An Elephant's Track and Other Stories
by Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis
A SNIPE-HUNT A
STORY OF JIM-NED
OF JINNY TRIMBLE
THE SONG OF THE
AT LA GLORIEUSE
THE SOUL OF ROSE
AT THE CORNER OF
THE CLOVEN HEART
III FROM THE
FROM STONY CREEK
MY FATHER AND MY MOTHER
Of the stories embraced in the following collection, the two
entitled “A Heart Leaf from Stony Creek Bottom” and “At the Corner of
Absinthe and Anisette,” appeared respectively in “The Atlantic Monthly"
and “Romance.” By the courtesy of Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Company
and of the Current Literature Company, I am permitted to reproduce them
“The Cloven Heart” and “The Love Stranche” were written for this
volume. The other stories have all appeared in the publications of
Messrs. Harper & Brothers.
ALONG JIM-NED CREEK
AN ELEPHANT'S TRACK
“IT kin be done, Nance, an' I'm agoin' to do it ef it busts me.” Newt
Pinson brought the forelegs of his raw-hide-bottomed chair down on the
puncheon floor with a thump, and slapped his knees emphatically with
his hairy hands.
“Five dollars air a mighty heap to spen' fer sech foolishness,
Newt,” replied his wife, turning the squalling baby over on its stomach
and pounding it vigorously on the back. “Mo'over,” she added, after a
pause, “I don't see ez ye've got the five dollars, nohow.”
Mr. Pinson stretched out one long leg and thrust a hand into his
trousers-pocket. “Ye're mighty right, Nance, I 'ain't,” he admitted,
blowing the loose tobacco from the handful of coin fetched up from the
honest home-made depths; “I've got jes three dollars and a half lef'
outn what Sam Leggett paid me fer the yearlin'. But me an' the childern
hev been a-talkin' of it over, an' they hev conclusioned to th'ow in
ther aigg money; Dan fo' bits, an' Pete fo'; Joe an' Jed hez two bits
betwix 'em, an' Polly M'riar says ez how she hev fifteen cents. I'm
lackin' of a dime, but I reckin I kin scratch thet up somewhers.”
“Thar's my two bits up yan in the clock,” Mrs. Pinson remarked, with
pretended indifference; “ye kin take that ef ye air sech a plumb fool
ez to pike the whole passel of us inter town to see the circus.”
“Shucks, Nance!” he returned, indignantly; “I ain't agoin' to
tech yo' two bits.” Nevertheless he got up and fumbled about in the
clock-case on the high mantel-shelf until he found it. “Anyhow,” he
added, as he reseated himself, “I kin pay it back when ye git ready fer
yo' nex' bottle o' snuff.”
“Will they be a el'phunt?” demanded one of the freckle-faced urchins
gathered around the heads of the family, listening, breathless, to the
“A dollar fer Nance, en' a dollar fer me,” Mr. Pinson counted,
gravely, taking no notice of the interruption, “an' fo' bits apiece fer
Beck an' Dan an' Pete an' Polly M'riar an' Joe an' Jed. Childern half
price”—he glanced casually at the flaming circus poster tacked
against the chinked wall in the chimney corner—“not countin' of the
baby. An' fifteen cents lef', by jing!”
“Do ye reckin I kin git in fer half price, paw?” This question,
which came from Becky, the oldest of the Pinson brood, who stood five
feet six and a half inches in her bare feet, might have been meant as a
bit of covert sarcasm, had not the eager voice belied any such
intention. Her father's eyes travelled slowly up from the hem of her
homespun frock, as she stood leaning against the chimney jamb, to her
pretty round face framed in its shock of frizzly red hair. “Waal, I be
dinged, Beck!” he exclaimed, in dismay, “I keep fergittin' ez how ye
air growed up!” His face clouded, and he looked ruefully at the pile of
dimes and half-dimes lying in his large palm.
“An' Sam Leggett's gone to Kansas on a cattle drive,” murmured the
twelve-year-old Dan, with a meaning leer at Becky. A vivid blush
overspread her face; she dropped her eyelids and squirmed her shapely
toes. But Mr. Pinson was absorbed in a mute recalculation, which ended
presently in a beat-out whistle and a mournful shake of the head.
Mrs. Pinson, with the colicky baby laid over her shoulder, was
jolting her rockerless chair to and fro, and singing, in a sweet,
“Far-ye-well, oh, far-ye-well;
When ye git to hev-ven ye will pa-art n-o-o
She interrupted herself to observe, quietly, “Ye kin tote the baby,
Beck; an' I kin tote Joe; an' yo' paw he kin tote Jed, twel we
git inside the tent. They ain't no charge fer children in arms. It says
“Lord, Nance!” exclaimed her husband, in an ecstasy of admiration,
“ye air the beatenes' white woman on Jim-Ned Creek! Thet settles it
oncet mo'! Fetch me a coal fer my pipe, Polly M'riar.”
Becky heaved a deep sigh of relief, and sank down on her heels,
reaching under her mother's chair at the same time for the
“Will they be a el'phunt?” persisted Jed, the tow-headed boy next to
the baby, already in long trousers, which were hitched up to his
shoulders with a single white cotton “gallus.”
“Of co'se. They is al'uz a el'phunt with a circus,” replied his
“I 'ain't nuver seen no circus,” said Mrs. Pinson, in jerks between
the long-drawn swells of her mournful lullaby.
“Nuther hev I,” admitted Newt; “but I jes natchly know that ever'
circus has got to hev a el'phunt an' a clown.”
“Didn' I tell ye so!” cried Dan, triumphantly, following with a
dirty forefinger the head-lines of the poster. “Ain't the el'phunts
right here, a-dancin' an' a stan'in' on they heads, an' a-rollin' o'
barrils? An' ez for clowns! they is four mirth-pro-vo-king
clowns in this here show. It says so. An' five beau-ti-ful and
ac-com-plished lady bare-back riders;” and he continued to spell out
laboriously the manifold and unrivalled attractionns of Riddler's
Mammoth Circu and Menagerie, billed—for one performance only—in
Comanche at two o'clock P.M., Monday, the 18th of October. Come One.
Becky, struck by a sudden thought, stared at him, shifting the brush
uneasily from one corner of her mouth to the other. “Like ez not,” she
broke out, abruptly, “Brother Skaggs'll preach agin it nex' Sunday.
Sho's yo' bawn, Brother Skaggs air a-goin ter preach agin it.”
Mrs. Pinson stopped singing; Polly Maria and the boys turned
stricken faces upon their father.
His eyes twinkled under their bushy red brows, but his voice was
decorously sober as he drawled: “Brother Skaggs hes gone to Confunce,
an' he won't be back twel Sat'day week. Ye min', Nance,” he continued,
“it air thirty-one mile to town, an' ef we lay to git ther in time fer
the show Monday, we got to camp somewhers 'bout Blanket Sunday night.”
“Jes to think o' me goin' to town oncet mo'!” said Mrs. Pinson,
meditatively, that night, when she and Becky were getting supper in the
brush arbor behind the cabin. “I 'ain't been sence you was a baby,
Beck. Yo' paw an' me went to Wash Dingwall's infair—he died with his
boots on four year ago; en' Tempunce Loo—thet's his widder—she's
married agin to Bijy Green. I rid behin' him, an' he toted you on his
lap. Town folks air mighty bigaty,” she added, warningly; “'n' ye mus'
do up thet pu'ple caliker o'yourn, Beck, an' put on yo' shoes an'
“Seems lak fo' days won't nuver go,” fretted Beck, “an' ole Baldy
air sho to lame hisse'f, or sump'n'. It's alluz that a-way whence a
body air plumb sot on doin' a thing.”
But the four days did go, and when the eventful Sunday afternoon
came, old Baldy, unusually sound and spirited, was with Jinny, the
gaunt gray mule, harnessed to the wagon; the patched and dingy cover
was drawn over the bows, a bundle or two of fodder and a few ears of
corn were thrown into the hinder part, and Mr. Pinson drove gayly
alongside of the rail-fence in front of the cabin. The rickety house
door was drawn to with a rock behind it to keep it shut. A couple of
chairs were handed up for Mrs. Pinson and Becky, and they clambered in
with the baby. The yellow cotton poke, well stuffed with corn-bread and
bacon, and the battered coffee-pot and frying-pan, were stowed under
the chairs. Polly Maria and the boys sat on a quilt spread over the
sweet-smelling fodder; Rove, Ring, and Spot, the lean, long- eared
brown hounds, yelped and whined against the wheels.
They jolted away, serious, as became a perfessin' fambly on a
Sunday, but full of inward excitement. At night they camped on the
pecan-fringed banks of Rastler's, and were off betimes in the morning.
But not too soon to find the road lively with friends and acquaintances
from all the settlements around, bound on the same joyous errand as
themselves. They passed Joe Holder, with his wife and sister-in-law and
the thirteen children of the two families, creaking along in a huge
freighter's wagon drawn by five yoke of gaunt, wide-horned oxen; they
were overtaken and outstripped by a noisy squad of girls and young men
on horseback from the Fork Valley neighborhood; they kept within
hailing distance for a dozen miles or more of old Daddy Gardenbrier and
his wife, riding double on their blind yellow mare. The Mount Zion
folks, they heard, were ahead of them by some hours, and an impatient
youngster who trotted by on a paint pony threw over his shoulder the
information that the Big Puddle lay-out was coming on behind.
“Lord, Nance!” Mr. Pinson exclaimed more than once that morning, “I
wouldn't of took five dollars to of stayed at home.”
“Nuther would I, Newt,” Mrs. Pinson as often returned, with a kind
of solemn delight on her thin, sallow face.
The long reaches of post-oak “rough” were heavy with sand; the
shinn-oak prairies between were a tangle of roots that zigzagged across
the road, and made progress slow and painful; the abrupt banks of the
frequent “dry creeks” were steep; the October sun was hot; and by noon
old Baldy had become utterly dispirited. He had, moreover, fallen a
little lame, and he moved dejectedly along by Jinny, who long ago had
flopped her big ears downward in sign of weariness and discontent.
The Pinsons under the dingy wagon cover were wellnigh speechless
Suddenly Dan stood up, knocking his head against the low wagon bows.
“Jes over yan,” he declared, “pas' one little bit o' shinn-oak prery,
an' crost a dry creek, an' up a hill, is town.” Dan had been to town
once with Sam Leggett to lay out his long-hoarded egg money in a
four-bladed knife and a pair of store suspenders.
Polly Maria, slim and thin-legged, standing up beside him, pitched
backward into the fodder as the wagon came to a sudden halt behind a
group of dismounted horsemen, who, with their bridles over their arms,
were squatting down, apparently searching for something in a half-dried
mud-puddle to the right of the road. “Hullo, Jack!” called Mr. Pinson;
“what ye lost?” One of the men looked over his shoulder. “Hy're, Newt?
Howdy, Mis' Pinson?” he cried, springing to his feet and coming back to
the side of the wagon, where he shook hands all around. “We 'ain't lost
nothin',” he went on, putting a foot up on the hub of the front wheel
and resting his arms on the hot tire; “we've found sump'n', though, you
bet! A genooine elephant track in the sof' mud yonder, plain as
daylight, an' no mistake.”
Polly Maria and the boys scrambled in hot haste over the tail-board.
Mr. Pinson threw down the reins, and held the baby while Becky and her
mother jumped out.
“Wish I may die ef it ain't a el'phunt track sho!” he
exclaimed, when he had joined the wondering circle gathered about the
“It looks to me lak ez ef it were hine-side afore somehow,” said
Mrs. Pinson, timidly.
“I have just been explaining to Mr. Jack Cyarter here and these
other gentlemen, madam,” said Mr. Tolliver, the old Virginian who
taught the school at Ebenezer Church, “that it is a fact in natural
history that the track of the elephant always presents that
appearance.” He removed his hat as he spoke, and made an old-fashioned
“Ye don't say!” murmured Mrs. Pinson, over-awed.
Jack Carter and his friends mounted their horses and dashed away,
followed at a more sober pace by Mr. Tolliver on his slab-sided
The Pinsons climbed back to their places and jogged on, across the
bit o' prery and over the dry creek—where they came near getting
stalled—and up the hill. On its crest Newt Pinson involuntarily drew
up. “By jing! this beats me!” he ejaculated, with widening eyes.
The square at the foot of the slope was in an uproar. Horses stood nose
to nose around the court-house fence, and were hitched to the scraggy
mesquite-trees that shaded the town well. The dusty streets leading
away from the plaza were blocked with wagons little and big, carts,
ambulances, dilapidated hacks, high-swung red-bodied stages—every
imaginable kind of vehicle—and all the intervening spaces, as well as
the irregular sidewalks in front of the four in-facing rows of stores,
were alive with men, women, and children, who elbowed one another,
whooping, laughing, gesticulating—surging about in a state of the
wildest, best-natured excitement. Beyond the unpainted little Baptist
church, on the farther side of the square, the circus tents were
visible. Flags and streamers were flying from their poles, and a
vanishing burst of music came floating from them up to the top of the
“This beats me!” insisted Mr. Pinson again. With a deep-drawn
breath he gathered up the ragged, homespun lines and drove down into
the square, picking his way dexterously through the crowd until he
halted alongside the shaky platform in front of Bush Gaines's store.
“Holloa agin, Newt—that you?” grinned Jack Carter from behind the
counter within, where he was helping himself to a plug of tobacco.
“You're jest a minit too late to see the procession. It cert'nly is a
fine show. The elephant was there, mighty nigh as big as Ebenezer
Church. An' such a clown! You'd ha' laughed yourse'f to death to ha'
seen him. His breeches are more'n a yard wide, and he 'ain't got a hair
on his head!”
“Ef we hadn't of stopped to look at the el'phunt's track—” began
Newt, regretfully; “but nuver min', Nance, it air a heap better to see
it fust off fum the inside.”
“Oh, a heap better,” responded Mrs. Pinson, with cheerful alacrity.
Bush Gaines, measuring off some jeans for a Mount Zion matron, called
to Newt to bring his fambly in the sto' an' set down, an' pass the time
o' day. But after a brief consultation with his wife, during which
Becky took mental note of some town girls in looped overskirts and
bangs—an observation which bore fruit at the next Quarterly Meeting—
Mr. Pinson declined with thanks, and drove on to the town well—all
but gone dry from the excessive strain put upon it—where Dan and Pete
watered the team.
Afterwards they crossed the square and stopped by the Baptist
church, in full view of the circus tents, whence arose at that moment a
prolonged and sullen roar. “They're feedin' of the nannimals,”
explained Mr. Pinson, in a familiar, off-hand sort of way, whereat Mrs.
Pinson shuddered and hugged the sleeping baby closer to her bosom.
Old Baldy and Jinny were unhitched and fed from the trough at the
back of the wagon; the panting dogs lay down in the shade of the
church; the children had a snack all around out of the yellow poke, and
Becky and her mother fetched out the chairs and sat down to “have a
“It air a haff'n hour yit twel the do's is open,” said Mr. Pinson,
finally. “Jes you an' the childern stay right here, Nance. I'm goin' to
tramp down to the pos'-office an' git the las' 'lection news, an' sich.
I'll be back the minit it air time, an' min' you all be ready, less'n
we don't git no seats.”
Mrs. Pinson nodded, and he strolled away. “This here beats me,” he kept saying to himself. Comanche was indeed in an unwonted state
of excitement. Riddler's was the first circus that had ever quitted the
line of railway and ventured across the long sandy reaches of post-oak
rough to the little isolated town in West Texas. And the whole
surrounding country had pulled to its doors like the Pinsons, and
responded to the invitation of the huge posters: “Come One. Come All.”
Newt's progress was slow, owing to frequent encountering of
neighbors and the necessity of inquiring after the health of their
families. He did at last, however, reach the post-office, a ramshackle
building next to the blacksmith shop. As he turned the corner he came
upon a cake-and-lemonade stand. His hand went instantly down into his
pocket, and came up with the extra fifteen cents, which he exchanged
for three solid slabs of mahogany-colored gingerbread. “Fer Nance an'
the childern,” he explained, as the woman in charge wrapped up his
purchase. The bleary old creature looked at him with a sudden kindly
smile, and slipped a stick of peppermint candy into the parcel.
With one foot on the post-office step he paused to look at a man who
had planted a gigantic yellow umbrella out in the dusty square, and
standing bareheaded beneath it, was yelling some unintelligible jargon
at the top of his lungs. Mr. Pinson hurried over and joined the ring of
gaping spectators. On a bit of board in the shadow of the umbrella a
couple of odd little marionettes of colored metal were circling in a
kind of grotesque waltz. “Lots of fun for twenty-five cents!”
shouted the showman, stopping now and then to touch up the figures with
a stubby forefinger. “Lots of fun for twenty-five cents! The greatest
toy invented in this age or any other. So simple that a crawling child
cannot fail to manage it! Those who know the trick will please say
nothing. Cheap, gentlemen, for twenty-five cents. Oh, I
see the gentleman is going to buy!”
Newt grinned and shook his head regretfully.
“One for one, two for two, three gets the half a
dollah!” bawled another individual who had set up a table near-by
covered with wooden ninepins. Jack Carter and his crowd were throwing
at these with little painted balls. A cigar, Jack explained to Newt,
was the reward for one pin knocked down at a throw; two cigars went to
the player who knocked down two; while the lucky thrower who succeeded
in knocking down three received fifty cents. “One for one, two
for two, three gets the half a dollah,” went on the
proprietor, monotonously. “Three throws for five cents. Step up,
gentlemen, and try your luck! For a nickel! One for one,
two for two, three gets the half a dollah!”
“Lord! ef I hadn't of bought this durned ginger-cake!” groaned Mr.
Pinson in spirit, gathering the paper parcel more securely under his
arm and moving on with the crowd.
A step or two brought him to an open wagon from which a
patent-medicine man was holding forth. “Try the remedy,” he
whined, flourishing a stout black bottle and a pewter spoon. “Cures all
diseases ! Try the remedy! Administered free of charge to any
one in the crowd. This superb bottle filled with the remedy,
only fifty cents. The wise man tries, the fool dies. Try the
“This here beats me,” murmured Newt, mechanically wiping the
perspiration from his forehead and backing against the court-house
fence, where he leaned, fairly exhausted with the variety and novelty
of his emotions. “The haff'n hour mus' be nigh 'bout up. Dinged ef I
ain't glad,” he continued, letting the crowd drift on without him to
where the health-lift man was exhorting the cautious ranchmen to “try
the machine; try the wonderful machine, gentlemen. Ex
cellent for the constitootion! Only five cents a trial. Try the
machine;” and the reckless cowboys were emptying their pockets at the
invitation of the vender of prize-boxes.
“Curious game that, sir,” said a smooth voice at his elbow. He
looked around, startled. A seedy but respectable-looking personage was
standing by him with his arms crossed on the low fence. He jerked his
head as he spoke towards a little knot of men hanging around the
stile-steps leading into the weed-grown court-house yard.
Newt walked over and looked on. It was a simple-enough-looking game
at cards. An innocent-faced little fellow with black hair and curly
mustache was manipulating the greasy deck. The bet was five dollars.
Two countrymen, unknown to Newt, with suspiciously stiff white collars
above their coarse hickory shirts, and scrupulously clean finger-nails,
won successively five dollars, and the dealer, much chagrined, seemed
on the point of giving up.
Newt made half a step forward. His heart was beating violently and
the blood was surging in his ears. “I'm a perfessin' member,” he argued
mentally with himself, while the cards were once more shuffled and
spread out, “yit it air jes' 'bout the easies' thing in creation to
tell which one of them cyards air the right one. An' Nance an' me'll
hev mo'n time to trade out the five dollars whence the show air over.
And he counted out and laid down his handful of dimes and nickels,
and hazarded a bet. He bent forward eagerly, and unconsciously
stretched forth a hand. “This here monty air a mighty deceivin' game,”
remarked the blacksmith, with an air of conviction, as the dealer raked
Mr. Pinson's money into his own pocket and walked jauntily away.
Newt turned about, half dazed by the suddenness of the whole
transaction, and bewildered by the jeers of the by-standers. Just then,
however, a noisy burst of music from the circus tents gave the signal
for the opening of the doors; a wild rush immediately began in that
direction, and in a few moments the square was deserted, except by the
patent-medicine man and the owner of the big umbrella. These joked each
other loudly, and slapped significantly their silver-weighted pockets.
Newt passed them with his head bent, heedless of the sneering laugh
which they sent after him. As he approached the church he saw that
Becky had the baby; she was holding him up and smoothing the pink
calico skirts over his fat white legs. Mrs. Pinson looked at him with
an unwonted sparkle in her solemn black eyes as he drew near, and
lifted the chunky Jed in her arms. “She looks lak she did whence I war
a-courtin' of her,” he thought, with a sore pang. Joe plunged towards
him with a joyous whoop. “Hurry, paw, hurry!” screamed Polly Maria; “we
ain't agoin' to git no seats less'n we hurry.” He put Joe aside roughly
and strode on to his wife. His face was set and hard, though his mouth
“Lord-a-mighty, Newt Pinson, what ails ye?” ejaculated Mrs. Pinson,
letting Jed slip from her arms.
“Nothin' ain't ailin' me ez I knows on,” he returned, in a dry,
harsh voice; “we got to go back home 'thout seein' o' the show, thet's
all. I done bet away ever' cent of ourn an' the childern's circus money
on a fool game o' cyards—yander. Oh Lord!” he ended with a groan. A
single wild wail burst from Polly Maria and the boys. Then they huddled
against their mother's skirts in mute agony.
A faint flush passed over Mrs. Pinson's thin face and the light
faded from her dark eyes.
“'Tain't no diffunce, Newt,” she said, lightly, catching the baby
from Becky's limp and nerveless arms. “Jes ye hitch up, quick ez ye
kin, an' le's get outn this here bigaty town. Me an' the childern air
plumb beat out wi' these stuckup town folks, anyhow!”
Newt stared at her in silence, and slouched away. Her gaze followed
him to the rear of the wagon; when he was beyond the reach of her voice
she whirled around and blazed in a threatening half-whisper: “Ef ary
one o' ye says a word to yer paw 'bout this here misfortin o' hisn, or
'bout hankerin' a'ter the show; er of ary one o'ye ain't thet
gamesome an' lively, lak ez ef they wa'n't no sech a thing ez a circus,
er a clown, er a el'phunt in this here livin' worl'—sho's
ye bawn I'll shet the do' in Sam Leggett's face an' cowhide the balance
o' ye twel ye can't set down fer a week!”
Becky's ruddy cheeks grew pale. “Yes, maw,” she returned, in a
“Yes, maw,” echoed Polly Maria and the boys, stolidly, not without
squeezing back some ungamesome tears, however, as they stood in a row
against the Baptist church and watched their father bring around Jinny
and old Baldy.
Had they only known it, they might have seen while they waited, the
Liliputian Lady and the Fat Woman go by in a shaky hack with torn
curtains, and descend before the painted flaps of one of the side
shows. But they did not know.
The wagon was turned around; they climbed over the wheels and
settled themselves under the dingy cover. As they moved slowly across
the silent square a tremendous shout from the spectators within the
tent, and a pompous fanfare from the brass-band, announced that the
Grand Entry had begun.
Newt stalked along beside the tired team downcast and miserable.
“I've even fergot wher' I lef' the childern's ginger-cake,” he muttered
to himself, as his mind went over and over the incidents of that fatal
A curious hilarity prevailed that night around the little camp-fire.
Mrs. Pinson, usually silent almost to taciturnity, had become all at
once loquacious. She painted to the family circle in glowing colors the
pride and wickedness of town folks; she pictured the denunciatory wrath
of Brother Skaggs when he should learn that perfessin' members of
Ebenezer Church had been inside of a circus tent; she related the
experience of sundry sinners who had been overtaken by divine vengeance
while in the very act of laughing at the antics of a clown; she even
lifted up her voice and sang some particularly
flame-and-brimstone-promising hymn tunes. Becky, mindful of Sam Leggett
away off in Kansas, seconded her efforts to keep the general
cheerfulness up to a proper pitch. If it showed signs of flagging,
however, a warning look, shot from beneath their mother's drooping
eyelids, acted like a charm on Polly Maria and the boys.
Newt, who at first sat mournfully hugging his knees and gazing into
space, presently caught the infection himself, and when, finally, he
unrolled a patch-quilt and threw himself thereon, closing his eyes in
peaceful slumber, it was almost with the conviction that the five
dollars had been well lost in keeping a perfessin' fambly out of the
worldly and soul-destroying circus tent.
Mrs. Pinson, sitting alone by the smouldering fire with the baby in
her arms, looked at his unconscious face upturned in the dim moonlight;
her gaze travelled slowly from one muffled, indistinct form huddled
under the shadow of the wagon, to another; she sighed heavily, and her
face relapsed into its usual sombre expression. “I wisht—” she
muttered; then after a long pause, as she stretched herself on the
quilt beside her slumbering spouse and wrapped the baby's feet in an
old shawl, she concluded with a little touch of triumph in her
whispered tones, “Anyhow, I hev seen the el'phunt's track!”
A STORY OF JIM-NED CREEK
“I AIN'T sayin' nothin' ag'inst the women o' Jim-Ned Creek ez
women,” said Mr. Pinson; “an' what's more, I'll spit on my hands
an' lay out any man ez 'll dassen to sass 'em. But ez wives the
women o' Jim-Ned air the outbeatenes' critters in creation!”
These remarks, uttered in an oracular tone, were received with grave
approbation by the half a dozen idlers gathered about the mesquite fire
in Bishop's store. Old Bishop himself, sorting over some trace-chains
behind the counter, nodded grimly, and then smiled, his wintry face
grown suddenly tender.
“You've shore struck it, Newt,” assented Joe Trimble. “You never kin
tell how ary one of 'em'll ack under any succumstances.”
Jack Carter and Sid Northoutt, the only bachelors present, grinned
and winked slyly at each other.
“You boys neenter be so brash,” drawled Mr. Pinson's son-in-law, Sam
Leggett, from his perch on a barrel of pecans; “jest you wait ontell
Minty Cullum an' Loo Slater gits a tight holt! Them gals is ez meek ez
lambs—now. But so was Mis' Pinson an' Mis' Trimble in their day an'
time, I reckon. I know Becky Leggett was.”
“The studdies'-goin' woman on Jim-Ned,” continued Mr. Pinson,
ignoring these interruptions, “is Mis' Cullum. An' yit, Tobe Cullum
ain't no safeter than anybody else—considerin' of Sissy Cullum ez a
Mr. Trimble opened his lips to speak, but shut them again hastily,
looking a little scared, and an awkward silence fell on the group.
For the shadow of Mrs. Cullum herself had advanced through the wide
doorway, and lay athwart the puncheon floor; and that lady, a large,
comfortable-looking, middle-aged person, with a motherly face and a
kindly smile, after a momentary survey of the scene before her, walked
briskly in. She shook hands across the counter with the storekeeper,
and passed the time of day all around.
Bud Hines, the new clerk, shuffled forward eagerly to wait on her.
Bud was a sallow-faced, thin-chested, gawky youth from the States, who
had wandered into these parts in search of health and employment. He
was not yet used to the somewhat drastic ways of Jim-Ned, and there was
a homesick look in his watery blue eyes; he smiled bashfully at her
while he measured off calico and weighed sugar, and he followed her out
to the horse-block when she had concluded her lengthy spell of
“You put on a thicker coat, Bud,” she said, pushing back her
elm-bonnet and looking down at him from the saddle before she moved
off. “You've got a rackety cough. I reckon I'll have to make you some
“Oh, Mis' Cullum, don't trouble yourself about me,” Mr. Hines cried,
gratefully, a lump rising in his throat as he watched her ride away.
The loungers in the store had strolled out on the porch. “Mis'
Cullum cert'n'y is a sister in Zion,” remarked Mr. Trimble, gazing
admiringly at her retreating figure.
“M—m—m—y—e—e—s,” admitted Mr. Pinson. “But,” he added,
darkly, after a meditative pause, “Sissy Cullum is a wife, an' the
women o' Jim-Ned, ez wives, air liable to conniptions.”
Mrs. Cullum jogged slowly along the brown, wheel-rifted road which
followed the windings of the creek. It was late in November. A brisk
little norther was blowing, and the nuts dropping from the pecan-trees
in the hollows filled in the dusky stillness with a continuous rattling
sound. There was a sprinkling of belated cotton bolls on the stubbly
fields to the right of the road; a few ragged sunflowers were still
abloom in the fence corners, where the pokeberries were red-ripe on
their tall stalks.
“I must lay in some poke root for Tobe's knee-j'ints,” mused Mrs.
Cullum, as she turned into the lane which led to her own door-yard.
“Pore Tobe! them j'ints o' his'n is mighty oncertain. Why, Tobe!” she
exclaimed aloud, as her nag stopped and neighed a friendly greeting to
the object of her own solicitude, “where air you bound for?”
Mr. Cullum laid an arm across the horse's neck. He was a big,
loose-jointed man, with iron-gray hair, square jaws, and keen, steady,
dark eyes. “Well, ma,” he said, with a touch of reluctance in his
dragging tones, “there's a lodge meetin' at Ebenezer Church to-night,
an' I got Minty to give me my supper early, so's I could go. I—”
“All right, Tobe,” interrupted his wife, cheerfully: “a passer of
men prancin' around with a goat oncet a month ain't much harm, I
reckon. You go 'long, honey; I'll set up for you.”
“Sissy is that soft an' innercent an' mild,” muttered Mr. Cullum,
striding away in the gathering twilight, “that a suckin' baby could
wrop her aroun' its finger — much lessen me!”
About ten o'clock the same night Granny Carnes, peeping through a
chink in the wall beside her bed, saw a squad of men hurring afoot down
the road from the direction of Ebezener Church. “Them boys is up to
some devil mint, Uncle Dick,” she remarked, placidly, to her
rheumatic old husband.
Uncle Dick laughed a soft, toothless laugh. “I ain't begrudgin' 'em
the fun,” he sighed, turning on his pillow, “but I wisht to the Lord I
The “boys” crossed the creek below Bishop's and entered the
shinn-oak prairie on the farther side.
“Nance ast mighty particular about the lodge meetin',” observed Newt
Pinson to Mr. Cullum, who headed the nocturnal expedition; “she know'd
it wa'n't the regular night, an' she suspicioned sompn, Nance did.”
“Sissy didn't,” laughed Tobe, complacently. “Sissy is that soft an'
innercent an' mild that a suckin' baby could wrop her aroun' its finger
—much lessen me!”
Bud Hines, in the rear with the others, was in a quiver of
excitement. He stumbled along, shifting Sid Northcutt's rifle from one
shoulder to the other, and listening open-mouthed to Jack Carter's
directions. “You know, Bud,” said that young gentleman, gravely, “it
ain't every man that gets a chance to go on a snipe-hunt. And if you've
got any grit—”
“I've got plenty of it,” interrupted Mr. Hines, vaingloriously. He
was, indeed, inwardly—and outwardly—bursting with pride. “I thought
they tuk me for a plumb fool,” he kept saying over and over to himself.
“They 'ain't never noticed me before 'cepn to make fun of me; an' all
at oncet Mr. Tobe Cullum an' Mr. Newt Pinson ups an' asts me to go on a
snipe-hunt, an' even p'oposes to give me the best place in it. An' I've
got Mr. Sid's rifle, an' Mr. Jack is tellin' of me how! Lord, I
wouldn't of believed it ef I wa'n't right here! Won't ma be proud when
I write her about it!”
“You've got to whistle all the time,” Jack continued, breaking in
upon these blissful reflections; “if you don't, they won't come.”
“Oh, I'll whistle,” declared Bud, jauntily.
Sam Leggett's snigger was dexterously turned into a cough by a punch
in his ribs from Mr. Trimble's elbow, and they trudged on in silence
until they reached Buck Snort Gully, a deep ravine running from the
prairie into a stretch of heavy timber beyond, known as The Rough.
Here they stopped, and Sid Northcutt produced a coarse bag, whose
mouth was held open by a barrel hoop, and a tallow candle, which he
lighted and handed to the elate hunter. “Now, Bud,” Mr. Cullum said,
when the bag was set on the edge of the gully, with its mouth toward
the prairie, “you jest scrooch down behind this here sack an' hold the
candle. You kin lay the rifle back of you, in case a wild-cat or a
cougar prowls up. An' you whistle jest as hard an' as continual as you
can, whilse the balance of us beats aroun' an' drives in the snipe.
They'll run fer the candle ever' time. An' the minit that sack is full
of snipe, all you've got to do is to pull out the prop, an' they're
“All right, Mr. Tobe,” responded Bud, squatting down and clutching
the candle, his face radiant with expectation.
The crowd scattered, and for a few moments made a noisy pretence of
beating the shinn-oak thickets for imaginary snipe.
“Keep a-whisslin', Bud!” Mr. Cullum shouted, from the far edge of
A prolonged whistle, with trills and flourishes, was the response;
and the conspirators, bursting with restrained laughter, plunged into
the ford and separated, making each for his own fireside.
Mrs. Cullum was nodding over the hearthstone when her husband came
in. The six girls, from Minty—Jack Carter's buxom sweetheart—to
Little Sis, the baby, were along abed. The hands of the wooden clock on
the high mantel-shelf pointed to half-past twelve. “Well, pa,” Sissy
said, good-humoredly, reaching out for the shovel and beginning to
cover up the fire, “you've cavorted pretty late this time! What's the
matter?” she added, suspiciously; “you ack like you've been drinkin'!”
For Tobe was rolling about the room in an ecstasy of uproarious
“I 'ain't teched nary drop, Sissy,” Mr. Cullum returned, “but ever'
time I think about that fool Bud Hines a-settin' out yander at Buck
Snort, holdin' of a candle, and whisslin' for snipe to run into that
coffee-sack, I—oh Lord!”
He stopped to slap his thighs and roar again. Finally, wiping the
tears of enjoyment from his eyes, he related the story of the night's
“Air you tellin' me, Tobe Cullum,” his wife said, when she had heard
him to the end—“air you p'intedly tellin' me that you've took Bud
Hines snipin'? An' that you've left that sickly, consumpted
young man a-settin' out there by hisse'f to catch his death of cold; or
maybe git his blood sucked out by a catamount!”
“Shucks, Sissy! replied Tobe; “nothin' ain't goin' to hurt him. He's
sech a derned fool that a catamount wouldn't tech him with a ten-foot
pole! An' him a-whisslin' fer them snipe—oh Lord!”
“Tobe Cullum,” said Mrs. Cullum, sternly, “you go saddle Buster this
minit and ride out to Buck Snort after Bud Hines.”
“Why, honey—” remonstrated Tobe.
“Don't you honey me,” she interrupted, wrathfully. “You saddle that
horse this minit an' fetch that consumpted boy home.”
Tobe ceased to laugh. His big jaws set themselves suddenly square.
“I'll do no sech fool thing,” he declared, doggedly, “an' have the
len'th an' brea'th o' Jim-Ned makin' fun o' me.”
“Very well,” said his wife, with equal determination. “ef you don't
go, I will. But I give you fair warnin', Tobe Cullum, that ef you don't
go, I'll never speak to you again whilse my head is hot.”
Tobe snorted incredulously; but he sneaked out to the stable after
her, and when she had saddled and mounted Buster, he followed her on
foot, running noiselessly some distance behind her, keeping her well in
sight, and dodging into the deeper shadows when she chanced to look
“I didn't know Cissy had so much spunk,” he muttered, panting in her
wake at last across the shinn-oak prairie. “Lord, how blazin' mad she
is! But shucks! she'll git over it by mornin'.”
Mr. Hines was shivering with cold. He still whistled mechanically,
but the hand that held the sputtering candle shook to the trip-hammer
thumping of his heart. “The balance of 'em must of got lost,” he
thought, listening to the lonesome howl of the wind across the prairie.
“It's too c-cold for snipe, I reckon. I wisht I'd stayed at home. I
c-can't w-whistle any longer,” he whimpered aloud, dropping the
candle-end, the last spark of courage oozing out of his nerveless
fingers. He stood up, straining his eyes down the black gully and
across the dreary waste around him. “Mr. T-o-o-be!” he called, feebly,
and the wavering echoes of his voice came back to him mingled with an
ominous sound. “Oh, Lordy! what is that?” he stammered. He sank to the
ground, grabbing wildly for his gun. “It's a cougar! I hear him
trompin' up from the creek! It's a c-cougar! He's c-comin' closter! Oh,
“Hello, Bud!” called Mrs. Cullum, cheerily. She slipped from the
saddle as she spoke and caught the half-fainting snipe-hunter in her
“Ain't you 'shamed of yourse'f to let a passel o' no-'count men fool
you this-a-way?” she demanded, sternly, when he had somewhat recovered
himself. “Get up behind me. I'm goin' to take you to Mis' Bishop's,
where you belong. No, don't you dassen to tech any o' that trash!”
Mr. Hines, feeling very humble and abashed, climbed up behind her,
and they rode away, leaving the snipe-hunting gear, including Sid
Northcutt's valuable rifle, on the edge of the gully.
She left him at Bishop's, charging him to swallow before going to
bed a “dost” of the homebrewed chill medicine from a squat bottle she
“He cert'n'y is weaker'n stump-water,” she murmured, as she turned
her horse's head; “but he's sickly an' consumpted, an' he's jest about
the age my Bud would of been if he'd lived.”
And thinking of her first-born and only son, who died in babyhood,
she rode homeward in the dim, chill starlight. Tobe, spent and
foot-sore, followed warily, carrying the abandoned rifle.
Consternation reigned the “len'th an' brea'th” of Jim-Ned. Mrs.
Cullum—placid and easy-going Mrs. Tobe—under the same roof with
him, actually had not spoken to her lawful and wedded husband since the
snipe-hunt, ten days ago come Monday!
“It's plumb scan'lous!” Mrs. Pinson exclaimed, at her daughter's
quilting. “I never would of thought sech a thing of Sissy—never!”
“As ef the boys of Jim-Ned couldn't have a little innercent fun
without Mis' Cullum settin' in jedgment on 'em!” sniffed Mrs. Leggett.
“Shet up, Becky Leggett,” said her mother, severely. “By time you've
put up with a man's capers fer twenty-five years, like Sissy Cullum
have, you'll have the right to talk, an' not before.”
“They say Tobe is wellnigh out'n his mind,” remarked Errs. Trimble.
“Ez for that soft-headed Bud Hines, he have fair fattened on that
snipe-hunt. He's gittin' ez sassy an' mischeevous ez Jack Carter
This last statement was literally true. The victim of Tobe Cullum's
disastrous practical joke had become on a sudden case-hardened, as it
were. The consumptive pallor had miraculously disappeared from his
cheeks and the homesick look from his eyes. He bore the merciless
chaffing at Bishop's with devil-may-care good-nature, and he besought
Mrs. Cullum, almost with tears in his eyes, to “let up on Mr. Tobe.”
“I was sech a dern fool, Mis' Cullum,” he candidly confessed, “that
I don't blame Mr. Tobe fer puttin' up a job on me. Besides,” he added,
his eyes twinkling shrewdly, “I'm goin' to git even. I'm laying off to
take Jim Belcher, that biggetty drummer from Waco, a-snipin' out Buck
Snort next Sat'day night. He's a bigger idjit than ever I was.”
“You ten' to your own business, Bud, an' I'll ten' to mine,” Mrs.
Cullum returned, not unkindly. Which business on her part apparently
was to make Mr. Cullum miserable by taking no notice of him whatever.
The house under her supervision was, as it had always been, a model of
neatness; the meals were cooked by her own hands, and served with an
especial eye to Tobe's comfort; his clothes were washed and ironed, and
his white shirt laid out on Sunday mornings, with the accustomed care
and regularity. But with these details Mrs. Cullum's wifely attentions
ended. She remained absolutely deaf to any remark addressed to her by
her husband, looking through and beyond him when he was present with a
steady unseeing gaze, which was, to say the least, exasperating. All
necessary communication with him was carried on by means of the
children. “Minty,” she would say at the breakfast-table, “ask your pa
if he wants another cup of coffee;” or at night, “Temp'unce, tell your
pa that Buster has shed a shoe;” or, “Sue, does your pa know where them
well-grabs is?” et caetera, et caetera.
The demoralized household huddled, so to speak, between the opposing
camps, frightened and unhappy, and things were altogether in a bad way.
To make matters worse, Miss Minty Cullum, following her mother's
example, took high and mighty ground with Jack Carter, dismissing that
gentleman with a promptness and coolness which left him wellnigh dumb
“Lord, Minty!” he gasped. “Why, I was taken snipe-hunting myself not
more'n five years ago. I—”
“I didn't know you were such a fool, Jack Carter,” interrupted his
sweetheart, with a toss of her pretty head; “that settles it!” and she
slammed the door in his face.
Matters were at such a pass finally that Mr. Skaggs, the
circuit-rider, when he came to preach, the third Sunday in the month,
at Ebenezer Church, deemed it his duty to remonstrate and pray with
Sister Cullum at her own house. She listened to his exhortations in
grim silence, and knelt without a word when he summoned her to wrestle
before the Throne of Grace. “Lord,” he concluded, after a long and
powerful summing up of the erring sister's misdeeds, “Thou knowest that
she is travelling the broad and flowery road to destruction. Show her
the evil of her ways, and warn her to flee from the wrath to come.”
He arose from his knees with a look of satisfaction on his face,
which changed to one of chagrin when he saw Sister Cullum's chair
empty, and Sister Cullum herself out in the backyard tranquilly and
silently feeding her hens.
“She shore did flee from the wrath to come, Sissy did,” chuckled
Granny Carnes, when this episode reached her ears.
As for Tobe, he bore himself in the early days of his affliction in
a jaunty, debonair fashion, affecting a sprightliness which did not
deceive his cronies at Bishop's. In time, however, finding all his
attempts at reconciliation with Sissy vain, he became uneasy, and
almost as silent as herself, then morose and irritable, and finally
black and thunderous.
“He's that wore upon that nobody dassent to go anigh him,” said Mr.
Pinson, solemnly. “An' no wonder! Fer of all the conniptions that ever
struck the women o' Jim-Ned, ez wives, Sissy Cullum's
conniptions air the outbeatenes'.”
But human endurance has its limits. Mr. Cullum's reached his at the
supper-table one night about three weeks after the beginning of his
discipline. He had been ploughing all day, and brooding, presumably,
over his tribulations, and there was a techy look in his dark eyes as
he seated himself at the foot of the well-spread table, ppreside over
by Mrs. Cullum, impassive and dumb as usual. The six girls were ranged
on either side.
“Well, ma,” began Tobe, with assumed gayety, turning up his plate,
“what for a day have you had?”
Sissy looked through and beyond him with fixed, unresponsive gaze,
and said never a word.
Then, as Mr. Cullum afterwards said, “Ole Satan swep' an' garnish
eed him an' tuk possession of him.” He seized the heavy teacup in
front of him and hurled it at his unsuspecting spouse; she gasped,
paling slightly, and dodged. The missile, striking the brick
chimney-jamb behind her, crashed and fell shivering into fragments on
the hearth. The saucer followed. Then, Tobe's spirits rising, plate
after plate hurtled across the table; the air fairly bristled with
flying crockery. Mrs. Cullum, after the first shock of surprise,
continued calmly to eat her supper, moving her head from right to left
or ducking to avoid an unusually well-aimed projectile.
Little Sis scrambled down from her high chair at the first hint of
hostilities, and dived, screaming, under the table; the others remained
in their places, half paralyzed with terror.
In less time than it takes to tell it, Mr. Cullum, reaching out his
long arms, had cleared half the board of its stone and glass ware.
Finally he laid a savage hand upon a small old-fashioned blue pitcher
left standing alone in a wide waste of table-cloth.
At this Sissy surrendered unconditionally. “Oh, Tobe, for Gawd's
sake!” she cried, throwing out her hands and quivering from head to
foot. “I give in! I give in! Don't break the little blue china
pitcher! You fetched it to me the day little Bud was born! An' he drunk
out'n it jest afore he died! Fer Gawd's sake, Tobe, honey! I give in!”
Tobe set down the pitcher as gingerly as if it had been a
soap-bubble. Then, with a whoop which fairly lifted the roof from the
cabin, he cleared the intervening space between them and caught his
wife in his arms.
Minty, with ready tact, dragged Little Sis from under the table, and
driving the rest of the flock before her, fled the room and shut the
door behind her. On the dark porch she ran plump upon Jack Carter.
“Why, Jack!” she cried, with her tear-wet face tucked before she
knew it against his breast, “what are you doing here?”
“Oh, just hanging around,” grinned Mr. Carter.
“Gawd be praised!” roared Tobe, inside the house.
“Amen!” responded Jack, outside.
“An' Tobe Cullum,” announced Joe Trimble at Bishop's the next day,
“have ordered tip the fines' set o' chiny in Waco fer Sissy.”
“It beats me,” said Newt Pinson; “but I allers did say that
the women o' Jim-Ned, ez wives, air the outbeatenes' critters in
THE GROVELLING OF JINNY TRIMBLE
MRS. TRIMBLE paused half-way down the cotton row and looked over
towards the house, where Joe sat on the rickety porch. He was playing a
hymn tune. His blond head was laid lovingly against the neck of his
fiddle, his eyes were closed, and a beatific smile hovered about his
handsome mouth. He accompanied the droning notes with a steady pat of
his foot on the floor, and an occasional mellow burst of song.
“Joe Trimble shore can make the fiddle talk!” exclaimed his
wife, admiringly. “Git up from there, Lodelia!” she added, with sudden
sharpness, to a tow-headed little girl in the adjacent row, who had
slipped the half-filled cotton-sack from her neck and was squatted upon
it. “Git up from there this minit! An' don't you, ner Little Joe,
dassen to stop tell them las' rows is picked—ner Randy nuther! It's
nigh about sundown, an' yo' pappy'll be plumb outdone waitin' for his
Thus admonished, the children went sullenly to work, the
four-year-old Randy snuffling audibly, and she herself with an
involuntary sigh of weariness stooped again over the stunted stalks.
The straggling cotton-patch was all but clean—a few down-hanging
bolls only showing here and there along the outer rows. The year's crop
—flocculent, snow-white—was heaped in a couple of big rail-pens
behind the smoke-house, protected by a few planks from the heavy night
dews and the rare October rains.
When Mrs. Trimble, with the last bulging sackful on her shoulder,
hurried past the porch, Mr. Trimble looked up. “Hi, oh, Jinny!” he
cried, affectionately. “I knowed in reason you'd git done ter-day. I'll
haul ter the gin fust thing termorrer. By jing! th' ain't no sech crap
this year up ner down Jim-Ned. Fo' bales ef it's a poun'!” And
with an air of triumph he struck anew into “Amazing grace.”
Mrs. Trimble fetched in wood, made a fire in the open fireplace, and
set about getting supper, while Lodelia milked the cow, with Little Joe
to hold off the calf.
“Triflin',” his neighbors along Jim-Ned Creek were used without
scruple to call Joe Trimble. The air of dilapidation about his small
farm more than justified the epithet. The rail fences were rotting
visibly; the lop-sided shed, which served at once as barn and stable,
threatened to succumb to the breath of the first genuine norther; the
cow-pen gate was propped upon a broken hoe-handle; the one-roomed cabin
itself, with its ill-built chimney and sagging roof, was, as Mrs. Newt
Pinson said over her snuff-bottle to Granny Carnes: “A plumb sight. An'
Jinny Trimble is fair druv to keep Joe hissef fum drappin' ter pieces.
Cert'n'y ef she wa'n't so po'-sperrited she wouldn't stand it— ner
But Jinny had stood both with apparent equanimity for a matter of
ten years or thereabouts. She might, indeed, be said to share in the
general demoralization going on around her. Time was when the pretty,
saucy, jimp coquette, Jinny Leggett had, in Jim-Ned vernacular,
“kicked” every marriageable young man in the county for—the sake of
Joe Trimble's blue eyes and wheedling ways, be it understood. Now the
wifely drudge—thin, sallow-faced, hollow-eyed—had hardly spunk
enough left to borrow a pair of quilting-frames. As to the cooking,
washing, and ironing, the wood-chopping and water-drawing, tending the
ash-hopper and the cattle, grinding the coffee and the axe—all this
was as much a matter of course as taking care of the successive babies
and making soft soap. So, for aught known to the contrary, was the
rougher farm-work, which yearly fell more and more to her hand, while
her lazy, good-looking lord rode about the country swapping stories and
drinks across his neighbors' gates, or sat on his own porch playing the
“It's ez much,” said Mrs. Pinson, in a mighty pucker about
Jinny, “ef Joe Trimble hez picked for poun's out'n them fo' bales he's
braggin' 'bout. It's scan'lous! But Jinny hez lost her backbone!”
Mrs. Trimble at that moment was putting the supper on the table, and
as the aromatic smell of coffee and bacon greeted her husband's
nostrils, he hastened to hang up his fiddle and fall to.
“Jinny, honey,” he said, leaning back in his chair when he had
finished, “I wisht you'd go out ter the lot an' shake down some feed
for them steers.”
On a crisp November morning ten days later Mr. Trimble took a
boisterously affectionate leave of his family and started with his
cotton, ginned and baled, for the nearest market-town, something like a
hundred miles distant.
“Don't werry concernin' the childern's Chris'mus, Jinny,” he called,
gayly, over his shoulder, as he tucked his fiddle into the feed-trough
and picked up the long whip; “I'm goin' ter fetch back truck fum Waco
ez'll make yo' eyes bug out'n yo' head—loaf-sugar an' bear-grease an'
pep'mint, an' sech. I ain't fergittin' yo' silk dress nuther, honey,
ner yo' side-combs.”
The children raced after him down the hard road. Mrs. Trimble with
reddened eyes watched the brand-new unpaid-for wagon until it
disappeared in a mesquite thicket beyond the field. It was drawn by two
fine yoke of oxen—great, wide-horned brutes that she had herself
raised from calves; the four trim, compact bales were piled upon it; a
skillet and coffee-pot swung beneath the hinder axle. Mr. Trimble
walked beside the team cracking his whip. Spot, the lean old hound,
trotted at his master's heels.
“Th' ain't a laklier man ner a better fiddler on Jim-Ned,” murmured
the little woman; “ner a studdier church-member—ef he do
sometime take a leetle drap too much!”
Anticipation ran high in the Trimble household as the days drifted
by and the time drew near for the return of its lawful head. Marvellous
stories of past Christmases kept little Joe and Randy awake o' nights,
up betimes o' mornings, they perched the livelong day on the fence,
their bare red feet tucked under them, their eyes fixed eagerly on the
turn of the road, impatient for the first glimpse of Morg's and Mike's
well-known, wide-spread, shining horns. Lodelia ran back and forth
frantically, her small soul fairly rent in twain betwixt continual
false alarms without-doors and maternal reprimand within. Mrs.
Trimble's own excitement was overlaid by a flustered presence of
A sort of incredulous consternation succeeded this expectant rapture
when Christmas came and went without any sign of the absent husband and
father. The lank, empty stockings depended unnoticed from the chimney,
while the frightened children huddled in the falling dusk about their
mother's knees. “Somp'n must ha' happened to Joe! Oh, I know somp'n
turrible has happened!” she moaned, visions of Joe's blond curls all
dabbled in blood swimming before her eyes.
But, a little later, Mr. Pinson dropped in to allay his neighbor's
probable fears. He said, squirming awkwardly in his chair, and with his
eyes on the floor, that he had seen Joe a few days before in Waco,
whither he had hauled his own cotton. Ye-es, Joe were well. Joe had
sold his cotton. Joe talked like he mought stay awhile down ther. “An',
an', don't you be oneasy, Mis' Trimble, Joe's all right. In fac', Joe
was fiddlin' like a cherry-bin at the wagin-yard the night afore I
“It's scan'lous!” cried Mrs. Pinson, when Newt reported at home how
Mrs. Trimble “took” the news. “She orter up an' part fum sech a
out-beaten, triflin' houn'—stidder thankin' the Lord that he ain't on
the road som'er's, dead! Jinny shore is a po'-sperrited creeter!”
Vague rumors of Joe's gay cuttings-up in the far-away town floated
out to Jim-Ned during the next few months. If they reached his wife's
ears she made no sign. She sat on Sundays, more forlorn-looking and
hollow-eyed than ever, in her accustomed place in Ebenezer Church, and
passed the time of day meekly with the neighbors on coming out. But she
shrank from their well-meant attempts at consolation. And divining with
innate courtesy that she wished to be alone, even Mrs. Pinson presently
forbore to intrude upon her. The front door of the Trimble cabin was
rarely opened, save when its mistress appeared there for a moment,
shading her eyes with her hand and gazing wistfully down the road.
Randy and little Joe had long abandoned their lookout on the fence. A
pitiful air of desolation brooded over the place, the farm and its
belongings running, if possible, still further down at the heel.
Suddenly one morning—it was when the short, sharp winter had
fairly broken, the first spring rains had softened the ground, and the
pink of peach blossoms was making splashes of color everywhere—Mrs.
Trimble appeared in her field walking behind a plough and driving Joe's
old sorrel horse, Baldy. She seemed at first to be rather dragged by
the plough-handles than to guide them. But she held on with grim
determination; and by the time the garden-patch was turned under, the
passers-by admitted that the rows were run ding straight, for a woman.
“Yes,” she said, slowly, with her eyes turned away from the
questioner's face and a faint flush on her cheek, “me en' the childern
has concluded to make the crop 'gins' the time Joe comes back.”
Upon this, offers of help poured in upon her. Jim-Ned to a man—and
woman—stood by her until her crop was planted. Thereafter, early and
late, through the showery spring and the long hot summer, her slight,
spare form could be seen, hoe in hand, moving up and down corn or
cotton row, accompanied by Lodelia and the two little boys—all
patiently and manfully heaping or levelling the brown soil, digging,
ditching, fighting grass and tie-vine. There were such tinkerings, too,
between times, at fences and gates and pens that towards the end of
September it is doubtful whether Joe, had he presented himself, would
have recognized his own freehold. The corn was gathered and cribbed,
and the fodder stacked; the cotton-patch, green and healthy under a
favoring sky, was dotted with blooms, amid which the bolls were
bursting, white and thick as pop-corn.
And Joe all this time? Fiddling in the Waco wagon-yards at night by
the freighters' campfires—fiddling, and swapping stories, and taking
blithely, in season and out of season, that leetle drap too much which,
away from home in particular, was one of his besetting sins; selling
his cotton for a sum far beyond his expectation; laying in groceries
and dry-goods enough to run a sto', by jing! bragging and swaggering
about the streets one day, and waking out of a drunken sleep the next,
to find his wagon rifled of its contents and his money gone. An epic,
indeed, might be written concerning Mr. Trimble's three-quarters of a
year “in town.” One goodly steer after another passed from his
possession into the hands of the unscrupulous sharpers who were
fattening upon him; and then the brand-new, unpaid-for wagon, with its
bows and sheets; even the old gun, belt, and cartridge-box—everything
except the beloved fiddle, with which he continued to make merry, and
old Spot, who followed his disreputable master from one drinking-shop
and gambling-hell to another, regarding him with eyes which had in them
something of the wistfulness that dwelt in Jinny's own.
But all things sooner or later come to an end, and at last, one day,
this lazy, rollicking, good-humored prodigal bethought himself of Mis'
Trimble and the childern.
The Ebenezer School had just been dismissed. Mr. Tolliver, the old
teacher, was standing on the door-step in the sunset glow, brooding
with habitual depression over the scant desire for learning exhibited
by the freckled, sunburned, whooping urchins of both sexes at that
moment scurrying gayly homeward. “Truly,” he sighed, “the fruit of
knowledge does not tempt the youth of James-Edward”—for the old
pedagogue's classic tongue repudiated the commonly accepted name of the
district in which he labored. He turned to fasten the door. But a
tumultuous and prolonged burst of laughter drew his attention to the
high-road which ran across a shine-oak prairie in front, and curved
around the corner of the school-house. A noisy rabble of men and boys,
some mounted, some on foot, surged forward in pell-mell disorder. A
nearer approach disclosed the cause of their mirth.
“Bless my soul!” said Mr. Tolliver, from his post of observation on
the school-house steps. “I believe that is Joseph Trimble!”
It was in truth that home-returning hero. An axle and a single pair
of cart-wheels, dragged by a small, gaunt, slab-sided ox, served as a
support for a barrel lying upon its side, and braced by a couple of
stanchions. Astride of the barrel, clad in mud-bespattered rags, and
hatless, sat Joe himself—enthroned as it were—fiddle in hand. It
was not a hymn tune whose notes rang out on the still afternoon. A
tipsy smile illuminated the player's red face as the bow frisked and
capered over the strings, and his bare heels against the sides of the
barrel kept time to the profane strains of “Granny, will yo' dog bite?”
A tin cup swung from the spigot in the bung, and an unmistakable smell
of whiskey pervaded the air around.
“Bless my soul!” ejaculated Mr. Tolliver again, as the cavalcade
swept by, “this is a survival of the ancient Bacchic festival!”
“How 'bout Mis' Trimble, Joe?” demanded Mr. Pinson, during one of
their frequent convivial halts, and he winked slyly at the crowd as he
took a pull at the tin cup.
“Mis' Trimble? Jinny?” shouted Joe, looking down with a
fatuous smile. “Don't you fret yo' gizzard 'bout Jinny Trimble! Jinny's
goin' ter be so ding glad ter see me thet she'll fair grubble at
And the train, augmented at every cross-road by some laughter-loving
crony, moved noisily on.
At the moment they emerged from the mesquite thicket, and came in
sight of Joe's reconstructed estate, Mrs. Trimble was at the woodpile
cutting wood for the supper fire; Randy was picking up chips in his
blue cotton apron; Lodelia and Little Joe were tending the ash-hopper.
The sound of horses' feet, mingled with the hilarious uproar, borne on
the mild wind, came floating across the level fields. She lifted her
head, pushing back her sun-bonnet, and stared with out-starting eyes.
Her arm dropped nerveless at her side; her lips quivered; her knees
shook beneath her. She moved mechanically towards the front gate,
followed by her three children.
The procession had halted in the road there. A sudden shamed silence
fell upon the crowd—hurried on thus far partly by a spirit of fun,
partly by sincere rejoicing in the return of their jovial gossip—at
sight of the patient and courageous though poor-spirited little woman
coming across the field, her head drooped upon her breast, the heavy
axe grasped unconsciously in her hand.
“Hello, Jinny!” called Mr. Trimble, with jaunty assurance, from his
perch on the whiskey barrel. “Here I am onct mo'! Safe an'
soun'. Pervided with a bar'l o' ginooine rye! Onloose the latch-string,
honey, an' look out fer a rip-roarin' celerbation of these here joyful
His maudlin laugh was suddenly checked; his jaws dropped; he gazed
at 0a wife with dilating eyes. She stood in the open gateway
confronting him; her dark eyes, fixed full upon his, were blazing; her
lips were firmly set; a scarlet spot burned in either sunken cheek; she
looked dangerously like the imperious, high-spirited Jinny Leggett, of
whom Joe in his courting days had been mortally afraid.
“Joe Trimble,” she said, with terrifying calmness, “shet yo' mouth
and git off'n that whiskey barrel!”
Mr. Trimble meekly obeyed, scrambling down with what grace he could
muster, and casting sheepish glances at his followers, huddled
breathless and abashed on the farther side of the road.
“Stand out'n the way with yo' onchristian, hell-temptin' fiddle,”
Mrs. Trimble added, stepping forward.
Joe slunk to one side like a whipped hound; old Spot, after an
uncertain, appealing glance around, crept after him.
She lifted the axe.
It was not for naught that the down-trodden wife had chopped wood—
aye, and split rails into the bargain, during all these years. The
muscles stood out like thongs on the skinny little arm; the wrist was
as firm and hard as iron. The axe, poised an instant in the air, caught
on its keen edge a gleam of sunlight, then it descended with a sidewise
telling blow on the head of the barrel; it rose and fell again, and the
seasoned wood splintered and crashed inward; a small deluge of
amber-colored liquor gushed over the axle, and ran in a foamy,
ambrosial rivulet across the road.
The lean ox turned his head to gaze with mild, surprised eyes at the
wrack behind him, then whisked his tail, and resumed his abstracted
An involuntary murmur of applause ran through the spectators; every
man and boy of them took off his hat. Regret over the waste of so much
ginooine rye was lost for the moment in admiration of Mis' Trimble's
Mrs. Trimble, did not acknowledge their presence by so much as a
look. “Lodelia,” she ordered, “kiss yo' poppy, an' onhitch that pore
creeter from them wheels, an' give it some feed. Come erlong, Joe, an'
min' you fasten the gate a'ter you.”
Mr. Trimble, completely sobered, mute, and dumfounded, lifted Randy
in his arms, and walked after his wife towards the cabin, with little
Joe and Spot tagging at his heels.
“Ding my hide, this beats me!” exclaimed Newt Pinson. And
clapping spurs to his horse, he galloped down the road, the demoralized
squad clattering and padding behind him. “This beats me!” he
cried again, turning in his saddle to look back.
Mrs. Trimble was nowhere visible.
Joe was at the wood-pile chopping wood.
The next day, and for many a long day thereafter, Mr. Trimble, with
a cotton-sack hung about his neck, dragged on his knees through the
cotton-patch, reaping, as Mrs. Pinson sarcastically observed, where he
had not sowed. His was now the hand that shook down feed for Baldy and
the solitary steer. He it was who turned the windlass at the deep well
and packed in the wood; he tended the ash-hopper and set the
clothes-lines; he even went so far as to get up of mornings and make
He seemed, moreover, pitiably anxious lest he should by accident
leave some of these unaccustomed tasks undone. Jim-Ned looked on,
shaking its head, not knowing what to make of this extraordinary
transformation, and momentarily expecting, if the truth were told, a
fall from grace.
Joe's old exuberance of spirit, too, had given place to a kind of
timid humility; his merry eyes were downcast and dull; his contagious
laugh was hushed; his fiddle hung unused on the cabin wall, gathering
cobwebs on its crooked neck.
Mrs. Trimble, though outwardly calm, was inwardly exultant. “It's
good fer so' eyes,” she said to herself, watching Joe pass the porch
with the cotton slung over his shoulder, and remembering all her own
pains and mortifications. The men made way for her with marked
deference when she took her place in the Amen corner of Ebenezer
Church, with Mr. Trimble, dashed and browbeaten, at her elbow. The
women gazed at her in hushed wonder. “Yes, it's good fer so' eyes!” she
repeated again and again in the first transport of her freedom.
But, as time passed, a vague feeling of discomfort crept into her
secret soul. Something was missing. What was it? Was it the old-time,
half-contemptuous, wholly cordial regard of her neighbors, who now held
respectfully aloof, eyeing her askance as if afraid of her ? Was it the
strange silence around her own fireside at night, where Joe sat with
his head hanging and his eyes fixed vacantly on the flames, and the
children cowered in the corner, dumbly questioning, first his dull face
and then her own?
One night Mr. Trimble, coming in with an armful of firewood, found
his wife sitting alone by the hearth. The children were abed. She had
her apron to her eyes and was crying silently.
“Gawd-a-mighty, Jinny!” he cried, throwing down the wood and running
to her in alarm, “what hev I done? Ain't the wood chopped ter suit ye?
Ain't the wash-kittle filled? I b'leeve in my soul I've fergot them
clo's-lines. I'll go an' prop 'em this minit!”
“'T-t'ain't the lines,” whimpered Jinny.
“Ain't the ash-hopper sot? Ain't—”
“Oh-h, Joe!” sobbed his wife, “I don't keer nothin' 'bout the
ash-hopper! I want to hear you laugh onct mo'! I want to see you cavort
roun' Jim-Ned like you used to! I'm plumb tired o' havin' them fool men
look at me like I wuz wearin' the britches! I'm sick o' hearin' Mis'
Pinson an' Granny Carnes talk like you didn't have spunk enough to
spank Randy! I wisht ter the Lord I hadn't of made no crop! I'm so
lonesome! Oh, Joe!“
And she jumped up and hid her face on his breast.
“Lord, Jinny!” he exclaimed, blushing red with delight, and as
bashful as ever he was in his courting days. “Lord, honey, them women
folks ain't wuth shucks, nohow. I don't keer nothin' 'bout Mis' Pinson
an' Granny Carnes! But ef Newt Pinson er any of that gang hez dast ter
look cross-eyed at you, I'll tek the hair off'n the'r hide afore
mornin'.” And his eyes grew suddenly sombre.
“Oh no, no!” she cried, clinging to him. “Not that-a-way! Not
The result of their long conference was that Joe, the next morning,
leaving the few scattering unpicked bolls in the field to Lodelia and
Little Joe, mounted Baldy, and rode the length and breadth of Jim-Ned,
inviting his neighbors to a play-party at his house the following
night. And the neighbors came, bubbling over with good-humor and
And so it was that in the presence of the Ebenezer congregation
Jinny Trimble “grubbled” at her husband's feet! She took the fiddle
from the wall with her own hands and gave it to him. She consulted him
audibly, and in a tone of deep humility, concerning the disputed steps
of “Peeping at Susan”; she fetched him his pipe, and hovered over him,
radiant, while he lighted it; she ran out when the fire in the big
fireplace burned low, and came in, ostentatiously carrying a heavy
back-log, her head lifted defiantly and her dark eyes dancing.
Joe's blue eyes shone back at her. He fiddled like one inspired; his
gay laugh rang out above the shuffling feet of the young men and women
winding the mazes of “Weev'ly Wheat.”
Never had Mr. Trimble been so hilarious or so masterful.
Never was Mrs. Trimble so abject.
“Verily,” observed old Mr. Tolliver to Mr. Pinson, “the Prodigal of
James-Edward hath the fatted calf, and a ring upon his finger!”
“Jinny hev drapped back,” said Mrs. Pinson to Granny Carnes out in
the brush-arbor, where they were overseeing the supper. “Her spunk hev
died a natch'l death. She cert'n'y hev grubbled!”
All the same, the next day, when Mr. Trimble hinted that he shore
orter haul them five bales of cotton o' his'n to Waco, Jinny put her
THE SONG OF THE OPAL
JOHN DENE stood for a moment in the squat doorway of his rock hut,
his slouch hat brushing the heavy lintel, and his square shoulders
almost touching the rough framework on either side; then, mounting the
short outer flight of steps that led to the flat roof above, he seated
himself on the rude parapet and bared his forehead to the crisp October
night wind. He breathed into his lungs with conscious delight the
aromatic perfume of the “rosum” weed, whose yellow blossoms, faintly
visible in the starlight, overlaid the abrupt slopes and wide levels of
the prairie stretching away to his right. On his left, the mountains, a
mile or so away, were banked like a semicircle of soft dark cloud
against the clear sky. There was a fire-fly or two astir among the
late-blooming flowers, whose faint odor came up to him in little balmy
puffs from the garden patch about the cabin door; and a night bird now
and then flitted on stealthy wing from one clump of trees in the hollow
below to another. But it was very still, so still that he could hear
the musical drip-drop of the water falling from the spring into the
reedy pool at the head of the hollow; the howl of a coyote somewhere on
Quarry Mountain rang so distinctly on his ear that he clutched his
rifle and threw it instinctively to his shoulder. But he smiled and
laid it on his knee again as the echo of a burst of laughter, familiar,
cheery, prolonged, came floating across the valley from the store over
in Logan's Gap.
They were in truth talking about him there. Or, to be more accurate,
old Uncle Dicky Crawls, tilted back against the chimney jamb, in a
rawhide-bottomed chair, with a cob pipe between his toothless gums, was
talking, and “the boys” were listening respectfully. A handful of
gnarled and knotted mesquite roots blazed in the wide fireplace by way
of a light, the dingy kerosene-lamp on one end of the counter barely
illuminating with its dim circle the greasy pages of the ledger wherein
Joe Matthews, the storekeeper, was perfunctorily recording the business
of the day. The boys, long, lank, and middle-aged for the most part,
with grave faces and keen, humorous eyes, sat in an irregular
semicircle about the hearth. The store door was open; the flat-topped
mountain on the farther side of the Gap seemed to stand squarely across
it in the luminous darkness; the wire fence, zigzagging along the hard,
smooth road, gleamed like a strand of silver thread where the
out-streaming firelight found and touched it. Half a dozen horses,
whose high-pommelled saddles were adorned with hairy, many-coiled
lariats, were hitched to the saplings on the wind-sheltered side of the
store, and as many dogs lounged on the steps or dozed under their
owners' chairs within.
“When I seen him come a-ridin' up to the Gap las' C'rismus a year,”
Uncle Dicky was saying, “I knowed lak a shot thet he wuz a-hidin' out.
Some o' you boys 'lowed ez how he looked mighty biggaty; en' thet this
here pre-cink wa'n't a-goin' to hol' him mo'n a week 'thout a interview
with a rope an' a lim'. But yo' unk Dicky ain't off'n mistakened, an'
yo' unk Dicky tuk him by the han' at oncet. An' now they ain't no man
nowher's roun' the Gap who hez mo' the respeck of his feller-citizens
than Jack Dene. Naw, sir! I hadn't no doubt whatsomedever thet he hez
killed his man wher' he come fum. An' I don't no mo' b'leeve his name
air Jack Dene than I b'leeve Billy Pitt thar hed that wrestle with a
catamount t'other day over on Jim-Ned.”
Billy Pitt drew a playful bead on Uncle Dicky with his stubby but
unerring rifle, and joined in the good-natured laugh at his own expense
—that resonant laugh which, echoing across the still valley, found
John Dene a-dreaming on his house-top.
“I ain't keerin' what his name mought be,” he said, when the laugh
subsided; “he's mighty fa'r an' squar', Jack is.”
“Thet's so,” assented Matthews, looking up from his ledger, but
keeping an inky finger on his column of figures; “an' he's nigh 'bout
the contrivinest pusson I ever seen. Thet thar rock house o' his'n,
which he hev quayried the rock en' put up hisse'f, I 'low it's the
beatenes' house in creation. Made out'n rock, ever' bit, sir, chimbly
an' all, an' a reg'lar chimbly-she'f over the fireplace! It's
'stonishin' how thet rock do cut, anyhow,” he concluded, meditatively.
“He 'ain't teched the ole quayry, hez he?” asked Red Nabers from his
corner of the fireplace.
“God-a-mighty, naw!” cried Uncle Dicky, bringing his chair
down to the floor with a jerk. “Thet ole quayry were here when I come
to Comanche County; an' thet wuz befo' the Injuns lef'. I heered the
tales 'bout them Digger people fum a chief hisse'f. An' thet ole quayry
ain't a-goin' to be teched—not to git rock out'n—whilse my head air
“Co'se not, Unk Dicky, co'se not,” said Matthews, to whom the old
quarry really belonged, in a soothing tone. “Jack Dene 'ain't teched
the ole quayry. Didn't I he'p him haul ever' las' one o' them slabs
thet his cabin air made out'n? Howsomedever, he does bogue roun' thar
mighty studdy a-s'archin' for them turkles Uncle Dicky's been
a-noratin' 'bout ever sence I were born.”
“Thet's all fa'r an' squar',” said the old man, tilting his chair
back and resuming his pipe. “He air welcome to dig for them leetle
turkles ez much ez he pleases. I don't keer. I wisht to the Lord he
could mek out what them Digger people wuz a'ter.”
“Is it p'intedly yo' 'pinion, Unk Dicky,” inquired Green Nabers, the
stalwart twin of Red, “thet the ole quayry hes been dug for di'mon's?”
“Waal, ez to di'mon's,” replied Uncle Dicky, deliberately, “I
ain't sho in my min'. But what air sho air thet oodles o' time
ago thet ole quayry wuz dug by somebody fer somepn. An' thet
somepn wa'n't buildin' rock, nuther. Thar's the quayry, an' thar's them
turkle-shape rocks all scattered roun' the aidge o' the pit; an' ever'
las' one of them turkles hev been busted open. 'Tain't one in a bushel,
'cordin' to my calkilation, ez hed anything inside. But I hev foun' 'em
myse'f with a holler in the middle, an' I hain't no doubt whatsomedever
thet in thet holler them Digger people foun'—min' yer, I don't
edzackly say di'mon's, but somepn of nigh 'bout ekal vally. I
'ain't nuver come 'crost a whole turkle yit, an' ef Jack Dene kin fine
one whilse he air a-hidin' out an' a-puttin' in o' his time, I'll be
John Dene, sitting alone on the roof of his odd little hut, would
have laughed outright had he known that the chief reason for his
popularity in Logan Gap Precinct was due to a belief that he was in
hiding for a crime—a murder, perhaps—committed “wher' he come fum.”
Yet his neighbors would have sympathized in a hardly less degree with
the real cause of his presence among them. Restless themselves, nomads
by instinct, wrought of the stuff from which pioneers are moulded, they
at least would have understood that nameless feeling, so inexplicable
to the conservatism of his family, which had made of him—John Dene,
of Dene Place—a wanderer, and, the more pious among his kindred did
not scruple to add, a vagabond on the face of the earth. He had it,
perhaps—who knows?—this strain of lawlessness—from the beautiful
savage woman whom his far-away ancestor had married somewhere over
seas, and brought to his stately home in England to die. She had sent
down to him too, they said, glancing at her portrait, her bright tawny
hair, and the soft, yellowish brown eyes with their curious-shifting
lights, and her firm, slim hands, and lithe, straight body. Anyway,
concluded the prim, angular Denes, with a touch of scorn in their dry
voices, it was not the Dene blood that had sent him when a mere lad
gypsying about green English lanes; and later, when the vast estate
came into his own hands, drove him irresistibly from its power and
responsibility into barbarous and unknown countries.
He sighed a little in the darkness now, as a memory of that fair,
far-away home of his boyhood came to him with a breath of the English
flowers abloom in his garden patch. But he laid his hand, palm
downward, upon the giant slab that roofed his hut, and at the touch a
curious sense of freedom and content seemed to thrill along his arm and
expand his heart.
“They manage well enough without me there,” he said to himself; and
a smile, which was not in the least cynical, curled the lip under his
long, brown mustache, as he thought of the upright and respectable Dene
who managed Dene Place, while its owner, the vagabond Jack, loafed away
his existence on the frontier of Texas.
He gathered his rifle into the hollow of his arm and stood up,
casting, as was his wont, a last look over the valley before going down
into his cabin. He uttered a sudden exclamation, startled by the
glimmer of a light over the crest of Quarry Mountain. It seemed to be
moving along the upper edge of the old quarry, now dipping out of
sight, now twinkling like a star against the dark blue of the sky, as
if the hand that held it were lifted high above the owner's head. Jack
frowned; he was almost as jealous of the old quarry as Uncle Dicky
himself. “Who can be prowling around there this time of night, I
wonder?” he muttered.
He followed the movements of the flickering torch until it vanished
suddenly in the neighborhood of the burned thicket. “Some of Crawls's
boys hunting wild-cat,” he decided, finally, as he turned to descend
the stone stairway.
It was not yet sunrise the next morning when he started across the
valley for his daily walk to the mountains. The pale disk of the
harvest-moon hung yet in the vaporous sky, with one slowly fading star
at its side. But a rosy light was shimmering along the edges of the
eastern horizon, and a brisk west wind was lifting the misty shadows
from the hollows. His own step was as elastic and springy as the brown
turf beneath his feet. A dispassionate observer watching him as he made
his way between the ragged cotton-rows, with the shaggy retriever at
his heels, might have conceded that the Denes did well to be angry.
This tall figure, supple and erect, which appeared to such advantage in
the simple frontier dress; this manly, handsome face, with its careless
air of independence and content—what credit would not these have
reflected upon the family in general had their owner but seen fit to
follow the traditions of the family!
He dipped a wooden bucket in the reed-fringed pool below the spring,
and carried it brimming to Roland his horse, stabled in a rude shed on
the farther side of the field, then strode whistling on his way. He
followed the little trail which he had himself made up the steep face
of the mountain. On the level top he paused and looked back. The valley
below was steeped in a soft grayish shadow, but the outlying prairie in
its yellow mantle was already agleam with the morning sun. Beyond
stretched a chain of pyramidal, flat-topped hills, cut at almost
regular intervals by clean gaps, through which glowed purple inner
distances. From the cabins dotted about the prairie thin spirals of
blue smoke were rising; and in the fields about them, white with
bursting cotton-bolls, he could see the figures of women and children
mooving to and fro. A few horse were hitched already to the saplings
around the store in the Gap, and a mover's wagon, with dingy cover, was
creeping slowly townward along the white road.
He gazed a moment at the familiar picture spread out beneath him,
and went leisurely on across the rock-strewn ridge. The wild thyme
crushed by his feet filled all the air with heart-some fragrance; the
thickets of prickly- pear were ablaze with the red and gold of ripening
fruit; the dwarf shine-oaks, loaded with clusters of dark, shining
acorns, were overlaid here and there with a fine, filmy net-work of
love-vine, which was radiant with dew-drops; a mockingbird sang in the
red-haw tree near the mouth of the new quarry; a squirrel, with bushy
tail curled over his back, ran slowly across an open space beyond,
defying the weaponless hunter. When he came around the point of burned
thicket so plainly visible from his own house-top he stopped abruptly;
the dog uttered a low growl, instantly hushed at an imperious gesture
from his master. A woman was sitting on the edge of the old quarry. Her
face was turned away from him, but the outlines of her form were young
and gracious in the close-fitting black gown she wore; her throat arose
full and white from the kerchief knotted loosely about it; her bare
head, crowned with a wavy coil of golden-bronze hair, was small and
shapely. Her hands were lying idly in her lap, and he saw, as he drew
nearer, that in one of them she held a short, thick, almost
grotesque-looking hammer. A little pile of stones lay in a heap by her
side. He continued to advance noiselessly while noting these details,
and he stood quite near her on the ledge of gray rock before she seemed
aware of his presence. When she turned her head with a faint, startled
cry, he was not surprised to find her beautiful and young. He had
expected, somehow, just this delicate, oval face, with its velvety,
magnolia-leaf pallor; these golden-brown eyes, with their
phosphorescent depths, the long curling lashes, the slender dark brows,
the scarlet lips, and round girlish chin. Speech failed him utterly for
the second during which they gazed into each other's eyes; she with her
first look of surprise changing visibly from frowning inquiry to a kind
of troubled delight; he with a strange, confused stopping and starting
of his pulses that thrilled him from head to foot.
“Pray, do not let me disturb you,” he stammered at length. “I—I
was only passing by.”
“Are you come from far?” was her unexpected response. Her voice was
singularly low and musical; the flavor of her speech was distinctly
foreign, though the words were pronounced correctly and with a kind of
He had taken off his hat, and he made a gesture with it towards his
cabin, whose flat roof gleamed whitely in the valley below. “There is
my home,” he said; then catching, as if by inspiration, her real
meaning, he added: “Yes. I come from England.”
“From England.” She repeated the words after him slowly; and another
question rose into her eyes and trembled perceptibly on her lips; but
she lowered her eyelids suddenly and remained silent.
“Are you searching for the jewel?” he asked, with a smile and a
significant glance at the hammer in her lap.
Her colorless face grew a shade paler; her fingers tightened their
grasp about the clumsy handle of the hammer. “Yes,” she replied,
gravely, after a momentary pause. But, springing to her feet, she shook
the fragments of stone and moss from her skirts, and went on, in a
lighter tone, “It is a foolish old legend; but I suppose everybody who
hears it comes up and tries to find the opal—and so I come too.”
She drew a black woollen scarf over her head as she spoke, and
gathered its folds under her chin; then, with a slight formal gesture
of adieu, she stepped into the path and went rapidly down the
mountain-side, bounding from ledge to ledge with the grace and
fleetness of a young fawn. When she had at last disappeared from his
sight, Dene walked deliberately to a rocky recess near by, and drew
from its hiding-place his own hammer. He looked at it curiously a
moment, turning it over and over in his hand; then, with a quick upward
jerk of his elbow, he sent it spinning into the air, and watched its
downward course as it leaped clanging from point to point, and dropped
heavily into a brier-grown ravine below. “I will never use it again,”
he said, with a whimsical laugh. “I have found the jewel of the old
quarry. Who can she be?” he went on. “Where did she come from? Not from
Logan Gap Pre-cink, surely. Ah! I will ask Uncle Dicky. Are you come
from far? Now, why should she have asked me that? Have I ever heard
before that the jewel of the old quarry is an opal?”
He threw himself at full length upon the ground, and took from the
pocket of his blue flannel overskirt a little volume of Border
Ballads. But the morning's adventure had gone to his head. With his
eyes fixed steadily upon the printed page, he caught himself repeating
mechanically, Are you come from far? Are you come from far?
He closed the book with a snap, and got up. “I think I'll go down to
the store and get my mail,” he declared, aloud.
The sunlight lay warm and quivering on the reaches of yellow flowers
and the clumps of purple thistle abloom on the wind-swept ridges of the
prairies. There was a twitter of nonpareils in among the feathery
branches of the scattering mesquite bushes; and at almost every turn of
the winding path a whir of wings sounded beneath his feet, and a covey
of young partridges arose with shrill cries, and dropped and
disappeared again under the warm shelter of the weeds. As he approached
the store a horseman came riding swiftly down the Gap from the west.
The silver ornaments of his bridle shone through the cloud of gray dust
which enveloped him. A second horse, without saddle or bridle, followed
a few paces behind him. He halted in front of the store, and was
courteously asking of Matthews, as Dene came up, directions to Ranger's
Spring, some two or three miles distant. The horse he bestrode was a
fine, powerfully built iron-gray, with black flowing mane and tail; the
other, which had stopped in the shadow of the mountain, and was
daintily cropping the short mesquite grass, was a small, beautifully
formed bay mare, whose skin had the gloss and smoothness of satin. A
genuine feeling of admiration stirred Dene at the sight of these two
handsome animals, and he glanced up at their owner with the ready
compliment of the frontiersman on his lips. But the greeting died in
his throat, and he involuntarily fell back a step or two. The new-comer
was a man long past middle-age—old in years, perhaps, though a look
of almost brutal strength pervaded his whole person. His wrinkled face,
half hidden by a bushy white beard which descended almost to his knees,
was brown as time-stained parchment; his dark, deeply sunken eyes
glowed like carbuncles beneath thick, bristly brows; his long, hooked
nose was thin, with narrow nostrils that closed curiously with each
indrawn breath. His legs, as he sat erect upon the tall horse, seemed
much too short for his thick square body, and his powerful-looking arms
much too long; his brown, vein-knotted hands were misshapen and large,
the finger-nails claw-like in their length and sharpness. Altogether he
was a sinister-looking personage, and Dene was sensible of something
like a feeling of relief when he replaced his wide-brimmed hat upon his
head and rode away. The mare threw up her pretty head in response to a
low whistle, and galloped lightly after him.
“What the d-l is he doin' roun' yer agin?” It was Uncle Dicky who
spoke. He was standing on the door-step, gazing after the stranger, his
wrinkled old face expressing as much dislike as its genial outlines
would permit. “He ain't a'ter no good, I'll lay. What the d-l does he
“A rope and a limb, I reckon,” said Dene, good-naturedly, quoting
one of Uncle Dicky's familiar sayings. “Who is he, anyhow, Uncle
“Hello, Jack! howdy? He's a durn Mexican—thet's what he is. He
useter call hisse'f Don Hosy. I d' know what he mought call hisse'f
now. I 'ain't seen him sence '67, en' thet's nigh twenty year ago, jis
a'ter I come home fum the wah. They wa'n't scarcely no white folks out
yer then. Me an' Jim Crump wuz campin' down yonder at Ranger's Spring,
an' this yer Don Hosy wuz layin' roun' yer a-doin' of the Lord knows
what. He hed a gal long o' him which he purtended wuz his own chile.
An' I don't no mo' b'leeve thet gal wuz Don Hosy's chile than I b'leeve
—” The speaker's eyes wandered vaguely around the group of listeners.
“No yer don't, Unk Dicky!”
“I ain't a-honin ter be a eggsample.”
“'Light on Joe Crump; he's been a-braggin'.”
Uncle Dicky grinned. “Waal,” he continued, “thet gal wuz here 'long
o' the Mexican one day, an' the nex' day she wa'n't nowher's to be
seen. An' ef I'd of had my way, Don Hosy'd of had a rope en' a lim'
then. Durn his yaller hide! what's he purtendin' he don't know whar
Ranger's Spring is for?”
“Mighty fine hosses he's got,” ventured one of the boys.
“An' I'd swear on a stack o' Bibles high ez this sto' thet he stole
'em,” retorted the old man, angrily.
Dene followed Matthews into the store, and asked if there were any
letters for him. Matthews went behind the counter, and took from under
it the candle-box that served as a post-office, and grabbled among the
miscellaneous contents. He handed out a package or two, a bundle of
newspapers, and a thick square envelope bearing a foreign post-mark.
“Hasn't that fishing-tackle of mine—” Dene began; he stopped
abruptly. Uncle Dicky had returned to his seat by the fireplace, and
Matthews was addressing him across the counter:
“Hez that furrin gal got her school, Unk Dicky?”
“Sech a fool time o' year ter git up a school,” put in Red Nabers,
from the doorway, “an' all the childern in the cotton-patch, an' the
Lord knows when the crap'll be in. 'Sides, who's knowin' ef the gal air
fitten to teach?”
“Shet yo' mouth, Red,” said Uncle Dicky, shortly. “She hev been
tried by the school boa'd in the town o' Comanche—”
“Eggsamined ye mean, Fink Dicky,” corrected Billy Pitt.
“She hev been tried by the school boa'd in the town o' Comanche,”
repeated the old man, ignoring the abashed young Billy, “an' Doc
Hamilton hev giv' her her papers, an' I don't keer if ever' blame chile
in the pre-cink air in the cotton-patch. I nuver seen my ole woman an'
Polly's gal childern tek sech a streak to anybody befo' in all my born
days, an' thar in my house thet gal air goin' to stay, school er no
school, long's we kin keep her.”
“She's kind o' furrin lak, ain't she?” asked Matthews, timidly.
“I d' knaw, an' I don't keer. She kin speak United States, an' she
kin keep Polly's gal childern out'n mis-cheef; an' I'll lay she air
caperbul o' teacher ary voter in this here doggon settlement, much less
“Co'se, Unk Dicky, co'se,” admitted Matthews. “Hello, Jack! ye
goin'? Ye mus' of come to git a chunk o' fire.”
Jack heard neither this nor the other friendly sarcasms which were
flung after him as he quitted the store. She had come to stay,
then. She felt evidently the same romantic interest in the legend of
the old quarry that had stirred himself from the moment he had set foot
in this remote little valley. She would be often there, no doubt; she
would—He pulled himself together, with a short laugh, and set
resolutely to work in his little field.
“I cannot get that girl out of my head, and I am not going to try,”
he murmured that night, in a half-aggrieved tone; “and, by Jove! I'll
take her some flowers to-morrow.”
He was walking impatiently up and down the narrow garden path in the
odorous dusk. The few hardy roses glimmered palely on the over-grown
bushes; they were almost scentless. But there was a pungent perfume
from the marigolds in the heart of the asparagus bed; by daylight these
were a blaze of vivid orange. A straggling array of blue and white
larkspur filled all one corner of the patch; a mass of brown
gold-dusted nasturtiums shone against the sombre wall of the cabin, and
the ragged mignonette clustered about the door-step was still in bloom.
“Yes,” he repeated, “to-morrow I will take her some flowers.”
He saw her the next morning long before he reached the foot of the
mountain. She was coming down the winding path; her shawled head was
bent upon her breast. He could see her slender form now clearly defined
against the blue sky, now moving between gray masses of rock. Once she
stopped and stooped; he felt sure that she was hiding her hammer in
some fern-hung cleft.
He waited for her by a lichen-covered bowlder jutting out from the
abrupt curve of the mountain. He thought that a faint look of pleasure
came into her eyes when she caught sight of him; and as she drew near
he greeted her silently, holding out the flowers, a great awkward dewy
posy. “I thank you, señor,” she said, simply, taking them, and looking
at him over them with wonderful shining eyes, golden brown as the
He had meant to tell her of the garden-patch about his cabin door,
and of the homely mother flowers he had planted there, but before he
could bring himself to speak she was gone.
The next day he was up betimes. A monotonous, windless rain was
falling, the sort of rain through which the bob-whites call, and which
seems to hush every other living thing on the prairie into silence. In
spite of it he went up to the quarry, telling himself persistently that
she could not possibly be there, yet wholly taken aback when he did not
find her there.
Twenty-four hours later the rain was over, and the October sun
warmer and more golden still on the clean-washed boulders. She was
there. He heard the little clicking sound of her hammer as he came up
the trail. She received his flowers as before, with a kind of gentle
gravity. And this time he found it easy enough to say: “They are all
English flowers. I planted them around my cabin yonder when I first
came. And you've no idea how they bloom. If the gardener—if some of
the people at home who grow flowers could see them, they would turn
green with envy.”
“Why did you come?” she demanded, abruptly.
Again he divined the undercurrent of her thought. “Oh,” he replied,
a trifle embarrassed, “I can hardly say. I had a restless sort of
feeling that seemed to drive me, and I drifted about the world until I
found myself here. The place suited me, and so I have stayed on. I
suppose I shall have to go back some day.”
“When you have found the opal?” Her tone was light, but a frown
contracted her smooth forehead as she spoke.
“Yes, when I have found the opal,” he said, flushing at a sudden
mental vision of his hammer flying out into space and dropping
“Do you know the tradition?” she asked. Her eyes were fixed on the
little rock hut in the valley.
“I know Uncle Dicky's version of it,” he replied, smiling.
“There is a beautiful and wonderful jewel—an opal—which may be
found here—” she began, in measured monotone.
“In a turtle-shaped stone. I know,” he interrupted, gayly.
“But it is not a jewel only,” she went on, unheeding; “it is a
talisman that brings to its possessor riches and power and—oh, I know
not what beside.” Surely a cold pallor was creeping over her lovely
face. “They are very rare, those jewels. And they say that only a man
or a woman of the slave people can find them.”
“Slave people!” he echoed, inquiringly.
“I forgot that you do not know,” she answered, turning her large
eyes upon him and smiling wistfully. “A long, oh, a very long time ago,
a people, a dark and terrible people, used to come here from—from
another country to seek for those jewels. But they had not the power
themselves to find them. And they brought with them the strange,
beautiful white people whom they had conquered and made to be their
slaves. And it was that of all the people in the whole world those
slaves only might find those jewels. So the masters sat and watched
with eyes like coals of fire while the white slaves digged and brought
up the little turtle-shaped stones from the quarry. And it was only
once in a great while that an opal was found in the little stones; and
then there was strife and bloodshed among the masters. And many slaves
died to find one opal. Oh yes, the masters were dark and terrible, but
the slaves were white and lovely. The men were tall and strong and
beautiful”—she lifted her eyes that said like you to his, and
then dropped them so that the long, silken lashes rested on her white
cheek—“and the women were lithe and graceful—”
“Like you,” he breathed involuntarily.
A faint flush passed over her face and died away along her full
throat. “They say,” she presently added, looking up suddenly, “that
some of those slave people still live in that far country and
elsewhere, and that if they came they might find the opal for their
“If they found it they would most likely keep it for themselves. I
should,” he declared, lightly.
“Oh, you would not dare!” she cried, her voice sharpened by some
inexplicable feeling; it sounded like terror. “But it is a foolish
tale,” she resumed, more naturally, rising and stepping down into the
He followed her hastily as she began the descent. She heard his
footsteps behind her and paused, looking back at him over her shoulder.
“Do you know,” he found himself saying before he knew it—“do you
know that I do not even know your name?”
“My name is Atla,” she replied, after a momentary hesitation. And
she sped rapidly on her way.
He returned to the quarry. Atla! It seemed to him as if he
ought to have known it without the telling, that soft-syllabled name—
the only name that could ever have been hers. He did not find it
strange that she should not have told him her surname. Let that be for
the outside world. He did not wish to know it. He would be glad for her
to have no other for him until she should be called Atla Dene! “And why
not?” he reasoned, as if in answer to the inevitable arguments of all
the Denes. “Why should she not be my wife? I have never looked at a
woman in all my life before. I will never look at any other after her.
I am my own master, and if I can win her, why—so much for the Denes!”
After that there were many meetings on the mountain-top in the hazy
dawn of the sweet Indian-summer mornings. Sometimes she did not come,
and then the day was a blank to him, though he busied himself as usual
about his field and cabin, and hunted with ardor betweenwhiles over the
browning prairies and up the leaf-strewn mountain ravines. He rarely
saw any of the Gap folks nowadays. He kept purposely away from the
store, where, had he but known it, his “keepin' comp'ny” with the new
school-teacher was a topic of friendly interest.
“I seen 'em a-settin' on the aidge o' the ole quayry,” Uncle Dicky
told the boys, “when I wuz boguein' roun' thar 'mongst the rocks. An' I
'lowed innardly ez how they mus' be gittin' ready to jine. Lord! it air
plumb natchl fer young folks ter jine. Yo' unk Dicky hev been thar.”
To this simple-minded people there was nothing strange or
unconventional in these early morning meetings on Quarry Mountain. Jack
Dene was “courtin',” that was all. And by-and-by there would come the
wedding, and an infair, perhaps, at Uncle Dicky's, at which all the
girls and boys about the Gap would dance. This love affair between the
man who was “hidin' out” and the soft-voiced “furrin” young teacher who
came down from the mountain of mornings to marshal her tow-headed flock
into the log schoolhouse, and the unexplained stay of Don José, who
rarely showed himself at the Gap, however, were the subjects mostly
discussed by the circle around Matthews's mesquite fire.
Dene, who had never seen Don Jose since the day of his arrival, had
long ago forgotten the evil-favored old Mexican.
One morning, when he seated himself as usual beside the young girl
on the edge of the quarry, he was conscious of some change in her
appearance. It puzzled him for a moment, and then he made it out to be
her dress. She wore white—she whom he had always seen robed in sombre
black. A curious sort of rapture possessed him as he looked at the
slight figure in its girlish gown of clinging wool. He bent towards
her, his lips almost touching her hair, and murmured ssome word
inarticulate even to himself. But he started back in dismay when she
raised her eyes to his. She had been weeping. Her cheeks, usually so
pale, were flushed, and her eyelids were swollen and heavy. He turned
away troubled and embarrassed, and began pulling nervously at a tuft of
thyme which grew in a fissure of the ledge beside him. The loose root
gave way suddenly, and a stone detached itself from the crevice and
dropped out. He caught it as it fell. A thrill of excitement stirred
him as he turned it over in his palm. Here was at last one of Uncle
Dicky's “turkles”—a small oval of dark, corrugated rock. He laid it
on the ledge and seized the hammer lying in Atla's lap. An exclamation
broke from her which he neither heard nor heeded. He struck a vigorous
blow, and the two halves of the sphere flew apart.
Was it a bit of glowing red-hot coal which fell from the pink,
almond-shaped cavity and lay throbbing and quivering upon the gray
ledge? Was it a great drop of shining, transparent dew with a heart of
greenish flame? Was it a living, leaping, azure-tipped blaze? A sheaf
of ardent, purple-shotted rays ? He uttered a cry of admiration as he
picked it up.
“See, Atla, the opal!”
But her face was buried in her hands. She was rocking herself to and
fro, and moaning in unmistakable anguish. He looked at her wonderingly;
then thrusting the gem into the breast-pocket of his shirt, he leaned
over and touched her gently on the arm. “What is it? What is it, Atla?”
“Oh,” she moaned, “I knew it from the first that you were one of us.
Do you not see,” she cried, facing him suddenly, “have you not
understood, that I am one of that race which possesses the power to
find the talismanic jewel? Do you not see that you, too, are of that
fated slave people? My mother died—here—on this vvery edge of this
accurse quarry”—she looked around shudderingly. “He brought
her here when she, too, was young, hardly older than I am now, to
search for the opal. She laid me in the arms of my old nurse when he
took her away, and she never came back. And it was that only I was left
who might find it for him. It was for this that he had me taught to
speak the tongue of the dear good people who live here. It was for this
that he brought masters to show me music and singing, and the way to
gather little children about my knee and teach them to read from
pictured books. It was that he might bring me here find set me to the
task without exciting suspicion. He brought me here— himself—
at night, and explained to me in his cold and terrible way how I must
search for the little round stones and break them with the hammer. He
comes nightly to see whether I have been truly at work. Last night he
called me with the strange, awful call. I heard him in the cabin, where
I sat with the children, and I came. Ah!” a long, quivering cry escaped
her, and she buried her face again in her hands. He had hardly heard
her frantic outburst of words. He had made no effort to understand her,
conscious only of an overwhelming desire to take her in his arms and
soothe her out of the superstitious delusion, whatever it might be,
into which she had fallen.
“There is a song of the opal,” she went on, lifting her head and
regarding him with wild eyes; “it was sad when my mother sang it, sad
as life and death even to my baby ears; it is weird and strange when my
nurse croons it yonder—yonder in the far land where she waits for me
in the shadows of the passion-vine; it is terrible when the master
chants it.” She broke abruptly into a kind of rude rhythmic strain, her
voice scarcely reaching farther than the half-heedless ears of her
“Fateful and wondrous art thou, O far-shining Opal, compeller of
stars in their courses; of red gold in the rock-hidden chambers; of
woman, yea, woman, white-bosomed, with long-lidded eyes that speak
“Alas, thou art sealed in the womb of the mountain! hidden in
roseate flint is the joy of thy shining. Who forth can compel thee? who
master thy secret?
“Nay, before me I drive the white slave-gang, tawny-haired, and
with cheeks that are pallid. Deep in the womb of the earth let them
burrow; they alone have the power to conjure thee!
“Leap from the matrix, my Beauty! The white slave from the depth
of the quarry hath fetched thee. Mine enemy, now in my hand lies
thy heart-beat. Red gold, thou art mine; and woman, yea, woman,
white-bosomed, with long-lidded eyes that speak passion!”
She paused. “There is yet a stanza,” she said, “but I—I—” She
faltered, and a rain of tears gushed from beneath her down-drooped
He was almost beside himself with love and compassion. He leaned
towards her, drawing her hands from her face, and compelling her eyes
to meet his. “Atla,” he whispered, “look at me. I love you—I love
As she drooped against his breast with a long-drawn, sobbing sigh,
the hammer lying on the moss-grown ledge dropped over into the pit,
slipped down between the weather-worn rocks, and rested out of sight in
the bottom of the quarry.
When the hour came for the gathering of her little flock, he
descended the mountain with her. It was the first time. It was the
beginning of their life-journey together, he told her, gayly, helping
her with all a lover's carefulness along the path she had so often
traversed alone. They stopped by the boulder where he had once watched
her coming down with the dew-wet posy in his hand.
“How I hate Polly Crawls's tow-headed brats!” he exclaimed,
playfully, when she turned at last to leave him.
“They are not tow-headed at all,” she remonstrated, seriously. “They
are dear little girls, and I love them—Jack.” How sweet and strange
the familiar name sounded on her lips!
“Do you? Well, then, I will come over to Uncle Dicky's this very
night to see them—and you,” he laughed. Then, as a sudden
recollection struck him, “A slave!” he cried—“a slave did you call
me, Atla?” He caught her hands in his and drew her towards him. “A
slave! Why, I am a king!”
He felt her long, firm fingers grow cold and tighten like manacles
upon his wrists as he spoke. Her eyes dilated, and a gray pallor swept
over her face. He followed the direction of her gaze. The old Mexican,
Don José, was coming slowly along the narrow pathway from around the
spur of the mountain. His shaggy head was bent; his bushy brows knit
together; his lips were moving silently; his long arms swung loosely at
his side. He looked impassively at the girl as he passed, and turned
his deeply set eyes for a second upon her companion. A flame leaped
into them like a sudden flash of lightning. A curious numbness crept
over John Dene, and a sensation which in all his life he had never felt
before—a sensation of abject, unreasoning, unreasonable terror—
possessed him. It was gone before he could define it, and Don José with
lowered eyelids went slowly on his way, and disappeared behind a
thick-set motte of live-oak.
“He knows!” gasped Atla, the ashen gray in her cheeks fading to a
“Knows what? Who?” Dene asked, bewildered. Then, a vague light
struggling into his brain, he exclaimed, “Is he—is Don José—”
“Don José is my master,” she whispered, hoarsely, glancing fearfully
over her shoulder. “Oh, he knows!” she sobbed, wildly. “Madre de
Dios, he knows!”
He clasped her to his breast, soothing her with caresses and
incoherent words. “But listen, Atla,” he insisted at length; “listen,
you absurd child. Are you really afraid of Don José? Is it because of
the opal? If you feel like this, why, let him have it. I—”
At this she clung only the more frantically to him. “Never! never!”
she almost shrieked. “Oh! promise me that you will hide it from him.
“I will promise anything you like, my darling,” he replied; “but
surely you know that in this country at least no one is a slave; that
you can leave Don José if he is your guardian—whatever he is—at any
moment you wish. I will take you away myself. Ah, when you are my wife
he will not dare to come near you.”
She lifted her face from his breast and gave him an eager, searching
look. “You will take me away?” she asked, breathlessly.
He gathered her more closely in his arms. “So far away, Atla, that
he can never find you again.”
“When?” she demanded, almost sharply.
“Now—this very moment,” he responded, laughingly, sweeping her a
step or two forward.
But she repeated her question yet more gravely: “When? Will it be
He looked at her, doubtful whether he had heard aright.
“Listen,” she continued, hurriedly, clasping her hands about his
arm: “if you will take me away, let it be to-night. I am afraid of him
—Mother of God, how I am afraid! To-night, Jack, if you will—let it
be to-night. I will wait for you around the mountain in the edge of the
Gap, by the big rock in the shadow. I will have Huayrie there. Oh, she
is mine, the beautiful creature! She will come to me if I but call her
ever so lightly. I know where he hides her when he comes at night to
the Gap, and waits beyond the west ridge for the midnight, to creep up
to the flurry. I will wait for you with Huayrie, and when it is night—
as soon as it is well night—you will come for me, and you will take
He covered her feverish lips with kisses. Would he come? Oh, love
and life! All the blood in his heart leaped and throbbed at the
“Do you understand, Atla?” he said at last. “By this time to-morrow
you will be my wife, and we will be setting our faces towards England.”
“You will come?” she repeated, a tender color dawning upon her
“Yes, I will come.”
“But you will not go to your cabin, Jack! You must not go to your
cabin. Promise me that too!” She exclaimed, as if struck by some new
and terrifying thought.
He smiled indulgently. His mind was already busied with plans for
their flight, and he murmured some sort of assent, with his lips upon
hers. And then she left him. He watched her out of sight. At the last
turn of the path she paused and smiled back at him, waving a light
adieu with her slender hand.
He turned mechanically in the direction of his cabin, but halted
perplexed, smiling at the recollection of the half-promise he had
given. “But I will keep it,” he said to himself, tenderly—“the first
promise made to my sweetheart. Oh yes, I will keep it. I can send a
line to Uncle Dicky from town; that will do just as well.” And he
struck once more into the trail and went up the mountain.
Towards nightfall he came out upon the point overlooking the valley.
The world below was suffused with the serene radiance of sunset. Miles
away the straggling little town shone like an enchanted city, its
spires tipped with gold, its windows gleaming like many-colored jewels.
A young moon hung tenderly luminous in the western sky; above it a bank
of fleecy cloud was gathering; a flock of wild-geese shaped their
arrowy flight southward with sharp cries across the slowly coming
“There's a norther behind that flock of geese, and plenty of Uncle
Dicky's rain-seed in that bank of cloud,” commented the lonely watcher.
Lights appeared at the store and twinkled here and there in the
scattered cabins. It was night in the valley. His heart gave a great
bound. He cast one last long look around, and began the descent.
When he reached the foot of the mountain he made his way quietly to
the shed where Roland was stabled. He threw the high-pommelled saddle
on the horse's back, and buckled the girth rapidly and deftly. She was
there by this time waiting for him. He put a foot in the stirrup, and
laid his hand on Roland's arched neck. All at once there flashed across
his mind a thought of his mother's picture, lying in its tiny oval case
on his mantel. Could he leave behind him that dear shadow of a face
which in all his life had never worn a frown for him? After all it was
not really a promise. She was half crazed by some superstitious fear,
poor child. He smiled, and touched the hilt of his knife, and felt the
handle of the pistol in his bolt. He walked rapidly across the field,
hard beset not to shout aloud the exultation that possessed him. In the
lithe garden-patch he paused a moment. The sweet familiar perfume of
the night-hidden flowers moved him strangely. He stooped and plucked a
lavender leaf in the darkness. Its dewy fragrance brought before him a
swift vision of his waiting bride. He thrust it in his bosom and went
into the cabin. The dog, lying across the threshold, leaped up against
him, barking joyously. He found the miniature without striking a light,
and came out, shutting the heavy door behind him. As he stepped again
into the garden-path a misshapen form rose up from behind the tangled
morning-glory and cypress vines. The dog sprang forward with a growl,
which changed into a frightened whine. There was no other outcry,
scarcely a struggle; a long keen blade flashed in the starlight, once,
twice, thrice; and borne backward by powerful, sinewy arms, John Dene
sank heavily to the ground, crushing the late-blooming roses and the
mignonette in his fall. Don José drew the knife out of his victim's
breast with some difficulty, kneeling upon the body. Then, with
unerring instinct, he plunged his hand in the breast-pocket of the
hunting-shirt, and drew forth the opal. It flashed like a meteor in the
darkness as he opened his palm for a second to gloat upon it. Stooping
still lower then, he fumbled about the wound whence gushed a
palpitating stream of blood. Once, twice, thrice he buried his clinched
hand in the warm red rivulet, letting it trickle slowly through his
A kind of exultant sigh escaped his lips as he stood erect. Then he
glided stealthily across the uneven field to the shed where Roland
stood awaiting his master.
The upturned face of the master grew whiter and whiter; his limbs
stiffened; a warm reeking odor of blood mingled with the breath of the
English flowers. The dog watching beside him shivered and moaned like a
Around the spur of the mountain Atla was waiting; she held the
jewelled bridle in her hand, standing close beside Huayrie. Now and
again she laid her soft cheek against the satin shoulder of her
playmate, and caressed her with Syllables of an unknown and musical
language. She laughed joyously when the mare responded with a
half-breathed whinny of delight. “Oh, my Huayrie,” she whispered, “he
She had forgotten all her fears. Down at the Crawlses' cabin awhile
ago, as she stepped towards the open door, old Granny Crawls, sitting
in the chimney-corner, had said, “Lord, chile, ye air thet peart and
rosy thet it air a plumb pleasure to look at ye!”
“Oh, my Huayrie,” she breathed once more, “he is coming!”
The sound of a horse's feet treading softly as only Roland could
tread, trained to a hunter's need, was on the still air. Nearer it came
and nearer; swifter too, and in that she read her lover's impatience. A
second more and the horse and his rider had turned the shadow of the
rock and had paused. A long arm, down-stretched, caught her lithe,
light form in its grip of steel, and sung her to the saddle. A terrible
voice hissed in her ear a single sentence in a strange, uncouth tongue.
Her head drooped forward on her breast. Don José seized the mare's
bridle-rein, and a moment later the clatter of horses' hoofs flying
westward came echoing down the Gap on the first long shuddering wail of
the coming norther.
Now this was that strain of the Song of the Opal which Atla wist not
how to sing to her lover that morning on the crest of Quarry Mountain:
“Yea, thou art loosed from the womb of thy mother, rejoicing and
lovely and prowl, but not yet, not yet hast thou put on thy strength as
a garment. Far shining but impotent art thou till thou comest from the
“Thrice in the blood of thy Finder—his heart's blood—thrice
must I bathe thee, my Opal, my Mistress, compeller of stars in their
courses; of red gold in rock-hidden chambers; of woman, yea, woman,
white-bosomed, with long-lidded eyes that speak passion!
“Drink deep of the blood of the White Slave, my Beauty; drink
deep, and so clothe thee with power as a garment!”
AT LA GLORIEUSE
MADAME RAYMONDE-ARNAULT leaned her head against the back of her
garden-chair, and watched the young people furtively from beneath her
half-closed eyelids. “He is about to speak,” she murmured under her
breath; “she, at least, will be happy!” and her heart fluttered
violently, as if it had been her own thin, bloodless hand which Richard
Keith was holding in his; her dark, sunken eyes, instead of Félice's
brown ones, which drooped beneath his tender gaze.
Marcelite, the old bonneÉ, who stood erect and stately behind
her mistress, permitted herself also to regard them for a moment with
something like a smile relaxing her sombre, yellow face; then she too
turned her turbaned head discreetly in another direction.
The plantation house at La Glorieuse is built in a shining loop of
Bayou L'Eperon. A level grassy lawn, shaded by enormous live-oaks,
stretches across from the broad stone steps to the sodded levee, where
a flotilla of small boats, drawn up among the flags and lily-pads, rise
and fall with the lapping waves. On the left of the house the white
cabins of the quarter show their low roofs above the shrubbery; to the
right the plantations of cane, following the inward curve of the bayou,
sweep southward field after field, their billowy, blue-green reaches
blending far in the rear with the indistinct purple haze of the swamp.
The great square house, raised high on massive stone pillars, dates
back to the first quarter of the century; its sloping roof is set with
rows of dormer-windows, the big red double chimneys rising oddly from
their midst; wide galleries with fluted columns enclose it on three
sides; from the fourth is projected a long, narrow wing, two stories in
height, which stands somewhat apart from the main building, but is
connected with it by a roofed and latticed passageway. The lower rooms
of this wing open upon small porticos, with balustrades of wrought
iron-work rarely fanciful and delicate. From these you may step into
the rose-garden—a tangled pleasance which rambles away through alleys
of wild-peach and magnolia to an orange-grove, whose trees are gnarled
and knotted with the growth of half a century.
The early shadows were cool and dewy there that morning; the breath
of damask-roses was sweet on the air; brown, gold-dusted butterflies
were hovering over the sweet-peas abloom in sunny corners; birds shot
up now and then from the leafy aisles, singing, into the clear blue sky
above; the chorus of the negroes at work among the young cane floated
in, mellow and resonant, from the fields. The old mistress of La
Glorieuse saw it all behind her drooped eyelids. Was it not April, too,
that long-gone, unforgotten morning? And were not the bees busy in the
hearts of the roses, and the birds singing, when Richard Keith, the
first of the name who came to La Glorieuse, held her hand in his, and
whispered his love-story yonder by the ragged thicket of crepe-myrtle?
Ah, Félice, my child, thou art young, but I too have had my sixteen
years; and yellow as are the curls on the head bent over shine, those
of the first Richard were more golden still. And the second Richard, he
Marcelite's hand fell heavily on her mistress's shoulder. Madame
Arnault opened her eyes and sat up, grasping the arms of her chair. A
harsh, grating sound had fallen suddenly into the stillness, and the
shutters of one of the upper windows of the wing which overlooked the
garden were swinging slowly outward. A ripple of laughter, musical and
mocking, rang clearly on the air; at the same moment a woman appeared,
framed like a portrait in the narrow casement. She crossed her arms on
the iron window-bar and gazed silently down on the startled group
below. She was strangely beautiful and young, though an air of soft and
subtle maturity pervaded her graceful figure. A glory of yellow hair
encircled her pale, oval face, and waved away in fluffy masses to her
waist; her full lips were scarlet; her eyes, beneath their straight,
dark brows, were gray, with emerald shadows in their luminous depths.
Her low-cut gown, of some thin, yellowish-white material, exposed her
exquisitely rounded throat and perfect neck; long, flowing sleeves of
spidery lace fell away from her shapely arms, leaving them bare to the
shoulder; loose strings of pearls were wound around her small wrists,
and about her throat was clasped a strand of blood-red coral, from
which hung to the hollow of her bosom a single translucent drop of
amber. A smile at once daring and derisive parted her lips; an elusive
light came and went in her eyes.
Keith had started impatiently from his seat at the unwelcome
interruption. He stood regarding the intruder with mute, half-frowning
Félice turned a bewildered face to her grandmother. “Who is it,
Mère?” she whispered. “Did—did you give her leave?”
Madame Arnault had sunk back in her chair. Her hands trembled
convulsively still, and the lace on her bosom rose and fell with the
hurried beating of her heart. But she spoke in her ordinary measured,
almost formal tones, as she put out a hand and drew the girl to her
side. “I do not know, my child. Perhaps Suzette Beauvais has come over
with her guests from Grandchamp. I thought I heard but now the sound of
boats on the bayou. Suzette is ever ready with her pranks. Or perhaps
She stopped abruptly. The stranger was drawing the batten blinds
together. Her ivory-white arms gleamed in the sun. For a moment they
could see her face shining like a star against the dusky glooms within;
then the bolt was shot sharply to its place.
Old Marcelite drew a long breath of relief as she disappeared. A
smothered ejaculation had escaped her lips, under the girl's intent
gaze; an ashen gray had overspread her dark face. “Mam'selle Suzette,
she been an' dress up one o' her young ladies jes fer er trick,” she
said, slowly, wiping the great drops of perspiration from her wrinkled
“Suzette?” echoed Félice, incredulously. “She would never dare! Who
can it be?”
“It is easy enough to find out,” laughed Keith. “Let us go and see
for ourselves who is masquerading in my quarters.”
He drew her with him as he spoke along the winding violet-bordered
walks which led to the house. She looked anxiously back over her
shoulder at her grandmother. Madame Arnault half arose, and made an
imperious gesture of dissent; but Marcelite forced her gently into her
seat, and, leaning forward, whispered a few words rapidly in her ear.
“Thou art right, Marcelite,” she acquiesced, with a heavy sigh.
“'Tis better so.”
They spoke in nègre, that mysterious patois which is so
uncouth in itself, so soft and caressing on the lips of women. Madame
Arnault signed to the girl to go on. She shivered a little, watching
their retreating figures. The old bonne threw a light shawl
about her shoulders, and crouched affectionately at her feet. The
murmur of their voices as they talked long and earnestly together
hardly reached beyond the shadows of the wild-peach tree beneath which
“How beautiful she was!” Félice said, musingly, as they approached
the latticed passageway.
“Well, yes,” her companion returned, carelessly. “I confess I do not
greatly fancy that style of beauty myself.” And he glanced
significantly down at her own flower-like face.
She flushed, and her brown eves drooped, but a bright little smile
played about her sensitive mouth. “I cannot see,” she declared, “how
Suzette could have dared to take her friends into the ball-room!”
“Why?” he asked, smiling at her vehemence.
She stopped short in her surprise. “Do you not know, then?” She sank
her voice to a whisper. “The ball-room has never been opened since the
night my mother died. I was but a baby then, though sometimes I imagine
that I remember it all. There was a grand ball there that night. La
Glorieuse was full of guests, and everybody from all the plantations
around was here. Mère has never told me how it was, nor Marcelite; but
the other servants used to talk to me about my beautiful young mother,
and tell me how she died suddenly in her ball dress, while the ball was
going on. My father had the whole wing closed at once, and no one was
ever allowed to enter it. I used to be afraid to play in its shadow,
and if I did stray anywhere near it, my father would always call me
away. Her death must have broken his heart. He rarely spoke; I never
saw him smile; and his eyes were so sad that I could weep now at
remembering them. Then he too died while I was still a little girl, and
now I have no one in the world but dear old Mère.” Her voice trembled a
little, but she flushed, and smiled again beneath his meaning look. “It
was many years before even the lower floor was reopened, and I am
almost sure that yours is the only room there which has ever been
They stepped, as she concluded, into the hall.
“I have never been in here before,” she said, looking about her with
shy curiosity. A flood of sunlight poured through the wide arched
window at the foot of the stair. The door of the room nearest the
entrance stood open; the others, ranging along the narrow hall, were
“This is my room,” he said, nodding towards the open door.
She turned her head quickly away, with an impulse of girlish
modesty, and ran lightly up the stair. He glanced downward as he
followed, and paused, surprised to see the flutter of white garments in
a shaded corner of his room. Looking more closely, he saw that it was a
glimmer of light from an open window on the dark, polished floor.
The upper hall was filled with sombre shadows; the motionless air
was heavy with a musky, choking odor. In the dimness a few tattered
hangings were visible on the walls; a rope, with bits of crumbling
evergreen clinging to it, trailed from above one of the low windows.
The panelled double door of the ball-room was shut; no sound came from
“The girls have seen us coming,” said Félice, picking her way
daintily across the dust-covered floor, “and they have hidden
Keith pushed open the heavy valves, which creaked noisily on their
rusty hinges. The gloom within was murkier still; the chill dampness,
with its smell of mildew and mould, was like that of a funeral vault.
The large, low-ceilinged room ran the entire length of the house. A
raised dais, whose faded carpet had half rotted away, occupied an
alcove at one end; upon it four or five wooden stools were placed; one
of these was overturned; on another a violin in its baggy green-baize
cover was lying. Straight high-backed chairs were pushed against the
walls on either side; in front of an open fireplace with a low wooden
mantel two small cushioned divans were drawn up, with a claw-footed
table between them. A silver salver filled with tall glasses was set
carelessly on one edge of the table; a half-open fan of sandalwood lay
beside it; a man's glove had fallen on the hearth just within the
tarnished brass fender. Cobwebs depended from the ceiling, and hung in
loose threads from the mantel; dust was upon everything, thick and
motionless; a single ghostly ray of light that filtered in through a
crevice in one of the shutters was weighted with gray, lustreless
motes. The room was empty and silent. The visitors, who had come so
stealthily, had as stealthily departed, leaving no trace behind them.
“They have played us a pretty trick,” said Keith, gayly. “They must
have fled as soon as they saw us start towards the house.” He went over
to the window from which the girl had looked down into the rose garden,
and gave it a shake. The dust flew up in a suffocating cloud, and the
spiked nails which secured the upper sash rattled in their places.
“That is like Suzette Beauvais,” Félice replied, absently. She was
not thinking of Suzette. She had forgotten even the stranger, whose
disdainful eyes, fixed upon herself, had moved her sweet nature to
something like a rebellious anger. Her thoughts were on the beautiful
young mother of alien race, whose name, for some reason, she was
forbidden to speak. She saw her glide, gracious and smiling, along the
smooth floor; she heard her voice above the call and response of the
violins; she breathed the perfume of her laces, backward blown by the
swift motion of the dance!
She strayed dreamily about, touching with an almost reverent finger
first one worm-eaten object and then another, as if by so doing she
could make the imagined scene more real. Her eyes were downcast; the
blood beneath her rich dark skin came and went in brilliant flushes on
her cheeks; the bronze hair, piled in heavy coils on her small,
well-poised head, fell in loose rings on her low forehead and against
her white neck; her soft gray gown, following the harmonious lines of
her slender figure, seemed to envelop her like a twilight cloud.
“She is adorable,” said Richard Keith to himself.
It was the first time that he had been really alone with her, though
this was the third week of his stay in the hospitable old mansion where
his father and his grandfather before him had been welcome guests. Now
that he came to think of it, in that bundle of yellow, time-worn
letters from Félix Arnault to Richard Keith, which he had found among
his father's papers, was one which described at length a ball in this
very ballroom. Was it in celebration of his marriage, or of his
home-coming after a tour abroad? Richard could not remember. But he
idly recalled portions of other letters, as he stood with his elbow on
the mantel watching Félix Arnault's daughter.
“Your son and my daughter,” the phrase which had made him
smile when he read it yonder in his Maryland home, brought now a warm
glow to his heart. The half-spoken avowal, the question that had
trembled on his lips a few moments ago in the rose-garden, stirred
impetuously within him.
Félice stepped down from the dais where she had been standing, and
came swiftly across the room, as if his unspoken thought had called her
to him. A tender rapture possessed him to see her thus drawing towards
him; he longed to stretch out his arms and fold her to his breast. He
moved, and his hand came in contact with a small object on the mantel.
He picked it up. It was a ring, a band of dull, worn gold, with a
confused tracery graven upon it. He merely glanced at it, slipping it
mechanically on his finger. His eyes were full upon hers, which were
suffused and shining.
“Did you speak?” she asked, timidly. She had stopped abruptly, and
was looking at him with a hesitating, half-bewildered expression.
“No,” he replied. His mood had changed. He walked again to the
window and examined the clumsy bolt. “Strange!” he muttered. “I have
never seen a face like hers,” he sighed, dreamily.
“She was very beautiful,” Félice returned, quietly. “I think we must
be going,” she added. “Mère will be growing impatient.” The flush had
died out of her cheek, her arms hung listlessly at her side. She
shuddered as she gave a last look around the desolate room. “They were
dancing here when my mother died,” she said to herself.
He preceded her slowly down the stair. The remembrance of the woman
began vaguely to stir his senses. He had hardly remarked her then,
absorbed as he had been in another idea. Now she seemed to swim
voluptuously before his vision; her tantalizing laugh rang in his ears;
her pale, perfumed hair was blown across his face; he felt its filmy
strands upon his lips and eyelids. “Do you think,” he asked, turning
eagerly on the bottom step, “that they could have gone into any of
She shrank unaccountably from him.
“Oh no!” she cried. “They are in the rose-garden with Mère, or they
have gone around to the lawn. Come;” and she hurried out before him.
Madame Arnault looked at them sharply as they came up to where she
was sitting. “No one!” she echoed, in response to Keith's report. “Then
they really have gone back?”
“Madame knows dat we has hear de boats pass up de bayou whilse
m'sieu' an' mam'selle was inside,” interposed Marcelite, stooping to
pick up her mistress's cane.
“I would not have thought Suzette so—so indiscreet,” said Félice.
There was a note of weariness in her voice.
Madame Arnault looked anxiously at her and then at Keith. The young
man was staring abstractedly at the window, striving to recall the
vision that had appeared there, and he felt, rather than saw, his
hostess start and change color when her eyes fell upon the ring he was
wearing. He lifted his hand covertly, and turned the trinket around in
the light, but he tried in vain to decipher the irregular characters
traced upon it.
“Let us go in,” said the old madame. “Félice, my child, thou art
Now when in all her life before was Félice ever fatigued? Félice,
whose strong young arms could send a pirogue flying up the bayou for
miles; Félice, who was ever ready for a tramp along the rose-hedged
lanes to the swamp lakes when the water-lilies were in bloom; to the
sugar-house in grinding-time; down the levee road to St. Joseph's, the
little brown ivy-grown church, whose solitary spire arose slim and
straight above the encircling trees.
Marcelite gave an arm to her mistress, though, in truth, she seemed
to walk a little unsteadily herself. Félice followed with Keith, who
was silent and self-absorbed.
The day passed slowly, a constraint had somehow fallen upon the
little household. Madame Arnault's fine high-bred old face wore its
customary look of calm repose, but her eyes now and then sought her
guest with an expression which he could not have fathomed if he had
observed it. But he saw nothing. A mocking red mouth; a throat made for
the kisses of love; white arms strung with pearls—these were ever
before him, shutting away even the pure sweet face of Félice Arnault.
“Why did I not look at her more closely when I had the opportunity,
fool that I was?” he asked himself, savagely, again and again,
revolving in his mind a dozen pretexts for going at once to the
Beauvais plantation, a mile or so up the bayou. But he felt an
inexplicable shyness at the thought of putting any of these plans into
action, and so allowed the day to drift by. He arose gladly when the
hour for retiring came—that hour which he had hitherto postponed by
every means in his power. He kissed, as usual, the hand of his hostess,
and held that of Félice in his for a moment; but he did not feel its
trembling, or see the timid trouble in her soft eyes.
His room in the silent and deserted wing was full of fantastic
shadows. He threw himself on a chair beside a window without lighting
his lamp. The rose-garden outside was steeped in moonlight; the
magnolia bells gleamed waxen-white against their glossy green leaves;
the vines on the tall trellises threw a soft net-work of dancing
shadows on the white-shelled walks below; the night air stealing about
was loaded with the perfume of roses and sweet-olive; a mockingbird
sang in an orange-tree, his mate responding sleepily from her nest in
the old summerhouse.
“To-morrow,” he murmured, half aloud, “I will go to Grandchamp and
give her the ring she left in the old ball-room.”
He looked at it glowing dully in the moonlight; suddenly he lifted
his head, listening. Did a door grind somewhere near on its hinges? He
got up cautiously and looked out. It was not fancy. She was standing
full in view on the small balcony of the room next his own. Her white
robes waved to and fro in the breeze; the pearls on her arms glistened.
Her face, framed in the pale gold of her hair, was turned towards him;
a smile curved her lips; her mysterious eyes seemed to be searching his
through the shadow. He drew back, confused and trembling, and when, a
second later, he looked again, she was gone.
He sat far into the night, his brain whirling, his blood on fire.
Who was she, and what was the mystery hidden in this isolated old
plantation house? His thoughts reverted to the scene in the
rose-garden, and he went over and over all its details. He remembered
Madame Arnault's agitation when the window opened and the girl
appeared; her evident discomfiture—of which at the time he had taken
no heed, but which came back to him vividly enough now—at his
proposal to visit the ball-room; her startled recognition of the ring
on his finger; her slurring suggestion of visitors from Grandchamp; the
look of terror on Marcelite's face. What did it all mean? Félice, he
was sure, knew nothing. But here, in an unused portion of the house,
which even the members of the family had never visited, a young and
beautiful girl was shut up a prisoner, condemned perhaps to a life-long
“Good God!” He leaped to his feet at the thought. He would go and
thunder at Madame Arnault's door, and demand an explanation. But no;
not yet. He calmed himself with an effort. By too great haste he might
injure her. “Insane?” He laughed aloud at the idea of madness in
connection with that exquisite creature.
It dawned upon him, as he paced restlessly back and forth, that
although his father had been here more than once in his youth and
manhood, he had never heard him speak of La Glorieuse nor of Félix
Arnault, whose letters he had read after his father's death a few
months ago—those old letters whose affectionate warmth, indeed, had
determined him, in the first desolation of his loss, to seek the family
which seemed to have been so bound to his own. Morose and taciturn as
his father had been, surely he would sometimes have spoken of his old
friend if—Worn out at last with conjecture; beaten back, bruised and
breathless, from an enigma which he could not solve; exhausted by
listening with strained attention for some movement in the next room,
he threw himself on his bed, dressed as he was, and fell into a heavy
sleep, which lasted far into the forenoon of the next day.
When he came out (walking like one in a dream), he found a gay party
assembled on the lawn in front of the house. Suzette Beauvais and her
guests, a bevy of girls, had come from Grandchamp. They had been
joined, as they rowed down the bayou, by the young people from the
plantation houses on the way. Half a dozen boats, their long paddles
laid across the seats, were added to the home fleet at the landing.
Their stalwart black rowers were basking in the sun on the levee, or
lounging about the quarter. At the moment of his appearance, Suzette
herself was indignantly disclaiming any complicity in the jest of the
“Myself, I was making o'ange- flower conserve,” she declared; “an'
anyhow I wouldn't go in that ball-room unless madame send me.”
“But who was it, then?” insisted Felice.
Mademoiselle Beauvais spread out her fat little hands and lifted her
shoulders. “Mo pas connais,” she laughed, dropping into patois.
Madame Arnault here interposed. It was but the foolish conceit of
some teasing neighbor, she said, and not worth further discussion.
Keith's blood boiled in his veins at this calm dismissal of the
subject, but he gave no sign. He saw her glance warily at himself from
time to time.
“I will sift the matter to the bottom,” he thought, “and I will
force her to confess the truth, whatever it may be, before the world.”
The noisy chatter and meaningless laughter around him jarred upon
his nerves; he longed to be alone with his thoughts; and presently,
pleading a headache—indeed his temples throbbed almost to bursting,
and his eyes were hot and dry—he quitted the lawn, seeing but not
noting until long afterwards, when they smote his memory like a
two-edged knife, the pain in Félice's uplifted eyes, and the little
sorrowful quiver of her mouth. He strolled around the corner of the
house to his apartment. The blinds of the arched window were drawn, and
a hazy twilight was diffused about the hall, though it was
mid-afternoon outside. As he entered, closing the door behind him, the
woman at that moment uppermost in his thoughts came down the dusky
silence from the farther end of the hall. She turned her inscrutable
eyes upon him in passing, and flitted noiselessly and with languid
grace up the stairway, the faint swish of her gown vanishing with her.
He hesitated a moment, overpowered by conflicting emotions; then he
sprang recklessly after her.
He pushed open the ball-room door, reaching his arms out blindly
before him. Once more the great dust-covered room was empty. He
strained his eye helplessly into the obscurity. A chill reaction passed
over him; he felt himself on the verge of a swoon. He did not this time
even try to discover the secret door or exit by which she had
disappeared; he looked, with a hopeless sense of discouragement, at the
barred windows, and turned to leave the room. As he did so, he saw a
handkerchief lying on the threshold of the door. He picked it up
eagerly, and pressed it to his lips. A peculiar delicate perfume which
thrilled his senses lurked in its gossamer folds. As he was about
thrusting it into his breast-pocket, he noticed in one corner a small
blood-stain fresh and wet. He had then bitten his lip in his
“I need no further proof,” he said aloud, and his own voice startled
him, echoing down the long hall. “She is beyond all question a prisoner
in this detached building, which has mysterious exits and entrances.
She has been forced to promise that she will not go outside of its
walls, or she is afraid to do so. I will bring home this monstrous
crime. I will release this lovely young woman who dares not speak, yet
so plainly appeals to me.” Already he saw in fancy her star-like eyes
raised to his in mute gratitude, her white hand laid confidingly on his
The party of visitors remained at La Glorieuse overnight. The negro
fiddlers came in, and there was dancing in the old-fashioned double
parlors and on the moonlit galleries. Félice was unnaturally gay. Keith
looked on gloomily, taking no part in the amusement.
“Il est bien bête, your yellow-haired Marylander,” whispered
Suzette Beauvais to her friend.
He went early his room, but he watched in vain for
some sign from his beautiful neighbor. He grew sick with apprehension.
Had Madame Arnault—But no; she would not dare. “I will wait one more
day,” he finally decided; “and then—”
The next morning, after a late breakfast, some one proposed
impromptu charades and tableaux. Madame Arnault good-naturedly sent for
the keys to the tall presses built into the walls, which contained the
accumulated trash and treasure of several generations. Mounted on a
step-ladder, Robert Beauvais explored the recesses and threw down to
the laughing crowd embroidered shawls and scarfs yellow with age, soft
muslins of antique pattern, stiff big-flowered brocades, scraps of
gauze ribbon, gossamer laces. On one topmost shelf he came upon a small
wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Félice reached up for it, and,
moved by some undefined impulse, Richard came and stood by her side
while she opened it. A perfume which he recognized arose from it as she
lifted a fold of tissue-paper. Some strings of Oriental pearls of
extraordinary size, and perfect in shape and color, were coiled
underneath, with a coral necklace, whose pendant of amber had broken
off and rolled into a corner. With them—he hardly restrained an
exclamation, and his hand involuntarily sought his breast-pocket at
sight of the handkerchief with a drop of fresh blood in one corner!
Félice trembled without knowing why. Madame Arnault, who had just
entered the room, took the box from her quietly, and closed the lid
with a snap. The girl, accustomed to implicit obedience, asked no
questions; the others, engaged in turning over the old-time finery, had
paid no attention.
“Does she think to disarm me by such puerile tricks?” he thought,
turning a look of angry warning on the old madame; and in the steady
gaze which she fixed on him he read a haughty defiance.
He forced himself to enter into the sports of the day, and he walked
down to the boat-landing a little before sunset to see the guests
depart. As the line of boats swept away, the black rowers dipping their
oars lightly in the placid waves, he turned, with a sense of release,
leaving Madame Arnault and Félice still at the landing, and went down
the levee road towards St. Joseph's. The field gang, whose red, blue,
and brown blouses splotched the squares of cane with color, was
preparing to quit work; loud laughter and noisy jests rang out on the
air; high-wheeled plantation wagons creaked along the lanes; negro
children, with dip-nets and fishing-poles over their shoulders, ran
homeward along the levee, the dogs at their heels barking joyously; a
schooner, with white sail outspread, was stealing like a fairy bark
around a distant bend of the bayou; the silvery waters were turning to
gold under a sunset sky.
It was twilight when he struck across the plantation, and came
around by the edge of the swamp to the clump of trees in a corner of
the home field which he had often remarked from his window. As he
approached, he saw a woman come out of the dense shadow, as if
intending to meet him, and then draw back again. His heart throbbed
painfully, but he walked steadily forward. It was only Félice. Only
Félice! She was sitting on a flat tombstone. The little spot was
the Raymonde-Arnault family burying-ground. There were many marble
head-stones and shafts, and two broad low tombs side by side and a
little apart from the others. A tangle of rose-briars covered the
sunken graves, a rank growth of grass choked the narrow paths, the
little gate, interlaced and overhung with honeysuckle, sagged away from
its posts; the fence itself had lost a picket here and there, and weeds
flaunted boldly in the gaps. The girl looked wan and ghostly in the
“This is my father's grave, and my mother is here,” she said,
abruptly, as he came up and stood beside her. Her head was drooped upon
her breast, and he saw that she had been weeping. “See,” she went on,
drawing her finger along the mildewed lettering: ” 'Félix
Marie-Joseph Arnault . . . âgé de trente-quatre ans.' . . . 'Hélène
Pallacier, épouse de Félix Arnault. . . décédée a l'âge de dix-neuf
ans.' Nineteen years old,” she repeated, slowly. “My mother was one
year younger than I am when she died—my beautiful mother!”
Her voice sounded like a far-away murmur in his ears. He looked at
her, vaguely conscious that she was suffering. But he did not speak,
and after a little she got up and went away. Her dress, which brushed
in passing, was wet with dew. He watched her slight figure, moving like
a spirit along the lane, until a turn in the hedge hid her from sight.
Then he turned again towards the swamp, and resumed his restless walk.
Some hours later he crossed the rose-garden. The moon was under a
cloud; the trunks of the crepe-myrtles were like pale spectres in the
uncertain light. The night wind blew in chill and moist from the swamp.
The house was dark and quiet, but he heard the blind of an upper window
turned stealthily as he stepped into the latticed arcade.
“The old madame is watching me—and her,” he said to himself.
His agitation had now become supreme. The faint familiar perfume
that stole about his room filled him with a kind of frenzy. Was this
the chivalric devotion of which he had so boasted? this the desire to
protect a young and defenceless woman? He no longer dared question
himself. He seemed to feel her warm breath against his cheeks. He threw
up his arms with a gesture of despair. A sigh stirred the death-like
stillness. At last! She was there, just within his doorway; the pale
glimmer of the veiled moon fell upon her. Her trailing laces wrapped
her about like a silver mist; her arms were folded across her bosom;
her eyes—he dared not interpret the meaning which he read in those
wonderful eyes. She turned slowly and went down the hall. He followed
her, reeling like a drunkard. His feet seemed clogged, the blood ran
thick in his veins, a strange roaring was in his ears. His hot eyes
strained her as she vanished, just beyond his touch, into the room next
his own. He threw himself against the closed door in a transport of
rage. It yielded suddenly, as if opened from within. A full blaze of
light struck his eyes, blinding him for an instant; then he saw her. A
huge four-posted bed with silken hangings occupied a recess in the
room. Across its foot a low couch was drawn. She had thrown herself
there. Her head was pillowed on crimson gold-embroidered cushions; her
diaphanous draperies, billowing foam-like over her, half concealed,
half revealed her lovely form; her hair waved away from her brows, and
spread like a shower of gold over the cushions. One bare arm hung to
the door; something jewel-like gleamed in the half-closed hand; the
other lay across her forehead, and from beneath it her eyes were fixed
upon him. He sprang forward with a cry. . . .
At first he could remember nothing. The windows were open; the heavy
curtains which shaded them moved lazily in the breeze; a shaft of
sunlight that came in between them fell upon the polished surface of
the marble mantel. He examined with languid curiosity some trifles that
stood there—a pair of Dresden figures, a blue Sèvres vase of graceful
shape, a bronze clock with gilded rose-wreathed Cupids; and then raised
his eyes to the two portraits which hung above. One of these was
familiar enough—the dark, melancholy face of Félix Arnault, whose
portrait by different hands and at different periods of his life hung
in nearly every room at La Glorieuse. The blood surged into his face
and receded again at sight of the other. Oh, so strangely like! The
yellow hair, the slumberous eyes, the full throat clasped about with a
single strand of coral. Yes, it was she! He lifted himself on his
elbow. He was in bed. Surely this was the room into which she had drawn
him with her eyes. Did he sink on the threshold, all his senses
swooning into delicious death? Or had he, indeed, in that last moment
thrown himself on his knees by her couch? He could not remember, and he
sank back with a sigh.
Instantly Madame Arnault was bending over him. Her cool hands were
on his forehead. “Dieu merci!” she exclaimed, “thou art
thyself once more, mon fils.“
He seized her hand imperiously. “Tell me, madame,” he demanded—
“tell me, for the love of God! What is she? Who is she? Why have you
shut her away in this deserted place? Why—”
She was looking down at him with an expression half of pity, half of
“Forgive me,” he faltered, involuntarily, all his darker suspicions
somehow vanishing; “but—oh, tell me!”
“Calm thyself, Richard,” she said, soothingly, seating herself on
the side of the bed, and stroking his hand gently. Too agitated to
speak, he continued to gaze at her with imploring eyes. “Yes, yes, I
will relate the whole story,” she added, hastily, for he was panting
and struggling for speech. “I heard you fall last night,” she
continued, relapsing for greater ease into French; “for I was full of
anxiety about you, and I lingered long at my window watching for you. I
came at once with Marcelite, and found you lying insensible across the
threshold of this room. We lifted you to the bed, and bled you after
the old fashion, and then I gave you a tisane of my own making, which
threw you into a quiet sleep. I have watched beside you until your
waking. Now you are but a little weak from fasting and excitement, and
when you have rested and eaten—”
“No,” he pleaded; “now, at once!”
“Very well,” she said, simply. She was silent a moment, as if
arranging her thoughts. “Your grandfather, a Richard Keith like
yourself,” she began, “was a college-mate and friend of my brother,
Henri Raymonde, and accompanied him to La Glorieuse during one of their
vacations. I was already betrothed to Monsieur Arnault, but I—No
matter! I never saw Richard Keith afterwards. But years later he sent
your father, who also bore his name, to visit me here. My son, Félix,
was but a year or so younger than his boy, and the two lads became at
once warm friends. They went abroad, and pursued their studies side by
side, like brothers. They came home together, and when Richard's father
died, Felix spent nearly a year with him on his Maryland plantation.
They exchanged, when apart, almost daily letters. Richard's marriage,
which occurred soon after they left college, strengthened rather than
weakened this extraordinary bond between them. Then came on the war.
They were in the same command, and hardly lost sight of each other
during their four years of service.
“When the war was ended, your father went back to his estates. Félix
turned his face homeward, but drifted by some strange chance down to
Florida, where he met her”—she glanced at the portrait over
the mantel. “Hélène Pallacier was Greek by descent, her family having
been among those brought over some time during the last century as
colonists to Florida from the Greek islands. He married her, barely
delaying his marriage long enough to write me that he was bringing home
a bride. She was young, hardly more than a child, indeed, and
marvellously beautiful”—Keith moved impatiently; he found these
family details tedious and uninteresting—“a radiant, soulless
creature, whose only law was her own selfish enjoyment, and whose
coming brought pain and bitterness to La Glorieuse. These were her
rooms. She chose them because of the rose-garden, for she had a
sensuous and passionate love of nature. She used to lie for hours on
the grass there, with her arms flung over her head, gazing dreamily at
the fluttering leaves above her. The pearls—which she always wore—
some coral ornaments, and a handful of amber beads were her only dower,
but her caprices were the insolent and extravagant caprices of a queen.
Félix, who adored her, gratified them at whatever expense; and I think
at first she had a careless sort of regard for him. But she hated the
little Félice, whose coming gave her the first pang of physical pain
she had ever known. She never offered the child a caress. She sometimes
looked at her with a suppressed rage which filled me with terror and
“When Félice was a little more than a year old, your father came to
La Glorieuse to pay us a long-promised visit. His wife had died some
months before, and you, a child of six or seven years, were left in
charge of relatives in Maryland. Richard was in the full vigor of
manhood, broad-shouldered, tall, blue-eyed, and blond-haired, like his
father and like you. From the moment of their first meeting Hélène
exerted all the power of her fascination to draw him to her. Never had
she been so whimsical, so imperious, so bewitching! Loyal to his
friend, faithful to his own high sense of honor, he struggled against a
growing weakness, and finally fled. I will never forget the night he
went away. A ball had been planned by Félix in honor of his friend. The
ball-room was decorated under his own supervision. The house was filled
with guests from adjoining parishes; everybody, young and old, came
from the plantations around. Hélène was dazzling that night. The light
of triumph lit her cheeks; her eyes shone with a softness which I had
never seen in them before. I watched her walking up and down the room
with Richard, or floating with him in the dance. They were like a pair
of radiant god-like visitants from another world. My heart ached for
them in spite of my indignation and apprehension; for light whispers
were beginning to circulate, and I saw more than one meaning smile
directed at them. Félix, who was truth itself, was gayly unconscious.
“Towards midnight I heard far up the bayou the shrill whistle of the
little packet which passed up and down then, as now, twice a week, and
presently she swung up to our landing. Richard was standing with Hélène
by the fireplace. They had been talking for some time in low, earnest
tones. A sudden look of determination came into his eyes. I saw him
draw from his finger a ring which she had one day playfully bade him
wear, and offer it to her. His face was white and strained; hers wore a
look which I could not fathom. He quitted her side abruptly and walked
rapidly across the room, threading his way among the dancers, and
disappeared in the press about the door. A few moments later a note was
handed me. I heard the boat steam away from the landing as I read it.
It was a hurried line from Richard. He said that he had been called
away on urgent business, and he begged me to make his adieus to Madame
Arnault and Félix. Félix was worried and perplexed by the sudden
departure of his guest. Helene said not a word, but very soon I saw her
slipping down the stair, and I knew that she had gone to her room. Her
absence was not remarked, for the ball was at its height. It was almost
daylight when the last dance was concluded, and the guests who were
staying in the house had retired to their rooms.
“Félix, having seen to the comfort of all, went at last to join his
wife. He burst into my room a second later, almost crazed with horror
and grief. I followed him to this room. She was lying on a couch at the
foot of the bed. One arm was thrown across her forehead, the other hung
to the floor, and in her hand she held a tiny silver bottle with a
jewelled stopper. A handkerchief, with a single drop of blood upon it,
was lying on her bosom. A faint, curious odor exhaled from her lips and
hung about the room, but the poison had left no other trace.
“No one save ourselves and Marcelite ever knew the truth. She had
danced too much at the ball that night, and she had died suddenly of
heart-disease. We buried her out yonder in the old Raymonde-Arnault
burying-ground. I do not know what the letter contained which Félix
wrote to Richard. He never uttered his name afterwards. The ball-room—
the whole wing, in truth—was at once closed. Everything was left
exactly as it was on that fatal night. A few years ago, the house being
unexpectedly full, I opened the room in which you have been staying,
and it has been used from time to time as a guest-room since. My son
lived some years, prematurely old, heart-broken, and desolate. He died
with her name on his lips.”
Madame Arnault stopped.
A suffocating sensation was creeping over her listener. Only in the
last few moments had the signification of the story begun to dawn upon
him. “Do you mean,” he gasped, “that the girl whom I—that she is—
“Hélène, dead wife of Félix Arnault,” she replied, gravely. “Her
restless spirit has walked here before. I have sometimes heard her
tantalizing laugh echo through the house, but no one had ever seen her
until you came—so like the Richard Keith she loved!”
“When I read your letter,” she went on, after a short silence,
“which told me that you wished to come to those friends to whom your
father had been so dear, all the past arose before me, and I felt that
I ought to forbid your coming. But I remembered how Félix and Richard
had loved each other before she came between them. I thought of the
other Richard Keith whom I—I loved once; and I dreamed of a union at
last between the families. I hoped, Richard, that you and Félice—”
But Richard was no longer listening. He wished to believe the whole
fantastic story an invention of the keen-eyed old madame herself. Yet
something within him confessed to its truth. A tumultuous storm of
baffled desire, of impotent anger, swept over him. The ring he wore
burned into his flesh. But he had no thought of removing it—the ring
which had once belonged to the beautiful golden-haired woman who had
come back from the grave to woo him to her!
He turned his face away and groaned.
Her eyes hardened. She arose stiffly. “I will send a servant with
your breakfast,” she said, with her hand on the door. “The down boat
will pass La Glorieuse this afternoon. You will perhaps wish to take
advantage of it.”
He started. He had not thought of going—of leaving her— her!
He looked at the portrait on the wall and laughed bitterly.
Madame Arnault accompanied him with ceremonious politeness to the
front steps that afternoon.
“Mademoiselle Félice?” he murmured, inquiringly, glancing back at
the windows of the sitting-room.
“Mademoiselle Arnault is occupied,” she coldly returned. “I will
convey to her your farewell.”
He looked back as the boat chugged away. Peaceful shadows enwrapped
the house and overspread the lawn. A single window in the wing gleamed
like a bale-fire in the rays of the setting sun.
The years that followed were years of restless wandering for Richard
Keith. He visited his estate but rarely. He went abroad and returned,
hardly having set foot to land; he buried himself in the fastnesses of
the Rockies; he made a long, aimless sea-voyage. Her image accompanied
him everywhere. Between him and all he saw hovered her faultless face;
her red mouth smiled at him; her white arms enticed him. His own face
became worn and his step listless. He grew silent and gloomy. “He is
madder than the old colonel, his father, was,” his friends said,
shrugging their shoulders.
One day, more than three years after his visit to La Glorieuse, he
found himself on a deserted part of the Florida sea-coast. It was late
in November, but the sky was soft and the air warm and balmy. He bared
his head as he paced moodily to and fro on the silent beach. The waves
rolled languidly to his feet and receded, leaving scattered
half-wreaths of opalescent foam on the snowy sands. The wind that
fanned his face was filled with the spicy odors of the sea. Seized by a
capricious impulse, he threw off his clothes and dashed into the surf.
The undulating billows closed around him; a singular lassitude passed
into his limbs as he swam; he felt himself slowly sinking, as if drawn
downward by an invisible hand. He opened his eyes. The waves lapped
musically above his head; a tawny glory was all about him, a luminous
expanse, in which he saw strangely formed creatures moving, darting,
rising, falling, coiling, uncoiling.
“You was jess on de eedge er drowndin', Mars Dick,” said Wiley, his
black body-servant, spreading his own clothes on the porch of the
little fishing-hut to dry. “In de name o' Gawd, whar mek you wanter go
in swimmin' dis time o' de yea', anyhow? Ef I hadn'er splurge in an'
fotch you out, dey'd er been mo'nin' yander at de plantation, sho!”
His master laughed lazily. “You are right, Wiley,” he said; “and you
are going to smoke the best tobacco in Maryland as long as you live.”
He felt buoyant. Youth and elasticity seemed to have come back to him
at a bound. He stretched himself on the rough bench, and watched the
blue rings of smoke curl lightly away from his cigar. Gradually he was
aware of a pair of wistful eyes shining down on him. His heart leaped.
They were the eyes of Félice Arnault! “My God, have I been mad!” he
muttered. His eyes sought his hand. The ring, from which he had never
been parted, was gone. It had been torn from his finger in his wrestle
with the sea. “ Get my traps together at once, Wiley,” he said. “We are
going to La Glorieuse.”
“Now you talkin', Mars Dick,” assented Wiley, cheerfully.
It was night when he reached the city. First of all, he made
inquiries concerning the little packet. He was right; the Assumption
would leave the next afternoon at five o'clock for Bayou L'Éperon. He
went to the same hotel at which he had stopped before when on his way
to La Glorieuse. The next morning, too joyous to sleep, he rose early,
and went out into the street. A gray, uncertain dawn was just
struggling into the sky. A few people on their way to market or to
early mass were passing along the narrow banquettes; sleepy-eyed women
were unbarring the shutters of their tiny shops; high-wheeled
milk-carts were rattling over the granite pavements; in the vine-hung
courtyards, visible here and there through iron grilles, parrots were
scolding on their perches; children pattered up and down the long,
arched corridors; the prolonged cry of an early clothes-pole man
echoed, like the note of a winding horn, through the close alleys.
Keith sauntered carelessly along.
“In so many hours,” he kept repeating to himself, “I shall be on my
way to La Glorieuse. The boat will swing into the home landing; the
negroes will swarm across the gang-plank, laughing and shouting; Madame
Arnault and Félice will come out on the gallery and look, shading their
eyes with their hands. Oh, I know quite well that the old madame will
greet me coldly at first. Her eyes are like steel when she is angry.
But when she knows that I am once more a sane man—And Félice, what if
she—But no! Félice is not the kind of woman who loves more than once;
and she did love me, God bless her! unworthy as I was.”
A carriage, driven rapidly, passed him; his eyes followed it idly,
until it turned far away into a side street. He strayed on to the
market, where he seated himself on a high stool in L'Appel du Matin
coffee-stall. But a vague, teasing remembrance was beginning to stir in
his brain. The turbaned woman on the front seat of the carriage that
had rolled past him yonder, where had he seen that dark, grave,
wrinkled face, with the great hoops of gold against either cheek?
Marcelite! He left the stall and retraced his steps, quickening his
pace almost to a run as he went. Félice herself, then, might be in the
city. He hurried to the street into which the carriage had turned, and
glanced down between the rows of wide-caved cottages with green doors
and batten shutters. It had stopped several squares away; there seemed
to be a number of people gathered about it. “I will at least satisfy
myself,” he thought.
As he came up, a bell in a little cross-crowned tower began to ring
slowly. The carriage stood in front of a low red-brick house, set
directly on the street; a silent crowd pressed about the entrance.
There was a hush within. He pushed his way along the banquette to the
steps. A young nun, in a brown serge robe, kept guard at the door. She
wore a wreath of white artificial roses above her long coarse veil.
Something in his face appealed to her, and she found a place for him in
the little convent chapel.
Madame Arnault, supported by Marcelite, was kneeling in front of the
altar, which blazed with candles. She had grown frightfully old and
frail. Her face was set, and her eyes were fixed with a rigid stare on
the priest who was saying mass. Marcelite's dark cheeks were streaming
with tears. The chapel, which wore a gala air, with its lights and
flowers, was filled with people. On the left of the altar, a bishop, in
gorgeous robes, was sitting, attended by priests and acolytes; on the
right, the wooden panel behind an iron grating had been removed, and
beyond, in the nun's choir, the black-robed sisters of the Carmelite
order were gathered. Heavy veils shrouded their faces and fell to their
feet. They held in their hands tall wax-candles, whose yellow flames
burned steadily in the semi-darkness. Five or six young girls knelt,
motionless as statues, in their midst. They also carried tapers, and
their rapt faces were turned towards the unseen altar within, of which
the outer one is but the visible token. Their eyelids were downcast.
Their white veils were thrown back from their calm foreheads, and
floated like wings from their shoulders.
He felt no surprise when he saw Félice among them. He seemed to have
foreknown always that he should find her thus on the edge of another
and mysterious world into which he could not follow her.
Her skin had lost a little of its warm, rich tint; the soft rings of
hair were drawn away under her veil; her hands were thin, and as waxen
as the taper she held. An unearthly beauty glorified her pale face.
“Is it forever too late?” he asked himself in agony, covering his
face with his hands. When he looked again the white veil on her head
had been replaced by the sombre one of the order. “If I could but speak
to her!” he thought; “if she would but once lift her eyes to mine, she
would come to me even now!”
Félice! Did the name break from his lips in a hoarse cry that
echoed through the hushed chapel, and silenced the voice of the priest?
He never knew. But a faint color swept into her cheeks. Her eyelids
trembled. In a flash the rose-garden at La Glorieuse was before him; he
saw the turquoise sky, and heard the mellow chorus of the field gang;
the smell of damask-roses was in the air; her little hand was in his .
. . he saw her coming swiftly towards him across the dusk of the old
ball-room; her limpid, innocent eyes were smiling into his own. . . .
she was standing on the grassy lawn; the shadows of the leaves
flickered over her white gown . . . .
At last the quivering eyelids were lifted. She turned her head
slowly, and looked steadily at him. He held his breath. A cart rumbled
along the cobble-stones outside; the puny wail of a child sounded
across the stillness; a handful of rose-leaves from a vase at the foot
of the altar dropped on the hem of Madame Arnault's dress. It might
have been the gaze of an angel in a world where there is no marrying
nor giving in marriage, so pure was it, so passionless, so free of
anything like earthly desire.
As she turned her face again towards the altar the bell in the tower
above ceased tolling; a triumphant chorus leaped into the air, borne
aloft by joyous organ tones. The first rays of the morning sun streamed
in through the small windows. Then light penetrated into the nun's
choir, and enveloped like a mantle of gold Sister Mary of the Cross,
who in the world had been Félicité Arnault.
THE SOUL OF ROSE DÉDÉ
THE child pushed his way through the tall weeds, which were dripping
with the midsummer-eve midnight dew-melt. He was so little that the
rough leaves met above his head. He wore a trailing white gown whose
loose folds tripped him, so that he stumbled and fell over a sunken
mound. But he laughed as he scrambled to his feet—a cooing baby
laugh, taken up by the inward-blowing Gulf wind, and carried away to
the soughing pines that made a black line against the dim sky.
His progress was slow, for he stopped—his forehead gravely
puckered, his finger in his mouth—to listen to the clear whistle of a
mockingbird in the live-oak above his head; he watched the heavy flight
of a white night-moth from one jimson-weed trumpet to another; he
strayed aside to pick a bit of shining punk from the sloughing bark of
a rotten log; he held this in his closed palm as he came at last into
the open space where the others were.
“Holà, 'Tit-Pierre!” said André, who was half reclining on a
mildewed marble slab, with his long black cloak floating loosely from
his shoulders, and his hands clasped about his knees. “Holà! Must thou
needs be ever a-searching! Have I not told thee, little Hard-Head, that
she hath long forgotten thee?”
His voice was mocking, but his dark eyes were quizzically kind.
The child's under-lip quivered, and he turned slowly about. But Père
Lebas, sitting just across the narrow footway, laid a caressing hand on
his curly head. “Nay, go thy way, 'Tit Pierre,” he said, gently; “André
does but tease. A mother hath never yet forgot her child.”
“Do you indeed think he will find her?” asked André, arching his
black brows incredulously.
“He will not find her,” returned the priest. “Margot Caillion was in
a far country when I saw her last, and even then her grandchildren were
playing about her knees. But it harms not the child to seek her.”
They spoke a soft provincial French, and the familiar thou
betokened an unwonted intimacy between the hollow-checked old priest
and his companion, whose forehead wore the frankness of early youth.
“I would the child could talk!” cried the young man, gayly. “Then
might he tell us somewhat of the women that ever come and go in yonder
The priest shuddered, crossing himself, and drew his cowl over his
'Tit-Pierre, his gown gathered in his arm, had gone on his way.
Nathan Pilger, hunched up on a low, irregular hummock against the
picket-fence, made a speaking-trumpet of his two horny hands, and
pretended to hail him as he passed. 'Tit-Pierre nodded brightly at the
old man, and waved his own chubby fist.
The gate sagged a little on its hinges, so that he had some
difficulty in moving it. But he squeezed through a narrow opening, and
passed between the prim flower-beds to the house.
It was a lofty mansion, with vast wings on either side, and wide
galleries, which were upheld by fluted columns. It faced the bay, and a
covered arcade ran from the entrance across the lawn to a gay little
wooden kiosk, which hung on the bluff over the water's edge. A flight
of stone steps led up to the house. 'Tit-Pierre climbed these
laboriously. The great carved doors were closed, but a blind of one of
the long French windows in the west wing stood slightly ajar.
'Tit-Pierre pushed this open. The bedchamber into which he peered was
large and luxuriously furnished. A lamp with a crimson shade burned on
its claw-footed gilt pedestal in a corner; the low light diffused a
rosy radiance about the room. The filmy curtains at the windows waved
to and fro softly in the June night wind. The huge old-fashioned,
four-posted bed, overhung by a baldachin of carved wood with satin
linings, occupied a deep alcove. A woman was sleeping there beneath the
lace netting. The snow-white bed-linen followed the contours of her
rounded limbs, giving her the look of a recumbent marble statue. Her
black hair, loosed from its heavy coil, spread over the pillow. One
exquisite bare arm lay across her forehead, partly concealing her face.
Her measured breathing rose and fell rhythmically on the air. A robe of
pale silk that hung across a chair, dainty lace-edged garments tossed
carelessly on an antique lounge—these seemed instinct still with the
nameless, subtle grace of her who had but now put them off.
On a table by the window, upon whose threshold the child stood
atiptoe, was set a large crystal bowl filled with water-lilies. Their
white petals were folded; the round, red-lined green leaves glistened
in the lamp-light. One long bud, rolled tightly in its green and brown
sheath, hung over the fluted edge of the bowl, swaying gently on its
flexible stem. 'Tit-Pierre gazed at it intently, frowning a little,
then put out a small forefinger and touched it. A quick thrill ran
along the stem; the bud moved lightly from side to side and burst
suddenly into bloom; the slim white petals quivered; a tremulous,
sighing, whispering sound issued from the heart of gold. The child
listened, holding the fragrant disk to his pink ear, and laughed
He moved about the room, examining with infantile curiosity the
costly objects scattered upon small tables and ranged upon the low,
Presently he pushed a chair against the foot of the bed, climbed
upon it, lifted the netting, and crept cautiously to the sleeper's
side. He sat for a moment regarding her. Her lips were parted in a
half-smile; the long lashes which swept her cheeks were wet, as if a
happy tear had just trembled there. 'Tit-Pierre laid his hand on her
smooth wrist, and touched timidly the snowy globes that gleamed beneath
the openwork of her night-dress. She threw up her arm, turning her face
full upon him, unclosed her large, luminous eyes, smiled, and slept
With a sigh, which seemed rather of resignation than of
disappointment, the child crept away and clambered again to the floor.
. . . Outside the fog was thickening. The dark waters of the bay
lapped the foot of the low bluff; their soft, monotonous moan was
rising by imperceptible degrees to a higher key. The scrubby cedars,
leaning at all angles over the water, were shaken at intervals by heavy
puffs of wind, which drove the mist in white, ragged masses across the
shelled road, over the weedy neutral ground, and out into the tops of
the sombre pines. The red lights in a row of sloops at anchor over
against Cat Island had dwindled to faintly glimmering sparks. The
watery flash of the revolving light in the light-horse off the point of
the island showed a black wedge-shaped cloud stretching up the seaward
Nathan Pilger screwed up his eye and watched the cloud critically.
André followed the direction of his gaze with idle interest, then
turned to look again at the woman who sat on a grassy barrow a few
paces beyond Père Lebas.
“She has never been here before,” he said to himself, his heart
stirring curiously. “I would I could see her face!”
Her back was towards the little group; her elbow was on her knee,
her chin in her hand. Her figure was slight and girlish; her white gown
gleamed ghostlike in the wan light.
“Naw, I bain't complainin', nor nothin',” said the old sailor,
dropping the cloud, as it were, and taking up a broken thread of talk;
“hows'ever, it's tarnation wearyin' a- settin' here so studdy year in
an' year out. Leas'ways,” he added, shifting his seat to another part
of the low mound, “fer an old sailor sech as I be.”
“If one could but quit his place and move about, like 'Tit-Pierre
yonder,” said Andre, musingly, “it would not be so bad. For myself, I
would not want—”
“The child is free to come and go because his soul is white. There
is no stain upon 'Tit-Pierre. The child hath not sinned.” It was the
priest who spoke. His voice was harsh and forbidding. His deep-set eyes
were fixed upon the tall spire of Our Lady of the Gulf, dimly outlined
against the sky beyond an intervening reach of clustering roofs and
André stared at him wonderingly, and glanced half furtively at the
stranger, as if in her presence, perchance, might be found an
explanation of the speaker's unwonted bitterness of tone. She had not
moved. “I would I could see her face!” he muttered, under his breath.
“For myself,” he went on, lifting his voice, “I am sure I would not
want to wander far. I fain would walk once more on the road along the
curve of the bay; or under the pines, where little white patches of
moonlight fall between the straight, tall tree-trunks. And I would go
sometimes, if I might, and kneel before the altar of Our Lady of the
Nathan Pilger grunted contemptuously. “What a lan'lubber ye be,
Andry!” he said, his strong nasal English contrasting oddly with the
smooth foreign speech of the others. “What a lan'lubber ye be! Ye
bain't no sailor, like your father afore ye. Tony Dewdonny bed as good
a pair o' sea-legs as ever I see. Lord! if there wa'n't no diffick
ulties in the way, Nathan Pilger 'd ship for some port a leetle more
furrin than the shedder of Our Lady yonder! Many's the deck I've
walked,” he continued, his husky voice growing more and more animated,
“an' many's the vi'ge I've made to outlandish places. Why, you'd
oughter see Arkangel, Andry. Here's the north coast o' Rooshy”—he
leaned over and traced with his forefinger the rude outlines of a map
on the ground; the wind lifted his long, gray locks and tossed them
over his wrinkled forehead; “here's the White Sea; and here, off the
mouth of the Dewiny River, is Arkangel. The Rooshan men in that there
town, Andry, wears petticoats like women; whilse down here, in the
South Pacific, at Taheety, the folks don't wear no clo'es at all to
speak of! You'd oughter see Taheety, Andry. An' here, off Guinea—”
“All those places are fine, no doubt,” interrupted his listener,
“Arkangel and Taheetee and Guinee”—his tongue tripped a
little over the unfamiliar names—“but, for myself, I do not care to
see them. I find it well on the bay shore here, where I can see the
sloops come sailing in through the pass, with the sun on their white
sails. And the little boats that rock on the water! Do you remember,
Silvain,” he cried, turning to the priest, “how we used to steal away
before sunrise in my father's little fishing-boat, when we were boys,
and come back at night with our backs blistered by the sun and our arms
aching, hein? That was before you went away to France to study for the
priesthood. Ah, but those were good times!” He threw back his head and
laughed joyously. His dark hair, wet with the mist, lay in loose rings
on his forehead; his fine young face, beardless but manly, seemed
almost lustrous in the pale darkness. “Do you remember, Silvain? Right
where the big house stands, there was Jacques Caillion's steep-roofed
cottage, with the garden in front full of pinks and mignonette and
sweet herbs; and the vine-hung porch where 'Tit-Pierre used to play,
and where Margot Caillion used to stand shading her eyes with her arm,
and looking out for her man to come home from sea.”
“Jack Caillion,” said Nathan Pilger, “was washed overboard from the
Suzanne in a storm off Hatteras in '11—him and Dune Cook and Ba'tist'
“The old church of Our Lady of the Gulf,” the young man continued,
“was just a stone's-throw this side of where the new one was built;
back a little is our cottage, and your father's, Silvain; and in the
hollow beyond Justin Roux has his blacksmith's forge.”
He paused, his voice dying away almost to a whisper. The waves were
beating more noisily against the bluff, filling the silence with a sort
of hoarse plaint; the fog—gray, soft, impenetrable—rested on them
like a cloud. The moisture fell in an audible drip-drop from the leaves
and the long, pendent moss of the live-oaks. A mare, with her colt
beside her, came trotting around the bend of the road. She approached
within a few feet of the girl, reared violently, snorting, and dashed
away, followed by the whinnying colt. The clatter of their feet echoed
on the muffled air. The girl, in her white dress, sat rigidly
motionless, with her face turned seaward.
André lifted his head and went on, dreamily: “I mind me, most of
all, of one day when all the girls and boys of the village walked over
to Bayou Galère to gather water-lilies. Margot Caillion, with
'Tit-Pierre in her hand, came along to mind the girls. You had but just
come back from France in your priest's frock, Silvain. You were in the
church door when we passed, with your book in your hand.” A smothered
groan escaped the priest, and he threw up his arm as if to ward off a
blow. “And you were there when we came back at sunset. The smell of the
pines that day was like balm. The lilies were white on the dark breast
of the winding bayou. Rose Dédé's arms were heaped so full of lilies
that you could only see her laughing black eyes above them. But Lorance
would only take a few buds. She said it was a kind of sin to take them
away from the water where they grew. Lorance was ever—”
The girl had dropped her hands in her lap, and was listening. At the
sound of her own name she turned her face towards the speaker.
“Lorance!” gasped André. “Is it truly you, Lorance?”
“Yes, it is I, André Dieudonné,” she replied, quietly. Her pale
girlish face, with its delicate outlines, was crowned with an aureole
of bright hair, which hung in two thick braids to her waist; her soft
brown eyes were a little sunken, as if she had wept overmuch. But her
voice was strangely cold and passionless.
“But . . . when did you . . . come, Lorance?” Andre demanded,
“I came,” she said, in the same calm, measured tone, “but a little
after you, André Dieudonné. First 'Tit-Pierre, then you, and then
“Why, then—” he began. He rose abruptly, gathering his mantle about
him, and leaned over the marble slab where he had been sitting. “
'Sacred to the memory of André Antoine Marie Dieudonné,' ” he read,
slowly, slipping his finger along the mouldy French lettering, “
'who died at this place August 20th, 1809. In the 22d year of his age.'
Eighty years and more ago I came!” he cried. “And you have been here
all these years, Lorance, and I have not known! Why, then, did you
never come up?”
She did not answer at once. “I was tired,” she said, presently, “and
I rested well down there in the cool, dark silence. And I was not
lonely . . . at first, for I heard Margot Caillion passing about,
putting flowers above 'Tit-Pierre and you and me. My mother and yours
often came and wept with her for us all—and my father, and your
little brothers. The sound of their weeping comforted me. Then . . .
after a while. . . no one seemed to remember us any more.”
“Margot Caillion,” said Nathan Pilger, “went back, when her man was
drownded, to the place in France where she was born. The others be all
layin' in the old church-yard yunder on the hill . . . all but Silvann
Leebaw an' me.”
She looked at the old man and smiled gravely. “A long time passed,”
she went on, slowly. “I could sometimes hear you speak to 'Tit-Pierre,
André Dieudonné; . . . and at last some men came and dug quite near me;
and as they pushed their spades through the moist turf they talked
about the good Père Lebas; and then I knew that Silvain was coming.”
The priest's head fell upon his breast; he covered his face with his
hands and rocked to and fro on his low seat. “Not long after, Nathan
Pilger came. Down there in my narrow chamber I have heard above me,
year after year, the murmur of your voices on St. John's eve, and ever
the feet of 'Tit-Pierre, as he goes back and forth seeking his mother.
But I cared not to leave my place. For why should I wish to look upon
your face, André Dieudonné, and mark there the memory of your love for
Her voice shook with a sudden passion as she uttered the last words.
The hands lying in her lap were twisted together convulsively; a flush
leaped into her pale cheeks.
“Rose Dédé!” echoed André, amazedly. “Nay, Lorance, but I never
loved Rose Dédé! If she perchance cared for me—”
“Silence, fool!” cried the priest, sternly. He had thrown back his
cowl; his eyes glowed like coals in his white face; he lifted his hand
menacingly. “Thou wert ever a vain puppet, André Dieudonné. It was not
for such as thou that Rose Dédé sinned away her soul! Was it thou
she came at midnight to meet in the lone shadows of these very
live-oaks? Hast thou ever worn the garments of a priest? . . .
They shunned Rose Dédé in the village . . . but the priest said mass at
the altar of Our Lady of the Gulf, . . . and the wail of the babe was
sharp in the hut under the pines, . . . and it ceased to breathe, . . .
and the mother turned her face to the wall and died, . . . and my heart
was cold in my breast as I looked on the dead faces of the mother and
the child.... They lie under the pine-trees by Bayou Galère. But the
priest lived to old age;. . . and when he died, he durst not sleep in
consecrated ground, but fain would lie in the shadows of the live oaks,
where the dark eyes of Rose Dédé looked love into his.”
His wild talk fell upon unheeding ears. 'Tit Pierre had come out of
the house. He was nestling against Nathan Pilger's knee. He held a
lily-bud in one hand, and with the other he caressed the sailor's
“'Tit-Pierre,” whispered the old man, “that is Lorance Baudrot. Do
you remember her, 'Tit-Pierre?” The child smiled intelligently.
“Lorance was but a slip of a girl when I come down here from Cape Cod—
cabin-boy aboard the Mary Ann. She was the pretties' lass on all the
bay shore. An' I—I loved her, 'Tit Pierre. But I wa'n't no match agin
Andry Dewdonny; an' I know'd it from the fuss. Andry was the likelies'
lad hereabout, an' the harnsomes'. I see that Lorance loved him. An'
when the yeller-fever took him, I see her a-droopin' an' a-droopin'
tell she died, an' she never even know'd I loved her. Her an' Andry was
laid here young, 'Tit- Pierre, 'longside o' you. I lived ter be pretty
tol'able old; but when I hed made my last v'ige, en' was about fetchin'
my las' breath, I give orders ter be laid in this here old
buryin'-groun' some'er's clost ter the grave o' Lorance Baudrot.”
His voice was overborne by André's exultant tones. “Lorance!” he
cried, “did you indeed love me— me!“
Her dark eyes met his frankly, and she smiled.
“Ah, if I had only known!” he sighed—if I had only known, Lorance,
I would surely have lived! We would have walked one morning to Our Lady
of the Gulf, with all the village-folk about us, and Silvain—the good
Père Lebas—would have joined our hands. . . . My father would have
given us a little plot of ground; . . . you would have planted flowers
about the door of our cottage; . . . our children would have played in
the sand under the bluff. . . .”
A sudden gust of wind blew the fog aside, and a zigzag of flame tore
the wedge-shaped cloud in two. A greenish light played for an instant
over the weed-grown spot. The mocking-bird, long silent in the heart of
the live-oak, began to sing.
“All these years you have been near me,” he murmured, reproachfully,
“and I did not know.” Then, as if struck by a breathless thought, he
stretched out his arms imploringly. “I love you, Lorance,” he said. “I
have always loved you. Will you not be my wife now? Silvain will say
the words, and 'Tit-Pierre, who can go back and forth, will put this
ring, which was my mother's, upon your finger, and he will bring me a
curl of your soft hair to twist about mine. I cannot come to you,
Lorance; I cannot even touch your hand. But when I go down into my dark
place I can be content dreaming of you. And on the blessed St. John's
eves I will know you are mine, as you sit there in your white gown.”
As he ceased speaking, Père Lebas, with his head upon his breast,
began murmuring, as if mechanically, the words which preface the holy
sacrament of marriage. His voice faltered, he raised his head, and a
cry of wonder burst from his lips. For André had moved away from the
mouldy gravestone and stood just in front of him. Lorance, as if
upborne on invisible wings, was floating lightly across the intervening
space. Her shroud enveloped her like a cloud, her arms were extended,
her lips were parted in a rapt smile. Nathan Pilger, with 'Tit-Pierre
in his arms, had limped forward. He halted beside André, and as the
young man folded the girl to his breast, the child reached over and
laid an open lily on her down-drooped head.
The priest stared wildly at them, and struggled to rise, but could
not. As he sank panting back upon the crumbling tomb, his anguish
overcame him. “My God!” he groaned hoarsely, “I, only I, cannot move
from my place. The soul of Rose Dédé hangs like a millstone about my
Even as he spoke, the cloud broke with a roar. The storm—black,
heavy, thunderous—came rushing across the bay. It blotted out, in a
lightning's flash, the mansion which stands on the site of Jacques
Caillion's hut, and the weed-grown, ancient, forgotten graveyard in its
. . . And a bell in the steeple of Our Lady of the Gulf rang out the
IT was the Fourteenth of July. Dolly Lammitt came out on the gallery
and looked at the bit of tricolor which floated from a tall staff on
the lawn. The glories wreathed about the pillars, and, running along
under the wide eaves, made a sort of frame for her slender young figure
in its white gown.
Such glories! You would never dream of insulting them by placing
before them such limiting adjectives as “morning” and “evening.” For
they bloom—the glories at San Antonio—all day and all night; great
blue disks that sway in the wind and laugh in the sun's face, and call
the honey-bees to their hearts with an almost audible murmur.
The green lawn sloped imperceptibly from the one-storied yellow
adobe house to the river—the opalescent river San Antonio—which
here made one of its unexpected curves, and then rippled away in the
direction of the old Mission of San Jose, half a mile below.
The yuccas which hedged the lawn were in bloom, their tall
white-belled spikes glistening in the sunlight; a double thread of
scarlet poppies marked the path to the river; the jalousied porch which
jutted from one end of the house was covered by a cataract of
yellowish-pink roses, whose elusive “tea” scent filled the morning air.
But Dolly's eyes came back from all this blossoming to dwell once
more on the glories. She loved them; she was even proud of them, as,
indeed, she had a right to be. Did not her own grandfather—or was it
her grandmother—But wait a bit; the story is worth telling.
It was away back in the early fifties. The Eclipse swung her
way clear of the overhanging mustang grape-vines on Buffalo Bayou, and
shoved her nose against the muddy landing at the foot of Main Street.
The little town of Houston lay as if asleep in the gray fog of early
morning. But at the shrill, prolonged sound of the Eclipse's
whistle everybody, it would seem, came hurrying down the black,
slippery bluff to watch the landing of Count Considérant and his
The chattering sallow-faced strangers thronged the guards and the
upper deck, gazing down with curious eyes until the gang-plank—amid
the lusty whoops of the negro deck-hands—was pushed out; then they
The crowd on the bluff and along the single straggling street had
increased, and there was a faint, questioning cheer when the French
émigrés came marching up the slope, keeping step, two and two, men
At the head of the column walked Monsieur le Comte himself—a
commanding figure in his velvet coat and cocked hat, with his long hair
floating over his shoulders. He carried a naked sword in his hand. The
tricolor of France, borne by one of his lieutenants, waved above his
head, mingling its folds with the stars and stripes. Madame la Comtesse
stepped daintily along beside him. As he set foot on the soil of Texas
he lifted his sword, and the self-exiled band burst with one voice into
the “Marseillaise.” The echoes of the unknown tongue arose, piercing,
powerful, resonant, on the strange air, and sped away to die in the
silences of the wide prairies.
“Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!” said Monsieur le Comte,
bowing right and left to the curious, silent, unresponsive American
citizens and citizenesses.
Near the tail end of the procession walked, arm in arm, Achille
Lemaître and Étienne Santerre. They fell a little silent when the song
ceased. It was very deep, that sticky black mud, and their faces
expressed a profound if momentary disgust for the free and untrammelled
soil of the New Paradise. Both were young—mere lads, in fact. But
both “came from somebody.” Achille's grandmother, old Margot Lemaître,
had spat in the Queen Marie Antoinette's face as she ascended the
guillotine with her hands tied behind her; and Étienne was the grandson
of the famous “tall, sonorous Brewer of the Faubourg St.-Antoine”—the
formidable Santerre of the French Revolution.
“One has the head quite dizzy after all those days on shipboard,”
remarked Achille presently. “But behold us at last in the Promised
Land!” He repeated between his teeth a snatch of the “Marseillaise.”
“How that was glorious,” he exclaimed—“that time of our grandfathers,
when the blood spouted from the mouth of Mother Guillotine!”
Étienne shivered a little, and Achille laughed. “You were ever a
chicken-heart, Étienne,” he said, with good-natured contempt, “and
afraid of the very smell of blood. For myself—”
Étienne was not listening. They had come up the bluff, and halted on
its brow while Monsieur le Comte made his little speech to the
Maire. There was a brown, weather-beaten cottage on their right;
the magnolias shading it were full of blooms—white, mysterious cups,
like those whose petals had dropped all night long on the deck of the
Eclipse, where the lads lay a-sleeping. A girl leaned over the low
gate, staring with blue, wide-open eyes at the émigrés. Étienne
gazed at her like one in a dream; when they moved on he blushed and
sighed, pressing the arm of his companion.
And when, a week later, the Fourierists started on their long,
crawling journey to found their phalanstère at Réunion, Jenny
Lusk, the blue-eyed girl, who had in the meantime become Citoyenne
Santerre, accompanied her husband.
Monsieur le Comte, ever restless, ever dreaming lofty Utopian dreams
which never came true, left the phalanstère at Réunion before it
was fairly established. Achille Lemaître, taking a dramatic leave of
Citizen Santerre and his wife, followed the Fondateur to San
He was very lonesome—Achille—the morning after his arrival in
the old Mexic-American town. He wandered about the quaint,
river-thridded streets, with the sound of strange speech in his ears,
ready to cry, between wishing himself back at Réunion with Étienne and
thinking of his old mother in France.
Suddenly, at a turn of the street—it was that Flores Street where
the acequia rushes limpid and musical by the low adobe houses,
and lithe, beautiful women swing in their hammocks on latticed
balconies—he met Dolores Concha and her weazened, leather-colored old
“But you are much too young,” said Monsieur le Comte, frowning,
when, cap in hand, and blushing all over his round young face, Achille
presented himself, a few weeks later, to ask the Fondateur's
permission to marry. “You are nothing but a boy.”
“Pardon, M'sieu le Comte,” stammered Achille, “I am nearly twenty. I
am the youngest of the six sons of my father. The others all married
before they were nineteen; and my father himself, Jean Lemaîitre—”
“Never mind Jean Lemaître.” The Count cut him short, and he promised
the necessary papers. “Since the Señorita is an orphan, and has a
dot,” he added. “But I am sorry you do not marry an American. A
“Ah! but when you see Dolores, M'sieu le Comte!” cried Achille.
And M'sieu le Comte, when he saw Dolores, admitted that it truly
made a difference.
It was to the yellow adobe house—bought with her dot—
whose yucca-hedged garden sloped down to the river's edge, that Achille
took his wife the day after their marriage—at which Monsieur le Comte
“assisted” in the old Cathedral on the Plaza.
A propriétaire in his own right! A land-owner! Monsieur
Achille Lemaitre's socialistic theories vanished into the soft air
perfumed by his own roses. He continued to sing the “Marseillaise,” and
to talk fiercely about the charms of La Mère Guillotine; and he
planted a flag-staff on his lawn, whence floated on each successive
anniversary of the taking of the Bastille ce brave étendard, the
tricolor of the republic. But he no longer dreamed of sharing his
worldly possessions with a Fourierist phalanstère. No more,
however, did Monsieur le Comte in his fine mansion Just across the
One morning, some months after Achille became husband and
propriétaire in one day, he came into the room where his young wife
was sitting. His face wore a pleased expression; his lips parted in a
smile beneath his budding mustache.
“Soul of my Soul!” cried Dolores, in the mixed Spanish and French
which they employed in their intercourse with each other, “why, then,
do you smile?”
“It is, Angel of my Life,” replied Achille, “that I have planted a
seed by my front doorstep.”
“In the soft little spot on the right, by the pillar?” demanded his
wife, with lively interest.
“Ah,” cried Dolores, triumphantly, “I have myself planted a seed in
that very spot this morning.”
Achille looked a little vexed. “But, my Soul's Love—” he began.
“It came from Monterey,” she continued, “from a vine which grew over
my mother's doorway. I remember it quite well. It has white flowers,
like little silver trumpets, and the smell of them is heavenly.”
“The seed I have planted,” said her husband, “came from a vine on my
grandmother's balcony at Auteuil. It has big red flowers—oh, red as
the blood of Marat in his bath-tub.”
“My mother's vine,” murmured Madame Lemaître, dreamily, with her
large dark eyes fixed on the ceiling, “has a long slim leaf that
glistens in the sun.”
“The vine of Margo Lemaîitre,” remarked the propriétaire,
looking out of the window, “has a leaf round as a saucer.”
A coolness which lasted several minutes followed these
reminiscences; but it melted in a couple of kisses.
Both planters, however, during the next week, inspected frequently—
and surreptitiously—the flower bed under the edge of the veranda.
They surprised each other there one morning before the sun was up. Both
drew back, blushing guiltily; but both sprang forward again with a cry,
for there, in very truth, was a little vinelet, with trembling, pale
green twin leaves.
The leaves were heart-shaped.
“It is the vine of my mother,” Dolores said, thoughtfully. “I now
remember that the leaves were like hearts.”
“It is Margot Lemaître's vine!” roared Achille. “I can see the
leaves with my eyes shut. They were precisely of this fashion.”
Upon this they quarrelled. Monsieur stamped his foot and swore, and
madame fled to her own bedchamber, where she remained weeping, and
refusing to come out even to dinner. Then they made up. But only for a
The vine crept up and up, catching hold of the pillar and spreading
out its heart-shaped leaves and shaking them in the wind. And Achille
and Dolores watched it, and disputed over it, and berated each other in
French and Spanish, and even in very imperfect “American.”
“The flowers will be white, like little silver trumpets,” cried the
“The flowers will be red as the blood of Marat in his bath-tub,”
blustered the husband, “and if I have a son he shall receive under
those red flowers his name of Maximilien Robespierre!”
“Ay de mi! Santa Maria Purissima!” wailed Dolores. “I will
not bear a son to be called after a bloody monster! My son shall have
the name of the good St. Joseph!”
It was a terrible time!
But one morning Achille came out of his house, where in the early
dawn a night-light was still burning. His face was swollen with
weeping, and he staggered as he walked, like a man in liquor.
He crossed the garden to the little gate which opened upon the river
steps, and stopped, putting his hands out blindly to grasp the railing.
“She will die!” he whispered hoarsely, looking around with blurred eyes
which saw nothing. “Mother of God, she will die, never knowing how much
I love her! And I, who have made her weep, brute that I am! Oh, if she
will only live! But she will die, she will die!” And he shook the
railing with such fury that a loose piece at the end fell into the
river and swirled around on the dimpling eddy.
“Señor!” It was the shrill voice of the old nurse calling him from
But he durst not turn his head.
He heard her come pattering down the path, and his knees became as
“Señor,” said Marta, “come and see your son.”
His son! He shook from head to foot, staring at her with
dazed eyes. “Dolores?” he stammered.
“Santa Maria!” said Marta, impatiently. “Do you think your wife is
such a fool that she cannot bring a man-child into the world without
“I will tear down that monster of a vine before the red flowers bud
upon it,” he said within himself, following her, and wiping the glad,
foolish tears from his eyes. He glanced up, from habit, at the subject
of all their childish quarrels.
He stopped, open-mouthed.
The vine, in one unheeded night, had burst into bloom. The blossoms
of it were not white, like little silver trumpets, nor red, like the
blood of Marat in his bath-tub. A row of great heavenly blue disks
starred the lintel like a crown.
He reached up and plucked one of these miracles, and tiptoed into
the hushed and darkened room.
“Heart of my Body!” he sobbed, falling on his knees by the bedside,
“our vine has blossomed!” and he laid the glory on her white bosom.
Dolores smiled—an adorable, weak, young-mother smile. “Life of my
Soul!” she said, uncovering the little bundle which lay on her arm,
“behold your son! He shall be called Maximilien Robespierre.”
“But no!” said Achille, solemnly; “we will name our son
Such was the mysterious origin of the blue glories which to-day riot
over every house in San Antonio. They may wish to tell you a different
story down there, but it would be foolish to listen even, since this is
the true one.
Achille Lemaître was killed in a charge at the battle of Shiloh, and
his wife, dying shortly after of grief at his loss, left her young son
in the care of Monsieur le Comte, his godfather.
And by the time Jesus-Mary had reached the age convenable for
a Lemaitre to enter the holy estate of matrimony, and had fetched his
American wife to the yellow adobe house by the river, he had become,
through persistent mispronunciation and the American fashion in initial
letters, Mr. J. M. Lammitt.
Dolly, baptized Dolores in memory of her beautiful grandmother,
continued to look with unnatural intentness at the glories, blushing,
but pretending not to see Mr. Steven Santer, who had fastened his
little skiff at the landing and was coming up the poppy-bordered walk.
He took off his straw hat as he approached.
“Good-morning, Miss Lammitt,” he said, boldly, though inwardly
quaking at his own audacity.
They sat down on the steps together.
Mr. Steven Santer was a good-looking blond young man from somewhere
near the East Fork of the Trinity. He had come to San Antonio some
weeks earlier on account of business, and stayed on account of Dolly
“What is that?” he asked, suddenly starting up from his seat, for a
puff of wind had caught the pennant fastened to the staff on the lawn
and unfurled it.
“That,” replied Dolly, “is a French flag. My father always puts it
out on the Fourteenth of July. The Fourteenth of July,” she explained,
with condescension, “is the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille.”
“I know,” said Santer. “My father,” he added, as if apologizing for
his own acquaintance with the subject—“my father always runs up a
French flag on the Fourteenth of July.”
“My grandfather,” said Dolly, “came over from France with Count
Considérant to the phalanstère at Réunion.”
“So did my father! Why, they must have sailed together in the
“What an unheard-of coincidence!”
And so Dolly presently related the history of the glories, or as
much of it as Jesus-Mary himself knew. She twirled one of the heavenly
blue blossoms in her fingers while she talked; and when she had
finished she stretched out her hand to pluck another, but got a
splinter instead, which tore the delicate white flesh of her thumb.
She turned pale and bit her lip, drawing in her breath, while Steven
Santer wiped away the blood with his handkerchief.
“The sight of blood always makes me ill,” she murmured, closing her
Shade of great-great-grandmother Margot Lemaître!
And the great-grandson of Santerre the Sonorous, having thus
strategically possessed himself of her hand, kept it in his own.
AT THE CORNER OF ABSINTHE AND
IT was drizzling, and the banquette was overlaid with a black slush
which seemed to ooze from the very paving-stones. The girl standing on
the corner—her slim, white-gowned figure softly outlined against the
pink stucco of the wall behind her—appeared curiously at variance
with the November-afternoon gloom. The single passenger in a street-car
crawling past glanced out at her with a momentary gleam of interest.
“She looks like a bayou lily,” he murmured, returning to his evening
There is nothing earthly which can compare, for whiteness, with the
bayou lily—hovering above the dark marsh like a tethered soul—pure,
spotless, radiant; exhaling an innocent perfume, its flexible stem
rooted far below in the slime.
The drizzle became a downpour, and the few pedestrians scurried into
shelter, leaving the narrow street quite deserted. The girl drew a
little farther under the high, projecting balcony, with its
wrought-iron balustrade. Her white gown, slightly open at the throat,
as if designed for indoors, was drenched with the wind-blown rain;
though, by some miracle, the hem remained unsmirched by the ooze
beneath her feet. She was very young. The delicate, almost child-like
face beneath her round hat was pale; her violet eyes had a strained,
expectant look. She leaned against the wall of the old building,
trembling, as if frightened or over-fatigued.
The heavy batten shutters were flung back; their enormous bolts
turned aslant; the inner doors, whose upper halves were composed of
fancifully shaped panes of ground glass, were closed.
On the same spot—christened by some dead-and-gone wag The Corner
of Absinthe and Anisette—stood, in the year of our Lord eighteen
hundred and thirteen, the self-same building. It was even then more
than a quarter of a century old, and a conspicuous landmark in its
isolated situation; a few low habitations only clustering between it
and the outlying swamps, and but a thin scattering of houses stretching
down to the river. The steep roof of the single squat story was tiled;
a long arm thrust out from the eaves held a lantern over the muddy,
unpaved street. It was a cabaret then as now; and then, as now, famous
for its “green hours.”
Its rough outer wall, one morning in the autumn of that year, was
adorned with a large printed poster which set forth, in the three
languages then current in the old town on the Mississippi, the misdeeds
of one Jean Lafitte, smuggler, marauder, desperado, and pirate, and
offered, in the name of his Excellency Governor Claiborne, a reward of
five hundred dollars for the capture of the said Jean Lafitte and his
delivery into the hands of justice.
The laughing eyes of a knot of apparent idlers on the wooden
banquette were turned alternately from this placard to the tall,
handsome man—no less a person than Jean Lafitte himself!—who leaned
against the wall, the long, curling locks of his hair blown against the
signature of his (late Provisional) Excellency. But there were covert
flashes of malign intelligence in some of the laughing eyes, and an
imperceptible movement of the crowd towards the batten door at the
outlaw's right hand. His own glances, as he bandied jests with the
leaders, toying the while with the fringed end of his green silk sash,
went warily about. He knew himself to be in danger of arrest; he might,
indeed, pay with his life for his seeming bravado. But he was not
thinking of himself. His ear was strained to catch the slightest sound
within the cabaret, where Henri Destréhan was blithely quaffing his
glass of absinthe, unaware that his enemies, sworn to butcher him like
a rat in a trap, were closing upon him.
It was the knowledge of his friend's impending peril which had drawn
the pirate chief from his lagoon fastnesses.
“How about that last bale of smuggled silk brocade, Lafitte?”
demanded a brawny, dark-browed man, lightly, edging nearer to the wall
as he spoke.
“Sold at ten dollars the yard for the waistcoats of his Excellency,
the Governor!” returned Lafitte, in the same tone.
“And the gold chain captured on the high seas from His Grace, the
Mexican Bishop?” laughed another.
“Sold off in inches for the repose of his Grace's soul.
He had dropped the end of his sash. His hand, as he spoke, was on
the door. “À moi, Destréhan, à moi!” he cried, bursting
into the dimly lighted cabaret. And, catching the bewildered young
officer into the sweep of his powerful arm, he lifted him from the
floor, bore him through the very midst of his enemies, turned the
corner with the leaping speed of a stag, and disappeared behind a clump
of cabins in the direction of the swamp. A howl of rage and a volley of
shot from the baffled plotters followed the fugitives, but they were
already safe from pursuit.
A few days later Destréhan was about starting on his roundabout
journey to France. A pirogue, dancing on the breast of the sinuous
bayou which led away from the outlaw's stronghold at Barrataria,
awaited him with its lithe, dark-skinned paddler. “If ever a Destréhan"
—these were his parting words to Lafitte, with a warm hand-clasp—” if
ever a Destréhan fails a Lafitte in the hour of need, may his soul die
and his bones rot unburied.”
Léonie Destran, apparently unconscious of the rain, which continued
to fall, was waiting still. The pallor of her delicate face had
increased. She moved nearer to the closed door of the cabaret.
Within there was a drowsy silence. The fat, bald-headed proprietor
was nodding over an out-worn copy of La Mouche.
It was midway between les heurs vertes—early and
late—of the staid and respectable habitues who came with the
regularity of unimpeachable clocks every day at noon, and every day
before setting towards their late dinners.
The floor had been re-sanded since noon and swept into fresh
geometrical figures, and the old-fashioned wooden bar with its simple
fixtures was in readiness for the six o'clock clientèle.
There was, however, a single patron, who stood with his left hand
resting lightly on the bar; in his right hand he held a small tumbler;
the wan light filtering in through the ground glass of the door fell
upon its cloudy green contents, giving them a strange, unearthly gleam.
The man, who was elegantly and fashionably attired, was young and
extraordinarily handsome, though his face showed signs of dissipation,
and his dark eyes beneath the thick brows had a bold, unpleasant
He wore a white flower in his buttonhole.
He lifted the glass to his lips, but set it down hastily. Octave
Lafitte! It was a whisper, a faintly dying breath, but he heard his
own name distinctly pronounced. He looked at the deaf old man half
asleep in his chair; then he stepped noiselessly to the door. The rain,
striking him full in the face as he opened it, blurred his vision for a
second. “Mademoiselle Destran! Léonie!” he exclaimed, starting back
surprised, his dark face flushing with pleasure.
She lifted her hand. “Stay, monsieur,” she said, speaking rapidly
and in French, “there is no time for words. I was following you, and I
saw you enter here. I have been waiting for you to come out, but I
dared wait no longer. You must leave this State—this country—at
once Stay”—for he was beginning to speak—“'Toinette Farge, on Bayou
Desnoyers, near our plantation, has confessed to her father that it is
you”—a wave of crimson dyed her face and throat, but she continued to
look steadily at him—“that it is you who have disgraced her and
ruined their home. Old Dominique Farge will kill you. He has sworn to
hunt you down like a dog. My father is ill . . . we fear he is dying .
. . he could not come himself to warn you . . . I did not even stop to
change my dress . . . I have been travelling all day.” She stopped,
panting for breath, with her hand pressed to her side.
His eyes were glowing; he smiled exultantly. “And you have done this
for me, Léonie, for me!” he whispered, tenderly, moving towards
her with outstretched arms. “Then you do care for me! You do love—”
She drew away with a gesture of loathing. “You! God forbid!”
she cried. “I do the duty of the Destréhan to the Lafitte,” she added,
calmly. “But you must go at once, monsieur. Dominique Farge may reach
the city at any moment. Go, before it is too late—”
It was already too late. There was a sound of footsteps above the
rush of the rain, and Dominique Farge came around the corner—a large
old man, with a swart, bearded face. His blue cotton shirt—he wore no
coat—was open at the throat, showing his massive chest; and the
unbuttoned sleeves fell away from his hairy wrists. His deep-sunken
eyes were bloodshot; his long, grizzled hair, soaked and matted by the
rain, clung to his cheeks. At sight of his prey his face lighted
horribly. “Li mové nomme!” he hissed, with a forward
Lafitte, with his eyes on the uplifted hand, stood rooted to his
place. But there was a quick movement on the girl's part.
She had thrown herself in front of the intended victim; and the
alligator knife in Dominique's hand, descending, sheathed itself in her
Without a cry, and like a bayou lily whose stem has been suddenly
cut, the white figure sank into the ooze of the banquette, her spirting
blood dyeing the stuccoed wall.
The old man passed his hand over his starting eyes. He did not even
stoop to see if the child of his neighbor and old comrade-in-arms were
dead; but stepping back a pace, he drew a revolver from his belt and
placed the muzzle against his forehead.
His body fell heavily at her feet.
The report of the pistol brought a voluble, hurrying crowd into the
drowned street, but there had been no witnesses of the double tragedy—
which caused extraordinary comment. No one ever knew its meaning.
'Toinette Farge, cowering over her nameless infant in the cabin on
Bayou Desnoyers; Henry Destran on his deathbed in the old Destréhan
plantation-house—even these but dimly surmised the truth.
The deaf old cabaret-keeper came out to watch the removal of the
dead bodies, leaving the little room quite empty.
The untasted glass of absinthe on the bar glowed like a huge,
scintillating opal in the purple shadows.
A year later a man drifted at nightfall one day—alone—into a
cheap pot-house on the outskirts of Paris. There was an air of decayed
gentility about him. His well-fitting clothes were shabby. The lining
of the top-coat he carried over his arm was frayed and much soiled.
His face, covered with a stubble of black beard, was haggard. His
dark, shifting eyes had a dull, outworn expression.
The hand which he stretched out towards the little glass pushed
towards him by the gruff, ill-looking proprietor, shook almost as if
He grasped the slender stem eagerly and raised the glass to his
lips, but set it down again with a nauseate shudder and turned away. “I
cannot drink it!” he muttered, dropping upon the rude bench outside the
door, and drawing the brim of his hat over his eyes, as if to shut out
something from his sight. “God! I am dying for it, yet I cannot
drink it! There were exactly those green, changing lights in her eyes
that day! And when I remember”—he threw out his arms with a gesture
of self-loathing—“when I remember that I am, after all, a Lafitte only
THE CLOVEN HEART
IT was morning in the rose-hedged garden. The gardener, a dark-visaged old man, with strangely gleaming, deep-sunken eyes, and quick,
adder-like movements, had just unearthed from among the roots of a
stunted bitter-almond tree a small wooden box. It lay in the hollow of
his hand. The carved lid was fastened with hasps of rusty metal. He was
showing it to his companion.
She was a tall, slender woman, clad in a coarse, loose-sleeved robe,
which aimed to hide but rather emphasized the fine outlines of her
figure. Her blue eyes, beneath heavy, black-fringed lids, were sad—
the eyes of one who had lived through an infinity of suffering or
unsatisfied longing. Her forehead was banded with white linen; a veil,
drawn over her head and under her throat, shaded her face, which was
young, calm, and singularly joyless.
She looked silently on while the old man brushed the mould from the
box with his fingers and pried open the rotting lid. A handful of
ancient gold coins lay within; underneath them were some jewels in
tarnished silver setting, and a ring of clumsy workmanship, on whose
dull-blue signet-stone was cut an odd device—a rosary drawn through a
The woman eyed the gold incuriously. “It may be used in payment for
glass in the oriel,” she said, lifting her eyes to a crumbling tower of
the building which flanked the garden.
The gardener stooped, laying hold of the gnarled almond-tree to set
it in its place—for a heavy wind had overblown it in the night. But
he straightened himself abruptly, arrested by a half-whisper which
dropped from the woman's lips. It was spoken in a strange tongue, with
long, caressing syllables and curious inflections.
The shadow of a crumbling tower fell over the spot where they stood.
At the farther end of the large garden three young girls were walking
to and fro along a sunlighted walk. Their low voices sounded in the
distance like the murmur of bees.
With head averted the gardener listened while the mistress spoke
long and rapidly. Her speech had in it the subtle monotony of the
Eastern juggler's incantation when he causes a seed to swell and burst
and spring into a tree before the eyes of the spectator, waving his
hand the while, and fanning the budding leaves with a branch of faded
When she had concluded the old man replied briefly in the same
tongue. There was a tone of awed entreaty in his voice. A fire shot
into her blue eyes, and her slight form stiffened haughtily. He
crouched to her feet and kissed the hem of her coarse gown. She dropped
the antique coins into his outstretched palm and turned away.
The young girls made a deep obeisance as she passed them. She
entered the high Gothic doorway, and moved slowly towards a dim point
of light which shone in the shadows beyond a fretwork of marble. Her
hands, grasping the jewels, were covered by her long, flowing sleeves.
A carriage stopped before a tall brick mansion fronting on a side
street of the city. A sign above the arched entrance showed the house
to be a hotel; a crowd of well-dressed idlers on the veranda testified
to its importance. These looked down curiously as the carriage drew up
at the steps, and its single occupant—a woman—leaned forward. The
electric light—for it was long past the close of the short winter day
—fell upon her muffled figure and veiled face. The maskers in the
street, excited by the mumming and merriment of the Carnival, pressed
against the carriage wheels. The obsequious attendant who had come out
of the hotel laid his hand on the carriage door. He was thrust aside by
the proprietor, who assisted his guest to alight. His manner indicated
that special orders had been given for her reception. He offered her
his arm with a show of gallantry; she waved him aside without speaking,
and signed him to precede her up the broad steps. She followed him with
an air in which timidity and assurance were strangely blended.
The room into which she was conducted was large, and richly though
quietly furnished. It was faintly illuminated by candles burning in
silver sconces. The polished floor was overlaid with heavy rugs; the
carved furniture was of a quaint, old-fashioned pattern.
On a low couch placed within a curtained alcove was spread a
profusion of women's garments, exquisite in color and texture.
The woman, on entering, closed the door and walked to one of the
gilt-framed mirrors set in the wall. She removed her veil and gazed
long and fixedly at her own image, which looked back at her with
steady, unsmiling eyes. Her bosom heaved. She snatched the veil across
her face and stumbled towards the door; but her eyes caught the gleam
of silk and lace on the couch, and she stopped, trembling, and began to
unloose the clasps of her dark mantle.
A little before midnight the gayly decorated salon hard
by began to fill, and presently a carnival rout was in full swing
there. It differed little in outward appearance from other pre-Lenten
revels. There were few maskers, and these were gravely decorous beneath
their masks and dominoes. The inexperienced observer would have failed
to detect an almost imperceptible undercurrent—the innuendo lurking
beneath the jest, the covert meaning behind a rapid interchange of
glances, the quick signal given and returned in the passing crowd.
A group of young men in faultless evening-dress stood, during an
interval of the dance, near the ball-room door. Most of them had a
blasé expression; nearly all showed signs of recent
dissipation. One only—a clean-shaven, handsome, ruddy-faced young
fellow of twenty-five or so—seemed fresh and unworn. He was
apparently unknown to the others, who looked at him with an amused
contempt not unmixed with envy.
He had been dancing—a little awkwardly, it is true, but with an
abandon and gallantry which made the tired nerves of his dancer thrill
as they had not thrilled for many a long year. He was looking about him
now eagerly, as if making mental choice of a partner for the waltz
whose lazy tones were beginning to pulse upon the air.
At that moment a woman came down the narrow entrance-hall, unwinding
from her head, as she approached the door, a filmy lace scarf. It was
the same woman who had alighted at dusk from her carriage at the door
of the hotel in a neighboring street.
She was extraordinarily and strangely beautiful in her ball-dress.
This was composed of heavy, dull-yellow satin, foamy about the foot
with lace so old as to be nearly the same color. A band of gold was
fastened about the slim waist with an agraffe of diamonds sunk deep in
unpolished silver. Clasps of the same jewels held together the narrow
shoulder-bands of the low corsage, which left her perfect neck and arms
bare. Her black hair was cut close, giving a singularly proud look to
her erect, well-shaped head. Her blue eyes wore a startled,
half-expectant expression, her red lips were parted, her bosom rose and
An open murmur of admiration greeted this dazzling apparition. She
pressed forward as if to taste it to the full, though at the same time
a burning blush suffused her pale face and dyed her neck and bosom. It
was as if the Angel of the Flesh shrank from that which the spirit
within ardently desired. She stopped abruptly, passing her hands along
her arms like one who draws down a long sleeve.
This movement was so constantly and apparently so unconsciously
repeated during the evening that the spectators remarked it and
commented wonderingly upon it.
Several of the young men near the ball-room door sprang forward to
meet her. But it was the clean-shaven young stranger who first reached
her side. He made scant ceremony of invitation, but placing his arm
about her waist, he drew her into the circle of dancers. She quivered
visibly at his touch, and again the red passed like a wave over her
white skin. Then a soft yielding smile dawned into her eyes, and her
slight form swayed to his embrace.
The onlookers followed their movements with cynical, fascinated
eyes. They danced with the charming, untaught grace of children. The
waltz, at first rhythmic and languid, grew hurried. The dancers swept
by in circles, which changed like the figures in a kaleidoscope. The
sound of so many light feet on the smooth floor was like the shoreward
rush of foamy waves. The air throbbed. When the music ceased, with a
shrill clash, the frenzied waltzers reeled in their places, looking
about them with dazed eyes, and laughing foolishly.
The woman in the dull-yellow gown and the clean-shaven stranger were
no longer among them. They had passed, dancing, through one of the
long, open windows, to the veranda outside. There was a tangled close
below, where the shadows of the vines on the walks were heavy in the
A mocking-bird was singing in the Spanish-dagger tree in a corner of
the close. It fell suddenly silent.
In the old garden it was still dark, though a hint of dawn thrilled
There was a whir of wheels on the road outside; a carriage stopped,
and then crawled away, its lights shining like baleful fires in the
Two persons came in at the small wicket cut in the high, enclosing
wall. They were the gardener and the woman. Her forehead was banded
with linen, and her coarse, dark robe trailed on the dew-wet walk.
The old man trembled so that he could hardly dig a place at the foot
of the bitter-almond tree to receive the little carved box. The woman
threw into the box, with a gesture of loathing, the jewels which she
carried in her hands, and the money left from that which the gardener
had obtained in exchange for the antique coins. He heaped the sod upon
the box and pressed it down with his foot. Then he stood still with his
arms hanging at his side, his face turned to hers in the darkness.
The moments passed; the moist leaves rustled to the chill breeze; a
bird in an orange-tree twittered dreamily.
At length she spoke—always in the curious foreign tongue; but the
glow and the heart-beat were gone from it, and the sound of it was dull
and lifeless. She seemed to be relating some story in which there was
shame and anguish for them both; for she twisted her hands wildly as
she spoke, and the old man wept, with his arms hanging at his side.
When she had finished she writhed to his feet and lay prone with her
face on the ground, her dark mantle covering her like a pall.
He lifted her, and sought with soothing whispers to draw her towards
the wicket. But she put him aside, suddenly imperious. A single word of
command came from her ashen lips.
The old gardener put his hand to his bosom and drew forth a small
packet. He laid it in her palm, and, prostrating himself, he placed her
sandalled foot upon his neck. Then he arose, and passed, without a
backward glance, through the gate in the wall. The woman crossed the
garden and entered the Gothic doorway. She felt her way towards the
small point of light which burned steadily in the thick darkness beyond
the fretwork of marble.
The next day—it was Ash-Wednesday—the dim aisles rang with cries
of mourning. For the young Mistress had died during the night in the
great hall. There they had found her kneeling, quite stiff and cold,
with her forehead pressed against the marble fretwork.
The awe-struck young girls gathered about the bier and gazed,
weeping, upon her beautiful, saint-like face.
The bell in the crumbling tower tolled the livelong day.
At sunset of the same day a clean-shaven young man, on the farther
side of the old city, walked up and down a flower-set alleyway. His
dark gown brushed the low hedge; the shadow of lichened walls fell
athwart his path. He was reading from a small book, but ever and anon a
vague smile came into his dark eyes, and he drew a ring from its
hiding-place in his bosom and looked furtively at it.
On its dull-blue signet-stone was graven a string of prayer-beads
drawn through a cloven heart.
FROM THE QUARTER
A HEART-LEAF FROM STONY CREEK
“JED HOPSON!” said the school-mistress, rapping sharply with a pencil
on the edge of the slate which she held in her hand.
“Yethum,” whimpered Jed, detected in his stealthy, stooping flight
behind the last row of benches.
“What are you doing away from your seat?”
“Pleathe, Mith Pothy, I wath juth goin' to give thith heart-leaf to
Mary Ann Hineth.”
“Bring it to me instantly, sir.”
Mary Ann Hines pushed a red underlip out scornfully at her
tow-headed adorer as he passed her on his way to the teacher's desk,
with the long-stemmed, green, shining heart-leaf in his grimy hand; and
the other scholars giggled behind their calico-covered geographies.
Miss Posy Weaver's stern look restored order. She made Jed stand in
a corner with his face to the wall, and she put the confiscated
love-offering in her desk. But for the life of her she could not help
bruising it between her fingers and sniffing it surreptitiously, with
her head behind the desk-lid. Its aromatic, woodsy perfume floated out,
permeating the warm, still air of the little school-room.
“Jeddy,” said the young teacher, affectionately, “you may go back to
She looked furtively at the big silver watch hanging at her belt,
and then glanced with longing eyes at the strip of blue sky which
shone, all checkered with the swaying leaves of a young sassafras,
between the unchinked logs. A ripple of excitement passed over the
score of freckled faces turned expectantly towards hers. By some
mysterious divination the scholars in the Stony Creek school-house were
already aware that an extra half-hour was about to be prefixed to their
two-hours noon play-time.
The school-mistress leaned forward and laid her hand on the small
silver bell which used to stand on the work-table of Mrs. David Overall
at Sweet Brier Plantation.
The children started up like a herd of young deer at the clear,
tinkling sound; but they went out decorously, two and two. For Miss
Posy had studied pedagogy in the Normal School at Greenhurst, and
herself presided with great dignity once a month at the County
Teachers' Association. But she smiled with girlish indulgence at the
whoop which Pud Hines raised on the very threshold as he bounded out.
The isolated old log school-house was nestled in a wooded hollow
between two long sloping pine-clad hills. A rutty, disused wagon-road
rambled down one of these hills, and skirted the base of the other. It
passed the school-house door, crossing, just below, a shallow, rippling
branch which fell, a hundred yards or so down the hollow, into one of
the deep pools of Stony Creek. Little paths, brown with pine-needles,
led away in every direction, worn by the bare feet of Posy Weaver's
scholars. A large water-oak shaded the low roof of the house; a
grape-vine trailed down from one of the outstretched limbs and hoisted
itself up again, forming a natural swing. The ground beneath was
skirt-swept and bare, for that was the girls' side. Some
pretty-by-night bushes and a straggling line of yellow nigger-heads
marked the limit of their playground. On the other side the boys of
several generations had trampled out a ball-field.
Tom Simmons, who was at one of the outer bases, came running in.
“Boys! boys!” he cried, breathlessly. “Wish I may die if a wagin ain't
comin' down the old road!”
It was an unheard-of thing, since the laying of the new turnpike,
for anybody to drive along the old Stony Creek road.
Sure enough; an open wagon was bumping down the hill, between the
tall, brown pine trunks, yawing first to one side and then to the
other, in order to escape the red, rain-washed gullies of the road. The
shambling, whity-brown horse which drew it stopped a moment at the foot
of the descent to breathe; then jogged lazily on, of his own accord, to
the branch, where he dipped his nose, with a snuffle of satisfaction,
in the sun-warmed water. The boys, and one or two of the larger girls,
hurried down to the reed-fringed bank, and stood gazing, open-mouthed,
at the vehicle and its occupants.
The driver was a lean, sallow-faced lad about fifteen years old. He
sat on a plank laid across the mud-splashed bed of the wagon. Behind
him, in a couple of rickety, hide-bottomed chairs, were two old men—a
white man and a negro. Both were neatly dressed in threadbare black
broadcloth, with old-fashioned plaited shirt fronts of the finest white
linen. The negro was bent so nearly double that his brown,
alert-looking face almost rested upon his knees. His knotted hands
trembled, as if shaken by palsy. His companion sat stiffly erect, with
his arms crossed upon his breast. There was an air of unconscious
dignity about him, though his sunken eyes were humble and appealing.
His face was pale and emaciated, and his gaunt form was shaken from
time to time by a racking cough.
A large-patterned old carpet-bag and a bundle tied top in a red
cotton handkerchief were lying in the back of the wagon, and a
battered-looking fiddle was tucked under the negro's chair.
“Mith Pothy,” whispered Jed Hopson, laying a timid hand on the
She was sitting by the low, shutterless window; an open book was on
her lap, and she twirled the heart-leaf absently in her fingers. A ray
of sunlight falling across her head brightened her bronze-brown hair
and drooping lashes. She was very young—hardly as old, in fact, as
Pud Hines or Tom Simmons, her oldest scholars.
She started at the light touch, and smiled at the small intruder.
“Well, Jed, is it a thorn in the finger or a splinter in the foot, this
“Mith Pothy”—his eyes widened as he spoke—“the po'-houthe wagin,
with Tad Luker drivin' it, ith yonder at the branch, en' ole Cunnel
Dave Overall an' Unc' Bine ith in it, goin' to the po-'houthe to live.
Tad thayth he'th takin' 'em to the po'-houthe 'cauthe they ain't able
to work no more for theythelvth, an' if they don't go to the po'-houthe
they'll thtarve. Oh, Mith Pothy, what 'th the matter?”
The girl had started to her feet; the color had left her cheeks, and
she was staring at the child with frightened eyes.
There was a creaky sound of wheels outside. She ran out
distractedly. Tad Luker grinned with bashful delight at sight of her,
and drew his horse up so suddenly that the two old men were jerked
forward in their chairs. Colonel David Overall recovered himself, and
removed his rusty tall hat with a courtly bow. The schoolmistress
leaned against the wheel, panting and speechless.
“Mornin', Miss Posy.” The old negro lifted a hand with difficulty to
his ancient beaver.
“Posy?” echoed the Colonel, turning inquiringly from one to the
other, a faint flush rising to his hollow cheek.
“Yessah,” returned Uncle Bine. “She de gran'chile o' we-all's las'
'fo'-de-wah overseer, sah, Mist' Josh Mullen—you 'member Mist' Josh
Mullen, Marse Dave—an' she name' Posy a'ter ole Mis', sah.”
“Yes, sir,” the teacher said, answering the sudden look of
affectionate interest in the old man's eyes, “my name is Repose
Cartwright Weaver. My mother was born at Sweet Brier Plantation, and
she named me for your wife. She is buried near Mrs. Overall in the
Sweet Brier burying-ground.”
Colonel Overall opened his lips and then closed them, swallowing a
lump in his throat.
“Won't—won't you put on your hat, Colonel?” she stammered, after a
moment's silence, for the noon sun was beating hot upon his gray old
“Oh no, I could not think of it,” he said, hastily, “in the presence
of a lady.” He reached down, as he spoke, and took her hand in his.
The scholars had all pressed up, and were standing in a ring about
the poor-house wagon, staring in respectful silence at the dispossessed
owner of the old Sweet Brier Plantation. Tad Luker, seeing Miss Posy's
distress, and feeling himself in some sort implicated in the cause of
it, had slid down, and was sheltering himself behind the placid old
horse from the misery in her brown eyes.
“Ha!” It was the heart-leaf dropped from Posy Weaver's palm into his
own which had brought an almost youthful light into the dimmed eyes. “A
heart-leaf! I would wager, Byron”—he turned to the negro beside him—
“that it came from the Long Bend in Stony Creek bottom.”
“Yeth, thir, it did!” cried Jed Hopson, thrusting his tousled head
up under the teacher's arm.
“Are you a Hopson?” demanded the Colonel, looking down at him
“Yeth, thir; Jed Hopthon, thir.”
The Colonel laughed softly. “I thought so. Your grandfather had the
same lisp and the same tow head when he was your age.” His eyes went
back to the leaf. “They grow,” he said, “just beyond the Flat Rock in
the Long Bend. You wade through a boggy thicket until you come to a
fern-bed; a little further to the right there is a clump of beech-trees
—four of them—set close together; the heart-leaves grow in a sort of
square made by the beech roots.”
“Yeth, thir!” shouted little Jed, quivering with excitement. “I've
knowed the plathe nigh a year, but I ain't never told nobody.”
“And your name is Repose, my dear? Well, well! And you teach the
Stony Creek school? I used to go to school here myself, you know, when
I was a boy, with little Posy Cartwright. Not in this house, to be
sure. The old one was pulled down—some time in the forties, I think
it was, eh, Byron? I found the heart-leaves in Stony Creek bottom one
day at play-time. Byron here, my body-servant, was with me.”
“I wuz bawn de same day Marse Dave wuz bawn, an' ole Marse gin me
ter him fer a body-servant,” interjected Uncle Bine.
“I must have been about eleven years old at the time. I slipped in
the bog, and had to go home in wet clothes, but I sent the heart-leaf
to Posy by Byron.”
“Yas,” said Uncle Bine, taking up the story as his old master
relapsed into silence, “an' what you reckin Miss Posy done when I gin
her de heart-leaf? She wuz settin' in de grape-vine swing long o' 'n'er
lil gal. Dey wa'n't mo'n seven er eight year ole, na'r one o' 'em, an'
Miss Posy's yaller hair wuz flyin' in de win'. I gin her de heart-leaf
an' tole her dat Marse Dave saunt it, an'—'fo' de Lawd!—she up an'
slap me spang on de jaw, an' th'o' de leaf on de groun'. She 'ten lak
she gwine ter tromp on it in de bargain; but I done cut my eye on her
roun' de cornder o' de school-house, 'caze I knowed she gwine ter pick
“An' did she?” asked Mary Ann Hines, involuntarily; then hung her
head, blushing red through tan and freckles.
“Yas, chile, co'se she did,” chuckled Uncle Bine. He waited a
moment; then proceeded, with a sidelong glance at his self-absorbed
companion: “Fum dat day ontwel he went off ter collige Marse Dave wuz
all de time sp'ilin' his britches wadin' roun' in dat bog a'ter
heart-leaves fer Miss Posy; an' when he come back fum collige—de
fines' young genterman dat ever kep' a pack o' houn's—he fairly hang
roun' de Poplars, wher' Mist' Tom Cartwright live', fum mawnin' twel
night. Ole Marse say he 'spec' Miss Posy leadin' Marse Dave a dance.
An' at las', one night, he rid home fum de Poplars lookin' lak he plum
desput. Nex' mawnin' he ax me ter saddle de hosses 'fo' day, 'caze he
gwine huntin' down in Stony Creek bottom. I wuz 'bleedged ter go 'hine
de stable ter laugh when he come out'n de house 'bout daylight, 'caze
how Marse Dave gwine ter hunt 'dout a gun? We rid at a run down ter de
Long Ben' o' de creek, an' fus' t'ing I knowed Marse Dave done flung me
his bridle an' jump' onter de Flat Rock; an' dar he wuz wadin' thoo de
bog, in his fine clo's, ter de beeches wher' de heart-leaf grow!
“Hit wa'n't mo'n breakfus'-time when we come ter de cross-road
'twix' Sweet Brier an' de Poplars. Den Marse Dave he check up de gray
an' han' me de heart-leaf.
“ 'Tek it ter Miss Posy Cartwright,' he say. 'I'm gwine ter wait
right here ontwel you come back. Hit's de turn o' my life, Bine.'
“I lef' him settin' straight ez a saplin' on de big gray, an' I rid
on ter de Poplars. Dar wuz Miss Posy walkin' up an' down de gal'ry in
her white dress, an' de win' blowin' her yaller hair. She look at me
curus-lak wi' her blue eyes when she tuk de leaf. 'Fo' de Lawd, I wuz
feared she wuz gwine ter th'o' it on de groun' en' tromp on it! But she
turn her head, fus' dis way an' den dat, an' den she say, sof' an'
sassy-lak, 'Mek my compliments to yo' marster, an' ax him do he want
re-pose fer his heart.'
“I ain' sho', but seem lak I heerd Miss Posy call me back ez I
onlatch de big gate, but somep'n' inside me aiggd me not ter look
roun'. Marse Dave wuz pale ez death when I galloped up ter de
cross-road wher' he wuz waitin'. But I ain' no sooner got Miss Posy's
words out'n my mouf dan he streck spurs in de gray an' mek fer de
Poplars lak a streak o' lightnin'. He done forgot dat his clo's all
splesh over mud fum dat Long Ben' bog.”
The Colonel was listening now, and he smiled encouragement as Uncle
Bine stopped to cough.
“I reckin dass huccum Miss Posy wore heart-leaves stidder white
flowers at de weddin'. Me an' Marse Dave went down ter de bottom a'ter
'em on de weddin'-day mawnin'. An' dat huccum every year, when de same
day come eroun', Marse Dave useter ride down ter Stony Creek an' wade
out ter dem beeches a'ter a heart-leaf. But he never did fetch 'em ter
Miss Posy hisse'f. He useter stop in de summer-house an' sen' me inter
de house, wher' Miss Posy wuz settin' in de mawnin'-room, wi' de silver
bell on de wu'k-table 'longside her. She useter tek de heart-leaf an'
look at me out'n dem laughin' eyes an' say, 'Mek my compliments to yo'
marster, an' ax him do he want re-pose fer his heart.'
An' 'reckly Marse Dave 'd come bulgin' inter de house an' tek her in
his arms! Every year, 'cep'n' endurin' o' de wah, when Marse Dave an'
young Marse Cartwright, his onlies' son dat wuz killed in de wah, wuz
away fum Sweet Brier—every year fer up'ards o' forty year, I fotch a
heart-leaf ter ole Mis', an' tuk dat same message ter Marse Dave in de
summer-house. But I couldn't no wise mek out de meanin' o' Miss Posy's
message, ontwel, all at once, one day, fetchin' dem words ter Marse
Dave, I got de meanin'. It flesh over me in a minit. Repose, dat mean
res', you know, an' de heart-leaf stan' fer Marse Dave's heart.
Does you want res' fer yo' heart? I bus' out laughin' now ever'
time I 'member how de true meanin' o' dem words flesh over me a'ter
up'ards o' forty year!” He wagged his head up and down, laughing
“Dass de las' time I ever fotch de heart-leaf,” he added, in a
subdued tone, “ 'caze Miss Posy died dat same year, an' Marse Dave
hatter sell Sweet Brier.”
Yes, Sweet Brier, tumble-down and dilapidated in the midst of its
shrunken fields, had passed into alien hands. The household belongings
—the quaint old furniture which had been handed down from one
generation of Overalls to another—had been sold at auction. Posy
Weaver longed to tell the last of the Overalls how she herself had
bought, out of her first scanty earnings, the little silver bell which
used to stand on his wife's work-table. But she could not, somehow. She
stood silently looking back over the past few years—which seemed long
in her brief life—during which Uncle Bine and his old master had
lived together in one of the deserted negro cabins at Sweet Brier;
keeping up, in the midst of the new and strange generation, their
unequal struggle with poverty and sickness, until—
Colonel David Overall's thoughts, it would seem, had been travelling
along with hers. “I am told,” he said, abruptly, but with great
gentleness, “that the—the place to which they are taking Byron and me
is very comfortable. There is a wide gallery and shade-trees, and—” A
violent fit of coughing interrupted his speech.
The young teacher leaned her head upon the tire of the wheel and
wept silently. The older boys slunk away, ashamed and frightened at the
sight of their teacher's tears. The girls turned their heads and
pretended not to notice.
A sharp click disturbed the silence. It was the snapping of a string
on Uncle Bine's old fiddle.
Tad Luker stooped under the horse's neck and came around to where
the school-mistress was standing. “Miss Po-Posy,” he whispered,
desperately, “I orter go. I'll git a lickin' if I don't. An', Miss
Posy, I—I fetched him over the old road so's to keep offer the 'pike,
where folks might ha' seen him on his way to the poor-house.”
Posy gave him a grateful look through her tears, and pressed eagerly
between the wheels to murmur something which the children could not
hear. But the old Colonel shook his head. “No, no, my dear, I cannot
burden an orphaned child like you. It will not be long, for Byron and I
are very old. Besides”—he straightened himself with dignity—“I am
told that the county poor-house is quite comfortable—quite
Tad clambered to his seat; he shook the reins, and the old horse
pricked up his ears.
“Wait a moment, please,” said Colonel David Overall, lifting his
hand. “My dear,” he continued, looking wistfully down into the girl's
flushed and tear-stained face, “would—would you mind standing for a
second upon the step?”
She sprang lightly upon the muddy wagon-step.
He laid his hand on her head. “Repose Cartwright! It was my wife's
name,” he muttered, kissing her on either cheek. And then he turned and
laid his arm about Uncle Bine's bowed shoulders.
The wagon rattled away, jolting the old men in their chairs, and
displacing the grotesque beavers on their heads. A turn of the red road
presently hid them from view, and a moment later the silver bell was
calling the scholars of the Stony Creek school to order.
FRANCIS UNDERWOOD glanced about him as the train whizzed away,
leaving him the sole occupant of the narrow platform upon which he had
alighted. His smaller luggage lay at his feet, but his travelling-trunk
was nowhere in sight. The few idlers—a couple of sallow-faced,
shock-headed crackers and a squad of noisy negro lads—who had
collected about the little way-station while the train made its
momentary halt, had disappeared. He walked to the end of the platform,
where a dozen or more turpentine barrels stood on end, their contents
oozing from the rifts in their sun-warped sides, and cast his eyes over
the green flat, which was bounded in every direction by low, red,
pine-clad hills. The dim haze of an early autumn afternoon hung in the
pine-tops; a thin spiral of smoke arose from the chimney of the single
cabin within range of vision; a rickety buggy, over whose sagging top
fluttered the loose end of a woman's veil, was just turning the distant
bend of a road. There were no other visible signs of life. The
perplexed traveller strode back to the dingy waiting-room and looked
in. The tripping click of the telegraph in the cubby beyond and a
familiar opening in the thin board partition indicated the occasional
presence, at least, of operator and agent; but the individual who
combined these two functions was in momentary eclipse.
Underwood thrust his hands into his pockets and meditated, frowning
“De telegraph is boun' fer ter clickety-click, sah,” said a voice
over his shoulder; “she jes keep on er-talkin' ter herse'f in yander
same ez ef de boss was 'longside her ter write her down.”
The young man turned quickly and found himself face to face with a
negro, who held a carriage-whip in one hand, and in the other his own
bag, top-coat, and umbrella.
“Scuse me, sah,” the speaker continued, removing his hat. “I reckin
you mus' be Mist Onderwood?”
Underwood nodded assent.
“Dey's lookin' fer you at Pine Needles, Mist' Onderwood. Step dis
way, sah. Yo' trunk is gone on in de cyart. But I ain' been able ter
fetch up de cay'age ontwel de ingine stop her fool screechin', 'caze my
hosses is kinder res'less.”
He led the way as he spoke to a light trap, which had been driven up
noiselessly, and was waiting near the steps of the low platform.
Underwood settled himself comfortably on the cushioned seat, and
turned a gaze of wondering admiration on his conductor, who stood with
a hand on the glossy flank of one of the horses, respectfully awaiting
orders. He was himself of unusual height, slenderly proportioned, but
with an athletic frame and well-knit muscles, which contradicted a
rather boyish face, laughing blue eyes, and a sensitive mouth, whose
weakness was not wholly concealed by a light, drooping mustache. But he
seemed suddenly dwarfed. The negro towered like a giant above the tall
mulatto who held the bridles of the horses. His large head, crowned
with a bush of crisp, wiry curls, was set squarely upon shoulders of
enormous breadth. Underwood examined almost with awe the broad chest
and massive limbs; the latter were straight and well formed; the
powerful wrist, indeed, and the hand, with its long fingers, perfect
nails, and outward-curving palm, might have served for a sculptor's
model. He was jet-black. His square-jawed face was beardless. His long,
brown eyes had the melancholy softness characteristic of his race; the
lips were thick, and the cheek-bones prominent, but the nose was
straight and shapely, giving a curious and unexpected dignity to an
otherwise typical negro physiognomy. He spoke the uncouth patois
of the quarters, but his bearing was that of one who held a
position of trust and confidence.
He was clad in a sort of homely livery of dark-blue flannel—a
blouse, whose open collar exposed his full throat, and loose trousers
held in at the waist by a broad leather belt.
Underwood waved his hand as he concluded his brief, half-unconscious
inspection, and the black colossus took a seat beside him, the mulatto
stepped aside, and the handsome bays sprang forward at the loosening of
the reins. The road wound gradually up long, sloping hills, dipping now
and then into a moist hollow, where the sturdy underbrush and the
jungle-like growth of trees were aflame under the first light touches
of the frost. A few belated spikes of goldenrod nodded by the
road-side, and an occasional cluster of dim purple asters shone against
the background of a fallen pine; but the Indian-pipe—precursor of
winter—was already thrusting its waxen crook through the dark mould
on the sheltered slopes. The hill-sides were brown with pine-needles.
The sky, in the waning sunlight, was a fine, soft purple; the plumy
tops of the lofty pines seemed to melt into it far overhead; the warm
air was charged with aromatic odors. Underwood bared his head, and
expanded his lungs with an idle sense of well-being. His eyes followed
dreamily the flight of a hawk across the sky. A faint smile curved his
“Dar's a molly cottontail!” suddenly exclaimed the negro. A rabbit
sped across the road a few paces in front of the horses and scurried up
a ridge, her gray ears laid back and her white bit of a tail in the
air. “Dat's bad luck, Mist' Onderwood!”
Underwood recalled a half-forgotten superstition. “Not for me,” he
said, gayly. “I carry a rabbit foot in my pocket! What is your name—
boy?” he continued, stumbling over the last word, quizzically conscious
of its inappropriateness.
“Marcas, sah,” returned the “boy,” promptly. “Dey calls me Blue-gum
Marc,” he added, with a side glance at the questioner and a suppressed
“Blue-gum Marc?” echoed Underwood, interrogatively.
The giant opened his mouth, drawing back his thick lips, and pointed
significantly to a double row of glistening white teeth, set in gums of
a dark leaden blue. “Dat's de reason, sah,” he said, lightly. “I's a
blue-gum nigger. An' dey 'lows ef I git mad at anybody, an' bite de
pusson, dat bite gwine ter be wusser 'n rattlesnake pizen! Der ain' no
whiskey in de jug dat kin heal up de bite of a blue-gum nigger!”
He threw back his head and laughed with a keen enjoyment of his own
“Have you ever tried it?” asked Underwood, carelessly.
“Who? Me? Gawd-a-mighty!— no sah!” A sudden spasm of terror
swept over the ebon face. “No, sah,” he repeated, relapsing into
decorous mirth. “I 'ain' never had no call ter bite anybody yit.”
The horses shied violently as he concluded.
“What in de name o' Gawd is de matter wid you, Dandy? Whoa, Jim!” he
ejaculated, tightening his grasp on the reins, and peering to right and
left with a frown on his forehead. Underwood saw the frown melt
suddenly, and a light leap into the dark eyes. He followed the
direction of his gaze; his own heart beat tumultuously, and the blood
surged into his cheeks.
The glade through which they were passing was filled with the
uncertain shadows of a fast-gathering twilight, though the slanting
beams of the sun still illuminated the crest of the hills. A little
stream, whose rippling murmur filled the silence, ran obliquely across
the road and widened into a broad pool in the thicket beyond. The
half-dried reeds on the margin, and the over-hanging trees with their
festooning vines, were mirrored in the clear brown depths of this
waveless tarn. A woman was standing on the farther side, her tall,
lithe figure outlined by the pale glimmer of her gown. One hand, which
held a cluster of vivid red leaves, hung at her side; the other was
arched above her brows as she leaned forward in a listening attitude.
As they whirled past, Underwood caught the gleam of a bare, tawny
wrist, and the glow of a pair of large, lustrous eyes.
“Who was that?” he demanded, abruptly.
“S'lome,” responded his companion, with affected indifference. “She
Miss Cecil's own maid,” he added, after a pause.
“I thought at first that it was Miss Cecil herself,” said Underwood,
glancing back over his shoulder.
“S'lome do look lak—” the negro checked himself and averted his
face, flecking Dandy's arched neck with the whip-tassel.
Something in his tone struck the young man at his side; he drew the
lap-robe closer about his knees, for the air was growing chill, and
remained silent until Marcas sprang to the ground to open the boundary
gate of Pine Needles, Miss Cecil Berkeley's fine old country place.
“How old are you, Marc?” he asked, struck anew by the negro's noble
“Twenty-five, come Christmas, sah. Bawn jes inside o' freedom. Hit's
mighty liftin' ter be bawn free, an' ter be raise' up free, Mist'
Onderwood,” he went on, resuming his seat and taking the reins from
Underwood's hands. “But my old daddy 'ain' had no call ter complain
whilse he was a slave.”
“Where—” began Underwood.
“My daddy was a Affican prince—” the fine nostrils dilated and the
broad chest heaved. “Colonel Berkeley bought him out'n a slave-pen in
Charl's'n, wher he was dyin' lak a dog, an' fotch him home. An' fum dat
day twel de day he died he had the treatments of a genterman at Pine
Needles. Dere wa'n't a drap o' blood in his body dat he wouldn't ha'
spill' fer de Berkeleys! An' dat huccome I 'ain' never lef' Miss Cecil,
Mist' Onderwood. 'Caze dat ole Affican prince is layin' out yander in
de fam'ly buryin'-groun' 'longside o' ole marster an' ole mis'; an' who
gwine ter tek keer o' Miss Cecil ef I go?”
Underwood, moved by the simplicity and earnestness of the speaker,
laid his hand on the brawny arm next to him, and opened his lips to
speak. But Marcas shrank from the light touch. Underwood felt the firm
flesh quiver beneath his fingers. “He knows that I have come to carry
away his young mistress, and he is jealous,” he thought, smiling with
His eyes roved curiously over the broad park. The kind of
table-land, from which the pine hills sloped away to the west and
north, was covered with noble woodland trees, through whose trunks, in
passing, he caught glimpses of orchards, vineyards, and fields. It was
his first visit to Pine Needles, and he looked out eagerly for the
house. A last turn of the smooth road brought it in view—a large,
rambling country-house, embowered in greenery, with wide galleries,
slanting roof, and square, red-brick chimneys.
“Yander's Miss Cecil, er-waitin'!” said Marcas, pointing with his
whip. Underwood barely had time to catch the flutter of light garments
through the foliage before the horses were drawn up beneath the veranda
where she stood.
She came down the steps with outstretched hands. “Welcome to Pine
Needles, Francis,” she said, with a sort of shy pride. “This is my
cousin, Mrs. Garland,” she added, presenting the small, alert-looking
personage who filled the agreeable office of companion to the young
Cecil Berkeley offered a pleasing contrast to the man upon whom she
was about to bestow the ownership of herself and the Berkeley estates.
She was tall and slender, with hair and brows of an almost startling
blackness, and dark eyes in which a smouldering fire seemed to dwell;
her high-bred oval face was singularly delicate in its outlines. There
was a pliant softness in her movements and a hint of strength in her
firm white chin and perfect mouth. She flushed as her lover's ardent
eyes met hers in the fading light.
“Welcome to Pine Needles!” she cried again, springing lightly up the
Underwood had not finished relating the common-place details of his
southward journey when the soft fall of unshod feet sounded on the
polished floor; a shadowy form glided across the dim-lit room in which
they were seated, and bent over Miss Berkeley's chair. He felt, rather
than saw, that it was the woman whom he had seen an hour before
standing on the edge of the dark pool in the hollow.
“Thank you, S'lome,” said her mistress, in a tone of affectionate
familiarity, taking the leaves, whose color was lost in the
semi-darkness. The quadroon bent her shapely head, and passed from the
room as silently as she had entered it.
That night they sat late before a blazing pine-knot fire in the snug
library. The hands of the slow-ticking old clock on the mantel pointed
almost to midnight when the guest arose to bid his hostess good-night.
As he opened the door a strain of music fell upon his ears, accompanied
with a burst of noisy laughter.
Cecil smiled in reply to his questioning look. “Uncle Darius is
fiddling on the kitchen gallery,” she said, “and the negroes are
doubtless dancing there, late as it is. Come, let us take a peep at
She led the way down the wide hall, and out upon a small vine-hung
porch in the rear of the dining-room. The night was clear and still.
The grassy yard and the garden beyond were bathed in the tranquil light
of a full moon. But an enormous fig-tree, whose branches brushed the
low eaves, swathed the long kitchen gallery in dense shadow, save
where, from an open door, a broad glare of red light streamed across
it. Uncle Darius, lean and brown, sat just within the doorway, fiddling
with all his might, his chair tilted against the wall, his gray head
thrown back, his big bare foot keeping time on the floor. Aunt Peggy,
the old black cook, dozed on a stool beside him. A confused mass of
dark forms were dimly visible in the shadow, lying about the floor,
lounging on the low steps, squatting against the wall. Here and there a
dusky face, a bare foot, an out-thrust arm, gleamed strangely in the
muddy light. Lindy, big-limbed and black, and Mushmelon Joe, small,
wizened, and wiry, sank on their heels against the door-posts,
breathless and exhausted after a prolonged “break-down,” as the
invisible spectators drew aside the leafy curtain and looked out.
“I ain' gwine ter play nary 'nother tune ternight,” declared Uncle
Darius, bringing his chairlegs down with a thump. “De chickens is fair
crowin fer day now.” But as a tall figure stepped noiselessly from the
darkness into the shaft of light, he tucked his fiddle under his chin
again with a whoop. “Now you gwine ter see dancin'!” he shouted,
flourishing his bow. “Blue-gum Marc gwine ter teach the niggers how ter
raek down de cotton row!”
Marc swayed his huge body from side to side rhythmically, then
paused. “Ain' you gwine ter raek down de cotton row 'long o' me,
S'lome?” he demanded, turning his face towards a group of women at the
farther end of the gallery.
“No,” drawled a low, musical voice there.
“Den you can ontie de fiddle-strings, Unc' Darius,” said Marc,
joining good-naturedly in the loud laugh at his own expense.
Underwood bent forward, straining his eyes in the darkness. But Aunt
Peggy had already shut the kitchen door, and a moment later they all
trooped away, singing, to the negro settlement in the pines, which had
replaced the old-time quarters.
One morning about ten days later Miss Berkeley came out of the house
alone and walked slowly across the lawn. Her step was listless; her
eyes were downcast; her cheek had lost its brilliant color. She seated
herself on a rustic bench under a low-branched oak, and opened the book
which she held in her hand. But her gaze wandered absently from the
printed page. It fell at length upon Marcas, who was moving to and fro
among the flower-beds, whistling joyously. He carried a small garden
hoe, and the splint basket on his arm was heaped with tufts of violets.
His face brightened as his eyes caught those of his young mistress. He
took off his hat and came over to where she was sitting.
“Hit's edzackly de weather ter transplan', Miss Cecil,” he said; “de
groun' is dat meller an' sof'—”
“Marcas,” she interrupted, imperiously, leaning her head against the
dark tree-trunk and looking fixedly at him, “is it true that you carry
poison in your teeth like a rattlesnake?”
“Lawd-a-mussy, Miss Cecil!” he cried, falling back a step or two in
his amazement. “I dunno. Yes, 'm. I 'ain' never projecked none wi' dat
foolishness. But my ole daddy useter say so, an' I reckin a
African prince oughter know!“
Her eyes dropped on her book, and he returned with a bewildered air
to his work. She watched him abstractedly as he placed the moist roots
one by one deftly in the ground, and patted the loose earth about them
with a large, open palm.
“The dwarf-marigolds are nearly all gone,” she remarked, after a
“Yes,'m,” assented Marc, glancing at a triangular plot in the centre
of the lawn, where a few small yellow flowers shone on their low
“S'lome has been gathering them—” she went on, musingly, and as if
speaking to herself.
“S'lome do hone a'ter yaller, dat's a fac'!” he commented, with a
“- for Mr. Underwood,” she concluded, in a monotonous tone.
The negro rose slowly to his feet. A sombre fire shot into his eyes.
He stood for a moment silently looking down at her. Then he dropped
again to his knees and drew the basket to him.
She went away presently, leaving the book, which had slipped from
her lap, lying face downward in the yellowing grass.
He watched her furtively until she entered the house. Then, without
a glance at the overturned basket and neglected tools, he passed across
the grounds, leaped the low fence, and plunged into the silent reaches
of the pines.
That night when the mistress of Pine Needles came down from her own
room, whither, under pretext of a headache, she had withdrawn after the
mid-afternoon country dinner, she found the house wearing an unwonted
air of festivity.
“Ah, there you are at last, Cecil dear!” cried Mrs. Garland,
bustling into the hall to meet her. “Everything is waiting for you.
I've arranged what Uncle Darius calls a speckle-tickle for your
Mr. Underwood,” she added, dropping her voice.
She drew the girl into the long parlor, whose polished floor
reflected the clustered lights in the old-fashioned crystal
chandeliers. Wax tapers burned softly in the tall silver candelabra on
the mantel; roses were stuffed in the wide-mouthed vases; the furniture
was pushed against the wall; a couple of quaint high-backed chairs were
placed side by side in the broad curve of the bow-window.
“You and Francis are to sit here, like the king and queen in a
play,” said Mrs. Garland, gayly. “Don't lift an eyebrow, Cecil, pray,
if you recognize the contents of your own armoires and jewel-cases.”
Cecil sank into the chair with a wan smile. She looked frail and
almost ghost-like in her trailing white gown. Underwood, who seemed
possessed by a sort of reckless gayety, seated himself beside her. He
wore pinned upon the lapel of his coat a small yellow flower.
There was a moment of almost painful silence. Then Mrs. Garland,
leaning on the back of her cousin's chair, touched a small silver bell.
The heavy portière which draped the entrance to the library was pushed
aside, and Uncle Darius, arrayed in an antiquated blue coat with brass
buttons, light trousers, and ruffled shirt-front, entered pompously,
fiddle in hand, and seated himself on the edge of a chair. Mushmelon
Joe, Scip, 'Riah, Sara-Wetumpka—a motley gang of field hands and
house servants—swarmed in after him. They ranged themselves, grinning
and nudging each other, about him, and began to pat a subdued
accompaniment to his music. At a scarcely perceptible signal from the
fiddler, Lindy bounced into the room. A scarlet sash was wound
turbanwise about her kinky head, and an Oriental shawl draped her blue
cotton skirt. The black arms and neck were encircled with strings of
many-colored beads. She looked preternaturally solemn as she dropped
her arms and began the heavy “hoe-down” for which she was famous in the
settlement; but a broad grin presently stole over her face; her
glistening eyeballs rolled from side to side; the perspiration streamed
from her forehead.
“Wire down de crack, nigger, wire down de crack!” exhorted Uncle
Darius. “Pick up dem battlin' sticks you calls yo' feet, gal, an' tromp
in de flo'!”
“She sho is made de flat o' her foot talk ter de fiddle,”
remarked Mushmelon Joe, as she executed a last breathless whirl, and
retired giggling into the admiring circle of clappers.
The clear tinkle of the little bell echoed on the air. Blue-gum Marc
appeared suddenly in a doorway that gave upon a side gallery, and,
folding his arms on his breast, leaned his great bulk against the
frame. At the same moment S'lome stepped from behind the portière.
An involuntary exclamation burst from Underwood. Cecil closed her
eyes, dazzled by the wild and barbaric beauty of the tawny creature
She wore a short, close-clinging skirt and sleeveless bodice of
pale, shimmering yellow satin; a scarf of silver gauze girdled her
slender waist, and was knotted below her swelling hips. Her slim brown
ankles and shapely feet were bare. Bands and coils of gold wreathed her
naked arms; a jewelled chain clasped her throat; a glittering
butterfly, with quivering outspread wings, was set in the crinkly mass
of black hair above her forehead. Her eyelids were downcast, their long
fringes sweeping her bronze-like cheeks. A curious light, defiant and
disdainful, played over her face as she stood motionless, with her arms
hanging loosely at her sides, while Uncle Darius played the first bars
of the bamboula which had been brought by Marcas's father from the
heart of Africa.
The music was low and monotonous—a few constantly recurring notes,
which at first vexed the ear, and then set the blood on fire.
The girl hardly appeared to move; there was a languid swaying of the
hips from side to side, and an almost imperceptible yet rhythmic stir
of the feet. But as the music gradually quickened its time, a thrill
seemed to pass along her sinuous limbs, and a subtle passion pervaded
her movements; her arms were tossed voluptuously above her head; her
breast heaved; a seductive fire burned in her half-closed amber eyes;
the sound of her light feet on the floor resembled the whir of wings.
The negroes, huddled mute and breathless against the wall, gazed at
her with wide, fascinated eyes. Suddenly, as if moved by some
mysterious and irresistible impulse, they rushed forward and closed in
a circle around the flashing figure, whirling about her with strange
evolutions and savage cries.
. . . A powerful, penetrating odor thickened the air. . . .
Underwood had started from his seat; he stood as if transfixed,
breathing heavily, his arms unconsciously extended, his eyes aflame,
and the veins in his forehead swollen almost to bursting. Marcas,
curiously impassive in the doorway, kept his gaze fixed steadily, not
upon the dancer, but upon his young mistress, who leaned back in her
chair, faint and dizzy, the rose-tint on her cheek fading to a
The movement of the bamboula became by degrees less rapid;
the panting circle opened and fell back. S'lome paused, and stretched
her arms slowly upward with the supple grace of a young panther. She
looked full at Underwood, and her lips parted in an exultant smile.
The blood surged into Miss Berkeley's white cheeks; she lifted her
head haughtily; her nostrils quivered; her eyes met those of Marcas for
an instant, then rested, flashing, upon S'lome, decked for triumph, as
it were, in her own hereditary jewels.
With a roar like that of a wild beast, Marcas leaped across the
room. His hand fell with a vise-like grasp upon the gleaming shoulder
of the quadroon; he stooped with a second ferocious cry, and buried his
teeth deep in the smooth flesh of the rounded arm. A single agonizing
shriek pierced the sudden stillness; before it had ended he had caught
the slight form in one hand, and bearing her high above his head he
bounded through the open door and disappeared in the darkness.
Underwood, heedless of the terrified confusion and wild clamor which
reigned around, was springing after him, when he felt a hand upon his
arm. “For Heaven's sake come and help me, Francis,” said Mrs. Garland;
“Cecil has fainted!”
The next afternoon Miss Berkeley passed through a small gate into the
pine woods which stretched away to the south, forming a part of her own
domain. She walked slowly along the well-worn path, halting now and
again with an air of indecision. Once she stooped mechanically and
plucked a yellow daisy which grew in a drift of warm brown
pine-needles, but cast it from her with a gesture of loathing. Her
black garments gave her an appearance of uncommon height. Her face was
livid, her lips compressed, her dark eyes dull and suffering. She
turned at length into the narrow lane which led to the negro
settlement. As she drew near the outermost cabin she saw Underwood
standing in the shadow of a scrubby pine that overhung the
picket-fence. Aunt Peggy, the mistress of the cabin, was leaning over
the low gate; her arms were uplifted, as if in entreaty or adjuration.
He started at sight of the approaching figure, and walked rapidly
forward. He had a white flower in his hand. His face was turned away,
and for a moment it seemed as if he were about to pass his betrothed
without a greeting. But as she stepped aside he paused, and said,
“I am going away, Cecil. I—I think it is best.” His eyes were
fixed upon the althea blossom which he was twirling awkwardly in his
“You are quite right,” she returned, coldly; “it is best.”
She left him without another word. He lingered a moment, gazing
irresolutely after her, then struck into the beaten road that led to
the railway station.
Aunt Peggy had come out the gate. “Miss Cecil, honey,” she said,
hoarsely, “dis ain' no place fer de likes o' you! Go back ter de house,
chile—go back!” she entreated. “Mist' Onderwood yander he's been
here, off an' on, 'mos' all day. But I ain' dassen ter lef him go inter
de cabin. I ax him for Gawd's sake ef he ain' mek enough trebble
a'ready 'd'out showin' hisself wher' Blue-gum Marc kin see him. He say
he wan' ter see S'lome! My Gawd! I gin him a althy flower fum
offin de corpse, an' saunt him erway. Doan go in de cabin, Miss Cecil!”
she panted, following her mistress into the little door-yard, and
laying hold of the folds of her gown. “Blue-gum Marc is in de cabin. He
ain' never lef' de gal sence he pizen her. Nobody dassen ter go er-nigh
him 'cep'n' me, an' he ain' lef me tech her, not even ter put on
de grave-close. He say he gwine ter kill the pusson dat steps inside
dat cabin do'. De mo'ners is 'bleedge' ter mo'n in Lindy's cabin
yander. Fer Gawd's sake, Miss Cecil—fer Gawd's—”
Cecil put the old woman gently aside and pushed open the cabin door.
The little room had been hastily put in order. The large four-posted
bed was spread with white; the bare floor was swept clean; the pine
table, piled with blue-rimmed dishes, was placed in the chimney-corner.
Uncle Darius's fiddle hung in its accustomed place on the wall, with
his Sunday coat on a nail beneath it. The level rays of a setting sun
came in at the single window; a light breeze moved the white curtains
to and fro.
The dead girl was lying in the centre of the room on a rude bier,
her head resting on a pillow. She was still clad in the fantastic
costume in which she had danced the night before; the gold bands and
jewelled ornaments sparkled in the red light which streamed over her.
Her eyes were closed; their silken lashes made a black line against the
dusky pallor of her cheeks. Her lips were slightly parted, and an
inscrutable smile seemed to hover about their corners. One arm was laid
across her breast, a fold of silver gauze was drawn over the purpling
wound just below the shoulder; the other arm hung to the floor, the
closed hand grasping the filigree chain which she had torn, in the
death agony, from her neck. A few white altheas were scattered on her
bosom, and some sprigs of lavender and rue were lying on the rough
boards about her bare feet and ankles. A short, large-handled,
keen-bladed knife was laid across the pillow above her head. She looked
like a savage queen asleep on her primitive couch.
Marcas sat by the head of the bier. His body was erect and rigid;
his powerful hands rested on his knees; his feet were drawn close
together; his head was turned towards the dead girl, showing his
curiously fine profile. It was the attitude and pose of the Pharaoh of
the Egyptian monuments.
He did not move as Cecil entered the room. She stood for a second as
motionless as the dead and the watcher of the dead, with her hands
clasped before her, the fingers interlocked. Then she stumbled across
the floor, halted at the foot of the bier.
The buzzing of some bees about the pots of flowering moss on the
window-sill filled the silence with a low, droning sound. The wail of
the mourners in Lindy's cabin came in fitfully, softened by the
“Miss Cecil,” he said, presently, without turning his head or
lifting his heavy eyelids, “I jes' waited fer de tu'n o' yo' eye, 'case
I didn' know which you was gwine ter p'int out fust—S'lome or him.
De knife is fer him, soon ez de gal is onder groun'.”
Cecil shuddered and put out her hands.
“Doan fret, Miss Cecil,” he went on, in the same sombre tone. “No
stranger ain' gwine ter turn de rosy cheek o' Colonel Berkeley's chile
white ez cotton— an' live! Not whilse de blood o' de ole
Affican prince is hot in de vein o' his son!” His voice shook with
sudden rage as he concluded; his breast rose and fell spasmodically.
When he spoke again, it was almost in a whisper, strangely soft and
musical: “S'lome! S'lome! I doan 'member de time, Miss Cecil,
when I 'ain' been lovin' S'lome! Fum de day when she wa'n't ez high ez
de pretty-by-nights in Aun' Peggy's do'-yard I is had my heart sot on
her. . . . She was swif' ez a fiel'-lark, MissCecil, an' her eyes is ez
sof' ez de eyes of a dove when she look at me an' say she ain' gwine
ter love nobody 'cep'n' me ez long ez she is 'bove de groun'. . . . She
is de onlies' one in de settlemint dat ain' 'feard o' de pizen in de
gum o' Blue-gum Marc. . . dat's de fam'ly blood in her . . . de
Cecil Berkeley threw up her arms convulsively and sank to her knees;
her forehead pressed the feet of the dead girl, and she shivered as if
the chill of death had passed from them into her own benumbed veins.
MR. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN GISH'S BALL
“I'LL do it! I'll do it!” exclaimed Mr. Gish, aloud. But the
mere thought of what he was about to do made him so light-headed and
faint that he had to cling for support to the spear-like points of the
low iron fence; the music took on a confused, far-away sound; the forms
of the dancers gliding past the long, open windows became hazy and
indistinct, as if suddenly enveloped in mist. He came to himself in a
spasm of fright lest the policeman leaning idly against the gate, or
the liveried coachmen lolling on the box-seats of the waiting
carriages, might have heard his outburst. Apparently his indiscretion
had passed unnoticed, and he took heart to repeat more emphatically
still, but in an inaudible whisper, “As sure as my name is Benjamin
Franklin Gish, I'll do it!”
It was a soft Southern winter night. The large, many-galleried
residence in front of which he stood was brilliantly illuminated.
Within, the dancers were weaving intricate and symmetrical figures to
the airy music of a band stationed behind a screen of palms; women in
trailing robes and men in faultless evening dress loitered in groups
about the wide, old-fashioned halls, and sauntered up and down the
lantern-hung verandas; a few couples had ventured down into the large
garden, where Duchesse roses bloomed in great dewy clusters, and
straggling sprays of sweet-olive scented the air. A tall girl in a
fluffy pink gown even strayed along the flower-bordered walk by the
fence; she leaned lightly upon the arm of her companion; her round,
bare shoulder brushed Mr. Gish's worn coat-sleeve in passing.
The little man on the banquette heaved a profound sigh. It was a
sigh of unutterable longing.
Mr. Gish—christened Benjamin Franklin, though his employers called
him Gish, his fellow-clerks “B.F.,” and his family Benjy (they even
wrote it Bengie)—was an assistant bookkeeper in the office of T. F.
Haley &Co., cotton-buyers. He was short, fat, and quite bald, being in
fact a bachelor nearing his fifties. He had been brought up (by his
mother, relict of the late Samuel Gish, Esq.) to regard dancing as a
frivolous, not to say sinful, amusement. Naturally timid and retiring,
he had from his boyhood avoided all gatherings which included the
element that, with bashful, antiquated courtesy, he called “the fair
sex.” Two or three times, indeed, in earlier years, in company with his
sisters, the six Misses Gish, he had attended a church sociable or a
conversation party. But his sufferings on these occasions had been so
great that he had mildly but firmly declined to expose himself to a
repetition of them. Year in and year out, always at the same hour of
the morning, he walked down to the office of Haley &Co., where he
worked methodically over his ledgers until business hours were over,
when he went home—in a street-car—to his late dinner. Once a week,
on Monday evenings, he escorted his mother and “the girls” to
prayer-meeting. On Sundays he sat with the oldest Miss Gish in the
choir. He did not sing; the habit dated from the time when—a boy in
roundabouts—he blew the bellows of the long-discarded wind-organ. The
neighbors were unanimous in the opinion that Mr. Benjy was an exemplary
son, a good brother, and a consistent church-member.
Latterly, however, Mr. Gish's feelings had undergone a mysterious
change. He could not himself have explained the phenomenon, but he
could lay his finger, as he often declared to himself, upon the exact
moment when the idea first took hold of him. They were coming home from
Monday-night prayer-meeting; his mother was on his arm; the girls
trailed along behind, two and two. A light streamed out from the
wide-open windows of a house set well back from the street and
embowered in roses; a rhythmic strain of waltz music pulsated on the
air; couples embracing each other moved down the long room, floating,
floating, as if borne on unseen wings. It was but a flash, a momentary
glance; “but that done it,” groaned Mr. Gish, inwardly, “and I've never
been the same man since.” He continued
to blush and tremble if by
chance he encountered one of the fair sex. But a new and strange fever
burned in his veins. An extraordinary passion haunted him day and
night. The truth is, Mr. Gish was beset with an overwhelming desire to
dance. His mother, had she been aware of this shameless ambition of her
only son, would no doubt have declared that Benjy was being tempted of
the devil. But she did not know. He kept it to himself, gloating over
it in secret; taking it out, so to speak, when he was alone, and
turning it over and over in his mind, stealthily, as a girl counts her
trinkets and shoves them hurriedly back into the box when she hears
some one coming. Standing at his high desk in the office of Haley &
Co., his mild blue eyes fixed on the columns of figures, his finger
slipping mechanically from line to line, his heart would give a sudden
thump, and a vision would swim before his eyes—a marvel of radiant
beings swaying, wheeling, advancing, retreating, winding in and out in
squares and rings and loops, to the music of unheard melodies!
For nearly two years past he had been accustomed to loiter at night
about the great mansions in the Garden District; the echo of dance
music from any point whatsoever drew him as a magnet draws the needle,
from the tall, narrow tenement-house on a side street where the Gishes
lived, to stately avenues, where he leaned for hours, as he was now
doing, jostled by a rabble of small boys, elbowed by unkempt idlers,
and gazed into open windows, or stood out in the middle of the street
watching the moving shadows on drawn shades. Now, at last, a resolution
which had been slowly gathering in his brain for many weeks had taken
definite shape. “Yes! I'll do it,” he repeated a third time, as he
turned away and hurried homeward; for he was supposed at such times to
be overworked by the sordid and avaricious firm of Haley & Co.—for
shame, Benjy!—and his mother always sat up until he came in.
A day or two later a good-humored, bustling crowd thronged the
streets, for the holiday-loving old town was making ready for one of
its great annual holidays. Mr. Gish came out of the office about noon
and walked down towards Canal Street. His round, clean-shaven face wore
an unwonted look of excitement. He seemed to be searching, in a covert
sort of way, for some one or some thing. He paused at the street
corners, casting hurried glances in either direction; once he made a
few steps towards a knot of boys gathered in front of a peanut-stand,
but he changed his mind, a pink flush mounting to his cheeks as he
moved hastily on.
His conference, far down in the French quarter, with a slim, dark,
foreign-looking gentleman who wore immense hoops of gold in his ears,
and whose shoulders went up and down in incessant shrugs, was an
animated one. Mr. Gish talked a good deal, and seemed to be giving
minute directions. The foreign-looking gentleman listened attentively,
and nodded understandingly from time to time. Presently they walked
together, threading the crowd, across Canal Street, and a few squares
up Carondelet. From the opposite sidewalk Mr. Gish pointed out the
office of his employers. There was a quick movement from hand to hand,
and they separated. “All-a rright-a!” said the gentleman, showing his
beautiful white teeth. Around the corner he stopped to examine the
crisp bill; he grinned, and puckered his lips into a whistle, slapping
his knee. The transaction was evidently a business one, and the shabby
little accountant had not been niggardly.
The next day was the eve of the festival. “Mr. Haley,” said Mr.
Gish, looking up from his books as the senior partner was about
quitting the office, “I—I think, sir, I will come back tonight and
finish this piece of work.”
“Very well, Gish,” said Mr. Haley, carelessly, from the doorway. “It
is of no great importance; you can let it stand over if you like.”
“You'd better come along and have a blowout with the boys, B. F.,”
remarked Bob Haight, shaking himself into his overcoat and watching for
the look of horror which these unseemly suggestions always brought into
that modest gentleman's face.
“No, I thank you, Mr. Haight,” Mr. Gish replied, nervously, the
blood rushing into his cheeks; “I—I have made other arrangements.”
Haight stared at him a moment in amazement. “Blest if I don't
believe old B. F. is sowing some oats on his own account!” he muttered
to himself. But he forbore any comment.
The assistant bookkeeper left the office a little late. He walked
rapidly up the street some four or five blocks and turned to the right,
plunging, a few doors from the corner, into a small, dingy shop, whence
a minute later he reappeared, carrying under his arm a good-sized
bundle done up in thick brown paper.
In the crowded car he held the bundle carefully on his knees; but
when he alighted he hugged it to his breast, folding his overcoat
closely about it, and stole along the street, devoutly hoping to gain
his own room without being seen. It was twilight when he reached the
gate and slipped across Miss Charlotte's trim little flower-garden to
the front door. He let himself in as softly as he could with his
latchkey. Fortunately the narrow hall was dark and deserted. He bolted
up the stair, his heart beating like a trip-hammer, his knees trembling
beneath him. Inside the small hall room where he slept he drew a long
breath of relief. But the troubled look returned to his face as he cast
about for a safe hiding-place for the brown-paper package. He had at
first thought of slipping it between the mattresses of his bed, but he
drew back in sudden terror. Sister Mary-Lou would certainly sniff it
out when she came up to take off the ruffled day pillows and turn down
the covers. He dropped it into the flat clothes-basket and threw some
soiled linen carelessly over it; it bulged frightfully, and Mary-Lou's
eyes were so keen! The rickety old armoire, which contained, besides
his own well-worn best coat, sundry articles belonging to the girls,
was not to be thought of. After much hesitation, and with many qualms,
he laid the bundle in the top drawer of the high bureau, and—for the
first time in his life—turned the key in the lock and put it in his
pocket. Then he went guiltily down to dinner.
Mrs. Gish and the six Misses Gish were already at table. The Misses
Gish, with the exception of Miss Martha, the youngest, just turned of
thirty-nine, all “took after” their mother, who was tall and spare, and
very brisk and alert in spite of her seventy-five years. Miss Martha
was short and plump, like her brother, with a round, fresh face and a
dimpled chin. Time was when Benjamin Franklin came, or believed he
came, fourth in due order of age in the family circle. Certain it is
that the names of Caroline, Amelia, and Mary-Lou preceded his own in
the list recorded on the yellowed register of the big family Bible,
while those of Jane, Charlotte, and Martha came after. But, by some
occult calculation on their part, he had found himself suddenly, half a
score of years ago, older than Mary-Lou and Amelia. A year or two later
he had stepped above Charlotte herself, and now bore himself as became
the first-born and the head of the house. This, however, by the way.
“Benjy,” said his mother, passing him a plate of thin soup, “you are
late. It is almost time for the first bell.”
Sure enough! it was Monday night!
Benjy turned scarlet. “I'm s-sorry,” he mumbled, with his face in
the napkin, “but I have to go back to the office—a little business—”
Mrs. Gish shook her head mournfully. She had her opinion of the
hardened and inhuman taskmasters who were “working the life” out of
“I am sure,” said Miss Martha, rebelliously, pushing away her plate,
“I don't pity Benjy! I'd a great deal rather add up figures than
go to prayer-meeting! I hate prayer-meeting.”
A shiver of horror went around the table. Mrs. Gish dropped her
knife and fork and stared aghast at Miss Martha, who threw up her head
defiantly, then dropped it and burst into tears.
Benjamin Franklin did not hear the storm of reproach which followed.
A wild scheme revolved in his brain as he gazed absently at the
“I did not know Martha was so—so nice!” he murmured. “I'll ask her
to go with me. But no,” he added, after a moment's reflection, “I could
never manage it. Poor Martha!”
He watched them trooping off to prayer-meeting, a forlorn and
straggling procession, with the penitent Miss Martha bringing up the
rear. A slight pang of remorse stirred within him, but he stiffened
himself against it. Indeed, no sooner were they out of sight than he
went boldly out into Miss Charlotte's flower-garden and began cutting
her cherished roses with his pocket-knife. He looked uneasily over his
shoulder during the operation, it is true; he even had a prophetic
vision of Delphy, the fat black cook, undergoing suspicion,
arraignment, perhaps dismissal, on account of the crime he was
committing. But he did not desist until he had a generous handful of
dewy, long-stemmed buds. To these he added cluster after cluster of
scarlet and pink geranium blossoms, snipped recklessly from Miss
Charlotte's well-trimmed borders.
He hurried up to his room, closing and locking the door behind him.
When he had lighted the smoky lamp, he took the bundle from the drawer
and spread its contents on the bed. It was an evening suit of black
cloth—coat, vest, and trousers. A smaller parcel within contained a
pair of dancing-pumps, a white silk handkerchief, a white tie, and a
small round cap.
Mr. Gish contemplated these things for a moment in abstracted
silence. Then, with a sort of feverish haste, he began to put them on.
The low-cut vest gave him a queerish sensation; the coat made him
blush. He pulled uneasily at the claw-hammer tails, with much the same
feeling that a ballet-girl may be supposed to have when she dons her
short skirts for the first time. But, twisting and squirming in front
of the tilted looking-glass, with the lamp on the floor, he passed
abruptly from gloom and anxiety to rapture. The coat wrinkled between
the shoulders, and the gentleman who had hired the suit last had bagged
the trousers at the knee. These, however, were but trifles.. Mr. Gish
had undergone a transformation! He swelled with pride as he surveyed
himself from head to foot, and from foot to head again.
He hesitated a moment before he could make up his mind to put on the
little silk cap, but he ended by setting it rather jauntily on his bald
head. He got gingerly into his light overcoat, and drew on his
overshoes—a precaution he never neglected in any kind of weather—
and tiptoed out, carrying the flowers wrapped in a bit of newspaper.
He left the car a few blocks above the office of Haley & Co., and
walked down, keeping well in the shadow of the tall buildings.
There were noise and bustle enough a stone's-throw away; here the
street was quite deserted. But a woman was sitting on the lowest step
of the long, dark stairway that led up to the office. She had a child
in her arms, and a little bundle of rags with its head on her knees was
sobbing in its sleep.
“I can walk home,” muttered Mr. Gish. He dropped his only remaining
coin in her lap, and groped his way up the stair.
He unlocked the door, and refastened it on the inside. When he had
removed his overcoat and overshoes, he lighted the gas, every jet of
it, turning up each tongue of yellow flame as high as possible. He
pushed the chairs and office stools against the wall, and thrust the
roses into a dusty glass that stood on the head bookkeeper's desk.
Finally he threw open the three large windows that looked down upon the
street. Then he seated himself gravely in Mr. Haley's revolving
arm-chair and waited.
The hands of the small clock over his own desk pointed to a quarter
The minute-hand moved slowly. The big bell in a church steeple not
far away boomed nine.
Mr. Gish began to fidget. A cold perspiration gathered on his
forehead. “Can it be possible,” he whispered, with his eyes glued to
the clock, “that there has been a mistake?”
The disappointment was too great. He covered his face with his pudgy
hands and groaned. Half-past nine. Ten. He got up slowly and began to
turn out the lights, one by one.
Suddenly his face cleared; a hand-organ sounded in the street below.
The preliminary notes of “The Maiden's Prayer” floated up on the night
wind, which came in a little chill through the wide windows. Mr. Gish
hastily relighted the gas, and, crossing to the farther side of the
room, he faced about with a low bow, smiling and extending his hand.
And then, he danced!
The repertory of the somewhat rickety organ consisted of five
“tunes,” including “The Maiden's Prayer.” The others were “The
Evergreen Waltz,” “The Tower Song,” from Trovatore, “Monastery
Bells,” and “Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny.” To all of these, and to
each one of them over and over, did Benjamin Franklin Gish dance. He
glided, he leaped, he bounded, he swung corners, he chasséd, he fanned
an imaginary partner, he ogled her as he pranced back and forrth with
her, he gazed down a her with a blissful smile as he revolved slowly
and laboriously with her in a supposed waltz.
At the conclusion of each set of tunes he walked about, red and
panting, but delicately mindful of the (imaginary) tall girl in a
fluffy pink gown whose hand rested on his arm.
Once there was an abrupt break in the music. Mr. Gish looked at the
clock, and then ran to the window, dizzy with apprehension. A spirited
dialogue was going on between the organ-grinder in the street below and
an occupant of one of the rooms of the lofty building across the way. A
head was thrust out of an upper window and a string of impotent
missiles whizzed downward. But the sash presently dropped, and the
cheery notes of “Carry Me Back” rang once more on the air.
Mr. Gish was no longer young; he was fat and short-winded. As the
evening wore on he took fewer steps; he sat down between dances,
mopping his face with his handkerchief; and it must be confessed that
he became at times a little forgetful of his partner. But when the big
bell struck twelve and the music broke off with a jerk in the midst of
a strain, a pang shot through his heart. He stared blankly about him,
and choked down a mournful sigh.
The ball was at an end.
“I must contrive somehow to pay for the gas,” he muttered, as he
turned off the last jet.
The long tramp homeward was dreary enough. His feet were bruised and
blistered, his knees trembled, his arms hung limp from his shoulders,
his back ached, his temples throbbed, and his eyes burned. But all this
was a trifle as compared with the state of his mind. A moral reaction
had set in. The thought of his mother sitting up for him hung on him
like a weight, and he groaned outright as he approached the gate. He
opened the door cautiously and slipped in. His foot was already on the
“Benjy!” called his mother from the little sitting-room.
“Yes, 'm,” he gasped. The perspiration broke out anew on his
forehead as he limped slowly down the hall.
Mrs. Gish sat in a low rocking-chair in front of the grate, where
the handful of coals had long ago fallen to ashes. Her head and
shoulders were wrapped in an old-fashioned black-and-white plaid shawl.
Her slim old hands were crossed over the Bible which rested on her
knees. When Benjamin Franklin entered she looked up, and began,
severely, “Do you know, Benjy, that it is after one o'—” But at sight
of his woe-begone face her voice changed. “Why, my son,” she cried,
“what is the matter?”
Benjy had no heart for further concealments. He dropped on his knees
and hid his face in his mother's lap, like a boy, and there fairly
sobbed out the whole story. He went over it all with simple directness
—the first fleeting vision of the dance, the long evenings spent in
gazing through open windows at the airy inhabitants of another world,
the growing desire to taste this unknown and forbidden joy, the final
resolution, the bargain with the organ-grinder, the hiring of the
dress-suit, even the surreptitious clipping of Miss Charlotte's roses,
and then the ball, the delight of those untaught steps! He told it all,
or nearly all. His dream of the tall girl in a fluffy pink gown, with
red lips and laughing eyes, that he kept to himself.
“Benjamin Franklin,” said Mrs. Gish, when he had finished, “stand
He got upon his feet. Something unwonted in his mother's voice
penetrated his troubled senses and gave him a curious thrill.
“Take off your overcoat,” she added, peremptorily, “and let me look
He obeyed, giving the tails of the claw-hammer a vigorous pull
towards the front.
The old lady put out a thin, blue-veined hand, and turned him slowly
around and around.
“La, Benjy,” she exclaimed at last, “how han'some you are! You look
exactly like your pa did the night me and him stood up to be married!”
Benjy stared at her in blank amazement. She had risen to her feet
and dropped the shawl from her shoulders. Her white old head went up
proudly; her sunken eyes flashed. “As for dancin',” she cried, “there
wa'n't a lighter foot in Pike County than Sam Gish! He could dance all
night without losin' his breath, Sam could! And when me and him led off
together”—she paused to chuckle softly—“the balance of the girls
and boys had to stand back, I tell you! La, Sam—Benjy, I mean—it's
been a long time since I've heard a fiddle talk. But I believe in my
soul if I was to hear 'Rabbit in the Cotton Patch,' or 'Granny, does
yo' Dog Bite?' I couldn't no more keep my foot off the floor than I
could when I was Polly Weathers and Sam Gish was holdin' out his hand!”
She laughed so gayly that Benjy, whose heart was wellnigh bursting
with relief, caught the infection and laughed too. The sound of their
mirth penetrated the thin partition and echoed through the next room,
where Miss Charlotte and Miss Martha were sleeping. Miss Martha turned
upon her pillow, half awake, and a wistful smile flitted ghost-like
over her round face.
“I'd like to have seen you at the ball, Benjy,” the old lady went
on, with a youthful ring to her cracked voice. “I'll be bound you
stepped out like your pa.”
All Benjamin Franklin's weariness had vanished. His face was
beaming. He tossed away his tear-wet handkerchief, glided backward,
laid his hand on his heart, and bent his short body in a graceful bow.
A roguish gleam shot into his mother's dark eyes. She shook out her
scant black skirts, and sank nearly to the floor in a sweeping
courtesy, extending her finger-tips as she rose to lay them on Benjamin
Franklin's arm. Thus, slowly and with measured steps she made the
circuit of the dim little room, halting near the fireplace with another
wonderful reverence. Then, softly humming a by-gone tune, she tripped
lightly through the mazy turnings of an old-fashioned reel. Mr. Gish,
radiant, bobbed after her, clumsily imitating her mincing steps. Her
tall, erect figure had an almost girlish grace; a smile hovered about
her thin lips; her small feet in their loose felt slippers fairly
twinkled. More than once she held up a warning finger and glanced over
her shoulder, fearful lest the girls should awake. At last, with a
quaint little twirl, she stopped, her hands set saucily upon her hips,
and looked at her son with laughter-wet eyes.
“Go 'long to bed, Benjy,” she said, presently, giving him an
affectionate little shove; “it's high time the chickens was crowin' for
He kissed her, and ran, breathlessly, up to the little hall bedroom,
the happiest assistant bookkeeper that ever gave a ball.
“THE CENTRE FIGGER”
“DEY tells me you gwine ter be de centre figger at de 'Mancipation
Day ter-morrer, Aun' Calline,” said Uncle Jake Prince, halting in the
dusty road outside the gate, and shifting his white-oak split basket
from one arm to the other.
“I sholy is, Unk Jake,” responded Aunt Calline, with dignity.
The other cabins in the long, double row of low two-roomed houses
which had once made up the quarters of the old Winston plantation had
fallen into disuse and decay; grass grew in their aforetime trim
door-yards; “jimson” weed and mullein choked their garden-patches;
their window-shutters swung loose on broken hinges; their floors were
mildewed and rotting; their very chimneys were crumbling; the broad
walk which led past them and on to the “great-house,” just showing its
white-pillared galleries and peaked dormer-windowed roof through the
trees, was a tangled thicket of undergrowth. The “great-house” itself,
seen more closely, wore an air of dilapidation, mournful enough to
those who remembered it in the time of the old colonel, when its
hospitable doors stood wide open winter and summer, and even the
pickaninnies swinging on the big gate grinned a welcome to the incoming
But Aunt Calline's cabin preserved its old-time look of thrift and
comfort. In the little garden there were beds of cabbages and beans and
okra, bordered with sage and rosemary; hollyhocks and larkspur and
pretty-by-nights blossomed in the door-yard; a multiflora rose,
entangled with honeysuckle, clambered up the squat chimney, and sent
its long, glossy green branches over the comb of the sloping roof and
down to the overhanging eaves; a box of sweet-basil stood on the
window-sill, and a patch of clove-pinks by the gravel-walk filled all
the June morning with spicy fragrance. Within, the floor was yellow and
shining from immemorial scrubbings; the rough walls were adorned with
newspaper pictures; and the counterpane and old-fashioned valance of
the bed were snowy white and sweet with the smell of lavender. A
perpetual fire blazed or smouldered in the wide fireplace, while on the
cracked hearth were ranged spiders and skillets and ponderous
three-footed ovens with huge lids, suggestive of the rich, brown,
salt-rising loaf, the crusty pone, hand-imprinted, the steaming potpie,
the dainty “snowball,” of days when self-respecting cooks looked with
scorn and contempt on a cooking-stove.
Aunt Calline herself, as she sat on the doorstep beating cake batter
in a deep pan resting on her knees, was a reminder of the old
régime. A fantastically knotted turban encircled her head; a
spotless “handk'cher” was folded across her ample bosom; her scant
skirts were hitched up under a long blue-check apron, and her rusty
feet and ankles were bare. Her kindly old face was creased with
wrinkles, but in her great soft brown eyes dwelt that curious look of
eternal youth which belongs to her people.
“Big Hannah, whar useter b'long ter we-alls fambly, wus de centre
figger las' year,” continued Uncle Jake, sociably, drawing nearer to
“Humph!” grunted Aunt Calline; “mighty fine centre figger dat
corn-fiel' gal mus' er made, dough she is er sister in Zion! But
I ain' seen Big Hannah ez de centre figger. I ain' nuver been to
no 'Mancipation Day.”
“De Lawd, Aun' Calline!” ejaculated the old man, with a well-feigned
air of astonishment, “ain' you nuver been ter de 'Mancipation Day?
Huccum you ain' nuver been dar?”
“We-el,” replied Aunt Calline, reflectively, dipping up a spoonful
of batter and letting it drip slowly back into the pan, “hits edzackly
dish yer way. De fus year dey celerbate 'Mancipation Day hit wuz
jes' er leetle a'ter li'l Marse Rod lef' home. Co'se you
'members, Unk Jake, when ole Marse Rod an' young Marse Ed wuz kilt in
de wah an' fotch home.”
Uncle Jake nodded. He had set down his basket and placed his elbows
on the low gatepost that he might listen more at his ease to the
“De fambly trebbles wuz mo'beknownst ter me an' my ole man, 'caze we
wuz 'mongs' de house-servants lak, dan dey woz ter you-all fiel' han's.
An' 'pear lak ole mis' an' missy wuz gwine clean crazy when dey fotch
home, fus ole marse, an' den Marse Ed. Den hit wa'n't no time 'fo' de
bre'k-up an' freedom. An' all de fool riggers dey up an' swarm erway
fum de place same ez ef dey wuz er swarm er bees. All two er dem boys
o' mine wuz 'mongs' de fus ter go; an' you wuz 'mongs' de fus yo'se'f,
Jake Prince. An' whar is you fool niggers now?” she demanded, abruptly,
her voice rising, and a look of scorn flashing into her eyes. “Whar is
you fool niggers now, I axes you? You is traipsin' roun' de lan',
callin' yo'se'f a'ter de lowlife nigger-trader whar sol' you ter ole
marse, 'stidder takin' de name o' de mos' 'spectable fambly in de
county. An' mighty nigh all o' you-all is lazy en' good-fer-nothin',
whilse heah I is in de cabin dat de cunnel gimme de same night Ab'm an'
me stood up in the gre't house dinin'-room an' got married.”
“Dass so,” admitted her listener, with a deprecatory grin.
“'Reckly dey wa'n't nobody lef' on de plantation 'cep'n' jes me an'
Ab'm an' Dick, dat younges' chile o' mine dat grow up 'longside o' li'l
Marse Rod. Lawd! li'l Marse Rod, he wuz de beatenes' white chile fum de
cradle, mun! I nussed him at de same breas' wi' Dick, an' dem two
chillen wuz jes lak br'er and br'er. Dey run terg'er fum de cradle.”
“To be sho!” assented Uncle Jake. “I 'members dem two chillen
myse'f, mighty well. Dey useter pester me 'bout fishin'-lines an' wums,
“Li'l Marse Rod's ha'r wuz dat yaller an' curly,” she went on,
heedless of the interruption, “twel I useter tell ole mis' hit wus jes
lak er twist er sugar-candy; an' when dat chile laugh an' ax fer sumpn,
Lawd! you is jes boun' fer ter gin hit ter him. An' dem chillen all de
time terge'r. Ef Dick wa'n't at de gre't-house, li'l Marse Rod wuz in
dis cabin. 'Pear lak I kin heah him yit, comin' runnin' down de walk
yander, bar'headed, an' hollerin' ter me, settin' edzackly whar I is
now, 'Mammy, tell Dick ter wait fer me; I'm comin'!' “
“To be sho!” interjected Uncle Jake. “I 'members dat mighty well,
“He wuz er high-spirited chile; an' when he look erbout him an' see
de ole plantation lef' ter rack an' ruin, an' nobody ter tek keer o'
his ma' an' missy, 'cep'n' Ab'm an' me, he seem lak he couldn't 'bide
dat. He wuz jes tu'n o' fo'teen den; jes de age o' my Dick. An' one
mawnin' li'l Marse Rod wuz gone, mun! An' ole mis' foun' er
letter onder de do' whar say dat he gwine some'ers fer ter wuk twel he
git er pile o' money, an' den he comin' back an' tek keer o' ole mis',
an' missy, an' Ab'm, an' me, an' Dick. An' he lef' er good word fer
Dick in de letter. An' dass de las' we uver heerd tell o' li'l Marse
Rod. But I tells you, Jake Prince, I jes ez sho dat chile gwine ter
come back ez I is dat I settin' on dish yer do'-step. He gwine ter come
back in er cayidge an' er pa'r er high-steppin' hosses, like dem Ab'm
useter drive fer ole mis' 'fo' de wah.”
She rested the spoon on the edge of the pan for a moment, while her
eyes sought the dingy “great-house” among its embowering trees.
“We ain' nuver heerd fum him sence,” she resumed, with a deep sigh.
“Ole mis' and missy dey bofe werry twel dey sick 'bout Marse Rod, an'
dat huccum I didn' go ter de fus 'Mancipation Day.”
“Ole Aun' Dilsey Cushin' wuz de centre figger dat time,” remarked
“Den de nex' year missy wuz on de p'int er gettin' married
ter Cap'n Tom Ramsay, fum Richmon', an' me an' ole mis' we wuz makin'
de weddin'-cake, an' I ain' had no time fer ter fool 'long o'
'Mancipation Day. An' de nex' year wuz de time dat my Dick wuz
fotch home drownded from the bayou. Den Ab'm wuz tuk down. Mussy, Unk
Jake, you 'ain' fergot dem seven year whar Ab'm wuz down?“
“Cert'n'y, Aun' Calline, I 'ain' fergot Unk Ab'm's rheumatiz. Dough
dat ain' hender Unk Ab'm fum settin' in er cheer yander by de fiah an'
pickin' de banjer. Mun! how Unk Ab'm could pick de banjer!”
“Dat he could! Dey wa'n't nobody in de quarter could tech Ab'm when
it come ter pickin' de banjer. De quality useter come down fum de
gre't-house 'fo' de wah ter heah him pick 'Billy in de low groun's,'
an' 'Sugar in de gode,' an' de lak o' dat. Well, I 'ain' had no call
ter go whilse de ole man wuz down, an' me er tukin' keer at de same
time o' ole mis' an' missy, an' missy's chillen.”
“An' missy er widder at dat.”
“An' missy er widder at dat. Den de sweet chariot done swung low fer
Ab'm, an' he tuk'n ter glory. An' den sometimes one an'
sometimes an'er o' missy's chillen had de measles, o' de
whoopin'-cough, o' de chicken-pox, o' de scyarlet-fever, an' 'pear lak
I couldn't spar' er minit fer er frolic. Co'se, a'ter missy
tuk'n de consomption an' die, an' de chillen gone ter Cap'n Tom
Ramsay's folks, I couldn' leave ole mis'. Who gwine ter stay 'long o'
ole mis' whilse Calline fla'ntin' herse'f ter 'Mancipation Day? Year
befo' las' ole mis' she tuk down, an' I 'ain' lef' her night ner
day twel she pass on ter glory las' Sat'day week. An' now, sence de
fambly is all brek up, an' de gre't-house shet, an' I has de time,
I gwine ter de 'Mancipation Day.”
“Ez de centre figger,” respectfully suggested Uncle Jake.
“Ez de centre figger. I has been invited by all de conjugations o'
all de chu'ches ter set in de head cheer. But, kingdom come, Unk Jake!”
she broke off, rising energetically to her feet, “I 'ain' got time ter
be foolin' 'long o' you, an' all my cake ter bake. Dish yer batter
ready for de oven now.”
“Dass so, Aunt Calline! I is in er mons'us hurry myse'f. I done
promise Miss Botts ter fotch her er settin' er domineker aigs 'fo'
sun-up dis mawnin'. I gotter be gwine.” And he picked up his basket and
It was late that night when Aunt Calline went to bed. Her hamper
carefully packed and covered with a clean cloth was placed on the
little table; beside it on a chair was laid out the black bombazine
gown reserved for state occasions, the sheer kerchief, and the freshly
ironed turban. She surveyed these last preparations with great
satisfaction before turning down the wick of the smoky kerosene lamp.
“Bless de Lawd,” she muttered, “I is gwine ter feel my freedom at las'!
I is gwine ter de 'Mancipation Day dis time, sho! An' I boun'
Big Hannah, wi' de res' o' de corn-fiel' niggers, gwine ter laugh de
wrong side o' dey mouf when dey sees me settin' in de head cheer ez de
centre figger, an' all de conjugations o' all de chu'ches comin' up an'
makin' dey bow ter Sister Calline Wins'n.”
She was up betimes the next morning. The first long slanting rays of
sunlight came in through the half-open shutter as she gave a last twist
to the wonderful knot in her turban. “Now,” she said aloud, “I gwine
ter feed de chickens, an' tie up ole Rove, an' kiver up de fiah, an'
den I kin say I ready.”
She opened the front door as she spoke, but she started back with an
exclamation of anger and surprise. A man, evidently a tramp, was
huddled upon the step, his head resting upon his arms, which were
crossed upon the door-sill.
“Look a-heah, white man,” she began, in a shrill, high voice, “what
you doin'? Whar you come fum? I gwine ter set de dog on you dis minit
ef you doan git up fum dar an' go 'long 'bout yo' business.”
The bundle of rags at her feet stirred. He lifted his head and threw
back the long, matted hair from his forehead. A pair of dim blue eyes
looked up at her appealingly; a wan smile played over the emaciated and
sunken features; the pale lips parted as if for speech. But there was
no need. She had gathered him up in her arms, rags and all, and was
carrying the light burden across the threshold, laughing hysterically.
“Lawd, li'l Marse Rod!” she cried, as she placed him in the big
split-bottomed chair in a corner of the fireplace, “I know'd you wuz
gwine ter come back! I is know'd it all de time. An' yo' po' ole mammy
so blin' dat she didn' jes edzackly place you at de fus' look.
'Sides, you didn't had no mustache when you lef' home.” The
tears were streaming down her old cheeks as she hovered over him in an
ecstasy of joy. He essayed to speak, but a hollow cough wrenched his
frail body, and his head dropped helplessly against the faithful breast
which had pillowed it in infancy.
“Doan you try ter talk, honey,” she said, stroking his cheek with
her hand. Then, leaning over him and interpreting a look in his haggard
eyes, she cried, “My Lawd a' mighty, de chile is hongry!“
She dragged the table to his side with feverish haste, and spread
upon it the contents of the basket. She affected not to notice while he
ate—almost ravenously. “You sees, Marse Rod,” she said, now down on
her knees before him, removing the tattered shoes from his blistered
end travel-worn feet—“you sees dat de quality doan nuver put on dey
fine close fer ter travel in, an' I might o' know'd dat you
wa'n't gwine ter come home all dress up in broadcloth, same ez ef you
wa'n't no mo'n po' white trash.”
Rodney Winston smiled pitifully. He had pushed away his plate, and
was leaning back in his chair, exhausted and panting.
“Mammy,” he interrupted, speaking for the first time, and laying a
thin hand caressingly on her shoulder, “where is my mother?”
“I 'clar' ter goodness,” she went on, with tender volubility,
pretending not to hear, “you look edzackly lak you did, edzackly! I
gwine ter cut yo' ha'r 'reckly—dat same yaller ha'r whar me en' ole
mis' useter say look lak er twis' er sugar-candy—an' den you kin put
on some o' Ab'm's close yander in de chis; dey was all yo' pa's, honey,
an' you ain' gwine ter be 'shame' ter w'ar 'em twel yo' trunk gits
heah; an' den—”
“Mammy,” he began again. But at this moment a confused and
tumultuous sound began to float in on the fresh morning air.
“Jes you wait er minit, li'l marse,” she said, starting up; and
throwing a light covering across his knees, she went out into the yard,
closing the door behind her.
The procession was coming—the great, good-humored crowd which had
been gathering since long before daylight about the doors of Antioch
Church. Every negro in the county, big and little, young and old, was
there—the congregations of the churches marching on foot and carrying
banners; the Sunday-schools under the leadership of the elders;
societies with badges; Sisters of Rebecca and Daughters of Deborah in
blue cambric shoulder-capes and wide belts; Sons of Zion in the
wrinkled and creased broadcloth coats and the well-preserved silk hats
of a dead and gone generation; wagon loads of old people and babies;
back-sliders with banjos and fiddles; hardened sinners who had never
even been seekers at the mourners' bench—they were all there, and the
long line had just turned the corner of the field beyond the
“great-house.” It was headed by an open wagon which carried the choir
of Antioch Church. Jerry Martin, big, black, and sleek, one of the
chief holders in Zion, stood on the front seat, swaying from side to
side, and shouting:
“Ole Satan he thought dat he had me
The shrill voices of the women took up the refrain:
“March erlong, childern, march erlong!”
“But I is broke his chains at las'.”
And the whole line joined in the chorus:
“March erlong, childern, for de Promis'
Lan' is nigh.” The sound rolled away triumphant, mighty unctuous,
and came echoing back from the distant woodland.
The carriage destined for that sister in Zion whose virtues entitled
her to the foremost place of honor followed Jerry and his choir. Aunt
Calline's heart thrilled with pride as it rattled up to the gate and
stopped. It was the old Winston family carriage, dilapidated, and
somewhat the worse for wear, but strong and serviceable still. Two
sleek mules trotted under the ragged harness, and Uncle Jake Prince sat
on the driver's seat. Brother 'Lijah Vance, the pastor of Antioch, got
out. The vast procession halted, and a sudden hush fell upon the
Brother Vance lifted the latch of the gate. “Good-mawnin', Sister
Wins'n,” he said, pompously, removing his tall hat and extending a
gloved hand. “De centre figger will please ha' de goodness ter tek er
seat in de cayidge, an' be druv ter de 'Mancipation Groun's.”
“Much erbleege ter you, Br'er Vance,” replied Sister Winston, with
her grandest courtesy, “an' I meks my compliments ter de chu'ches an'
de chu'ch-members. But I has comp'ny dis mawnin', an' I axes you ter
scuse me fum bein' de centre figger.”
“Lawd, Aun' Calline!” exclaimed Brother Vance, dropping in his
dismay into every-day manners, “who gwine ter be de centre figger ef
“Mr. Rodney Wins'n done come home, 'Lijah,” she replied. A murmur of
surprise swept down the line; many of the old Winston negroes were
near, and these left their places and came crowding about the gate.
“Li'l Marse Rod done come back,” she continued, her head raised
majestically, and her hands folded across her bosom; “he ain' ter say
rested yet, but ter-morrer he gwine ter open up de gre't-house
yander. He axes you all howdy, an' he say you mus' come up an' shek
han's at de gre't-house.”
“To be sho!” ejaculated Uncle Jake from his perch.
“Dass de li'l Marse Rod whar Mis' Calline Wins'n been jawin' 'bout
ever sence I bawn,” giggled one of the girls in the choir-wagon, a
pretty mulattress with a saucy face. “Whar's de cayidge, an' de pa'r er
high-steppin' hosses, an' de baag er gol' he gwine ter fotch home fum
yander, Aun' Calline?”
Aunt Calline turned upon her wrathfully. “Yer lazy,
good-fer-nothin', low-down nigger,” she blazed, “ef you doan shet yo'
mouf, I gwine ter hise myse'f in dat wagin an' w'ar you ter a plum
The girl cowered down behind her companions, subdued and frightened.
Brother Vance re-entered the carriage, much perplexed by the unexpected
turn of events. Jerry Martin lifted up his powerful voice again, and
the procession passed on.
She went back into the cabin. Her guest unclosed his eyes as she
entered, and looked about him vaguely for a moment, as if he hardly
knew where he was. Then a quick flush mounted to his cheek. “Mammy,” he
insisted, “where is my mother?”
“Well, honey,” she admitted, reluctantly, “yer ma ain' ter say
livin' edzackly; she done—”
“And my sister?”
“Marse Rod, you knows dat missy wuz po'ly fum de cradle; en'
de consomption bein' 'mongs' de fambly — 'mongs' de women
-folks, min' you; 'tain't 'mongs' de men-folks—an' hit seem lak
missy jes hatter go.”
“Lawd, chile, I ain't nuver spected ter raise Dick!
Dick wuz dat venturesome dat when dey fotch him home fum de bayou
drownded I ain' ter say 'stonish'. Dick he layin' out yander in
de fambly buryin'-groun', jes 'cross de foot o' yo' pa an' yo' ma; an'
Ab'm he in de cornder, whar dey is lef' a place fer me.”
He covered his face with his hands and groaned.
“Doan be trebbled, honey,” she said, soothing him as one would
soothe a hurt child—“doan be trebbled.”
When she had clipped his hair and dressed him in the spotless linen
and the old, blue, brass-buttoned suit, which had once been his
father's, he lay on the bed, following with grateful eyes her bustling
movements about the room.
“Mammy,” he said, suddenly, “I've come back poorer than I went away.
I've been everywhere; I've tried everything. In all these years I have
somehow not been able to make my bread, much less—I was ashamed even
to write to my mother until I could tell her that I was coming home to
take care of her; and now—”
“Dat doan matter, honey,” she interrupted, eagerly. “Doan you fret
yo'se'f. We gwine ter git erlong. Yo' ole mammy kin wuk. Lawd, dey
ain't no young gal in dish yer county whar kin do day's wuk lak I kin!
An' when you gits fa'r rested, you is gwine ter tek up de ole
plantation, an' men' de fences, an' patch up de cabins, and hiah de
mules an' de niggers. Mun! de niggers gwine ter be mighty proud when
dey gits er chance ter come back ter de old plantation; an' den—”
Even as she spoke his eyes closed, his head dropped, a mortal pallor
crept over his already pale face.
“O Lawd, doan let de chile die!” she sobbed, chafing his pulseless
wrists and rubbing his cold feet. He presently rallied, and sank into a
peaceful slumber, which lasted well on into the afternoon. She sat
watching him while he slept, her old brain teeming with visions of the
renewed glories of Winston Place. The doors of the “great-house” once
more stood wide open;—the sound of music and laughter rang out from
the windows;—horses were hitched in the lane;—carriages rolled
around the drive, and ladies in long, rustling silk dresses got out and
passed up the steps;—children were at play on the smooth lawn—
children with skin like the snow of apple blossoms, and coal-black
pickaninnies with laughing eyes and shining teeth;—a pack of hounds
leaped and yelped about the stable-yard, where the young master and his
friends were mounting for a fox-hunt;—the long table in the
dining-room blazed with crystal and silver under the light of the
lamps;—the house-girls ran in and out, carrying trays of glasses,
wherein the ice tinkled and wherefrom the sprigs of bruised mint
perfumed the air;—outside, in the lane, the field-hands were going by
with cotton-baskets on their heads and singing;—in the big kitchen
fireplace the flames roared—
Suddenly a clear young voice filled the room. Could it be the
curly-haired lad coming running bareheaded down the walk from the
“greathouse”? “Mammy, tell Dick to wait for me; I'm coming!” he cried,
a boyish smile playing about his lips, and a boyish light sparkling in
his dying eyes.
“De las' o' we-alls fambly,” moaned the faithful soul, straightening
his limbs and smoothing back the still, silken curls from his forehead.
An hour or two later she came out into the yard. The sun had set;
the first stars were coming into the soft gray sky, and under the
horizon hung the pale crescent of a new moon. “I gwine ter put some
pinks an' some honeysuckle in his han's,” she murmured, “ 'caze ole
mis' gimme dem pinks an' dat honeysuckle fum onder her winder yander
ter de gre't-house. An' I gwine ter bury him 'longside o' Dick, 'caze
Dick he been er waitin' er long time fer li'l Marse Rod.”
The evening wind was rising, and on it came borne the sound of
singing. She lifted her head, listening. It was the 'Mancipation Day
procession. Brother Vance was leading his flock homeward through the
“I is wuked all day in de br'ilin' sun,”
sang Jerry Martin, the mellow tones of his voice ringing clearly out
across the open fields.
“Lawd Jesus, call me home!”
responded the people.
“Now de sun is down an' de wuk is done.”
“Lawd Jesus, call me home!”
“Dass so!” said Aunt Calline, softly. “Dass so! De wuk is sho done.
Lawd Jesus, call me home!”
“You, 'Lijah!” called Aunt Cindy from within the cabin, “ef you doan
keep out'n dat water, I is sholy gwine ter w'ar you ter er plum
“Yass'm,” replied 'Lijah, continuing to wriggle his small dusky body
about in the water, and feeling with his toes for the ground, as he
swung by the tips of his fingers from the gallery. But when his mother
suddenly appeared in the doorway, with a well-seasoned bunch of
switches in her hand, he crawled, chuckling, up on the wet planks, and
stretched himself there like a baby alligator in the warm noonday sun.
Three days before the levee over on the big swollen river had
broken, and the waters from the crevasse were swirling about Aunt Cindy
Washington's cabin, and rushing away, yellow and foaming, in an angry
current that was cutting a huge channel for itself across the very
heart of the country. From the high gallery it looked like a vast sea,
spreading as far as the eye could reach to the south and west, and
gaining hour by hour upon the line of forest trees far away under the
eastern horizon. Back of the cabin the ground rose a little; in one
corner of the straggling turnip-patch a bit of green even showed itself
when a breeze rippled the waves.
The first swift onslaught of the flood had carried away nearly all
the cabins and out-houses scattered about the isolated negro settlement
of Bethel Church; those that remained threatened every moment to topple
over into the widening stream, on whose surface floated the forlorn
mass of wreckage—beams, shingles, doors, window-shutters, odds and
ends of household goods, bales of hay, chicken-coops, tree-stumps,
animals living and dead—that told its own pitiful story of
destruction. The inhabitants had been removed to a place of safety by
the relief-boats that passed and repassed, distributing provisions and
caring for the needy and homeless.
But Aunt Cindy had stoutly refused to abandon her cabin. “De
onderpinnin' o' dish yer cabin,” she declared, “ain' lak de
onderpinnin' o' dem yander triflin' no-'count cabins. 'Caze Sol
Wash'n'ton, my ole man, is put up dish yer cabin wi' his own han's
befo' he was tuk'n ter glory, an' I knows hit's gwine ter
The queer ramshackle little structure which Uncle Sol Washington had
put up “with his own hands” had one room and a front gallery, and in
ordinary times its peaked and lop-sided roof amply sheltered Aunt
Cindy, her four well-grown girls—Polly, Dicy, Sal, and Viny—and her
one eleven-year-old boy 'Lijah. Just now, however, it must be
confessed, the cabin was somewhat crowded. At the first note of
warning, Pomp, the old white mule which assisted in the making of Aunt
Cindy's modest “crap,” had been guided up the rickety steps, and
quartered on one end of the gallery, where he munched contentedly all
day long from the pile of corn and fodder supplied by the government
relief boat. A new-born calf, which had drifted against the back door,
and had been lifted in and warmed to life on the wide hearth-stone,
stood beside him, or trotted like a kitten in and out of the open
doorway. A big flop-eared hound-dog had buffeted his way, swimming, to
the edge of the gallery, and looked up with red, appealing eyes; he now
lay in a corner of the fireplace, sleek, brown, and dry, and sniffed
hungrily at the frying-pan. A turkey-cock strutted about the floor. A
litter of pigs grunted in a corner.
“I 'clar' ter goodness,” said Aunt Cindy the second morning, as she
fished out a coop of half-drowned chickens, which came bumping against
the wall, “hit's edzackly lak de Zark dat ole Noah done builded at de
comman' o' de Lawd!”
A few hours later a 'possum crept in, and made his way stealthily to
one of the blackened rafters under the roof, whence he looked gravely
down; and a lame blackbird hopped upon the snowy counterpane of Aunt
Cindy's big four-post bed, and nestled among the pillows.
“Hit's er Zark!” repeated Aunt Cindy, cheerfully, “an' I knows
dat de onderpinnin' is gwine ter stan'. An' wi' gov'ment bacon an' de
catfish dat me en' de chillen kin ketch frum de gall'ry, we ain' gwine
'Lijah sunned himself in his wet clothes, now staring dreamily at
the soft blue March sky overhead, now watching Polly, who was fishing
from the other end of the gallery close to old Pomp's inoffensive
heels. Suddenly he scrambled to his feet and gazed intently out over
the yellow sea. The next moment he plunged headlong into the water,
where for a second he disappeared, then rose, spluttering and blowing.
Polly threw down her pole at the splash and ran forward. “You,
'Lije,” she gasped, “come out'n dat water dis minute! Does you wanter
drown yo'se'f? Mammy gwine ter w'ar you ter er—”
She stopped abruptly; her mouth remained wide open and her eyes
dilated. 'Lijah was pushing his way slowly against the incoming waves.
The water, at first a little below his shoulders, presently lapped
against his chin. Once or twice he slipped, and then only the top of
his woolly head was visible in the foam. Finally he struck out, and
swam with unsteady, childish strokes towards the object upon which his
eyes were fixed. It was a whitish mass, which floated slowly, as if
driven by a light wind, towards the rapid current of the deeper channel
a few yards away. As 'Lijah approached it caught in the scraggy tops of
some altheas that marked the boundary of the cabin door-yard; there it
stopped a moment, swaying from side to side, as if about to sink; then,
caught in an eddy, it turned suddenly and shot forward. 'Lijah made a
desperate spurt and laid hold of it, drawing it cautiously to him; his
lean, brown arm glistened in the sun as he stretched it out. He turned
with difficulty, and labored back, pushing the drift before him. As he
came up, Polly, who had been too terrified to utter a word, seized him,
and drew him upon the gallery, where he dropped, exhausted and panting.
Then she looked down at the jetsam he had towed in, and gave a screech
which brought Aunt Cindy, the girls, and the dog flying out.
It was indeed a strange little craft which lay alongside the Zark—
a tiny cradle mattress, water-soaked and stained. Lying upon it—its
single passenger—was a four or five months' old girl baby, white and
delicate as a snow-drop. She was clad in a long night-gown, which clung
in dripping folds about her plump little body; it was open at the
throat, showing her round, dimpled neck, encircled by a string of coral
with a broad clasp of gold. The soft rings of brown hair that curled
about her forehead were wet and glistening. Her eyes were closed, her
lips were blue, and her cheeks cold and pale. In one tiny benumbed fist
she grasped a green leaf, which she had probably caught from some
“Get de kittle er hot water, Dicy,” ordered Aunt Cindy, as she
lifted the mattress in her arms and carried it into the cabin. “Stir
yo'se'f, gal! Polly, fetch 'Lijah er smaller o' pepper-sass. Punch up
de fiah, Sal. Po' li'l' gal chile! Deir ain' much bref let' in yo'
body, honey. Is de worl' comin' ter er een?”
Half an hour later the baby, lying on Aunt Cindy's lap, opened her
blue eyes languidly, and looked at the wondering group gathered around
“Dar now!” said Aunt Cindy, comfortably, “I gwine ter git her
somefin ter eat, an' den I be boun' she gwine ter be lively.”
The little creature pursed up her pretty mouth and began to whimper
as her eyes went from face to face. But catching sight of 'Lijah, who
had recovered his breath in rebellion against the pepper-sauce, some
mysterious sense within her seemed to stir; she smiled, reached out her
little hand, and clasped a finger of one of his brown paws with a
gurgle of content.
'Lijah picked up from the hearth the bit of green vine which had
dropped unnoticed from the baby's unconscious hand. “Hit's de dove,” he
said, “dat de Lawd is done saunt inter de Zark wi' 'er green leaf in
From that moment the baby grew and thrived in the water-girt cabin.
Its inmates, from Aunt Cindy herself down to Viny, the youngest child,
adored her. Viny declared that even the pigs tried not to grunt when
she was asleep. But it was to 'Lijah most of all that she clung with
all the strength of her baby heart, and 'Lijah never wearied of
“toting” her around the crowded room, or up and down the littered
gallery. Aunt Cindy, mindful of the past grandeurs of her own white
folks, cast about for some high-sounding name for the precious waif.
But they called her Dovie; and there she abode, a white flower ringed
around by dark, loving faces, while the water rose and fell and rose
again as the crevasse was partly closed or the levee broke afresh.
One morning, nearly two months later, Aunt Cindy, carrying a basket
of fresh eggs, and followed by 'Irish, approached the little railway
station a mile or so from Bethel Church just as the train whizzed away.
A light carriage, drawn by two sleek horses, was waiting at the
station. Its owner, busy about the harness, looked around as Aunt Cindy
“Dullaw!” she exclaimed, breaking into a broad grin. “Ef dat ain'
li'l' Marse Jack Mannin'! Howdy, Marse Jack?”
The young man shook hands with her heartily.
“Why, Aunt Cindy,” he said, “who ever would have thought of seeing
you away up here?”
Aunt Cindy laughed. “Sol Wash'n'ton wuz er pow'ful han' ter travel,”
she replied. “Huccum you here yo'self, Marse Jack? An' whar is you lef'
His bright face clouded anxiously. “I have bought the Four Oaks
Plantation, over on the river,” he said. “Nannie is inside. Go and see
her, Aunt Cindy.”
The young and delicate-looking woman who was seated in the little
waiting-room threw herself with a wild sob into the arms of the
faithful soul who had nursed her when she was a baby.
“Oh, mammy! mammy!” she moaned.
“What's de matter, honey?” Aunt Cindy asked, tenderly stroking her
The story which Mrs. Manning told, through her tears, was a sad one.
Four Oaks Plantation, where they had been living but a few months, was
quite near the river. When the levee gave way, and the water began
rapidly to rise, they had taken refuge, with their baby and some of the
house-servants, in the manager's cottage, a short distance in the rear.
There they passed a day and part of a night in the greatest anxiety.
Towards midnight the rush of water became so threatening that they
determined to take again to the skiffs that had brought them over. She
herself was on the gallery, helping her husband and the negroes to get
the boats ready, when the house suddenly parted in the middle, as if
cleft by a knife, and in the dense darkness one end of it crashed down
into the roaring flood. The baby, sleeping in her crib within, was
“And oh, mammy,” the young mother sobbed, when she had finished the
story, and told how they were finally taken, half drowned themselves,
from the wreck, by a relief-boat, “if I could only have seen my baby
once more! But her little body was swept away with the broken timbers.
The deepest channel of the crevasse now is just where the house stood.
My baby—my little baby!”
Aunt Cindy started involuntarily. “Miss Nannie,” she said, after a
moment's silence, “hit wuz er pow'ful 'fliction de losin' er dat baby
“My baby was a girl, mammy,” interrupted Mrs. Manning, sobbing
afresh, “with blue eyes, and brown hair that curled all over her head.”
“Jes lak yo'n useter, honey.” Aunt Cindy's voice had a ring of
excitement in it. She got up, and went out to where 'Lijah sat on the
edge of the platform swinging his heels. A moment later he set off,
whooping, by a short-cut towards home, with the hound running
alongside. Mr. Manning was walking dejectedly up and down the platform.
“Marse Jack,” said Aunt Cindy, in a wheedling tone, “you knows dat I is
knowed you an' Miss Nannie sence y'ou wa'n't knee-high ter er duck.”
“Indeed you have,” said Mr. Manning, feeling in his pocket for some
“An' dat I nussed Miss Nannie when she wuz er baby; an' dat I close
her ma's eyes when she died.”
“Yes,” he said again, kindly.
“An' I wants you ter 'suade Miss Nannie ter drive down ter my cabin.
You has plenty o' time. Hit ain' fur, an' Miss Nannie might be hope up
by seein' o' de chillen.”
It needed no coaxing to induce Mrs. Manning to go. She clung to Aunt
Cindy, whose familiar presence seemed to soothe her, and they got in
The road was a roundabout one, owing to the gullies and pitfalls
left by the flood, and by the time they came in sight of the cabin the
young woman was quiet and almost cheerful.
The Zark looked forlorn enough; a dingy line around the walls showed
the point at which the water had stood for many weeks; the gallery was
rotting and falling in; the steps, which had been swept away, had been
replaced by a shaky contrivance of boards. The fences were all down,
and the door-yard was heaped with tangled drift. But the garden-patch
was thriving; and neat furrows in the field showed that old Pomp and
Aunt Cindy had been at work there. The cabin door was closed, and no
one was in sight.
“Sol Wash'n'ton is put up dish yere cabin wi' his own han's,” said
its mistress, proudly, leading the way up the steps. “De onderpinnin'
is made fer ter stan'! Ever' cabin in Bethel Chu'ch is squish
down 'cep'n' jes mine. We done call hit de Zark, 'caze—” Mrs.
Manning's eyes were filling with tears again at the mention of the
fatal crevasse. Her husband gave Aunt Cindy a look of warning, but she
went on, cheerfully: “We done name hit de Zark, 'caze we tuk 'n' tuk in
ever'thing dat come er pass dis way, same ez ef hit wuz de comman'er de
Lawd! Yes, honey, we tuk 'n' tuk in chickens an' dawgs an' mules—
ever'thing! 'Possums an' 'coons— ever'thing! Birds an'
calves an'— babies; yes, honey, ev-er'thing!” She had
her arm around her foster-child, and was drawing her gently towards the
cabin door. A deadly pallor had crept into Mrs. Manning's cheeks, and
her eyes were wide with entreaty. “Yes, chile, ef er li'l' white
gal baby come floatin'—or long— on er crib mattress—“
she pushed open the door.
The stained mattress was in the middle of the floor. Dovie, clad in
the little gown—which she had sadly outgrown—that she wore when she
came to the Zark, had been placed carefully upon it. But she was in the
very act of crawling off; one bare, rosy foot was thrust out, her
dimpled hands grasped the torn sheet, her lips were parted in a roguish
smile, her blue eyes sparkled. Polly, Viny, Sal, and Dicy hung around
the mattress, giggling; 'Lijah stood guard over her; the hound by his
side looked gravely on. Dovie looked up as the door opened, and frowned
inquiringly; then, as usual in any emergency, she reached up and laid
firm hold of 'Lijah, stuck her thumb in her mouth, and stared at the
Mrs. Manning stumbled forward, and sank with a cry to the floor.
“Doan you be skeered, Marse Jack,” said Aunt Cindy, “she ain't gwine
ter die. Dat kin' er joy doan kill.” She laid the frightened child in
the mother's outstretched arms. “Why, honey, I might er knowed dat dis
baby b'long ter we-alls fambly. Polly, 'ain' you got no manners? Fetch
er cheer fer Marse Jack! An' Dicy done read de plain word 'Nannie' all
de time on dat gol' clasp! I 'ain' shout sence Bethel Chu'ch is tumble
inter de flood, but I sholy is gwine ter shout now. Glory! Glory!
“ And the high, triumphant cry of the old regress went echoing away like
a trumpet tone on the clear morning air.
Second only to Dovie herself in importance at the Four Oaks
Plantation great-house is 'Lijah Washington. He waits on Marse Jack and
runs errands for Miss Nannie. But for the most part his business is to
walk around, in company with the flop-eared hound, after Dovie, who is
just beginning to walk. Sometimes he proudly “totes” her in his arms.
“What a beautiful baby!” a visitor exclaims, patting Dovie's dimpled
“Yass'm,” 'Lijah responds, showing his white teeth in a delighted
grin; “dish yere is de dove dat come ter de Zark endurin' er de flood
wi' er green leaf in her li'l' han', an' I done tuk 'n' tuk her in.
“Can you 'cunjur,' Maum Hagar?”
The words were carelessly spoken, but Hagar, keenly sensitive to
every shade of feeling in her foster-son's voice, detected an unwonted
thrill beneath their airy lightness.
The speaker was a tall, slightly built man about thirty years of
age. His thin, sallow face was very handsome, though there were lines
of dissipation about the dark, smiling eyes and the low forehead shaded
by crisp, reddish-brown curls. His mouth, partly hidden by a drooping
mustache, was rather feminine, but the smooth chin was firm almost to
His clothes were of irreproachable cut and fit; an air of high-bred
ease pervaded his whole person as he swayed lightly to and fro in the
low rocking-chair, fanning himself with a wide hat whose crown was
encircled by a band of crape.
The old negress who stood before him in an attitude at once familiar
and respectful was likewise tall and slender. Her brown, furrowed face
beneath her gayly colored turban was curiously impassive; only the
sunken eyes seemed alive. They glowed like smouldering fires within
their half-closed lids. Her arms were folded across her breast; her
bare feet and ankles were visible beneath her short, scant skirts.
There were signs of a past grandeur about the large room. A stucco
frieze, representing a procession of mythological personages, ran
around the dingy walls under the lofty ceiling. The arched windows were
surmounted by elaborate moldings; the high wooden mantel, upheld by
slim pillars of twisted brass, was delicately carved; the double doors,
opening upon an inner gallery, were set with panels of stained glass.
The massive sideboard and the claw-footed tables, which in an
earlier day furnished forth this ancient dining-hall, had long since
disappeared. But the floor was clean; the humble bed, piled with
wholesome-smelling unlaundered garments, was covered with a snow-white
counterpane and ornamented with stiff, fringed valances; the hearth was
reddened; the tall brass fire-dogs glistened like gold.
An ironing-board, with a partly ironed shirt upon it, was supported
on the backs of two chairs near the fireplace; a charcoal furnace, with
some fiat-irons plunged into its bed of red coals, occupied a corner of
Floyd Garth idly noted these commonplace details as he repeated his
question, “Maum Hagar, can you 'cunjur'?”
Old Hagar looked down at him a moment before speaking. “I ain't
shore,” she said, slowly, “dat I kin conjur to suit you, Mars
Floyd. It 'pends on what you wants.“
A flush darkened the young man's face; he shifted his position and
cleared his throat.
“What is you honin' after, little Mars? You sholy ain't 'shamed to
tell yo' black mammy, honey,” she said, caressingly, her face suddenly
losing its impassiveness.
He laughed gayly. “You make me half believe that I am a boy again,
and back on the old plantation, mammy! Do you remember how I used to
steal down to your cabin at the quarter when I wanted anything? And you
never failed to get me what I wanted, either! The old cabin looks just
as it did when you left it. How long has it been since you came away
from Garth Place?”
“It's seventeen year come Christmas,” she replied, huskily, as if a
lump had arisen in her throat.
“Ah, yes! it was the year my father took me abroad. You came this
far with us, I remember. How I yelled and kicked, half-grown boy as I
was, when they tore me away from your arms! Yes, the old place remains
the same in spite of all our drifting about. But now that my father is
dead—it is just three weeks to-day since I saw him laid beside my
mother in the old burying-ground at the plantation—now that he is
gone, it is too dreary there. I shall place everything in the hands of
the manager and live in the city myself. I may open the old town-house.
You will come and keep house for me, eh, maum? Do you know, Maum
Hagar,” he continued, musingly, “I can just recollect living in that
old house! My father closed it, I know, when my mother died. I was not
more than three or four years old, was I? But I can dimly remember my
pretty dark-eyed mother bending over me, with her long curls falling
about her shoulders, as they do in her portrait.”
His reckless face had softened, his eyes were fixed upon the floor,
and he did not see the sombre lightning which flashed into those gazing
down upon him.
“And then my father gave me to your care, Maum Hagar.”
“I nussed you fum de day you was bawn,” she interrupted, fiercely.
“So you did, mammy,” he said, heartily—“so you did. And spoiled me
well into the bargain. I must be going,” he added, rising. “I have had
a precious hunt for you this time, and I never would have found you if
—” He checked himself suddenly; then asked, “How long have you been
living in this tumble-down old rookery?”
“De cunjur, honey?” she said, ignoring his outstretched hand. “You
axed me kin I cunjur.”
The softened look vanished from the young man's face. “Yes,” he
said, setting his teeth together, “I want you to cunjur—a woman.” His
protruding chin had an ugly look and an uneasy fire burned in his eyes.
“A woman, by God! who eludes me, and tantalizes me, and holds me at
arm's-length, child though she is in years!” He was speaking more to
himself than to his old nurse. She watched him with narrowing eyelids.
“Is it de love-spell you wants, or de hate-spell, honey?” she asked,
moving a step nearer and laying her hand on his arm.
He laughed shortly. “Oh, the love-spell—first! What nonsense!” he
continued, shrugging his shoulders. “It just came into my mind how they
used to say up at Garth Place that you could throw Wanga. I was
only joking. Good-bye, Maum Hagar. Come to me when you need anything.”
He dropped some silver coin into her apron-pocket, and turned to go.
“I'm goin' to fetch you de love-spell, little marse,” she said,
He seemed not to have heard her. “Where is Lisette?” he asked, as if
prompted by a sudden thought. “She must be almost grown.”
“Lisette is hired out,” Hagar returned, in a preoccupied tone.
“She's nigh on to seventeen year old, Lisette is.”
She followed him out upon the gallery which overlooked the court,
crossed and recrossed with flapping lines of wet garments, and watched
him descend the shaky stair. He stopped to tap with his cane one of the
great marble bath-tubs placed side by side on the slippery flag-stones.
For this decayed and mildewed edifice had been, in the first quarter of
the century, the luxuriantly appointed bath and club house of the
jeunesse dorée of the old French quarter. He tossed a handful
of nickels into the group of wide-eyed babies squatted within the tub,
and nodded good-humoredly, in passing, to a cobbler standing in the
doorway of one of the disused bath-cells.
“He's got all de ways of de Cunnel, his father,” sighed the old
woman, “fair a-drawin' de heart out'n yo' body, an' den not keerin' fer
it when he gits it. I've ached a'ter. him for nigh thirty year, an' he
'ain't studied 'bout me, not sense he was weaned fum de breas', less'n
he wants sompn!” She went back into her own room and closed the door.
“So Cunnul Floyd Garth is dead,” she muttered, pacing back and forth
with rhythmic step. “What diffunce does dat make to old Hagar, now? But
de boy is got to have what he wants ef I have to spill de las'
drap o' blood in my body to git it fer him. Ez to de woman, white er
black, dat is holdin' back fum him, ef I kin git my hands on her I'll
twis' her neck same ez I twis' de neck of a chicken!” Her voice rose
with sudden ferocity, and sank again to a hoarse whisper. “I kin
th'ow Wanga, me! I knows de hate-spell!” She thrust her hand into
her bosom and took out a small black sea-bean, highly polished, and
fitted, like a miniature flask, with a silver stopper. She shook it
lightly and held it to her ear as if to assure herself of its contents,
and returned it to her bosom. “Yes, I knows de hate-spell. But I don't
know de love-spell. I 'ain't had no call to use de love-spell, me!” The
suggestion of a grim smile played over her withered lips. “But de boy
is boun' to have what he wants. I mus'git dat love-spell fum Voodoo
A few moments later she came out into the streets. The noonday sun
was hot, though it was but the middle of February. The breeze that
travelled along the narrow street was heavy with the perfume of the
orange-trees abloom in the square a stone's-throw away. Swarms of
barefooted children basked on the banquettes; they shouted after the
old blanchisseuse in pure baby wantonness. She seemed as
oblivious of them as of the older idlers lounging in doorways or dozing
on the iron benches in the old Place d'Armes. She walked up the
street, rigidly erect, and with a firm, brisk step, looking neither to
right nor left, and presently turned into a dim corridor, which opened
at the farther end into a small, ill-smelling, triangular court. The
enclosing walls, formed by the rear of tall brick buildings, were
pierced by doors and windows, whose heavy batten shutters were closed.
A large archway on one side was boarded up; the huge spikes which
clamped the cross-pieces were rusty, as if a century might have passed
since they were driven in.
Hagar paused a moment and looked about her, as if taking her
bearings; then she crossed the slimy brick pavement, and tapped upon a
low door half hidden by the leaky cistern in a corner of the triangle.
There was an interval of silence; then a light shuffling sound within,
and the door was opened by an old negro. He was of almost gigantic
proportions; the shrewd, repellent face was jet-black; the large,
sensual mouth showed when open a double range of tusks rather than
teeth of surprising whiteness; the small eyes shone beneath their bushy
white brows. A red turban was twisted about his head; his coarse blue
cotton shirt was open, exposing his massive, scarred chest. A necklet
of oddly shaped bits of wood encircled his short throat; his feet were
bare, and silver anklets tinkled on his brown ankles as he moved.
Hagar pushed past this forbidding figure and entered the small room.
Voodoo Jean regarded his visitor with mute, frowning inquiry. She
turned back her sleeve without speaking, and pointed to a small
tattoo-mark on her arm, just below the elbow. A quick gleam of
intelligence leaped into his face. He uttered a guttural ejaculation
and touched a similar hieroglyph on his own wrist. When they spoke it
was in the gibberish-like tongue of their African forefathers.
The den in which they stood was bare, except for an arm-chair placed
by the single window, and a rude table, which was strewn with pebbles,
bunches of feathers, bits of bone and straw, and knotted fragments of
rope. Lighted candles in flat candlesticks burned at either end of the
table. On a narrow shelf above the open fireplace there were two or
three tattered books, a wooden rod bound with brass, and a small box
with iron clasps. A peculiar musty odor permeated the damp, close
“Is it for a woman you desire the spell?” Voodoo Jean demanded, when
Hagar had finished speaking.
“No, for a man,” she replied, briefly.
He walked over to the mantel and opened the little box which stood
there. “Those things”—he waved his hand contemptuously towards the
table—“are for common and ignorant fools who must be fed with lies,
and furnished with dead men's fingers, and lizard's blood, and
graveyard worms. This”—he took from the rude casket a small white
sea-shell, whose rosy lining glistened in the candlelight, and laid it
in the yellow palm of his long, shapely hand—“this is for those who
wear the mark.” He touched with his forefinger the cipher upon
Hagar approached eagerly.
“Stay!” He lifted a warning hand. “Is the man of our blood?“
he demanded, with a searching look.
She hesitated; great drops of perspiration gathered upon her
forehead; her lips opened in a vain attempt to speak. “Yes, yes!” she
panted, as he made a movement to return the talisman to the box.
“I will help no dog of a white man to a woman,” he said, with calm
ferocity. “Take it, Woman of the Mark! Let him give it himself into the
hand of the woman he desires. It is powerful. It cannot fail.”
He dropped the shell, as he spoke, into her hand. She slipped it
into the bosom of her dress, where the sea-bean was already lying.
He waved away the silver she offered him—the silver which her
foster-son had given her at parting. She laid her lips humbly upon the
tattoo-mark on his arm and went away. He stood on the threshold, and
watched her pass across the court and turn into the alley. A look of
contempt, not unmixed with pity, rose for an instant into his cunning
eyes. Then he re-entered his lair and closed the door.
Some one was singing in Hagar's room; the fresh voice went echoing
about the ancient galleries and cobwebbed corridors. She heard it as
she mounted the stair, and her face lightened. She opened the door and
stood unnoticed on the threshold. “Lisette was bawn in freedom,” she
murmured, exultantly, “an' she cert'n'y looks it!”
The girl was bending over the ironing-board with a heavy iron in her
hand; her calico frock was pinned back and her sleeves pushed up above
her rounded elbows. She was tall, like her mother, but her slim figure
had the tender and graceful outlines of youth. Her skin was almost
abnormally white, the mixed blood showing only in the colorless cheeks,
the large eyes with the purple, crescent-shaped shadows underneath
them, the full, voluptuous lips, and the crinkly hair, which was drawn
back from the low brow and woven into innumerable little plaits, each
closely wound with cotton thread.
“Howd'ye, mammy,” she cried, looking up brightly as the old woman
entered. “You see, I've been doin' yo' ironin' whils I was waitin' for
you to come home.”
Hager smiled at her affectionately. “Yo' arms is younger dan mine,”
she said. “Lawd! how de i'on do skim over dat shirt!”
“I can't stay,” Lisette said, slipping the garment from the board
and folding it deftly. “My madame sent me on a erran', an' I just run
by to fetch you some cold vittles.” She picked up her white sunbonnet.
“Dat's right,” her mother remarked, following her to the door.
“Don't fool erway yo' mistiss's time. An' min' you be a good gal,
“I will,” laughed the girl, laying her soft arms about her mother's
The next morning Hagar hung around the street corner near the hotel
where Garth was stopping until she saw him come out. He repulsed her
almost roughly when she produced the talisman. “Take it, little marse,”
she whispered, looking furtively around. “It's de love-spell. You ha'
to give it into de woman's hand yo'se'f. It's boun' to work.”
“I don't want it,” he said, averting his face. “Good God! Hagar,
couldn't you see I was jesting? Besides, you don't know—” He stopped
abruptly and walked up the street, leaving her staring vacantly after
him, with the shell in her hand; but half a block away he turned and
came swiftly back. “Where is the cursed thing, Hagar? Give it to me.”
He seized it fiercely. “I shall not use it,” he continued, with a short
laugh. “I am going away—up to Garth Place—abroad. I may be gone six
months—a year, perhaps. I will come and see you as soon as I return.”
He shook her hand nervously and strode away.
“He called me Hagar!” said his nurse, looking after him with
dazed eyes. “Fer de fus' time in his life, he called me Hagar!“
“Her mistiss mus' sholy bear a hard han' on Lisette,” sighed the old
washer-woman one morning nearly a month later. “I ain't seen de chile
sence de day I come back fum Voodoo Jean, an' foun' her over my
She spoke in a half-audible tone to herself, as she moved to and fro
among her tubs in the court-yard.
“What for you no make-a yo, dotter work-a with-a you?” interrupted a
swarthy, smiling Italian near by, her fine brown arms rising and
falling in the white froth of the suds. “Me, when Cesca git-a grown”—
she stooped to pat the round cheek of the half-naked cherub clinging to
her skirts—“I wouldn' lef' her leaf-a me for a hund'ed dolla, no!”
Hagar deigned no response. “Ef dey wa'n't so many low-down Dagos an'
train' niggers in dis cote-yard”—she glanced disdainfully at her
loquacious neighbor, then at a buxom mulatress leaning over the gallery
railing above, exchanging doubtful jests with the ear-ringed Sicilian
who was washing vegetables at the hydrant—“ef dis cote-yard wa'n't so
onchristian I'd fetch de chile home to-morrer. Praise de Lawd! here she
There was a light foot-fall in the corridor, and Lisette appeared,
threading her way daintily through the rubbish that strewed the court,
and through the net-work of lines overhead. “Run along, honey,” Hagar
called, cheerily. “Soon ez I wring out dis tubful an' pin up, I'll
Lisette, in the clean, cool, shadowy room above, took off her
sunbonnet and drifted aimlessly about, touching a homely article here
and there, and looking at it with absent eyes. A subtle change had
taken place in her appearance. Her dress was the same—the dark-blue
calico gown and freshly ironed apron; the leather belt about her
slender waist; the coarse shoes and cheap stockings. But a new and
indefinable charm enveloped her; a languid grace pervaded her slow
movements; an exultant light came and went in her dark eyes.
Her mother gazed at her in silence from the doorway.
“Whyn't you wrop yo' hair, Lisette ?” she demanded, sharply.
A dull color rose in Lisette's cheeks; her eyelids drooped; she
raised her hands as if instinctively to her head. The twisted plaits
had been combed out, and the wavy mass was drawn back into a loose knot
at the nape of her neck; a fringe of crinkly curls fell over her
“I ain't had time to wrop it this mawnin',” she said, half sullenly.
“I've got sompn to do besides wrop my hair. The madame is down sick,”
she went on, volubly, “an' the children has all got the measles. I was
'fraid you might get oneasy, an' I come to let you know, mammy.”
“I don't know when I can come again,” she called up from the
court-yard when she went away; and after she had reached the corridor
she ran back to say, breathlessly, “I forgot to tell you, mammy! My
madame don't allow me to have comp'ny now. So's I can't ask you to come
till the children gets well. But don't you be oneasy.”
“De chile seem like she low-sperrited,” Hagar mused, unpinning the
snowy, sweet-smelling clothes from the lines. “Her mistiss mus' sholy
bear a hard han' on her. I'm gwine to hurry up my starchin' an' rough
i'nin', so I kin go an' he'p take keer o' dem measly chillen. Comp'ny,
hump! I ain't no comp'ny!”
It was late in the afternoon of the next day when she closed and
locked her door behind her and went out into the street. She was a
noticeable figure in her old-fashioned, full-skirted, black bombazine
gown, her spotless lace-edged 'kerchief and curiously knotted tignon.
She moved along the uneven banquettes with a firm, quick step, but her
form seemed to have lost some of its erectness, and her face had grown
visibly older during the past month.
“Ef I could only see de boy!” she muttered. “I'm fair eatin' my
heart out for a sight of de boy! He called me Hagar fer de fus
time in his life! He called me Hagar, an' den lef' me d'out so
much ez lookin' back over his shoulder!”
She had halted unconsciously. The corner was a quiet one; wide-eaved
cottages and dingy shops shouldered each other along a maze of
intersecting streets beyond. The tall church-spire above her cast its
shadow across their pointed roofs. She leaned against the church-wall,
her eyes fixed on the ground, her head upon her breast. She drew a long
breath and looked around like one awakened from a dream.
“Gawd-a-mighty!” she cried, recoiling as if she had received
Facing the church, set back from the street and flanked on one side
by a high wall that inclosed one of those quaint gardens still to be
found in the very heart of the French quarter, stood an old-fashioned
brick mansion, with wide verandas, long, high windows, and steep,
dormer-windowed roof. It had been newly painted; the iron grille which
barred the corridor on one side of the house was tipped with fresh
gilding. The window-shutters were flung back; filmy curtains within
were swaying in the light breeze; a birdcage hung in a shaded corner of
the upper gallery.
A silver plate on the front door bore the name Floyd Garth.
Hagar drew her sleeve across her eyes and stared again. Her face
twitched; a sob rose in her throat. “I didn't know wher' I wuz. De ole
house! De ole house! Where de slave was trod underfoot!”
The words came in broken jerks that seemed to tear her breast.
“De mistiss in de front room. De slave in de kitchen. Sarah in de
tent. Hagar in de wilderness. Twenty-five year an' mo' sence I've seen
de sin-stained house! Twenty-five year and mo' sence de slave watched
de mistiss twis' herse'f on her big fo'-pos' bed an' die! . . . Die in
yo' tent, Sarah! Twis' yo'se'f on yo' bed an' die! . . . But de boy is
mine—de curly hair, roun'-cheek boy, wi' his arms roun' Hagar's
Her voice softened as she uttered the last words; a smile of
unutterable tenderness played about her mouth. She walked on
mechanically, but turned as if struck by a new thought. “De boy must
ha' come back,” she murmured. “He sholy is come back! He's done open up
de ole house! He's been studyin' 'bout what he said when he ax me to
come an' keep house fer him! He ain't forgot his black mammy! He didn't
mean nothin' when he called me Hagar! He loves me!. . . It's
been a long time sence ole Hagar has cried fer joy,” she whispered,
wonderingly, staring at the drops which splashed on the back of her
hand. “Mebby he's in de ole house now—in de ole house where he was
bawn! Lessn he's gone down to de ole cote-yard to fetch me home!”
She crossed the street, half-running. The grille was unlocked; she
pushed it open and went in. The long-flagged corridor was filled with
purple shadows; a little stream of yellow river-water ran along by the
wall, and fell with a gurgling sound into the open gutter outside.
Within the wide court a low-branched magnolia was in bloom, the great
white cups pouring their pungent incense upon the air; a row of
annunciation lilies bloomed at the foot of the garden-wall. A thin
spray of water arose from a fountain set in the midst of prim,
white-shelled walks, and fell noiselessly into a mossy marble basin. A
hammock was slung on an overhanging balcony; a wicker chair knotted
with ribbons was placed beside it.
The kitchen door beyond the court stood open and a fire burned in
the range, but there was no one in sight. Hagar hesitated, looking
around. A hall door stood open and a negro lad came out of the house;
he carried a silver tray with a long-stemmed goblet upon it.
“Miss July Jackson, de cook, has jes' stepped roun' de cornder,
m'am,” he said, politely; “she'll be back in a minit.”
“I 'ain't come to see no cook,” said Hagar, haughtily. “I come to
see Mr. Floyd Garth. Is he at home?”
“No'm,” replied the boy, overawed by her manner, “he 'ain' come yit.
Dough he ginerally comes in 'bout dis time, m'am. But de madame,
she's at home. Dough I don' 'spec' she wanter be dis
-turb. But I'll ax her kin you see her, m'am. Dough—”
Hagar put him aside unceremoniously. “I nussed Mr. Floyd Garth fum
de day he was bawn,” she said, “an' de madame'll be glad to see Mr.
Floyd's black mammy.”
“De shell 'ain't failed in its work,” she breathed, triumphantly,
threading her way through one well-remembered room after another,
heedless of the familiar objects they contained. “De curly hair boy has
got what he want. An' it was old Hagar gin him de love-spell!
He's gwine to turn his sof' laughin' eyes on me like he useter, an'
say: 'Mammy, you gits me what I want. I love you, mammy!'
Ez to de madame—” She laughed significantly, with her hand on a fold
of the heavy portière.
She lifted the curtain.
On the wall just opposite were the portraits of the late Colonel
Floyd Garth and his wife—the one blue-eyed and blonde, with a
somewhat haughty turn to his patrician head; the other, dark, fragile,
and beautiful in her wedding-gown of shimmering silk. Between them hung
a medallion portrait of their only son, Floyd—an exquisite, angelic
head, set in an aureole of luminous cloud.
Nothing surely had changed here in all these years: the same big
canopied bed in the alcove, the rosewood work-table by the window, the
high-backed sofa and deep-bosomed chairs, the dainty peignoir
thrown across the foot of a lounge with a man's coat tossed carelessly
A woman was standing in front of the muslin-draped Psyche mirror.
Her back was turned towards the door. A cloud of mist-like white
drapery enveloped the slight figure; there was a gleam of gold in the
dusky hair; her arms were stretched above her head, the filmy sleeves
falling away from them, leaving them bare to the shoulders; the wrists
were encircled with bracelets; the shoulders rose dimpled and shining
above the loose, low gown.
She turned at the slight noise.
“Lisette!” The name broke in a hoarse whisper from the
“Lisette!” She dropped the curtain and stepped into the room,
glaring about her like a wild animal, her lips frothing, the veins of
her neck swelling, her whole body quivering.
The girl gazed at her with horror-stricken eyes, a bluish pallor
creeping into her face.
A door closed somewhere, jarring the stillness. A step sounded on
the bare, polished floor of the hall outside, a hand thrust the
portière aside, and Floyd Garth appeared. His face, flushed with his
walk, wore a look of boyish pleasure. He stopped, confused and
uncertain, on the threshold. The flower which he held dropped from his
At sight of him a low, appealing moan escaped Lisette's lips. She
started forward with outstretched arms; but an imperious gesture from
Hagar restrained her, and she sank, trembling, into a chair, and leaned
her head against the high back.
The shell attached to a slender gold chain about her neck rose and
fell with the frightened heaving of her bosom.
Hagar lifted her shrivelled arms. “De Voodoo spell has done its
work,” she said, looking sternly at the master of the house. “It has
holp you to de woman you want. But de spell ain't finish' yet.
Dis half is for you, little Mars Floyd! De yether half is fer de gal,
Lisette! Dis half is de spell of Voodoo Jean. De yether half is de
spell of old Hagar.” She paused, glancing around the room as if in
search of something. Her eyes fell upon a silver filigree basket on the
window-ledge filled with fruit. She crossed the room hurriedly and took
an orange from it. The two young people watched her with fascinated
eyes while she swiftly stripped off the golden rind and parted the
pulpy layers within.
“Has you ever heerd tell of de love-stranche, little Mars
Floyd?” she asked, with a sort of ferocious lightness. “Dey say
it's de mos' certain of all de love-spells.”
She held out between her thumb and forefinger one of those small
crescent-shaped sections known locally as the tranche d'amour,
Garth, rooted to the spot where he stood, was vaguely aware of a
quick movement of her hand to her bosom. He saw, as if in a hideous
nightmare, wherein he was numb and helpless, some dark shining object
gleam for a second in the long fingers. His eyes followed her
panther-like spring to where Lisette lay panting in the high-backed
“De spell of Voodoo Jean for one. De love-stranche of Hagar for de
yether. De love-stranche is de stronges'. A'ter you try de
love-stranche you don't ax for no mo' love-spells—nor hate-spells!”
She stooped over the girl, whose large eyes were rolling wildly.
Garth saw Lisette's blanched lips open, the tiny morsel drop upon
her dry tongue, her throat contract in the effort to swallow.
Hagar looked down at her, mute and rigid. A second of silence
followed, broken only by the soft pad of the negro lad's bare feet on
the floor without, and the airy tinkle of ice in a goblet. Then a
short, sharp shriek rang through the room; a gasp shook the slight form
in the chair, running like an electric thrill along her limbs; a wave
of purple mounted to her face and neck, and receded; the eyes closed,
the head fell back. The gold band, loosened from the dark locks, rolled
to the carpeted door.
“God Almighty! Fiend! Devil! What have you done?” Garth's hand was
upon the old woman's throat, and he was shaking her to and fro in a
frenzy of wrath and anguish. “She is my wife! Do you hear me?
She would not listen to me until my mother's wedding-ring was on her
finger! She is my wedded wife!”
She shook him off with a strength far beyond his own. His words
evidently fell on unheeding ears. She stooped quietly and lifted the
arm of her dead child, passing her hand gently over the smooth wrist.
Then she let it fall, and, drawing herself up to her full height, she
turned with a savage cry upon the man whose wild eyes were fixed upon
her. “You axed me kin I cunjur,” she said, in a terrible voice. “Yes,
son of Cunnel Floyd Garth and his slave Hagar—yes, I kin cunjur!”