A Bamboula by Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis
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.