Tom Grogan/Chapter 6
THE BIG GRAY GOES HUNGRY
THAT invincible spirit which dwelt in Tom's breast—that spirit which had dared Lathers, outwitted Duffy, cowed Crimmins, and braved the Union, did not, strange to say, dominate all the members of her own household. One defied her. This was no other than that despoiler of new-washed clothes, old harness, wagon-grease, time-books, and spring flowers, that Arab of the open lot, Stumpy the goat.
This supremacy of the goat had lasted since the eventful morning when, only a kid of tender days, he had come into the stable-yard and wobbled about on his uncertain legs, nestling down near the door where Patsy lay. During all these years he had ruled over Tom. At first because his fuzzy white back and soft, silky legs had been so precious to the little cripple, and later because of his inexhaustible energy, his aggressiveness, and his marvelous activity. Brave spirits have fainted at the sight of spiders, others have turned pale at lizards, and some have shivered when cats crossed their paths. The only thing Tom feared on any number of legs, from centipedes to men, was Stumpy.
“Git out, ye imp of Satan!” she would say, raising her hand when he wandered too near; “or I'll smash ye!” The next instant she would be dodging behind the cart out of the way of Stumpy's lowered horns, with a scream as natural and as uncontrollable as that of a schoolgirl over a mouse. When he stood in the path cleared of snow from house to stable door, with head down, prepared to dispute every inch of the way with her, she would tramp yards around him, up to her knees in the drift, rather than face his obstinate front.
The basest of ingratitude actuated the goat. When the accident occurred that gained him his sobriquet and lost him his tail, it was Tom's quickness of hand alone that saved the remainder of his kidship from disappearing as his tail had done. Indeed, she not only choked the dog who attacked him, until he loosened his hold from want of breath, but she threw him over the stable-yard fence as an additional mark of her displeasure.
In spite of her fear of him, Tom never dispossessed Stumpy. That her Patsy loved him insured him his place for life. So Stumpy roamed through yard, kitchen, and stable, stalking over bleaching sheets, burglarizing the garden gate, and grazing wherever he chose.
The goat inspired no fear in anybody else. Jennie would chase him out of her way a dozen times a day, and Cully would play bullfight with him, and Carl and the other men would accord him his proper place, spanking him with the flat of a shovel whenever he interfered with their daily duties, or shying a corn-cob after him when his alertness carried him out of their reach.
This afternoon Jennie had missed her blue-checked apron. It had been drying on the line outside the kitchen door five minutes before. There was no one at home but herself, and she had seen nobody pass the door. Perhaps the apron had blown over into the stable-yard. If it had, Carl would be sure to have seen it. She knew Carl had come home; she had been watching for him through the window. Then she ran in for her shawl.
Carl was rubbing down the Big Gray. He had been hauling ice all the morning for the brewery. The Gray was under the cart-shed, a flood of winter sunlight silvering his shaggy mane and restless ears. The Swede was scraping his sides with the currycomb, and the Big Gray, accustomed to Cully's gentler touch, was resenting the familiarity by biting at the tippet wound about the neck of the young man.
Suddenly Carl raised his head—he had caught a glimpse of a flying apron whipping round the stable door. He knew the pattern. It always gave him a lump in his throat, and some little creepings down his back when he saw it. Then he laid down the currycomb. The next instant there came a sound as of a barrel-head knocked in by a mixing-shovel, and Stumpy flew through the door, followed by Carl on the run. The familiar bit of calico was Jennie's lost apron. One half was inside the goat, the other half was in the hand of the Swede.
Carl hesitated for a moment, looked cautiously about the yard, and walked slowly toward the house, his eyes on the fragments. He never went to the house except when he was invited, either to hear Pop read or to take his dinner with the other men. At this instant Jennie came running out, the shawl about her head.
“Oh, Carl, did you find my apron? It blew away, and I thought it might have gone into the yard.”
“Yas, mees; an' da goat see it too—luke!” extending the tattered fragments, anger and sorrow struggling for the mastery in his face.
“Well, I never! Carl, it was a bran'-new one. Now just see, all the strings torn off and the top gone! I'm just going to give Stumpy a good beating.”
Carl suggested that he run after the goat and bring him back; but Jennie thought he was down the road by this time, and Carl had been working all the morning and must be tired. Besides, she must get some wood.Carl instantly forgot the goat. He had forgotten everything, indeed, except the trim little body who stood before him looking into his eyes. He glowed all over with inward warmth and delight. Nobody had ever cared before whether he was tired. When he was a little fellow at home at Memlo his mother would sometimes worry about his lifting the big baskets of fish all day, but he could not remember that anybody else had ever given his feelings a thought. All this flashed through his mind as he returned Jennie's look.
“No, no! I not tire—I brang da wood.” And then Jennie said she never meant it, and Carl knew she didn't, of course; and then she said she had never thought of such a thing, and he agreed to that; and they talked so long over it, standing out in the radiance of the noonday sun, the color coming and going in both their faces,—Carl playing aimlessly with his tippet tassel, and Jennie plaiting and pinching up the ruined apron,—that the fire in the kitchen stove went out, and the Big Gray grew hungry and craned his long neck around the shed and whinnied for Carl, and even Stumpy the goat forgot his hair-breadth escape, and returned near enough to the scene of the robbery to look down at it from the hill above.
There is no telling how long the Big Gray would have waited if Cully had not come home to dinner, bringing another horse with Patsy perched on his back. The brewery was only a short distance, and Tom always gave her men a hot meal at the house whenever it was possible. Had any other horse been neglected, Cully would not have cared; but the Big Gray which he had driven ever since the day Tom brought him home,—“Old Blowhard,” as he would often call him (the Gray was a bit wheezy),—the Big Gray without his dinner!
“Hully gee! Look at de bloke a-jollying Jinnie, an' de Blowhard a-starvin'. Say, Patsy,”—lifting him down,—“hold de line till I git de Big Gray a bite. Git on ter Carl, will ye! I'm a-goin'—ter—tell de—boss,”—with a threatening air, weighing each word—“jes soon as she gits back. Ef I don't I'm a chump.”
At sight of the boys, Jennie darted into the house, and Carl started for the stable, his head in the clouds, his feet on air.
“No; I feed da horse, Cully,”—jerking at his halter to get him away from Cully.
“A hell ov' er lot ye will! I'll feed him meself. He's been home an hour now, an' he ain't half rubbed down.”
Carl made a grab for Cully, who dodged and ran under the cart. Then a lump of ice whizzed past Carl's ear.
“Here, stop that!” said Tom, entering the gate. She had been in the city all the morning—“to look after her poor Tom,” Pop said. “Don't ye be throwing things round here, or I'll land on top of ye.”
“Well, why don't he feed de Gray, den? He started afore me, and dey wants de Gray down ter de brewery, and he up ter de house a-buzzin' Jinnie.”
“I go brang Mees Jan's apron; da goat eat it oop.”
“Ye did, did ye! What ye givin' us? Didn't I see ye a-chinnin' 'er whin I come over de hill—she a-leanin' up ag'in' de fence, an' youse a-talkin' ter 'er, an' ole Blowhard cryin' like his heart was broke?”
“Eat up what apron?” said Tom, thoroughly mystified over the situation.
“Stumpy eat da apron—I brang back—da half ta Mees Jan.”
“An' it took ye all the mornin' to give it to her?” said Tom thoughtfully, looking Carl straight in the eye, a new vista opening before her.
That night when the circle gathered about the lamp to hear Pop read, Carl was missing. Tom had not sent for him.