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Unfettered By Sutton E. Griggs Characters: 12972

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Morlene was yet wearing mourning for Harry, and, as a consequence, Dorlan was forced to delay the inauguration of his suit. If you think that this procedure, or rather non-procedure, was to his liking, but ask the stars unto whom his heart so often entrusted its secrets; ask the wee small hours of the night who saw him restless, times without number.

Somehow his business seemed to require him to pass Morlene's house rather often; and yet the business could not have been so very urgent, in that he found so much time to spare, talking to Morlene in an informal way at her gate. And, to go further, if the truth must out, Morlene's presence at that gate at Dorlan's time of passing did happen, we must admit, rather often to be placed in the category with usual accidental occurrences.

Now and then, at rare intervals, Dorlan would pay Morlene a call on some matter of business, he would say. On those occasions it was interesting to note how quickly the business matter was disposed of-in fact, was so often actually forgotten by Dorlan and, it must be confessed, by Morlene, too.

The truth of the matter is, to be plain, these two individuals had discovered that their souls were congenial spirits, each seeming to need the other, if it would have a sense of completeness. Now, this was the latent Dorlan and the latent Morlene, the apparent Dorlan and the apparent Morlene co-operating with society in its policy of adding to the duration of the marriage vow, which reads until death, but which has been stretched by society to an indefinite period thereafter. This discovery of a bond of affinity, we say, was purely the work of the latent Dorlan and the latent Morlene, for were not those two members of society abstaining from all mention of the regard, the deep regard, the boundless--excuse us, the period of mourning has not passed.

One day Dorlan discovered by consulting his memorandum that about the usual time between those business (?) propositions had elapsed and he searched his mind for a plausible excuse for making a call.

When Dorlan arrived at Morlene's home that night, imagine his feelings when he saw on entering the parlor that she had at last laid aside her mourning attire. The thought that she was now approachable set his soul ablaze.

What Dorlan took to be the most wicked of all demons, seemed to say to him, "Don't declare yourself on this the very first occasion. Those gate talks and business visits are not supposed to have been acts of courtship, remember."

"Will you please leave me?" whispered Dorlan's soul to the imaginary grinning demon that made the suggestion.

Utterly repudiating all thought of further delay, Dorlan drew close to Morlene. She saw the love signals in Dorlan's eyes. Rather than have her soul flash back replies, she inclined her head forward and looking down, clutched the table near which she stood.

"Morlene," said Dorlan, "I really believe that my heart will burst if I do not let out its secret. Morlene, I love you. But you know that and you know how well. You have read this and more, too, in my countenance. Will you be my wife?"

Those words spoken into Morlene's ear at close range were elixir unto her soul. Looking up into Dorlan's face, her eyes told of love, deep, boundless. This Dorlan saw. But he saw more than love. He saw despair written so legibly upon that sweet face that it could not be misunderstood and would not be ignored.

"Come," said Dorlan, leading Morlene to a seat. Sitting down by her side and taking one of her lovely hands in his, he said in tones charged with deepest emotion:

"Tell me, dear girl, that you will be my wife. May I, poor worm of the dust, be allowed to call you my own?" plead Dorlan, bestowing on Morlene that peculiar look born of love stirred to its depths by anxiety.

"I do not know, Mr. Warthell, I do not know. It--"

"Do not know," gasped Dorlan, dropping the hand tenderly. "My God! she does not know!" he groaned.

"Wait but a second, and all will be plain," said Morlene, placing a hand upon Dorlan's arm and looking eagerly into his grief-torn face.

"Wait a second," repeated Dorlan mechanically. "A second in moments like these seems akin to an eternity. But I wait."

"Now, Mr. Warthell, be fair to yourself," said Morlene, soothingly. "You remarked that I must have read some things in your countenance. Remember your soul has an eyesight, and you have done some reading, too." Her eyes were averted, her tones low, her speech halting as she made this half-confession to Dorlan's eager ears.

Dorlan, who had been feeling more like an arctic explorer than a suitor for a lady's hand, felt his blood running warmer from the effects of this morsel of cheer.

"I will explain to you what it is that I do not know, Mr. Warthell. I do not know how long it will be before conditions in the South will warrant women of my way of thinking in becoming wives of men of your mould."

"If," said Dorlan, rising, "consideration of this matter is to be postponed until my environments enable me to prove myself worthy of you, my doom is certain. For the most benign influences of earth have not produced the man that could claim your hand on the ground of merit."

"Mr. Warthell, you misapprehend. A second thought would have told you not to place a construction on my remarks that causes them to savor of egotism on my part. It is far from me to suggest that anything is needed to make you worthy of any woman. To the contrary, your esteem is a tribute than which there is nothing higher, so I feel. Now, hear me calmly," said Morlene.

"Not until I have purged myself of contempt," said Dorlan, deferentially.

"I hold that egotism is inordinate self-esteem, esteem carried beyond what is deserved. Under this definition, show me, please, how you could manifest egotism. It is absolutely unthinkable from my point of view."

Morlene waved her hand deprecatingly, told Dorlan to be seated and began an explanation of the peculiar situation in which they found themselves. Dorlan was calmer now; he realized an undercurrent of love in all that Morlene was saying and he knew, as all men know, that love will eventually assert itself. So he bore Morlene's attempt to tie cords about her affections, much in the spirit of one who might see a web woven across the sky for the feet of the sun.

Morlene said: "Mr. Warthell, to my mind it is the function of the wife to idealize the aims of a husband, to quicken t

he energies that would flag, to be at once the incentive and perennial inspiration of his noble achievements, to point him to the stars and steady his hand as he carves his name upon the skies. In the South the Negro wife is robbed of this holy task. We are being taught in certain high quarters that self-repression is the Negro's chiefest virtue. Our bodies are free-they no longer wear the chains, but our spirits are yet in fetters. I have firmly resolved, Mr. Warthell, to accept no place by a husband's side until I can say to his spirit, 'Go forth to fill the earth with goodness and glory.'"

Morlene paused for an instant.

"Mr. Warthell, in you may slumber the genius of a Pericles, but a wife in the South dare not urge upon you to become a town constable or a justice of the peace. Talk about slavery! Ah! the chains that fetter the body are but as ropes of down when compared to those that fetter the mind, the spirit of man. And think ye I would enter your home simply to inspire that great soul of yours to restlessness and fruitless tuggings at its chains! In the day when a Negro has a man's chance in the race of life, I will let my heart say to you, Mr. Warthell, all that it wishes to say."

Morlene ceased speaking and the two sat long in silence. Dorlan was the first to speak.

"Morlene, I confess I am a slave. My neighbors, my white fellow citizens, have formed a pen, have drawn a zigzag line about me and told me that I must not step across on pain of death. Having a mind as other men, such arbitrary restrictions are galling. I am then a slave, limited not by my capacity to feel and do, but by the color of my skin. You do not wish to marry a slave; refuse him for his own good. All of that is clear to me, and I chide you not. Come! There are lands where a man's color places no restrictions on his aspirations for what is high and useful. Let us flee thither!"

"No, no, no, Mr. Warthell! Let us not flee. At least, not yet. Our dignity as a people demands that the manhood rights of the race be recognized on every foot of soil on which the sun sees fit to cast his rays."

"Now, Morlene," said Dorlan, "you as good as tell me that you will never be my wife. Pray, tell me, why am I so rudely tossed about upon the bosom of life's heaving ocean?" These words were spoken in tones of utter despair.

"I have not said that I would not be your wife, Dorlan. I am trying every day I live to devise a solution for our Southern problem."

"She called me Dorlan, she called me Dorlan," said he to himself, rejoicing inwardly over this fresh burst of sunshine just as his gloom was deepening. Suddenly his face showed the illumination of a great hope.

"Morlene! Morlene!" cried Dorlan, in a rush of enthusiasm, "Suppose I, Dorlan Warthell, solve this problem; suppose I unfetter the mind of the Negro and allow it full scope for operation; suppose I offer to you a thoroughly substantial hope of racial regeneration, will you--" Here Dorlan paused and looked lovingly into the sweet face upturned to his. "If I do these things," he resumed in sober tone, "will you be my wife?"

"Mr. Warthell, if you can open the way for me to really be your wife, there is nothing in my heart that bids me shrink from the love you offer."

Dorlan's mind entertained one great burst of hope, then fled at once to the great race problem that had hung pall-like over the heads of the American people for so many generations, and now stood between himself and Morlene. A sense of the enormity of the task that he had undertaken now overwhelmed him. Dorlan bowed his head, the following thoughts coursing through his agitated mind: "I am to weld two heterogeneous elements into a homogeneous entity. I am to make a successful blend of two races that differ so widely as do the whites and the Negroes. Each race has manifested its racial instincts, and has shown us all, that wise planning must take account of these. The problem is inherently a difficult one and of a highly complex nature. But with an incentive such as I have, surely it can be solved. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln said the problem was incapable of solution, that the two races could not live together on terms of equality. They were great and wise, but not infallible. With Morlene as a prize, I shall prove them wrong." Morlene, taking advantage of his abstraction, bestowed on him an unreserved look of pitying love.

Dorlan looked up suddenly from his reverie, and their eyes met once more. There was no reserve now and Dorlan's joy was so keen that it seemed to pain him. Arising to go, he said: "I go from you consecrating my whole power to the task before me. Fortunate it is, indeed, for the South that she has at least one man so surrounded that he cannot be happy himself until he makes this wilderness of woe blossom as a rose. Farewell."

Dorlan now left and walked slowly toward his home. He reflected, "I will have no business at her home now until this problem is solved. Suppose I do not solve it."

Dorlan's fears began to assert themselves. "I may never, never see that face again. Think of it!" he said. This thought was too much for Dorlan. He paused, leaned upon the fence, thrust his hat back from his fevered brow. He turned and retraced his steps to Morlene's home. She met him at the door and was not surprised at his return. Her heart was craving for just another sight of its exiled lord. Re-entering the parlor, they stood facing each other.

"Morlene," said Dorlan, "I have come to ask a boon of you. I can labor so much better with a full assurance of your love. From your eyes, from your words, I say humbly, I have come to feel that you have honored me with that love. But the testimony is incomplete. Will you grant unto me the one remaining assurance? Will you seal our most holy compact with a kiss?"

Morlene's lips parted not, but she attempted an answer, nevertheless. Her queenlike head was shaking negatively, saying, "Please do not require that." But those telltale eyes were saying, "Why, young man the whole matter rests with you." Morlene was conscious that her eyes were contradicting the negative answer that her head was giving. To punish the two beautiful traitors she turned them away from Dorlan and made them look at the carpet. Morlene in this attitude was so exquisitely beautiful that Dorlan was powerless to resist the impulse that made him take her into his arms.

One rapturous kiss, and Dorlan was gone!

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