- Financial Ruin 1
- Breaking Home Ties 20
- The Farmer’s Welcome in Louisiana 37
- Southward Bound 48
- Looking Backward 62
- Blighted Hopes 76
- The Magnolias 98
- The Refuge 101
- Making New Friends 116
- Daddy Mack 140
- The Holy Dance 154
- Complications 167
- A Confession 193
- Estrangement 206
- Conclusion 228
UNDER THE MAGNOLIAS.
THE autumn leaves were slowly drifting into gay-colored heaps in the hollows and at the roots of the trees, as leaves will always do when touched by the first light frost. A sad, low wind had come up with the twilight, and a dark cloud in the northwest soon spread rapidly over the sky, so lately flushed with sun set tints of pink and gold.
“How much like the life of man,” thought Mr. Melton, as he slowly walked from the barn to the pretty cottage which had been his home for twenty-five happy years. The cloud in his own sky which had, at first, appeared no larger than a man’s hand, now seemed a thick curtain that excluded all the sunlight from his view.
The air was growing chill, and he must go indoors, but that which in other days was the sweetest pleasure of his life, now seemed unendurable to him. To many a man it requires more courage to go to a loved wife and unfold a reverse of fortune than to face death on the battlefield. It was thus Mr. Melton felt, and his case was but the repetition of many others. If he could only bear his troubles alone, he argued to him self, he would not care, but to involve in it those he loved so much, was hard indeed. He went slowly up the walk, thinking of the happy past; back to the day when he had proudly brought sweet Mary Mayfield to be the mistress of his home near the village of Glenwood. He thought what a good wife she had proved to be in all those years of toil for himself and their children. In the great trials of his life she had ever been his chief comfort. Three of their children had died in infancy, and it was this faithful wife who had whispered words of consolation to him while her own heart was breaking.
All these thoughts flashed through his mind as he traversed the short distance between the gate and the steps. Before he reached the porch, he turned aside to cut off some withered roses which an early frost had blighted.
“This garden is the work of her own hands,” he said in a low tone to himself, “but she’ll never gather roses here again, for another year, stranger hands will tend this flower garden.”
It was not only of his wife he thought, but also of Evelyn, his lovely daughter, now just expanded into perfect womanhood. It was his pride in her and his delight in her pleasure, that had brought him into the straits in which he now found himself. He had sent her to schools at which only rich men could afford to educate their daughters; had gratified her wishes far beyond his moderate means, and now, this very day, he had been notified that unless his notes were paid, there would be a foreclosure of the mortgage on their home.
Banishing the thoughts of the past from his mind, he compressed his lips with strong determination, and entered the sitting room, where his wife was seated, busily engaged in knitting. Her bright, smiling face was a strong contrast to the troubled countenance of her husband.
A fire burned brightly on the hearth, adding no little to the cozy appearance of the living room of the family. Mrs. Melton looked up as her husband entered; then quickly rising, she drew his easy-chair nearer the fire, with affectionate solicitude. She instantly noted the look of deep dejection on his face, but wisely forebore’ to question him, knowing that he would open his heart to her in his own way and time.
The silence between them was unbroken for some moments, but at length, with a great effort for composure, he began:
“Mary, I have some bad news to tell you that you should have known long ago, but I kept thinking it would come out all right in the end, and I would never have to trouble you with what has given me more ditress than anything that has ever happened to me be fore. Now I am forced to tell you, and — may God help you to bear it!”
He sighed deeply, but did not give his wife time for reply before he resumed, gloomily: “I always thought it a foolish and useless practice for a man to burden his wife with his troubles, but now I see my mistake. I don’t know, though, that it would have been any better, Mary, if I had told you before.”
“When the time drew near for Evelyn to leave home for her last term at college, I was so pressed for money that I was strongly tempted to tell her that she would have to give it up. But after watching her bright face as she told her plans of the great things she would do, my heart failed me, and I followed the example of many another weak man. I went to old Mr. Hemingway, and mortgaged my farm for the money necessary to pay her expenses at college. I was not morally strong enough to face the disappointment it would give my darling girlie to stop her from finishing her education. Now I will not have a home to shelter my family, not to speak of a competency for our old age and something to leave Evelyn when we die. I have ’sowed the wind and now I shall reap the whirlwind,” and he groaned as he looked into the dark future.
“People hardly ever end right by beginning wrong, but I thought that by working a little harder and being a little more economical, I could soon catch up in money matters, and you and Evelyn need never know the distress I had been through in this thing. But affairs did not turn out as I hoped they would, and one thing and another set me back until at times I almost despaired. Those two bad crop years, with my long spell of rheumatism, with the heavy doctor’s bills, and the high interest on my notes, have literally ruined me, Mary,” and the farmer leaned wearily back in his chair.
“Is the farm mortgaged for all it is worth?” asked his wife.
“Yes, for all it will bring at a forced sale. I have always kept the interest paid, and hoped some day to be able to lift the mortgage, but the death of old Mr. Hemingway put an end to these hopes. His nephew, who has come into the estate, is a very different man from his uncle, people say.”
“Is he the young man who has called here several times lately to see Evelyn?”
“Yes, the same man has reddish hair and is rather good-looking, but is wofully puffed up with importance since he has come in possession of so much property. I never thought he would want our farm, though, as he has so many of them, and we paying the interest regularly, too. But he intimated in rather a delicate way this evening, that he would be forced to do me as he has been doing all the other farmers on whose farms he held mortgages — foreclose. They say he has no mercy on those who owe him. It just cut me to the quick for him to even hint such a thing to me, Mary; I, who have always been so independent. If he thinks I am going to beg him for mercy, or offer him my daughter for a wife, he’s mistaken” Mr. Melton said with unusual emphasis.
Mrs. Melton rose and, going to her husband’s side, laid her hand tenderly on his as she said:
“Henry, I do not blame you in the least for what you have done. I have no doubt I would have done the same thing had I been in your place. But cheer up, dear; we can find a home somewhere else, and though it may be ever so humble we will try to be content, for where the heart is, that is home.”
“Ah, my poor wife, you do not know what it is to be shelterless and that, too, at the beginning of a hard winter,” Mr. Melton responded gloomily.
“We will put our trust in the God who clothes the lilies of the field and shelters the sparrow in her nest,” gently replied his wife.
It was the same old story of the weaker vessel riding bravely through the tempest that made the strong man-of-war creak and groan in every timber.
The farmer had thought so long over his difficulties that he had grown morbid on the subject. He had pictured to himself that the disclosure of his trouble would crush his wife and daughter to the earth with sorrow and dismay. He had put off from day to day, the ordeal of telling his family of his financial condition, in the vain hope that something would occur to delay the evil time. Now that it was over, he felt wonderfully relieved; and the hope that springs eternal in the human heart once more began to illumine his clouded horizon.
He sat for some time absorbed in deep thought, then slowly remarked: “Mary, I’ll leave you to tell Evelyn. You women can do such things better than men.”
Mrs. Melton drew a chair near her husband, and seating herself, held his hand in a warm, sympathetic clasp.
Evelyn was sitting in the little room that she had fitted up as a library since her last homecoming. While there reading, she had heard her father come in, the door being ajar between the two rooms. She was struck with the sadness of his tone and listened, as one in a dark dream, to the recital of his losses. She could scarcely take in the whole import of the sorrowful fctory. To think that the education and high culture, of which she was, justly, so proud, had been attained at the cost of the home in which her parents had hoped to spend their declining years, made her heart sick. That they would now have to give it up seemed impos sible. It could not be so bad as that.
She could not think; she only felt as if she wanted to run away and hide out of sight of anyone. She quietly slipped out of the library, through the hall and porch, down a path leading into the orchard. She walked rapidly on to where, at the back of the enclosure, stood an old apple tree.
Under that tree she had spent many happy hours in her childhood, where, in the dreamy Maytime, soft breezes wafted the pink petals over her head; or later, when merry groups of her play-fellows helped to gather apples from the heavy-laden boughs. But now the sun set glow had faded into dull gray, and life seemed equally bereft of all pleasant things. Try as she would, she could not repress the tears that came in spite of resolution; and, seating herself, she gave way to — always the last resort of woman — a flood of tears.
Did you never see how quickly, sometimes, after a heavy shower, the clouds float away, leaving the bright sunshine to take their place? So it was with Evelyn, as, with a much lighter heart, she dried her eyes, and lifted her soul in fervent prayer to God, to give them strength to bear this trial, and wisdom to guide them in the dark future.
She walked slowly back to her room; and, after bathing her face and smiling away the marks of sorrow from her countenance, she joined her parents in the cozy sitting-room, now bright with a lighted lamp on a pretty tea-table. Her father and mother were sit ting in their usual places, evidently awaiting her.
“I am sorry, mother dear, if I have kept you and father waiting for your tea; I was down in the orchard and did not hear the bell,” she said brightly, as she took her place at the table.
“No, dear, you have not kept us waiting,” answered her mother, gently.
There was little conversation during that meal, usually the most cheerful one of the day, for each was thinking too deeply for words. Neither father nor mother knew that Evelyn was aware of the change in their circumstances, and she felt too strongly to trust herself to speak of it, even to them, just now. “Tomorrow will be time enough to begin making plans for the future,” she thought.
After tea she played and sang the songs her father and mother loved to hear. She then read the weekly newspaper to her father. It was quite filled up with in stances of cruel and unjust treatment of the “poor freedmen” in the Southern States, particularly in Louisiana, where the people had arisen in their might and at the point of the bayonet, had driven out the “justly elected Governor and Legislature,” as the paper styled the notorious Packard Legislature and Governor Wannoth. Mr. Melton was horrified at the reports she read to him from the strong Republican paper.
“I don’t see how a Northern man can be willing to live among such people,” he said, bitterly.
“Mr. Bliss seems to stand it very well. Mrs. Bliss told me a few days ago that he was getting on finely, and was well pleased with the country and the people,” said Evelyn, quietly. She did not share her father’s hatred of the South. In her life at school she had met many pleasant people from below “Mason and Dixon’s line,” and cherished no such ignorant view of them as did many of the Maine farmers and their families.
“Well,” said Mrs. Melton in her quiet way, “we have given them their freedom, and it does look as if they ought to get on all right now. They can work for themselves as we do and earn a good living. I have never seen anyone suffer for food and clothing who was willing to work and earn them” — she had a horror of people who were too lazy to work for a living,
“You dear, industrious, little mother,” responded Evelyn, “if all the world loved to work as you do, there would be much less of penury and suffering; but, father, I do not doubt that the ill treatment of the freedmen is greatly exaggerated; such things always are, you know.”
Evelyn now bade them goodnight. Her kisses were warmer than usual, and her arms clasped each in a fond embrace before retiring to her room. But she could not sleep, for her mind went over and over again the items in her father’s sad story, and always, with ceaseless recurrence, came back to the momentous question, “What should they do ere they were turned out of their comfortable home?” At last, the idea that was evolved most clearly from the mass of conflicting emotions that filled her mind, was this; she would persuade her father to move away to some distant State where no one knew them. This, she pictured to herself, would be much more endurable than living near their old home and seeing strangers there. She could teach school, aid her father in building up a new home. These cheering thoughts brought peace to her overcharged feelings, and soon after midnight she forgot the cares of life in sweet dreamless slumber.
On the next morning “ole Mis’ Bliss,” as she was familiarly called in the neighborhood, came in to see “Mis’ Melton, jes’ fur a minit,” to say that she had got another letter from her “Johnnie down in Louisiany.” He says “Mother, I’m feared ez you’ll hear some terribly scary news about us down here, an’ think ez mebbe we’d all ben murdered in our beds, but we’re all right an’ doin’ splendid though the worms hev’ damaged my cotton some,” and the old lady laughed.
“He winds up his letter by beggin’ me to cum an’ liv’ with him an’ Liza, but lor, lor, Mis’ Melton, I’m too ole ter learn new tricks now. When I die I jes’ want my bones ter res’ Alongside er the ole man right here in Maine, an’ ef I wuz ter get that fur away, I know I’d never git back here agin,” added the old woman.
While she kept up an incessant flow of talk the younger women listened, interestedly. To one of them, at least, came a deep and exciting interest. A bright thought had flashed, like an electric current, through the mind of Evelyn. She would write to John Bliss and ask for information about this far distant State, where land was so cheap that it could be had almost for the asking.
When Mrs. Bliss rose to go, Evelyn followed her into the hall, and taking down her sunbonnet, said:
“Mrs. Bliss, I will walk home with you. The morning is too beautiful to spend indoors.”
“Well, deary, I shull be glad of your company, an’ ez you say, ’tis ez putty a morning ez one would care to see.”
After leaving the gate Evelyn said, in a low tone:
“Mrs. Bliss, I am going to tell you what I know mother wanted to tell you, but just could not. We will have to give up our place on the first of November to the man to whom it is mortgaged, and will have to seek a home elsewhere. I suppose you have heard of the mortgage which is held by young Mr. Hemingway?”
“Yes, I beared ’bout the mortgage ez a gret secret, but didn’t pay much ’tention ter it, ez folks hears so much ez t’ain’t true ’bout their neighbors these days. Anyways, honey, I wouldn’t er thought ez they’d hev the heart ter turn you outen house an’ home.”
“Yes, and the quicker the better for us, I think. Mrs. Bliss, what is your son’s address? What post office do you send his letters to when you write to him?” Evelyn asked in explanation.
“I allus directs his letters to Brierwood, Louisiany, an’ he hasn’t never lost one yet,” answered Mrs. Bliss, as she looked inquiringly at her young friend.
“I wish to write to him immediately,” Evelyn said, “and ask him to tell me all about the State, or, rather, his section of it, and what are the chances of our securing a farm there, as you say he has done, almost for nothing. And then, too, I want to ask him about the state of society there, as father is so prejudiced against the South that it will take the testimony of Mr. Bliss added to all my powers of persuasion to convince him that his hatred is unreasonable. I must write to him at once, as the time to decide for the future is growing brief. This is the twentieth of September, and November will soon be here.”
Mrs. Bliss was full of sympathy, as she said:
“Well, child, I am ez sorry for you ez I can well be, an’ fur myself, too, for I don’t know as how I’ll git along without your father and mother, ez allus ben sech good neighbors ter me. I know John will be that proud ter hev you all fur neighbors, ez he won’t know what to do, an’ will sure help you all he can. Jes’ you write to him right away, Evie. Your pa knows he can trust what John says ez good ez he can any body’s word.”
Here they reached the gate to Mrs. Bliss’ yard, and declining the warm invitation to “come in, dearie,” Evelyn hastily retraced her steps homeward, and going to her room, wrote the first business letter of her life. When it was finished she changed her dress and walked rapidly over to the post office to stamp her important letter.
When she returned home she went in search of her mother and found her on the back porch watching some young chickens that she had just been feeding. She was looking sadly about her, as if in contemplation of the separation from all the loved domestic scenes that seemed dearer to her than ever. The placid, gentle little woman could not think of what the future held in store for her without many misgivings, although she tried to rest her faith implicitly on the promises of God. When Evelyn saw her dejected attitude it smote her heart sorely, and going to her mother, she threw her arms around her, saying, tenderly:
“Mother, dearest, don’t let us grieve over the loss of our worldly goods, so long as we have each other to live for and to love. I overheard the sad news father told you last evening, and I do not wish you to be distressed too much over it, for I can teach school and help him get another home, which in time will be dear to us. I am sure any home with you and father will be dear to me.”
Her mother returned her caresses warmly, as she drew her down to her lap, and answered cheerily:
“What you say is all true, my dear girlie, and I, like you, will try to be contented in our home, however simple it may be. Evelyn, where shall we go? I don’t feel as if I could stop in this village, or anywhere near here.”
“Well, mother, I am going to tell you of a plan that was put into my head by God Himself, I think, for after asking His guidance the thought came to me unbidden. While Mrs. Bliss was here this morning it just flashed into my mind that it would be a good idea to write to Mr. Bliss and ask his advice on the subject of homesteading on a piece of land in Louisiana. I wrote to him this morning, asking for all necessary informa tion, so that we can decide at once what would be the best plan to pursue. I know he will answer my letter as soon as possible. That is what took me to the village this morning, and, mother, dear, if Mr. Bliss writes encouragingly, half the battle will be won, I think.”
“Why, my dear,” responded Mrs. Melton, affectionately, “you mean that you will just be forming your line of battle to begin the conflict; but never fear, deary, we will fight bravely and with God’s help we will win.”
“Here is father. We will see what he has to say of our plan of emigration,” said Evelyn, as she ran to meet her father and escort him to a chair beside her mother. A woman is always pleasing when she wishes to win a man over to her side, be it husband, father, brother, or lover; so on this occasion Evelyn was no exception to the rule. As soon as her father was seated, she took her station behind his chair; and putting her arms around his neck said, coaxingly:
“Father, mother and I have a plan to propose for your consideration, but we are not going to ask you to decide on it now, only to think over it until we ask for a decision on the question.”
He did not make any remark at first, but drew the brightly flushed face down to his, and imprinted a warm kiss on the dimpled cheek, then said playfully:
“Well, let’s hear that great plan you and mother are conjuring up in your busy brains.”
“I had nothing to do with it,” protested Mrs. Melton.
“It was my own idea, father,” put in Evelyn, “or, rather, I should say it was presented to my mind by Providence, as Mrs. Bliss is so fond of saying. John Bliss, you know, father, has been in the State of Louisiana ever since the close of the Civil War, and he seems very much pleased with the country; is doing finely, his mother tells us. I obtained his address from her this morning and wrote to him immediately, asking for information on the subject of homestead entry in that State.” Evelyn paused as she felt her father start at the mere suggestion of emigration to Louisiana. But as he made no reply, she resumed her explanation.
“As I told you before, we do not wish you to decide this question until we receive the letter from Mr. Bliss, which, I guess, will be about two or three weeks.”
After a considerable pause, her father answered with some bitterness:
“I don’t know, my little girl, it will be pretty hard for me to leave my home, but after that I don’t know that I care much where I go. I suppose one place will be as good as another, outside of New England.” Then, as if repenting his mournful tone, he continued more cheerfully:
“I guess I’ll be willing to go wherever you and the little mother want to go. As I have always tried to please you two, I shall continue to do so. But I am afraid my little adviser is choosing a very sickly country. I have always seen it pictured as a low, level marsh, with alligators sunning themselves on logs along the border of great lagoons.”
Here Evelyn interrupted him with a merry laugh. Mr. Melton resumed slowly:
“It is, I am told, as much as a man’s life is worth to venture among the people unless you think exactly as they do, politically. Evelyn, there is one thing certain, if ever I go South, I will never give up my principles to please any set of people who think they are better than the rest of the world, yet brow-beat and domineer over the poor down-trodden freedmen, as they do. I will just die first — I wish that distinctly understood, Evelyn!”
Evelyn had never seen her father so much excited, nor had ever heard him make so long a speech, but she was more than satisfied, for she had carried her point beyond her most sanguine expectations, and everything would come right in the end, she felt assured.
“I guess John knows all about the State,” suggested Mrs. Melton, “at least he ought to, for he has been there long enough to learn all there is to learn of climate and people.”
“When did you write to John, Evelyn, did you say?”
“Only this morning, father. I did not know until last night of the loss of our home,” she replied.
A silence fell over the group and nothing more was said on the subject that day.
Late in the afternoon Evelyn went out for a walk. Ere she had gone far she met young Hemingway sauntering leisurely along in the direction of the Melton cottage. She flushed hotly when she saw him, and he, with masculine vanity, entirely misunderstanding the cause of her sudden accession of color, augured a favorable omen from it for himself.
“Good evening, Miss Evelyn,” he said, as he twirled his cane awkwardly and turned to join her. It was quite evident to Evelyn now that he had come out on purpose to meet with her.
Evelyn responded to his salutation with cold dignity.
“I was just on my way to call at your house,” he continued, “and I am very much pleased to meet you and share your walk. Isn’t it lovely weather? I’ve been out riding over my farms today, and have enjoyed the crisp, fresh air so much.”
“Are you sure you did not better enjoy the knowledge that you were monarch of all you surveyed than you did the fresh air?” asked Evelyn, sarcastically.
“It is unkind of you to say such a thing,” he replied, as his red face grew redder with indignation at Evelyn’s thrust, “but I will forgive you that as I have all your other cold and haughty expressions, if you will only treat me differently in the future.”
Mr. Hemingway and Evelyn Melton had met often at the home of a friend who lived in the same neigh borhood where he resided before his uncle’s death left him sole possessor of the broad acres about Glenwood.
Though he seemed to admire her, she had never regarded him in the light of a suitor, but had felt an instinctive dislike to him even before she had heard of the position which he occupied toward them. Now, his patronizing manner was unbearable to her.
“Miss Evelyn,” he began, after they had walked some distance in silence, “I started over to see you this evening to tell you how much I admire you, and ask you to come and preside over the beautiful home I am preparing for the woman whom I think best fitted to fill such a station. You are cultured and beautiful, and should be placed where you will shine. Will you consent to come and help me spend the money I am lucky enough to inherit from the old man?”
Evelyn’s face was pale, but the eyes she lifted to his were burning with scorn.
“Mr. Hemingway, I am truly sensible, I hope, of the honor you have conferred upon me in asking me to fill the exalted position in life which your wife will necessarily have to fill, but strange as it may seem, I do not feel in the least flattered by your proposal. I care nothing for you and you will please not mention the subject again in my presence.”
Surprise and anger filled the young man’s mind and was clearly indicated in his face and tone as he replied, sneeringly:
“Perhaps you are yet ignorant of the fact, Miss Melton, that it is in my power to cause your parents a great deal of trouble. It would give me great pleasure to release the mortgage I hold over your home, and thus make your father easy for life and save you the painful necessity of leaving your old home to strangers. I think when you know all the circumstances in which they are placed, and remember that the power is now in your hands to place them above want in their old age, that you will rescind your lofty refusal of an offer that not many peniless girls have an opportunity of refusing.”
In his inordinate conceit he was wholly unprepared for the answer she made him, and he quailed when she turned on him with eyes ablaze, and scorn and contempt written on every feature.
“I am not on the market, sir, to be purchased with the gold of a heartless parvenue! I spurn your contemptible offer, Mr. Hemingway,” and choking with anger and mortification, she walked home, leaving him standing dazed as though he had been struck by lightning.
BREAKING HOME TIES
AFTER two weeks of anxious expectancy, the letter from Mr. Bliss came to Evelyn. Her father had brought it in from the village just as they were about to seat themselves at the table for supper.
“Your letter bears a Louisiana postmark, so I suppose it is from John Bliss, Evelyn. Read it aloud, please, as mother and I are anxious to hear what he has to say.” Then turning to his wife, he continued: “Mother, let the tea wait until we hear what John has to say about Louisiana.”
“Yes, mother,” responded Evelyn, joyfully, “I could not possibly eat anything with this unopened letter in my hands.” Her dark eyes shone with excitement, as with trembling fingers, she tore open the envelope and read aloud the following:
“My Dear Miss Evelyn: I have just received your letter of inquiry and take great pleasure in replying as best I can. I think I can better answer all your questions by relating my own experience as a homestead settler in Louisiana.
“I left Maine in ’63 to help General Grant crush the, as I then called it, rebellion of the Southern States. I do not call it so now, for the people here do not like that term. I don’t feel as if I can ever repay their kindness to me, so I always try to please them in every way; in fact, I have thrown in my lot with the South now; my interests, my home are all here. I have found that a few years’ residence does more to overthrow some of our ideas of Southern people and their methods than all the arguments that could be made.”
“I am truly delighted at the idea of having your family for neighbors at an early date, for I am thoroughly convinced that if your father will come right on, he will be much pleased with the country. But I told you that I would give you a short sketch of my own luck at homesteading.
“After the surrender of Vicksburg my command was ordered to the Red River country. The battles in which I took part are well known to readers of history, so I will not mention any of them except the last — the battle of Mansfield, in which I was badly wounded. A planter, who lived near there, took me from the battlefield and cared for me until I should be exchanged, but the war coming to a close I was left to do as I pleased, which was to stay with the kind old man who had been more than a friend to me.
“I do not know why he was so kind to me, unless it was the sympathy of a bereaved heart, for he had lost his two sons in battle. He had a rich plantation, well stocked and with about a hundred slaves, when our army came. After that nothing was left but a barren wilderness of unfenced fields. There was not an ear of corn left, and no cows, horses, nor even a rooster to crow us up in the morning.
“Both the old man’s brave sons lay beneath the sod on Virginia battlefields; but, with superhuman effort, it seems now, we — for I helped him all my strength would permit — soon had a little farm in nice running order.
“I stayed with him until his death, which occurred two years later, then I went to the home of a nephew of his. He had come from an adjoining Parish, and seemed to take a fancy to me, and persuaded me to go with him and homestead on a vacant tract of land near him. I had nothing to hold me to any particular spot, except my old mother in Maine, who, as you know, is well provided for, so I decided to accept his proposition. The next day after we reached his home we rode out to look at the piece of land he had men tioned to me. I was so much pleased with the locality that I decided to homestead immediately. Mr. Melton can guess how hard I worked, and soon a clearing in the wilderness of pines rewarded me for pains. We could not depend upon the negroes, as they were hard to please. If one did not do just exactly to please them they would pull out to the county seat and report you to the Trovo as they called the U. S. Marshal. So I let them alone and did my own work.
“Mr. Hynson would sometimes bring his whole force over and do a big job of clearing for me. Finally I got started in stock raising, and there is no better section in the country for this business. The fine, large bayou Saline, which runs through one corner of my land, affords me the finest range for hog raising, and now, in a good year, I sell several hundred dollars worth of meat that does not cost me a cent to raise. As for cattle, they are fit for beef in mid-winter, even when running on the range.
“Now that we are rid of the ‘carpet-bagger’ government, Mr. Melton need not be afraid of anything, unless it be overkind treatment of us Southerners. We will give him as much land as he wants, and that for a song; help him settle on it, and then we will treat you all as if you had been born right here among us.
“I have been in the Brierwood country just seven years. I am independent and have several families of negroes on my place. I make them work — they have to be made, for lazy they are and lazy they will remain till the crack of doom. I always have meat, corn, and syrup for sale, and as the shiftless negroes never raise enough of anything on their farms to last them six months, there is always sale for such things, generally to be paid for in work, when crops are gathered in the fall.
“I proved up my homestead at the end of five years, and the total cost did not exceed twenty-five dollars. This is a beautiful country with bold, clear creeks rising in the sand hills and emptying in the Red River. Their banks are thickly covered with magnolias and various kinds of oaks, while the hills are covered with the most magnificent growth of long leaf pine timber in the world. The country is healthy; in fact, I would rather risk it than old Maine, even. I hope Mr. Melton will come right on, as I know of a good homestead claim, and I will do all I can to help him get settled before Christmas.
“Last night I had a talk with Mr. Hynson about your father’s coming and he expressed himself as greatly pleased at the idea. It is needless for me to tell you the pleasure it will give us to have you settle near us. My wife, you know, is a Maine girl. Your father and mother will remember ’Liza Murry, if you don’t. Do persuade Mr. Melton to come right on or somebody else may get ahead of him. I will be sure to meet him at our river station, some twenty miles from here, on the Red River.
“Hoping that you will let me hear from you at an early date, I remain
Yours to serve,
Evelyn folded the letter slowly, and then looked meditatively at her father and mother in turn.
“I had not thought of you going first and leaving mother and me,” she said. “I would rather that we all go together and learn the country afterwards, if you decide to go, father. Wouldn’t you, mother?”
“I don’t know, my daughter, which will be best but will leave it to your father.” Like the dutiful wife she was, she always deferred to her husband in matters of business, and that with perfect faith in his good judgment.
Mr. Melton had not volunteered any remarks as yet, but sat apparently absorbed in deep meditation. After a while he roused himself as if by an effort, and said, slowly:
“I shall talk it all over with you both, and we will decide which will be the most sensible plan to pursue. Just now, I think as John does, that it will be the best for me to go on and prepare you a home, then you can come when I am ready for you. That strikes me as the most common sense way to do.”
“But, father, that will take some time,” protested Evelyn, “and in the meantime, what will mother and I do?”
“Why, my dear, your mother has been planning all summer to visit your aunt in Boston, and it will be the most convenient time she will ever have to visit her now, I guess. We can sell what we have a right to dispose of and you can both go to your aunt’s until I write for you to come South,” said Mr. Melton, with more energy than he had displayed since the day he had laid down his resolution regarding his conduct in the South.
Evelyn was delighted. Everything was unfolding just as she had hoped. After the pros and cons had been discussed, all decided that it would be the best plan for Mr. Melton to go first.
It was not many days after they had thus decided that Mr. Melton sold the stock and other personal property that was not covered by the mortgage. After taking an affectionate leave of his wife and daughter and bidding farewell to his loved State, he turned his face southward, determined to put the past behind him and begin life anew, with the courage and energy worthy of his New England ancestry. Another week saw him an honored guest in a Southern homestead.
Mr. Melton had already made up his mind that he would settle in Louisiana before he left Maine, so the task that fell to Mr. Bliss was not a hard one — that of persuading him to homestead on the piece of land and joining his own. The first Sunday after his arrival he wrote his wife and daughter that he had “filed his claim, and would begin immediately to prepare a home for his loved ones.”
“This is the busy season,” he wrote. “Cotton picking is in full blast, as well as harvesting peas and corn. A little later comes cane grinding and potato digging. I made my first acquaintance with cotton as I came down the Mississippi, and along the latter part of my journey I saw nothing but cotton. Whole fields looked as if they were covered with snow, the worms having eaten off all the leaves.
“I am as well pleased as it is possible to be in a new country, and hope that when you come you will like it as well as I do. We only get the mail once a week, so you see we are far from the busy, rushing world of steam and electricity, but I believe that is what you two said you wanted.”
How gratefully happy that letter made Mrs. Melton and Evelyn. It gave them courage to go through the ordeal of packing up what they decided to take with them. Strive as they would against the weakness of tears and melancholy, at times they would break down and weep silently at the thought of parting with this or that bit of furniture, which carried with it some fond remembrance of past joys. At last, all was finished. The goods, including Evelyn’s piano, were boxed and at the station. Evelyn could not give up her piano, and besides, she thought, it might be the means of making money to help them along in the new home to which they were going.
She had carefully put up a root or clipping of every kind of shrub or flower that grew in the little garden to transplant in their Southern, new-ground garden. “We will love these better, mother dear,” she said, “than any others, will we not?”
With many tears they bade farewell to their home; the only one that Evelyn had ever known, and it seemed to them that they could, never love another half so well. With sad hearts they walked out of the little gate, and after being seated in the carriage of a kind neighbor, were soon on their way to the station where they were to take the evening train for Boston, there to visit Mrs. Melton’s sister.
Here Evelyn felt that new trials awaited her, for the last two years of her school days had been passed in this city. She knew she would meet some of the friends of those days, who were very dear to her, and not being a girl who would play a false part knowingly, she wondered how they would receive her. Her best friend and particular chum, Marguerite Willingham, lived in Boston, and her parents were very wealthy, and moved in the most select society. Dearly as Evelyn loved Marguerite, she shrank from meeting her now. She had, of course, known always that she was not rich and often longed for the wealth possessed by nearly all her classmates.
She decided resolutely, that she would make no compromise with self, but tell her friends bravely of her father’s misfortunes and the cause of their removal to the South. Would they treat her coldly — would they forget the warm ties formed in the days of the happy past? Her soft, brown eyes filled with tears of wounded pride at the thought of Marguerite, who had always seemed to idolize her, and whom she had helped through many difficult studies at school.
She tried to look bravely into the future, but the moisture would gather in drops that hung pathetically from the long, dark eyelashes. But when Marguerite was informed of Evelyn’s arrival, she called at once and carried her back to her elegant home.
“This is such an unexpected treat to me, Evelyn, my love,” said Marguerite, as she looked with old-time fondness on her friend, “that I scarcely know how to behave myself with proper dignity.”
“I was afraid that your debut into the fashionable world had spoiled you by this time and that you had forgotten school friends,” Evelyn answered, a little anxiously.
“Evelyn, you don’t mean that seriously, I know. As if I could ever forget you, of all people in the world. I owe you too great a debt of gratitude for the assistance you gave me in getting through college. I can never repay you were I to live a thousand years and give you my handsome brother in the bargain.”
A hot flush came to Evelyn’s rather pale face as Marguerite mentioned her brother.
“You haven’t forgotten your old weakness, Evelyn,” she rattled on in her usual style, “that of blushing on all occasions. Arthur tells me that he thinks I ought to study that beautiful art. I believe you have met him once, Evelyn, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I met him here one evening before he went abroad,” Evelyn answered.
Arthur Willingham had never forgotten the first impression that Evelyn made on him the evening he had met her in his home, and Marguerite had told him so much of her goodness and intellect, that the impres sion had been deepened instead of effaced by time.
While Marguerite and Evelyn were exchanging confidences in real, school-girl fashion, there was a rap on the door, followed by Arthur, who came into the room with outstretched hand, a smiling welcome on his face.
“I’m real jealous of Marguerite,” he said to Evelyn, “and protest most earnestly against her keeping you all to herself. I did not learn until a few moments ago that you were here; did not know that you were in the city, even.”
“Well, Arthur,” answered Marguerite, “you were not at home when I received Evelyn’s note announcing her arrival at her aunt’s, and I have just returned with her. This is the first time I have seen you since; so withdraw your charge of selfishness, please.”
Marguerite was very fond of her brother. Evelyn noticed her look of pride as she addressed him, and it brought to her mind one of her life-long grudges against Fate — that she had no brother or sister to share her joys and sorrows.
“You are going to spend the winter with Marguerite, are you not, Miss Melton?” asked Mr. Willingham.
“Oh, no,” was the quick reply. “I will have only a very short stay with my aunt, and shall give Marguer ite a fair share of that time, if she wants it, hut in a few weeks mother and I will leave for the South, where father is at present. We are going to emigrate to Louisiana, you know.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Willingham, with great surprise. “I would not be more astonished if you had told me you were going to the antipodes. May I inquire if you are going as a missionary, as several of our New England ladies have done?”
“No, nothing of the kind. Just going like a dutiful daughter with my parents, and expect to engage in the business of school teaching and helping father to make a living.” Then she told him of the loss of their home, how they had been led to select Louisiana, and wound up by laughingly inviting him to call and see them should he ever go South.
“I shall certainly avail myself of your kind invitation, and will, with your permission, sketch the little school-marm in her log cabin. Oh, by the way, you have not told me whether you intend to teach the ‘young idea’ among the white or colored race?”
“I am going to do strictly as Rome does, when I go ‘Down South in Dixie’; that is, I will do as the people of the best class do,” said Evelyn, proudly. “Were you ever in the South, Mr. Willingham?”
“Yes,” he replied, “but not in Louisiana. I spent one winter in Aiken, South Carolina, and I suppose it is very much like Louisiana. I have been planning to go to New Orleans to attend the Mardi Gras festival this coming winter, and perhaps I will visit you then.”
“And I will go with him perhaps, if you will be so kind as to include me in your invitation to Arthur,” put in Marguerite.
“Yes, I will reserve one whole invitation for you,” responded Evelyn, warmly, “but I thought you were planning to spend the whole of next year abroad, and then, of course, after that you will return as ‘My Lady Somebody Else,’ and I will have my nose put completely out of joint;” and Evelyn laughed heartily at the confusion caused by her disclosure of her friend’s girlish scheme.
Evelyn positively refused to go into society, but spent a great deal of her time at Marguerite’s home. To Mr. Willingham she was charmingly kind and gracious, and to him she was growing more interesting than he cared to admit, even to himself. To Marguerite, who watched with deep interest the progress of the play between them, it was a source of great satisfaction. Her brother’s dis position to “sow his wild oats,” too recklessly, had been the cause of deep anxiety to his family, and with such a lovely Christian wife as Evelyn would make him, he would be quite safe, she felt.
One morning as Evelyn was speaking of leaving them soon, Mr. Willingham asked if he might not share the contents of her letters to Marguerite.
“Of course,” he said roguishly, “I shall be anxious to hear how you are pleased with your new home and country, and something of the aborigines who inhabit it. I shall expect to hear that you have a pet alligator, a mockingbird and a jet black pickaninny among your collection of curios.”
“Well, as to the first,” answered Evelyn, with an amused smile, “I will leave that entirely to Marguerite, as letters are no longer mine after they pass into her hands; and as for the last named pet, I will wait until you come South to select one for me, for I believe you take great pride in your excellent taste.”
“Yes, I think I have very good taste, and some day I will give you proof of it,” he answered, looking so earnestly at her that it brought the blood to her fair face.
“Here comes Marguerite,” said Evelyn, with a feeling of relief she could not fathom at the moment, “and she can answer the question of the joint letters herself.”
“Sis,” said Mr. Willingham, turning to Marguerite, “Miss Melton has constituted you judge of a question relating to certain letters which you are to receive at a future date, the question being, whether or not you will consent for me to have a share in them? Now, of course’, you will make that arrangement?”
“Why, no,” exclaimed Marguerite, “most emphatically no, no! If I were to make such an agreement I would not receive a single confidential letter from Louisiana. They would be all p’s and q’s.”
Evelyn was much amused as well as quite relieved at Marguerite’s decision.
“I want Evelyn to know that no one but myself shall ever read a line of the letters she writes me, so that she will tell me all her best secrets, then I shall hear if she falls in love with a charming Creole.”
“Oh, I am going to be too busy to think of love, even for a moment,” was Evelyn’s prompt rejoinder.
“Evelyn,” said Marguerite, plaintively, “there was no use in the world for your getting that Quixotic idea into your pretty little head of going to the ragged edge of nowhere, to start life anew as you are so fond of saying. It is simply ridiculous and real horrid in you. I doubt if I ever see you again.” And she took her seat beside Evelyn and put an arm around her, as she had so often done in the old school days.
“I do not know, dearie,” answered Evelyn soothingly, “but you need not forget me. I do not believe in that old stereotyped phrase that is as old as it is untrue, that absence conquers love“and Evelyn fondly re turned the pressure of her friend’s hand, while Mr. Willingham drew a sigh of intense satisfaction.
“I am delighted to hear you express such sentiments, Miss Melton,” he said, “for now Marguerite and I may still hope to hold a place in your memory, though separated by many miles.”
A rap was heard at the door, and a servant entered with a note for Miss Melton. Evelyn opened it and read aloud that her mother was quite ill with lung fever.
She turned pale. Her mother ill and her father so many miles away from them. She prepared to leave immediately, and in an hour after she had received the note she was hurrying to her aunt’s.
Her mother seemed to suffer a great deal, and, although she grew no worse, she did not improve, and for more than three weeks she was confined to her bed. In the meantime, a letter from her father had arrived, announcing his “cabin” ready for occupation. Evelyn had devoted herself to her mother with tireless patience. She had refused to see any but her most intimate friends, and then only for a few moments each day. She felt that her mother needed all her care until her convalescence was fully established. One day the doc tor detained her a moment on the veranda, and speaking gravely to her, said:
“Miss Melton, your aunt informs me that you wish to leave for the South as soon as your mother’s health will permit. I feel as if I ought to tell you that I think it a fortunate circumstance that you are going to a warmer climate, as that is the only chance of restoring her to health. His lungs are seriously affected, and I doubt if she would live another year in this climate. I would advise you to begin your journey as early as next week, as I do not think she will improve here with the weather growing colder and more irritating to her lungs every day.”
Evelyn’s face had turned so very pale that for a moment he was sorry that he had told her, but the grateful, happy look that followed quite relieved him as well as filled him with surprise, which was explained, when in glad accents she exclaimed:
“I am so thankful to God for His goodness to us in ordering our lot as He has, for perhaps otherwise, I might have to give up my precious mother. Do you think that the climate of Louisiana will entirely restore her to health, Dr. Lambert?”
“Yes, I think the mild climate of any of our Gutt States will effect a perfect cure of her lungs,” he answered positively.
From that time Evelyn never had a doubt of the goodness of her Heavenly Father in directing their steps to the South, and never again did she murmur at leaving friends. It meant her mother’s life, and that was more to her than all else on earth.
The next day Dr. Lambert said that they could safely leave on the following Monday. Evelyn had her hands and heart both full as she packed their things, cared tenderly for her mother’s slightest wish, and bade fare well to her own and aunt’s many friends.
Marguerite and Arthur Willingham were the last to come, and after the embraces and tearful kisses of the two girls, the tender hand-clasp of Arthur and low spoken words of “good-bye, Evelyn, until we meet again” which meant more than she wished it to, though she pretended not to see it, they took their leave.
“Arthur,” said Marguerite, as they wended their way home, “I hope some day you will bring Evelyn back.”
“Indeed I will, if she will come,” he answered, and his face flushed as his sister expressed what he himself was thinking.
“Of course, she will come. You don’t suppose that a penniless girl with Evelyn’s good sense, would refuse a fortune and a handsome fellow like you, do you?”
“I am not so positive that good sense figures much in such matters,” was the rejoinder, “but it is rather early in the day to discuss the chances of victory, nor have I given the subject as much thought as you seem to think I have.”
From that day the subject did not again come up for discussion for many months. Marguerite spent the winter and spring in Europe as she had planned; Arthur a portion of the time in Louisiana.
THE FARMER’S WELCOME IN LOUISIANA.
WHILE Evelyn and her mother were passing their time at the home of their relative, Mr. Melton was actively engaged on his homestead claim. There was an excellent sawmill near his place, from which he procured the yellow pine lumber necessary to build his “cabin,” as he called the little cottage home. He intended to build only a small house now and would add to it afterwards as he acquired more means, and had more time to devote to building.
Mr. Bliss had circulated the news of Mr. Melton’s loss of home in the North and his intention to settle among them as a neighbor. There were not many of the warm-hearted farmers in the settlement who were not willing to lend a helping hand and extend a warm welcome to their Northern neighbor, for they could sympathize with poverty. Had they not lost their all in the great civil strife through they had so recently passed? Did not they, too, have to begin anew m life, and under such changed circumstances, with only their land left to them?
When the lumber for Mr. Melton’s house was hauled, there was no lack of willing hands to assist in the building. Indeed, there were so many workmen on the ground, that the space required for yards and garden was cleared off before sundown.
Mrs. Bliss had provided a bountiful dinner for the men, which was a great attraction to the colored portion of the workmen, for they liked nothing so well as a good dinner, washed down with a drink of whiskey. They are childishly fond of gatherings of all kinds, even funerals. They attend log-rollings and neighborhood reunions of every kind to the entire neglect of their own crops, seldom giving a thought to the future.
Mr. Bliss spent all the time he could spare from his own farm in assisting his old friend and neighbor, for he felt that he could not do enough to show how pleased he was to have him among them. Mr. Melton worked diligently. He often pictured to himself the happiness of the reuniting of his family in a new home of their own, even though it was an humble one. If only his wife and Evelyn were contented, he felt sure they would all be quite happy once more. He did not mind the work, for he had been accustomed to it all his life. He did not yet know of the Providential means that had been used to more thoroughly content one, at least, of the homecoming party to the change in their circumstances; for Evelyn, having never felt very much alarmed on her mother’s account and apprehending no immediate danger, had not informed her father of her illness.
Often in the evenings, as Mr. Bliss and Mr. Melton sat and talked over old times, they discussed the strange vicissitudes of fortune that had thus again made them neighbors. The second Sunday after Mr. Melton’s arrival, as he was resting at the close of a hard week’s work, Mrs. Bliss joined him and began telling of their church work, remarking:
“I wish you would go to church with us tomorrow and get acquainted with all the neighbors; you have met a good many of the men, but none of our nice ladies.”
“I don’t remember meeting any of them except Miss Montgomery,” he answered.
“You will be sure to receive an invitation to dine with them on Sunday, and if I were you I would go and get acquainted with Mrs. Montgomery and the girls be fore Mrs. Melton and Evelyn come,” Mrs. Bliss replied.
Mr. Melton thought a moment, then answered, “Thank you, ’Liza. I’ll go with you and John if it will not put you to any inconvenience.”
“It won’t be a bit of trouble,” protested Mrs. Bliss, “we can go in the wagon instead of the buggy, or you can ride horseback. I guess that would be the best plan, for then you can be free to go out to dinner, if you wish to. I am so glad you are all Baptists, as that is the only denomination in this settlement.”
“Yes, we are all members of that church. My wife’s people were Presbyterians to start with, but she joined my church after we were married, and I was glad of it as I am a little set in my opinions and would hate to be long to one church and my wife to another.”
“It seems right strange to think of Evelyn’s being a woman, now. She was such a little girl when I saw her last, though I expect she was older then than I thought she was. She was such a pretty child, with soft brown eyes and yellow curls,” mused Mrs. Bliss reminiscently.
“That’s so,” remarked the fond father, “Evelyn is a beautiful girl; though I say it, who shouldn’t. She is well educated, too, ’Liza. I spent almost all I owned on her. She is planning for John to try to get her a school in this neighborhood, if he can. She is so anxious to help me, poor child, and I feel as if I can’t let her go away from me again, it would leave me and Mary so lonely.”
“I don’t doubt he can get her a good school next summer if not before then,” replied Mrs. Bliss, “and I shall do all in my power for her.”
Mrs. Bliss was an energetic woman, and a great believer in one’s being “up and doing, still achieving, still pursuing,” even in this obscure corner of the world.
That night as they were sitting on the gallery, conversing on things in general, as was their custom, there was a click of the gate latch and the genial voice of young Doctor Montgomery announced himself as with a pleasant “Good evening, gentlemen,” he took the chair offered him by his host.
“I have just been down to Nux’s to prescribe for one of his pickaninnies,” he said, “and stopped just a mo ment to deliver an invitation from father and mother to Mr. Melton, to come and dine wth us tomorrow; and I also want to see how my little namesake is pro gressing. I may come in to see him, may I not, Mrs. Bliss?”
Mrs. Bliss was sitting by the baby’s cradle trying in vain to get him off to sleep. “Certainly,” said the proud mother, as she lifted the fat baby from the cradle. The little one reached out its chubby arms toward the young doctor as if quite accustomed to his company. As soon as he was near enough he commenced crowing and pulling that individual’s mustache vigorously.
“Oh, you young scamp!” exclaimed the doctor. “You know how to hurt a fellow, don’t you?” And disengaging the chubby fingers handed him back to his mother. “Has he cut any teeth yet?”
“No, but I think he will pretty soon,” was the answer.
“The little girls are asleep, I see,” said Doctor Montgomery, looking toward where the trundle bed stood with its rosy cheeked occupants in full view from the bright pineknot blaze. Doctor Montgomery, or Doctor Laurie, as he was generally designated, to distinguish him from the old doctor, his father, was quite a favorite in the parish. He was very unlike his father in some respects and yet like him in others. He could not have lived all his life with his polished, gentlemanly father without being like him in manners, at least. They had a large and extended practice, ranging from ten to fifteen miles in extent; sometimes over bayous swollen by the spring freshets, or through seemingly interminable pine forests, answering every call whether from rich or poor, white or black.
“Mr. Melton, when do you expect your family from the North?” inquired the doctor.
“I am in hopes of being able to send for them in two or three weeks” was the reply. “John thinks that my nest will he ready by that time, and you may imagine that I am very anxious for them to come.”
“We shall all be pleased to welcome them to our neighborhood, for we are in need of a great many more such settlers among us as Mr. Bliss and yourself, and it seems that it might be possible for you to persuade others to follow,” remarked the doctor.
“I don’t know. The Northern people have a mistaken idea of the South, and unless we can show them this mistake, as I have been taught to see it, it will not be possible to turn the tide of immigration toward the South instead of the West,” Mr. Melton replied.
“They would surely take the testimony of two such men as you and Mr. Bliss,” protested the doctor, warmly; then added, abruptly: “Your family will arrive in good time for the cane grinding season, which I suppose will be a new experience to them, will it not?”
“Yes,” replied Mr. Melton, interestedly, “it certainly will be a new experience to all of us, and a very interesting one, especially to me, as I wish to learn the process thoroughly, for I will, of course, raise cane for my own use hereafter.”
“I guess you will prefer maple to cane syrup, for a while at least, until you become accustomed to it,” Mr. Bliss remarked.
After chatting a while longer, the doctor rose to take his leave. As he was bidding them goodbye, Mrs. Bliss came out and told him that her persimmon beer would be in readiness by the following week, and not to for get to stop and test it when he was riding by thirsty and tired.
Promising that he would not forget such an important matter, he left them, but not without assurance from Mr. Melton that he would accept the invitation to spend the following day with the doctor’s parents.
As he galloped down the road Mr. Melton turned to Mr. Bliss and remarked:
“John, that seems like a fine young man, and his father, too, is so pleasant in his manners; always has something nice to say whenever one meets him.”
“Yes,” assented John warmly, “they are the very best people around here. They used to be rich for this country, owning about one hundred slaves.”
“As for Doctor Laurie,” put in Mrs. Bliss, “he’s just the best and most pleasant fellow in the world. I know him well, for he always likes to stop with us; says that my persimmon beer, gingerbread and doughnuts are the nicest in the parish.”
“Oh, well, ’Liza, Laurie has learned that the way to win over a woman’s good will is to brag of her a little,” said her husband teasingly.
“I know that Evelyn and Mrs. Melton will like him just as well as I do,” she answered confidently.
The next Sunday morning dawned beautifully cloudless, with the brightness of the sunshine slightly veiled by the soft October haze; but as the sun rose higher and the soft, billowy clouds floated up from the Gulf, the blue became so deeply, so purely blue, as is seen nowhere else in the world unless it be in Italy’s bright skies.
It was ten o’clock when they started for church. The long journey of four miles to the Brierwood church was always an event in the quiet life of the farmers of that section. As they never reached home earlier than three in the afternoon, it was necessary to take some luncheon for the children, and, indeed, the elders often joined the disposal of the cold chicken and biscuits.
The congregation was rapidly assembling when they reached the church — a large, substantial wooden building situated in a beautiful oak grove. The cemetery, with its gleaming white stones, stood on a gentle eminence near by, where many a brave forefather of the hamlet slept, all unmindful of the storms of war, or the gentle reign of peace.
The regular hour of service was eleven o’clock, but it often happened that many of the congregation arrived before that time; and, as was their custom, they had taken out their hymn books and were passing their time profitably and pleasantly, singing the songs of Zion, in which one and another, as they arrived, joined, so that by the time set for service there was a loud, swelling volume of song going up from many hearts and voices. The whole congregation joined heartily in the singing, which rendered it very impressive. The white-haired minister discoursed to them in a quaint, old-fashioned way, dwelling chiefly on the theme of Jesus’s love for sinful man.
After the services were over, Doctor Montgomery took Mr. Melton in charge, introducing him to all the neighbors whom he had not formerly met, then invited him to join him and his family and return for dinner, which Mr. Melton very readily consented to do.
The usual time was spent in general conversation, inquiring after the sick of the neighborhood and others, who were of necessity detained at home.
Nearly every family for miles around who attended church at Brierwood, either dined out or took company home with them, and a few, who lived in close proximity, kept open house on Sundays. It was after three in the afternoon when the Montgomerys, accompanied by Mr. Melton and Mr. Hynson, who had also been invited, reached the “Magnolias,” as the Montgomery plantation was called.
The Sunday dinners were generally partly prepared on the previous Saturday so that there was very little left for “Mauma” Silvy to do on the Sabbath. As there were services at Brierwood only once a month, the remaining Sabbaths were allowed to Mauma, the faithful colored retainer, to spend at Greengrove, and there, Sunday after Sunday, as regularly as the preaching days came around, she shouted to her heart’s content as the “Sperrit ’tuk’ possession of her,” she explained to her home folk.
Old Mauma Silvy was one of those privileged characters so common on all Southern plantations before the war. She had acted chiefly as nurse in the old days of plenty and luxurious abundance; had grown up with the mistress with whom she came to Brierwood as part of the latter’s marriage portion, and as children were born into the family she took them in charge and nursed them until they got beyond her leading strings. James, Laurie, Marion and the ”baby,” as Fannie was called, all passed through her hands. Next to their parents, they loved this old negro woman, and to her, when mother was not near, they carried all their joys and sorrows, sure of a sympathetic response. As the boys grew older they teased and played many jokes on her, but she was always patient and forgiving, know ing that they loved and respected her.
When the “annual giving” came with the Christmas time, Mauma was laden with gay bandanas, clay pipes, tobacco and gifts of similar value. When she was set free she had to enter a life of more labor than she had ever known before, for as a free woman she was expected to earn a living for herself. The girls, more particularly Mamie, helped her with the pastry making, but when baby Fannie came in the kitchen to assist her, she was always “on pins,” as she expressed it, for fear “sumpthin’ outlandish” would happen before she left the kitchen.
“De baby sech a splasher Fse allus ’feared she’ll broke sumpthin’, and crock’ry ain’t cheep dese days, like it wuz befo’ de wah, an’ dere ain’t no bags er go settin’ roun’ like dere wuz in dem good ole times,” she would say, shaking her head until the feather scratchers that she always carried in her ears, would fall out, making Fannie laugh heartily as she would leave the old woman alone in her glory.
When Mr. Melton returned home that evening, he found Mrs. Bliss full of curiosity as to what he thought of the Montgomery family, “Mr. Melton, which of the two girls is the best looking?” she asked, with much interest. “John thinks Fannie is the ‘cutest’ little girl in the world, while I think Mlarion is much the nicest looking of the two.”
“Well, ’Liza,” replied Mr. Melton, thoughtfully, “I can’t really say; they are both so nice and pretty, that I don’t know which to admire most, but I think their mother is the most beautiful old lady I have ever met; such lovely manners and gentle ways as she has, I never saw in anyone.”
Mr. Melton recounted the events of the day, praising the Montgomerys enough even to please Mrs. Bliss’s exacting nature. “The doctor told me that if I’d let him know what time my folks would come, he would send two wagons down with cotton, and, as they would re turn empty, I might have the use of them to haul my freight home. I think it was kind and thoughtful of him,” said Mr. Melton.
“Well, you’ll find that he will be continually doing such things,” Mrs. Bliss returned. “He is not a man who does things by halves as so many people do, and his wife is just as good as he is.”
That night as Mr. Melton sought his pillow, it was with a deep feeling of gratitude that the lines he thought so hard at first, now seemed to be falling in pleasanter places.
EVELYN was delighted with the great improvement in her mother’s health during their journey South. So rapidly was her strength increased by the time they reached Campte landing on the Red River, she seemed almost well again.
It was just dark when they landed at the small town with its dozen or so houses built along the river front. The “hotel,” as the little boarding house was called, was kept by Mrs. Michael, a Jewess, whose husband acted as collector and purveyor for the house of his wife, by whose name it was principally called.
The small, low frame building was protected from the sun by a huge pecan tree, whose branches swept the roof. Often through the night were the strangers awakened by the crash of the falling nuts on the shingle roof, cut loose from the boughs by those rapacious rodents, the flying squirrels, or thrashed off by the strong wind that ever blows along the river.
It was late ere Evelyn and her mother could compose their minds sufficiently to sleep well, and before it was yet light they were awakened by a loud “hello” at the front door of the hall on which their room opened. The call was answered by their host, who demanded in a rather angry voice: “Vat’s you vants mit me so soon dish mornin’?” to which the voice replied good humoredly:
“I wants ter know ef dem Yankee ladies cum up on de ‘Belle’ las’ night? I was tole by de ole boss ter ax fur dem at de hotel, suh.”
“Yas, two vimmins come in here las’ nicht fum de boat, but I dun no vedders dey ees Yankees or no. Vere’s ees you fum anyvays, neeger; an’ vats your pees-ness mit dese vimmins vat cum here off de ’Belle’?” interrogated Mr. Michael.
“Now, Mr. Michael, I know you ’cognizes me, wat you’s seed heah so many times wid Doctor Montgomery’s wagins. Mr. Melton tole me, and my ole boss tole me, too, ter ’quire ef de ladies wuz heah, an’ I wants ter ax ’em ef deyed lak’ ter go wid me in de mule wagin up de country; an’ I wants ter git er order fur dey freight ter sen’ by Aleck in de ox wagin. Mr. Michael, please go and fin’ out all ’bout it, an’ let me know right away, please, sir,” said the negro driver, coaxingly. Evelyn, who had heard every word distinctly, had arisen and dressed herself hurriedly, and now came into the hall. She had insisted on her mother’s remaining in bed until the usual hour.
“Mr. Michael, I guess that my mother and I are the ladies to whom the driver refers, so I will speak with him myself about the journey up the country,” she explained to the host as she turned to meet the negro, who came to the door of the hall on hearing her speak. He bared his head, from which the obnoxious wool had been closely clipped, and made a most profound bow.
“Good morning, Mr. —— . Ah! what did you say was your name?” Evelyn stopped short, as she suddenly remembered that she had not heard his name called during the colloquy that she had just overheard.
“My name is jest plain Jeems Munroe, ma’am, and folks ginerly calls me Jim fur short. Nobody eber cognizates me by de name ob Mr., but a few fashionable niggers, an’ we hain’t got none ob dat sort in our parish, I’m glad to say,” and Jeems Munroe bowed again, as he added: “Mr. Melton tole me ter ax heah fur his ladies, an’ I presumes you is de ones, ma’am, ez I’m a-huntin’. I wuz tole ter ax ef you’d lak’ ter go up de country wid me home, ma’am, an’ Aleck he druv’ de ox team, an’ I says ter ’im las’ night, I did, ’I bets dem ladies cum up on dat boat wat’s w’istlin’ now,’ an’ I’m sho’ glad ov it, ma’am, as you has come, an’ you’ll jes’ make up yo min’s, ma’am, wedder you’ll go or not. Now, wat I wants is de order fur yer freight so’s I kin load up de ox team and let Aleck git off immegitly. I doan s’pose you knows, ma’am, but a ox team trables mighty slow, an’ ef hit doan git off yerly dey’ll not mek it home by sundown.”
“Well, just wait a few moments, James, until I see my mother, and I will tell you what we shall do; meantime I will write the order for our freight so that you may get off early with it.” As she turned to leave the hall she stopped to ask Mr. Michael if there was any chance to procure a more luxurious vehicle than a wagon for her mother to take the journey home. He said it was not at all likely that she could do so. She then hurried to her room to tell her mother of all that had passed, and to write the coveted order for Jeems Mun-roe. She found her mother not only willing, but anxious, to set out immediately.
“Has not that negro driver a pleasant, cheery voice, mother, or did you notice it?” asked Evelyn.
“Yes, I could not but notice the difference between its cheerful ring and Mr. Michael’s irritable tones,” replied Mrs. Melton, laughing.
“I will take this order for the freight to our polite driver, as he seems to be in a particular hurry to get his ox team off.”
She returned to the hall to find the tall, dusky figure still standing in the doorway, patiently waiting, while the dimly burning lantern, and the faint light of dawn struggled for ascendancy.
“Well, Jim, we have decided to take your kind offer of a seat in your wagon, and will be ready whenever you call for us. Here is the order for our freight. What hour do you wish to leave Campte?” asked Evelyn, cheerfully.
“Well, jes’ so’s we git off de ox team yerly. I doan cares ’bout our leavin’ afore nine o’clock,” Jim answered, deferentially.
“Do you think you can carry our freight in your wagons at one time? You know what you cannot put into the ox wagon you may carry in the one in which we will ride. I would like very much to take everything at once if it will not overload your teams?” Evelyn asked.
“Yassem, we kin cah’y evyting at one trip in bof ov de wagins, lessen you’s got er heap er freight. My teams is sho’ good uns. They kin pull ’bout er matter er three thousan’ pound’s ev’y trip, ma’am, an’ dey allus does do it, too,” said Jim, full of confidence in his teams.
Promptly at nine o’clock Jim was at the door with his wagon.
“They’s clean, ma’am,” he said, as Evelyn seemed to hesitate a moment before accepting his kind offer of the quilts, to cushion the hard seat for her mother.
“Oh, yes, I did not doubt that; they look very nice and clean, I am sure,” she said quickly. She would not have wounded his feelings about his quilts for any thing.
“How long, Jim, has it been since the ox wagon left Campte?” asked Evelyn.
“’Bout two hours an’ a half, ma’am,” and he clucked to his mules, and they were off for the hills.
Jim seemed quite talkative, and appeared to think it his especial duty to entertain his charges, so he fell to discoursing to them of their new neighbors, and boasting of the “quality” of his white folks was his chief topic.
“To whom did you say you used to belong?” asked Evelyn, a little timidly, fearing that she was introducing an unpleasant memory to the consideration of the ex-slave; but she was surprised at the burst of enthusiasm which the inquiry brought forth.
“Me, ma’am, did you say?” he asked, as if rather disgusted that everyone did not know that he had always belonged to the Montgomerys and his father and mother before him.
“Yassem, I b’longed to de Montgomerys, an I’s allus lived on de Montgomery plantation. I went off wen I wuz fust freed, an’ I had er gran’ time long ez de mon’y hilt out, wat de ole boss paid me wen I lef home, but den I tuk de typhoid, an’ me wat allus bufo’ had de bes’ ob ’tention wen I wuz sick at home, an’ de bes’ doc tor in de country ter ’ten’ me, fo’ de Lawd, I lak ter perish fur er drink er cool water. I reck’n, ma’am, ef it hadn’t er been fur Marse Laurie’s cummin’ down ter Campte ’bout dat time wid Aleck, in de wagin, an’ hear-in’ ’bout me bein’ so sick, I’d er died right dere. Sho’, ma’am, I would er done it; but he jes’ put me in de wagin an’ cah’ed me home ter my mammy, an’ den he an’ de ole boss nussed me tell I wuz well an’ soun’. Marse Laurie is er good boy, sho’ he is, ma’am. Well, I’se been dere eber sence, an’ I ’lows ter stay dere ez long ez me an’ dey gits erlong ez well ez we duz now. Dat wuz my fust and las’ tas’ er freedom,” said Jeems Munroe, clucking to his mules.
“Well, aren’t you as free on the plantation of Doctor Montgomery as you were on the river?” asked Evelyn.
“Oh, yassem, I does jes’ ez I pleases, ef it pleases Marse Laurie en’ de boss,” he answered, pleasantly.
Evelyn was much amused and remarked:
“You use mules a great deal down here, don’t you?”
“Yassem, dere’s nuthin’ suits a nigger ez well’s a mule, an’ yit dey’s easy to spile, too. Dere’s nuthin’ is ez easy ter spile as a mule, less en’ it’s a nigger,” he said, gravely. Then he added, reflectively: “Mules is cufous creeters, too; ole Becky heah acts sometimes jes’ lak a sucklin’ chile, an’ den I jest has ter frail her good.”
“And does that do her any good?” asked Evelyn.
“Oh, yassem, it does her a sight er good. She does fine fur sev’al days atter dat,” and Jim relapsed into quietude. Sometimes he would remain quiet for several miles, then he would rouse up and detail another bit of the history of his own or the Montgomery ancestry. He amused them very much, in that he seemed to think that his own glory and that of his former owners indissolubly connected.
“Yassem, you’ll lak’ my people. Dere ain’t no finer young man in de wull dan Marse Laurie, dat’s de young doctor, ma’am. An’ Miss Ma’an an’ Miss Fannie is putty young ladies, jes’ lak’ you, ma’am,” and he looked at Evelyn.
They ate the noon lunch by the side of a pretty, clear brook, that flowed across the road, while on either hand stretched interminable forests of long leaf pines. The ground was covered with a most luxuriant growth of long-stemmed grass, that swayed in the wind, reminding one forcibly of a beautiful field of growing wheat, while flowers of every hue glowed like gems amid the verdure. There seemed literally no end to the grand forests of pines. Sometimes they descended to the swamp that marked the course of a large creek or bayou, but only to ascend again to the monotony of the ever present pines. Several times Jim, whose quick eye never failed to see them, would point out two or three deer grazing in a far distant green glade. Once they drove very near a large buck with his doe and fawn. How beautiful they looked as the “antlered monarch” lifted his stately head for a “moment, snuffed the tainted gale,” and then with his family he bounded away, and sought a surer retreat in the depths of the swamp. Evelyn held her breath almost with delight and admiration. Indeed, she enjoyed this singular journey in the rough wagon, over these wild hills and through these dark swamps. Everything wore the glamor of novelty, and isn’t that what the world is ever running after, ever the same ceaseless cry for something new since the days of Athens’ glory?
The miles and miles of uninterrupted pine forest at last gave way, and an opening in the dense wall of timber was greeted by Evelyn and her mother with delight.
“How many miles farther will we have to travel, Jim, before we reached the Brierwood neighborhood?” asked Evelyn.
“Hit’s er matter of erbout two miles an er half furder, ma’am. It’s jes’ two miles dis side our place. Wen you sees our place, you’ll see a putty place an’ er ole place, too,” said Jim, with evident pride; after which announcement he seemed to relapse into a kind of melancholy, from which nothing aroused him again.
The free and easy relations that existed between the master and his slave in the Southern States has found no parallel in any other state of society, and not until the present generation passes away, will the old feeling be forgotten, and become a thing of the past. To some, a happy memory; to others, a most bitter cup, flavored deeply with a desire for revenge on the part of the ex-slave.
To Jim, the memory of his care-free boyhood, with his young masters for his playmates, held nothing but pleasant thoughts.
The sun was sinking behind a dense wall of pines, when the wagon was driven up in front of a farmhouse, and Jim announced:
“Heah’s Mr. Bliss’s house, ma’am, an’ heah’s Mr. Melton” as that gentleman came out of the house, on hearing the vociferous barking of several hounds, who made such a baying that Evelyn was quite frightened. Jim hastened to reassure her.
“Dere’s no danger in dem dogs, ma’am; they’s no biten’ stock; they’s jes’ varmint dogs, ma’am, an’ deer dogs, they never bites folks, ma’am.”
After the happy meeting between the farmer and his wife and daughter was over, the whole Bliss household, both black and white, were on the scene and joined most heartily in the welcome to the newcomers. Mr. Bliss, as his old mother had predicted of him, was very happy to share his hospitality with his old friends and former neighbors.
Jim stood by waiting patiently until the greetings should be well over, before calling to mind that he had a load of trunks and boxes in his wagon to be disposed of before he could go on home.
Aleck, too, had come into hearing by this time, cracking his whip like pistol shots on the evening still ness.
“How did it happen, Jim, that Aleck got here almost as soon as you did, and he with an ox team?” asked Mr. Bliss.
“Well, suh, I loaded him up an’ got him off by daylight, an’ leas’ways, let him git three hours de start ov me an’ de ladies, suh. I knowed we had er plenty er time, so’s I nuver hurried de ladies none,” Jim answered, with unabated good humor.
“Well, Jim, I am sure I am very much obliged to you for your good care of them. Some of these days maybe I will have it in my power to do something to repay you for this kindness to me and them,” Mr. Melton said, feelingly, and then added: “Be sure you return my thanks to your master for the use of his wagons.” He felt deeply the kindness these people had lavished on him. People whom all his life he had spoken of in the harshest terms; whom he had been taught to regard as cruel and unjust.
“John, suppose we get in and drive over to the cabin in the wilderness, and unload these wagons and save ourselves the trouble of unloading them here and re loading them again on Monday. Don’t you think that will be a saving of trouble?” asked Mr. Melton.
“A capital idea, Mr. Melton,” answered friend John, as he followed Mr. Melton into the wagon. Calling Aleck to follow, they were soon lost to view in the dim forest.
Mrs. Bliss now took her guests into the house where everything showed the thriftiness of this notable New England housekeeper. There were two bright looking little girls, who tried to hide in the folds of their mother’s dress, but Evelyn, who dearly loved children, soon had them coaxed over to her, and by the time the men returned from the clearing, she had completely won their little hearts.
A new cornshuck mat occupied a place at the top of the steps, and at the end of the gallery stood a shelf with two shining hooped buckets for holding the using water of the family. A tin wash-basin, as bright as tin could be made, was placed beside the buckets. Nearby was a roller from which depended a spotless crash towel which was used indiscriminately by the whole family.
Evelyn noticed the wide, cool hall where the family spent most of the time from May until October. On the walls hung a thermometer, and several branching deer horns; trophies of Mr. Bliss’s skill as a marks man. The latter were used as hat racks in this primitive region. The floors of yellow pine were immaculately clean. Their hostess took them into a small room which opened into the hall and helped them take off their things, and herself brought them fresh water to bathe their faces and hands. When they had completed their preparations for supper, she invited them into her room, which served as sitting-room, now that the weather was growing a little chilly in the evenings. A bright pineknot fire burned on the wide hearth, in front of which was spread a soft sheepskin rug, and on it sat a large bald-headed baby, the pet of the Bliss household. He was crowing lustily and trying to pull in pieces a poor inoffensive little kitten, whose plaintive mews appealed to Evelyn’s tender nature. She in stantly liberated the kitten and, seizing the baby, she gave him a good hug, which proceeding from an entire stranger so terrified his babyship, as to elicit a succes sion of infantile screams. Here his little black nurse, Judy, ran up, and taking him from the young lady, shamed him for crying so, as she said:
“Laurie’s so ’feared er strangers, but he laks hit namesake. He ain’t ’feared er Marse Laurie, is you, Laurie?”
“What is your baby’s name, ’Liza? I did not quite catch what the child called him; and is it a boy or a girl?” asked Mrs. Melton.
“He is named for our young doctor, Laurie Montgomery,” answered Mrs. Bliss, looking proudly at the fine baby, who seemed now quite restored to happiness, sitting astride Judy’s hip, with one chubby white hand pulling affectionately at her wool. He looked very contentedly at Evelyn from his stronghold, but seemed to desire no further — or rather, nearer acquaintance with her.
“I am so fond of babies, Mrs. Bliss, I wish he would let me play with him,” said Evelyn.
“Oh, well, he will get used to you in a few days, and do to you as he does Doctor Laurie. He cries after him whenever he comes over here,” answered the mother.
Evelyn wondered if everyone in the Brierwood neighborhood was going to talk of this young doctor.
Mrs. Bliss now excused herself and went into the kitchen to look after the supper. She always broiled the tender vension steaks herself, to be sure they were just right. She was too careful a housekeeper to leave such an important matter to Chloe, the black cook. The table was bountifully supplied with light bread, egg-bread and hominy, fried sausage, cold ham, and the juicy venison steaks. A large dish of rich yellow butter bespoke a well supplied dairy. Cold vegetables were always a part of the evening repast, as Mr. Bliss declared them a necessity to him.
“Evelyn and her mother, of course, must be hungry, after their long day’s travel,” said Mrs. Bliss; and indeed they were, especially the former, and did full justice to the delightfully prepared meal. Still more did they all enjoy the genuine hospitality of the happy farmer and the proud mistress of this plentiful home.
“You don’t tell me, John, that all the farmers in this section are as prosperous as you seem to be?”
“No, Mrs. Melton, I don’t mean to brag on myself, but I can tell you that Yankee pluck and energy will go as far toward making a man prosperous in the South as it does in the North. Nearly all the farms are poorly managed and the farmers correspondingly poor, in this hill country. The people have not yet learned to get along under the changed order of things, but they are getting in practice pretty fast, and there is a bright future in store for this country, I think,” said Mr. Bliss, hopefully; and then he added: “I see that Mr. Melton has not lost any of his old energy, and I think I can predict with safety that he will soon be independent again.”
“I will, if ‘energy and pluck’ will accomplish it,” he said, hopefully. “I think, John,” he resumed, “if it will be convenient for you to help us, we will move over to ‘The Refuge,’ as Evelyn says we must call our new home, as early as next Monday. Then I will be much nearer my work and can begin my new life in real earnest.”
“Yes, it will be quite convenient for me, Mr. Melton but I don’t see how I’m to get along without you, now that I’ve had you here for company so long. We shall miss you very much, won’t we, ’Liza?”
“Yes, we certainly will, and you’ll have to promise to come over to see us mighty often, or we can’t let you leave us,” she responded, warmly.
They then went into the sitting-room and Evelyn told them of her mother’s illness, but kept to herself the doctor’s statement in regard to her mother’s lung trouble that she would tell only to her father.
Mr. Melton had noticed his wife’s pallor and thinness, but laid it to the trials through which she had passed; he had not thought of her being ill.
IN 1860 the family of Doctor Montgomery consisted of himself, his wife, and four children, and an orphaned niece, of whom he was legal guardian.
The eldest son, James Montgomery, was then a student in a Northern university, but at the first call of the South for volunteers to defend her borders from invasion by the North, he hastened home and joined the regiment in which his father had already enlisted as surgeon.
He was wildly enthusiastic and thrice ready to do battle for the land he loved. When his native State, in line with her sister States, withdrew from the Union, he was triumphant. Standing before his mother with flashing eyes and uplifted arm, he exclaimed in tones that thrilled her soul with dread presentiment:
“Mother, I would rather give my right arm! I would rather give my life, than that my State shall ever go back into the Union.”
Alas! he did give that strong right arm, he did give that brave young life, and his mother, waiting in her darkened home, listened for the buoyant step that she knew she would hear no more.
It was a bright morning in early spring when they left for Virginia, whither their regiment had been ordered.
The negroes on the place had all come up to “the house” to bid a last goodbye to “Marster” and “Marse” James, and many were the parting admonitions to “tek keer on yourse’f an’ doan’ git in reach er dem Yankee guns, for de Lord’s sake.”
The children came next and then the brave mother, as she stood with pale face, striving to crush back the feelings that threatened to overcome her. There would be days enough to indulge the luxury of tears, she wisely thought, and she did not want to unman her loved ones now.
While father was giving a few last directions to mother, James went in search of his cousin, who was not with the group on the gallery. He knew why she was not there, for he had had similar experience with her before when the annual going away to college hail come. She would always hide to avoid that last fare well which some natures find so hard to endure.
She had kissed her uncle tenderly some time before, though not in the light of a farewell — but James! that was different. He had been her self-constituted protector, her childish hero, ever since she had come to live at The Magnolias, as a shy orphan, only eight years old. He knew and understood the tender-hearted, sensitive girl as no one else did, and fully sympathized with her in this sorrowful parting.
He found her in a little rose-embowered arbor at the end of the gallery. She was curled up on a little rustic seat, while the tears fell unheeded from her lovely brown eyes.
As he drew near the vine-wreathed summer house, memory brought vividly before him in swift succession, incidents and scenes long ago enacted there. ’Twas there he and Mamie had studied together their youthful lessons, and as they grew older they read their favorite poets or told in confidence their dreams and aspirations for the future.
“Mamie, darling,” he softly uttered, and his cousin sprang up with a sob that was half sorrow and half joy, and threw herself in his outstretched arms. He folded her to his breast as he realized for the first time what she really was to him. Not playmate, not cousin any longer, but a woman beloved of her lover. In that supreme moment that tries the strongest hearts, that full consciousness came to him with the still sweeter assurance that he was equally loved.
“My love, I have only a few moments to speak, as father is waiting for me, but I must tell you before I go that I love you better than anyone else on earth, and to ask you to be true to me. Remember, Mamie, that I will expect you to cheer and encourage my precious mother through these hard trials, for Laurie is too young for her to rely on as she will on you, dearest,” then, after repeatedly kissing her, he unclasped the dimpled arms from around his neck and hurried to his father, who was now at the gate.
He knew the best thing for Mamie was to feel that he had left his mother in her care; then she would have a mission to perform for his sweet sake and would sacredly fulfill it. And he was not mistaken. In the three dark years that followed, she was ever thinking for “Auntie” and for others. Always cheerful, always busy, helping the noble mistress in all the plantation business, which was an onerous burden on a large plantation.
All the clothing for the family and also for the negroes had to be woven on the place, and only a few people in each neighborhood understood these domestic arts, so that the ladies were compelled to learn them, and in turn teach them to the less quick-witted negro women.
Mamie readily learned how to spin the warp and filling, to dye with the home-raised indigoes and native barks, and lastly the tedious operation of putting the threads in the rough loom and weaving it into cloth.
Nobly did she, like many another Southern girl, toil early and late that she might have encouraging words to send to the brave soldiers at the front.
Then, too, they kept open house on this military road, for the soldiers who were ever stopping to share their noble hospitality. Officers and men alike, were treated with a cordiality that was entered into by the black members of the Montgomery household as warmly as by the white ladies and children.
Ah! who that passed through those days of the early sixties can ever forget them? Letters came after long intervals. Sometimes weeks passed after a battle was fought ere they knew whose names filled up the casualty list.
James’s first brief furlough came to Mamie and his mother as a rift of sunshine in a dreary day. How Mamie hung upon his every word! How she treasured his smiles and glances as he petted and praised her to her heart’s content, calling her his heroine. He told her that of all the beautiful women he had met since he left Louisiana none could compare with her in loveliness; and looking on the exquisite face none could doubt it.
“You are more perfect now, Mamie, than when Tauzin painted your portrait in New Orleans, beautiful as that is, and when the war is over I am coming home to claim you as my sweet wife, darling.” The soft eyes fell beneath his passionate gaze and the sweet face grew red with blushes as she answered:
“Yes, if you wish it so, James,” and he put his arm around her and drew her into the sitting-room to tell mother all their plans.
Mrs. Montgomery was very much opposed to the marriage of first cousins, as was her husband, but now she felt that she could not say anything to cast a chill over the happiness of these dear children in the brief period they had to spend together, so a loving consent was given them to love each other as much as they wished for the present. Mrs. Montgomery felt assured that she could trust their future to the guidance of their Father in heaven.
The happy days passed as indeed on “angel’s wings” and the parting came, and James was gone, never to return! The autumn came, bringing with it the awful news that plunged the household at The Magnolias into the deepest grief — James was dead!
The father wrote that the brave young captain had lost his right arm in a reconnaissance of the enemy’s position during a night sortie. Three weeks later he died in a hospital.
His father buried him in a far distant State, and life at home went on, apparently, just the same as if there were no breaking hearts from which the sunshine of life had fled.
A brave Christian soldier! Who shall say he died in vain? No life given in the cause of patriotism is ever uselessly sacrificed, but the cause for which he laid that life upon the altar, a willing offering, moves on, growing grander and stronger in the march of the ages, toward universal freedom.
To Mamie Montgomery the death of her lover-cousin was a cruel stroke, from which she was long in recover ing. She grew so thin and pale that she seemed but the ghost of her former self and awakened grave fears in her aunt as to the ultimate result of her despairing grief. But youth triumphed, and after several weeks of nervous fever, she began a slow convalescence. She seemed to be etherealized into a being all soul and spirit now.
One day as she walked slowly across the hall dressed in a flowing white wrapper, Ned, one of the house boys, who was standing on the back steps at the time, observed to his companion:
“Ketter, don’t Miss Mamie put you in ruin’ ov dat angul whut we wuz lookin’ at yistiddy, in Marse Laurie’s book?”
“Yas, she duz percisely, ’cepin’ she hain’t got no whings,” replied Cato, as he watched, with admiring eyes, the slender, white clad figure of his young mistress.
“Well, Ketter, I allus feels kinder ’ligeous wen I looks atter her, she’s so lubly and wite,” Ned added under his breath, as Mamie disappeared through the door of her room, then he remarked reflectively, “Ketter, I wanders ef we’ll be wite an putty wen we gits to heb-ben?”
What Cato thought on the subject will never be learned, for just then the cook called angrily to them from the kitchen, and they scampered away, for that worthy dame kept them in wholesome dread of her irate temper.
Time and youth overcome the greatest grief, and to Mamie’s aid came a deep religious fervor. She seemed to have passed through the crucible in which the dross was consumed and the pure gold of her character left resplendent.
Laurie wished vehemently to go and take his dead brother’s place, but his mother, who had so courageously given her husband and eldest son to fight for their country, felt that she could not let him leave her now. In this feeling Mamie shared most earnestly. She promised him, though, that if the war continued uutil he reached the age of sixteen, she would consent for him to join his father, if he still wished to do so; and she had not a doubt as to the choice he would make.
As the months passed and Doctor Montgomery realized the utter hopelessness of the cause he loved so well, he did not urge his wife, as he would otherwise have done, to send their only son, a mere youth, to join the army.
The year following was full of brilliant victories, yet fraught with great disaster to the Confederacy. It closed in gloom and the next May Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, and the South was turned over to a fate darker and more direful than even the most pessimistic had ever dreamed.
Bereft of loved ones, of liberty, of wealth, the South was a desolate ruin. Had the victorious North but stopped here it would have been far better, but she sought by force of arms to place the master at the mercy of his former slave. To place a noble, chivalrous civili zation under the domination of the half-barbarian hordes of African descent. But God delivered them, as He always does deliver, His chosen races from the dominion of the ignoble and the base.
Laurie Montgomery was dreadfully dissatisfied that the war was over, and he had not been allowed to strike a blow in defense of the “stars and bars.” The banner that he loved with all a boy’s enthusiasm, had been furled in darkest night and nothing left but despair. He declared with the impulsiveness of youth that he would never get over it.
Doctor Montgomery was more fortunate than many Southern planters, in that he had his home left unmolested. But how changed was everything else to which he had been accustomed. The negroes were insolent to an almost unbearable degree, and at the first opportunity left them and went to try their fortunes on a Red River plantation.
Only a few of the more faithful remained, and they were old and so decrepit as to prove more of a burden than a help to their old master. In the nobleness of his heart he felt in honor bound to keep those who wished to stay with him as long as they behaved themselves properly.
Among those who kept their places on the plantation was the old man who had followed James Montgomery as body servant during his service in the Confederate army. He had been given many opportunities of es caping beyond the Federal lines had he chosen to do so; but he was loyal to his young master, whom he had “helped ter raise,” as he often boasted to others.
When asked why he did not go to his friends, the Yankees, he invariably answered, “What Marse James guine do ef I lef him heah so f er f um home? I promise Mistis ter tek keer on her boy, an’ ef I doan do it Gawd will sholy punish me, kase I promise on de holy Bible.” So he went on his way, as usual, providing something to satisfy the appetite of the young man whom he loved so well and served so faithfully. He knew just how to please his master with a bit of broiled chicken or fish that he had procured “by de hook o’ my crook” as he explained to the young officer when questioned as to how he managed to get anything above rations in such destitute sections as they often found themselves.
Old Daddy Mack had justly earned the support and protection which the parents of Captain Montgomery so willingly and faithfully gave him in his old age.
When he returned home, after the death of his young master and shook the hand of his weeping mistress, he told her all he could remember of the last days of the young hero’s life. The tears streamed down the dusky face as he discoursed to the throng that crowded about him. To Old Mauma Silvy, whom James had loved in his infancy and boyhood, he had sent a message and remembrance, and the old woman had received it with loud lamentations, her apron thrown over her head in the abandonment of grief.
Daddy Mack had not done any real labor for several years before he had gone to the war, and after it closed he was a privileged character and only did what he pleased to do, and that was either to work at basket making or to fish in the clear streams, where abounded the trout, bream, jack, spotted cat, and many other varieties of fish. It was a given up fact, on the plantation, that if Daddy Mack could not catch fish, it was because there were none to be caught.
He always had more baskets on hand than were needed on the place, and these he sold and put by the money, for which he had no use and never spent. At his death he gave it all to his mistress, who bought with it a slab of marble and placed it above the grave of the faithful old servant.
Many were the visits the children paid to the old man’s cabin, ’and while he wove the long broom-sedge into baskets and “Fanners,” as he called a wide, flat kind of basket, he would never weary of telling them stories of their ancestors, and also of the war. He doubtless often exaggerated the part he had played in it, as servant of the dear brother, whose memory was so lovingly venerated by the Montgomery children, who never tired of listening to stories of his army life. The old negro sitting there in his split bottomed chair, with the sunlight sifting through the green foliage over his grizzled head, the white children grouped about him, made a picture that had its counter part on many a Southern plantation.
The little ones, and the youths, too, both black and white, listened with reverence to the old man as he told stories and busily plied his trade with industrious fingers, while the sun, all too soon, hastened to hide himself behind the western hills.
Heading the Bible to him was a privilege which Mamie never neglected, on the quiet Sunday after noons after church services. His favorite chapters were those which related to the visit of “Niggerde-mus” to the Saviour, and the going forth of death on the pale horse. The “Pilgrim’s Progress,” too, was a fine favorite with him, though it is doub’tful if he ever understood it in an allegorical sense.
Mamie and her aunt took special care to see that Daddy never lacked for clothing or food, and to be sure on the latter point he always got his meals in the kitchen.
After the war, the teaching of the children, Marion and Fannie, devolved entirely on their mother and young cousin. Mrs. Montgomery, though a fine musician and thoroughly accomplished woman, felt that she had her hands full already, in managing a house hold under the new regime of untried, and often in efficient servants. She could not, therefore, devote the time she wished, to the education of her little daughters. A great deal of the time they were turned over to Mamie’s care, and patiently did she perform her allotted share in their education. They were very fond of their gentle, lovely cousin, and were ever ready to please her.
Mrs. Montgomery’s cook, who had had the sole management of the culinary department for years, left her and went to Red River, that paradise of the freed-men. Old Mauma Silvy, who had never done any hard work in her life, had to come into the kitchen in her place. With the assistance of a little girl, she and her mistress took charge of the work that had formerly heen divided among a half a dozen much more efficient workers.
Mauma spent much valuable time in bewailing the “no ’countness oh de young niggahs whut’s growin’ up.” She often exclaimed in disgusted tones, “Whut meks ’em so no ’count is dey can’t stay nowheres long enuff ter do nutten, Missus; allus gallavantin’ ’roun’ de country, meks me say whut I does. De wull is all gwine ter ruin quicker’n’ lightnin’ wid tings turned upside down disher way,” and the old woman went bustling about from morning until night, growing slower and slower every day. The patient mistress, noble and self-sacrificing, with the courage displayed by many Southern women, put her own slender hands, that had never known toil, to the loom of domestic life, and wrought for her loved ones a home of peace and comfort from the broken and knotted threads of discord and strife.
It required all the tact, patience, and dignity of one used to command, to get along smoothly with the newly freed negroes, intoxicated, as it were, with their liberty. But Mrs. Montgomery was equal to the emergency, and well did she discharge her duty in this trying ordeal.
In teaching the children, she was fairly successful, too. With Marion, the elder of the little girls, there was no difficulty, as she was naturally studious and very fond of music. She would do her lessons or practice the most tiresome scales for hours each day; but with Fannie, gay, little, impulsive Fannie — it was entirely different. She disliked music — the music that required years of practice and study. She loved the music of the birds, and could rival them in sweetness of tone and clearness of utterance, as she warbled plantation ditties and the songs that she was so quick to learn. She declared there was too much brightness and music outside for anyone to sit in a darkened parlor and thrum on a piano, or pick a guitar.
So, while Marion became a cultured musician, Fannie grew strong and athletic; cultivating a personal acquaintance with the birds and flowers, and petting the lambs and fawns.
Laurie was sent away to college to complete his education, and Dr. Montgomery resumed his practice in the now impoverished neighborhood. Entirely unused to the practice of economy the lesson was hard to learn, but they did learn it and thereby managed to save money enough to get Laurie through college and medical school.
THE passing years added the touch of spirituality to Mamie Montgomery’s face, making it one of rare loveliness. She seldom went into company after James’ death, but occasionally visited the little city of Natchitoches, where some of her college friends resided, and there in a quiet way she mingled with some of the young friends of other days.
When in ’67 General McLaughlin was sent by the Federal government to keep the peace in North Louisiana, a regiment of bluecoats was sent to this populous parish to see justice meted out to the “cullud” brother of the South.
They were stationed at the city of Natchitoches and, after a short time, the officers were taken into the best society of the town, which beside its exclusiveness, boasted of being the oldest town in the State.
Among the officers who figured in society none was more popular, nor more justly so than Lieutenant Barclay. He was, without being positively handsome, so bright in manner, so cultured and witty, as to render him very attractive to the majority of women.
He seemed attracted to Mamie from the first, and soon became so assiduous in his attentions to her that his brother officers accused him of being as aggressive in love as he had been beforetime in war.
And Mamie — had she forgotten the strong, deep love of her youth? To some natures a second love is an impossibility, but to this gentle, confiding girl, her very dependency of disposition required someone to love, to look up to with admiration and respect. We are not speaking of a character between the pages of a romance, but a real womanly woman, and every such character has a heart more or less responsive to the love of a brave man.
The very oppositeness of their characters held magnetism for her, as to his strong, masterful nature she turned naturally for love.
When six weeks later they parted, they had arrived at that stage in love, which George Eliot describes as so charming — when each knows the other loves, but that love has never been chilled by expression.
In a short time after Mamie’s return to her country home, Lieutenant Barclay visited her, and she proudly presented him to her uncle and aunt, knowing that they cherished no morbid sentiment in regard to her attitude toward the Federal officer.
On his first visit to the Magnolias he won all hearts, and when he asked the consent of Dr. Montgomery to address his niece, it was cordially given.
Sometime after this visit Lieutenant Barclay was sent on military business to the small village of Winona, some seventy miles from Natchitoches.
The direct route lay not far below the Brierwood neighborhood, and naturally, the young man made that his first point of destination.
The visit, being unexpected, was doubly delightful to Miss Montgomery. Lieutenant Barclay arrived in time for dinner, and as he was unusually bright and witty, the family all seemed to enjoy his visit almost as much as did Mamie.
While at the table, Laurie noticed, for the first time, that the Lieutenant wore a very peculiar ring, unlike any he had ever seen before.
When he afterward mentioned it to his cousin, she replied that he had always worn it since she first met him.
He had to leave by two o’clock, therefore the family did not linger long at the table that day; but left him and Mamie to say their farewells alone.
She went, at his request, to the gate with him. A pretty contrast they made, as they slowly passed down the broad gardenia-bordered walk.
He, with his strong soldierly bearing, in the blue uniform so lately a hated color in the South, and she in a simple white muslin. Her pure, delicate face was brightened by the soft blushes that came and went with every glance of the eyes that expressed such passionate devotion.
They passed through the gate and stood just beyond, where the golden arborvitae shrubs shut off the view from the house. Then he took her hand in his, so strong and yet so tender, and made her tell him again how much she loved him, and promise him that when the autumn came, she would let him lead her to the marriage altar. Then he drew her to his breast and kissed the sweet lips again and again.
As he started to mount his horse, she dropped the little lace handkerchief, which had been tucked under her belt, and he instantly stepped back, and, picking it up, he crushed the fragrant little thing to his lips pas sionately, and put it in his breast pocket, as he said: “Mayn’t I take it with me, darling? I will return it tomorrow night. Your last letter is in there, too.” Then, mounting his horse, he galloped down the avenue.
To every maiden, whose lover wears a uniform and a sword, he looks as knightly as Sir Lancelot, or any other hero of the knightly age, and so Mamie thought, as she watched her hero ride away, for she turned to Laurie, who now joined her, and said brightly, though the gentle eyes were swimming in tears:
“Does he not look a veritable Sir Galahad, Laurie, as he started in search of the Holy Grail?” to which appeal Laurie replied with cruel levity:
“I don’t know, Mamie, as I never had the exquisite privilege of beholding that maiden knight as he rode away to seek for the holy cup; but I know for a certainty that your knight carries with him my little cousin’s heart. I hope that he will always appreciate the value of that treasure as he does now.”
“Oh! he always will, Laurie, I am very sure, for he is as truly noble as he seems to be,” she replied, blushing pink for a moment, but as the blood went back she became paler than usual, and an anxious look took the place of the smiles of a moment ago.
“Why look sad, Mamie? Your hero will come back tomorrow night, and that is a short while to lose sight of him, isn’t it?” Laurie asked, as they walked up to the steps.
“I do not know, Laurie, but ever since James left us, never to return, I feel a nervous dread come over me after bidding goodbye to any one I love,” but seeing Laurie’s gloomy look, she assumed a lighter tone, and added:
“But I will get over it, directly; so don’t mention, such a trifle to any one, dear boy.” She and Laurie were as sister and brother, as well as confidential friends.
Early the next morning Laurie was awakened by the violent barking of his hounds, and got up and went to the window to see who it was that could arouse the dogs to such unusual barking.
He saw indistinctly, in the dim light of dawn, a horseman riding rapidly down the road. It filled the young man with surprise that a messenger, who had, judging from the sound of his horse’s feet, ridden in such haste to the Doctor’s, would return without making known his errand.
He dressed himself hurriedly, and went down to the gate to see if he could find any reason for this mysterious ride. As he went down the walk something white on the gate-post attracted his attention, and go ing to it, he found Mamie’s lace handkerchief, her name written in the small linen center. It was spotted with bright red blood, and beside it lay a letter, written in her girlish hand, literally soaked in blood. It was her last letter to Lieutenant Barclay, written the week before.
Laurie picked up the articles, and looked at them as one in a dream. He seemed dazed at first, but as the full realization burst upon him he exclaimed huskily:
“My God! has someone killed the poor fellow?” and he trembled violently as he thought of his cousin. What to do he knew not, and yet something must be done, and done quickly. Gathering up his mental faculties, he decided that the first thing was to go and tell his father and mother of his gruesome discovery, and to get help immediately to go in search of the murdered man, for there was little room to doubt that he had been murdered.
He went indoors, and, waking his parents, acquainted them with the dreadful suspicion that filled his mind as he laid the bloody articles before them.
The usually calm, self-poised physician was greatly agitated as he inquired excitedly:
“Are you very sure, Laurie, that these things were in Lieutenant Barclay’s pocket when he left here?”
“Yes, sir, I am certain the handkerchief was, for just after he left, Mamie mentioned to me that he had begged leave to take it with him as an amulet, and it is natural to infer that he also carried with him her last letter. I cannot bear to think, father, of the effect this awful tragedy will have on our poor little Mamie” Laurie exclaimed excitedly.
“I cannot understand it, for I do not think the young man had any enemies, nor even acquaintance in this part of the country; but we will go immediately and search for him. Perhaps we may find some clue to this mysterious affair.
“Order the horses quickly, my son, and we will get off as early as possible. Meantime be careful to put those dreadful things away, Laurie, where Mamie will not see them. I indeed tremble for her if this awful deed has been done, as I have good reason to fear it has.” And Laurie took the blood-stained things, and running quickly to his room, thrust them in a bureau drawer. He then went on to the horse lot.
They left just at sunrise, before any of the family had yet arisen.
They found no difficulty in following the iron shoe tracks of the officer’s horse for fifteen miles. Here the tracks left the main road, and went out to a spring that bubbled up from the foot of a hill beside the road. Everyone who travels this dreary road stops here to drink of the cool water which ever flows from the spring. The ground is heavily turfed with beautiful green grass, on which the horse’s hoof made no indentation, except where he occasionally stepped on the white sand in the run of the little brook. Here they found abun dant signs of foul play in the drops of blood left drying on the sand. They searched everywhere for other proof, but found nothing but a brass button, evidently fresh cut from a fine blue coat, for a small portion of the goods had been hastily cut off with the button.
There was not a track showing where nor in what way the villains got away with their prey. The Doctor and Laurie rode through the scorching July sun for hours, in every direction for miles around the “Yankee Spring,” as it is called to this day, but no evidence was found that could in any way explain the mysterious disappearance of this noble Christian soldier. It was as if he had been snatched from the earth by some unseen power.
That portion of Winn Parish is an unbroken forest of long-leaf pines, miles and miles in extent. You ride up one hill and down to a valley, each so much like the one over which you have just passed, that to the casual observer they might be just the same. Over this vast wilderness a great silence reigns unbroken, save by the soughing of the wind through the lofty pine tops.
The few human habitations that are scattered many miles apart are not on the road, but back nearer the numerous bayous, where the land is richer and the hog range is better.
Doctor Montgomery knew where every farmer in this section lived, but knew that there was no use in asking information from the settlers who were either connected by ties of blood or marriage with the desperadoes who infested this wild and lawless parish.
During the war of the States, there were men who, to escape conscription, lived chiefly in the woods, and they were joined by deserters and criminals of their own class. They grew in time to be a terror to their own and the neighboring parishes, and were known under the name of “Jayhawkers.” They lived chiefly on game and produce, taken from the luckless traveller, who, if he was suspected of having money or valuables of any kind, was promptly shot with a Winchester rifle, and his body hidden somewhere out of sight. There were no men left in the country, so these robbers were left to rob and murder with impunity for even several years after the close of the civil war. They were still flourishing at the time of which I write, though repeated efforts had been made to rid the country of them.
Of what avail is the greatest bravery against a hidden foe; against the coward who stands behind a tree with his rifle and kills his victim here he is aware of the presence of an enemy? Often women and children shared the fate of their protectors.
This state of things lasted only a short time after the murder of Lieutenant Barclay, and that was the last murder committed by them of which the public knew.
It was nearly sundown when Doctor Montgomery and his son turned their faces homeward. They were too weary and disheartened for conversation. At length the Doctor remarked, as if following out a train of thought:
“Laurie, I think that you had better go to Natchitoches tomorrow, and report to General McLaughlin our fears regarding his first lieutenant.”
“I cannot but entertain a lingering hope that he escaped those brutes and returned by a nearer route to his station; if it is true you will find him there. If we are so unfortunate as to hear nothing more of the poor fellow, we will, of course, have to tell our poor little girl all we know of the awful story, and I am very much afraid her heart will break this time. My pool little darling!” and Doctor Montgomery groaned. He rarely expressed so much emotion, and Laurie, who had never before seen his father so much moved was deeply impressed by his grief. It added no little to his already overwrought feelings.
It was late when they reached home, but Mamie and her aunt were still up, waiting anxiously for their return. Mamie knew nothing of the object for which her uncle and cousin had set out in the morning, but she was looking for her lover. She had expected that he would arrive about dark, and as the hours passed and he did not come, she grew nervous and uneasy. As her aunt suggested the idea to her that perhaps they might all return together, she joined in her lonely sad watch.
It was aften ten o’clock when Doctor Montgomery and Laurie reached home, and after their arrival Mamie gave up all hope of Lieutenant Barclay’s return for that evening. She was full of surmises as to what could have kept him away, as he had said positively that he would return that evening, and he was, she knew, strictly punctual to his appointments. It was pitiful to see her efforts to appear unconcerned and hopeful.
The Doctor now insisted on their going to bed and to sleep.
“Laurie is going to Natchitoches tomorrow, Birdie,” as Mamie came for her goodnight kiss, “and I hope he will find your hero all safe and sound, having been forced, by necessity, to return by a nearer route to camp. Duty, you know, dearie, is a stern master. In that case Laurie will bring you back a nice billet-doux to reward you for patient waiting; so go to sleep, and get the roses back into those pale cheeks before the gallant soldier comes again,” and the Doctor playfully pinched the dimpled chin.
Mamie was somewhat reassured by his cheering words, as she came by to bid Laurie adieu for the night. He kept his face sedulously in shadow, as he felt that he could not get up a smile if his life depended on it.
“Laurie, why is it that I have not heard a single suggestion from you as to the probable cause of the non-arrival of Lieutenant Barclay?” she questioned, a little anxiously.
“Oh, sweet, don’t bother a sleepy fellow with such abstruse questions.” And she went upstairs for the night.
An hour later her aunt stepped softly to her door to learn, if possible, if she were asleep; she seemed satisfied, for she returned to her husband to say that she thought Mamie was sleeping nicely.
Laurie was so tired that, notwithstanding his excitement and anxiety, he fell asleep almost immediately on going to bed. Very early next morning he was on his way to Natchitoches.
As soon as he arrived in the city he reported to the General, and made inquiries for the Lieutenant, but found that he had not been heard from. It was just as he had expected, he did not have a shadow of hope when he started from home.
The General was shocked and surprised when Laurie told him what he feared regarding the missing officer. Laurie also told him of the relations existing between his cousin and Lieutenant Barclay. He told the commanding officer all he knew of the country in which the murder had been committed; the dreary forests; the im penetrable swamps, in which the banditti could secrete themselves without fear of discovery.
Laurie concluded his share in the interview by declaring to him his sworn vow to be avenged for the murder of his cousin’s lover if it took the whole of his life to accomplish it.
He was standing with pale and excited face before General McLaughlin, who now rose, and laying his hand on the young man’s shoulder, exclaimed in a husky voice:
“Noble boy! I trust that God will aid you in meeting out justice to the cowardly villain who would dare lay his hands on a noble man like Howard Barclay. A nobler man God Almighty never made. He was a friend whom I shall sorely miss.”
In a short time a searching party went down into Winn Parish, and General McLaughlin himself was one of the party. During the unsuccessful search for the missing officer, the General met one of the gang, and in the encounter which ensued he killed the rob ber, and putting him on his horse, he carried him to the nearest house, which, fortunately, was near by, and laid him in the yard, and rejoined his men.
Not many weeks after this the Union soldiers in North Louisiana were ordered to the Texas frontier, and the dreadful murder of Lieutenant Barclay passed out of the public mind.
When Laurie reached home it was three o’clock in the morning. He had purposely chosen to return in the night that he might not have to meet Mamie. He knew that if he waited until the morrow for his return, that she would be waiting for him, and meeting her he now dreaded above everything else. He wished to confer with his father and mother as to the best method of breaking the awful tidings to his poor cousin.
He rode around the back way; put up his horse, and slipping into his parents’ room, told them that he had been unsuccessful in hearing anything of the lost man.
“Then we are forced to the belief that he has been foully murdered — hard as it is to believe, that an honorable, good man has been killed in broad daylight, and for no cause!” exclaimed the Doctor, in a tone that betrayed the deepest emotion.
“General McLaughlin will do everything in his power to discover the murderers, and, if possible, bring them to justice; but we know how almost impossible that will be,” said Laurie, in a low tone. It seemed to him that it must be kept from Mamie in some way. He felt afraid that she would overhear him, if he spoke aloud, though her room was upstairs and not directly above the one in which they were.
“Where did you put that handkerchief and letter, Laurie, before you left home yesterday?” his mother asked.
“I put them in the top drawer of my bureau, mother, “but why do you ask?”
“I just wanted to be sure they were out of darling Mamie’s reach” she answered, wearily.
“You had best go to bed, dear boy, you seem almost exhausted,” his mother gently suggested.
“If I do I fear I cannot sleep. I shall be thinking of dear Mamie, and of what the morning holds in store for her. Mother, I am afraid this will kill her. She is so sensitive, and she has spent the last forces of her heart on this love of her earnest womanhood,” Laurie replied mournfully.
“Mamie is a Christian, and a very spiritual one. We can only pray that God will enable her to bear this trial as she bore the first great grief of her life. I will tell her in the morning myself. It is a hard task to perform, that of breaking such awful news to her loving heart. She is already very nervous, and, I think, suspects something more than mere business took you to town.”
“But go to bed now, and you will rest if you do not sleep, dear child.” He did indeed look haggard and woe-begone as he left the room.
Doctor Montgomery sat in mournful stillness. He did not know what to do, and seemed overcome with grief and dismay.
When Mamie went to her room that night she did not immediately go to bed, but sat by the open window overlooking the flower garden below.
The heavy fragrance of the gardenias and grandduke jasmines floated up to her window, and, accustomed as she was to them, made her feel faint and sick. She knew not why, they had never done so before in her life. After sitting thus for an hour she arose and began, wearily, to undress herself. She wished now, in a vague sort of way, that she had Kivannah, her maid, back again, as in the olden time, to do for her what she felt unable to do for herself. It was not often that she had given a thought or regret to the luxuries of the past.
She fell into an uneasy slumber that lasted for several hours, and was awakened by the sound of horse’s feet in the lane near the house. She was excited in a moment, and listened nervously to ascertain where the horse and rider went. She opened her door, and passing through the hall and unoccupied room beyond, she looked toward the lot and stables. In the bright moon light she recognized Laurie as he rode up to the gate and dismounted. She then went slowly and softly downstairs to await his coming. She went to the door of her aunt’s room, but some unaccountable power held her back until Laurie came in the back way and an nounced his failure to hear anything of her lover.
She felt powerless to move, and heard the whole con versation about herself and her unfortunate lover. After Laurie mentioned the things in his drawer she slowly dragged herself upstairs to his room, and unlocking the drawer, found the bloody handkerchief and letter. She took them out, and going to her room, she seated herself on the side of her bed.
She had left her lamp burning, not thinking that she could sleep, when she had laid down at twelve o’clock. As she gazed at the bloody objects she realized that it was the lifeblood of the man she loved that gave them that crimson hue. As she sat for hours looking at these dread evidences of her lover’s fate, reason seemed to bend’ and give way before the awful knowl edge.
At seven o’clock her aunt went to her room, and found her still sitting there in her nightgown, with her long hair falling over her shoulders, a mass of rippling gold. The brown eyes, usually so soft and lustrous, were fixed with a strained look on the dreadful objects held tightly in her hand.
“Mamie, my love,” her aunt addressed her, gently, but she did not answer. She then endeavored to take the handkerchief and letter from her tight clasp, but she clung to them, and resisted every effort her aunt made to induce her to lie down.
In great fright, she hurried to Laurie’s room, and wakened him to go for his father, telling him of his cousin’s condition and of her dreadful fears regarding her.
After her uncle had given her a soothing potion they succeeded in getting her to bed, and in disengaging the stained handkerchief and letter from her hands.
A slow fever set in and complete nervous prostration. For weeks her life trembled in the scale — and who could pray for the restoration to health of one for whom life held only dark shadows?
The God whom she loved, in gracious mercy, placed the weight of decision on the side of heaven and im mortal bliss beyond the scenes of time — and the end drew near.
As the lovely woman neared the hour of transition, the light of Eeason enthroned, shone once more from the clear, beautiful eyes.
She called Laurie to her bedside, and in a voice gentle, yet solemn in its pathos, she said earnestly, as she held his hand in hers, as cold and waxen now as lily-cups.
“Laurie, I know you so well that I feel certain that you will want to seek revenge for the murder of the noble man who was so much to me that I cannot live longer in this world without him, but you must promise me, ere I go, that you will renounce that plan of revenge. For my sake you will give me your word, darling boy, that you will leave vengeance to Him to whom it belongeth. Tell me. Quick, Laurie, for time is fleeting.” And the sweet eyes looked eagerly into those of her cousin.
Laurie gave the required promise, while his face grew colorless with emotion.
Then with tender love she bade farewell to the loved ones who stood weeping by her bed; and as calmly as the stars go down, she sank to rest. Closing her eyes to earth, she opened them on a scene of glory which human “eye hath not seen nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.”
MARION and Fannie Montgomery were of exactly opposite types. Marion, the elder, was tall and as slenderly graceful as the swaying willows down on the brooks of her father’s plantation. The oval face was set off hy a pair of dark, velvety eyes, with delicately pencilled brows, and hair of a blue-black shade.
Fannie was short and plump, and as fair as a sea-shell. Her hair was of that peculiar shade that is neither red nor yellow, but a blending of the two. The negroes called it “molasses candy hair.” Whatever the shade, it was certainly beautiful, and curled in natural rings about the low, broad forehead. Her eyes were like the skies of her own sunny State, and if her mouth was a trifle too large for beauty’s perfect lines, it possessed a rare capacity for sweetest smiles, and gayest, musical laughter.
While the sisters were so unlike in appearance, they were equally unlike in disposition. Marion was reserved and dignified in manner to such an extent that she seemed cold and unloving to those who did not know her well.
Fannie was so full of life that she could not remain quiet for two consecutive minutes. She was a fine, graceful rider; could manage a horse to perfection, and nothing afforded her so much pleasure as to mount a spirited horse and gallop over the hills. She was fear less, and often rode alone to the post office and the neighboring plantations, generally several miles distant from the Magnolias. There was no danger, she as serted, as Gypsy, her pet pony, could outrun any ordinary horse, and was kept in practice taking the logs and ditches in the route.
The sisters were very fond of each other, and as for Laurie, they fairly idolized him. To them he was the ideal of all that was noble and good in young manhood. He teased them unmercifully at times, yet they were always forgiving and forgetting such trifles as that.
He had never had any experience of a real love affair, though chivalrously fond of the fair sex, as men; generally are, who have been reared with sisters whom they have been taught to love and cherish.
After his graduation from medical college, he wished to locate in the city with his uncle, but at his father’s earnest desire, he gave up that cherished scheme and entered into partnership with him in his laborious country practice. He found ample compensation for the sacrifice he had made, in the evident pleasure and assistance which his companionship afforded his father, now beginning to bend considerably under the weight of years and accumulated trials.
Marion was engaged to be married to Captain Singleton, a brilliant young lawyer of Mississippi. She had met him while on a visit to her mother’s relatives in that State, about a year before.
Captain Singleton was a confirmed old bachelor, and therefore it was with surprise that everyone learned of his engagement to Miss Montgomery of Louisiana.
He entered the Confederate service, just after his graduation from Harvard University, and fought through the whole four years of that direful struggle. He rose steadily in promotion until he attained the rank of Captain, when in one of the last battles of the war he lost an arm.
After the war was over he returned home, to find their once fair home in ruins — their rich river plantation completely devastated by marching armies. The dwelling and cabins were burned, levees destroyed, and nothing, absolutely nothing left but the land, and that groaning beneath a burden of taxation that rendered it almost worthless.
With a courage greater than that required to storm a fort, or capture a battery — for, indeed, in these things he had always led his men foremost in the fray — he went energetically to work in the practice of his profession amid such a wreck of former conditions as would puzzle the wisest brain.
He assisted his father in renovating his wasted estate, and in educating the younger children. His perseverance and energy won success, and we find him an honored judge, respected and beloved by all who knew him.
One evening, shortly after Mr. Melton’s first visit to the Magnolias, as the family were sitting on the star-lighted gallery, Fannie asked her mother abruptly:
“Mamma, how do you like Mr. Melton? I have just been thinking of it, and I can’t remember having heard you express an opinion of him since you met him.”
“I am very much pleased with him, dear. He is a very quiet, gentlemanly kind of man, and, I think, will make an excellent neighbor,” replied her mother.
“His daughter is highly cultured, Mrs. Bliss says,” remarked Fannie.
“Oh, she was educated at the ‘Hub,’ you know,” put in Marion, rather sneeringly.
“Then, Mai, you will have someone to practice duets with you, for they say she is a fine musician,” Fannie added.
“And Fannie will have someone to ride with her. Won’t you, Comanche?” said Laurie, teasingly, as he pulled one of Fannie’s bright curls.
“And you will have a Yankee girl to fall in love with,” replied the sister, who never lacked for quick repartee.
“Well, suppose we go and practice that new song again, so as to be ready to display our vocal attain ments to this feminine prodigy of New England,” said Laurie, as he led the way to the parlor.
Some weeks afterward, as Marion was sitting in her room at a western window watching the sunset flush fade into the quiet gray of twilight, she heard quick footsteps on the stairway, and soon her door was unceremoniously pushed open and Fannie rushed in. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement, and her eyes were shining like stars.
“Oh, Marion! the Yankees have come — the Meltons, I mean. Jim has just got in from Campte, and says he brought them up in our wagons. When shall we go to see them? this week won’t do, of course; but next week will, and I am going if I have to mount Gyp and go by myself,” she said decidedly.
“I suppose Laurie and I will be willing to accompany you by that time,” said Marion, quietly, “so don’t be in such a rush, please, Baby,” as closing her book she followed her impetuous sister down the stairs.
“How I do wish there was an Edward as well as an Evelyn — a graduate of Yale or Harvard. Wouldn’t that make it ever so much more interesting, Mal?” Fannie ventured to say, as she lightly flung herself on the balusters and slid down to the hall.
“Fan, I declare you are the most candid girl I ever saw in my life. If I did think so much of the masculine sex, I would not admit it even to myself,” replied the elder sister, with dignity.
“I am sure I would much prefer it to be as it is, or if there was an Edward we would be certain to have a great case on hand immediately, and somebody’s little warm heart get broken before it was done with,” and, Marion smiled mischievously at her younger sister.
“It is very singular that you are so agreeable to Captain Singleton, and yet speak so slightingly of the attractiveness of mankind in general” said Fannie, as she saw with pleasure the blood rise to Marion’s temples, as it always did, whenever the name of the gallant Confederate officer was mentioned in her presence.
Fannie went on to her mother’s room to impart to her the important news she had learned from Jim.
“I guess they went directly to Mrs. Bliss’s. Did Jim say, Fannie?” asked her mother.
“Yes’em, and Jim says they are going to move over to their home next Monday, so by next Thursday we may call to see them; don’t you think so, mother?” she asked, anxiously.
“Yes, I think you may call by that time. It does not take long for energetic, willing hands to right up a house, especially such a small one as theirs,” replied her mother. Then she added, sympathetically:
“Poor things, how changed everything will be, and how lonely for a long time they will feel in a land of strangers. We must be kind to them, and endeavor to make them forget, as far as possible, their lost home and friends. It must be a great comfort to have their old friend and neighbor to welcome them to their new home.”
“I think the Meltons are a good deal above the Bliss family in education and social standing,” remarked Marion.
“Mother, if father can spare Monk, don’t you think it will be a good idea to send him over there on Monday to help them,” asked Fannie, who was always quick to enter into the spirit of her mother’s benevolent schemes.
“Yes, I think it a very nice plan of yours, and one I know your father will heartily indorse” her mother replied.
“I am so anxious to see that Evelyn, I cannot wait very patiently until next Thursday,” said Fannie.
“My darling baby girl, you must cultivate a more patient and quiet manner. You really distress me by your impatience and impetuosity,” her mother replied, fondly, as she smoothed back the shining hair from Fannie’s temples. Then she added:
“I will tell you how you may employ some of the energy you are letting run to waste in impatience. Hoard it all up until next Saturday, then cook some of those nice light rolls and strawberry jam puffs that you make so nicely, and send them over to our new neighbors on Monday morning. As they will not have much time for cooking on that day, such things will come in very nicely. We can add a dish of butter also. I think I heard your father say that he had offered Mr. Melton the use of some cows until he buys cattle of his own,” and Mrs. Montgomery rose and went into the dining room, where supper was already spread.
In a few moments they were all assembled at the evening meal, and the arrival of their new neighbors was the chief topic of conversation.
“Jim volunteered his opinion of our new neighbors to me to-day when he delivered Mr. Melton’s message of thanks,” observed the elder Doctor, “and that is, he thinks them very nice ladies. Now I think Jim’s opinion on such matters worth a good deal, though I did not tell him so.”
“If they were Southern people, I would be willing to bank a great deal on Jim as authority in such matters, but I won’t know whether he is so discriminating as to Northern ‘quality’ and of ‘po’ buckra,’” laughed Laurie.
“Well, the girl must be good and beautiful, for Jim says she is like me and looks like me,” Fannie remarked, with an affectation of demureness that was quite foreign to her.
TIME passed swiftly, and Monday morning came, fair and cooler than it was the day before, which had threatened rain so much that the Meltons did not visit, as they had planned to do; the new clearing in the wilderness.
On this morning “The Refuge” presented a busy scene, the object being to get the place habitable before night, Mrs. Bliss, Mrs. Melton, Evelyn and “Aunt Judy,” the wife of “Uncle July,” kept busy, dusting, unpacking, sweeping, and setting things to rights generally. The men were occupied with putting up bed steads, making shelves, putting up the stove in the tiny kitchen, and making substitutes for furniture.
At nine o’clock Monk, the Doctor’s boy, came over with a basket and a note from his mistress, saying that if he could be of any service to them, she would be pleased if they would keep him until they were through the day’s work. The basket contained the dainty jam-puffs and light rolls of Fannie’s manufacture, and a large dish of beautiful yellow butter.
Their neighbors had all been very kind in sending in something to assist in fitting up the place. A good deal had been sent in the way of cooked food, milk or butter. One old lady had sent them a pair of chickens, saying that, “the poor things won’t know how to get up in the morning if they don’t have a rooster to crow for them.”
As Mrs. Bliss and Evelyn stood for a moment on the porch, the latter said:
“This sunny little porch I shall wreathe with roses and honeysuckles, as yours is, ‘Mrs. Bliss’ and the vivid imagination ran ahead of the present two or three years, and saw the fragrant clusters of crimson and white roses hanging in beauty over the porch.
“Yes, flowers grow so fast in a new-ground garden, but it will be some time before roses will climb so high as this; better plant morning glories and white and red Indian creepers while you are waiting on the roses. But, Evelyn, we must go and get your little room ready to sleep in tonight. You will be tired enough to sleep well by then, I think.” And that busy woman went, followed by Evelyn, into the shed room that opened from the large front room that was to be her mother’s. The large room across the hallway was to be both parlor and spare room. A pretty matting covered the rough floor, and bright shades hung before the windows, pictures and prints hid the unceiled walls. Everything about the little cottage was rough and primitive, but hope and love covered many deficiencies.
In Evelyn’s room also a great transformation was going on. A large drygoods box, surmounted by a mirror and covered with a bright chintz, formed a substitute for a dresser. On it were placed many pretty ornaments, gifts from friends of bygone days. Evelyn handled them lovingly as she placed them there. A little three-cornered shelf served as a washstand, and the bed was draped in white to match the curtains at the windows. A bright rug on the floor completed the furnishings of this simple apartment. Evelyn surveyed the fresh looking little room with great satisfaction, as she exclaimed:
“It does look very neat, don’t you think, Mrs. Bliss? But, oh, I wonder what Marguerite would say if she could look into such a rough little room and know it was mine,” and a far-away look came into her dark eyes as she reverted in memory to the home she had left, that was positively elegant compared to this.
“But I will not think of such things. I am very happy, and grateful to God, and to everyone for the kindness which has been shown to us since we have been down here,” she said, looking brightly at the kind-hearted friend who stood regarding her with sympathetic eyes.
“Well, Evelyn, let’s go and see what the rest of ’em have been doing in the kitchen,” and when we get that all fixed up, I’ll go on home and see after my little flock for the night,” said Mrs. Bliss, as she led the way to the small room that was now to serve both as kitchen and dining room.
Mr. Melton was already planning that when his crop was laid by in the summer he would build them a nice large dining room.
When Mrs. Bliss and Evelyn reached the kitchen they found everybody as busy as bees in a field of clover. The stove had been put up and the table set ready for the evening meal. The unused dishes had been washed and put away in a cupboard constructed from a drygoods box, and the groceries had been transferred to a little closet built in the wall of the kitchen.
Mrs. Bliss took a seat in one of the splint-bottomed chairs, which she had brought over with a good many others as a contribution to the housekeeping department. She watched with satisfaction the progress that was being made in the kitchen.
“I am glad to see you resting,” said Evelyn, “far I think it is the first time you have sat down today, Mrs. Bliss.”
“Oh, no; I’ve sat down several times to nurse the baby,” she replied.
Mrs. Melton seemed suddenly to have resumed all of her lost energy, and Evelyn was rendered doubly happy by the pleasant and cheerful expression on her parents’ faces.
Aunt Judy was looking very sorrowful, and exclaimed:
“I’m sho’ ready ter drop in my tracks, fur Mis’ Melton has kep’ me runnin’ all day so fas’ tel’ I couldn’t reford ter eat my dinner wid no satisfaction ter my-sel’,” so they dismissed her at sunset and she sat down to rest before starting home.
“Our neighbors have been so kind and thoughtful of us in sending cooked food, that there is quite enough left from dinner to make a nice supper, so I will make the tea, mother, and let you rest,” said Evelyn.
Mrs. Bliss was now ready to leave for home as a wagon came rattling up to the door for her, and they all repaired to the front porch to bid her goodbye and to thank her again for all her kindness to them since their arrival in Louisiana; and, indeed, before, for it was through her thoughtfulness that the tables of yellow pine and the oaken chairs had been made. There were many little conveniences that but for her would never have entered the mind of Mr. Melton.
Aunt Judy’s humble cabin was situated on the other side of the Bliss farm. It was quite a long distance to walk, so she was offered a seat in the wagon, which she gladly accepted, as it gave her an opportunity of resting. It was not often since the war that this calmly moving personage had done such a day’s work; and, as she had felt it incumbent on her to talk as fast as she had worked, she was as much fatigued mentally as she was physically, that is, if the word mentally can be applied to one who possesses so small a share of mind.
Mrs. Bliss now bade them goodbye, and left with many pressing invitations to them to visit her at an early day, which they promised to do.
When Monk was dismissed, a little later, he had won golden opinions from them all. He had been so quick, so prompt to please, and did not intrude his conversation on them, but was as quiet as one could wish a servant to be.
When all were gone, and they were seated around the cozy tea-table, how homelike it seemed to be thus together once more “under their own vine and fig tree.”
“We have the home, and the vine and the fig tree will soon be here, for I am going to help you, father, to get a lot of young trees to plant right away.”
“It is the vine and fig tree of a pretty large imagination that we are sitting under, then,” laughed Mr. Melton. “But, really, Evelyn, that’s a capital plan of yours, and we shall carry it into execution this very week. John told me last week that this is the time to plant fig trees, and remarked that I could not make a better investment of my time than to plant dozens of them, as they make the finest feed for both hogs and chickens, besides being so delicious to eat. You have seen what nice preserves they make, as you tried Mrs. Bliss’s, I think, didn’t you?” asked her father.
“Yes, father; and those perfectly delicious dried confections she makes, with the addition of a little powdered sugar, excel any bonbons I ever tasted,” she answered, enthusiastically.
Evelyn had the day before told her father of what Doctor Lambert had said of the state of her mother’s lungs. Mrs. Melton did not have any just appreciation of the danger through which she had passed; and it was a long time before her husband and daughter thought it safe to tell her what Doctor Lambert had told Evelyn regarding her health before she left New England.
“Nothing could have happened, father, that would have rendered me so perfectly contented with our Southern move as the knowledge that it is the means used to restore to health a life so precious to us,” said Evelyn, in concluding her recital of her mother’s illness, and the doctor’s statement in regard to her mother’s remain ing in New England another winter.
As she looked from one to the other of the faces she loved best, and heard their loved voices in familiar conversation, a mingled feeling of satisfaction and gratitude came over her, known only to those who have heen homeless, for even a brief period, as they had been.
The remainder of the week was spent as Evelyn had decided it should be, in planting the cuttings that she had brought from their Maine garden, and assisting her father in planting a small enclosure in fruit trees. Many of their neighbors had given them young trees of apples, pears, plums, peaches and figs. Of the latter fruit there were several varieties, and Evelyn was especially interested in them, as she had never seen them growing. They also planted for shade trees china, mulberry, catalpa, and the lovely sensitive mimosa, and crape myrtle or lagistraemia.
“Father, these flowers will be full of surprise at their change of climate, will they not?” asked Evelyn, as they busily planted the tiny shrubs that had travelled from one extreme of the United States to the other.
“Well, I don’t know,” said the prosaic farmer, “but I hope they will be pleased enough at the change to grow well and reward my industrious little gardener for all her toil in their behalf.”
“How will we ever rid the garden of all these pine stumps?” asked Evelyn; “but perhaps Mr. Bliss can tell us of some plan, for they have none in their flower garden,” she added more cheerfully.
“Mrs. Bliss says the Montgomerys have the most beautiful home around here. Have you ever been there, father?” she continued.
“Yes; it is the prettiest place I have seen since I came to Louisiana. But let’s go indoors now, for the sun gets too hot to be pleasant by eleven o’clock as he wiped the perspiration from his face.
Thursday morning Evelyn received a note from Fannie Montgomery saying that she, her sister and brother would call that evening at half past seven o’clock, if agreeable to Miss Melton, and as she wrote in reply that it was very agreeable they made their preparations to go. Fannie was all impatience for the hour to arrive.
“I wrote them that we would call at half past seven, Laurie; we don’t want them to think we are trying to appear at all fashionable, do we?” said she; a sentiment in which her brother promptly concurred.
“How will seven do to start from here?” asked Laurie, as he looked at his watch.
“That will be about right,” responded Marion.
Fannie went up to her brother and gave him a critical inspection.
“I shouldn’t wonder if Doctor Montgomery makes an impression on that Yankee girl,” she said, as she looked proudly at her handsome brother. He did, in deed, look an ideal specimen of manhood — tall and straight as an Indian, with fine gray eyes, clear cut features and a decidedly fine mustache.
“I guess I might make conquests of all my lady friends if they would look at me through your partial glasses, my little sister,” said Laurie, as he kissed her affectionately.
“Now, Fancy, I wish you would be very decorous in your manners tonight, for these people are entire strangers to us, and we must not be over officious in our kindness to them,” he added seriously.
They went out to the gate where Monk was holding Forrest, Laurie’s beautiful iron gray, who was to do duty this evening as buggy horse. After a short drive in the bright moonlight they drew rein in front of the Melton clearing.
Mr. Melton met them on the little porch and invited them into the room that served as parlor and sitting room. The wide hearth was bright with the blazing pine knot fire, and on a little table was a prettily shaded lamp.
After presenting them to his wife, who impressed them quite favorably as a quiet, ladylike woman, he went off to tell Evelyn of the arrival of the young people who were destined in the near future to become her warmest and most confidential friends. He soon returned with his daughter, and introduced her to Laurie and his sisters.
She was dressed very simply in white; her only ornament being a black velvet “dog collar” held together by a small diamond pin, the gift of Marguerite Willingham.
“She is a lovely girl,” was the mental verdict of the brother and sisters, as she gracefully and with perfect self-possession went through the process of an introduction to them. She was usually pale, when she was not blushing, which, as she afterward told Fannie, she had a silly habit of doing.
Her soft brown eyes and dainty red mouth contrasted with a profusion of rich dark hair piled high on the shapely head, while coquettish tendrils curled naturally around the white temples. Her expression, too, seemed ever varying; now glad with the light of youth, or swept by a touch of melancholy that rendered her, if possible, more charming than she was before. She was small and graceful, and was a good talker, but seemed to prefer listening to others to talking herself.
The evening was a pleasant one to all. Each felt that electric touch of sympathy that comes to us all on meeting a stranger who afterwards becomes a dear friend. It is as true as it is indefinable, that subtile influence that touches souls who are near of kin in sympathy.
Evelyn played and sang for them some of the new songs that had not yet reached these remote hills and valleys, and they in turn sang some of their well rendered trios. The doctor’s voice was strong and well controlled, and seemed to fill the room with sound, yet it accorded well with Fannie’s clear, bird-like soprano.
As they sang Evelyn wondered vaguely why it was that his voice should thrill her so strangely. She had heard many fine masculine voices before; then, why should this stranger’s voice affect her more than others?
As she looked at the strong, handsome singer she could not keep from associating him in some way with the womanly idea of a hero.
When the song was finished, Laurie turned his flushed face to her and said:
“I suppose, Miss Melton, you are fond of music, are you not? My sister Marion is planning to monopolize a good deal of your time practicing duets with her. She has never succeeded in persuading Fannie to stay in the house long enough to learn to play with her.”
“Yes, indeed; I love music better than anything else, I believe,” Evelyn responded, “and will take great pleasure in practicing with Miss Montgomery. If she loves music as well as I do, we shall become very musical this winter.”
“Well, please don’t plan to practice all winter; for I am hoping that you love to ride as well as I do, so that I shall have company in future instead of going alone so often, as I do. Marion does not love horses and will never ride with me, and Laurie is nearly always gone, so please tell me that you love to ride better than anything, next to music,” said Fannie, coaxingly, to Evelyn.
“Yes, Miss Fannie, I think that if I could ride as well as Mrs. Bliss says you can, I should like it extremely well, and will join you in that delightful past time as soon as I get a horse to ride,” she answered with warmth enough in her tone to please even Fannie.
“Oh, I will teach you, and we shall begin immediately, and I can lend you my pony, which is very gentle, and I can ride one of father’s or Laurie’s horses that are not so gentle,” said Fannie, eagerly, delighted at the prospect of the fun in the enterprise.
“I hope you and Miss Melton will constitute me an assistant teacher in the riding lessons. I think I will make an admirable preceptor. At least, I may act as escort, may I not?” and they all laughed at Laurie, who added gravely:
“Seriously, though, Miss Melton, let me advise you to beware of horses that Fannie may think gentle, but take her assertions to that effect ‘cum grano salis’ as she is such a fearless rider that she is not a safe judge of what you should ride; don’t forget, please.”
“Miss Melton, I am so much pleased at the thought of the fun we are going to have, I love you already, and think we are going to be good friends. I always know when I first meet anyone whether or not I am going to love them; do you?” Fannie asked, naively.
“Yes, I am constituted similarly myself, Miss Fannie,” replied Evelyn.
“Then,” said Laurie, “you and Fannie believe in love at first sight.”
“No, not exactly,” responded Evelyn, answering the ]ook of mischief in the gray eyes with a slight rise of color. “But what do you think of it, Doctor Montgomery? Do you think it possible for anyone to fall in love on first acquaintance?”
“I do not suppose one could really be in love with a person whom he had met but once, but I do think that there is in the heart an emotion, I may say, a feeling of receptivity, that might quickly, on further acquaint ance, ripen into a desperate case of real love,” Laurie answered earnestly, though there might be seen mischief lurking in his eyes.
“Well, I know that I shall fall in love at first sight,” said Fannie; “that is, if I ever meet anyone whom I can love,” she added, reflectively.
“None of us doubt that of you, Fairy. At least, you will think that you are desperately in love,” said Laurie, laughing at the indignant protest he saw in his sister’s eyes.
“Yes, Laurie thinks, Miss Melton, that I am too young to think of love, even; that it is only people who have arrived at the discreet age of twenty-six who can speak with wisdom on such lofty topics” Fannie responded, with as much scorn as her soft voice could attain.
The evening passed pleasantly, and when Laurie looked at his watch and announced eleven o’clock, they were surprised that the hours had passed so swiftly.
“Miss Melton,” said Marion on leaving, “it is just a pleasant short walk from here to ’The Magnolias and I hope for a return of our call at an early date.”
“I will come over in a few days and drive you over there to show you the way, if you will return with me,” proposed Fannie, with her usual promptitude for saying and doing nice things.
“Yes; thank you, I shall be very much pleased to go with you,” replied Evelyn.
“Oh, I have an idea; mother is coming in a few days to call on Mrs. Melton, and I will drive her over and take you back with me to spend the evening with Mai and me, while the mothers are getting acquainted with each other,” Fannie exclaimed, with the air of one having solved a difficult problem.
“You are presupposing to a certainty, then, that I shall be absent, as my name does not appear on the program for pleasure on that sunny afternoon,” said Laurie, with mock plaintiveness in his tone.
“Oh, I beg most humble pardon for inadvertently leaving you out of my program, dear brother; you are so seldom at home in the afternoon that I did just ‘presuppose’ you would not be there on that occasion,” added Fannie.
“Well, Fancy, I shall make a very decided effort to be present on that evening when Miss Melton comes,” and Laurie bowed “one of his fetching bows,” as Fannie afterward described it at home.
After a merry drive in the brilliant moonlight that flooded all the scene with almost daylight radiance, the visiting party arrived at home, a home that never looked lovelier than it did to-night. It was always beautiful in the moonlight, and Marion often quoted Scott’s lines,
“If you would view fair magnolias aright,
You must view it by the pale moonlight.”
After reaching home they went to mother and father’s room to bid them goodnight, and tell them how much pleased they were with their new friend, whom Fannie described as “perfectly beautiful, mother.”
“I am afraid to trust my extravagant little daughter’s opinion on the subject of people’s appearance, so will wait until I see the young lady myself before I make up my mind to regard her as ‘perfectly beautiful,’ said her mother playfully, as she received their goodnight kisses. The Montgomery children, one and all, had never outgrown the habit of going to father and mother for a goodnight kiss.
By the time the girls were ready for bed a pet mockingbird in a mimosa tree near their window broke forth with his usual midnight serenade, and made the echoes vocal with his trills of melody. It was not till the last echo died away on the moonlit stillness that sleep came to the eyes of the sisters.
MAKING NEW FRIENDS.
EVERY Sunday there were new callers at The Refuge. The busy farmers of the country settlement did not have time for visits of pleasure during the weekdays, but Sunday evening there could surely be no harm in riding over to see a neighbor. They had been very kind, and had liberally shared their vegetables with their Northern neighbor. Sweet potatoes and fresh pork had also been generously sent in, so that at the close of a month’s residence at Brierwood, Mrs. Melton declared that she had not felt the need of a garden at all.
In the hunts for deer, which were taken every Saturday, Mr. Melton was always included, and many were the fine pieces of fat venison that he carried back with him on his return home. One day the hunting party captured a spotted fawn of great beauty, which by unanimous consent was turned over to Mr. Melton to carry over to his daughter. The deer in the country were so numerous as to be a real nuisance to the farmers.
Hynda, as Evelyn called her little pet, proved to be a charming companion, as lovely and as graceful as her mistress could desire.
One day as she and her deer were standing under some trees in front of the Melton homestead, Doctor Laurie Montgomery rode up, and as he dismounted he noted with admiration the pretty picture they made as they stood in the shade of the vine-embowered oak tree. The fawn scampered away at the approach of the horse and rider, who came forward and shook hands with Evelyn, remarking gaily, as he looked at the departing fawn:
“I hope Hynda will not meet with the fate that befell her unfortunate namesake.”
“I trust not; for Hynda always had my deepest sympathy in her sad history. I dare not say how many tears I ’have shed over her and the brave Gheber who won her love,” responded Evelyn. Then she asked, “Doctor Montgomery, will you tell me what kind of vine this is, twined so beautifully about this oak?”
“That is one of our more fragrant and early blooming vines, flowering generally in March, but often in February. The flowers are trumpet-shaped and of a lovely golden hue. It is the yellow jessamine, or, as the botanists call it, Gelseminum sempervirens. Did you never see it before, Miss Melton?”
“No; I have never seen a flower like your description of this. I am so glad the workmen left it growing here; I am surprised they did not cut it down, and think they displayed some taste in leaving these trees as well as the vine.”
“It will, ere many months pass, be loaded with its lovely wreaths of flowers, fairly fit to twine around the forms of beautiful shepherdesses leading forth their lawns to pasture,” and his admiring glances brought the quick blood to Evelyn’s face, as the soft eyes wandered to where Hynda was gambolling in graceful curves.
“I do hope my little pet will not meet with any misfortune. I am really learning to love her dearly,” said Evelyn.
“Well, I would advise you in time not to bestow too much of your heart on her, as she will very probably prove ungrateful and leave you next Spring,” said the doctor, as he followed the look of affection she gave her little favorite.
“Perhaps if you divide your heart among several dependents in the shape of other pets it will prevent a too painful concentration on Hynda, and to provide against that, I think Fannie has selected two kittens, and I have two charming little dogs for you to pet, and thus preclude the possibility of your becoming too fond of Hynda,” said Laurie, his eyes shining with mischief. “But, by the way, I had almost forgotten to tell you that Fannie sent me over to say that she and mother would call this afternoon, and that Fanny would take no excuse from you for not returning with her to spend the afternoon with us.”
“I would advise you not to carry Hynda with you, as my dogs might conceive a desire in their cruel hearts to see her run — just to try her mettle, you know.”
“No, indeed, I will not trust her where there are any great ugly canines; but tell Miss Fannie I shall be ready to return with her if your mother will excuse my absence, and ascribe it to your sister’s management and not to mine,” said Evelyn.
“She will be sure to place the blame on shoulders that will wear it lightly,” Laurie said, laughing.
“I think Miss Fannie such a lovely girl, so kind and thoughtful of others. I believe we are going to be good friends, don’t you?” asked Evelyn.
“Yes, I am sure we are,” he replied, looking with admiration into her sweet face.
“Oh, I meant it only to apply to your sister.”
Feigning a very dejected air he replied in mock humility:
“I am very sorry that I am so absolutely excluded from your friendship,” but seeing that she was confused and blushing, he came to her relief by asking:
“When are you and Fannie to begin riding lessons?”
“When father buys me a pony.”
“Tell him to empower me to select one for you. I think I know of one that will just suit you,” he said, kindly.
“Oh, thank you; but it will be putting you to too much trouble for one who is almost a stranger to you,” said Evelyn, shyly.
“We will not be ‘almost strangers’ long,” he said, gently; then bidding her farewell, he mounted his horse and rode away with a very sweet face pictured upon his heart. He left his fair companion feeling that she had committed a treachery to her womanliness in the blushes that would come over her face whenever she met those handsome eyes fixed upon her; whether they were shining with mischief or earnestly sincere.
That afternoon found the girls having a “lovely time” as Fannie described it. Notwithstanding Lau rie’s earnest desire to be with them, he was called away just before Evelyn came, and like the faithful physician that he always was, he went to serve duty before pleasure.
Fannie and Marion had prepared parched pinders, sugarcane and wild plums. “All de trash on de planta-shun ter mek dat chile sick, Baby, an’ yo gwine ter do it, fiho,” grumbled Mauma Sylvie. Yet she kindly volunteered the information to Fannie, “Dere’s some late watermillions under de bed in Misstis’ room, an’ some mighty sweet bullaces whut Monk foun’ in de hedge by de little branch, an’ brung home fur you chillun.”
“Oh, thank you, Mauma, you dear old thing. You are so good to me,” and Fannie bounded away to get the aforementioned trash. It is safe to say that Evelyn thoroughly enjoyed the “trash,” and when they parted that afternoon they were far advanced on the road to friendship.
At sunset they drove back to The Refuge, and Mrs. Montgomery returned home with Fannie, who, before she left, made an engagement to come for them as soon as the cane grinding began, to spend the day and drink cane juice. They could then see the whole process of sugar and syrup making.
In the pleasant autumn days that followed Mr. Melton found plenty of work to occupy his time in clearing land, building fences and outhouses. He ventured on employing negro help by the day, and found them faithful, efficient workers employed in this way. Mr. Bliss was of much service to him, by giving advice in these things, and many were the visits exchanged between these friends. It was his good friend who showed him how to select his land in which to plant his cane; and in the matter of stocking his farm, he furnished the cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, and even a farm horse, which he told Mr. Melton he need not pay for until he got sufficiently ahead to feel able to do so. There’s nothing like owning a stanch, true friend who will always be the “friend in need.” Such are, indeed, hard to find in this selfish, workaday world of ours.
The last days of November came and the weather grew so chilly as to warrant a belief that there would be heavy frost after the next rain, so the doctor gave orders for Uncle July to begin grinding cane. The grinding season was always interesting, even to those who were accustomed to it. There was an air of excitement about the usually quiet place that was delightfully novel. Every pickaninny you met had a stalk of cane between his glittering ivories and a look of perfect content in his dusky eyes. Monk, who “fed the mill,” kept the world around him resonant with gay songs, plantation ditties, or sometimes subsiding into the most funereal dirges. Uncle July kept the crowd of small blacks in continual dread by threaten ing to knock down “ebery niggar on de place wid one uv dese pineknots,” of which there was plentiful supply kept on hand by Aleck, the driver of the ox-team.
As soon as the grinding was well begun Fannie, true to her promise, drove over to The Refuge and brought Evelyn and her mother home with her; Mr. Melton promised to join them later in the day.
It was one of those days of Indian Summer which lasts often until late in December in this part of the South. It was the first time that Mrs. Melton had seen The Magnolias, and she was struck by the beauty of the place; situated on a commanding eminence, with a well wooded lawn, several acres in extent, and a beautiful flower garden in front. The latter was now bright with late blooming roses and banks of brilliant chrysanthemums.
Scattered among the giant oaks on the lawn were a large number of magnolias, cedars, and mock orange trees, while smaller spaces were filled by golden ar-borvitae and gardenias. Surrounding the whole was a thick hedge of casino and cherokee; the former now glowing with its scarlet berries.
As they drove up, Evelyn exclaimed:
“Why, Miss Fannie, I think you ought to have called your home The Evergreens. I have never seen so many beautiful evergreens before.”
“Ah, you should have been here last May when ’Faint was the air with the odorous breath of magnolia blossoms’ then you would have conceded that it was properly named.”
“There are so many of those grand trees here. I had no idea they grew to such magnificent size until I saw those down on the bayou, where Mr. Bliss took us driving a few days ago. They were as large as forest oaks” said Evelyn.
Marion, who had seen them as they drove up, now came running out to meet them, and greeted Mrs. Melton with a cordial shake of the hand and Evelyn with a warm kiss. As they ascended the broad, white walk a mockingbird swinging aloft on a cedar spray that hung over them, “shook from his little throat such floods of delirious music” that they all stopped involuntarily to listen to the exquisite songster, as he gave utterance to his ever changing notes, from triumphant songs to the low, soft cadences, that filled the soul with melancholy.
“Oh, how lovely, how exquisite! I never heard anything so beautiful before in my life. Is it a mocking bird? Do let’s remain out here a while longer; perhaps he will sing again,” said Evelyn, clasping her hands in ecstasy.
“Yes,” responded Fanny, “it is a mockingbird. I wonder you did not hear them sing while you stayed with Mrs. Bliss. They have a good many of them now. Mai, suppose you go in with Mrs. Melton to mother, and then you can come back, and we girls will stay out here a while longer.”
Marion complied with the request, and soon returned to them in the garden, where they were comfortably seated under a spreading magnolia tree.
“We have a great many song birds, but none who sing so gloriously as the mockies; they are the prinia donnas of the Southern opera. There are the cat birds and the gay little orioles, and the dainty humming birds, who do not sing really, but only hum, as they suck the honey from the flowers as the bees,” Fannie explained to Evelyn, as they were waiting for Marion.
“Do you think we will have any mockingbirds at our place?” asked Evelyn.
“No, I am sorry to say, you will not; at least, not for some time. They are not so aggressive as to like the novelty of emigration. I never heard a mockingbird sing in the forest in my life. It is singular, but true,” said Fannie.
“Yes, you know, Fan, Mrs. Bliss despaired of their ever coming to their place; but I think they have been nesting there for several years, and I guess she hast songs enough now to please her,” said Marion, as she continued, “See, girls, what I found as I came down the gardenia walk,” and she held up a lovely cape jasmine bud, its rich, creamy petals just unfolding sufficiently to emit a faint, delightful odor.
“Allow me to present this, my favorite flower, to you, Miss Melton,” and she turned to Evelyn and gave her the gardenia.
“Girls, let’s drop the miss if we are going to be good friends, and not be so punctiliously formal,” said Fannie. “I do hate formality.”
There was unanimous consent to the proposition, and time passed happily amid the flowers until Mr. Melton’s arrival, when they went in with him. Marion passed on to the dining room to set the table — a bit of work in which the Montgomery girls excelled. They always set the table when there was company at The Magnolias.
When she had completed the arrangement of the table it looked quite pretty with its spotless napery and tastefully arranged flowers. The silver glistened just as it did before the war, but the cut glass and china were sadly reduced in number, as they were not able these days to replace such things but with plain ware.
“Will father and Laurie come in time for dinner, mother?” asked Marion, as she came in from her task.
“Yes; one or both of them will return by one o’clock, and I ordered Silvy to keep the dinner waiting until then,” answered her mother.
In a few moments the elder Doctor did return, and they had dinner immediately, as he said he did not know when Laurie would come.
The girls had spent so much of the morning in the bright November sunshine they had gathered keen appetites, as well as fresh roses in their cheeks, Evelyn declared that she never had such an appetite before.
The menu was duly talked over, and Northern and Southern cookery compared and discussed. There was one dish on the table that all who ever ate of, united in pronouncing incomparably fine, and that was Mauma Silvy’s venison “pompeyhead.”
“This is a dish, Evelyn, I know you will like, as all aesthetic people do” said Fannie, as she generously helped them to freshly sliced peaches and rich yellow cream; “we have them from May to November, unless a late frost comes and kills them in the Spring.”
“Well, Miss Fannie, I like them very much’, though I am not the least bit aesthetic,” laughingly remarked Mr. Melton.
“I think,” responded the Doctor, “it is a favorite dish wherever it is known.”
After dinner the two old gentlemen repaired to the hall to indulge in a good smoke, while the Doctor told Mr. Melton what he knew of tobacco culture, and promised him some choice seed and further instruction regarding the planting.
The girls were in loose wrappers, discussing novels and poetry during the hours of the afternoon siesta. At three o’clock the clatter of horse’s hoofs were heard, and Fannie, who had run to the window to see who it was, announced:
“It is Laurie, and we must get up and dress so as to be ready to go down to the sugar mill by the time he has had his dinner. He will want to go down right away, I know” said she, as she dressed quickly so as to have time to assist her friend if she needed help.
It had been an easy matter to drop the prefix that Fannie found so burdensome. To warm-hearted, loving girlhood, but little preliminaries are necessary to form true and hearty friendships which last often through life.
When they had finished their toilettes they went down to find Laurie, whom they met in the hall below, just coming in search of them. He came forward with a bright flush of pleasure on his face and warmly greeted his new friend.
“Laurie, we are enroute for the sugar mill, will you join us?” asked Marion.
“With a great deal of pleasure” answered her brother, as he took his place by Evelyn, and led the way to the sugar mill.
“I do not expect you will like Fannie’s delightful drink, Miss Melton. It tastes decidedly sloppy to me,” said Laurie, as he cast a sly glance at Fannie.
“You need not judge a girl’s tastes by yours, I am sure,” retorted she; “you do not like green plums and salt, and I’ll wager anything Evelyn likes them; if she doesn’t she’s that much less a girl than I thought she was.”
“Yes, I will save my claim to femininity by declaring my devotion to green plums, green apples, and everything that is green and sour,” said Evelyn, laugh ing; “but mother is so much afraid that I will make myself ill that I rarely indulge in the luxury of eating these things.”
Laurie noted with pleasure the intimate manner the girls had assumed toward each other.
When they reached the well they went around to where Monk was feeding the long stalks of cane to the two revolving cylinders that crushed them. The juice fell below into a large trough covered with coarse sacking to prevent the dust and trash from falling into it. From the trough it was transferred to the evaporator and there boiled into syrup.
They found Mr. Melton and the elder Doctor down there busily discussing sugar raising as an industry. The Doctor understood the culture of cane and also the great disappointment likely to ensue if a person counted too confidently on making a fortune raising cane in North Louisiana, without the means of irrigation at his command.
After they had watched the grinding for some time, Laurie took a glass, and holding it under the stream of juice until it was full, brought it to Evelyn and insisted on her taking the first draught. She drank slowly, as if to criticise the taste; Fannie waited impa tiently for her verdict. After drinking the entire glass she pronounced it “very fine.”
“Ah, if it was only a cold day, so that it would taste as if it was iced, you would think it nice, indeed,” said Fannie gaily.
“Let’s go,” said Marion, “for I always get nervous for fear Monk will get his fingers caught in the mill, and have his arm crushed to pieces.”
“You should not he so hysterical, Sis. I am sure it would give me a heautiful job of amputation to perform, and I would allow you young ladies to assist me,” said the young Doctor, laughing merrily.
“Did anyone ever happen to such an accident down here?” quickly asked, Evelyn.
“Oh, no; but then it is quite possible if one were to become careless, as people are very likely to do, with constant familiarity in the use of anything” said Marion, as, calling to the boy for the hundredth time, she admonished him to “be very careful.” They then went around to the furnace over whose glowing fires the evaporator was boiling the juice into syrup. They examined it from the first compartment, where was poured the green, foamy juice, to where the clear amber syrup fell into a receiver below.
“How very nice it does look” exclaimed Evelyn; “and does the sugar come from that honeylike syrup?”
“Yes,” replied Laurie, “the sugar settles on the bottom of the vat, and from there it is put in loose barrels, whence the molasses drips out, leaving the sugar dry and fit for use. But you must not confound this primitive mode of making sugar with the processes of the great centrifugal mills of Southern Louisiana, where sugar is made an article of commerce. We only make a very good article of brown sugar that is better in coffee than the whiter brands of commercial sugars, though a great many people do not know it.”
“We are under obligations, Doctor Montgomery, for your learned dissertation on sugar making,” said Fannie, with a mock curtsey to her brother.
“It was in answer to my question,” said Evelyn, “and I certainly appreciate the dissertation, as you call it, Fannie. I think I will like that syrup without having to learn,” she added.
“Well, you shall take some of it home with you to try,” said Laurie.
“Evelyn, stay all night with us, and we will come down here and have a fine candyboil after supper, with the last syrup in the evaporator. It will be so much fun; do, please stay, Evelyn,” said Fannie, with her usual enthusiasm.
“Yes, Evelyn, it will give us much pleasure,” chimed in Marion.
“Can you resist so much pleading, Miss Evelyn? It would add a great deal to our happiness if you will consent to remain with us for the night” said Laurie, smiling down on her. It was the first time he had called her by her given name, and it made the pink tint deepen on the delicate face.
Fannie had put her arm around Evelyn, and looked coaxingly into her face for an answer to her importunate appeal.
“I will be very much pleased to accede to your kind invitations if mother will consent to part with me for the night” Evelyn answered.
“Oh, I will persuade her,” said Fannie.
“I think you will succeed if anyone can,” responded Evelyn, laughing.
“Let’s go right away, and see what Mrs. Melton will say to my plan, and then I will get the goobers ready,” Fannie proposed, energetically.
“Will you Indies let me do the eating while you do the shelling?” asked Laurie.
“No, indeed; you may assist in the shelling, though, if you will promise to be real good and not eat a single one of the parched goobers” Marion replied, laughing.
Before they reached the sitting room Fannie met them with the delightful news that Mrs. Melton had consented, on condition that Fannie bring her some of the candy, and also that she bring Evelyn home early in the morning; “all of which I promised gladly,” she said, with satisfaction beaming on her expressive face.
“Now, you all may amuse yourselves while I go and parch the goobers and gather the pecans, or rather, I mean, get them out” she added, as she went on to the kitchen.
“Let us have some music; I want to hear Evelyn play and sing again,” said Marion, as she led the way to the large, airy parlor.
“And I wish to hear her sing that song again, she sang the evening of our first call,” said Laurie.
“What song was it, Doctor Montgomery? I think I sang several songs that evening,” said Evelyn.
“I do not remember the name, but it was something about ‘silver threads among the gold,’” answered Laurie, as he opened the piano.
“Oh, yes; you mean that little song by Kexford. I sing it often for father; he admires it very much. But really, I feel ashamed to sing after hearing Fannie’s birdlike trills,” she said, as she took her place on the stool.
“You will sing that song of Moore’s for me again, too, won’t you? I don’t suppose that Mai will care for an old song. I think girls never do, do they, Marion?” asked the Doctor.
“That depends to a great extent, I believe, on the frame of mind one is in,” replied Marion.
“I love the songs of the real poets, even when they grow old, better than a great many of the vapid songs with which the world is flooded today. I would not give ’Annie Laurie’ and some of Byron, Moore and Burns’s songs for all the modern trash,” he said, decidedly.
“Yet you called for a new song first thing,” said Evelyn, looking up into his face with smiling eyes.
“Now, don’t be so sweeping in your denunciations, Laurie; you may be crushing young hope in the breasts of Evelyn and myself. You do not know but that we both may have some cherished manuscript song hidden away to present to a more appreciative audience than you promise to be,” said Marion.
“Yes; and wouldn’t it be a pity to stifle genius in such ruthless style?” Evelyn remarked, laughingly.
Laurie begged pardon if he had unconsciously ad ministered anaesthesia to a struggling muse.
After the songs were sung, Evelyn became interested in the pictures that hung on the walls. She had examined several when she came to a fine looking young soldier dressed in the uniform of a Confederate captain. It was a striking picture, and although the face bore a family resemblance to Laurie, yet they were very unlike, too.
“That is the picture of my brother James, who served in Longstreet’s corps during the civil war. He was wounded by a bullet from the enemy’s guard in a volunteered effort to reconnoitre the Federal position, and three weeks afterward died in the hospital. The photograph from which this picture was enlarged was taken just before the battle of Chickamauga,” explained Marion, while her voice trembled with emotion.
“Don’t you think he resembles Laurie, Evelyn?”
“Yes, and no; there is more likeness to his father than to Doctor Laurie,” she replied, as she glanced at the young man standing so quietly beside her.
The next picture was an oil portrait of a very beautiful girl, scarcely grown. She was in evening costume of sheer muslin and lace. The dimpled shoulders and arms were perfect, and as one arm was upraised to draw aside the lace portiere, the slender, graceful figure showed to perfection against the dark background. Evelyn was thrilled with admiration as she looked into the large, clear, brown eyes of Mary Montgomery. It was one of those pictures to which you feel assured there is an interesting story attached.
Evelyn stood with clasped hands before the picture as if enamored of the lovely face. After remaining silent for some time, she exclaimed:
“Is she not perfectly beautiful? That look of sadness in the exquisite eyes only adds to their beauty,” she added, in a low, hushed voice.
“Isn’t it sad that one so young and lovely should have to die? How wonderfully strange to us seem the decrees of God sometimes,” said Laurie, reverently.
Here Fannie came in like a refreshing breeze and announced in her characteristic manner that Mr. and Mrs. Melton were ready to leave, and wished them to walk a part of the way home with them.
“I told them that we would go, for it is such a charming evening for a walk, and I want to try our fortunes with half ripe persimmons. I am so anxious to see Evelyn try to perform that extraordinary feat. There will be plenty of time when we come back to shell the goobers, now that I have parched them.”
The proposition met with general assent, and in a few moments they were ready to set out.
There was a thick cluster of persimmon trees just midway between The Refuge and the Montgomery residence, a pleasant distance to walk.
It was a perfect evening. The soft tints of the November Indian summer lay over the fields and woodland. The rich glow of autumn coloring was on the trees in the hedges, and made a vivid contrast out lined against the dark background of pines beyond. The last rays of the setting sun were lingering tenderly on the summits of these Aeolian harps of the dim forest as if in reluctant farewell.
The merry party now reached the trees, laden with sweet, yellow fruit. It is a mistaken idea that a frost is necessary to the perfect ripening of this delicious Southern fruit, as the best quality of persimmons ripens in September, when the weather is still at summer heat.
“Fannie, I’m afraid your very juvenile plan of trying fortunes will prove a failure this time, as I think the persimmons are all ripe, and, therefore, perfectly sweet,” remarked her brother, as turning to Evelyn he added: “Miss Melton, please take my advice and do not let Fannie persuade you into tasting those disagreeable, acrid things, that is, if she should find any that are unripe.”
“Evelyn, you surely will not miss the ‘golding opportunity’ as Uncle July says, of learning for certain whether or not that fellow in Maine loves you,” urged Fannie.
She had declared that if you could eat a half ripe persimmon without making a wry face it was proof positive as Holy Writ that the fellow for whom it was named loved you devotedly.
“If you persist in trying them I shall watch the process, as I am very much interested in the result” said Laurie to Evelyn, as she took one from Fannie and began eating a part of it. She made such an ignominious failure as to call forth peals of laughter from them all.
“Mr. Melton, did you like persimmons when you first ate them?” asked Fannie.
“Yes, Miss Fannie, I thought them very nice. I think if they were dried they would taste very much like dates” he replied.
“They belong to that family of fruit,” said Fannie.
“Have you ever tried one that was not perfectly ripe?” she asked, as she offered him one that was not quite ripe, but looked perfectly so.
“Why, Fan!” exclaimed Marion, “aren’t you ashamed to offer Mr. Melton a green persimmon?”
“Well, I shall try it, Miss Fannie, just for curiosity’s sake,” he said, accepting the unripe fruit. “I have heard John Bliss tell some funny stories on the Taoys in blue’ when they would first investigate the persimmon trees in Dixieland. Ugh! It isn’t a bit nice, Miss Fannie, and I warn you girls that it will take a hard lover to stand this test of his loyalty,” he said, laughing, as he tried in vain to get rid of the tongue-tied taste.
Mrs. Melton even tried one, saying that she could eat green apples, but after an effort she declared that these things were beyond her powers.
Peal after peal of merry, musical laughter filled the hollow with gay echoes, as the fortune-trying party hastened to gather some of the wrinkled, perfectly ripe fruit, to get the disagreeable taste from their mouths.
The growing twilight admonished them that it was time for them to separate.
Marion had gathered some leaves and made a basket, which she filled with fruit to take home to mother. As soon as they reached the house she went in search of her mother to present her offering.
“We did not forget you, mother dear; just see what a lovely basket I made of autumn leaves,” said she, pointing to the crimson maple, and yellow and brown spotted sweet gum leaves of which it was constructed.
“Thank you, dear, the basket is quite a work of art, and the fruit very acceptable,” said her mother, looking fondly at her eldest daughter. By this time the rest came up, and Mrs. Montgomery, turning to Fannie, said:
“You will have to initiate Miss Melton into the mysteries of gathering sweet gum, parsley haws and winter huckleberries. They are very abundant this year. I noticed some very full bushes as we came home last Sunday.”
“Oh, yes, indeed, mother, Evelyn shall be quite a Southern girl in a few months. I assure you I will spare neither time nor pains to teach her all I know,” said Fannie, enthusiastically.
“Well, if Miss Melton follows you over hills and dells, by rippling brooks and through grassy meads, I promise her those correspondents up North will sigh long for those promised letters,” put in Laurie.
“Never fear, Fannie, I shall write all the letters I wish to write in these long evenings we are having now, and on rainy days, that is, if you have any of those kind of days here in the sunny South. I am beginning to think that Longfellow did not have Louisiana in mind when he wrote his ‘Rainy Day’ Evelyn remarked gaily.
“Yes, we have rainy days in November, sometimes, but not often; just commend me to a January in Louisiana for bad weather,” said Laurie. Fannie now brought in the pinders, and also some pecans, saying, ‘We can work on them until supper is ready and finish afterward. Suppose we shell the pinders first, so that Monk can pound them while we are at supper, and we can pick the pecans afterward.”
After they made everything ready they repaired to the sugar mill with buttered dishes and the large kitchen spoon to stir in the pulverized goobers and pecan “goodies.”
They found Uncle July just ready for them to make their candy.
It was a novel sight to Evelyn, who had spent so much of her life in the school room. How the pine knot fires glowed in the furnace, casting a ruddy light over the dusky faces of the negroes, who stood grouped around watching the candy makers. Over these on lookers Uncle July was very strict, ordering them to ‘stan’ back, you niggers, you,” and adding sotto voce, “or I’ll knock you’ brains out wider pine knot.”
No autocrat of all the Eussias ever ruled with more despotic sway than did this old ex-slave over those who were under his control, yet he was a typical negro of the old South, and talked as if he was regretful that the old regime had ever been changed. He looked back, as did the Hebrews of old, whenever they fell into a difficulty, to the leeks, the onions, the garlics, of their sore bondage in Egypt. How like the human race of all ages! Thinking the past, however bad, better than the present, and the future better than either.
“Uncle July, when are you going to have the holy dance at Green Grove again? This young lady is a Yankee, and never saw a black folks’ meeting in all her life, and I want to take her over there the next time you have the holy dance, if you will let me know when it comes off. And do, Uncle July, pick out a nice, moonlight night,” said Fannie.
“Well, Miss Fannie, I ’spose dey’ll hoF de dance w’en de nex’ meetin’ ov de confearunce, ef de Lawd remits us ter meet ergin. Howsumdever, I’ll funnish you de news in time to fotch de Yankee folks ober dere ef dey wants ter cum,” he answered, politely. He seemed rather proud of their thinking the holy dance a sight worth seeing.
The candy was now brought to a most successful finish — luckily with no burnt fingers. Laurie gave Monk a fair share of it to divide among the negroes. He was then sent up to the house with several dishes for the white folks, as he designated his masters and mistresses. Before leaving he gave instructions to “Uncle July” to keep an eye on the candy he left behind him.
The young people followed the candy to the house, and spent the remainder of the evening in pulling and eating candy and in merry conversation. At ten o’clock they were summoned to the sitting room for prayer — a custom the Doctor never omitted when he was at home.
How sweetly that old familiar hymn, “The Day Is Past and Gone” sounded to Evelyn, as the clear feminine voices, blending in perfect accord with the strong masculine tones rose on the still evening air. Then followed the reading of a portion of the Scripture and an appropriate prayer. Shortly afterward the good night kisses were given, in which Evelyn was affection ately included by Mrs. Montgomery, even the old Doctor gallantly affirming that he liked to be kissed by the little girls. Marion unselfishly gave her place to Evelyn, as Fannie seemed so anxious to have her friend share her room for the night.
“Now, Evelyn, you will be lulled to sleep by the mockingbird’s sweet song, if he carries out his usual nocturnal programme of singing in the mimosa tree,” Fannie said, as they were retiring to their chambers, and they were not disappointed.
By twelve o’clock the place was wrapped in stillness, unbroken save by the distant hooting of the owls down in the swamp, calling each to his fellow, “Watchman, what of the night?”
ONE morning as the girls, Evelyn having spent the night before with them, were busy sewing and keeping tip a merry accompaniment of bright conversation and laughter, Mrs. Montgomery entered the room. She was carrying a waiter on which was arranged a breakfast for someone.
“Fannie, I wish you would take this breakfast down to Daddy Mack’s cabin, and inquire what is the matter with him. The old man has not been up this morning, Silvy tells me, and I fear he is sick, as he is strictly punctual to come to his meals”
“Certainly, dearest mamma, with the greatest of pleasure. Wouldn’t you like to go, too, Evelyn?”
“Yes, indeed, I would enjoy a walk very much; but who is Daddy Mack, Fannie?” she inquired with interest as she and Fannie bonneted themselves preparatory to their walk.
“He is one of our old negro men — the one who served brother as body servant in the army, and, of course, we all think a great deal of him and treat him as we would no other one on the place except Mauma Silvy,” Fannie replied.
“You know, Fannie, I cannot get accustomed to the free way the darkies have of talking on any and all occasions. Mother says that she just cannot stand their slothful ways in her kitchen. They are so filthy and roguish too; at least those she has tried,” added Evelyn, apologetically, as she remembered how much the Montgomerys loved their old cook and always kept negroes about them.
Fannie’s face flushed in momentary anger as she replied in a tone as sarcastic as she could command:
“Oh, of course, New England housekeepers are supposed to keep perfect kitchens and immaculate dish cloths, while we lazy Southerners prefer ease of body and mind to perfection of cleanliness in the culinary department.”
Evelyn laughed merrily as she said:
“I beg pardon, my dearest friend, for ruffling that sweet temper of yours by my thoughtlessly unkind remarks. I think we are quite even now and we will kiss and make up, won’t we, dear?” to which proposition Fannie agreed with gracious good humor.
By this time they had arrived at the cabin of the old negro, and walking in at the open door they found him lying in bed.
“Why, Daddy, are you sick? Mother sent me to find out what is the matter with you, and also sent you some breakfast as she said she was sure you must be ill or you would have come up to the house this morning,” Fannie kindly inquired, as she gave him the breakfast she had brought him.
“Yas, Baby, honey, I is sick, an’ mighty sick, too. I never went to the house ’cause I wasn’t able ter git there, an’ I doan’ wan’ no brekfus, needer, honey, but I’ll jes’ drink my coffee,” and the old man raised him self up painfully and took the coffee, while Fannie set the untouched breakfast in the cupboard in the corner of the room.
“Daddy, I hope you can eat after a while. Mother sent you some nice broiled chicken and buttered biscuits, and you like that kind of eating, don’t you?”
“I doan’ know, chile. I feels lak I’ll never wan’ much more vittels in disher werisome wull, but I’m sho’ ’bleeged ter you chillun fur bringin’ me my coffee,” he replied, as he drank the cup of coffee with feverish avidity.
“Silvy sho’ meks good coffee; ’pears lak it teks me back ter the time wen we uster git gennywine coffee fum the Yanks. I means wen we wuz in the army, chillen. I sho’ is sick, Baby,” and he handed the cup to Fannie, and then laid down again, “an’ I wanster see the oder chillen an’ marster an’ mistiss once mo’, an’ Silvy, too; ’pears lak she been good ter the ole man, too. The wah is mos’ ober wid me, an’ I is gwine ter do lak my so’jer boy done afor me; I’se jes’ gwine ter drap out an’ go ter answer the rollcall up yawnder, honey,” and a happy light came into the eyes of the old man as his simple faith caught a gleam from the shining portals now left ajar for him.
Fannie and Evelyn were much impressed by the old fellow’s tones and manner as he bade them goodbye for the last time.
“Oh, Daddy! you must not talk of going away; we can’t get along without you. I will go for father and Laurie, they can make you well; they always do, you know. Come, Evelyn, we will go and tell them right away.”
“Goodbye, Daddy, do get well quick,” and Fannie held out her hand to him, while her eyes were brimming with tears.
“Goodbye, Baby, an’ Gawd bless you evermo’,” he uttered fervently; and the girls went out in the bright sunshine.
“Does he not look dreadfully ill? I fear he is very bad, though he does not complain of any pain,” Evelyn said as they walked away.
“Yes, I think he is very ill, Evelyn. Oh, how sad it must be to have to be shut up in a sick room. How delightful it is to be well and strong,” and Fannie threw back her shoulders and took in a deep inspiration of the fresh morning air.
“You seem to exemplify the theory that living is happiness. It is certainly a pleasure just to see your enjoyment of life,” responded her friend, looking with admiration into the beaming face that but a few moments before had been clouded with genuine grief, for the long lashes were still wet with tears.
“You constantly make me think of Scott’s oft-quoted lines:
“‘As variable as the shade,
By the light quivering aspen made.’”
“Evelyn, do you think I am too frivolous or show too much levity of character?” and Fannie’s soft voice grew more musical and deeply serious as she looked squarely into the eyes of her companion.
“No, indeed! I really think that you are the sweetest and the best friend I have on earth,” Evelyn replied, as she put an arm around Fannie.
“Fannie, if anyone had told me before I left New England that in two months I should love a Southern girl as I love you, I would have exclaimed, ‘impossible,’” and Evelyn looked earnestly into the blue eyes.
“It makes me very happy to hear you say that, Evelyn. I think I could not bear you to think other wise, for I love you very dearly, my best friend,” responded Fannie, warmly.
They had now arrived at the back gate, where they were treated to a noisy greeting from Laurie’s hounds, of which there were four at The Magnolias.
“These are the dogs that the Doctor warned me against allowing Hynda to come in contact with, I guess,” remarked Evelyn.
“Yes, these are his dogs, and he is quite fond of them, and tells the girls that his theory is, love me, love my dogs,’” Fannie said, laughing at Evelyn’s evident desire to escape their affectionate licking of her hands.
“I think it would take a big heart to love all these great, ugly dogs,” replied Evelyn. “Do you ever go hunting with your brother, Fannie?” she added.
“Yes, sometimes; but I have never killed a deer yet, though I came very near doing so once upon a time. If you would like to go, I will ask Laurie to arrange for us to accompany him on the very next drive they make, and perhaps we will have the pleasure of seeing him kill one. Would you like to shoot a deer yourself, Evelyn?” Fannie asked, with a twinkle of mischief in her eyes.
“I do not think I could shoot one of the beautiful, timid creatures, but I should like to see them run. I devoutly hope, however, that I shall not be in at the death,” Evelyn responded, fervently.
“Well, we will go then. I will ask Laurie to take us to his stand, and we will be almost sure to see a deer run, if we do not kill one.”
Evelyn flushed a little, as it occurred to her that it might not be agreeable to Doctor Montgomery to be bothered with girls on his hunting expeditions; and thinking thus, she said:
“Nevermind, Fannie, I do not wish to tax your brother’s obligingness too heavily, so do not mention it, please, dearie.”
“You need not trouble yourself, Miss Modesty, on that point. I shall be very sure that it is perfectly agreeable to the Doctor, before I prefer my request to be allowed to go with him, I promise you. Will that satisfy you?” and having reached the kitchen door, she handed the waiter to Mauma Silvy.
“Mauma, did you know that poor old Daddy Mack is real bad sick?”
“No, chile, I diden’ know ez de ole fellah wuz sick. I tole Mistiss dis mornin’ when he wuzen’ heah fur his brekfus’ ez he mus’ be sick, ’cause de ole man wuz sholy ructious ’bout gitten’ his vittuls on time. I wuz feared dis mornin’ ez he had de rheumatiz wut he caught up in Yirginny wen he wuz afollin’ ’roun’ wid my po’ boy in de wah times. I knows he’s got nutten’ wrong wid his vittuls, ’cause I’se cooked fur him all de time. He am’ had no inimy ter trick ’im ez I knows on, honey/’ and Mauma Silvy went to her table muttering something about a snake head being pounded up and put into people’s food to trick them; while Fannie and Evelyn held a hurried consultation in the yard, as to whether they should go in the kitchen and pop some corn, or return to Marion and the sewing. Fannie cast the deciding vote in favor of the cornpopping, and then ran into the house to tell her mother of Daddy’s illness.
Evelyn went into the large, clean kitchen where Mauma Silvy held sway. The old woman was bustling around as usual, busy getting on her dinner. Her dress of cotton stripes was protected by a big checked apron, while her gay bandana, most properly tied, made a bright bit of coloring on the domestic canvas.
Fannie returned in a few moments and told them that father and mother had gone to see after Daddy Mack.
“Now we will pop the corn, Evelyn. I told Mai we would be back directly to help her sew and talk; especially the latter,” and Fannie chattered away as they shelled the corn.
“Evelyn, did you ever hear Mauma tell how poor Frank was conjured to death?”
“No, I never heard it. Ask her to tell it, please, Fannie/’
Fannie turned to the old cook and asked in her most coaxing tone, for she knew her aversion to talking too much to strangers.
“Mauma, won’t you please tell Evelyn and me how old Bill and Jake tricked Frank, long time ago. This young lady says she never knew anyone who was conjured to death, as you say Frank was,” and Fannie paused a moment, then added: “She says that she will not believe that anybody has such power over others, and I just want you to tell her about it all. She says that God will not give them the power to conjure people.”
“No, honey, de Lawd doan’ gib em de power, ’cause dey doan’ git it fum de Lawd, dey gits it fum de debul. De Lawd doan’ hab nutten ter do wid sich bizness ez dat is.”
“Sam an’ Jake diden’ keep no cump’ny wid de Lawd nor his people, I kin tell you, chillun. But dey sholy tricked my po’ boy, an dis wuz how it cum ’bout. Dey tuk a grudge ’gin Frank ’bout Dixie. Dixie wuz a likely gull, a putty yaller gull ez ever you seed; you ’members her, I know, Baby, an’ Frank, he wanted her hisself, an’ she wuz dey niece, you know, ma’am,” said Mauma, turning to Evelyn, “an’ dey wuzn’t willin’ fur ’im ter hab ’er, yit dey could’en fin’ no fault wid him, ’cepen ’cause he wuz too black, dey ’lowed,” here the old woman’s voice assumed a tone of deepest scorn.
“Well, it jes’ rocked on, an’ Frank, po’ boy, woulden’ give up Dixie, ’cause he sot sich sto’ by her, but I begin ter notus dat he look weak an’ begin ter cough all night, an’ soon he wuz havin’ night sweats. I went ter Mars-ter an’ tole ’im ter look atter Frank ef he diden’ wan’ter lose a likely han’ offen de place ez ever toted a hoe er follered a plow, an’ he says:
“’I’ll fix ’im sum med’cin’, Silvy, right away, But Lawd, Lawd, nutten in de way uv med’cin’ could hoi’ back de debul fum his wuk on my po’ chile. He jes’ got down ter his lowly bed, an’ he nuver riz up no mo’.
“One day he says: ’Mammy, come heah an’ jes’ lissen ter my breas’ an’ you kin heah a snake twistin’ an’ turnin’ jes ez plain ez daylight;’ an’ chillen,” said old Mauma, in a plaintive tone, “I heahed it jes’ ez plain ez you kin heah de win’ ablowin’ in de tree tops ober de dairy. An’ sometimes he’d call me ter lissen ter de groun’ puppies er barkin’ an’ growlin’ in his breas’. I sho’ could heah ’em clean cross de room — true, honey, true ez gospil, an’ jues’ ’fo’ he died he sez ter Arwildly — dat’s his sister, ma’am, whut wuz stannin’ by:
“’Arwildy, doan’ you see dat white cloud wat’s cumin’ ter tek me home? An’ deres er angul wat meks it plain ter me ez it wuz Bill an’ ole Jake wut tricked me an’ put me in disher fix. I fought so all de time, an’ now de angul has showed it ter me so plain.’ But Arwildy said she coulden’ see nutten, but she made de repearunce ter him ez she could, jes’ fur ter please him; ’cause she hated ter disappoint de po’ fellah. An’ now, Miss Eberlyn, how kin I he’p ’bleevin’ in de wuds ov de dyin’? De Lawd ’veafed ter him jes’ what wuz de matter wid him afo’ he lef dis wull,” and after this expression of her implicit faith in the words of the dying, she bustled out to the dairy. When she returned Evelyn asked:
“Didn’t your master attend Frank in his last illness, and did he hear those strange noises, too, Mauma Silvy?”
“Yes, ma’am, de boss beared ’em, but he jes’ sez: ’Silvy, dat’s de cave’ns in Frank’s lungs w’ere de win’ plays wen it goes in an’ out;’ but, law, chile, I ain’t got no white head on my shoulders, an’ I ’bleeves wat I ’bleeves, an’ I can’t he’p it ter save my life fum de grave.”
The girls now took their dish of snowy popcorn and went into the house to eat and discuss the strange belief of the negroes in witch doctors and necromancy in general.
Evelyn was filled with amazement at the superstition of the woman who had spent her whole life with people of culture and refinement — a woman who Fannie had told her could read very well. She had been taught by the mistress, who had made every effort to eradicate from her mind the superstitions that have such an enduring hold upon the African peoples.
When Laurie came in sometime later, Fannie and Marion both left the room to attend to some domestic duties, leaving to him the task of entertaining their fair guest — a task he was more than willing to undertake, and the conversation turned naturally on her experience of the morning.
She told him of her surprise at finding so much superstition among a people of whose intelligence she had read such overrated descriptions.
“You will be more distressed than you are at present when you have witnessed the holy dance at Green Grove Church, which you and Fannie are planning to do. I would try to dissuade you from going, but think, perhaps, the sooner your eyes are opened to the real condition of the negro socially, morally and religiously, the better you will understand the position the people among whom you live should occupy toward them. But I warn you, now, do not let the pendulum swing too far in reaction, as it is so apt to do, and begin to think the black race unworthy of our prayers and our assistance,” said the young Doctor, in a tone so serious that Evelyn was very much impressed.
Fannie now came running in quite gaily with the announcement:
“Monk says that Uncle July sent a message by him for us to be ready for the holy dance next Sunday night. Laurie, you will go with us, won’t you?” she pleaded.
“I shall certainly not consent for you to go unless I can accompany you, and hope there will nothing arise to prevent my going, but as man can only propose and not dispose, I may not be able to go with you at that time, so prepare for a disappointment, Fairy, in case I cannot go.” Then he turned to Evelyn and watched the sweet face that would blush so beautifully under his direct gaze.
“Well, Evelyn, hold yourself in readiness for that great occasion. I am so anxious to hear your opinion of it all,” Fannie exclaimed, gleefully, as she waltzed about the room.
“I shall be ready, Fannie, though I assure you I shall not weep if I am not allowed to go,” she replied, as she looked with an amused expression into the eyes fixed inquiringly upon her.
“Did I speak too dictatorially?” asked Laurie, quickly.
“Oh, no, not at all; no more than you had a right to speak/’ she responded, smiling.
“Laurie, did you go to see Daddy Mack this morning?” Fannie inquired.
“Yes, and found him very ill, indeed. I doubt if he survives the night, poor old fellow. It makes me feel very sad to think of his leaving us. He is one of my earliest recollections in life, and has seemed as one of the fixtures that must remain unchanged,” and a shade of sadness came into the fine eyes, that made them more attractive than ever, Evelyn thought.
“I shall not go there again, then, for I don’t think I could bear to see anybody die; could you, Evelyn?”
Laurie watched her to see the effect of Fannie’s rather abrupt question. The soft eyes grew moist, as she answered gently:
“I have witnessed several deaths; it depends, I think, on the way one meets death, whether or not we should dread to witness it. We can scarcely hope to pass a life time without being called upon to stand by the bedside of the dying at some time or other. I once stood by the deathbed of a schoolmate, who seemed so happily filled with the glory of the life on which she was enter ing, that we were thrilled with a new idea of the transition of the soul. Since then I have not dreaded death for myself, as I did before,” she answered, as a light shone in her eyes her friends had never seen there be fore.
Fannie never forgot the expression she read in Laurie’s eyes as they were fixed for a moment on Evelyn’s face.
The next morning the soul of Daddy Mack passed into the hands of its Creator. His master, mistress and Laurie watched beside his bed all night, and just as the day was breaking his emancipated spirit left its rude structure to enter into its reward for service well done, and there was an empty cabin and many sad hearts on the Montgomery plantation.
Fannie rode over in the afternoon to The Kefuge, to invite the Melton family to the funeral.
“There is to be a grand torchlight procession from the cabin to the graveyard, where I took you walking once, Evelyn, you remember. It will be very impressive. I have attended a great many of them. The negroes love a funeral as well as we white people like to attend a wedding,” and Fannie thought she was speaking advisedly.
Mrs. Melton promised her they would attend the funeral, and also that she and Mr. Melton would join the party in the visit to Green Grove Church the next Sunday night.
“I think you will be very much interested in the solemn funeral services of the black people. They do a great deal of loud wailing and mournful singing; then the flashing lights, through the dark woods, altogether makes one think of a description in a fairy tale.”
“Yes, I know it will be very interesting to us,” said Evelyn.
“At what time shall we come to the rendezvous, Fannie? I refer to the meeting for next Sunday evening,” inquired Evelyn.
“About seven-thirty. The negroes never begin early, and we do not wish to wait,” replied Fannie.
“We will be there on time and will come to the funeral tonight. Be sure and let me know if Doctor Montgomery cannot go with us, so that we will not take the trip uselessly” Evelyn begged, as Fannie got on her pony and rode away.
“Oh, of course, dear girl, bye bye,” and she waved her hand in farewell and whistled to Gypsy, who let out his speed and they were soon at The Magnolias.
THE HOLY DANCE.
AS soon as the war was over, the colored people, with out exception, withdrew from the fellowship of the whites, where they had always worshipped and communed. They now built churches of their own, or dained ministers, and mingled religion and politics to an alarming extent.
Brierwood, though so remote from the towns, was not a whit behind the negroes of the more thickly settled districts.
Every negro church had its “Union League,” and every colored person belonged to it. At these league meetings, usually carried on under the guise of religion, the excitable negroes were harangued by carpet-baggers, those low adventurers who had been sent South by the Government to see that the negro was allowed full exercise of his right in the ballot — which right was first of all to elect the carpet-bagger to a position of trust, where he swindled and stole from the oppressed and improverished people, to his heart’s content.
In this he was joined by those equally hated renegades, the Southern scalawag. They always had a following of the most malicious and dangerous negroes of the community, who could be persuaded by their leaders into any adventure that promised them power over their former owners.
The carpet-bagger grew eloquent on the duty the negro owed to him, who had risked his life to free him from his awful slavery. It is quite safe to say, that not many of that ilk ever got in reach of the firing line; but the ignorant negro did not know this and be lieved all he was told concerning their liberators from the North. Alas for his trust in such friends! He learned to his cost, their unworthiness, in the years that followed, when his implicit faith in their promise of “forty acres and a mule” turned into Dead Sea fruit, and his hopes became a glittering mirage of the desert. But he knew no better then, and it led him into very grave errors, paid for, in many instances, with his life or heavy corporeal punishment.
When the white people of Louisiana drove out the carpet-bag government, and the negroes’ hopes of domination in that State passed away as dreams of the night, they found some compensation in their religious meetings where they still held undisputed control of every thing.
Here they gradually introduced relics of voodooism, unearthed from somewhere in the dim past; brought probably from the jungles of Africa, whence their forefathers had been sold into slavery. These barbaric ceremonies they mingled with their worship at Green-grove Church.
The holy dance being one of their favorite ceremonies, was always observed once a month, on Sunday evening.
The years of excitement through which these people had passed, intoxicated with their newly acquired freedom, had rendered them unfit for the quiet form of worship to which they had been accustomed under the old regime.
It is a sad commentary on the aptitude of the inferior races to relapse into barbarism, and demonstrates beyond a doubt, the necessity for Anglo-Saxon guidance and control of them in religion as in state government.
To anyone who has known the negro from his youth up, these assertions will sound like a truism, but there are those who, knowing him only at a distance, may be inclined to sneer at such sentiments. To them I would say these ideas are advanced by one who is in deepest sympathy with this ignorant and superstitious race. Deriving as I did, in my helpless infancy, my sustenance from the white milk that flowed from my black mammy’s breast; lulled to sleep each night by the songs that made sweetest melody to my infant ears; cradled in her love for many years — can I ever forget her race, or fail to aid them all I may?
Sunday evening, at the appointed time, Laurie and his sisters met the Melton’s at the rendezvous, which was a few hundred yards distant from the negro church.
Just as they came up the strains of an old familiar hymn rose on the still, evening air:
“How firm a foundation, ye saints ob de Lawd.”
“Doesn’t that sound fine?” Evelyn half whispered.
“Yes,” replied Laurie, as he found a place by her side, “most negroes have strong, melodious voices, and considerable ear for music.”
He, with Evelyn, now took the lead, followed by the others. They walked up to the church, a low, plank building that Doctor Montgomery had assisted the negroes in building on a corner of his plantation.
The black people in attendance had heard that Doctor Laurie was to bring the Yankees over to the church that night, so there was an air of expectancy among them on this particular evening.
When they reached the steps, the congregation were engaged in prayer. The voice was that of Uncle July and his usual importunate plea was ascending to a throne of grace for “de po’ freed man who put sich big trus’ in de Lawd ob our faders.”
“That,” whispered Laurie, “is one of Uncle July’s pet phrases.”
When the prayer was closed they entered the church. There was a hush over the audience as they walked in. Monk, who was one of the ushers, agreeable to the orders he had received before he left home, seated them near the entrance. One of the deacons now arose and coming to Laurie inquired “ef de ladies and de gemmens wouldn’t prefer seats nearer de pulpit?”
“No, thank you, Jim” the young Doctor replied, “you know that I may be called out at anytime, and I wish to sit where I will not disturb the audience incase I have to leave.”
“That’s true, suh, true ez gospil; it does look ez ef they allus picks out the time ter git sick when you comes ter washup wid us. I think, suh, the deble has a ban’ in it,” answered James Monroe, with great satisfaction in his tone.
The singing was now continued in a “catch,” the execution being really very fine, as without the slightest hesitation each part was carried from lip to lip, in strains of gladsome exultation,
“Rocky my soul in the bosom ob Abraham,
Rocky my soul in the bosom of Abraham,
Oh! rocky my soul. Oh! rocky my soul.”
This chorus was repeated several times after each stanza of the catching song.
After the song, the deacon before mentioned, called on Doctor Laurence Montgomery to lead them in prayer ; he responded in a brief but fervent petition. After the prayer Uncle July arose and announced with quite an air of authority:
“Brudder Ananias Bradley will now rise ter de ’casion an’ esplain ter dis congergation de meanin’ an’ export ob de holy dance ez practussed by Gawd’s people in de ancien’ times afore de flood drownded all de habitations on de face ob de yearth.”
The reverend gentleman, a very thickset, black negro, with pronounced African features, yet withal a pleasant faced, harmless looking man, now occupied the pulpit.
He opened the Bible and read, with some difficulty, the sixth chapter of second Samuel, from which he took his text, “And David danced before the Lord with all his might.” From this text he proceeded to show how acceptable to God was this holy dance of the king of Israel, and very earnestly did he strive to prove that the rite of the holy dance was in consonance with the teaching of the Scriptures. To the colored portion of his audience he proved beyond a peradventure that the institution was a holy ordinance of the Lord God of Israel. They were now, therefore, prepared to enter into the observance of that ritual with heart and soul, and all their physical powers.
Brudder Ananias now gave out the hymn of the occasion, calling out in a loud, clear tone:
“Everybody what wishes ter tek part in King David’s holy dance befo’ de Lord, I means all members of chu’ches of the same faith an’ order, will now come for ward an’ jine the ban’ while the sinners will tek a back seat nex’ ter the wall.”
There was some scrambling among the sinners as they retired to the wall, but the saints observed the utmost decorum, as with solemn faces they lined up in the central aisle. As soon as the magic circle was complete the singing leader began in a clear, strong voice:
The strain was recitative, in perfect march time, as they began to move slowly around the central aisle.
As they began to dance, or march it should more properly be called, Monk went around the church and put out all the lights except one dimly flickering candle in a distant corner of the church. The singing continued to grow slower and more monotone until it subsided into a rhythmic droning that was accentuated with every third footfall and made a unison of strange unearthly sounds. The dim, funereal light, the steady tramp, tramp, tramp of multitudinous feet, the weird sepulchral moaning of many voices in the solemn measure of the march, filled Evelyn with a sense of awe. She clasped her hands tightly together — a trick of hers when strongly excited. She was of a nervous, highly wrought organism, and it was at high tension when a woman among the dancers passing just in front of them, lifted her arms aloft, and, uttering a fearful scream, fell rigid and apparently lifeless, full length on the floor.
Evelyn was frightened and looked quickly up at the Doctor, expecting him to go at once to the assistance of the woman, but his face was calm, almost smiling. He knew that ’Kier Jane did not need medical aid, so left events to take their usual course.
Uncle July on hearing the disturbance came around and waving his hand toward the door, ordered in a peremptory manner: “B’ar ’Eier Jane out, b’ar ’er out,” which order was promptly obeyed as six strong arms raised the woman and bore her out to the cooler air where her overstrained nerves might recuperate.
The dancers were not the least bit affected by the “b’arrin out” of ’Rier Jane, but kept up the march until three other members fell prostrate simultaneously and “Sister Hester” kept up such vigorous shouting, refusing to be “hilt” as she announced in loud tones, “I don’t wan’ Brudder Jemes ter hoi’ me, an’ I don’t wan’ Brudder Aleck ter hoi’ me, but I wants Brudder Ben ter hoi’ me now.” And as several members of the “ban,” were required to hold the “sperrit stricken” ones, the leader struck up the lively measure:
which was joined in by all present but the exhausted shouters.
Laurie decided that it was a very opportune moment for them to leave unnoticed, and whispering to the others his intention, they quietly left the church. Hearing the voices of some of the bearing out party at one side of the church, Laurie took Evelyn around to where a torch was burning brightly. There they found ’Eier Jane quite restored to her former smiling condition.
“Well, ’Rier Jane, how do you feel by this time?’’ Laurie asked pleasantly.
“I jes’ feels all right, sah; ’peared lak de Sperritt jes’ tuk holt er me an’ I couldn’t move ban’ nur foot. I wuz de same ez dead, ’peared lak; but I sho’ wuz happy, sah. De win’ fum hebben blowed plum fru my soul, an’ I couldenter been no happier ef I’d been stan-nin’ on de walls uv de New Jerus’lem. Soon ez de night win’ struck me I got up spry ez er lizard an’ ez supple as er kitten, after dat/’ answered Maria Jane cheerily.
“You had this young lady quite frightened. She thought you were dead sure enough, and even I thought you had gone so far that you would need some medication before you were restored to your senses,” Laurie said.
“Oh, no, sah, de Sperrit ministers hits own physic,” said Maria Jane, looking sideways at the young lady from Yankeedom as if she were a curiosity. She evidently expected Evelyn to bear some marks that would distinguish her from Southern women. She saw only a delicate, lovely face, whiter than usual and with a look of trouble on it that was quite foreign to it.
“Well, I b’leeves I’ll go an’ jine de ban’ ag’in,” and so saying the Amazonian looking negress turned to go into the church, whence still proceeded the loud and spirited singing.
Laurie and Evelyn now joined the remainder of the party who were waiting at the steps for them. They walked silently down to the big road that passed in front of the church. When they got out of hearing of the negroes, Mr. Melton remarked to his companions:
“Well, I never in my life saw anything to equal this. It is the strangest sight I ever saw, and I can’t think how they ever got up such a thing.”
“Why, didn’t Brudder Ananias explain it so plainly that ‘he who runs may read’?” said Laurie, jestingly. Then he added, seriously:
“They could not tell you themselves; they do not mean anything by it, only something to make a demonstration of their strong emotions, that must have some outlet. It is, I suppose, one of the relics of their ancient barbarism they have brought to light and mingled with their worship. They are the most emotional race under heaven, and that mixed with their superstitious ignorance, leads them into many singular incongruities in their religion.”
They had now come to the parting of the ways, and if the warm pressure that Laurie gave the trembling hand of his companion, was lingeringly tender, it was because he felt a deeper sense of the power she was be ginning to exercise over his strong, manly nature.
Evelyn had not joined in the conversation during the short walk to the big road. She was thinking deeply of the exciting experience through which she had passed — more exciting than anything she had ever witnessed before in her life.
That her lot had been cast among a people of such highly wrought superstition and moral degradation as these, gave her a feeling of responsibility she could not at first define. By degrees the thought took shape in her mind. She felt that she must do something to arrest their downward progress into actual heathenism. Perhaps it was for this very purpose God had ordered her life among these poor deluded creatures; and from this night there began a conflict in her soul that had been so peaceful and happy hitherto. As they walked on home she maintained a rigid silence, which was unbroken by any one of the party for some time. At length Mr. Melton said, slowly:
“If I were as rich as some of your Northern friends, Evie, I would establish a school here for these niggers that would teach them some sense; at least, I would give them the benefit of the experiment” he said, and then, as if dismissing a subject that it was useless to follow further, he added, “I suppose, though, it will all come right in time, the schools and the training for them.”
Evelyn sighed, but said nothing. She was thinking, but the most profound thought brought no solution of the problem to her troubled brain and heart. At last she resolved she would tell Doctor Montgomery (the junior member of the firm she had in mind). She had so often heard him express himself as being distressed at the condition of the negroes, and to whom he was always kind and just. He knew how to manage them; to make them love as well as obey and respect him. To him, in thought and purpose, she turned for advice, and the resolve gave her comfort.
What a source of pleasure it is to poor, weak humanity to divide even a fancied responsibility with a friend in whom they trust.
Evelyn was not the weak girl one might fancy she was. To look at the gentle, dovelike eyes, and the ever changing flush that came so quickly to the delicate face, you might conclude that she was not strong of character, even among the weaker sex. She dismissed nothing lightly, and the constantly recurring thought that haunted her was the idea that perhaps she was called by an Allwise Providence to devote her life to the work of evangelizing the poor, ignorant negroes among whom her lot was now cast. These troublous thoughts helped to rob her cheek of its bloom, and her step of its girlish elasticity, in the months that followed. She put it off for a time, but it would return, and in stronger force each time. After the Green-grove meeting and Daddy Mack’s funeral, she was never happy, though she performed her duties, both social and domestic, as faithfully as ever.
Meanwhile, the promise of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss to aid her in securing the neighborhood school was not forgotten. Mr. Melton had been given the promise of almost every one of the patrons to give to Evelyn the school for the white children in the months of June, July and August; those months being chosen because the poorer boys in the settlement worked on the farms, and could not be spared from their work at any other season of the year. But in addition, there had been an effort, partly successful, to make up a subscription school to begin the first of March. Evelyn felt deeply the kindness of the big-hearted people in thus giving this school to a stranger, when it had been eagerly sought for by many of their own people. But the position of teacher for the black children of the ward was given to a most incompetent negro, who knew little more than his dusky pupils, and who seemed to lay greater stress on unmerciful thrashings, with roasted chinquapin switches, than in the quality of the instruc tion he administered to the poor pickaninnies entrusted to his care.
It would be an easy matter to turn over the white school to another equally willing to do the work, and it would be an equally easy matter to get the position of teacher of the school for the black children, where efficiency meant so much. But could she make the sacrifice of all she held dear? It meant complete ostracism for her, from all the friends she had been so successful in winning for herself in the community.
A FEW days after the visit to Greengrove Church, Fannie rode over to see Evelyn and carry some plants for her flower garden. She took great interest in the cultivation of the little enclosure, and often lent valua ble assistance in planning and planting, as well as in furnishing shrubs from the old-fashioned garden at The Magnolias.
She found her friend busy at work. The face under the broadbrimmed hat was flushed with the unwonted exertion and was looking very lovely, Fannie thought.
“How is our garden progressing?” she asked gaily, as she jumped from her pony and throwing down the reins, left him to graze on the lawn.
“Oh, finely, I think. I planted all the magnolias Monk brought me and also the roses and gardenias you were so kind as to send. Monk dug the holes and I set in the shrubs, and I believe they will live nicely, for we watered them as we set them out,” Evelyn replied as she met her friend in the walk.
“Evelyn, I have come over as hearer of an invitation from the combined Montgomery family to your father, mother and dear little self, to dine with us on Christ mas day. We have planned to have you remain for the night, if you will consent to do so, as we are to have all the young people of the neighborhood to a little entertainment in the evening. I think we will have a gay time; and Evelyn, I shall have the exquisite pleasure of presenting to you some more of my admirers. I do hope you will open a heavy crossfire from the battery of those dovelike eyes, and slaughter some of them. It will be quite a favor, I do assure you. Now say, will you come? Don’t say no, please,” and Fannie paused after her rush of words long enough to get breath.
“I will say yes, and will be much pleased to accept your kind invitation. I am sure it will be equally agreeable to father and mother,” replied Evelyn quietly, as she and Fannie went in search of Mrs. Melton. They found her busy in the kitchen and Fannie proceeded immediately to tell the errand that had brought her to The Refuge. Mrs. Melton, after thanking Fannie, referred the matter to her daughter.
“Oh, then,” said Fannie, “I shall consider the matter settled, as Evelyn’s acceptance is conditional on yours and Mr. Melton’s, so we shall expect you on Christmas day.”
When they returned to the porch they found Mr. Melton and old Mr. Green, a farmer who lived several miles away, busily discussing matters in general. The former introduced his wife and daughter with whom the farmer shook hands cordially, then turning to Fannie he remarked pleasantly:
“I know this gyurl and have knowed her ever sence she was knee-high to a duck. You gyurls is quite thick, hain’t you? Better not git too thick, you mought fall out an’ then the fat ud be in the fire.”
Fannie assured him there was not any danger of a rupture between herself and Evelyn. The old man then turned to Mrs. Melton with the inquiry:
“Has Mis’ Vincent an’ her daughters ben over to see you yit? Me an’ maw wuz jest a-wonderin’ yistiddy if they’d ever ben to see you,” and the question having been answered in the affirmative, the old man went on talking:
“I wuz jest a-thinking ez I rode along over here, Mr. Melton, as there’s a good, useful family spiled by the’ bein’ no man on the place. Yes, suh — jest spiled by selfishness, kase the’s no man on the place ter boss ’em. I tell you, Mr. Melton, the wimming is got ter be bossed or they’ll git that selfish a man can’t stay on the place with ’em. I don’t know of no better way ter take the contrairiness an’ selfishness outen a woman than ter give her a man ter boss her. When a lot er wimming live by theyselves for two or three years they jest gits ter thinking they kin boss their neighbors an’ that don’t suit me not a little bit, Mr. Melton.”
They all laughed heartily at the seriousness of the old man who seemed really to believe that his feminine neighbors did try to boss him and who had been so deeply interested in his subject as to give them no time for a reply to his question as to how they were pleased with the Vincents.
Mrs. Melton now replied:
“We were very much pleased with them, Mr. Green,” to which he answered:
“Oh, yes, yes, you’ll like ’em. I tell maw they hain’t ter blame. They’s natchully good wimming, they jest hain’t ben bossed in so long they can’t he’p it — they can’t; hit’s jest the natur’ of the wimming, Mrs. Melton,” and the keen, blue eyes beamed with satisfaction at his clear cut definition of the relative position of the sexes.
Fannie now rose to go and Evelyn accompanied her to the gate, while Mr. Green continued his conversation by asking his host:
“An’ how does you folks like our preacher, an’ does you think he’s soun’ on doctrine, Mr. Melton?”
“Well, he did not preach on doctrine the day I heard him, only a sermon on the beautiful subject of love to God and man, and I was much pleased with him,” answered Mr. Melton.
“Well, well, he does fine sometimes, jest fine. One day las’ summer, fur instance, I wuz feelin’ sorter po’ly, an’ wuz lazyin’ roun’ mos’ of the day an’ I got er holt of a little book some er the chillun had lef there an’ I commence er readin’ hit. ’Twas ’bout Samson — Strong man Samson, you knaw, an’ I couldn’t under stand hit all, yit strange enough nex’ day, bein’ conference at our church the preacher tuk that very same thing fur his text an’ he made hit jest ez plain; all ’bout Samson a-slewin’ the Philistines with the jaw bone of a horse, an’ all ’bout the res’er the things in the book. I jest thought hit wuz the fines’ sermont I mos’ ever beared. I wishes you could er beared hit. Oh, you’ll like him an’ no doubt, an’ you’ll like his lady, too, Mrs. Melton.
“Married wimming ginerally takes ter one another, an’ the widders they takes after the men,” and the old man laughed so heartily, and his eyes twinkled so merrily at his own joke that his hearers had to laugh from sheer sympathy in his mirth. He now took his leave, promising to bring “maw” with him the next time he came.
Fannie had bidden adieu to her friend and ridden away full of happiness in thinking of the near approach of Christmas, with all its pleasant gatherings and simple country merrymaking.
The weather was extremely pleasant, and even up to Christmas day there was no need of a fire after the early morning. The garden was full of roses and chrysanthe mums unhurt by the few early frosts that had fallen. The young Doctor was not at home Christmas morning when the Meltons arrived, and no one knew just where he was.
Fannie took Evelyn into the dining room, and there they found Marion putting the finishing touches to the table now radiant with tea roses and pink and white chrysanthemums, interspersed here and there with sprays of arbor vita and shining mock orange leaves.
“Have you been to the kitchen yet, girls?” asked Marion. “I head Mauma say that she intended to ’catch Miss Ebelyn’s Christmas gif,’ so I thought, per haps, you had given her that exquisite pleasure already.”
“No, we came in search of you. I can’t find out where Laurie is. I asked Jim, and he remarked mysteriously, ’he’s tennen ter some er his own business, I reckin, ma’am,’ and Monk is not to be found, either, so I suppose I will just have to bide my time until Laurie chooses to return. If Monk were here to saddle the horses for us, Evelyn and I would ride away and stay all day,” said Fannie, for once really vexed with Laurie.
“Humph! You needn’t be angry, Baby, with the rest of us because you are vexed with Laurie,” said Marion, “and I dare say he has a good excuse for his absence. I am sure he would not willingly miss being here to see Evelyn.” Then she added, “Let us go to the parlor and practise those anthems we are going to sing this evening. We will get along badly, though, without Laurie’s voice in some of them. But we can press papa into service” said Marion as, taking Evelyn’s hand, she led the way to the parlor, now decorated with holly and bright flowers. They showed Evelyn where was hung a large branch of mistletoe. Fannie said she didn’t guess anybody would be kissed under it, though.
“Evelyn, what do you think of mine and Mai’s decorative ability?” asked Fannie. She was beginning to recover from her pique already.
“I think of it as I do of all the work of your deft fingers, Fairy; and I know that Marion’s taste is equally good,” answered Evelyn, glad to see the sunshine back in Fannie’s face, all the brighter now for its momentary obscuration by the flitting clouds.
“I am going to call father in to help us sing,” said Fannie, as she left the room.
She could not find him in the house, but seeing him and Mr. Melton in the orchard looking at some fruit trees, she set out to go to them. While searching for them she caught a glimpse of Laurie at the back gate, and went bounding like a fawn to see him. When she reached the gate, she found Monk busily grooming a little black pony she had never seen before.
“Hello! Fancy, you are just the one I wanted to see, and you are just in time,” said her brother, as he saw her eyes opening wide with astonishment.
“Oh, Laurie! Whose beautiful little pony is that?” she exclaimed.
“Do you think it is pretty?” he asked, well pleased with her admiration.
“It is just a fairy pony. Who is it for?” she questioned again.
“Guess,” said he, with a look of mischief in the grey eyes, though his face wore an unwonted flush.
“Is it for Evelyn, Laurie?” she asked, in a low tone, while the color deepened on his face as he replied:
“Yes, it is for Evelyn,” and the voice lingered tenderly on the soft name. “Do you think she will accept it as a Christmas gift from your brother?” he asked.
“I do hope she will, and I think she will. Let me go and bring her out here; I’ll have Monk to saddle Gyp for me and we will all take a ride, and now it will be delightful, won’t it, Laurie?” And she ran toward the house when Laurie called after her: “Remember, Fannie, I am to ride with your friend.”
“Yes, of course, dear” and running to the house, she appeared in the parlor, trying vainly to look unconcerned, as she bade Evelyn come and get ready for a ride, for Laurie and the horses were waiting for them at the back gate.
“Why, Fannie, what is the matter? You look precisely as if you might have encountered Santa Glaus, or some other wonderful personage while you were out. Here Evelyn and I have been waiting for you to come with father to help us sing, and now you come just like a tornado, and have forgotten the songs,” said Marion, mildly reproachful. She was used to Fannie’s whirling temperament.
“Well, father and Mr. Melton were in the orchard, discussing fruit trees; and I found Laurie out there just in the notion for a ride, so here we are, off for a gallop through the pine forest,” said Fannie, hurrying Evelyn to the back gate, where Laurie was awaiting them.
“Fannie, I never saw you so excited before,” said Evelyn, with considerable curiosity as to what had made her friend all excitement.
They were soon at the gate, where stood the ponies, all ready for mounting, and Laurie standing with gloves on and whip in hand, waiting for them.
As they came up the Doctor shook hands with Evelyn, with a merry Christmas greeting, and, handing her the reins of the little Attakapas pony, said:
“Miss Melton, please accept as a Christmas gift this small token of my respect and esteem. It is not an expensive horse, but one that will, I think, match well with Fannie’s gallant steed in your rides together,” he said, simply, and the manner of presentation was so quiet and brotherly that it made acceptance easy and natural.
“I thank you very much, Doctor Montgomery, for your kind thoughtfulness of me, and accept this lovely little pony in the same spirit of true friendship in which you offer it” she said, as she went up to the little horse and patted him gently on his shoulder.
“Isn’t he lovely, Fannie? I know I shall love him. I guess Hynda’s nose will be out of joint, for a while at least. Isn’t he graceful? I think he must be a Shet land pony; isn’t he, Doctor Montgomery?” she asked, as she completed her survey of the new pony.
“No; he is, in the local vernacular, a Tuckapaw; but, really, he is of the Attakapas breed of Indian ponies,” replied Laurie, as he looked with undisguised admiration into the pleased, smiling face.
He now assisted Fannie on her pony and then, turning to Evelyn, performed the same office for her, while Fannie looked on full of admiration for both steed and rider, declaring that she was unable to decide which was the prettier of the two, the horse or its rider.
“Well, if you do not wish the point decided for you, you must not constitute me judge,” said Laurie, gallantly.
“Evelyn, we have forgotten to ask the pony’s name, haven’t we?” suggested Fannie, who, in her love of horse flesh, could think of nothing but the new horse.
“Eeally, I do not know his name. The Cagen from whom I purchased him, said a good deal about ’un beaucheval,’ and ’petit and ’joli and bestowed a good many such epithets on him which I did not understand, not being well versed in Cagen French pronunciation,” answered Laurie, as they rode away. Fannie took the lead and galloped ahead, leaving Laurie to ride beside Evelyn.
“You are not a bit afraid of him, are you?”
“Oh, no! Not if you think him gentle enough for me; and I know that you would not have given him to me if you did not know he is quite safe for even a poor rider like myself,” and she looked up at him with an expression of confidence that thrilled him with happiness.
Fannie often rode back to see what had become of them, and wondered why anyone could wish to ride so slowly.
That ride was a never forgotten event to Laurie Mont gomery. His manner assumed, unconsciously, a tenderly possessive air, that told in language plainer than words the complete devotion of his heart to Evelyn Melton. He did not yet dare to put into words what he now knew he felt. It was too sweet, this tacit understanding that existed, during and after that ride, that he was her lover, though not yet an accepted one. He would wait a while longer until he was more sure of an affirmative answer to his suit, and thus procrastination added another victim to his long roll of names.
During the ride Laurie taught Evelyn how to put her pony through all his gaits, and he really beat Gyp at some of them.
They reached home in time for the three o’clock dinner, with such appetites as only a canter through the bracing air of the pine woods can give one.
The kind, genial old Doctor knew just how to entertain his guests, and not one among the crowd who met around the abundant board that day laughed oftener or more heartily than did the New Englander.
Evelyn, too, seemed very happy, and laughed merrily at the elder Doctor’s jokes and amusing anecdotes, of which he seemed to possess an inexhaustible fund.
After dinner was over Evelyn invited everyone out to see her pony, and the admiration which he excited satisfied even Laurie.
It was a merry party that met at The Magnolias that evening. They drank eggnog and munched cake; they sang anthems; they promenaded the long galleries, and walked under the rustling magnolias, through whose shining green foliage sifted the silvery moonbeams.
How lovely Evelyn looked in her simple white cassimere, without any adornment save the flowers Laurie had sent her, his admiring eyes told her sufficiently. To her was afforded the first opportunty of seeing Doctor Laurie among other young men, of whom there were about a dozen present; and the contrast between them justified her verdict.
Captain Singleton had not yet arrived, and, of course, Marion was much disappointed, though her guests did not suspect it beneath her smiling exterior, as she strove to make them pass a pleasant evening.
Fannie had half a dozen admirers, who were “old regulars,” as she called them. They were living in the hope that someday she would drop her gay badinage and listen seriously to their oft-repeated declarations of undying affection. A few bright girls, who were a “little fast,” got under the mistletoe by accident and were promptly kissed on the spot.
“How singular it seems that in the short space of two months people can become such friends, and even more than friends. I do not know how we managed to exist before you came. Now you form so large a share in all our social pleasures,” Doctor Laurie remarked to Evelyn, as they promenaded the white sanded walks under the magnolias that Christmas evening. The latter, with a fleecy fascinator wrapped about her pretty Head, looked like a vision of whiteness, as she stood with her companion at a point where the moonlight fell with a flood of brightness over her. From this point they had a full view of the blazing planets that marked the constellation of Orion, as he showed full length in the eastern sky.
“How beautiful those great stars look in your Southern sky” Then, as if suddenly remembering his last remark, she added softly, “I hope it does not mean that you will all tire of me as quickly as I have sprung into popularity.”
He was just about to make reply, when a couple who had been “star gazing” too, came up and precluded the possibility of further remarks of a private nature.
At twelve o’clock the merrymakers dispersed to their several homes, all agreeing that they had had a “splendid time.”
Evelyn remained with the Montgomery girls for the night, for “convenience’ sake,” as Fannie put it, to satisfy any scruples her friend might conjure up as to the propriety of accepting her frequent invitations to spend the night with them.
Pleasantly passed the winter months, and by the middle of February the trees began to show signs of an early Spring.
On the fourteenth of February Mr. Bliss came over, and, during the conversation, mentioned that he was having some corn planted.
“Isn’t it very early to begin corn planting, even in Louisiana, John?” asked Mr. Melton, in surprise.
“Not for old land, like the piece I’m planting. I would not advise you to begin, in fact, I would advise you to wait, by all means, until the first of April,” answered friend Bliss.
“I have been invited to so many log rollings lately that I have not had time to do much work at home. I don’t do much ’rolling,’ but I go to help in the fun and to be sociable.”
“That’s right, Mr. Melton; that’s right. Better, keep on the good side of the log rollers. You will have a great many logs to roll yourself in a year or two,” laughed Mr. Bliss.
“Yes, yes; that is so; but I had not thought of it in that way, John,” said Mr. Melton, with sincerity. Then he added:
“I guess, John, I will have to ask advice of you very often in making my crop.”
“Well, I am sure, sir, I’ll be always willing to do all in my power to help you,” Mr. Bliss answered heartily.
The farmers then parted, Mr. Bliss going home and Mr. Melton to his garden, which had been planted on Southern orthodox lines; shallots in the autumn; English peas in the “old twelve days” while Spring greens, or salad, lettuce, radishes and Irish potatoes were planted on the time honored St. Valentine’s Day. Agriculture so far south was entirely new to Mr. Melton, yet he was succeeding well.
In that section there was no finer garden that year than was his. He had much advice given him on various matters, as advice is generally pretty freely given every where. But he went on in his busy, quiet way, always doing, or planning to do, something to improve the little home that was growing in interest to him every day.
He loved to ride out in the pine woods to look after his cattle; or down to the bayou swamp to feed the little “bunch” of hogs he had put in there. It required only a few ears of corn once a week to keep them gentle.
He and his wife seemed perfectly satisfied with their new home and surroundings; for what it lacked in present comfort, hope held out in prospect for the near future.
The farmer’s industry and good management had already put him in possession of a field of arable land, on which he hoped to make fine crops of peas, corn, cane and sweet potatoes. His small stock of sheep, cattle, hogs and goats were thriving finely. Even as late as January the dry cattle on the range were fat enough to kill, and had not cost their owners a cent in feed; even their salt was furnished them by the natural licks along the bayou.
Evelyn spent a great deal of time in her small flower garden, which had been graced with a picket fence, to keep Hynda from eating all the flowers that her mistress had so carefully planted. The graceful little creature often came into the house and lay down at the feet of her mistress, who had to keep strict watch to prevent her making an exit through the front door into the for bidden Eden of young flowering shrubs.
Fannie had brought cuttings of Teas, Noisettes and a root of the rare Marechal Neil, that she had layered for Evelyn in the fall, while the old Doctor had promised to bud for her a Cloth of Gold from his own pet vine, which he had trained to the pillars of the gallery. In the blooming season this magnificent rose was the ad miration of all beholders, its flowers depending in golden splendor from the white columns.
“Evelyn, I think you will have no mean rival of our flower garden in a few years” said Fannie, as they stood with flushed faces, surveying their morning’s work.
“Indeed, I shall not think of comparing this youthful pot with that grand old garden. It will take at least a quarter of a century to make this anything like that. But I shall be modest in my ambition just now, and try to think only of a profusion of pretty annuals and a few roses. I will leave the evergreens to come with time,” she said, in answer to Fannie’s over-sanguine expression.
“There is one kind of flower I have never seen success fully cultivated in our gardens, and that is the lovely white azalea that grows in our swamps. Don’t you remember? I showed you the bushes when we were down on the branch’ one day not long ago?” Fannie remarked.
“Yes, I remember them; are they the flowers that Doctor Montgomery brought me last week? They were a most lovely pink, but he said they were azaleas,” answered Evelyn.
“Yes; but there are two varieties of them in the swamp here. The early-blooming pink, which blossoms in February or March, and the pure white, which does not bloom until May or June,” Fannie replied.
“Did you notice that my beautiful yellow jessamine is in full bloom, out yonder on the lawn?” inquired Evelyn.
“No; I had not seen it. It is strange that I didn’t, for I almost always find the flowers, no matter where they are hidden. I think, Evelyn, I love the wild flowers better than the cultivated varieties. I do not know why, unless it is because they seem to come more directly from God, for us to love and admire. Even the common dog wood, as they stand in their snowy dresses in the green woods, call forth more love from me than the choicest roses that bloom in our gardens,” mused Fannie, in one of those reflective moods that came over her sometimes.
She now said she must go, and was passing through the gate with Evelyn, when Hynda came bounding to wards them with the peculiar grace and lightness of her race.
“Oh! Isn’t she a beauty now? I have had two like her, and they both left me and never returned,” said Fannie, wistfully, as she patted Hynda’s shining coat. “Laurie used often to repeat those lines of Hynda’s sad-fated namesake:
— or run away — he always added.”
“That is the reason he advised me so strenuously not to hestow too much affection on Hynda, I guess,” said Evelyn.
“Evelyn, please go home with me. You have not been over in a long time. Marion told me to tell you that she would not be at home much longer, and says that you should come very often now,” and Fannie’s blue eyes grew moist.
It was a great temptation that Fannie had proposed to her friend. She always had such pleasant evenings with them. The duets they played, the songs they sang together, the sympathetic companionship, were all very dear to her. Then there were the quiet games of chess with Laurie, when Fannie and Marion considerately left them alone. But she resolutely put aside the bright vision. Would not Laurie — oh, no, she knew he would not — but would not others say the visits were intended for him? Would not it be unmaidenly in her to visit so often at the home of a young man with whose name people had already begun to couple hers? Mrs. Bliss had told her that some people were saying it was a “match.” These and other thoughts flashed rapidly through her mind, as, kindly excusing herself to her warm-hearted friend, she helped her catch Gyp, who was feeding on the lawn. Then bidding farewell, Fannie was soon lost to view by a turn in the road.
It was not strange that people had begun to link the names of Evelyn and Doctor Montgomery, as the latter was a frequent visitor at the Refuge, and Evelyn was almost as often at Doctor Montgomery’s.
Mr. and Mrs. Melton were well pleased with the trend of events. They found no fault with the young Doctor. He was a man to whom any parent might be willing to give his daughter in marriage.
The next day after Fannie’s last call, Mr. Bliss came over and, in speaking of Evelyn’s school, said, jokingly:
“I don’t think Doctor Laurie is going to let us have our schoolmarm — if he is allowed to have his way in the matter.”
Mr. Melton flushed at this first direct allusion to his daughter and the Doctor.
“Well, John, I don’t know; you can never tell for certain what they are going to do. There is a very nice young man up in Boston, who seems to like Evelyn very much, and, by the way, she had a letter from him last night, saying he would be down here the first of March to hunt and fish in these wild wood’s for a week or two. He asked her to recommend him a boarding place, and she referred him to you as a fine place for good ‘grub,’ and nice quarters generally. So you had better tell ’Liza about it, as the swimming, as old Mr. Green would say, don’t like surprises. You always take all the boarders that come along, don’t you, John?” asked Mr. Melton.
“Yes; it’s all right about the board,” said Mr. Bliss.
“The young man is a graduate of Yale, and quite rich; worth half a million at the least. I don’t know how things will turn out. I would never bet on how a woman will decide in such matters, not even if she is my own daughter,” said Mr. Melton, reflectively; “but don’t mention what I have told you, John.”
“Of course not. But if that young fellow proves to be a successful rival of Laurie Montgomery, I shan’t promise you that ’Liza will love him,” said Mr. Bliss, as he and Mr. Melton parted.
That night, when Mr. Bliss was alone with his wife, he told her of his grave fears on Laurie’s account.
“I am sure Doctor Laurie loves Evelyn; but I’m not sure that she would refuse a handsome, well educated young man, with a half million cash, for even our young Doctor,” he said, doubtfully.
“If she loves the Doctor she will. I don’t believe Evelyn is a girl who would sell herself at any price; but, of course, she may love Mr. Willingham. There is one thing I do believe, and that is if Evelyn don’t love him, she will soon let him know it. She is not a flirt, and I don’t think money will cut any figure in the game with her,” responded Mrs. Bliss, with emphasis.
While this conversation was going on at the Bliss homestead, Laurie Montgomery and Evelyn were quietly chatting on indifferent subjects in the sitting room at The Refuge.
Evelyn had seemed to him to be uncommonly serious of late, and often had looked as if she were about to speak to him of something that appeared to weigh heavily on her mind, and then, as suddenly, would break off and change the subject. But tonight there was r look of determination on her face. A grave, serious look that her companion could not understand. He had seen that look of grave concern on her face several times lately, and it troubled him. She did not leave him to guess the cause, but, looking earnestly into his eyes, she said, with considerable emotion:
“Doctor Montgomery, I wish to speak to you on a subject that has given me a great deal of trouble ever since the night of the meeting at Greengrove Church.”
The strong, handsome face flushed and darkened visibly; he had feared that something would grow out of Evelyn’s extreme excitement on that evening, and now he felt intuitively that strength, as well as tact and caution, were necessary to restrain a nature he knew was strong, though so gentle. He understood women better than most young men. Brought up as an intimate companion of his noble mother and lovely cousin; constantly with his sisters from their infancy, he had exceptional opportunities to learn that sex. He controlled himself and spoke as gently as a woman might.
“If there is anything in which I can assist you, I will be more than pleased for you to tell me all about it. You surely know that I would do anything in my power to serve you, even though it be only to offer my sympathy,” looking into the face that had grown so dear to him.
“I have been trying for two months to tell you what has been in my mind, but have always failed to do so. I have been thinking that something must be done to elevate and better the mental and moral condition of these poor, ignorant and superstitious negroes, or they will relapse into barbarism. They have begun already a retrograde movement, and, if left to themselves, as they seem to wish, there will not many years elapse before they are really savage in their worship,” said Evelyn, with deep earnestness.
“I feel as deeply as you can possibly feel on that subject,” he replied; “and have often planned some good things that might be done for the coming generation, but I have always lacked the means to carry them into execution, and being too proud to beg of the North for the means to help my own people, I have never been able to put any of my phil-African plans into practice.” And the proud face looked haughtier and harder than Evelyn had ever seen it, as he continued:
“There has been much money spent injudiciously in the South since the emancipation of the negro, that, put into proper hands, might have been productive of much good. I do not doubt that in time these things will ad just themselves; but now these problems are puzzling older and wiser heads, perhaps, than ours, young and inexperienced as we are.”
“I have thought so much about it, and the question is vexing me still. It comes to me in the form of a taunt from the devil himself in words like these: ’You are not willing to teach them yourself. You live among them, and yourself scorn such a degraded race, and are not willing to sacrifice social position and loss of friends to go among them as Jesus would have you do, as a professed follower of Him,’ until I have sometimes felt that I would give up every hope in life to escape the repreaches of my conscience” said the poor girl, with intense emotion, her face as colorless as marble.
“I am very grateful to you for the confidence you have placed in me, and trust I shall not disappoint you in arriving at a solution of this difficult problem. But you must promise me that you will never again think of such a chimera as turning teacher of the negroes yourself. I would rather die than see you immolate yourself upon such an altar as that. Believe me, your honor and dignity of character are dearer to me than life.” The young man was deeply moved as he bent nearer the trembling girl and almost whispered:
“Evelyn —— ”
Here the door opened unceremoniously, and Mr. Melton came into the room with several letters in his hand, and the passionate speech was cut short ere the words were spoken and answered that would, perhaps, have saved them so much misunderstanding in the days that followed; but Kismet had intervened, and, ere they met again, the veil of mistrust and jealousy had fallen between them.
When Mr. Melton so unceremoniously entered the room, the Doctor had sprung to his feet and listened in a vague way to his apologies for so doing. “Did not know that Evelyn had any company at all; but would Doctor Laurie take his seat again; he thought there was a letter from one of Evelyn’s Northern friends saying what day he would arrive in the Brierwood neighbor hood.”
“I will be glad, Doctor, if you will help us entertain young Willingham in such a way as would give him a good impression of the country, and I know that you, better than anyone else here, know how to do that sort of thing” said Mr. Melton, as he grew eloquent in dilating on his wish that the South might be seen by this Bostonian in its best dress of hospitality.
Evelyn’s face was a study, and baffled Laurie’s keenest glances, as she opened and read, at her father’s request, the letter to herself from Mr. Willingham. She said, as she folded it, calmly:
“Yes; Mr. Willingham will reach here sometime in the afternoon of tomorrow, I suppose.”
Why had not Evelyn told even Fannie of this? She was evidently expecting him, and yet had kept it a profound secret from them all. Laurie rose to go, as he said, haughtily:
“I will certainly exert myself to render Mr. Willingham’s stay in the country as pleasant as possible. Where will he make his headquarters while in the neighborhood?”
“He will spend the greater portion of his time with Mr. Bliss,” replied Evelyn.
“Miss Evelyn, I will see you again on the subject we were discussing this evening,” and, without even taking the little hand in farewell, as he had always done, giving it a warm pressure, while his eyes spoke a tender goodbye, he bowed himself out and soon Evelyn heard the rapid footfalls of iron hoofs as Forrest’s feet struck the earth in a fast gallop down the road, and she shivered.
When he reached the sitting room at home he found his mother and sisters awaiting him. They instantly noted the dark cloud on his usually bright face, and that made Fannie think of something that, strange to say, she had entirely forgotten to tell them.
“Laurie, I have forgotten to tell you what I heard yesterday from Mrs. Bliss — that a young man, a Mr. Willingham, is coming to see Evelyn. Will be here in a few days, and is a lover of Evelyn’s, or a friend, perhaps. He is a graduate of Yale, and is very wealthy and handsome, too. Of course, he is a lover of hers, or he would not come so far to see her” Fannie talked fast, pretending that she did not see the pallor on Laurie’s face, or that she had not noticed the utterly commentless silence that he kept during the remainder of the evening, and he retired earlier than usual. After he had kissed them goodnight and was shut up in his room, Fannie exclaimed, petulantly:
“I do wish Mr. Willingham had never thought of coming down here to see Evelyn. I am afraid she prefers him to Laurie, and I would just hate a Yankee that could be a successful rival of my darling Laurie’s, wouldn’t you, mother?”
“No, my love; I trust I shall never hate anyone, and if the young woman’s heart and hand can be purchased with gold, she is not worthy of my son; and if, on the other hand, she loves his rival, I think the quicker Laurie knows it the better it will be for him. He is a man of strong character, and will bear it as a Christian and a gentleman,” responded Laurie’s mother, but Fannie heard the sigh that would come.
“Well, I believe that Evelyn will prefer Laurie to anyone else, and I shall continue to have that opinion until I see differently/’ said Fannie, half indignantly. “Oh, dear,” sighed poor, bright, loving, little Fannie; “the world will get crosswise and all out of shape generally. Mamma, dear, I’ve got the blues, so I’ll sit in your lap and let you pet me into a good humor,” as she threw her arms around that loving mother’s neck and half reclined in her lap.
THE next morning, when Laurie Montgomery awakened, it was to find a dark curtain of cloud drawn across the sunny skies of yesterday, and a dull mist of rain falling. As he opened the blinds and looked out, his first thought was that not more suddenly had a veil of darkness fallen across his own sky, which he now, by unreasoning jealousy and illogical argument, reduced to the blackness of despair. It would be impossible to describe the conflicting emotions that filled his mind, as he again reviewed, by the light of day, the new page that he had just turned in the book of his life’s history.
Why had Evelyn kept so carefully from him this visit of her Northern suitor? It was singular, strangely singular, that she had not even told Fannie of his coming. As he looked back over their intercourse from the beginning, and lingered tenderly over every soft look or gently spoken sentence that he had fondly hoped meant so much more than mere friendship for him, he was plunged in deeper gloom.
He could scarcely believe that Evelyn was one of those naturally coquettish girls, who, all unwittingly, draw a man on to love her, and when too late, wake up to find that they have been the cause of wreck to a man’s happiness. What, though, if it were true that this Northern lover, and not himself, held the key to Evelyn’s affections? He asked the question, then strove to evade it, as we will do when called upon to face an issue, that, if answered in the affirmative, will entail great suffering upon us. That Evelyn knew he loved her he could not doubt, even without the addition of that last, half uttered, passionate declaration.
After vainly seeking for a solution to the vexing problem amid past experience, he summoned pride, that bulwark of jealousy, to his aid, and soon afterward went down to breakfast calm and collected.
No one seemed to have much desire for conversation that dull, rainy morning. Laurie drank his coffee, ate a few bites of bread, and left, saying:
“Very probably I shall not return until tomorrow, mother. I have a patient over the bayou who is very ill with pneumonia.” Then, kissing them affectionately, he donned his mackintosh and went out in the mud and the rain, which was increasing in violence every moment.
As Laurie rode on through the incessant rain, his mind reverted to the past and the mysterious disappearance of Lieutenant Barclay. He thought bitterly of the murdered man; of the brilliant qualities of mind and person that made him so attractive to every one, and, above all, of the blighted life of his beloved cousin. There came into his mind as he pondered the old Greek aphorism, “The mill of the gods grinds slow, but fine,” a proverb which has its parallel in that text of Holy Writ, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord,” and the idea comforted him.
While he rode forward, the sky grew darker and the rain poured in torrents so that he could scarcely see a dozen yards away, or hear the tramp of a horse, as a man riding rapidly from the opposite direction nar rowly escaped coming in collision with him.
“Hello!” shouted half-witted Jack Tillman, as he reined his horse so shortly that he settled on his haunches, as he whirled out of the way of the Doctor’s heavier horse. Laurie checked his steed as he exchanged salutation with the man.
“You’s the very man I’m huntin’ fur, Doc, an’ I’m sho’ glad I won’t have ter ride no furder in this devilish rain. Hit sho’ hain’t agree’ble ridin’, but I reckin you’ll be willin’ ter go with me, seein’ hits your business ter go wen you’s sent fur, though the’ hain’t no perticilar pay in hit, as I knows on,” yelled Jack, as the rain poured faster.
“Where do you wish me to go?” demanded the Doctor.
“Jest er matter ov five mile out ter the cabin, so ef you’ll go jes’ mosy ’long atter me, ’cause wen folks is a dyin’ they’s gin’ruly in a sort ov hurry fur er doctor,” and the man struck out through the forest at a gallop, Laurie keeping beside him.
After riding for several hours through a drenching rain, the lowliest shelter looks inviting, and Laurie experienced a feeling of relief as they emerged from the dense thicket of pines, through which they had ridden for the last quarter of a mile, into a small clearing with a log cabin in the centre. They dismounted in front, and Jack remarked, sullenly:
“Gimme your creeter an’ I’ll put ’im under a shed roun’ yander, so’s your saddle c’n drip off a leetle afore you gets ready ter start off. As fur me, I’m sho’ gwine ter git in the lof an’ sleep sum whilst you an’ him is talkin’, fur he nuver lemme sleep er wink las’ night. The’ hain’t no time fur lickin’ spoons wid me now, I c’n tell you, Doc,” and he led the horses away to a shed at the back of the cabin.
Laurie knocked loudly at the door; waited a moment, and knocked again; this time he received the courteous answer:
“What in the name of the devil are you making such a racket for, boy. Why don’t you come in without so much infernal noise? If I was only myself once more I would teach you how to disturb me so, you true son of Pluto”
Laurie replied by pushing open the heavy door and entering the squalid apartment. Everything in the open log cabin betokened misery and the direst poverty. The only pleasing feature was the bright pine fire which burned on the wide hearth.
On the rough, dirty bed in the centre of the room, lay a man of middle age. He was apparently in the last stage of some direful disease, for his face was wan and pinched, while his large eyes gleamed with preter natural brilliancy, and his thin lips were drawn tightly over a set of very white teeth. Every movement of his attenuated body caused a moan of pain, which he vainly endeavored to suppress as evidencing unmanly weakness.
Laurie took off his dripping raincoat and hat, and hung them on the wall, then, going to the bedside of the sick man, he inquired in a gentle tone:
“What seems to be the trouble with you, my friend?”
“Don’t you dare to call me ‘friend’ for I won’t stand it. You will wish to call for a gun when you have listened to the story which I have to tell you; however, I owe you an apology for my unintentional rudeness in answering your knock at the door. I was quite certain that it was my Sancho Panza, whom I sent after you hours and hours ago, but who takes advantage of my illness to do just as he pleases. In fact, I often feel tempted to end his life with this faithful friend of mine,” and the thin hand went to the back of his pil low and grasped a Colt’s revolver; “but I know that he is the only nurse, valet, friend, or by whatever name you choose to designate him, that I have on earth, and thus I am rendered helpless,” and he moaned as the nerveless hand fell on the dirty coverlet.
A violent fit of coughing followed this outburst of temper, and the Doctor quickly prepared a soothing potion and insisted on his swallowing it. He did so with an oath, and waved his hand toward the only chair which the room contained, as he continued:
“You will not be willing to relieve a pang of what I am suffering when I disclose to you that portion of my life which concerns you, or rather, those whom you loved in the bygone years.”
Laurie started, and looked keenly at the stranger, but he replied kindly:
“Yes; you are suffering and dying, and it is my duty to relieve, if possible to do so, even the worst enemy I have on earth. As a Christian I am taught to forgive those who have injured me. But go on now, I think you will be quiet for awhile, at least.” And the young doctor seated himself and waited for the dying man to begin his mysterious story.
“You remember that d——d Yankee who came up missing some years ago?”
Laurie’s face turned a shade paler, and he compressed his lips with grim determination as he listened to the villian’s recital.
He went on slowly, for his voice was weak and hoarse: “You remember Lieutenant Barclay, of the New York Seventy-first? Of course, you could never forget him while you live, and neither can I, for ’twas my hand that shed his blod, and in murdering him I killed the beautiful woman whom I loved better than aught else on earth. I was desperate, Montgomery; and a desperate man knows neither reason nor mercy.
“I was an outlaw by my country’s laws. A beast, with a price set on my scalp in mine own State. For doing what? For killing a brute who dared to insult me because he was my superior in command. In hot blood I shot him as I would a dog, and thenceforth I fled, a fugitive from military justice, or rather, injustice, I should say; for who ever heard of an inferior officer getting any show of right before his superiors when insubordination was the casus belli?”
“I got beyond the army lines and left the State. I traveled by night and secreted myself in the woods through the day and lived chiefly on nuts and wild fruit, of which there was a good crop that year. I managed to exchange my officer’s uniform for a suit of brown jeans. Thus I escaped arrest until I reached Arkansas, where I fell in with two deserters, who were trying to make their way back to Winn Parish, in Louisiana. They seemed delighted to meet me and promised me official position and unlimited freedom amid the wild forests and impenetrable swamps of the Tree State of Winn, I was not in a condition to choose my lot in life just now, so yielded and cast in my life with the robber band, which I served as captain for more than ten years.
“But I must hasten, for the sands are running very low in my frail hour glass, and memory grows dim as I go back over the past. I feel very weak, Doctor, and will thank you very much if you will open that cup board in the corner and pour me out some brandy from that bottle sitting there. I should have offered you a drink when you came in from that drenching rain, but entirely forgot that courtesy, for which I beg you will excuse me,” he remarked, as he drank the brandy with feverish avidity.
“Thank you; I never drink anything of the sort,” replied Laurie, as he resumed his seat by the bedside of the sick man.
“The first time I met Miss Montgomery I was riding rapidly, as I always did, on the public road that runs in front of The Magnolias when I turned a bend in the thicket below the house, and met your cousin, who was also riding quite fast. Her horse swerved and broke his girth, throwing Miss Montgomery to the ground. She was up before I could reach her, quick as I was, and stood there, blushing, and looking as beautiful as a goddess. I apologized for my careless riding, taking all the blame to myself for her fall. She lifted her exquisite eyes to mine, and in a voice that sounded like heavenly music to my ears, famishing as they were for the sound of a lady’s cultured tones, said that it was all her own fault, as her uncle had warned her of the danger afjiding fast around a bend. As I looked at the lovely creature my heart was torn from my bosom and laid a willing oblation at her feet. I could not, in that extreme moment, pause to consider what it might bring to either of us. I only knew myself to be shaken with a passion that an hour before I would have sworn I was incapable of feeling.
“I mended her saddle girth and placing her on the pony, watched her ride out of my sight. After that I often came by hoping to get even a momentary view of the woman I worshiped as my God. But what was I, to hope that I could win the love of that pure darling? I, an outlaw, whose hands had been stained more than once with the blood of my fellow man. Had I met Mamie Montgomery before I fell on evil times, I would have been saved, for she could have moulded me to her will, I believe; but it was too late, and the more I realized the impossibility of winning her, the more wildly I loved her, until it became the one consuming passion of my life. In my despair I registered a vow that if I could not win her, no other man should. How sacredly I kept that vow you will soon hear.
“One day, as I was lingering in the hollow where I had first met my darling, and living over again in memory the delicious thrills of happiness that shook my being as my hands touched hers in assisting her to mount her horse, I looked toward the house and saw a horse standing at the lawn gate. I soon saw that it was not standing alone, but the bridle was lightly held over the arm of a Federal officer, and that Mamie Montgomery was standing near him. So deeply absorbed were they in each other that they had neither ears nor eyes for me, and I stood within a hundred yards of them, unseen and unheard. Perhaps it was dishonorable in me to stand thus, a spy upon the woman I love, better far than I did my miserable, ruined life. I cared not for that, but I desired above all things to have revenge on my rival — the Yankee, whose uniform and flag I hated more than words could express.
“I stood as if rooted to the spot, with my brain whirling like a madman’s, as he took Mamie in his arms and kissed her tenderly in farewell, then turned to mount his horse; but seeing her handkerchief fall, he returned, picked it up, and kissing it, put it in his pocket, just over his heart.
“I realized from what I had seen that they were engaged lovers, and my agony knew no bounds. I planned quickly what I would do. I knew a short cut through the bayou and knew that I could intercept him on his route and there settle with him. I did not mean to murder him, for the gentlemanly instinct asserted itself within me. No, I would give him a chance for one shot at me, as man should meet man. That was not the creed of the band of robbers, but this was a different thing. For the sake of the noble woman who loved him, he should have given him one chance for the life that was so sweet to him.
“I went by my headquarters and took my trusty valet, as I used, facetiously, to call that vagabond Jack, and riding fast arrived at the Yankee Spring, as you know it is named to this day, in time to secrete myself securely ere my rival came into view. I was not wrong in supposing that he would choose this route, for in about an hour I heard the steady tramp of a horse, and soon Lieutenant Barclay, for I learned afterward that it was he, came into view. My pulses beat fast with hate and desire for summary revenge as the young officer rode out to the spring and, dismounting, took out his handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his fair forehead. Then he drew the little lace trimmed amulet from its hiding place and kissed it fervently and smiled, as he seemed to remember the sweeter kiss which he had had from her own lovely red lips. His picture is deeply engraved on my memory as he stood thus, with that smile on his face. Every effort I have made to efface it from my mind has been in vain. It has haunted my sleepless hours and driven me to deeds of desperation. I think when we meet in hell I will surely recognize him, if he does not me,” and the man paused, and covered his face with his thin hands, as Laurie replied gently:
“You will not meet him there, for he was a soldier of Jesus Christ, even as he was an officer of the army of his country.”
When he took his hands away from his face it was so ghastly that Laurie thought the poor murderer’s last moment had come, but he mastered himself by a great effort and resumed his narrative.
“When I remembered that kiss, for one of which I would have willingly served a thousand years in hell, my blood seemed set on fire by the devil.
“I rose to my feet and controlled myself to say distinctly: ’Defend yourself, sir, for a foe is before you,’ as I leveled my gun and prepared to shoot.
“He was as prompt as I could desire, and had his revolver on me before I could think he was half ready. I do not know who got the first shot, but I saw him fall heavily to the ground ere I could command my thoughts sufficiently to realize that I had received a ball in the breast which was likely to prove quite troublesome. However, I did not stop to consider my own wounds just then, but went over to where he lay and felt for his heart. The blood was gushing through a hole just above it. I had made a beautiful shot. I had never held a steadier hand.
“As I looked at him lying there I thought him a worthy foe for any antagonist. The smile, kindled by the deathless love of a beautiful woman, still lingered on the dead face.
“We had now to dispose of the body of Lieutenant Barclay, and a troublesome job it proved to be. The pain from my wound was excessive, and the loss of blood made me so weak that I could not render much assistance to Jack. But you know he is a giant, and to him I left most of the work, while I lay on the grass and gave directions. We fastened the soldier to his horse and leading the fine animal into the deepest pool in the bayou, I shot him with my Winchester rifle. After a few convulsive efforts to swim he sank to rise no more.
“As soon as I found that Lieutenant Barclay was dead, I took the little handkerchief which he had hastily thrust into its hiding place when called on to defend himself, and with it came a letter subscribed with the name we both had loved so well. I took them and, dipping them in the blood which was flowing from the heart of the dead man, I wrapped them in a piece of paper and put them in my pocket. Jack, in en deavoring to save a memento of the gruesome work, cut off a button from the officer’s coat and then lost it, for which piece of carelessness he got a most unmerciful flogging that night.
“That wound in my chest is the cause of my death. The bullet has never been extracted and has been the source of a great deal of pain to me every day of my life since then.
“Here is the ring that Jack took from the finger of the dead man” and he handed Laurie the peculiar ring which he had noticed on the Lieutenant’s finger that last day he had dined with him.
“I was undecided what to do with the watch. It was such an infernal bother to me that I could not endure it long. I used to hang it on the wall beside my own, and I could distinctly tell its peculiar beat, as of the quickened pulsations of a man’s heart. One day, as I was riding by a great log heap that looked like a furnace, I threw the watch into the midst of the red hot coals, and cursing it, I bade it burn, as I expected to be burned some day in the furnaces of hell.
“After we had disposed of the dead man and his effects, I mounted my horse and rode over to your house, which I reached just as the day began to break, and placing the bloody letter and handkerchief on the gate-post of the flower garden, I rode away the most miserable man God Almighty ever created. But I never dreamed, even most remotely, that it would prove the death of the pure, angelic woman whom I loved so tenderly, so passionately. When, a few weeks later, I heard of her death, I would have speedily have ended my worthless life with a pistol shot had it not been for that conscience which makes cowards of the bravest men. I know that the devil and his angels are heating the furnaces of hell seven times seven for my soul, for since Mamie Montgomery’s death I have thrown myself into every conceivable sin. I have cared for neither God nor man, nor anything on earth. I feel the cold fingers of grim Death clutching at my throat,” he exclaimed, as he looked wildly, imploringly at the doctor. A violent fit of coughing came on, in which a blood vessel was broken, and quick strangulation ensued. He lay before Laurie Montgomery a dead man.
As Laurie left the cabin he murmured softly, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.”
FULL of conflicting emotions, Laurie Montgomery left the hut of the murderer. The rain had ceased and the air felt cool and refreshing after the stifling atmosphere of the cabin. He went to the shed where Jack had sheltered the horses, and, waking the stupid fellow, ordered him to go for help to bury the dead man. He then caught his horse and hurried away from the miserable house and its depressing influences.
When he reached the bedside of his patient it was so late and the man so ill that he decided to remain for the night.
The next morning his father came early, and after a consultation was held, it was decided that Laurie would return home and leave the elder Doctor to watch the case.
“Mr. Bliss sent for you last night, Laurie, to see your little namesake. He has whooping cough, I think, and as he is teething, I fear it will go hard with Elm. You had better go by there and see him. I met a young man there from the North, a lover, I believe, of Miss Melton’s. Quite an elegant gentleman, he appears to be.” Then, as noticing for the first time Laurie’s pale face, he added:
“Try to sleep some tonight, son; you are looking rather pale. Are you quite well?”
“Yes, sir; quite well; but I have been through a trying ordeal in the last twenty-four hours. I will tell you all when I return home, father,” he responded, in a low tone.
“Don’t forget the Bliss baby, Laurie,” his father cautioned, as the latter rode away.
“I will go there by all means. I would not neglect my little pet for any consideration,” said Laurie, affecting an unconcern he did not feel.
After a ride in the bracing March wind, for the weather had turned off fair and cool, he arrived at the Bliss farm just as the proprietor and his guest rode up with a large antlered buck which the latter had been so furtunate as to kill on his first hunt.
“Ah! Doctor; you have come in good time to help us eat this fine fat venison,” exclaimed Mr. Bliss, with hearty cordiality.
“Let me introduce Mr. Willingham, of Boston, Doctor Montgomery,” he added, as turning to that gentleman, he remarked:
“This is the young Doctor I mentioned to you last night, Mr. Willingham.”
As the rivals shook hands they made a quick mental summary of each other.
Laurie’s verdict was that he had a formidable antagonist in the field.
Mr. Bliss invited them into the house, while Laurie explained that he had only called to see the baby, who, his father had told him, was ill with whooping cough. Mr. Willingham repaired to his room to change his dress, and Laurie went to the chamber of the sick child, where he remained some time in consultation with the anxious mother.
Then followed a romp with the little girls, with whom the Doctor was a great favorite. When he came out on the gallery where the men were sitting smoking he found that Mr. Bliss had had his horse put up and insisted so earnestly on his dining with them, that he could but stay.
Ere he left he concluded that Mr. Willingham was a very pleasant fellow, with little or none of the ostentation usually attributed to the majority of rich men from the North.
The hour before dinner was very pleasantly spent, and Laurie, on leaving, extended a cordial invitation to Mr. Willingham to visit them at their home.
“I think Miss Melton is planning for us to spend the evening there, if I am not mistaken. She said The Magnolias. Isn’t that the name of your home?” asked Arthur Willingham.
“Yes, that is it; and I am sorry I shall not be able to be there, as I will be away on business. You know a professional man can never claim any time as his own.” Yet he really felt glad in his heart that he could not be there to see his rival with Evelvn.
As he rode home his resolution was taken. With all the pride of his proud race he determined that he would appear indifferent to whatever might happen. Evelyn should be given an opportunity to decide in whose favor she wished, without the humilation of a direct refusal of himself and the acceptance of his rival before his very eyes.
“She knows I love her, and if she prefers Willingham she shall be free to decide in his favor without interference from me,” he said, with bitter, burning jealousy.
His resolution taken was strictly kept, and none but those who knew him best suspected the torture that he endured in the weeks that followed.
To Fannie Montgomery alone was Mr. Willingham’s visit productive of unmixed pleasure for the present. In his genial, refined companionship she found the sympathy she had never met before beyond her own family circle. She had never given a thought to her own feelings, or to the fact that she knew he was the lover of her dearest friend, and not till it was too late did she wake up to the knowledge that Arthur Willingham was the sole possessor of her warm young heart.
Evelyn unwittingly lent herself to further the too oft repeated meetings between her girl friend and Mr. Willingham in her own home or in the walks and drives they took together.
Mr. Willingham admired the bright, graceful Southern girl very much, and if he had been heart free would perhaps have promptly fallen in love with her. He could not well love two girls at the same time, but he came as near doing it as any man really could.
To Evelyn the demeanor of the young Doctor was inexplicable. His haughty coolness was unbearable almost to the gentle girl who did not understand him. She wondered if others noticed it and perplexed her brain to know what she had done to cause such a change in him; or if it was indeed herself that had had anything to do with the alteration in his intercourse with her.
The thoughts that had engrossed her so much since the night of the holy dance at Greengrove, had almost been forgotten since Mr. Willingham had come into their quiet midst, bringing, unconsciously, so much trouble.
One afternoon, as they were sitting engaged in quiet conversation, Fannie asked:
“Evelyn, did you ever tell Mr. Willingham of your experience at the negro meeting you attended last winter?”
“No, I do not remember ever to have mentioned it to him,” she answered, gently.
“No, Miss Montgomery, she has honored me with very few confidences since I have been visiting her, I do assure you,” and the young man turned to Fannie. As his direct look met hers the lids drooped over the soft violet eyes and the pink flush deepened on the fair young face.
Evelyn saw it all in a moment, and a pang of self-reproach shot through her heart, as she thought of the unhappiness in store for Fannie if she had given her love unsought and unappreciated. She thought bitterly of that “old crosspatch Fate,” who was always introducing elements that spoiled somebody’s happiness in life. But she said gaily:
“Fine, Mr. Willingham, to speak so disparagingly of my efforts to prove entertaining; but I am going to leave that interesting recital to you, Fairy; you can relate that much better than I, as I do not understand the negro dialect sufficiently yet to undertake anything so difficult.”
“Miss Melton, you must not accuse me of inappreciation of my entertainment, for I have certainly had, as you young ladies would say, ‘a most lovely time’ since I came to Louisiana. In the two weeks I have spent in this neighborhood, I have hunted and fished to my heart’s content, and you both know how much I have enjoyed the hours of your society,” he exclaimed gallantly. “But I am now waiting impatiently for Miss Montgomery’s recital of the negro meeting.”
“I will not have time now, as it is growing late and I must return home. See, the sun is about to leave us, and I must also make my adieus.” So saying she rose to go.
“I wish you could stay longer,” exclaimed Evelyn, eagerly.
“I will come again you know. I always do; don’t I?” Fannie answered with a sweet smile.
They went out on the lawn, where Gyp was feeding on the green grass.
“Where do you ladies find your beautiful ponies; not imported, are they?” questioned Mr. Willingham.
“No, indeed, we raise them here in Louisiana,” as gaily waving her hand in farewell, she rode away.
“Isn’t she a fine rider? I never saw a more graceful horsewoman,” Mr. Willingham remarked, as they watched Fannie gallop out of sight.
“Yes, I think her lovely and graceful in every thing” answered Evelyn, warmly.
“Let us walk down this beautiful slope, Miss Melton; will you?” asked her companion.
“Yes, it is too lovely to stay indoors. Fannie Montgomery and I spend most of the time we are together out on our ponies, or walking. We have discovered a hill from which we get a beautiful view of the setting sun. It is just out here, not far from the public high way. We have named it sunset hill, and we often go there to watch the sun sink behind the western slopes. Suppose we try to reach it before the sun quite leaves us,” and Evelyn quickened her pace.
“With all my heart, for I think a sunset in these in tensely green hills must be very beautiful. All the world is lovely to me when I am with you,” he said softly, then he asked:
“Why is it that you seem to love the younger sister so much more than the elder of the Montgomery girls?”
“Really, I can scarcely tell you, unless it be the fact that she seems to love me better than the elder sister does,” answered Evelyn, musingly.
“On the principle of love begetting love, I suppose,” he responded gently. “I wonder if that theory holds good in love as in friendship. If that be true then I may hope for a successful issue to my Guit.”
They were sitting on a log at the summit of the hill just where the road made an abrupt bend around a dense thicket of small pine trees, watching the last vestige of color fade from the western sky.
Evelyn did not reply to his last remark, and he continued in the same earnest voice:
“Evelyn, you know why I came to Louisiana; you know, you must know, that I have loved you ever since I first met you in my home two years ago. You have scrupulously concealed your feelings; you have given me no room for hope; yet I will hope in spite of all, that you do love me, if it is only a little,” he pleaded, as he took her hand.
At this moment a horseman turned the bend of the road, just beyond where they were sitting, and Evelyn quickly disengaged her hand from Mr. Willingham’s detaining clasp. The movement was quick, but not be fore Laurie — for it was he — saw it, and Evelyn’s deep blush of confusion, made him doubly sure that they were engaged lovers.
He was not riding as rapidly as usual, or he might not have seen so plainly, as he did, that which made him pale and brought a compression to his lips that told of suffering plainer than words. He took off his hat to them, a courtly way peculiar to him, and putting spurs to his horse was quickly out of sight.
“Evelyn, you must answer me; I cannot endure this suspense longer,” he urged, as he endeavored to regain possession of her hand.
“Oh, no — no —” she answered, in a low tone. She was trembling with excitement now. “I will not deceive you; I do not love you; I can never be more than a friend to you. I have tried to show you that I did not, could not, love you, and I was beginning to “hope that you were learning to love my little friend at The Magnolias; who I fear thinks too much of you already. She is more worthy of you, and better suited to you, than I ever could be. Oh! I am so much troubled and distressed about it,” she said, speaking more rapidly and passionately than he had believed she possibly could.
He replied in a low, constrained tone:
“Don’t you know, that to offer a friend, instead of yourself, to a lover, is like giving a stone to a man begging bread. Perhaps you misunderstand your friend’s feelings toward me after all ; at least you will not hold me responsible for them,” he added, bitterly.
“Oh, no, I do not, could not blame you in the least, for what I fear in regard to her sentiments toward you, and am truly sorry that I should have betrayed what I only conjecture; but I know that I can trust you to keep the knowledge of it inviolably sacred,” said Evelyn, deeply mortified that she in her excitement should have said a word of what she had good reason to fear.
“You may trust anything concerning Miss Montgomery safely with me. I admire her above every other woman I have ever met excepting yourself; and, perhaps, in time may learn to love her, if, as you say, she has bestowed the priceless gift of her love on so unworthy an object as myself, but just now I cannot think of any one but you. I cannot in a few hours eradicate from my heart the sweet vision that has lingered there so tenderly for many months” he replied, with mournful pathos.
Evelyn’s gentle eyes were full of tears, as she replied:
“I would not willingly give anyone pain, especially the brother of a dear friend, and a friend yourself in whom I feel the deepest interest; but I cannot give my hand without the love of my heart. Please do not think unkindly of me for what I have said,” she asked softly.
“Oh, Evelyn, think again of my offer — a heart full of love for you, and, dearest, I can offer you all the advantages of wealth and position, which you so richly deserve. I am willing to wait and trust you for the love that will come in time, if you have not already given your heart to another. Such love as mine must bring an answering impulse in a colder nature than yours. Will you not give my proposition a little longer consideration? Think over it tonight and perhaps you may change your mind in my favor. Do not decide irrevocably this evening, a question that is fraught with so much, for at least one of us. I will come to bid you farewell in the morning and you may then give me an answer that I shall consider as final,” he pleaded with eyes and voice, as they parted at the little gate.
To Evelyn the night was one of trial and temptation. No woman is deaf to the alluring vision of wealth and position; a bridal tour of Europe, any thing and everything, that money cauld buy or love suggest, would be hers as the wife of Arthur Willingham. A home of luxury for her parents, the money to put into quick execution the project of benevolence so dear to her heart. All these thoughts thronged, upon her mind. Did not he say that he would wait for the love she could not yet give him; and was she sure that her love was of any value to the man who, but yesterday, had treated her as a stranger almost.
Yet there was Fannie — had not Arthur said he might, in time learn to love her, and that she loved him, she did not doubt for a moment, after what she had seen that very evening?
She tossed restlessly for many hours while the battle of contending passions raged in her heart. At last woman’s strong, faithful love came off conqueror, as she resolutely laid her heart on the altar of her first, deep and true love. She knew now that she loved with all the sweet tenderness of mature womanhood; and with that knowledge, came the gentle humility that comes to a woman in regard to the object of her devotion — a feeling that she is not worthy of the idol of perfection that she has enthroned upon the pedestal of her heart. For a woman always makes an idol of him to whom she gives the first great love of her womanhood; and she is no iconoclast. Once he is enthroned in that heart, he is never, by any act of hers, cast down; not the world’s scorn, nor the contumely of friends, has power to move one iota that worshipful love she can give but once. But let him, that petted darling of a woman’s love, but debase himself in her eyes and he hurls himself from the lofty pedestal on which faithful love had placed him, to return no more thither. She may be faithful to her marriage vows, but never again can she feel the loving reverence she once has felt for him.
Evelyn realized now, as she never had before, the power of unspoken love, and meekly bent her heart to Fate.
She rose early the next morning and wrote to Mr. Willingham a very kind, but decided refusal of his suit, with best wishes for his future happiness, and bid ding him farewell; in conclusion she said:
“It will spare us both pain if we meet no more just now, therefore, again, farewell.”
While Evelyn was spending the first hours of the night in restlessness and doubt, the two men over whom she was having this mental conflict, were sitting on Mr. Bliss’s porch smoking and talking.
The subject naturally drifted to the South, and the unhappy state of things in that section, now making such strenuous efforts to recover from the blasting ef fects of the civil war. The suddenly emancipated negro and his present status was discussed, when young Wil lingham exclaimed:
“Last evening your sister Fannie made an allusion to a negro meeting, that she and Miss Melton had attended, which seemed to have a very disquieting effect upon the latter, who at once referred the description and explanation of the affair to Miss Fannie. The matter was left untouched, as Miss Montgomery left shortly afterward for home, promising to tell me to morrow, but as I expect to leave the neighborhood tomorrow, I will be glad if you will tell me something of an affair that seemed to have power to affect Miss Melton so much.”
Laurie winced inwardly at the memory of that last evening he had spent with Evelyn, this subject called so vividly to mind their short-lived plan for united effort in the pursuit of philanthropy, but he answered calmly:
“Yes, I think I can explain to you why Miss Melton is so very much troubled in regard to the negroes of this backwoods section of the state, where there are no public schools that are really worth calling schools, and also her morbidly exaggerated view of her possible duty toward them,” replied Doctor Montgomery.
He then gave his interested listener a graphic ac count of the meeting at the African Church, the holy dance, and its effects on Evelyn.
“One of her dreams now is to establish a training school in this neighborhood; where the younger generation of negroes shall be taught useful trades, and given a common school education.
“She is very apprehensive of the negroes’ relapse into a state of barbarism, judging by their church worship that she witnessed at Green Grove; and the fearfully low state of their morals, of which she knows very little, and has only learned that little since her residence in the South,” Laurie said, gravely.
“But why more danger now, than as slaves they were denied the right of the ballot, and of the public schools?” inquired Mr. Willingham.
“Well, you know I have only been giving you your Northern friend’s view of the situation, and am not accountable for any of her opinions on the subject. But I shall answer your last question from the stand point of one who, being on the ground, can understand the situation better than anyone could from a distance. The negro, during the days of slavery — I am speaking for the hill country strictly — worshiped with their mas ters, and were taught the same gospel. All this voo-dooism, or barbarous ritualism, was introduced since their emancipation; and, with the aptitude of the black race to retrograde, it is certainly not a problem easy of solution as to what is the most efficient means to advance them, mentally, morally and financially. It is, I think, a formidable question that will have to be met in some way. I must confess it has troubled me no little, as I have a better opportunity in my profession of knowing more of their utter disregard of the moral obligations of life, than most people have. We can only hope for the best and be patient with them. Perhaps when the country grows more prosperous, and the public schools are more numerous and efficient, things will improve with them, even in so remote a section as this.
“My father and I help them all we can. Our practice for them is largely gratuitous. I think they all have confidence in us and regard us as their friends” concluded the young doctor.
A silence of some moments fell between the young men, which was broken at length by Mr. Willingham’s inquiring in a low tone:
“Would you, Doctor Montgomery, be willing to devote the time and study necessary to the success of such an undertaking, if I supply the money that will enable you to carry yours and Miss Melton’s beneficent scheme into execution? Or is it asking too much of a busy, professional man like yourself?”
“I am willing, and more than willing, to do everything to further any move that has the uplifting of humanity as its object. And I assure you that you will win the deep gratitude of Miss Melton’s heart as well as of mine, in thus nobly contributing to this work of philanthropy,” the Doctor responded, heartily.
“Well, remember,” answered Arthur Willingham, “that to you alone I shall entrust this fund. I shall place it entirely at your disposal, with the most implicit confidence in your ability to dispose of it for the best results, and you need not tell Miss Melton that I have had anything to do with it, unless you choose to do so/’ with a tinge of bitterness in his voice.
“I shall not attempt to express to you my appreciation of your confidence in me, save by striving to justify your good opinion of my ability to put into execution a scheme I have long been very anxious to see tried, but have never been able, for lack of funds, to carry out. I do not believe you will ever regret your gener ous gift, as I am fully in accord with that text of Holy Writ, which says, ‘it is better to give than to receive,’” Laurie replied, warmly.
“I do not wish any gratitude on your part; that should all come in on my side to you, for thus putting me in the way of investing a little of the money, use fully, that I probably should have squandered on selfish pleasures, as I have done so many thousands already. This visit has taught me a great deal more of you Southerners than I could have learned by passing through your cities, or lingering at your winter resorts, where one sees only the wealthy and fashionable side of life. Mr. Bliss has told me much of yours and your noble father’s kindness, and fair treatment of the negroes in your district/’ said Arthur, as he threw his cigar in the yard, and added:
“I shall, in all probability, leave your neighborhood tomorrow, as I mentioned a few moments ago, and shall give myself the pleasure of calling by The Magnolias and bidding your mother and sisters farewell.”
“We shall be sorry to bid you goodbye, and hope you will come again to see the progress of the training school; the ’Willingham Academy’,” said the doctor.
“No, you must not call it for me, I am having too little to do with it, to deserve the honor of having it called for me. As soon as I reach New Orleans, I shall make all the arrangements necessary to transmit to you the money as you need it.”
After discussing their plans fully, both men rose, Laurie to ride home and the other to go to his room for the remainder of the night.
Ere they parted they shook hands warmly, and the strong friendship, thus begun, lasted through life.
When Laurie reached home, he went to his mother’s room and told her that Mr. Willingham would call early in the morning to bid them adieu; then he went up stairs and throwing himself on his bed, was soon asleep. His vigils for the past two weeks were telling on him, together with the intense mental suspense through which he had passed made him very weary, and he did not awaken until the sun shone through the open windows so brightly as to disturb him.
True to promise, Evelyn’s suitor called at her father’s on his way to The Magnolias, and a very small, black boy came out to the gate as soon as the buggy stopped, and handed him the note that Evelyn had written early that morning. He read it, flushing and paling by turns, then thrusting it in his pocket he bade the driver take him to Doctor Montgomery’s.
It is singular how quickly some men will turn away from the impregnable wall of an irrevocable never. Why stand gazing idly at the unattainable Edelweiss, flaunting on Alpine heights of impossibility, when verdant meadows of Probability stretched around him, decked with fairer flowers ready for his plucking?
Thus Arthur Willingham felt, as he took his wounded heart to his sympathetic friend at The Magnolias, for the magic touch of love’s sweet healing. It was plain to him now, since Evelyn’s subtle suggestion, that Fannie was more suitable to him as a wife than Evelyn could ever be. Perhaps she did love him, and the idea gave him a feeling of consolation.
Fannie Montgomery was in the garden gathering flowers when the buggy drove up to the gate of the Montgomery homestead. The roses blushed no deeper pink than bloomed in the cheeks of this fair flower of the garden, when she saw the occupant of the vehicle step out, and walk rapidly up the path to where she stood, with her hands full of flowers. When he reached her side, he said gaily:
“Queen Rose of the rosebud garden of girls, allow me to assist you with your burden of beauty” as he took some of the flowers from her, then added, softly:
“I have come to say good morning, and farewell in the same breath almost, Miss Fannie.”
“Oh, are you going to leave us today; and does Evelyn know it, Mr. Willingharn?” she asked, looking at him from under the dark lashes that would droop in trying to hide the telltale eyes.
“Yes, she knows, and she does not care. I do assure you she does not regard my movements with the slightest degree of interest,” he responded, a little fiercely; then he added more gently:
“If you will arrange a bouquet of these lovely flowers, and give me to take home, I shall preserve it in memory of the radiant picture I saw in this garden when I first arrived this morning,” and the handsome black eyes looked admiringly into the blushing face before him.
Fannie was only seventeen, and looked even younger. The constantly changing color played over the fair face as she answered:
“Oh, yes, and you will help me. I know what exquisite taste you have in arranging flowers. Do you remember the wreath we wove for Evelyn’s hat, the day we went fishing down on the bayou?” and she laughed gaily at the memory, one of her musical, contagious laughs, in which he joined.
“Yes, I remember, very distinctly, assisting you in weaving the wreath, but cannot recall any special display of taste on my part,” he replied, as he walked by her side up the garden path toward the house.
“Shall we go in now and let mother and Marion know that you are going to leave us? I know they will regret it, for you have made warm friends of every one here, Mr. Willingham,” said Fannie, as she looked shyly up at him.
“Miss Fannie, tell me, before we go in, will you answer the letters I am going to write you when I leave Louisiana?” he asked, softly.
The sweet face grew pinker, and she hesitated a moment. How perfectly lovely she looked as they paused a moment for her reply to his question. How much he wished in that moment that he could transfer to her instantly his whole heart, for it was evident to him now that this trusting young creature had, unknowingly, given her heart into his keeping.
After an instant’s hesitation, she answered frankly:
“Mother has always objected to my entering into correspondence with gentlemen; but perhaps she will make an exception in your favor, as you seem to be a favorite with her; we can ask her, or rather you may ask.”
They now entered the parlor, where they found Marion by the window reading. Fannie then went in search of her mother, leaving Mr. Willingham seated near Marion.
As she left the room he was saying:
“I did not know before I came that I would find so many friends here whom I could love and admire. I was thinking as I drove over here what a noble young man your brother is. It is not often in life we meet with such men. He and I are the best of friends, singular as it may seem” and Arthur smiled grimly.
“Well, as the country proved a better one than you anticipated this time, perhaps we may persuade you to come again” responded Marion, blushing deeply, as she added:
“If it will be an inducement, I will give you an invitation to my marriage on Mayday. Will you come?”
“It is a great temptation, and I earnestly wish I were free to accept your kind invitation, but I will be in the far West then, and it will be impossible for me to return at that time, but I will write my congratulations,” Arthur replied.
Fannie now came in with her mother, and while the others talked she listened and arranged some of her most lovely flowers into a bouquet for Mr. Willingham. He asked for and obtained from Mrs. Montgomery a frank consent to a correspondence between himself and Fannie.
He now rose to leave and received many cordial invitations to repeat his visit to Louisiana at an early day. To Fannie’s white little hand he gave a warmer pressure, and there was a deeper meaning in the dark eyes as they met hers for a moment, in farewell; and then he went away. To one young heart his going meant so much: a sudden darkening of the light, a dullness, that rendered all things devoid of interest. She went to her room, and tried to get her mind fixed on a book of her favorite poems, but all in vain. She threw down the volume in disgust, and running downstairs called to her mother as she got her hat:
“Mother, dear, I am going for a ride.” She went out to the lot, caught and saddled Gyp, and galloped away for several miles. On her return, she stopped a moment to chat with Evelyn, whom she found in the kitchen with sleeves rolled up, checked apron on, and seemingly very busy.
“Fannie, mother has gone to Mrs. Bliss’s for the day, and left me to prepare the dinner. I am very much afraid that father will not find it a chef d’ceuvre, as I must confess that I am a very poor cook. Mother will never allow me to do any plain cooking; only cakes or something that we do not have ordinarily,” said Evelyn, as she welcomed Fannie warmly.
“Well, you need not be ashamed to confess to me, Evelyn, for I am in the same lamentable condition. I don’t know any more about cooking ’than a cat does about Sunday,’ with the exception of jam puffs and French rolls,” said Fannie, with a grimace.
“I can testify that you make them to perfection,” was Evelyn’s laughing rejoinder.
“I did not stop here but for a moment, Evelyn, and have not time to discuss cookery, but to ask when are you ever again to pay us an old-time, confidential visit. I really have not seen you alone in over two weeks,” exclaimed Fannie, solemnly.
“Did Arthur Willingham go by to tell you goodbye, Fannie?”
“Yes, he came by, and stayed an hour or two. I wonder if you are going to wait until I beg your confidence, before you tell me what is the matter between you and that gentleman, for I know, of course, that he came to Louisiana to see you” Fannie said in an injured tone, as the blood came and went in her face.
“Please give me time, dear, and I will tell you all there is to tell. Come and spend the night with me, Fannie, can’t you?” pleaded Evelyn.
“No, I feel as if I cannot leave Mai longer than an hour or two now. She has so few weeks to stay with us. It gives me the most awful blues, just to contemplate my loneliness after she leaves me,” and bidding Evelyn an affectionate goodbye, Fannie left for home.
A FEW mornings after Fannie’s visit to Evelyn, she found, on coming down to the sitting room, that her mother, father and Laurie, had spent the night at the Bliss’s, with the baby, who was quite ill. Laurie was the only occupant of the room and he looked dull and sleepy.
“And are father and mother still there?” Fannie inquired.
“Yes, and will remain until the afternoon, when I shall return, and if you and your friend, Miss Melton, wish to make yourselves useful, you may go over and help nurse the little fellow tonight, so that those who sat up with him last night may get some rest and sleep,” Laurie replied.
“I did not know the baby was so very ill,” Fannie said. “Evelyn did say something about her mother’s being over there a good deal, but I don’t remember anything of sickness in the matter. Of course, Laurie, we will go; though I do hate to go where anyone is very ill, yet I know I ought to learn how to nurse, and to get over my extreme selfishness.”
“You and Miss Melton may go early. Do not wait for me, as I shall not come until later. The baby will pass the crisis, most probably, the latter part of the night, and will be better or worse by morning” said Laurie, as he took a seat near his sister.
“Laurie, I must tell you some of the nice things Mr. Willingham said of you, the morning before he left us. He spoke in such flattering terms of you. It made me quite proud of you when I heard him, who knows so much of the world, speak of you as he did,” and Fannie threw her arms around her brother’s neck.
“Ah! does it take Willingham’s good opinion of me expressed in ’flattering terms to make you proud of me, little sis?” he said playfully, returning her caress. Then he added:
“I wonder if my loving little Fairy is sure that she did not let that ’Yankee take away with him any part of the loyal little big-heart, that should all remain at home,” and he looked apprehensively at the blushing face and downcast eyes.
“You must know, Fairy, that he came here solely to visit Miss Melton; therefore, sacredly guard so pregnable a fortress as your heart, against one who cannot value it.”
“Yes, Laurie, but I am almost certain that Evelyn does not love him; and am just as sure that she told him so. He intimated as much to me, the morning he left us. I believe, Laurie, that she loves you, and you only,” Fannie replied, looking into his face.
“I wish it was true; but very much fear that you are mistaken in regard to her feelings toward me.” Then changing the subject abruptly, he remarked, “Willingham is a noble fellow if he is a New Englander.”
“Why, I thought your ideal of perfection was embodied in a New Englander,” and Fannie laughed, softly.
He frowned and compressed his lips, and they went into breakfast, where they were joined by Marion.
“Ah,” sighed Fannie, as she went into the flower garden after breakfast. “Love is a hard master; he takes our hearts and wrings them at his will. Surely, ’Love hath more of pain than bliss’ and she walked slowly among the blooming roses, and remembered the presence of a loved one, whose every word and glance meant so much to her warm, young heart.
After dinner Mrs. Montgomery returned home, and Fannie went to her chamber with her; assisted her to undress and go to bed, then, darkening the room, she kissed her fondly and left her to sleep. She was beginning to think more for others. Already, suffering was lessening selfishness.
Fannie argued, and conjectured to herself, what Mr. Willingham’s treatment of her meant. She came to conclusions, then as resolutely dismissed them as worthless. As she sat in the vine covered summer house dreaming, she murmured aloud:
“If he cares nothing for me, why should he wish to correspond with me? I cannot, will not, believe that Arthur Willingham is a flirt,” and the red lips drooped pathetically.
She dressed and went early to Mr. Melton’s, where she was joined by Evelyn. They then went on to Mr. Bliss’s, where they arrived just at sunset, and in obedience to the physician’s orders, sent Mrs. Melton to rest and sleep.
Mrs. Bliss expressed great satisfaction at the kindness of the girls, and said she knew they would prove good nurses.
“With Doctor Laurie here to superintend your willing hands, I will rest easy, and feel confident that my baby will be carefully tended by such sweet, good girls” she exclaimed, as the tears sprang to her eyes.
“Let me have the fan, Mrs. Bliss, and your place by baby, while you eat your supper, or do anything that you please to do. You might lie down and rest until the doctor comes,” said Evelyn gently.
“Have you and Fannie had supper, already?”
“Yes, not really supper, but an early lunch,” answered Fannie.
“Well, if you should get hungry while you are sitting up, I think you both feel enough at home to help yourselves to anything you wish in my pantry, and there will be hot coffee on the stove for you to drink;” then she left the room and the sick baby to the young ladies. When she reached the door she turned, and said:
“I will come back when Doctor Laurie comes and hear his opinion of the baby, before I try to sleep.”
About nine o’clock the Doctor came in, and in a low tone, modulated to suit the sick chamber, bade the young ladies good evening, but did not offer to shake hands with Evelyn, as their intimacy had lately sanctioned him to do.
The glance he gave her on entering the room showed him how pale and delicate she looked, and his heart smote him painfully, as he wondered if Fannie could be true in her surmise, while he counted the baby’s rapid pulse, and listened to his labored breathing.
While he was thus employed, Evelyn watched the strong, white hands, as they handled tenderly the infant form, and wondered how such strength and gentleness could be so combined in one who looked as if he had never known illness or pain.
When Mrs. Bliss returned to the room and interrogated Laurie as to the baby’s condition, he told her there would not likely be any change until after midnight, and insisted on her going to sleep; promising to have her awakened immediately, should any change occur. She readily promised to obey commands, if she could possibly do so, and left the room to the nurses and physician.
Evelyn sat beside the crib and brushed away the flies that are troublesome, in cases of protracted illness, even at night, in our warm climate. She and Fannie kept up a desultory conversation in low tones, which kept them from growing sleepy.
The Doctor spent most of the time walking back and forth on the gallery, while he consoled himself, man fashion, with a cigar.
“Fannie” asked Evelyn, as she caught a faint odor of the burning tobacco, “do you like cigar smoke?”
“Yes,” answered Fannie, dreamily, “it is so delightfully suggestive of there being a man on the premises somewhere, and I like always to feel there’s a masculine protector near by.”
“You are deliciously frank, carissima mia,” replied her friend, laughing.
“Yes, I thought you knew, Evelyn, that candor was one of my virtues, or faults; which?” and Fannie flushed at the recollection of some pretty phrases which Mr. Willingham had used in regard to her naivete, as he styled it. He was so much older than she in every sense of the word.
Evelyn and Laurie had preserved the most dignified coldness toward each other. Thus they drifted wider and wider apart.
After twelve o’clock, the baby grew less restless; his breathing became easy, and by three, Laurie pronounced him out of danger, and the crisis past. The happiness of the parents knew no bounds, and two more grateful people than Mr. and Mrs. Bliss could not be found.
They were fond of the young Doctor before, but now they were enthusiastic in his praise, as never before. He left before it was yet light. Evelyn and his sister were standing on the gallery, when he came out of the sick chamber. Going to them, he said:
“I had better bid you both goodbye, as I will not see you again in some weeks. I am going this morning to the river to embark for the city to attend the State Medical Association, which convenes there next week; from there I will go over into Mississippi, and will not return until I come back with Captain Singleton to his marriage.” He kissed Fannie, and extended his hand to Evelyn. She gave him hers, and the pressure of that parting clasp lingered tenderly with her for many days, and helped her to endure the dull, lonely weeks that followed. Had she but seen the look that accompanied it, she would have been happier, but darkness veiled that from her.
“I did not know that your brother was going away, Fannie. You have never mentioned it to me.”
“No, I did not know myself, that he was going so soon. I heard him say some time ago, that he would attend the Medical Association in New Orleans, but did not think that he would leave before next week. How ever, I do remember now, that I heard him say something of a letter from Mr. Willingham, asking him to come down to the city to meet him on business. So I guess that is why he is hurrying off so much earlier than he intended,” and Fannie fell to wondering what her brother and Mr. Willingham could have to interest them in common. Rivals for the love of the same woman, and yet such friends! It seemed an anomalous situation. Evelyn’s thoughts ran a good deal in the same channel, though she, too, made no comment.
They went home after an early breakfast, and were both of them in a mood to enjoy the ozone breezes that blew down the long corridors of pines, whose brown trunks formed the lofty columns that supported the canopy of everlasting green, in these temples of God’s own creating.
The valleys and hillsides were clothed in Springtime verdure; and if, in every flower’s ear there shone a pearl, still more brilliantly flashed a diamond on every swaying blade of grass. ’The cooing sound of a dove’s soft note, in plaintive minor key, was answered by the cheery whistle of a partridge in a field near by. Even the lowing of the cattle on the hills was softened by the distance. The pine trees kept up their ceaseless orchestra, now swelling loud, or moaning low as the green keys were swept by the fairy fingers of the morning breezes.
“When I walk through a pine forest, it gives me always a feeling of deep melancholy. These grand old trees that consumed ages in development, make us feel solemnly, the brevity of our own lives. Aren’t they grand, Fannie, those tall longleaf pine trees?” asked Evelyn, as they paused a moment on the summit of a hill, and looked back over the way they had come.
“Yes,” replied Fannie, “but isn’t their song a sad one? I used to think when we were children, Laurie, and Mai, and I, that they were playing the dead march for the Indian chiefs, who had lived in their camps under these same trees. I think it was Laurie’s idea, though, and not mine, originally. He used always to be playing chief, and had his following of the little negroes on the place, who were his warriors,” Fannie said, reminiscently.
“How pleasant it must be for one to have a brother and sister, Fannie.”
“Well, am I not as good as a sister to you, Evelyn, and have I not repeatedly offered myself in that capacity for your acceptance? I can’t offer you a brother in Laurie, for he would indignantly repudiate the relationship, craving as he does, a very much nearer and dearer one,” and Fannie looked in the direction of her target. Evelyn’s face was a study.
The remainder of the distance was walked in silence by the girls, and in a few minutes after, they entered the gate at The Refuge.
“You will stay with me today, won’t you, Fannie?” asked Evelyn.
“No, thank you, dear, not if you will lend me the ’Tuckapaw,’ to ride home. Mother will not send for me until later, and I wish to go right away.”
“Certainly, my dearest, and we will go and catch him immediately for you if you wish,” Evelyn replied, and they went out to the lot to find him.
“Evelyn, where is Hynda? I have not seen her in a week,” questioned Fannie.
“Nor I. I begin to fear that Doctor Montgomery’s caution to me was not altogether useless, and that I will never see my beautiful little pet again,” and her eyes filled with tears.
“When my first pet deer left me, I was inconsolable and wept freely over my loss. I was only nine years old, you must remember,” said Fannie.
“Which remark means, that as I have arrived at the dignified age of twenty-two, it is not expected that I shall disgrace that maturity by shedding any tears over my lost Hynda; eh, Fannie?” and Evelyn smiled through her tears.
“Perhaps if we ever take that long talked of, and long deferred deer hunt, the dogs will ‘jump’ Hynda first one,” laughed Fannie.
“Well, then, I shall never go, never!” and the soft eyes flashed as Fannie had never seen them do before.
“Dear, gentle little Evelyn, I did not know you could look so dangerously savage. Did you ever treat Mr. Willingham to such a glance?” Fannie asked, laughing heartily at Evelyn’s indignant look.
“By the way, Fannie, that gentleman pretended to be very much surprised that I did not have a pet alligator, a glossy black pickaninny for a page, and strangest of all, not even a pet mocking bird. Only such common-place pets as fawns and Attakapas ponies,” and Evelyn patted the last named little fellow and leaned her head against his glossy coal.
Fannie remarked as she rode away, “Evelyn, we shall expect you to spend a great deal of your time with us now that Laurie is away, for we will be so lonely, and Marion so soon to leave us, too. You will, won’t you?”
“Yes, I suppose I will stay with you, as I always do, a great deal, Fannie,” she answered.
The weeks that followed were busy ones at the Montgomery’s. Marion’s trosseau had all to be made at home, and for many months, deft fingers had been busy making tatting, crochet, embroidery and drawnwork to adorn the dainty lingerie of the bride-elect. There was not an article in that wardrobe, but was consecrated by some pleasant, or tender memory of loving conversation, held while seated around the table sewing. Evelyn spent much time with them, which she would not have done if Laurie had been there.
When Evelyn had told Fannie of her rejection of Arthur Willingham’s suit, she had concluded by remarking:
“I do not consider him inconsolable, not hopelessly so at all. I think some favored fair one will easily catch his heart in the rebound. I think his love for me was only a fancy, fostered by Marguerite’s fondness for her old chum of college days,” and nothing more on the subject was ever mentioned.
With the marriage day came Laurie and Captain Singleton. The former brought with him the orange blossoms; Nature’s own fragrant offering to bedeck the brow of the blushing young woman.
Marion was a beautiful bride as she stood beside her chosen husband, whose empty sleeve hung with a pathetic droop, that gave him an interest for all, that nothing else can so give a man.
Evelyn had not met Laurie since the night they had parted at Mrs. Bliss’s. She came into the parlor just before the bridal party were ushered in. She looked almost as delicate as the white roses she wore upon her breast and in her hair.
There was one who watched her with deepest interest as she entered the room, and his heart throbbed with pleasure and pain, strangely mingled, as he noticed how thin and pale she looked.
As soon as the ceremony was performed that made his sister the wife of Captain Singleton, and the congratulations that followed were over, Laurie made his way to Evelyn’s side.
“Are you quite well?” he inquired of her.
“Quite well, thank you, Doctor Montgomery; but why do you ask? Do I look ill?” she replied, with an amused smile.
“You look very beautiful, but distressingly pale,” he answered, with a look that brought the color in a wave to her face.
Supper was now announced and an old-fashioned, well-laden table was displayed in the dining room. There was no attempt at formality and everyone was as merry and delightfully unconventional as it is possible to be on such occasions. Each of the bachelors and maidens present, carried away, as souvenir, a bit of the bride’s cake done up in fancy tissue paper, to “dream on.”
After supper they returned to the parlor and amused themselves in various ways. At last Laurie found time to take Evelyn for a promenade in the moonlighted garden, down the path by the gardenia bushes, now sending forth their exhalation of overpowering perfume. They rambled on down to where a rustic seat was temptingly vacant under a spreading magnolia tree. The white moonlight fell in fretted brightness through the dark green foliage, and over all was the stillness and hush of the night.
To them both came an overpowering sense of being alone, for the first time since that memorable evening when her father came so unexpectedly into the room. Laurie first broke the silence that had fallen between them.
“I have so much to tell you in a business way, that I will have to make an engagement to meet you tomorrow, and discuss it all. It is on the subject of your pet scheme, you know, the training school for the young negroes around here,” Laurie said in a happy tone.
“I hope it is something cheering, for I had almost come to the conclusion that you had forgotten all about it. But then I have not met you alone before in so long a time,” she replied a little reproachfully.
“I wonder whose fault it has been,” he said, in a voice that shook with suppressed passion, “not mine, surely, that another came between us, to claim the love I so fondly and foolishly hoped was mine?”
“Why do you say foolishly?” she asked, timidly.
“Oh, Evelyn, you do not know how miserable I have been since Willingham first came between us, to take from me, as I then believed he did, that which I value more than life — your love, my darling,” and he caught the trembling hand and imprisoned it in his strong clasp.
“I never loved Mr. Willingham a moment and you had no right to believe it without hearing from me,” she responded gently; but she did not withdraw her hand from his.
“Evelyn, will you give yourself to me; will you be my wife, dearest? I have loved you ever since I first looked into your dark eyes. Now answer all my questions with a sweet, inclusive ‘yes.’”
“Well, then,” she answered softly, “yes.”
“Evelyn, you cannot be half so happy as I, for you knew all the while that I loved you, while I, from the evidence of my own eyes, thought you were engaged to Mr. Willingham. I knew no better until he told me, himself, in New Orleans of his summary dismissal by you,” said Laurie, kissing the hand he held in his.
“I did not know you loved me. I had good reason to think otherwise, after you treated me so shockingly, with your haughty coldness, Laurie” answered Evelyn tenderly, accentuating his name, called for the first time without his title.
For answer he put his hand under her chin, and drawing the sweet face to him, imprinted a tender kiss on the red lips.
“Could you have seen the crushed love trying to hide behind that lofty bearing, and the agony of soul I endured, after I saw you and Willingham on sunset hill that afternoon, in, as I then believed, the attitude of lovers, you would forgive me, dearest, for all the foolish things I did. You will forgive me now, won’t you?” he replied.
“Yes, of course I will, and ask your pardon in return if I did anything wrong in regard to you,” she responded, sweetly.
“You did nothing wrong; Fate, aided by Jealousy did the troublesome thing for us. But, darling, it is all past, now, the distrust, and the coldness — God grant that never a touch of it may ever darken our lives again,” Laurie answered, impressively, as he held her for a moment close to his heart.
“I never felt any relief to my sufferings until Fannie took pity on my mute agony and told me, the day before I left, that she was certain that you had rejected Willingham, poor fellow,” Laurie resumed, as they rose to return to the house, “and sent him back North, a wiser, and, I guess, a great deal sadder man. How ever, I feel quite kindly toward Willingham now, which I cannot say I always did.”
“I do not think Arthur is altogether inconsolable. I have good reason to believe that Fannie, sweet child, holds the key to a cure for his wounded heart. I do hope it will become an accomplished fact in the near future, for I think Arthur a noble man, though he was quite wild in his university days,” Evelyn replied.
“You will think still more highly of him when I tell you what I know of his generosity; but it is too long a story for this time, and I have time for nothing now but to revel in the sweet knowledge that you love me, my beautiful little woman. I will take you home to night and ask your father’s consent to our union, which must take place at an early day. Are you going to let me have my own sweet way in this important matter?” he asked as he looked at his watch by a stream of light that issued from the open parlor door. They had just been out an hour. Such a perfect, happy hour seldom comes to man but once in a lifetime.
When the guests were all departed, Laurie took Evelyn to where Marion and her husband stood a little apart, and said, in his straightforward, manly fashion:
“Marion, as you and Captain Singleton will leave early in the morning, and will not have another opportunity of seeing Evelyn, I will present her to you as a claimant for a sister’s love. I know that you already love her as one.”
“Oh, Evelyn, darling, is it really true? Nothing could have happened that adds so much to my happiness as this, that you two are blest with each others’ love. I congratulate you, Laurie dearest, on the bliss that is shining in your face,” while the Captain added his graceful congratulations to those of his wife.
“Does Fannie know of it yet?” asked Marion.
“No, we will acquaint her later with the happy event,” said the proud lover.
“I suppose, Laurie, that we will ere long have an excuse to return to Louisiana in the form of a wedding card,” asked the Captain, laughing.
“Yes, but as we have not yet settled that important matter, I cannot tell you when it will come off,” Laurie responded, as Fannie came up with them.
“Fancy, will it console you any for the loss of Marion, if I offer you another sister in the person of Evelyn?” he asked, turning to her.
“Oh, Laurie! Evelyn! is it true that you two have come to your senses, at last, and cleared away the mists that gave you so much trouble and unhappiness? As for you, Evelyn, you know that I cannot love you any more than I do already,” and Fannie kissed her rapturously.
If Evelyn had ever doubted the love and esteem in which she was held by the Montgomery family, ahe never doubted again after Mrs. Montgomery’s affectionate embrace, and the Doctor’s heartfeld, “God bless you, my children.”
Mr. and Mrs. Melton were perfectly satisfied with their daughter’s choice; and when later it was decided that the young couple would reside at Doctor Montgomery’s, their hearts were full of gratitude to God, that their one child would be always near them.
The morning after the marriage, Marion and her husband left The Magnolias, and after the bridal tour, were comfortably settled in their own home in Mississippi.
True to promise, Laurie went next day to The Refuge, and after a tender greeting, remarked:
“I believe I told you that I would make this visit one strictly of business; did I not?” and mischief and love struggled for ascendency in the handsome grey eyes.
“No, you did not say so; you only intimated as much” she answered, smiling sweetly up at him, “and therefore, we will proceed immediately to business. But first be seated, pray, unless you, man fashion, prefer to take the floor and allow me to act as an enthusiastic and interested ‘audience.’”
“Suppose we invite your father and mother to swell your ’audience’ by their presence, and after the business meeting is over, you will be a dutiful little woman and reward me for my devotion to your plans, by saying a whole lot of sweet things to me; won’t you?” and he led her to the door and opened it for her.
She did not remain out long, but soon came back with her parents. After the usual exchange of sentiment in regard to the state of the weather, Laurie came at once to the point:
“Of course, you know something of Evelyn’s feelings on the subject of a school for the training of the young negroes of this section, and also know of our inability in the past to cope successfully with this problem, because of the lack of means to carry our plans into execution. Mr. Willingham has nobly come to the rescue, and promised me all the money I need to carry out Evelyn’s plans,” and he looked into the eyes that were filling fast with tears of delight and gratitude.
“Don’t say ‘my plans,’ please; I did not have any plans. I only looked to you for help in it all. I never advanced so far as to plan,” protested Evelyn, meekly.
“She asked me to aid and advise her in the scheme so dear to her humane heart, and I, of course, promised her all the assistance in my power for the furtherance of an object for which I have felt the deepest solicitude myself. I did not dream of Willingham’s cooperation when I told him of your distress at witnessing the holy dance at Greengrove church.
“But God, who can bend the proud heart of man to execute His will, made our young friend the instrument with which He fashioned the answer to our prayers. Willingham, with a confidence that is very flattering to me, has placed the money entirely at my disposal, and I am going to ask the assistance of you, Mr. Bliss, and Mr. Hynson as trustees of this fund. I know that you will be willing to do all in your power to advance the interest of the school,” and Laurie looked gravely at his prospective father-in-law.
“You are right in conjecturing that, and I hope you will find on experience that your confidence in us has not been misplaced, Doctor,” replied Mr. Melton with a slight tremor in his voice. He was deeply moved by the attitude taken by the young doctor; so different in every way from what he, in his narrow-minded, sectional life in New England, could have believed possible for a Southern man to take. He often felt that he owed his Southern brothers an apology for his entirely false views of them. As for the young physician, he loved and honored him beyond expression.
“I think,” resumed Laurie, “that we can perfect our plans and carry them into execution in time to open the school by the first of October. Father will give the land necessary to locate the buildings, and the negroes will be willing to devote the whole summer to the work, if necessary to its completion. I am going to make them do all they can to aid in the undertaking. They are very enthusiastic people and will be completely car ried away at the idea of such a school for them out here,” Laurie said with the heartiness that characterized him in everything in which he took a part.
“How good! how kind of you!” exclaimed Evelyn with emotion, “how worse than foolish — how chimerical, I was — to ever dream that I could do such a thing.”
“You have done it all, Evelyn,” he said, tenderly, “it was your influence that has accomplished it through Willingham. I do not know when I should have collected sufficient fortune to carry my plans into execution.”
“Well,” said Mr. Melton, “it is a splendid scheme you two young men have gotten up; and your kindness in being willing to devote any of your time, which is already so fully occupied, is noble indeed. Your knowledge of the situation and needs of the negro, is as necessary to the success of the undertaking, as is Willingham’s money. The negroes, too, have perfect confidence in you and your father. I have spoken to a great many of them since I have been here, and they one and all seem to respect and fear as well as love you.”
Laurie was quite well pleased with Mr. Melton’s approval of his plans, and he remarked in conclusion:
“The teachers were selected while I was in the city. I made Mr. Willingham lend his assistance on that important task. They are colored men of education and good sense. There is nothing to be taught but a plain English course and useful trades to both sexes. I thought that it would be best to put Tenah, mother’s sewing woman of antebellum days, to preside over that department, as she is thoroughly competent to fill the place, and will cost less than a city woman. Tenah, too, is such a dear good old thing, I would be glad to get her in a good place. I wish to make good morals a special feature in our curriculum. I shall take great interest in watching the results of our first efforts in the development of such of them as are apt to learn. Some of them I believe are so dull that they will never get above the first reader in this generation, but their children will be that much higher to begin life. I have made a special provision for those who cannot attend the day school, by arranging to have a series of night classes for all who work through the day, as Monk for instance, who is very anxious to learn, yet cannot give up his means of earning his living.
“I do not wish to make a heavier draw on Willingham’s generosity than is absolutely necessary” Laurie continued, and ere long the conversation drifted to other things, and soon father and mother left the room to the lovers. As the door closed behind them, Evelyn turned to Laurie and asked:
“Have you seen the letter which Fannie received from Arthur while he was in the city; or perhaps I am betraying confidence in telling you of it?”
“No, I have not read it for the reason that I have not had time to read anything since I got home, you know,” and Laurie imprisoned the hand that was lying idly on Evelyn’s lap and began to slip on the third small finger a ring. “No, I am quite sure Fannie will never keep anything secret from me, and I know she carries all her letters for mother’s inspection. We have always done that, you know, dearest.”
“I am so anxious for Mr. Willingham to transfer to our dear Fairy the heart I think he only imagined he had given me at the first. I believe he will, if he has not already done so,” Evelyn remarked as she watched with blushing interest the fitting of the pretty, shining ring.
“Why, what reason have you for thinking so, and do you think that Fannie has given her heart to a man whom she knew was deeply in love with another woman?” Laurie questioned with just a touch of bitterness in his tone.
“I believe that Fannie could learn to love him very easily if he were to love her, and I think she is so charming, so lovable, I do not see how he could prefer me to her, long,” Evelyn said, with unusual warmth and enthusiasm.
“If you underrate yourself it will be paying a poor tribute to my taste; will it not, dearest?” and he held up the hand to catch the gleam of the diamond. Apparently he was satisfied, for he kissed her hand passionately.
“Evelyn, this was my father and mother’s engagement ring, and as theirs was a very happy and loving married life, I trust ours will be the same. Mother called me to her room last night and gave it to me to place on this sweet hand. She cannot wear it now; in fact, has not worn it in many years. She has always said she intended it for me. It is a very fine stone, and cost a great deal of money,” and Laurie turned to her and in a voice, tenderly pleading, said:
“Now look into my eyes, darling, and tell me that you love me.”
She did look into his eyes, and then he did not need the softly spoken, “Laurie, I love you better than all else in life,” to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she did indeed love him, as he loved her, with all the strength of a first and only love.
Years have passed, and, with the receding years, have gone some of the friends we met when first we looked into the home Under The Magnolias. A glance there will show us sweet Evelyn Montgomery as the gentle mistress of that happy home.
Laurie is Doctor Montgomery now, since the death of his father left him sole practitioner of that now populous and thriving neighborhood.
Fannie, as Mrs. Willingham, presides gracefully over her husband’s elegant home in Boston. She often spends her winters in the genial climate of her native State. Her noble husband gave, and still gives generously, to the school which bears his name; which but for him, would never have become the potent factor for good it has proved to be in all that section of country.
The gracious Christian mother of the Montgomery home sleeps beside the aged Doctor in the old Brierwood cemetery.
Change is stamped on everything, and even in the kitchen where old Mauma Silvy held sway we find her not. She too has stepped aside from the busy scenes of life and rests in the graveyard on the hill. At The Refuge, from which it seemed all the light had fled when Laurie Montgomery bore away its pet and darling, the peace and quietude of a happy old age is creeping over its pious inmates. Mr. Melton has proved conclusively, that amid the forests of Louisiana, any honest and industrious man can, with the blessing of God, build for himself and loved ones, a home of plenty, if not of wealth. He succeeded when, past the meridian of life, he deemed he was too old to begin anew in a strange place, different, in every way, from his native State.
His old age is crowned with plenty and happiness. His grandchildren are as dear to him, he says, as Evelyn herself. Often, in the summer evenings, they sit and discuss the ways of Providence in leading them to the South and Evelyn declares that it was the personal magnetism of Doctor Laurence Montgomery that attracted her to the sunny State of Louisiana.
Text prepared by:
- Matthew Braud
- Page Jacobson
- Bruce R. Magee
- Hannah Moore
- John Soileau
Dorman, Caroline Trotti. Under the Magnolias. New York: Abbey, 1902. Archive.org. 12 Oct. 2006. Web. 18 May 2015. <https:// archive.org/ details/ undermagnolias st00dormiala>.