The Purple Heights
Marie Conway Oemler
Part 2 out of 6
had lately bought Lynwood Plantation, a few miles down the river.
She liked to prowl around and paint things.
"And now," she asked, "would you mind telling me something more
about that butterfly of yours? And where some more of the good luck
comes in?" She was growing more and more interested in Peter.
Peter dropped down beside the easel, his hands clasped loosely
between his knobby knees. It seemed the most natural thing in the
world that he should find himself talking freely to this Yankee
girl; it was the most natural thing in the world that she should
understand. So Peter, who, as a rule, would have preferred to be
beaten with rods rather than divulge his feelings, told her exactly
what she wished to know. This must be blamed upon the Red Admiral!
She caught a sharp outline of the child's life, poor in material
circumstances, but crowded to the brim with thought and feeling and
emotion, and colorful as the coast country was colorful. He had kept
himself, she thought, as sweet and limpid as a mountain spring. He
was wistful, eager, and mad to know things. His eyes went back again
and again, with a sort of desperate hunger in them, to the canvas on
her easel, as if the secret of him lay there. The girl sat with her
firm white chin in her firm white hands, and looked down at Peter
with her bright blue Yankee eyes, and understood him as none of his
own people had ever understood him. She even understood what his
innate reticence and decency held back. Who shall say that the
Admiral wasn't a fairy?
"I'd like to see that first little sketch," she said, when he had
finished. Her eyes were very sweet.
For a second he hesitated. Then he rose, went into the deserted
cabin, and took from the cupboard a dusty bundle of papers--pieces
of white cardboard, sheets of letter-paper, any sort of paper he had
been able to lay his hands on. Riverton and the surrounding country,
as Peter Champneys saw it, unrolled before her astonished eyes. It
was roughly done, and there were glaring faults; but there was
something in the crude work that wasn't in the canvas on her easel,
and she recognized it. She singled out several sketches of an old
negro with a bald head and a white beard, and a stern, fine face
innate with dignity. She said quietly:
"You are quite right, Peter: the Red Admiral is undoubtedly a
fairy." And after a moment, studying the old man's face: "He's
rather a remarkable old man, isn't he?"
Peter looked around him. On that terrible night Daddy Neptune had
stood just where the easel was standing now; over there by the
tumble-down chicken house, Jake had fallen; and the space that was
now green with grass had been full of vengeful men, and howling
dogs, and trampling horses. Peter took the sketch from her, looked
at it for a long moment, and, as briefly as he could, and keeping
himself very much in the background, he told her.
Claribel Spring looked around her, almost disbelieving that such a
thing could happen in such a place. She looked at the quiet-faced
boy, at the sketches, and shook her head.
When she was ready to go, Peter helped pack her traps, picked up her
paint-box, and slung her folding-easel and camp-stool across his
shoulder. Lynwood was some three miles from the River Swamp, and
shall a gentleman allow a lady to lug her belongings that distance?
"Miss Spring," said Peter, anxiously, as they reached the porch of
Lynwood, "Miss Spring, do you expect to go about these woods
"Why, yes! Nobody here has time to prowl with me, you see. And I
can't stay indoors. I've got to make the most of these woods while I
have the opportunity."
Peter looked troubled. His brows puckered. "I wonder if you'd mind
if I just sort of stayed around so I could look after--I mean, so I
could watch you painting? May I? _Please_!"
Claribel sensed something tense under that request. She longed to
get at Peter's thought processes. She was immensely interested in
this shabby little chap who made astonishing sketches and whose
personality was so intriguing.
"Why, of course you may, Peter. But would you mind telling me just
_why_ you want to come with me--aside from the painting?"
Peter shifted from one bare foot to the other.
"Because somebody's _got_ to go with you," he blurted flatly. "Don't
the people here know you mustn't go off like that, by yourself?
There--well, Miss Spring, there are bad folks everywhere, I reckon.
Our niggers"--Peter's head went up--"are the best niggers, in the
world. But--sometimes--And--and--" He looked at her, trying to make
Claribel Spring considered him. He might be about fourteen. His head
just reached her shoulder. And he was offering to take care of her,
to be her protector! That's what his anxiety meant. "Oh, you darling
little gentleman!" she thought.
"I see. And I'll be perfectly delighted if you can manage to come
with me, Peter," said she, sincerely. "And listen: I've been
thinking about those sketches of yours, while we were walking home,
and I've got the nicest little plan all worked out in my mind. You
shall take me around these woods, which you know and I don't. You'll
be my guide, philosopher, and friend. In return I'll teach you what
I can. You needn't bother about materials: I have loads of stuff for
the two of us. What do you say?"
It was so unexpected, so marvelous, that an electrified and
transformed Peter looked at her with a face gone white from excess
of astonished rapture, and a pair of eyes like pools in paradise
when the stars of heaven tremble in their depths.
Claribel Spring was a better teacher than artist, as she discovered
for herself. She had the divine faculty of imparting knowledge and
at the same time arousing enthusiasm; and she had such a pupil now
as real teachers dream of. It wasn't so much like learning, with
Peter; it was as if he were being reminded of something he already
knew. He had never had a lesson in his whole life, he didn't go
about things in the right manner, and there were grave faults to be
overcome; but he had the thing itself.
She taught him more than the rudiments of technique, more than the
mere processes of mixing colors, more than shading and form, and
perspective, and flat surfaces, and high lights, and foreshortening.
She was the first person from the outside world with whom Peter had
ever come into real contact, the first person not a Southerner with
whom he had ever been intimately friendly. And oddly enough, Peter
taught _her_ a few things.
Riverton learned that Peter Champneys had been engaged as a sort of
fetch-and-carry boy by that big Vermont girl who was stopping at
Lynwood. They thought Miss Spring charming, when they occasionally
met her, but when it came to trapesing about the woods like a gipsy,
quite as irresponsible as Peter Champneys himself--"Birds of a
feather flock together," you know.
Claribel Spring was just at that time passing through a Gethsemane
of her own, and she needed Peter quite as badly as he needed her.
Peter was really a godsend to the girl. Her quiet self-control kept
any one from discovering that she was cruelly unhappy, but Peter did
at times perceive the shadow upon her face, and he knew that the
silence that sometimes fell upon her was not always a happy one. At
such times he managed to convey to her delicately, without words,
his sympathy. He piloted her to lovely places, he made her pause to
look at birds' nests, at corners of old fences, at Carolina
wild-flowers. And when he had made her smile again, he was happy. To
Peter that was the swiftest, happiest, most enchanted summer he had
It ended all too soon. He went up to Lynwood one morning to find
Claribel packing for a hasty departure. It was a new Claribel that
morning, a Claribel with a rosy face and shining eyes and smiling
lips. She had gotten news, she told Peter joyously, that called her
away at once--beautiful news. The most wonderful news in the world!
She turned over to Peter all the material she had on hand, and gave
him painstaking directions as to how he was to proceed, what he was
to strive for, what to avoid. And she said that when he had become
a great man in the big world, one of these days, he wasn't to forget
that she'd prophesied it, and had been allowed to play her little
part in his career. Then she kissed Peter as nobody had ever kissed
him except his mother. And so she left him.
He was turning fifteen then, and getting too big for the penny jobs
Riverton had in pickle for him. Nothing better offering, he hired
out that autumn to a farmer who fed his stock better than he did his
men. Peter's mouth still twists wryly when he remembers that first
month of heavy farm work. The mule was big and Peter wasn't, the
plow and the soil were heavy, and Peter was light. Trammell, the
farmer, held him to his task, insisting that "a boy who couldn't
learn to plow straight couldn't learn to do nothin' else straight,
and he'd better learn now while he had the chanst." Peter would have
cheerfully forfeited his chance to learn to plow straight; but the
thing was there to do, and he tried to do it.
Sunday, his one free day, was the only thing that made life at all
endurable to Peter. It was a day to be looked forward to all through
the heavy week. Early in the morning, with such lunch as he could
come by, his worn Bible in his coat pocket and a package of paper
under his arm, Peter disappeared, not to return until nightfall. The
farmer's over-burdened wife was glad enough to see him go; that
meant one less for whom to cook and to wash dishes.
All the week, after his own fashion, Peter had been observing
things. On Sundays he tried to put them down on paper. He had the
great, rare, sober gift of seeing things as they are, a gift given
to the very few. A negro plowing in a flat brown field behind a
horse as patient as himself; an old woman in a red jacket and a
plaid bandana, feeding a flock of turkeys; a young girl milking; a
boy driving an unruly cow--all the homely, common, ordinary things
of everyday life among the plain people, Peter, who had been set
down among the plain people, tried to crowd on his scanty supply of
drawing-paper on Sunday in the woods.
Peter had learned to draw animals playing, and birds flying, and
butterflies fluttering, and folks working. But he couldn't draw a
decent living-wage for his daily labor. He was only a boy, and it
seemed to be a part of the scheme of things that a boy should be
asked to do a man's work for a dwarf's wages. And the food they gave
him at the Trammell farm-house was beginning to tell on him. Peter
asked for more money and was refused with contumely. He asked for a
change of diet, and was informed violently that this country is
undoubtedly going to the dogs when folks like himself "think
theirselfs too dinged uppidy for good victuals. Eat 'em or leave
Peter couldn't eat them any more, so he left them. He discharged
himself out of hand, and went back to Riverton and Emma Campbell
with forty dollars and a bundle of sketches.
The doctor in Riverton got most of the forty dollars. However, as he
needed a boy in his drug store just then, he gave the place to
Peter, who took it willingly enough, as he was still feeling the
effects of bad food and heavy farm work. He learned to roll pills
and weigh out lime-drops and mix soft drinks, and to keep his
patience with women who wanted only a one-cent stamp, and expected
him to lick it for them into the bargain.
Grown into a gawky chap of sixteen, Peter didn't impress people too
favorably. They felt for him the instinctive distrust of the
conservative and commercial mind for the free and artistic one. The
Peter Champneyses of the world challenge the ideal of commercial
success by their utter inability to see in it the real reason for
being alive, and the chief end of man. They are inimical to smugness
and to complacent satisfaction. Naturally, safe and sane citizens
There was one person in Riverton who didn't share the general
opinion that Peter Champneys was trifling, and that was Mrs.
Humphreys. Mrs. Humphrey still tasted that ice-cream and cake Peter
had given to old Daddy Christmas on a hot afternoon. It was she who
presently persuaded her husband to take Peter into his hardware
store, at a better salary than the doctor paid him.
Everybody agreed that it was noble of Sam Humphreys to take Peter
on. Of course, Peter was as honest as the sun, but he wasn't
businesslike. Not to be businesslike is the American sin against the
Holy Ghost. It is far less culpable to begin with the first of the
deadly sins on Sunday morning and finish up the last of the seven on
Saturday night, than to have your neighbors say you aren't
businesslike. Had Peter taken to tatting, instead of to sketching
niggers in ox-carts, and men plowing, and women washing clothes,
Riverton couldn't have been more impatient with him. Artists, so far
as the average American small town is concerned, are ineffectual
persons, godless creatures long on hair and short on morals, men
whom nobody respects until they are decently dead. It disgusted
Riverton that Peter Champneys, who had had such a nice mother and
come from a good family, should follow such examples.
But Peter meant to hold fast to his one power, though every hand in
the world were against it, though every tongue shouted "Fool,"
though for it he should go hungry and naked and friendless to the
end of his days. He wished to get away from Riverton, to study in
some large city under good teachers. Claribel Spring had stressed
the necessity of good teachers. Grimly he set himself to work to
obtain at least a start toward the coveted end.
By incredible efforts he had managed to save one hundred and ten
dollars, when Emma Campbell fell ill with a misery in her legs.
Although she had a conjure bag around her neck, a rabbit foot in her
pocket, and a horseshoe nailed above the door, she was helpless for
a while, and Peter had to hire another colored woman to care for
Emma was just on her feet when Cassius took it into his head to die.
There was a confusion of husbands and wives between Emma and
Cassius, but she mourned for him shrilly. What deepened her
distress was the fact that in repudiating him his last wife had
carried off all his small possessions, and there was no money left
to bury him. Now, not to be buried with due and fitting ceremonies
and the displayed insignia of some churchly Buryin' Society, is a
calamity and a disgrace. Emma felt that she could never hope to hold
up her head again if Cassius had to be buried by town charity.
Peter Champneys hadn't lived among and liked the colored people all
these years for nothing. He looked at big Emma Campbell sitting
beside the kitchen table with her head buried in her arms, a prey to
woe. Then he went to the bank and drew what remained of his savings.
Cassius was gathered to his father's with all the accustomed
trappings, and Emma's grief was turned to proud joy. But it was
another proof of the unbusinesslike mind of Peter Champneys. His
small savings were gone; he had to begin all over again.
Decidedly, the purple heights were a long, long way off!
GOOD MORNING, GOOD LUCK!
On a particular Sunday Peter Champneys was making for his favorite
haunt, the grass-grown clearing and the solitary and deserted cabin
by the River Swamp. It was to him a place not of desolation but of
solitude, and usually he fled to it as to a welcome refuge. But
to-day his step lagged. The divine discontent of youth, the
rebellion aginst the brute force of circumstance, seethed in him
headily. Here he was, in the lusty April of his days, and yet life
was bitter to his palate, and there was canker at the heart of the
rose of Spring. Nothing was right.
The coast country, always beautiful, was at its best, the air sweet
with the warm breath of summer. The elder was white with flowers,
and in moist places, where the ditches dipped, huge cat-tails swayed
to the light wind. Roses rioted in every garden; when one passed the
little houses of the negroes every yard was gay with pink
crape-myrtle and white and lilac Rose of Sharon trees. All along the
worm-fences the vetches and the butterfly-pea trailed their purple;
everywhere the horse-nettle showed its lovely milk-white stars, and
the orange-red milkweed invited all the butterflies of South
Carolina to come and dine at her table. There were swarms of
butterflies, cohorts of butterflies, but among all the People of the
Sky he missed the Red Admiral.
Peter particularly needed the gallant little sailor's heartening. It
was a bad sign not to meet him this morning; it confirmed his own
opinion that he was an unlucky fellow, a chap doomed to remain a
nonentity, one fitted for nothing better than scooping out a
nickel's worth of nails, or wrapping up fifty-cent frying-pans!
He walked more and more wearily, as if it tired him to carry so
heavy a heart. Life was unkind, nature cruel, fate a trickster.
One was caught, as a rat in a trap, "in the fell clutch of
circumstance." What was the use of anything? Why any of us, anyhow?
And still not a glimmer of the Admiral! At this season of the year,
when he should have been in evidence, it was ominously significant
that he should be missing. Peter trudged another half-mile, and
stopped to rest.
"Let's put this thing to the test," he said to himself, seriously.
"That little chap has always been my Sign. Well, now, if I meet one,
something good is going to happen. If I meet two, I'll get my little
chance to climb out of this hole. If I meet three, it's me for the
open and the big chance to make good. And if I don't meet any at
all--why, I'll be nobody but Riverton Peter Champneys."
He didn't give himself the chance that on a time Jean Jacques gave
himself when he threw a stone at a tree, and decided that if it
struck the tree he'd get to heaven, and if it missed he'd go to
hell--but so placed himself that there was nothing for that stone to
do but hit the tree in front of it. Peter would run his risks.
And still no Admiral! It was silly; it was superstitious; it was
childish; Peter was as well aware of that as anybody could be. But
his heart went down like a plummet.
He had turned into the grassy road that led to the River Swamp. The
pathway was bordered with sumac and sassafras and flowering elder,
and clumps of fennel, and thickets of blackberry bramble. In clear
spaces the tall candle of the mullein stood up straight, a flame of
yellow flowers flickering over it. Near by was the thistle, shaking
its purple paint-brush.
Peter stopped dead in his tracks and stared as if he weren't willing
to believe his own eyesight. He went red and white, and his heavy
heart turned a cart-wheel, and danced a jig, and began to sing as a
young heart should. On the farthest thistle, as if waiting for him
to come, as if they knew he must come, with their sails hoisted over
their backs, were three Red Admirals!
Peter dropped in the grass, doubled his long legs under him, and
watched them, his mouth turned right side up, his eyes golden in his
dark face. Two of them presently flew away. The third walked over
the thistle, tentatively, flattened his wings to show his sash and
"Good morning, good luck! You're still my Sign!" said Peter.
The Red Admiral fluttered his wings again, as if he quite
understood. He allowed Peter to admire his under wings, the
fore-wings so exquisitely jeweled and enameled, the lower like a
miniature design for an oriental prayer-rug. He sent Peter a message
with his delicate, sensitive antenna, a wireless message of hope.
Then, with his quick, darting motion, he launched himself into his
native element and was gone.
The day took on new loveliness, a happy, intimate, all-pervading
beauty that flowed into one like light. Never had the trees been so
comradely, the grass so friendly, the swamp water so clear, so cool.
For a happy forenoon he worked in Neptune's empty cabin, whose open
windows framed blue sky and green woods, and wide, sunny spaces. He
ate the lunch Emma Campbell had fixed for him. Then he went over to
the edge of the River Swamp and lay under a great oak, and slipping
his Bible from his pocket, read the Thirty-seventh Psalm that his
mother had so loved. The large, brave, grave words splashed over him
like cool water, and the little, hateful things, that had been like
festering splinters in his flesh, vanished. There were flowering
bay-trees somewhere near by, diffusing their unforgetable fragrance;
the flowering bay is the breath of summer in South Carolina. He
sniffed the familiar odor, and listened to a redbird's whistle, and
to a mocking-bird echoing it; and to the fiddling of grasshoppers,
the whispers of trees, the quiet, soft movement of the swamp water.
The long thoughts that came to him in the open crossed his mind as
clouds cross the sky, idly, moving slowly, breaking up and drifting
with the wind. A bee buzzed about a spike of blue lobelia; ants
moved up and down the trunk of the oak-tree; birds and butterflies
came and went. With his hands under his head, Peter lay so
motionless that a great brown water-snake glided upon a branch not
ten feet distant, overhanging a brown pool whose depths a spear of
sunlight pierced. The young man had a curious sense of personal
detachment, such as comes upon one in isolated places. He felt
himself a part of the one life of the universe, one with the
whistling redbird, the toiling ants, the fluttering butterflies, the
chirping grasshoppers, the great brown snake, the trees, the water.
The earth breathed audibly against his ear. He sensed the awefulness
and beauty of this oneness of all things, and the immortality of
that oneness; and in comparison the littleness of his own personal
existence. With piercing clarity he saw how brief a time he had to
work and to experience the beauty and wonder of his universe. Then,
healingly, dreamlessly, wholesomely, he fell asleep, to wake at
sunset with a five-mile tramp ahead of him.
Long before he reached Riverton the dark had fallen. It was an
evening of many stars. The wind carried with it the salty taste of
the sea, and the smell of the warm country.
A light burned in his own dining-room, which was sitting-room as
well, and a much pleasanter room than his mother had known, for
books had accumulated in it, lending it that note books alone can
give. He had added a reading-lamp and a comfortable arm-chair. Emma
Campbell's flowers, planted in anything from a tomato-can to an old
pot, filled the windows with gay blossoms.
Peter found his supper on a covered tray on the kitchen table. Emma
herself had gone off to church. The Seventh Commandment had no
meaning for Emma, she was hazy as to mine and thine, but she clung
to church membership. She was a pious woman, given to strenuous
spells of "wrastlin' wid de Speret."
Peter fetched his tray into the dining-room, and had just touched a
match to the spirit kettle, when a motor-car honked outside his
Peter's house was at some distance from the nearest neighbour's, and
fancying this must be a complete stranger to have gotten so far off
the beaten track as to come down this short street which was nothing
but a road ending at the cove, he went to his door prepared to give
such directions as might be required.
Somebody grunted, and climbed out of the car. In the glare of the
lamps Peter made out a man as tall as himself, in a linen duster
that came to his heels, and with an automobile cap and goggles
concealing most of his face. The stranger jerked the gate open, and
a moment later Peter was confronting the goggled eyes.
"Are you," said a pleasant voice, "by good fortune, Peter
"Well," said Peter, truthfully, "I can't say anything about the
good fortune of it, but I'm Peter Champneys."
The stranger paused for a moment. He said in a changed tone: "I have
come three thousand miles to have a look at and a talk with you."
"Come in," said Peter, profoundly astonished, "and do it." And he
His guest shook himself out of dust-coat and goggles and stood
revealed an old man in a linen suit--a tall, thin, brown, very
distinguished-looking old man, with a narrow face, a drooping white
mustache, bushy eyebrows, a big nose, and a pair of fine, melancholy
brown eyes. He stared at Peter devouringly, and Peter stared back at
him quite as interestedly.
"Peter Champneys: Peter Devereaux Champneys, I have come across the
continent to see you. Well! Here you are--and here I am. Have you
the remotest idea _who_ I am? what my name is?" Peter shook his head
apologetically. He hadn't the remotest idea. Yet there was something
vaguely familiar in the tanned old face, some haunting likeness to
somebody, that puzzled him.
"My name," said the old gentleman, "is Champneys--Chadwick
Champneys. Your father used to call me Chad, when we were boys
together. I'm his brother--and your uncle, Nephew--and glad to make
your acquaintance. I'll take it for granted you're as pleased to
make mine. Now that I see you clearly, let me add that if I met your
skin on a bush in the middle of the Sahara desert, I'd know it for a
Champneys hide. Particularly the beak. You look like _me_." Peter
stared. It was quite true: he did resemble Chadwick Champneys. The
two shook hands.
"But, Uncle Chad--Why, we thought--Well, sir, you see, we heard you
"Yes. I heard so myself," said Uncle Chad, serenely. "In the
meantime, may I ask you for a bite? I'm somewhat hungry."
Peter set another plate for his guest, and brewed tea, and the two
drew up to the table. Emma Campbell had provided an excellent meal,
and Mr. Chadwick Champneys plied an excellent knife and fork,
remarking that when all was said and done one South Carolina nigger
was worth six French chefs, and that he hadn't eaten anything so
altogether satisfactory for ages.
The more the young man studied the elder man's face, the better he
liked it. Figure to yourself a Don Quixote not born in Spain but in
South Carolina, not clothed in absurd armor but in a linen suit, and
who rode, not on Rosinante but in a motor-car, and you ll have a
fair enough idea of the old gentleman who popped into Peter's house
that Sunday night.
Peter asked no questions. He sat back, and waited for such
information as his guest chose to convey. He felt bewildered, and at
the same time happy. He who was so alone of a sudden found that he
possessed this relative, and it seemed to him almost too good to be
true. That the relative had never before noticed his existence, that
he was supposed to be a trifler and a ne'er-do-weel, didn't cloud
His relative put his feet on a chair, lighted and smoked a cutty,
and presently unbosomed himself, jerkily, and with some reluctance.
His wife Milly--and whenever he mentioned her name the melancholy in
his brown eyes deepened--had been dead some twelve years now. They
had had no children. He had wandered from south to west, from Mexico
and California and Yucatan to Alaska, always going to strike it
lucky and always missing it. To the day of her death Milly had stood
by, loyally, lovingly, unselfishly, his one prop and solace, his
perfect friend and comrade. There was never, he said, anybody like
her. And Milly died. Died poor, in a shack in a mining-town.
He had done something of everything, from selling patent medicines
to taking up oil and mining-claims. He couldn't stay put. He really
didn't care what happened to him, and so of course nothing happened
to him. That's the way things are.
Three years after Milly's death he had fallen in with Feilding, the
Englishman. Feilding was almost on his last legs when the two met,
and Champneys nursed him back to life. The silent, rather surly
Englishman refused to be separated from the man who, he said, had
saved his life, and the two struck up a partnership of mutual
misfortune. They tramped and starved and worked together, until
Feilding died, leaving to his partner his sole possessions--a
mining-claim and a patent-medicine recipe. He had felt about down
and out, the night Feilding died, for the Englishman was the one
real friend he had made, the one person who loved him and whom he
loved, after Milly.
But instead of his being down and out, the tide had even then turned
for Chadwick Champneys. His friendless wanderings were about done.
The mining-claim was worth a very great deal; and the patent
medicine did at least some of the things claimed for it. He took it
to a certain firm, offering them two thirds of the first and half of
the second year's profits for handling the thing for him. They
closed with the offer, and from the very first the medicine was a
money-maker. It would always be a best-seller.
And then the irony of fate stepped in and took a hand in Chadwick
Champneys's affairs. The man who had hitherto been a failure, the
man whose touch had seemed able to wither the most promising
business sprouts, found himself suddenly possessed of the Midas
touch. He couldn't go into anything that didn't double in value. He
wasn't able to fail. Let him buy a barren bit of land in Texas, say,
and oil would presently be discovered in it; or a God-forsaken tract
in the West Virginia mountains, and coal would crop out; or a huddle
of mean houses in some unfashionable city district, and immediately
commerce and improvement strode in that direction, and what he had
bought by the block he sold by the foot.
Because he was alone, and growing old, Champneys's heart turned to
his own people. He learned that his brother's orphaned son was still
in the South Carolina town. And there was a girl, Milly's niece.
These two were the only human beings with whom the rich and lonely
man could claim any family ties.
Peter was so breathless with interest and sympathy, so moved by the
wanderings of this old Ulysses, and so altogether swept off his feet
by the irruption of an uncle into his uncleless existence, that he
hadn't time for a thought as to the possible bearing it might have
upon his own fortunes. When, therefore, his uncle wound up with,
"I'll tell you, Nephew, it's a mighty comforting thing for a man to
have some one of his own blood and name close to his hand to carry
on his work and fulfil his plans," Peter came to his senses with a
shock as of ice-water poured down his backbone. He knew it wasn't in
_him_ to carry out any business schemes his uncle might have in
"Uncle Chad," said he, honestly. "Don't be mistaken about me, and
don't set your heart on trying to train me into any young Napoleon
of Finance. It's not in me." And he added, gently, "I'm sorry I'm a
dub. I'd like to please you, and I hate to disappoint you; but you
might as well know the truth at once."
Uncle Chad looked him up and down with shrewd eyes.
"So?" said he, and fell to pulling his long mustache. "What's the
whole truth, Nephew? If you don't feel equal to learning how to run
a million-dollar patent-medicine plant, what _do_ you feel you'd be
good at, hey?"
"I'm good in my own line: I want to be an artist. I am going to be
an artist, if I have to starve to death for it!" said Peter. He
spread out his hands. "I have one life to live, and one thing to
do!" he cried.
"Oh, an artist! I've never heard of any Champneys before you who
had such a hankering, though I'm quite sure it's all right, if you
like it, Nephew. There's no earthly reason why an artist shouldn't
be a gentleman, though I could wish you'd have taken over the
patent-medicine business, instead. Have you got anything I can
Shyly and reluctantly, Peter began to show him. There were two or
three oils by now; powerful sketches of country life, with its humor
and pathos; heads of children and of negroes; bits of the River
Swamp; all astonishingly well done.
"Paintings are curious things; some have got life and some haven't
got anything I can see, except paint. There was one I saw in New
York, now. I thought at first it was a mess of spinach. I stood off
and looked, and I walked up close and looked, and still I couldn't
see anything but the same green mess. But--will you believe it,
Nephew?--that thing was The Woods in Spring! Thinks I, They
evidently _boil_ their Woods in Spring up here, before painting 'em!
The things one paints nowadays don't look like the things they're
painted from, I notice. I'm afraid these things of yours look too
much like real things to satisfy folks it's real art.--You sure the
Lord meant you to be an artist?"
Peter laughed. "I'm sure I mean myself to be an artist, Uncle Chad."
"Want to get away from Riverton, don't you? But that costs money?
And you haven't got the money?"
"I want to get away from Riverton. But that costs money, and I
haven't got the money," admitted Peter.
"I see. Now, Nephew, when it gets right down to the thing he really
wants to do, every man has some horse sense, even if he happens to
be a fool in everything else. I'll talk to your horse sense and save
Peter, in the midst of scattered drawings, and of the few oils
backed up against the dining-room wall, paused.
"I could wish," said his uncle, slowly, "that you were--different.
But you are what you are, and it would be a waste of time to try to
make you different. You say you have one thing to do. All right,
Peter Champneys, you shall have your chance to do it,--with a
price-tag attached. Do you want to be what you say you want to be
hard enough to be willing to pay the price for it?"
"You mean--to go away from here--to study? To see real pictures--and
be a student under a real teacher?" Peter's voice all but failed
him. His face went white, and his eyes glittered. He began to
tremble. His uncle, watching him narrowly, nodded.
"Yes. Just that. Everything that can help you, you shall have--time,
teachers, money, travel. But first you must pay me my price."
Peter could only lean forward and stare. He was afraid he was going
to wake up in a minute.
"Let me see if I can make it quite clear to you, Peter. You never
knew Milly--my wife Milly. You're not in love, Son, are you? No?
Well, you won't be able to understand--yet."
"There was my mother, sir," said Peter, gently.
"I'm sorry," said the other, just as gently. "I wish it had come
sooner, the luck. But it didn't, and I can't do anything for
Milly,--or for your mother. They're gone." For a moment he hung his
"But, Peter, I can do considerable for you, and I mean to do it.
Only I can't bear to think Milly shouldn't have her share in it. We
never had a child of our own, but there's Milly's niece."
"Oh, but of course, Uncle Chad! Aunt Milly's niece ought to come in
for all you can do for her, even before me," said Peter, heartily,
and with entire good faith.
"You are your father's son," said Uncle Chad, ambiguously. "But
what I wish to impress upon you is, that neither of you comes
before the other: you come together." He paused again, and from
this time on never removed his eyes from his nephew's face, but
watched him hawk-like. "You will understand there is a great deal
of money--enough money to found a great American family. Why
shouldn't that family be the Champneyses? Why shouldn't the
Champneyses be restored to their old place, put where they
rightfully belong? And who and what should bring this about,
except you, and Milly's niece, and my money!"
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand," said Peter, and looked as
bewildered as he felt. He wasn't a quick thinker. "What is it you
wish me to do?"
Still holding his eyes, "I want you to marry Milly's niece," said
Chadwick Champneys. "_That's my price_."
"Marry? I? Oh, but, Uncle Chad! Why, I don't even know the girl, nor
she me! I've never so much as heard of her until this minute!" cried
"What difference does that make? Men and women never know each other
until after they're married anyhow," said his uncle, sententiously.
"Peter, do you really wish to go abroad and study? Very well, then:
marry Milly's niece. I'll attend to everything else."
"But _why_? My good God! why?" Peter's eyes popped.
"Nephew," said his uncle, patiently, "you are the last Champneys;
she is Milly's niece--my Milly's niece. And Milly is dead, and I am
practically under sentence of death myself. I have got to put my
affairs in order. I'd hardly learned I was a very rich man before I
also learned my time was limited. On high authority. Heart, Nephew.
I may last for several years. Or go out like a puff of wind, before
Peter was so genuinely shocked and distressed at this that his uncle
smiled to himself. The boy was a true Champneys.
"There is no error in the diagnosis, so I accept what I can't help,
and in the meantime arrange my affairs. Now, Nephew Peter, business
man or artist the Champneys name is in your keeping. You are the
head of the house, so to speak. I supply the funds to refurnish the
house, we'll say, and I give you your opportunity to do what you
want to do, to make your mark in your own way. In exchange you
accept the wife I provide for you. When I meet Milly again, I want
to tell her there's somebody of her own blood bearing our name,
taking the place of the child we never had, enjoying all the good
things we missed, and enjoying them with a Champneys, _as_ a
Champneys. If there are to be Champneys children, I want Milly's
niece to bear them. I won't divide my money between two separate
houses; it must all go to Peter Champneys and his wife, that wife
being Milly's niece." His eyes began to glitter, his mouth hardened.
"It is little enough to ask!" he cried, raising his voice. "I give
you everything else. I do not ask you to change your profession. I
make that profession possible by supplying the means to pursue it.
In payment you marry Milly's niece."
His manner was so passionately earnest that the astonished boy took
his head in his hands to consider this amazing proposition.
"But how in heaven's name can I study if I'm plagued with a wife?"
he demanded. "I want to be foot-loose!"
"All right. You shall be foot-loose, for seven years, let's say,"
said his uncle, quietly. "I reason that if you are ever going to be
anything, you'll at least have made a beginning within seven years!
You're twenty now, are you not? When you marry my girl, you shall go
abroad immediately. She'll stay with me until her education is
completed. Your wife shall be trained to take her proper place in
the world. On your twenty-seventh birthday you will return and claim
her. I do not need anything more than the bare word of a Champneys
that he'll be what a man should be. Milly's niece will be safe in
"Let me think a bit, Uncle."
"Take until morning. In the meanwhile, please help me get my car
under shelter, and show me where I turn in for the night." Being in
some things a very considerate old man, he did not add that he had
found the day strenuous, and that his strength was ebbing.
Peter, lying on the lounge in the dining-room, was unable to sleep.
Was this the chance his mother had said would come? Wasn't matrimony
rather a small price to pay for it? Or was it? And--hadn't he
promised his mother to take it when it came, for the sake of all
the Champneyses dead and gone, and for her own sake who had loved
him so tenderly and believed in him against all odds?
At dawn he stole out of the house, and walked the three miles to the
country cemetery where his mother slept beside his father. He sat
beside her last bed, and remembered the cold hand that had crept
into his, the faltering whisper that prayed him to take his chance
when it came, and to prove himself.
If he refused this miraculous opportunity, there would be Riverton,
and the hardware store, or other country stores similar to it, to
the end of his days. No freedom, no glorious opportunities, no work
of brain and hand together, no beauty wrought of thought and
experience; the purple peaks fading into farther and farther
distances until they faded out of his sky altogether; and himself a
sorry plodder in a path whose dust choked him. Peter shuddered.
Anything but that!
Mr. Chadwick Champneys was sitting by the dining-room table talking
to astonished Emma Campbell, and stroking the cat, when Peter came
swinging into the room.
"Well?" with a keen glance at his nephew's face.
"Yes," said Peter, deliberately.
The old man went on stroking the cat for a moment or so, while Emma
Campbell, the hominy-spoon in her hand, watched them both. She
understood that something momentous portended. Not for nothing had
this shrewd, imperious old man whom she had known in his youth as
wild Chad Champneys, led Emma on to tell him all she knew about the
family history since his departure, years ago. When Emma had
finished, Chadwick Champneys felt that he knew his nephew to the
bone; and it was Champneys bone!
"Thank you, Nephew," said he, in a deep voice. "You're a good lad.
You won't regret your bargain. I promise you that."
He turned to Emma Campbell:
"If my breakfast is ready, I'm ready too, Emma." And to Peter: "We
were renewing our old acquaintance, Emma and I, while you were out,
Nephew. She hasn't changed much: she's still the biggest nigger and
the best cook and the faithfulest friend in all Carolina."
"Oh, go 'long, Mist' Chad! Who you 'speck ought to look after Miss
Maria's chile, 'ceptin' ole Emma Campbell? Lawd 'a' mussy, ain't I
wiped 'is nose en dusted 'is britches sense he bawn? Dat Peter, he
belonged to Miss Maria en me. He's we chile," said Emma Campbell.
Over his coffee Mr. Champneys outlined his plans carefully and
succinctly. Peter was to hold himself in readiness to proceed
whither his uncle would direct him by wire. In the meantime he was
to settle his affairs in Riverton.
"Uncle Chad," said Peter, to whom the thought had just occurred,
"Uncle Chad, now that I have agreed to do what you wish me to do,
what is the young lady's name? You didn't tell me."
"Her name? Why, God bless my soul, I forgot, I forgot! Well! Her
name's Anne Simms. Called Nancy. Soon be Nancy Champneys, thank
Heaven!" And he repeated: "Nancy Champneys! Anne Champneys!"
"Uncle," said Peter, deprecatingly, "you'll understand--I'm a little
interested--excuse me for asking you--but what does the young lady
Mr. Chadwick Champneys blinked at his nephew.
"Look like? You want to know what Milly's niece looks like?"
"Yes, sir," said Peter, modestly. "I--er--that is, the thought
occurred to me to ask you what she looks like."
Mr. Champneys scratched the end of his nose, pulled his mustache,
and looked unhappy.
"Nephew Peter," said he, "do what I do: take it for granted Milly's
niece looks like any other girl--nose and mouth and hair and eyes,
you know. But I can't describe her to you in detail."
"No? Why?" Peter wondered.
"Because I have never laid eyes on her," said his uncle.
"Oh!" Peter looked thunderstruck.
"I came to you first," explained his uncle. "I gave you first whack.
Now I'm going to see her."
"Oh!" said Peter, still more thunderstruck.
"I'll wire you when you're to come," said his uncle, briskly, and
got into dust-coat, cap, and goggles. A few minutes later, before
the little town was well awake, he vanished in a cloud of dust down
the Riverton Road.
WHERE THE ROAD DIVIDED
Emma Campbell stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, lips pursed,
eyes fixed on vacancy, a dish-cloth dangling from one hand, a
carving-knife clutched in the other, and projecked. And the more she
projecked about what was happening in Peter's house, the less she
liked it. It had never occurred to Emma Campbell that Peter might go
away from Riverton. Yet now he was going, and it had been taken for
granted that she, Emma, who, as she said, had "raised 'im from a
puppy up'ards," wouldn't mind staying on here after his departure.
Fetching a cold sigh from the depths of an afflicted bosom, Emma
moved snail-like toward the work in hand; and as she worked she
howled dismally that nobody knew the trouble she saw, "nobody knew
but you, Lawd."
When Peter came in to dinner, she addressed him with distant
politeness as Mistuh Champneys, instead of the usual Mist' Peter.
When he spoke to her she accordion-plaited her lips, and stuck her
eyes out at him. Her head, adorned with more than the usual quota of
toothpicks, brought the quills upon the fretful porcupine forcibly
to one's mind.
Nobody but Peter Champneys could or would have borne with Emma
Campbell's contrary fits, but as neither of them realized this they
managed to get along beautifully. Peter was well aware that when the
car that had suddenly appeared in the night had just as suddenly
disappeared in the morning in a cloud of dust on the Riverton Road,
Emma's peace of mind had vanished also. He understood, and was
She clapped a platter of crisp fried chicken before him, and stood
by, eyeing him and it grimly. And when hungry Peter thrust his fork
into a tempting piece, "You know who you eatin'?" she demanded
Peter didn't know whom he was eating; fork suspended, he looked at
"You eatin' Lula, dat who you eatin'," Emma told him with grisly
unction. "Dem 's de same laigs use to scratch roun' we kitchen do'.
Dat 's de same lovin'-hearted hen I raise fum a baby. But, Lawd!
Whut _you_ care? _You 's_ de sort kin go trapesin' off by yo'se'f
over de worl'. You dat uppidy dese days, whut _you_ care 'bout
eatin' up po' lil Lula? _She_ ain't nobody but us-all's chicken,
Peter looked doubtfully at "po' lil Lula's" remains, and laid down
his fork. Somehow, one can't be keen about eating a loving-hearted
"But, Emma, we eat our chickens all the time! You've fried me many a
chicken without raising a row about it!" he protested.
"Who tol' you dey wuz ours?"
As Peter hadn't a fitting reply in return for this ambiguous query,
Emma bounced out of the dining-room, to return in a moment with the
tea-pot; when Peter held out his cup, she poured into it plain
boiling water. At that she set the tea-pot hastily upon the table,
threw her gingham apron over her head, and plumped upon the floor
with a thud that made the house shake. It frightened the cat into
going through the window at a leap, taking with him all the flowers
planted in tomato-cans.
"Emma," said Peter, severely, "I'm ashamed of you! Take that silly
apron off your head and listen to me. You know very well you aren't
being left to shift for yourself. You'll be provided for better than
you've ever been. Why, all you'll have to do--"
"All I 'll hab to do is jes' crawl into my grave en stay dere. I
done raised 'im fum de egg up, en now he 's got comb en kin crow it
's tail-feathers over de fence en fly off wid 'im! Ah, Lawd! You
done made 'em en You knows whut roosters is like!"
"Emma! Look here, confound it!--"
"Who gwine look after 'im? I axes you fum my heart, who gwine do
it?--Never did hab no mo' sense dan a rabbit widout I 's by, en now
dey aims to tun 'im loose! Ah, Lawd!"
"Emma, listen! Emma, what the--"
"Dem furrin women 'll do 'im lak dem women done po' old Cassius.
_Dey 'll conjure 'im_! En widout I by, who gwine make 'im put one
live frawg on 'is nekked stummick, so 's to sweat de speret o' dat
frawg een, en de speret o' dat conjure out? No-buddy. Den he 'll up
en die. Widout one Gawd's soul o' 'is own folkses to put de coppers
on 'is eyes en' tie up de corpse's jaws.--Ah Lawd, ah Lawd!"
"Oh, shut up, you old idiot! I'm not coming home to my meals any
more, if this is how you're going to behave!" This from Peter,
"Ain't you, suh? All right, suh, Mistuh Champneys, you 's be boss.
But I glad to my Gawd Miss Maria ain't 'yuh to see dis day!" And
Emma began to sniffle.
Peter pushed his untouched dinner aside, and reached for his hat. He
looked at Emma Campbell irefully.
"Damn!" exploded Peter.
Emma Campbell got to her feet with astounding quickness, ran into
the kitchen, and returned in a moment with another platter of
chicken, rice, and gravy.
"'Yuh, chile. Set down en eat yo' bittles. You ain't called on to
hab no hard feelin's 'bout _dis_ chicken. 'T ain't none o' ours,
nohow." Peter resumed his chair and waived cross-examination.
Mr. Champneys having come, so to speak, between dark and daylight,
Riverton knew nothing about his visit, for Peter hadn't thought to
inform them. This affair seemed so unreal, so improbable, so up in
the air, that he dared not mention it. Suppose it mightn't be true,
after all. Suppose fate played a cruel joke. Suppose Mr. Champneys
changed his mind. So Peter, who had a horror of talk, and writhed
when asked personal questions by people who felt that they had a
perfect right to know all about his business, kept strict silence,
and enjoined the same silence upon Emma Campbell, who could be
trusted to hold her tongue when bidden.
Now, one simply cannot remember the price of pots and pans and
sheet-iron and plows and ax-handles, when one is living in the
beginning of an astounding fairy story, when the most momentous
change is impending, when one's whole way of life is about to be
diverted into different channels. The things one hates, like being a
hardware clerk, for instance, automatically slide into the
background when the desire of the heart approaches.
But Mr. Humphreys, whose mind and fortune naturally enough centered
in his hardware store, couldn't be expected to know that the
impossible had happened for Peter Champneys. He would hardly be able
to take Peter's bare word for it, even if Peter should tell him: he
didn't know that his absent-minded clerk really liked him, and
longed to tell him that he was leaving Riverton shortly--he hoped
for years and years--and was only awaiting the message that should
speed his departure. Mr. Humphreys, then, cannot be blamed for
complaining with feeling and profanity that of all the damidjits he
had ever seen in his life, Peter Champneys was about the worst.
Loony was no name for him, and what was to become of such a chump he
didn't know. "If this thing keeps up, he'll be drooling before he's
forty, and we'll have to hire a nigger to feed him out of a
papspoon," said Mr. Humphreys, forebodingly.
And in the meanwhile the days dragged and dragged--two whole weeks
of suspense and expectancy. On the Monday of the third week the end
of Peter's waiting and of Mr. Humphreys's patience came together.
One, in fact, brought about the other. The postman who drove in with
the daily mail brought for Peter Champneys the yellow envelope
toward which he had been looking with such feverish impatience.
He was really to go! The young man experienced that reeling,
ecstatic shock which shakes one when a long-delayed desire suddenly
assumes reality. He stood with the telegram in his fingers, and
stared about the dusty, dingy, uninteresting store, and saw as with
new eyes how hopelessly hideous it really was; and wondered and
wondered if he were really himself, Peter Champneys, who was going
to get away from it.
At that moment stout old Mrs. Beach entered the store and waddled up
to him. Mrs. Beach was a woman who never knew what she really
wanted, or if, indeed, she really wanted anything in particular; but
then again, as she said, she _might_. She didn't like to leave her
house often; and when she did finally make up her mind to dress and
go out, she popped into every store she happened to pass, on the
chance that she _might_ want something from it, and would thus save
herself an extra trip to get it. She would say to a perspiring
"Now, let me see: there's something I wanted to get from this
store. I know it, because on Tuesday last something happened to put
me in mind of it--or was it Wednesday, maybe? I know it's something
I need about the house--or maybe the yard. You'll have to help me
out. I've got a poor memory, but you just sort of run over a list of
things folks would be most likely to need and maybe you'll hit on
the right thing, and if it's that I want, I'll get it right now.
Don't stand there like a hitching-post, boy! Why can't you suggest
something, and help out a woman old enough to be your mother?"
If by some fortuitous chance you happened to hit upon an article she
thought she might happen to need, and it suited her, she would buy
it. But it never occurred to her to thank you for your help, or to
apologize for the nerve-racking strain to which she subjected you.
"Young man," said her testy voice in Peter's ear, "I've got to get
something and I can't remember what it is. You've got to help me. I
can't be wasting my time at my age o' life running around to
Peter thrust the miraculous telegram in his pocket, where he could
feel it burn and tingle. Oh, it was true, it was true! He was going
to get away from all this!
"For heaven's sake, boy, don't stand there gawping at me like a
thunderstruck owl! You surely know about everything you've got in
this store, don't you? Well, then, Peter Champneys, look about you
and see if you can't light on what I'm most likely to need!"
Peter, mind on the telegram in his pocket, did indeed look at the
old lady owlishly. Hazily he remembered certain grueling, sweating
half-hours spent in trying to discover what Mrs. Beach thought she
might want to buy. Hazily he looked from her to the littered
shelves, and reached for the first object upon which his eyes
happened to fall.
"Yes 'm, Mrs. Beach. I reckon this is what you'd most likely
_need_," said Peter, gently, and placed in her hand a fine new
muzzle. (Paris, maybe Rome; and Florence! Oh, names to conjure with!
And he should see them all, walk their historic streets, view
immortal work, stand before immortal canvases, and say with
Correggio: "And I, too, am a painter!")
"Oh, my dear Lord, save me from bursting wide open! Why, you
impudent young reprobate!" Mrs. Beach's outraged voice banished his
dream. "For two pins, Peter Champneys, I'd take you across my knees
and spank the seat off your breeches! I need a muzzle, do I? I'm to
be insulted by a little squirt that's just learning to keep his ears
clean! Well! Girl and woman I've been dealing with Sam Humphreys and
his father before him, but from this day forth I put no foot of mine
across this store door!" All the while she spoke she brandished the
muzzle at Peter and kept backing him off into a corner.
Mr. Humphreys came hurriedly out of his office upon hearing the
uproar, and sought with soothing speech to placate his irate old
friend and customer. But Mrs. Beach wasn't to be placated. She went
out of the door and down the street like a hat on a windy day.
Mr. Humphreys watched her go. Then he turned and looked at Peter
"Peter,"--Mr. Humphreys, carefully restraining himself, spoke in low
and dulcet tones--"Peter, I have tried to do my duty as a Christian
man; now I have to do it as a hardware man, and right here is where
you and I say good-by. I have passed over," said Mr. Humphreys,
swallowing hard, "your sending gravel to the grocer and a bellows to
the minister by mistake; but this is the limit. If there is anybody
advertising for a gilt-edged failure as a salesman, you go apply for
the job and say I recommend you enthusiastically. I hate like the
devil to fire you, Peter, but it's a plain case of self-defense with
me: I have to do it. You're fired. Now. Come on in the office," said
Mr. Humphreys, eagerly, "and I'll pay you off."
Peter slid his hand into his pocket and pinched that precious slip
of paper. Then he smiled into Mr. Humphreys's empurpled visage.
"Why, thank you, Mr. Humphreys," said he, gratefully. "I know just
how you feel, and I don't blame you in the least. I've been wanting
to tell you I had to quit, and you've saved me the trouble."
Sam Humphreys knew that Peter Champneys had no right to stand there
and smile like that at such a solemn moment. He should have appeared
ashamed, downcast, humanly perturbed; and he didn't in the least.
"I've been wondering ever since the first day I hired you how I was
going to keep from firing you before nightfall. Now the end's come.
Say--suppose you go on home, right now. Because," said Mr.
Humphreys, softly, "I mightn't be able to refrain from committing
justifiable homicide. I'll send you your salary to-night. Go on
To his horror, Peter Champneys of a sudden laughed aloud. It was
genuine laughter, that rang true and gay and glad. His eyes
sparkled, and a dash of good red jumped into his sallow cheeks.
"Good-by, then, Mr. Humphreys. And thank you for many kindnesses,
and for real patience," said Peter. He waved his hand at the dusty
store in a wide-flung gesture of glad farewell.
"Oh, my God! He's run plumb crazy!" cried Mr. Humphreys, mopping his
brow. "I always said that boy wasn't natural!"
But Peter, walking home in the bright afternoon sunlight, for the
first time in his life felt young and free and happy. He wanted to
laugh, to sing, to shout, to skip. Emma Campbell was just bringing
the washed-and-dried dinner dishes back into the dining-room when he
"Emma," said he, sticking his thumbs into the armholes of his
waistcoat, and beaming at her, "Emma, I'm out of a job. Kicked out
neck and crop. Fired, thank God!"
Emma stacked her dishes on the old deal dresser.
"I sure am. And, Emma, listen. I--I'm sort of waked up. Even if
things shouldn't turn out as I hope they will, I'll manage to go
ahead, somehow. I'd get out, now, under any circumstances. Pike's
Peak or bust!" said Peter.
"When you 'speck to go?"
"Just as soon as I can get out. I'm expected in New York within ten
days at the latest. And then, Emma, the wide world! No more
little-town tittle-tattle! All I've got to do, in the big world, is
to deliver the goods. And I'm going to deliver the goods!" said
But Emma Campbell put her grizzled head on the dining-room table and
began to cry.
"I nussed you w'en you had de croup en de colic. I used to tromp up
en down dis same no' wid you 'crost my shoulder. It was me dressed
Miss Maria de day she married wid yo' pa, en it was me dressed 'er
for de coffin. You en me been stannin' togedder ever sence. How I
gwine stan' by my alonese 'f now? I ole now, Mist' Peter."
"Emma," said Peter, after a pause, "tell me exactly what you want me
to do for you and if I can I'll do it."
"I wants to go wid you. I jes' natchelly ain't gwine stay 'yuh by my
alonese 'f," wept Emma.
Peter looked at her with the sort of tenderness one must be born in
the South to understand. Born in the last years of slavery, brought
up in wild Reconstruction days, Emma couldn't read or write. She
wasn't amenable to discipline. She was, as Cassius had complained,
"so contrary she mus' be 'flicted wid de moonness." She wore a
rabbit foot and a conjure bag and believed in ha'nts and hoodoos.
But, as far back as he could remember, Emma Campbell had formed a
large part of the background of his life. He wondered just what he
would have done if it hadn't been for Emma, after his mother's
death. There slid into his mind the picture of a shabby youngster
weeping over a cheap green-and-gold Collection of Poetic Gems; and
he reached over and laid a brown hand upon a black one.
"Well, and why not?" mused Peter. "You stood by me when I hadn't any
money; why should you leave me the minute I get it? But are you sure
you really want to go along, Emma? I'm going into a foreign country,
remember. You won't be able to understand a word anybody says.
You'll be a mighty lonesome old nigger over there."
"I can talk wid my cat, can't I?"
"Holy Moses! What, the cat, too?" Peter ran his hands through his
"Whah you goes, I goes. En whah I goes, dat cat goes. Dat cat 's
"Oh, all right," said Peter, resignedly. After all, Emma Campbell
and the cat _were_ all the folks he had.
He went to Charleston the next morning, in accordance with the
instructions his uncle had given him in their last talk, and the
bank at which he presented himself treated him with distinguished
consideration. Peter heard for the first time the dulcet accents of
Like Mr. Wilfer in "Our Mutual Friend," Peter had never had
everything all together all at once. When he had a suit his shoes
were shabby, and when it got around to shoes his coat was shiny in
the seams and his hat of last year's vintage. He was boyishly
delighted to buy at one time all that he wanted, but as
made-to-order clothes were altogether outside of his reckoning as
yet, he bought ready-made. His taste was too simple to be
essentially bad, but you knew he was a country boy in store clothes
and a made tie.
He had never been in Charleston before, and he reveled in the
ineluctable charm of the lovely old town. No South Carolinian is
ever disappointed in Charleston. Peter thought the city resembled
one of her own old ladies, a dear dignified gentlewoman in reduced
circumstances, in a worn silk gown and a mended lace cap and a cameo
brooch. It might be against the old gentlewoman's religious
convictions to bestow undue care upon her personal appearance, but
hers was a venerable, unforgetable, and most beautiful old face for
all that, and perhaps because of it. She knew that the kingdom of
God is within; and being sure of that, she was sure of herself,
serene, unpainted, unpretentious.
Peter wandered by old walled gardens in which were set wrought-iron
gates that allowed the passer-by a glimpse of greenery and flowers,
but prevented encroachments upon family privacy. Every now and then
a curving balustrade, a gable, a window, or an old doorway of
surpassing charm made his fingers itch for pencil and paper. He
reflected, without bitterness, that the doors of every one of these
fine old houses had on a time opened almost automatically to a
Champneys. Some of these folk were kith and kin, as his mother had
remembered and they, perhaps, had forgotten. This didn't worry him
in the least: the real interest the houses had for Peter was that
this one had a picturesque garden gate, that one a door with a
fan-light he'd like to sketch.
He climbed St. Michael's belfry stairway and looked over the city,
and toward the sea; and later wandered through its historic
churchyard. One very simple memorial held him longest, because it is
the only one of its kind among all those records of state honor and
family pride, and seems rather to belong to the antique Greek and
Roman world which accepted death as the final fact, than to a
born in this province
29th May 1690
Died 26th April 1774
In the 84th year of her age.
How lovd how valu'd once avails Thee not
To whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of Thee.
That covered the Champneyses, too. To whom related or by whom begot,
a heap of dust alone remained of them. So much for all human pride!
Peter left St. Michael's dead to slumber in peace, and walked for
an hour on the Battery, and in Legare Street, where life is
brightest in the old city. All good Charlestonians think that after
the final resurrection there may be a new heaven and a new earth for
others, but for themselves a house in Legare Street or on the
Peter presently reappeared in Riverton, discreetly clad in his
customary clothes, the habits of thrift being yet so firmly
ingrained in him that he couldn't easily wear his best clothes on a
"Peter! You Peter Champneys! Look here a minute, will you?" Mrs.
Beach called, as he was passing her house.
Peter stopped. His smiling countenance somewhat astonished Mrs.
"Peter, I've heard about Sam Humphreys firing you on account of me
getting mad at you about that muzzle. Now, while I know in my heart
you'd have been fired about something or other, sooner or later, I
do wish to my Lord it hadn't been on account of me. Not that I don't
think you're an impudent young rapscallion, that never sets his nose
inside a church door, and insults old women with muzzles. But I knew
your mother well, and I wish it wasn't on account of me Sam
Humphreys discharged you." There was real feeling in the testy old
lady's face and voice.
"Don't you bother your head about it one minute more, Mrs. Beach.
All I'm sorry for is that I appeared to be impertinent to you, when
I hadn't any such notion. I was thinking about something else at
the time. So you'll just have to forgive me."
"I do," said the old lady, mollified. After all, Maria Champneys's
boy couldn't be altogether trifling! "Is what I hear true, that
you're going away from Riverton? Folks say you've got a job in the
"Yes 'm, I'm going away."
"I reckon it's just as well. You'll do better away from Riverton.
You'll have to."
"Yes 'm, I'll have to," agreed Peter. He held out his hand, and the
old lady found herself wringing it, and wishing him good luck.
At home he found Emma Campbell carefully packing up all the
worthless plunder it had taken her many years to collect. When he
had heartlessly rejected all she didn't need, she had one small
trunk and a venerable carpet-bag. Everything else was nailed up. The
house itself was to be looked after by the town marshal, who was
also the town real-estate agent. Peter was very vague as to his
No railroad runs through Riverton, but the river steamers come and
go daily, the town usually quitting work to foregather at the pier
to welcome coming and speed departing travelers. All Riverton made
it a point to be on hand the morning Peter Champneys left home to
seek his fortune.
Peter never did anything like anybody else. There was always some
diverting bit of individual lunacy to make his proceedings
interesting. This morning Riverton discovered that Emma Campbell was
going away, too. Emma appeared in a black cashmere dress, a
blue-and-white checked gingham apron on which a basket of flowers
was embroidered in red cross-stitch, and a white bandana
handkerchief wound around her head under a respectable black sailor
hat. She carried a large, square cage that had once housed a
mocking-bird, and now held the Champneys big black cat. Laughter and
delighted comments greeted the bird-cage, and her carpet-bag
received almost as much attention and applause. Riverton hadn't seen
a bag like that since Reconstruction, and it made the most of its
"Emma! Aren't you afraid you'll let the cat out of the bag?"
Emma remained haughtily silent.
"Emma, where you-all goin'?"
"We-all gwine whah we gwine, dat 's whah we gwine." This from Emma,
"What you goin' to do when you get there?" persisted the wag.
"Who, us? We gwine do whut you-all ain't know how to do: we gwine
min' our own business," said Emma, politely.
"Good-by, Peter! Don't set the world on fire, old scout!"
When the boat turned the bend in the river that hid the small town
of his birth from his view, Peter felt shaken as he had never
thought to be. Good-by, little home town, where the slings and
arrows of outrageous fortune had rained upon him!
The boat swung into a side channel to escape a sand-bar. She was in
deep water, but very close to the shore, so close that he could see
the leaves on the trees quivering and shimmering in the river breeze
and the late summer sunlight. Over there, as the crow flies, lay the
River Swamp, and Neptune's gray, deserted cabin. They had been his
refuge. No other place, no other woods in all the world could quite
take their place, or be like them. And he knew there would be many a
day when he must ache with homesick longing for the coast country,
for the tide-water, and the jessamines, and the moon above the
pines, and the scent of the bay in flower on summer nights. The
world was opening her wide spaces. But the Carolina coast was
"I wish," said Peter, and his chin quivered, "I wish there were some
one thing that typified you, something of you I could take with me
wherever I go. I wish you had a spirit I could see, and know."
Out from the shore-line, where the earliest golden-rod was just
beginning to show that it intended to blossom by and by, and the
ironweed was purple, and the wild carrot was white and lacy, and the
orange-red milkweed was about ready to close her house for the
season, came fluttering with a quick, bold sureness the gallantest
craft of all the fairy sail-boats of the sky, hovered for a bright
second over the steamer's rail, and scudded for the other shore.
Peter Champneys straightened his shoulders. Youth and courage and
hope flashed into his wistful face, and brightened his eyes that
followed the Red Admiral.
It wasn't a pleasant house, being of a dingy, bilious-yellow
complexion, with narrow window eyes, and a mean slit of a doorway
for a mouth; not sinister, but common, stupid, and uninteresting. If
one should happen to be a house-psychologist, one would know that
behind the Nottingham lace curtains looped back with soiled red
ribbons, was all the tawdry, horrible junk that clutters such
houses, even as mental junk clutters the minds of the people who
have to live in them. One knew that the people who dwelt in that
house didn't know how to live, how to think, or how to cook; and
that if by any chance a larger life, a real thought, or a bit of
good cooking confronted them, they would probably reject it with
The elderly gentleman in white linen who made acquaintance with this
particular house on a very sultry noon in early August, hesitated
before he rang the bell. He glanced over his shoulder at the hot,
dusty street where a swarm of hot, dusty children were shrilling and
shrieking, or staring at him round-eyed, dived into his pockets,
fished up a handful of small change, whistled to insure their
greater attention, and flung the coin among them. While they were
snatching at the money like a flock of pigeons over a handful of
grain, the elderly gentleman rang the bell. He could hear it
jangling through the house, but it brought no immediate response.
After a decent interval he rang again. This time the door was jerked
open, and a girl in a bungalow apron, upon which she was wiping her
hands, confronted him. She was a very young girl, a very hot, tired,
perspiring, and sullen girl, fresh from a broiling kitchen and a
She looked at the caller suspiciously, her glance racing over his
linen suit, his white shoes, the Panama hat in his hand. She was
puzzled, for plainly this wasn't the usual applicant for board and
lodging. Perhaps, then, he was a successful house-to-house agent for
some indispensable necessity--say an ice-pick that would pull nails,
open a can, and peel potatoes. Or maybe a religious book agent. She
rather suspected him of wanting to sell her Biblical Prophecies
Elucidated by a Chicago Seer, or something like that. Or, stay:
perhaps he was a church scout sent out to round up stray souls.
Whatever he might be, she was bitterly resentful of having been
taken from the thick of her work to answer his ring. She wasn't
interested in her soul, her hot and tired body being a much more
immediate concern. Heaven is far off, and hell has no terrors and
less interest for a girl immured in a red-hot kitchen in a Middle
Western town in the dog-days.
"If it's a Bible, we got one. If it's sewin'-machines, we ain't,
but don't. If it's savin' our souls, we belong to church reg'lar an'
ain't interested. If it's explainin' God, nothin' doin'! An' if it's
tack-pullers with nail-files an' corkscrews on 'em, you can save
your breath," said the girl rapidly, in a heated voice, and with a
half-dry hand on the door-knob.
Mr. Chadwick Champneys's long, drooping mustache came up under his
nose, and his bushy eyebrows twitched.
"I am not trying to sell anything," he said hurriedly, in order to
prevent her from shutting the door in his face, which was her
She said impatiently: "If you're collectin', this ain't our day for
payin', an' you got to call again. Come next week, on Tuesday. Or
maybe Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Sattiday." The door began
He inserted a desperate foot.
"I wish to see Miss Simms--Miss Anne, or Nancy Simms. My information
is that she lives in this house. I should have stated my errand at
once, had I been allowed to do so." He looked at the girl
Before she could reply, a female voice from a back region rose
"Nancy! You Nancy! What in creation you mean, gassin' this hour o'
day when them biscuits is burnin' up in the oven? Send that feller
about his business, whatever it is, and you come tend to yours!"
The girl hesitated, and frowned.
"If you come to see Anne Simms, same as Nancy Simms, I'm her--I
mean, she's me," said she, hurriedly. "I got no time to talk with
you now, Mister, but you can wait in the parlor until I dish up
dinner, and whilst they're eatin' I'll have time to run up and see
what you want. Is it partic'ler?"
"Come on in an' wait, then."
"Nancy! You want I should come up there after you? Oh, my stars, an'
that girl _knows_ how partic'ler Poppa is about his biscuits; they
gotta be jest so or he won't look at 'em, an' her gassin' and him
likely to raise the roof!" screamed the voice.
"Oh, shut up! I'm comin'," bawled the girl in reply. "You better sit
over there by the winder, Mister," she told her visitor, hastily.
"There's a breeze there, maybe. You'll find to-day's paper an' a fan
on the table." She vanished, and he could hear her running
kitchenward, and the shrieking voice subsiding into a whine.
Mr. Chadwick Champneys slumped limply into a chair. Everything he
looked at added to his sense of astonishment and unease.
The outside of the house hadn't lied: the inside matched it. Mr.
Champneys found himself staring and being stared at by the usual
crayon portraits of defunct members of the family,--at least he
hoped they were defunct,--the man with a long mule face and neck
whiskers; and opposite him his spouse, with her hair worn like
mustard-plasters on the skull. "Male and female created He them."
Placed so that you had to see it the moment you entered the
door, on a white-and-gold easel draped with a silkoline scarf
trimmed with pink crocheted wheels, was a virulently colored
landscape with a house of unknown architecture in the foreground,
and mother-of-pearl puddles outside the gate. Mr. Champneys
studied those mother-of-pearl puddles gravely. They hurt his
feelings. So did the ornate golden-oak parlor set upholstered in
red plush; and the rug on the floor, in which colors fought like
Kilkenny cats; and a pink vase with large purple plums bunched on
it; and the figured wall-paper, and the unclean lace curtains,
and the mantel loaded with sorry plunder, and the clothespin
butterflies, the tissue-paper parasols, and the cheap fans tacked
to the walls. It was a hot and dusty room. The smell of bad
cooking, of countless miserable meals eaten by men whose
digestion they would ruin, clung to it and would not be gainsaid.
Mr. Champneys thought the best thing that could happen to such
houses would be a fire beginning in the cellar and ending at the
His mind went back to another house--an old white house in South
Carolina, set in spacious grounds, with high-ceilinged, cool, large
rooms filled with fine old furniture, a few pictures, glimpses of
brass and silver, large windows opening upon lawns and trees and
shrubs and flowers, a flash of blue river, a vista of green marshes
melting into the cobalt sky. A stately, lovely, leisurely old house,
typifying the stately, leisurely life that had called it into being;
both gone irrevocably into the past. He sighed.
He looked about this atrocious room, and his jaw hardened. This,
for Milly's niece! Poor girl, poor friendless girl! He had known, of
course, that the girl was poor. He and Milly had been poor, too.
But, oh, never like this! This was being poor sordidly, vulgarly.
He had seen and suffered enough in his time to realize how
soul-murdering this environment might be to one who knew nothing
better. He himself had had the memory of the old house in which he
was born, and of low-voiced, gentle-mannered men and women; he had
had his fine traditions to which to hold fast. He reflected that he
would have a great deal to make up for to Nancy Simms!
The noon whistle had blown. People had begun to come in, men whose
first movement on entering was to peel off collars and coats. They
barely glanced at the quiet, white-clad figure as they passed the
open parlor door, but stampeded for the basement dining-room. Mr.
Champneys could hear the scraping of chairs, the rattling of dishes,
the hum of loud conversation; then the steady clatter of knives and
forks, and a dull, subdued murmur. Dinner was in full swing, a
dinner of which boiled cabbage must have formed the _piece de
Came a hurried footstep, and Nancy Simms entered the room. He was
sitting with his back to the window; she sank into the chair
fronting him, so that the light fell full upon her.
She was strong and well-muscled, as one could see under the
enveloping apron. Her hands bore the marks of dish-washing and
clothes-washing and floor-scrubbing and sweeping. They were shapely
enough hands, even if red and calloused. The foot in the worn,
down-at-the-heels shoe was a good foot, with a fine arch; and the
throat rising from the checked gingham apron was full and strong;
her face was prettily shaped, if one was observant enough to notice
She was not pretty; not even pleasant. Her discontented face was
liberally peppered with the sort of freckles that accompany red and
rebellious hair; her mouth was hard, the lips pressed tightly
together. Under dark, uncared-for eyebrows were grayish-green eyes,
their expression made unfriendly by her habit of narrowing them. She
had good teeth and a round chin, and her nose would have passed
muster anywhere, save for the fact that it, too, was freckled.
Unfortunately, one didn't have time to admire her good points; one
said at first sight of her, "Good heavens, what a disagreeable
girl!" And then: "Bless me, I've _never_ seen so many perfectly
unnecessary freckles and so much fighting-red hair on one girl!"
"You'll hafta hurry," she admonished him, fanning herself vigorously
with a folded newspaper. She wiped her perspiring face on her arm,
tilted back her chair, revealing undarned stockings, and waited for
him to explain himself.
He handed her his card, and at the name Champneys a faint interest
showed in her face.
"I had a aunt married a feller by that name," she volunteered. "Was
you wishin' to find out somethin' about him or Aunt Milly? Because
if so I don't know nothin' about him, nor yet her. I never set eyes
on neither of 'em."
"I am your Aunt Milly's husband," he told her. "And I have come to
find out something about _you_."
"It's took you a long time to find your way, ain't it?" Her manner
was not cordial.
"We will waive that," said he, composedly. "I _am_ here, and my
visit concerns yourself. To begin with, do you like living with your
mother's step-sister? That is her relationship to your mother and to
my wife, I believe?"
"No: I don't like livin' with no step-aunt, though she ain't that,
bein' further off: an' no real kin. If you want to know why I don't
like it, it's all work an' no pay, that's why. First off, when I was
too little to do anything else, I minded the children an' run
errands an' washed doilies an' towels an' stockin's an' sich, an'
set table an' cleared table an' washed dishes an' made beds an'
emptied slops. Then I helped cook. Now I cook. Along with plenty
other things. How'd you like it yourself?" Her tone was suddenly
fierce. The fierceness of a strong and young creature in galling
His wandering life had given him an insight into such conditions and
situations; and once or twice he had seen orphan children raised in
homes where they "helped out." Chattel slavery is easier by
comparison and pleasanter in reality.
Before he could answer, "Nan-cy! You Nan-cy! Come on here an' set
them pie-plates! My Gawd! that girl's goin' to run me ravin' crazy,
tryin' to keep her on her job! Nancy!"
Nancy looked at Mr. Champneys speculatively.
"Is what you got to say worth me tellin' her to set them plates
herself?" she asked.
"Well worth it," said Mr. Champneys, emphatically.
She jumped for the door with cat-like quickness. Also, she lifted
her voice with cat-like ferocity.
"I'm busy! I can't co-ome. Set 'em yourself!"
"Can't come! What you doin'?" shrieked the other voice.
"I'm entertainin' comp'ny in the parler, that's what I'm doin'! It's
somebody come to see _me_. An' I'm goin' to wait right here till I
find out what they come _for_!"
On the heels of that, Nancy slammed the parlor door, and sat down.
"Now say what you got to say, an' don't waste no time askin' if I'm
stuck on livin' here with somethin' like that!"
"You wish, then, to leave your aunt?"
"She ain't no aunt of mine, I tell you. She ain't nothin' but my
mother's stepfather's daughter by his first wife. Sure I want to
leave her. She took me because she needed a servant she didn't have
to pay reg'lar wages to. I don't owe her nothin'. Nor him, neither.
He's worse 'n her."
"They are not kind to you?"
"No, they ain't what you'd call kind to me. But you ain't come here
to talk about them, I take it. What was you wantin' to see me
"Suppose," said he, leaning forward, "that you should be offered, in
exchange for _this_," his gesture damned the whole room, "a
beautiful home, travel, culture, ease, all that makes life
beautiful; would that offer appeal to you?" He looked at her
"No housework, no cooking! Clothes made for me especial? Not
hand-me-downs an' left-overs? No kids to mind, neither day nor
"Housework? Old clothes? Minding children? Certainly not! I am not
hiring a servant! What are you thinking of?"
"I'm thinkin' of _me_, that's what I'm thinkin' of! I'm wearin' her
old clothes on Sundays now. I hate 'em. They look like her an' they
smell like her and they feel like her--mean an' ugly an' tight. If I
could ever get enough money o' my own together, an' enough
clothes--" she stopped, and looked at him with the sudden ferocity
that at times flashed out in her--"earned honest, though, and come
by respectable," said she, grimly, "then I'd get out o' here an' try
something else. I'm strong, an' if I had half a chanst I could earn
my livin' easy enough."
His jaw hardened. He couldn't blind himself to the fact that he was
disappointed in Milly's niece; so disappointed that he felt
physically sick. Had he been less fanatical, less obstinate, less
fixed upon his monomaniacal purpose, he would have settled a
sufficient sum upon her, and gone his way. His disappointment, so
far from turning him aside, hardened his determination to carry the
thing through. He had so acutely felt the lack of money himself,
that now, perhaps, he overestimated its power. Whatever money could
accomplish for this girl, money should do. The zeal of the reformer
gathered in him.
"I wish," he explained, "to adopt you--in a sense. I have no
children, and it is my desire that you should bear the Champneys
name--for your Aunt Milly's sake. I propose, then, to take you away
from these surroundings, and to educate you as a lady bearing the
name of Champneys should be educated. You will have to study, and to
work hard. You will have to obey orders instantly and implicitly. Do
you follow me?"
"As far as you go," said she, cautiously. "Go on: I'm waitin' to
"Aside from yourself, I have but one close relative, my brother's
son. You two, then, are to be my children."
"How old is he?"
"But if you got a real heir, where do I come in?" she wondered.
"Share and share alike. He's my nephew: you're Milly's niece."
She reflected, a puzzled frown coming to her forehead.
"You're aimin' to give us both a whole lot, ain't you? But I've
found out nobody don't get somethin' for nothin' in this world.
Where's the nigger in the woodpile? What do I do for what I get?"
"You make yourself worthy of the name you are to bear. You
place yourself unreservedly in the hands of those appointed to
instruct--and--ah--form you. Make no mistake on this head: it will
be far from easy for you."
"Nothin' 's ever been easy for me, first nor yet last," said Nancy
Simms. "So _that_ 's nothin' new to me. I want you should speak out
plain. What you really mean I'm to do?"
For a moment the iron-willed old man hesitated; he remembered young
Peter, eager, hopeful, crystal-clear young Peter, back there in
South Carolina. He looked challengingly and fiercely at the girl, as
if his bold will meant to seize upon her as upon a piece of clay and
mold it to his desire. Then, "I mean you're to marry," he said
"Me? Who to? You?" asked Nancy, blankly.
"_Me_!" gasped Mr. Champneys. "Are you demented?"
"Well, then, who?" she asked, not unnaturally. "And why?"
"The other heir. My nephew. Peter Champneys. Because such is my will
and intention," said he, peremptorily and haughtily, bending his
eagle-look upon her.
"What sort of a feller is he? He ain't got nothin' the matter with
him, has he?"
A wild desire to slap Milly's niece came upon Chadwick Champneys at
"He is my nephew!" he said haughtily. "Why on earth should he have
anything the matter with him?"
It occurred to him then that it mightn't be such an easy matter to
get a high-spirited young fellow, with ideals, to take on trust this
young female person with the red hair. He felt grateful that he had
exacted a promise from Peter. The Champneyses always kept their
"I'm wonderin'!" said Nancy, staring at him. "Why are you so bent on
him an' me marryin'? You say it's just because you want it, but that
ain't no explanation, nor yet no reason. After all, it's me. I got
the right to ask why, then, ain't I? You can't expect to walk in
unbeknownst an' tell a girl you want she should marry a feller she's
never laid eyes on, without bein' asked a few questions, can you?"
He knew he must try to make it clear to her, as he had tried to make
it clear to Peter. Peter, being Peter, had presently understood.
Whether this girl would understand remained to be seen.
"I wish you to marry, because, as I have already told you, you are
my wife's niece, and Peter is my brother's son. I have of late years
become possessed of--well, let's say a great deal of money, and I
propose that this money shall go to my own people--but on my own
conditions. These conditions being that it shall all be kept in the
Champneys name. It is an old name, a good name, it was once a
wealthy and an honored name. It must be made so again. I say, it
must be made so again! There are but you two to make it so. The boy
is the last, on my side; and you're Milly's. Milly must have her
share in the upbuilding--as if you were her child. Now, do you
"Good Lord! ain't you got funny notions, though! Who ever heard the
beat? One name's about as good as another, seems to me. But seein'
you've got the money to pay for your notions, them that's willin' to
take your money ought to be willin' to humor 'em." Nancy, in her
way, had what might be called a sense of ethics.
"Well, I just got to make a change, Mr. Champneys. I can't stand
this place no more. If I was to say 'No' to you, an' stay here, an'
have time to think it over, down in that sizzlin' kitchen, with her
squallin' at me all day, I'd end up in a padded cell. If I was to
leave just so, I'd maybe get me a job in a shop at less than I could
live on honest. You see?"
He nodded, and she went on somberly:
"So I'm most at the end of my tether. It's real curious you should
come just now, with me feelin' that desperate I been minded to walk
out anyhow an' risk things. You sure that feller ain't got nothin'
ails him? Not crazy, nor a dope, nor nothin'?"
"My nephew is perfectly normal in every respect," said Mr.
"What's he look like in the face?" she demanded. "Is he as ugly as
"He is a gentleman," said Peter's uncle, even more frigidly. "As to
his appearance, I believe he resembles me. At least, he looks like
what I used to look like."
"Well--I've seen worse," said she, and fetched a sigh.
A sudden thought struck him. "Perhaps," he suggested, making
allowance for the sentimentality of extreme youth, "perhaps you have
some notion about--er--ah--marrying for love, or something like
that? There may be some young fellow you think you fancy? Young
people in your--ah--that is, in the circumstances to which you
unfortunately have been subjected, often rush into ill-considered
"In _love_? Who, me? Who with, for Gawdsake? One feller means just
as much to me as another feller: they're all alike," said she,
contemptuously. "I just asked about him for--for references. You
know what you're gettin', an' I got a right to know what I'm
"You have: so please remember that you are getting a considerable
portion of the Champneys money for doing what you're told to do,"
"I never knew till you told me so that the Champneyses had any
money. But if it's there, I'm willing to do what I'm told, for my
share. Why not? There ain't nothin' better for me, nowheres, nohow."
"I am to understand, then, that you agree?"
"What else can I do but agree?" she asked, twisting a fold of her
The parlor door opened with violence; a thick-set man with a bald
head and a red face, followed by a shrewish, thin woman with pinched
lips, appeared on the threshold.
"I s'pose," said the woman, with elaborate courtesy, "we kin come
in our own parler, Miss Simms? Has you resigned your job that you
gotta pick out the parler to set in whilst I'm doin' your work for
Nancy's visitor rose, and at sight of the tall old gentleman an avid
curiosity appeared in both vulgar faces.
"Mr. Champneys, this is the lady an' gentleman I live with and work
for without wages, Mister an' Missis Baxter. Mister an' Missis
Baxter, this gentleman is Aunt Milly's husband, an' he's come to see
me; an' you ain't called to show off the manners you ain't got!"
"Well, why couldn't you say who he was at first, an' have done with
it?" grumbled the man. "But no, you gotta upset the whole house!
She's the provokin'est piece o' flesh on the created earth, when she
starts," he explained to the visitor.
"To aggravate an' torment them that's raised her an' kept her out of
the asylum an' fed an' clothed an' learned her like a daughter, is
what Nancy Simms 'd rather do than eat an' drink," supplemented Mrs.
Nancy snorted. Mr. Champneys said nothing.
"Well! An' so you're poor Milly's husband!" said the woman, staring
at him. "You wasn't so awful anxious to find out nothin' about her
kith an' kin, was you? Not that I'm any kin," she added, hastily.
"When all's said an' done, Nancy ain't no real kin, neither. You an'
her's only connected by marriage, but bein' as you have come at
last, I hope she'll have more gratefulness to you than she's got for
_me_. As you ain't never done nothin' by her, an' I have, she's sure
"You make me so sick!" Nancy, with her hands on her hips, glared at
the pair. "Anything you ever done for me you paid yourself for
double. If you don't owe me nothin', like you said this mornin', I
don't owe you nothin', neither, so it's quits. You'd oughta be glad
"Goin'? Who's goin'? Goin' where?" Mrs. Baxter's voice rose shrilly.
"Now, ain't it always so? You take a orphan child to your bosom an'
after many days it'll grow up like a viper, an' the minute your back
's turned it'll spit in your face!"
"Goin', hey? Where you goin' to when you go?" demanded Mr. Baxter,
"She is going with me," said Mr. Champneys. The whole situation
nauseated him; he felt that if he didn't escape from that red-plush
parlor very soon, he was going to be violently sick. "I am now in a
position to look after my wife's niece, and I propose to do so. From
what I have heard from you both, I should think you would be rather
glad than sorry to part with her."
"You won't gain nothin' by raisin' a row," put in Nancy, in a hard
voice. "I'm goin'. Make up your minds to _that_."
"Oh, you are, are you, Miss Simms? That's all the thanks I mighta
expected from you, you red-headed freckle-face! I sure hope he'll
get his fill of you before he's done! Walkin' off like a nigger
without a minute's notice, an' me with my house full of men comin'
to their meals they've paid for an' has to have!"
"Hire another nigger an' pay 'em somethin', so's they won't quit
without notice, then," suggested the girl, unfeelingly.
"How you know this feller's Milly Champneys's husband?" asked Mr.
Baxter. "Who's to prove it?"
Nancy looked at him and laughed. But Milly Champneys's husband said
hastily: "Let us go, for God's sake! If there's a telephone here,
ring for a cab or a taxi. How soon can you be ready?"
"I can walk out bag and baggage in ten minutes," she replied, and
darted from the room.
The South Carolina Don Quixote looked at the sordid, angry pair
before him. He felt like one in an evil dream, a dream that degraded
him, and Milly's memory, and Milly's niece.
"If you wish to make any inquiries, I shall be at the Palace Hotel
until this evening," he told them. "And--would a hundred dollars
soothe your feelings?"
The woman's eyes slitted; the man's bulged.
"You musta come by money since Milly died," said Mrs. Baxter. "Yes,
sure we'll take the hundred. We ain't refusin' money. It's little
enough, too, considerin' all I done for that girl!"
Mr. Champneys counted out ten crisp bills into the greedy hand, and
the three waited silently until Nancy appeared. Champneys almost
screamed at sight of her. His heart sank like lead, and the task he
had set for himself of a sudden assumed monumental proportions.
"I ain't took nothin' out of this house but the few things belongin'
to my mother. You're welcome to the rest," she told the woman,
briefly. The man she ignored altogether.
A cab rattled up to the door. In silence the aristocratic old man in
white linen, and the red-headed girl in a cheap embroidered
shirt-waist, a dark, shabby skirt, and a hat that was an outrage on
millinery, climbed in. There were no farewells. The girl settled
back, clutching her hand-satchel. "Giddap," said the driver, and
cracked his whip. The cab rolled away from the dingy, smelly house,
and turned a corner. So rode Nancy Simms out of her old life into
her new one.
When Mr. Chadwick Champneys had visualized to himself Milly's niece,
it had always been in Milly's image and likeness--sweet, fair,
brave, merry, gentle, and strong. Milly's niece, of course, would be
companionable. He would only have to put upon her the finishing
touches, so to speak, embellish her natural graces with a finer
social polish. At the very worst, he hadn't dreamed that anybody
belonging to Milly could be like this red-headed Nancy. Perhaps,
though, she would be less objectionable when she was properly clad.
"Drive to the best department store in town," he told the driver,
Once in the store he summoned the manager and briefly stated his
needs. The young lady must be furnished with everything she needed,
and as quickly as possible. She needed, it appeared, about
everything. The shrewd young Jew looked her over with his trained
"Should you prefer our Miss Smith to proffer aid and advice? Miss
Smith is an expert."
Mr. Champneys reacted almost with terror against Nancy Simms's
"See that the young lady gets the best you have; and make Miss
Smith the final authority," he said, briefly.
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