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A short story by John Fox

The Angel From Viper

Title:     The Angel From Viper
Author: John Fox [More Titles by Fox]

He had violet eyes, the smile of a seraph, and a halo of yellow hair, and he came from Viper, which is a creek many, many hills away from Happy Valley. He came on foot and alone to St. Hilda, who said sadly that she had no room for him. But she sighed helplessly when the Angel smiled--and made room for him. To the teachers he became Willie--to his equals he was Bill. In a few weeks he got homesick and, without a word, disappeared. A fortnight later he turned up again with a little brother, and again he smiled at St. Hilda.

"Jeems Henery hyeh," he said, "'lowed as how he'd come along"--and James Henry got a home. Jeems was eight, and the Angel, who was ten, was brother and father to him. He saw to it that Jeems Henery worked and worked hard and that he behaved himself, so that his concern for the dull, serious little chap touched St. Hilda deeply. That concern seemed, indeed, sacrificial--and was.

When spring breathed on the hills the Angel got restless. He was homesick again and must go to see his mother.

"But, Willie," said St. Hilda, "you told me your mother died two years ago."

"She come might' nigh dyin'," said the Angel. "That's what I said." St. Hilda reasoned with him to no avail, and because she knew he would go anyhow gave him permission.

"Miss Hildy, I'm a-leavin' Jeems Henery with ye now, an' I reckon I oughter tell you somethin'."

"Yes, Willie," answered St. Hilda absently.

"Miss Hildy, Jeems Henery is the bigges' liar on Viper."

"Yes," repeated St. Hilda; "what?"

"The truth ain't in Jeems Henery," the Angel went on placidly. "You can't lam' it inter 'im an' tain't no use to try. You jus' watch him close while I'm gone."

"I will."

Half an hour later the Angel put his hand gently on St. Hilda's knee, and his violet eyes were troubled. "Miss Hildy," he said solemnly, "Jeems Henery is the cussin'est boy on Viper. I reckon Jeems Henery is the cussin'est boy in the world. You've got to watch him while I'm gone, or no tellin' whut he will larn them young uns o' yours."

"All right. I'll do the best I can."

"An' that ain't all," added the Angel solemnly. "Jeems Henery"--St. Hilda almost held her breath--"Jeems Henery is the gamblin'est boy on Viper. Jeems Henery jes' can't look at a marble without tremblin' all over. If you don't watch him like a hawk while I'm gone I reckon Jeems Henery'll larn them young uns o' yours all the devilment in the world."


James Henry veered into view just then around the corner of the house.

"Jeems Henery," called the Angel sternly, "come hyeh!" And James Henry stood before the bar of the Angel's judgment.

"Jeems Henery, air you the gamblin'est boy on Viper?" James Henry nodded cheerfully.

"Air you the cussin'est boy on Viper?" Again there was a nod of cheerful acknowledgment.

"Jeems Henery, air you the bigges' liar on Viper?" James Henry, looking with adoring eyes at the Angel, nodded shameless shame for the third time, and the Angel turned triumphantly.

"Thar now!" Astounded, St. Hilda looked from one brother to the other.

"Well, not one word of this have I heard before."

"Jeems Henery is a sly un--ain't you, Jeems Henery?"


"Ain't nobody who can ketch up Jeems Henery 'ceptin' me."

"Well, Willie, if this is more than I can handle, don't you think you'd better not go home but stay here and help me with James Henry?" The Angel did not even hesitate.

"I reckon I better," he said, and he visibly swelled with importance. "I had to lam' Jeems Henery this mornin', an' I reckon I'll have to keep on lammin' him 'most every day."

"Don't you lam' James Henry at all," said St. Hilda decisively.

"All right," said the Angel. "Jeems Henery, git about yo' work now."

Thereafter St. Hilda kept watch on James Henry and he was, indeed, a sly one. There was gambling going on. St. Hilda did not encourage tale-bearing, but she knew it was going on. Still she could not catch James Henry. One day the Angel came to her.

"I've got Jeems Henery to stop gamblin'," he whispered, "an' I didn't have to lam' him." And, indeed, gambling thereafter ceased. The young man who had come for the summer to teach the boys the games of the outside world reported that much swearing had been going on but that swearing too had stopped.

"I've got Jeems Henery to stop cussin'," reported the Angel, and so St. Hilda rewarded him with the easy care of the nice new stable she had built on the hillside. His duty was to clean it and set things in order every day.

Some ten days later she was passing near the scene of the Angel's new activities, and she hailed him.

"How are you getting along?" She called.

"Come right on, Miss Hildy," shouted the Angel. "I got ever'thing cleaned up. Come on an' look in the furthest corners!"

St. Hilda went on, but ten minutes later she had to pass that way again and she did look in. Nothing had been done. The stable was in confusion and a pitchfork lay prongs upward midway of the barn door.

"How's this, Ephraim?" she asked, mystified. Ephraim was a fourteen-year-old boy who did the strenuous work of the barn.

"Why, Miss Hildy, I jes' hain't had time to clean up yit."

"You haven't had time?" she echoed in more mystery. "That isn't your work--it's Willie's." It was Ephraim's turn for mystery.

"Why, Miss Hildy, Willie told me more'n a week ago that you said fer me to do all the cleanin' up."

"Do you mean to say that you've been doing this work for over a week? What's Willie been doing?"

"Not a lick--jes' settin' aroun' studyin' an' whistlin'."

St. Hilda went swiftly down the hill, herself in deep study, and she summoned the Angel to the bar of her judgment. The Angel writhed and wormed, but it was no use, and at last with smile, violet eyes, and halo the Angel spoke the truth. Then a great light dawned for St. Hilda, and she played its searching rays on the Angel's past and he spoke more truth, leaving her gasping and aghast.

"Why--why did you say all that about your poor little brother?"

The Angel's answer was prompt. "Why, I figgered that you couldn't ketch Jeems Henery an' wouldn't ketch me. An'," the Angel added dreamily, "it come might' nigh bein' that-a-way if I just had----"

"You're a horrid, wicked little boy," St. Hilda cried, but the Angel would not be perturbed, for he was a practical moralist.

"Jeems Henery," he called into space, "come hyeh!" And out of space James Henry came, as though around the corner he had been waiting the summons.

"Jeems Henery, who was the gamblin'est, cussin'est, lyin'est boy on Viper?"

"My big brother Bill!" shouted Jeems Henery proudly.

"Who stopped gamblin', cussin', an' lyin'?"

"My big brother Bill!"

"Who stopped all these young uns o' Miss Hildy's from cussin' an' gamblin'?" And Jeems Henery shouted: "My big brother Bill!" The Angel, well pleased, turned to St. Hilda.

"Thar now," he said triumphantly, and seeing that he had reduced St. Hilda to helpless pulp he waved his hand.

"Git back to yo' work, Jeems Henery." But St. Hilda was not yet all pulp.

"Willie," she asked warily, "when did you stop lying?"

"Why, jes' now!" There was in the Angel's face a trace of wonder at St. Hilda's lack of understanding.

"How did James Henry know?" The mild wonder persisted.

"Jeems Henery knows me!" St. Hilda was all pulp now, but it was late afternoon, and birds were singing in the woods, and her little people were singing as they worked in fields; and her heart was full. She spoke gently.

"Go on back to work, Willie," she was about to say, but the Angel had gone a-dreaming and his face was sad, and she said instead:

"What is it, Willie?"

"I know whut's been the matter with me, Miss Hildy--I hain't been the same since my mother died six year ago." For a moment St. Hilda took a little silence to gain self-control.

"You mean," she said sternly, "'come might' nigh dyin',' Willie, and two years ago."

"Well, Miss Hildy, hit 'pears like six." Her brain whirled at the working of his, but his eyes, his smile, and the halo, glorified just then by a bar of sunlight, were too much for St. Hilda, and she gathered him into her arms.

"Oh, Willie, Willie," she half-sobbed; "I don't know what to do with you!" And then, to comfort her, the Angel spoke gently:

"Miss Hildy, jes' don't do--nothin'."

[The end]
John Fox's short story: Angel From Viper