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By Elizabeth Stuart Phelps et al.
It was a very important thing to drive two miles in the dark for one’s father and bring him home from the nine o’clock express. Add to this situation the excitement of an excursion, and Donny de Mone felt that life lacked nothing more to the position and the dignity of manhood. Besides, Donny was very fond of his father, and had not seen him for two weeks.
Now, there was one curious thing about this crowd which would have been noticeable to a stranger, but had not as yet attracted the attention of the residents. This was the extraordinary number of animals that seemed to be waiting for this train. One would have thought that half the dogs in the neighborhood had relatives coming from Columbia.
Stray goats and mules gazed expectantly up and down the track. Cats had followed their owners from the houses and betrayed their devotion by subdued squeals from under their masters’ regardless heels. A brindle—brown pig wriggled its way among the crowd, grunting with persistent uneasiness; while a couple of wandering cows, unmolested by the strangely restless dogs, passed and repassed the railroad crossing, bellowing monotonously. The horses at the station exhibited curious discomfort; and Donny de Mone’s venerable nag “Ben Bow” astonished the community by pulling at his halter.
While the boy stood valiantly holding the bridle, an old Negro came up and pulled his sleeve. He was a shabby old Negro. His lean knees protruded through his trousers,–a mass of patches from under which the original material, like the jackknife in the mental philosophy problem, had wholly disappeared. It was especially noticeable that tufts of white hair found their way through the holes in his coon—skin cap. Across his shoulder he carried a bundle knotted into an old red handkerchief with a polka spot.
“Say, boss, cud ye tell me whar a poah niggah cud fine a bit o’ kivered hay to sleep on, an’ a moufful o’ pone in de mauhnin? I’se footed it clean from Charleston. I’se gwine to Branchville whar my dahter, Juno Soo, is a dyin’ ob fever. She ain’t long foh dis wohl. I’se got money ’nuff foh de breffust.”
He looked wistfully at the lad. Donny answered with the heartiness of a child who has been brought up to think of others.
“My father will tell you when he comes in. I expect him every minute. But why don’t you go to Kittie’s.” He mentioned the name of a woman well known in Summerville for strong character and wise benevolence. “She lives up the track there. Anybody will show you. She’ll help you; she’s the best colored woman in town.”
The old man turned away without answering. Perhaps he thought this a pleasant device on the boy’s part to get rid of him. Perhaps he meant to follow his counsel. Who can say? He plodded slowly up the track and disappeared in the darkness.
NOW, while Donny stood holding Ben Bow by the bridle, the old horse reared, plunged violently, snapped his halter, and broke away. The boy, at the same instant, was hurled to the ground. The ringing of hoofs and whir of wheels made strange sensations in his ears. He thought what a fool he was to be knocked down by old Ben Bow.
Then he tottered to his feet. Complete darkness had come. There was an unearthly silence. Then a moan, then a howl and a shriek arose which reached from group to group, from house to house, from square to forest. Human and animal cries blended in one piteous appeal for mercy.
Again the unknown power smote the lad to the earth, which had become a raging sea. It rocked–it rolled. Terrified, the child no longer attempted to stand. He got down on his hands and knees and crawled.
The trees whistled overhead. Flocks of birds seemed to sing through the air, striking against the telegraph wires. The atmosphere, which but a few moments ago reeked with heat, took on a grave—like chill. Again the earth heaved and swayed beneath the frightened youngster, who fell upon his face, vainly clawing the ground for the support which it denied him.
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