"Oh, hit ain't that," cried Babe; "he's jealous of Cap'n Chichester."
"Why, the good Lord, honey! what makes you run on that way?"
"He tol' me so," said Babe.
"Jealous!" exclaimed Grandsir Hightower, "jealous er that young feller! Merciful powers, honey! he's a-begrudgin' 'im the vittles what he eats. I know'd it the minnit I seed 'im come a-sa'nterin' in the yard. Lord, Lord! I wish in my soul the poor creetur could git a chance at one er them ar big Whig barbecues what they useter have."
But there was small consolation in all this for Babe; and she went into the house, where her forlorn appearance attracted the attention of her mother. "Why, Babe! what in the worl'!" exclaimed this practical woman, dropping her work in amazement. "What in the name er sense ails you?" Babe had no hesitation in telling her mother the facts.
"Well, my goodness!" was Mrs. Hightower's comment, "I wouldn't go aroun' whinin' about it, ef I wuz you—that I wouldn't. Nobody never ketched me whinin' 'roun' atter your pappy 'fore we wuz married, an' he wuz lots purtier than what Tuck Peevy is. When your pappy got tetchy, I thes says to myself, s'I: 'Ef I'm wuth havin', I'm wuth scramblin' atter;' an' ef your pappy hadn't 'a' scrambled an' scuffled 'roun' he wouldn't 'a' got me nuther, ef I do up an' say it myself. I'd a heap druther see you fillin' them slays an' a-fixin' up for to weave your pappy some shirts, than to see you a-whinin' 'roun' atter any chap on the top side er the yeth, let 'lone Tuck Peevy."
There was little consolation even in this, but Babe went about her simple duties with some show of spirit; and when her father and Chichester returned from their trip on Sweetwater, it would have required a sharp eye to discover that Babe regarded herself as "wearing the green willow." For a few days she avoided Chichester, as if to prove her loyalty to Peevy; but as Peevy was not present to approve her conduct or to take advantage of it, she soon grew tired of playing an unnecessary part. Peevy persisted in staying away; and the result was that Babe's anger—a healthy quality in a young girl—got the better of her grief. Then wonder took the place of anger; but behind it all was the hope that before many days Peevy would saunter into the house, armed with his inscrutable smile, and inquire, as he had done a hundred times before, how long before dinner would be ready. This theory was held by Grandsir Hightower, but, as it was a very plausible one, Babe adopted it as her own.
Meanwhile, it is not to be supposed that two lovers, one sulking and the other sighing, had any influence on the season. The spring had made some delay in the valley before taking complete possession of the mountain, but this delay was not significant. Even on the mountain, the days began to suggest the ardor of summer. The air was alternately warm and hazy, and crisp and clear. One day Kenesaw would cast aside its atmospheric trappings, and appear to lie within speaking distance of Hightower's door; the next, it would withdraw behind its blue veil, and seem far enough away to belong to another world. On Hightower's farm the corn was high enough to whet its green sabres against the wind. One evening Chichester, Hightower, and Babe sat on the little porch with their faces turned toward Kenesaw. They had been watching a line of blue smoke on the mountain in the distance; and, as the twilight deepened into dusk, they saw that the summit of Kenesaw was crowned by a thin fringe of fire. As the darkness gathered, the bright belt of flame projected against the vast expanse of night seemed to belong to the vision of St. John.
"It looks like a picture out of the Bible," suggested Chichester somewhat vaguely.
"It's wuss'n that, I reckon," said Abe. "Some un's a-losin' a mighty sight of fencin'; an' timber's timber these days, lemme tell you."
"Maybe someun's a-burnin' bresh," said Babe.
"Bless you! they don't pile bresh in a streak a mile long," said Abe.
The thin line of fire crept along slowly, and the people on the little porch sat and watched it. Occasionally it would crawl to the top of a dead pine, and leave a fiery signal flaming in the air.
"What is the matter with Peevy?" asked Chichester. "I met him on the mountain the other day, and he seemed not to know me."
"He don't know anybody aroun' here," said Babe with a sigh.
"Hit's thes some er his an' Babe's capers," Hightower remarked with a laugh. "They er bin a-cuttin' up this away now gwine on two year'. I reckon ag'in' camp-meetin' time Tuck'll drap in an' make hisself know'd. Gals and boys is mighty funny wi' the'r gwines-on."
After a little, Abe went into the house, and left the young people to watch the fiery procession on Kenesaw.
"The next time I see Peevy," said Chichester gallantly, "I'll take him by the sleeve, and show him the road to Beauty's bower."
"Well, you nee'nter pester wi' 'im on account of me," said Babe. Chichester laughed. The fact that so handsome a girl as Babe should deliberately fall in love with so lank and ungainly a person as Tuck Peevy seemed to him to be one of the problems that philosophers ought to concern themselves with; but, from his point of view, the fact that Babe had not gradually faded away, according to the approved rules of romance, was entirely creditable to human nature on the mountain. A candle, burning in the room that Chichester occupied, shone through the window faintly, and fell on Babe, while Chichester sat in the shadow. As they were talking, a mocking-bird in the apple trees awoke, and poured into the ear of night a flood of delicious melody. Hearing this, Babe seized Chichester's hat, and placed it on her head.
"There must be some omen in that," said Chichester.
"They say," said Babe, laughing merrily, "that ef a gal puts on a man's hat when she hears a mocker sing at night, she'll get married that year an' do well."
"Well, I'm sorry I haven't got a bonnet to put on," exclaimed Chichester.
"Oh, it don't work that away!" cried Babe.
The mocking-bird continued to sing, and finally brought its concert to a close by giving a most marvelous imitation of the liquid, silvery chimes of the wood-thrush.
There was a silence for one brief moment. Then there was a red flash under the apple trees followed by the sharp crack of a rifle. There was another brief moment of silence, and then the young girl sighed softly, leaned forward, and fell from her chair.
"What's this?" cried Abe, coming to the door.
"The Lord only knows!" exclaimed Chichester. "Look at your daughter!"
Abe stepped forward, and touched the girl on the shoulder. Then he shook her gently, as he had a thousand times when rousing her from sleep.
"Babe! git up! Git up, honey, an' go in the house. You ought to 'a' been abed long ago. Git up honey." Chichester stood like one paralyzed. For the moment, he was incapable of either speech or action.
"I know what sh'e atter," said Abe tenderly. "You wouldn't believe it skacely, but this yer great big chunk of a gal wants her ole pappy to pick her up an' tote her thes like he useter when she was er little bit of a scrap."
"I think she has been shot," said Chichester. To his own ears his voice seemed to be the voice of some other man.
"Shot!" exclaimed Abe. "Why, who's a-gwine to shoot Babe? Lord, Cap'n! you dunner nothin' 'tall 'bout Babe ef you talk that away.—Come on, honey." With that Abe lifted his child in his arms, and carried her into the house. Chichester followed. All his faculties were benumbed, and he seemed to be walking in a dream. It seemed that no such horrible confusion as that by which he was surrounded could have the remotest relation to reality.
Nevertheless, it did not add to his surprise and consternation to find, when Abe had placed the girl on her bed, that she was dead. A little red spot on her forehead, half-hidden by the glossy curling hair, showed that whoever held the rifle aimed it well.
"Why, honey," said Abe, wiping away the slight blood-stain that showed itself, "you struck your head a'in' a nail. Git up! you oughtn't to be a-gwine on this away before comp'ny."
"I tell you she is dead!" cried Chichester. "She has been murdered!" The girl's mother had already realized this fact, and her tearless grief was something pitiful to behold. The gray-haired grandfather had also realized it.
"I'd druther see her a-lyin' thar dead," he exclaimed, raising his weak and trembling hands heavenward, "than to see her Tuck Peevy's wife."
"Why, gentermen!" exclaimed Abe, "how kin she be dead? I oughter know my own gal, I reckon. Many's an' many's the time she's worried me, a-playin' 'possum, an' many's an' many's the time has I sot by her waitin' tell she let on to wake up. Don't you all pester wi' her. She'll wake up therreckly."
At this juncture Tuck Peevy walked into the room. There was a strange glitter in his eyes, a new energy in his movements. Chichester sprang at him, seized him by the throat, and dragged him to the bedside.
"You cowardly, skulking murderer!" he exclaimed, "see what you have done!"
Peevy's sallow face grew ashen. He seemed to shrink and collapse under Chichester's hand. His breath came thick and short. His long, bony fingers clutched nervously at his clothes.
"I aimed at the hat!" he exclaimed huskily.
He would have leaned over the girl, but Chichester flung him away from the bedside, and he sank down in a corner, moaning and shaking. Abe took no notice of Peevy's entrance, and paid no attention to the crouching figure mumbling in the corner, except, perhaps, so far as he seemed to recognize in Chichester's attack on Peevy a somewhat vigorous protest against his own theory; for, when there was comparative quiet in the room, Hightower raised himself, and exclaimed, in a tone that showed both impatience and excitement:
"Why, great God A'mighty, gentermen, don't go on that way! They hain't no harm done. Thes let us alone. Me an' Babe's all right. She's bin a-playin' this away ev'ry sence she wuz a little bit of a gal. Don't less make her mad, gentermen, bekaze ef we do she'll take plum tell day atter to-morrer for to come 'roun' right."
Looking closely at Hightower, Chichester could see that his face was colorless. His eyes were sunken, but shone with a peculiar brilliancy, and great beads of perspiration stood on his forehead. His whole appearance was that of a man distraught. Here was another tragedy!
Seeking a momentary escape from the confusion and perplexity into which he had been plunged by the horrible events of the night, Chichester passed out into the yard, and stood bareheaded in the cool wind that was faintly stirring among the trees. The stars shone remote and tranquil, and the serenity of the mountain, the awful silence that seemed to be, not the absence of sound, but the presence of some spiritual entity, gave assurance of peace. Out there, in the cold air, or in the wide skies, or in the vast gulf of night, there was nothing to suggest either pity or compassion—only the mysterious tranquillity of nature.
This was the end, so far as Chichester knew. He never entered the Hightower house again. Something prompted him to saddle his horse and ride down the mountain. The tragedy and its attendant troubles were never reported in the newspapers. The peace of the mountain remained undisturbed, its silence unbroken.
But should Chichester, who at last accounts was surveying a line of railway in Mexico, ever return to Lost Mountain, he would find Tuck Peevy a gaunt and shrunken creature, working on the Hightower farm, and managing such of its small affairs as call for management. Sometimes, when the day's work is over, and Peevy sits at the fireside saying nothing, Abe Hightower will raise a paralytic hand, and cry out as loud as he can that it's almost time for Babe to quit playing 'possum. At such times we may be sure that, so far as Peevy is concerned, there is still trouble on Lost Mountain.
MISS HELEN OSBORNE EUSTIS of Boston was very much astonished one day in the early fall of 1873 to receive a professional visit from Dr. Ephraim Buxton, who for many years had been her father's family physician. The astonishment was mutual; for Dr. Buxton had expected to find Miss Eustis in bed, or at least in the attitude of a patient, whereas she was seated in an easy chair, before a glowing grate—which the peculiarities of the Boston climate sometimes render necessary, even in the early fall—and appeared to be about as comfortable as a human being could well be. Perhaps the appearance of comfort was heightened by the general air of subdued luxury that pervaded the apartment into which Dr. Buxton had been ushered. The draperies, the arrangement of the little affairs that answer to the name of bric-a-brac, the adjustment of the furniture—everything—conveyed the impression of peace and repose; and the chief element of this perfect harmony was Miss Eustis herself, who rose to greet the doctor as he entered. She regarded the physician with eyes that somehow seemed to be wise and kind, and with a smile that was at once sincere and humorous.
"Why, how is this, Helen?" Dr. Buxton exclaimed, taking off his spectacles, and staring at the young lady. "I fully expected to find you in bed. I hope you are not imprudent."
"Why should I be ill, Dr. Buxton? You know what Mr. Tom Appleton says: 'In Boston, those who are sick do injustice to the air they breathe and to their cooks.' I think that is a patriotic sentiment, and I try to live up to it. My health is no worse than usual, and usually it is very good," said Miss Eustis.
"You certainly seem to be well," said Dr. Buxton, regarding the young lady with a professional frown; "but appearances are sometimes deceitful. I met Harriet yesterday—"
"Ah, my aunt!" exclaimed Helen, in a tone calculated to imply that this explained everything.
"I met Harriet yesterday, and she insisted on my coming to see you at once, certainly not later than to-day."
Miss Eustis shrugged her shoulders, and laughed, but her face showed that she appreciated this manifestation of solicitude.
"Let me see," she said reflectively; "what was my complaint yesterday? We must do justice to Aunt Harriet's discrimination. She would never forgive you if you went away without leaving a prescription. My health is so good that I think you may leave me a mild one."
Unconsciously the young lady made a charming picture as she sat with her head drooping a little to one side in a half-serious, half-smiling effort to recall to mind some of the symptoms that had excited her aunt's alarm. Dr. Buxton, prescription book in hand, gazed at her quizzically over his old-fashioned spectacles; seeing which, Helen laughed heartily. At that moment her aunt entered the room—a pleasant-faced but rather prim old lady, of whom it had been said by some one competent to judge, that her inquisitiveness was so overwhelming and so important that it took the shape of pity in one direction, patriotism in another, and benevolence in another, giving to her life not the semblance but the very essence of usefulness and activity.
"Do you hear that, Dr. Buxton?" cried the pleasant-faced old lady somewhat sharply. "Do you hear her wheeze when she laughs? Do you remember that she was threatened with pneumonia last winter? and now she is wheezing before the winter begins!"
"This is the trouble I was trying to think of," exclaimed Helen, sinking back in her chair with a gesture of mock despair.
"Don't make yourself ridiculous, dear," said the aunt, giving the little clusters of gray curls that hung about her ears an emphatic shake. "Serious matters should be taken seriously." Whereat Helen pressed her cheek gently against the thin white hand that had been laid caressingly on her shoulder.
"Aunt Harriet has probably heard me say that there is still some hope for the country, even though it is governed entirely by men," said Helen, with an air of apology. "The men can not deprive us of the winter climate of Boston, and I enjoy that above all things."
Aunt Harriet smiled reproachfully at her niece, and pulled her ear gently.
"But indeed, Dr. Buxton," Helen went on more seriously, "the winter climate of Boston, fine as it is, is beginning to pinch us harder than it used to do. The air is thinner, and the cold is keener. When I was younger—very much younger—than I am now, I remember that I used to run in and out, and fall and roll in the snow with perfect impunity. But now I try to profit by Aunt Harriet's example. When I go out, I go bundled up to the point of suffocation; and if the wind is from the east, as it usually is, I wear wraps and shawls indoors."
Helen smiled brightly at her aunt and at Dr. Buxton; but her aunt seemed to be distressed, and the physician shook his head dubiously.
"You will have to take great care of yourself," said Dr. Buxton. "You must be prudent. The slightest change in the temperature may send you to bed for the rest of the winter."
"Dr. Buxton is complimenting you, Aunt Harriet," said Helen. "You should drop him a courtesy."
Whereupon the amiable physician, seeing that there was no remedy for the humorous view which Miss Eustis took of her condition, went further, and informed her that there was every reason why she should be serious. He told her, with some degree of bluntness, that her symptoms, while not alarming, were not at all reassuring.
"It is always the way, Dr. Buxton," said Helen, smiling tenderly at her aunt; "I believe you would confess to serious symptoms yourself if Aunt Harriet insisted on it. What an extraordinary politician she would make! My sympathy with the woman-suffrage movement is in the nature of an investment. When we women succeed to the control of affairs, I count on achieving distinction as Aunt Harriet's niece."
Laughing, she seized her aunt's hand. Dr. Buxton, watching her, laughed too, and then proceeded to write out a prescription. He seemed to hesitate a little over this; seeing which, Helen remonstrated:
"Pray, Dr. Buxton, don't humor Aunt Harriet too much in this. Save your physic for those who are strong in body and mind. A dozen of your pellets ought to be a year's supply." The physician wrote out his prescription, and took his leave, laughing heartily at the amiable confusion in which Helen's drollery had left her aunt.
It is not to be supposed, however, that Miss Eustis was simply droll. She was unconventional at all times, and sometimes wilful—inheriting that native strength of mind and mother wit which are generally admitted to be a part of the equipment of the typical American woman. If she was not the ideal young woman, at least she possessed some of the attractive qualities that one tries—sometimes unsuccessfully—to discover in one's dearest friends. From her infancy, until near the close of the war, she had had the advantage of her father's companionship, so that her ideas were womanly rather than merely feminine. She had never been permitted to regard the world from the dormer-windows of a young ladies' seminary, in consequence of which her views of life in general, and of mankind in particular, were orderly and rational. Such indulgence as her father had given her had served to strengthen her individuality rather than to confirm her temper; and, though she had a strong and stubborn will of her own, her tact was such that her wilfulness appeared to be the most natural as well as the most charming thing in the world. Moreover, she possessed in a remarkable degree that buoyancy of mind that is more engaging than mere geniality.
Her father was no less a person than Charles Osborne Eustis, the noted philanthropist and abolitionist, whose death in 1867 was the occasion of quite a controversy in New England—a controversy based on the fact that he had opposed some of the most virulent schemes of his coworkers at a time when abolitionism had not yet gathered its full strength. Mr. Eustis, in his day, was in the habit of boasting that his daughter had a great deal of genuine American spirit—the spirit that one set of circumstances drives to provinciality, another to patriotism, and another to originality.
Helen had spent two long winters in Europe without parting with the fine flavor of her originality. She was exceedingly modest in her designs, too, for she went neither as a missionary nor as a repentant. She found no foreign social shrines that she thought worthy of worshiping at. She admired what was genuine, and tolerated such shams as obtruded themselves on her attention. Her father's connections had enabled her to see something of the real home-life of England; and she was delighted, but not greatly surprised, to find that at its best it was not greatly different from the home life to which she had been accustomed.
The discovery delighted her because it confirmed her own broad views; but she no more thought it necessary to set about aping the social peculiarities to be found in London drawing-rooms than she thought of denying her name or her nativity. She made many interesting studies and comparisons, but she was not disposed to be critical. She admired many things in Europe which she would not have considered admirable in America, and whatever she found displeasing she tolerated as the natural outcome of social or climatic conditions. Certainly the idea never occurred to her that her own country was a barren waste because time had not set the seal of antiquity on its institutions. On the other hand, this admirable young woman was quick to perceive that much information as well as satisfaction was to be obtained by regarding various European peculiarities from a strictly European point of view.
But Miss Eustis's reminiscences of the Old World were sad as well as pleasant. Her journey thither had been undertaken in the hope of restoring her father's failing health, and her stay there had been prolonged for the same purpose. For a time he grew stronger and better, but the improvement was only temporary. He came home to die, and to Helen this result seemed to be the end of all things. She had devoted herself to looking after his comfort with a zeal and an intelligence that left nothing undone. This had been her mission in life. Her mother had died when Helen was a little child, leaving herself and her brother, who was some years older, to the care of the father. Helen remembered her mother only as a pale, beautiful lady in a trailing robe, who fell asleep one day, and was mysteriously carried away—the lady of a dream.
The boy—the brother—rode forth to the war in 1862, and never rode back any more. To the father and sister waiting at home, it seemed as if he had been seized and swept from the earth on the bosom of the storm that broke over the country in that period of dire confusion. Even Rumor, with her thousand tongues, had little to say of the fate of this poor youth. It was known that he led a squad of troopers detailed for special service, and that his command, with small knowledge of the country, fell into an ambush from which not more than two or three extricated themselves. Beyond this all was mystery, for those who survived that desperate skirmish could say nothing of the fate of their companions. The loss of his son gave Mr. Eustis additional interest in his daughter, if that were possible; and the common sorrow of the two so strengthened and sweetened their lives that their affection for each other was in the nature of a perpetual memorial of the pale lady who had passed away, and of the boy who had perished in Virginia.
When Helen's father died, in 1867, her mother's sister, Miss Harriet Tewksbury, a spinster of fifty or thereabouts, who, for the lack of something substantial to interest her, had been halting between woman's rights and Spiritualism, suddenly discovered that Helen's cause was the real woman's cause; whereupon she went to the lonely and grief-stricken girl, and with that fine efficiency which the New England woman acquires from the air, and inherits from history, proceeded to minister to her comfort. Miss Tewksbury was not at all vexed to find her niece capable of taking care of herself. She did not allow that fact to prevent her from assuming a motherly control that was most gracious in its manifestations, and peculiarly gratifying to Helen, who found great consolation in the all but masculine energy of her aunt.
A day or two after Dr. Buxton's visit, the result of which has already been chronicled, Miss Tewksbury's keen eye detected an increase of the symptoms that had given her anxiety, and their development was of such a character that Helen made no objection when her aunt proposed to call in the physician again. Dr. Buxton came, and agreed with Miss Tewksbury as to the gravity of the symptoms; but his prescription was oral.
"You must keep Helen indoors until she is a little stronger," he said to Miss Tewksbury, "and then take her to a milder climate."
"Oh, not to Florida!" exclaimed Helen promptly.
"Not necessarily," said the doctor.
"Please don't twist your language, Dr. Buxton. You should say necessarily not."
"And why not to Florida, young lady?" the doctor inquired.
"Ah, I have seen people that came from there," said Helen: "they were too tired to talk much about the country, but something in their attitude and appearance seemed to suggest that they had seen the sea-serpent. Dear doctor, I have no desire to see the sea-serpent."
"Well, then, my dear child," said Dr. Buxton soothingly, "not to Florida, but to nature's own sanitarium, the pine woods of Georgia. Yes," the doctor went on, smiling as he rubbed the glasses of his spectacles with his silk handkerchief, "nature's own sanitarium. I tested the piny woods of Georgia thoroughly years ago. I drifted there in my young days. I lived there, and taught school there. I grew strong there, and I have always wanted to go back there."
"And now," said Helen, with a charmingly demure glance at the enthusiastic physician, "you want to send Aunt Harriet and poor Me forward as a skirmish-line. There is no antidote in your books for the Ku-Klux."
"You will see new scenes and new people," said Dr. Buxton, laughing. "You will get new ideas; above all, you will breathe the fresh air of heaven spiced with the odor of pines. It will be the making of you, my dear child."
Helen made various protests, some of them serious and some droll, but the matter was practically settled when it became evident that Dr. Buxton was not only earnestly but enthusiastically in favor of the journey; and Helen's aunt at once began to make preparations. To some of their friends it seemed a serious undertaking indeed. The newspapers of that day were full of accounts of Ku-Klux outrages, and of equally terrible reports of the social disorganization of the South. It seemed at that time as though the politicians and the editors, both great and small, and of every shade of belief, had determined to fight the war over again—instituting a conflict which, though bloodless enough so far as the disputants were concerned, was not without its unhappy results.
Moreover, Helen's father had been noted among those who had early engaged in the crusade against slavery; and it was freely predicted by her friends that the lawlessness which was supposed to exist in every part of the collapsed Confederacy would be prompt to select the representatives of Charles Osborne Eustis as its victims.
Miss Tewksbury affected to smile at the apprehensions of her friends, but her preparations were not undertaken without a secret dread of the responsibilities she was assuming. Helen, however, was disposed to treat the matter humorously. "Dr. Buxton is a lifelong Democrat," she said; "consequently he must know all about it. Father used to tell him he liked his medicine better than his politics, bitter as some of it was; but in a case of this kind, Dr. Buxton's politics have a distinct value. He will give us the grips, the signs, and the pass-words, dear aunt, and I dare say we shall get along comfortably."
THEY did get along comfortably. Peace seemed to spread her meshes before them. They journeyed by easy stages, stopping a while in Philadelphia, in Baltimore, and in Washington. They stayed a week in Richmond. From Richmond they were to go to Atlanta, and from Atlanta to Azalia, the little piny woods village which Dr. Buxton had recommended as a sanitarium. At a point south of Richmond, where they stopped for breakfast, Miss Eustis and her aunt witnessed a little scene that seemed to them to be very interesting. A gentleman wrapped in a long linen traveling-coat was pacing restlessly up and down the platform of the little station. He was tall, and his bearing was distinctly military. The neighborhood people who were lounging around the station watched him with interest. After a while a negro boy came running up with a valise which he had evidently brought some distance. He placed it in front of the tall gentleman, crying out in a loud voice: "Here she is, Marse Peyton," then stepped to one side, and began to fan himself vigorously with the fragment of a wool hat. He grinned broadly in response to something the tall gentleman said; but, before he could make a suitable reply, a negro woman, fat and motherly-looking, made her appearance, puffing and blowing and talking.
"I declar' ter gracious, Marse Peyton! seem like I wa'n't never gwine ter git yer. I helt up my head, I did, fer ter keep my eye on de kyars, en it look like I run inter all de gullies en on top er all de stumps 'twix' dis en Marse Tip's. I des tuk'n drapt eve'ything, I did, en tole um dey'd batter keep one eye on de dinner-pot, kaze I 'blige ter run en see Marse Peyton off."
The gentleman laughed as the motherly-looking old negro wiped her face with her apron. Her sleeves were rolled up, and her fat arms glistened in the sun.
"I boun' you some er deze yer folks'll go off en say I'm 'stracted," she cried, "but I can't he'p dat; I bleeze ter run down yer ter tell Marse Peyton good-by. Tell um all howdy fer me, Marse Peyton," she cried, "all un um. No diffunce ef I ain't know um all—'tain't gwine ter do no harm fer ter tell um dat ole Jincy say howdy. Hit make me feel right foolish in de head w'en it comes 'cross me dat I use ter tote Miss Hallie 'roun' w'en she wuz a little bit er baby, en now she way down dar out'n de worl' mos'. I wish ter de Lord I uz gwine 'long wid you, Marse Peyton! Yit I 'speck, time I got dar, I'd whirl in en wish myse'f back home."
The negro boy carried the gentleman's valise into the sleeping-coach, and placed it opposite the seats occupied by Helen and her aunt. Across the end was stenciled in white the name "Peyton Garwood." When the train was ready to start, the gentleman shook hands with the negro woman and with the boy. The woman seemed to be very much affected.
"God A'mighty bless you, Marse Peyton, honey!" she exclaimed as the train moved off; and as long as Helen could see her, she was waving her hands in farewell. Both Helen and her aunt had watched this scene with considerable interest, and now, when the gentleman had been escorted to his seat by the obsequious porter, they regarded him with some curiosity. He appeared to be about thirty-five years old. His face would have been called exceedingly handsome but for a scar on his right cheek; and yet, on closer inspection, the scar seemed somehow to fit the firm outlines of his features. His brown beard emphasized the strength of his chin. His nose was slightly aquiline, his eyebrows were a trifle rugged, and his hair was brushed straight back from a high forehead. His face was that of a man who had seen rough service and enjoyed it keenly—a face full of fire and resolution with some subtle suggestion of tenderness.
"She called him 'Master,' Helen," said Miss Tewksbury after a while, referring to the scene at the station; "did you hear her?" Miss Tewksbury's tone implied wrathfulness that was too sure of its own justification to assert itself noisily.
"I heard her," Helen replied. "She called him Master, and he called her Mammy. It was a very pleasing exchange of compliments."
Such further comment as the ladies may have felt called on to make—for it was a matter in which both were very much interested—was postponed for the time being. A passenger occupying a seat in the farther end of the coach had recognized the gentleman whose valise was labeled "Peyton Garwood," and now pressed forward to greet him. This passenger was a very aggressive-looking person. He was short and stout, but there was no suggestion of jollity or even of good-humor in his rotundity. No one would have made the mistake of alluding to him as a fat man. He would have been characterized as the pudgy man; and even his pudginess was aggressive. He had evidently determined to be dignified at any cost, but his seriousness seemed to be perfectly gratuitous.
"Gener'l Garwood?" he said in an impressive tone, as he leaned over the tall gentleman's seat.
"Ah! Goolsby!" exclaimed the other, extending his hand. "Why, how do you do? Sit down."
Goolsby's pudginess became more apparent and apparently more aggressive than ever when he seated himself near General Garwood.
"Well, sir, I can't say my health's any too good. You look mighty well yourse'f, gener'l. How are things?" said Goolsby, pushing his traveling-cap over his eyes, and frowning as if in pain.
"Oh, affairs seem to be improving," General Garwood replied.
"Well, now, I ain't so up and down certain about that, gener'l," said Goolsby, settling himself back, and frowning until his little eyes disappeared. "Looks like to me that things git wuss and wuss. I ain't no big man, and I'm ruther disj'inted when it comes right down to politics; but blame me if it don't look to me mighty like the whole of creation is driftin' 'round loose."
"Ah, well," said the general soothingly, "a great many things are uncomfortable; there is a good deal of unnecessary irritation growing out of new and unexpected conditions. But we are getting along better than we are willing to admit. We are all fond of grumbling."
"That's so," said Goolsby, with the air of a man who is willing to make any sacrifice for the sake of a discussion; "that's so. But I tell you we're havin' mighty tough times, gener'l—mighty tough times. Yonder's the Yankees on one side, and here's the blamed niggers on t'other, and betwixt and betweenst 'em a white man's got mighty little chance. And then, right on top of the whole caboodle, here comes the panic in the banks, and the epizooty 'mongst the cattle. I tell you, gener'l, it's tough times, and it's in-about as much as an honest man can do to pay hotel bills and have a ticket ready to show up when the conductor comes along."
General Garwood smiled sympathetically, and Goolsby went on: "Here I've been runnin' up and down the country tryin' to sell a book, and I ain't sold a hunderd copies sence I started—no, sir, not a hunderd copies. Maybe you'd like to look at it, gener'l," continued Goolsby, stiffening up a little. "If I do say it myself, it's in-about the best book that a man'll git a chance to thumb in many a long day."
"What book is it, Goolsby?" the general inquired.
Goolsby sprang up, waddled rapidly to where he had left his satchel, and returned, bringing a large and substantial-looking volume.
"It's a book that speaks for itself any day in the week," he said, running the pages rapidly between his fingers; "it's a history of our own great conflict—'The Rise and Fall of the Rebellion,' by Schuyler Paddleford. I don't know what the blamed publishers wanted to put in 'Rebellion' for. I told 'em, says I: 'Gentlemen, it'll be up-hill work with this in the Sunny South. Call it "The Conflict,"' says I. But they wouldn't listen, and now I have to work like a blind nigger splittin' rails. But she's a daisy, gener'l, as shore as you're born. She jess reads right straight along from cover to cover without a bobble. Why, sir, I never know'd what war was till I meandered through the sample pages of this book. And they've got your picture in here, gener'l, jest as natural as life—all for five dollars in cloth, eight in liberry style, and ten in morocker."
General Garwood glanced over the specimen pages with some degree of interest, while Goolsby continued to talk.
"Now, betwixt you and me, gener'l," he went on confidentially, "I don't nigh like the style of that book, particular where it rattles up our side. I wa'n't in the war myself, but blame me if it don't rile me when I hear outsiders a-cussin' them that was. I come mighty nigh not takin' holt of it on that account; but 'twouldn't have done no good, not a bit. If sech a book is got to be circulated around here, it better be circulated by some good Southron—a man that's a kind of antidote to the pizen, as it were. If I don't sell it, some blamed Yankee'll jump in and gallop around with it. And I tell you what, gener'l, betwixt you and me and the gate-post, it's done come to that pass where a man can't afford to be too plegged particular; if he stops for to scratch his head and consider whether he's a gentleman, some other feller'll jump in and snatch the rations right out of his mouth. That's why I'm a-paradin' around tryin' to sell this book."
"Well," said General Garwood in an encouraging tone, "I have no doubt it is a very interesting book. I have heard of it before. Fetch me a copy when you come to Azalia again."
Goolsby smiled an unctuous and knowing smile. "Maybe you think I ain't a-comin'," he exclaimed, with the air of a man who has invented a joke that he relishes. "Well, sir, you're getting the wrong measure. I was down in 'Zalia Monday was a week, and I'm a-goin' down week after next. Fact is," continued Goolsby, rather sheepishly, "'Zalia is a mighty nice place. Gener'l, do you happen to know Miss Louisa Hornsby? Of course you do! Well, sir, you might go a week's journey in the wildwood, as the poet says, and not find a handsomer gal then that. She's got style from away back."
"Why, yes!" exclaimed the general in a tone of hearty congratulation, "of course I know Miss Lou. She is a most excellent young lady. And so the wind sits in that quarter? Your blushes, Goolsby, are a happy confirmation of many sweet and piquant rumors."
Goolsby appeared to be very much embarrassed. He moved about uneasily in his seat, searched in all his pockets for something or other that wasn't there, and made a vain effort to protest. He grew violently red in the face, and the color gleamed through his closely cropped hair.
"Oh, come now, gener'l!" he exclaimed. "Oh, pshaw! Why—oh, go 'way!"
His embarrassment was so great, and seemed to border so closely on epilepsy, that the general was induced to offer him a cigar and invite him into the smoking apartment. As General Garwood and Goolsby passed out, Helen Eustis drew a long breath.
"It is worth the trouble of a long journey to behold such a spectacle," she declared. Her aunt regarded her curiously. "Who would have thought it?" she went on—"a Southern secessionist charged with affability, and a book-agent radiant with embarrassment!"
"He is a coarse, ridiculous creature," said Miss Tewksbury sharply.
"The affable general, Aunt Harriet?"
"No, child; the other."
"Dear aunt, we are in the enemy's country, and we must ground our prejudices. The book-agent is pert and crude, but he is not coarse. A coarse man may be in love, but he would never blush over it. And as for the affable general—you saw the negro woman cry over him."
"Poor thing!" said Miss Tewksbury, with a sigh. "She sadly needs Instruction."
"Ah, yes! that is a theory we should stand to, but how shall we instruct her to run and cry after us?"
"My dear child, we want no such disgusting exhibitions. It is enough if we do our duty by these unfortunates."
"But I do want just such an exhibition, Aunt Harriet," said Helen seriously. "I should be glad to have some fortunate or unfortunate creature run and cry after me."
"Well," said Miss Tewksbury placidly, "we are about to ignore the most impressive fact, after all."
"What is that, Aunt Harriet?"
"Why, child, these people are from Azalia, and for us Azalia is the centre of the universe."
"Ah, don't pretend that you are not charmed, dear aunt. We shall have the pleasure of meeting the handsome Miss Hornsby, and probably Mr. Goolsby himself—and certainly the distinguished general."
"I only hope Ephraim Buxton has a clear conscience to-day," remarked Miss Tewksbury with unction.
"Did you observe the attitude of the general toward Mr. Goolsby, and that of Mr. Goolsby toward the general?" asked Helen, ignoring the allusion to Dr. Buxton. "The line that the general drew was visible to the naked eye. But Mr. Goolsby drew no line. He is friendly and familiar on principle. I was reminded of the 'Brookline Reporter,' which alluded the other day to the London 'Times' as its esteemed contemporary. The affable general is Mr. Goolsby's esteemed contemporary."
"My dear child," said Miss Tewksbury, somewhat anxiously, "I hope your queer conceits are not the result of your illness."
"No, they are the result of my surroundings. I have been trying to pretend to myself, ever since we left Washington, that we are traveling through a strange country; but it is a mere pretense. I have been trying to verify some previous impressions of barbarism and shiftlessness."
"Well, upon my word, my dear," exclaimed Miss Tewksbury, "I should think you had had ample opportunity."
"I have been trying to take the newspaper view," Helen went on with some degree of earnestness, "but it is impossible. We must correct the newspapers, Aunt Harriet, and make ourselves famous. Everything I have seen that is not to be traced to the result of the war belongs to a state of arrested development."
Miss Tewksbury was uncertain whether her niece was giving a new turn to her drollery, so she merely stared at her; but the young lady seemed to be serious enough.
"Don't interrupt me, Aunt Harriet. Give me the opportunity you would give to Dr. Barlow Blade, the trance medium. Everything I see in this country belongs to a state of arrested development, and it has been arrested at a most interesting point. It is picturesque. It is colonial. I am amazed that this fact has not been dwelt on by people who write about the South."
"The conservatism that prevents progress, or stands in the way of it, is a crime," said Miss Tewksbury, pressing her thin lips together firmly. She had once been on the platform in some of the little country towns of New England, and had made quite a reputation for pith and fluency.
"Ah, dear aunt, that sounds like an extract from a lecture. We can have progress in some things, but not in others. We have progressed in the matter of conveniences, comforts, and luxuries, but in what other directions? Are we any better than the people who lived in the days of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison? Is the standard of morality any higher now than it was in the days of the apostles?"
"Don't talk nonsense, Helen," said Miss Tewksbury. "We have a higher civilization than the apostles witnessed. Morality is progressive."
"Well," said Helen, with a sigh, "it is a pity these people have discarded shoe-buckles and knee-breeches."
"Your queer notions make me thirsty, child," said Miss Tewksbury, producing a silver cup from her satchel. "I must get a drink of water."
"Permit me, madam," said a sonorous voice behind them; and a tall gentleman seized the cup, and bore it away.
"It is the distinguished general!" exclaimed Helen in a tragic whisper, "and he must have heard our speeches."
"I hope he took them down," said Miss Tewksbury snappishly. "He will esteem you as a sympathizer."
"Did I say anything ridiculous, Aunt Harriet?"
"Dear me! you must ask your distinguished general," replied Miss Tewksbury triumphantly.
General Garwood returned with the water, and insisted on fetching more. Helen observed that he held his hat in his hand, and that his attitude was one of unstudied deference.
"The conductor tells me, madam," he said, addressing himself to Miss Tewksbury, "that you have tickets for Azalia. I am going in that direction myself, and I should be glad to be of any service to you. Azalia is a poor little place, but I like it well enough to live there. I suppose that is the reason the conductor told me of your tickets. He knew the information would be interesting."
"Thank you," said Miss Tewksbury with dignity.
"You are very kind," said Miss Eustis with a smile.
General Garwood made himself exceedingly agreeable. He pointed out the interesting places along the road, gave the ladies little bits of local history that were at least entertaining. In Atlanta, where there was a delay of a few hours, he drove them over the battle-fields, and by his graphic descriptions gave them a new idea of the heat and fury of war. In short, he made himself so agreeable in every way that Miss Tewksbury felt at liberty to challenge his opinions on various subjects. They had numberless little controversies about the rights and wrongs of the war, and the perplexing problems that grew out of its results. So far as Miss Tewksbury was concerned, she found General Garwood's large tolerance somewhat irritating, for it left her no excuse for the employment of her most effective arguments.
"Did you surrender your prejudices at Appomattox?" Miss Tewksbury asked him on one occasion.
"Oh, by no means; you remember we were allowed to retain our side-arms and our saddle-horses," he replied, laughing. "I still have my prejudices, but I trust they are more important than those I entertained in my youth. Certainly they are less uncomfortable."
"Well," said Miss Tewksbury, "you are still unrepentant, and that is more serious than any number of prejudices."
"There is nothing to repent of," said the general, smiling, a little sadly as Helen thought. "It has all passed away utterly. The best we can do is that which seems right and just and necessary. My duty was as plain to me in 1861, when I was a boy of twenty, as it is to-day. It seemed to be my duty then to serve my State and section; my duty now seems to be to help good people everywhere to restore the Union, and to heal the wounds of the war."
"I'm very glad to hear you say so," exclaimed Miss Tewksbury in a tone that made Helen shiver. "I was afraid it was quite otherwise. It seems to me, that, if I lived here, I should either hate the people who conquered me, or else the sin of slavery would weigh heavily on my conscience."
"I can appreciate that feeling, I think," said General Garwood, "but the American conscience is a very healthy one—not likely to succumb to influences that are mainly malarial in their nature; and even from your point of view some good can be found in American slavery."
"I have never found it," said Miss Tewksbury.
"You must admit that but for slavery the negroes who are here would be savages in Africa. As it is, they have had the benefit of more than two hundred years' contact with the white race. If they are at all fitted for citizenship, the result is due to the civilizing influence of slavery. It seems to me that they are vastly better off as American citizens, even though they have endured the discipline of slavery, than they would be as savages in Africa."
Miss Tewksbury's eyes snapped. "Did this make slavery right?" she asked.
"Not at all," said the general, smiling at the lady's earnestness. "But, at least, it is something of an excuse for American slavery. It seems to be an evidence that Providence had a hand in the whole unfortunate business."
But in spite of these discussions and controversies, the general made himself so thoroughly agreeable in every way, and was so thoughtful in his attentions, that by the time Helen and her aunt arrived at Azalia they were disposed to believe that he had placed them under many obligations, and they said so; but the general insisted that it was he who had been placed under obligations, and he declared it to be his intention to discharge a few of them as soon as the ladies found themselves comfortably settled in the little town to which Dr. Buxton had banished them.
AZALIA was a small town, but it was a comparatively comfortable one. For years and years before the war it had been noted as the meeting-place of the wagon-trains by means of which the planters transported their produce to market. It was on the highway that led from the cotton-plantations of Middle Georgia to the city of Augusta. It was also a stopping-place for the stage-coaches that carried the mails. Azalia was not a large town, even before the war, when, according to the testimony of the entire community, it was at its best; and it certainly had not improved any since the war. There was room for improvement, but no room for progress, because there was no necessity for progress. The people were contented. They were satisfied with things as they existed, though they had an honest, provincial faith in the good old times that were gone. They had but one regret—that the railroad station, four miles away, had been named Azalia. It is true, the station consisted of a water-tank and a little pigeon-house where tickets were sold; but the people of Azalia proper felt that it was in the nature of an outrage to give so fine a name to so poor a place. They derived some satisfaction, however, from the fact that the world at large found it necessary to make a distinction between the two places. Azalia was called "Big Azalia," and the railroad station was known as "Little Azalia."
Away back in the forties, or perhaps even earlier, when there was some excitement in all parts of the country in regard to railroad building, one of Georgia's most famous orators had alluded in the legislature to Azalia as "the natural gateway of the commerce of the Empire State of the South." This fine phrase stuck in the memories of the people of Azalia and their posterity; and the passing traveler, since that day and time, has heard a good deal of it. There is no doubt that the figure was fairly applicable before the railways were built; for, as has been explained, Azalia was the meeting-place of the wagon-trains from all parts of the State in going to market. When the cotton-laden wagons met at Azalia, they parted company no more until they had reached August. The natural result of this was that Azalia, in one way and another, saw a good deal of life—much that was entertaining, and a good deal that was exciting. Another result was that the people had considerable practise in the art of hospitality; for it frequently happened that the comfortable tavern, which Azalia's commercial importance had made necessary at a very early period of the town's history, was full to overflowing with planters accompanying their wagons, and lawyers traveling from court to court. At such times the worthy townspeople would come to the rescue, and offer the shelter of their homes to the belated wayfarer.
There was another feature of Azalia worthy of attention. It was in a measure the site and centre of a mission—the headquarters, so to speak, of a very earnest and patient effort to infuse energy and ambition into that indescribable class of people known in that region as the piny-woods "Tackies." Within a stone's throw of Azalia there was a scattering settlement of these Tackies. They had settled there before the Revolution, and had remained there ever since, unchanged and unchangeable, steeped in poverty of the most desolate description, and living the narrowest lives possible in this great Republic. They had attracted the attention of the Rev. Arthur Hill, an Episcopalian minister, who conceived an idea that the squalid settlement near Azalia afforded a fine field for missionary labor. Mr. Hill established himself in Azalia, built and furnished a little church in the settlement, and entered on a career of the most earnest and persevering charity. To all appearances his labor was thrown away; but he was possessed by both faith and hope, and never allowed himself to be disheartened. All his time, as well as the modest fortune left him by his wife who was dead, was devoted to the work of improving and elevating the Tackies; and he never permitted himself to doubt for an instant that reasonable success was crowning his efforts. He was gentle, patient, and somewhat finical.
This was the neighborhood toward which Miss Eustis and her aunt had journeyed. Fortunately for these ladies, Major Haley, the genial tavern-keeper, had a habit of sending a hack to meet every train that stopped at Little Azalia. It was not a profitable habit in the long run; but Major Haley thought little of the profits, so long as he was conscious that the casual traveler had abundant reason to be grateful to him. Major Haley himself was a native of Kentucky; but his wife was a Georgian, inheriting her thrift and her economy from a generation that knew more about the hand-loom, the spinning-wheel, and the cotton-cards, than it did about the piano. She admired her husband, who was a large, fine-looking man, with jocular tendencies; but she disposed of his opinions without ceremony when they came in conflict with her own. Under these circumstances it was natural that she should have charge of the tavern and all that appertained thereto.
General Garwood, riding by from Little Azalia, whither his saddle-horse had been sent to meet him, had informed the major that two ladies from the North were coming in the hack, and begged him to make them as comfortable as possible. This information Major Haley dutifully carried to his wife.
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Mrs. Haley, "what do you reckon they want here?"
"I've been a-studyin'," said her husband thoughtfully. "The gener'l says they're comin' fer their health."
"Well, it's a mighty fur cry for health," said Mrs. Haley emphatically. "I've seen some monst'ous sick people around here; and if anybody'll look at them Tackies out on the Ridge yonder, and then tell me there's any health in this neighborhood, then I'll give up. I don't know how in the wide world we'll fix up for 'em. That everlastin' nigger went and made too much fire in the stove, and tee-totally ruint my light-bread; I could 'a' cried, I was so mad; and then on top er that the whole dinin'-room is tore up from top to bottom."
"Well," said the major, "we'll try and make 'em comfortable, and if they ain't comfortable it won't be our fault. Jest you whirl in, and put on some of your Greene County style, Maria. That'll fetch 'em."
"It may fetch 'em, but it won't feed 'em," said the practical Maria.
The result was, that when Helen Eustis and her aunt became the guests of this poor little country tavern, they were not only agreeably disappointed as to their surroundings, but they were better pleased than they would have been at one of the most pretentious caravansaries. Hotel luxury is comfortable enough to those who make it a point to appreciate what they pay for; but the appointments of luxury can neither impart, nor compensate for the lack of, the atmosphere that mysteriously conveys some impression or reminiscence of home. In the case of Helen and her aunt, this impression was conveyed and confirmed by a quilt of curious pattern on one of the beds in their rooms.
"My dear," said Miss Tewksbury, after making a critical examination, "your grandmother had just such a quilt as this. Yes, she had two. I remember the first one was quite a bone of contention between your mother and me, and so your grandmother made two. I declare," Miss Tewksbury continued, with a sigh, "it quite carries me back to old times."
"It is well made," said Helen, giving the stitches a critical examination, "and the colors are perfectly matched. Really, this is something to think about, for it fits none of our theories. Perhaps, Aunt Harriet, we have accidentally discovered some of our long-lost relatives. It would be nice and original to substitute a beautiful quilt for the ordinary strawberry-mark."
"Well, the sight of it is comforting, anyhow," said Miss Tewksbury, responding to the half-serious humor of her niece by pressing her thin lips together, and tossing her gray ringlets.
As she spoke, a negro boy, apparently about ten years old, stalked unceremoniously into the room, balancing a large stone pitcher on his head. His hands were tucked beneath his white apron, and the pitcher seemed to be in imminent danger of falling; but he smiled and showed his white teeth.
"I come fer ter fetch dish yer pitcher er water, ma'm. Miss 'Ria say she speck you lak fer have 'im right fresh from de well."
"Aren't you afraid you'll drop it?" said Miss Eustis.
"Lor', no'm!" exclaimed the boy, emphasizing his words by increasing his grin. "I been ca'um dis away sence I ain't no bigger dan my li'l' buddy. Miss 'Ria, she say dat w'at make I so bow-legged."
"What is your name?" inquired Miss Tewksbury, with some degree of solemnity, as the boy deposited the pitcher on the wash-stand.
"Mammy she say I un name Willum, but Mars Maje en de turrer folks dey des calls me Bill. I run'd off en sot in de school-'ouse all day one day, but dat mus' 'a' been a mighty bad day, kaze I ain't never year um say wherrer I wuz name Willum, er wherrer I wuz des name Bill. Miss 'Ria, she say dat 'taint make no diffunce w'at folks' name is, long ez dey come w'en dey year turred folks holl'in' at um."
"Don't you go to school, child?" Miss Tewksbury inquired, with dignified sympathy.
"I start in once," said William, laughing, "but mos' time I git dar de nigger man w'at do de teachin' tuck'n snatch de book out'n my han' en say I got 'im upper-side down. I tole 'im dat de onliest way w'at I kin git my lesson, en den dat nigger man tuck'n lam me side de head. Den atter school bin turn out, I is hide myse'f side de road, en w'en dat nigger man come 'long, I up wid a rock en I fetched 'im a clip dat mighty nigh double 'im up. You ain't never is year no nigger man holler lak dat nigger man. He run't en tole Mars Peyt dat de Kukluckers wuz atter 'im. Mars Peyt he try ter quiet 'em, but dat nigger man done gone!"
"Don't you think you did wrong to hit him?" Miss Tewksbury asked.
"Dat w'at Miss 'Ria say. She say I oughter be shame er myse'f by good rights; but w'at dat nigger man wanter come hurtin' my feelin' fer w'en I settin' dar studyin' my lesson des hard ez I kin, right spank out'n de book? en spozen she wuz upper-side down, wa'n't de lesson in dar all de time, kaze how she gwine spill out?"
William was very serious—indeed, he was indignant—when he closed his argument. He turned to go out, but paused at the door, and said:
"Miss 'Ria say supper be ready 'mos' 'fo' you kin turn 'roun', but she say ef you too tired out she'll have it sont up." William paused, rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, smacked his mouth, and added: "I gwine fetch in de batter-cakes myse'f."
Miss Tewksbury felt in her soul that she ought to be horrified at this recital; but she was grateful that she was not amused.
"Aunt Harriet," cried Helen, when William had disappeared, "this is better than the seashore. I am stronger already. My only regret is that Henry P. Bassett, the novelist, is not here. The last time I saw him, he was moping and complaining that his occupation was almost gone, because he had exhausted all the types—that's what he calls them. He declared he would be compelled to take his old characters, and give them a new outfit of emotions. Oh, if he were only here!"
"I hope you feel that you are, in some sense, responsible for all this, Helen," said Miss Tewksbury solemnly.
"Do you mean the journey, Aunt Harriet, or the little negro?"
"My dear child, don't pretend to misunderstand me. I can not help feeling that if we had done and were doing our whole duty, this—this poor negro— Ah, well! it is useless to speak of it. We are on missionary ground, but our hands are tied. Oh, I wish Elizabeth Mappis were here! She would teach us our duty."
"She wouldn't teach me mine, Aunt Harriet," said Helen seriously. "I wouldn't give one grain of your common sense for all that Elizabeth Mappis has written and spoken. What have her wild theories to do with these people? She acts like a man in disguise. When I see her striding about, delivering her harangues, I always imagine she is wearing a pair of cowhide boots as a sort of stimulus to her masculinity. Ugh! I'm glad she isn't here."
Ordinarily, Miss Tewksbury would have defended Mrs. Elizabeth Mappis; but she remembered that a defense of that remarkable woman—as remarkable for her intellect as for her courage—was unnecessary at all times, and, in this instance, absolutely uncalled for. Moreover, the clangor of the supper-bell, which rang out at that moment, would have effectually drowned out whatever Miss Tewksbury might have chosen to say in behalf of Mrs. Mappis.
The bellringer was William, the genial little negro whose acquaintance the ladies had made, and he performed his duty with an unction that left nothing to be desired. The bell was so large that William was compelled to use both hands in swinging it. He bore it from the dining-room to the hall, and thence from one veranda to the other, making fuss enough to convince everybody that those who ate at the tavern were on the point of enjoying another of the famous meals prepared under the supervision of Mrs. Haley.
There was nothing in the dining-room to invite the criticism of Helen and her aunt, even though they had been disposed to be critical; there was no evidence of slatternly management. Everything was plain, but neat. The ceiling was high and wide; and the walls were of dainty whiteness, relieved here and there by bracket-shelves containing shiny crockery and glassware. The oil-lamps gave a mellow light through the simple but unique paper shades with which they had been fitted. Above the table, which extended the length of the room, was suspended a series of large fans. These fans were connected by a cord, so that when it became necessary to cool the room, or to drive away the flies, one small negro, by pulling a string, could set them all in motion.
Over this dining-room Mrs. Haley presided. She sat at the head of the table, serene, cheerful, and watchful, anticipating the wants of each and every one who ate at the board. She invited Helen and her aunt to seats near her own, and somehow managed to convince them, veteran travelers though they were, that hospitality such as hers was richly worth paying for.
"I do hope you'll make out to be comfortable in this poor little neighborhood," she said as the ladies lingered over their tea, after the other boarders—the clerks and the shopkeepers—had bolted their food and fare. "I have my hopes, and I have my doubts. Gener'l Garwood says you're come to mend your health," she continued, regarding the ladies with the critical eye of one who has had something to do with herbs and simples; "and I've been tryin' my best to pick out which is the sick one, but it's a mighty hard matter. Yet I won't go by looks, because if folks looked bad every time they felt bad, they'd be some mighty peaked people in this world off and on—William, run and fetch in some hot batter-cakes."
"I am the alleged invalid," said Helen. "I am the victim of a conspiracy between my aunt here and our family physician.—Aunt Harriet, what do you suppose Dr. Buxton would say if he knew how comfortable we are at this moment? I dare say he would write a letter, and order us off to some other point."
"My niece," said Miss Tewksbury, by way of explanation, "has weak lungs, but she has never permitted herself to acknowledge the fact."
"Well, my goodness!" exclaimed Mrs. Haley, "if that's all, we'll have her sound and well in a little or no time. Why, when I was her age I had a hackin' cough and a rackin' pain in my breast night and day, and I fell off till my own blood kin didn't know me. Everybody give me up; but old Miss Polly Flanders in Hancock, right j'inin' county from Greene, she sent me word to make me some mullein tea, and drink sweet milk right fresh from the cow; and from that day to this I've never know'd what weak lungs was. I reckon you'll be mighty lonesome here," said Mrs. Haley after William had returned with a fresh supply of batter-cakes, "but you'll find folks mighty neighborly, once you come to know 'em. And, bless goodness, here's one of 'em now!—Howdy, Emma Jane?"
A tall, ungainly-looking woman stood in the door of the dining-room leading to the kitchen. Her appearance showed the most abject poverty. Her dirty sunbonnet had fallen back from her head, and hung on her shoulders. Her hair was of a reddish-gray color, and its frazzled and tangled condition suggested that the woman had recently passed through a period of extreme excitement; but this suggestion was promptly corrected by the wonderful serenity of her face—a pale, unhealthy-looking face, with sunken eyes, high cheek-bones, and thin lips that seemed never to have troubled themselves to smile: a burnt-out face that had apparently surrendered to the past, and had no hope for the future. The Puritan simplicity of the woman's dress made her seem taller than she really was, but this was the only illusion about her. Though her appearance was uncouth and ungainly, her manner was unembarrassed. She looked at Helen with some degree of interest; and to the latter it seemed that Misery, hopeless but unabashed, gazed at her with a significance at once pathetic and appalling. In response to Mrs. Haley's salutation, the woman seated herself in the doorway, and sighed.
"You must be tired, Emma Jane, not to say howdy," said Mrs. Haley, with a smile. The woman raised her right hand above her head, and allowed it to drop helplessly into her lap.
"Ti-ud! Lordy, Lordy! how kin a pore creetur' like me be ti-ud? Hain't I thes natally made out'n i'on?"
"Well, I won't go so fur as to say that, Emma Jane," said Mrs. Haley, "but you're mighty tough. Now, you know that yourself."
"Yes'n—yes'n. I'm made out'n i'on. Lordy, Lordy! I thes natally hone fer some un ter come along an' tell me what makes me h'ist up an' walk away over yan'ter the railroad track, an' set thar tell the ingine shoves by. I wisht some un ud up an' tell me what makes me so restless an' oneasy, ef it hain't 'cause I'm hongry. I thes wisht they would. Passin' on by, I sez ter myself, s' I: 'Emma Jane Stucky,' s' I, 'ef you know what's good fer your wholesome,' s' I, 'you'll sneak in on Miss Haley, 'cause you'll feel better,' s' I, 'ef you don't no more'n tell 'er howdy,' s' I. Lordy, Lordy! I dunner what ud 'come er me ef I hadn't a bin made out'n i'on."
"Emma Jane," said Mrs. Haley, in the tone of one who is humoring a child, "these ladies are from the North."
"Yes'n," said the woman, glancing at Helen and her aunt with the faintest expression of pity; "yes'n, I hearn tell you had comp'ny. Hit's a mighty long ways fum this, the North, hain't it, Miss Haley—a long ways fuder'n Tennissy? Well, the Lord knows I pity um fum the bottom of my heart, that I do—a-bein' such a long ways fum home."
"The North is ever so much farther than Tennessee," said Helen pleasantly, almost unconsciously assuming the tone employed by Mrs. Haley; "but the weather is so very cold there that we have to run away sometimes."
"You're right, honey," said Mrs. Stucky, hugging herself with her long arms. "I wisht I could run away fum it myself. Ef I wa'n't made out'n i'on, I dunner how I'd stan' it. Lordy! when the win' sets in from the east, hit in-about runs me plum destracted. Hit kills lots an' lots er folks, but they hain't made out'n i'on like me."
While Mrs. Stucky was describing the vigorous constitution that had enabled her to survive in the face of various difficulties, and in spite of many mishaps, Mrs. Haley was engaged in making up a little parcel of victuals. This she handed to the woman.
"Thanky-do! thanky-do, ma'am! Me an' my son'll set down an' wallop this up, an' say thanky-do all the time, an' atter we're done we'll wipe our mouves, an' say thanky-do."
"I reckon you ladies'll think we're mighty queer folks down here," said Mrs. Haley, with an air of apology, after Mrs. Stucky had retired; "but I declare I can't find it in my heart to treat that poor creetur' out of the way. I set and look at her sometimes, and I wish I may never budge if I don't come mighty nigh cryin'. She ain't hardly fittin' to live, and if she's fittin' to die, she's lots better off than the common run of folks. But she's mighty worrysome. She pesters me lots mor'n I ever let on."
"The poor creature!" exclaimed Miss Tewksbury. "I am truly sorry for her—truly sorry."
"Ah! so am I," said Helen. "I propose to see more of her. I am interested in just such people."
"Well, ma'am," said Mrs. Haley dryly, "if you like sech folks it's a thousand pities you've come here, for you'll git a doste of 'em. Yes'm, that you will; a doste of 'em that'll last you as long as you live, if you live to be one of the patrioks. And you nee'nter be sorry for Emma Jane Stucky neither. Jest as you see her now, jesso she's been a-goin' on fer twenty year, an' jest as you see her now, jesso she's been a-lookin' ev'ry sence anybody around here has been a-knowin' her."
"Her history must be a pathetic one," said Miss Tewksbury with a sigh.
"Her what, ma'am?" asked Mrs. Haley.
"Her history, the story of her life," responded Miss Tewksbury. "I dare say it is very touching."
"Well, ma'am," said Mrs. Haley, "Emma Jane Stucky is like one of them there dead pines out there in the clearin'. If you had a stack of almanacs as high as a hoss-rack, you couldn't pick out the year she was young and sappy. She must 'a' started out as a light'd knot, an' she's been a-gittin' tougher year in an' year out, till now she's tougher'n the toughest. No'm," continued Mrs. Haley, replying to an imaginary argument, "I ain't predijiced ag'in' the poor creetur'—the Lord knows I ain't. If I was, no vittels would she git from me—not a scrimption."
"I never saw such an expression on a human countenance," said Helen. "Her eyes will haunt me as long as I live."
"Bless your soul and body, child!" exclaimed Mrs. Haley; "if you're going to let that poor creetur's looks pester you, you'll be worried to death, as certain as the world. There's a hunderd in this settlement jest like her, and ther' must be more'n that, old an' young, 'cause the children look to be as old as the'r grannies. I reckon maybe you ain't used to seein' piny-woods Tackies. Well, ma'am, you wait till you come to know 'em, and if you are in the habits of bein' ha'nted by looks, you'll be the wuss ha'nted mortal in this land, 'less'n it's them that's got the sperrit-rappin's after 'em."
MRS. STUCKY, making her way homeward through the gathering dusk, moved as noiselessly and as swiftly as a ghost. The soft white sand beneath her feet gave forth no sound, and she seemed to be gliding forward, rather than walking; though there was a certain awkward emphasis and decision in her movements altogether human in their suggestions. The way was lonely. There was no companionship for her in the whispering sighs of the tall pines that stood by the roadside, no friendliness in the constellations that burned and sparkled overhead, no hospitable suggestion in the lights that gleamed faintly here and there from the windows of the houses in the little settlement. To Mrs. Stucky all was commonplace. There was nothing in her surroundings as she went toward her home, to lend wings even to her superstition, which was eager to assert itself on all occasions.
It was not much of a home to which she was making her way—a little log-cabin in a pine thicket, surrounded by a little clearing that served to show how aimlessly and how hopelessly the lack of thrift and energy could assert itself. The surroundings were mean enough and squalid enough at their best, but the oppressive shadows of night made them meaner and more squalid than they really were. The sun, which shines so lavishly in that region, appeared to glorify the squalor, showing wild passion-flowers clambering along the broken-down fence of pine poles, and a wistaria vine running helter-skelter across the roof of the little cabin. But the night hid all this completely.
A dim, vague blaze, springing from a few charred pine-knots, made the darkness visible in the one room of the cabin; and before it, with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands, sat what appeared to be a man. He wore neither coat nor shoes, and his hair was long and shaggy.
"Is that you, Bud?" said Mrs. Stucky.
"Why, who'd you reckon it wuz, maw?" replied Bud, looking up with a broad grin that was not at all concealed by his thin, sandy beard. "A body'd sorter think, ef they 'uz ter ketch you gwine on that away, that you 'spected ter find some great somebody er nuther a-roostin' in here."
Mrs. Stucky, by way of responding, stirred the pine-knots until they gave forth a more satisfactory light, hung her bonnet on the bedpost, and seated herself wearily in a rickety chair, the loose planks of the floor rattling and shaking as she moved about.
"Now, who in the nation did you reckon it wuz, maw?" persisted Bud, still grinning placidly.
"Some great somebody," replied Mrs. Stucky, brushing her gray hair out of her eyes and looking at her son. At this Bud could contain himself no longer. He laughed almost uproariously.
"Well, the great Jemimy!" he exclaimed, and then laughed louder than ever.
"Wher've you been?" Mrs. Stucky asked, when Bud's mirth had subsided.
"Away over yander at the depot," said Bud, indicating Little Azalia. "An' I fotch you some May-pops too. I did that! I seed 'em while I wuz a-gwine 'long, an' I sez ter myself, sezee, 'You jess wait thar tell I come 'long back, an' I'll take an' take you ter maw,' sezee."
Although this fruit of the passion-flowers was growing in profusion right at the door, Mrs. Stucky gave this grown man, her son, to understand that May-pops such as he brought were very desirable indeed.
"I wonder you didn't fergit 'em," she said.
"Who? me!" exclaimed Bud. "I jess like fer ter see anybody ketch me fergittin' 'em. Now I jess would. I never eat a one, nuther—not a one."
Mrs. Stucky made no response to this, and none seemed to be necessary. Bud sat and pulled his thin beard, and gazed in the fire. Presently he laughed and said:
"I jess bet a hoss you couldn't guess who I seed; now I jess bet that."
Mrs. Stucky rubbed the side of her face thoughtfully, and seemed to be making a tremendous effort to imagine whom Bud had seen.
"'Twer'n't no man, en 'twer'n't no Azalia folks. 'Twuz a gal."
"A gal!" exclaimed Mrs. Stucky.
"Yes'n, a gal, an' ef she wa'n't a zooner you may jess take an' knock my chunk out."
Mrs. Stucky looked at her son curiously. Her cold gray eyes glittered in the firelight as she held them steadily on his face. Bud, conscious of this inspection, moved about in his chair uneasily, shifting his feet from one side to the other.
"'Twer'n't no Sal Badger," he said, after a while, laughing sheepishly; "'twer'n't no Maria Matthews, 'twer'n't no Lou Hornsby, an' 'twer'n't no Martha Jane Williams, nuther. She wuz a bran'-new gal, an' she went ter the tavern, she did."
"I've done saw 'er," said Mrs. Stucky placidly.
"You done saw 'er, maw!" exclaimed Bud. "Well, the great Jemimy! What's her name, maw?"
"They didn't call no names," said Mrs. Stucky. "They jess sot thar, an' gormandized on waffles an' batter-cakes, an' didn't call no names. Hit made me dribble at the mouf, the way they went on."
"Wuz she purty, maw?"
"I sot an' looked at um," Mrs. Stucky went on, "an' I 'lowed maybe the war moughter come betwixt the old un an' her good looks. The t'other one looks mighty slick, but, Lordy! She hain't nigh ez slick ez that ar Lou Hornsby; yit she's got lots purtier motions."
"Well, I seed 'er, maw," said Bud, gazing into the depths of the fireplace. "Atter the ingine come a-snortin' by, I jumped up behind the hack whar they puts the trunks, an' I got a right good glimp' un 'er; an' ef she hain't purty, then I dunner what purty is. What'd you say her name wuz, maw?"
"Lordy, jess hark ter the creetur! Hain't I jess this minute hollered, an' tole you that they hain't called no names?"
"I 'lowed maybe you moughter hearn the name named, an' then drapt it," said Bud, still gazing into the fire. "I tell you what, she made that ole hack look big, she did!"
"You talk like you er start crazy, Bud!" exclaimed Mrs. Stucky, leaning over, and fixing her glittering eyes on his face. "Lordy! what's she by the side er me? Is she made out'n i'on?"
Bud's enthusiasm immediately vanished, and a weak, flickering smile took possession of his face.
"No'm—no'm; that she hain't made out'n i'on! She's lots littler'n you is—lots littler. She looks like she's sorry."
"Sorry! What fer?"
"Sorry fer we-all."
Mrs. Stucky looked at her son with amazement, not unmixed with indignation. Then she seemed to remember something she had forgotten.
"Sorry fer we-all, honey, when we er got this great big pile er tavern vittles?" she asked with a smile; and then the two fell to, and made the most of Mrs. Haley's charity.
At the tavern Helen and her aunt sat long at their tea, listening to the quaint gossip of Mrs. Haley, which not only took a wide and entertaining range, but entered into details that her guests found extremely interesting. Miss Tewksbury's name reminded Mrs. Haley of a Miss Kingsbury, a Northern lady, who had taught school in Middle Georgia, and who had "writ a sure-enough book," as the genial landlady expressed it. She went to the trouble of hunting up this "sure-enough" book—a small school dictionary—and gave many reminiscences of her acquaintance with the author.
In the small parlor, too, the ladies found General Garwood awaiting them; and they held quite a little reception, forming the acquaintance, among others, of Miss Lou Hornsby, a fresh-looking young woman, who had an exclamation of surprise or a grimace of wonder for every statement she heard and for every remark that was made. Miss Hornsby also went to the piano, and played and sang "Nelly Gray" and "Lily Dale" with a dramatic fervor that could only have been acquired in a boarding school. The Rev. Arthur Hill was also there, a little gentleman, whose side-whiskers and modest deportment betokened both refinement and sensibility. He was very cordial to the two ladies from the North, and strove to demonstrate the liberality of his cloth by a certain gaiety of manner that was by no means displeasing. He seemed to consider himself one of the links of sociability, as well as master of ceremonies; and he had a way of speaking for others that suggested considerable social tact and versatility. Thus, when there was a lull in the conversation, he started it again, and imparted to it a vivacity that was certainly remarkable, as Helen thought. At precisely the proper moment, he seized Miss Hornsby, and bore her off home, tittering sweetly as only a young girl can; and the others, following the example thus happily set, left Helen and her aunt to themselves, and to the repose that tired travelers are supposed to be in need of. They were not long in seeking it.
"I wonder," said Helen, after she and her aunt had gone to bed, "if these people really regard us as enemies?"
This question caused Miss Tewksbury to sniff the air angrily.
"Pray, what difference does it make?" she replied.
"Oh, none at all!" said Helen. "I was just thinking. The little preacher was tremendously gay. His mind seemed to be on skates. He touched on every subject but the war, and that he glided around gracefully. No doubt they have had enough of war down here."
"I should hope so," said Miss Tewksbury. "Go to sleep, child: you need rest."
Helen did not follow this timely advice at once. From her window she could see the constellations dragging their glittering procession westward; and she knew that the spirit of the night was whispering gently in the tall pines, but her thoughts were in a whirl. The scenes through which she had passed, and the people she had met, were new to her; and she lay awake and thought of them until at last the slow-moving stars left her wrapped in sleep—a sleep from which she was not aroused until William shook the foundations of the tavern with his melodious bell, informing everybody that the hour for breakfast had arrived.
Shortly afterward, William made his appearance in person, bringing an abundance of fresh, clear water. He appeared to be in excellent humor.
"What did you say your name is?" Helen asked. William chuckled, as if he thought the question was in the nature of a joke.
"I'm name' Willum, ma'am, en my mammy she name' Sa'er Jane, en de baby she name' Phillypeener. Miss 'Ria she say dat baby is de likelies' nigger baby w'at she y'ever been see sence de war en I speck she is, kaze Miss 'Ria ain't been talk dat away 'bout eve'y nigger baby w'at come 'long."
"How old are you?" Miss Tewksbury inquired.
"I dunno'm," said William placidly. "Miss 'Ria she says I'm lots older dan w'at I looks ter be, en I speck dat's so, kaze mammy sey dey got ter be a runt 'mongst all folks's famblies."
Helen laughed, and William went on:
"Mammy say ole Miss gwine come see you all. Mars Peyt gwine bring er."
"Who is old Miss?" Helen asked.
William gazed at her with unfeigned amusement.
"Dunner who ole Miss is? Lordy! you de fus' folks w'at ain't know ole Miss. She Mars Peyt's own mammy, dat's who she is, en ef she come lak dey say she comin', hit'll be de fus' time she y'ever sot foot in dish yer tavern less'n 'twuz indurance er de war. Miss 'Ria say she wish ter goodness ole Miss 'ud sen' word ef she gwine stay ter dinner so she kin fix up somepin n'er nice. I dunno whe'er Miss Hallie comin' er no, but ole Miss comin', sho, kaze I done been year um sesso."
"And who is Miss Hallie?" Helen inquired, as William still lingered.
"Miss Hallie—she—dunno'm, ceppin' she des stays dar 'long wid um. Miss 'Ria say she mighty quare, but I wish turrer folks wuz quare lak Miss Hallie."
William stayed until he was called away, and at breakfast Mrs. Haley imparted the information which, in William's lingo, had sounded somewhat scrappy. It was to the effect that General Garwood's mother would call on the ladies during their stay. Mrs. Haley laid great stress on the statement.
"Such an event seems to be very interesting," Helen said rather dryly.
"Yes'm," said Mrs. Haley, with her peculiar emphasis, "it ruther took me back when I heard the niggers takin' about it this mornin'. If that old lady has ever darkened my door, I've done forgot it. She's mighty nice and neighborly," Mrs. Haley went on, in response to a smile which Helen gave her aunt, "but she don't go out much. Oh, she's nice and proud; Lord, if pride 'ud kill a body, that old 'oman would 'a' been dead too long ago to talk about. They're all proud—the whole kit and b'ilin'. She mayn't be too proud to come to this here tavern, but I know she ain't never been here. The preacher used to say that pride drives out grace, but I don't believe it, because that 'ud strip the Garwoods of all they've got in this world; and I know they're just as good as they can be."
"I heard the little negro boy talking of Miss Hallie," said Helen. "Pray, who is she?"
Mrs. Haley closed her eyes, threw her head back, and laughed softly.
"The poor child!" she exclaimed. "I declare, I feel like cryin' every time I think about her. She's the forlornest poor creetur the Lord ever let live, and one of the best. Sometimes, when I git tore up in my mind, and begin to think that everything's wrong-end foremost, I jess think of Hallie Garwood, and then I don't have no more trouble."
Both Helen and her aunt appeared to be interested, and Mrs. Haley went on:
"The poor child was a Herndon; I reckon you've heard tell of the Virginia Herndons. At the beginning of the war, she was married to Ethel Garwood; and, bless your life, she hadn't been married more'n a week before Ethel was killed. 'Twa'n't in no battle, but jess in a kind of skirmish. They fotch him home, and Hallie come along with him, and right here she's been ev'ry sence. She does mighty quare. She don't wear nothin' but black, and she don't go nowhere less'n it's somewheres where there's sickness. It makes my blood run cold to think about that poor creetur. Trouble hits some folks and glances off, and it hits some and thar it sticks. I tell you what, them that it gives the go-by ought to be monst'ous proud."
This was the beginning of many interesting experiences for Helen and her aunt. They managed to find considerable comfort in Mrs. Haley's genial gossip. It amused and instructed them, and, at the same time, gave them a standard, half-serious, half-comical, by which to measure their own experiences in what seemed to them a very quaint neighborhood. They managed, in the course of a very few days, to make themselves thoroughly at home in their new surroundings; and, while they missed much that tradition and literature had told them they would find, they found much to excite their curiosity and attract their interest.
One morning, an old-fashioned carriage, drawn by a pair of heavy-limbed horses, lumbered up to the tavern door. Helen watched it with some degree of expectancy. The curtains and upholstering were faded and worn, and the panels were dingy with age. The negro driver was old and obsequious. He jumped from his high seat, opened the door, let down a flight of steps, and then stood with his hat off, the November sun glistening on his bald head. Two ladies alighted. One was old, and one was young, but both were arrayed in deep mourning. The old lady had an abundance of gray hair that was combed straight back from her forehead, and her features, gave evidence of great decision of character. The young lady had large, lustrous eyes, and the pallor of her face was in strange contrast with her sombre drapery. These were the ladies from Waverly, as the Garwood place was called; and Helen and her aunt met them a few moments later.
"I am so pleased to meet you," said the old lady, with a smile that made her face beautiful. "And this is Miss Tewksbury. Really, I have heard my son speak of you so often that I seem to know you. This is my daughter Hallie. She doesn't go out often, but she insisted on coming with me to-day."
"I'm very glad you came," said Helen, sitting by the pale young woman after the greetings were over.
"I think you are lovely," said Hallie, with the tone of one who is settling a question that had previously been debated. Her clear eyes from which innocence, unconquered and undimmed by trouble, shone forth, fastened themselves on Helen's face. The admiration they expressed was unqualified and unadulterated. It was the admiration of a child. But the eyes were not those of a child: they were such as Helen had seen in old paintings, and the pathos that seemed part of their beauty belonged definitely to the past.
"I lovely?" exclaimed Helen in astonishment, blushing a little. "I have never been accused of such a thing before."
"You have such a beautiful complexion," Hallie went on placidly, her eyes still fixed on Helen's face. "I had heard—some one had told me—that you were an invalid. I was so sorry." The beautiful eyes drooped, and Hallie sighed gently.
"My invalidism is a myth," Helen replied, somewhat puzzled to account for the impression the pale young woman made on her. "It is the invention of my aunt and our family physician. They have a theory that my lungs are affected, and that the air of the pine-woods will do me good."
"Oh, I hope and trust it will," exclaimed Hallie, with an earnestness that Helen could trace to no reasonable basis but affectation. "Oh, I do hope it will! You are so young—so full of life."
"My dear child," said Helen, with mock gravity, "I am older than you are—ever so much older."
The lustrous eyes closed, and for a moment the long silken lashes rested against the pale cheek. Then the eyes opened, and gazed at Helen appealingly.
"Oh, impossible! How could that be? I was sixteen in 1862."
"Then," said Helen, "you are twenty-seven, and I am twenty-five."
"I knew it—I felt it!" exclaimed Hallie, with pensive animation.
Helen was amused and somewhat interested. She admired the peculiar beauty of Hallie; but the efforts of the latter to repress her feelings, to reach, as it were, the results of self-effacement, were not at all pleasing to the Boston girl.