Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Suzanne Shell, William Bumgarner and PG Distributed
THE LATE MRS NULL
FRANK R. STOCKTON
There was a wide entrance gate to the old family mansion of Midbranch,
but it was never opened to admit the family or visitors; although
occasionally a load of wood, drawn by two horses and two mules, came
between its tall chestnut posts, and was taken by a roundabout way among
the trees to a spot at the back of the house, where the chips of several
generations of sturdy wood-choppers had formed a ligneous soil deeper
than the arable surface of any portion of the nine hundred and fifty
acres which formed the farm of Midbranch. This seldom opened gate was in
a corner of the lawn, and the driving of carriages, or the riding of
horses through it to the porch at the front of the house would have been
the ruin of the short, thick grass which had covered that lawn, it was
generally believed, ever since Virginia became a State.
But there had to be some way for people who came in carriages or on
horseback to get into the house, and therefore the fence at the bottom
of the lawn, at a point directly in front of the porch, was crossed by a
set of broad wooden steps, five outside and five inside, with a platform
at the top. These stairs were wide enough to accommodate eight people
abreast; so that if a large carriage load of visitors arrived, none of
them need delay in crossing the fence. At the outside of the steps ran
the narrow road which entered the plantation a quarter of a mile away,
and passed around the lawn and the garden to the barns and stables at
On the other side of the road, undivided from it by hedge or fence,
stretched, like a sea gently moved by a groundswell, a vast field,
sometimes planted in tobacco, and sometimes in wheat. In the midst of
this field stood a tall persimmon tree which yearly dropped its
half-candied fruit upon the first light snow of the winter. It is true
that persimmons, quite fit to eat, were to be found on this tree at an
earlier period than this, but such fruit was never noticed by the people
in those parts, who would not rudely wrench from Jack Frost his one
little claim to rivalry with the sun as a fruit-ripener. To the right of
the field was a wide extent of pasture land, running down to a small
stream, or "branch," which, flowing between two other streams of the
same kind a mile or two on either side of it, had given its name to the
place. In front, to the left, lay a great forest of chestnut, oak,
sassafras, and sweet gum, with here and there a clump of tall pines,
standing up straight and stiff with an air of Puritanic condemnation of
the changing fashions of the foliage about them.
On one side of the platform of the broad stile, which has been
mentioned, sat one summer afternoon, the lady of the house. She was a
young woman, and although her face was a good deal shadowed by her
far-spreading hat, it was easy to perceive that she was a handsome one.
She was the niece of Mr Robert Brandon, the elderly bachelor who owned
Midbranch; and her mother, long since dead, had called her Roberta,
which was as near as she could come to the name of her only brother.
Miss Roberta's father was a man whose mind and time were entirely given
up to railroads; and although he nominally lived in New York, he was,
for the greater part of the year, engaged in endeavors to forward his
interests somewhere west of the Mississippi. Two or three months of the
winter were generally spent in his city home. At these times he had his
daughter with him, but the rest of the year she lived with her uncle,
whose household she directed with much good will and judgment. The old
gentleman did not keep her all the summer at Midbranch. He knew what was
necessary for a young lady who had been educated in Germany and
Switzerland, and who had afterwards made a very favorable impression in
Paris and London; and so, during the hot weather, he took her with him
to one of the fashionable Southern resorts, where they always stayed
exactly six weeks.
The gentleman who was sitting on the other side of the platform, with
his face turned towards her, had known Miss Roberta for a year or more,
having met her at the North, and also in the Virginia mountains; and
being now on a visit to the Green Sulphur Springs, about four miles from
Midbranch, he rode over to see her nearly every day. There was nothing
surprising in this, because the Green Sulphur, once a much frequented
resort, had seen great changes, and now, although the end of the regular
season had not arrived, it had Mr Lawrence Croft for its only guest.
There was a spacious hotel there; there was a village of cottages of
varying sizes; there were buildings for servants and managers; there was
a ten-pin alley and a quiet ground; there were arbors and swings; and a
square hole in a stone slab, through which a little pool of greenish
water could be seen, with a tin cup, somewhat rusty, lying by it. But
all was quiet and deserted, except one cottage, in which the man lived
who had charge of the place, and where Mr Croft boarded. It was very
pleasant for him to ride over to Midbranch and take a walk with Miss
Roberta; and this was what they had been doing to-day.
Horseback rides had been suggested, but Mr Brandon objected to these. He
knew Mr Croft to be a young man of good family and very comfortable
fortune, and he liked him very much when he had him there to dinner, but
he did not wish his niece to go galloping around the country with him.
To quiet walks in the woods, and through the meadows, he could, of
course, have no objection. A good many of Mr Brandon's principles, like
certain of his books, were kept upon a top shelf, but Miss Roberta
always liked to humor the few which the old gentleman was wont to
have within easy reach.
This afternoon they had rambled through the woods, where the hard,
smooth road wound picturesquely through the places in which it had been
easiest to make a road, and where the great trunks of the trees were
partly covered by clinging vines, which Miss Roberta knew to be either
Virginia creeper or poison oak, although she did not remember which of
these had clusters of five leaves, and which of three.
The horse on which Mr Croft had ridden over from the Springs was tied to
a fence near by, and he now seemed to indicate by his restless movements
that it was quite time for the gentleman to go home; but with this
opinion Mr Croft decidedly differed. He had had a long walk with the
lady and plenty of opportunities to say anything that he might choose,
but still there was something very important which had not been said,
and which Mr Croft very much wished to say before he left Miss Roberta
that afternoon. His only reason for hesitation was the fact that he did
not know what he wished to say.
He was a man who always kept a lookout on the bows of his daily action;
in storm or in calm, in fog or in bright sunshine that lookout must be
at his post; and upon his reports it depended whether Mr Croft set more
sail, put on more steam, reversed his engine, or anchored his vessel. A
report from this lookout was what he hoped to elicit by the remark
which he wished to make. He desired greatly to know whether Miss Roberta
March looked upon him in the light of a lover, or in that of an intimate
acquaintance, whose present intimacy depended a good deal upon the
propinquity of Midbranch and the Green Sulphur Springs. He had
endeavored to produce upon her mind the latter impression. If he ever
wished her to regard him as a lover he could do this in the easiest and
most straightforward way, but the other procedure was much more
difficult, and he was not certain that he had succeeded in it. How to
find out in what light she viewed him without allowing the lady to
perceive his purpose was a very delicate operation.
"I wish," said Miss Roberta, poking with the end of her parasol at some
half-withered wild flowers which lay on the steps beneath her, "that you
would change your mind, and take supper with us."
Mr Croft's mind was very busy in endeavoring to think of some casual
remark, some observation regarding man, nature, or society, or even an
anecdote or historical incident, which, if brought into the
conversation, might produce upon the lady's countenance some shade of
expression, or some variation in her tone or words which would give him
the information he sought for. But what he said was: "Are they really
suppers that you have, or are they only teas?"
"Now I know," said the lady, "why you have sometimes taken dinner with
us, but never supper. You were afraid that it would be a tea."
Lawrence Croft was thinking that if this girl believed that he was in
love with her, it would make a great deal of difference in his present
course of action. If such were the case, he ought not to come here so
often, or, in fact, he ought not to come at all, until he had decided
for himself what he was going to do. But what could he say that would
cause her, for the briefest moment, to unveil her idea of himself. "I
never could endure," he said, "those meals which consist of thin
shavings of bread with thick plasters of butter, aided and abetted by
sweet cakes, preserves, and tea."
"You should have reserved those remarks," she said, "until you had found
out what sort of evening meal we have."
He could certainly say something, he thought. Perhaps it might be some
little fanciful story which would call up in her mind, without his
appearing to intend it, some thought of his relationship to her as a
lover--that is, if she had ever had such a notion. If this could be
done, her face would betray the fact. But, not being ready to make such
a remark, he said: "I beg your pardon, but do you really have suppers in
the English fashion?"
"Oh, no," answered Miss Roberta, "we don't have a great cold joint, with
old cheese, and pitchers of brown stout and ale, but neither do we
content ourselves with thin bread and butter, and preserves. We have
coffee as well as tea, hot rolls, fleecy and light, hot batter bread
made of our finest corn meal, hot biscuits and stewed fruit, with plenty
of sweet milk and buttermilk; and, if anybody wants it, he can always have
a slice of cold ham."
"If I could only feel sure," thought Mr Croft, "that she looked upon me
merely as an acquaintance, I would cease to trouble my mind on this
subject, and let everything go on as before. But I am not sure, and I
would rather not come here again until I am." "And at what hour," he
asked, "do you partake of a meal like that?"
"In summer time," said Miss Roberta, "we have supper when it is dark
enough to light the lamps. My uncle dislikes very much to be deprived,
by the advent of a meal, of the out-door enjoyment of a late afternoon,
or, as we call it down here, the evening."
"It would be easy enough," thought Mr Croft, "for me to say something
about my being suddenly obliged to go away, and then notice its effect
upon her. But, apart from the fact that I would not do anything so
vulgar and commonplace, it would not advantage me in the slightest
degree. She would see through the flimsiness of my purpose, and, no
matter how she looked upon me, would show nothing but a well-bred regret
that I should be obliged to go away at such a pleasant season." "I think
the hour for your supper," said he, "is a very suitable one, but I am
not sure that such a variety of hot bread would agree with me."
"Did you ever see more healthy-looking ladies and gentlemen than you
find in Virginia?" asked Miss March.
"It is not that I want to know if she looks favorably upon me," said
Lawrence Croft to himself, "for when I wish to discover that, I shall
simply ask her. What I wish now to know is whether, or not, she
considers me at all as a lover. There surely must be something I can say
which will give me a clew." "The Virginians, as a rule," he replied,
"are certainly a very well-grown and vigorous race."
"In spite of the hot bread," she said with a smile.
Just then Mr Croft believed himself struck by a happy thought. "You are
not prepared, I suppose, to say, in consequence of it; and that recalls
the fact that so much in this world happens in spite of things, instead
of in consequence of them."
"I don't know that I exactly understand," said Miss Roberta.
"Well, for instance," said Mr Croft, "take the case of marriage. Don't
you think that a man is more apt to marry in spite of his belief that he
would be much better off as a bachelor, than in consequence of a
conviction that a Benedict's life would suit him better?"
"That," said she, "depends a good deal on the woman."
As she said this Lawrence glanced quickly at her to observe the
expression of her countenance. The countenance plainly indicated that
its owner had suddenly been made aware that the afternoon was slipping
away, and that she had forgotten certain household duties that devolved
"Here comes Peggy," she said, "and I must go into the house and give out
supper. Don't you now think it would be well for you to follow our
discussion of a Virginia supper by eating one?"
At this moment, there arrived at the bottom of the inside steps, a small
girl, very black, very solemn, and very erect, with her hands folded in
front of her very straight up-and-down calico frock, her features
expressive of a wooden stolidity which nothing but a hammer or chisel
could alter, and with large eyes fixed upon a far-away, which,
apparently, had disappeared, leaving the eyes in a condition of idle
"Miss Rob," said this wooden Peggy, "Aun' Judy says it's more'n time to
"Which means," said Miss Roberta, rising, "that I must go and get my key
basket, and descend into the store-room. Won't you come in? We shall
find uncle on the back porch."
Mr Croft declined with thanks, and took his leave, and the lady walked
across the smooth grass to the house, followed by the rigid Peggy.
The young man approached his impatient horse, and, not without some
difficulty, got himself mounted. He had not that facility of
sympathetically combining his own will and that of his horse which comes
to men who from their early boyhood are wont to consider horses as
objects quite as necessary to locomotion as shoes and stockings. But
Lawrence Croft was a fair graduate of a riding school, and he went away
in very good style to his cottage at the Green Sulphur Springs. "I
believe," he said to himself, as he rode through the woods, "that Miss
March expects no more of me than she would expect of any very intimate
friend. I shall feel perfectly free, therefore, to continue my
investigations regarding two points: First, is she worth having? and:
Second, will she have me? And I must be very careful not to get the
position of these points reversed."
When Miss Roberta went into the store-room, it was Peggy, who, under the
supervision of her mistress, measured out the fine white flour for the
biscuits for supper. Peggy was being educated to do these things
properly, and she knew exactly how many times the tin scoop must fill
itself in the barrel for the ordinary needs of the family. Miss Roberta
stood, her eyes contemplatively raised to the narrow window, through
which she could see a flush of sunset mingling itself with the outer
air; and Peggy scooped once, twice, thrice, four times; then she
stopped, and, raising her head, there came into the far-away gloom of
her eyes a quick sparkle like a flash of black lightning. She made
another and entirely supplementary scoop, and then she stopped, and let
the tin utensil fall into the barrel with a gentle thud.
"That will do," said Miss Roberta.
That night, when she should have been in her bed, Peggy sat alone by the
hearth in Aunt Judy's cabin, baking a cake. It was a peculiar cake, for
she could get no sugar for it, but she had supplied this deficiency with
molasses. It was made of Miss Roberta's finest white flour, and eggs there
were in it and butter, and it contained, besides, three raisins, an olive,
and a prune. When the outside of the cake had been sufficiently baked, and
every portion of it had been scrupulously eaten, the good little Peggy
murmured to herself: "It's pow'ful comfortin' for Miss Rob to have sumfin'
on her min'."
About a week after Mr Lawrence Croft had had his conversation with Miss
March on the stile steps at Midbranch, he was obliged to return to his
home in New York. He was not a man of business, but he had business;
and, besides this, he considered if he continued much longer to reside
in the utterly attractionless cottage at the Green Sulphur Springs, and
rode over every day to the very attractive house at Midbranch, that the
points mentioned in the previous chapter might get themselves reversed.
He was a man who was proud of being, under all circumstances, frank and
honest with himself. He did not wish, if it could be avoided, to deceive
other people, but he was prudent and careful about exhibiting his
motives and intended course of action to his associates. Himself,
however, he took into his strictest confidence. He was fond of the idea
that he went into the battle of life covered and protected by a great
shield, but that the inside of the shield was a mirror in which he could
always see himself. Looking into this mirror, he now saw that, if he did
not soon get away from Miss Roberta, he would lay down his shield and
surrender, and it was his intent that this should not happen until he
wished it to happen.
It was very natural when Lawrence reached New York, that he should take
pleasure in talking about Miss Roberta March and her family with any one
who knew them. He was particularly anxious, if he could do so delicately
and without exciting any suspicion of his object, to know as much as
possible about Sylvester March, the lady's father. In doing this, he did
not feel that he was prying into the affairs of others, but he could not
be true to himself unless he looked well in advance before he made the
step on which his mind was set. It was in this way that he happened to
learn that about two years before, Miss March had been engaged to be
married, but that the engagement had been broken off for reasons not
known to his informants, and he could find out nothing about the
gentleman, except that his name was Junius Keswick.
The fact that the lady had had a lover, put her in a new light before
Lawrence Croft. He had had an idea, suggested by the very friendly
nature of their intercourse, that she was a woman whose mind did not run
out to love or marriage, but now that he knew that she was susceptible
of being wooed and won, because these things had actually happened to
her, he was very glad that he had come away from Midbranch.
The impression soon became very strong upon the mind of Lawrence that he
would like to know what kind of man was this former lover. He had known
Miss March about a year, and at the time of his first acquaintaince with
her, she must have come very fresh from this engagement. To study the
man to whom Roberta March had been willing to engage herself, was, to
Lawrence's mode of thinking, if not a prerequisite procedure in his
contemplated course of action, at least a very desirable one.
But he was rather surprised to find that no one knew much about Mr
Junius Keswick, or could give him any account of his present
whereabouts, although he had been, at the time when his engagement was
in force, a resident of New York. To consult a directory was, therefore,
an obvious first step in the affair; and, with this intent, Mr Croft
entered, one morning, an apothecary's shop in a street which, though a
busy one, was in a rather out-of-the-way part of the city.
"We haven't any directory, sir," said the clerk, "but if you will step
across the street you can find one at that little shop with the green
door. Everybody goes there to look at the directory."
The green door on the opposite side of the street, approached by a
single flat step of stone, had a tin sign upon it, on which was painted:
OF EVERY VARIETY
Pushing open the door, Lawrence entered a long, narrow room, not very
well lighted, with a short counter on one side, and some desks,
partially screened by a curtain, at the farther end. A boy was behind
the counter, and to him Lawrence addressed himself, asking permission to
look at a city directory.
"One cent, if you look yourself; three cents, if we look," said the boy,
producing a thick volume from beneath the counter.
"One cent?" said Lawrence, smiling at the oddity of this charge, as he
opened the book and turned to the letter K.
"Yes," said the boy, "and if the fine print hurts your eyes, we'll look
for three cents."
At this moment a man came from one of the desks at the other end of the
room, and handed the boy a letter with which that young person
immediately departed. The new-comer, a smooth-shaven man of about
thirty, with the air of the proprietor or head manager very strong upon
him, took the boy's position behind the counter, and remarked to
Lawrence: "Most people, when they first come here, think it rather queer
to pay for looking at the directory, but you see we don't keep a
directory to coax people to come in to buy medicines or anything else.
We sell nothing but information, and part of our stock is what you get
out of a directory. But it's the best plan all round, for we can afford
to give you a clean, good book instead of one all jagged and worn; and
as you pay your money, you feel you can look as long as you like, and
come when you please."
"It is a very good plan," said Lawrence, closing the book, "but the name
I want is not here."
"Perhaps it is in last year's directory," said the man, producing
another volume from under the counter.
"That wouldn't do me much good," said Lawrence. "I want to know where
some one resides this year."
"It will do a great deal of good," said the other, "for if we know where
a person has lived, inquiries can be made there as to where he has gone.
Sometimes we go back three or four years, and when we have once found a
man's name, we follow him up from place to place until we can give the
inquirer his present address. What is the name you wanted, sir? You were
looking in the K's."
"Keswick," said Lawrence, "Junius Keswick."
The man ran his finger and his eyes down a column, and remarked: "There
is Keswick, but it is Peter, laborer; I suppose that isn't the party."
Lawrence smiled, and shook his head.
"We will take the year before that," said the man with cheerful
alacrity, heaving up another volume. "Here's two Keswicks," he said in a
moment, "one John, and the other Stephen W. Neither of them right?"
"No," said Lawrence, "my man is Junius, and we need not go any farther
back. I am afraid the person I am looking for was only a sojourner in
the city, and that his name did not get into the directory. I know that
he was here year before last."
"All right, sir," said the other, pushing aside the volume he had
been consulting. "We'll find the man for you from the hotel books, and
what is more, we can see those two Keswicks that I found last. Perhaps
they were relations of his, and he was staying with them. If you put the
matter in our hands, we'll give you the address to-morrow night,
provided it's an ordinary case. But if he has gone to Australia or
Japan, of course, it'll take longer. Is it crime or relationship?"
"Neither," replied Lawrence.
"It is generally one of them," said the man, "and if it's crime we carry
it on to a certain point, and then put it into the hands of the
detectives, for we've nothing to do with police business, private or
otherwise. But if it's relationship, we'll go right through with it to
the end. Any kind of information you may want we'll give you here;
scientific, biographical, business, healthfulness of localities,
genuineness of antiquities, age and standing of individuals, purity of
liquors or teas from sample, Bible items localized, china verified; in
fact, anything you want to know we can tell you. Of course we don't
pretend that we know all these things, but we know the people who do
know, or who can find them out. By coming to us, and paying a small sum,
the most valuable information, which it would take you years to find
out, can be secured with certainty, and generally in a few days. We know
what to do, and where to go, and that's the point. If it's a new bug, or
a microscope insect we put it into the hands of a man who knows just
what high scientific authority to apply to; if it's the middle name of
your next door neighbor we'll give it to you from his baptismal record.
I'm getting up a pamphlet-circular which will be ready in about a week,
and which will fully explain our methods of business, with the charges
for the different items, etc."
"Well," said Lawrence, taking out his pocket-book, "I want the address
of Junius Keswick, and I think I will let you look it up for me. What is
"It will be two dollars," said the man, "ordinary; and if we find
inquiries run into other countries we will make special terms. And then
there's seven cents, one for your look, and two threes for ours. You
shall hear from us to-morrow night at your hotel or residence, unless
you prefer to call here."
"I will call the day after to-morrow," said Lawrence, producing a
"Very good," replied the proprietor. "Will you please pay the cashier?"
pointing at the same time to a desk behind Lawrence which the latter had
Approaching this desk, the top of which, except for a small space in
front, was surrounded by short curtains, he saw a young girl busily
engaged in reading a book. He proffered her the note, the proprietor at
the same time calling out: "Two, seven."
The girl turned the book down to keep the place; then she took the note,
and opened a small drawer, in which she fumbled for some moments.
Closing the drawer, she rose to her feet and waved the note over the
curtain to her right. "Haven't any change, eh?" said the man, coming
from behind the counter, and putting on his hat. "As the boy's not here,
I'll step out and get it."
The girl turned up her book, and began to read again, and Lawrence stood
and looked at her, wondering what need there was of a cashier in a place
like this. She appeared to be under twenty, rather thin-faced, and was
plainly dressed. In a few moments she raised her eyes from her book, and
said: "Won't you sit down, sir? I am sorry you have to wait, but we are
short of change to-day, and sometimes it is hard to get it in this
Lawrence declined to be seated, but was very willing to talk. "Was it
the proprietor of this establishment," he asked, "who went out to get
the money changed??"
"Yes, sir," she answered. "That is Mr Candy."
"A queer name," said Lawrence, smiling.
The girl looked up at him, and smiled in return. There was a very
perceptible twinkle in her eyes, which seemed to be eyes that would like
to be merry ones, and a slight movement of the corners of her mouth
which indicated a desire to say something in reply, but, restrained
probably by loyalty to her employer, or by prudent discretion regarding
conversation with strangers, she was silent.
Lawrence, however, continued his remarks. "The whole business seems to
me very odd. Suppose I were to come here and ask for information as to
where I could get a five-dollar note changed; would Mr Candy be able to
"He would do in that case just as he does in all others," she said;
"first, he would go and find out, and then he would let you know. Giving
information is only half the business; finding things out is the other
half. That's what he's doing now."
"So, when he comes back," said Lawrence, "he'll have a new bit of
information to add to his stock on hand, which must be a very peculiar
one, I fancy."
The cashier smiled. "Yes," she said, "and a very useful one, too, if
people only knew it."
"Don't they know it?" asked Lawrence. "Don't you have plenty of custom?"
At this moment the door opened, Mr Candy entered, and the conversation
"Sorry to keep you waiting, sir," said the proprietor, passing some
money to the cashier over the curtain, who, thereupon, handed two
dollars and ninety-three cents to Lawrence through the little opening in
"If you call the day after to-morrow, the information will be ready for
you," said Mr Candy, as the gentleman departed.
On the appointed day, Lawrence came again, and found nobody in the place
but the cashier, who handed him a note.
"Mr Candy left this for you, in case he should not be in when you
called," she said.
The note stated that the search for the address of Junius Keswick had
opened very encouragingly, but as it was quite evident that said person
was not now in the city, the investigations would have to be carried on
on a more extended scale, and a deposit of three dollars would be
necessary to meet expenses.
Lawrence looked from the note to the cashier, who had been watching him
as he read. "Does Mr Candy want me to leave three dollars with you?" he
"That's what he said, sir."
"Well," said Lawrence, "I don't care about paying for unlimited
investigation in this way. If the gentleman I am in search of has left
the city, and Mr Candy has been able to find out to what place he went,
he should have told me that, and I would have decided whether or not I
wanted him to do anything more."
The face of the cashier appeared troubled. "I think, sir," she said,
"that if you leave the money, Mr Candy will do all he can to discover
what you wish to know, and that it will not be very long before you have
the address of the person you are seeking."
"Do you really think he has any clew?" asked Lawrence.
This question did not seem to please the cashier, and she answered
gravely, though without any show of resentment: "That is a strange
question after I advised you to leave the money."
Lawrence had a kind heart, and it reproached him. "I beg your pardon,"
said he. "I will leave the money with you, but I desire that Mr Candy
will, in his next communication, give me all the information he has
acquired up to the moment of writing, and then I will decide whether it
is worth while to go on with the matter, or not."
He, thereupon, took out his pocket-book and handed three dollars to the
cashier, who, with an air of deliberate thoughtfulness, smoothed out the
two notes, and placed them in her drawer. Then she said: "If you will
leave your address, sir, I will see that you receive your information as
soon as possible. That will be better than for you to call, because I
can't tell you when to come."
"Very well," said Lawrence, "and I will be obliged to you if you will
hurry up Mr Candy as much as you can." And, handing her his card, he
went his way.
The way of Lawrence Croft was generally a very pleasant one, for the
fortunate conditions of his life made it possible for him to go around
most of the rough places which might lie in it. His family was an old
one, and a good one, but there was very little of it left, and of its
scattered remnants he was the most important member. But although
circumstances did not force him to do anything in particular, he liked
to believe that he was a rigid master to himself, and whatever he did
was always done with a purpose. When he travelled he had an object in
view; when he stayed at home the case was the same.
His present purpose was the most serious one of his life: he wished to
marry; and, if she should prove to be the proper person, he wished to
marry Roberta March; and as a preliminary step in the carrying out of
his purpose, he wanted very much to know what sort of man Miss March had
once been willing to marry.
When five days had elapsed without his hearing from Mr Candy, he became
impatient and betook himself to the green door with the tin sign.
Entering, he found only the boy and the cashier. Addressing himself to
the latter, he asked if anything had been done in his business.
"Yes, sir," she said, "and I hoped Mr Candy would write you a letter
this morning before he went out, but he didn't. He traced the gentleman
to Niagara Falls, and I think you'll hear something very soon."
"If inquiries have to be carried on outside of the city," said Lawrence,
"they will probably cost a good deal, and come to nothing. I think I
will drop the matter as far as Mr Candy is concerned."
"I wish you would give us a little more time," said the girl. "I am sure
you will hear something in a few days, and you need not be afraid there
will be anything more to pay unless you are satisfied that you have
received the full worth of the money."
Lawrence reflected for a few moments, and then concluded to let the
matter go on. "Tell Mr Candy to keep me frequently informed of the
progress of the affair," said he, "and if he is really of any service to
me I am willing to pay him, but not otherwise."
"That will be all right," said the cashier, "and if Mr Candy is--is
prevented from doing it, I'll write to you myself, and keep you
As soon as the customer had gone, the boy, who had been sitting on the
counter, thus spoke to the cashier: "You know very well that old
Mintstick has given that thing up!"
"I know he has," said the girl, "but I have not."
"You haven't anything to do with it," said the boy.
"Yes, I have," she answered. "I advised that gentleman to pay his money,
and I'm not going to see him cheated out of it. Of course, Mr Candy
doesn't mean to cheat him, but he has gone into that business about the
origin of the tame blackberry, and there's no knowing when he'll get
back to this thing, which is not in his line, anyway."
"I should say it wasn't!" exclaimed the boy with a loud laugh. "Sendin'
me to look up them two Keswicks, who was both put down as cordwainers in
year before last's directory, and askin' 'em if there was any Juniuses
in their families."
"Junius Keswick, did you say? Is that the name of the gentleman Mr Candy
was looking for?"
"Yes," said the boy.
Presently the cashier remarked: "I am going to look at the books." And
she betook herself to the desk at the back part of the shop.
In about half an hour she returned and handed to the boy a memorandum
upon a scrap of paper. "You go out now to your lunch," she said, "and
while you are out, stop at the St. Winifred Hotel, where Mr Candy found
the name of Junius Keswick, and see if it is not down again not long
after the date which I have put on this slip of paper. I think if a
person went to Niagara Falls he'd be just as likely to make a little
trip of it and come back again as to keep travelling on, which Mr Candy
supposes he did. If you find the name again, put down the date of arrival
on this, and see if there was any memorandum about forwarding letters."
"All right," said the boy. "But I'll be gone an hour and a half. Can't
cut into my lunch time."
In the course of a few days Lawrence Croft received a note signed Candy
& Co. "per" some illegible initials, which stated that Mr Junius Keswick
had been traced to a boarding-house in the city, but as the
establishment had been broken up for some time, endeavors were now being
made to find the lady who had kept the house, and when this was done it
would most likely be possible to discover from her where Mr Keswick had
Lawrence waited a few days and then called at the Information Shop.
Again was Mr Candy absent; and so was the boy. The cashier informed him
that she had found--that is, that the lady who kept the boarding-house
had been found--and she thought she remembered the gentlemen in
question, and promised, as soon as she could, to look through a book, in
which she used to keep directions for the forwarding of letters, and in
this way another clew might soon be expected.
"This seems to be going on better," said Lawrence, "but Mr Candy doesn't
show much in the affair. Who is managing it? You?"
The girl blushed and then laughed, a little confusedly. "I am only the
cashier," she said.
"And the laborious duties of your position would, of course, give you no
time for anything else," remarked Lawrence.
"Oh, well," said the girl, "of course it is easy enough for any one to
see that I haven't much to do as cashier, but the boy and Mr Candy are
nearly always out, looking up things, and I have to do other business
besides attending to cash."
"If you are attending to my business," said Lawrence, "I am very glad,
especially now that it has reached the boarding-house stage, where I
think a woman will be better able to work than a man. Are you doing this
entirely independent of Mr Candy?"
"Well, sir," said the cashier, with an honest, straightforward look
from her gray eyes that pleased Lawrence, "I may as well confess that I
am. But there's nothing mean about it. He has all the same as given it
up, for he's waiting to hear from a man at Niagara, who will never write
to him, and probably hasn't any thing to write, and as I advised you to
pay the money I feel bound in honor to see that the business is done, if
it can be done."
"Have you a brother or a husband to help you in these investigations and
searches?" asked Lawrence.
"No," said the cashier with a smile. "Sometimes I send our boy, and as
to boarding houses, I can go to them myself after we shut up here."
"I wish," said Lawrence, "that you were married, and that you had a
husband who would not interfere in this matter at all, but who would go
about with you, and so enable you to follow up your clew thoroughly. You
take up the business in the right spirit, and I believe you would
succeed in finding Mr Keswick, but I don't like the idea of sending you
about by yourself."
"I won't deny," said the cashier, "that since I have begun this affair I
would like very much to carry it out; so, if you don't object, I won't
give it up just yet, and as soon as anything happens I'll let you know."
Autumn in Virginia, especially if one is not too near the mountains, is
a season in which greenness sails very close to Christmas, although
generally veering away in time to prevent its verdant hues from tingeing
that happy day with the gloomy influence of the prophetic proverb about
churchyards. Long after the time when the people of the regions watered
by the Hudson and the Merrimac are beginning to button up their
overcoats, and to think of weather strips for their window-sashes, the
dwellers in the land through which flow the Appomattox and the James may
sit upon their broad piazzas, and watch the growing glories of the
forests, where the crimson stars of the sweet gum blaze among the rich
yellows of the chestnuts, the lingering green of the oaks, and the
enduring verdure of the pines. The insects still hum in the sunny air,
and the sun is now a genial orb whose warm rays cheer but not excoriate.
The orb just mentioned was approaching the horizon, when, in an
adjoining county to that in which was situated the hospitable mansion of
Midbranch, a little negro boy about ten years old was driving some cows
through a gateway that opened on a public road. The cows, as they were
going homeward, filed willingly through the gateway, which led into a
field, at the far end of which might be dimly discerned a house behind a
mass of foliage; but the boy, whose head and voice were entirely too big
for the rest of him, assailed them with all manner of reproaches and
impellent adjectives, addressing each cow in turn as: "You, sah!" When
the compliant beasts had hustled through, the youngster got upon the
gate, and giving it a push with one bare foot, he swung upon it as far
as it would go; then lifting the end from the surface of the ground he
shut it with a bang, fastened it with a hook, and ran after the cows,
his wild provocatives to bovine haste ringing high into the evening air.
This youth was known as Plez, his whole name being Pleasant Valley, an
inspiration to his mother from the label on a grape box, which had
drifted into that region from the North. He had just stooped to pick up
a clod of earth with which to accentuate his vociferations, when, on
rising, he was astounded by the apparition of an elderly woman wearing a
purple sun-bonnet, and carrying a furled umbrella of the same color.
Behind the spectacles, which were fixed upon him, blazed a pair of fiery
eyes, and the soul of Plez shrivelled and curled up within him. His
downcast eyes were bent upon his upturned toes, the clod dropped from
his limp fingers, and his mouth which had been opened for a yell,
remained open, but the yell had apparently swooned.
The words of the old lady were brief, but her umbrella was full of jerky
menace, and when she left him, and passed on toward the outer gate,
Plez followed the cows to the house with the meekness of a suspected
The cows had been milked, some by a rotund black woman named Letty, and
some, much to their discomfort, by Plez himself, and it was beginning to
grow dark, when an open spring wagon driven by a colored man, and with a
white man on the back seat came along the road, and stopped at the gate.
The driver having passed the reins to the occupant on the back seat, got
down, opened the gate, and stood holding it while the other drove the
horse into the road which ran by the side of the field to the house
behind the trees. At this time a passer-by, if there had been one, might
have observed, partly protruding from behind some bushes on the other
side of the public road, and at a little distance from the gate, the
lower portion of a purple umbrella. As the spring wagon approached, and
during the time that it was turning into the gate, and while it was
waiting for the driver to resume his seat, this umbrella was
considerably agitated, so much so indeed as to cause a little rustling
among the leaves. When the gate had been shut, and the wagon had passed
on toward the house, the end of the umbrella disappeared, and then, on
the other side of the bush, there came into view a sun-bonnet of the
same color as the umbrella. This surmounted the form of an old lady, who
stepped into the pathway by the side of the road, and walked away with a
quick, active step which betokened both energy and purpose.
The house, before which, not many minutes later, this spring wagon
stopped, was not a fine old family mansion like that of Midbranch, but
it was a comfortable dwelling, though an unpretending one. The gentleman
on the back seat, and the driver, who was an elderly negro, both turned
toward the hall door, which was open and lighted by a lamp within, as if
they expected some one to come out on the porch. But nobody came, and,
after a moment's hesitation, the gentleman got down, and taking a valise
from the back of the wagon, mounted the steps of the porch. While he was
doing this the face of the negro man, which could be plainly seen in the
light from the hall door, grew anxious and troubled. When the gentleman
set his valise on the porch, and stood by it without making any attempt
to enter, the old man put down the reins and quickly descending from his
seat, hurried up the steps.
"Dunno whar ole miss is, but I reckon she done gone to look after de
tukkies. She dreffle keerful dat dey all go to roos' ebery night. Walk
right in, Mahs' Junius." And, taking up the valise, he followed the
gentleman into the hall.
There, near the back door, stood the rotund black woman, and, behind
her, Plez. "Look h'yar Letty," said the negro man, "whar ole miss?"
"Dunno," said the woman. "She done gib out supper, an' I ain't seed her
sence. Is dis Mahs' Junius? Reckon' you don' 'member Letty?"
"Yes I do," said the gentleman, shaking hands with her; "but the Letty
I remember was a rather slim young woman."
"Dat's so," said Letty, with a respectful laugh, 'but, shuh 'nuf, my
food's been blessed to me, Mahs' Junius."
"But whar's ole miss?" persisted the old man. "You, Letty, can't you go
look her up?"
Now was heard the voice of Plez, who meekly emerged from the shade of
Letty. "Ole miss done gone out to de road gate," said he. "I seen her
when I brung de cows."
"Bress my soul!" ejaculated Letty. "Out to de road gate! An' 'spectin'
you too, Mahs' Junius!"
"Didn't she say nuffin to you?" said the old man, addressing Plez.
"She didn't say nuffin to me, Uncle Isham," answered the boy, "'cept if
I didn't quit skeerin' dem cows, an' makin' 'em run wid froin' rocks
till dey ain't got a drip drap o' milk lef' in 'em, she'd whang me ober
de head wid her umbril."
"'Tain't easy to tell whar she done gone from dat," said Letty.
The face of Uncle Isham grew more troubled. "Walk in de parlor, Mahs'
Junius," he said, "an' make yourse'f comf'ble. Ole miss boun' to be back
d'reckly. I'll go put up de hoss."
As the old man went heavily down the porch steps he muttered to himself:
"I was feared o' sumfin like dis; I done feel it in my bones."
The gentleman took a seat in the parlor where Letty had preceded him
with a lamp. "Reckon ole miss didn't spec' you quite so soon, Mahs'
Junius, cos de sorrel hoss is pow'ful slow, and Uncle Isham is mighty
keerful ob rocks in de road. Reckon she's done gone ober to see ole Aun'
Patsy, who's gwine to die in two or free days, to take her some red an'
yaller pieces for a crazy quilt. I know she's got some pieces fur her."
"Aunt Patsy alive yet?" exclaimed Master Junius. "But if she's about to
die, what does she want with a crazy quilt?"
"Dat's fur she shroud," said Letty. "She 'tends to go to glory all wrap
up in a crazy quilt, jus chockfull ob all de colors of the rainbow. Aun'
Patsy neber did 'tend to have a shroud o' bleached domestic like common
folks. She wants to cut a shine 'mong de angels, an' her quilt's most
done, jus' one corner ob it lef'. Reckon ole miss done gone to carry her
de pieces fur dat corner. Dere ain't much time lef', fur Aun' Patsy is
pretty nigh dead now. She's ober two hunnerd years ole."
"What!" exclaimed Master Junius, "two hundred?"
"Yes, sah," answered Letty. "Doctor Peter's old Jim was more'n a hunnerd
when he died, an' we all knows Aun' Patsy is twice as ole as ole Jim."
"I'll wait here," said Master Junius, taking up a book. "I suppose she
will be back before long."
In about half an hour Uncle Isham came into the kitchen, his appearance
indicating that he had had a hurried walk, and told Letty that she had
better give Master Junius his supper without waiting any longer for her
mistress. "She ain't at Aun' Patsy's," said the old man, "and she's jus'
done gone somewhar else, and she'll come back when she's a mind to, an'
dar ain't nuffin else to say 'bout it."
Supper was eaten; a pipe was smoked on the porch; and Master Junius went
to bed in a room which had been carefully prepared for him under the
supervision of the mistress; but the purple sun-bonnet, and the umbrella
of the same color did not return to the house that night.
Master Junius was a quiet man, and fond of walking; and the next day he
devoted to long rambles, sometimes on the roads, sometimes over the
fields, and sometimes through the woods; but in none of his walks, nor
when he came back to dinner and supper, did he meet the elderly mistress
of the house to which he had come. That evening, as he sat on the top
step of the porch with his pipe, he summoned to him Uncle Isham, and
thus addressed the old man:
"I think it is impossible, Isham, that your mistress started out to meet
me, and that an accident happened to her. I have walked all over this
neighborhood, and I know that no accident could have occurred without my
seeing or hearing something of it."
Uncle Isham stood on the ground, his feet close to the bottom step; his
hat was in his hand, and his upturned face wore an expression of
earnestness which seemed to set uncomfortably upon it. "Mahs' Junius,"
said he, "dar ain't no acciden' come to ole miss; she's done gone cos she
wanted to, an' she ain't come back cos she didn't want to. Dat's ole
miss, right fru."
"I suppose," said the young man, "that as she went away on foot she must
be staying with some of the neighbors. If we were to make inquiries, it
certainly would not be difficult to find out where she is."
"Mahs' Junius," said Uncle Isham, his black eyes shining brighter and
brighter as he spoke, "dar's culled people, an' white folks too in dis
yer county who'd put on dere bes' clothes an' black dere shoes, an' skip
off wid alacrousness, to do de wus kin' o sin, dat dey knowed for sartin
would send 'em down to de deepes' and hottes' gullies ob de lower
regions, but nuffin in dis worl' could make one o' dem people go
'quirin' 'bout ole miss when she didn't want to be 'quired about."
The smoker put down his pipe on the top step beside him, and sat for a
few moments in thought. Then he spoke. "Isham," he began, "I want you to
tell me if you have any notion or idea----"
"Mahs' Junius," exclaimed the old negro, "scuse me fur int'ruptin', but
I can't help it. Don' you go, an ax an ole man like me if I tinks dat
ole miss went away cos you was comin' an' if it's my true b'lief dat
she'll neber come back while you is h'yar. Don' ask me nuffin like dat,
Mahs' Junius. Ise libed in dis place all my bawn days, an' I ain't neber
done nuffin to you, Mahs' Junius, 'cept keepin' you from breakin' you
neck when you was too little to know better. I neber 'jected to you
marryin' any lady you like bes', an' 'tain't f'ar Mahs' Junius, now Ise
ole an' gittin' on de careen, fur you to ax me wot I tinks about ole
miss gwine away an' comin' back. I begs you, Mahs' Junius, don' ax me
Master Junius rose to his feet. "All right, Isham," he said; "I shall
not worry your good old heart with questions." And he went into the
The next day this quiet gentleman and good walker went to see old Aunt
Patsy, who had apparently consented to live a day or two longer; gave
her a little money in lieu of pieces for her crazy bed-quilt; and told
her he was going away to stay. He told Uncle Isham he was going away to
stay away; and he said the same thing to Letty, and to Plez, and to two
colored women of the neighborhood whom he happened to see. Then he took
his valise, which was not a very large one, and departed. He refused to
be conveyed to the distant station in the spring wagon, saying that he
much preferred to walk. Uncle Isham took leave of him with much sadness,
but did not ask him to stay; and Letty and Plez looked after him
wistfully, still holding in their hands the coins he had placed there.
With the exception of these coins, the only thing he left behind him was
a sealed letter on the parlor table, directed to the mistress of the
Toward the end of that afternoon, two women came along the public road
which passed the outer gate. One came from the south, and rode in an
open carriage, evidently hired at the railroad station; the other was
on foot, and came from the north; she wore a purple sun-bonnet, and
carried an umbrella of the same color. When this latter individual
caught sight of the approaching carriage, then at some distance, she
stopped short and gazed at it. She did not retire behind a bush, as she
had done on a former occasion, but she stood in the shade of a tree on
the side of the road, and waited. As the carriage came nearer to the
gate the surprise upon her face became rapidly mingled with indignation.
The driver had checked the speed of his horses, and, without doubt,
intended to stop at the gate. This might not have been sufficient to
excite her emotions, but she now saw clearly, having not been quite
certain of it before, that the occupant of the carriage was a lady, and,
apparently, a young one, for she wore in her hat some bright-colored
flowers. The driver stopped, got down, opened the gate, and then,
mounting to his seat, drove through, leaving the gate standing wide
This contempt of ordinary proprietary requirements made the old lady
spring out from the shelter of the shade. Brandishing her umbrella, she
was about to cry out to the man to stop and shut the gate, but she
restrained herself. The distance was too great, and, besides, she
thought better of it. She went again into the shade, and waited. In
about ten minutes the carriage came back, but without the lady. This
time the driver got down, shut the gate after him, and drove rapidly
If blazing eyes could crack glass, the spectacles of the old lady would
have been splintered into many pieces as she stood by the roadside, the
end of her umbrella jabbed an inch or two into the ground. After
standing thus for some five minutes, she suddenly turned and walked
vigorously away in the direction from which she had come.
Uncle Isham, Letty, and the boy Plez, were very much surprised at the
arrival of the lady in the carriage. She had asked for the mistress of
the house, and on being assured that she was expected to return very
soon, had alighted, paid and dismissed her driver, and had taken a seat
in the parlor. Her valise, rather larger than that of the previous
visitor, was brought in and put in the hall. She waited for an hour or
two, during which time Letty made several attempts to account for the
non-appearance of her mistress, who, she said, was away on a visit, but
was expected back every minute; and when supper was ready she partook of
that meal alone, and after a short evening spent in reading she went to
bed in the chamber which Letty prepared for her.
Before she retired, Letty, who had shown herself a very capable
attendant, said to her: "Wot's your name, miss? I allus likes to know
the names o' ladies I waits on.''
"My name," said the lady, "is Mrs Null."
The Autumn sun was shining very pleasantly when, about nine o'clock in
the morning, Mrs Null came out on the porch, and, standing at the top of
the steps, looked about her. She had on her hat with the red flowers,
and she wore a short jacket, into the pockets of which her hands were
thrust with an air which indicated satisfaction with the circumstances
surrounding her. The old dog, lying on the grass at the bottom of the
steps, looked up at her and flopped his tail upon the ground. Mrs Null
called to him in a cheerful tone and the dog arose, and, hesitatingly,
put his forefeet on the bottom step; then, when she held out her hand
and spoke to him again, he determined that, come what might, he would go
up those forbidden steps, and let her pat his head. This he did, and
after looking about him to assure himself that this was reality and not
a dog dream, he lay down upon the door-mat, and, with a sigh of relief,
composed himself to sleep. A black turkey gobbler, who looked as if he
had been charred in a fire, followed by five turkey hens, also
suggesting the idea that water had been thrown over them before anything
but their surfaces had been burned, came timidly around the house and
stopped before venturing upon the greensward in front of the porch;
then, seeing nobody but Mrs Null, they advanced with bobbing heads and
swaying bodies to look into the resources of this seldom explored
region. Plez, who was coming from the spring with a pail of water on his
head, saw the dog on the porch and the turkeys on the grass, and stopped
to regard the spectacle. He looked at them, and he looked at Mrs Null,
and a grin of amused interest spread itself over his face.
Mrs Null went down the steps and approached the boy. "Plez," said she,
"if your mistress, or anybody, should come here this morning, you must
run over to Pine Top Hill and call me. I'm going there to read."
"Don' you want me to go wid yer, and show you de way, Miss Null?" asked
Plez, preparing to set down his pail.
"Oh, no," said she, "I know the way." And with her hands still in her
pockets, from one of which protruded a rolled-up novel, she walked down
to the little stream which ran from the spring, crossed the plank and
took the path which led by the side of the vineyard to Pine Top Hill.
This lady visitor had now been here two days waiting for the return of
the mistress of the little estate; and the sojourn had evidently been of
benefit to her. Good air, the good meals with which Letty had provided
her, and a sort of sympathy which had sprung up in a very sudden way
between her and everything on the place, had given brightness to her
eyes. She even looked a little plumper than when she came, and
certainly very pretty. She climbed Pine Top Hill without making any
mistake as to the best path, and went directly to a low piece of
sun-warmed rock which cropped out from the ground not far from the bases
of the cluster of pines which gave the name to the hill. An extended and
very pretty view could be had from this spot, and Mrs Null seemed to
enjoy it, looking about her with quick turns of the head as if she
wanted to satisfy herself that all of the scenery was there. Apparently
satisfied that it was, she stretched out her feet, withdrew her gaze
from the surrounding country, and regarded the toes of her boots. Now
she smiled a little and began to speak.
"Freddy," said she, "I must think over matters, and have a talk with you
about them. Nothing could be more proper than this, since we are on our
wedding tour. You keep beautifully in the background, which is very nice
of you, for that's what I married you for. But we must have a talk now,
for we haven't said a word to each other, nor, perhaps, thought of each
other during the whole three nights and two days that we have been here.
I expect these people think it very queer that I should keep on waiting
for their mistress to come back, but I can't help it; I must stay till
she comes, or he comes, and they must continue to think it funny. And as
for Mr Croft, I suppose I should get a letter from him if he knew where
to write, but you know, Freddy, we are travelling about on this wedding
tour without letting anybody, especially Mr Croft, know exactly where
we are. He must think it an awfully wonderful piece of good luck that a
young married couple should happen to be journeying in the very
direction taken by a gentleman whom he wants to find, and that they are
willing to look for the gentleman without charging anything but the
extra expenses to which they may be put. We wouldn't charge him a cent,
you know, Freddy Null, but for the fear that he would think we would not
truly act as his agents if we were not paid, and so would employ
somebody else. We don't want him to employ anybody else. We want to find
Junius Keswick before he does, and then, maybe, we won't want Mr Croft
to find him at all. But I hope it will not turn out that way. He said,
it was neither crime nor relationship and, of course, it couldn't be.
What I hope is, that it is good fortune; but that's doubtful. At any
rate, I must see Junius first, if I can possibly manage it. If she would
only come back and open her letter, there might be no more trouble about
it, for I don't believe he would go away without leaving her his
address. Isn't all this charming, Freddy? And don't you feel glad that
we came here for our wedding tour? Of course you don't enjoy it as much
as I do, for it can't seem so natural to you; but you are bound to like
it. The very fact of my being here should make the place delightful in
your eyes, Mr Null, even if I have forgotten all about you ever since I
That afternoon, as Mrs Null was occupying some of her continuous leisure
in feeding the turkeys at the back of the house, she noticed two
colored men in earnest conversation with Isham. When they had gone she
called to the old man. "Uncle Isham," she said, "what did those men
"Tell you what 'tis, Miss Null," said Isham, removing his shapeless felt
hat, "dis yere place is gittin' wus an' wus on de careen, an' wat's
gwine to happen if ole miss don' come back is more'n I kin tell. Dar's
no groun' ploughed yit for wheat, an' dem two han's been 'gaged to come
do it, an' dey put it off, an' put it off till ole miss got as mad as
hot coals, an' now at las' dey've come, an' she's not h'yar, an' nuffin'
can be done. De wheat'll be free inches high on ebery oder farm 'fore
ole miss git dem plough han's agin."
"That is too bad, Uncle Isham," said Mrs Null. "When land that ought to
be ploughed isn't ploughed, it all grows up in old field pines, don't
"It don' do dat straight off, Miss Null," said the old negro, his gray
face relaxing into a smile.
"No, I suppose not," said she. "I have heard that it takes thirty years
for a whole forest of old field pines to grow up. But they will do it if
the land isn't ploughed. Now, Uncle Isham, I don't intend to let
everything be at a standstill here just because your mistress is away.
That is one reason why I feed the turkeys. If they died, or the farm all
went wrong, I should feel that it was partly my fault."
"Yaas'm," said Uncle Isham, passing his hat from one hand to the other,
as he delivered himself a little hesitatingly--"yaas'm, if you wasn't
h'yar p'raps ole miss mought come back."
"Now, Uncle Isham," said Mrs Null, "you mustn't think your mistress is
staying away on account of me. She left home, as Letty has told me over
and over, because your Master Junius came. Of course she thinks he's
here yet, and she don't know anything about me. But if her affairs
should go to rack and ruin while I am here and able to prevent it, I
should think it was my fault. That's what I mean, Uncle Isham. And now
this is what I want you to do. I want you to go right after those men,
and tell them to come here as soon as they can, and begin to plough. Do
you know where the ploughing is to be done?"
"Oh, yaas'm," said Uncle Isham, "dar ain't on'y one place fur dat. It's
de clober fiel', ober dar, on de udder side ob de gyarden."
"And what is to be planted in it?" asked Mrs Null.
"Ob course dey's gwine to plough for wheat," answered Uncle Isham, a
little surprised at the question.
"I don't altogether like that," said Mrs Null, her brows slightly
contracting. "I've read a great deal about the foolishness of Southern
people planting wheat. They can't compete with the great wheat farms of
the West, which sometimes cover a whole county, and, of course, having
so much, they can afford to sell it a great deal cheaper than you can
here. And yet you go on, year after year, paying every cent you can
rake and scrape for fertilizing drugs, and getting about a teacupful of
wheat,--that is, proportionately speaking. I don't think this sort of
thing should continue, Uncle Isham. It would be a great deal better to
plough that field for pickles. Now there is a steady market for pickles,
and, so far as I know, there are no pickle farms in the West."
"Pickles!" ejaculated the astonished Isham. "Do you mean, Miss Null, to
put dat fiel' down in kukumbers at dis time o' yeah?"
"Well," said Mrs Null, thoughtfully, "I don't know that I feel
authorized to make the change at present, but I do know that the things
that pay most are small fruits, and if you people down here would pay
more attention to them you would make more money. But the land must be
ploughed, and then we'll see about planting it afterward; your mistress
will, probably, be home in time for that. You go after the men, and tell
them I shall expect them to begin the first thing in the morning. And if
there is anything else to be done on the farm, you come and tell me
about it to-morrow. I'm going to take the responsibility on myself to
see that matters go on properly until your mistress returns."
Letty and her son, Plez, occupied a cabin not far from the house, while
Uncle Isham lived alone in a much smaller tenement, near the barn and
chicken house. That evening he went over to Letty's, taking with him, as
a burnt offering, a partially consumed and still glowing log of hickory
wood from his own hearth-stone. "Jes' lemme tell you dis h'yar, Letty,"
said he, after making up the fire and seating himself on a stool near
by, "ef you want to see ole miss come back rarin' an' chargin', jes' you
let her know dat Miss Null is gwine ter plough de clober fiel' for
"Wot's dat fool talk?" asked Letty.
"Miss Null's gwine to boss dis farm, dat's all," said Isham. "She tole
me so herse'f, an' ef she's lef' alone she's gwine ter do it city
fashion. But one thing's sartin shuh, Letty, if ole miss do fin' out
wot's gwine on, she'll be back h'yar in no time! She know well 'nuf dat
dat Miss Null ain't got no right to come an' boss dis h'yar farm. Who's
"Dunno," answered Letty. "I done ax her six or seben time, but 'pears
like I dunno wot she mean when she tell me. P'raps she's one o' ole
miss' little gal babies growed up. I tell you, Uncle Isham, she know dis
place jes as ef she bawn h'yar."
Uncle Isham looked steadily into the fire and rubbed the sides of his
head with his big black fingers. "Ole miss nebber had no gal baby 'cept
one, an' dat died when 'twas mighty little."
"Does you reckon she kill her ef she come back an' fin' her no kin?"
Uncle Isham pushed his stool back and started to his feet with a noise
which woke Plez, who had been soundly sleeping on the other side of the
fireplace; and striding to the door, the old man went out into the open
air. Returning in less than a minute, he put his head into the doorway
and addressed the astonished woman who had turned around to look after
him. "Look h'yar, you Letty, I don' want to hear no sech fool talk 'bout
ole miss. You dunno ole miss, nohow. You only come h'yar seben year ago
when dat Plez was trottin' roun' wid nuffin but a little meal bag for
clothes. Mahs' John had been dead a long time den; you nebber knowed
Mahs' John. You nebber was woke up at two o'clock in the mawnin wid de
crack ob a pistol, an' run out 'spectin' 'twas somebody stealin' chickens
an' Mahs' John firin' at 'em, an' see ole miss a cuttin' for de road
gate wid her white night-gown a floppin' in de win' behind her, an' when
we got out to de gate dar we see Mahs' John a stannin' up agin de pos',
not de pos' wid de hinges on, but de pos' wid de hook on, an' a hole in
de top ob de head which he made hese'f wid de pistol. One-eyed Jim see
de whole thing. He war stealin' cohn in de fiel' on de udder side de
road. He see Mahs' John come out wid de pistol, an' he lay low. Not dat
it war Mahs' John's cohn dat he was stealin', but he knowed well 'nuf
dat Mahs' John take jes' as much car' o' he neighbus cohn as he own. An'
den he see Mahs' John stan' up agin de pos' an' shoot de pistol, an' he
see Mahs' John's soul come right out de hole in de top ob his head an'
go straight up to heben like a sky-racket."
"Wid a whizz?" asked the open-eyed Letty."
"Like a sky-racket, I tell you," continued the old man, "an' den me an'
ole miss come up. She jes' tuk one look at him and then she said in a
wice, not like she own wice, but like Mahs' John's wice, wot had done
gone forebber: 'You Jim, come out o' dat cohn and help carry him in!'
And we free carried him in. An' you dunno ole miss, nohow, an' I don'
want to hear no fool talk from you, Letty, 'bout her. Jes' you 'member
And with this Uncle Isham betook himself to the solitude of his own
"Well," said Letty to herself, as she rose and approached the bed in the
corner of the room, "Ise pow'ful glad dat somebody's gwine to take de
key bahsket, for I nebber goes inter dat sto'-room by myse'f widout
tremblin' all froo my back bone fear ole miss come back, an' fin' me dar
When Lawrence Croft now took his afternoon walks in the city, he was
very glad to wear a light overcoat, and to button it, too. But, although
the air was getting a little nipping in New York, he knew that it must
still be balmy and enjoyable in Virginia. He had never been down there
at this season, but he had heard about the Virginia autumns, and,
besides he had seen a lady who had had a letter from Roberta March. In
this letter Miss March had written that as her father intended making a
trip to Texas, and, therefore, would not come to New York as early as
usual, she would stay at least a month longer with her Uncle Brandon;
and she was glad to do it, for the weather was perfectly lovely, and she
could stay out-of-doors all day if she wanted to.
Lawrence's walks, although very invigorating on account of the fine,
sharp air, were not entirely cheering, for they gave him an opportunity
to think that he was making no progress whatever in his attempt to study
the character of Junius Keswick. He had entrusted the search for that
gentleman's address to Mr Candy's cashier, who had informed him, most
opportunely, that she was about to set out on a wedding tour, and that
she had possessed herself of clues of much value which could be readily
followed up in connection with the projected journey. But a fortnight or
more had elapsed without his hearing anything from her, and he had come
to the conclusion that hymeneal joys must have driven all thoughts of
business out of her little head.
After hearing that Roberta March intended protracting her stay in the
country the desire came to him to go down there himself. He would like
to have the novel experience of that region in autumn, and he would like
to see Roberta, but he could not help acknowledging to himself that the
proceeding would scarcely be a wise one, especially as he must go
without the desired safeguard of knowing what kind of man Miss March had
once been willing to accept. He felt that if he went down to the
neighborhood of Midbranch one of the battles of his life would begin,
and that when he held up before him his figurative shield, he would see
in its inner mirror that, on account of his own disposition toward the
lady, he was in a condition of great peril. But, for all that, he wanted
very much to go, and no one will be surprised to learn that he did go.
He was a little embarrassed at first in regard to the pretext which he
should make to himself for such a journey. Whatever satisfactory excuse
he could make to himself in this case would, of course, do for other
people. Although he was not prone to make excuses for his conduct to
other people in general, he knew he would have to give some reason to Mr
Brandon and Miss Roberta for his return to Virginia so soon after having
left it. He determined to make a visit to the mountains of North
Carolina, and as Midbranch would lie in his way, of course he
would stop there. This he assured himself was not a subterfuge.
It was a very sensible thing to do. He had a good deal of time
on his hands before the city season, at least for him, would begin,
and he had read that the autumn was an admirable time to visit the
country of the French Broad. How long a stop he would make at Midbranch
would be determined by circumstances. He was sorry that he would not be
able to look upon Miss Roberta with the advantage of knowing her former
lover, but it was something to know that she had had a lover. With this
fact in his mind he would be able to form a better estimate of her than
he had formed before.
The man who lived in the cottage at the Green Sulphur Springs was
somewhat surprised when Mr Croft arrived there, and desired to make
arrangements, as before, for board, and the use of a saddle horse. But,
although it was not generally conceded, this man knew very well that
there was no water in the world so suitable to remedy the wear and tear
of a city life as that of the Green Sulphur Springs, and therefore
nobody could consider the young gentleman foolish for coming back again
while the season permitted.
Lawrence arrived at his cottage in the morning; and early in the
afternoon of the same day he rode over to Midbranch. He found the
country a good deal changed, and he did not like the changes. His road,
which ran for much of its distance through the woods, was covered with
leaves, some green, and some red and yellow, and he did not fancy the
peculiar smell of these leaves, which reminded him, in some way, of that
gathering together of the characters in old-fashioned comedies shortly
before the fall of the curtain. In many places where there used to be a
thick shade, the foliage was now quite thin, and through it he could see
a good deal of the sky. The Virginia creepers, or "poison oaks,"
whichever they were, were growing red upon the trunks of the trees as if
they had been at table too long and showed it, and when he rode out of
the woods he saw that the fields, which he remembered as wide, swelling
slopes of green, with cattle and colts feeding here and there, were now
being ploughed into corrugated stretches of monotonous drab and brown.
If he had been there through all the gradual changes of the season, he,
probably, would have enjoyed them as much as people ordinarily do; but
coming back in this way, the altered landscape slightly shocked him.
When he had turned into the Midbranch gate, but was still a considerable
distance from the house, he involuntarily stopped his horse. He could
see the broad steps which crossed the fence of the lawn, and on one side
of the platform on the top sat a lady whom he instantly recognized as
Miss Roberta; and on the other side of the platform sat a gentleman.
These two occupied very much the same positions as Lawrence, himself,
and Miss March had occupied when we first became acquainted with them.
Lawrence looked very sharply and earnestly at the gentleman. Could it be
Mr Brandon? No, it was a much younger person.
His first impulse was to turn and ride away, but this would be silly and
unmanly, and he continued his way to the stile. His disposition to treat
the matter with contempt made him feel how important the matter was to
him. The gentleman on the platform first saw Lawrence, and announced to
the lady that some one was coming. Miss March turned around, and then
rose to her feet.
"Upon my word!" she exclaimed, elevating her eyebrows a good deal more
than was usual with her, "if that isn't Mr Croft!"
"Who is he?" asked the other, also rising.
"He is a New York gentleman whom I know very well. He was down here last
summer, but I can't imagine what brings him here again."
Lawrence dismounted, tied his horse, and approached the steps. Miss
Roberta welcomed him cordially, coming down a little way to shake hands
with him. Then she introduced the two gentlemen.
"Mr Croft," she said, "let me make you acquainted with Mr Keswick."
The afternoon, or the portion of it that was left, was spent on the
porch, Mr Brandon joining the party. It was to him that Lawrence chiefly
talked, for the most part about the game and scenery of North Carolina,
with which the old gentleman was quite familiar. But Lawrence had
sufficient regard for himself and his position in the eyes of this
family, to help make a good deal of general conversation. What he said
or heard, however, occupied only the extreme corners of his mind, the
main portion of which was entirely filled with the chilling fear that
that man might be the Keswick he was looking for. Of course, there was a
bare chance that it was not, for there might be a numerous family, but
even this little stupid glimmer of comfort was extinguished when Mr
Brandon familiarly addressed the gentleman as "Junius."
Lawrence took a good look at the man he was anxious to study, and as far
as outward appearances were concerned he could find no fault with
Roberta for having accepted him. He was taller than Croft, and not so
correctly dressed. He seemed to be a person whom one would select as a
companion for a hunt, a sail, or a talk upon Political Economy. There
was about him an air of present laziness, but it was also evident that
this was a disposition that could easily be thrown off.
Lawrence's mind was not only very much occupied, but very much
perturbed. It must have been all a mistake about the engagement having
been broken off. If this had been the case, the easy friendliness of the
relations between Keswick and the old gentleman and his niece would have
been impossible. Once or twice the thought came to Lawrence that he
should congratulate himself for not having avowed his feelings toward
Miss Roberta when he had an opportunity of doing so; but his
predominant emotion was one of disgust with his previous mode of action.
If he had not weighed and considered the matter so carefully, and had
been willing to take his chances as other men take them, he would, at
least, have known in what relation he stood to Roberta, and would not
have occupied the ridiculous position in which he now felt himself to
When he took his leave, Roberta went with him to the stile. As they
walked together across the smooth, short grass, a new set of emotions
arose in Lawrence's mind which drove out every other. They were grief,
chagrin, and even rage, at not having won this woman. As to actual
speech, there was nothing he could say, although his soul boiled and
bubbled within him in his desire to speak. But if he had anything to
say, now was his chance, for he had told them that he would proceed with
his journey the next day.
Miss Roberta had a way of looking up, and looking down at the same time,
particularly when she had asked a question and was waiting for the
answer. Her face would be turned a little down, but her eyes would look
up and give a very charming expression to those upturned eyes; and if
she happened to allow the smile, with which she ceased speaking, to
remain upon her pretty lips, she generally had an answer of some sort
very soon. If for no other reason, it would be given that she might ask
another question. It was in this manner she said to Lawrence: "Do you
really go away from us to-morrow?"
"Yes," said he, "I shall push on."
"Do you not find the country very beautiful at this season?" asked Miss
Roberta, after a few steps in silence.
"I don't like autumn," answered Lawrence. "Everything is drying up and
dying. I would rather see things dead."
Roberta looked at him without turning her head. "But it will be just as
bad in North Carolina," she said.
"There is an autumn in ourselves," he answered, "just as much as there
is in Nature. I won't see so much of that down there."
"In some cases," said Roberta, slowly, "autumn is impossible."
They had reached the bottom of the steps, and Lawrence turned and looked
toward her. "Do you mean," he asked, "when there has been no real
Roberta laughed. "Of course," said she, "if there has been no summer
there can be no autumn. But you know there are places where it is summer
all the time. Would you like to live in such a clime?"
Lawrence Croft put one foot on the step, and then he drew it back. "Miss
March," said he, "my train does not leave until the afternoon, and I am
coming over here in the morning to have one more walk in the woods with
you. May I?"
"Certainly," she said, "I shall be delighted; that is, if you can
overlook the fact that it is autumn."
When Miss Roberta returned to the house she found Junius Keswick
sitting on a bench on the porch. She went over to him, and took a seat
at the other end of the bench.
"So your gentleman is gone," he said.
"Yes," she answered, "but only for the present. He is coming back in the
"What for?" asked Keswick, a little abruptly.
Miss Roberta took off her hat, for there was no need of a hat on a
shaded porch, and holding it by the ribbons, she let it gently slide
down toward her feet. "He is coming," she said, speaking rather slowly,
"to take a walk with me, and I know very well that when we have reached
some place where he is sure there is no one to hear him, he is going to
tell me that he loves me; that he did not intend to speak quite so soon,
but that circumstances have made it impossible for him to restrain
himself any longer, and he will ask me to be his wife."
"And what are you going to say to him?" asked Keswick.
"I don't know," replied Roberta, her eyes fixed upon the hat which she
still held by its long ribbons.
The next morning Junius Keswick, who had been up a long, long time
before breakfast, sat, after that meal, looking at Roberta who was
reading a book in the parlor. "She is a strange girl," thought he. "I
cannot understand her. How is it possible that she can sit there so
placidly reading that volume of Huxley, which I know she never saw
before and which she has opened just about the middle, on a morning
when she is expecting a man who will say things to her which may change
her whole life. I could almost imagine that she has forgotten all about
Peggy, who had just entered the room to inform her mistress that Aunt
Judy was ready for her, stood in rigid uprightness, her torpid eyes
settled upon the lady. "I reckon," so ran the thought within the mazes
of her dark little interior, "dat Miss Rob's wuss disgruntled dan she
was dat ebenin' when I make my cake, fur she got two dif'ent kinds o'
The morning went on, and Keswick found that he must go out again for a
walk, although he had rambled several miles before breakfast. After her
household duties had been completed, Miss Roberta took her book out to
the porch; and about noon when her uncle came out and made some remarks
upon the beauty of the day, she turned over the page at which she had
opened the volume just after breakfast. An hour later Peggy brought her
some luncheon, and felt it to be her duty to inform Miss Rob that she
still wore one old boot and a new one. When Roberta returned to the
porch after making a suitable change, she found Keswick there looking a
"Has your friend gone?" he asked, in a very quiet tone.
"He has not come yet," she answered.
"Not come!" exclaimed Keswick. "That's odd! However, there are two hours
yet before dinner."
The two hours passed and no Lawrence Croft appeared; nor came he at all
that day. About dusk the man at the Green Sulphur Springs rode over with
a note from Mr Croft. The note was to Miss March, of course, and it
simply stated that the writer was very sorry he could not keep the
appointment he had made with her, but that it had suddenly become
necessary for him to return to the North without continuing the journey
he had planned; that he was much grieved to be deprived of the
opportunity of seeing her again; but that he would give himself the
pleasure, at the earliest possible moment, of calling on Miss March when
she arrived in New York.
When Miss Roberta had read this note she handed it to Keswick, who, when
he returned it, asked: "Does that suit you?"
"No," said she, "it does not suit me at all."
It was mail day at the very small village known as Howlett's, and to the
fence in front of the post-office were attached three mules and a horse.
Inside the yard, tied to the low bough of a tree, was a very lean and
melancholy horse, on which had lately arrived Wesley Green, the negro
man who, twice a week, brought the mail from Pocohontas, a railway
station, twenty miles away. There was a station not six miles from
Howlett's, but, for some reason, the mail bag was always brought from
and carried to Pocohontas; Wesley Green requiring a whole day for a
deliberate transit between the two points.
In the post-office, which was the front room of a small wooden house
approached by a high flight of steps, was the postmistress, Miss Harriet
Corvey, who sat on the floor in one corner, while before her extended a
semicircle of men and boys. In this little assemblage certain elderly
men occupied seats which were considered to belong to them quite as much
as if they had been hired pews in a church, and behind them stood up a
row of tall young men and barefooted boys of the neighborhood, while,
farthest in the rear, were some quiet little darkies with mail bags
slung across their shoulders.
On a chair to the right, and most convenient to
Miss Harriet, sat old Madison Chalkley, the biggest and most venerable
citizen of the neighborhood. Mr Chalkley never, by any chance, got a
letter, the only mail matter he received being, "The Southern Baptist
Recorder," which came on Saturdays, but, like most of the people
present, he was at the post-office every mail day to see who got
anything. Next to him sat Colonel Iston, a tall, lean, quiet old
gentleman, who had, for a long series of years, occupied the position of
a last apple on a tree. He had no relatives, no friends with whom he
corresponded, no business that was not conducted by word of mouth. In
the last fifteen years he had received but one letter, and that had so
surprised him that he carried it about with him three days before he
opened it, and then he found that it was really intended for a gentleman
of the same name in another county. And yet everybody knew that if
Colonel Iston failed to appear in his place on mail day, it would be
because he was dead or prostrated by sickness.
With the mail bag on the floor at her left, Miss Harriet, totally
oblivious of any law forbidding the opening of the mails in public,
would put her hand into its open mouth, draw forth a letter or a paper,
hold it up in front of her spectacles, and call out the name of its
owner. Most of the letters went to the black boys with the mail bags who
came from country houses in the neighborhood, but whoever received
letter, journal, or agricultural circular, received also at the same
time the earnest gaze of everybody else in the room. Sometimes there
was a letter for which there was no applicant present and then Miss
Harriet would say: "Is anybody going past Mrs Willis Summerses?" And
if anybody was, he would take the letter, and it is to be hoped he
remembered to deliver it in the course of a week.
In spite of the precautions of the postmistress uncalled for letters
would gradually accumulate, and there was a little bundle of these in
one of the few pigeon holes in a small desk in the corner of the room,
in the drawer of which the postage stamps were kept. Now and then a
registered letter would arrive, and this always created considerable
sensation in the room, and if the legal recipient did not happen to be
present, Miss Harriet never breathed a quiet breath until he or she had
been sent for, had taken the letter, and given her a receipt. Sometimes
she sat up as late as eleven o'clock at night on mail days, hoping that
some one who had been sent for would arrive to relieve her of a
All the mail matter had been distributed, everybody but Mr Madison
Chalkley had left the room; and when the old gentleman, as was his wont
on the first day of the month, had gone up to the desk, untied the
bundle of uncalled-for letters, the outer ones permanently rounded by
the tightness of the cord, and after carefully looking over them, one by
one, had made his usual remark about the folly of people who wouldn't
stay in a place until their letters could get to them, had tied up the
bundle and taken his departure; then Miss Harriet put the empty mail
bag under the desk, and went up-stairs where an old lady sat by the
window, sewing in the fading light.
"No letters for you to-day, Mrs Keswick," said she.
"Of course not," was the answer, "I didn't expect any."
"Don't you think," said Miss Harriet, taking a seat opposite the old
lady, "that it is about time for you to go home and attend to your
"Well, upon my word!" said Mrs Keswick, letting her hands and her work
fall in her lap, "that's truly hospitable. I didn't expect it of you,
"I wouldn't have said it," returned the postmistress, "if I hadn't felt
dead certain that you knew you were always welcome here. But Tony Miles
told me, just before the mail came in, that the lady who's at your place
is running it herself, and that she's going to use pickle brine for a
"Very likely," said Mrs Keswick, her face totally unmoved by this
intelligence--"very likely. That's the way they used to do in ancient
times, or something of the same kind. They used to sow salt over their
enemy's land so that nothing would ever grow there. That woman's family
has sowed salt over the lands of me and mine for three generations, and
it's quite natural she should come here to finish up."
There was a little silence after this, and then Miss
Harriet remarked: "Your people must know where you are. Why don't they
come and tell you about these things?"
"They know better," answered Mrs Keswick, with a grim smile. "I went
away once before, and Uncle Isham hunted me up, and he got a lesson that
he'll never forget. When I want them to know where I am, I'll tell
"But really and truly"--said Miss Harriet "and you know I only speak to
you for your own good, for you pay your board here, and if you didn't
you'd be just as welcome--do you intend to keep away from your own house
as long as that lady chooses to stay there?"
"Exactly so long," answered the old lady. "I shall not keep them out of
my house if they choose to come to it. No member of my family ever did
that. There is the house, and they are free to enter it, but they shall
not find me there. If there was any reason to believe that everything
was dropped and done with, I would be as glad to see him as anybody
could be, but I knew from his letter just what he was going to say when
he came, and as things have turned out, I see that it was all worse than
I expected. He and Roberta March were both coming, and they thought that
together they could talk me down, and make me forgive and be happy, and
all that stuff. But as I wasn't there, of course he wouldn't stay, and
so there she is now by herself. She thinks I must come home after a
while, and the minute I do that, back he'll come, and then they'll have
just what they wanted. But I reckon she'll find that I can stick it out
just as long as she can. If Roberta March turns things upside down
there, it'll be because she can't keep her hands out of mischief, and
that proves that she belongs to her own family. If there's any harm
done, it don't matter so much to me, and it will be worse for him in the
end. And now, Harriet Corvey, if you've got to make up the mail to go
away early in the morning, you'd better have supper over and get about
Meanwhile, at Mrs Keswick's house Mrs Null was acting just as
conscientiously as she knew how. She had had some conversations with
Freddy on the subject, and she had assured him, and at the same time
herself, that what she was doing was the only thing that could be done.
"It was dreadfully hard for me to get the money to come down here," she
said to him,--"you not helping me a bit, as ordinary husbands do--and I
can't afford to go back until I have accomplished something. It's very
strange that she stays away so long, without telling anybody where she
has gone to, but I know she is queer, and I suppose she has her own
reasons for what she does. She can't be staying away on my account, for
she doesn't know who I am, and wouldn't have any objections to me if she
did know. I suspect it is something about Junius which keeps her away,
and I suppose she thinks he is still here. But one of them must soon
come back, and if I can see him, or find out from her where he is, it
will be all right. It seems to me, Freddy, that if I could have a good
talk with Junius things would begin to look better for you and me. And
then I want to put him on his guard about this gentleman who is looking
for him. By the way, I suppose I ought to write a letter to Mr Croft, or
he'll think I have given up the job, and will set somebody else on the
track, and that is what I don't want him to do. I can't say that I have
positively anything to report, but I can say that I have strong hopes of
success, considering where I am. As soon as I found that Junius had
really left the North, I concluded that this would be the best place to
come to for him. And now, Freddy, there's nothing for us to do but to
wait, and if we can make ourselves useful here I'm sure we will be glad
to do it. We both hate being lazy, and a little housekeeping and farm
managing will be good practice for us during our honeymoon."
Putting on her hat, she went down into the garden where uncle Isham was
at work. She could find little to do there, for he was merely pulling
turnips, and she could see nothing to suggest in regard to his method of
work. She had found, too, that the old negro had not much respect for
her agricultural opinions. He attended to his work as if his mistress
had been at home, and although, in regard to the ploughing, he had
carried out the orders of Mrs Null, he had done it because it ought to
be done, and because he was very glad for some one else to take the
"Uncle Isham," said she, after she had watched the process of turnip
pulling for a few minutes, "if you haven't anything else to do when you
get through with this, you might come up to the house, and I will talk
to you about the flower beds, I suppose they ought to be made ready for
"Miss Null," said the old man, slowly unbending his back, and getting
himself upright, "dar's allus sumfin' else to do. Eber sence I was fus'
bawn dar was sumfin else to do, an' I spec's it'll keep on dat ar way
till de day I dies."
"Of course there will be nothing else to do then but to die," observed
Mrs Null; "but I hope that day is far off, Uncle Isham."
"Dunno 'bout dat, Miss Null," said he. "But den some people do lib
dreffle long. Look at ole Aun' Patsy. Ise got to live a long time afore
I's as ole as Aun' Patsy is now."
"You don't mean to say," exclaimed Mrs Null, "that Aunt Patsy is alive
"Ob course she is. Miss Null," said Uncle Isham. "If she'd died sence
you've been here we'd a tole you, sartin. She was gwine to die las'
week, but two or free days don' make much dif'rence to Aun' Patsy, she
done lib so long anyhow."
"Aunt Patsy alive!" exclaimed Mrs Null again. "I'm going straight off to
When she had reached the house, and had informed Letty where she was
going, the rotund maid expressed high approbation of the visit, and
offered to send Plez to show Miss Null the way.
"I don't need any one to go with me," said that lady, and away she
"She don' neber want nobody to show her nowhar," said Plez, returning
with looks of much disapprobation to his business of peeling potatoes
When Mrs Null reached the cabin of Aunt Patsy, after about fifteen
minutes' walk, she entered without ceremony, and found the old woman
sitting on a very low chair by the window, with the much-talked-of,
many-colored quilt in her lap. Her white woolly head was partially
covered with a red and yellow handkerchief, and an immense pair of
iron-bound spectacles obstructed the view of her small black face, lined
and seamed in such a way that it appeared to have shrunk to half its
former size. In her long, bony fingers, rusty black on the outside, and
a very pale tan on the inside, she held a coarse needle and thread and a
corner of the quilt. Near by, in front of a brick-paved fireplace, was
one of her great-granddaughters, a girl about eighteen years old, who
was down upon her hands and knees, engaged with lungs, more powerful
than ordinary bellows, in blowing into flame a coal upon the hearth.
"How d'ye Aunt Patsy?" said Mrs Null. "I didn't expect to see you
looking so well."
"Dat's Miss Null," said the girl, raising her eyes from the fire, and
addressing her ancestor.
The old woman stuck her needle into the quilt, and reached out her hand
to her visitor, who took it cordially.
"How d'ye, miss?" said Aunt Patsy, in a thin but quite firm voice,
while the young woman got up and brought Mrs Null a chair, very short in
the legs, very high in the back, and with its split-oak bottom very much
"How are you feeling to-day, Aunt Patsy?" asked Mrs Null, gazing with
much interest on the aged face.
"'Bout as common," replied the old woman. "I didn't spec' to be libin'
dis week, but I ain't got my quilt done yit, an' I can't go 'mong de
angels wrop in a shroud wid one corner off."
"Certainly not," answered Mrs Null. "Haven't you pieces enough to finish
"Oh, yaas, I got bits enough, but de trouble is to sew 'em up. I can't
sew very fas' nowadays."
"It's a pity for you to have to do it yourself," said Mrs Null. "Can't
this young person, your daughter, do it for you?"
"Dat's not my darter," said the old woman. "Dat's my son Tom's yaller
boy Bob's chile. Bob's dead. She can't do no sewin' for me. I'm 'not
gwine ter hab folks sayin', Aun' Patsy done got so ole she can't do her
"If you are not going to die till you get your quilt finished, Aunt
Patsy," said Mrs Null, "I hope it won't be done for a long time."
"Don' do to be waitin' too long, Miss. De fus' thing you know some udder
culled pusson'll be dyin' wrop up in a quilt like dis, and git dar fus'."
Mrs Null now looked about her with much interest, and asked many
questions in regard to the old woman's comfort and ailments. To these
the answers, though on the whole satisfactory, were quite short, Aunt
Patsy, apparently, much preferring to look at her visitor than to talk
to her. And a very pretty young woman she was to look at, with a face
which had grown brighter and plumper during every day of her country
When Mrs Null had gone, promising to send Aunt Patsy something nice to
eat, the old woman turned to her great-grand-daughter, and said, "Did
anybody come wid her?"
"Nobody comed," said the girl. "Reckon' she done git herse'f los' some
o' dese days."
The old woman made no answer, but folding up the maniac coverlid, she
handed it to the girl, and told her to put it away.
That night Uncle Isham, by Mrs Null's orders, carried to Aunt Patsy a
basket, containing various good things considered suitable for an aged
colored woman without teeth.
"Miss Annie sen' dese h'yar?" asked the old woman, taking the basket and
lifting the lid.
"Miss Annie!" exclaimed Uncle Isham. "Who she?"
"Git out, Uncle Isham!" said Aunt Patsy, somewhat impatiently. "She was
h'yar dis mawnin'."
"Dat was Miss Null," said Isham.
"Miss Annie all de same," said Aunt Patsy, "on'y growed up an' married.
D'ye mean to stan' dar, Uncle Isham, an' tell me you don' know de little
gal wot Mahs' John use ter carry in he arms ter feed de tukkies?"
"She and she mudder dead long ago," said Isham. "You is pow'ful ole,
Aun' Patsy, an' you done forgit dese things."
"Done forgit nuffin," curtly replied the old woman. "Don' tell me no
moh' fool stuff. Dat Miss Annie, growed up an' married."
"Did she tell you dat?" asked Isham.
"She didn't tell me nuffin'. She kep' her mouf shet 'bout dat, an' I
kep' my mouf shet. Don' talk to me! Dat's Miss Annie, shuh as shootin'.
Ef she hadn't fotch nuffin' 'long wid her but her eyes I'd a knowed dem;
same ole eyes dey all had. An' 'sides dat, you fool Isham, ef she not
Miss Annie, wot she come down h'yar fur?"
"Neber thinked o' dat!" said Uncle Isham, reflectively. "Ef you's so
pow'ful shuh, Aun' Patsy, I reckon dat _is_ Miss Annie. Couldn't 'spec
me to 'member her. I wasn't much up at de house in dem times, an' she
was took away 'fore I give much 'tention ter her."
"Don' ole miss know she dar?" asked Aunt Patsy.
'"She dunno nuffin' 'bout it," answered Isham. "She's stayin' away cos
she think Mahs' Junius dar yit."
"Why don' you tell her, now you knows it's Miss Annie wot's dar?"
"You don' ketch me tellin her nuffin'," replied the old man shaking his
head. "Wish you was spry 'nuf ter go, Aun' Patsy. She'd b'lieve you; an'
she couldn't rar an' charge inter a ole pusson like you, nohow."
"Ain't dar nobody else in dis h'yar place to go tell her?" asked Aunt
"Not a pusson," was Isham's decided answer.
"Well den I _is_ spry 'nuf!" exclaimed Aunt Patsy, with a vigorous nod
of her head which sent her spectacles down to her mouth, displaying a
pair of little eyes sparkling with a fire, long thought to be extinct.
"Ef you'll carry me dar, to Miss Harriet Corvey's, I'll tell ole miss
myse'f. I didn't 'spec to go out dat dohr till de fun'ral, but I'll go
dis time. I spected dar was sumfin' crooked when Miss Annie didn't tole
me who she was. Ise not 'feared to tell ole miss, an' you jes' carry me
up dar, Uncle Isham."
"I'll do dat," said the old man, much delighted with the idea of doing
something which he supposed would remove the clouds which overhung the
household of his mistress. "I'll fotch de hoss an' de spring waggin an'
dribe you ober dar."
"No, you don' do no sech thing!" exclaimed Aunt Patsy, angrily. "I ain't
gwine to hab no hosses to run away, an' chuck me out on de road. Ef you
kin fotch de oxen an' de cart, I go 'long wid you, but I don' want no
"Dat's fus' rate," said Isham. "I'll fotch de ox cart, an' carry you
ober. When you want ter go?"
"Dunno jes' now," said Aunt Patsy, pushing away a block of wood which
served for a footstool, and making elaborate preparations to rise from
her chair. "I'll sen' fur you when I's ready."
The next morning was a very busy one for Aunt Patsy's son Tom's yellow
boy Bob's child; and by afternoon it was necessary to send for two
colored women from a neighboring cabin to assist in the preparations
which Aunt Patsy was making for her projected visit. An old hair covered
trunk, which had not been opened for many years, was brought out, and
the contents exposed to the unaccustomed light of day; two coarse cotton
petticoats were exhumed and ordered to be bleached and ironed; a yellow
flannel garment of the same nature was put aside to be mended with some
red pieces which were rolled up in it; out of several yarn stockings of
various ages and lengths two were selected as being pretty much alike,
and laid by to be darned; an old black frock with full "bishop sleeves,"
a good deal mended and dreadfully wrinkled, was given to one of the
neighbors, expert in such matters, to be ironed; and the propriety of
making use of various other ancient duds was eagerly and earnestly
discussed. Aunt Patsy, whose vitality had been wonderfully aroused, now
that there was some opportunity for making use of it, spent nearly two
hours turning over, examining, and reflecting upon a pair of
old-fashioned corsets, which, although they had been long cherished, she
had never worn. She now hoped that the occasion for their use had at
last arrived but the utter impossibility of getting herself into them
was finally made apparent to her, and she mournfully returned them to
Washing, starching, ironing, darning, patching, and an immense deal of
talk and consultation, occupied that and a good deal of the following
day, the rest of which was given up to the repairing of an immense pair
of green baize shoes, without which Aunt Patsy could not be persuaded to
go into the outer air. It was Saturday morning when she began to dress
for the trip, and although Isham, wearing a high silk hat, and a long
black coat which had once belonged to a clergyman, arrived with the ox
cart about noon, the old woman was not ready to start till two or three
hours afterward. Her assistants, who had increased in number, were
active and assiduous. Aunt Patsy was very particular as to the manner of
her garbing, and gave them a great deal of trouble. It had been fifteen
years since she had set foot outside of her house, and ten more since
she had ridden in any kind of vehicle. This was a great occasion, and
nothing concerning it was to be considered lightly.
"'Tain't right," she said to Uncle Isham when he arrived, "fur a pow'ful
ole pusson like me to set out on a jarney ob dis kin' 'thout 'ligious
sarvices. 'Tain't 'spectable."
Uncle Isham rubbed his head a good deal at this remark. "Dunno wot we
gwine to do 'bout dat," he said. "Brudder Jeemes lib free miles off, an'
mos' like he's out ditchin'. Couldn't git him h'yar dis ebenin', nohow."
"Well den," said Aunt Patsy, "you conduc' sarvices yourse'f, Uncle
Isham, an' we kin have prar meetin', anyhow."
Uncle Isham having consented to this, he put his oxen under the care of
a small boy, and collecting in Aunt Patsy's room the five colored women
and girls who were in attendance upon her, he conducted "prars," making
an extemporaneous petition which comprehended all the probable
contingencies of the journey, even to the accident of the right wheel of
the cart coming off, which the old man very reverently asserted that he
would have lynched with a regular pin instead of a broken poker handle,
if he could have found one. After the prayer, with which Aunt Patsy
signified her entire satisfaction by frequent Amens, the company joined
in the vigorous singing of a hymn, in which they stated that they were
"gwine down to Jurdun, an' tho' the road is rough, when once we shuh we
git dar, we all be glad enough; de rocks an' de stones, an' de jolts to
de bones will be nuffin' to de glory an' de jiy."
The hymn over, Uncle Isham clapped on his hat, and hurried menacingly
after the small boy, who had let the oxen wander along the roadside
until one wheel of the cart was nearly in the ditch. Aunt Patsy now