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Library of Congress Subject Headings, 21st edition, 1998
John Gibbes Barnwell Elliott, M. D.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA.
"But when I saw that woman's face,
Its calm simplicity of grace--"
It had been a wild morning up among the Cumberlands. A March morning full of rain, of clouds that veiled the mountains, and of wind that tore the clouds to shreds. But at the turn of the day the wind had fallen: the great masses of trees that purpled the mountain-side from base to apex had ceased their tossing, and stood in dark monotony, save when a gray cliff thrust itself out, or a wild, snow-swollen stream dashed its spray toward the sky as it flung itself down into the valley.
The shadows are gathering early over a little valley known as "Lost Cove." On all sides the mountains rise about it in soft, sweeping curves, until they stand out against the sky a level, unbroken line. There is little of rugged wildness in these old mountains, for no stormy outburst
marked their birth. They stand the perfect work of the ages. Their gray old faces looked out across the slow silurian sea, whose wandering waves began the patient work of denudation.
No rugged wildness, but a silent grandeur of repose smoothes every curve of every spur that stretches out across the plain, and a great unspoken dignity lives in the straight sky line that marks the summit.
On three sides the mountains guard Lost Cove, on the fourth the barrier that shuts this basin from the world is lowered. But though lowered, the little stream that through all the years had hollowed out Lost Cove, found here an obstacle that its patient zeal could not remove. It could not rise above it--it could not wear it through, and so it sank, and, burrowing deep among the "hidden bases of the hills," found victory and freedom. From out the black-browed cave it flashed again into the glad sunlight, with a mocking laugh for the barring cliffs that rose two hundred feet above it, to face the eastern sun.
Near the upper end of the Cove, which is nearly a mile long, there stands a house built of squared logs, carefully mortised at the corners, and neatly "chinked" with plaster. Seventy
years ago it was built by the first Warren, as a defense as well as a shelter. Three rooms, a lobby, a loft, and two piazzas make the extent of it. A room on either side the lobby that connects the front and back piazzas, and from which a rough stairway leads up to the loft. The third room is made by boarding in the end of the back piazza, and through its single window a modern cooking stove pushes its pipe. The floors look worn with scrubbing, the small, deep-set windows shine like eyes, and the great stone chimneys that grace either end of the house, look as if built for eternity. Around the house there is a rough picket fence; within this inclosure there are some cedar trees, some common rose bushes, some chickens, and some much-scratched grass. Beyond, and rising and falling with the swells of the mountains, is a rail fence which shuts in from the public road the lot where the hogs, and cows, and horses are kept, and where stand the few out-buildings. From the lower end of this outer lot the fields stretch down the Cove to where the stream sinks, and a stately beech grove crowns the rising ground. The public road from across the mountains turns at Mr. Warren's gate, and zigzags along these fields to the beech wood, then it marches over the divide to the far-off valley.
A young woman leaned over the outer gate. The rain had ceased, and the wind came softly with a touch of spring. It would be clear on the morrow, the girl thought as she looked up from the shadows of the Cove to where the cloud-broken sunlight flashed and faded on the mountain tops. A clear spring day, and, as the warm wind swept by, her fair cheeks flushed with gladness for the coming spring.
The winter had been hard, and for the first time the Warrens had felt themselves poor. This girl's father had been killed a few months before, and she and her grandparents had had to fight through the cold weather alone. And now, as she waited for the cows, the touch of warmth in the wind brought to her mind a new problem--the planting. Some help would have to be hired, and where was the money? They had bacon, and apples, and potatoes that could be sold--if she could take them to the town on top the mountain. The color flamed into her face; she had never "peddled" in her life! Her grandfather was held fast by rheumatism, and her grandmother would far rather starve than go on such an errand.
Presently a cow-bell clanked, and down the mountain-side, in dignified procession, came the rough, long-legged, patient-eyed cows. The
girl roused herself with a sigh, and, holding the big gate open, remembered one more article that could be sold--butter.
She fetched two wooden piggins, white with scouring, and some fodder, then brought the cows in, one at a time, to the inner lot. She moved with the deliberation of age, and milked with patient sedateness. This quietness was a class habit, but increased in this girl's case through her having lived always with old people; and now the heavy responsibilities that crowded upon her seemed to have banished all youthfulness.
The Warrens had always been well-to-do, making at home almost everything they needed. After his sons left him the old man had been quite able to carry on the place, and before his strength failed his eldest son had returned with his motherless baby, Hannah. So there had been little need for money until now, when, her father dead and her grandfather disabled, Hannah needed to hire help. She might have paid in kind, but everybody that she knew made all they needed. The only people she had ever heard of who bought everything and saved nothing, were these new people on the mountain, who were held throughout the country to be strangely "lackin'." Old Mrs. Warren
pronouncing them "darn fools, a-settin' round with books in their hands."
The milking done, Hannah took the pails into the kitchen. With the same lack of haste she stirred the fire under the kettle, opened the oven to look at the corn bread, strained the milk, then taking up an axe went into the back yard. Her face grew graver as she looked at the wood pile; she would have to go for more to-morrow, and she sighed as she pulled a log into position for cutting.
There was an outlet from all this. She could marry her cousin Si Durket. She would rather cut wood all day! And the axe swung into the air with an ease and swiftness scarcely to be looked for from a woman.
No good would ever come to Si. She rested on the axe as she turned the log with her foot. Peddling would be better than Si; hiring out-- starving--anything would be better. Yet, if something were not done very soon, she would have to marry him, or let the old people want. Mrs. Wilson, from the far side of the Cove, went up to the mountain to peddle--she could go with her. Mrs. Wilson was a creature much scorned by Mrs. Warren, still she knew the ways at the University, and could direct a beginner. It was
worth thinking of. Gathering up the wood, she went into the house to her grandmother's room.
It was low, and the walls, finished up to the rafters with wood, were painted gray, spattered with white. A pine bedstead, with tall posts, and piled into a dumpling with feather beds, filled one corner. In another corner there stood a high chest of drawers, above which hung a spotted looking glass and some peacock feathers. A spinning-wheel, a small table full of dusty odds and ends, a large rocking-chair, covered with a patchwork quilt, and a few splint-bottomed chairs, finished the furnishing of the room. In the rocking-chair, close to the great fireplace, sat an old man, and an old woman stood near a window catching the last light on her work.
She had been a handsome woman once, and, like Hannah, was tall; but here the likeness ended. Mrs. Warren's face was sharp and hard, the girl's face was grave and strong; Mrs. Warren's eyes were keen, while Hannah's eyes were thoughtful, almost sad. Further, Mrs. Warren's temper and tongue were famous, while Hannah seemed still and gentle. Perhaps time was needed to reveal Hannah; perhaps the temper of her grandmother had made her esteem
peace as the greatest good. Each son had had to take his wife away, and Hannah's father had only come back after his wife's death, when, seeing that his father needed him, he stayed. A gentle, patient man, he could put up with the temper his mother, whose maiden name had been Durket, was proud to call the "Durket sperret." With regard to his child, he knew that no real harm would come to any creature absolutely dependent on his mother. "Her own" meant a great deal to Mrs. Warren. Her sons' wives she had looked on as aliens. The kitchen stove, introduced by one of these unworthies, had caused the final breaking up of the family. The young woman had declared the open fireplace to be old-fashioned, and her husband bought the stove. The "Durket sperret" could not stand this, and the young people had to go, but not the stove; Mrs. Warren kept that, and for the future vented much of her superfluous wrath on it.
As Hannah entered, Mrs. Warren turned sharply:
"I wonder you don't git tired a-playin' nigger, Hannah Warren," was her greeting. The girl put down and arranged the wood before she answered:
"Thar is wuss things," then stood looking down into the fire. Straight as a young poplar,
with the grace and roundness of perfect strength and youth in every curve, Hannah, in her scant black frock, was dowered with a beauty rare in any class. A grave, clear-cut face, waving brown hair taken straight back and twisted in a knot, a full throat that showed exquisitely white where the little faded shawl fell away from it, and hands that, if hard and brown, were very shapely.
Her grandmother looked at her intently as she stood there, and grumbled a little under her breath.
"Ain't you none better, Gramper?" Hannah asked pityingly of the old man, bent nearly double in his chair.
"I'm some easier," he answered patiently, "but I'm tore up a-steddyin' 'bout the crap."
"The crap wouldn't count if Hannah had a shavin' o' sense," the old woman struck in sharply.
"Supper's ready, Granny," Hannah said, and left the room.
"You pesters Hannah moren human, Mertildy," the old man suggested mildly; "an' she's a good gal."
"I reckon I knows my own flesh an' blood, John Warren," his wife retorted; " an' but for you, I'd larn her some sense, or know why. Si Durket's my own brether's son, an' as good as
Hannah Warren will ever git. He's got a plenty, an' is free-handed an' hearty, an' he'll do to look at too. He's a Durket through an' through."
"All the same, Mertildy, Hannah don't favor Si."
"Don't favor Si! You makes me weak, John Warren! Do a steer favor a yoke? but thet's all a steer or a yoke is made fur. Gals is the same; an' all yokes is jest alike as fur as I kin see."
Mr. Warren shook his head, "You've missed the furrer, Mertildy," he said; " 'tain't the yoke, hit's the tother steer thet's the trouble. The yoke is fur all, one way or anether, an' we gits our necks sorely galded, thet's true; but hit's the tother steer thet mostly gits us, an' Hannah shan't be yoked ginst her will. You worn't, Mertildy."
"I reckon the difference would abeen wore out by now, anyhow," Mrs. Warren answered ungraciously, "an' I'd abeen jest as well pleased"; and she left the room.
For more than a year Si Durket had been courting his cousin Hannah. Hannah's father and grandfather had supported her in saving no, agreeing that a man who could strike his mother and curse his old father, was not to be desired;
but Mrs. Warren championed Si vigorously. That a woman lived who could refuse a Durket, she would not believe. A Durket who would be rich when his father died, for there was much land and only two brothers to divide it; further, a Durket who had been to school. Mrs. Warren had a great contempt for education, nevertheless she urged Si's "larnin" as a point in his favor.
Another potent cause for Mrs. Warren's earnestness was that the wife of Si's brother Dave, a young woman from a town, had openly laughed at Si's choice of Hannah, a country girl who had never been out of Lost Cove a half dozen times in her life, and who was poor compared with some girls Si might have won.
These considerations did not sway Si, but he was keen enough to repeat this speech to his Aunt Warren, who in her rage declared that Hannah should marry Si, if only "to down thet sassy hussy, Minervy!" And Si, seeing how work and poverty were pressing the girl, felt his hopes rise.
Mr. Warren was troubled for Hannah in the present crisis, still he felt that any work was better than marrying a man she despised. Hard work made rest sweet, he thought, as he sat by the fire weary and disabled; made any food seem
good, and left a peaceful satisfaction when the day was done, when one could smoke one's pipe and think of the long dark furrows, and the well-stacked wood-pile, and the cattle penned from harm, and think that, when the winter came, there would be a plenty and to spare. Ay, work was a good friend. But now his son was gone, and he could do nothing. It was hard on the girl.
"He knocked hisn's mammy--he's hard." The musing ended aloud, and Hannah, coming in with his supper, heard him.
"I'll never tuck him," she said, in her soft slow voice, as she put the cup and plate on a chair near the old man. "Si kin cuss, an' Granny kin blate, I'll tuck hit, but I'll never tuck Si." She kneeled on the hearth with her hands fallen together in front of her. "An' 'bout the crap, Gramper, I 'llows I kin git thet Dock Wilson what's come to the Cove to he'p me do the plowin', an' Granny kin drap, an' I kin kivver."
"Don't say nothin' to Granny 'bout drappin', chile," the old man said, with patient experience in his voice, "hit 'll jest gie her anether handle to grind on."
"Jest so," Hannah responded; "but, Gramper,
if Dock's like hisn's stepmammy he'll strike fur high wages."
"Thet's true as true, an' thar ain't no money."
"Thar's things to sell," Hannah suggested; "I could tuck ole Bess, an' pack truck to the 'versity."
"Peddle!" the old man said, in a lowered tone; "a Warren woman peddle?"
"Hit ain't no sin."
"No, but no Warren woman ain't never peddled yit--never yit!"
"You said onest that I could go," the girl persisted; "an' hits peddlin', or hirin out, or marryin' Si, Gramper."
"That's true, gal; but I hates hit."
"No moren I do, Gramper." Then hearing a chair pushed back in the kitchen, she rose. "I'll hev to git wood to-morrow," she added, "but I'll go on Friday. Don't say nothin' to Granny."
Mr. Warren nodded, and Hannah, taking the cup and plate, reached the door just as her grandmother entered.
"The cawfee's 'bout out," she said, "an' the sugar's right low too."
"I knows hit, Granny."
"An' I can't git on 'thout cawfee an' sugar."
"I knows thet, too, Granny," and Hannah closed the door.
"An' whar hit's to come from I dunno," Mrs. Warren continued as she filled her pipe.
"I reckon Jack Dunner'll trade her some fur meat," Mr. Warren answered. "Jack knows we's pushed, an' he's mighty 'commydatin'."
"Pushed! Thet is true, John Warren, if you did say hit, but if you hed any grit we'd not be pushed. You keeps on a-stirrin', an' a-stirrin' 'bout Hannah tell nuther one o' you is stiffern hog slops."
"An' if Hannah did tuck Si," Mr. Warren said patiently, "hit'd leave us 'thout no help, Mertildy, fur thet gal is all we hes."
Mrs. Warren laughed. "Thet's easy fixed," she answered; "goin' to Si's is jest a-goin' home to me an' you kin bet youuns hide I'd go."
"Then you'd leave me, Mertildy," and the old man straightened himself. "I couldn't rest under no shed but John Warren's, an' I won't, kase thar ain't no shed big enough for two famblies, nummine if thar's only one apiece in them famblies. Moren thet, thar ain't never been a Warren beholden to nobody fur a shelter yit, an' John Warren ain't gwine to start hit. If you goes, Mertildy, you'll leave ole John to his lone."
Mrs. Warren smoked furiously, and, "You're sappy yit," was all the answer she vouchsafed.
Pondering his wife's words, the old man began to see the wisdom of Hannah's plan, while Hannah, at her work, was busy devising ways for the carrying out of this same plan. The coffee and sugar made a good excuse for her journey to this new mountain town, that was a market for all the country. She could arrange her load in an out-house, and leave before the old people were up. When she went for the wood she would stop at the Wilsons' and find out about the people and prices at Sewanee. She had been there as a sightseer, but never to peddle. There were worse things than peddling, however, and Si Durket was one.
"Ofttimes like children we are led to meet
Our life--or driven like slaves by circumstance.
And suddenly it crowds us down to earth!
And in the thick we have no time to cry,
Only to fight! Then all is still. And through
The deadly calm of peace we moan--'Oh, fool!
Oh, fool! now all thy life is done--is done!'
Yet, still, like children we were led to it;
Or driven like slaves by lashing circumstance,
And knew not of the ambush waiting there."
At the time this story opens, the railway station, known as Sewanee, consisted of a few shops, the post-office, and one or two small houses, built about a barren square. From this a broad road led to the "University," and the other end of Sewanee. Up this road the butcher and shoemaker had planted some locust trees in front of their shops, and beyond them the confectioner had laid a stone pavement for the length of his lot, and planted some maple trees, that, in the autumn, burned like flames of fire. Beyond the confectioner's the road was in the woods for a short space, then more houses. About a half mile from the station this road
ended in another road that crossed it at right angles, and up and down this the University town was built.
Between the houses, between the public buildings, wherever any space was left free from carpenters and stone masons, the forest marched up and claimed its own, while the houses looked as if they had been convinced of their obtrusiveness, and had crept as far back as possible, leaving their fences as protection to the forest, and not as the sign of a clearing.
Very still and bare the little place looked on the gray March morning, when, under Mrs. Wilson's guidance, Hannah made her entrance as a peddler. Down the road, beaten hard by the rain, and dotted here and there with clear little pools of water, Hannah led old Bess, bearing the long bags, in the ends of which were bestowed the apples and potatoes, the bucket of butter being fastened to the saddle.
They had not stopped at the station, for Mrs. Wilson said the people in the town paid better prices.
"They don't know no better than to tuck frostbit 'taters," she explained, "an' they'll give most anything fur butter jest now. All the 'versity boys is come back, an' butter's awful sca'ce. To tell the truth," pushing her long bonnet back,
"thar ain't much o' anything to eat right now. What with layin' an' scratchin' through the winter fur a livin', the hens is wore out, an' chickens ain't in yit, an' these 'versity women is jest pestered to git sumpen fur the boys."
Hannah listened in silence. She had her own ideas about trading, and besides had very scant respect for Mrs. Wilson, either mentally or morally. She knew that her things were good, but she was determined to ask only a fair price for them. It was bad to cheat people because they were simple or "in a push." She was in a push herself, and felt sorry for them.
"An' ax a leetle moren you 'llows to git," Mrs. Wilson went on, "kase they'll allers tuck some off. Thar air a few that jest pays what you says, or don't tuck none, an' I axes them a fa'r price." They stopped at a gate as she finished, and she directed Hannah to "hitch the nag an' stiffen up."
"I ain't feared," Hannah answered, while she made old Bess fast, "but I ain't usen to peddlin', an' I don't like hit, nuther."
Mrs. Wilson laughed. "Youuns Granny keeps on a-settin' you up till nothin' ain't good enough," she said. "Lots o' folks as good as ary Warren hes been a peddlin' a many a year."
"Thet don't make hit no better fur me, Lizer Wilson, an' nothin' ain't agoin' to make hit better; any moren a dog ever likes a hog-waller," and she took down the bucket of butter with a swing that brought her face to face with her companion. One glance at Hannah's eyes, that now looked like her grandmother's, and Mrs. Wilson changed the subject.
"Leave the sacks," she said roughly; "hit'll be time to pack 'em in when they're sold." She led the way in along a graveled walk, Hannah looking about her curiously, and trying to conquer her rather unreasonable anger against Mrs. Wilson, before she should meet the people about whom she had heard such varying reports.
At the front piazza Hannah paused, and Mrs. Wilson laughed exasperatingly.
"Lor, gal!" she said, "these fine folks don't ax folks like weuns in the front do'; weuns ain't nothin' but 'Covites come to peddle'; come to the kitchen."
That people lived who thought themselves better than the Warrens or Durkets was a new sensation to Hannah, and she wondered if her grandmother knew it. Her astonishment stilled her wrath until the thought overwhelmed her, that perhaps these people would look on her and Lizer Wilson as the same! She had followed
mechanically, and before she had reached any conclusion they were at the back door.
A negro woman stood wiping a pan, while a lady, holding an open bucket of butter, was talking scoldingly to a woman who, as Hannah saw instantly, looked very different from the lady, and very much like Lizer and herself. There was a moment's silence as the newcomers appeared; then the negress spoke.
"Mornin', Mrs. Wilson," she said familiarly.
"Mornin', Mary," Mrs. Wilson answered, in an oily tone; then to the lady she said: "Mornin', Mrs. Skinner."
"Good-morning, Mrs. Wilson," the lady answered, while the woman she had been scolding turned, and Hannah recognized a person who lived near the Durkets, and who was looked down on by them just as Lizer Wilson was by the Warrens. They did not greet each other, but Hannah felt the woman's stare of wonder, that "John Warren's gal" should peddle with Lizer Wilson! She seemed to hear the story being told to the Durkets, and repeated to her grandmother by Si. Things seemed misty for a moment, then, through the confusion, she heard Lizer's voice. "No, I ain't got nothin' left but a few aigs; but this gal has a few things she'd like to get shed of 'fore we starts home."
Hannah listened, wondering, and remembered a saying of her grandmother's, that Lizer could "lie the kick outern a mule."
"What has she?" questioned Mrs. Skinner.
"Taters, an' apples, an' butter," Lizer answered; "nothin' much to pack back if the price ain't a-comin'."
"What is the price of the butter?"
"Thirty cents; I've done sold mine at thet; the taters is a dollar an' a heff a bushel, an' the apples a dollar."
"I have just paid twenty cents for butter; why are your things so high?" was questioned sharply.
"Ourn is extry good," Lizer answered. The negro woman smiled. Hannah's indignation was gathering, but she did not speak. Mrs. Wilson must know the ways of the place--she would wait.
"I'll take the apples," the lady began compromisingly, "but I will not take the butter nor the potatoes. How many apples have you?" to Hannah.
"A bushel," Hannah answered quickly, afraid that Lizer would say a cartload.
Mrs. Skinner looked at her keenly. "I have never seen you before," she said.
"She ain't never peddled befo', an' ain't got
no need to come now," Lizer struck in, looking straight at the woman from the other valley. "She jest come along fur comp'ny, an' brung a few things fur balance--she ain't pertickler 'bout sellin'."
The first part of this speech soothed Hannah's feelings somewhat, but the final clause, representing her as coming for the love of Lizer Wilson, was worse than the peddling.
She began to wonder if this woman could tell the truth.
"Run git youuns apples, Honey," were the next astonishing words; Lizer calling her "Honey!" She felt a sudden hatred for the woman. What had happened to her? was she really no better than Lizer? She drew a bitter sigh. Never mind, she would get a dollar for the apples instead of the "six-bits" she had thought to demand, and shouldering the apples she went back. They were carefully examined by the mistress, and generously measured by the servant.
"Hit's a good bushel," Hannah said, astonished that her bushel should be remeasured.
"Three water-buckets with a rise," the lady put in quietly, and the negress piled each bucket carefully. Mrs. Wilson laughed, then stooped to help her, and Hannah watched them with her
share of the "Durket sperret" rising within her. A Warren cheat!
"With all youuns risin', Mary, some's left," and Lizer laughed again. Hannah looked down the cavernous bag, where about a dozen apples were huddled into one corner. The color burned in her face, and with a quick movement she emptied them on the floor.
"They wuz in my bushel," she said, "they misewell go in yourn."
The negress laughed. "I'll tek dese, Miss Josie," she said to the lady.
There were two spots of color on Mrs. Skinner's face as she paid Hannah. "I should like some more apples if you can spare them," she said.
Hannah paused, her anger fading before the hope of more money. If she could bring them the next day? But by Sunday the storm about peddling would reach her from the Durkets, and she had no security that she would be allowed to return. "Hit's a fur way to come an' only a dollar at the end," Lizer struck in, mistaking Hannah's hesitation, and Mrs. Skinner answered, "She can bring me two bushels for two dollars and a quarter."
"I can't bring 'em atter to-morrer," Hannah said slowly.
"Very well, bring them to-morrow."
When they turned the corner of the house, Mrs. Wilson said:
"Thet wuz a good trade; you'd asold fur nothin'. Miss Harner thar, she hed put her butter at two bits, an' only got twenty cents. These folks beats a pusson down to nothin'."
"She riz on the apples," Hannah answered coldly.
"Riz on the apples," Lizer repeated derisively, while Hannah untied the horse; "she done thet kase you acted so biggity. My soul! but thet'll tickle Si Durket when Jane Harner tells hit."
" 'Pears to me like she done hit kase she lit on a honest pusson," Hannah retorted.
It was Mrs. Wilson's turn to be angry now, but as the Warrens were her rich neighbors, she only comforted herself with a promise to remember, and walked on without giving a hint as to their destination. At the next house she did not wait while Hannah tied the horse, but walked in rapidly, leaving her to come alone. Hannah was glad, for if there was danger of meeting acquaintances, she preferred not to be seen with Lizer. She walked in quite confidently, but when she reached the back door, Lizer had vanished.
She paused a moment before several closed doors, some belonging to an out-house, and two to the main house. She knocked at one of the latter. She might be mistaken, but there was no harm in trying. Her knock was answered by a little boy, who asked her business, then called to someone within: "It's a woman with butter." There was an indistinguishable answer; then the child led the way to a small room, where Hannah saw so much china and glass that she wondered if they kept it for sale. She would have liked a longer look at it, and if she had known more she would have waited here, but the child had gone through another door, and she followed.
Once or twice she had heard descriptions of how the people lived in this town, that to the surrounding country was as yet an enigma. Stories of how they had no object in life but "book larnin'," and were little better than "Naytrals." Once her grandfather had said, "God made all the critters, book-larnin' critters, too, an' all hes a right to live." This was the only excuse she had ever heard made for them. But she forgot all she had ever heard when she passed through the second door. It was as strange as a dream. The various kinds of furniture she had never seen before, the covered
floors that made no noise, the books, the curtains, the pictures, all were new to her, at least, in this reckless profusion.
"Come near the fire," a voice said, and Hannah caught a glimpse of a fire, but it seemed a long way off, and a young man in the middle distance was an almost impassable barrier. She saw no signs of Lizer, but only the young man, and near the fire a young woman who had spoken. She moved forward slowly. The room seemed so full, and she felt herself so unusually large, that she was afraid of knocking things over. A new and disagreeable sensation, at which she could only wonder as she took her seat carefully, doubtful if the chair the young woman had placed for her would hold her.
"How much butter have you?" the young lady asked.
"Six pounds," Hannah answered, then waited to hear again the voice that was so different from any voice she had ever heard; different even from Mrs. Skinner's, that itself had been strange to her.
"And what do you ask for it?" the voice went on.
"Two bits, an' hit's good."
"That will be one dollar and a half"; then to the child, "call Susan for me."
"I've got some taters," Hannah suggested hesitatingly, pushing her bonnet back a little; "taters, a bushel, good measure an' sound, for a dollar."
"I will take them also."
Hannah rose. "If your things are at the front gate, this is your shortest way out," and the young lady opened a door that led into a hall, then opened also what Hannah recognized as the front door, which Lizer had declared was sealed to traders.
"Did you observe how very handsome that girl was?" the young lady asked of her companion when she returned from the hall.
"I did not," he answered, looking contentedly into the face before him.
"Very handsome, and I am sure she will bring the potatoes in here--she seems quite bewildered."
"I thought she seemed quite at home."
"Not at all. Her voice was very soft, too."
"Yes, and her English had about it that sweet simplicity that dispenses with all extra syllables. The way in which she said 'taters' was lovely."
"I am in earnest; her voice is sweet. I have never seen her before; I wonder what Cove she comes from."
"Ask her, and ask her to call again."
"I shall." Here the door opened, and Hannah, with the long bag over her shoulder, entered and stood looking from one to the other. Her bonnet had fallen back, letting the light touch the delicately flushed face, and the dark eyes grown wistful in their uncertainty. She was unquestionably handsome. She put the bag down carefully.
"Did I ax you too much?"
"Oh, no!" the young woman exclaimed. "Here, Susan," to a negress who had entered from the back, "empty these things."
Susan raised the bag with some difficulty. "Dat Wilson woman's in de kitchen, Miss Agnes," she said; "she's got aigs."
"You know I never buy from her," the young lady answered.
Hannah listened, and Susan went away chuckling.
Agnes turned to Hannah. "Sit down and take off your bonnet," she said, herself taking a seat. "What Cove do you come from?"
"Where the stream sinks?"
"Thet's hit; hev you seen hit?"
"No, but I wish very much to see it."
"Hit's a smart piece," Hannah went on, looking
into the fire as if making calculations, "but you could go it on a nag."
"Where do you live in Lost Cove?" Agnes went on.
"Hit most all b'longs to Gramper. Mrs. Wilson owns a leetle piece--" then her face burned as she remembered what had just been said about Lizer. Agnes remembered too, and asked:
"Is Mrs. Wilson a friend of yours?"
"She is a neighbor," Hannah said; then, after a moment's pause, "she come alonger me this mornin', kase I didn't know the ways ner the folks, but we couldn't 'gree, an' she leff me at youuns gate."
"I am glad of that. If you had come with her I should not have bought your things; she asks two prices."
"She do thet! But she's mighty poor."
A smile flitted across the young man's face as the words reached him, and he wondered what Hannah's idea of wealth was! "Quantity," would have been her answer, for, to her, this was the only difference. In her world the rich demanded no better quality, only a greater quantity, and, after a certain stage of plentifulness was reached, life was taken with folded hands.
"You have never been here before?" Agnes asked.
"Not to peddle, I ain't."
"Will you come again soon?" as the servant put the bag and bucket down by Hannah.
"I hes to bring some apples to a woman to-morrer."
"Then you call bring me some--a bushel?"
"I reckon," and Hannah rose, feeling as glad about coming again as about the much-coveted money she was putting into the old deer-skin purse; then Agnes shook hands with the girl over whom she had cast a spell.
"So you sold out at Agnes Welling's front do'," Mrs. Wilson said mockingly, when she met Hannah at the gate.
"I did, an' I'll wait fur you at the sto' "; then Hannah mounted old Bess and rode away. She did not want to talk to Mrs. Wilson just yet.
"And you did not ask her name?" the young man said when Hannah was gone.
"I forgot it; but was she not handsome? I shall go to Lost Cove this summer."
"We will make up a party," the young man suggested.
"No, I will go alone."
"Honest, at least."
Agnes laughed softly. "Still, I mean what I say, Mr. Cartright."
"It is too far for you to go alone, your brother will not permit it."
"We will see." Then Cartright went away, slamming the gate sharply, while Agnes laughed.
"Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel with smile or frown;
With that wild wheel we go not up or down.
Our hoard is little, but our heart is great."
It had been a successful day, and as Hannah rode through the falling shadows, with Mrs. Wilson mounted behind her, her heart felt light. She had the coffee and the sugar, besides two dollars toward the plowing, and three bushels of apples engaged, making five dollars--to her a fortune, And this success would mitigate the displeasure of her grandmother, unless talk from the Durkets reached her; that would stop everything.
But above all, she had looked into a new world, and her life seemed to have changed. All the fear of Sewanee was gone. The people up there were strange; that is, different from any people she had known, but she liked them. She was anxious to see that "Miss Agnes" again. She would take more potatoes to-morrow, and some meat; there was no telling how much she might make.
She began to hum a tune as they jogged along; for, although Mrs. Wilson's feelings permitted her to ride behind Hannah, they still prevented conversation. It was only at the Warrens' gate that Mrs. Wilson vouchsafed a dignified "Far'well, Hannah Warren," and trudged away across the fields.
Hannah was preoccupied and excited. She had been dead, and now, in some strange way, vigorous and uncontrollable life had come to her. Her impulse was to defy her grandmother, but habit bade her avoid any meeting until she had found out from her grandfather the state of things.
She hung the bag containing her purchases across the fence, and unsaddled the horse. In the kitchen she went through the evening's routine with forced quietness, and ran upstairs for the fodder with a lightness and haste hitherto unknown, laughing softly as, opening the end window farthest from her grandmother's room she tossed the binds out. This would let her carry the milk pails out when she went down, and lessen, by one journey into the house, the danger of meeting Mrs. Warren.
She leaned on the gate as on the afternoon when she decided to peddle; but how different was everything. She felt that she controlled her
own fate now; that she could resist her mother and defy Si Durket. In short, she was free, and with the rare joy of having realized her bondage and freedom in the same moment. She might have gone on forever in the old dull path, but for the necessity that drove her to peddling. The fruits of the earth and the beasts of the field had become her protectors against Si Durket. She would never tire of work again. A shadow fell on the joy, and she leaned her head on the gate. "Poor Daddy! If he hed downfaced Granny, an' peddled stiddy, an' not jest traded what happed over, Granny couldn't hev jawed him the way she did, kase he'd hev hed as much as the Durkets. Poor Daddy!" And she recalled the silent, sad-eyed man who had thought himself a failure. The tears rose to her eyes, but did not quench the anger that burned in her heart against her grandmother. "An' I'd abeen jest like him but fur peddlin'."
The clank of the cow-bells broke on her musings, and at the sound happiness brimmed up again. "Does you feel well, cows?" she said. "Si Durket kin say farwell now"; and, holding open the gate, she patted the animals as they came in. This elation lasted until she had to carry wood into her grandmother's room, then unexpectedly her heart failed her.
"All she kin do is to kill me," she thought, with an incredulous smile, "an' thet's heap bettern marryin' Si."
"Hardy, Gramper!" she said as she opened the door, and there was such a cheery ring to her voice that Mrs. Warren put her great silver-rimmed spectacles in place to look at her. "How'd you git on 'thout me?" she went on, smiling reassuringly into the old man's eyes as she put down the wood.
"Hit's been some lonesome," he answered; "hit's never been afore thet I've set all day an' never hearn a holler, ner a whistle, ner a step 'bout the ole house thet kin 'member so many a stomp. My Par, an' my brethers, an' my boys, all gone--all gone. But I kin 'member how ever one sot hisn heel to the flo'. I don't see how I'll ever spar' you to go clean away, Hannah,"
"You'll never need to see hit," Hannah answered. "Supper's ready, Granny," she went on, and turned to the door.
Mrs. Warren rose slowly. "You gits meallyer ever day, John Warren," she said, pushing the odd needle through her knitting.
"Thet's right, Mertildy, a good, ripe apple is allers meally."
"An' gits rotten-meally--mebbe you knows thet."
"An' you speaks thet to me thet hes been youuns man fur moren fifty yeer, Mertildy?"
"Yes, I do say hit 'bout Hannah," she answered. "Did I think I'd live to see a Warren gal a-tradin' taters like any trash? She'll be a-peddlin' next; an' mebbe you'll marry her to Dock Wilson, jest to hev her a-nigh you."
"Hit mout all come true, Mertildy," and the old man's gentle eyes flashed; "fur peddlin' ain't no sin, an' Dock Wilson ain't never knocked a woman yit."
A dull color came into Mrs. Warren's face. "Si were wrong," she admitted; "but thar's one thing a Durket can't stand, an' thet's bein' jawed by a fool, and Si's Mar were a p'in-blank fool." At the door she met Hannah. It looked almost as if she had been waiting there, in spite of the cold wind that was sweeping through the lobby.
And now the happiness that had left her at the wood-pile came back, as, kneeling in front of the fire, Hannah drew the two silver dollars from her pocket.
"Didn't you git no cawfee an' sugar?" Mrs. Warren asked.
"I did thet, an' brung home this fur the
plowin'," and she shook the money triumphantly. Then she told her story, impressing on the old man that she had gone to the shop with money. But she lowered her voice as she told of her meeting Mrs. Harner, and of her engagement for the next day. Mr. Warren, eating slowly, made no comment until she came to the description of her being received in the Wellings' parlor, while a servant emptied her things, and Lizer waited in the kitchen.
"Thet'll tickle Mertildy," he said with a chuckle; "but if you 'lows to go ag'in to-morrer, you must git off 'fore youuns Granny hes time to hender you."
"She can't hold me all day, Gramper, an' she can't tie me."
Mr. Warren regarded his granddaughter curiously. "Granny's ole now, chile," he said, "an' don't you go to makin' her wuss mad 'an is needful. You ain't never seen her rayly mad. I ain't never seen hit but onest, but thet's enough," rubbing one hand slowly round on his bald head. " 'Fair-an'-easy' is a good horse, Hannah, but 'Don't keer' is a galding nag. Thar's no use a-flyin' in Granny's face 'thout thar's a needcessity."
Hannah felt her independence slipping away, and she asked, "What hev you told Granny?"
"Thet you hed gone to trade fur cawfee an' sugar, an' I ain't a-goin' to tell her nothing mo' tell I'm obleeged to. She's been worrited an' onsettled all day, mad 'bout Lizer a-goin. Lizer ain't to say a clean-tongued woman."
"Mrs. Wilson's feared o' me," Hannah said contemptuously. Then told again of emptying the apples, and the snubbing she had given Lizer at the gate.
"Thet's what Granny 'll call the 'Durket sperret,' " and the old man smiled as if at the vagaries of a child. "But she sets a heap o' store by you, Hannah."
"She's too hard, Gramper," the girl said coldly. "She stomps youuns feelin's dead, an' then she ain't sati'fy, kase then you've got to feel her way," and the girl's eyes filled with tears. "If I coulder lied or stole, or if I coulder left you an' Daddy, she'd hev druv me to hit long ago. Poor Daddy!" But she dashed the tears away, for, without warning, Mrs. Warren entered. She looked at them sharply, then seated herself near the fire with her knitting. Hannah did not move; she would do nothing that looked like retreat.
"An' what's you been a-cryin' 'bout, Hannah; is you sick?"
"We's been a-talkin', Mertildy," Mr. Warren
answered, " 'bout you, and me, an' Joshaway, an' Hannah."
Mrs. Warren was silent, for, unknown to anyone, her heart was sore about her son Joshua. Her last words to him haunted her. She had abused him in the presence of his child. When she ceased, he had shouldered his axe and had gone into the woods, and in the evening had been brought home dead, his life crushed out by a falling tree. Her grief for his death had been unfeigned, and she had spent all she could lay her hands on for his funeral; but she had never said that she was sorry for any of the hard things she had dealt to him throughout his life, and Hannah's young heart had grown hard toward her. But Mrs. Warren remembered, and any mention of his name was a keen pain.
"Youuns daddy were a good son, boy and man," Mr. Warren went on. "He never tole a lie as I kin 'member, an' he never done nothin' he were tole not to do, nur he never hurt nothin' if he knowed hit; an' when youuns Granny were ailin', thar worn't no woman more soffly than Joshaway. An' from the time he were born he hed them kind o' askin' eyes like the critters thet can't say what they wants. An' hit allers hurt me, Joshaway's eyes did, an' when he were leetle
I were allers a-givin' him ever'thing he looked at; but all the same hisn's eyes kept on askin' an' askin' to the last."
There was a dead silence in the room save for the click of Mrs. Warren's needles, and the whispering of the fire. Presently Mr. Warren spoke again. "I reckon hisn eyes is satisfy now. I reckon so. An' weuns never hed no words, me an' Joshaway; but I've been right sharp on Pete, an' Dave, an' John; but Joshaway never hurt nobody, an' nobody never hed no 'casion to hurt Joshaway. An' now he's gone afore me. But I reckon hisn eyes is satisfy--I reckon so."
Hannah rose, she could not listen any longer; she would cry out against the hard old woman sitting there with that immovable face. Her taste of freedom that day had unfitted her for the stolid submission of the past. She could not bear it, and she left the room. It scarcely seemed fair that her father should be brought back from his grave to blunt her grandmother's temper. She might be mistaken, and the words have been only loving recollections.
"Ole folks don't hev nothin' to do but 'member things," she whispered, wiping her eyes with the corner of her little shawl, as she stole away to the loft where the apples were stored. She put down the sacks and the measure carefully,
and, hanging the lantern on a nail in the low rafters, kneeled down cautiously. "An' Daddy would a-been willin' to be spoke 'bout to save me," the whisper went on, as she carefully picked out the apples and laid them in the measure. The fall of one might call her grandmother up to investigate, and prohibit. When the sacks were filled she lowered them from the window with a rope. It took a long time, and she was shivering uncontrollably when she took the lantern from the nail and crept downstairs.
The meat and the potatoes were easily arranged, for they were in an out-house. In the piazza she piled wood for the morning, and laid the kitchen fire ready for lighting. Her grandmother should have no extra work to complain of.
She took the milk pails and the kettle into her own room, for all must be done before day. And in after-years it seemed to her that her life dated from that cold, dark March morning. She milked, with the lantern casting weird shadows about her, refusing to listen to the strange noises of the wind, and trembled like a thief when she took off her shoes and stole into the kitchen with the milk. She was glad now that the wind was wild and high; she could hear the branch of a tree her father had planted close to the house,
scraping against her grandmother's window, and drowning any little noise that she might make.
She drank a bowl of milk, and put a piece of cold corn-bread into her pocket, to serve until she came back, and, as the first light broke in the east, and flashed a crimson flame from point to point of the low-flying clouds, Hannah closed the gate softly and rode away.
The shadows were still black in the woods, and the wind that came tearing down the mountain seemed to wrap round her, and to bend the trees down as if to bar her from this journey. Never before had the sunrise affected her as it did now, and realizing dimly a change in herself, she wondered a little, stopping to look down over the wild, mist-draped scene.
"Everything seems purtier now," she murmured.
A thread of blue smoke rose from among the trees below; she started, gathering up the reins; she knew where that came from.
"An' now poor Gramper's a-steddyin' what to say!" and she urged old Bess forward as if her grandmother might yet sally forth and stop her.
"But my being is confused with new experience,
And changed to something other than it was."
"Where are you off to, Max?" The young man addressed was adjusting a shabby gown with much precision.
"To Miss Welling's," Max answered, as with the same care he put on his square cap.
"If I had such a fossil gown," his companion went on from the bed where, though the day was young, he was lounging with a cigarette between his lips, "and such a crummy mortar-board, I'd not put them on with such solemnity and jurisdiction.' "
"If you could show such a cap and gown, Melville, you'd not be a 'Squab' "; and taking up some books, Max left the room.
It was early, but formal visiting hours were ignored in the village of Sewanee, and people kept open house, and "dropped in" on each other when they liked. So Max dropped in and found Miss Welling sewing.
"I have brought the book I spoke of," he
began, without further greeting. "This poet ought to capture you, to convert you to himself, for he makes one long to live bravely."
"Or die bravely," Agnes suggested.
"To live is harder. Death cannot be dodged, so there is no use in being afraid; but many things in life can be dodged. I often wonder if education makes any difference in the way one meets death. Is it easier for these country people to let life go than for us?"
"They live like moles," Agnes said, "in comparison we are squirrels; and I think they take a pride in dying. I think the ignorant die calmly because they do not know, and the educated because they do know."
"What? why--why, everything; which comprehensive everything is, after all, very limited. Still I believe in education. I know that educated people are happier and better."
"Whew!" and Max pulled his mustache slowly. "If I were sure of that, I should this day begin a crusade with a 'blue-backed' spelling-book as my banner. And you," leaning forward a little, "your duty is to begin at once to teach. If once we realize what is best to be done for our fellows, we must do it."
The door opened and Hannah stood before
them with a sack of apples across one shoulder. "Hardy," she said, her face lighting up as she caught sight of Agnes; "har's youuns apples."
"I am glad to see you," and Agnes held out her hand. Max looked from one to the other curiously, then placed a chair near the fire for Hannah. "It is cold," he said. Hannah looked at him a moment, then taking off her long bonnet, sat down on the edge of the chair.
"Yes, and she has come a long way," Agnes answered for her, then turned away to call the servant. Max took up the bag and followed Agnes into the next room, and she going still further, he returned to his place. Hannah watched him until he came back, then looked at the fire, and Max watched her. It was a beautiful face as he saw it now with the firelight on it, and he spoke to her.
"What Cove do you come from?" he asked.
"Then you must be connected with Mr. John Warren, and with his son?"
"He's my Gramper," she answered, in a surprised voice; "and hisn's son, Joshaway?"
"Yes; I met them out hunting last October."
"Joshaway were my Par"--the voice faltered, and the eyes sought the fire. "He were killed in November."
"Yes, I heard that. What is your name?"
"Hannah," watching Agnes as she returned.
"And is your grandfather quite well?" Max went on in a quiet way, that put Hannah at her ease and surprised Agnes.
"No, he ain't; he can't stir fur the rheumatiz, an' he ain't done a hand's turn sence hog-killin', jest atter Daddy died, an' I'll hev to hire Dock Wilson to help me plow."
"Can you read?"
"Some; Mammy hed schoolin', an' she larned dad, an' he larned me. But I don't hev no time, what with the cows, an' the hogs, an' the wood, an' the cookin', an' washin'; an' Granny says book-larnin' is foolishness."
"You must have too much to do; though work is a good friend."
"Thet's what Gramper says. He says work b'ars no gredges an' tells no lies; good work stan's up an' says 'good,' an' bad work stan's up an' says 'bad,' an' thar's no hushin' them, an' hit's true"; then rising, she took up the bag the servant had brought, and held out her hand to Agnes.
"Farwell," she said, "weuns'd be rale proud to see you down home."
"Thank you," Agnes said, smiling as Hannah, instead of shaking her hand, turned it over and looked at it curiously. Then she turned to Max. "You must come, too, an' what name shell I name to Gramper?"
"Max Dudley," shaking hands in his turn; "we camped together one night. I was lost and came on his camp. I will bring Miss Welling down"; then he opened the door for Hannah.
"And answered with such craft as women use,
Guilty or guiltless, to stave off a chance--
That breaks upon them perilously."
Successful as before, Hannah was happy, for, besides a little bag of flour, she had more money than she intended to show even to Mr. Warren. If he knew of this surplus he might reveal it in order to save her from hard words; and if Mrs. Warren knew, it would be stored away and she be left as helpless as before. She had made a long détour to reach the Wilsons' and engage Dock to plow, as she had the money to pay him. She would say four dollars, the rest she must save for other purposes.
Once more on the main road, she urged old Bess on. There was much excitement in her position, and she was anxious yet afraid. How would it be possible to see Mr. Warren alone first? She stopped the horse. "If I keeps on bein' afeard o' Granny," she said aloud, "I'll do sumpen rale mean some day." Old Bess was urged on again. "I'll go right in an' face her, crooked chance or straight chance." She
dropped the reins on the horse's neck, and took the old deer-skin purse from her pocket. It was quite full with her two days' gains, and she drew a long sigh. She took out all the money save the four dollars intended for Dock's wages, and tying it up in her glove, hid it in her bosom, then put the purse back in her pocket.
"Hit looks right sneakin', but I must save hit 'ginst Si."
Reaching the gate, she unsaddled the horse with unusual celerity, and shouldering the saddle and the little bag of flour, went quickly into the house.
It had been a long and weary day to the old man. Hannah's errand was a bitter pill to Mrs. Warren. She had never done such a thing in her life, nor was it customary with women of her station. In those early days, "the man who would let his women-folks peddle was a poor sort of man." But the concealment of the expedition had wounded Mrs. Warren also.
Often she had complained that she did not understand Hannah, for though she usually held herself very much aloof, Hannah would yet do work and associate with people that shocked Mrs. Warren, and the irritation caused by what she deemed the girl's peculiarities was a very constant thing.
"A goat raised a pup once, Mertildy," her husband had often said to her, "but she never could larn thet pup to butt; an' you'll never larn Hannah youuns ways."
All this ground, and the grievance about Si, had been gone over many times during the day. Mrs. Warren felt herself outwitted, for she was sure the difficulty of plowing had been solved. Her sequence had been--no man to plow--no money to pay a man--no crop, then want, or Si Durket.
"An' why not?" she had asked; "he's well-lookin' --he's well off--he's a man. He cusses some; he gits drunk some, and when he's mad, he is mad. But all the Durkets hes sperret, an' Si ain't none o' your soft-walkin'--still-tongued folks like the Warrens; an' when he walks, he stomps!"
Mr. Warren had told her of Hannah's first venture, how she had sat in the parlor, leaving Lizer in the kitchen--how she showed the "Durket sperret" about the apples, and how, after her purchases, Hannah had two dollars left.
These things had mollified her, until she remembered that they had been concealed from her: and when Hannah entered she turned her face away.
"Is you done dinner?" Hannah asked, then looked at her grandmother's averted face.
"Yes, Honey," Mr. Warren answered, twitching her dress furtively; "an' was the woman glad to see you?"
"Yes, and I had a rale nice time. Thar wuz a young man to Miss Agnes Wellin's that knowed you an' Daddy. Says he stayed all night to youuns camp. He's coming to see you, an' Miss Agnes is a-comin' too."
"That's right," Mr. Warren answered heartily; "I 'members that feller, he's named Dudley, and he's rale well-spoken."
"That's hit," Hannah assented, "an' I said as you and Granny would be proud to see 'em if they'd come, an' they said they'd come sure. An' Miss Agnes said I must come again." Then, more slowly, "Them folks at Sewanee is good folks, Gramper, an' the lies Mrs. Wilson tells 'em, an' tells 'bout 'em, is scan'alous! But they knows Lizer."
"And was you all the time a-doin' that?" Mrs. Warren asked curtly.
"No, I stopped a piece at Mrs. Skinner's and at the sto'. Aigs is awful sca'ce; Mrs. Skinner says she'll gimme twenty cents a dozen."
"Thet's a good price, sure," Mr. Warren said. "Did you promise any?"
"You said not to say I'd go again," Hannah answered.
"When you is done rubbin' 'gainst the pot, thar ain't no use a-fearing smut," Mrs. Warren put in sharply. "Hannah Warren is done knowed fur a peddler alonger Lizer Wilson an' sich, an' she misewell sell the aigs."
"If you sesso, Granny, I'm surely willin'," and Hannah did not give a sign of the surprise she felt. "An' Dock Wilson says he'll come a-Monday, Gramper."
Mrs. Warren looked up quickly. She saw some of her suspicions being made facts, and realized that Hannah was escaping her. "An' who's to pay?"
"I've got the money," Hannah answered. Then she went her way to the kitchen, where she stood still and drew a long breath of relief.
Is she wronged? To the rescue of her honor, My heart!
Is she poor?--What costs it to become a donor?
Merely an earth to cleave--a sea to part.
But that fortune should have thrust all this upon her!
"Dock Wilson!" Mrs. Wilson stood in the open door of her small log-house. Dock turned and looked from where he sat on the wood-pile whittling, but did not answer, and she raised her voice, "Dinner's done, an' I wish you'd come!"
Dock went on with the whittling, whistling softly. He was tall and fair, with a grave, kind face and his eyes were true. His stepmother, Lizer Wilson, ruled him "to the last notch," people said, but Dock had his own code and went his quiet way, with few words or friends. He had not been in the Cove long. When old man Wilson was dying, he sent for this son; and since his father's death Dock had worked faithfully for his stepmother and her two boys.
In Mrs. Warren's eyes he was contemptible. "Any man that kin stan' Lizer Wilson must hev cotton insides," she would say conclusively, and Hannah began to think of Dock with sympathy.
Just now he took his own time about obeying Mrs. Wilson's call. He was in deep thought that he seemed to work into the butter-paddle he was fashioning, whistling softly. He regarded it with some satisfaction, as he shut his knife and dropped it into his cavernous pocket.
"A piece o' glass 'll make hit smooth." He put it away in the hollow of a tree near by, and went into the house.
"Pears like you ain't much honggry," was Mrs. Wilson's greeting.
"I dunno," Dock answered, "I'll try an' see." For a few moments there was silence; then, eying Dock closely, Mrs. Wilson asked:
"What did Hannah Warren want?"
"She wanted to hire some plowin'."
Mrs. Wilson grunted. "Hiren plowin' an' been up twicest this week a-peddlin'. She to set up to run the place on hired han's; she'd better tuck Si Durket an' be done."
Dock shook his broad shoulders a little.
"Is you a-goin' to plow?"
"An' I bet you ain't made no trade, jest said you'd do hit."
"An' what kinder trade is you a-goin' to make?"
"If Hannah Warren hes to peddle to pay me, she kin pay what she hes a mind to pay, Hannah is a Sunday gal!"
"An' me an' the boys 'thout rags to ourn backs," rising, as if to keep up her voice; "an' you eatin' like a horse! I ain't a-goin' to stand hit, Dock Wilson, I tell you I ain't! An' thet dratted Hannah Warren thinkin' herself too good to go alonger me. You're a fool--a dead-gone fool! I ain't a-goin' to stand hit!"
Dock, rising, drew his shirt-sleeve slowly across his bearded lips as he rose. Mrs. Wilson seized his arm. "Is you deef?" she cried shrilly. Dock looked down on her.
"No," he answered deliberately, "I ain't deef; an' I b'lieve you could raise the dead, Lizer, much less make the deef hear."
The woman swung away from him. "I sw'ar you'll wish yerseff dead if you don't make a good trade," she said; "I sw'ar you will."
"Thet won't be nothin' new." Then Dock went to a little shanty he had built for himself, where Lizer was denied entrance. He pushed up the fire, and, sitting down, lighted his pipe. Hannah Warren! Her worth had dawned on him gradually. He was first struck by the difference between her and the other women he knew. She reminded him of a pool of water
deep under the rocks, where there was no sound of trickling stream--no ripple. In the evening, when the sun was setting and all was still, the purple light on the mountain-side seemed like her. He could not put it into words, but, when he saw these things he would whisper, "Hit 'minds me o' her." He did not dream of lifting his eyes to Hannah, he had scarcely ever spoken to her; but this far-off influence had changed his life. Now she had sought him. She had called him, softly, "Dock!" and when he stood beside her horse and looked up, the fair face seemed doubly fair, shining from the depths of her long bonnet. Drive a bargain with Hannah! he would see Lizer dead and buried first. It hurt him to think of her going about Sewanee peddling. It was very well for Lizer and the like, but Hannah was different. He had heard enough to make him sure she was peddling to save herself from Si Durket, and that she peddled against her grandmother's will. He had seen her cutting wood, and hauling it, too. Already he had carried wood there in the night, not enough to attract attention, but enough to help her. He must help her against Si, or he would have to kill Si. A quarrel was "easy picked."
Presently Mrs. Wilson's voice, ordering the
boys to bring in wood, reminded him that the more wood he cut to-day, the more time he would have to help Hannah next week. He put down his pipe, and soon the quick, sharp strokes of the axe rang through the stillness, until Hannah could hear them between her own less powerful blows.
She listened, and wondered what wages he would demand. Speaking to him, she had become sure of his goodness, and felt that if he knew how hardly she was bestead, he would not push her.
"But I can't tell him, if his heart is kind."
Si would come over the next day, it being Sunday, and she longed for snow or rain, even to the detriment of the plowing, to keep him at home. But before evening the clouds were swept away before a stinging northwest wind, and the morning dawned brilliantly clear.
"You'll hev a good week a-plowin'," Mr. Warren said, as he ate his breakfast.
"But we'll hev Si to-day," Hannah answered, "an' Granny will r'ar an' pitch if he riles her 'bout the peddlin'."
"Mebbe he won't say nothin', an' you kin keep him pleased."
Hannah looked up quickly. "If I makes b'lieve to favor him, I kin," she said; "but that's
a big lie, Gramper, an' surely you don't mean hit, kase if you goes against me I'll go and hire out."
"Lord! youuns Granny'll die!"
"Well, she'll hev to die 'fore I'll tuck Si." She felt strong now that she had a little money laid by; nevertheless her heart quailed a little when she saw Si dismount at the gate. She heard him come into her grandfather's room, and she longed to run away; instead, she emptied the water from the buckets, and, when the dishes were put away, sat with buckets on either side and her bonnet on. Presently a chair was moved, and Hannah was gone. Si found the kitchen empty. But, lengthen it as she would, the work was done at last, and when Mrs. Warren called her she had to go. She took her seat close to her grandfather, who laid his hand on hers, that rested on the arm of his chair.
Si was giving a grand description of a visit he had made lately to Chattanooga. It was something to have traveled on the railway, but a visit to Chattanooga was a thing to date from. He had brought back some "seegyars," one of which he now smoked with much ostentation.
Mrs. Warren looked and listened to her nephew with undisguised admiration, every now and then putting in an encouraging exclamation.
This great man was a Durket--the Warrens could not have produced him. She had tried her best to make her boys Durkets. She had showed them the "Durket sperret" faithfully; but each son, as he married, chose the quietest woman he could find. And now her granddaughter, who had this golden opportunity of mating with the flower of the Durkets, refused--and stood to her refusal with a strength in which Mrs. Warren might have seen a strain of "Durket sperret," if she had not been convinced that it was Warren obstinacy.
Presently Hannah was sent to see after dinner, then Si said: "We'll walk a piece after grub, Hannah."
"Yes, you do!" Mrs. Warren struck in; "I'll clean up--go 'long."
Hannah was tempted to hide, but the storm would then fall on her grandfather, who was bound to his chair, and always at the mercy of that merciless tongue. She must go with Si, and if there was a battle to be fought she must fight it.
"If there's a bad place in the road, pick up youuns foot an' cross it quick," she said to herself as she put the dinner on table--"thar' ain't no use in doubtin'--git over." Then she helped
her grandfather, and went back into the room as Mrs. Warren and Si left it.
She found that as yet nothing had been said about the peddling, and Si seemed in a good humor.
"But he hes hearn," Hannah thought, and took as long as she could to eat her own dinner.
At last the time came, and she passed quickly through the gate that Si held open, and turned into the public road going down the Cove. The bare trees along the mountain-tops seemed to be cut in ebony against the brilliant blue. The buds were swelling--the moss and lichens on the gray bowlders looked a brighter hue, the fields spread brown and ready for work, the birds were flying about busily, and through the stillness came the sound of falling water. The winter was done, and all nature was glad for the warm, soft wind that touched it into life again. The feeling swept over Hannah, too--a thrill of health and strength. The young year called to her youth that sprang forward to meet it. How happy she could have been! Si was still telling of the glories of Chattanooga, and Hannah had begun to hope that the walk would terminate peacefully, when he turned and said:
"Would you like to live to Chattynoogy?"
Hannah started, and answered, more sharply than was wise: "No, I wouldn't."
"An' why not?"
"Kase I ain't heard you tell 'bout nothin' thar 'ceppen cussin' an' whisky, an' I hates both."
Si laughed and pulled a flat bottle out of his pocket. "Thet's the best friend in the country," he said, "an' you'd soon larn to like hit-- hit's good. Why, gal, thet cost nigh onter two dollars a gallon! But Si Durket ain't feared o' spendin'."
Hannah was silent, hoping that Si would go on talking as he had done before, but he had other intentions.
"Would you like to live 'cross the mountain?" he asked, stooping to look under her bonnet.
Hannah drew back quickly. "No, I wouldn't"; and the tone of disgust in her voice cut her cousin like a lash.
"Damn it, then, you needn't!" he answered viciously, kicking a stone into the fields that lay below them. "An' peddlin' is what you likes-- peddlin' alonger Lizer Wilson an' Jane Harner an' sich--sittin' round folks' back do's alonger the niggers till the fine ladies come to buy; you likes thet."
"Peddlin' is hones'," Hannah answered, and turned toward the house. She was afraid to go farther away with Si in this humor.
"Whar's you a-goin'?"
"To milk the cows!"
"Damn the cows!" but Hannah walked on, and he had to follow her or be left. He made a long step. "Hannah!" and he caught her sleeve. She stopped and looked at him quietly. "Is you a-goin' to marry me?"
Hannah turned her head away and moved forward as if deliberating; but Si held her sleeve.
"Is you?" drawing nearer. Hannah took off her bonnet and turned it about in her hands.
"Weuns don't suit, Si," dropping the bonnet, and Si, stooping for it, let go her sleeve.
"Hit suits me, an' hit suits Aunt Tildy; you is the only one that can't be satisfy."
"Well, I'm the main one," her voice growing firmer, as she caught sight of Dock Wilson in a field near by. But Si went on with a patience that surprised her.
"An' what about me don't please you?" he asked.
Hannah shook her head, "Fire don't suit water," she answered, "An' corn won't grow outer 'tater eyes, but I dunno why."
"An' you won't?"
"An' who's a-goin' to run this place an' feed the old folks?"
"Peddlin'? Not if I knows hit. None o' my women folks ain't a-goin' to do thet, an' I'll show Aunt Tildy why. I knowed you were up to some trick when I hearn Jane Harner a-tellin', but you'll not go agin. If you do, thar'll be sicher talk raised as'll compel you to tuck anybody that axes you. An' everybody knows thet whoever comes nighst Hannah Warren is got Si Durket to fight."
Hannah walked on, silent.
"Does you onderstan'?" Si repeated, his head seeming to flatten in his anger like the head of a snake.
"I do--an' I tell you right now, Si, thet Hannah Warren 'll stay Hannah Warren furever," her eyes burning ominously into his. "You ner Granny can't skeer me; an' you kin tell all the lies you wants to 'bout me, kase if lies grows fast, truth grows strong."
Si uttered a great oath and raised his arm. Hannah smiled.
"You knocked youun's mammy, but--" then she paused, for at her words a livid hue overspread his face, and his arm dropped. For
a moment she watched him, then walked away; and Dock, out in the fields, kept her well in sight.
The cows were gathered round the gate, and, letting them in, she went for the pails and food. Mrs. Warren met her.
"Whar's Si?" she asked. Hannah pointed to an elevated part of the road, where Si could be seen leaning against a tree, and Mrs. Warren let her go. She was trembling with excitement, and longed to warn her grandfather of the gathering storm. She led the cows to a position that her grandfather could see from the window, and Si coming in would not pass near. She heard a cheerful whistle, and saw Dock leaning on the fence, looking over the fields they would plough the next day. She took no notice, but was glad he was near.
Steadily she went on with the milking, wondering why Si did not come. It was possible that he was emptying the bottle he had shown her; if so, anything might happen. At last he came, and passing without a word, went into the house. She saw that he still had her bonnet in his hand; perhaps he was not very drunk, but she shivered a little. She was milking the last cow when voices reached her. Her grandmother's voice, rising higher and higher, and Mr. Warren's
weaker tones calling out, "Mertildy! Mertildy!" Dock's whistle rose with the voices, and she saw that he had climbed the fence and was sitting on the wood-pile. He nodded as she looked, and she nodded in return.
"Hannah Warren!" She started--her grandmother was standing in the open lobby. She took up the pails and went in. There was no fear or nervousness in her demeanor, except that her hands trembled a little as she strained the milk; but even that had ceased by the time she washed them, and, pulling down her sleeves, turned to face her grandmother.
Mrs. Warren did not understand the expression on the young face that looked so full in hers; an expression of cold hardness mixed with a little contempt; a look the old woman had never met before. For the moment she was disconcerted and turned toward her room, then, the spell of the look being broken, her voice rose sharp and clear. "This away!" she called; "come right in; I'll hev the truth o' this dratted business or die--come in!" But Hannah felt secure; her grandmother had flinched before her look, and instantly she felt a pity for what was weaker than herself. She would explain and keep the peace if possible, and she took her seat near her grandfather, just opposite Si.
"An' now, Hannah Warren, jes say what you mean by a-lyin' 'bout apples as were promised; jest tell the truth if you kin, fur I'll hev it outer you or die!" and Mrs. Warren's voice was rasping in its bitterness as she stood with arms akimbo, glaring at the two who sat so close together.
"Hit worn't no lie; I did tuck up apples I hed promised to Miss Agnes Wellin' and Mrs. Skinner."
"An' the meat an' the taters, whar'd you sell them?" stamping her foot as she came near. A faint color came in Hannah's face, but she answered, quietly still:
"I dunno what thet woman were named."
"No, thet you don't!" coming nearer still, and working herself up to a pitch of anger that would soon be beyond control; "but Si knows, he's 'cute as you, stealin' fust an' lyin' atterwards. How dar' you tuck them things--how dar' you go a-peddlin' 'thout axin' me--how dar' you--how dar' you do hit!"
"I never lied, an' I never stole, Granny," the girl answered, rising to her feet, "an' if you're a-goin' to keep Si Durket to crawl round an' spy on me, I'm a-goin'." She had risen because she expected now, what had always come with any burst of anger, quick, hard blows. And as
she finished speaking the brown, sinewy old fist flashed up, but as quickly the girl caught it in her strong young hand--an action that was more to Mrs. Warren than a return blow would have been, for it meant not war, but victory.
"Granny"--the low voice trembled, and the dark eyes flashed--"I've done tuck my last orders, an' I've done tuck my last blow. I'm a woman now, an' you must larn to 'member hit." A silence fell that seemed the silence of death, as the anger on the old face changed to terror, and a gray hue spread from lips to brow --a deadly gray hue as the fierce old eyes grew dim, and a slight foam came on the parched lips. It was an awful change, scarcely realized by the girl until a low cry from her grandfather made her spring forward and catch the reeling figure.
"Help me, Si!" she called, and between them they laid Mrs. Warren on the bed. "Open the winders an' fetch some water--" and while Si, half dazed with liquor, clumsily obeyed, Hannah loosened the old woman's clothes, and Mr. Warren, unable to move, wrung his hands.
"She's hed hit afore!" he wailed, "an' they said not to make her mad no mo'--an' we never did--oh, Lord! hev mussy--hev mussy! I oughter hev tole Hannah, an' I never did. I
never hed no 'casion, she were such a peaceable chile--an' now--Lord, hev mussy--hev mussy!"
No, they had never told her. With the old man's words there came to Hannah the memory of the years through which all had bowed to the relentless will of this old woman. She had thought there was some truth in her grandmother's scorn for the weakness of the Warrens that yielded so quietly to the "Durket sperret," and she had determined to vindicate the Warrens --alas! Those strong men submitted because they were strong, and the old woman ruled because she was weak. And now in her pride she had made all those years of sacrifice of no avail! There came a weak sigh. "Hesh, Gramper," she said, softly, to still the old man's wail, and motioned Si from the room. The sight of him would recall too much.
Dock watched him go, then walked away slowly.
"I'll help her agin Si to the tune of a bullet, if thar's a needcessity," he said to himself, "an' never feel myseff no sinner, nuther." And Hannah missed the friendly whistle that had helped her.
"Yet, ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The nightingale that in the branches sang--
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!"
"Would but some wingèd Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate.
And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister or quite obliterate!"
Monday was bright, and only cold enough to remind people that frost might still come to harass them. An exquisite morning, with that "sense of tears in mortal things" that seems ever to veil the glory of the spring.
Agnes Welling always declared that she liked Sewanee much better in winter than in the rush of summer gayety. Question her, and it would be found that by "winter" she meant from the end of August to the first of July. From the crisply cool days of September, when the first touch of crimson is on the tall black gums, and the blue gentian bells bloom by the clear, brown streams; when the white shell flowers, like fallen stars, look up from among the shadowy ferns, it
is as a dream--a dream where the air is sweeter than life; where the sky melts into illimitable depths of blue, and the purple haze, like the shadow of light, spreads over all the land. Then, in the great, still forests, the leaves float down softly, tenderly to death; the nuts fall--the squirrels drop from limb to limb--the brilliant lizards bask in the last warm sun, and the partridges whir up and away from their hiding in the dry, brown leaves. Through the long white winter, when the trees bend with the weight of ice, and the snow hushes all to the silence of death--when the pulse of nature beats so slow, and only the cold winds cry and move. Through all the sweet waking of the flowers, and the fresh budding of the trees--through the glory of June to the glare of July--all this Agnes called "winter." And leaning on the gate this Monday morning, she thought, "Only to live is enough."
"A penny for your thoughts!" and Max Dudley joined her.
"I am mooning over the seasons, wondering which I like best."
"Which is the saddest? Tell me that, and I will tell you which you like best. Young people, ignorant of sorrow, have usually a leaning toward the melancholy."
"You being very old."
"Measuring by experience, yes. But about the seasons?"
"The saddest season in life must be when we have outlived our longings."
Max gave her a quick look. It was not often that she showed herself, yet now she had turned deliberately from the lighter side of the subject. Was it confidence in him? And he answered:
"That we cannot do. In youth we long for the future; after that, we look back with longing."
"And when is 'that'?"
"I do not know. In the turmoil we do not seem to see the line; then we look up, and all is behind us, save our longings."
"And regrets? They seem immortal."
" 'Oh, last regret, regret can die!' "
"Poetry scarcely counts for proof."
"True poets are prophets," Max answered. "They glorify common things, purify all things, and interpret the universe."
"Does 'common things' include people?" Agnes questioned. "And does the poet make them glorious, or only cast a glory about them?"
"Yes, to both questions," looking at her with a smile, "because I have that great liking and
respect for the lower classes which you say you cannot understand. I like them, even if they be moles and our favored selves squirrels."
"That is a very good simile," Agnes maintained, "for their lives are passed in the blackness of intellectual darkness."
"And ours in the high tree-tops of culture. Even so, but to what better purpose? The mole makes a living; what more does the squirrel? And what difference does it make to the mole so long as he does not know what it is to be a squirrel? Of course I am thankful that I am a squirrel; still, if I were a mole, I hope that I should be in this same state of mind, and burrow diligently into the best potato-patch I could find."
"And you do not think you would want to rise if, for instance, you were a Covite?"
Max shook his head. "If you should ask a Covite that question," he answered, "he would very soon show you that he did not consider your condition any better than his own. And if you changed his environment, he would not thank you any more than the mole would thank you if you should take him from his burrow and put him up a tree. Yet this is what you aim at in your educational crusade. I object to it. I like these people through this country, who have
the habits and even the thoughts of eighty years ago, and with it a sturdy independence of opinion."
"And you do not think that Hannah Warren, for instance, would be better for an education and a little civilization? Think how charming she would be if well dressed and speaking good English."
"But not molded by a free school. From that she would return, probably, with frizzed bangs and a great love for chewing-gum."
"Horrid! But here she comes now; see how pretty she is."
Max turned and saw Hannah leading her horse. She was walking very slowly, with her bare bead drooped, and in her hand her bonnet and a tin bucket.
"She is almost beautiful," Max answered, "but do you think that drapings and a fantastical hat would improve her?"
"I think a simple white frock and a big white hat would make her altogether beautiful; and the mole would not be 'up a tree,' but developed into an ideal squirrel, for it would have the cornbread training of the mole and the graces of the squirrel. She would be your ideal. Shall we civilize her?"
Max looked at her questioningly for a
moment, then laughing, he answered, "By all means."
Hannah was about to fasten her horse, when she became aware of their presence, and a wave of color swept over her face, while her soft eyes looked from one to the other.
"How do you do, Hannah?" and Agnes stretched her hand over the fence in greeting. Hannah looked puzzled, then Max taking her bonnet and bucket, she gave him a grateful glance and took Agnes' outstretched hand.
"I'm well as common, Miss Agnes, but Granny's sick. She were tuck bad yisterday; she's deep in the bed this mornin'."
"And you have brought some butter?" Agnes went on, holding out her hand for the bucket.
"Let me bring it in for you!" Max said, But Agnes shook her head and walked away. Max watched her a moment, then turned to Hannah, who looked so wearily dispirited. "What ails your grandmother?" he asked.
"She got mad fust, an' then she hed a fit, tell I 'llowed she were dead."
Here Agnes came back. "Your bucket will come in a moment," she said; "won't you come in and rest?"
"I'm obleeged to you, Miss Agnes, but I'm after the doctor; I'll stop back for the bucket."
As she turned away she looked up at Max. "Gramper 'members you, Mr. Dudley, and wants to see you an' Miss Agnes powerful; but when you comes," looking pleadingly from one to the other, "for the mussy sake don't say nothin' 'bout peddlin'."
"Of course not; and if there is anything I can do for you, Hannah, you will promise to let me know?"
"Yes, sir." The low voice was tremulous, and the dark eyes full of tears. "I'm in a dark trouble, Mr. Dudley; far'well."
"That was a picturesque expression," Agnes said; "some love affair, I suppose. They are usually the dark troubles of youth."
"It seems to be her grandmother, not a likely hero for a love affair; and she begged us not to mention peddling."
"Here comes Mrs. Wilson," Agnes said; "let us ask her."
"But not betray Hannah."
"Of course not," looking at him curiously for a moment.
"Good-mornin', Miss Agnes; is you hearty?"
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Wilson; what is it this morning?"
"Jest a few aigs. I coulder sold 'em, but I allers brings 'em here fust."
"I do not think I want them. Is Mrs. Warren very ill?"
"Nothin' but tantrums," grunting contemptuously. "She's sot on Hannah a-marryin' her cousin Si Durket, and Hannah's sot agin hit. An' Hannah slips off an' peddles for money to run the place, an' ole Mrs. Warren 'llowed that Hannah couldn't run the place, an' would jest hev to tuck Si, an' she's mad tell she's sick; an' thet's the jig they're dancin' to now."
Max looked indignant. "Poor girl!" he said.
"Hannah 'll not git hurt," Mrs. Wilson sneered, and went her way.
"A 'mole romance' for you, Mr. Dudley," Agnes said. "I suppose there is a 'true love' somewhere to whom Hannah is faithful."
"And you laugh at true love? Give me time and I will prove it to you," a betraying earnestness creeping into his voice.
"As much as you like," and Agnes turned away.
"Alas! shall hope be nursed
On life's all-succoring breast in vain,
And made so perfect only to be slain?"
Mrs. Warren's attack seemed to have taken all hope out of Hannah's life, for opposition to the old woman's will might mean death. She longed to go away and work, and send the money back, but she could not. For years her father and grandfather had lived lives of purest self-abnegation, and as they had borne so she must wait and bear; and some words her father used to say seemed now to have been the keynote of his life, "Hit's easier to hurt than to heal," he would say, and leave the house to smoke his pipe outside. And now, as she rode through the glancing lights and shadows of the sweet spring day, she had a great longing to tell her father that she understood him now, and would follow in his footsteps. "I'll do jist what he done, kase if I kills Granny, all he done is gone fur nuthin', an' what he planted shell be gethered." She had been taught by example, and the lesson had gone very deep.
Mrs. Warren had refused to talk the night
before, and this morning had spoken only to find fault and to order the doctor. This would diminish Hannah's savings sorely, and there was an unacknowledged suspicion in Hannah's mind that the physician had been called on purpose to absorb this money. In this, however, she was mistaken, and this demand for medical attention was a pledge of safety. Mrs. Warren was far more afraid of having another fit than Hannah was of causing it. The thought of death coming in this sudden way terrified her, and she was pitifully eager to avoid it. All her life she had been superstitious about the number three, and now saw death in the third fit.
She had dressed herself and put things to rights as usual; then, taking her knitting, sat down near the window, watching, with miserable but silent anxiety, for Hannah. She was feverishly anxious that things should seem as at other times, and the deprecating tenderness of her husband was dreadful to her. "For the Lord's sake, John Warren, quit a-whinin'!" she cried nervously; "you needn't be afeared that I'm agoin' to hev any mo' fits. But Hannah's got mo' sperret 'an any Warren I ever seen. Hit's better to git mud on you by prancin' 'an by crawlin', but she ain't a-goin' to prance on me."
Hannah found things so much as usual on her
return that Sunday began to seem like a bad dream. "The doctor's a-comin'," she said; then, as Mrs. Warren neither looked up nor answered, she turned to leave the room.
"Ain't thar nothin' mo' to tell?" Mrs. Warren said sharply. She was anxious to be diverted, and angry because she knew that, in her absence, Hannah would have much to tell Mr. Warren. Hannah came back and knelt in front of the fire. "Miss Agnes were leanin' on the gate, an' Mr. Dudley," she began; "an' I tole 'em I come fur the doctor kase you were sick, an' they were mighty sorry; an' Mr. Dudley says if thar were anything he could do, jest to let him know."
"I'd be rayly proud to see Mr. Dudley," Mr. Warren said, as Hannah paused; "when he talks I think I'm hearin' the paper read."
"An' the doctor axed a-many a question," she went on, "an' he prophesied thet you'd be up 'ginst I got home, an' you is." The old woman listened eagerly; if the doctor could tell that much from questions, perhaps he could cure her entirely. She felt much happier, and answered Hannah's next question amiably.
"Yes, you kin make a few biscuit, an' make some rale strong cawfee; I reckon the doctor 'll tuck a swaller."
Hannah went out to the fence after this, and as she waited for Dock's slow plow she wondered what had happened to sweeten her grandmother's mood.
"You hev done a heap," she said, as Dock paused and drew his shirt sleeve across his forehead; "I'll bet you ain't rested."
"I ain't tired yit," Dock answered; then looking away, "the doctor don't tuk no pay from po' folks," he said, "but he'll tuck pay from you."
"I know hit," wondering how much Dock knew of her difficulties, "an' I've got hit, an' for you, too, Dock."
"Hit don't make no difference 'bout me," seizing his plow handles as if for instant departure, "I kin wait--or never," he added after a moment's pause. Hannah looked at him curiously. She remembered his waiting until Si left, and how this morning he had come at the first streak of dawn and cut a great pile of wood; and as she watched him standing there with averted face, her eyes filled with tears of gratitude.
"I'm 'bleeged to you all the same, Dock," she said, "but I've got the money." After dinner Hannah "geared up" old Bess and joined Dock in the fields, and when the evening fell she thought she had never seen such an honest day's work. And while her grandmother and Dock
were eating their supper in the kitchen, Mrs. Warren talking so affably about the doctor's visit that she astonished Dock into a brisk conversation, Hannah told her grandfather all Dock's goodness and gave him the money to pay Dock. "I can't do hit, Gramper," she said, "kase thar's a heap that money can't pay fur, an' I 'llow he'd ruther git hit from you."
Tuesday rose clear, and Hannah hurried through her housework, for, in spite of all Dock's exertions, her absence the day before had made a difference. If her grandmother would only get dinner as usual; but she did not suggest it. While she plowed, her thoughts wandered off to Agnes Welling--so fair and delicate. The white clouds brought Agnes back to her; so did the soft, fresh wind as it swept by. A sense of coarseness came over her. She was like the clods her plow turned: she was clumsy, like her own heavy shoes that she had silently compared with Agnes' dainty slipper. What made the difference? Her thoughts glanced from Si Durket, as lowest in the scale, to Max Dudley, and to the other young man she had seen first with Agnes. That first day she had decided that he was Agnes' "sweetheart," but she was doubtful about it now, for Max Dudley was with her so much oftener. She tried to
think of Agnes as mated with Si, and blushed at the thought. What was it made the difference? Until she had gone to Sewanee, she had thought herself the best--her grandmother had taught her this; but now she knew her grandmother had been mistaken. And the valley people who had laughed at the Sewanee people as "fools, 'llowin' they wuz extry fine kase o' book larnin," --they were mistaken, too. She saw at once that there was a difference in favor of the Sewanee people, and if books made this difference, they were right to care for books. Had anyone observed this before? She would ask her grandfather; he would know.
Suddenly the sound of the horn blown sharply, roused her, and seeing her shadow gathered close about her feet, she hoped that Mrs. Warren had prepared dinner. She was loosing her horse from the plow when another sharp blast made her drop everything and run. Reaching the yard, she saw Mrs. Warren hurrying about, and she felt relieved.
"Fur mussy sake hurry!" the old woman cried. "Youuns Uncle Durket's a-dyin', an' Si hes sent fur me. Git me sumpen to eat quick, while I gits my things"--her voice was tremulous --"My po' brether; an' I ain't seen him so long. Po' Dave--po' Dave!--jest to think!"
and while she talked, walking back and forth, putting things together in a bundle, Hannah prepared dinner, and Mr. Warren watched his wife uneasily. She ought not to go, but, in her present state of nervousness, opposition might do more harm than the ride and the tumult she would find "over the mountain"; so he said nothing except "Po' Dave--who would hev thought it?" This monotonous little refrain seemed to please Mrs. Warren, for she paused sometimes to hear it, at last she said, "Sure enough, who would hev thought hit? But when the Durkets start to do anything, they don't mind what folks think." She became less nervous after this, for her own speech reminded her that she had the Durket name to sustain, and a little accident like death must not upset her. At last all was arranged, and Hannah went with her to the gate.
"I'll stop tell atter the buryin'," she said, "an' see how things is left; I most knows hit'll all come to Si, kase young Dave ain't got good sense, if he is oldern Si. An' if I sends fur you to come to the buryin', Hannah, leff Dock alonger youuns Gramper an' come."
"All right, Granny," and as the little procession moved away, she hurried to the kitchen, shutting her grandfather's door as she passed,
and carrying with her the picture of him so helpless, so patient. The old man's mind was back in the days when he was courting Matilda Durket, the handsomest, richest, tartest girl in the county; with one brother David, who managed afterward to get all the property.
"If I hed a-married Mertildy fur her money, I woulder made some fuss 'bout Dave gittin' everything, kase half were rightly Mertildy's. But I hed enough, an' mebbe I'm a-doin' Dave a onjustice, an' him a-dyin'. Mebbe hisn's par give hit to him far' an' squar'; but he's got white eyes, an' thet ain't a good color fur a hones' man." Then he sat silent, gone back into days that had come to seem like dreams; and started with a cry when Hannah came with his dinner.
"An eye to everything--keen eyes like gimlets:
And a tongue--there are no words for that!
So bitter, sharp, so hard, so swift to probe
Into the heart of things; and for excuse--
For making black look white--no tongue like hers."
From inertia solely, Mrs. Warren had fallen into the habit of staying at home, until at last she looked upon it as a virtue. From this she came to rail mercilessly on those whose habits were different, calling them "slip arounds" and "light heels," and other unpleasant names that made her own going impossible, except in cases of necessity. But this journey was such a necessity, and Mrs. Warren enjoyed it in spite of its occasion, or, rather, because of its occasion, for nothing makes people so important as affliction. The Warrens and the Durkets stood on the same social level, and as the two aristocratic lines met in Mrs. John Warren, she was regarded as a very important person, indeed; and, assisted by her temper and tongue, she kept people greater than Lizer Wilson in much awe. Of course it
would be noised abroad that Mrs. John Warren was coming, and this would insure a gathering of the "upper ten" from all the valleys. People would come even from the "Beech settlement." The Budds would be there: not as rich as the Durkets, but more traveled, for they had been not only to Nashville and Chattanooga, but one member of the family had penetrated as far as Atlanta on the one side and Memphis on the other. Thus, although without the blood of the Durkets, the Budds had achieved a position that in some respects rivaled theirs. Then Dave Durket, Jr., had married Minerva Budd.
Mrs. Warren knew that she was going where she would be treated with some distinction, and was pleasantly excited. She shuddered once or twice when she remembered that Jane Harner had probably spread the report of Hannah's peddling, and as the exploit could not be denied, she must tell them that Hannah had gone to visit a friend in the University. It was true that Mrs. Warren had a contempt for Sewanee, and so far had ignored it; but the Sewanee people could not be despised save for their thriftlessness, born of love of books; for no one could prove that they were not as well born as any family in the valley. They behaved as if they were above their neighbors, but this mistake,
she felt, came of that same pride of knowledge. Young Mrs. David Durket, Mrs. Warren's dearest foe, was a graduate of a country college, and thought herself learned, but she knew no Sewanee people, and if Mrs. Warren could emphasize the fact that Hannah had friends among these new people, who ate and drank books, it would be pain to Mrs. Dave. Further, she could say that one combining Durket and Warren blood could do what she pleased. She went so far as to acknowledge to herself that she had made a mistake in railing at the girl, and in not presenting this view of things to Si; for Mrs. Warren still clung to the thought of the Durket alliance. This visit could be turned to good account, if used properly, and enable her to rectify many things. She had never been able to prove that her brother had cheated her out of her share of the property, but she knew that it had happened only because of her absence. Her brother had taken the position that his father did not want the property divided, and that he, David Durket, would, in his turn, leave the land intact to one son. And Si thought, and the community thought, and Mrs. Warren was sure, that the heir would be Si; for the other son, David, was weak-minded.
But David had married a woman, Minerva
Budd, who was far from weak-minded. She never resented the opinion that Si should be the heir; instead, she made much of Si; almost as much as she made of the old man, who never before had received such flattering attentions.
It was a long, rough ride across the mountains, and Mrs. Warren was tired before her horse began to bog along the red clay valley, and was thankful when at last she arrived.
Nothing seemed changed since her girlhood. The fences seemed the same, with about the same number of rotten and of missing rails. She seemed to see the same cows and horses-- the same stumps. She could swear to the stumps--for who ever wasted time on a stump? The inclosures about the house were absolutely unchanged, only that the apple trees looked a little older. The branch was full, as always in the spring, and she could have declared that the geese had not changed even a feather.
Si came out and helped her down, looking supernaturally solemn. Mrs. Dave waited in the doorway. Her front hair painfully frizzed, long earrings in her ears, her stumpy fingers much beringed--and her jaws working patiently and doggedly on a piece of "chewing gum," for, in spite of her travels and mental attainments, she had retained that barbarism.
"How sweet too welcome those we love, Aunt Warren!" she said. "And are you well?"
"Well as common," Mrs. Warren answered.
"An' had you an enjoyable ride too-day?"
"No, hit were dratted rough, Minervy Budd, an' you knows hit. How's my po' brether?"
"My dear papa is weakenin' sadly," leading the way upstairs. "You'll want too remove your ridin' skirt, dear Aunt," opening the door into a gaudily papered but fireless bedroom. "My dear papa's apartment is on the right side as you descend; an' I must return too my dooties"; and, waiting for no reply, she left the room.
Mrs. Warren's ire was rising. "Hit's enough to make a hog sick," she muttered, "to hear that fool go on, an' she as ugly as a pot o' homemade soap. Her dear 'pup-par'--Lord! what is we a-comin' to? A Budd as much as callin' a Durket daddy--let alone 'pup-par!' An' her 'dooties,' an' 'too-day!' Work is good enough fur anybody, an' ter-day is too good fur a Budd. But when a man marries a parry-toed, whinin' fool like my po' brether done, they must speck to hev chilluns like young Dave; an' only God knows who them chilluns 'll marry. But this is rale purty paper," regretfully; putting her spectacles in
place, "an' the beds is right well dressed, but I'd ruther hev a fire 'an all them frizzled papers a-setting in thet ole pitcher." She looked about a little longer, then unbuttoned the ginger-colored skirt that had protected her during the long ride and shook out her frock. This frock was black, and a good piece of stuff, and the handkerchief about her throat was silk, and fastened with a large gold brooch, in which was set a ghastly picture of her husband. Her earrings had been put on before she left home, for she had not kept straws in the "bores" of her ears all these years for nothing. Her hair was screwed on top her head with a high comb brought from "North Calliny" by her mother. It had made her sun-bonnet rather uncomfortable, and the big hoop-earrings had felt very heavy, but she "hed to put on good clothes to down Minervy Budd." She smoothed her knitted mittens over her wrists, and extracting a large white handkerchief from her bundle, she folded it up as small as possible, and holding it tightly in her hands, began a stately descent on the lower regions.
"I wonder who's gethered," she muttered. "Thar's nothin' like a rale good sickness fur getherin' folks. I reckon Minervy Budd is got too much larnin' to hev anything to eat; I reckon
she specks us to chaw newspapers. Hardy, Dave!" to her nephew who stood in the barren, bleak hall that was checkered from end to end with a mosaic of red-clay foot-tracks.
"Hardy, Aunt Tildy, is you well?"
"Well as common. Minervy looks as biggitty as a settin' hen," shaking hands carelessly, "how's youuns Par?"
"Dad's a-goin'. This do', Aunt Tildy," holding one open.
Mrs. Warren paused a moment, then entered with the dignity she thought due to herself, and saw that she made an impression. Mrs. Dave Durket saw it, too, and wondered, but stood aside, with her eyes cast down. Besides the sick skeleton propped up on the bed, there was quite a number of people sitting in the room, waiting, with solemn faces and folded hands, to see their friend die.
As Mrs. Warren had expected, the Budds were there; also Dr. Slocum, the family physician and his wife; and Mrs. Billingsly and her husband, Preacher Billingsly, who was a lawyer as well. He was a friend of long standing, and when Si returned on Sunday he had found Preacher Billingsly there, and from that time he had never left the sick man.
As Mrs. Warren entered, the preacher and the
doctor rose. Others rose, too, and all watched the meeting.
"Hardy, brether Dave, does you know me?" approaching the bed and taking in hers the bony hand that lay on the quilt. The hollow eyes opened. "Yes, Tildy," then drawing her down he whispered, "I've done right 'bout the lan', an' John Warren were mighty good never to make no fuss."
As Mrs. Warren had but one idea of right in regard to the land, this puzzled her, but she answered so as to be heard, "The Warrens hed plenty, Dave." Away from the Warrens she was loyal.
"An' as Hannah's a-goin' to tuck Si, she 'll git youun's shar', Tildy." Then his breath failed him, and the doctor put some whisky to his lips, while the spectators watched breathlessly, and none so breathless as Mrs. Dave. Si came in and leaned over his father, but the old man shook his head.
"Tildy, come close," he muttered, and again Mrs. Warren bent over him. "I keeps on a-seein' Dad, Tildy," he whispered. "He ain't never leff me since Sunday. He keeps on a-holdin' up hisn's han's like I wuz agoin' to knock him." A pallor crept over Mrs. Warren's face, that seemed to spread to Si's as they looked
at each other, and she whispered, "Did you do it, Dave?"
"Yes, oh, Lord! yes!" he wailed, "won't my sins git no forgivenness?"
"Yes--yes! Brother Durket," struck in Preacher Billingsly, who had caught only this last wail, "jest hev faith, Brother Durket."
The hollow eyes seemed on fire. "But my ole Dad ain't never rested," he cried aloud, and the company shivered. "Day ner night--day ner night--he ain't never left me. He comes an' goes. I've seen him a-many a time a-peepin' in thet do'--an a-rockin' in the cheer by the fire --an' a-cropin' up an' down the sta'rs--an' thar he is! Go 'way, Dad! go 'way! I've done jestice --jestice!" and while he stared and pointed he fell back dead. The women screamed, but the men, looking in each other's eyes, were still. Mrs. Warren stood there for one moment, then turned and went out like one in a dream. Her brother had intimidated her father--had stolen her share of the property, and had been haunted! All these years her father had never rested; had roamed and wandered, following up the thief; had come even when his son lay dying. She paused in the hall, trembling and uncertain. Si came up to her hurriedly with a glass of whisky; he had been drinking and made her finish his
potations. "Drink hit an' furgit all thet damned foolishness. Come git a bite," and taking her arm he led her into the long, low kitchen, where the family also ate. Jane Harner was serving, assisted by a friend, and their solemn greetings restored to Mrs. Warren some of her lost composure.
Si seated his aunt at the narrow table and helped her vigorously. Presently he went away, and when he returned, smelling more strongly of whisky, he was supporting Minerva, and followed by Dave. "Eat, Aunt Tildy, eat!" he cried. "Eat, Minervy; hit were sickness made Dad crazy. Jane Harner, go call the folks, I'll sen' fur Hannah 'fore day, Aunt Tildy," helping himself. "She must git here 'fore the buryin'. Hit'll be ter-morrer evenin'. All's ready 'ceppen the grave, an' thet's easy dug now the ground is soft. Hit'll be over in the new graveyard whar Mar is buried; an' youun's Par, Aunt Tildy."
"Silas, my dear," snuffled Minerva, "graves is too much for my nerves. Will Cousin Hannah have a black dress, Aunt Warren?"
"Hannah Warren's got as much as you, Minervy Budd, an' she aint made skimpy, nuther"; Mrs. Warren answered; her spirit was returning. "She don't look like no pickled cucumber. She's got good hones' eyes thet don't wink an'
blink liker sore-eye dog a-layin' in the sun; an' when she talks she says hit out like the best kinder folks is usin' to hear hit said, an' don't keep on a-whistlin' hit liker pattridge in the springtime."
"True as Scriptur!" Si cried.
"An' if I send her word or no, she mout not put on all she's got; kase Hannah's got the Durket sperret if she is a Warren."
"She's got hit sho!" Si cried; and David blinked his foolish, big eyes and repeated, "Sho."
"I wants too see my Cousin Hannah," Minerva said. "I were away too cawlidge for so long a period, thet I hev not made her acquaintance, but, through Silas' speakin', I love her like a sister."
"Well, jest keep on," Mrs. Warren answered, "but don't look to see no fool from cawlidge. Hannah Warren's got good horse sense, an' don't need no cawlidge. God never made womens fur no cawlidge; an' jest so a woman kin wash, an' cook, an' sew, an' raise her chilluns, that's all the needcissity God is got fur her."
Minerva's little black eyes flashed, then were quickly cast down again. "I hope my Cousin Hannah 'll like me, anyhow," she said, with a toss of her head.
"She mout, an' she mout not," Mrs. Warren
answered, "but Hannah don't like many folks; an' if Si wuz not a-stuffin' hisself, an' hisn's po' daddy a-bein' laid out, hed sesso."
"Hannah peddles to Sewanee, don't she?" Minerva asked.
There was a little flutter in the audience, then a deadly pause while Mrs. Warren eyed Mrs. Dave, who answered her enemy's gaze with malice in her eyes that did not waver until Mrs. Warren answered, with apparent frankness, "Yes, she did go a-peddlin'--leastways, she tuck Lizer Wilson 'long to do the peddlin' an' lead the nag," looking about her with a smile. "An' Lizer never hed no better sense than to tuck Hannah to the back do'; but Hannah knowed thet no Warren ner no Durket wornt made fur stannin' 'round back do's an' tradin' alonger niggers. So the nex' house whar Hannah knowed the woman, she sont Lizer to the kitchen, an' she went to the settin' room alonger Miss Agnes Wellin' an' Mr. Dudley; an' soon's he hearn her title he knowed her, an' were mightily pleased to git acquainted," nodding and smiling, while Minerva stared in astonishment. "An' Mr. Dudley an' Miss Wellin' is a-comin' down to see Hannah. Yes, she peddled, but thet's the way she done hit. An' you'd peddle day and night, Minervy Budd, to
get to know them folks to Sewanee. But, Lord! them folks come from fur places, an' knows what's what, an' seen thet Hannah Warren air the right sort. An' talk 'bout book-larnin'--mussy! Them folks never stirs 'thout books in they uns' han's; but fur all thet some is rale nice. I tole Hannah, says I, 'Jane Harner 'll surely tell hit thet you peddles,' says I. Says she, proud-like, 'A Warren or a Durket kin do anything,' says she. I tell you, Hannah Warren is got the Durket sperret."
Here the door opened and Brother Billingsly came in. "My dearly beloved friends," said he, "will you please to walk into where our departed brother is layin' at ease, his sins forgiven and his soul at peace." The company rose, then waited for Mrs. Warren and Minerva to lead the way. Minerva took her aunt's arm, and drooped her head lovingly on her shoulder. Mrs. Warren did not seem to observe her, for now the awful scene of the death rushed back on her, and she trembled and turned pale. Family pride made her glad that none but Si and herself had heard the confession; and though the whole company had heard the last pitiful cry, they would think, and truly, that the justice that had been done was to herself, for everyone knew that her brother had kept the whole property.
Arrayed in his best clothes, with a large white handkerchief over his face, the dead man lay, stiff and stark, in the coffin that rested on two chairs. On either side of the empty fireplace sat Si and Dave. Dr. Slocum was close by the coffin. The bed was 'fresh dressed'; lighted lamps and candles stood about, for the day, was closing, and a row of men were seated against the wall. As Mrs. Warren and Minerva approached the coffin, Dr. Slocum turned the handkerchief back with a gesture of resigned despair and looked away. Minerva fell on her knees and wailed aloud. Others began to groan and shake their heads with short, staccato grunts; but after one look Mrs. Warren walked away. The doctor had told her that excitement was bad for her, and she was afraid. She left the room where the people were now crowding about the coffin, shaking their heads and groaning as if in the profoundest woe. Nobody really cared, but it showed a gratifying family influence that so many pretended. It was going to be a "good buryin'," but she had done enough for one day, and needed rest and a smoke. She went to the kitchen, where Jane Harner and her friend were taking the first cups of the fresh coffee, made ostensibly for the 'watchers.' Jane had made it early in order to secure the grounds of former
pots of coffee. If she waited, Mrs. Dave would herself secure the grounds. As cook, Jane had for two days provided with a lavish hand; and Mrs. Dave had not dared to watch or to object, for any shadow of carefulness on such an occasion would be the blackest disgrace. Jane's basket under the back steps had in it much cold pork, fried chicken, sausage, pies, cake, pickles, and sugar; and Jane now hoped to arrange for more sugar.
At the moment of Mrs. Warren's entrance Jane was saying that Mrs. Dave was so "skimpin'," that even scraps were scarce, for Minerva was not "a rale Durket who wuz free-handed." She said this very loudly as she saw Mrs. Warren.
Mrs. Warren nodded. "That's true, Jane," she said, "an' I wish you'd kindle a fire upstairs; and I don't much keer if you burns up them dratted papers in the fireplace."
This was a golden opportunity, and Jane whipped off a sugar dish, saying, as she went, "everybody knows the Budds."
Mrs. Warren drew her pipe and tobacco from her pocket and, pulling a chair close to the fire, sat down. She filled her pipe, lighting it with a coal, then tucking in her frock between her knees and ankles to keep it from scorching, she
leaned forward, with her arms crossed on her knees, and smoked vigorously. She drove her thoughts from the present to the rearrangements that would come about when Si took possession, with Hannah as his wife and herself as general director. She saw Minerva vanishing. She saw Jane Harner installed as cook and general servant. She saw Hannah, very fine, rocking with idle hands, playing lady. She saw roaring fires--eternal cooking and company--she saw herself ruling all, the great woman of the county! Suddenly she remembered the lonely old man across the mountain. She shook her shoulders. A young man was needed to work that place; Jim and his wife could come, and if the old man was such a fool as to prefer that "Warren hole" to this "Durket paradise," he could stay. She was tired of the "lonesomeness an' po'ness."
"Thar's a good Durket fire a-burnin', Mrs. Warren." Jane startled the old woman as she flourished in with the emptied and refilled sugar dish. "Hit's good and big, like youuns is usen to."
Mrs. Warren knocked out her pipe. "You're mighty right, Jane Harner," she said. "The Durkets is usen to plentifulness; but some folks will eat a hog down to hits yeers an' tail-- Lord!" and she walked to the door followed by
applauding giggles. At the door she paused. "Did Si tell thet nigger to go fur Hannah Warren?" she asked.
"Mussy, yes! tole him fust thing."
"An' whar's the nigger? I wanter send a word to Hannah."
Jane glanced at her companion, then said: "He's gone, Mrs. Warren, he tuck the nags to ole black Judy's--" She hesitated, then blurted out, "he were feared; he said he dar'sent stay here kase o' the hant."
Mrs. Warren looked at her sternly. "Looker h'ar, Jane Harner, you is got mo' sense 'an to listen to sich foolishness. You know thet a dyin' man ain't 'sponsible fur all he says."
"Mussy, Miss Warren!" cried Jane, "I jest tole you what thet fool nigger said. Me an' Mincy never b'lieved nothin' like thet. But he did say that Si Durket couldn't git no nigger to stay, kase o' hisn's par a-dyin' so hard."
"Well, Si'll settle thet nigger," and Mrs. Warren left the room.
"Of different clay? Not so, but with a soul
Pure-fibered through and through."
When Hannah arrived, everybody who could be expected was at the Durkets'. Eating and drinking were going on briskly in the kitchen; and Jane Harner and her friend Mincy had become so confidential as to assist each other in filling the baskets under the back steps. Mrs. Warren greeted Hannah affably, Minerva gushingly, and Si, though flushed and excited by the morning's potations, was a little timid in his welcome. Minerva saw instantly that, as far as material went, Hannah's black frock surpassed her own, and, though strangely straight, it was not unbecoming to the tall, fair girl. She saw, too, that the brown hair rippled without any frizzing --that her skin was as smooth as ivory, and Minerva felt herself at a great disadvantage in the presence of this girl from "over the mountain." Nor could she account for the way in which people treated Hannah. Even Jane Harner, who
had told scornful tales of the peddling, waited on her obsequiously; and when they entered the room where Brother Billingsly waited to "preach the funeral" Minerva saw that Hannah drew all eyes as she sat close beside her grandmother. Mrs. Warren saw it, too.
Preacher Billingsly did not make the sermon long, but he drew it very strong. He wound up with, "He was a dootiful son to his aged parents, a lovin' brother to his only sister, a devoted husband to his departed wife, a true father to his children. An' when his call came, his sins and justice was his cry. 'Justice--justice!' he cried. An', now havin' done justice, he is at rest a-playin' on his golden harp, wavin' his silver wings, an' a-singin' hallelujah! Not for him do we weep, but for his sister an' his niece a-settin' here, for his sons an' daughter-in-law a-standin' here, for his brother-in-law over in the Cove. For these we weep. Yea, we shed tears, yea, we mourn an' beat our breasts; yea, we cry and plead for help for these bereaved ones. Help me to cry--help me--help me!" Immediately moans and groans began, and Minerva fell down in hysterics.
Then, one by one, the family approached and took farewell of the corpse, all kissing it except Hannah. With folded hands she stood a
moment, then moved away, and Si swore a silent, mighty oath that some day he would "break that sperret." The people filed slowly round the coffin and out the door into the yard. The top was laid on the coffin, and the coffin put into a farm wagon. Dave drove, with Preacher Billingsly beside him. Si and Dr. Slocum took their seats on the coffin. Then the procession moved: Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Slocum in Dr. Slocum's lopsided old buggy; Minerva and Hannah following in the Durkets' equally old vehicle, whose back curtain, the top being down, hung almost to the ground; Mrs. Billingsly and Mrs. Budd in Preacher Billingsly's buggy, which had many points in common with the others. After that people came as best they could on foot, on horseback, and in wagons, winding down the muddy lane to where, on the edge of the woods, on the first swell of the mountains, was the new graveyard of the Durkets.
The coffin was put on two boards laid across the open grave, the top removed, and amid groans and cries the strange ceremony of the "last far'well" began. Minerva, Mrs. Budd and Jane Harner yelled; Mrs. Slocum and Mrs. Billingsly groaned and rocked. Mrs. Warren, being afraid of excitement, wiped her eyes and
blew her nose, and scolded Hannah under her breath. "You kin holler jest as good as Minervy Budd," she said, "an' ain't a-doin' hit-- hit's scannalous--jest scannalous!" But Hannah stood unmoved. The drawn, dead face looking so cold under the gray sky; the wind making strange noises in the bare trees as it swept down the mountain; the screams and cries --all brought back her father's funeral, that had been terrible to her. She only shivered a little when her grandmother spoke.
The coffin lid was screwed on, and during this operation Hannah saw Si retire to the wagon and seek comfort in his bottle. After this she watched him with some anxiety. She knew what would come next, and longed to draw her shawl up over her face, but she was afraid of what might happen if she did not watch, so she only pulled her long bonnet on a little farther, and watched Si.
The lowering of the coffin into the grave, and the beginning of a hymn by Preacher Billingsby, were the signal for a general row. Si jumped down on the coffin, yelling like a maniac. Minerva fell on Dr. Slocum in hysterics, while Dave and Mrs. Billingsly and Mrs. Budd mingled their tears and groans. On rolled the hymn, and in was shoveled the earth until Si stood ankle
deep; then the Budd brothers pulled him out and laid him in the wagon dead drunk. At last it was over. The crowd dispersed, save the Slocums and Billingslys and Budds, who went back for another night at the Durkets'.
The next morning an early beginning was made. Mrs. Dave seemed to be in a state of suppressed excitement that made her silly, for at breakfast she asked Mrs. Warren how soon she would leave. It was a most unusual question. Mrs. Warren listened in contemptuous astonishment, then made answer to the company at large. "Minervy Budd had better larn her place." Minerva giggled with what seemed pronounced insanity, and answered, "Too the best of my knowledge Durket farm is my place." Si looked up angrily. "Mind youuns eye, Minervy", he said. Minerva giggled again, but, Preacher Billingsly shaking his head, she said no more.
After breakfast Mrs. Warren desired to know how things were left. Si said that Preacher Billingsly would read the will, he having drawn it up. They gathered about the fire with the will. It was soon read, and left everything to his son, Silas Durket. Mrs. Warren nodded, saying, "Hit's bad Dave ain't got a rich gal." Minerva smiled. Si looked expectant, but no one
congratulated him, and Jane Harner in the background thought that things looked strange. Presently Brother Billingsly cleared his throat and began an exhortation on the vanity of riches. Mrs. Budd and her sons, Mrs. Slocum and Mrs. Billingsly, moved their chairs, making a sort of circle about Minerva and Dave. Mrs. Warren smoked. Si watched for a pause in which to go for another drink. Hannah longed to be gone. After a preamble, Brother Billingsly made the direct statement that Grandfather Durket had been unjust to his daughter, Sister Warren.
Mrs. Warren took her pipe from her lips and turned her face to the speaker, but Brother Billingsly was looking at Si. He went on to say that he had never held the old man responsible for the injustice; that he and many others had suspected that his son, Mr. David Durket, had compelled him to do this. On Sunday these suspicions had been verified, for Mr. Durket had confessed that he had used violence to compel his father to leave him the property, and that ever since he had been followed by his father's spirit, which could be proved by all who had witnessed his death.
Brother Billingsly paused to wipe his lips. Jane Harner drew nearer--Hannah leaned
forward--Mrs. Warren's face grew stern--Si, rising, leaned against the mantelpiece with a terrible expression in his eyes, and Minerva's silly smile gave place to a look of apprehension. Brother Billingsly smoothed down his back hair, then proceeded with what seemed a narrative.
He had come over on Sunday, he said, to see Brother Durket concerning his spiritual condition. He had found Dr. Slocum, Mr. Reub and Sam Budd, and their mother. In the mercy of Providence it seemed to be arranged that these witnesses should be there. Before them all Brother Durket had confessed his sins, telling the means he had used to intimidate his old father and get all the property; that long ago he had repented, and now wanted justice done; that as his father had been treated so he had been treated, and driven by his son into making an unjust will; and that before it was too late, and while he was supported by these dear friends, who were not to reveal it, nor to leave him until he was buried--he would make a just will.
Reub Budd changed his position so as to be between Brother Billingsly and Si, and put his hand back under his coat.
Billingsly now produced a paper which he explained was a certified copy of the last will, which
had been deposited with the Clerk of the County Court for safety. This will read that the tract of land known as Durket Farm was to be divided into two parts; the line to be drawn from the "big gum" that marked the limit on one side to the "mile-stone corner" which abutted on the public road; that this line leaving the buildings and the spring on one half, making it the most valuable half, his sons must draw lots for it. All stock and tools must be divided by arbitration. That he had not left anything to his sister, as she seemed satisfied and as her granddaughter, Hannah, marrying Si, would get her share.
There was a deadly pause, and Hannah, moving her chair, seemed to touch a spring. Everyone sprang up, and Mrs. Warren, dashing her pipe into the fire, said hoarsely: "Hit's a damned lie, Joe Billingsly--a lie, an' you know hit!"
"A lie!--a lie!" Si screamed, and raised a chair; but Reub Budd covered him with a pistol, and the chair fell with a crash. Reub's action seemed to quiet things, and let Brother Billingsly's voice be heard insisting that they were Christians and this a Christian will, and the sooner the lots were drawn the better. This suggestion relieved the tension. Si realized that half the farm was gone; still, he might draw the most valuable part, and if he could stay in the
old house and kick the Budds out, he would not feel that he had fallen so far. He longed to begin the kicking, and agreed to draw lots immediately. Two broom straws stuck in cracks of the wall would be the method and Jane Harner be the tool, she bein' uninterested. She was not allowed to approach the company, and received her orders from Dr. Slocum, who said, in a loud voice:
"Break two straws from the broom--one long and one short; stick them in two cracks, one each side the fireplace in Brother Durket's room; then go out and slam the front door after you, and wait in the yard." Jane, looking, half out of her wits, went her way, breaking up more than one straw on the journey. The awfulness of going alone into the room where the "hant" had rocked in the chairs, and where all day yesterday the corpse had lain--and the more mundane terror of having a hand in the division of the Durket property shook her being to its foundations, for the Durkets were fierce and reckless. Hurriedly she stuck the straws in cracks so far apart that if one projected a little more it could not be detected. Then she scurried out, giving the door a great jerk. What a hollow, reverberating, awful sound it was!
Si started with an oath. Why had he
let them put the straws in his father's room! It was there he had struck his mother--it was there he had intimidated his old father. He shivered as he remembered. How could he have any luck in there? All seemed spellbound until Dave rose. "I'm feared," he said. This broke the spell, and they moved toward the door in a body. Along the narrow hall they jostled, none wanting to be first or last, and at the open door of the dead man's room they paused in silence. Then Dave said, "I'm feared"--and Minerva pushed him in. Si pushed his way through the group and, following the reluctant David, marched up to the fireplace. He paused; he could not touch the straws; he asked Dave, "Which hand?" and Dave, being left-handed, held up that member, causing his wife to snarl: "Don't he know thet han's unlucky--don't he know nothin'?"
Si knew it, and turned quickly to the right. He put his fingers on the straw, but he did not draw it out until Dave did. One second Si stood still.
"Measure--measure!" came from the group in the doorway. Dave held up his straw, with a smile on his idiot face. It was at least three times as long as Si's!
Reub Budd strode into the room. From one
to the other Si glanced, covered with Reub's pistol, then turned. He dashed his heavy heel against a window, driving out frame and glass. One wrench of the wreck with his hand, and he sprang through into the yard and was gone.
"The old heart sighs and waiteth patiently,
For Time is sure, and Truth is very strong."
"If you had seen Si lip outer thet winder, Gramper, you'd a-been feared he'd kill hisself." Hannah was telling the story of the will, for Mrs. Warren had stated only the bare facts. She had watched Si's violent exit, then had ordered the horses. She had not said one word of farewell, nor had she spoken during the ride home. Arriving, she had given Mr. Warren an outline, had changed her dress, then sat knitting until supper, as silent as the dead.
The maltreatment of her father, and the defrauding of herself by her brother, were bad, but could be borne, because in her estimation they had aggrandized the Durkets. But that this evil should work for an enemy was intolerable.
When Hannah finished, Mr. Warren shook his head. "Si aint a-goin to kill hisself," he said, "ner do nothin' to nobody what kin hurt him, 'ceppen when he's drunk. Big talkin' don't make big doin'; hit's these still-tongue
folks what's dangerous. An' now I know why Dave Durket ain't hed no luck. Mertildy's daddy were a hard man, but I never 'llowed Dave'd beat him when he got too weak to do nothin'. The Lord 'll wipe the Durkets out if they ain't keerful. I've seen a-many a name go out for the lack o' the Lord's blessin'. Peaceful folks what tries to do right don't make much stirrin', mebbe, but they spreads an' multiplies. But when folks gits biggitty an' tucks all they can git, then if you'll watch you'll see 'em fadin' outer the land. An' folks says mournful 'Thet's the last one'--they never 'llows thet God done hit kase the folks wornt wuth nothin' by hisn's count. If folks is fine, folks 'llows they oughter live."
"Minervy's mighty biggitty," Hannah said.
"But them Budds is mighty keerful; they allers cropes tell they're sure they kin walk. Now they've done crope inter Durket's farm, I reckon they 'll start to stomp. But thar's no luck ner blessin' thar, an' I'm glad we ain't never hed a stick ner a straw frum thar."
Hannah looked up. "Si ain't got much now," she said; "won't Granny let me 'lone?"
"Thar ain't no tellin', Honey; Si's a Durket yit. Mertildy is a-steddyin' 'bout sumpen, a-settin' thar so still; but soon she can't hold hit,
an' then I'll know. I never pesters her tell she gits done a-steddyin'; then I 'grees tell I works her round. But sayin' no at fust settles her fur ever-and-ever, an' she'll grind tell she gits what she wants. She gits sorry, too, but she'll die 'fore she'll sesso. Po' Mertildy! I wonder whar Si is?" looking up as Mrs. Warren entered.
"I ain't pestered 'bout Si," she answered quickly," an' if money an' Lawyer Blogs kin get them Budds outer Si's house, they'd better start; for I'll hev my rights now, sure."
"You didn't surely git youuns shar', Mertildy, but we hev plenty."
"John Warren," looking at her husband severely, "you knows I ain't greedy ner gredgin'; but young Dave is a fool, an' no pusson gainsays hit; an' as fur Minervy Budd," slapping her hands together, "if I jest could box her ears oncest, she'd not chaw none fur a-while. Gosh!" and taking a piece of corn-cob and a knife from her pocket, she began to hollow out a pipe-bowl. "An' them two fools shent hev the ole place."
"Ain't you got no pipe, Mertildy?"
"Pipe? I were that mad when Joe Billingsly --I ain't agoin' to call him 'preacher' ner brether, nuther--when he were a-readin' thet
paper thet I busted my pipe 'ginst the chimbly back. Gosh! I wish I hed a-busted hit 'ginst Joe Billingsly's head. I wisht I hed! An' when I 'members how I jawed Hannah," looking down at the girl who kneeled in front of the fire, "kase she wouldn't holler at the buryin', I'm mad. If I'd a-knowed what my brether Dave hed wrote in thet paper, I'd never hev gone nighst the buryin', much less hollered." Screwing a piece of cane into the hole she had made for the pipe-stem, "But I will say thet Hannah Warren never put me to shame 'ceppen as a moaner, an' now I'm glad 'bout thet. An' when I seen Hannah a-stannin' 'longsider Minervy Budd, I says to Betty Slocum, says I, 'If hit ain't fur all the worl' liker horse an' a mule,' says I. But Betty knowed thet the mule were a-goin' in the horse's stable, an' she never said nothin'. But I'll git my shar' if I hes to gie hit to ole Blogs."
"Gie Durket land to a Blogs?" her husband said, in surprise.
"I'd ruther the Blogs hev hit as the Budds."
"But the Budds ain't got hit--hit b'longs to the Durkets yit; an' if you tuck hit, hit'll be Warren land or Blogs land one; but leff hit, an' hit's Durket land yit. An' if Si'll do what I say, he'll build him a nice house. If I 'members, thar's a good grove o' trees on Si's side o' the place."
"You 'members," Mrs. Warren answered, "but them trees is in the ole graveyard. A lot o' Si's land is in thet graveyard, an' thar's heaps o' onjestice in the line drawed across the farm."
"I 'grees to thet, Mertildy, but Dave might hev hed the bad side jest like Si done. An' then sperrets walks in the old house. Thet nigger what come to tuck the nags back, says Dave'll not git no niggers to stay on hisn's place."
Mrs. Warren was silent. Perhaps Minerva had not gained so much, after all.
"An' if Si'll jest do as I say," Mr. Warren went on, "he'll build him a house like them houses to Sewanee. Then thar'll be two Durket places." Hannah rose. She had to go; this soothing method did not seem honest to her, and yet she saw the wisdom. A difficult point had been rounded, and Si reinstated, as it were. But did not her grandfather realize that if once Mrs. Warren undertook the uplifting of Si, she would insist on Hannah's marrying him? A new house--new furniture--and then a wife? She raised her hand in a silent vow.
Si did not kill himself, but appeared in Lost Cove the next day in a vile temper; and Mrs. Warren became so much interested in persuading him to a quiet course of action, that she forgot
the lawsuit she had threatened. She built and furnished Si's new house several times that morning, while Mr. Warren showed Si that if he chose the arbitrators wisely, and let them hear no complaint, that they would give him every advantage in the division of the stock and movable stuff. People knew that Dave had more than his share, and public feeling would turn to Si. By dinner Si was quiet, and he and Mrs. Warren took Dock into their confidence; while from her grandfather Hannah heard the morning's talk, and found that his sympathies were stirred for Si. Her uncle's belated justice was working against her.
While "gearing up" the animals Dock watched her furtively, and, putting the lines into her hands, said, "Youuns Gramper seems like he thinks more o' Si; an' youuns Granny is a-goin' to stay in Si's fine new house. Will you go, Hannah?"
"Thet I won't."
"An' if youuns Gramper goes?"
The girl's face was white and set. "I'll hire out, or kill myself," she said.
Si went away pacified, and surprised Minerva so much by his quiet demeanor that she insisted on his returning to his old quarters. And Si speaking of his new house, Reub Budd said
that Dr. Slocum had a book of plans which he would get for Si. And the Budds, who had remained to keep the peace, rode away, feeling that things were safe. But Minerva's feelings were mixed. All the talk was for Si; all the plans were for Si--and she saw Hannah ruling over a much finer house, and Mrs. Warren playing the great lady. She began to think that she would rather have the new place.
The spring was turning out unusually bad. Rain and premature warmth that set all the fruit trees blooming. "Thar'll be no fruit this year," Mrs. Warren said, "kase thar's 'bleeged to be a late frost." Hannah was troubled. Still she had been lucky of late. The hens were doing well, and there were two litters of pigs, and the calf born lately was a heifer; so that there were some cheerful things. But the weather was bad, and she seemed to see the seed rotting in the ground.
Meanwhile Si came often. His house had been contracted for, and the lumber was on the spot near the old graveyard, where some trees had grown out of the burying limits, and made a pleasant shade.
Mrs. Warren had spent a night at Minerva's to look after Si's plans and the site, and when she came away she left Minerva feeling that the
worst luck of her life was Dave's drawing the best half of the farm. The division of the movables and stock was now at hand, however, and Minerva determined to strike for her own advantage.
"I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears of all my life!--and if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death."
It had been a desperate night, the rain coming down in straight, relentless streams, and the soft, cloudy morning did not promise much for clearing. Hannah looked after the young creatures to see that none had been drowned; looked hopelessly at the fields, and thought anxiously of the big spring. This was a strange formation in the side of the mountain. A steep path climbed up to it, then climbed down again into a great basin of rock where lay the pool. It had no inlet or outlet--an underground lake, and tradition said that it had no bottom.
This morning when Hannah went for water she climbed up as usual, and, as the path was slippery, made a long step to put her over the top of the basin. The day before she had to go down several feet to dip up the water--to-day she grasped the rock to regain her balance; for the water brimmed up to the top. She stood still in anxious astonishment. She had never
seen it so high. She had heard her grandfather say that, once or twice, it had come over; the creek had backed up at the same time from the end of the Cove, the outlet not being large enough, and together they had flooded the little valley. Would there be a flood now? There was not much hope in the soft, gray sky; and she filled her buckets quickly. She must get the pigs and calves to a safe place. She must get Dock to help her. It was early, and her grandmother was just stirring when she went to tell the news. "Lord, Lord!" she heard her grandfather say, then groan as he realized his helplessness. She kindled the kitchen fire, and put on the kettle, then, mounting old Bess barebacked, she rode off to the Wilsons'. Lizer stood in the door of the house, and Dock was at the wood-pile.
"Dock!" she called "Dock, come quick!" and, dropping the axe, Dock ran. Lizer came forward, too, but Hannah had already turned, and, with Dock trotting alongside, was on the way home.
"The spring's clean up to the top," she explained, "an' yisterday I went down an' seen that the creek was a-backin' up, an' I wants to git the stock to the mountain. Hit'll be awful. Dock."
"Mebbe hit won't; mebbe hit won't rain no mo'."
"But all what's done rained ain't riz yit," Hannah said, "an' the varmints 'll git the young pigs, sure."
"No, they won't," Dock answered, looking up, his kind face flushed with the quick time he was making, "kase I'll make a pen fur 'em an' kivver hit with rails; an' 'ginst night comes I'll build a fire nighst hit an' put my dog Buck in the pen, an' I reckon no varmints 'll come thar. An' we'll shet the calves in thar, too. Jest don't you fret, Hannah."
"I won't; an' we'll put the chickens in the loft an' the wood in the house; but the crap, Dock?"
"You've got mo' seed, an' 'twon't tuck long to plant agin--not long."
Hannah never forgot that day, gray and chilly, and raining at intervals. Fortunately it was not far they had to go to build the pen, and the part of the rail-fence that was nearest the spot was quickly taken down and put into proper shape. Then Dock enticed the pigs and Hannah drove the calves, and, grunting and bleating, they were put away. The sitting-hens were the next difficulty. To move one is almost fatal, and Hannah was tempted to take the risk of the water; but an extra shower made her change her mind, and
in tubs and baskets, the hens, unmoved from their nests, were transported to the loft, and left covered until they should quiet down.
At last the day was done, and Hannah, kneeling in front of the fire, looked very tired. But she felt more hopeful. The rain might put out Dock's watchfire, but the dog was in the pen, and the evil from the water was sure, while the evil from "varmints" was only possible.
"Hit seems to be like I hearn the water a-pourin' over at the spring," Mrs. Warren said, coming in suddenly. "Hit's bad; an' Dock's gone to turn the stock out, so they kin find a high place. Hit's bad to be shet up in a hole."
Hannah went outside quickly to listen. She could hear Dock's voice and the stumbling footsteps of the cattle; and the calves, hearing their mothers, began to bleat.
The rain had ceased, and in the pause she listened. She heard a dim sound like falling water; she could not be sure it was the spring, for any stream would sound on a night like this. She looked for Dock's fire. It was a good thought putting it into that hollow gum-trunk where the rain could not reach it. The trunk was big enough to burn all night, and if it fell it could not hurt anything. Dock was at the fire now, stirring it until a great cloud of red, wild
sparks flurried about him; and silhouetted against the lurid light he looked double his real size. The dog was barking with delight, and Hannah could see the cows passing in front of the fire. She drew her little shawl closer about her; it was not raining, and she remembered some wood they had not brought in. She found it quite easily, and, gathering up an armful, went back into the house. The next turn she let fall a log, and water splashed into her face. A rain-pool, she thought. The third turn she made she met Dock. "I'm totin' in mo' wood," she said, and he turned to help her. This time she seemed to get into the water. She filled her arms and turned away, when an exclamation from Dock stopped her.
"Water! Hit's backed up, Hannah, an' don't come out no mo'." Hannah's heart failed her.
She staggered a little with her heavy load, then Dock came up.
"Hit's all right," he said cheerily; "hit'll soon clear up."
But Hannah walked beside him, silent. The darkness, the rising wind, the creeping water-- seemed living enemies.
She was chilly, and her feet and clothes were wet, and there seemed nothing to do now and she went into the kitchen. Dock looked down
on her for a moment as she sat, all drooped together, then, pushing up the fire in the stove, he went out, shutting the door.
Hannah did not move. She was tired out, and it seemed useless to fight any longer now the water had backed up. The kettle began to sing. Since dawn she had worked like a man--now she must work like a woman. If her father had lived, it would have been better. His patient face came up before her. She had never heard him complain. The kettle sang louder, and the steam shot from the spout. She got up slowly. "Po' daddy, hit's youuns work I'm doin'," she said; "an' I'll do hit tell I draps."
The dishes were soon put away, and she pulled down her sleeves, put out the fire, then paused to tell the old people that all was safe, saying nothing of the rising water.
She wondered if she needed to make a fire for herself; she was so tired. She saw a line of light under her door. She opened it--a bright fire burned in the chimney, the hearth was swept, and a pile of wood was in the corner.
"Dock done hit," she said, "an' him so wet and tired. I'd ruther been beat!" She shut the door softly and walked to the fire, while the slow tears filled her eyes. "He seen I were clean down, an' he done hit to hope me up--an'
me grumblin' in a good house an' everything handy. God knows I ain't no 'count. Po' Dock!"
And out on the hillside Dock minded the cattle, and at intervals stole down to watch the creeping water; quite happy through all the wild, wet night tending the fire and keeping guard. In the dim gray hour before day he went home and slipped into his little hut. Lizer must not know of his vigil--nor must Hannah know.
"We wear out life, alas!
Distracted as a homeless wind,
In beating where we must not pass,
In seeking what we shall not find."
It was a dismal scene the next morning. The house was an island, and all things that could float--small coops, chips, brush--were bobbing up and down against the fences, and tapping like persistent ghosts against the house. The fowls that had gone to roost in the loft of the stable were making a great noise, and Hannah laughed as she heard them. "I'll git Dock to ride out an' feed 'em." As she spoke she heard a cheerful "Git up, Bess," and a splashing as Dock rode up to the piazza.
The flood seemed to throw Mrs. Warren into a pleasant excitement. She pottered about sweeping out the chips, looking at the hens, and measuring the rise of the water, until Si's voice called from the highroad. Hannah's heart sank. She was not summoned, however, but when she took Mr. Warren's dinner in she saw that there was trouble. She nodded to Si, but
he paid no heed, and he and Mrs. Warren went to dinner in silence.
"Si's been done powerful mean," Mr. Warren said, "they've gin him the po'res' heff o' ever'thing. The Budds done hit, They app'inted Reub Budd to choose fur Dave, an' Slocum for Si. Si says Slocum hed mostly first ch'ice, but tuck the wust every time. Si says Minervy hed Slocum paid. Thar is onjestice been done, an' trouble 'll come. Heaper Si's lan' is in thet ole graveyard, an' he says he's gwine to plow hit up kase thar's Budds an' Slocums buried thar."
Hannah looked at her grandfather in horror. "Who'd eat thet corn, Gramper? dead folk's corn!"
"Hit's awful; but Si's sot on doin' hit. Surely these is the last days, Hannah, an' folks ain't got no feelin's fur nothin'--no insides o' any kind leff."
"Hev you hearn, Hannah?" Mrs. Warren asked when she and Si returned from the kitchen, "how they've cheated Si?"
"Yes, Granny, hit's bad. But them Budds don't look straight."
"If I jest live long enough," Si said, "I'll sp'ile Minervy. Thar's lots of ways to do hit. I'll ruin any pusson what goes aginst me--" looking straight in Hannah's eyes.
All Mrs. Warren's excitement forsook her after this. The sun came out, Mr. Warren foretold good weather, and the water began to recede, but nothing roused her from her angry silence. The Durkets were being overrun by the Budds. The plowing up of the graveyard was rather awful, but anything else that Si could do for revenge would be justifiable, and the worse the better. She did not tell what Si had hinted in the way of retaliation. The trapping of rabbits to be turned into Minerva's garden--the rotten rails that Dave's own hogs could be persuaded to root away, and gain a night in the potatoes and corn--the mixture that would make the hogs seem to die of cholera. There was much that patience could accomplish, and if Dave put up corn, or "roughness," or meat that year it would be a surprisingly small quantity. All this had been outlined during dinner. Mrs. Warren brooded over it, but did not tell it, for she felt that her husband and Hannah were quite capable of warning Dave.
At supper Dock, who had been up to Sewanee that day, told some strange news to Mrs. Warren, reporting the talk about Si's house and the bad division of the things.
"He'll be hevin' a hant," Dock finished
"kase he's gwine to onderpin hisn's new house with the gravestones."
Mrs. Warren almost dropped her cup. "Surely that ain't true!"
"Thet's what they say," Dock answered, "an' all the folks is a-waitin' an' a-watchin' to see."
Build his house on piles of gravestones! Mrs. Warren did not sleep that night. For a time they did not hear any more of Si's plans; meanwhile the water subsided and things were replaced; but, of course, the crop was injured, the more so as there came a freeze while it was wet, and the apple and the peach trees looked as if they had been boiled. It was a very bad season, and Mr. Warren's rheumatism increased day by day.
It was hard on Hannah, and Lizer Wilson, returning from Sewanee, leaned over the fence to talk to the girl, who was milking, thinking to hear some complaints.
"Hit's a hard time we're a-goin' to hev," Lizer began. "Thar ain't much bo'ders come to Sewanee outside the students; an' tradin'll be sca'ce."
"Thet'll be hard on you, Lizer," Mrs. Warren said, coming out to the fence.
"Hit'll be hard on heapser folks," Lizer
answered, "but if Hannah 'll keep Dock in work--" with a leer in her eyes.
Mrs. Warren withered the leer with a glance. "Work'll be sca'ce, too," she said.
"An' they do say," Lizer went on quickly, "thet the flood over to Durket's were the wust thet ever was. Hit muster skeered the rabbits, kase Jane Harner says thet the sight o' them as were ketched in Dave's garden wornt never seen afore; an' hit were eat off clean as youuns han'."
"Thet's a jedgment on Minervy Budd fur cheatin' Si," said Mrs. Warren.
"Hit looks thet a-way," Lizer assented. "An' thar ain't a nigger thet'll stay thar overnight kase o' the hant. An' t'other night they hearn a great miration in the chicken house, an' they ketched two critters eatin' jest ever'thing; thar wornt no nestesses leff."
"Thar hit is again," commented Mrs. Warren. "Hit's a jedgment; an' if you'll watch, Lizer Wilson, you'll see thet Minervy Budd won't save nothin' this year."
"Hit do look thet a-way. Jane Harner says thet water never hurt Si, kase hit wasted hitself on Dave. An' Si's garden is good, an' some o' hisn's corn is s'prisin' high."
"In the--the best corn is in the ole graveyard."
"Who 'll want thet?" cried Hannah.
"Folks away won't know no difference," Lizer answered, "ner cattle at home."
"But no blessin' will come on Si," Hannah said. Mrs. Warren was silent.
"Jane says," Lizer went on, without comment, "thet Si made a good sale on the timber, an' tuck the stones to onderpin hisn's house, kase be says the Budds and Slocums is jest about fitten to onderpin hisn's house and topdress his land."
"And what do the Budds and Slocums say?"
"They're mad as fire, but they're fear'd, kase all the valley knows they done Si a onjestice."
Hannah shook her head. "Thet don't no-wise skuse Si," she said. "An' what's Minervy a-doin'?"
"They do say she's pestered to death. What with the niggers 'fusin' to stay thar, an' the chickens bein' eat up, an' the garden gone, an' the water a-washin' everything, she's too much to stand. Folks don't favor her much, nohow."
"She ain't nothin' to favor," struck in Mrs. Warren.
"Mighty nigh true," Lizer assented. "An' they do say Si's house is tastey; but he's skeerder what he's done, an' he's drinkin' hard, Jane says. You ought to go over thar, Mrs. Warren."
"You're right," was answered, with surprising
mildness. "An' I'll try to git to go" Then Lizer went her way.
"Ain't you sorry, Granny?"
"Sorry, gal? Hit's done done, an I ain't a-goin' back on my own," Mrs. Warren answered, "an' I ain't afeared to go an' stay in Si's house. Gravestones or no gravestones, I'm a-goin'. An' I wants to see Minervy Budd pestered--pestered to death--please God."
Time wore on, and after a long absence, Lizer brought a message from Si that he was coming to fetch Mrs. Warren and Hannah. Lizer also told how the hogs had ruined Dave's potatoes, and that there was some strange disease among Dave's hogs. "An' the jedgment is so sure that folks is skeered." Si, on the contrary, flourished; but people did not seek his company, and he wanted Mrs. Warren's aid in a social way.
"Si need not ax me," Hannah said, "I ain't a-goin' to no sich place."
When Si came, Hannah was on the front piazza. She declined firmly. "Do you mean hit, Hannah; mean that you ain't a-comin' to my house?" the pupils of his eyes contracting.
"Yes," she answered, "you have done a bad sin, plowin' up dead folks, an' I ain't a-comin'." There was a moment's silence, then Si raised his hand to heaven.
" 'Fore God, Hannah, I'll make you sorry," he said. He shook his finger in her face. "Thar's one mo' chance I'll gie you, an' if you 'fuses thet, the Lord 'll hev to he'p you fur the talk I'll raise."
"I don't want no mo' chance, Si, an' the Lord will he'p me." Then Mrs. Warren called, and Hannah went in.
Mrs. Warren was to spend two nights at Si's house. She went off with a brave front, but was much relieved to find that Jane Harner and her oldest daughter were to be there to do the work, and that Dave and Minerva were to receive her. This last bit of news pleased her, for she had come to enjoy Minerva's ill-luck quite as much as Si's house. Underneath all, however, was honest loyalty to the Durkets. She hoped that by staying in the house she could do away with the stories of "hants," and take from Hannah a strong argument against Si. If Hannah could adduce a "hant," all the world would support her against Si and the plowed graveyard and desecrated gravestones. Whereas great prosperity and genial "freehandedness" might obliterate all, if there were not a "hant" and an obstinate girl to remind people.
Mrs. Warren was delighted with everything. There was no sign of the old graveyard; instead,
a field of the finest corn she had seen. She looked furtively at the foundations of the house, but the stones were so neatly built together that no one would think of gravestones in connection with them. The house was neatly finished, and painted, papered, and furnished with a gaudiness that enchanted Mrs. Warren. She and Si walked home with Dave and Minerva that afternoon, and while at the old house Mrs. Warren called attention to all the points of superiority in Si's house and farm. She sympathized cheerfully with Minerva's misfortunes, pointing out the judgment in it all so clearly that Minerva felt that for her the last great day had come and gone.
Si and Mrs. Warren sat late over the fire that night, and finishing with hot grog the old woman slept too heavily to be roused by "hants"; but Jane Harner heard noises like fleeing footsteps and hushed oaths! She wrapped her head in the blanket--a "hant" that cursed and trampled like cattle was too awful! Cows got into Dave's corn that night. Some of the top rails of the fence were old, and were broken where they jumped in. In the morning Dave was in despair, and Mrs. Warren and Si enjoyed his misfortune as only near relatives could. Many neighbors came in that day to see Mrs.
Warren. She escorted them about gladly, calling on all to witness that she had slept soundly. Hot grog finished the second evening also, and though Mrs. Warren was tremulous when she reached home the next day, she could triumphantly deny the "hants," much to Hannah's discomfort. Not long after this, on a fair fresh day, that made one glad to live, Si came over. Mr. Warren, whose rheumatism had gone, was in the garden, Hannah was at the wash-tub, and Mrs. Warren on the front piazza.
"I'm come to see Hannah," Si said. "The house is done, an if she's a-comin' I wants to know. This is the last chence I'm a-goin' to give her, an' thet's p'int-blank."
Mrs. Warren's eyes flashed. "If you wants the gal, Si Durket, thet ain't no way to talk, an' Hannah ain't gwine to tuck hit."
"She kin please herself," Si said doggedly, "but hit's her last chence."
"You're a fool!" and, knocking the ashes from her pipe, Mrs. Warren rose. "I'll call her, an' I'll talk to her; but I ain't a-goin to hev no fits ner no 'sputin'.' You must 'member, Si Durket, thet you ain't got but heff o' what you hed. Jest heff o' farm, an' piece o' thet graveyard. An' I wants you to know thet hit makes a difference to me, anyhow. Not to Hannah,
kase she's sich a fool shed tuck you 'thout nothin', if so be she hed a favor to you. If you'll keep quiet, I'll keep on a-talkin' to her right stiddy 'bout hit an' bime by she mout tuck you."
Si's face grew more sullen. His aunt was right. He was worth only half as much as was expected, and had become, besides, a marked man.
Mrs. Warren waited; she knew that she had him at a great disadvantage. But Si made no acknowledgment of this; he brooded for a few moments, then repeated:
"Hit's the last chence."
Mrs. Warren hesitated. Was he in earnest? Would it be wiser to persuade him or to call Hannah and let her teach his pride a lesson? She called, and the girl came reluctantly, wiping her hands on her apron. Greeting Si quietly, Hannah stood silent. One moment the trio waited, then Si spoke.
"I promised I'd come again, Hannah," he said, "an I'm come. What word is that fur me?"
"An' you'd better gie him a good word," Mrs. Warren struck in. "He'll gie you time to steddy 'bout hit, if you axes hit. I'm a-gittin' tired o' this foolishness, an' I aint a-goin' to hev hit. The nice new house a-waitin'," she urged, alarmed at the realization of the dangerous state
of things--that the new house and furniture, that Minerva's complete defeat, that possibly the future of the Durkets, hung in the balance. "An' ever'thing so handy, an' Minerva nigh dead kase hit ain't hern. Now mind what you say, gal, an' gie youuns cousin a good word; fur God knows what we'll do 'ginst the winter."
Hannah glanced apprehensively at her grandmother, but as the old woman went on, half cajoling, half threatening, she turned her face away and looked down the little valley.
"I ain't never hed but one word fur Si," she said, still looking far away; "an' he knows thet word; an' you knows thet word; an' I'll set my life 'gainst the winter."
Si turned on his heel and walked away with a look in his eyes that startled the old woman. Would he kill the girl some time when she was away from the house?
"Si!" she called--"Si!"--but he paid no heed, and mounting his horse, dashed straight up the hillside. Then Mrs. Warren turned on Hannah, and for the first time in her life Hannah realized what awful things words could be. Abused, taunted, cursed, insulted, lashed past endurance by the vulgar fury of the old woman's tongue, she turned a white face and blazing eyes on her persecutor. "Thet's enough," she said
in a low tone. "Youuns words hev set me free, an' I'm a-goin'."
"Hannah!" and old Mr. Warren laid his hand on her shoulder. "Tuck thet back, chile!"
"I can't, Gramper," and, trembling with excitement, she went back to her work. Mrs. Warren's words burned in her ears; dreadful words she had never heard before. If her grandmother could say such things, what could not Si say? and he had threatened her. Her one thought was to get away from them. She would go to Sewanee and get work. She was sorry to leave her grandfather; but she could not stay where such things were said to her.
While she worked through the long day with feverish nervousness she matured her plans, and a determination once reached, she felt happier, even though her pillow was wet with tears when she fell asleep.
"Oh, the little more, and how much it is!
And the little less, and what worlds away!"
Mrs. Warren would not speak to Hannah the next morning, and ignored the preparations for going to Sewanee. She saw no bundle, only the butter and eggs that always went for coffee and sugar; and she drew the rash conclusion that Hannah had repented. When all was ready, Hannah led the horse to the big gate. Mr. Warren stood there, waiting.
"You're comin' back to-day?" he asked wistfully.
"Yes, Gramper," then looking down, "Ax Granny what she said to me."
"I hearn; but furgit an' furgive, or mebbe God 'll furgit an' not furgive."
"You only hearn some, Gramper." Then she rode away.
Once more she found Agnes and Max Dudley at the gate.
"Where have you been all this time?" Agnes asked.
"You look overworked," Max said.
"Hit ain't work thet hurts," Hannah answered, "but everything hev gone against me. I've come to hire out," looking wistfully at Agnes.
"Hire!--You!" Max questioned. "Will your people allow it?"
"I wont ax. Granny's done said words what set me free. I'll send 'em all the money; but I won't live thar any mo'. I can't."
"If you are in earnest," Agnes said, "I want a girl. Can you wait on table?"
Hannah looked puzzled. "You mean set a table? I dunno if I knows youuns ways, but I kin larn."
"Come in, then, and we will talk about it."
Max lifted his cap. "I will see you later, Miss Agnes," he said. Then to Hannah, "I think I will go to Lost Cove this very day."
Old Mr. Warren and his son had impressed Max, when he met them, as being so thoroughly good. And the handsome face of the son was the saddest he had ever seen. That his daughter should offer herself as a servant was an unknown thing in her grade of life. Sometimes a native would go into service, but never of Hannah's class. He wondered what had driven her to it.
The girl and her story interested him, and he decided to go to Lost Cove and solve the little mystery. It was a charming day for the walk, and he might do some good.
Meanwhile Hannah and Agnes had settled terms, and Hannah was to come the next day. But their relations seemed to have changed, and without being told Hannah went out by the back door. Miss Welling had been very clear and decided in the statement of Hannah's duties, but her voice had been kind, and her terms liberal, and afterward she had smiled pleasantly and hoped that Hannah would like her new home. What had made Hannah for the first time leave the house by the back door? The girl puzzled over this question as she rode.
The level road being done, Hannah gathered up the bridle for the rough descent, and saw Max Dudley.
"You have caught me," he said; "I am glad, for your grandmother might not be pleased to see me."
"I reckon she will; she mostly likes comp'ny."
Max laid his hand on her bridle, and they journeyed on together. "Do you think you will like being a servant?"
"You won't be free, you know; and your
place will be in the kitchen. Have you thought of all this?"
"I dunno, Mr. Dudley." Hannah's heart grew cold, and the sure things of life seemed to be slipping away. "I don't know how hit'll be, but it can't be no harder than Granny."
"What made her so angry?"
"Kase I won't marry my cousin, Si Durket." The color rushed into the girl's face. "I can't do that; no, sir; I'll be a nigger fust."
"And your grandfather?"
"Gramper don't favor Si."
They had come down the mountain quite rapidly while they talked, and were now at the Warrens' gate, where Lizer Wilson leaned, talking to Mrs. Warren. The conversation ceased as Hannah and Dudley appeared, and Lizer smiled as Max helped the girl off the horse, instead of leading the horse to the fence and allowing her to climb down, as was the valley custom. Mrs. Warren looked pleased, but Lizer, knowing the differences that obtained at Sewanee, smiled a smile that vocalized itself while Dock ate his dinner.
"What kin you say fur youuns great Hannah Warren," she began, "a-comin' down the mountain longer University boy, an' him a-leadin' ole Bess like Hannah couldn't ride a nag. An'
a-heppin' her off like she were hisn's woman, an' a mile o' fence right thar whar any right kinder gal woulder clum down. An' ole Mrs. Warren so proud, like Hannah hed done met up alonger her ekals. An' him--Dudley's his name--takin' off hisn's hat, an' bowin' an' shuckin' han's like he does up to the University womens. Gosh! But he jest nods hisn's head to me. I knows mor'n he thinks I knows 'bout him, a-keepin' comp'ny alonger that Agnes Wellin' up yander. She holds herself mighty high; an' if she do tuck Hannah to the parlor, an' sen's me to the kitchen, taint kase she 'lows Hannah's her ekal. Gosh! but Hannah Warren 'll be as low down as Lizer Wilson soon."
"I'll kill her fust!" Dock's face had grown very white under Lizer's fire of innuendo. He had not spoken, for that would have made things worse; but his anger broke bounds at last, and it was with infinite scorn that he looked on his father's wife and said--"I'll kill her fust."
Lizer rose, too, her low face contracting with fury. "You'll kill her fust, will you! 'Fore God, I'll make hit so you'll want to. I knows how to hurt you, Dock Wilson, an' I'll do hit or die! Jest wait--wait!" and she shook her fist in his face.
Walking up the mountain in the red afternoon
light, Max Dudley remembered Hannah Warren in many different poses. She had shown to great advantage in her own sphere. He would call on Agnes Welling and tell her of the flood as Hannah had described it, making it quite an idyl. He wondered how the girl would bear being a servant, as servants were held by the educated classes. It would take character to stand such a test, and in his heart he added, "blood." There was no telling about American blood, and Mr. Warren's blood might have been very blue in ages past. Hannah might have hereditary right to her simple dignity and beauty.
And Hannah, waiting at the gate for the cows, asked her grandfather, with a hopeless ring in her voice, "What's the diffrunce, Gramper, 'twixt me an' Miss Agnes? An' Mr. Dudley don't look like he's the same kinder creetur as Si Durket."
"Thet's true," Mr. Warren answered. "An' steddyin' 'bout hit, hit seems like folks an' cattle favors one another. All cattle is got fo' legs, an' yeers, an' tails; but hit takes more'n yeers, an' tails, an' legs, to make a Jersey cow. Jim Blount, up yander, is got a cow liker pictur. Hit's a cow, but hit's no mo' like ourn cows 'an Mr. Dudley's like Si Durket. Thar is a diffrunce, and I've been a steddyin' 'bout hit, an'
to save my life I can't see nothin' in hit but wittles, an' shelter, an' seein' fur."
"Well, thet beats me," Hannah said.
"So hit do tell you steddies 'bout hit. Now a man what plows must hev bacon an' cornbread, an' heapser hit; an' when hisn's day's work's done he's so tired thet he don't steddy 'bout hisn's shelter. But them folks to Sewanee, they don't to say work, an' they eats mostly chickens an' light-bread; an' when they gits done a-settin' aroun' all day readin' books, they ain't to say clean wore out, an' ever'thing's got to be mighty nice 'fore they kin sleep. An' their pars, an' all their gran'pars done the like afore 'em, tell they come to look an' to be mighty diffrunt from folks what's a-been plowin' since Adam. An' they looks at weuns like Jim Blount's cow would look at ourn cow; an' they'd die to live like weuns live."
"But Granny don't 'llow thar's no difference."
Mr. Warren chuckled. "Granny's eyes ain't been let to see nothin' but Durkets," he said, "an', anyhow, some folks don't see fur. Now thar were Pete and Joshaway; Pete were furever findin' sumpen--pickin' up buttons, an nails, an' the like; an' Joshaway, a-drappin'
ever'thing. An' when I come to steddy 'bout them boys, I seen thet Pete were allers a-lookin' down, an' Joshaway allers a-lookin' up. An Pete traded Joshaway outer ever'thing. But Joshaway didn't keer. If he could set by the branch an' watch the water--or lay on hisn's back a-watchin' the clouds--he were satisfy to let Pete tuck ever'thing. An' Pete went out to Texas to make money, an' Joshaway stayed home an' died a-workin' fur ole folks what couldn't do him no good. An' settin' by the fire a po' cripple, I've steddied a heap; an' if Joshaway coulder had book-larnin' he'd abeen like them folks at Sewanee, kase he never eat much nohow. But Joshaway an' them folks to Sewanee seen fur--seen further than money. But Granny don't. She never knows the blossoms is a-blowin,' ner she never hears the rain a-talkin'; she never b'lieves in no sperret 'ceppen the Durket sperret. But she don't mean no harm. An' folks what seen fur tuck to fine wittles; an' folks what never seen fur was satisfy alonger bacon. But I dunno which gits the most satisfaxion; an' hit seems they gits mixed somehow, kase you an' Joshaway oughter been to Sewanee, an' not in no kitchen nuther."
The girl's face grew hard. "If hit gits mixed, hit gits mixed," she said, "an' I'm a bad
mistake, kase I'll heffter be satisfy in the kitchen, to Sewanee."
For a moment Mr. Warren put his hand over his eyes, then he lifted his head. "The fust time I seen Jim Blount's fine cow, she were in a mighty po' stall," he said, "but thet didn't hurt her, no, sir! she set the old stall off--she did."
"What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i' the scale."
The life at Sewanee was a revelation to Hannah.
"You never seen the like, Gramper," Hannah said, on her first visit home. "They eats the soup, then all them dishes hev to be tuck offen the table; then they hes meat, an' taters, an' sich; then all them dishes hev to be tuck offen the table; then they has raw greens, an' all them dishes hev to be tuck offen the table; then I gits a silver trowel an' scrape that table to get the crumbs offen hit; then they hes sweet mixtry's they calls 'zert; an' cawfee. An' when hits done thar ain't one o' them, 'Fesser Wellin', ner Miss Agnes, ner her leetle nevvy, hev eat a good meal--they picks."
"Hit seems to me like hit's a heap o' foolishness," Mrs. Warren said, "an' I don't see whar you gits time fur youuns dinner."
Hannah flushed hotly. "Oh, I gits time; I eats in the pantry."
"Alonger the niggers?"
"No, the niggers eats in the kitchen."
"Too good for the niggers, an' not good enough for white folks," Mr. Warren pushed his chair back. "Is you satisfy, gal?" he asked.
"Hit's bettern some things I knows on," Hannah answered. Then a silence fell while Mr. Warren walked to the gate and back. When he resumed his seat Mrs. Warren asked, "Does you set down while youuns white folks is a-eatin' ?"
"No, Miss Agnes don't want me to set down."
"Do she let you talk?"
"No, she don't."
Mr. Warren looked at the girl curiously. "Thet's wussern a nigger." Hannah was silent. Her cheeks would always burn with the memory of Agnes' words--"A servant must always stand in the presence of a master or mistress, Hannah, and never speak unless spoken to." Those words made her remember how the apple-blossoms had looked after the frost.
"Hev theyuns got ary dorg?" Mrs. Warren asked at last; "kase if thar ain't none, sposen you gits down an' be a dorg?"
Hannah rose. "I must be a-startin'," she said.
"I'll git Bess an' the mule," Mr. Warren answered, "you shent go back like a nigger, nohow."
Dock, who was regularly hired now, had been sitting on the step listening; and the admission wrung from the girl hurt him. Being even his wife would be better. He had never dared to lift his eyes to Hannah, and he did not now, except in a sort of dream. In parting with her grandfather at the Wellings' gate, Hannah said: "I ain't a-comin' home fur a long time, Gramper. Long as I'm up har hit don't seem bad, kase I sees the difference 'twixt me an' Miss Agnes so p'int blank thet hit seems right fur me to tuck orders; but when Granny talks it seems awful. Far'well."
Max Dudley watched Hannah with much interest, and Cartwright with amusement. "It is ruination," Cartright said, "to lower that 'wild child of the forest' to civilization,"
"On the contrary," Agnes answered, "she is being elevated."
"She looks cast down," Max rejoined.
"Of course; she is now realizing that she is not the highest; but that is necessary. We must see the heights before we can scale them."
"Are you sure civilization is a height?"
"Yes, Mr. Dudley, and I say, Rise at any cost. The girl is a different creature already. You remember when you dined with us yesterday, she became so absorbed in the conversation that she forgot her duties?"
"Yes," Max answered. He remembered uncomfortably the pained interest on the girl's face as Professor Welling discussed caste and the dense ignorance of the "Covites," their lack of ambition, and his hopelessness as to their future. The look of wondering pain in the girl's eyes had made Max contradict as flatly as he might the Professor's position. How pitiful that she did not stay in her own sphere! He looked back to where Hannah followed them, carrying Miss Welling's books. They were on their way to a mission Sunday school, where, twice during the week, Agnes went to impart secular knowledge. Hannah went with her always. As Max looked back now, there was a lack of spirit in the girl's whole bearing that was pathetic. "Are you tired, Hannah?" he called, almost involuntarily. Agnes and Cartwright turned, too, and Hannah looked up quickly.
"No, sir; no, I ain't tired!"
"You see I have been a guest in her house," Max explained in a lower voice to his companions, "and I do not think she understands
the 'accident of birth.' To her equality is a fact, not a theory."
"I do not agree with you," Agnes answered; "Hannah quite understands that there is a difference, for she asked the cause."
"And your answer?"
Agnes smiled. "To my surprise I was rather puzzled how to answer. She told me that her grandfather thought it was due to 'shelter, an' wittles, an' seein' fur.' "
"Good!" Cartwright exclaimed. "Environment; and 'seeing far' will stand for the survival of the fittest. Good!"
"And Mr. Dudley's sympathy is wasted," Agnes went on, "for you see they discuss this thing." And they moved aside to let a horseman pass. He gave a surly "Evenin'," and Agnes thought she had never seen a more evil face. Hearing a rude laugh, she turned. "He speaks to Hannah," she said.
"Some rustic lover," and Cartright moved on.
"No, we will wait for her. See, she has stepped quite into the bushes. Call her, Mr. Dudley."
"We are waiting, Hannah!" Max called, and walked a few steps toward her. Then Si, for it was he, rode on.
Hannah had been horrified when startled from
her dreams by Si's voice, and had drawn aside to let him pass; but he stopped. "I'm a-goin' to the Cove," he said, "what shall I say?"
"Nothin', 'ceppen I'm well," she answered.
"An' whar's you a-goin'?"
"Po' folks' school! I've hearn 'bout 'em. Larnin' the po' Covites fur nothin'. An' you walks behind an' totes youuns missus' books. Lord!" and he laughed. "Won't I tell Aunt Tildy, an' she'll bile over."
Here Max's call interrupted them, and Hannah started forward. "Youuns marster's a-callin'; go on, Nigger," jeered Si, in a low voice, and Hannah made no answer.
"Is it all right, Hannah?" Max asked as she neared them.
"Yes, sir," looking up with flashing eyes and scarlet cheeks. "Hit were my cousin, sir; Si Durket."
"Oh!" and Max resumed his place by Agnes' side.
"That small, small, imperceptible
Small talk, which cuts like powdered glass
Ground in Tophana."
Often after this, Si met the school party. He had ascertained the days on which they went out; and that during the week Hannah and Miss Welling went alone, but that many times Max Dudley walked out to meet them. On Sunday Dudley and Cartright always went. Much of Si's information came from Lizer Wilson, who had told him also of Dudley's escorting Hannah down the mountain. And Si had seen Dudley give his umbrella to Hannah once. A sudden summer shower, and the girl was unprotected at the station. Max handed her his umbrella and joined Cartright.
Cartright had smiled, saying: "She is very handsome, but fancy giving one's umbrella to a servant."
"She is a woman, and, in many ways, an unprotected one," Max answered.
"And so you draw attention to her?"
Max looked at his companion curiously. "I do not quite understand you."
Cartright laughed. "I understand you, however." A third student joined them, and the subject was dropped.
But it all sifted down to the valley, where it spread and crept up to the station again, then to the University. Dudley had been chaffed by Cartright for giving Miss Welling's maid his umbrella. The laugh grew. Some laughed at the devotion that could reach from mistress to maid; some because the maid was so handsome; but all laughed in a quiet way.
So the summer waxed and waned, and Hannah, not wanting to be disturbed, did not go home at all. At first she got home news from Dock, but gradually Dock's visits ceased, and Hannah feared that he had heard the talk which her grandmother had hurled at her that last day. At last, in September, she grew anxious, and decided to go down. She asked for a day, but a guest was expected, and Agnes promised her several days later on. The guest was a Miss Vernon, and after the first week she often embarrassed Hannah by her cool and amused stare.
Miss Vernon accompanied the party to the mission Sunday school one day, ridiculing it at every step. Merrily they squabbled, Miss
Vernon and Cartright against Max Dudley and Agnes; and Hannah, trudging on behind, wondered at the bright badinage and laughter. How narrow, and dark, and empty her world had been! How could she go back? Agnes had done much for her, teaching her many things outside her work; and the eager mind had grown rapidly.
During the afternoon a storm came up that settled into a steady downpour. Only two umbrellas were in the party of five, and there was a discussion. A number of the people were going to wait, and as some had to come far on the road to Sewanee, it was decided that Hannah should wait, in hope of the weather clearing. Hannah pleaded that she preferred a wetting, but Agnes was firm, and Hannah was left. Presently the party met the negro man sent by Professor Welling with cloaks and umbrellas.
"If only we had waited," Agnes said.
"Let me go back for Hannah," suggested Max, taking the extra shawl and umbrella. "We have not come far, and it would not do to leave her to Peter," he added, in a lower tone. "He regards her only as a servant, you know."
"You are very kind," and Agnes looked up gratefully.
Then Max turned back, and Cartright pulled
his mustache to hide a smile. "I suppose Dudley is living up to the lesson I heard him impressing this afternoon," he said. "Duty to one's neighbor. He is such a crank; I really believe he tries to do it."
"Take care, Mr. Cartright," and though Agnes smiled, there was a flash in her eyes. " I am--"
"I know," and Cartright helped her over a little stream. "But Dudley goes too far. At the station the other day he gave that girl his umbrella. It is foolish, and causes remark." And he drew Agnes' cloak more closely about her, looking straight down into her eyes, "After all, the girl is a servant."
"Mr. Dudley is queer; but, then, Hannah is uncommonly handsome," said Miss Vernon.
A horseman passed them, and Agnes recognized Si Durket, of whom Hannah had told her.
Hannah stood alone in the schoolhouse doorway. The young people who giggled together regarded her as "sot up," and avoided her. Presently she saw Max Dudley returning. The young people giggled more than ever, and the old people, who wisely kept a "great gulf fixed" between their class and the university men, looked disapprovingly. They had heard talk about Hannah Warren, and seeing Max return
in the rain for her, the vague reports took shape. When Max entered the room there was a dead silence.
"Miss Agnes sent this shawl, Hannah," he said. "We met the servant just a little way from here. If we walk fast we can catch them."
Hannah pulled her bonnet farther over her face, and wrapping the shawl hastily about her, stepped out into the rain before Max.
"Wait for the umbrella!" he called; but Hannah did not heed. Harder and harder came the driving rain and wind, but Hannah hurried on. With her bonnet drawn down and the shawl held close about her, she seemed not to know that Max was with her, and now and then helped her over bad places. On they went, with the umbrella well down in front. Suddenly they heard a shout, and found a horseman nearly on them, the horse starting wildly at the umbrella. Hannah sprang aside, and, looking up, faced Si Durket. There was a moment's pause--even in the storm, the girl thought--and, righting the umbrella, Max stepped again to Hannah's side. With a laugh, Si rode on.
"Yes, sir." Yes, it was Si, and those people at the schoolhouse had laughed; and Lizer Wilson had hinted many times at her not being able
to guide her horse down the mountain. There would be talk. But her grandmother's talk about Dock was worse. Would not one piece of talk kill another? And where would her character be when all was said?
"How quick you have been!" Agnes said, glancing at Cartright.
"Yes, Hannah raced." Then to Cartright: "What is the joke?"
"My dear Dudley, I am only pleased to have some assistance with the umbrellas," Cartright answered.
Plodding on behind, Hannah wondered why Si could not have met them after they had joined the party.
"Art thou a dumb, wronged thing that would be righted
Entrusting thus thy cause to me? Forbear!
No tongue can mend such pleadings; faith requited
With falsehood--love, at last aware
Of scorn--hopes, early blighted."
Behind her back Agnes' friends were laughing at her and blaming her; varying their remarks with wonderings as to whether she would marry Cartright or Dudley. Cartwright had money, but Dudley agreed with her in all her fads, especially as to these country people and-- her own maid! Meanwhile, Cartright kept Miss Welling in something of a temper about Dudley. Hannah had not had her holiday yet, and for some time had had no word. She was vaguely uneasy, when late one afternoon Dock came to the back door looking very miserable. "Kin I see you, Hannah?"
Hannah came out hastily. "Is Gramper sick, Dock?"
"No, nothin' don't ail nobody; I jest come to
git the word 'bout you. Is you well; is all a-goin' well; is you satisfy, Hannah?"
"Yes, Dock," the misery on his face creeping into her heart. "An' what ails you?"
"Nothin'--nothin.' Jest youuns Granny couldn't sleep last night kase an owl come thar and hollered all night long. I couldn't sleep nuther, an' I jest come to make sure 'bout you; thet's all. Far'well." He went away, and Hannah's heart sank. Something was wrong and Dock could not help her. Things were quiet after this, but somehow Hannah could not please her mistress. Could Miss Agnes be sick? Then one morning Dock came to say that Hannah was wanted at home, and Mr. Warren would come for her that afternoon. And Dock could explain nothing and escaped as soon as possible.
Very slowly Hannah went to find Agnes; very slowly, for she was weak and cold and trembling. She paused in the dining room to gain composure, and heard voices in the drawing room. It was the high, sharp voice of Mrs. Skinner. "Indeed, for her own sake I would not keep her a moment longer," she said. "Good or bad, I should send her home. I have always thought her much too handsome for a servant." Then the voices were lost in the hall as Agnes conducted her visitor to the door.
Hannah leaned against the wall. It was she they were talking about,--for the cook was black,--she who must be sent home. Agnes returned through the hall, and Miss Vernon with her, laughing. "You are as solemn as in owl, Agnes. I would not let the stupid talk bother me. Send the girl home. I heard when I first came that they were laughing at Mr. Dudley about Hannah."
"And you did not tell me?" Agnes asked quickly.
"Why should I? You have eyes and ears, and as Mr. Cartright is the coming man, why should you care if Mr. Dudley makes a fool of himself? And he seems to have done it thoroughly."
"I do not care," Agnes answered, but she shivered a little. The color flashed into Hannah's face, and her drooping figure straightened --a fire seemed lighted in her brain. Her grandfather had heard all this; all Sewanee had been talking, and of course the valley. She was to be sent away; her name was a byword! And Miss Agnes did not care. She went into the drawing room and found Agnes and Miss Vernon at the window, watching the approach of Mr. Cartright. "What is it?" and Agnes turned her head. "Gramper is sent for me," her eyes were
full of ineffable sadness; "says he'll come this evenin'."
Agnes' delicate color faded a little. "Very well," she said. "Your money will be ready. And--" she paused, then added, "as the term is nearly over, you need not return."
"Yes, Miss Agnes," the dark eyes not wavering; "shall I set the dinner table?"
"Yes, and let Mr. Cartright in." Cartright met the eyes of the girl as she held the door open, "like a dumb animal," he thought, and hurried past.
"I am only a thing," Hannah thought. "A stick or a stone 'thout no feelin's." Great God! She knew her own class thoroughly. She had done nothing, and they knew it; but they would be glad to humble Mrs. Warren who "held her head so high," and herself, who had kept aloof. They would pretend to scorn her; would whisper when she came near; would laugh and make coarse jokes on her. A great wave of bitterness swept over her. Miss Agnes, who knew the truth, had turned from her; who would speak a word for her good name? Good name! it was already a byword. The glass she was polishing fell from her hands with a crash. She looked down--one of the best tumblers. The shock restored her and changed her train of thought.
"We kin stan' up tell we draps," Dock had said. She must stand up, as far as the world could see.
She finished her work and went to her room to arrange her clothes. Her wardrobe had greatly increased and her things made two bundles. But all the things that Agnes had given her she put aside. She could not take them. Just as she finished she saw her grandfather at the gate, with old Bess and the mule. He looked older, and his head was bent, as if he could look no man in the face. Why did he not face the world and cry out to all that Si had done it! Why did he not kill Si? She went down hastily with the two bundles. "Hardy, Gramper," looking at him wistfully. "Here's my things."
The old man lifted his eyes, but not his head, and sighed.
"Si done hit, Gramper." She went on hurriedly, "You knows hit's all lies?"
"Lies or no lies, everybody is a-talkin' an' Hannah Warren's name is in the dirt. Thar's no use a-tryin' to hide thet; we must hide you."
For a moment Hannah leaned against the horse. Si had ruined her.
"What is this, Hannah; going home?" Max
Dudley stood behind her. "Ah, how are you, Mr. Warren?" to the old man.
"Yes, sir," Hannah answered, shocked into strength once more. "I'm goin' home. I'll be back in a minute, Gramper," and she turned to the house just as young Melville came up hurriedly, saying, "Come, Dudley, come, I have something to tell you." She knew what he meant.
Up to her room she crept, sitting down one moment to regain her strength; then she folded each ribbon and frill that Agnes had given her-- the collars, the simple brooch. She would put them in Agnes' room--they would speak and say: "Covites have feelings." Would anyone ever love Agnes as she had done?
She pinned her little shawl about her, and, taking the little fineries and her bonnet, went to Agnes' room. In the doorway she paused; it was so pretty. Suppose she had lived in a place like this, would she have grown careless of people's feelings? Did fineness make people hard? A dry sob broke the stillness. She moved hastily to put down the things.
Not on the dressing table, nor on the table: the sofa? that was lower. She turned the things over in her hands; they looked to be very poor when brought into this room. She laid them
on the rug, near the fireplace. Miss Agnes would see them when she came,--a humble little pile,--then she went out, closing the door. In the hall below she met Agnes with some money in her hands. Her eyes shone and two spots of color were on her cheeks. "Your money," she said; "you have done remarkably well as waitress."
"Yes, Miss Agnes," but Hannah did not touch the money. "I broke one o' the good tumblers, Miss Agnes, an' please tuck it out."
"That is nothing," Agnes said quickly, "I never count such things."
"But I does, Miss Agnes," and Hannah's hands remained folded.
Agnes paused, too provoked to speak, then put the money on a table near by. "There is your money," she said, "Good-by," and she walked away.
Hannah watched her a second, then took all the money save one-half dollar and went out. She mounted the horse in silence, and as they rode off, asked quietly: "What did Mr. Dudley say, Gramper?"
"Nothin' much. He axed me what made you go, an' I tole him, an' they turned round and gone, lookin' like the dead."
"An' all fur Si's lies," Hannah said.
"Lies or no lies," the old man answered, as before, "hit's done done, an' youuns name is ruined. Youuns Granny laughs one minute, an' cusses the next. Thar's nothin' fur me to say, kase when the women-folks of a fambly goes down, hit's done fur. An' Lizer Wilson grins, an Si--well, Si says he's willin' to kivver youuns shame. Si says thet, an' hit's all we kin do."
Hannah clenched her teeth. Si, whose vile lies had brought her to this, offering to screen her from the world! Did they forget that death was left her still?
When they were out of the station limits Mr. Warren spoke again. "Hit's a good offer, to kivver youuns name. Thar's mighty few'd be willin' to pick a gal up outen the mud."
"Gramper, Si's throwed the mud on me to git me," Hannah said sternly. "I ain't done nothin', an' I ain't a-goin' to tuck Si, like I'm glad to git shed o' my name. I ain't shamed, an' I'll die 'fore I'll tuck Si."
"Hesh, gal! youuns life ain't yourn. Mertildy says hit all comes o' you bein' so biggity, an' hit's true. Weuns is got to git outen this trouble, and Si's the best chance."
Hannah wheeled old Bess across the road, and stopped the mule. "If you says thet agin',
Gramper, I'll ride straight on an' never come back no more." Her eyes burned like fire.
A groan broke from Mr. Warren's lips. "God hev mercy!" he said. Hannah waited a moment, then turned the horse and rode on. Presently Mr. Warren's mutterings began again. "Whar is he'p to come from? Mr. Dudley 'll not make no motion. He kep' on a-sayin' 'Thar's nothin' in hit; God knows thar's nothin' in hit.' An' he looked like death. An' t'other feller says, 'Come, Dudley, come; hit's all damned nonsense.' 'Damned nonsense,' says I; 'yes, but my name is in the dirt, and my gal is done ruined. Who'll b'lieve hit's damned nonsense?' Thet's what I said, an' Dudley looked like death."
Hannah's head dropped. Shame on shame. Agnes had turned from her, and Max Dudley--He had been so good to her; she knew it hurt him. The old man muttered on, but she did not listen. Her thoughts went back and forth, and pain seemed everywhere.
Down the rugged road they went in silence; then the green valley and the old home. The cows were waiting outside the fence, the chickens were scratching in a perfunctory way before going to roost--the pigs in their favorite mud-holes looked pictures of content, and the blue
smoke curling from the kitchen stove-pipe showed the approach of supper. The mountain-tops still gleamed with sunlight, but the shadows were thick in the little valley.
Hannah saw her grandmother in the lobby, and longed to turn and flee, but her horse followed the mule and the bent old man through the gate that Dock, with averted face, held open. Mrs. Warren went into her room, and shut the door. What did it matter? When even Dock Wilson turned his face away, the limit was reached. Hannah went quietly to her room, but though Mr. Warren followed he did not put down the bundles, and to Hannah the room looked strange. Harness and tools were against the walls, and the clothes hanging about were men's clothes. Mr. Warren watched her. She asked no questions, but moved to take the bundles.
"Not yit," he said. "Dock stays in har, an' Si, when he's over. Youuns Granny 'llowed the loft would do fur you."
A blow from the old man would not have been so cruel a shock.
"Yes, hit 'll do," she answered.
"Youuns Granny 'llowed Dock'd run the place on shar's, an' you'd tuck Si an' go," Mr. Warren said, as he followed up the steep steps,
and, putting, aside the bundles, sat down on the low bed, made of boards laid on boxes, and looked at the girl, who had gone to the end window. Presently she turned, and said, "The loft, or the cow-house, or the pig-pen is good enough fur me, if so Granny likes, but Si ain't good enough. If hit's to choose 'twixt rags, an' starvin', an' p'intin' fingers, or Si, I'll tuck hit all, but I'll never tuck Si!"
Mr. Warren climbed down the ladder slowly.
"Stronger than woe is will; that which was Good
Doth pass to Better--Best."
Only one end of the loft had been made habitable, but on its improvement someone had spent great energy. The bed was neatly made, and by it was the bit of rag carpet that had been in Hannah's room, downstairs. There was no way of making a fire, for the chimneys went through in solid columns; but a bolt had been put on the trap-door that shut the loft from the lower world and air; and the largest cracks in the roof were stuffed carefully with straw. A shelf had been put near the window, and on it was Hannah's little looking-glass. On a box in one corner stood a tin basin and a piece of yellow soap; a rough-dried towel hung from a nail in the roof, and a bucket of fresh water was near.
"Dock done hit," she said; "if he turned his head away or no, Dock done hit"; and, at this first sign of sympathy, the tears sprang to her eyes. Tears were not for her now, and, brushing them aside, she untied her bundles. She
took out her finest apron and best kerchief and, after rearranging her hair, put them on. She was quite conscious of the improvement in her wardrobe and in herself, and was determined to appear at her best. She needed every possible help now.
If her grandfather had stood by her; if her grandmother had not shown her contempt by putting her in the loft--shown it to Dock and Si, and so to the countryside--she might have left her cause to others and broken down; but this treatment, as of one absolutely unworthy, roused her. The experience of a lifetime had swept over her since morning. She had to fight, and she descended to her grandmother's room as if she were an honored guest. She even went so far as to smile as she crossed the lobby, thinking, "Hit's the Durket sperret."
She did not heed that, after the first glance on her entrance, her grandmother turned her head away, but walked to the fire, and, drawing a chair forward, sat down. Mr. Warren stared. How changed, how grand she was; what had happened? And he looked across at his wife doubtfully.
But there was no doubt in Hannah's manner as she smoothed her white apron, and folded her hands, as she had seen Agnes do; then began
quietly to speak words that froze Mr. Warren's blood, almost.
"Granny," looking at the old woman, "couldn't you have stopped Si's lies? You knew hit was lies, kase you knew me. Hit don't look natteral for you to let 'em do me this bad to skeer me into tuckin' Si, an' you a-knowin' that I ain't skeery?"
Mrs. Warren was knitting, but at the girl's first words her hands began to tremble, then she dropped them and her work in her lap, but did not turn or speak.
"You said some hard words to me afore I went away," Hannah went on, "words thet no decent gal hed no 'casion to hear; but I never 'llowed you'd let outside folks talk 'bout youuns own flesh and blood. An' I never 'llowed thet you b'lieved hit till you put me up loft."
Mrs. Warren trembled. Had the last day come that she should be dared like this! She was boiling with fury, but she remembered the third fit, and controlled herself. Her hands were gripped together--her eyes were flashing --her lips were quivering, but when she spoke her voice was quiet.
"I would have stopped it, Hannah Warren, if I hed hearn hit start; but hit were all through the country 'fore I hearn hit. An' I knowed
p'int-blank that a-many a ole debt o' mine were patched on to hit, an' I were a-bein' paid off. An' I put you up loft kase hit's good enough for you. An' I hev cussed you, yes, an' all the Warrens; an' I hev cussed Si--yes, cussed him with a blight an' a blain, an' the sufferin' o' death 'thout death!" and rising she left the room.
There was silence until Mr. Warren spoke. "Si's a-stoppin' har," he said.
"That's hit; youuns Granny kep' him har fur you."
Hannah rose. Through the window she saw Si coming; then Dock spoke to him, and he turned toward the kitchen.
"Minervy an' Dave's nigh ruined," Mr. Warren went on, "an' Si hev done hit. He tole hit when he were drunk."
"An' Si thinks to ruin me."
"An' he hev done thet--" Mr. Warren rejoined, "through all the country he hev done thet. Jim Blount tole me so, an' Bill Cole tole me so, an' Lizer Wilson an' Jane Harner tole me so. Yes, hit's done done!" clasping his hands as he looked into the fire. "My Joshaway's gal's ruined! I let you talk youuns Granny down, but thar ain't no stoppin' the world, gal, lessen you gits married. An' thar ain't no man
but what 'll stop befo' he'll stoop to Hannah Warren--my Joshaway's gal!"
Hannah stood with one hand on the mantelpiece and listened. It was true. She had felt it that morning in Agnes' manner--in the ride through the village, where everyone stared, and no one spoke--felt it in Dock's averted face--in her grandfather's despair--in the very atmosphere --this disgrace so unmerited--so dreadful.
"Si makes a mighty good offer," Mr. Warren went on; "he says he'll settle hisn's farm on you, if I'll settle this place on youuns chilluns. I tole him I'd done settled hit on you a'ready; an' he 'llowed thet Dave's shar'd come in to you, too, kase Dave hedn't no chilluns, an' hedn't no right to leff the land outen the fambly. Hit looks to me like hit'd be the upbuildin' o' both famblies. An' Si"--looking away from the unwavering eyes of the girl--"Si, drinkin' like he does, ain't a-goin to live much longer."
There was a pause; then Hannah turned toward the door. "To tuck a man an' watch to see him die o' drink is wussern all that hes been said 'bout me."
"Hannah!" The despair in the cry stopped her with her hand on the latch. "I've been a-bearin' so much!" raising his clasped hands. "Thar were the talk 'bout you an' Dock--the
talk youuns Granny tole you--then come the talk 'bout you an' Dudley. An' every day I hearn hit a-grindin', an' a-grindin', tell I knowed thar worn't no wusser hell. An' when the talk settled an' I poured hit off, the dregs was jest this a-way: Dock wouldn't never dar' to ax you --an' Dudley ain't a-goin' to steddy 'bout you-- an' Si jest come in 'twixt the two," putting his hands over his face; "an' I 'llowed hit would not be sicher a long trial; an' a-many a woman hev stood sich. Oh, God forgive me!"
Hannah crossed the room swiftly, and kneeled by the old man's chair. "Gramper, I kin live the lies down--or go."
"If you goes the lies will grow like weeds of a rainy summer; an' I can't live 'em down--hit 'll kill me." Hannah rose. She had no answer for these bitter truths.
At supper she talked a little to Dock, for neither Mrs. Warren nor Si would speak, and Mr. Warren refused all food. Her help in all work being declined, she went outside where the cows were. When Dock came to turn them out he said as he passed, " 'Pend on me, Hannah, an' don't be skeered into nothin'. I couldn't kill Lizer, she's a woman, but I kin kill Si!" Then Mrs. Warren calling Hannah, he hurried away.
"You called me Granny?" Hannah asked
when she reached the old woman. Then she saw that Si stood just within the doorway. Mr. Warren sat bent over the fire. "You called?"
"Yes," Mrs. Warren answered, "but I ain't a-wantin' you. Si is the fool."
"I'm axin' fur the last time, Hannah," and Si half closed his light eyes as he looked at her. "An' mighty few would ax you now."
"Mighty few, Si," Hannah answered, "but I won't be beholden to none."
"What 'll you do? Hope an' pray fur Dudley?" The scorn of the girl's eyes made him look away. Mrs. Warren's clasped hands grew rigid, and the old man lifted up his bowed head. Almost he could have killed the villain!
"Whatever I hopes an' prays fur," Hannah said quietly, "thar is this fur you to 'member, Si Durket. I kin be druv down to the lowest, but never druv down to tuckin' you--never!" and she smiled as she saw that Lizer Wilson had come in and had heard. "An' I hope you'll tell hit, Lizer Wilson," she added.
Mrs. Warren started, and reeled a little, then went to her place by the fire. Si looked at the door, but Hannah stood there. She saw his wish, and smiled. "You've hed enough?" she said. "Your jedgment is jest a-startin'; soon
this won't seem like nothin'. 'Twont be long 'fore all youuns wickedness comes home--not long"; then she went to her loft.
"It is nonsense," Melville said. He and Max had been walking up and down the road for some time. "To dismiss the girl was foolish," he went on, "for that gave the affair tone and color; but I cannot see where you have any duty or blame in the matter. As for Cartright, he is scheming for his own ends."
Many, many times Melville had covered this ground; but Dudley came back always to the starting point--Hannah's misery.
"You do not understand," he answered in a voice that had lost all life, "what an awful thing it is for the girl. Blount says that the stories grow worse at every turn."
"Damn Blount!" Melville interrupted.
"Suppose we do; that does not help my position. Just consider my position."
"I have gone over it a hundred times, and you have to thank Cartright's envy and Mrs. Skinner's folly for it. Come; it is bedtime."
"You go; I will come presently." Once alone, Dudley walked into the forest and sat down on a fallen tree. He felt dazed still. When he had met Hannah at the gate that afternoon,
and heard the old man's story, he was shocked and angry, and alone with Melville had called him a fool for taking the girl away. Melville betrayed, unwittingly, the extent of the talk, and Cartright joining them, fresh from the Wellings', revealed that Agnes had dismissed the girl. Max walked straight to Blount's shop, and Blount's words appalled him. "The girl is ruined, and as nice a girl as ever stepped. It is a shame, but it is done."
Then with Melville by his side, raging and swearing, he returned to the University in a sort of a mist.
How had it happened? Who had done it? What was his duty?
For a year his name had been coupled with the name of Agnes Welling--he was Professor Welling's asistant and most intimate in the house. He had only waited to finish his course before speaking to Agnes.
Melville said that Cartright had influenced Agnes into dismissing Hannah--it was this that had ruined the girl. Cartright's influence was a new thing. If he should go to Agnes and say: "This talk is all false--you know that I love you --will you marry me?" Could she say "Yes," and hear the world say, as Cartright reported it
to have said already, that her rival was her maid, who had been sent away? His ideal Agnes would have stood by Hannah.
He sprang to his feet--still she was his ideal! He had loved her so long--so truly--he could not let her go.
In reality it was Agnes who had disgraced Hannah, and must he pay for her mistake by righting the girl before the world? A servant? A "Covite!" A woman. As a gentleman and a Christian, what was his duty to this fellow-creature?
The moonlight seemed to fade, and the darkness to fold about him hopelessly. The night was waning; he would go home.
For a little while the next morning things seemed confused again, but he lay still until he collected his thoughts and laid fresh hold on his determinations. After twelve o'clock he would be free, and would go to Lost Cove.
Poor Melville could find out nothing. He followed Dudley until twelve o'clock, when Dudley said, "I have an engagement--" and Cartright joining them, Melville could find out nothing, and went away. Dudley walked on, with Cartright beside him, until Dudley turned off.
"Going to the station?" Cartright asked.
"No, to Lost Cove."
"Good Heavens, man! in the face of all this talk?"
"Because of all this talk."
Had the autumn woods been ever as beautiful --or the sky as blue--or life as full of charm and possibility as on this day--would it ever be thus again? But he must not think. He must bend all his being to this duty; there would be time enough afterward for thinking.
It might be that he could yet lay his case before Agnes. His ideal Agnes would uphold him. But the real Agnes--Agnes as Cartright seemed to know her--would she laugh at him for his pains?
"If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!"
Dinner was over, and Lizer Wilson was heating irons in Mrs. Warren's room, where the old man sat over the fire. Mrs. Warren was busy in the kitchen--Dock in the yard, while Hannah, not being allowed to help, had wandered off. She had gone to the spring, and sat on the edge of the basin. On one side, through the thick growth of slim young poplars and maples, she could see the valley and fields, and the mountains that shut all in. On the other she looked down to the mysterious pool. It was dark and still, and people said it had no bottom. At Sewanee she had heard this idea laughed at.
Sewanee! she bowed her head on her hands. Her grandmother did not want her; need she stay here? The talk would grow in the valleys, but at Sewanee it would soon die, then Miss Agnes could marry Mr. Dudley, and all would be
well. She would be left desolate--but she was only one. Trampled in the dust--left for dead! who cared?
A noise startled her, and she rose quickly, to find Dock standing before her. "Does Granny want me?" she asked.
Dock stood silent, with one hand grasping a young maple until it shivered and dropped its scarlet leaves about him; while the girl watched and trembled as the young maple did. At last Dock raised his head, and his eyes were full of pain and fire.
"Lizer says thet you need not a-been so biggity last night to Si, kase Si only done what he done kase youuns Granny axed him to do hit to save the two famblies. An' there worn't no other man would tuck youuns now." A fresh shower of scarlet leaves fluttered down about him. "I didn't knock her, kase I ain't never knocked a woman yit. I told her she were a-lyin', an' she knowed hit, an' I were one man thet would lay down an' be chopped to pieces fur you--body an' soul. An' hit's true, Hannah"; and his eyes were filled with a light that would have glorified any face on earth. "Hit's God's truth; but I never would have told hit, 'ceppen fur everybody a-turning 'gainst you. I ain't nobody, an' I knows hit, an' I don't 'llow thet you hev come
down to me--thar ain't no sich foolishness in me. But all is a talkin', Hannah--" shaking his head sadly--"an' I kin give you a honest name, an' I kin work fur you, and shoot fur you--an' I would. An' no pusson would dar' to tuck Hannah Wilson's name 'twixt tongue an' teeth to spit hit out, kase I'd kill 'em. An' if you wants to go 'way, I'll go, an' if you wants to stay, I'll stay. An' I'll never cast nothin' in youuns teeth, ner sot up to be no ekal o' yourn. Don't gimme no word now," he added, swaying the little maple tree back and forth, "but keep it in youuns mind fur sumpen to hold on to." Then he went away.
Nothing could have shown Hannah the depth of her fall as completely as this offer did. Nothing could have proved as cruelly the hopelessness of her position. That Dock Wilson should dare such a proposition! She sat down again, casting her apron over her head, and rocking herself back and forth. The strength of the man's love had not touched her yet. Hannah Wilson! He had coupled the names. Hannah Wilson! what better than Lizer Wilson? To Agnes Welling and her friends, all were "Covites" together. Was there a true difference? Between herself and Agnes Welling there was a wide difference, but between herself and Dock? And between Dock and the much
admired Si Durket? This last difference was plain enough, and Dock's kind face, glorified by his love, rose up before her. Soul and body he would die for her--he would work and fight for her, and never think she had descended to his level! She remembered how he had worked for her and watched over her in the spring--asking no return.
The swaying motion ceased, and her apron fell from over her face. Now he offered to stand between her and the world; and he knew that Si, who made the talk, would keep it alive.
What was the difference between her and Dock? Somehow or other he seemed above her now. Marry Dock, then Miss Agnes would know that the talk was not true, and would marry Mr. Dudley. With the thought of Sewanee there came a vision of her leaden-lined future.
Suddenly the sound of the horn came to her. She looked at the sun; it was not supper-time; what could it mean? Again the sound, and this time more sharp, and someone was waving to her down in the field. Quickly she went, and saw her grandfather beckoning. Before she reached him she heard the words, "Mr. Dudley's to the house--" and her heart seemed to stop. Had Agnes sent for her to come back, and give
the talk the lie? She laid hold on the old man's arm to steady herself. The joy shook her as no pain had done.
"Thet's hit. He's come to tuck you away, chile, an' stop the talk. Mertildy's in a mighty takin', an' Lizer Wilson looks like she's been frost-bit. Lord, gal, you are done saved, and nobody 'll dar' to talk no mo'. An' thar'll not be no mo' kitchen fur you to Sewanee."
"Gramper!" she staggered a little, stopping him with a sudden gasp. "What is you a-sayin'?"
The old man hurried her on, and his voice was a little less tremulous as he repeated his words.
"Come fur me?" the girl whispered. "Mr. Dudley!" and she flung up her hands as one who is mortally wounded. How low--how low she had fallen! She clung to a post of the back piazza, unable to go farther. Dudley came for her--then all thought the worst of her. And Agnes!
"Come on, gal, come on. Mr. Dudley's a-waitin' fur you; an' youuns Granny's a-waitin'. I reckon she's right sorry she put you up loft. An' Lizer Wilson is a-scorchin' all the clothes she's a-tryin' to iron--don't you smell 'em? An' yander she is a-peepin' at you."
Hannah straightened herself up, and the shivering ceased. She stepped quickly through the lobby, where Lizer was ironing, to the front piazza, where Max Dudley and Mrs. Warren were waiting.
Max leaned against one of the posts, holding his Oxford cap by the long tassel; and behind him, through the purple mist, the gorgeous, autumn-tinted mountain-side. Standing there, be looked so lonely--so apart--as if some magic line had been drawn between him and his kind, while an atmosphere of deathlike stillness seemed to hem him in. And watching him curiously, with anxious, flickering eyes, old Mrs. Warren waited.
For weeks the old woman had been under a great strain, struggling with all her strength against the many warring passions that tore her and cried for utterance. All this morning she had hurried from one thing to another, to keep from an outburst of some sort, until now the supreme excitement of Max Dudley's coming seemed to have weakened her beyond movement, save for the nervous rocking of her chair.
He had made his offer calmly and quietly in the presence of all, and for a moment things had grown dim before Mrs. Warren's vision, then cleared as she looked proudly into the astonished
eyes of Lizer Wilson--and into the sad face of Dock, who had come up while they talked.
People might say what they pleased now, but no girl in any valley had ever had a chance like this. And Si! How Si would rage to think of what his talk had accomplished! Hannah could stand with the best now, and the Warrens be acknowledged as the equals of all.
She started when Hannah's quick step sounded in the lobby, and Max lifted his head and drew himself away from the support of the post. His tired eyes dilated, and his pale face grew whiter as the girl approached. And Lizer paused, with uplifted iron, and Dock drew a step nearer.
"You wanted me, Mr. Dudley?" and Hannah paused in front of him, with her hands clasped and two crimson spots on her cheeks.
"Yes, Hannah." His voice was very low, and the girl realized, by a subtle instinct, all that he suffered--saw clearly the marks of despair on his face, and wondered why she did not die of shame. "Yes, Hannah"; then he paused, as if to steady his voice. "I have come to ask you to marry me, and help me to stop this talk. Your grandfather and grandmother have given their consent, and the matter lies with you. We know that there is no truth in anything that has been
said; and everyone who knows you, Hannah, knows you to be a good, true woman, and as such I have come to offer you the protection of my name." His voice was very low, but Hannah thought she had never heard anything sound so sweet before. All bitterness passed from out her heart--all doubts--and the great humiliation of her life seemed turned to glory. Then his voice ceased, and in the tense stillness Mrs. Warren rose, with a strained look in her eyes. What was it she saw in Hannah's face! Dock leaned forward--Mr. Warren drew a step nearer, and Lizer forgot the heavy iron she still held poised.
"I'm obleeged to you, Mr. Dudley, fur the true words you hev said this day," Hannah began, "an' fur stannin' up fur me thet couldn't do nothin' fur myself. An' I knows what hit means, Mr. Dudley, for you to say the words you have said this day, an' I prays the Lord will bless you for hit." And while she spoke soul looked into soul, the distance between them was bridged, and the strength of her beauty struck Max as it had never done before. She was superb. "You hev been mighty good to me, Mr. Dudley," she went on, "but thar's a fur way 'twixt you an' me--thar's a diffrunce as wide as all this valley," with a little, sweeping gesture. "An' you ain't fur folks like me. But thar's
one o' my own folks, Mr. Dudley, hev offered me his honest name, an' please God all will hap out right. But all the same, God bless you, Mr. Dudley."
"Hannah! gal!" a sharp voice cried, and all turned quickly, "Is you crazy--crazy! Si 'll never come agin--never!" There was a moment's pause, and Hannah looked down into the old woman's face pityingly. How gray and drawn it looked; and she said soothingly, "Num mine, Granny, hit's all right--hit's a better man 'an Si Durket, Granny."
"True, Hannah?" And Max laid his hand on Hannah's shoulder.
"As true as God's daylight, Mr. Dudley," turning her beautiful face up to his. "An' yander he stands--Dock Wilson--"
There was a low moan, and the old woman reeled forward heavily.
"The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,
The passion that left the ground, to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard,
Enough that he heard it once; we shall hear it by and by."
It was cold, but Melville waited patiently at the top of the mountain for Dudley. He would not go farther, for fear of missing him in the dusk, and he had much to tell him. It was a long way he had come to meet his friend, but what he had to say was not for others to hear, and the long walk back would give Dudley time to recover himself.
Presently he heard him coming, and Melville shrank from the task he had set himself. How could he tell Dudley! But Max was upon him by this, and started, as if from a dream. "What has happened?" he asked, and laid his hand on Melville's shoulder.
"I was anxious," Melville faltered. "What has happened to you?"
"Nothing. The girl refused me. A princess could not have done it more grandly; and the
old grandmother died in a fit. But what ails you?"
"Well, Cartright?" and leaning against a tree, Dudley took off his cap and passed his hand wearily across his brow and eyes. The scenes in the Cove had tired him more than he had realized until now, and now he felt almost too weary to go farther. "What about Cartright? He knew where I was gone; has he posted me for a fool?"
"Worse than that."
Dudley started forward, taking hold of Melville. "What has he dared to say!"
"About you? Nothing. It is--it is Miss Welling." The grasp on Melville's shoulder became almost unbearable. "Oh, Dudley, Cartright is engaged to Miss Welling! Asked her at noon--announced it at once, and Mrs. Skinner says that Professor Welling is 'immensely pleased.' I told you Cartright was working for his own ends; and I thought that you would like to have a walk after hearing. So I slipped away; nobody knows I am come."
There was a moment's silence, then Dudley turned homeward, walking slowly.
She stood alone, although the deck of the steamer was crowded; stood near a pile of luggage just deposited from a steam launch.
"She must be a princess at the very least," thought Alan Melhis, who had caught sight of her only a moment before. "With that very superior chin and those very scornful eyes, she can be nothing less. She has no attendant, and is not clothed in purple; nevertheless she has an air everybody does not have. And now she looks my way, straight into my face--what a direct look! Now she has looked me over from head to foot, and now she looks at Vesuvius in the same way. I might compose an 'only' poem on the spot:
Only a man in the foreground--
Only a mountain behind.
Now she has found what she wants--a waiter! and her orders are low and decided, and the luggage disappears; alas, and the young woman, too! It is four days to Port Saïd, however, and
I shall see her again, unless she is one of the unfortunates who are sick from start to finish. I hope not."
The disorder on the deck seemed to culminate at this moment. The coal was all in, and the venders of shells and coral, of hats, photographs, and Sorrento woodwork, were making their last efforts to sell their wares. Prices were falling in a way that made people who had spent their money early in the day gnash their teeth and despise their purchases; while wiser people, who had waited for this crisis, came in and bought triumphantly. The coal barges swung off, but the small boats hovered about persistently, until the screw churned the water into great white eddies and they had to seek safety in flight. Slowly the ship moved down the wonderful bay, leaving Naples shining white and beautiful on the hillside.
Melhis, leaning over the stern of the vessel, looked out idly; he knew every shade and turn of the scene; he had killed so many weary days on this coast, that now, in his own language, he "loathed it." Beautiful, yes, more beautiful still when Capri was a part of the picture; but he was tired of it. The rushing of the water just below where he leaned prevented his hearing a footstep that paused beside him; but presently he felt
a presence, and, turning, found the girl he had watched in the early afternoon, standing near him. Evidently the scene was new and beautiful to her; for she stood in silent, motionless absorption. The sun had gone; the new moon gleamed like a silver thread in the glowing west; the stars twinkled slowly into sight, and Vesuvius had lighted her dull beacon. The girl's hands were clasped in front of her, and her figure drooped a little, as if she were tired. She looked rather sad and gentle now, Melhis thought, as he watched her; and as the first bell clanged for dinner, and people began to go down, he wondered if she did not hear it, if she did not intend changing her dress. Possibly she had never been at sea before, and did not know that people made a difference in their costume for this sacred meal. And yet she must have traveled to have reached Italy; for she was not an Italian, nor yet French. Capri was behind them now, and the girl turned her face toward the shore. "Good-by, old Pæstum," he heard her say, and, forgetting the question of her nationality, he wondered what this meant. The curving shore swept far away; Salerno even was invisible in the swiftly gathering dusk; how could gray old Pæstum be seen? And what connection had she with Pæstum? The second bell for dinner clanged, the girl did
not move, the deck was quite empty; did she not know?
"I beg pardon," Melhis began, "the second bell for dinner has rung."
"Thank you," was answered quietly, "I heard it."
Melhis lifted his hat with the thought, "nice, dignified girl," and walked away. The place next to him at table was empty, and beyond sat an old gentleman who looked very stern and ill, and who evidently was watching for someone. "My daughter," Melhis heard the old man say to the waiter; "she must be on deck."
"I am here, father," was answered, and the girl Melhis had been watching slipped into the place. "I am sorry I am late," she went on gently, "but the view was too beautiful to leave. How are you, father?"
"Not so well, I am afraid; a little overtired."
"And you have wanted me."
Melhis thought he detected a tremor in the young voice, and, looking at the old man with new interest, felt more anxious than he would have liked to tell the girl.
The father looking up caught his eye. "I am a great invalid," he said, and the girl immediately turned on Melhis a look that required unraveling. The first development he saw in it
was, that he was a most favored person to have this father speak to him; the second element was a proud watchfulness that he took his honors with befitting humility; and the third element was a shadowy hint of pleading that he would make himself agreeable--a look that instantly won Melhis' consent to all it demanded. "A great invalid," the father repeated, looking down sadly on his daughter.
"You are traveling for your health, then?" Melhis asked.
"Yes; but I hardly expect any benefit."
"Oh, but you will be better, father; you are better," the girl said softly.
"I am sure Egypt will help you," Melhis put in quietly; "I have seen many wonderful cures made there."
"You have been to Egypt?" the girl asked.
"Yes, many times."
"Yet you go again?"
"I am on my way to Australia."
"Oh! do you live there?"
"No; I am an idle man," smiling, "going in order to kill the next few months."
"Are you in earnest?" looking up at him with grave, astonished eyes.
"Sadly in earnest," Melhis answered. "You think I should be hanged for murder?"
"I am going, child," the father interrupted; "I am very tired."
The girl turned with anxious haste, "Shall I come, father; can I do anything?"
"No, no, I need nothing"; then, bowing to Melhis, he disappeared into a cabin near at hand.
The girl watched him anxiously, and watched the door after he had shut it; then turned to her pudding in an absent-minded way.
Melhis watched her, feeling sorry for her. Her face looked troubled and tired; her chin was no longer superior, he thought, nor her eye scornful. This sick father was a great responsibility. How did it happen that she was here alone? for the father looked very ill. She seemed to have forgotten Melhis, and her curiosity about him that had been almost childish. He wondered if she remembered where she was and what she was doing; at last he spoke: "You are very anxious?" he said.
"Yes," she answered, quite as if an interest in her was the most natural thing in the world. "I think my father is very ill, and we are so far from home."
"There is a good physician on board," Melhis went on; "he sits just opposite."
The girl looked up, straight into the face of the young doctor, who was looking at her. A
quiet, critical look she gave him, not seeming to realize for a moment that he was returning it. "I hope my father will consult him," she said. She had not once looked at Melhis since her father's leaving; and now seemed to slip away into the same region where she had been when on deck.
"Man or mountain," thought Melhis, with a smile at himself, "it does not matter now which she sees; and that idiot opposite thinks she was looking at him, and she has not a thought beyond his profession." Later, Melhis saw her on deck, sitting alone on one of the stationary benches, looking straight out to sea. "Who is she?" he asked of the Captain, who stood near him.
"Her name is Morden," he answered. "Americans, traveling for the old man's health."
"Hard position for the girl," Melhis went on.
"Yes; the old man seems in a bad way. Rather rough to be left alone in Egypt."
"Wretched!" And Melhis turned toward the stern.
"The girl is rather offish," the Captain went on. "I don't quite make her out."
"A very good fault for a girl in her position." And this time Melhis walked away.
Coming on deck the next morning for a turn
before breakfast, Melhis' first sight was Miss Morden seated in the Captain's deck chair; he knew it was the Captain's, for on the white canvas back, just above her head, was the word "Captain," printed in large letters. Moreover, the Captain stood near her, pointing to where Ætna shone white and glistening, above a line of gray clouds.
"She is an American," he heard a voice say close beside him, "and the Captain seems to like her."
"Yes," another voice answered, "we have been on the ship all the way from England, and that chair was not offered to us."
Melhis stroked his mustache, and asked himself the same question: Why had this girl made a sensation? She was very quiet, and yet, there was the Captain talking to her; and now the Doctor had lifted his hat, and spoken to her. What had he said to make her face light up like that? Melhis drew near.
"He sent for you?" she was saying. "I am so glad. And what do you think, Doctor?"
"I think that Egypt and perfect rest will cure him."
The girl's face fell. "Perfect rest has been prescribed so often," she said, "but it does not cure him; perhaps this voyage will give him
more perfect rest than he has tried yet." And while she spoke all the morning freshness went from her face, and it grew tired and anxious once more.
"This voyage is the best thing for him," the Doctor hastened to say; and the Captain suggested that they should go all the way to Australia.
"I wish we might," the girl answered gravely. Then the breakfast bell rang, and all went below.
Mr. Morden was at breakfast, looking more worn and stern in the merciless morning light; and the sternness increased when the Doctor suggested his going on to Australia. He put the suggestion aside at once; but again and again the girl brought it back to him.
"The voyage will make you quite well," she said, at last; "and Egypt will be lonely." She had finished, and was leaning back, so that Melhis had a good view of her face. "The long rest will be the very thing for you," she urged.
"We are now too far away from home," the father answered, "for me to die in any peace."
The girl grew white to her lips; so white that Melhis wondered what would happen next. Would she cry? Instead she smiled, laying her hand on her father's arm. "That does not frighten me to-day," she said, "for you are looking
much better." But her color did not come back, even when on deck she had arranged his cushions and rugs, and once more had taken possession of the Captain's big chair.
"She's a plucky little thing," Melhis thought; "she is afraid to leave the ship, but she hides her misery bravely."
Exquisite weather it was; growing warmer as they neared the African coast; beautiful, calm weather; but Mr. Morden did not make the wonderful strides in health the Doctor had predicted. Melhis spoke to the Doctor, who acknowledged that he thought him grown worse. "But I do not tell the daughter; she is too awfully nice," he added, and wondered why Melhis turned away so abruptly.
The usual things happened that happen at sea. There were passing ships to be watched; there were long pacings to and fro on deck; there were discoveries made about fellow-passengers, and retailed at afternoon tea, so soon as the person in question had left the cabin. Miss Morden, however, was as much alone as on the first afternoon. She did not visibly ignore her fellow-passengers, but she seemed not to heed them; they possessed no interest for her. The Captain's chair was placed in a shady spot each morning by one of the sailors; the Doctor's
chair, also, had been put at her disposal; the Captain sometimes joined her in her walks on deck, and for two afternoons she and her father had taken tea in the Captain's room; an honor not accorded to any but Melhis, who was with them when the invitation was given. That these attentions were unusual, and the highest that the ship could yield her, did not seem to occur to Miss Morden; everything that came she received most graciously, but always as a matter of course; a state of things that amused Melhis very much.
"My first diagnosis was not far wrong," he said to himself; "she has other elements of royalty besides her superior chin, and perhaps a little self-absorption."
Once or twice he had joined her on deck, and each time had been amused at the elderly and severe way in which she had lectured him. To do her justice, Melhis always led up to it because he liked it; but she was always quite ready to follow his lead. She had remembered his speech, that he was going to Australia to "kill time," and brought it up again.
"I cannot see how you live without an object in your life," she said.
"It is a little slow," Melhis answered.
"Then, why do it?"
"An object that I would make and set up before myself, would seem rather a thing of straw, would it not?" Melhis said; "a something I could unmake?"
"But have you no family to whom you owe duty?" she went on with an earnestness that charmed Melhis.
"None; not a soul in the world but a rich, worldly maiden aunt, who abhors me."
"And none of them in need of you?"
"I do not think any creature has ever needed me," Melhis answered, with a little different tone to his voice. "My father died before I was born, and my mother at my birth. I might have died even when teething, and nobody any the worse."
"You are making fun," his companion went on, "which makes me only the more sorry for you; you should have made yourself useful somewhere."
"It never occurred to me."
"It is a pity you do not have to work for your living," still more severely. Melhis stooped to pick up her glove which had fallen from her lap, and had time to hide an irresistible smile that came to his lips.
"Work is so wholesome," she added.
"Thoroughly wholesome," Melhis assented, straightening the fingers of the little glove as it lay across his knee; "but I do not know that I yearn for it."
"You prefer being useless."
"I do not know that having to support myself would benefit anyone; it might, on the contrary, take a living from some man who is now quite comfortable."
"It would be the making of you," Miss Morden answered, then leaned back silent, while her chin took on the superior look, and her eyes grew scornful. Melhis watched her furtively, until at last she said carelessly, as if for the sole purpose of making talk: "And have you friends in Australia?"
"Yes; and one fellow has just lost his wife."
"Surely, you can be useful to him," her face lighting up with a relieved look as she turned to him.
It was Melhis now who leaned back and looked indifferent. "What can one do for a fellow in a fix like that?" he asked. "I must confess, I have thought rather of postponing my visit."
"How can you, now when he really needs
you; and to call that deepest sorrow 'a fix!' " She was leaning forward out of her chair, and looking at him indignantly. "I wonder if you are quite heartless?"
"I have wondered often myself," Melhis answered quietly. "I think it might be rather comfortable."
They had known each other three days only, but three days at sea are equal to three months under any other circumstances. And Melhis made up his mind, almost, to stop in Egypt; he knew poor Langham wanted him; but who that was not a cold-blooded heathen, could let this poor girl land in a strange country alone with a dying father. He could make an arrangement with the agent at Suez, by which he would be able to go on in the next vessel, or the vessel after, if the father got better; if not, someone should be there to look after the girl. How nicely she lectured him, and how disgusted she would be if he did not go to Australia. He laughed quietly; he had more than half a mind to stop. The morning after this they sighted land; and at noon cast anchor in Port Saïd. All communication with the shore was prohibited, as there was small-pox there; so the whole long afternoon there was nothing for it but to watch the strange-looking people who swarmed about
them in boats, and the black creatures putting in the coal. The sun set; the moon came out white and brilliant; still the black men were busy, singing a barbaric chant as they worked, and looking weird and strange in the red light that fell on them from hanging iron cages where fire burned. Dinner was over and Miss Morden sat on a pile of coiled rope, watching the coalmen. The cross lights from the moon and from the red fires fell on her rather uncertainly; but Melhis knew her outline quite well by this time, and took his seat beside her. She did not seem to know of his presence for some moments, then she said suddenly:
"Everyone who leaves the vessel to-morrow, gets off at Ismailia."
"And we shall not reach Suez until night?"
"Only father and I will get off at Suez"; and Melhis thought he heard a little break in her voice. Sitting alone in the darkness her heart had grown very heavy. The vessel had been a haven of rest to her. Now they were to face a strange land; were further away than ever from any friends, and her father decidedly weaker. She dreaded the morrow; she dreaded saying good-by to these people who had been kind to
her; she dreaded what might lie before her, and did not dare to say what she dreaded.
"There is a good hotel at Suez," Melhis went on; "you will be quite comfortable."
"I am so glad to hear it," turning toward him a little, "I am anxious about my father."
Melhis saw something on her cheek. His little republican princess was breaking down like any other girl; if she cried, what should he do?
"Do they speak English there?" were the next practical words.
"Yes; it is an English hotel of which I speak."
Then she turned her face away, and leaned her head against the railing.
Things looked a little brighter, and there were some good points about this Mr. Melhis. Had he been mistaken about that tear? Melhis wondered. All the next day they crawled through the canal; all day looked out over the wide wonder of the golden desert; so silent, so unconquerable in its desolation; so certain, so cruel in its power; destroying with its deadly heat and dryness; burying forever with its yellow, slow-drifting sand. It had a fascination for the girl who sat and watched it; she could watch forever the strange lights and shadows--shadows that were only changing lights. But underneath she was afraid something fatal would come to her in
this desert; something fatal. She had come to Egypt with a heavy heart; and now the reality seemed almost to overwhelm her. The afternoon came with the last tea in the Captain's room, where she missed Melhis; then the last dinner. The luggage was all on deck, the steam launch alongside, the farewells said, and she watched with nervous terror while her father descended the swaying steps. She followed quickly, all feeling drowned in the dread of what was before her, and, as the steam launch sped away over the dark sea, she gave only one glance back at the ship twinkling with lights; she did not dare look again. Nor did she dare to look down into the little cabin where her father sat so bent and white; she looked up resolutely to the stars; looked out to where the moonlight glittered on the water; to where the desert faded into a wonderful silvery mystery; listened to the guttural talk of the Arab sailors, and suddenly remembered that she had not said good-by to Melhis. She was sorry. A long way it seemed over the dark water; then the flat-topped houses of the little town rose up out of the sea, and they stopped at the quay. There was a great mob of Arabs there, bobbing about, and all talking at once; and her father, coming on deck in a fever of nervous energy, stood over the luggage with
his stick raised menacingly. The Arabs crowded about him, jabbering and gesticulating, and the girl's heart grew cold; this excitement would kill him.
"You go to the hotel, father," she pleaded; "I will go to the Custom-house."
"Impossible," he said, "quite impossible." He wavered a little as he spoke, and leaned on his stick; and the Arabs made a rush at the luggage.
"Mr. Morden"--the girl started; it was a pleasant, quiet English voice, and she seemed to know it--"if you will come to the hotel, just here, I will look after the luggage," and a strong hand helped her father to the shore, then was held out for her; and she looked up into Alan Melhis's face.
"How did you come here?" she asked.
"In the mail boat," he answered; then giving some orders about the luggage led her father away to the hotel. Their rooms were all ready, thanks to Melhis, and there was no more trouble about the luggage. Melhis took the keys and went away to the Custom-house, and presently everything came quite right. How peaceful it had all been, thanks to this man who had been too weak to go to his friend who was suffering. It showed great weakness in him, Miss Morden
thought--great weakness; but what a godsend he was to her!
Mr. Morden's prostration was alarming even to Melhis, who, having once studied medicine, knew well how critical the case was.
"As soon as he begins to feel the desert air," he said, reassuringly, when be came back from the Custom-house, "he will be all right."
"You do not know," the girl said coldly.
"I have not watched the case as long as you have," Melhis admitted, "but I think some brandy will be the thing now; and if we had some beef-tea."
"I have," the girl answered, producing from her bag a little jar--"I have it always."
"By the way," Melhis went on, "the hotel is so crowded, I shall have to stay in here on this couch to-night."
"Will you? I am so glad!" the words seeming to spring from her lips. "At night when I have to leave him, I am so wretched about him."
"You look so tired," and Melhis lowered his voice as a deep sigh came from the bed at the far end of the room, "you had better go to bed and leave your father to me." She looked up at him doubtfully. "You may trust me," he said. "I have studied medicine; and you, if you
want a servant, clap your hands; they are all men and East Indians; but they wear gowns and speak English."
"There is not a woman in the house besides yourself."
"How extraordinary." She went toward the bed. "He is asleep," she whispered, coming back, "I will not disturb him for good-night." Then putting her hand in Melhis's hand, "You are so kind," she said.
"On the contrary, I must thank your father that I have a place to sleep to-night." While he spoke he led her to the door. "Good-night," he said, then the door was shut quickly. "I thought she would never go," was his reflection as he leaned over his patient, "and will I get him out of this ever?" All night he watched; with every half-hour something to give the old man, until toward morning, when Mr. Morden recovered sufficiently to fall into a natural sleep. "What would she have done," was Melhis' thought as he threw himself on the couch, "and Langham will understand."
"He needs only strength," Melhis said, cheerfully, the next morning, "and as he has no appetite for solids, we shall have to give him liquids very often; and I have persuaded him to stay in
bed to-day." So he cheered the girl and quietly doctored the father, so that by evening Mr. Morden revived sufficiently to ask for a newspaper. "You will be able to go on in two days," Melhis said, "and Cairo will be the very place for your father."
"And you will go on to Australia?"
"I doubt it. It would be so dull."
"But you would be helping your friend."
"And boring myself to death--casting myself willfully into an early grave."
"We are happier when we forget ourselves," and Miss Morden turned away sorrowfully.
"What a dear little preacher," thought Melhis, pulling down his mustache to hide a smile, and frowning heavily; "and how far she sees into a millstone."
"All you say is true enough," he said aloud; "but I am very fond of Cairo."
So they journeyed to Cairo together, and took up their abode in the quiet, charming Hotel du Nil. It was a revelation to the girl; the beauty, the freshness, the stillness of that lovely tropical garden, where the palms and bamboos and acacias waved, and the roses bloomed, and high up in the shadowy silence of the treetops the doves cooed. There was none of the rush, or noise, or hurry of a hotel; but a peaceful, restful quiet,
that made one wonder where the rest of the world had gone. And Melhis, taking Miss Morden to dinner across the garden where the moonlight made a soft radiance, said: "How can people be foolish enough to winter in England?"
"Because, perhaps, they think of what is right as well as what is pleasantest," she answered.
"But it is so human to like the pleasantest best, and so inhuman to be doing one's duty always."
"And so easy not to be inhuman," she added severely.
"Are you hungry?" Melhis asked.
The days glided by peacefully, Melhis showing Miss Morden all the wonderful sights of Cairo; watching, meanwhile, with mixed sensations, the steady improvement of the father. Very soon the Mordens would cease to need him; and poor Langham was so lonely--poor Langham! And now the question with Melhis was whether he should tell this girl what he thought of her before he went away; or if he should go and come back? He had won the father's consent, but could make nothing of the girl, or how she would receive his advances. Day after day he watched her, discussing the question with himself; longing more and more
each hour to have the right to look after this self-confident young woman, who yet needed so much care. They had become very good friends; and though she would quarrel roundly one moment, in the next she was appealing to him as a child might, with a perfect security that he would be her friend through everything. One morning after breakfast, they sat together in the garden; the sunlight flickered about them in a thousand golden shafts; the doves were cooing softly; the thin-legged little wagtails hopped about the paths; the roses waved in the fresh desert wind, and the light-footed Arab servants came and went silently about their work, their brightly colored gowns and turbans making the picture complete. Melhis leaned back in his low-hung rocking chair, while Miss Morden, with the aid of her guide-book, was trying to work out a cartouche inscribed on a rusty-looking gray scarab.
"I have made this one out quite easily," she said, holding the scarab toward Melhis; "it is Thotmes the Third."
Melhis took the scarab. "Where did you get this one?" he asked.
"I bought it of Hassan for ten little piastres. See how clear it is; and I can tell a genuine one quite well now. Why do you smile?"
"It is a spurious one."
The color flashed into the girl's face. "You are teasing me."
She paused a moment. "I am sorry," she said, "but at least I have read it correctly, have I not?"
"No; it is meant for Amenhotep."
She looked at him menacingly for a moment, then, casting the spurious scarab into the clustering ivy that bordered the flower-beds, she closed her book.
"That was very wrong," said Melhis. "Hassan or Achmet will find that scarab and sell it again."
"But not to me," she answered.
"That speech does not sound like you"; and Melhis shook his head.
A bright smile flashed across her face. "I learn this manner of thought from you," she retorted.
"It is fortunate, then, that you will not have the benefit of my teaching much longer," Melhis went on slowly. "I am going to Australia." He fancied the girl's color paled a little; he was quite sure of a moment's pause before she asked:
She sat looking out toward the crooked entrance to the garden, and fluttering idly the leaves of her book. Melhis watched her, while every pulse in his body seemed to double its action. What would she say next? There was a little disturbance near the entrance, and some servants appeared with hand luggage; then a tall young fellow in a white helmet hat and knickerbockers. Melhis, watching his companion, saw nothing of this, he saw only that her face grew quite white, then crimson, and she rose quickly.
"Mr. Nevil!" holding out her hand.
Melhis got up slowly. Walter Nevil, he knew him quite well; and he looked up involuntarily to see if the sun had gone under a cloud. What very good friends they seemed to be! Then Nevil turned to him: "Well met," and he held out both his hands. "Until I reached Suez, I fancied you in Australia."
"No, I go next week"; and Miss Morden felt sorry that he had not confessed the truth about it. Then Nevil went off to his room, and Melhis sat down wearily.
"You seem to know Nevil quite well," he said, when Miss Morden returned from telling her father the news.
"Yes," brightly, "we were together in Rome for six weeks; then he went with us to Castellamare;
we had such fun going to Vesuvius and Capri and Pæstum."
Pæstum--and Melhis had a vision of a girl sitting alone on a ship's deck in the falling dusk, and whispering a good-by to Pæstum; he understood it now. "I wonder what brings him to Egypt so late in the season?"
The color deepened in Miss Morden's cheeks. "He did not speak of it when he left us at Castellamare," she answered quietly; "it must have been a later plan."
It was a still gray day--they come even in Egypt--when Melhis went away. He had stayed until the last day that would permit him to reach Suez in time for the steamer. He would not leave a day sooner because of any pain that had come into this last week; he would not run away. "Good-by, Miss Morden," he said, "you will think better of me now that I go to do my duty and be useful?"
"Do your duty!" and Nevil's round blue eyes grew rounder. "You who never--"
"That will do, my dear fellow," Melhis interrupted quickly; "Miss Morden understands." Then he went away; lifting his hat and smiling quietly as he passed from view. The day was not so happy as other days had been. Nevil was odd all morning, and when he came back
from seeing Melhis off, he seemed still more unhappy, "Poor old Melhis," he said, as he sat with Miss Morden in the garden after lunch; "the noblest man I know."
"He has been very pleasant to me," Miss Morden assented, coolly.
"Pleasant?" Nevil said, rather sharply; then whistled softly. "I will tell you."
"What?" and her voice fell a little.
"About Melhis. I must tell you; you ought to know. To begin with, he is the best man I know. He spends almost all his time and money on other people; and his one effort in life is to hide his goodness. This winter he was not very well, and had made up his party for a cruise in the Mediterranean. At the last moment, he heard of Langham's trouble; he turned his yacht over to a friend, and immediately sailed for Australia. The sequel I heard at Suez; he told his reasons to the agent, because he wanted to give up his passage. He met a young woman and her sick father; he was afraid the father would die; he stopped at Suez, and came with them to Cairo, and remained until the father was out of danger." Nevil paused.
"Go on," said Miss Morden; "go on, if there is more."
"The rest is hard to tell. Last night, in your
father's presence, he made me the offer of a position as the agent of estates of his in the south of England; a house and salary quite sufficient for us;" and Nevil laid his hand on Miss Morden's. "And he loved you;" the hand he held grew cold as ice--"he had asked your father's permission to address you." Her heart grew heavy, and as cold as her hand, and a great wave of desolation seemed to sweep over her. She had known all the while that something fatal would come to her here in Egypt! "Melhis has not a vice; not even a weakness," Nevil went on; "while I--"
"Don't tell me your vices and weaknesses now," and Miss Morden's voice sounded sharp; but there was a break at the end, as she added, "and perhaps I shall not find them out."
"I hope not," Nevil answered humbly; "for I promised Melhis that you should not."