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   Chapter 4 No.4

Ole Mammy's Torment By Annie F. Johnston Characters: 12666

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Something unusual was going on at Rosehaven. Awnings were spread over the lawn, gay colored lanterns were strung all about the grounds, and a stage for outdoor tableaux had been built near the house, where a dark clump of cedars served as a background.

John Jay had orders to take the eggs directly to the cook, but his curiosity kept him standing open-mouthed on the lawn, watching the hanging of the lanterns.

A group of pretty Girls sat on the porch

A group of pretty girls sat on the porch steps, between the white rose-twined pillars. One of them was tying up the cue of an old-fashioned wig with a black ribbon; another was mending the gold lace on a velvet coat, and the others were busy with the various costumes which they were to wear in the tableaux. Now and then a gay trill or a snatch from some popular song floated out above their laughing chatter. Suddenly one of them looked up and saw John Jay standing in the gravelled drive.

"Look, girls!" she exclaimed. "Here's the very thing we want for our old Virginia days! Hallie looks like a picture in that lovely brocaded satin of her grandmother's, and Raleigh Stanford does the cavalier to perfection in that farewell scene. All it lacks is some little Jim Crow to hold his horse, and there is one now. Oh, Hallie! come out here a minute!"

In response to her call, a beautiful dark-haired girl came out on the porch from the hall, carrying a pasteboard shield which she had just finished covering with tinfoil. John Jay's mouth opened still wider as it flashed a dazzling light into his eyes. He thought it was silver.

"Isn't it fine?" she asked, waltzing around with it on her arm for them to admire the effect. Then she dropped down on the step above them. "Was it you who called me, Sally Lou?" she asked.

"Yes," answered the girl, who had finished tying up the cue, and now had the wig pulled coquettishly over her blonde curls. "Look at the little darkey over there. I was just telling the girls that he is all that is needed to complete your cavalier tableau. Call him over here and tell him that he must come to-night." Just then the boy turned and started on a trot to the kitchen. "Why, it's John Jay!" exclaimed Hallie. "Old Lucy has been scolding about those eggs for the last two hours. His grandmother promised to send them over immediately after breakfast. I'll go down and see what kept him so long. He is always getting into trouble."

"Make him come up here," begged Sally Lou, "and get him to talk for us. I know he'll be lots of fun, for he has such a bright face."

In a few moments the laughing young hostess was back among her guests, with John Jay following her. "Don't you want to see all my birthday presents?" she asked, leading the way into the library and beckoning the girls to follow. "See! I found this mandolin in my chair when I went to the breakfast-table this morning, and this watch was under my napkin. This tennis-racquet was on the piano when I came up-stairs, and I've been finding books and things all morning." She opened a great box of chocolate bonbons as she spoke, and filled both his hands.

Filled both his hands

He looked about him with round, astonished eyes, but never said a word in answer to the eager questions of the girls, beyond a bashful "yessa" or "no'm."

The arrival of Raleigh Stanford and one of his friends, on their wheels, put an end to the girls' interest in John Jay. He was dismissed with a message to Sheba that sent him flying home through the woods like an excited little whirlwind. The lid of the basket flopped up and down, in time to the motion of his scampering feet. At the foot of the hill he began calling "Mammy!" and kept it up until he reached the door. By that time, he was so out of breath that he could only gasp his message. Sheba was expected to be at Rosehaven at seven o'clock, and John Jay was to take part in the performance on the lawn.

It took a great deal of cross-questioning before Mammy fully understood the arrangement. She could readily see that her services might be desired in the kitchen, but it puzzled her to know what anybody could want of John Jay. She shook her head a great many times before she finally promised that he might go.

Bud had passed a very dull morning without his adventurous brother. Now he came up with a bit of rope with which to play horse. But John Jay was looking down on such sports at present.

"Aw, go way, boy," he said, with a lofty air. "I ain't no hawse. I'se goin' to a buthday-pa'ty to-night. Miss Hallie done give me an invite-me an' Mammy."

"Whose goin' to stay with me an' Ivy?" asked Bud, anxiously.

"Aunt Susan, I reckon," answered John Jay. "Mammy tole me to go ask her. Come along with me, an' I'll tell you what all Miss Hallie got for her buthday. I reckon she had mos' a thousand presents, an' a box of candy half as big as Ivy."

Bud opened his eyes in amazement.

"Deed she did," persisted John Jay, enjoying the sensation he was making. "She gave me some, and I saved a piece for you." After much searching through his pockets, John Jay handed out a big chocolate cream that had been mashed flat. Bud ate it gratefully as they walked on, and wiped his lips with his little red tongue, longing for more.

After supper, as Mammy and John Jay went down the narrow meadow path in Indian file, he ventured a question that he had pondered all day. "Mammy, does we all have buthdays same as white folks?"

"Of co'se," answered the old woman, tramping on ahead with her skirts held high out of the dewy grass.

"When's yoah's?" he asked, after a pause.

"Well," she began reflectively, not willing to acknowledge that she had never known the exact date, "I'm nevah ve'y p'tick'lah 'bout its obsa'vation. It's on a Monday, long in early garden-makin' time."

They had come to a little brook, bridged by a wide, hewed log. When they had crossed in careful silence, John Jay began again. "Mammy, when's my buthday?"

"I kaint tell 'zactly, honey," she answered, "'twel I adds it up." As she began counting on her fingers, her skirts slipped lower and lower from her grasp, until they brushed the dew of the wayside weeds.

"Yes, that's it," she announced at last. "Miss Hallie is nineteen this Satiddy, and you'll be nine next Satiddy. A week from to-day is yoah bu

thday. Pity it hadn't a-happened to be the same day, then maybe Mis' Haven mought a give you somethin' like Mis' Alice give Jintsey's boy."

John Jay had that same thought all the rest of the way to Rosehaven, but after they entered the brilliantly illuminated grounds he seemed to stop thinking altogether. It was a sight beyond all that his wildest imaginings had pictured. He did not recognize the place. All the lanterns were lighted now, hanging like strings of stars around the porches, and from tree to tree. Violins played softly, somewhere out of sight, and everywhere on the night air was the breath of myriads of roses. Handsomely dressed people passed in and out of the house, and across the lawn. The light, the music, and the perfume made the place seem enchanted ground to the bewildered little John Jay, and when he reached the illuminated fountain just in front of the house, he clung to Mammy's skirts as if he had suddenly found himself in some strange Eden, and was frightened by its unearthly beauty.

The fountain into which, only that morning, he had thrust his hot little face for a drink, now seemed bewitched. It was no longer a flow of sparkling water, but of splashing rainbows. From palest green to ruby red, from amethyst to amber it paled and deepened and glowed.

All the evening he moved about like one in a dream. The tableaux with their shifting scenes of knights and ladies and marble statuary were burned on his memory as heavenly visions. He knew nothing of the tinsel and flour and red lights which produced the effect. He stood about as Miss Hallie told him: he held a horse in one tableau, and posed as a bronze statue in another. Then he went back to the fountain, and sat dreamily watching it, while the violins played again,-in the long parlors this time, where the dancing had begun.

Raleigh Stanford, still in his cavalier costume, and with Miss Sally Lou on his arm, spied him as they passed by. "Oh, there's that funny little fellow that was here this morning!" she said. "We tried to make him talk, but he just kept his head on one side, and was too embarrassed to say anything."

"Hey, Sambo," called the young man suddenly in his ear. "What do you know?"

John Jay gave a start, and looked up at the amused faces above him. He took the question seriously, and thought he must really tell what he knew; but just at that moment he could remember only one thing in all the wide world. Every other bit of information seemed to desert him. So he stammered, "I-I know M-Miss Hallie, she's nineteen this Satiddy, an' I'll be nine next Satiddy."

Miss Sally Lou laughed so gaily that her young cavalier made another effort to please her.

"Is that so!" he exclaimed, as if surprised. "It's a mighty lucky thing you told me that, now, or I never would have thought to bring you anything. You didn't know that I am a sort of birthday Santa Claus, did you? Just look out for me next Saturday. If I'm not there by breakfast-time, wait till noon, and if I don't get there by that time it'll be because something has happened; anyway, somebody'll be prancing along about sundown."

"Oh, come along, Raleigh," said Miss Sally Lou, moving off toward the house. "You're such a tease."

John Jay, sitting beside that wonderful fountain and surrounded by so many strange, beautiful things, did not think it at all queer that such an unheard-of person as a birthday Santa Claus should suddenly step out from the midst of the enchantment and speak to him.

"A blue velvet cape on," he said to himself, thinking how he should describe him to Bud. "An' gole buckles on his shoes, an' a sword on, an' a long white feathah in his hat. Cricky! An' it was his hawse I done held! Maybe it will be somethin' mighty fine what he's goin' to bring me, 'cause I did that!"

Later he found his way to the kitchen, where Sheba was washing dishes. The cook gave him a plate of ice-cream and some scraps of cake. She was telling Sheba how beautiful Miss Hallie's birthday cake looked at dinner, with its nineteen little wax candles all aflame. That was the last thing John Jay remembered, until some one shook him, and told him it was time to go home. He had fallen asleep with a spoon in his hand.

Mammy was afraid to take the short cut through the woods after dark, so she led him away round by the toll-gate. He was so sleepy that he staggered up against her every few steps, and he would have dropped down on the first log he came to, if she had not kept tight hold of his hand all the way.

When they reached Uncle Billy's house, he had just gone out to draw a pitcher of water. Mammy stopped to get a drink, and John Jay leaned up against the well-shed. The rumbling of the windlass and the fall of the bucket against the water below aroused him somewhat, and by the time he had swallowed half a gourdful of the cold well-water he was wide awake.

Uncle Billy went up to the cabin with them in order to hear an account of the party, and to walk back with Aunt Susan. John Jay fell behind. He could not remember ever having been out so late at night before, and he had never seen the sky so full of stars. They made him think of something that Aunt Susan had told him. She said that if he counted seven stars for seven nights, at the same time repeating a charm which she taught him, and making a wish, he'd certainly get what he wanted at the end of the week.

Now he stopped still in the path, and slowly pointing to each star with his little black forefinger, as he counted them, solemnly repeated the charm:

"Star-light, star bright,

Seventh star I've seen to-night;

I wish I may and I wish I might

Have the wish come true I wish to-night."

"Come on in, chile! What you gawkin' at?" called Mammy from the doorway. John Jay made no answer. It would have broken the charm to have spoken again before going to sleep. He hurried into the house, glad that Mammy was so occupied with her company that she could pay no attention to him. She stood in the door with them so long that John Jay was in bed by the time she came in. Although he pretended to be asleep, inwardly he was in a quiver of excitement.

"I'll count 'em every night," he thought. The wish that burned in his little heart was a very earnest one, fraught with hopes for his coming birthday.

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