The House Behind The Cedars
Charles W. Chesnutt
Part 5 out of 5
Rena gave her name and a few facts in regard
to her past. The lady was so much interested,
and put so many and such searching questions,
that Rena really found it more difficult to suppress
the fact that she had been white, than she had
formerly had in hiding her African origin. There
was about the girl an air of real refinement that
pleased the lady,--the refinement not merely of
a fine nature, but of contact with cultured people;
a certain reserve of speech and manner quite
inconsistent with Mrs. Tryon's experience of
colored women. The lady was interested and slightly
mystified. A generous, impulsive spirit,--her
son's own mother,--she made minute inquiries
about the school and the pupils, several of whom
she knew by name. Rena stated that the two
months' term was nearing its end, and that she
was training the children in various declamations
and dialogues for the exhibition at the close.
"I shall attend it," declared the lady positively.
"I'm sure you are doing a good work, and it's
very noble of you to undertake it when you might
have a very different future. If I can serve you
at any time, don't hesitate to call upon me. I
live in the big white house just before you turn
out of the Clinton road to come this way. I'm
only a widow, but my son George lives with me
and has some influence in the neighborhood. He
drove by here yesterday with the lady he is going
to marry. It was she who told me about you."
Was it the name, or some subtle resemblance
in speech or feature, that recalled Tryon's image
to Rena's mind? It was not so far away--the
image of the loving Tryon--that any powerful
witchcraft was required to call it up. His mother
was a widow; Rena had thought, in happier days,
that she might be such a kind lady as this. But
the cruel Tryon who had left her--his mother
would be some hard, cold, proud woman, who
would regard a negro as but little better than a
dog, and who would not soil her lips by addressing
a colored person upon any other terms than as a
servant. She knew, too, that Tryon did not live
in Sampson County, though the exact location of
his home was not clear to her.
"And where are you staying, my dear?" asked
the good lady.
"I'm boarding at Mrs. Wain's," answered
"Yes, they live in the old Campbell place."
"Oh, yes--Aunt Nancy. She's a good enough
woman, but we don't think much of her son Jeff.
He married my Amanda after the war--she used
to belong to me, and ought to have known better.
He abused her most shamefully, and had to be
threatened with the law. She left him a year or
so ago and went away; I haven't seen her lately.
Well, good-by, child; I'm coming to your
exhibition. If you ever pass my house, come in and
The good lady had talked for half an hour, and
had brought a ray of sunshine into the teacher's
monotonous life, heretofore lighted only by the
uncertain lamp of high resolve. She had satisfied
a pardonable curiosity, and had gone away
without mentioning her name.
Rena saw Plato untying the pony as the lady
climbed into the phaeton.
"Who was the lady, Plato?" asked the teacher
when the visitor had driven away.
"Dat 'uz my ole mist'iss, ma'm," returned Plato
proudly,-- "ole Mis' 'Liza."
"Mis' 'Liza who?" asked Rena.
"Mis' 'Liza Tryon. I use' ter b'long ter her.
Dat 'uz her son, my young Mars Geo'ge, w'at driv
pas' hyuh yistiddy wid 'is sweetheart."
THE LOST KNIFE
Rena had found her task not a difficult one so
far as discipline was concerned. Her pupils were
of a docile race, and school to them had all the
charm of novelty. The teacher commanded some
awe because she was a stranger, and some, perhaps,
because she was white; for the theory of blackness
as propounded by Plato could not quite counter-
balance in the young African mind the evidence of
their own senses. She combined gentleness with
firmness; and if these had not been sufficient,
she had reserves of character which would have
given her the mastery over much less plastic
material than these ignorant but eager young people.
The work of instruction was simple enough, for
most of the pupils began with the alphabet, which
they acquired from Webster's blue-backed spelling-
book, the palladium of Southern education at that
epoch. The much abused carpet-baggers had put
the spelling-book within reach of every child of
school age in North Carolina,--a fact which is
often overlooked when the carpet-baggers are held
up to public odium. Even the devil should have
his due, and is not so black as he is painted.
At the time when she learned that Tryon lived
in the neighborhood, Rena had already been subjected
for several weeks to a trying ordeal. Wain
had begun to persecute her with marked attentions.
She had at first gone to board at his house,--or,
by courtesy, with his mother. For a week or two
she had considered his attentions in no other light
than those of a member of the school committee
sharing her own zeal and interested in seeing the
school successfully carried on. In this character
Wain had driven her to the town for her examination;
he had busied himself about putting the
schoolhouse in order, and in various matters
affecting the conduct of the school. He had jocularly
offered to come and whip the children for her, and
had found it convenient to drop in occasionally,
ostensibly to see what progress the work was
"Dese child'en," he would observe sonorously,
in the presence of the school, "oughter be monst'ous
glad ter have de chance er settin' under
yo' instruction, Miss Rena. I'm sho' eve'body in
dis neighbo'hood 'preciates de priv'lege er havin'
you in ou' mids'."
Though slightly embarrassing to the teacher,
these public demonstrations were endurable so long
as they could be regarded as mere official
appreciation of her work. Sincerely in earnest about
her undertaking, she had plunged into it with
all the intensity of a serious nature which love
had stirred to activity. A pessimist might have
sighed sadly or smiled cynically at the notion that
a poor, weak girl, with a dangerous beauty and a
sensitive soul, and troubles enough of her own,
should hope to accomplish anything appreciable
toward lifting the black mass still floundering
in the mud where slavery had left it, and where
emancipation had found it,--the mud in which,
for aught that could be seen to the contrary, her
little feet, too, were hopelessly entangled. It might
have seemed like expecting a man to lift himself
by his boot-straps.
But Rena was no philosopher, either sad or
cheerful. She could not even have replied to
this argument, that races must lift themselves,
and the most that can be done by others is to
give them opportunity and fair play. Hers was
a simpler reasoning,--the logic by which the
world is kept going onward and upward when
philosophers are at odds and reformers are not
forthcoming. She knew that for every child she
taught to read and write she opened, if ever so
little, the door of opportunity, and she was happy
in the consciousness of performing a duty which
seemed all the more imperative because newly
discovered. Her zeal, indeed, for the time being was
like that of an early Christian, who was more
willing than not to die for his faith. Rena had
fully and firmly made up her mind to sacrifice her
life upon this altar. Her absorption in the work
had not been without its reward, for thereby she
had been able to keep at a distance the spectre of
her lost love. Her dreams she could not control,
but she banished Tryon as far as possible from her
When Wain's attentions became obviously
personal, Rena's new vestal instinct took alarm, and
she began to apprehend his character more clearly.
She had long ago learned that his pretensions to
wealth were a sham. He was nominal owner of
a large plantation, it is true; but the land was
worn out, and mortgaged to the limit of its security
value. His reputed droves of cattle and hogs
had dwindled to a mere handful of lean and
Her clear eye, when once set to take Wain's
measure, soon fathomed his shallow, selfish soul,
and detected, or at least divined, behind his mask
of good-nature a lurking brutality which filled her
with vague distrust, needing only occasion to
develop it into active apprehension,--occasion which
was not long wanting. She avoided being alone
with him at home by keeping carefully with the
women of the house. If she were left alone,--and
they soon showed a tendency to leave her on any
pretext whenever Wain came near,--she would
seek her own room and lock the door. She preferred
not to offend Wain; she was far away from home
and in a measure in his power, but she dreaded his
compliments and sickened at his smile. She was
also compelled to hear his relations sing his praises.
"My son Jeff," old Mrs. Wain would say, "is
de bes' man you ever seed. His fus' wife had de
easies' time an' de happies' time er ary woman in
dis settlement. He's grieve' fer her a long time, but
I reckon he's gittin' over it, an' de nex' 'oman w'at
marries him'll git a box er pyo' gol', ef I does say
it as is his own mammy."
Rena had thought Wain rather harsh with his
household, except in her immediate presence. His
mother and sister seemed more or less afraid of
him, and the children often anxious to avoid him.
One day, he timed his visit to the schoolhouse
so as to walk home with Rena through the woods.
When she became aware of his purpose, she called
to one of the children who was loitering behind the
others, "Wait a minute, Jenny. I'm going your
way, and you can walk along with me."
Wain with difficulty hid a scowl behind a
smiling front. When they had gone a little distance
along the road through the woods, he clapped his
hand upon his pocket.
"I declare ter goodness," he exclaimed, "ef I
ain't dropped my pocket-knife! I thought I felt
somethin' slip th'ough dat hole in my pocket jes'
by the big pine stump in the schoolhouse ya'd.
Jinny, chile, run back an' hunt fer my knife, an'
I'll give yer five cents ef yer find it. Me an'
Miss Rena'll walk on slow 'tel you ketches us."
Rena did not dare to object, though she was afraid
to be alone with this man. If she could have had
a moment to think, she would have volunteered to
go back with Jenny and look for the knife, which,
although a palpable subterfuge on her part, would
have been one to which Wain could not object;
but the child, dazzled by the prospect of reward,
had darted back so quickly that this way of escape
was cut off. She was evidently in for a declaration
of love, which she had taken infinite pains to
avoid. Just the form it would assume, she could
not foresee. She was not long left in suspense.
No sooner was the child well out of sight than
Wain threw his arms suddenly about her waist
and smilingly attempted to kiss her.
Speechless with fear and indignation, she tore
herself from his grasp with totally unexpected
force, and fled incontinently along the forest path.
Wain--who, to do him justice, had merely meant
to declare his passion in what he had hoped might
prove a not unacceptable fashion--followed in
some alarm, expostulating and apologizing as he
went. But he was heavy and Rena was light, and
fear lent wings to her feet. He followed her until
he saw her enter the house of Elder Johnson, the
father of several of her pupils, after which he
sneaked uneasily homeward, somewhat apprehensive
of the consequences of his abrupt wooing,
which was evidently open to an unfavorable
construction. When, an hour later, Rena sent one of
the Johnson children for some of her things, with
a message explaining that the teacher had been
invited to spend a few days at Elder Johnson's,
Wain felt a pronounced measure of relief. For an
hour he had even thought it might be better to
relinquish his pursuit. With a fatuousness born of
vanity, however, no sooner had she sent her excuse
than he began to look upon her visit to Johnson's as
a mere exhibition of coyness, which, together with
her conduct in the woods, was merely intended to
lure him on.
Right upon the heels of the perturbation caused
by Wain's conduct, Rena discovered that Tryon
lived in the neighborhood; that not only might she
meet him any day upon the highway, but that he
had actually driven by the schoolhouse. That he
knew or would know of her proximity there could
be no possible doubt, since she had freely told his
mother her name and her home. A hot wave of
shame swept over her at the thought that George
Tryon might imagine she were following him, throwing
herself in his way, and at the thought of the
construction which he might place upon her actions.
Caught thus between two emotional fires, at the
very time when her school duties, owing to the
approaching exhibition, demanded all her energies,
Rena was subjected to a physical and mental strain
that only youth and health could have resisted, and
then only for a short time.
PLATO EARNS HALF A DOLLAR
Tryon's first feeling, when his mother at the
dinner-table gave an account of her visit to the
schoolhouse in the woods, was one of extreme
annoyance. Why, of all created beings, should this
particular woman be chosen to teach the colored
school at Sandy Run? Had she learned that he
lived in the neighborhood, and had she sought the
place hoping that he might consent to renew, on
different terms, relations which could never be
resumed upon their former footing? Six weeks before,
he would not have believed her capable of following
him; but his last visit to Patesville had revealed her
character in such a light that it was difficult to
predict what she might do. It was, however, no affair
of his. He was done with her; he had dismissed her
from his own life, where she had never properly
belonged, and he had filled her place, or would soon
fill it, with another and worthier woman. Even
his mother, a woman of keen discernment and
delicate intuitions, had been deceived by this girl's
specious exterior. She had brought away from her
interview of the morning the impression that Rena
was a fine, pure spirit, born out of place, through
some freak of Fate, devoting herself with heroic
self-sacrifice to a noble cause. Well, he had
imagined her just as pure and fine, and she had
deliberately, with a negro's low cunning, deceived
him into believing that she was a white girl. The
pretended confession of the brother, in which he
had spoken of the humble origin of the family, had
been, consciously or unconsciously, the most
disingenuous feature of the whole miserable
performance. They had tried by a show of frankness to
satisfy their own consciences,--they doubtless had
enough of white blood to give them a rudimentary
trace of such a moral organ,--and by the same
act to disarm him against future recriminations, in
the event of possible discovery. How was he to
imagine that persons of their appearance and
pretensions were tainted with negro blood? The more
he dwelt upon the subject, the more angry he became
with those who had surprised his virgin heart
and deflowered it by such low trickery. The man
who brought the first negro into the British colonies
had committed a crime against humanity and a
worse crime against his own race. The father of
this girl had been guilty of a sin against society
for which others--for which he, George Tryon--
must pay the penalty. As slaves, negroes were
tolerable. As freemen, they were an excrescence, an
alien element incapable of absorption into the body
politic of white men. He would like to send them
all back to the Africa from which their forefathers
had come,--unwillingly enough, he would admit,
--and he would like especially to banish this girl
from his own neighborhood; not indeed that her
presence would make any difference to him, except
as a humiliating reminder of his own folly and
weakness with which he could very well dispense.
Of this state of mind Tryon gave no visible
manifestation beyond a certain taciturnity, so
much at variance with his recent liveliness that the
ladies could not fail to notice it. No effort upon
the part of either was able to affect his mood, and
they both resigned themselves to await his lordship's
pleasure to be companionable.
For a day or two, Tryon sedulously kept away
from the neighborhood of the schoolhouse at
Sandy Rim. He really had business which would
have taken him in that direction, but made a
detour of five miles rather than go near his
abandoned and discredited sweetheart.
But George Tryon was wisely distrustful of his
own impulses. Driving one day along the road to
Clinton, he overhauled a diminutive black figure
trudging along the road, occasionally turning a
handspring by way of diversion.
"Hello, Plato," called Tryon, "do you want a
"Hoddy, Mars Geo'ge. Kin I ride wid you?"
Plato mounted into the buggy with the agility
to be expected from a lad of his acrobatic
accomplishments. The two almost immediately fell into
conversation upon perhaps the only subject of
common interest between them. Before the town
was reached, Tryon knew, so far as Plato could
make it plain, the estimation in which the teacher
was held by pupils and parents. He had learned
the hours of opening and dismissal of the school,
where the teacher lived, her habits of coming to
and going from the schoolhouse, and the road she
"Does she go to church or anywhere else with
Jeff Wain, Plato?" asked Tryon.
"No, suh, she don' go nowhar wid nobody
excep'n' ole Elder Johnson er Mis' Johnson, an' de
child'en. She use' ter stop at Mis' Wain's, but
she's stayin' wid Elder Johnson now. She alluz
makes some er de child'en go home wid er f'm
school," said Plato, proud to find in Mars Geo'ge
an appreciative listener,--"sometimes one an'
sometimes anudder. I's be'n home wid 'er twice,
ann it'll be my tu'n ag'in befo' long."
"Plato," remarked Tryon impressively, as they
drove into the town, "do you think you could
keep a secret?"
"Yas, Mars Geo'ge, ef you says I shill."
"Do you see this fifty-cent piece?" Tryon
displayed a small piece of paper money, crisp and
green in its newness.
"Yas, Mars Geo'ge," replied Plato, fixing his
eyes respectfully on the government's promise to
pay. Fifty cents was a large sum of money. His
acquaintance with Mars Geo'ge gave him the privilege
of looking at money. When he grew up, he
would be able, in good times, to earn fifty cents a
"I am going to give this to you, Plato."
Plato's eyes opened wide as saucers. "Me,
Mars Geo'ge?" he asked in amazement.
"Yes, Plato. I'm going to write a letter while
I'm in town, and want you to take it. Meet me
here in half an hour, and I'll give you the letter.
Meantime, keep your mouth shut."
"Yas, Mars Geo'ge," replied Plato with a grin
that distended that organ unduly. That he did
not keep it shut may be inferred from the fact that
within the next half hour he had eaten and drunk
fifty cents' worth of candy, ginger-pop, and other
available delicacies that appealed to the youthful
palate. Having nothing more to spend, and the
high prices prevailing for some time after the war
having left him capable of locomotion, Plato
was promptly on hand at the appointed time and
Tryon placed a letter in Plato's hand, still sticky
with molasses candy,--he had inclosed it in a
second cover by way of protection. "Give that
letter," he said, "to your teacher; don't say a
word about it to a living soul; bring me an answer,
and give it into my own hand, and you shall
have another half dollar."
Tryon was quite aware that by a surreptitious
correspondence he ran some risk of compromising
Rena. But he had felt, as soon as he had indulged
his first opportunity to talk of her, an irresistible
impulse to see her and speak to her again.
He could scarcely call at her boarding-place,--
what possible proper excuse could a young white
man have for visiting a colored woman? At the
schoolhouse she would be surrounded by her pupils,
and a private interview would be as difficult, with
more eyes to remark and more tongues to comment
upon it. He might address her by mail, but
did not know how often she sent to the nearest
post-office. A letter mailed in the town must pass
through the hands of a postmaster notoriously
inquisitive and evil-minded, who was familiar with
Tryon's handwriting and had ample time to attend
to other people's business. To meet the teacher
alone on the road seemed scarcely feasible,
according to Plato's statement. A messenger, then, was
not only the least of several evils, but really the
only practicable way to communicate with Rena.
He thought he could trust Plato, though miserably
aware that he could not trust himself where this
girl was concerned.
The letter handed by Tryon to Plato, and by
the latter delivered with due secrecy and precaution,
ran as follows:--
DEAR MISS WARWICK,--You may think it
strange that I should address you after what has
passed between us; but learning from my mother
of your presence in the neighborhood, I am
constrained to believe that you do not find my
proximity embarrassing, and I cannot resist the wish
to meet you at least once more, and talk over the
circumstances of our former friendship. From a
practical point of view this may seem superfluous,
as the matter has been definitely settled. I have
no desire to find fault with you; on the contrary,
I wish to set myself right with regard to my own
actions, and to assure you of my good wishes. In
other words, since we must part, I would rather we
parted friends than enemies. If nature and society
--or Fate, to put it another way--have decreed
that we cannot live together, it is nevertheless
possible that we may carry into the future a pleasant
though somewhat sad memory of a past friendship.
Will you not grant me one interview? I
appreciate the difficulty of arranging it; I have
found it almost as hard to communicate with you
by letter. I will suit myself to your convenience
and meet you at any time and place you may
designate. Please answer by bearer, who I think is
trustworthy, and believe me, whatever your answer may be,
The next day but one Tryon received through
the mail the following reply to his letter:--
GEORGE TRYON, ESQ.
Dear Sir,--I have requested your messenger
to say that I will answer your letter by mail, which
I shall now proceed to do. I assure you that
I was entirely ignorant of your residence in this
neighborhood, or it would have been the last place
on earth in which I should have set foot.
As to our past relations, they were ended by
your own act. I frankly confess that I deceived
you; I have paid the penalty, and have no
complaint to make. I appreciate the delicacy which
has made you respect my brother's secret, and
thank you for it. I remember the whole affair
with shame and humiliation, and would willingly
As to a future interview, I do not see what
good it would do either of us. You are white, and
you have given me to understand that I am black.
I accept the classification, however unfair, and the
consequences, however unjust, one of which is that
we cannot meet in the same parlor, in the same
church, at the same table, or anywhere, in social
intercourse; upon a steamboat we would not sit at
the same table; we could not walk together on the
street, or meet publicly anywhere and converse,
without unkind remark. As a white man, this
might not mean a great deal to you; as a woman,
shut out already by my color from much that
is desirable, my good name remains my most valuable
possession. I beg of you to let me alone.
The best possible proof you can give me of your
good wishes is to relinquish any desire or attempt
to see me. I shall have finished my work here in
a few days. I have other troubles, of which you
know nothing, and any meeting with you would
only add to a burden which is already as much as
I can bear. To speak of parting is superfluous--
we have already parted. It were idle to dream of
a future friendship between people so widely
different in station. Such a friendship, if possible
in itself, would never be tolerated by the lady
whom you are to marry, with whom you drove by
my schoolhouse the other day. A gentleman so
loyal to his race and its traditions as you have
shown yourself could not be less faithful to the
lady to whom he has lost his heart and his memory
in three short months.
No, Mr. Tryon, our romance is ended, and
better so. We could never have been happy. I have
found a work in which I may be of service to
others who have fewer opportunities than mine
have been. Leave me in peace, I beseech you,
and I shall soon pass out of your neighborhood as
I have passed out of your life, and hope to pass
out of your memory.
Yours very truly,
AN UNUSUAL HONOR
To Rena's high-strung and sensitive nature,
already under very great tension from her past
experience, the ordeal of the next few days was a
severe one. On the one hand, Jeff Wain's infatuation
had rapidly increased, in view of her speedy
departure. From Mrs. Tryon's remark about
Wain's wife Amanda, and from things Rena had
since learned, she had every reason to believe that
this wife was living, and that Wain must be aware
of the fact. In the light of this knowledge, Wain's
former conduct took on a blacker significance than,
upon reflection, she had charitably clothed it with
after the first flush of indignation. That he had
not given up his design to make love to her was
quite apparent, and, with Amanda alive, his attentions,
always offensive since she had gathered their
import, became in her eyes the expression of a
villainous purpose, of which she could not speak to
others, and from which she felt safe only so long
as she took proper precautions against it. In a
week her school would be over, and then she would
get Elder Johnson, or some one else than Wain,
to take her back to Patesville. True, she might
abandon her school and go at once; but her work
would be incomplete, she would have violated her
contract, she would lose her salary for the month,
explanations would be necessary, and would not be
forthcoming. She might feign sickness,--indeed,
it would scarcely be feigning, for she felt far from
well; she had never, since her illness, quite
recovered her former vigor--but the inconvenience
to others would be the same, and her self-sacrifice
would have had, at its very first trial, a lame and
impotent conclusion. She had as yet no fear of
personal violence from Wain; but, under the
circumstances, his attentions were an insult. He was
evidently bent upon conquest, and vain enough to
think he might achieve it by virtue of his personal
attractions. If he could have understood
how she loathed the sight of his narrow eyes, with
their puffy lids, his thick, tobacco-stained lips, his
doubtful teeth, and his unwieldy person, Wain,
a monument of conceit that he was, might have
shrunk, even in his own estimation, to something
like his real proportions. Rena believed that, to
defend herself from persecution at his hands, it
was only necessary that she never let him find her
alone. This, however, required constant watchfulness.
Relying upon his own powers, and upon
a woman's weakness and aversion to scandal, from
which not even the purest may always escape
unscathed, and convinced by her former silence
that he had nothing serious to fear, Wain made it
a point to be present at every public place where
she might be. He assumed, in conversation with
her which she could not avoid, and stated to
others, that she had left his house because of a
previous promise to divide the time of her stay
between Elder Johnson's house and his own. He
volunteered to teach a class in the Sunday-school
which Rena conducted at the colored Methodist
church, and when she remained to service, occupied
a seat conspicuously near her own. In addition
to these public demonstrations, which it was
impossible to escape, or, it seemed, with so thick-
skinned an individual as Wain, even to discourage,
she was secretly and uncomfortably conscious that
she could scarcely stir abroad without the risk of
encountering one of two men, each of whom was
on the lookout for an opportunity to find her
The knowledge of Tryon's presence in the
vicinity had been almost as much as Rena could
bear. To it must be added the consciousness that
he, too, was pursuing her, to what end she could
not tell. After his letter to her brother, and the
feeling therein displayed, she found it necessary to
crush once or twice a wild hope that, her secret
being still unknown save to a friendly few, he might
return and claim her. Now, such an outcome
would be impossible. He had become engaged to
another woman,--this in itself would be enough
to keep him from her, if it were not an index of
a vastly more serious barrier, a proof that he had
never loved her. If he had loved her truly, he
would never have forgotten her in three short
months,--three long months they had heretofore
seemed to her, for in them she had lived a lifetime
of experience. Another impassable barrier lay in
the fact that his mother had met her, and that she
was known in the neighborhood. Thus cut off
from any hope that she might be anything to
him, she had no wish to meet her former lover;
no possible good could come of such a meeting;
and yet her fluttering heart told her that if he
should come, as his letter foreshadowed that he
might,--if he should come, the loving George of
old, with soft words and tender smiles and specious
talk of friendship--ah! then, her heart
would break! She must not meet him--at any
cost she must avoid him.
But this heaping up of cares strained her
endurance to the breaking-point. Toward the middle of
the last week, she knew that she had almost reached
the limit, and was haunted by a fear that she
might break down before the week was over. Now
her really fine nature rose to the emergency, though
she mustered her forces with a great effort. If she
could keep Wain at his distance and avoid Tryon
for three days longer, her school labors would be
ended and she might retire in peace and honor.
"Miss Rena," said Plato to her on Tuesday,
"ain't it 'bout time I wuz gwine home wid you
"You may go with me to-morrow, Plato,"
answered the teacher.
After school Plato met an anxious eyed young
man in the woods a short distance from the schoolhouse.
"Well, Plato, what news?"
"I's gwine ter see her home ter-morrer, Mars
"To-morrow!" replied Tryon; "how very
fortunate! I wanted you to go to town to-morrow
to take an important message for me. I'm sorry,
Plato--you might have earned another dollar."
To lie is a disgraceful thing, and yet there are
times when, to a lover's mind, love dwarfs all
ordinary laws. Plato scratched his head
disconsolately, but suddenly a bright thought struck him.
"Can't I go ter town fer you atter I've seed her
home, Mars Geo'ge?"
"N-o, I'm afraid it would be too late," returned Tryon
"Den I'll haf ter ax 'er ter lemme go nex' day,"
said Plato, with resignation. The honor might be
postponed or, if necessary, foregone; the opportunity
to earn a dollar was the chance of a lifetime
and must not be allowed to slip.
"No, Plato," rejoined Tryon, shaking his head,
"I shouldn't want to deprive you of so great a
pleasure." Tryon was entirely sincere in this
characterization of Plato's chance; he would have
given many a dollar to be sure of Plato's place and
Plato's welcome. Rena's letter had re-inflamed his
smouldering passion; only opposition was needed
to fan it to a white heat. Wherein lay the great
superiority of his position, if he was denied the
right to speak to the one person in the world whom
he most cared to address? He felt some dim
realization of the tyranny of caste, when he found
it not merely pressing upon an inferior people who
had no right to expect anything better, but barring
his own way to something that he desired. He
meant her no harm--but he must see her. He
could never marry her now--but he must see her.
He was conscious of a certain relief at the thought
that he had not asked Blanche Leary to be his
wife. His hand was unpledged. He could not
marry the other girl, of course, but they must meet
again. The rest he would leave to Fate, which
seemed reluctant to disentangle threads which it
had woven so closely.
"I think, Plato, that I see an easier way out of
the difficulty. Your teacher, I imagine, merely
wants some one to see her safely home. Don't
you think, if you should go part of the way, that
I might take your place for the rest, while you did
"Why, sho'ly, Mars Geo'ge, you could take keer
er her better 'n I could--better 'n anybody could
--co'se you could!"
Mars Geo'ge was white and rich, and could do
anything. Plato was proud of the fact that he
had once belonged to Mars Geo'ge. He could
not conceive of any one so powerful as Mars
Geo'ge, unless it might be God, of whom Plato
had heard more or less, and even here the
comparison might not be quite fair to Mars Geo'ge,
for Mars Geo'ge was the younger of the two. It
would undoubtedly be a great honor for the teacher
to be escorted home by Mars Geo'ge. The teacher
was a great woman, no doubt, and looked white;
but Mars Geo'ge was the real article. Mars
Geo'ge had never been known to go with a black
woman before, and the teacher would doubtless
thank Plato for arranging that so great an honor
should fall upon her. Mars Geo'ge had given him
fifty cents twice, and would now give him a dollar.
Noble Mars Geo'ge! Fortunate teacher! Happy
"Very well, Plato. I think we can arrange it
so that you can kill the two rabbits at one shot.
Suppose that we go over the road that she will
take to go home."
They soon arrived at the schoolhouse. School
had been out an hour, and the clearing was
deserted. Plato led the way by the road through
the woods to a point where, amid somewhat thick
underbrush, another path intersected the road they
"Now, Plato," said Tryon, pausing here, "this
would be a good spot for you to leave the teacher
and for me to take your place. This path leads
to the main road, and will take you to town very
quickly. I shouldn't say anything to the teacher
about it at all; but when you and she get here,
drop behind and run along this path until you
meet me,--I'll be waiting a few yards down the
road,--and then run to town as fast as your legs
will carry you. As soon as you are gone, I'll
come out and tell the teacher that I've sent you
away on an errand, and will myself take your
place. You shall have a dollar, and I'll ask her
to let you go home with her the next day. But
you mustn't say a word about it, Plato, or you
won't get the dollar, and I'll not ask the teacher
to let you go home with her again."
"All right, Mars Geo'ge, I ain't gwine ter say
no mo' d'n ef de cat had my tongue."
IN DEEP WATERS
Rena was unusually fatigued at the close of her
school on Wednesday afternoon. She had been
troubled all day with a headache, which, beginning
with a dull pain, had gradually increased in intensity
until every nerve was throbbing like a trip-
hammer. The pupils seemed unusually stupid. A
discouraging sense of the insignificance of any part
she could perform towards the education of three
million people with a school term of two months
a year hung over her spirit like a pall. As the
object of Wain's attentions, she had begun to feel
somewhat like a wild creature who hears the
pursuers on its track, and has the fear of capture
added to the fatigue of flight. But when this
excitement had gone too far and had neared the limit
of exhaustion came Tryon's letter, with the resulting
surprise and consternation. Rena had keyed
herself up to a heroic pitch to answer it; but when
the inevitable reaction came, she was overwhelmed
with a sickening sense of her own weakness. The
things which in another sphere had constituted her
strength and shield were now her undoing, and
exposed her to dangers from which they lent her
no protection. Not only was this her position in
theory, but the pursuers were already at her heels.
As the day wore on, these dark thoughts took on
an added gloom, until, when the hour to dismiss
school arrived, she felt as though she had not a
friend in the world. This feeling was accentuated
by a letter which she had that morning
received from her mother, in which Mis' Molly
spoke very highly of Wain, and plainly expressed
the hope that her daughter might like him so well
that she would prefer to remain in Sampson
Plato, bright-eyed and alert, was waiting in the
school-yard until the teacher should be ready to
start. Having warned away several smaller children
who had hung around after school as though
to share his prerogative of accompanying the
teacher, Plato had swung himself into the low
branches of an oak at the edge of the clearing,
from which he was hanging by his legs, head
downward. He dropped from this reposeful attitude
when the teacher appeared at the door, and took
his place at her side.
A premonition of impending trouble caused the
teacher to hesitate. She wished that she had kept
more of the pupils behind. Something whispered
that danger lurked in the road she customarily
followed. Plato seemed insignificantly small and
weak, and she felt miserably unable to cope with
any difficult or untoward situation.
"Plato," she suggested, "I think we'll go round
the other way to-night, if you don't mind."
Visions of Mars Geo'ge disappointed, of a dollar
unearned and unspent, flitted through the narrow
brain which some one, with the irony of ignorance
or of knowledge, had mocked with the name
of a great philosopher. Plato was not an untruthful
lad, but he seldom had the opportunity to earn
a dollar. His imagination, spurred on by the
instinct of self-interest, rose to the emergency.
"I's feared you mought git snake-bit gwine
roun' dat way, Miss Rena. My brer Jim kill't a
water-moccasin down dere yistiddy 'bout ten feet
Rena had a horror of snakes, with which the
swamp by which the other road ran was infested.
Snakes were a vivid reality; her presentiment
was probably a mere depression of spirits due to
her condition of nervous exhaustion. A cloud had
come up and threatened rain, and the wind was
rising ominously. The old way was the shorter;
she wanted above all things to get to Elder
Johnson's and go to bed. Perhaps sleep would rest
her tired brain--she could not imagine herself
feeling worse, unless she should break down altogether.
She plunged into the path and hastened forward
so as to reach home before the approaching
storm. So completely was she absorbed in her
own thoughts that she scarcely noticed that Plato
himself seemed preoccupied. Instead of capering
along like a playful kitten or puppy, he walked by
her side unusually silent. When they had gone a
short distance and were approaching a path which
intersected their road at something near a right
angle, the teacher missed Plato. He had dropped
behind a moment before; now he had disappeared
entirely. Her vague alarm of a few moments
before returned with redoubled force.
"Plato!" she called; "Plato!"
There was no response, save the soughing of the
wind through the swaying treetops. She stepped
hastily forward, wondering if this were some childish
prank. If so, it was badly timed, and she
would let Plato feel the weight of her displeasure.
Her forward step had brought her to the
junction of the two paths, where she paused
doubtfully. The route she had been following was the
most direct way home, but led for quite a distance
through the forest, which she did not care to
traverse alone. The intersecting path would soon
take her to the main road, where she might find
shelter or company, or both. Glancing around
again in search of her missing escort, she became
aware that a man was approaching her from each
of the two paths. In one she recognized the eager
and excited face of George Tryon, flushed with
anticipation of their meeting, and yet grave with
uncertainty of his reception. Advancing confidently
along the other path she saw the face of
Jeff Wain, drawn, as she imagined in her anguish,
with evil passions which would stop at nothing.
What should she do? There was no sign of
Plato--for aught she could see or hear of him,
the earth might have swallowed him up. Some
deadly serpent might have stung him. Some
wandering rabbit might have tempted him aside.
Another thought struck her. Plato had been
very quiet--there had been something on his
conscience--perhaps he had betrayed her! But to
which of the two men, and to what end?
The problem was too much for her overwrought
brain. She turned and fled. A wiser instinct
might have led her forward. In the two conflicting
dangers she might have found safety. The
road after all was a public way. Any number of
persons might meet there accidentally. But she
saw only the darker side of the situation. To
turn to Tryon for protection before Wain had by
some overt act manifested the evil purpose which
she as yet only suspected would be, she imagined,
to acknowledge a previous secret acquaintance
with Tryon, thus placing her reputation at Wain's
mercy, and to charge herself with a burden of
obligation toward a man whom she wished to avoid
and had refused to meet. If, on the other hand,
she should go forward to meet Wain, he would
undoubtedly offer to accompany her homeward.
Tryon would inevitably observe the meeting, and
suppose it prearranged. Not for the world would
she have him think so--why she should care
for his opinion, she did not stop to argue. She
turned and fled, and to avoid possible pursuit,
struck into the underbrush at an angle which she
calculated would bring her in a few rods to another
path which would lead quickly into the main
road. She had run only a few yards when she
found herself in the midst of a clump of prickly
shrubs and briars. Meantime the storm had
burst; the rain fell in torrents. Extricating
herself from the thorns, she pressed forward, but
instead of coming out upon the road, found herself
penetrating deeper and deeper into the forest.
The storm increased in violence. The air grew
darker and darker. It was near evening, the
clouds were dense, the thick woods increased the
gloom. Suddenly a blinding flash of lightning
pierced the darkness, followed by a sharp clap of
thunder. There was a crash of falling timber.
Terror-stricken, Rena flew forward through the
forest, the underbrush growing closer and closer
as she advanced. Suddenly the earth gave way
beneath her feet and she sank into a concealed
morass. By clasping the trunk of a neighboring
sapling she extricated herself with an effort, and
realized with a horrible certainty that she was
lost in the swamp.
Turning, she tried to retrace her steps. A flash
of lightning penetrated the gloom around her, and
barring her path she saw a huge black snake,--
harmless enough, in fact, but to her excited
imagination frightful in appearance. With a wild
shriek she turned again, staggered forward a few
yards, stumbled over a projecting root, and fell
heavily to the earth.
When Rena had disappeared in the underbrush,
Tryon and Wain had each instinctively set out in
pursuit of her, but owing to the gathering darkness,
the noise of the storm, and the thickness of
the underbrush, they missed not only Rena but
each other, and neither was aware of the other's
presence in the forest. Wain kept up the chase
until the rain drove him to shelter. Tryon, after
a few minutes, realized that she had fled to escape
him, and that to pursue her would be to defeat
rather than promote his purpose. He desisted,
therefore, and returning to the main road, stationed
himself at a point where he could watch Elder
Johnson's house, and having waited for a while
without any signs of Rena, concluded that she had
taken refuge in some friendly cabin. Turning
homeward disconsolately as night came on, he
intercepted Plato on his way back from town, and
pledged him to inviolable secrecy so effectually
that Plato, when subsequently questioned, merely
answered that he had stopped a moment to gather
some chinquapins, and when he had looked around
the teacher was gone.
Rena not appearing at supper-time nor for an
hour later, the elder, somewhat anxious, made
inquiries about the neighborhood, and finding his
guest at no place where she might be expected to
stop, became somewhat alarmed. Wain's house
was the last to which he went. He had surmised
that there was some mystery connected with her
leaving Wain's, but had never been given any
definite information about the matter. In response
to his inquiries, Wain expressed surprise, but
betrayed a certain self-consciousness which did not
escape the elder's eye. Returning home, he organized
a search party from his own family and several
near neighbors, and set out with dogs and
torches to scour the woods for the missing teacher.
A couple of hours later, they found her lying
unconscious in the edge of the swamp, only a few
rods from a well-defined path which would soon
have led her to the open highway. Strong arms
lifted her gently and bore her home. Mrs. Johnson
undressed her and put her to bed, administering
a homely remedy, of which whiskey was
the principal ingredient, to counteract the effects
of the exposure. There was a doctor within five
miles, but no one thought of sending for him, nor
was it at all likely that it would have been possible
to get him for such a case at such an hour.
Rena's illness, however, was more deeply seated
than her friends could imagine. A tired body,
in sympathy with an overwrought brain, had left
her peculiarly susceptible to the nervous shock of
her forest experience. The exposure for several
hours in her wet clothing to the damps and miasma
of the swamp had brought on an attack of brain
fever. The next morning, she was delirious. One
of the children took word to the schoolhouse that
the teacher was sick and there would be no school
that day. A number of curious and sympathetic
people came in from time to time and suggested
various remedies, several of which old Mrs. Johnson,
with catholic impartiality, administered to
the helpless teacher, who from delirium gradually
sunk into a heavy stupor scarcely distinguishable
from sleep. It was predicted that she would
probably be well in the morning; if not, it would
then be time to consider seriously the question of
sending for a doctor.
THE POWER OF LOVE
After Tryon's failure to obtain an interview
with Rena through Plato's connivance, he decided
upon a different course of procedure. In a few
days her school term would be finished. He was
not less desirous to see her, was indeed as much
more eager as opposition would be likely to make
a very young man who was accustomed to having
his own way, and whose heart, as he had discovered,
was more deeply and permanently involved than
he had imagined. His present plan was to wait
until the end of the school; then, when Rena went
to Clinton on the Saturday or Monday to draw
her salary for the month, he would see her in the
town, or, if necessary, would follow her to
Patesville. No power on earth should keep him from
her long, but he had no desire to interfere in any
way with the duty which she owed to others.
When the school was over and her work completed,
then he would have his innings. Writing
letters was too unsatisfactory a method of
communication--he must see her face to face.
The first of his three days of waiting had passed,
when, about ten o'clock on the morning of the
second day, which seemed very long in prospect,
while driving along the road toward Clinton, he
met Plato, with a rabbit trap in his hand.
"Well, Plato," he asked, "why are you absent
from the classic shades of the academy to-day?"
"Hoddy, Mars Geo'ge. W'at wuz dat you
"Why are you not at school to-day?"
"Ain' got no teacher, Mars Geo'ge. Teacher's
"Gone!" exclaimed Tryon, with a sudden leap
of the heart. "Gone where? What do you
"Teacher got los' in de swamp, night befo' las',
'cause Plato wa'n't dere ter show her de way out'n
de woods. Elder Johnson foun' 'er wid dawgs and
tawches, an' fotch her home an' put her ter bed.
No school yistiddy. She wuz out'n her haid las'
night, an' dis mawnin' she wuz gone."
"Dey don' nobody know whar, suh."
Leaving Plato abruptly, Tryon hastened down
the road toward Elder Johnson's cabin. This was
no time to stand on punctilio. The girl had been
lost in the woods in the storm, amid the thunder
and lightning and the pouring rain. She was
sick with fright and exposure, and he was the
cause of it all. Bribery, corruption, and falsehood
had brought punishment in their train, and the
innocent had suffered while the guilty escaped.
He must learn at once what had become of her.
Reaching Elder Johnson's house, he drew up by
the front fence and gave the customary halloa,
which summoned a woman to the door.
"Good-morning," he said, nodding unconsciously,
with the careless politeness of a gentleman to his
inferiors. "I'm Mr. Tryon. I have come to
inquire about the sick teacher."
"Why, suh," the woman replied respectfully,
"she got los' in de woods night befo' las', an' she
wuz out'n her min' most er de time yistiddy.
Las' night she must 'a' got out er bed an' run
away w'en eve'ybody wuz soun' asleep, fer dis
mawnin' she wuz gone, an' none er us knows whar
"Has any search been made for her?"
"Yas, suh, my husban' an' de child'en has been
huntin' roun' all de mawnin', an' he's gone ter
borry a hoss now ter go fu'ther. But Lawd knows
dey ain' no tellin' whar she'd go, 'less'n she got
her min' back sence she lef'."
Tryon's mare was in good condition. He had
money in his pocket and nothing to interfere with
his movements. He set out immediately on the
road to Patesville, keeping a lookout by the
roadside, and stopping each person he met to inquire
if a young woman, apparently ill, had been seen
traveling along the road on foot. No one had met
such a traveler. When he had gone two or three
miles, he drove through a shallow branch that
crossed the road. The splashing of his horse's
hoofs in the water prevented him from hearing a
low groan that came from the woods by the
He drove on, making inquiries at each
farmhouse and of every person whom he encountered.
Shortly after crossing the branch, he met a young
negro with a cartload of tubs and buckets and
piggins, and asked him if he had seen on the road
a young white woman with dark eyes and hair,
apparently sick or demented. The young man
answered in the negative, and Tryon pushed forward
At noon he stopped at a farmhouse and swallowed
a hasty meal. His inquiries here elicited no
information, and he was just leaving when a young
man came in late to dinner and stated, in response
to the usual question, that he had met, some two
hours before, a young woman who answered
Tryon's description, on the Lillington road, which
crossed the main road to Patesville a short distance
beyond the farmhouse. He had spoken to the
woman. At first she had paid no heed to his
question. When addressed a second time, she had
answered in a rambling and disconnected way,
which indicated to his mind that there was
something wrong with her.
Tryon thanked his informant and hastened to
the Lillington road. Stopping as before to inquire,
he followed the woman for several hours, each
mile of the distance taking him farther away from
Patesville. From time to time he heard of the
woman. Toward nightfall he found her. She
was white enough, with the sallowness of the
sandhill poor white. She was still young, perhaps, but
poverty and a hard life made her look older than
she ought. She was not fair, and she was not
Rena. When Tryon came up to her, she was sitting
on the doorsill of a miserable cabin, and held in
her hand a bottle, the contents of which had never
paid any revenue tax. She had walked twenty
miles that day, and had beguiled the tedium of the
journey by occasional potations, which probably
accounted for the incoherency of speech which
several of those who met her had observed. When
Tryon drew near, she tendered him the bottle with
tipsy cordiality. He turned in disgust and
retraced his steps to the Patesville road, which he
did not reach until nightfall. As it was too dark
to prosecute the search with any chance of success,
he secured lodging for the night, intending to
resume his quest early in the morning.
A MULE AND A CART
Frank Fowler's heart was filled with longing
for a sight of Rena's face. When she had gone away
first, on the ill-fated trip to South Carolina, her
absence had left an aching void in his life; he had
missed her cheerful smile, her pleasant words, her
graceful figure moving about across the narrow
street. His work had grown monotonous during
her absence; the clatter of hammer and mallet,
that had seemed so merry when punctuated now
and then by the strains of her voice, became a mere
humdrum rapping of wood upon wood and iron
upon iron. He had sought work in South Carolina
with the hope that be might see her. He had
satisfied this hope, and had tried in vain to do
her a service; but Fate had been against her; her
castle of cards had come tumbling down. He felt
that her sorrow had brought her nearer to him.
The distance between them depended very much
upon their way of looking at things. He knew
that her experience had dragged her through the
valley of humiliation. His unselfish devotion had
reacted to refine and elevate his own spirit. When
he heard the suggestion, after her second departure,
that she might marry Wain, he could not but
compare himself with this new aspirant. He, Frank,
was a man, an honest man--a better man than
the shifty scoundrel with whom she had ridden
away. She was but a woman, the best and sweetest
and loveliest of all women, but yet a woman.
After a few short years of happiness or sorrow,--
little of joy, perhaps, and much of sadness, which
had begun already,--they would both be food for
worms. White people, with a deeper wisdom perhaps
than they used in their own case, regarded
Rena and himself as very much alike. They were
certainly both made by the same God, in much the
same physical and mental mould; they breathed
the same air, ate the same food, spoke the same
speech, loved and hated, laughed and cried, lived
and would die, the same. If God had meant to
rear any impassable barrier between people of
contrasting complexions, why did He not express the
prohibition as He had done between other orders
When Rena had departed for Sampson County,
Frank had reconciled himself to her absence by
the hope of her speedy return. He often stepped
across the street to talk to Mis' Molly about her.
Several letters had passed between mother and
daughter, and in response to Frank's inquiries his
neighbor uniformly stated that Rena was well and
doing well, and sent her love to all inquiring
friends. But Frank observed that Mis' Molly,
when pressed as to the date of Rena's return, grew
more and more indefinite; and finally the mother,
in a burst of confidential friendship, told Frank of
all her hopes with reference to the stranger from
down the country.
"Yas, Frank," she concluded, "it'll be her own
fault ef she don't become a lady of proputty, fer
Mr. Wain is rich, an' owns a big plantation, an'
hires a lot of hands, and is a big man in the county.
He's crazy to git her, an' it all lays in her own
Frank did not find this news reassuring. He
believed that Wain was a liar and a scoundrel.
He had nothing more than his intuitions upon
which to found this belief, but it was none the less
firm. If his estimate of the man's character were
correct, then his wealth might be a fiction, pure
and simple. If so, the truth should be known
to Mis' Molly, so that instead of encouraging
a marriage with Wain, she would see him in his
true light, and interpose to rescue her daughter
from his importunities. A day or two after this
conversation, Frank met in the town a negro from
Sampson County, made his acquaintance, and
inquired if he knew a man by the name of Jeff
"Oh, Jeff Wain!" returned the countryman
slightingly; "yas, I knows 'im, an' don' know no
good of 'im. One er dese yer biggity, braggin'
niggers--talks lack he own de whole county, an'
ain't wuth no mo' d'n I is--jes' a big bladder wid
a handful er shot rattlin' roun' in it. Had a wife,
when I wuz dere, an' beat her an' 'bused her so
she had ter run away."
This was alarming information. Wain had
passed in the town as a single man, and Frank had
had no hint that he had ever been married. There
was something wrong somewhere. Frank determined
that he would find out the truth and, if
possible, do something to protect Rena against the
obviously evil designs of the man who had taken
her away. The barrel factory had so affected the
cooper's trade that Peter and Frank had turned
their attention more or less to the manufacture of
small woodenware for domestic use. Frank's mule
was eating off its own head, as the saying goes. It
required but little effort to persuade Peter that
his son might take a load of buckets and tubs and
piggins into the country and sell them or trade
them for country produce at a profit.
In a few days Frank had his stock prepared, and
set out on the road to Sampson County. He went
about thirty miles the first day, and camped by
the roadside for the night, resuming the journey
at dawn. After driving for an hour through the
tall pines that overhung the road like the stately
arch of a cathedral aisle, weaving a carpet for the
earth with their brown spines and cones, and
soothing the ear with their ceaseless murmur, Frank
stopped to water his mule at a point where the
white, sandy road, widening as it went, sloped
downward to a clear-running branch. On the
right a bay-tree bending over the stream mingled
the heavy odor of its flowers with the delicate
perfume of a yellow jessamine vine that had overrun
a clump of saplings on the left. From a neighboring
tree a silver-throated mocking-bird poured
out a flood of riotous melody. A group of minnows;
startled by the splashing of the mule's feet, darted
away into the shadow of the thicket, their quick
passage leaving the amber water filled with laughing
The mule drank long and lazily, while over
Frank stole thoughts in harmony with the peaceful
scene,--thoughts of Rena, young and beautiful,
her friendly smile, her pensive dark eyes. He
would soon see her now, and if she had any cause
for fear or unhappiness, he would place himself at
her service--for a day, a week, a month, a year,
a lifetime, if need be.
His reverie was broken by a slight noise from
the thicket at his left. "I wonder who dat is?"
he muttered. "It soun's mighty quare, ter say de
He listened intently for a moment, but heard
nothing further. "It must 'a' be'n a rabbit er
somethin' scamp'in' th'ough de woods. G'long
As the mule stepped forward, the sound was
repeated. This time it was distinctly audible, the
long, low moan of some one in sickness or distress.
"Dat ain't no rabbit," said Frank to himself.
"Dere's somethin' wrong dere. Stan' here, Caesar,
till I look inter dis matter."
Pulling out from the branch, Frank sprang
from the saddle and pushed his way cautiously
through the outer edge of the thicket.
"Good Lawd!" he exclaimed with a start, "it's
a woman--a w'ite woman!"
The slender form of a young woman lay stretched
upon the ground in a small open space a few yards
in extent. Her face was turned away, and Frank
could see at first only a tangled mass of dark brown
hair, matted with twigs and leaves and cockleburs,
and hanging in wild profusion around her neck.
Frank stood for a moment irresolute, debating
the serious question whether he should investigate
further with a view to rendering assistance, or
whether he should put as great a distance as possible
between himself and this victim, as she might
easily be, of some violent crime, lest he should
himself be suspected of it--a not unlikely contingency,
if he were found in the neighborhood and
the woman should prove unable to describe her
assailant. While he hesitated, the figure moved
restlessly, and a voice murmured:--
"Mamma, oh, mamma!"
The voice thrilled Frank like an electric shock.
Trembling in every limb, he sprang forward toward
the prostrate figure. The woman turned her head,
and he saw that it was Rena. Her gown was torn
and dusty, and fringed with burs and briars.
When she had wandered forth, half delirious,
pursued by imaginary foes, she had not stopped to put
on her shoes, and her little feet were blistered and
swollen and bleeding. Frank knelt by her side
and lifted her head on his arm. He put his hand
upon her brow; it was burning with fever.
"Miss Rena! Rena! don't you know me?"
She turned her wild eyes on him suddenly.
"Yes, I know you, Jeff Wain. Go away from
me! Go away!"
Her voice rose to a scream; she struggled in
his grasp and struck at him fiercely with her
clenched fists. Her sleeve fell back and disclosed
the white scar made by his own hand so many
"You're a wicked man," she panted. "Don't
touch me! I hate you and despise you!"
Frank could only surmise how she had come
here, in such a condition. When she spoke of
Wain in this manner, he drew his own conclusions.
Some deadly villainy of Wain's had brought her
to this pass. Anger stirred his nature to the
depths, and found vent in curses on the author of
"Damn him!" he groaned. "I'll have his
heart's blood fer dis, ter de las' drop!"
Rena now laughed and put up her arms
appealingly. "George," she cried, in melting tones,
"dear George, do you love me? How much do
you love me? Ah, you don't love me!" she
moaned; "I'm black; you don't love me; you
Her voice died away into a hopeless wail.
Frank knelt by her side, his faithful heart breaking
with pity, great tears rolling untouched down
his dusky cheeks.
"Oh, my honey, my darlin'," he sobbed, "Frank
loves you better 'n all de worl'."
Meantime the sun shone on as brightly as before,
the mocking-bird sang yet more joyously.
A gentle breeze sprang up and wafted the odor of
bay and jessamine past them on its wings. The
grand triumphal sweep of nature's onward march
recked nothing of life's little tragedies.
When the first burst of his grief was over,
Frank brought water from the branch, bathed
Rena's face and hands and feet, and forced a few
drops between her reluctant lips. He then pitched
the cartload of tubs, buckets, and piggins out into
the road, and gathering dried leaves and pine-
straw, spread them in the bottom of the cart. He
stooped, lifted her frail form in his arms, and laid
it on the leafy bed. Cutting a couple of hickory
withes, he arched them over the cart, and gathering
an armful of jessamine quickly wove it into
an awning to protect her from the sun. She was
quieter now, and seemed to fall asleep.
"Go ter sleep, honey," he murmured caressingly,
"go ter sleep, an' Frank'll take you home ter
Toward noon he was met by a young white man,
who peered inquisitively into the canopied cart.
"Hello!" exclaimed the stranger, "who've you
"A sick woman, suh."
"Why, she's white, as I'm a sinner!" he
cried, after a closer inspection. "Look a-here,
nigger, what are you doin' with this white woman?"
"She's not w'ite, boss,--she's a bright mulatter."
"Yas, mighty bright," continued the stranger
suspiciously. "Where are you goin' with her?"
"I'm takin' her ter Patesville, ter her mammy."
The stranger passed on. Toward evening Frank
heard hounds baying in the distance. A fox,
weary with running, brush drooping, crossed the
road ahead of the cart. Presently, the hounds
straggled across the road, followed by two or three
hunters on horseback, who stopped at sight of the
strangely canopied cart. They stared at the sick
girl and demanded who she was.
"I don't b'lieve she's black at all," declared
one, after Frank's brief explanation. "This nigger
has a bad eye,--he's up ter some sort of
devilment. What ails the girl?"
" 'Pears ter be some kind of a fever," replied
Frank; adding diplomatically, "I don't know
whether it's ketchin' er no--she's be'n out er
her head most er de time."
They drew off a little at this. "I reckon it's
all right," said the chief spokesman. The hounds
were baying clamorously in the distance. The
hunters followed the sound and disappeared m the
Frank drove all day and all night, stopping only
for brief periods of rest and refreshment. At
dawn, from the top of the long white hill, he
sighted the river bridge below. At sunrise he
rapped at Mis' Molly's door.
Upon rising at dawn, Tryon's first step, after
a hasty breakfast, was to turn back toward Clinton.
He had wasted half a day in following the
false scent on the Lillington road. It seemed,
after reflection, unlikely that a woman seriously
ill should have been able to walk any considerable
distance before her strength gave out. In her
delirium, too, she might have wandered in a wrong
direction, imagining any road to lead to Patesville.
It would be a good plan to drive back home,
continuing his inquiries meantime, and ascertain
whether or not she had been found by those who
were seeking her, including many whom Tryon's
inquiries had placed upon the alert. If she should
prove still missing, he would resume the journey
to Patesville and continue the search in that
direction. She had probably not wandered far from
the highroad; even in delirium she would be likely
to avoid the deep woods, with which her illness
He had retraced more than half the distance
to Clinton when he overtook a covered wagon.
The driver, when questioned, said that he had met
a young negro with a mule, and a cart in which
lay a young woman, white to all appearance, but
claimed by the negro to be a colored girl who
had been taken sick on the road, and whom he
was conveying home to her mother at Patesville.
From a further description of the cart Tryon
recognized it as the one he had met the day before.
The woman could be no other than Rena. He
turned his mare and set out swiftly on the road to
If anything could have taken more complete
possession of George Tryon at twenty-three than
love successful and triumphant, it was love thwarted
and denied. Never in the few brief delirious
weeks of his courtship had he felt so strongly
drawn to the beautiful sister of the popular lawyer,
as he was now driven by an aching heart toward
the same woman stripped of every adventitions
advantage and placed, by custom, beyond the pale
of marriage with men of his own race. Custom
was tyranny. Love was the only law. Would
God have made hearts to so yearn for one another
if He had meant them to stay forever apart? If
this girl should die, it would be he who had killed
her, by his cruelty, no less surely than if with
his own hand he had struck her down. He had
been so dazzled by his own superiority, so blinded
by his own glory, that he had ruthlessly spurned
and spoiled the image of God in this fair creature,
whom he might have had for his own treasure,--
whom, please God, he would yet have, at any cost,
to love and cherish while they both should live.
There were difficulties--they had seemed insuperable,
but love would surmount them. Sacrifices
must be made, but if the world without love would
be nothing, then why not give up the world for
love? He would hasten to Patesville. He would
find her; he would tell her that he loved her, that
she was all the world to him, that he had come to
marry her, and take her away where they might
be happy together. He pictured to himself the
joy that would light up her face; he felt her soft
arms around his neck, her tremulous kisses upon
his lips. If she were ill, his love would woo her
back to health,--if disappointment and sorrow
had contributed to her illness, joy and gladness
should lead to her recovery.
He urged the mare forward; if she would but
keep up her present pace, he would reach Patesville
Dr. Green had just gone down the garden path
to his buggy at the gate. Mis' Molly came out to
the back piazza, where Frank, weary and haggard,
sat on the steps with Homer Pettifoot and Billy
Oxendine, who, hearing of Rena's return, had
come around after their day's work.
"Rena wants to see you, Frank," said Mis'
Molly, with a sob.
He walked in softly, reverently, and stood by her
bedside. She turned her gentle eyes upon him
and put out her slender hand, which he took in his
own broad palm.
"Frank," she murmured, "my good friend--
my best friend--you loved me best of them all."
The tears rolled untouched down his cheeks.
"I'd 'a' died, fer you, Miss Rena," he said brokenly.
Mary B. threw open a window to make way for
the passing spirit, and the red and golden glory
of the setting sun, triumphantly ending his daily
course, flooded the narrow room with light.
Between sunset and dark a traveler, seated in a
dusty buggy drawn by a tired horse, crossed the
long river bridge and drove up Front Street.
Just as the buggy reached the gate in front of the
house behind the cedars, a woman was tying a
piece of crape upon the door-knob. Pale with
apprehension, Tryon sat as if petrified, until a
tall, side-whiskered mulatto came down the garden
walk to the front gate.
"Who's dead?" demanded Tryon hoarsely,
scarcely recognizing his own voice.
"A young cullud 'oman, sah," answered
Homer Pettifoot, touching his hat, "Mis' Molly
Walden's daughter Rena."
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