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   Chapter 9 No.9

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 11806

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Business in Earnest.

Although Harry did not find his wood-hauling speculation very profitable, it was really of advantage to him, for it gave him an idea.

And his idea was a very good one. He saw clearly enough that money could be made by hauling wood, and he was also quite certain that it would never do for him to take his time, especially during school term, for that purpose. So, after consultation with his father, and after a great deal of figuring by Kate, he determined to go into the business in a regular way.

About five miles from the village was a railroad station, and it was also a wood station. Here the railroad company paid two dollars a cord for wood delivered on their grounds.

Two miles from the station, on the other side of Crooked Creek, Harry's father owned a large tract of forest land, and here Harry received permission to cut and take away all the wood that he wanted. Mr. Loudon was perfectly willing, in this way, to help his children in their good work.

So Harry made arrangements with Dick Ford and John Walker, who were not regularly hired to any one that winter, to cut and haul his wood for him, on shares. John Walker had a wagon, which was merely a set of wheels, with a board floor laid on the axletrees, and the use of this he contributed in consideration of a little larger share in the profits. Harry hired Grits and another mule at a low rate, as there was not much for mules to do at that time of the year.

The men were to cut up and deliver the wood and get receipts for it from the station-master; and it was to be Harry's business to collect the money at stated times, and divide the proceeds according to the rate agreed upon. Harry and his father made the necessary arrangements with the station-master, and thus all the preliminaries were settled quite satisfactorily.

In a few days the negroes were at work, and as they both lived but a short distance from the creek, on the village side, it was quite convenient for them. John Walker had a stable in which to keep the mules, and the cost of their feed was also to be added to his share of the profits.

In a short time Harry had quite a number of applications from negroes who wished to cut wood for him, but he declined to hire any additional force until he saw how his speculation would turn out.

Old Uncle Braddock pleaded hard to be employed. He could not cut wood, nor could he drive a team, but he was sure he would be of great use as overseer.

"You see, Mah'sr Harry," he said, "I lib right on de outside edge ob you' pa's woods, and I kin go ober dar jist as easy as nuffin, early every mornin', and see dat dem boys does dere work, and don't chop down de wrong trees. Mind now, I tell ye, you all will make a pile o' money ef ye jist hire me to obersee dem boys."

For some time Harry resisted his entreaties, but at last, principally on account of Kate's argument that the old man ought to be encouraged in making something toward his living, if he were able and willing to do so, Harry hired him on his own terms, which were ten cents a day.

About four o'clock every afternoon during his engagement, Uncle Braddock made his appearance in the village, to demand his ten cents. When Harry remonstrated with him on his quitting work so early, he said:

"Why, you see, Mah'sr Harry, it's a long way from dem woods here, and I got to go all de way back home agin; and it gits dark mighty early dese short days."

In about a week the old man came to Hurry and declared that he must throw up his engagement.

"What's the matter?" asked Harry.

"I'm gwine to gib up dat job, Mah'sr Harry."

"But why? You wanted it bad enough," said Harry.

"But I'm gwine to gib it up now," said the old man.

"Well, I want you to tell me your reasons for giving it up," persisted Harry.

Uncle Braddock stood silent for a few minutes, and then he said:

"Well, Mah'sr Harry, dis is jist de truf; dem ar boys, dey ses to me dat ef I come foolin' around dere any more, dey'd jist chop me up, ole wrapper an' all, and haul me off fur kindlin' wood. Dey say I was dry enough. An' dey needn't a made sich a fuss about it, fur I didn't trouble 'em much; hardly eber went nigh 'em. Ten cents' worf o' oberseein' aint a-gwine to hurt nobody."

"Well, Uncle Braddock," said Harry, laughing, "I think you're wise to give it up."

"Dat's so," said the old negro, and away he trudged to Aunt Matilda's cabin, where, no doubt, he ate a very good ten cents' worth of corn-meal and bacon.

This wood enterprise of Harry's worked pretty well on the whole. Sometimes the men cut and hauled quite steadily, and sometimes they did not. Once every two weeks Harry rode over to the station, and collected what was due him; and his share of the profits kept Aunt Matilda quite comfortably.

But, although Kate was debarred from any share in this business, she worked every day at her tidies for the store, and knit stockings, besides, for some of the neighbors, who furnished the yarn and paid her a fair price. There were people who thought Mrs. Loudon did wrong in allowing her daughter to work for money in this way, but Kate's mother said that the end justified the work, and that so long as Kate persevered in her self-appointed tasks, she should not interfere.

As for Kate, she said she should work on, no matter how much money Harry made. There was no knowing what might happen.

But the most important of Kate's duties was the personal attention she paid to Aunt Matilda. She went over to the old woman's cabin every day or two, and saw that she was kept warm and had what she needed.

And these visits had a good influence on the old woman, for her cabin soon began to look much neater, now that a nice little girl came to see her so often.

When the spring came on, Aunt Matilda actually took it into her head to whitewash her cabin, a thing she had not do

ne for years. She and Uncle Braddock worked at it by turns. The old woman was too stiff and rheumatic to keep at such work long at a time; but she was very proud of her whitewashing; and when she was tired of working at the inside of her cabin, she used to go out and whitewash the trunks of the trees around the house. She had seen trees thus ornamented, and she thought they were perfectly beautiful.

Kate was violently opposed to anything of this kind, and, at last, told Aunt Matilda that if she persisted in surrounding her house with what looked like a forest of tombstones, she, Kate, would have to stop coming there.

So Aunt Matilda, in a manner, desisted.

But one day she noticed a little birch-tree, some distance from the house, and the inclination to whitewash that little birch was too strong to be resisted.

"He's so near white, anyway," she said to herself, "dat it's a pity not to finish him."

So off she hobbled with a tin cup full of whitewash and a small brush to adorn the little birch-tree, leaving her cabin in the charge of Holly Thomas.

Holly, whose whole name was Hollywood Cemetery Thomas, was a little black girl, between two and five years old. Sometimes she seemed nearly five, and sometimes not more than two. Her parents intended christening her Minerva, but hearing the name of the well-known Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, they thought it so pretty that they gave it to their little daughter, without the slightest idea, however, that it was the name of a grave-yard.

Holly had come over to pay a morning visit to Aunt Matilda, and she had brought her only child, a wooden doll, which she was trying to teach to walk, by dragging it head foremost by a long string tied around its neck.

"Now den, you Holly, you stay h'yar and mind de house while I's gone," said Aunt Matilda, as she departed.

"All yite," said the little darkey, and she sat down on the floor to prepare her child for a coat of whitewash; but she had not yet succeeded in convincing the doll of the importance of the operation when her attention was aroused by a dog just outside of the door.

It was Kate's little woolly white dog, Blinks, who often used to come to the cabin with her, and who sometimes, when he got a chance to run away, used to come alone, as he did this morning.

"Go 'way dar, litty dog," said Miss Holly, "yer can't come in; dere's nobody home. Yun 'long, now, d'yer y'ear!"

But Blinks either did not hear or did not care, for he stuck his head in at the door.

"Go 'way, dere!" shouted Holly. "Aunt Tillum ain't home. Go 'way now, and tum bat in half an hour. Aunt Tillum'll be bat den. Don't yer hear now, go 'way!"

But, instead of going away, Blinks trotted in, as bold as a four-pound lion.

"Go 'way, go 'way!" screamed Holly, squeezing herself up against the wall in her terror, and then Blinks barked at her. He had never seen a little black girl behave so, in the whole course of his life, and it was quite right in him to bark and let her know what he thought of her conduct. Then Holly, in her fright, dropped her doll, and when Blinks approached to examine it, she screamed louder and louder, and Blinks barked more and more, and there was quite a hubbub. In the midst of it a man put his head in at the door of the cabin.

He was a tall man, with red hair, and a red freckled face, and a red bristling moustache, and big red hands.

"What's all this noise about?" said he; and when he saw what it was, he came in.

"Get out of this, you little beast!" said he to Blinks, and putting the toe of his boot under the little dog, he kicked him clear out of the door of the cabin. Then turning to Holly, he looked at her pretty much as if he intended to kick her out too. But he didn't. He put out one of his big red hands and said to her:

"Shake hands."

Holly obeyed without a word, and then snatching her wooden child from the floor, she darted out of the door and reached the village almost as soon as poor Blinks.

In a minute or two Aunt Matilda made her appearance at the door. She had heard the barking and the screaming, and had come to see what was the matter.

When she saw the man, she exclaimed:

"Why, Mah'sr George! Is dat you?"

"Yes, it's me," said the man. "Shake hands, Aunt Matilda."

"I thought you was down in Mississippi; Mah'sr George," said the old woman; "and I thought you was gwine to stay dar."

"Couldn't do it," said the man. "It didn't suit me, down there. Five years of it was enough for me."

"Enough fur dem, too, p'r'aps!" said Aunt Matilda, with a grim chuckle.

The man took no notice of her remark, but said:

"I didn't intend to stop here, but I heard such a barking and screaming in your cabin, that I turned out of my way to see what the row was about. I've just come up from the railroad. Does old Michaels keep store here yet?"

"No, he don't," said Aunt Matilda; "he's dead. Mah'sr Darby keeps dar now."

"Is that so?" cried the man. "Why, it was on old Michaels's account that I was sneakin' around the village. Why, I'm mighty glad I stopped here. It makes things different if old Michaels isn't about."

"Well, ye might as well go 'long," said Aunt Matilda, who seemed to be getting into a bad humor. "There's others who knows jist as much about yer bad doin's as Mah'sr Michaels did."

"I suppose you mean that meddling humbug, John Loudon," said the man.

"Now, look h'yar, you George Mason?" cried Aunt Matilda, making one long step toward the whitewash bucket; "jist you git out o' dat dar door!" and she seized the whitewash brush and gave it a terrific swash in the bucket.

The man looked at her-he knew her of old-and then he left the cabin almost as quickly as Blinks and Holly went out of it.

"Ef it hadn't been fur dat little dog," said Aunt Matilda, grimly, "he'd a gone on. Them little dogs is always a-doin' mischief."

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