Part 1 out of 8
THE DELIVERANCE; A ROMANCE OF THE VIRGINIA TOBACCO FIELDS
BOOK I. The Inheritance
I. The Man in the Field
II. The Owner of Blake Hall
III. Showing That a Little Culture Entails Great Care
IV. Of Human Nature in the Raw State
V. The Wreck of the Blakes
VI. Carraway Plays Courtier
VII. In Which a Stand Is Made
VIII. Treats of a Passion That Is Not Love
IX. Cynthia X. Sentimental and Otherwise
BOOK II. The Temptation
I. The Romance That Might Have Been
II. The Romance That Was
III. Fletcher's Move and Christopher's Counterstroke
IV. A Gallant Deed That Leads to Evil
V. The Glimpse of a Bride
VI. Shows Fletcher in a New Light
VII. In Which Hero and Villain Appear as One
VIII. Between the Devil and the Deep Sea
IX. As the Twig Is Bent
X. Powers of Darkness
BOOK III. The Revenge
I. In Which Tobacco Is Hero
II. Between Christopher and Will
III. Mrs. Blake Speaks Her Mind on Several Matters
IV. In Which Christopher Hesitates
V. The Happiness of Tucker
VI. The Wages of Folly
VII. The Toss of a Coin
VIII. In Which Christopher Triumphs
BOOK IV. The Awakening
I. The Unforeseen
II. Maria Returns to the Hall
III. The Day Afterward
IV. The Meeting in the Night
V. Maria Stands on Christopher's Ground
VI. The Growing Light
VII. In which Carraway Speaks the Truth to Maria
VIII. Between Maria and Christopher
IX. Christopher Faces Himself
X. By the Poplar Spring
BOOK V. The Ancient Law
I. Christopher Seeks an Escape
II. The Measure of Maria
III. Will's Ruin
IV. In Which Mrs. Blake's Eyes are Opened
V. Christopher Plants by Moonlight
VI. Treats of the Tragedy Which Wears a Comic Mask
VII. Will Faces Desperation and Stands at Bay
VIII. How Christopher Comes into His Revenge
IX. The Fulfilling of the Law
X. The Wheel of Life
LIST OF CHARACTERS
CHRISTOPHER BLAKE, a tobacco-grower
MRS. BLAKE, his mother
TUCKER CORBIN, an old soldier
CYNTHIA and LILA BLAKE; sisters of Christopher
CARRAWAY, a lawyer
BILL FLETCHER, a wealthy farmer
MARIA FLETCHER, his granddaughter
WILL FLETCHER, his grandson
"MISS SAIDIE," sister of Fletcher
JACOB WEATHERBY, a tobacco-grower
JIM WEATHERBY, his son
SOL PETERKIN, another tobacco-grower
MOLLY PETERKIN, daughter of Sol
Tom SPADE, a country storekeeper
SUSAN, his wife
UNCLE BOAZ, a Negro
CHAPTER I. The Man in the Field
When the Susquehanna stage came to the daily halt beneath the
blasted pine at the cross-roads, an elderly man, wearing a
flapping frock coat and a soft slouch hat, stepped gingerly over
one of the muddy wheels, and threw a doubtful glance across the
level tobacco fields, where the young plants were drooping in the
"So this is my way, is it?" he asked, with a jerk of his thumb
toward a cloud of blue-and-yellow butterflies drifting over a
shining puddle--"five miles as the crow flies, and through a
For a moment he hung suspended above the encrusted axle, peering
with blinking pale-gray eyes over a pair of gold-rimmed
spectacles. In his appearance there was the hint of a scholarly
intention unfulfilled, and his dress, despite its general
carelessness, bespoke a different standard of taste from that of
the isolated dwellers in the surrounding fields. A casual
observer might have classified him as one of the Virginian
landowners impoverished by the war; in reality, he was a
successful lawyer in a neighbouring town, who, amid the overthrow
of the slaveholding gentry some twenty years before, had risen
into a provincial prominence.
His humour met with a slow response from the driver, who sat
playfully flicking at a horsefly on the flank of a tall,
raw-boned sorrel. "Wall, thar's been a sight of rain lately," he
observed, with goodnatured acquiescence, "but I don't reckon the
mud's more'n waist deep, an' if you do happen to git clean down,
thar's Sol Peterkin along to pull you out. Whar're you hidin',
Sol? Why, bless my boots, if he ain't gone fast asleep!"
At this a lean and high-featured matron, encased in the rigidity
of her Sunday bombazine, gave a prim poke with her umbrella in
the ribs of a sparrow-like little man, with a discoloured,
scraggy beard, who nodded in one corner of the long seat.
"I'd wake up if I was you," she remarked in the voice her sex
assumes when virtue lapses into severity.
Starting from his doze, the little man straightened his wiry,
sunburned neck and mechanically raised his hand to wipe away a
thin stream of tobacco juice which trickled from his half-open
"Hi!we ain't got here a'ready!" he exclaimed, as he spat
energetically into the mud. "I d'clar if it don't beat all--one
minute we're thar an' the next we're here. It's a movin' world we
live in, ain't that so, mum?" Then, as the severe matron still
stared unbendingly before her, he descended between the wheels,
and stood nervously scraping his feet in the long grass by the
"This here's Sol Peterkin, Mr. Carraway," said the driver, bowing
his introduction as he leaned forward to disentangle the reins
from the sorrel's tail, "an' I reckon he kin pint out Blake Hall
to you as well as another, seem' as he was under-overseer thar
for eighteen years befo' the war. Now you'd better climb in agin,
folks; it's time we were off."
He gave an insinuating cluck to the horses, while several
passengers, who had alighted to gather blackberries from the
ditch, scrambled hurriedly into their places. With a single
clanking wrench the stage toiled on, plodding clumsily over the
As the spattering mud-drops fell round him, Carraway lifted his
head and sniffed the air like a pointer that has been just turned
afield. For the moment his professional errand escaped him as his
chest expanded in the light wind which blew over the radiant
stillness of the Virginian June. From the cloudless sky to its
pure reflection in the rain-washed roads there was barely a
descending shade, and the tufts of dandelion blooming against the
rotting rail fence seemed but patches of the clearer sunshine.
"Bless my soul, it's like a day out of Scripture!" he exclaimed
in a tone that was half-apologetic; then raising his
walking-stick he leisurely swept it into space. "There's hardly
another crop, I reckon, between here and the Hall?"
Sol Peterkin was busily cutting a fresh quid of tobacco from the
plug he carried in his pocket, and there was a brief pause before
he answered. Then, as he carefully wiped the blade of his knife
on the leg of his blue jean overalls, he looked up with a curious
"Oh, you'll find a corn field or two somewhar along," he replied,
"but it's a lanky, slipshod kind of crop at best, for tobaccy's
king down here, an' no mistake. We've a sayin' that the man that
ain't partial to the weed can't sleep sound even in the
churchyard, an' thar's some as 'ill swar to this day that Willie
Moreen never rested in his grave because he didn't chaw, an' the
soil smelt jest like a plug. Oh, it's a great plant, I tell you,
suh. Look over thar at them fields; they've all been set out
sence the spell o' rain."
The road they followed crawled like a leisurely river between the
freshly ploughed ridges, where the earth was slowly settling
around the transplanted crop. In the distance, labourers were
still at work, passing in dull-blue blotches between the rows of
bright-green leaves that hung limply on their slender stalks.
"You've lived at the Hall, I hear," said Carraway, suddenly
turning to look at his companion over his lowered glasses.
"When it was the Hall, suh," replied Sol, with a tinge of
bitterness in his chuckle. "Why, in my day, an' that was up to
the very close of the war, you might stand at the big gate an'
look in any direction you pleased till yo' eyes bulged fit to
bust, but you couldn't look past the Blake land for all yo'
tryin'. These same fields here we're passin' through I've seen
set out in Blake tobaccy time an' agin, an' the farm I live on
three miles beyond the Hall belonged to the old gentleman, God
bless him! up to the day he died. Lord save my soul! three
hunnard as likely niggers as you ever clap sight on, an' that not
countin' a good fifty that was too far gone to work."
"All scattered now, I suppose?"
"See them little cabins over yonder?" With a dirty forefinger he
pointed to the tiny trails of smoke hanging low above the distant
tree-tops. "The county's right speckled with 'em an' with thar
children--all named Blake arter old marster, as they called him,
or Corbin arter old miss. When leetle Mr. Christopher got turned
out of the Hall jest befo' his pa died, an' was shuffled into the
house of the overseer, whar Bill Fletcher used to live himself,
the darkies all bought bits o'land here an' thar an' settled down
to do some farmin' on a free scale. Stuck up, suh! Why, Zebbadee
Blake passed me yestiddy drivin' his own mule-team, an' I heard
him swar he wouldn't turn out o' the road for anybody less'n God
A'mighty or Marse Christopher!"
"A-ahem!" exclaimed Carraway, with relish; "and in the meantime,
the heir to all this high-handed authority is no better than an
Peterkin snorted. "Who? Mr. Christopher? Well, he warn't more'n
ten years old when his pa went doty an' died, an' I don't reckon
he's had much larnin' sence. I've leant on the gate myself an'
watched the nigger children traipsin' by to the Yankee woman's
school, an' he drivin' the plough when he didn't reach much
higher than the handle. He' used to be the darndest leetle brat,
too, till his sperits got all freezed out o' him. Lord! Lord!
thar's such a sight of meanness in this here world that it makes
a body b'lieve in Providence whether or no."
Carraway meditatively twirled his walking-stick. "Raises tobacco
now like the rest, doesn't he?"
"Not like the rest--bless you, no, suh. Why, the weed thrives
under his very touch, though he can't abide the smell of it, an'
thar's not a farmer in the county that wouldn't ruther have him
to plant, cut, or cure than any ten men round about. They do say
that his pa went clean crazy about tobaccy jest befo' he died,
an' that Mr. Christopher gets dead sick when he smells it smokin'
in the barn, but he kin pick up a leaf blindfold an' tell you the
quality of it at his first touch."
For a moment the lawyer was silent, pondering a thought he
evidently did not care to utter. When at last he spoke it was in
the measured tones of one who overcomes an impediment in his
"Do you happen to have heard, I wonder, anything of his attitude
toward the present owner of the Hall?"
"Happen to have heard!" Peterkin threw back his head and gasped.
"Why, the whole county has happened to hear of it, I reckon. It's
been common talk sence the day he got his first bird-gun, an' his
nigger, Uncle Boaz, found him hidin' in the bushes to shoot old
Fletcher when he came in sight. I tell you, if Bill Fletcher lay
dyin' in the road, Mr. Christopher would sooner ride right over
him than not. You ask some folks, suh, an' they'll tell you a
Blake kin hate twice as long as most men kin love."
"Ah, is it so bad as that?" muttered Carraway.
"Well, he ain't much of a Christian, as the lights go," continued
Sol, "but I ain't sartain, accordin' to my way of thinkin', that
he ain't got a better showin' on his side than a good many of 'em
that gits that befo' the preacher. He's a Blake, skin an' bone,
anyhow, an' you ain't goin' to git this here county to go agin
him--not if he was to turn an' spit at Satan himself. Old Bill
Fletcher stole his house an' his land an' his money, law or no
law--that's how I look at it--but he couldn't steal his name, an'
that's what counts among the niggers, an' the po' whites, too.
Why, I've seen a whole parcel o' darkies stand stock still when
Fletcher drove up to the bars with his spankin' pair of bays, an'
then mos' break tha' necks lettin' 'em down as soon as Mr.
Christopher comes along with his team of oxen. You kin fool the
quality 'bout the quality, but I'll be blamed if you kin fool the
Ahead of them there was a scattered group of log cabins,
surrounded by little whitewashed palings, and at their approach a
decrepit old Negro, followed by a slinking black-and-tan
foxhound, came beneath the straggling hopvine over one of the
doors and through the open gate out into the road. His bent old
figure was huddled within his carefully patched clothes of coarse
"Howdy, marsters," he muttered, in answer to the lawyer's
greeting, raising a trembling hand to his wrinkled forehead.
"Y'all ain' seen nuttin' er ole miss's yaller cat, Beulah, I
Peterkin, who had eyed him with the peculiar disfavour felt for
the black man by the low-born white, evinced a sudden interest
out of all proportion to Carraway's conception of the loss.
"Ain't she done come back yet, Uncle Boaz?" he inquired.
"Naw, suh, dat she ain', en ole miss she ain' gwine git a wink er
sleep dis blessed night. Me en Spy we is done been traipsin'
roun' atter dat ar low-lifeted Beulah sence befo' de
"When did you miss her first?" asked Peterkin, with concern.
"I dunno, suh, dat I don't, caze she ain' no better'n one er dese
yer wish-wishys,* an' I ain' mek out yit ef'n twuz her er her
hant. Las' night 'bout sundown dar she wuz a-lappin' her sasser
er milk right at ole miss feet, en dis mawnin' at sunup dar she
warn't. Dat's all I know, suh, ef'n you lay me out."
"Well, I reckon she'll turn up agin," said Peterkin consolingly.
"Cats air jest like gals, anyway--they ain't never happy unless
they're eternally gallyvantin'. Why, that big white Tom of mine
knows more about this here county than I do myself."
"Days so, suh; days de gospel trufe; but I'se kinder flustered
'bout dat yaller cat caze ole miss sutney do set a heap er sto'
by 'er. She ain' never let de dawgs come in de 'oom, nohow, caze
once she done feel Beulah rar 'er back at Spy. She's des stone
blin', is ole miss, but I d'clar she kin smell pow'ful keen, an'
'taro' no use tryin' ter fool her wid one houn' er de hull pack.
Lawd! Lawd! I wunner ef dat ar cat kin be layin' close over
yonder at Sis Daphne's?"
He branched off into a little path which ran like a white thread
across the field, grumbling querulously to the black-and-tan
foxhound that ambled at his heels.
"Dar's a wallopin' ahaid er you, sho's you bo'n," he muttered, as
he limped on toward a small log hut from which floated an
inviting fragrance of bacon frying in fat. "I reckon you lay dat
you kin cut yo' mulatter capers wid me all you please, but you'd
better look out sharp 'fo' you begin foolin' 'long er Marse
Christopher. Dar you go agin, now. Ain' dat des like you? Wat you
wanter go sickin' atter dat ole hyar fer, anyhow?"
"So that is one of young Blake's hangers-on?" observed Carraway,
with a slight inflection of inquiry.
"Uncle Boaz, you mean? Oh, he was the old gentleman's
body-servant befo' the war. He used to wear his marster's
cast-off ruffles an' high hat. A mighty likely nigger he was,
till he got all bent up with the rheumatics."
The lawyer had lifted his walking-stick and was pointing straight
ahead to a group of old brick chimneys huddled in the sunset
above a grove of giant oaks.
"That must be Blake Hall over there," he said; "there's not
another house like it in the three counties."
"We'll be at the big gate in a minute, suh," Peterkin returned.
"This is the first view of the Hall you git, an' they say the old
gentleman used to raise his hat whenever he passed by it." Then
as they swung open the great iron gate, with its new coat of red,
he touched Carraway's sleeve and spoke in a hoarse whisper.
"Thar's Mr. Christopher himself over yonder," he said, "an' Lord
bless my soul, if he ain't settin' out old Fletcher's plants.
Thar! he's standin' up now--the big young fellow with the basket.
The old gentleman was the biggest man twixt here an'
Fredericksburg, but I d'clar Mr. Christopher is a good half-head
At his words Carraway stopped short in the road, raising his
useless glasses upon his brow. The sun had just gone down in a
blaze of light, and the great bare field was slowly darkening
against the west.
Nearer at hand there were the long road, already in twilight, the
rail fence wrapped in creepers, and a solitary chestnut tree in
full bloom. Farther away swept the freshly ploughed ground over
which passed the moving figures of the labourers transplanting
the young crop. Of them all, Carraway saw but a single worker--in
reality, only one among the daily toilers in the field, moulded
physically perhaps in a finer shape than they, and limned in the
lawyer's mental vision against a century of the brilliant if
tragic history of his race. As he moved slowly along between the
even rows, dropping from time to time a plant into one of the
small holes dug before him, and pausing with the basket on his
arm to settle the earth carefully with his foot, he seemed,
indeed, as much the product of the soil upon which he stood as
did the great white chestnut growing beside the road. In his
pose, in his walk, in the careless carriage of his head, there
was something of the large freedom of the elements.
"A dangerous young giant," observed the lawyer slowly, letting
his glasses fall before his eyes. "A monumental Blake, as it
were. Well, as I have remarked before upon occasions, blood will
tell, even at the dregs."
"He's the very spit of his pa, that's so," replied Peterkin, "an'
though it's no business of mine, I'm afeared he's got the old
gentleman's dry throat along with it. Lord! Lord! I've always
stood it out that it's better to water yo' mouth with tobaccy
than to burn it up with sperits." He checked himself and fell
back hastily, for young Blake, after a single glance at the west,
had tossed his basket carelessly aside, and was striding
vigorously across the field.
"Not another plant will I set out, and that's an end of it!" he
was saying angrily. "I agreed to do a day's work and I've been at
it steadily since sunrise. Is it any concern of mine, I'd like to
know, if he can't put in his crop to-night? Do you think I care
whether his tobacco rots in the ground or out of it?"
As he came on, Carraway measured him coolly, with an appreciation
tempered by his native sense of humour. He perceived at once a
certain coarseness of finish which, despite the deep-rooted
veneration for an idle ancestry, is found most often in the
descendants of a long line of generous livers. A moment later he
weighed the keen gray flash of the eyes beneath the thick fair
hair, the coating of dust and sweat over the high-bred curve from
brow to nose, and the fullness of the jaw which bore with a
suggestion of sheer brutality upon the general impression of a
fine racial type. Taken from the mouth up, the face might have
passed as a pure, fleshly copy of the antique idea; seen
downward, it became almost repelling in its massive power.
Stooping beside the fence for a common harvest hat, the young man
placed it on his head, and gave a careless nod to Peterkin. He
had thrown one leg over the rails, and was about to swing himself
into the road, when Sol spoke a little timidly.
"I hear yo' ma's done lost her yaller cat, Mr. Christopher."
For an instant Christopher hung midway of the fence.
"Isn't the beast back yet?" he asked irritably, scraping the mud
from his boot upon the rail. "I've had Uncle Boaz scouring the
county half the day."
A pack of hounds that had been sleeping under the sassafras
bushes across the road came fawning to his feet, and he pushed
them impatiently aside.
"I was thinkin'," began Peterkin, with an uncertain cough, "that
I might manage to send over my big white Tom, an', bein' blind,
maybe she wouldn't know the difference."
Christopher shook his head.
"Oh, it's no use," he replied, speaking with an air of
superiority. "She could pick out that cat among a million, I
believe, with a single touch. Well, there's no help for it. Down,
Spot--down, I say, Sir!"
With a leisurely movement he swung himself from the fence,
stopping to wipe his brow with his blue cotton sleeve. Then he
went whistling defiantly down the way to the Hall, turning at
last into a sunken road that trailed by an abandoned ice-pond
where bullfrogs were croaking hoarsely in the rushes.
CHAPTER II. The Owner of Blake Hall
As they followed the descending road between flowering chestnuts,
Blake Hall rose gradually into fuller view, its great oaks
browned by the approaching twilight and the fading after-glow
reflected in a single visible pane. Seen close at hand, the house
presented a cheerful spaciousness of front--a surety of light and
air--produced in part by the clean white, Doric columns of the
portico and in part by the ample slope of shaven lawn studded
with reds of brightly blooming flowers. From the smoking chimneys
presiding over the ancient roof to the hospitable steps leading
from the box-bordered walk below, the outward form of the
dwelling spoke to the imaginative mind of that inner spirit which
had moulded it into a lasting expression of a racial sentiment,
as if the Virginia creeper covering the old brick walls had
wreathed them in memories as tenacious as itself.
For more than two hundred years Blake Hall had stood as the one
great house in the county--a manifestation in brick and mortar of
the hereditary greatness of the Blakes. To Carraway, impersonal
as his interest was, the acknowledgment brought a sudden vague
resentment, and for an instant he bit his lip and hung
irresolute, as if more than half-inclined to retrace his steps. A
slight thing decided him--the gaiety of a boy's laugh that
floated from one of the lower rooms and swinging his stick
briskly to add weight to his determination, he ascended the broad
steps and lifted the old brass knocker. A moment later the door
was opened by a large mulatto woman, in a soiled apron, who took
his small hand-bag from him and, when he asked for Mr. Fletcher,
led him across the great hall into the unused drawing-room.
The shutters were closed, and as she flung them back on their
rusty hinges the pale June twilight entered with the breath of
mycrophylla roses. In the scented dusk Carraway stared about the
desolate, crudely furnished room, which gave back to his troubled
fancy the face of a pitiable, dishonoured corpse. The soul of it
was gone forever--that peculiar spirit of place which makes every
old house the guardian of an inner life--the keeper of a family's
ghost. What remained was but the outer husk, the disfigured
frame, upon which the newer imprint seemed only a passing insult.
On the high wainscoted walls he could still trace the vacant
dust-marked squares where the Blake portraits had once
hung--lines that the successive scrubbings of fifteen years had
not utterly effaced. A massive mahogany sofa, carved to represent
a horn of plenty, had been purchased, perhaps at a general sale
of the old furniture, with several quaint rosewood chairs and a
rare cabinet of inlaid woods. For the rest, the later additions
were uniformly cheap and ill-chosen--a blue plush "set," bought,
possibly, at a village store, a walnut table with a sallow marble
top, and several hard engravings of historic subjects.
When the lawyer turned from a curious inspection of these works
of art, he saw that only a curtain of flimsy chintz, stretched
between a pair of fluted columns, separated him from the
adjoining room, where a lamp, with lowered wick, was burning
under a bright red shade. After a moment's hesitation he drew the
curtain aside and entered what he took at once to be the common
living-room of the Fletcher family.
Here the effect was less depressing, though equally
uninteresting--a paper novel or two on the big Bible upon the
table combined, indeed, with a costly piano in one corner, to
strike a note that was entirely modern. The white crocheted
tidies on the chair-backs, elaborated with endless patience out
of innumerable spools of darning cotton, lent a feminine touch to
the furniture, which for an instant distracted Carraway's mental
vision from the impending personality of Fletcher himself. He
remembered now that there was a sister whom he had heard vaguely
described by the women of his family as "quite too hopeless," and
a granddaughter of whom he knew merely that she had for years
attended an expensive school somewhere in the North. The grandson
he recalled, after a moment, more distinctly, as a pretty,
undeveloped boy in white pinafores, who had once accompanied
Fletcher upon a hurried visit to the town. The gay laugh had
awakened the incident in his mind, and he saw again the little
cleanly clad figure perched upon his desk, nibbling bakers' buns,
while he transacted a tedious piece of business with the vulgar
He was toying impatiently with these recollections when his
attention was momentarily attracted by the sound of Fletcher's
burly tones on the rear porch just beyond the open window.
"I tell you, you've set all the niggers agin me, and I can't get
hands to work the crops."
"That's your lookout, of course," replied a voice, which he
associated at once with young Blake. "I told you I'd work three
days because I wanted the ready money; I've got it, and my time
is my own again."
"But I say my tobacco's got to get into the ground this
week--it's too big for the plant-bed a'ready, and with three days
of this sun the earth'll be dried as hard as a rock."
"There's no doubt of it, I think."
"And it's all your blamed fault," burst out the other angrily;
"you've gone and turned them all agin me--white and black alike.
Why, it's as much as I can do to get a stroke of honest labour in
this nigger-ridden country."
Christopher laughed shortly.
"There is no use blaming the Negroes," he said, and his
pronunciation of the single word would have stamped him in
Virginia as of a different class from Fletcher; "they're usually
ready enough to work if you treat them decently."
"Treat them!" began Fletcher, and Carraway was about to fling
open the shutters, when light steps passed quickly along the hall
and he heard the rustle of a woman's silk dress against the
"There's a stranger to see you, grandfather," called a girl's
even voice from the house; "finish paying off the hands and come
in at once."
"Well, of all the impudence!" exclaimed the young man, with a
saving dash of humour. Then, without so much as a parting word,
he ran quickly down the steps and started rapidly in the
direction of the darkening road, while the silk dress rustled
upon the porch and at the garden gate as the latch was lifted.
"Go in, grandfather!" called the girl's voice from the garden, to
which Fletcher responded as decisively.
"For Heaven's sake, let me manage my own affairs, Maria. You seem
to have inherited your poor mother's pesky habit of meddling."
"Well, I told you a gentleman was waiting," returned the girl
stubbornly. "You didn't let us know he was coming, either, and
Lindy says there isn't a thing fit to eat for supper."
Fletcher snorted, and then, before entering the house, stopped to
haggle with an old Negro woman for a pair of spring chickens
hanging dejectedly from her outstretched hand, their feet tied
together with a strip of faded calico.
"How much you gwine gimme fer dese, marster?" she inquired
anxiously, deftly twirling them about until they swung with heads
Rising to the huckster's instinct, Fletcher poked the offerings
suspiciously beneath their flapping wings.
"Thirty cents for the pair--not a copper more," he responded
promptly; "they're as poor as Job's turkey, both of 'em."
"Lawdy, marster, you know better'n dat."
"They're skin and bones, I tell you; feel 'em yourself. Well,
take it or leave it, thirty cents is all I'll give."
"Go 'way f'om yere, suh; dese yer chickings ain' no po' w'ite
trash--dey's been riz on de bes' er de lan', dey is--en de aigs
dey wuz hatched right dar in de middle er de baid whar me en my
ole man en de chillun sleep. De hull time dat black hen wuz
a-settin', Cephus he was bleeged ter lay right spang on de bar'
flo' caze we'uz afeared de aigs 'ould addle. Lawd! Lawd! dey wuz
plum three weeks a-hatchin', en de weather des freeze thoo en
thoo. Cephus he's been crippled up wid de rheumatics ever sence.
Go 'way f'om yer, marster. I warn't bo'n yestiddy. Thirty cents!"
"Not a copper more, I tell you. Let me go, my good woman; I can't
stand here all night."
"Des a minute, marster. Dese yer chickings ain' never sot dey
feet on de yearth, caze dey's been riz right in de cabin, en
dey's done et dar vittles outer de same plate wid me en Cephus.
Ef'n dey spy a chice bit er bacon on de een er de knife hit 'uz
moughty likely ter fin' hits way down dir throat instid er down
me en Cephus'."
"Let me go, I say--I don't want your blamed chickens; take 'em
"Hi! marster, I'se Mehitable. You ain't fergot how peart I use
ter wuk w'en you wuz over me in ole marster's day. You know you
ain' fergot Mehitable, suh. Ain't you recollect de time ole
marster gimme a dollar wid his own han' caze I foun' de biggest
wum in de hull 'baccy patch? Lawd! dey wuz times, sho's you bo'n.
I kin see ole marster now es plain es ef twuz yestiddy, so big en
shiny like satin, wid his skin des es tight es a watermillion's."
"Shut up, confound you!" cut in Fletcher sharply.
"If you don't stop your chatter I'll set the dogs on you. Shut
up, I say!"
He strode into the house, slamming the heavy door behind him, and
a moment afterward Carraway heard him scolding brutally at the
servants across the hall.
The old Negress had gone muttering from the porch with her unsold
chickens, when the door softly opened again, and the girl, who
had entered through the front with her basket of flowers, came
out into the growing moonlight.
"Wait a moment, Aunt Mehitable," she said. "I want to speak to
Aunt Mehitable turned slowly, putting a feeble hand to her dazed
eyes. "You ain' ole miss come back agin, is you, honey?" she
"I don't know who your old miss was," replied the girl, "but I am
not she, whoever she may have been. I am Maria Fletcher. You
don't remember me--yet you used to bake me ash-cakes when I was a
The old woman shook her head. "You ain' Marse Fletcher's chile?"
"His granddaughter--but I must go in to supper. Here is the money
for your chickens--grandpa was only joking; you know he loves to
joke. Take the chickens to the hen-house and get something hot to
eat in the kitchen before you start out again."
She ran hurriedly up the steps and entered the hall just as
Fletcher was shaking hands with his guest.
CHAPTER III. Showing that a Little Culture Entails Great Care
Carraway had risen to meet his host in a flutter that was almost
one of dread. In the eight years since their last interview it
seemed to him that his mental image of his great client had
magnified in proportions--that Fletcher had "out-Fletchered"
himself, as he felt inclined to put it. The old betrayal of his
employer's dependence, which at first had been merely a suspicion
in the lawyer's mind, had begun gradually, as time went on, to
bristle with the points of significant details. In looking back,
half-hinted things became clear to him at last, and he gathered,
bit by bit, the whole clever, hopeless villainy of the
scheme--the crime hedged about by law with all the prating
protection of a virtue. He knew now that Fletcher--the old
overseer of the Blake slaves--had defrauded the innocent as
surely as if he had plunged his great red fist into the little
pocket of a child, had defrauded, indeed, with so strong a blow
that the very consciousness of his victim had been stunned. There
had been about his act all the damning hypocrisy of a great
theft--all the air of stern morality which makes for the popular
triumph of the heroic swindler.
These things Carraway understood, yet as the man strode into the
room with open palm and a general air of bluff hospitality--as if
he had just been blown by some fresh strong wind across his
tobacco fields--the lawyer experienced a relief so great that the
breath he drew seemed a fit measure of his earlier foreboding.
For Fletcher outwardly was but the common type of farmer, after
all, with a trifle more intelligence, perhaps, than is met with
in the average Southerner of his class. "A plain man but honest,
sir," was what one expected him to utter at every turn. It was
written in the coarse open lines of his face, half-hidden by a
bushy gray beard; in his small sparkling eyes, now blue, now
brown; in his looselimbed, shambling movements as he crossed the
room. His very clothes spoke, to an acute observer, of a
masculine sincerity naked and unashamed--as if his large
coffee-spotted cravat would not alter the smallest fold to
conceal the stains it bore. Hale, hairy, vehement, not without a
quality of Rabelaisian humour, he appeared the last of all men
with whom one would associate the burden of a troubled
"Sorry to have kept you--on my word I am," he began heartily;
"but to tell the truth, I thought thar'd be somebody in the house
with sense enough to show you to a bedroom. Like to run up now
for a wash before supper?"
It was what one expected of him, such a speech blurted in so
offhand a manner, and the lawyer could barely suppress a
"Oh, it was a short trip," he returned, "and a walk of five miles
on a day like this is one of the most delightful things in life.
I've been looking out at your garden, by the way, and--I may as
well confess it--overhearing a little of your conversation."
"Is that so?" chuckled Fletcher, his great eyebrows overhanging
his eyes like a mustache grown out of place. "Well, you didn't
hear anything to tickle your ears, I reckon. I've been having a
row with that cantankerous fool, Blake. The queer thing about
these people is that they seem to think I'm to blame every time
they see a spot on their tablecloths. Mark my words, it ain't
been two years since I found that nigger Boaz digging in my
asparagus bed, and he told me he was looking for some shoots for
ole miss's dinner."
"The property idea is very strong in these rural counties, you
see," remarked the lawyer gravely. "They feel that every year
adds a value to the hereditary possession of land, and that when
an estate has borne a single name for a century there has been a
veritable impress placed upon it. Your asparagus bed is merely an
item; you find, I fancy, other instances."
Fletcher turned in his chair.
"That's the whole blamed rotten truth," he admitted, waving his
great red hand toward the door; "but let's have supper first and
settle down to talk on a full stomach. Thar's no hurry with all
night before us, and that, to come to facts, is why I sent for
you. No lawyer's office for me when I want to talk business, but
an easy-chair by my own table and a cup of coffee beforehand."
As he finished, a bell jangled in the hall, and the door opened
to admit the girl whom Carraway had seen a little earlier upon
"Supper's a good hour late, Maria," grumbled Fletcher, looking at
his heavy silver watch, "and I smelt the bacon frying at six
For an instant the girl looked as if she had more than half an
intention to slap his face; then quickly recovering her
self-possession, she smiled at Carraway and held out a small
white hand with an air of quiet elegance which was the most
noticeable thing in her appearance.
"I am quite a stranger to you, Mr. Carraway," she said, with a
laugh, "but if you had only known it, I had a doll named after
you when I was very small. Guy Carraway!--it seemed to me all
that was needed to make a fairy tale."
The lawyer joined in her laugh, which never rose above a
carefully modulated minor. "I confess that I once took the same
view of it, my dear young lady," he returned, "so I ended by
dropping the name and keeping only the initial. Your grandfather
will tell you that I am now G. Carraway and nothing more. I
couldn't afford, as things were, to make a fairy tale of my life,
"Oh, if one only could!" said the girl, lowering her full dark
eyes, which gave a piteous lie to her sullen mouth.
She was artificial, Carraway told himself with emphasis, and yet
the distinction of manner--the elegance--was certainly the point
at which her training had not failed. He felt it in her tall,
straight figure, absurdly overdressed for a granddaughter of
Fletcher's; in her smooth white hands, with their finely polished
nails; in her pale, repressed face, which he called plain while
admitting that it might become interesting; in her shapely head
even with its heavy cable of coal-black hair.
What she was her education had made of her--the look of serene
distinction, the repose of her thin-featured, colourless face,
refined beyond the point of prettiness--these things her training
had given her, and these were the things which Carraway, with his
old-fashioned loyalty to a strong class prejudice, found himself
almost resenting. Bill Fletcher's granddaughter had, he felt, no
right to this rare security of breeding which revealed itself in
every graceful fold of the dress she wore, for with Fletcher an
honest man she would have been, perhaps, but one of the sallow,
over-driven drudges who stare like helpless effigies from the
little tumbledown cabins along country roadsides.
Fletcher, meanwhile, had filled in the pause with one of his
sudden burly dashes into speech.
"Maria has been so long at her high-and-mighty boarding-school,"
he said, "that I reckon her head's as full of fancies as a cheese
is of maggots. She's even got a notion that she wants to turn out
all this new stuff--to haul the old rubbish back again but I say
wait till the boy comes on--then we'll see, we'll see."
"And in the meantime we'll go in to supper," put in the girl with
a kind of hopeless patience, though Carraway could see that she
smarted as from a blow. "This is Will, Mr. Carraway," she added
almost gaily, skillfully sweeping her train from about the feet
a pretty, undersized boy of fourteen years, who had burst into
the room with his mouth full of bread and jam. "He's quite the
pride of the family, you know, because he's just taken all the
honours of his school."
"History, 'rithmatic, Latin--all the languages," rolled out
Fletcher in a voice that sounded like a tattoo. "I can't keep up
with 'em, but they're all thar, ain't they, sonny?"
"Oh, you could never say 'em off straight, grandpa," retorted the
boy, with the pertness of a spoiled girl, at which, to Carraway's
surprise, Fletcher fairly chuckled with delight.
"That's so; I'm a plain man, the Lord knows," he admitted, his
coarse face crinkling like a sundried leaf of tobacco.
"We've got chickens for supper--broiled," the boy chattered on,
putting out his tongue at his sister; "that's why Lindy's havin'
it an hour late she's been picking 'em, with Aunt Mehitable
helping her for the feathers. Now don't shake your head at me,
Maria, because it's no use pretending we have 'em every night,
like old Mrs. Blake."
"Bless my soul!" gasped Fletcher, nettled by the last remark. "Do
you mean to tell me those Blakes are fools enough to eat spring
chicken when they could get forty cents apiece for 'em in the
"The old lady does," corrected the boy glibly. "The one who wears
the queer lace cap and sits in the big chair by the hearth all
day--and all night, too, Tommy Spade says, 'cause he peeped
through once at midnight and she was still there, sitting so
stiff that it scared him and he ran away. Well, Aunt Mehitable
sold her a dozen, and she got a side of bacon and a bag of meal."
"Grandfather, you've forgotten Aunt Saidie," broke in Maria, as
Fletcher was about to begin his grace without waiting for a dumpy
little woman, in purple calico, who waddled with an embarrassed
air from her hasty preparations in the pantry. At first Carraway
had mistaken her for an upper servant, but as she came forward
Maria laid her hand playfully upon her arm and introduced her
with a sad little gaiety of manner. "I believe she has met one of
your sisters in Fredericksburg," she added, after a moment.
Clearly she had determined to accept the family in the lump, with
a resolution that--had it borne less resemblance to a passive
rage could not have failed to glorify a nobler martyrdom. It was
not affection that fortified her--beyond her first gently
tolerant glance at the boy there had been only indifference in
her pale, composed face--and the lawyer was at last brought to
the surprising conclusion that Fletcher's granddaughter was
seeking to build herself a fetish of the mere idle bond of blood.
The hopeless gallantry of the girl moved him to a vague feeling
of pity, and he spoke presently with a chivalrous desire of
making her failure easy.
"It was Susan, I think," he said pleasantly, shaking hands with
the squat little figure in front of him, "I remember her speaking
of it afterward."
"I met her at a church festival one Christmas Eve," responded
Aunt Saidie, in a high-pitched, rasping voice. "The same evening
that I got this pink crocheted nuby." She touched a small pointed
shawl about her shoulders. "Miss Belinda Beale worked it and it
was raffled off for ten cents a chance."
Her large, plump face, overflushed about the nose, had a natural
kindliness of expression which Carraway found almost appealing;
and he concluded that as a girl she might have possessed a common
prettiness of feature. Above her clear blue eyes a widening
parting divided her tightly crimped bands of hair, which still
showed a bright chestnut tint in the gray ripples.
"Thar, thar, Saidie," Fletcher interrupted with a frank
brutality, which the lawyer found more repelling than the memory
of his stolen fortune. "Mr. Carraway doesn't want to hear about
your fascinator. He'd a long ways rather have you make his
The little woman flushed purple and drew back her chair with an
ugly noise from the head of the lavishly spread table.
"Set down right thar, suh," she stammered, her poor little
pretense of ease gone from her, "right thar between Brother Bill
"You did say it, Aunt Saidie, I told you you would," screamed the
pert boy, beginning an assault upon an enormous dish of
Maria flinched visibly. "Be silent, Will," she ordered.
"Grandfather, you must really make Will learn to be polite."
"Now, now, Maria, you're too hard on us," protested Fletcher,
flinging himself bodily into the breach, "boys will be boys, you
know--they warn't born gals."
"But she did say it, Maria," insisted the boy, "and she bet me a
whole dish of doughnuts she wouldn't. She did say 'set'; I heard
her." Maria bit her lip, and her flashing eyes filled with angry
tears, while Carraway, as he began talking hurriedly about the
promise of tobacco, resisted valiantly an impulse to kick the
pretty boy beneath the table. As his eyes traveled about the
fine old room, marking its mellow wainscoting and the whitened
silver handles on the heavy doors, he found himself wondering
with implacable approval if this might not be the beginning of a
The boy's mood had varied at the sight of his sister's tears, and
he fell to patting penitently the hand that quivered on the
table. "You needn't give me the doughnuts, Aunt Saidie; I'll make
believe you didn't say it," he whispered at last.
"Do you take sugar, Mr. Carraway?" asked Miss Saidie, flushed and
tremulous at the head of the overcrowded table, with its massive
modern silver service. Poor little woman, thought the lawyer,
with his first positive feeling of sympathy, she would have been
happier frying her own bacon amid bouncing children in a
labourer's cabin. He leaned toward her, speaking with a grave
courtesy, which she met with the frightened, questioning eyes of
a child. She was "quite too hopeless," he reluctantly admitted
--yet, despite himself, he felt a sudden stir of honest human
tenderness--the tenderness he had certainly not felt for
Fletcher, nor for the pretty, pert boy, nor even for the elegant
"I was looking out at the dear old garden awhile ago," he said,
"and I gathered from it that you must be fond of flowers--since
your niece tells me she has been away so long."
She brightened into animation, her broad, capable hands fumbling
with the big green-and-gold teacups.
"Yes, I raise 'em," she answered. "Did you happen to notice the
bed of heartsease? I worked every inch of that myself last
spring--and now I'm planting zinnias, and touch-me-nots, and
sweet-williams they'll all come along later."
"And prince's-feather," added the lawyer, reminiscently; "that
used to be a favourite of mine, I remember, when I was a country
"I've got a whole border of 'em out at the back large, fine
plants, too--but Maria wants to root 'em up. She says they're
vulgar because they grow in all the niggers' yards."
"Vulgar!" So this was the measure of Maria, Carraway told
himself, as he fell into his pleasant ridicule. "Why, if God
Almighty ever created a vulgar flower, my dear young lady, I have
yet to see it."
"But don't you think it just a little gaudy for a lawn,"
suggested the girl, easily stung to the defensive.
"It looks cheerful and I like it," insisted Aunt Saidie,
emboldened by a rare feeling of support. "Ma used to have two big
green tubs of it on either side the front door when we were
children, and we used to stick it in our hats and play we was
real fine folks. Don't you recollect it, Brother Bill?"
"Good Lord, Saidie, the things you do recollect!" exclaimed
Fletcher, who, beneath the agonised eyes of Maria, was drinking
his coffee from his saucer in great spluttering gulps.
The girl was in absolute torture: this Carraway saw in the white,
strained, nervous intensity of her look; yet the knowledge served
only to irritate him, so futile appeared any attempt to soften
the effect of Fletcher's grossness. Before the man's colossal
vulgarity of soul, mere brutishness of manner seemed but a
CHAPTER IV. Of Human Nature in the Raw State
When at last the pickles and preserved watermelon rind had been
presented with a finishing flourish, and Carraway had
successfully resisted Miss Saidie's final passionate insistence
in the matter of the big blackberry roll before her, Fletcher
noisily pushed back his chair, and, with a careless jerk of his
thumb in the direction of his guest, stamped across the hall into
the family sitting-room.
"Now we'll make ourselves easy and fall to threshing things out,"
he remarked, filling a blackened brier-root pipe, into the bowl
of which he packed the tobacco with his stubby forefinger. "Yes,
I'm a lover of the weed, you see--don't you smoke or chaw, suh?"
Carraway shook his head. "When I was young and wanted to I
couldn't," he explained, "and now that I am old and can I have
unfortunately ceased to want to. I've passed the time of life
when a man begins a habit merely for the sake of its being a
"Well, I reckon you're wise as things go, though for my part I
believe I took to the weed before I did to my mother's breast. I
cut my first tooth on a plug, she used to say."
He threw himself into a capacious cretonne-covered chair, and,
kicking his carpet slippers from him, sat swinging one massive
foot in its gray yarn sock. Through the thickening smoke Carraway
watched the complacency settle over his great hairy face.
"And now, to begin with the beginning, what do you think of my
grandchildren?" he demanded abruptly, taking his pipe from his
mouth after a long, sucking breath, and leaning forward with his
elbow on the arm of his chair.
The other hesitated. "You've done well by them, I should say."
"A fine pair, eh?"
"The admission is easy."
"Look at the gal, now," burst out Fletcher impulsively. "Would
you fancy, to see her stepping by, that her grandfather used to
crack the whip over a lot of dirty niggers?" He drove the fact in
squarely with big, sure blows of his fist, surveying it with an
enthusiasm the other found amazing. "Would you fancy, even," he
continued after a moment, "that her father warn't as good as I
am--that he left overseeing to jine the army, and came out to
turn blacksmith if I hadn't kept him till he drank himself to
death? His wife? Why, the woman couldn't read her own name unless
you printed it in letters as long as your finger--and now jest
turn and look at Maria!" he wound up in a puff of smoke.
"The girl's wonderful," admitted Carraway. "She's like a
dressed-up doll-baby, too; all the natural thing has been
squeezed out of her, and she's stuffed with sawdust."
"It's a pity she ain't a little better looking in the face,"
pursued Fletcher, waving the criticism aside. "She's a plagued
sight too pale and squinched-up for my taste--for all her fine
air. I like 'em red and juicy, and though you won't believe me,
most likely she can't hold a tallow candle to what Saidie was
when she was young. But then, Saidie never had her chance, and
Maria's had 'em doubled over. Why, she left home as soon as she'd
done sucking, and she hasn't spent a single summer here since she
was eight years old. Small thanks I'll get for it, I reckon, but
I've done a fair turn by Maria."
"The boy comes next, I suppose?" Carraway broke in, watching the
other's face broaden into a big, purple smile.
"Ah, thar you're right--it's the boy I've got my eye on now. His
name's the same as mine, you know, and I reckon one day William
Fletcher'll make his mark among the quality. He'll have it all,
too--the house, the land, everything, except a share of the money
which goes to the gal. It'll make her childbearing easier, I
reckon, and for my part, that's the only thing a woman's fit for.
Don't talk to me about a childless woman! Why, I'd as soon keep a
cow that wouldn't calve.
"You were speaking of the boy, I believe," coolly interrupted
Carraway. To a man of his old-fashioned chivalric ideal the
brutal allusion to the girl was like a deliberate blow in the
"So I was--so I was. Well, he's to have it all, I say--every
mite, and welcome. I've had a pretty tough life in my time--you
can tell it from my hands, suh--but I ain't begrudging it if it
leaves the boy a bit better off. Lord, thar's many and many a
night,when I was little and my stepfather kicked me out of doors
without a bite, that I used to steal into somebody or other's
cow-shed and snuggle for warmth into the straw--yes, and suck the
udders of the cows for food, too. Oh, I've had a hard enough
life, for all the way it looks now--and I'm not saying that if
the choice was mine I'd go over it agin even as it stands to-day.
We're set here for better or for worse, that's my way of
thinking, and if thar's any harm comes of it Providence has got
to take a share of the blame."
"Hardly the preacher's view of the matter, is it?"
"Maybe not; and I ain't got a quarrel with 'em, the Lord knows. I
go to church like clockwork, and pay my pew-rent, too, which is
more than some do that gabble the most about salvation. If I pay
for the preacher's keep it's only fair that I should get some of
the good that comes to him hereafter; that's how it looks to me;
so I don't trouble my head much about the ins and the outs of
getting saved or damned. I've never puled in this world, thank
God, and let come what will, I ain't going to begin puling in the
next. But to go back to whar I started from, it all makes in the
end for that pretty little chap over yonder in the dining-room.
Rather puny for his years now, but as sound as a nut, and he'll
grow, he'll grow. When his mother--poor, worthless drab--gave
birth to him and died, I told her it was the best day's work
she'd ever done."
Carraway's humour rippled over. "It's easy to imagine what her
answer must have been to such a pleasantry," he observed.
"Oh, she was a fool, that woman--a born fool!
Her answer was that it would be the best day for her only when I
came to call it the worst. She hated me a long sight more than
she hated the devil, and if she was to rise out of her grave
to-day she'd probably start right in scrubbing for those darned
"Ah!" said Carraway.
"It's the plain truth, but I don't visit it on the little lad.
Why should I? He's got my name--I saw to that--and mark my word,
he'll grow up yet to marry among the quality."
The secret was out at last--Fletcher's purpose was disclosed, and
even in the strong light of his past misdeeds it showed not
without a hint of pathos. The very renouncement of any personal
ambition served to invest the racial one with a kind of grandeur.
"There's evidently an enviable career before him," said the
lawyer at the end of a long pause, "and this brings me, by the
way, to the question I wish to as--had your desire to see me any
connection with the prospects of your grandson?"
"In a way, yes; though, to tell the truth, it has more to do with
that young Blake's. He's been bothering me a good deal of late,
and I mean to have it square with him before Bill Fletcher's a
"No difficulty about your title to the estate, I presume?"
"Oh, Lord, no; that's all fair and square, suh. I bought the
place, you know, when it went at auction jest a few years after
the war. I bought and paid for it right down, and that settled
things for good and all."
Carraway considered the fact for a moment. "If I remember
correctly--I mean unless gossip went very far afield--the place
brought exactly seven thousand dollars." His gaze plunged into
the moonlight beyond the open window and followed the clear sweep
of the distant fields. "Seven thousand dollars," he added softly;
"and there's not a finer in Virginia."
"Thar was nobody to bid agin me, you see," explained Fletcher
easily. "The old gentleman was as poor as Job's turkey then,
besides going doty mighty fast."
"The common report was, I believe," pursued the lawyer, "that the
old man himself did not know of the place being for sale until he
heard the auctioneer's hammer on the lawn, and that his mind left
him from the moment--this was, of course, mere idle talk."
"Oh, you'll hear anything," snorted Fletcher. "The old gentleman
hadn't a red copper to his name, and if he couldn't pay the
mortgages, how under heaven could he have bought in the place? As
a plain man I put the question."
"But his friends? Where were his friends, I wonder? In his youth
he was one of the most popular men in the State--a high liver and
good toaster, you remember--and later on he stood well in the
Confederate Government. That he should have fallen into abject
poverty seems really incomprehensible."
Fletcher twisted in his chair. "Why, that was jest three years
after the war, I tell you," he said with irritable emphasis; "he
hadn't a friend this side of Jordan, I reckon, who could have
raised fifty cents to save his soul. The quality were as bad off
as thar own niggers.
"True--true," admitted Carraway; "but the surprising thing is--I
don't hesitate to say--that you who had been overseer to the
Blakes for twenty years should have been able in those destitute
times and on the spot, as it were, to put down seven thousand
He faced the fact unflinchingly, dragging it from the long
obscurity full into the red glare of the lamplight. Here was the
main thing, he knew, in Fletcher's history--here was the supreme
offense. For twenty years the man had been the trusted servant of
his feeble employer, and when the final crash came he had risen
with full hands from the wreck. The prodigal Blakes--burning the
candle at both ends, people said--had squandered a double fortune
before the war, and in an equally stupendous fashion Fletcher had
"Oh, thar're ways and ways of putting by a penny," he now
protested, "and I turned over a bit during the war, I may as well
own up, though folks had only black looks for speculators then."
"We used to call them 'bloodsuckers,' I remember."
"Well, that's neither here nor thar, suh. When the place went for
seven thousand I paid it down, and I've managed one way and
another--and in spite of the pesky niggers--to make a pretty bit
out of the tobacco crop, hard as times have been. The Hall is
mine now, thar's no going agin that, and, so help me God, it'll
belong to a William Fletcher long after I am dead."
"Ah, that brings us directly to the point."
Fletcher squared himself about in his chair while his pipe went
"The point, if you'll have it straight," he said, "is jest
this--I want the whole place--every inch of it--and I'll die or
git it, as sure's my name's my own. Thar's still that old frame
house and the piece of land tacked to it, whar the overseers used
to live, cutting straight into the heart of my tobacco fields--in
clear view of the Hall, too--right in the middle of my land, I
"Oh, I see--I see," muttered Carraway; "that's the little farm in
the midst of the estate which the old gentleman--bless his weak
head and strong heart gave his wife's brother, Colonel Corbin,
who came back crippled from the war. Yes, I remember now, there
was a joke at the time about his saying that land was the
cheapest present he could give."
"It was all his besotted foolishness, you know to think of a sane
man deeding away seventy acres right in the heart of his tract of
two thousand. He meant it for a joke, of course. Mr. Tucker or
Colonel Corbin, if you choose, was like one of the family, but he
was as sensitive as a kid about his wounds, and he wanted to live
off somewhar, shut up by himself. Well, he's got enough folks
about him now, the Lord knows. Thar's the old lady, and the two
gals, and Mr. Christopher, to say nothing of Uncle Boaz and a
whole troop of worthless niggers that are eating him out of house
and home. Tom Spade has a deed of trust on the place for three
hundred dollars; he told me so himself."
"So I understand; and all this is a serious inconvenience to you,
I may suppose."
"Inconvenience! Blood and thunder! It takes the heart right out
of my land, I tell you. Why, the very road I cut to save myself
half a mile of mudholes came to a dead stop because Mr.
Christopher wouldn't let it cross his blamed pasture."
Carraway thoughtfully regarded his finger nails. "Then, bless my
soul!--seeing it's your private affair--what are you going to do
about it?" he inquired.
"Git it. The devil knows how--I don't; but git it I will. I
brought you down here to talk those fools over, and I mean you to
do it. It's all spite, pure, rotten spite; that's what it is.
Look here, I'll gladly give 'em three thousand dollars for that
strip of land, and it wouldn't bring nine hundred, on my oath!"
"Have you made the offer?"
"Made it? Why, if I set foot on the tip edge of that land I'd
have every lean hound in the pack snapping at my heels. As for
that young rascal, he'd knock me down if I so much as scented the
He rapped his pipe sharply on the wood of his chair and a little
pile of ashes settled upon the floor. With a laugh, the other
waved his hand in protest.
"So you prefer to make the proposition by proxy. My dear sir--I'm
not a rubber ball."
"Oh, he won't hurt you. It would spoil the sport to punch
anybody's head but mine, you know. Come, now, isn't it a fair
offer I'm making?"
"It appears so, certainly--and I really do not see why he should
wish to hold the place. It isn't worth much, I fancy, to anybody
but the owner of the Hall, and with the three thousand clear he
could probably get a much better one at a little distance--with
the additional value of putting a few square miles between
himself and you--whom, I may presume, he doesn't love."
"Oh, you may presume he hates me if you'll only work it," snorted
Fletcher. "Go over thar boldly--no slinking, mind you--to-morrow
morning, and talk them into reason. Lord, man, you ought to be
able to do it--don't you know Greek?"
Carraway nodded. "Not that it ever availed me much in an
argument," he confessed frankly.
"It's a good thing to stop a mouth with, anyway. Thar's many and
many a time, I tell you, I've lost a bargain for the lack of a
few rags of Latin or Greek. Drag it in; stuff it down 'em; gag
thar mouths--it's better than all the swearing under heaven. Why,
taking the Lord's name in vain ain't nothing to a line of poetry
spurted of a sudden in one of them dead-and-gone languages. It's
been done at me, suh, and I know how it works--that's why I've
put the boy upstairs on 'em from the start. 'Tain't much matter
whether he goes far in his own tongue or not, that's what I said,
but dose him well with something his neighbours haven't learnt."
He rose with a lurch, laid his pipe on the mantel, and drew out
his big silver watch.
"Great Jehosaphat! it's eleven and after," he exclaimed. "Well,
it's time for us to turn in, I reckon, and dream of breakfast. If
you'll hold the lamp while I bolt up, I'll show you to your
Carraway picked up the lamp, and, cautiously following his host
into the darkened hall, waited until he had fastened the
night-chains and shot the heavy bolts.
"If you want a drink of water thar's a bucket in the porch," said
Fletcher, as he opened the back door and reached out into the
moonlight. "Wait thar a second and I'll hand you the dipper."
He stepped out upon the porch, and a moment later Carraway heard
a heavy stumble followed by a muttered oath.
"Why, blast the varmints! I've upset the boy's cage of white mice
and they're skedaddling about my legs. Here! hold the lamp, will
you--I'm squashing a couple of 'em under each of my hands."
Carraway, leaning out with the lamp, which drew a brilliant
circle on the porch, saw Fletcher floundering helplessly upon his
hands and knees in the midst of the fleeing family of mice.
"They're a plagued mess of beasts, that's what they are," he
exclaimed, "but the little lad sets a heap of store by 'em, and
when he comes down tomorrow he'll find that I got some of 'em
He fastened the cage and placed it carefully beneath the bench.
Then, closing and bolting the door, he took the lamp from
Carraway and motioned him up the dusky staircase to the spare
chamber at the top.
CHAPTER V. The Wreck of the Blakes
When Christopher left Blake Hall, he swung vigorously in the
twilight across the newly ploughed fields, until, at the end of a
few minutes' walk, he reached the sunken road that branched off
by the abandoned ice-pond. Here the bullfrogs were still croaking
hoarsely, and far away over the gray-green rushes a dim moon was
mounting the steep slope of bluish sky.
The air was fresh with the scent of the upturned earth, and the
closing day refined into a tranquil beauty; but the young man, as
he passed briskly, did not so much as draw a lengthened breath,
and when presently the cry of a whip-poor-will floated from the
old rail fence, he fell into a whistling mockery of the plaintive
notes. The dogs at his heels started a rabbit once from the close
cover of the underbrush, and he called them to order in a sharp,
peremptory tone. Not until he reached the long, whitewashed gate
opening before the frame house of the former overseers did he
break the easy swing of his accustomed stride.
The house, a common country dwelling of the sort used by the
poorer class of farmers, lost something of its angularity beneath
the moonlight, and even the half-dried garments, spread after the
day's washing on the bent old rose-bushes, shone in soft white
patches amid the grass, which looked thick and fine under the
heavy dew. In one corner of the yard there was a spreading
peach-tree, on which the shriveled little peaches ripened out of
season, and against the narrow porch sprawled a gray and crippled
aspen, where a flock of turkeys had settled to roost along its
In one of the lower rooms a lamp was burning, and as Christopher
crunched heavily along the pebbled path, a woman with a piece of
sewing in her hand came into the hall and spoke his name.
"Christopher, you are late."
Her voice was deep and musical, with a richness of volume which
raised deluding hopes of an impassioned beauty in the
speaker--who, as she crossed the illumined square of the
window-frame, showed as a tall, thin woman of forty years, with
squinting eyes, and a face whose misshapen features stood out
like the hasty drawing for a grotesque. When she reached him
Christopher turned from the porch, and they walked together
slowly out into the moonlight, passing under the aspen where the
turkeys stirred and fluttered in their sleep.
"Has her cat come home, Cynthia?" were the young man's first
"About sunset. Uncle Boaz found her over at Aunt Daphne's,
hunting mice under the joists. Mother had fretted terribly over
"Is she easier now?"
"Much more so, but she still asks for the port. We pretend that
Uncle Boaz has mislaid the key of the wine-cellar. She upbraided
him, and he bore it so patiently, poor old soul!"
Christopher quickly reached into the deep pocket of his overalls
and drew out the scanty wages of his last three days' labour.
"Send this by somebody down to Tompkins," he said, "and get the
wine he ordered. He refuses to sell on credit any longer, so I
had to find the money."
She looked up, startled.
"Oh, Christopher, you have worked for Fletcher?"
Tears shone in her eyes and her mouth quivered. "Oh,
Christopher!" she repeated, and the emotional quality in her
voice rang strong and true. He fell back, angered, while the hand
she had stretched out dropped limply to her side.
"For God's sake, don't snivel," he retorted harshly. "Send the
money and give her the wine, but dole it out like a miser, for
where the next will come from is more than I can tell."
"The pay for my sewing is due in three days," said Cynthia,
raising her roughened hand on which the needle-scars showed even
in the moonlight. "Mother has worried so to-day that I couldn't
work except at odd moments, but I can easily manage to sit up
to-night and get it done. She thinks I'm embroidering an ottoman,
you see, and this evening she asked to feel the silks."
He uttered a savage exclamation.
"Oh, I gave her some ravellings from an old tidy," she hastened
to assure him. "She played with them awhile and knew no better,
as I told her the colours one by one. Afterward she planned all
kinds of samplers and fire-screens that I might work. Her own
knitting has wearied her of late, so we haven't been obliged to
buy the yarn."
"She doesn't suspect, you think?"
Cynthia shook her head. "After fifteen years of deception there's
no danger of my telling the truth to-day. I only wish I could,"
she added, with that patient dignity which is the outward
expression of complete renouncement. When she lifted her tragic
face the tears on her cheeks softened the painful hollows, as the
moonbeams, playing over her gown of patched and faded silk,
revived for a moment the freshness of its discoloured flowers.
"The truth would be the death of her," said the young man, in a
bitter passion of anxiety. "Tell her that Fletcher owns the Hall,
and that for fifteen years she has lived, blind and paralysed, in
the overseer's house! Why, I'd rather stick a knife into her
"Her terrible pride would kill her--yes, you're right. We'll keep
it up to the end at any cost."
He turned to her with a sudden terror in his face. "She isn't
worse, is she?"
"Worse? Oh, no; I only meant the cost to us, the cost of never
speaking the truth within the house."
"Well, I'm not afraid of lying, God knows," he answered, in the
tone of one from whom a burden has been removed. "I'm only
wondering how much longer I'll be able to afford the luxury."
"But we're no worse off than usual, that's one comfort. Mother is
quite happy now since Beulah has been found, and the only added
worry is that Aunt Dinah is laid up in her cabin and we've had to
send her soup. Uncle Isam has come to see you, by the way. I
believe he wants you to give him some advice about his little hut
up in the woods, and to look up his birth in the servants'
age-book, too. He lives five miles away, you know, and works
across the river at Farrar's Mills."
"Uncle Isam!" exclaimed Christopher, wonderingly; "why, what do I
know about the man? I haven't laid eyes on him for the last ten
"But he wants help now, so of course he's come to you, and as
he's walked all the distance--equally of course--he'll stay to
supper. Mother has her young chicken, and there's bacon and
cornbread for the rest of us, so I hope the poor man won't go
back hungry. Ever since Aunt Polly's chimney blew down she has
had to fry the middling in the kitchen, and mother complains so
of the smell. She can't understand why we have it three times a
day, and when I told her that Uncle Tucker acquired the habit in
the army, she remarked that it was very inconsiderate of him to
insist upon gratifying so extraordinary a taste."
Christopher laughed shortly.
"Well, it's a muck of a world," he declared cheerfully, taking
off his coarse harvest hat and running his hand through his
clustering fair hair. In the mellow light the almost brutal
strength of his jaw was softened, and his sunburned face paled to
the beauty of some ancient ivory carving. Cynthia, gazing up at
him, caught her breath with a sob.
"How big you are, and strong! How fit for any life in the world
"Don't whimper," he responded roughly, adding, after a moment,
"Precious fit for anything but the stable or the tobacco field!
Why, I couldn't so much as write a decently spelled letter to
save my soul. A darky asked me yesterday to read a postbill for
him down at the store, and I had to skip a big word in the first
He made his confession defiantly, with a certain boorish pride in
his ignorance and his degradation.
"My dear, my dear, I wanted to teach you--I will teach you now.
We will read together."
"And let mother and Uncle Tucker plough the field, and plant the
crop, and cut the wood. No, it won't answer; your learning would
do me no good, and I don't want it--I told you that when you
first took me from my study and put me to do all the chores upon
"I take you! Oh, Christopher, what could we do? Uncle Tucker was
a hopeless cripple, there wasn't a servant strong enough to spade
the garden, and there were only Lila and you and I."
"And I was ten. Well, I'm not blaming you, and I've done what I
was forced to--but keep your confounded books out of my sight,
that's all I ask. Is that mother calling?"
Cynthia bent her ear. "I thought Lila was with her, but I'll go
at once. Be sure to change your clothes, dear, before she touches
"Hadn't I better chop a little kindling-wood before supper?"
"No--no, not to-night. Go and dress, while I send Uncle Boaz for
She entered the house with a hurried step, and Christopher, after
an instant's hesitation, passed to the back, and, taking off his
clumsy boots, crept softly up the creaking staircase to his
little garret room in the loft.
Ten minutes later he came down again, wearing a decent suit of
country-made clothes, with the dust washed from his face, and his
hair smoothly brushed across his forehead. In the front hall he
took a white rosebud from a little vase of Bohemian glass and
pinned it carefully in the lapel of his coat. Then, before
entering, he stood for a moment silent upon the threshold of the
In a massive Elizabethan chair of blackened oak a stately old
lady was sitting straight and stiff, with her useless legs
stretched out upon an elaborately embroidered ottoman. She wore a
dress of rich black brocade, made very full in the skirt, and
sleeves after an earlier fashion, and her beautiful snow-white
hair was piled over a high cushion and ornamented by a cap of
fine thread lace. In her face, which she turned at the first
footstep with a pitiable, blind look, there were the faint traces
of a proud, though almost extinguished, beauty--traces which were
visible in the impetuous flash of her sightless eyes, in the
noble arch of her brows, and in the transparent quality of her
now yellowed skin, which still kept the look of rare porcelain
held against the sunlight. On a dainty, rose-decked tray beside
her chair there were the half of a broiled chicken, a thin glass
of port, and a plate of buttered waffles; and near her high
footstool a big yellow cat was busily lapping a saucer of new
As Christopher went up to her, she stretched out her hand and
touched his face with her sensitive fingers. "Oh, if I could only
see you," she said, a little peevishly. "It is twenty years since
I looked at you, and now you are taller than your father was, you
say. I can feel that your hair is light, like his and like
Lila's, too, since you are twins."
A pretty, fragile woman, who was wrapping a shawl about the old
lady's feet, rose to her full height and passed behind the
Elizabethan chair." Just a shade lighter than mine, mother," she
responded; "the sun makes a difference, you know; he is in the
sun so much without a hat." As she stood with her delicate hands
clasped above the fancifully carved grotesques upon the
chair-back, her beauty shone like a lamp against the
"Ah, if you could but have seen his father when he was young,
Lila," sighed her mother, falling into one of the easy reveries
of old age. "I met him at a fancy ball, you know, where he went
as Achilles in full Grecian dress. Oh! the sight he was, my dear,
one of the few fair men among us, and taller even than old
Colonel Fitzhugh, who was considered one of the finest figures of
his time. That was a wild night for me, Christopher, as I've told
you often before--it was love at first sight on both sides, and
so marked were your father's attentions that they were the talk
of the ball. Edward Morris--the greatest wit of his day, you
know--remarked at supper that the weak point of Achilles was
proved at last to be not his heel, but his heart."
She laughed with pleasure at the memory, and returned in a
half-hearted fashion to her plate of buttered waffles. "Have you
been riding again, Christopher?" she asked after a moment, as if
remembering a grievance. "I haven't had so much as a word from
you to-day, but when one is chained to a chair like this it is
useless to ask even to be thought of amid your pleasures."
"I always think of you, mother."
"Well, I'm glad to hear it, my dear, though I'm sure I should
never imagine that you do. Have you heard, by the way, that Boaz
lost the key of the winecellar, and that I had to go two whole
days without my port? I declare, he is getting so careless that
I'm afraid we'll have to put another butler over him."
"Lawd, ole miss, you ain' gwine do dat, is you?" anxiously
questioned Uncle Boaz as he filled her glass.
She lifted the wine to her lips, her stern face softening. Like
many a high-spirited woman doomed to perpetual inaction, her
dominion over her servants had grown to represent the larger
share of life.
"Then be more careful in future, Boaz," she cautioned. "Tell me,
Lila, what has become of Nathan, the son of Phyllis? He used to
be a very bright little darkey twenty years ago, and I always
intended putting him in the dining-room, but things escape me so.
His mother, Phyllis, I remember, got some ridiculous idea about
freedom in her head, and ran away with the Yankee soldiers before
we whipped them."
Lila's face flushed, for since the war Nathan had grown into one
of the most respectable of freedmen, but Uncle Boaz, with a glib
tongue, started valiantly to her support.
"Go 'way, ole miss; dat ar Natan is de mos' ornery un er de hull
bunch," he declared. "Wen he comes inter my dinin'-'oom, out I'se
gwine, an' days sho."
The old lady passed a hand slowly across her brow. "I can't
remember--I can't remember," she murmured; "but I dare say you're
right, Boaz--and that reminds me that this bottle of port is not
so good as the last. Have you tried it, Christopher?"
"Not yet, mother. Where did you find it, Uncle Boaz?"
"Hit's des de same, suh," protested Uncle Boaz. "Dey wuz bofe un
um layin' right side by side, des like dey 'uz bo'n blood kin, en
I done dus' de cobwebs off'n um wid de same duster, dat I is."
"Well, well, that will do. Now go in to supper, children, and
send Docia to take my tray. Dear me, I do wish that Tucker could
be persuaded to give up that vulgar bacon. I'm not so
unreasonable, I hope, as to expect a man to make any sacrifices
in this world--that's the woman's part, and I've tried to take my
share of it--but to conceive of a passion for a thing like
bacon--I declare is quite beyond me."
"Come, now, Lucy, don't begin to meddle with my whims," protested
the cheerful tones of Tucker, as he entered on his crutches, one
of which was strapped to the stump of his right arm. "Allow me my
dissipations, my dear, and I'll not interfere with yours."
"Dissipations!" promptly took up the old lady, from the hearth.
"Why, if it were such a gentlemanly thing as a dissipation,
Tucker, I shouldn't say a word--not a single word. A taste for
wine is entirely proper, I'm sure, and even a little intoxication
is permissible on occasions--such as christenings, weddings, and
Christmas Eve gatherings. Your father used to say, Christopher,
that the proof of a gentleman was in the way he held his wine.
But to fall a deliberate victim to so low-born a vice as a love
of bacon is something that no member of our family has ever done
"That's true, Lucy," pleasantly assented Tucker; "but then, you
see, no member of our family had ever fought three years for his
State--to say nothing of losing a leg and an arm in her service."
His fine face was ploughed with the marks of suffering, but the
heartiness had not left his voice, and his smile still shone
bright and strong. From a proud position as the straightest shot
and the gayest liver of his day, he had been reduced at a single
blow to the couch of a hopeless cripple. Poverty had come a
little later, but the second shock had only served to steady his
nerves from the vibration of the first, and the courage which had
drooped within him for a time was revived in the form of a rare
and gentle humour. Nothing was so terrible but Tucker could get a
laugh out of it, people said--not knowing that since he had
learned to smile at his own ghastly failure it was an easy matter
to turn the jest on universal joy or woe.
The old lady's humour melted at his words, and she hastened to
offer proof of her contrition. "You're perfectly right, brother,"
she said; "and I know I'm an ungrateful creature, so you needn't
take the trouble to tell me. As long as you do me the honour to
live beneath my roof, you shall eat the whole hog or none to your
Then, as Docia, a large black woman, with brass hoops in her
ears, appeared to bear away the supper tray, Mrs. Blake folded
her hands and settled herself for a nap upon her cushions, while
the yellow cat purred blissfully on her knees.
Beyond the adjoining bedroom, through which Christopher passed, a
rude plank platform led to a long, unceiled room which served as
kitchen and dining-room in one. Here a cheerful blaze made merry
about an ancient crane, on which a coffeeboiler swung slowly back
and forth with a bubbling noise. In the red firelight a plain
pine table was spread with a scant supper of cornbread and bacon
and a cracked Wedgewood pitcher filled with buttermilk. There was
no silver; the china consisted of some odd, broken pieces of old
willow-ware; and beyond a bunch of damask roses stuck in a quaint
glass vase, there was no visible attempt to lighten the effect of
extreme poverty. An aged Negress, in a dress of linsey-woolsey
which resembled a patchwork quilt, was pouring hot, thin coffee
into a row of cups with chipped or missing saucers.
Cynthia was already at the table, and when Christopher came in
she served him with an anxious haste like that of a stricken
mother. To Tucker and herself the coarse fare was unbearable even
after the custom of fifteen years, and time had not lessened the
surprise with which they watched the young man's healthful
enjoyment of his food. Even Lila, whose glowing face in its
nimbus of curls lent an almost festive air to her end of the
white pine board, ate with a heartiness which Cynthia, with her
outgrown standard for her sex, could not but find a trifle
vulgar. The elder sister had been born to a different heritage
--to one of restricted views and mincing manners for a
woman--and, despite herself, she could but drift aimlessly on the
widening current of the times.
"Christopher, will you have some coffee--it is stronger now?" she
asked presently, reaching for his emptied cup.
"Dis yer stuff ain' no cawfy," grumbled Aunt Pony, taking the
boiler from the crane; "hit ain' nuttin' but dishwater, I don'
cyar who done made hit." Then, as the door opened to admit Uncle
Isam with a bucket from the spring, she divided her scorn equally
between him and the coffee-pot.
"You needn't be a-castin' er you nets into dese yer pains," she
Uncle Isam, a dried old Negro of seventy years, shambled in
patiently and placed the bucket carefully upon the stones, to be
shrilly scolded by Aunt Polly for spilling a few drops on the
floor. "I reckon you is steddyin' ter outdo Marse Noah," she
remarked with scorn.
"Howdy, Marse Christopher? Howdy, Marse Tuck?" Uncle Isam
inquired politely, as he seated himself in a low chair on the
hearth and dropped his clasped hands between his open knees.
Christopher nodded carelessly. "Glad to see you, Isam," Tucker
cordially responded. "Times have changed since you used to live
"Days so, suh, dot's so. Times dey's done change, but I
ain't--I'se des de same. Dat's de tribble wid dis yer worl'; w'en
hit change yo' fortune hit don' look ter changin' yo' skin es
"That's true; but you're doing all right, I hope?"
"I dunno, Marse Tuck," replied Uncle Isam, coughing as a sudden
spurt of smoke issued from the old stone chimney. "I dunno 'bout
dat. Times dey's right peart, but I ain't. De vittles dey's ready
ter do dar tu'n, but de belly, hit ain't."
"What--are you sick?" asked Cynthia, with interest, rising from
Uncle Isam sighed. "I'se got a tur'able peskey feelin', Miss
Cynthy, days de gospel trufe," he returned. "I dunno whur hit's
de lungs er de liver, but one un um done got moughty sassy ter de
yuther 'en he done flung de reins right loose. Hit looks pow'ful
like dey wuz gwine ter run twel dey bofe drap down daid, so I
done come all dis way atter a dose er dem bitters ole miss use
ter gin us befo' de wah."
"Well, I never!" said Cynthia, laughing. "I believe he means the
brown bitters mother used to make for chills and fever. I'm very
sorry, Uncle Isam, but we haven't any. We don't keep it any
Leaning over his gnarled palms, the old man shook his head in
"Dar ain' nuttin' like dem bitters in dese yer days," he
reflected sadly, "'caze de smell er dem use ter mos' knock you
flat 'fo' you done taste 'em, en all de way ter de belly dey use
ter keep a-wukin' fur dey livin'. Lawd! Lawd! I'se done bought de
biggest bottle er sto' stuff in de sto', en hit slid right spang
down 'fo' I got a grip er de taste er hit."
"I'll tell you how to mix it, " said Cynthia sympathetically.
"It's very easy; I know Aunt Eve can brew it."
"Go 'way, Miss Cynthy; huccome you don' know better'n dat? Dar
ain' no Eve. She's done gone."
"Gone! Is she dead?"
"Naw'm, she aint daid dat I knows--she's des gone.
Hit all come along er dem highfalutin' notions days struttin'
roun' dese days 'bout prancin' up de chu'ch aisle en bein' mah'ed
by de preacher, stedder des totin' all yo' belongin's f'om one
cabin ter anurr, en roas'in' yo' ash-cake in de same pile er
ashes. You see, me en Eve we hed done 'sperunce mah'age gwine n
fifty years, but we ain' nuver 'sperunce de ceremony twel las'
"Why, Uncle Isam, did she leave you because of that? Here, draw
up to the table and eat your supper, while I get down the
age-book and find your birth."
She reached for a dusty account book on one of the kitchen
shelves, and, bringing it to the table, began slowly turning the
yellowed leaves. For more than two hundred years the births of
all the Blake slaves had been entered in the big volume.
"You des wait, Miss Cynthy, you des wait twel I git dar,"
remonstrated Uncle Isam, as he stirred his coffee. "I ain' got no
use fur dese yer newfangle fashions, dot's wat I tell de chillun
w'en dey begin a-pesterin' me ter mah'y Eve--I ain' got no use
fur dem no way hit's put--I ain' got no use fur dis yer struttin'
up de aisle bus'ness, ner fur dis yer w'arin' er sto'-made shoes,
ner fur dis yer leavin' er de hyar unwropped, needer. Hit looks
pisonous tickly ter me, days wat I sez, but w'en dey keep up dey
naggin' day in en day out, en I carn' git shunt er um, I hop
right up en put on my Sunday bes' en go 'long wid 'em ter de
chu'ch--me en Eve bofe a-mincin' des like peacocks. 'You des pay
de preacher,' days wat I tell 'em, 'en I'se gwine do all de
mah'yin' days ter be done'; en w'en de preacher done got thoo wid
me en Eve, I stood right up in de chu'ch an axed ef dey wus any
udder nigger 'ooman es 'ud like ter do a little mah'yin'? 'Hit's
es easy ter mah'y a dozen es ter mah'y one,' I holler out."
"Oh, Uncle Isam! No wonder Aunt Eve was angry. Here we
are--'Isam, son of Docia, born August 12, 18--."
"Lawd, Miss Cynthy, 'twan' me dat mek Eve mad--twuz de preacher,
'caze atter we got back ter de cabin en eat de watermillion ter
de rin', she up en tied her bonnet on tight es a chestnut burr en
made right fur de do'. De preacher done tote 'er, she sez, dat
Eve 'uz in subjection ter her husban', en she'd let 'im see she
warn' gwine be subjected unner no man, she warn't. 'Fo' de Lawd,
Miss Cynthy, dat ar Eve sutney wuz a high-sperited 'ooman!"
"But, Uncle Isam, it was so silly. Why, she'd been married to you
already for a lifetime."
"Dat's so, Miss Cynthy, dat's so, 'caze 'twuz dem ar wuds dat
rile 'er mos'. She 'low she done been in subjection fur gwine on
fifty years widout knowin' hit."
He finished his coffee at a gulp and leaned back in his chair.
"En now des fem me hyear how ole I is," he wound up sorrowfully.
"The twelfth of August, 18-- (that's the date of your birth),
makes you--let me see--you'll be seventy years old next summer.
There, now, since you've found out what you wanted, you'd better
spend the night with Uncle Boaz."
"Thanky, ma'am, but I mus' be gwine back agin," responded Uncle
Isam, shuffling to his feet, "en ef you don' min', Marse
Christopher, I'd like a wud wid you outside de do'."
Laughing, Christopher rose from his chair and, with a patriarchal
dignity of manner, followed the old man into the moonlight.
CHAPTER VI. Carraway Plays Courtier
At twelve o'clock the next day, Carraway, walking in the June
brightness along the road to the Blake cottage, came suddenly, at
the bend of the old icepond, upon Maria Fletcher returning from a
morning ride. The glow of summer was in her eyes, and though her
face was still pale, she seemed to him a different creature from
the grave, repressed girl of the night before. He noticed at once
that she sat her horse superbly, and in her long black habit all
the sinuous lines of her figure moved in rhythm with the rapid
As she neared him, and apparently before she had noticed his
approach, he saw her draw rein quickly, and, screened by the
overhanging boughs of a blossoming chestnut, send her glance like
a hooded falcon across the neighbouring field. Following the aim
of her look, he saw Christopher Blake walking idly among the
heavy furrows, watching, with the interest of a born
agriculturist, the busy transplanting of Fletcher's crop. He
still wore his jean clothes, which, hanging loosely upon his
impressive figure, blended harmoniously with the dull-purple
tones of the upturned soil. Beyond him there was a background of
distant wood, still young in leaf, and his bared head, with the
strong, sunburned line of his profile, stood out as distinctly as
a portrait done in early Roman gold.
That Maria had seen in him some higher possibility than that of a
field labourer was soon evident to Carraway, for her horse was
still standing on the slight incline, and as he reached her side
she turned with a frank question on her lips.
"Is that one of the labourers--the young giant by the fence?"
"Well, I dare say he labours, if that's what you mean. He's young
Blake, you know."
"Young Blake?" She bent her brows, and it was clear that the name