THE Child sat by the one tiny window of the little log cabin, his dull blue eyes fastened on the line of purple hills in the distance.
His mother's voice came to him from the lean-to kitchen.
"He allus wuz a puny, sickly critter."
And his father's voice answered, "Ef he'd be'n peart an' smart we'd uv got a right smart uv work out uv 'im afore now."
The child was five years old.
"But he haint be'n wuth the salt that goes on 'is mush." the complaining voice went on, "an' now we've got 'im ter feed an' keep the rest uv our lives."
The child sat quite still, his stolid face unmoved. His sister was sweeping the room and humming to herself, "Oh! How I Love Jesus." But the words from the kitchen came distinctly through the song.
"There's some' things he kin do," the woman's drawling voice said, "he kin larn ter sew an' peel pertaters, an' mind the baby, so as Mary Lizy kin work in the field. She's a-goin' on seven an' orter be a right smart uv help."
"Uhu, an' I reckon we kin larn 'im ter milk. He'd orter be doin' all the milkin' afore long."
The child still sat motionless, expressionless, but a great fear clutched at his heart.
If the cows should trample him, like the oxen. The cows could not drag a heavy wagon over him, crushing his bones into the earth, but their feet were like the oxen's feet that had hurt him so.
If his father and mother loved him (the child's hand tightened on the rough window sill), how could they be planning new dangers for him so coolly? They knew how he suffered. They surely knew.
He had suspected before that they did not love him; now he was certain.
The pain in his heart was worse than the pain in his crushed limbs had ever been. He wondered if his heart, too, was broken.
'You'uns kin larn 'im ter milk ez soon ez he gits well enuff ter drag hisself along. We cain't git'im no crutches this year, I reckon. The doctor's bill ull put a second mortgage on the place."
After a little while he added, "I dunno ez he kin ever walk on crutches nohow."
The little girl finished sweeping. She stood the broom in one corner and went into the kitchen.
"Them cabbage needs weedin', Mary Lizy," the man said. "You'uns better be gittin' at it. I never see sech a wuthless lot uv young 'uns."
He rose and shambled to the door. "I reckon I better be gittin' ter work," he said. "Pears like it's nuthin' but work, work, frum one years end to another an' times a gittin' harder all the time, instid uv pearter, not," he added hastily, "but what the country's prosperous all right."
A mocking bird perched on the fence and poured out a flood of ecstatic song. The child looked at the gay little singer for a moment and then fastened his gaze on the distant hills.
He had always liked the bird's songs before, when he had had time to listen to them. Now he could not bear to hear it; he could not have told why.
He leaned his head on the window sill and pondered, strange unchildish thoughts.
Why are birds so much happier than little children? Does God love birds better than children? "Not a sparrow falleth," his Sunday school teacher had told him, and he must be good to little birds, she had said, because God loves them. And he had been good to them. Why, then, could not God be good to him?
Is it because birds never work that they are happy? But they build their nests; that is a sort of work surely; and they hunt worms and berries to feed theirs baby birds. But it is the big birds that do the work. The baby birds only lie in the nest and grow. Are the big birds happy because their little ones can rest?
He could hear his mother moving about in the kitchen.
"Maw," he called.
After a moment she appeared in the doorway, a slatternly, old-young woman in faded calico.
"Maw, why you reckon we'uns has ter work so hard?"
"Reckon," she drawled. "I don't reckon nothin' erbout it. I know. Hit's becuz Gawd cussed Adam an' Eve out'n the Gyarden of Eden an' said 'in the sweat uv thy face shalt thou eat bread.' "
"'Cuz Adam eat the apple?"
The boy pondered a moment.
"Twan't fair," he said.
"Son be kyarful what youall's a sayin'."
"Tain't fair," he cried, defiantly, 'Weuns didn't eat the apple."
"Shet yer haid. Everwhat Gawd does is fair even ef 'taint fair. Don't let me hear no more sech talk out'n youall."
She went back to her work and the child turned again to the window, gazing with tear filled eyes at the distant hills.