The Fourth Generation by Dora Sigerson Shorter
So Lucy Allison is going to be married, and to an AmericanGeorge
Trevelyan. I am surprised. Mrs. Donald lay back in her chair, and
gazed thoughtfully at the tips of her little shoes set cosily upon the
And why surprised? one of her companions said drowsily, shading her
face from the glow of the fire with her long thin hands. It's the lot
of most weak women.
Miss Anderson was not married, and her tone implied that it was her
own strength of will that had saved her.
Have you never seenanything strange about one of the Miss
Mrs. Donald looked around at the faces shining dimly in the half
light of the fire. There was a sudden movement of interest; chairs
moved forward. It was the start of the sleeping cat, who is awakened by
the flash of a mouse past her, and is all suspense lest it should
If you haven't heard anythingI shan't, of course, tell.
Mrs. Donald closed her eyes, as if the subject were finished. She was
at once overwhelmed by cries and appeals for mercy.
Mrs. Donald, you wouldn't be so mean; please tell. We have heard
nothing. Oh, I can't rest till I know.
Mrs. Donald looked at her friends through half-lifted lidsshe was
enjoying herself. I really can't; it's a sort of scandal, and I
promised our vicar I would talk no more about my friends' little
Miss Anderson drew herself up. Of course, if it's a secret, we must
think of something else. Miss Manfield, did you see the
extraordinary bonnet Mrs. Dunn had on at Church to-day.
But Miss Manfield was stroking Mrs. Donald's hand. You will
tell me all about it, won't you? I always thought there
was something funny about Virginia; but never knew what it was. Do
Mrs. Donald was adamant.
I'd love to, but it's rather a bad scandal; and a promise is a
promise. My conscience would not allow me.
There was a dead silence of bitter disappointment. It grew so long
that Mrs. Donald became uneasy for fear that interest in her secret was
Well, if you all promise not to breath a word to any living soul.
There was a deep sigh of relief, and a gasping, We promise.
You know the Allisons are Americans.
There was an impatient We know; go on as Mrs. Donald paused a
moment to argue with her conscience.
They came from the South, she, and her father and mother and sister,
a year ago; you remember? and settled in England. I don't think I ought
to tell you, any more, after all.
There was a shriek of dismay. But you have told us nothing, and it's
nearly bed-time. Mrs. Donald looked at the clock, which ticked
ominously upon the chimney shelf. She bent forward in her chair, and
spoke more quickly. They were all terrified lest the hostess should
come in and bid them good-night. They were stayingat Mrs. Allison's.
Well, they had a lot of land there, and for generations their
ancestors owned slaves. When their second child was born the Allisons
suddenly left the South; sold up everything, and went to live for some
time in New York; later in Washington. In both places they were rather
shunned by society. Then they came to London.
Miss Anderson drew back into the shadow. I do hope there is
nothing she began, but was silenced by a groan of Oh, do be quiet.
Go on, Mrs. Donald.
There is certainly nothing, or I should not be here,
said Mrs. Donald stiffly. In fact, there's little more to tell. You
know I have lived a long time in America. It was there I knew about the
Allisons. My little girl was at the same school the Allison girls went
toof course, years afterwards. She is still a childbut when there
she met pupils who remembered Virginia and Lucy, and they told her
strange things about one of the twohow different she was from other
girls, and, indeed, they inferred the feeling of the school was so much
against the Allison childrenor one of themthat they had to leave in
the end because of it.
The listening group around the fire became impatient.
Oh, do tell us what there is to tell about them, they cried.
Have none of you noticed anything curious about one of the Allison
girls? The listeners thought, anxious not to make a mistake.
I often thought Lucy a bit queer, some one said, and wild. Is
there insanity in the family? Every one laughed.
Lucy! Mrs. Donald shrugged her shoulders scornfully. Have none of
you really remarked that Virginia ishalf a negro?
There were cries of nonsense, and a ripple laughter.
In the midst of it Mrs. Allison entered the room.
You seem to be very merry in here, she said, smiling. I hope you
are enjoying yourselves.
Oh, very much, indeed, answered Mrs. Donald flushing, slightly. We
are having a good chat. Won't you sit down and join us?
But Mrs. Allison could not for the moment.
When the door closed after her a chorus of voices rung out. But the
father and mother are not negro.
There's not a trace in the family.
She's not a bit like one.
Mrs. Donald pounced on the last speaker.
Not a bit like! Look at her hair! Look at her faceher lips! Have
you no eyes?
We never noticed; but now that you draw our attention to it, one
said, perhaps there are some characteristics. But the father or
motherwhat do you insinuate?
Me! I insinuate nothing. Mrs. Donald was surprised. But, between
ourselves, she added confidentially, I fancy Virginia is not their
own child, but some half-caste negro they have adopted for some reason
which I should like to know.
What a name to call her byVirginia! Miss Anderson said, if they
did not want to attract attention to what they evidently wish to hide.
Well, there are two explanations of that.
Mrs. Donald answered. One American lady told me that she was
christened Virginia by Mr. Allison when she was a tiny baby. He was so
amused at her appearancelike a little picanniny, with her black
curlsbut he did not think she would grow up keeping the resemblance.
The other explanation is that she was called so before he adopted
herif she is not their ownby her real parents. Of course, in
America the race feeling is so strong against any coloured people that
the Allisons were treated rather coldly, I imagine.
What a shame, some one said. I'm sure I think Virginia more
Spanish-looking than negro, and we must take them as we find them. They
are kind, sweet people. I don't believe a word against them.
Have I said a word against them? Mrs. Donald said coldly. I am
sure I never meant to. I am very fond of them myself, and know nothing
of the truth about Virginia. She spoke regretfully. I have never even
hinted there was anything wrong in it allthough it was strange that
they were thrust out American society.
Thrust out? Miss Anderson questioned. Well, anyway, requested not
to call again.
Not to call again. What do you mean?
Didn't they leave New York and Washington, and now haven't they come
to London. You ask too many questions, said Mrs. Donald hotly. I must
go and write letters.
A silly woman, Miss Anderson said, as the door closed.
A cat! said some one else.
I met her the other day in the street, rushing along, said a quiet
voice, and she scarcely stopped to speak. Do you know where she was
going? To engage the Morrison's servant, who she had just heard was
dismissed without a character. I told her it was a risk, but she did
not care. She said there was always something mysterious about the
Morrisons, and she meant to find it out from the servant. I fancy the
chief mystery is that they are usually not at home when she calls.
I don't believe a word of her story, said Miss Anderson. Nor I,
said several voices.
Then the door opened, and Virginia and Lucy entered.
When the two girls seated themselves among the group by the fire, all
eyes were turned upon them curiously. Lucy was soon passed over. Small,
fair, the ordinary type of a pretty American woman, she attracted no
particular notice. But Virginia! For the first time her friends were
startled. They were bound to admit Mrs. Donald had some foundation for
her story. The beautiful eyes were too black, the nose a trifle broad;
the lips over full; the hairyes, there was no passing over the
hairit was the hair of a black woman, short, fine, curly, black as
night, though it set about a face as white as any round the fire.
Miss Anderson shaded her eyes from the fire and looked straight at
We were talking about blacks, she said. Isn't there a great
prejudice against the negroes in America?
Virginia turned towards her a bright face.
Well, yes, she admitted, I suppose you people over here think so;
but they are a low type of humanity, they will never have intelligence
enough to be anything but the slaves or servants of the white races.
Lucy turned upon her sister rather fiercely.
You are unfair, she said; give them timelet them be held equal,
men amongst men, and years will return to them that self-respect,
power, and intelligence that generations of slavery and oppression have
robbed them of.
They never had such gifts, so did not lose them, Virginia said
softly. I would not sit in the same room with a negro if he had
millions and had taken his university degree.
Virginia! Lucy cried excitedly, you are horribly unjust. As for
me, all men that God created are the same.
Miss Anderson thought to herself:
She knowsLucy knowsbut Virginia does not. How fine of the girl
to protect her sister. No American woman would stand up for the negroes
without some motive of the kind. She protects her sister, fancying we
suspect. She must be an adopted child, and Lucy knows.
Mrs. Allison and a young man came into the room at the moment. The
group laughingly attacked her.
We are quarrelling over black and white races, one explained. We
people over here have so little opportunity of seeing anything of our
dark brothers, that we want you to tell us about them.
Mrs. Allison grew white, and glanced at her daughters. They rose to
meet her, and went smiling towards the new-comer. She introduced the
young man as Mr. Furlong, then began to talk of the possibilities of a
drive next morning.
Mr. Furlong was enthusiastic over the idea. Let me drive some of
you he said. We could go to Burnham Beeches, and if I may bring my
friend, Washington Gibbs, I think you will be interested. He is a nice
fellow, so original, and a coming man.
An American, Miss Anderson questioned, by the name?
An American! Mr. Furlong laughed, and added, with the air of one
imparting a delightful surprise, a coloured gentleman.
The little group of women clapped their hands, all except Mrs.
Allison and Virginia.
He is writing a book, Mr. Furlong continued. Really, he is awfully
nice and clever, not a bit like we imagine the negroes to be.
Oh, you must bring him, Lucy cried, delighted. It's just what I
was sayinggive them education, and treat them as equals, and they can
do anything we white people can do. She looked around. Where is
George? I must tell him. She went out, but George Trevelyan was not to
be found. He was walking up and down the path furthest from the house,
in the shrubberyup and down in all the mist and fog, the pipe he
still held between his teeth long gone out, his clothes soaked through
When the guests were gone to bed, he came to the drawing-room window
and looked through. Mrs. Allison was seated before the fire, her head
in her hands. He heard her sigh deeply as he pushed the closed French
window open. She looked up as he entered, trying to smile.
Not in bed, she exclaimed, or even playing billiards with the men!
Where have you been? Lucy has just left for her room, disconsolate at
not bidding you good-night.
He came to the fireside looking sternly down at her, his hands
clenched behind him.
I stood outside the window there smoking this evening, he said
hoarsely, and I heard the women talk.
Mrs. Allison looked up like a hare that scents the hounds.
What did they say? Her heart sank. The old story, she whispered.
God pity me. They saidhe paused, it was hard to
repeatLucyhis voice brokeforgive me if I hurt you. Who is
Virginia is my child. Her voice was harsh and proud. She knew what
he meant; it was an old question she was used to answering, if not so
plainly put before. Virginia is my daughter, she said again. Her
voice changed, it yearned over the claim.
She is not like Lucy. The young man paused, then his words escaped
through his clenched teeth, They said Virginia had negro blood in her
veins, is it true? is it true?
Mrs. Allison drew herself up, white like the dead. I did not wish
your engagement to Lucy, she said coldly; you followed us over
America, and came to London after her.
The young man did not answer, he saw it all; he could never marry
Lucy, then, his pretty, wilful, dear Lucy. He, the son of an old proud
American family. He remembered how the Allisons had been shunned, the
hints he had heard but not heeded, the strong opposition of his friends
to his evident attraction for the younger Miss Allison. His parents
knew nothing yet. I can never marry Lucy. He drew his breath in as
though it were his last. I can never marry Lucy.
He looked hard into the thin refined face before him. He thought of
Lucy's father, the proud man with the face of a Washington. He fell on
his knees beside Mrs. Allison, laid his head in her lap.
Mother, he said softly, Virginia is very dear and very sweet, but
she is not Lucy's sister, not your child.
Mrs. Allison trembled from head to foot. A son's head upon her
laplittle Lucy's husband. Was Lucy's life to be spoiled for ever, was
scandal always to be busy at their doors? She was so tired of it. The
suspicions, questions, hints, could be ended so easily; it would leave
pretty Lucy free. If George married her, suspicions would cease.
Virginiait would be the same to Virginia; it would not hurt her. She
turned from the young man and spoke like one dying,
She is not my childVirginia. You will speak of it to no one. She
is very, very dear. She clutched her throat with her hand. She is
very, very dear.
The young man arose, his face alight with relief. God bless you! he
said, and was gone.
As he left by one door the other opened. Virginia entered slowly. She
stood behind Mrs. Allison's chair, so did not see her face.
Mother, she said softly, I won't go tomorrow; I don't care to meet
this negro. I dare say it is wrong: I hate them out of their position;
they are only fit for slaves. I won't go to-morrow.
Mrs. Allison half whispered, No, you must not go.
Something in her voice startled the girl; she bent over and raised
her mother's face to the light.
What is the matter, she cried, dearest? My own mother!
Mrs. Allison turned and caught her in her arms. She kissed her face
and hair and drew her to her breast, as if they had met after many
My own child! she whispered. Drawing her closer still, My dearest,
my best, my own little child! She burst into a torrent of heavy tears.
The morning crept into a splendid day. All the winged world seemed
mad with song when Mrs.
Allison's guests woke and dressed, eager to go out early into the
sunshine. Baskets were laden with good things for the picnic. Every one
was in gay spirits. Lucy and her sister were together, the one trying
to persuade the other to accompany the party.
Virginia, do come. It will be lovely; such a day. Look out at the
skyso blue, not a cloud. But Virginia would not listen.
Lucy, for goodness sake, don't put on that dress! Where did you get
it? It's hideous! Lucy pouted.
I like it best of all my things, she said. You never approve what
I like in clothes.
But you like such bright colours. Why, Lucy, what is this? I never
saw this collection before. Virginia drew from an open drawer a
handful of ribbons and beadsbright blue, green, red, yellow.
Lucy blushed slightly. I love them, she said. Look here. She
slipped a heavy pair of gold ear-rings in her ears and round her neck a
dozen strings of beads. I often dress up when I am alone. She drew
out a handful of ribbons and wound some of them through her hair. She
gestured before the glass, admiring herself.
Don't I look nice? she said.
So this is where your pocket-money goes. Where did you get your
taste for such brilliant colours? Do you remember the rows you used to
have at school over the wearing of them, long ago?how the girls
worried over you? But you are too old now to go about dressed in this.
She lifted a vivid scarlet dress up as she spoke. Lucy snatched it from
her in sudden rage.
I wish you would not come into my room criticising my things, she
said curtly. Virginia apologized, sorry for hurting her.
In a moment Lucy was gay again. She slipped a white frock over her
shoulders. I may wear this, I suppose?
Virginia laughed, but when Lucy insisted on finishing the effect, as
she called it, by a bright yellow and scarlet sash, she grew almost
It's all right when you are young, she thought, but if you keep
your love of colour when you get old She smiled over her fancy.
Lucy was sweet to look upon, with her bright hair and flower-like
face, as she stood amongst her father's guests, ready to drive away.
But her mother winced when she saw her mount the trap beside Washington
Gibbs. George, too, had a frown upon his face, for she had pretended
not to see his look of appeal as she passed.
I cannot always sit beside him, she excused herself; besides, I
want to see what an educated coloured person is like.
When they had all gone, Virginia turned to her mother, who claimed a
bad headache as her excuse for staying behind.
I lay awake last night, she said hesitatingly, and I asked myself,
why I had this hatred of those poor dark people; and, mother, I
remembered how the children used to call me a picanniny when I was
little. Wasn't it curious? I suppose it's my horrid, horrid hair. May
be that was the reason why I grew to hate the negroes even more than
most Americans doeven the black nurse I had. I remember dreading the
sight of her; but Lucy always loved her and her people. I suppose Lucy
got her love of finery and colour from that old woman. She was always
dressing the child up.
Mrs. Allison turned away.
I'm very weary, she said, and suffering. I will lie down and try
to sleep. Virginia led her to her room with great tenderness.
The party returned in the twilight, full of bright spirits, though
weary after much rambling in the wood. Lucy had evidently made a
conquest of Washington Gibbs; he was by her side all the evening. Once
Virginia passed them as they stood upon the verandah by themselves. She
noticed the sudden way that the man drew back when he saw her. He was
holding her hand, she thought indignantly, or going to.
Lucy is out there, she said George, when she met him. I think she
will get cold. He went out and took possession of her.
Washington Gibbs was leaving. He had to accompany his friend, he
said; but would call to see how they got over the fatigue of the day,
if he might.
Lucy beamed upon him. Come tomorrow, she murmured.
George took his place. I'm not jealous, he said. I know you are
only studying the colour; but you must not study too hard, you know.
You were with him nearly all day, and I don't like it, Lucy. A white
woman ought not to talk to such fellows.
Lucy laughed, and changed the subject. She was so sweet to him that
he forgot to reproach her further. But Virginia hardly said good-night
to her sister.
How could you, Lucy! You flirted with him; I saw you. How could
you! Mr. Allison, too, looked unkindly at his younger daughter.
You were too much with that fellow, he said crossly, to-day.
Furlong had no right to bring him about the place.
Lucy flushed hotly.
It's very mean of you all, she said. He is a perfect gentleman.
You are cruel and unjust to condemn people for the colour of their
Her father did not answer her, but when she had gone looked at his
wife. Their glances met and fell. They both sighed deeply.
The next day Washington Gibbs called, but only saw Mr. Allison, and
he did not come again. Lucy did not appear disappointed. She was gay
and full of plans to amuse the guests in the evening. She arranged the
tables for cards so that all had partners except herself. I will be
the orchestra, she said beaming, when I find my music. She
disappeared for over an hour. George thought it the dullest assembly he
had ever been at till she returned. She had found her music after much
seeking. Would they spare George to turn the leaves for her? George was
spared gladlyhe was playing vilely.
Washington Gibbs did not appear again, but one day Virginia came upon
an envelope directed to Miss Allison. The maid had laid it upon her
dressing-table, having found it in the shrubbery, she said. Virginia
opened it wonderingly. It contained nothing but a huge silk scarf of
brilliant colours, with Lucy in ugly blue letters in the corner. As
she was examining it her sister entered. She ran forward and claimed
it; then stopped, confused. Virginia's eyes were upon her.
Another purchase, Lucy? She smiled, then grew chill. Whose writing
is this? It's not yours, she said.
It's mine. Lucy snatched it from her. A present. Don't be silly.
Virginia grew more stern, but Lucy would not answer. I won't tell
you, you are so cross.
She pretended to be offended, and was glad to slip out of the room.
Virginia was anxious; she could not sleep. She knew by Lucy's confusion
she was hiding something. George was away, his brief holiday being
over; all the guests save Miss Anderson had gone. She felt she ought to
have more time with her sister. She remembered with a shock that there
were hours after dusk when Lucy vanished. Where had she gone?
One evening she returned with her mother from a drive and found a
suppressed excitement among the servants, the rest of the house
uneasily quiet. Her maid, bubbling over with the news, told her almost
before she had seated herself to have her hair arranged.
The nigger gentleman had been here, and the master had horsewhipped
him out of the house. Them niggers are always thieves, the girl added.
I suppose he wanted to steal? But Virginia could not gratify her
As soon as she could, she went to her father. He was stern and busy
when she saw him; she dared not interrupt his work. She flew to her
mother with a feeling as if something was going to separate them. Mrs.
Allison was troubled, but not so deeply as Virginia had feared.
He came to ask for Lucy. Mrs. Allison laughed bitterly. To marry
Lucy! Imagine it! she answered to her daughter's questioning.
So papa whipped him out, Virginia said excitedly, walking up and
down, her hands clenched. Quite right. The impertinence! thetheOh!
I hope father struck hard. What does Lucy say? Is she not angryvery,
Of course, Lucy never thought of it, Mrs. Allison said; I was
ashamed to have to tell her. But she was so excited at what she
considered your father's cruelty that I felt I ought to explain it. Of
course, she saw at once that he was justified.
I will go to her, Virginia said. How she must hate that black
beast! and she, engaged to George, to be insulted so!
She found her sister sitting looking out of the window, her face
flushed and her eyes shining. She flung her arms about her. Lucy,
dearest! I am so sorry. The beast! how dared he! Just because you were
a little kind to him.
Lucy put her aside. Don't crush me; it's too hot, she said calmly.
I do not wonder you are angry, Virginia cried. Isn't it well papa
was here to whip him out? Lucy sprang to her feet. She began walking
up and down. Of course, she said, he did not know that I was engaged
Engaged to George! Is that all! Virginia said indignantly. Are you
not insulted at him daring to think of you, even if he did not knowa
Of course, I'm insultedof course, of course. Do go away and let me
alone; I'm so tired. Virginia kissed her repentantly.
Indeed, you must be tired, dear, and worried; no wonder. But he
won't annoy you again, poor child. Lie down and sleep, and forget it
all by to-morrow.
Lucy lay down and let her sister tuck the clothes around her
comfortably. She did not appear again that evening, having a headache,
as Mrs. Allison explained to her guest. When the morning came, she did
not appear at breakfast.
Let her sleep, her mother said to Virginia, who proposed to go and
see how she was; she is tired.
But as the hours went by they grew anxious. At last Mrs. Allison,
after repeated knocking, opened the door of her daughter's room; but
Lucy was gone. They, still suspecting nothing, fancied she had slipped
out into the garden. Only when lunch was over and evening beginning
were questions asked and searchers sent out.
A day passed and Lucy did not return. Mrs. Allison was wild with
anxiety, Virginia was overwhelmed with grief. Mr. Allison was the only
one fit to read the letter which arrived that evening from his
I have married Washington Gibbs, it ran, and I suppose none of you
will forgive me. He came to you like an honest man to ask for me, and
you turned him into a thief. You have treated him like all white people
treat his race. Some day you will see clearer and forgive us.
Mrs. Allison came to her husband's side, When he crumpled the letter
in his hand, she put her arms around him, but he put her away.
It's from me it comes, from mein one child's face, in the other's
soul. He strode across the long gallery where they were together, and
looked along the faces of the painted ancestors, who were hanging upon
the walls. There were many beautiful works of art among these, but he
did not seem to be looking at these; he stopped at last before one
small canvas inscribedthe portrait of a coloured lady. He
gazed for a long time at the smiling dark face, then slowly drew a
penknife from his pocket and opened it.
To rise again in the fourth generation. Curse you! curse you! curse
you! he cried, and drew the blade across the laughing eyes and mouth
till the canvas fell apart in rags.
* * *
The Allisons' family packed up and disappeared. No one knew where
they had gone, few knew whyonly George, who died a soldier's death
soon afterwards, and Miss Anderson, who would never tell. Even Mrs.
Donald, who hired all the Allisons' servants, could never find out more
than that the black negro gentleman had been thrown out one day for
stealing; that Lucy Allison had run away one night with her lover,
George, who she heard was leaving for America and the war; that he was
killed soon after, poor gentleman! that it was a mercy she saw him
first; that the master was upset at hearing of the trouble his daughter
was in, in being left a widow; that they had all gone after her back to
But Mrs. Donald knew there was no truth in this muddled story, and
dismissed the servants in anger. She still spends hours in trying to
extract the truth. from Miss Anderson's shut lips, which never open
upon the subject save to rebuke her curiosity.