TOM'S WARM WELCOME.
AN IDYL OF NORTH CAROLINA SAND-HILL LIFE.
A COMPLETE STORY.
Mr. Dugald McDugald had completed his purchases. He had carefully arranged the boxes and bags on his cart, and was filling his pipe with a handful of "homemade," which he had extracted from his capacious trousers pocket. His old gray mule had pricked up his long ears, and the yellow hand under the cart had got up, yawned, stretched and shaken himself. Mr. McDugald stopped in the doorway to light his pipe with an old-fashioned sun-glass. Just as the faint blue smoke began to curl up from the bowl of the pipe, old Tom McDonald passed by on the other side of the street. Everybody called him "Old Tom Macdonald," not from any lack of respect, for he was a rich and highly-respected citizen, but merely by way of description.
"Well, if there haint ole Tom Macdonal'," said Mr. McDugald. "I hain't seen 'im for a coon's age. Don't look no more dried upper than he did ten year ago. Did I ever tell you 'bout how Tom went to ole Dunkin Campbell's ball?"
Mr. McDugald was fond of telling stories, of which he knew a great many, and he indulged his fondness whenever he could find an auditor.
As there were no customers in the store for the moment, I was willing to listen. Mr. McDugald seated himself leisurely in a split-bottomed chair, while I reclined gracefully on a sack of salt. The mule observed these movements through the open door, and, with an air of relief, composed himself anew for a standing nap.
"About forty year ago ole Louis' daddy lived out on Rockfish Crick—jes' beyant where I lived. He didn't own no lan', but rented from old Gin'l McGee, who owned all o' Rockfish Township in them days. Ole Macdonal was mighty no 'count; he never could get money enough to buy a nigger, and nobody would take his note, so he had to work hisself nearly to death. Tom was a pore shote, mightily lack his daddy, and nobody thought much of him. Me an' him was 'bout one age, an' 'bout that time was both courtin' the same gal.
"Jinnie Campbell, that was her name—I can see her now," said the old man with a far-away look in his faded gray eyes, "big blue eyes, the plumpest figger and the sooplis' dancer in the settlement. Her daddy run a gris' mill on Rockfish, and the boys fotch their corn all the way from Beaver Crick an' Peg's Pocoson to Dunkin's mill, jist to get a sight of Jinnie. An' she was worth it, too.
"Tom wa'n't no igception, 'ceptin' that he was wuss smitten than any of us. She didn't keer nuthin' for him, an' showed it plain. But the more Jinnie slighted 'im the wusser he got. He would hide in the bushes, and peep at her when she passed, and he tended the Sandy Run Presbyterian Church reglar, 'ca'se she sung in the choir for everybody knowed his folks was Baptis'.
"Well, gettin' around' to my story, ole Dunkin Campbell give a dancin'. It was to be on a Wednesday night, an' most o' the young folks in the settlemint was invited. But Tom Macdonald wa'n't. At that time Tom hadn't seen Jinnie for two weeks, and he made up his mine to go, anyhow.
"He had to fix up some igscuse, so Monday mornin' 'fore sun-up, he saddled his mare an' rode off to Lumberton. He got back Wednesday evenin', fixed hisself up, and trotted over to Dunkin's as big an anybody. He rode up the lane, hitched his mare, an' knocked at the door. Ole Dunkin come out.
"'Why, Lord bless me,' says he, shakin' Tom's han' hearty, 'ef 'taint Tom McDonal'. Come right in, Tommie, come right in.'
"The strains of the fiddle came through the open door.
"'No, thankee,' says Tom. 'I didn' know ye had comp'ny or I'd awaited tell to-morrer. I jes get back from Lumberton this evenin', and while I was there young Archie McMillan axed me to tell you to come down sometime an' look at a new kind o' millstone he wants you to try.'
"'Yes, I will, Tommie, an' much obliged to you.' Jes then somebody called him from the inside, an' he added, 'But come in, Tom, come in, the boys an' gals is havin' a little dance, an' they'll be glad to have ye jine 'em.'"
"Tom felt somethin' like backin' out at the las' minute, but the door was standin' open, an' he could hear the fiddles goin', an' the ole man shuk hans so hearty, an' he happened to see Jinnie dance across the floor; so he hung up his hat on one of the wooden pegs in the passage, and follered ole Dunkin into the hall, where the dancin' was goin' on. Jest as he reached the door the fiddles stopped at the end of the set an' ole Dunkin sung out:
"'Boys an' gals, here's Tom Macdonal'; he wa'n't invited here to-night, but he's just as welcome as ef he had a'been.'
"Some o' the gals snickered, and one or two o' the boys lafft out. But Tom wa'n't a bad lookin' feller, and was a good dancer; there was nothin' agin 'im, 'ceptin' his bein' pore and no 'count, so the gals wa'n't sorry to see 'im. An' as he would fight when he got his dander up, the boys was afeared to laff much. When the music started up ag'in, Tom mixed in with the crowd an' got to talkin' an' 'dancing, and had almost forgot he wa'n't ax' to the dancin', when the old man Dunkin, who had'n' forgot it, come in to call em to supper.
"The boys an' gals paired off. Jinnie was dancin' with me, an' I tuk her in. The ole man stood by the door, between the hall an' the dinin'-room incouragin' the young folks to go in. Tom hung back a little, remembering he wa'n't invited, an' all the gals had pardners before he begun to look around for one. But Ole Dunkin had his eye on 'im, and when he noticed Tom holdin' back, he sung out, kind 'o hearty and cheerful, 'Come 'long, Tommie, come right 'long. There's plenty to eat. Don't be back'ard. You wa'n't invited to the dancin', but Lord bless me, you're jest as welcome as ef you had a' been.'
"Tom winced at this, wuss'n my mule Beauregard does when I hit 'im on a raw spot. He looked aroun' but there wa'n't no way 'o gittin' out jes then. He hadn't bin able to speak to Jinnie yit, nuther; an' the long table, loaded down with chicken an' possum an' cake an' sellabub, looked mighty temptin'. So he reckoned he'd stay a little while an' then manage to slip off. The boys couldn't help laffin', though they purtended to be tickled at somethin' else, an' the gals snickered.
"Tom waited till the supper was started good an' then slipped out in the passage, meanin' to git away without bein' noticed. He hadn't spoke to Jinnie the hull evenin', but he had seen her, which was somethin'. But even the chance o' talkin' to her wa'n't temptation enough to make 'im resk any more o' ole Dunkin's welcomin'—it was too warm, he said to himself—it made him feel a hankerin' for fresh air. He hadn't more'n got out into the passage and tuk his hat down, when ole Dunkin come out of a side door openin' on the passage between Tom an' the door.
"'Why, Lord bless me, Tommie,' says 'e—he allus talked loud, bein' 'customed to the noise o' the mill—'you hain't goin'?' The house was open, an' the talkin' round the table stopped while the compiny all listened to the ole man out in the passage. Tom begun to stammer out somethin' 'havin' to go to town in the mornin' an' gittin' up early. 'Why, there'll be lots o' dancin' yet, Tommy, an' ef you wa'n't invited here, you're jest as welcome as ef you had a' been.'