The Deliverance; A Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields
Part 2 out of 8
suggested only a trivial recollection to her mind. "There used to
be some Blake children in the old overseer's house--is this one
"Possibly; they live in the overseer's house."
She leaned over, fastening her heavy gauntlet. "They wouldn't
play with me, I remember; I couldn't understand why. Once I
carried my dolls over to their yard, and the boy set a pack of
hounds on me. I screamed so that an old Negro ran out and drove
them off, and all the time the boy stood by, laughing and calling
me names. Is that he, do you think?"
"I dare say. It sounds like him."
"Is he so cruel?" she asked a little wistfully.
"I don't know about that--but he doesn't like your people. Your
grandfather had some trouble with him a long time ago."
"And he wanted to punish me?--how cowardly."
"It does sound rather savage, but it isn't an ordinary case, you
know. He's the kind of person to curse 'root and branch,' from
all I hear, in the good old Biblical fashion."
"Oh, well, he's certainly very large, isn't he?"
"He's superb," said Carraway, with conviction.
"At a distance--so is that great pine over there," she lifted her
whip and pointed across the field; then as Carraway made no
answer, she smiled slightly and rode rapidly toward the Hall.
For a few minutes the lawyer stood where she had left him,
watching in puzzled thought her swaying figure on the handsome
horse. The girl fretted him, and yet he felt that he liked her
almost in spite of himself--liked something fine and fearless he
found in her dark eyes; liked, too, even while he sneered, her
peculiar grace of manner. There was the making of a woman in her
after all, he told himself, as he turned into the sunken road,
where he saw Christopher already moving homeward. He had meant to
catch up with him and join company on the way, but the young man
covered ground so quickly with his great strides that at last
Carraway, losing sight of him entirely, resigned himself to going
leisurely about his errand.
When, a little later, he opened the unhinged whitewashed gate
before the cottage, the place, as he found it, seemed to be
tenanted solely by a family of young turkeys scratching beneath
the damask rose-bushes in the yard. From a rear chimney a dark
streak of smoke was rising, but the front of the house gave no
outward sign of life, and as there came no answer to his
insistent knocks he at last ventured to open the door and pass
into the narrow hall. From the first room on the right a voice
spoke at his entrance, and following the sound he found himself
face to face with Mrs. Blake in her massive Elizabethan chair.
"There is a stranger in the room," she said rigidly, turning her
sightless eyes; "speak at once."
"I beg pardon most humbly for my intrusion," replied Carraway,
conscious of stammering like an offending schoolboy, "but as no
one answered my knock, I committed the indiscretion of opening a
Awed as much by the stricken pallor of her appearance as by the
inappropriate grandeur of her black brocade and her thread lace
cap, he advanced slowly and stood awaiting his dismissal.
"What door?" she demanded sharply, much to his surprise.
"Not answer your knock?" she pursued, with indignation. "So that
was the noise I heard, and no wonder that you entered. Why, what
is the matter with the place? Where are the servants?"
He humbly replied that he had seen none, to be taken up with her
accustomed quickness of touch.
"Seen none! Why, there are three hundred of them, sir. Well,
well, this is really too much. I shall put a butler over Boaz
this very day."
For an instant Carraway felt strangely tempted to turn and run as
fast as he could along the sunken road--remembering, as he
struggled with the impulse, that he had once been caught at the
age of ten and whipped for stealing apples. Recovering with an
effort his sense of dignity, he offered the suggestion that Boaz,
instead of being seriously in fault, might merely have been
engaged in useful occupations "somewhere at the back."
"What on earth can he have to do at the back, sir?" inquired the
irrepressible old lady; "but since you were so kind as to
overlook our inhospitable reception, will you not be equally good
and tell me your name?"
"I fear it won't enlighten you much," replied the lawyer
modestly, "but my name happens to be Guy Carraway."
"Guy--Guy Carraway," repeated Mrs. Blake, as if weighing each
separate letter in some remote social scales. " I've known many a
Guy in my day--and that part, at least, of your name is quite
familiar. There was Guy Nelson, and Guy Blair, and Guy Marshall,
the greatest beau of his time--but I don't think I ever had the
pleasure of meeting a Carraway before."
"That is more than probable, ma'am, but I have the advantage of
you, since, as a child, I was once taken out upon the street
corner merely to see you go by on your way to a fancy ball, where
you appeared as Diana."
Mrs. Blake yielded gracefully to the skilful thrust.
"Ah, I was Lucy Corbin then," she sighed. "You find few traces of
her in me now, sir."
"Unfortunately, your mirror cannot speak for me."
She shook her head.
"You're a flatterer--a sad flatterer, I see," she returned, a
little wistfully; "but it does no harm, as I tell my son, to
flatter the old. It is well to strew the passage to the grave
"How well I remember that day, " said Carraway, speaking softly.
"There was a crowd about the door, waiting to see you come out,
and a carpenter lifted me upon his shoulder. Your hair was as
black as night, and there was a circle round your head."
"A silver fillet," she corrected, with a smile in which there was
a gentle archness.
"A fillet, yes; and you carried a bow and a quiver full of
arrows. I declare, it seems but yesterday."
"It was more than fifty years ago," murmured the old lady. Well,
well, I've had my day, sir, and it was a merry one. I am almost
seventy years old, I'm half dead, and stone blind into the
bargain, but I can say to you that this is a cheerful world in
spite of the darkness in which I linger on. I'd take it over
again and gladly any day--the pleasure and the pain, the light
and the darkness. Why, I sometimes think that my present
blindness was given me in order that I might view the past more
clearly. There's not a ball of my youth, nor a face I knew, nor
even a dress I wore, that I don't see more distinctly every day.
The present is a very little part of life, sir; it's the past in
which we store our treasures."
"You're right, you're right," replied Carraway, drawing his chair
nearer the embroidered ottoman and leaning over to stroke the
yellow cat; "and I'm glad to hear so cheerful a philosophy from
"It is based on a cheerful experience--I've been as you see me
now only twenty years."
Only twenty years! He looked mutely round the soiled whitewashed
walls, where hung a noble gathering of Blake portraits in massive
old gilt frames. Among them he saw the remembered face of Lucy
Corbin herself, painted under a rose-garland held by smiling
"Life has its trials, of course, " pursued Mrs. Blake, as if
speaking to herself. "I can't look out upon the June flowers, you
know, and though the pink crape-myrtle at my window is in full
bloom I cannot see it."
Following her gesture, Carraway glanced out into the little yard;
no myrtle was there, but he remembered vaguely that he had seen
one in blossom at the Hall.
"You keep flowers about you, though," he said, alluding to the
scattered vases of June roses.
"Not my crape-myrtle. I planted it myself when I first came home
with Mr. Blake, and I have never allowed so much as a spray of it
to be plucked."
Forgetting his presence, she lapsed for a time into one of the
pathetic day-dreams of old age. Then recalling herself suddenly,
her tone took on a sprightliness like that of youth.
"It's not often that we have the pleasure of entertaining a
stranger in our out-of-the-way house, sir so may I ask where you
are staying--or perhaps you will do us the honour to sleep
beneath our roof. It has had the privilege of sheltering General
"You are very kind," replied Carraway, with a gratitude that was
from his heart, "but to tell the truth, I feel that I am sailing
under false colours. The real object of my visit is to ask a
business interview with your son. I bring what seems to me a very
fair offer for the place."
Grasping the carved arms of her chair, Mrs. Blake turned the
wonder in her blind eyes upon him.
"An offer for the place! Why, you must be dreaming, sir! A Blake
owned it more than a hundred years before the Revolution."
At the instant, understanding broke upon Carraway like a
thundercloud, and as he rose from his seat it seemed to him that
he had missed by a single step the yawning gulf before him. Blind
terror gripped him for the moment, and when his brain steadied he
looked up to meet, from the threshold of the adjoining room, the
enraged flash of Christopher's eyes. So tempestuous was the
glance that Carraway, impulsively falling back, squared himself
to receive a physical blow; but the young man, without so much as
the expected oath, came in quietly and took his stand behind the
"Why, what a joke, mother," he said, laughing; "he means the old
Weatherby farm, of course. The one I wanted to sell last year,
"I thought you'd sold it to the Weatherbys, Christopher."
"Not a bit of it--they backed out at the last; but don't begin to
bother your head about such things; they aren't worth it. And
now, sir," he turned upon Carraway, "since your business is with
me, perhaps you will have the goodness to step outside."
With the feeling that he was asked out for a beating, Carraway
turned for a farewell with Mrs. Blake, but the imperious old lady
was not to be so lightly defrauded of a listener.
"Business may come later, my son," she said, detaining them by a
gesture of her heavily ringed hand. "After dinner you may take
Mr. Carraway with you into the library and discuss your affairs
over a bottle of burgundy, as was your grandfather's custom
before you; meanwhile, he and I will resume our very pleasant
talk which you interrupted. He remembers seeing me in the old
days when we were all in the United States, my dear."
Christopher's brow grew black, and he threw a sharp and malignant
glance of sullen suspicion at Carraway, who summoned to meet it
his most frank and open look.
"I saw your mother in the height of her fame," he said, smiling,
"so I may count myself one of her oldest admirers, I believe. You
may assure yourself," he added softly, "that I have her welfare
very decidedly at heart."
At this Christopher smiled back at him, and there was something
of the June brightness in his look.
"Well, take care, sir," he answered, and went out, closing the
door carefully behind him, while Carraway applied himself to a
determined entertaining of Mrs. Blake.
To accomplish this he found that he had only to leave her free,
guiding her thoughts with his lightest touch into newer channels.
The talk had grown merrier now, and he soon discovered that she
possessed a sharpened wit as well as a ready tongue. From subject
to subject she passed with amazing swiftness, bearing down upon
her favourite themes with the delightful audacity of the talker
who is born, not made. She spoke of her own youth, of historic
flirtations in the early twenties, of great beaux she had known,
and of famous recipes that had been handed down for generations.
Everywhere he felt her wonderful keenness of perception, that
intuitive understanding of men and manners which had kept her for
so long the reigning belle among her younger rivals.
As she went on he found that her world was as different from his
own as if she dwelt upon some undiscovered planet--a world
peopled with shades and governed by an ideal group of abstract
laws. She lived upon lies, he saw, and thrived upon the sweetness
she extracted from them. For her the Confederacy had never
fallen, the quiet of her dreamland had been disturbed by no
invading army, and the three hundred slaves, who had in reality
scattered like chaff before the wind, she still saw in her
cheerful visions tilling her familiar fields. It was as if she
had fallen asleep with the great blow that bad wrecked her body,
and had dreamed on steadily throughout the years. Of real changes
she was as ignorant as a new-born child. Events had shaken the
world to its centre, and she, by her obscure hearth, had not felt
so much as a sympathetic tremor. In her memory there was no
Appomattox, news of the death of Lincoln had never reached her
ears, and president had peacefully succeeded president in the
secure Confederacy in which she lived. Wonderful as it all was,
to Carraway the most wonderful thing was the intricate tissue of
lies woven around her chair. Lies--lies--there had been nothing
but lies spoken within her hearing for twenty years.
CHAPTER VII. In Which a Stand is Made
Dim wonder was still upon him when Docia appeared bearing her
mistress's dinner-tray, and a moment later Cynthia came in and
paused uncertainly near the threshold.
"Do you wish anything, mother?"
"Only to present Mr. Carraway, my child. He will be with us at
Cynthia came forward smiling and held out her hand with the
cordial hospitality which she had inherited with the family
portraits and the good old name. She wore this morning a dress of
cheap black calico, shrunken from many washings, and beneath the
scant sleeves Carraway saw her thin red wrists, which looked as
if they had been soaking in harsh soapsuds. Except for a certain
ease of manner which she had not lost in the drudgery of her
life, she might have been sister to the toilworn slattern he had
noticed in one of the hovels across the country.
"We shall be very glad to have you," she said, with quiet
"It is ready now, I think."
"Be sure to make him try the port, Cynthia," called Mrs. Blake,
as Carraway followed the daughter across the threshold.
In the kitchen they found Tucker and Lila and a strange young man
in overalls, who was introduced as "one of the Weatherbys who
live just up the road." He was evidently one of their plainer
neighbours for Carraway detected a constraint in Cynthia's manner
which Lila did not appear to share. The girl, dressed daintily in
a faded muslin, with an organdy kerchief crossed over her
swelling bosom, flashed upon Carraway's delighted vision like one
of the maidens hanging, gilt-framed, in the old lady's parlour.
That she was the particular pride of the family--the one luxury
they allowed themselves besides their costly mother--the lawyer
realised upon the instant. Her small white hands were unsoiled by
any work, and her beautiful, kindly face had none of the nervous
dread which seemed always lying behind Cynthia's tired eyes. With
the high devotion of a martyr, the elder sister must have offered
herself a willing sacrifice, winning for the younger an existence
which, despite its gray monotony, showed fairly rose-coloured in
comparison with her own. She herself had sunk to the level of a
servant, but through it all Lila had remained "the lady,"
preserving an equable loveliness to which Jim Weatherby hardly
dared lift his wistful gaze.
As for the young man himself, he had a blithe, open look which
Carraway found singularly attractive, the kind of look it warms
one's heart to meet in the long road on a winter's day. Leaning
idly against the lintel of the door, and fingering a bright axe
which he was apparently anxious that they should retain, he
presented a pleasant enough picture to the attentive eyes within
"You'd as well keep this axe as long as you want it," he
protested earnestly. " It's an old one, anyway, that I sharpened
when you asked for it, and we've another at home; that's all we
"It's very kind of you, Jim, but ours is mended now," replied
Cynthia, a trifle stiffly.
"If we need one again, we'll certainly borrow yours, "added Lila,
smiling as she looked up from the glasses she was filling with
"Sit down, Jim, and have dinner with us; there's no hurry," urged
Tucker hospitably, with a genial wave toward the meagerly spread
table. "Jim's a great fellow, Mr. Carraway; you ought to know
him. He can manage anything from a Sunday-school to the digging
of a well. I've always said that if he'd had charge of the
children of Israel's journey to the promised land he'd have had
them there, flesh-pots and all, before the week was up."
"I can see he is a useful neighbour," observed Carraway, glancing
at the axe.
"Well, I'm glad I come handy, " replied Jim in his hearty way;
"and are you sure you don't want me to split up that big oak log
at the woodpile? I can do it in a twinkling."
Cynthia declined his knightly offer, to be overruled again by
Lila's smiling lips.
"Christopher will have to do it when he comes in, " she said;
"poor Christopher, he never has a single moment of his own."
Jim Weatherby looked at her eagerly, his blue eyes full of
sparkle. "Why, I can do it in no time," he declared, shouldering
his axe, and a moment afterward they heard his merry strokes from
"Are you interested in tobacco, Mr. Carraway?" inquired Tucker,
as they seated themselves at the pine table without so much as an
apology for the coarseness of the fare or an allusion to their
fallen fortunes. "If so, you've struck us at the time when every
man about here is setting out his next winter's chew. Sol
Peterkin, by the way, has planted every square inch of his land
in tobacco, and when I asked him what market he expected to send
it to he answered that he only raised a little for his own use."
"Is that the Peterkin who has the pretty daughter?" asked
Cynthia, slicing a piece of bacon. "May I help you to turnip
salad, Mr. Carraway?" Uncle Boaz, hobbling with rheumatism, held
out a quaint old tray of inlaid woods; and the lawyer, as he
placed his plate upon it, heaved a sigh of gratitude for the
utter absence of vulgarity. He could fancy dear old Miss Saidie
puffing apologies over the fat bacon, and Fletcher profanely
deploring the sloppy coffee.
"The half-grown girl with the bunch of flaxen curls tied with a
blue ribbon?" returned Tucker, while Lila cut up his food as if
he were a child. "Yes, that's Molly Peterkin, though it's hard to
believe she's any kin to Sol. I shouldn't wonder if she turned
into a bouncing beauty a few years further on."
"It was her father, then, that I walked over with from the
cross-roads," said Carraway. "He struck me as a shrewd man of his
"Oh, he's shrewd enough," rejoined Tucker, "and the proof of it
is that he's outlived three wives and is likely to outlive a
fourth. I met him in the road yesterday, and he told me that he
had just been off again to get married. 'Good luck to you this
time, Sol', said I. 'Wal, it ought to be, sir,' said he, 'seeing
as marrying has got to be so costly in these days. Why, my first
wife didn't come to more than ten dollars, counting the stovepipe
hat and all, and this last one's mounted up to 'most a hundred.'
'Try and take good care of her, then,' I cautioned; "they come
too high to throw away." "That's true, sir," he answered, with a
sorrowful shake of his head. "But the trouble is that as the
price goes up the quality gets poorer. My first one lasted near
on to thirty years, and did all the chores about the house, to
say nothing of the hog-pen; and if you'll believe me, sir, the
one before this stuck at the hog-feeding on her wedding day, and
then wore out before twelve months were up.'"
He finished with his humorous chuckle and lifted his fork
skilfully in his left hand.
"I dare say he overvalues himself as a husband," remarked
Carraway, joining in the laugh, "but he has at least the merit of
being loyal to your family."
"Well, I believe he has; but then, he doesn't like new folks or
new things, I reckon. There's a saying that his hatred of changes
keeps him from ever changing his clothes."
Christopher came in at the moment, and with a slight bow to
Carraway, slipped into his place.
"What's Jim Weatherby chopping up that log for?" he asked,
glancing in the direction of the ringing strokes.
Cynthia looked at him almost grimly, and there was a contraction
of the muscles about her determined mouth.
"Ask Lila," she responded quietly. As Christopher's questioning
gaze turned to her, Lila flushed rose-pink and played nervously
with the breadcrumbs on the table.
"He said he had nothing else to do," she answered, with an
effort, "and he knew you were so busy--that was all."
"Well, he's a first rate fellow," commented Christopher, as he
reached for the pitcher of buttermilk, "but I don't see what
makes him so anxious to do my work."
"Oh, that's Jim's way, you know," put in Tucker with his offhand
kindliness. "He's the sort of old maid who would undertake to
straighten the wilderness if he could get the job. Why, I
actually found him once chopping off dead boughs in the woods,
and when I laughed he excused himself by saying that he couldn't
bear to see trees look so scraggy."
As he talked, his pleasant pale blue eyes twinkled with humour,
and his full double chin shook over his shirt of common calico.
He had grown very large from his long inaction, and it was with a
perceptible effort that he moved himself upon his slender
crutches. Yet despite his maimed and suffering body he was
dressed with a scrupulous neatness which was almost like an air
of elegance. As he chatted on easily, Carraway forgot, in
listening to him, the harrowing details in the midst of which he
sat--forgot the overheated, smoky kitchen, the common pine table
with its broken china, and the sullen young savage whom he faced.
For Christopher was eating his dinner hurriedly, staring at his
plate in a moodiness which he did not take the trouble to
conceal. With all the youthful beauty of his face, there was a
boorishness in his ill-humour which in a less commanding figure
would have been repellent--an evident pride in the sincerity of
the scowl upon his brow. When his meal was over he rose with a
muttered excuse and went out into the yard, where a few minutes
afterward Carraway was bold enough to follow him.
The afternoon was golden with sunshine, and every green leaf on
the trees seemed to stand out clearly against the bright blue
sky. In the rear of the house there was a lack of the careful
cleanliness he had noticed at the front, and rotting chips from
the woodpile strewed the short grass before the door, where a
clump of riotous ailanthus shoots was waging a desperate battle
for existence. Beside the sunken wooden step a bare brown patch
showed where the daily splashes of hot soapsuds had stripped the
ground of even the modest covering that it wore. Within a stone's
throw of the threshold the half of a broken wheelbarrow, white
with mould, was fast crumbling into earth, and a little farther
off stood a disorderly group of chicken coops before which lay a
couple of dead nestlings. On the soaking plank ledge around the
well-brink, where fresh water was slopping from the overturned
bucket, several bedraggled ducks were paddling with evident
enjoyment. The one pleasant sight about the place was the sturdy
figure of Jim Weatherby, still at work upon the giant body of a
dead oak tree.
When Carraway came out, Christopher was feeding a pack of hounds
from a tin pan of coarse corn bread, and to the lawyer's surprise
he was speaking to them in a tone that sounded almost jocular.
Though born of a cringing breed, the dogs looked contented and
well fed, and among them Carraway recognised his friend Spy, who
had followed at the heels of Uncle Boaz.
"Here, Miser, this is yours," the young man was saying. "There,
you needn't turn up your nose; it's as big as Blister's. Down,
Spy, I tell you; you've had twice your share; you think because
you're the best looking you're to be the best fed, too."
As Carraway left the steps the dogs made an angry rush at him, to
be promptly checked by Christopher.
"Back, you fools; back, I say. You'd better be careful how you
walk about here, sir," he added; "they'd bite as soon as not--all
of them except Spy.
"Good fellow, Spy," returned Carraway, a little nervously, and
the hound came fawning to his feet. "I assure you I have no
intention of treading upon their preserves," he hastened to
explain; "but I should like a word with you, and this seems to be
the only opportunity I'll have, as I return to town to-morrow."
Christopher threw the remaining pieces of corn bread into the
wriggling pack, set the pan in the doorway, and wiped his hands
carelessly upon his overalls.
"Well, I don't see what you've got to say to me," he replied,
walking rapidly in the direction of the well, where he waited for
the other to join him.
"It's about the place, of course," returned the lawyer, with an
attempt to shatter the awkward rustic reserve. "I understand that
it has passed into your possession."
The young man nodded, and, drawing out his clasp-knife, fell to
whittling a splinter which he had broken from the well-brink.
"In that case," pursued Carraway, feeling as if he were dashing
his head against a wall, "I shall address myself to you in the
briefest terms. The place, I suppose, as it stands, is not worth
much to-day. Even good land is cheap, and this is poor."
Again Christopher nodded, intent upon his whittling. "I reckon it
wouldn't bring more than nine hundred," he responded coolly.
"Then my position is easy, for I am sure you will consider
favourably the chance to sell at treble its actual value. I am
authorised to offer you three thousand dollars for the farm."
For a moment Christopher stared at him in silence, then, "What in
the devil do you want with it?" he demanded.
"I am not acting for myself in the matter," returned the lawyer,
after a short hesitation. "The offer is made through me by
another. That it is to your advantage to accept it is my honest
Christopher tossed the bit of wood at a bedraggled drake that
waddled off, quacking angrily.
"Then it's Fletcher behind you," he said in the same cool tones.
"It seems to me that is neither here nor there. Naturally Mr.
Fletcher is very anxious to secure the land. As it stands, it is
a serious inconvenience to him, of course."
Laughing, Christopher snapped the blade of his knife.
"Well, you may tell him from me," he retorted, "that just as long
as it is 'a serious inconvenience to him' it shall stand as it
is. Why, man, if Fletcher wanted that broken wheelbarrow enough
to offer me three thousand dollars for it, I wouldn't let him
have it. The only thing I'd leave him free to take, if I could
help it, is the straight road to damnation!"
His voice, for all the laughter, sounded brutal, and Carraway,
gazing at him in wonder, saw his face grow suddenly lustful like
that of an evil deity. The beauty was still there, blackened and
distorted, a beauty that he felt to be more sinister than
ugliness. The lawyer was in the presence of a great naked
passion, and involuntarily he lowered his eyes.
"I don't think he understands your attitude," he said quietly;
"it seems to him--and to me also, I honestly affirm--that you
would reap an advantage as decided as his own."
"Nothing is to my advantage, I tell you, that isn't harm to him.
He knows it if he isn't as big a fool as he is a rascal."
"Then I may presume that you are entirely convinced in your own
mind that you have a just cause for the stand you take?"
"Cause!" the word rapped out like an oath. "He stole my home, I
tell you; he stole every inch of land I owned, and every penny.
Where did he get the money to buy the place--he a slave-overseer?
Where did he get it, I ask, unless he had been stealing for
"It looks ugly, I confess," admitted Carraway; "but were there no
books--no accounts kept?"
"Oh, he settled that, of course. When my father died, and we
asked for the books, where were they?
Burned, he said--burned in the old office that the Yankees fired.
He's a scoundrel, I tell you, sir, and I know him to the core.
He's a rotten scoundrel!"
Carraway caught his breath quickly and drew back as if he had
touched unwittingly a throbbing canker. To his oversensitive
nature these primal emotions had a crudeness that was vulgar in
its unrestraint. He beheld it all--the old wrong and the new
hatred--in a horrid glare of light, a disgraceful blaze of
trumpets. Here there was no cultured evasion of the conspicuous
vice--none of the refinements even of the Christian ethics--it
was all raw and palpitating humanity.
"Then my mission is quite useless," he confessed. "I can only add
that I am sorrier than I can say sorry for the whole thing, too.
If my services could be of any use to you I should not hesitate
to offer them, but so far as I see there is absolutely nothing to
be done. An old crime, as you know, very often conforms to an
appearance of virtue."
He held out his hand, Christopher shook it, and then the lawyer
went back into the house to bid good-by to Mrs. Blake. When he
came out a few moments later, and passed through the whitewashed
gate into the sunken road, he saw that Christopher was still
standing where he had left him, the golden afternoon around him,
and the bedraggled ducks paddling at his feet.
VIII. Treats of a Passion that is Not Love
Over a distant meadow fluted the silver whistle of a partridge,
and Christopher, lifting his head, noted involuntarily the
direction of the sound. A covey was hatching down by the meadow
brook, he knew--for not a summer mating nor a hidden nest had
escaped his eyes--and he wondered vaguely if the young birds were
roaming into Fletcher's wheatfield. Then, with a single vigorous
movement as if he were settling his thoughts upon him, he crossed
the yard, leaped the fence by the barnyard, and started briskly
along the edge of a little cattle pasture, where a strange bull
bellowed in the shadow of a walnut-tree. At the bottom of the
pasture a crumbling rail fence divided his land from Fletcher's,
and as he looked over the festoons of poisonous ivy he saw
Fletcher himself overseeing the last planting of his tobacco. For
a time Christopher watched them as through a mist--watched the
white and the black labourers, the brown furrows in which the
small holes were bored, the wilted plants thrown carelessly in
place and planted with two quick pressures of a bare,
earth-begrimed foot. He smelled the keen odours released by the
sunshine from the broken soil; he saw the standing beads of sweat
on the faces of the planters--Negroes with swollen lips and
pleasant eyes like those of kindly animals--and he heard the
coarse, hectoring voice of Fletcher, who stood midway of the
naked ground. To regard the man as a mere usurper of his land had
been an article in the religious creed the child had learned, and
as he watched him now, bearded, noisy, assured of his
possessions, the sight lashed him like the strokes of a whip on
bleeding flesh. In the twenty-five years of his life he had grown
fairly gluttonous of hate--had tended it with a passion that was
like that of love. Now he felt that he had never really had
enough of it--had never feasted on the fruit of it till he was
satisfied--had never known the delight of wallowing in it until
to-day. Deep-rooted like an instinct as the feeling was, he knew
now that there had been hours when, for very weakness of his
nature, he had almost forgotten that he meant to pay back
Fletcher in the end, when it seemed, after all, easier merely to
endure and forget and have it done. Still keeping upon his own
land, he turned presently and followed a little brook that
crossed a meadow where mixed wild flowers were strewn loosely in
the grass. The bull still bellowed in the shadow of the
walnut-tree, and he found himself listening with pure delight to
the savage cries. Reaching at last a point where the brook turned
westward at the foot of a low green hill, he threw himself over
the dividing rail fence, and came, at the end of a minute's
hurried walk, to the old Blake graveyard, midway of one of
Fletcher's fallow fields. The gate was bricked up, after the
superstitious custom of many country burial places, but he
climbed the old moss-grown wall, where poisonous ivy grew rank
and venomous, and landing deep in the periwinkle that carpeted
the ground, made his way rapidly to the flat oblong slab beneath
which his father lay. The marble was discoloured by long rains
and stained with bruised periwinkle, and the shallow lettering
was hidden under a fall of dried needles from a little stunted
fir-tree; but, leaning over, he carefully swept the dust away and
loosened the imprisoned name which seemed to hover like a
spiritual presence upon the air.
"HERE LIES ALL THAT IS MORTAL OF CHRISTOPHER BLAKE, WHO DIED IN
THE HOPE OF A JOYFUL RESURRECTION, APRIL 12, 1786, AGED 70 YEARS.
INTO THY HANDS, O LORD, I COMMIT MY SPIRIT."
Around him there were other graves--graves of all dead Blakes for
two hundred years, and the flat tombstones were crowded so
thickly together that it seemed as if the dead must lie beneath
them row on row. It was all in deep shadow, fallen slabs, rank
periwinkle, dust and mould--no cheerful sunshine had ever
penetrated through the spreading cedars overhead. Life was here,
but it was the shy life of wild creatures, approaching man only
when he had returned to earth. A mocking-bird purled a love note
in the twilight of a great black cedar, a lizard glided like a
gray shadow along one of the overturned slabs, and at his
entrance a rabbit had started from the ivy on his father's grave.
To climb the overgrown wall and lie upon the periwinkle was like
entering, for a time, the world of shades--a world far removed
from the sunny meadow and the low green hill.
With his head pillowed upon his father's grave, Christopher
stretched himself at full length on the ground and stared
straight upward at the darkbrowed cedars. It was such an hour as
he allowed himself at long intervals when his inheritance was
heavy upon him and his disordered mind needed to retreat into a
city of refuge. As a child he had often come to this same spot to
dream hopefully of the future, unboylike dreams in which the
spirit of revenge wore the face of happiness. Then, with the
inconsequence of childhood, he had pictured Fletcher gasping
beneath his feet--trampled out like a worm, when he was big
enough to take his vengeance and come again into his own. Mere
physical strength seemed to him at that age the sole thing
needed--he wanted then only the brawny arm and the heart bound by
Now, as he stretched out his square, sunburned hand, with its
misshapen nails, he laughed aloud at the absurdity of those
blunted hopes. To-day he stood six feet three inches from the
ground, with muscles hard as steel and a chest that rang sound as
a bell, yet how much nearer his purpose had he been as a little
child! He remembered the day that he had hidden in the bushes
with his squirrel gun and waited with fluttering breath for the
sound of Fletcher's footsteps along the road. On that day it had
seemed to him that the hand of the Lord was in his own Godlike
vengeance nerving his little wrist. He had meant to shoot--for
that he had saved every stray penny from his sales of hogs and
cider, of watermelons and chinkapins; for that he had bought the
gun and rammed the powder home. Even when the thud of footsteps
beat down the sunny road strewn with brown honeyshucks, he had
felt neither fear nor hesitation as he crouched amid the
underbrush. Rather there was a rare exhilaration, warm blood in
his brain and a sharp taste in his mouth like that of unripe
fruit--as if he had gorged himself upon the fallen honeyshucks.
It was the happiest moment of his life, he knew, the one moment
when he seemed to measure himself inch by inch with fate; and
like all such supreme instants, it fell suddenly flat among the
passing hours. For even as the gun was lifted, at the very second
that Fletcher's heavy body swung into view, he heard a crackling
in the dead bushes at his back, and Uncle Boaz struck up his arm
with a palsied hand.
"Gawd alive, honey, you don' wanter be tucken out an' hunged?"
the old man cried in terror.
The boy rose in a passion and flung his useless gun aside. "Oh,
you've spoiled it! you've spoiled it!" he sobbed, and shed bitter
tears upon the ground.
To this hour, lying on his father's grave, he knew that he
regretted that wasted powder--that will to slay which had blazed
up and died down so soon. Strangely enough, it soothed him now to
remember how near to murder he had been, and as he drank the
summer air in deep drafts he felt the old desire rekindle from
its embers. While he lived it was still possible--the one chance
that awaits the ready hand, the final answer of a sympathetic
heaven that deals out justice. His god was a pagan god, terrible
rather than tender, and there had always been within him the old
pagan scorn of everlasting mercy. There were moods even when he
felt the kinship with his savage forefathers working in his
blood, and at such times he liked to fit heroic tortures to
heroic crimes to imagine the lighted stake and his enemy amid the
flames. Over him as he lay at full length the ancient cedars,
touched here and there with a younger green, reared a dusky tent
that screened him alike from the hot sunshine and the bright June
sky. Somewhere in the deepest shadow the mocking-bird purled over
its single note, and across the lettering on the marble slab
beside him a small brown lizard was gliding back and forth. The
clean, fresh smell of the cedars filled his nostrils like a balm.
For a moment the physical pleasure in his surroundings possessed
his thoughts; then gradually, in a state between waking and
sleeping, the curious boughs above took fantastic shapes and were
interwoven before his eyes with his earlier memories. There was a
great tester bed, with carved posts and curtains of silvery
damask, that he had slept in as a child, and it was here that he
had once had a terrible dream--a dream which he had remembered to
this day because it was so like a story of Aunt Delisha's, in
which the devil comes with a red-hot scuttle to carry off a
little boy. On that night he had been the little boy, and he had
seen the scuttle with its leaping flames so plainly that in his
terror he had struggled up and screamed aloud. A moment later he
had awakened fully, to find a lighted candle in his face and his
father in a flowered dressing-gown sitting beside the bed and
looking at him with his sad, bloodshot eyes. "Is the devil gone,
father, and did you drive him away?" he asked; and then the tall,
white-haired old man, whose mind was fast decaying, did a strange
and a pitiable thing, for he fell upon his knees beside the bed
and cried out upon Christopher for forgiveness for the
of his long life. "You came too late, my son," he said; "you came
twenty years too late. I had given you up long ago and grown
hopeless. You came like Isaac to Abraham, but too late--too
late!" The boy sat up in bed, huddling in the bedclothes, for the
night was chilly. He grew suddenly afraid of his father, the big,
beautiful old man in the flowered dressing-gown, and he wished
that his mother would come in and take him away. "But I came
twins with Lila, father," he replied, trying to speak bravely.
"With Lila! Oh, my poor children! my poor children!" cried the
old man, and, taking up his candle, tottered to the door. Then
Christopher stopped his ears in the pillows, for he heard him
moaning to himself as he went back along the hall. He felt all at
once terribly frightened, and at last, slipping down the tall
bed-steps, he stole on his bare feet to Cynthia's door and crept
in beside her. After this, dim years went by when he did not see
his father, and the great closed rooms on the north side of the
house were as silent as if a corpse lay there awaiting burial.
His beautiful, stately mother, who, in spite of her gray hair,
had always seemed but little older than himself, vanished as
mysteriously from his sight--on a thrilling morning when there
were many waving red flags and much hurried marching by of
gray-clad troops. Young as he was, he was already beginning to
play his boy's share in a war which was then fighting slowly to a
finish; and in the wild flutter of events he forgot, for a time,
to do more than tip softly when he crossed the hall. She was ill,
they told him--too ill to care even about the battles that were
fought across the river. The sound of the big guns sent no
delicious shivers through her limbs, and there was only Lila to
come with him when he laid his ear to the ground and thrilled
with the strong shock which seemed to run around the earth. When
at last her door was opened again and he went timidly in, holding
hands with Lila, he found his mother sitting stiffly erect among
her cushions as she would sit for the remainder of her days,
blind and half dead, in her Elizabethan chair. His beautiful,
proud mother, with the smiling Loves painted above her head!
For an instant he shut his eyes beneath the cedars, seeing her on
that morning as a man sees in his dreams the face of his first
love. Then another day dawned slowly to his consciousness--a day
which stood out clear-cut as a cameo from all the others of his
life. For weeks Cynthia's eyes had been red and swollen, and he
commented querulously upon them, for they made her homelier than
usual. When he had finished, she looked at him a moment without
replying, then, putting her arm about him, she drew him out upon
the lawn and told him why she wept. It was a mellow autumn day,
and they passed over gold and russet leaves strewn deep along the
path. A light wind was blowing in the tree-tops, and the leaves
were still falling, falling, falling! He saw Cynthia's haggard
face in a flame of glowing colours. Through the drumming in his
ears, which seemed to come from the clear sky, he heard the
ceaseless rustle beneath his feet; and to this day he could not
walk along a leaf-strewn road in autumn without seeing again the
blur of red-and-gold and the gray misery in Cynthia's face.
"It will kill mother!" he said angrily. "It will kill mother!
Why, she almost died when Docia broke her Bohemian bowl."
"She must never know," answered Cynthia, while the tears streamed
unheeded down her cheeks. "When she is carried out one day for
her airing, she shall go back into the other house. It is a short
time now at best--she may die at any moment from any shock--but
she must die without knowing this. There must be quiet at the
end, at least. Oh, poor mother! poor mother!"
She raised her hands to her convulsed face, and Christopher saw
the tears trickle through her thin fingers,
"She must never know," repeated the boy. "She must never know if
we can help it."
"We must help it," cried Cynthia passionately. "We must work our
fingers to the bone to help it, you and I."
"And Lila?" asked the boy, curiously just even in the intensity
of his emotion. "Mustn't Lila work, too?"
Cynthia sobbed--hard, strangling sobs that rattled like stones
within her bosom.
"Lila is only a girl," she said, "and so pretty, so pretty."
The boy nodded.
"Then don't let's make Lila work," he responded sturdily.
Selfish in her supreme unselfishness, the woman turned and kissed
his brow, while he struggled, irritated, to keep her off.
"Don't let's, dear," she said, and that was all.
As soon as Christopher had passed out of sight, Cynthia came from
the kitchen with an armful of wet linen and began spreading it
upon some scrubby lilac bushes in a corner of the yard. After
fifteen years it still made her uncomfortable to have Christopher
around when she did the family washing, and when it was possible
she waited to dry the clothes until he had gone back to the
field. In her scant calico dress, with the furrows of age already
settling about her mouth, and her pale brown hair strained in
thin peaks back from her forehead, she might have stood as the
world-type of toil-worn womanhood, for she was of the stuff of
martyrs, and the dignity of their high resolve was her one
outward grace. Life had been revealed to her as something to be
endured rather than enjoyed, and the softer adornments of her sex
had not withstood the daily splashes of harsh soapsuds--they had
faded like colours too delicate to stand the strain of ordinary
As she lifted one of her mother's full white petticoats and
turned to wring it dry with her red and blistered hands, a look
that was perilously near disgust was on her face--for though she
had done her duty heroically and meant to do it until the end,
there were brief moments when it sickened her to desperation. She
was the kind of woman whose hands perform the more thoroughly
because the heart revolts against the task.
Lila, in her faded muslin which had taken the colours of November
leaves, came to the kitchen doorway and stood watching her with a
"Has Jim Weatherby gone, Cynthia?"
Cynthia nodded grimly, turning her squinting gaze upon her. "Do
you think I'd let him see me hanging out the clothes?" she
snapped. Supreme as her unselfishness was, there were times when
she appeared to begrudge the least of her services; and after the
manner of all affection that comes as a bounty, the unwilling
spirit was more impressive than the ready hand.
"I do wish you would make Docia help you," said Lila, in a voice
that sounded as if she were speaking in her own defense.
Cynthia wrung out a blue jean shirt of Christopher's, spread it
on an old lilac-bush, and pushed a stray lock of hair back with
"There's no use talking like that when you know Docia has heart
disease and can't scrub the clothes clean," she responded. "If
she'd drop down dead I'd like to know what we'd do with mother."
"Well, I'd help you if you'd only let me," protested Lila, on the
point of tears. "I've darned your lavender silk the best I could,
and I'd just as soon iron as not."
"And get your hands like mine in a week. No, I reckon it's as
well for one of us to keep decent. My hands are so knotted I had
to tell mother it was gout in the joints, and she said I must
have been drinking too much port." She laughed, but her eyes
filled with tears, and she wiped them with hard rubs on a twisted
garment, which she afterward shook in the air to dry.
"Well, you're a saint, Cynthia, and I wish you weren't," declared
Lila almost impatiently. "It makes me feel uncomfortable, as if
it were somehow my fault that you had to be so good."
"Being a saint is a good deal like being a woman, I reckon,"
returned Cynthia dryly. "There's a heap in having been born to
it. Aunt Polly, have you put the irons on the fire? The first
batch of clothes is almost dry."
Aunt Polly, an aged crone, already stumbling into her dotage,
hobbled from the kitchen and gathered up an armful of resinous
pine from a pile beside the steps. "Dey's 'mos' es hot es de
debbil's wood en iron shovel," she replied, with one foot on the
step; adding in a piercing whisper: "I know dat ar shovel, honey,
'caze de debbil he done come fur me in de daid er de night,
lookin' moughty peart, too; but I tole 'im he des better bide
aw'ile 'caze I 'uz leanin' sorter favo'bly to'ad de Lawd."
"Aunt Polly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Take those
irons off and let them cool."
"Dat's so, Miss Cynthy, en I'se right down 'shamed er myse'f,
sho' 'nough, but de shame er hit cyarn tu'n de heart er 'ooman.
De debbil he sutnev did look young en peart, dat he did--en de
Lawd He knows, Miss Cynthy, I allers did like 'em young! I 'uz
done had nine un um in all, countin' de un--en he wuz Cephus dat
run off 'fo' de mah'age wid my bes' fedder baid made outer de
gray goose fedders ole miss done throwed away 'caze dey warn'
w'ite. Yes, Lawd, dar's done been nine un um, black en yaller, en
dar ain' nuver been en ole 'un in de hull lot. Whew! I ain' nuver
stood de taste er nuttin' ole lessen he be a 'possum, en w'en hit
comes ter en ole man, I d'clar hit des tuns my stomick clean
"But, Aunt Polly, you're old yourself-it's disgraceful."
Aunt Polly chuckled with flattered vanity.
"I know I is, honey--I know I is, but I'se gwine ter hev a young
husban' at de een ef hit tecks de ve'y las' cent I'se got. De
las' un he come monst'ous high, en mo'n dat, he wuz sech en
outlandish nigger dat he'd a-come high ef I'd got 'im as a
Christmas gif'. I had ter gin 'im dat burey wid de bevel glass I
bought wid all my savin's, en des es soon es I steps outside de
do' he up en toted hit all de way ter de cabin er dat lowlifeted,
savigorous, yaller hussy Delphy. Men sutney are tuh'ble slippery
folks, Miss Cynthy, en y'all des better look out how you monkey
wid 'em, 'caze I'se done hed nine, en I knows 'em thoo en thoo.
De mo' you git, de likelier 'tis you gwine git one dat's worth
gittin', dat's vat I 'low."
Cynthia gathered up the scattered garments, which had been left
carelessly from the day before, and carried them into the
kitchen, where a pine ironing board was supported by two empty
barrels. Lila was busily preparing a bowl of gruel for one of the
sick old Negroes who still lived upon the meager charity of the
"Mother wants you, Cynthia," she said. "I won't do at all, for
she can't be persuaded that I'm really grown up, you know. Here,
give me some of those clothes. It won't hurt my hands a bit."
Cynthia piled the clothes upon the board, and moistening her
finger, applied it to the bottom of the iron. Then she handed it
to Lila with a funny little air of anxiety. "This is just right,"
she said; "be careful not to get your fingers burned, and
remember to sprinkle the clothes well. Do you know what mother
"I think it's about taking something to Aunt Dinah. Docia told
her she was sick."
"Then I wish Docia would learn to hold her tongue," commented
Cynthia, as she left the kitchen.
She found Mrs. Blake looking slightly irritated as she wound a
ball of white yarn from a skein that Docia was holding between
her outstretched hands.
"I hear Dinah is laid up with a stitch in her chest, Cynthia,"
she said. "You must look in the medicine closet and give her ten
grains of quinine and a drink of whisky. Tell her to keep well
covered up, and see that Polly makes her hot flaxseed tea every
"Lila is fixing her some gruel now, mother."
"I said flaxseed tea, my dear. I am almost seventy years old, and
I have treated three hundred servants and seen sixty laid in
their graves, but if you think you are a better doctor than I am,
of course there's nothing to be said. Docia, hold the yarn a
"We'll make the flaxseed tea at once, and I'll carry it right
over--a breath of air will do me good."
Mrs. Blake sighed. "You mustn't stay too closely with me," she
said; "you will grow old before your time, I fear. As it is you
have given up your young life to my poor old one."
"I had nothing to give up, mother," replied Cynthia quietly, and
in the few words her heart's tragedy was written--since of all
lives, the saddest is the one that can find nothing worthy of
renouncement. There were hours when she felt that any bitter
personal past--that the recollection of a single despairing kiss
or a blighted love would have filled her days with happiness.
What she craved was the conscious dignity of a broken heart--some
lofty memory that she might rest upon in her hours of weakness.
"Well, you might have had, my child," returned her mother.
Cynthia's only answer was to smooth gently the pillows in the old
lady's chair. "If you could learn to lean back, dearest, it would
rest you so," she said.
"I have never slouched in my life," replied Mrs. Blake
decisively, "and I do not care to fall into the habit in my
seventieth year. When my last hour comes, I hope at least to meet
my God in the attitude becoming a lady, and in my day it would
have been considered the height of impropriety to loll in a chair
or even to rock in the presence of gentlemen. Your Greataunt
Susannah, one of the most modest women of her time, has often
told me that once, having unfortunately crossed her knees in the
parlour after supper, she suffered untold tortures from "budges"
for three mortal hours rather than be seen to do anything so
indelicate as to uncross them. Well, well, ladies were ladies in
those days, and now Lila tells me it is quite customary for them
to sit like men. My blindness has spared me many painful sights,
I haven't a doubt."
"Things have changed, dear. I wish they hadn't. I liked the old
"I'm glad at least to hear you say so. Your Aunt Susannah--and
she was the one who danced a minuet with General Lafayette, you
know--used to say that patience and humility became a gentlewoman
better than satin and fine lace. She was a lady of fashion and a
great beauty, so I suppose her opinion counts for something--
especially as she was noted for being the proudest woman of her
day, and it was said that she never danced with a gentleman who
hadn't fought a duel on her account. When she went to a ball it
took six small darkies to carry her train, and her escort was
always obliged to ride on top of the coach to keep from rumpling
the flounces of her petticoat. They always said that I had
inherited something of her face and step."
"I'm sure she was never so beautiful as you, mother."
"Ah, well, every one to his taste, my child; and I have heard
that she wore a larger shoe. However, this is foolish chatter,
and a waste of time. Go and carry Dinah the medicine, and let me
see Christopher as soon as he comes in. By the way, Cynthia, have
you noticed whether he seeks the society of ladies? Do you think
it likely that his affections are engaged?"
"No, no, not at all. He doesn't care for girls; I'm sure of it."
"That seems very strange. Why, at his age, his father had been
the object of a dozen love affairs, and been jilted twice, report
went, though I had my suspicion from the first that it was the
other way. Certainly Miss Peggie Stuart (and he had once been
engaged to her) went into a decline immediately after our
marriage--but in affairs of the heart, as I have mentioned often
before, the only reliable witnesses are those who never tell what
they know. Now, as for Christopher, are you quite sure he is as
handsome as you say?" "Quite, quite, he's splendid--like the
picture of the young David in the Bible." "Then there's something
wrong. Does he cough?" "His health seems perfect." "Which proves
conclusively that he cherishes a secret feeling. For a man to go
twenty-six years without falling in love means that he's either a
saint or an imbecile, my dear; and for my part, I declare I don't
know which character sits worse upon a gentleman. Can it be one
of the Morrisons, do you think? The youngest girl used to be
considered something of a beauty by the family; though she was
always too namby-pamby for my taste."
"She's fifty by now, if she's a day, mother, and the only thing I
ever saw Christopher do for her was to drive a strange bull out
of her road." "Well, that sounds romantic; but I fear, as you
say, she's really too old for him. How time does fly." Cynthia
stooped and carefully arranged the old lady's feet upon the
ottoman. "There, now--I'll carry the medicine to Aunt Dinah," she
said, "and be back in plenty of time to dress for supper." She
found the quinine in an old medicine chest in the adjoining room,
and went with it to one of the crumbling cabins which had formed
part of the "quarters" in the prosperous days of slavery. Aunt
Dinah insisted upon detaining her for a chat, and it was half an
hour afterward that she came out again and walked slowly back
along the little falling path. The mild June breeze freshened her
hot cheeks, and as she passed thoughtfully between the coarse
sprays of yarrow blooming along the ragged edges of the fields
she felt her spirit freed from the day's burden of unrest. What
she wanted just then was to lie for an hour close upon the
ground, to renew the vital forces within her by contact with the
invigorating earth--to feel Nature at friendly touch with her
lips and hands. She would have liked to run like a wild thing
through the golden sunshine lying upon the yarrow, following the
shy cries of the partridges that scattered at her approach--but
there was work for her inside the house, so she went back
patiently to take it up. As she entered the little yard, she saw
Tucker basking in the sunshine on an old bench beside one of the
damask rose-bushes, and she crossed over and stood for a moment
in the tall grass before him. "You look so happy, Uncle Tucker.
How do you manage it?" "By keeping so, I reckon, my dear. I tell
you, this sun feels precious good on the back." She dropped
limply on the bench beside him. "Yes, it is pleasant, but I
hadn't thought of it." " Well, you'd think of it often enough if
you were in my place," pursued Tucker, always garrulous, and
grateful for a listener. "I didn't notice things much myself when
I was young. The only sights that seemed to count, somehow, were
those I saw inside my head, and if you'll believe me, I used to
be moody and out of sorts half the time, just like Christopher.
Times have changed now, you'll say, and it's true. Why, I've got
nothing to do these days but to take a look at things, and I tell
you I see a lot now where all was a blank before. You just glance
over that old field and tell me what you find," Cynthia followed
the sweep of his left arm. "There's first the road, and then a
piece of fallow land that ought to be ploughed," she said. "Bless
my soul, is that all you see? Why, there is every shade of green
on earth in that old field, and almost every one of blue, except
azure, which you'll find up in the sky. That little bit of white
cloud, no bigger than my hand, is shaped exactly like an eagle's
wing. I've watched it for an hour, and I never saw one like it.
As for that old pine on top the little knoll, if you look at it
long enough you'll see that it's a great big green cross raised
against the sky." "So it is, " said Cynthia, in surprise; "so it
"Then to come nearer, look at that spray of turtlehead growing by
that gray stone--the shadow it throws is as fine as thread lace,
and it waves in the breeze just like the flower."
" Oh, it is beautiful, and I never should have seen it."
"And best of all," resumed Tucker, as if avoiding an
interruption, "is that I've watched a nestful of young wrens take
flight from under the eaves. There's not a play of Shakespeare's
greater than that, I tell you." "And it makes you happy--just
this?" asked Cynthia wistfully, as the pathos of his maimed
figure drove to her heart. "Well, I reckon happiness is not so
much in what comes as in the way you take it," he returned,
smiling. "There was a time, you must remember, when I was the
straightest shot of my day, and something of a lady-killer as
well, if I do say it who shouldn't. I've done my part in a war
and I'm not ashamed of it. I've taken the enemy's cannon under a
fire hot enough to roast an ox, and I've sent more men to
eternity than I like to think of; but I tell you honestly there's
no battle-field under heaven worth an hour of this old bench. If
I had my choice to-day, I'd rather see the flitting of those
wrens than kill the biggest Yankee that ever lived. The time was
when I didn't think so, but I know now that there's as much life
out there in that old field as in the tightest-packed city street
I ever saw--purer life, praise God, and sweeter to the taste.
Why, look at this poplar leaf that blew across the road; I've
studied the pattern of it for half an hour, and I've found out
that such a wonder is worth going ten miles to see." "Oh, I can't
understand you," sighed Cynthia hopelessly. "I wish I could, but
I can't--I was born different--so different." "Bless your heart,
honey, I was born different myself, and if I'd kept my leg and my
arm I dare say I'd be strutting round on one and shaking the
other in the face of God Almighty just as I used to do. A
two-legged man is so busy getting about the world that he never
has time to sit down and take a look around him. I tell you I see
more in one hour as I am now than I saw in all the rest of my
life when I was sound and whole. Why, I could sit here all day
long and stare up at that blue sky, and then go to bed feeling
that my twelve hours were full and brimming over. If I'd never
seen anything in my life but that sky above the old pine, I
should say at the end 'Thank God for that one good look.'" "I
can't understand--I can't understand," repeated Cynthia, in a
broken voice, though her face shed a clear, white beam. "I only
know that we are all in awful straights, and that to-morrow is
the day when I must get up at five o'clock and travel all the way
to town to get my sewing." He laid his large pink hand on hers,
"Why not let Lila go for you?" "What! to wait like a servant for
the bundle and walk the streets all day--I'd go twenty times
first!" "My dear, you needn't envy me," he responded, patting her
knotted hand. "I took less courage with me when I stormed my
CHAPTER X. Sentimental and Otherwise
In the gray dawn Cynthia came softly downstairs and, passing her
mother's door on tiptoe, went out into the kitchen to begin
preparations for her early breakfast. She wore a severe black
alpaca dress, made from a cast-off one of her mother's, and below
her white linen collar she had pinned a cameo brooch bearing the
head of Minerva, which had once belonged to Aunt Susannah. On the
bed upstairs she had left her shawl and bonnet and a pair of
carefully mended black silk mitts, for her monthly visits to the
little country town were endured with something of the frozen
dignity which supported Marie Antoinette in the tumbrel. It was a
case where family pride was found more potent than Christian
resignation. When she opened the kitchen door, with her arms full
of resinous pine from the pile beside the steps, she found that
Tucker had risen before her and was fumbling awkwardly in the
safe with his single hand. "Why, Uncle Tucker!" she exclaimed in
surprise, "what on earth has happened?" Turning his cheerful face
upon her, he motioned to a little wooden tobacco box on the bare
table. "A nest full of swallows tumbled down my chimney log in
the night," he explained, "and they cried so loud I couldn't
sleep, so I thought I might as well get up and dig 'em a worm or
two. Do you happen to know where a bit of wool is?" Cynthia threw
her bundle of kindling-wood on the hearth and stood regarding him
with apathetic eyes. "You'd much better wring their necks," she
responded indifferently; "but there's a basketful of wool Aunt
Polly has just carded in the closet. How in the world did you
manage to dress yourself?" "Oh, it's wonderful what one hand can
do when it's put to it. Would you mind fastening my collar, by
the way, and any buttons that you happen to see loose?" She
glanced over him critically, pulling his clothes in place and
adjusting a button here and there. "I do hate to see you in this
old jean suit," she said; "you used to look so nice in your other
clothes." With a laugh he settled his empty sleeve. "Oh, they're
good for warm weather," he responded; "and they wash easily,
which is something. Think, too, what a waste it would be to dress
half a man in a whole suit of broadcloth." "Oh, don't, don't,"
she protested, on the point of tears, but he smiled and patted
her bowed shoulder. "I got over that long ago, honey," he said
gently. "I kicked powerful hard with my one foot at first, but
the dust I raised wasn't a speck in the face of God Almighty.
There, there, we'll have a fine sunrise, and I'm going out to
watch it from my old bench--unless you'll find something for a
single hand to do." She shook her head, smiling with misty eyes.
"You'll have breakfast with me, I suppose," she said. "I got up
early because I couldn't sleep, but it's not yet four o'clock."
For an instant he looked at her gravely. "Worrying about the
day?" "A little." "If I could only manage to hobble along with
you." "Oh, but you couldn't, dear--and the worst of it is having
to wait so long in town for the afternoon stage. I get my sewing,
and then I eat my lunch on the old church steps, and then there
are four mortal hours when I walk about aimlessly in the sun."
"And you wouldn't go to see anybody?" "With my bundle of work,
and in this alpaca? Not for worlds!" He sighed, not
reproachfully, but with the sympathy which projects itself into
states of feeling other than its own. "Well, I wish all the same
you'd let Lila go in with you. I think you make a mistake about
her, Cynthia; she wouldn't feel the strain of it half so much as
"But I'd feel it for her. No, no, it's better as it is; and she
does walk to the cross-roads with me, you know. Old Jacob
Weatherby brings her back in his wagon. Christopher can't get
off, but he'll come for me at sundown." "Are you sure it isn't
young Jim who fetches Lila?" She frowned. "If it were young Jim,
her going would be impossible--but the old man knows his place
and keeps it." "It's a better place than ours to-day, I reckon,"
returned Tucker, smiling. "To an observer across the road I dare
say the odds would seem considerably in his favour. I met him in
the turnpike last Sunday in a brand new broadcloth."
"Oh, I can't bear to hear you," returned Cynthia passionately.
"If we must go to the dogs, for heaven's sake, let's go
remembering that we are Blakes--or Corbins, if you like."
"Bless your heart, child, I'd just as lief remember I was a Blake
or even a Weatherby, for that matter. Why, Jacob Weatherby's
grandfather was an honest, self-respecting tiller of the soil
when mine used to fish his necktie out of the punch bowl every
Saturday night, people said."
She lifted her black skirt above her knees, and pinned it tightly
at her back with a large safety pin she had taken from her bosom.
Then kneeling on the hearth, she laid the knots of resinous pine
on a crumpled newspaper in the great stone fireplace.
"I don't mind your picking flaws in me," she said dryly, "but I
do wish you would let my great grandfather rest in his grave.
He's about all I've got."
"Well, I beg his pardon for speaking the truth about him,"
returned Tucker penitently; "and now my swallows are so noisy I
must stop their mouths."
He went out humming a tune, while Cynthia hung the boiler from
the crane and mixed the corn-meal dough in a wooden tray.
When breakfast was on the table Lila appeared with a reproachful
face, hurriedly knotting her kerchief as she entered.
"Oh, Cynthia, you promised to let me get breakfast," she said.
"Mother was very restless all night--she dreamed that she was
being married over again--so I slept too late."
"It didn't matter, dear; I was awake, and I didn't mind getting
up. Are you ready to go?"
"All except my hat." Yawning slightly, she raised her hands and
pushed up her clustering hair that was but a shade darker than
Christopher's. Trivial as the likeness was, it began and ended
with her heavy curls, for her hazel eyes held a peculiar liquid
beam, and her face, heart-shaped in outline, had none of the
heaviness of jaw which marred the symmetry of his. A little brown
mole beside the dimple in her cheek gave the finishing touch of
coquetry to the old-world quaintness of her appearance.
As she passed the window on her way to the table she threw a
drowsy glance out into the yard.
"Why, there's Uncle Tucker sitting on the ground," she said; "he
must be crazy."
Cynthia was pouring the hastily made coffee from the steaming
boiler, and she did not look up as she answered.
"You'd better go out and help him up. He's digging worms for some
swallows that fell down his chimney."
"Well, of all the ideas!" exclaimed Lila, laughing, but she went
out with cheerful sweetness and assisted him to his crutches.
A half-hour later, when the meal was over and Christopher had
gone out to the stable, the two women tied on their bonnets and
went softly through the hall. As they passed Mrs. Blake's door
she awoke and called out sharply. "Cynthia, is that you? What are
you doing up so early?" Cynthia paused at strained attention on
the threshold. "I'm going to the Morrisons', mother, to spend the
day. You know I told you Miss Martha had promised to teach me
that new fancy stitch." "But, my dear, surely it is bad manners
to arrive before eleven o'clock. I remember once when I was a
girl that we went over to Meadow Hall before ten in the morning,
and found old Mrs. Dudley just putting on her company cap." "But
they begged me to come to breakfast, dear." "Well, customs
change, of course; but be sure to take Mrs. Morrison a jar of the
green tomato catchup. You know she always fancied it." "Yes, yes;
good-by till evening." She moved on hurriedly, her clumsy shoes
creaking on the bare planks, and a moment afterward as the door
closed behind them they passed out into the first sunbeams.
Beyond the whitewashed fence the old field was silvered by the
heavy dew, and above it the great pine towered like a burnished
cross upon the western sky. To the eastward a solitary thrush was
singing--a golden voice straight from out the sunrise. "This is
worth getting up for!" said Lila, with a long, joyful breath; and
she broke into a tender carolling as spontaneous as the bird's.
The bloom of the summer was in her face, and as she moved with
her buoyant step along the red clay road she was like a rare
flower blown lightly by the wind. To Cynthia's narrowed eyes she
seemed, indeed, a heroine descended from old romance--a maiden to
whom, even in these degenerate modern days, there must at last
arrive a noble destiny. That Lila at the end of her twenty-six
years should have wearied of her long waiting and grown content
to compromise with fate would have appeared to her impossible--as
impossible as the transformation of young Jim Weatherby into the
"Hush!" she said suddenly, shifting her bundle of sewing from one
arm to the other; "there's a wagon turning from the branch road."
They had reached the first bend beyond the gate, and as they
rounded the long curve, hidden by honey-locusts, a light spring
wagon came rapidly toward them, with Jim Weatherby, in his Sunday
clothes, on the driver's seat. "Father's rheumatism is so bad he
couldn't get out to-day," he explained, as he brought the horses
to a stand; "so as long as I had to take the butter over, I
thought I might save you the five miles." He spoke to Cynthia,
and she drew back stiffly. "It is a pleasant day for a walk," she
returned dryly. "But it's going to be hot," he urged; "I can tell
by the way the sun licks up the dew." A feathery branch of the
honey-locust was in his face, and he pushed it impatiently aside
as he looked at Lila. "I waited late just to take you," he added
wistfully, jumping from his seat and going to the horses' heads.
"Won't you get in?" "You will be so tired, Cynthia," Lila
persuaded. "Think of the walking you have to do in town." As Jim
Weatherby glanced up brightly from the strap he was fastening,
the smile in his blue eyes was like a song of love; and when the
girl met it she heard again the solitary thrush singing in the
sunrise. "You will come?" he pleaded, and this time he looked
straight at her.
"Well, I reckon I will, if you're going anyway," said Cynthia at
last; "and if I drive with you there'll be no use for Lila to go
she can stay with mother."
"But mother doesn't need me," said Lila, in answer to Jim's
wistful eyes; "and it's such a lovely day--after getting up so
early I don't want to stay indoors."
Without a word Jim held out his band to Cynthia, and she climbed,
with unbending dignity, to the driver's seat. "You know you've
got that dress to turn, Lila," she said, as she settled her stiff
skirt primly over her knees.
"I can do it when I get home," answered Lila, laying her hand on
the young man's arm and stepping upon the wheel. "Where shall I
Cynthia turned and looked at her coldly.
"You'd be more comfortable in that chair at the back," she
suggested, and Lila sat down obediently in the little
splitbottomed chair between a brown stone jar of butter and a
basket filled with new-laid eggs. The girl folded her white hands
in the lap of her faded muslin and listened patiently to the
pleasant condescension in Cynthia's voice as she discussed the
belated planting of the crops. As the spring wagon rolled in the
shade of the honey-locusts between the great tobacco fields,
striped with vivid green, the June day filled the younger
sister's eyes with a radiance that seemed but a reflection of its
own perfect beauty. Not once did her lover turn from Cynthia to
herself, but she was conscious, sitting quietly beside the great
brown jar, that for him she filled the morning with her
presence--that he saw her in the blue sky, in the sunny fields,
and in the long red road with the delicate shadowing of the
locusts. In her cramped life there had been so little room in
which her dreams might wander that gradually the romantic
devotion of her old playmate had grown to represent the measure
of her emotional ideal. In spite of her poetic face she was in
thought soundly practical, and though the plain Cynthia might
send a fanciful imagination in pursuit of the impossible, to Lila
the only destiny worth cherishing at heart was the one that drew
its roots deep from the homely soil about her. The stern class
distinctions which had always steeled Cynthia against the
friendly advances of her neighbours troubled the younger sister
not at all. She remembered none of the past grandeur, the old
Blake power of rule, and the stories of gallant indiscretions and
powdered beaux seemed to her as worthless as the moth-eaten satin
rags which filled the garret. She loved the familiar country
children, the making of fresh butter, and honest admiration of
her beauty; and except for the colourless poverty in which they
lived, she might easily have found her placid happiness on the
little farm. With ambition--the bitter, agonised ambition that
Cynthia felt for her--she was as unconcerned as was her blithe
young lover chatting so merrily in the driver's seat. The very
dullness of her imagination had saved her from the awakening that
follows wasted hopes.
"The tobacco looks well," Cynthia was saying in her formal tones;
"all it needs now is a rain to start it growing. You've got yours
all in by now, I suppose."
"Oh, yes; mine was put in before Christopher's," responded Jim,
feeling instantly that the woman beside him flinched at his
unconscious use of her brother's name.
"He is always late," she remarked with forced politeness, and the
conversation dragged until they reached the cross-roads and she
climbed into the stage.
"Be sure to hurry back," were her last words as she rumbled off;
and when, in looking over her shoulder at the first curve, she
saw Lila lift her beaming eyes to Jim Weatherby's face, the
protest of all the dust in the old graveyard was in the groan
that hovered on her lips. She herself would have crucified her
happiness with her own loyal hands rather than have dishonoured
by so much as an unspoken hope the high excellences inscribed
upon the tombstones of those mouldered dead.
In her shabby black dress, with her heavy bundle under her arm,
she passed, a lonely, pathetic figure, through the streets of the
little town. The strange smells fretted her, the hot bricks tired
her feet, and the jarring noises confused her hazy ideas of
direction. On the steps of the old church, where she ate her
lunch, she found a garrulous blind beggar with whom she divided
her slender meal of bacon and cornbread. After a moment's
hesitation, she bought a couple of bananas for a few cents from a
fruit-stand at the corner, and coming back, gave the larger one
to the beggar who sat complaining in the sun. Then, withdrawing
to a conventional distance in the shadow of the steeple, she
waited patiently for the slow hours to wear away. Not until the
long shadow pointed straight from west to east did the ancient
vehicle rattle down the street and the driver pull up for her at
the old church steps. Then it was that with her first sigh of
relief she awoke to the realisation that through all the trying
day her heaviest burden was the memory of Lila's morning look
into the face of the man whose father had been a common labourer
at Blake Hall.
Three hours later, when, pale and exhausted, with an aching head,
she found the stage halting beneath the blasted pine, her
pleasantest impression was of Christopher standing in the yellow
afterglow beside the old spring wagon. The driver spoke to him,
and then, as the horses stopped, turned to toss the
weather-beaten mail-bag to the porch of the country store, where
a group of men were lounging. Among them Cynthia saw the figure
of a girl in a riding habit, who, as the stage halted, gathered
up her long black skirt and ran hastily to the roadside to speak
to some one who remained still seated in the vehicle.
That Christopher's eyes followed the graceful figure in its
finely fitting habit Cynthia noticed with a sudden jealous pang,
detecting angrily the warmth of the admiration in his gaze. The
girl had met his look, she knew, for when she lifted her face to
her companion it was bright with a winter's glow, though the day
was warm. She spoke almost breathlessly, too, as if she had been
running, and Cynthia overhearing her first low words, held her
prim skirt aside, and descended awkwardly over the wheel. She
stumbled in reaching the ground, and the girl with a kindly
movement turned to help her. "I hope you aren't hurt," she said
in crisp, clearcut tones; but the elder woman, recovering herself
with an effort, passed on after an ungracious bow. When she
reached Christopher he was still standing motionless beside the
wagon, and at her first words he started like one awaking from a
pleasant daydream. "So you came, after all," he remarked in an
absent-minded manner. "Of course I came." She was conscious that
she almost snapped the reply. "Did you expect me to spend the
night in town?" "In town? Hardly." He laughed gaily as he helped
her into the wagon; then, with the reins in his hands, he turned
for a last glance at the stage. "Why, what did you think I was
waiting for?" "What you are waiting for now is more to the
purpose," she retorted, pressing her fingers upon her aching
temples. "The afterglow is fading; come, get in."
Without a word he seated himself beside her, and as he touched
the horses lightly with the whip the wagon rolled between the
green tobacco fields. "How delicious the wild grape is!"
exclaimed Cynthia, drawing her breath, "I hope the horses aren't
tired. Have they been at the plough?" "Not since dinner time." It
was clear that his mind was still abstracted, and he kept his
face turned toward the pale red line that lingered on the western
horizon. "This is a queer kind of life," he said presently, still
looking away from her. "We are so poor and so shut in that we
have no idea what people of the world are really like. That girl
out there at the cross-roads, now, she was different from any one
I'd ever seen. Did you hear where she came from?" "I didn't ask,"
Cynthia replied, compressing her lips. "I didn't like the way she
stared." "Stared? At you?" "No, at you. I'm glad you didn't
notice it. It was bold, to say the least." Throwing back his
head, he laughed with boyish merriment; and she saw, as he turned
his face toward her, that his heavy hair had fallen low across
his forehead, giving him a youthful look that became him
strangely. At the instant she softened in her judgment of the
unknown woman at the cross-roads. "Why, she thought I was some
queer beast of burden, I reckon," he returned, "some new farm
animal that made her a little curious. Well, whoever she may be,
she walked as if she felt herself a princess." Cynthia snorted.
"Her habit fitted her like a glove," was her comment, to which
she added after a pause: "As things go, it's just as well you
didn't hear what she said, I reckon." "About me, do you mean?"
"She came down to meet another girl," pursued Cynthia coolly. "I
was getting out, so I don't suppose they noticed me--a shabby old
creature with a bundle. At any rate, when she kissed the other,
she whispered something I didn't hear, and then, 'I've seen that
man before--look!' That was when I stumbled, and that made me
catch the next 'Where?' her friend asked her quickly, and she
answered...." There was a pause, in which the warm dusk was
saturated with the fragrance of the grape blossoms on the fence.
"She answered?" repeated Christopher slowly. Cynthia looked up
and down the road, and then gave the words as if they were a
groan: "In my dreams."
BOOK II . THE TEMPTATION
CHAPTER I. The Romance that Might have Been
With July there came a long rain, and in the burst of sunshine
which followed it the young tobacco shot up fine and straight and
tall, clothing the landscape in a rich, tropical green.
>From morning till night the men worked now in the great fields,
removing the numerous "suckers" from the growing plants, and
pinching off the slender tops to prevent the first beginnings of
a flower, except where, at long spaces, a huge pink cluster would
be allowed to blossom and come to seed.
Christopher, toiling all day alone in his own field, felt the
clear summer dawn break over him, the golden noon gather to full
heat, and the coming night envelop him like a purple mist.
Living, as he did, so close to the earth, himself akin to the
strong forces of the soil, he had grown gradually from his
childhood into a rare physical expression of the large freedom of
It was an unusually hot day in mid-August--the time of the
harvest moon and of the dreaded tobacco fly--that he came home at
the dinner hour to find Cynthia standing, spent and pale, beside
"The sun is awful, Christopher; I don't see how you bear it but
it makes your hair the colour of ripe wheat."
"Oh, I don't mind the sun," he answered, laughing as he wiped the
sweat from his face and stooped for a drink from the tilted
bucket. "I'm too much taken up just now with fighting those
confounded tobacco flies. They were as thick as thieves last
"Uncle Boaz is going to send the little darkies out to hunt them
at sundown," returned Cynthia. "I've promised them an apple for
every one they catch."
Her gaze wandered over the broad fields, rich in promise, and she
added after a moment, "Fletcher's crop has come on splendidly."
"The more's the pity."
For a long breath she looked at him in silence; at the massive
figure, the face burned to the colour of terra-cotta, the thick,
wheaten-brown hair then, with an impulsive gesture, she spoke in
her wonderful voice, which held so many possibilities of passion:
"I didn't tell you, Christopher, that I'd found out the name of
the girl at the cross-roads. She went away the day afterward and
just got back yesterday."
Something in her tone made the young man look up quickly, his
face paling beneath the sunburn.
All the boyish cheerfulness he had worn of late faded suddenly
from his look.
"Who is she?" he asked.
"Jim Weatherby knew. He had seen her several times on horseback,
and he says she's Maria Fletcher, that ugly little girl, grown
up. She hates the life here, he says, and they think she is going
to marry before the winter. Fletcher was talking down at the
store about a rich man who is in love with her."
Christopher stooped to finish his drink, and then rose slowly to
his full height.
"Well, one Fletcher the less will be a good riddance," he said
harshly, as he went into the house.
In the full white noon he returned to the field, working steadily
on his crop until the sunset. Back and forth among the tall green
plants, waist deep in their rank luxuriance, he passed with
careful steps and attentive eyes, avoiding the huge "sand leaves"
spreading upon the ground and already yellowing in the August
weather. As he searched for the hidden "suckers" along the great
juicy stalks, he removed his hat lest it should bruise the tender
tops, and the golden sunshine shone full on his bared head.
Around him the landscape swept like an emerald sea, over which
the small shadows rippled in passing waves, beginning at the rail
fence skirting the red clay road and breaking at last upon the
darker green of the far-off pines. Here and there a tall pink
blossom rose like a fantastic sail from the deep and rocked
slowly to and fro in the summer wind. When at last the sun
dropped behind the distant wood and a red flame licked at the
western clouds, he still lingered on, dreaming idly, while his
hands followed their accustomed task. Big green moths hovered
presently around him, seeking the deep rosy tubes of the
clustered flowers, and alighting finally to leave their
danger-breeding eggs under the drooping leaves. The sound of
laughter floated suddenly from the small Negro children, who were
pursuing the tobacco flies between the furrows. He had ceased
from his work, and come out into the little path that trailed
along the edge of the field, when he saw a woman's figure, in a
gown coloured like April flowers, pass from the new road over the
loosened fence-rails. For a breathless instant he wavered in the
path; then turning squarely, he met her questioning look with
indifferent eyes. The new romance had shriveled at the first
touch of the old hatred. Maria, holding her skirt above her
ruffled petticoat, stood midway of the little trail, a single
tobacco blossom waving over her leghorn hat. She was no longer
the pale girl who had received Carraway with so composed a
bearing, for her face and her gown were now coloured delicately
with an April bloom. "I followed the new road," she explained,
smiling, "and all at once it ended at the fence. Where can I take
it up again?" He regarded her gravely. "The only way you can take
it up again is to go back to it," he answered. "It doesn't cross
my land, you know, and--I beg your pardon--but I don't care to
have you do so. Besides staining your dress, you will very likely
bruise my tobacco." He had never in his life stood close to a
woman who wore perfumed garments, and he felt, all at once, that
her fragrance was going to his brain. Delicate as it was, he
found it heady, like strong drink. "But I could walk very close
the fence," said the girl, surprised. "Aren't you afraid of the
poisonous oak?" "Desperately. I caught it once as a child. It
hurt so." He shook his head impatiently. "Apart from that, there
is no reason why you should come on my land. All the prettiest
walks are on the other side--and over here the hounds are taught
to warn off trespassers." "Am I a trespasser?" "You are worse,"
he replied boorishly; "you're a Fletcher." "Well, you're a
savage," she retorted, angered in her turn. "Is it simply because
I happen to be a Fletcher that you become a bear?" "Because you
happen to be a Fletcher," he repeated, and then looked calmly and
coolly at her dainty elegance.
"And if I were anybody else, I suppose, you would let me walk
along that fence, and even be polite enough to keep the dogs from
eating me up?" "If you were anybody else and didn't injure my
"But as it is I must keep away?"
"All I ask of you is to stay on the other side." "And if I
don't?" she questioned, her spirit flaring up to match with his,
"and if I don't?" All the natural womanhood within her responded
to the appeal of his superb manhood; all the fastidious
refinement with which she was overlaid was alive to the rustic
details which marred the finished whole--to the streak of earth
across his forehead, to the coarseness of his ill-fitting
clothes, to the tobacco juice staining his finger nails bright
green. On his side, the lady of his dreams had shrunken to a
witch; and he shook his head again in an effort to dispel the
sweetness that so strangely moved him. "In that case you will
meet the hounds one day and get your dress badly torn, I fear."
"And bitten, probably." "Probably." "Well, I don't think it would
be worth it," said the girl, in a quiver of indignation. "If I
can help it, I shall never set my foot on your land again." "The
wisest thing you can do is to keep off," he retorted. Turning,
with an angry movement, she walked rapidly to the fence, heedless
of the poisonous oak along the way; and Christopher, passing her
with a single step, lowered the topmost rails that she might
cross over the more easily. "Thank you," she said stiffly, as she
reached the other side. "It was a pleasure," he responded, in the
tone his father might have used when in full Grecian dress at the
fancy ball. "You mean it is a pleasure to assist in getting rid
"What I mean doesn't matter," he answered irritably, and added,
wish to God you were anybody else!" At this she turned and faced
him squarely as he held the rails. "But how can I help being
myself?" she demanded. "You can't, and there's an end of it." "Of
what?" "Oh, of everything--and most of all of the evening at the
cross-roads." "You saw me then?" she asked. "You know I did," he
answered, retreating into his rude simplicity. "And you liked me
"Then," he laughed, "why, I was fool enough to dream of you for a
month afterward." "How dare you!" she cried. "Well, I shan't do
it again," he assured her insolently. "You can't possibly dislike
me any more than I do you," she remarked, drawing back step by
step. "You're a savage, and a mean one at that--but all the same,
I should like to know why you began to hate me." He laid the
topmost rail along the fence and turned away. "Ask your
grandfather!" he called back, as he passed into the tobacco
field, with her fragrance still in his nostrils.
Maria, on the other side, walked slowly homeward along the new
road that had ended so abruptly. Her lip trembled, and, letting
her skirt drag in the dust, she put up her hand to suppress the
first hint of emotion. It angered her that he had had the power
to provoke her so, and for the moment the encounter seemed to
have bereft her of her last shreds of womanly reserve. It was as
if a strong wind had blown over her, laying her bosom bare, and
she flushed at the knowledge that he had heard the fluttering of
her breath and seen the indignant tears gather to her eyes--he a
boorish stranger who hated her because of her name. For the first
time in her life she had run straight against an impregnable
prejudice--had felt her feminine charm ineffectual against a
stern masculine resistance. She was at the age when the
artificial often outweighs the real--when the superficial manner
with a woman is apt to be misunderstood, and so to her
Christopher Blake now appeared stripped even of his physical
comeliness; the interview had left her with an impression of mere
vulgar incivility. As she entered the house she met Fletcher
passing through the hall with the mail-bag in his hand, and a
little later, while she sat in a big chair by her chamber window,
Miss Saidie came in and laid a letter in her lap. "It's from Mr.
Wyndham, I think, Maria. Shall I light a candle?" "Not yet; it is
so warm I like the twilight." "But won't you read the letter?"
"Oh, presently. There's time enough." Miss Saidie came to the
window and leaned out to sniff the climbing roses, her shapeless
figure outlined against the purple dusk spangled with fireflies.
Her presence irritated the girl, who stirred restlessly in her
chair. "Is he coming, Maria, do you think?"
"If I let him--yes." "And he wants to marry you?" The girl
laughed bitterly. "He hasn't seen me in my home yet," she
answered, "and our vulgarity may be too much for him. He's very
particular, you know." The woman at the window flinched as if she
had been struck. "But if he loves you, Maria?" "Oh, he loves me
for what isn't me," she answered, "for my 'culture,' as he calls
it--for the gloss that has been put over me in the last ten
years." "Still if you care for him, dear--" "I don't know--I
don't know," said Maria, speaking in the effort to straighten her
disordered thoughts rather than for the enlightenment of Miss
Saidie. "I was sure I loved him before I came home--but this
place upsets me so--I hate it. It makes me feel raw, crude,
unlike myself. When I come back here I seem to lose all that I
have learned, and to grow vulgar, like Jinnie Spade, at the
store." "Not like her, Maria." "Well, I ought to know better, of
course, but I don't believe I do--not when I'm here." "Then why
not go away? Don't think of us; we can get along as we used to
do." "I don't think of you," said the girl. "I don't think of
anybody in the world except myself--and that's the awful
part--that's the part I hate. I'm selfish to the core, and I know
"But you do love Jack Wyndham?" "Oh, I love him to distraction!
Light the candle, Aunt Saidie, and let me read his letter. I can
tell you, word for word, what is in it before I break the seal.
Six months ago I went into a flutter at the sight of his
handwriting. Six months before that I was madly in love with Dick
Bright--and six months from to-day--Oh, well, I suppose I really
haven't much heart to know--and if I ever care for anybody it
must be for Jack--that's positive."
Standing beside the lighted candle on the bureau, she read the
letter twice over, and then turning away, wrote her answer
kneeling beside the big chair at the window.
CHAPTER II. The Romance that Was
Waking in the night she said again, "I love him to distraction,"
and slipping under the dimity curtains of the bed, sought his
letter where she had left it on the bureau. The full light of the
harvest moon was in the room--a light so soft that it lay like a
yellow fluid upon the floor. It seemed almost as if one might
stoop and fill the open palms.
She found the letter thrown carelessly upon the pincushion, and
holding it to her lips, paused a moment beside the window,
looking beyond the shaven lawn and the clustered oaks to where
the tobacco fields lay golden beneath the moon. It was such a
night as seemed granted by some kindly deity for the fulfillment
of lovers' vows, and the girl, standing beside the open window,
grew suddenly sad, as one who sees a vision with the knowledge
that it is not life. When presently she went back to bed it was
to lie sleepless until dawn, with the love letter held tightly in
The next day a restlessness like that of fever worked in her
blood, and she ran from turret to basement of the roomy old
house, calling Will to come and help her find amusement.
"Play ball with me, Will," she said; "I feel as if I were a child
to-day." " Oh, it's no fun playing with a girl," replied the boy;
"besides, I am going fishing in the river with Zebbadee Blake; I
shan't be back till supper," and shouldering his fishing-rod he
flung off with his can of worms. Miss Saidie was skimming big
pans of milk in the spring-house, and Maria watched her idly for
a time, growing suddenly impatient of the leisurely way in which
the spoon travelled under the yellow cream. "I don't see how you
can be so fond of it," she said at last. "Lord, child, I never
could abide dairy work," responded Miss Saidie, setting the
skimmed pan aside and carefully lifting another from the flat
stones over which a stream óf water trickled. "And yet you've
done nothing else all your long life," wondered Maria. "When it
comes to doing a thing in this world," returned the little woman,
removing a speck of dust from the cream with the point of the
spoon, "I don't ask myself whether I like it or not, but what's
the best way to get it done. I've spent sixty years doing things
I wasn't fond of, and I don't reckon I'm any the less happy for
having done 'em well." "But I should be," asserted Maria, and
then, with her white parasol over her bared head, she started for
a restless stroll along the old road under the great chestnuts.
She had reached the abandoned ice-pond, and was picking her way
carefully in the shadow of the trees, when the baying of a pack
of hounds in full cry broke on her ears, and with the nervous
tremor she had associated from childhood with the sound, she
stopped short in the road and waited anxiously for the hunt to
pass. Even as she hesitated, feeling in imagination all the blind
terror of the pursuit, and determined to swing into a chestnut
bough in case of an approach, a small animal darted suddenly from
around the bend in the sunken road, and an instant afterward the
hounds in hot chase broke from the cover. For a single breath the
girl, dropping her parasol, looked at the lowered branch; then as
the small animal neared her her glance fell, and she saw that it
was a little yellow dog, with hanging red tongue and eyes bulging
in terror. From side to side of the red clay road the creature
doubled for a moment in its anguish, and then with a spring,
straight as the flight of a homing bird, fled to the shelter of
Maria's skirts. Quick as a heart-beat the girl's personal fears
had vanished, and as an almost savage instinct of battle awoke in
her, she stooped with a protecting movement and, picking the
small dog from the ground, held him high above her head as the
hounds came on. A moment before her limbs had shaken at the
distant cries; now facing the immediate presence of the danger,
she felt the rage of her pity flow like an infusion of strong
blood through her veins. Until they dashed her to the ground she
knew that she would stand holding the hunted creature above her
head. Like a wave the pack broke instantly upon her, forcing her
back against the body of the chestnut, and tearing her dress, at
the first blow, from her bosom to the ground. She had felt their
weight upon her breast, their hot breath full in her face, when,
in the midst of the confused noises in her ears, she heard a loud
oath that rang out like a shot, followed by the strokes of a
rawhide whip on living flesh. So close came the lash that the
curling end smote her cheek and left a thin flame from ear to
mouth. The lessening sounds became all at once like the silence;
and when the hounds, beaten back, slunk, whimpering, to heel, she
lowered her eyes until she looked straight into the face of
Christopher Blake. "My God! You have pluck!" he said, and his
face was like that of a dead man. Still holding the dog above her
head, she lay motionless against the body of the tree. "Drive the
beasts away," she pleaded like a frightened child. Without a word
he turned and ordered the hounds home, and they crawled
obediently back along the sunken road. Then he looked at her
again. "I saw them start the dog on my land," he said, "and I ran
across the field as soon as I could find my whip. If I hadn't
come up when I did they would have torn you to pieces. Not
another man in the world could have brought them in. Look at your
dress." Glancing down, she followed the long slit from bosom to
hem. "I hate them!" she exclaimed fiercely. "So it was your dog
they started?" "Mine!" She lowered the yellow cur, holding him
close in her arms, where he nestled shivering. "I never saw him
before, but he's mine now; I saved him. I shall name him Agag,
because the bitterness of death is past." "Well, rather--Look
here," he burst out impulsively, "you've got the staunchest pluck
I ever saw. I never knew a man brave enough to stand up against
those hounds--and you--why, I don't believe you flinched an
eyelash, and--by George the dog wasn't yours after all." " As if
that made a difference!" she flashed out. "Why, he ran to me for
help--and they might have killed me, but I'd never have given him
"I believe you," he declared. She was conscious of a slight
thrill that passed quickly, leaving her white and weak. "I feel
tired," she said, pressing hard against the tree. "Will you be so
good as to pick up my parasol?" "Tired!" he exclaimed, and after
a moment, "Your face is hurt--did the dogs do it?" She shook her
head. "You struck me with your whip." "Is that so? I can't say
after this that I never lifted my hand against a woman--but harsh
measures are sometimes necessary, I reckon. Does it smart?" She
touched the place lightly. "Oh, it's no matter!" she returned. "I
suppose I ought really to thank you for taking the trouble to
save my life but I don't, because, after all, the hounds are
yours, you know." "Yes, I know; and they're good hounds, too, in
their way. The dog had no business on their land." "And they're
taught to warn off trespassers? Well, I hardly fancy their manner
of conveying the hint." "It is sometimes useful, all the while."
"Ah, in case of a Fletcher, I presume."
"In case of a Fletcher," he repeated, his face darkening. "do you
know I had entirely forgotten who you were?"
"It's time you were remembering it," she returned, "for I am most
decidedly a Fletcher."
For an instant he scowled upon her.
"Then you are most decidedly a devil," was his retort, as he
stooped to pick up her parasol from the road. "There's not much
left of it," he remarked, handing it to her.
"As things go, I dare say I ought to be grateful that they spared
the spokes," she said impatiently. "It does seem disagreeable
that I can't go for a short stroll along my own road without the
risk of having my clothes torn from my back. You really must keep
your horrid beasts from becoming a public danger."
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