The House Behind The Cedars
Charles W. Chesnutt
Part 2 out of 5
"if you'll come home to luncheon with us."
"I'm mighty sorry--awfully sorry," returned
Tryon, with evident regret, "but I have another
engagement, which I can scarcely break, even by
the command of royalty. At what time shall I
call for Miss Warwick this evening? I believe that
privilege is mine, along with the other honors and
rewards of victory,--unless she is bound to some
"She is entirely free," replied Warwick. "Come
as early as you like, and I'll talk to you until she's
Tryon bowed himself away, and after a number
of gentlemen and a few ladies had paid their
respects to the Queen of Love and Beauty, and
received an introduction to her, Warwick signaled
to the servant who had his carriage in charge, and
was soon driving homeward with his sister. No one
of the party noticed a young negro, with a
handkerchief bound around his head, who followed them
until the carriage turned into the gate and swept
up the wide drive that led to Warwick's doorstep.
"Well, Rena," said Warwick, when they found
themselves alone, "you have arrived. Your debut
into society is a little more spectacular than I should
have wished, but we must rise to the occasion
and make the most of it. You are winning the
first fruits of your opportunity. You are the most
envied woman in Clarence at this particular moment,
and, unless I am mistaken, will be the most
admired at the ball to-night."
THE QUEEN OF LOVE AND BEAUTY
Shortly after luncheon, Rena had a visitor in
the person of Mrs. Newberry, a vivacious young
widow of the town, who proffered her services to
instruct Rena in the etiquette of the annual ball.
"Now, my dear," said Mrs. Newberry, "the
first thing to do is to get your coronation robe
ready. It simply means a gown with a long train.
You have a lovely white waist. Get right into my
buggy, and we'll go down town to get the cloth,
take it over to Mrs. Marshall's, and have her run
you up a skirt this afternoon."
Rena placed herself unreservedly in the hands
of Mrs. Newberry, who introduced her to the best
dressmaker of the town, a woman of much experience
in such affairs, who improvised during the
afternoon a gown suited to the occasion. Mrs.
Marshall had made more than a dozen ball dresses
during the preceding month; being a wise woman
and understanding her business thoroughly, she
had made each one of them so that with a few
additional touches it might serve for the Queen of
Love and Beauty. This was her first direct order
for the specific garment.
Tryon escorted Rena to the ball, which was
held in the principal public hall of the town, and
attended by all the best people. The champion
still wore the costume of the morning, in place
of evening dress, save that long stockings and
dancing-pumps had taken the place of riding-boots.
Rena went through the ordeal very creditably.
Her shyness was palpable, but it was saved from
awkwardness by her native grace and good sense.
She made up in modesty what she lacked in
aplomb. Her months in school had not eradicated
a certain self-consciousness born of her secret.
The brain-cells never lose the impressions of youth,
and Rena's Patesville life was not far enough
removed to have lost its distinctness of outline.
Of the two, the present was more of a dream,
the past was the more vivid reality. At school she
had learned something from books and not a little
from observation. She had been able to compare
herself with other girls, and to see wherein she
excelled or fell short of them. With a sincere desire
for improvement, and a wish to please her brother
and do him credit, she had sought to make the
most of her opportunities. Building upon a
foundation of innate taste and intelligence, she had
acquired much of the self-possession which comes
from a knowledge of correct standards of deportment.
She had moreover learned without difficulty,
for it suited her disposition, to keep silence
when she could not speak to advantage. A certain
necessary reticence about the past added strength
to a natural reserve. Thus equipped, she held her
own very well in the somewhat trying ordeal of
the ball, at which the fiction of queenship and the
attendant ceremonies, which were pretty and graceful,
made her the most conspicuous figure. Few
of those who watched her move with easy grace
through the measures of the dance could have
guessed how nearly her heart was in her mouth
during much of the time.
"You're doing splendidly, my dear," said Mrs.
Newberry, who had constituted herself Rena's
"I trust your Gracious Majesty is pleased with
the homage of your devoted subjects," said Tryon,
who spent much of his time by her side and kept
up the character of knight in his speech and
"Very much," replied the Queen of Love and
Beauty, with a somewhat tired smile. It was
pleasant, but she would be glad, she thought, when
it was all over.
"Keep up your courage," whispered her brother.
"You are not only queen, but the belle of the
ball. I am proud of you. A dozen women here
would give a year off the latter end of life to be
in your shoes to-night."
Rena felt immensely relieved when the hour
arrived at which she could take her departure, which
was to be the signal for the breaking-up of the
ball. She was driven home in Tryon's carriage,
her brother accompanying them. The night was
warm, and the drive homeward under the starlight,
in the open carriage, had a soothing effect upon
Rena's excited nerves. The calm restfulness of
the night, the cool blue depths of the unclouded
sky, the solemn croaking of the frogs in a distant
swamp, were much more in harmony with her
nature than the crowded brilliancy of the ball-room.
She closed her eyes, and, leaning back in the carriage,
thought of her mother, who she wished might
have seen her daughter this night. A momentary
pang of homesickness pierced her tender heart,
and she furtively wiped away the tears that came
into her eyes.
"Good-night, fair Queen!" exclaimed Tryon,
breaking into her reverie as the carriage rolled up
to the doorstep, "and let your loyal subject kiss
your hand in token of his fealty. May your
Majesty never abdicate her throne, and may she
ever count me her humble servant and devoted
"And now, sister," said Warwick, when Tryon
had been driven away, "now that the masquerade
is over, let us to sleep, and to-morrow take up the
serious business of life. Your day has been a
He put his arm around her and gave her a kiss
and a brotherly hug.
"It is a dream," she murmured sleepily, "only
a dream. I am Cinderella before the clock has
struck. Good-night, dear John."
'MID NEW SURROUNDINGS
Warwick's residence was situated in the
outskirts of the town. It was a fine old plantation
house, built in colonial times, with a stately colonnade,
wide verandas, and long windows with Venetian
blinds. It was painted white, and stood
back several rods from the street, in a charming
setting of palmettoes, magnolias, and flowering
shrubs. Rena had always thought her mother's
house large, but now it seemed cramped and narrow,
in comparison with this roomy mansion. The
furniture was old-fashioned and massive. The
great brass andirons on the wide hearth stood like
sentinels proclaiming and guarding the dignity of
the family. The spreading antlers on the wall
testified to a mighty hunter in some past generation.
The portraits of Warwick's wife's ancestors--
high featured, proud men and women, dressed in
the fashions of a bygone age--looked down from
tarnished gilt frames. It was all very novel to
her, and very impressive. When she ate off
china, with silver knives and forks that had come
down as heirlooms, escaping somehow the ravages
and exigencies of the war time,--Warwick told
her afterwards how he had buried them out of
reach of friend or foe,--she thought that her
brother must be wealthy, and she felt very proud
of him and of her opportunity. The servants, of
whom there were several in the house, treated her
with a deference to which her eight months in
school had only partly accustomed her. At school
she had been one of many to be served, and had
herself been held to obedience. Here, for the first
time in her life, she was mistress, and tasted the
sweets of power.
The household consisted of her brother and
herself, a cook, a coachman, a nurse, and her
brother's little son Albert. The child, with a fine
instinct, had put out his puny arms to Rena at first
sight, and she had clasped the little man to her
bosom with a motherly caress. She had always
loved weak creatures. Kittens and puppies had
ever found a welcome and a meal at Rena's hands,
only to be chased away by Mis' Molly, who had
had a wider experience. No shiftless poor white,
no half-witted or hungry negro, had ever gone
unfed from Mis' Molly's kitchen door if Rena
were there to hear his plaint. Little Albert was
pale and sickly when she came, but soon bloomed
again in the sunshine of her care, and was happy
only in her presence. Warwick found pleasure in
their growing love for each other, and was glad
to perceive that the child formed a living link to
connect her with his home.
"Dat chile sutt'nly do lub Miss Rena, an'
dat's a fac', sho 's you bawn," remarked 'Lissa the
cook to Mimy the nurse one day. "You'll get
yo' nose put out er j'int, ef you don't min'."
"I ain't frettin', honey," laughed the nurse
good-naturedly. She was not at all jealous. She
had the same wages as before, and her labors were
materially lightened by the aunt's attention to the
child. This gave Mimy much more time to flirt
with Tom the coachman.
It was a source of much gratification to Warwick
that his sister seemed to adapt herself so
easily to the new conditions. Her graceful
movements, the quiet elegance with which she wore
even the simplest gown, the easy authoritativeness
with which she directed the servants, were to him
proofs of superior quality, and he felt correspondingly
proud of her. His feeling for her was something
more than brotherly love,--he was quite
conscious that there were degrees in brotherly
love, and that if she had been homely or stupid,
he would never have disturbed her in the stagnant
life of the house behind the cedars. There had
come to him from some source, down the stream
of time, a rill of the Greek sense of proportion, of
fitness, of beauty, which is indeed but proportion
embodied, the perfect adaptation of means to
ends. He had perceived, more clearly than she
could have appreciated it at that time, the
undeveloped elements of discord between Rena and her
former life. He had imagined her lending grace
and charm to his own household. Still another
motive, a purely psychological one, had more or
less consciously influenced him. He had no fear
that the family secret would ever be discovered,--
he had taken his precautions too thoroughly, he
thought, for that; and yet he could not but feel,
at times, that if peradventure--it was a conceivable
hypothesis--it should become known, his
fine social position would collapse like a house of
cards. Because of this knowledge, which the
world around him did not possess, he had felt now
and then a certain sense of loneliness; and there
was a measure of relief in having about him
one who knew his past, and yet whose knowledge,
because of their common interest, would not
interfere with his present or jeopardize his future.
For he had always been, in a figurative sense, a
naturalized foreigner in the world of wide
opportunity, and Rena was one of his old compatriots,
whom he was glad to welcome into the populous
loneliness of his adopted country.
In a few weeks the echoes of the tournament
died away, and Rena's life settled down into a
pleasant routine, which she found much more
comfortable than her recent spectacular prominence.
Her queenship, while not entirely forgiven
by the ladies of the town, had gained for
her a temporary social prominence. Among her
own sex, Mrs. Newberry proved a warm and
enthusiastic friend. Rumor whispered that the
lively young widow would not be unwilling to
console Warwick in the loneliness of the old
colonial mansion, to which his sister was a most
excellent medium of approach. Whether this was
true or not it is unnecessary to inquire, for it is
no part of this story, except as perhaps indicating
why Mrs. Newberry played the part of the
female friend, without whom no woman is ever
launched successfully in a small and conservative
society. Her brother's standing gave her the
right of social entry; the tournament opened wide
the door, and Mrs. Newberry performed the ceremony
of introduction. Rena had many visitors
during the month following the tournament, and
might have made her choice from among a dozen
suitors; but among them all, her knight of the
handkerchief found most favor.
George Tryon had come to Clarence a few
months before upon business connected with the
settlement of his grandfather's estate. A rather
complicated litigation had grown up around the
affair, various phases of which had kept Tryon
almost constantly in the town. He had placed
matters in Warwick's hands, and had formed a
decided friendship for his attorney, for whom
he felt a frank admiration. Tryon was only
twenty-three, and his friend's additional five years,
supplemented by a certain professional gravity,
commanded a great deal of respect from the
younger man. When Tryon had known Warwick
for a week, he had been ready to swear by
him. Indeed, Warwick was a man for whom
most people formed a liking at first sight. To
this power of attraction he owed most of his
success--first with Judge Straight, of Patesville,
then with the lawyer whose office he had entered
at Clarence, with the woman who became his
wife, and with the clients for whom he transacted
business. Tryon would have maintained
against all comers that Warwick was the finest
fellow in the world. When he met Warwick's
sister, the foundation for admiration had
already been laid. If Rena had proved to be a
maiden lady of uncertain age and doubtful personal
attractiveness, Tryon would probably have
found in her a most excellent lady, worthy of all
respect and esteem, and would have treated her
with profound deference and sedulous courtesy.
When she proved to be a young and handsome
woman, of the type that he admired most, he
was capable of any degree of infatuation. His
mother had for a long time wanted him to marry
the orphan daughter of an old friend, a vivacious
blonde, who worshiped him. He had felt friendly
towards her, but had shrunk from matrimony.
He did not want her badly enough to give up his
freedom. The war had interfered with his
education, and though fairly well instructed, he had
never attended college. In his own opinion, he
ought to see something of the world, and have his
youthful fling. Later on, when he got ready to
settle down, if Blanche were still in the humor,
they might marry, and sink to the humdrum
level of other old married people. The fact that
Blanche Leary was visiting his mother during his
unexpectedly long absence had not operated at
all to hasten his return to North Carolina. He
had been having a very good time at Clarence,
and, at the distance of several hundred miles, was
safe for the time being from any immediate danger
With Rena's advent, however, he had seen life
through different glasses. His heart had thrilled
at first sight of this tall girl, with the ivory
complexion, the rippling brown hair, and the
inscrutable eyes. When he became better acquainted
with her, he liked to think that her thoughts
centred mainly in himself; and in this he was not
far wrong. He discovered that she had a short
upper lip, and what seemed to him an eminently
kissable mouth. After he had dined twice at
Warwick's, subsequently to the tournament,--his
lucky choice of Rena had put him at once upon
a household footing with the family,--his views
of marriage changed entirely. It now seemed to
him the duty, as well as the high and holy privilege
of a young man, to marry and manfully to
pay his debt to society. When in Rena's presence,
he could not imagine how he had ever contemplated
the possibility of marriage with Blanche
Leary,--she was utterly, entirely, and hopelessly
unsuited to him. For a fair man of vivacious
temperament, this stately dark girl was the ideal
mate. Even his mother would admit this, if she
could only see Rena. To win this beautiful
girl for his wife would be a worthy task. He had
crowned her Queen of Love and Beauty; since
then she had ascended the throne of his heart.
He would make her queen of his home and mistress
of his life.
To Rena this brief month's courtship came as a
new education. Not only had this fair young man
crowned her queen, and honored her above all
the ladies in town; but since then he had waited
assiduously upon her, had spoken softly to her, had
looked at her with shining eyes, and had sought to
be alone with her. The time soon came when to
touch his hand in greeting sent a thrill through her
frame,--a time when she listened for his footstep
and was happy in his presence. He had been bold
enough at the tournament; he had since become
somewhat bashful and constrained. He must be in
love, she thought, and wondered how soon he would
speak. If it were so sweet to walk with him in the
garden, or along the shaded streets, to sit with him,
to feel the touch of his hand, what happiness would
it not be to hear him say that he loved her--to
bear his name, to live with him always. To be thus
loved and honored by this handsome young man,
--she could hardly believe it possible. He would
never speak--he would discover her secret and
withdraw. She turned pale at the thought,--ah,
God! something would happen,--it was too good
to be true. The Prince would never try on the
Tryon first told his love for Rena one summer
evening on their way home from church. They
were walking in the moonlight along the quiet street,
which, but for their presence, seemed quite deserted.
"Miss Warwick--Rowena," he said, clasping
with his right hand the hand that rested on his left
arm, "I love you! Do you--love me?"
To Rena this simple avowal came with much
greater force than a more formal declaration could
have had. It appealed to her own simple nature.
Indeed, few women at such a moment criticise the
form in which the most fateful words of life--but
one--are spoken. Words, while pleasant, are
really superfluous. Her whispered "Yes" spoke
They walked on past the house, along the country
road into which the street soon merged. When
they returned, an hour later, they found Warwick
seated on the piazza, in a rocking-chair, smoking a
"Well, children," he observed with mock severity,
"you are late in getting home from church. The
sermon must have been extremely long."
"We have been attending an after-meeting,"
replied Tryon joyfully, "and have been discussing
an old text, `Little children, love one another,'
and its corollary, `It is not good for man to live
alone.' John, I am the happiest man alive. Your
sister has promised to marry me. I should like to
shake my brother's hand."
Never does one feel so strongly the universal
brotherhood of man as when one loves some other
fellow's sister. Warwick sprang from his chair and
clasped Tryon's extended hand with real emotion.
He knew of no man whom he would have preferred
to Tryon as a husband for his sister.
"My dear George--my dear sister," he
exclaimed, "I am very, very glad. I wish you
every happiness. My sister is the most fortunate
"And I am the luckiest of men," cried Tryon.
"I wish you every happiness," repeated Warwick;
adding, with a touch of solemnity, as a certain
thought, never far distant, occurred to him,
"I hope that neither of you may ever regret your
Thus placed upon the footing of an accepted
lover, Tryon's visits to the house became more
frequent. He wished to fix a time for the marriage,
but at this point Rena developed a strange reluctance.
"Can we not love each other for a while?" she
asked. "To be engaged is a pleasure that comes
but once; it would be a pity to cut it too short."
"It is a pleasure that I would cheerfully dispense
with," he replied, "for the certainty of possession.
I want you all to myself, and all the time. Things
might happen. If I should die, for instance, before
I married you"--
"Oh, don't suppose such awful things," she
cried, putting her hand over his mouth.
He held it there and kissed it until she pulled it
"I should consider," he resumed, completing the
sentence, "that my life had been a failure."
"If I should die," she murmured, "I should die
happy in the knowledge that you had loved me."
"In three weeks," he went on, "I shall have
finished my business in Clarence, and there will be
but one thing to keep me here. When shall it be?
I must take you home with me."
"I will let you know," she replied, with a troubled
sigh, "in a week from to-day."
"I'll call your attention to the subject every day
in the mean time," he asserted. "I shouldn't like
you to forget it."
Rena's shrinking from the irrevocable step of
marriage was due to a simple and yet complex
cause. Stated baldly, it was the consciousness of
her secret; the complexity arose out of the various
ways in which it seemed to bear upon her
future. Our lives are so bound up with those of
our fellow men that the slightest departure from
the beaten path involves a multiplicity of small
adjustments. It had not been difficult for Rena
to conform her speech, her manners, and in a
measure her modes of thought, to those of the
people around her; but when this readjustment
went beyond mere externals and concerned the
vital issues of life, the secret that oppressed her
took on a more serious aspect, with tragic possibilities.
A discursive imagination was not one of her
characteristics, or the danger of a marriage of
which perfect frankness was not a condition might
well have presented itself before her heart had
become involved. Under the influence of doubt and
fear acting upon love, the invisible bar to
happiness glowed with a lambent flame that threatened
"Would he have loved me at all," she asked
herself, "if he had known the story of my past?
Or, having loved me, could he blame me now for
what I cannot help?"
There were two shoals in the channel of her life,
upon either of which her happiness might go
to shipwreck. Since leaving the house behind the
cedars, where she had been brought into the
world without her own knowledge or consent, and
had first drawn the breath of life by the
involuntary contraction of certain muscles, Rena had
learned, in a short time, many things; but she
was yet to learn that the innocent suffer with the
guilty, and feel the punishment the more keenly
because unmerited. She had yet to learn that the
old Mosaic formula, "The sins of the fathers
shall be visited upon the children," was graven
more indelibly upon the heart of the race than
upon the tables of Sinai.
But would her lover still love her, if he knew
all? She had read some of the novels in the
bookcase in her mother's hall, and others at boarding-
school. She had read that love was a conqueror,
that neither life nor death, nor creed nor
caste, could stay his triumphant course. Her secret
was no legal bar to their union. If Rena could
forget the secret, and Tryon should never know it,
it would be no obstacle to their happiness. But
Rena felt, with a sinking of the heart, that happiness
was not a matter of law or of fact, but lay
entirely within the domain of sentiment. We are
happy when we think ourselves happy, and with a
strange perversity we often differ from others with
regard to what should constitute our happiness.
Rena's secret was the worm in the bud, the skeleton
in the closet.
"He says that he loves me. He DOES love me.
Would he love me, if he knew?" She stood
before an oval mirror brought from France by one
of Warwick's wife's ancestors, and regarded her
image with a coldly critical eye. She was as little
vain as any of her sex who are endowed with
beauty. She tried to place herself, in thus passing
upon her own claims to consideration, in the
hostile attitude of society toward her hidden
disability. There was no mark upon her brow to
brand her as less pure, less innocent, less desirable,
less worthy to be loved, than these proud women
of the past who had admired themselves in this
"I think a man might love me for myself," she
murmured pathetically, "and if he loved me truly,
that he would marry me. If he would not marry
me, then it would be because he didn't love me.
I'll tell George my secret. If he leaves me, then
he does not love me."
But this resolution vanished into thin air before
it was fully formulated. The secret was not hers
alone; it involved her brother's position, to whom
she owed everything, and in less degree the future
of her little nephew, whom she had learned to love
so well. She had the choice of but two courses of
action, to marry Tryon or to dismiss him. The
thought that she might lose him made him seem
only more dear; to think that he might leave her
made her sick at heart. In one week she was
bound to give him an answer; he was more likely
to ask for it at their next meeting.
DOUBTS AND FEARS
Rena's heart was too heavy with these misgivings
for her to keep them to herself. On the
morning after the conversation with Tryon in
which she had promised him an answer within a
week, she went into her brother's study, where he
usually spent an hour after breakfast before going
to his office. He looked up amiably from the
book before him and read trouble in her face.
"Well, Rena, dear," he asked with a smile,
"what's the matter? Is there anything you
want--money, or what? I should like to have
Aladdin's lamp--though I'd hardly need it--
that you might have no wish unsatisfied."
He had found her very backward in asking for
things that she needed. Generous with his means,
he thought nothing too good for her. Her success
had gratified his pride, and justified his course in
taking her under his protection.
"Thank you, John. You give me already more
than I need. It is something else, John. George
wants me to say when I will marry him. I am
afraid to marry him, without telling him. If he
should find out afterwards, he might cast me off,
or cease to love me. If he did not know it, I
should be forever thinking of what he would do if
he SHOULD find it out; or, if I should die without
his having learned it, I should not rest easy in
my grave for thinking of what he would have
done if he HAD found it out."
Warwick's smile gave place to a grave expression
at this somewhat comprehensive statement. He
rose and closed the door carefully, lest some one
of the servants might overhear the conversation.
More liberally endowed than Rena with imagination,
and not without a vein of sentiment, he had
nevertheless a practical side that outweighed them
both. With him, the problem that oppressed his
sister had been in the main a matter of argument,
of self-conviction. Once persuaded that he had
certain rights, or ought to have them, by virtue of
the laws of nature, in defiance of the customs of
mankind, he had promptly sought to enjoy them.
This he had been able to do by simply concealing
his antecedents and making the most of his
opportunities, with no troublesome qualms of conscience
whatever. But he had already perceived, in their
brief intercourse, that Rena's emotions, while less
easily stirred, touched a deeper note than his, and
dwelt upon it with greater intensity than if they
had been spread over the larger field to which a
more ready sympathy would have supplied so many
points of access;--hers was a deep and silent current
flowing between the narrow walls of a self-
contained life, his the spreading river that ran
through a pleasant landscape. Warwick's
imagination, however, enabled him to put himself in touch
with her mood and recognize its bearings upon her
conduct. He would have preferred her taking the
practical point of view, to bring her round to which
he perceived would be a matter of diplomacy.
"How long have these weighty thoughts been
troubling your small head?" he asked with assumed
"Since he asked me last night to name our
"My dear child," continued Warwick, "you take
too tragic a view of life. Marriage is a reciprocal
arrangement, by which the contracting parties give
love for love, care for keeping, faith for faith. It
is a matter of the future, not of the past. What
a poor soul it is that has not some secret chamber,
sacred to itself; where one can file away the things
others have no right to know, as well as things that
one himself would fain forget! We are under no
moral obligation to inflict upon others the history
of our past mistakes, our wayward thoughts, our
secret sins, our desperate hopes, or our heartbreaking
disappointments. Still less are we bound
to bring out from this secret chamber the dusty
record of our ancestry.
`Let the dead past bury its dead.'
George Tryon loves you for yourself alone; it is
not your ancestors that he seeks to marry."
"But would he marry me if he knew?" she
Warwick paused for reflection. He would have
preferred to argue the question in a general way,
but felt the necessity of satisfying her scruples, as
far as might be. He had liked Tryon from the
very beginning of their acquaintance. In all their
intercourse, which had been very close for several
months, he had been impressed by the young man's
sunny temper, his straightforwardness, his intellectual
honesty. Tryon's deference to Warwick as
the elder man had very naturally proved an
attraction. Whether this friendship would have stood
the test of utter frankness about his own past was
a merely academic speculation with which Warwick
did not trouble himself. With his sister the
question had evidently become a matter of conscience,
--a difficult subject with which to deal in a person
of Rena's temperament.
"My dear sister," he replied, "why should he
know? We haven't asked him for his pedigree;
we don't care to know it. If he cares for ours, he
should ask for it, and it would then be time enough
to raise the question. You love him, I imagine,
and wish to make him happy?"
It is the highest wish of the woman who loves.
The enamored man seeks his own happiness; the
loving woman finds no sacrifice too great for the
loved one. The fiction of chivalry made man serve
woman; the fact of human nature makes woman
happiest when serving where she loves.
"Yes, oh, yes," Rena exclaimed with fervor,
clasping her hands unconsciously. "I'm afraid
he'd be unhappy if he knew, and it would make me
miserable to think him unhappy."
"Well, then," said Warwick, "suppose we
should tell him our secret and put ourselves in his
power, and that he should then conclude that he
couldn't marry you? Do you imagine he would be
any happier than he is now, or than if he should
Ah, no! she could not think so. One could
not tear love out of one's heart without pain and
There was a knock at the door. Warwick
opened it to the nurse, who stood with little Albert
in her arms.
"Please, suh," said the girl, with a curtsy, "de
baby 's be'n oryin' an' frettin' fer Miss Rena, an'
I 'lowed she mought want me ter fetch 'im, ef it
"Give me the darling," exclaimed Rena, coming
forward and taking the child from the nurse. "It
wants its auntie. Come to its auntie, bless its
Little Albert crowed with pleasure and put up
his pretty mouth for a kiss. Warwick found the
sight a pleasant one. If he could but quiet his
sister's troublesome scruples, he might erelong see
her fondling beautiful children of her own. Even
if Rena were willing to risk her happiness, and he
to endanger his position, by a quixotic frankness,
the future of his child must not be compromised.
"You wouldn't want to make George unhappy,"
Warwick resumed when the nurse retired. "Very
well; would you not be willing, for his sake, to keep
a secret--your secret and mine, and that of the
innocent child in your arms? Would you involve
all of us in difficulties merely to secure your own
peace of mind? Doesn't such a course seem just
the least bit selfish? Think the matter over from
that point of view, and we'll speak of it later in the
day. I shall be with George all the morning, and
I may be able, by a little management, to find out
his views on the subject of birth and family, and
all that. Some men are very liberal, and love is a
great leveler. I'll sound him, at any rate."
He kissed the baby and left Rena to her own
reflections, to which his presentation of the case had
given a new turn. It had never before occurred to
her to regard silence in the light of self-sacrifice.
It had seemed a sort of sin; her brother's argument
made of it a virtue. It was not the first
time, nor the last, that right and wrong had been
a matter of view-point.
Tryon himself furnished the opening for
Warwick's proposed examination. The younger man
could not long remain silent upon the subject
uppermost in his mind. "I am anxious, John," he said,
"to have Rowena name the happiest day of my
life--our wedding day. When the trial in Edgecombe
County is finished, I shall have no further
business here, and shall be ready to leave for home.
I should like to take my bride with me, and surprise
Mothers, thought Warwick, are likely to prove
inquisitive about their sons' wives, especially when
taken unawares in matters of such importance.
This seemed a good time to test the liberality of
Tryon's views, and to put forward a shield for his
"Are you sure, George, that your mother will
find the surprise agreeable when you bring home a
bride of whom you know so little and your mother
nothing at all?"
Tryon had felt that it would be best to surprise
his mother. She would need only to see Rena to
approve of her, but she was so far prejudiced in
favor of Blanche Leary that it would be wisest to
present the argument after having announced the
irrevocable conclusion. Rena herself would be a
complete justification for the accomplished deed.
"I think you ought to know, George," continued
Warwick, without waiting for a reply to his question,
"that my sister and I are not of an old family,
or a rich family, or a distinguished family; that
she can bring you nothing but herself; that we
have no connections of which you could boast, and
no relatives to whom we should be glad to introduce
you. You must take us for ourselves alone--we
are new people."
"My dear John," replied the young man
warmly, "there is a great deal of nonsense about
families. If a man is noble and brave and
strong, if a woman is beautiful and good and true,
what matters it about his or her ancestry? If an
old family can give them these things, then it is
valuable; if they possess them without it, then of
what use is it, except as a source of empty pride,
which they would be better without? If all new
families were like yours, there would be no advantage
in belonging to an old one. All I care to
know of Rowena's family is that she is your sister;
and you'll pardon me, old fellow, if I add that she
hardly needs even you,--she carries the stamp of
her descent upon her face and in her heart."
"It makes me glad to hear you speak in that
way," returned Warwick, delighted by the young
man's breadth and earnestness.
"Oh, I mean every word of it," replied Tryon.
"Ancestors, indeed, for Rowena! I will tell you
a family secret, John, to prove how little I care for
ancestors. My maternal great-great-grandfather, a
hundred and fifty years ago, was hanged, drawn,
and quartered for stealing cattle across the Scottish
border. How is that for a pedigree? Behold
in me the lineal descendant of a felon!"
Warwick felt much relieved at this avowal.
His own statement had not touched the vital point
involved; it had been at the best but a half-truth;
but Tryon's magnanimity would doubtless protect
Rena from any close inquiry concerning her past.
It even occurred to Warwick for a moment that
he might safely disclose the secret to Tryon; but
an appreciation of certain facts of history and
certain traits of human nature constrained him
to put the momentary thought aside. It was a
great relief, however, to imagine that Tryon might
think lightly of this thing that he need never
"Well, Rena," he said to his sister when he
went home at noon: "I've sounded George."
"What did he say?" she asked eagerly.
"I told him we were people of no family, and
that we had no relatives that we were proud of.
He said he loved you for yourself, and would
never ask you about your ancestry."
"Oh, I am so glad!" exclaimed Rena joyfully.
This report left her very happy for about three
hours, or until she began to analyze carefully her
brother's account of what had been said. Warwick's
statement had not been specific,--he had
not told Tryon THE thing. George's reply, in turn,
had been a mere generality. The concrete fact
that oppressed her remained unrevealed, and her
doubt was still unsatisfied.
Rena was occupied with this thought when her
lover next came to see her. Tryon came up the
sanded walk from the gate and spoke pleasantly
to the nurse, a good-looking yellow girl who was
seated on the front steps, playing with little
Albert. He took the boy from her arms, and
she went to call Miss Warwick.
Rena came out, followed by the nurse, who
offered to take the child.
"Never mind, Mimy, leave him with me," said
The nurse walked discreetly over into the garden,
remaining within call, but beyond the hearing
of conversation in an ordinary tone.
"Rena, darling," said her lover, "when shall
it be? Surely you won't ask me to wait a week.
Why, that's a lifetime!"
Rena was struck by a brilliant idea. She
would test her lover. Love was a very powerful
force; she had found it the greatest, grandest,
sweetest thing in the world. Tryon had said that
he loved her; he had said scarcely anything else
for several weeks, surely nothing else worth remembering.
She would test his love by a hypothetical question.
"You say you love me," she said, glancing at
him with a sad thoughtfulness in her large dark
eyes. "How much do you love me?"
"I love you all one can love. True love has no
degrees; it is all or nothing!"
"Would you love me," she asked, with an air
of coquetry that masked her concern, pointing
toward the girl in the shrubbery, "if I were
Albert's nurse yonder?"
"If you were Albert's nurse," he replied, with
a joyous laugh, "he would have to find another
within a week, for within a week we should be
The answer seemed to fit the question, but in
fact, Tryon's mind and Rena's did not meet. That
two intelligent persons should each attach a different
meaning to so simple a form of words as
Rena's question was the best ground for her
misgiving with regard to the marriage. But love
blinded her. She was anxious to be convinced.
She interpreted the meaning of his speech by her
own thought and by the ardor of his glance, and
was satisfied with the answer.
"And now, darling," pleaded Tryon, "will you
not fix the day that shall make me happy? I
shall be ready to go away in three weeks. Will
you go with me?"
"Yes," she answered, in a tumult of joy. She
would never need to tell him her secret now. It
would make no difference with him, so far as she
was concerned; and she had no right to reveal her
brother's secret. She was willing to bury the past
in forgetfulness, now that she knew it would have
no interest for her lover.
The marriage was fixed for the thirtieth of the
month, immediately after which Tryon and his
bride were to set out for North Carolina. Warwick
would have liked it much if Tryon had
lived in South Carolina; but the location of his
North Carolina home was at some distance from
Patesville, with which it had no connection by
steam or rail, and indeed lay altogether out of the
line of travel to Patesville. Rena had no
acquaintance with people of social standing in North
Carolina; and with the added maturity and charm
due to her improved opportunities, it was unlikely
that any former resident of Patesville who might
casually meet her would see in the elegant young
matron from South Carolina more than a passing
resemblance to a poor girl who had once lived in an
obscure part of the old town. It would of course
be necessary for Rena to keep away from Patesville;
save for her mother's sake, she would hardly
be tempted to go back.
On the twentieth of the month, Warwick set
out with Tryon for the county seat of the adjoining
county, to try one of the lawsuits which had
required Tryon's presence in South Carolina for
so long a time. Their destination was a day's
drive from Clarence, behind a good horse, and the
trial was expected to last a week.
"This week will seem like a year," said Tryon
ruefully, the evening before their departure, "but
I'll write every day, and shall expect a letter as
"The mail goes only twice a week, George,"
"Then I shall have three letters in each mail."
Warwick and Tryon were to set out in the cool
of the morning, after an early breakfast. Rena
was up at daybreak that she might preside at the
breakfast-table and bid the travelers good-by.
"John," said Rena to her brother in the
morning, "I dreamed last night that mother was ill."
"Dreams, you know, Rena," answered Warwick
lightly, "go by contraries. Yours undoubtedly
signifies that our mother, God bless her
simple soul! is at the present moment enjoying
her usual perfect health. She was never sick in
For a few months after leaving Patesville with
her brother, Rena had suffered tortures of
homesickness; those who have felt it know the pang.
The severance of old ties had been abrupt and
complete. At the school where her brother had
taken her, there had been nothing to relieve the
strangeness of her surroundings--no schoolmate
from her own town, no relative or friend of the
family near by. Even the compensation of human
sympathy was in a measure denied her, for Rena
was too fresh from her prison-house to doubt that
sympathy would fail before the revelation of
the secret the consciousness of which oppressed
her at that time like a nightmare. It was not
strange that Rena, thus isolated, should have been
prostrated by homesickness for several weeks
after leaving Patesville. When the paroxysm
had passed, there followed a dull pain, which
gradually subsided into a resignation as profound, in
its way, as had been her longing for home. She
loved, she suffered, with a quiet intensity of which
her outward demeanor gave no adequate expression.
From some ancestral source she had derived
a strain of the passive fatalism by which alone
one can submit uncomplainingly to the inevitable.
By the same token, when once a thing had been
decided, it became with her a finality, which only
some extraordinary stress of emotion could disturb.
She had acquiesced in her brother's plan;
for her there was no withdrawing; her homesickness
was an incidental thing which must be endured,
as patiently as might be, until time should
have brought a measure of relief.
Warwick had made provision for an occasional
letter from Patesville, by leaving with his mother a
number of envelopes directed to his address. She
could have her letters written, inclose them in
these envelopes, and deposit them in the post-
office with her own hand. Thus the place of
Warwick's residence would remain within her own
knowledge, and his secret would not be placed at
the mercy of any wandering Patesvillian who
might perchance go to that part of South Carolina.
By this simple means Rena had kept as closely in
touch with her mother as Warwick had considered
prudent; any closer intercourse was not consistent
with their present station in life.
The night after Warwick and Tryon had ridden
away, Rena dreamed again that her mother
was ill. Better taught people than she, in regions
more enlightened than the South Carolina of that
epoch, are disturbed at times by dreams. Mis'
Molly had a profound faith in them. If God, in
ancient times, had spoken to men in visions of the
night, what easier way could there be for Him to
convey his meaning to people of all ages? Science,
which has shattered many an idol and destroyed
many a delusion, has made but slight inroads
upon the shadowy realm of dreams. For Mis'
Molly, to whom science would have meant nothing
and psychology would have been a meaningless
term, the land of dreams was carefully mapped
and bounded. Each dream had some special significance,
or was at least susceptible of classification
under some significant head. Dreams, as a general
rule, went by contraries; but a dream three times
repeated was a certain portent of the thing defined.
Rena's few years of schooling at Patesville
and her months at Charleston had scarcely disturbed
these hoary superstitions which lurk in the
dim corners of the brain. No lady in Clarence,
perhaps, would have remained undisturbed by a vivid
dream, three times repeated, of some event bearing
materially upon her own life.
The first repetition of a dream was decisive of
nothing, for two dreams meant no more than one.
The power of the second lay in the suspense, the
uncertainty, to which it gave rise. Two doubled
the chance of a third. The day following this
second dream was an anxious one for Rena. She
could not for an instant dismiss her mother from
her thoughts, which were filled too with a certain
self-reproach. She had left her mother alone; if
her mother were really ill, there was no one at home
to tend her with loving care. This feeling grew
in force, until by nightfall Rena had become very
unhappy, and went to bed with the most dismal
forebodings. In this state of mind, it is not
surprising that she now dreamed that her mother was
lying at the point of death, and that she cried out
with heart-rending pathos:--
"Rena, my darlin', why did you forsake yo'r
pore old mother? Come back to me, honey; I'll
die ef I don't see you soon."
The stress of subconscious emotion engendered
by the dream was powerful enough to wake Rena,
and her mother's utterance seemed to come to her
with the force of a fateful warning and a great
reproach. Her mother was sick and needed her,
and would die if she did not come. She felt that
she must see her mother,--it would be almost
like murder to remain away from her under such
After breakfast she went into the business part
of the town and inquired at what time a train
would leave that would take her toward Patesville.
Since she had come away from the town, a railroad
had been opened by which the long river
voyage might be avoided, and, making allowance
for slow trains and irregular connections, the town
of Patesville could be reached by an all-rail route
in about twelve hours. Calling at the post-office
for the family mail, she found there a letter from
her mother, which she tore open in great excitement.
It was written in an unpracticed hand and
badly spelled, and was in effect as follows:--
MY DEAR DAUGHTER,--I take my pen in hand
to let you know that I am not very well. I have
had a kind of misery in my side for two weeks,
with palpitations of the heart, and I have been in
bed for three days. I'm feeling mighty poorly, but
Dr. Green says that I'll get over it in a few days.
Old Aunt Zilphy is staying with me, and looking
after things tolerably well. I hope this will find
you and John enjoying good health. Give my
love to John, and I hope the Lord will bless him
and you too. Cousin Billy Oxendine has had a
rising on his neck, and has had to have it lanced.
Mary B. has another young one, a boy this time.
Old man Tom Johnson was killed last week while
trying to whip black Jim Brown, who lived down
on the Wilmington Road. Jim has run away.
There has been a big freshet in the river, and it
looked at one time as if the new bridge would be
Frank comes over every day or two and asks
about you. He says to tell you that he don't
believe you are coming back any more, but you are
to remember him, and that foolishness he said
about bringing you back from the end of the
world with his mule and cart. He's very good to
me, and brings over shavings and kindling-wood,
and made me a new well-bucket for nothing. It's
a comfort to talk to him about you, though I
haven't told him where you are living.
I hope this will find you and John both well,
and doing well. I should like to see you, but if
it's the Lord's will that I shouldn't, I shall be
thankful anyway that you have done what was
the best for yourselves and your children, and that
I have given you up for your own good.
Your affectionate mother,
Rena shed tears over this simple letter, which,
to her excited imagination, merely confirmed the
warning of her dream. At the date of its writing
her mother had been sick in bed, with the symptoms
of a serious illness. She had no nurse but a
purblind old woman. Three days of progressive
illness had evidently been quite sufficient to reduce
her parent to the condition indicated by the third
dream. The thought that her mother might die
without the presence of any one who loved her
pierced Rena's heart like a knife and lent wings
to her feet. She wished for the enchanted horse
of which her brother had read to her so many
years before on the front piazza of the house
behind the cedars, that she might fly through the air
to her dying mother's side. She determined to go
at once to Patesville.
Returning home, she wrote a letter to Warwick
inclosing their mother's letter, and stating that
she had dreamed an alarming dream for three
nights in succession; that she had left the house in
charge of the servants and gone to Patesville; and
that she would return as soon as her mother was
out of danger.
To her lover she wrote that she had been called
away to visit a sick-bed, and would return very
soon, perhaps by the time he got back to Clarence.
These letters Rena posted on her way to the train,
which she took at five o'clock in the afternoon.
This would bring her to Patesville early in the
morning of the following day.
A LETTER AND A JOURNEY
War has been called the court of last resort.
A lawsuit may with equal aptness be compared to
a battle--the parallel might be drawn very closely
all along the line. First we have the casus belli,
the cause of action; then the various protocols and
proclamations and general orders, by way of pleas,
demurrers, and motions; then the preliminary
skirmishes at the trial table; and then the final
struggle, in which might is quite as likely to prevail
as right, victory most often resting with the
strongest battalions, and truth and justice not
seldom overborne by the weight of odds upon the
The lawsuit which Warwick and Tryon had
gone to try did not, however, reach this ultimate
stage, but, after a three days' engagement, resulted
in a treaty of peace. The case was compromised
and settled, and Tryon and Warwick set out on
their homeward drive. They stopped at a farm-
house at noon, and while at table saw the stage-
coach from the town they had just left, bound for
their own destination. In the mail-bag under the
driver's seat were Rena's two letters; they had
been delivered at the town in the morning, and
immediately remailed to Clarence, in accordance
with orders left at the post-office the evening
before. Tryon and Warwick drove leisurely homeward
through the pines, all unconscious of the fateful
squares of white paper moving along the road
a few miles before them, which a mother's yearning
and a daughter's love had thrown, like the apple of
discord, into the narrow circle of their happiness.
They reached Clarence at four o'clock. Warwick
got down from the buggy at his office. Tryon
drove on to his hotel, to make a hasty toilet before
visiting his sweetheart.
Warwick glanced at his mail, tore open the
envelope addressed in his sister's handwriting, and
read the contents with something like dismay.
She had gone away on the eve of her wedding, her
lover knew not where, to be gone no one knew
how long, on a mission which could not be frankly
disclosed. A dim foreboding of disaster flashed
across his mind. He thrust the letter into his
pocket, with others yet unopened, and started
toward his home. Reaching the gate, he paused a
moment and then walked on past the house. Tryon
would probably be there in a few minutes, and
he did not care to meet him without first having
had the opportunity for some moments of reflection.
He must fix upon some line of action in this
Meanwhile Tryon had reached his hotel and
opened his mail. The letter from Rena was read
first, with profound disappointment. He had
really made concessions in the settlement of that
lawsuit--had yielded several hundred dollars of
his just dues, in order that he might get back to
Rena three days earlier. Now he must cool his
heels in idleness for at least three days before she
would return. It was annoying, to say the least.
He wished to know where she had gone, that he
might follow her and stay near her until she should
be ready to come back. He might ask Warwick--
no, she might have had some good reason for not
having mentioned her destination. She had
probably gone to visit some of the poor relations of
whom her brother had spoken so frankly, and she
would doubtless prefer that he should not see her
amid any surroundings but the best. Indeed, he
did not know that he would himself care to endanger,
by suggestive comparisons, the fine aureole of
superiority that surrounded her. She represented
in her adorable person and her pure heart the
finest flower of the finest race that God had ever
made--the supreme effort of creative power, than
which there could be no finer. The flower would
soon be his; why should he care to dig up the soil
in which it grew?
Tryon went on opening his letters. There were
several bills and circulars, and then a letter from
his mother, of which he broke the seal:--
MY DEAREST GEORGE,--This leaves us well.
Blanche is still with me, and we are impatiently
awaiting your return. In your absence she seems
almost like a daughter to me. She joins me in
the hope that your lawsuits are progressing favorably,
and that you will be with us soon. . . .
On your way home, if it does not keep you
away from us too long, would it not be well for
you to come by way of Patesville, and find out
whether there is any prospect of our being able
to collect our claim against old Mr. Duncan
McSwayne's estate? You must have taken the papers
with you, along with the rest, for I do not find
them here. Things ought to be settled enough now
for people to realize on some of their securities.
Your grandfather always believed the note was
good, and meant to try to collect it, but the war
interfered. He said to me, before he died, that if
the note was ever collected, he would use the money
to buy a wedding present for your wife. Poor
father! he is dead and gone to heaven; but I am
sure that even there he would be happier if he
knew the note was paid and the money used as he
If you go to Patesville, call on my cousin, Dr.
Ed. Green, and tell him who you are. Give him
my love. I haven't seen him for twenty years.
He used to be very fond of the ladies, a very gallant
man. He can direct you to a good lawyer,
no doubt. Hoping to see you soon,
Your loving mother,
P. S. Blanche joins me in love to you.
This affectionate and motherly letter did not
give Tryon unalloyed satisfaction. He was glad
to hear that his mother was well, but he had
hoped that Blanche Leary might have finished her
visit by this time. The reasonable inference from
the letter was that Blanche meant to await his
return. Her presence would spoil the fine romantic
flavor of the surprise he had planned for his
mother; it would never do to expose his bride to
an unannounced meeting with the woman whom he
had tacitly rejected. There would be one advantage
in such a meeting: the comparison of the
two women would be so much in Rena's favor
that his mother could not hesitate for a moment
between them. The situation, however, would
have elements of constraint, and he did not care
to expose either Rena or Blanche to any disagreeable
contingency. It would be better to take his
wife on a wedding trip, and notify his mother,
before he returned home, of his marriage. In the
extremely improbable case that she should disapprove
his choice after having seen his wife, the ice
would at least have been broken before his arrival
"By Jove!" he exclaimed suddenly, striking
his knee with his hand, "why shouldn't I run up
to Patesville while Rena's gone? I can leave here
at five o'clock, and get there some time to-morrow
morning. I can transact my business during the
day, and get back the day after to-morrow; for
Rena might return ahead of time, just as we did, and
I shall want to be here when she comes; I'd rather
wait a year for a legal opinion on a doubtful old
note than to lose one day with my love. The
train goes in twenty minutes. My bag is already
packed. I'll just drop a line to George and tell
him where I've gone."
He put Rena's letter into his breast pocket, and
turning to his trunk, took from it a handful of
papers relating to the claim in reference to which
he was going to Patesville. These he thrust into
the same pocket with Rena's letter; he wished to
read both letter and papers while on the train. It
would be a pleasure merely to hold the letter before
his eyes and look at the lines traced by her hand.
The papers he wished to study, for the more practical
purpose of examining into the merits of his
claim against the estate of Duncan McSwayne.
When Warwick reached home, he inquired if
Mr. Tryon had called.
"No, suh," answered the nurse, to whom he had
put the question; "he ain't be'n here yet, suh."
Warwick was surprised and much disturbed.
"De baby 's be'n cryin' for Miss Rena,"
suggested the nurse, "an' I s'pec' he'd like to see you,
suh. Shall I fetch 'im?"
"Yes, bring him to me."
He took the child in his arms and went out upon
the piazza. Several porch pillows lay invitingly
near. He pushed them toward the steps with his
foot, sat down upon one, and placed little Albert
upon another. He was scarcely seated when a
messenger from the hotel came up the walk from
the gate and handed him a note. At the same
moment he heard the long shriek of the afternoon
train leaving the station on the opposite side of the
He tore the envelope open anxiously, read the
note, smiled a sickly smile, and clenched the paper
in his hand unconsciously. There was nothing he
could do. The train had gone; there was no
telegraph to Patesville, and no letter could leave
Clarence for twenty-four hours. The best laid
schemes go wrong at times--the stanchest ships
are sometimes wrecked, or skirt the breakers
perilously. Life is a sea, full of strange currents
and uncharted reefs--whoever leaves the traveled
path must run the danger of destruction. Warwick
was a lawyer, however, and accustomed to
"He may easily be in Patesville a day or two
without meeting her. She will spend most of her
time at mother's bedside, and he will be occupied
with his own affairs."
If Tryon should meet her--well, he was very
much in love, and he had spoken very nobly of
birth and blood. Warwick would have preferred,
nevertheless, that Tryon's theories should not be
put to this particular test. Rena's scruples had so
far been successfully combated; the question would
be opened again, and the situation unnecessarily
complicated, if Tryon should meet Rena in Patesville.
"Will he or will he not?" he asked himself.
He took a coin from his pocket and spun it upon
the floor. "Heads, he sees her; tails, he does
The coin spun swiftly and steadily, leaving upon
the eye the impression of a revolving sphere. Little
Albert, left for a moment to his own devices, had
crept behind his father and was watching the whirling
disk with great pleasure. He felt that he would
like to possess this interesting object. The coin
began to move more slowly, and was wabbling to its
fall, when the child stretched forth his chubby fist
and caught it ere it touched the floor.
TRYON GOES TO PATESVILLE
Tryon arrived in the early morning and put
up at the Patesville Hotel, a very comfortable inn.
After a bath, breakfast, and a visit to the barbershop,
he inquired of the hotel clerk the way to the
office of Dr. Green, his mother's cousin.
"On the corner, sir," answered the clerk, "by the
market-house, just over the drugstore. The doctor
drove past here only half an hour ago. You'll
probably catch him in his office."
Tryon found the office without difficulty. He
climbed the stair, but found no one in except a
young colored man seated in the outer office, who
rose promptly as Tryon entered.
"No, suh," replied the man to Tryon's question,
"he ain't hyuh now. He's gone out to see a
patient, suh, but he'll be back soon. Won't you
set down in de private office an' wait fer 'im, suh?"
Tryon had not slept well during his journey, and
felt somewhat fatigued. Through the open door
of the next room he saw an inviting armchair,
with a window at one side, and upon the other a
table strewn with papers and magazines.
"Yes," he answered, "I'll wait."
He entered the private office, sank into the armchair,
and looked out of the window upon the square
below. The view was mildly interesting. The old
brick market-house with the tower was quite
picturesque. On a wagon-scale at one end the public
weighmaster was weighing a load of hay. In the
booths under the wide arches several old negro
women were frying fish on little charcoal stoves--
the odor would have been appetizing to one who
had not breakfasted. On the shady side stood half
a dozen two-wheeled carts, loaded with lightwood
and drawn by diminutive steers, or superannuated
army mules branded on the flank with the cabalistic
letters "C. S. A.," which represented a vanished
dream, or "U. S. A.," which, as any negro about
the market-house would have borne witness, signified
a very concrete fact. Now and then a lady or
gentleman passed with leisurely step--no one ever
hurried in Patesville--or some poor white sandhiller
slouched listlessly along toward store or bar-room.
Tryon mechanically counted the slabs of gingerbread
on the nearest market-stall, and calculated
the cubical contents of several of the meagre loads
of wood. Having exhausted the view, he turned
to the table at his elbow and picked up a medical
journal, in which he read first an account of a
marvelous surgical operation. Turning the leaves
idly, he came upon an article by a Southern writer,
upon the perennial race problem that has vexed
the country for a century. The writer maintained
that owing to a special tendency of the negro blood,
however diluted, to revert to the African type, any
future amalgamation of the white and black races,
which foolish and wicked Northern negrophiles
predicted as the ultimate result of the new conditions
confronting the South, would therefore be an
ethnological impossibility; for the smallest trace
of negro blood would inevitably drag down the
superior race to the level of the inferior, and reduce
the fair Southland, already devastated by the hand
of the invader, to the frightful level of Hayti, the
awful example of negro incapacity. To forefend
their beloved land, now doubly sanctified by the
blood of her devoted sons who had fallen in the
struggle to maintain her liberties and preserve her
property, it behooved every true Southron to stand
firm against the abhorrent tide of radicalism, to
maintain the supremacy and purity of his all-
pervading, all-conquering race, and to resist by
every available means the threatened domination of
an inferior and degraded people, who were set to
rule hereditary freemen ere they had themselves
scarce ceased to be slaves.
When Tryon had finished the article, which
seemed to him a well-considered argument, albeit
a trifle bombastic, he threw the book upon the table.
Finding the armchair wonderfully comfortable, and
feeling the fatigue of his journey, he yielded to a
drowsy impulse, leaned his head on the cushioned
back of the chair, and fell asleep. According to
the habit of youth, he dreamed, and pursuant to his
own individual habit, he dreamed of Rena. They
were walking in the moonlight, along the quiet road
in front of her brother's house. The air was
redolent with the perfume of flowers. His arm
was around her waist. He had asked her if she
loved him, and was awaiting her answer in tremulous
but confident expectation. She opened her lips
to speak. The sound that came from them seemed
"Is Dr. Green in? No? Ask him, when he comes
back, please, to call at our house as soon as he can."
Tryon was in that state of somnolence in which
one may dream and yet be aware that one is
dreaming,--the state where one, during a dream,
dreams that one pinches one's self to be sure that
one is not dreaming. He was therefore aware of a
ringing quality about the words he had just heard
that did not comport with the shadowy converse
of a dream--an incongruity in the remark, too,
which marred the harmony of the vision. The
shock was sufficient to disturb Tryon's slumber,
and he struggled slowly back to consciousness.
When fully awake, he thought he heard a light
footfall descending the stairs.
"Was there some one here?" he inquired of
the attendant in the outer office, who was visible
through the open door.
"Yas, suh," replied the boy, "a young cullud
'oman wuz in jes' now, axin' fer de doctuh."
Tryon felt a momentary touch of annoyance that
a negro woman should have intruded herself into
his dream at its most interesting point. Nevertheless,
the voice had been so real, his imagination had
reproduced with such exactness the dulcet tones so
dear to him, that he turned his head involuntarily
and looked out of the window. He could just see
the flutter of a woman's skirt disappearing around
A moment later the doctor came bustling in,--
a plump, rosy man of fifty or more, with a frank,
open countenance and an air of genial good nature.
Such a doctor, Tryon fancied, ought to enjoy a
wide popularity. His mere presence would suggest
life and hope and healthfulness.
"My dear boy," exclaimed the doctor cordially,
after Tryon had introduced himself, "I'm delighted
to meet you--or any one of the old blood.
Your mother and I were sweethearts, long ago,
when we both wore pinafores, and went to see our
grandfather at Christmas; and I met her more
than once, and paid her more than one compliment,
after she had grown to be a fine young woman.
You're like her! too, but not quite so handsome--
you've more of what I suppose to be the Tryon
favor, though I never met your father. So one of
old Duncan McSwayne's notes went so far as that?
Well, well, I don't know where you won't find
them. One of them turned up here the other day
from New York.
"The man you want to see," he added later in
the conversation, "is old Judge Straight. He's
getting somewhat stiff in the joints, but he knows
more law, and more about the McSwayne estate,
than any other two lawyers in town. If anybody
can collect your claim, Judge Straight can. I'll
send my boy Dave over to his office. Dave," he
called to his attendant, "run over to Judge
Straight's office and see if he's there.
"There was a freshet here a few weeks ago,"
he want on, when the colored man had departed,
"and they had to open the flood-gates and let the
water out of the mill pond, for if the dam had
broken, as it did twenty years ago, it would have
washed the pillars from under the judge's office
and let it down in the creek, and"--
"Jedge Straight ain't in de office jes' now,
suh," reported the doctor's man Dave, from the
head of the stairs.
"Did you ask when he'd be back?"
"No, suh, you didn't tell me ter, suh."
"Well, now, go back and inquire.
"The niggers," he explained to Tryon, "are
getting mighty trifling since they've been freed.
Before the war, that boy would have been around
there and back before you could say Jack Robinson;
now, the lazy rascal takes his time just like
a white man."
Dave returned more promptly than from his
first trip. "Jedge Straight's dere now, suh," he
said. "He's done come in."
"I'll take you right around and introduce you,"
said the doctor, running on pleasantly, like a
babbling brook. "I don't know whether the judge
ever met your mother or not, but he knows a
gentleman when he sees one, and will be glad to
meet you and look after your affair. See to the
patients, Dave, and say I'll be back shortly, and
don't forget any messages left for me. Look
sharp, now! You know your failing!"
They found Judge Straight in his office. He
was seated by the rear window, and had fallen
into a gentle doze--the air of Patesville was
conducive to slumber. A visitor from some
bustling city might have rubbed his eyes, on any but a
market-day, and imagined the whole town asleep
--that the people were somnambulists and did not
know it. The judge, an old hand, roused himself
so skillfully, at the sound of approaching footsteps,
that his visitors could not guess but that he had
been wide awake. He shook hands with the doctor,
and acknowledged the introduction to Tryon with
a rare old-fashioned courtesy, which the young man
thought a very charming survival of the manners
of a past and happier age.
"No," replied the judge, in answer to a question
by Dr. Green, "I never met his mother; I was a
generation ahead of her. I was at school with her
father, however, fifty years ago--fifty years ago!
No doubt that seems to you a long time, young
"It is a long time, sir," replied Tryon. "I
must live more than twice as long as I have in
order to cover it."
"A long time, and a troubled time," sighed the
judge. "I could wish that I might see this unhappy
land at peace with itself before I die.
Things are in a sad tangle; I can't see the way
out. But the worst enemy has been slain, in spite
of us. We are well rid of slavery."
"But the negro we still have with us,"
remarked the doctor, "for here comes my man
Dave. What is it, Dave?" he asked sharply, as
the negro stuck his head in at the door.
"Doctuh Green," he said, "I fuhgot ter tell
you, suh, dat dat young 'oman wuz at de office
agin jes' befo' you come in, an' said fer you to go
right down an' see her mammy ez soon ez you
"Ah, yes, and you've just remembered it! I'm
afraid you're entirely too forgetful for a doctor's
office. You forgot about old Mrs. Latimer, the
other day, and when I got there she had almost
choked to death. Now get back to the office, and
remember, the next time you forget anything, I'll
hire another boy; remember that! That boy's
head," he remarked to his companions, after Dave
had gone, "reminds me of nothing so much as a
dried gourd, with a handful of cowpeas rattling
around it, in lieu of gray matter. An old woman
out in Redbank got a fishbone in her throat, the
other day, and nearly choked to death before I got
there. A white woman, sir, came very near losing
her life because of a lazy, trifling negro!"
"I should think you would discharge him, sir,"
"What would be the use?" rejoined the doctor.
"All negroes are alike, except that now and then
there's a pretty woman along the border-line.
Take this patient of mine, for instance,--I'll call
on her after dinner, her case is not serious,--thirty
years ago she would have made any man turn his
head to look at her. You know who I mean,
don't you, judge?"
"Yes. I think so," said the judge promptly.
"I've transacted a little business for her now and
"I don't know whether you've seen the daughter
or not--I'm sure you haven't for the past
year or so, for she's been away. But she's in
town now, and, by Jove, the girl is really beautiful.
And I'm a judge of beauty. Do you remember
my wife thirty years ago, judge?"
"She was a very handsome woman, Ed," replied
the other judicially. "If I had been twenty years
younger, I should have cut you out."
"You mean you would have tried. But as I
was saying, this girl is a beauty; I reckon we
might guess where she got some of it, eh, Judge?
Human nature is human nature, but it's a d--d
shame that a man should beget a child like that
and leave it to live the life open for a negro. If
she had been born white, the young fellows would
be tumbling over one another to get her. Her
mother would have to look after her pretty closely
as things are, if she stayed here; but she
disappeared mysteriously a year or two ago, and has
been at the North, I'm told, passing for white.
She'll probably marry a Yankee; he won't know
any better, and it will serve him right--she's
only too white for them. She has a very striking
figure, something on the Greek order, stately and
slow-moving. She has the manners of a lady, too
--a beautiful woman, if she is a nigger!"
"I quite agree with you, Ed," remarked the
judge dryly, "that the mother had better look
closely after the daughter."
"Ah, no, judge," replied the other, with a
flattered smile, "my admiration for beauty is purely
abstract. Twenty-five years ago, when I was
"When you were young," corrected the judge.
"When you and I were younger," continued
the doctor ingeniously,--"twenty-five years ago, I
could not have answered for myself. But I would
advise the girl to stay at the North, if she can.
She's certainly out of place around here."
Tryon found the subject a little tiresome, and
the doctor's enthusiasm not at all contagious. He
could not possibly have been interested in a colored
girl, under any circumstances, and he was
engaged to be married to the most beautiful white
woman on earth. To mention a negro woman in
the same room where he was thinking of Rena
seemed little short of profanation. His friend the
doctor was a jovial fellow, but it was surely doubtful
taste to refer to his wife in such a conversation.
He was very glad when the doctor dropped the
subject and permitted him to go more into detail
about the matter which formed his business in
Patesville. He took out of his pocket the papers
concerning the McSwayne claim and laid them on
the judge's desk.
"You'll find everything there, sir,--the note,
the contract, and some correspondence that will
give you the hang of the thing. Will you be able
to look over them to-day? I should like," he added
a little nervously, "to go back to-morrow."
"What!" exclaimed Dr. Green vivaciously,
"insult our town by staying only one day? It
won't be long enough to get acquainted with our
young ladies. Patesville girls are famous for their
beauty. But perhaps there's a loadstone in South
Carolina to draw you back? Ah, you change color!
To my mind there's nothing finer than the ingenuous
blush of youth. But we'll spare you if you'll
answer one question--is it serious?"
"I'm to be married in two weeks, sir," answered
Tryon. The statement sounded very pleasant, in
spite of the slight embarrassment caused by the
"Good boy!" rejoined the doctor, taking his
arm familiarly--they were both standing now.
"You ought to have married a Patesville girl, but
you people down towards the eastern counties
seldom come this way, and we are evidently too late
to catch you."
"I'll look your papers over this morning," said
the judge, "and when I come from dinner will
stop at the court house and examine the records
and see whether there's anything we can get hold
of. If you'll drop in around three or four o'clock,
I may be able to give you an opinion."
"Now, George," exclaimed the doctor, "we'll
go back to the office for a spell, and then I'll take
you home with me to luncheon."
"Oh, you must come! Mrs. Green would never
forgive me if I didn't bring you. Strangers are
rare birds in our society, and when they come we
make them welcome. Our enemies may overturn
our institutions, and try to put the bottom rail on
top, but they cannot destroy our Southern hospitality.
There are so many carpet-baggers and other
social vermin creeping into the South, with the
Yankees trying to force the niggers on us, that it's
a genuine pleasure to get acquainted with another
real Southern gentleman, whom one can invite into
one's house without fear of contamination, and before
whom one can express his feelings freely and
be sure of perfect sympathy."
AN INJUDICIOUS PAYMENT
When Judge Straight's visitors had departed,
he took up the papers which had been laid loosely
on the table as they were taken out of Tryon's breast-
pocket, and commenced their perusal. There was
a note for five hundred dollars, many years overdue,
but not yet outlawed by lapse of time; a
contract covering the transaction out of which the
note had grown; and several letters and copies of
letters modifying the terms of the contract. The
judge had glanced over most of the papers, and
was getting well into the merits of the case, when
he unfolded a letter which read as follows:--
MY DEAREST GEORGE,-- I am going away
for about a week, to visit the bedside of an old
friend, who is very ill, and may not live. Do not
be alarmed about me, for I shall very likely be
back by the time you are.
The judge was unable to connect this letter with
the transaction which formed the subject of his
examination. Age had dimmed his perceptions
somewhat, and it was not until he had finished
the letter, and read it over again, and noted the
signature at the bottom a second time, that he
perceived that the writing was in a woman's hand,
that the ink was comparatively fresh, and that
the letter was dated only a couple of days before.
While he still held the sheet in his hand, it
dawned upon him slowly that he held also one of
the links in a chain of possible tragedy which he
himself, he became uncomfortably aware, had had
a hand in forging.
"It is the Walden woman's daughter, as sure as
fate! Her name is Rena. Her brother goes by
the name of Warwick. She has come to visit her
sick mother. My young client, Green's relation, is
her lover--is engaged to marry her--is in town,
and is likely to meet her!"
The judge was so absorbed in the situation
thus suggested that he laid the papers down and
pondered for a moment the curious problem
involved. He was quite aware that two races had
not dwelt together, side by side, for nearly three
hundred years, without mingling their blood in
greater or less degree; he was old enough, and had
seen curious things enough, to know that in this
mingling the current had not always flowed in
one direction. Certain old decisions with which
he was familiar; old scandals that had crept along
obscure channels; old facts that had come to the
knowledge of an old practitioner, who held in the
hollow of his hand the honor of more than one
family, made him know that there was dark blood
among the white people--not a great deal, and
that very much diluted, and, so long as it was
sedulously concealed or vigorously denied, or lost
in the mists of tradition, or ascribed to a foreign or
an aboriginal strain, having no perceptible effect
upon the racial type.
Back to Full Books