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The Cromptons
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POPULAR NOVELS

BY

MRS. MARY J. HOLMES.

TEMPEST AND SUNSHINE. DARKNESS AND DAYLIGHTS. ENGLISH ORPHANS. HUGH WORTHINGTON. HOMESTEAD ON HILLSIDE. CAMERON PRIDE. 'LENA RIVERS. ROSE MATHER. MEADOW BROOK. ETHELYN'S MISTAKE. DORA DEANE. MILBANK. COUSIN MAUDE. EDNA BROWNING. MARIAN GREY. WEST LAWN. EDITH LYLE. MILDRED. DAISY THORNTON. FOREST HOUSE. CHATEAU D'OR. MADELINE. QUEENIE HETHERTON. CHRISTMAS STORIES. BESSIE'S FORTUNE. GRETCHEN. MARGUERITE. DR. HATHERN'S DAUGHTERS. MRS. HALLAM'S COMPANION. PAUL RALSTON. THE TRACY DIAMONDS. THE CROMPTONS. (NEW)



"Mrs. Holmes is a peculiarly pleasant and fascinating writer. Her books are always entertaining, and she has the rare faculty of enlisting the sympathy and affections of her readers, and of holding their attention to her pages with deep and absorbing interest."

Handsomely bound in cloth. Price, $1.00 each, and sent free by mail on receipt of price.

G.W. Dillingham Co., Publishers, NEW YORK.



The Cromptons

BY

MARY J. HOLMES

G.W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK

COPYRIGHT 1899, 1901,

By MRS. MARY J. HOLMES.

All rights reserved.

The Cromptons. Issued August, 1902.



CONTENTS

PART I

CHAPTER PAGE

I. THE STRANGER AT THE BROCK HOUSE 9

II. THE PALMETTO CLEARING 20

III. THE INTERVIEW 32

IV. HOPING AND WAITING 44

V. MISS DORY 48

VI. THE SERVICES 58

VII. COL. CROMPTON 66

VIII. THE CHILD OF THE CLEARING 80

IX. THE COLONEL AND JAKE 88

X. EUDORA 102

PART II

I. HOWARD CROMPTON TO JACK HARCOURT 115

II. JACK HARCOURT TO HOWARD CROMPTON 122

III. ELOISE 127

IV. THE ACCIDENT 139

V. AMY 149

VI. AT MRS. BIGGS'S 160

VII. RUBY ANN PATRICK 178

VIII. MRS. BIGGS'S REMINISCENCES 189

IX. LETTER FROM REV. CHARLES MASON 199

X. PART SECOND OF REV. MR. MASON'S LETTER 211

XI. SUNDAY CALLS 218

XII. THE MARCH OF EVENTS 227

XIII. GETTING READY FOR THE RUMMAGE SALE 242

XIV. THE FIRST SALE 256

XV. AT THE RUMMAGE 261

XVI. THE AUCTION 271

PART III

I. THE BEGINNING OF THE END 285

II. THE LITTLE RED CLOAK 294

III. ELOISE AT THE CROMPTON HOUSE 304

IV. THE SHADOW OF DEATH 315

V. LOOKING FOR A WILL 323

VI. IN FLORIDA 336

VII. IN THE PALMETTO CLEARING 342

VIII. THE LITTLE HAIR TRUNK 350

IX. WHAT HOWARD FOUND 362

X. HOWARD'S TEMPTATION 371

XI. CONCLUSION 379



Illustrations:

"Here by this grave I promise all you ask."



THE CROMPTONS



PART I



CHAPTER I

THE STRANGER AT THE BROCK HOUSE

The steamer "Hatty" which plied between Jacksonville and Enterprise was late, and the people who had come down from the Brock House to the landing had waited half an hour before a puff of smoke in the distance told that she was coming. There had been many conjectures as to the cause of the delay, for she was usually on time, and those who had friends on the boat were growing nervous, fearing an accident, and all were getting tired, when she appeared in the distance, the puffs of smoke increasing in volume as she drew nearer, and the sound of her whistle echoing across the water, which at Enterprise spreads out into a lake. She had not met with an accident, but had been detained at Palatka waiting for a passenger of whom the captain had been apprised.

"He may be a trifle late, but if he is, wait. He must take your boat," Tom Hardy had said to the captain when engaging passage for his friend, and Tom Hardy was not one whose wishes were often disregarded. "Them Hardys does more business with me in one year than ten other families and I can't go agin Tom, and if he says wait for his friend, why, there's nothing to do but wait," the captain said, as he walked up and down in front of his boat, growing more and more impatient, until at last as he was beginning to swear he'd wait no longer for all the Hardys in Christendom, two men came slowly towards the landing, talking earnestly and not seeming to be in the least hurry, although the "Hatty" began to scream herself hoarse as if frantic to be gone.

"How d'ye, Cap," Tom said, in his easy, off-hand way. "Hope we haven't kept you long. This is my friend I told you about. I suppose his berth is ready?"

He did not tell the name of his friend, who, as if loath to cross the plank, held back for a few more words. Tom gave him a little push at last, and said, "Good-bye, you really must go. Success to you, but don't for a moment think of carrying out that quixotic plan you first mentioned. Better jump into the river. Good-bye!"

The plank was crossed and pulled in, and a mulatto boy came forward to take the stranger's bag and pilot him to his stateroom, which opened from what was called the ladies' parlor. Coiled up in a corner on the deck was a bundle of something which stirred as they came near to it, and began to turn over, making the stranger start with a slight exclamation.

"Doan you be skeert, sar," the boy said, "dat's nottin' but Mandy Ann, an onery nigger what b'longs to ole Miss Harris in de clarin' up ter Ent'prise. She's been hired out a spell in Jacksonville,—nuss to a little gal, and now she's gwine home. Miss Dory done sent for her, 'case Jake is gone and ole Miss is wus,—never was very peart," and turning to the girl the boy Ted continued: "You Mandy Ann, doan you know more manners not to skeer a gemman, rollin' round like a punkin? Get back wid yer."

He spurned the bundle with his foot, while the stranger stopped suddenly, as if a blow had been struck him.

"Who did you say she was? To whom does she belong, I mean?" he asked, and the boy replied, "Mandy Ann, a no count nigger, b'longs to Miss Harris. Poor white trash! Crackers! Dis your stateroom, sar. Kin I do somethin' for you?"

The boy's head was held high, indicative of his opinion of poor white trash and Crackers in general, and Mandy Ann in particular.

"No, thanks," the stranger said, taking his bag and shutting himself into his stuffy little stateroom.

"'Specs he's from de Norf; looks like it, an' dey allus askin' who we 'longs to. In course we 'longs to somebody. We has ter," Ted thought, as he made his way back to Mandy Ann, who was wide-awake and ready for any war of words which might come up between herself and Ted, "who felt mighty smart 'case he was cabin boy on de 'Hatty.'"

As Ted suspected, the stranger was of Northern birth, which showed itself in his accent and cold, proud bearing. He might have been thirty, and he might have been more. His face did not show his age. His features were regular, and his complexion pale as a woman's. His eyes were a cross between blue and gray, with a look in them which made you feel that they were reading your inmost secrets, and you involuntarily turned away when they were fixed upon you. On this occasion he seemed colder and prouder than usual, as he seated himself upon the stool in his stateroom and looked about him,—not at any thing that was there, for he did not see it, or think how small and uncomfortable his quarters were, although recommended as one of the staterooms de luxe on the boat. His thoughts were outside, first on Mandy Ann,—not because of anything about her personally. He had seen nothing except a woolly head, a dark blue dress, and two black, bare feet and ankles, but because she was Mandy Ann, bound slave of "ole Miss Harris, who lived in de clarin'," and for that reason she connected him with something from which he shrank with an indescribable loathing. At last he concluded to try the narrow berth, but finding it too hard and too short went out upon the rear deck, and taking a chair where he would be most out of the way and screened from observation, he sat until the moon went down behind a clump of palms, and the stars paled in the light of the sun which shone down upon the beautiful river and the tangled mass of shrubbery and undergrowth on either side of it.

At last the passengers began to appear one by one, with their cheery how dye's and good mornings, and curious glances at this stranger in their midst, who, although with them, did not seem to be one of them. They were all Southerners and inclined to be friendly, but nothing in the stranger's attitude invited sociability. He was looking off upon the water in the direction from which they had come, and never turned his head in response to the loud shouts, when an alligator was seen lying upon the shore, or a big turtle was sunning itself on a log. He was a Northerner, they knew from his general make-up, and a friend of Tom Hardy, the captain said, when questioned with regard to him. This last was sufficient to atone for any proclivities he might have antagonistic to the South. Tom Hardy, although living in Georgia, was well known in Florida. To be his friend was to be somebody; and two or three attempts at conversation were made in the course of the morning. One man, bolder than the rest, told him it was a fine day and a fine trip, but that the "Hatty" was getting a little too passee for real comfort. At the word passee the stranger looked up with something like interest, and admitted that the boat was passee, and the day fine, and the trip, too. A cigar was next offered, but politely declined, and then the attempt at an acquaintance ceased on the part of the first to make it. Later on an old Georgian planter, garrulous and good-humored, swore he'd find out what stuff the Yankee was made of, and why he was down there where few of his kind ever came. His first move was the offer of tobacco, with the words: "How d'ye, sir? Have a chew?"

The stranger's head went up a little higher than its wont, and the proud look on the pale face deepened as he declined the tobacco civilly, as he had the cigar.

"Wall, now, don't chew tobacky? You lose a good deal. I couldn't live without it. Sorter soothin', an' keeps my jaws goin', and when I'm so full of vim,—mad, you know,—that I'm fit to bust, why, I spit and spit,—backy juice in course,—till I spit it all out," the Georgian said, taking an immense chew, and sitting down by the stranger, who gave no sign that he knew of his proximity, but still kept his eyes on the river as if absorbed in the scenery.

The Georgian was not to be easily rebuffed. Crossing his legs and planting his big hat on his knees, he went on:

"You are from the North, I calculate?"

"Yes."

"I thought so. We can mostly tell 'em. From Boston, I reckon?"

"No."

"New York, mabby? No? Chicago? No? Wall, where in—" the Georgian stopped, checked by a look in the bluish-gray eyes which seldom failed in its effect.

Evidently the stranger didn't choose to tell where he lived, but the Georgian, though somewhat subdued, was not wholly silenced, and he continued: "Ever in Florida before?"

"No."

"Wall, I s'pose you're takin' a little pleasure trip like the rest of us?"

To this there was no response, the stranger thinking with bitterness that his trip was anything but one of pleasure. There was still one chord left to pull and that was Tom Hardy, who in a way was voucher for this interloper, and the Georgian's next question was: "Do you know Tom well?"

"Do you mean, Mr. Hardy?" the stranger asked, and the Georgian replied. "In course, but I allus calls him Tom. Have known him since he wore gowns. My plantation jines old man Hardy's."

There was no doubt, now, that the stranger was interested, and had his companion been a close observer he would have seen the kindling light in his eyes, and the spots of red beginning to show on his face. Whether to talk or not was a question in his mind. Cowardice prompted him to remain silent, and something which defied silence prompted him at last to talk.

"I was with Mr. Thomas Hardy in college," he said, "and I have visited him in his home. He is my best friend."

"To-be-sure!" the Georgian said, hitching nearer to the stranger, as if there was a bond of relationship between them.

The man had given no inkling of the date of his visit, and as it was some years since Tom was graduated the Georgian did not dream of associating the visit with a few weeks before, when he had heard that a high buck was at old man Hardy's and with Tom was painting the neighborhood red and scandalizing some of the more sober citizens with his excesses. This quiet stranger with the proud face and hard eyes never helped paint anything. It was somebody else, whose name he had forgotten, but of whom he went on to speak in not very complimentary terms.

"A high buck, I never happened to see squar in the face," he said. "Had glimpses of him in the distance ridin' ole man Hardy's sorrel, like he was crazy, and oncet reelin' in the saddle. Yes, sar, reelin', as if he'd took too much. I b'lieve in a drink when you are dry, but Lord land, whar's the sense of reelin'? I don't see it, do you?"

The stranger said he didn't and the Georgian went on, now in a lower, confidential voice.

"I actually hearn that this chap,—what the deuce was his name? Have you an idee? He was from the North?"

If the stranger had an idee he didn't give it, and the Georgian continued: "These two young chaps—Tom ain't right young though, same age as you, I reckon—called on some Cracker girls back in the woods and the Northern feller staid thar two or three days. Think of it—Cracker girls! Now, if'ted been niggers, instead of Crackers!"

"Ugh!" the stranger exclaimed, wakened into something like life. "Don't talk any more about that man! He must have been a sneak and villain and a low-lived dog, and if there is any meaner name you can give him, do so. It will fit him well, and please me."

"Call him a Cracker, but a Florida one. Georgy is mostly better—not up to so much snuff, you know," the Georgian suggested, while the Northerner drew a quick breath and thought of Mandy Ann, and wondered where she was and if he should see her again.

He felt as if there was not a dry thread in one of his garments when his companion left him, and returning to his friends reported that he hadn't made much out of the chap. He wasn't from New York, nor Boston, nor Chicago, and "I don't know where in thunder he is from, nor his name nuther. I forgot to ask it, he was so stiff and offish. He was in college with Tom Hardy and visited him years ago; that's all I know," the planter said, and after that the stranger was left mostly to himself, while the passengers busied themselves with gossip, and the scenery, and trying to keep cool.

The day was hot and grew hotter as the sun rose higher in the heavens, and the stranger felt very uncomfortable, but it was not the heat which affected him as much as the terrible network of circumstances which he had woven for himself. It was the harvest he was reaping as the result of one false step, when his brain was blurred and he was somebody besides the elegant gentleman whom people felt it an honor to know. He was himself now, crushed inwardly, but carrying himself just as proudly as if no mental fire were consuming him, making him think seriously more than once of jumping into the river and ending it all. He was very luxurious and fastidious in his tastes, and would have nothing unseemly in his home at the North, where he had only to say to his servants come and they came, and where, if he died on his rosewood bedstead with silken hangings, they would make him a grand funeral—smother him with flowers, and perhaps photograph him as he lay in state. Here, if he ended his life, in the river, with alligators and turtles, he would be fished up a sorry spectacle, and laid upon the deck with weeds and ferns clinging to him, and no one knowing who he was till they sent for Tom Hardy at that moment hurrying back to his home in Georgia, from which he had come at the earnest request of his friend. He did not like the looks of himself bedraggled and wet, and dead, on the deck of the "Hatty," with that curious crowd looking at him, Mandy Ann with the rest. Strange that thoughts of Mandy Ann should flit through his mind as he decided against the cold bath in the St. John's and to face it, whatever it was. Occasionally some one spoke to him, and he always answered politely, and once offered his chair to a lady who seemed to be looking for one. But she declined it, and he was again left alone. Once he went to the other end of the boat for a little exercise and change, he said to himself, but really for a chance of seeing Mandy Ann, who of all the passengers interested him the most. But Mandy Ann was not in sight, nor did he see her again till the boat was moving slowly up to the wharf at Enterprise, and with her braided tags of hair standing up like little horns, and her worldly goods tied up in a cotton handkerchief, she stood respectfully behind the waiting crowd, each eager to be the first to land.

The Brock House was full—"not so much as a cot or a shelf for one more," the clerk said to the stranger, who was last at the desk. He had lingered behind the others to watch Mandy Ann, with a half-formed resolution to ask her to direct him to "ole Miss Harrises" if, as Ted had said, she was going there. Mandy Ann did not seem to be in any hurry and sauntered leisurely up the lane a little beyond the Brock House, where she sat down and stretching out her bare feet began to suck an orange Ted had given her at parting, telling her that though she was "an onery nigger who belonged to a Cracker, she had rather far eyes and a mouth that couldn't be beat for sass, adding that he reckoned that thar tall man who didn't speak to nobody might be wantin' to buy her, as he had done ast him oncet how far it was to the clarin', an' he couldn't want nobody thar but her." Mandy Ann had taken the orange, but had spurned what Ted had said of the tall man's intentions. She had been told too many times, during her brief stay in Jacksonville as a nurse girl, that she was of no manner of account to believe any one wished to buy her, and she paid no attention to the tall man, except to see that he was the last to enter the hotel, where he was told there was no room for him.

"But I must have a place to sleep," he said. "It is only for the night. I return on the 'Hatty.'"

"Why not stay on her then? Some do who only come up for the trip," was the clerk's reply.

This was not a bad idea, although the stranger shuddered as he thought of his ill-smelling stateroom and short berth. Still it was better than camping out doors, or—the clearing—where he might be accommodated. He shuddered again when he thought of that possibility—thanked the clerk for his suggestion—and declined the book which had been pushed towards him for his name. No use to register if he was not to be a guest; no use to tell his name anyway, if he could avoid it, as he had successfully on the boat, and with a polite good-evening he stepped outside just as Mandy Ann, having finished her orange, peel and all, gathered herself up with a view to starting for home.



CHAPTER II

THE PALMETTO CLEARING

The stranger had asked Ted on the boat, when he came with some lemonade he had ordered, how far it was from the Brock House to the palmetto clearing, and if there was any conveyance to take him there. Ted had stared at him with wonder—first, as to what such as he could want at the clearing, and second, if he was crazy enough to think there was a conveyance. From being a petted cabin boy, Ted had grown to be something of a spoiled one, and was what the passengers thought rather too "peart" in his ways, while some of the crew insisted that he needed "takin' down a button hole lower," whatever that might mean.

"Bless yer soul, Mas'r," he said, in reply to the question. "Thar ain't no conveyance to the clarin'. It's off in de woods a piece, right smart. You sticks to de road a spell, till you comes to a grave—what used to be—but it's done sunk in now till nuffin's thar but de stun an' some blackb'ry bushes clamberin' over it. Then you turns inter de wust piece of road in Floridy, and turns agin whar some yaller jasmine is growin', an fore long you're dar."

The direction was not very lucid, and the stranger thought of asking the clerk for something more minute, but the surprise in Ted's eyes when he inquired the way to the clearing had put him on his guard against a greater surprise in the clerk. He would find his way somehow, and he went out into the yard and looked in the direction of the sandy road which led into the woods and which Mandy Ann was taking, presumably on her way home. A second time the thought came to him that she might direct him, and he started rather rapidly after her, calling as he went: "I say girl, I want you. Do you hear?"

Mandy Ann heard, gave one glance over her shoulder, saw who was following her, and began at once to run, her bare feet and ankles throwing up the sand, and her sunbonnet falling from her head down her back, where it flapped from side to side as she ran. She remembered what Ted had said of the stranger, who might be thinking of buying her; this was possible after all, as he had said he wanted her, and though her home in the clearing was not one of luxury, it was one of ease and indolence, and she had no desire for a new one—certainly not with this man whose face did not attract her. Just why she ran, she did not know. It was of no use to appeal to ole missus, who would not know whether she belonged to her or some one else. Miss Dory was her only hope. With promises of future good behavior and abstinence from pilfering and lying, and badness generally, she might enlist her sympathy and protection till Jake came home, when all would be right. So she sped on like a deer, glancing back occasionally to see the stranger following her with rapid strides which, however, did not avail to overtake her. The afternoon was very warm—the road sandy and uneven—and he soon gave up the chase, wondering why the girl ran so fast, as if afraid of him. The last sight he had of her was of her woolly head, turning off from the road to the right, where it disappeared behind some thick undergrowth. Ted had said, "Turn at the grave," and he walked on till he reached the spot, and stood by the low railing enclosing a sunken grave, whether of man or woman he could not tell, the lettering on the discolored stone was so obscure. Studying it very carefully, he thought he made out "Mrs." before the moss-blurred name.

"A woman," he said, with a feeling how terrible it must be to be buried and left alone in that dreary, sandy waste, with no human habitation nearer than the Brock House, and no sound of life passing by, except from the same place, unless—and he started, as he noticed for the first time what Ted had said was the worst road in Florida, and what was scarcely more than a footpath leading off to the right, and to the clearing, of course—and he must follow it past tangled weeds and shrubs, and briers, and dwarf palmettoes, stumps of which impeded his progress.

Mandy Ann had entirely disappeared, but here and there in the sand he saw her footprints, the toes spread wide apart, and knew he was right. Suddenly there came a diversion, and he leaned against a tree and breathed hard and fast, as one does when a shock comes unexpectedly. His ear had caught the sound of voices at no great distance from him. A negro's voice—Mandy Ann's, he was sure—eager, excited, and pleading; and another, soft and low, and reassuring, but wringing the sweat from him in great drops, and making his heart beat rapidly. He knew who was with Mandy Ann, and that she, too, was hurrying on to the clearing, still in the distance. Had there been any doubt of her identity, it would have been swept away when, through an opening in the trees, he caught sight of a slender girlish figure, clad in the homely garments of what Ted called poorwhite trash, and of which he had some knowledge. There was, however, a certain grace in the movements of the girl which moved him a little, for he was not blind to any point of beauty in a woman, and the beauty of this girl, hurrying on so fast, had been his ruin, as he in one sense had been hers.

"Eudora!" he said, with a groan, and with a half resolve to turn back rather than go on.

Tom Hardy in their talk while the boat waited for them at Palatka, had told him what not to do, and he was there to follow Tom's advice—though, to do him justice, there was a thought in his heart that possibly he might do what he knew he ought to do, in spite of Tom.

"I'll wait and see, and if—" he said at last, as he began to pick his way over the palmetto stumps and ridges of sand till he came upon the clearing.

It was an open space of two or three acres, cleared from tanglewood and dwarf palmettoes. In the centre was a log-house, larger and more pretentious than many log-houses which he had seen in the South. A Marshal Niel had climbed up one corner to the roof, and twined itself around the chimney, giving a rather picturesque effect to the house, and reminding the stranger of some of the cabins he had seen in Ireland, with ivy growing over them. There was an attempt at a flower garden where many roses were blooming. Some one was fond of flowers, and the thought gave the stranger a grain of comfort, for a love of flowers was associated in his mind with an innate refinement in the lover, and there was for a moment a tinge of brightness in the darkness settling upon his future. Around the house there was no sign of life or stir, except a brood of well-grown chickens, which, with their mother, were huddled on the door step, evidently contemplating an entrance into the house, the door of which was open, as were the shutters to the windows, which were minus glass, as was the fashion of many old Florida houses in the days before the Civil War. With a shoo to the chickens, which sent some into the house and others flying into the yard, the stranger stepped to the door and knocked, once very gently, then more decidedly—then, as there came no response, he ventured in, and driving out the chickens, one of which had mounted upon a table and was pecking at a few crumbs of bread left there, he sat down and looked about him. In the loft which could hardly be dignified with the name chamber, he heard a low murmur of voices, and the sound of footsteps moving rapidly, as if some one were in a hurry. The room in which he sat was evidently living and dining-room both, and was destitute of everything which he deemed necessary to comfort. He had been in a Cracker's house before, and it seemed to him now that his heart turned over when he recalled his visits there, and his utter disregard of his surroundings.

"I was a fool, and blind, then; but I can see now," he said to himself, as he looked around at the marks of poverty, or shiftlessness, or both, and contrasted them with his home in the North.

The floor was bare, with the exception of a mat laid before the door leading into another and larger room, before one of the windows of which a white curtain was gently blowing in the wind. A rough, uncovered table pushed against the wall, three or four chairs, and a hair-cloth settee completed the furniture, with the exception of a low rocking-chair, in which sat huddled and wrapped in a shawl a little old woman whose yellow, wrinkled face told of the snuff habit, and bore a strong resemblance to a mummy, except that the woman wore a cap with a fluted frill, and moved her head up and down like Christmas toys of old men and women. She was evidently asleep, as she gave no sign of consciousness that any one was there.

"Old Miss," the stranger said, and his breath again came gaspingly, and Tom Hardy's advice looked more and more reasonable, while he cursed himself for the fool he had been, and would have given all he was worth, and even half his life, to be rid of this thing weighing him down like a nightmare from which he could not awaken.

He was roused at last by the sound of bare feet on the stairs in a corner of the room. Some one was coming, and in a moment Mandy Ann stood before him, her eyes shining, and her teeth showing white against the ebony of her skin. In her rush through the woods Mandy Ann had come upon her young mistress looking for the few berries which grew upon the tangled bushes.

"Miss Dory, Miss Dory!" she exclaimed, clutching the girl's arm with such force that the pail fell to the ground and the berries were spilled, "you ain't gwine for ter sell me to nobody? Say you ain't, an' fo' de Lawd I'll never touch nothin', nor lie, nor sass ole Miss, nor make faces and mumble like she does. I'll be a fust cut nigger, an' say my prars ebery night. I'se done got a new one down ter Jacksonville. Say you ain't."

In her surprise Miss Dory did not at first speak; then, shaking Mandy Ann's hand from her arm and pushing back her sunbonnet she said: "What do you mean, and where did you come from? The 'Hatty,' I s'pose, but she must be late. I'd given you up. Who's gwine ter buy yer?"

"Ted done tole me mabby de man on de boat from de Norf, what got on ter Palatka, an' done as't the way hyar, might be after me—an'—"

She got no further, for her own arm was now clutched as her mistress's had been, while Miss Dory asked, "What man? How did he look? Whar is he?" and her eyes, shining with expectancy, looked eagerly around.

Very rapidly Mandy Ann told all she knew of the stranger, while the girl's face grew radiant as she listened. "An' he done holler and say how he want me an' follered me, an' when I turn off at the grave he was still follerin' me. He's comin' hyar. You won't sell me, shoo'," Mandy Ann said, and her mistress replied, "Sell you? No. It was one of Ted's lies. He is my friend. He's comin' to see me. Hurry!"

Eudora was racing now through the briers, and weeds, and palmetto stumps, and dragging Mandy Ann with her.

"Never mind granny," she said, when they reached the house and Mandy stopped to say how d'ye to the old woman in the chair. "Come upstairs with me and help me change my gown."

"Faw de Lawd's sake, is he yer beau?" Mandy Ann asked, as she saw the excitement of her mistress, who was tearing around the room, now laughing, now dashing the tears away and giving the most contradicting orders as to what she was to wear and Mandy Ann was to get for her.

They heard the two knocks and knew that some one had entered the house, but Mandy Ann was too busy blacking a pair of boots to go at once, as she had her hands to wash, and yet, although it seemed to him an age, it was scarcely two minutes before she came down the stairs, nimble as a cat, and bobbed before him with a courtesy nearly to the floor. Her mistress had said to her. "Mind your manners. You say you have learned a heap in Jacksonville."

"To be shoo'. I've seen de quality thar in Miss Perkins's house," Mandy Ann replied, and hence the courtesy she thought rather fetching, although she shook a little as she confronted the stranger, whose features never relaxed in the least, and who did not answer her. "How d'ye, Mas'r," which she felt it incumbent to say, as there was no one else to receive him.

Mandy Ann was very bright, and as she knew no restraint in her Florida home, when alone with her old Miss and young Miss, she was apt to be rather familiar for a negro slave, and a little inclined to humor. She knew whom the gentleman had come to see, but when he said. "Is your mistress at home?" she turned at once to the piece of parchment in the rocking-chair and replied. "To be shoo. Dar she is in de char over dar. Dat's ole Miss Lucy."

Going up to the chair, she screamed in the woman's ear, "Wake up, Miss Lucy. I'se done comed home an' thar's a gemman to see you? Wake up!"

She shook the bundle of shawls vigorously, until the old lady was thoroughly roused and glared at her with her dark, beady eyes, while she mumbled, "You hyar, shakin' me so, you limb. You, Mandy Ann! Whar did you come from?"

"Jacksonville, in course. Whar'd you think? An' hyar's a gemman come to see you, I tell you. Wake up an' say how d'ye."

"Whar is he?" the old woman asked, beginning to show some interest, while the stranger arose and coming forward said, "Excuse me, madam. It is the young lady I wish to see—your daughter."

"She hain't her mother. She's her granny," Mandy Ann chimed in with a good deal of contempt in her voice, as she nodded to the figure in the chair, who, with some semblance of what she once was, put out a skinny hand and said, "I'm very pleased to see you. Call Dory. She'll know what to do."

This last to Mandy Ann, who flirted away from her and said to the stranger, "She hain't no sense mostly—some days more, some days littler, an' to-day she's littler. You wants to see Miss Dory? She's upstars changin' her gown, 'case she knows you're hyar. I done tole her, an' her face lit right up like de sun shinin' in de mawnin'. Will you gim me your caird?"

This was Mandy Ann's master-stroke at good manners. She had seen such things at "Miss Perkins's" in Jacksonville, and had once or twice taken a card on a silver tray to that lady, and why not bring the fashion to her own home, if it were only a log-cabin, and she a bare-foot, bare-legged waitress, instead of Mrs. Perkins's maid Rachel, smart in slippers and cap, and white apron. For a moment the stranger's face relaxed into a broad smile at the ludicrousness of the situation. Mandy Ann, who was quick of comprehension, understood the smile and hastened to explain.

"I done larn't a heap of things at Miss Perkins's, which we can't do hyar, 'case of ole Miss bein' so quar. Miss Dory'd like 'em right well."

"Certainly," the stranger said, beginning to have a good deal of respect for the poor slave girl trying to keep up the dignity of her family.

Taking a card from his case he handed it to Mandy Ann, who looked at it carefully as if reading the name, although she held it wrong side up. There was no silver tray to take it on—there was no tray at all—but there was a china plate kept as an ornament on a shelf, and on this Mandy Ann placed the card, and then darted up the stairs, finding her mistress nearly dressed, and waiting for her.

"Oh, his card? He gave it to you?" Eudora said, flushing with pleasure that he had paid her this compliment, and pressing her lips to the name when Mandy Ann did not see her.

"In course he done gin it to me. Dat's de way wid de quality both Souf and Norf. We livin' hyar in de clarin' doan know noffin'." Mandy Ann replied.

On the strength of her three months sojourn with Mrs. Perkins, who was undeniably quality, she felt herself capable of teaching many things to her young mistress, who had seldom repressed her, and who now made no answer except to ask, "How do I look?"

She had hesitated a moment as to the dress she would wear in place of the one discarded. She had very few to select from, and finally took down a white gown sacred to her, because of the one occasion on which she had worn it. It was a coarse muslin, but made rather prettily with satin bows on the sleeves, and shoulders, and neck. Several times, since she had hung it on a peg under a sheet to keep it from getting soiled, she had looked at it and stroked it, wondering if she would ever wear it again. Now she took it down and smoothed the bows of ribbon, and brushed a speck from the skirt, while there came to her eyes a rush of glad tears as she put it on, with a thought that he would like her in it, and then tried to see its effect in the little eight by twelve cracked glass upon the wall. All she could see was her head and shoulders, and so she asked the opinion of Mandy Ann, who answered quickly, "You done look beautiful—some like de young ladies in Jacksonville, and some like you was gwine to be married."

"Perhaps I am," Eudora replied, with a joyous ring in her voice. "Would you like to have me get married?"

Mandy Ann hesitated a moment and then said, "I'se promised never to tole you no mo' lies, so dis is de truffe, ef I was to drap dead. I'd like you to marry some de gemmans in Jacksonville, or some dem who comes to de Brock House, but not him downstars!"

"Why not?" Eudora asked, and there was a little sharpness in her voice.

"'Case," Mandy Ann began, "you as't me, an' fo' de Lawd I mus' tell de truffe. He's very tall an' gran', an' w'ars fine close, an' han's is white as a cotton bat, but his eyes doan set right in his head. They look hard, an' not a bit smilin', an' he looks proud as ef he thought we was dirt, an' dem white han's—I do' know, but pears like they'd squeeze body an' soul till you done cry wid pain. Doan you go for to marry him, Miss Dory, will you?"

At first Mandy Ann had opened and shut her black fingers, as she showed how the stranger's white hands would squeeze one's body and soul; then they closed round her mistress's arm as she said, "Doan you marry him, Miss Dory, will you?"

"No," Eudora answered, "don't be a silly, but go down and bring me a rose, if you can find one two-thirds open. I wore one with this dress before and he liked it, and as't me to give it to him. Mebby he will now," she thought, while waiting for Mandy Ann, who soon came back with a beautiful rose hidden under her apron.

"Strues I'm bawn, I b'lieve he's done gone to sleep like ole Miss—he's settin' thar so still," she said.

But he was far from being asleep. He had gone over again and again with everything within his range of vision, from the old woman nodding in her chair, to the bucket of water standing outside the door, with a gourd swimming on the top, and he was wondering at the delay, and feeling more and more that he should take Tom Hardy's advice, when he heard steps on the stairs, which he knew were not Mandy Ann's, and he rose to meet Eudora.



CHAPTER III

THE INTERVIEW

She was a short, slender little girl, not more than sixteen or seventeen, with a sweet face and soft brown eyes which drooped as she came forward, and then looked at him shyly through a mist of tears which she bravely kept back.

"How d'ye. I'm so glad to see you," she said, looking up at him with quivering lips which were so unquestionably asking for a kiss that he gave it, while her face beamed with delight at the caress, and she did not mind how cold, and stiff, and reserved he grew the next moment.

He did not like her "How d'ye," although he knew how common a salutation it was at the South. It savored of Mandy Ann, and her accent was like Mandy Ann's, and her white dress instead of pleasing him filled him with disgust for himself, as he remembered when he first saw it and thought it fine. She had worn a rose then, and he had asked her for it, and put it in his pocket, like an insane idiot, Tom had said. She wore a rose now, but he didn't ask her for it, and he dropped her hand almost as soon as he took it, and called himself a brute when he saw the color come and go in her face, and how she trembled as she sat beside him. He knew she was pretty, and graceful, and modest, and that she loved him as no other woman ever would, but she was untrained, and uneducated, and unused to the world—his world, which would scan her with cold, wondering eyes. He couldn't do it, and he wouldn't—certainly, not yet. He would wait and see what came of his plan which he must unfold, and tell her why he had come. But not there where the old woman might hear and understand, and where he felt sure Mandy Ann was listening. She had stolen down the stairs and gone ostensibly to meet a woman whom Eudora called Sonsie, and who, she said, came every day to do the work now Jake was away.

"Who is Jake?" the man asked, and Eudora replied, "The negro who has taken care of us since I can remember. He is free, but does for us, and is in Richmond now, valleying for a gentleman who pays him big wage, and he spends it all for us."

The stranger flushed at her words indicative of her station, and then suggested that they go outside where they could be sure of being alone, as he had much to say to her.

"Perhaps you will walk part way with me on my return to the 'Hatty,'" he said, glancing at his watch and feeling surprised to find how late it was.

Instantly Eudora, who had seemed so listless, woke up with all the hospitality of her Southern nature roused to action. "Surely you'll have supper with me," she said. "Sonsie is here to get it and will have it directly."

There was no good reason for refusing, although he revolted against taking supper in that humble cabin, with possibly that old woman at the table; but he swallowed his pride and, signifying his assent, went outside, where they came upon Mandy Ann in a crouching attitude under the open casement. She was listening, of course, but sprang to her feet as the two appeared, and said in response to her mistress's "What are you doing here?" "Nothin', Miss Dory, fo' de Lawd, nothing, but huntin' on de groun' for somethin' what done drap out de windy upstars."

The stranger knew she was lying, and Eudora knew it, but said nothing except to bid the girl get up and assist Sonsie with the supper. Mandy Ann had once said of her mistress to Jake, "She hain't no sperrit to spar," and Jake had replied, "Lucky for you, Mandy Ann, that she hain't no sperrit, for ef she had she'd of done pulled every har out of your head afore now."

Mandy Ann knew that neither her hair, nor any part of her person, was in danger from her young mistress, and after a few more scratches in the dirt after an imaginary lost article, she arose and joined Sonsie, to whom Eudora gave a few instructions, and then with her guest walked across the clearing to a bench which Jake had made for her, and which was partially sheltered by a tall palm. Here they sat down while he unfolded his plan, plainly and concisely, and leaving no chance for opposition, had the crushed, quivering creature at his side felt inclined to make it. As Mandy Ann had said she hadn't much spirit, and what little she had was slain as she listened, while her face grew white as her dress, and her hands were linked together on her lap. The sun had just gone down, and the full moon was rising and throwing its light upon the clearing and the girl, whose face and attitude touched her companion, cold and hard as he was, but he must carry his point.

"You see it is for the best and you promise; you will remember," he said, taking one of her hands and wondering to find it so cold.

"Yes, oh, yes," she replied, every word a gasp. "I thought—I hoped—you had done come to take,—or to stay—not here, but somewhar—but I see you can't. You know best. I ain't fittin' to go yet, but I'll try, and I promise all you ask; but don't let it be long. The days are so lonesome since I come home, and things seem different since I knew you; but I promise, and will remember and do my best."

Half his burden rolled away. He could be very kind now, for he knew he could trust her to the death, and putting his arm around her, he drew her close to him and said, "You are a good girl, Eudora. I shall not forget it; but why do you tremble so? Are you cold?"

"Yes—no," she answered, nestling so close to him that the rose in her dress was loosened and fell to the ground.

He picked it up, but did not put it in his pocket as a keepsake. He gave it back to her, and she fastened it again to her dress, saying, "I do' know why I shake, only it seems's if somethin' had died that I hoped for. But it is all right, becase you care for me. You love me."

She lifted up her face on which the moonlight fell, making a picture the man never forgot to the last day of his life. He did not tell her he loved her, he could not; but for answer he stooped and kissed her, and she—poor, simple girl—was satisfied.

"If I could tell Jake, it would be some comfort," she said at last, timidly, and her companion answered quickly. "Tell Jake! Never! You must not be too familiar with your servants."

"Jake is more than a servant. He is everything to me," the girl answered, with rising spirit. "He would die for me, and if anything happened to me and you did not come, I think he would kill you."

There was something of Southern fire in her eyes as she said this, which made the stranger laugh as he replied, "Nothing will happen, and I'm not afraid of Jake."

In his heart he was glad the negro was not there, for something warned him that in the poor black man he might find a formidable obstacle to his plan. Meanwhile in the house Mandy Ann had been busy with the supper-table. They ought to have a good deal of light, she thought, remembering the lamps at Mrs. Perkins's, and as there were only two candlesticks in the house her fertile brain had contrived two more from some large round potatoes, cutting a flat piece from one end, making a hole in the centre to hold the candle, and wrapping some white paper around the standard. She had taken great pains with the table, trying to imitate Mrs. Perkins's, and the imitation was rather satisfactory to herself. The best cloth had been brought out, and though it was yellow with disuse it showed what it had been. A few roses in a pitcher were in the centre of the table, and ranged around them were the four candles, spluttering and running down as tallow candles are apt to do. The dishes troubled her, they were so thick and nicked in so many places, that it was difficult to find one which was whole. The stranger had the china plate, which had done duty as a tray for his card, and he had the only plated fork in the house: a Christmas gift from Jake to the ole Miss, who scarcely appreciated it, but insisted that it be wrapped in several folds of tissue paper and kept in her bureau drawer. Mandy Ann did not ask if she could have it. She took it and rubbed it with soft sand to remove some discolorations and laid it, with a horn-handled knife, by the china plate.

"Ef we only had napkins," she said, while Sonsie, who had lived all her life near the clearing, and knew nothing of the fashions of the world, asked what napkins were. With a toss of her head indicative of her superior knowledge, Mandy Ann replied, "You'd know if you'd lived wid de quality in Jacksonville. Miss Perkins's allus had 'em. Dey's squar little towels what you holds in yer lap to wipe yer fingers on when you've done eatin'. Dat's what they is, an' de gemman or to hev one."

"Can't he wipe his hands on de table cloth, for oncet?" Sonsie asked, with a sudden inspiration which was received with great scorn by Mandy Ann, to whom there had also come an inspiration on which she at once acted.

In one of ole Miss's bureau drawers was a large plain linen handkerchief which was never used. It would serve the purpose nicely, and Mandy Ann brought it out, holding it behind her lest it should be seen by the old lady, who sometimes saw more than Mandy Ann cared to have her see. It was rather yellow like the table cloth, and the creases where it was folded were a little dark, but Mandy Ann turned it, and refolded and pressed it, and laid it on the china plate, while Sonsie looked on and admired. Everything was in readiness, and Mandy Ann called across the clearing. "Hallo, Miss Dory. Supper's done served."

She had caught on to a good many things at Miss Perkins's, and "served" was one of them. "I don't s'pose Miss Dory will understan'," she thought, "but he will, and see dat dis nigger know sumptin'."

It was a novel situation in which the stranger found himself, seated at that table with Eudora presiding and Mandy Ann waiting upon them, her tray a dinner-plate which she flourished rather conspicuously. He was quick to observe and nothing escaped him, from the improvised candlesticks to the napkin by his china plate. He knew it was a handkerchief, and smiled inwardly as he wondered what Tom Hardy would say if he could see him now. The old lady was not at the table. Mandy Ann had managed that and attended to her in her chair, but as if eating brightened her faculties, she began to look about her and talk, and ask why she couldn't sit at her own table.

"'Case thar's a gemman hyar an' you draps yer vittles so," Mandy Ann said in a whisper, with her lips close to the old woman's ear.

"Gentleman? Who's he? Whar's he from?" the old woman asked—forgetting that she had spoken to him.

"I told you oncet he's Miss Dory's frien' an' from de Norf. Do be quiet," Mandy Ann blew into the deaf ears.

"From the Nawth. I don't like the Nawth, 'case I—" the old lady began, but Mandy Ann choked her with a muffin, and she did not finish her sentence and tell why she disliked the North.

Eudora's face was scarlet, but she did not interfere. Her grandmother was in better hands than hers, and more forceful.

"Granny is queer sometimes," she said by way of apology, while her guest bowed in token that he understood, and the meal proceeded in quiet with one exception. Granny was choked with eating too fast, and Mandy Ann struck her on her back and shook her up, and dropped her dinner-plate and broke it in her excitement.

"For de Lawd's sake, 'tan't no use," she said, gathering up the pieces and taking them to the kitchen, where Sonsie laughed till the tears ran at Mandy Ann's attempt "to be gran'," and its result.

Meanwhile the stranger ate Sonsie's corn cakes and muffins, and said they were good, and drank muddy coffee, sweetened with brown sugar out of a big thick cup, and thought of his dainty service at home, and glanced at the girl opposite him with a great pity, which, however, did not move him one whit from his purpose. He had told her his plan and she had accepted it, and he told it again when, after supper, she walked with him through the clearing and the woods to the main road which led to the river. He did the talking, while she answered yes or no, with a sound of tears in her voice. When they reached the highway they stopped by the sunken grave, and leaning against the fence which inclosed it, Eudora removed her sunbonnet, letting the moon shine upon her face, as it had done when she sat in the clearing. It was very white but there were no tears now in her eyes. She was forcing them back and she tried to smile as she said, "You are very kind, and I think I understand what you want, and here by this grave I promise all you ask, and will do my best—my very best."

Her lips began to quiver and her voice to break, for the visit from which she had expected so much had proved a blank, and her high hopes were dead as the woman by whose grave she stood. She had folded her hands one over the other upon the top rail of the fence, and her companion looked at them and thought how small they were and shapely, too, although brown with the work she had to do when Jake and Mandy Ann were both gone and Sonsie came only at meal times. He was not a brute. He was simply a proud, cold, selfish man, whose will had seldom been crossed, and who found himself in a tight place from which he could not wholly extricate himself. He was sorry for Eudora, for he guessed how desolate she would be when he was gone, and there was nothing left but that home in the clearing, with old granny and Mandy Ann. He had not seen Jake, of whom Eudora now spoke, saying, "Our house never seemed so poor to me till I seen you in it. It will be better when Jake comes, for he is to fix it up—he knows how."

It was the only excuse she had made, and she did it falteringly, while her companion's heart rose up in his throat and made him very uncomfortable, as he thought of Jake and Mandy Ann caring for this girl, while his income was larger than he could spend. It had not occurred to him to offer her money till that moment, and he did not know now that she would take it. Turning his back to her as if looking at something across the road, he counted a roll of bills, and turning back took one of the little brown hands resting on the rail in his and pressed the roll into it. Just for an instant the slim fingers held fast to his hand—then, as she felt the bills and saw what they were, she drew back and dropped them upon the sand.

"I can't; no, I can't," she said, when he urged them upon her, telling her it was his right to give and hers to take.

As usual his will prevailed, and when at last he said good-by and walked rapidly towards the river, while she went slowly through the woods and across the clearing to the log-house, where Mandy Ann was having a frightful time getting ole Miss to bed, she had in her possession more money than Jake would earn in months.

"I would send it all back," she thought, "if we didn't need it badly, and he said it was right for me to take it, but some of it must go. I'll send it just before the 'Hatty' sails."

There was no one to send but Mandy Ann, who, after many misgivings on the part of her mistress, was entrusted with a part of the money, with injunctions neither to look at nor lose it, but to hold it tight in her hand until she gave it to the gentleman. Eudora had thought of writing a note, but the effort was too great. Mandy Ann could say all she wanted to have said, and in due time the negress started for the boat, nothing loth to visit it again and bandy words with Ted. The "Hatty" was blowing off steam preparatory to starting, when a pair of bare legs and feet were seen racing down the lane to the landing, and Mandy Ann, waving her hand, was calling out, "Hol' on dar, you cap'n. I'se sometin' berry 'portant for de gemman. Hol' on, I say," and she dashed across the plank, nearly knocking Ted down in her headlong haste. "Whar is 'ee?" she gasped, and continued, "Leg-go, I tell ye. Le' me be," as Ted seized her arm, asking what she wanted, and if she was going back to Jacksonville.

"No; leg-go, I tell you. I wants the man from de Norf, what comed to see Miss Dory. I've sometin' for him very partic'lar."

She found him in his seat at the rear of the boat, where he had sat on his way up, and had again appropriated to himself, with no one protesting or noticing him beyond a civil bow. They called him Boston, knowing no other name, and wondered why he had visited the Harrises as they knew he had. Ted, who was allowed nearly as much freedom of speech on the boat as Mandy Ann had at the clearing, had aired his opinion that the gentleman wanted to buy Mandy Ann, but this idea was scouted. Boston was not one to buy negroes. Probably he was some kin to old Granny Harris, who had distant connections in the North, some one suggested. This seemed reasonable, and the people settled upon it, and gave him a wide berth as one who wished to be let alone. When Mandy Ann rushed in and made her way to him curiosity was again roused, but no one was near enough to hear her as she put into his hands a paper, saying breathlessly, "Miss Dory done send some of it back with thanks, 'case she can't keep it all, and she wants to know how d'ye, an' I mus' hurry, or dey carries me off."

The stranger took the paper, opened it, and glanced at the bills; then at the girl who stood as if she expected something. Taking a dollar from his pocket he gave it to her saying, "Take this and be a good girl to your young mistress, and now go."

Mandy Ann did not move, but stood with her lips twitching and her eyes filling with tears. No one had ever given her a dollar before, and her better nature cried out against what she had done.

"Fo' de Lawd, I can't help 'fessin," she said, thrusting her hand into her bosom and bringing out a crumpled bill which she gave to the gentleman, who saw that it was a ten and looked at her sternly as she went on: "I done promised Miss Dory I'never tache a thing, if she wouldn't sell me to you, but dar was sich a pile, an' I wanted some beads, an' a red han'kercher, an' a ring, an' I done took one. I don'no how much, 'case I can't read, an' dat's why I was late an' had to run so fass. You're good, you is, an' I muss 'fess—may de Lawd forgive me."

At this point Ted, who had been on some of the large boats between Jacksonville and Charleston, and had heard the cry warning the passengers to leave, screamed close to her. "All asho', dat's gwine asho'!" and seizing her arm he led her to the plank and pushed her on to it, but not until she had shaken her bill in his face and said, "Licke-e-dar, a dollar! All mine—he done gin it to me, an' I'se gwine to buy a gown, an' a han'kercher, an' some shoes, an' some candy, an' some—" the rest of her intended purchases were cut short by a jerk of the plank, which sent her sprawling on her hands and knees, with a jeer from Ted sounding in her ears. The "Hatty" was off, and with a feeling of relief the stranger kept his seat on the rear deck, or staid in his stateroom until Palatka was reached, where he went on shore, lifting his hat politely to the passengers, shaking hands with the captain, and giving a quarter to Ted, who nearly stood on his head for joy, and could scarcely wait for the next trip to Enterprise, where he would find Mandy Ann and tell her of his good fortune, doubling or trebling the amount as he might feel inclined at the time.



CHAPTER IV

HOPING AND WAITING

The curiosity concerning the stranger at Enterprise had nearly died out when it was roused again to fever heat by the arrival at the clearing of a little girl, whom the young mother baptized with bitter tears, but refused to talk of the father except to say, "It was all right and people would know it was when he came, as he was sure to do."

He didn't come, and the girl's face grew sadder and whiter, and her eyes had in them always an expectant, wistful look, as if waiting for some one or something, which would lift from her the dark cloud under which she was laboring. Jake, who had returned from Richmond, suffered nearly as much as she did. His pride in his family—such as the family was—was great, and his affection for his young mistress unbounded.

"Only tell me whar he is an' I'll done fetch him, or kill him," he said, when in an agony of tears she laid her baby in his lap and said, "Another for you to care for till he comes, as I know he will."

Eudora had said to the stranger that Jake would kill him if anything happened to her, but now at the mention of killing him she shuddered and replied, "No, Jake, not that. You'll know sometime. I can't explain. I done promised more than once. The last time was by that grave yonder, when he was sayin' good-by. It was same as an oath. I was to go to school and learn to be a lady, but baby has come, and I can't go now. It will make some differ with him perhaps, an' he'll come for baby's sake. You b'lieve me, Jake?"

"Yes, honey—same as ef 'twas de Lawd himself talkin' to me, an' I'll take keer of de little one till he comes, an' if I sees somebody winkin' or hunchin' de shoulder, I'll—I'll—"

Jake clenched his fist to show what he would do, and hugging the baby to him, continued, "Dis my 'ittle chile till its fader comes; doan' you worry. I'se strong an' kin work, an' Mandy Ann's done got to stir de stumps more'n she has."

He cast a threatening look at Mandy Ann, who had at first been appalled at the advent of the baby, and for a while kept aloof even from Ted, when the "Hatty" was in. Then she rallied and, like Jake, was ready to do battle with any one who hunched their shoulders at Miss Dory. She had two good square fights with Ted on the subject, and two or three more with some of her own class near the clearing, and as she came off victor each time it was thought wise not to provoke her, except as Ted from the safety of the "Hatty's" deck sometimes called to her, when he saw her on the shore with the baby in her arms and asked how little Boston was getting along. Mandy Ann felt that she could kill him, and every one else who spoke slightingly of her charge. She had told Jake over and over again all she could remember of the stranger's visit, and more than she could remember when she saw how eager he was for every detail. She told him of the card taken to her mistress on a china plate, of the table with its four candles, and ole Miss's handkerchief for a napkin, and of her waiting just as she had seen it done at Miss Perkins's.

"The gemman was gran' an' tall, an' mighty fine spoken, like all dem quality from de Norf," she said, although in fact he was the first person she had ever seen from the North; but that made no difference with Mandy Ann. "He was a gemman—he had given her a dollar, and he was shoo to come back."

This she said many times to her young mistress, keeping her spirits up, helping her to hope against hope, while the seasons came and went, and letters were sometimes received or sent, first to Tom Hardy and forwarded by him either to the North or to Eudora. There was no lack of money, but this was not what the young girl wanted. Mandy Ann had said she had not much sperrit, and she certainly had not enough to claim her rights, but clung to a morbid fancy of what was her duty, bearing up bravely for a long time, trying to learn, trying to read the books recommended to her in her Northern letters, and sent for by Jake to Palatka, trying to understand what she read, and, most pitiful of all, trying to be a lady, fashioned after her own ideas, and those of Jake and Mandy Ann. Jake told her what he had seen the quality do in Richmond, while Mandy Ann boasted her superior knowledge, because of her three months with Miss Perkins's in Jacksonville, and rehearsed many times the way she had seen young ladies "come into de house, shake han's an' say how d'ye, an' hole' thar kyard cases so" (illustrating with a bit of block), "an' thar parasols so" (taking up granny's cane), "an' set on the aidge of thar char straight up, an' Miss Perkins bowin' an' smilin' an' sayin' how glad she was to see 'em, an' den when dey's gone sayin' sometimes, 'I wonder what sent 'em hyar to-day, when it's so powerful hot, an' I wants to take my sester'—dat's her nap, you know, after dinner, what plenty ladies take—an' den you mus' sometimes speak sharp like to Jake an' to me, an' not be so soff spoken, as if we wasn't yer niggers, 'case we are, or I is, an' does a heap o' badness; an' you orto pull my har f'or it."

Confused and bewildered Eudora listened, first to Jake and then to Mandy Ann, but as she had no card case, no parasol, and no ladies called upon her, she could only try to remember the proper thing to do when the time came, if it ever did. But she lost heart at last. She was deserted. There was no need for her to try to be a lady. Her life was slipping away, but for baby there was hope, and many times in her chamber loft, when Mandy Ann thought she was taking her sester, and so far imitating "de quality," she was praying that when she was dead, as she felt she soon would be, her little child might be recognized and taken where she rightfully belonged.

And so the years went on till more than three were gone since the stranger came on the "Hatty," and one morning when she lay again at the wharf, and Mandy Ann came down for something ordered from Palatka, her eyes were swollen with crying, and when Ted began his chaff she answered, "Doan't, Teddy, doan't. I can't fought you now, nor sass you back, 'case Miss Dory is dead, an' Jake's done gone for de minister."



CHAPTER V

MISS DORY

That day was one of the hottest of the season, and the sun was beating down upon the piazza of the Brock House where the Rev. Charles Mason sat fanning himself with a huge palm leaf, and trying to put together in his mind some points for the sermon he was to preach the next Sunday in the parlor of the hotel to the few guests who came there occasionally during the summer. But it was of no use. With the thermometer at ninety degrees in the shade, and not a breath of air moving, except that made by his fan, points did not come readily, and all he could think of was Dives' thirsting for a drop of water from the finger of Lazarus to cool his parched tongue. "If it was hotter there than it is here I am sorry for him," he thought, wiping his wet face and looking off across the broad lake in the direction of Sanford, from which a rowboat was coming very rapidly, the oarsman bending to his work with a will, which soon brought him to the landing place, near the hotel. Securing his boat, he came up the walk and approaching Mr. Mason accosted him with, "How d'ye, Mas'r Mason. I knows you by sight, and I'se right glad to find you hyar. You see, I'se that tuckered out I'm fit to drap."

The perspiration was standing in great drops on his face as he sank panting upon a step of the piazza.

"'Scuse me," he said, "but 'pears like I can't stan' another minit, what with bein' up all night with Miss Dory, an' gwine 'crost the lake twiste for nothin', 'case I didn't find him."

By this time Mr. Mason had recognized the negro as one he had seen occasionally around the hotel selling vegetables and eggs, and who he had heard the people say was worth his weight in gold.

"How d'ye, Jake," he said, pleasantly. "I didn't know you at first. Why have you been across the lake twice this morning?"

Jake's face clouded as he drew his big black hand across his eyes.

"Miss Dory done died at sun up," he replied. "You know Miss Dory, in course."

Mr. Mason was obliged to confess his ignorance with regard to Miss Dory, and asked who she was.

Jake looked disgusted. Not to know Miss Dory was something inexcusable.

"Why, she's Miss Dory," he said, "an' ole Miss is her granny. We live up in the palmetto clearing, back in de woods, an' I take keer of 'em."

"You mean you belong to Miss Dora's grandmother?" Mr. Mason asked, while Jake looked more disgusted than ever.

Not to know Miss Dory was bad enough, but not to know who he was was much worse.

"Lor' bless your soul, Mas'r Mason, I don't belong to nobody but myself. I'se done bawn free, I was. But father belonged to ole Miss Lucy, an' when my mother died she took keer of me, an' I've lived with her ever sense, all but two or three times I hired out to some swells in Virginny, whar I seen high life. They's mighty kine to me, dem folks was, an' let me learn to read an' write, an' do some figgerin'. I'se most as good a scholar as Miss Dory, an' I tole her some de big words, an' what the quality in Virginny does, when she was tryin' so hard to learn to be a lady. She's dead now, the lam', an' my cuss be on him as killed her."

"Killed! Didn't she die a natural death?" Mr. Mason asked.

"No, sar. She jest pined an' pined for him, an' got de shakes bad, an' died this mornin'," Jake replied, "an' ole Miss done gone clar out of her head. She never was over-bright, an' 'pears like she don't know nothin' now. 'I leave it to you to do,' she said, an I'm doin' on't the best I kin. I seen her laid out decent in her best gownd—that's Miss Dory—an' sent to Palatka for a coffin—a good one, too—an' have been across the lake for Elder Covil to 'tend the burial, 'case she done said, 'Send for him; he knows.' But he ain't thar, an' I'se come for you. It'll be day after to-morrer at one o'clock."

Mr. Mason felt the water rolling down his back in streams as he thought of a hot drive through the Florida sand and woods, but he could not say no, Jake's honest face was so anxious and pleading.

"Yes, I'll come, but how?" he asked.

"Oh, I'll be hyar wid de mule an' de shay. Noon, sharp," Jake replied. "Thankee, Mas'r Mason, thankee. We couldn't bury Miss Dory without a word of pra'r. I kin say de Lawd's, but I want somethin' about de resurrection an' de life what I hearn in Virginny. An' now I mus' go 'long home. Ole Miss'll be wantin' me an' de chile."

"What child?" Mr. Mason asked, in some surprise.

Jake's face was a study as he hesitated a minute, winking to keep his tears back before he said, "Sartin', thar's a chile. Why shouldn't thar be, but fo' God it's all right. Miss Dory said so, an' Elder Covil knows, only he's done gone Norf or somewhar. It's all right, an' you'll know 'tis the minit you see Miss Dory's face—innocent as a baby's. Good day to you."

He doffed his hat with a kind of grace one would hardly have expected, and walked rapidly away, leaving the Rev. Mr. Mason to think over what he had heard, and wonder that he didn't ask the name of the family he was to visit. "Miss Dory, ole Miss, and Jake," were all he had to guide him, but the last name was sufficient.

"Oh, yes," the landlord said, when questioned. "It's old Mrs. Harris and her grand-daughter out in the palmetto clearing; they're Crackers. The old woman is half demented, the whole family was queer, and the girl the queerest of all—won't talk and keeps her mouth shut as to her marriage, if there was one."

"Who was the man?" Mr. Mason asked, and the landlord replied, "Some Northern cuss she met in Georgia where she was staying a spell with her kin. A high blood, they say. Attracted by her pretty face, I suppose, and then got tired of her, or was too proud to own up. I wasn't landlord then, but I've heard about it. I think he was here once three or four years ago. He came on the 'Hatty' and staid on her—the house was so full. Didn't register, nor anything—nor tell his name to a livin' soul. One or two ast him square, I b'lieve, but he either pretended not to hear 'em, or got out of it somehow. Acted prouder than Lucifer. Walked along the shore and in the woods, and went to the clearin'—some said to buy that limb of a Mandy Ann, but more to see Miss Dory. All the time he was on the boat he was so stiff and starched that nobody wanted to tackle him, and that girl—I mean Miss Dory—has kept a close mouth about him, and when her baby was born, and some of the old cats talked she only said, 'It is all right, I'm a good girl,' and I b'lieve she was. But that Northern cuss needs killin'. He sends her money, they say, through some friend in Palatka, who keeps his mouth shut tight, but neither she nor Jake will use a cent of it. They are savin' it to educate the little girl and make a lady of her, if nobody claims her. A lady out of a Cracker! I'd laugh! That Jake is a dandy. He's free, but has stuck to the Harrises because his father belonged to old Mrs. Harris. He is smarter than chain lightnin', if he is a nigger, and knows more than a dozen of some white men. He drives a white mule, and has managed to put a top of sail cloth on an old ramshackle buggy, which he calls a 'shay.' You'll go to the funeral in style."

Mr. Mason made no reply. He was thinking of Dory, and beginning to feel a good deal of interest in her and her story, and anxious to see her, even if she were dead. At precisely twelve o'clock on the day appointed for the funeral Jake drove his white mule and shay to the door of the Brock House. He had on his Sunday clothes, and around his tall hat was a band of black alpaca, the nearest approach to mourning he could get, for crape was out of the question. If possible, it was hotter than on the previous day, and the sail cloth top was not much protection from the sun as they drove along the sandy road, over bogs and stumps, palmetto roots and low bridges, and across brooks nearly dried up by the heat. The way seemed interminable to Mr. Mason, for the mule was not very swift-footed, and Jake was too fond of him to touch him with a whip. A pull at the lines, which were bits of rope, and a "Go 'long dar, you lazy ole t'ing, 'fore I takes the hide off'n you" was the most he did to urge the animal forward, and Mr. Mason was beginning to think he might get on faster by walking, when a turn in the road brought the clearing in view.

It had improved some since we first saw it, and was under what the natives called right smart cultivation for such a place. Jake had worked early and late to make it attractive for his young mistress. He had given the log-house a coat of whitewash, and planted more climbing roses than had been there when the man from the North visited it. A rude fence of twisted poles had been built around it, and standing before this fence were three or four ox-carts and a democrat wagon with two mules attached to it. The people who had come in these vehicles were waiting expectantly for Jake and the minister, and the moment they appeared in sight the white portion hurried into the house and seated themselves—some in the few chairs the room contained, some on the table, and some on the long bench Jake had improvised with a board and two boxes, and which threatened every moment to topple over. There were a number of old women with sunbonnets on their heads—two or three higher-toned ones with straw bonnets—a few younger ones with hats, while the men and boys were all in their shirt sleeves. Some of them had come miles that hot day to pay their last respects to Miss Dory, who, in the room adjoining where they sat, lay in her coffin, clad, as Jake had said, in her best gown, the white one she had worn with so much pride the day the stranger came. She had never worn it since, but had said to Mandy Ann a few days before she died, "I should like to be buried in it, if you can smarten it up." And Mandy Ann who understood, had done her best at smartening, and when Sonsie and others said it was "yaller as saffern, an' not fittin' for a buryin'," she had washed and ironed it, roughly, it is true, but it was white and clean, and Sonsie was satisfied. Mandy Ann had tried to freshen the satin bows, but gave it up, and put in their place bunches of wild flowers she had gathered herself. With a part of the dollar given her by "the man from the Norf," she had commissioned Ted to buy her a ring in Jacksonville. It had proved too small for any finger, except her little one, and she had seldom worn it. Now, as she dressed her mistress for the last time an idea came to her; she was a well-grown girl of sixteen, and understood many things better than when she was younger. Going to Jake, she said, "Ain't thar somethin' 'bout a ring in that pra'r book you got in Richmon' an' reads on Sundays?"

"Yes, in de weddin' service," Jake replied, and Mandy continued: "Doan' it show dey's married for shoo'!"

"For shoo? Yes. I wish Miss Dory had one," Jake answered.

Mandy Ann nodded. She had learned what she wanted to know, and going to the little paper box where she kept her ring she took it up, looked at it lovingly, and tried it on. She had paid fifty cents for it, and Ted had told her the real price was a dollar, but he had got it for less, because the jeweler was selling out. It tarnished rather easily, but she could rub it up. It was her only ornament, and she prized it as much as some ladies prize their diamonds, but she loved her young mistress more than she loved the ring, and her mistress, though dead, should have it. It needed polishing, and she rubbed it until it looked nearly as well as when Ted brought it to her from Jacksonville.

"I wish to de Lawd I knew ef dar was any partic'lar finger," she thought, as she stood by the coffin looking at the calm face of her mistress.

By good luck she selected the right finger, on which the ring slipped easily, then folding the hands one over the other, and putting in them some flowers, which, while they did not hide the ring, covered it partially, so that only a very close observer would be apt to think it was not real, she said, "If you wasn't married with a ring you shall be buried with one, an' it looks right nice on you, it do, an' I hope ole granny Thomas'll be hyar an' see it wid her snaky eyes speerin' 'round. Axed me oncet who I s'posed de baby's fader was, an' I tole her de gemman from de Norf, in course, an' den made up de lie an' tole her dey had a weddin' on de sly in Georgy—kinder runaway, an' his kin was mad an' kep' him to home 'cept oncet when he comed hyar to see her, an' I 'clar for't I doan think she b'lieve a word 'cept that he was hyar. Everybody knowd that. I reckon she will gin in when she see de ring."

Pleased with what she had done, Mandy Ann left the room just as the first instalment of people arrived, and with them old granny Thomas. In the little community of Crackers scattered through the neighborhood there were two factions, the larger believing in Eudora, and the smaller not willing to commit themselves until their leader Mrs. Thomas had done so. On the strength of living in a frame house, owning two or three negroes and a democrat wagon, she was a power among them. What she thought some of those less favored than herself thought. When she "gave in" they would, and not before. Up to the present time there had been no signs of "giving in" on the part of the lady, whose shoulders still hunched and whose head shook when Eudora was mentioned. She should go to the funeral, in course, she said. She owed it to ole Miss Harris, and she really had a good deal of respect for the nigger Jake. So she came in her democrat wagon and straw bonnet, and because she was Mrs. Thomas, walked uninvited into the room where the coffin stood, and looked at Eudora.

"I'd forgot she was so purty. It's a good while sense I seen her," she thought, a feeling of pity rising in her heart for the young girl whose face had never looked fairer than it did now with the seal of death upon it. "And s'true's I live she's got a ring on her weddin' finger! Why didn't she never war it afore an' let it be known?" she said to herself, stooping down to inspect the ring, which to her dim old eyes seemed like the real coin. "She wouldn't lie in her coffin, an' I b'lieve she was good after all, an' I've been too hard on her," she continued, waddling to a seat outside, and communicating her change of sentiment to the woman next to her, who told it to the next, until it was pretty generally known that "ole Miss Thomas had gin in, 'case Miss Dory had on her weddin' ring."

Nearly every one else present had "gin in" long before, and now that Mrs. Thomas had declared herself, the few doubtful ones followed her lead, and there were only kind, pitying words said of poor Dory, as they waited for the minister to come, and the services to begin.



CHAPTER VI

THE SERVICES

The blacks were outside the house, and the whites inside, when Jake drove his shay to the door, and the Rev. Mr. Mason alighted, wiping the sweat from his face and looking around with a good deal of curiosity. A mulatto boy came forward to take charge of the mule, and Jake ushered the minister into the room where the coffin stood, and where were the four men he had asked to be bearers.

"I s'pose I'd or'ter of had six," he said in a whisper; "but she's so light, four can tote her easy, an' they's all very 'spectable. No low-downs. I means everything shall be fust-class."

Wrapped in shawls, with her head nodding up and down, old Mrs. Harris sat, more deaf and more like a dried mummy than she had been on the occasion of the stranger's visit. Jake had bought her an ear trumpet, but she seldom used it, unless compelled by Mandy Ann, who now sat near her with the little girl who, at sight of Jake, started to meet him. But, Mandy Ann held her back and whispered, "Can't you done 'have yerself at yer mammy's funeral an' we the only mourners?"

The child only understood that she was to keep quiet, and sat down in her little chair, while Jake motioned to Mr. Mason that he was to see Miss Dory.

During her illness her hair had fallen out so fast that it had been cut off, and now lay in soft rings around her forehead, giving her more the look of a child than of a girl of twenty, as the plate on her coffin indicated. "Eudora, aged twenty," was all there was on it, and glancing at it Mr. Mason wondered there was no other name. Jake saw the look and whispered. "I wan't gwine to lie an' put on 'Eudora Harris,' for she ain't Eudora Harris, an' I didn't know t'other name for shoo. Ain't she lovely!"

"She is, indeed," Mr. Mason said, feeling the moisture in his eyes, as he looked at the young, innocent face on which there was no trace of guilt.

He was sure of that without Jake's repeated assertion, "Fo' God, it's all right, for she tole me so. Mostly, she'd say nothin'. She'd promised she wouldn't, but jess fo' she died she said agen to me, 'I tole him I'd keep dark till he come for me, but it's all right. Send for Elder Covil 'crost the river. He knows.' I've tole you this afore, I reckon, but my mind is so full I git rattled."

By this time the bent figure sitting in the rocking-chair, near the coffin began to show signs of life and whimper a little.

"'Scuse me," Jake said, pulling a shawl more squarely around her shoulders and straightening her up. "Mas'r Mason, this is ole Miss Lucy. Miss Lucy, this is Mas'r Mason, come to 'tend Miss Dory's funeral. Peart up a little, can't you, and speak to him."

There didn't seem to be much "peart up" in the woman, who began at once to cry. Instantly Mandy Ann started up and wiped her face, and settled her cap, and taking the trumpet screamed into it that she was to behave herself and speak to the gemman.

"Dory's dead," she moaned, and subsided into her shawl and cap, with a faint kind of cry.

"Dory's dead," was repeated, in a voice very different from that of the old woman—a child's clear, sweet voice—and turning, Mr. Mason saw a little dark-haired, dark-eyed girl standing by Mandy Ann.

Mr. Mason was fond of children, and stooping down he kissed the child, who drew back and hid behind Jake.

"Me 'fraid," she said, covering her face with her hands, and looking with her bright eyes through her fingers at the stranger.

Something in her eyes attracted and fascinated, and at the same time troubled Mr. Mason, he scarcely knew why. The old grandmother was certainly demented. The landlord had said Eudora and the whole family were queer. Was the child going to be queer, too, and did she show it in her eyes? They were very large and beautiful, and the long, curling lashes, when she closed them, fell on her cheeks like those of her dead mother, whom she resembled. She seemed out of place in her surroundings, but he could not talk to her then. The people in the next room were beginning to get restless, and to talk in low tones of their crops and the weather, and the big alligator caught near the hotel. It was time to begin, and taking the little girl in his arms, Jake motioned to Mr. Mason. In the door between the two rooms was a stand covered with a clean white towel. On it was a Bible, a hymn-book, a cup of water, and two or three flowers in another cup. Mr. Mason did not need the Bible. Jake had asked for the Resurrection and the Life, and he had brought his prayer-book, and began the beautiful burial service of the Church, to which the people listened attentively for a while; then they began to get tired, and by the time the long reading was through there were unmistakable signs of discontent among them. They had expected something more than reading a chapter. They wanted remarks, with laudations of the deceased. Miss Dory was worthy of them, and because there were none they fancied the minister did not believe it was all right with her, and they resented it. Even old Miss Thomas had "gin in," and thar was the weddin' ring, an' no sermon,—no remarks, and they didn't like it. Another grievance was that no hymn was given out, and there was the hymn-book at hand. They had at least expected "Hark from the tombs," if nothing else, but there was nothing. Singing constituted a large part of their religious worship, and they did not mean to have Miss Dory buried without this attention.

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