The House Behind The Cedars
Charles W. Chesnutt
Part 4 out of 5
She turned her face away, but listened while he
read the letter. "He did not love me," she cried
angrily, when he had finished, "or he would not
have cast me off--he would not have looked at
me so. The law would have let him marry me. I
seemed as white as he did. He might have gone
anywhere with me, and no one would have stared
at us curiously; no one need have known. The
world is wide--there must be some place where a
man could live happily with the woman he loved."
"Yes, Rena, there is; and the world is wide
enough for you to get along without Tryon."
"For a day or two," she went on, "I hoped
he might come back. But his expression in that
awful moment grew upon me, haunted me day and
night, until I shuddered at the thought that I might
ever see him again. He looked at me as though I
were not even a human being. I do not love him
any longer, John; I would not marry him if I
were white, or he were as I am. He did not love
me--or he would have acted differently. He
might have loved me and have left me--he could
not have loved me and have looked at me so!"
She was weeping hysterically. There was little
he could say to comfort her. Presently she dried
her tears. Warwick was reluctant to leave her in
Patesville. Her childish happiness had been that
of ignorance; she could never be happy there again.
She had flowered in the sunlight; she must not
pine away in the shade.
"If you won't come back with me, Rena, I'll
send you to some school at the North, where you
can acquire a liberal education, and prepare
yourself for some career of usefulness. You may
marry a better man than even Tryon."
"No," she replied firmly, "I shall never marry
any man, and I'll not leave mother again. God
is against it; I'll stay with my own people."
"God has nothing to do with it," retorted
Warwick. "God is too often a convenient stalking-
horse for human selfishness. If there is anything
to be done, so unjust, so despicable, so wicked that
human reason revolts at it, there is always some
smug hypocrite to exclaim, `It is the will of God.'"
"God made us all," continued Rena dreamily,
"and for some good purpose, though we may not
always see it. He made some people white, and
strong, and masterful, and--heartless. He made
others black and homely, and poor and weak"--
"And a lot of others `poor white' and shiftless,"
"He made us, too," continued Rena, intent upon
her own thought, "and He must have had a reason
for it. Perhaps He meant us to bring the others
together in his own good time. A man may make
a new place for himself--a woman is born and
bound to hers. God must have meant me to stay
here, or He would not have sent me back. I shall
accept things as they are. Why should I seek the
society of people whose friendship--and love--
one little word can turn to scorn? I was right,
John; I ought to have told him. Suppose he had
married me and then had found it out?"
To Rena's argument of divine foreordination
Warwick attached no weight whatever. He had
seen God's heel planted for four long years upon
the land which had nourished slavery. Had God
ordained the crime that the punishment might
follow? It would have been easier for Omnipotence
to prevent the crime. The experience of his sister
had stirred up a certain bitterness against white
people--a feeling which he had put aside years ago,
with his dark blood, but which sprang anew into
life when the fact of his own origin was brought
home to him so forcibly through his sister's
misfortune. His sworn friend and promised brother-in-
law had thrown him over promptly, upon the
discovery of the hidden drop of dark blood. How many
others of his friends would do the same, if they
but knew of it? He had begun to feel a little of
the spiritual estrangement from his associates that
he had noticed in Rena during her life at Clarence.
The fact that several persons knew his secret had
spoiled the fine flavor of perfect security hitherto
marking his position. George Tryon was a man of
honor among white men, and had deigned to extend
the protection of his honor to Warwick as a man,
though no longer as a friend; to Rena as a woman,
but not as a wife. Tryon, however, was only human,
and who could tell when their paths in life might
cross again, or what future temptation Tryon might
feel to use a damaging secret to their disadvantage?
Warwick had cherished certain ambitions, but these
he must now put behind him. In the obscurity of
private life, his past would be of little moment; in
the glare of a political career, one's antecedents are
public property, and too great a reserve in regard
to one's past is regarded as a confession of something
discreditable. Frank, too, knew the secret
--a good, faithful fellow, even where there was no
obligation of fidelity; he ought to do something for
Frank to show their appreciation of his conduct.
But what assurance was there that Frank would
always be discreet about the affairs of others?
Judge Straight knew the whole story, and old men
are sometimes garrulous. Dr. Green suspected the
secret; he had a wife and daughters. If old Judge
Straight could have known Warwick's thoughts, he
would have realized the fulfillment of his prophecy.
Warwick, who had builded so well for himself, had
weakened the structure of his own life by trying to
share his good fortune with his sister.
" Listen, Rena," he said, with a sudden impulse,
"we'll go to the North or West--I'll go with
you--far away from the South and the Southern
people, and start life over again. It will be easier
for you, it will not be hard for me--I am young,
and have means. There are no strong ties to bind
me to the South. I would have a larger outlook
"And what about our mother?" asked Rena.
It would be necessary to leave her behind, they
both perceived clearly enough, unless they were
prepared to surrender the advantage of their whiteness
and drop back to the lower rank. The mother
bore the mark of the Ethiopian--not pronouncedly,
but distinctly; neither would Mis' Molly, in all
probability, care to leave home and friends and the
graves of her loved ones. She had no mental
resources to supply the place of these; she was,
moreover, too old to be transplanted; she would
not fit into Warwick's scheme for a new life.
"I left her once," said Rena, "and it brought
pain and sorrow to all three of us. She is not
strong, and I will not leave her here to die alone.
This shall be my home while she lives, and if I
leave it again, it shall be for only a short time, to
go where I can write to her freely, and hear from
her often. Don't worry about me, John,--I shall
do very well."
Warwick sighed. He was sincerely sorry to leave
his sister, and yet he saw that for the time being
her resolution was not to be shaken. He must bide
his time. Perhaps, in a few months, she would tire
of the old life. His door would be always open to
her, and he would charge himself with her future.
"Well, then," he said, concluding the argument,
"we'll say no more about it for the present. I'll
write to you later. I was afraid that you might
not care to go back just now, and so I brought
your trunk along with me."
He gave his mother the baggage-check. She
took it across to Frank, who, during the day,
brought the trunk from the depot. Mis' Molly
offered to pay him for the service, but he would
"Lawd, no, Mis' Molly; I did n' hafter go out'n
my way ter git dat trunk. I had a load er sperrit-
bairls ter haul ter de still, an' de depot wuz right
on my way back. It'd be robbin' you ter take
pay fer a little thing lack dat."
"My son John's here," said Mis' Molly "an'
he wants to see you. Come into the settin'-room.
We don't want folks to know he's in town; but
you know all our secrets, an' we can trust you like
one er the family."
"I'm glad to see you again, Frank," said
Warwick, extending his hand and clasping Frank's
warmly. "You've grown up since I saw you last,
but it seems you are still our good friend."
"Our very good friend," interjected Rena.
Frank threw her a grateful glance. "Yas, suh,"
he said, looking Warwick over with a friendly eye,
"an' you is growed some, too. I seed you, you
know, down dere where you live; but I did n' let
on, fer you an' Mis' Rena wuz w'ite as anybody;
an' eve'ybody said you wuz good ter cullud folks,
an' he'ped 'em in deir lawsuits an' one way er
'nuther, an' I wuz jes' plum' glad ter see you
gettin' 'long so fine, dat I wuz, certain sho', an' no
mistake about it."
"Thank you, Frank, and I want you to understand
how much I appreciate"--
"How much we all appreciate," corrected Rena.
"Yes, how much we all appreciate, and how
grateful we all are for your kindness to mother for
so many years. I know from her and from my
sister how good you've been to them."
"Lawd, suh!" returned Frank deprecatingly,
"you're makin' a mountain out'n a molehill. I
ain't done nuthin' ter speak of--not half ez much
ez I would 'a' done. I wuz glad ter do w'at little
I could, fer frien'ship's sake."
"We value your friendship, Frank, and we'll
not forget it."
"No, Frank," added Rena, "we will never
forget it, and you shall always be our good friend."
Frank left the room and crossed the street with
swelling heart. He would have given his life for
Rena. A kind word was doubly sweet from her
lips; no service would be too great to pay for her
When Frank went out to the stable next morning
to feed his mule, his eyes opened wide with
astonishment. In place of the decrepit, one-eyed
army mule he had put up the night before, a fat,
sleek specimen of vigorous mulehood greeted his
arrival with the sonorous hehaw of lusty youth.
Hanging on a peg near by was a set of fine new
harness, and standing under the adjoining shed, as
he perceived, a handsome new cart.
"Well, well!" exclaimed Frank; "ef I did n'
mos' know whar dis mule, an' dis kyart, an' dis
harness come from, I'd 'low dere 'd be'n witcheraf'
er cunjin' wukkin' here. But, oh my, dat is a
fine mule!--I mos' wush I could keep 'im."
He crossed the road to the house behind the
cedars, and found Mis' Molly in the kitchen.
"Mis' Molly," he protested, "I ain't done nuthin'
ter deserve dat mule. W'at little I done fer you
wa'n't done fer pay. I'd ruther not keep dem
"Fer goodness' sake, Frank!" exclaimed his
neighbor, with a well-simulated air of mystification,
"what are you talkin' about?"
"You knows w'at I'm talkin' about, Mis'
Molly; you knows well ernuff I'm talkin' about
dat fine mule an' kyart an' harness over dere in
"How should I know anything about 'em?"
"Now, Mis' Molly! You folks is jes' tryin' ter
fool me, an' make me take somethin' fer nuthin'.
I lef' my ole mule an' kyart an' harness in de
stable las' night, an' dis mawnin' dey 're gone, an'
new ones in deir place. Co'se you knows whar
dey come from!"
"Well, now, Frank, sence you mention it, I did
see a witch flyin' roun' here las' night on a broom-
stick, an' it 'peared ter me she lit on yo'r barn, an'
I s'pose she turned yo'r old things into new ones.
I wouldn't bother my mind about it if I was you,
for she may turn 'em back any night, you know;
an' you might as well have the use of 'em in the
"Dat's all foolishness, Mis' Molly, an' I'm
gwine ter fetch dat mule right over here an' tell
yo' son ter gimme my ole one back."
"My son's gone," she replied, "an' I don't
know nothin' about yo'r old mule. And what
would I do with a mule, anyhow? I ain't got no
barn to put him in."
"I suspect you don't care much for us after
all, Frank," said Rena reproachfully--she had
come in while they were talking. "You meet
with a piece of good luck, and you're afraid of it,
lest it might have come from us."
"Now, Miss Rena, you oughtn't ter say dat,"
expostulated Frank, his reluctance yielding immediately.
"I'll keep de mule an' de kyart an' de
harness--fac', I'll have ter keep 'em, 'cause I
ain't got no others. But dey 're gwine ter be yo'n
ez much ez mine. W'enever you wants anything
hauled, er wants yo' lot ploughed, er anything--
dat's yo' mule, an' I'm yo' man an' yo' mammy's."
So Frank went back to the stable, where he
feasted his eyes on his new possessions, fed and
watered the mule, and curried and brushed his
coat until it shone like a looking-glass.
"Now dat," remarked Peter, at the breakfast-
table, when informed of the transaction, "is somethin'
lack rale w'ite folks."
No real white person had ever given Peter a
mule or a cart. He had rendered one of them
unpaid service for half a lifetime, and had paid for
the other half; and some of them owed him
substantial sums for work performed. But "to him
that hath shall be given"--Warwick paid for the
mule, and the real white folks got most of the
DIGGING UP ROOTS
When the first great shock of his discovery wore
off, the fact of Rena's origin lost to Tryon some of
its initial repugnance--indeed, the repugnance was
not to the woman at all, as their past relations were
evidence, but merely to the thought of her as a wife.
It could hardly have failed to occur to so reasonable
a man as Tryon that Rena's case could scarcely
be unique. Surely in the past centuries of free
manners and easy morals that had prevailed in
remote parts of the South, there must have been
many white persons whose origin would not have
borne too microscopic an investigation. Family
trees not seldom have a crooked branch; or, to use
a more apposite figure, many a flock has its black
sheep. Being a man of lively imagination, Tryon
soon found himself putting all sorts of hypothetical
questions about a matter which he had already
definitely determined. If he had married Rena in
ignorance of her secret, and had learned it afterwards,
would he have put her aside? If, knowing
her history, he had nevertheless married her, and
she had subsequently displayed some trait of
character that would suggest the negro, could he have
forgotten or forgiven the taint? Could he still
have held her in love and honor? If not, could
he have given her the outward seeming of affection,
or could he have been more than coldly tolerant?
He was glad that he had been spared this ordeal.
With an effort he put the whole matter definitely
and conclusively aside, as he had done a hundred
Returning to his home, after an absence of several
months in South Carolina, it was quite apparent
to his mother's watchful eye that he was in
serious trouble. He was absent-minded, monosyllabic,
sighed deeply and often, and could not always
conceal the traces of secret tears. For Tryon was
young, and possessed of a sensitive soul--a source
of happiness or misery, as the Fates decree. To
those thus dowered, the heights of rapture are
accessible, the abysses of despair yawn threateningly;
only the dull monotony of contentment is
Mrs. Tryon vainly sought by every gentle art
a woman knows to win her son's confidence.
"What is the matter, George, dear?" she would
ask, stroking his hot brow with her small, cool
hand as he sat moodily nursing his grief. "Tell
your mother, George. Who else could comfort
you so well as she?"
"Oh, it's nothing, mother,--nothing at all,"
he would reply, with a forced attempt at lightness.
"It's only your fond imagination, you best of
It was Mrs. Tryon's turn to sigh and shed
a clandestine tear. Until her son had gone away
on this trip to South Carolina, he had kept no
secrets from her: his heart had been an open
book, of which she knew every page; now, some
painful story was inscribed therein which he meant
she should not read. If she could have abdicated
her empire to Blanche Leary or have shared it
with her, she would have yielded gracefully; but
very palpably some other influence than Blanche's
had driven joy from her son's countenance and
lightness from his heart.
Miss Blanche Leary, whom Tryon found in the
house upon his return, was a demure, pretty little
blonde, with an amiable disposition, a talent for
society, and a pronounced fondness for George
Tryon. A poor girl, of an excellent family
impoverished by the war, she was distantly related
to Mrs. Tryon, had for a long time enjoyed that
lady's favor, and was her choice for George's wife
when he should be old enough to marry. A woman
less interested than Miss Leary would have
perceived that there was something wrong with Tryon.
Miss Leary had no doubt that there was a woman
at the bottom of it,--for about what else should
youth worry but love? or if one's love affairs run
smoothly, why should one worry about anything
at all? Miss Leary, in the nineteen years of her
mundane existence, had not been without mild
experiences of the heart, and had hovered for some
time on the verge of disappointment with respect
to Tryon himself. A sensitive pride would have
driven more than one woman away at the sight of
the man of her preference sighing like a furnace
for some absent fair one. But Mrs. Tryon was
so cordial, and insisted so strenuously upon her
remaining, that Blanche's love, which was strong,
conquered her pride, which was no more than a
reasonable young woman ought to have who sets
success above mere sentiment. She remained in the
house and bided her opportunity. If George
practically ignored her for a time, she did not throw
herself at all in his way. She went on a visit to
some girls in the neighborhood and remained away
a week, hoping that she might be missed. Tryon
expressed no regret at her departure and no
particular satisfaction upon her return. If the house
was duller in her absence, he was but dimly conscious
of the difference. He was still fighting a
battle in which a susceptible heart and a reasonable
mind had locked horns in a well-nigh hopeless
conflict. Reason, common-sense, the instinctive
ready-made judgments of his training and environment,--
the deep-seated prejudices of race and
caste,--commanded him to dismiss Rena from
his thoughts. His stubborn heart simply would
not let go.
A GILDED OPPORTUNITY
Although the whole fabric of Rena's new life
toppled and fell with her lover's defection, her
sympathies, broadened by culture and still more by
her recent emotional experience, did not shrink, as
would have been the case with a more selfish soul,
to the mere limits of her personal sorrow, great as
this seemed at the moment. She had learned to
love, and when the love of one man failed her, she
turned to humanity, as a stream obstructed in its
course overflows the adjacent country. Her early
training had not directed her thoughts to the darker
people with whose fate her own was bound up so
closely, but rather away from them. She had been
taught to despise them because they were not so
white as she was, and had been slaves while she was
free. Her life in her brother's home, by removing
her from immediate contact with them, had given
her a different point of view,--one which emphasized
their shortcomings, and thereby made vastly
clearer to her the gulf that separated them from
the new world in which she lived; so that when
misfortune threw her back upon them, the reaction
brought her nearer than before. Where once she
had seemed able to escape from them, they were
now, it appeared, her inalienable race. Thus doubly
equipped, she was able to view them at once with
the mental eye of an outsider and the sympathy
of a sister: she could see their faults, and judge
them charitably; she knew and appreciated their
good qualities. With her quickened intelligence
she could perceive how great was their need and
how small their opportunity; and with this illumination
came the desire to contribute to their help.
She had not the breadth or culture to see in all its
ramifications the great problem which still puzzles
statesmen and philosophers; but she was conscious
of the wish, and of the power, in a small way, to do
something for the advancement of those who had
just set their feet upon the ladder of progress.
This new-born desire to be of service to her
rediscovered people was not long without an
opportunity for expression. Yet the Fates willed that
her future should be but another link in a connected
chain: she was to be as powerless to put
aside her recent past as she had been to escape
from the influence of her earlier life. There are
sordid souls that eat and drink and breed and die,
and imagine they have lived. But Rena's life
since her great awakening had been that of the
emotions, and her temperament made of it a
continuous life. Her successive states of
consciousness were not detachable, but united to form a
single if not an entirely harmonious whole. To
her sensitive spirit to-day was born of yesterday,
to-morrow would be but the offspring of to day.
One day, along toward noon, her mother
received a visit from Mary B. Pettifoot, a second
cousin, who lived on Back Street, only a short
distance from the house behind the cedars. Rena
had gone out, so that the visitor found Mis' Molly
"I heared you say, Cousin Molly," said Mary
B. (no one ever knew what the B. in Mary's name
stood for,--it was a mere ornamental flourish),
"that Rena was talkin' 'bout teachin' school. I've
got a good chance fer her, ef she keers ter take
it. My cousin Jeff Wain 'rived in town this
mo'nin', f'm 'way down in Sampson County, ter
git a teacher fer the nigger school in his deestric'.
I s'pose he mought 'a' got one f'm 'roun' Newbern,
er Goldsboro, er some er them places eas', but he
'lowed he'd like to visit some er his kin an' ole
frien's, an' so kill two birds with one stone."
"I seed a strange mulatter man, with a bay hoss
an' a new buggy, drivin' by here this mo'nin' early,
from down to'ds the river," rejoined Mis' Molly.
"I wonder if that wuz him?"
"Did he have on a linen duster?" asked Mary B.
"Yas, an' 'peared to be a very well sot up man,"
replied Mis' Molly, " 'bout thirty-five years old, I
"That wuz him," assented Mary B. "He's got
a fine hoss an' buggy, an' a gol' watch an' chain,
an' a big plantation, an' lots er hosses an' mules
an' cows an' hawgs. He raise' fifty bales er cotton
las' year, an' he's be'n ter the legislatur'."
" My gracious!" exclaimed Mis' Molly, struck
with awe at this catalogue of the stranger's possessions--
he was evidently worth more than a great
many "rich" white people,--all white people in
North Carolina in those days were either "rich" or
"poor," the distinction being one of caste rather
than of wealth. "Is he married?" she inquired
"No,--single. You mought 'low it was quare
that he should n' be married at his age; but he
was crossed in love oncet,"--Mary B. heaved a
self-conscious sigh,--"an' has stayed single ever
sence. That wuz ten years ago, but as some
husban's is long-lived, an' there ain' no mo' chance
fer 'im now than there wuz then, I reckon some
nice gal mought stan' a good show er ketchin' 'im,
ef she'd play her kyards right."
To Mis' Molly this was news of considerable
importance. She had not thought a great deal of
Rena's plan to teach; she considered it lowering
for Rena, after having been white, to go among
the negroes any more than was unavoidable. This
opportunity, however, meant more than mere
employment for her daughter. She had felt Rena's
disappointment keenly, from the practical point of
view, and, blaming herself for it, held herself all
the more bound to retrieve the misfortune in any
possible way. If she had not been sick, Rena
would not have dreamed the fateful dream that
had brought her to Patesville; for the connection
between the vision and the reality was even closer in
Mis' Molly's eyes than in Rena's. If the mother
had not sent the letter announcing her illness and
confirming the dream, Rena would not have ruined
her promising future by coming to Patesville. But
the harm had been done, and she was responsible,
ignorantly of course, but none the less truly, and
it only remained for her to make amends, as far as
possible. Her highest ambition, since Rena had
grown up, had been to see her married and
comfortably settled in life. She had no hope that
Tryon would come back. Rena had declared that
she would make no further effort to get away from
her people; and, furthermore, that she would never
marry. To this latter statement Mis' Molly secretly
attached but little importance. That a woman
should go single from the cradle to the grave did
not accord with her experience in life of the customs
of North Carolina. She respected a grief she could
not entirely fathom, yet did not for a moment
believe that Rena would remain unmarried.
"You'd better fetch him roun' to see me, Ma'y
B.," she said, "an' let's see what he looks like.
I'm pertic'lar 'bout my gal. She says she ain't
goin' to marry nobody; but of co'se we know that's
"I'll fetch him roun' this evenin' 'bout three
o'clock," said the visitor, rising. "I mus' hurry
back now an' keep him comp'ny. Tell Rena ter
put on her bes' bib an' tucker; for Mr. Wain is
pertic'lar too, an' I've already be'n braggin' 'bout
When Mary B., at the appointed hour, knocked
at Mis' Molly's front door,--the visit being one of
ceremony, she had taken her cousin round to the
Front Street entrance and through the flower
garden,--Mis' Molly was prepared to receive them.
After a decent interval, long enough to suggest
that she had not been watching their approach and
was not over-eager about the visit, she answered
the knock and admitted them into the parlor. Mr.
Wain was formally introduced, and seated himself
on the ancient haircloth sofa, under the framed
fashion-plate, while Mary B. sat by the open door
and fanned herself with a palm-leaf fan.
Mis' Molly's impression of Wain was favorable.
His complexion was of a light brown--not quite
so fair as Mis' Molly would have preferred; but
any deficiency in this regard, or in the matter of
the stranger's features, which, while not unpleasing,
leaned toward the broad mulatto type, was
more than compensated in her eyes by very
straight black hair, and, as soon appeared, a great
facility of complimentary speech. On his introduction
Mr. Wain bowed low, assumed an air of great
admiration, and expressed his extreme delight in
making the acquaintance of so distinguished-looking a lady.
"You're flatt'rin' me, Mr. Wain," returned Mis'
Molly, with a gratified smile. "But you want to
meet my daughter befo' you commence th'owin'
bokays. Excuse my leavin' you--I'll go an' fetch
She returned in a moment, followed by Rena.
"Mr. Wain, 'low me to int'oduce you to my daughter
Rena. Rena, this is Ma'y B.'s cousin on her
pappy's side, who's come up from Sampson to git
Rena bowed gracefully. Wain stared a moment
in genuine astonishment, and then bent himself
nearly double, keeping his eyes fixed meanwhile
upon Rena's face. He had expected to see a pretty
yellow girl, but had been prepared for no such
radiant vision of beauty as this which now confronted him.
"Does--does you mean ter say, Mis' Walden,
dat--dat dis young lady is yo' own daughter?"
he stammered, rallying his forces for action.
"Why not, Mr. Wain?" asked Mis' Molly,
bridling with mock resentment. "Do you mean
ter 'low that she wuz changed in her cradle, er is
she too good-lookin' to be my daughter?"
"My deah Mis' Walden! it 'ud be wastin' wo'ds
fer me ter say dat dey ain' no young lady too good-
lookin' ter be yo' daughter; but you're lookin'
so young yo'sef dat I'd ruther take her fer yo'
"Yas," rejoined Mis' Molly, with animation,
"they ain't many years between us. I wuz ruther
young myself when she wuz bo'n."
"An', mo'over," Wain went on, "it takes me
a minute er so ter git my min' use' ter thinkin' er
Mis' Rena as a cullud young lady. I mought 'a'
seed her a hund'ed times, an' I'd 'a' never dreamt
but w'at she wuz a w'ite young lady, f'm one er de
"Yas, Mr. Wain," replied Mis' Molly
complacently, "all three er my child'en wuz white, an'
one of 'em has be'n on the other side fer many
long years. Rena has be'n to school, an' has
traveled, an' has had chances--better chances than
anybody roun' here knows."
"She's jes' de lady I'm lookin' fer, ter teach ou'
school," rejoined Wain, with emphasis. "Wid
her schoolin' an' my riccommen', she kin git a fus'-
class ce'tifikit an' draw fo'ty dollars a month; an'
a lady er her color kin keep a lot er little niggers
straighter 'n a darker lady could. We jus' got ter
have her ter teach ou' school--ef we kin git her."
Rena's interest in the prospect of employment
at her chosen work was so great that she paid little
attention to Wain's compliments. Mis' Molly led
Mary B. away to the kitchen on some pretext, and
left Rena to entertain the gentleman. She questioned
him eagerly about the school, and he gave
the most glowing accounts of the elegant school-
house, the bright pupils, and the congenial society
of the neighborhood. He spoke almost entirely in
superlatives, and, after making due allowance for
what Rena perceived to be a temperamental tendency
to exaggeration, she concluded that she would
find in the school a worthy field of usefulness, and
in this polite and good-natured though somewhat
wordy man a coadjutor upon whom she could rely
in her first efforts; for she was not over-confident
of her powers, which seemed to grow less as the
way opened for their exercise.
"Do you think I'm competent to teach the
school?" she asked of the visitor, after stating
some of her qualifications.
"Oh, dere 's no doubt about it, Miss Rena,"
replied Wain, who had listened with an air of great
wisdom, though secretly aware that he was too
ignorant of letters to form a judgment; "you kin
teach de school all right, an' could ef you didn't
know half ez much. You won't have no trouble
managin' de child'en, nuther. Ef any of 'em gits
onruly, jes' call on me fer he'p, an' I'll make 'em
walk Spanish. I'm chuhman er de school committee,
an' I'll lam de hide off'n any scholar dat
don' behave. You kin trus' me fer dat, sho' ez
I'm a-settin' here."
"Then," said Rena, "I'll undertake it, and do
my best. I'm sure you'll not be too exacting."
"Yo' bes', Miss Rena,'ll be de bes' dey is.
Don' you worry ner fret. Dem niggers won't
have no other teacher after dey've once laid eyes
on you: I'll guarantee dat. Dere won't be no
trouble, not a bit."
"Well, Cousin Molly," said Mary B. to Mis'
Molly in the kitchen, "how does the plan strike
"Ef Rena's satisfied, I am," replied Mis' Molly.
"But you'd better say nothin' about ketchin' a
beau, or any such foolishness, er else she'd be just
as likely not to go nigh Sampson County."
"Befo' Cousin Jeff goes back," confided Mary
B., "I'd like ter give 'im a party, but my house
is too small. I wuz wonderin'," she added tentatively,
"ef I could n' borry yo' house."
"Shorely, Ma'y B. I'm int'rested in Mr.
Wain on Rena's account, an' it's as little as I kin
do to let you use my house an' help you git things
The date of the party was set for Thursday
night, as Wain was to leave Patesville on Friday
morning, taking with him the new teacher. The
party would serve the double purpose of a compliment
to the guest and a farewell to Rena, and it
might prove the precursor, the mother secretly
hoped, of other festivities to follow at some later
One Wednesday morning, about six weeks after
his return home, Tryon received a letter from
Judge Straight with reference to the note left
with him at Patesville for collection. This
communication properly required an answer, which
might have been made in writing within the compass
of ten lines. No sooner, however, had Tryon
read the letter than he began to perceive reasons
why it should be answered in person. He had
left Patesville under extremely painful circumstances,
vowing that he would never return; and
yet now the barest pretext, by which no one could
have been deceived except willingly, was sufficient
to turn his footsteps thither again. He explained
to his mother--with a vagueness which she found
somewhat puzzling, but ascribed to her own feminine
obtuseness in matters of business--the reasons
that imperatively demanded his presence in
Patesville. With an early start he could drive
there in one day,--he had an excellent roadster,
a light buggy, and a recent rain had left the road
in good condition,--a day would suffice for the
transaction of his business, and the third day
would bring him home again. He set out on
his journey on Thursday morning, with this programme
very clearly outlined.
Tryon would not at first have admitted even to
himself that Rena's presence in Patesville had any
bearing whatever upon his projected visit. The
matter about which Judge Straight had written
might, it was clear, be viewed in several aspects.
The judge had written him concerning the one of
immediate importance. It would be much easier
to discuss the subject in all its bearings, and clean
up the whole matter, in one comprehensive personal
The importance of this business, then, seemed
very urgent for the first few hours of Tryon's
journey. Ordinarily a careful driver and merciful
to his beast, his eagerness to reach Patesville
increased gradually until it became necessary to
exercise some self-restraint in order not to urge
his faithful mare beyond her powers; and soon he
could no longer pretend obliviousness of the fact
that some attraction stronger than the whole
amount of Duncan McSwayne's note was urging
him irresistibly toward his destination. The old
town beyond the distant river, his heart told him
clamorously, held the object in all the world to
him most dear. Memory brought up in vivid detail
every moment of his brief and joyous courtship,
each tender word, each enchanting smile,
every fond caress. He lived his past happiness
over again down to the moment of that fatal
discovery. What horrible fate was it that had
involved him--nay, that had caught this sweet
delicate girl in such a blind alley? A wild hope
flashed across his mind: perhaps the ghastly story
might not be true; perhaps, after all, the girl was
no more a negro than she seemed. He had heard
sad stories of white children, born out of wedlock,
abandoned by sinful parents to the care or adoption
of colored women, who had reared them as
their own, the children's future basely sacrificed to
hide the parents' shame. He would confront this
reputed mother of his darling and wring the truth
from her. He was in a state of mind where any
sort of a fairy tale would have seemed reasonable.
He would almost have bribed some one to tell him
that the woman he had loved, the woman he still
loved (he felt a thrill of lawless pleasure in the
confession), was not the descendant of slaves,--
that he might marry her, and not have before his
eyes the gruesome fear that some one of their
children might show even the faintest mark of the
At noon he halted at a convenient hamlet, fed
and watered his mare, and resumed his journey
after an hour's rest. By this time he had well-
nigh forgotten about the legal business that formed
the ostensible occasion for his journey, and was
conscious only of a wild desire to see the woman
whose image was beckoning him on to Patesville
as fast as his horse could take him.
At sundown he stopped again, about ten miles
from the town, and cared for his now tired beast.
He knew her capacity, however, and calculated
that she could stand the additional ten miles without
injury. The mare set out with reluctance,
but soon settled resignedly down into a steady jog.
Memory had hitherto assailed Tryon with the
vision of past joys. As he neared the town,
imagination attacked him with still more moving
images. He had left her, this sweet flower of
womankind--white or not, God had never made
a fairer!--he had seen her fall to the hard
pavement, with he knew not what resulting injury.
He had left her tender frame--the touch of her
finger-tips had made him thrill with happiness--
to be lifted by strange hands, while he with heartless
pride had driven deliberately away, without a
word of sorrow or regret. He had ignored her as
completely as though she had never existed. That
he had been deceived was true. But had he not
aided in his own deception? Had not Warwick
told him distinctly that they were of no family,
and was it not his own fault that he had not
followed up the clue thus given him? Had not Rena
compared herself to the child's nurse, and had
he not assured her that if she were the nurse, he
would marry her next day? The deception had
been due more to his own blindness than to any
lack of honesty on the part of Rena and her
brother. In the light of his present feelings they
seemed to have been absurdly outspoken. He
was glad that he had kept his discovery to himself.
He had considered himself very magnanimous
not to have exposed the fraud that was
being perpetrated upon society: it was with a very
comfortable feeling that he now realized that the
matter was as profound a secret as before.
"She ought to have been born white," he
muttered, adding weakly, "I would to God that I had
never found her out!"
Drawing near the bridge that crossed the river
to the town, he pictured to himself a pale girl,
with sorrowful, tear-stained eyes, pining away in
the old gray house behind the cedars for love of
him, dying, perhaps, of a broken heart. He would
hasten to her; he would dry her tears with kisses;
he would express sorrow for his cruelty.
The tired mare had crossed the bridge and was
slowly toiling up Front Street; she was near the
limit of her endurance, and Tryon did not urge
They might talk the matter over, and if they
must part, part at least they would in peace and
friendship. If he could not marry her, he would
never marry any one else; it would be cruel for
him to seek happiness while she was denied it,
for, having once given her heart to him, she could
never, he was sure,--so instinctively fine was
her nature,--she could never love any one less
worthy than himself, and would therefore probably
never marry. He knew from a Clarence acquaintance,
who had written him a letter, that Rena had
not reappeared in that town.
If he should discover--the chance was one in
a thousand--that she was white; or if he should
find it too hard to leave her--ah, well! he was a
white man, one of a race born to command. He
would make her white; no one beyond the old
town would ever know the difference. If, perchance,
their secret should be disclosed, the world was
wide; a man of courage and ambition, inspired by
love, might make a career anywhere. Circumstances
made weak men; strong men mould circumstances
to do their bidding. He would not
let his darling die of grief, whatever the price
must be paid for her salvation. She was only a
few rods away from him now. In a moment he
would see her; he would take her tenderly in his
arms, and heart to heart they would mutually
forgive and forget, and, strengthened by their love,
would face the future boldly and bid the world do
THE GUEST OF HONOR
The evening of the party arrived. The house
had been thoroughly cleaned in preparation for the
event, and decorated with the choicest treasures of
the garden. By eight o'clock the guests had gathered.
They were all mulattoes,--all people of
mixed blood were called "mulattoes" in North
Carolina. There were dark mulattoes and bright
mulattoes. Mis' Molly's guests were mostly of the
bright class, most of them more than half white,
and few of them less. In Mis' Molly's small circle,
straight hair was the only palliative of a dark
complexion. Many of the guests would not have
been casually distinguishable from white people of
the poorer class. Others bore unmistakable traces
of Indian ancestry,--for Cherokee and Tuscarora
blood was quite widely diffused among the free
negroes of North Carolina, though well-nigh lost
sight of by the curious custom of the white people
to ignore anything but the negro blood in those
who were touched by its potent current. Very few
of those present had been slaves. The free colored
people of Patesville were numerous enough before
the war to have their own "society," and human
enough to despise those who did not possess
advantages equal to their own; and at this time they still
looked down upon those who had once been held in
bondage. The only black man present occupied a
chair which stood on a broad chest in one corner,
and extracted melody from a fiddle to which a
whole generation of the best people of Patesville
had danced and made merry. Uncle Needham
seldom played for colored gatherings, but made an
exception in Mis' Molly's case; she was not white,
but he knew her past; if she was not the rose,
she had at least been near the rose. When the
company had gathered, Mary B., as mistress of
ceremonies, whispered to Uncle Needham, who
tapped his violin sharply with the bow.
"Ladies an' gent'emens, take yo' pa'dners fer a
Mr. Wain, as the guest of honor, opened the
ball with his hostess. He wore a broadcloth coat
and trousers, a heavy glittering chain across the
spacious front of his white waistcoat, and a large
red rose in his buttonhole. If his boots were
slightly run down at the heel, so trivial a detail
passed unnoticed in the general splendor of his
attire. Upon a close or hostile inspection there
would have been some features of his ostensibly
good-natured face--the shifty eye, the full and
slightly drooping lower lip--which might have
given a student of physiognomy food for reflection.
But whatever the latent defects of Wain's character,
he proved himself this evening a model of
geniality, presuming not at all upon his reputed
wealth, but winning golden opinions from those
who came to criticise, of whom, of course, there
were a few, the company being composed of human
When the dance began, Wain extended his
large, soft hand to Mary B., yellow, buxom, thirty,
with white and even teeth glistening behind her
full red lips. A younger sister of Mary B.'s was
paired with Billy Oxendine, a funny little tailor,
a great gossip, and therefore a favorite among the
women. Mis' Molly graciously consented, after
many protestations of lack of skill and want of
practice, to stand up opposite Homer Pettifoot,
Mary B.'s husband, a tall man, with a slight stoop,
a bald crown, and full, dreamy eyes,--a man of
much imagination and a large fund of anecdote.
Two other couples completed the set; others were
restrained by bashfulness or religious scruples,
which did not yield until later in the evening.
The perfumed air from the garden without and
the cut roses within mingled incongruously with the
alien odors of musk and hair oil, of which several
young barbers in the company were especially
redolent. There was a play of sparkling eyes and
glancing feet. Mary B. danced with the languorous
grace of an Eastern odalisque, Mis' Molly with
the mincing, hesitating step of one long out of
practice. Wain performed saltatory prodigies. This
was a golden opportunity for the display in which
his soul found delight. He introduced variations
hitherto unknown to the dance. His skill and
suppleness brought a glow of admiration into the
eyes of the women, and spread a cloud of jealousy
over the faces of several of the younger men, who
saw themselves eclipsed.
Rena had announced in advance her intention
to take no active part in the festivities. "I don't
feel like dancing, mamma--I shall never dance
"Well, now, Rena," answered her mother, "of
co'se you're too dignified, sence you've be'n 'sociatin'
with white folks, to be hoppin' roun' an' kickin'
up like Ma'y B. an' these other yaller gals;
but of co'se, too, you can't slight the comp'ny
entirely, even ef it ain't jest exac'ly our party,--
you'll have to pay 'em some little attention, 'specially
Mr. Wain, sence you're goin' down yonder
Rena conscientiously did what she thought
politeness required. She went the round of the guests
in the early part of the evening and exchanged
greetings with them. To several requests for dances
she replied that she was not dancing. She did not
hold herself aloof because of pride; any instinctive
shrinking she might have felt by reason of her recent
association with persons of greater refinement
was offset by her still more newly awakened zeal
for humanity; they were her people, she must not
despise them. But the occasion suggested painful
memories of other and different scenes in
which she had lately participated. Once or twice
these memories were so vivid as almost to
overpower her. She slipped away from the company,
and kept in the background as much as possible
without seeming to slight any one.
The guests as well were dimly conscious of a
slight barrier between Mis' Molly's daughter and
themselves. The time she had spent apart from
these friends of her youth had rendered it impossible
for her ever to meet them again upon the plane
of common interests and common thoughts. It
was much as though one, having acquired the
vernacular of his native country, had lived in a foreign
land long enough to lose the language of his childhood
without acquiring fully that of his adopted
country. Miss Rowena Warwick could never again
become quite the Rena Walden who had left the
house behind the cedars no more than a year and
a half before. Upon this very difference were
based her noble aspirations for usefulness,--one
must stoop in order that one may lift others. Any
other young woman present would have been importuned
beyond her powers of resistance. Rena's
reserve was respected.
When supper was announced, somewhat early in
the evening, the dancers found seats in the hall or
on the front piazza. Aunt Zilphy, assisted by Mis'
Molly and Mary B., passed around the refreshments,
which consisted of fried chicken, buttered
biscuits, pound-cake, and eggnog. When the first
edge of appetite was taken off, the conversation
waxed animated. Homer Pettifoot related, with
minute detail, an old, threadbare hunting lie,
dating, in slightly differing forms, from the age of
Nimrod, about finding twenty-five partridges sitting
in a row on a rail, and killing them all with a
single buckshot, which passed through twenty-four
and lodged in the body of the twenty-fifth, from
which it was extracted and returned to the shot
pouch for future service.
This story was followed by a murmur of
incredulity--of course, the thing was possible, but
Homer's faculty for exaggeration was so well
known that any statement of his was viewed with
suspicion. Homer seemed hurt at this lack of
faith, and was disposed to argue the point, but
the sonorous voice of Mr. Wain on the other side
of the room cut short his protestations, in much
the same way that the rising sun extinguishes the
light of lesser luminaries.
"I wuz a member er de fus' legislatur' after de
wah," Wain was saying. "When I went up f'm
Sampson in de fall, I had to pass th'ough Smithfiel',
I got in town in de afternoon, an' put up at
de bes' hotel. De lan'lo'd did n' have no s'picion
but what I wuz a white man, an' he gimme a room,
an' I had supper an' breakfas', an' went on ter
Rolly nex' mornin'. W'en de session wuz over,
I come along back, an' w'en I got ter Smithfiel', I
driv' up ter de same hotel. I noticed, as soon as I
got dere, dat de place had run down consid'able--
dere wuz weeds growin' in de yard, de winders wuz
dirty, an' ev'ything roun' dere looked kinder lonesome
an' shif'less. De lan'lo'd met me at de do';
he looked mighty down in de mouth, an' sezee:--
"`Look a-here, w'at made you come an' stop at
my place widout tellin' me you wuz a black man?
Befo' you come th'ough dis town I had a fus'-class
business. But w'en folks found out dat a nigger
had put up here, business drapped right off,
an' I've had ter shet up my hotel. You oughter
be'shamed er yo'se'f fer ruinin' a po' man w'at
had n' never done no harm ter you. You've done
a mean, low-lived thing, an' a jes' God'll punish
you fer it.'
"De po' man acshully bust inter tears,"
continued Mr. Wain magnanimously, "an' I felt so
sorry fer 'im--he wuz a po' white man tryin' ter
git up in de worl'--dat I hauled out my purse
an' gin 'im ten dollars, an' he 'peared monst'ous
glad ter git it."
" How good-hearted! How kin'!" murmured
the ladies. "It done credit to yo' feelin's."
" Don't b'lieve a word er dem lies," muttered
one young man to another sarcastically. "He
could n' pass fer white, 'less'n it wuz a mighty dark
Upon this glorious evening of his life, Mr.
Jefferson Wain had one distinctly hostile critic,
of whose presence he was blissfully unconscious.
Frank Fowler had not been invited to the party,--
his family did not go with Mary B.'s set. Rena
had suggested to her mother that he be invited,
but Mis' Molly had demurred on the ground that
it was not her party, and that she had no right to
issue invitations. It is quite likely that she would
have sought an invitation for Frank from Mary
B.; but Frank was black, and would not harmonize
with the rest of the company, who would not have
Mis' Molly's reasons for treating him well. She
had compromised the matter by stepping across the
way in the afternoon and suggesting that Frank
might come over and sit on the back porch and
look at the dancing and share in the supper.
Frank was not without a certain honest pride.
He was sensitive enough, too, not to care to go
where he was not wanted. He would have curtly
refused any such maimed invitation to any other
place. But would he not see Rena in her best
attire, and might she not perhaps, in passing, speak
a word to him?
"Thank y', Mis' Molly," he replied, "I'll
prob'ly come over."
"You're a big fool, boy," observed his father after
Mis' Molly had gone back across the street, "ter
be stickin' roun' dem yaller niggers 'cross de street,
an' slobb'rin' an' slav'rin' over 'em, an' hangin'
roun' deir back do' wuss 'n ef dey wuz w'ite folks.
I'd see 'em dead fus'!"
Frank himself resisted the temptation for half
an hour after the music began, but at length he
made his way across the street and stationed himself
at the window opening upon the back piazza.
When Rena was in the room, he had eyes for her
only, but when she was absent, he fixed his
attention mainly upon Wain. With jealous
clairvoyance he observed that Wain's eyes followed
Rena when she left the room, and lit up when she
returned. Frank had heard that Rena was going
away with this man, and he watched Wain closely,
liking him less the longer he looked at him. To
his fancy, Wain's style and skill were affectation,
his good-nature mere hypocrisy, and his glance at
Rena the eye of the hawk upon his quarry. He
had heard that Wain was unmarried, and he could
not see how, this being so, he could help wishing
Rena for a wife. Frank would have been content
to see her marry a white man, who would have
raised her to a plane worthy of her merits. In
this man's shifty eye he read the liar--his wealth
and standing were probably as false as his seeming
"Is that you, Frank?" said a soft voice near at
He looked up with a joyful thrill. Rena was
peering intently at him, as if trying to distinguish
his features in the darkness. It was a bright
moonlight night, but Frank stood in the shadow of
"Yas 'm, it's me, Miss Rena. Yo' mammy said
I could come over an' see you-all dance. You ain'
be'n out on de flo' at all, ter-night."
" No, Frank, I don't care for dancing. I shall
not dance to-night."
This answer was pleasing to Frank. If he could
not hope to dance with her, at least the men inside
--at least this snake in the grass from down the
country--should not have that privilege.
"But you must have some supper, Frank," said
Rena. "I'll bring it myself."
"No, Miss Rena, I don' keer fer nothin'--I
did n' come over ter eat--r'al'y I didn't."
"Nonsense, Frank, there's plenty of it. I have
no appetite, and you shall have my portion."
She brought him a slice of cake and a glass of
eggnog. When Mis' Molly, a minute later, came
out upon the piazza, Frank left the yard and
walked down the street toward the old canal. Rena
had spoken softly to him; she had fed him with
her own dainty hands. He might never hope that
she would see in him anything but a friend; but
he loved her, and he would watch over her and
protect her, wherever she might be. He did not
believe that she would ever marry the grinning
hypocrite masquerading back there in Mis' Molly's
parlor; but the man would bear watching.
Mis' Molly had come to call her daughter into
the house. "Rena," she said, "Mr. Wain wants
ter know if you won't dance just one dance with
"Yas, Rena," pleaded Mary B., who followed
Miss Molly out to the piazza, "jes' one dance. I
don't think you're treatin' my comp'ny jes' right,
"You're goin' down there with 'im," added her
mother, "an' it 'd be just as well to be on friendly
terms with 'im."
Wain himself had followed the women. "Sho'ly,
Miss Rena, you're gwine ter honah me wid one
dance? I'd go 'way f'm dis pa'ty sad at hea't ef
I had n' stood up oncet wid de young lady er de
As Rena, weakly persuaded, placed her hand
on Wain's arm and entered the house, a buggy,
coming up Front Street, paused a moment at the
corner, and then turning slowly, drove quietly up
the nameless by-street, concealed by the intervening
cedars, until it reached a point from which the
occupant could view, through the open front window,
the interior of the parlor.
SWING YOUR PARTNERS
Moved by tenderness and thoughts of self-sacrifice,
which had occupied his mind to the momentary
exclusion of all else, Tryon had scarcely
noticed, as be approached the house behind the
cedars, a strain of lively music, to which was added,
as he drew still nearer, the accompaniment of other
festive sounds. He suddenly awoke, however, to
the fact that these signs of merriment came from
the house at which he had intended to stop;--
he had not meant that Rena should pass another
sleepless night of sorrow, or that he should himself
endure another needless hour of suspense.
He drew rein at the corner. Shocked surprise,
a nascent anger, a vague alarm, an insistent
curiosity, urged him nearer. Turning the mare into
the side street and keeping close to the fence, he
drove ahead in the shadow of the cedars until he
reached a gap through which he could see into the
open door and windows of the brightly lighted
There was evidently a ball in progress. The
fiddle was squeaking merrily so a tune that he
remembered well,--it was associated with one of
the most delightful evenings of his life, that of
the tournament ball. A mellow negro voice was
calling with a rhyming accompaniment the figures
of a quadrille. Tryon, with parted lips and slowly
hardening heart, leaned forward from the buggy-
seat, gripping the rein so tightly that his nails
cut into the opposing palm. Above the clatter of
noisy conversation rose the fiddler's voice:--
"Swing yo' pa'dners; doan be shy,
Look yo' lady in de eye!
Th'ow yo' ahm aroun' huh wais';
Take yo' time--dey ain' no has'e!"
To the middle of the floor, in full view through
an open window, advanced the woman who all day
long had been the burden of his thoughts--not
pale with grief and hollow-eyed with weeping, but
flushed with pleasure, around her waist the arm
of a burly, grinning mulatto, whose face was
offensively familiar to Tryon.
With a muttered curse of concentrated
bitterness, Tryon struck the mare a sharp blow with
the whip. The sensitive creature, spirited even
in her great weariness, resented the lash and
started off with the bit in her teeth. Perceiving
that it would be difficult to turn in the narrow
roadway without running into the ditch at the
left, Tryon gave the mare rein and dashed down
the street, scarcely missing, as the buggy crossed
the bridge, a man standing abstractedly by the old
canal, who sprang aside barely in time to avoid
being run over.
Meantime Rena was passing through a trying
ordeal. After the first few bars, the fiddler
plunged into a well-known air, in which Rena,
keenly susceptible to musical impressions,
recognized the tune to which, as Queen of Love and
Beauty, she had opened the dance at her entrance
into the world of life and love, for it was there
she had met George Tryon. The combination of
music and movement brought up the scene with
great distinctness. Tryon, peering angrily through
the cedars, had not been more conscious than she
of the external contrast between her partners on
this and the former occasion. She perceived, too,
as Tryon from the outside had not, the difference
between Wain's wordy flattery (only saved by his
cousin's warning from pointed and fulsome adulation),
and the tenderly graceful compliment,
couched in the romantic terms of chivalry, with
which the knight of the handkerchief had charmed
her ear. It was only by an immense effort that she
was able to keep her emotions under control until
the end of the dance, when she fled to her chamber
and burst into tears. It was not the cruel Tryon
who had blasted her love with his deadly look that
she mourned, but the gallant young knight who
had worn her favor on his lance and crowned her
Queen of Love and Beauty.
Tryon's stay in Patesville was very brief. He
drove to the hotel and put up for the night. During
many sleepless hours his mind was in a turmoil
with a very different set of thoughts from those
which had occupied it on the way to town. Not
the least of them was a profound self-contempt for
his own lack of discernment. How had he been
so blind as not to have read long ago the character
of this wretched girl who had bewitched him?
To-night his eyes had been opened--he had seen
her with the mask thrown off, a true daughter of
a race in which the sensuous enjoyment of the
moment took precedence of taste or sentiment or any
of the higher emotions. Her few months of boarding-
school, her brief association with white people,
had evidently been a mere veneer over the underlying
negro, and their effects had slipped away as
soon as the intercourse had ceased. With the
monkey-like imitativeness of the negro she had copied
the manners of white people while she lived among
them, and had dropped them with equal facility
when they ceased to serve a purpose. Who but
a negro could have recovered so soon from what
had seemed a terrible bereavement?--she herself
must have felt it at the time, for otherwise she
would not have swooned. A woman of sensibility,
as this one had seemed to be, should naturally feel
more keenly, and for a longer time than a man,
an injury to the affections; but he, a son of the
ruling race, had been miserable for six weeks about
a girl who had so far forgotten him as already to
plunge headlong into the childish amusements of
her own ignorant and degraded people. What
more, indeed, he asked himself savagely,--what
more could be expected of the base-born child of
the plaything of a gentleman's idle hour, who to
this ignoble origin added the blood of a servile
race? And he, George Tryon, had honored her
with his love; he had very nearly linked his fate
and joined his blood to hers by the solemn sanctions
of church and state. Tryon was not a devout
man, but he thanked God with religious fervor
that he had been saved a second time from a
mistake which would have wrecked his whole future.
If he had yielded to the momentary weakness of
the past night,--the outcome of a sickly sentimentality
to which he recognized now, in the light
of reflection, that he was entirely too prone,--he
would have regretted it soon enough. The black
streak would have been sure to come out in some
form, sooner or later, if not in the wife, then in
her children. He saw clearly enough, in this hour
of revulsion, that with his temperament and training
such a union could never have been happy.
If all the world had been ignorant of the dark
secret, it would always have been in his own
thoughts, or at least never far away. Each fault
of hers that the close daily association of husband
and wife might reveal,--the most flawless of
sweethearts do not pass scathless through the long
test of matrimony,--every wayward impulse of
his children, every defect of mind, morals, temper,
or health, would have been ascribed to the dark
ancestral strain. Happiness under such conditions
would have been impossible.
When Tryon lay awake in the early morning,
after a few brief hours of sleep, the business which
had brought him to Patesville seemed, in the cold
light of reason, so ridiculously inadequate that he
felt almost ashamed to have set up such a pretext
for his journey. The prospect, too, of meeting
Dr. Green and his family, of having to explain
his former sudden departure, and of running a
gauntlet of inquiry concerning his marriage to the
aristocratic Miss Warwick of South Carolina;
the fear that some one at Patesville might have
suspected a connection between Rena's swoon and
his own flight,--these considerations so moved
this impressionable and impulsive young man that
he called a bell-boy, demanded an early breakfast,
ordered his horse, paid his reckoning, and started
upon his homeward journey forthwith. A certain
distrust of his own sensibility, which he felt to
be curiously inconsistent with his most positive
convictions, led him to seek the river bridge by a
roundabout route which did not take him past the
house where, a few hours before, he had seen the
last fragment of his idol shattered beyond the hope
The party broke up at an early hour, since most
of the guests were working-people, and the travelers
were to make an early start next day. About
nine in the morning, Wain drove round to Mis'
Molly's. Rena's trunk was strapped behind the
buggy, and she set out, in the company of Wain,
for her new field of labor. The school term was
only two months in length, and she did not expect
to return until its expiration. Just before taking
her seat in the buggy, Rena felt a sudden sinking
of the heart.
"Oh, mother," she whispered, as they stood
wrapped in a close embrace, "I'm afraid to leave
you. I left you once, and it turned out so miserably."
"It'll turn out better this time, honey," replied
her mother soothingly. "Good-by, child. Take
care of yo'self an' yo'r money, and write to yo'r
One kiss all round, and Rena was lifted into
the buggy. Wain seized the reins, and under his
skillful touch the pretty mare began to prance and
curvet with restrained impatience. Wain could
not resist the opportunity to show off before the
party, which included Mary B.'s entire family and
several other neighbors, who had gathered to see
the travelers off.
"Good-by ter Patesville! Good-by, folkses all!"
he cried, with a wave of his disengaged hand.
"Good-by, mother! Good-by, all!" cried Rena,
as with tears in her heart and a brave smile on her
face she left her home behind her for the second
When they had crossed the river bridge, the
travelers came to a long stretch of rising ground,
from the summit of which they could look back
over the white sandy road for nearly a mile.
Neither Rena nor her companion saw Frank Fowler
behind the chinquapin bush at the foot of the hill,
nor the gaze of mute love and longing with which
he watched the buggy mount the long incline. He
had not been able to trust himself to bid her
farewell. He had seen her go away once before with
every prospect of happiness, and come back, a dove
with a wounded wing, to the old nest behind the
cedars. She was going away again, with a man
whom he disliked and distrusted. If she had met
misfortune before, what were her prospects for
The buggy paused at the top of the hill, and
Frank, shading his eyes with his hand, thought he
could see her turn and look behind. Look back,
dear child, towards your home and those who love
you! For who knows more than this faithful
worshiper what threads of the past Fate is weaving
into your future, or whether happiness or misery
lies before you?
The road to Sampson County lay for the most
part over the pine-clad sandhills,--an alternation
of gentle rises and gradual descents, with now and
then a swamp of greater or less extent. Long
stretches of the highway led through the virgin
forest, for miles unbroken by a clearing or sign of
They traveled slowly, with frequent pauses in
shady places, for the weather was hot. The journey,
made leisurely, required more than a day,
and might with slight effort be prolonged into
two. They stopped for the night at a small
village, where Wain found lodging for Rena with an
acquaintance of his, and for himself with another,
while a third took charge of the horse, the
accommodation for travelers being limited. Rena's
appearance and manners were the subject of much
comment. It was necessary to explain to several
curious white people that Rena was a woman of
color. A white woman might have driven with
Wain without attracting remark,--most white
ladies had negro coachmen. That a woman of
Rena's complexion should eat at a negro's table, or
sleep beneath a negro's roof, was a seeming breach
of caste which only black blood could excuse. The
explanation was never questioned. No white person
of sound mind would ever claim to be a
They resumed their journey somewhat late in the
morning. Rena would willingly have hastened, for
she was anxious to plunge into her new work; but
Wain seemed disposed to prolong the pleasant drive,
and beguiled the way for a time with stories of
wonderful things he had done and strange experiences
of a somewhat checkered career. He was shrewd
enough to avoid any subject which would offend a
modest young woman, but too obtuse to perceive
that much of what he said would not commend
him to a person of refinement. He made little
reference to his possessions, concerning which so
much had been said at Patesville; and this
reticence was a point in his favor. If he had not
been so much upon his guard and Rena so much
absorbed by thoughts of her future work, such a
drive would have furnished a person of her discernment
a very fair measure of the man's character.
To these distractions must be added the entire
absence of any idea that Wain might have amorous
designs upon her; and any shortcomings of
manners or speech were excused by the broad
mantle of charity which Rena in her new-found zeal for
the welfare of her people was willing to throw over
all their faults. They were the victims of
oppression; they were not responsible for its results.
Toward the end of the second day, while nearing
their destination, the travelers passed a large
white house standing back from the road at the
foot of a lane. Around it grew widespreading
trees and well-kept shrubbery. The fences were
in good repair. Behind the house and across the
road stretched extensive fields of cotton and
waving corn. They had passed no other place that
showed such signs of thrift and prosperity.
"Oh, what a lovely place!" exclaimed Rena.
"That is yours, isn't it?"
"No; we ain't got to my house yet," he
answered. "Dat house b'longs ter de riches' people
roun' here. Dat house is over in de nex' county.
We're right close to de line now."
Shortly afterwards they turned off from the
main highway they had been pursuing, and struck
into a narrower road to the left.
"De main road," explained Wain, "goes on to
Clinton, 'bout five miles er mo' away. Dis one
we're turnin' inter now will take us to my place,
which is 'bout three miles fu'ther on. We'll git
dere now in an hour er so."
Wain lived in an old plantation house, somewhat
dilapidated, and surrounded by an air of neglect
and shiftlessness, but still preserving a remnant
of dignity in its outlines and comfort in its interior
arrangements. Rena was assigned a large room on
the second floor. She was somewhat surprised at
the make-up of the household. Wain's mother--
an old woman, much darker than her son--kept
house for him. A sister with two children lived
in the house. The element of surprise lay in the
presence of two small children left by Wain's wife,
of whom Rena now heard for the first time. He
had lost his wife, he informed Rena sadly, a couple
of years before.
"Yas, Miss Rena," she sighed, "de Lawd give
her, an' de Lawd tuck her away. Blessed be de
name er de Lawd." He accompanied this sententious
quotation with a wicked look from under his
half-closed eyelids that Rena did not see.
The following morning Wain drove her in his
buggy over to the county town, where she took the
teacher's examination. She was given a seat in a
room with a number of other candidates for
certificates, but the fact leaking out from some remark
of Wain's that she was a colored girl, objection
was quietly made by several of the would-be teachers
to her presence in the room, and she was requested
to retire until the white teachers should
have been examined. An hour or two later she
was given a separate examination, which she passed
without difficulty. The examiner, a gentleman of
local standing, was dimly conscious that she might
not have found her exclusion pleasant, and was
especially polite. It would have been strange,
indeed, if he had not been impressed by her sweet
face and air of modest dignity, which were all the
more striking because of her social disability. He
fell into conversation with her, became interested
in her hopes and aims, and very cordially offered
to be of service, if at any time he might, in
connection with her school.
"You have the satisfaction," he said, "of
receiving the only first-grade certificate issued to-day.
You might teach a higher grade of pupils than you
will find at Sandy Run, but let us hope that you
may in time raise them to your own level."
"Which I doubt very much," he muttered to
himself, as she went away with Wain. "What a
pity that such a woman should be a nigger! If
she were anything to me, though, I should hate
to trust her anywhere near that saddle-colored
scoundrel. He's a thoroughly bad lot, and will
Rena, however, was serenely ignorant of any
danger from the accommodating Wain. Absorbed
in her own thoughts and plans, she had not sought
to look beneath the surface of his somewhat overdone
politeness. In a few days she began her work
as teacher, and sought to forget in the service of
others the dull sorrow that still gnawed at her heart.
THE SCHOOLHOUSE IN THE WOODS
Blanche Leary, closely observant of Tryon's
moods, marked a decided change in his manner
after his return from his trip to Patesville. His
former moroseness had given way to a certain
defiant lightness, broken now and then by an
involuntary sigh, but maintained so well, on the
whole, that his mother detected no lapses whatever.
The change was characterized by another feature
agreeable to both the women: Tryon showed
decidedly more interest than ever before in Miss
Leary's society. Within a week he asked her
several times to play a selection on the piano,
displaying, as she noticed, a decided preference for
gay and cheerful music, and several times suggesting
a change when she chose pieces of a sentimental
cast. More than once, during the second week
after his return, he went out riding with her; she
was a graceful horsewoman, perfectly at home in
the saddle, and appearing to advantage in a riding-
habit. She was aware that Tryon watched her now
and then, with an eye rather critical than indulgent.
"He is comparing me with some other girl,"
she surmised. "I seem to stand the test very well.
I wonder who the other is, and what was the
Miss Leary exerted all her powers to interest
and amuse the man she had set out to win, and
who seemed nearer than ever before. Tryon, to
his pleased surprise, discovered in her mind depths
that he had never suspected. She displayed a
singular affinity for the tastes that were his--he
could not, of course, know how carefully she had
studied them. The old wound, recently reopened,
seemed to be healing rapidly, under conditions
more conducive than before to perfect recovery.
No longer, indeed, was he pursued by the picture
of Rena discovered and unmasked--this he had
definitely banished from the realm of sentiment to
that of reason. The haunting image of Rena loving
and beloved, amid the harmonious surroundings
of her brother's home, was not so readily displaced.
Nevertheless, he reached in several weeks a point
from which he could consider her as one thinks of
a dear one removed by the hand of death, or smitten
by some incurable ailment of mind or body.
Erelong, he fondly believed, the recovery would
be so far complete that he could consign to the
tomb of pleasant memories even the most thrilling
episodes of his ill-starred courtship.
"George," said Mrs. Tryon one morning while
her son was in this cheerful mood, "I'm sending
Blanche over to Major McLeod's to do an errand
for me. Would you mind driving her over? The
road may be rough after the storm last night, and
Blanche has an idea that no one drives so well as
"Why, yes, mother, I'll be glad to drive Blanche
over. I want to see the major myself."
They were soon bowling along between the pines,
behind the handsome mare that had carried Tryon
so well at the Clarence tournament. Presently he
drew up sharply.
"A tree has fallen squarely across the road," he
exclaimed. "We shall have to turn back a little
way and go around."
They drove back a quarter of a mile and turned
into a by-road leading to the right through the
woods. The solemn silence of the pine forest is
soothing or oppressive, according to one's mood.
Beneath the cool arcade of the tall, overarching
trees a deep peace stole over Tryon's heart. He
had put aside indefinitely and forever an unhappy
and impossible love. The pretty and affectionate
girl beside him would make an ideal wife. Of
her family and blood he was sure. She was his
mother's choice, and his mother had set her heart
upon their marriage. Why not speak to her now,
and thus give himself the best possible protection
against stray flames of love?
"Blanche," he said, looking at her kindly.
"Yes, George?" Her voice was very gentle,
and slightly tremulous. Could she have divined
his thought? Love is a great clairvoyant.
"Blanche, dear, I"--
A clatter of voices broke upon the stillness of
the forest and interrupted Tryon's speech. A
sudden turn to the left brought the buggy to a
little clearing, in the midst of which stood a small
log schoolhouse. Out of the schoolhouse a swarm
of colored children were emerging, the suppressed
energy of the school hour finding vent in vocal
exercise of various sorts. A group had already
formed a ring, and were singing with great volume
"Miss Jane, she loves sugar an' tea,
Miss Jane, she loves candy.
Miss Jane, she can whirl all around
An' kiss her love quite handy.
"De oak grows tall,
De pine grows slim,
So rise you up, my true love,
An' let me come in."
"What a funny little darkey!" exclaimed Miss
Leary, pointing to a diminutive lad who was walking
on his hands, with his feet balanced in the air.
At sight of the buggy and its occupants this sable
acrobat, still retaining his inverted position, moved
toward the newcomers, and, reversing himself with
a sudden spring, brought up standing beside the
"Hoddy, Mars Geo'ge!" he exclaimed, bobbing
his head and kicking his heel out behind in
approved plantation style.
"Hello, Plato," replied the young man, "what
are you doing here?"
"Gwine ter school, Mars Geo'ge," replied the
lad; "larnin' ter read an' write, suh, lack de w'ite
"Wat you callin' dat w'ite man marster fur?"
whispered a tall yellow boy to the acrobat addressed
as Plato. "You don' b'long ter him no mo'; you're
free, an' ain' got sense ernuff ter know it."
Tryon threw a small coin to Plato, and holding
another in his hand suggestively, smiled toward the
tall yellow boy, who looked regretfully at the coin,
but stood his ground; he would call no man master,
not even for a piece of money.
During this little colloquy, Miss Leary had kept
her face turned toward the schoolhouse.
"What a pretty girl!" she exclaimed. "There,"
she added, as Tryon turned his head toward her,
"you are too late. She has retired into her castle.
"Yas, missis," replied Plato, who was prancing
round the buggy in great glee, on the strength of
his acquaintance with the white folks.
"Is your teacher white?"
"No, ma'm, she ain't w'ite; she's black. She
looks lack she's w'ite, but she's black."
Tryon had not seen the teacher's face, but the
incident had jarred the old wound; Miss Leary's
description of the teacher, together with Plato's
characterization, had stirred lightly sleeping
memories. He was more or less abstracted during the
remainder of the drive, and did not recur to the
conversation that had been interrupted by coming
upon the schoolhouse.
The teacher, glancing for a moment through the
open door of the schoolhouse, had seen a handsome
young lady staring at her,--Miss Leary had
a curiously intent look when she was interested in
anything, with no intention whatever to be rude,--
and beyond the lady the back and shoulder of a
man, whose face was turned the other way. There
was a vague suggestion of something familiar about
the equipage, but Rena shrank from this close
scrutiny and withdrew out of sight before she had
had an opportunity to identify the vague resemblance
to something she had known.
Miss Leary had missed by a hair's-breadth the
psychological moment, and felt some resentment
toward the little negroes who had interrupted her
lover's train of thought. Negroes have caused a
great deal of trouble among white people. How
deeply the shadow of the Ethiopian had fallen
upon her own happiness, Miss Leary of course
could not guess.
AN INTERESTING ACQUAINTANCE
A few days later, Rena looked out of the
window near her desk and saw a low basket phaeton,
drawn by a sorrel pony, driven sharply into the
clearing and drawn up beside an oak sapling.
The occupant of the phaeton, a tall, handsome,
well-preserved lady in middle life, with slightly
gray hair, alighted briskly from the phaeton, tied
the pony to the sapling with a hitching-strap, and
advanced to the schoolhouse door.
Rena wondered who the lady might be. She
had a benevolent aspect, however, and came forward
to the desk with a smile, not at all embarrassed
by the wide-eyed inspection of the entire
"How do you do?" she said, extending her
hand to the teacher. "I live in the neighborhood
and am interested in the colored people--a good
many of them once belonged to me. I heard
something of your school, and thought I should
like to make your acquaintance."
"It is very kind of you, indeed," murmured
"Yes," continued the lady, "I am not one of
those who sit back and blame their former slaves
because they were freed. They are free now,--it
is all decided and settled,--and they ought to be
taught enough to enable them to make good use of
their freedom. But really, my dear,--you mustn't
feel offended if I make a mistake,--I am going
to ask you something very personal." She looked
suggestively at the gaping pupils.
"The school may take the morning recess now,"
announced the teacher. The pupils filed out in
an orderly manner, most of them stationing
themselves about the grounds in such places as would
keep the teacher and the white lady in view. Very
few white persons approved of the colored schools;
no other white person had ever visited this one.
"Are you really colored?" asked the lady, when
the children had withdrawn.
A year and a half earlier, Rena would have met
the question by some display of self-consciousness.
Now, she replied simply and directly.
"Yes, ma'am, I am colored."
The lady, who had been studying her as closely
as good manners would permit, sighed regretfully.
"Well, it's a shame. No one would ever think
it. If you chose to conceal it, no one would ever
be the wiser. What is your name, child, and where
were you brought up? You must have a romantic
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