The Late Mrs. Null
Frank Richard Stockton
Part 5 out of 6
you will let me have some, and some envelopes."
"Why, certainly," said Miss Annie, and she went into the house.
She looked over the stock of paper which her aunt kept in a desk in
the dining-room, but she did not like it. "I don't believe he will
want to write on such ordinary paper as this," she said to herself.
Whereupon she went up-stairs and got some of her own paper and
envelopes, which were much finer in material and more correct in
style. "I don't like it a bit," she thought, "to give this to him to
write that letter on, but I suppose it's bound to be written, anyway,
so he might as well have the satisfaction of good paper."
"You must excuse these little sheets," she said, when she took it to
him, "but you couldn't expect anything else, in an Amazonian household
like ours. Cousin Junius has manly stationery, of course, but I
suppose it is all locked up in that secretary in your room."
"Oh, this will do very well indeed," said Lawrence; "and I wish I
could come out and help you into your vehicle," regarding the spring
wagon which now stood at the door, with Plez at the head of the solemn
"Thank you," said Miss Annie, "that is not at all necessary." And she
tripped over to the spring wagon, and mounting into its altitudes
without the least trouble in the world, she took up the reins. With
these firmly grasped in her little hands, which were stretched very
far out, and held very wide apart, she gave the horse a great jerk and
told him to "Get up!" As she moved off, Lawrence from his open door
called out: "_Bon voyage_" and in a full, clear voice she thanked
him, but did not dare to look around, so intent was she upon her
Slowly turning the horse toward the yard gate, which Plez stood
holding open, her whole soul was absorbed in the act of guiding the
equipage through the gateway. Quickly glancing from side to side, and
then at the horse's back, which ought to occupy a medium position
between the two gateposts, she safely steered the front wheels through
the dangerous pass, although a grin of delight covered the face of
Plez as he noticed that the hub of one of the hind wheels almost
grazed a post. Then the observant boy ran on to open the other gate,
and with many jerks and clucks, Miss Annie induced the sorrel to break
into a gentle trot.
As Lawrence looked after her, a little pang made itself noticeable in
his conscience. This girl was certainly very kind to him, and most
remarkably considerate of him in the plan she had proposed. And yet he
felt that he had prevaricated to her, and, in fact, deceived her, in
the answer he had made when she asked him if he had sent her cousin
to speak for him to Miss March. Would she have such friendly feelings
toward him, and be so willing to oblige him, if she knew that he had
in effect done the thing which she considered so wrong and so cruel?
But it could not be helped; the time had passed for confidences. He
must now work out this affair for himself, without regard to persons
who really had nothing whatever to do with it.
Closing his door, he hopped back to his table, and, seating himself at
it, he opened his travelling inkstand and prepared to write to Miss
March. It was absolutely necessary that he should write this letter,
immediately, for, after the message he had received from the lady of
his love, no time should be lost in putting himself in communication
with her. But, before beginning to write, he must decide upon the
spirit of his letter.
Under the very peculiar circumstances of his acceptance, he did not
feel that he ought to indulge in those rapturous expressions of
ecstacy in which he most certainly would have indulged, if the lady
had personally delivered her decision to him. He did not doubt her,
for what woman would play a joke like that on a man--upon two men, in
fact? Even if there were no other reason she would not dare to do it.
Nor did he doubt Keswick. It would have been impossible for him to
come with such a message, if it had not been delivered to him. And
yet Lawrence could not bring himself to be rapturous. If he had been
accepted in cold blood, and a hand, and not a heart, had been given to
him, he would gladly take that hand and trust to himself to so warm
the heart that it, also, would soon be his. But he did not know what
Roberta March had given him.
On the other hand, he knew very well if, in his first letter as an
accepted lover, he should exhibit any of that caution and prudence
which, in the course of his courtship, had proved to be shoals on
which he had very nearly run aground, that Roberta's resentment, which
had shown itself very marked in this regard, would probably be roused
to such an extent that the affair would be brought to a very speedy
and abrupt termination. If she had been obliged to forgive him, once,
for this line of conduct, he could not expect her to do it again. To
write a letter, which should err in neither of these respects, was a
very difficult thing to do, and required so much preparatory thought,
that when, toward the close of the afternoon, Miss Annie drove in at
the yard gate, with Mrs Keswick on the seat beside her, not a line had
Mrs Keswick descended from the spring wagon and went into the house,
but Miss Annie remained at the bottom of the steps, for the apparent
purpose of speaking to Plez; perhaps to give him some instructions in
regard to the leading of a horse to its stable, or to instil into his
mind some moral principle or other; but the moment the vehicle moved
away, she ran over to the office and tapped at the window, which was
quickly opened by Lawrence.
"I have spoken to her about it," she said, "and although she blazed
up at first, so that I thought I should be burned alive, I made her
understand just how matters really are, and she has agreed to let you
stay here as a boarder."
"You are extremely good," said Lawrence, "and must be a most admirable
manager. This arrangement makes me feel much better satisfied than I
could have been, otherwise." Then leaning a little further out of the
window, he asked: "But what am I to do for company, while I am shut up
"Oh, you will have Uncle Isham, and Aunt Keswick, and sometimes me.
But I hope that you will soon be able to come into the house, and take
your meals, and spend your evenings with us."
"You have nothing but good wishes for me," he said, "and I believe, if
you could manage it, you would have me cured by magic, and sent off,
well and whole, to-morrow."
"Of course," said Miss Annie, very promptly. "Good night."
Just before supper, Mrs Keswick came in to see Lawrence. She was very
grave, almost severe, and her conversation was confined to inquiries
as to the state of his ankle, and his general comfort. But Lawrence
took no offence at her manner, and was very gracious, saying some
exceedingly neat things about the way he had been treated; and, after
a little, her manner slightly mollified, and she remarked: "And so you
let Miss March go away, without settling anything."
Now Lawrence considered this a very incorrect statement, but he had no
wish to set the old lady right. He knew it would joy her heart, and
make her more his friend than, ever if he should tell her that Miss
March had accepted him, but this would be a very dangerous piece of
information to put in her hands. He did not know what use she would
make of it, or what damage she might unwittingly do to his prospects.
And so he merely answered: "I had no idea she would leave so soon."
"Well," said the old lady, "I suppose, after all, that you needn't
give it up yet. I understand that she is not going to New York before
the end of the month, and you may be well enough before that to ride
over to Midbranch."
"I hope so, most assuredly," said he.
Lawrence devoted that evening to his letter. It was a long one, and
was written with a most earnest desire to embrace all the merits of
each of the two kinds of letters, which have before been alluded to,
and to avoid all their faults. When it was finished, he read it, tore
it up, and threw it in the fire.
The next day opened bright and clear, and before ten o'clock, the
thermometer had risen to seventy degrees. Instead of sitting in front
of the fireplace, Lawrence had his chair and table brought close to
his open doorway, where he could look out on the same beautiful scene
which had greeted his eyes a few days before. "But what is the good,"
he thought, "of this green grass, this sunny air, that blue sky, those
white clouds, and the distant tinted foliage, without that figure,
which a few days ago stood in the foreground of the picture?" But,
as the woman to whom, in his soul's sight, the whole world was but a
background, was not there, he turned his eyes from the warm autumnal
scene, and prepared again to write to her. He had scarcely taken up
his pen, however, when he was interrupted by the arrival of Miss
Annie, who came to bring him a book she had just finished reading, a
late English novel which she thought might be more interesting than
those she had sent him. The book was one which Lawrence had not seen
and wanted to see, but in talking about it, to the young lady, he
discovered that she had not read all of it.
"Don't let me deprive you of the book," said Lawrence. "If you have
begun it, you ought to go on with it."
"Oh, don't trouble your mind about that," she said, with a laugh. "I
have finished it, but I have not read a word of the beginning. I only
looked at the end of it, to see how the story turned out. I always do
that, before I read a novel."
This remark much amused Lawrence. "Do you know," said he, "that I
would rather not read novels at all, than to read them in that way. I
must begin at the beginning, and go regularly through, as the author
wishes his readers to do."
"And perhaps, when you get to the end," said Miss Annie, "you'll find
that the wrong man got her, and then you'll wish you had not read the
"As you appear to be satisfied with this novel," said Lawrence, "I
wish you would read it to me, and then I would feel that I was not
taking an uncourteous precedence of you."
"I'll read it to you," said she, "or, at least, as much as you want
me to, for I feel quite sure that after you get interested in it,
you will want to take it, yourself, and read straight on till it is
finished, instead of waiting for some one to come and give you a
chapter or two at a time. That would be the way with me, I know."
"I shall be delighted to have you read to me," said Lawrence. "When
can you begin?"
"Now," she said, "if you choose. But perhaps you wish to write."
"Not at this moment," said Lawrence, turning from the table.
"Unfortunately I have plenty of leisure. Where will you sit?" And he
reached out his hand for a chair.
"Oh, I don't want a chair," said Annie, taking her seat on the broad
door-step. "This is exactly what I like. I am devoted to sitting on
steps. Don't you think there is something dreadfully stiff about
always being perched up in a chair?"
"Yes," said Lawrence, "on some occasions."
And, forthwith, she began upon the first chapter; and having read
five lines of this, she went back and read the title page, suddenly
remembering that Mr Croft liked to begin a book at the very beginning.
Miss Annie had been accustomed to read to her father, and she read
aloud very well, and liked it. As she sat there, shaded by a great
locust tree, which had dropped so many yellow leaves upon the grass,
that, now and then, it could not help letting a little fleck of
sunshine come down upon her, sometimes gilding for a moment her
light-brown hair, sometimes touching the end of a crimson ribbon she
wore, and again resting for a brief space on the toe of a very small
boot just visible at the edge of her dress, Lawrence looked at her,
and said to himself: "Is it possible that this is the rather pale
young girl in black, who gave me change from behind the desk of Mr
Candy's Information Shop? I don't believe it. That young person sprang
up, temporarily, and is defunct. This is some one else."
She read three chapters before she considered it time to go into the
house to see if it was necessary for her to do anything about dinner.
When she left him, Lawrence turned again to his writing.
That afternoon, he sent Mrs Null a little note on the back of a card,
asking her if she could let him have a few more sheets of paper.
Lawrence found this request necessary, as he had used up that day
all the paper she had sent him, and the small torn pieces of it now
littered the fireplace.
"He must be writing a diary letter," said Miss Annie to herself when,
she received this message, "such as we girls used to write when we
were at school." And, bringing down a little the corners of her mouth,
she took from her stationery box what she thought would be quite paper
enough to send to a man for such a purpose.
But, although the means were thus made abundant, the letter to Miss
March was not then written. Lawrence finally determined that it was
simply impossible for him to write to the lady, until he knew more.
What Keswick had told him had been absurdly little, and he had hurried
away before there had been time to ask further questions. Instead of
sending a letter to Miss March, he would write to Keswick, and would
put to him a series of interrogations, the answers to which would make
him understand better the position in which he stood. Then he would
write to Miss March.
The next day Miss Annie could not read to him in the morning, because,
as she came and told him, she was going to Howlett's, on an errand for
her aunt. But there would be time to give him a chapter or two before
dinner, when she came back.
"Would it be any trouble," said Lawrence, "for you to mail a letter
"Oh, no," said Miss Annie, but not precisely in the same tone in which
she would have told him that it would be no trouble to read to him two
or three chapters of a novel. And yet she would pass directly by the
residence of Miss Harriet Corvey, the post-mistress.
As Miss Annie walked along the narrow path which ran by the roadside
to Howlett's, with the blue sky above her, and the pleasant October
sunshine all about her, and followed at a little distance by the boy
Plez, carrying a basket, she did not seem to be taking that enjoyment
in her walk which was her wont. Her brows were slightly contracted
and she looked straight in front of her, without seeing anything in
particular, after the manner of persons whose attention is entirely
occupied in looking into their own minds, at something they do not
like. "It is too much!" she said, almost loud, her brows contracting
a little more as she spoke. "It was bad enough to have to furnish the
paper, but for me to have to carry the letter, is entirely too much!"
And, at this, she involuntarily glanced at the thick and double
stamped missive, which, having no pocket, she carried in her hand. She
had not looked at it before, and as her eyes fell upon the address,
she stopped so suddenly that Plez, who was dozing as he walked, nearly
ran into her. "What!" she exclaimed, "'Junius Keswick, five Q street,
Washington, District of Columbia!' Is it possible that Mr Croft has
been writing to him, all this time?" She now walked on; and although
she still seemed to notice not the material objects around her, the
frown disappeared from her brow, and her mental vision seemed to be
fixed upon something more pleasant than that which had occupied it
before. As it will be remembered, she had refused positively to have
anything to do with Lawrence's suit to Miss March, and it was a relief
to her to know that the letter she was carrying was not for that lady.
"But why," thought she, "should he be writing, for two whole evenings,
to Junius. I expected that he would write to her, to find out why she
went off and left him in that way, but I did not suppose he would want
to write to Junius. It seems to me they had time enough, that night
they were together, to talk over everything they had to say."
And then she began to wonder what they had to say, and, gradually, the
conviction grew upon her that Mr Croft was a very, very honorable man.
Of course it was wrong that he should have come here to try to win a
lady who, if one looked at it in the proper light, really belonged to
another. But it now came into her mind that Mr Croft must, by degrees,
have seen this, for himself, and that it was the subject of his long
conference with Junius, and also, most probably, of this letter.
The conference certainly ended amicably, and, in that case, it was
scarcely possible that Junius had given up his claim. He was not that
kind of a man.
If Mr Croft had become convinced that he ought to retire from this
contest, and had done so, and Roberta had been informed of it, that
would explain everything that had happened. Roberta's state of mind,
after she had had the talk in the parlor with Junius, and her hurried
departure, without taking the slightest notice of either of the
gentlemen, was quite natural. What woman would like to know that she
had been bargained about, and that her two lovers had agreed which of
them should have her? It was quite to be expected that she would be
very angry, at first, though there was no doubt she would get over it,
so far as Junius was concerned.
Having thus decided, entirely to her own satisfaction, that this was
the state of affairs, she thought it was a grand thing that there were
two such young men in the world, as her cousin and Mr Croft, who could
arrange such an affair in so kindly and honorable a manner, without
feeling that they were obliged to fight--that horribly stupid way in
which such things used to be settled.
This vision of masculine high-mindedness, which Miss Annie had called
up, seemed very pleasant to her, and her mental satisfaction was
denoted by a pretty little glow which came into her face, and by a
certain increase of sprightliness in her walk. "Now then,--" she said
to herself; and although she did not finish the sentence, even in her
own mind, the sky increased the intensity of its beautiful blue; the
sun began to shine with a more golden radiance; the little birds who
had not yet gone South, chirped to each other as merrily as if it had
been early summer; the yellow and purple wild flowers of autumn threw
into their blossoms a richer coloring; and even the blades of grass
seemed to stretch themselves upward, green, tender, and promising;
and when the young lady skipped up the step of the post-office, she
dropped the letter into Miss Harriet Corvey's little box, with the air
of a mother-bird feeding a young one with the first ripe cherry of the
A day or two after this, Lawrence found himself able, by the aid of a
cane and a rude crutch, which Uncle Isham had made for him and the top
of which Mrs Keswick had carefully padded, to make his way from the
office to the house; and, after that, he took his meals, and passed
the greater part of his time in the larger edifice. Sometimes, he
ransacked the old library; sometimes, Miss Annie read to him; and
sometimes, he read to her. In the evening, there were games of cards,
in which the old lady would occasionally take a hand, although more
frequently Miss Annie and Mr Croft were obliged to content themselves
with some game at which two could play. But the pleasantest hours,
perhaps, were those which were spent in talking, for Lawrence had
travelled a good deal, and had seen so many of the things in foreign
lands which Miss Annie had always wished, that she could see. Lawrence
was waiting until he should hear from Mr Keswick; so that, with some
confidence in his position, he could write to Miss March. His trunk
had been sent over from the Green Sulphur Springs, and he was much
better satisfied to wait here than at that deserted watering-place. It
was, indeed, a very agreeable spot in which to wait, and quite near
enough to Midbranch for him to carry on his desired operations, when
the time should arrive. He was a little annoyed that Keswick's answer
should be so long in coming, but he resolved not to worry himself
about it. The answer was, probably, a difficult letter to write, and
one which Keswick would not be likely to dash off in a hurry. He
remembered, too, that the mail was sent and received only twice a week
Old Mrs Keswick was kind to him, but grave, and rather silent. Once
she passed the open door of the parlor, by the window of which sat
Miss Annie and Lawrence, deeply engaged, their heads together, in
studying out something on a map, and as she went up-stairs she grimly
grinned, and said to herself: "If that Null could look in and see them
now, I reckon our young man would wish he had the use of all his arms
But if Mr Null should disapprove of his wife and that gentleman from
New York spending so much of their time together, old Mrs Keswick had
not the least objection in the world. She was well satisfied that Mr
Croft should find it interesting enough to stay here until the time
came when he should be able to go to Midbranch. When that period
arrived she would not be slow to urge him to his duty, in spite of any
obstacles Mr Brandon might put in his way. So, for the present, she
possessed her soul in as much peace as the soul of a headstrong and
very wilful old lady is capable of being possessed.
The letter which Lawrence Croft had written to Junius Keswick was not
answered for more than a week, and when the answer arrived, it did not
come through the Howlett's post-office, but was brought from a mail
station on the railway by a special messenger. In this epistle Mr
Keswick stated that he would have written much sooner but for the fact
that he had been away from Washington, and having just returned, had
found Mr Croft's letter waiting for him. The answer was written in a
tone which Lawrence did not at all expect. It breathed the spirit of a
man who was determined, and almost defiant. It told Mr Croft that the
writer did not now believe that Miss March's acceptance of the said Mr
Croft, should be considered of any value, whatever. It was the result
of a very peculiar condition of things, in which he regretted having
taken a part, and it was given in a moment of pique and indignation,
which gave Miss March a right to reconsider her hasty decision, if she
chose to do so. It would not be fair for either of them to accept, as
conclusive, words said under the extraordinary circumstances which
surrounded Miss March when she said those words. "You asked me to
do you a favor," wrote Junius Keswick, "and, very much against my
inclination, and against what is now my judgment, I did it. I now ask
you to do me a favor, and I do not think you should refuse it. I ask
you not to communicate with Miss March until I have seen her, and have
obtained from her an explanation of the acceptance in question. I have
a right to this explanation, and I feel confident that it will be
given to me. You ask me what I truly believe Miss March meant by her
message to you. I answer that I do not know, but I intend to find out
what she meant, and as soon as I do so, I will write to you. I think,
therefore, considering what you have asked me to do, and what you
have written to me, about what I have done, that you cannot refuse to
abstain from any further action in the matter, until I am enabled to
answer you. I cannot leave Washington immediately, but I shall go to
Midbranch in a very few days."
This letter was very far from being a categorical answer to Lawrence's
questions, and it disappointed and somewhat annoyed that gentleman;
but after he had read it for the second time, and carefully considered
it, he put it in his pocket and said to himself, "This ends all
discussion of this subject. Mr Keswick may be right in the position
he takes, or he may be wrong. He may go to Midbranch; he may get his
explanation; and he may send it to me. But, without any regard to what
he does, or says, or writes, I shall go to Miss March as soon as I am
able to use my ankle, and, whether she be at her uncle's house, or
whether she has gone to New York, or to any other place, I shall see
her, and, myself, obtain from her an explanation of this acceptance.
This is due to me as well as to Mr Keswick, and if he thinks he ought
to get it, for himself, I also think I ought to get it, for myself."
The good results of Lawrence's great care in regard to his injured
ankle soon began to show themselves. The joint had slowly but steadily
regained its strength and usual healthy condition; and Lawrence now
found that he could walk about without the assistance of his rude
crutch. He was still prudent, however, and took but very short walks,
and in these he leaned upon his trusty cane. The charming autumn days,
which often come to Virginia in late October and early November, were
now at their best. Day after day, the sun shone brightly, but there
was in the air an invigorating coolness, which made its radiance
something to be sought for and not avoided.
It was just after dinner, and it was Saturday afternoon, when Miss
Annie announced that she was going to see old Aunt Patsy, whom she had
somewhat neglected of late.
"May I go with you?" said Lawrence.
Miss Annie shook her head doubtfully. "I should be very glad to have
your company," she said, "but I am afraid it will be entirely too much
of a walk for you. The days are so short that the sun will be low
before we could get back, and if you should be tired, it would not do
for you to sit down and rest, at that time of day."
"I believe," said Lawrence, "that my ankle is quite strong enough for
me to walk to Aunt Patsy's and back, without sitting down to rest. I
would be very glad to go with you, and I would like, too, to see that
venerable colored woman again."
"Well," said Miss Annie, "if you really think you can walk so far, it
will be very nice indeed to have you go, but you ought to feel very
sure that it will not hurt you."
"Come along," said Lawrence, taking up his hat and cane.
After a man has been shut up, as Lawrence had been, a pleasant ramble
like this is a most delightful change, and he did not hesitate to
manifest his pleasure. This touched the very sensitive soul of
his companion, and with such a sparkle of talk did she evince her
gratification, that almost any one would have been able to see that
she was a young lady who had an earnest sympathy with those who had
undergone afflictions, but were now freed from them.
Aunt Patsy was glad to see her visitors, particularly glad, it seemed,
to see Mr Croft. She was quite loquacious, considering the great
length of her days, and the proverbial shortness of her tongue.
"Why, Aunt Patsy," said Miss Annie, "you seem to have grown younger
since I last saw you! I do believe you are getting old backwards! What
are you going to do with that dress-body?" "I's lookin' at dis h'yar,"
said Aunt Patsy, turning over the well-worn body of a black woollen
dress which lay in her lap, instead of the crazy quilt on which she
was usually occupied, "to see if it's done gib way in any ob de seams,
or de elbers. 'Twas a right smart good frock once, an' I's gwine to
wear it ter-morrer."
"To-morrow!" exclaimed Annie. "You don't mean to say you are going to
"Dat's jus' wot I's gwine to do, Miss Annie. I's gwine to chu'ch
ter-morrer mawnin'. Dar's gwine to be a big preachin'. Brudder Enick
Hines is to be dar, an' dey tell me dey allus has pow'ful wakenin's
when Brudder Enick preaches. I ain't ever heered Brudder Enick yit,
coz he was a little boy when I use to go to chu'ch."
"Will it be in the old church, in the woods just beyond Howlett's?"
"Right dar," replied Aunt Patsy, with an approving glance towards the
young lady. "You 'members dem ar places fus' rate, Miss Annie. Why you
didn't tole me, when you fus' come h'yar, dat you was dat little Miss
Annie dat I use to tote roun' afore I gin up walkin'?"
"Oh, that's too long a story," said Miss Annie, with a laugh. "You
know I hadn't seen Aunt Keswick, then. I couldn't go about introducing
myself to other people before I had seen her."
Aunt Patsy gave a sagacious nod of her head. "I reckon you thought
she'd be right much disgruntled when she heered you was mar'ed, an'
you wanted to tell her youse'f. But I's pow'ful glad dat it's all
right now. You all don' know how pow'ful glad I is." And she looked
at Mr Croft and Miss Annie with a glance as benignant as her time-set
countenance was capable of.
"But Aunt Patsy," said Annie, quite willing to change the
conversation, although she did not know the import of the old woman's
last remark, "I thought you were not able to go out."
The old woman gave a little chuckle. "Dat's wot eberybody thought, an'
to tell you de truf, Miss Annie, I thought so too. But ef I was strong
'nuf to go to de pos' offis,--an' I did dat, Miss Annie, an' not long
ago nuther,--I reckon I's strong 'nuf to go to chu'ch, an' Uncle Isham
is a comin' wid de oxcart to take me ter-morrer mawnin'. Dar'll be
pow'ful wakenin's, an' I ain't seen de Jerus'lum Jump in a mighty long
"Are they going to have the Jerusalem Jump?" asked Miss Annie.
"Oh, yaas, Miss Annie," said the old woman, "dey's sartin shuh to hab
dat, when dey gits waken'd."
"I should so like to see the Jerusalem Jump again," said Miss Annie.
"I saw it once, when I was a little girl. Did you ever see it?" she
said, turning to Mr Croft.
"I have not," he answered. "I never even heard of it."
"Suppose we go to-morrow, and hear Brother Enoch," she said. "I should
like it very much," answered Lawrence.
"Aunt Patsy," said Miss Annie, "would there be any objection to our
going to your church to-morrow?"
The old woman gave her head a little shake. "Dunno," she said. "As a
gin'ral rule we don't like white folks at our preachin's. Dey's got
dar chu'ches, an' dar ways, an' we's got our chu'ches, an' our ways.
But den it's dif'rent wid you all. An' you all's not like white folks
in gin'ral, an' 'specially strawngers. You all isn't strawngers now. I
don't reckon dar'll be no 'jections to your comin', ef you set sollum,
an' I know you'll do dat, Miss Annie, coz you did it when you was a
little gal. An' I reckon it'll be de same wid him?" looking at Mr
Miss Annie assured her that she and her companion would be certain to
"sit solemn," and that they would not think of such a thing as going
to church and behaving indecorously.
"Dar is white folks," said Aunt Patsy, "wot comes to a culled chu'ch
fur nothin' else but to larf. De debbil gits dem folks, but dat don'
do us no good, Miss Annie, an' we'd rudder dey stay away. But you
all's not dat kine. I knows dat, sartin shuh."
When the two had taken leave of the old woman, and Miss Annie had gone
out of the door, Aunt Patsy leaned very far forward, and stretching
out her long arm, seized Mr Croft by the skirt of his coat. He stepped
back, quite surprised, and then she said to him, in a low but very
earnest voice: "I reckon dat dat ar sprain ankle was nuffin but a
acciden'; but you look out, sah, you look out! Hab you got dem little
"Oh, yes," said Lawrence. "I have them in my trunk."
"Keep 'em whar you kin put your han' on 'em," said Aunt Patsy,
impressively. "You may want 'em yit. You min' my wuds."
"I shall be sure to remember," said Lawrence, as he hastened out to
"What in the world had Aunt Patsy to say to you?" asked that somewhat
surprised young lady.
Then Lawrence told her how some time before Aunt Patsy had given him a
pair of blue shoes, which she said would act as a preventive charm, in
case Mrs Keswick should ever wish to do him harm, and that she had now
called him back to remind him not to neglect this means of personal
protection. "I can't imagine," said Lawrence, "that your aunt would
ever think of such a thing as doing me a harm, or how those little
shoes would prevent her, if she wanted to, but I suppose Aunt Patsy is
crack-brained on some subjects, and so I thought it best to humor her,
and took the shoes."
"Do you know," said Miss Annie, after walking a little distance in
silence, "that I am afraid Aunt Patsy has done a dreadful thing, and
one I never should have suspected her of. Aunt Keswick had a little
baby once, and it died very young. She keeps its clothes in a box, and
I remember when I was a little girl that she once showed them to me,
and told me I was to take the place of that little girl, and that
frightened me dreadfully, because I thought that I would have to die,
and have my clothes put in a box. I recollect perfectly that there was
a pair of little blue shoes among these clothes, and Aunt Patsy must
have stolen them."
"That surprises me," said Lawrence. "I supposed, from what I had heard
of the old woman, that she was perfectly honest."
"So she is," said Annie. "She has been a trusted servant in our family
nearly all her life. But some negroes have very queer ideas about
taking certain things, and I suppose Aunt Patsy had some particular
reason for taking those shoes, for, of course, they could be of no
value to her."
"I am very sorry," said Lawrence, "that such sacred relics should have
come into my possession, but I must admit that I would not like to
give them back to your aunt."
"Oh, no," said Annie, "that would never do; and I wouldn't dare to try
to find her box, and put them in it. It would seem like a desecration
for any hand but her own to touch those things."
"That is true," said Lawrence, "and you might get yourself into a lot
of trouble by endeavoring to repair the mischief. Before I leave here,
we may think of some plan of disposing of the little trotters. It
might be well to give them back to Aunt Patsy and tell her to restore
"I don't know," said Miss Annie, with a slowness of reply, and an
irrelevance of demeanor, which indicated she was not thinking of the
words she was speaking.
The sun was now very near the horizon, and that evening coolness
which, in the autumn, comes on so quickly after the sunshine fades out
of the air, made Lawrence give a little shrug with his shoulders. He
proposed that they should quicken their pace, and as his companion
made no objection, they soon reached the house.
The next day being Sunday, breakfast was rather later than usual, and
as Lawrence looked out on the bright morning, with the mists just
disengaging themselves from the many-hued foliage which crowned the
tops of the surrounding hills; and on the recently risen sun, hanging
in an atmosphere of grey and lilac, with the smile of Indian summer on
its face; he thought he would like to take a stroll, before that meal;
but either the length of his walk on the previous day, or the rapidity
of the latter portion of it, had been rather too much for the
newly-recovered strength of his ankle, which now felt somewhat stiff
and sore. When he mentioned this at the breakfast table, he received a
good deal of condolence from the two ladies, especially Mrs Keswick.
And, at first, it was thought that it might be well for him to give
up his proposed attendance at the negro church. But to this Lawrence
strongly objected, for he very much desired to see some of the
peculiar religious services of the negroes. He had been talking on the
subject the evening before with Mrs Keswick, who had told him that in
this part of the country, which lay in the "black belt" of Virginia,
where the negro population had always been thickest, these ceremonies
were more characteristic of the religious disposition of the African,
than in those sections of the State where the white race exerted a
greater influence upon the manners and customs of the colored people.
"But it will not be necessary to walk much," said Miss Annie. "We can
take the spring-wagon, and you can go with us, aunt."
The old lady permitted herself a little grin. "When I go to church,"
she said, "I go to a white folks' church, and try to see what I can of
white folks' Christianity, though I must say that Christianity of
the other color is often just as good, as far as works go. But it is
natural that a stranger should want to see what kind of services
the colored people have, so you two might as well get into the
spring-wagon and go along."
"But shall we not deprive you of the vehicle?" said Lawrence.
"I never go to church in the spring-wagon," said the old lady, "so
long as I am able to walk. And, besides, this is not our Sunday for
It seemed to Lawrence that an elderly person who went about in a
purple calico sun-bonnet, and with an umbrella of the same material,
might go to church in a wheelbarrow, so far as appearances were
concerned, but he had long ceased to wonder at Mrs Keswick's
idiosyncrasies. "I remember very well," said Miss Annie, after the
old lady had left the table, which she always did as soon as she had
finished a meal, "when Aunt Keswick used to go to church in a big
family carriage, which is now sleeping itself to pieces out there in
the barn. But then she had a pair of big gray horses, one of them
named Doctor and the other Colonel. But now she has only one horse,
and I am going to tell Uncle Isham to harness that one up before he
goes to church himself. You know he is to take Aunt Patsy in the
ox-cart, so he will have to go early."
They went to the negro church in the spring-wagon, Lawrence driving
the jogging sorrel, and Miss Annie on the seat beside him. When they
reached the old frame edifice in the woods beyond Howlett's, they
found gathered there quite a large assemblage, for this was one of
those very attractive occasions called a "big preaching." Horses and
mules, and wagons of various kinds, many of the latter containing
baskets of refreshments, were standing about under the trees; and Mrs
Keswick's cart and oxen, tethered to a little pine tree, gave proof
that Aunt Patsy had arrived. The inside of the church was nearly full,
and outside, around the door, stood a large number of men and boys.
The white visitors were looked upon with some surprise, but way was
made for them to approach the door, and as soon as they entered the
building two of the officers of the church came forward to show them
to one of the uppermost seats; but this honor Miss Annie strenuously
declined. She preferred a seat near the open door, and therefore she
and Mr Croft were given a bench in that vicinity, of which they had
To Lawrence, who had never seen anything of the sort, the services
which now began were exceedingly interesting; and as Annie had not
been to a negro church since she was a little girl, and very seldom
then, she gave very earnest and animated attention to what was going
on. The singing, as it always is among the negroes, was powerful and
melodious, and the long prayer of Brother Enoch Hines was one of those
spirited and emotional statements of personal condition, and wild and
ardent supplication, which generally pave the way for a most powerful
awakening in an assemblage of this kind. Another hymn, sung in more
vigorous tones than the first one, warmed up the congregation to
such a degree that when Brother Hines opened the Bible, and made
preparations for his discourse, he looked out upon an audience as
anxious to be moved and stirred as he was to move and stir it. The
sermon was intended to be a long one, for, had it been otherwise,
Brother Hines had lost his reputation; and, therefore, the preacher,
after a few prefatory statements, delivered in a grave and solemn
manner, plunged boldly into the midst of his exhortations, knowing
that he could go either backward or forward, presenting, with equal
acceptance, fresh subject matter, or that already used, so long as his
strength held out. He had not preached half an hour before his hearers
were so stirred and moved, that a majority of them found it utterly
impossible to merely sit still and listen. In different ways their
awakening was manifested; some began to sing in a low voice; others
gently rocked their bodies; while fervent ejaculations of various
kinds were heard from all parts of the church. From this beginning,
arose gradually a scene of religious activity, such as Lawrence had
never imagined. Each individual allowed his or her fervor to express
itself according to the method which best pleased the worshipper.
Some kept to their seats, and listened to the words of the preacher,
interrupting him occasionally by fervent ejaculations; others sang
and shouted, sometimes standing up, clapping their hands and stamping
their feet; while a large proportion of the able-bodied members left
their seats, and pushed their way forward to the wide, open space
which surrounded the preacher's desk, and prepared to engage in the
exhilarating ceremony of the "Jerusalem Jump."
Two concentric rings were formed around the preacher, the inner one
composed of women, the outer one of men, the faces of those forming
the inner ring being turned towards those in the outer. As soon as all
were in place, each brother reached forth his hand, and took the hand
of the sister opposite to him, and then each couple began to jump up
and down violently, shaking hands and singing at the top of their
voices. After about a minute of this, the two circles moved, one, one
way and one another, so that each brother found himself opposite
a different sister. Hands were again immediately seized, and the
jumping, hand-shaking, and singing went on. Minute by minute the
excitement increased; faster the worshippers jumped, and louder they
sang. Through it all Brother Enoch Hines kept on with his sermon.
It was very difficult now to make himself heard, and the time for
explanation or elucidation had long since passed; all he could do was
to shout forth certain important and moving facts, and this he did
over and over again, holding his hand at the side of his mouth, as if
he were hailing a vessel in the wind. Much of what he said was lost
in the din of the jumpers, but ever and anon could be heard ringing
through the church the announcement: "De wheel ob time is a turnin'
In a group by themselves, in an upper corner of the congregation, were
four or five very old women, who were able to manifest their pious
enthusiasm in no other way than by rocking their bodies backwards
and forwards, and singing with their cracked voices a gruesome
and monotonous chant. This rude song had something of a wild and
uncivilized nature, as if it had come down to these old people from
the savage rites of their African ancestors. They did not sing in
unison, but each squeaked or piped out her, "Yi, wiho, yi, hoo!"
according to the strength of her lungs, and the degree of her
exaltation. Prominent among these was old Aunt Patsy; her little black
eyes sparkling through her great iron-bound spectacles; her head and
body moving in unison with the wild air of the unintelligible chant
she sang; her long, skinny hands clapping up and down upon her
knees; while her feet, encased in their great green baize slippers,
unceasingly beat time upon the floor.
So many persons being absent from their seats, the group of old women
was clearly visible to Annie and Lawrence, and Aunt Patsy also could
easily see them. Whenever her head, in its ceaseless moving from side
to side, allowed her eyes to fall upon the two white visitors, her
ardor and fervency increased, and she seemed to be expressing a pious
gratitude that Miss Annie and he, whom she supposed to be her husband,
were still together in peace and safety.
Annie was much affected by all she saw and heard. Her face was
slightly pale, and occasionally she was moved by a little nervous
tremor. Mr Croft, too, was very attentive. His soul was not moved to
enthusiasm, and he did not feel, as his companion did, now and
then, that he would like to jump up and join in the dancing and the
shouting; but the scene made a very strong impression upon him.
Around and around went the two rings of men and women, jumping,
singing, and hand-shaking. Out from the centre of them came the
stentorian shout: "De wheel ob time is a turnin' roun'!" From all
parts of the church rose snatches of hymns, exultant shouts, groans,
and prayers; and, in the corner, the shrill chants of the old women
were fitfully heard through the storm of discordant worship.
In the midst of all the wild din and hubbub, the soul of Aunt Patsy
looked out from the habitation where it had dwelt so long, and,
without giving the slightest notice to any one, or attracting the
least attention by its movements, it silently slipped away.
The old habitation of the soul still sat in its chair, but no one
noticed that it no longer sang, or beat time with its hands and feet.
Not long after this, Lawrence looked round at his companion, and
noticed that she was slightly trembling. "Don't you think we have had
enough of this?" he whispered.
"Yes," she answered. And they rose and went out. They thought they
were the first who had left.
When Mr Croft and Miss Annie got into the spring-wagon, and the head
of the sorrel was turned away from the church, Lawrence looked at his
watch, and remarked that, as it was still quite early, there might be
time for a little drive before going back to the house for dinner. The
face of the young lady beside him was still slightly pale, and the
thought came to him that it would be very well for her if her mind
could be diverted from the abnormally inspiriting scene she had just
"Dinner will be late to-day," she said, "for I saw Letty doing her
best among the Jerusalem Jumpers."
"Very well," said he, "we will drive. And now, where shall we go?"
"If we take the cross-road at the store," said Miss Annie, "and go on
for about half a mile, we can turn into the woods, and then there is a
beautiful road through the trees, which will bring us out on the other
side of Aunt Keswick's house. Junius took me that way not long ago."
So they turned at the store, much to the disgust of the plodding
sorrel, who thought he was going directly home, and they soon reached
the road that led through the woods. This was hard and sandy, as are
many of the roads through the forests in that part of the country, and
it would have been a very good driving road, had it not been for the
occasional protrusion of tree roots, which gave the wheels a little
bump, and for the branches which, now and then, hung down somewhat too
low for the comfort of a lady and gentleman, riding in a rather high
spring-wagon without a cover. But Lawrence drove slowly, and so the
root bumps were not noticed; and when the low-hanging boughs were on
his side, he lifted them so that his companion's head could pass under
and, when they happened to be on her side, Annie ducked her head,
and her hat was never brushed off. But, at times, they drove quite a
distance without overhanging boughs, and the pine trees, surrounded by
their smooth carpet of brown spines, gave forth a spicy fragrance in
the warm, but sparkling air; the oak trees stood up still dark and
green; while the chestnuts were all dressed in rich yellow, with the
chinquepin bushes by the roadside imitating them in color, as they
tried to do in fruit. Sometimes a spray of purple flowers could be
seen among the trees, and great patches of sunlight which, here
and there, came through the thinning foliage, fell, now upon the
brilliantly scarlet leaves of a sweet-gum, and now upon the polished
and brown-red dress of a neighboring black-gum.
The woods were very quiet. There was no sound of bird or insect, and
the occasional hare, or "Molly Cotton-tail," as Annie delightedly
called it, who hopped across the road, made no noise at all. A gentle
wind among the tops of the taller trees made a sound as of a distant
sea; but, besides this, little was heard but the low, crunching noise
of the wheels, and the voices of Lawrence and Miss Annie.
Reaching a place where the road branched, Lawrence stopped the horse,
and looked up each leafy lane. They were completely deserted. White
people seldom walked abroad at this hour on Sunday, and the negroes
of the neighborhood were at church. "Is not this a frightfully lonely
place?" he said. "One might imagine himself in a desert."
"I like it," replied Annie. "It is so different from the wild,
exciting tumult of that church. I am glad you took me away. At first I
would not have missed it for the world, but there seemed to come into
the stormy scene something oppressive, and almost terrifying."
"I am glad I took you away," said Lawrence, "but it seems to me that
your impression was not altogether natural. I thought that, amid all
that mad enthusiasm, you were over-excited, not depressed. A solemn
solitude like this would, to my thinking, be much more likely to lower
your spirits. I don't like solitude, myself, and therefore, I suppose
it is that I thought an impressible nature, like yours, would find
something sad in the loneliness of these silent woods."
Annie turned, and fixed on him her large blue eyes. "But I am not
alone," she said.
As Lawrence looked into her eyes he saw that they were as clear as the
purest crystal, and that he could look through them straight into her
soul, and there he saw that this woman loved him. The vision was
as sudden as if it had been a night scene lighted up by a flash of
lightning, but it was as clear and plain as if it had been that same
scene under the noonday sun.
There are times in the life of a man, when the goddess of Reasonable
Impulse raises her arms above her head, and allows herself a little
yawn. Then she takes off her crown and hangs it on the back of her
throne; after which she rests her sceptre on the floor, and, rising,
stretches herself to her full height, and goes forth to take a long,
refreshing walk by the waters of Unreflection. Then her minister,
Prudence, stretches himself upon a bench, and, with his handkerchief
over his eyes, composes himself for a nap. Discretion, Worldly Wisdom,
and other trusted officers of her court, and even, sometimes, that
agile page called Memory, no sooner see their royal mistress depart
than, by various doors, they leave the palace and wander far away.
Then, silently, with sparkling eyes, and parted lips, comes that fair
being, Unthinking Love. She puts one foot upon the lower step of
the throne; she looks about her; and, with a quick bound, she seats
herself. Upon her tumbled curls she hastily puts the crown; with her
small white hand she grasps the sceptre; and then, rising, waves it,
and issues her commands. The crowd of emotions which serve as her
satellites, seize the great seal from the sleeping Prudence, and the
new Queen reigns!
All this now happened to Lawrence. Never before had he looked into the
eyes of a woman who loved him; and, leaning over towards this one, he
put his arm around her and drew her towards him. "And never shall you
be alone," he said.
She looked up at him with tears starting to her eyes, and then she put
her head against his breast. She was too happy to say anything, and
she did not try.
It was about a minute after this, that the sober sorrel, who took no
interest in what had occurred behind him, and a great deal of interest
in his stable at home, started in an uncertain and hesitating way;
and, finding that he was not checked, began to move onward. Lawrence
looked up from the little head upon his breast, and called out,
"Whoa!" To this, however, the sorrel paid no attention. Lawrence
then put forth his right hand to grasp the reins, but having lately
forgotten all about them, they had fallen out of the spring-wagon, and
were now dragging upon the ground. It was impossible for him to reach
them, and so, seizing the whip, he endeavored with its aid to hook
them up. Failing in this, he was about to jump out and run to the
horse's head; but, perceiving his intention, Annie seized his arm.
"Don't you do it!" she exclaimed. "You'll ruin your ankle!"
Lawrence could not but admit to himself that he was not in condition
to execute any feats of agility, and he also felt that Annie had a
very charming way of holding fast to his arm, as if she had a right
to keep him out of danger. And now the sorrel broke into the jog-trot
which was his usual pace. "It is very provoking," said Lawrence, "I
don't think I ever allowed myself to drop the reins before."
"It doesn't make the slightest difference," said Annie, comfortingly.
"This old horse knows the road perfectly well, and he doesn't need a
bit of driving. He will take us home just as safely as if you held
the reins, and now don't you try to get them, for you will only hurt
"Very well," said Lawrence, putting his arm around her again, "I am
resigned. But I think you are very brave to sit so quiet and composed,
under the circumstances."
She looked at him with a smile. "Such a little circumstance don't
count, just now," she said. "You must stop that," she added,
presently, "when we get to the edge of the woods."
Before long, they came out into the open country and found themselves
in a lane which led by a wide circuit to the road passing Mrs
Keswick's house. The old sorrel certainly behaved admirably; he held
back when he descended a declivity; he walked over the rough places;
and he trotted steadily where the road was smooth.
"It seems like our Fate," said Annie, who now sat up without an arm
around her, the protecting woods having been left behind, "he just
takes us along without our having anything to do with it."
"He is not much of a horse," said Lawrence, clasping, in an
unobservable way, the little hand which lay by his side, "but the Fate
Fortunately there was no one upon the road to notice the reinless
plight in which these two young people found themselves, and they were
quite as well satisfied as if they had been doing their own driving.
After a little period of thought, Annie turned an earnest face to
Lawrence, and she said: "Do you know that I never believed that you
were really in love with Roberta March."
Lawrence squeezed her hand, but did not reply. He knew very well that
he had loved Roberta March, and he was not going to lie about it.
"I thought so," she continued, "because I did not believe that any
one, who was truly in love, would want to send other people about, to
propose for him, as you did."
"That is not exactly the state of the case," he said, "but we must not
talk of those things now. That is all passed and gone."
"But if there ever was any love," she persisted, "are you sure that it
is all gone?"
"Gone," he answered, earnestly, "as utterly and completely as the days
of last summer."
And now the sorrel, of his own accord, stopped at Mrs Keswick's outer
gate; and Lawrence, getting down, took up the reins, opened the gate,
and drove to the house in quite a proper way.
When Mr Croft helped Annie to descend from the spring-wagon, he did
not squeeze her hand, nor exchange with her any tender glances, for
old Mrs Keswick was standing at the top of the steps. "Have you seen
Letty?" she asked.
"Letty?" said Miss Annie. "Oh, yes," she added, as if she suddenly
remembered that such a person existed, "Letty was at church, and she
was very active."
"Well," said the old lady, "she must have taken more interest in the
exercises than you did, for it is long past the time when I told her
she must be home."
"I do not believe, madam," said Lawrence, "that any one could have
taken more interest in the exercises of this morning, than we have."
At this, Annie could not help giving him a little look which would
have provoked reflection in the mind of the old lady, had she not been
very earnestly engaged in gazing out into the road, in the hope of
When Lawrence had gone into the office, and had closed the door behind
him, he stood in a meditative mood before the empty fireplace. He was
making inquiries of himself in regard to what he had just done. He
was not accusing himself, nor indulging in regrets; he was simply
investigating the matter. Here he stood, a man accepted by two women.
If he had ever heard of any other man in a like condition, he would
have called that man a scoundrel, and yet he did not deem himself a
The facts in the case were easy enough to understand. For the first
time in his life he had looked into the eyes of a woman who loved him,
and he had discovered to his utter surprise that he loved her. There
had been no plan; no prudent outlook into her nature and feelings;
no cautious insight into his own. He had taken part in a most
unpremeditated act of pure and simple love; and that it was real and
pure love on each side, he no more doubted than he doubted that he
lived. And yet, had he been an impostor when, on that hill over there,
he told Roberta March he loved her? No, he had been honest, he had
loved her; and, since the time that he had been roused to action by
the discovery of Junius Keswick's intentions to renew his suit, it had
been a love full of a rare and alluring beauty. But its charm, its
fascination, its very existence, had disappeared in the first flash of
his knowledge that Annie Peyton loved him. Had his love for Roberta
been a perfect one, had he been sure that she returned it, then it
could not have been overthrown; but it had gone, and a love, complete
and perfect, stood in its place. He had seen that he was loved, and he
loved. That was all, but it would stand forever.
This was the state of the case, and now Lawrence set himself to
discover if, in all ways, he had acted truly and honestly. He had been
accepted by Miss March, but what sort of acceptance was it? Should he,
as a man true to himself, accept such an acceptance? What was he to
think of a woman who, very angry as he had been informed, had sent him
a message, which meant everything in the world to him, if it meant
anything, and had then dashed away without allowing him a chance to
speak to her, or even giving him a nod of farewell. The last thing she
had really said to him in this connection were those cruel words on
Pine Top Hill, with which she had asked him to choose a spot in which
to be rejected. Could he consider himself engaged? Would a woman who
cared for him act towards him in such a manner? After all, was that
acceptance anything more than the result of pique? And could he not,
quite as justly, accept the rejection which she had professed herself
anxious to give him.
A short time before, Lawrence had done his best to explain to his
advantage these peculiarities of his status in regard to Miss March.
He had said to himself that she had threatened to reject him because
she wished to punish him, and he had intended to implore her pardon,
and expected to receive it. Over and over again, had he argued with
himself in this strain, and yet, in spite of it all, he had not been
able to bring himself into a state of mind in which he could sit down
and write to her a letter, which, in his estimation, would be certain
to seal and complete the engagement. "How very glad I am," he now said
to himself, "that I never wrote that letter!" And this was the only
decision at which he had arrived, when he heard Mrs Keswick calling to
him from the yard.
He immediately went to the door, when the old lady informed him, that
as Letty had not come back, and did not appear to be intending to come
back, and that as none of the other servants on the place had made
their appearance, he might as well come into the house, and try to
satisfy his hunger on what cold food she and Mrs Null had managed to
The most biting and spicy condiments of the little meal, to which the
three sat down, were supplied by Mrs Keswick, who reviled without
stint those utterly thoughtless and heedless colored people, who, once
in the midst of their crazy religious exercises, totally forgot that
they owed any duty whatever to those who employed them. Lawrence and
Annie did not say much, but there was something peculiarly piquant in
the way in which Annie brought and poured out the tea she had made,
and which, with the exception of the old lady's remarks, was the only
warm part of the repast; and there was an element of buoyancy in the
manner of Mr Croft, as he took his cup to drink the tea. Although he
said little at this meal, he thought a great deal, listening not at
all to Mrs Keswick's tirades. "What a charmingly inconsiderate affair
this has been!" he said to himself. "Nothing planned, nothing provided
for, or against; all spontaneous, and from our very hearts. I never
thought to tell her that she must say nothing to her aunt, until we
had agreed how everything should, be explained, and I don't believe
the idea that it is necessary to say anything to anybody, has entered
her mind. But I must keep my eyes away from her if I don't want to
bring on a premature explosion."
Whatever might be the result of the reasoning which this young man
had to do with himself, it was quite plain that he was abundantly
satisfied with things as they were.
It was beginning to be dark, when Letty and Uncle Isham returned and
explained why they had been so late in returning.
Old Aunt Patsy had died in church.
"Lawrence," said Annie, on the forenoon of the next day, as they were
sitting together in the parlor with the house to themselves, Mrs
Keswick having gone to Aunt Patsy's cabin to supervise proceedings
there, "Lawrence, don't you feel glad that we did not have a chance to
speak to dear old Aunt Patsy about those little shoes? Perhaps she had
forgotten that she had stolen them, and so went to heaven without that
sin on her soul."
"That is a very comfortable way of looking at it," said Lawrence, "but
wouldn't it be better to assume that she did not steal them?"
"I am very sorry," said Annie, "but that is not easy to do. But don't
let us think anything more about that. And, don't you feel very glad
that the poor old creature, who looked so happy as she sat singing and
clapping her hands on her knees, didn't die until after we had left
the church? If it had happened while we were there, I don't believe--"
"Don't believe what?" asked Lawrence.
"Well, that you now would be sitting with your arm on the back of my
Lawrence was quite sure, from what had been told him, that Aunt
Patsy's demise had taken place before they left the church, but he
did not say so to Annie. He merely took his arm from the back of her
chair, and placed it around her.
"And do you know," said she, "that Letty told me something, this
morning, that is so funny and yet in a certain way so pathetic, that
it made me laugh and cry both. She said that Aunt Patsy always thought
that you were Mr Null."
At this, Lawrence burst out laughing, but Annie checked him and went
on; "And she told Letty in church, when she saw us two come in, that
she believed she could die happy now, since she had seen Miss Annie
married to such a peart gentleman, and that it looked as if old miss
had got over her grudge against him."
"And didn't Letty undeceive her?" asked Lawrence.
"No, she said it would be a pity to upset the mind of such an old
woman, and she didn't do it."
"Then the good Aunt Patsy died," said Lawrence, "thinking I was that
wretched tramp of a bone-dust pedler, which the fancy of your aunt has
conjured up. That explains the interest the venerable colored woman
took in me. It is now quite easy to understand; for, if your aunt
abused your mythical husband to everybody, as she did to me, I don't
wonder Aunt Patsy thought I was in danger."
"Poor old woman," said Annie, looking down at the floor, "I am so glad
that we helped her to die happy."
"As she was obliged to anticipate the truth," said Lawrence, "in order
to derive any comfort from it, I am glad she did it. But although I am
delighted, more than my words can tell you, to take the place of your
Mr Null, you must not expect me to have any of his attributes."
"Now just listen to me, sir," said Annie. "I don't want you to say one
word against Mr Null. If it had not been for that good Freddy, things
would have been very different from what they are now. If you care for
me at all, you owe me entirely to Freddy Null."
"Entirely?" asked Lawrence.
"Of course I mean in regard to opportunities of finding out things and
saying them. If Aunt Keswick had supposed I was only Annie Peyton, she
would not have allowed Mr Croft to interfere with her plans for Junius
and me. I expected Mr Null to be of service to me, but no one could
have imagined that he would have brought about anything like this."
"Blessed be Null!" exclaimed Lawrence.
Annie asked him to please to be more careful, for how did he know that
one of the servants might not be sweeping the front porch, and of
course, they would look in at the windows.
"But, my dear child," said Lawrence, pushing back his chair to a
prudent distance, "we must seriously consider this Null business. We
shall have to inform your aunt of the present state of affairs, and
before we do that, we must explain what sort of person Frederick Null,
Esquire, really was--I am not willing to admit that he exists, even as
"Oh dear! oh dear!" exclaimed Annie. "We shall have a dreadful time!
When Aunt Keswick knows that there never was any Mr Null, and then
hears that you and I are engaged, it will throw her into the most
dreadful state of mind that she has ever been in, in her life; and
father has told me of some of the awful family earthquakes that Aunt
Keswick has brought about, when things went wrong with her."
"We must be very cautious," said Lawrence, "and neither of us must say
a word, or do anything that may arouse her suspicions, until we have
settled upon the best possible method of making the facts known to
her. The case is indeed a complicated one."
"And what makes it more so," said Annie, "is Aunt Keswick's belief
that you are in love with Miss March, and that you want to get a
chance to propose to her. She does think that, doesn't she?"
"Yes," said Lawrence, "I must admit that she does."
"And she must be made to understand that that is entirely at an end,"
continued Annie. "All this will be a very difficult task, Lawrence,
and I don't see how it is to be done."
"But we shall do it," he answered, "and we must not forget to be very
prudent, until it is fully settled how we shall do it."
When Lawrence retired to his room, and sat down to hold that peculiar
court in which he was judge, jury, lawyers, and witnesses, as well as
the prisoner at the bar, he had to do with a case, a great deal more
complicated and difficult than that which perplexed the mind of Miss
Annie Peyton. He began by the very unjudicial act of pledging himself,
to himself, that nothing should interfere with this new, this true
love. In spite of all that might be said, done, or thought, Annie
Peyton should be his wife. There was no indecision, whatever, in
regard to the new love; the only question was: "What is to be done
about the old one?"
Lawrence could not admit, for a moment, that he could have spoken to
Roberta March as he had spoken, if he had not loved her; but he could
now perceive that that love had been in no small degree impaired and
weakened by the manner of its acceptance. The action of Miss March on
her last day here had much more chilled his ardor than her words
on Pine Top Hill. He had not, before, examined thoroughly into the
condition of that ardor after the departure of the lady, but it was
plain enough now.
There was, therefore, no doubt whatever in regard to his love for Miss
March; he was quite ready and able to lay that aside. But what about
her acceptance of it? How could he lay that aside?
This was the real case before the court. The witnesses could give no
available testimony, the lawyers argued feebly, the jury disagreed,
and Lawrence, in his capacity of judge, dismissed the case. In his
efforts to conduct his mind through the channels of law and equity,
Lawrence had not satisfied himself, and his thoughts began to be moved
by what might be termed his military impulses. "I made a charge into
the camp," he said with a little downward drawing of the corners of
his mouth, "and I did not capture the commander-in-chief. And now I
intend to charge out again."
He sat down to his table, and wrote the following note:
"My Dear Miss March:
"I have been waiting for a good many days, hoping to receive,
either from you or Mr Keswick, an explanation of the message you
sent to me by him. I now believe that it will be impossible to give a
satisfactory explanation of that message. I therefore recur to our last
private interview, and wish to say to you that I am ready, at any time,
to meet you under either a sycamore or a cherry tree."
And then he signed it, and addressed it to Miss March at Midbranch.
This being done, he put on his hat, and stepped out to see if a
messenger could be found to carry the letter to its destination, for
he did not wish to wait for the semi-weekly mail. Near the house he
"What have you been doing all this time?" she asked.
"I have been writing a letter," he said, "and am now looking for some
colored boy who will carry it for me."
"Who is it to?" she asked.
"Miss March," was his answer.
"Let me see it," said Annie.
At this, Lawrence looked at her with wide-open eyes, and then he
laughed. Never, since he had been a child, had there been any one who
would have thought of such a thing as asking to see a private letter
which he had written to some one else; and that this young girl should
stand up before him with her straightforward expectant gaze and make
such a request of him, in the first instance, amused him.
"You don't mean to say," she added, "that you would write anything to
Miss March which you would not let me see."
"This letter," said Lawrence, "was written for Miss March, and no one
else. It is simply the winding up of that old affair."
"Give it to me," said Annie, "and let me see how you wound it up."
Lawrence smiled, looked at her in silence for a moment, and then
handed her the letter.
"I don't want you to think," she said, as she took it, "that I am
going to ask you to show me all the letters you write. But when you
write one to a lady like Miss March, I want to know what you say to
her." And then she read the letter. When she had finished, she turned
to Lawrence, and with her countenance full of amazement, exclaimed: "I
haven't the least idea in the world what all this means! What message
did she send you? And why should you meet her under a tree?"
These questions went so straight to the core of the affair, and were
so peculiarly difficult to answer, that Lawrence, for the moment,
found himself in the very unusual position of not knowing what to say,
but he presently remarked: "Do you think it is of any advantage to
either of us to talk over this affair, which is now past and gone?"
"I don't want to talk over any of it," said Annie, very promptly,
"except the part of it which is referred to in this letter; but I want
to know about that."
"That covers the most important part of it," said Lawrence.
"Very good," she answered, "and so you can tell it to me. And now,
that I think of it, you can tell me, at the same time, why you wanted
to find my cousin Junius. You refused once to tell me that, you know."
"I remember," said Lawrence. "And if you have the least feeling about
it I will relate the whole affair, from beginning to end."
"That, perhaps, will be the best thing to do, after all," said Annie.
"And suppose we take a walk over the fields, and then you can tell it
without being interrupted."
But Lawrence did not feel that his ankle would allow him to accept
this invitation, for it had hurt him a good deal since his walk to
Aunt Patsy's cabin. He said so to Annie, and excited in her the
deepest feelings of commiseration.
"You must take no more walks of any length," she exclaimed, "until you
are quite, quite well! It was my fault that you took that tramp to
Aunt Patsy's. I ought to have known better. But then," she said,
looking up at him, "you were not under my charge. I shall take very
good care of you now."
"For my part," he said, "I am glad I have this little relapse, for now
I can stay here longer."
"I am very, very sorry for the relapse," said she, "but awfully glad
for the stay. And you mustn't stand another minute. Let us go and sit
in the arbor. The sun is shining straight into it, and that will make
it all the more comfortable, while you are telling me about those
They sat down in the arbor, and Lawrence told Annie the whole history
of his affair with Miss March, from the beginning to the end; that is
if the end had been reached; although he intimated to her no doubt
upon this point. This avowal he had never expected to make. In fact
he had never contemplated its possibility. But now he felt a certain
satisfaction in telling it. Every item, as it was related, seemed
thrown aside forever. "And now then, my dear Annie," he said, when he
had finished, "what do you think of all that?"
"Well," she said, "in the first place, I am still more of the opinion
than I was before, that you never were really in love with her. You
did entirely too much planning, and investigating, and calculating;
and when, at last, you did come to the conclusion to propose to her,
you did not do it so much of your own accord, as because you found
that another man would be likely to get her, if you did not make a
pretty quick move yourself. And as to that acceptance, I don't think
anything of it at all. I believe she was very angry at Junius because
he consented to bring your messages, when he ought to have been his
own messenger, and that she gave him that answer just to rack his soul
with agony. I don't believe she ever dreamed that he would take it to
you. And, to tell the simple truth, I believe, from what I saw of her
that morning, that she was thinking very little of you, and a great
deal of him. To be sure, she was fiery angry with him, but it is
better to be that way with a lover, than to pay no attention to him at
This was a view of the case which had never struck Lawrence before,
and although it was not very flattering to him, it was very
comforting. He felt that it was extremely likely that this young woman
had been able to truthfully divine, in a case in which he had failed,
the motives of another young woman. Here was a further reason for
congratulating himself that he had not written to Miss March.
"And as to the last part of the letter," said Annie, "you are not
going under any cherry tree, or sycamore either, to be refused by her.
What she said to you was quite enough for a final answer, without any
signing or sealing under trees, or anywhere else. I think the best
thing that can be done with this precious epistle is to tear it up."
Lawrence was amused by the piquant earnestness of this decision. "But
what am I to do," he asked, "I can't let the matter rest in this
unfinished and unsatisfactory condition."
"You might write to her," said Annie, "and tell her that you have
accepted what she said to you on Pine Top Hill as a conclusive answer,
and that you now take back everything you ever said on the subject
you talked of that day. And do you think it would be well to put in
anything about your being otherwise engaged?"
At this Lawrence laughed. "I think that expression would hardly
answer," he said, "but I will write another note, and we shall see how
you like it."
"That will be very well," said the happy Annie, "and if I were you I'd
make it as gentle as I could. It's of no use to hurt her feelings."
"Oh, I don't want to do that," said Lawrence, "and now that we have
the opportunity, let us consider the question of informing your aunt
of our engagement."
"Oh dear, dear, dear!" said Annie, "that is a great deal worse than
informing Miss March that you don't want to be engaged to her."
"That is true," said Lawrence. "It is not by any means an easy piece
of business. But we might as well look it square in the face, and
determine what is to be done about it."
"It is simple enough, just as we look at it," said Annie. "All we have
to do, is to say that, knowing that Aunt Keswick had written to my
father that she was determined to make a match between cousin Junius
and me, I was afraid to come down here without putting up some
insurmountable obstacle between me and a man that I had not seen since
I was a little girl. Of course I would say, very decidedly, that I
wouldn't have married him if I hadn't wanted to; but then, considering
Aunt Keswick's very open way of carrying out her plans, it would have
been very unpleasant, and indeed impossible for me to be in the house
with him unless she saw that there was no hope of a marriage between
us; and for this reason I took the name of Mrs Null, or Mrs Nothing;
and came down here, secure under the protection of a husband who
never existed. And then, we could say that you and I were a good deal
together, and that, although you had supposed, when you came here,
that you were in love with Miss March, you had discovered that this
was a mistake, and that afterwards we fell in love with each other,
and are now engaged. That would be a straightforward statement of
everything, just as it happened; but the great trouble is: How are we
going to tell it to Aunt Keswick?"
"You are right," said Lawrence. "How are we going to tell it?"
"It need not be told!" thundered a strong voice close to their ears.
And then there was a noise of breaking lattice-work and cracking
vines, and through the back part of the arbor came an old woman
wearing a purple sun-bonnet, and beating down all obstacles before
her with a great purple umbrella. "You needn't tell it!" cried Mrs
Keswick, standing in the middle of the arbor, her eyes glistening, her
form trembling, and her umbrella quivering in the air. "You needn't
tell it! It's told!"
Graphic and vivid descriptions have been written of those furious
storms of devastating wind and deluging rain, which suddenly sweep
away the beauty of some fair tropical scene; and we have read, too, of
dreadful cyclones and tornadoes, which rush, in mad rage, over land
and sea, burying great ships in a vast tumult of frenzied waves, or
crushing to the earth forests, buildings, everything that may lie in
their awful paths; but no description could be written which could
give an adequate idea of the storm which now burst upon Lawrence and
Annie. The old lady had seen these two standing together in the yard,
conversing most earnestly. She had then seen Annie read a letter
that Lawrence gave her; and then she had perceived the two, in close
converse, enter the arbor, and sit down together without the slightest
regard for the rights of Mr Null.
Mrs Keswick looked upon all this as somewhat more out-of-the-way than
the usual proceedings of these young people, and there came into her
mind a curiosity to know what they were saying to each other. So she
immediately repaired to the large garden, and quietly made her way to
the back of the arbor, in which advantageous position she heard the
whole of Lawrence's story of his love-affair with Miss March; Annie's
remarks upon the same, and the facts of this young lady's proposed
confession in regard to her marriage with Mr Null, and her engagement
to Mr Croft.
Then she burst in upon them; the tornado and the cyclone raged; the
thunder rolled and crashed; and the white lightning of her wrath
flashed upon the two, as if it would scathe and annihilate them, as
they stood before her. Neither of them had ever known or imagined
anything like this. It had been long since Mrs Keswick had had an
opportunity of exercising that power of vituperative torment, which
had driven a husband to the refuge of a reverted pistol; which had
banished, for life, relatives and friends; and which, in the shape of
a promissory curse, had held apart those who would have been husband
and wife; and now, like the long stored up venom of a serpent, it
burst out with the direful force given by concentration and retention.
At the first outburst, Annie had turned pale and shrunk back, but now
she clung to the side of Lawrence, who, although his face was somewhat
blanched and his form trembled a little with excitement, still stood
up bravely, and endeavored, but ineffectually, to force upon the old
lady's attention a denial of her bitter accusations. With face almost
as purple as the bonnet she wore, or the umbrella she shook in
the air, the old lady first addressed her niece. With scorn and
condemnation she spoke of the deceit which the young girl had
practised upon her. But this part of the exercises was soon over. She
seemed to think that although nothing could be viler than Annie's
conduct towards her, still the fact that Mr Null no longer existed,
put Annie again within her grasp and control, and made it unnecessary
to say much to her on this occasion. It was upon Lawrence that the
main cataract of her fury poured. It would be wrong to say that she
could not find words to express her ire towards him. She found plenty
of them, and used them all. He had deceived her most abominably; he
had come there, the expressed and avowed lover of Miss March; he had
connived with her niece in her deceit; he had taken advantage of all
the opportunities she gave him to attain the legitimate object of his
visit, to inveigle into his snares this silly and absurd young woman;
and he had dared to interfere with the plans, which, by day and by
night, she had been maturing for years. In vain did Lawrence endeavor
to answer or explain. She stopped not, nor listened to one word.
"And you need not imagine," she screamed at him, "that you are going
to turn round, when you like, and marry anybody you please. You are
engaged, body and soul, to Roberta March, and have no right, by laws
of man or heaven, to marry anybody else. If you breathe a word of love
to any other woman it makes you a vile criminal in the eyes of the
law, and renders you liable to prosecution, sir. Your affianced bride
knows nothing of what her double-faced snake of a lover is doing here,
but she shall know speedily. That is a matter which I take into my own
hands. Out of my way, both of you!"
And with these words she charged by them, and rushed out of the arbor,
and into the house.
They were not a happy pair, Lawrence Croft and Annie Peyton, as they
stood together in the arbor, after old Mrs Keswick had left them. They
were both a good deal shaken by the storm they had passed through.
"Lawrence," said Annie, looking up to him with her large eyes full of
earnestness, "there surely is no truth in what she said about your
being legally bound to Miss March?"
"None in the least," said Lawrence. "No man, under the circumstances,
would consider himself engaged to a woman. At any rate, there is
one thing which I wish you to understand, and that is that I am not
engaged to Miss March, and that I am engaged to you. No matter what is
said or done, you and I belong to each other."
Annie made no answer, but she pressed his hand tightly as she looked
up into his face. He kissed her as she stood, notwithstanding his
belief that old Mrs Keswick was fully capable of bounding down on him,
umbrella in hand, from an upper window.
"What do you think she is going to do?" Annie asked presently.
"My dear Annie," said he, "I do not believe that there is a person on
earth who could divine what your Aunt Keswick is going to do. As to
that, we must simply wait and see. But, for my part, I know what I
must do. I must write a letter to Miss March, and inform her, plainly
and definitely, that I have ceased to be a suitor for her hand. I
think also that it will be well to let her know that we are engaged?"
"Yes," said Annie, "for she will be sure to hear it now. But she will
think it is a very prompt proceeding."
"That's exactly what it was," said Lawrence, smiling, "prompt and
determined. There was no doubt or indecision about any part of our
affair, was there, little one?"
"Not a bit of it," said Annie, proudly.
At dinner that day Annie took her place at one end of the table,
and Lawrence his at the other, but the old lady did not make her
appearance. She was so erratic in her goings and comings, and had so
often told them they must never wait for her, that Annie cut the ham,
and Lawrence carved the fowl, and the meal proceeded without her. But
while they were eating Mrs Keswick was heard coming down stairs from
her room, the front door was opened and slammed violently, and from
the dining-room windows they saw her go down the steps, across the
yard, and out of the gate.
"I do hope," ejaculated Annie, "that she has not gone away to stay!"
If Annie had remembered that the boy Plez, in a clean jacket and long
white apron, officiated as waiter, she would not have said this, but
then she would have lost some information. "Ole miss not gone to
stay," he said, with the license of an untrained retainer. "She gone
to Howlettses, an' she done tole Aun' Letty she'll be back agin dis
"If Aunt Keswick don't come back," said Annie, when the two were in
the parlor after dinner, "I shall go after her. I don't intend to
drive her out of the house."
"Don't you trouble yourself about that, my dear," said Lawrence. "She
is too angry not to come back."
"There is one thing," said Annie, after a while, "that we really ought
to do. To-morrow Aunt Patsy is to be buried, and before she is put
into the ground, those little shoes should be returned to Aunt
Keswick. It seems to me that justice to poor Aunt Patsy requires that
this should be done. Perhaps now she knows how wicked it was to steal
"Yes," said Lawrence, "I think it would be well to put them back where
they belong; but how can you manage it?"
"If you will give them to me," said Annie, "I will go up to aunt's
room, now that she is away, and if she keeps the box in the same place
where it used to be, I'll slip them into it. I hate dreadfully to do
it, but I really feel that it is a duty."
When Lawrence, with some little difficulty, walked across the yard to
get the shoes from his trunk, Annie ran after him, and waited at the
office door. "You must not take a step more than necessary," she said,
"and so I won't make you come back to the house."
When Lawrence gave her the shoes, and her hand a little squeeze at the
same time, he told her that he should sit down immediately and write
"And I," said Annie, "will go, and see what I can do with these."
With the shoes in her pocket, she went up stairs into her aunt's room,
and, after looking around hastily, as if to see that the old lady had
not left the ghost of herself in charge, she approached the closet in
which the sacred pasteboard box had always been kept. But the closet
was locked. Turning away she looked about the room. There was no other
place in which there was any probability that the box would be kept.
Then she became nervous; she fancied she heard the click of the yard
gate; she would not for anything have her aunt catch her in that room;
nor would she take the shoes away with her. Hastily placing them upon
a table she slipped out, and hurried into her own room.
It was about an hour after this, that Mrs Keswick came rapidly up the
steps of the front porch. She had been to Howlett's to carry a letter
which she had written to Miss March, and had there made arrangements
to have that letter taken to Midbranch very early the next morning.
She had wished to find some one who would start immediately, but as
there was no moon, and as the messenger would arrive after the family
were all in bed, she had been obliged to abandon this more energetic
line of action. But the letter would get there soon enough; and if it
did not bring down retribution on the head of the man who lodged in
her office, and who, she said to herself, had worked himself into her
plans, like the rot in a field of potatoes, she would ever after admit
that she did not know how to write a letter. All the way home she had
conned over her method of action until Mr Brandon, or a letter, should
come from Midbranch.
She had already attacked, together, the unprincipled pair who found
shelter in her house, and she now determined to come upon them
separately, and torment each soul by itself. Annie, of course, would
come in for the lesser share of the punishment, for the fact that
the wretched and depraved Null was no more, had, in a great measure,
mitigated her offence. She was safe, and her aunt intended to hold her
fast, and do with her as she would, when the time and Junius came. But
upon Lawrence she would have no mercy. When she had delivered him into
the hands of Mr Brandon, or those of Roberta's father, or the clutches
of the law, she would have nothing more to do with him, but until that
time she would make him bewail the day when he deceived and imposed
upon her by causing her to believe that he was in love with another
when he was, in reality, trying to get possession of her niece. There
were a great many things which she had not thought to say to him in
the arbor, but she would pour the whole hot mass upon his head that
Stamping up the stairs, and thumping her umbrella upon every step as
she went, hot vengeance breathing from between her parted lips, and
her eyes flashing with the delight of prospective fury, she entered
her room. The light of the afternoon had but just begun to wane, and
she had not made three steps into the apartment, before her eyes fell
upon a pair of faded, light blue shoes, which stood side by side upon
a table. She stopped suddenly, and stood, pale and rigid. Her grasp
upon her umbrella loosened, and, unnoticed, it fell upon the floor.
Then, her eyes still fixed upon the shoes, she moved slowly sidewise
towards the closet. She tried the door, and found it still locked;
then she put her hand in her pocket, drew out the key, looked at it,
and dropped it. With faltering steps she drew near the table, and
stood supporting herself by the back of a chair. Any one else would
have seen upon that table merely a pair of baby's shoes; but she saw
more. She saw the tops of the little socks which she had folded away
for the last time so many years before; she saw the first short dress
her child had ever worn; it was tied up with pink ribbons at the
shoulders, from which hung two white, plump, little arms. There was a
little neck, around which was a double string of coral fastened by a
small gold clasp. Above this was a face, a baby face, with soft, pale
eyes, and its head covered with curls of the lightest yellow, not
arranged in artistic negligence, but smooth, even, and regular, as she
so often had turned, twisted, and set them. It was indeed her baby
girl who had come to her as clear and vivid in every feature, limb,
and garment, as were the real shoes upon the table. For many minutes
she stood, her eyes fixed upon the little apparition, then, slowly,
she sank upon her knees by the chair, her sun-bonnet, which she had
not removed, was bowed, so the pale eyes of the little one could not
see her face, and from her own eyes came the first tears that that old
woman had shed since her baby's clothes had been put away in the box.
* * * * *
Lawrence's letter to Miss March was a definitely expressed document,
intended to cover all the ground necessary, and no more; but it could
not be said that it was entirely satisfactory to himself. His case, to
say the least of it, was a difficult one to defend. He was aware that
his course might be looked upon by others as dishonorable, although he
assured himself that he had acted justly. It might have been better
to wait for a positive declaration from Miss March, that she had not
truly accepted him, before engaging himself to another lady. But then,
he said to himself, true love never waits for anything. At all events,
he could write no better letter than the one he had produced, and he
hoped he should have an opportunity to show it to Annie before he sent
He need not have troubled himself in this regard, for he and Annie
were not disturbed during the rest of that day by the appearance
of Mrs Keswick; but after the letter had been duly considered and
approved, he found it difficult to obtain a messenger. There was no
one on the place who would undertake to walk to Midbranch, and he
could not take the liberty of using Mrs Keswick's horse for the trip,
so it was found necessary to wait until the morrow, when the letter
could be taken to Howlett's, where, if no one could be found to carry
it immediately, it would have to be entrusted to the mail which went
out the next day. Lawrence, of course, knew nothing of Mrs Keswick's
message to Midbranch, or he would have been still more desirous that
his letter should be promptly dispatched.
The evening was not a very pleasant one; the lovers did not know at
what moment the old lady might descend upon them, and the element of
unpleasant expectancy which pervaded the atmosphere of the house was
somewhat depressing. They talked a good deal of the probabilities of
Mrs Keswick's action. Lawrence expected that she would order him away,
although Annie had stoutly maintained that her aunt would have no
right to do this, as he was not in a condition to travel. This
argument, however, made little impression upon Lawrence, who was not
the man to stay in any house where he was not wanted; besides, he knew
very well that for any one to stay in Mrs Keswick's house when she did
not want him, would be an impossibility. But he did not intend to slip
away in any cowardly manner, and leave Annie to bear alone the brunt
of the second storm. He felt sure that such a storm was impending, and
he was also quite certain that its greatest violence would break upon
him. He would stay, therefore, and meet the old lady when she next
descended upon them, and, before he went away, he would endeavor to
utter some words in defence of himself and Annie.
They separated early, and a good deal of thinking was done by them
before they went to sleep.
The next morning they had only each other for company at breakfast,
but they had just risen from that meal when they were startled by the
entrance of Mrs Keswick. Having expected her appearance during the
whole of the time they were eating, they had no reason to be startled
by her coming now, but for their subsequent amazement at her
appearance and demeanor, they had every reason in the world. Her face
was pale and grave, with an air of rigidity about it, which was
not common to her, for, in general, she possessed a very mobile
countenance. Without speaking a word, she advanced towards Lawrence,
and extended her hand to him. He was so much surprised that while he
took her hand in his he could only murmur some unintelligible form of
morning salutation. Then Mrs Keswick turned to Annie, and shook hands
with her. The young girl grew pale, but said not a word, but some
tears came into her eyes, although why this happened she could not
have explained to herself. Having finished this little performance,
the old lady walked to the back window, and looked out into the flower
garden, although there was really nothing there to see. Now Annie
found voice to ask her aunt if she would not have some breakfast.
"No," said Mrs Keswick, "my breakfast was brought up-stairs to me."
And with that she turned and went out of the room. She closed the door
behind her, but scarcely had she done so, when she opened it again
and looked in. It was quite plain, to the two silent and astonished
observers of her actions, that she was engaged in the occupation, very
unusual with her, of controlling an excited condition of mind. She
looked first at one, and then at the other, and then she said, in a
voice which seemed to meet with occasional obstructions in its course:
"I have nothing more to say about anything. Do just what you please,
only don't talk to me about it." And she closed the door.
"What is the meaning of all this?" said Lawrence, advancing towards
Annie. "What has come over her?"
"I am sure I don't know," said Annie, and with this she burst into
tears, and cried as she would have scorned to cry, during the terrible
storm of the day before.
That morning, Lawrence Croft was a very much puzzled man. What had
happened to Mrs Keswick he could not divine, and at times he imagined
that her changed demeanor was perhaps nothing but an artful cover to
some new and more ruthless attack.
Annie took occasion to be with her aunt a good deal during the
morning, but she reported to Lawrence that the old lady had said very
little, and that little related entirely to household affairs.
Mrs Keswick ate dinner with them. Her manner was grave, and even
stern; but she made a few remarks in regard to the weather and some
neighborhood matters; and before the end of the meal both Lawrence and
Annie fancied that they could see some little signs of a return to her
usual humor, which was pleasant enough when nothing happened to make
it otherwise. But expectations of an early return to her ordinary
manner of life were fallacious; she did not appear at supper; and she
spent the evening in her own room. Lawrence and Annie had thus ample
opportunity to discuss this novel and most unexpected state of
affairs. They did not understand it, but it could not fail to cheer
and encourage them. Only one thing they decided upon, and that was
that Lawrence could not go away until he had had an opportunity of
fully comprehending the position, in relation to Mrs Keswick, in which
he and Annie stood.
About the middle of the evening, as Lawrence was thinking that it was
time for him to retire to his room in the little house in the yard,
Letty came in with a letter which she said had been brought from
Midbranch by a colored man on a horse; the man had said there was no
answer, and had gone back to Howlett's, where he belonged.
The letter was for Mr Croft and from Miss March. Very much surprised
at receiving such a missive, Lawrence opened the envelope. His letter
to Miss March had not yet been sent, for the new state of affairs had
not only very much occupied his mind, but it also seemed to render
unnecessary any haste in the matter, and he had concluded to mail the
letter the next day. This, therefore, was not in answer to anything
from him; and why should she have written?
It was with a decidedly uneasy sensation that Lawrence began to read
the letter, Annie watching him anxiously as he did so. The letter was
a somewhat long one, and the purport of it was as follows: The writer
stated that, having received a most extraordinary and astounding
epistle from old Mrs Keswick, which had been sent by a special
messenger, she had thought it her duty to write immediately on the
subject to Mr Croft, and had detained the man that she might send this
letter by him. She did not pretend to understand the full purport of
what Mrs Keswick had written, but it was evident that the old lady
believed that an engagement of marriage existed between herself (Miss
March) and Mr Croft. That that gentleman had given such information
to Mrs Keswick she could hardly suppose, but, if he had, it must have
been in consequence of a message which, very much to her surprise and
grief, had been delivered to Mr Croft by Mr Keswick. In order that
this message might be understood, Miss March had determined to make a
full explanation of her line of conduct towards Mr Croft.
During the latter part of their pleasant intercourse at Midbranch
during the past summer, she had reason to believe that Mr Croft's
intentions in regard to her were becoming serious, but she had also
perceived that his impulses, however earnest they might have been,
were controlled by an extraordinary caution and prudence, which,
although it sometimes amused her, was not in the least degree
complimentary to her. She could not prevent herself from resenting
this somewhat peculiar action of Mr Croft, and this resentment grew
into a desire, which gradually became a very strong one, that she
might have an opportunity of declining a proposal from him. That
opportunity came while they were both at Mrs Keswick's, and she had
intended that what she said at her last interview with Mr Croft should
be considered a definite refusal of his suit, but the interview had
terminated before she had stated her mind quite as plainly as she had
purposed doing. She had not, however, wished to renew the conversation
on the subject, and had concluded to content herself with what she had
already said; feeling quite sure that her words had been sufficient
to satisfy Mr Croft that it would be useless to make any further
When, on the eve of her departure from the house, Mr Keswick had
brought her Mr Croft's message, she was not only amazed, but
indignant; not so much at Mr Croft for sending it, as at Mr Keswick
for bringing it. Miss March was not ashamed to confess that she was
irritated and incensed to a high degree that a gentleman who had held
the position towards her that Mr Keswick had held, should bring her
such a message from another man. She was, therefore, seized with a
sudden impulse to punish him, and, without in the least expecting that
he would carry such an answer, she had given him the one which he had
taken to Mr Croft. Having, until the day on which she was writing,
heard nothing further on the subject, she had supposed that her
expectations had been realized. But on this day the astonishing letter
from Mrs Keswick had arrived, and it made her understand that not
only had her impulsive answer been delivered, but that Mr Croft
had informed other persons that he had been accepted. She wished,
therefore, to lose no time in stating to Mr Croft that what she had
said to him, with her own lips, was to be received as her final
resolve; and that the answer given to Mr Keswick was not intended for
Mr Croft's ears.
Miss March then went on to say that it might be possible that she owed
Mr Croft an apology for the somewhat ungracious manner in which she
had treated him at Mrs Keswick's house; but she assured herself
that Mr Croft owed her an apology, not only for the manner of his
attentions, but for the peculiar publicity he had given them. In that
case the apologies neutralized each other. Miss March had no intention
of answering Mrs Keswick's letter. Under no circumstances could
she have considered, for a moment, its absurd suggestions and
recommendations; and it contained allusions to Mr Croft and another
person which, if not founded upon the imagination of Mrs Keswick,
certainly concerned nothing with which Miss March had anything to do.
The proud spirit of Lawrence Croft was a good deal ruffled when he
read this letter, but he made no remark about it. "Would you like to
read it?" he said to Annie.
She greatly desired to read it, but there was something in her lover's
face, and in the tone in which he spoke, which made her suspect that
the reading of that letter might be, in some degree, humiliating to
him. She was certain, from the expression of his face as he read it,
that the letter contained matter very unpleasant to Lawrence, and it
might be that it would wound him to have another person, especially
herself, read them; and so she said: "I don't care to read it if you
will tell me why she wrote to you, and the point of what she says."
"Thank you," said Lawrence. And he crumpled the letter in his hand as
he spoke. "She wrote," he continued, "in consequence of a letter she
has had from your aunt."
"What!" exclaimed Annie. "Did Aunt Keswick write to her?"
"Yes," said Lawrence, "and sent it by a special messenger. She must
have told her all the heinous crimes with which she charged you and
me, particularly me; and this must have been the first intimation to
Miss March that her cousin had given me the answer she made to him;
therefore Miss March writes in haste to let me know that she did not
intend that that answer should be given to me, and that she wishes it
generally understood that I have no more connection with her than I
have with the Queen of Spain. That is the sum and substance of the
"I knew as well as I know anything in the world," said Annie, "that
that message Junius brought you meant nothing." And, taking the
crumpled letter from his hand, she threw it on the few embers that
remained in the fireplace; and, as it blazed and crumbled into black
ashes, she said: "Now that is the end of Roberta March!"
"Yes," said Lawrence, emphasizing his remark with an encircling arm,
"so far as we are concerned, that is the end of her."
On the next day, old Aunt Patsy was buried. Mrs Keswick and Annie
attended the ceremonies in the cabin, but they did not go to the
burial. After a time, it might be in a week or two, or it might be in
a year, the funeral sermon would be preached in the church, and they
would go to hear that. Aunt Patsy never finished her crazy quilt,
several pieces being wanted to one corner of it; but in the few days
preceding her burial two old women of the congregation, with trembling
hands and uncertain eyes, sewed in these pieces, and finished the
quilt, in which the body of the venerable sister was wrapped,
according to her well-known wish and desire. It is customary among the
negroes to keep the remains of their friends a very short time after
death, but Aunt Patsy had lived so long upon this earth that it was
generally conceded that her spirit would not object to her body
remaining above ground until all necessary arrangements should be
completed, and until all people who had known or heard of her had had
an opportunity of taking a last look at her. As she had been so very
well known to almost everybody's grandparents, a good many people
availed themselves of this privilege.
After Mrs Keswick's return from Aunt Patsy's cabin, where, according
to her custom, she made herself very prominent, it was noticeable that
she had dropped some of the grave reserve in which she had wrapped
herself during the preceding day. It was impossible for her, at least
but for a very short time, to act in a manner unsuited to her nature;
and reserve and constraint had never been suited to her nature. She,
therefore, began to speak on general subjects in her ordinary free
manner to the various persons in her house; but it must not be
supposed that she exhibited any contrition for the outrageous way in
which she had spoken to Annie and Lawrence, or gave them any reason
to suppose that the laceration of their souls on that occasion was a
matter which, at present, needed any consideration whatever from her.
An angel, born of memory and imagination, might come to her from
heaven, and so work upon her superstitious feelings as to induce her
to stop short in her course of reckless vengeance; but she would not,
on that account, fall upon anybody's neck, or ask forgiveness for
anything she had done to anybody. She did not accuse herself, nor
repent; she only stopped. "After this," she said, "you all can do as
you please. I have no further concern with your affairs. Only don't
talk to me about them."
She told Lawrence, in a manner that would seem to indicate a moderate,
but courteous, interest in his welfare, that he must not think of
leaving her house until his ankle had fully recovered its strength;
and she even went so far as to suggest the use of a patent lotion
which she had seen at the store at Howlett's. She resumed her former
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