strengthened meditation on the broad piazza.
When the sun had been overhead, hours ago, he
was standing there looking at Scipio, who had fallen asleep
bolt upright, sustained by the handle of his hoe, which had
ceased to turn the soil. The colonel had retired to the
house to fortify himself with his midday toddy. Scipio took
the next best thing, from his point of view--- a nap. As the
colonel, mellowed by the subtle influence of the old corn
whiskey, stepped out on the sunlit piazza, those depraved
pigs, before his very eyes, were ravaging his one hope of
earning a living. Scipio, with a jerk that made the hoe
scatter the soil, awakened at the ringing cry, "Here,
you, Scipio!" He sprang forward briskly.
The colonel advanced with compressed lips and
resolute stride. His hands grasped a gun. "Come
along!" was his brief command.
Scipio followed, neither demurring nor
questioning. Indeed, a bolder man than Scipio would have
shrunk from inquiring the meaning of that deadly and intense
silence. The colonel's fixed eyes and martial stride
inspired caution. A clear, young voice rang out on the
The colonel half turned, without looking at
the speaker. Waving the hand that was not clutching the gun,
he tenderly cried, "You go back, Lorena! I'll come
back, by and by!"
"Well, pa-a! What you goin' to
"I'll go, too!"
"No you won't! You go just where I tell
you: right in that house. And stay there, too!"
She was a strange, frail, elflike child;
tall, slender, on the debatable land between childhood and
girlhood. Her thread-bare, outgrown garments accentuated, in
rents, the poverty sufficiently proclaimed by the naked feet
and long stretch of stockingless legs. The mass of black
hair hanging raggedly over her shoulders betrayed the
absence of a mother's care. The pose and tone of this fresh
young creature bespoke a freedom and self-reliance rarely
found in one of so few years. Her mother had passed away
within her brief span of memory. Young as she was, she
remembered the patient endurance, the poverty, toil, and
humiliation that had been the portion of that mother in
those latter days. "Befoh de wah," the colonel had
been the owner of more lands and of nearly as many
"subjects" as fall to the lot of some European
kings. The bride he had enthroned in his ancestral home was
envied by all the maidens of the land, because of the rare
fortune that had come to her. No matrimonial candidate of
the country could rank with the colonel. The wife never
forgot this when poverty and degradation banished from the
fine old house every sound of mirth and almost every trace
of pardonable pride. It was her misfortune to fade with his
waning fortunes. Loyally she ministered, as servant, to him
who had crowned her queen of his princely home. But her
fragile physique was ill suited to rough fare and coarse
work. She sank visibly and without a murmur. She would have
held herself as unworthy, had she failed to conceal from him
the burden under which she was crushed. The end was sudden,
fortunately. She died in a superhuman effort to accomplish
some menial task beyond her strength.
Only then did the colonel fully understand
what her life had been. Henceforth, he was more than ever
silent, and more than ever devoted to the one living child.
His library, which had been his delight in days of luxury,
was still his favorite retreat. But external contact with
books now sufficed him. Rarely were they touched, save by
the child who lay on the well-trodden carpet, striving to
unravel their secrets. Her singular inspiration in draw-ing
was his chief interest. Untaught, she had mastered the art
of reproducing her childish fancies with wonderful ability.
Her father was her sole companion. She was not aware that
the demon drink did not always leave him in a state for
ideal intercourse. Drunk or sober, she never saw the
difference. And he had the grace to save his deeper
potations for the night, when they would kill him more
speedily and make him less offensive. Through the day, he
merely drank enough to deaden himself to the memory of the
galling poverty that had blasted his life. All the
tenderness lavished on his wife was now centered on the
child. She followed him afield; she ran beside him as he
hunted the game that occasionally varied their common fare.
In earliest youth she learned to light his pipe, bring his
whiskey, and to discharge the household duties within her
limits. The toil of others was the play of this little one.
Apart from the whole unheeding world, father and child clung
to each other. They neither knew nor cared for other
interests. Had she died, he would have avenged himself on an
unjust omnipotence by rushing unbidden into the awful
mysteries of the unseen. In the elementary instructions
unconsciously bestowed upon the child he had never included
the knowledge of a Heavenly Father. Long ago she had ceased
to repeat the half-forgotten prayers her mother had taught
her. If the name of God suggested anything to her mind, it
was chiefly as a potent curse of her father's when things
went wrong in the field. And so the little weed grew with
its own peculiar use and beauty, neither knowing nor caring
that development, fruition, and decay were the inscrutable
laws illustrated in its obscure sphere.
Hearing the beloved father order her to the
house, she turned without demur and busied herself with her
Meanwhile, the stern, silent man stalked on,
bearing his gun, and followed by Scipio, who reluctantly
dragged behind. It was but two hundred yards to the next
house, a rough log structure which stood bleak and somber in
its few acres of neglected land. The poor dwelling consisted
of two rooms, divided by a broad, open passage. A single mud
chimney relieved the dark outline; a thin wreath of smoke
arose in delicate waves in the limpid atmosphere. On this
balmy day, it could only be a kitchen fire that was needed
The mistress of this lowly home was standing
on the porch. Three rough steps led down to the littered
ground. She had stepped from the room that served as
kitchen, bedroom, parlor, and workroom. Glancing through the
rude opening that served as a window, she had seen the
colonel and his dusky attendant in their singular progress.
Curiosity prompted her to leave the double rasher of bacon
frying in the skillet and made her hasten out to watch them
pass. Her son, a gaunt, tall youth of twenty, collapsed,
rather than crouched on the hearth to take her place. No
word of explanation passed between them. His lank yellow
hair crowned him as the stubble crowns the neglected field.
The coarse homespun shirt of dubious tint served alike as
coat and shirt. Certainly they are never worn together. One
broken and patched suspender held his recalcitrant butternut
trousers as much in place as they ever would be. A pair of
suspenders was never owned in its entirety by any one of his
caste. "Galluses" they called them; if originally
purchased, they could only have been to divide between
father and son, or near neighbors; they twain were never
again one flesh.
The youth raked hotter embers on the sweet
potatoes banked in the ashes that ever lay half a foot deep
in the yawning fireplace. A few more minutes, and the last
crisp brown shade would touch the frying bacon. Already the
hoecake was firmly crusted on the side presented to the live
coals opposite the board on which it was spread. The
primitive table with its yellow earthenware stood near the
fire. The loom, with its half-finished cloth, was at one end
of the room, and the bed, with its dingy appurtenances, was
at the other. Halfway between these two prominent pieces,
knelt the young "cracker" on the hearth. His
protruded tongue was held upside down between his discolored
teeth as he thrust his iron fork in the hoecake, the bacon,
or the potatoes, to test their fitness for serving. Absorbed
in this critical examination, he hardly heeded when his
mother suddenly called, "Teddy!" Turning the last
slice of bacon in its dripping fat, he laid the fork on the
ashes and reluctantly arose to join her. As he shambled to
the porch through the open hallway, once more his mother
No one ever called him again--not even to
The bacon sizzled angrily in its neglect;
fretted and puckered up its edges, and burned away to crisp,
black ashes. The hoecake baked through to the board, which
slowly and sullenly charred and crumbled in hot resentment.
The sweet potatoes, but now luscious with their hidden sugar
exuding on the skin in soft candy, stiffened, hardened, and
burned in their stifling bed, unseen and untasted.
For the colonel had kept his word as a
gentleman, "by the eternal powers of mud and the state
of South Carolina!"
When Teddy's mother had abandoned her cooking
duties to her son, she had stepped out wearing that calico
sunbonnet, without which this peculiar class of women are
never seen. Sometimes strips of pasteboard serve to give
those shapeless hoods an evanescent form. But these soon
collapse and dangle helplessly around the face. The next
device is to wear them loosely folded over backward, and
drawn forward to fall in any random plait that calico can
assume. So decked, the southern "cracker," or
"sand-hiller," is apparently unconscious of the
lack of any other garment, at home or abroad. These bonnets
are worn afield, to keep off heat, cold, sun, rain. They are
worn in the house, to be prepared for any of these
possibilities in their constant visits to the outer air.
Whether it be a stroll to the woodpile, or to the pigsty, or
to the "branch," or to the corner where the
daintiest bit of clay lies hidden for the dirt-eater's
delectation, the sunbonnet crowns the woman from the cradle
to the grave.
So Teddy's mother stepped from the hearth to
the porch, the sunbonnet that shielded her from the fire
still falling around her eyes. From under its shadow she
glanced at the colonel, who was now some paces from the
wooden steps, Scipio respectfully halting in the rear.
"Them hogs of yourn," said the
colonel, adopting the vernacular familiar to Teddy's mother,
"have got in my cotton again."
She looked at him in silence. To her dull
mind it must have seemed unimportant where they
"got," provided they got enough to fatten them for
killing. It did not matter to her; she planted no cotton
herself. Indeed, she planted nothing that required care.
The colonel was very quiet--frightfully so,
had she been intelligent enough to see the danger signal.
Then he said deliberately:
"I told you I'd blow your brains out if
you let your hogs in my patch again. I'm going to keep my
word. Here, Scipio, shoot that old hag! Quick, fool, before
I brain you!"
"'Fore God, colonel, I kint! 0 Lawd!
Maussa, don't mek po' Scip shoot buckra same like 'possum!
You kin shoot bes', colonel! Shoot, please, maussa! Let Scip
The colonel saw crimson. Purple veins
distended his temples; crimson veins swelled in his
eyeballs; a Niagara of curses burst from his livid lips. His
hand was raised with the gun pointed at the Negro who
groveled at his feet.
"Teddy!" cried the motionless
woman, just as she would have said, "Teddy, dig some
"Take it, you fool, or I'll shoot you!
Shoot and be----"
"Teddy!" monotonously repeated the
mother the second time.
Teddy had shuffled out, one hand grasping his
sagging trousers, the other shading his fishy eyes from the
noontime glare. In a flash he had seen more than living man
can boast; for the swift bullet that pierced his mother's
body had sped through his yokel heart. Together they fell on
the rough flooring, he already seeing with eyes that were
not of the flesh; and she, poor soul, doomed to a brief
space of horror and pain--a sense of awful isolation and
merciful oblivion at last.
The colonel turned stoically away, mindful to
take his gun from Scipio's trembling hands. He gave neither
look nor regret to the dead, nor yet to the death in life
lying in a long, ghastly, straggling line along the porch
and gaping passage. Scipio's slouch became grotesque as he
followed his master home. Fear suggested flight; but the
innate instinct of the former slave recognized that the
colonel was his refuge and the arbiter of his fate. His
ashen face expressed abject terror and a passive
irresponsibility to leave "consequences" to higher
natures; for, even in his mortal panic, he felt that he and
the gun had nothing to do with the murder. It was the
colonel who had "gone off!" And the colonel was
the biggest man in the county: twice as big as the sheriff
and the jailor. The colonel would "fix it."
Within a few steps of home the colonel
halted. Scipio shifted from one foot to the other, an ebony
image of degradation and helplessness. The colonel was
strangely touched by this silent appeal. "Scipio,"
he said kindly, almost tenderly, "there will be some
talk about this and I don't want you to get in trouble. You
know the canebrake; and if you don't get victuals enough,
you know where to find more. You are welcome to all you can
take of mine. But canebrakes are not always safe. Travel on;
better go when you can than run when you must. You are too
good a Negro to waste on a hanging, and you have done
nothing to deserve hanging--only some people are born fools
and think they can carry things as they please! It is all
right; you had it to do. Don't worry about it any more than
I shall. I have no money; and money won't help you. Take my
flask, though; you'll need that. And be off while the coast
"Thankee, colonel! I'll go. 'Tain' like
I had a fambly. I kin git up an' git. No one ain' gwine find
me. Goodby, colonel! Thankee kindly!"
The colonel gazed calmly at the retreating
form of the lithe Negro who swung lightly along the untraced
path to the canebrake. Fresh life had clearly been awakened
in his down-trodden breast by the prospect of travel and new
scenes unconnected with any prospect of toil.
Lorena came dancing from the house.
"Did you shoot the pigs, pa-a?"
"Why, there was lots of them, pa-a! Two
ain't shakes to what's in the patch now!"
"The worst are done for; the rest don't
matter," said the colonel, indifferently.
She caught the gun to relieve him of the
burden. Quickly he held it above her grasp.
"Look out; you'll get hurt!"
"O pa-a! Would you take me for a
pig?" she laughed.
Echoing the laugh tenderly, he led her by the
hand to the place where the gun habitually rested, and then
to the frugal dinner she had prepared for his return.
The disheveled chicken with the disjointed
leg had grown weary of the social void in its haunts. There
had been no implied invitation to potato peelings and
hoecake crumbs. The land around was too poor to offer
spontaneous hospitalities of attractive character. Chickie
felt that an unwonted gloom had settled on its limited
prospects. At best, life held no charms for her.
"Cracker" chickens are so imbued with the
shiftlessness and indolence of their owners that they
speedily lose even the instinct of laying eggs. Poultry can
hardly be said to be "cultivated" in such circles.
No energy remains. Enough chickens to pick the casual worm
from the neglected path, or clear the refuse from the family
living rooms--enough to spare for the hawks and the wild
things that prowl in the night--these amply content the
modest aspirations of the "cracker." If they ever
vary the monotony of bacon and cornbread by an occasional
ration of chicken, no stranger has yet witnessed the orgy.
The frowzy little pullet fluttered up from
step to step, ever pausing for a remark from the mother and
son who lay supinely motionless in the rays of the sinking
sun. Within the compass of her chicken life, familiar as she
was with their idleness, never had she known them to be as
lazy as this. Clucking and peeping in a shrill falsetto,
vainly she interrogated them as to their eccentricity.
Bright eyes blinking, head askew, feathers apparently
developed during a stiff gale which had impelled her ever
forward, she circled around and around the twain in
irritating inquiry. Suddenly, a satisfactory reply seemed
vouchsafed. The raw dough of the hoecake still clung to the
dead woman's hands. Going from the hearth to her death,
there had been no thought of the toilet observances all too
rare among "crackers." The chicken accepted the
dough as an answer to prayer for enlightenment and
sustenance. It solaced itself pecking the stiff cold fingers
clean of every trace of meal. While thus actively engaged a
man passed by. Attracted by the extraordinary situation, he
drew near the porch. To glance, to shudder, to fly was the
work of half a minute. Nor had he run far when he met
another "one gallus" man, hands in pocket, slouch
hat drawn over his eyes, sauntering toward him.
"Bill! Teddy an' his ma-a is lyin' there
The other nodded. "Knowed it sence noon.
Been awaitin' to see who's goin' to tell on the
"The colonel! Did he do it?"
"N-o-o-o! Yes! Leastways, he made Scipio
do the shootin'. I was outside the fence, an' I took keer to
lay low. Jim an' Pete was along. They've done gone. Reckon
I'll go, too."
"Well, we won' git our heads blowed off
for tellin' on Scipio!"
"Tell an' be blowed, if you've a min'
to. I'm goin' to min' my own business an' git out! I ain't
fool enough to stay here an' tackle the colonel."
"Bill! You won' leave 'em there, an' all
these pigs an' things a-roamin' in the night?"
"Well, you go tell the sheriff, kin' er
keerless like, he better ride out this way. He'll think it
means whiskey, an' he'll ride fast enough. I'm off for a run
up the country." And even as he spoke he strode past
the frightened man. The latter sauntered to town and
intimated to the sheriff that some interest might attend a
ride out that road. The story was whispered as he went
along. When the sheriff arrived in the fast-falling
twilight, pine torches flared their banners of crimson and
yellow and smoke over the dreary scene. Hemmed in by the
living half-circle, the faces of the dead seemed to mock and
mow in answer to fearful comments and vain queries. Those
who pressed too near, in their curiosity, or urged by eager
neighbors, struggled back to place a barrier of life between
themselves and the dead.
From his broad piazza, where he sat smoking
and meditating on the events of the day, the colonel saw the
fitful light and wavering forms so near. If anyone wanted
him they knew where to find him.
Presently the sheriff walked up the avenue
and respectfully accosted him. The colonel received him as
though this were his reception evening and the sheriff his
first and most honored guest. The sheriff began painfully.
"Of course, colonel, it's all nonsense
them fellows is talkin'; but you'll not think hard of me for
"Anything you like, sheriff! Take your
The sheriff, with a gasp, seized the other
horn of the dilemma. "They say, colonel, that Scipio
killed Teddy and his ma-a yonder."
"Indeed!" said the colonel.
"Yes, sir; and I hope you don't min' our
ketchin' an' hangin' him so close to your house, sir?"
"Oh! Hang him, by all means, if you
catch him!" said the colonel cordially.
"An' you won't take no offense, colonel?
'Most on your place; one of your hands, too! It's hard on
me, colonel, to have to do things displeasin' to you! You
know my duty----"
"No one knows better than I, sheriff! Do
what you think best. Have a drink? Well! Here's to you
Drink was never far from the' colonel's hand.
It was only decorum with him to drink with any chance
visitor, and any number of them, night or day. So with the
glow of the corn whiskey in their veins, he and the sheriff
considerately told each other as little as the law required
under the awkward circumstances. Each was ready to declare
that the other was a "perfect gentleman,"
warranted to evince no conscientious scruples in critical
moments. The colonel had merely sanctioned the lawful
prosecution of Scipio--if he could be found, and if guilt
attached to him. The sheriff thanked him effusively and
returned to the seething crowd around the two cadavers.
"Where's Scipio?" he called in a
voice mellow with recent whiskey.
Silence was only broken by the thick
utterance of Negro whispers. Again he called, "Come
A skinny old Negress drew near.
"Law, maussa! Scipio done dead long
time. 'Fo' freedom come."
"Who are you?" roared the sheriff.
"I Scipio ma-a! He ain't never live
here, no how," she sturdily asserted. The black faces
remained unshaken in their gravity. Some of the white men
laughed aloud, even in the presence of death, at this
"We'll find him when we want him,"
said the sheriff curtly. "But first, we'll have an
inquest. Any of you got an opinion about this here murder--
if it is a murder?"
"No, sir!" "I ain't!"
"'Taint no murder!" "Serve 'em right!"
"Nuffin' but po' white trash!" "Buckra."
"Does de jury git pay same like de courthouse?"
These, simultaneously, from many voices.
"Well, all you who don't know and don't
keer, step up an' form the jury."
"Mebbe dey is playin' 'possum,"
suggested a wary African.
"Dey's dead sure 'nuff!" replied
another, stirring the old woman tentatively with his
distorted shoe end.
"Who am dat say Scipio shoot 'em?"
There was an implied menace in this question
which led to silence. No man cared to make himself
responsible for the rumor in the face of unknown
possibilities. White men stood stolidly; Negroes shifted
restlessly, eager for a pretext for a row.
"If Scipio ain't here, an' no one ain't
see him shoot, den Scipio ain't do it."
"Bress God! Dat so!" groaned the
"An' if Scipio ain't shoot, dey ain't
shoot!" logically deducted an old ebon solon.
"Amen! Dat so, Lawd! Black man, white
man, can't tell by de bullet who pull de trigger."
This audaciously irrelevant insinuation was
greeted with a gasp of amazement. Mindful of late
hospitalities, the sheriff was equal to the emergency.
"See here, Joe Saunders! An' you,
Pompey; an' you fellows there! You ain't got nothin' to do
with who did it, nor why it was done! That's none of your
business; you've only got to say they were shot. The law
does the rest."
On this simple basis, the jury was rapidly
impaneled. As quickly the stereotyped verdict was
formulated: "Came to their death by gunshot wounds
inflicted by a person or persons unknown to the jury."
Time flies rapidly, even with those who chide
its droning. But to Lorena, transformed into an ideal nymph
of seventeen, time had brought no solace nor prosperity. She
still roamed the woods, barefooted, driving cows which
neither increased nor profited. Her father, her books, her
sketches, these formed her world. Her drawing was inspired.
She had no training, no theories to follow; she obtained
results as the bird learns to sing, as the bee learns to
make honey. On that plane, there was no room for
The colonel kept aloof from the world and
sought no sympathy. But the girl's isolation weighed heavily
upon him. Still more and more he resorted to the grave of
his beloved wife, as though she could give him the help he
dared not ask of heaven and would not ask of men. But he
ever returned home bowed down by a burden that only
increased with years.
Though he never spoke of it, whispers were
afloat of a ghastly woman with a calico sunbonnet drawn over
her eyes, who daily, in the gloaming, walked around the
colonel's once beautiful home. It was not a pleasant topic;
but there were those who averred that they had seen the
gruesome vision. Under the seal of secrecy, scores likewise
confessed that they, also, had met a woman in that peculiar
guise, silent and intent on her mission. No one could
question the colonel; but no one could doubt that he, also,
was conscious of her presence. He never complained, whatever
the mortal stress laid upon him. Year after year, he
endeavored to wrest from the earth the return other men
could so confidently expect--always meeting with loss, or at
best, a scanty return. And ever, in the twilight, as he sat
on the wide piazza, while Lorena prepared the meager
sup-per, his meditations were disturbed by the quiet
apparition of a woman, who glided out of the surrounding
shadows and came toward him. The form was the homely one so
familiar to him in life. The routine never varied. Up to
where he sat, then around and around the house--the face in
the limp sunbonnet felt rather than seen. While he remained
without, she walked her weary round; when he entered the
library, she peered into each window as she passed. The
monotonous tramp continued until he fled from the house. She
never spoke. She seemed merely a typical
"cracker," indifferent to surroundings, shielded
by the calico sunbonnet that drooped over her eyes. Her face
was ever turned on the colonel, though she uttered no word.
The colonel stoically accepted this as one of
the incomprehensible hostilities with which an inscrutable
fate had long pursued him. When the monotony became
intolerable he withdrew from the piazza, where he had passed
his evenings for a lifetime, and retreated to the library.
But in the twilight within he still listened acutely for the
familiar step on the crisp leaves or on the rain-soaked
earth. He learned to shrink nervously from the faint sound
and from the shadowy form that flitted past each window, the
face with the unseen eyes always turned fixedly toward him.
Finally, he learned to close the great shutters before
sunset. It was unendurable suspense waiting for the
unwelcomed form that never failed to glide by. His ear,
grown doubly acute, learned all that his eyes refused to
look upon, so that his soul loathed life and chose rather
strangling and death. He dreaded the day; but the night was
still more awful. He would leave the house when Lorena
slept, and walk all night, never resting, save when he could
throw himself on his wife's grave, Earth held no other
refuge for him. By and by, he intuitively understood that
the woman in the sunbonnet was familiar to all who passed
him by. No one dared tell him; yet he knew that she was so
notorious that no one cared to pass his house after sunset.
He only grew more reticent and more lonely.
After some years of stoic endurance, the
strain could no longer be borne. The colonel nailed the
doors and windows of his ancestral home and abandoned the
place to ruin. He moved to a poor cottage on the outskirts
of a large village some miles away. Isolation was still
their portion. Poor as they were, he would take almost
nothing from his beloved home. The associations which he
sought to escape were too closely entwined with all that
house contained. Nameless treasures, ancient furniture that
had survived the wreck of fortune--all were left to molder
in the deserted house. Lorena made no protest. The books
dearest to her he transferred to the cottage. One drawing,
which revealed her singular genius, he carried away with
him. This erratic sketch which so impressed him, long
survived him. It remains a singular memento of the family
history. He wanted no other token from that once happy home.
His whole mind was absorbed by the one image he sought to
flee--the ghastly woman in the sunbonnet. Remorse needed no
external suggestion to feed the fire that ever burned in his
Far from the home he loved, in this new and
humble shelter, fate might well have sent some respite to
the broken and desolate man. But a nemesis who never
relented stalked beside him when he fled from his past, and
ruthlessly she scourged him to the bone. She was neither
triumphant nor aggressive. She merely conveyed the
impression that somewhere from the remote depths of that
limp calico cavern, her dead eyes were fixed on him. When he
could endure no more, the colonel stalked in grim despair to
the grave of his wife, where the woman in the sunbonnet
never came. Exhaustion always brought him merciful sleep on
that desolate mound of earth. The villagers whispered of the
new sentry-round followed by the silent woman who watched
over the colonel in the gloaming.
Five years more of this unsought and
undesirable companionship proved the limit of endurance for
the colonel. The last time came for him as it comes for all.
Whether, that night, the eyes finally gleamed from the
depths of that shabby bonnet, or whether she had summoned
him to confront them elsewhere, cannot be known. Only, the
night came when he kissed Lorena with more than usual
tenderness, and, as she left the room with the step of a
young goddess, followed her with loving gaze. Presently he
passed out of the cottage for the last time. He was not
alone. He carried the gun which Scipio had so ably handled
on that memorable day. And as he walked down the path,
clutching the gun with an iron grip, the woman in the
sunbonnet followed him. Where he went--what he felt--what he
It was Lorena who traced him to her mother's
grave in the early morning. Often she had found him there,
oblivious of all pain and sorrow, pillowed on the only
refuge he had known in weary years. She caroled on her way,
through field and woods, knowing where she would find him
sleeping. The voice he so loved would awaken him with no
startling consciousness of new torment to be faced.
Stooping over, the more gently to arouse him,
she tripped on a gun lying by his side. With a stifled cry
the girl fell on the still heart of the desolate suicide.
She did not long survive him; nor did she
make her moan to heaven above or earth beneath. She held
aloof, as ever, from the compassion that would gladly have
encircled her. For a brief space, she roamed the woods and
old haunts alone. Silent now, she lived her life of
isolation, refusing all proffer of companionship or
sympathy. And one morning those who pitied her from afar
found her lying at the foot of a slight precipice, her
faultless face with its inscrutable smile turned to the sky.
One beautiful arm was thrown over her head; the dead hand
grasped trailing vines and wildflowers that delicately
traced a shrine around the exquisite form. There was no
indication of struggle, no evidence of pain. Was it
accident? Was it design? Did a demon force or did a spirit
lure her to her doom? Who knows?
They carried her to the deserted cottage, and
there they stood astounded before the sketch her father had
loved best of all. It was hanging just over the couch where
she lay in her final sleep. Years before, in her elfin
girlhood, she had with unconscious and prophetic hand
sketched her young divinity that was to be and its pathetic
The picture represented a girl in the dawn of
womanhood, of rarest beauty, lying dead at the base of the
crag they had just seen. The faultless arm was tossed
upward, a long spray of vines and wildflowers had encircled
the radiant sylphlike form. In awestricken whispers they
noted every strange detail of the singular coincidence. Nor
did any false sympathy murmur, "Would she could have
tarried with us!" If ever a hope had crossed her
piteous life, it could only have gleamed from the unknown
beyond the grave.
Near a well-known town of today, the old
ancestral residence of the colonel stands deserted and
shunned. No one loiters near it or cares to fathom the
mysteries within. The faded carpets and dusty furniture and
books may still be discerned through the slats of the window
shutters which were so firmly nailed by the colonel, when he
hoped to escape the memory of the past. What was once
luxury, is now the haunt of uncanny things that scurry
through the obscurity and decay. No one dares penetrate
within the silent house. It is the haunt of the woman in the
sunbonnet, keeping watch and ward over the phantom of her
murderer. Only a soul as vacuous as hers, as idle and as
lonely, would brave the lion in his den! Only the tranquil
ghost of the woman in the sunbonnet would venture to
encounter the shade of the colonel in that moldering house!
Today he is still shrinking, yet eagerly listening for the
unfaltering footstep that hounded him to suicide.