The Watermelon Stockings
by Alice Caldwell Hegan
(Author of "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch")
"Jes' look at dat ornery little nigger!" exclaimed Aunt Melvy, as she
deposited a basket of clothes on the cabin floor. "I lef her to clean
up, an' to put de 'taters on to bile, an' to shoo de flies offen de
twinses, an' I wisht you 'd look at her!"
Nell Tracy, who had come down with Aunt Melvy from the big house on the
hill, viewed the culprit ruefully. 'Mazin' Grace was Aunt Melvy's eighth
daughter, and had been named for her mother's favorite hymn, which began
"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound." She was very short and very fat,
and her kinky hair was plaited into ten tight pigtails, each of which
was bound with a piece of leather shoe-string. At present she sat with
her back propped against the door, her mouth wide open, and slept
peacefully while the flood of her mother's wrath passed over her.
"'MAZIN' GRACE SLEPT PEACEFULLY."
"Oh, but, Aunt Melvy, won't you please let her come?" begged Nell,
throwing off her sun-bonnet and letting down a tangle of yellow curls.
"I have n't got anybody to play with me. Mother drove to town with
father, and she said I was to get 'Mazin' Grace to stay with me."
"Why, I'se gwine to let her come, honey," said Aunt Melvy, "co'se I is.
I wouldn't mek you cry fer nothin'! Only, I'se gwine to whup her fust.
She ain't 'sponsible on her word, dat's what's de matter wid her. She
done 'low to me she would n't wink her eyeball while I was gone. What
you think I ketch her doin' one time?" Aunt Melvy's voice sank to a
whisper. "She sewed, on a Sunday! She knowed as well as me dat w'en she
gits to heben she'll hab to pick out ebery one ob dem stitches wid her
Nell looked at the sleeper's round pug-nose and wondered how she would
ever be able to do it. But it was no use thinking of the punishment in
the next world, when an immediate whipping was promised in this;
consequently she turned the whole battery of her eloquence upon Aunt
Melvy, who in the end gave in.
"'AND I AM GOING TO WEAR THE WATERMELON STOCKINGS,' CRIED NELL."
Ten minutes later the two little playmates were skipping down the avenue
under the shady old beech-trees where their fathers had played
together in the long ago.
"Is yer maw gwine lemme tek you to de Christian an' Debil Society?"
asked 'Mazin' Grace, as they skirted the house, and made their way into
the back yard.
"Yes," cried Nell, gleefully, "and I am going to wear the watermelon
If 'Mazin' Grace had not been so black, a cloud might have been seen
passing over her face. She was the sharer of all Nell's woes, and of all
but one of her joys. The exception was the possession of the watermelon
These were a sort of heirloom among the children of the family, and were
regarded with reverence and pride. They were of a peculiar shade of pink
silk, with clockwork up the sides and sprays of white flowers
embroidered over the instep. A long time ago they had belonged to Cousin
Mary, who was quite a big girl now, and she had sent them to Uncle
Robert's boy up in Ohio. He learned to waltz in them, and in time sent
them to little Agnes in Virginia, who wore them for a year on state
occasions, then sent them back to Kentucky to little Cousin Nell.
If ever a tempted soul longed for a forbidden treasure, 'Mazin' Grace
longed for the watermelon stockings. "Effen they was mine, I'd give you
one anyways," she argued with Nell, but to no avail.
In the back yard stood a big old chicken-coop, which had been cleaned
out and nicely whitewashed for the children to use as a play-house. It
had an upstairs and a downstairs, and a square little door that fastened
on the outside with a wooden peg. Nell could climb in easily; but
'Mazin' Grace was too fat, and after many efforts she had given up,
contenting herself with watching the play from outside.
To-day a doll funeral was in progress, and Nell, moving comfortably
about inside the coop, arranged the broken bits of china in a spool-box,
tied a sweeping piece of crape on her biggest doll, and allowed her
imagination full swing in depicting the grief of the doll family.
'Mazin' Grace, sitting under the apple-tree outside, took little
interest in the proceedings. The hot sun beat down on the long stretch
of blue-grass, and up from the creek came the warm odor of mint; a fat
old bumblebee hummed close to her head, but she did not stir. She was
thinking about the watermelon stockings.
"NELL TIED A SWEEPING PIECE OF CRAPE ON HER BIGGEST DOLL."
Presently she began to move stealthily toward the coop, watching Nell
cautiously from the corner of her eyes. "Ain't nobody to home but me an'
her," she whispered to herself, "an' there wouldn't nobody know, an'—"
With a deft movement she closed the small door and fastened it with the
wooden peg. Then she turned, and, leaving the unconscious prisoner, sped
softly up the garden path, through the basement, and up the stairs.
In Mrs. Tracy's bedroom was a wide old mahogany dresser with big glass
knobs that seemed to glare unwinking reproof at 'Mazin' Grace as she
opened the bottom drawer.
"Dis heah is where dey stays at," she said, tossing aside ribbons and
laces in her eagerness. "Oh, goody, goody! Heah dey is!"
Tearing away the tissue-paper, she gazed with delight at the coveted
stockings. The knobs might glare as much as they liked; the sparrows
might scold themselves hoarse on the window-sill; 'Mazin' Grace was lost
in the rapture of the moment, and refused to consider consequences. She
traced the pattern of the embroidery with her stubby finger, she rubbed
the silk against her cheek, and even tied one stocking around her head
and stood on tiptoe to see the result in the mirror. The more she
handled them the more reckless she became.
"I 'spect I 'se gwine to try dese heah stockin's on!" she said, with a
giggle, as she drew the silken lengths over her bare, dusty feet. "Gee
Bob! Ain't them scrumptious! I look lak a shore-'nuff circus lady!"
"CATCHING HER RAGGED SKIRTS IN EITHER HAND, SHE BOWED LOW TO HER IMAGE."
She tipped the mirror in order to get the full reflection, and stood for
a moment entranced. Then catching her ragged skirts in either hand,
she bowed low to her image, and, after cutting a formal and elaborate
pigeonwing, settled down to a shuffle that shook the floor. Music and
motion were as much a part of 'Mazin' Grace as her brown skin and her
white teeth. All Aunt Melvy's piety had failed to convince her of the
awful wickedness of "shaking her foot" and "singing reel chunes." She
danced now with utter abandon, and the harder she danced the louder she
"Suzanne Goffin, don't you cry;
Take dat apron from your eye.
Don't let de niggers see you sigh;
You'll git a pahtner by an' by."
The small figure with its flying pigtails swayed and swung, and the pink
legs darted in and out. Backward, forward, right glide, left glide, two
skips sidewise. Her breath was almost gone, but she rallied her forces
for a grand finale. With a curtsy to the bedpost and hands all around,
she dashed into the rollicking ecstasy of the "Mobile Buck":
"Way up yonder in de moon,
Yaller gal lickin' a silver spoon.
Cynthy, my darlin', who tol' you so?
Cynthy, my darlin', how do you know?"
As she dropped panting on the floor, something arrested her attention.
She held up her head and sniffed the air. It was a familiar odor that
roused her conscience as nothing else could have done. Something burning
usually meant that she had failed to watch the stove, and that
catastrophe usually meant a whipping. She scrambled to her feet and ran
to the window. Over across the road, the big barn where Mr. Tracy stored
his grain was wrapped in flames. The wind was blowing from that
direction, and it fanned the smoke into 'Mazin' Grace's eyes.
"Gee! Dat was a spark of fire," she cried, as she snatched her hand from
the window-sill. She climbed out of the window upon the porch, and
looked anxiously up and down the road. Nothing was to be seen save the
long stretch of empty turnpike, with the hot sun beating down upon it.
As she turned to go back inside the window, she stopped, horrified. On
the cornice of the roof above her a glowing ember was smoldering
dangerously. 'Mazin' Grace wrung her hands.
"Mammy said I was gwine to git burned up fer bein' so wicked. An' Marse
Jim's house, what's belonged to we-all sence de wah! An' de settin'-room
where we hangs up our stockin's ebery Christmas! An' dere ain't nobody
to take keer ob it all but me! Oh, Lordy! Lordy! what mus' I do?—what
mus' I do?"
As she stood there, wild-eyed and tearful, a thought made its way
through the kinky hair into her bewildered brain. She darted back into
the house, and reappeared with a broom.
"I'se gwine up dat ladder," she said with grim determination, "an' I'se
gwine to sweep dem sparks off. An' effen I can't sweep 'em off I kin
spank 'em out."
The fire at the barn was now raging; great volumes of smoke swept toward
the house, heavily laden with live embers. 'Mazin' Grace, choking and
frightened, wielded her broom with telling effect; no sooner did a spark
touch the roof than it was brushed off into the long grass below. But
they were coming faster and faster, and, watch as she would, she could
not keep some of them from igniting the dry shingles. From side to side
she scrambled, sweeping, beating, fighting the fire with all the
strength in her little body. Her eyes smarted fiercely, her feet were
bruised, the heat was suffocating; but 'Mazin' Grace never thought of
deserting the post: she worked, as she had danced, with all her might
and main, pitting her puny strength valiantly against that of the
"FROM SIDE TO SIDE SHE SCRAMBLED, SWEEPING, BEATING, AND FIGHTING THE FIRE."
But courage does not always bring success. Just when the fire at the
barn began to subside, and the sparks ceased to fall on the roof, a tiny
column of smoke began to curl up from the gabled roof of the porch.
'Mazin' Grace clambered down the ladder, and, sitting astride of the
angle, worked her way outward toward the fire. She could not carry the
broom, but if she could only reach the blaze perhaps she could beat it
out with her hands! Excitement gave her fresh strength. On either side
the roof sloped abruptly, but she worked her way on, inch by inch. Two
shingles had caught—three! The smoke had changed into a blaze. Leaning
over as far as she dared, 'Mazin' Grace stretched out her hand toward
the flame. She could not reach it.
With a cry of terror and despair, she fell forward on the ridge; all her
courage and strength suddenly deserted her—she could only cling there
face downward, and sob and sob as if her heart would break. "Effen our
house burns down, I want to die too," she whispered. "But Miss Lucy an'
Marse Jim won't never know how I tried to take keer on it. 'Deed I did."
Up from the creek came the faint perfume of the mint; the sparrows
scolded in the beech-trees. Nellie, who had broken her prison bars,
called again and again from the playground, while slowly but surely up
the roof crawled the ever-increasing flames. But 'Mazin' Grace heard
nothing, saw nothing; she lay unconscious on the roof, an absurdly
pitiful little figure in her ragged dress and pink silk stockings.
It was six weeks before 'Mazin' Grace's burns were sufficiently healed
for her to walk. Mr. Tracy, hearing of the fire on his farm, had driven
home just in time to save the child's life. His porch was completely
destroyed; but the old homestead, with its host of memories and
associations, stood intact—a monument to the faithfulness of a very
naughty little girl.
Almost the first time 'Mazin' Grace was allowed to go out, she took Nell
to the "Christian an' Debil" Society. She limped as she walked, for her
feet were still tender from the recent blisters; but, in spite of the
pain, her smile was one of unalloyed bliss. Two pairs of sturdy little
legs were keeping step in two new pairs of watermelon stockings.