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   Chapter 5 QUALITY FOLKS

From Place to Place By Irvin S. Cobb Characters: 72063

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


IN our town formerly there were any number of negro children named for Caucasian friends of their parents. Some bore for their names the names of old masters of the slavery time, masters who had been kindly and gracious and whose memories thereby were affectionately perpetuated; these were mainly of a generation now growing into middle age. Others-I am speaking still of the namesakes, not of the original bearers of the names-had been christened with intent to do honour to indulgent and well-remembered employers of post-bellum days. Thus it might befall, for example, that Wadsworth Junius Courtney, Esquire, would be a prominent advocate practicing at the local bar and that Wadsworth Junius Courtney Jones, of colour, would be his janitor and sweep out his office for him. Yet others had been named after white children-and soon after-for the reason that the white children had been given first names having a fine, full, sonorous sound or else a fascinatingly novel sound.

Of these last there were instances amounting in the aggregate to a small host.

I seem to remember, for example, that once a pink girl-mite came into the world by way of a bedroom in a large white house on Tilghman Avenue and was at the baptismal font sentenced for life to bear the Christian name of Rowena Hildegarde.

Or is Rowena Hildegarde a Christian name?

At any rate, within twelve months' time, there were to be found in more crowded and less affluent quarters of our thriving little city four more Rowena Hildegardes, of tender years, or rather, tender months-two black ones, one chrome-yellow one, and one sepia-brown one.

But so far as the available records show there was but one white child in our town who bore for its name, bestowed upon it with due knowledge of the fact and with deliberate intent, the name of a person of undoubted African descent. However, at this stage to reveal the circumstances governing this phenomenon would be to run ahead of our tale and to precipitate its climax before the groundwork were laid for its premise. Most stories should start at the beginning. This one must.

* * *

From round the left-hand corner of the house came with a sudden blare the sound of melody-words and music-growing steadily louder as the unseen singer drew nearer. The music was a lusty, deep-volumed camp-meeting air, with long-drawn quavers and cadences in it. The words were as follows:

Had a lovin' mother,

Been climbin' up de hill so long;

She been hopin' git to heaben in due time

Befo' dem heaben do's close!

And then the chorus, voicing first a passionate entreaty, then rising in the final bars to a great exultant shout:

Den chain dat lion down, Good Lawd!

Den chain dat lion down!

Oh, please!

Good Lawd, done chained dat lion down!

Done chained dat deadly lion down!

Glor-e-e-e!

The singer, still singing, issued into view, limping slightly-a wizen woman, coal-black and old, with a white cloth bound about her head, turban fashion, and a man's battered straw hat resting jauntily upon the knotted kerchief. Her calico frock was voluminous, unshapely and starch-clean. Her under lip was shoved forward as though permanently twisted into a spout-shape by the task of holding something against the gums of her lower front teeth, and from one side of her mouth protruded a bit of wood with the slivered bark on it. One versed in the science of forestry might have recognised the little stub of switch as a peach-tree switch; one bred of the soil would have known its purpose. Neither puckered-out lip nor peach-tree twig seemed to interfere in the least with her singing. She flung the song out past them-over the lip, round the twig.

With her head thrown away back, her hands resting on her bony hips, and her feet clunking inside a pair of boys' shoes too large for her, she crossed the lawn at an angle. In all things about her-in her gait, despite its limp, in her pose, her figure-there was something masterful, something dominating, something tremendously proud. Considering her sparseness of bulk she had a most astoundingly big strong voice, and in the voice as in the strut was arrogant pride.

She crossed the yard and let herself out of a side gate opening upon an empty side street and went out of sight and ultimately out of hearing down the side street in the hot sunshine of the late afternoon. But before she was out of hearing she had made it plain that not only a loving mother and a loving father, but likewise a loving brother and a loving sister, a loving nephew and a loving uncle, a loving grandmother and divers other loving relatives-had all been engaged in the hill-climbing pilgrimage along a lion-guarded path.

The hush that succeeded her departure was a profound hush; indeed, by comparison with the clamorous outburst that had gone before it seemed almost ghastly. Not even the shrieks of the caucusing blue jays that might now be heard in the oak trees upon the lawn, where they were holding one of their excited powwows, served to destroy the illusion that a dead quiet had descended upon a spot lately racked by loud sounds. The well-dressed young man who had been listening with the air of one intent on catching and memorising the air, settled back in the hammock in which he was stretched behind the thick screen of vines that covered the wide front porch of the house.

"The estimable Aunt Charlotte appears to be in excellent voice and spirits to-day," he said with a wry smile. "I don't know that I ever heard her when her top notes carried farther than they did just now."

The slender black-haired girl who sat alongside him in a porch chair winced.

"It's perfectly awful-I know it," she lamented. "I suppose if Mildred and I have asked her once not to carry on like that here at the front of the house we've asked her a hundred times. It's bad enough to have her whooping like a wild Indian in the kitchen. But it never seems to do any good."

"Why don't you try getting rid of her altogether as a remedy?" suggested the young man.

"Get rid of Aunt Sharley! Why, Harvey-why, Mr. Winslow, I mean-we couldn't do that! Why, Aunt Sharley has always been in our family! Why, she's just like one of us-just like our own flesh and blood! Why, she used to belong to my Grandmother Helm before the war--"

"I see," he said dryly, breaking in on her. "She used to belong to your grandmother, and now you belong to her. The plan of ownership has merely been reversed, that's all. Tell me, Miss Emmy Lou, how does it feel to be a human chattel, with no prospect of emancipation?" Then catching the hurt look on her flushed face he dropped his raillery and hastened to make amends. "Well, never mind. You're the sweetest slave girl I ever met-I guess you're the sweetest one that ever lived. Besides, she's gone-probably won't be back for half an hour or so. Don't hitch your chair away from me-I've got something very important that I want to tell you-in confidence. It concerns you-and somebody else. It concerns me and somebody else-and yet only two persons are concerned in it."

He was wrong about the time, however, truthful as he may have been in asserting his desire to deal confidentially with important topics. Inside of ten minutes, which to him seemed no more than a minute, seeing that he was in love and time always speeds fast for a lover with his sweetheart, the old black woman came hurrying back up the side street, and turned in at the side gate and retraversed the lawn to the back of the old house, giving the vine-screened porch a swift searching look as she hobbled past its corner.

Her curiosity, if so this scrutiny was to be interpreted, carried her further. In a minute or two she suddenly poked her head out through the open front door. She had removed her damaged straw headgear, but still wore her kerchief. Hastily and guiltily the young man released his hold upon a slim white hand which somehow had found its way inside his own. The sharp eyes of the old negress snapped. She gave a grunt as she withdrew her head. It was speedily to develop, though, that she had not entirely betaken herself away. Almost immediately there came to the ears of the couple the creak-creak of a rocking-chair just inside the hall, but out of view from their end of the porch.

"Make the old beldam go away, won't you?" whispered the man.

"I'll try," she whispered back rather nervously. Then, raising her voice, she called out in slightly strained, somewhat artificial voice, which to the understanding of the annoyed young man in the hammock appeared to have almost a suggestion of apprehension in it:

"Is-is that you, Aunt Sharley?"

The answer was little more than a grunt.

"Well, Aunt Sharley, hadn't you better be seeing about supper?"

"Num'mine 'bout supper. Ise tendin' to de supper. Ise bound de supper'll be ready 'fo' you two chillens is ready fur to eat it."

Within, the chair continued to creak steadily.

The girl spread out her hands with a gesture of helplessness.

"You see how it is," she explained under her breath. "Auntie is so set in her ways!"

"And she's so set in that rocking-chair too," he retorted grimly. Saying what he said next, he continued to whisper, but in his whisper was a suggestion of the proprietorial tone. Also for the first time in his life he addressed her without the prefix of Miss before her name. This affair plainly was progressing rapidly, despite the handicaps of a withered black duenna in the immediate offing.

"Emmy Lou," he said, "please try again. Go in there yourself and speak to her. Be firm with her-for once. Make her get away from that door. She makes me nervous. Don't be afraid of the old nuisance. This is your house, isn't it-yours and your sister's? Well, then, I thought Southerners knew how to handle darkies. If you can handle this one, suppose you give me a small proof of the fact-right now!"

Reluctantly, as though knowing beforehand what the outcome would be, Emmy Lou stood up, revealing herself as a straight dainty figure in white. She entered the door. Outside in the hammock Harvey strained his ears to hear the dialogue. His sweetheart's voice came to him only in a series of murmurs, but for him there was no difficulty about distinguishing the replies, for the replies were pitched in a strident, belligerent key which carried almost to the yard fence. From them he was able to guess with the utmost accuracy just what arguments against the presence of the negress the girl was making. This, then, was what he heard:

". . . Now, Mizz Emmy Lou, you mout jes' ez well hush up an' save yore breath. You knows an' I knows, even ef he don't know it, dat 'tain't proper fur no young man to be cotein' a young lady right out on a front po'ch widout no chaperoner bein' clost by. Quality folks don't do sech ez dat. Dat's why I taken my feet in my hand an' come hurryin' back yere f'um dat grocery sto' where I'd done went to git a bottle of lemon extractors. I seen yore sister settin' in dat Mistah B. Weil's candy sto', drinkin' ice-cream sody wid a passel of young folks, an' by dat I realise' I'd done lef' you 'lone in dis house wid a young man dat's a stranger yere, an' so I come right back. And yere I is, honey, and yere I stays. . . . Whut's dat you sayin'? De gen'l'man objec's? He do, do he?" The far-carrying voice rose shrilly and scornfully. "Well, let him! Dat's his privilege. Jes' let him keep on objectin' long ez he's a mind to. 'Tain't gwine 'fluence me none. . . . I don't keer none ef he do heah me. Mebbe it mout do him some good ef he do heah me. Hit'll do him good, too, ef he heed me, I lay to dat. Mebbe he ain't been raised de way we is down yere. Ef so, dat's his misfortune." The voice changed. "Whut would yore pore daid mother say ef she knowed I wuz neglectin' my plain duty to you two lone chillen? Think I gwine run ary chancet of havin' you two gals talked about by all de low-down pore w'ite trash scandalisers in dis town? Well, I ain't, an' dat's flat. No, sir-ree, honey! You mout jes' ez well run 'long back out dere on dat front po'ch, 'ca'se I'm tellin' you I ain't gwine stir nary inch f'um whar I is twell yore sister git back yere."

Beaten and discomfited, with one hand up to a burning cheek, Emmy Lou returned to her young man. On his face was a queer smile.

"Did-did you hear what she said?" she asked, bending over him.

"Not being deaf I couldn't well help hearing. I imagine the people next door heard it, too, and are no doubt now enjoying the joke of it."

"Oh, I know she's impossible," admitted Emmy Lou, repeating her lament of a little while before, but taking care even in her mortification to keep her voice discreetly down. "There's no use trying to do anything with her. We've tried and tried and tried, but she just will have her way. She doesn't seem to understand that we've grown up-Mildred and I. She still wants to boss us just as she did when we were children. And she grows more crotchety and more exacting every day."

"And I-poor benighted Yank that I am-came down here filled with a great and burning sympathy for the down-trodden African." Harvey said this as though speaking to himself.

The girl forgot her annoyance in her instinct to come to the defence of her black mentor.

"Oh, but she has been like a mother to us! After mamma died I don't know what we should have done-two girls left alone in this old house-if it hadn't been for Aunt Sharley. She petted us, she protected us, she nursed us when we were sick. Why, Harvey, she couldn't have been more loyal or more devoted or more self-sacrificing than she has been through all these years while we were growing up. I know she loves us with every drop of blood in her veins. I know she'd work her fingers to the bone for us-that she'd die in her tracks fighting for us. We try to remember the debt of gratitude we owe her now that she's getting old and fussy and unreasonable and all crippled with rheumatism."

She paused, and then, womanlike, she added a qualifying clause: "But I must admit she's terribly aggravating at times. It's almost unbearable to have her playing the noisy old tyrant day in and day out. I get awfully out of patience with her."

Over on Franklin Street the town clock struck.

"Six o'clock," said Harvey. Reluctantly he stirred and sat up in the hammock and reached for his hat.

"I could be induced, you know, if sufficiently pressed, to stay on for supper," he hinted. For one Northern born, young Mr. Harvey Winslow was fast learning the hospitable customs of the town of his recent adoption.

"I'd love to have you stay," stated Emmy Lou, "but-but"-she glanced over her shoulder toward the open door-"but I'm afraid of Auntie. She might say she wasn't prepared to entertain a visitor-'not fixed fur company' is the way she would put it. You see, she regards you as a person of great importance. That's why she's putting on so many airs now. If it was one of the home boys that I've known always that was here with me she wouldn't mind it a bit. But with you it's different, and she's on her dignity-riding her high horse. You aren't very much disappointed, are you? Besides, you're coming to supper to-morrow night. She'll fuss over you then, I know, and be on tiptoe to see that everything is just exactly right. I think Auntie likes you."

"Curious way she has of showing it then," said Harvey. "I guess I still have a good deal to learn about the quaint and interesting tribal customs of this country. Even so, my education is progressing by leaps and bounds-I can see that."

After further remarks delivered in a confidential undertone, the purport of which is none of our business, young Mr. Winslow took his departure from the Dabney homestead. Simultaneously the vigilant warder abandoned her post in the front hall and returned to her special domain at the back of the house. Left alone, the girl sat on the porch with her troubled face cupped in her hands and a furrow of perplexity spoiling her smooth white brow. Presently the gate latch clicked and her sister, a year and a half her junior, came up the walk. With half an eye anyone would have known them for sisters. They looked alike, which is another way of saying both of them were pretty and slim and quick in their movements.

"Hello, sis," said Mildred by way of greeting. She dropped into a chair, smoothing down the front of her white middy blouse and fanning her flushed face with the broad ends of her sailor tie. Then observing her sister's despondent attitude: "What are you in the dumps about? Has that new beau of yours turned out a disappointment? Or what?"

In a passionate little burst Emmy Lou's simmering indignation boiled up and overflowed.

"Oh, it's Aunt Sharley again! Honestly, Mil, she was absolutely unbearable this evening. It was bad enough to have her go stalking across the lawn with that old snuff stick of hers stuck in the corner of her mouth, and singing that terrible song of hers at the very top of her lungs and wearing that scandalous old straw hat stuck up on her topknot-that was bad enough, goodness knows! I don't know what sort of people Har-Mr. Winslow thinks we must be! But that was only the beginning."

Followed a recapitulation of the greater grievance against the absent offender. Before Emmy Lou was done baring the burden of her complaint Mildred's lips had tightened in angered sympathy.

"It must have been just perfectly awfully horrible, Em," she said with a characteristic prodigality of adjectives when the other had finished her recital. "You just ought to give Aunt Sharley a piece of your mind about the way she behaves. And the worst of it is she gets worse all the time. Don't you think you're the only one she picks on. Why, don't you remember, Em, how just here only the other day she jumped on me because I went on the moonlight excursion aboard the Sophie K. Foster with Sidney Baumann?-told me right to my face I ought to be spanked and put to bed for daring to run round with 'codfish aristocracy'-the very words she used. What right has she, I want to know, to be criticising Sidney Baumann's people? I'm sure he's as nice a boy as there is in this whole town; seems to me he deserves all the more credit for working his way up among the old families the way he has. I don't care if his father was a nobody in this town when he first came here.

"Quality folks-quality folks! She's always preaching about our being quality folks and about it being wrong for us to demean ourselves by going with anybody who isn't quality folks until I'm sick and tired of the words. She has quality folks on the brain! Does she think we are still babies? You're nearly twenty-three and I'm past twenty-one. We have our own lives to live. Why should we be so--"

She broke off at the sound of a limping footstep in the hall.

"Supper's ready," announced Aunt Sharley briefly. "You chillen come right in an' eat it whilst it's hot."

Strangely quiet, the two sisters followed the old negress back to the dining room. Aunt Sharley, who had prepared the meal, now waited upon them. She was glumly silent herself, but occasionally she broke, or rather she punctuated, the silence with little sniffs of displeasure. Only once did she speak, and this was at the end of the supper, when she had served them with blackberries and cream.

"Seem lak de cat done got ever'body's tongue round dis place to-night!" she snapped, addressing the blank wall above the older girl's head. "Well, 'tain't no use fur nobody to be poutin' an' sullin'. 'Tain't gwine do 'em no good. 'Tain't gwine budge me nary hair's brea'th frum whut I considers to be my plain duty. Ef folkses don't lak it so much de wuss fur dem, present company not excepted. Dat's my say an' I done said it!"

And out of the room she marched with her head held defiantly high.

That night there were callers. At the Dabney home there nearly always were callers of an evening, for the two sisters were by way of being what small-town society writers call reigning belles. Once, when they had first returned from finishing school the year before, a neighbouring lady, meeting Aunt Sharley on the street, had been moved to ask whether the girls had many beaus, and Aunt Sharley, with a boastful flirt of her under lip which made her side face look something like the profile of a withered but vainglorious dromedary, had answered back:

"Beaus? Huh! Dem chillens is got beaus frum ever' state!" Which was a slight overstretching of the real facts, but a perfectly pardonable and proper exaggeration in Aunt Charlotte's estimation. At home she might make herself a common scold, might be pestiferously officious and more than pestiferously noisy. Abroad her worshipful pride in, and her affection for, the pair she had reared shone through her old black face as though a lamp of many candle power burned within her. She might chide them at will, and she did, holding this to be her prerogative and her right, but whosoever spoke slightingly of either of them in her presence, be the speaker black or white, had Aunt Charlotte to fight right there on the spot; she was as ready with her fists and her teeth to assert the right of her white wards to immunity from criticism as she was with her tongue lashings.

These things were all taken into consideration when Emmy Lou and Mildred came that night to balance the account for and against the old woman-so many, many deeds of thoughtfulness, of kindness, of tenderness on the credit side; so many flagrant faults, so many shortcomings of temper and behaviour on the debit page. The last caller had gone. Aunt Sharley, after making the rounds of the house to see to door boltings and window latchings, had hobbled upstairs to her own sleeping quarters over the kitchen wing, and in the elder sister's room, with the lights turned low, the two of them sat in their nightgowns on the side of Emmy Lou's bed and tried the case of Spinster Charlotte Helm, coloured, in the scales of their own youthful judgments. Without exactly being able to express the situation in words, both realised that a condition which verged upon the intolerable was fast approaching its climax.

Along with the impatience of youth and the thought of many grievances they had within them a natural instinct for fairness; a legacy perhaps from a father who had been just and a mother who had been mercifully kind and gentle. First one would play the part of devil's advocate, the while the other defended the accused, and then at the remembrance of some one of a long record of things done or said by Aunt Sharley those attitudes would be reversed.

There were times when both condemned the defendant, their hair braids bobbing in emphasis of the intensity of their feelings; times when together they conjured up recollections of the everlasting debt that they owed her for her manifold goodnesses, her countless sacrifices on behalf of them. The average Northerner, of whatsoever social status, would have been hard put to it either to comprehend the true inwardness of the relationship that existed between these girls of one race and this old woman of another or to figure how there could be but one outcome. The average Southerner would have been able at once to sense the sentiments and the prejudices underlying the dilemma that now confronted the orphaned pair, and to sympathise with them, and with the old negress too.

To begin with, there were the fine things to be said for Aunt Charlotte; the arguments in her behalf-a splendid long golden list of them stretching back to their babyhood and beyond, binding them with ties stronger almost than blood ties to this faithful, loving, cantankerous, crotchety old soul. Aunt Charlotte had been born in servitude, the possession of their mother's mother. She had been their mother's handmaiden before their mother's marriage. Afterward she had been their own nurse, cradling them in babyhood on her black breast, spoiling them, training them, ruling them, overruling them, too, coddling them when they were good, nursing them when they were ailing, scolding them and punishing them when they misbehaved.

After their father's death their mother, then an invalid, had advised as frequently with Aunt Sharley regarding the rearing of the two daughters as with the guardians who had been named in her husband's will-and with as satisfactory results. Before his death their father had urged his wife to counsel with Aunt Sharley in all domestic emergencies. Dying, he had signified his affectionate regard for the black woman by leaving her a little cottage with its two acres of domain near the railroad tracks. Regardless though of the fact that she was now a landed proprietor and thereby exalted before the eyes of her own race, Aunt Sharley had elected to go right on living beneath the Dabney roof. In the latter years of Mrs. Dabney's life she had been to all intents a copartner in the running of the house, and after that sweet lady's death she had been its manager in all regards. In the simple economies of the house she had indeed been all things for these past few years-housekeeper, cook, housemaid, even seamstress, for in addition to being a poetess with a cook-stove she was a wizard with a needle.

As they looked back now, casting up the tally of the remembered years, neither Emmy Lou nor Mildred could recall an event in all their lives in which the half-savage, half-childish, altogether shrewd and competent negress had not figured after some fashion or other: as foster parent, as unofficial but none the less capable guardian, as confidante, as overseer, as dictator, as tirewoman who never tired of well-doing, as arbiter of big things and little-all these r?les, and more, too, she had played to them, not once, but a thousand times.

It was Aunt Sharley who had dressed them for their first real party-not a play-party, as the saying went down our way, but a regular dancing party, corresponding to a début in some more ostentatious and less favoured communities. It was Aunt Sharley who had skimped and scrimped to make the available funds cover the necessary expenses of the little household in those two or three lean years succeeding their mother's death, when dubious investments, which afterward turned out to be good ones, had chiseled a good half off their income from the estate. It was Aunt Sharley who, when the question of going away to boarding school rose, had joined by invitation in the conference on ways and means with the girls' guardians, Judge Priest and Doctor Lake, and had cast her vote and her voice in favour of the same old-fashioned seminary that their mother in her girlhood had attended. The sisters themselves had rather favoured an Eastern establishment as being more fashionable and smarter, but the old woman stood fast in her advocacy of the other school. What had been good enough for her beloved mistress was good enough for her mistress' daughters, she insisted; and, anyhow, hadn't the quality folks always gone there? Promptly Doctor Lake and Judge Priest sided with her; and so she had her way about this important matter, as she had it about pretty much everything else.

It was Aunt Sharley who had indignantly and jealously vetoed the suggestion that a mulatto sewing woman, famed locally for her skill, should be hired to assist in preparing the wardrobes that Emmy Lou and Mildred must take with them. It was Aunt Sharley who, when her day's duties were over, had sat up night after night until all hours, straining her eyes as she plied needle and scissors, basting and hemming until she herself was satisfied that her chillen's clothes would be as ample and as ornate as the clothes which any two girls at the boarding school possibly could be expected to have. It was Aunt Sharley who packed their trunks for them, who kissed them good-by at the station, all three of them being in tears, and who, when the train had vanished down the tracks to the southward, had gone back to the empty house, there to abide until they came home to her again. They had promised to write to her every week-and they had, too, except when they were too busy or when they forgot it. Finally, it was Aunt Sharley who never let them forget that their grandfather had been a governor of the state, that their father had been a colonel in the Confederacy, and that they were qualified "to hole up they haids wid de fines' in de land."

When they came to this phase of the recapitulation there sprang into the minds of both of them a recollection of that time years and years in the past when Aunt Sharley, accompanying them on a Sunday-school picnic in the capacity of nursemaid, had marred the festivities by violently snatching Mildred out of a circle playing King Willyum was King James' Son just as the child was about to be kissed by a knickerbockered admirer who failed to measure up to Aunt Sharley's jealous requirements touching on quality folks; and, following this, had engaged in a fight with the disappointed little boy's coloured attendant, who resented this slur upon the social standing of her small charge. Aunt Sharley had come off victor in the bout, but the picnic had been spoiled for at least three youngsters. So much for Aunt Sharley's virtues-for her loyalty, her devotion, her unremitting faithfulness, her championship of their destinies, her stewardship over all their affairs. Now to turn the shield round and consider its darker side:

Aunt Sharley was hardly a fit candidate for canonisation yet. Either it was too early for that-or it was too late. She was unreasonable, she was crotchety, she was contentious, she was incredibly intolerant of the opinions of others, and she was incredibly hardheaded. She had always been masterful and arrogant; now more and more each day she was becoming a shrew and a tyrant and a wrangler. She was frightfully noisy; she clarioned her hallelujah hymns at the top of her voice, regardless of what company might be in the house. She dipped snuff openly before friends of the girls and new acquaintances alike. She refused point-blank to wear a cap and apron when serving meals. She was forever quarrelling with the neighbours' servants, with delivery boys, with marketmen and storekeepers. By sheer obstinacy she defeated all their plans for hiring a second servant, declaring that if they dared bring another darky on the place she would take pleasure in scalding the interloper with a kettle of boiling water. She sat in self-imposed judgment upon their admirers, ruthlessly rejecting those courtiers who did not measure up to her arbitrary standards for appraising the local aristocracy; and toward such of the young squires as fell under the ban of her disfavour she deported herself in such fashion as to leave in their minds no doubt whatsoever regarding her hostility. In public she praised her wards; in private she alternately scolded and petted them. She was getting more feeble, now that age and infirmities were coming upon her, wherefore the house showed the lack of proper care. They were afraid of her, though they loved her with all their hearts and knew she loved them to the exclusion of every living person; they were apprehensive always of her frequent and unrestrained outbreaks of temper. She shamed them and she humiliated them and she curbed them in perfectly natural impulses-impulses that to them seemed perfectly proper also.

Small enough were these faults when set up alongside the tally of her goodnesses; moreover, neither of the two rebels against her authority was lacking in gratitude. But it is the small things that are most annoying usually, and, besides, the faults of the old woman were things now of daily occurrence and recurrence, which chafed their nerves and fretted them, whereas the passage of time was lessening the sentimental value of her earlier labours and sacrifices in their behalf.

And here was another thing: While they had been getting older Aunt Sharley had been getting old; they had grown up, overnight, as it were, and she could not be made to comprehend the fact. In their case the eternal conflict between youth and crabbed age was merely being repeated-with the addition in this particular instance of unusual complications.

For an hour or more the perplexed pair threshed away, striving to winnow the chaff from the pure grain in Aunt Sharley's nature, and the upshot was that Emmy Lou had a headache and Mildred had a little spell of crying, and they agreed that never had there been such a paradox of part saint and part sinner, part black ogre and part black angel, as their Auntie was, created into a troubled world, and that something should be done to remedy the evil, provided it could be done without grievously hurting the old woman's feelings; but just what this something which should be done might be neither of them could decide, and so they went to bed and to sleep.

And the next day was another day exactly similar in its petty annoyances to the day before.

But a day was to come before the summer ended when a way out was found. The person who found the way out-or thought he did-was Mr. Harvey Winslow, the hero or villain of the hammock episode previously described in this narrative. He did not venture, though, to suggest a definite course of action until after a certain moonlit, fragrant night, when two happy young people agreed that thereafter these twain should be one.

Mildred knew already what was impending in the romance of Emmy Lou. So perhaps did Aunt Sharley. Her rheumatism had not affected her eyesight and she had all her faculties. All the same, it was to Aunt Sharley that Emmy Lou went next morning to tell of the choice she had made. There was no one whose consent had actually to be obtained. Both the girls were of age; as their own master they enjoyed the use and control of their cosy little inheritance. Except for an aunt who lived in New Orleans and some cousins scattered over the West, they were without kindred. The Dabneys had been an old family, but not a large one. Nevertheless, in obedience to a feeling that told her Aunt Sharley should be the first, next only to her sister, to share with her the happiness that had come into her life, Emmy Lou sought out the old woman before breakfast time.

Seemingly Aunt Sharley approved. For if at the moment she mumbled out a complaint about chillens too young to know their own minds being prone to fly off with the first young w'ite gen'l'man that came along frum nobody knowed whar, still there was nothing begrudged or forced about the vocal jubilations with which she made the house ring during the succeeding week. At prayer meeting on Wednesday night at Zion Coloured Baptist Church and at lodge meeting on Friday night she bore herself with an air of triumphant haughtiness which sorely irked her fellow members. It was agreed privily that Sis' Charlotte Helm got mo' and mo' bigotty, and not alone that, but mo' and mo' uppety, ever' day she lived.

If young Mr. Winslow had been, indirectly, the cause for her prideful deportment before her own colour, it was likewise Mr. Winslow who shortly was to be the instrument for humbling her into the dust. Now this same Mr. Winslow, it should be stated, was a masterful young man. Only an abiding sense of humour kept him sometimes from being domineering. Along with divers other qualities it had taken masterfulness for him at twenty-nine to be superintendent of our street-railway system, now owned and operated by Northern capitalists. Likewise it had taken masterfulness for him to distance the field of Emmy Lou's local admirers within the space of five short months after he procured his transfer to our town from another town where his company likewise had traction interests. He showed the same trait in the stand he presently took with regard to the future status of Aunt Sharley in the household of which he was to become a member and of which he

meant to be the head.

For moral support-which she very seriously felt she needed-Emmy Lou took her sister with her on the afternoon when she invaded the kitchen to break the news to Aunt Sharley. The girls came upon the old woman in one of her busiest moments. She was elbows deep in a white mass which in due time would become a batch of the hot biscuits of perfection. "Auntie," began Emmy Lou in a voice which she tried to make matter-of-fact, "we've-I've something I want to say to you."

"Ise lissenin', chile," stated the old woman shortly.

"It's this way, Auntie: We think-I mean we're afraid that you're getting along so in life-getting so old that we--"

"Who say Ise gittin' ole?" demanded Aunt Sharley, and she jerked her hands out of the dough she was kneading.

"We both think so-I mean we all think so," corrected Emmy Lou.

"Who do you mean by we all? Does you mean dat young Mistah Winslow, Esquire, late of de North?" Her blazing eyes darted from the face of one sister to the face of the other, reading their looks. "Uh-huh!" she snorted. "I mout 'a' knowed he'd be de ver' one to come puttin' sech notions ez dem in you chillens' haids. Well, ma'am, an' whut, pray, do he want?" Her words fairly dripped with sarcasm.

"He thinks-in fact we all three do-that because you are getting along in years-you know you are, Auntie-and because your rheumatism bothers you so much at times that-that-well, perhaps that we should make a change in the running of the house. So-so--" She hesitated, then broke off altogether, anxious though she was to make an end to what she foresaw must be a painful scene for all three of them. Poor Emmy Lou was finding this job which she had nerved herself to carry through a desperately hard job. And Aunt Sharley's attitude was not making it any easier for her either.

"'So' whut?" snapped Aunt Sharley; then answered herself: "An' so de wind blow frum dat quarter, do hit? De young gen'l'man ain't j'ined de fambly yit an' already he's settin' hisse'f to run it. All right den. Go on, chile-quit mumblin' up yore words an' please go on an' tell me whut you got to say! But ef you's fixin' to bring up de subjec' of my lettin' ary one of dese yere young flighty-haided, flibbertigibbeted, free-issue nigger gals come to work on dis place, you mout ez well save yore breath now an' yereafter, 'ca'se so long ez Ise able to drag one foot behine t'other I p'intedly does aim to manage dis yere kitchen."

"It isn't that-exactly," blurted out Emmy Lou. "You see, Auntie," she went on desperately, "we've decided, Harvey and I, that after our marriage we'll live here. We couldn't leave Mildred alone, and until she gets married this is going to be home for us all. And so we're afraid-with one more coming into the household and everything-that the added work is going to be too heavy for you to undertake. So we've decided that-that perhaps it would be better all round if you-if we-if you--"

"Go on, chile; say it, whutever it is."

"--that perhaps it would be better if you left here altogether and went to live in that nice little house that papa left you in his will."

Perhaps they did not see the stricken look that came into the eyes of the old negress or else she hid the look behind the fit of rage that instantly possessed her. Perhaps they mistook the grey pallor that overspread the old face, turning it to an ashen colour, for the hue of temper.

"Do it all mean, den, dat after all dese yeahs you's tryin' to git shet of me-tryin' to t'row me aside lak an' ole worn-out broom? Well, I ain't gwine go!" Her voice soared shrilly to match the heights of her tantrum.

"Your wages will go on just the same-Harvey insists on that as much as we do," Emmy Lou essayed. "Don't you see, Auntie, that your life will be easier? You will have your own little home and your own little garden. You can come to see us-come every day if you want to. We'll come to see you. Things between us will go on almost exactly the same as they do now. You know how much we love you-Mildred and I. You know we are trying to think of your comfort, don't you?"

"Of course you do, Aunt Sharley," Mildred put in. "It isn't as if you were going clear out of our lives or we out of yours. You'll be ever so much happier."

"Well, I jes' ain't gwine go nary step." The defiant voice had become a passionate shriek. "Think Ise gwine leave yere an' go live in dat little house down dere by dem noisy tracks whar all dem odds an' ends of pore w'ite trash lives-dem scourin's an' sweepin's whut come yere to wuk in de new cotton mill! Think Ise gwine be corntent to wuk in a gyarden whilst I knows Ise needed right yere to run dis place de way which it should be run! Think Ise gwine set quiet whilst Ise pulled up by de roots an' transported 'way frum de house whar Ise spend purty nigh de whole of my endurin' life! Well, I won't go-I won't never go! I won't go-'ca'se I jes' can't!" And then, to the intense distress of the girls, Aunt Sharley slumped into a chair, threw her floury hands over her face and with the big tears trickling out between her fingers she moaned over and over again between her gulping breaths:

"Oh, dat I should live to see de day w'en my own chillens wants to drive me away frum 'em! Oh, dat I should live to see dis day!"

Neither of them had ever seen Aunt Sharley weep like this-shaken as she was with great sobs, her head bowed almost to her knees, her bared arms quivering in a very palsy. They tried to comfort her, tried to put their arms about her, both of them crying too. At the touch of their arms stealing about her hunched shoulders she straightened, showing a spark of the spirit with which they were more familiar. She wrenched her body free of them and pointed a tremulous finger at the door. The two sisters stole out, feeling terribly guilty and thoroughly miserable.

It was not the Aunt Sharley they knew who waited upon them that dusk at supper. Rather it was her ghost-a ghost with a black mask of tragedy for a face, with eyes swollen and reddened, with lips which shook in occasional spasms of pain, though their owner strove to keep them firm. With their own faces tear-streaked and with lumps in their throats the girls kept their heads averted, as though they had been caught doing something very wrong, and made poor pretense of eating the dishes that the old woman placed before them. Such glances as they stole at her were sidelong covert glances, but they marked plainly enough how her shoulders drooped and how she dragged herself about the table.

Within a space of time to be measured by hours and almost by minutes she seemed to have aged years.

It was a mute meal and a most unhappy one for the sisters. More than once Aunt Sharley seemed on the point of saying something, but she, too, held her tongue until they had risen up from their places. From within the passageway leading to the rear porch she spoke then across the threshold of the door at the back end of the dining room.

"You, nur nobody else, can't turn me out of dis house," she warned them, and in her words was the dead weight of finality. "An' ef you does, I ain't gwine leave de premises. Ise gwine camp right dere on de sidewalk an' dere I means to stay twell de policemens teks me up fur a vagrom. De shame of it won't be no greater fur me 'n 'tis fur you. Dat's all!" And with that she was gone before they could answer, if indeed they had any answer to make.

It was the next day that the Daily Evening News announced the engagement and the date of the marriage, which would follow within four weeks. Congratulations in number were bestowed upon Emmy Lou; they came by telephone and in letters from former schoolmates, but mainly they came by word of mouth from townspeople who trooped in to say the things which people always say on such occasions-such things, for example, as that young Mr. Winslow should count himself a lucky man and that Emmy Lou would make a lovely bride; that he should be the proudest young man in the Union and she the happiest girl in the state, and all the rest of it. Under this outpouring of kindly words from kindly folk the recipient was radiant enough to all appearances, which was a tribute to her powers as an actress. Beneath the streams of her happiness coursed sombre undercurrents of distress and perplexity, roiling the waters of her joy and her pride.

For nearly a week, with no outsider becoming privy to the facts, she endured a situation which daily was marked by harassing experiences and which hourly became more intolerable. Then, in despair, seeing no way out at all, she went to a certain old white house out on Clay Street to confide in one to whom many another had turned, seeking counsel in the time of trouble. She went to see Judge William Pitman Priest, and she went alone, telling no one, not even Mildred, of the errand upon which she was bound.

The wide front porch was empty where the old Judge spent most of his leisure hours when the weather suited, and knowing as she did the custom of the house, and being, for a fact, almost as much at home beneath its roof as beneath her own, Emmy Lou, without knocking, walked into the hall and turning to the right entered the big sitting room. Its lone occupant sat up with a jerk, wiping the drowsiness out of his eyes with the back of his hand. He had been taking a cat nap on his ancient sofa; his long white back hair was tousled up comically behind his bald pink brow.

"Why, hello, honey!" he said heartily, rising to his feet and bowing with a quaint ceremonial gesture that contrasted with and yet somehow matched the homeliness of his greeting. "You slipped in so quiet on them dainty little feet of yours I never heared you comin' a-tall." He took her small hands in his broad pudgy ones, holding her off at arm's length. "And don't you look purty! Mighty nigh any woman looks cool and sweet when she's got on white fixin's, but when a girl like you puts 'em on-well, child, there ain't no use talkin', you shorely are a sight to cure sore eyes. And you git to favour your sweet mother more and more every day you live. I can't pay you no higher compliment than that. Set down in that cheer yonder, where I kin look at you whilst we visit."

"I'd rather sit here by you, sir, on the sofa, if you don't mind," she said.

"Suit yourself, honey."

She settled herself upon the sofa and he let his bulky frame down alongside her, taking one of her hands into his. Her free hand played with one of the big buttons on the front of her starched linen skirt and she looked, not at him, but at the shining disk of pearl, as he said:

"Well, Emmy Lou, whut brings you 'way out here to my house in the heat of the day?"

She turned her face full upon him then and he saw the brooding in her eyes and gave her hand a sympathetic little squeeze.

"Judge," she told him, "you went to so much trouble on my account and Mildred's when we were still minors that I hate to come now worrying you with my affairs. But somehow I felt that you were the one for me to turn to."

"Emmy Lou," he said very gravely, "your father was one of the best men that ever lived and one of the best friends ever I had on this earth. And no dearer woman than your mother ever drawed the breath of life. It was a mighty proud day fur me and fur Lew Lake when he named us two as the guardians of his children, and it was a pleasure to both of us to help look to your interests after he was took from us. Why, when your mother went too, I'd a' liked the best in the world to have adopted you two children outright." He chuckled a soft little chuckle. "I reckin I would have made the effort, too, only it seemed like that old nigger woman of yours appeared to have prior rights in the matter, and knowin' her disposition I was kind of skeered to advance the suggestion.'"

"It was about Aunt Sharley that I came to see you to-day, Judge Priest."

"That so? I had a visit from her here the other day."

"What other day?" she asked, startled.

"Oh, it must have been a matter of three weeks ago-fully. Shall I tell you whut she come to see me about? You'll laugh when you hear it. It tickled me right smartly at the time. She wanted to know what I knew about this here young Mr. Winslow-yes, that was it. She said all the visible signs p'inted to a serious affair 'twixt you two young people, and she said before it went any further she wanted to know ef he was the kind of a young man to be gittin' hisself engaged to a member of the Dabney family, and she wanted to know ef his folks were the real quality folks and not this here codfish aristocracy: That was the very term she used-'codfish aristocracy.' Well, I was able to reasshore her. You see, honey, I'd took it on myself to do a little inquirin' round about Mr. Winslow on my own responsibility-not that I wanted to be pryin' into your business and not because I aimed to be tryin' to come between you and the young man ef I wasn't altogether satisfied with the accounts I got of him, but because I loved you and wanted to make sure in my own mind that Tom Dabney's child wasn't makin' the wrong choice. You understand, don't you? You see, ez fur back ez a month and a half ago, or mebbe even further back than that, I was kind of given to understand that you and this young man were gittin' deeply interested in each other."

"Why, how could you?" inquired Emmy Lou. "We weren't even engaged then. Who could have circulated such a report about us?"

"The very first time I seen you two young folks walkin' up Franklin Street together you both were circulatin' it," he said, chuckling again. "You may not 'a' knowed it, but you were. I may be gittin' old, but my eyesight ain't entirely failed up on me yit-I could read the signs when I was still half a block away frum you. It was right after that that I started my own little private investigation. So you see I was qualified to reasshore Aunt Sharley. I told her all the available information on the subject proved the young gentleman in question was not only a mighty clever, up-standin', manly young feller, but that where he hailed from he belonged to the quality folks, which really was the p'int she seemed most anxious about. That's whut I told her, and I was monstrous glad to be able to tell her. A stranger might have thought it was pure impudence on her part, but of course we both know, you and me, whut was in the back part of her old kinky head. And when I'd got done tellin' her she went down the street from here with her head throwed away back, singin' till you could 'a' heard her half a mile off, I reckin."

"I never guessed it. She never told me she'd been to see you. And you didn't tell me, either, when you came the other night to wish me joy, Judge."

"I kind of figgered she wanted the matter treated confidential," explained Judge Priest. "So I respected whut I took to be her wishes in the matter. But wasn't it fur all the world jest like that old black woman?"

"Yes, it was just like her," agreed Emmy Lou, her face shadowed with deepening distress. "And because it was just like her and because I know now better than ever before how much she really loves me, those things make it all the harder to tell you what I came here to tell you-make it all the harder for me to decide what I should do and to ask your advice before I do decide."

"Oh, I reckin it can't be so serious ez all that," said Judge Priest comfortingly. "Betwixt us we oughter be able to find a way out of the difficulty, whutever it is. S'pose, honey, you start in at the beginnin' and give me all the facts in the matter that's worryin' you."

She started then and, though her voice broke several times, she kept on until she came to the end of her tragic little recital. To Emmy Lou it was very tragic indeed.

"So you see, Judge Priest, just how it is," she stated at the conclusion. "From both sides I am catching the brunt of the whole thing. Aunt Sharley won't budge an inch from the attitude she's taken, and neither will Harvey budge an inch. He says she must go; she tells me every day she won't go. This has been going on for a week now and I'm almost distracted. At what should be the happiest time in a girl's life I'm being made terribly unhappy. Why, it breaks my heart every time I look at her. I know how much we owe her-I know I can never hope to repay her for all she has done for me and my sister.

"But oh, Judge, I do want to be the right kind of wife to Harvey. All my life long I mean to obey him and to look up to him; I don't want to begin now by disobeying him-by going counter to his wishes. And I can understand his position too. To him she's just an unreasonable, meddlesome, officious, contrary old negro woman who would insist on running the household of which he should be the head. She would too.

"It isn't that he feels unkindly toward her-he's too good and too generous for that. Why, it was Harvey who suggested that wages should go on just the same after she leaves us-he has even offered to double them if it will make her any better satisfied with the move. I'm sure, though, it can't be the question of money that figures with her. She never tells anyone about her own private affairs, but after all these years she must have a nice little sum saved up. I can't remember when she spent anything on herself-she was always so thrifty about money. At least she was careful about our expenditures, and of course she must have been about her own. So it can't be that. Harvey puts it down to plain stubbornness. He says after the first wrench of the separation is over she ought to be happier, when she's taking things easy in her own little house, than she is now, trying to do all the work in our house. He says he wants several servants in our home-a butler, and a maid to wait on me and Mildred, and a housemaid and a cook. He says we can't have them if we keep Aunt Sharley. And we can't, either-she'd drive them off the place. No darky could get along with her a week. Oh, I just don't know what to do!"

"And whut does Aunt Sharley say?" asked the Judge.

"I told you. Sometimes she says she won't go and sometimes she says she can't go. But she won't tell why she can't-just keeps on declaring up and down that she can't. She makes a different excuse or she gives a different reason every morning; she seems to spend her nights thinking them up. Sometimes I think she is keeping something back from me-that she isn't telling me the real cause for her refusal to accept the situation and make the best of it. You know how secretive our coloured people can be sometimes."

"All the time, you mean," amended the old man. "Northerners never seem to be able to git it through their heads that a darky kin be loud-mouthed and close-mouthed at the same time. Now you take that black boy Jeff of mine. Jeff knows more about me-my habits, my likes and my dislikes, my private business and my private thoughts and all-than I know myself. And I know jest egsactly ez much about his real self-whut he thinks and whut he does behind my back-ez he wants me to know, no more and no less. I judge it's much the same way with your Aunt Sharley, and with all the rest of their race too. We understand how to live with 'em, but that ain't sayin' we understand how they live."

He looked steadfastly at his late ward.

"Honey, when you come to cast up the account you do owe a lot to that old nigger woman, don't you?-you and your sister both. Mebbe you owe even more than you think you do. There ain't many left like her in this new generation of darkies that's growed up-she belongs to a species that's mighty nigh extinct, ez you might say. Us Southern people are powerfully given, some of us, to tellin' whut we've done fur the black race-and we have done a lot, I'll admit-but sometimes I think we're prone to furgit some of the things they've done fur us. Hold on, honey," he added hastily, seeing that she was about to speak in her own defence. "I ain't takin' issue with you aginst you nor yit aginst the young man you're fixin' to marry. After all, you've got your own lives to live. I was jest sort of studyin' out loud-not offerin' an argument in opposition."

Still looking straight at her he asked a question:

"Tell me one thing, Emmy Lou, jest to satisfy my curiosity and before we go any further with this here bothersome affair that's makin' you unhappy. It seems like to me I heared somewheres that you first met this young man of yours whilst you and little Mildred were off at Knollwood Seminary finishin' your educations. Is that so or ain't it?"

"Yes, sir, that's true," she answered. "You see, when we first went to Knollwood, Harvey had just been sent South to take a place in the office of the trolley road at Knollwood.

"His people were interested in the line; he was assistant to the general manager then. I met him there. And he-he was interested in me, I suppose, and afterward, when he had worked his way up and had been promoted to the superintendency, his company bought our line in, too, and he induced them to transfer him here-I mean to say he was transferred here. So that's how it all happened."

"I see," he said musingly. "You met him down there and he got interested-'interested' was the word you used, wasn't it, honey?-and then after a spell when you had left there he followed you here-or rather it jest so happened by a coincidence that he was sent here. Well, I don't know ez I blame him-for being interested, I mean. It strikes me that in addition to bein' an enterprisin' young man he's also got excellent taste and fine discrimination. He ought to go quite a ways in the world-whut with coincidences favourin' him and everything."

The whimsical note died out of his voice. His tone became serious.

"Child," he said gently, "whut would you say-and whut's even more important, whut would you do-ef I was to tell you that ef it hadn't a-been fur old Aunt Sharley this great thing that's come into your life probably never would have come into it? What ef I was to tell you that if it hadn't a-been fur her you never would have knowed Mr. Harvey Winslow in the first place-and natchelly wouldn't be engaged to marry him now?"

"Why, Judge Priest, how could that be?" Her widened eyes betokened a blank incredulity.

"Emmy Lou," he answered slowly, "in tellin' you whut I'm about to tell you I'm breakin' a solemn pledge, and that's a thing I ain't much given to doin'. But this time I figger the circumstances justify me. Now listen: You remember, don't you, that in the first year or two following after the time your mother left us, the estate was sort of snarled up? Well, it was worse snarled up than you two children had any idea of. Two or three of the heaviest investments your father made in the later years of his life weren't turnin' out very well. The taxes on 'em amounted to mighty nigh ez much ez whut the income frum 'em did. We didn't aim to pester you two girls with all the details, so we sort of kept 'em to ourselves and done the best we could. You lived simple and there was enough to take care of you and to keep up your home, and we knowed we could depend on Aunt Sharley to manage careful. Really, she knowed more about the true condition of things than you did. Still, even so, you no doubt got an inklin' sometimes of how things stood with regards to your finances."

She nodded, saying nothing, and he went on:

"Well, jest about that time, one day in the early part of the summer I had a visit frum Aunt Sharley. She come to me in my office down at the courthouse, and I sent Jeff to fetch Lew Lake, and we both set down there together with that old nigger woman, and she told us whut she had to say. She told us that you children had growed up with the idea that you'd go off to boardin' school somewheres after you were done with our local schools, and that you were beginnin' to talk about goin' and that it was high time fur you to be gittin' ready to go, and, in brief, she wanted to know whut about it? We told her jest how things stood-that under the terms of your father's will practically everything you owned was entailed-held in trust by us-until both of the heirs had come of age. We told her that, with your consent or without it, we didn't have the power to sell off any part of the estate, and so, that bein' the case, the necessary money to send you off to school jest natchelly couldn't be provided noways, and that, since there was jest barely enough money comin' in to run the home and, by stintin', to care fur you and Mildred, any outside and special expense comin' on top of the regular expenses couldn't possibly be considered-or, in other words, that you two couldn't hope to go to boardin' school.

"I reckin you kin guess fur yourself whut that old woman done then. She flared up and showed all her teeth. She said that the quality always sent their daughters off to boardin' school to give 'em the final polish that made fine ladies of 'em. She said her Ole Miss-meanin' your grandmother-had gone to Knollwood and that your mother had gone there, and that you two girls were goin' there, too, whether or no. We tried to explain to her that some of the finest young ladies in the land and some of the best-born ones never had the advantages of a college education, but she said she didn't keer whut people somewheres else might do-that the daughters of her kind of quality folks went to college and that you two were goin', so that all through your lives you could hold up your heads with the finest in the land. You never seen anybody so set and determined about a thing ez that old woman was. We tried explainin' to her and we tried arguin' with her, and Lew Lake tried losin' his temper with her, him bein' somewhat hot-headed, but nothin' we could say seemed to have any effect on her at all. She jest set there with her old skinny arms folded on her breast like a major-general, and that old under lip of hers stuck out and her neck bowed, sayin' over and over agin that you girls were goin' to that boardin' school same ez the Dabneys and the Helms had always done. So finally we throwed up our hands and told her we were at the end of our rope and she'd kindly have to show us the way to bring it all about.

"And then she up and showed us. You remember the night me and Lew Lake come up to your house to talk over the matter of your college education and I told you to call Aunt Sharley into the conference-you remember that, don't you? And you remember she come out strong in favour of Knollwood and that after a while we seemed to give in? Well, child, I've got a little confession to make to you now along with a bigger one later on: That was all a little piece of by-play that had been planned out in advance. We knowed beforehand that Aunt Sharley was goin' to favour Knollwood and that we were goin' to fall into line with her notions about it at the end. She'd already licked us to a standstill there in my office, and we were jest tryin' to save our faces.

"So you went to college and you both stayed there two full years. And I mout ez well tell you right now that the principal reason why you had so many purty fixin's to wear whilst you was away and why you had ez much pin money to spend ez any other two girls there was because that old woman lived on less'n it would take, seemin'ly, to keep a bird alive, savin' every cent she could scrape up, and bringin' it to me to be sent on to you ez part of your allowance."

"But I don't understand yet," cried out Emmy Lou. "Why, Judge, Aunt Sharley just can write her own name. We had to print out the words in the letters we wrote her so that she could read them. I don't understand how the poor good old ignorant soul could figure out where the money which paid for our schooling could be found when both you and Doctor Lake--"

"I'm comin' to that part now," he told her. "Honey, you were right when you guessed that Aunt Sharley has been holdin' somethin' back frum you durin' this past week; but she's been tellin' you the truth too-in a way of speakin'. She ain't got any money saved up-or at least ef she's got any at all it ain't ez much ez you imagine. Whut she's got laid by kin only represent the savin's of four or five years, not of a whole lifetime. And when she said to you that she couldn't leave you to go to live in that little house that your father left her in his will she wasn't speakin' a lie. She can't go there to live because it ain't hers-she don't own it any more. Over five years ago she sold it outright, and she took the price she got fur it and to that price she added whut she'd saved up ez the fruits of a life-time of toil spent in your service and the service of your people before you, and that was the money-her money, every cent of it-which paid fur your two years at college. Now you know."

For a long half minute she stared at him, her face whitening and the great tears beginning to run down her cheeks. They ran faster and faster. She gave a great sob and then she threw her arms about the old Judge's neck and buried her face on his shoulder.

"Oh, I never dreamed it! I never dreamed it! I never had a suspicion! And I've been so cruel to her, so heartless! Oh, Judge Priest, why did you and Doctor Lake ever let her do it? Why did you let her make that sacrifice?"

He patted her shoulder gently.

"Well, honey, we did try at first to discourage her from the notion, but we mighty soon seen it wasn't any use to try, and a little later on, comin' to think it over, we decided mebbe we didn't want to try any more. There're some impulses in this world too noble to be interfered with or hampered or thwarted, and some sacrifices so fine that none of us should try to spoil 'em by settin' up ourselves and our own wills in the road. That's how I felt. That's how Lew Lake felt. That's how we both felt. And anyhow she kept p'intin' out that she wouldn' never need that there little house, because so long ez she lived she'd have a home with you two girls. That's whut she said, anyway."

"But why weren't we allowed to know before now? Why didn't we know-Mildred and I-ten days ago, so that she might have been spared the cruel thing I've done? Why didn't she come out and tell us when we went to her and I told her she must get off the place? Why didn't you tell me, Judge, before now-why didn't you give me a hint before now?"

"Honey, I couldn't. I was under a solemn promise not to tell-a promise that I've jest now broken. On the whole I think I'm glad I did break it. . . . Lemme see ef I kin remember in her own words whut she said to us? 'Gen'l'mens,' she says, 'dem chillens is of de quality an' entitled to hole up they haids wid de fines' in de land. I don't want never to have dem demeaned by lettin' dem know or by lettin' ary other pusson know dat an old black nigger woman furnished de money to help mek fine young ladies of 'em. So long ez I live,' she says, 'dey ain't never to heah it frum my lips an' you must both gimme yore word dat dey don't never heah it frum yourn. W'en I dies, an' not befo' den, dey may know de truth. De day dey lays me in de coffin you kin tell 'em both de secret-but not befo'!' she says.

"So you see, child, we were under a pledge, and till to-day I've kept that pledge. Nobody knows about the sale of that little piece of property except Aunt Sharley and Lew Lake and me and the man who bought it and the man who recorded the deed that I drew up. Even the man who bought it never learned the real name of the previous owner, and the matter of the recordin' was never made public. Whut's the good of my bein' the circuit judge of this district without I've got influence enough with the county clerk to see that a small real-estate transaction kin be kept frum pryin' eyes? So you see only five people knowed anything a-tall about that sale, and only three of them knowed the true facts, and now I've told you, and so that makes four that are sharin' the secret. . . . Don't carry on so, honey. 'Tain't ez ef you'd done somethin' that couldn't be mended. You've got all your life to make it up to her. And besides, you were in ignorance until jest now. . . . Now, Emmy Lou, I ain't goin' to advise you; but I certainly would like to hear frum your own lips whut you do aim to do?"

She raised her head and through the brimming tears her eyes shone like twin stars.

"What am I going to do?" she echoed. "Judge, you just said nobody knew except four of us. Well, everybody is going to know-everybody in this town is going to know, because I'm going to tell them. I'll be a prouder and a happier girl when they do know, all of them, than I've ever been in my whole life. And I warn you that neither you nor Aunt Sharley nor any other person alive can keep me from telling them. I'm going to glory in telling the world the story of it."

"Lord bless your spunky little soul, honey, I ain't goin' to try to hender you frum tellin'," said Judge Priest. "Anyhow, I expect to be kept busy durin' the next few days keepin' out of that old nigger woman's way. . . . So that's the very first thing you aim to do?"

"No, it isn't, either," she exclaimed, catching the drift of his meaning. "That is going to be the second thing I do. But the first thing I am going to do is to go straight back home as fast as I can walk and get down on my knees before Aunt Sharley and beg her forgiveness for being so unjust and so unkind."

"Oh, I reckin that won't hardly be necessary," said Judge Priest. "I kind of figger that ef you'll jest have a little cryin' bee with her that'll answer every purpose. Jest put your young arms round her old neck and cry a spell with her. It's been my observation that, black or white, cryin' together seems to bring a heap of comfort to the members of your sex."

"I think perhaps I shall try that," she agreed, smiling in spite of herself; and her smile was like sunshine in the midst of a shower. "I'll begin by kissing her right smack on the mouth-like this." And she kissed the Judge squarely on his.

"Judge Priest," she stated, "this town is due for more than one surprise. Do you know who's going to be the matron of honour at my wedding three weeks from now? I'll give you just one guess."

He glanced up at her quizzically.

"Whut do you s'pose the young man is goin' to have to say about that?" he asked.

"If he doesn't like it he can find some other girl to marry him," she said.

"Oh, I kind of imagine he'll listen to reason-especially comin' frum you," said Judge Priest. "He will ef he's the kind of young man that's worthy to marry Tom Dabney's daughter."

* * *

It is possible that some of the bridegroom's kinspeople, coming down from the North for the wedding, were shocked to find a wizen, coal-black woman, who was lame of one leg, not only taking part in the ceremony, filling a place next in importance to that of the contracting pair and the maid of honour, but apparently in active and undisputed charge of the principal details. However, being well-bred persons, they did not betray their astonishment by word, look or deed. Perhaps they figured it as one of the customs of the country that an old shrill-voiced negress, smelling of snuff and black silk, should play so prominent a r?le in the event itself and in the reception that followed.

However, all that is ancient history now. What I have to add is a commingling of past local history and present local history. As I said at the outset, there were formerly any number of black children in our town who bore the names of white friends and white patrons, but to my knowledge there was never but one white child named for a black person. The child thus distinguished was a girl child, the first-born of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Winslow. Her full name was Charlotte Helm Winslow, but nearly everybody called her Little Sharley. She is still called so, I believe, though growing now into quite a sizable young person.

* * *

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