There was a hurried good-by at the depot.
"Kiss the children for me, Mary," said her husband.
"You will write very soon?" pleaded Mrs. Frost.
"At the very first opportunity."
"All aboard!" shouted the conductor.
With a shrill scream the locomotive started.
Frank and his mother stood on the platform watching the receding train till it was quite out of sight, and then in silence our young hero assisted his mother into the carryall and turned the horse's head homeward.
It was one of those quiet October mornings, when the air is soft and balmy as if a June day had found its way by mistake into the heart of autumn. The road wound partly through the woods. The leaves were still green and abundant. Only one or two showed signs of the coming change, which in the course of a few weeks must leave them bare and leafless.
"What a beautiful day!" said Frank, speaking the words almost unconsciously.
"Beautiful indeed!" responded his mother. "On such a day as this the world seems too lovely for war and warlike passions to be permitted to enter it. When men might be so happy, why need they stain their hands with each other's blood?"
Frank was unprepared for an answer. He knew that it was his father's departure which led his mother to speak thus. He wished to divert her mind, if possible.
Circumstances favored his design.
They had accomplished perhaps three-quarters of the distance home when, as they were passing a small one-story building by the roadside, a shriek of pain was heard, and a little black boy came running out of the house, screaming in affright: "Mammy's done killed herself. She's mos' dead!"
He ran out to the road and looked up at Mrs. Frost, as if to implore assistance.
"That's Chloe's child," said Mrs. Frost. "Stop the horse, Frank; I'll get out and see what has happened."
Chloe, as Frank very well knew, was a colored woman, who until a few months since had been a slave in Virginia. Finally she had seized a favorable opportunity, and taking the only child which the cruel slave system had left her, for the rest had been sold South, succeeded in making her way into Pennsylvania. Chance had directed her to Rossville, where she had been permitted to occupy, rent free, an old shanty which for some years previous had been uninhabited. Here she had supported herself by taking in washing and ironing. This had been her special work on the plantation where she had been born and brought up, and she was therefore quite proficient in it. She found no difficulty in obtaining work enough to satisfy the moderate wants of herself and little Pomp.
The latter was a bright little fellow, as black as the ace of spades, and possessing to the full the mercurial temperament of the Southern negro. Full of fun and drollery, he attracted plenty of attention when he came into the village, and earned many a penny from the boys by his plantation songs and dances.
Now, however, he appeared in a mood entirely different, and it was easy to see that he was much frightened.
"What's the matter, Pomp?" asked Frank, as he brought his horse to a standstill.
"Mammy done killed herself," he repeated, wringing his hands in terror.
A moan from the interior of the house seemed to make it clear that something had happened.
Mrs. Frost pushed the door open and entered.
Chloe had sunk down on the floor and was rocking back and forth, holding her right foot in both hands, with an expression of acute pain on her sable face. Beside her was a small pail, bottom upward.
Mrs. Frost was at no loss to conjecture the nature of the accident which had befallen her. The pail had contained hot water, and its accidental overturn had scalded poor Chloe.
"Are you much hurt, Chloe?" asked Mrs. Frost sympathizingly.
"Oh, missus, I's most dead," was the reply, accompanied by a groan. " 'Spect I sha'n't live till mornin'. Dunno what'll become of poor Pomp when I'se gone."
Little Pomp squeezed his knuckles into his eyes and responded with an unearthly howl.
"Don't be too much frightened, Chloe," said Mrs. Frost soothingly. "You'll get over it sooner than you think. How did the pail happen to turn over?"
"Must have been de debbel, missus. I was kerryin' it just as keerful, when all at once it upsot."
This explanation, though not very luminous to her visitor, appeared to excite a fierce spirit of resentment against the pail in the mind of little Pomp.
He suddenly rushed forward impetuously and kicked the pail with all the force he could muster.
But, alas for poor Pomp! His feet were unprotected by shoes, and the sudden blow hurt him much more than the pail. The consequence was a howl of the most distressing nature.
Frank had started forward to rescue Pomp from the consequences of his precipitancy, but too late. He picked up the little fellow and, carrying him out, strove to soothe him.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Frost examined Chloe's injuries. They were not so great as she had anticipated. She learned on inquiry that the water had not been scalding hot. There was little doubt that with proper care she would recover from her injuries in a week or ten days. But in the meantime it would not do to use the foot.
"What shall I do, missus?" groaned Chloe. "I ain't got nothin' baked up. 'Pears like me and Pomp must starve."
"Not so bad as that, Chloe," said Mrs. Frost, with a reassuring smile. "After we have you on the bed we will take Pomp home with us, and give him enough food to last you both a couple of days. At the end of that time, or sooner, if you get out, you can send him up again."
Chloe expressed her gratitude warmly, and Mrs. Frost, calling in Frank's assistance, helped the poor woman to a comfortable position on the bed, which fortunately was in the corner of the same room. Had it been upstairs, the removal would have been attended with considerable difficulty as well as pain to Chloe.
Pomp, the acuteness of whose pain had subsided, looked on with wondering eyes while Frank and Mrs. Frost "toted" his mother onto the bed, as he expressed it.
Chloe accepted, with wondering gratitude, the personal attentions of Mrs. Frost, who bound up the injured foot with a softness of touch which brought no pain to the sufferer.
"You ain't too proud, missus, to tend to a poor black woman," she said. "Down Souf dey used to tell us dat everybody looked down on de poor nigger and lef' 'em to starve an' die if dey grow sick."
"They told you a great many things that were not true, Chloe," said Mrs. Frost quietly. "The color of the skin ought to make no difference where we have it in our power to render kind offices."
"Do you believe niggers go to de same heaven wid w'ite folks, missus?" asked Chloe, after a pause.
"Why should they not? They were made by the same God."
"I dunno, missus," said Chloe. "I hopes you is right."
"Do you think you can spare Pomp a little while to go home with us?"
"Yes, missus. Here you, Pomp," she called, "you go home wid dis good lady, and she'll gib you something for your poor sick mudder. Do you hear?"
"I'se goin' to ride?" said Pomp inquiringly.
"Yes," said Frank good-naturedly.
"Hi, hi, dat's prime!" ejaculated Pomp, turning a somersault in his joy.
"Scramble in, then, and we'll start."
Pomp needed no second invitation. He jumped into the carriage, and was more leisurely followed by Frank and his mother.
It was probably the first time that Pomp had ever been in a covered carriage, and consequently the novelty of his situation put him in high spirits.
He was anxious to drive, and Frank, to gratify him, placed the reins in his hands. His eyes sparkling with delight, and his expanded mouth showing a full set of ivories, Pomp shook the reins in glee, shouting out, "Hi, go along there, you ol' debble!"
"Pomp, you mustn't use that word," said Mrs. Frost reprovingly.
"What word, missus?" demanded Pomp innocently.
"The last word you used," she answered.
"Don't 'member what word you mean, missus," said Pomp. "Hi, you debble!"
"That's the word?"
"Not say 'debble'?" said Pomp wonderingly. "Why not, missus?"
"It isn't a good word."
"Mammy says 'debble.' She calls me little debble when I run away, and don't tote in de wood."
"I shall tell her not to use it. It isn't a good word for anybody to use."
"Hope you'll tell her so, missus," said Pomp, grinning and showing his teeth. "Wheneber she calls me little debble she pulls off her shoe and hits me. Hurts like de debble. Mebbe she won't hit me if you tell her not to say 'debble.' "
Mrs. Frost could hardly forbear laughing. She managed, however, to preserve a serious countenance while she said, "You must take care to behave well, and then she won't have to punish you."
It is somewhat doubtful whether Pomp heard this last remark. He espied a pig walking by the side of the road, and was seized with a desire to run over it. Giving the reins a sudden twitch, he brought the carriage round so that it was very near upsetting in a gully.
Frank snatched the reins in time to prevent this catastrophe.
"What did you do that for, Pomp?" he said quickly.
"Wanted to scare de pig," exclaimed Pomp, laughing. "Wanted to hear him squeal."
"And so you nearly tipped us over."
"Didn't mean to do dat, Mass' Frank. 'Pears like I didn't think."
Mrs. Frost was too much alarmed by this narrow escape to consent to Pomp's driving again, and for the moment felt as if she should like to usurp his mother's privilege of spanking him. But the little imp looked so unconscious of having done anything wrong that her vexation soon passed away.
In half an hour Pomp was on his way back, laden with a basketful of provisions for his sick mother and himself.