Cicely's Dream by Charles Waddell Chesnutt
The old woman stood at the back door of the cabin, shading her eyes with
her hand, and looking across the vegetable garden that ran up to the
very door. Beyond the garden she saw, bathed in the sunlight, a field of
corn, just in the ear, stretching for half a mile, its yellow,
pollen-laden tassels overtopping the dark green mass of broad glistening
blades; and in the distance, through the faint morning haze of
evaporating dew, the line of the woods, of a still darker green, meeting
the clear blue of the summer sky. Old Dinah saw, going down the path, a
tall, brown girl, in a homespun frock, swinging a slat-bonnet in one
hand and a splint basket in the other.
"Oh, Cicely!" she called.
The girl turned and answered in a resonant voice, vibrating with youth
"Be sho' and pick a good mess er peas, chile, fer yo' gran'daddy's gwine
ter be home ter dinner ter-day."
The old woman stood a moment longer and then turned to go into the
house. What she had not seen was that the girl was not only young, but
lithe and shapely as a sculptor's model; that her bare feet seemed to
spurn the earth as they struck it; that though brown, she was not so
brown but that her cheek was darkly red with the blood of another race
than that which gave her her name and station in life; and the old woman
did not see that Cicely's face was as comely as her figure was superb,
and that her eyes were dreamy with vague yearnings.
Cicely climbed the low fence between the garden and the cornfield, and
started down one of the long rows leading directly away from the house.
Old Needham was a good ploughman, and straight as an arrow ran the
furrow between the rows of corn, until it vanished in the distant
perspective. The peas were planted beside alternate hills of corn, the
cornstalks serving as supports for the climbing pea-vines. The vines
nearest the house had been picked more or less clear of the long green
pods, and Cicely walked down the row for a quarter of a mile, to where
the peas were more plentiful. And as she walked she thought of her dream
of the night before.
She had dreamed a beautiful dream. The fact that it was a beautiful
dream, a delightful dream, her memory retained very vividly. She was
troubled because she could not remember just what her dream had been
about. Of one other fact she was certain, that in her dream she had
found something, and that her happiness had been bound up with the thing
she had found. As she walked down the corn-row she ran over in her mind
the various things with which she had always associated happiness. Had
she found a gold ring? No, it was not a gold ring?of that she felt
sure. Was it a soft, curly plume for her hat? She had seen town people
with them, and had indulged in day-dreams on the subject; but it was not
a feather. Was it a bright-colored silk dress? No; as much as she had
always wanted one, it was not a silk dress. For an instant, in a dream,
she had tasted some great and novel happiness, and when she awoke it was
dashed from her lips, and she could not even enjoy the memory of it,
except in a vague, indefinite, and tantalizing way.
Cicely was troubled, too, because dreams were serious things. Dreams had
certain meanings, most of them, and some dreams went by contraries. If
her dream had been a prophecy of some good thing, she had by forgetting
it lost the pleasure of anticipation. If her dream had been one of those
that go by contraries, the warning would be in vain, because she would
not know against what evil to provide. So, with a sigh, Cicely said to
herself that it was a troubled world, more or less; and having come to a
promising point, began to pick the tenderest pea-pods and throw them
into her basket.
By the time she had reached the end of the line the basket was nearly
full. Glancing toward the pine woods beyond the rail fence, she saw a
brier bush loaded with large, luscious blackberries. Cicely was fond of
blackberries, so she set her basket down, climbed the fence, and was
soon busily engaged in gathering the fruit, delicious even in its wild
She had soon eaten all she cared for. But the berries were still
numerous, and it occurred to her that her granddaddy would like a
blackberry pudding for dinner. Catching up her apron, and using it as a
receptacle for the berries, she had gathered scarcely more than a
handful when she heard a groan.
Cicely was not timid, and her curiosity being aroused by the sound, she
stood erect, and remained in a listening attitude. In a moment the sound
was repeated, and, gauging the point from which it came, she plunged
resolutely into the thick underbrush of the forest. She had gone but a
few yards when she stopped short with an exclamation of surprise and
Upon the ground, under the shadow of the towering pines, a man lay at
full length,?a young man, several years under thirty, apparently, so
far as his age could be guessed from a face that wore a short soft
beard, and was so begrimed with dust and incrusted with blood that
little could be seen of the underlying integument. What was visible
showed a skin browned by nature or by exposure. His hands were of even a
darker brown, almost as dark as Cicely's own. A tangled mass of very
curly black hair, matted with burs, dank with dew, and clotted with
blood, fell partly over his forehead, on the edge of which, extending
back into the hair, an ugly scalp wound was gaping, and, though
apparently not just inflicted, was still bleeding slowly, as though
reluctant to stop, in spite of the coagulation that had almost closed
Cicely with a glance took in all this and more. But, first of all, she
saw the man was wounded and bleeding, and the nurse latent in all
womankind awoke in her to the requirements of the situation. She knew
there was a spring a few rods away, and ran swiftly to it. There was
usually a gourd at the spring, but now it was gone. Pouring out the
blackberries in a little heap where they could be found again, she took
off her apron, dipped one end of it into the spring, and ran back to the
wounded man. The apron was clean, and she squeezed a little stream of
water from it into the man's mouth. He swallowed it with avidity. Cicely
then knelt by his side, and with the wet end of her apron washed the
blood from the wound lightly, and the dust from the man's face. Then she
looked at her apron a moment, debating whether she should tear it or
"I 'm feared granny 'll be mad," she said to herself. "I reckon I 'll
jes' use de whole apron."
So she bound the apron around his head as well as she could, and then
sat down a moment on a fallen tree trunk, to think what she should do
next. The man already seemed more comfortable; he had ceased moaning,
and lay quiet, though breathing heavily.
"What shall I do with that man?" she reflected. "I don' know whether
he 's a w'ite man or a black man. Ef he 's a w'ite man, I oughter go an'
tell de w'ite folks up at de big house, an' dey 'd take keer of 'im. If
he 's a black man, I oughter go tell granny. He don' look lack a black
man somehow er nuther, an' yet he don' look lack a w'ite man; he 's too
dahk, an' his hair's too curly. But I mus' do somethin' wid 'im. He
can't be lef' here ter die in de woods all by hisse'f. Reckon I 'll go
an' tell granny."
She scaled the fence, caught up the basket of peas from where she had
left it, and ran, lightly and swiftly as a deer, toward the house. Her
short skirt did not impede her progress, and in a few minutes she had
covered the half mile and was at the cabin door, a slight heaving of her
full and yet youthful breast being the only sign of any unusual
Her story was told in a moment. The old woman took down a black bottle
from a high shelf, and set out with Cicely across the cornfield, toward
the wounded man.
As they went through the corn Cicely recalled part of her dream. She had
dreamed that under some strange circumstances?what they had been was
still obscure?she had met a young man?a young man whiter than she and
yet not all white?and that he had loved her and courted her and married
her. Her dream had been all the sweeter because in it she had first
tasted the sweetness of love, and she had not recalled it before because
only in her dream had she known or thought of love as something
With the memory of her dream, however, her fears revived. Dreams were
solemn things. To Cicely the fabric of a vision was by no means
baseless. Her trouble arose from her not being able to recall, though
she was well versed in dream-lore, just what event was foreshadowed by a
dream of finding a wounded man. If the wounded man were of her own race,
her dream would thus far have been realized, and having met the young
man, the other joys might be expected to follow. If he should turn out
to be a white man, then her dream was clearly one of the kind that go by
contraries, and she could expect only sorrow and trouble and pain as the
proper sequences of this fateful discovery.
The two women reached the fence that separated the cornfield from the
"How is I gwine ter git ovuh dat fence, chile?" asked the old woman.
"Wait a minute, granny," said Cicely; "I 'll take it down."
It was only an eight-rail fence, and it was a matter of but a few
minutes for the girl to lift down and lay to either side the ends of the
rails that formed one of the angles. This done, the old woman easily
stepped across the remaining two or three rails. It was only a moment
before they stood by the wounded man. He was lying still, breathing
regularly, and seemingly asleep.
"What is he, granny," asked the girl anxiously, "a w'ite man, or not?"
Old Dinah pushed back the matted hair from the wounded man's brow, and
looked at the skin beneath. It was fairer there, but yet of a decided
brown. She raised his hand, pushed back the tattered sleeve from his
wrist, and then she laid his hand down gently.
"Mos' lackly he 's a mulatter man f'om up de country somewhar. He don'
look lack dese yer niggers roun' yere, ner yet lack a w'ite man. But de
po' boy's in a bad fix, w'ateber he is, an' I 'spec's we bettah do w'at
we kin fer 'im, an' w'en he comes to he 'll tell us w'at he is?er w'at
he calls hisse'f. Hol' 'is head up, chile, an' I 'll po' a drop er dis
yer liquor down his th'oat; dat 'll bring 'im to quicker 'n anything
e'se I knows."
Cicely lifted the sick man's head, and Dinah poured a few drops of the
whiskey between his teeth. He swallowed it readily enough. In a few
minutes he opened his eyes and stared blankly at the two women. Cicely
saw that his eyes were large and black, and glistening with fever.
"How you feelin', suh?" asked the old woman.
There was no answer.
"Is you feelin' bettah now?"
The wounded man kept on staring blankly. Suddenly he essayed to put his
hand to his head, gave a deep groan, and fell back again unconscious.
"He 's gone ag'in," said Dinah. "I reckon we 'll hafter tote 'im up ter
de house and take keer er 'im dere. W'ite folks would n't want ter fool
wid a nigger man, an' we doan know who his folks is. He 's outer his
head an' will be fer some time yet, an' we can't tell nuthin' 'bout 'im
tel he comes ter his senses."
Cicely lifted the wounded man by the arms and shoulders. She was strong,
with the strength of youth and a sturdy race. The man was pitifully
emaciated; how much, the two women had not suspected until they raised
him. They had no difficulty whatever, except for the awkwardness of such
a burden, in lifting him over the fence and carrying him through the
cornfield to the cabin.
They laid him on Cicely's bed in the little lean-to shed that formed a
room separate from the main apartment of the cabin. The old woman sent
Cicely to cook the dinner, while she gave her own attention exclusively
to the still unconscious man. She brought water and washed him as though
he were a child.
"Po' boy," she said, "he doan feel lack he 's be'n eatin' nuff to feed a
sparrer. He 'pears ter be mos' starved ter def."
She washed his wound more carefully, made some lint,?the art was well
known in the sixties,?and dressed his wound with a fair degree of
"Somebody must 'a' be'n tryin' ter put yo' light out, chile," she
muttered to herself as she adjusted the bandage around his head. "A
little higher er a little lower, an' you would n' 'a' be'n yere ter tell
de tale. Dem clo's," she argued, lifting the tattered garments she had
removed from her patient, "don' b'long 'roun' yere. Dat kinder weavin'
come f'om down to'ds Souf Ca'lina. I wish Needham 'u'd come erlong. He
kin tell who dis man is, an' all erbout 'im."
She made a bowl of gruel, and fed it, drop by drop, to the sick man.
This roused him somewhat from his stupor, but when Dinah thought he had
enough of the gruel, and stopped feeding him, he closed his eyes again
and relapsed into a heavy sleep that was so closely akin to
unconsciousness as to be scarcely distinguishable from it.
When old Needham came home at noon, his wife, who had been anxiously
awaiting his return, told him in a few words the story of Cicely's
discovery and of the subsequent events.
Needham inspected the stranger with a professional eye. He had been
something of a plantation doctor in his day, and was known far and wide
for his knowledge of simple remedies. The negroes all around, as well as
many of the poorer white people, came to him for the treatment of common
"He 's got a fevuh," he said, after feeling the patient's pulse and
laying his hand on his brow, "an' we 'll hafter gib 'im some yarb tea
an' nuss 'im tel de fevuh w'ars off. I 'spec'," he added, "dat I knows
whar dis boy come f'om. He 's mos' lackly one er dem bright mulatters,
f'om Robeson County?some of 'em call deyse'ves Croatan Injins?w'at's
been conscripted an' sent ter wu'k on de fo'tifications down at
Wimbleton er some'er's er nuther, an' done 'scaped, and got mos' killed
gittin' erway, an' wuz n' none too well fed befo', an' nigh 'bout
starved ter def sence. We 'll hafter hide dis man, er e'se we is lackly
ter git inter trouble ou'se'ves by harb'rin' 'im. Ef dey ketch 'im yere,
dey 's liable ter take 'im out an' shoot 'im?an' des ez lackly us too."
Cicely was listening with bated breath.
"Oh, gran'daddy," she cried with trembling voice, "don' let 'em ketch
'im! Hide 'im somewhar."
"I reckon we 'll leave 'im yere fer a day er so. Ef he had come f'om
roun' yere I 'd be skeered ter keep 'im, fer de w'ite folks 'u'd prob'ly
be lookin' fer 'im. But I knows ev'ybody w'at's be'n conscripted fer ten
miles 'roun', an' dis yere boy don' b'long in dis neighborhood. W'en 'e
gits so 'e kin he'p 'isse'f we 'll put 'im up in de lof an' hide 'im
till de Yankees come. Fer dey 're comin', sho'. I dremp' las' night dey
wuz close ter han', and I hears de w'ite folks talkin' ter deyse'ves
'bout it. An' de time is comin' w'en de good Lawd gwine ter set his
people free, an' it ain' gwine ter be long, nuther."
Needham's prophecy proved true. In less than a week the Confederate
garrison evacuated the arsenal in the neighboring town of Patesville,
blew up the buildings, destroyed the ordnance and stores, and retreated
across the Cape Fear River, burning the river bridge behind them,?two
acts of war afterwards unjustly attributed to General Sherman's army,
which followed close upon the heels of the retreating Confederates.
When there was no longer any fear for the stranger's safety, no more
pains were taken to conceal him. His wound had healed rapidly, and in a
week he had been able with some help to climb up the ladder into the
loft. In all this time, however, though apparently conscious, he had
said no word to any one, nor had he seemed to comprehend a word that was
spoken to him.
Cicely had been his constant attendant. After the first day, during
which her granny had nursed him, she had sat by his bedside, had fanned
his fevered brow, had held food and water and medicine to his lips. When
it was safe for him to come down from the loft and sit in a chair under
a spreading oak, Cicely supported him until he was strong enough to walk
about the yard. When his strength had increased sufficiently to permit
of greater exertion, she accompanied him on long rambles in the fields
In spite of his gain in physical strength, the newcomer changed very
little in other respects. For a long time he neither spoke nor smiled.
To questions put to him he simply gave no reply, but looked at his
questioner with the blank unconsciousness of an infant. By and by he
began to recognize Cicely, and to smile at her approach. The next step
in returning consciousness was but another manifestation of the same
sentiment. When Cicely would leave him he would look his regret, and be
restless and uneasy until she returned.
The family were at a loss what to call him. To any inquiry as to his
name he answered no more than to other questions.
"He come jes' befo' Sherman," said Needham, after a few weeks, "lack
John de Baptis' befo' de Lawd. I reckon we bettah call 'im John."
So they called him John. He soon learned the name. As time went on
Cicely found that he was quick at learning things. She taught him to
speak her own negro English, which he pronounced with absolute fidelity
to her intonations; so that barring the quality of his voice, his
speech was an echo of Cicely's own.
The summer wore away and the autumn came. John and Cicely wandered in
the woods together and gathered walnuts, and chinquapins and wild
grapes. When harvest time came, they worked in the fields side by
side,?plucked the corn, pulled the fodder, and gathered the dried peas
from the yellow pea-vines. Cicely was a phenomenal cotton-picker, and
John accompanied her to the fields and stayed by her hours at a time,
though occasionally he would complain of his head, and sit under a tree
and rest part of the day while Cicely worked, the two keeping one
another always in sight.
They did not have a great deal of intercourse with other people. Young
men came to the cabin sometimes to see Cicely, but when they found her
entirely absorbed in the stranger they ceased their visits. For a time
Cicely kept him away, as much as possible, from others, because she did
not wish them to see that there was anything wrong about him. This was
her motive at first, but after a while she kept him to herself simply
because she was happier so. He was hers?hers alone. She had found him,
as Pharaoh's daughter had found Moses in the bulrushes; she had taught
him to speak, to think, to love. She had not taught him to remember; she
would not have wished him to; she would have been jealous of any past to
which he might have proved bound by other ties. Her dream so far had
come true. She had found him; he loved her. The rest of it would as
surely follow, and that before long. For dreams were serious things, and
time had proved hers to have been not a presage of misfortune, but one
of the beneficent visions that are sent, that we may enjoy by
anticipation the good things that are in store for us.
But a short interval of time elapsed after the passage of the warlike
host that swept through North Carolina, until there appeared upon the
scene the vanguard of a second army, which came to bring light and the
fruits of liberty to a land which slavery and the havoc of war had
brought to ruin. It is fashionable to assume that those who undertook
the political rehabilitation of the Southern States merely rounded out
the ruin that the war had wrought?merely ploughed up the desolate land
and sowed it with salt. Perhaps the gentler judgments of the future may
recognize that their task was a difficult one, and that wiser and
honester men might have failed as egregiously. It may even, in time, be
conceded that some good came out of the carpet-bag governments, as, for
instance, the establishment of a system of popular education in the
former slave States. Where it had been a crime to teach people to read
or write, a schoolhouse dotted every hillside, and the State provided
education for rich and poor, for white and black alike. Let us lay at
least this token upon the grave of the carpet-baggers. The evil they did
lives after them, and the statute of limitations does not seem to run
against it. It is but just that we should not forget the good.
Long, however, before the work of political reconstruction had begun, a
brigade of Yankee schoolmasters and schoolma'ams had invaded Dixie, and
one of the latter had opened a Freedman's Bureau School in the town of
Patesville, about four miles from Needham Green's cabin on the
It had been quite a surprise to Miss Chandler's Boston friends when she
had announced her intention of going South to teach the freedmen. Rich,
accomplished, beautiful, and a social favorite, she was giving up the
comforts and luxuries of Northern life to go among hostile strangers,
where her associates would be mostly ignorant negroes. Perhaps she might
meet occasionally an officer of some Federal garrison, or a traveler
from the North; but to all intents and purposes her friends considered
her as going into voluntary exile. But heroism was not rare in those
days, and Martha Chandler was only one of the great multitude whose
hearts went out toward an oppressed race, and who freely poured out
their talents, their money, their lives,?whatever God had given
them,?in the sublime and not unfruitful effort to transform three
millions of slaves into intelligent freemen. Miss Chandler's friends
knew, too, that she had met a great sorrow, and more than suspected that
out of it had grown her determination to go South.
When Cicely Green heard that a school for colored people had been
opened at Patesville she combed her hair, put on her Sunday frock and
such bits of finery as she possessed, and set out for town early the
next Monday morning.
There were many who came to learn the new gospel of education, which was
to be the cure for all the freedmen's ills. The old and gray-haired, the
full-grown man and woman, the toddling infant,?they came to acquire the
new and wonderful learning that was to make them the equals of the white
people. It was the teacher's task, by no means an easy one, to select
from this incongruous mass the most promising material, and to
distribute among them the second-hand books and clothing that were sent,
largely by her Boston friends, to aid her in her work; to find out what
they knew, to classify them by their intelligence rather than by their
knowledge, for they were all lamentably ignorant. Some among them were
the children of parents who had been free before the war, and of these
some few could read and one or two could write. One paragon, who could
repeat the multiplication table, was immediately promoted to the
position of pupil teacher.
Miss Chandler took a liking to the tall girl who had come so far to sit
under her instruction. There was a fine, free air in her bearing, a
lightness in her step, a sparkle in her eye, that spoke of good
blood,?whether fused by nature in its own alembic, out of material
despised and spurned of men, or whether some obscure ancestral strain,
the teacher could not tell. The girl proved intelligent and learned
rapidly, indeed seemed almost feverishly anxious to learn. She was
quiet, and was, though utterly untrained, instinctively polite, and
profited from the first day by the example of her teacher's quiet
elegance. The teacher dressed in simple black. When Cicely came back to
school the second day, she had left off her glass beads and her red
ribbon, and had arranged her hair as nearly like the teacher's as her
skill and its quality would permit.
The teacher was touched by these efforts at imitation, and by the
intense devotion Cicely soon manifested toward her. It was not a
sycophantic, troublesome devotion, that made itself a burden to its
object. It found expression in little things done rather than in any
words the girl said. To the degree that the attraction was mutual,
Martha recognized in it a sort of freemasonry of temperament that drew
them together in spite of the differences between them. Martha felt
sometimes, in the vague way that one speculates about the impossible,
that if she were brown, and had been brought up in North Carolina, she
would be like Cicely; and that if Cicely's ancestors had come over in
the Mayflower, and Cicely had been reared on Beacon Street, in the
shadow of the State House dome, Cicely would have been very much like
Miss Chandler was lonely sometimes. Her duties kept her occupied all
day. On Sundays she taught a Bible class in the schoolroom.
Correspondence with bureau officials and friends at home furnished her
with additional occupation. At times, nevertheless, she felt a longing
for the company of women of her own race; but the white ladies of the
town did not call, even in the most formal way, upon the Yankee
school-teacher. Miss Chandler was therefore fain to do the best she
could with such companionship as was available. She took Cicely to her
home occasionally, and asked her once to stay all night. Thinking,
however, that she detected a reluctance on the girl's part to remain
away from home, she did not repeat her invitation.
Cicely, indeed, was filling a double r?e. The learning acquired from
Miss Chandler she imparted to John at home. Every evening, by the light
of the pine-knots blazing on Needham's ample hearth, she taught John to
read the simple words she had learned during the day. Why she did not
take him to school she had never asked herself; there were several other
pupils as old as he seemed to be. Perhaps she still thought it necessary
to protect him from curious remark. He worked with Needham by day, and
she could see him at night, and all of Saturdays and Sundays. Perhaps it
was the jealous selfishness of love. She had found him; he was hers. In
the spring, when school was over, her granny had said that she might
marry him. Till then her dream would not yet have come true, and she
must keep him to herself. And yet she did not wish him to lose this
golden key to the avenues of opportunity. She would not take him to
school, but she would teach him each day all that she herself had
learned. He was not difficult to teach, but learned, indeed, with what
seemed to Cicely marvelous ease,?always, however, by her lead, and
never of his own initiative. For while he could do a man's work, he was
in most things but a child, without a child's curiosity. His love for
Cicely appeared the only thing for which he needed no suggestion; and
even that possessed an element of childish dependence that would have
seemed, to minds trained to thoughtful observation, infinitely pathetic.
The spring came and cotton-planting time. The children began to drop out
of Miss Chandler's school one by one, as their services were required at
home. Cicely was among those who intended to remain in school until the
term closed with the "exhibition," in which she was assigned a leading
part. She had selected her recitation, or "speech," from among half a
dozen poems that her teacher had suggested, and to memorizing it she
devoted considerable time and study. The exhibition, as the first of its
kind, was sure to be a notable event. The parents and friends of the
children were invited to attend, and a colored church, recently
erected,?the largest available building,?was secured as the place
where the exercises should take place.
On the morning of the eventful day, uncle Needham, assisted by John,
harnessed the mule to the two-wheeled cart, on which a couple of
splint-bottomed chairs were fastened to accommodate Dinah and Cicely.
John put on his best clothes,?an ill-fitting suit of blue jeans,?a
round wool hat, a pair of coarse brogans, a homespun shirt, and a bright
blue necktie. Cicely wore her best frock, a red ribbon at her throat,
another in her hair, and carried a bunch of flowers in her hand. Uncle
Needham and aunt Dinah were also in holiday array. Needham and John took
their seats on opposite sides of the cart-frame, with their feet
dangling down, and thus the equipage set out leisurely for the town.
Cicely had long looked forward impatiently to this day. She was going to
marry John the next week, and then her dream would have come entirely
true. But even this anticipated happiness did not overshadow the
importance of the present occasion, which would be an epoch in her life,
a day of joy and triumph. She knew her speech perfectly, and timidity
was not one of her weaknesses. She knew that the red ribbons set off her
dark beauty effectively, and that her dress fitted neatly the curves of
her shapely figure. She confidently expected to win the first prize, a
large morocco-covered Bible, offered by Miss Chandler for the best
Cicely and her companions soon arrived at Patesville. Their entrance
into the church made quite a sensation, for Cicely was not only an
acknowledged belle, but a general favorite, and to John there attached a
tinge of mystery which inspired a respect not bestowed upon those who
had grown up in the neighborhood. Cicely secured a seat in the front
part of the church, next to the aisle, in the place reserved for the
pupils. As the house was already partly filled by townspeople when the
party from the country arrived, Needham and his wife and John were
forced to content themselves with places somewhat in the rear of the
room, from which they could see and hear what took place on the
platform, but where they were not at all conspicuously visible to those
at the front of the church.
The schoolmistress had not yet arrived, and order was preserved in the
audience by two of the elder pupils, adorned with large rosettes of red,
white, and blue, who ushered the most important visitors to the seats
reserved for them. A national flag was gracefully draped over the
platform, and under it hung a lithograph of the Great Emancipator, for
it was thus these people thought of him. He had saved the Union, but the
Union had never meant anything good to them. He had proclaimed liberty
to the captive, which meant all to them; and to them he was and would
ever be the Great Emancipator.
The schoolmistress came in at a rear door and took her seat upon the
platform. Martha was dressed in white; for once she had laid aside the
sombre garb in which alone she had been seen since her arrival at
Patesville. She wore a yellow rose at her throat, a bunch of jasmine in
her belt. A sense of responsibility for the success of the exhibition
had deepened the habitual seriousness of her face, yet she greeted the
audience with a smile.
"Don' Miss Chan'ler look sweet," whispered the little girls to one
another, devouring her beauty with sparkling eyes, their lips parted
over a wealth of ivory.
"De Lawd will bress dat chile," said one old woman, in soliloquy. "I
t'ank de good Marster I 's libbed ter see dis day."
Even envy could not hide its noisome head: a pretty quadroon whispered
to her neighbor:??
"I don't b'liebe she 's natch'ly ez white ez dat. I 'spec' she 's be'n
powd'rin'! An' I know all dat hair can't be her'n; she 's got on a
switch, sho 's you bawn."
"You knows dat ain' so, Ma'y 'Liza Smif," rejoined the other, with a
look of stern disapproval; "you knows dat ain' so. You 'd gib yo'
everlastin' soul 'f you wuz ez white ez Miss Chan'ler, en yo' ha'r wuz
ez long ez her'n."
"By Jove, Maxwell!" exclaimed a young officer, who belonged to the
Federal garrison stationed in the town, "but that girl is a beauty." The
speaker and a companion were in fatigue uniform, and had merely dropped
in for an hour between garrison duty. The ushers had wished to give them
seats on the platform, but they had declined, thinking that perhaps
their presence there might embarrass the teacher. They sought rather to
avoid observation by sitting behind a pillar in the rear of the room,
around which they could see without attracting undue attention.
"To think," the lieutenant went on, "of that Junonian figure, those
lustrous orbs, that golden coronal, that flower of Northern
civilization, being wasted on these barbarians!" The speaker uttered an
exaggerated but suppressed groan.
His companion, a young man of clean-shaven face and serious aspect,
nodded assent, but whispered reprovingly,??
"'Sh! some one will hear you. The exercises are going to begin."
When Miss Chandler stepped forward to announce the hymn to be sung by
the school as the first exercise, every eye in the room was fixed upon
her, except John's, which saw only Cicely. When the teacher had uttered
a few words, he looked up to her, and from that moment did not take his
eyes off Martha's face.
After the singing, a little girl, dressed in white, crossed by ribbons
of red and blue, recited with much spirit a patriotic poem.
When Martha announced the third exercise, John's face took on a more
than usually animated expression, and there was a perceptible deepening
of the troubled look in his eyes, never entirely absent since Cicely had
found him in the woods.
A little yellow boy, with long curls, and a frightened air, next
ascended the platform.
"Now, Jimmie, be a man, and speak right out," whispered his teacher,
tapping his arm reassuringly with her fan as he passed her.
Jimmie essayed to recite the lines so familiar to a past generation of
"I knew a widow very poor,
Who four small children had;
The eldest was but six years old,
A gentle, modest lad."
He ducked his head hurriedly in a futile attempt at a bow; then,
following instructions previously given him, fixed his eyes upon a large
cardboard motto hanging on the rear wall of the room, which admonished
him in bright red letters to
"ALWAYS SPEAK THE TRUTH,"
and started off with assumed confidence
"I knew a widow very poor,
At this point, drawn by an irresistible impulse, his eyes sought the
level of the audience. Ah, fatal blunder! He stammered, but with an
effort raised his eyes and began again:
"I knew a widow very poor,
Again his treacherous eyes fell, and his little remaining
self-possession utterly forsook him. He made one more despairing
"I knew a widow very poor,
Who four small"??
and then, bursting into tears, turned and fled amid a murmur of
Jimmie's inglorious retreat was covered by the singing in chorus of "The
Star-spangled Banner," after which Cicely Green came forward to recite
"By Jove, Maxwell!" whispered the young officer, who was evidently a
connoisseur of female beauty, "that is n't bad for a bronze Venus. I 'll
"'Sh!" said the other. "Keep still."
When Cicely finished her recitation, the young officers began to
applaud, but stopped suddenly in some confusion as they realized that
they were the only ones in the audience so engaged. The colored people
had either not learned how to express their approval in orthodox
fashion, or else their respect for the sacred character of the edifice
forbade any such demonstration. Their enthusiasm found vent, however, in
a subdued murmur, emphasized by numerous nods and winks and suppressed
exclamations. During the singing that followed Cicely's recitation the
two officers quietly withdrew, their duties calling them away at this
At the close of the exercises, a committee on prizes met in the
vestibule, and unanimously decided that Cicely Green was entitled to the
first prize. Proudly erect, with sparkling eyes and cheeks flushed with
victory, Cicely advanced to the platform to receive the coveted reward.
As she turned away, her eyes, shining with gratified vanity, sought
those of her lover.
John sat bent slightly forward in an attitude of strained attention; and
Cicely's triumph lost half its value when she saw that it was not at
her, but at Miss Chandler, that his look was directed. Though she
watched him thenceforward, not one glance did he vouchsafe to his
jealous sweetheart, and never for an instant withdrew his eyes from
Martha, or relaxed the unnatural intentness of his gaze. The imprisoned
mind, stirred to unwonted effort, was struggling for liberty; and from
Martha had come the first ray of outer light that had penetrated its
Before the audience was dismissed, the teacher rose to bid her school
farewell. Her intention was to take a vacation of three months; but what
might happen in that time she did not know, and there were duties at
home of such apparent urgency as to render her return to North Carolina
at least doubtful; so that in her own heart her au revoir sounded very
much like a farewell.
She spoke to them of the hopeful progress they had made, and praised
them for their eager desire to learn. She told them of the serious
duties of life, and of the use they should make of their acquirements.
With prophetic finger she pointed them to the upward way which they
must climb with patient feet to raise themselves out of the depths.
Then, an unusual thing with her, she spoke of herself. Her heart was
full; it was with difficulty that she maintained her composure; for the
faces that confronted her were kindly faces, and not critical, and some
of them she had learned to love right well.
"I am going away from you, my children," she said; "but before I go I
want to tell you how I came to be in North Carolina; so that if I have
been able to do anything here among you for which you might feel
inclined, in your good nature, to thank me, you may thank not me alone,
but another who came before me, and whose work I have but taken up where
he laid it down. I had a friend,?a dear friend,?why should I be
ashamed to say it??a lover, to whom I was to be married,?as I hope all
you girls may some day be happily married. His country needed him, and I
gave him up. He came to fight for the Union and for Freedom, for he
believed that all men are brothers. He did not come back again?he gave
up his life for you. Could I do less than he? I came to the land that he
sanctified by his death, and I have tried in my weak way to tend the
plant he watered with his blood, and which, in the fullness of time,
will blossom forth into the perfect flower of liberty."
She could say no more, and as the whole audience thrilled in sympathy
with her emotion, there was a hoarse cry from the men's side of the
room, and John forced his way to the aisle and rushed forward to the
"Arthur! O Arthur!"
Pent-up love burst the flood-gates of despair and oblivion, and caught
these two young hearts in its torrent. Captain Arthur Carey, of the 1st
Massachusetts, long since reported missing, and mourned as dead, was
restored to reason and to his world.
It seemed to him but yesterday that he had escaped from the Confederate
prison at Salisbury; that in an encounter with a guard he had received a
wound in the head; that he had wandered on in the woods, keeping himself
alive by means of wild berries, with now and then a piece of bread or a
potato from a friendly negro. It seemed but the night before that he
had laid himself down, tortured with fever, weak from loss of blood, and
with no hope that he would ever rise again. From that moment his memory
of the past was a blank until he recognized Martha on the platform and
took up again the thread of his former existence where it had been
* * * * *
And Cicely? Well, there is often another woman, and Cicely, all
unwittingly to Carey or to Martha, had been the other woman. For, after
all, her beautiful dream had been one of the kind that go by contraries.