- part: THE CROMPTONS
- CHAPTER III THE INTERVIEW
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She was a short, slender little girl, not more than sixteen or seventeen, with a sweet face and soft brown eyes which drooped as she came forward, and then looked at him shyly through a mist of tears which she bravely kept back.
"How d'ye. I'm so glad to see you," she said, looking up at him with quivering lips which were so unquestionably asking for a kiss that he gave it, while her face beamed with delight at the caress, and she did not mind how cold, and stiff, and reserved he grew the next moment.
He did not like her "How d'ye," although he knew how common a salutation it was at the South. It savored of Mandy Ann, and her accent was like Mandy Ann's, and her white dress instead of pleasing him filled him with disgust for himself, as he remembered when he first saw it and thought it fine. She had worn a rose then, and he had asked her for it, and put it in his pocket, like an insane idiot, Tom had said. She wore a rose now, but he didn't ask her for it, and he dropped her hand almost as soon as he took it, and called himself a brute when he saw the color come and go in her face, and how she trembled as she sat beside him. He knew she was pretty, and graceful, and modest, and that she loved | | 33 him as no other woman ever would, but she was untrained, and uneducated, and unused to the world--his world, which would scan her with cold, wondering eyes. He couldn't do it, and he wouldn't--certainly, not yet. He would wait and see what came of his plan which he must unfold, and tell her why he had come. But not there where the old woman might hear and understand, and where he felt sure Mandy Ann was listening. She had stolen down the stairs and gone ostensibly to meet a woman whom Eudora called Sonsie, and who, she said, came every day to do the work now Jake was away.
"Who is Jake?" the man asked, and Eudora replied, "The negro who has taken care of us since I can remember. He is free, but does for us, and is in Richmond now, valleying for a gentleman who pays him big wage, and he spends it all for us."
The stranger flushed at her words indicative of her station, and then suggested that they go outside where they could be sure of being alone, as he had much to say to her.
"Perhaps you will walk part way with me on my return to the 'Hatty,'" he said, glancing at his watch and feeling surprised to find how late it was.
Instantly Eudora, who had seemed so listless, woke up with all the hospitality of her Southern nature roused to action. "Surely you'll have supper with me," she said. "Sonsie is here to get it and will have it directly."
There was no good reason for refusing, although he revolted against taking supper in that humble cabin, with possibly that old woman at the table; but he swallowed his pride and, signifying his assent, went outside, where they came upon Mandy Ann in a | | 34 crouching attitude under the open casement. She was listening, of course, but sprang to her feet as the two appeared, and said in response to her mistress's "What are you doing here?" "Nothin', Miss Dory, fo' de Lawd, nothing, but huntin' on de groun' for somethin' what done drap out de windy upstars."
The stranger knew she was lying, and Eudora knew it, but said nothing except to bid the girl get up and assist Sonsie with the supper. Mandy Ann had once said of her mistress to Jake, "She hain't no sperrit to spar," and Jake had replied, "Lucky for you, Mandy Ann, that she hain't no sperrit, for ef she had she'd of done pulled every har out of your head afore now."
Mandy Ann knew that neither her hair, nor any part of her person, was in danger from her young mistress, and after a few more scratches in the dirt after an imaginary lost article, she arose and joined Sonsie, to whom Eudora gave a few instructions, and then with her guest walked across the clearing to a bench which Jake had made for her, and which was partially sheltered by a tall palm. Here they sat down while he unfolded his plan, plainly and concisely, and leaving no chance for opposition, had the crushed, quivering creature at his side felt inclined to make it. As Mandy Ann had said she hadn't much spirit, and what little she had was slain as she listened, while her face grew white as her dress, and her hands were linked together on her lap. The sun had just gone down, and the full moon was rising and throwing its light upon the clearing and the girl, whose face and attitude touched her companion, cold and hard as he was, but he must carry his point.
"You see it is for the best and you promise; you | | 35 will remember," he said, taking one of her hands and wondering to find it so cold.
"Yes, oh, yes," she replied, every word a gasp. "I thought--I hoped--you had done come to take,--or to stay--not here, but somewhar--but I see you can't. You know best. I ain't fittin' to go yet, but I'll try, and I promise all you ask; but don't let it be long. The days are so lonesome since I come home, and things seem different since I knew you; but I promise, and will remember and do my best."
Half his burden rolled away, He could be very kind now, for he knew he could trust her to the death, and putting his arm around her, he drew her close to him and said, "You are a good girl, Eudora. I shall not forget it; but why do you tremble so? Are you cold?"
"Yes--no," she answered, nestling so close to him that the rose in her dress was loosened and fell to the ground.
He picked it up, but did not put it in his pocket as a keepsake. He gave it back to her, and she fastened it again to her dress, saying, "I do' know why I shake, only it seems 's if somethin' had died that I hoped for. But it is all right, becase you care for me. You love me."
She lifted up her face on which the moonlight fell, making a picture the man never forgot to the last day of his life. He did not tell her he loved her, he could not; but for answer he stooped and kissed her, and she--poor, simple girl--was satisfied.
"If I could tell Jake, it would be some comfort," she said at last, timidly, and her companion answered quickly. "Tell Jake! Never! You must not be too familiar with your servants."| | 36
"Jake is more than a servant. He is everything to me," the girl answered, with rising spirit. "He would die for me, and if anything happened to me and you did not come, I think he would kill you."
There was something of Southern fire in her eyes as she said this, which made the stranger laugh as he replied, "Nothing will happen, and I'm not afraid of Jake."
In his heart he was glad the negro was not there, for something warned him that in the poor black man he might find a formidable obstacle to his plan. Meanwhile in the house Mandy Ann had been busy with the supper-table. They ought to have a good deal of light, she thought, remembering the lamps at Mrs. Perkins's, and as there were only two candlesticks in the house her fertile brain had contrived two more from some large round potatoes, cutting a flat piece from one end, making a hole in the centre to hold the candle, and wrapping some white paper around the standard. She had taken great pains with the table, trying to imitate Mrs. Perkins's, and the imitation was rather satisfactory to herself. The best cloth had been brought out, and though it was yellow with disuse it showed what it had been. A few roses in a pitcher were in the centre of the table, and ranged around them were the four candles, spluttering and running down as tallow candles are apt to do. The dishes troubled her, they were so thick and nicked in so many places, that it was difficult to find one which was whole. The stranger had the china plate, which had done duty as a tray for his card, and he had the only plated fork in the house: a Christmas gift from Jake to the ole Miss, who scarcely appreciated it, but insisted that it be wrapped in several folds of | | 37 tissue paper and kept in her bureau drawer. Mandy Ann did not ask if she could have it. She took it and rubbed it with soft sand to remove some discolorations and laid it, with a horn-handled knife, by the china plate.
"Ef we only had napkins," she said, while Sonsie, who had lived all her life near the clearing, and knew nothing of the fashions of the world, asked what napkins were. With a toss of her head indicative of her superior knowledge, Mandy Ann replied, "You'd know if you'd lived wid de quality in Jacksonville. Miss Perkins's allus had 'em. Dey's squar little towels what you holds in yer lap to wipe yer fingers on when you've done eatin'. Dat's what they is, an' de gemman or to hev one."
"Can't he wipe his hands on de table cloth, for oncet?" Sonsie asked, with a sudden inspiration which was received with great scorn by Mandy Ann, to whom there had also come an inspiration on which she at once acted.
In one of ole Miss's bureau drawers was a large plain linen handkerchief which was never used. It would serve the purpose nicely, and Mandy Ann brought it out, holding it behind her lest it should be seen by the old lady, who sometimes saw more than Mandy Ann cared to have her see. It was rather yellow like the table cloth, and the creases where it was folded were a little dark, but Mandy Ann turned it, and refolded and pressed it, and laid it on the china plate, while Sonsie looked on and admired. Everything was in readiness, and Mandy Ann called across the clearing. "Hallo, Miss Dory. Supper's done served."
She had caught on to a good many things at Miss | | 38 Perkins's, and "served" was one of them. "I don't s'pose Miss Dory will understan'," she thought, "but he will, and see dat dis nigger know sumptin'."
It was a novel situation in which the stranger found himself, seated at that table with Eudora presiding and Mandy Ann waiting upon them, her tray a dinner-plate which she flourished rather conspicuously. He was quick to observe and nothing escaped him, from the improvised candlesticks to the napkin by his china plate. He knew it was a handkerchief, and smiled inwardly as he wondered what Tom Hardy would say if he could see him now. The old lady was not at the table. Mandy Ann had managed that and attended to her in her chair, but as if eating brightened her faculties, she began to look about her and talk, and ask why she couldn't sit at her own table.
"'Case thar's a gemman hyar an' you draps yer vittles so," Mandy Ann said in a whisper, with her lips close to the old woman's ear.
"Gentleman? Who's he? Whar's he from?" the old woman asked--forgetting that she had spoken to him.
"I told you oncet he's Miss Dory's frien' an' from de Norf. Do be quiet," Mandy Ann blew into the deaf ears.
"From the Nawth. I don't like the Nawth, 'case I--" the old lady began, but Mandy Ann choked her with a muffin, and she did not finish her sentence and tell why she disliked the North.
Eudora's face was scarlet, but she did not interfere. Her grandmother was in better hands than hers, and more forceful.
"Granny is queer sometimes," she said by way of | | 39 apology, while her guest bowed in token that he understood, and the meal proceeded in quiet with one exception. Granny was choked with eating too fast, and Mandy Ann struck her on her back and shook her up, and dropped her dinner-plate and broke it in her excitement.
"For de Lawd's sake, 'tan't no use," she said, gathering up the pieces and taking them to the kitchen, where Sonsie laughed till the tears ran at Mandy Ann's attempt "to be gran'," and its result.
Meanwhile the stranger ate Sonsie's corn cakes and muffins, and said they were good, and drank muddy coffee, sweetened with brown sugar out of a big thick cup, and thought of his dainty service at home, and glanced at the girl opposite him with a great pity, which, however, did not move him one whit from his purpose. He had told her his plan and she had accepted it, and he told it again when, after supper, she walked with him through the clearing and the woods to the main road which led to the river. He did the talking, while she answered yes or no, with a sound of tears in her voice. When they reached the highway they stopped by the sunken grave, and leaning against the fence which inclosed it, Eudora removed her sunbonnet, letting the moon shine upon her face, as it had done when she sat in the clearing. It was very white but there were no tears now in her eyes. She was forcing them back and she tried to smile as she said, "You are very kind, and I think I understand what you want, and here by this grave I promise all you ask, and will do my best--my very best."
Her lips began to quiver and her voice to break, for the visit from which she had expected so much had proved a blank, and her high hopes were dead as | | 40 the woman by whose grave she stood. She had folded her hands one over the other upon the top rail of the fence, and her companion looked at them and thought how small they were and shapely, too, although brown with the work she had to do when Jake and Mandy Ann were both gone and Sonsie came only at meal times. He was not a brute. He was simply a proud, cold, selfish man, whose will had seldom been crossed, and who found himself in a tight place from which he could not wholly extricate himself. He was sorry for Eudora, for he guessed how desolate she would be when he was gone, and there was nothing left but that home in the clearing, with old granny and Mandy Ann. He had not seen Jake, of whom Eudora now spoke, saying, "Our house never seemed so poor to me till I seen you in it. It will be better when Jake comes, for he is to fix it up --he knows how."
It was the only excuse she had made, and she did it falteringly, while her companion's heart rose up in his throat and made him very uncomfortable, as he thought of Jake and Mandy Ann caring for this girl, while his income was larger than he could spend. It had not occurred to him to offer her money till that moment, and he did not know now that she would take it. Turning his back to her as if looking at something across the road, he counted a roll of bills, and turning back took one of the little brown hands resting on the rail in his and pressed the roll into it. Just for an instant the slim fingers held fast to his hand--then, as she felt the bills and saw what they were, she drew back and dropped them upon the sand.
"I can't; no, I can't," she said, when he urged | | 41 them upon her, telling her it was his right to give and hers to take.
As usual his will prevailed, and when at last he said good-by and walked rapidly towards the river, while she went slowly through the woods and across the clearing to the log-house, where Mandy Ann was having a frightful time getting ole Miss to bed, she had in her possession more money than Jake would earn in months.
"I would send it all back," she thought, "if we didn't need it badly, and he said it was right for me to take it, but some of it must go. I'll send it just before the 'Hatty' sails."
There was no one to send but Mandy Ann, who, after many misgivings on the part of her mistress, was trusted with a part of the money, with injunctions neither to look at nor lose it, but to hold it tight in her hand until she gave it to the gentleman. Eudora had thought of writing a note, but the effort was too great. Mandy Ann could say all she wanted to have said, and in due time the negress started for the boat, nothing loth to visit it again and bandy words with Ted. The "Hatty" was blowing off steam preparatory to starting, when a pair of bare legs and feet were seen racing down the lane to the landing, and Mandy Ann, waving her hand, was calling out, "Hol' on dar, you cap'n. I'se sometin' berry 'portant for de gemman. Hol' on, I say," and she dashed across the plank, nearly knocking Ted down her headlong haste. "Whar is 'ee?" she gasped, and continued, "Leg-go, I tell ye. Le' me be," as Ted seized her arm, asking what she wanted, and if she was going back to Jacksonville.
"No; leg-go, I tell you. I wants the man from de | | 42 Norf, what cored to see Miss Dory. I've sometin' for him very partic'lar."
She found him in his seat at the rear of the boat, where he had sat on his way up, and had again appropriated to himself, with no one protesting or noticing him beyond a civil bow. They called him Boston, knowing no other name, and wondered why he had visited the Harrises as they knew he had. Ted, who was allowed nearly as much freedom of speech on the boat as Mandy Ann had at the clearing, had aired his opinion that the gentleman wanted to buy Mandy Ann, but this idea was scouted. Boston was not one to buy negroes. Probably he was some kin to old Granny Harris, who had distant connections in the North, some one suggested. This seemed reasonable, and the people settled upon it, and gave him a wide berth as one who wished to be let alone. When Mandy Ann rushed in and made her way to him curiosity was again roused, but no one was near enough to hear her as she put into his hands a paper, saying breathlessly, "Miss Dory done send some of it back with thanks, 'case she can't keep it all, and she wants to know how d'ye, an' I mus' hurry, or dey carries me off."
The stranger took the paper, opened it, and glanced at the bills; then at the girl who stood as if she expected something. Taking a dollar from his pocket he gave it to her saying, "Take this and be a good girl to your young mistress, and now go."
Mandy Ann did not move, but stood with her lips twitching and her eyes filling with tears. No one had ever given her a dollar before, and her better nature cried out against what she had done.
"Fo' de Lawd, I can't help 'fessin," she said, | | 43 thrusting her hand into her bosom and bringing out a crumpled bill which she gave to the gentleman, who saw that it was a ten and looked at her sternly as she went on: "I done promised Miss Dory I'never tache a thing, if she wouldn't sell me to you, but dar was sich a pile, an' I wanted some beads, an' a red han'kercher, an' a ring, an' I done took one. I don'no how much, 'case I can't read, an' dat's why I was late an' had to run so fass. You're good, you is, an' I muss 'fess--may de Lawd forgive me."
At this point Ted, who had been on some of the large boats between Jacksonville and Charleston, and had heard the cry warning the passengers to leave, screamed close to her. "All asho', dat's gwine asho'!" and seizing her arm he led her to the plank and pushed her on to it, but not until she had shaken her bill in his face and said, "Licke-e-dar, a dollar! All mine--he done gin it to me, an' I'se gwine to buy a gown, an' a han'kercher, an' some shoes, an' some candy, an' some--" the rest of her intended purchases were cut short by a jerk of the plank, which sent her sprawling on her hands and knees, with a jeer from Ted sounding in her ears. The "Hatty" was off, and with a feeling of relief the stranger kept his seat on the rear deck, or staid in his stateroom until Palatka was reached, where he went on shore, lifting his hat politely to the passengers, shaking hands with the captain, and giving a quarter to Ted, who nearly stood on his head for joy, and could scarcely wait for the next trip to Enterprise, where he would find Mandy Ann and tell her of his good fortune, doubling or trebling the amount as he might feel inclined at the time.
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