Part 3 out of 6
Josephine sent a message to John that he might resume visiting her.
"But that is perfectly grand!" I cried in my delight over Miss Josephine
as a character.
"It is perfectly natural," returned Mrs. Gregory, quietly. "John has
behaved with credit throughout. He was at length made to see that
circumstances forbade any breach between his family and that of the other
young man. John held back--who would not, after such an insult?--but Miss
Josephine was firm, and he has promised to call and shake hands. My
cousin, Doctor Beaugarcon, assures me that the young man's injuries are
trifling--a week will see him restored and presentable again."
"A week? A mere nothing!" I answered "Do you know," I now suggested,
"that you have forgotten to ask me what I was thinking about when we
"Bless me, young gentleman! and was it so remarkable?"
"Not at all, but it partly answers what Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael asked
me. If a young man does not really wish to marry a young woman there are
ways well known by which she can be brought to break the engagement."
"Ah," said Mrs. Gregory, "of course; gayeties and irregularities--"
"That is, if he's not above them," I hastily subjoined.
"Not always, by any means," Mrs. Gregory returned. "Kings Port has been
treated to some episodes--"
Mrs. Weguelin put in a word of defence. "It is to be said, Maria, that
John's irregularities have invariably been conducted with perfect
"Oh," said Mrs. Gregory, "no Mayrant was ever known to be gross!"
"But this particular young lady," said Mrs. Weguelin, "would not be
estranged by an masculine irregularities and gayeties. Not many."
"How about infidelities?" I suggested. "If he should flagrantly lose his
heart to another?"
Mrs. Weguelin replied quickly. "That answers very well where hearts
are in question."
"But," said I, "since phosphates are no longer--?"
There was a pause. "It would be a new dilemma," Mrs. Gregory then said
slowly, "if she turned out to care for him, after all."
Throughout all this I was getting more and more the sense of how a total
circle of people, a well-filled, wide circle of interested people,
surrounded and cherished John Mayrant, made itself the setting of which
he was the jewel; I felt in it, even stronger than the manifestation of
personal affection (which certainly was strong enough), a collective
sense of possession in him, a clan value, a pride and a guardianship
concentrated and jealous, as of an heir to some princely estate, who must
be worthy for the sake of a community even before he was worthy for his
own sake. Thus he might amuse himself--it was in the code that princely
heirs so should pour se deniaiser, as they neatly put it in Paris--thus
might he and must he fight when his dignity was assailed; but thus might
he not marry outside certain lines prescribed, or depart from his
circle's established creeds, divine and social, especially to hold any
position which (to borrow Mrs. Gregory's phrase) "reflected ignominy"
upon them all. When he transgressed, their very value for him turned them
bitter against him. I know that all of us are more or less chained to our
community, which is pleased to expect us to walk its way, and mightily
displeased when we please ourselves instead by breaking the chain and
walking our own way; and I know that we are forgiven very slowly; but I
had not dreamed what a prisoner to communal criticism a young American
could be until I beheld Kings Port over John Mayrant.
And to what estate was this prince heir? Alas, his inheritance was all of
it the Past and none of it the Future; was the full churchyard and the
empty wharves! He was paying dear for his princedom! And then, there was
yet another sense of this beautiful town that I got here completely,
suddenly crystallized, though slowly gathering ever since my arrival: all
these old people were clustered about one young one. That was it; that
was the town's ultimate tragic note: the old timber of the forest dying
and the too sparse new growth appearing scantily amid the tall, fine,
venerable, decaying trunks. It had been by no razing to the ground and
sowing with salt that the city had perished; a process less violent but
more sad had done away with it. Youth, in the wake of commerce, had ebbed
from Kings Port, had flowed out from the silent, mourning houses, and
sought life North and West, and wherever else life was to be found. Into
my revery floated a phrase from a melodious and once favorite song: O
tempo passato perche non ritorni?
And John Mayrant? Why, then, had he tarried here himself? That is a hard
saying about crabbed age and youth, but are not most of the sayings hard
that are true? What was this young man doing in Kings Port with his
brains, and his pride, and his energetic adolescence? If the Custom House
galled him, the whole country was open to him; why not have tried his
fortune out and away, over the hills, where the new cities lie, all full
of future and empty of past? Was it much to the credit of such a young
man to find himself at the age of twenty-three or twenty-four, sound and
lithe of limb, yet tied to the apron strings of Miss Josephine, and Miss
Eliza, and some thirty or forty other elderly female relatives?
With these thoughts I looked at the ladies and wondered how I might lead
them to answer me about John Mayrant, without asking questions which
might imply something derogatory to him or painful to them. I could not
ever say to them a word which might mean, however indirectly, that I
thought their beautiful, cherished town no place for a young man to go to
seed in; this cut so close to the quick of truth that discourse must keep
wide away from it. What, then, could I ask them? As I pondered, Mrs.
Weguelin solved it for me by what she was saying to Mrs. Gregory, of
which, in my preoccupation, I had evidently missed a part:--
"--if he should share the family bad taste in wives."
"Eliza says she has no fear of that."
"Were I Eliza, Hugh's performance would make me very uneasy."
"Julia, John does not resemble Hugh."
"Very decidedly, in coloring, Maria."
"And Hugh found that girl in Minneapolis, Julia, where there was
doubtless no pick for the poor fellow. And remember that George chose a
lady, at any rate."
Mrs. Weguelin gave to this a short assent. "Yes." It portended something
more behind, which her next words duly revealed. "A lady; but do--any--
ladies ever seem quite like our own?
"Certainly not, Julia."
You see, they were forgetting me again; but they had furnished me with a
"Mr. John Mayrant has married brothers?"
"Two," Mrs. Gregory responded. "John is the youngest of three children."
"I hadn't heard of the brothers before."
"They seldom come here. They saw fit to leave their home and their
"But John," said Mrs. Gregory, "met his responsibility like a Mayrant."
"Whatever temptations he has yielded to," said Mrs. Weguelin, "his filial
piety has stood proof."
"He refused," added Mrs. Gregory, "when George (and I have never
understood how George could be so forgetful of their mother) wrote twice,
offering him a lucrative and rising position in the railroad company at
"That was hard!" I exclaimed.
She totally misapplied my sympathy. "Oh, Anna Mayrant," she corrected
herself, "John's mother, Mrs. Hector Mayrant, had harder things than
forgetful sons to bear! I've not laid eyes on those boys since the
"Nearly two years," murmured Mrs. Weguelin. And then, to me, with
something that was almost like a strange severity beneath her gentle
tone: "Therefore we are proud of John, because the better traits in his
nature remind us of his forefathers, whom we knew."
"In Kings Port," said Mrs. Gregory, "we prize those who ring true to the
By way of response to this sentiment, I quoted some French to her. "Bon
chien chasse de race."
It pleased Mrs. Weguelin. Her guarded attitude toward me relented. "John
mentioned your cultivation to us," she said. "In these tumble-down days
it is rare to meet with one who still lives, mentally, on the
gentlefolks' plane--the piano nobile of intelligence!"
I realized how high a compliment she was paying me, and I repaid it with
a joke. "Take care. Those who don't live there would call it the piano
"Ah!" cried the delighted lady, "they'd never have the wit!"
"Did you ever hear," I continued, "the Bostonian's remark--'The mission
of America is to vulgarize the world'?"
"I never expected to agree so totally with a Bostonian!" declared Mrs.
"Nothing so hopeful," I pursued, "has ever been said of us. For
refinement and thoroughness and tradition delay progress, and we are
sweeping them out of the road as fast as we can."
"Come away, Julia," said Mrs. Gregory. "The young gentleman is getting
flippant again, and we leave him."
The ladies, after gracious expressions concerning the pleasure of their
stroll, descended the steps at the north end of High Walk, where the
parapet stops, and turned inland from the water through a little street.
I watched them until they went out of my sight round a corner; but the
two silent, leisurely figures, moving in their black and their veils
along an empty highway, come back to me often in the pictures of my
thoughts; come back most often, indeed, as the human part of what my
memory sees when it turns to look at Kings Port. For, first, it sees the
blue frame of quiet sunny water, and the white town within its frame
beneath the clear, untainted air; and then it sees the high-slanted
roofs, red with their old corrugated tiles, and the tops of leafy
enclosures dipping below sight among quaint and huddled quadrangles; and,
next, the quiet houses standing in their separate grounds, their narrow
ends to the street and their long, two-storied galleries open to the
south, but their hushed windows closed as if against the prying, restless
Present that must not look in and disturb the motionless memories which
sit brooding behind these shutters; and between all these silent mansions
lie the narrow streets, the quiet, empty streets, along which, as my
memory watches them, pass the two ladies silently, in their black and
their veils, moving between high, mellow-colored garden walls over whose
tops look the oleanders, the climbing roses, and all the taller flowers
of the gardens.
And if Mrs. Gregory and Mrs. Weguelin seemed to me at moments as narrow
as those streets, they also seemed to me as lovely as those serene
gardens; and if I had smiled at their prejudices, I had loved their
innocence, their deep innocence, of the poisoned age which has succeeded
their own; and if I had wondered this day at their powers for cruelty, I
wondered the next day at the glimpse I had of their kindness. For during
a pelting cold rainstorm, as I sat and shivered in a Royal Street car,
waiting for it to start upon its north-bound course, the house-door
opposite which we stood at the end of the track opened, and Mrs.
Weguelin's head appeared, nodding to the conductor as she sent her black
servant out with hot coffee for him! He took off his hat, and smiled, and
thanked her; and when we had started and I, the sole passenger in the
chilly car, asked him about this, he said with native pride: "The ladies
always watches out for us conductors in stormy weather, sir. That's
Mistress Weguelin St. Michael, one of our finest." And then he gave me
careful directions how to find a shop that I was seeking.
Think of this happening in New York! Think of the aristocracy of that
metropolis warming up with coffee the--but why think of it, or of a New
York conductor answering your questions with careful directions! It is
not New York's fault, it is merely New York's misfortune: New York is in
a hurry; and a world of haste cannot be a world either of courtesy or of
kindness. But we have progress, progress, instead; and that is a
XI: Daddy Ben and His Seed
But what was Hortense Rieppe coming to see for herself?
Many dark things had been made plain to me by my talk with the two
ladies; yet while disclosing so much, they had still left this important
matter in shadow. I was very glad, however, for what they had revealed.
They had showed me more of John Mayrant's character, and more also of the
destiny which had shaped his ends, so that my esteem for him had
increased; for some of the words that they had exchanged shone like
bright lanterns down into his nature upon strength and beauty lying
quietly there--young strength and beauty, yet already tempered by manly
sacrifice. I saw how it came to pass through this, through renunciation
of his own desires, through performance of duties which had fallen upon
him not quite fairly, that the eye of his spirit had been turned away
from self; thus had it grown strong-sighted and able to look far and
deep, as his speech sometimes revealed, while still his flesh was of his
youthful age, and no saint's flesh either. This had the ladies taught me
during the fluttered interchange of their reminders and opinions, and by
their eager agreements and disagreements, I was also grateful to them in
that I could once more correct Juno. The pleasure should be mine to tell
them in the public hearing of our table that Miss Rieppe was still
engaged to John Mayrant.
But what was this interesting girl coming to see for herself?
This little hole in my knowledge gave me discomfort as I walked along
toward the antiquity shop where I was to buy the other kettle-supporter.
The ladies, with all their freedom of comment and censure, had kept
something from me. I reviewed, I pieced together, their various remarks,
those oracles, especially, which they had let fall, but it all came back
to the same thing. I did not know, and they did, what Hortense Rieppe was
coming to see for herself. At all events, the engagement was not broken,
the chance to be instrumental in having it broken was still mine; I might
still save John Mayrant from his deplorable quixotism; and as this
reflection grew with me I took increasing comfort in it, and I stepped
onward toward my kettle-supporter, filled with that sense of moral
well-being which will steal over even the humblest of us when we feel
that we are beneficently minding somebody else's business.
Whenever the arrangement did not take me too widely from my course, I so
mapped out my walks and errands in Kings Port that I might pass by the
churchyard and church at the corner of Court and Worship streets. Even if
I did not indulge myself by turning in to stroll and loiter among the
flowers, it was enough pleasure to walk by that brick-wall. If you are
willing to wander curiously in our old towns, you may still find in many
of them good brick walls standing undisturbed, and equal in their color
and simple excellence to those of Kings Port; but fashion has pushed
these others out of its sight, among back streets and all sorts of
forgotten purlieus and abandoned dignity, and takes its walks to-day amid
cold, expensive ugliness; while the old brick walls of Kings Port
continually frame your steps with charm. No one workman famous for his
skill built them so well proportioned, so true to comeliness; it was the
general hand of their age that could shape nothing wrong, as the hand of
to-day can shape nothing right, save by a rigid following of the old.
I gave myself the pleasure this afternoon of walking by the churchyard
wall; and when I reached the iron gate, there was Daddy Ben. So full was
I of my thoughts concerning John Mayrant, and the vicissitudes of his
heart, and the Custom House, that I was moved to have words with the old
man upon the general topic.
"Well," I said, "and so Mr. John is going to be married."
No attempt to start a chat ever failed more signally. He assented with a
manner of mingled civility and reserve that was perfection, and after the
two syllables of which his answer consisted, he remained as impenetrably
respectful as before. I felt rather high and dry, but I tried it again:--
"And I'm sure, Daddy Ben, that you feel as sorry as any of the family
that the phosphates failed."
Again he replied with his two syllables of assent, and again he stood
mute, respectful, a little bent with his great age; but now his good
manners--and better manners were never seen--impelled him to break
silence upon some subject, since he would not permit himself to speak
concerning the one which I had introduced. It was the phosphates which
"Dey is mighty fine prostrate wukks heah, sah."
"Yes, I've been told so, Daddy Ben."
"On dis side up de ribber an' tudder side down de ribber 'cross de new
bridge. Wuth visitin' fo' strangers, sah."
I now felt entirely high and dry. I had attempted to enter into
conversation with him about the intimate affairs of a family to which he
felt that he belonged; and with perfect tact he had not only declined to
discuss them with me, but had delicately informed me that I was a
stranger and as such had better visit the phosphate works among the other
sights of Kings Port. No diplomat could have done it better; and as I
walled away from him I knew that he regarded me as an outsider, a
Northerner, belonging to a race hostile to his people; he had seen Mas'
John friendly with me, but that was Mas' John's affair. And so it was
that if the ladies had kept something from me, this cunning, old, polite,
coal-black African had kept everything from me.
If all the negroes in Kings Port were like Daddy Ben, Mrs. Gregory St.
Michael would not have spoken of having them "to deal with," and the girl
behind the counter would not have been thrown into such indignation when
she alluded to their conceit and ignorance. Daddy Ben had, so far from
being puffed up by the appointment in the Custom House, disapproved of
this. I had heard enough about the difference between the old and new
generations of the negro of Kings Port to believe it to be true, and I
had come to discern how evidently it lay at the bottom of many things
here: John Mayrant and his kind were a band united by a number of strong
ties, but by nothing so much as by their hatred of the modern negro in
their town. Yes, I was obliged to believe that the young Kings Port
African left to freedom and the ballot, was a worse African than his
slave parents; but this afternoon brought me a taste of it more pungent
than all the assurances in the world.
I bought my kettle-supporter, and learned from the robber who sold it to
me (Kings Port prices for "old things" are the most exorbitant that I
know anywhere) that a carpenter lived not far from Mrs. Trevise's
boarding-house, and that he would make for me the box in which I could
pack my various purchases.
"That is, if he's working this week," added the robber.
"What else would he be doing?"
"It may be his week for getting drunk on what he earned the week before."
And upon this he announced with as much bitterness as if he had been John
Mayrant or any of his aunts, "That's what Boston philanthropy has done
I dared up at this. "I suppose that's a Southern argument for
"I am not Southern; Breslau is my native town, and I came from New York
here to live five years ago. I've seen what your emancipation has done
for the black, and I say to you, my friend, honest I don't know a fool
from a philanthropist any longer."
He had much right upon his side; and it can be seen daily that
philanthropy does not always walk hand-in-hand with wisdom. Does anything
or anybody always walk so? Moreover, I am a friend to not many
superlatives, and have perceived no saying to be more true than the one
that extremes meet: they meet indeed, and folly is their meeting-place.
Nor could I say in the case of the negro which folly were the more
ridiculous;--that which expects a race which has lived no one knows how
many thousand years in mental nakedness while Confucius, Moses, and
Napoleon were flowering upon adjacent human stems, should put on suddenly
the white man's intelligence, or that other folly which declares we can
do nothing for the African, as if Hampton had not already wrought
excellent things for him. I had no mind to enter into all the
inextricable error with this Teuton, and it was he who continued:--
"Oh, these Boston philanthropists; oh, these know-it-alls! Why don't they
stay home? Why do they come down here to worry us with their ignorance?
See here, my friend, let me show you!"
He rushed about his shop in a search of distraught eagerness, and with a
multitude of small exclamations, until, screeching jubilantly once, he
pounced upon a shabby and learned-looking volume. This he brought me,
thrusting it with his trembling fingers between my own, and shuffling the
open pages. But when the apparently right one was found, he exclaimed,
"No, I have better! and dashed away to a pile of pamphlets on the floor,
where he began to plough and harrow. Wondering if I was closeted with a
maniac, I looked at the book in my passive hand, and saw diagrams of
various bones to me unknown, and men's names of which I was equally
ignorant--Mivart, Topinard, and more,--but at last that of Huxley. But
this agreeable sight was spoiled at once by the quite horrible words
Nycticebidoe, platyrrhine, catarrhine, from which I raised my eyes to see
him coming at me with two pamphlets, and scolding as he came.
"Are you educated, yes? Have been to college, yes? Then perhaps you will
Certainly I understood immediately that he and his pamphlets were as bad
as the book, or worse, in their use of a vocabulary designed to cause
almost any listener the gravest inconvenience. Common Eocene ancestors
occurred at the beginning of his lecture; and I believed that if it got
no stronger than this, I could at least preserve the appearance of
comprehending him; but it got stronger, and at sacro-iliac notch I may
say, without using any grossly exaggerated expression, that I became
unconscious. At least, all intelligence left me. When it returned, he was
"But this is only the beginning. Come in here to my crania and jaws."
Evidently he held me hypnotized, for he now hurried me unresisting
through a back door into a dark little where he turned up the gas, and I
saw shelves as in a museum, to one of which he led me. I suppose that it
was curiosity that rendered me thus sheep-like. Upon the shelf were a
number of skulls and jaws in admirable condition and graded arrangement,
beginning to the left with that flat kind of skull which one associates
with gorillas. He resumed his scolding harangue, and for a few brief
moments I understood him. Here, told by themselves, was as much of the
story of the skulls as we know, from manlike apes through glacial man to
the modern senator or railroad president. But my intelligence was
destined soon to die away again.
"That is the Caucasian skull: your skull," he said, touching a specimen
at the right.
"Interesting," I murmured. "I'm afraid I know nothing about skulls."
"But you shall know someding before you leave," he retorted, wagging his
head at me; and this time it was not the book, but a specimen, that he
pushed into my grasp. He gave it a name, not as bad as platyrrhine, but I
feared worse was coming; then he took it away from me, gave me another
skull, and while I obediently held it, pronounced something quite beyond
"And what is the translation of that?" he demanded excitedly.
"Tell me," I feebly answered.
He shouted with overweening triumph: "The translation of that is South
Carolina nigger. Notice well this so egcellent specimen. Prognathous,
"Ha! Platyrrhine!" I saluted the one word I recognized as I drowned.
"You have said it yourself!" was his extraordinary answer;--for what had
I said? Almost as if he were going to break into a dance for joy, he took
the Caucasian skull and the other two, and set the three together by
themselves, away from the rest of the collection. The picture which they
thus made spoke more than all the measurements and statistics which he
now chattered out upon me, reading from his book as I contemplated the
skulls. There was a similarity of shape, a kinship there between the
three, which stared you in the face; but in the contours of vaulted
skull, the projecting jaws, and the great molar teeth--what was to be
seen? Why, in every respect that the African departed from the Caucasian,
he departed in the direction of the ape! Here was zoology mutely but
eloquently telling us why there had blossomed no Confucius, no Moses, no
Napoleon, upon that black stem; why no Iliad, no Parthenon, no Sistine
Madonna, had ever risen from that tropic mud.
The collector touched my sleeve. "Have you now learned someding about
skulls, my friend? Will you invite those Boston philanthropists to stay
home? They will get better results in civilization by giving votes to
monkeys than teaching Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to riggers."
Retaliation rose in me. "Haven't you learned to call them negroes?" I
remarked. But this was lost upon the Teuton. I was tempted to tell him
that I was no philanthropist, and no Bostonian, and that he need not
shout so loud, but my more dignified instincts restrained me. I withdrew
my sleeve from his touch (it was this act of his, I think, that had most
to do with my displeasure), and merely bidding him observe that the
enormous price of the kettle-supporter had been reduced for me by his
exhibition to a bagatelle, I left the shop of the screaming anatomist--or
Afropath, or whatever it may seem most fitting that he should be called.
I bore the kettle-supporter with me, tied up objectionably in newspaper,
and knotted with ungainly string; and it was this bundle which prevented
my joining the girl behind the counter, and ending by a walk with a young
lady the afternoon that had begun by a walk with two old ones. I should
have liked to make my confession to her. She was evidently out for the
sake of taking the air, and had with her no companion save the big curly
white dog; confession would have been very agreeable; but I looked again
at my ugly newspaper bundle, and turned in a direction that she was not
Twice, as I went, I broke into laughter over my interview in the shop,
which I fear has lost its comical quality in the relating. To enter a
door and come serenely in among dingy mahogany and glass objects, to
bargain haughtily for a brass bauble with the shopkeeper, and to have a
few exchanged remarks suddenly turn the whole place into a sort of bedlam
with a gibbering scientist dashing skulls at me to prove his fixed idea,
and myself quite furious--I laughed more than twice; but, by the time I
had approached the neighborhood of the carpenter's shop, another side of
it had brought reflection to my mind. Here was a foreigner to whom
slavery and the Lost Cause were nothing, whose whole association with the
South had begun but five years ago; and the race question had brought his
feelings to this pitch! He had seen the Kings Port negro with the eyes of
the flesh, and not with the eyes of theory, and as a result the reddest
rag for him was pale beside a Boston philanthropist!
Nevertheless, I have said already that I am no lover of superlatives, and
in doctrine especially is this true. We need not expect a Confucius from
the negro, nor yet a Chesterfield; but I am an enemy also of that blind
and base hate against him, which conducts nowhere save to the
de-civilizing of white and black alike. Who brought him here? Did he
invite himself? Then let us make the best of it and teach him, lead him,
compel him to live self-respecting, not as statesman, poet, or financier,
but by the honorable toil of his hand and sweat of his brow. Because "the
door of hope" was once opened too suddenly for him is no reason for
slamming it now forever in his face.
Thus mentally I lectured back at the Teuton as I went through the streets
of Kings Port; and after a while I turned a corner which took me
abruptly, as with one magic step, out of the white man's world into the
blackest Congo. Even the well-inhabited quarter of Kings Port (and I had
now come within this limited domain) holds narrow lanes and recesses
which teem and swarm with negroes. As cracks will run through fine
porcelain, so do these black rifts of Africa lurk almost invisible among
the gardens and the houses. The picture that these places offered, tropic,
squalid, and fecund, often caused me to walk through them and watch the
basking population; the intricate, broken wooden galleries, the rickety
outside stair cases, the red and yellow splashes of color on the clothes
lines, the agglomerate rags that stuffed holes in decaying roofs or hung
nakedly on human frames, the small, choked dwellings, bursting open at
doors and windows with black, round-eyed babies as an overripe melon
bursts with seeds, the children playing marbles in the court, the parents
playing cards in the room, the grandparents smoking pipes on the porch,
and the great-grandparents stairs gazing out at you like creatures from
the Old Testament or the jungle. From the jungle we had stolen them,
North and South had stolen them together, long ago, to be slaves, not to
be citizens, and now here they were, the fruits of our theft; and for
some reason (possibly the Teuton was the reason) that passage from the
Book of Exodus came into my head: "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous
God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children."
These thoughts were interrupted by sounds as of altercation. I had nearly
reached the end of the lane, where I should again emerge into the White
man's world, and where I was now walking the lane spread into a broader
space with ells and angles and rotting steps, and habitations mostly too
ruinous to be inhabited. It was from a sashless window in one of these
that the angry voices came. The first words which were distinct aroused
my interest quite beyond the scale of an ordinary altercation:--
"Calls you'self a reconstuckted niggah?"
This was said sharply and with prodigious scorn. The answer which it
brought was lengthy and of such a general sullen incoherence that I could
make out only a frequent repetition of "custom house," and that somebody
was going to take care of somebody hereafter.
Into this the first voice broke with tones of highest contempt and
"President gwine to gib brekfus' an' dinnah an suppah to de likes ob you
fo' de whole remaindah oh youh wuthless nat'ral life? Get out ob my
sight, you reconstuckted niggah. I come out oh de St. Michael."
There came through the window immediately upon this sounds of scuffling
and of a fall, and then cries for help which took me running into the
dilapidated building. Daddy Ben lay on the floor, and a thick, young
savage was kicking him. In some remarkable way I thought of the solidity
of their heads, and before the assailant even knew that he had a witness,
I sped forward, aiming my kettle-supporter, and with its sharp brass edge
I dealt him a crack over his shin with astonishing accuracy. It was a
dismal howl that he gave, and as he turned he got from me another crack
upon the other shin. I had no time to be alarmed at my deed, or I think
that I should have been very much so; I am a man above all of peace, and
physical encounters are peculiarly abhorrent to me; but, so far from
assailing me, the thick, young savage, with the single muttered remark,
"He hit me fuss," got himself out of the house with the most agreeable
Daddy Ben sat up, and his first inquiry greatly reassured me as to his
state. He stared at my paper bundle. "You done make him hollah wid dat,
I showed him the kettle-supporter through a rent in its wrapping, and I
assisted him to stand upright. His injuries proved fortunately to be
slight (although I may say here that the shock to his ancient body kept
him away for a few days from the churchyard), and when I began to talk to
him about the incident, he seemed unwilling to say much in answer to my
questions. And when I offered to accompany him to where he lived, he
declined altogether, assuring me that it was close, and that he could
walk there as well as if nothing had happened to him; but upon my asking
him if I was on the right way to the carpenter's shop, he looked at me
"No use you gwine dab, sah. Dat shop close up. He not wukkin, dis week,
and dat why fo' I jaw him jus' now when you come in an' stop him. He de
cahpentah, my gran'son, Cha's Coteswuth."
XII: From the Bedside
Next morning when I saw the weltering sky I resigned myself to a day of
dullness; yet before its end I had caught a bright new glimpse of John
Mayrant's abilities, and also had come, through tribulation, to a further
understanding of the South; so that I do not, to-day, regret the
tribulation. As the rain disappointed me of two outdoor expeditions, to
which I had been for some little while looking forward, I dedicated most
of my long morning to a sadly neglected correspondence, and trusted that
the expeditions, as soon as the next fine weather visited Kings Port,
would still be in store for me. Not only everybody in town here, but Aunt
Carola, up in the North also, had assured me that to miss the sight of
Live Oaks when the azaleas in the gardens of that country seat were in
flower would be to lose one of the rarest and most beautiful things which
could be seen anywhere; and so I looked out of my window at the furious
storm, hoping that it might not strip the bushes at Live Oaks of their
bloom, which recent tourists at Mrs. Trevise's had described as drawing
near the zenith of its luxuriance. The other excursion to Udolpho with
John Mayrant was not so likely to fall through. Udolpho was a sort of
hunting lodge or country club near Tern Creek and an old colonial church,
so old that it bore the royal arms upon a shield still preserved as a
sign of its colonial origin. A note from Mayrant, received at breakfast,
informed me that the rain would take all pleasure from such an excursion,
and that he should seize the earliest opportunity the weather might
afford to hold me to my promise. The wet gale, even as I sat writing, was
beating down some of the full-blown flowers in the garden next Mrs.
Trevise's house, and as the morning wore on I watched the paths grow more
strewn with broken twigs and leaves.
I filled my correspondence with accounts of Daddy Ben and his grandson,
the carpenter, doubtless from some pride in my part in that, but also
because it had become, through thinking it over, even more interesting
to-day than it had been at the moment of its occurrence; and in replying
to a sort of postscript of Aunt Carola's in which she hurriedly wrote
that she had forgotten to say she had heard the La Heu family in South
Carolina was related to the Bombos, and should be obliged to me if I
would make inquiries about this, I told her that it would be easy, and
then described to her the Teuton, plying his "antiquity" trade externally
while internally cherishing his collected skulls and nursing his
scientific rage. All my letters were the more abundant concerning these
adventures of mine from my having kept entirely silent upon them at Mrs.
Trevise's tea-table. I dreaded Juno when let loose upon the negro
question; and the fact that I was beginning to understand her feelings
did not at all make me wish to be deafened by them. Neither Juno,
therefore, nor any of them learned a word from me about the
kettle-supporter incident. What I did take pains to inform the assembled
company was my gratification that the report of Mr. Mayrant's engagement
being broken was unfounded; and this caused Juno to observe that in that
case Miss Rieppe must have the most imperative reasons for uniting
herself to such a young man.
Unintimidated by the rain, this formidable creature had taken herself off
to her nephew's bedside almost immediately after breakfast; and later in
the day I, too, risked a drenching for the sake of ordering the
packing-box that I needed. When I returned, it was close on tea-time; I
had seen Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael send out the hot coffee to the
conductor, and I had found a negro carpenter whose week it happily was to
stay sober; and now I learned that, when tea should be finished, the
poetess had in store for us, as a treat, her ode.
Our evening meal was not plain sailing, even for the veteran navigation
of Mrs. Trevise; Juno had returned from the bedside very plainly
displeased (she was always candid even when silent) by something which
had happened there; and before the joyful moment came when we all learned
what this was, a very gouty Boston lady who had arrived with her husband
from Florida on her way North--and whose nature you will readily grasp
when I tell you that we found ourselves speaking of the man as Mrs.
Braintree's husband and never as Mr. Braintree--this crippled lady, who
was of a candor equal to Juno's, embarked upon a conversation with Juno
that compelled Mrs. Trevise to tinkle her bell for Daphne after only two
remarks had been exchanged.
I had been sorry at first that here in this Southern boarding-house
Boston should be represented only by a lady who appeared to unite in
herself all the stony products of that city, and none of the others; for
she was as convivial as a statue and as well-informed as a spelling-book;
she stood no more for the whole of Boston than did Juno for the whole of
Kings Port. But my sorrow grew less when I found that in Mrs. Braintree
we had indeed a capable match for her Southern counterpart. Juno,
according to her custom, had remembered something objectionable that had
been perpetrated in 1865 by the Northern vandals.
"Edward," said Mrs. Braintree to her husband, in a frightfully clear
voice, "it was at Chambersburg, was it not, that the Southern vandals
burned the house in which were your father's title-deeds?"
Edward, who, it appeared, had fought through the whole Civil War, and was
in consequence perfectly good-humored and peaceable in his feelings upon
that subject, replied hastily and amiably: "Oh, yes, yes! Why, I believe
But this availed nothing; Juno bent her great height forward, and
addressed Mrs. Braintree. "This is the first time I have been told
Southerners were vandals."
"You will never be able to say that again!" replied Mrs. Braintree.
After the bell and Daphne had stopped, the invaluable Briton addressed a
genial generalization to us all: "I often think how truly awful your war
would have been if the women had fought it, y'know, instead of the men."
"Quite so!" said the easy-going Edward "Squaws! Mutilation! Yes!" and he
laughed at his little joke, but he laughed alone.
I turned to Juno. "Speaking of mutilation, I trust your nephew is better
I was rejoiced by receiving a glare in response. But still more joy was
"An apology ought to help cure him a lot," observed the Briton.
Juno employed her policy of not hearing him.
"Indeed, I trust that your nephew is in less pain," said the poetess.
Juno was willing to answer this. "The injuries, thank you, are the merest
trifles--all that such a light-weight could inflict." And she shrugged
her shoulders to indicate the futility of young John's pugilism.
"But," the surprised Briton interposed, "I thought you said your nephew
was too feeble to eat steak or hear poetry."
Juno could always stem the eddy of her own contradictions--but she did
raise her voice a little. "I fancy, sir, that Doctor Beaugarcon knows
what he is talking about."
"Have they apologized yet?" inquired the male honeymooner from the
"My nephew, sir, nobly consented to shake hands this afternoon. He did
it entirely out of respect for Mr. Mayrant's family, who coerced him into
this tardy reparation, and who feel unable to recognize him since his
treasonable attitude in the Custom House."
"Must be fairly hard to coerce a chap you can't recognize," said the
An et cetera now spoke to the honeymoon bride from the up-country: "I
heard Doctor Beaugarcon say he was coming to visit you this evening."
"Yais," assented the bride. "Doctor Beaugarcon is my mother's fourth
Juno now took--most unwisely, as it proved--a vindictive turn at me. "I
knew that your friend, Mr. Mayrant, was intemperate," she began.
I don't think that Mrs. Trevise had any intention to ring for Daphne at
this point--her curiosity was too lively; but Juno was going to risk no
such intervention, and I saw her lay a precautionary hand heavily down
over the bell. "But," she continued, "I did not know that Mr. Mayrant was
"Have you ever seen him intemperate?" I asked.
"That would be quite needless," Juno returned. "And of the gambling I
have ocular proof, since I found him, cards, counters, and money, with
my sick nephew. He had actually brought cards in his pocket."
"I suppose," said the Briton, "your nephew was too sick to resist him."
The male honeymooner, with two of the et ceteras, made such unsteady
demonstrations at this that Mrs. Trevise protracted our sitting no
longer. She rose, and this meant rising for us all.
A sense of regret and incompleteness filled me, and finding the Briton at
my elbow as our company proceeded toward the sitting room, I said: "Too
His whisper was confident. "We'll get the rest of it out of her yet."
But the rest of it came without our connivance.
In the sitting room Doctor Beaugarcon sat waiting, and at sight of Juno
entering the door (she headed our irregular procession) he sprang up and
lifted admiring hands. "Oh, why didn't I have an aunt like you!" he
exclaimed, and to Mrs. Trevise as she followed: "She pays her nephew's
"How much, cousin Tom?" asked the upcountry bride.
And the gay old doctor chuckled, as he kissed her: "Thirty dollars this
afternoon, my darling."
At this the Briton dragged me behind a door in the hall, and there we
"That Mayrant chap will do," he declared; and we composed ourselves for a
proper entrance into the sitting room, where the introductions had been
made, and where Doctor Beaugarcon and Mrs. Braintree's husband had
already fallen into war reminiscences, and were discovering with mutual
amiability that they had fought against each other in a number of
"And you generally licked us," smiled the Union soldier.
"Ah! don't I know myself how it feels to run!" laughed the Confederate.
"Are you down at the club?"
But upon learning from the poetess that her ode was now to be read aloud,
Doctor Beaugarcon paid his fourth cousin's daughter a brief, though
affectionate, visit, lamenting that a very ill patient should compel him
to take himself away so immediately, but promising her presently in his
stead two visitors much more interesting.
"Miss Josephine St. Michael desires to call upon you," he said, "and I
fancy that her nephew will escort her."
"In all this rain?" said the bride.
"Oh, it's letting up, letting up! Good night, Mistress Trevise. Good
night, sir; I am glad to have met you." He shook hands with Mrs.
Braintree's husband. "We fellows," he whispered, "who fought in the war
have had war enough." And bidding the general company good night, and
kissing the bride again, he left us even as the poetess returned from her
room with the manuscript.
I soon wished that I had escaped with him, because I feared what Mrs.
Braintree might say when the verses should be finished; and so, I think,
did her husband. We should have taken the hint which tactful Doctor
Beaugarcon had meant, I began to believe, to give us in that whispered
remark of his. But it had been given too lightly, and so we sat and heard
the ode out. I am sure that the poetess, wrapped in the thoughts of her
own composition, had lost sight of all but the phrasing of her poem and
the strong feelings which it not unmusically voiced; there Is no other
way to account for her being willing to read it in Mrs. Braintree's
Whatever gayety had filled me when the Boston lady had clashed with Juno
was now changed to deprecation and concern. Indeed, I myself felt almost
as if I were being physically struck by the words, until mere
bewilderment took possession of me; and after bewilderment, a little, a
very little, light, which, however, rapidly increased. We were the
victors, we the North, and we had gone upon our way with songs and
rejoicing--able to forget, because we were the victors. We had our
victory; let the vanquished have their memory. But here was the cry of
the vanquished, coming after forty years. It was the time which at first
bewildered me; Juno had seen the war, Juno's bitterness I could
comprehend, even if I could not comprehend her freedom in expressing it,
but the poetess could not be more than a year or two older than I was;
she had come after it was all over. Why should she prolong such memories
and feelings? But my light increased as I remembered she had not written
this for us, and that if she had not seen the flames of war, she had seen
the ashes; for the ashes I had seen myself here in Kings Port, and had
been overwhelmed by the sight, forty years later, more overwhelmed than I
could possibly say to Mrs. Gregory St. Michael, or Mrs. Weguelin, or
anybody. The strain of sitting and waiting for the end made my hands cold
and my head hot, but nevertheless the light which had come enabled me to
bend instantly to Mrs. Braintree and murmur a great and abused quotation
"Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner."
But my petition could not move her. She was too old; she had seen the
flames of war; and so she said to her husband:--
"Edward, will you please help me upstairs?"
And thus the lame, irreconcilable lady left the room with the assistance
of her unhappy warrior, who must have suffered far more keenly than I
This departure left us all in a constraint which was becoming unbearable
when the blessed doorbell rang and delivered us, and Miss Josephine St.
Michael entered with John Mayrant. He wore a most curious expression; his
eyes went searching about the room, and at length settled upon Juno with
a light in them as impish as that which had flickered in my own mood
before the ode.
To my surprise, Miss Josephine advanced and gave me a special and marked
greeting. Before this she had always merely bowed to me; to-night she
held out her hand. "Of course my visit is not to you; but I am very glad
to find you here and express the appreciation of several of us for your
timely aid to Daddy Ben. He feels much shame in having said nothing to
And while I muttered those inevitable modest nothings which fit such
occasions, Miss St. Michael recounted to the bride, whom she was
ostensibly calling upon, and to the rest of our now once more harmonious
circle, my adventures in the alleys of Africa. These loomed, even with
Miss St. Michael's perfectly quiet and simple rendering of them, almost
of heroic size, thanks doubtless to Daddy Ben's tropical imagery when he
first told the tale; and before they were over Miss St. Michael's marked
recognition of me actually brought from Juno some reflected recognition--
only this resembled in its graciousness the original about as correctly
as a hollow spoon reflects the human countenance divine. Still, it was at
Juno's own request that I brought down from my chamber and displayed to
them the kettle-supporter.
I have said that Miss St. Michael's visit was ostensibly to the bride:
and that is because for some magnetic reason or other I felt diplomacy
like an undercurrent passing among our chairs. Young John's expression
deepened, whenever he watched Juno, to a devilishness which his polite
manners veiled no better than a mosquito netting; and I believe that his
aunt, on account of the battle between their respective nephews, had for
family reasons deemed it advisable to pay, indirectly, under cover of the
bride, a state visit to Juno; and I think that I saw Juno accepting it as
a state visit, and that the two together, without using a word of spoken
language, gave each other to understand that the recent deplorable
circumstances were a closed incident. I think that his Aunt Josephine had
desired young John to pay a visit likewise, and, to make sure of his
speedy compliance, had brought him along with her--coerced him, as Juno
would have said. He wore somewhat the look of having been "coerced," and
he contributed remarkably few observations to the talk.
It was all harmonious, and decorous, and properly conducted, this state
visit; yet even so, Juno and John exchanged at parting some verbal
sweet-meats which rather stuck out from the smooth meringue of diplomacy.
She contemplated his bruise. "You are feeling stronger, I hope, than you
have been lately? A bridegroom's health should be good."
He thanked her. "I am feeling better to-night than for many weeks."
The rascal had the thirty dollars visibly bulging that moment in his
pocket. I doubt if he had acquainted his aunt with this episode, but she
was certain to hear it soon; and when she did hear it, I rather fancy
that she wished to smile--as I completely smiled alone in my bed that
night thinking young John over.
But I did not go to sleep smiling; listening to the "Ode for the
Daughters of Dixie" had been an ordeal too truly painful, because it
disclosed live feelings which I had thought were dead, or rather, it
disclosed that those feelings smouldered in the young as well as in the
old. Doctor Beaugarcon didn't have them--he had fought them out, just as
Mr. Braintree had fought them out; and Mrs. Braintree, like Juno,
retained them, because she hadn't fought them out; and John Mayrant
didn't have them, because he had been to other places; and I didn't have
them--never had had them in my life, because I came into the world when
it was all over. Why then--Stop, I told myself, growing very wakeful, and
seeing in the darkness the light which had come to me, you have beheld the
ashes, and even the sight has overwhelmed you; these others were born in
the ashes, and have had ashes to sleep in and ashes to eat. This I said
to myself; and I remembered that War hadn't been all; that Reconstruction
came in due season; and I thought of the "reconstructed" negro, as Daddy
Ben had so ingeniously styled him. These white people, my race, had been
set beneath the reconstructed negro. Still, still, this did not justify
the whole of it to me; my perfectly innocent generation seemed to be
included in the unforgiving, unforgetting ode. "I must have it out with
somebody," I said. And in time I fell asleep.
XIII: The Girl Behind the Counter--III
I was still thinking the ode over as I dressed for breakfast, for which I
was late, owing to my hair, which the changes in the weather had rendered
somewhat recalcitrant. Yes; decidedly I must have it out with somebody.
The weather was once more superb; and in the garden beneath my window men
were already sweeping away the broken twigs and debris of the storm. I
say "already," because it had not seemed to me to be the Kings Port
custom to remove debris, or anything, with speed. I also had it in my
mind to perform at lunch Aunt Carola's commission, and learn if the
family of La Heu were indeed of royal descent through the Bombos. I
intended to find this out from the girl behind the counter, but the
course which our conversation took led me completely to forget about it.
As soon as I entered the Exchange I planted myself in front of the
counter, in spite of the discouragement which I too plainly perceived in
her countenance; the unfavorable impression which I had made upon her at
our last interview was still in force.
I plunged into it at once. "I have a confession to make."
"You do me surprising honor."
"Oh, now, don't begin like that! I suppose you never told a lie."
"I'm telling the truth now when I say that I do not see why an entire
stranger should confess anything to me."
"Oh, my goodness! Well, I told you a lie, anyhow; a great, successful,
She opened her mouth under the shock of it, and I recited to her
unsparingly my deception; during this recital her mouth gradually closed.
"Well, I declare, declare, declare!" she slowly and deliciously breathed
over the sum total; and she considered me at length, silently, before her
words came again, like a soft soliloquy. "I could never have believed it
in one who"--here gayety flashed in her eyes suddenly--"parts his back
hair so rigidly. Oh, I beg your pardon for being personal!" And her
gayety broke in ripples. Some habitual instinct moved me to turn to the
looking-glass. "Useless!" she cried, "you can't see it in that. But it's
perfectly splendid to-day."
Nature has been kind to me in many ways--nay, prodigal; it is not every
man who can perceive the humor in a jest of which he is himself the
subject. I laughed with her. "I trust that I am forgiven," I said.
"Oh, yes, you are forgiven! Come out, General, and give the gentleman
your right paw, and tell him that he is forgiven--if only for the sake of
Daddy Ben." With these latter words she gave me a gracious nod of
understanding. They were all thanking me for the kettle-supporter! She
probably knew also the tale of John Mayrant, the cards, and the bedside.
The curly dog came out, and went through his part very graciously.
"I can guess his last name," I remarked.
"General's? How? Oh, you've heard it! I don't believe in you any more."
"That's not a bit handsome, after my confession. No, I'm getting to
understand South Carolina a little. You came from the 'up-country,' you
call your dog General; his name is General Hampton!"
Her laughter assented. "Tell me some more about South Carolina," she
added with her caressing insinuation.
"Well, to begin with--"
"Go sit down at your lunch-table first. Aunt Josephine would never
tolerate my encouraging gentlemen to talk to me over the counter."
I went back obediently, and then resumed: "Well, what sort of people are
those who own the handsome garden behind Mrs. Trevise's!"
"I don't know them."
"Thank you; that's all I wanted."
"What do you mean?"
"They're new people. I could tell it from the way you stuck your nose in
"Oh, if you talk about my hair, I can talk about your nose, I think. I
suspected that they were: 'new people' because they cleaned up their
garden immediately after the storm this morning. Now, I'll tell you
something else: the whole South looks down on the whole North."
She made her voice kind. "Do you mind it very much?"
I joined in her latent mirth. "It makes life not worth living! But more
than this, South Carolina looks down on the whole South."
"Not? An 'entire stranger,' you know, sometimes notices things which
escape the family eye--family likenesses in the children, for instance."
"Never Virginia," she persisted.
"Very well, very well! Somehow you've admitted the rest, however."
She began to smile.
"And next, Kings Port looks down on all the rest of South Carolina."
She now laughed outright. "An up-country girl will not deny that,
"And finally, your aunts--"
"My aunts are Kings Port."
"The whole of it?"
"If you mean the thirty thousand negroes--"
"No, there are other white people here--there goes your nose again!"
"I will not have you so impudent, sir!"
"A thousand pardons, I'm on my knees. But your aunts--" There was such a
flash of war in her eye that I stopped.
"May I not even mention them?" I asked her.
And suddenly upon this she became serious and gentle. "I thought that you
understood them. Would you take them from their seclusion, too? It is all
they have left--since you burned the rest in 1865."
I had made her say what I wanted! That "you" was what I wanted. Now I
should presently have it out with her. But, for the moment, I did not
disclaim the "you." I said:--
"The burning in 1865 was horrible, but it was war."
"It was outrage."
"Yes, the same kind as England's, who burned Washington in 1812, and whom
you all so deeply admire."
She had, it seemed, no answer to this. But we trembled on the verge of a
real quarrel. It was in her voice when she said:--
"I think I interrupted you."
I pushed the risk one step nearer the verge, because of the words I
wished finally to reach. "In 1812, when England burned our White House
down, we did not sit in the ashes; we set about rebuilding."
And now she burst out. "That's not fair, that's perfectly inexcusable!
Did England then set loose on us a pack of black savages and politicians
to help us rebuild? Why, this very day I cannot walk on the other side of
the river, I dare not venture off the New Bridge; and you who first beat
us and then unleashed the blacks to riot in a new 'equality' that they
were no more fit for than so many apes, you sat back at ease in your
victory and your progress, having handed the vote to the negro as you
might have handed a kerosene lamp to a child of three, and let us
crushed, breathless people cope with the chaos and destruction that never
came near you. Why, how can you dare--" Once again, admirably she pulled
herself up as she had done when she spoke of the President. "I mustn't!"
she declared, half whispering, and then more clearly and calmly, "I
mustn't." And she shook her head as if shaking something off. "Nor must
you," she finished, charmingly and quietly, with a smile.
"I will not," I assured her. She was truly noble.
"But I did think that you understood us," she said pensively.
"Miss La Heu, when you talked to me about the President and the White
House, I said that you were hard to answer. Do you remember?"
"Perfectly. I said I was glad you found me so.'
"You helped me to understand you then, and now I want to be helped to
further understanding. Last night I heard the 'Ode for the Daughters of
Dixie.' I had a bad time listening to that."
"Do you presume to criticise it? Do we criticise your Grand Army
reunions, and your 'Marching through Georgia,' and your 'John Brown's
Body,' and your Arlington Museum? Can we not be allowed to celebrate our
heroes and our glories and sing our songs?"
She had helped me already! Still, still, the something I was groping for,
the something which had given me such pain during the ode, remained
undissolved, remained unanalyzed between us; I still had to have it out
with her, and the point was that it had to be with her, and not simply
with myself alone. We must thrash out together the way to an
understanding; an agreement was not in the least necessary--we could
agree to differ, for that matter, with perfect cordiality--but an
understanding we must reach. And as I was thinking this my light
increased, and I saw clearly the ultimate thing which lay at the bottom
of my own feeling, and which had been strangely confusing me all along.
This discovery was the key to the whole remainder of my talk; I never let
go of it. The first thing it opened for me was that Eliza La Heu didn't
understand me, which was quite natural, since I had only just this moment
become clear to myself.
"Many of us," I began, "who have watched the soiling touch of politics
make dirty one clean thing after another, would not be wholly desolated
to learn that the Grand Army of the Republic had gone to another world to
sing its songs and draw its pensions."
She looked astonished, and then she laughed. Down in the South here she
was too far away to feel the vile uses to which present politics had
turned past heroism.
"But," I continued, "we haven't any Daughters of the Union banded
together and handing it down."
"It?" she echoed. "Well, if the deeds of your heroes are not a sacred
trust to you, don't invite us, please, to resemble you."
I waited for more, and a little more came.
"We consider Northerners foreigners, you know."
Again I felt that hurt which hearing the ode had given me, but I now knew
how I was going to take it, and where we were presently coming out; and I
knew she didn't mean quite all that--didn't mean it every day, at least--
and that my speech had driven her to saying it.
"No, Miss La Heu; you don't consider Northerners, who understand you, to
"We have never met any of that sort."
("Yes," I thought, "but you really want to. Didn't you say you hoped I
was one? Away down deep there's a cry of kinship in you; and that you
don't hear it, and that we don't hear it, has been as much our fault as
yours. I see that very well now, but I'm afraid to tell you so, yet.")
What I said was: "We're handing the 'sacred trust' down, I hope."
"I understood you to say you weren't."
"I said we were not handing 'it' down."
I didn't wonder that irritation again moulded her reply. "You must excuse
a daughter of Dixie if she finds the words of a son of the Union beyond
her. We haven't had so many advantages."
There she touched what I had thought over during my wakeful hours: the
tale of the ashes, the desolate ashes! The war had not prevented my
parents from sending me to school and college, but here the old had seen
the young grow up starved of what their fathers had given them, and the
young had looked to the old and known their stripped heritage.
"Miss La Heu," I said, "I could not tell you, you would not wish me to
tell you, what the sight of Kings Port has made me feel. But you will let
me say this: I have understood for a long while about your old people,
your old ladies, whose faces are so fine and sad."
I paused, but she merely looked at me, and her eyes were hard.
"And I may say this, too. I thank you very sincerely for bringing
completely home to me what I had begun to make out for myself. I hope the
Daughters of Dixie will go on singing of their heroes."
I paused again, and now she looked away, out of the window into Royal
"Perhaps," I still continued, "you will hardly believe me when I say that
I have looked at your monuments here with an emotion more poignant even
than that which Northern monuments raise in me."
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Need you have asked that? The North won."
"You are quite dispassionate!" Her eyes were always toward the window.
"That's my 'sacred trust.'"
It made her look at me. "Yours?"
"Not yours--yet! It would be yours if you had won." I thought a slight
change came in her steady scrutiny. "And, Miss La Heu, it was awful about
the negro. It is awful. The young North thinks so just as much as you do.
Oh, we shock our old people! We don't expect them to change, but they
mustn't expect us not to. And even some of them have begun to whisper a
little doubtfully. But never mind them--here's the negro. We can't kick
him out. That plan is childish. So, it's like two men having to live in
one house. The white man would keep the house in repair, the black would
let it rot. Well, the black must take orders from the white. And it will
She was eager. "Slavery again, you think?"
"Oh, never! It was too injurious to ourselves. But something between
slavery and equality." And I ended with a quotation: "'Patience, cousin,
and shuffle the cards.'"
"You may call me cousin--this once--because you have been, really, quite
nice--for a Northerner."
Now we had come to the place where she must understand me.
"Not a Northerner, Miss La Heu."
She became mocking. "Scarcely a Southerner, I presume?"
But I kept my smile and my directness. "No more a Southerner than a
"Pray what, then?"
She was silent.
"It's the 'sacred trust'--for me."
She was still silent.
"If my state seceded from the Union tomorrow, I should side with the
Union against her."
She was frankly astonished now. "Would you really?" And I think some
light about me began to reach her. A Northerner willing to side against a
Northern state! I was very glad that I had found that phrase to make
clear to her my American creed.
I proceeded. "I shall help to hand down all the glories and all the
sadnesses; Lee's, Lincoln's, everybody's. But I shall not hand 'it'
This checked her.
"It's easy for me, you know," I hastily explained. "Nothing noble about
it at all. But from noble people"--and I looked hard at her--"one
expects, sooner or later, noble things."
She repressed something she had been going to reply.
"If ever I have children," I finished, "they shall know 'Dixie' and
'Yankee Doodle' by heart, and never know the difference. By that time I
should think they might have a chance of hearing 'Yankee Doodle' in Kings
Again she checked a rapid retort. "Well," she, after a pause, repeated,
"you have been really quite nice."
"May I tell you what you have been?"
"Certainly not. Have you seen Mr. Mayrant to-day?"
"We have an engagement to walk this afternoon. May I go walking with you
"May he, General?" A wagging tail knocked on the floor behind the
counter. "General says that he will think about it. What makes you like
Mr. Mayrant so much?"
This question struck me as an odd one; nor could I make out the import of
the peculiar tone in which she put it. "Why, I should think everybody
would like him--except, perhaps, his double victim."
"Yes, first of his fist and then of--of his hand!"
But she didn't respond.
"Of his hand--his poker hand," I explained.
"Poker hand?" She remained honestly vague.
It rejoiced me to be the first to tell her. "You haven't heard of Master
John's last performance? Well, finding himself forced by that
immeasurable old Aunt Josephine of yours to shake hands, he shook 'em all
right, but he took thirty dollars away as a little set-off for his pious
"Oh!" she murmured, overwhelmed with astonishment. Then she broke into
one of her delicious peals of laughter.
"Anybody," I said, "likes a boy who plays a hand--and a fist--to that
tune." I continued to say a number of commendatory words about young
John, while her sparkling eyes rested upon me. But even as I talked I
grew aware that these eyes were not sparkling, were starry rather, and
distant, and that she was not hearing what I said; so I stopped abruptly,
and at the stopping she spoke, like a person waking up.
"Oh, yes! Certainly he can take care of himself. Why not?"
"Rather creditable, don't you think?"
"Considering his aunts and everything."
She became haughty on the instant. "Upon my word! And do you suppose the
women of South Carolina don't wish their men to be men? Why"--she
returned to mirth and that arch mockery which was her special charm--"we
South Carolina women consider virtue our business, and we don't expect
the men to meddle with it!"
"Primal, perpetual, necessary!" I cried. "When that division gets
blurred, society is doomed. Are you sure John can take care of himself
"I have other things than Mr. Mayrant to think about." She said this
It surprised me. "To be sure," I assented. "But didn't you once tell me
that you thought he was simple?"
She opened her ledger. "It's a great honor to have one's words so well
I was still at a loss. "Anyhow, the wedding is postponed," I continued;
"and the cake. Of course one can't help wondering how it's all coming
She was now working at her ledger, bending her head over it. "Have you
ever met Miss Rieppe?" She inquired this with a sort of wonderful
softness--which I was to hear again upon a still more memorable occasion.
"Never," I answered, "but there's nobody at present living whom I long to
see so much."
She wrote on for a little while before saying, with her pencil steadily
"Why? Don't you? After all this fuss?"
"Oh, certainly," she drawled. "She is so much admired--by Northerners."
"I do hope John is able to take care of himself," I purposely repeated.
"Take care of yourself!" she laughed angrily over her ledger.
"Me? Why? I understand you less and less!"
"Why, I want to help him!" I protested. "I don't want him to marry her.
Oh, by the way do you happen to know what it is that she is coming here
to see for herself?"
In a moment her ledger was left, and she was looking at me straight.
"Soon. In an automobile. To see something for herself."
She pondered for quite a long moment; then her eyes returned,
searchingly, to me. "You didn't make that up?"
I laughed, and explained. "Some of them, at any rate," I finished, "know
what she's coming for. They were rather queer about it, I thought."
She pondered again. I noticed that she had deeply flushed, and that the
flush was leaving her. Then she fixed her eyes on me once more. "They
wouldn't tell you?"
"I think that they came inadvertently near it, once or twice, and
remembered just in time that I didn't know about it."
"But since you do know pretty much about it!" she laughed.
I shook my head. "There's something else, something that's turned up; the
sort of thing that upsets calculations. And I merely hoped that you'd
On those last words of mine she gave me quite an extraordinary look, and
then, as if satisfied with what she saw in my face.--
"They don't talk to me."
It was an assurance, it was true, it had the ring of truth, that evident
genuineness which a piece of real confidence always possesses; she meant
me to know that we were in the same boat of ignorance to-day. And yet, as
I rose from my lunch and came forward to settle for it, I was aware of
some sense of defeat, of having been held off just as the ladies on High
Walk had held me off.
"Well," I sighed, "I pin my faith to the aunt who says he'll never marry
Miss La Heu had no more to say upon the subject. "Haven't you forgotten
something?" she inquired gayly; and, as I turned to see what I had left
behind--"I mean, you had no Lady Baltimore to-day."
"I clean forgot it!"
"No loss. It is very stale; and to-morrow I shall have a fresh supply
As I departed through the door I was conscious of her eyes following me,
and that she had spoken of Lady Baltimore precisely because she was
thinking of something else.
XIV: The Replacers
She had been strange, perceptibly strange, had Eliza La Heu; that was the
most which I could make out of it. I had angered her in some manner
wholly beyond my intention or understanding and not all at one fixed
point in our talk; her irritation had come out and gone in again in spots
all along the colloquy, and it had been a displeasure wholly apart from
that indignation which had flashed up in her over the negro question.
This, indeed, I understood well enough, and admired her for, and admired
still more her gallant control of it; as for the other, I gave it up.
A sense of guilt--a very slight one, to be sure--dispersed my
speculations when I was preparing for dinner, and Aunt Carola's
postscript, open upon my writing-table, reminded me that I had never
asked Miss La Heu about the Bombos. Well, the Bombos could keep! And I
descended to dinner a little late (as too often) to feel instantly in the
air that they had been talking about me. I doubt if any company in the
world, from the Greeks down through Machiavelli to the present moment,
has ever been of a subtlety adequate to conceal from an observant person
entering a room the fact that he has been the subject of their
conversation. This company, at any rate, did not conceal it from me. Not
even when the upcountry bride astutely greeted me with:--
"Why, we were just speaking of you! We were lust saying it would be a
perfect shame if you missed those flowers at Live Oaks." And, at this,
various of the guests assured me that another storm would finish them;
upon which I assured every one that to-morrow should see me embark upon
the Live Oaks excursion boat, knowing quite well in my heart that some
decidedly different question concerning me had been hastily dropped upon
my appearance at the door. It poked up its little concealed head, did
this question, when the bride said later to me, with immense archness:--
"How any gentleman can help falling just daid in love with that lovely
young girl at the Exchange, I don't see!"
"But I haven't helped it!" I immediately exclaimed.
"Oh!" declared the bride with unerring perception, "that just shows he
hasn't been smitten at all! Well, I'd be ashamed, if I was a single
gentleman." And while I brought forth additional phrases concerning the
distracted state of my heart, she looked at me with large, limpid eyes.
"Anybody could tell you're not afraid of a rival," was her resulting
comment; upon which several of the et ceteras laughed more than seemed to
I left them all free again to say what they pleased; for John Mayrant
called for me to go upon our walk while we were still seated at table,
and at table they remained after I had excused myself.
The bruise over John's left eye was fading out, but traces of his
spiritual battle were deepening. During the visit which he had paid
(under compulsion, I am sure) to Juno at our boarding-house in company
with Miss Josephine St. Michael, his recent financial triumph at the
bedside had filled his face with diabolic elation as he confronted his
victim's enraged but checkmated aunt; when to the thinly veiled venom of
her inquiry as to a bridegroom's health he had retorted with venom as
thinly veiled that he was feeling better that night than for many weeks,
he had looked better, too; the ladies had exclaimed after his departure
what a handsome young man he was, and Juno had remarked how fervently she
trusted that marriage might cure him of his deplorable tendencies. But
to-day his vitality had sagged off beneath the weight of his
preoccupation: it looked to me as if, by a day or two more, the boy's
face might be grown haggard.
Whether by intention, or, as is more likely, by the perfectly natural and
spontaneous working of his nature, he speedily made it plain to me that
our relation, our acquaintance, had progressed to a stage more friendly
and confidential. He did not reveal this by imparting any confidence to
me; far from it; it was his silence that indicated the ease he had come
to feel in my company. Upon our last memorable interview he had embarked
at once upon a hasty yet evidently predetermined course of talk, because
he feared that I might touch upon subjects which he wished excluded from
all discussion between us; to-day he embarked upon nothing, made no
conventional effort of any sort, but walked beside me, content with my
mere society; if it should happen that either of us found a thought worth
expressing aloud, good! and if this should not happen, why, good also!
And so we walked mutely and agreeably together for a long while. The
thought which was growing clear in my mind, and which was decidedly
worthy of expression, was also unluckily one which his new reliance upon
my discretion completely forbade my uttering in even the most shadowy
manner; but it was a conviction which Miss Josephine St. Michael should
have been quick to force upon him for his good. Quite apart from selfish
reasons, he had no right to marry a girl whom he had ceased to care for.
The code which held a "gentleman" to his plighted troth in such a case
did more injury to the "lady" than any "jilting" could possibly do. Never
until now had I thought this out so lucidly, and I was determined that
time and my own tact should assuredly help me find a way to say it to
him, if he continued in his present course.
"Daddy Ben says you can't be a real Northerner."
This was his first observation, and I think that we must have walked a
mile before he made it.
"Because I pounded a negro? Of course, he retains your Southern
ante-bellum mythical notion of Northerners--all of us willing to have
them marry our sisters. Well, there's a lady at our boarding-house who
says you are a real gambler."
The impish look came curling round his lips, but for a moment only, and
it was gone.
"That shook Daddy Ben up a good deal."
"Having his grandson do it, do you mean?"
"Oh, he's used to his grandson! Grandsons in that race might just as well
be dogs for all they know or care about their progenitors. Yet Daddy Ben
spent his savings on educating Charles Cotesworth and two more--but not
one of them will give the old man a house to-day. If ever I have a home--"
John stopped himself, and our silence was no longer easy; our unspoken
thoughts looked out of our eyes so that they could not meet. Yet no one,
unless directly invited by him, had the right to say to hint what I was
thinking, except some near relative. Therefore, to relieve this silence
which had ceased to be agreeable, I talked about Daddy Ben and his
grandsons, and negro voting, and the huge lie of "equality" which our
lips vociferate and our lives daily disprove. This took us comfortably
away from weddings and cakes into the subject of lynching, my violent
condemnation of which surprised him; for our discussion had led us over a
wide field, and one fertile in well-known disputes of the evergreen sort,
conducted by the North mostly with more theory than experience, and by
the South mostly with more heat than light; whereas, between John and me,
I may say that our amiability was surpassed only by our intelligence!
Each allowed for the other's standpoint, and both met in many views: he
would have voted against the last national Democratic ticket but for the
Republican upholding of negro equality, while I assured him that such
stupid and criminal upholding was on the wane. He informed me that he did
not believe the pure blooded African would ever be capable of taking the
intellectual side of the white man's civilization, and I informed him
that we must patiently face this probability, and teach the African
whatever he could profitably learn and no more; and each of us agreed
with the other. I think that we were at one, save for the fact that I
was, after all, a Northerner--and that is a blemish which nobody in Kings
Port can quite get over. John, therefore, was unprepared for my wholesale
denunciation of lynching.
"With your clear view of the negro," he explained.
"My dear man, it's my clear view of the white! It's the white, the
American citizen, the 'hope of humanity,' as he enjoys being called, who,
after our English-speaking race has abolished public executions,
degenerates back to the Stone Age. It's upon him that lynching works the
"They're nothing but animals," he muttered.
"Would you treat an animal in that way?" I inquired.
He persisted. "You'd do it yourself if you had to suffer from them."
"Very probably. Is that an answer? What I'd never do would be to make a
show, an entertainment, a circus, out of it, run excursion trains to see
it--come, should you like your sister to buy tickets for a lynching?"
This brought him up rather short. "I should never take part myself," he
presently stated, "unless it were immediate personal vengeance."
"Few brothers or husbands would blame you," I returned. "It would be hard
to wait for the law. But let no community which treats it as a public
spectacle presume to call itself civilized."
He gave a perplexed smile, shaking his head over it. "Sometimes I think
"Civilization costs all you've got!" I cried.
"More than I've got!" he declared. "I'm mortal tired of civilization."
"Ah, yes! What male creature is not? And neither of us will live quite
long enough to see the smash-up of our own."
"Aren't you sometimes inconsistent?" he inquired, laughing.
"I hope so," I returned. "Consistency is a form of death. The dead are
the only perfectly consistent people."
"And sometimes you sound like a Socialist," he pursued, still laughing.
"Never!" I shouted. "Don't class me with those untrained puppies of
thought. And you'll generally observe," I added, "that the more nobly a
Socialist vaporizes about the rights of humanity, the more wives and
children he has abandoned penniless along the trail of his life."
He was livelier than ever at this. "What date have you fixed for the
smash-up of our present civilization?"
"Why fix dates? Is it not diversion enough to watch, and step handsomely
through one's own part, with always a good sleeve to laugh in?"
Pensiveness returned upon him. "I shall be able to step through my own
part, I think." He paused, and I was wondering secretly, "Does that
include the wedding?" when he continued: "What's there to laugh at?"
"Why, our imperishable selves! For instance: we swear by universal
suffrage. Well, sows' ears are an invaluable thing in their place, on the
head of the animal; but send them to make your laws, and what happens?
Bribery, naturally. The silk purse buys the sow's ear. We swear by
Christianity, but dishonesty is our present religion. That little phrase
'In God We Trust' is about as true as the silver dollar it's stamped on--
worth some thirty-nine cents. We get awfully serious about whether or no
good can come of evil, when every sky-scraping thief of finance is
helping hospitals with one hand while the other's in my pocket; and good
and evil attend each other, lead to each other, are such Siamese twins
that if separated they would both die. We make phrases about peace, pity,
and brotherhood, while every nation stands prepared for shipwreck and for
the sinking plank to which two are clinging and the stronger pushes the
weaker into the flood and thus floats safe. Why, the old apple of wisdom,
which Adam and Eve swallowed and thus lost their innocence, was a gentle
nursery drug compared with the new apple of competition, which, as soon
as chewed, instantly transforms the heart into a second brain. But why
worry, when nothing is final? Haven't you and I, for instance, lamented
the present rottenness of smart society? Why, when kings by the name of
George sat on the throne of England, society was just as drunken, just as
dissolute! Then a decent queen came, and society behaved itself; and now,
here we come round again to the Georges, only with the name changed!
There's nothing final. So, when things are as you don't like them,
remember that and bear them; and when they're as you do like them,
remember it and make the most of them--and keep a good sleeve handy!"
"Have you got any creed at all?" he demanded.
"Certanly; but I don't live up to it."
"That's not expected. May I ask what it is?"
"It's in Latin."
"Well, I can probably bear it. Aunt Eliza had a classical tutor for me."
I always relish a chance to recite my favorite poet, and I began
"Laetus in praesens animus quod ultra est
Oderit curare et--"
"I know that one!" he exclaimed, interrupting me. "The tutor made me put
it into English verse. I had the severest sort of a time. I ran away from
it twice to a deer-hunt." And he, in his turn, recited:--
"Who hails each present hour with zest
Hates fretting what may be the rest,
Makes bitter sweet with lazy jest;
Naught is in every portion blest."
I complimented him, in spite of my slight annoyance at being deprived by
him of the chance to declaim Latin poetry, which is an exercise that I
approve and enjoy; but of course, to go on with it, after he had
intervened with his translation, would have been flat.
"You have written good English, and very close to the Latin, too," I told
him, "particularly in the last line." And I picked up from the bridge
which we were crossing, an oyster-shell, and sent it skimming over the
smooth water that stretched between the low shores, wide, blue, and
"I suppose you wonder why we call this the 'New Bridge,'" he remarked.
"I did wonder when I first came," I replied.
He smiled. "You're getting used to us!"
This long structure wore, in truth, no appearance of yesterday. It was
newer than the "New Bridge" which it had replaced some fifteen years ago,
and which for forty years had borne the same title. Spanning the broad
river upon a legion of piles, this wooden causeway lies low against the
face of the water, joining the town with a serene and pensive country of
pines and live oaks and level opens, where glimpses of cabin and
plantation serve to increase the silence and the soft, mysterious
loneliness. Into this the road from the bridge goes straight and among
the purple vagueness gently dissolves away.
We watched a slow, deep-laden boat sliding down toward the draw, across
which we made our way, and drew near the further end of the bridge. The
straight avenue of the road in front of us took my eyes down its quiet
vista, until they were fixed suddenly by an alien object, a growing dot,
accompanied by dust, whence came the small, distorted honks of an
automobile. These fat, importunate sounds redoubled as the machine rushed
toward the bridge, growing up to its full staring, brazen dimensions. Six
or seven figures sat in it, all of the same dusty, shrouded likeness,
their big glass eyes and their masked mouths suggesting some fabled,
unearthly race, a family of replete and bilious ogres; so that as they
flew honking by us I called out to John:--
"Behold the yellow rich!" and then remembered that his Hortense probably
sat among them.
The honks redoubled, and we turned to see that the drawbridge had no
thought of waiting for them. We also saw a bewildered curly white dog and
a young girl, who called despairingly to him as he disappeared beneath
the automobile. The engine of murder could not, as is usual, proceed upon
its way, honking, for the drawbridge was visibly swinging open to admit
the passage of the boat. When John and I had run back near enough to
become ourselves a part of the incident, the white dog lay still behind
the stationary automobile, whose passengers were craning their muffled
necks and glass eyes to see what they had done, while one of their number
had got out, and was stooping to examine if the machine had sustained any
injuries. The young girl, with a face of anguish, was calling the dog's
name as she hastened toward him, and her voice aroused him: he lifted his
head, got on his legs, and walked over to her, which action on his part
brought from the automobile a penetrating female voice:--
"Well, he's in better luck than that Savannah dog!"
But General was not in luck. He lay quietly down at the feet of his
mistress and we soon knew that life had passed from his faithful body.
The first stroke of grief, dealt her in such cruel and sudden form,
overbore the poor girl's pride and reserve; she made no attempt to
remember or heed surroundings, but kneeling and placing her arms about
the neck of her dead servant, she spoke piteously aloud:--
"And I raised him, I raised him from a puppy!"
The female voice, at this, addressed the traveller who was examining the
automobile: "Charley, a five or a ten spot is what her feelings need."
The obedient and munificent Charley straightened up from his stooping
among the mechanical entrails, dexterously produced money, and advanced
with the selected bill held out politely in his hand, while the glass
eyes and the masks peered down at the performance. Eliza La Heu had
perceived none of this, for she was intent upon General; nor had John
Mayrant, who had approached her with the purpose of coming to her aid.
But when Charley, quite at hand, began to speak words which were
instantly obliterated from my memory by what happened, the young girl
realized his intention and straightened stiffly, while John, with the
rapidity of light, snatched the extended bill from Charley's hand, and
tearing it in four pieces, threw it in his face.
A foreign voice cackled from the automobile: "Oh la la! il a du panache!"
But Charley now disclosed himself to be a true man of the world--the
financial world--by picking the pieces out of the mud; and, while he
wiped them and enclosed them in his handkerchief and with perfect dignity
returned them to his pocket, he remarked simply, with a shrug: "As you
please." His accent also was ever so little foreign--that New York
downtown foreign, of the second generation, which stamps so, many of our
The female now leaned from her seat, and with the tone of setting the
whole thing right, explained: "We had no idea it was a lady."
"Doubtless you're not accustomed to their appearance," said John to
I don't know what Charley would have done about this; for while the
completely foreign voice was delightedly whispering, "Toujours le
panache!" a new, deep, and altogether different female voice exclaimed:--
"Why, John, it's you!"
So that was Hortense, then! That rich and quiet utterance was hers, a
schooled and studied management of speech. I found myself surprised, and
I knew directly why; that word of one of the old ladles, "I consider
that she looks like a steel wasp," had implanted in me some definite
anticipations to which the voice certainly did not correspond. How
fervently I desired that she would lift her thick veil, while John, with
hat in hand, was greeting her, and being presented to her companions!
Why she had not spoken to John sooner was of course a recondite
question, and beyond my power to determine with merely the given
situation to guide me. Hadn't she recognized him before? Had her thick
veil, and his position, and the general slight flurry of the
misadventure, intercepted recognition until she heard his voice when he
addressed Charley. Or had she known her lover at once, and rapidly
decided that the moment was an unpropitious one for a first meeting
after absence, and that she would pass on to Kings Port unrevealed, but
then had found this plan become impossible through the collision between
Charley and John? It was not until certain incidents of the days
following brought Miss Rieppe's nature a good deal further home to me,
that a third interpretation of her delay in speaking to John dawned upon
my mind; that I was also made aware how a woman's understanding of the
words "Steel wasp," when applied by her to one of her own sex, may
differ widely from a man's understanding of them; and that Miss Rieppe,
through her thick veil, saw from her seat in the automobile something
which my own unencumbered vision had by no means detected.
But now, here on the bridge, even her outward appearance was as shrouded
as her inward qualities--save such as might be audible in that voice, as
her skilful, well-placed speeches to one and the other of the company
tided over and carried off into ease this uneasy moment. All men, at such
a voice, have pricked up their ears since the beginning; there was much
woman in it; each slow, schooled syllable called its challenge to
questing man. But I got no chance to look in the eye that went with that
voice; she took all the advantages which her veil gave her; and how well
she used them I was to learn later.
In the general smoothing-out process which she was so capably effecting,
her attention was about to reach me, when my name was suddenly called out
from behind her. It was Beverly Rodgers, that accomplished and inveterate
bachelor of fashion. Ten years before, when I had seen much of him, he
had been more particular in his company, frequently declaring in his
genial, irresponsible way that New York society was going to the devil.
But many tempting dances on the land, and cruises on the water, had taken
him deep among our lower classes that have boiled up from the bottom with
their millions--and besides, there would be nothing to marvel at in
Beverly's presence in any company that should include Hortense Rieppe, if
she carried out the promise of her voice.
Beverly was his customary, charming, effusive self, coming out of the
automobile to me with his "By Jove, old man," and his "Who'd have thought
it, old fellow?" and sprinkling urbane little drops of jocosity over us
collectively, as the garden water-turning apparatus sprinkles a lawn. His
knowing me, and the way he brought it out, and even the tumbling into the
road of a few wraps and chattels of travel as he descended from the
automobile, and the necessity of picking these up and handing them back
with delightful little jocular apologies, such as, "By Jove, what a lout
I am," all this helped the meeting on prodigiously, and got us gratefully
away from the disconcerting incident of the torn money. Charley was
helpful, too; you would never have supposed from the polite small-talk
which he was now offering to John Mayrant that he had within some three
minutes received the equivalent of a slap across the eyes from that
youth, and carried the soiled consequences in his pocket. And such a thing
is it to be a true man of the world of finance, that upon the arrival now
of a second automobile, also his property, and containing a set of maids
and valets, and also some live dogs sitting up, covered with glass eyes
and wrappings like their owners, munificent Charley at once offered the
dead dog and his mistress a place in it, and begged she would let it take
her wherever she wished to go. Everybody exclaimed copiously and
condolingly over the unfortunate occurrence. What a fine animal he was,
to be sure! What breed was he? Of course, he wasn't used to automobiles!
Was it quite certain that he was dead? Quel dommage! And Charley would be
so happy to replace him.
And how was Eliza La Heu bearing herself amid these murmurously chattered
infelicities? She was listening with composure to the murmurs of Hortense
Rieppe, more felicitous, no doubt. Miss Rieppe, through her veil, was
particularly devoting herself to Miss La Lieu. I could not hear what she
said; the little chorus of condolence and suggestion intercepted all save
her tone, and that, indeed, coherently sustained its measured cadence
through the texture of fragments uttered by Charley and the others. Eliza
La Heu had now got herself altogether in hand, and, saving her pale
cheeks, no sign betrayed that the young girl's feelings had been so
recently too strong for her. To these strangers, ignorant of her usual
manner, her present strange quietness may very well have been accepted as
"Thank you," she replied to munificent Charley's offer that she would use
his second automobile. She managed to make her polite words cut like a
scythe. "I should crowd it."
"But they shall get out and walk; it will be good for them," said
Charley, indicating the valets and maids, and possibly the dogs, too.
Beverly Rodgers did much better than Charley. With a charming gesture and
bow, he offered his own seat in the first automobile. "I am going to walk
in any case," he assured her.
"One gentleman among them," I heard John Mayrant mutter behind me.
Miss La Heu declined, the chorus urged, but Beverly (who was indeed a
gentleman, every inch of him) shook his head imperceptibly at Charley;
and while the little exclamations--"Do come! So much more comfortable! So
nice to see more of you!"--dropped away, Miss La Heu had settled her
problem quite simply for herself. A little procession of vehicles,
townward bound, had gathered on the bridge, waiting until the closing of
the draw should allow them to continue upon their way. From these most of
the occupants had descended, and were staring with avidity at us all; the
great glass eyes and the great refulgent cars held them in timidity and
fascination, and the poor lifeless white body of General, stretched
beside the way, heightened the hypnotic mystery; one or two of the
boldest had touched him, and found no outward injury upon him; and this
had sent their eyes back to the automobile with increased awe. Eliza La
Heu summoned one of the onlookers, an old negro; at some word she said to
him he hurried back and returned, leading his horse and empty cart, and
General was lifted into this. The girl took her seat beside the old
"No," she said to John Mayrant, "certainly not."
I wondered at the needless severity with which she declined his offer to
accompany her and help her.
He stood by the wheel of the cart, looking up at her and protesting, and
I joined him.
"Thank you," she returned, "I need no one. You will both oblige me by
saying no more about it."
"John!" It was the slow, well-calculated utterance of Hortense Rieppe.
Did I hear in it the caressing note of love?
The draw had swung to, the mast and sail of the vessel were separating
away from the bridge with a stealthy motion, men with iron bars were at
work fastening the draw secure, and horses' hoofs knocked nervously upon
the wooden flooring as the internal churning of the automobiles burst
upon their innocent ears.
"John, if Mr. Rodgers is really not going with us--"
Thus Hortense; and at that Miss La Heu:--
"Why do you keep them waiting?" There was no caress in that note! It was
He looked up at her on her high seat by the extremely dilapidated negro,
and then he walked forward and took his place beside his veiled fiancee,
among the glass eyes. A hiss of sharp noise spurted from the automobiles,
horses danced, and then, smoothly, the two huge engines were gone with
their cargo of large, distorted shapes, leaving behind them--quite as our
present epoch will leave behind it--a trail of power, of ingenuity, of
ruthlessness, and a bad smell.
"Hold hard, old boy!" chuckled Beverly, to whom I communicated this
sentiment. "How do you know the stink of one generation does not become
the perfume of the next?" Beverly, when he troubled to put a thing at all
(which was seldom--for he kept his quite good brains well-nigh
perpetually turned out to grass--or rather to grass widows) always put it
well, and with a bracing vocabulary. "Hullo!" he now exclaimed, and
walked out into the middle of the roadway, where he picked up a parasol.
"Kitty will be in a jolly old stew. None of its expensive bones broken
however." And then he hailed me by a name of our youth. "What are you
doing down here, you old sourbelly?"
"Watching you sun yourself on the fat cushions of the yellow rich."
"Oh, shucks, old man, they're not so yellow!"
"Charley strikes me as yellower than his own gold."
"Charley's not a bad little sort. Of course, he needs coaching a bit here
and there--just now, for instance, when he didn't see that that girl
wouldn't think of riding in the machine that had just killed her dog. By
Jove, give that girl a year in civilization and she'd do! Who was the
"Fire-eater! He's a lot more decent than you or I."
"But that's saying so little, dear boy!"
"Oh, hang it with your 'seriously'! Well, then, seriously, melodrama was
the correct ticket and all that in 1840, but we've outgrown it; it's
devilish demode to chuck things in people's faces.
"I'm not sorry John Mayrant did it!" I brought out his name with due
"All the same," Beverly was beginning, when the automobile returned
rapidly upon us, and, guessing the cause of this, he waved the parasol.
Charley descended to get it--an unnecessary act, prompted, I suppose, by
the sudden relief of finding that it was not lost.
He made his thanks marked. "It is my sister's," he concluded, to me, by
way of explanation, in his slightly foreign accent. "It is not much, but
it has got some stones and things in the handle."
We were favored with a bow from the veiled Hortense, shrill thanks from
Kitty, and the car, turning, again left us in a moment.