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Unfettered By Sutton E. Griggs Characters: 8330

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Morlene, you and Catherine will come into the library as soon as your breakfast duties are over."

Such was a command addressed to Morlene by Lemuel Dalton while he was sitting at the breakfast table in the Dalton house, a few days subsequent to the happenings recorded in the preceding chapter.

Morlene passed out of the dining room into the kitchen to tell Aunt Catherine what Lemuel Dalton had said. But Aunt Catherine had heard for herself and was so much agitated by what she thought were sinister purposes revealed by his tone of voice, that she began to tremble violently. A plate which she was washing fell to the floor and broke, whereupon she whispered to Morlene in tremulous tones:

"Dar, now! I shuah knows dar is trubble brewin' 'round 'bout heah. Las' night I drempt 'bout snakes an' didn't git to kill 'um. All dis mornin' my right eye hez been jumpin' fit to kill, an' now I dun broke dis plate. W'en hez Aunt Catherine broke er plate afo' dis? Shuah's yer bawn, chile, dar is trubble brewin' in dis 'neck ub de woods.'" In a still lower whisper she said: "I wondah whut debbilmint our young marster's got in his he'd ter sen' fur us?"

Morlene, who was also apprehensive, shook her head slowly, signifying that the master was an enigma to her as well.

After the lapse of a few minutes, Aunt Catherine and Morlene repaired to the library, where they found Lemuel Dalton tilted back in his desk chair, his hands clasped behind his head. Turning the gaze of his gray eyes full upon Aunt Catherine and Morlene, who were sitting together, he began:

"Both of you are aware of the fact that I am now the proprietor of this place. I have one more task which I wish to perform as plain Lemuel Dalton. I will be rid of that task to-day, I think. To-morrow I intend assuming charge here. I shall have no Negroes whatever about me, and the two of you will please prepare to leave when I take charge to-morrow."

Aunt Catherine groaned audibly at the announcement and her dilated eyes showed that she viewed the suggestion with a species of horror. Morlene was self-contained, being careful not to exhibit any emotion, if she felt any. Lemuel Dalton, desirous of preventing an outburst of grief from Aunt Catherine, hastened to say:

"You will go from the place well provided for. I find, according to my uncle's memorandum, that there are six hundred and forty-eight dollars to your credit, money which was due you, but not called for by you. I notice that you have been accustomed to give largely to objects of charity, else this sum to your credit would be the larger. You will find the amount in this package." So saying, he lightly tossed the package into her lap.

"Morlene, I find a note in my uncle's memorandum which states that you are entitled to be cared for by the Dalton estate so long as you live. I know not what is the ground of your claim, nor do I care to know. I shall see to it that you do not suffer. Understand, however, that you will always apply to my lawyers for aid and not to me. With this one thousand dollars which I now hand to you, our personal dealings come to a close."

He tossed the package of money, which was in currency, toward Morlene, but she took pains to see that it fell upon the floor and not upon her lap. This was done so adroitly that Lemuel Dalton did not know but that the failure of the package to reach its destination was due to his poor marksmanship.

Aunt Catherine asked in broken tones: "Marse Lemuel, will yer 'mit me ter say er word?"

A frown of impatience appeared upon Lemuel Dalton's brow, but he nodded assent.

Aunt Catherine stood up and began:

"Marse Lemuel, I wuz bawned on dis place. I wuz brung up hear ez a chile, and all de fun an' frolics I ebber hed wuz right heah. Marse an' missus 'lowed me an' my ole man ter marry heah. It was in front ub dis very house whar us, my ole man an' me, jumpt ober de brum stick es a marrige cerimony. Since I hez been an 'oman ebry baby bawn in dis hous' hez cum in ter dese arms fust. Yer own daddy Erasmus wuz one ob um, an' a lackly littul fellah he wuz, too. Dese hans you see heah hez shrouded de Dalton dead since

I ken ricermimber. Durin' war times, w'en udder darkies wuz brakin' dey necks ter go ter de Yankees, I staid right by missus an' I'se been in dis house ebber since.

"Nachally, Marse Lemuel, I lubs dis spot. I jes' doan' know nuthin' else. I hed hoped to die heah an' be bur'i'd at de feet ub missus, for she promis' me wid her dyin' bref ter let me wait fur de trump ub Gabrul by her side. Now, Marse Lemuel, doan' dribe me erway. I'll wuck an' not charge nary cent. I wants to stay whar I ken plant flowers on de grave ub Maury an' de rest. Gib me er cot an' let me sleep in de ole barn lof' whar I played ez er gal; but doan' dribe me erway."

Here Aunt Catherine burst forth into sobbing.

Lemuel Dalton's frown deepened. He arose and walked to the window, his back to Aunt Catherine, who now dropped upon her knees to pray for God to reinforce her plea.

Lemuel turned, and discovering Aunt Catherine in an attitude of prayer, said: "That is all unnecessary, Catherine. My mind is made up. I do not mean to be unkind, but I simply shall not have Negroes about me."

Aunt Catherine finished her prayer and arose. Taking the money which Lemuel Dalton had given her, she said in gentle tones: "Whut I did fur our folkses wuz fur lub. You shan't spile my lub by payin' me fur whut I hez dun." So saying, she walked over to Lemuel Dalton in an humble attitude and dropped the package of money at his feet. She then turned and went slowly and disconsolately out of the room, her head drooping as she shuffled along.

Morlene, who had manifested great self-control during the whole of the affecting scene, now arose and boldly faced Lemuel Dalton.

"Sir," said she, her eyes filled with tears, "it takes no prophet to foretell that terrible sorrows await you! He who ignores human emotions, will find many in this world more than a match for him at his own game! As for the money which you gave me, I shall not touch one penny of it. Really, I do not care to have my life linked by means of the smallest thread to a man who shall come forth from the 'mills of the gods' ground as you will be. You have not my anger, sir, but my most profound pity." So saying, she, too, left the room.

Lemuel Dalton was seized with a nameless, indefinable terror, that caused his blood to grow chill; and in that instant the consciousness came to him with the certainty of a revelation that Morlene had spoken the truth. But this feeling only remained for a few seconds. It was but a forerunner, years ahead of its time. He cast it off, seeking to assure himself that belief in a premonition was but an idle superstition. When he had fully recovered his composure he said:

"Now, I like that plucky spirit manifested by the girl. Give me, every time, the haughty sufferer, too proud to crouch beneath the lash even when its sting is keenest. I want none of your whining suppliants. A plague on these Negroes who meet injury with woe-begone expressions. That sort of thing tends to make the Anglo-Saxon chicken-hearted in dealing with them. The more a Negro whines and supplicates the worse I hate him. But I tell you I like the spirit of that girl." Such was Lemuel Dalton's soliloquy.

"But other tasks await me," he said. Taking a pistol from his hip pocket, he thoroughly examined it to see that it was in prime condition in every respect. Satisfied on this score, he put it back into the pocket from which he had taken it. Going out to the stable, he mounted his horse and rode away, taking the road that had been made to pass through and connect the several parts of the vast Dalton estate. On every side of him were tokens of what the forces of nature were doing for him. The earth holding in her bosom the roots of acres of Indian corn, was yielding up her substance that the grain might ripen unto harvest. The stalks were bravely bearing the swelling ears. The beautiful drooping blades drank in the contributions that the sun and the air had to bestow.

Thus all nature was at one working for the welfare of the future master of the Dalton place. But he had no eye for nature's loving panorama. A master passion had his soul within its grasp.

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