Jimmie did not return home for a number of days after the fight with Pete in the saloon. When he did, he approached with extreme caution.
He found his mother raving. Maggie had not returned home. The parent continually wondered how her daughter could come to such a pass. She had never considered Maggie as a pearl dropped unstained into Rum Alley from Heaven, but she could not conceive how it was possible for her daughter to fall so low as to bring disgrace upon her family. She was terrific in denunciation of the girl's wickedness.
The fact that the neighbors talked of it, maddened her. When women came in, and in the course of their conversation casually asked, "Where's Maggie dese days?" the mother shook her fuzzy head at them and appalled them with curses. Cunning hints inviting confidence she rebuffed with violence.
"An' wid all deh bringin' up she had, how could she?" moaningly she asked of her son. "Wid all deh talkin' wid her I did an' deh t'ings I tol' her to remember? When a girl is bringed up deh way I bringed up Maggie, how kin she go teh deh devil?"
Jimmie was transfixed by these questions. He could not conceive how under the circumstances his mother's daughter and his sister could have been so wicked.
His mother took a drink from a squdgy bottle that sat on the table. She continued her lament.
"She had a bad heart, dat girl did, Jimmie. She was wicked teh deh heart an' we never knowed it."
Jimmie nodded, admitting the fact.
"We lived in deh same house wid her an' I brought her up an' we never knowed how bad she was."
Jimmie nodded again.
"Wid a home like dis an' a mudder like me, she went teh deh bad," cried the mother, raising her eyes.
One day, Jimmie came home, sat down in a chair and began to wriggle about with a new and strange nervousness. At last he spoke shamefacedly.
"Well, look-a-here, dis t'ing queers us! See? We're queered! An' maybe it 'ud be better if I--well, I t'ink I kin look 'er up an'--maybe it 'ud be better if I fetched her home an'--"
The mother started from her chair and broke forth into a storm of passionate anger.
"What! Let 'er come an' sleep under deh same roof wid her mudder agin! Oh, yes, I will, won't I? Sure? Shame on yehs, Jimmie Johnson, for sayin' such a t'ing teh yer own mudder--teh yer own mudder! Little did I t'ink when yehs was a babby playin' about me feet dat ye'd grow up teh say sech a t'ing teh yer mudder--yer own mudder. I never taut--"
Sobs choked her and interrupted her reproaches.
"Dere ain't nottin' teh raise sech hell about," said Jimmie. "I on'y says it 'ud be better if we keep dis t'ing dark, see? It queers us! See?"
His mother laughed a laugh that seemed to ring through the city and be echoed and re-echoed by countless other laughs. "Oh, yes, I will, won't I! Sure!"
"Well, yeh must take me fer a damn fool," said Jimmie, indignant at his mother for mocking him. "I didn't say we'd make
'er inteh a little tin angel, ner nottin', but deh way it is now she can queer us! Don' che see?"
"Aye, she'll git tired of deh life atter a while an' den she'll wanna be a-comin' home, won' she, deh beast! I'll let 'er in den, won' I?"
"Well, I didn' mean none of dis prod'gal bus'ness anyway," explained Jimmie.
"It wasn't no prod'gal dauter, yeh damn fool," said the mother. "It was prod'gal son, anyhow."
"I know dat," said Jimmie.
For a time they sat in silence. The mother's eyes gloated on a scene her imagination could call before her. Her lips were set in a vindictive smile.
"Aye, she'll cry, won' she, an' carry on, an' tell how Pete, or some odder feller, beats 'er an' she'll say she's sorry an' all dat an' she ain't happy, she ain't, an' she wants to come home agin, she does."
With grim humor, the mother imitated the possible wailing notes of the daughter's voice.
"Den I'll take 'er in, won't I, deh beast. She kin cry 'er two eyes out on deh stones of deh street before I'll dirty deh place wid her. She abused an' ill-treated her own mudder--her own mudder what loved her an' she'll never git anodder chance dis side of hell."
Jimmie thought he had a great idea of women's frailty, but he could not understand why any of his kin should be victims.
"Damn her," he fervidly said.
Again he wondered vaguely if some of the women of his acquaintance had brothers. Nevertheless, his mind did not for an instant confuse himself with those brothers nor his sister with theirs. After the mother had, with great difficulty, suppressed the neighbors, she went among them and proclaimed her grief. "May Gawd forgive dat girl," was her continual cry. To attentive ears she recited the whole length and breadth of her woes.
"I bringed 'er up deh way a dauter oughta be bringed up an' dis is how she served me! She went teh deh devil deh first chance she got! May Gawd forgive her."
When arrested for drunkenness she used the story of her daughter's downfall with telling effect upon the police justices. Finally one of them said to her, peering down over his spectacles: "Mary, the records of this and other courts show that you are the mother of forty-two daughters who have been ruined. The case is unparalleled in the annals of this court, and this court thinks--"
The mother went through life shedding large tears of sorrow. Her red face was a picture of agony.
Of course Jimmie publicly damned his sister that he might appear on a higher social plane. But, arguing with himself, stumbling about in ways that he knew not, he, once, almost came to a conclusion that his sister would have been more firmly good had she better known why. However, he felt that he could not hold such a view. He threw it hastily aside.Next