Jane Ann's Rival, Mabel
Lenix Ballister 'Gets fin Right, for a Change
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
IT WAS a late July evening. Jane Ann, comfortably ensconced in a low rocker, sat beside the open door, inhaling the scent of Summer blossoms and indulging in the pleasant retrospect of late events, the while she applied a sky-blue patch to a pair of Len’s overalls. The dove of peace brooded in her breast, cooed in her soul, tickled with its wings the corners of her mouth, so that they twisted up in a smile so glad and freighted with kindly feeling, that Orinoco, the hound pup, took a chance on rearing up and lapping a drink from the kitchen waterbucket. His dog-intuition to read correctly the petty souls of human beings proved unfailing. Jane Ann’s smile simply widened at his impudence. Habit, it was true, drew her hand towards her slipper, but she sidetracked it into a spacious pocket, and drew out a cambric handkerchief fragrant with eau de Cologne, and wiped her placid brow.
Sensing the advantage of the occasion, Orinoco licked his chops and gazed about him in search of further experiments. His brown eyes rested, finally, on his master’s long, black coat, hanging just inside the bedroom door. It had always been the ambition of Orinoco’s pup-heart to play that those draft-stirred coat-tails were a pair of black foxes, and he the lead hound of the pursuing pack. Now, with long ears cocked and long tail awag, he sneaked across to the coat and raising himself against the wainscotting, set his teeth in the coat-tails, and tugged, and tugged.
Half an hour later when Jane Ann arose to light the lamp, she found the pup asleep on the coat, and a number of curious objects, the use of which she could not guess, lying on the floor just as they had rolled from its pocket. Jane Ann’s big hand cut a half-circle through the semidarkness, and Orinoco experienced a sensation of having missed his footing on the ledge of the precipice, while following the quarry of his dream, and of being dashed on the rocks several miles below'. With a frightened howd, he darted for his haven behind the wood-box. Jane Ann put the cubes of blue chalk and the white and red discs in her pocket and lit the lamp the better to give them a close and critical examination.
SHE placed the chalk and the discs before her on the table, and with plump, square-tipped fingers clasped together, stood gingerly surveying them. The dove of pgice in her bosom was squatting for flight. Its talons
Jane Ann cast her eyes about her in search of something to drive home conviction to Len’s soul; then she stood listening. Voices sounded from the summer night, down by the gate. One of the voices was Len’s, the other she did not recognize.
pricked her soul, as it sprang up and out. Where it had brooded softly was now only old-time suspicion, anger and resentment. For five whole days she had trusted Len, trusted him implicitly. For five days she had striven to show him that she was anxious to make restitution for all the doubts and fears she had entertained concerning him. True, he had secured lor her the sorrel driving-mare she so much desired, and had in other ways shown her that hi considered h er wishes. But how could a woman go right on trusting a man and be forever finding such proofs of his perfidy as those which now lay before her?
Jann Ann sank into a chair. “Dem’s contraptions of ebil, but I aint knowin’ jes’ what kinder ebil,” she soliloquised, gazing at the billiard-chalk and pokerchips. “What’s de use ob any woman gettin’ camp-meetin’ glory and holdin’ ter de straight an narrer paff, when her busban’ done ’sociate wif de debil an’ his workers? Dat Len, he’s sure up ter sin ob some nature, sure is. When he ’rives home, Ise goin’ to ast him polite what dem tings am, den I’se goin’ to scald him pink wif a kettle ob bilin’ water. All day Sunday an’ ebery night since he bringed dat sorrel mare home dat Len been slidin’ out an’ stayin’ out till all hours. He’s so deep in de pit ob sin dat yo’d hab ter be on its bottom ter see him, he’s so fur down.”
It came, and poor Jane Ann’s heart flopped over and stampeded up into her throat, as she heard it.
“I don’ aim ter sink her in ribber, exactly. I aim ter bus’
Jane Ann swallowed hardand clenched her fists. “Oh. yer does, does yer? Well, us’ll see bout dat,” she murmured.
The strange negro was speaking again. “Yo’all won’t be wantin’ anudder one, I guess?’’ “Want anudder one?” echoed Len. “Well I reckon so, I know ob a sweet, liT slim one I kin get hold ob right easy. Jes kase Ise had poor luck wif de big one aint sayin’ I’d fin’ de HT one same way, is it?” “Whar at yo’ll get her, Len?” “Yo’ seen dat liT Mabel Bell, aint yer?”
“Lor, course I has. She’s mighty fas’, she is.”
“She is dat, but none too fas’ ter suit me.”
Jane Ann grasped a chairback for support. Iniquity had
“I tell yo’, Len,” the strange voice was saying, “Yo’ all wanter get rid ob dat ole gal, else her’s goin’ to do fer yo’ yit.
She aint no good, nohow.”
“Well,” returned Len’s voice.
“Aint I teilin’ yo’ dat Ise goin’ ter get rid ob her? Jes gib me a liT time, can’t yo’?”
“Ef her was mine, Len, I’d sink her in ribber, right soon.
Why, her’s too big, an’ hers right dangerous.”
“Oh, oh,” groaned Jane Ann, her eyes rolling and her mouth working in a way which meant disaster to somebody. She held her breath to catch her husband’s answer.
she suspicioned, but not such awful iniquity as this.
“So dat nigger done tired ob de big un, am he? Goin’ ter bus’ her to deff an’ marry a slim one, am he? Well, jes’ let us consider some how dat’s goin’ ter come about. Jes’ lets.” Jane Ann’s lips ceased to mumble, and her ears cocked at attention again, so as to miss nothing of what the strange darkey was saying.
“When yo’ all goin’ ter took dat Mabel Bell out ag’in, Len?”
“To-morrie night. Las’ time I took her out she sorter act up on me some. Wouldn’t spark jes right, but I guess she be all hunky nex’ time.”
“Ob, oh,” groaned the horrified Jane Ann.
The voices died away in the distance. Evidently Len was accompanying his friend a piece towards his home. It was a good thing Providence had so prompted him. It drew him away from immediate and violent annihilation at the hands of the outraged Jane Ann, and gave her time to collect her shattered nerves and plan how best to even things with the man who had so terribly betrayed her trust.
So it was that when, an hour later, Len came whistling up the path and entered his home, he found a smiling and genial Jane Ann seated beside the table, sewing and waiting for him. Had Len been an ordinary individual, his portly wife’s beam of welcome would have been quite sufficient to put any misgivings he might have entertained at rest. He would have gladly said with his heart “All is well.” But Len was no ordinary individual. He had one unfailing method of telling if all was well in his domestic world, and, no matter now many fair-weather signals greeted him, he never hung his felt hat on its nail or reached for the boot-jack until he had read in this special barometer either storm or calm.
That barometer was the pup, Orinoco. Orinoco neverfailed him. For the pup to meet him with pop eyes aglow, ears cocked, and long tail awag, meant for Len domestic calm and a restful evening with pipe alight and sock feet on the stove-fender. But for Orinoco to peer fearfully
at him from the wood-box haven, a voiceless warning from mere brute to mere brute—as he was doing now, mean t only one thing, “Squalls ahead.”
Consequently, it was with deep trepidation, hidden under a jaunty air, that Len whistled across to the sink and filjed the wash-basin with water preparatory to a wash-u p.
The scent of summer blossoms mingled with that of eaudeCologne. Jane Ann, glancing up from her patching, showed her teeth in a smile. Her voice, low-pitched and soft, informed Len there was a piece of pie waiting for him in the pantry. Len trembled inwardly and, squirming about in search of the towel, took occasion to note that the broom, mop, and sundry other utensils were in their accustomed places.
Jane Ann rocked and sang sweetly, the while he ate his pie; but to his acute hearing there seemed a note of discord, a certain harshness behind or beneath the melody. He cast another furtive glance at the pup.
“Dere’s sure breakers ahead, an’ no life preserber in sight,” he muttered, as he nonchalantly sat down and reached for the evening paper.
“Aint yo’ goin ter pull off yore boots, Len dear?” Jane Ann’s tones were liquid honey, so sweet, in fact, they drew an inward groan from Len’s most abject heart and made him clench his teeth for fear they would chatter.
“I jes’ might hab ter cut some more kindlin’ fo’ de mornin’ fire, Jane Ann, t’ought I bes’ leab em on.”
“Hadn’t yo’ bes’ remove yer hat, dear? Keepin’ yer hat on done cause baldness, I un’erstan’.”
Len shook his head and rustled the paper. “What’s use ob takin’ my hat off when I’ll only hab ter put it on ag’in right soon?”
He strove to throw Jane Ann a cheerful smile, and for the first time his eyes caught sight of the billiardchalk, and poker-chips lying on the table, and it froze into a sickly leer.
"Judas Caezar,” he murmured, “dat’s what come from not wearin’ dat hoss-shoe. I bets I wear it af’er dis, if it chafe de leg offin me.”
Jane Ann beamed on him above her glasses. “What’s dat yore sayin’ bout yo’re leg, Len?”
“I was jes t’inkin’ how near I come ter getting it caught in de circular saw, dis af’ernoon, Jane Ann. I was tellin’ myself dat it might hab cut de leg offin’ me. I slip on de platfo’m, an’ got caught on de log-keerege.”
“Dear me. Yo’ all mean ter say yo’ come nearly gettin’ under dat
"Yes. Slipped on de platfo’m an’ got caught on log-keerege. But I squirm off in time.”
Len got up and going over to the bedroom door, felt in the inside pocket of his black coat. Jane Ann sewed and sang on, unheeding.
After a time she looked up.
“What is yo’ huntin’ fer in yo’re coat, Len, dear?’ ’ “Why I could took my oaf I put dem log-chalks an’ belt-washers in de inside pocket ob my bes’ coat, here, Jane Ann. But I can’t fin’ ’em, nohow.”
“Sure am. An’ we’ll be needin’ dat chalk an’ dem washers tomorrie, down ter mill; wish I could fin’ em.”
HE WAITED eagerly for Jane Ann to say. “Why here dey be, on table. Dey drap outin’ yo’re pocket, I guess.” But Jane Ann vouchsafed no explanation as to how the chalk and chips came to be on the table.
Len resumed his seat. The sweat was on his brow, and his spine was frozen and numb. “Ise stone dead from ma eyes down,” he murmured, “an’ I reckon I’ll be all dead soon.” It was not until he had looked the paper through and through and with a well-feigned yawn laid it back on the table, that he gave a start.
“Why lor’ sakes, Jane Ann, dars dem washers an’ markin’-chalk, now. Why, dey’s right dar on de table. How come yo’ didn’t tell me?”
Jane Ann looked up slowly. “Gracious sakes alibe, dat’s so; an’ it was me pick ’em up too! I sure forgot bout dat chalk an’ dem washers. Does yo’ use many ob dem fings down ter mill, Len?”
“Quite considerable. De white ’uns am fer de big belt an’ de red ’uns fer liT belt.”
“An’ dem udder fings, dat chalk now? What use yo’ put dat to?”
“Fer markin’ logs and lumber. Scaler’s chalk, dey calls it.”
Jane Ann picked up one of the little sticks and examined it carefully. “Dere’s printin’ on it, Len. Let’s see, it says: ‘Bes’ Billiard Chalk’.” Len caught his breath Oh, why had he not kept on wearing that horse shoe!
“What dat all mean, Len, ‘Bes’ Billiard Chalk?’ ”
“Why dat’s de man’s name what make dat chalk. Mister Billiard am de bigges’ timber-chalk manufacturer in America. All de big stave an’ lumber mills use Billiard Chalk.”
“Yo’ don’ say!”
“Yes, all dem mills use Billiard Chalk. Aint none better. Rain won’t wash it off.”
“Well, I do declar. An’ fer why dat chalk got dis li’le holler in its end? Sho’ley dat was put dar fer some purpose?”
“Why fer? Well I’ll tole yer why fer. Yer see, Jane Ann, all logs an’ lumber am marked off in tens and hundred lots. Dat HT holler’s lef’ in de markin’-chalk fer help de marker. He wanter mark ten, say. Well all he do is draw chalk down onst ter make figger one. den gib it one twist roun’ ter make figger ought an’ der yo’ is — 10.”
JANE ANN picked up one
of the pieces of billiardchalk. “Do tell,” she exclaimed. She carefully scratched a figure one on the table cloth and after it placed a neat 0 by giving the chalk a half turn. “Yes, it sure make a neat 10 all right,” she admitted, in a cautious tone, and Len took a long, deep breath of relief. “But look yo’, Len,”
she said suddenly, ‘T ’member dat when i was down in de mill-yard, one day, I saw de man markin’ log--an’ he used right big, bold figgers. How come he's usin' HT, nocount figgers like dese here, now?”
“It was foun’ dat big figgers made de sawyers cart less,” Len explained. “Suppose dat marker happen ter he so shiftless dat he put dat 10 on hemlock log when he should hab put it on pine log. Well, foreman he say ter sawyer, ‘Get out 1,000 feet ob pine. Sawyer he looks across yard an’ see big figger 10 standin’ up on log. He say ter skidder, ‘Go fetch me dat log marked 10.’ Skidder he go. Don’ know pine from walnut, skidder don’. He skid in dat log. Her’s put froo de saw an ripped inter lumber. Foreman come round by an’ by an’ fin’ dat dey all hab ripped out a job ob hemlocklumber ’stead ob pine. Now, yer see, puttin’ dem HT figgers on de logs sorter make dat sawyer peer close ter see, an’ he’s got ter natu’ally know what kinder timber he’s goin’ ter saw,
Jane Ann sighed. Apparently Len was telling the truth for once. Oh if only he could allay her doubts concerning that other terrible affair as he had succeeded in proving to her that the things she had felt sure were contraptions of evil, were simple and harmless things! But she knew he could not; and, gazing upon him from lowered eyes, she wondered if a premonition would come to him that this was his last night on earth.
Lenix was sleeping soundly, when Jane Ann at last sought her bed. Only she alone could know what a struggle it had been for her to play the part of the happy, unsuspecting wife the while her heart had been torn by rage and jealousy. It had been a great relief to her when Len had gone to bed. She was not built to smile with her eyes and think murder in her heart. She was built on sympathetic lines of architecture, so to speak, her face being true mirror of her thoughts. And for more than two hours she had held that face subject to her strong will. It had been a most terrible strain.
SHE stood gazing down on the face of the man who had so vilely deceived her, tears sprang into Jane Ann’s eyes and strove to quench the fire of hate and jealousy which smouldered there. But she dashed them away, angrily. She blew out the lamp and crept into bed, a wronged, wounded, dangerous woman. All night long she lay with wide open eyes gazing at the white-washed ceiling, planning, planning.
The yellow dawn was peering in at the tiny bedroom window when sleep at length wooed Jane Ann away to untroubled fields. When she awoke it was broad day.
Lenix, as was his custom, had gotten his own breakfast and gone to work. Jane Ann lay, carefully thinking over the plan she had formed the night before, the plan to bring Lenix face to face with his guilt and force him to a show-
She dressed like one in a dream, a bad dream, got her breakfast of porridge, ham and eggs and marmalade and toast, fed the pup, who had wistfully and silently watched proceedings, a generous bowl of bread and milk. Then tying on her sun-bonnet she went out, latching the screen door behind her.
The little bird was there in the rose tree, just beneath her window, and he was singing as though all the joy in the world was his. Jane Ann paused a moment to listen. “Well, I reckon he hab cbery right ter sing,” she murmured, "he am in no wise deceibin' dat lil' bird set tin close in on her lies'.”
Jane Ann remembered the time when Len had sung, sung sweet old melodies to minor chords strummed on an old banjo. She had sometimes wondered why he never sang any more. Xmr she knew. “Dal îi 1 cock bird wouldn't be singin’ needer, I reckon, come he'd been trapsin’ off wif' 'nudder hen bird.”
She sighed dolefully as she passed thoughtfully through the garden gate—-and on down the road, hands clasped beneath her apron.
Just at the brow of the hill she met Abe White. Jane Ann, having always held the keeper cf the local pool-room Continued on paye 34
Jane Ann’s Rival, Mabel
Continued from page 25
in contempt, would have passed on with a brief and lofty, “Howdy.” But Abe paused in the road and lifting his hat with Southern grace and flourish, begged a word or two with her.
Jane Ann planted her feet wide and looked down on the diminutive Abe. “Talk quick an’ brief, ef yo’ please,” she said. “Ise in a hurry.”
White proceeded to do so. “I was jes cornin’ up ter see yo’ all, Misses Ballister. Las’ Satterday night, at de billiardtournament, Len he done carry away seberal pieces oh my billiard-chalk and some poker-chips by mistake. Len, he hab a fashion ob putting ebery-t’ing in his pocket. I reckon as maybe he lef dem t’ings for me at de house: did he, Misses Ballister?”
Jane Ann’s eyes had grown big and round. The hands beneath the apron were clenched, and so were the white
teeth which showed in a disarming smile, as she answered.
“No Mister White, I aint seen nuffin ob no chalk er poker-chips.”
“Oh.” Abe was plainly disappointed. “W’ould yo’ all min’ tellin’ Len to please drap in wif dem t’ings ter night, ma’m?” “Not ’tall, not ’tall. I’ll tole him.” “Much obliged, Ise sure.” White lifted his hard hat and bowed low. “An how’s de new dribin’-hoss cornin’ long?” he enquired, as he turned towards the town.
"Her’s berry well, t’anks.” Jane Ann’s tone was becoming more cool, more lofty.
“I spose Len’s been tellin’ yer ’bout de new boat he get hol’ ob?” Abe asked.
JANE ANN swallowed hard. She saw
“I spec’s yo’ maybe on yer way down ter hab a look at dat boat, Misses Ballis-
tér. It’s down at de Carp-seine shore oh ribber. Len, he done tell me, las’ night, dat he was goin’ ter take it out ag’in ter night 'long ’bout eight. Reckon maybe yofll be goin’ long?”
Jane Ann nodded. "Yes, I reckon I’ll be goin’ along,” and added to herself, ‘But Len an’ his huzzy won’t ’speet it.”
Abe lifted his hat once again, and turned away. Jane Ann passed stolidly on down the road. She was going to learn something concerning separations, divorces, and the unwritten law.
Returning home at noon, for his dinner, Lenix found the house desolate and dinner’ess. Not even the smiling, wagging Orinoco to greet him. The pup had ducked for cover at the first faint creak of the ■eather door-hinge.
Len'smiled grimly, and philosophically -tet about gathering up loose ends of food, which he ate hurriedly and washed down with cold tea. Finishing his meal, he 'ook occasion of Jane Ann’s absence to do a ittle searching about in quest of odd hange, carefully lifting pieces of china ind bric-à-brac, peering under the corners if the rugs and turning gilded vases upside down. His reward was eighty cents n five cent pieces. This he dropped into rxis pocket, and lit his pipe.
As he glanced back from the door, his eyes sneountered a pair of big hungry eyes iooking from behind the wood-box. Promptly he turned back and going over to the table heaped a plate with broken meat and bread. "Dat blood-houn’ purp done t’ink I cl’ar ferget him, didn’ yo’, Orinoco?” Followed a medley of whines and whimpers and tail-waggings to delight the heart of any negro. “Pore li’1’ chap.” Len fondled a long silken ear, “Is yo’ all scart ter deff ob a woman, yo’ pore fainthearted pup, yo? Jes goes ter show how ' foolish yer is! Buck up, an’ bite her, Orinoco! All yo’ has ter do is show her yo’ aint scared, sure is! Now den, eat hearty an’ be a good pup. Long bout ter onorrie night I’ll bring yer a new leather collar, pervidin’ Doc Johnston’s ha’nessroom happen ter be unlocked when Ise cornin’ hum.”
Len gave his pet a parting slap and went out.
Jane Ann did not return home until (our o’clock in the afternoon, and so preoccupied was she that the cluttered table and the greasy floor passed unheeded. On her black face was stamped purpose. She had gone forth a wild, destroying thing, with murder in her heart. She had helped the judge’s wife do her ironing, had scrubbed the house from top to bottom, had eaten a dinner the likes of which comes not often, and had, in the innerpost sanctity of his book-walled study, been given a full and free knowledge of reparations, divorce and the unwritten law, by no less a personage than the old judge himself. And now she was back, waiting the end,prepared to do her part and do it well.
Supper-time came, but no Len. Jane Ann became a little worried, not so much it the fact that Len had failed to return (or his supper as a fear that his marvelous intuition to side-step disaster had whispered to him a warning to stay away from home. Well, it made no difference, lane Ann reasoned that if Len was going to take that slim woman who had won him (rom her, out, it would be in the new boat .Abe White had told her about. She knew where that boat lay. She knew the hour the guilty pair intended to meet at the landing. And she had it pretty well planned as to what was going to happen jhortly after.
SHE looked about her at the familiar objects in the room, and her throat tightened, her eyes smarted. Her heart (elt heavy, and dull, and betrampled. Well, she would soon be leaving it all, leaving it all forever! No doubt, other women had been through what she was going through now, suffered as she was suffering. Tears sprang up in her eyes to trickle, unheeded, down her cheeks. She knew now whom she reminded herself of; it was the WTonged wife of the story she had read in the book Mrs. Jones had lent her. The woman in the story had killed herself by drinking poison. Jane Ann couldn’t just understand why she did that when she might have smashed the man who deceived her just as easy, or easier.
Dusk came stealing up, soft-winged, ■sweet-scented—a dusk bringing memories ■of far by-gonee, of shady walks, pale riisks of moons and voices of night-birds.
She saw a tall, lithe boy, and beside him a comely plump girl. Yes, Jane Ann had been nothing more than merely plump in that day far back. And Len, he had been such a happy, care-free youngster, guileless and innocent. Jane Ann heaved a great sigh.
“Good Lor’, how dat nigger done changed.”
With this audible expression of her thoughts, the sordid present came sweeping in to dispel rosy-hued dreams. Once more Jane Ann was a wronged wife—with a purpose.
She dried her eyes and stifled sentiment in her bosom. She was once again the cold, calculating, remorseless force, designed by Providence, Destiny, or Luck to disillusion and slap to a sharp peak one erring husband-stealer, named Mabel Bell, leave one tall nigger mangled but still breathing, and flit afar to other fields. If Len survived, then she would take legal proceedings to free herself of his irksome
Jane Ann glanced at the clock. In another hour the lovers would meet at Carp Landing and on the moon-flooded river resume their guilty love. Well, she would be close by.
Having become mistress of herself once more, Jane Ann reached for the supper she had set aside an hour ago because the thought of food had choked her, and proceeded to make a fair meal. Her own slice of ham—and Len’s as well—quickly disappeared; huge pieces of Johnny-cake and butter, and three cups of strong green tea topped off the repast. She arose refreshed, and right eager to proceed on her way to the trysting-place.
DUT there was still some time in which •*-*_ she must possess her soul with patience. This she utilized in packing into a satchel some of her most precious personal effects, and several of Len’s also, including a stuffed owl, a quarter’s worth of smokingtobacco and a red tie which he had lately purchased.
Then she thought of Orinoco, and peered behind the wood-box in search of him. The pup gazed pleadingly out at her, and wagged his tail.
“Pore liT pup, come out here an’ get yore supper,” Jane Ann’s tones were gentle.
But Orinoco stirred not.
“Come out here, I tells yo’." Jane Ann’s voice was authoritative.
No response from the pup.
Jane Ann stood up and reached for the boot-jack, hanging on the wall. “So yo’se in league wif flat Len, is yo’? Well den, I’ll jes’ natually make sausage meat ob’ yt>’, dat’s what I’ll do! I spose dat nigger been fellin’ yo’ dat’s yo’se goin’ ter hab a new mistress? Hab he? Ans’er me, yo’ bunch ob bone, do yo’ all aim ter stan’ by dat crooked snail er stan’ by me? Ise waitin’ staff in han’, fer your ans’er.”
Something brown and sudden hurled itself between Jane Ann’s feet, and, as the screen-door banged open and shut, she sat down hard on the floor. Once more Orinoco had “broke fer freedom.” But this time Jane Ann did not laugh. Her eyes simply grew big and rolling and her breath came in short gasps.
She arose, at length, slowly and painfully, and leaned against the table for support.
“So,” she murmured. “Even dat dawg is weary ob me an’ would destroy me.” She reached for the cracked mirror, above the wash-stand, and examined her tongue to see if she had bitten a piece off it.
“It’s right lucky fer that no-count pup, dis here woman is Ieabing dis place fer ebber,” she muttered. “I shore wishes I’d let him starve when he was liT, ’stead ob getting up on col’ nights ter feed him, I shore does.”
She placed the satchel under the bed and reached for her sun-bonnet. Her eyes sought the rolling-pin beside the bread-board, to dwell on it longingly, then she shook her head. “Der’s a gardenrake outside wif steel teefe,” she decided. “Dat’ll prove better in a hot scrimmage, mos’ like.”
ONE last, longing look Jane Ann took of the little, homey room, then as though dreading her heart might want to drag her back to olden yesterdays again, she took a step towards the table anti drew in her breath to extinguish the light. But, with black cheeks inflated to their utmost capacity, she paused, listening. A step was coming up the lawn, »'shuttling
step which seemed to sing, “Ise goin’, I don’ care, Ise goin’ don’ know where.” The door swung open and, there entered —Len! In his arms he carried Orinoco. The pup’s eyes were aglow with joy, his long tail wagged like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Lenix cast an appraising eye over the table, the room and Jane Ann, who had wheeled towards him, surprise so gluing her lips that the long breath she had drawn still forced her cheeks out like twin bal-
“Lor’, Jane Ann, yo’re face all swell up. Yo’ got de toof-ache?” Len broke the silence fearfully. Never in all their wedded life had the domestic atmosphere been so charged as he found it now.
“I couldn’t git home any earlier, Jane Ann. Been workin’ ter give yo’ 'nudder s’prise, I’ll jes eat my supper now, den I’ll take yo’ to it.”
Jane Ann found her voice. “S’prise, did yo’ say, yo’ sneakin,’ woman-stealin’ slibber ob iniquity! ’¿prise, say yo? Well, jes’ yo’ wait. When it comes ter s’prises, I’se de queen bee ob de worl’! Ise got a s’prise dat’ll make yo’m look like an alamac-joke, I has!”
“Why, Jane Ann—”
“Shet straight up! Tell me nigger, who’s Mabel Bell?”
Len started guiltily. “Jane Ann, who been tellin’ yo’ bout her—”
“Nebber yo’ min’. Yo’ t’ought yo’d keep right on foolin’ me, but yo’ see it can’t allers be did. So, yo’ reckoned on talón’ her out again’ ter night, did yo? Yo’ creepin’ worm arter-a-rain, yo’! Reckoned on sneakin’ out like a t’ief in night, did yo? Bah, yo’ an’ yore Mabel. Jes yo’ wait till I gets a chance ter smash her!”
“Lor’, Jane Ann, thar aint no need ter take on so, why—”
“An’ she didn’t spark jes’ ter suit yer, eh? An’ yo’ all perfers a HT one ter a big one, does yo? Yo’ hunk ob frogspawn, yo !”
“But Jane Ann—”
^“An’ she’s a mighty fas’, trim li’l’ fing, am she? An’ she can’t be too fas’ fer yo’, eh? Well, us’ll see. If it’s fastness yo’ all wants, yo’se goin’ ter get it, an Ise aimin’ ter hol’ de stop watch. Yo’ an’ yer Mabel Bell am agoin’ ter soar hebenward so fas’ yer heads’ll knock togedder. Yo’ll fin’ dat out, riçht soon.” “But Jane Ann, Mabel Bell aint got no head, nohow. Her’s a boat!”
“Why Mabel Bell am a boat. A motor la’nch, as I picked up in deal. I hab some trouble gettin’ her engine ter work, but Ise got her goin’ all hunky now. I was jest aimin’ on keepin yer in de dark about dat boat, kaze I natually wanted ter gib yo’ a s’prise. But I spose dat nocount Homer Hudson been talkin’ ag’in.” Slowly, as comprehension dawned on her, Jane Ann sank into a chair. Her arms hung limp at her sides; her eyes rolled and her mouth opened and shut like the stop-cock of an elevator hopper. Len, really alarmed, took a step or two towards her, Jane Ann squirmed erect and swallowed hard two or three times. Then she managed to say,
“Len, yo’ all speak true when yo’ say dat Mabel Bell am a boat?”
“Sure, she’s fas’es’ la’nch on de riber. Her’s much better boat den dat big un I trade fer fust.”
“Big un!” Jane Ann rubbed her eyes. “Yo’ all mean de big un was a boat too, Len?”
“Yes, sure was, but she aint no more. Tonight we done break her up, an’ take out her engin’s. I sell, dem en jin’ ter Lou Smiff fer twenty dollars, Jane Ann.” Lenix set the pup down on the floor, where after a glance at the woman setting with bowed head before the table, he stretched himself out, Len, reading the sign aright, hung his hat on its nail and reached for the wash-basin.
“Now, I’ll jes grab a snack, Jane Ann, an’ den us’ll go down ter ribber an’ run circles roun’ dem udder boats, us sure will.”
Len, with smarting soap-filled eyes, dose shut, was groping for the towel when a pair of plump arms stole about his neck, and a gulping voice he could scarcely recognize, said softly,
“Ise seekin’ de forgibeness ob de bes’ man in de worl’, fer misjedgin’ him so. Ef yo’ all wouldn’ min. Len—”
Len didn’t mina. With eyes still smarting,_ he bent and kissed the seeker, once—twice—and once again for luck, as he put it.