A Heart Leaf from Stony Creek Bottom by Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis
“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.