The Marrow of Tradition
Charles W. Chesnutt
Part 2 out of 5
that the race antagonism which hampered his progress and that of his
people was a mere temporary thing, the outcome of former conditions, and
bound to disappear in time, and that when a colored man should
demonstrate to the community in which he lived that he possessed
character and power, that community would find a way in which to enlist
his services for the public good.
He had already made himself useful, and had received many kind words and
other marks of appreciation. He was now offered a further confirmation
of his theory: having recognized his skill, the white people were now
ready to take advantage of it. Any lurking doubt he may have felt when
first invited by Dr. Burns to participate in the operation, had been
dispelled by Dr. Price's prompt acquiescence.
On the way homeward Miller told his wife of this appointment. She was
greatly interested; she was herself a mother, with an only child.
Moreover, there was a stronger impulse than mere humanity to draw her
toward the stricken mother. Janet had a tender heart, and could have
loved this white sister, her sole living relative of whom she knew. All
her life long she had yearned for a kind word, a nod, a smile, the least
thing that imagination might have twisted into a recognition of the tie
between them. But it had never come.
And yet Janet was not angry. She was of a forgiving temper; she could
never bear malice. She was educated, had read many books, and
appreciated to the full the social forces arrayed against any such
recognition as she had dreamed of. Of the two barriers between them a
man might have forgiven the one; a woman would not be likely to overlook
either the bar sinister or the difference of race, even to the slight
extent of a silent recognition. Blood is thicker than water, but, if it
flow too far from conventional channels, may turn to gall and wormwood.
Nevertheless, when the heart speaks, reason falls into the background,
and Janet would have worshiped this sister, even afar off, had she
received even the slightest encouragement. So strong was this weakness
that she had been angry with herself for her lack of pride, or even of a
decent self-respect. It was, she sometimes thought, the heritage of her
mother's race, and she was ashamed of it as part of the taint of
slavery. She had never acknowledged, even to her husband, from whom she
concealed nothing else, her secret thoughts upon this lifelong sorrow.
This silent grief was nature's penalty, or society's revenge, for
whatever heritage of beauty or intellect or personal charm had come to
her with her father's blood. For she had received no other inheritance.
Her sister was rich by right of her birth; if Janet had been fortunate,
her good fortune had not been due to any provision made for her by her
She knew quite well how passionately, for many years, her proud sister
had longed and prayed in vain for the child which had at length brought
joy into her household, and she could feel, by sympathy, all the
sickening suspense with which the child's parents must await the result
of this dangerous operation.
"O Will," she adjured her husband anxiously, when he had told her of the
engagement, "you must be very careful. Think of the child's poor mother!
Think of our own dear child, and what it would mean to lose him!"
Dr. Price was not entirely at ease in his mind as the two doctors drove
rapidly from the hotel to Major Carteret's. Himself a liberal man, from
his point of view, he saw no reason why a colored doctor might not
operate upon a white male child,--there are fine distinctions in the
application of the color line,--but several other physicians had been
invited, some of whom were men of old-fashioned notions, who might not
relish such an innovation.
This, however, was but a small difficulty compared with what might be
feared from Major Carteret himself. For he knew Carteret's unrelenting
hostility to anything that savored of recognition of the negro as the
equal of white men. It was traditional in Wellington that no colored
person had ever entered the front door of the Carteret residence, and
that the luckless individual who once presented himself there upon
alleged business and resented being ordered to the back door had been
unceremoniously thrown over the piazza railing into a rather thorny
clump of rosebushes below. If Miller were going as a servant, to hold a
basin or a sponge, there would be no difficulty; but as a surgeon--well,
he wouldn't borrow trouble. Under the circumstances the major might
yield a point.
But as they neared the house the major's unyielding disposition loomed
up formidably. Perhaps if the matter were properly presented to Dr.
Burns, he might consent to withdraw the invitation. It was not yet too,
late to send Miller a note.
"By the way, Dr. Burns," he said, "I'm very friendly to Dr. Miller, and
should personally like to have him with us to-night. But--I ought to
have told you this before, but I couldn't very well do so, on such
short notice, in Miller's presence--we are a conservative people, and
our local customs are not very flexible. We jog along in much the same
old way our fathers did. I'm not at all sure that Major Carteret or the
other gentlemen would consent to the presence of a negro doctor."
"I think you misjudge your own people," returned Dr. Burns, "they are
broader than you think. We have our prejudices against the negro at the
North, but we do not let them stand in the way of anything that _we_
want. At any rate, it is too late now, and I will accept the
responsibility. If the question is raised, I will attend to it. When I
am performing an operation I must be _aut Caesar, aut nullus_."
Dr. Price was not reassured, but he had done his duty and felt the
reward of virtue. If there should be trouble, he would not be
responsible. Moreover, there was a large fee at stake, and Dr. Burns was
not likely to prove too obdurate.
They were soon at Carteret's, where they found assembled the several
physicians invited by Dr. Price. These were successively introduced as
Drs. Dudley, Hooper, and Ashe, all of whom were gentlemen of good
standing, socially and in their profession, and considered it a high
privilege to witness so delicate an operation at the hands of so eminent
a member of their profession.
Major Carteret entered the room and was duly presented to the famous
specialist. Carteret's anxious look lightened somewhat at sight of the
array of talent present. It suggested, of course, the gravity of the
impending event, but gave assurance of all the skill and care which
science could afford.
Dr. Burns was shown to the nursery, from which he returned in five
"The case is ready," he announced. "Are the gentlemen all present?"
"I believe so," answered Dr. Price quickly.
Miller had not yet arrived. Perhaps, thought Dr. Price, a happy
accident, or some imperative call, had detained him. This would be
fortunate indeed. Dr. Burns's square jaw had a very determined look. It
would be a pity if any acrimonious discussion should arise on the eve of
a delicate operation. If the clock on the mantel would only move faster,
the question might never come up.
"I don't see Dr. Miller," observed Dr. Burns, looking around the room.
"I asked him to come at eight. There are ten minutes yet."
Major Carteret looked up with a sudden frown.
"May I ask to whom you refer?" he inquired, in an ominous tone.
The other gentlemen showed signs of interest, not to say emotion. Dr.
Price smiled quizzically.
"Dr. Miller, of your city. He was one of my favorite pupils. He is also
a graduate of the Vienna hospitals, and a surgeon of unusual skill. I
have asked him to assist in the operation."
Every eye was turned toward Carteret, whose crimsoned face had set in a
look of grim determination.
"The person to whom you refer is a negro, I believe?" he said.
"He is a colored man, certainly," returned Dr. Burns, "though one would
never think of his color after knowing him well."
"I do not know, sir," returned Carteret, with an effort at self-control,
"what the customs of Philadelphia or Vienna may be; but in the South we
do not call negro doctors to attend white patients. I could not permit a
negro to enter my house upon such an errand."
"I am here, sir," replied Dr. Burns with spirit, "to perform a certain
operation. Since I assume the responsibility, the case must be under my
entire control. Otherwise I cannot operate."
"Gentlemen," interposed Dr. Price, smoothly, "I beg of you both--this is
a matter for calm discussion, and any asperity is to be deplored. The
life at stake here should not be imperiled by any consideration of minor
"Your humanity does you credit, sir," retorted Dr. Burns. "But other
matters, too, are important. I have invited this gentleman here. My
professional honor is involved, and I merely invoke my rights to
maintain it. It is a matter of principle, which ought not to give way to
a mere prejudice."
"That also states the case for Major Carteret," rejoined Dr. Price,
suavely. "He has certain principles,--call them prejudices, if you
like,--certain inflexible rules of conduct by which he regulates his
life. One of these, which he shares with us all in some degree, forbids
the recognition of the negro as a social equal."
"I do not know what Miller's social value may be," replied Dr. Burns,
stoutly, "or whether you gain or lose by your attitude toward him. I
have invited him here in a strictly professional capacity, with which
his color is not at all concerned."
"Dr. Burns does not quite appreciate Major Carteret's point of view,"
said Dr. Price. "This is not with him an unimportant matter, or a mere
question of prejudice, or even of personal taste. It is a sacred
principle, lying at the very root of our social order, involving the
purity and prestige of our race. You Northern gentlemen do not quite
appreciate our situation; if you lived here a year or two you would act
as we do. Of course," he added, diplomatically, "if there were no
alternative--if Dr. Burns were willing to put Dr. Miller's presence on
the ground of imperative necessity"--
"I do nothing of the kind, sir," retorted Dr. Burns with some heat. "I
have not come all the way from Philadelphia to undertake an operation
which I cannot perform without the aid of some particular physician. I
merely stand upon my professional rights."
Carteret was deeply agitated. The operation must not be deferred; his
child's life might be endangered by delay. If the negro's presence were
indispensable he would even submit to it, though in order to avoid so
painful a necessity, he would rather humble himself to the Northern
doctor. The latter course involved merely a personal sacrifice--the
former a vital principle. Perhaps there was another way of escape.
Miller's presence could not but be distasteful to Mrs. Carteret for
other reasons. Miller's wife was the living evidence of a painful
episode in Mrs. Carteret's family, which the doctor's presence would
inevitably recall. Once before, Mrs. Carteret's life had been endangered
by encountering, at a time of great nervous strain, this ill-born
sister and her child. She was even now upon the verge of collapse at the
prospect of her child's suffering, and should be protected from the
intrusion of any idea which might add to her distress.
"Dr. Burns," he said, with the suave courtesy which was part of his
inheritance, "I beg your pardon for my heat, and throw myself upon your
magnanimity, as between white men"--
"I am a gentleman, sir, before I am a white man," interposed Dr. Burns,
slightly mollified, however, by Carteret's change of manner.
"The terms should be synonymous," Carteret could not refrain from
saying. "As between white men, and gentlemen, I say to you, frankly,
that there are vital, personal reasons, apart from Dr. Miller's color,
why his presence in this house would be distasteful. With this
statement, sir, I throw myself upon your mercy. My child's life is worth
more to me than any earthly thing, and I must be governed by your
Dr. Burns was plainly wavering. The clock moved with provoking slowness.
Miller would be there in five minutes.
"May I speak with you privately a moment, doctor?" asked Dr. Price.
They withdrew from the room and were engaged in conversation for a few
moments. Dr. Burns finally yielded.
"I shall nevertheless feel humiliated when I meet Miller again," he
said, "but of course if there is a personal question involved, that
alters the situation. Had it been merely a matter of color, I should
have maintained my position. As things stand, I wash my hands of the
whole affair, so far as Miller is concerned, like Pontius Pilate--yes,
indeed, sir, I feel very much like that individual."
"I'll explain the matter to Miller," returned Dr. Price, amiably, "and
make it all right with him. We Southern people understand the negroes
better than you do, sir. Why should we not? They have been constantly
under our interested observation for several hundred years. You feel
this vastly more than Miller will. He knows the feeling of the white
people, and is accustomed to it. He wishes to live and do business here,
and is quite too shrewd to antagonize his neighbors or come where he is
not wanted. He is in fact too much of a gentleman to do so."
"I shall leave the explanation to you entirely," rejoined Dr. Burns, as
they reentered the other room.
Carteret led the way to the nursery, where the operation was to take
place. Dr. Price lingered for a moment. Miller was not likely to be
behind the hour, if he came at all, and it would be well to head him off
before the operation began.
Scarcely had the rest left the room when the doorbell sounded, and a
servant announced Dr. Miller.
Dr. Price stepped into the hall and met Miller face to face.
He had meant to state the situation to Miller frankly, but now that the
moment had come he wavered. He was a fine physician, but he shrank from
strenuous responsibilities. It had been easy to theorize about the
negro; it was more difficult to look this man in the eyes--whom at this
moment he felt to be as essentially a gentleman as himself--and tell him
the humiliating truth.
As a physician his method was to ease pain--he would rather take the
risk of losing a patient from the use of an anaesthetic than from the
shock of an operation. He liked Miller, wished him well, and would not
wittingly wound his feelings. He really thought him too much of a
gentleman for the town, in view of the restrictions with which he must
inevitably be hampered. There was something melancholy, to a cultivated
mind, about a sensitive, educated man who happened to be off color. Such
a person was a sort of social misfit, an odd quantity, educated out of
his own class, with no possible hope of entrance into that above it. He
felt quite sure that if he had been in Miller's place, he would never
have settled in the South--he would have moved to Europe, or to the West
Indies, or some Central or South American state where questions of color
were not regarded as vitally important.
Dr. Price did not like to lie, even to a negro. To a man of his own
caste, his word was his bond. If it were painful to lie, it would be
humiliating to be found out. The principle of _noblesse oblige_ was also
involved in the matter. His claim of superiority to the colored doctor
rested fundamentally upon the fact that he was white and Miller was not;
and yet this superiority, for which he could claim no credit, since he
had not made himself, was the very breath of his nostrils,--he would not
have changed places with the other for wealth untold; and as a
gentleman, he would not care to have another gentleman, even a colored
man, catch him in a lie. Of this, however, there was scarcely any
danger. A word to the other surgeons would insure their corroboration of
whatever he might tell Miller. No one of them would willingly wound Dr.
Miller or embarrass Dr. Price; indeed, they need not know that Miller
had come in time for the operation.
"I'm sorry, Miller," he said with apparent regret, "but we were here
ahead of time, and the case took a turn which would admit of no delay,
so the gentlemen went in. Dr. Burns is with the patient now, and asked
me to explain why we did not wait for you."
"I'm sorry too," returned Miller, regretfully, but nothing doubting. He
was well aware that in such cases danger might attend upon delay. He had
lost his chance, through no fault of his own or of any one else.
"I hope that all is well?" he said, hesitatingly, not sure whether he
would be asked to remain.
"All is well, so far. Step round to my office in the morning, Miller, or
come in when you're passing, and I'll tell you the details."
This was tantamount to a dismissal, so Miller took his leave. Descending
the doorsteps, he stood for a moment, undecided whether to return home
or to go to the hotel and await the return of Dr. Burns, when he heard
his name called from the house in a low tone.
He stepped back toward the door, outside of which stood the colored
servant who had just let him out.
"Dat's all a lie, doctuh," he whispered, "'bout de operation bein'
already pe'fo'med. Dey-all had jes' gone in de minute befo' you
come--Doctuh Price hadn' even got out 'n de room. Dey be'n quollin'
'bout you fer de las' ha'f hour. Majah Ca'te'et say he wouldn' have
you, an' de No'then doctuh say he wouldn't do nothin' widout you, an'
Doctuh Price he j'ined in on bofe sides, an' dey had it hot an' heavy,
nip an' tuck, till bimeby Majah Ca'te'et up an' say it wa'n't altogether
yo' color he objected to, an' wid dat de No'then doctuh give in. He's
a fine man, suh, but dey wuz too much fer 'im!"
"Thank you, Sam, I'm much obliged," returned Miller mechanically. "One
likes to know the truth."
Truth, it has been said, is mighty, and must prevail; but it sometimes
leaves a bad taste in the mouth. In the ordinary course of events Miller
would not have anticipated such an invitation, and for that reason had
appreciated it all the more. The rebuff came with a corresponding shock.
He had the heart of a man, the sensibilities of a cultivated gentleman;
the one was sore, the other deeply wounded. He was not altogether sure,
upon reflection, whether he blamed Dr. Price very much for the amiable
lie, which had been meant to spare his feelings, or thanked Sam a great
deal for the unpalatable truth.
Janet met him at the door. "How is the baby?" she asked excitedly.
"Dr. Price says he is doing well."
"What is the matter, Will, and why are you back so soon?"
He would have spared her the story, but she was a woman, and would have
it. He was wounded, too, and wanted sympathy, of which Janet was an
exhaustless fountain. So he told her what had happened. She comforted
him after the manner of a loving woman, and felt righteously indignant
toward her sister's husband, who had thus been instrumental in the
humiliation of her own. Her anger did not embrace her sister, and yet
she felt obscurely that their unacknowledged relationship had been the
malignant force which had given her husband pain, and defeated his
honorable ambition. When Dr. Price entered the nursery, Dr. Burns was
leaning attentively over the operating table. The implements needed for
the operation were all in readiness--the knives, the basin, the sponge,
the materials for dressing the wound--all the ghastly paraphernalia of
Mrs. Carteret had been banished to another room, where Clara vainly
attempted to soothe her. Old Mammy Jane, still burdened by her fears,
fervently prayed the good Lord to spare the life of the sweet little
grandson of her dear old mistress.
Dr. Burns had placed his ear to the child's chest, which had been bared
for the incision. Dr. Price stood ready to administer the anaesthetic.
Little Dodie looked up with a faint expression of wonder, as if dimly
conscious of some unusual event. The major shivered at the thought of
what the child must undergo.
"There's a change in his breathing," said Dr. Burns, lifting his head.
"The whistling noise is less pronounced, and he breathes easier. The
obstruction seems to have shifted."
Applying his ear again to the child's throat, he listened for a moment
intently, and then picking the baby up from the table, gave it a couple
of sharp claps between the shoulders. Simultaneously a small object shot
out from the child's mouth, struck Dr. Price in the neighborhood of his
waistband, and then rattled lightly against the floor. Whereupon the
baby, as though conscious of his narrow escape, smiled and gurgled, and
reaching upward clutched the doctor's whiskers with his little hand,
which, according to old Jane, had a stronger grip than any other
infant's in Wellington.
THE CAMPAIGN DRAGS
The campaign for white supremacy was dragging. Carteret had set out, in
the columns of the Morning Chronicle, all the reasons why this movement,
inaugurated by the three men who had met, six months before, at the
office of the Chronicle, should be supported by the white public. Negro
citizenship was a grotesque farce--Sambo and Dinah raised from the
kitchen to the cabinet were a spectacle to make the gods laugh. The laws
by which it had been sought to put the negroes on a level with the
whites must be swept away in theory, as they had failed in fact. If it
were impossible, without a further education of public opinion, to
secure the repeal of the fifteenth amendment, it was at least the solemn
duty of the state to endeavor, through its own constitution, to escape
from the domination of a weak and incompetent electorate and confine the
negro to that inferior condition for which nature had evidently designed
In spite of the force and intelligence with which Carteret had expressed
these and similar views, they had not met the immediate response
anticipated. There were thoughtful men, willing to let well enough
alone, who saw no necessity for such a movement. They believed that
peace, prosperity, and popular education offered a surer remedy for
social ills than the reopening of issues supposed to have been settled.
There were timid men who shrank from civic strife. There were busy men,
who had something else to do. There were a few fair men, prepared to
admit, privately, that a class constituting half to two thirds of the
population were fairly entitled to some representation in the law-making
bodies. Perhaps there might have been found, somewhere in the state, a
single white man ready to concede that all men were entitled to equal
rights before the law.
That there were some white men who had learned little and forgotten
nothing goes without saying, for knowledge and wisdom are not
impartially distributed among even the most favored race. There were
ignorant and vicious negroes, and they had a monopoly of neither
ignorance nor crime, for there were prosperous negroes and
poverty-stricken whites. Until Carteret and his committee began their
baleful campaign the people of the state were living in peace and
harmony. The anti-negro legislation in more southern states, with large
negro majorities, had awakened scarcely an echo in this state, with a
population two thirds white. Even the triumph of the Fusion party had
not been regarded as a race issue. It remained for Carteret and his
friends to discover, with inspiration from whatever supernatural source
the discriminating reader may elect, that the darker race, docile by
instinct, humble by training, patiently waiting upon its as yet
uncertain destiny, was an incubus, a corpse chained to the body politic,
and that the negro vote was a source of danger to the state, no matter
how cast or by whom directed.
To discuss means for counteracting this apathy, a meeting of the "Big
Three," as they had begun to designate themselves jocularly, was held at
the office of the "Morning Chronicle," on the next day but one after
little Dodie's fortunate escape from the knife.
"It seems," said General Belmont, opening the discussion, "as though we
had undertaken more than we can carry through. It is clear that we must
reckon on opposition, both at home and abroad. If we are to hope for
success, we must extend the lines of our campaign. The North, as well as
our own people, must be convinced that we have right upon our side. We
are conscious of the purity of our motives, but we should avoid even the
appearance of evil."
McBane was tapping the floor impatiently with his foot during this
"I don't see the use," he interrupted, "of so much beating about the
bush. We may as well be honest about this thing. We are going to put the
niggers down because we want to, and think we can; so why waste our time
in mere pretense? I'm no hypocrite myself,--if I want a thing I take it,
provided I'm strong enough."
"My dear captain," resumed the general, with biting suavity, "your
frankness does you credit,--'an honest man's the noblest work of
God,'--but we cannot carry on politics in these degenerate times without
a certain amount of diplomacy. In the good old days when your father was
alive, and perhaps nowadays in the discipline of convicts, direct and
simple methods might be safely resorted to; but this is a modern age,
and in dealing with so fundamental a right as the suffrage we must
profess a decent regard for the opinions of even that misguided portion
of mankind which may not agree with us. This is the age of crowds, and
we must have the crowd with us." The captain flushed at the allusion
to his father's calling, at which he took more offense than at the
mention of his own. He knew perfectly well that these old aristocrats,
while reaping the profits of slavery, had despised the instruments by
which they were attained--the poor-white overseer only less than the
black slave. McBane was rich; he lived in Wellington, but he had never
been invited to the home of either General Belmont or Major Carteret,
nor asked to join the club of which they were members. His face,
therefore, wore a distinct scowl, and his single eye glowed ominously.
He would help these fellows carry the state for white supremacy, and
then he would have his innings,--he would have more to say than they
dreamed, as to who should fill the offices under the new deal. Men of no
better birth or breeding than he had represented Southern states in
Congress since the war. Why should he not run for governor,
representative, whatever he chose? He had money enough to buy out half a
dozen of these broken-down aristocrats, and money was all-powerful.
"You see, captain," the general went on, looking McBane smilingly and
unflinchingly in the eye, "we need white immigration--we need Northern
capital. 'A good name is better than great riches,' and we must prove
our cause a righteous one."
"We must be armed at all points," added Carteret, "and prepared for
defense as well as for attack,--we must make our campaign a national
"For instance," resumed the general, "you, Carteret, represent the
Associated Press. Through your hands passes all the news of the state.
What more powerful medium for the propagation of an idea? The man who
would govern a nation by writing its songs was a blethering idiot beside
the fellow who can edit its news dispatches. The negroes are playing
into our hands,--every crime that one of them commits is reported by us.
With the latitude they have had in this state they are growing more
impudent and self-assertive every day. A yellow demagogue in New York
made a speech only a few days ago, in which he deliberately, and in cold
blood, advised negroes to defend themselves to the death when attacked
by white people! I remember well the time when it was death for a negro
to strike a white man."
"It's death now, if he strikes the right one," interjected McBane,
restored to better humor by this mention of a congenial subject.
The general smiled a fine smile. He had heard the story of how McBane
had lost his other eye.
"The local negro paper is quite outspoken, too," continued the general,
"if not impudent. We must keep track of that; it may furnish us some
good campaign material."
"Yes," returned Carteret, "we must see to that. I threw a copy into the
waste-basket this morning, without looking at it. Here it is now!"
A WHITE MAN'S "NIGGER"
Carteret fished from the depths of the waste-basket and handed to the
general an eighteen by twenty-four sheet, poorly printed on cheap paper,
with a "patent" inside, a number of advertisements of proprietary
medicines, quack doctors, and fortune-tellers, and two or three columns
of editorial and local news. Candor compels the admission that it was
not an impressive sheet in any respect, except when regarded as the
first local effort of a struggling people to make public expression of
their life and aspirations. From this point of view it did not speak at
all badly for a class to whom, a generation before, newspapers, books,
and learning had been forbidden fruit.
"It's an elegant specimen of journalism, isn't it?" laughed the general,
airily. "Listen to this 'ad':--
"'Kinky, curly hair made straight by one application of our specific.
Our face bleach will turn the skin of a black or brown person four or
five shades lighter, and of a mulatto perfectly white. When you get the
color you wish, stop using the preparation.'
"Just look at those heads!--'Before using' and 'After using.' We'd
better hurry, or there'll be no negroes to disfranchise! If they don't
stop till they get the color they desire, and the stuff works according
to contract, they'll all be white. Ah! what have we here? This looks as
though it might be serious." Opening the sheet the general read aloud
an editorial article, to which Carteret listened intently, his
indignation increasing in strength from the first word to the last,
while McBane's face grew darkly purple with anger.
The article was a frank and somewhat bold discussion of lynching and its
causes. It denied that most lynchings were for the offense most
generally charged as their justification, and declared that, even of
those seemingly traced to this cause, many were not for crimes at all,
but for voluntary acts which might naturally be expected to follow from
the miscegenation laws by which it was sought, in all the Southern
States, to destroy liberty of contract, and, for the purpose of
maintaining a fanciful purity of race, to make crimes of marriages to
which neither nature nor religion nor the laws of other states
interposed any insurmountable barrier. Such an article in a Northern
newspaper would have attracted no special attention, and might merely
have furnished food to an occasional reader for serious thought upon a
subject not exactly agreeable; but coming from a colored man, in a
Southern city, it was an indictment of the laws and social system of the
South that could not fail of creating a profound sensation.
"Infamous--infamous!" exclaimed Carteret, his voice trembling with
emotion. "The paper should be suppressed immediately."
"The impudent nigger ought to be horsewhipped and run out of town,"
"Gentlemen," said the general soothingly, after the first burst of
indignation had subsided, "I believe we can find a more effective use
for this article, which, by the way, will not bear too close
analysis,--there's some truth in it, at least there's an argument."
"That is not the point," interrupted Carteret.
"No," interjected McBane with an oath, "that ain't at all the point.
Truth or not, no damn nigger has any right to say it."
"This article," said Carteret, "violates an unwritten law of the South.
If we are to tolerate this race of weaklings among us, until they are
eliminated by the stress of competition, it must be upon terms which we
lay down. One of our conditions is violated by this article, in which
our wisdom is assailed, and our women made the subject of offensive
comment. We must make known our disapproval."
"I say lynch the nigger, break up the press, and burn down the newspaper
office," McBane responded promptly.
"Gentlemen," interposed the general, "would you mind suspending the
discussion for a moment, while I mind Jerry across the street? I think I
can then suggest a better plan."
Carteret rang the bell for Jerry, who answered promptly. He had been
expecting such a call ever since the gentlemen had gone in.
"Jerry," said the general, "step across to Brown's and tell him to send
me three Calhoun cocktails. Wait for them,--here's the money."
"Yas, suh," replied Jerry, taking the proffered coin.
"And make has'e, charcoal," added McBane, "for we're gettin' damn dry."
A momentary cloud of annoyance darkened Carteret's brow. McBane had
always grated upon his aristocratic susceptibilities. The captain was an
upstart, a product of the democratic idea operating upon the poor white
man, the descendant of the indentured bondservant and the socially
unfit. He had wealth and energy, however, and it was necessary to make
use of him; but the example of such men was a strong incentive to
Carteret in his campaign against the negro. It was distasteful enough to
rub elbows with an illiterate and vulgar white man of no ancestry,--the
risk of similar contact with negroes was to be avoided at any cost. He
could hardly expect McBane to be a gentleman, but when among men of that
class he might at least try to imitate their manners. A gentleman did
not order his own servants around offensively, to say nothing of
The general had observed Carteret's annoyance, and remarked pleasantly
while they waited for the servant's return:--
"Jerry, now, is a very good negro. He's not one of your new negroes,
who think themselves as good as white men, and want to run the
government. Jerry knows his place,--he is respectful, humble, obedient,
and content with the face and place assigned to him by nature."
"Yes, he's one of the best of 'em," sneered McBane. "He'll call any man
'master' for a quarter, or 'God' for half a dollar; for a dollar he'll
grovel at your feet, and for a cast-off coat you can buy an option on
his immortal soul,--if he has one! I've handled niggers for ten years,
and I know 'em from the ground up. They're all alike,--they're a scrub
race, an affliction to the country, and the quicker we're rid of 'em
all the better."
Carteret had nothing to say by way of dissent. McBane's sentiments, in
their last analysis, were much the same as his, though he would have
expressed them less brutally. "The negro," observed the general,
daintily flicking the ash from his cigar, "is all right in his place and
very useful to the community. We lived on his labor for quite a long
time, and lived very well. Nevertheless we are better off without
slavery, for we can get more out of the free negro, and with less
responsibility. I really do not see how we could get along without the
negroes. If they were all like Jerry, we'd have no trouble with them."
Having procured the drinks, Jerry, the momentary subject of the race
discussion which goes on eternally in the South, was making his way back
across the street, somewhat disturbed in mind.
"O Lawd!" he groaned, "I never troubles trouble till trouble troubles
me; but w'en I got dem drinks befo', Gin'l Belmont gimme half a dollar
an' tol' me ter keep de change. Dis time he didn' say nothin' 'bout de
change. I s'pose he jes' fergot erbout it, but w'at is a po' nigger
gwine ter do w'en he has ter conten' wid w'ite folks's fergitfulniss? I
don' see no way but ter do some fergittin' myse'f. I'll jes' stan'
outside de do' here till dey gits so wrop' up in deir talk dat dey won'
'member nothin' e'se, an' den at de right minute I'll ban' de glasses
'roun, an' moa' lackly de gin'l 'll fergit all 'bout de change."
While Jerry stood outside, the conversation within was plainly audible,
and some inkling of its purport filtered through his mind.
"Now, gentlemen," the general was saying, "here's my plan. That
editorial in the negro newspaper is good campaign matter, but we should
reserve it until it will be most effective. Suppose we just stick it in
a pigeon-hole, and let the editor,--what's his name?"
"The nigger's name is Barber," replied McBane. "I'd like to have him
under me for a month or two; he'd write no more editorials."
"Let Barber have all the rope he wants," resumed the general, "and
he'll be sure to hang himself. In the mean time we will continue to work
up public opinion,--we can use this letter privately for that
purpose,--and when the state campaign opens we'll print the editorial,
with suitable comment, scatter it broadcast throughout the state, fire
the Southern heart, organize the white people on the color line, have a
little demonstration with red shirts and shotguns, scare the negroes
into fits, win the state for white supremacy, and teach our colored
fellow citizens that we are tired of negro domination and have put an
end to it forever. The Afro-American Banner will doubtless die about the
"And so will the editor!" exclaimed McBane ferociously; "I'll see to
that. But I wonder where that nigger is with them cocktails? I'm so
thirsty I could swallow blue blazes."
"Here's yo' drinks, gin'l," announced Jerry, entering with the glasses
on a tray.
The gentlemen exchanged compliments and imbibed--McBane at a gulp,
Carteret with more deliberation, leaving about half the contents of his
The general drank slowly, with every sign of appreciation. "If the
illustrious statesman," he observed, "whose name this mixture bears, had
done nothing more than invent it, his fame would still deserve to go
thundering down the endless ages."
"It ain't bad liquor," assented McBane, smacking his lips.
Jerry received the empty glasses on the tray and left the room. He had
scarcely gained the hall when the general called him back.
"O Lawd!" groaned Jerry, "he's gwine ter ax me fer de change. Yas, suh,
yas, suh; comin', gin'l, comin', suh!"
"You may keep the change, Jerry," said the general.
Jerry's face grew radiant at this announcement. "Yas, suh, gin'l; thank
y', suh; much obleedzed, suh. I wuz jus' gwine ter fetch it in, suh,
w'en I had put de tray down. Thank y', suh, truly, suh!"
Jerry backed and bowed himself out into the hall.
"Dat wuz a close shave," he muttered, as he swallowed the remaining
contents of Major Carteret's glass. "I 'lowed dem twenty cents wuz gone
dat time,--an' whar I wuz gwine ter git de money ter take my gal ter de
chu'ch festibal ter-night, de Lawd only knows!--'less'n I borried it
offn Mr. Ellis, an' I owes him sixty cents a'ready. But I wonduh w'at
dem w'ite folks in dere is up ter? Dere's one thing sho',--dey're
gwine ter git after de niggers some way er 'nuther, an' w'en dey does,
whar is Jerry gwine ter be? Dat's de mos' impo'tantes' question. I'm
gwine ter look at dat newspaper dey be'n talkin' 'bout, an' 'less'n my
min' changes might'ly, I'm gwine ter keep my mouf shet an' stan' in wid
de Angry-Saxon race,--ez dey calls deyse'ves nowadays,--an' keep on de
right side er my bread an' meat. Wat nigger ever give me twenty cents in
all my bawn days?"
"By the way, major," said the general, who lingered behind McBane as
they were leaving, "is Miss Clara's marriage definitely settled upon?"
"Well, general, not exactly; but it's the understanding that they will
marry when they are old enough."
"I was merely thinking," the general went on, "that if I were you I'd
speak to Tom about cards and liquor. He gives more time to both than a
young man can afford. I'm speaking in his interest and in Miss
Clara's,--we of the old families ought to stand together."
"Thank you, general, for the hint. I'll act upon it."
This political conference was fruitful in results. Acting upon the plans
there laid out, McBane traveled extensively through the state, working
up sentiment in favor of the new movement. He possessed a certain
forceful eloquence; and white supremacy was so obviously the divine
intention that he had merely to affirm the doctrine in order to secure
General Belmont, whose business required him to spend much of the winter
in Washington and New York, lost no opportunity to get the ear of
lawmakers, editors, and other leaders of national opinion, and to
impress upon them, with persuasive eloquence, the impossibility of
maintaining existing conditions, and the tremendous blunder which had
been made in conferring the franchise upon the emancipated race.
Carteret conducted the press campaign, and held out to the Republicans
of the North the glittering hope that, with the elimination of the negro
vote, and a proper deference to Southern feeling, a strong white
Republican party might be built up in the New South. How well the bait
took is a matter of history,--but the promised result is still in the
future. The disfranchisement of the negro has merely changed the form of
the same old problem. The negro had no vote before the rebellion, and
few other rights, and yet the negro question was, for a century, the
pivot of American politics. It plunged the nation into a bloody war,
and it will trouble the American government and the American conscience
until a sustained attempt is made to settle it upon principles of
justice and equity.
The personal ambitions entertained by the leaders of this movement are
but slightly involved in this story. McBane's aims have been touched
upon elsewhere. The general would have accepted the nomination for
governor of the state, with a vision of a senatorship in the future.
Carteret hoped to vindicate the supremacy of his race, and make the
state fit for his son to live in, and, incidentally, he would not refuse
any office, worthy of his dignity, which a grateful people might thrust
So powerful a combination of bigot, self-seeking demagogue, and astute
politician was fraught with grave menace to the peace of the state and
the liberties of the people,--by which is meant the whole people, and
not any one class, sought to be built up at the expense of another.
DELAMERE PLAYS A TRUMP
Carteret did not forget what General Belmont had said in regard to Tom.
The major himself had been young, not so very long ago, and was inclined
toward indulgence for the foibles of youth. A young gentleman should
have a certain knowledge of life,--but there were limits. Clara's future
happiness must not be imperiled.
The opportunity to carry out this purpose was not long delayed. Old Mr.
Delamere wished to sell some timber which had been cut at Belleview, and
sent Tom down to the Chronicle office to leave an advertisement. The
major saw him at the desk, invited him into his sanctum, and delivered
him a mild lecture. The major was kind, and talked in a fatherly way
about the danger of extremes, the beauty of moderation, and the value of
discretion as a rule of conduct. He mentioned collaterally the
unblemished honor of a fine old family, its contemplated alliance with
his own, and dwelt upon the sweet simplicity of Clara's character. The
major was a man of feeling and of tact, and could not have put the
subject in a way less calculated to wound the _amour propre_ of a very
Delamere had turned red with anger while the major was speaking. He was
impulsive, and an effort was required to keep back the retort that
sprang once or twice to his lips; but his conscience was not clear, and
he could not afford hard words with Clara's guardian and his
grandfather's friend. Clara was rich, and the most beautiful girl in
town; they were engaged; he loved her as well as he could love anything
of which he seemed sure; and he did not mean that any one else should
have her. The major's mild censure disturbed slightly his sense of
security; and while the major's manner did not indicate that he knew
anything definite against him, it would be best to let well enough
"Thank you, major," he said, with well-simulated frankness. "I realize
that I may have been a little careless, more from thoughtlessness than
anything else; but my heart is all right, sir, and I am glad that my
conduct has been brought to your attention, for what you have said
enables me to see it in a different light. I will be more careful of my
company hereafter; for I love Clara, and mean to try to be worthy of
her. Do you know whether she will be at home this evening?"
"I have heard nothing to the contrary," replied the major warmly. "Call
her up by telephone and ask--or come up and see. You're always welcome,
Upon leaving the office, which was on the second floor, Tom met Ellis
coming up the stairs. It had several times of late occurred to Tom that
Ellis had a sneaking fondness for Clara. Panoplied in his own
engagement, Tom had heretofore rather enjoyed the idea of a hopeless
rival. Ellis was such a solemn prig, and took life so seriously, that it
was a pleasure to see him sit around sighing for the unattainable. That
he should be giving pain to Ellis added a certain zest to his own
enjoyment. But this interview with the major had so disquieted him
that upon meeting Ellis upon the stairs he was struck by a sudden
suspicion. He knew that Major Carteret seldom went to the Clarendon
Club, and that he must have got his information from some one else.
Ellis was a member of the club, and a frequent visitor. Who more likely
than he to try to poison Clara's mind, or the minds of her friends,
against her accepted lover? Tom did not think that the world was using
him well of late; bad luck had pursued him, in cards and other things,
and despite his assumption of humility, Carteret's lecture had left him
in an ugly mood. He nodded curtly to Ellis without relaxing the scowl
that disfigured his handsome features.
"That's the damned sneak who's been giving me away," he muttered. "I'll
get even with him yet for this."
Delamere's suspicions with regard to Ellis's feelings were not, as we
have seen, entirely without foundation. Indeed, he had underestimated
the strength of this rivalry and its chances of success. Ellis had been
watching Delamere for a year. There had been nothing surreptitious about
it, but his interest in Clara had led him to note things about his
favored rival which might have escaped the attention of others less
Ellis was an excellent judge of character, and had formed a very decided
opinion of Tom Delamere. To Ellis, unbiased by ancestral traditions,
biased perhaps by jealousy, Tom Delamere was a type of the degenerate
aristocrat. If, as he had often heard, it took three or four generations
to make a gentleman, and as many more to complete the curve and return
to the base from which it started, Tom Delamere belonged somewhere on
the downward slant, with large possibilities of further decline. Old
Mr. Delamere, who might be taken as the apex of an ideal aristocratic
development, had been distinguished, during his active life, as Ellis
had learned, for courage and strength of will, courtliness of bearing,
deference to his superiors, of whom there had been few, courtesy to his
equals, kindness and consideration for those less highly favored, and
above all, a scrupulous sense of honor; his grandson Tom was merely the
shadow without the substance, the empty husk without the grain. Of grace
he had plenty. In manners he could be perfect, when he so chose. Courage
and strength he had none. Ellis had seen this fellow, who boasted of his
descent from a line of cavaliers, turn pale with fright and spring from
a buggy to which was harnessed a fractious horse, which a negro
stable-boy drove fearlessly. A valiant carpet-knight, skilled in all
parlor exercises, great at whist or euchre, a dream of a dancer,
unexcelled in Cakewalk or "coon" impersonations, for which he was in
large social demand, Ellis had seen him kick an inoffensive negro out of
his path and treat a poor-white man with scant courtesy. He suspected
Delamere of cheating at cards, and knew that others entertained the same
suspicion. For while regular in his own habits,--his poverty would not
have permitted him any considerable extravagance,--Ellis's position as a
newspaper man kept him in touch with what was going on about town. He
was a member, proposed by Carteret, of the Clarendon Club, where cards
were indulged in within reasonable limits, and a certain set were known
to bet dollars in terms of dimes.
Delamere was careless, too, about money matters. He had a habit of
borrowing, right and left, small sums which might be conveniently
forgotten by the borrower, and for which the lender would dislike to
ask. Ellis had a strain of thrift, derived from a Scotch ancestry, and a
tenacious memory for financial details. Indeed, he had never had so much
money that he could lose track of it. He never saw Delamere without
being distinctly conscious that Delamere owed him four dollars, which he
had lent at a time when he could ill afford to spare it. It was a
prerogative of aristocracy, Ellis reflected, to live upon others, and
the last privilege which aristocracy in decay would willingly
relinquish. Neither did the aristocratic memory seem able to retain the
sordid details of a small pecuniary transaction.
No doubt the knowledge that Delamere was the favored lover of Miss
Pemberton lent a touch of bitterness to Ellis's reflections upon his
rival. Ellis had no grievance against the "aristocracy" of Wellington.
The "best people" had received him cordially, though his father had not
been of their caste; but Ellis hated a hypocrite, and despised a coward,
and he felt sure that Delamere was both. Otherwise he would have
struggled against his love for Clara Pemberton. His passion for her had
grown with his appreciation of Delamere's unworthiness. As a friend of
the family, he knew the nature and terms of the engagement, and that if
the marriage took place at all, it would not be for at least a year.
This was a long time,--many things might happen in a year, especially to
a man like Tom Delamere. If for any reason Delamere lost his chance,
Ellis meant to be next in the field. He had not made love to Clara, but
he had missed no opportunity of meeting her and making himself quietly
and unobtrusively agreeable.
On the day after this encounter with Delamere on the stairs of the
Chronicle office, Ellis, while walking down Vine Street, met old Mrs.
Ochiltree. She was seated in her own buggy, which was of ancient build
and pattern, driven by her colored coachman and man of all work.
"Mr. Ellis," she called in a shrill voice, having directed her coachman
to draw up at the curb as she saw the young man approaching, "come here.
I want to speak to you."
Ellis came up to the buggy and stood uncovered beside it.
"People are saying," said Mrs. Ochiltree, "that Tom Delamere is drinking
hard, and has to be carried home intoxicated, two or three times a week,
by old Mr. Delamere's man Sandy. Is there any truth in the story?"
"My dear Mrs. Ochiltree, I am not Tom Delamere's keeper. Sandy could
tell you better than I."
"You are dodging my question, Mr. Ellis. Sandy wouldn't tell me the
truth, and I know that you wouldn't lie,--you don't look like a liar.
They say Tom is gambling scandalously. What do you know about that?"
"You must excuse me, Mrs. Ochiltree. A great deal of what we hear is
mere idle gossip, and the truth is often grossly exaggerated. I'm a
member of the same club with Delamere, and gentlemen who belong to the
same club are not in the habit of talking about one another. As long as
a man retains his club membership, he's presumed to be a gentleman. I
wouldn't say anything against Delamere if I could."
"You don't need to," replied the old lady, shaking her finger at him
with a cunning smile. "You are a very open young man, Mr. Ellis, and I
can read you like a book. You are much smarter than you look, but you
can't fool me. Good-morning."
Mrs. Ochiltree drove immediately to her niece's, where she found Mrs.
Carteret and Clara at home. Clara was very fond of the baby, and was
holding him in her arms. He was a fine baby, and bade fair to realize
the bright hopes built upon him.
"You hold a baby very naturally, Clara," chuckled the old lady. "I
suppose you are in training. But you ought to talk to Tom. I have just
learned from Mr. Ellis that Tom is carried home drunk two or three times
a week, and that he is gambling in the most reckless manner imaginable."
Clara's eyes flashed indignantly. Ere she could speak, Mrs. Carteret
"Why, Aunt Polly! did Mr. Ellis say that?"
"I got it from Dinah," she replied, "who heard it from her husband, who
learned it from a waiter at the club. And"--
"Pshaw!" said Mrs. Carteret, "mere servants' gossip."
"No, it isn't, Olivia. I met Mr. Ellis on the street, and asked him
point blank, and he didn't deny it. He's a member of the club, and
ought to know."
"Well, Aunt Polly, it can't be true. Tom is here every other night, and
how could he carry on so without showing the signs of it? and where
would he get the money? You know he has only a moderate allowance."
"He may win it at cards,--it's better to be born lucky than rich,"
returned Mrs. Ochiltree. "Then he has expectations, and can get credit.
There's no doubt that Tom is going on shamefully." Clara's
indignation had not yet found vent in speech; Olivia had said all that
was necessary, but she had been thinking rapidly. Even if all this had
been true, why should Mr. Ellis have said it? Or, if he had not stated
it directly, he had left the inference to be drawn. It seemed a most
unfair and ungentlemanly thing. What motive could Ellis have for such an
She was not long in reaching a conclusion which was not flattering to
Ellis. Mr. Ellis came often to the house, and she had enjoyed his
society in a friendly way. That he had found her pleasant company had
been very evident. She had never taken his attentions seriously,
however, or regarded his visits as made especially to her, nor had the
rest of the family treated them from that point of view. Her engagement
to Tom Delamere, though not yet formally ratified, was so well
understood by the world of Wellington that Mr. Ellis would, scarcely
have presumed to think of her as anything more than a friend.
This revelation of her aunt's, however, put a different face upon his
conduct. Certain looks and sighs and enigmatical remarks of Ellis, to
which she had paid but casual attention and attached no particular
significance, now recurred to her memory with a new meaning. He had now
evidently tried, in a roundabout way, to besmirch Tom's character and
undermine him in her regard. While loving Tom, she had liked Ellis well
enough, as a friend; but he had abused the privileges of friendship, and
she would teach him a needed lesson.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Ochiltree's story had given Clara food for thought.
She was uneasily conscious, after all, that there might be a grain of
truth in what had been said, enough, at least, to justify her in
warning Tom to be careful, lest his enemies should distort some amiable
weakness into a serious crime.
She put this view of the case to Tom at their next meeting, assuring
him, at the same time, of her unbounded faith and confidence. She did
not mention Ellis's name, lest Tom, in righteous indignation, might do
something rash, which he might thereafter regret. If any subtler or more
obscure motive kept her silent as to Ellis, she was not aware of it; for
Clara's views of life were still in the objective stage, and she had not
yet fathomed the deepest recesses of her own consciousness.
Delamere had the cunning of weakness. He knew, too, better than any one
else could know, how much truth there was in the rumors concerning him,
and whether or not they could be verified too easily for him to make an
indignant denial. After a little rapid reflection, he decided upon a
"Clara," he said with a sigh, taking the hand which she generously
yielded to soften any suggestion of reproach which he may have read into
her solicitude, "you are my guardian angel. I do not know, of course,
who has told you this pack of lies,--for I can see that you have heard
more than you have told me,--but I think I could guess the man they came
from. I am not perfect, Clara, though I have done nothing of which a
gentleman should be ashamed. There is one sure way to stop the tongue of
calumny. My home life is not ideal,--grandfather is an old, weak man,
and the house needs the refining and softening influence of a lady's
presence. I do not love club life; its ideals are not elevating. With
you by my side, dearest, I should be preserved from every influence
except the purest and the best. Don't you think, dearest, that the major
might be induced to shorten our weary term of waiting?"
"Oh, Tom," she demurred blushingly, "I shall be young enough at
eighteen; and you are barely twenty-one."
But Tom proved an eloquent pleader, and love a still more persuasive
advocate. Clara spoke to the major the same evening, who looked grave at
the suggestion, and said he would think about it. They were both very
young; but where both parties were of good family, in good health and
good circumstances, an early marriage might not be undesirable. Tom was
perhaps a little unsettled, but blood would tell in the long run, and
marriage always exercised a steadying influence.
The only return, therefore, which Ellis received for his well-meant
effort to ward off Mrs. Ochiltree's embarrassing inquiries was that he
did not see Clara upon his next visit, which was made one afternoon
while he was on night duty at the office. In conversation with Mrs.
Carteret he learned that Clara's marriage had been definitely agreed
upon, and the date fixed,--it was to take place in about six months.
Meeting Miss Pemberton on the street the following day, he received the
slightest of nods. When he called again at the house, after a week of
misery, she treated him with a sarcastic coolness which chilled his
"How have I offended you, Miss Clara?" he demanded desperately, when
they were left alone for a moment.
"Offended me?" she replied, lifting her eyebrows with an air of puzzled
surprise. "Why, Mr. Ellis! What could have put such a notion into your
head? Oh dear, I think I hear Dodie,--I know you'll excuse me, Mr.
Ellis, won't you? Sister Olivia will be back in a moment; and we're
expecting Aunt Polly this afternoon,--if you'll stay awhile she'll be
glad to talk to you! You can tell her all the interesting news about
THE BABY AND THE BIRD
When Ellis, after this rebuff, had disconsolately taken his leave,
Clara, much elated at the righteous punishment she had inflicted upon
the slanderer, ran upstairs to the nursery, and, snatching Dodie from
Mammy Jane's arms, began dancing gayly with him round the room.
"Look a-hyuh, honey," said Mammy Jane, "you better be keerful wid dat
chile, an' don' drap 'im on de flo'. You might let him fall on his head
an' break his neck. My, my! but you two does make a pretty pictur'!
You'll be wantin' ole Jane ter come an' nuss yo' child'en some er dese
days," she chuckled unctuously.
Mammy Jane had been very much disturbed by the recent dangers through
which little Dodie had passed; and his escape from strangulation, in the
first place, and then from the knife had impressed her as little less
than miraculous. She was not certain whether this result had been
brought about by her manipulation of the buried charm, or by the prayers
which had been offered for the child, but was inclined to believe that
both had cooperated to avert the threatened calamity. The favorable
outcome of this particular incident had not, however, altered the
general situation. Prayers and charms, after all, were merely temporary
things, which must be constantly renewed, and might be forgotten or
overlooked; while the mole, on the contrary, neither faded nor went
away. If its malign influence might for a time seem to disappear, it was
merely lying dormant, like the germs of some deadly disease, awaiting
its opportunity to strike at an unguarded spot.
Clara and the baby were laughing in great glee, when a mockingbird,
perched on the topmost bough of a small tree opposite the nursery
window, burst suddenly into song, with many a trill and quaver. Clara,
with the child in her arms, sprang to the open window.
"Sister Olivia," she cried, turning her face toward Mrs. Carteret, who
at that moment entered the room, "come and look at Dodie."
The baby was listening intently to the music, meanwhile gurgling with
delight, and reaching his chubby hands toward the source of this
pleasing sound. It seemed as though the mockingbird were aware of his
appreciative audience, for he ran through the songs of a dozen different
birds, selecting, with the discrimination of a connoisseur and entire
confidence in his own powers, those which were most difficult and most
Mrs. Carteret approached the window, followed by Mammy Jane, who waddled
over to join the admiring party. So absorbed were the three women in the
baby and the bird that neither one of them observed a neat top buggy,
drawn by a sleek sorrel pony, passing slowly along the street before the
house. In the buggy was seated a lady, and beside her a little boy,
dressed in a child's sailor suit and a straw hat. The lady, with a
wistful expression, was looking toward the party grouped in the open
Mrs. Carteret, chancing to lower her eyes for an instant, caught the
other woman's look directed toward her and her child. With a glance of
cold aversion she turned away from the window.
Old Mammy Jane had observed this movement, and had divined the reason
for it. She stood beside Clara, watching the retreating buggy.
"Uhhuh!" she said to herself, "it's huh sister Janet! She ma'ied a
doctuh, an' all dat, an' she lives in a big house, an' she's be'n roun'
de worl' an de Lawd knows where e'se: but Mis' 'Livy don' like de sight
er her, an' never will, ez long ez de sun rises an' sets. Dey ce't'nly
does favor one anudder,--anybody mought 'low dey wuz twins, ef dey didn'
know better. Well, well! Fo'ty yeahs ago who'd 'a' ever expected ter
see a nigger gal ridin' in her own buggy? My, my! but I don' know,--I
don' know! It don' look right, an' it ain' gwine ter las'!--you can't
make me b'lieve!"
Meantime Janet, stung by Mrs. Carteret's look,--the nearest approach she
had ever made to a recognition of her sister's existence,--had turned
away with hardening face. She had struck her pony sharply with the whip,
much to the gentle creature's surprise, when the little boy, who was
still looking back, caught his mother's sleeve and exclaimed
"Look, look, mamma! The baby,--the baby!"
Janet turned instantly, and with a mother's instinct gave an involuntary
cry of alarm.
At the moment when Mrs. Carteret had turned away from the window, and
while Mammy Jane was watching Janet, Clara had taken a step forward, and
was leaning against the window-sill. The baby, convulsed with delight,
had given a spasmodic spring and slipped from Clara's arms.
Instinctively the young woman gripped the long skirt as it slipped
through her hands, and held it tenaciously, though too frightened for an
instant to do more. Mammy Jane, ashen with sudden dread, uttered an
inarticulate scream, but retained self-possession enough to reach down
and draw up the child, which hung dangerously suspended, head downward,
over the brick pavement below.
"Oh, Clara, Clara, how could you!" exclaimed Mrs. Carteret
reproachfully; "you might have killed my child!"
She had snatched the child from Jane's arms, and was holding him closely
to her own breast. Struck by a sudden thought, she drew near the window
and looked out. Twice within a few weeks her child had been in serious
danger, and upon each occasion a member of the Miller family had been
involved, for she had heard of Dr. Miller's presumption in trying to
force himself where he must have known he would be unwelcome.
Janet was just turning her head away as the buggy moved slowly off.
Olivia felt a violent wave of antipathy sweep over her toward this
baseborn sister who had thus thrust herself beneath her eyes. If she had
not cast her brazen glance toward the window, she herself would not have
turned away and lost sight of her child. To this shameless intrusion,
linked with Clara's carelessness, had been due the catastrophe, so
narrowly averted, which might have darkened her own life forever. She
took to her bed for several days, and for a long time was cold toward
Clara, and did not permit her to touch the child.
Mammy Jane entertained a theory of her own about the accident, by which
the blame was placed, in another way, exactly where Mrs. Carteret had
laid it. Julia's daughter, Janet, had been looking intently toward the
window just before little Dodie had sprung from Clara's arms. Might she
not have cast the evil eye upon the baby, and sought thereby to draw him
out of the window? One would not ordinarily expect so young a woman to
possess such a power, but she might have acquired it, for this very
purpose, from some more experienced person. By the same reasoning, the
mockingbird might have been a familiar of the witch, and the two might
have conspired to lure the infant to destruction. Whether this were so
or not, the transaction at least wore a peculiar look. There was no use
telling Mis' 'Livy about it, for she didn't believe, or pretended not
to believe, in witchcraft and conjuration. But one could not be too
careful. The child was certainly born to be exposed to great
dangers,--the mole behind the left ear was an unfailing sign,--and no
precaution should be omitted to counteract its baleful influence.
While adjusting the baby's crib, a few days later, Mrs. Carteret found
fastened under one of the slats a small bag of cotton cloth, about half
an inch long and tied with a black thread, upon opening which she found
a few small roots or fibres and a pinch of dried and crumpled herbs. It
was a good-luck charm which Mammy Jane had placed there to ward off the
threatened evil from the grandchild of her dear old mistress. Mrs.
Carteret's first impulse was to throw the bag into the fire, but on
second thoughts she let it remain. To remove it would give unnecessary
pain to the old nurse. Of course these old negro superstitions were
absurd,--but if the charm did no good, it at least would do no harm.
ANOTHER SOUTHERN PRODUCT
One morning shortly after the opening of the hospital, while Dr. Miller
was making his early rounds, a new patient walked in with a smile on his
face and a broken arm hanging limply by his side. Miller recognized in
him a black giant by the name of Josh Green, who for many years had
worked on the docks for Miller's father,--and simultaneously identified
him as the dust-begrimed negro who had stolen a ride to Wellington on
the trucks of a passenger car.
"Well, Josh," asked the doctor, as he examined the fracture, "how did
you get this? Been fighting again?"
"No, suh, I don' s'pose you could ha'dly call it a fight. One er dem
dagoes off'n a Souf American boat gimme some er his jaw, an' I give 'im
a back answer, an' here I is wid a broken arm. He got holt er a
belayin'-pin befo' I could hit 'im."
"What became of the other man?" demanded Miller suspiciously. He
perceived, from the indifference with which Josh bore the manipulation
of the fractured limb, that such an accident need not have interfered
seriously with the use of the remaining arm, and he knew that Josh had a
reputation for absolute fearlessness.
"Lemme see," said Josh reflectively, "ef I kin 'member w'at _did_ become
er him! Oh, yes, I 'member now! Dey tuck him ter de Marine Horspittle
in de amberlance, 'cause his leg wuz broke, an' I reckon somethin' must
'a' accident'ly hit 'im in de jaw, fer he wuz scatt'rin' teeth all de
way 'long de street. I didn' wan' ter kill de man, fer he might have
somebody dependin' on 'im, an' I knows how dat'd be ter dem. But no man
kin call me a damn' low-down nigger and keep on enjoyin' good health
"It was considerate of you to spare his life," said Miller dryly, "but
you'll hit the wrong man some day. These are bad times for bad negroes.
You'll get into a quarrel with a white man, and at the end of it there'll
be a lynching, or a funeral. You'd better be peaceable and endure a
little injustice, rather than run the risk of a sudden and violent
"I expec's ter die a vi'lent death in a quarrel wid a w'ite man,"
replied Josh, in a matter-of-fact tone, "an' fu'thermo', he's gwine ter
die at the same time, er a little befo'. I be'n takin' my own time 'bout
killin' 'im; I ain' be'n crowdin' de man, but I'll be ready after a
w'ile, an' den he kin look out!"
"And I suppose you're merely keeping in practice on these other fellows
who come your way. When I get your arm dressed, you'd better leave town
till that fellow's boat sails; it may save you the expense of a trial
and three months in the chain-gang. But this talk about killing a man is
all nonsense. What has any man in this town done to you, that you should
thirst for his blood?"
"No, suh, it ain' nonsense,--it's straight, solem' fac'. I'm gwine ter
kill dat man as sho' as I'm settin' in dis cheer; an' dey ain' nobody
kin say I ain' got a right ter kill 'im. Does you 'member de Ku-Klux?"
"Yes, but I was a child at the time, and recollect very little about
them. It is a page of history which most people are glad to forget."
"Yas, suh; I was a chile, too, but I wuz right in it, an' so I 'members
mo' erbout it 'n you does. My mammy an' daddy lived 'bout ten miles f'm
here, up de river. One night a crowd er w'ite men come ter ou' house an'
tuck my daddy out an' shot 'im ter death, an' skeered my mammy so she
ain' be'n herse'f f'm dat day ter dis. I wa'n't mo' 'n ten years ole at
de time, an' w'en my mammy seed de w'ite men comin', she tol' me ter
run. I hid in de bushes an' seen de whole thing, an' it wuz branded on
my mem'ry, suh, like a red-hot iron bran's de skin. De w'ite folks had
masks on, but one of 'em fell off,--he wuz de boss, he wuz de head man,
an' tol' de res' w'at ter do,--an' I seen his face. It wuz a easy face
ter 'member; an' I swo' den, 'way down deep in my hea't, little ez I
wuz, dat some day er 'nother I'd kill dat man. I ain't never had no
doubt erbout it; it's jus' w'at I'm livin' fer, an' I know I ain' gwine
ter die till I've done it. Some lives fer one thing an' some fer
another, but dat's my job. I ain' be'n in no has'e, fer I'm not ole
yit, an' dat man is in good health. I'd like ter see a little er de
worl' befo' I takes chances on leavin' it sudden; an', mo'over,
somebody's got ter take keer er de ole 'oman. But her time'll come some
er dese days, an den _his_ time'll be come--an' prob'ly mine. But I
ain' keerin' 'bout myse'f: w'en I git thoo wid him, it won' make no
diff'ence 'bout me."
Josh was evidently in dead earnest. Miller recalled, very vividly, the
expression he had seen twice on his patient's face, during the journey
He had often seen Josh's mother, old Aunt Milly,--"Silly Milly," the
children called her,--wandering aimlessly about the street, muttering to
herself incoherently. He had felt a certain childish awe at the sight of
one of God's creatures who had lost the light of reason, and he had
always vaguely understood that she was the victim of human cruelty,
though he had dated it farther back into the past. This was his first
knowledge of the real facts of the case.
He realized, too, for a moment, the continuity of life, how inseparably
the present is woven with the past, how certainly the future will be but
the outcome of the present. He had supposed this old wound healed. The
negroes were not a vindictive people. If, swayed by passion or emotion,
they sometimes gave way to gusts of rage, these were of brief duration.
Absorbed in the contemplation of their doubtful present and their
uncertain future, they gave little thought to the past,--it was a dark
story, which they would willingly forget. He knew the timeworn
explanation that the Ku-Klux movement, in the main, was merely an
ebullition of boyish spirits, begun to amuse young white men by playing
upon the fears and superstitions of ignorant negroes. Here, however, was
its tragic side,--the old wound still bleeding, the fruit of one
tragedy, the seed of another. He could not approve of Josh's application
of the Mosaic law of revenge, and yet the incident was not without
significance. Here was a negro who could remember an injury, who could
shape his life to a definite purpose, if not a high or holy one. When
his race reached the point where they would resent a wrong, there was
hope that they might soon attain the stage where they would try, and, if
need be, die, to defend a right. This man, too, had a purpose in life,
and was willing to die that he might accomplish it. Miller was willing
to give up his life to a cause. Would he be equally willing, he asked
himself, to die for it? Miller had no prophetic instinct to tell him how
soon he would have the opportunity to answer his own question. But he
could not encourage Josh to carry out this dark and revengeful purpose.
Every worthy consideration required him to dissuade his patient from
such a desperate course.
"You had better put away these murderous fancies, Josh," he said
seriously. "The Bible says that we should 'forgive our enemies, bless
them that curse us, and do good to them that despitefully use us.'"
"Yas, suh, I've l'arnt all dat in Sunday-school, an' I've heared de
preachers say it time an' time ag'in. But it 'pears ter me dat dis
fergitfulniss an' fergivniss is mighty one-sided. De w'ite folks don'
fergive nothin' de niggers does. Dey got up de Ku-Klux, dey said, on
'count er de kyarpit-baggers. Dey be'n talkin' 'bout de kyarpit-baggers
ever sence, an' dey 'pears ter fergot all 'bout de Ku-Klux. But I ain'
fergot. De niggers is be'n train' ter fergiveniss; an' fer fear dey
might fergit how ter fergive, de w'ite folks gives 'em somethin' new
ev'y now an' den, ter practice on. A w'ite man kin do w'at he wants ter
a nigger, but de minute de nigger gits back at 'im, up goes de nigger,
an' don' come down tell somebody cuts 'im down. If a nigger gits a'
office, er de race 'pears ter be prosperin' too much, de w'ite folks up
an' kills a few, so dat de res' kin keep on fergivin' an' bein' thankful
dat dey're lef alive. Don' talk ter me 'bout dese w'ite folks,--I knows
'em, I does! Ef a nigger wants ter git down on his marrow-bones, an' eat
dirt, an' call 'em 'marster,' _he's_ a good nigger, dere's room fer
_him_. But I ain' no w'ite folks' nigger, I ain'. I don' call no man
'marster.' I don' wan' nothin' but w'at I wo'k fer, but I wants all er
dat. I never moles's no w'ite man, 'less 'n he moles's me fus'. But w'en
de ole 'oman dies, doctuh, an' I gits a good chance at dat w'ite
man,--dere ain' no use talkin', suh!--dere's gwine ter be a mix-up, an'
a fune'al, er two fune'als--er may be mo', ef anybody is keerliss enough
to git in de way."
"Josh," said the doctor, laying a cool hand on the other's brow, "you
're feverish, and don't know what you're talking about. I shouldn't
let my mind dwell on such things, and you must keep quiet until this arm
is well, or you may never be able to hit any one with it again."
Miller determined that when Josh got better he would talk to him
seriously and dissuade him from this dangerous design. He had not asked
the name of Josh's enemy, but the look of murderous hate which the
dust-begrimed tramp of the railway journey had cast at Captain George
McBane rendered any such question superfluous. McBane was probably
deserving of any evil fate which might befall him; but such a revenge
would do no good, would right no wrong; while every such crime,
committed by a colored man, would be imputed to the race, which was
already staggering under a load of obloquy because, in the eyes of a
prejudiced and undiscriminating public, it must answer as a whole for
the offenses of each separate individual. To die in defense of the right
was heroic. To kill another for revenge was pitifully human and weak:
"Vengeance is mine, I will repay," saith the Lord.
Old Mr. Delamere's servant, Sandy Campbell, was in deep trouble.
A party of Northern visitors had been staying for several days at the
St. James Hotel. The gentlemen of the party were concerned in a
projected cotton mill, while the ladies were much interested in the
study of social conditions, and especially in the negro problem. As soon
as their desire for information became known, they were taken
courteously under the wing of prominent citizens and their wives, who
gave them, at elaborate luncheons, the Southern white man's views of the
negro, sighing sentimentally over the disappearance of the good old
negro of before the war, and gravely deploring the degeneracy of his
descendants. They enlarged upon the amount of money the Southern whites
had spent for the education of the negro, and shook their heads over the
inadequate results accruing from this unexampled generosity. It was sad,
they said, to witness this spectacle of a dying race, unable to
withstand the competition of a superior type. The severe reprisals taken
by white people for certain crimes committed by negroes were of course
not the acts of the best people, who deplored them; but still a certain
charity should be extended towards those who in the intense and
righteous anger of the moment should take the law into their own hands
and deal out rough but still substantial justice; for no negro was ever
lynched without incontestable proof of his guilt. In order to be
perfectly fair, and give their visitors an opportunity to see both sides
of the question, they accompanied the Northern visitors to a colored
church where they might hear a colored preacher, who had won a jocular
popularity throughout the whole country by an oft-repeated sermon
intended to demonstrate that the earth was flat like a pancake. This
celebrated divine could always draw a white audience, except on the days
when his no less distinguished white rival in the field of
sensationalism preached his equally famous sermon to prove that hell was
exactly one half mile, linear measure, from the city limits of
Wellington. Whether accidentally or not, the Northern visitors had no
opportunity to meet or talk alone with any colored person in the city
except the servants at the hotel. When one of the party suggested a
visit to the colored mission school, a Southern friend kindly
volunteered to accompany them.
The visitors were naturally much impressed by what they learned from
their courteous hosts, and felt inclined to sympathize with the Southern
people, for the negro is not counted as a Southerner, except to fix the
basis of congressional representation. There might of course be things
to criticise here and there, certain customs for which they did not
exactly see the necessity, and which seemed in conflict with the highest
ideals of liberty but surely these courteous, soft-spoken ladies and
gentlemen, entirely familiar with local conditions, who descanted so
earnestly and at times pathetically upon the grave problems confronting
them, must know more about it than people in the distant North, without
their means of information. The negroes who waited on them at the hotel
seemed happy enough, and the teachers whom they had met at the mission
school had been well-dressed, well-mannered, and apparently content with
their position in life. Surely a people who made no complaints could not
be very much oppressed.
In order to give the visitors, ere they left Wellington, a pleasing
impression of Southern customs, and particularly of the joyous,
happy-go-lucky disposition of the Southern darky and his entire
contentment with existing conditions, it was decided by the hotel
management to treat them, on the last night of their visit, to a little
diversion, in the shape of a genuine negro cakewalk.
On the afternoon of this same day Tom Delamere strolled into the hotel,
and soon gravitated to the bar, where he was a frequent visitor. Young
men of leisure spent much of their time around the hotel, and no small
part of it in the bar. Delamere had been to the club, but had avoided
the card-room. Time hanging heavy on his hands, he had sought the hotel
in the hope that some form of distraction might present itself.
"Have you heard the latest, Mr. Delamere?" asked the bartender, as he
mixed a cocktail for his customer.
"No, Billy; what is it?"
"There's to be a big cakewalk upstairs to-night. The No'the'n gentlemen
an' ladies who are down here to see about the new cotton fact'ry want to
study the nigger some more, and the boss has got up a cakewalk for 'em,
'mongst the waiters and chambermaids, with a little outside talent."
"Is it to be public?" asked Delamere.
"Oh, no, not generally, but friends of the house won't be barred out.
The clerk 'll fix it for you. Ransom, the head waiter, will be floor
Delamere was struck with a brilliant idea. The more he considered it,
the brighter it seemed. Another cocktail imparted additional brilliancy
to the conception. He had been trying, after a feeble fashion, to keep
his promise to Clara, and was really suffering from lack of excitement.
He left the bar-room, found the head waiter, held with him a short
conversation, and left in his intelligent and itching palm a piece of
The cakewalk was a great success. The most brilliant performer was a
late arrival, who made his appearance just as the performance was about
to commence. The newcomer was dressed strikingly, the conspicuous
features of his attire being a long blue coat with brass buttons and a
pair of plaid trousers. He was older, too, than the other participants,
which made his agility the more remarkable. His partner was a new
chambermaid, who had just come to town, and whom the head waiter
introduced to the newcomer upon his arrival. The cake was awarded to
this couple by a unanimous vote. The man presented it to his partner
with a grandiloquent flourish, and returned thanks in a speech which
sent the Northern visitors into spasms of delight at the quaintness of
the darky dialect and the darky wit. To cap the climax, the winner
danced a buck dance with a skill and agility that brought a shower of
complimentary silver, which he gathered up and passed to the head
Ellis was off duty for the evening. Not having ventured to put in an
appearance at Carteret's since his last rebuff, he found himself
burdened with a superfluity of leisure, from which he essayed to find
relief by dropping into the hotel office at about nine o'clock. He was
invited up to see the cakewalk, which he rather enjoyed, for there was
some graceful dancing and posturing. But the grotesque contortions of
one participant had struck him as somewhat overdone, even for the
comical type of negro. He recognized the fellow, after a few minutes'
scrutiny, as the body-servant of old Mr. Delamere. The man's present
occupation, or choice of diversion, seemed out of keeping with his
employment as attendant upon an invalid old gentleman, and strangely
inconsistent with the gravity and decorum which had been so noticeable
when this agile cakewalker had served as butler at Major Carteret's
table, upon the occasion of the christening dinner. There was a vague
suggestion of unreality about this performance, too, which Ellis did not
attempt to analyze, but which recurred vividly to his memory upon a
Ellis had never pretended to that intimate knowledge of negro thought
and character by which some of his acquaintances claimed the ability to
fathom every motive of a negro's conduct, and predict in advance what
any one of the darker race would do under a given set of circumstances.
He would not have believed that a white man could possess two so widely
varying phases of character; but as to negroes, they were as yet a crude
and undeveloped race, and it was not safe to make predictions concerning
them. No one could tell at what moment the thin veneer of civilization
might peel off and reveal the underlying savage.
The champion cakewalker, much to the surprise of his sable companions,
who were about equally swayed by admiration and jealousy, disappeared
immediately after the close of the performance. Any one watching him on
his way home through the quiet streets to old Mr. Delamere's would have
seen him now and then shaking with laughter. It had been excellent fun.
Nevertheless, as he neared home, a certain aspect of the affair,
hitherto unconsidered, occurred to him, and it was in a rather serious
frame of mind that he cautiously entered the house and sought his own
* * * * *
The cakewalk had results which to Sandy were very serious. The following
week he was summoned before the disciplinary committee of his church and
charged with unchristian conduct, in the following particulars, to wit:
dancing, and participating in a sinful diversion called a cakewalk,
which was calculated to bring the church into disrepute and make it the
mockery of sinners.
Sandy protested his innocence vehemently, but in vain. The proof was
overwhelming. He was positively identified by Sister 'Manda Patterson,
the hotel cook, who had watched the whole performance from the hotel
corridor for the sole, single, solitary, and only purpose, she averred,
of seeing how far human wickedness could be carried by a professing
Christian. The whole thing had been shocking and offensive to her, and
only a stern sense of duty had sustained her in looking on, that she
might be qualified to bear witness against the offender. She had
recognized his face, his clothes, his voice, his walk--there could be no
shadow of doubt that it was Brother Sandy. This testimony was confirmed
by one of the deacons, whose son, a waiter at the hotel, had also seen
Sandy at the cakewalk.
Sandy stoutly insisted that he was at home the whole evening; that he
had not been near the hotel for three months; that he had never in his
life taken part in a cakewalk, and that he did not know how to dance.
It was replied that wickedness, like everything else, must have a
beginning; that dancing was an art that could be acquired in secret, and
came natural to some people. In the face of positive proof, Sandy's
protestations were of no avail; he was found guilty, and suspended from
church fellowship until he should have repented and made full
Sturdily refusing to confess a fault of which he claimed to be innocent,
Sandy remained in contumacy, thereby falling somewhat into disrepute
among the members of his church, the largest in the city. The effect of
a bad reputation being subjective as well as objective, and poor human
nature arguing that one may as well have the game as the name, Sandy
insensibly glided into habits of which the church would not have
approved, though he took care that they should not interfere with his
duties to Mr. Delamere. The consolation thus afforded, however, followed
as it was by remorse of conscience, did not compensate him for the loss
of standing in the church, which to him was a social club as well as a
religious temple. At times, in conversation with young Delamere, he
would lament his hard fate.
Tom laughed until he cried at the comical idea which Sandy's plaint
always brought up, of half-a-dozen negro preachers sitting in solemn
judgment upon that cakewalk,--it had certainly been a good
cakewalk!--and sending poor Sandy to spiritual Coventry.
"Cheer up, Sandy, cheer up!" he would say when Sandy seemed most
depressed. "Go into my room and get yourself a good drink of liquor. The
devil's church has a bigger congregation than theirs, and we have the
consolation of knowing that when we die, we'll meet all our friends on
the other side. Brace up, Sandy, and be a man, or, if you can't be a
man, be as near a man as you can!"
Hoping to revive his drooping spirits, Sandy too often accepted the
THE MAUNDERINGS OF OLD MRS. OCHILTREE
When Mrs. Carteret had fully recovered from the shock attendant upon the
accident at the window, where little Dodie had so narrowly escaped death
or serious injury, she ordered her carriage one afternoon and directed
the coachman to drive her to Mrs. Ochiltree's.
Mrs. Carteret had discharged her young nurse only the day before, and
had sent for Mammy Jane, who was now recovered from her rheumatism, to
stay until she could find another girl. The nurse had been ordered not
to take the child to negroes' houses. Yesterday, in driving past the old
homestead of her husband's family, now occupied by Dr. Miller and his
family, Mrs. Carteret had seen her own baby's carriage standing in the
When the nurse returned home, she was immediately discharged. She
offered some sort of explanation, to the effect that her sister worked
for Mrs. Miller, and that some family matter had rendered it necessary
for her to see her sister. The explanation only aggravated the offense:
if Mrs. Carteret could have overlooked the disobedience, she would by no
means have retained in her employment a servant whose sister worked for
the Miller woman.
Old Mrs. Ochiltree had within a few months begun to show signs of
breaking up. She was over seventy years old, and had been of late, by
various afflictions, confined to the house much of the time. More than
once within the year, Mrs. Carteret had asked her aunt to come and live
with her; but Mrs. Ochiltree, who would have regarded such a step as an
acknowledgment of weakness, preferred her lonely independence. She
resided in a small, old-fashioned house, standing back in the middle of
a garden on a quiet street. Two old servants made up her modest
This refusal to live with her niece had been lightly borne, for Mrs.
Ochiltree was a woman of strong individuality, whose comments upon her
acquaintance, present or absent, were marked by a frankness at times no
less than startling. This characteristic caused her to be more or less
avoided. Mrs. Ochiltree was aware of this sentiment on the part of her
acquaintance, and rather exulted in it. She hated fools. Only fools ran
away from her, and that because they were afraid she would expose their
folly. If most people were fools, it was no fault of hers, and she was
not obliged to indulge them by pretending to believe that they knew
anything. She had once owned considerable property, but was reticent
about her affairs, and told no one how much she was worth, though it was
supposed that she had considerable ready money, besides her house and
some other real estate. Mrs. Carteret was her nearest living relative,
though her grand-nephew Tom Delamere had been a great favorite with her.
If she did not spare him her tongue-lashings, it was nevertheless
expected in the family that she would leave him something handsome in
Mrs. Ochiltree had shared in the general rejoicing upon the advent of
the Carteret baby. She had been one of his godmothers, and had hinted at
certain intentions held by her concerning him. During Mammy Jane's
administration she had tried the old nurse's patience more or less by
her dictatorial interference. Since her partial confinement to the
house, she had gone, when her health and the weather would permit, to
see the child, and at other times had insisted that it be sent to her in
charge of the nurse at least every other day.
Mrs. Ochiltree's faculties had shared insensibly in the decline of her
health. This weakness manifested itself by fits of absent-mindedness, in
which she would seemingly lose connection with the present, and live
over again, in imagination, the earlier years of her life. She had
buried two husbands, had tried in vain to secure a third, and had never
borne any children. Long ago she had petrified into a character which
nothing under heaven could change, and which, if death is to take us as
it finds us, and the future life to keep us as it takes us, promised
anything but eternal felicity to those with whom she might associate
after this life. Tom Delamere had been heard to say, profanely, that if
his Aunt Polly went to heaven, he would let his mansion in the skies on
a long lease, at a low figure.
When the carriage drove up with Mrs. Carteret, her aunt was seated on
the little front piazza, with her wrinkled hands folded in her lap,
dozing the afternoon away in fitful slumber.
"Tie the horse, William," said Mrs. Carteret, "and then go in and wake
Aunt Polly, and tell her I want her to come and drive with me."
Mrs. Ochiltree had not observed her niece's approach, nor did she look
up when William drew near. Her eyes were closed, and she would let her
head sink slowly forward, recovering it now and then with a spasmodic
"Colonel Ochiltree," she muttered, "was shot at the battle of Culpepper
Court House, and left me a widow for the second time. But I would not
have married any man on earth after him."
"Mis' Ochiltree!" cried William, raising his voice, "oh, Mis'
"If I had found a man,--a real man,--I might have married again. I did
not care for weaklings. I could have married John Delamere if I had
wanted him. But pshaw! I could have wound him round"--
"Go round to the kitchen, William," interrupted Mrs. Carteret
impatiently, "and tell Aunt Dinah to come and wake her up."
William returned in a few moments with a fat, comfortable looking black
woman, who curtsied to Mrs. Carteret at the gate, and then going up to
her mistress seized her by the shoulder and shook her vigorously.
"Wake up dere, Mis' Polly," she screamed, as harshly as her mellow voice
would permit. "Mis' 'Livy wants you ter go drivin' wid 'er!"
"Dinah," exclaimed the old lady, sitting suddenly upright with a defiant
assumption of wakefulness, "why do you take so long to come when I call?
Bring me my bonnet and shawl. Don't you see my niece waiting for me at
"Hyuh dey is, hyuh dey is!" returned Dinah, producing the bonnet and
shawl, and assisting Mrs. Ochiltree to put them on.
Leaning on William's arm, the old lady went slowly down the walk, and
was handed to the rear seat with Mrs. Carteret.
"How's the baby to-day, Olivia, and why didn't you bring him?"
"He has a cold to-day, and is a little hoarse," replied Mrs. Carteret,
"so I thought it best not to bring him out. Drive out the Weldon road,
William, and back by Pine Street."
The drive led past an eminence crowned by a handsome brick building of
modern construction, evidently an institution of some kind, surrounded
on three sides by a grove of venerable oaks.
"Hugh Poindexter," Mrs. Ochiltree exclaimed explosively, after a
considerable silence, "has been building a new house, in place of the
old family mansion burned during the war."
"It isn't Mr. Poindexter's house, Aunt Polly. That is the new colored
hospital built by the colored doctor."
"The new colored hospital, indeed, and the colored doctor! Before the
war the negroes were all healthy, and when they got sick we took care of
them ourselves! Hugh Poindexter has sold the graves of his ancestors to
a negro,--I should have starved first!"
"He had his grandfather's grave opened, and there was nothing to remove,
except a few bits of heart-pine from the coffin. All the rest had
crumbled into dust."
"And he sold the dust to a negro! The world is upside down."
"He had the tombstone transferred to the white cemetery, Aunt Polly, and
he has moved away."
"Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. When I die, if you
outlive me, Olivia, which is not likely, I shall leave my house and
land to this child! He is a Carteret,--he would never sell them to a
negro. I can't trust Tom Delamere, I'm afraid."
The carriage had skirted the hill, passing to the rear of the new
"Turn to the right, William," ordered Mrs. Carteret, addressing the
coachman, "and come back past the other side of the hospital."
A turn to the right into another road soon brought them to the front of
the building, which stood slightly back from the street, with no
intervening fence or inclosure. A sorrel pony in a light buggy was
fastened to a hitching-post near the entrance. As they drove past, a
lady came out of the front door and descended the steps, holding by the
hand a very pretty child about six years old.
"Who is that woman, Olivia?" asked Mrs. Ochiltree abruptly, with signs
The lady coming down the steps darted at the approaching carriage a look
which lingered involuntarily.
Mrs. Carteret, perceiving this glance, turned away coldly.
With a sudden hardening of her own features the other woman lifted the
little boy into the buggy and drove sharply away in the direction
opposite to that taken by Mrs. Carteret's carriage.
"Who is that woman, Olivia?" repeated Mrs. Ochiltree, with marked
"I have not the honor of her acquaintance," returned Mrs. Carteret
sharply. "Drive faster, William."
"I want to know who that woman is," persisted Mrs. Ochiltree
querulously. "William," she cried shrilly, poking the coachman in the
back with the end of her cane, "who is that woman?"
"Dat's Mis' Miller, ma'am," returned the coachman, touching his hat;
"Doctuh Miller's wife."
"What was her mother's name?"
"Her mother's name wuz Julia Brown. She's be'n dead dese twenty years
er mo'. Why, you knowed Julia, Mis' Polly!--she used ter b'long ter yo'
own father befo' de wah; an' after de wah she kep' house fer"--
"Look to your horses, William!" exclaimed Mrs. Carteret sharply.
"It's that hussy's child," said Mrs. Ochiltree, turning to her niece
with great excitement. "When your father died, I turned the mother and
the child out into the street. The mother died and went to--the place
provided for such as she. If I hadn't been just in time, Olivia, they
would have turned you out. I saved the property for you and your son!
You can thank me for it all!"
"Hush, Aunt Polly, for goodness' sake! William will hear you. Tell me
about it when you get home."
Mrs. Ochiltree was silent, except for a few incoherent mumblings. What
she might say, what distressing family secret she might repeat in
William's hearing, should she take another talkative turn, was beyond
Olivia looked anxiously around for something to distract her aunt's
attention, and caught sight of a colored man, dressed in sober gray, who
was coming toward the carriage.
"There's Mr. Delamere's Sandy!" exclaimed Mrs. Carteret, touching her
aunt on the arm. "I wonder how his master is? Sandy, oh, Sandy!"
Sandy approached the carriage, lifting his hat with a slight
exaggeration of Chesterfieldian elegance. Sandy, no less than his
master, was a survival of an interesting type. He had inherited the
feudal deference for his superiors in position, joined to a certain
self-respect which saved him from sycophancy. His manners had been
formed upon those of old Mr. Delamere, and were not a bad imitation; for
in the man, as in the master, they were the harmonious reflection of a
"How is Mr. Delamere, Sandy?" asked Mrs. Carteret, acknowledging Sandy's
salutation with a nod and a smile.
"He ain't ez peart ez he has be'n, ma'am," replied Sandy, "but he's
doin' tol'able well. De doctuh say he's good fer a dozen years yit, ef
he'll jes' take good keer of hisse'f an' keep f'm gittin' excited; fer
sence dat secon' stroke, excitement is dange'ous fer 'im."
"I'm sure you take the best care of him," returned Mrs. Carteret kindly.
"You can't do anything for him, Sandy," interposed old Mrs. Ochiltree,
shaking her head slowly to emphasize her dissent. "All the doctors in
creation couldn't keep him alive another year. I shall outlive him by
twenty years, though we are not far from the same age."
"Lawd, ma'am!" exclaimed Sandy, lifting his hands in affected
amazement,--his study of gentle manners had been more than
superficial,--"whoever would 'a' s'picion' dat you an' Mars John wuz
nigh de same age? I'd 'a' 'lowed you wuz ten years younger 'n him, easy,
ef you wuz a day!"
"Give my compliments to the poor old gentleman," returned Mrs.
Ochiltree, with a simper of senile vanity, though her back was
weakening under the strain of the effort to sit erect that she might
maintain this illusion of comparative youthfulness. "Bring him to see me
some day when he is able to walk."
"Yas'm, I will," rejoined Sandy. "He's gwine out ter Belleview nex'
week, fer ter stay a mont' er so, but I'll fetch him 'roun' w'en he
comes back. I'll tell 'im dat you ladies 'quired fer 'im."
Sandy made another deep bow, and held his hat in his hand until the
carriage had moved away. He had not condescended to notice the coachman
at all, who was one of the young negroes of the new generation; while
Sandy regarded himself as belonging to the quality, and seldom stooped
to notice those beneath him. It would not have been becoming in him,
either, while conversing with white ladies, to have noticed a colored
servant. Moreover, the coachman was a Baptist, while Sandy was a
Methodist, though under a cloud, and considered a Methodist in poor
standing as better than a Baptist of any degree of sanctity.
"Lawd, Lawd!" chuckled Sandy, after the carriage had departed, "I never
seed nothin' lack de way dat ole lady do keep up her temper! Wid one
foot in de grave, an' de other hov'rin' on de edge, she talks 'bout my
ole marster lack he wuz in his secon' chil'hood. But I'm jes' willin'
ter bet dat he'll outlas' her! She ain't half de woman she wuz dat
night I waited on de table at de christenin' pa'ty, w'en she 'lowed she
wuzn' feared er no man livin'."
MRS. CARTERET SEEKS AN EXPLANATION
As a stone dropped into a pool of water sets in motion a series of
concentric circles which disturb the whole mass in varying degree, so
Mrs. Ochiltree's enigmatical remark had started in her niece's mind a
disturbing train of thought. Had her words, Mrs. Carteret asked herself,
any serious meaning, or were they the mere empty babblings of a clouded
"William," she said to the coachman when they reached Mrs. Ochiltree's
house, "you may tie the horse and help us out. I shall be here a little
William helped the ladies down, assisted Mrs. Ochiltree into the house,
and then went round to the kitchen. Dinah was an excellent hand at
potato-pone and other culinary delicacies dear to the Southern heart,
and William was a welcome visitor in her domain.
"Now, Aunt Polly," said Mrs. Carteret resolutely, as soon as they were
alone, "I want to know what you meant by what you said about my father
and Julia, and this--this child of hers?"
The old woman smiled cunningly, but her expression soon changed to one
"Why do you want to know?" she asked suspiciously. "You've got the
land, the houses, and the money. You've nothing to complain of. Enjoy
yourself, and be thankful!"
"I'm thankful to God," returned Olivia, "for all his good gifts,--and
He has blessed me abundantly,--but why should I be thankful to _you_ for
the property my father left me?"
"Why should you be thankful to me?" rejoined Mrs. Ochiltree with
querulous indignation. "You'd better ask why _shouldn't_ you be
thankful to me. What have I not done for you?"
"Yes, Aunt Polly, I know you've done a great deal. You reared me in
your own house when I had been cast out of my father's; you have been a
second mother to me, and I am very grateful,--you can never say that I
have not shown my gratitude. But if you have done anything else for me,
I wish to know it. Why should I thank you for my inheritance?"
"Why should you thank me? Well, because I drove that woman and her brat
"But she had no right to stay, Aunt Polly, after father died. Of course
she had no moral right before, but it was his house, and he could keep
her there if he chose. But after his death she surely had no right."
"Perhaps not so surely as you think,--if she had not been a negro. Had
she been white, there might have been a difference. When I told her to
go, she said"--
"What did she say, Aunt Polly," demanded Olivia eagerly.
It seemed for a moment as though Mrs. Ochiltree would speak no further:
but her once strong will, now weakened by her bodily infirmities,
yielded to the influence of her niece's imperious demand.
"I'll tell you the whole story," she said, "and then you'll know what
I did for you and yours." Mrs. Ochiltree's eyes assumed an
introspective expression, and her story, as it advanced, became as
keenly dramatic as though memory had thrown aside the veil of
intervening years and carried her back directly to the events which she
"Your father," she said, "while living with that woman, left home one
morning the picture of health. Five minutes later he tottered into the
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