The Works of E. P. Roe
THE EARTH TREMBLED
CHAPTER I MARY WALLINGFORD CHAPTER II LOVE'S AGONY CHAPTER III UNCLE SHEBA'S EXPERIENCE CHAPTER IV MARA CHAPTER V PAST AND FUTURE CHAPTER VI "PAHNASHIP" CHAPTER VII MARA'S PURPOSE CHAPTER VIII NEVER FORGET; NEVER FORGIVE CHAPTER IX A NEW SOLACE CHAPTER X MISS AINSLEY CHAPTER XI TWO QUESTIONS CHAPTER XII A "FABULATION" CHAPTER XIII CAPTAIN BODINE CHAPTER XIV "ALL GIRLS TOGETHER" CHAPTER XV TWO LITTLE BAKERS CHAPTER XVI HONEST FOES CHAPTER XVII FIRESIDE DRAMAS CHAPTER XVIII A FAIR DUELLIST CHAPTER XIX A CHIVALROUS SURPRISE CHAPTER XX THE STRANGER EXPLAINS CHAPTER XXI UNCLE SHEBA SAT UPON CHAPTER XXII YOUNG HOUGHTON IS DISCUSSED CHAPTER XXIII THE WARNING CHAPTER XXIV "THE IDEA!" CHAPTER XXV FEMININE FRIENDS CHAPTER XXVI ELLA'S CRUMB OF COMFORT CHAPTER XXVII RECOGNIZED AS LOVER CHAPTER XXVIII "HEAVEN SPEED YOU THEN" CHAPTER XXIX CONSTERNATION CHAPTER XXX TEMPESTS CHAPTER XXXI "I ABSOLVE YOU" CHAPTER XXXII FALSE SELF-SACRIFICE CHAPTER XXXIII A SURE TEST CHAPTER XXXIV "BITTERNESS MUST BE CHERISHED" CHAPTER XXXV NOBLE REVENGE CHAPTER XXXVI A FATHER'S FRENZY CHAPTER XXXVII CLOUDS LIFTING CHAPTER XXXVIII "YES, VILET" CHAPTER XXXIX THE EARTHQUAKE CHAPTER XL "GOD" CHAPTER XLI SCENES NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN CHAPTER XLII A HOMELESS CITY CHAPTER XLIII "THE TERROR BY NIGHT" CHAPTER XLIV HOPE TURNED INTO DREAD CHAPTER XLV A CITY ENCAMPING CHAPTER XLVI "ON JORDAN'S BANKS WE STAN'" CHAPTER XLVII LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF A NIGHT CHAPTER XLVIII GOOD BROUGHT OUT OF EVIL
THE EARTH TREMBLED
THE EARTH TREMBLED
At the beginning of the Civil War there was a fine old residence on Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina, inhabited by a family almost as old as the State. Its inheritor and owner, Orville Burgoyne, was a widower. He had been much saddened in temperament since the death of the wife, and had withdrawn as far as possible from public affairs. His library and the past had secured a stronger hold upon his interest and his thoughts than anything in the present, with one exception, his idolized and only child, Mary, named for her deceased mother. Any book would be laid aside when she entered; all gloom banished from his eyes when she coaxed and caressed him.
She was in truth one to be loved because so capable of love herself. She conquered and ruled every one not through wilfulness or imperiousness, but by a gentle charm, all her own, which disarmed opposition.
At first Mr. Burgoyne had paid little heed to the mutterings which preceded the Civil War, believing them to be but Chinese thunder, produced by ambitious politicians, North and South. He was preoccupied by the study of an old system of philosophy which he fancied possessed more truth than many a more plausible and modern one. Mary, with some fancy work in her hands, often watched his deep abstraction in wondering awe, and occasionally questioned him in regard to his thoughts and studies; but as his explanations were almost unintelligible, she settled down to the complacent belief that her father was one of the most learned men in the world.
At last swiftly culminating events aroused Mr. Burgoyne from his abstraction and drove him from his retirement. He accepted what he believed to be duty in profound sorrow and regret. His own early associations and those of his ancestors had been with the old flag and its fortunes; his relations to the political leaders of the South were too slight to produce any share in the alienation and misunderstandings which had been growing between the two great sections of his country, and he certainly had not the slightest sympathy with those who had fomented the ill-will for personal ends. Finally, however, he had found himself face to face with the momentous certainty of a separation of his State from the Union. For a time he was bewildered and disturbed beyond measure; for he was not a prompt man of affairs, living keenly in the present, but one who had been suddenly and rudely summoned from the academic groves of the old philosophers to meet the burning imperative questions of the day—questions put with the passionate earnestness of a people excited beyond measure.
It was this very element of popular feeling which finally turned the scale in his decision. Apparently the entire Southern people were unanimous in their determination "to be free" and to separate themselves from their old political relations. His pastor with all other friends of his own rank confirmed this impression, and, as it was known that he wavered, the best and strongest men of his acquaintance argued the question with him. His daughter was early carried away by the enthusiasm of her young companions, nevertheless she watched the conflict in her father's mind with the deepest interest. She often saw him walk the floor with unwonted tears in his eyes and almost agony on his brow; and when at last, he decided in accordance with the prevailing sentiment of his State, the Act of Secession and all that it involved became sacred in her thoughts.
She trembled and shrank when the phase of negotiation passed away, and war was seen to be the one alternative to submission. She never doubted or hesitated, however; neither did her father after his mind was once made up. Every day the torrent of bitter feeling deepened and broadened between them and the North, of which, practically, they knew very little. Even such knowledge as they possessed had come through distorted mediums, and now everything was colored by the blackest prejudice. They were led to believe and made to feel that not only their possessions but their life and honor were at stake. In early years Mr. Burgoyne had served with distinction in the war with Mexico, and he therefore promptly received a commission.
The effect of her father's decision and action had been deepened a hundred-fold by an event which occurred soon afterward. Among the thousands who thronged to Charleston when Fort Sumter was attacked, was the son of a wealthy planter residing in the interior of the State. This young soldier's enthusiasm and devotion were much bruited in the city, because, waiving wealth and rank, he had served as a private. His fearlessness at Fort Moultrie enhanced his reputation, and when the small garrison of heroes, commanded by Major Anderson, succumbed, Sidney Wallingford found that he had been voted a hero himself, especially by his fair compatriots with whom he had formerly danced when visiting the town.
The young fellow's head was not easily turned, however, for when, at an evening gathering, a group was lauding the great achievement he said disdainfully, "What! thousands against seventy? Despise the Yankees as we may, the odds were too great. The only thing we can plume ourselves upon is that we would have fought just the same had the seventy been seven thousand. I think the fellows did splendidly, if they were Yankees, yet what else could we expect since their commander was a Southern man? Oh no! we must wait till the conditions are more even before we can exult over our victories. I reckon we'll have them all the same though."
Murmurs of approbation followed these remarks, but he saw only the eloquent eyes of Mary Burgoyne, and, offering her his arm, led her away.
The spring night was as warm as a June evening at the North, and they joined the groups that were strolling under the moonlight in the garden.
Sidney felt the young girl's hand tremble on his arm, and he drew it closer to his side. She soon asked falteringly, "Mr. Wallingford, do you think—will the conditions become more even, as you suggested? Can it be that the North will be so carried away by this abolition fanaticism as to send armies and ships in the vain effort to subjugate us?"
"Thank you, Miss Mary, for saying that it will be a 'vain effort.'"
"Of course it will be, with such men as my father and"—she suddenly hesitated.
"And who else?" he gently asked, trying to look into her averted face.
"Oh—well," she stammered with a forced little laugh, "thousands of brave fellows like you. You do not answer my question. Are we to have anything like a general war? Surely, there ought to be enough good, wise men on both sides to settle the matter."
"The matter might be settled easily enough," he replied lightly. "We know our rights, and shall firmly assert them. If the Yankees yield, all well; if not, we'll make 'em."
"But making them may mean a great war?"
"Oh, yes, some serious scrimmages I reckon. We're prepared however, and will soon bring the North to its senses."
"If anything should happen to my father!" she sighed.
He had led her beneath the shadow of a palmetto, and now breathed into her ear, "Mary, dear Mary, how much I'd give to hear you say in the same tone, 'If anything should happen to Sidney'!" She did not withdraw her hand from his arm, and he again felt it tremble more than before. "Mary," he continued earnestly, "I have asked your father if I might speak to you, and he did not deny me the privilege. Oh, Mary, you must have seen my love in my eyes and heard it in my tones long since. Mary," he concluded impetuously, "let me but feel that I am defending you as well as my State, and I can and will be a soldier in very truth."
She suddenly turned and sobbed on his shoulder, "That's what I fear,—I can hide my secret from you no longer—that's what I fear. Those I love will be exposed to sudden and terrible death. I am not brave at all."
"Shall I go home and plant cotton?" he asked, half jestingly.
"No, no, a thousand times no," she cried passionately. "Have I not seen the deep solemnity with which my father accepted duty so foreign to his tastes and habits? Can you think I would wish you to shrink or fail—you who are so strong and brave? No, no, in very truth. Self must mean only self-sacrifice until our sacred cause is won. Yet think twice, Sidney, before you bind yourself to me. I fear I am not so brave as other women appear to be in these times. My heart shrinks unspeakably from war and bloodshed. Although I shall not falter, I shall suffer agonies of dread. I cannot let you go to danger with stern words and dry eyes. I fear you'll find me too weak to be a soldier's wife."
He led her into deeper and shadier seclusion as he asked, "Do you think I'll hesitate because you have a heart in your bosom instead of a stone? No, my darling. We must keep a brave aspect to the world, but my heart is as tender toward you as yours toward me. What else in God's universe could I dread more than harm to you? But there is little cause to fear. The whole South will soon be with us, foreign nations will recognize us as an independent people, and then we will dictate our own terms of peace; then you shall be my bride in this, our proud city by the sea."
He kissed away her tears, and they strolled through the shadowy walks until each had regained the composure essential in the bright drawing-rooms.
A commission with the rank of captain was speedily offered young Wallingford. He accepted it, but said he would return home and raise his own company. This action was also applauded by his friends and the authorities. Mary saw her father smile approvingly and proudly upon her choice, and he became her ideal hero as well as lover.
He fulfilled his promises, and before many weeks passed, re-entered Charleston with a hundred brave fellows, devoted to him. The company was incorporated into one of the many regiments forming, and Mr. Burgoyne assured his daughter that the young captain was sure of promotion, and would certainly make a thorough soldier.
Even in those early and lurid days a few things were growing clear, and among them was the fact that the North would not recognize the doctrine of State Rights, nor peaceably accept the Act of Secession. Soldiers would be needed,—how long no one knew, for the supreme question of the day had passed from the hands of statesmen to those of the soldier. The lack of mutual knowledge, the misapprehension and the gross prejudices existing between the two sections, would have been ludicrous had they not been fraught with such long-continued woes. Southern papers published such stuff as this: "The Northern soldiers are men who prefer enlisting to starvation; scurvy fellows from the back slums of cities, with whom Falstaff would not have marched through Coventry. Let them come South, and we will put our negroes at the dirty work of killing them. But they will not come South. Not a wretch of them will live on this side of the border longer than it will take us to reach the ground and drive them off." The Northern press responded in kind: "No man of sense," it was declared, "could for a moment doubt that this much-ado-about-nothing would end in a month. The Northern people are simply invincible. The rebels, a mere band of ragamuffins, will fly like chaff before the wind on our approach." Thus the wretched farces of bluster continued on either side until in blood, agony, and heartbreak, Americans learned to know Americans.
President Lincoln, however, had called out seventy-five thousand troops, and these men were not long in learning that they could not walk over the South in three months. The South also discovered that these same men could not be terrified into abandoning the attempt. There were thoughtful men on both sides who early began to recognize the magnitude of the struggle upon which they had entered. Among these was Major Burgoyne, and the presentiment grew upon him that he would not see the end of the conflict. When, therefore, impetuous young Wallingford urged that he might call Mary his wife before he marched to distant battlefields, the father yielded, feeling that it might be well for her to have another protector besides himself. The union was solemnized in old St. Michael's Church, where Mary's mother and grandmother had been married before her; a day or two of quiet and happiness was vouchsafed, and then came the tidings of the first great battle of the war. Charleston responded with acclamations of triumph; bells sent out their merriest peals; cannon thundered from every fort on the harbor, but Mary wept on her husband's breast. Among the telegrams of victory had come an order for his regiment to go North immediately. Not even a brief honeymoon was permitted to her.
As the exaggerated reports of a magnificent Confederate victory at Bull Run continued to pour in, Major Burgoyne shared for a time in the general elation, believing that independence, recognition abroad, and peace had been virtually secured. All the rant about Northern cowardice appeared to be confirmed, and he eagerly waited for the announcement that Washington had been captured by Johnston's victorious army.
Instead, came the dismal tidings from his only sister that her husband, Captain Hunter, had been killed in the battle over which he had been rejoicing. Then for some mysterious reason the Southern army did not follow the Federals, who had left the field in such utter rout and panic. It soon appeared that the contending forces were occupying much the same positions as before. News of the second great uprising of the North followed closely, and presaged anything but a speedy termination of the conflict. Major Burgoyne was not a Hotspur, and he grew thoughtful and depressed in spirit, although he sedulously concealed the fact from his associates. The shadow of coming events began to fall upon him, and his daughter gradually divined his lack of hopefulness. The days were already sad and full of anxiety, for her husband was absent. He had scouted the idea of the Yankees standing up before the impetuous onset of the Southern soldiers, and his words had apparently proved true, yet even those Northern cowards had killed one closely allied to her before they fled. Remembering, therefore, her husband's headlong courage, what assurance of his safety could she have although victory followed victory?
Major Burgoyne urged his widowed sister to leave her plantation in the charge of an overseer and make her home with him. "You are too near the probable theatre of military operations to be safe," he wrote, "and my mind cannot rest till you are with us in this city which we are rapidly making impregnable." The result was that she eventually became a member of his family. Her stern, sad face added to the young wife's depression, for the stricken woman had been rendered intensely bitter by her loss. Mary was too gentle in nature to hate readily, yet wrathful gleams would be emitted at times even from her blue eyes, as her aunt inveighed in her hard monotone against the "monstrous wrong of the North." They saw their side with such downright sincerity and vividness that the offenders appeared to be beyond the pale of humanity. Few men, even though the frosts of many winters had cooled their blood and ripened their judgment, could reason dispassionately in those days, much less women, whose hearts were kept on the rack of torture by the loss of dear ones or the dread of such loss.
It is my purpose to dwell upon the war, its harrowing scenes and intense animosities, only so far as may be essential to account for my characters and to explain subsequent events. The roots of personality strike deep, and the taproot, heredity, runs back into the being of those who lived and suffered before we were born.
Gentle Mary Burgoyne should have been part of a happier day and generation. The bright hopes of a speedily conquered peace were dying away; the foolish bluster on both sides at the beginning of the war had ceased, and the truth so absurdly ignored at first, that Americans, North and South, would fight with equal courage, was made clearer by every battle. The heavy blows received by the South, however, did not change her views as to the wisdom and righteousness of her cause, and she continued to return blows at which the armies of the North reeled, stunned and bleeding. Mary was not permitted to exult very long, however, for the terrible pressure was quickly renewed with an unwavering pertinacity which created misgivings in the stoutest hearts. The Federals had made a strong lodgment on the coast of her own State, and were creeping nearer and nearer, often repulsed yet still advancing as if impelled by the remorseless principle of fate.
At last, in the afternoon of a day early in April, events occurred never to be forgotten by those who witnessed them. Admiral Dupont with his armored ships attempted to reduce Fort Sumter and capture the city. Thousands of spectators watched the awful conflict; Mary Wallingford and her aunt, Mrs. Hunter, among them. The combined roar of the guns exceeded all the thunder they had ever heard. About three hundred Confederate cannon were concentrated on the turreted monitors, and some of the commanders said that "shot struck the vessels as fast as the ticking of a watch." It would seem that the ships which appeared so diminutive in the distance must be annihilated, yet Mary with her powerful glass saw them creep nearer and nearer. It was their shots, not those of her friends, that she watched with agonized absorption, for every tremendous bolt was directed against the fort in which was her father.
The conflict was too unequal; the bottom of the harbor was known to be paved with torpedoes, and in less than an hour Dupont withdrew his squadron in order to save it from destruction.
In strong reaction from intense excitement, Mary's knees gave way, and she sank upon them in thankfulness to God. Her aunt supported her to her room, gave restoratives, and the daughter in deep anxiety waited for tidings from her father. He did not come to her; he was brought, and there settled down upon her young life a night of grief and horror which no words can describe. While he was sighting a gun, it had been struck by a shell from the fleet, and when the smoke of the explosion cleared away he was seen among the debris, a mangled and unconscious form. He was tenderly taken up, and after the conflict ended, conveyed to his home. On the way thither he partially revived, but reason was gone. His eyes were scorched and blinded, his hearing destroyed by the concussion, and but one lingering thought survived in the wreck of his mind. In a plaintive and almost childlike tone he continually uttered the words, "I was only trying to defend my city and my home."
Hour after hour he repeated this sentence, deaf to his child's entreaties for recognition and a farewell word. His voice grew more and more feeble until he could only whisper the sad refrain; at last his lips moved but there was no sound; then he was still.
For a time it seemed as if Mary would soon follow him, but her aunt, her white face tearless and stern, bade her live for her husband and her unborn child. These sacred motives eventually enabled her to rally, but her heart now centred its love on her husband with an intensity which made her friends tremble for her future. His visits had been few and brief, and she lived upon his letters. When they were delayed, her eyes had a hunted, agonized look which even her stoical aunt could not endure.
One day about midsummer she found the stricken wife, unconscious upon the floor with the daily paper in her clenched hand. When at last the physician had brought back feeble consciousness and again banished it by the essential opiate, Mrs. Hunter read the paragraph which, like a bolt, had struck down her niece. It was from an account of a battle in which the Confederates had been worsted and were being driven from a certain vantage point. "At this critical moment," ran the report, "Colonel Wallingford, with his thinned regiment, burst through the crowd of fugitives rushing down the road, and struck the pursuing enemy such a stinging blow as to check its advance. If the heroic colonel and his little band could only have been supported at this instant the position might have been regained. As it was, they were simply overwhelmed as a slight obstacle is swept away by a torrent. But few escaped; some were captured, while the colonel and the majority were struck down, trampled upon and fairly obliterated as the Northern horde of infantry and artillery swept forward all the more impetuously. The check was of very great advantage, however, for it gave our vastly outnumbered troops more time to rally in a stronger position."
This brief paragraph contained the substance of all that was ever learned of the young husband, and his mangled remains filled an unknown grave. His wife had received the blow direct, and she never rallied. Week after week she moaned and wept upon her bed when the physician permitted consciousness. Even in the deep sleep produced by opiates, she would shudder at the sound of Gilmore's guns as they thundered against Forts Sumter and Wagner. A faithful colored woman who had been a slave in the family from infancy watched unweariedly beside her, giving place only to the stern-visaged aunt, whose touch and words were gentle, but who had lost the power to disguise the bitterness of her heart. She tried to awaken maternal instincts in the wife, but in vain, for there are wounds of the spirit, like those of the body, which are fatal. All efforts to induce the widow to leave the city, already within reach of the Federal guns, were unavailing, and she was the more readily permitted to have her own way, because, in the physician's opinion, the attempt would prove fatal.
Meanwhile her time was drawing near. One August night she was dozing, and moaning in her sleep, when suddenly there was a strange, demoniac shriek through the air followed by an explosion which in the still night was terrifically loud. The invalid started up and looked wildly at her sable nurse, who was trembling like a leaf.
"O Lawd hab mercy, Missus," she exclaimed. "Dem Yankees shellin' de town."
Mrs. Hunter was instantly at the bedside. The faithful doctor came hurriedly of his own accord, and employed all his skill.
A few hours later Mrs. Hunter tried to say cheerily, "Come, Mary, here is a fine little girl for you to love and live for."
"Aunty," said the mother calmly, "I am dying. Let me see my child and kiss her. Then put her next my heart till it is cold."
Mrs. Hunter lifted her startled eyes to the physician, who sadly nodded his head in acquiescence. In a few moments more the broken heart found healing far beyond all human passion and strife.
With hot, yet tearless eyes, and a face that appeared to be chiselled from marble in its whiteness and rigidity, the aunt took up the child. Her tone revealed the indescribable intensity of her feelings as she said, "Thy name is Mara—bitterness."
UNCLE SHEBA'S EXPERIENCE
Many years have elapsed since the events narrated in the last chapter occurred, and the thread of story is taken up again in the winter of 1886. In a small dwelling, scarcely more than a cabin, and facing on an obscure alley in Charleston, a rotund colored woman of uncertain age is sitting by the fire with her husband. She is a well-known character in the city, for she earns her bread by selling cakes, fruits, and other light articles which may be vended in the street with chances of profit. Although "Aun' Sheba," as she was familiarly called, had received no training for mercantile pursuits, yet her native shrewdness had enabled her to hit upon the principles of success, as may be discovered by the reader as the story progresses. She had always been so emphatically the master of the house and the head of the family, that her husband went by the name of "Uncle Sheba." It must be admitted that the wife shared in the popular opinion of her husband.
When in an amiable mood, which, happily, was her usual condition of mind, she addressed him as "Unc.;" when some of his many short-comings exhausted her good-nature—for Aun' Sheba had more good-nature than patience—he was severely characterized as "Mr. Buggone." Since they had been brought up in Major Burgoyne's family, they felt entitled to his surname, and by evolution it had become "Buggone." Uncle Sheba's heart failed him when his wife addressed him by this title, for he knew he was beyond the dead line of safety. They dwelt alone in the cabin, their several children, with one exception, having been scattered they knew not where. Adjacent was another cabin, owned by a son-in-law, named Kern Watson, who had married their youngest daughter years before, and he was the pride of Aun' Sheba's heart. Uncle Sheba felt that he was not appreciated, or perhaps appreciated too well, by his son-in-law, and their intercourse was rather formal.
On the evening in question, supper was over, but the table had not yet been cleared. Uncle Sheba was a good deal of an epicure, and, having left not a scrap of what his wife had vouchsafed to him, was now enjoying his corn-cob pipe. Aun' Sheba also liked a good square meal as much as any one, and she had the additional satisfaction that she had earned it. At this hour of the day she was usually very tired, and was accustomed to take an hour's rest before putting her living-room in order for the night. Although the twilight often fell before she returned from her mercantile pursuits, she never intrusted Uncle Sheba with the task of getting supper, and no housekeeper in the city kept her provisions under lock and key more rigorously than did Aun' Sheba. After repeated trials, she had come to a decision. "Mr. Buggone," she had said in her sternest tones, "you's wuss dan poah white trash when you gets a chance at de cubbard. Sence I can't trus' you nohow, I'se gwine to gib you a 'lowance. You a high ole Crischun, askin' for you'se daily bread, an' den eatin' up 'nuff fer a week."
Uncle Sheba often complained that he was "skimped," but his appearance did not indicate any meagreness in his "'lowance," and he had accepted his lot in this instance, as in others, rather than lose the complacent consciousness that he was provided for without much effort on his part.
Supper was Aun' Sheba's principal meal, and she practically dined at the fashionable hour of six. What she termed her dinner was a very uncertain affair. Sometimes she swallowed it hastily at "Ole Tobe's rasteran," as she termed the eating-room kept by a white-woolled negro; again she would "happen in" on a church sister, when, in passing, the odor of some cookery was appetizing. She always left, however, some compensation from her basket, and so was not unwelcome. Not seldom, also, a lady or a citizen who knew her well and the family to which she had once belonged, would tell her to go to the kitchen. On such days Aun' Sheba's appetite flagged at supper, a fact over which her husband secretly rejoiced, since his allowance was almost double.
She was now resting after the fatigues of the day, and the effort to get and dispose of a very substantial supper, and was puffing at her pipe in a meditative aspect. Evidently something unusual was on her mind, and she at last ejaculated, "I know dey'se poah."
"Who's?" languidly queried Uncle Sheba.
"Oh, you'd neber fin' out. Dey'd starve long o' you."
"I dunno who dey is. What 'casion I got to pervide for dey?"
"Ha, ha, ha, Unc.! You'se a great pervider. Somehow or oder I'se got de notion dat you'se a 'sumer."
"I bress de Lawd my appetite am' failin' in spite ob de rheumatiz."
"If you rheumatiz was only in you jints, dere'd be a comfort in keerin' fer you, Unc., but it's in you min'."
"You'll cotch it some day, an' den you know what 'tis. But who's dey dat you got on you min'?"
"Why, de young Missy and de ole Missus to be sho'."
"I don't see how dey can be poah. Dey mus' hab kep' someting out all dey had."
"So dey did, but it wan't much, an' I jus' b'lebe it's clar dun gone!"
"What! de plantation in Virginny all gone?"
"How often I tole you, Unc., dat I heard ole Missus say herself dat plantation was all trompl'd in de groun' an' what was lef' was took fer taxes."
"I forgits," remarked Uncle Sheba, his eyes growing heavy in his lack of interest; "but ole Marse Wallingford mus' hab lef' de widder ob his son someting."
"Now look heah, Unc., you'se haf asleep. You'se 'lowance too hebby dis ebenin'. How you forgit when I tell you ober an' ober? You doan keer. Dat's de foot de shoe's on. You know ole Marse Wallingford's plantation was trompl'd in de groun' too—not a stick or stone lef' by Sherman's sogers."
"Well, dey sole dere fine house on Meetin' Street, an' dat mus' a brought a heap," protested Uncle Sheba, rousing himself a little.
"Mighty little arter de mor'giges an' taxes was paid. Didn't I help dem pack up what dey tink dey could sabe, and see poah Missy Mara wrung her han's as she gib up dis ting an' dat ting till at las' she cry right out, 'Mought as well gib up eberyting. Why don't dey kill us too, like dey did all our folks?' You used to be so hot fer dat ole Guv'ner Moses and say he was like de Moses in de Bible—dat he was raised up fer ter lead de culled people to de promise' lan'. You vote fer him, an' hurrah fer him, an' whar's yer promise' lan'? Little you know 'bout Scripter when you say he secon' Moses. Don' want no more sich Moseses in dis town. Dey wouldn't lebe a brick heah ef dey could take dem off. He'n his tribe got away wid 'bout all ole Missus' and young Missus' prop'ty in my 'pinion. Anyhow I feels it in my bones dey's poah, an' I mus' try an' fin' out. Dey's so proud dey'd starbe fore dey'd let on."
"'Spose you does fin' out, what kin you do? You gwine ter buy back de big house fer dem?"
"I'se not de one ter talk big 'bout what I'se gwine ter do," replied Aun' Sheba, nodding her head portentously as she knocked the ashes from her pipe, and prepared for the remaining tasks of the evening.
Her husband's self-interest took alarm at once, and he began to hitch uneasily on his chair. At last he broke out: "Now look heah, Aun' Sheba, you'se got suffin on you' min' 'bout dem white folks—"
"Dem white folks! Who you talkin' 'bout?"
"Well, dey ain't none o' our flesh an' blood, and de Bible say shuah dat dey dat don' pervide fer dere own flesh an' blood am wuss dan a inferdel."
"Den I reckon you'se an inferdel, Mister Buggone," retorted Aun' Sheba, severely.
"I'se not," retorted her husband, assuming much solemnity, "I'se a 'umble an' 'flicted sarbent ob de Lawd, an' it's my duty to 'monstrate wid you. I know what's on you' min'. You'se gwine ter do fer dem white folks when you got all you kin do now."
"Mister Buggone, don' you call Miss Mara white folks no mo'."
"Well, ain't she white folks? Didn't I slabe fer her granpar yeahs an' yeahs, an' wat I got ter show fer 't?"
"You got no stripes on you back, an' you'd had plenty ter show ef you'd wuked fer any oder man. I 'member all about you slabin' an' how de good major use' to let you off. You know, too, dat he war so took up wid his book dat you could do foolishness right under his nose. An' dar was my poah young Missy Mary, who hadn't de heart to hurt a skeeter. You s'pose I watch ober dat broken-hearted lam' an' her little chile an' den heah 'em called white folks, as if dey'se no 'count ter me? How ofen dat poah dyin' lam' turn to me in de middle ob de night an' say ter me, Sheba, you will took keer on my chile ef it libe, an' I say to her 'fore de Lawd dat I would. An' I did too. Dat po' little moderless and faderless chile lay on my bosom till I lubed it fer hersef, and Missy Mara neber gwine to hab trubble when I ain't dar."
Aun' Sheba's voice had been reaching a higher and higher key under the influence of reminiscence and indignation. Although her husband was in dire trepidation he felt that this point was too serious to be yielded without a desperate effort. He had been put on short allowance once before when his wife had gone to help take care of Mara in a severe illness, and now he had a presentiment that Aun' Sheba would try to help support the girl and her great-aunt as well as himself. Such an attempt threatened privations which were harrowing even to contemplate, and in a sort of desperation he resolved once more to assert his marital position. "Aun' Sheba," he began with much dignity, "I'se been bery easy an' bendin' like ter you. I'se gib you you'se own head dead agin de principles ob Scripter which say dat de husban' am de head ob de wife—"
"Mister Buggone," interrupted Aun' Sheba in a passion which was bursting all restraint, "you'se wrestin' Scripter to you'se own 'struction. Ef you am de head ob dis fam'ly, I'se gwine ter sit down an fole my hans, an you can jes' git out an earn my libin' an' yours too. Git up dar now, an' bring in de wood an' de kinlin' fer de mawnin', an' when mawnin' come, you make de fiah. Arter breakfas' you start right off ter work, and I'se sit on de do' step and talk to de neighbos. You shall hab all de headin ob de house you wants, but you can't hab de 'sition widout de 'sponsibilities. I'se gwine now to take a res' an' be 'sported," and the irate wife filled her pipe, sat down and smoked furiously.
Uncle Sheba was appalled at the result of his Scriptural argument. He would like to be king by divine right without any responsibilities. His one thought now was to escape until the storm blew over and his wife's tolerant good-nature resumed its wonted sway. Shuffling cautiously around to the door he remarked meekly as he held it ajar, "I reckon I'll drap in at de prar-meetin', fer I tole brudder Simpkins I'd gib dem a lif' dis ebenin'."
His heart misgave him as he heard his wife bound up and bolt the door after him, but he was a philosopher who knew the value of time in remedying many of the ills of life. It must be admitted that he could not get into the spirit of the meeting, and Brother Simpkins remarked rather severely at its close, "Mister Buggone, I'se feared you'se zeal am languishin'."
Uncle Sheba's forebodings increased as he saw that his house was dark, and he fell into something like panic when he found that the door was still bolted. He knocked gently at first, then louder and louder, adding to the uproar by calls and expostulations. A light appeared in the adjacent cottage, and Kern Watson, his son-in-law, came out. "Wat de matter now, Uncle Sheba?" he asked. "Does yer wan' ter bring de perlice? You'se been takin' a drap too much again, I reckon."
"No, I'se only been to prar-meetin', and Aun' Sheba jes' dun gone and bolt me out."
"Well, you'se been cuttin' up some shine, an' dat's a fac'. Come in an' stop you noise. You can sleep on de lounge. We don' want to pay ten dollahs in de mawnin to get you out ob de caboose."
Uncle Sheba was glad to avail himself of this rather equivocal hospitality, and eagerly sought to win Kern's sympathy by relating his grievance. His son-in-law leaned against the chimney-side that he might, in his half-dressed condition, enjoy the warmth of the coals covered with ashes on the hearth, and listened. He was a tall, straight negro of powerful build, and although his features were African, they were not gross in character. The candle on the mantel near him brought out his profile in fine silhouette, while his quiet steady eyes indicated a nature not stirred by trifles.
"You'se a 'publican, Kern, an' you knows dat we culled people got ter take keer ob ourselves."
"Yes, I'se a Republican," said Kern, "but wat dat got ter do wid dis matter? Is Aun' Sheba gwine ter take any ob your money? Ef she set her heart on helpin' her ole Missus an' young Missy an' arn de money herself, whose business is it but hers? I'se a Republican because I belebe in people bein' free, wedder dey is white or black, but I ain't one ob dem kin' ob Republicans dat look on white folks as inemies. Wot we do widout dem, an' wat dey do widout us? All talk ob one side agin de toder is fool talk. Ef dere's any prosperity in dis lan' we got ter pull tergedder. You'se free, Uncle Sheba, an' dere ain't a man in Charleston dat kin hender you from goin' to work termorrow."
"I reckon I'se try ter git a wink ob slepe, Kern," responded Uncle Sheba plaintively. "My narbes been so shook up dat my rheumatiz will be po'ful bad for a spell."
Kern knew the futility of further words, and also betook himself to rest.
With Aun' Sheba, policy had taken the place of passion. Through a knot-hole in her cabin she had seen her husband admitted to her son-in-law's dwelling, and so her mind was at rest. "Unc," she muttered, "forgits his 'sper'ence at de prar-meetin's bery easy, but he mus' have a 'sper'ence to-night dat he won't forgit. I neber so riled in my bawn days. Ef he tinks I can sit heah and see him go'mandizin' when my honey lam' Mara hungry, he'll fin' out."
Before the dawn on the following day, Uncle Sheba had had time for many second thoughts, and when his wife opened the door he brought in plenty of kindlings and wood. Aun' Sheba accepted these marks of submission in grim silence, resolving that peace and serenity should come about gradually. She relented so far, however, as to give him an extra slice of bacon for breakfast, at which token of returning toleration Uncle Sheba took heart again. Having curtly told him to clear the table, Aun' Sheba proceeded to make from the finest of flour the delicate cakes which she always sold fresh and almost warm from her stove, and before starting out on her vending tour of the streets, the store-room was locked against the one burglar she feared.
On the same evening which witnessed Uncle Sheba's false step and its temporarily disastrous results, Owen Clancy sat brooding over his fire in his bachelor apartment. If his sitting-room did not suggest wealth, it certainly indicated refined and intellectual tastes and a fair degree of prosperity. A few fine pictures were on the walls, an unusually well-selected library, although a small one, was in a bookcase, while upon the table lay several of the best magazines and reviews of the period. Above the mantel was suspended a cavalry sabre, its scabbard so dented as to suggest that it had seen much and severe service. Young Clancy's eyes were fixed upon it, and his revery was so deep that a book fell from his hand to the floor without his notice. His thoughts, however, were dwelling upon a young girl. Strange that a deadly weapon should be allied to her in association. Yet so it was. He never could look upon that sabre which his father had used effectively throughout the Civil War, without thinking of Mara Wallingford. Neither this object nor any other was required to produce thoughts of her, for he passed few waking hours in which she was not present to his fancy. He loved her sincerely, and felt that she knew it, and he also hoped that she concealed a deeper regard for him than she would admit even to herself. Indeed he almost believed that if he could share fully with her all the ideas and antipathies symbolized by the battered scabbard before him, his course of love would run smoothly. It was just at this point that the trouble between them arose. She was looking back; he, forward. He could not enter into her sad and bitter retrospection, feeling that this was morbid and worse than useless. Remembering how cruelly she and her kindred had suffered, he made great allowances for her, and had often tried to soften the bitterness in her heart by reminding her that he, too, had lost kindred and property. By delicate efforts he had sought to show the futility of clinging to a dead past, and a cause lost beyond hope, but Mara would only become grave and silent when such matters were touched upon.
Clancy had been North repeatedly on business, and had never discovered a particle of hostility toward him or his section in the men with whom he dealt and associated. They invited him to their homes; he met the women of their families, from whom he often received rather more than courtesy, for his fine appearance and a certain courtliness of manner, inherited from his aristocratic father, had won a thinly veiled admiration of which he had been agreeably conscious. Since these people had no controversy with him, how could he continue to cherish enmity and prejudice against them? His warm Southern nature revolted at receiving hearty good-will and not returning it in kind. There was nothing of a "we-forgive-you" in the bearing of his Northern acquaintances, nor was there any effusiveness in cordiality with an evident design of reassuring him. He was made to feel that he was guilty of an anachronism in brooding over the war, that it had been forgotten except as history, and that the present with its opportunities, and the future with its promise, were the themes of thought. The elements of life, energy, hopefulness with which he came in contact had appealed to him powerfully, for they were in harmony with his youth, ambition, yes, and his patriotism. "The South can never grow rich and strong by sulking," he had often assured himself, "and since the old dream is impossible, and we are to be one people, why shouldn't we accept the fact and unite in mutual helpfulness?"
Reason, ambition, and policy prompted him to the divergence of view and action which was alienating Mara. "Imitation of her example and spirit would be political and financial suicide on our part," he broke out. "I love her; and if she loved in the same degree, I would be more to her than bitter memories. She would help me achieve a happy future for us both. As it is, I am so pulled in different ways that I'm half insane," and with contracted brow he sprang up and paced the floor.
But he could not hold to this mood long, and soon his face softened into an expression of anxiety and commiseration. Resuming his chair his thoughts ran on, "She isn't happy either. For some cause I reckon she suffers more than I do. She looked pale to-day when I met her, and her face was full of anxiety until she saw me, and then it masked all feeling. She has worn that same cloak now for three winters. Great Heaven! if she should be in want, and I not know it! Yet what could I do if she were? Why will she be so proud and obdurate? I believe that gaunt, white-haired aunt has more to do with her course than her own heart. Well, I can't sit here and think about it any longer. If I see her something may become clearer, and I must see her before I go North again."
Mara Wallingford's troubles and anxieties had indeed been culminating of late. Almost her sole inheritance had been sadness, trouble and enmity. Not only had her unhappy mother's history been kept fresh in her memory by her great-aunt, Mrs. Hunter, but the very blood that coursed in her veins and the soul that looked out from her dark, melancholy eyes had received from that mother characteristics which it is of the province of this story to reveal. To poor Mary Wallingford, the death of her father and of her husband had been the unspeakable tragedy and wrong which had destroyed her life; and the long agony of the mother had deprived her offspring of the natural and joyous impulses of childhood and youth. If Mara had been left to the care of a judicious guardian—one who had sought by all wholesome means to counteract inherited tendencies, a most cheerful and hopeful life would have been developed, but in this respect the girl had been most unfortunate. The mind grows by what it feeds upon, and Mrs. Hunter's spirit had become so imbittered by dwelling upon her woes and losses that she was incapable of thinking or speaking of much else. She had never been a woman of warm, quick sympathies. She had seen little of the world, and, in a measure, was incapable of seeing it, whatever advantages she might have had. This would have been true of her, no matter where her lot had been cast, for she was a born conservative. What she had been brought up to believe would always be true; what she had been made familiar with by early custom would always be right, and anything different would be viewed with disapproval or intoleration. Too little allowance is often made for characters of this kind. We may regret rigidity and narrowness all we please, but there should be some respect for downright sincerity and the inability to see both sides of a question.
It often happens that if natures are narrow they are correspondingly intense; and this was true of Mrs. Hunter. She idolized her husband dead, more perhaps than if he had been living. Her brother and nephew were household martyrs, and little Mara had been taught to revere their memories as a devout Catholic pays homage to a patron saint. Between the widow and all that savored of the North, the author of her woes, there was a great gulf, and the changes wrought by the passing years had made no impression, for she would not change. She simply shut her eyes and closed her ears to whatever was not in accord with her own implacable spirit. She grew cold toward those who yielded to the kindly influences of peace and the healing balm of time; she had bitter scorn for such as were led by their interests to fraternize with the North and Northern people. In her indiscrimination and prejudice they were all typified by the unscrupulous adventurers who had made a farce of government and legally robbed the South when prostrate and bleeding after the War. She and her niece had been taxed out of their home to sustain a rule they loathed. Not a few women in Boston, in like circumstances, would be equally bitter and equally incapable of taking the broad views of an historian.
The influence of such a concentrated mind warped almost to the point of monomania, upon a child like Mara, predisposed from birth to share in a similar spirit, can be readily estimated. Peace and time, moreover, had not brought the ameliorating tendencies of prosperity, but rather a continuous and hopeless pressure of poverty.
Mrs. Hunter had been incapable of doing more than save what she could out of the wreck of their fortunes. There were no near relations, and those remaining, with most of their friends and acquaintances who had not been alienated, were struggling like themselves in straitened circumstances. Yet out of this poverty, many open, generous hands would have been stretched to the widow and her ward had they permitted their want to be known. But they felt that they would rather starve than do this, for they belonged to that class which suffers in proud silence. Although they had practiced an economy that was so severe as to be detrimental to both health and character, their principal had melted away, and their jewelry and plate, with the exception of heirlooms that could not be sold without a sense of sacrilege, had been quietly disposed of. The end of their resources was near, and they knew not what to do. Mara had tried to eke out their means by fancy-work, but she had no great aptitude for such tasks, and her education was too defective and old-fashioned for the equipment of a modern teacher. She was well read, especially in the classics, yet during the troubled years of her brief life she had not been given the opportunity to acquire the solid, practical knowledge which would enable her to instruct others. The exclusiveness and seclusion, so congenial to her aunt, had been against her, and now reticence and a disposition to shrink from the world had become a characteristic of her own.
She felt, however, that her heart, if not her will, was weak toward Owen Clancy. In him had once centred the hope of her life, and from him she now feared a wound that could never heal.
She underrated his affection as he did hers. He felt that she should throw off the incubus of the past for his sake; she believed that any depth of love on his part should render impossible all intercourse with the North beyond what was strictly necessary for the transaction of business. In order to soften her prejudices, he had told her of his social experiences in New York, and, as a result, had seen her face hardened against him.... She had no words of bitter scorn such as her aunt had indulged in when learning of the fact. She had only thought in sorrow that since he was "capable of accepting hospitality from the people who had murdered her kindred and blighted the South, there was an impassable gulf between them."
Now, however, the imperative questions of bread and shelter were uppermost. She believed that Clancy could and would solve these questions at once if permitted, and it was characteristic of her pride and what she regarded as her loyalty, that she never once allowed herself to think of this alternative. Yet what could she and her aunt do? They were in the pathetic position of gentlewomen compelled to face the world with unskilled hands. This is bad enough at best, but far worse when hands are half paralyzed by pride and timidity as well as ignorance. The desperate truth, however, stared them in the face. Do something they must, and that speedily.
They were contemplating the future in a hopeless sort of dread and perplexity on the evening when Aunt Sheba and young Clancy's thoughts were drawn toward them in such deep solicitude. This fact involves no mystery. The warm-hearted colored woman had seen and heard little things which suggested the truth, and the sympathetic lover had seen the face of the young girl when she was off her guard. Its expression had haunted him, and impelled him to see her at once, although she had chilled his hopes of late.
When compelled to leave the old home, Mrs. Hunter had taken the second floor of a small brick house located on a side street. In spite of herself Mara's heart fluttered wildly for a moment when the woman who occupied the first story brought up Clancy's card.
"You can't see him to-night," said her aunt, frowning.
Mara hesitated a moment, and then said firmly, "Yes, I will see him. Please ask him to come up." When they were alone, she added in a low voice, "I shall see him once more, probably for the last time socially. We cannot know what changes are in store for us."
"Well, I won't see him," said Mrs. Hunter, frigidly; and she left the room.
PAST AND FUTURE
Under the impulses of his solicitude and affection Clancy entered quickly, and took Mara's hand in such a strong, warm grasp that the color would come into her pale face. In spite of her peculiarities and seeming coldness, she was a girl who could easily awaken a passionate love in a warm, generous-hearted man like the one who looked into her eyes with something like entreaty in his own. She had a beauty peculiar to herself, and now a strange loveliness which touched his very soul. The quick flush upon her cheeks inspired hope, and a deep emotion, which she could not wholly suppress, found momentary expression. Even in that brief instant she was transfigured, for the woman within her was revealed. As if conscious of a weakness which seemed to her almost criminal, her face became rigid, and she said formally, "Please be seated, Mr. Clancy."
"You must not speak to me in that way and in that tone," he began impetuously, and then paused, for he was chilled by her cold, questioning gaze. Her will was so strong, and found such powerful expression in her dark, sad eyes, that for a moment he was dumb and embarrassed. Then his own high spirit rallied, and a purpose grew strong that she should hear him, and hear the truth also. His gray eyes, that had wavered for a moment, grew steady in their encounter with hers.
Seating himself on the opposite side of the table, he said quietly, "You think I have no right to speak to you in such a way."
"I fear we think differently on many subjects, Mr. Clancy."
"Admitting that, would you like a man to be a weak echo of yourself?"
"A man should not be weak in any respect. I do not think it necessary, however, to raise the question of my likes or dislikes."
"I must differ with you, Mara," he replied gravely.
"I agree with you now, fully, Mr. Clancy. We differ. Had we not better change the subject?"
"No, not unless you would be unfair. I am at a disadvantage. I am in your home. You are a lady, and therefore can compel me to leave unsaid what I am bent on saying. We have been friends, have we not?"
She bowed her acquiescence.
"Well," he continued a little bitterly, "I have one Southern trait left—frankness. You know I would speak in a different character if permitted, if I received one particle of encouragement." Then, with a sudden flush, he said firmly, "I will speak as I feel. I only pay homage in telling you what you must already know. I love you, and would make you my wife."
Her face became very pale as she averted it, and replied briefly, "You are mistaken, Mr. Clancy."
"Mara, I am not mistaken. Will you be fair enough to listen to me? We agree that we differ. Can we not also agree that we differ conscientiously? You cannot think me false, even though you say I am mistaken. Hitherto you have opposed to me a dead wall of silence. Though you will not listen to me as a lover, you might both listen and speak to me as a friend. That word would be hollow indeed if estrangment could result from honest differences of opinion."
"It is far more than a difference of opinion."
"Let the difference be what it may, Mara," he answered gently, resolving not to be baffled, "if you are so sure you are right, you should at least be willing to accord to one whom you once regarded as a friend the privilege of pleading his cause. Truth and right do not intrench themselves in repelling silence. That is the refuge of prejudice. If you will hear my side of the question, I will listen with the deepest interest to yours, and believe me you have a powerful ally in my heart."
"Your head has gained such ascendency over your heart, Mr. Clancy, that you cannot understand me. In some women the strongest reasons for or against a thing proceed from the latter organ."
"Is yours, then, so cold toward me?" he asked sadly.
"It is not cold toward the memory of my murdered parents," she replied with an ominous flash in her eyes.
Clancy looked at her in momentary surprise, then said firmly, "My father eventually died from injuries received in the war, but he was not murdered. He was wounded in fair battle in which he struck as well as received blows."
Again there was a quick flush upon her pale face, but now it was one of indignation as she said bitterly, "Fair battle! So you call it fair battle when men are overpowered in defending their homes. If armed robbers broke into your house, and you gave blows as well as received them, would you not be murdered if it so happened that you were killed? Why should we speak of these subjects further?" And there was a trace of scorn in her tone.
His pride was touched, and he was all the more determined that he would be heard. "I can give you good reason why we should speak further," he answered resolutely yet quietly. "However strong your feeling may be, I have too much respect for your intelligence and too much confidence in your courage to believe that you will weakly shrink from hearing one who is as conscientious as yourself. I cannot accept your illustration, and do not think the instance you give is parallel. In the differences between the North and the South, an appeal was made to the sword. If I had been old enough I would have fought at my father's side. But the question is now settled. No matter how we feel about it, the North and the South must live together, and it is not my nature to live in hate. Suppose I could—suppose it were possible for all Southern men to feel as you do and act in accordance with such bitter enmity, what would be the result? It would be suicide. Our land would become a desert. Capital and commerce would leave our cities because there would be no security among a people implacably hostile. Such a course would be more destructive than invading armies. My business, the business of the city, is largely with the North. If native Southern men tried to transact it in a cold, relentless spirit, we should lose the chance to live, much less to do anything for our land. We have suffered too much from this course already, and have allowed strangers, who care nothing for us, to take much that might have been ours. I love the South too well to advocate a course which would prove so fatal. What is more, I cannot think it would be right. The North of your imagination does not exist. I cannot hate people who have no hate for me, but on the contrary abound in honest, kindly feeling."
She had listened quietly with her face turned from him, and now met his eyes with an inscrutable expression in hers. "Have I not listened?" she asked.
"But you have not answered," he urged, "you have not even tried to show me wherein I am wrong."
The eyes whose sombre blackness had been like a veil now flamed with the anger she had long repressed. "How little you understand me," she said passionately, "when you think I can argue questions like these. You are virtually asking what to me is sacrilege. I have listened to you patiently, at what cost to my feelings you are incapable of knowing. Do you think that I can forget that my grandfather was mangled to death, and that his last words were, 'I was only trying to defend my home'? Do you think I can forget that my father was trampled into the very earth by your Northern friends with whom you must fraternize as well as trade? I will not speak of my martyred mother. Her name and agony are too sacred to be named in a political argument," and she uttered these last words with intense bitterness. Then rising to end the interview, she continued coldly in biting sarcasm, "Mr. Clancy, I have no relations with the North. I do not deal in cotton, and none of its fibre has found its way into my nature."
At these words he flushed hotly, sprang up, but by an evident and powerful effort controlled himself, and sat down again.
"How could you even imagine," she added, "that words, arguments, political and financial considerations would tempt me to be disloyal to the memory of my dead kindred?"
"You are disloyal to them," he said firmly.
"Mara, I am indeed proving myself a friend because I am such and more, and because you so greatly need a friend. Your kindred had hearts in their breasts. Would they doom you to the life upon which you are entering? Can you not see that you are passing deeper and deeper into the shadow of the past? What good can it do them? Could they speak would they say, 'We wish our sorrows to blight your life'? You are not happy, you cannot be happy. It is contrary to the law of God, it is impossible to human nature, that happiness and bitter, unrelenting enmity should exist in the same heart. You are not only unhappy, but you are in deep trouble of some kind. I saw that from your face to-day before you saw me and could mask from a friend its expression of deep anxiety. You shall hear the truth from me which I fear you hear from no other, and your harsh words shall not deter me from my resolute purpose to be kind, to rescue you virtually from a condition of mind that is so morbid, so unhealthful, that it will blight your life. I cannot so wrong your father and mother as even to imagine that it could be their wish to see your beautiful young life grow more and more shadowed, to see you struggling under burdens which strong, loving hands would lift from you. Can you believe that they, happy in heaven, can wish you no happiness on earth?"
There was a grave, convincing earnestness in his tone, and a truth in his words hard to resist. What she considered loyalty to her kindred had been like her religion, and he had charged her with disloyalty, yes, and while he spoke the thought would assert itself that her course might be a wretched mistake. Although intrenched in prejudice, and fortified against his words by the thought and feeling of her life, she had been made to doubt her position and feel that she might be a self-elected martyr. The assertion that she was doing what would be contrary to the wishes of her dead kindred pierced the very citadel of her opposition, and tended to remove the one belief which had been the sustaining rock beneath her feet. She knew she had been severe with him, and she was touched by his forbearance, his resolute purpose to befriend her. She remembered her poverty, the almost desperate extremity in which she was, and her heart upbraided her for refusing the hand held out so loyally and persistently to her help. She became confused, torn, and overwhelmed by conflicting emotions; her lip quivered, and, bowing her head in her hands, she sobbed, "You are breaking my heart."
In an instant he was on one knee at her side. "Mara," he began gently, "if I wound it is only that I may heal. Truly no girl in this city needs a friend as you do. For some reason I feel this to be true in my very soul. Who in God's universe would forbid you a loyal friend?" and he tried to take her hand.
"I forbid you to be her friend," said a stern voice.
Springing up, Clancy encountered the gaze of a gaunt, white-haired woman, with implacable enmity stamped upon her thin visage. The young man's eyes darkened as they steadily met those of Mrs. Hunter, and it was evident that the forbearance he had manifested toward the girl he loved would not be extended to her guardian. Still he controlled himself, and waited till she should speak again.
"Mr. Clancy," she resumed after a moment, "Miss Wallingford is my ward; I received her from her dying mother, and so have rights which you must respect. I forbid you seeing her or speaking to her again."
"Mrs. Hunter," he replied, "permit me to tell you with the utmost courtesy that I shall not obey you. Only Mara herself can forbid me from seeing her or speaking to her."
"What right have you, sir—"
"The best of rights, Mrs. Hunter, I love the girl; you do not. As remorselessly as a graven image you would sacrifice her on the altar of your hate."
"Mr. Clancy, you must not speak to my aunt in that way. She has been devoted to me from my infancy."
"On the contrary, she has devoted you from infancy to sadness, gloom, and bitter memories. She is developing within you the very qualities most foreign to a woman's heart. Instead of teaching you to enshrine the memory of your kindred in tender, loving remembrance, she is forging that memory into a chain to restrain you from all that is natural to your years. She is teaching you to wreck your life in fruitless opposition to the healing influences that have followed peace. Madam, answer me—the question is plain and fair—what can you hope to accomplish by your enmity to me and to the principles of hope and progress which, in this instance, I represent, but the blighting of this girl whom I love?"
"You are insolent, sir," cried Mrs. Hunter, trembling with rage.
"No, madam, I am honest, and be the result to me what it may, you shall both hear the truth to-night."
"This is our home," was the harsh response, "and you are not a gentleman if you do not leave it instantly."
"I shall certainly do so. Mara, am I to see you and speak to you no more?"
She had sunk into a chair, and again buried her face in her hands.
He waited a moment, but she gave no sign. Then with his eyes fixed on her he sadly and slowly left the apartment.
At last she sprang up with the faint cry, "Owen," but her aunt stood between her and the door, and he was gone.
When Mara realized that her lover had indeed gone, that in fact he had been driven forth, and that she had said not one word to pave the way for a future meeting, a sense of desolation she had never known before overwhelmed her. Hitherto she had been sustained by an unfaltering belief that no other course than the one which her aunt had inculcated was possible; that, cost what it might, and end as it might, it was her heritage. All now was confused and in doubt. She had heard her lofty, self-sacrificing purpose virtually characterized as vain and wrong. She had idolized the memory of her father and mother, and yet had been told that her course was the very one of which they would not approve. The worst of it all was that it now seemed true, for she could not believe that they would wish her to be so utterly unhappy. In spite of her unworldliness and lack of practical training, the strong common-sense of Clancy's question would recur, "What good will it do?" She was not sacrificing her heart to sustain or further any cause, and her heart now cried out against the wrong it was receiving. These miserable thoughts rushed through her mind and pressed so heavily upon all hope that she leaned her arms upon the table, and, burying her face, sobbed aloud.
"Mara," said her aunt, severely, "I did not think you could be so weak."
Until the storm of passionate grief passed, the young girl gave no heed to Mrs. Hunter's reproaches or expostulations. At last she became quiet, as much from exhaustion as from self-control, and said wearily, "You need worry no further about Mr. Clancy. He will not come again. If he has a spark of pride or manhood left, he will never look at me again," and a quick, heart-broken sob would rise at the thought.
"I should hope you would not look at him again after his insolence to me."
Mara did not reply. For the first time her confidence in her aunt had been shaken, for she could not but feel that Mrs. Hunter, in her judgment of Clancy, saw but one side of the question. She did not approve of his stern arraignment of her aunt, but she at least remembered his great provocation, and that he had been impelled to his harsh words by loyalty to her.
At last she said, "Aunty, I'm too worn out to think or speak any more tonight. There is a limit to endurance, and I've reached it."
"That's just where the trouble is," Mrs. Hunter tried to say reassuringly. "In the morning you will be your own true, brave self again."
"What's the use of being brave; what can I be brave for?" thought Mara in the solitude of her room.
Although her sleep was brief and troubled, she had time to grow calm and collect her thoughts. While she would not admit it to herself, Clancy's repeated assertions of his love had a subtle and sustaining power. She could see no light in the future, but her woman's heart would revert to this truth as to a secret treasure.
In the morning after sitting for a time almost in silence over their meagre breakfast, her aunt began: "Mara, I wish you to realize the truth in regard to Mr. Clancy. It is one of those things which must be nipped in the bud. There is only one ending to his path, and that is full acceptance of Northern rule and Northern people. What is more, after his words to me, I will never abide under the same roof with him again."
"Aunty," said Mara sadly, "we have much else to think about besides Mr. Clancy. How are we going to keep a roof over our own heads?"
Compelled to face their dire need, Mrs. Hunter broke out into bitter invective against those whom she regarded as the cause of their poverty.
"Aunty," protested Mara, almost irritably, for her nerves were sadly worn, "what good can such words do? We must live, I suppose, and you must advise me."
"Mara, I am almost tempted to believe that you regret—"
"Aunty, you must fix your mind on the only question to be considered. What are we to do? You know our money is almost gone."
Mrs. Hunter's only response was to stare blankly at her niece. She could economize and be content with very little as long as her habitual trains of thought were not interrupted and she could maintain her proud seclusion. Accustomed to remote plantation life, she knew little of the ways of the modern world, and much less of the methods by which a woman could obtain a livelihood from it. To the very degree that she had lived in the memories and traditions of the past, she had unfitted herself to understand the conditions of present life or to cope with its requirements. Now she was practically helpless. "We can't go and reveal our situation to our friends," she began hesitatingly.
"Certainly not," said Mara, "for most of them have all they can do to sustain themselves, and I would rather starve than live on the charity of those on whom we have no claim."
"We might take less expensive rooms."
"What good would that do, Aunty? If we can't earn anything, five dollars will be as hard to raise as ten."
"Oh, to think that people of the very best blood in the State, who once had scores of slaves to work for them, should be so wronged, robbed and reduced!"
Mara heaved a long, weary sigh, and Clancy's words would repeat themselves again and again. She saw how utterly incapable her aunt was to render any assistance in their desperate straits. Even the stress of their present emergency could not prevent her mind from vainly reverting to a past that was gone forever. Again her confidence was more severely shaken as she was compelled to doubt the wisdom of their habits of seclusion and reticence, of living on from year to year engrossed by memories, instead of adapting themselves to a new order of things which they were powerless to prevent. "Truly," she thought, "my father and mother never could have wished me to be in this situation out of love for them. It is true I could never go to the length that he does without great hypocrisy, and I do not see the need of it. I can never forget the immense wrong done to me and mine, but Aunty should have taught me something more than indignation and hostility, however just the causes for them may be."
While such was the tenor of her thoughts, she only said a little bitterly: "Oh, that I knew how to do something! My old nurse, Aun' Sheba, is better off than we are."
"She belongs to us yet," said Mrs. Hunter, almost fiercely.
"You could never make her or any one else think so," was the weary reply. "Well, now that I have thought of her, I believe I could advise with her better than any one else."
"Advise with a slave? Oh, Mara!—"
"Whom shall I advise with then?" And there was a sharp ring in the girl's tone.
"Oh, any one, so that it be not Mr. Clancy," replied her aunt irritably. "Were it not that you so needed a protector, I could wish that I were dead."
"Aunt," said Mara, gently yet firmly, "we must give up this hopeless, bitter kind of talk. I, at least, must do something to earn honest bread, and I am too depressed and sad at heart to carry any useless burdens. Mr. Clancy said much that was wrong last night, and there are matters about which he and I can never agree, but surely he was right in saying that my father and mother would not wish to see me crushed body and soul. If I am to live, I must find a way to live and yet keep my self-respect. I suppose the natural way would be to go to those who knew my father and grandfather; but they would ask me what I could do. What could I tell them? It would seem almost like asking charity."
"Of course it would," assented her aunt.
Then silence fell between them.
Before Mara could finish her morning duties and prepare for the street, a heavy step was heard on the stairs, then a knock at the door. Opening it, the young girl saw the very object of her thoughts, for Aun' Sheba's ample form and her great basket filled all the space.
"Oh, Aun' Sheba," cried the girl, a gleam of hope lighting up her eyes, "I'm so glad to see you. I was just starting for your cabin."
"Bress your heart, honey, Aun' Sheba'll allus be proud to hab you come. My spec's, Missus," and she dropped her basket and a courtesy before Mrs. Hunter.
"Aun' Sheba," said Mara, giving the kindly vender a chair, "you are so much better off than we are. I was saying just that to aunty this morning."
"Why, honey, I'se only a po' culled body, and you'se a beauty like you moder, bress her po' deah heart."
"Yes, Aun' Sheba, you were a blessing to her," said Mara with moist eyes. "How you watched over her and helped to take care of me! Perhaps you can help take care of me again. For some reason, I can speak to you and tell you our troubles easier than to any one else in the world."
"Dat's right, honey lam', dat's right. Who else you tell your troubles to but Aun' Sheba? Didn't I comfort you on dis bery bres time an' time agin when you was a little mite? Now you'se bigger and hab bigger troubles, I'se bigger too," and Aunt Sheba shook with laughter like a great form of jelly as she wiped her eyes with sympathy.
"Aun' Sheba," said Mara in a voice full of unconscious pathos, "I don't know what to do, yet I must do something. It seems to me that I could be almost happy if I were as sure of earning my bread as you are."
"Now, doggone dat ar lazy husban' o' mine. But he got his 'serts an'll git mo' ob dem eff he ain't keerful. I jes' felt it in my bones las' night how 'twas wid you, an I 'lowed how I'd see you dis mawnin', an' den he began to go on as ef you was nothin' but white folks stid ob my deah honey lam' dat I nussed till you was like my own chile. But he won' do so no mo'."
"Oh, Aun' Sheba, believe me, I don't wish to interfere with any of your duties to him," began Mara earnestly.
"Duty to him," exclaimed the colored woman with a snort of indignation. "He mout tink a little 'bout his duty to me. Doan you trubble 'bout him, for he's boun' to git mo' dan his shar anyhow. Now I know de good Lawd put it in my min' to come heah dis mawnin' case you was on my min' las' night. You needn't tink you kin go hungry while Aun' Sheba hab a crus'."
"I know what a big heart you've got, but that won't do, Aun' Sheba. Can you think I would live idly on your hard-earned money?"
"Well, 'tis my money, an' I make mo dan you tink, an' a heap mo' dan I let Unc. know about. He'd be fer settin' up his kerrige ef he knew," and she again laughed in hearty self-complacency. "Why, honey, I can 'sport you an' Missus widout pinchin', an' who gwine to know 'bout it?"
"I'd know about it," said Mara, rising and putting her hand caressingly on the woman's shoulder, "yet I feel your kindness in the very depths of my heart. Come, I have a thought. Let me see what's in your basket."
"Ony cakes dis mawnin', honey. Help you's sef."
"Oh, how delicious they are," said Mara eating one, and thoughtfully regarding her sable friend. "You beat me making cakes, Aun' Sheba, and I thought I was good at it."
"So you am, Missy, so you am, fer I taught you mysef."
"Aun' Sheba, suppose we go into partnership."
"Pahnaship!" ejaculated Aun' Sheba in bewilderment.
"Oh, Mara!" Mrs. Hunter expostulated indignantly.
"Well, I suppose it would be a very one-sided affair," admitted the girl, blushing in a sort of honest shame. "You are doing well without any help from me, and don't need any. I'm very much like a man who wants to share in a good business which has already been built up, but I don't know how to do anything else, and could at least learn better every day, and—and—I thought—I must do something—I thought, perhaps, if I made the cakes and some other things, and you sold them, Aun' Sheba, you wouldn't have to work so hard, and—well, there might be enough profit for us both."
"Now de Lawd bress you heart, honey, dar ain't no need ob you blisterin' you'se pretty face ober a fiah, bakin' cakes an' sich. I kin—"
"No, no, Aun' Sheba, you can't, for I won't let you."
"Mara," protested Mrs. Hunter, severely, "do you realize what you are saying? Suppose it became known that you were in—in—" but the lady could not bring herself to complete the humiliating sentence.
"Yis, honey, Missus am right. De idee! Sech quality as you in pahnaship wid ole Aun' Sheba!" and she laughed at the preposterous relationship.
"Perhaps it needn't be known," said Mara, daunted for a moment. Then the necessities in the case drove her forward, and, remembering that her aunt was unable to suggest or even contemplate anything practicable, she said resolutely, "Let it be known. Others of our social rank are supporting themselves, and I'm too proud to be ashamed to do it myself even in this humble way. What troubles me most is that I'm making such a one-sided offer to Aun' Sheba. She don't need my help at all, and I need hers so much."
"Now see heah, honey, is your heart set on dis ting?"
"Yes, it is," replied Mara, earnestly. "My heart was like lead till you came, and it would be almost as light as one of these cakes if I knew I could surely earn my living. Oh, Aun' Sheba, you've had troubles, and you know what sore troubles my poor mother had, but neither you nor she ever knew the fear, the sickening dread which comes over one when you don't know where your bread is to come from or how you are to keep a roof over your head. Aunty, do listen to reason. Making cake and other things for Aun' Sheba to sell would not be half so humiliating as going to people of my own station and revealing my ignorance, or trying to do what I don't know how to do, knowing all the time that I was only tolerated. My plan leaves me in seclusion, and if any one thinks less of me they can leave me alone. I don't want to make my way among strangers; I don't feel that I can. This plan enables us to stay together, Aunty, and you must know now that we can't drift any longer."
While Mara was speaking Aun' Sheba's thrifty thoughts had been busy. Her native shrewdness gave her a keen insight into Mrs. Hunter's character, and she knew that the widow's mind was so warped that she was practically as helpless as a child. While, in her generous love for Mara and from a certain loyalty to her old master's family, she was willing temporarily to assume what would be a very heavy burden, she was inwardly glad, as she grew accustomed to the idea, that Mara was willing to do her share. Indeed it would be a great relief if her basket could be filled for her, and she said, heartily, "Takes some time, honey, you know, fer an idee to git into my tick head, but when it gits dar it stick. Now you'se sensible, an' Missus'll see it soon. You'se on de right track. Ob cose, I'd be proud ob pahnaship, an' it'll be a great eas'n up to me. Makes a mighty long day, Missy, to git up in de mawnin' an' do my bakin' an' den tromp, tromp, tromp. I could put in an hour or two extra sleep, an' dat counts in a woman ob my age an' heft. But, law sakes! look at dat clock dar. I mus' be gitten along. Set you deah little heart at res', honey. I'se comin' back dis ebenin', an' we'se start in kin' ob easy like so you hab a chance to larn and not get 'scouraged."
"I can't approve of this plan at all," said Mrs. Hunter, loftily, "I wash my hands of it."
"Now, now, Missus, you do jes' dat—wash you hans ob it, but don' you 'fere wid Missy, kase it'll set her heart at res' and keep a home fer you bof. We's gwine to make a pile, honey, an' den de roses come back in you cheeks," and nodding encouragingly, she departed, leaving more hope and cheer behind her than Mara had known for many a month.
To escape the complaining of her aunt, Mara shut herself in her room and thought long and deeply. The conclusion was, "The gulf between us has grown wider and deeper. When Mr. Clancy learns how I have sought independence without his aid—" but she only finished the sentence by a sad, bitter smile.
"Neber had sech luck in all my bawn days," soliloquized Aun' Sheba as she saw the bottom of her basket early in the day. "All my cus'mers kin' o' smilin' like de sunshine. Only Marse Clancy grumpy. He go by me like a brack cloud. I'se got a big grudge against dat ar young man. He use to be bery sweet on Missy. He mus' be taken wid some Norvern gal, and dat's 'nuff fer me. Ef he lebe my honey lam' now she so po', dar's a bad streak in his blood and he don' 'long to us any mo'. I wouldn't be s'prised ef dey hadn't had a squar meal fer a fortnight. I can make blebe dat I wants to take my dinner 'long o' dem to sabe time, an' den dey'll hab a dinner wat'll make Missy real peart 'fore she gin to work," and full of her kindly intentions she bought a juicy steak, some vegetables, a quantity of the finest flour, sugar, coffee, and some spices.
Mara had slipped out and invested the greater part of her diminished hoard in the materials essential to her new undertaking. Not the least among them, as she regarded it, was an account book. When, therefore, Aun' Sheba bustled in between one and two o'clock, she found some bulky bundles on the kitchen table over which Mrs. Hunter had already groaned aloud.
"Law sakes, honey, what all dese?" the colored aunty asked.
"They are my start in trade," replied Mara, smiling.
"Den you's gwine to hab a mighty big start, fer I got lots o' tings in dis basket."
"Why, Aun' Sheba! Did you think I was going to let you furnish the materials?"
"Ef you furnish de makin' up ob de 'terials what mo' you oughter do, I'd like ter know?"
"Aun' Sheba, I could cheat you out af your two black eyes."
"Dey see mo' dan you tink, Missy," she replied, nodding sagaciously.
"Yes, I reckon they do, but my eyes must look after your interests as well as my own. I am going to be an honest partner. Do you see this book?"
"What dat ar got to do wid de pahnaship?"
"You will see. It will prevent you from ever losing a penny that belongs to you."
"Penny, indeed! As if I'se gwine to stand on a penny!"
"Well, I am. Little as I know about business, I am sure it will be more satisfactory if careful accounts are kept, and you must promise to tell me the whole truth about things. That's the way partners do, you know, and everything is put down in black and white."
"Oh, go 'long wid you, honey, an' hab you own way. All in my pahnaship go down in black, I s'pose, an' you'se in white. How funny it all am!" and the old woman sat back in her chair and laughed in her joyous content.
"It is all a very humiliating farce to me," said Mrs. Hunter, looking severely at the former property.
"Yas'm," said Aun' Sheba, suddenly becoming stolid as a graven image.
"Aunty," said Mara firmly but gently, "the time has come when I must act, for your sake as well as my own. Nothing will prevent me from carrying out this plan, except its failure to provide for Aun' Sheba as well as for ourselves."
"Well, I wash my hands of it, and, if your course becomes generally known, I shall have it understood that you acted without my approval." And she rose and left the kitchen with great dignity.
When the door closed upon her, Aun' Sheba again shook in vast and silent mirth.
"Doan you trubble long o' Missus, honey," she said, nodding encouragingly at Mara. "She jes' like one dat lib in de dark an' can't see notin' right." Then in sudden revulsion of feeling she added, "You po' honey lam', doan you see you'se got to take keer ob her jes' as ef she was a chile?"
"Yes," said Mara, sadly, "I've been compelled to see it at last."
"Now doan you be 'scouraged. 'Tween us we take keer ob her, an' she be a heap betteh off eben ef she doan know it. You hab no dinner yit?"
"We were just going to get it as you came."
"Well now, honey, I habn't had a bite nudder, an' I'se gwine to take dinneh heah ef you'se willin'."
"Why, surely, Aun' Sheba. It's little we have, you but know I'd share my last crust with you."
Again the guest was bubbling over with good-natured merriment. "We ain't got to de las' crus' yit, an' I couldn't make my dinneh on a crus' nohow. Dar's one ting I'se jes' got to 'sist on in de pahnaship. I don't keer notin' 'bout 'count books and sich, but ef we'se gwine to make a fort'n you got to hab a heap o' po'er in you'se arms. You got to hab a strong back and feel peart all ober. Dis de ony ting I 'sist on. Now how you gwine to be plump and strong?"
"Oh, I'm pretty strong, and I'll get stronger now that I have hope, and see my way a little."
"Hope am bery good fer 'sert, honey, but we want somep'n solider to start in on. You jes' set de table in de oder room, an' I'll be de brack raben dat'll pervide. Now you must min' kase I'se doing 'cording to Scripter, an' we neber hab no luck 'tall if we go agin Scripter."
"Very well," said Mara, laughing, "you shall have your own way. I see through all your talk, but I know you'll feel bad if you can't carry out your purpose. You'll have a better dinner, too."
"Yeh, yeh, she knows a heap moah'n me," thought Aun' Sheba when alone, "but I know some tings too, bress her heart. I kin see dat her cheeks am pale and thin an' dat her eyes am gettin' so big and brack dat her purty face am like a little house wid big winders. She got quality blood in her vein, shuah, but habn't got neah 'nuff. Heah's de 'terial wat gibs hope sometimes better'n preachin," and she whipped out the steak and prepared it for the broiler. Then she clapped some potatoes into the oven, threw together the constituents of light biscuit, and put the coffee over the fire. A natural born cook, she was deft and quick, and had a substantial repast ready in an amazingly short time. Soon it was smoking on the table, and then she said with a significant little nod at Mara, "Now I'se gwine to wait on Missus like ole times."
Mara understood her and did not protest, for she felt the necessity of humoring her aunt, who quite thawed out at the semblance of her former state. While the poor lady enlarged on the thought that such should be the normal condition of affairs, and would be if the world were not wholly out of joint, she nevertheless dined so heartily as to prove that she could still enjoy the good things of life if they were provided without personal compromise on her part. Mara made a silent note of this, and felt more strongly than ever that her aunt's needs and not her words must control her actions. After dinner she said, "Come, aunty, you have had much to try your nerves of late, and there must be much more not in harmony with your feelings. It can't be helped, but I absolve you of all responsibility, and I know very well if you had what was once your own, I would not have to raise my hand. You see I am not seeking relief in the way that is so utterly distasteful to you, and, when you come to think this plan all over, you will admit that it is the one that would attract the least attention, and involve the least change. Now lie down and take a good rest this afternoon."