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- The Law of the Land - 3/49 -
exclusively fed from these acres; scarce any item needful in his life required to be imported from the outer world. The government of America might have fallen; anarchy might have prevailed; a dozen states might have been taken over by a foreign foe; a score of states might have been overwhelmed by national calamity, and it all had scarce made a ripple here in this land, apart, rich, self-supporting and content. It had always been thus here.
But if this were a kingdom apart and self-sufficient, what meant this thing which, crossed the head of the plantation--this double line, tenacious and continuous, which shone upon the one hand dark, and upon the other, where the sun touched it, a cold gray in color? What meant this squat little building at the side of these rails which reached out straight as the flight of a bird across the clearing and vanished keenly in the forest wall? This was the road of the iron rails, the white man's perpetual path across the land. It clung close to the ground, at times almost sinking into the embankment now grown scarcely discernible among the concealing grass and weeds, although the track itself had been built but recently. This railroad sought to efface itself, even as the land sought to aid in its effacement, as though neither believed that this was lawful spot for the path of the iron rails. None the less, here was the railroad, ineradicable, epochal, bringing change; and, one might say, it made a blot upon this picture of the morning.
An observer standing upon the broad gallery, looking toward the eastward and the southward, might have seen two figures just emerging from the rim of the forest something like a mile away; and might then have seen them growing slowly more distinct as they plodded up the railway track toward the Big House. Presently these might have been discovered to be a man and a woman; the former tall, thin, dark and stooped; his companion, tall as himself, quite as thin, and almost as bent. The garb of the man was nondescript, neutral, loose; his hat dark and flapping. The woman wore a shapeless calico gown, and on her head was a long, telescopic sunbonnet of faded pink, from which she must perforce peer forward, looking neither to the right nor to the left.
The travelers, indeed, needed not to look to the right or the left, for the path of the iron rails led them directly on. Now and again clods of new-broken earth caused them to stumble as they hobbled loosely along. If the foot of either struck against the rail, its owner sprang aside, as though in fear, toward the middle of the track. Slowly and unevenly, with all the zigzags permissible within the confining inches of the irons, they came on up toward the squat little station-house. Thence they turned aside into the plantation path and, still stumbling and zigzagging, ambled up toward the house. They did not step to the gallery, did not knock at the door, or, indeed, give any evidences of their intentions, but seated themselves deliberately upon a pile of boards that lay near in the broad expanse of the front yard. Here they remained, silent and at rest, fitting well enough into the sleepy scene. No one in the house noticed them for a time, and they, tired by the walk, seemed content to rest under the shade of the evergreens before making known their errand. They sat speechless and content for some moments, until finally a mulatto house-servant, passing from one building to another, cast a look in their direction, and paused uncertainly in curiosity. The man on the board-pile saw her.
"Here, Jinny! Jinny!" he called, just loud enough to be heard, and not turning toward her more than half-way. "Come heah."
"Yassah," said the girl, and slowly approached.
"Get us a little melk, Jinny," said the speaker.
"We're plumb out o' melk down home."
"Yassah," said Jinny; and disappeared leisurely, to be gone perhaps half an hour.
There remained little sign of life on the board-pile, the bonnet tube pointing fixedly toward the railway station, the man now and then slowly shifting one leg across the other, but staring out at nothing, his lower lip drooping laxly. When the servant finally brought back the milk-pail and placed it beside him, he gave no word of thanks. The sunbonnet shifted to include the mulatto girl within its full vision, as the latter stood leaning her weight on one side-bent foot, idly wiping her hands upon her apron.
"Folks all well down to yo' place, Mistah Bowles?" said she, affably.
"Um-h-h." Silence then fell until Jinny again found speech.
"Old Bess, that's the Cunnel's favoright dawg, you-all know, she done have 'leven puppies las' night."
"Yassah. Cunnel, he's off down on the Sun-flowah."
"Yassah; got most all his dawgs wid 'im. We goin' to have b'ah meat now for sho',"--this with a wide grin.
"Reckon so," said the visitor. "When's Cunnel coming back, you reckon?"
"I dunno, suh, but he sho' won't come back lessen he gets a b'ah. If you-all could wait a while, yon-all could take back some b'ah meat, if you wantuh."
"Um-h-h," said the man, and fell again into silence. To all appearances, he was willing to wait here indefinitely, forgetful of the pail of milk, toward which the sun was now creeping ominously close. The way back home seemed long and weary at that moment. His lip drooped still more laxly, as he sat looking out vaguely.
Not so calm seemed his consort, she of the sun-bonnet. Eestored to some extent by her tarrying in the shade, she began to shift and hitch about uneasily upon the board-pile. At length she leaned a bit to one side, reached into a pocket and, taking out a snuff-stick and a parcel of its attendant compound, began to take a dip of snuff, after the habit of certain of the population of that region. This done, she turned with a swift jerk of the head, bringing to bear the tube of her bonnet in full force upon her lord and master.
"Jim Bowles," she said, "this heah is a shame! Hit's a plumb shame!"
There was no answer, save an uneasy hitch on the part of the person so addressed. He seemed to feel the focus of the sunbonnet boring into his system. The voice in the bonnet went on, shot straight toward him, so that he might not escape.
"Hit's a plumb shame," said Mrs. Bowles, again.
"I know it, I know it," said her husband at length, uneasily. "That is, about us having to walk up heah. That whut you mean?"
"Yassir, that's whut I do mean, an' you know it."
"Well, now, how kin _I_ help it? We kain't take the only mewel we got and make the nigger stop wu'k. That ain't reasonable. Besides, you don't think Cunnel Blount is goin' to miss a pail o' melk now and then, do you?"
A snort of indignation greeted this supposition.
"Jim Bowles, you make me sick," replied his wife. "We kin get melk heah as long as we want to, o' co'se; but who wants to keep a-comin' up heah, three mile, for melk? It ain't right."
"Well, now, Sar' Ann, how kin I help it?" said Jim Bowles. "The cow is daid, an' I kain't help it, an' that's all about it. My God, woman!" this with sudden energy, "do you think I kin bring a cow to life that's been kilt by the old railroad kyahs? I ain't no 'vangelist."
"You kain't bring old Muley to life," said Sarah Ann Bowles, "but then--"
"Well, but then! But _whut?_ Whut you goin' to do? I reckon you do whut you do, huh! You just walk the track and come heah after melk, I reckon, if you want it. You ought to be mighty glad I come along to keep you company. 'Tain't every man goin' to do that, I want to tell you. Now, it ain't my fault old Muley done got kilt."
"Ain't yo' fault!"
"No, it ain't my _fault_. Whut am I goin' to do? I kain't get no otheh cow right now, an' I done tol' you so. You reckon cows grows on bushes?"
"Grows on bushes!"
"Yes, or that they comes for nuthin'?"
"Comes for nuthin'!"
"Yes, Sar' Ann, that's whut I said. I tell you, it ain't so fur to come, ain't so fur up heah, if you take it easy; only three mile. An' Cunnel Blount'll give us melk as long as we want. I reckon he would give us a cow, too, if I ast him. I s'pose I could pay him out o' the next crop, if they wasn't so many things that has to be paid out'n the crop. It's too blame bad 'bout Muley." He scratched his head thoughtfully.
"Yes," responded his spouse, "Muley was a heap better cow than you'll ever git ag'in. Why, she give two quo'ts o' melk the very mawnin' she was kilt--two quo'ts. I reckon we didn't have to walk no three mile that mawnin', did we? An' she that kin' and gentle-like--oh, we ain't goin' to git no new cow like Muley, no time right soon, I want to tell you that, Jim Bowles."
"Well, well, I know all that," said her husband, conciliatingly, a trifle easier now that the sunbonnet was for the moment turned aside. "That's all true, mighty true. But what kin you _do_?"
"Do? Why, do _somethin_'! Somebody sho' ought to suffer for this heah. This new fangled railroad a-comin' through heah, a-killin' things, an' a-killin' _folks_! Why, Bud Sowers said just the other week he heard of three darkies gittin' kilt in one bunch down to Allenville. They standin' on the track, jes' talkin' an' visitin' like. Didn't notice nuthin'. Didn't notice the train a-comin'. 'Biff!' says Bud; an' thah was them darkies."
"Yes," said Mr. Bowles, "that's the way it was with Muley. She just
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