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- The Law of the Land - 4/49 -
walk up out'n the cane, an' stan' thah in the sun on the track, to sort o' look aroun' whah she could see free fer a little ways. Then, 'long comes the railroad train, an' biff! Thah's Muley!"
"An' she a good cow for us for fo'teen yeahs! It don't look exactly right, now, does it? It sho' don't"
"It's a outrage, that's whut it is," said Sar' Ann Bowles.
"Well, we got the railroad," said her husband, tentatively.
"Yes, we got the railroad," said Sar' Ann Bowles, savagely, "an' whut yearthly good is it? Who wants any railroad? Whut use have we-all got fer it? It comes through ouah farm, an' scares ouah mewel, an' it kills ouah cow; an' it's got me so's I'm afeared to set foot outsid'n ouah do', lessen it's goin' to kill me, too. Why, all the way up heah this mawnin', I was skeered every foot of the way, a-fear-in' that there ingine was goin' to come along an' kill us both!"
"Sho'! Sar' Ann," said her husband, with superiority. "It ain't time fer the train yit--leastwise I don't think it is." He looked about uneasily.
"That's all right, Jim Bowles. One of them ingines might come along 'most any time. It might creep up behin' you, then, biff! Thah's Jim Bowles! Whut use is the railroad, I'd like to know? I wouldn't be caught a-climbin' in one o' them thah kyars, not fer big money. Supposin' it run off the track?"
"Oh, well, now," said her husband, "maybe it don't, always."
"But supposin' it _did_?" The front of the telescope turned toward him suddenly, and so perfect was the focus this time that Mr. Bowles shifted his seat and took refuge upon another board at the other end of the board-pile, out of range, albeit directly in the ardent sunlight, which, warm as it was, did not seem to him so burning as the black eyes in the bonnet, or so troublous as the tongue which went on with its questions.
"Whut made you vote fer this heah railroad?" said Sarah Ann, following him mercilessly with the bonnet tube. "We didn't want no railroad. We never did have one, an' we never ought to a-had one. You listen to me, that railroad is goin' to ruin this country. Thah ain't a woman in these heah bottoms but would be skeered to have a baby grow up in her house. Supposin' you got a baby; nice little baby, never did harm no one. You a-cookin' or somethin'--out to the smoke- house like enough; baby alone fer about two minutes. Baby crawls out on to the railroad track. Along comes the ingine, an' biff! Thah's yo' baby!"
Mrs. Bowles shed tears at this picture which she had conjured up, and even her less imaginative consort became visibly affected, so that for a moment he half straightened up.
"Hit don't look quite right," said he, once more. "But, then, whut you goin' to do? Whut _kin_ we do, woman?" he asked fiercely.
"Why, if the men in these heah parts was half men," said his wife, "I tell you whut they'd do. They'd git out and tear up every foot of this heah cussed railroad track, an' throw it back into the cane. That's whut they'd do."
"Sho' now, would you?" said Jim Bowles.
"Shore I would. You got to do it if things keeps on this-away."
"Well, we couldn't, lessen Cunnel Blount said it was all right, you know. The Cunnel was the friend of the road through these heah bottoms. He 'lowed it would help us all."
"Help? Help us? Huh! Like to know how it helps us, killin' ouah cow an' makin' us walk three mile of a hot mornin' to git a pail o' melk to make up some co'hn bread. You call that a help, do you, Jim Bowles? You may, but I don't an' I hain't a-goin' to. I got some sense, I reckon. Railroad! Help! Huh!"
Jim Bowles crept stealthily a little farther away on his own side of the board-pile, whither it seemed his wife could not quite so readily follow him with her transfixing gaze.
"Well, now, Sar' Ann," said he, "the Cunnel done tol' me hit was all right. He said some of ouah stock like enough git kilt, 'cause you know these heah bottoms is growed up so close like, with cane an' all that, that any sort of critters like to git out where it's open, so's they kin sort o' look around like, you know. Why, I done seen four deer trails whils' we was a-comin' up this mawnin', and I seen whah a b'ah had come out an' stood on the track. Now, as fer cows, an' as fer niggers, why, it stands to reason that some of them is shore goin' to git kilt, that's all."
"An' you men is goin' to stand that from the railroad? Why don't you make them pay for whut gits kilt?"
"Well, now, Sar' Ann," said her husband, conciliatorily, "that's just whut I was goin' to say. The time the fust man come down through heah to talk about buildin' the railroad, he done said, like I tol' you Cunnel Blount said, that we might git some stock kilt fer a little while, till things kind o' got used to it, you know; but he 'lowed that the railroad would sort o' pay for anything that got kilt like, you know."
"Pay! The railroad goin' to pay you!" Again the remorseless sunbonnet followed its victim and fixed him with its focus. "Pay you! I didn't notice no money layin' on the track where we come along this mawnin', did you? Yes, I reckon it's goin' to pay you, a whole heap!" The scorn of this utterance was limitless, and Jim Bowles felt his insignificance in the untenable position which he had assumed.
"Well, I dunno," said he, vaguely, and sighed softly; all of which irritated Mrs. Bowles to such an extent that she flounced suddenly around to get a better gaze upon her master. In this movement, her foot struck the pail of milk which had been sitting near, and overturned it.
"Jinny," she called out, "you, Jinny!"
"Yassam," replied Jinny, from some place on the gallery.
"Come heah," said Mrs. Bowles. "Git me another pail o' melk. I done spilled this one."
"Yassam," replied Jinny, and presently returned with the refilled vessel.
"Well, anyway," said Jim Bowles at length, rising and standing with hands in pockets, inside the edge of the shade line of the evergreens, "I heard that thah was a man come down through heah a few days ago. He was sort of takin' count o' the critters that done got kilt by the railroad kyahs."
"That so?" said Sarah Ann, somewhat mollified.
"I reckon so," said Jim Bowles. "I 'lowed I'd ast Cunnel Blount 'bout that sometime. 0' co'se it don't bring Muley back, but then---"
"No, hit don't," said Sarah Ann, resuming her original position. "And our little Sim, he just loved that Muley cow, little Sim, he did," she mourned.
"Say, Jim Bowles, do you heah me?"--this with a sudden flirt of the sunbonnet in an agony of actual fear. "Why, Jim Bowles, do you know that ouah little Sim might be a-playin' out thah in front of ouah house, on to that railroad track, at this very minute? S'pose, s'posen--along comes that thah railroad train! Say, man, whut you standin' there in that thah shade fer? We got to go! We got to git home! Come right along this minute, er we may be too late."
And so, smitten by this sudden thought, they gathered themselves together as best they might and started toward the railroad for their return. Even as they did so there appeared upon the northern horizon a wreath of smoke rising above the forest. There was the far-off sound of a whistle, deadened by the heavy intervening vegetation; and presently, there puffed into view one of the railroad trains still new upon this region. Iconoclastic, modern, strenuous, it wabbled unevenly over the new-laid rails up to the station-house, where it paused for a few moments ere it resumed its wheezing way to the southward. The two visitors at the Big House gazed at it open-mouthed for a time, until all at once her former thought crossed the woman's mind. She turned upon her husband.
"Thah it goes! Thah it goes!" she cried. "Right on straight to ouah house! It kain't miss it! An' little Sim, he's sho' to be playin' out thah on the track. Oh, he's daid right this minute, he sho'ly is!"
Her speech exercised a certain force upon Jim Bowles. He stepped on the faster, tripped upon a clod and stumbled, spilling half the milk from the pail.
"Thah, now!" said he. "Thah hit goes ag'in. Done spilt the melk. Well, hit's too far back to the house now fer mo'. But, now, mebbe Sim wasn't playin' on the track."
"Mebbe he wasn't!" said Sarah Ann, scornfully. "Why, _o' co'se_ he was."
"Well, if he was," said Jim Bowles, philosophically, "why, Sar' Ann, from whut I done notice about this yeah railroad train, why--it's _too late_, now."
He might perhaps have pursued this logical course of thought further, had not there occurred an incident which brought the conversation to a close. Looking up, the two saw approaching them across the lawn, evidently coming from the little railway station, and doubtless descended from this very train, the alert, quick-stepping figure of a man evidently a stranger to the place. Jim and Sarah Ann Bowles stepped to one side as he approached and lifted his hat with a pleasant smile.
"Good morning," said the stranger. "It's a fine day, isn't it? Can you tell me whether or not Colonel Blount is at home this morning?"
"Well, suh," said Jim Bowles, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "He ah, an' he ain't. He's home, o' co'se; that is, he hain't gone away no whah, to co'te er nothin'. But then ag'in, he's out huntin', gone afteh b'ah. I reckon he's likely to be in 'most any day now."
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