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   Chapter 4 No.4

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 7759

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Kate, very naturally, is Anxious.

Kate hurried through the woods, for she was afraid she would not reach home until after dark, and indeed it was then quite like twilight in the shade of the great trees around her. The road on which she was walking was, however, clear and open, and she was certain she knew the way. As she hastened on, she could not help feeling that she was wasting this delightful walk through the woods. Her old friends were around her, and though she knew them all so well, she could not stop to spend any time with them. There were the oaks-the black-oak with its shining many-pointed leaves, the white-oak with its lighter green though duller-hued foliage, and the chestnut-oak with its long and thickly clustered leaves. Then there were the sweet-gums, fragrant and star-leaved, and the black-gum, tough, dark, and unpretending. No little girl in the county knew more about the trees of her native place than Kate; for she had made good use of her long rides through the country with her father. Here were the chincapin-bushes, like miniature chestnut-trees, and here were the beautiful poplars. She knew them by their bright leaves, which looked as though they had been snipped off at the top with a pair of scissors. And here, right in front of her, was Uncle Braddock. She knew him by his many-colored dressing-gown, without which he never appeared in public. It was one of the most curious dressing-gowns ever seen, as Uncle Braddock was one of the most curious old colored men ever seen. The gown was not really as old as its wearer, but it looked older. It was composed of about a hundred pieces of different colors and patterns-red, green, blue, yellow, and brown; striped, spotted, plain, and figured with flowers and vines. These pieces, from year to year, had been put on as patches, and some of them were quilted on, and some were sewed, and some were pinned. The gown was very long and came down to Uncle Braddock's heels, which were also very long and bobbed out under the bottom of the gown as if they were trying to kick backward. But Uncle Braddock never kicked. He was very old and he had all the different kinds of rheumatism, and walked bent over nearly at right-angles, supporting himself by a long cane like a bean-pole, which he grasped in the middle. There was probably no particular reason why he should bend over so very much, but he seemed to like to walk in that way, and nobody objected. He was a good old soul, and Kate was delighted to see him.

"Uncle Braddock!" she cried.

The old man stopped and turned around, almost standing up straight in his astonishment at seeing the young girl alone in the woods.

"Why, Miss Kate!" he exclaimed, as she came up with him, "what in the world is you doin' h'yar?"

"I've been gathering sumac," said Kate, as they walked on together, "and Harry's gone off, and I couldn't wait any longer and I'm just as glad as I can be to see you, Uncle Braddock, for I was beginning to be afraid, because its getting dark so fast, and your dressing-gown looked prettier to me than all the trees when I first caught sight of it. But I think you ought to have it washed, Uncle Braddock."

"Wash him!" said Uncle Braddock, with a chuckle, as if the suggestion was a very funny joke; "dat wouldn't do, no how. He'd wash all to bits, and the pins would stick 'em in the hands. Couldn't wash him, Miss Kate; it's too late for dat now. Might have washed him before de war, p'raps. We was stronger, den. But what you getherin sumac for, Miss Kate? If you white folks goes pickin it all, there won't be none lef' soon fur de cull'ed people, dat's mighty certain."

"Why, I'm picking it for the colored people," said Kate, "at least for one colored person."

"Why don't you let 'em pick it the'rselves?" asked the old man.

"Because Aunt Matilda can't do it," said Kate.

"Is dat sumac f

ur Aunt Matilda?" said Uncle Braddock.

"Yes, it is," said Kate, "and Harry's been gathering some, and we're going to pick enough to get her all she wants. Harry and I intend to take care of her now. You know they were going to send her to the alms-house."

"Well, I declar!" exclaimed the old man. "I neber did hear de like o' dat afore. Why, you all isn't done bein' tuk care of you'selves." Kate laughed, and explained their plans, getting quite enthusiastic about it.

"Lem me carry dat bag," said Uncle Braddock. "Oh no!" said Kate, "you're too old to be carrying bags."

"Jis lem me hab it," said he; "it's trouble enuf fur me to get along, anyway, and a bag or two don't make no kind o' dif'rence."

Kate found herself obliged to consent, and as the bag was beginning to feel very heavy for her, and as it did not seem to make the slightest difference, as he had said, to Uncle Braddock, she was very glad to be rid of it.

But when at last they reached the village, and Uncle Braddock went over the fields to his cabin, Kate ran into the house, carrying her bag with ease, for she was excited by the hope that Harry had come home by some shorter way, and that she should find him in the house.

But there was no Harry there. And soon it was night, and yet he did not come.

Matters now looked serious, and about nine o'clock Mr. Loudon, with two of the neighbors, started out into the woods to look for Aunt Matilda's young guardian.

Kate's mother was away on a visit to her relations in another county, and so the little girl passed the night on the sofa in the parlor, with a colored woman asleep on the rug before the fireplace. Kate would not go to bed. She determined to stay awake until Harry should come home. But the sofa-cushions became more and more pleasant, and very soon she was dreaming that Harry had shot a giraffe, and had skinned it, and had stuffed the skin full of sumac-leaves, and that he and she were pulling it through the woods, and that the legs caught in the trees and they could not get it along, and then she woke up. It was bright daylight. But Harry had not come!

There was no news. Mr. Loudon and his friends were still absent. Poor Kate was in despair, and could not touch the breakfast, which was prepared at the usual hour.

About nine o'clock a company of negro sumac gatherers appeared on the road which passed Mr. Loudon's house. It was a curious party. On a rude cart, drawn by two little oxen, was a pile of bags filled with sumac-leaves, which were supported by poles stuck around the cart and bound together by ropes. On the top of the pile sat a negro, plying a long whip and shouting to the oxen. Behind the cart, and on each side of it, were negroes, men and women, carrying huge bales of sumac on their heads. Bags, pillow-cases, bed-ticks, sheets and coverlets had been called into requisition to hold the precious leaves. Here was a woman with a great bundle on her head, which sank down so as to almost entirely conceal her face; and near her was an old man who supported on his bare head a load that looked heavy enough for a horse. Even little children carried bundles considerably larger than themselves, and all were laughing and talking merrily as they made their way to the village store at the cross-roads.

Kate ran eagerly out to question these people. They must certainly have seen Harry.

The good-natured negroes readily stopped to talk with Kate. The ox-driver halted his team, and every head-burdened man, woman, and child clustered around her, until it seemed as if sumac clouds had spread between her and the sky, and had obscured the sun.

But no one had seen Harry. In fact, this company, with the accumulated proceeds of a week's sumac gathering, had come from a portion of the county many miles from Crooked Creek, and of course, they could bring no news to Kate.

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