their morning fires. " The simlins has been watchin’,” she said, “ an’ they ’ll he tinklin’ peartly to-day. Do you keer ? ”
Tweedy shook his head. Before them sunshine and shadow flashed like a smile across the earth, as the sun rose over the distant hills.
Mary Tracy Earle.